Black Sheep


For the longest time I considered myself the black sheep of my family; I thought that I was alone in my experiences, the only one to witness the impossible. But the older I get the more cracks appear in the normality of our middle class facade, and strange, dark, unknowable things slip through to confront the comforting light of consensus reality. The truth is there’s no such thing as normal, and the labels we apply to ourselves are often just lies we tell to convince us that the madness we experience is at least a local phenomenon; that there’s still someplace safe where we can hide, some refuge from the existential terror of things we can’t understand—but no such place exists, we’re just people, and the paranormal universe envelops us all.

I haven’t spoken to my Uncle Joe outside of social media since my grandmother’s funeral; not for any particular reason, life just keeps speeding up and time is a commodity that I now regret squandering in my youth. So I’m glad when he contacts me about a couple of UFO experiences he had when he was a young man, since I can say I’m being productive and catching up with one of my favorite relatives at the same time.

My Uncle Joe grew up in rural Illinois with my mother and two other sisters. They didn’t have much money, and the difficulties endemic to country poverty made them stoic and practical—they don’t put on airs and they aren’t prone to flights of fancy.

We spend some time catching up, as people do, but before long we’re talking about ghost lights.

"It was probably 1959 or 1960—whenever my grandpa Hartley died, it was right after that," says Joe. "We were living on the Smith place—which is gone now—out east of Bardolph [Illinois] in an old farmhouse, and we had one of them couches that makes out to a bed, downstairs."

"I was sleeping on it; and mom, dad, and the girls were all upstairs. Well, I was laying there trying to go to sleep, and of course out in the country it’s real dark, and all of a sudden I seen this thing come through the wall and I thought 'what in the heck is that?'" he continues.

"It was round and it was perfectly round, it didn’t have a corona or anything like that going from it—it was just perfectly round. The inside of it looked like fire, not like a candle, but…it was edge to edge, that’s what it was, that’s what it reminded me of, the orangeish little temperature fire," my uncle explains. "And it stayed there and it hovered around, it looped around a little bit, and I don’t know, probably 10 minutes later it just…poof, took off."

Like many of us who have experienced the impossible, Joe is at a loss to explain the experience.

"And I have no idea, I haven’t seen anything like that since," he says.

But that’s not the strangest story he’s going to share with me this evening. Uncle Joe relates to me a UFO sighting he had back in the late 1960s when he was around 12 years old.

"This is where it gets creepy," he begins. "When we lived out on the Fiddler farm, which is just east of the Bardolph blacktop, there used to be a farm there on the northside of 136 right past the Bardolph blacktop. It was probably afternoon. It was warm weather, because I remember having a t-shirt and shorts on. But it had to be late summer or early fall because the sun was about in the center, you know what I mean? Like the equinox had already been here."

"I remember looking at the sky, which was perfectly blue," he tells me. "There may have been a stray cloud a ways away or something like that, but as far as visibility it was blue. I seen this black dot, and it came from the northeast in an arc and it came over and stopped. I thought okay that must be a helicopter, well, it stayed there, didn’t move; didn’t get bigger, didn’t get smaller, stayed there. No contrail, no fire, smoke, nothing like that. And I would estimate it if I triangulated it from me off of the ground it was about 30-40 degrees. It was close enough that I could see the texture of whatever it was. I watched that thing for probably, oh god, twenty minutes, half hour—something like that. And it stayed in that one spot that long. And then all of a sudden it took off to the northwest in basically the same type of ark, and it was gone."

On the surface it seems simple enough—a fairly standard UFO sighting with a typically unsatisfying resolution; but as always, the devil here is lodged firmly in the details.

"Now, as far as any missing time or anything like that I wouldn’t have any idea. I don’t think I was abducted or anything like that. I’m not a crazy person," he says. "The texture of it is what got me, it wasn’t a regular silver flying saucer like everybody sees or nothing like that, it had the texture of a rock or a—and this is going to sound stupid—but you know how a meatball looks? It’s got that rough looking texture? That’s what the surface of this looked like."

It gets weirder.

"And the thing of it was, I wasn’t scared," Joe explains. "Matter of fact, I had a—this is going to sound crazy, too—I had a overwhelming feeling of belonging, and don’t ask me why. I don’t know."

"The thing that really fascinated me is that it just stopped, like it was just looking at something," he adds. "There wasn’t any sound, which was another really weird thing."

And once again we’re left with no explanation. I can certainly commiserate, given my own experiences.

"I’ve been scratching my head about it for over half a century and I have no idea what it was," Joe says.

I get it.

So many witnesses to the impossible understand what it is to be left with nothing but the maddening frustration of curiosity bereft of explanation. It’s a common feeling from an uncommon source, and if nothing else, it’s nice to hear another of my blood relatives understands it. At least we understand something.

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