Aaron Gilbreath

Dear Victor,

It’s been a decade since you unleashed the “Alien Interview” video, and lord knows in the interim I’ve lost some hair. Back in ’97, I was fit and spry, reading nature books with near-mystical overtones by John Muir and scouring the biosphere for evidence of life’s meaning and divine intelligence. I was also twenty-one and weaning myself off weed, and man did my still-stoned friends and I have a laugh. What does my text-crazy cousin say? ROTFL. Your government footage was that funny. So funny that my trembling fingers would’ve only been able to type acronyms on tiny cell phone keys if I had your current number.

But seriously, 2007 was a big year: The Anniversary. On a whim last June I searched YouTube, and there it was, preserved digitally in all its pre-CGI era glory: your three minute-long color video of government agents interrogating a live extraterrestrial. One of those big-headed ones with black, grapefruit-size eyes called ‘Grays.’ That freaky thing’s swollen, hairless cranium hovered and bobbed in a dark room above a regular old Macy’s lunchroom-type table, covered with a microphone and wires. Or, as you say in the video, the creature is seated in an Area 51 “interview suite” behind a “glass partition in a biocontainment area, which is maintained at bio-safety level two, the lowest designation.” It was crazy enough to make me think the THC had never fully left my body. (Your voice, by the way, like my absentee Dad’s, carries a metered conviction. Who says monotone is a symptom of lifelessness or alcoholism?) One favorite line: “I’m sorry. It’s very hard for me to watch this,” uttered as medical personnel respond to the alien’s sudden coughing-like fit.

I watched that video and the hour-long documentary about it six times last June, straight through. “That is so fake,” my ex said, peering over my shoulder at the screen. Know what I told her? “This once sparked widespread debate and international curiosity.” Then I described the night. March 13, 1997. While thousands of Arizona and Nevada residents were calling authorities about a triangular light formation passing quietly overhead – you know, “The Phoenix Lights” – Art Bell was announcing the existence of your interview footage. Hundreds of articles followed, none of which I saw because, though I was in Arizona, I was reading all that overly descriptive nature writing crap and seeking Camus and Kierkegaard’s help refining my beliefs on the great cosmic questions. But I bet you have them all preserved in little plastic sleeves like my Mom’s weathered wedding photos, the neatly filed traces of a once-promising past. Or do they hang framed throughout your house, same way college kids put those yellow “No Dumping” signs over their toilets? Judging from your narration, I doubt you’re a man of humor. Anyway, when my buddies finally alerted me to the video, I had to watch it on network television – pitiful days before cheap PCs – and there you were, seated against a pink wall beside some miniature palm, face and suit hidden in shadow. In a Mississippi-mud voice disguised by modulation, you said, “When you’re dealing with beings whose intellect is so far beyond your own, I don’t think it’s safe to assume they have your best interests at heart.” Were you talking about two advanced mingling species or the intellect of viewers versus yourself, you cocky bastard?

You rambled about agents interrogating aliens in hopes of back-engineering their self-contained propulsion systems, how you smuggled the footage from Area 51 so the world could know the truth about our place in the universe – the complete martyr trip. “This guy’s full of it,” I thought in June, “and that’s one big wobbly alien puppet head.”

I must say I’m surprised you’ve never again spoken on record. And I know how you ego-driven, Robin Hoodish info-for-the-people type snake oil salesmen operate. You’re probably mixing drinks for elderly slot players in Vegas as we speak, wearing one of those hideous, wrinkle-resistant, poly-blend vests, wishing you’d worked the alien thing into a movie deal starring Benicio Del Toro. That’s the burden of anonymity I guess. Maybe you should’ve been more honest. If I had your address, I could’ve mailed you this letter, rather than my Mom finding drafts in the trash and calling my shrink. Which reminds me: did you get the message I sent to your “Mr. X” YouTube profile? I wrote to say how much the cadence and word choice and pseudo-academic pacing on your posts sound just like Victor’s. You might’ve been too busy preparing your next tutorial on chemtrails to reply. Or huffing paint.

That is your profile, isn’t it? All the posts about cattle mutilations and black helicopters, the “Season’s Bleedings” Christmas message? Where in ’97 I assumed you’d disappear, age and reading fiction instead of nature writing has now taught me a few things, and I suspect your predatory instinct has steered you to the web’s best tools for voyeurs and sycophants. Tell me you’re not on MySpace, Goodreads and Facebook too. Or that you’re not tweeting your newest “shadow government” discoveries. Come on. You got the message I sent. You’re Victor.

Be proud.

Remember the Alien Autopsy video? Can you say, “latex filled with Dinty Moore beef stew?” At least you hid your costume’s seams and strings in mood lighting. And have you seen the YouTube comment threads, the naïve back and forth: “Real or hoax? Real or hoax?” People still believe it, believe you, despite the undelivered promises of an “emerging truth.” I want to shake these poor saps. Slap their sagging cheeks, and warn them not to wait. Bury yourself in fantasy, fine, but don’t expect results; but on the other hand, what is truth, really, but the more painful version of a lie? Do you have kids? I bet you fill their heads with fictions far worse than “Santa got stuck in traffic” and “Maybe if you quit crying you’d hear the sleigh” – my Pop’s stock lines. People bloat on unfulfilled expectations, Victor, and lack of fulfillment rots you like wainscoting from the inside out.

My greatest disappointment: that I’ll never shake your slippery hand. On a more cosmic scale: I want to punch you in the face. I wanted to believe you. So I wish we weren’t alone in the universe? What scared, sentient primate among us, floating-on-this-rock-in-the-big-black-cosmos, doesn’t? It sucks to be forlorn. You know it, I know it. Just like it sucks to be gnawed on by existential charlatans. You prey on weakness like some pedophiles prey on their sons, or drunks on broken, divorced women. I studied Philosophy in college but never finished and still struggle with the “who are we?” stuff. To me, you lack sapience. Wiktionary that one.

So, have soaring gas prices reduced the number of flights from Vegas to Area 51? You cannot work in government. You don’t shovel manure well enough. My Dad supposedly worked in government, never told me anything about anything. For what I know about his “secret work,” his whole life could be a lie. He loves Vegas and Reno.

I’ll let you get back to back-engineering a microwavable burrito in the Harrah’s employee lounge now. I have to get to work, too. Graphic novels don’t shelve themselves.


Tyler McGrath

Aaron Gilbreath has written essays for publications such as North American Review, Mississippi ReviewFugue, Passages NorthGargoyle, Florida Review, McSweeney’s.com, Hunger Mountain, Saranac Review and Alligator Juniper. He is currently earning his MFA at the Bennington Writing Seminars. Feel free to contact him at: prowlinggilamonster@gmail.com.

“While I didn’t have a front porch growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, I have enjoyed various substitutes. In the late Nineties, I used to park my small-size Toyota pickup in scenic locations around the West – a coastal Oregon bluff, on southeastern Arizona mountaintops – and relax on the tailgate. My last Portland, Oregon apartment’s small front entryway had a wooden bench that was great for sitting on and reading, when it wasn’t soaking wet (in which case I just laid some ratty blanket down and read anyway). The fire-escape behind my New York apartment felt like a vertical porch, or when the squirrels were bounding around gathering food, like a rickety iron hunting blind; I loved sitting out there at night, watching the few stars that outshined the glowing dome of the nearby city. My current porch isn’t mine. It’s attached to a 1907 brick bungalow on the Arizona State University campus. Equipped with wooden rocking chairs chained to the ground, the house belongs to the MFA program – I no longer go to school there – but since I live in stucco way out in the burbs I often sit there at night and read, enjoying a fictional life as a Southern gentleman with property, class and a life. Feral cats patrol the grounds. They sleep and breed beneath the building, lounge in potted plants along the banister, and pull fat moths from the air. In spring orange blossoms scent the grounds, in summer, my own evaporating sweat. It’s a model of the porch I hope to own one day. Until then, thank you to all the students who pay tuition so I can sit there and rock.”