It all depends how you see it

Four people go stargazing and get caught up in a remarkable encounter. But how would they describe their experience?

Meteor watching is a form of gambling; the unchanging pattern of the stars gives no warning of when the next startling light-burst will be released. Each fading streak of stardust excites the watcher to stay longer, just like a slot machine player hoping for a win. Brenda and Jim had been leaning back in their camp chairs for almost two hours, taking their eyes off the sky only for the occasional sip of hot soup from their flask. They were not astronomical experts, but they had enough interest to know that mid-August is the time to look out for the Perseids. Appearing to radiate from a region around Perseus, this meteor shower is the trail of comet Swift-Tuttle, which the earth passes through every summer. The show rarely matches the Leonids' November display, but August is a warmer time for sitting outdoors in the middle of the night.

This night was particularly dark. The cloud that threatened to spoil their evening's viewing had dropped away to the south, covering the Moon and making it easy to spot the faintest meteor crossing the semicircle of the north east sky. So far, they had counted 37: not a storm, but enough to tempt them to stay longer. If they hadn't stayed, would the angels have chosen someone else? Jim and Brenda are not gullible people, but they are religious. They are so religious that they deny all belief in extra-terrestrials, other than angels. The heavens beckoned them tonight.

The light first became apparent as tangible warmth coming from above and slightly behind where they were sitting. As the sensation changed from feeling to vision they stood and turned towards it. There was no obvious source. There was no definite centre. But they both saw it and responded together without a word. The fox, passing along the hedgerow in a nearby field, could not perceive the light but watched in vulpine amazement as the two humans climbed skywards. The couple stepped gently onto their car, mounted the roof together, then kept stepping upwards on a glowing staircase, which they saw as golden. Though the feelings were dreamlike, they were wide-awake, their every sense engaged in this moment of ecstasy.

Scarcely three miles away, Richard and Simon were gazing at the same sky. Fanatically interested in star watching, they never missed displays like this, however cold the weather. But their interest was not pure science. A glance around the walls of their flat warned any casual visitor that conversation was likely to turn to flying saucers and alien visitations. Press cuttings and magazine articles filled piles of scrapbooks on their shelves and every decent UFO website was book-marked on their browsers. They had never actually experienced a sighting themselves. Not, that is, until the light shone down on them tonight. Their faces glowed as they mounted the boarding ramp up into the shining craft.

Brenda and Jim were speechless with delight at their brief trip to the heavens. Was it a vision? Or did was this marvellous experience 'in the body'? Spiritual experience is always poised somewhere between the ethereal and the physical. They were reassured by the knowledge that both of them had the same memory of it, so it must have been real - not just imagination or a dream.
"There's just one thing I can't work out," said Brenda, "What kind of angels were those two bearded ones in anoraks?"

© Derrick Phillips - 2000