‘Has it gone?’
I peek out of the window then duck down again, nodding at Sarah as I bite my left thumbnail. ‘Hasn’t moved an inch.’
‘Are you kidding me?’ she whispers as though our visitor might hear her.
It’s been about thirty minutes since she discovered the alligator on our doorstep. She was going to head out on her morning run, the sort where she’s up at the crack of dawn and back before breakfast. Imagine my shock this morning when I was rudely awakened by her screaming from downstairs. Seconds later she pelted into the bedroom and practically flew into the en suite where she screamed some more. When I got up and asked her what the hell the matter was, she finally stuttered: ‘Look... Look outside.’
I did and… Oh my God.
Now we’re cowering under the window like a pair of two-year olds, me still in my pyjamas and Sarah in her jogging gear. She came out of the en suite after much cajoling but now she won’t even raise her head above the windowsill, as if the alligator might look up at her and begin climbing up our front wall to eat us. The radiator is every bit as cold as the morning. We listen for any noise in case the alligator shuffles around on our doorstep. What sort of noises do alligators make, anyway? The only reference I have is from Peter Pan when Captain Hook gets devoured by the alligator with a clock in its stomach. But we hear no ticking. Only the rustling, leafless trees.
‘What should we do?’
Sarah has her thumb in her mouth, a habit that even adulthood couldn’t shake out of her. The words sound more like: ‘Quat shad wee doo?’
‘Call the police?’ I say.
She gives me one of her ‘Are you serious?’ glares. ‘What are the police going to do? Give it an ASBO?’
Despite my terror, I laugh and she takes her thumb out to smirk at me.
‘What do you think we should do then?’ I ask. My teeth move onto my left index finger. Very soon I’m going to run out of nails.
‘I dunno.’ She shakes her curly head and gazes at the floor. ‘Pest control?’
‘I thought they only dealt with rodents.’
‘The local zoo then. Jesus, I don’t know!’
I stare at my dressing gown hanging on the back of our wardrobe door. I wish I had the courage to get up and put it on. It’s bloody freezing.
‘How can it even survive?’ I mutter. ‘I thought alligators are cold-blooded.’
Sarah looks at me in amazement. ‘John, how can you be asking questions like that when there are more important ones to ask? Like how did it get there in the first place?’
‘Well, it didn’t swim.’
‘And what are we going to do about it?’ Now the thumb’s back in her mouth. ‘Oh God this is worse than that dream I had about the abominable snowman.’
Slowly, I get onto my knees and raise my head. The alligator’s still there. It hasn’t moved whatsoever. Not even its tail is moving. Is it dead? If only it would move, that way we would know if it’s dangerous or… God’s sake, John, it’s an alligator! Of course it’s dangerous.
‘Oh God.’ Sarah bites her thumb so hard that I’m surprised she hasn’t maimed herself. ‘I can’t believe this is happening. There’s a bloody crocodile on our doorstep!’
‘Alligator,’ I say.
‘It’s an alligator. Not a crocodile.’
‘Does it matter? They’re both scaly and have long sharp teeth that could rip our legs off.’
‘Actually, alligators have different shaped snouts.’
She stares at me then sighs. ‘Honestly!’
‘I think,’ I say. ‘I think it may be asleep.’
‘What? Are you sure?’
‘It hasn’t even budged. We might be able to step over it and go look for help.’
‘Great thinking, Batman. And what if it wakes up and tears us apart?’
‘Then we’ll die.’
But even so, she sighs and crawls over towards the door out of sight of the window. She stands up and beckons me over as if about to investigate the possibility of a burglar being in our house. I tip-toe over to her, grabbing my dressing gown in the process before heading downstairs as quietly as we can. The front door looms before us. It’s still open a tad. Obviously, Sarah didn’t shut it before fleeing in terror. Understandable. But that means she could have let it into the house. She seems to realise this as she hides behind me.
I reach for the handle, hesitate then pull the front door open.
And there’s the alligator. We both flinch at the sight of its wide-open, slit-pupiled eyes staring at us like death. Its grin is a thing of evil and Sarah lets out a little moan as she digs her nails into my arm so hard I wince.
‘It’s okay,’ I whisper. ‘They sleep with their eyes open. I think.’
There’s still no sound coming from the creature. Not even a whisker of breath. Perhaps they don’t breathe either. I certainly can’t right now as I consider slamming the door shut. With a nudge from Sarah, I find myself being pushed forward against my will. The crocodile, or alligator, whatever the infernal thing is, is dangerously close now. Its horrid pupil doesn’t move to look at me as I gingerly lift one slippered foot over its scaly hide. My flesh tingles with the cold and the anticipation of teeth sinking into it. Somehow my foot reaches the patio on the other side of the alligator’s belly. It’s all I can do not to run for it. Now the alligator is between both my legs. I lift the other foot. My slipper falls off and I freeze as it bounces off the alligator’s back. Sarah lets out a gasp.
But the alligator still doesn’t move.
Two seconds later both my feet are on the other side of it. My whole body’s shaking and I probably look like an idiot in my nightwear but at least I’m still in one piece. I back away up the garden path to allow room for Sarah. I gesture for her to come forward.
‘No. I can’t. You need to hold my hand.’
‘You mean I have to go near it again?’
She looks hurt and it makes me feel guilty enough to shuffle forward and extend one hand for her to grab. She does so, and so tight I can barely feel my fingers. She looks like she might throw up as she imitates me and lifts one foot over the alligator. She’s shaking worse than I am and her grip gets tighter. Her trainer lands firmly on the concrete. I allow myself to breathe again.
‘All right,’ I say. ‘Now the other.’
She doesn’t move. Like the thing beneath her she seems to be frozen in place.
‘I can’t,’ she says.
‘Yes you can. Come on. Just lift it up.’
I squeeze her hand and, finally, she manages to move her foot. My terror increases tenfold. The prospect of losing a limb was bad enough to think about. But losing her?
I pull her forward to get her over faster. This results in her foot snagging on the beast’s hide and falling over it. Oh, crap! I wrench her out of harm’s way before the monstrosity can wake from its deep slumber. Sarah screams again but it dies in her throat as we crouch there and wait for the thing to devour us.
Except it doesn’t. It just lays there, unheeding.
‘Wait a minute...’ I move towards the alligator and prod it with my toe.
‘What are you―?’
‘It’s fake,’ I tell her. I reach down and squeeze the ‘scales’, feeling a firm rubbery-ness beneath it. ‘It’s just a stuffed animal.’
Sarah still looks as if she’s going to vomit. ‘Oh,’ she says. ‘Oh, thank God.’ Then her voice turns angry. ‘Who on planet earth thought that would be so funny?’
I begin to laugh.
‘What?’ she says, then starts laughing too.
‘I think,’ I tell her, ‘I think I’m going to need a new pair of pyjama bottoms.’
Previously published in the UKCCWS Illustrated Anthology Vol. 4 (2017) with the accompanying illustration.
Matt Gregory was born Kent, lives in Kent and will probably die in Kent. He has an MA creative writing, spends a lot time talking to himself and writes a lot of stories about animals. He is currently working on a novel that he will finish. One day.