(In light of recent revelations in The Washington Post about the military and recent UFO sightings we bring you a local story written by a local writer about his own experience many years ago...)
My Close Encounter: One Man's Story
by Charles Bailey
Special to BAMSouth.org
It was during that phase in life when a boy’s bicycle is the center of his universe, which would place me around the age of 11 or 12.
I wasn’t a fully-bloomed teenager, but I wasn’t exactly a kid anymore. Once a boy reaches 14 or certainly by 15, his bike has typically been abandoned in the garage or a storage shed.
So (as you’ll see), it happened when my yellow, single-gear Schwinn was my only means of rapid transit around our neighborhood and through the tangled woods that encircled it.
Having lived in Mississippi my entire life, I can tell you that on a per capita basis, my state has more than its share of paranormally-driven tales. Everybody’s cousin, friend, or grandfather has a ghost story (or probably, more often than not, an urban legend) that they’re willing to swear happened to them. “Morphydite Road” is one that I vividly recall, and still halfway believe.
Certain cities and towns are, by reputation, teeming with ghosts. Pre-Civil War mansions still stand in Mississippi, and many now serve as stately bed-and-breakfast inns. Of course, they’re all haunted as hell. The hunters here will readily testify to having stepped over tracks that were either too large or too deformed (three uniform toes, for instance) to have been left by any known animal. Aside from the footprints, there are alleged actual sightings. Those stories typically end this way: “Wasn’t no damn bear, walkin’ upright like that.”
We all have stories. I’m about to tell you mine.
First, a guide. What follows is wholly a product of memory. I have no empirical evidence to support any of what I will relate. Other than myself, there were no witnesses. I can only swear that certain memories concerning this event are so vivid (all these years later) and the experience was so unnerving, that my voice shakes on the rare occasions when I feel compelled to share it.
And I’ve discovered that memories do not hang around in singular, linear fashion. We believe that memory works like this: A plus B leads to C, which descends into D, which progresses to E, before climaxing with F and finally, G. It doesn’t. Ask the five people who witness the same car crash from five different angles. Memory--let’s just put it out there--is quite often a crafty little liar. In my case, A and B are a little fuzzy, but C is fully there. D has issues. E definitely happened. My senses were sharp and alert for F, and certainly with G.
But there were unanswered questions in the aftermath, and those concerned me the most. Was this the product of an adolescent’s imagination? Why had I, or why had I not, done certain things in the hours and days that followed? I have no ready answers. I will attempt to address those troubling post-encounter issues.
Lingering fragments of memory, logical deduction, possible motivations, and character assessments will be combined to address my own skepticism, and possibly, add a splash of plausible color to an otherwise room gone dark, or the blank spots in my little liar of a memory.
The cast of characters, unfortunately, is limited to one: me. I’ve lost contact with nearly all my childhood friends (one or more of whom might recall me making crazy claims about something I saw in the sky), but I’m nearly certain that I never told any of my friends. My sister, who was four years older, plays a fairly major role in the post-encounter speculation, but she died in November of 2014. I certainly never told my parents, so they are non-players.
Assuming that I was 11 when it happened, it would have been the summer of 1975. Let’s go with that. I can’t remember any earlier events of that day (why would I?), but the film clip in my mind begins rolling at dusk, that period just after the sun has set but plenty of lingering daylight remains.
When I was growing up, dinner was usually between 7 and 8 p.m. My parents didn’t care whether my sister and I made it to the table on time, but missing dinner meant fending for yourself from the refrigerator later. I was sitting on my bike at the left-center edge of our driveway, my right foot on the concrete, my left on a pedal, wondering if I could stir up any neighborhood action or whether dinner at the table was the better option. There was a perpendicular crack (by design) running across the portion of the driveway that was nearest to the road, and I was positioned about four feet below that crack.
What happened next had begun before I realized it.
I never saw a tiny object high in the sky and wondered, ‘What is that?’ But whatever it was had (I assume) descended in essentially a straight drop, and as it fell closer to Earth and revealed itself, it caught my attention.
Initially, at least, the letters UFO didn’t occur to me. There was an active National Guard base adjacent to our neighborhood, and helicopters routinely buzzed just above the tree line surrounding the subdivision, whether they were taking off or coming in to land. During the course of a backyard football game, we might see four, five or more flying just overhead. So that was probably my first thought: “the Guard base.”
That notion was almost immediately discredited.
Because the National Guard station was located on a clear-cut, flat piece of land, the choppers would lift, then depart, on a horizontal flight path once they’d cleared the office buildings and power lines surrounding the base. They would leave in any number of directions, but to land, they would invariably come in from east to west, above the rooftops that lined my street. The object in the sky was dropping vertically---from the clouds to the ground.
As it grew larger (and therefore, closer), its shape began to take form. The very few times I’ve told this story (to my wife, for example), I’ve described the craft as having “the classic saucer shape.” That’s not entirely true. Yes, it looked like two cereal bowls stacked together--the lower half right-side-up and the top upside-down--but it was more round than saucer-shaped. There was a protruding edge or seal around the middle. It slowly descended to a point about 200 feet above the trees in our backyard, where it stopped and hovered. It had a metallic finish, like the exterior of a stainless-steel cooking pot, but this is where the memory grows fuzzy.
If you ask whether it had a ring of lights circling it, or windows or doors, I cannot say. I can only swear to its roundish shape and metallic appearance.
Another sound piece of memory is that after I’d determined it was not a helicopter, and as it fell on that direct, downward path, I literally became gripped with fear. As I mentioned, my left foot was on the pedal of my bike, and I’m certain of that because my left foot was my “launch” foot. As much as I wanted to peel ass out of our driveway and escape to the woods and hide, I couldn’t. There were two things happening on the planet at that moment: I was sitting on my bike looking up, and something was hanging silently in mid-air above the trees in my backyard.
Terrified as I was watching this thing drop from the sky, once it stopped (as I say, roughly 200 feet above the trees), fear immediately dissolved, and I was flushed with fascination. The object no longer seemed threatening, but thoroughly amazing. The next nagging and missing memory is just how long it hovered there. I’ve tried to nail that down, but the answer remains out of reach. Certainly less than one minute, but at least 20 seconds or more.
I distinctly remember wondering, ‘Is it watching me?’ The final clue that this was no National Guard helicopter was the silence that enveloped both myself and the object. I don’t know about civilian or private copters, but military-grade models are designed for jobs that don’t require passenger comfort. In other words, they are noisy, particularly when they’re directly overhead.
I watched as it wobbled ever so slightly there in the sky. Just as I was coming to love this experience (strange choice of words, but accurate), the object almost literally disappeared. It shot away so suddenly--like a rapid blur--on a horizontal line to the east that I could barely trace its departure. It was gone, but it left enough of a visual trail that my eyes detected the direction.
Remember the opening of Star Trek when the USS Enterprise hits warp speed, and is gone? It was like that, but much faster. So I sat there, and dinner was now an absent, irrelevant thought. Twilight was coming, so I’d guess that this all occurred at some point between 7:20 and 7:45 p.m. From the moment I noticed the craft descending until the instant that it disappeared probably spanned 40 seconds. I’d say that 20 of the 40 seconds ticked down when the object was hovering above my house. Then it was gone, out of sight, in about three seconds, max.
You’ve seen jets take off at airports. This wasn’t the gradual departure of a jet until it fades out of sight. This thing went from stationary to gone---WHOOSH---just like that.
And still I doubt myself, and my little liar of a memory.
From Wikipedia.com: Ockham's Razor. “The problem-solving principle that the simplest solution tends to be the right one. When presented with competing hypotheses to solve a problem, one should select the solution with the fewest assumptions.”
I have questions, and attempts to address them might violate every tenant of Ockham’s Razor, but here goes:
Why didn’t I tell my friends? I remember daylight dwindling, and sitting on my bike, half watching the sky (in case it came back) and half looking down, attempting to process the freak out of what had just occurred. It was still twilight. So why didn’t I pedal around the block and tell everybody? My first guess is that this was a completely personal experience. If you’ve had one of those, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t--trust me--it’s something you absorb, not something you immediately run and tell. STATUS: Somewhat addressed, with lingering uneasiness.
So, did I tell anybody? My answer is yes, I believe I told my sister. She was four years older, somewhat aloof, but dammit--it was over the roof of her house, too. I’m fairly sure that I told her. I imagine her reaction was to throw something at me and tell me to go away. If I was 11, she was 15. And I was surely afflicted with Annoying Idiot Little Brother (AILB) Syndrome. I guess that my disclosure to my sister, heartfelt as it no doubt was, went nowhere (assuming that it happened, which I’m fairly sure it did). STATUS: On a 1-to-10 scale, I’m at a 7. I wish she were here to verify, shoot me down, or say, “I seem to remember something like that, yeah.”
What do I think it was? I can check off things that it was not: it wasn’t a helicopter or a standard commercial jet, and weather balloons (however round and metallic they may appear) don’t have mechanical horizontal thrust. Was it a prototype British Harrier Jump Jet? Very possibly. But I don’t think the plane (which can rise from the ground like a helicopter) was in such mass production in 1975 that it would be commonly sighted in the United States. It was later manufactured here, but not in 1975.
If you look at the Harrier, it does have a roundish appearance (for a jet), and a metallic finish. We had a helicopter landing zone just next door, but how did it shoot off like it did on a horizontal line? Again, I was 11. A jet hovering down, hanging there, then rapidly departing would have been an amazing thing. The Harrier, or some sort of experimental military craft, would be my best guess. But the fat, roundish shape of the object (with its protruding center seal) did not reasonably resemble the Harrier.
And why would a military jet, even a prototype, do what it did? Also, the silence. But imagine that you’d witnessed a Stealth bomber flying low over your home before you’d ever seen a photo of one. As a child, this event would have certainly hauled your belief system in for a thorough interrogation. The fact that my object was metallic and round (and silent) does not disqualify this theory that it was a Harrier or a similar experimental bomber, but does shoot some holes in it. STATUS: See Ockham’s Razor.
Do I have any doubts concerning my most vivid memories? Absolutely not. I Google-mapped a street view of our old house after I’d described the scene in a previous draft of this story. The crack in the driveway was precisely where I knew it was. I was about four feet behind it and about three feet from the road. The trees that the object hovered between were still there (at least when the latest Google maps truck drove by).They were taller than before, naturally, but the house seemed smaller. The twin palm trees that my Dad had planted on either side of the driveway were gone, but the mounds where they once stood remained. STATUS: Unshakable.
What did I do in the immediate aftermath? I can’t answer this. I remember sitting there, in the driveway, as darkness began to fall. The next memory: I was in my room, on the edge of the lower of two bunk beds. Bare feet on the carpet, staring into a void. That’s when I think that I decided to tell my sister. If that happened, it’s safe to say that she wasn’t a compatriot. At some point, the normal click of time returned, and life fell back in line. I can’t recall dwelling on it in the following days, which I’ll admit is odd as hell.
Still, in the gap between "observation" and "waking up the next day," I distinctly remember sitting on my bed and trying to process it and being 100 percent baffled. An 11-year-old’s deduction skills are not the sharpest. That’s when you go to your older sibling’s room. STATUS: See AILB Syndrome.
Do I believe it was a craft carrying extraterrestrial life? No. If you gave me 10 potential explanations, “aliens on board” would be No. 10 on my list. It was nothing I’d ever witnessed, it fell from the clouds to the tree line, and it disappeared in a manner that was nearly imperceptible to the human eye. And ‘UFO’ remains the last on my “plausible explanation” list.
Do I believe in extraterrestrial life? It’s a damned big universe. Our sun, the greatest object in sight, is dwarfed by other stars. There are billions more suns--some smaller, some much larger--in our galaxy alone. The Milky Way, which contains our solar system and “us,” is less than a pinprick on the face of the universe, and we are insignificant within our own galaxy. Roughly one million Earths could be contained within our sun, which is classified within Population I of the universe. Population III objects are out there, but likely will never be seen; they’re beyond our reach.
You’d be a fool to close your mind, lock it shut, and deny the possibility. I simply did not see enough. I wished that whatever it was had come back, trusting me enough to reveal more of itself. It did not. STATUS: Consider all explanations before going there.
I saw something fall from the sky. A metallic ball that descended on a direct trajectory from the clouds, with a protruding, darkened seal around its center. It made absolutely no noise as it hung there, hovering just above me. It seemed to be watching or documenting something, and then it was gone—out of sight. The underlying question I have in my notes is: “Why fear? Fear of what?”
The thing seemed to be targeting my home (or at least my neighborhood), and it was leagues beyond my adolescent conception of an object in flight. Once it stopped and hovered, I’m sure I continued to hold my breath, but the fear was immediately done, vanished, ridiculed, and replaced by something far more interesting: wonder. Just as I was connecting on a personal level with the craft, it left. The initial fear was replaced by a deep void of disappointment. My mind was a scrambled egg when I finally parked my bike and slumped inside our house.
Walk a mile in my shoes. Or better yet, straddle my bike. We just tackled this story together, to the absolute best of my recollection. I’ve identified the memory gaps and the questions that I simply can’t answer. As they say, “I know what I saw.”
So…what do you think?
(The author is a native of Jackson and current resident of Flowood. An award-winning journalist, his previously-published works have included profiles of musicians and an essay on the 2012 Presidential election. ‘My Close Encounter’ was written in 2018 and is published exclusively by BAMSouth)