“Three days after my wife filed for divorce,” Gerald says, “I was abducted by aliens. They were seven feet tall and covered with a thick, brown hair. Their arms dangled below their waists like monkeys’. Here, I’ve drawn a picture.”
Gerald opens the manila folder on his lap and removes a portrait of three aliens drawn in colored pencil. They have sloping brows and bright red eyes. Their hair is brown, but one in the center has a stripe of orange across its chest. Gerald holds the picture from the top, walking it around the circle of chairs and showing it to the other members of the support group.
“They call themselves the Tok’Pari. They have no planet of their own; it was destroyed by a rogue meteor. Two of their spaceships escaped the planet before it was obliterated, but they were separated during a radiation storm. They hope to find the other ship, but it might prove impossible. Space is so big.”
Denise, a middle-aged woman with a snapshot of her cat printed on her sweatshirt, looks at the picture and nods. “The aliens that I’m in contact with, Gerald—the Dwon Kuon—they mentioned something about your aliens.”
“Did they tell you why they abducted you, Gerald?” asks Jim, the group moderator.
“No. Like I said, they abducted me, took my blood and dropped me off in a park in Glendale, a mile away from my car.”
“Did they give you a purpose?” asks Denise. “The Dwon Kuon told me to try and foster world peace before we end up destroying ourselves like they did.”
“No. They just took some blood.”
“Did they at least tell you want they wanted?” Jim asks, raking his fingers through his bushy gray mustache.
“No. They only told me about their planet and gave me some slim, green bars to eat that tasted like fish. They asked me if they could have a sample of my blood. The violet rays of light that permeated their ship gave me a sense of tranquility and I agreed. Things were fuzzy for awhile, then I was in the park.”
“Why do you suppose they abducted you?”
“I don’t know,” Gerald says.
“Have they contacted you since?”
This is the last meeting of the Alien Encounter Support Group. Jim, founder and moderator, is moving to Chico with his wife. Because it is their last day, refreshments have been laid out on a card table near the door. Gerald and the rest of the group linger around the table after Jim’s farewell speech, during which he reminded everyone to “keep looking up.”
Gerald is on his third cup of coffee and second piece of poundcake, smiling at the others listening in on their conversations. He is a slender, balding man with rusty brown hair. He is healthy and forty-two years of age. He has a daughter named Melissa, who is eight years old and until today has lived with her mother in the valley. Today they are moving to Perth, Australia. Gerald lives in Los Angeles.
“Denise,” Gerald asks, “would you be interested in keeping in touch? To talk more about the relationship between our aliens?”
“Honey,” she says, “I think I’ve had enough of these visitations for awhile. Honestly, the Dwon Kuon are so demanding. Every time we talk, it’s like: Have you ushered in an era of world peace yet? I’m due for some me-time, Gary, if you know what I mean.”
Two years ago, Gerald joined a screenwriting group that met in the same community center on the same floor at the same time as the Alien Encounter group, but in a room further down the hall. Gerald had moved his family to LA three years prior with hopes of selling a movie script he was writing at night and on the weekends. The movie was about a husband and wife who worked together on a space station, until a pod arrives with a virus that infects the woman. The woman slowly turns into an alien and the man and woman lose the ability to communicate because she can no longer recognize auditory signals. One day after the man had long given up being understood by his wife, a space dragon appears and the husband defeats it by firing an escape shuttle filled with a neutron star, the study of which had been the husband’s greatest passion and life’s work. Though the wife has hopelessly become a space creature, she can still understand the husband’s sacrifice and therein they discover a bond deeper than any form of communication. When Gerald saw the ad for a screenwriting group on Craigslist, he had joined with hopes of getting some feedback.
“This doesn’t make any sense,” said one of the other screenwriters.
“It makes sense to me,” Gerald replied.
The screenwriting group began to lose members until only Gerald was left. It was curiosity that led him to the Alien Encounters group, and an openness to the mindset of the cosmic travelers, which, as Jim had told him the first day, was likely the reason Gerald had been chosen for abduction.
“Is anyone still interested in having these meetings?” Gerald asks to no one in particular. “I’d be willing to moderate.
After his Alien Encounter group, Gerald has family therapy in Santa Monica. This is their final session, too.
In the waiting room of Dr. Terry’s office there is a picture of a man and a woman on opposite sides of a lake at sunset. Gerald sits under this picture awaiting his wife and daughter, who are late as usual. His is alone in the room except for the receptionist, an overweight woman who wears too much makeup and looks like a clown and a tribal warrior at the same time. The plaque on her desk says: Receptionist.
Dr. Terry pokes her head out of the door.
“Are you ready, Gerald?” she asks.
“No. My wife and Melissa aren’t here.”
“They cancelled. Did they not call you?”
“I was supposed to see my daughter before she moved.”
“Call your wife after therapy. She told me to tell you that.”
“Why didn’t she call me?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m going to go home.”
“Come have a solo session. You’ve paid for it.”
“I’m not crazy.”
“Therapy isn’t for crazy people.”
“Well, is it for healthy people?”
“It’s just for people.”
The receptionist smiles.
“Fine,” Gerald says, and follows her into her office. The office is small and professional, with shelves of books both popular and obscure and a couch made of slick leather, almost slippery, at least to the point that Gerald has always found it hard to sit on without sliding into discomfort. Dr. Terry’s chair is also leather, but has dimples that seem to help her maintain traction.
Dr. Terry is a young woman. Too young, Gerald thinks, to be a psychiatrist. She is not a psychiatrist but a therapist, and has told him this several times. Her hair is brown and she is slender and often well dressed in skirts and coats either gray or black. The walls of her office are decorated with diplomas and other formal documents mounted beneath thick picture frames.
“Your wife,” she says, “your ex, I mean; she told me that you were recently abducted by aliens?”
“That’s why she didn’t come,” Gerald says. “She thinks I’ve gone crazy.”
“No. No,” says Dr. Terry, shifting in her chair. “I’m not here to judge your sanity.”
“Isn’t that your job?” asks Gerald.
“I’m not here to pass judgment, Gerald. I’m here to ease your transition through a divorce. I’m here to listen, and that’s all. If you believe that you were abducted by aliens, I believe that you believe you were abducted by aliens. It’s that simple.”
Gerald sighs, and slips a little further down the couch. “I wasn’t abducted by aliens. I don’t know why she told you that. She hates me.”
“She doesn’t hate you, Gerald. In fact, she still loves you. That’s why this is so hard for her.”
“If she loves me then why is she divorcing me?”
“She’s grown as a human. She’s moved on, and her needs are different now.”
“How are my needs any different than hers? Haven’t I grown too? Why haven’t I moved on?”
“You’ve grown, but in a different direction.”
Gerald rubs the bridge of his nose. “What I don’t understand,” he says, “is why we have met here for weeks now and you still haven’t told her how stupid it is to leave someone who’s been decent to her for years. I’ve been a good husband and a good father. Why haven’t you told her that I don’t deserve this?”
“It’s not my job to make judgments like that.”
“Well can I ask you something? Do you think it’s okay for a wife to walk out on her husband of seven years just because she’s grown as a human, or whatever that means?”
“Gerald, I can’t answer that. Now please, Gerald. Please just sit down.”
In rush-hour traffic on Olympic Boulevard, Gerald is heading east, slowly. His wife wouldn’t answer her phone, but she left a text: TAR PITS. That’s where he’s headed.
Gerald looks into the other cars that are stopped around his own. Most drivers are talking on the phone. Others listen to music. Gerald can’t hear the music, but he knows it is there because the people in the cars drum the wheel or nod with an unheard melody. Most of the people are alone in their vehicles. Some pick their noses even though they are visible to all. No one looks at Gerald. He turns on the radio. A program that he likes is on.
The program is about strange events. People call in and relate their supernatural encounters to one another. A woman is on-air, talking about the time she was raped by an entity she believed wore a man’s body.
“He seemed like a nice person,” she says, after describing the grisly rape scene that ended with the man dissolving into a green mist. “He was well-groomed, pleasant-smelling, even erudite. There is a part of me that believes he raped me out of affection. He didn’t know the correct way to show love or tenderness. He only had the one tool, the rape I mean, as a way of expressing himself.”
“So you think there was love behind his actions?” asks Pat McGowan, the host.
“Yes, or what passes for love in his world,” says the anonymous woman.
The host ends the call and the show goes to commercial. Gerald dials the number for the station.
A woman’s voice answers. “What is your call about?”
“Aliens. I was abducted by aliens.”
“What is your name?” she asks.
“Gary,” says Gerald.
“Can you hold for a half-hour?”
Gerald lifts his foot off the brake and moves forward five feet. He puts his foot back on the brake.
“Yes,” Gerald says.
When the show returns from commercial a man calls in and tells the host about his neighbor who is probably a vampire but still one hell of a guy. Another woman tells the host that one of her cats talks to her about her dead son.
“We’ve got Gary from Los Angeles who was abducted by aliens,” says Pat.
“Hello,” Gerald says.
“Tell me about those aliens, Gare.”
“Well, I was in Glendale—”
“Can you turn off your radio there, Gary? We’re getting some feedback.”
“Sorry, okay. So, I was in Glendale.”
“Lot of whackos in that neighborhood,” says Pat.
“I was driving my car when I was encompassed by a bright light. How I got out of my car is a mystery to me, but within seconds I felt myself floating high above the earth.”
“Were you scared?”
“At first I was, Pat. But then I felt a sense of calm fall over me, and I knew that it was going to be okay and that I was not alone.”
“It’s common for abductees to feel that way. It’s like the Travelers always know how to make us feel safe.”
“I was taken onto their ship, where they fed me, and took some of my blood. Then they dropped me off afterwards.”
“Wow. That is truly an amazing story. Do you know why they took you?”
“No. It just seemed like they were curious about what I was. They treated me with dignity and even showed me a map of the stars. I can’t really explain it, but somehow they told me about their home planet without actually talking. Their language sounded like glass breaking. But still we understood each other, and we even held hands for a short period of time.”
“Did you get to second base?”
“I’m just kidding you, Gare. You know what? We had a caller yesterday who claimed she saw bright lights over Glendale a few weeks back. You think that might have been the same thing?”
“It might be. Is there a way to talk to this person?”
“I don’t have that information, but I tell you what, if the lady who saw the lights over Glendale is listening and you want to talk to Gary about it, call in and I’ll give you his number. I’ll get your number over the break, Gare. Thanks for calling. And stay tuned for the Rush-Hour News Update.”
The line clicks and Gerald gives his number to the woman screening calls. Traffic inches slowly along. He is only a few blocks from the La Brea Tar Pits. Gerald has received two texts from his ex-wife while he was on the phone with Pat. They were:
R U COMING?
WHERE R U? WE NEED 2 LEAVE SOON.
Gerald texts back that he’s on his way, but receives no response. He inches past the green metal gates enclosing the park and finally swings into the parking lot. He gets out of his car.
It is a hot day and the smell of tar is strong, like coffee and gasoline. As he walks through the park, he sees a man dressed as a cowboy playing the guitar and singing to no one. He does not see his wife. He does not see his daughter. His phone beeps and vibrates. There is a text from his ex-wife.
WHERE WERE U? WE HAD 2 GO. VISIT MLISA OFTEN.
Gerald stops at the fence that surrounds the biggest pit. There’s a statue of a mastodon there trapped in the tar. The mastodon is sculpted as if crying out—tusks skyward, struggling against the tar. On the bank of the pit another big mastodon and a little mastodon watch the other mastodon sink.
Gerald walks back towards his car. He passes the Natural History Museum and the saber-tooth cats in battle. His phone rings. He doesn’t recognize the number. He lets the phone ring twice more but finally answers it.
There is silence on the other end, then a scratching noise.
“I saw the lights over Glendale. We are not alone.”