It is Sunday evening and Ben is walking the long bridge across the river to meet with Lenny Braverman at his house in the Center District. Lenny and his mom live together in a small house that sits at the corner of an alley and a lane. ‘Lanes’ is just a special term the city had made up for certain kinds of alleys.
The UFO Maker
by R Ross Johnston
Ben and Lenny had talked at school on Friday to arrange this meeting for today. Lenny found out that Ben has a Polaroid camera and two rolls of film. Ben didn’t want to keep his camera but he did want the fancy reflector telescope that Lenny said he had his house.
Ben has visited Lenny a couple of times before during the past year so he knows where he is going and isn’t particularly bothered that it is getting dark. It is the first week of April and a heavy cloud cover is threatening rain. The gathering clouds have quickly darkened the light of the setting sun.
Lenny comes to the door to meet Ben. Ben asks Lenny if his mother is at home. Lenny says she went out at 8:30 and probably won’t be back until after daylight tomorrow morning.
Ben lifts the Polaroid camera out from the brown grocery bag that he has been carrying it in and presents it to Lenny rather resolutely. Ben notes the look of somber satisfaction on Lenny’s face. Lenny walks back to his bedroom and then quickly returns with a lightweight black case that contains the promised telescope. “Ben, there are three eyepieces in a small compartment. See? Right here,” Lenny informs Ben as he opens the case and then he points directly to the compartment that contains the telescope eyepieces and glances up to Ben’s eyes to make sure that he is paying attention.
Ben pulls the telescope from the case and gives it a perfunctory examination for obvious signs of wear or damage. Everything looks fine.
Lenny looks to Ben and then he says, “Come on back to the spare room. That’s where I work on my projects. You might be interested. Can you stay?” Ben replies that he still has to walk home and that he’ll stay a while longer, “as long as I can leave by 10:30 I’ll be OK.”
Ben follows Lenny back through a narrow and cluttered hall to a brightly lit room with two old covered easy chairs plus a kitchen chair and a kitchen table.
Lenny moves with large waving gestures while he explains to Ben that they are now in the room where he experiments with chemicals and builds things. “I’m working on a special blend of cordite that I can use with another project of mine.”
“Cordite?,” Questions Ben while he tries to convey the idea that he has at least a vague concept of what cordite is and that he understands several good reasons why he should be interested in hearing about Lenny’s ‘new blend’.
It seems that Ben’s total ignorance and lack of interest has been betrayed by a blank look on his face and by a quick glance to the alarm clock ticking loudly away on a small end table.
“Ben, do you see that cannon on the floor over there?”
Ben looks to the floor where Lenny is pointing to see what appears to be a small bread box sized black metal cannon sitting by the wall.
“That’s a cordite cannon I got from a guy last week. People shoot them off at times like the fourth of July and they make a lot of noise but not so much smoke. It’s called a ‘cordite cannon’.”
“So you’re learning how to make cordite, Lenny?”
Lenny replies, “No. I just buy it when I need it. What I’m working on is a blend of cordite with powered metals that will burn just right to make a very white hot cordite light that glows brighter that even fireworks for a long time – like as long as two hours. Just a few ounces are needed.” Lenny points to what appears to be a metal tube with a hose leading down to the floor. “This is my Bunsen burner” he says as he lights the gas flame. “I use it as part of my process to make helium.”
“So, you make helium?”
“Yes I make it when I need it. Since tonight is Sunday it’s a good time to make up a batch.”
Ben has no response to that statement. But he is wondering to himself what Lenny is talking about. “Why is this evening a good time to make helium?”
Ben thought maybe Lenny was going to gulp some helium and make himself talk funny. Perhaps he wound share some with Ben. Ben had heard on the radio how people did that with helium and how a kid at a carnival had suffocated himself while playing with helium.
Lenny said nothing more as he carefully filled several large balloons with what Ben believed to be helium. Then he tied the balloons off and kept them in a bunch.
“Ok, Ben. I’ve known you for almost a year and I believe that I can trust you. I want you to know that you can trust me also. I like to barter and I am a trader. I like to trade up whenever I can so I can make good deals for myself. A lot of what I have belonged to other people first. Not all of those people are satisfied with the trade they made with me.
Sometimes they come to this conclusion after they have some time to think about the trade that they made. That’s too bad. But know this one thing, I am not a thief. Every deal was done in the open. I just helped people to get what they thought they wanted at the time.”
Ben had experienced some doubts about Lenny’s honesty and thought that maybe; with all the many deals he has doing, he may have been dealing stolen merchandise. “I just wanted to say that I trust you, Ben. And, I want you to know that I do not want to harm other people.”
“Here is what I am really talking about. Sunday night is a good night for what I am about to show you. If it all goes well what we do here tonight will be talked about on the local radio shows tomorrow morning, maybe on TV also. It has happened that way to me before.”
“Ben, by tomorrow afternoon you will be able to read about what we are about to do this evening in the newspaper.”
Ben has no clue. Lenny’s words and the sincerity with which they are delivered have sent a little twinge of anticipation through his solar plexus. Nothing more, just a lot of wondering and thoughts that maybe it is time to go home. Ben looks at his watch again. He is thinking about how he really doesn’t know Lenny that well.
Lenny says, “Stay a while longer, Ben. I’ll get things set up right away and then you can be on your way home by 10. I’ve done this twenty times before. But this time I want a witness.”
“Listen, Ben. Do me a favor. Take this white balloon and go out back. If it is raining come back in. There should be gentle wind tonight. Release the balloon and watch where it goes. I predict that, if it gets up higher than the buildings, it will begin to drift to the southwest. That’s the direction of our target city tonight.
“Target city?” Ben asks.
“Yeah”, Lenny repeats patiently. “Our target city is Middleport. Will you do this for me, Ben? I’ll explain more in a few minutes.”
“Sure” Ben says.
Ben stands out back. He notes that it is not raining, although there is a heavy overcast. He then releases the white balloon as Lenny instructed. He watches it circle around the alleyways for a minute until it rises above the roofs and the chimneys and begins to slowly drift higher and then out of sight into the south and generally toward the river which is to the west.”
Ben turns to go back inside and sees that Lenny is standing behind him on the stairs and has been observing the path of the balloon.
Lenny says, “The wind will be taking things more to the south then I planned. But I expect that it will definitely be over the river in about 15 to 20 minutes. And it will be over Ohio soon after that!”
Lenny signals for Ben to come back inside. While they both walk back to the table in the spare room, Lenny announces that he is going to let Ben in on a secret that could get him into trouble. Lenny tells Ben that he feels he must tell someone about it so they will understand. He must tell someone who will appreciate the significance of the event.
Back at Lenny’s experiment table Ben is presented with three fully inflated navy-blue balloons that are held together by some light-weight loose netting. Lenny directs Ben’s attention to follow his hand down below the balloons to a point where the netting is attached to a metal O-ring. The center of the ring is left open which allows several thicker plastic cables to extend up around the tops balloons. Under the webbing is a point where the lines connect to a small metal platform that looks like the lid to a shallow butter dish.
Inside the lid are two round metal containers that appear to be the diameter of a quarter. They are glued centrally within the butter dish lid. Two aluminum pie pans that are about 12 inches each across hang facing downward from halfway up the lines. One of the pie pans is partially cut away to allow the two to overlap by about 30 percent.
Lenny speaks up at this point to say “I’ve launched over a dozen of these in the last couple of years. From now until early fall is the best time. I never launched in winter. I always launch when the clouds are heavy but I still don’t expect rain soon. I’m not always right. But when I am right the balloons will rise high enough and long enough to get to a lot of other towns in the valley. They don’t get high enough to get over the hills.”
“Look here Ben. See the two metal fuel supplies see how they are connected so one will light the other? This is the first time I have tried this much fuel. Before, I have always used just one. See the two pie pans? I have always used just one. I have also added one more helium balloon to make the three. And, the fuel for this launch is my latest cordite-metal blend. I am going for a brightness and distance record tonight.”
I’m ready Ben. Could you walk up to the front of the Greek Church on Market Street? Tell me if it looks all clear from that direction and then you can run back and watch the launch closer up.
Ben supposes that since the alley is one-way east to west it is most important to look for trouble at the East end. He walks the hundred feet or so to Market Street. He stands and looks up and down the street. It is a particularly dark scene and there is just one care on the street driving away from Ben’s location. Ben turns and waves broadly to Lenny. Lenny signals back for Ben to walk toward him. Ben is a little reluctant to get to close at this point. What if a police cruiser comes north to south in the alley? Or what if a neighbor comes out or calls the police? What if the cordite blows up in Lenny’s face? Ben wonders what he will do. As Ben slowly walks the quarter block back to Lenny’s house he sees a small flame lit up ahead. It looks like it may be the light of a cigarette lighter. A moment later Ben sees a bright white spot grow from the darkness, first lighting up Lenny’s face and then quickly growing brighter to illuminate the near walls of the two and three story brick buildings that stand all around the alley corner.
As Ben nears Lenny’s side Lenny extends his arms high above him and with a gentle throwing motion he releases his craft. After the balloons gain about 20 feet of altitude they begin to trace a wide circular pattern. The burning white fuel burns so brightly that the reflective pies pans almost make a searchlight from the focused light they project downward.
Several moments later the craft has risen higher than any of the chimneys on the nearby buildings. It begins to rise more steadily, appearing smaller and drifting toward the south. Ben realizes that the searing white fire is growing in brightness rather than fading. The fuel is burning even more brightly and with only an occasional trace of smoke. The craft then disappears as it drifts farther than can be followed from among the buildings.
“Come upstairs to my Mother’s room. Ben is taken upstairs to an open window. They both hang out of this west facing window to see a bright white column of light casting a noticeable glare onto the clouds that hover just above.
Soon the craft disappears again behind more distant buildings. Ben says to Lenny. “That was very interesting.”
It’s after 10 and I should be going. Actually Ben has a substantial amount of homework that is due tomorrow morning. But that wasn’t the main motivation for him to want to leave. Ben has learned as much about Lenny as he wants at this point. He isn’t so sure he wants to ask what other hobbies Lenny has.
Lenny says, “Maybe we’ll get together at school tomorrow morning. I ‘d like to talk with you at lunch time for sure.” He walks over closer to make one final request for the night.
“Ben I want you to listen to one of the local radio stations tomorrow morning. In fact, could you please listen to the radio station that’s down in Middleport?”
“Do your parents get the paper? Save tomorrow evening’s paper for me. OK?”
The next morning while getting ready for school Ben listened to the radio as agreed and soon realized that Lenny really knew what he was talking about.
“A Middleport man and his 20 year old daughter chased an unidentified flying object at midnight last night for 7 blocks through the east side of Middleport. They continued to follow the object as it traveled back into the countryside. Middleport police say that they believe the sightings are related to the many other sightings reported recently in this area.“
Ben met with Lenny the next day at school for lunch. Ben told Lenny what he heard on the radio. Lenny figures aloud, “The timing is right. I’m sure it was mine. My rig is nothing like those garbage bags and candles that those Middleport pranksters usually come up with. How pathetic!”
“I know it was mine. The report I heard said it was turning orange as it disappeared from sight and they thought it was changing its heading to cross back over the river.”
“Ya. See Ben? Each fuel cell was mixed with layers that burned in a sequence. The last layer of the second cell burns orange. You see bright white then a short flash of orange and then it just burns out to nothing.”
“Be sure and get the paper for me tonight, Okay? I want more detail. It seems that only this man and his daughter actually saw the light. That’s a bit disappointing.”
The front page of the Monday evening paper had the story just below the fold, “Yet another UFO sighted over Middleport! Below you could read the story of the man and his daughter.
“My father and I saw the craft and he said to get in the car. We chased a craft that glowed with a pure shaft of light onto country roads and watched it change orange and disappear into the night sky toward the south. Eileen’s father added “The way it was headed I think it was going to cross the river sometime soon.”
My father decided to chase the craft and yelled for me to get into the car. I feel that the craft was somehow waiting for us as if it was “guiding” us. I remember seeing a pure white round light shine down on the grass next to the road we were on. I felt as if we were driving 100 mph! I remember feeling as if this thing was leading us out away from the city and onto a remote country road!
Ben scanned the paper on Tuesday evening to see if there were any more stories about the UFO. The first page of the second section proclaimed, “ UFO Seen Late Sunday Believed to be Swamp Gas.” In the follow up interview Eileen Miller, UFO witness says, “I don’t think so. When I told Dad to stop the car I heard a voice say ‘You’re not ready’.”
Wednesday morning Lenny tracks Ben down at lunch time. “Did you see yesterday’s paper? Ben says he has it with him to passes it to Lenny. Now they say swamp gas. People are saying they saw an object. They know there are garbage bags with candles being found in the area?”
“Go figure?” Says Ben.
“Aww I love this business! “ Says Lenny