My brother was only 21 when he returned and began telling my family these stories. My father was extremely disturbed and wouldn’t permit me near my brother at first, as I was a newborn at the end of the war, and my father had some vague idea that insanity might be contagious, especially in females. But my infantine company seemed to soothe his almost constant excitement and, although he never fully regained the use of his legs, he used the stories as a springboard into the life of the mind that he thereafter inhabited, and raised me to inhabit.
As far as I am aware, neither my brother nor anyone else ever wrote his stories down. This was, again, the influence of my father, who felt that transcription equaled substantiation and had thus stopped my mother from writing poetry, prevented my sisters from learning to read or write until they were in their late teens (and my sister Yuki never really learned properly), and sinicized, then anglicized our family name, as if to cover our tracks. Consequently, I am the only surviving family member who remembers all the stories, since our nieces and nephews were directed by their parents not to listen to their uncle, and obeyed.
Now, with my memory wandering and my brother dead for 20 years, I have no idea anymore what I am leaving out and what I am putting in of my own. His voice fills my head and has always directed my perceptions, so that I see something now only to hear it told back to me as a story by my brother in his high voice, almost like a girl’s, stiff and full of pronouncement. If I had been his brother and not his sister, perhaps I would have been a partner and not an assistant. Perhaps I am weak-minded or just a woman. Or perhaps one must truly be raised to develop one’s own voice, to be able to escape the insistent tones of another.
Or perhaps it is I who control this shared voice and always have, and ever since he came back to us in my babyhood, drawn back by my infant cries, he has permitted the sound of my voice to alter and temper his, so that I would have a voice to step into when I was grown, an authoritative male voice that could command me and that I could use to command him in turn, turning his own voice against him. “See this pen,” he says to me now, turning his desk chair and knocking over a pile of comic books to steal my pen. “This pen has a second life, or a soul, what’s called a ghoti on the Planet pos*on. There it writes not in red ink but in the tears of the virginal flighted, a precious substance. Thus, Imouto, you use an ensouled being dipped in liquid gems to write down your thoughts.” Who knows? This may be entirely my own invention.
Here is what I remember:
My alien abductors were gelatinous, translucent, and slightly fluorescent. When I awoke for the first time several were approaching me. I was terribly afraid, and reached into my chest pocket for something to throw. All I had there was pennies. The pennies struck the nearest creature in several places and were absorbed into his mass. As time went by, I watched the pennies work their slow, coppery way into the center of his body. I asked him what would happen when they reached his nervous system. Maybe I will die, he thought. But I have no nervous system per se.
Since they could travel time, as well as space, my abductors made a journey into the future. The future wasn’t as interesting as I thought it would be. Smaller, maybe. Since we were out in space, all I could see was stars, which was all I had seen before. My abductors were excited, though. There it is! There it is! one thought-shouted at me, running past. I looked but saw nothing of interest. Perhaps, in due time, something will happen and the significance of the meaningless things I saw will leap toward me like a lover at a train station.
The alien flashing copper pennies from his body became my interlocutor. I called him “Ufluuuk” — though they communicated through telepathy and didn’t have names, only conceptual markers. Ufluuuk’s marker among his people was the idea of infinity, halved. This was a very popular marker. There were several ideas of infinity halved on board. They had no senses and didn’t actually perceive anything at all, but rather communicated among themselves continuously in closed circuit. They interacted with objects through an evolved instinct for the lucky move. Indeed, the captain’s marker was the idea of luck occurring repeatedly within a small space.
We were within sight of The Nasty Nebula when I explained Zeno’s paradox to them. They had never heard of it. The ship came to a full stop, then hyperjumped halfway to the nebula. Then we jumped again halfway. This continued for some time but the nebula never seemed to get closer. Plus, they forgot to feed me. “Eventually,” I said irritably, “our distance from the nebula will be smaller than the size of the ship.” No, Ufluuuk replied, this ship has an infinite capacity to shrink. I was incensed. “Stop it!” I shouted. “That’s not part of the paradox!”
Why did they wander? What were they seeking? No one could understand the question when I asked. What is “to seek”? one asked me. (I couldn’t tell them apart, except for Ufluuuk and the captain, into whom I stuck a strawberry stem at one point. In truth, I didn’t know if it was the captain, but I called it that and it didn’t object.) “ ‘To seek’ is to look for something that is missing,” I said. What is “to look”? the abductor asked. Since we were communicating telepathically, in concepts, I found this question relentlessly obtuse, and refused to answer.
At Heal@ port we were met by sparkling blue-skinned agents. They pointed small blue devices at us enticingly. “Would you like to sell your health?” the first one asked me. “What will you give me for it?” I asked. “This,” the second agent said, pouring out a bag of glittering blue coins. “Off-planet this currency is matte and valueless,” I said. We scintillated through the marketplace under the planet’s multifaceted sun. All the species we encountered there were dull-skinned and looked to be in poor health. “Everyone seems to be selling health, but no one buying,” I said to Ufluuuk.
When they were done experimenting on me they gave me a choice: settle on the first planet we came to, or continue traveling with the ship for an indefinite time until it had rounded our galaxy and come back to the edge where Earth lay. The surface of the first planet we saw was composed entirely of cooked white rice. “Drop me off!” I cried ecstatically. But when I reached the surface, I saw that the rice had been washed before it was cooked. There was no stickiness left. “No, take me with you!” I cried despairingly, and they did.
The miners on the asteroid were limbed and muscled, but radically furred. One swung a large pickaxe. It made a deep, almost hollow sound as it struck. The miner loosened his hold on the hammer the moment before impact to avoid taking the blow into his many joints. Two others stood back, watching and waiting. I was surprised that other species also had male miners, but I don’t know how I knew they were male. Perhaps something in how he locked and unlocked in perpetual force and defense. Perhaps how the others — practiced — lounged in the face of a strike.
My own wanderlust was no key to that of my abductors. I sensed no desire in them. In a man, their curiosity would feel cold, because to lack warmth, a man must commit warmth’s opposite. My wanderlust had no curiosity, only a boy’s voluptuousness: the desire to move my body in the act of swinging arms; the feeling of moist soil, not yet mud, in my toes; the smell of strawberries, almond blossoms, road dust, prickly pear fruits, and, faintly, the sea that declared my exact location — mid-stride — relative to the beach, the house, the next house, and the road.
When we encountered a planet made entirely of cats, we released a drill probe shaped like a cylindrical arrow. A tabby spun off the head of the probe, then a Persian, then a Siamese. Soon, centrifugal force was spinning cats off like a Catherine wheel until the probe disappeared into the catty mass. Our sensors recorded the constant purring of uncountable throats. At the planet’s core was a one-cat-sized white hole, emitting steadily. The probe was too big to enter the white hole and we had run out of time. We took away a sample cat for fondling and study.
During our visit to the stellar nursery, the captain and another abductor floated side by side, watching the baby stars hatching. The cries of the newborn, their burps of hydrogen and the energetic waving of their tiny flares awakened a parenting instinct in all the creatures on board. Even I said, “Awwww!” I asked Ufluuuk if I could have one. Ufluuuk said no, it would disrupt the energy of the ship, and they were all too big anyway. The captain extended a limb of gel from its mass and touched the other abductor on what would have been its shoulder.
I wanted to brew beer. It became an obsession with me, but one all the more difficult since there were no materials on board. The ship, in fact, was made entirely of energy that coalesced into matter under your feet and hands as they required support or touch. I could see all of my shipmates nearby, and could have touched them, only a wall would coalesce every time I tried to do so. What interested me about the beer was its bitterness and tangibility. My sustenance entered my body and fed energy to my cells directly. I was always hungry.
Ufluuuk sensed my sadness. Come, he thought. The air before him glowed golden, and I put my head into it. Suddenly, I was looking into my mother’s face. She placed a spoon into my mouth as my sister Emiko walked past holding a schoolbook. Behind her, gaps in the unfinished planks showed stripes of blue daylight. A hasty job. Two blankets hanging from a clothesline made a wall. A bitter, dry wind crossed my teeth, and the grit of sand. My eyes focused, my mother’s eyes widened, but then I found myself asking my question to Ufluuuk’s mid-region: “Mother, where are we?”
Was there a purpose to their wanderings? What were they seeking? There was no such thing as a pure explorer, was there? Every sailor and seadog who discovered a “new world” had at least a secret hope of discovering value, something to sell or use or see: gold, eternal youth, women, trees, things, wings, or gorges of lapis lazuli. But then my abductors were not human. Perhaps, as the building of small sand hills is the life purpose of ants, to wander endlessly was the life purpose of my abductors. Perhaps they were as unreflective in their curiosity as cats.
Though my abductors had already been, Ufluuuk thought I should visit AskAStar™. A very manageable-sized black hole sat in the center of a compound for pilgrims. When you approached, you had just enough time to ask one question and receive one answer before you were sucked in and ejected out its rear into a negative universe. Fortunately, there was a negative black hole on that end that you could use to get back to your ship. I asked, “When will I get home?” It replied, “Yes … no.” I thought it had misunderstood me, but there wasn’t time to correct it.
I dreamed I was bathing with my grandfather. He stood on the concrete bathhouse floor in his socks. “Take off your socks, Grandpa!” I said and pulled him rudely onto the wooden slats. I dumped a ladleful of water on his shoulder. The skin steamed, then caught fire. “Why did you do that?” Grandpa asked me impassively between flames, in English. I woke up and Ufluuuk was nearby. Why did you do that? he asked again. I couldn’t speak for a moment. “You don’t … you don’t …,” I cried, “you don’t look in people’s dreams!” Why not? Ufluuuk asked.
Eternally falling through space is a planet of pure gold. At its southern pole the planet has collected a schist of flattened spaceships that didn’t get out of its way in time. The deeper layers of ships have been melded by the pressure of eons, and have formed crystals of unknown substances. We stood in space and watched it falling heavily past, the light of the stars behind us slithering over its golden surface, scratching out the suggestion of golden seas and continents. It scintillated until it disappeared among the structures below, the radioed cries of trapped crewmen eternally receding.
To GGGGGGgggggReNaDuhInes, any physical movement at all is a deadly insult. Yet they do not take kindly to the liquid, or the amorphous beings. My abductors prepared me for weeks before making me their envoy. They placed me in a room, standing, then offered progressively enticing temptations to move: heavenly or hooky music, Tooll=Elay=kkian fire-insects, a gradually heating floor beneath my bare feet, thirst. I progressed rapidly. The day of our meeting, the GGGGGGgggggReNaDuhInes envoy greeted me with a smile and an outheld hand. I took the hand and smiled back, in relief. Not much is known about the GGGGGGgggggReNaDuhInes.
My abductors had told me to take only what I could carry. As I wore nothing but dungarees, I bent and took two handfuls of strawberries and put them in my hip pockets. I first thought to ask for them back two years later. The strawberries were still warm from the ground. The top front thighs of my jeans were lightly spotted from the inside with fresh stains, too plum to be blood. My pockets were lined with sand. I placed some in the outside corners of each eye, between my toes, in my armpit creases, and in my hair.
The sign read “Fly in the Solar Wind Here!” Ufluuuk said it was a tourist trap. I had to sign something saying that I understood that my genes might be altered by the radiation, and that it was in no way the fault of anyone but myself. The sun fried your optic nerve first. Then gusts of radiation blew your skin off you, then your muscles and bones. Collectors sat behind the platform at optimal distance for you to feel yourself blown, particle by particle, across space. Afterward, all I could say was, “Whoooooooo!” Ufluuuk wouldn’t buy me a souvenir.
In fact, my desire was for place, not movement; place, not novelty; place, not placement. Which is not to say that the spectacle of journeying — unfamiliar feels, shocks, pleas, and unexpected moral quandaries — was entirely lost on me. I was a middle child: between two sisters, born dead but then revived on a ship mid-ocean, my father’s image and my mother’s son, tea-drunk and dungareed, massively minded and light-limbed. On the small planet taupasczß the low gravity gave my stride lift; each step could take a day or more, and then I was mid-stride more often than arriving. Thus, I.
“Good Morning, Old Chap!” a cheerful voice said to me. Turning, I saw it was a HahrTmonTinnian, one of the most mysterious of species at the galactic assembly. I was astonished that it was speaking English to me. “Good Morning!” I replied, my voice harsh from not being used. The HahrTmonTinnian walked away without another word. “That was a close call,” a stranger said into my translator. “She could have killed you for that insult.” It seems the HahrTmonTinnians communicate entirely through body language, which few other species can understand. Their vocal noises are completely random and have no meaning.
There came a time when their circuit of the galaxy closed. We were near Earth, Captain Small Space said. Ufluuuk asked if I wanted to go home. The captain was surprised that he would ask. I didn’t know what to say. I’d been gone three years. My muscles had atrophied. I’d learned a great deal, but nothing of practical use. Sometimes I felt as if my nerve-endings had died; sometimes I thought I could no longer bear to be touched, I had become so sensitive. I felt a desperation, but I didn’t know what for: to stay or to go?
But as I transcribe I grow more confused, for I have just caught myself, twice — no, five times now — not remembering a detail and so inventing one to bridge the gaps between ideas. I myself am the bridging of a gap, conceived before my family returned from the camps but born only after the return, bridging the time before and the time after. When I try to understand the lost time I am only told, with the aged stubbornness of those who’ve lost everything, but do still have something on you, that I cannot understand. There is a whole vocabulary of abduction that is missing here. Even my brother, who told me these stories, omitted many words. All that is left now are the children, and grandchildren, who are so ignorant as to not even know that there is something they don’t know. There was once a farm; now there is not. There was once a language; now it isn’t spoken.
My brother taught me how to make a camera obscura and use it to expose photosensitive plates, also homemade. This is something I show my sisters’ grandchildren before they are old enough to be told that I am insane like my brother. We take pictures of the sun — when developed they show mere exposures of plates to centers of light — and I watch their small, black eyes understanding how things are seen and what happens to things when there is no one there to see them. As they get older, they derealize this and go back to a state of recognizing signs and symbols directly, as if there is one all-time true story. I tell them, as soon as they are old enough to understand, that their great-uncle was stolen from us for a time. I have a great many grandnieces and nephews who have stopped believing me, their stopping at different points being a sign of their growth, like notches on a post.
“We contain a cosmos,” my brother told me, “I more than you, because I have seen things no other human has seen. You less so, because you have heard about things no other human will listen to. Even if you are wrong, you will always have more than the others.” All I know about this is that my father, from his hospital bed, only wanted to listen to my crazy brother tell his stories, couldn’t get enough, as if he hadn’t listened before and only had a few hours left, which he had. My mother, into senility, would sit and knit and ask for this story or that. “Tell me the one about being trapped in a crystal planet and discovering that it is a doorknob!” she would say in English, as if it were finally decided that the language of storytelling were to be a foreign one for all time—the language of abductors, stolen by abductees.
These are the stories I am unsure about:
As the war began and I waited for manhood, I grew too restless to sleep at night. I patrolled our farm’s borders barefoot, without a flashlight, smelling the almonds from the Seitos’ grove a mile away. One night as I stood in the sand of our strawberry beds, a blinding light came in over the fields. The light picked out the minerals and crystals in the sand until the albedo overwhelmed me, and I was held in a white glow, without taste or sensation. Strangely, the smell of spring almond blossoms remained with me the whole time I was suspended.
I told Ufluuuk that human young stand before shop windows, crying for what they see and can’t have. Ufluuuk told me the young of DdzzjJherhoam are large and still and refuse all sustenance and entertainment. They must be force-fed by their parents until the parents die. When the DdzzjJherhoamese have starved themselves into atrophied maturity, they become animated by dire need. The adult DdzzjJherhoamese lives a short, insatiable, frenzied life devouring food, starlight, color, sex, incontinence, waste, and water, which ends in a death of frustration at the feet of its unresponsive young. Ufluuuk’s people find this species quite sublime.
In the core of Planet Min33d9ka is a hollow where hydrogen and oxygen come together and fall over a precipice. Ufluuuk stood with me under the spray and droplets of him were carried away by the liquid. He looked like he was melting. Soon all I could see of him were the pennies, suspended in the midst of the fall. I was embarrassed for him. “Ufluuuk!” I called, “Where are you?” I’m right here, he said. “But haven’t you dissolved? Where’s your substance?” I have no substance, he said. Only a location. The pennies shifted slightly, as if in discomfort.
I felt well. I walked weakly out of the barracks. Outside it was cold, but I went barefoot anyway. A little girl passed me and I said, “Good morning!” She looked at me, concerned. I walked along the inside of the cyclone fencing, touching the cold metal now and again with my fingertip, until I reached the mess hall. They had burned the rice again; ugh, the smell! In that moment I awakened, naked, suspended in space. From this time on my dreams of home grew less frequent, and my skin, when I awoke from them, more luminescent and rough.
I stood in the galactic assembly (such as it was; many cultures had refused to ratify) and listened. A group of my abductors wobbled by. There you are! one thought. Look at the Man’s-Anariers! I looked at a group of warty green spikes, shooting out unnecessarily large and blue tongues at varying intervals. Tasting our secrets! my abductor huffed. So rude! I was also dismayed at the thought. I had long had a desire to slurp a small part of an abductor through my teeth like Jell-O. The Man’s-Anariers didn’t seem to notice. Perhaps everyone felt that way about my abductors.
We left the universe to examine matterless space outside. It was very boring. There was nothing to examine, which we examined. Ufluuuk caught me playing with my lips. He was perturbed. I had placed something tangible where nothing had been, thus changing what we were observing from nothing to something. “Then we shouldn’t have come here!” I cried. Ufluuuk stretched toward my lips, passing his temporary limb through them. I felt nothing, for he had reverted to formless energy. We can be not here even when we are, he explained. You can not be not here, even when you aren’t.
We had shore leave on a planet that had no gravity. You had to be careful not to bump into anything because it would cause a chain reaction, filling the space around you with crazily pinballing buildings, trees, vehicles, pets, baby carriages, and wigs. Then the black-suited inertiates would come and survey the scene and find the one object or person who was the key to settling the disturbance and pluck it out and toss it into space. Immediately, everything would return to inertia. There was no possible appeal to the inertiates’ culling decisions. Thus, my shore leave ended early.
There came a time when I fell in love, but I don’t wish to speak of it. Instead, I’ll tell you about the Kifu tuberpants in wer roh. Worms of blue or pink light, the tuberpants swarm every night during their thousand-year lifespans to mate. The blue worms approach in their orderly herds, as do the pink worms in theirs. When they meet, the herds’ patterns of movement become complex as they meld and interfere with those of the other herds. We stood off the Masografl and watched, the only two who had ever seen such a beautiful thing.
I cried out in pain. I reached out to Ufluuuk, but my hand passed through his body. I touched myself to feel skin and weight, but I both felt my hand and didn’t feel my hand. My touch was intended by me, so that the touch, anticipated, could not be foreign. It was an echo touch. To comfort me Ufluuuk twitched and suddenly filled the room with me’s. I owned a hundred hands, and I surrounded myself and tried to tickle, to surprise myself in a hundred ways, but I was too prepared for each touch to start at it.
You see, the problem with space is that it’s curved, but not in a geometrical curve, such as can be plotted or indicated on a graph. It’s an organic curve, turning at the slightest sound, twisting unexpectedly so that you catch your breath at the shapes it makes. Standing on the ship — an experience like standing naked and unsupported in space, only breathing and moving rapidly — I came to realize that the ship only followed the rolls and swells of space as she threw them up to meet us, perhaps delighting in this. Perhaps winking stars are grimaces: devil’s loops.
Studying certain stars I saw that they were arranged into lines stroking out the characters of a poem my mother wrote in my childhood. I had memorized it, then kept it silent from my father. I asked Ufluuuk if this could be a coincidence. He thought it could. As we moved on and the stars faded, I found I couldn’t remember the poem itself, although the instance of there being a poem remained a permanent mar on the face of transience, as if at any moment my abductors would change their minds, deconstruct the sky, and take me back home.
Upon reaching the plague planet I immediately contracted the plague. Pustules, phlegm, diarrhea, sweating, and blackheads occurred. The inhabitants responded with great kindness and expertise, the females gathering around my deathbed to wail and gnash their orbs, the gemales sponging my fevered brow, the hemales hunching in the street nonchalantly, now and again looking up suddenly, trying to catch the spirals of death before they reached my door. Once I had died, they permitted me, with great emotion, to leave. I regretted not selling my health earlier, since it had availed me nothing and you can’t take it with you.
In the instant that you think it, your thought has already been performed by a silverion. Silverions surround and fill you with illusion: reshape themselves into ice cream to push out your stomach and then wait patiently until you shit them out again in a rain of intolerance, darken your vision, and give you a sponge bath, or form colors which you’ve never seen or imagined, to interest you when you’re drunk with ennui. Do they anticipate your thoughts, or do they plant the thought and also the desire? Does your delight in them have anything to do with satisfaction?
When after four years they returned me to Earth, I woke up in a strange, small sitting room of a city I didn’t recognize through the window. I couldn’t stand up. There was the wailing of an infant somewhere nearby, then a familiar brisk walking. My sister Yuki entered the room, carrying a cup of tea, adult now and quite astonishingly beautiful. “I’m back!” I cried. “You’re the beauty now! I thought it would be Emiko!” She stared at me. “I was abducted by aliens.” I explained. She put the cup down carefully before me. “So were we,” she said.
I saw an enormous water drop, hanging pendent in space like a blue-green jewel on a dark horse’s flank. We flew straight for it. The nose of the ship vanished upon impact with the unsupported ocean. Behind me, I saw space outside the drop receding. The tail end of the ship was still moving quickly into the drop and disappearing as it went like a log into a chipper. Appearing on this side of the drop’s surface were the bodies of my shipmates, desperately hurled, then slowing, as if awakened from a fury. Their bodies came in like horizontally falling leaves.
Ufluuuk wanted to understand weeping. You do it to express sadness, he thought after I explained. “Yes, and to express strong emotion,” I replied. Any strong emotion? “Well, usually sadness, or frustration…sometimes anger.” Anger? “Sometimes.” When? I thought. “I don’t know. Sometimes.” But not positive emotions. “Well…not always, but sometimes.” When? “When they’re strong.” Always when they’re strong? “No.” Then when? “I don’t know.” Does one always weep? “No.” Are you weeping now? I touched my face and it was wet. “Yes.” Why? Are you feeling strong emotions? I thought for a moment. “No,” I said wonderingly.
As we entered the Zone of Manifestation, where every immaterial thing materializes, the ship grew solid. Its interior walls were made of unpainted wood planks and full of gaps, and the floors were covered with sand that blew so that Ufluuuk came to me a grit-hulled bag of gel. My ghost self appeared — the pure one I lost after I started school and had to learn English — occupying almost exactly the same space, only slightly behind and to the left of me. This monkey I could only see out of the corners of my eyes, disappearing when I turned to look at him.
Claire Light is a Hyphen founder and a freelancer in the San Francisco Bay Area. "Abducted by Aliens!"can be found with more of her fiction in Slightly Behind and to the Left, a collection published in 2009 by Aqueduct Press.