From the author: This story, originally published in Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe's zine, Say..., is not an alien abduction story. Seriously.
It was the dream that wasn't. Knowing that they would stand around and above her like dark trees, whispering that same eerie, sibilant pine song, interrupted by insect clicks and hisses. But not yet. There was only the dark, the silence and the certainty that they were on their way.
"They come in the middle of the night and steal your baby."
The room hummed with the nods and affirmations of the other victims and Rachel focused everything on the tip of her pen scratching against rough paper and the stack of perfectly ordered questionnaires tucked securely in her briefcase. If she didn't, if she began for a moment to think about the room full of women – abductees - and their preposterous, infuriatingly redundant stories, she would just get angry again about everything.
"Then two months later I found out I was pregnant," said a middle-aged woman in a light blue track suit. Several others nodded in agreement, a few looked worriedly at their own hands or the floor and Rachel tried not to sigh or reveal the overwhelming boredom that gripped her. She had been through this four times already. Each group was similar, their dramas playing out with only subtle differences and variations and this one was no exception. The same socio-economic spread. All of the age groups represented in their appropriate percentages. Except for that one strange girl who just looked out the window, uninterested. This was a new thing. Maybe she was someone's bored daughter or sister. Which was odd because these groups were notorious for their secretive, exclusive policies.
"'Course, they didn't let me keep it," Martha said and Rachel saw the tears in her eyes, the raw grief and rage sewn up in her soft frame that had at one time made her a believer. She wasn't anymore. No matter how real it was to these women, Rachel hadn't been able to find one scrap of proof. Despite all of the supposed pregnancies and miscarriages, there was no DNA evidence, no medical report of a hybrid fetus, but the pain and fear were obvious. So she made it real with Psych jargon, translating the vague and emotional into the scientific and specific: Early Childhood Sexual Trauma, Delayed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She knew what her thesis advisor wanted from this study - more data to support his own theories about cultural iconography and the subconscious – but Rachel had her own hopes for this study. Something deeper about that place where the mind and the body fused.
At that moment her problem wasn't definition or abstraction, it was Martha. Well-educated and professional, she wasn't fat, but she had the powdered softness and curves of someone unaccustomed to physical exertion. Rachel had met and interviewed quite a few Marthas in wildly varying physical manifestations. Sometimes she was the tough-talking, chain-smoking night manager of a grocery store, sometimes an obsessive-compulsive schoolteacher, but she was always the ringleader, the alpha female. If Rachel didn't step in soon, Martha would dominate the discussion and she would be left with very little time to actually conduct the interviews. With a neutral, passive smile Rachel interrupted gently and thanked Martha for introducing her to the group. Martha smiled a slightly superior smile and looked to her 'sisters' for acknowledgement before relaxing into her chair.
They went over the schedule and made arrangements for the next few weeks before beginning the first two interviews, which took up almost the entire two hours. Keeping subjects on the schedule was always nearly impossible. They all wanted to tell their story, even if it was the same one she had heard over and over for the past six months with only slight variations.
Amy, the second interviewee, was nervous and shy. For occupation she stated "Administrative Assistant" then lowered her eyes and laughed, mumbling something about being a temp. Her dream had the same hallmarks as the others Rachel had catalogued: the dark bedroom; the certainty that she was still awake; the fear; and finally the 'visitors' who took her away. Amy remembered more than most about the actual abduction. They carried her above their elongated gray heads with toothless mouths open in a perpetual, soundless scream. "You know, like that crazy picture," she said, pausing to meet Rachel's eyes for the first time.
Rachel didn't know, but nodded with meaning, hoping Amy would continue and after a few moments of nervous hand-wringing she finally did. She was suspended by a thousand fingers and transported slowly to a too-bright room where things became 'blurry like a music video'. When Rachel asked her to elaborate, Amy blushed and said she didn't remember anything else. Rachel felt certain she was hiding something, probably something sexual, but she just didn't have the time, so she wrote Repressed Sexual Abuse in the margin. When the interview was over Rachel gave her a card and a meaningful stare and told her to call if she thought of anything else.
The painting reference didn't hit her until she pulled into the driveway of her dilapidated 'cottage' deep in the student slums. "Munch," she said aloud to the empty car. "The Scream." Smiling over her small victory, she retrieved her laptop case and decided to leave the files in the car until morning. There was nothing in her house but silence and she deleted all eight messages on her answering machine after just one word. She knew what he wanted and how much from that one syllable.
The dream was always the same; she was in bed in her own room. The familiar objects were all there in their usual spots: the cat lamp on her nightstand, the lotions, and cheap alarm clock. Even the clutter of wrappers and wadded up tissues was there. Everything was the same except for that mysterious dark presence hovering over or just beside.
Only then would she realize that she couldn't move, her body held rigid still without hands or restraints. Until bright light and she was transported someplace else, a place cool and dim like memory. Shadowy figures moved around and over her. Their skin, where it touched hers, was the slick rough of painted cement at the bottom of swimming pools.
Someone was following her. Or maybe several someones were. They always seemed to be two or three cars back, always just far enough behind in the grocery store. At first she thought it was just a coincidence that a gray sedan was always around. Or maybe there was a factory nearby turning out gray American cars, but there were always two men inside and they always seemed to be exactly the same distance behind.
Then in the store, Rachel noticed a man following her through the maze of aisles. Most people would have overlooked him, a balding, non-descript, casually-dressed, thirty-something man studying the avocados. Harmless, her mother would have said, but Rachel knew different. Her Psych thesis topic in college had been a profile of serial rapists and this guy fit the bill perfectly, trailing at a safe distance, watching discreetly. Hopefully, he was still in the early stages, sneaking around stealing women's underwear out of their apartments for the thrill. And she would have left it at that, locked her doors a little tighter and parked in lighted spots, if that strange girl hadn't brought it up during the interview on day six. That bored sister or daughter who turned out to be at the meeting on purpose.
"Are they following you yet," she asked before Rachel could even get the papers in front of her.
Rachel's mouth hung open, unable to utter the first words of the well-worn academic spiel. She could only stare at the slightly overweight girl who picked up Rachel's expensive fountain pen, the one her Gran had given her for graduation, and examined it with detached intensity.
"Um, who? What?"
"Tommy," she said with a smile that wasn't and snapped the cap off the pen.
There was something deeply unsettling about this girl, as if she was too big for the room. As if she were always right next to or on top of, suffocating close. Even though they sat on opposite sides of the kitchen table.
"Who?" Rachel asked again, trying to return her voice to a calm, professional register. This was, after all, covered in the questionnaire. Question *31: Do you now or have you ever felt that you were the subject of investigation as a result of your visitation?
But they hadn't even gotten through the release forms yet. At least the girl was now writing her name on the form. Ashley.
"You know," Ashley said with a smug smile and began to doodle absently with the three hundreda-dollar pen. "The guys in the ugly gray cars."
It took her a moment to understand the reference. But then it hit her, the man in the grocery store dressed in casual pants, shirt and jacket all with Tommy Hilfiger written in large, block print. But Ashley shouldn't be asking the questions, which meant she had already lost control of this interview.
"Have you noticed that they're not really guys yet?" Ashley said and cracked her gum."
Rachel stared at her for a moment and began trying to recall details. A loud snap of the pen cap brought her back to the room and the interview.
"If you could just look over this release form. I can explain anything you don't..." she slid the papers in front of the girl, who gave them a quick, disinterested glance before returning to her own work.
Ashley carefully drew a number one, and wrote 'Tommies' with a small checkbox next to it. "I'll take that as a 'yes'," she said in a thinly veiled parody of Rachel's 'professional voice' and checked the box.
Frowning, Rachel began to explain the release form to her and reached for the fountain pen, but Ashley waved her off. "You won't use my real name, double-blind, anonymous, yeah, I know. The other perverts told me all about it," she said in the same cool, faraway voice. "I'll sign it if I can use your pen."
Rachel nodded, speechless and the girl smiled a bland, lifeless smile before signing the form. These interviews were supposed to be confidential. They could have polluted the entire study. "They told you about the questions?"
"Oh, don't worry about it. They just wanna make sure I say the right things, you know." She rolled her eyes and snorted. "Like I'm a retard or something."
The next form was the confidentiality agreement. She didn't bother to explain it, just slid it in front of Ashley. One eyebrow went up, but Ashley shrugged and signed something on the line. It didn't even look like a name. It looked like an EEG printout, all spikes and lines, no loops or curves anywhere.
"You refer to them as perverts?" Cool and professional, non-confrontational. Not even a question really, more of an invitation.
Rachel pulled her questionnaire out of the folder and quickly jotted down the identification number on the top of the form with a cheap ball-point that was meant for the subject.
Ashley snorted again, "Yeah. We're all perverts, sitting around talking about getting kidnapped and raped by aliens in their big scary-sexy spaceships." She rolled her eyes and it should have been funny, but there was something oddly flat about her delivery.
"So, you don't believe you're like them? You don't think their stories are true?"
Ashley studied her with wary intensity for a few moments, ink pooling around the point of the gold tip.
"They wish!" she said finally and snorted again. "They're all just pissed 'cause I have proof and they don't."
The dreams began months before, but she kept it to herself, afraid that it would compromise the research. It was most likely a harmless by-product of all the testimonials anyway. Hundreds of hours of suggestion filtering into her saturated subconscious.
The dream was always the same, but it revealed itself only in pieces. She knew from the other stories that it was roughly forty-five percent complete and wondered what her ending would be. That was the one place the stories varied in detail.
The night before she had felt them near, their whispering approach brought that nightmare fear with the voiceless scream, but Rachel woke sweating and breathless before they could arrive.
She didn't finish Ashley's interview, which put her behind by a day. At least this group was fairly close to home. No plane tickets to change, no cheap motel stay to extend. On the other hand, it was all too close to home. Only an hour from Martha's house in a suburb outside of Louisville to her place in Lexington and she was beginning to see the Tommy Hilfiger guys everywhere. If they were guys.
Two of them sat in a gray sedan down the street and she watched them through the small gap between the blind and the window casing. They sat there looking straight ahead. No cameras or binoculars or even a notepad. She had stayed up the entire night before watching them and nothing changed. They barely even moved. But she did think she noticed the right side of the driver's mustache drooping slightly as if it had been glued on. And the man in the supermarket, had those been breasts bound down under that t-shirt? Now that she thought of it, his balding head had looked a little too orange. Unnaturally orange. And not just in a fake tan sort of way.
The doorbell chime made her jump and she noticed that the two guys were looking at her house. Shaking, she walked slowly to the door and picked up the cordless phone on the way, thumb resting on the '9' just in case.
"Hey Tommies!" Rachel heard the familiar twang of Ashley's thick voice and accent beyond the door. She looked through the peephole to find the strange girl waving at what had to be the gray sedan, just out of sight, the other arm cradling a stack of files. Rachel craned her neck painfully, trying to see the reaction from the men – people - in the car, but the peephole lens distorted everything and she could only see the girl's face growing enormous and full moon white in the glass.
"Hey doc, it's me. Thought I'd swing by and finish the interview."
Rachel held her breath for several seconds, hoping the girl would decide no one was home, but she just knocked again.
"I know you're in there. The Tommies wouldn't be here if you weren't."
Defeated by her insane logic, Rachel unlocked the deadbolt. Careful not to open the door too wide she blinked against the bright porch light.
"It's nine thirty," Rachel protested, only to be answered with a disinterested shrug. She didn't even want to know how Ashley had found her home address.
"Yeah, I figured you'd be home," she said and pushed the door open forcing Rachel back into the apartment. "See ya," Ashley waved and turned to push past Rachel who could only follow in shocked, numb silence as the girl walked confidently into her living room, pulling another enormous stack of medical blue files from her backpack and unloading it all on the coffee table. Collapsing into the comfortable chair, she sighed loudly.
"Mom had to sue the to get the medical records after the trial, but it's all there." She said cheerily with that same bland smile. "Mutant, alien, all that stuff."
Rachel stared at her for a few startled moments, worrying about the stack of confidential interview booklets within the girl's easy reach. But Ashley showed no interest and reached for the good pen again, pulling off the cap.
"What trial?" Rachel asked as casually as possible. Maybe Ashley was a thief, or a murderer. That would explain the blank, unsettling stare.
"My daddy. They put him away for incest," she said, her face for once betraying at least some emotion. Something between confusion and irritation. "Even though I told them a million times he didn't lay a hand on me."
Incest victim. She wrote it down on a notepad and felt the thrill of everything clicking into place. This girl wasn't an anomaly anymore; she was proof. And all the documentation now sat on Rachel's coffee table in the chaos of blue files.
"See here," a thick finger with chewed-off nails pointed at something scrawled in a doctor's terrible handwriting. "Mutant," Ashley said confidently. Rachel scanned the paper, which looked like a paternity test of some kind and saw the word 'mutation' repeated several times along with genetics terms she vaguely recognized from first year biochemistry.
"I don't know a lot about genetics," Rachel began.
"Well, you don't need to know much," Ashley interrupted, her voice still flat, but with a hint of frustration and maybe disdain. "It says right there," she thumbed through several pages before pointing to another sheet with the word 'alien' buried in the text. "And there." She closed the file without giving Rachel a chance to look at the context. "That it was alien mutants and that's why they took the babies from me." Her face was red with anger. It was the first time Rachel had seen any real emotion from her and it was unnerving. She rubbed her thumb over the smooth plastic of the '9' on the phone she had never thought to put down, but Ashley just dropped heavily back into the chair and went silent.
"I don't understand. What do you want me to do?" Rachel asked finally and the girl looked up at her through tears, popping the cap of the pen on and off.
"I want you to find the truth so I can get my babies back." Ashley held her eyes before looking out the window behind her. "I mean, that's what you do isn't it? Find out the truth?" Ashley's eyes returned to hers, hard and expectant and Rachel didn't have the nerve to tell her that that wasn't what she did at all.
It took two hours, but Rachel managed to get her to complete the survey so that the night wasn't a complete waste. After a few minutes of reassurances that she would look over the files and a cold soda, Ashley was back to the blankness that wasn't so infuriating anymore. It had been refreshing to have the questions answered with such detachment. No tears and long-winded, meandering monologues about lost babies and husbands who just couldn't understand. Just the facts. Even Ashley's odd, grating sense of humor had receded.
It was all succinct and focused, even when she asked Question *31 about being followed. Ashley mentioned 'The Tommies' briefly, but didn't elaborate. A bit of her detached humor returned as she commented on the other abductees.
"That's another reason they all hate me in group. 'Cause the Tommies don't follow them." She snorted with what sounded like laughter but wasn't.
Rachel lowered her cheap ball point and considered probing farther to find out what this girl knew about the people who were now following her as well, but remembered her thesis and decided against it. The purpose here was to get the data she needed and for once she was getting only that -- no embellishment, no drama. Besides, it was quite possible she had imagined the 'Tommies' anyway. Lots of people wore brand name shirts and drove gray sedans. And she was probably imagining the fake mustaches and bald caps.
The rest of the questions went by without much more in the way of commentary. Ashley kept checking the window and Rachel had to resist the urge to look over her shoulder. Were the Tommies standing there, staring, ashen-faced into the dimly lit room? Were they all working together? Ashley commanding an army of middle-aged men or women or whatever they were outfitted and branded?
Question *36: "Have you ever been hospitalized for psychiatric reasons?" Ashley's unsettling gaze was on her again, eyes narrowing and so distant Rachel thought she could feel the space between them stretching until she was no longer in her own living room, but some space far away and above.
"Mama stuck me in some kind of Seventh Day Adventist counseling center." She shrugged and took another loud drink of her soda. "Does that count?"
No. It didn't. But she decided to write it in the notes anyway. And they had finally reached the question she had been dreading and anticipating -- the dream.
It wasn't at all what she expected even though many details were the same: the dark bedroom, the imminent arrival, the visitors. But Ashley's visitor was unique and completely unexpected.
"Usually it's Jesus, but sometimes it's an angel. Either way she's all glowing and beautiful. Nothing like the gray lizard things they talk about."
'She'? That was quite a slip. Rachel wrote Latent Homosexuality in the margin of her notes and waited for the girl to continue. She didn't even bother to cut Ashley off when she began a detailed account, her voice low and soft, a wistful half-smile on her face. It was so different from the detached girl she had gotten used to. Rachel became so engrossed in the girl's emotional, almost lyrical description, she only caught brief snatches of the dream.
"...we float above the bed without wings, but like angels..."
"...his voice is all tinkly like bells, with music..."
"...everything explodes into sunshine..."
Ashley stared at her with a beatific smile and it took Rachel a moment to understand that she had finished. And there was no spaceship, no abduction, and no cold alien skin.
Rachel cleared her throat and tried to think of a clinical question. Something, anything to get this interview back on track.
"So how often do you have this dream?"
"Oh, I don't anymore," she said with genuine sadness and began writing something on the back of a file in big, loopy letters, mimicking Rachel's note-taking. "Not since they made me take the depo provera shots. But I'm eighteen now, so I don't have to do what Mama tells me." The corner of her mouth bent up into a real smile. "I stopped three months ago."
They were far from the well-ordered interview questions now, but Rachel couldn't seem to help herself. Besides, it was possible that Ashley would reveal something else about her childhood abuse or her sexuality that she could use in her dissertation. That was what she told herself anyway, because it couldn't be curiosity. This was an interview after all, and she was supposed to be objective. Detached.
"Are you, um, sexually active?" She had skipped ahead to Question *42.
Ashley's face screwed up into something like disgust and she barked out a quick 'no' and 'ew' and Rachel underlined 'Latent Homosexuality' in her notes.
"I just want to have the dream again and more babies," she said quietly. Then louder, almost defiant, "And no one's gonna take her from me again."
That was the night Rachel began waking up in unusual places, usually next to or inside her own car. She slowly woke from a dream about mutant green babies to find herself sitting on the hard cold of the leather seats, keys banging against the steering column as her sleep-numbed mind tried to locate the ignition. Lowering the keys to the hard plastic of the emergency brake, she checked herself carefully.
It had been years since she had sleepwalked. Since freshman year when she had horrified her roommate and broken her arm falling down the dormitory stairs. She remembered clearly that moment when she slowly returned to the world to find herself on the linoleum floor and not in her own bed, her arm throbbing, her roommate screaming. This felt like that time and she was still in her pajama bottoms and t-shirt, so it wasn't a dream. No one was coming. She was just in the car with frost on the windows and bare feet against the pedals and everything very waking real.
But she could still feel it, the creepy sense that told her someone was coming. And they were closer than dreams.
"I left Sheila for you!" His voice was a whispered yell in the middle of campus. Rachel flinched at the force of his words and he became suddenly self-conscious, checking the crowd around him to make sure no one had heard him. "I can only see my kids twice a month now."
"No, you didn't," she hissed back, remembering his spoiled children with their hard, accusatory stares. Their hate for her was a physical thing and she really couldn't blame them. "You left her for you."
She had known it was a mistake to get involved with her thesis advisor, had been warned by all of her friends, but she couldn't seem to help it at the time. He was brilliant and handsome and interested. And it all seemed so serendipitous, their ideas and research melding so perfectly.
"They'll learn to love you. Just give it a chance," he whined and stared deep into her eyes. There was something so practiced about this and she wondered suddenly if she was only one in a long string of students.
Of course she was. He had probably done all of it before, only the name was different --Sarah, Allison, Elizabeth -- and maybe the hair.
Sweat was forming on his forehead and the growing bald spot, and she tried to remember what she had found so attractive about him in the first place. He gripped her arm and his eyes held hers, deep with desperate emotion. She forced herself not to look away and watched as his eyes went from pleading to a sort of cool resignation. His shoulders slumped slightly, his eyes darting to the other students and faculty walking around them.
Rachel took a step back as his grip softened and he released her.
"I'm almost finished with the interviews," she said with clinical detachment as he shifted his worn leather satchel from one hand to the other, blinking against the sunlight like he had just stepped into the day from a dark interior. "I'll have the first chapter to you next Thursday."
He swallowed and his eyes went heavy with pleading again, so she looked down at her orange sneakers and wished she had worn something more professional for this moment. Something more mature.
He cleared his throat and she looked up to find him staring at something behind her, or maybe nothing. There were tears in his eyes, she thought and she felt the tightening in her own throat and hoped she could make it through this without crying because suddenly it was all too sad.
Looking at the geometric steel folds of the fountain, she struggled to return her thoughts to her research, to something neutral, and remembered Ashley's files.
"Do you know anyone I can ask about some paternity test results? Someone with a background in genetics?" she asked and he shook his head slowly, angrily before looking away. His nostrils flared in that way that meant he was irritated and she prepared for an angry return to their earlier argument, but he blinked slowly and nodded. "Send it to Mark. He was a Biology major." It was probably the shortest answer she'd ever received from Peter and she could see the tension in his shoulders that meant this wasn't over yet.
Closing her eyes, Rachel rocked onto the balls of her feet and waited for the argument to resume. But when he spoke again, his voice was calm. Almost normal.
"Someone," he began and cleared his throat. "A man came to my office, asking about you. About your work." His stare was intense, as if he was searching for something.
"What was his name?" she asked, wondering why they were talking about this. Maybe it was the husband of one of the subjects. Her forehead tightened into a frown. That could be trouble.
"He didn't say," Peter said and looked away.
"Well, what did he look like?" she asked, her voice edged with irritation. This was something they could have settled in an email.
Peter turned to study her again with that same intensity, then smiled a painful smile. "I don't know," he shrugged angrily. "Middle-aged. Normal. Balding."
Rachel knew she should be pissed off, but she was simply alarmed and maybe even afraid. "What was he wearing?" She asked too loudly and began scanning the nearby parking lot for gray sedans.
"I don't know. An athletic jacket or something. You know, the kind half the undergrads wear. Jimmy something," he said and she could feel his eyes on her, heavy an hard. "Are you sleeping with him?"
She thought she could see the tail end of a gray car peeking out behind an enormous black SUV in a nearby parking lot and wondered if she could cut through the other side of the quad. There was a chance she could escape and lose them in the park.
And then she finally heard what he said and the sadness evaporated in a moment. "Fuck you, Peter." She said it as loud as she could and began walking toward the park. Just above or maybe below Peter's voice as he called after her, Rachel heard an engine starting.
That night she didn't dream about the strangers and the heaviness moving toward her. She dreamed instead about mutant babies, deformed and smiling. Rows and rows of them making soft baby noises, wrapped in blankets with ducks and rabbits printed on them, their skin a spectrum of blues and greens. There was that same feeling of trepidation, of imminent arrival, but nothing changed. Nothing happened.
Until she moved toward them, hoping to protect them from whatever was coming. It was only then, running through mewling rows, that she noticed they were all the same. That blank stare and eerie un-smile surrounding her in rows that stretched backward and forward in time.
She woke up in the car again. This time she had managed to get it started in her sleep and the heater was straining full blast against the cold engine to warm the interior. She shut it off and shivered against the seat. The frost made the windshield and windows completely opaque, but she thought she saw movement through the spots of clear the heater had made.
Then the drunken, innocuous laughter of students. Rolling her eyes at her own paranoia, Rachel pulled the frigid keys from the ignition and ran barefoot back to her apartment. Amazingly, she had locked the door behind her sleeping self. When she was finally inside and shivering, she allowed herself a glance out the window. The gray sedan was there, the tommies still facing front.
The familiar 'bing' of her email startled Rachel back to the room. It was from Peter's assistant, Mark. He had finally found a moment to look over some of Ashley's file. She had begun to think that Peter had stepped in out of spite to block her thesis research, but she and Mark had always gotten along and it wouldn't have surprised her if he'd gone around his boss to help her out. His comments were typically Mark. Incomplete sentences, phrases and clipped observations, so unlike Peter's long-winded, often pedantic ruminations.
"'Mutation' refers to genetic variation on specific genes. In this case..." her eyes scanned over the too much information of Genetics 101.
""Alien' refers to alien material in the sample. Sample contaminated?"
So far no mutant alien baby proof. Rachel imagined Ashley's disappointment when she revealed her findings. The girl was absolutely convinced of her supernatural conception.
There was a lot more material about samples and the difficulty of paternity tests in incest cases and her tired eyes skimmed over most of it until a series of question marks caught her attention.
"...no variation between Ashley's sample and her daughter's .... Mislabeled? Twins/clones? Possible tampering? Or contamination?"
Rachel scowled at the screen and rubbed her eyes. Had Ashley been right and her father wrongly accused and convicted of incest? She picked up the files she had faxed to Mark and flipped through them. All of the samples -- from Ashley, her mother and father, and the daughter -- were taken on different dates and sent to different labs. But Mark was right; Ashley's sample and her daughter's were identical. She glanced back at the email where Mark had written the statistical improbability as 'astronomically high'. She checked Ashley's sample against her mother's and found a great deal of difference. The black smudges fell in patterns that were similar in places, but showed variation overall.
"So Ashley and her daughter are twins?" she asked the computer screen, then sat in contemplative science rereading Mark's notes. She found herself staring at the question about twins/clones, thinking about the tommies and shivered before rolling her eyes at herself.
This was ridiculous. There were no alien babies, no government conspiracies. No one was riding around stealing women from their homes, impregnating them and returning to perform mysterious Caesarians that left absolutely no marks. Ashley was just another victim of sexual abuse who could be helped in some indirect way by her research. If she finished it. When she finished it. All she needed was a few days without distractions.
Sighing, Rachel tossed the sheets back into the folder and leaned back in the office chair. This was all she could do for these troubled women -- focus on the research.
She never did get back to sleep. When it was finally time for the survivor's group, she was so tired she could barely stay awake during the long drive. She was terrified she would yawn her way through the redundant interviews. Thankfully, someone had brought coffee and bagels and Ashley was mysteriously absent.
The first interviewee, Bobbi, was energetic, her story varying from the norm. And she answered a definitive 'yes' to childhood sexual abuse. Rachel could barely conceal her smile. It was the stepfather and he had been convicted, so there was a record somewhere. Bobbi's aliens were red with horns and everything all hot. Hot enough to melt the cross she always wore around her neck. She fished around under her sweater for a moment and showed Rachel the twisted, tortured results.
But there were no burns anywhere, except on the bottom of her feet.
Bobbie showed her the scars that looked like molten wax poured over flesh and Rachel pretended to write something in her notes as if this was meaningful. Nodding gravely, she moved to the next question.
It was near the end of the second interview that she noticed the gray sedans outside. Two of them, which meant Ashley was probably there. Rachel shifted in her seat and glanced warily at the door. She thought she could hear raised voices from the next room and swallowed. Just four more questions and she would be done with all of them. For good.
She never got the answers. The door swung open and Martha stood pink-faced and obviously upset on the threshold, her fingers working against each other, clasped in front.
"Um, Rachel, we're having a problem with..."
"Tell them! Tell them I have proof!" Ashley's yell was muted and Rachel looked out the window to find the girl standing on the front walk, yelling at the house.
"I'm very sorry, Martha," she began gathering pens and papers and stuffing them in her leather briefcase. "And Bobbi. Why don't we finish this next week?"
She didn't wait for an answer.
"Ashley, what's wrong?" Rachel asked thinking it was the hormones, the depo provera, that was making the girl so frantic and not even wondering why she cared at all.
"I can't have their boring fucking dreams anymore! Four years of your sickening slimy gray guys and probes," she yelled and Rachel noticed that two sedans of tommies were watching them, their retro sunglasses flashing black and mirrored all around.
"Perverts!" Ashley screamed at the house and Rachel heard gasps.
Gripping the girl's meaty arm firmly, Rachel pulled her toward her car and away from the nice suburban house with its manicured lawn. The neighbors were beginning to notice now. She'd be lucky to finish that last interview, much less follow up with anyone.
Despite the hysterics, Ashley wasn't crying. There were no tears and she seemed to have calmed down, back to the emotionless palette Rachel had grown accustomed to.
"Did you see? The tests. I had an alien baby, right?" It was more of a statement than a question, and Rachel could only think about the dream and the colorful mutant babies.
"I had a friend look at them. A biochemist. He hasn't gotten back to me with the results," she lied. Ashley studied her and grew very quiet.
"It doesn't matter," Ashley said finally and scowled at the nearby tommies who looked away quickly, not even trying to hide their presence any longer. Rachel thought she could see a ponytail of grey hair, but there was so much glare. "A couple more months and I'll have all the proof I need," she mumbled and walked away.
Rachel felt suddenly and inexplicably guilty, so she called after the girl. "I'll call you when I get the results."
"Whatever," Ashley waved her off and kept walking. One gray sedan started up and followed behind her in slow motion.
A week later Rachel had a dream about Ashley, young and round-faced in a princess bedroom somewhere she knew. Somewhere familiar. Rachel flew down colorless highways to get to the other girl with the bland smile until she was that close and the world went static.
She woke up in the car again, engine started and warm. The windows were transparent, beaded with condensation and she could make out the stars in the too-clear winter sky. Her eyes began to focus as she slowly rose to waking. She felt more than saw the other person in the car with her. Ashley, crying loudly in the passenger seat.
Rachel sat there for long moments trying to see clearly, to differentiate between the residual dream and the real. But Ashley didn't disappear and no one came for her like they were supposed to. Like they did in eight-two percent of the women's dreams.
"Are you okay?" Rachel asked finally and Ashley sniffed loudly, wiping her nose on the sleeve of her wool sweater. Nodding, she turned to face Rachel with a wide smile.
"I had my dream," Ashley said all bright and wondrous. Her beauty and happiness were terrifying. "You were here."
Rachel closed her eyes and opened them again hoping to change the scene, hoping even for the rest of the dream -- the strangers and the long journey to another world, whichever one, gray metal and cold, or Bobbi's, red and full of heat. But there was only the smiling girl and the dark outside. They had all been wrong. Nobody and nothing were coming.
Gripping the cold vinyl of the steering wheel she understood finally that she was the one who was meant to travel and arrive. Putting the car in drive like she was meant to, Rachel pulled into the narrow street, tires hissing on the damp asphalt as she took each turn like she knew where she was going. And she did. Another left, a quick right, and Rachel watched unafraid as a familiar sedan pulled in behind her and another, forming a long gray line. She thought she saw something flutter and glow against the stars, but only for a moment and they were gone.