Wednesday, March 9, 2011


            The shadowy Normandy Tudor loomed behind stone-pillared gates in the moonlit hills of Watchung 40 minutes west of New York City. The house had been the scene of a grisly multiple murder. This is what had made the property irresistible to Rudy. He had negotiated ruthlessly and bought the property for $200,000 less than its appraised value. He knew that the more shocking the violence, the better the buy. (Celebrity murders are an exception; sites of these go up in value; apparently folks don’t mind being haunted by someone famous.) The bullet holes had been easy to spackle over but the ornate banister was so damaged by ax blows that it had to be replaced. Nondescript stains, presumably blood, remained in the marble foyer. Rudy still debated replacing the tiles or leaving them for character.
            Rudy stretched out on the couch in the so-called family room, though Rudy was a family of one. He leaned over the coffee table and flicked the remote. The wall mounted 73 inch LCD TV lit up. Rudy picked up a 2-liter bottle of Cherry Coke from the coffee table and drank directly out of the bottle. Also on the coffee table were a plate of taco shells and a bowl of syrupy junk food called Scum. Rudy wasn’t sure whether to drink it or use it as a dip. Weird Occurrences, the show of which he himself was the host, came to life on the screen. The sound from the stereo speakers echoed noticeably off the undecorated walls.

            [On screen a sequence of pyramids, tarot cards, zodiacal signs, and occult symbols advance toward the viewer. Each dissolves as it fills the screen. The theme tune is a jarring full orchestra rendition of When You’re Strange. An image of Rudy fades in before a legitimate star map.]

NARRATOR: Good evening. This is Rudy Renkel hosting a special edition of Weird Occurrences, the show that explores unexplained phenomena and the dark side of human existence. This may be the half-hour that changes your view forever on whether we are alone in the cosmos. Tonight also the producers of this show will answer charges made by a rival news organization. But first some words from our sponsors.

            [Ads follow for corn flakes, feminine hygiene products, automobiles, and Scum. A new product aimed at 10 year olds who want to gross out their parents, Scum looks just like its name. Fungal clumps float in lemon/lime flavored slime. Ad shows parents heaving as kids happily drip goop into their mouths. Return to program.]

NARRATOR: Some of you may have seen a skeptical This Evening episode aired a few nights ago on the topic of UFOs. Guests on the program asserted that fraud was so rampant in UFO reporting that no evidence should be taken at face value. The journalistic practices of this program were held up as a particular example. This Evening used footage obtained without the permission of Weird Occurrences that allegedly catches myself and accomplices in the act of faking an alien encounter.
            [Narrator looks contrite.] I will be honest with you. For years I have interviewed farmers standing in crop circles, hikers who claimed to have shared beers with Bigfoot, and weekend fishermen who said they hooked Champ or the Loch Ness monster. The goal was your entertainment. Perhaps in the interest of good television we accompanied some of these interviews with questionable footage that, say, 60 Minutes might hesitate to run. Some viewers may be forgiven for wondering if the ghost in last week’s episode resembled a flashlight beam played over steam from a portable room humidifier, or whether the shots of Sasquatch didn’t look awfully like a man running in a gorilla suit. I say this in hope that you recognize my complete sincerity on this occasion. Because the irony is, This Evening picked an event that I know for a fact was real. The alien footage was not faked. Yet the very act of revealing how This Evening came by it is sure to damage my credibility. They knew that of course. And by “they” I don’t mean the folks at our rival network.
            [Narrator resumes deadpan expression.] We have employed professional actors for the re-enactments, but wherever possible we have used the actual locations and dialogue.

            [Fade to a glassy black lake surface covered with mist at nighttime. The leisurely putter of a 25 horse Evinrude can be heard. The bow of a small skiff breaks through the mist.]

NARRATOR [Overdubbed]: Crystal Lake in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, is shaped like a fist with a beckoning forefinger. Greg Thomas, a successful insurance broker from Manchester was vacationing with his wife and children at their weekend lakefront cabin. Exhausted from a long day of family values, he sought respite with a quiet cruise alone. Unknown to Mister Thomas as his boat entered the finger shaped cove, yours truly waited on a nearby stretch of undeveloped shore.

            [Zoom back and bring into frame a man looking out over the lake from behind a large pine tree. For some reason an actor plays the role of Rudy Renkel. The actor does not look much like Rudy. He is better looking and even has a mustache whereas Rudy is clean shaven.]

NARRATOR: Earlier that day I had prepared for just this opportunity. With a garden scythe I had flattened out a circle 30 feet in diameter in a scrubby area near the shoreline and sprinkled lithium on the site. Lithium is a likely element in a fusion powered spaceship. I set strobe lights powered by my truck battery in the middle of the circle. As the red and green bow lights of the boat approached I suddenly remembered why the name of the lake seemed familiar. A popular teenage slasher movie was set by a fictional Crystal Lake. [The actor smiles knowingly as though recalling this.] Fortunately for Mr. Thomas, my trap involved nothing so deadly.

            [Camera perspective shifts to boat. Weirdly colored strobe lights flash behind a row of trees at the shoreline. At the same time, a low-pitched cacophony erupts that only a practiced ear might identify as White Zombie played at extremely slow speed. The red dot of a laser flickers over the boat and passes over the chest of the boat driver. Greg’s confused interest turns to grossly overacted fear when a silhouetted being with an enormous head appears at the shore and wades into the lake. Greg guns the engine and spins the boat 180 degrees. From the perspective of the shore, the boat vanishes into the mist.
            Close-up of Rudy removing a large helmet; he slips a laser pointer into his pocket, and turns to pack up his F150 pickup.]

NARRATOR: The next day my cameraman and I approached residents on the far side of the lake in a search for the owner of the boat. Told that there had been UFO sightings the night before, several, as usual, said they too had see something. They described an object in the sky performing impossible maneuvers. No one seemed to remember the fog last night which obscured any view of the sky. Eventually I found a cabin with a familiar boat tied up at the dock. Much of what happened next is on tape. However, the following is a recreation. When Mr. Thomas learned the content of this show, he refused to let us use the actual interview. Mr. Thomas, a guest speaker at this week’s UFO congress in Houston, insists that his alien sighting was real and that my report tonight is part of a cover-up.

            [Camera focuses on boat. “Evinrude” is plainly readable. Pan to front door of cabin where actor playing Rudy knocks on the door. A cameraman stands by him.]

RUDY:  Good morning sir. My name is Rudy Renkel. I’m investigating reports of UFO sightings last night. Did you see anything unusual?

GREG: Hi. Greg Thomas. (Expletive deleted) yeah! My wife thinks I’m nuts. Hey honey! Look who is here! It’s that guy who does that show. You know, the one last week had those K2 climbers who saw Yeti!

MRS. THOMAS: Oh, give me a break.

GREG: You see, I’m not alone. Other people saw something last night!

MRS. THOMAS: They sell liquor to anyone over 21.

GREG: (Expletive deleted.)

MRS. THOMAS: The kids can hear you Greg. It’s bad enough that they think you’re a lunatic. Do they have to think you’re an (expletive deleted) too?

GREG: They can hear me but they can’t hear you?

MRS. THOMAS: (Expletive deleted.) [Exit.]

RUDY: Excuse me, Mr. Thomas.

GREG: Greg.

RUDY: Greg. Could you tell me exactly what you saw?

GREG: Sure. Um...

NARRATOR: Mr. Thomas at this point assumed an expression with which I have become very familiar in my investigations.

GREG: [Greg raises an eyebrow craftily.] What’s it worth to you?

RUDY: [Addresses cameraman] Cut it, Fred. [Readdresses Greg with the tone of an algebra teacher explaining the binomial theorem to a thick headed student.] Let me explain how this works. We get the incident in a local newspaper. That’s part of my job. Then we put your story on the air, preferably with good pictures of the scene. That gives you a veneer of credibility.

GREG: Veneer? I’m telling the truth.

RUDY: Totally irrelevant. What matters is credibility. We give a “serious researcher” something to find when he or she checks out your story. A police report should be filed no later than today for the same reason. After we put you on the air you can get on the UFO gravy train. You can write a book about your experience, give lectures, attend conferences, the works. You should be paying me. But I’m willing to do this for you for free. I like you Greg. I’d like to see you get your slice of the pie. But Flying Saucer spotters and alien abductees are a dime a dozen. So, do I turn the camera back on, or do I leave and talk your neighbors instead?

MRS THOMAS [who had listened from the next room]: Talk to him, Greg.

GREG [Annoyed that agreement sounds like obedience to his wife]: OK.

RUDY: Roll it, Fred.

NARRATOR: Mr. Thomas not only cooperated but, as is usual in these cases, added his own flourishes. He said the alien was 4 feet tall, a description which unconsciously made me lift up on my toes. He described large deer like eyes. He said that the alien had called out to him using mental telepathy and that only concern for the future of his family prevented him from joining some intergalactic love-in.

            [Cut to shoreline scene where a circle is visible in the brush. Tall pine and spruce trees are in the background. Twenty people mill about. Two police cruisers are parked by the circle and several other vehicles occupy the wood road leading to the site.]
            This is actual footage shot that day after Mr. Thomas filed his report. The police, who were in a jovial mood, plainly considered the incident to be a teenage prank of some sort. But in the quiet town of Gilmanton, it was a pleasant diversion from writing speeding tickets. At my urging a local reporter took a soil sample and had it sent to an independent lab; I even suggested she look for lithium. The traces of lithium were found, of course, and duly were reported in the article. The young woman had done her homework. She explained the possible use of the element as a deuterium/tritium source in fusion devices.
            Everything was going according to plan, but danger lay on the road ahead. These shocking events after some words from our sponsors.

            [Ads follow for Scum, Ford trucks, and Evinrude outboards. There is a repeat of the Scum commercial, which is wearing thin on entertainment value. Show returns with scene of diner. Actor playing Rudy sits in a booth.]

NARRATOR: Yes, I was happy with the way the story was progressing, but it needed more before it was ready for prime time. It needed sex. It needed more pictorial evidence. I already had arranged for both. But while eating lunch at the Lakeview Diner in Alton Bay, a village by Lake Winnipesaukee, a tall attractive woman with shoulder length red hair and mirrored sun glasses appeared by my table. She seemed familiar.

            [Camera slowly pans from toes to head of a beautiful woman. Inexplicably, the actress playing the redhead is blonde.]

CINDY: Hello Rudy.

RUDY: [Cautiously] Well hello. What brings you here?

CINDY: [Cindy picks an ice cube out of his water glass and chucks it at him.] You don’t have the slightest idea who I am! [Having waited long enough for an invitation, she simply sits down.] Thanks, I’d love to join you. [She removes her glasses. The actress’ eyes are blue.]

NARRATOR: Her piercing green eyes and Australian accent gave her away. She was the woman most responsible for my career.

RUDY: I remember you, Cynthia. [She glares.] Er, Cindy.

CINDY: I wonder if I make such lasting memories with all my dates. [The actress’ accent is Southeast British. There is no trace of Down Under.]

RUDY: In fairness, you didn’t accept any calls after the story aired.

CINDY: In fairness, you were a jerk. Are you one now?

RUDY: My ex thinks so.

CINDY: [Cindy laughs.] Mine too. It wasn’t just the show, Rudy. You were too cynical for me. You know, you actually quoted Nietzsche to me. On more than one occasion. But it was partly the show. I’m still waiting for my apology.

RUDY: It was only a local broadcast channel. It never went national.

CINDY: Local? You mean only the DC metro area? You misrepresented me, my coven and all our beliefs. You made our occult salon look like The Psychic Whorehouse. The way your camera focused on our knives whenever we mentioned our festivals made it look like we were into human sacrifice or something. The police took it all seriously enough to stop by and ask me questions. They tested a bloodstain from my townhouse. Even when it tested as pig’s blood I’m lucky they didn’t call the ASPCA. I told them it was just spillage from a pork roast, which is what it was.

RUDY: The ceremonies didn’t take place at your townhouse.

CINDY: Well I’m glad you didn’t tell them that or they would have raided all my friends’ homes too. [She smiles.] The show did double our membership though.

NARRATOR: [Overdubbed. Actors remain in frame but speak soundlessly.] Perhaps a few viewers still remember my very first broadcast show more than 10 years ago.
            An ambitious young writer, I had researched an article I hoped to submit to The Washingtonian on DC area witches. Cindy at the time was a self-described high priestess of a secretive cult she described as “pagan but non-Wiccan.” Every member I met was a woman, though I was given to understand that men were inducted into the cult from time to time.
            Cindy operated a salon where she and her coven members gave astrological, tarot, and psychic readings. We hit it off well together during our first interview. The photos and interviews had just the right touch of sleaze and mystery, or so I thought, but the magazine rejected the article saying it was too tabloid.
            Rather than scrap my work, I borrowed a professional video camera and reworked the article into a video documentary. Cindy let us film some ceremonial naked dancing which we blurred appropriately for broadcast. The nakedness actually was my idea but the coven went along without objection. Cindy and I dated while I was making the documentary. A local TV station liked and aired the piece. Afterwards she refused to accept my calls. I suppose I did overstate the sensuality and suggest sinister goings on, but that was a ratings thing. She should have understood.
            The documentary was popular. I received an offer from a New York based cable station to host this weekly show, Weird Occurrences. I accepted and moved north.

            [Actors’ voices become audible again.]

RUDY: So what are you doing here? In Alton Bay, New Hampshire, of all places.

CINDY: I like the smell of pines and my car freshener wore out. What’s your scam?

RUDY: Scam?

CINDY: Scheme.

RUDY: Much better. I read about some UFO sightings up here, so I came to see what I could dig up. I found something too. Over by Crystal Lake.

CINDY: I’m sure you found whatever you put there. Why a UFO though? Why not bring in Nessie from your Loch Ness special. How did you get that ripple effect by the way? A toy submarine?

RUDY: [Gratified that she had followed his work] Crystal Lake is too small to hold a monster. But there is something in the Loch.

CINDY: Your toy submarine. My very favorite episode was the Black Helicopter one. That was great footage. I have to give you credit Rudy. You hovered there and gave that survivalist time to photo the UN markings on your chopper while his buddy unloaded a shotgun at you. How much did you have to pay them for the pics?

RUDY: [Laughs.] The SOB shot right through the floor. I understand now why the Air Cav boys in Vietnam used to sit on their helmets. I didn’t pay a thing. They were eager to have me air the pictures.

CINDY: Do you even know what is real anymore?

RUDY: I hope so.

CINDY: Do you have any ethics?

RUDY: I hope not. Nietzsche, remember?

CINDY: [Smiles.] That’s OK. I married a man with ethics. I have no wish to repeat that experience.

RUDY: You haven’t told me what you are doing here. Are you casting a spell on someone?

CINDY: Possibly. I’m here for recreation. So recreate with me. Let’s have some fun. Show off for me, Rudy. We made a good team once. Let me help. [She leans back and lets her cleavage carry the proposal. Rudy sits speechless for several moments with his eyes fixed below her neck.] I must have grown taller since last time.

RUDY: What? Oh. [Rudy makes a decision.] OK. You’re on. I have a costume for you.

CINDY: Good. I like to play dress up.

NARRATOR: The viewer may question my good sense at this point. I knew that meeting with Cindy in this place was an unlikely coincidence. But it was fun to think she might have sought me out deliberately. With an excess of ego, I assumed her plans were romantic.

RUDY: I need footage of aliens, preferably scaring unsuspecting people. I’ve decided an encounter of the Third Kind will happen to that couple in the corner booth. [He waves at an all-American couple. They wave back.]

CINDY: Grant and Tabitha over there with the $1500 matching dorky biking outfits?

RUDY: Yes. Their names are Rolf and Tiffany, actually.

CINDY: Seriously?

RUDY: Yes. I chatted with them in the parking lot. They work for a chemical company in some surreal white-collar jobs. Personnel Network Management or something like that. [He points out the window.] They drive the SAAB with the Massachusetts plates.

CINDY: With the Greenpeace bumper sticker and the bicycle rack?

RUDY: French bikes. Apparently no irony intended. They’re up from Boston for a weekend cycling trip around the lake country. They live together but from the way they argue they should get married soon.

CINDY: Argue about what?

RUDY: Something about how he never agrees to drive the extra distance to Vermont instead of New Hampshire which is so working class and how she always avoids meeting his parents.

CINDY: How would you react if I complained like that?

RUDY: I’d make you meet my parents.

CINDY: Sadist. [Enjoying a bit of yuppie bashing] So, do they live together in Beacon Flats and watch reruns of Mad about You?

RUDY: The North End, but they are moving to Weston because of parking for the two cars. They only watch WGBH to which they contribute, but somehow they knew who I was.

CINDY: Is the other car a Volvo?

RUDY: Beamer.

CINDY: Great. When do we get to kill them?

RUDY: We don’t.

CINDY: Are you getting ethical on me?

RUDY: Please. We need them for the interview. The girl is sexy...

CINDY: You think so?

RUDY: ...and I’ve already primed them with stories about local UFO sightings. I told them I would pay for any unusual footage, so they should keep their digital camera handy.

CINDY: What if what they record isn’t believable?

RUDY: Then we don’t buy it.

            [Commercial break for Scum, digital cameras, and, yet again, Scum.]

NARRATOR: The trap was laid by a brush-lined dirt road overlooking Crystal Lake. The blue lake stretching out below formed a beautiful backdrop. Although the climb from Mounatin Road is a tough one for cyclists, the view makes the trip worthwhile, as I had emphasized to Rolf and Tiffany. Cindy and I set up the strobe lights and sound effects.

            [Rolf and Tiffany appear in distance. Zoom in. Tiffany no longer wears the biking outfit but a pair of cut off jeans and a skimpy blouse tied off to expose the midriff. The camera does a quick close-up of Rolf’s face but lingers over a full body shot of Tiffany pumping the pedals. Cut back to Cindy who is donning an alien costume that looks like surplus from a low budget 1950s SF flick.]

CINDY: This suit should be more form fitting.

RUDY: We’re staging It Came from Outer Space not Barbarella.


RUDY: Never mind. Where did you get those boots? [Cindy is shown donning boots, each of which ends in two large toes, rather like an ostrich foot.]

CINDY: I had them made for me for a costume party. I should have worn them for your first special.

RUDY: I liked the naked dancers better.

CINDY: I’ll bet. Here, record me in this outfit.

RUDY: Didn’t Watergate teach you anything?

CINDY: Didn’t Rob Lowe teach you anything? Bad publicity sells tickets too. Anyway it’s just for me.

NARRATOR: Against my better judgment I video recorded Cindy. A copy of this recording ended up in the hands of This Evening.

Our Bostonian bikers approached. When they had neared to 300 feet I set off strobe flashes and played a few bars from White Zombie. The couple stopped and took out their camera. We would have something to buy from them after all. The plan was working beautifully. I was then startled to see new actors in the piece.

            [Actors in gray-skinned alien costumes emerge from brush and attempt to abduct couple. They are short and match the usual deer eyed description, but they have two toed feet similar to Cindy’s boots. They push at Rolf perfunctorily but grope Tiffany extensively for the camera. Both Rolf and Tiffany manage to pull themselves free and run off down the hill on foot. Cindy walks casually to the bikes. An alien picks up the cyclists’ camera which is lying on the ground and scans Cindy from her boots to her face. She curtsies. As Rudy approaches dumfounded, Cindy takes the camera and records him.]

CINDY: I’ll send you a copy of this, but I have to keep the camera.

RUDY: [Overwhelmed as much by Cindy’s actions than by the presence of aliens] Why?

CINDY: My boys were caught on film recently, though fortunately at a distance. We had to find a way to discredit the footage before any serious news outlet bought it. I thought of you and came looking for you. I knew we could make it look like one of your scams.

RUDY: You won’t get away with this. I’ll put all of this on the air.

CINDY: I’m counting on it.

            [Cindy and the aliens walk into the brush. A moment later a Ford Explorer containing them all bursts onto the dirt road and disappears in a whirlwind of dust.]

NARRATOR: What you are about to see now is not a re-enactment but the actual footage from the scene taken by Rolf and Tiffany’s camera. Cindy did indeed forward it to me as well as to This Evening.

            [Shaky video shows a dirt road. Screams accompany blurred pictures of gray torsos and two toed feet. Glimpses of the couple themselves show both to be wearing biking outfits. The camera falls to the ground and records some sideways images of feet including some with two toes. The camera is picked up and, held steadily, pans slowly from the two-toed boots to the face of the red headed woman who wears them. She curtsies. The narrator is then seen approaching on foot.]

            Yes, you have just seen actual alien footage. If there are doubts in your mind, remember that this is not an isolated case. 1 in 50 Americans, now including myself, claims to have met an alien face to face. This is far too many to be dismissed lightly. Are there outsiders among us? You must decide for yourself. But 1 in 50 of us knows the answer.

            [After the credits the Scum commercial begins to run yet again.]

            Rudy flicked off the TV and sat quietly in the room.
            “Mind if we join you?” asked a red head in the doorway. The reflections of large eyes shimmered in back of her about four feet off the floor in the dark hallway .
            “Obviously I need a new security system,” observed Rudy.
            “Oh, it’s OK for common crooks. My boys electromagnetic pulsed it. Thank you so much. I couldn’t have produced a better show myself. No one will believe a word you said.”
            “Polls show a majority of our viewers believe our reports.”
            “No one will believe who matters. That 1 in 50 number was great. Where did you get that?”
            “Polls. The number is real.”
            “Let’s see, 1 in 50 is 6,200,000 people. Spread over 35 years, which is the US median age, that comes to 177,000 encounters per year in this country alone. You know my boys aren’t responsible for those. The sky would be ablaze with flying saucers. All that figure shows is how many people lie. Do you know what is real anymore, Rudy?”
            “I’m beginning to wonder.”
            Four gray skinned aliens scrambled over the couch and began to gobble Scum, scooping it with taco shells. One alien perched on Rudy’s knee. Rudy didn’t know whether to be alarmed or flattered.
            “They love the stuff,” Cindy laughed. “Earth foods are banned on their home world so they make a fortune smuggling it. Go figure.”
            Rudy sighed. “I don’t get the witch alien connection.”
            “Pure accident. Not everything is an occult conspiracy, Rudy. Coincidences really do happen. They stumbled on us during one of our equinox ceremonies out in the country, and they recognized that they could trust us. What a kick, huh?”
            “For real?”
            “Knocked my socks off. How would you like another shot at covering us, by the way? The coven I mean. These guys like their privacy. I feel I owe you something. You can get the inside picture on us. We’re going to need a new Sun King on December 21. One year term. I think you would be just perfect.”
            “I don’t know.”
            “There’ll be naked dancing,” she cajoled.
            Something about the proposed term seemed to him ominous, but nevertheless he answered, “You’re on.”
            Cindy smiled and toyed with her ceremonial knife.

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