The Traveler

(C) By Helmut F. Licht

It was Sunday and a day as clear as the lenses in a new pair of glasses. Several innocent cotton ball clouds were hanging in the deep blue sky. One, larger than the rest, looked sort of like a fat, smiling Buddha. Not for long, though, as the invisibly moving air, like a child playing with a piece of clay, pushed his head between his shoulders, to create yet another form to challenge my imagination.

As I had not been to the zoo for years, I decided to go and see what's new. The tigers looked like tigers, but struck me like 12 year olds in Sunday clothes. The real them was either missing or tucked away somewhere, for the time being, or maybe for good. The elephants were gigantic and overwhelming as they stood there swaying back and forth, but I would have rather seen them in the jungle, uprooting a tree with one powerful swoop, or stampeding along some trail, trumpeting with their trunks high in the air, no one else daring to get in their way .. the true and wild rulers of a true and wild world.

I reached that part of the zoo where certain animals are allowed to roam freely in a pseudo-natural environment, and visitors were permitted to walk unrestrictedly among them and were able to get close enough to either pet them or throw them a peanut or two. Glancing across an open field my eyes came to rest on a small, wooded area which, from the distance, looked almost like a huge, green beret, dropped and forgotten by some giant who had at one time passed this way.

Something new, I said to myself, as I could not remember having seen these trees on my previous visits, and started walking toward them.  Having reached the edge of the wood, I crossed inside. The air was comfortably cool and everything looked normal. I felt strange, though, the same way I had felt a few years ago, when someone had accidentally told me that a surprise party had been planned for me and, armed with this knowledge, I had walked into a friend's dark apartment, to which I had been lured and where everybody had been waiting for me to turn on the lights so they could yell "Surprise!". Only, it was broad daylight, with nobody in sight. Just me, all alone, in a cool and quiet piece of forest.

Approximately one hundred feet into the wood the trees gave way to a clearing. At the far end of the clearing stood a picnic table. Whoever had built the table, though, could not have known too much about human anatomy, as the seating board facing me was about three inches off the ground. `More like a Japanese picnic table' I thought to myself, remembering a movie I once saw in which Japanese were sitting on a the floor while consuming their meal.

Intrigued by the table I failed to see a rock on the ground and stumbled over it. In the last moment I caught myself on one of the low limbs of a tree next to me, which broke off under my weight with a loud, banging snap and landed together with me on the soft, warm and fragrant ground.

Mentally apologizing to the tree for wounding it, I placed the broken off limb next to the tree's trunk, continued across the clearing and re-entered the wood on the other side. Shortly I reached the end of the

little forest, where another open field offered nothing of interest. I turned and back tracked the way I came, arrived at the clearing once more, noticing the picnic table and the rock over which I had stumbled; and that's when I turned on the lights! My hair stood up and shivers ran up and down my spine. The limb, the limb that I had torn off the tree, the limb which had landed next to me on the ground, - it was back on the tree! Back on it, attached to it, as if it had never been broken off!

Impossible! I must be dreaming!

That's what it is. I'm dreaming. But how do you get out of a dream?

Pinch myself! .... I didn't wake up.

I went back in time and mentally reviewed the entire day. When could I have fallen asleep? No! I'm awake. This is real. I feel the tree. My hands are real. My clothes. I smell the air, - and the picnic table is real.  I can lift it up, - and let it drop back on the ground. I hear the noise.

This is real! And I'm awake.

But the limb?! It did break off. It was next to me on the ground. I heard it snap and break loose, and remembered placing it next to the tree trunk.

I knew there were people in the apartment. Why didn't they yell surprise and get it over with?

But there was nobody in this wood. Only me and this feeling of ... of ...

Am I going crazy? I went to the tree, touched the limb, looking at it long and carefully. No marks, no sign. Nothing. It was attached to the tree like all the other limbs.

Is this what insanity feels like? Why suddenly now? I don't feel insane.

I grabbed the limb with both hands and pulled. Snap! It broke off. I was holding it in my hands. It's off the tree. The time on my watch was 3:20 and the seconds were ticking away. I could see the tree's open wound where the limb used to be.

I placed the limb next to the trunk, just as before, and started walking back to where I had come from. Just like before I heard a swooshing sound behind my back and froze in my step.

No! This can't be. I felt a chill as goose pimples rippled over my body.

Why didn't somebody yell surprise?

Slowly I turned, knowing exactly what I would see.

I couldn't believe my eyes! The limb was back on the tree, still swaying a bit. Impossible! Had nature found a way to rewind? My watch showed 3:25. Wow! No rewind here. Time had moved on, and the seconds were still hurrying by. This was really happening!

Well, two can play this game. I stepped up to the tree, grabbed the limb ...

Suddenly I knew that one of the people in the surprise party had come out of hiding.

I could feel something going on behind my back. Slowly, very slowly, I turned around. What I saw, stunned me in disbelief. Reaching back with both hands to lean against the tree, I felt like the Buddha cloud and all my water drops had turned to hail,- frozen and heavy, pulling me toward the ground.

A figure stood in the clearing. It's eyes were fixed on me. A hum had begun in my head, the same hum you hear when you turn on a stereo.  Its eyes were big, alien and steady, - unyielding.

We both remained motionless for what seemed a long time. All at once the figure slowly raised its arms. When its hands were shoulder high, it rotated them so the palms faced me as if they were focusing devices.  The humming subsided and gave way to a great, wonderful feeling of peace and ease. I relaxed, and, as if I had suddenly dropped a protective shield, images began to pop into my mind. - I realized that the ... person ... was trying to communicate with me ... mentally.

Impulses came toward me, which seemed to probe my mind like an index finger searching through a phone book, looking for a match to a name, only the search was not for a name, but rather for a memory within me, which would correspond to the impulse. And when the proper memory was located, it would be activated in my conscious mind, causing me to remember scenes I had experienced somewhere, at some time in my life. The images were very brief, like those that were thrown onto a screen for 1/100th of a second, during a speed reading course I had once taken.

The first image popping into my consciousness was a white dove holding a twig with its beak.

"Peace", I thought to myself and inadvertently gave a slight nod with my head.

The alien raised his right arm, pointed toward his eyes and then closed them. He kept them shut for a few moments and then reopened them.  He pointed to me as he nodded. - He wanted me to close my eyes. I hesitated. He noticed.

Charlie popped into my mind. Good old Charlie. My best friend and buddy since childhood.

"Friend" was the message this time. I nodded again and slowly and trustingly closed my eyes.

Next I saw myself standing by my `58 Chevy, stranded on the way home from work, because something had gone wrong with the engine.  With my eyes closed the images were much stronger and remained longer, because the outside world could not interfere with them.

"Stranded ... On the way back ... Something wrong with the engine." I opened my eyes questioningly. The figure nodded.

I was amazed and apprehension gave way to thrill. The figure was stimulating my memory in such a way, that the pictures invoked revealed to me its thoughts. So far I understood that it meant no harm, that it was friendly and that it was stranded on the way back home because of engine trouble.

I closed my eyes again and saw myself playing ping pong with my brother. Suddenly my brother turned into the alien. He returned the ball over the net. It bounced one time and stopped in mid air. I puzzled for a moment, tilting my head sideways. The same sequence was made to repeat itself and appeared so real, that I raised my right arm, as if I was about to hit the ping pong ball back to my opponent. Ah! I got it!  The figure wanted me to take a turn, - a turn at communicating. I nodded in excitement.

Thoughts raced through me mind. Should I just think of peace, and if so, would the idea be translated into an image which the alien would understand? Or, should I think of the dove? Sensing my hesitation, another picture jumped into my mind. I saw myself resting and relaxing in my hammock.


O.K. I took a deep breath. What should I try to communicate? Why not the same things the alien had chosen? I thought of the dove. The alien nodded slightly.

He nodded. He was telling me that he understood. I thought of Charlie.  Another nod. What does one think of to inquire as to where the alien was from? I mentally sent out the question "Where are you from?" His head tilted sideways, indicating that he did not understand.

I had an idea. I visualized a bird leaving its nest, picking something up from the ground an returning to the nest. I repeated the return part several times, and then thought only of the nest.

The alien nodded. Bingo! I closed my eyes and saw one of our space rockets disappearing into the sky.

"Outer space!" He came from outer space!

Next I pointed at him (and it might just as well have been a her; I had no way of knowing), then turned the palms of my hands face up and described a semi circle with both arms angled toward the ground. As I did this, I tilted my head and then held my breath in curious expectation. I was using our yet limited vocabulary of mental images and gestures to ask why he was here.

After a few moments he nodded. I closed my eyes and the scene with my `58 Chevy popped back into my mind, only this time I saw myself looking under the hood of the car, doing something to the engine. I remembered the time well. I was trying to find out what was wrong with the engine.

He was telling me that his "car", his ship had broken down. I was ready to send him the next question and visualized the alien driving a car which suddenly stopped running. He nodded and once more pointed at his eyes as he closed them. I understood and closed mine. He wanted me to close my eyes not only when I was receiving images, but also when I was sending them.

I visualized him opening the hood and looking around in the engine.  Another nod. Then I visualized him leaving his car and going into the wood next to the highway. I pictured him meeting me and taking me back to his car. He nodded understandingly, raised his arms to a 45 degree angle and described a semi circle.

I tilted my head. What was he trying to tell me? A few moments of puzzled silence caused another picture to appear in my mind. I saw the alien and me standing in his car and then the alien repeated the same semicircular gesture ha had just finished. Suddenly the car increased in size to where he and I appeared to be the size of a salt and pepper shaker. Once again he described the semicircle and before he was finished I had opened my eyes and saw the real alien complete the identical gesture which the one in my mind had just started.

Bingo! He was telling me, that we are in his ship right now. But how was that possible? Where was the ship?

I was told to close me eyes again, whereupon I saw us once more as the tiny figures in the aliens's huge car. Next to the tiny alien, attached to the door, I noticed numerous small switches. The alien grabbed one of them with both hands and broke it of with a strong pull. The very moment the switch broke off, I heard a bang next to me and then something hit the ground. I opened my eyes, turned and noticed with amazement, that the limb had once again been broken off the tree and was lying next to me on the ground. I closed my eyes again and observed the tiny alien re-attach the switch to the car door as I heard a familiar swooshing sound next to me. With my eyes open once more I noticed, that the limb, like magic, was re-attached to the tree as if it had never been broken off.

I was thrilled beyond description. Here was an alien, no! here were two aliens, trying to establish a basic vocabulary to communicate with one another. And it was working. I understood him and he understood me.  We were getting somewhere.

So far I had learned that he was from outer space, that his space ship had broken down on the way home, that he was friendly and meant no harm and that we were standing in the space ship right now. But where was the actual ship? What did it look like and how was it being hidden?

I closed my eyes once more and pictured the aliens`s car. Then I visualized him tearing branches off a tree and covering the car with them until it was completely hidden. I opened my eyes and looked at the alien with tilted head. He nodded and indicated that he wanted me to close my eyes .... I saw an earthly landscape illuminated by soft moonlight. There were gently rolling hills and a large wooded area, similar to the one we were standing in, but much larger. Suddenly a huge, round craft slowly descended over the forest. When it almost touched the top of the trees it came to a complete halt and remained thus for a few moments. Suddenly it became transparent, its outline barely detectible. It lowered itself carefully to the ground, blending now completely with the trees. The trees actually penetrated the ship and became part of it. It had landed over a small clearing, and in the clearing I noticed a picnic table. The vessel must have touched the ground and stopped moving. There was a momentary surge of light.  When the light vanished the ship had disappeared. But all at once that part of the forest, where the ship had landed, began to rise into the air, slowly at first, climbing higher and higher. It looked like a round piece of forest floating in mid air. A few seconds later it shot off in a horizontal direction, disappearing into the night sky.

Looking back to where the ship had landed I saw the forest, untouched, no trees were missing. I could even see the picnic table standing in the clearing.

What a story! Everything became clear. The ship had landed at night and, through some conversion process, assumed the earthly forest shape. It had then flown to the open area in our zoo, where it had landed and now looked like a small wooded area.

I opened my eyes and nodded understandingly. Now it was time to find out whether I could be of help. I visualized a man trying to lift a heavy log onto a wagon, made the man look like the alien and then put myself into the picture giving a helping hand.

The alien nodded his head to signal that he understood, but then he tilted his head sideways, indicating uncertainty as to how I could help.

How could I help? - I had been standing up for quite some time and began to tire a bit. The tree next to me and the soft ground invited me to sit down and lean back. Sitting comfortably, my eyes glanced across the clearing. There was the rock I had stumbled over. Next to it stood the Japanese picnic table. The same table I saw in the moonlight. - Or was it? Wait a minute! If I remembered correctly, the table in the night scene did not ....

I jumped to my feet and turned toward the alien, who had been standing there motionlessly. I closed my eyes and re-enacted the lift off scene after the ships conversion into the piece of forest. I opened my eyes, looked at the alien, closed them again and visualized the helping scene and then again the lift off scene. He understood that I wanted him to help me re-enacting the lift off scene. I saw the ship once more lift off and disappear into the night sky. There was the area where it had landed and whose shape it had assumed. I saw the clearing and the picnic table. I took a closer look at the table. Bingo! I was right. The table was normal. Its seating board was not 3 inches off the ground, but at normal seating height, about 20 inches!

I had an idea. A crazy idea. But everything that had been happening here was for from normal. Unusual problems need unusual solutions.

My reasoning was: The limb on the tree corresponded to some switch in the space craft. When I broke the limb, the switch broke. When the switch was repaired, so was the limb. In other words, a problem would show up in both environments. But, when it was corrected in only one of the environments, the correction would automatically also occur in the other one.

I knew that something was wrong with the ship's engine. Suppose this problem had been carried over into the earthly environment. In other words, as the ship had converted into the piece of forest, whatever had been wrong with the engine must have also converted wrongly into something within that piece of forest. Let's go one step further and assume that the picnic table was actually the ship's engine. After all, it was positioned at the center of the forest, in an open area, accessible from all sides. It had one glaring thing wrong with it: The seating board was too low. Since corrections in one environment are carried into the other, why not adjust the seating board to its proper height and see what happens?

I wasn't sure how the alien would react if I would start working on his ship's engine. I looked at him, closed my eyes and visualized myself as a circus performer in a flying trapeze act. I was about to swing out and meet my partner, who was going to swing my way from the other side, catch him in mid air and bring him safely back with me to my platform. I made the alien my partner and performed the act flawlessly and safely.

The alien nodded.

I Looked around for a rock which could serve as a hammer and spotted one just the right size. I picked it up, carefully marking the spot, because I knew that the rock corresponded to something within the space craft and may have to be just at the exact spot where I found it.  Now I knew what brain surgeons experience when they touch a certain part of the brain and thereby trigger a reaction in some part of the corresponding body. I, however, could not see what reactions I caused in the space ship when I, e.g., moved the rock.

Turning the picnic table on its side I used the rock to remove the seating board noticing that the other seating board was the correct height. I had some difficulty maneuvering the rock as two fingers on my right hand had become paralyzed in my childhood during a freak accident. However, I managed to get the board off, aligned it with the other one and hammered it back in place. Now it looked right!

Turning toward the alien, I closed my eyes and visualized him getting into his car and driving it off.  He nodded and signaled for me to close my eyes. When I did, I saw myself with him in his car driving down the road a few hundred feet, then turning around and bringing me back to where we started. He seemed to be inviting me for a test drive. I wasn't sure whether I should. The trapeze act was made to pop into my mind, only this time it was the alien who was catching me in mid air, bringing me safely back to his platform. I felt ashamed. He had trusted me. I must do the same. I nodded affirmatively.

My friend vanished as if Scotty had beamed him up. The ground started to vibrate ever so slightly. Looking up into the sky I noticed the clouds lowering themselves until I could almost touch them. Suddenly they started to race from left to right. After a few moments they slowed down, came to a halt and then started racing into the opposite direction. Once again they slowed down and came to a complete halt. Then they gained in height and finally looked the same as when the alien had vanished. The vibration stopped and the alien traveler re-appeared.

Next to him stood a shiny table whose top looked like a horizontal television screen. The screen displayed a perfectly round, white circle.  Within the circle was positioned a shiny object, about the size of a silver dollar. I was asked to close my eyes, and when I did, I saw myself at my 18th birthday party receiving a gift from Charlie. I opened my eyes and was startled.

I found myself in the zoo's open area, no trees anywhere, only the little table with the white circle and the shiny object was standing next to me. The forest was gone, so was the clearing, the picnic table and the alien. As if they had never been.

I stepped up to the table and reached for the shiny object within the circle. The moment I touched it my hand felt glued to the screen. The white circle became distorted. The table began to hum and vibrate gently as the white circle slowly regained its original perfect shape. The moment the circle was perfectly round again the magnetic pull ceased and my hand was released. Surprised and filled with wonder I picked up the shiny object. No sooner was I holding the object in my hand did the table disappeared into thin air. There was a strange, tingling sensation in my right hand, specifically in my two paralyzed fingers.  Staring at my hand in disbelief I realized that feeling had returned to my paralyzed fingers. I could actually move them. My hand was healed!


        I looked into the sky and for a split second, as long as it took to flash a word onto the screen in my speed reading class, I thought I saw a round ship hovering right above me. But it might have been my imagination. Staring into the sky I noticed two clouds move closer and closer together. Finally they touched and became one, and, with a little imagination I could see that they formed the shape of a heart.