THE JOURNEY HOME by GK Murphy

So this was it—chaos, globally so.

There seemed no escape from this demon virus. The entire planet was on stand-by in their homes, dreading the latest news bulletin and the numbers of deaths in their respective countries on a day-to-day twenty four hour basis. First it was China—the country of its origin, then South Korea, and Japan… then, Italy, Spain, and then us, Old Albion. Speculation welled up that it was manmade, germ warfare, somehow conceived and concocted in a lab in Wuhan, which seemed to suggest Stateside that it may have been due to China’s disgust at America and its orange-faced President—and perhaps this was the sweetest act of poetic justice, revenge for its current treatment of a frustrated China. Didn’t every country possess the right to improve their economy, so why oh why did certain worldly factions blow a gasket when some did better than others, and thus transform into the Devil’s toe in doing so?

It was Saturday, 9th of May, 2020… and precisely 6pm as Ted Quincy drove home this evening in his Suzuki Swift, a car he’d driven for six years, which tended lately to rattle more than it ever had before. Recently, it suffered near-cardiac arrest going up the slightest of hills and it was getting to be a severe ball-ache. Seeing as Ted worked in a care home in Whitehaven, West Cumbria, uphill drives were an everyday occurrence and Cumbria being Cumbria, hills were everywhere, beckoning you dare attempt to climb, and you climbed these at your car’s peril.

Ted was almost home.

He lived in the small historic town of Joshua Beck. Driving home with a loveable Jack Russell named Snatch next to him in the passenger seat this evening, though, he felt a little sleepy, oddly enough. It was difficult to keep his eyes open, he found. Taking a hand off the wheel, he rubbed his eyes, wondering if he ought to have pulled into a roadside garage to take a short-lived break, to indulge in a hot coffee and sandwich perhaps. He pondered just having a nap in a lay-by until the fatigue had subsided.

Joshua Beck was warm this evening and Ted understandably blamed this for his tiredness. But obviously with this current situation, and the fact he worked in the Care Sector, which was getting hit left, right and centre, it was a time when folks were dropping like flies. He had to take this shit very seriously—it wasn’t just part of the job, it had become part of existence—to take a step back and examine matters from another angle, part of being a responsible human being, which in turn added his own contribution to the safety and welfare of his local community.

The in-car speaker phone suddenly beeped. It was his colleague at work, a nurse called Vivienne.

“What’s happening, Vivienne…?”

Vivienne sounded flummoxed to say the very least. She stuttered like she found words difficult to find.

She spluttered, “Edward, I’ve locked myself in the bathroom, you need to call the police, something horrible has happened in the Home. It started with Mary and Tom… Ted, it isn’t normal what’s happening here… YOU MUST PHONE THE POLICE… my phone is losing signal and I’M ALONE, they’ve turned into MONSTERS!”

Annoyed and confused, Ted tried to calm his fellow nurse at Warm Acre Home. “Vivienne, have you been drinking? Is this some joke?”

It was no joke. He could hear Vivienne sobbing at the other end of the line.

Ted imagined all these authors and screenwriters across the world, and thought oddly enough, how some writer guy might get his weird kicks concocting a story or novel about this crazy shit. If he was a writer, yes, he would have done it in a heartbeat, but the trolls would undoubtedly have beat him down, saying he was cashing in on others’ misery…

Then, the line went dead. For all he knew, Vivienne could have been dead. However, he heard the last thing she happened to say into her cell phone…

“…lizards… they’ve became like lizards!”

As he entered the first roundabout that was at the top of Joshua Main Street, it barely came as a surprise when he spotted the police parked in the lay-by, and predictably they signalled for him to pull into the tiny lane. A chubby female officer approached his driver’s window. She seemed to be smiling at something.

He held his identity badge up for her to see. “I work for the NHS, officer, I’m a Key Worker.”

“Don’t you understand how dangerous it is to be outdoors driving idly about during the pandemic?”

She was grinning like a maniac. It was thoroughly disturbing.

“I’m not driving idly,” Ted said vehemently, spitting fire at this young buffoon, “I happen to care for the very elderly in a care home, and I’m driving home after a very hard day’s work, just about in time for my supper and bedtime, before getting up at 6am tomorrow morning to do exactly the same all over again!”

Yes, sarcasm wasn’t really NHS carer Ted’s strong point. It actually sounded like he was whinging. Suddenly, dog Snatch started to grumble gutturally and sound somewhat unhappy.

The policewoman said, “Do you always take your mutt to work? Isn’t a feral animal somewhat unhealthy around all those old fogies?”

This was fucking out of order…

But Ted didn’t react. Instead, he felt the sudden, driving urge to reach out and scratch the back of his right hand—the one still on the steering wheel. The skin came away like dry parchment, like thin paper, on this beautiful May evening. Gone was the comfortable, soul-lifting notion of getting home to cook a bit of supper before watching the Forces TV nightly re-run of the Dukes of Hazzard, before retiring to bed for the night.

The female officer removed her sunglasses.

Ted gasped, almost cried out in horror. The policewoman’s eyes were yellow and snakelike, more distinctly those which belonged to a reptile. Her lips widened to smile, and out protruded a snake-tongue, lashing her mouth and chin. Ted realised very fast the nature of what was happening here and assured himself that she—LIKE HIM—as Vivienne had suggested in the phone message seconds before—had transmuted into some hybrid member of the lizard family. As more flesh gently scraped away from the bone, Ted continued to explore with his fingernails. His right hand, and the absence of its flaking skin—during further exploration—finally revealed emerald green scales underneath. It became more evident this was something deeply alien in origin, and a vision to behold in all its darkly majestic reptilian glory.

Imploring, Ted said, “Who are you?”

“We came from far away… farther away than you could possibly imagine… we came to take your measly planet Earth and make it our interplanetary home away from home, our new feeding ground, our reproducing ground… we come from beyond Orion, beyond the Solar System, at the very reaches of your Milky Way…”

Suddenly, it all made sense. Planet Earth was vulnerable right now… easy pickings.

Ted looked forlornly at Snatch on the passenger seat next to him. The animal’s eyes had turned a neon shade of mustard or dull yellow. The dog spoke, “Welcome to the fold,” it said, grinning madly.


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