Thomm Quackenbush, author

Dragonslaying | 2009 | The Ward

08.05.09 11:43 p.m.

"Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us."  

-Bill Watterson


I Want to Believe

More of a red than a Gray

I was a believer when I was young. When I was young enough to have already read through all the books my elementary library had on the paranormal (a few times), I was witness to the Great Hudson Valley UFO. It was not a fuzzy light on the horizon. Instead, I remember it as a triangle a city block on each side filled with even rows of lights. My mother ordered me to shut my window, more from fear of what we were seeing than the December air rushing in. We sped the quarter mile until we were home, I enamored with what I had just seen, feeling justified for my eccentricities. The UFOs were here and now things would happen.

Only they didn't. I don't recall anyone mentioning it around me again and vaguely recall hearing a decade later that the craft was explained as ultralight aircrafts flying in formation to panic the populous. When I just asked my father if he remember this event that reinforced my childhood research, he had no memory.

My beliefs withered when I learned enough science. Once I realized how far away the Oort cloud was, marking the boundary of our solar system, and then traced the distance to the next star and then to the next potentially habitable planet, I knew that I wouldn't rationalize that people were seeing interstellar space ships. The resources required are simply too vast and the time commitment is ridiculous, even at the speed of light (at which no ship could travel). When extra-dimensional crafts and wormhole travel are the sanest explanations for your theories (and you aren't a theoretical physicist), there is something very wrong and you need to reexamine your hypotheses.

Furthermore, creatures who have evolved on another world should on no accounts resemble humans, and the infamous Grays unquestionably do. Bilaterally symmetrical, bipedal, humanoids with two eyes and one nose. There are animals that evolved at our sides who look less like us than the Grays do. The thought of other intelligent life in the universe resembling us is arrogant at the very least (just think what that would imply!) and, more likely, willfully stupid. Were aliens to find us, the chances are fairly good that they would appear in a form beyond our reckoning. It is only for the convenience of the costume department of Star Trek that we choose to believe the folly of humanoid aliens.

I also know for a fact that the first UFOs reported in modern times were boomerang shaped and were reported as "flying saucers" to describe the motion of their flight, like a saucer skipping over water. Yet, immediately after, people saw and photographed saucer shaped objects. Boomerang shaped objects were rarely seen. Now people mostly report seeing large triangles instead of discs or boomerangs, because that is what they are told to expect to see.
"Where do you come from?"

All of this is something of a preemptive defense. As research for a future sequel of We Shadows and Red Hook, I observed one of the monthly meetings at Walker Valley Schoolhouse, where the United Friends Observer Society (yes, you got the acronym right) meets. I'd known about these meetings for the better part of a decade and, though curious, it was rarely enough to surmount my anxiety at dealing with a roomful of people whose beliefs might make me fidget. Frankly, I simply did not have the courage or excuse to go alone (and I certainty couldn't imagine roping a friend into joining me). I lacked neither courage nor excuse tonight.

Passing through Pine Bush, I see signs for the Cup and Saucer Diner - both UFO-themed and the site of a few crucial ufology stories I've read - and a window in town painted with chipped green aliens lounging in beachwear. I've spoken with several residents of this town, all of whom denied knowledge of its reputation and looked askance at my questioning. Sights like this dispute that one could dwell here for very long without catching on that strangers have decided something is up and are willing to drop cash in local businesses until convinced otherwise. Until the reputation ceases to be lucrative, Pine Bush is likely going to indulge the weirdoes. (Though not completely, as the town has outlawed "skywatching" and the police are not shy about ticketing.)

The Schoolhouse is an unremarkable building just off the main road; this was reassuring because I didn't care to venture far from civilization to slake my curiosity. I take a few photos of the building and its surroundings for reference, but stop when I notice people inside peering out at me.

I enter to a room of twenty-five people, most in their forties or above. I am surprised at the preponderance of women present, having expected that aliens and conspiracy theories would attract more men. If they regard me at all, I don't notice. My goal here is purely observational and I don't wish to skunk that by seeming any more suspicious than I need to transcribe this event. There is a sign when one enters, politely forbidding photography, recording devices, and quoting. While I have equipment enough to accomplish all three simultaneously, I opt to only break the last one via typing. I get out my mini-notebook and begin to note the setting and some potential character traits I can mash-up. Rapidly, people pay attention to what I am doing and unsubtly try to peek. For fun and so as to not be harassed, I change the font to unreadable symbols since I do not need to be able to read what I am typing.

The room itself is concertedly usual, three rows of faux wood tables surrounded by metal folding chairs. The organizers sit at a table perpendicular. The wood paneled walls are interrupted by a green chalkboard and corkboard, on which is tacked notices for community events. An American flag rests listlessly against the far corner and someone's happily panting pit-bull wanders under tables. This could be the setting of a Girl Scout or Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and, I imagine, will be tomorrow or the day after.

The meeting is called to order half an hour late by a man with long gray hair tied into a ponytail. He asks us to please keep on the subject of UFOs, which is my first indication that I am likely to be surprised by what follows.

We begin by introducing ourselves and explaining why we are there. I don't realize it yet, but this will be the whole of the meeting, as everyone at least tells their name and location. Some fall into expansive stories that I struggle to quietly take down for future reference. I rationalize that it isn't quoting if I don't bother explaining who said what, which is convenient given that I generally do not remember. Their individual personalities are irrelevant for my purposes.
I can't see why they don't just come in peace...

When my turn comes, I simply say that I am Xen and give my town, but refrain from telling them anything more. Were I to mention that I am a writer, even if I didn't specify in what context or for what audience, I'm sure I would prick their suspicion.

What I find particularly striking is the degree of casualness with which they make incredible statements. In fact, I feel it crucial at the point to remind you that I typed as they spoke and all the quotes presented in this entry are verbatim, not reconstructions after the fact. The first of these was, "A lot of us time travel though astral projection. We're familiar with it," said precisely as you would tell a stranger that a lot of people like tomato in their salad. The group nodded and murmured their agreement. It isn't that the group is indiscriminately credulous as much as they have mutually agreed upon the rules of their game. A man mocks his friend for thinking a sound in the forest is Bigfoot when it is coyotes, however one is given that feeling that this is only because Bigfoot runs his schedule by the speaker. There is a consensus, also, that one cannot remote view the moon because the aliens will repel psychic visions. Later, a representative of a Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) states that he believes that aliens, UFO, and ghosts are all "in it together". Again, the group strokes their beards thoughtfully and makes sounds of agreement.

With this fodder, it is nigh impossible for conspiracy theories not to spring up and the group seems to tacitly accept the veracity of each. The most notable among these are that all abductions stopped as of 1997 because the aliens only had a fifty year contract with the United States government. No one brings up abduction experiences before Roswell or those that have occurred after the deadline, or why crashing a spaceship should mean an agreement with the government, or abductions occurring outside US borders. Additionally, the United States government is controlling half the UFOs people see and those are the unsafe ones that will give you radiation burns and cancer. There are also conspiracies about Obama causing the swine flu pandemic to mutate for his nefarious socialist purposes.

As I have researched and read extensively, and place skepticism before blind faith in my list of virtues, I have trouble not diagnosing away their experiences. One man is here, obviously a combination of terrified and embarrassed, because he awoke several times in the 90s (but not after 1997!) paralyzed, panicked, and seeing dark figures out of the corners of his eyes. He wants to hear that he is not alone or crazy, which this group can provide. However, they cannot provide him the truth, that what he experienced has a natural explanation and is called a hypnopompic state. It does not mean aliens are visiting him in the night, it simply means that he transitioned from sleep to wakefulness incompletely. Instead, the group assures him that aliens will stalk him wherever he goes and that the man will pass their nighttime violators to his son. He is advised to tell his child about this as soon as possible and believe any crazy thing his son says henceforth. Then, a series of UFO photos were shown around, almost all of which could be instantly debunked as hoaxed or ignorance, the most stellar of these is a black orb surrounded by brightness captioned "I didn't see the object when I took the photo", obviously a picture someone took of the sun.
"I swear, I didn't see these objects when I took the picture... What Ferris wheels?"

Overall, there is an understandably high level of suggestibility among the group that undermines any attempt to be taken seriously. A woman across the room introduces herself and given her town, and then passes because she has nothing new to share. Someone at the table points out her round bruise. Literally within seconds, the bruised woman is proffering her arm at anyone who will look, saying she can't remember where it came from, and saying it is raised in the center and hard, obviously implying that it is an alien implant rather than the product of clumsiness. She returns to her seat with a grin on her face. Another woman mentions the YouTube video she had been passing around. When someone points out that it is a silver balloon and the strings are visible (I've seen the video, they are), the woman begins to verbally attack this skeptic. How dare he?! Then the organizer points out that he agrees, it is an obvious hoax. She gives a few more assertions that it could be real before ceasing her defense entirely, slumping into a chair.

The grandest of these came from a man across the room (with whom I'd apparently had a staring contest consisting of him glaring at me because I was typing and me looking back expressionlessly and slowly nodding). He began his speech talking about how we all know the dangers of psychotronic demon weaponry. The group apparently did, somehow, but they might not be the types to reveal that the emperor was naked. He then revealed that, because he is one of five civilians in contact with a retired government contractor called Source A, there is going to soon be a hoaxed alien attack. Of course, as the government controls half the UFOs, this is an easy feat. This vast and complicated maneuver will be done purely as an effort to get into our wallets. This man knows because, aside from being in contact with a shadowy government official, he is also in regular contact with being who are operating outside of our galaxy. It is his job to bring disclosure to the world, but not by actually telling us everything that is going on. That would get him in trouble, but the aliens are going to help him out. In his words, "The giant triangles, some belong to us and some belong to them. They will start appearing over major cities, hover, and then leave. Just to prove that they aren't going to destroy us. They have some reason why they wanted us alive. They can disable missiles. They don't want us to weaponize space." To prove that this process is already well underway, he added, "First, we'll go after the Russian bears, then manufacture terrorists, then we'll go after the aliens. Two out of three have already happened."

After this man is done speaking, Mike Verrechia stands. He is the producer of a documentary called Chasing Ghosts. The crowd cheers until he clarifies that it follows the lives of the 1982 videogame champions, that the "ghosts" mostly refer to those in Pacman. His intention is to make a documentary about those who come to these UFO meetings. He doesn't want to prove that there are aliens, he just wishes to portray those gathered here. Verrechia seems confident and respectful and Observers have no idea how much he is going to rip them to shreds as only a documentarian can the moment they sign a release. In fact, one woman begins to argue with him that a documentary about UFO enthusiasts would be a major motion picture release and references both Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET as proof, perhaps missing by a wide margin that these are fictional. He handles this tactfully, simply pointing out that he would gladly go see anything with Richard Dreyfuss in it but that he is not intending to recruit from Hollywood.

The meeting ends and, after grabbing a bottle of water from the refreshment table, I dart out of there. As a seated group, I could retain my role of outside observer, but I don't much want to have to deal with them as twenty-five individuals, some of whom seems to be experiencing untreated mental illness in the guise of being paranoid saviors.

And yet. Reasonable people do report seeing objects in the sky and these are not typically those that will populate public UFO support groups. Yes, some people take it much too far, some people trade their credibility in for self-aggrandizement and flattering delusion, but I hope these are the exceptions to the rule. People are seeing something. Undeniably, there are kooks, but it cannot be wholly filed away just as much as it cannot be pinned on little green men from beyond Mars. The group talked about how only certain people can see the UFOs, that you are either hypnotized into having this experience or hypnotized not to. Their question is, why are they chosen? Why are they so blessed and damned?

Soon in Xenology: The hospital. Lake George.

last watched: Firefly
reading: Henry and June
listening: Portishead

Dragonslaying | 2009 | The Ward

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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Works by Thomm Quackenbush


Find What You Love and Let It Kill You by Thomm Quackenbush
Pagan Standard Times: Essays on the Craft by Thomm Quackenbush
A Creature Was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology by Thomm Quackenbush
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