Hours before, the sun had disappeared beyond the field of corn. The now-darkened field sloped upward toward a large wooded area that separated a small town from many miles of corn fields, soybean fields, and the occasional dairy farm. The glow of the town to the south was a soft yellow smudge of light above the trees. At the edge of the woods was a football field-sized area of bare dirt that was a popular hangout for area youth. The growing corn stalks and nearby trees served as a useful visual barrier between their summer parties and reality.
The monotony of small-town life for the fledgling adults was broken up symbolically by the woods and practically by the marijuana and whiskey that was making the rounds. A Metallica song boomed out of a portable compact disc player, providing a soundtrack for the beauty of the southern Indiana night, even though no one seemed to notice what they were missing in the heavens.
On this cool, moonless night, Orion the Hunter had already chased Taurus the Bull out of the sky. The Gemini twins were preparing to drop below the horizon and Leo was not far behind. But with the amount of cannabis and alcohol in their bloodstreams, the partiers would have been lucky to see only one lion or one set of twins.
Some of the teens had wandered off in couples, headed to seclusion deeper into the cornfield or into the woods. But Stevie and his cousin, Ralph Barton, along with their buddy, Billy Sharp, were more interested in just kicking back, chatting away about the future.
“Not me,” Stevie blurted out his thoughts, unaware that he was beginning to lose control of the ability to distinguish reality from imagination.
“Not me what?” asked cousin Ralph. In stark contrast to Stevie’s short, thin frame, Ralph was tall, broad-shouldered and built for football. As he lay on his back in the soft dirt at the edge of the cornfield, Ralph’s Chicago Bears t-shirt barely contained his bulky chest and rippled stomach muscles. His curly hair scarcely budged in the gentle breeze.
“Not me what?” said Stevie, looking confused.
“I dunno. You said it, not me,” Ralph responded.
“I’m not lettin’ go of my dreams, that’s not me what,” Stevie said with a fair amount of sobriety and certainty.
“Yeah, you and the rest of us. Mom says if I don’t get my grades up I ain’t goin’ nowhere on a football scholarship, and I think she’s prob’ly right.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Billy chimed in. “Why do you think those guys take underwater basket weaving classes in college? Nobody on the football team makes good grades ’cept the quarterback, and that’s why he’s the quarterback.”
“Nah. I gotta have good grades or the scouts’ll just go away,” Ralph insisted. “I’ve gotta lay off this junk here and concentrate on gettin’ the grades up. I only got one more year to go.” With that, he flipped his joint in the direction of the field of young corn stalks.
Stevie looked impressed. “What about the Jack?” he asked.
“Old Number Seven hasta go, too,” he said with a sense of melodrama. Ralph realized that, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, he was making a choice to go somewhere, to chase a dream rather than stay to farm the land. In his mind, there was not much of a difference between staying in his hometown and going nowhere. “I gotta get outta here.”
“I like it here,” Billy protested. Tall, lanky, and a longtime friend of the cousins, he was more of a tag-along than anything else. The cousins enjoyed his humor so they never seemed to mind his presence. Plus, he was on the football team, as a receiver, with Ralph, so that was good enough for the larger of the two cousins. “Whaddya got against this place?”
“I love it here,” Ralph explained in earnest. “It’s a great place if you like farmin’ and the good life. But the NFL doesn’t come through here. The lights, the action, the women- they don’t visit Nowhere-ville.”
“I’m with Ralph,” Stevie stated with more certainty than ever. The effects of the night’s indulgences seemed to fade quickly with the subject of conversation revolving around his favorite topic. “The future is bright for those willing to strive toward their goals.”
“Who said that?” Billy asked.
“I did,” Stevie snapped. “Didn’t ya just hear me?”
“Nothin’ happens here, Billy,” Ralph opined as he pointed into the dark distance. “The future is out there, beyond the farms and the small towns and the friendly people. The future is away from here. Nothin’ ever happens here- not nothin’ I’m interested in, anyway.”
Stevie stood up hastily, as though positioning himself closer to the sky would aid his vision. “Check that out,” he said as he craned his neck and chin upward.
Ralph leaped to his feet without speaking. Billy struggled to his feet and stood motionless, which in his state was an accomplishment.
“Tell me again, Ralph, how nothin’ ever happens ’roun’ here,” Stevie mockingly challenged.
The group of teenagers who were scattered around the edge of the cornfield and on into the woods had yet to notice a light slowly descending upon them. Too slow to be a meteor, too large to be an airplane, the half-stoned threesome looked upward with a mixture of excitement, bewilderment and apprehension.
“Guys, it’s a spaceship,” Stevie declared.
“Uh huh, sure,” Ralph laughed. “It’s a helicopter. Look how it’s movin’. It’s floatin’ down at us like a helicopter.”
“Helicopters are loud,” Stevie pointed out to his cousin. “That ain’t no helicopter.”
“Maybe it’s a UFO,” blurted Billy.
“That’s what he just said, Einstein,” Ralph scolded. “It’s comin’ right here, whatever it is.”
By now, others had noticed the growing brightness of the descending light in the sky. With cries that the police were coming to bust them, several teens ran off into the woods. Others stood and stared, just as Stevie, Ralph and Billy stared. One brunette grabbed her blouse and ran into the woods, screaming all the way, her boyfriend running behind her, trying to catch up.
“Hear that?” Stevie asked. A slight rumble was growing slowly, from a barely audible sound to an ever-increasing roar of mysterious engines.
“It’s gotta be military,” Ralph reasoned. “Ain’t no such thing as UFOs.”
For the first time, Stevie looked away from the craft and at the young man who was both his cousin and best friend. He grabbed Ralph by the short sleeve of his Bears’ t-shirt and tugged. “Together?” he asked knowingly.
“Together,” Ralph responded without hesitation.
“What are you guys doin’?” Billy asked.
“If I knew I’d tell ya,” Stevie answered. “But whatever we do, we’re doin’ together,” he explained. “Ralph and I live together and we’ll die together if that’s what it comes to.”
Billy looked down at the ground in thought as the brightly lit craft slowly settled down from the sky, ever closer to the Earth. “I’m with ya,” he said with an air of firmness. He looked back and forth between the cousins who eyed him curiously. “Well if ya don’t mind, anyway,” Billy added.
“Hey, whatever. No problem,” Ralph said reassuringly. “I don’t even know if we know what we’re doin’.”
“But we do know it’s a UFO,” Stevie added.
“That we do,” Ralph replied. “That we do.”
Indeed, the teenagers were correct. Whatever it was, it was certainly unidentified, it was flying toward them, and the boys did not object that something extraordinary was happening in the fields of Indiana- in the middle of nowhere, as they always complained. The future was taking an unexpected and bizarre turn.
The roar of the craft deepened. The wind picked up. The gentle swaying of the young corn stalks gave way to violent jerks to and fro. The bright lights shielded the onlookers from establishing the identity of the craft until it nearly touched the ground. As the craft grew ever closer, the roar grew louder still. All brave souls who remained in the vicinity covered their ears with their hands.
It was not a helicopter and it was not an airplane. If it was military, it was something which no one in the Midwest had ever before seen. Maybe this strange, monstrous machine had been spotted in the deserts of California and Nevada, but never in the farmlands of Middle America. The behemoth had rounded edges and a smooth, almost shiny, skin. Despite the rounded appearance, it was not an aerodynamic-looking craft. It looked sleek, but not a sleekness for cutting through air.
It was less cylinder than oval, yet less oval than just a mountain of smooth blob, having little apparent symmetry. But at this point, no one considered the matters of symmetry or odd shapes. Had the craft landed in town near buildings, the boys would have realized that the machine was four stories tall.
Rather than wheels, the craft sported eight legs with oversized cupped feet. The brilliant landing lights and the growl of the engines concealed the rest of the craft in a mysterious glow of light and sound. Had the light cast a favorable glow, onlookers would have seen what amounted to windows- small port holes that presumably allowed people- creatures- on the inside to see out.
As the craft touched down over the top of the corn stalks, settling into the soft dirt, the white landing lights were hidden from view. Apparent to the ten or so teenagers still brave enough to stand their ground, the truth was obvious: this was a craft that was not built on Earth.
Despite the fact that his heart pounded from the adrenalin rocketing through his arteries, Stevie thought clearly enough to turn to his cousin again. “Hang with me, Ralph.”
“I’m here,” big Ralph’s quivering voice responded.
Billy moved his mouth slightly but no sound came out. He was sure that he would stick with his friends, but only because he was now too afraid to be away from them.
The roar rapidly subsided. Gasps of fear and disbelief spread through the small crowd. A couple slowly emerged from the woods to witness the extraterrestrial event, the boy fixing his pants to ensure that they were now fitted to his body properly.
When a bright beam of white light bolted from the spaceship onto the gathering crowd, all but the three young men gave their best cockroach impersonations, scattering into the woods at top flight. The three friends who remained quivered from head to toe, unaware that they were alone with this huge alien ship.
What transpired next was witnessed by at least a half dozen youthful onlookers who stopped their flight through the woods to watch events unfold. The number of “eyewitnesses” varied in the following days, as some who turned high tail would later claim to have seen it all. Some told the truth, some repeated what the actual witnesses observed, and some exaggerated with tall tales akin to what can be heard in bait shops, near prime fishing holes, or in bars and offices as bored city men distort their golf games. Stories varied from honest accounts to whoppers fit for supermarket tabloids. And the supermarket tabloids paid.
Another point of ridicule was the claim that, when a giant door opened like that of an armored personnel carrier, the youth were stunned to see humans- an adult male, an adult female, and a small child- exit and disappear into the corn field. Nearly everyone agreed that Stevie, Ralph and Billy all entered the large spaceship, never to be seen or heard from again. The tabloids paid well, so stories later abounded about lasers disintegrating the three into thin air or monstrous aliens dragging them away.
One problem of credibility would forever haunt the real witnesses: to one degree or another, they were all high on various drugs. Seeing a spaceship drop from the sky only yards away can sober one rather quickly, but between the goings on of the teenagers and their vices, and the silly stories coming from those who had fled, skeptics were plentiful.
There was one bit of evidence that was beyond explanation for the voices of a reasonable explanation: high or not, the kids could not have crushed the corn stalks and left behind the prints of a large, heavy vehicle. Underneath the landing gear, the corn stalks were not merely bent or swirled into shapes- they were pulverized into powder, as if some other force was at work other than mere weight. From the air, the outline of the ship was not visible on the ground, though many expected otherwise; the youth explained that the landing gear extended downward enough to ensure that the body of the craft did not touch the soft Earth.
One other oddity left locals and scientists alike intrigued: the craft all but melted some of the corn stalks. The stalks that touched the craft did not burn, they just melted into little balls of green putty. Heat should not have had this effect, so theories abounded and scientists visited the site in efforts to understand exactly what had occurred.
While the carousing youth were widely dismissed, the story of three humans exiting the craft was ridiculed. Surely their senses and recollections would have been keener had they not been high, the skeptics reasoned. Others argued that with their senses dulled, their imaginations could not have been activated, thus they were telling the truth. The effects of the drugs, still others reasoned, would have produced wild stories. Some saw reason to believe while others found reason to disbelieve. It was all in the mind of the beholder.
The alleged arrival of aliens did not shake the community the way that the disappearance of the three youth managed to rattle their nerves. The three were neither heard from nor seen again. Mothers wailed and fathers searched, but without accepting the story of the spaceship, no one could ever explain the disappearance of Stevie Barton, Ralph Barton, and Billy Sharp.
No one dared to explain.
The next night, a crowd of hundreds, some said a couple of thousand- from southern Indiana, northern Kentucky, and western Ohio- lined the edge of the woods and the vast corn field. All waited in expectation or with great skepticism. Yet they waited. It was a Saturday night. Church services started early the next morning. Some grew impatient as midnight fell upon the countryside.
To the astonishment of the many who remained, in the distance a craft appeared to land near the horizon. “That’s Tucker’s farm!” shouted one local man. “That’s Tucker’s farm!” he repeated, excitement gushing out of his throat. Many in the crowd made mad dashes for their cars, but the efforts were in vain. Before most could get their vehicles started, the craft had launched itself away from Earth. They watched as the spaceship streaked across the sky, toward the western horizon, as it appeared to fly into the head of Leo, the celestial lion that on this night seemed to protect the alien spaceship from the hoards of earthlings.
Sixteen years would pass before the spaceships returned.