Enjoy an excerpt from Robert Egby’s novel:
UNPLUGGED: The Return of the Fathers.
ooooo CHAPTER 9 ooooo
By late afternoon the trio was over Marfa a small town with a big reputation in south-west Texas. Created in the 1880s as a railroad community, it was the home of a USAF training squadron in World War II, then Hollywood discovered the place and for two months in 1956 it was the set for the movie “Giant” with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Carroll Baker and Dennis Hopper. Several movies were subsequently filmed there and eventually someone hit on the idea of a movie festival which has since become an annual event. It’s also a gathering place for budding artists seeking galleries to hang their canvasses.
But for paranormal enthusiasts it is the Marfa Lights that attracts thousands each year. The phenomenon started in 1883 and on clear nights it can be viewed south-west between the town and Paisano Pass.
“They shine in various colors and twinkle,” Molly leaned forward and told Rowan sitting in the co-pilot’s seat. “They jump about, split, move together, frequently disappear and when you think they’re done for the night they reappear. I think they’re cheeky. Presidio County built a viewing station east of town on U.S. 67 near the site of the old air base,” she cried over the hum of the Pratt and Whitney turboprop engine. The whole place has energy – metaphysical energy.
The High Sierra Ranch is close to the Big Bend National Park a high desert area laced with mountain ridges and sierras loaded with ample grasslands. A controversial region it sits on the border between the United States and Mexico and is separated only by the Rio Grande River. A nice easy landing, the Cessna churned up clouds of white dust as it trundled along the unpaved airstrip leading to a large wooden sign that had seen better days. “Welcome to the High Sierra.” Close by basking in the afternoon sunshine was a cluster of ranch houses and a large barn topped with an array of solar panels and surrounded by a scattering of oak, pinion and juniper.
The Cessna swung to a standstill by two tall figures leaning against a dusty light blue SUV. As the trio climbed down a lean cowboy stepped forward and hugged Molly who promptly introduced him as Cecil Maguire. “He’s one of the Society’s longest members,” she said. “He used to be a great board director until he bought this ranch.”
Rowan nodded an introduction. Maguire resembled the young Clint Eastwood when he starred in Rawhide back in the early 1960s. The rancher’s Texas drawl eased itself over every sentence that came forth as he introduced his dark-skinned manager named Chuck, a sturdy looking young man of Mexican-Spanish origin.
“Heck of an investment: UFO aficionado buys a ranch then sees UFOs on the property,” said Steiner flashing a grin.
“Sure thing. May be they’re jest followin us,” drawled Maguire. “Need help with your camera gadgetry?”
Steiner shook his head. “It’s a portable video-sound unit. Just right for desert stuff,” he said handing the case and tripod to Chuck. “Now where did you make the sighting?”
“About two miles up the draw. We had a few head of cattle up there but they moved to a lower level which is strange because they normally like the feed up there. Funny thing, we both heard a faint hum, a tone coming from up there. But there was nothing to see – until we got there.”
Fifteen minutes later the SUV stopped on the edge of a grasslands plateau. A trickling stream almost dried up, flanked the edge and a sharp rocky ridge protected the far side of the plateau. Several squatting fat junipers broke the plateau’s monotony.
Rowan and Molly walked across the rough grass and found cattle hoofmarks and droppings. “There’s nothing that would show that either a pyramid or even a UFO were here,” he said to her. They turned back to Steiner setting up the camera unit on the tripod. “There’s not even an indentation.”
Molly stared at the tall grass long and parched in clumps from the hot summer sun. “Look David, the tall grass over there near the rocks is bent towards the north-east. The prevailing winds are from the south-west.” She gripped his arm and said slowly: “Look at the tall grass in the middle. It’s bent southwards which means there was a force coming in from the north.”
Steiner came up and stared. “Heck, you’re right, Molly. You must have been an Indian tracker in a past life,” he retorted easily. “But you’re right. There was a force or something here.”
“Not was,” said the woman slowly, shading her eyes from the sun. “It’s still here.”
“You’re kidding,” laughed Rowan.
Maguire stood watching the trio. “Molly’s a great intuitive. I was supposed to buy this place on a Friday and Molly urged me to settle on a Wednesday. Good thing I did because the seller died next day.”
A tension in the air. Rowan suddenly felt it and his skin tightened and felt distinctly itchy. He glanced at the others and spotted a similar reaction. Steiner walked quickly back to the camera, set it on wide angle and hit the “record” button. “Insurance,” he said hustling through his baggage. “If anything happens I want it on tape.”
Steiner ran towards the group clasping a canister. “Rowan, you said that pyramids have normally been spotted in the twilight or in a mist or smoke. Well, I have the smoke.” He placed it on a small rock among the bunch of tall grass bending towards the south.
“Hey, Erich,” Molly yelled, “Are you crazy?”
“It doesn’t burn. It just bellows smoke. Lots and lots of smoke.”
A jet of white smoke spouted high into the air. The group instinctively pulled back. The two ranchers moved behind the SUV while Rowan and Molly walked quietly to the side. Steiner stayed in front of the rolling camera. Within a minute a cloud of grayish white smoke floated slowly across the plateau energized by a slight breeze from the south-west. As the cloud grew bigger it revealed distinctive lines towering up into the sky.
“Oh, shit,” yelled Steiner. “I should have brought a panorama lens. The thing’s too damned big for my angle.” Even as he fiddled with the camera the smoke revealed a huge section of slanting walls towering up to a peak. “It’s a bloody pyramid, Rowan. A bloody great pyramid!”
“Oh, mother of god,” cried Molly. “I don’t believe this.
Rowan hastily pulled out a digital camera and started pulling back to get as much of the pyramid into the picture as possible. “We are too damned close,” he cried to no one in particular.
Steiner seized the video cameras with the tripod and started running back toward the edge of the plateau to find a better all embracing view. “It’s too big, much too big.”
Suddenly he stopped. His ears picked up a sound that was out of sync with this desert location. Frowning, he peered through the afternoon sun and thinning smoke at the mountain silhouettes. “Look there’s a UFO coming.”
Over the distant ridge a dark spot hedge-hopped across rocks and ridges and swept across the grassland of the plateau seemingly oblivious of the pyramid.
“It’s a black helicopter,” cried Rowan. “Probably CIA or Homeland Security.”
Steiner panned the camera and zoomed into the oncoming helicopter for a close-up.
“A Sikorsky UH60-M,” cried Rowan then suddenly he stopped realizing the helicopter was heading straight for the pyramid and disaster. “The stupid pilot hasn’t seen it.”
“The guy is blind. Everyone is going to die,” cried Molly wringing her hands. ‘He just can’t see it.”
Even as she spoke, the helicopter sliced into the image of the great building and everyone waited for an explosion. But nothing happened. Not a sound. Not even the sound of a helicopter engine. The entire helicopter has disappeared. Molly stood beside the men on the desert rock waiting for the explosion.
“It’s actually gone inside,” cried Steiner excitement running high. “The bloody pyramid must have gobbled them up. Nobody’s going to believe this.”
Suddenly, the throbbing sound of the helicopter came again and the flying machine emerged from the nearest wall of the pyramid. The black machine flew dangerously close to the group then slowly veered to the left careening into a dive. It crashed into a rocky ridge below the plateau. A thunderous explosion slammed through the air and each one felt the vibrations. Each one knew they had witnessed a deadly disaster.
“Oh, those poor people aboard that thing,” choked Molly.
“Did you get that, Erich?” cried Rowan.
“Got it coming out. Sure, but I missed the crash though,” he called out pulling his camera unit off the tripod. “Let’s get over there.”
Molly and the two ranchers intent on giving help to any survivors were already running down the slope towards the burning machine, its blades tangled hideously among the rocks. Steiner ran with the video and Rowan followed. A mushroom cloud of white and orange smoke hung over the scene and flames were spluttering out of the tangled wreckage strewn between several boulders. Steiner stopped, raised the camera and started filming. Rowan walked to the side and took stills.
Then above the crackling helicopter fire there came a new sound.
They all heard it at the same time. A second helicopter! Another black Sikorsky skirted the west ridge and hurtled towards them completely oblivious of the now fading pyramid. The crew members had spotted the crash and were now heading for that location.
The next few minutes were chaotic. Armed police and homeland security officers leapt from the helicopter and hustled around the burning ruins of the ill-fated machine. One officer took photos while others peered inside the tangled wreckage.
As the ranchers and the group turned up two armed police held them back. “Did you witness this accident?” said one. “The director has some questions.”
“I bet he does,” growled Steiner. “This one is going to take some explaining.”
“Try me,” said a new voice coming up from the wreckage. “First of all, we need to borrow your video camera to examine your tapes. We’ll see you get them back once they’re cleared.”
David recognized the voice from Washington, DC.
“Jackson Devenport. He’s CIA. Director for the Investigation of the Paranormal,” he said and introduced each one. “He’s also known as Jax.”
The heavily built Devenport removed his helmet and wiped the beads of perspiration from his forehead. “For a city writer, Mr. Rowan you sure are a long way from home.”
“It wasn’t planned, I can assure you.”
Two officers took Steiner’s camera, placed it in a box marked “Evidence.” They left the tripod and the accessories bag. Steiner was about to protest when Molly held a finger to her lips and said: “Erich, silence is golden.”
Devenport looked around and finally said to Rowan: “What the hell happened here?”
Cecil Maguire intervened. “Why don’t we go over to the ranch and talk about it.”
“Well, I hope you’ve got some damned good answers,” muttered Devenport. “When that Sikorsky crashed eight officers were supposed to be on board.”
“Supposed to be?” quizzed Rowan.
“When our bird crashed there was no one on board. Not even a bloody pilot.”
© Robert Egby.