We thought we were having a hell of a hailstorm when we woke up in the middle of the night to a peal of thunder and the sound of our cabin being pelted. It went on for about a minute, then it stopped. There wasn’t any rain, which was strange. We went back to sleep, faintly aware of the smell of something burning. I figured it was probably from a lightning strike somewhere else.
In the morning, we realized how wrong we’d been. Jill was the first to get up, but her yelling ensured I was right on her heels.
Our property was a wreck. Baseball-sized burns covered the lawn as far as we could see, and when I went outside to assess the damage to our cabin, I was dismayed to find similar, albeit smaller, burns all over the roof.
“Had to have been meteorites,” Jill claimed. “I bet that thunder we heard was a big one breaking up.”
I didn’t know enough to disagree, but I thought it was pretty weird. She concurred.
We spent the day doing our best to rake up the marble-sized pieces of rock, which we hauled out and piled in the back of the property by the compost heap. Jill thought they might be worth something to someone, so we were going to bring a jar full back home at the end of the summer.
As she talked, I could tell she was uncomfortable. The work we’d been doing had aggravated the chapped skin around her mouth and under her arms. Something about the time of year always did it to her, and no matter how much she tried to keep the areas moist, they would still crack painfully. I told her I’d finish up for the night if she wanted to go inside. She did.
I made a vague plan to excise the ruined bits of lawn and reseed it, but I soon got frustrated. It was going to be a major project that would take days, if not weeks. There were still whole areas of the yard where we hadn’t picked up the meteorites, but they’d wreck the lawnmower if I tried to go over them just to make the area presentable in the meantime. Such a pain in the a*s.
The next day, to make matters worse, we noticed the well water had acquired a taste. It was briny and flat; almost coppery. Wholly unpleasant. We could drink bottled water for the rest of the vacation, which we’d been doing most of the time anyway, but we still showered and brushed our teeth with the stuff that came out of the well. And for a while, we kept doing it. On the bright side, my gums had stopped bleeding when I flossed. Must’ve been all the extra minerals from the well water that gets filtered out in municipal reservoirs.
After another long day of yard work, I was preparing dinner when I heard Jill shriek from the bathroom. She’d gone in to take a shower a few minutes earlier. When I rushed in to see what was wrong, she was coughing and swearing and working to wipe away clear, viscous something that had pooled on her face. I could see the shower head oozing the same stuff, clogging the drain and puddling like syrup on the bottom of the bathtub. If she hadn’t leapt out the second she felt it hit her face, she would’ve been covered from head to toe.
I helped Jill towel off as much of the stuff as I could, and a minute or two later, the shower head had started spitting out water again. It took a bit of coaxing, but she eventually held her head under its flow so she could wash her hair of the residue of whatever the hell had gotten on her.
Once Jill was as clean as she was going to get, I called the guy in charge of well maintenance for the county. The only guy in charge of well maintenance for the county. He answered right away, but gave the reply I knew was coming: I’d be at least three weeks before he could get out here and take a look. I pleaded with him to make some time to come earlier, and offered him way too much money, but the best he could do was move the appointment ahead by two days.
He told me that he’d seen algae blooms in a few of the local wells. The only suggestion he had was to run the water until it looked normal, which is what we’d done during our subsequent showers. I hated having to wait, but it was good to know he’d seen something like this before.
Over dinner, Jill and I tried to come to an agreement about what to do. I wanted to go home. There wasn’t any reason why we needed to keep putting up with the weird water and the yard work when we could go home, be comfortable, and hire people to take care of it all.
Jill wanted to stay. She’d been looking forward to this trip for months, and the chapped skin on her mouth was feeling much better. The cabin had belonged to her parents and she’d spent many summers here. No matter how unpleasant the circumstances might have gotten for us, they were still less stressful than all the work she had waiting for her when we were scheduled to return home in two months.
Yesterday morning, we woke up to a remarkably pleasant surprise. In the parts of the yard where we hadn’t carted away the meteorites, the burned parts had disappeared. When I went outside to look, I saw the burns were covered in the same viscous stuff that would occasionally come from our pipes. Underneath the ooze was healthy, green grass. When I looked closer, I saw ants – ants almost too small to see – were crawling up and down the blades and carrying away dried pieces of the slime to bring back to their homes.
I headed back inside and told Jill. She acted happy to hear it, but I could tell she was deeply uncomfortable. The chapped skin around her mouth and nose had gotten bad again. I offered to take her to the clinic in town, but she didn’t want to sit in the car for four hours just to have the doctor give her the same cream she’d been using on herself for the last week. While she spoke, the left corner of her mouth cracked open and spilled a thin rivulet of blood down her chin.
Sighing with exasperation, she grabbed a paper towel, turned on the sink to wet it, and put the paper against her wound. When she sat back down, I saw the faucet was drooling the sticky algal slime that’d caused her the problem in the first place. But it was too late. She’d already pressed it to the crack in her skin.
Before I could mention this to her, Jill’s eyes had brightened. She pulled the paper towel away, a string of syrupy fluid still connecting the towel to her face. The cut was gone.
“Don’t,” I told her.
Jill didn’t listen. She went back to the sink and turned it on. Sticky, clear stuff flowed. She filled her hands and brought the contents to her face. She rubbed for a moment, then turned back toward me.
Behind the sheen around her mouth and nose was new, healthy skin.
“Pretty cool!,” Jill exclaimed, and wiped the residue away. I didn’t know what to think, let alone say. I figured some homeopathic doctor who minored in algae studies would find it completely normal.
We went to bed and slept. In the morning, Jill’s mouth and nose, while much better than they’d been at their worst, were still not as perfect as they were right after she’d applied the slime. I told her I was going to go out in the yard and do some more work.
Before I could get out of bed, though, she kissed me. Now, we’re in our late 50s. We’re affectionate with one another, don’t get me wrong, but most of the time we just cuddle on the couch and share a pizza. It’s easier that way. Requires fewer blue pills, too. That’s not to say we don’t have a sex life, because we do, but it’s more of a once-every-two-months kind of thing.
Jill’s rapturous kiss was less like one from the woman to whom I’d been married for 35 years and more like that of the teenager she was when we first started dating. I didn’t bother concerning myself with that particular difference, though. I followed her lead and we did what apparently needed to be done. No blue pills required, thank you very much.
Afterward, while I got dressed, I told Jill I was going to start raking up the meteorites we’d left the other day. She didn’t pay attention. She wanted me back in bed. I laughed and reminded her that even when we were kids I still had the refractory period of a climate cycle. She nodded and told me to be safe outside, then made an obvious show of slipping her hands under the blankets. She looked amazing. To my surprise, I felt renewed stirring below my belt. Before I could say “f**k it” and jump back into bed, though, I shook my head. I really needed to get going on that yard work. It was starting to cloud up and I didn’t want to have to put it off because of rain. I told Jill to have fun, then went outside.
In the untouched area of the yard, the grass was ankle-high. All the burns were gone. Clumps of slime still sat in the grass. The ants that’d been going crazy for the stuff were nowhere to be found.
I raked and raked and raked. The pebbles piled up and I shoveled them into the wheelbarrow and brought them to the main pile by the compost heap. I was a little surprised there were no ants at all. I could see their anthills bored into the ground all over the place, but not a single one was out and about.
I’d been working for about two hours nonstop, so during a break, while I chugged from my bottle of water, I bent down to get a closer look at the spots where the ants had swarmed the other day. Something was there that I hadn’t noticed while I was raking. Something definitely not there when I looked the previous day.
There were infinitesimal white dots coating the same blades of grass that’d been crawling with ants less than 24 hours ago. I plucked a few blades from the ground and held them in front of my face, hoping to get a better view. The dots were slightly ovoid in shape. Something clicked. Eggs. The ants must’ve had such a massive meal of that slime stuff that it drove them to reproduce like crazy. Or something. I have no idea how they make ants.
I heard raindrops impacting the trees on the other side of the property, and ten seconds later, they reached me. A distant bolt of lightning streaked the sky, and thunder boomed a moment later. Sighing, I put the rake and shovel in the wheelbarrow and wheeled it all back to the shed. More lightning and thunder. I figured I wouldn’t be getting anything else done around the yard until the storm passed.
I headed back into the cabin, banged my boots against the doorway to get the mud off, and stepped inside.
“Charlie,” Jill called. I heard water running in the bathroom.
From the kitchen where I stood, spooning last night’s fruit salad into a bowl, I called back, “what’s up?”
“Come take a bath with me!”
I laughed to myself. That bathtub could barely fit 110 pound Jill, let alone 250 pound me. I brought my bowl of fruit salad with me down the hall and into the bedroom. Before I turned the corner to the bathroom, the water was turned off and Jill shouted out again, “Charlie, are you coming?” Her voice sounded a little different. Crisper, somehow.
I stepped into the candle-lit bathroom. Jill was in the tub, leaning back against its curved shape. She was resting her head on a folded towel. She glanced over at me and smiled. Her hands roamed up and down her body.
Even in the dim light, she looked incredible. I didn’t know whether it was the prospect of repeating our fun from that morning or just the sight of her touching herself, but it was remarkably enjoyable. I placed my bowl on the sink and started to undress.
A nearby bolt of lightning immediately followed by an explosion of thunder made me jump. As my surprise faded and I continued to take off my clothes, I realized I’d seen something different in the harsh illumination of the lightning.
On the other side of the bathroom, Jill continued her teasing. “Come here and touch me,” she whispered. Again, I noticed the unusual quality of her voice. Another clap of thunder shook the house, and that time, the associated burst of lightning showed me exactly what I had trouble identifying after the first strike.
With a gasp, I turned on the light. In the harsh, overhead fluorescence, everything was revealed.
The tub in which Jill bathed was filled to the brim with clear slime. As I watched, she slid beneath the surface, coating her face and head, and came back up. When she breached the surface, she spoke.
“Please, Charlie, I can’t even tell you how good this feels.”
Again, the different vocal quality. Now, though, in the harsh light, I saw another change. Her hair. Jill’s hair had been gray since her late 40s. It was light brown now.
Jill manipulated herself with her right hand and reached for me with her left. Clear fluid oozed from her hand and arm and puddled on the floor like heavy syrup. “Come feel this with me, Charlie.”
I didn’t move. Part of me wanted to pull her from the tub, but another part, as the rain pounded against the roof and thunder rattled the windowpanes, was too frightened to touch her. I moved closer, but stayed out of her reach. Standing at the foot of the tub, I stared at my wife as she bucked her hips against her hand and mouthed my name over and over. Ripples in the slime caused it to slosh against the sides of the tub.
“Jill, please get out. Please.” My voice trembled and was barely audible over the pouring rain.
She reached for me with both hands and smiled, then spoke. “Don’t you want to be young with me again? To start fresh? Don’t you remember how good it felt?”
Jill slid down, and I thought she was going to dip under the slime again. But she stopped at her mouth. She opened it and let the slime pool inside. She closed her lips and I saw her throat work as she swallowed the mouthful.
“It feels so right. So perfect. I want to share this with you, sweetheart.”
My mind reeled. I thought about every ache and pain I’d accumulated over my 56 years. Every pockmark and hemorrhoid and scaly patch that’d come along over those long decades throbbed, as if wanting to be noticed. Before me was a way to make it stop. I remembered how Jill and I were as teenagers. Full of life and energy and libido; all things that, over the years, had just started to evaporate. I stared at my wife, who looked exactly like she had when she was 25.
Despite my fear, a pang of desire shot through me. Desire and arousal. I wanted Jill. I wanted to be with her in every way imaginable. We could grow old together again – or never grow old at all. Our happiness could last forever if we wanted. All I had to do was join her in the bathtub.
I took a step forward and resumed taking off my clothes. Jill purred and lapped up more of the slime. Some she swallowed, some she drooled from the corners of her mouth. She absentmindedly played with herself while she watched me, apparently delighted I was going to join her in this new, impossible youth.
As I struggled to bend over and take off my socks, something that’d been a pain in my a*s since I passed the 225 mark on the scale, I noticed something that caused me to stop. Jill’s breasts were shrinking. Before my eyes, her hips slimmed and her pubic hair disappeared. Her feet no longer came to the edge of the tub, but instead barely touched it.
“Come bathe with me, honey.” Jill’s voice was high and childlike. I recoiled. Whatever was happening to her was going faster. She looked 4 or 5.
“It’s incredible,” she chirped, again reaching for me with one hand and rubbing herself with the other in an act so obscene in her new, young context, that I turned away, nauseated.
“Charlie,” came the tiny voice behind me. I didn’t turn around.
The last word was practically babbled, but still carried with it an element of inquisitiveness, and, no matter how much I try to tell myself otherwise, dejection. She didn’t speak again.
A moment later, I turned around. Floating in the tub was a red shape, approximately the size of of a lemon. Tears filled my eyes as it shrank to the size of a cherry, then a pea, then a grain of rice. When I blinked, it was gone. A ribbon of white fluid hung motionless in the slime.
“I’m so sorry, my love,” I whispered to it. Distant thunder rolled across the forest.
Unsettling Stories is on Facebook.