The unopened letter sat on the kitchen table. Josh picked it up. No return address, no postmark, no stamp. He decided to open it later — he’d had a long day. All he wanted was a drink.
“Jules?” he called.
No answer. No wife.
He thought that odd, but then remembered that he’d left his phone at home. Josh found it beside their bed, an unread text message from Jules waiting for him.
“Mum’s sick again,” it said. “Had to take her to the hospital. Hopefully be back tonight. Sorry.”
He sighed. Her family was eating up her time. Again. Josh didn’t bother replying, and grabbed a beer from the fridge.
Much later, Josh heard Jules’ car pull into the driveway. He went to meet her.
They hugged. His stubble scratched her cheek; her long, wild hair ended up in his mouth.
“Yeah, it’s just mum being mum. You know how it is.”
Josh didn’t bother commenting on her mum’s legendary hypochondria. They headed inside. Josh busied himself in the kitchen making her a cup of tea.
“What’s been happening?” Jules asked.
“You know, the usual.”
“How was work?”
“Don’t ask. You?”
Josh sat her tea on the table.
“I missed you,” he said.
“Me too, baby, me too.”
The unopened letter sat near them, forgotten.
The next morning, Josh slept in. Jules eventually brought him a cup of coffee. And then she poked and prodded him — her version of the carrot and the stick.
“Thanks, sweetie,” he said, his voice croaky.
“No sweat. But you’d better move it, otherwise you’ll be late.”
He groaned. Jules left him to get dressed. When he joined her at the kitchen table, she passed him the letter she’d been reading — it was from a company called Out of this World Adventures.
“What do you reckon?” Jules asked.
Josh scanned it.
“Dear Mr Hazlem,” it said, “we are pleased to announce that you and your wife have won a seat in our inaugural mystery cruise, guaranteed to deliver sights unseen by human eyes. Please follow the link provided to claim your tickets.”
Josh squinted at Jules through half-asleep eyes.
“It’s probably a scam,” he said, tossing it aside. “Besides, there’s no way I can take time off at the moment.”
The next day, another unmarked letter arrived. Josh found it — opened — sitting on the kitchen table beside Jules’ open laptop. He checked out the website she’d been visiting. It belonged to Out of this World Adventures, and described in vague detail the adventure and excitement their trip would provide.
He found Jules outside, arguing with someone on the phone. From the tone of her voice and the way she ran her hand through her long hair in frustration, he guessed she was arguing with her sister.
Jules waved, and returned her attention to her call. Josh went back inside. When she joined him, he told her in no uncertain terms that there was no way he could take time off.
“But I need this, especially with everything that’s been going on.”
“I’m sorry, Jules. I just can’t.”
Josh slept on the couch that night.
Another unmarked letter arrived the next day. Once again, Josh found it sitting on the kitchen table near Jules’ open laptop. She typed away, oblivious to him. He slammed the laptop shut, almost squashing her fingers.
“I thought we talked about this,” he said.
“Sorry, Jules. Right now there’s no way I can take time off. Believe me, I want this as much as you do, but it’s just impossible.”
The argument stretched on and on, and Josh eventually talked her around. After that, they settled on the couch to watch some television. Josh offered to make her a cup of tea, but Jules insisted on doing it herself.
“You want a beer?” she called from the kitchen.
“I’d love one.”
She took a long time fetching their drinks.
Josh woke up foggy-headed and groggy, feeling like he’d taken a sleeping pill. He remembered arguing with Jules, but didn’t remember going to bed. He shuffled into the kitchen and made a coffee.
No Jules. Nowhere. Gone.
He flopped onto the couch and flicked on the television. Breaking news interrupted the usual Saturday morning cartoons. Josh almost dropped his cup.
“We are not alone,” the reporter said. “Last night, all over the world, aliens appeared, only to disappear just as quickly.”
The reporter’s words were accompanied by footage of some immense thing dropping out of the sky. The image was grainy, obviously captured by a low-resolution camera.
Josh changed the channel numerous times. They were all the same, more or less. On some channels the thing appeared above a city, on some above a rural wilderness. On one channel, he saw pyramids in the distance, on another a frozen lake, on another a fecund jungle.
“Not only have we been visited,” one reporter said, “but it seems that some people were expecting this.”
This reporter’s words played over footage of a crowd gathered beneath one of the things. In the background, Josh saw an immense bridge, a bridge he recognised — a bridge he drove across every weekday.
As he watched, the thing touched down. A hatch opened. The crowd surged aboard. Only a few people turned and looked back.
Josh thought he recognised one of them — a woman with wild, long hair. It was hard to be sure. And then the thing disappeared back into the sky.
Josh kept watching.
(Originally published in AntipodeanSF #219, October 2016)