Note: All of the quotes in this story are taken from real-world sources.
“For nearly 50 years, the secrecy apparatus within the United States Government has kept from the public UFO and alien contact information [ . . . ]. We have contact with alien cultures.” — Astronaut Dr. Brian O’Leary
The initial impact? I was too young at the time it occurred to recall any specific on-the-scene details from the media coverage. And later there was simply too much fake footage and testimony to untangle real from unreal. After the island nation of Ausilapsia, with its duck-billed canines and impossible, shape-shifting, vegetal spiders, was proven to be a hoax, people were much less trusting. Besides, even those who claimed to have witnessed the incident first-hand varied dramatically on the specifics.
Some: “Fiery teeth in the sky!”
Some: “They fell like a cliff!”
Others: “The fall was up.”
Regardless, an impact. The broad, earnest faith of the earth stung and stung.
“Behind the scenes, high-ranking Air Force officers are soberly concerned about the UFOs. But through official secrecy and ridicule, many citizens are led to believe that unknown flying objects are nonsense.”— Admiral Roscoe Hillenkoetter, first Director of the CIA, 1947-1950
And then there were the artifacts.
These had been attested to by enough people, including curious celebrities, that there had to be something to the rumors. Sure, there were skeptics. Aren’t there always? But, as the philosopher Francisco Chu put it, there’s always enough evidence for believers and never enough for skeptics. Still, as with the impact itself, exact details were in dispute.
Maybe the artifacts were nothing more than Russian Federal Space Agency satellites, their experimental skins mottled with space stains upon which we projected intention and alien languages. Maybe they were in fact extraterrestrial ships, classically saucer-shaped, well-known from previous appearances in medieval frescoes, enigmatic passages in Ezekial that referenced “wheels that sparkled like chrysolite,” or citations in the Vedas, such as the flying machines in the Ramayana that flew through the skies with the aid of quicksilver and great winds.
But perhaps they were even more exotic.
Communication devices that looked like ordinary rocks until triggered by empathy?
Quantum objects – poised in a half-state between idea and thing until a child drew a picture or your desires aligned themselves with the right path?
A “tell” that Chuang Tzu was right all along, and we were butterflies sharing a hive-dream of being men?
“We already have the means to travel among the stars, but these technologies are locked up in black projects, and it would take an act of God to ever get them out to benefit humanity [ . . . ]. [A]nything you can imagine we already know how to do.” — Ben Rich, former Head of the Lockheed Skunk Works
“Terrifying,” said those who had seen them. These eyewitnesses were easily identified by the dark circles beneath their eyes and a tendency to slur their words. They also tended to inhabit lives that resembled dark caves – all that remained after broken relationships – romantic and otherwise. If they had jobs, they worked in back rooms away from customers. And they seemed to have regressed to a prehistoric state, all bewilderment at rain and light. They regarded reading with suspicion.
“Let there be no doubt. Alien technology harvested from the infamous saucer crash in Roswell, N.Mex., in July 1947, led directly to the development of the integrated circuit chip, laser and fiber optic technologies, particle beams, electromagnetic propulsion systems, depleted uranium projectiles, stealth capabilities, and many others. How do I know? I was in charge!”— Colonel Philip Corso, Former Head of the Foreign Technology Desk for United States Army Research and Development, National Security Council member, Eisenhower Administration.
For many years, I was content to let the artifacts have their little, conspiracy-theory half-life. After all, my life felt complete enough in the city without chasing after metaphysics. There were delicious, alligator-skinned fruits to eat. Black-haired women to kiss and hot places to explore in the dark. There were beautiful, broken-egg sunrises, a shaking of trees in spring storms. Books that opened you after you opened them.
But then my mother.
The breast cancer.
There was no doubt that our water supply was responsible. But this too had been lied about.
The state agencies claimed the water was perfectly safe despite the proximity of the power-plants and the Federal fertilizer that turned the birds into tumors, despite the sampling done by two major universities which showed the presence of uranium orders of magnitude above safety thresholds and the gene-spliced corn which had turned purple like a bruise and moaned in the wind, despite the fact that 25% of my mother’s graduating class had also succumbed to various cancers while still relatively young, and another 15% turned fatally allergic to their own blood.
The death left me emptier than I could have imagined. You expect such things to happen one day, but then again you don’t. Not really.
For years, I and my sisters had joked about my mother outliving us all whenever she confided her fear that she would die young. Now I realized that I had given her jokes when she needed comfort. I had given her a comedian instead of a son. And the universe sought retribution for my callousness. I stood, ground-zero, in a mother-shaped hole. It refused to be filled. Not by dinner parties that lasted all night. Not by music. Not by long hikes in the woods or epiphanies in sweat lodges. I felt desperate for some meaningful connection, for someone to say something special. This did not happen.
“I happen to be privileged enough to be in on the fact that we have been visited on this planet and the UFO phenomenon is real. It has been covered up by governments for quite some time now.” — Captain Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14 Astronaut
Eventually, I cashed in all the vacation days I’d accrued, took an indefinite leave of absence from my uncle’s software company, and set out for the Californian desert where the artifacts had been most recently reported.
I write “most recently” because one of the hallmarks of the artifacts was that they moved sporadically within a diameter of about five hundred miles. They moved on their own accord. This was whispered to be a residual effect of their essential nature, which was not tethered, as other phenomena were, to place and time.
It wasn’t only they who moved. A number of special duty guards and scientists were said to have been originally assigned to an installation built around a the artifacts. From all reports, something went wrong in their brains almost immediately. This wasn’t really all that surprising when you thought it through. After all, the objects of properties reportedly became unstable around the artifacts. Surveillance cameras showed not what was in front of them but live footage of the gestation of an unknown species. Guns would backfire. Soldiers would get lost in the space of five steps, hurl back their heads, and the sounds of small children would broadcast from their mouths.
Eventually the government retrieved their personnel and chased the artifacts like the rest of the “believers” whenever there was a sighting.
“In my official status, I cannot comment on ET contact. However, personally, I can assure you, we are not alone!”—Charles J. Camarda, NASA Astronaut
By the time, I got to California, they’d shifted again. But I kept my ear to the ground and travelled in spiraling circles outward from the location of the last sighting until a few weeks later, in a small diner that also sold cowboy hats and leather biker vests, a red-faced hunter burst in and shouted he’d seen the site glimmering on a hill in a Merrimac County just hours before.
The hill was an old Indian place, a red, domed rock formation – sacred in some way. I knew he had been telling the truth when a few miles away from the spot I began to feel “off.”
I vomited once, twice, in an old McDonald’s bag that luckily was lying on the floorboard on the passenger side. My head swam, and my blood flooded with sheer mammalian terror. Teeth gritted, I pushed into my sickness though, and when the road took me as close as it would, I parked.
There were other vehicles parked alongside the road too: some trucks, a few military jeeps and Humvees, a line of black Range Rovers, a camper with dirty yellow curtains that looked half a century old. However, I didn’t see any sign of visible life besides my own. The sky was as void of life as a blank piece of paper. I smelled nothing but the stink of my own musk. I heard only my own heartbeat.
Across a stretch of rocky near-desert, through some impossibly thick evergreens, North, North. I sprained my ankle in a valley of shale, slipped while fumbling up a pile of rocks and scraped my knee pretty good, but I reached it.
“The reality is that they (aliens) have been visiting earth for decades and probably millennia and have contributed considerably to our knowledge.” —Paul Hellyer, Canadian Defense Minister, 1963-1968
Obviously, many had arrived before me, including those involved in the rumored attempt to erect a military installation. There was still debris. Some security fencing crafted from a metal that looked like a cross between aluminum and copper slumped over, almost touching the ground in defeat. A half finished building, a collapsed air hangar, inexplicably a row of picnic tables. A door on the ground here, a laboratory sink over there. The bones of a fantastically, large dog. And the air. The air was alive. It felt crammed with radio waves. My ears buzzed. Bones too. I was suddenly terrified by the possibility of radiation.
And it was possible. The artifacts were real. In front me was a crater the size of a small lake. In the center of it were what looked like small broken buses that even in their broken state seemed to be eating light for they were violently dark except for a glimmer here and there. Shadows were leaking from this darkness, like ink in water, despite the absence of anything that could be casting them. I approached the lip of the crater, noting the sporadic trees I’d come across on my short hike had now completely abandoned linear growth for a variety of spiral shapes. And I thought I spotted teeth in some bee-faced mariposa lilies.
Yet, when I stepped into the crater, I was shocked to find myself in sunlight that seemed to launching itself against the shadows ahead. It was bright enough to make me squint, and it had the look of eternity, the way it is sometimes after a spring storm, or in a meadow high on a mountain. A color recalled from childhood and the first days of a love affair. It made sense to me then why over the years untold thousands were said to have journeyed to the artifacts to worship them, and to go to their knees and pray for some sort of revelation, some show of power.
I was about half-way to the shapes when I saw other small shapes ahead which were clearly visible. They were tableaus of some sort, strange configurations that had been simultaneously meant as altar and sacrifice, such as those you find sometimes around a place on the highway where someone had crashed or in the inner city where someone was shot by the police. They seemed obviously the product of man or, at least, had begun so. For there were things alive on them that should not be alive or rather that seemed half-alive, for they flickered in the light like old-fashioned film being screened.
One consisted of a cage, placed on a small hastily-made wooden table with a adult male hare and a smaller, younger one growling and charging one another. I had the feeling they had been fighting for a long time. A few feet in front of this was another cage, holding a large snaggle-toothed, yellow cat, blind in one eye, from whose teats hung a cluster of almost-bald kittens, blood leaking from the tight seal between mouths and nipples. Yet another altar was a small table on which had been piled wildflowers, roots fine and exposed like doll hair. They were held in place by a gallon-size glass jar of honey, comb-stuffed, and buzzing with bees. Another tableau was simply garbage swarming with flies. A table with a doll. A table with a nailed frog. A table with a pile of mud with a small sapling rising through. A table with spools of thread and a jangle of needles. A table with an open book written in what looked like Arabic. A glass of water. And so on. Until I drew as close to the artifacts as I could, until I bore as much of the head buzzing and bone aching, and the sense of underwater-pressure as I could. Could I have gone further? Maybe. But I doubt I would have seen any more of the artifacts than I did.
As for the tableaus, there were more, yes, but now that I have returned, and stand before you, I remember them simply as a feeling. For what struck me in the end wasn’t the artifacts, or a solution to their mystery or mine. No, it wasn’t the artifacts that were ultimately so alien to me as much as the acts of worship.
It is these that ultimately filled me with so much terror and awe.
It is these that spoke to my emptiness.
It is these I have come to report.
Literary Editor: John Yu Branscum