As a child, I was fascinated by the phenomenon of UFOs. My best friend growing up (I will call her Melissa) and I would spend evenings staring at the sky at our homes and reporting to each other in class the next day if we had seen anything. The short answer was generally “no” most of the time, or an exited “yes” that was quickly turned to disappointment upon realizing that we had likely seen an airplane and that our imaginations had filled in the rest with what we were hoping to see. As we were kids around the age of nine or ten, sky-gazing was limited to summer nights without curfews or, once school started again, the winter months when the sun set earlier so that we could stare into the vastness of the universe for a glimpse of extraterrestrial technology before our bedtimes at 9:00.
We frequently watched The X-Files or the film Fire in the Sky, and Melissa was even convinced at one point that she had been abducted by aliens at least two times. Looking back, she had likely experienced nightmares or even sleep paralysis that had tinges of alien life influenced by subconscious memories of the shows we had been watching, and the plethora of paranormal reading material we subjected ourselves to in the Alien/Bigfoot Clubhouse that her father had built. Regardless, it was still a thrilling, but at times, frightening adventure for two fourth graders living in a small town in Central Massachusetts with the nearest city being the (still) dangerous Worcester, a bunch of semi-rural neighbouring towns, and a lot of nothing to do.
As I have previously stated when I began this folklore/paranormal section of my blog, I am (today) a skeptic and can safely rule out many encounters with the supernatural with scientific explanations, as misidentifications, or as flat our hoaxes. When the internet went ablaze with hype over the declassification of three UFO videos by the Pentagon, I still do not believe that the objects in the footage are alien. More than likely, the objects are aircraft or devices being tested by other outfits of the US military and the witnesses were not part of that operation and, therefore, not notified for security reasons. Militaries are complex machines, and when new technology is in development only those with the proper clearance for that particular project know what is going on, leaving other members of the armed services in the dark about what is likely new equipment that could become available for wider use in the years to come.
That being said, there was one night in grade school when my routine searches of the night sky actually produced something. It was quarter of 1:00 in the morning on a Sunday in the middle of winter. I woke up needing to use the bathroom which was a mere two metres from my bedroom and, when finished, decided to raise the shade and take a peek outside one last time before going back to sleep. That is when I saw this:
A perfect sphere of bright, white light surrounded by an opaque halo was slowly moving in a southbound direction towards Worcester from the north, from about the location of Lunenburg or Leominster. It made its way over the neighbouring streets silently. It had a small tail trailing from behind it that flickered outwards from the orb and retracted back into it at a steady rate of about 90 pulses per minute (I am using my metronome to calculate the pattern of the tail, as unscientific as that is). The light was so bright that it pierced through the thick fir trees that dotted the backyard of my childhood home at the time. The bathroom window faced westward at 284° and the object was moving from about 345° N to about 275° W before disappearing behind the trees, houses and hills (thank you, smartphone compass apps for more accuracy, but still less science). The entire event lasted less than a minute, but I never blinked or took my eyes off of the light as it made its journey into oblivion.
It was a UFO in the absolute strictest sense: an object in the sky with the appearance of flight that could not be identified.
I went back to sleep with a feeling of satisfaction to have finally witnessed something that I remember feeling the biggest smirk across my face as I nodded off. Of course Melissa was ecstatic that I had an actual sighting, but nobody else in our class believed me, and this was a story that I could not wait to share. I remember, when describing the motions of the tail, I was ridiculed by another kid who claimed that I was the one who had a tail “moving in and out.” That has no bearing on the story; I just find it amusing, especially now after 26 years have passed. (Also, your classmates were assholes.)
Now that nearly three decades have passed since that close encounter of the first kind, my skeptical brain has come to two conclusions that would explain what I had witnessed.
As a child, I suffered from anxiety induced insomnia that worsened around school, so my paediatrician had recommended that I take a Tylenol PM if I was having difficulty sleeping or became too nervous about attending the next day for my predictable ass whooping at the hands of the class bully. I was likely in a very drowsy state and just conscious enough to make my way to the bathroom to take a whiz, and upon looking out the window, saw what I had wanted to see. I was probably in a sort of sleepwalking state and all of the exposure to paranormal literature, The X-Files, and the desire to actually see something resulted in what was basically a hallucination.
The UFO was just an airplane or helicopter at an odd angle. The “tail” that I had seen could have been a light on the rear of an ordinary aircraft or life flight heading to the local hospital. The cold, dense air of winter could have played with the appearance of the lights and, combined with my drowsiness and imagination, became something extraordinary. At the time, there was an active military base in Devens and it could also have been a military aircraft performing exercises or other routine maneuvers.
I hate for a story like this to be anticlimactic, but I just cannot rule out misidentification, and the fact that I was taking medication at the time for insomnia does not make me a reliable source.
I would like to take my usual blogging in a different direction for the moment. Instead of writing about school or posting satirical articles in between major posts, I want to share a weird experience I had back in 2002. I choose to say “weird” over “paranormal” as I enjoy debunking the paranormal and do not generally believe in such nonsense: UFOs outside of the strictest sense (meaning something seen in the sky that could not be identified) are usually fake or easily explained away. Bigfoot would definitely have been discovered by now given deforestation and wildfires. I think the dead have better things to do than lurking in just one room of a 200-year-old farmhouse and waiting for a team of investigators to come by with a flimsy tape recorder or various radio devices that easily pickup stray signals.
As I have said before, I consider myself to be a very spiritual soul. I am merely stating that when it comes to what is broadcast on The Travel Channel or Destination America or any paranormal “reality” show, that I am highly skeptical and even when reading other people’s accounts of strange happenings or encounters, I try to be as scientific as possible. This does not mean I am not open to the idea of strange things, just that I would rather approach such events with rationality rather than jumping to the conclusion of “ghosts/aliens/Bigfoot did it.”
(Also, as an aside, I cannot believe how many of these “reality” shows involve people looking for monsters like The Rake or Slenderman. They were created less than fifteen years ago on the internet. You can easily research it. It is fiction.)
During the summers, my family would spend two weeks in Gloucester, MA. Our days were kept busy on the beach, deep sea fishing, shopping in Rockport, or visiting the historical sights and shops in Salem. During our vacation in 2002, my parents thought it would be fun to visit Salem during the Halloween season, so they booked a single night at our usual hotel in Gloucester for October and made reservations for a haunted tour of Salem. My sister and I were both excited, not so much for ghostly encounters as for seeing the city at night during the peak of its season when every attraction and oddity would be on full display.
After school on a Friday in mid-autumn, we drove to Essex County, checked into the hotel and proceeded to head out to Salem for dinner and to start our night of adventures. We ate at an Irish pub with traditional atmosphere that was incredible; I had some of the best steak tips I have ever eaten, and my sister had a delicious Guinness beef stew that we all had to try. As we left the restaurant, it was becoming dark and the streets were lined with people in costumes, witch shops on full display that my sister and I explored to no end, and the entire city was filled with a carnival atmosphere that made us think of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
We had a few hours before the ghost tour, so we had fun exploring the cobblestone streets and openly talking about witchcraft, hauntings, and the non-racist Lovecraftian charms of the region and the secrets it could be hiding in the darkened alleyways. It was during this time that we came across a strange sight. There was what appeared to be a ballroom event going on inside one of the buildings. The people were all dressed in 1920s attire with antique chinaware and utensils. Some sat at their tables and appeared to be waiting for food, as there was none visible, and others were dancing in early 20th century tuxedos and gowns beneath elaborate chandeliers of the same period. My parents, my sister and I all saw the event and actually had a laugh, dubbing it "the goth restaurant" given the unusual attire of those inside and how it reminded us of some of the goth and emo kids we knew of in school. We made a note of the location as we wanted to at least see it later, or to even go there the next summer on our vacation, and then headed to the meeting place for the ghost tour.
The haunted tour of Salem was very interesting. It began in the downtown area and went through the historic cemetery, the location of the prison where the accused witches were held awaiting trial, the execution sites, outside the homes of notable colonial leaders, and finished near a recently defunct state prison that was creepier than anything else. It was outside the historic witch prison that I could have sworn I felt someone touch first my right shoulder, and when I turned, I clearly felt the sensation of slender fingers moving gently over my lips without anyone being around to do so. I do not have an explanation for this, but perhaps it was a breeze and the power of suggestion at such a dark historical site.
One of the most memorable events occurred when we were near an intersection and taking a break at the halfway point of the excursion. A dark van slowed and stopped near our tour group and the windows slowly came down. I thought we were about to be gunned down by a bunch of gangsters but instead, a mime stuck its head out and started doing a routine to loud techno music before driving off. We were roaring with laughter and called it a “drive by miming” from that moment on.
The assembly returned to the starting area and we disembarked as a second tour was preparing. It was still early in the night and we continued to explore the city when my father suggested that we go back to “the goth restaurant” to find an address so we could search for it at home with Northern Light. This was a long time ago. We didn’t use Google back then. We made our way through the streets and side paths until we reached the location of the ballroom. However, there was nothing there.
The building where we had seen the event was completely boarded-up and blocked off by a wrought iron fence. The fence itself was padlocked, and another padlock was on the boarded-up door. A large red “X” was plastered to the entrance, indicating it was cleared for firefighters and for demolition teams. We assumed we had the wrong building and street, so we continued down the avenue to the next corner and it was a busy way filled with costumed party-goers and was obviously the wrong area for where we had seen the ballroom. We went in another direction and came to a museum, again nowhere near the right location for the strange restaurant. We travelled all over this one area of Salem, retracing our steps from the parking garage to the Irish pub and then to the ballroom. No matter how many times we looked, the location where we had seen the guests in 1920s garb always landed us back at the abandoned building.
We spent over an hour going in every direction to find the location where just a short while before we had witnessed dozens of people interacting with one another in period dress. There was no sign of anything close to what we had seen and the only place we kept winding up at was the dilapidated wreck of a structure straight out of Innsmouth. We asked around the shops as they were closing and nobody knew of any such event in the area occurring that night, and nobody had seen it either. When asked about the location, we were told that it had been abandoned for a long time and nobody would have been there, let alone inside it.
We let out a collective “huh” and went back to the parking garage to drive to the hotel for the evening. All four of us saw the same thing, in the same detail. To this day, none of us know what to think of it. Even my highly skeptical, atheist father has no idea what happened that night. He suggests that it was a wormhole of some sort that we must have walked through and either sent us back a century or provided a glimpse into it. My mother says it was a time warp or even a gathering of spirits. My sister had suggested all sorts of ideas from ghosts to gas leaks/mass hysteria to time travel. Myself? I have no idea. It makes no sense, but it makes for a great story.
I would often read about “glitches in the Matrix” online and blew them off as typical paranormal drivel or, as James Randi would call it, woo. However, I typically read or listen to those stories with a little bit more of an open mind now.