One Starless Winter Night


Sitting around the fire roasting marshmallows, we were looking at the stars when Susan said, “I wonder how many other people there are out there?”

“Ya mean Little Green Men?” came a hoot from the florid and bilious Ichabod Snerd, he of the hip flask fame.  “Ain’t no such-a thing.  We’z all the people the Good Lord needs.  Just a bunch-a horseshit, `tall it is,” said Ichabod with a tone of finality as he uncapped his flask for another snort.

Well, that sort of put a damper on things.  We all stopped talking and looked into the flames as little Gretchen mounted another marshmallow and thrust it into the fire.  It remained quiet for several minutes until I decided to speak.

“Hey, Snerd,” I said, “gimme a pull of that flask and I’ll tell you a story.”  He handed it over and I drank deeply.

“Back in the late `60s, I had a job peddling test equipment in and around Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  Kind of a no-account job, but it sometimes paid enough to buy food.  Now the company’s branch office was over in Golden Valley in Minnesota and one day, the boss called a meeting.  It was in January, the dead of winter.

“So I loaded the company van with my lunch and a Thermos of hot coffee, and set out.  The meeting took about three hours longer than I’d expected, which means it let out at around six-thirty.  I gassed up at a Mobil station and headed east on I-94.

“The night was starless; a low ceiling of clouds hung in the sky, though the snow offered a bit of light reflected from the city.  From East of St.Paul, I-94 had not yet been completed to Chicago and Milwaukee, though it did pass by Eau Clair.  Which meant traffic on this stretch was almost non-existent — maybe one car per half-hour.  Oh, and was it cold!  If I remember correctly, some twenty-odd degrees below zero accompanied by a light haze.

“Once past Hudson, Wisconsin, the city lights were far behind and it was as dark as the Infernal Pit.  The only light to be seen came from my headlights and the dashboard.  After all the coffee, I had to take a leak but it was so lonely out there I just pulled over on the shoulder and went (something you could not do today).

“Anyway, there was this bend going around a low hill on my left and as I came around the curve on the far side of the hill, I saw some farmer on the other side of the freeway, out in his field with a big-assed machine.  ‘What the hell’s that fool doing out here?’ I wondered.  I was going around sixty, so I slowed and took a good look.  With lights all over it, I thought it was a tractor rigged for night work.

“Well, this ‘tractor’ was about the size of a three-story house and it had three tiers of big floodlights, some white, some red, some a sort of greenish-blue.  Each tier appeared to be rotating around the machine, one to the right, one to the left, the other to the right.

“I was trying to figure out what it was but another hill was beginning to eclipse it.  ‘I’ll be damned,’ I said to myself and decided to go back for another look.  The only place to turn around was four-to-six miles up the road so I zeroed the trip odometer in order to find this spot.

“Ten minutes or so later, the hill came into sight and I slowed.  Adjacent to the shallow declivity in which I saw the “farmer’s” machine, I stopped, parked, killed the engine and got out.  The machine was gone.  Moreover, there was no sound like a large diesel engine would make, and it would take a large one to move a thing like that.  Also there was no glow from the thing’s lights, which one would expect at night — and there were no visible tracks.  I knew there were no farm buildings within miles, so it couldn’t have gotten to a barn or garage.  I stood there in the still, cold night, smoking a cigarette and wondering just what was that thing?

“It didn’t fit with anything in my experience.

“Then it hit me; I’d read descriptions of things almost exactly like this: Flying saucers.  I redoubled my efforts to see or hear anything and scanned the sky for signs.  Nothing.  Vowing to come back in the morning to look for tracks, I again zeroed my odometer and headed home.  Well, I came back and, sure enough, there were no tracks; the snow lay there unblemished.”

Snerd took another snort as Westcott leaned forward and said, “Yeah, right.”  Ellen had wrapped her arms around herself and her eyes were bigger than usual.

“Jo, you buying any of this?” Snerd asked, nodding in my direction.

“Yes, absolutely,” my wife said flatly.

Snerd took a deep breath and exhaled loudly.  “Yeah, well,” he said, “I gotta be goin home.  Five o`clock comes early.”  The others agreed and picked up their stuff while I put out the embers.  Jo and I walked everyone out to the street and we all said our good nights.  We waived at one another and as they moved off down the street, I saw some steal looks at the sky.

Some other interesting tid-bits:

  • Infrequent stories of things in the sky have come down through the ages.  But they only really got going after we blew off the A-bomb in the New Mexican desert.
  • The so-called “Roswell Incident” took place just miles from the US Air Force base where the 509th Composite Group is based — the 509th being the outfit that A-bombed Japan.
  • President Carter saw one.

Assuming these things are what they appear to be, our government probably keeps them under wraps for fear Earth’s civilization will collapse, should we ever find out.  They’re probably right.  Religion will take a big hit as people lose their faiths (Ya mean we’z ain’t the only ones?).  Otherwise-stable people will blow out their brains or jump out of windows.  Most folks will just be scared shitless.  Not a few will feel so inferior to the Space Aliens that they give up working and take to drink — just like the Inca after the Spaniards landed.

So the Little Green Men will continue flitting about the sky, letting us get used to them — and we are.  When I was a kid, stories about Bug-Eyed Monsters were confined to the dime-store pulps.  Now we have Star Trek, Star Wars, Alien, Avatar and so on, all peopled by extra terrestrials of every sort.  Plus, we’ve been to the moon, built a space station, flew the shuttle and have sent probes out beyond the solar system.

If the Little Green Men give us a few more years of gentle and increasing exposure, most people will be inoculated against fear and dread.  The Space Aliens will know we won’t come unglued when, one fine day, they land on the White House lawn.

-Merlin-

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