“All that time saving up and this is what you want to spend it on?”
I straighten my jacket, tie up my hair, and throw a sideways glance at Burt. “You know what? You can cram it, ya old coot.”
Burt shakes his head and chuckles under his breath. Even after forty-two years together there are still some things we can never seem to agree on. The best flavor of syrup for waffles in the morning, for instance, or the perfect temperature to set the thermostat in the summer, or why he finds those blasted curling contests so compelling, or why I have to drag us to the crafts fair in Tylune County twice a year when we have a perfectly good crafts fair down the street. But this time it’s different. This time I’d set aside my own money for this little indulgence. We’d both agreed that if we set our own money aside for the silly things we want then the other one can’t say boo.
Not that we still can’t make snippy little comments about each other’s goofy hobbies. That is the beauty of marriage. As I finish getting ready — must make sure my phone is charged, plus an extra camera, plus a battery pack — Burt is sitting on the couch looking at me with amusement in his eyes like I’m the silliest thing he’s ever seen.
“I can understand the Time Capsule thing,” he says. “Hell, I might want to go take a spin in one of those babies after I get a couple more hundred bucks squirreled away. But are you really going to take it there?”
“Yes, I am,” I say adamantly. He is not going to ruin this for me. I am too excited. I’ve been waiting months for this.
“But two hours any time in history, anywhere in the world!” he says incredulously. “Don’t you want to see something better? Jacob at work went to the Cretaceous last year. He saw dinosaurs!”
“Dinosaurs are for kids, Burt.”
“OK, fine. But there’s still way better things to see. What about early Earth? Cave men? Martin Luther King’s speech? You could go see original productions of Shakespeare!”
I double check my supplies. I have everything I need, every bit of information I’ve managed to gather since I started planning this trip, every article, news source, rumor, analysis, and Wiki I could get my hands on. I feel young again, full of energy, like I’m about to embark on a great adventure. I turn around and plant a kiss on my husband’s equally amused and exasperated face.
“When you’ve got the money, Burt, you can go see Shakespeare. But until you stop blowing your wad on those curling tickets, you can zip it.”
The Time Capsule zaps back into normal space with a noticeable jolt. I feel my stomach lurch and quickly take a sip of the medicated drink included in the Ready Traveler bag provided by the travel company. The taste is awful, almost metallic, but having already been warned by the orientation video, I force it down and almost immediately feel better. The screen before me displays May 11, 1950, 6:30pm.
The capsule is comfortable enough for what it is. There’s about as much room as a standard Cessna cockpit. Before me is a screen with a few basic controls — the more advanced controls are locked for guided tours only. Remembering the orientation, I test out the buttons before getting too carried away. I ensure the perception filter is on at full power to avoid attracting unwanted attention, move the capsule around in the air slowly — restricted to one square mile — ensure that the channel of communication to support personnel is open, and finally lower the opacity of the dome above me until nothing sits between me and the darkening sky. Miles of fields and farm lands stretch below me. The location is Sheridan, Oregon, nine miles southwest of McMinnville. I’ve made it.
Heart pounding with glee, I begin to unpack my things. I had set the allotted time from one hour prior to one hour after the supposed occurrence, just to make sure I covered it in case the reported time was off. I get my phone and camera ready, making sure both are fully charged and working before pulling out a print of the famous photograph. Looking at it closely, I carefully start maneuvering the capsule into the best viewing position.
Burt may make fun of me, but close encounters have always been a passion of mine.
Ever since I was little I’ve wanted to see an alien. Or even just a spaceship fly by. Just some indication that there’s life out there besides just boring old humans. As I grew up, my expectations began to get more realistic. I hoped to hear about contact with other life forms, news of UFOs and space crafts, scientific advances that reach other civilizations, and yet the universe continued to fail me. How is it that we can travel back in time for fun but still haven’t found any aliens?
My kids laugh at my little obsession, too. They joke that I would trade my two Nobel prizes in astrophysics just for one glimpse at a little green man. It’s true but I try not to say it out loud.
I thought that now in my sixties and retired, I’d run out of time for my close encounter, that I’d be left to piddle around with my articles and old stories and internet forums in the years I have left. That is, until time travel became a privatized venture. Suddenly, possibilities opened up. Possibilities I never imagined possible. I saved and scrimped and researched and finally, FINALLY, settled on the perfect one.
At 7:30pm on May 11th, 1950, Paul and Evelyn Trent took the famous McMinnville UFO photo, which has since become one of the most highly publicized items in UFO history. The photo was never able to be confirmed as a hoax, even after numerous studies by experts. Even better, the Trents never once attempted to seek fame or fortune through the photo, and everyone who ever met them were impressed with their sincerity. I held on to this story. These simple, honest people were given the chance to see something amazing, and all they wanted to do was tell the world about it.
And because they did, I now have my chance. I look at the clock. 6:54pm. Little more than half an hour to go. I’ve almost reached the space above the farm house. Per the articles, Evelyn Trent was walking back from feeding the rabbits to her house when she first spotted the craft. I can see someone moving about in the field, but not yet walking towards the house.
Once above the house and powerlines, I raise my elevation. Evelyn appears to be finishing up now. If I have things figured out correctly, I should be able to see the same object they photograph, but from a much closer and clearer vantage point. At the very least, even if I’m not able to get a good photo myself, I should be able to tell whether this is hoax or not.
7:15pm. I feel giddy as a child. I’m going to see a real UFO.
7:20pm. Evelyn is walking towards the house now. I see nothing in the air yet, but it should be any moment now.
7:25pm. I’m practically bouncing up and down in my seat. Please be something, I whisper to myself. Please BE something! Evelyn is dawdling a bit. That’s fine. These things aren’t going to be exact. I lean forward, camera at the ready, looking at the sky where the UFO should appear any moment now. I —
I think for a moment I’ve imagined the voice and keep my position, then it quickly comes again.
“Ms. Boyd, please respond.”
The communication channel is squawking. I look down in dismay, keeping one eye on the sky. “Yes, what is it?”
“My apologies, ma’am, but I must request that you prepare for return right away.”
“What?!” I exclaim, louder than I mean to be. “I have another hour left!”
“I understand, ma’am, and the company is truly sorry and you will be refunded the full cost of your flight, but our censors indicate that your perception filter is failing.”
“My wha . . .” I stop. All this time I’ve been too eagerly awaiting my moment I haven’t been checking the monitor at all. The power of the perception filter is rapidly draining. Within moments the capsule will become perceptible to the outside!
“But that’s not fair!” I say, frustration building. Nothing has appeared in the sky yet. If it comes now I can still get a picture. “This isn’t my fault!”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but perception filters can be affected by a number of environmental factors that we cannot control. Please prepare for return.”
“Just give me another minute!” I’m staring at the sky, camera poised. Come on . . . come on . . .
“We can’t wait, ma’am. We are bringing the capsule back now. Please prepare for return in five . . . four . . .”
“No!” I cry as the dome above me suddenly turns opaque. The farm disappears. Then the trees, and finally the sky. “I was so close!”
“Three . . . two . . .”
I quickly fasten my seatbelt, just in time for the capsule to shift into travel mode and take off with nauseating speed. The person on the other end is apologizing profusely, offering me discounts and packages and to put me back on the waitlist without a holding fee. I can get another ride as quickly as fifteen months, he says, and I’ll be upgraded to a luxury capsule.
I sigh and slump in my seat. There’s always next year.
Paul and Evelyn Trent stand side by side on their farm, looking up in the sky. Evelyn turns to her husband and gestures at the Kodak camera in his hand.
“Think you got that?”
Paul nods. “I did. What’d ya reckon that was?”
“Beats me,” Evelyn replies. “Sure was weird, though. All round an’ silvery an’ just hanging there outta nowhere.”
“Well, it’s gone now. Must’ve flown off.”
“Maybe we can take that picture to town some time, get the boys at the precinct to look at it.”
“Donno about that. Might be military. Then we’d be in trouble.”
“Ah, well.” Paul shrugs. “Come, let’s get supper on.”
The two walk back into their house as the sun sinks below the horizon, two history-making photos in their hands.