It Came from Outer Space
February 28, 2012
Dr. Alfred Kraus walked patiently and calmly toward the summit of a small shale and limestone hill, just beyond Brawley Oates’ chicken coop, where the man from outer space had crashed and died on Texas soil. At least that’s what he had heard for so many years, and his scientific curiosity had finally led him to that hardscrabble patch of stubborn land on the outskirts of Aurora, to a hilltop once shadowed by the rusty, complaining blades of Judge W. S. Proctor’s windmill, wiped out – the report said – by the explosion of an unknown spacecraft on that fitful spring day in 1897.
Dr. Kraus carefully swept his metal detector across the caliche face of the knoll that rose up from Wise County prairie like an ancient burial mound. If there had been a crash, he reasoned, scraps of hot, twisted metal would have surely been scattered upon the sun-blistered countryside. And if the metal lay hidden amongst the rocks and blanket of Yellow Stone wildflowers, he was determined to find it.
Dr. Kraus, possessed by the affliction that cursed most university professors, simply wanted to know the truth about the fire and thunder that lit up the skies of Aurora. He would either prove that a man from outer space had crashed into the hill on Judge Proctor’s farmstead, or he would separate fact from fiction and leave the myth to wither and die away like the sunflowers that huddled between the shale and limestone scars of a barren earth.
The metal detector hummed with the enthusiasm of a bored bumblebee. In the distance, just on the far side of the turn in the road, Aurora lay dying. Or maybe it was already gone.
Aurora had been built back in the 1870s on a promise. Some day the railroad would be headed its way. So fifteen businesses and a few more than 450 good, honest, hard-working farmers and merchants settled down around the trading post. The Dallas, Pacific & Southwest Railroad even charted and graded a right-of-way through the little town. But, alas, twenty people suddenly died from a strange disease that would later be diagnosed as spotted fever, and the railroad, just as suddenly, abandoned its plans to link Aurora with the rest of Texas. The town squared its shoulders and grew in spite of being shunned.
In 1897, the quiet streets of Aurora were echoing the gossip and rumors about those “strange and mysterious airships” that had been seen in the skies above Forney, Tioga, Mansfield, and Waxahachie. Some said with quivering lips that the silver ship were at least two hundred feet long. Some couldn’t forget the powerful headlights that beamed down from their snub noses. Others reported that two gasoline engines turned the propellers that kept each craft aloft. A few even swore that the vessels were piloted by creatures who wore blue sailor suits. And one claimed that three beings climbed down from a ship, sang Nearer My God to Thee, and passed out temperance tracts. Repeated once, passed on twice and printed in a God-fearing newspaper heralded any gossip as gospel.
Aurora was undaunted. The town’s three hundred good, honest, hard-working farmers and merchants didn’t pay any attention at all to such wild tales, regarding them only as the frenzied results of alcoholic tongues or maybe religious hysteria.
They went to bed on the night of April 16, and at three minutes past dawn the next morning, a silver cigar-shaped vessel appeared above the southern horizon. It didn’t stay long, lasting only until it hovered at last beside those rusty, complaining blades of Judge Proctor’s windmill.
Dr. Krause opened the yellowed clipping and again read the account that S. E. Hayden, an Aurora cotton buyer, had written seventy years ago for a Dallas newspaper:
About 6 o’clock this morning, the early risers of Aurora were astonished at the sudden appearance of the airship which has been sailing throughout the country. It sailed directly over the public square and when it reached the north part of town collided with the tower of Judge Proctor’s windmill and went to pieces with a terrific explosion scattering debris over several acres of ground, wrecking the windmill and water tank and destroying the judge’s flower garden.
The pilot of the ship is supposed to have been the only one on board, and while his remains are badly disfigured, enough of the original has been picked up to show that he was not an inhabitant of this world. T. J. Weems, the U.S. Signal Service Officer at this place and an authority on astronomy gave it as his opinion that he (the pilot) was a native of Mars.
Papers found on his person – evidently the records of his travels – are written in some unknown hieroglyphics, and cannot be deciphered. The ship was too badly wrecked to form conclusions as to the construction or motive power … The pilot’s funeral will take place tomorrow.
For the next several years, there was gossip that the fragmented metal had been suddenly and unceremoniously confiscated by the military and never returned. Maybe. Probably. Probably not. It sounded reasonable anyway. Maybe those left with empty hands should have asked the military to sign a document or something. Then again, those wearing starched uniforms and possessing starched faces did not look as though they would have been willing to sign anything. They just took the scattered pieces from the wreckage and left. No hello. No goodbyes. No good riddance. Nothing at all.
So Dr. Krause stood on the hill, the mute witness to the crash, and gazed out across the shale and limestone rise as the earth began to bite off the sun. He had heard the words of the unbelievers. Judge Proctor never even owned a windmill, some said. T. J. Weems, the so-called authority on astronomy, was nothing more than a blacksmith.
Yet the rumor persisted that the remains of the man from outer space had been given a Christian burial in the community cemetery. And there at the foot of an unknown grave he had found a hand-hewn marker with no name. Instead, it had been carved with the outline of a cigar-shaped object, maybe even a flying machine.
All day, Dr. Krause had scoured the hill with his metal detector, searching for remnants of the mysterious airship. Some believed it came from outer space. Some didn’t. Dr. Alfred Krause could only base his scientific judgment on the merit of those antique relics that he himself had uncovered among the rocks and shale and Yellow Stone wildflowers.
And he walked back down from the lonely and mysterious hill of Aurora with old stove lids, horse bridle rings, and a 1932 license plate. If there was anything else, the hill kept it quiet.