I stood on my front porch, forcing myself to breath slowly. I found myself obsessively checking my reflection anywhere I could see it, worried I’d look and see blonde hair and pale skin. Thankfully, I was looking as normal as I ever had, except for the dishevelled school uniform.
It had been six weeks since I’d last seen my parents. I had no idea how they were going to react to seeing me. They’d probably feel some relief, but they’d also want to know what had happened to me, where I’d been, and I wasn’t ready to answer those questions.
Then there was the other thing I needed to brace myself for. My parents loved me, I knew that, but they also didn’t really know me.
I wanted to tell them, wanted them to really meet me, the real me, but I wasn’t ready. Meeting the real me would mean losing the me they thought they knew, and it would break their hearts.
Taking one last deep breath, I opened the door, and stepped inside.
“Mum? Dad? I’m home,” I called out, closing the door behind me. Almost immediately, my parents materialised in front of me, their expressions shifting from harrowed to overjoyed in less than a second.
“Oh my God, he’s home!” my mother crooned, throwing her arms around me.
“Seth? Thank goodness you’re okay,” my dad added, joining in the hug.
The two of them squeezed, almost crushing me. I make a weak gurgling noise, and they gave me a little space.
“Where have you been?” Dad asked, folding his arms.
“Uh, I don’t really know,” I said, which was mostly true. “There was an accident, and-”
“What matters is that you’re okay,” Mum said, squeezing me again.
“Are you okay?” Dad asked.
“I’m fine, I promise,” I said, smiling weakly. Okay was a very subjective concept for me, but I wasn’t in the mood to discuss any of it.
I heard the door open again, much to my surprise. Then I heard a familiar voice, which only surprised me even more.
“Hey, anyone home?”
“Is that Veronica?” I asked, confused.
“She’s been helping us look for you, along with your…” Mum hesitated. “Other friend.”
“What other friend?” I asked, trying to figure out who they could have been talking about. It had to be someone whose name they didn’t know, but-
“Holy fuck,” Veronica said, appearing in the doorway.
She practically tackled me, throwing her arms around me and squeezing.
“I’m so glad you’re okay,” she said, refusing to let go.
Another person appeared behind her.
“She’s been running herself ragged trying to find you,” Charlie said, smirking.
Last I’d heard, Charlie had been missing for months. The rumours going around school were that she’d run away with a secret girlfriend. I’d never asked, but she did sort of have that vibe about her.
What she was doing at my house, I had no idea. It wasn’t like we hated each other, but we never really spoke.
“Charlie? What are you-”
“Part of the search party,” she said abruptly, cutting me off.
“Wha- where have you been?” I asked, as Veronica finally let go of me.
“It’s kind of a long story,” Charlie said enigmatically.
“Forget that, where have you been?” Veronica demanded.
All eyes in the room fell on me, and I felt my stomach curl into a knot. I had nothing to say, no explanation for my absence. At least, not one I could share with any of them.
“I… don’t know,” I confessed. “I only just woke up today.”
At least that part was true, I told myself.
“Where?” Veronica asked. “Hospital? On the side of the road?”
“Does it matter?” I snapped, surprised at myself. “I’m fine now. Just very confused.”
Veronica’s face fell. Everybody exchanged worried looks.
“Shit, you don’t know what’s happened, do you?” she asked, her tone almost apologetic.
“We can do this tomorrow,” Mum said, pushing between Veronica and I. “After he’s-”
“No, I’m okay,” I said. “I want to know.”
“Okay, what do you remember?”” Veronica asked, much to Mum’s disdain.
“I left your place,” I said, painfully aware of how much attention was on me. “I heard a… a scream. The sky tore open. Something came through. I went to check it out, some part of it that landed near me, and then… nothing.”
“Oh, something came through alright,” Veronica said, her eyes practically sparkling. “A motherfucking alien spaceship came through.”
“We have absolutely no reason to believe it’s alien,” Charlie disagreed.
“What would you call it, then?” Veronica snapped, her hands on her hips.
“Could be a lot of things,” she said. “Military experiment, publicity stunt-”
“You think that was a publicity stunt?” Veronica said, sounding almost angry.
“No, but it’s more likely than an alien invasion,” Charlie said.
Veronica rolled her eyes.
“Okay, well some kind of flying ship came through. It broke apart in midair, and scattered all across the city.”
“There were people on board,” Charlie added. “Survivors.”
“Not people,” Veronica said. “Whatever they are, the three of them, they’re not human.”
I felt a chill run down my spine, knowing exactly what she meant. After all, I’d met two of them. I practically was one of them.
“Three?” I asked, wondering who the third could be. Neither of them had mentioned another.
“A blonde woman, a brunette guy, and an Asian girl,” Veronica said.
Two of those descriptions lined up with who I’d met. I was surprised with how curious I was about the third one.
“How do you know they’re… not human?” I asked, hoping I didn’t sound offended.
“Caught on camera,” Veronica said. “The woman is fast, really fast. The guy is… I don’t even know how to describe it.”
I had to suppress a smile. I knew exactly what she was talking about.
“And the third one?”
“Looked like telekinesis,” Charlie said, as it that were a totally commonplace thing to say. Everyone looked at her, surprised.
“So the curfew is because of them?”
“No,” Charlie said, her expression growing dark.
“It wasn’t just them,” Veronica said, her own expression mirroring Charlie’s.
“Not exactly. People have been getting… sick,” Veronica said.
“Zombies,” Charlie said, drawing more strange looks.
“They are not zombies,” Veronica said.
“Okay, probably not,” Charlie conceded. “But the result is pretty similar. Infected people become hyper-aggressive, their muscles expand, and their skin starts to lose its colour.”
“And that started after the crash?”
“The army moved in within like five days,” Veronica said.
“Yep, you’ve missed all the excitement,” Charlie said.
“Well, it’s not over yet,” Veronica said. “Melbourne is still in complete lockdown.”
My parents frowned at each other, then both cleared their throats in unison. It was a bad habit they’d had for as long as I could remember.
“And now that we know Seth is okay, the two of you can stop going out on your own,” Dad said sternly.
“It’s already much too late to go home now,” Mum added. “You should stay the night.”
“Works for me,” Veronica said, shrugging.
“I have nowhere better to be,” Charlie agreed, nodding.
I looked at Veronica, concerned. Surely she wasn’t just going to let Ashley stay at home by herself.
“What about Ash?” I asked. “Will she be okay alone?”
“She’s been staying with Hunter and his family while I’ve been out, y’know, looking for you,” Veronica explained.
“Poor guy,” I said, laughing. I did not envy anyone who had to play the role of babysitter to her.
“Alright, let’s go to bed,” Charlie said, with an exaggerated stretch. “I’m exhausted.”