All the rest of that day, the first day, Bill slept. Periodically I checked on him, making sure that he was still breathing; and, I suppose, that he hadn’t vanished. Each time his life and my sanity was confirmed. The spare bedroom was of a size matched to his proportions, being long and narrow, except that the eaves had forced me to place the bed centrally across the width, so that there was barely any space to pass at its foot, and the room tapered off into the eaves to its left and right. The bed barely contained his length. He slept soundly, quietly. At twilight I put my ear to his face to catch the sound of his exhalation. It was barely perceptible. Only when I felt a warm, tickling sensation in the cup of my ear did I draw away.
The night was thick and the wind was up when he finally woke. I had just gone to bed myself. The door of my room was directly across the landing from his. I had left it ajar so as to be able to hear even a murmur from him. I needn’t have bothered, for my reading was disrupted by a scream not so much primal as out of this world, alien. That’s how it sounded, even before he told me what he was. I don’t think I’m projecting backwards in describing it so. No human could have made that noise with our given vocal chords. Serious digital manipulation would be required. And the range of the scream, from low to high – only a composite of creatures from the animal kingdom could have unleashed such a cry. It would have curdled any liquid exposed to it, blood, milk or hot chocolate.
I was paralysed with fear. Control over my own mobility had leached away in the instant of the scream’s echo. It took several minutes of strained listening to the subsequent silence before the terror-flight in my heart subsided and I was halfway sure that I had regained the potential use of my petrified limbs. I put on my dressing gown, steadying myself against the door jamb, then stepped across the landing. Its light gave me enough to see that he wasn’t in the bed. I turned on the bedside lamp and looked into the eaves. He was cowering on the landward side of the house, away from the window which overlooked the sea. I approached him softly, crouching down low so as not to bump my head. I might have been trying to make friends with a cat, or a fox. At first he tried to back away further, but unable to do so, he looked at me again, checking my progress. Then his face suddenly became more composed, as if he had awoken from a state of sleep, or there had been a moment of recognition. I could get no closer without actually lying down, so I started to reassure him that he was safe, that whatever had scared him could not hurt him. He was pale but there was no sweat on his brow, as I routinely had following my own regular nightmares.
‘I was falling from the sky into the sea – that’s how I must have come to be on the beach – I wasn’t surfing, I… fell.’
‘Fell from what?’
‘You fell overboard.’
‘No. No, there was no hull, no backdrop to my fall. I fell from a ship in the sky.’
‘You mean a plane.’
‘No, a ship. What you would call a space ship.’
‘What I would call a space ship. What would you call it?’
‘Chan. The reason I can’t remember anything before this morning is because I have no human memories. I am not human. I’m not from here. Earth, I mean. I’m from… somewhere else.’
‘You’re telling me you come from another planet.’
‘Yes. You don’t believe me.’
By now this was a whispered conversation. Unable to hold a crouching position, I had lain down on the floor opposite him. I could sense no trace of lightness in that hard again face. He was in earnest. I chose my words carefully.
‘I believe that you believe that you come from another planet, but I still think that you must have taken a knock to the head. Whether that’s because you fell from a surfboard or from some kind of boat, I don’t know. The fact is that your mind is a blank, and I don’t believe that the likeliest reason for this is that you aren’t a human being. Your sleeping mind was asking your dreams to invent a story that explained what has happened to you, and falling from the sky is pretty logical, all things considered.’
‘No, no, you don’t understand. I wasn’t dreaming. I’ve been awake since you last looked in, trying to remember. And then it came to me out of nowhere, and I was falling – falling again – and I screamed, just as I did when I fell. Then I lost consciousness and when I came to, I wasn’t in bed anymore. Here, feel my forehead – I’m as cold as was when you found me on the beach.’
I reached out my hand. He was right. Where there should have been bed warmth, pillow warmth, there was only skin colder to the touch than marble. Could shock lead to body temperature dropping so rapidly? Or was I really lying face to face with an alien – an alien with the unlikely name of Bill?