As you requested, Mr. Webb, I'm going to describe everything I can remember about the most recent "event," so that you can add it to your investigation file. Since I've already given you most of the bare facts, I'm going to tell this in my own way, as seen through my own personal lens of regard and feeling. I can't promise to be 100 percent objective (are any of us ever completely certain about what we see), but I do intend to be fully honest and faithful to the verity of my witness. I assure you--for whatever it's worth--that I am a truthful woman.
I recall the precise moment when I first saw the light (as I prefer to call it) again. I was washing dishes, scrubbing a cake tin after my young nephew's birthday dinner, and I happened to look up at my reflection in the darkened kitchen window. My bangs were falling into my eyes, and I reached up with my wet hand to brush them aside.
Just then an intensely white light appeared, right in the middle of my forehead. For an insane moment, I thought the light was part of my reflection and that, perhaps, my head was about to explode. Then I realized that the light was actually suspended in the ink-black sky, over the low hill across the road from my house.
I turned toward Justin, my twelve-year-old nephew, who was sitting at the kitchen table. And I said, "That light is back again."
He refused to look toward the window and continued to eat his cake. He mumbled something with his mouth full, something that sounded like "So?"
"I would think you'd show a little excitement," I said. "Most boys your age like mysteries and space and things of that sort. Don't they?"
Justin stopped chewing and turned toward me with the grimmest expression I had ever seen on a twelve-year-old's face. "I've seen it before," he said. "It never does anything but float around up there. It doesn't change anything."
"But still," I said.
"Can I go?" he asked sullenly. "I need to finish my homework." The light was streaming through the window now, making his face look waxy and pale.
I sighed and said "Of course."
Justin flashed me a simulated smile, of the type that older boys put on for adults, then rose and ran up the stairs.
My nephew is a enigma to me. In the two years he's lived with me--since the accident--I've tried and tried to encourage him to behave like other boys his age. I could tolerate some rambunctiousness, even a bit of delinquency. Instead, it's as if I'm living with an old bachelor brother, who reads, putters, eats, sleeps, disappears for several hours every day, but is generally diffident and quiet. He assures me that he is no longer grieving, is not silently seething or secretly depressed. But I don't think this behavior is typical of twelve-year-old boys, based on my limited observations. Is it? Perhaps you'd know. Anyway, his birthday dinner had been a rather sad affair for a twelve-year-old--just the two of us.
Excuse the digression. I recall that I turned back to the kitchen window. The light was now pulsating in a peculiar, repeating pattern, as if trying to signal something.
To repeat some of the details I gave you before, I estimate that it was about the size of a large car or maybe a truck, at a distance of several hundred feet from my house and suspended about 300 feet over the hill. The light was rather shapeless, but if I had to assign it a shape, I would say it was roughly an oval--a sort of fluorescent Easter egg. It was getting brighter, and already the first sight-seers had stopped along the road. I watched a young couple get out of their car. The man pointed to the thing in the sky, then put his arm around the woman. I thought it was rather romantic.
I began to scrub the pan again, musing over the juxtaposition of my drab domesticity with this weird phenomenon, when I heard a vehicle coming up the driveway. Its headlights flashed through the window for a moment, but they weren't much competition for the light in the sky, which, by that point, was almost too bright to look at.
I opened the exterior kitchen door just as Albert, the man I mentioned to you the other day, climbed out of his rusty van. "Still driving that clunker?" I called to him. "Yeah," he said. "Still gets me where I want to go. On this planet, anyway."
Albert is the local dog warden, so he is always driving around on the county roads, but I hadn't seen him in a while. We had dated from time to time, but not "seriously," as they say.
"What brings you out this way?" I said, trying to sound casual, even as I realized how stupid the question was, under the circumstances--with that thing bobbing around in the sky. Albert was wiping his boots on the mat in front of the door. "Just driving by," he said. "Saw the light."
"Do you want some coffee?" I asked. Albert was still wiping his feet. "Stop that and come in," I said.
"Yeah, I could stand a cup," he said. "Thought you and Justin might want to come out and watch the light, though." He took off his fishing cap, brushed his mop of gray hair with his hand and sat down at the table.
"Well, me--yes. Justin, I'm afraid not," I said, as I filled a mug with coffee.
"No? He doesn't want to see it?"
"After the first time we saw it, no," I said. "He claims he's bored by it now. But I think it's really that he doesn't like bright lights. Even when I take him to he dentist, the part he hates the most is that bright light shining in his face. Can you imagine? Not the drill but the light. I think maybe it reminds him of the oncoming headlights, you know."
"The accident? His parents?" Albert knew all about the accident that brought Justin to live with me, a never-married career woman with no experience of little boys.
"Mmm-hmm," I said.
I looked out the window again and saw that more cars had stopped along the road. This was the third night in a month that the light had appeared, and each time the crowd of gawkers had seemed to assemble a little sooner. I don't know if people out driving happened to see the light and made a bee-line for it, or if people were calling each other on the phone to come look at it, or what. But I was beginning to think I should set up a concession stand in my yard and sell refreshments.
"Are you still worried that they'll take him away?" Albert asked. He was referring to the social workers, the ones who check up on me periodically to make sure I'm doing a proper job of raising Justin.
"A little," I said. "He's not like other boys his age. At least I don't think he is. He doesn't seem to have any real friends. And something like this…this light…doesn't interest him? I really don't understand it."
"When I was that age, you couldn't have kept me away from something like that," Albert said. "I would have been right out there screaming 'beam me up.'"
I nodded. "Maybe if you asked him to go out with us," I suggested. "He does like you."
Albert slurped his coffee and winked at me. "Let's try," he said.
We climbed the stairs and hesitated for a few moments in front of Justin's door--and the sign on it that said "Trespassers Will Be Violated."
I knocked, and after a few seconds--it seemed like a few minutes--Justin said "come in" with a tone of utter resignation. We found him hunched over his desk, examining a book about insects and apparently writing something on a sheet of lined paper. He didn't turn to greet us.
"Hi, fella," Albert said.
Justin looked back at us, mildly surprised to see Albert. "Oh, hullo," he said, "Mr. Barstow."
"Albert," Albert said. "Watcha reading?"
They both turned to look at the book. I had seen this insect book, with its huge, grotesque pictures of glistening mandibles and segmented thoraxes, before. So I took the opportunity to surreptitiously examine what Justin had been writing.
To my surprise, it didn't seem to have anything to do with schoolwork--unless schools today have changed for more than I've realized. Rather than a report on insect morphology, it seemed to be some kind of odd poem that snaked down the page is an S-shaped curve of text. I could only make out some of it:We have come a long way
to tell you what most of you
have long suspected:
That your home is elsewhere,
that you exile is self-imposed.
It meant nothing to me. It didn't sound like something that Justin--taciturn, unimaginative Justin--would compose on his own, or like anything from a tome on insects. But it was definitely written in Justin's own cramped handwriting. I wondered where he had gotten it from.
Justin caught on to what I was doing and, mock-casually, placed his hand over the writing.
"….always loved insects when I was your age," Albert was saying. "My dad kept some bees in a hive."
Justin nodded and gave Albert a wan little smile.
"Well, who knows how long that light is going to hang around this time," Albert said. "How about we all go across to the hill and watch it for a while?"
"Um, no thanks," Justin mumbled, sounding a bit nervous. "Not me. I've seen it before and I got homework to finish. You two go."
"Well, I hate to leave you here alone," I said.
"Aunt Mary, I'm twelve years old!" Justin said, as if that settled the matter.
"Yes," I said. "Yes, I can't deny that you are. We'll be back in a little while, then."
Justin shrugged and hunched over the book again. Albert and I exchanged glances. "We'll see you in a little while, bud," Albert said. There was no response.
We had to squeeze between parked cars to reach the other side of the road. There seemed to be people everywhere; many just standing at the bottom of the hill and squinting up at the light, slack jawed. (They looked like a herd of insipid bovines.) Some had set up telescopes and cameras. Others had made their way to level places on the side of the hill and had spread blankets to sit on--it was a warm night. I saw picnic hampers and bottles of wine, people talking and laughing. Apparently, they no longer had any fear of the "object."
At the top of the hill, directly beneath that pulsating and utterly silent little sun, some young people were dancing. Their faces and hands and clothes were glowing in the light, so that they resembled ghosts whirling through the tall grass, which itself gleamed with reflected light, like green fire.
"Quite a party," Albert said. We were walking up the narrow cow path that leads to the top of the hill--the one I walked with you the other day--and had stopped at a fairly level spot to survey the scene. It was so strange to see everything lit up like that, despite the velvety blackness of the sky. I felt like I was in a fairyland.
"How about here," I said. I unfolded the blanket I had brought and we sat down. "Have you ever seen such a spectacle?" Albert smiled and shook his head. His face shone in all the dazzle.
I suddenly felt very lazy, so I lay down on my back. I had to close my eyes because the light in the sky was too intense. It was so brilliant that the insides of my eyelids seemed to glow, the way they do when you're lying on the sand on a sunny beach. But unlike the sun, the light of the "thing" radiated no warmth of its own.
Albert began to stoke my forehead and hair. I was mildly surprised. He usually isn't so tender, but something about this odd situation seemed to soften him. "Mary," he said. "What?" I murmured. "Nothing, just 'Mary,'" he said, continuing to caress my head.
I began to feel dreamy and somewhat disembodied. An image of the light formed in my mind--a brilliant white dot in a sea of black, like the pupil of an eye in a close-up photographic negative.
And then, gradually, the perspective of this mental image shifted. I was "looking" down now, down at myself lying on the blanket with Albert bent over me, as if the sky had become a gigantic mirror. I could see the entire hill and the crowd of revelers, my house and the dark lake beyond it, and the village beyond that. I could see it all: Justin's school, the library where I work, the fields and hills and houses and barns.
I could see individual people, too. And whenever I looked at one of them (and I don't care if you don't believe me), I could sense their emotions! It was the most extraordinary feeling. The people on the hill were mostly full of foolishness --gluttony, lust and so on. But some of them were filled with awe. And I was surprised to find that Albert really cared for me, with a confusing mixture of feelings that could be love, or could become love.
And there was Justin--I saw him right through the roof of my house. I was surprised to see that he was crying, but I knew that they weren't tears of sadness. Despite some nervousness he was feeling, Justin was actually happy. And I suddenly knew--I don't know how--that Justin was going to be fine. He would grow up and be fine.
I began to "hear" something in my mind, too, something more than the buzzing voices of the people on the hill. It sounded like a lot of women's voices, oddly familiar, reciting something over and over in unison. After a while, I realized it was my dead sister's voice I was hearing, multiplied into a chorus. I began to make out the words, and they too were familiar:
We have come a long way
to tell you what most of you
have long suspected:
That your home is elsewhere,
that you exile is self-imposed.
Albert was still stroking my hair, and I smiled. "Do you believe in flying saucers?" he whispered.
I opened my eyes slightly. The light was directly behind his head for the moment, forming a kind of halo.
"Don't be silly," I said. "But isn't it beautiful?"
© 2001 by Michael Gates
This article was previously published in the online magazine Cenotaph.