My UFO Tale
The following is excerpted from Mirage Men, available now from Skyhorse Books. For more information, click here.
'What in fucking hell was that?' blurted Tim, a not inappropriate response from someone who had just seen their first UFO.
It was a bright, sunny afternoon in mid-July, 1995. My friend Tim, my girlfriend Liz and I were pulled up with a flat tyre alongside Tenaya Lake in Yosemite National Park. I was 22 years old, the same age as the car whose front wheel I was in the process of replacing, a battered, sky blue 1973 Ford Galaxy 500 with a mattress in place of a backseat.
Tim loomed above me, fizzing with incredulity, 'what was that?'
'I have no idea,' I replied, loosening nuts as my mind whirled like a top, 'but I saw one just like it about half an hour ago, a few miles down the road'.
We'd blown a tyre on our way out of Yosemite so, to find a new one, Liz and I had hitched a ride to the nearest town, Lee Vining, a small, one-time mining outpost alongside the calcified alien landscape of Mono Lake. Job done, we hopped into a passing two-seater convertible sports car. Liz, in the front, made awkward small talk with the driver while I perched on the boot, clutching our re-invigorated wheel with my feet wedged awkwardly into the space behind the driver's seat.
Cool mountain air flowed over us as we re-entered Yosemite on the windy two-lane blacktop. We were rounding a densely wooded bend on the north side of the road when a glint of light amongst the trees caught my eye. There, 30 metres away along a straight firebreak path between tall rows of fir trees, lay something entirely unexpected, hovering stationary about a metre off the ground. It was a perfect, silvery reflective sphere, perhaps three metres in diameter, like a large, polished Christmas tree ornament. It reminded me of one of the bells suspended over a verdant landscape in René Magritte's painting La Voix des Airs: beautiful, serene, uncanny, wrong.
No sooner had I registered what I was looking at than it was gone, lost behind trees as we sped along the ever-twisting road. Some seconds later we passed another firebreak, converging on the same point as the last. The thing was still there: mercurial, immobile, strangely perfect. A brief flash, then it was hidden before, finally, another bend, another path and, once again, that damned sphere. I said nothing as my mind rummaged for an explanation. Neither Liz nor the driver seemed to have seen anything unusual and, even if I had known what to say, speech was impossible over the roaring engine and rushing wind.
The thing and the forest were soon behind us and we returned to our own vehicle, sandwiched between the twinkling lake and a steep-sided rocky hillside. I kept quiet about what I'd seen as I jacked up the car, hunkered down and began working on the wheel. And that's when Tim began yelling.
I think I knew what I was going to see when I lurched to my feet.
Here it came, glinting in the afternoon sunlight, gliding purposefully towards us over the lake, bobbing gently as if carried on some viscous current. Although it looked exactly like the sphere I had already seen, it couldn't have been the same one because it was approaching us from the opposite side of the lake, a third of a mile away. It flew right over our heads, perhaps 25 metres up, utterly silent, unhurried yet somehow determined, and slunk out of sight, following the gentle contours of the ridge behind us.The whole thing took less than a minute.
‘What was that?' Liz spoke for us all. Emptiness filled the airwaves. Brains scrambled for answers. None came.
Back under the wheel I went, unfastening a more few nuts, hoping to keep a creeping surge of anxiety in check. No chance.
‘Holy shit! Here comes another one!' yelled Tim.
Scrabbling back out I was just in time to see another sphere, identical to the last, ambling over the lake towards us, following exactly the same path as its predecessor. Up it went, over the ridge, as calmly as if it did this every day.
I rushed into the car for a camera, but it was too late. The sphere was gone.
It's a strange enough story and a true one, not unlike a thousand other UFO tales, though this one is made a little stranger by the fact that I was somewhat interested in UFOs at the time. OK, I'll be honest, I was obsessed with UFOs at the time, and a dream I had not long afterwards reflects the intensity of this obsession.
It was a strange and powerful dream, of the sort that lingers like a stain on the unconscious for years afterwards. In it I was invited, like Paddington Bear, to tea with the queen, Elizabeth II. I was taken to see her in a glowing silvery carriage. I don't remember the outside of the palace that I met her in, or even whether it was a building at all, but the interior was a tourist brochure fantasy of regal chic, every available surface draped with red velvet and ermine and encrusted with jewels and gilt. The Queen was impeccably polite, as was I. We sipped tea from bone china cups and discussed things; I don't remember what. Then it was time to go.
Her Majesty led me to the palace entrance, the threshold filled with glowing yellow-white light. She took my hand to say goodbye. I leaned forward to give her a grandmotherly peck on the cheek, only to be consumed with horror. From my puckerer's perspective I noticed a discoloured patch where the makeup had been rubbed from the Royal jowl, and beneath it was cold, grey, leathery, alien skin.
Freudians might interpret this as an infantile power fantasy, merged with a representation of my alienation from womankind. Jungians might read it as an encounter with my own anima, the goddess-crone within. David Icke, who wrote in earnest about such things a few years after I'd had my dream, would view it as a glimpse at the awful realityof our shape-shifting, blood drinking, reptilian extraterrestrial overlords. Many in the UFO community would see it as a screen memory disguising a genuine alien abduction experience. Perhaps it was all these things, but it was also a sure sign that I was reading too many books about UFOs.
In fact the high strangeness factor of our Yosemite incident was further compounded by the book I was reading on that leg of the journey, Into the Fringe by Karla Turner, a psychologist and UFO researcher who died of a brain tumour a year after our sighting. Turner's account of her family's UFO experiences is one of the more engrossingly bizarre contributions to an already bizarre field. It also features several floating silver spheres.
So what did we see?
Were they mylar-covered balloons? I couldn't rule it out, though they looked far too solid for balloons, as if they'd have emitted a metallic 'clang' had we thrown rocks at them (though I'm glad we didn't). The way they bobbed up and down as they flew, like corks on water, and then followed the contours of the hillside behind us was also most un-balloon like. Balloons would have bumped awkwardly into the scree-covered slope before being blown over the top. Besides, as I recall, part of the eeriness of the situation was that there was no wind to carry the objects, at least not on the ground.
Perhaps they were some kind of exotic atmospheric phenomenon, like ball lightning or St Elmo's Fire? These electrified gas bubbles are good candidates for some of the more esoteric UFO sightings, and it's been suggested that they might appear silvery in daylight. The US Air Force has been experimenting with generating and steering plasmas as potential weapons for decades; but again, our spheres looked firmly solid, not gaseous.
Were they pilotless drone aircraft of some kind? We weren't far from the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, one of the US Navy's key testing grounds for new toys. Maybe, but if so, I'd like to know what kind of technology was keeping them airborne. Spherical objects are dropped from military aircraft to train and calibrate radars, but these weren't falling vertically or on parachutes; they were flying, horizontally.
If these werephysical objects, and I believe that they were, then without the combination code to the black vault where the US government keeps its secrets, or the keys to the bunker that houses its latest military hardware, there was little chance of finding a satisfactory answer to the question of what we saw that day. But that wasn't going to stop me from trying.
Teaser image by bru76, courtesy of Creative Commons license.Tweet