Dark Skies, by Alexander Chee

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From “Three UFOs,” an essay that appeared in the inaugural issue of INQUE, which was published in November.

1.

The first UFO woke me from a dead sleep in the summer of 1978. I was eleven years old, and I was in the back of our station wagon, worn out from a day spent fishing with the Korean American Friendship Association of Maine. My family didn’t have tents, so we slept in the back of our car. Dogfish are a delicacy in Korea, but in America no one else eats them. They are especially abundant in the waters off Massachusetts, and we had made a cold bright day of fishing for them, yelling and laughing when the dogfish thrashed as they were brought over the side, pulled clean from the ocean’s slick grip, and we beat them with clubs on the deck.

We ate the delicious dogfish-fin soup and dogfish skewers, and I fell asleep soon after, only to be startled awake by the light.

A massive disk hovered above the campsite, illuminated by prismatic lights moving in a whirling, circular pattern, turning off and on, bright enough for a night game.

I sat up and looked around. No one else in the cars and tents nearby seemed to be awake. My family slept on, unaffected. Our Oldsmobile station wagon, which for most of my short life had felt as secure as a tank, suddenly seemed like very poor shelter.

I woke no one, watching silently, afraid of being noticed. The saucer did not descend any further, and it did not release football-headed aliens who implanted me with chips or withdrew samples. Instead, the beautiful light moved around the ship, as if something projecting it was spinning inside. I watched the light and maybe the light watched me. And then the light sped up, orbiting the disk faster, as if whatever it was propelled the ship. Until it ascended silently, straight up into the sky.

2.

The second UFO appeared ten years later, high above Cape Cod, a streak of light moving independent of any gravity, as if by the force of a will. I was alone, smoking a cigarette on the deck of my friend Amy’s parents’ home. I was there for a long weekend with some friends from college—Amy, Matt, Lauren, and Tanya. I was the only one without a lover, and so I was alone on the deck while the others were experiencing the red-wine-induced havoc in the living room. As I watched the far-off light moving around the sky, Amy stepped onto the deck.

“Look,” I said, pointing with my cigarette.

“What the hell is that?” Amy asked.

“Is there an Air Force base nearby?” I asked, knowing the answer would make no difference.

“Is it maybe a satellite?” Amy began to look around her just as Matt arrived and embraced her from behind. “Look,” Amy directed him.

“Wow,” Matt said. The light seemed to be doing a kind of box-step dance in the sky, and then, as if caught out, the light skated off, leaving behind a faint streak either in the air or in our night-confounded retinas. “Should we, uh, call someone?”

“What are we going to say?” Amy said. “I don’t feel comfortable calling the police.”

We looked around us: the remains of several joints, the empty bottles of red wine, our friends inside cuddling on the couch. Amy’s stepfather was a judge. Not all of us were twenty-one.

Still, Matt was insistent. “This is really major, though. This is a UFO.”

“There is an Air Force base near here,” Amy offered. “But it is in the other direction from where it was headed.”

It was easier in the end to go inside, light a candle, and shuffle the tarot cards, which made no mention of the UFO in any of our readings. We would clean up in the morning and return to school in Connecticut.

3.

The third UFO was a low-flying streak of blue flame that skimmed the treetops lining Central Park West. The year was 1994. It was summer again. The UFO was heading uptown, as if it might touch down in Harlem or the Bronx, even Westchester. The afternoon traffic broke as it passed, as if the flame brought silence. There was no hissing of fuel, no engine whir or rumble. A trail flew behind it, like a knight’s pennant.

I was with my mother, and we stopped and watched as it passed us on the corner of West 70th. Two women stood on the opposite corner, also watching, and after it passed we looked at one another and shrugged. I ran to the corner to look uptown, but could see nothing.

I was twenty-eight, and my mother was visiting the apartment I shared with my siblings, down that same street at Columbus. We never discussed it.

I bought three newspapers the next day, a daily habit. There was no mention in any of them of an electrical surge or of a lightning strike in Harlem or the Bronx. I knew I was not the only one to have seen it, and I was not the only one to have said nothing about it, and I was not alone.

I have not seen any other UFOs since.


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