There are a lot of unusual things in my hometown, not the least of which is the relationship between me and Windy Scott. Individually we are both unusual, so it should be no surprise. Windy is strange among 12-year-old girls. She can climb a rope in gym class with no legs, and she once ate a wasp that annoyed her. I, on the other hand, am strange for any kid, any age. I have a bedroom full of books on the paranormal, and I wear my laser-tag gear everywhere I go.
Together we make an odd couple. By day, she protects me from geek beaters at Eastview Elementary School; by night, she teases me and makes up unflattering nicknames for me. Our relationship is a certifiable real-life, true, unexplained phenomenon.
I share with Windy my paranormal investigations. She's not a True Believer, but she likes adventure and a good freaky story. Someday I'd like to form a club at school for those other True Believers, but I'm afraid it would be a club of one.
"Too many impediments. It's an omen," I had said to Windy when we passed right of the main entrance to the mansion and saw the full scope of what separated us from the woods. At the other end of the side yard was the obstacle course we'd have to navigate to reach ground zero of the possible UFO crash site. The extravagant entertainment complex included an array of groomed shrubs, staircases, terraces, and humongous trees, all contained within a tall fence. The rear of the property also included four bodies of water: a pool, hot tub, and fish pond inside the fenced area, and what appeared to be a large retaining pond in a weedy field near the woods. "Not even Superman could get past all this," I had told Windy. "Let's go back home."
She shined the light onto the face of a huge boulder. Damp and rough to the touch, it was sandy-brown in color with lots of divots and scoops taken out of it, as if it had been pocked by meteors for hundreds of millennia. It was twice the height of me.
"There's your angel," said Windy when we stopped just a few feet inside the tree line.
Something unusual was, in fact, inside the prospective UFO graveyard.
Windy grabbed the flashlight, turned it on, and minced the blackness with the beam. She started to run toward what I'd seen, trying her best to keep the flashlight fixed ahead, so I of course followed right behind. It would take us 15 strides to reach it, and I made a mental note of the distance for recording in these investigative notes.
"You're not going to believe this, but I saw an angel up there." I know. The words sounded ridiculous to me too when I heard them resonate back to me off the still trees. But if zombies could live in New York City sewers, like I read about in the best-selling zombie-hunting book, Fifty Shades of Graves, then an angel could be strolling through the woods. At that point, my mind spun with the possibility that I'd seen a real-life, true, unexplained phenomenon.
"What's wrong?" Windy had asked.
But we only took a few steps before I froze in my tracks and gasped the biggest breath of air I'd ever taken before or since. The beam of my flashlight had swiped across something 40 feet ahead, just inside the woods and only a few feet off the west side of the strip of mowed weeds. I clicked off the flashlight.
We finally reached the forest into which Mr. Beverly had seen the ball of light crash. The glow of the pool and fountain lights in the backyard no longer provided any illumination. I retrieved my flashlight, which lit up an apparent entrance into the woods. Scanning all directions, I saw nothing unusual, except the trail we'd taken turned sharply right, running immediately in front of the trees, perpendicular to the point of entrance, heading north. Neither Windy nor I obviously knew where the path would take us, and I honestly was in no hurry to go into the dark woods, so we passed by the entrance and continued due north on our trail.
Outside the gate, the grounds were not groomed, but there were mowed trails through the weeds. One trail led us beside a small cove that was part of a larger pond. Given the effort to protect the spectacular pool grounds with the sword stockade, I wouldn't have been surprised if from the shallow bay slithered Burmese pythons and starving alligators to snatch trespassers who approached the estate from the rear. Snakes and reptiles were nowhere to be found, and we passed north of the bay without incident, constriction, or amputation. This was all going too easily, and for that reason, I was scared.
The great iron enclosure that protected the pool area from intrusion had been forged by a master of metal arts. Swords big enough for a mob of giant musketeers stood side-by-side, business end up, creating an intimidating 10-foot barrier. I made a very lame attempt to scale the fence, while Windy just opened a gate and walked through it. Amazingly, no alarm sounded. Windy slid past the sculptures, greeting each one with her longest finger, and led us unremarkably through a complicated maze of shrubbery toward another gate in the rear, where we left under the lion's relentless glare.
I followed Windy toward the backyard. An unusual wrought-iron fence that I was positive had to be linked to a security system surrounded the pool area and the pristine garden. In addition to a lighted koi pond and grand fountain, there were several statues dotting the grounds. Roaming the open-air museum were dozens of creatures - half human, half animal. A human and lion were the closest figures to us. The human was in the form of a naked man standing near the front of the swimming complex on a circular pedestal peeing right into the pool, while the lion sat nearby, protecting the premises from everything but public urination. Other unusual creatures also surrounded the pool, with a ten-headed green monster right beside it, and a cherub carved from limestone hiding in the shadows of two real palm trees. Just outside the back door of the home, a white tower pointed at the stars. If it had been a sunny day, I would have thought I was actually in paradise, but in the dark, with all of these weird statues, and this close to a possible alien landing, I felt like I was part of a circus freakshow.
At that moment, a heat-pump compressor ten feet to the left kicked on, making my heart jump out of my chest and dashing any possibility that I was going to wait alone.
"Don't be a chicken, Cluck Kent," she said. She raised her arms as if flying and ventured further into the property. "This is your investigation. I'm just here to make sure you do it. And to make fun of you. But I'll check the woods on my own if you want."
That's how Windy came to accompany me to the bottom of a long driveway leading to a ginormous house. To both the north and south of the entrance was a tall concrete wall set off the main roadway engraved with elegant script confirming we were, in fact, at 1200 The Meadows Boulevard. In the distance were the woods into which the alleged ball of light had entered. The woods backed up to the municipal reservoir, so the only ways to reach the forest were via foot, boat, or airship. We were determined to get there that night, and feet were the only thing within our travel budget. Between us and the woods, however, was a large estate in Spanish motif by which we'd have to pass to reach our destination. Although a black Hummer with tinted windows sat in the driveway, no interior lights glowed inside the massive home, so we took the chance that nobody was inside on this late Friday night.
Windy became interested in the present case when I told her about a series of articles from the News Journal. The newspaper reported that a Mr. Beverly, while driving to his rural home late Monday night, had witnessed a fantastic ball of light fall from the sky. It had landed in some woods along a sparsely populated country road near the reservoir on the outskirts of town. The only other witness was the man's father, who saw an orange afterglow in the woods 45 minutes later. The next morning the two walked to the woods to search the area, but they could find no damaged trees, scorched vegetation, or downed aircraft. Still, they reported what they'd seen to authorities. The National Guard, county sheriff, and highway patrol all investigated the incident but discovered nothing. A follow-up article from yesterday's newspaper indicated that MUFON attempted to conduct its own investigation into the affair, but it was unable to because the landowner would not grant the UFO network access to the forest and said he'd shoot anybody who trespassed onto his gated property. But MUFON did not need permission to gain access to the property. They just needed Windy Scott.
I jumped all the way to the ground from what felt like the sky. "Beam, bulb, lightstick," I stammered until I finally just snatched the flashlight from Windy's hands.
The mowed trail we'd taken to and from the forest was part of a larger intelligent design. Even in the darkness, I could tell that the series of paths in the meadow mirrored the pool area, except the whole scene was positioned one-quarter turn clockwise.
It wasn't until Windy reached the rear gate to the pool area fifty-one steps later that it struck me. I turned around and took one last view of the weedy meadow. I couldn't see well enough, so I took a running start and leapt onto the fence. I've heard of women who lift stalled cars on city streets to free their pinned babies in unexplainable moments of super-human strength, and that's what must have happened to me, because I scaled the security fence until I'd reached the top of the enclosure, a feat not within my usual physical capabilities.
"The answer is right under our noses," I had said to her, as we traveled the mowed trail, and I counted our paces for later recording in these notes.
I begged her to stay and continue the investigation. Still arguing, we exited the woods where we had entered.
I tried to stop Windy to no avail. There was no way I was staying out in those woods alone, so I followed her down to the forest floor.
"The only thing my senses are picking up on is your armpits."
"Wait. Don't you see, Windy? There's something strange about this place. We haven't even explored the woods yet. My senses are picking up on something."
I guessed Windy did not share my curiosity with the scene when she said, "This is so a waste." She began her descent.
Windy reached the top first, and she flung me up at least five feet onto the summit using just one heave and a Roman handshake. There was a small space to stand at the top - plenty of room for both of us plus a couple aliens, had they decided to join us that night. The air felt much cooler at the top, and I read my hiking watch: 39 degrees Fahrenheit. That seemed impossible. It is near the end of summer, but the temperature on the ground had been in the mid-60's. I still have no explanation for the large drop in temperature.
"This is exactly the problem with paranormal reports," said Windy. "Humans suck as eyewitnesses. That's why you can't trust anything in those silly books you read." She moved the flashlight in slow circles and caressed the jagged face with her hand, studying the rest of the boulder under light and palm. "And, I hate to say it, Custard, but the same thing goes for Mr. Beverly's UFO. We are not going to find anything in these woods."
There was no heavenly winged being in sight, but there were lots of graphic carvings etched into the stone. My holy hallucination had been merely the result of indentations, shadows, and sparkly minerals - as well as, I'm sure, too many late nights reading The Girl Who Kicked the Yeti's Nest, Shudder Island, and The Gasp Lecture.
Under the glow of the flashlight, I examined the carvings that ran the length of the rock, hoping to divine some secret meaning from their shape, pattern, or number. But I quickly deduced these were not ancient symbols arranged in diabolically clever configurations that revealed the secret to extraterrestrial life but about two-and-a-half dozen stories of teenage lust in temptingly isolated woods.
Because of the limitations imposed by the darkness, we could not have noticed sooner that a much larger object sat 20 feet beyond the boulder. More than a hill, it resembled a small mountain with a massive quadrilateral base. Although our flashlight beam was not strong enough to find the top of it, the night sky provided a back light revealing that it tapered significantly as it climbed, forming a polygon with three vertices and a like number of edges. It was neither part of the terrain nor comprised of dirt, as an actual hill or mountain would be, but was a separate object from the ground around it. It was monstrous and seemed to have been dropped there from the sky. White moonlight sparked off its skin, which resembled the texture, reflectivity, and color of obsidian.
But what we discovered behind the huge boulder drew my attention from the carvings and the deflating realization that there were no unexplained phenomena afoot.
Windy and I discussed the merits of climbing it. Windy won, ignored my protests, and we began our ascent. Although Windy would have had no problem scaling it even if its surface had been smooth like glass, I was helped significantly by occasional nooks in the rock into which I could insert a hand or foot. It made the climbing easier but still difficult enough that Windy had to wait on me and occasionally pull me to the next-highest hole with a helping hand.
So when Windy had to pull me by the shirt collar to help me climb, she did so without grudge. She did it because she knew that she was one of only two people I have in this world. I fully trusted her with every clasp of our hands. In the eight years we've known each other, the only thing that has ever come between us is the cornfield separating our houses.
I have no brothers or sisters. I have only Windy and Will Scott. They have each other. They are a team unmatched in all of the school system. That claim holds true all the way to the very upper levels of high school, where the Scott twins have already caught the attention of bullies and hoodlums. I've heard the rumblings on School Bus #11 - there are older kids who want to see if the twins are as tough as they've heard. I also feel a rising tension there because these do-badders know the twins are my best friends, but so far nobody has poked the sleeping lions by messing with me. I often wonder what value I bring to the relationship in return for living under the twins' umbrella of personal security, although they have never asked me for anything in return. They have my full commitment to our friendship, I guess. That's about all I have to offer - that and a few pretty frickin' sweet laser-tag sets.
The pool was generally square with an elongated zero-entry closest to the house. The underwater lamps along the walls of the pool revealed a large black "X," most likely in inlaid tile, across the bottom of the pool. A line of nine underwater drain grates ran west to east from the center of the pool outward, directly toward the statue of the urinating man. In the midst of the zero entry, the stone lion stood sentry. Just outside the exit of the house was the stone column. On the south side of the pool was the labyrinth of shrubs that Windy and I had navigated to reach the back fence, which from our high vantage point looked like two crosses. At the rear of the pool were the "H"-shaped fountain, zigzagging koi pond, and hot tub.
In the distance was the pool area. Although from the ground I had not been able to discern a particular pattern in the whole of its features, from the air, I thought they all combined to form a sort of organization that made me wonder whether it had been purposeful. Not purposeful in that surely some well-paid landscape architect had designed the backyard with a plan in mind, but that maybe it had been designed to be viewed from above. With all the bright lights, rippling water, and elaborate designs, it was beautiful to behold, but I'm not sure what captivated me or even why I thought its configuration was meaningful. I wanted so badly to find something mysterious, I wonder whether I had assigned meaning to randomness.
Notwithstanding the chill, the view was incredible. We could just see over the forest trees. The reservoir was visible, as were several lonely roads in the distance. We shuffled our feet in unison, circling around, taking in the vastness of the dark countryside. But when we turned back toward the mansion, I stopped and stared.
Before we departed the estate in a wild sprint after we saw headlights coming up the road, I left one of my business cards there - a cool little stone from the RKPL - just in case the star tourists ever came back to my hometown and wanted to talk to somebody who believed they existed.
Here is a sketch of the trails that I recreated from memory:
These were crop circles. This one was more precisely a crop formation, as it contained other geometric shapes. The cause of crop formations is unknown. Hoaxers in England have admitted to creating some, but thousands more throughout the world remain a mystery. Some appear next to ancient ruins. Some, like those in the present case, appear near UFO sightings. Some cereologists believe they are caused by UFOs passing closely over the ground. One 17th-century theory suggested crop formations were the work of the devil slashing designs with a scythe at night.
Kneeling on the closest path, I studied the stalks of the weeds that I had previously believed were cut by a lawnmower blade. As I suspected, each weed had been gently bent flat. The stalks were not broken. In a few more days, they would spring back up, and the patterns would become invisible.
UPDATE (8:16 a.m., Sunday, August 26, 2012): Windy just came to my house. She reported that she took Will to the mansion late last night. They looked in the secret spot where I hid my stone, and it was gone. I knew there was something strange about that place. I don't know where the stone is now, but I suspect it is in a parallel location linked by some cosmic thread that cinches time and space. This case just got a whole lot weirder.
I walked upon the pathways of bent grass for a few minutes, surveying their angles and turns and committing them to memory before paratonic activity raised them sunward. Windy walked beside me, intrigued, but not impressed enough to make her a True Believer. The membership of my yet-to-be-formed paranormal club remained at one.
Maybe the homeowners were trying to communicate with extraterrestrial life and actually succeeded in hailing visitors from outer space.
It is impossible for me to form any opinion on this particular crop formation. I do wonder whether the wealthy homeowners, whoever they might be, know of it. For the same reason I was struck with curiosity by the design of their backyard oasis, perhaps some distant visitors from another planet were also drawn to it. So drawn, in fact, might those alien travelers have been, that they crashed their flying vehicle right into the woods in the midst of their distraction. Intergalactic rubberneckers.