A journeyman ufologist's introduction to the abduction phenomenon usually begins with a recounting of the capture of Betty and Barney Hill in New Hampshire in 1961. Believed at the time to be the first kidnapping of humans by UFO occupants, the Hills' account contains virtually all of the elements contained in later narratives (which reached a near-fever pitch in the mid-1990s, stoked by an obliging media and the success of several influential books).
There's little doubt that something unusual happened to the Hills. At the very least, both Betty and Barney recalled seeing an unidentified object apparently trailing their car. The account becomes more explicit upon Barney's attempt to view the object through binoculars; upon magnification, he witnessed a "pancake"-shaped vehicle sporting triangular fins and red lights. More startling yet, he could discern occupants behind a row of windows, including one raptly staring humanoid he found especially threatening. The ensuing abduction has become the stuff of ufological legend, as has the Hills bout with "missing time," an element that recurs throughout later accounts.
Under hypnosis by Boston psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Simon, Betty recalled a conspicuously chatty alien "leader" whose human demeanor was only slightly less outlandish than his bizarre questions. (Ironically, the Hill abduction -- widely cited as one of the best cases to suggest an extraterrestrial origin for UFOs -- is at least as amenable to indigenous beings engaged in deliberate psychodrama. The "leader's" presentation, complete with 3-D star map showing alien trade routes -- seems staged, his queries sampled from "B"-movie science fiction.
Nevertheless, one comes away from the Hill episode forced to confront what was almost certainly a "real" encounter. But the reigning interpretation -- that the Hills were the victims of a chance run-in with ET interlopers -- owes more of its appeal to the mythological syntax at our disposal than any particular piece of evidence. (Barney's testimony, while deemed sincere by Simon, is notably less explicit than Betty's, and may well betray unwitting contamination from his wife.)
Inquiry into the nascent abduction phenomenon was forced to adapt to the now-familiar reproductive overtones upon the rediscovery of the Antonio Villas Boas case of 1957. Boas, a farmer, claimed a forcible encounter with a UFO in which he had sex with a fair-skinned female. Like today's "Grays," Boas described his seductress as short and large-eyed, with a lipless mouth and pointed chin that suggest the cover painting for Whitley Strieber's best-selling "Communion," not published until 1987. Though exotic, she was far from the specimen expected from mere erotic fantasy; Boas himself described her as paradoxically repellent and desirable. Reading his account (initially censored by the UFO community), one wonders in what ways Boas might have been coerced into his sexual encounter: an ordeal that left him oddly emasculated, resigned to having served as mere breeding stock. (Although critics are quick to point out his possibly self-aggrandizing reference to himself as a "prize stud.")
Before Boas was escorted off the "spaceship," the woman pointed significantly to her abdomen and in the direction of the sky. Advocates of the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis have interpreted this as a reference to the woman's ET heritage, but at the same time they've effectively ignored the troublesome prospect of genetic compatibility. Granted that Boas had intercourse with an extraterrestrial, what are the chances that two independently evolved humanoid species could "mate" in any viable sense?
In "Revelations," Jacques Vallee compares the feasibility of conceiving a human-alien hybrid to that of a human attempting to breed with an insect. Certainly, if Boas encountered a genuine ET, then "they" have achieved a most remarkable degree of impersonation -- not an altogether impossible achievement for a civilization capable of traveling between stars but one that arouses substantial skepticism. The law of parsimony begs the speculation that the beings who abducted Boas were human in at least some essential respects.
Contemporary abduction reports are fraught with much of the same ambiguity. While an abductee's surroundings may seem bizarre enough to an addled witness, evidence of extrasolar origin is at best superficial. Occasionally an abductee reports visionary episodes (apparently instigated by the abductors with the assistance of audio-visual technology that recalls Betty Hill's famous star map). Abduction researchers like Budd Hopkins and David Jacobs are forever on the lookout for hypnotically derived alien symbols, perhaps glimpsed on walls or uniforms, in hopes of finding validating tools for future research.
But what too often passes unmentioned is the relative dearth of reports involving transport from the abductee's normal environment to that of the supposed ETs. In many cases, no mention is made of a UFO or "spaceship"; the transition from "here" to "there" proceeds with unnerving haste, often accompanied by partial amnesia and a wordless certainty of having been taken vast distances. (Reports of actually visiting otherworldly locales, common fare in the heyday of the contactees, are seldom encountered in the abduction literature.)
The quintessential alien environment is spartan, unencumbered by decor. The aliens are characterized as colorless, dispassionate creatures whose behavior resembles that of hive-dwelling insects or even machines. As in the Hill case, there's sometimes a "leader" in attendance, although the tone of the abduction is far from conversational. Any "wisdom" imparted by the aliens is predominantly vague or philosophically obstinate. And while the beings can seem terrifically unearthly in the flesh, they avoid explicit references that might shed light on their origin or purpose.
Debunkers have pounced on the endlessly elusive nature of the abduction experience in order to expediently dismiss it. In "The Demon-Haunted World," for example, Carl Sagan laments the fact that abductees have yet to emerge with artifacts that would demonstrate the physical reality of their experiences.