I Was a Teenage MILAB
Chapter 1 - Sensibility
A famous author once said something about the beginning of a story being a delicate time. Come to think of it, maybe that was the movie. I think the book said something about delicate balances being correct at the start of a story. Well, there were probably a couple times in my life where the delicate balances were correct, but they’re not the beginning of this story. They were probably before I could walk. I’m older now. Eighteen, in fact. And I was just a normal kid, living a normal life, with normal problems, and normal routines. Not exactly balanced, but livable. Then came the night where something decidedly indelicate happened. That’s where my story starts… with an indelicate imbalance that changed everything forever.
* * *
Let me set the scene. Wait. Maybe I should tell you who I am first. My name is Ero Hartwell. Ero is pronounced like the word arrow. My real name is Pomeroy. But, come on, who names their son, Pomeroy? Growing up, there were only a few options for nicknames. Pom sounded like a girl’s name. Roy sounded like the name of a rent-a-cop. So, I settled with Ero. After a few years of correcting everyone I interacted with, it finally stuck. Like an arrow.
Like I said before, I just turned eighteen. It’s a lot like being seventeen. Maybe that would have changed after high school graduation, and heading off to college, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
What else do you need to know about me before I start the story? Well, I live in Carolina Beach, North Carolina, in a large, green house with a view of the ocean. In fact, the house seems too large now. Over the last few years, my two older brothers moved out, leaving me alone with Mom, Dad, and the echo of empty bedrooms.
What else? I have a girlfriend, believe it or not. Her name is Teresita Noi, but everyone calls her Terra. We’ve been dating for years. If you want exact dates, you’ll have to ask her. I can’t do that right now because I’ll probably never see her again. Sadly, she’s not a big part of the story I’m about to tell you, but she was what I was thinking about when the indelicate imbalance I mentioned earlier happened.
I was lying in bed, eyes closed. The smell of the ocean permeated the bedroom, entering through an open window. The sounds of the ocean, however, were blocked by the headphones I was listening to. They were connected to a small MP3 player that I kept on me at all times.
Terra was on my mind. I had asked her to senior prom that day. She said yes, of course, and then instantly caucused with her friends about dress shopping.
I was also thinking about the University of North Carolina. The acceptance letter was sitting on my desk on the other side of the bedroom. A similar letter was somewhere in Terra’s house. Our relationship had, so far, survived high school. How could college be any worse?
Suddenly, the vision inside my eyelids changed from black to pink.
* * *
My eyes opened instinctively to see where the light was coming from. The windows. It looked like headlights shining right inside my bedroom windows. That couldn’t be right. My room was on the second floor, third if you count the garage. Was it an airplane? The music blaring through my headphones kept me from hearing any change in the ambient noise. Immediately, I tried to sit up. My entire body got that pins-and-needles feeling you get when your leg or part of your arm goes to sleep. My body slumped back down onto the bed.
Feeling that sensation over my entire body was terrifying. Being unable to move was also terrifying. How long was this going to last? Would I ever play the piano again? I only knew chopsticks, but it was still fun to play. I concentrated on just breathing, which I could still do, but it was terrifyingly slow and shallow.
All these thoughts left my head, when out of the corner of my eye, in the brightest part of the light, a group of four or five small silhouettes materialized through the window and wall, and gathered around my bed.
I knew what was happening. I had seen it multiple times on reruns of Unsolved Mysteries and UFO Files. I was being abducted by aliens. An indelicate imbalance if there ever was one. Being a rational human being, I never believed in such things, but here they were, four, no, five small gray aliens with their oversized heads and large inhuman black eyes that never blinked.
Their skin looked both oily and dry at the same time. If they had noses or ears, I couldn’t see them. The hands they gesticulated with each only had two long fingers and a long thumb with as many digits as a finger. Through the din in my headphones, I perceived little snips of conversation. It felt like a cloud of barely audible thoughts were drifting in and out of my ears. With it, came a pressure on my head. I desperately wanted to pinch my nose to equalize the pressure, but my body was inert.
One sense that wasn’t blocked was my nose. Those aliens smelled like nothing I had ever experienced. They smelled alien. That was natural, I guess, but I was not prepared for the smell of sweet mixed with something rotting that seemed to come from the oily like substance that was coating their bark-like gray skin. If only I had the foresight to shove the earbuds in my nose instead of my ears as I was falling asleep.
Blocking out the smell was an impossible task with my body still fully paralyzed. Even my eyes wouldn’t move. I was lucky that they were open when the paralysis hit. With nothing else to do, my mind went to Teresita. It always does.
Teresita. Long black hair that feels glossy when my fingers run through it. Olive-colored skin that tastes like heaven when kissed. Dark brown eyes that…
Suddenly, I was moving. They were moving me. Even though my body was still horizontal, somehow they were gliding me toward the light. They passed my body through the wall. My eyes were stuck looking one direction, but I could sense the wall approaching. For a split second, I was inside the wall. Then I was outside of the house. Before they moved my body into the UFO that was hovering outside my bedroom window, I was given one last glimpse of the night sky. There was a full moon. The smell of the ocean momentarily overpowered that of the aliens.
As my body entered the UFO, I realized that my ear buds were still in and I was still hearing the blaring music. I wasn’t sure if that was a blessing or a curse. The current song stopped playing just as my head entered the UFO. Before the aliens could start their mental chittering again, the next song started. I was able to keep my MP3 player to this date, but I have never listened to the album that played that night again.
It felt like a movie set. Not that I’ve ever been on a movie set, but still… they laid me out on a metal table in the middle of a round room that was so bright, most of the details were washed from my vision. The creepy aliens were there.
As they moved about me, I was able to get a better idea of what they were, and they were definitely not human. Their skinny little bodies moved in ways that made my stomach curl. How did their heads not fall off of those thin necks?
They were also naked except for small white gloves and shoes that clinked when they contacted anything. From my vantage point, I couldn’t tell if there were any differences… down there… between any of the aliens. I don’t know why that seemed important.
Luckily, they left my clothes intact, which, at the time of abduction, included comfy, plaid sleep pants and the gray and blue t-shirt I had worn that day. Tucked in the pocket of the sleep pants was the MP3 player.
The aliens kept me on that table for what seemed like at least an hour. They just stood over me, gesticulating wildly. It was like they were confused about something, but there was no way for me to know what. The album that was playing on the MP3 player finally ended, and I was treated to the sound of the aliens’ voices in my head.
When I say voices, I don’t mean actual sounds. These alien voices were more like little worms that wriggled around in my thoughts whenever one got its big ugly head close enough to me. When more than one got together, they generated a kind of static cloud around them where their thoughts mixed. The pressure in my head that they generated was uncomfortable. Plus, my body was still washed in the pins-and-needles feeling, so I wasn’t able to tell them to just shut up. But, I figured, as long as they didn’t produce any kind of probing devices, I was okay with whatever they were doing.
* * *
After a while, they just gave up. All the aliens but one left the room. The one that was left levitated me off the table and moved me like a certain bounty hunter moved a certain smuggler in the best movie of a certain series. The ceiling of a UFO is just as featureless as any ceiling on Earth, in case you’re curious.
As the alien floated me deeper into the UFO, I heard actual voices speaking actual English. They sounded young. Like me. They also sounded excited. Not the least bit like I would have sounded if I could have spoken at that moment.
The alien that was transporting me lowered my body to the ground. That gave me a good look, and I can now swear that there was nothing between those alien legs. Ken doll, all the way. As if the alien sensed what I was thinking, it paused and stared at me sternly.
Suddenly, the pins-and-needles feeling vanished. I had control of my body again. I quickly sat up and attempted to pull the ear buds out of my ears. I say attempted because as I sat up, my body kept moving, in what felt like slow motion, and I ended up face-planting on the floor of the UFO. The floor of a UFO is just as featureless as any… you get the picture. I realized what was happening right before my face hit the floor and rebounded. The gravity was different.
I heard a few snickers, and a few guffaws from the humans scattered about the room. A pair of hands grabbed me and pulled me upright. The pull was a little too strong in the low gravity and my head almost hit the ceiling. The hands grabbed me again and pulled me back down. I was now sitting on a bench inside of a UFO, being laughed at by about two dozen kids that all appeared to be around my age. Then, I saw the person who just had his hands on me. He was a scrawny kid with straw-brown hair that stood out in all directions, a spray of freckles across the middle of his face, and 1950s style horn-rimmed glasses. He was dressed in a blazer and khakis, but also sported the devices that the aliens wore on their hands and feet.
“Hi,” he said. “I’m Bennett. Welcome to your abduction.”
Was this some kind of joke?
The gray alien who brought me to the room approach me. Instinctively, I shied away from contact. When I looked back at the alien, Bennett and a few of the other kids had made a wall shielding me from it.
“Go do your job, gib,” one of the larger boys said.
The alien cocked its head at an angle that made my neck hurt. Then he turned around and left.
That was when I got a good look at everyone in the room. My initial assessment was right. There were about two dozen boys and girls. All looked to be around my age. All were fully dressed in what I would describe as business casual if we were in an office building and not a UFO. I was the only one not dressed for the trip. It was just luck that I hadn’t stripped off my shirt for the night.
Embarrassed, I looked down at my night pants and, for the first time, realized what I was sitting on. It wasn’t some alien bench; it was a large traveling trunk with the initials BWS carved into it. Luggage? A better look of the room showed that there were other bags and suitcases piled along the edges.
“What’s going on here?” I asked Bennett. “We’re in a UFO and you all look like you’re packed to go to college.”
“Is this yours?” Bennett asked. Somehow he had gotten ahold of the MP3 player and headphones and passed them back to me. When I accepted them, I had to pull them away from Bennett’s hand like there was a…
“Oh, yeah,” Bennett said. “Miles, could you find another set of stickers?”
A large boy with blonde hair stood up and left the room. He was the one who had called the alien a gib.
His walk was strange. Something about how his feet moved when they approached and left the floor. The boy was back in a flash and passed a hand full of tan cloth to Bennett.
“As you may have guessed, we’re in microgravity,” Bennett explained. “These stickers will help you keep yourself oriented.”
He passed over a set of tan colored fingerless gloves and a pair of tan socks. Even in the microgravity, as Bennett called it, I could tell that these items had some extra weight on them.
As I slid on the socks and gloves, Bennett explained. The socks were tight and had something hard in the soles.
“Those socks have magnets on the bottoms. They’re not so strong that you won’t be able to walk, though. Just enough to keep you upright.”
I stood up and took a few steps in the socks. It felt like walking through syrup, but I imagined I’d get used to it.
Taking a better look at the gloves, revealed that they were each two colors. One side was light tan, the other was dark tan.
“The colors tell you which magnets are on which sides. The dark side has a larger magnet, the light side has a smaller one. It’s not much control, but you can switch out for the situation. Personally, I keep the smaller magnets against my palms and the larger magnets on the outside.”
Bennett held up his hands to illustrate.
“But it’s up to you. We’ve been calling them stickers.”
I slid my gloves on the way Bennett had his. When I sat back down on the trunk, my hand stuck to one of the metal fastenings on the corners.
“It takes some getting used to.”
“How long?” I asked.
“No idea,” Bennett smiled. “We all just figured these things out a few minutes before the gib brought you in here.”
“The… what?” There was that name again.
“The gib,” Bennett said. “That’s what Miles over there has taken to calling them. I figure it’s because they’re so small.”
I’m embarrassed to say this now, but I didn’t get what Bennett was trying to say. My mind was filled with a million questions about what was happening.
“Big spelled backwards,” Bennett continued. “Gib. Same first letter as gray. You know, their skin color.”
My expression must not have satisfied him.
“I thought it was clever,” Bennett pouted.
“It is. It is,” I soothed. “Now tell me what’s going on?”
Bennett laid out the whole story for me. Well, the whole story according to Bennett. He didn’t know much more about what was going on than I did. He had just been on the UFO longer. By talking to the others as they were deposited into the large, unfurnished room, he found that his experience was mirrored in theirs.
Each person in the room, except for me, received a letter in the mail about a month ago. Actually, it was their parents who received the letter. The letters said something about each kid being accepted into a special summer internship program through the company their parents worked at. It said that if they completed the internship, the company would secure them a place at the college of their choosing.
But first, there was a weekend orientation before the end of the school year and the company would pick them up that Friday night. Most of the kids expected a ride-share or maybe a limo. No one expected a UFO. Nobody expects a UFO.
In story after story, the kids said that their parents and siblings and anyone else in the area just stopped moving. Then the gray aliens, or gibs, I guess, surrounded them and ushered them into the waiting ship. Those kids that saw the outside of the UFO said it’s a lot bigger inside than it looked on the outside. Other than that, it was just a saucer shaped ship that hovered silently over their yards or streets. That explained the luggage, I guess.
But my parents didn’t receive any letter. Not that they told me about, anyway.
Bennett said he was the first kid they took. But soon, there were others. Comparing stories led to some more information. They had all been abducted from different parts of the country. A few of the kids were living in Europe, but all were originally from the United States.
Also, no one’s parents worked at the same company. That had lead to two areas of speculation. Either the kids were being abducted at random, or everyone’s parents worked for the same top secret company that had UFO-taxis and they had lied to their children their whole lives about their real jobs.
Bennett favored the latter explanation.
“I like a good conspiracy,” he said. “Also, the way my parents were acting, I know they knew something they weren’t telling me.”
The final piece of information that the kids uncovered was almost stranger than everything before. As more and more kids were deposited into the room, they noticed that many of them looked alike. Like long-lost siblings.
Once they noticed this, it wasn’t long before they found out that everyone was adopted. Not everyone admitted it, and some clearly hadn’t been told, but it was apparent when you were surrounded by four other kids who looked almost exactly like you, all from different parts of the country.
When Bennet finished his story, I looked around at the groups of kids.
“Which group do I fit in, Bennett?” I asked. “No offense, but I don’t think I look like any of you.”
“You don’t,” Bennett said. “You’re an anomaly. Maybe you’re a control.”
“I don’t think I’m under control,” I said. I didn’t think I was under control.
“No,” Bennett said, adjusting his glasses. “Maybe you’re a control, like in an experiment. There’s always one part that isn’t subject to the… unusual conditions that are being measured.”
“Okay,” I said. “Did you take chemistry or something?”
“Sophomore year,” he said. “I was in Advanced Physics 2 this year.”
Bennett’s voice broke at the end of this declaration. He looked down at the floor.
“At least I was,” he whispered. “I don’t think any of us are going to be at our graduations.”
Bennet’s voice trailed off. He was feeling ways about things. Time to change the subject.
“Hi, Bennett,” I said, sticking out my hand. “My name’s Ero.”
* * *
As I looked around, I saw the kids had separated into five distinct groups, and were all chatting, quite loudly, mind you, trying to figure out what was going on.
One group, the one containing Miles, was composed of very fit-looking boys and girls. All of them had blonde hair, blue eyes, and chiseled features. Not me.
The next group was the one Bennett obviously belonged to. They all had the same wild brown hair, freckles, and, strangely enough, similarly styled, thick-lensed glasses. They were also very fit looking, but not as muscular as the blonde group.
Wait a minute, the nerds were fit? What’s going on here? A quick scan of the other groups showed a dozen or so more kids in prime physical shape. I was the only one with appreciable body fat. Not that I’m overweight. I just never worked out a day in my life. You know. Like a normal kid. I was good enough for Teresita. And she… who’s this?
A small group of kids I hadn’t noticed approached us. Their stickers clacked, almost in unison, as they made their way across the room. It looked like one kid from each group, roughly. The leader appeared to be a boy with shaggy black hair that was growing out from hair that had been dyed and bleached a humorous shade of turquoise.
To tell you the truth, though, I didn’t even really register that sapphire nightmare. Behind him was one of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen. She was one of the girls from Bennett’s group, though her brown hair was cut and styled in a length that came just beneath her shoulders. The freckles that splashed across her face looked more delicately placed than Bennett’s. Her skin, what I could see of it around the seams of a modestly cut sundress, was tan and healthy, and she had the body of a pole vaulter. I imagined. I didn’t know what a pole vaulter’s body looked like necessarily, but my mind seemed willing to run with the analogy. She also wasn’t wearing glasses, but her eyes were an unnatural, but incredible, shade of purple.
“Who’s this slob?” blue-tips asked Bennett.
“I’m Ero,” I said. My eyes locked on those lovely purple orbs that were positioned behind the blue-tipped nightmare and never left them. “Ero Hartwell. Pleased to meet you.”
“You appear to be overdressed,” the blue-tipped boy said. “And an anomaly. Unless we’re going to start picking up the dregs now.”
“Rupin, please,” Bennett said. “We’re all in the same boat.”
Rupin’s attitude changed. He stuck out his hand.
“Very well,” he said. “My name’s Rupin. Nice to meet you.”
“Ero,” I said, reaching out to grasp his hand.
Now, I was prepared to have this Rupin character squeeze the stuffing out of my hand. I was prepared to not let a bit of it show on my face. What I wasn’t prepared for was the invisible force that moved my hand up and over Rupin’s extended paw. I tried again and got the same result.
“Stickers,” Bennett whispered.
Rupin and a few of the kids with him laughed. Thankfully, the purple-eyed beauty didn’t partake. Then my eyes finally left hers. The door to the room slid open and a group of three gray aliens, I mean, gibs, walked in.
The tallest one came up to my chest. They were a lot scarier when they had me alone and paralyzed, floating me through solid objects. Now that I was in a group that outnumbered them, they looked like strange little children.
As they clip-clopped up to us, it looked like their stickers were designed for human strength because they appeared to struggle a little with each step. The three gibs came right up to me. They surrounded me and began gesticulating with spindly arms. In my mind, I could feel the pressure of their convoluted thoughts.
One of the gibs was holding a piece of paper. Seeing such a mundane object held by such an esoteric being was strange. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one interested in the paper the gib was holding.
Miles walked up behind the gib with the paper. As the gib waved his arms about, silently squawking to its compatriots, Miles stuck out his own arm and, with a snap, the sticker on his hand connected with the sticker on the gib’s free hand. Miles lifted his hand up, which lifted the gib off the ground. This caused the gib to let go of the paper it was holding. Miles quickly snatched the paper with his other hand. He then gave his hand that was suspending the gib a quick shake to disconnect the sticker.
The gib floated to the ground and got into a group with the others. They didn’t make any movements toward any of us humans. They either had inhuman patience, or could not process what had just happened.
Bennett, Rupin, and the purple-eyed girl all crowded around Miles to get a look at the paper. When they finished pointing and mumbling, Miles handed the paper to me.
“You Pomeroy Hartwell?” he asked.
Hearing my name spoken aloud is always embarrassing. I watched the face of the purple-eyed girl to see her reaction, but she was talking to another girl and had not heard my feminine sounding name.
“Yes,” I said, accepting the paper.
It was a list. An abduction itinerary, of sorts. It contained names, addresses, and pickup times for twenty-four people. I saw Bennett Sprague, Miles Anders, and Rupin Falls on the list. About half the names were girls. Which one was the purple-eyed princess? No way to tell.
What caught my eye was the name at the bottom of the list. My name and address were written in a sloppy hand with what looked like a pen that was running out of ink. In the pickup time column, it just said standard abduction procedure.
Who had written my name on this list? Why?
“Looks like you were added as an afterthought,” Rupin said, grabbing the paper from me. “Who’d you piss off?”
That was a very good question.
At first, I had no idea.
Then the answer hit me like a ton of bricks.
* * *
It was last month. Spring break. All the So-hos and Frat-bros that didn’t have enough money to make it to the Caribbean, or even Florida, gathered along the bars that overlook the ocean to drink themselves silly for a week.
Terra and I were walking on the beach. Being the chivalrous gentleman that I am, I was walking her home, and hoping that her parents or her gaggle of siblings weren’t there when we arrived. Not much of a chance of that, because it was late on a Thursday, and both of her parents worked the next day.
At first, I didn’t understand why Terra had stopped walking. I figured it out pretty quickly, though, when I saw where she was looking. We were passing the row of bars that were situated off of the road that ran parallel to the beach, but up a steep embankment. The Sea-witch Bar was one of these establishments. It had a large patio that was built on the back side that faced the ocean. It jutted out of the embankment on a scaffolding that extended down to the beach for support.
Up there was a group of Frat-bros from Somewhere, USA, cat-calling my girl. Part of me agreed with what they were yelling. Terra is beautiful in all the right ways, and those right ways were accentuated by the bikini she was wearing. Part of me was proud that my girlfriend could elicit such stupidity from random guys. But, the boyfriend part of me wanted to put them in their place.
The funny thing is that I can only remember one thing that was said during the entire argument. The final thing. For a few minutes, the Frat-bros and I yelled insults and threats back and forth. We insulted each other’s mothers mercilessly and challenged each other to come to face the other one, either up on the patio or down on the beach.
The one thing I didn’t do was swear. It’s a filthy habit, and I would rather use my mouth for better things, like kissing Terra. That didn’t mean that I didn’t sound like I was swearing.
Once the main Frat-bro and I tired of yelling, and Terra was tugging my arm, trying to get me away from the altercation, I looked up and with all the contempt I could muster, yelled one last insult.
See, technically not swearing. But I can’t help it if the guy didn’t understand syntax. The idiot climbed over the railing of the patio, intending to climb down the scaffolding to get at me. Why he didn’t just exit the side of the patio and take the steps down to the beach, I’ll never know. But he did what he did, and he did it with a drink in his hand.
When he got over the railing, he lost his beverage. Some part of his brain decided to save the beverage instead of himself. Terra and I watched in horror as he fell to the beach, landing on a pile of bricks that had been staged for something. When he hit the bricks, the drink glass came out of his limp hand and rolled to a stop at my feet.
Cops were called. An ambulance took the Frat-bro away. The whole nine yards. It didn’t matter if Terra’s parents had been home that night or not. By the time everything was over, it was the next morning. Plus, Terra was pretty messed up after seeing that guy fall a few stories onto a pile of bricks.
Anyway, the next week, I was at work. I work at the local Publix Supermarket. Don’t laugh. I only just turned eighteen and I’m saving my brainpower for college.
In my line of work, one of my more challenging chores is gathering the shopping carts from the parking lot. So, there I was wrangling a big row of shopping carts, when who steps up to me, but that same Frat-bro.
“Whoa,” I said, startled and surprised. “You’re okay? That’s great, man. You took a big tumble that day.”
“No,” the boy said. “I’m not okay. You killed my brother.”
Brother? I took a better look at this guy. He looked a lot like the Frat-bro from that night, but I only really saw him from a distance.
“I didn’t kill anybody,” I retorted confidently. “It was an accident.”
This brother didn’t waste any time. He grabbed me by my Publix shirt collar and pulled me close.
“The only reason I’m not pounding you into the pavement right now is because my dad has a better idea,” he breathed. “Your life is going to be a living hell.”
With that said, the Frat-bro’s bro let go of me and walked away.
I was prepared for broken car windows, an egged house, or even scandalous lies. None of that happened, though. And I had forgotten all about it. Until now.
* * *
“The wrong person, apparently,” I said, answering Rupin.
I sat back down on Bennett’s trunk and snatched the paper back, careful not to let the stickers interfere with my movements.
This time, I studied the top of the paper. The name of the company paying for the abductions was Pynchon. Not a company I recognized. The delivery destination was Epsilon Base, Luna.
Bang. Zoom. I was going to the Moon?
© 2023 Christopher P. Menkhaus