Off Planet

It’s a horrible and humbling thing, dementia.
How it can make a person less the human that so many have loved.
How it can make so many they’ve loved seem less than human to them.
Dementia. It’s a humbling, horrible thing.

It’s not so bad, life with the aliens. Under observation. In captivity. Really, it’s not so bad. They keep my window shades open, let me see a little of their world, a world I’ve never known, won’t ever know. Let me at least see the sunshine, even if they won’t let me out to feel it. And they feed me, mix thick nectary goop that tastes like salty-sweet functionality, press huge bowls of it to my lips and spill it down my throat as fast as I can swallow, sometimes even faster than that. And they even have a cat here, a little souvenir they must’ve stolen whenever they abducted me. The cat has to stay on the floor, whenever the aliens are around, because it could smother me, you know, if it got up around my face, if I were asleep, that’s what the aliens say. But sometimes it sneaks in when they forget to close the door all the way, and it never smothers me, only curls up by my neck. Smelling like life. Like old memories. Like home.

So it’s really not so bad, life with the aliens, even if it’s unfamiliar, seems more unfamiliar each time I wake up, like someone crept into my room while I slept and picked up all the furniture and set it down again in exactly the same place, just to see if I’d notice. The medicines are the worst part, really, the medicines to make me forget things. That’s what the aliens always say, “They’re for her memory,” that’s what they tell the one alien who comes to visit sometimes, who looks exactly like my daughter, only isn’t my daughter at all. (Don’t ask me how I know. I would know my own daughter, and she is not.) Maybe I should be grateful, that I get the memory medicines. That I don’t remember how the aliens made my body so weak—so old—so suddenly. That I don’t remember how they brought me here, exactly, except sometimes in nightmares. The abduction. The tests. The orifices probed.

But it’s really not so bad, life with the aliens. They don’t shackle me to the bed or strap me down, like in the movies, only pen me in with cushions and pin me down with this awful heavy heavy heavy wool blanket. Just trying to keep me comfortable.

It’s all they ever talk about, crowded around my bed, whispering to each other, “Is she comfortable?” over and over again, like monks puzzling over some sacred riddle, not wanting an answer, really, just wanting to be able to say they’ve at least asked, when the time for judgment comes. I’d still give them an answer, if I could, but something always snips off the thought between brain and tongue—I think it’s the medicines. So instead of, “Yes, I’m comfortable, thank you, but I’m also quite frightened, and actually I’d really like to go home now, please, please,” I end up grunting, or grasping towards them, or just trying to say it all with my eyes, please, please. They never understand, but I like to think they’d listen, if they could. Yes. I like to think that.

I still hate them, of course. The ones in lab coats with the medicine needles and the scalpels to drain my bedsores. The ones in monotone clothes who put me in diapers and shoo away the cat. The ones who come to visit that I’ve never seen before but still ask do I remember them, do I know who they are, am I happy to see them. Holding me captive, all of them, even the one who looks like my daughter but isn’t. I have dreams, whole vivid lucid miracles, sometimes while I’m still awake, where I pull the pillow from between my knees and rip the blanket off my body and leap up from the bed when nobody’s looking, and I yank the bedside lamp out of its socket and go on a rampage crushing their alien skulls and alien sternums and delicate alien fingers, cackling and crying and gasping so hard because I’m free—I’m free—I’m finally free! And I smash open the window, and I tuck the cat under my arm, and I climb out, into the sunshine, into the world I’ve never known.

Joshua Beggs has been published in journals including Allium, MAYDAY, and Fleas on the Dog. He is a 2019 graduate from Hendrix College and a current MD candidate at Kansas University Medical Center. In his free time, he volunteers as a Spanish interpreter at his local free clinic, makes a podcast (which his mom says is awesome), and maintains his very creatively named website,