July 15, 1996
My closest encounter with an actual paranormal experience occurred in July, 1996. I was at home in Columbia City for summer break after my sophomore year at Hanover College.
I was also very bored.
You see, I’d been the head of UFOIA Strategic Investigation Team 1310 for quite a while by that time. Had I seen one flying saucer? No! Had any Men in Black warned me to keep my mouth shut? No! See? Boring!
So, one Tuesday afternoon after getting home from work, I picked up the Post & Mail to see if any of my high school classmates had been arrested. On the front page was a headline that would change my afternoon and, indeed, my whole evening:
CROP CIRCLE IN THORNCREEK TOWNSHIP
I threw down the paper and grabbed the phone. I dial Doug’s number. Busy. I suppressed a scream and hit redial. Doug picked up before the first ring.
“I just tried to call you. Did you see the paper?” Doug’s voice was breathless with excitement.
“I just tried to call you. You wanna go check it out?”
“Yeah, give me half an hour.”
I quickly slipped on a tweed sport coat, that being the sort of thing I pictured paranormal investigators wearing. I grabbed my camera and tape recorder, told the folks where I was going and headed out the door. Climbing into my venerable 1985 Toyota Camry, and heading toward town I mused on my situation. It was clear that we had no idea what the circle might look like, how close we would be able to get or anything else. Within what seemed like mere minutes I was pulling the Camry into Doug’s driveway.
The garage door was open and I went in. Doug was there—clad in black pants, black turtleneck and a pale trench coat: obviously what he thought paranormal investigators wore. More shocking, he was holding a strange device. Gray in color, it had a light mounted on it, and a long rod extending from the end, topped with a cork.
“Doug, what is that?”
“It’s a paranormal energy detector!” He had a serious look on his face, making me wonder if his mind had finally gone. “I took an old single-slide projector, taped a Black and Decker Snakelight under it, and put a metal rod on the end. Pretty cool, huh?”
“Indeed. Nice trench coat too. You ready to go?”
“Sure, just let me adjust the paranormal energy detector’s calibration first.”
I rolled my eyes, grateful that the higher-ups at UFOIA couldn’t see this debacle. The device should have been calibrated already.
The circle was north of town, just off highway 109, in Thorncreek Township. Being unfamiliar with the area, we drove slowly, not wanting to miss it. Within fifteen minutes (about 10 miles outside of town), we saw a number of cars parked near an intersection. I pulled our official alien-hunting vehicle safely off to the side of the road and we embarked on our greatest adventure yet.
There were maybe five other looking at the circle. It was probably two hundred feet from the road, and the field was surrounded by yellow police “caution” tape. Doug and I stared at it wordlessly, trying to comprehend something so beautiful and mysterious. We were cast into almost a spiritual state.
“What should we do?” I asked. There didn’t seem to be a lot to investigate from the road, and if we went into the field with that many witnesses around, we would certainly be detained by the authorities. Most of the county officials disapproved of our efforts to bring THE TRUTH to light and we needed no more trouble.
“Let’s try out the paranormal energy detector.” Doug moved off to the ditch next to the field and pointed the PED toward the ground. He walked along slowly, looking through the viewfinder. Suddenly, he began calling off numbers.
“4.7. 5.8.Are you getting these, Aaron?”
Thinking fast, I switched on the tape recorder and repeated the numbers into the mic. “Got ‘em Doug. Keep going!” I suppressed a smile. If we couldn’t get close to the circle, there was no reason we couldn’t confound the bystanders. We continued our charade for a few minutes but, aside from curious looks from the people, received no other response.
The sun was starting to set, and soon we were the only ones there. We walked up the road, trying to see if there was a way into the field which wouldn’t be easily detectable. As we walked west along the road, we discussed the find.
“So what do you think it is, Doug?”
“Well, it could be a lot of things. Plasma induction technology could have been used to create it, but I won’t know until we get to the center. There’s trademark blistering of the stalks when that method is used.”
I bristled at Doug’s use of the passive voice. “Could have been used by whom? Are we dealing with aliens or an earthbound phenomenon? I know as our projectile design specialist you’re looking at the technological aspects of this, but UFOIA HQ wants answers and they want them quickly. SIT1310 is really on the bubble right now. We could lose our certification if we don’t come up with some answers soon!”
We stepped into the ditch, preparing to enter the wheat field when we heard a faint buzzing sound. Looking down the road, we saw a four-wheel ATV coming toward us. Its rider was middle-aged, scraggly, wearing camouflage, and smoking a cigarette. Doug and I shared a look which could only be described as “fearful.”
“You guys here for the crop circle?” he asked as he slowed to a stop.
I bounded up to him. “Yes! We’re investigators for the UFO Information Agency, Strategic Investigation Team 1310.I’d show you my identification, but I’ve left my wallet at home.” He looked at me with cold, bloodshot eyes. In an instant, Doug was standing there as well.
“They say it’s fake.” The stranger didn’t sound like he agreed. “They say it’s fake because someone found a cigarette in the middle of it this morning. You know what?”
“No, we don’t.” Doug replied, his eyes wide.
“That was my cigarette. I was out here before anyone else saw it and I dropped my cigarette. That means it’s not fake.”
“Wow,” I said, “That would certainly put a dent in any hoaxing argument. What time were you out here?”
“About four. Maybe earlier. I don’t know. I know a lot about this sort of thing.” He looked at Doug and me, as if daring us to contradict him. “Oh yeah, I’ve got a stack of magazines at home all about it.” He stopped abruptly. “But I shouldn’t be telling you guys that, should I? You probably already know all about me.”
“Um…” Doug said.
“Er…” I said.
“That’s what I thought!” the man said with a nervous laugh.
I thought quickly. “No, I mean, we aren’t from the government or anything. Really, we’re not even real investigators; we’re just a couple of college kids home on break.”
“Yeah,” Doug spoke up. “We’re not keeping track of you or anything.”
The man started to back away. “Sure. Sure. I bet that’s what you tell everyone.”
“No, we’re really just a couple of guys. It’s nothing more than that!” I could see that he didn’t believe us. Without saying another word, he turned his ATV around and sped off down the road.
At this point, Doug and I decided that crossing the yellow police tape and entering the wheat field wasn’t the best idea. For one thing, it was trespassing and doing a stint in the Whitley County lockup didn’t appeal to us. For another, it was a really long walk out to where the circle was. We started walking back to the car when we noticed a rickety van heading toward us in the twilight.
The van stopped and two figures got out. One was a generally clean-cut looking fellow. His companion resembled nothing if not a aging hippy, right down to the lavender-tinted John Lennon glasses.
“Hello!” she called, jogging toward us. “Have you been into the center yet?”
“Um, no, we haven’t” said Doug, walking toward them.
“What’s that?” the man asked, pointing to the PED.
“Well, it’s a paranormal energy detector.” Doug replied, looking nervously at me. The woman turned to me.
“I took a course on crop circles at IPFW. The energy is concentrated in the center of the circle.”
“Ah. Well, that would make sense.” I said, not knowing what else to say.
She went on. “If you like, we could take your device into the circle with us to get the readings you need.”
If they went into that circle with the PED, the gig would be—as they say—up. We stammered for a few moments trying to come up with a reason why they shouldn’t do this tremendous favor for us. I couldn’t think of anything to say, so luckily Doug spoke up.
“Thanks, but I don’t think that’s a good idea. The PED is just a prototype. We just got the plans from UFOIA headquarters this morning. I’m not even sure it really works.” Doug looked at me for help.
“Yeah, knowing the shoddy material and equipment they usually send us, it probably doesn’t work at all.” I smiled winningly. “Thanks for the offer, though.”
We then said goodbye to them and started back toward the car. Like most investigators of the unknown we were left with more questions than answers. Where did the circle come from? Was it made by human hands or by something or someone beyond our world? Perhaps whatever caused it is part of our planet, some kind of force that we hadn’t yet figured out how to harness. There was no way to tell, with our bumbling interviews and misadventures with imaginary paranormal energy detectors.
“Any ideas, Doug?”
“None. None whatsoever. I don’t know why things like this happen?”
“What do you mean? The circle, or me forgetting my wallet, or the hippies, or what?”
Doug’s face fell. “No, things like us seeing the story in the paper at the same time, the colliding phone calls, the fact that neither of us had anything to do tonight, all of it.”
“Well, to be fair, we almost never have anything to do. But I see what you mean. This all feels a little too contrived to be coincidence. Yet, if it’s not coincidence, then who’s behind it?”
“I have a feeling the answer will come in time. The real question is, are we ready for the answer?”
We drove back toward town, as silent as the field we’d just left.