EXPERIENCERS by Emily Costa

Your girlfriend believes that at some point during the last year or so her father has been abducted by aliens and replaced with a human-like shell. She believes visits still happen, routinely and systematically, that they must pull him up there with that classic tractor beam, or else he meets them somewhere in the woods, and they do tests and probe him and check on his progress. Progress with what, you wonder, but she’s still talking. She says they return him dead-eyed. She’s got it all laid out. She keeps a little journal by her bed to jot down the nights, to keep track of his behavior. She says on Mondays and Thursdays he leaves in the middle of the night. The front light’s on motion detector and shines into her window. She hears his tires crunch driveway gravel. Then, he’s there again at cereal time, normal.

She’s telling you this because she trusts you, she says, finally she trusts you.

You wonder if this means you can move on from spending the night in her bed just making out, from jerking off in your room when you get home. You hate that you think that, especially considering what you’re doing now: driving down route 63 with her, tailing her dad’s BMW, trying to find what she’s calling an “entry point.” Your crappy Toyota is having some issue with acceleration—it’s stuttering, slow—but you need to maintain distance anyway. Your girlfriend is biting the sides of her fingernails. She is messing with the radio. She is telling you hang back and speed up.

Your girlfriend’s mom is at home, zonked on Valium. You’d left your own father similarly zonked, head back, on the couch. Something in his nightly regimen knocks him out but you’re not sure which pill. You make a mental note to ask the doctor. Maybe you could even ask the nurse at treatment while he dozes and you’re stuck in the sticky chair next to him, flipping through a book, unable to focus on the words. Maybe it’s the disease itself. But you try not to think about that, and your girlfriend is saying are you listening? and you are and you aren’t.

Because the thing is you know where her dad goes. It’s easy to infer, even though you’ve only met the guy once. The way he smiles, the over-cheer in his voice. Like he’s making up for something. But your girlfriend doesn’t see it. Or, she doesn’t want to see it. And you can’t just come out and tell her the warm thing her father’s enveloped in isn’t some human-sized test-tube filled with space goo. So you’re just waiting for the thing to happen. And it’ll happen tonight: you’ll follow the father all the way to the other woman’s house. There will be no object in the sky, no abduction, no jump in the clock. Just a split-level with its porch light on. The door will open. You’ll both catch a glimpse of her as she pulls him inside. Your girlfriend will look at you in a way you’ll never forget, and you won’t be sure how to make your face look, how to mirror surprise.

But before that, you’re driving, and you know, and she doesn’t, and you can’t tell her, and it’s all hanging there in the air, and you start to wonder if you’re a bad person—your most frequent thought—because you want the thing to happen already, to get it over with, to end up on the other side of it, but you don’t want to say the words. You can barely even think them.


Emily Costa teaches freshmen at Southern Connecticut State University, where she received her MFA. Her work can be found in Hobart, Barrelhouse, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. You can follow her on twitter @emilylauracosta.

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