Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Stranger than Fiction: The Phantom Aviator

Stranger than Fiction is a series of excerpts from an upcoming non-fiction collection of the strange and unusual encounters I, or people I know, have had, gathered into one collection. Look for Stranger than Fiction: A Skeptic's Journey, Black Friday, 2018...


After Germany, I was assigned to McClellan Air Force Base, in Sacramento, California. A repair depot for A-10s, F-117s, and occasionally other aircraft, McClellan was home to a Coast Guard Squadron of C-130 weather planes, and an Air Force Reserve Squadron of KC-135 refueling planes. The base was primarily manned by civilians, who all went home at night. As such, when the sun went down, McClellan just about shut down itself, with no traffic on the runways and little life on the base. It made for really long, quiet shifts—perfect for ghost stories. 

Of all the spooky tales I did hear at McClellan, my favorite was told to me by another SP who had formerly been stationed in England. As the story went, an Airman who’d crashed and died on the base in World War II hadn’t moved on, but would regularly return to the base and try to get back on the runway. 

This spectral pilot, reportedly burned alive when he crashed, would return periodically, at night, approaching a gate shack, in outdated, period-correct uniform, and present his ID card. The ghostly airman didn’t appear ghostly, though—he looked as solid as anyone, and his ID, while not current, was tangible as any ID card. Of course, when a confused airman would take the card, then turn to his radio or gateshack’s phone to call in the strange visitor, when thy would turn back, the visitor would be gone, without a trace—save for the ID card left behind. 

I scoffed at this story when I first heard it, angering the Sergeant who was telling it. My pal, Cooper, or “Coop”, as we called him, insisted it was a true story. He insisted this not because he’d seen the spirit, but because he’d personally seen the ID.

According to Coop, one night, while he worked as the Security Controller for the base, one of the gate shacks called in they had a suspicious person stopped. A patrol was sent out, but the Airman on duty reported that when he looked away to call it in, his visitor vanished without a trace. Coop didn’t believe it until the ID card was brought to him and he had to start making calls to report the unusual occurrence.

More intriguing was the fact that when Coop called the local on-duty Agent for the OSI (Office of Special Investigations, the Air Force’s version of the FBI) to report the incident, they weren’t skeptical or surprised in the least. They came out, got the ID, and reported they’d “put it back in the safe”.

Perplexed, Coop had asked what this meant. The Agent taking receipt of the I.D. nonchalantly reported that this was a regular occurrence at the base—the spirit would appear, hand over an ID, then vanish. The ID would be locked up at the OSI office, but would vanish overnight, only to once again be presented to another gate guard a few days later. 

Coop was more than convinced this was a real event—like most SPs, he’d heard a great many ghost stories at his various duty stations. I was more than a little skeptical.
Night time training exercises were a big part of the Security Police. We regularly staged them, notifying everyone ahead of time we were going to do a scenario. These ranged from fake bombs on cars to see if the gate guards could find them during vehicle inspections, to people climbing fences or entering secure areas without permission. It was all a way to test and train us on how to respond to these threats. 

For any exercise, the Desk Sergeant or Security Controller were well aware of what was going on—they made the alerts over the radio, and they logged the training events in the nightly log. In Coop’s case, he’d had no such warning. I suggested this had been to test him--that OSI was in on it and had dressed up like a WWII Airman and presented the replica ID. 

Coop did not share my skepticism. 

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Stranger Than Fiction: Circle in the Woods

Stranger than Fiction is a series of excerpts from an upcoming non-fiction collection of the strange and unusual encounters I, or people I know, have had, gathered into one collection. Look for Stranger than Fiction: A Skeptic's Journey, Black Friday, 2018...

The Circle in the Woods

A lot of people into that sort of thing like to accuse the Air Force of hiding alien bodies and spacecraft. But in the four years I served in the USAF, I met precisely two SPs with stories involving unidentified flying objects.

One evening, while relaxing in the dorms, several of us were sharing stories of how new guys got hazed in the Security Police—a tradition of pranks that included things as simple as sending someone to supply to collect a thousand yards of “flight line”, to elaborate pranks like stuffing the vents of a patrol car with confetti and leaving the vents on full, so that when started, the driver got a big surprise. 

For my pal Dean, the prank was a little more sinister. Before Germany, Dean had been assigned to Woodbridge Royal Air Force Base in England. There, one of the SP rites of passage for security there was to go out on one of the patrol roads surrounding the base, but outside the perimeter fence. In one secluded spot of the woods, well off the patrol path, any vehicle you drove would suddenly die, the engine stalling out and all electronics ceasing to work. This was typically done well after midnight, to spook new guys.

Dean had been pranked and it confused the hell out of him. He swore his radio wouldn’t work and the car did nothing when you turned the key. Anything within this circle that was electronic became completely inoperable: flashlights, radios, etc. The only way to get your vehicle running again was to physically push it out of an unmarked area. It would then start up again, with no problem.

The prank was finally put to end when the base fire department tried it themselves—with a truck that was a little too big to be pushed by hand out of the strange circle. It had to be towed out of the "circle". Base command was not pleased. 

I was amazed by this story, and asked my friend if it had anything to do with the Rendlesham UFO sighting in the 1980s. He just looked at me blankly, with absolutely no idea what I was talking about. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Rendlesham, it goes something like this: In late December 1980, there were a number of UFO sightings near Rendlesham Forest, near Suffolk, England—the first just outside of RAF Woodbridge. Witnesses, including Deputy Base Commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles I. Halt, claim to have seen bright lights moving in the forest, and possibly landing.

I was shocked that Dean hadn’t heard about Rendlesham—I’d been watching UFO and Paranormal TV shows for years and was familiar with the story, even if I couldn’t recall which base it had taken place at. 

Dean just shrugged this off. He didn’t really care what the origin of the mysterious circle was, he just thought it was a cool effect. 

Monday, November 05, 2018

Stranger than Fiction: The Black Boar

Stranger than Fiction is a series of excerpts from an upcoming non-fiction collection of the strange and unusual encounters I, or people I know, have had, gathered into one collection. Look for Stranger than Fiction: A Skeptic's Journey, Black Friday, 2018...


The summer of 1990, I shipped out for Basic Training in the USAF, eager to begin a career in law enforcement as a Law Enforcement Specialist in the Security Police—the Air Force’s equivalent of the military police.

Today, they’re called Security Forces, but I don’t imagine the mission has changed that much from what it was in 1990: to provide security to airbases, controlling who comes in, guarding aircraft and priority resources on the base, and patrolling the base, providing basic law enforcement services. In television and movies, SPs (as we were called then) are often in the background, with little real dialogue or explanation—just blue beret-wearing, armed Airmen that come running when there’s a problem, or checking IDs at gates.

After technical school, my first duty assignment was with the 435th Security Police Squadron, at Rhein Main Air Base, in Frankfurt, Germany—a base that has since been turned back over to the Germans. The air base shared, and was to the south of, the runways of the Frankfurt International Airport. Frankfurt lies to the south of the Main River. To the north side of the river is the bulk of Frankfurt. The city is a great central location in Europe, with Paris several hours to the West, Berlin several hours to the East, and Switzerland several hours to the South. The A5 Autobahn runs north and south, right beside the Eastern end of the airport. East and South of the Air Base was a lot of rural area.

Being an SP at Rhein Main wasn’t all about driving around in a patrol car, responding to disturbances or writing tickets on base. There was also the mundane, boring jobs of Installation Entry Control and even security foot patrols. During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, we worked twelve to fourteen-hour days, providing increased security for what was the main air hub in Europe for U.S. forces going to and from the Persian Gulf to fight Saddam Hussein and liberate Kuwait.

Night shift was often long and quiet, with little activity once you got away from the runways. As such, a lot of us told stories to stay awake or pass the time. A lot of the guy I served with had been to many bases around the world: missile bases, bomber bases, even bases at or near former World War II sites. As such, there were a lot of good stories to share.  

A grand tradition in the SPs was to haze the new guys. My personal favorite was the fenceline sensor test—where you’d send a gullible young airman out to a remote corner of the base to test the fence sensors. This meant having him pull on the fence, radioing in his position. Back at either the Law Enforcement Desk or Security Control, a dispatcher would advise him if the sensors were working. Of course, there weren’t any sensors, and the joke was seeing how long, and how hard, you could get an Airman to pull and push on a chain link fence to “trip the sensor”.

At Rhein Main, they a slightly more sophisticated prank that involved the red-eyed monster. Young Airmen were warned about the red-eyed monster early after arrival. This warning included a dissertation about ho there were a number of wild boar that lived in the woods around the base and airport, and that maybe, that’s what people were seeing. But, sure enough, once the Airman got his first posting alone on night shift, a pair glasses, fitted with red plastic lenses were used to scare him from the darkness.

I can personally attest to the existence of the wild boars—they did indeed come out at dusk, and could be seen outside the base fence. At an off-base storage area we patrolled, I even managed to catch a pair in daylight, and my partner for the shift and I enjoyed feeding them and video taping them at length. My partner, Travis, was from Texas and was an avid hunter, who warned me that despite these pigs barely being knee-high, they were fairly dangerous and could hurt you.

Some months later, I found myself assigned to a seldom-used vehicle gate in the southwest corner of the base—a gate that blocked an access road that led to the new control tower for the International Airport. The forest south of the Air Base just reached this area, and a lone gateshack was set up to monitor traffic going back and forth from the Airport to the base. During daylight hours, the gate was kept open, but at dusk, it was closed and locked, as virtually no one used the road.

As the sun was about to set and I was growing tired of listening to Armed Forces radio after having secured the gate, I looked up from my gateshack and saw a couple of small boars run out of the woods from the south. They were just outside the perimeter fence and followed it to the gate before turning and going back. They were the typical, skittish boars I had seen countless times before, and even smaller than the ones I had videotaped off base.

A very short time later, another boar emerged from the woods. This boar was like none I had ever seen in Germany. For one, it was easily three times the size of the other boars I’d seen. It’s back was at least as high as my waist and it surely weighed several hundred pounds. Unlike the mixed brown, grays, and blacks of the smaller boars, this huge specimen was all black, save for a single tuft of white hair sticking up from between its shoulder blades. It was enormous—bigger than any of the hogs I’d seen during summers in my Uncle’s farm as a kid.

The big boar wasn’t running about like the smaller boars had. It trotted along slowly, clearly unafraid of anything. It too followed the fenceline, but instead of turning back at the gate, it just snorted and crossed the road, eyeing me as I stepped out of the gateshack to watch it.

In the dimming light, I could see the individual hairs on the pig’s hide. I could see big tusks and little, dark eyes glaring at me. I have to admit, it’s the only time in my life I’ve been afraid of bacon.

Once across the road, but still outside the perimeter fence, the boar continued to watch me as it leisurely made its way North, passing within thirty feet of me. On this particular day, I was armed with a Beretta M9 pistol. Law enforcement duty often meant just a sidearm. Unlike the Army’s MPs, Security Police actually carried live rounds in Germany. But that was little consolation to me at the time. The big, black beast was considerably larger than me, and I doubted that my handgun would be able to stop it if it decided to charge. I was particularly glad for the heavy steel gate that had blocked the boar’s path onto the base.

When the boar had reached a point fifty or so feet up the fenceline from the gate, I breathed easier and reflected on the closed gate and the probable inadequacies of my sidearm. On my side of the fence, bushes and brush almost obscured the fence from view. There were a few trees, but they thinned out and faded away another fifty or so feet on. I was about to lose sight of this incredible creature, but was very thankful it was outside the fenceline, and that my gate had been closed.

Immediately after I thought this, the boar stopped. He was barely visible now, the brush growing on the inside of the fenceline casting long shadows in the fading light. But I could still see the boar, and watched, stunned, as it turned to its right, and began walking toward the base—passing through the fence with ease.

My hand went to the pistol on my belt as the boar vanished from sight, swallowed by foliage and shadow inside the fenceline. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. No brush grew outside the fence—if it had continued to follow the fence, I could have seen it. But it had turned and walked right at the fence then passing through it.

I stood there for several moments, trying to make sense of what had just happened. At last, I came to the conclusion that there must be a break in the fence—and that the enormous boar had slipped through and was now on the base, nor far from me.

I went back into my gateshack and called for a patrol for a restroom break. I nervously watched the woods north of my gateshack, waiting for the big boar to come rotting out and over to me. When the patrol finally arrived, I related what had happened, and asked for them to spot me for a few minutes: I wanted to go find that gap in the fence.

As foolish as it sounded, I was actually concerned about a hole in the fence big enough for a boar to pass through without ducking, rattling the fence, or digging. And even though I was probably under-armed, I wanted to find that hole. I needed to find that hole.

My relief would have none of it. If I wanted to go to the bathroom, that was fine. But they weren’t hanging around while I looked for a hole in the perimeter fence, that was Civil Engineering’s job—I could log it in the book back at our dispatch when I got off duty.

For many years, I would look back on this event and wonder about the strange boar I’d seen, never thinking it was anything other than some really big, wild bacon that crawled through a hole in the fence and vanished into the underbrush. It wasn’t until recently that I came across the stories of black animals—mostly dogs—sighted around the world and have begun to wonder… was there really a hole in the fence back in 1992, or did I see something more than just a wild beast?

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Stranger than Fiction: That Time I Saw A Ghost

After a little over five years writing supernatural thrillers, it occurred to me the other day that some folks might be wondering what my fascination is with the genre. To that end, I set out to catalog the many experiences I've had, and the stories I've been told by people I personally know.

Coming November 24th, I'm releasing these tales as a non-fiction book, Stranger than Fiction: A Skeptic's Journey. Leading up to that release, I'll be posting some of my stories here, twice a week. 

To kick things off, here's a story of spookiness that might have you wondering, why is he still a skeptic...?

It was 1988, and I was in a dysfunctional relationship with a young lady I'll call "Rhoda". Rhoda lived with her grandparents, who had adopted her when she was very young. The trio lived in a large house with two upper floors, a walkout basement, and a sub-basement, and which, according to Rhoda, was haunted. 

While I didn't believe the house was haunted, I did believe that Rhoda and her grandmother were scared to be alone when the grandfather went out of town on business, so I often agreed to spend the night on the weekends, sleeping in a guest room. On one of these nights, I got a little more than I bargained for, in the form of a spectral visitor.

On this particular night, Rhoda's grandmother had already gone to bed, leaving us alone to watch late night TV. Rhoda had acquired several puppies that summer, and they slept outside in a miniature barn of sorts near the house. This night, the puppies were being very noisy, barking and yapping without end. I assumed they had seen a deer in the large field behind the house, but Rhoda insisted I go check on them. I grudgingly went outside with a flashlight to see what was wrong.

The mini barn was a fair distance from the house, and the back side—the side with the stalls—was unlit. It also faced out to a large field, nearly football field-sized, that had a forest on the other side. 

As I stood at the stall door, looking down at the dogs and checking each one to make sure they weren’t injured, I felt a cool chill on my right side, facing in the same direction as the house. The chill rapidly moved across my back, then all up and down the lefthand side of my body, then vanished. It was as though a wind had whipped up, but without the movement of any air. I had never experienced anything like it.
As I stood there, confused, noticing there was no wind, something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention, and I turned to the left. Behind the house and stalls, right in the middle of that large field, there was a single tree. Behind this tree, someone was watching me—someone dressed all in white, from head to toe.

As a very young child, I remember making “ghosts” in school. We took little balls of tissue, then draped another tissue over them, putting a rubberband around the neck, to create a little ghost. This is actually what the figure I was seeing looked like: a person, draped in a white cloth, tight around their neck and hands. And, I could see through the shrouded figure—they were translucent.

As soon as I saw them, my observer reacted. They seemed startled, then dove forward, as if to go prone on the ground. Only the translucent figure didn’t just land on the ground, they passed into it, vanishing from sight.

I stood there for a moment, shocked. Had I just seen what I thought I’d seen? I struggled to play the memory back in my head. Surely, I was seeing things.

For one, I was having a problem believing it was a spirit I’d just seen. But I was also having a problem with where who, or what, had gone. I mowed that field regularly, and there was no depression or hole next to that lone tree—nowhere for anyone to go unless they actually passed into the ground.

I turned my head slowly from side to side, thinking that just maybe some light had played across my glasses, creating the illusion. Try as I might, several times, I couldn’t replicate what I had just seen.

I bid the dogs a good night and hurried back into the house.