The eye-watering swirl, floating above my bed, suggested that I might like to eat something. Which was unnecessary, really; I could always eat something. Ask those who know me — they will tell you the truth: It’s one of my favorite things to do, on any planet. I’m fortunate, in a way, to be working so hard at my job and my schooling that I can’t rest long enough to gain much weight.
I just felt the words, and their meaning, somehow. When I say “suggested”, I don’t mean to imply that this swirling phenomenon spoke aloud. Not sure you need further explanation of this — unless you, too, are selected for this honor, as I’m informed it is one by my host, which invites me to call it Benevolence. At least it doesn’t assign a silly pet name to me, which would not fit me — even as I seem to inhabit that very role: I am, incredibly, an alien’s pet —
My own name is Nibhanapudi Dara. I am from a small village in India, though my family relocated me, when I was not quite a teen, to Albany, New York. My parents felt sure that I would succeed — Mother delighted in telling me that Dara meant “wealthy” in Persian… it also meant “fertile”, though in that case, it was a Gaelic name, which sounded the same, but the point was well-taken. Nomen est omen, after all. I am a woman who likes good omens, especially when they concern Yours Truly. My parents wanted me to excel in my studies, that I might secure a corporate role of some stature. Studying came easily to me; excelling in the workaday world was quite another matter.
Once fed to my fill (at least, until my next culinary adventure began), my host suggested that I would like to visit the inner chamber, where it could be seen, in its fullness. I decided it might not be a bad idea to comply; I could not be so rude as to decline. I preferred to think I had the option to do so, of course. The inner chamber was sort of like a large concert hall, but with no stage or formal seats. Instead, many rounded cushions that radiated a soft glow, providing the places for the human visitors to sit; many tables, with food and drink, awaited our attention to either side, tables that moved as if triggered by mere thought, whether mine or my host’s. Then I took a relaxing dip in the pool — which was located on the ceiling — without falling out of the water, even once!
“It” did not attack me; I want that understood. Indeed, it never laid a gloved, or bare, hand, of any kind, on me. Nor did it refuse to listen to my requests, even those it would or could not grant me. I had the run of the building; I could go, and do, pretty much as I wished, though (of course) this did not include a trip home. So, I was never probed in a violating sort of way, nor was I set free back in my own wilderness — does that mean I broke even? Actually… it does not.
I worried at first about this spirit or creature, which it is I can’t say, growing a bit tired of my company. What would it do with me, in that event? Why, it had power to extract me from my cramped dwelling (I find it difficult to remember that I once thought of it as a “home”, not as a mere shelter from the elements) back in Albany, thousands of kilometers from our village in Andra Pradesh, to whoosh me away, to this domain. It served me right, for complaining about my predicament, I suppose — “Better the hells you know”, and all that.
I had availed myself of many opportunities, In my brief time away from home, to explore the home environment this being had provided for me. I could run around in the garden, take in the glorious views outside my dwelling — you’ve never seen such fantastic scenery on Earth, that much is certain — every night is a party; every day, a payday! I could even avail myself of the companionship of other people, by which I mean, humans like myself. They were not as I was, not permanent residents of this realm; I suspect they were “borrowed” for the occasion, and then, returned, which may explain the eventual discovery of my situation by authorities back home. By which, of course, I mean: my family.
The swirl did not change colors, exactly; as I discovered in my first days on its world, it became more opaque, or less so, a way of emphasizing certain ideas it wished to impart to me. Since my education and career path did not require me to know this, I was not aware that this being existed, much less that Earth was keeping a gimlet eye fixed upon my situation.
“Wake up, please,” my brother’s voice, as I sprawled on my bed-that-was-not-quite-a-bed, wafted into my earshot. “Dara, come on — work with me here, if you don’t mind, please!”
I cracked open one eye. Both eyes. What was he doing, in the middle of a new, and very pleasant, dream involving my favorite Bollywood stars taking me out for a lavish dinner, on the moon? I sat up, and realized: it was no dream, but a startling new reality. A smaller swirling effect, either a “face” of my alien hosts or some technology I did not understand, floated just above my “bed”, with an unmistakable face at its center —
“Pradip,” I croaked, like the idiot I was apparently trying to imitate, “how am I able to see and hear you?”
“I’d like to know that, as well,” he said, frowning at me as only a nerdy younger brother can at his well-accomplished, long-suffering big sister. “We’ve looked all over for you, It’s been days and days! Papa says the business is suffering, as he can’t concentrate on anything but locating you.”
“Tell him I’m fine,” I said, rubbing my eyes. “In fact, it’s possible that I have, in all my days, never felt better, which I realize is a bit upsetting for those of you who might miss me.” I laid out the tale for him: the flash of brilliant light, the giddiness, the feeling I was floating into the air like a feather, the whole nine meters. Oh, that’s right, we say “yards” in America. Probably not a problem I would need to sort out, I thought at that moment.
“I knew it,” he said. “When your neighbors described it to us, I thought: Alien abduction, has to be. Now you’re, what, like a lab rat to… them?”
“Don’t be dense,” I scoffed. “They haven’t run a single test on me. I get to do whatever I like, all the time, and I feel great. It’s more like I’m their puppy.”
“This is giving me a serious Twilight Zone vibe,” Pradip said. (I did mention, he was a huge nerd.) “I saw the one where this big alien child keeps these people in a pretend town. It was supposed to be scary. They couldn’t escape.”
“I don’t know what their problem was,” I said, pouring myself some chai. “This is working out pretty well for me. I’ve even had people over. We’ve thrown the best parties. Really, if only you could see it, Pradip, you’d be so imp — ”
I had to wonder how this interstellar video conference was made possible, but after everything else my hosts had managed to perform, I decided it would be wise to enjoy the experience, rather than tear it down too much. The visitors, to my own private India? That’s what flying saucers are for, I reckoned — and, speaking of saucers, just where had I set down my cup of chai?
“Look who I found,” he said, waving “off-screen” to the least helpful person he could rope into this conversation. That would be the baby of the family, dear Swathi, whose life consisted of boys, shopping, taking selfies, keeping up with the Joneses in every shallow way, and more boys, not always in that order. “I think E.T. snatched her right up,” Pradip added. “That’s why you have had to cover her shifts, at the store, Swathi.”
“That is so unfair,” our baby sis frowned. “How come Miss Works-All-The-Time gets this royal treatment by the little grey men with huge eyes and no noses? What does this Benevolence see in you? Because, you don’t seem to have this same effect on single, professional Earthmen —”
“They’re not men,” I had to explain. “It’s more like, when you don’t wear your contacts, Pradip, and everything looks watery, and out of focus? That’s how they appear. Anyhow, Swathi, you’ve already got the twenty-four-hour party life. Coming to this planet would be redundant for you — I’ve earned a break!”
I hadn’t heard the definitive word on the subject, until the lord and lady of the manor chimed in. Those would be our parents, Manju (our mom) and Vasu (our dad), the Nibhanapudis. I waded through the tears and the recriminations; he looked as close to freaking out as Pradip had implied he would, and Mom held herself together with that steeliness I have always admired in her. Neither of them was particularly pleased with their firstborn daughter, claiming she was just fine with being transported by alien forces, much less did they admire the calm way I had grown attached to that result. I held out the hope that my hosts (or as Dad called them, “kidnappers”) would be convinced to return me to Albany on the next bolt from the blue, and I said it would be so great to be back with my loved ones again, and I suppose some Thing heard me and —
The voice of the Benevolence was in my inner ears again, where I could feel it more than I could hear it in sonic terms, and it was saying rubbish, It had been good of me to come for my visit, I was going to be long remembered as one of the very finest darlings they had ever cared for, and so on, and just like that —
I was back in my bedroom. My bedroom in my family’s house, in Albany, which happens to be a city on Earth, which meant my days of glorious captivity were at an end. I had bored the Benevolence into letting me come home. My fears had been realized; I thought so, until Mom overheard me, gnashing my teeth, and pointed out that perhaps they, too, valued family bonds, like we do here, and they came to the conclusion that they could not hold me any longer, if it meant such pain to my lovely family.
Well and good, that is, but what about the pain it is causing me, to be back at my familiar grind, finishing up my degree in international studies, working a lot at our hardware store, helping Mom get ready to take her U.S. citizenship test (Dad had passed his already), planning to pursue my career translating for the United Nations someday, sacrificing my personal life, seeing Swathi swan about without even the most modest of ambitions of her own? Pradip thinks a return to my regular life is doing me much good, but he’s content to imagine alien encounters — it’s not the same as having one. I look at the stars every night, in a stressful mood after each working day has elapsed, and all I can think to beam to the stars is a single, pained: Wherever you are, Benevolence, can you give a sister a break and beam her back up again — only, this time, to be fair, it might help you to bring my whole family along, too! I had to add that part. I’m not a monster. I’m just tired of this Earthling racket — and I’m due for my upgrade!
© Eric Wolf 2022.
[With grateful acknowledgements to Ingrid Alexander for suggesting this premise.]
About the Creator
Ink-slinger. Photo-grapher. Earth-ling. These are Stories of the Fantastic and the Mundane. Space, time, superheroes and shapeshifters. 'Wolf' thumbnail: https://unsplash.com/@marcojodoin.
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