Tennis Practice

I was only sixteen when my father left us behind in Sedona, Arizona. He divorced my mother and moved to New Mexico saying he was fed up with her telling everyone she saw UFOs. She even claimed that one of her friends had been abducted and impregnated by aliens, who were keeping the fetus. I got a letter from him the other day. He made a joke and told me to come to Las Cruces where the air was clean and the only aliens were the Mexican vaqueros.

I loved my mother and I believed her. She was only thirty-six, with flaming red hair and emerald green eyes, although she hated the freckles that dotted her face. I thought they were nice. Compared to my friends, whose mothers all seemed old, she was attractive and had a few boyfriends but never anything serious.

She told me the aliens had black ships that vibrated silently, and I believed her. The ships hovered just above treetops at night, scanning for victims to abduct. Whenever someone disappeared unexpectedly, we knew who was to blame. My father had owned a couple of guns and I once relied on him to keep me safe. After the divorce I had a hard time sleeping and often wasn’t much interested in eating. My mother took me to the doctor who said I was depressed and suffering from a traumatic stress disorder because of the divorce. He prescribed some anti-anxiety pills. I was afraid to take them but my mother told me they were okay, which helped. But I was still worried about the aliens.

Every day when I took the same public bus to my high school, I saw mostly the same people. I was on the tennis team. Although I practiced every day, I was not a good player. But one day at the bus stop I saw a woman I had never seen before. She carried an immense purse hanging from a shoulder strap and wore a gray jumpsuit with long sleeves. I thought it was strange because it was a hot day. I was sweating, although I wore shorts, but she seemed comfortable. She smiled at me and I got worried when she sat just behind me because there were other seats. She reminded me of the creatures on the TV program “V.”  They were reptilian but could change their form to look like normal humans.

The bus started to move slowly through traffic and after less than a minute, I heard a clicking of metal on metal. Then a swish-swish-click. I knew it was the sound of knitting. My aunt knitted. When my mother and I visited her, she made me sweaters and scarves. The lady, or should I say the creature, behind me was knitting.

But what if she knew I suspected she was an alien and the knitting was just a ruse? Aliens have a way of getting inside our brains and discovering our thoughts. Knitting needles are sharp enough to pierce skin with a forceful thrust. What if she was just waiting until the right time came to push that needle into my neck? It probably had some poison that would turn me into a slave or something so she could whisk me back to her ship.

There had been a story on TV a few weeks earlier about a crazy man in Chicago who  stabbed a complete stranger on a bus. The news didn’t say it but my mother and I knew the truth. The killer was an alien creature and the man knew it. The killer disappeared when someone grabbed him. And here I was, about to be stabbed twenty-three times in the back of the neck with a knitting needle. Twenty-three is an important number for aliens.

I put my hand over my neck, pretending to scratch it so that I wouldn’t look strange. I didn’t want to give her anywhere to poke her needle. I even moved my head back and forth and side to side, hoping she would find it hard to hit a moving target. My heart started beating wildly as I desperately tried to figure out a plan of escape. I had to get out of harm’s way before I ended up as maybe this woman’s tenth victim. They always do things in groups of ten.

I decided to get off at the next stop even though it wasn’t mine. But I realized that’s the kind of thing crazy people do and I didn’t want to appear crazy, even if it meant I was going to die.

So I sat in my seat and protected the back of my neck. When another thought struck me. What if she planned to stick that needle into my ear? If one of those things was jammed in my ear, I was a goner for sure. The poison would go directly to my brain.

I couldn’t protect myself from that. I could hold my neck or move my head around, but if she was going to get me in the ear I didn’t have a chance. So I spent the last few minutes of my life moving my head. I was definitely afraid. I was going to die, but maybe the other people on the bus would prevent her from getting away. She would have to stab me in front of a bus full of people. Unless the other people on the bus were also aliens.

Then she got up holding the needles in her hand and stood next to my seat, ready to strike. My heart pounded so hard my tee shirt bounced. I took my last breath, before being enslaved by a poisoned knitting needle in my ear. I hadn‘t even told my mother how much I loved her. She stood over me about to deal the blow.

Then she smiled at me again and got off the bus. It was her way of telling me she knew. She could get me any time she wanted but this wasn’t my time. Yet. I breathed a sigh of relief. Two stops later I got off and went to school.

After that I started exercising with weights and developed strength in my chest and arms. I quit the tennis team and joined the wrestling team and did quite well. I placed third in the city tournament. I wanted to be prepared to fight her off the next time. Or anyone else for that matter. When I became a senior, my mother said I looked like a different person from the skinny high school kid I had been as a freshman.

When I graduated from high school I was five feet ten inches and weighed 180 pounds. I got a job as an assistant to a manager in an insurance company but that didn’t last long. The manager was crazy. One day he told me I had to attend a sales improvement meeting. I asked him why I needed to attend a sales improvement meeting since I wasn’t in sales. He stared at me like I was from another planet.

He told me I would never get ahead if I didn’t improve my attitude. Then he asked why I asked such stupid questions, and I told him I didn’t want to be in sales anyway. I probably should have kept my mouth shut, but the next day I quit and started an online course to become a medical coder. Medical coding is a little like translation. It’s the coder’s job to take something that’s written one way, like a doctor’s diagnosis, for example, or a prescription for a certain medication, and translate it as accurately as possible into a numeric code. For every injury, diagnosis, and medical procedure, there is a corresponding code. A month later I got a job at a doctor’s office. The pay was not great so I had to continue living with my mother.

From the office where I worked, I could watch young women playing tennis on the courts across the street. They were slim and athletic although I suspected some of them might be aliens in disguise. The young women who were good looking were probably not aliens. I had never been very good at meeting girls and I thought going back to playing tennis might help me meet some of them. I had to be alert because I didn’t want to become the victim of an abduction. I could tell aliens by their unusual smell. That was something they couldn’t hide even when they used a strong deodorant.

I had an expensive racquet that I had used when I played in high school. There was a practice wall at the courts and I went there when no one was playing.

My mother bought me an inexpensive video camera and a tripod to film my moves. She said that was the kind of thing that professionals do to see how they might improve. That sounded good because I didn’t want to look foolish in front of the girls.

My mother came to watch me practice one afternoon and when she heard the pop of the tennis balls against the wall, she said it sounded like the spaceship that had abducted her friend. She said she had heard the same popping sound as it sucked her friend up into their ship. She had not seen it because the ship was invisible, vibrating at a speed too fast for the human eye. She emailed and told them what she knew. She had emailed them many times but they never responded. She was afraid of being abducted and having our bodies taken over and the last thing she wanted was to get pregnant. I understood her fear.

After she videotaped me, she played the video back in slow motion. She had read an article online that stated our eyes miss things in the speed of reality, unlike the aliens or bees or flies who see things as they really are with their compound multi-faceted eyes. Bees can see pollen in a flower from hundreds of feet away. Flies can detect movement and are so fast most people miss them with fly swatters. I thought watching the videotaping at a slow speed was a good idea.

I wanted to see my arm movement to make sure I was watching the ball and swinging my racquet from low to high to get top spin. We watched the videos carefully.

Did you ever catch a furtive movement out of the corner of your eye and when you turned to look, nothing was there? That happens to me a lot. One day as I tossed the ball up to practice my serve, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. It was a low-flying bird and in a reflexive action, I swung at it and caught it in mid-flight, killing it. I felt terrible but it was probably an alien spying on me. The entire scene had been captured on video.

That evening I watched it with my mother and when we slowed the action down she said she could see a slight vibration in the air behind the bird, like the wake made by a boat. We stopped the video at the instant my racquet struck the bird and she claimed she saw the ghostly hint of a grotesque reptilian face as the bird’s spirit departed.

My eyes were not trained as well as hers and I thought it might have been a slight vibration of the camera caused by the wind. I played the video several times in my room studying it carefully. 

Last night I saw the reptilian face.

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Mel Goldberg
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