“Lizard people, once a far fetched political conspiracy theory, has been confirmed to have a startling element of truth after thousands of people across the nation woke up this morning to find friends and family members gone, and numerous sightings of large lizard-like beings on the run. Mrs Cartwright was coming home from a night shift when she encountered three humanoid reptilians. Diane is with her now-”
I turned down the television and pulled my worn book from in between the sofa cushions. It was hard not to get distracted by the news, no matter how many times I’d heard it. We were warned to stay in our homes, keep our loved ones close and report any disappearances to the police. I was reading The Great Gatsby. A timeless classic, but not my favourite book. I used to claim, with a whimsical, hubris air, that the description of the party at the start of chapter three was one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I have ever read. It was half a lie – I was an English literature student who couldn’t name her favourite book and was desperate to find some footing in the forced conversations within the first term of university.
The reason I was truly reading it was to comfort myself because when I said that – spouted that bullshit in some ridiculous, long winded way – another student had lit up.
“I love that book! Don’t you just fall in love with Gatsby?”.
Ella. I sat next to her in the lectures we had together, shared hangovers over steaming lattes, read poems out to her whilst we laid out on her bed, and loved her, entirely. Our deep and incredibly personal friendship had blossomed over this precious little novel, and I dared not forget that.
That morning she had disappeared. Her and her husband were due to catch an 8am flight but when had he woken, she was gone with her phone still plugged in on her bedside cabinet and her belongings untouched. People were unsure, at the time, whether people were becoming these reptilian creatures or being killed or eaten or taken by them. I don’t know which would have been worse.
“Your wife doesn’t love you,” says Gatsby. “She’s never loved you. She loves me.”
Realising I was reading the same line over and over, I gave up.
“Mark?” I called, shuffling my feet into his slippers and standing up.
I was met with silence.
A soft rustling came from the kitchen.
“Uhhh, Mark?” I tried again, my sense of reason dissipating as the news reports echoed in my head. Trying to be soundless, I peered round the door. My husband, not half reptile, was right there in his long, creased apron taste testing from the large pot on the stove, moving his hips and shoulders jauntily in some ridiculous attempt at dancing to the music from the headphones in his ears. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief, laughter creeping in at the stupid, lovely sight of him. Finally he noticed me stood there and pulled his headphones out, offering me a soft smile.
“Any news about Ella?” he tried, his face hopeful.
I shook my head, trying not to think too hard about it. It was hopeless. We all presumed the worst.
“You don’t think she’s…?” my voice faltered.
He considered it for a moment, and then shrugged, “I wish I could say no, Darling.”
But your best friend is, in all likelihood, a giant lizard. Cool.
I slumped into a seat at the dining table, the weight of the situation settling upon my tired shoulders. It didn’t seem possible. Every heartfelt moment we’d spent together couldn’t have been a lie.
“Come on now.” Mark tried, bringing the wooden spoon over to my face with a coy grin, “Try this.”
I couldn’t sleep that night. Gently, I placed my hand against Mark’s warm chest, and felt it rise and fall evenly. He was so calm. Did he dream? Was his mind totally undisturbed by the dramatic events happening across the globe, by the fear and grief apparent in every face he passed in the street? He still seemed so cheerful, despite it all. I mean, he knew Ella. He liked Ella.
Suddenly, a shadow darted past the open crack of our bedroom door. I jumped, recoiling my hand and pulling the cover up around my shoulders.
You’re overthinking. The stress is getting to you. It’s nothing.
My heart beat heavy against my ribs, and nervousness rose like bile in my throat.
Just go out there and check. Put your mind at ease.
Yes. Clever. Face your fears. Gently, I pulled the cover away and stood up, avoiding the creaky floorboard that I had mastered locating after years of waking up earlier than Mark for work.
I crept around the bed, watching my husband intently for any signs of waking. I reached the door and, composing myself, yanked it open fiercely, ready to confront my empty corridor. I went to scream as I found myself staring at a pale, wide eyed face, but their hand clamped securely over my mouth and suddenly I was being forcibly pinned against the wall. They closed the bedroom door with a swift movement and glared at me from beneath a thick hood.
“Would you shut up!?” the intruder whispered sharply, and my nerves melted away as I focused on familiar eyes and that soft, caramel voice I knew well. It was Ella.
She stepped away from me, sighing with agitation, “It’s just me.”
“Where have you been?” I questioned, trying to make my tone sharp but breaking into relieved laughter at the sight of her. She pressed her finger to her lips, indicating silence and gestured towards the bedroom door.
“We mustn’t wake him, but we have to go. I know people who can help us escape before it’s too late. There’s an underground network-”
“What? What do you mean, escape?!”.
“You can’t trust anyone anymore. I mean, Mark shows all the obvious signs of being one of them-”
“Mark!? Not a chance.” I argued.
Ella took my hands in hers, running her thumbs across my palms gently, her eyes pleading with me.
“I wish I could prove it to you. We’re not safe. He isn’t, well… who he says he is. Most people aren’t. They’ve been taking over for a while now. Has he seemed happy still, unworried, calm?”
I thought back to the kitchen, the way he danced, as if it were a normal Tuesday evening and all was right. I felt the weight of the silence in the air, and knew he was still sound asleep despite it all.
I leaned gently against the door, torn.
“And why do you trust me?” I whispered, “How do you know I’m not one of them?”
“Well, I don’t.” she replied, shaking her head at how ridiculous it seemed, “But you seem true. You seem real. And I’d rather risk it all then leave without you. You’re like… my soulmate.”
“Soulmate?” I repeated, my conscience swaying.
She nodded, and the air seemed to thicken around us. Surely I would be crazy to run off, to run away from my own husband, because of one conversation? Then again, could anything truly be deemed crazy in a time of lizard revolution?
It felt absurd, too fantastical to be true. But I trusted her. I let her guide me down the stairs, out the front door, and into the depths of an uncertain fate. I sat nervously in the passenger seat of her car, and watched her lean over me into the glove box. It fell open onto my knees and within, amongst cables and old food wrappers was a well read book, the corners folded upwards and weak with touch.
The Great Gatsby.
I liked the word she’d used. Soulmates, with their fates resting in each other’s palms, escaping absurdity, beating on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.