I met Bill Brighton four months ago when I arrived in America for the start of my latest research project. I am an academic, a sociologist from the LSE - the London School of Economics and Political Science (and yes if the reader cares to know, we do have a sociology department). I had been given a grant from the European Social Research Council to investigate the societal effects that contribute to claims of alien abduction. The United States has the most claims per capita of any country on the planet. It has also experienced the greatest social upheavals of globalization.
With these facts in mind I hypothesized that the pressures of globalization, such as labor outsourcing, work cut backs, and massive lay-offs would contribute to feelings of social anxiety. I thought that I could explain abduction as a sort of internalized xenophobia, whereby members of the work force who witnessed their jobs going overseas could not vent their emotions directly on the distant Chinese, Mexicans, or Malaysians that "stole" their jobs. So instead they often imagined an outside invader, an "alien" force of higher intelligence that became the tangible social menace.
Bill saw things differently - as did most of the abductees I spoke with. I began my study in the area of the United States that Americans often refer to as "The Heartland." I spent months crossing the rural expanses of Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska. I stopped in every small town I came upon. I visited dilapidated neighborhoods whose core factories had been shipped overseas. I conducted hours of interviews, collecting case after case. Most every account seemed to validate my hypothesis. That is, until I headed west.
Now obviously the abduction stories one hears in the Southwest are of a different nature than in the Heartland. This is not the "west" I am talking about. People living near desert Air Force bases often told me that they have been "abducted" for secret government testing, or that the U.S. military was collaborating with extra-terrestrials. These are a qualitatively different breed of abduction. Recently I have come to think that conspiracy theorists have watched too many movies - their stories have all started to sound the same. In fact, whenever I noticed the word "government" becoming the central feature of the abduction event, I tended to write the interview off. I did not let these kooky claims affect my hypothesis. I noted them, but kept them separate from my research data. What destroyed my hypothesis was Bill.
Bill lived in California - the last stop on my tour. I had never been to California. I hoped I could wind things down there, and enjoy the late summer sun. Being a Londoner, sun is quite important to me. I generally spend my days covered by a thick sheet of gray clouds. During the British spring and summer a few weeks of sun is all we get. Even then, clouds are bound to roll in on a daily basis and steal it from us. In all honesty I was really looking forward to relaxing on a beach. I was planning on a brief spell in northern California to collect a few more interviews, and then jetting down south for a bit of R&R. But I never made it south. My plans stopped dead in their tracks when I visited the town of Placerville.
I approached Placerville the same way I had approached every town during my investigation - a few days before arriving I rang up the local paper, which in this case happened to be the Mountain Democrat, and inquired as to whether there had been any published accounts of alien abductions. Generally abduction stories will tarnish the fragile reputation of a small town press - most papers tend not to touch them. It was the same with the Democrat, so I pressed further and asked about unpublished accounts. The woman on the line revealed to me that Placerville indeed had its share of stories, she told me I best go to the coffee shop on Main and ask for Bill Brighton.
Placerville is a gold rush era town, and it was built for the times. It is situated smack in the middle of El Dorado County - the epicenter of the California gold rush. The town had its heyday in the 1850s and hasn't changed much since - that is, apart from Bill Brighton's contribution. Back in the day it was a center of lawfulness in a land of outlaws. The criminals called it Hangtown. When I arrived, one of the first things I noticed was a hangman's noose dangling over Main Street - a silent testament to the past.
The hills around Placerville are dotted with forgotten mines. Every few years a major cave in is reported. Some poor high school kid is inevitably crushed under tons of rock. Bill was pointing this out to me as we sat in the midst of an abandoned mine shaft at the rear of the Main St. coffee shop. Yes, the coffee shop was built over the entrance of a mine, at the base of a hill. Bill had a sick sense of humor - he laughed when I asked to transfer our meeting elsewhere. We sat in the dank mine shaft for several hours. Thankfully the coffee shop had fitted it with lighting and a few tables, and thankfully Bill's story gripped me with such interest that I conveniently forgot where I was.
I began my interview with the normal formalities.
"Caw me Bill."
"Certainly. Bill, please call me Roger. I shall be taping our conversation - for my research. Is it a problem?"
"Bill, where are you from?"
"Originally from Omaha - or there abouts."
"When did you come to California?"
"1966, when my Pop started loggin'. Ya know, cuttin' down trees an' such. I was just a litlun - ten years ol'."
"Bill, tell me about your family life..."
"Comment on your experiences at school..."
"Had you always planned to have so many kids?"
Our conversation continued for the better part of the morning. I began to notice the trends that were strongly present in the majority of abduction cases: poor childhood, raised in poverty, married young, had many, many, children, wasn't entirely adverse to first cousin marriage, loved motor sports, and most importantly - had been chronically under employed for most of his adult life. Now let me be frank: there is not a direct correlation between pleasure derived from Nascar viewing and propensity to be abducted. It just so happens that the Nascar advertising strategy tends to target the bluest of the blue-collar workers - the most socially stigmatized and undervalued members of the work force. As for first cousin marriage, that may be a symptom of a rural upbringing. Bill put it most succinctly when he explained, "all's we had around was kin. It's not so bad, its what the pioneers and them pilgrims did. We all come from the same stock anyhows."
In Bill's case the pieces of the puzzle seemed to fit perfectly - yet I could never have predicted the nature of his abduction experience.
"To tell ya the truth Roger. The whole thing wasn't all that bad. Scared the bejessus outta me though - 'specially at first. I was drivin' home from bingo. I took my granny cuz she like to play every once 'n a while - at the Indian Casino up the road. I remember, just before droppin' her at the old folks place we started jokin' about the game. Ya see, she loves to cheat - 'specially round them old people. Well I nicknamed her Buttnocchio - ya know, cuz whenever she be lyin' her butt keeps growin' bigger. Its actually cus she's old, though the buttnocchio thing is funnier. We wus laughin' about it the whole way. I was still laughin' about it after she went home. Well on the road, out there alone, my pickup starts sputterin' an' shutterin.' There wasn't much I could do, so I pulled over. That's when I started feeling queasy 'n also a bit tired."
"I imagine some people might be tempted to blame your whole story on carbon monoxide poisoning."
"Naw. No way man. I gots proof an' I show it to you later I will, 'specially if you wanna come over for supper."
"I'd be delighted Bill."
"Great. As I was sayin' I felt queasy. Next thing I knew I was on their gol danged ship. I wasn't suppose to wake up, but I did. It was them all who screwed it up. At first I was stunned. I didn' know what to say, so I didn' say anything at all. Them all didn' know I was awake - that's when I figured it out," Bill's voice became hushed and he leaned further over the table, "you see, they's ain't aliens, Roger, they's U.S. citizens. My own kin from the future."
I almost laughed, but Bill's penetrating, deadly serious stare, kept me focused. I prompted him further, "you mean these aliens were related to you?"
"Yeah, but like I said, you can't call them aliens as such, cus they're not. They're actual earthlins. Yeah. I figured it out all right. One of the litluns was talking to its Pa, sayin how bad this vacation sucked. Well his Pa almost smacked him cross the head 'n started shoutin' at him, he said 'show some respect boy, that's yo ancestor, ya own flesh an' blood.' When I heard that I jumped outta my chair - you see they thought I was hypnotized - like ol' Bill's gonna sit still an be somebody's history lesson. Even if they is my own kin, it just tain't right. Roger, when I jumped outta that chair they stopped bickerin' - came dead quiet. An I let 'em have it, I shouted at them an' said 'You let me go right now or I'll kill myself!'
"You mean as a threat to end the family lineage?"
"It was my first reaction. I had my pocket knife at my throat - then I realized I didn' wanna die, so I told 'em I'd cut off my wang and kill my kids instead. Well they laughed at me Roger. One of the big ones played some mind trick on me and made me drop the knife. He said to me 'shucks Bill, you a wild one - ya not gonna go cuttin' yourself now are ya?' He had my accent more or less, least that's how I remember it. I admitted to them I probably wasn't gonna sacrifice my wang on account of my own kin. Things got a bit easier after that."
"Sorry to interrupt, but what did these umm...earthlings look like? Did they really seem to be related to you?"
"Nope. They didn't look anything us Brightons. More ors less they wus just what you'd come to expect an alien to look like - skinny arms, all white 'n gray, big black eyes, hardly a hair on their bodies."
Interesting parallels I thought. The standard shape and form Bill described is a telltale sign of socially induced abduction stigmas. This particular abduction imagery is so pervasive that it has been possible to reproduce these experiences in a lab. Neurologists can synthetically produce an abduction experience using a combination of ELF waves (extremely low frequency) and acetylcholine drugs, which themselves create a mental static and block out competing sights and sounds. In general the lab work has helped us to realize that certain variables which naturally effect the brain's production of electromagnetic waves, can trigger abduction experiences. These variables include stress, over exertion, social anxiety, and chemical imbalances. Plus, prior exposure to the abduction narratives of others is a prerequisite.
This last variable is a key factor explaining the exponential rise in abduction cases since the advent of television. The psycho- and physiological variables that contribute to the modern day abduction experience are not new. In fact, before television made the abduction narrative a global phenomenon, there were wide spread regional interpretations to account for the psychological strains of changing social relations. Generally these interpretations followed the most pervasive meta-narrative of the culture in question. Demonic possessions were popular in medieval Catholic Europe. Spirit visitations still occur in underdeveloped parts of tribal Africa. And, while whites were populating North America, the social upheaval experienced by the indigenous peoples took the form of malevolent ghosts. Thus visitation by aliens, demons, ghosts and spirits are all the same wolf in different sheepskins: a psychological reaction to anxieties of social change. Or so I thought.
Bill's case however, was beginning to appear a bit different. His story so far only half fit the meta-narrative. Visually it was standard, but verbally it was unique. I pressed him on the issue of communication. Face to face communication is rarely reported, but in the rare circumstances that it does occur it is usually to impart knowledge rather than collect it - a visit by an angel or a god.
"You felt you were a sort of history lesson, is that right?"
"It was much more than that. My family, I mean my future family wus on their summer holidays. They'd been savin' up the last two years to make the trip. Told me they'd been lookin' in to our family genealogy every since Nancy - she's the oldest daughter - graduated from college with a history degree. During her senior project, which was all about family trees an' such, she discovered she was the first one. So you can understand, they wanted to do somethin' special. I felt pretty proud to know that my kin wus going to college an' everything. I always knew us Brightons had it in us if we ever got the chance."
"You mean Nancy was the first...ever?"
"Yeah, that's right."
"What year were they from exactly?"
"Right. And how many were there?"
"Twelve from that generation. I found out later there wus a couple stragglers they picked up from earlier stops. But don't worry they put everyone back just fine."
"Bill, I'm truly fascinated by your story. I've never encountered anything like it. I hope you can appreciate that I may be a bit skeptical."
"Naturally Doc. Though I said I'd show you my evidence - along wit supper. That is if you'd still care to join?"
"Yes. I shan't refuse your invitation," although I did not mention it to Bill I was quietly moved by his innocence. His charming Forrest Gump quality was a great reprieve from the normal caginess that follows an abduction experience. In any event I thought that dinner would offer a nice conversation.
Bill and I spent the rest of the afternoon covering the specifics of his experience. He spent a total of three days with his visitors. Time and time again he told me how they were just like his current family.
"Brightons were never much fo' followin' rules. They had to sign a contract to rent the ship from the Living History Corporation. It said not to 'ssociate with the past or nothin'. There was rules for everything. None of them wus suppose to get off the ship, and there was always suppose to be some sort of energy barrier between me an' them. Well they broke that contraption the first week when they was playin' football indoors. That's why I woke up you see. A genuine malfunction, it wus meant to keep me hypnotized. Anyway we agreed there wasn't much point to keepin' up the charade 'specially since we wus already talkin' to one another. There's not been no trouble so far. Hell, I even showed 'em around the house. Me and Carl, he's the Pop, went for a drive in my truck. He said it was cool."
"They exited their ship?"
"Yeah. It gave the kids a more hands on learnin' experience. Besides they had paid so much money - wouldn't want it to be goin' to waste now would we?"
I was beginning to think Bill's abduction experience might somehow be an acting out of long standing family neglect. I asked him how close he was with his siblings and parents. He said they are quite close. In fact, they were planning a large family reunion for later in the autumn. Bill did not immediately appear to have the type of family trouble that would cause stress enough for an abduction experience. However, his marriage had been through tenuous straits in the past. Shortly before his abduction experience his wife walked out on him, claiming he was having an affair.
"What reason did your wife have to suspect you?"
"I go down to Sacramento sometimes - to the race track. She caught me foolin' around with one of the girls there. We didn' do nothin' serious, just playin' an kissin.' But Mandy, my wife, she get irritated when I don't tell her where I been. Whenever my stories don't fit she starts accusin' me of humpin' that scank down at the track. She didn't give me a second chance when I told her I was visited an' such. She grabbed her bag and hauled ass out to her mother's place in Tahoe. She didn't even wanna meet 'em or nothin'. I haven't been able to talk to her since."
"Had you been fighting at all before your visitation'?"
"A bit. But don't ya go thinkin' this is an explanation Doc - not until you seen my proof."
"I do not mean to doubt you Bill, but what is your proof?"
"A quantum telephone. They said I could keep it. We been callin' each other all the time and I'll show ya tonight."
Around 5:00 p.m. Bill and I drove his pickup into the hills. His house was rather isolated and surrounded by a grove of oak trees. In the front sat heaps of decomposing cars lined with old tires and dotted with the odd hub-cap. There is something about alien abductees and crappy cars that I can't quite put my finger on - maybe years of inhaling exhaust and then flunking out of auto shop is, dare I say, bad for the mind? Closer in was a collection of scrap lumber that had been rotting untouched for much of the last decade - it was topped with its own garden of weeds and moss. Unsurprisingly, Bill's actual garden was not in a better state, having long ago lost any sense of shape or expression. British eyes notice these things. Where space is cramped in London each square meter of garden is meticulously primed and manicured.
In Bill's yard chaos ensued. I felt an urge to trim and prune. Towering sunflowers fought with plum and apple trees for the rare scraps of sunlight relinquished by the oaks. I did not want to judge the man by his garden, but it was hard not to - it reminded me of the worst, most wasteful, aspects of Americana. The only thing that stopped me from commenting on the scene was Bill's lovable innocence. We headed toward the front door. As I walked down the brick path I tried not to wince at the rusted lawn furniture crushing an otherwise usable flowerbed.
The outdoors prepared me well for the interior: piles of unwashed laundry and dried bits of spaghetti decorating the sofa, a kitchen floor sticky with beer and fringed with spilt portions of mushroom soup. On the walls were all manner of race car, "artfully" torn from the pages of sports magazines.
"How long has your wife been gone?" I tried not to let any sarcastic tones betray my disgust.
"Aw she took off about two months ago. Why?"
"No reason...just curious."
Bill shoved a frozen pizza into the microwave and cracked open two cans of beer. I, of course, accepted it all graciously and waited, as a trained sociologist should, for an opportune time to reestablish the calm rhythmic cadence of questions necessary to elicit the best quality information. My chance came shortly after dinner. Bill was rummaging through the various messes that constituted his living quarters, attempting to locate this alleged quantum telephone. To my utter amazement he retuned to the kitchen, phone in hand, and allowed me to examine it under the light. Apart from a manufacture's logo that I did not recognize, the device looked very much 21st century. Though admittedly, I was in no position to judge its supposedly 81st century ascetics.
"So whadaya think Roger? They ain't done nothin' too fancy."
"I don't know what to say Bill, is it for real?"
"Yup. Sure is. You wanna see me use it?"
I almost felt sorry for Bill. He reminded me of a loner schoolboy trying to make friends by showing off his toys. I had half a mind to say no - simply to save him the embarrassment. Before I could answer he had already scrolled to Carl's name and pressed the call button.
"Now get in close Roger an' you can hear him too!"
Reluctantly I held my head close Bill's and waited patiently. The voice of a young girl broke the ring tone. She couldn't have been more than five or six. There was a youthful squeak in every word she said.
"Hey Anna! It's ya ol' uncle Bill.
"Why don't ya be a deer an' let me talk to ya Pop."
"Daddy's not home right now, bud I tell him you cawd, Uncle Bill."
"Alrighty Anna, be a good girl now an' don't forget."
They said their good-byes and rang off. Bill flashed an excited look at me. I truly did not want to disappoint him, but there was no mistaking the skepticism that raised my eyebrows and half opened my mouth.
Bill took it in stride and promised me we would redial when Carl came home. While waiting for the opportunity, we spent the next hour talking about Bill's future family. He laid out all the relationships for me. Carl and Danna where the parents and they had ten children, spanning twenty five years of age: Nancy, Allie, Anna, Doug, Dale, Daria, Neal, Alex, Abe, and Dwight - all starting with letters of Danna's name.
Bill lovingly described each child and their various accomplishments, which apart from Nancy's college degree, included Dwight's trophies for being Nebraska's fastest catfish and hotdog eater four years running, Daria and Neal's every expanding collection of designer toothpicks - allegedly the largest on either the earth or the moon, and Dale's successful hunting expedition where he used a firecracker to blow up the last wild frog known to man (he keeps the bits in the refrigerator).
Entertaining as it sounded I was none too taken by Bill's account of 9th millennium family life. What he described seemed far too pedestrian to me - the polar opposite of every other account I had collected. I listened with a half-interested ear as Bill recollected some of his predecessors from the 4th and 7th millennia - the "stragglers" he met whilst on the ship. We were interrupted by the phone (the landline not the quantum device). It was Bill's grandmother and she was upset that Bill had forgotten to pick her up for dinner.
"Hell Roger, I tain't be but a minute. Ya just go on 'n make yourself comfortable. I'll introduce ya to Granny when we gets back."
"Thank you. I look forward to it."
He was off, I heard the pickup clank down the hill. I did not lose a moment in grapping the quantum phone. I had to see for myself - who was Carl and what was his story? I suspected Carl would be one of Bill's unmentioned stepbrothers, someone nice enough, or humorous enough to indulge Bill's carefully constructed fantasy. I rang Carl's number.
"Heeeello? That you Bill. Awfully good of ya to caw."
"Excuse me, I'm trying to get in touch with Carl Brighton, I am a friend of Bill's."
"Well you're a speakin' to him partner, what can I do ya for?"
"I think it best that I explain myself to you. My name is Roger Davies. I am a sociologist from Britain. I have been listening to Bill's stories since early this morning and I have to admit..."
Carl interrupted, "Where ya all say ya wus from now? Sounds like you is from Europe."
"Yes, that's right."
"Cooooowwaal. Did Bill tell ya that we's from the future?"
"As a matter of fact, he did mention it..."
"So what's a socioawlogist doin' with our Bill? Ya all some kinda cop? We didn't break none of dim rules on purpose now ya hear."
"It's not that, I'm simply having a hard time believing anything Bill has told me."
"Well hell boy, ya talkin' to me ain't ya. I'm from 8083. What more do ya wanna hear?"
"Good question. Now that I think about it perhaps you'd be so kind as to help me get in touch with an academic institution."
"A university, a college, some place with..."
I could hear Carl yelling for Nancy, "hol' on now, I'll get Nanc, she knows about this stuff."
I could hear their faint voices over the phone.
"One of Bill's friends wants to talk to a university or some such thing."
"Oh yeah? Ask him which one?"
Without stopping to think about it I blurted out the letters L-S-E and Carl shouted them to his daughter who came back a moment later with a number. Before I hung up Carl asked me, very politely, to have Bill call him - it was about the family reunion.
I was still a tad perplexed and was certainly not yet willing to abandon my skepticism. I had known people who went to greater lengths than this to fabricate a story. The L.S.E. would be my answer. The Brighton's could not have known in advance that I would ask for a particular number. I dialed and was greeted with a recorded voice.
"Thank you for contacting Louisiana State Engineering. Student Services is closed at this hour. Our opening times are from nine to five Monday to Friday. Saturday and Sunday, eleven to four. Please stay on the line to be connected with campus information."
I should have guessed. The London School of Economics never did become a household name. The operator came on.
"Hello. Louisiana State Engineering, Mary-Jo speakin' can I help ya?"
"Yes, I'm terribly sorry. I was trying to ring a different institution. Perhaps you can locate the number for me, and...oh yes, what year is it?"
After a bit of congenial banter and a few directory searches, Mary-Jo produced the number I was looking for and kindly pointed out that it was indeed 8083. I was phased, to be honest, but still stubborn. I dialed hurriedly - eager to straighten things out. Another recorded message! I had completely forgot about the time change. It was 3:00 a.m. in London. Damn my luck. I followed the phone tree to the sociology department and jotted down the extensions of faculty as they came up.
Bill returned with his grandmother, who did happen to have a rather large arse. We spoke politely for a few minutes. When I mentioned the visitors she raised her hand and swatted Bill across the head.
"William now wha'd ya go bothern' Doctor Davies wit all that for?"
"He's a sociologist, he wanted to hear it Gran."
Finally! I thought, this will straighten it out. I turned to Grandma Brighton and asked, "So who's Carl?"
Without missing a beat she replied, "Well he'd be my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandson."
"And you don't think there is something odd here?"
"I did at first, but once you seen him there's no mistakin', he's a Brighton alright."
"See I told ya he's real Roger - no one ever called ol' Bill a liar."
"Alright Bill alright, my apologies. Hope you don't mind, I used the phone while you were away - Carl wants to talk to you about the reunion." I expected Bill to be upset, but he did not seem to mind.
"I'll be damned, what else did Carl say?"
"Nothing really. I asked him for the phone number of my university in London. Perhaps I can call tomorrow morning?"
"Why yes you sure can. Hows about a cup a jo with me an' Granny?"
I got to know Bill's grandmother, Caroline, while we drank coffee and ate the several day old doughnuts Bill found in the refrigerator. She had the same innocent outlook that Bill did. I felt I could have told them anything about anything and most likely there would be no argument. However, as it happened they told me more than I would have ever given them credit for. Especially when it came to the quantum phone.
"Entanglement Roger. That's how it works. Nothin', not even time immemorial can untangle them specially designed particles. I ain't sure about no 'pecifics of it 'n neither is Carl, just that he got them particles in his phone an' I got 'em in mine 'n dell done talk to each other faster than light."
"And how about the ship? How does it work?"
"Hell, you got me there. I 'magine they needs them some smart mechanics for that. Oh yea, 'minds I better caw Carl," Bill grabbed the phone and plopped down on the sofa in the front room. He waved to us through the open doorway, "You alls don't mind me I got a reunion to plan!"
Mrs. Brighton put some more coffee water on, and I started in with the small talk, "so I hear you like to play bingo?"
She would not have any of it. Instead she cut my ramblings short and said, "you wanna see the photos?"
"Here's Bill 'n me with Danna and Carl. Here's all their children. These ones here is some a Bill's kids, thats Eddie 'n that's Ernie, live just up the hill, they gots their own trailer. This is Bill 'n Carl goin' for a drive - look how theys both wearin' straw hats, ain't that a dandy! This is Nancy, she don't look half bad, huh?"
Truly she looked alright, not least in the way that she defied many of the alien stereotypes I had come to know. For one thing she wore vividly colored clothing and had something of a bosom. She smiled with a mouth full of small white teeth. I suppose logically it made sense. Over the years our favored traits, such as vision and brains, began to dominate. Ear size diminished, hands and appendages became more delicate, skin became tougher to accommodate for a changed atmosphere. Could all this evolution happen in six thousand years? Was it helped along by genetic technologies? There must certainly have been tremendous revelations and discoveries over the course of years. Yes, it was not so unbelievable, not so implausible, but was it probable? - all these "abductions" merely visits by curious relatives. Just as I was beginning to reformulate my hypothesis, Bill burst back into the kitchen. He was beaming.
"Granny. You gots yourself some new kin, 'n I gots me a new son!"
Caroline jumped up from her chair, "What, What, Waa?"
Bill thrust the phone at her, "hear for yourself, you get in here too Doc, this is a glorious day!"
I huddled in close to Caroline and Bill, we heard the distant sound of a baby crying, and then Carl's voice whooping and cheering. Bill called loudly into the receiver, "Carl! Carl!"
"Yeah Bill, can ya hear him, can ya?"
"Indeedy-do! I gots your Great, really Great Grandmother Caroline here."
"Howdy Grandma! Boy I'll tell ya, that grandson o' yours, I didn't know whether to congratulate him or kill him. Knockin' up Allie like that. Them two can sure keep a secret! Aw shucks Bill, my own great great great ggreeaat Grandpappy makin' me into a grandfather! Who'd ever thought us Brighton's would pulls somethin' like that off. Must be a new Brighton first!"
"Sweet Jesus! I thought, "have I just entered red neck heaven?"
"Hey Bill? Bill ya there?"
We all listened carefully as Carl's voice changed tones.
"Bill, I got some bad news," I was half hoping this would all blow over in one fell swoop and Carl would say something that would usher in my normal reality - placing me back on stable intellectual footings, "I gotta delay the reunion."
"Nope. I got canned from work. It's gonna take a bit longer to get enough together for a LHC rental."
"Dang. What happened?"
"The garbage launch depot tossed me out on a bad cawl. Aw but you shoulda seen it Bill. Best laugh I ever did have. I figgerd how to jimmy the triggers 'n so the last launch didn't take off like t'was 'pose ta. It made one orbit 'n landed square on the neighbors house! They was cleanin' up the mess awl night. Bastard had it comin'. He's some high falutin' intellectual type - won't say mornin' 'n never once bothered 'tendin' one of Donna's Christmas parties."
"Easy come easy go - yul find another job."
Bill continued talking with Carl for almost another hour. Mrs. Brighton was headed off to sleep in the "guest room." Though before doing so she made sure to explain to me that it was a guest room only until Bill's third and youngest son, Eric, finished his sentence at El Dorado County's Juvenal Rehabilitation Center. Evidently Eric had disagreed with the mark he received in Biology, and decided to protest by driving his Bronco through four of the school's portable classrooms. Caroline proudly remarked that he was later congratulated in the local publication Faithful Light - for his courageous effort at "single handedly fighting the diabolical and unholy science of evolutionism." Despite these interesting tidbits of Brighton family lore, I could barely keep my head up. I did not make it back to my hotel that night. Instead I found my bed on the sofa, amongst dirty laundry and discarded beer cans. Bill thoughtfully placed a duvet over me long after I had drifted off.
The next morning I was up at 6:30 a.m. One side of my face was covered with baked beans and crushed tatter-tots - the remnants of a T.V. dinner that I must have missed whilst attempting to clear a sleeping space. I washed in the kitchen basin. My noise woke Bill, who came out of his bed and offered me a breakfast of Cheerios, toast, and orange juice. He also let me use the quantum phone to attempt L.S.E. again.
When I called it was nearly 2:45 p.m. in London - hopefully someone would be in. I dialed the sociology department and then randomly picked an extension from the list I had made last evening, a Professor Robinson.
I stumbled through my introduction, but he quickly got the picture and was agreeable to talking. I explained to him that after a summer of intense research into alien abductions, Bill and this quantum telephone had destroyed my hypothesis. I wanted answers and fired many questions at him.
"Why so much physiological change over just six thousand years? What did the earth look like? What had humanity achieved since the 21st century?" I wanted answers about politics, population, and the environment.
"How did the E.U. work out?"
"What steps were taken to deal with pollution and global warming?"
Professor Robinson spoke to me openly and as a colleague. His voice had the gruffness of an old man and a hint of depression, "Roger, let me start by answering your research question for you. The trends you have spotted in your work are important, but one in particular out weighs all the others and that is the propensity to procreate. Throughout the ages, those very people that have worked the hardest to build the world we know today - professionals, leaders, scientists, diplomats, in essence - the intellectuals, these people had traditionally reared small families, choosing to focus on their work instead. Often they produced one or two well raised children who inherited their parent's wealth and went on to achieve great things in their own right, but inevitably these lineages died out - an overachieving chemist spending his days in the lab and dying unmarried, a President with an only child who happens to perish from cancer at an early age. The genes of the cautiously reproducing professional middle class could not compete with the ever expanding masses of the rest. Needless to say, people like you are not visited simply because...well I'm sure you get the picture. Let's just say, the meek, or in this case, the Brightons, inherited the earth. Roger, you and I are a dying breed. I'm sure if Hermann Hesse had thought it through he would have realized that Castalia was a bad idea."
I laughed that this last comment, but Robinson dryly cut in.
"That wasn't meant to be humorous. Over the last two millennium technological innovation has stuttered to a snail's pace, the design of the phone I am talking to you on was patented fifteen-hundred years ago. I live in an era of intellectual apathy. When you get back to London, take it upon yourself to have a few kids - there are too many empty offices around here."
We never got to the rest of my questions. Instead Professor Robinson carried on with a depressing rant about his unappreciated attempts at research and the deplorable quality of the students. He told me several times over that he envied everything about me. I managed to lift his spirits by suggesting that he come visit and give a few lectures as my guest - or perhaps a seminar series titled "A dialogue with 8083." We agreed on the fifth week of the Michaelmas term and rung off. Robinson had explained that he had to leave soon anyway because the power was cut everyday at 4:00 p.m. to provide additional resources for the London Speedway - a super sized racetrack that had come to dominate Hyde park.
I did not say much throughout the rest of breakfast, but instead stared out the window, secretly angry at Bill for not killing himself. I momentarily thought him a disservice to humanity and was even briefly tempted to end his life myself, that is - in an effort to free space in the gene pool and ensure that the Davies line would not drown in the shallow end.
Thankfully Bill cheered me up before it came to blows.
"Hey Rog? Doc, ya alright?
I shook myself into attentiveness and acknowledged his presence.
He blurted out, "guess what."
"Naw, ya can do better 'n that, now guess."
"Oh, I don't know, in some alternate universe somewhere life still makes sense?"
"Na that's pretty funny, but it tain't it. Ya wanna know what it is?"
"Yes Bill, I would like to know."
"Well then hows abouts ya helps me clean up a little 'n I'll tells ya." I agreed. It was the fair thing to do in return for dinner and hospitality. Bill had me stand in the kitchen and catch the empty beer cans he tossed from the front room. I threw these cans, along with other hurled garbage out the kitchen window. Bill then gathered up all his laundry and hid it in one of the rear rooms of his house. He also roused his grandmother out of bed, who immediately began vacuuming and mopping.
Around 9:00 a.m. we had the place looking good. The three of us sat down on the sofa and drank coffee. Bill was having a hard time containing his excitement. He kept getting up and pacing back and forth.
"Any minute now Doc - you'll see!"
I, of course, still had my suspicions. But since the phone conversation with Professor Robinson, I decided, at least, to keep an open mind. The mounting evidence could not be disregarded. I remember thinking, "when I return to London, and put some distance between Bill and myself, I plan to pour over every detail of the last two days - what could have been faked, and what could I have been lead to believe?"
Shortly before 9:30 a.m. the doorbell rang. In burst Carl - a bottle of champagne cradled in one arm, and a baby in the other. The way Bill's face lit up I knew it, that thing, must be Carl. I gasped with an open mouth, my pulse skyrocketed and my stomach cinched up into a tight ball. My mind did not know what to think and my body did not know what to do. Only one thought dominated, "no way they're human." Behind Carl stood Allie. Their pale white skin and shimmering black eyes sent a wave of fear across my body, and this despite the fact that both were about five feet tall and beaming with broad smiles. I momentarily struggled to keep my eyes focused. Carl wore the straw hat from the photo, an unbuttoned plaid shirt and tattered jeans. Allie was in a sun dress. They walked in bare feet.
"Let's have ourselves a champagne jam!" Carl raised the bottle.
Bill, Carl, Allie, and Grandma Brighton all started chattering at a mile a minute. I sat frozen on the sofa, fixated in a stunned trance. Thirty seconds elapsed before I realized Bill was calling to me. With weak legs I stood up and timidly approached. Everyone around had fallen silent, curious as to what I would do. I half felt like running, but it was not a viable option in my scatterbrained, wobble kneed, state. Instead, I shook Carl's hand. It did not feel profoundly different, a bit smoother with slightly denser skin.
"Ya believe it now Roger?"
I stuttered through a stream of misshapen words while they had a laugh at my expense. We drank the champagne and toasted the new child. My fear subsided. I learned that Carl and his daughter Allie had pooled their money together and purchased a one-night rental for the smallest class of ship - an LHC two-seater model. Later today the Brighton's planned to drive up to Tahoe and cross the California state line into Nevada for an express wedding. They invited me, but it turned out there was not enough space in Bill's Honda Accord. Mrs. Brighton volunteered to stay behind, but I would have no such nonsense. Instead Bill drove me back to my hotel in the town of Placerville where we parted on good terms, and with the promise of our own reunion over the winter holidays.
Upon my return to England I willingly submitted to my wife's wishes to start a family. She wants two children, but I am thinking more in the range of twenty. In any event we hope to be good and pregnant by the time Professor Robinson visits.
Urse is a researcher in the social scienses at the University of London. However, he currently lives in Russia (Samara region) where he is investigating issues of religion and democracy in the post-soviet world. Please send any story comments to urseda @ gmail.com.
Published by permission of the author.