INVASION My name is Ted Baxter. I am a social scientist. As such, I believe that all life forms were meant to exist together in harmony, that we can – and should – learn from each other in the interest of preserving our society, and that “respect” is the one word that sums up how people should treat every living species that has been created, whether animal or plant form (or something not totally either of the above). As a biology student in college, I was given the incredible opportunity to spend an entire semester with a Native American whom I only knew as Hal. Hal had a PhD in Natural Science and was an authority on Native American traditions. Much of our time together was spent deep in the forest where he taught me the basics of nature and the importance of respect. That is where I learned the Native American principle that one should look forward seven generations to determine if a particular course of action is appropriate. My hero is Christa McAuliffe, the schoolteacher astronaut who was killed when the space shuttle, Challenger, exploded during liftoff in 1986. She was the featured speaker at my college commencement exercises and I will never forget the message she shared. With genuine excitement, she talked about the “ultimate field trip” and the learning opportunities it provided for all America’s children. Indeed, for all ordinary folks who barely understand what NASA and the space program are accomplishing for society. Christa was a teacher. She knew, from an early age, it was her destiny to be in the space program. She was driven by a compelling urge to learn and planned to use every shred of her experience to teach others. I remember her saying, “This is a special year for you, as graduates, because it is the beginning of what you will be doing all your lives. Well, reach for it. Push yourself as far as you can because, if I can get this far, so can you.” The story I am about to share begins at the end. It is an ending that is both exciting and tragic. It is exciting because it brings new hope that someday we humans will meet some of our counterparts from other places in distant galaxies. It is tragic because we obviously are not yet ready to do so. This is a story about an invasion. Nestled in a wooded valley in the Catskill Mountains of New York State is the tiny hamlet of Concord Lane. It is a rural area, but within two hours’ reach of the New York City metropolitan area (the City). It is, one could presume, an ideal location to study the various habitats of our species and to learn about our social instincts. Situated on the banks of a small river, Concord Lane’s residents are a mix of people who either work locally or commute to industries located on the north fringe of the City. A third of the population is financially secure, with household incomes well in the six figures. The balance of residents seems to eek out a living sufficient to meet their reasonable needs for food, clothing and shelter. The ethnic mix is largely white, of European descent, with not more than 10% of the population being African American or Hispanic. There are two Native American families and one Oriental family in the community. Early one morning near the end of September, I received a phone call from Dr. Kenneth Ramsey, the head of the Science Department at a small college near Concord Lane. Ken and I had been friends for a long time, having worked together on a number of archeological digs. We frequently compared notes regarding our mutual belief that extraterrestrial life exists. Both of us believe that Earth may have already been visited (a feat no longer deemed impossible as we make progress in our own space program). The subject of the call was a Native American woman who makes and sells woodland craft items in gift shops throughout the Northeast. It seems Katherine had come upon a strange and unexplainable sight while searching for materials in the woods. She had called a friend, a co-worker of Ken’s at the school, to tell her about it. Ken told me, “Aware of my special interest in the unexplainable, my colleague thought I might like to join the two women on a field trip. She declined to tell me more, but assured me the trip would pique my interest.” So Ken, his friend from the college and a Native American woman trekked out to a woodland plot on the banks of the Greenwood River. Unable to conceal his enthusiasm, Ken began his account of an incredible saga. “Rita (my colleague from the college) and I met Katherine at a small picnic area near the river just off of Route 28. Although Katherine was very quiet and seemed unsure of me, I could tell that she was no jokester. There was a serious demeanor about her that made one want to pay attention. When Rita spotted Katherine, she explained why she had asked me to come; that I was a scientist and a trusted friend who thrived on trying to explain the unexplainable. As we started down a path toward the river, Katherine began to open up. “Katherine told us, ‘Strange things have been happening in this area for about six months. As far as I can tell, it all began one afternoon last April. It was one of the first truly nice days of spring. The sun was warm and bright. I recall there was a light breeze and not a cloud in the sky. Suddenly, from out of nowhere a streak of light, almost like lightning, came down from the sky with a tremendous crashing sound. It makes me shiver just to think about it. ‘Nothing else happened that day – no storm, no rain, no bad weather of any kind. The sun remained bright and the blue sky cheerful. Everyone in the area heard that crash; no one could really explain it. But, it was the talk of the town for several weeks. ‘For a while, people were having trouble with their TV’s and radios. Sometimes the radio reception was poor and sometimes it was the TV, but not always at the same time. One of the men in our fire department said that even they were having trouble. And, oh yes, Frank Petrie told me that several people with cell phones were unable to use them for over a week. Everyone involved said the interference sounded like intermittent high-pitched squawks.’ Katherine paused, then added that she didn’t really know enough about radio waves or communication devices to understand what that might mean. “At that point, I asked Katherine what had been going on in the community since those first few days. She said that, according to some in the village, there had been some kind of interference everyday for about an hour, or so. ‘But,’ she added, ‘the interference now seems to be limited to just the cell phones, and only in the late evening hours.’ All in all, I guess it didn’t cause much of a problem. “We walked in silence for a couple of hundred feet. Then Katherine began again. ‘You know, I just couldn’t figure it out. I’ve been coming into this part of the woods for years, but for some reason, now I feel like I’m being watched. Sometimes I hear the crack of a small branch or the sound of brush moving. But, when I look around, there’s nothing there.’ I probably shouldn’t have done this”, Ken admitted, “but when Katherine said she was spooked, I kind of challenged her. I said, ‘You get spooked in the woods? Somehow that doesn’t fit with your ancestry.’ But, she laughed and retorted, ‘No! It doesn’t fit with people’s pre-conceived notions about my ancestry.’ Anyway, Katherine continued her story. ‘Last week I was right over there.’ She pointed to an open area about twenty feet from the bank of the river. ‘I was looking for some small stones to use in my pieces. I was on my hands and knees, sort of tracing my hands across the ground. I came across this rock that I’m about to show you. It was an inch, or so, thick and partially hidden by ground cover. I sort of leaned up against the rock, and well, it moved. I have to tell you, I was quite surprised. It was large and it should have been too heavy to shift from my weight. I don’t know why I did this, but then I tried to lift it.’ “By this time the three of us were standing next to Katherine’s rock. I looked around to survey the lay of the land as she spoke. But, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. When I looked back at Katherine, though, she had a tense, almost frightened, look on her face. Her eyes were wide with emotion. What emotion? …fear? …excitement? I really wasn’t sure. “Katherine was eyeing the stone, almost wary that something might happen. ‘There is a living area or some kind of office space under that stone. Honest! But, it’s way too small for people.’ I looked over at Rita to check her reaction. Her jaw was set and her face was as serious as a judge. So, I knew this was no joke.“As Katherine spoke, it appeared to me she was really trying to convince herself. She continued her story. ‘I lifted the stone. It was on hinges of some sort, and popped up as if balanced with a counterweight. When I looked into the cavity, I saw a furnished, but uninhabited, living area. I was so dismayed, I must admit, that I dropped the stone and ran off.’ I was a little surprised at Katherine’s reaction. I guess she just couldn’t deal with the craziness of what she had just seen. “Chills were running down my spine as the three of us stood, mute, in that wooded area. Finally, pointing to the stone, I asked if I could try it myself. ‘Go ahead.’ Rita offered, ‘Now you know why I asked you to join us.’ I must admit that I lifted the stone rather gingerly. Leaning down, I gripped the stone not quite knowing what to expect. “Below the surface there was an entire room, just as Katherine had stated. It looked like living quarters for several people, only it was a quarter the height of anything we, humans, would use. It wasn’t more than two feet high, but it was long and narrow. From my vantage point, I could see only a short way down its length. I distinctly saw some kind of control panel, with lights and dials on it. There was a raised flat area that looked like it might have been a table, and some piece of equipment that provided light on the table’s surface.” Ken was silent for a full minute and, from the concerned look in his eyes, I could tell he was uneasy with what he was about to reveal. “Then I caught sight of what appeared to be a small creature standing near the control panel. It moved, turning to look at the sunlight streaming in from the opening. Its gaze rested on me and our eyes fixed on each other. For one brief moment, without fear or judgment, we studied one another. Then, realizing it had been discovered, the creature turned away. It began to communicate with a second being that had just entered the room. It pointed toward me and made some strange sound. At that point, several others (I believe there were six in all.) came into view. Then, in unison, they all moved quickly away, deeper into the cavity.“The strangest thing happened after they moved out of view. The entire room began to fold up behind them. It just began to disappear from view. It was like the room and all its contents evaporated before my eyes. Ken stopped for a moment, shaking his head as if in disbelief. I could see that he was mentally watching the scene all over again. Then he continued, “Really, Ted, I’m not kidding. As the tiny figures moved out of sight, the living space just imploded and, although the cavern remained, the entire space returned to the natural soil formation of the surrounding area. Suddenly, out of nowhere, there was a bolt of lightning, only this time, it seemed to be escaping from the earth rather than directed toward it. There was an ear-shattering CRASH! Then silence. They were gone. … They were just GONE!”Ken gave me a look, almost challenged me to rebuke his story. But, strange as it all sounded, I had no reason not to believe him. “Neither Katherine nor Rita saw what I saw, but they heard the crash. Frankly, it scared the devil out of us. We were stunned . . .we just stood there in silence. As the shock subsided I was able to mentally recap what I had just seen.“The creatures stood upright, maybe 15 to 18 inches tall. They had a somewhat hard or scaly outer surface, almost like bark on a tree. They appeared to be without an outer covering. You know, clothing. I couldn’t detect any observable differences between the ones I saw. But, I must admit, it was a lot to comprehend in only a few seconds. I do recall that they had two eyes, somewhat at the center of a head, a small hole between the eyes, and a mouth at the extreme lower portion of the head area. They had no neck (like humans do) but, rather, the head seemed to be the upper portion of a trunk that went straight to the floor. There were two extensions, maybe like branches, near the head that were short and thin. Those must have been like our arms. Each had a “v” at the end, kind of like hands or fingers. Instead of legs and feet, there were several short extensions like one would see at the base of a tree leading to its root system.“In fact, the creatures looked like a mobile version of a tree stump. I guess it makes sense, then, that they would seek the shelter of a woodland lot if they intended to stay for any period of time. They were some kind of highly developed species, certainly with intellects and advanced technical skills They definitely were not robots; they were real living beings.”Dr. Ramsey had hardly taken a breath while he described the creatures. I was fascinated, and really quite envious of his experience. On one of our excursions together, we had engaged in several lengthy conversations, theorizing the possible circumstances of a space invasion. But, I realized now was not the time for me to fantasize on those discussions. The look on Ken’s face told me he wasn’t finished telling his story. “Please go on, Ken. I can’t wait to hear what happens next.”Knowing he had my full attention, he smiled and continued. “During the next several days I decided to simply observe the social environment of that locale. I, myself, didn’t want to raise any undue concerns by asking questions, but I suggested Katherine do just that. I wanted the people to start talking about any unusual incidents they had experienced or heard about in the area since last April. I wanted to understand the community’s interaction process; observe their emotions; make note of their behaviors. What, I wondered, would the creatures have been studying from their woodland hideaway? Why here, in the Catskill Mountains.” “People seemed to brush off Katherine’s questions as some kind of prattle from ‘that Indian dame’. However, after she had walked away, just about everyone had something to say. Most who were in the area last April, had heard the crash and many had either heard or seen the more recent event. A woman in her late 50’s claimed to have seen the flash that preceded the loud noise. She argued that it looked almost like lightning, ‘…but the flash started at the ground and went upward’. Several commented that they felt like someone was watching them. A couple of small groups of men blamed it on ‘…those damn black kids…or maybe it was the Mexicans…you know, the ones always hanging around, causing trouble.’ As one might expect, when some minority members of the hamlet heard this, they pointed fingers at ‘those good-for-nothing white rich kids’.”“One old codger recalled that there had been an unusual amount of timber floating down the river during the summer. He couldn’t figure out why so much debris would be in the water. He told me that one afternoon, while fishing, he decided to take a break. He offered, ‘When I saw a really thick branch float by, I decided to throw some stones at it ... just to see if I could hit it. Weird. When I finally did connect, it dropped out of sight under the water and never resurfaced.’ In the end, the man just shrugged his shoulders and began talking about something else.”At this point, Ken made an offer I couldn’t refuse. “Ted, I’ve called for a meeting with Katherine and Rita tomorrow. You’re a social scientist and I want you to be there. We will be recapping the events of the last six months and I want to compare notes on what we’ve each heard since we discovered the aliens. I’m sure your insight can lend itself to the conversation.” So the next morning, Dr. Ramsey, Rita, Katherine and I met at the sight of the underground cavern. While everyone generally relayed the same information that Ken had shared with me, I was most interested in something Katherine said. Ken had observed that the town’s people seemed rather prejudiced. She agreed, adding, “ So many people now-a-days seem so angry with people who don’t agree with them. You would think a small community like ours would escape that.” As the conversation began to lapse, Rita suggested that I might like to take a look inside the cavern. Ken, who was sitting on the stone, got up and lifted it for me. I peered down at the dark, empty hole, then asked if I might climb in. “Sure, go ahead,” they all agreed. Somewhat apprehensive, I crouched down, dropped to my hands and knees and entered the space. There certainly was not much clearance. I shined my flashlight around, estimating the cavern to be about six feet wide and close to thirty feet long. It was definitely empty, except – EXCEPT - something was leaning against the wall at the far end. I called to the others, telling them I was going to crawl to the far end to see what it was. At that point, Ken dropped into the cavern to join me. Side by side we made our way to the distant object.* * *Six months have passed since our little group discovered the creatures’ sign. During that time we have kept our secret, excited and enriched by our experience, but sad that we will surely not see our visitors from space again in our lifetime. On the other hand, we have hope. We hope for peace among people. We hope for a collective willingness to accept the diversity that is ever present in our society. We hope for our children and we hope that our children will find – indeed, will bring about – tolerance and respect for one and all. These two qualities seem so absent in our society today. We also have hope that, at some future time, these creatures will again invade the Earth. For, invasion by our space adventurers will surely be beneficial. Of this, we are confident, having deciphered the message left by our alien friends."We are explorers from another galaxy, sent on a peaceful scientific mission to determine if life forms on Earth are compatible with our own civilization. The discovery of our base of operation has made it necessary to abandon our post and return to our planet for our own safety. During our brief visit we have tried to conduct our research in such a way as to insure that there is no negative impact upon your environment or your civilization. We have gained much information about your world.It is our hope that, one day, we will be able to come back and establish contact with you. But, before this can occur, we must be confident that your life form is willing to co-exist with us. From our observations, we fear that any attempt to communicate with you, at present, could cause general panic, which would result in injury to yourselves and the destruction of our species."On the opposite side of the slab containing the message was a partial list of human traits they apparently had observed while on Earth: Combative Judgmental Jaded Unapproachable
Each week authors will be given a new question to answer which will lend additional insight into their story and writing process. Do you have a question you'd like to see the authors answer? Tweet it to @aNextAuthor!