Why Alien Abduction Stories Are BS, Even My Own
Welcome to Creepy Questions with Obvious Answers, the only Cracked essay series where we put the “sup, later” in “supernatural.” Today, William Kuechenberg shares his own alien abduction story.
If you’ve followed my work here on Cracked or ever had me corner you at a houseparty, you know that I have a complicated relationship with the supernatural. It’s something which I am deeply fascinated by, desperately want to be true, and am also completely convinced it’s all B.S. of a Q-Ray Bracelet order of magnitude.
So this week, I’m going to be talking about a different supernatural phenomenon with a surprisingly obvious explanation. So come with me on this journey as I ruin everyone’s fun like Gunno, The Only Birthday Party Clown Whose Fright Wig Is Made Completely Out Of Loaded Firearms™.Let's start with alien abduction.
A Famous Case
Here on Cracked, we’ve written before about the Betty and Barney Hill abduction case and why it’s terrifying. For those not in the know, though, here’s what happened.
It’s the dead of an autumn night of 1961. Betty and Barney Hill are driving a winding, rural road in New Hampshire after being in Canada, possibly after indulging their wicked poutine habit. As they’re driving, they notice a strange light in the sky. It seems to dart about erratically. Intrigued, they decide to drive after the light and observe it with binoculars, since this was 1961 and they hadn’t invented cold opens to horror TV shows yet where the characters do exactly this kind of thing and get horrifically murdered.
After watching the mysterious light, they start to feel like the light is watching them. Barney got out of the car, started to feel like something was up, got back in the car and then – they were back at their home in Portsmouth. There were a few hours they couldn’t account for. Their clothes were scuffed, ripped, and dusted with a mysterious pink substance. Years later, under the influence of hypnosis (a practice roughly as scientific as homeopathic ghost chiropractic), they would recount being taken up in a spaceship crewed by gray-skinned men with black eyes, and having their bodies penetrated by scientific instruments. Their story would be to alien abductions what Steely Dan – The Greatest Hits was to sad divorced Jazz Dads nationwide.
But What Is It, Though?
Alien abduction. The belief that beings from another planet with superior technology will sometimes take humans aboard their spacecraft for unknown purposes. Sometimes for scientific study. Sometimes for weird sex stuff. Sometimes for both. Yeah, usually for both.
Abductees generally report a sense of missing time, strange lights, looming ominous presences, and, most notably, some sort of bodily violation, usually with metallic instruments. This is the famous ‘anal probing,’ which when you think about is really bizarre. When we humans discover a new species here on earth, our first step isn’t usually to jam stuff up its butt. If so, Bear Scientist would be an even more dangerous profession.
I’m not going to take up too much of your time talking about alien abductions, because you’ve probably already got a pretty firm grasp on what it is. 40% of Americans believe aliens have visited the planet, and nearly 3% of Americans say they’ve actually been abducted. I know someone who swears he was abducted. It’s likely you do, too. And if you don’t, just go find some desert people – the more deserty, the better. Look for turquoise belt buckles and tattoos of geckos or kokopelli. If you see “art” of crudely welded-together metal scrap, you’ve come to the right neighborhood! Yes, odds are you know someone with an alien abduction story. And if you don’t, you do now – because I have one of my own.
The Obvious Explanation
Let’s get something out of the way. Alien abduction isn’t real. Sorry! Just wanted to rip that band-aid off real quick. While I’m on the subject, you also don’t need to be afraid of Eagle Man. He’s also not real. You don’t need to be afraid anymore.
Look, I’m not saying there isn’t life on other planets. Probabilistically speaking, there almost certainly is. But I don’t think any intelligent species has visited Earth, at least in any of our lifetimes. We have equipment sensitive enough to detect minor seismic activity on other planets. The amount of energy it would take to propel an object through space at a speed anywhere approaching practical would be so mind-bogglingly enormous we’d definitely know about it. Not only that, even assuming that aliens were visiting from Proxima Centauri, the nearest star system to ours, and even assuming they were traveling at speeds approaching c, we’d still see them coming for about four and a half years. And then see them leaving for another four and a half. They’d be up in the sky, shining, for about the time it takes to become a doctor. In that time you could become a proctologist and do some probing of your own.
But let’s assume that the aliens have made some breakthrough that lets them find a loophole through the speed of light. If they’ve discovered some miraculous technology to propel matter through space faster than light – something that, according to everything we know about physics, should be impossible – why would they need to physically visit a planet at all? That would be like building a hyperintelligent AI and asking it to please find a way to please make pounding nails easier, because we’ve been using our teeth and it really hurts. If you can invent a godlike AI you’ve probably also broken the Ball Peen Hammer Barrier and, similarly, if you’ve cracked FTL travel, in-person biological observation where the subjects are aware of you is probably as crude to them as a chimpanzee’s termites/butthole stick is to us.
So here’s my theory, based on what happened to me. When I was a teenager, around fourteen or so, I started having night terrors. You don’t remember night terrors, but it didn’t take too long for my grandmother (whom I lived with) and my friends whose houses I would stay the night at to start waking me up in the dead of night, asking if I was okay. Because, unbeknownst to me, I would begin screaming at night. I would screech and holler and say that I could feel them putting burning metal on my legs. Or dragging barbed wire across my calves. Over and over again, I’d start screaming at night, always about something painful and metal being inserted in the backs of my legs.
I’d occasionally have nightmares I’d remember, and they’d always be variations of the same themes: I’d be lying down, completely immobilized. I wanted to move, but couldn’t. There was a blindingly bright light and I could hear what sounded like the cadence of speech, but couldn’t make sense of it. There was a looming figure I could vaguely sense, and then there was a blinding pain in my legs. Like hot razorblades being dragged along my calves. Then, in waking life, I started having panic attacks in any kind of medical setting.
In other words, I had almost all of the signs of an alien abduction. But I know I wasn’t abducted by aliens. In fact, I know exactly what happened. See, when I was thirteen, I had a surgery on my legs because I was prone to walking on my tiptoes and it was giving me the backpain of a retired roofer. I’m almost certain that I partially woke up during that surgery. It all fits, particularly the weird fixation with my legs: the surgeons went in and sliced one of my tendons so that when it healed it would be longer and stop pulling up my heel when I walked. I still have really gnarly scars on the back of each of my calves.
I was in a wheelchair for nearly a year and then had to re-learn how to walk afterwards. I also recently learned that this traumatic butchery may have been entirely unnecessary, since the cause may have been psychological rather than physical. Did you know that walking on one’s toes is present in nearly 20% of all autistic children? I didn’t! Am I autistic? I don’t know, because I grew up in the Midwest where the most common explanation for kids having weird fixations was “brain demons” and I’m now an adult that can’t afford to get tested. On the other hand, I have been excitedly telling you my big theory on alien abductions for 1,500 odd words now, so you tell me. Also probably unrelated, I experience certain words as a taste and music as kaleidoscopic color. Boy, we sure are learning a lot about each other in this column.
So, yes, I think that people have been waking up from general anesthetic during surgery, but remember it mostly subconsciously, like a dream. The bodily violation. The feelings of fear and immobility, like sleep paralysis. Confusion. Bright lights. Menacing creatures with bluish-gray skin, no nose (and sometimes no mouth), often with no hair, and strange, dark eyes? What, you mean like this?
I think people are waking up in a dreamlike state during surgery. As for myself, I didn’t start having night terrors until at least a year after my surgery. People probably start feeling all of this terror and strange dreams, and, unsure what’s causing it, latch onto the culturally ubiquitous idea of alien abduction. Remember when I mentioned that the Hill’s case, which set the pattern for the prototypical alien abduction story, took place in 1961? Well, in 1956, halothane was introduced as an inhalatory general anesthetic. It wasn’t flammable, making it safer than chemicals that were previously used, making general anesthetic more popular in the coming years. The antipsychotic agents haloperidal and droperidol were first synthesized in ‘58 and ‘61, respectively, and were both added to intravenous general anesthetics, making them safer and more effective – and, as a result, more widespread. Fentanyl, another drug that became used in general anesthesia, was first synthesized in 1960. All of this happened right around the time that there was an explosion in alien abduction claims.
So there you have it. Misremembered medical trauma manifesting through a readily available cultural explanation! Or maybe once you master FTL travel playing intergalactic frat pranks and games of kanchō is just what you do all day.
William Kuechenberg is a repped screenwriter, a Nicholl Top 50 Finalist, and an award-winning filmmaker. He’s currently looking to be a writer’s assistant or showrunner’s assistant on a television show: tell your friends, and if you don’t have any friends, tell your enemies! You can also view his mind-diarrhea on Twitter.
Top image: Fer Gregory/Shutterstock