A Saucer of Loneliness
"A Saucer of Loneliness" is a short story by Theodore Sturgeon which first appeared in Galaxy Magazine in February 1953. It was later adapted as a radio play for X Minus One in 1957; and as the second segment of the twenty-fifth episode (the first episode of the second season, 1986–87) of the television series The Twilight Zone.
The short story is told from the point of view of a man who rescues a would-be suicide at the sea shore. The unnamed woman tells her story reluctantly. She heard and understood a message from a flying saucer. When she refused to reveal the message, she was imprisoned, rejected, and ridiculed, but she still would not say what the alien space ship told her.
In 2004, "A Saucer Of Loneliness" was nominated for a 'Retro Hugo' for Short Story 1954 (Hugo Award for Best Short Story). It was also the title of the seventh book in the anthology series The Collected Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, published in 2000.
Twilight Zone episode
|"The Saucer of Loneliness"|
|The Twilight Zone (1985 series) episode|
|Episode no.||Season 2
|Directed by||John D. Hancock|
|Written by||David Gerrold
|Original air date||September 27, 1986|
The TV adaptation differs from the short story in several aspects mostly due to TV storytelling requirements. The woman's loneliness, revealed only gradually in the short story, is obvious from the beginning in the episode. The time frame is shorter. The resolution (the orb) is missing in the short story.
Margaret is a lonely waitress who enjoys walking on the beach. When she returns home after work one night, her mother criticizes her for being unmarried at her age. Margaret wanders into her bedroom and cries herself to sleep. The next day on her way to work, Margaret becomes part of a crowd on the beach who are watching a flying saucer. It wanders around as if looking for someone. It follows Margaret and apparently communicates with her, but then she falls unconscious. When she revives, she insists that the spacecraft "spoke" to her. She states that the saucer specifically wanted to give only her a message, but she doesn't reveal the message. Government authorities capture and examine the saucer, but find it completely empty. They are unable to identify the composition of the metal hull.
Margaret's mother throws her out of the house. After finding a place to live, Margaret returns to the beach as if searching for something. On the crowded boardwalk, she is approached by people who think that Jesus spoke to her through the saucer; they believe that Margaret can heal their son. Margaret flees in tears. She writes notes, places them in bottles and throws them into the ocean. Each note begins with the phrase, "To the loneliest one".
A patron of the restaurant where she works asks Margaret for a date. Margaret buys a new outfit for the date. The date is initially enjoyable for her, until her date asks about the saucer's message. Margaret becomes upset and insists that the message is private and for her alone. She ends the date and goes home.
Desperate and without hope, Margaret walks along the beach and decides to commit suicide. She walks into the ocean, but a man comes from behind and pulls her out. He explains that he found one of her bottles and was touched by the message. She tells him it was the only thing she could call her own, and the only thing she could do for another like herself was to pass the message along. The man says that when he read it, he knew it was connected to the saucer and the words were like a song. Margaret explains that the saucer was just an interstellar "message in a bottle", just like her bottles thrown into the ocean. Her messages were her own words, an imperfect translation of the saucer's message. She shows the man the actual message, which takes the form of a glowing orb in the palm of her hand. They caress the orb together in their hands and then it disappears. Margaret and the man walk onward, arm in arm.
Message found in a bottle, sender unknown. Still alive or long dead. The last of his species or a traveler marooned on alien shores. Perhaps in the end, all that matters is this: that even to loneliness, there is an end. And for those who are lonely enough, long enough, a message cast adrift on the darkest beaches...of the Twilight Zone.