Evan Orbeck

There was a twilit sky overhead as my sister and I drove to Malmo a few Saturdays ago. She was down visiting for a family gathering that weekend, a late-Christmas. I believe we were mid-conversation, discussing how otherwise sensible people could buy into the obvious snake oil commonly peddled as alternative medicine, when something caught my eye. It was just over the horizon, muted but slightly red in color. It was a visual popping sensation in my eye, not much larger than a pinprick, as if a star had just winked away before I had realized it was there. And then it was gone.

“Did you…” I began. My sister replied that, yes, she had seen it too. I wasn’t going crazy.

That evening, I did some googling. But no combination of terms seemed to yield any result. “Flash in North Minnesota sky.” Nope. “Red light over Mille Lacs Lake.” Nadda. “Mysterious light over Aitkin/Crow Wing County.” Zilch. I’ve described it as the planet my sister and I saw explode. She doubts that’s literally what happened. I admire that skepticism–but would also like a better answer.

You can see a lot of interesting stuff looking up at the night sky, that broad stretch inky infinity. It’s a nice reminder of the scale of things. There’s a million dust flecks of light, many of which are larger than our sun. When you flip that lens back around, you realize how small the Earth is in comparison, not to mention those microscopic creatures living on its surface. To quote a famous Warner brother, “It’s a great big universe, and we’re all really puny.”

It’s been asked before, looking up into that vast sea of infinity, whether there’s any other life out there. As with most things, I tend to err on the side of skepticism. It’s a fun question for thought experiments and speculative fiction to explore, but I reserve belief and certainty for strength-tested theory and empirical evidence. Still, there’s a space outside of belief that’s fun to play around in: the collection of hearsay and urban legends that can’t reliably be tested and those odd experiences we have that don’t add up.

Last fall, I was driving eastward over the Hwy. 210 overpass in McGregor, right before the turn to reach the school. A bright light arched overhead, traveling the distance of the horizon and disappearing among the northern treetops. It was a bit too large to be a shooting star, comparing more like a beach ball to the trees in the foreground. I haven’t come across anyone who witnessed this object, unidentified and flying. The next day, however, my mother who works in McGregor, mentioned she had experienced odd technical difficulties while at work and reported rumors of similar electrical malfunctions throughout town.

And then there’s the Fresno nightcrawlers, among my favorite cryptids–that is, the assorted Bigfoot-style monsters that populate urban legends. With a little bit of digging, anyone who wants to can find videos of the creatures online. Though said footage is taken from a security camera, fuzzy image and all, what it shows is hard to make sense of. Essentially, the nightcrawlers are walking, upright pairs of pants. There is no upper body to speak of, and they strut with an awkward gait. If you’d like to watch the creatures in action, the following YouTube video is a good showcase: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzAJSc-iJMQ.

Like any good cryptid, details on the crawlers are sparse. Just enough people have spotted them to create a sense of a story corroborated, yet the pool of evidence is equally small enough to allow for doubt. Perhaps the nightcrawlers are little more than a hoax, a particularly spirited piece of video editing or computer animation.

Personally, I like to hope that the Fresno nightcrawlers are out there living their best life, watching UFOs zip across the horizon as planets explode in the background. Down on Earth, we humans will continue to practice homeopathy. Odds are we won’t ever have all the explanations for every strange thing that happens on our dust speck. Whenever you see a planet explode, it leaves you space to wonder.

Evan Orbeck is a Messenger staff writer.

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