July 3rd marks the 73rd anniversary of the UFO crash at Roswell, New Mexico. I’ve always loved the mystery surrounding that story, and I thought I knew most of the facts. But one day I was reading and–almost as a footnote–discovered that rancher Mack Brazel wasn’t alone when he found the wreckage. A young boy was with him.
I had never heard that before, and I instantly wondered what it must have been like for that kid. And I began work on Saucer Crash that very night, telling the story of the Roswell crash through his eyes.
Saucer Crash is a middle-grade book, but it won’t insult your intelligence if you’re a little older. But with the anniversary coming up, I’ve posted the first chapter here.
Hope you like it!
July 3rd, 1947
The rumble of thunder rolled over the desert like the growl of an angry dinosaur. Fourteen-year-old Will Proctor listened as the thunder died away, then shook his head.
“That was nothing,” he said. “Had to be ten miles away.”
“Ten miles?” Will’s ten-year-old brother Ben looked worried. “Are you sure?”
“Oh, yeah. Ten miles at least.”
“How do you know?”
“Well, it wasn’t very loud, for one thing. And it was nearly a minute from the time we saw the flash ’til we heard the thunder.”
Will looked over patiently. Ben wasn’t usually frightened by thunderstorms, but this one was especially fierce. And there was a … strangeness … to it that made Will’s skin crawl. He suddenly shivered, though he wasn’t really cold.
Ben was sitting beside him, hunched on the porch with his knees drawn up to his chest. He’d pulled his sweatshirt down over his legs so only his head was visible.
Will looked up as another rumble of thunder rolled in. Rain pounded the roof of the house and poured over the eaves. Will could smell the dust being stirred up by the rain, as well as the acrid ozone from the lightning.
Summer thunderstorms were not uncommon in the desert of New Mexico. And Will usually enjoyed them. He liked watching as the lightning flashed and the thunder boomed.
But this storm was different. It was wild and strange and eerie in a way Will had never seen before.
Almost as if the heavens were angry about something.
WILL LOOKED DOWN at his little brother and tried to sound reassuring.
“It’s like this,” he said. “Light travels faster than sound. That’s why you see the lightning before you hear the thunder.”
Ben scrunched his nose.
“But if you want to know how far away the lightning is, all you have to do is count seconds,” Will continued.
“Until you hear the thunder. When you see a flash of lightning, start counting like this: one little pony, two little ponies, three little ponies … like that. It takes about five seconds for the sound of thunder to go a mile. So if you count to ten before you hear it—”
“It’s two miles away?”
“Right. And if you count to fifteen?”
Ben was searching the sky eagerly now, anxious to give it a try. The sky lit up almost instantly as angry flashes split the darkness. The brilliant streaks lasted a full second or more, but Ben was already counting.
“One little pony … two little ponies … three little ponies …”
Twelve, Will thought to himself as Ben counted. That looked a lot closer than the last one … I bet it’s twelve seconds . . .
“Ten little ponies … eleven—”
The thunder crashed loudly, followed by five or six seconds of lesser rumbles.
Despite the ear-splitting crack of thunder, Ben looked excited.
“Two miles and change,” Will agreed. “Right between here and Mack’s place.”
“But closer to ours!”
“Yup … closer to ours.”
Five minutes ago, Ben would have been frightened that the lightning had struck closer to their place. But now it was a source of pride.
Will looked around as the rain picked up—falling even harder now—and thought about Mack Brazel. Mack was a gangly rancher who lived five miles down the road. Will helped him with his sheep.
Mack had a family, but he was the only one who lived in the desert ranch house. His wife and sons lived in Tularosa because the school was better there and, besides, the ranch house was too small for the whole family.
“Do you think Mack’s sheep are scared?” Ben asked. “You think they’re scared of thunder and lightning?”
“I’ll bet they are. Tomorrow, Mack and I’ll probably spend the whole day roundin’ ’em up.”
“Poor things,” Ben said as thorny branches of lightning split the sky, one right after another. He used his fingers to count so he could continue talking. “I’d hate to be out in the desert on a night like this.”
The first crack came at nine seconds. Ben looked over with a crease of worry on his face.
“It’s a little closer,” Will admitted. “But it’s still nothing to worry about.”
“Do you think Mack gets scared?” Ben asked. He scrunched himself up inside his sweatshirt. “Being out there all by himself and everything?”
Will shook his head.
“I don’t think Mack gets scared of anything.” He looked at Ben and grinned. “But one of his dogs sure does.”
“Oh, yeah. He hates loud noises. I’ll bet he’s hunkered down under Mack’s table right now.”
Ben hesitated, then asked, “What about Big Owl Man? Or the Eight-foot Skeleton? Think Mack’s scared of them?”
Will looked up as another flash of lightning peeled back the night. Big Owl Man was a legendary monster said to live in the desert. The Apache Indians who once lived there said the Big Owl Man was part-owl/part-man, carried a club, and gobbled up naughty children for breakfast.
Will didn’t think the Eight-foot Skeleton was an Apache legend, but it was just as unsettling. The story was that an eight-foot human skeleton wandered the desert on moonless nights with a glowing lantern nestled within its ribs.
When he was younger, Will had been frightened of the stories. But not anymore. After all, he reasoned, how could a skeleton be eight feet tall?
And why would it need a lantern?
He reached over and tussled his brother’s unruly mop of hair.
“Naw, Mack’s not afraid of anything.”
“He’s not afraid of skeletons?”
“He’s got dogs and a rifle.”
“Ain’t no wolves to be scared of.”
Ben looked up as a crack of thunder crashed over the desert. His voice was quiet. “Is he scared of thunder?”
Will shook his head. “Thunder’s nothing to be scared of, Ben.”
THERE WAS ANOTHER FLASH of light, another, and then another. Will wasn’t counting the seconds, but the lightning seemed to be striking farther away now. Strike after strike after strike. They were coming so fast it was impossible to tell one from another. The thunder became one long, angry rumble, punctuated by occasional sharper cracks. The rain began falling even harder, pounding the dry desert and pouring off the Proctor’s roof like a waterfall.
“My gosh,” Will said. He had to raise his voice to make himself heard over the rain. “This is incredible! I’ve never seen—”
Before he could finish the sentence the entire sky lit up. The flash was so bright it stung Will’s eyes. He winced, throwing a hand up in front of his face. There was suddenly a strange smell in the air, the smell of ozone.
The hair began tingling on Will’s arms and neck.
He whirled around.
“Ben! Get down!”
Will didn’t take time to explain. He pushed Ben down on the porch and dropped flat on top of him. Ben jerked his elbow in surprise, striking Will in the eye. Will recoiled in pain—his eyes filling with tears—then ducked his head and held on tight.
The sky lit up again. The flash was so bright Will could see it even though his eyes were closed. From the inside, his eyelids appeared blood red and full of spider webs. The thunder followed instantly, a terrifying, ear-splitting crack that shook the house and rattled the windows. The blast was so loud it crushed Will’s ears.
There was another flash—an instant, terrifying explosion of thunder—and Will felt the porch shake. The windows rattled. A pot fell from the windowsill. Ben was flailing wildly beneath him, lashing out with an elbow that caught Will in the other eye. Will ducked his head out of the way and held his brother even more tightly.
There was another crack of thunder, and another. The crashes sounded like cannon fire as the sky lit up brighter than the sun in the middle of the day.
And then, finally, the storm seemed to recede. The thunderclaps became muted as the lightning began striking farther away.
Will held onto Ben for another moment, then slowly lifted his head. The house was still standing, the rain still falling. Ben was crying. Will relaxed and tried to sit up, but the younger boy cried out and held on.
“It’s okay,” Will said. He pulled his brother close and hugged him. He looked into the darkness. “It’s okay, the worst of it’s over.”
The door flew open and Mr. Proctor burst onto the porch.
“Will! Ben! Are you okay?”
“We’re fine, Pa,” Will said. Over the sound of the rain he could hear his little sister sobbing in the kitchen. “Just a little startled.”
Mr. Proctor knelt on the porch and began checking his sons for injuries. Ben threw his arms around his father’s neck, still whimpering.
“Will, what happened to your face?”
“My … what?”
Mr. Proctor squinted in the darkness. “Your eye’s cut.”
Will reached up and touched his left eye. His fingers came away wet with blood.
“Oh,” he said, surprised. “I was holding Ben down on the porch and he sorta smacked me.”
He stood and stared into the darkness: the lightning was flashing above the clouds now. It was like watching campfires through thin curtains.
He looked back at his father.
“What just happened?”
Mr. Proctor shook his head. “I don’t know, Will.”
“That didn’t even seem like thunder. It was … different. Do you think an airplane might have crashed?”
Mr. Proctor frowned. The Roswell Army Air Field was about seventy miles to the southeast. The base was the home of the 509th Bombing Squadron. The Enola Gay—the bomber that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima—had once been stationed at Roswell, and people said the army still stored atomic bombs there. If an airplane carrying such a weapon had been caught in the storm …
Well, who knows what might have happened?
HE TURNED AND LOOKED southwest. The White Sands Missile Range was about 200 miles that way. White Sands was a top-secret missile base. No one knew what the army did there, but there were plenty of rumors. And who knew what might happen if one of the army’s secret experiments went haywire?
“I don’t know, Will,” Mr. Proctor said. “But I can’t imagine an airplane flying around on a night like this.”
But Will wasn’t listening anymore; he was looking steadfastly into the darkness.
“What is it?” his father asked.
“I don’t know, but …”
“Something’s glowing way out there on the desert.”
Ben was instantly alarmed. “Something’s glowing? Like a lantern? Like the skeleton?”
“No, Ben, it’s not the skeleton …”
Mr. Proctor squinted but couldn’t see it. “Are you certain?”
“I think so. Maybe. Do you think the lightning could have sparked a brush fire?”
“It’s possible. But I don’t think so. With all this rain, I can’t imagine anything being able to burn.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
On the other hand, Will thought, if a missile—or an airplane full of fuel—had gone down out there, it’d take more than a little rain to keep it going up like a bonfire.
He squinted but was unable to see the dim glow anymore. The night sky was black as ink and the fiery glow now seemed more imaginary than real. He wasn’t certain anymore that he’d actually seen anything.
He peered into the sky. It was hard to be certain, but it seemed as if the storm was beginning to let up a little. The rain wasn’t falling quite so hard and the lightning strikes had tapered off, only flashing once every half-minute or so.
“Why don’t you come on in, Will?” Mr. Proctor asked as he stood and lifted Ben. “You’ve got to be up pretty early in the morning.”
“Yeah, sure, Pa. I’ll be right in.”
Will watched as his father carried Ben inside the house, then stood on the porch for another minute. He watched the sparks of receding lightning and listened to the ominous rumble of distant thunder. The air smelled wet and dusty and a little bit moldy.
As far as storms went, this one seemed normal again. But for several minutes it had seemed strange in a way that left him feeling uncomfortable. It had been disturbing and quite a bit frightening.
Now he wondered if it had really been as strange as it seemed … or if it had just been his imagination.
He shivered again.
Well, there it is! I hope you like it and–whether you believe the story of the crash or not–with the anniversary coming up, remember to keep your eyes to the sky!