Steve Dunham’s Trains of Thought
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Derailed trains of thought
“Après moi le déraillement”

Off the Deep End: Mars and Venus Attack!

A Close Brush With Mars.
Area 52.
Going in Crop Circles.
Planet X Insurance.
Mars and Venus Attack!.

A Close Brush With Mars

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2003

There was screaming and panic in our neighborhood streets this past summer as, every night, Mars grew brighter and bigger, obviously (to me) on a collision course with Earth. Remember how it was in 1910, with Halley’s Comet approaching and the end of the world apparently upon us? (I do not clearly remember 1910, though my computer does.)

A collision with a comet is bad enough, as you know from watching bad movies. A collision with another planet would be much worse. Even if Mars had not actually crashed into Earth, it still could have caused major damage if it had gotten much closer. I imagined earthquakes splitting open the septic tank, and the ocean, normally hundreds of miles away, lapping at the front steps. While it was very high tide at my house, it would have been very low tide someplace else, like Miami. Mars would have covered the whole sky, blotting out the sun and causing me to keep lights on all day, doubling my electric bill. No wonder I was worried.

Yet the neighbors were yelling at me to shut up and go inside.

And in the end, they were right, though for the wrong reason. Just as Mars was getting close enough that I could almost see its famous face sneering at me, it stopped. Mars came no closer, and then it started moving away.

Did God hear my shouted prayers, my promises not to take home any more paper clips from work, my vow to give up junk food for a year, and did He then stop the planet in its tracks? Undoubtedly I deserve some of the credit, for Providence mercifully restored the Red Planet to its rightful course in the sky.

“But perhaps,” you are saying, “there is a scientific explanation.” Being a true renaissance man, I not only believe in Providence, I have no shortage of scientific explanations. In this case, I hypothesize that the hand of Providence was directing Planet X. Yes, it may have been that mysterious, invisible, undiscovered planet exerting a gravitational pull to draw Mars back from the brink of calamity.

Planet X, you may recall, was scheduled to destroy the Earth in May 2003, but perhaps the predictions were off by a few months. O fortunate happenstance that it should come coursing by just when it was needed to avert planetary disaster! Maybe Planet X was to blame for Mars’s near approach, and then, like the returning prodigal son, changed its ways, lifted its hand, and drew wayward Mars back from its appointment with doomsday.

Whatever the scientific explanation, I am fervently grateful. I am eating less junk food and bringing home fewer paper clips. In short, I am repentant. Because in two years, Mars is coming back.

Steve Dunham is a renaissance man and astronomical theorist.

Area 52

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2003

You can see them from the train, hidden in plain sight: UFOs shot down by the Marines and stored in Area 52.

When I first glimpsed them myself, I thought, “No! It can’t be! They’re right out there in the open.” They were separated from the tracks by only a chain-link fence.

However, years of investigative experience had taught me that all government institutions have secret operations, things the public is never intended to learn. I also knew that the aliens among us, and often their ships too, can blend right into our society to accomplish their sinister ends.

The fences and guards might discourage ordinary citizens; to this crusading columnist, they were merely another challenge. With a miniature camera and film, and suitably fortified by the Coors family’s products, I got off the train at the Quarantine for Non-Terrestrial Intelligent Creature Observation, known by its acronym, Quantico. The name is spelled out in capital letters on the station, but the sign does not give a hint as to the real meaning.

The quarantine itself is a picture of practiced indifference. The building is mostly boarded up, and the atmosphere says, “Walk around and take a look! See for yourself! We have nothing to hide!” I intended to do just that.

I waited till all the other passengers had walked away. Then, looking over my shoulder, I walked casually toward Area 52. At the very least, I expected a sign saying, “Keep Out! This Means You!” Instead, the only warning sign said, “No VRE Parking.” Area 52 was deserted, and I walked right in. And there they were, artifacts from another world, with some vines climbing the fence to shield them from curious eyes.

I started taking pictures, looking over my shoulder between each snap of the shutter. It was a good thing, too, because before long there was a heavily armed Marine striding toward me. I dropped the camera over the fence onto the platform so I could retrieve it later.

I expected the Marine to shout, “Freeze!” but all he said was “Can I help you, sir?” I guess they have to keep up the pretense that there is nothing shady going on.

“You guys are great!” I said, trying to get the conversation off to a friendly start. “I was just looking at these flying saucers here. You guys shot them down, huh? Way to go!”

Instead of accepting my congratulations, he spoke into his radio: “Sarge, this is Jones. I got a code thirteen here.”

Entering Area 52, I hadn’t seen any signs saying, “Deadly Force Authorized,” so I decided to take a bold chance and just walk away. “I guess I’ll be going now,” I said, and strolled away, whistling. After the sergeant arrived, they both kept an eye on me till I was beyond the fence.

They didn’t try to stop me. Maybe they were confident that no one would believe my story. But when I reached the train platform, my camera was where I had dropped it. I boarded the train, hugging the camera, with proof that the whole story is true.

Steve Dunham investigates captured UFOs.

Going in Crop Circles

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2002

The grass in our back yard was flattened in a perfect circle. It was spooky. It looked almost as if a children’s wading pool had been sitting there. What could it mean?

I decided I had better spend the nights outside with a shotgun in case whoever—or whatever—had made the circle should decide to come back.

While out back defending my family, I noticed a pair of glowing eyes peering at me out of the dark woods behind our house. When facing an invasion from outer space, my motto is “Shoot first.” I’d already been asking plenty of unanswered questions.

I let fly with a couple of rounds. The eyes were gone, and I hastened toward the trees while shouting, “Honey, call the sheriff! Tell him there’s the body of a space alien in our back yard!”

As I stepped into the woods, I could hear a rustling movement, and then I stopped in shock. There was no body. Looking up toward the treetops, I expected to see a flying saucer hoisting a wounded alien, but there was nothing in sight.

I heard a siren then, and I could see flashing blue lights in the distance. I hastily put my gun away. When the deputy arrived, he said he’d gotten a call about gunfire in the neighborhood.

“Didn’t you tell him about the alien’s body?” I whispered to my wife, who just gave me a withering look.

Ignoring the mention of gunfire, I said to the deputy, “Come look at this.” I showed him the flattened circle of grass.

“You haven’t been filling up a wading pool, have you?” he asked. “You know about the water restrictions.”

“No, sir. I mean, yes, sir, I know about the restrictions, and no, sir, this circle was not made by a wading pool.”

“Looks like you got yourself your very own crop circle,” he chuckled. “Your own maize maze.” Then I recalled that we weren’t the only ones in the area with mysteriously flattened plants. It was late at night, but what better time to investigate the so-called maize maze a few miles away? Invasions from outer space usually take place at night. Once the deputy had gone, I drove to the farm that was famous for strange patterns in the crops. I brought the gun.

I parked half a mile away so that I could sneak up on the invaders. At the entrance to the farm, I stopped and listened. Something was moving in there. I tiptoed into the field, pushing aside the stalks of corn. Suddenly, there were no stalks of corn. They all had been crushed. I followed the path that seemed to lead onward like a maze. I had a feeling that I was going in circles.

Then I had a worse feeling: something was following me. Something was in the maze with me. I could hear footsteps with a strange gait, and unhuman breathing. And it was getting closer.

I started walking faster, trying to find my way out. Whatever was there in the darkness was after me. But I had the presence of mind to stop, turn toward the sound, and shoot. Then I blindly plunged into the standing corn and ran, the leaves brushing against my face.

Then I stopped and listened. Whatever was in there was no longer behind me. Maybe I had killed it. Then, for the second time that night, I heard sirens and saw flashing blue lights. This time I would not try to show the deputies a body. I was sure that, once again, there would be none.

Once I reached the car, I started the engine and drove with the lights off till I was safely away from the area. After one more look at the back yard, I slipped into our silent house.

When morning came, I found everyone at breakfast already. “Anything unusual in the paper?” I asked.

“A dead cow at a farm down the road,” my wife said. “Why would anyone kill a cow like that?”

“Cattle mutilation,” I replied. “Space invaders are famous for that.”

Steve Dunham investigates crop circles by day and hunts aliens by night.


By Steve Dunham, copyright 2002

“What do you think would have happened if that asteroid had landed on Earth?” someone asked me. The asteroid had supposedly passed between the Earth and the Moon without touching the Earth.

“What do you mean ‘if’?” was my reply. “Landed” was exactly the right word.

I had been out in the back yard on the night of the asteroid, trying to get a little peace and quiet. It was quiet indeed, so quiet that no one answered when I called out, “Hey, kids! Come get a look at this!” There was the supposed asteroid, gliding silently through the sky and heading directly for our back yard.

It touched down gently, making the faintest humming sound, and then it did something asteroids rarely do: a door opened up in the side and a bright light shone out. A little humanoid creature stood in the doorway and, instead of making hand signals and humming the “Close Encounters” tune, asked, “Do you want some ice cream?”

“Sure!” I answered and hopped on board. It’s a good thing the kids weren’t watching, because I have always told them not to accept candy or ice cream from strangers. When the door hissed shut behind me, there was no ice cream in sight. I could feel the asteroid rising, and through a little round window, I could see our house getting smaller and smaller.

“Ow!” I shouted and spun around.

One of the little creatures had poked me with a needle. “We are looking for signs of intelligent life,” it said.

“Well, there’s no intelligent life where I come from,” I said angrily. “Now just beam me back down to Earth.”

“Resistance is futile,” said a familiar-sounding voice.

“Mr. President!” I gasped. “They got you too!” He was rubbing his backside, so I guess they got him with the needle as well. I got over my shock quickly. Now that I had a personal, close encounter with the president, I had something I wanted to ask him.

“Mr. President,” I said, “how come this great nation of ours can afford to lend fifteen billion dollars to the airlines and can’t lend a fifth of one billion to Amtrak? Forgive me for being so blunt, but what planet are you from?”

“That was a rude question,” he said. “If we ever get back to Earth alive, you’ll be hearing from the IRS. I am a politician. Why would I pick a fight over an amount of money that wouldn’t fund the Pentagon for one day if it’s going to make millions of Americans angry? These aliens, who are all Democrats, kidnapped me and put a double in the White House to make unpopular decisions so that I will lose the next election. It’s like Watergate in space.”

“Mr. President, I am so sorry!” I exclaimed. But here was my chance to save the President, save Amtrak, and defeat a bunch of space aliens all at once. “Mr. President, I think I can trick them into returning us to Earth,” I said.

“Hey, you things from another world, would you like some real ice cream?” I asked loudly.

They gathered around me and started poking me. “No, it’s not here. It’s in the freezer at the White House.”

I guess no one ever told them not to accept ice cream from strangers either, because the next thing you know I was having ice cream in the White House and the space aliens were filling out IRS forms, and for all I know they still are.

When I got home late that night, I asked, “Did anybody miss me? You’ll never guess where I’ve been!”

“There was a black helicopter flying over the house but it went away,” said my wife.

“Thank you, Mr. President,” I said quietly. If the IRS ever came back, I would just tell them to go talk to my pal George, who had better get reelected.

Steve Dunham was kidnapped by space aliens, who sent a double to go to work in his place.

Planet X Insurance

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2003

“Do you sell disaster insurance?” I asked my insurance agent.

“Well, sure, but we sell insurance only against things we’re sure won’t happen. For example, we’ll sell you flood insurance if you live on a hill, but not if you live in a valley. On the other hand, if you do live in a valley, we’ll sell you lightning insurance, but not if you live on a hill. We’ll sell alien abduction insurance to anybody.”

“I’m definitely interested in that,” I said, “but what I want to get right now is an insurance policy for when Planet X destroys the world in May.”

“Well, I’m sure we can help you out there,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “What’s this about Planet X?”

“It’s a rogue planet that astronomers say doesn’t even exist, and it’s going to come real close to the Earth and cause earthquakes, tidal waves, nuclear winter, and all kinds of other trouble.”

“Well, now, how much coverage would you want to buy?”

“As much as I can,” I answered. “I want to be fully protected when disaster strikes.”

“Our limit is a hundred million dollars.”

“I guess that should do. I need a policy only through May. After that, Planet X won’t be back again for centuries.”

“Well, then, we can give you a four-month policy for a one-time premium of a hundred dollars.”

“A deal!” I exclaimed, and got out my checkbook. “Where will I come to collect the money?”

“Oh, we’ll be right here,” he said.

“Great!” I replied, and when I left his office I was clutching my policy. I took it home and put it in a fireproof strongbox so that it would survive the earthquakes, and then I used duct tape to wrap Styrofoam around it so that it would float in the tidal waves, and then I taped a battery-powered emergency light to it so that I could find it in total darkness.

Then it occurred to me that maybe I could help out other people by telling them about the insurance, and maybe I would get a commission on referrals at the same time. I started with my friend Jon. To my surprise, he was not at all interested. “But it’s only a hundred dollars, and come May I’ll get a hundred million!” I told him.

“And how are you going to collect your money after the Earth is destroyed?” he demanded.

“The insurance agent promised that he’ll be right there in his office waiting to pay me.”

“And where are you going to spend your hundred million dollars when everything is in ruins?” asked Jon. “Do you think the mall will still be open?”

“Jon,” I answered, “I feel sorry for you. You are so shortsighted. I’m just trying to help you out. Goodbye, and I hope that somehow you survive the catastrophe.”

I’m sorry I had to be so tough with him, but he just wouldn’t see sense. Suppose that the mall isn’t open. I’m sure my money will be good on Planet X.

Steve Dunham makes a living on insurance referrals.

Mars and Venus Attack!

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2003

A mysterious flying disk over Spotsylvania, Va. It landed in Steve Dunham’s front yard. (Photo by Elise Dunham. Hubcap flinger: James Dunham.)

The invasion came out of a clear blue sky, as a mysterious flying disk settled toward our front yard. When the gleaming metallic saucer landed, a door appeared in its seamless surface. Then a couple in silver suits stepped out and approached me.

They spoke not a word, but I could hear their thoughts inside my head. “I am from Mars,” said the man.

“I am from Venus,” said the woman.

Then I heard their thoughts in unison: “Earth is endangering the universe. We must stop you. To do that, we will have to destroy the Earth.”

“Why are you telling this to me?” I asked them. “And what did Earth ever do to you?”

“We are contacting you,” they replied, “because, one, you will listen, and, two, you are in a position to spread the word. Are you not a world-famous columnist and expert on space invaders? And are you not a friend of the president, as we read in one of your columns?”

“Oh, uh, yeah! Sure! I’ve played Space Invaders. I mean, I know all about space invasions and stuff. And I did write that I am a friend of the president. But you still haven’t told me what Earth ever did to Mars and Venus. Was it those space probes falling out of the sky? Did they hit somebody?”

“No, it wasn’t your puny space probes. Earth has attacked the universe with a weapon of mass stupidity. You call it television. As advanced races, we people of other planets are all telepaths. We not only can hear your thoughts, we can hear your television shows too. We can stand no more! You have been bombarding our planets with inane programs that are not at all funny, such as Survivor and Sex and the City.

Survivor isn’t supposed to be funny,” I protested. “At least I don’t think so. Maybe Sex and the City is supposed to be funny. I’m not sure. But that’s going off the air anyway. So you’re going to destroy the Earth over Survivor? You’ll just make the whole planet into a Survivor episode.”

“There will be no survivors,” they chorused.

“Wait!” I begged them. “Couldn’t we compromise? Maybe just watch PBS?”

“You mean Barney? And Lawrence Welk reruns? No, for the good of the universe, Earth must be destroyed.”

Then the man from Mars and the woman from Venus reentered their saucer, which rose into the air and disappeared into the blue. So I immediately called my pal the president, and now I am warning the rest of the world: our whole culture is in Jeopardy. I mean jeopardy. To save it, we need to start recording everything on television, even Barney, and archive it somewhere safe, maybe on the Moon, so that even if we are all wiped out, the best of our civilization will be preserved.

Steve Dunham is warning the world about invaders from space.

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