Mac Tonnies assures me that this is a true story; I’ve worked with him for a while now, and I’m inclined to believe him… though I suspect the truth in question may be more symbolic than literal. But you should make up your own mind after you read about Mac’s real-life alien encounter in this month’s Loving The Alien column.
It was late and my mouth tasted of soured espresso. The laptop was warm under my palms as I stared at the eggshell glow of the word processor. For the fourth or fifth time, I considered new tags to add to my Flickr stream or doing a bit of weirdhunting for my blog.
Then the alien arrived.
I call it an “alien” merely for convenience’s sake: I had no idea if it was extraterrestrial or something altogether more arcane. But it looked alien enough; except for minor details, it could have stepped out of a popular book on UFO abductions. Its eyes were massive and unblinking beneath wet black membranes. The body, gaunt and emaciated, was a study in androgyny.
My fingers fell away from the keyboard and gripped the armrests of my office chair. “I’m hallucinating,” I said.
The alien’s mouth – a gnarled line in its gray mask of a face – twitched in what could have been a smile. “But you know you’re not.”
“You seem pretty sure of yourself.” Despite myself, I could feel my body beginning to relax, the initial flush of adrenalin already a memory. I felt my back press against the cat-clawed cushions of the chair while, at the edge of my vision, my laptop went black with an unceremonious electronic sigh. “Care to explain why you’re here? Please don’t be cryptic.”
“Why would I be cryptic?”
“Because aliens are always cryptic. They never offer anything tangible or empirical. Nothing verifiable. The person wakes up the next morning and thinks it’s all a dream.”
“Do you think I’m a dream?”
I shrugged, got up, began making coffee. The alien followed for a few paces and sat at my vacated desk, long, chitinous fingers drumming against chipped wood. I watched the back of its oversized head as I dumped grounds into the filter. In the darkened room, it could almost have passed for human. I heard the computer reboot, silhouetting the creature’s head with blue light.
“You know, I have this sneaking suspicion you’re not from another planet at all,” I said as the coffee began percolating. “Maybe you’ve read some of my essays. I think you’re real, but not necessarily the kind of ‘real’ we’re used to. John Mack once used the term ‘reified metaphor.’ But a metaphor for what?”
I poured two mugs and offered one to the alien, who’d already started up Firefox and was busily scanning my RSS feeds. “Thanks,” it said, wrapping a colorless finger around the handle. I sat on the living room’s other chair, vaguely aware that my cats had begun congregating around the newcomer.
“So what are you?” I said between sips. “It’s not like you’ll be giving anything away. Do you think anyone’s actually going to believe this if I tell them?”
The alien turned to regard me. In the glow of the screen its eyes looked less insect-like, more expressive than they’d seemed when it had materialized in my apartment. And the face had developed a hint of character that set my mind spinning with the impossible notion that I’d seen it before.
“We’re space travelers,” it intoned, fingers again rapping on the keyboard. “Our craft are invisible, which is why we’re seldom seen.”
I set my coffee aside. “So I was wrong. You’re ETs after all.” The revelation, although unexpected, came with a perverse sense of relief.
“That Jacques Vallee fellow. Very bright, but – ” The alien paused to describe circles next to its temple with its finger.
Suddenly I realized there was a throbbing white glow coming from my window. I stood, coffee forgotten, and rubbed irritably at my clothing, which had become abruptly ill-fitting.
“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” the alien said, casually sorting through my email. I almost thought I recognized the voice.
“Yes. Thanks for reminding me.” I glanced around the room, disoriented by the white light. If I squinted I could make out the edge of a metallic disk hovering outside, portals clear and welcoming. I hastened for the door and attempted to put on my hat. I fumbled for a moment and tossed it to the carpet, unable to make it fit.
“I’d say ‘see you later,’ except I probably won’t,” said the figure at the desk. I watched it sip coffee between bouts of mouse-clicking. And with an implacable sense of inevitability, I realized why the visitor seemed so familiar.
A dull whining noise indicated the craft outside the window was preparing to leave.
I flung open the door and didn’t look back.
Mac Tonnies is an author/essayist whose futuristic fiction and speculative essays have appeared in many print and online publications. He’s the author of Illumined Black, a collection of science fiction short-stories, and After the Martian Apocalypse (Paraview Pocket Books, 2004). Mac maintains Posthuman Blues, a widely read blog devoted to emerging technologies and paranormal phenomena, and is a member of the Society for Planetary SETI Research. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where he writes, reads and surfs the Net. He is currently at work on a new book.
[Loving the Alien column header image credited to RedMonkeyVirus]