Escaping from Aliens
Nora M. Mulligan
The first time Clancy saw the aliens again, he was walking from the bus stop to his apartment, and he heard them before he saw them. How could he ever forget that high-pitched squeaking that still haunted his dreams? He whirled around, all his nerves stretched to their limits, but he didn't see them at first. After a couple of sweeps of the area, Clancy glimpsed them, two of them, the gray one and the pink one, sitting on the window ledge of the building next to the bus stop.
He tore into his building and took the stairs two at a time, making for his apartment as if they were hot on his heels. He only caught his breath after he'd locked the door three times and checked in every room in the apartment. There were no signs of the creatures there.
The phone happened to ring as he was pouring himself a drink, to calm his nerves. He took a second to force himself into a normal frame of mind before he answered.
"Clancy Fitzgerald?" asked the young female voice on the other end of the phone. "This is Brenda Westfield. I'm the screenwriter. I sent you a letter, remember? I heard about your experience with the aliens, and I wanted to meet you so I could write a movie script about you. Remember?"
The timing could have been better, he thought, but he drew himself upright and downed a slug of the drink. "Oh, yes, now I remember. You were friends with someone from the Alien Encounters Support Group, weren't you?"
"That's right," she said, letting out what sounded like a sigh of relief.
"Elizabeth Cummings lives next door to my cousin, and that's how I heard about the group, and then I heard about your story from other people in the group."
Joining that group after his escape was the best thing he'd ever done, he thought. "Of course," he said. Anyone who heard some of the mewling, stupid stories that the other group members told would have to prefer his. His story had everything: thrills, danger, nerve-wracking escapes, truly terrifying aliens, and a demonstration of the superiority of humanity over fiendish alien races. It was only a matter of time before he figured out a way to get that story out to the world, and, incidentally, make some profit from it. And here she was, Brenda Westfield, screenwriter, who would make his dreams come true.
"I'm in town, and I would like to set up an appointment so that we could get each other's measure, so to speak, so I could get some feel for the story and what we would have to do."
He spoke before he thought. "No problem at all," he said expansively. "Why don't we meet tomorrow evening, around 7:00, at the library on Main Street? There are a number of private rooms where we won't be disturbed."
"Excellent!" she said. "I'll be there at 7:00, recorder in hand. I'm looking forward to it!"
He hung up the phone before he remembered what he'd seen just before he entered the apartment. No, he told himself, it wasn't the aliens and anyway, there was no reason that he would see them again. He was just imagining things, and that was it.
Brenda Westfield looked every inch the professional woman when she strode into the library the following evening. Clancy felt richer just seeing her sharp suit, her carefully made up face and her leather briefcase. Surely someone who looked like that, even someone as young as she was (he figured she had to be not much older than twenty-five at most), knew what she was doing and would write a wonderful script that would make them both rich.
They went together to one of the private rooms, which Clancy had reserved for the evening. It was a small conference room, with a central table, four chairs, a smaller table in the corner with fax machine, phone and coffee machine standing ready for use. There was even a bookcase along the wall opposite the window.
It certainly looked better than Clancy's apartment, and, he thought, gave the right impression: that he was a businesslike person, someone who could be relied upon to tell the truth, no matter how outrageous his story was.
By this time, Clancy had shaped the story into an easy-to-remember form. Sometimes, since his return from the aliens, he'd forgotten different details or confused the timeline of what happened when and who or what was with him at various times in the story, but he'd gone over the whole thing several times before meeting with Brenda, so he told the story with confidence and even, he flattered himself, a certain panache.
Brenda was an excellent audience, too, which made it easier. When Clancy explained how he'd been walking past the abandoned building and had seen a lone woman struggling with some unseen attacker, Brenda caught her breath. When he told how he'd rushed to her rescue, only to be trapped himself by some terrific power that paralyzed him and blinded him in its efforts to capture him and bring him to the aliens' ship, she nodded eagerly and took extensive notes.
He described the alien experimentation room in the ship in great detail, and gave her the drawings he'd made after the fact, so she could easily visualize the setting. He told her about the huge, plastic-like robots which had first tried to tie him down and perform obscene and horrifying experiments on him.
He got more dramatic as he explained how he'd fought and ultimately broken those robots and then, just when he thought he could escape from this nightmare, the aliens themselves had entered the room, determined to break his spirit and get what they wanted from him.
She stopped him with many questions when he got to the aliens part. Fortunately, he'd made some drawings of the aliens, too, which he gave her. He'd emphasized, in his drawings as well as in his story, the size of the aliens, their fierce claws and terrifying eyes, and those tentacles and feelers whose functions he still couldn't identify.
He described how they'd used their claws to break through the metal of the tables and other objects behind which he'd tried to hide himself.
He told her how they could appear and disappear seemingly at will (and shuddered as he remembered that vision of the day before, and the way the aliens had disappeared as soon as he'd looked at them), and how they used this ability to sneak up on him.
He told her about the beams they were able to shoot out from their terrible eyes, and the heart-stopping effect of those beams when they managed to connect with him. He told her about their powers, which he could only describe as extra-sensory, of finding where he was whenever he would try to hide from them.
It was hard not to get a little carried away as he narrated his adventures, the way he'd thought he escaped, only to have them capture him again and drag him back to their experimentation room, how he managed to break away again by using some of their own equipment against them, how he'd become lost on the ship in the course of his escape, how he heard them following him time and again, and how he'd finally managed to blockade them in one part of the ship as he figured out how to return himself to the earth.
He concluded with the terrific story of how he'd pushed the ship's engines to their limit, knowing that they would cause the ship to explode, and how he'd seen the bright light in the sky, when he found himself back on earth, and he'd known that he'd been successful in destroying this menace.
She was going over the timeline with him, and he looked over at the side table, wondering whether it would be a good time to break for a cup of coffee, when he saw them again.
They were the same pair he'd seen the night before, the pair he remembered from the ship. There they were, sitting on the table behind the phone, looking right at him. He was so stunned for the first second or two that he stopped talking and stared at them, unable to think of what to do next.
"Clancy?" asked Brenda. She had her back to the aliens, so of course she didn't know what he was looking at. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," he said, tearing his eyes away from the horrifying sight and trying to focus on her again. "Just a momentary flashback to something that happened on the ship." He told himself to concentrate on the aliens in his story, not the little creatures that huddled in this very room.
Then he saw the glint of light on the barrel of the object the pink one held, and he knew in an instant that it was a ray gun, and he saw that it was pointed at him. Worse, since Brenda was sitting between him and the aliens, there was every possibility that the beams would hit her as well as him.
There was only one thing to do, and Clancy did it. With a shout, he dived at Brenda across the table, knocking her to the floor, knocking over her tape recorder and her laptop computer, and sending everything in the vicinity flying.
He heard a tiny, high pitched sound, which must have been the ray gun firing.
"Clancy! What are you doing?" cried Brenda, pushing her way out from under him.
He looked above her, to the table. They were gone. There was no sign that they'd been there. But he'd seen them. He'd heard their weapon.
"Clancy?" Brenda demanded, getting to her feet and retrieving her equipment. "What was that all about?"
He was about to tell her the truth, that he'd just saved her from an attack by the aliens, who had found him again, but suddenly his reason kicked in and he knew better. He'd destroyed the aliens, he reminded himself, and anyway they were huge, much too large and scary to fit themselves into a small room like this. He couldn't possibly get away with the truth, so he had to come up with a good lie, and a quick one.
He managed the quick part. "I'm sorry, Brenda," he said, getting up himself and helping her straighten out the chair and her papers and equipment. "Remember I said I'd had a flashback? Well, this was another one. I was remembering the ray guns that the aliens had pointed at me, and suddenly it was like I was back there again, and I had to react the way I'd reacted then. I'm so sorry."
"Yeah," she said. She looked around the room suspiciously. "Does this happen often to you?"
"Oh, no," he assured her. "This is the first time I've reacted like that. It's probably just because I was telling you my experiences in such detail. The memories just flooded back. That must have been it." He tried to regain some dignity as he sat back in his chair. "We could continue, if you like."
"No," said Brenda quickly. He couldn't quite tell what was wrong, but he could tell that she wasn't quite as taken with his story as she'd been minutes before. "I have to get back to the motel and transcribe my notes, get them in some sort of order."
"I hope your equipment hasn't been damaged."
"I don't think so," said Brenda. "I think I'll head home now, though, and make sure."
"Then we can meet again tomorrow?" he asked.
She brushed a lock of hair away from her face. "I'm not sure. Tell you what. I'll get in touch with you as soon as I need to know something else. It might be tomorrow, or it might not be. I don't know at the moment, but I'll get in touch with you."
His heart sank. Still, he didn't want to seem too eager. "Well," he said, as cheerfully as he could, "it's up to you, of course. I'll be happy to meet with you whenever and wherever it's convenient for you. I would like to give you all the information while it's still fresh in my mind, of course."
"Yes," she said, "but right now it seems to be too fresh. I'm kind of tired, anyway, so I'll be talking to you." She hurried out of the room. He accompanied her to the front door of the library, and then went slowly back to the room where they'd held the interview. Try as he would, though, he couldn't find any sign that the aliens had been there. Even their ray hadn't left any marks on the walls or the floor.
They're back, he thought. They've come after me again, and at the worst possible time.
The next day he left messages for her at her motel room, but she didn't get back to him. He couldn't help feeling somewhat anxious about it, and he brought that anxiety with him to that week's meeting of the Alien Encounters Support Group.
"Well," said Abigail Lawrence, the ever-cheerful and supportive leader of the group, when everybody had taken his or her usual chair in the community room where the meetings were held, "who has something new to report?"
There was the usual awkward pause while everybody looked around, trying to decide whether to start the ball rolling or not. After a few seconds, Clancy cleared his throat. "I think the aliens are after me again," he said. "I saw them twice in the last couple of days. The second time they had a ray gun which they were shooting at me."
"Oh, please," said Catherine Beals, folding her arms across her chest. "I thought you said you destroyed them all."
"I thought I had," said Clancy. He should have known better than to mention this, even here, he thought.
"You know how sneaky the aliens can be," said Abigail. "It's possible that Clancy believed that he had destroyed them and yet some remnant survived, possibly angry at him for his behavior toward them."
Clancy liked that explanation, and tried to figure out how he could integrate it into his next meeting with Brenda, whenever that was.
"They wouldn't be interested in him," said Michael Farrell. "He's not their type."
"You don't know that," said Clancy. He was getting tired of sparring with Michael, the know-it-all. "You never encountered my aliens."
"Nobody's ever encountered your aliens," Michael replied. "Nowhere in the history of alien encounters has anyone reported anything like your aliens, and believe me, I've done a complete survey."
"Are you saying I'm a liar?" asked Clancy, clenching his fists.
"Please!" interrupted Abigail. "We are not here to doubt each other's experiences. That is for the outside world. Remember the first rule of the group: we believe in each other and we support each other."
"I'm not saying you're a liar," said Tom Martins. "I'm just wondering why you would be worried about the aliens coming after you. You've already proven yourself to be more than their equal."
As Clancy looked around the group, his heart sank. Most of the others were nodding. He should have expected that, Clancy realized. Even if he'd wanted to ask for their help in dealing with the aliens, he knew now that he couldn't do it. He slouched in the folding chair. "Yeah, I know. I wasn't really worried. I just wanted to tell you, that's all."
Abigail looked around the group, nodded and then turned to Caitlin LaRoche. "Now, Caitlin, last week you were telling us that you believed your husband was becoming extramaritally involved with some aliens who were living down the street. I wondered how that situation is developing."
Caitlin shook her head gloomily. "I know he's getting it on with them," she said, "so what I'm trying to find out now is what kind of aliens they are."
As the discussion shifted to Caitlin's situation, Clancy let out a sigh. His problems wouldn't be that easily solved, he was afraid. Certainly he couldn't get any help here.
By the end of the next day, he'd convinced himself that the only way he was going to work things out with Brenda was if they met face to face. And, since she wouldn't answer his calls, he would have to go to her motel and meet with her there. The motel in question was out on the Sunrise Highway, some distance from the center of the city.
His confident mood lasted until he walked up the path to the building where her room was. They were sitting on top of the bushes outside what he calculated was her window. For once, they weren't looking at him, and they didn't seem to be aware of his proximity.
For one cowardly second, he felt the strongest urge to turn around and bolt for his car, before they realized that he was there. No one would know; Brenda hadn't even realized that he was coming to see her.
But then he saw the gray alien move its tentacles toward Brenda's window, and the pink one took something out of the bush, something that looked as if it were made of tubes and wires. It reminded him, horribly, of some of the equipment he'd found hooked up to him when he'd gained consciousness in their ship. As soon as he saw that, and saw that the aliens were focused on Brenda's room, he knew he couldn't run away without warning her.
He dashed into the building and pounded on her door, panic rising that he might be already too late to save her.
"Who is it?" Her voice sounded normal enough.
"It's me, Clancy. Brenda, you have to let me in. They're right outside your window! You need to change rooms or get out of here altogether!"
"Clancy?" Her voice sounded nearer, as if she were approaching the door.
"What are you doing here?" Now she was right on the other side of the door.
"I came to talk to you, but that's not important. I saw them, outside your window. I believe you're in danger. You have to get out of here."
She opened the door a crack, with the chain still attached. "You saw what outside my window?"
"The aliens! They're right out there with their infernal devices, and I'm afraid I might have alerted them to your existence and now you're in danger!"
"Clancy," she said, "I'm sure that if your aliens were out there, someone else would see them, and would do something to them before they could do anything to me."
"They wouldn't know. I told you, the aliens can appear and disappear at will. That's what makes them so dangerous. Look, I know how to deal with them. Let me in so I can protect you."
There was a pause in which he thought she might be considering his offer.
Then she spoiled it. "Clancy, I told you, don't call me, I'll call you when I need more information about you. Now, I'm very busy, and I don't want any more interruptions, so just go away."
"But you're in danger! You have to change rooms, or go to a different motel!"
"Clancy, if you don't leave this building, I'm going to call security. I'm in the middle of something, and I don't want to be disturbed. I'm not afraid, and I don't need your help, all right?" Without waiting for his answer, she shut the door the rest of the way, and he could hear the lock turn.
She probably would call security, he reflected, and he wouldn't be able to explain his presence to them. What a disaster this had been, he thought, as he turned to leave.
As he passed the bushes, he saw the aliens, still intent on the window. The pink one raised one of the tubes until it touched the surface of the glass. Then Clancy thought he saw the curtains inside the room twitch, as if Brenda were moving them slightly. He stood and waited to see what would happen next, but nothing did. The curtains closed again, and the aliens twitched their antennae at each other, making that squeaky noise that scraped at Clancy's nerves.
He didn't leave until the motel security officer approached and told him to remove himself from the premises. Then he drove home, slowly and ignominiously.
When the phone rang the night after his disaster at the motel, he wasn't even thinking about Brenda or the aliens, so he was surprised to hear her voice.
"Gee, Clancy, I'm so sorry I was rude to you yesterday, but that was because I was in the middle of writing. I've finished the first draft, and I really want you to take a look at it. Can you forgive me for the way I acted yesterday? I'd really like to see you tonight."
His heart leaped up. She'd finished the screenplay already? "Of course I forgive you. I hadn't realized that you were in the middle of writing. I never would have interrupted you otherwise."
"Great," she said with a laugh. "Come right over to the motel, okay? I promise, I won't call security on you this time."
"I'll be right there," he said, and within minutes of hanging up the phone, he was in his car, whizzing over to the motel as if the vehicle were fueled by hope rather than gas.
He couldn't help looking at the bushes outside her window as he approached, but he didn't see any signs of the aliens. Clancy could hardly wait to see the screenplay; already he was choosing the cast to play the different parts.
It all turned horrible as soon as he opened the door to her room and stepped inside. Instead of the normal motel room he'd been expecting, he was blinded by a brilliant flash of light and, when he could see again, the first thing that caught his eyes was the table to which he'd been fastened, that horrible night when he'd awakened in the aliens' spaceship.
He took a quick step back, and bumped into that grotesque machine, the one with all the transparent probe-like objects sticking out of it. He whirled around, panicked, and discovered that he was back in that alien laboratory, complete with the sickly greenish yellow light that washed out all the colors he could see.
To complete this nightmare, he heard the squeaking noises of the aliens and, turning, came face to face with them: all six inches of long, shaggy fur, orange eyes and antennae, with the clawed feet that moved so surprisingly fast. They were looking intently at him.
"Welcome back, Clancy," said Brenda.
He spun on his heel, looking for the motel room door, but found her behind him instead. "You -- you traitor!" he gasped. "You've handed me over to them!"
"That's right," she said, stepping over the shattered wires and plastic-like pieces that he remembered from his last sojourn here. "They came to talk to me last night, just after you left, and told me a very interesting story. A very different story, I might add, from the one you tried to sell me."
"But -- but -- I can explain," he stammered, trying to keep an eye on her and on the aliens at the same time. He could see that the latter were slowly advancing on him, and the gray one moved behind one of the counters to get something.
"You don't need to explain," she said calmly. "They already told me how you stepped into their force field at the abandoned building when you paused to take a leak there, how they were just doing their scans of your body and psyche when you suddenly regained consciousness, panicked, and wrecked the laboratory altogether. They tell me they'd never seen anything or anyone as out of control as you were. They didn't want to take any more data from something so obviously deranged as you, so they shot you right back to earth."
"It wasn't like that," he protested. "How could you communicate with them?"
"Unlike you, I didn't panic when I first saw them. They're actually quite gentle creatures, and they were able to put me at ease immediately."
"Oh, yeah? If they're so gentle, why have they been following me? What were they doing with those ray guns the other day? If they don't want me, what am I doing here?"
"I didn't say they don't want you now. They do. After you left so precipitously, they realized that they needed you again. So they came back to find you. Those weren't ray guns, Clancy. They were scanners, which these guys were using to try to figure out your chemistry, so that this time you wouldn't cause such havoc when they brought you to the ship."
"And then they managed to subvert you," he said. The gray one slunk out from behind the counter. He couldn't see what the creature carried behind it. "What did they offer you for me?"
"The truth, which is something you didn't bother sharing with me," she said. "But it's not just your story. No," and her eyes gleamed with excitement, "they've told me about their fleet, about their adventures, their encounters with humans and other creatures. They're willing to give me first rights on all their material, and I just can't wait to start writing it down. Why, Hollywood will be throwing itself at my feet!"
"If you can live with that," he said acidly. "If you can enjoy riches bought at the cost of my torture."
"You don't understand these guys at all. They don't want to do any more tests on you. I told you, they decided that you're too psychotic to be representative. But you really wrecked the place when you started flailing around, and, they believe that sentient beings should take responsibility for their actions."
The gray alien appeared before him, and deposited its object at his feet.
He stared at it, incredulous. "It's a dustpan."
"Look at the mess you made of this lab. You're just going to have to clean it up. Then they'll send you back to earth, no problem."
He took the dustpan, and the brush the pink alien pushed at him. Kneeling down by one of the walls, he began gingerly sweeping up the fragments, to the sound of enthusiastic squeaking from the aliens.
One thing was for sure, he told himself grimly. He was not telling the Alien Encounters Support Group a word about this.
Published by permission of the author.