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1 Strange Planet Red snow. It stains the virgin purity of sterile Antarctica: a pinprick of the peculiar in the howling fastness. Red spots, like blood drip-dripping from a blank-faced statue of the Virgin to speckle the freshly laundered crispness of an altar cloth. An alien redness in the whitest worldsomething that doesn't belong.
For a while, when the first explorers reached the fringes of the southern polar regions, the patches of red snow they found along the edges of the continent remained a minor mystery. Then the mystery was solved. The Antarctic whiteness had been stained by penguin droppings, colored red by the shellfish that the birds had eaten. Nothing strange about the redness now.
Except that it appeared elsewhere. In the province of Macerata, Italy, at the end of the last century, a myriad small, blood-colored clouds blew over, covering the sky. When the storm broke, those clouds dumped a hundred-thousand seeds upon the groundseeds that came from a tree found only in central Africa and the Caribbean. In dusty Baghdad, on the night of 20 May 1857, a heavy darkness fell, succeeded after midnight by a red and lurid gloom. As panic seized the inhabitants, a dense shower of sand began to rain upon the city. More redness fell upon the little town of Stroud in Gloucestershire on 24 October 1987, this time in the shape of hundreds of thumbnail-sized, rose-colored frogs, which tumbled from the sky, bouncing off umbrellas and pavements amid townspeople going about their business.
Three red things, all coming from the sky. Such patterns may be found wherever unexplained phenomena occur, combining, piece by piece, to form the fragmentary portrait of a truly colorful world, haunted by aliens and fairies, miracles and wonders, monsters and ghosts, all the way from Alaska to Argentina and from Britain to Japan.
We can explore this strange planet in many ways: by continent, listing the phenomena of each country, dating and placing them, and feeding the information into a computer that might confirm that ghosts appear near running water, and that odd things tend to happen on Wednesdays; by category, concentrating first on monsters, then on ghosts and, finally, on possible connections between the two; or by color, in the hope that this unorthodox approach may yield unexpected insights.
Choose another color. Yellow: a yellow rain fell in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. Some feared it was a Russian chemical warfare agent, but it was later positively identified as a blizzard of dung from a million bees. Green: a disc-shaped UFO glowed green as it hovered over a weapons depot near Astrakhan on the night of 28 July 1989, watched by servicemen from two army units in the area. Blue: thirteen-year-old Jean Bernard saw the Virgin Mary in the village of Vallensanges, near St. Etienne in France, on 19 July 1888. She wore a white dress and a blue cloak spangled with stars, and encouraged him to kill a lizard. Silver: the color of the Big Muddy Monster, an eight-foot-tall ape-creature that haunted Murphysboro, Illinois, between 1972 and 1988. Two men saw it at about one-thirty a.m. one night, moving through the rustling treeline at the edge of a salvage yard full of decaying cars and angled shadows. It had glowing red eyes and yellow teeth, and smelled of sewers and skunk.
Choose another continentit makes no difference. From a vision of the Virgin in a Patagonian bedroom to an encounter with the devil in an Irish pub; from the great sea serpent of the North Atlantic to giant wheels of phosphorescent light spinning slowly beneath the tranquil waters of the Persian Gulf; from the ghost riders of the Mesopotamian desert to Christ's gravein Japan; from the planetary bar code stretching hundreds of miles across the Australian wilderness to the poltergeist-haunted toilet of a German dentist, Dr. Bachseitz . . . this earth is uniformly rich in wonders.
A world away from Antarctica, far in the frozen north, a phantom township appears in the sky over the Muir Glacier, Alaska. This is the bewitching "Silent City," one of the strangest and most spell-binding sights to be seen at the top of the world: a chaos of weird architectural forms, from clusters of glittering spires to gables, obelisks, monoliths and castles, all shimmering over the 700-foot-deep crystal waters of Glacier Bay, all beautiful beyond description. Some say it is a vision of a real and ancient city, now covered by the icy waters of the inlet; others that it is a mirage, either of Bristol or perhaps of the capital of an undiscovered civilization situated near the pole. It is certainly not the only ghostly settlement to be seen in the far north. During the Cold War, when the Americans built bases in Greenland to study ways of fighting in Arctic conditions, soldiers from the baking dust bowls of the Great Plains sometimes saw "medium-sized midwestern cities" on the white horizon, in such detail that they could identify individual buildings and churches.
It was in the skies over Alaska, on 17 November 1986, that a Japanese Airlines Boeing 747 cargo plane on a flight from Paris to Tokyo had an alarming close encounter with a gigantic UFO. It was dark and the aircraft's experienced pilot, Captain Kenju Terauchi, first noticed some unusual lights as he passed over the northeastern part of the state, flying at about 35,000 feet. The lights were to his left and about 2000 feet below him; he assumed they might be military aircraft. However, the visitors seemed to keep pace with him, and as the aircraft turned left they appeared directly in front of it. They seemed closer now, and Terauchi and his crew could see they formed two pairs, each made up of about 120 rectangular lights arranged in rows. The glowing shapes appeared to be as few as 400 yards from the plane, each pair somewhat smaller than his 747.
Worried now, the Japanese crew contacted air traffic control at Anchorage to ask if the objects were appearing on radar. They were not, but did seem to be interfering with radio transmissions between the plane and the ground, which became increasingly garbled. Shortly afterward, the light arrays moved off to the left and Terauchi was able to discern what seemed to be a third UFO some seven or eight miles away. This object appeared on the 747's instruments and was also detected on two ground radars. Slowly it fell astern; then, as the crew craned to see if it was still behind them, they realized to their alarm that it had placed itself right on their tail, where it flew, dimly illuminated by the reflections of lights on the ground. To Terauchi, this UFO seemed hugeperhaps the size of two aircraft carriers is how he put itand was shaped like the planet Saturn. Suddenly frightened, the aircrew sought their controller's permission to take evasive action. It was granted, but the giant object kept its station behind them despite all their attempts to shake it off. Finally, as air traffic control directed another jet into the area to see if it could confirm the sighting, this monster among UFOs disappeared, leaving, in Terauchi's words, "nothing left but the light of the moon."
South now, to Canada, where strange aerial detonations, or "skyquakes," were afflicting the residents of Burlington, Ontario, in the mid-1970s, despite the absence of supersonic aircraft in the area and of blasting operations on the ground; where a sea monster nicknamed "Caddy" haunts the waters around Victoria, British Columbia, and, on the other side of the country, where three burning, ghostly ships sail the Northumberland Strait between Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, traveling at impossi- ble speeds, sometimes attracting crowds that watch them hurtling toward inevitable disaster on the rocks. In the Saskatchewan town of Gravelbourg, in 1910, a line of human footprints was found in granite that was formed millions of years before man appeared on earth, while in Clarendon, Quebec, in December 1889, an investigator named Percy Woodcock held a conversation lasting several hours with an invisible entity which the daughter of a family named Dagg had discovered in their woodshed. Speaking in gruff tones, from a spot that appeared to be in the middle of an empty floor, this being first claimed to be the Devil and to have set various mysterious fires which had plagued the family. After a while its tone changed, and, as the phenomenon continued into a second week, the voice became kinder, although still prone to embarrass its questioners by recounting details of their private lives or spitting out volleys of blasphemy. Finally, on the day it had promised to leave, it claimed to be an angel, and sang along with hymns in such a "beautiful, flute-like voice" that it was begged to staywhich it did not.
South again, to the United States, where ape-like monsters prowl, where the modern age of flying saucers began in 1947 and where, during the Second World War, the little Illinois town of Mattoon fell victim to the "Mad Gasser," a phantom anesthetist who sprayed a mysterious paralyzing gas into people's homes at night, leaving them nauseous and unable to move for up to forty minutes. The Gasser, whom one witness described as a man, "tall, dressed in dark clothing and wearing a tight-fitting cap," and another as "a woman dressed in man's clothing" who left the imprints of high-heeled shoes on the ground outside a bedroom window, evaded capture and neither robbed nor molested anyone. The paralyzing gas, the witnesses reported, smelled of flowers.
To Houston, Texas, where in 1983 a curious panic spread among children in the city. A vicious gang of Smurfs were said to be marauding through the city's schools, massacring pupils and slaughtering headmasters. The murderous cartoon characters, armed with knives and machine guns, were thought by some to be killing anybody wearing sky blue; others insisted only those who put on blue clothes were safe. In the Aldine school district, mental torment was supplemented by acute physical discomfort when a rumor spread that the Smurfs were lying in wait in the school toilets. Investigation suggested that the panic began after a television news report on the arrest of several youths from a street gang named "The Smurfs," became embroidered with fantasy; the police insisted they had no reports of massacres in any schools, though they did arrest nearly fifty people for "Smurf-related goings-on," mostly petty theft and burglary.
Further south, to Central America. Here there remains a tradition that races of pointy-heeled dwarves, called Dwendis (a corruption of the Spanish duende, or goblin), live in the rain forests. Standing up to four-and-a-half-feet tall, and with yellow, flattened faces, they dwell close to human settlements and steal the children. Here, in Mexico City in the autumn of 1593, a soldier who had been standing guard in Manila a moment or two earlier, materialized in the Plaza Mayor, having presumably teleported (or, as some of his contemporaries preferred, been carried by Satan) over the intervening expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Naturally, he was thrown into prison and interrogated as a possible devil-worshipper. Here too, on the island of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, a devilish man-beast named chupacabras, Goatsucker, which "sucked dead" five goats and twenty parakeets on Hallowe'en 1995, climbed into a house in the town of Caguas, where it destroyed a stuffed teddy bear and left a puddle of slime on the windowsill. Artists' impressions showed it as a biped, with red eyes, claws, and a line of spikes or spines running down its back. Some said Goatsucker also had a forked tail and cloven hoofs; within a few months chupacabras attacks were being reported along the shores of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, from Venezuela in the south, through Vera Cruz in Mexico and as far north as Florida.