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Long before the Air Force terminated Project Blue Book, citizens of this country and others claimed to have been abducted by strange-looking, but apparently merely curious entities, and taken aboard their disk-shaped craft. Even as far back as the fifties, respected citizens, including police officers and ministers, many of them shaken, had reported to authorities disturbing experiences where they had observed creatures in or near what appeared to be a space-like craft. Sometimes to support their claims, they pointed to pod marks and broken tree limbs, and they told of car engines that had died and then sprung to life. But they insisted on anonymity. The first publicized abduction, that of Betty and Barney Hill, remained unknown even to the abductees themselves until over two years after the abduction.

The Hills' experience had occurred on a September night in 1961, as they traveled toward home through a deserted stretch of highway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. They noticed a bright light, seeming at first to be a star, that came closer and closer until it was huge, disc-shaped, and hovering only fifty feet from where Barney had stopped the car. He got out a pair of binoculars and approached the object on foot. Through the lenses, he could see clearly a row of windows, and behind them, six beings watching him. From that point, the Hills remembered nothing, except a strange beeping sound that seemed to fill the car as they drove off. When they arrived home, they found peculiar shiny spots the size of silver dollars on the trunk of their car; Barney had an unusual mark on his groin, and two hours had passed that they could not account for.

Then, the Hills began suffering inexplicable anxiety attacks and nightmarish dreams about flying saucers, until finally, two years later, they sought help from a Boston psychiatrist, Dr. Benjamin Simon. Under hypnosis, the Hills revealed a detailed story in which the beings, observed by Barney through the binoculars, had directed them off the road and into their ships, where they examined Betty and Barney, including a "pregnancy test," with a thin needle inserted into Betty's navel. While regressed, Betty alternately sobbed and spoke firmly. Barney screamed and trembled, "what do they want? What do they want!" And, "I've never seen eyes slanted like that!"

One night, three years after the first regression, Dr. Simon invited Allen Hynek to observe the Hills under hypnosis and ask them questions. The session lasted for an hour and a half. Afterward, on January 5, 1967, Hynek wrote of his experience in a letter to Edward Condon: "I asked them to relive the episode, and they did so, talking to each other, presumably reliving the scene under total recall, including such little asides as remarks to the dog, etc. I have a tape of this, and there is no question of the terror in Barney's voice when he views his object through binoculars. Whatever it was, tangible or imaginary, these people were terrified. Your committee should hear these tapes." They never did.

Twelve years after the Hill experience, Charles Hickson, forty-two, and Calvin Parker, nineteen, two shipyard workers in Pascagoula, Mississippi, were fishing off a dilapidated pier one night when a glowing craft suddenly appeared behind them, expelling three mummy-like creatures who levitated upright, floated them back to the craft, examined each under intense light, then returned them to the dock. Deputy Sheriff Glenn Ryder answered Hickson's call to the sheriff's office and picked up the two men. Parker was crying.

"They convinced me something happened to them," Ryder recalled in an interview later. "Especially the boy. He was scared to death. There's no way he could have acted that out. He kept saying, "they're gonna come back and get us. They're gonna come back and get us. We gotta get outta here.' He wouldn't sit down. He was just standing up, shaking the whole time. Never would sit down."

Ryder and the sheriff interviewed Hickson and Parker for over an hour, then purposely left the two men alone in an office for five minutes, while a concealed tape recorder continued to turn. They expected to record Hickson and Parker snickering over how they had fooled two people so far. Instead, they heard Hickson say, "Calvin, you okay, hoss?"

"Tellya," said Parker, "I'm scared to death. This evenin,' I like to had a heart attack, I ain't shittin' ya."

"I know," said Hickson.

"I came damn near to dyin'."

"I know; it scares me to death, too, son."

"I'm just damn near cryin' right now," said Parker. His voice trembled. "Reckon why they just picked us up?"

"I don't know; I don't know," said Hickson. "I'm telling you, man, I can't take much more of that."

"I'm just damn near crazy," Parker seemed to say to himself.

Hickson said, "when they brought you out of that thing, goddamn! I like to never in hell got you straightened out, man!"

"My damn arms," said Parker, "my arms, they just froze up, and I couldn't move. Just like I stepped on a damn rattlesnake."

"I've never seen nothin' like that before in my life," said Hickson. "You can't make people believe - "

"Did you see how that damn door come right open in front of us all of a sudden?" Parker interrupted him.

"I don't know how it opened, son," said Hickson, "I don't know."

"All I see was this here zzzzzzip, then looked around; them damn blue lights and them sonsabitches, just like that, they come out." Parker started to panic. "I gotta go to the house. I am done sittin' here getting' so damn sick right now; I ain't shittn' ya. I gotta go to the house."

Hickson left the room to get the sheriff and Parker began praying. "It's just hard to believe ... Oh God, it's awful ... I know there's a God up there ..." he babbled. The last thing heard on the tape was Parker saying, "Why did it have to happen to me?" Then, Ryder and the sheriff returned and found Parker raking the walls with his fingernails.

In 1975, the third in the trio of famous American abduction cases occurred in the mountain forests of eastern Arizona, just north of the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Returning home along an old logging road, a seven-man timber cutting crew encountered a saucer-shaped, yellowish glow not a hundred feet away. Travis Walton, twenty-two, riding shotgun in the truck, jumped out and ran toward the object. Suddenly, a bolt of blue-green light hit him in the chest, knocking him into the air and back ten feet. Mike Rogers, the crew foreman driving the truck, hit the accelerator. About twenty minutes later, the crew returned, but Walton's body was gone.

When Rogers and his crew reported the incident to the county sheriff's office, they found themselves suspected of murder, and the sheriff had each examined by a polygraph expert flown in from Phoenix. One of the questions was: "did you tell the truth about actually seeing a UFO last Wednesday when Travis Walton disappeared? All six answered yes. The examiner concluded that five of the young men had told the truth. In his formal report, the examiner wrote, "these polygraph examinations prove that these five men did see some object that they believe to be a UFO and that Travis Walton was not injured or murdered by any of these men on that Wednesday (5 November 1975). If an actual UFO did not exist and the UFO is a manmade hoax, five of these men had no prior knowledge of a hoax." The results on the sixth were "inconclusive."

Five days after his disappearance, Walton reappeared, collapsed in a telephone booth at a small-town filling station. He said he remembered crouching behind a log to get a look at the glowing object, and that unconscious. He had awakened on a table onboard the craft, surrounded by humanoids dressed in brownish-orange, whom he pushed away, and escaped to the ship's interior. There, an entity appearing to be human found him and escorted him to a room in a much larger ship where two other humans, a man and a woman, laid him on a table and placed a mask over his face. When Walton again regained consciousness, he was lying on the pavement at the side of the road, watching the lighted bottom of the craft rise into a black sky. Walton flunked one polygraph exam and passed another.

In the past several years, hundreds of people, perhaps thousands, have claimed either to have been abducted or to be in contact with space beings or both. And increasingly, these abductees and contactees are being thought of less as crazy people and more as a manifestation of a little understood but widespread and growing phenomenon. As a group, they exhibit no mental deficiencies. The subject of a recent doctoral thesis by Dr. June Parnell at the University of Wyoming: 225 persons who claimed to have experienced highly unusual UFO sightings and/or to have been in communication with UFO occupants surprisingly were found to be above average in intelligence, assertive, experimental in their thinking, reserved, defensive, self-sufficient, resourceful, honest, and, most significant, devoid of mental disorders. Yet, although they suffer from no psychoses and often have good jobs, families, and respect in the community, some claim to hear voices inside their heads instructing them. But most of these stories go on further than the office of a therapist where the individual showed up one day unable to explain strange dreams, small incisions, or puncture wounds on his or her body and a peculiar loss of time associated with the chance sighting of a UFO. Many have had contact experiences, ones they cannot explain, and they tell stories similar to Meier's but have no proof, only bizarre and detailed accounts of abductions that have surfaced during hypnotic regression. The number of such claims has increased so dramatically over the last several years that a few sociologists and psychologists now feel the answer to the UFO enigma lies in their study and understanding.

* * *

Attempting to understand the intense nature of the ten-year-old phenomenon of UFOs, Jung wrote in his essay Flying Saucers almost thirty years ago: "In the threatening situation of the world today, when people are beginning to see that everything is at stake, the projection-creating fantasy soars beyond the realm of earthly organizations and powers into the heavens, into interstellar space, where the rulers of human fate, the gods, once had their abode in the planets. Our earthly world is split into two halves, and nobody knows where a helpful solution is to come from."

Jung foresaw the end of an era, the dawning of a new age, and flying saucers somehow symbolized the transition. Suddenly, a significant number of his patients had begun speaking to him of dreams in which inexplicable circular shapes descended from heaven. And he read of many others all over the world, who reported seeing similar shapes in a daytime sky. He postulated that if the will was strong, the awakened mind could conjure circular shapes that, to the eye, appeared as flying saucers, much as the palms of faithful Christians had been known to bleed spontaneously. And either these visions or the presence of an actual physical object or both could be the catalyst for what he called a "visionary rumor." But: why this sudden need for the masses to clothe unexplainable things in extraterrestrial garb? Perhaps the omniscient God of the prophets like Moses and Jesus, once so radical in the eyes of Greco-Roman paganism, no longer fulfilled man's spiritual needs; perhaps this intense, unconscious desire to believe in the existence of flying saucers signaled a wrenching shift in religious paradigms. But - and this is where Jung disqualified himself - the breakdown of religious paradigms and flying saucers in dreams do not explain the trained fighter pilot who chases a silvery fifty-foot disk confirmed on radar, only to have the disk suddenly accelerate to a speed of several thousand miles an hour, execute a 90-degree turn, and quietly disappear.

After three years of research, I have concluded that UFOs exist: something we cannot explain indeed sails through our skies from time to time. This does not mean that representatives of extraterrestrial societies visit us, though there is some evidence to suggest that. I find it difficult to believe that anyone who looks seriously and objectively at the evidence - secret government documents that only recently have been discovered, the writings of and interviews with the coterie of scientists who have investigated the phenomenon, the reports themselves - can come away insisting the whole matter takes seed in the human mind. Though I have sampled only a small portion of the literature written by debunkers like Phil Klass and Robert Sheaffer, I find their arguments strained and unpersuasive, often more convoluted and difficult to believe than the sightings themselves.

On the other hand, I empathize with the scientist who refuses to become involved. Never has there been a more frustrating subject, where questions about and answers only shimmer in the distance. With our recently acquired knowledge of the origin of the universe, the birth-and-death cycle of star systems, and the evolution of life on our own planet, many, if not most, scientists now believe that intelligent life probably exists on other planets in our own galaxy. However, many of these same scientists also believe that travel in space is impossible: the galaxy is simply too vast. In winter 1986, I spent several days with NASA scientists who are engaged in the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) at Ames Research Center in California. The SETI people theorize that since alien civilizations cannot travel in space, they communicate with one another across interstellar distances with speed-of-light radio waves. The scientists now search for such magnetic waves in the galactic "neighborhood" out to a distance of a hundred light years. Meanwhile, things no one can explain still dart through our earthly atmosphere. Maybe someday, they will turn out to be, as many have suggested, merely a misunderstood natural phenomenon. In April 1984, Allen Hynek, in a column for OMNI magazine, even suggested that the seemingly solid yet ephemeral nature of UFOs might best be explained as "an interface between our reality and a parallel reality, the door to another dimension. Surely," he added, "we haven't had our last revolution in scientific thought.

And where does Meier fit into all of this? I don't know. I would not call him a prophet, though he may be. I would not rule out impostor, though I have no proof. I know that if you boiled the story into a kettle, you would find a hard residue composed of two things: one would be Meier's ravings about time travel, space travel, philosophy, and religion; the other would be the comments by the scientists and engineers impressed with the evidence he has produced. I can't believe the former, nor can I dismiss the latter.

"We can't prove the case is real," Lee Elders said to me in an interview in 1984. "We just can't do it. We can't prove that the metals are from a Pleiadian beamship, only that they are unusual. We can't prove anything. There are still things I question about the case," he added. "I don't know how to explain it."

"It took us two years," said Brit, "to figure out you're never going to prove it, and you're never going to disprove it; it's just there."

When I met Meier in the spring of 1984, I saw a tired man with a deeply lined face who walked with a shuffle. His bright green, once playful eyes, described to me by so many people, had turned weary, and the beard he had begun to grow in the summer of 1978 was now curly and half gray and fell nearly to his waist. Only forty-seven, he looked to be at least twenty years older. People at the farm told me he rarely slept, he had ghost pains in his missing arm, and he saw well out of only one eye. In the fall of 1982, Meier was in the bathroom early in the morning when he slipped and hit his head. A doctor diagnosed the injury as a severe concussion.

Meier still lives on the farm in Schmidruti, and people still come to visit. But rarely does he speak with anyone. When visitors drive up the gravel path, he may slip his index finger beside the sheer curtain in the parlor and peek out; more likely, he will continue to stare at the television screen. Others at the farm usually intercept the visitors and talk with them about Meier and his experiences and show them photographs from several large albums and then send them on their way. I was at the farm for three weeks in the spring of 1984 and again for two weeks that fall; in the spring of 1985, I lived in Switzerland for two months, traveling frequently to the farm. In all that time, I rarely saw Meier anywhere but on that sofa in the parlor in front of the television.

Though years had passed since Meier left the farm for a contact, he told me the Pleiadians still spoke with him and had even appeared in his office several times. But since it was customary for them to run things in cycles of eleven years, even that would end in 1986. "At present," he told me, "there isn't much happening in my head."

I doubted Meier's story from the beginning but only for the typical reason: it couldn't be true. Two years later, out of frustration, I jerked open my file drawers, emptied everything into large cardboard boxes, and carried them into the basement of my office building. I could find no answers. The photo-analysis came up inconclusive because originals could not be studied. The unusual metal sample had disappeared. Except for the Intercep group, almost everyone I interviewed in the UFO community warned that I was wasting my time on an obvious hoax. But in Switzerland and again in Munich, I talked for days with Herbert Runkel, and I saw a sincere, curious, and intelligent man truly baffled by his experiences with Meier. His friend Harold impressed me the same way. With my translator Frank Stuckert, I spoke often with the people at the farm about their myriad and unusual experiences; I walked the sites in the hills, and I talked at length with the people at Bär Photo. I spoke with village administrators, interviewed neighbors, and explored the old Hinwil house from the basement to the attic. I found the alleged detractors Martin Sorge and Hans Schutzbach: Sorge now believed the contacts had actually taken place, though in a different fashion; Schutzbach remained convinced that Meier had faked everything, but after two years of searching, he had "found out nothing but a lot of ideas." He couldn't explain the landing tracks, photographs, or sound recordings, and still had no idea who even one accomplice might have been. He told me, "around Billy, the oddest things always happened." I met several intelligent and well-educated adults who rarely visited the farm but who told me their lives had been changed upon meeting Meier. One afternoon, as I sat out front of the farmhouse talking with Meier, a taxi pulled up next to the aviary, and out stepped two Japanese women who had seen the television documentary on the Meier story. They had flown twenty-two hours from Tokyo. As the older woman stood next to the taxi, both hands enveloped the stem of a red rose.

The scientists who had examined the evidence cautioned against premature conclusions, but the evidence impressed most of them. That, of course, does not make Meier's story real, but having experienced the setting in Switzerland, I, like others before me, could not understand how Meier could have created sophisticated special effects in his photography. Then, there were the sounds, metal, landing tracks, films, the explanation of the beamship propulsion system, all of which lent credibility to the story. Yet Meier's contrived photos of the San Francisco earthquake and his other outlandish claims tore at the credibility. He may simply be one of the finest illusionists the world has ever known, possessing not the power but the skill to persuade others to see things that did not happen and do not exist. Perhaps he has no such ability; perhaps beings on a much higher plane have selected him and controlled him and used him for reasons far beyond our comprehension. I do know this: trying to make sense of it all has been the most difficult thing I will ever do. Finally, I realized, as the Elders had years before, that the truth of the Meier contacts will never be known.

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