"I like the shows with the religious experts, too. That's funny. I mean, God's an all-knowing, all-powerful alien overlord. If people can believe in that, how can they cast aspersions on people who believe they've been abducted by aliens? You talked to Jesus Christ. You got taken up into a big space craft."
"But really, doesn't it seem awfully far-fetched to you?" Meda said. "That aliens would keep coming down here and keep doing experiments on us? Which is what Mom always says they're doing."
"I think it's interesting that we assume aliens wouldn't do that, the body cavity probing and whatnot. Look at the Nazis. Germany had advanced technology compared to a lot of other countries, but Nazi scientists conducted terrible experiments on people. And our culture still does it, on monkeys and rabbits and all sorts of animals."
"I know, a couple years ago somebody gave me a brochure with all this gruesome stuff in it about animal testing. I had to quit smoking. I needed to anyway, because of Annadore, but I couldn't take it, knowing the tobacco companies were doing stuff like that to puppies," Meda said.
It surprised me. I hadn't pictured her as a smoker or an anti-vivisectionist.
"If the aliens keep probing us, maybe they haven't gotten the information they want," Meda said. "But you didn't answer my question. What do you really think about it?"
I weighed all the possible answers as quickly as I could and decided on something that was very close to the truth.
"I think alien abductees are suffering from the social equivalent of religious persecution," I said. "They believe. It's a matter of faith. The archaeological evidence for Christian mythology is no more solid than the evidence for alien abduction. It fails to establish the existence of God. All it can do is establish that humans believed in God all those years ago."
"Like quoting a Spiderman comic book to prove that Spiderman really exists." When I stopped laughing, Meda said, "I can't take credit for that. My brother always used to say that whenever Mom quoted her alien experts at him. But why do people believe? In aliens or God?"
"I think it's about what these people are missing in their lives that they fill with this belief. With religion and with alien abductees, I think it's an admission of powerlessness. Like a twelve step program," I said. Meda scowled. "That's just my opinion."
"Admit that you're powerless, that only your higher power is in control," she said with contempt. "My mother's been a recovering alcoholic almost as many years as she's been an alcoholic."
"Can I ask whether you believe?"
"Mostly I think it's group craziness," Meda said, and not one word more, before she stood up and walked down the hallway. After she was gone, I realized I hadn't specified which belief system I was asking about.
I almost called out to her, but didn't want to wake Annadore. I put on my coat and fished the keys out of my pocket, waiting for Meda to pop her head back out to say good-bye. Several minutes passed, and I was about to let myself out, when she came finally back. She had changed clothes and wore a soft white blouse and a long dark skirt that cast a shadow over her bare feet. She crossed her arms just below her breasts, so that I couldn't avoid looking at them.
"Do you want to stay? The night?" she said.
I was mortified by the question, not so much an invitation as a gesture of acquiescence. She stood there, all solid practicality, waiting for me to say something, maybe waiting for me to follow her into the bedroom. Her physical mysteries were peeled away, leaving her spiritual mysteries intact, glowing openly on the surface. In a flash, I understood. There was a limit to how much help she would accept, unless I was her boyfriend. Sex was more expedient. She would be more comfortable, because it would be an arrangement she understood better than my attempts at friendship. I don't know what I said or did to make my exit, but I knew I'd had a close call.
Excerpted from Last Will by Bryn Greenwood. Copyright © 2012 by Bryn Greenwood. Excerpted by permission of Stairway Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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