July 6, 1947
The heat waves blurred the horizon and dry wind blew grit under his collar. Mack Brazel pulled his sweat soaked hat from his head and wiped his brow with his sleeve. The boy said, “Mr. Brazel, what’s wrong with them sheep?”
“This stuff laying all over’s got ’em spooked. If they don’t get past it and get to the waterhole, they gonna die in this heat.”
“Where’d it come from?”
“I don’t rightly know, son. We’ll take some back with us. There must be somebody around who’ll know what it is.”
“It’s too hot to touch.”
“Yeah it is. I’ll get a tarp outta the truck. We’ll wrap it up in that.”
Brazel gathered fragments of metal and fabric—one notable piece with markings—and piled them on the oily old canvas. He took his knife from his pocket and tested it against a shard without making any trace of a mark. “Mighty tough stuff,” he told seven-year-old Dee Proctor, the neighbor’s boy.
“My dad will know what it is,” he said. Then pointing, “What’s that on the ground?”
Brazel squinted and said, “Probably a lamb that died without water. Let’s go see.” Taking a few steps toward the prostrate form Brazel squinted to determine its shape.”
“What smells so bad?” Dee asked.
Brazel smelled it too. “That’s no dead lamb.” Then terror clapped in his chest and he turned the boy toward the pick-up. “Wait in the cab, son.” While Dee walked to the truck Brazel took tentative steps around the gray shape in a furrow between tufts of dry grass. “Oh, good Lord,” he whispered and ran to the truck. Throwing the tarp into the bed then pulling himself behind the wheel.
“What was it, Mr. Brazel?”
“Something not of this world.”
“What’s that mean?”
“I don’t know, son. I just don’t know.”
Brazel drove Dee home and showed his parents what he collected and, in whispers, told what he had seen. “You’d best go see the sheriff,” Floyd Proctor said.
“I reckon. Somebody’s gotta clean it all up—right quick too.”
Loretta said, “Mack, thanks for not letting Dee see the other thing. He’d have nightmares.”
“I know it. I’m gonna have nightmares too.”
“You suppose there’ll be more of them coming?” Loretta asked.
“Ain’t no telling. Have to keep an eye on the sky.” Brazel said.
“Guess I’ll put the twelve gauge in the pickup. Let us know what the sheriff says,” Floyd said.
“I will,” he said then drove his battered old pick-up into Roswell.
Brazel parked in front of the sheriff’s station. Inside he said, “George, I’m surprised to find you in your office on Sunday afternoon.”
“I’m a hard working sheriff. What’s on your mind, Mack?” Sheriff George Wilcox said.
“Let me shut the door. We need to talk kinda confidential.”
Wilcox scowled and nodded. “What you got in that dirty old tarp?”
“Damnedest thing you ever heard tell of. Figure one of them flying saucers blew up over Foster’s ranch.”
“You been drinking in the middle of the day, Mack?” The sheriff began to examine the pieces of metal. He looked long and curiously at the one bearing inscriptions.
“Here,” Brazel said, “take my knife and see if you can put a scratch on that.”
Wilcox tried and when he failed said, “It sure ain’t aluminum and I never heard of making an airplane out of steel.”
“It ain’t steel neither and that ain’t all. The bodies of them spacemen are out there too.”
Wilcox stared mutely.
“I’m dead serious, George. There’s still time to get out there before dark. Come see for yourself.”
Wilcox stroked his chin and reached for his Stetson. “I reckon I oughtta. You want to follow me?” The phone rang. “Hold on.” He lifted the receiver and said, “Sheriff Wilcox. Oh, hi, Frank. As a matter of fact I do. I’m going to put Mack Brazel on.” He covered the mouthpiece and said to Brazel, “This here’s Frank Joyce over at KGFL. Calls every day looking for news. Tell him your story.”
Brazel took the phone and spoke to the disc jockey from the local radio station for several minutes. In the end he said, “Damn right it’s the truth. I’m taking the sheriff out there right now. He’ll tell you how true it is when he gets back.”
At the debris field the first thing Wilcox said was, “Oh, good Lord, that’s a powerful stink.”
“You ain’t lying.” Wilcox squatted to examine a large shard of metal. Brazel said, “There’s a burned spot over yonder and that’s where the body is.”
“There’s just one body?”
“I didn’t look around after I saw it. I had the Proctors’ boy with me—didn’t want him to see it. It’s pretty busted up.”
“Let’s have a look.”
Brazel led him to the furrow. “It’s in there. It’s pretty hard to get close for the smell.”
Wilcox held his breath and leaned over the cadaver. He stepped back and said, “That ain’t something from this world. Look at them eyes. We better look around a little to see if there’s more.”
They went in opposite directions. In a few minutes Brazel shouted, “There two more over here. One’s not so torn up.”
Wilcox came with his handkerchief over his nose and mouth. He looked at the bodies and said, “They stink so bad I bet a coyote won’t even get near them.”
“Don’t look like nothing’s been chewing on ’em. What do you figure we oughtta do?”
“Yeah, who do you tell about a thing like this?”
“I want to know who’s gonna clean it up. It’s spookin’ the sheep.”
“I got to think on it a while. You don’t have a phone do you?”
“Why don’t you come to town tomorrow? I’ll think of something.”
“Okay. Let that Joyce fella know I ain’t full of shit.”
“Yeah. In the meantime, I don’t think you ought to touch anything.”
Wilcox stopped by the radio station where Frank Joyce had just finished his shift. “Hey, Sheriff, what did you find out there?”
“It’s true, sure as hell. They got these big heads and big black eyes—nothing from this world. Who the hell should I go to with this?”
“I’d go over to the airbase. They’re in charge of things that fly, ain’t they?”
“That’s a good idea. I’ll call Jesse Marcel in the morning. I reckon they ain’t going nowhere.”
“How many are there?”
“Three, but the debris covers a lot of territory and we didn’t spend a lot of time looking. The stink coming off of them is enough to run you out of the county.”
“Stink? ’Cause they’re rotting?”
“No, sir, it’s not putrefaction. They just stink.”
“That’s odd. I wonder how we smell to them?”
Monday morning Sheriff Wilcox drove his black and white Ford patrol car onto the Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF) and requested to meet with Major Jesse Marcel on official business. When he had finished his story Marcel leaned back in his chair. “Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Give me minute.” He made a phone call, told someone to meet them at the motor pool and said to Wilcox, “Lead the way. We’ve got to assess the situation.”
While Marcel signed for a Jeep two men approached, one in sergeant’s stripes and the other in civilian clothes. Marcel said, “Sheriff, this is Captain Cravitt and Sergeant Bill Rickets. Gentlemen, meet Sheriff Wilcox.” All shook hands and climbed into the Jeep. They dropped Wilcox at his patrol car and he led the way.
On the dirt road into Foster’s ranch the police car raised a cloud of dust choking the three men in the open Jeep. At the site of the debris they saw Brazel’s truck and found him with his wife, son and daughter looking over the scene.
“Mack,” Wilcox said, “use your head. This is no place for them. Especially the kids.”
“This is a historic event, George. They deserve to be part of it.”
“It could be dangerous for ’em.”
“Dangerous? They’re all dead.”
“Could be poisons or radio activity.”
“Then it ain’t no worse than them atom bombs those guys are setting off.”
“Just do me a favor and get them outta here.”
Brazel, grumbling, loaded his family and left.
Marcel said, “Thanks, Sheriff, we don’t need civilians getting involved.” Cravitt remained silent. He and Rickets examined a fragment of metal.
Cravitt looked around at the field of debris. “It doesn’t look like a crash site. Whatever it was disintegrated in the air. Where’s the bodies?”
Wilcox led them to the badly mangled corpse then the pair of less damaged alien cadavers.
“Good God,” Marcel said, “they are strange looking creatures. We’ve got to get this place secured fast, then scoop everything up and get it out of here.”
“Major, you don’t want anybody seeing this who doesn’t have secret clearance,” Cravitt said.
“You’re right. We’ll keep the MPs out on the highway. When we get back you deal with the provost marshal.”
“Sheriff, who was the civilian?”
“That was Mack Brazel. He discovered this yesterday. He works for Foster.”
“Live on the ranch?”
“He’s got a little cabin here but keeps his family over in Corona.”
“Okay, we’ll take it from here, Sheriff. You can go now.”
“That’s fine by me.” Wilcox got into his car and drove down the dusty road.
The three soldiers huddled when they were alone. After the dust cloud dissipated they boarded the Jeep and drove at speed to the headquarters of the 509th Bomb Group on RAAF.
Marcel went to brief Base Commander, Colonel William Blanchard while Counter-Intelligence Officer, Cravitt called on the Provost Marshal, Colonel Edwin Easley. After waiting in the anteroom for twenty minutes he was shown into the colonel’s Spartan office with a window giving onto the parade ground. Cravitt said, “Colonel, we have a situation that requires some security arrangements.”
“It seems a space ship from another planet has blown up over a nearby ranch. We need a perimeter set up on all the roads around the Foster place to prevent anyone without top secret clearance on the ranch—”
“Wait a minute,” Easley said, “what makes you think it’s not something the Reds are up to?”
“Colonel, I assure you, it’s not the Russians this time. There are bodies out there that did not come from this planet.”
“Oh. How many men do you need?”
Cravitt unfolded a local map that had X’s marking the locations of access to the Foster ranch. “I would say four men at each of these locations around the clock and patrols on all four of these roads. We also need to have a civilian named Brazel arrested and brought here for interrogation. Finally, someone needs to make sure, damn sure, that Sheriff Wilcox keeps his mouth shut.”
“As good as done, Captain. What are you planning to do about the evidence?”
“Obviously we have to take possession of it. After that, its disposition is out of my area of responsibility.”
The agitation Marcel displayed in his request for a meeting with Colonel Blanchard got him in front of the commander immediately. “What is your problem, Major?” Blanchard asked coolly.
“Sir, you won’t believe this, but we’ve found pieces of a flying disc and bodies of the pilots.”
“You sure it’s not just a civilian plane crash?”
“The bodies are not human, sir.”
“My God. Have you secured them?”
“We’re moving to do that right now. Have I got authority to collect the debris and the bodies using all personnel and equipment necessary and to do so as a classified operation?”
“Absolutely. And contact Haut. Have him issue a statement that deflects attention from this.”
Cravitt and Sergeant Bill Rickets went straight back to the crash site while Marcel organized his recovery team. Cravitt and Rickets beat the MPs to the ranch and were relieved to find the place empty save for the sheep.
“Let’s establish the size of the debris field,” Cravitt said.
They walked in an increasing arc until they came to a dry wash that they followed away from the center of the crash site where the bodies and burned area were. “There’s still some pieces of metal down there,” Rickets said pointing. “Hey, what’s that in the shadow?”
“It’s another body. I can smell it.”
“Captain, it’s moving. That thing is still alive.”
“Oh shit, you’re right.” Cravitt drew his sidearm and climbed into the gully. He stopped a short distance from the alien and watched it. The being turned its head and met his gaze with its big, black almond-shaped eyes, totally fathomless. Rickets tentatively stepped beside his boss. The creature then turned its head away and proceeded to smash something with a rock.
“It’s got something it doesn’t want us to get,” Cravitt said. The alien reached for an identical object and raised the rock but Cravitt ran to it and grabbed the device. The being’s hand looked frail and feeble but its grip was strong enough to prevent Cravitt from snatching the thing from it, so he backhanded the overlarge gray head with his pistol hand and jerked again on the extraterrestrial device, freeing it.
Rickets shouted, “God, Captain, get away from it.”
Cravitt did take one step back and pointed the gun between those unreadable eyes. He stood waiting for a reaction but the creature seemed to slump and did nothing. Cravitt stepped backwards, gingerly, to where Rickets stood. He glanced at what was in his hand. “It’s a book,” he said. Then he shook his head as if to clear a baffling thought. He looked back at the alien that was not moving but quite clearly still alive.
Rickets said, “It looks like a tiny television set to me.”
“Somehow I know it’s a book. When I first looked at it these squiggles were moving up the front of it and I got sort of lightheaded then they stopped. This looks like the writing on the metal pieces.”
“Yeah, it does. Maybe you’re right.”
“This is a book from another world and he didn’t want us to have it.”
“What the hell good is it? Nobody can read it.”
“Somebody will figure it out. It’s probably got a battery in it that will go dead soon. We’ll have to photograph the pages so the code boys will have something to work with when it dies.”
“Speaking of dying, what do we do with him?”
“Well, he doesn’t seem to want to run off. He’s probably injured but we can’t take a chance on him getting away.”
“You think there’s more of ’em?”
“How the hell should I know? Where is that damned Marcel?”
“We can’t stand here in the sun all afternoon watching him.”
“We don’t have any choice.”
“Maybe we can tie him up.”
“You want to tie him up, be my guest. He’s a strong little bastard.”
“You suppose he understands us?”
“That’s a good question. They been spying on us, they might know our language. Ask him.”
Rickets stared at the odd gray entity with its large oval head and diminutive torso. Finally he got brave enough to shout, “Hey, spaceman, you understand me?”
It raised its head and looked toward Rickets but made no sound or gesture.
“Shit, Captain, it gives me the creeps.”
“Me too, Bill. I wish Marcel would get his ass out here and take over. Why don’t you get up on the edge of the wash so you can see when he arrives?”
When Marcel arrived, followed by a company of engineers with trucks and tractors, Rickets shouted and waved his arms to get attention. The major trotted to the side of the ravine to see what had the sergeant so excited. He looked where Rickets pointed and said, “Holy shit, Cravitt, what have you got?”
“I got a prisoner, Major, and he stinks to high heaven. Do you think I can get some relief?”
Marcel’s aide caught up with him, he told him to radio the base for an ambulance and a couple of doctors. “And tell them to get here on the double in case it’s fixing to die. Some science boys are going to want to examine this thing. Then get some MPs with clearance to relieve Captain Cravitt.” The aide left running. To Cravitt Marcel said, “Has it done anything?”
“No, I figure it’s hurt.” He neglected to mention the battery-powered book.