It was an unseasonably warm day last November when I headed down to San Antonio in search of the secluded setting where Whitley Strieber says he was first initiated, at age nine, into the mysteries of the cosmos—or, to put it in Star Trek terms, where he claims to have made “first contact” with beings from another world. Strieber, who grew up in San Antonio, left Texas in 1968, and returned in 1995 to write a book, “came out” a decade ago as an alien abductee. At the time, he was best known for his horror fiction novels; The Wolfen and The Hunger, about urban wolves and vampires, respectively, which had been made into movies. In 1987, however, he published his first nonfiction book, Communion, which described how assorted “visitors” painfully probed him at an upstate New York cabin. Despite the fantastic nature of his claims, or perhaps because of it, the book was an immediate hit, selling more than 10 million copies and turning Strieber into a cult figure.
In mid-January Strieber released his latest book, The Secret School: Preparation for Contact (HarperCollins), a prequel to Communion in which he recounts earlier run-ins with the visitors, and it is sure to generate its share of attention and controversy. Strieber, who is 51, writes of his phantasmagoric experiences in a “secret school”—a sort of preteen cabal, led by a mysterious hooded figure, that met in the Olmos Basin, the wooded flood-control area near the University of the Incarnate Word in north central San Antonio. It’s precisely the sort of story that begs to be investigated—after all, like Communion, The Secret School is billed as nonfiction—so last fall, armed with a map of the city and an advance copy of the book, I set out to find the key places he describes.
At first I thought I would ask Strieber to join me, but when I phoned him, he wasn’t willing to play along and hung up on me abruptly. His wife, Anne, had warned me that he prefers to do his interviews on television and radio since he has no control over how he is presented in print. Actually, Strieber has been treated rather gingerly by the mainstream media. When he made the rounds of TV talk shows to publicize Communion, only Phil Donahue was skeptical enough to make fun of him, suggesting that an odd whooshing sound Strieber had heard one night at the cabin might have been a flushing toilet. Strieber’s most vocal critics, ironically, have been other UFO buffs, who apparently resented the million-dollar advance he received for Communion and regarded him as an interloper. Not to be outdone, Strieber has written that he considers some ufologists to be “probably the cruelest, nastiest, and craziest people I have encountered.”
Whoever Strieber’s critics may be, they rarely accuse him of lying (in fact,