“There’s not supposed to be life on this planet!” exclaimed Riley.
“Yeah, well, guess what?” replied Hunter. “The suits at NASA got it wrong – this thing proves it.”
The two astronauts stared at the life form clinging to the ship’s external hull. It was about the size of a man’s hand, with eight fur-covered tentacles, four antennae and a disturbingly familiar face.
The face of a woman.
But not just any woman.
“Ed Riley, high time you showed up! I’ve been dealing with the kids all day while you’ve been gallivanting around the planet’s surface, playing follow-the-leader with your buddy!”
The voice of his ex-wife caused Riley to take a step backward. How could this be? Thousands of light years from earth, and he still couldn’t escape the woman’s nagging.
He turned to Hunter. “Did you hear that? It sounds like Lynda… it looks like Lynda!”
It was true – the thing did look like his ex-wife. Except for the tentacles, although when he stopped to think about it, Lynda was good at squeezing the life from him. Even after the divorce.
His father, disappointed, had told him he couldn’t escape his obligations; that marriage was for life.
Yeah? Lynda was one of the reasons Riley had signed up for the Mars mission.
He looked at the Lynda-thing again, but its attention had turned to the paralyzed Hunter.
“Hunter?” Riley’s voice reverberated inside Hunter’s helmet, forcing him to look away from the creature.
“Riley, that thing,” he said, shaken, “its face – it’s Peg! This is crazy! Am I dreaming?”
“Buzzy,” the thing whined, “you never pay any attention to me. You leave me home while you go out with your astronaut pals. What about me? I’ve got needs. What about me, Buzzy?”
“Stop!” cried Hunter. “Please… stop it! You’re the reason I left earth! The never-ending whining – I just can’t take it!”
Riley grabbed Hunter’s shoulder. “Calm down, Hunter. I’m the one who should be going nuts. That thing looks like my wife!”
Hunter looked again at the insect. No, it was Peg’s pouting face staring back at his. Confused, he turned to Riley. “No… can’t you see? It’s Peggy!”
Riley stared at the insect. He saw Lynda, heard Lynda… but Hunter saw Peg.
“This is can’t be,” he whispered.
The thing continued its monologue of complaint.
Suddenly, Hunter’s gloved hand shot forward, splattering the creature.
“There, that’s better,” he said, strangely calm. “I once swore I’d kill her if she didn’t stop whining.”
Riley thought of his father. You can’t escape your obligations, son, marriage is for life.
Feeling liberated, Riley grinned. Guess you were wrong, dad!
Yeah, that’s what he thought – until the next morning when he and Hunter woke to the sight of hundreds of insects, slowly scaling their legs, arms, necks…
Grinning, familiar faces, complaining, hectoring – a crescendo of recrimination.
As the insects consumed him, Riley realized his father had been right.
Marriage is for life – and life ain’t fair.
Author’s Note: This week’s tale is written in response to a challenge to write a 500-words or less story in which ‘the first men to set foot on mars return to their ship only to find a large, strange insect on the door of the ship.’ You can check out these weekly flash fiction challenges hosted by Thain in Vain here.