Suddenly, nothing on the dashboard worked. The speedometer fell to zero, the clock went dark, the heater fan and radio stopped, and worst of all, the headlights faded and died. Jean stood on the brakes and brought the car to a halt. Automatic locks went “thunk,” trapping her inside. The hair on her arms rose and her pulse quickened. This could only mean one thing: alien invasion.
It’s exactly the way they said it would be. Everything electrical shuts down when there’s a spacecraft in the vicinity.
She peered through the windshield at what she could see of the black sky, but no eerie light appeared. Maybe it’s directly overhead with the lights off. Right above me where I can’t see it. I need to text David and tell him I love him one last time… but no, of course my phone doesn’t work. This is it. It’s happening.
In her agitation, she involuntarily pushed on the gas pedal and the engine responded with a roar. All the dials on the dashboard came to life again, the windshield wipers whispered, the radio blared and the door locks disengaged. She drove home, raced into the house and found her husband snoozing in front of the television. She got right in his face, her words tumbling over each other.
“Everything in the car quit working, then it all started back up again, I know there must have been a spaceship overhead, it was exactly the way it’s been described. Did you see anything? Hear anything?”
David yawned, stretched. “It’s probably the alternator. I’ll look at it tomorrow.”
“Geez Louise! When you hear hoof beats, you cut straight to zebra, don’t you? I’m goin’ to bed.”
Jean had a thing about creatures from another planet. Her mother claimed she’d been permanently scarred by seeing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial as a child. Jean had identified so completely with Drew Barrymore’s character that for days she practiced her piercing scream so she’d be ready when her own personal E.T. showed up and tried to phone home. Everyone agreed the screaming practice was a trial, but for the most part, her family was indulgent. Jean had a lively imagination, a sign of superior intelligence, they said fondly; she’d outgrow her preoccupation with alien invasions soon enough.
Only she didn’t. She reported sightings of saucers and landing lights on a regular basis. Her school essays were full of pseudo-scientific “findings” she gleaned from the Internet. She saved her allowance for a trip to Roswell, New Mexico.
Teachers tried to reason with her. A psychologist was consulted. Even the family’s minister took a swing at Jean’s obsession – because that’s what it had become – but all appeals to logic failed. She was unshakable. She knew what she knew.
When she started going out with David, Jean did try to behave more normally. She practiced yoga and meditation, went for long walks, read a lot. After they married, she promised to forget about extra-terrestrials, or as David called them, her little green men. For a week at a time, she’d manage not to go outside before bedtime to check the sky. It made her more, rather than less tense because what if they came when she wasn’t watching? It was better to be alert and ready. Besides, they might very well be friendly aliens. She didn’t want to miss that.
She knew David was growing increasingly impatient. He organized an intervention in which the whole family gathered to express concern. Jean listened politely, but nothing they said connected with her.
“It’s okay,” she said. “You just don’t understand.”
That last summer Jean began staying outside most of the night. She’d spread a blanket on the grass and doze, waking frequently to scan the swirl of stars overhead. In July, David packed a suitcase and left. He said he couldn’t take life with a nut case anymore. No one blamed him. Her baffled family tried tough love: “When you’re ready to accept help, let us know.”
The house felt wrong without David in it and Jean seldom went inside after he left. Her days were spent waiting for night, for that was when they would come. In darkness.
Jean woke slowly. It was an effort to open her eyes in the white light, such painfully bright light. Her brain took a while to process what she saw: a huge circular shape centered in a radiant nimbus. Was she dreaming, or was this was what she’d been waiting for all her life? A hatch opened and a ramp whirred softly to the ground. Deeply-buried memories stirred and lifted her to her feet.
“You’ve come back for me,” she said. She walked into the light.
Her father reported her missing after twenty-four hours. Authorities were dismissive; the woman had a history of instability. She’d probably decided to go off somewhere and eventually she’d come back, that’s all. There was some puzzlement over a discarded shoe in a circle of burnt grass, but that was just the kind of odd thing you might expect from Jean. Who on earth could understand why she did what she did?
Who on Earth…