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NOETM - Intro

    John Keel was a UFOlogist that had actually been taken fairly seriously in his time. Seriously enough, in fact, that he had worked with federal government during the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Among other things, he was a consultant to the Scientific Research and Bureau of Radiology, as well as the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1968-1971. And privately, he had some off-record assignments and meetings with some top military officials. As one may expect, what had likely kickstarted this relationship was the Silver Bridge collapse of 1967, following two years worth of disproportionate UFO sightings in West Virginia (which was only to be followed by a countrywide dancing lights epidemic in 1968).

    In fact, he had met with President Lyndon B. Johnson himself off-record several times: at least once after the presidential commission to investigate the collapse, then some more during the 1968 craze. Keel, having interviewed countless witnesses over the course of his career, had a knack for recovering entire conversations from stray notes into transcripts. He had shared a few of the more "harmless" excerpts with me (a junior reporter that had tagged along in some of his escapades).

    In his meetings with the President, Keel had of course brought up, in passing, sightings of a now infamous creature during 1966-1967—which was arguably a more minor phenomenon amongst the more bizarre zoo of sightings and sagas of contactees in those years ("The Mothman Prophecies" does have a somewhat misleading title). As seriously as the President (like the CIA) had seemed to take UFO sightings, he usually brushed aside mentions of this monster—after all, that was a monster, like Sasquatch, or the one at Loch Ness, not something related to UFOs.

    However, in one of these excerpts, they were somehow talking about that forbidden topic—Keel would never told me how they got onto it.

    The most important thing about talking to Lyndon Johnson, Keel would say, is not to let your guard down. And the excerpt does hint at what he meant.

    Oval Office, 1968

    JK: So, let's see. Most of the sightings were in that TNT area at Point Pleasant. The first well-publicized one came from those two couples: The ones who pulled over by the plant late one night, and randomly encountered it.

    JK: To recap: It was described, by all accounts, as a huge animal, 6.5 to 7 feet tall, built like a man, except with huge wings—spanning 10 feet. But the most striking feature, for most people, was its red eyes.

    JK: I actually revisited the area with them, along with the sheriff and our friend Mary Hyre, and—well, while I didn't see anything, something showed up, and made noises. The rest of the group, including the sheriff, was sure some funny business was going on.

    JK: To take another example: Not long after that first sighting, a few people would be nearby the TNT area to visit a friend, and they'd spot a birdlike creature in front of their car with the same characteristics. They ran inside the house, and the creature stalked them around the house, looking at them through the windows with those red eyes.

    JK: Et cetera, et cetera. Two firemen around the TNT area would encounter a giant "bird" with big red eyes. They were sure it was a bird, although it was unlike anything they'd ever seen. I'm reading off the same copy of the notes I gave you.

    LBJ: Say son. Why didn't they call it "Birdman"?

    JK: Well, thanks to some copy editor in Mary's office, that's what we're stuck with.

    LBJ: Or was it because of the Indians?

    JK: Huh?

    LBJ: You know, there's a famous story back around Hill Country, back from the 1800s. Wanna hear it?

    Before I could say anything, he began talking.

    LBJ: My gramma, old Eliza Bunton, was alone with her little baby at her cabin, at pitch black night. Old Sam was out, you see, and out of nowhere some of those Indians—Comanches—showed up.

    LBJ: You know how brutal those Indians were. Rape, torture, infanticide... If they found her, boy, let's just say she and that baby were in for a ride. So, you see, Eliza went and hid in the root cellar, hid the trap door with a rug. And the Indians entered the cabin, started rummaging through everything, breaking stuff. But the baby was still making noises! So what did Eliza do? She tied a diaper around the baby's mouth to keep her quiet.

    He leaned in.

    LBJ: Now, you wanna know a dark secret? Listen, John. I've never told this to anyone before.

    LBJ: That diaper? It was a dirty diaper.

    JK: ...............

    He roared in laughter.

    LBJ: Anyway, she hid in that cellar all night till old Sam came back, and all was good as pie. But when you think about it, that baby had one hell of a night. What do you think of that?

    JK: I agree. That baby had one hell of a night.

    LBJ: There you go. Keep up the good work, boy.

    JK: Thanks...

    I was baffled.

    JK: Well... that's the jist... In most of these stories, the victims end up relatively unharmed, save for some trauma. Though I do worry about the victims we don't here from.

    LBJ: How many of them were fucking with you?

    JK: None of the early ones were. The later ones, who knows? I try to keep my witnesses separated from each other, and my investigations secret, so as to not invite leaks to meddlers. Keep in mind, even the sheriff—you know, in a small town the sheriff knows the residents pretty well—he'd attest to their reliability. People coming to him were genuinely scared.

    LBJ: And how many of them were fucking you?

    JK: None.

    LBJ: *Laughter* Watch out! I know you can read a man's eyes, but some people can write a man's eyes. Work on someone enough and you can scribble on them like a notepad. 'Specially if you fuck them. I kissed old Dick Russell's flabby ass for 12 years. 12 straight years! His ass probably looks like it's been through a spanking by now.

    JK: Well, don't worry. This field has taught me to watch my ass. Heh.

    He didn't laugh.

    JK: Actually, there are some more physical 'tells' for when someone has had an encounter. Take Connie. She was around 18 when I interviewed her, not too long after the encounter. I wasn't even surprised that she had a case of eyeburn. Conjunctivitis, you know, like in the UFO encounters? Her eyes were reddened, almost swollen shut.

    LBJ: Shit. John, now that you mention it, that happened a few weeks back to one of my aides.

    JK: Really?

    LBJ: Yep. I stuck my pecker in her eye, and you should've seen it the next day. Red, swollen. She looked like a god damn alien. We called her the "Mothwoman". What do you think of that?

    JK: ....I think... Wait... in her eye?

    LBJ: Listen, boy: You're a bachelor aren't you?

    JK: Yes, currently.

    LBJ: Here's my advice, and remember, this is coming from the President of the United States: Get yourself a girl with big, round eyes. The ones that expand like dongers. They make good wives. You know what I mean?

    JK: What?

    LBJ: She seemed like a good girl. Big eyes and all. She was asking for it, and I made my mark on her, alright. Guess I got her with the conjunctomumbojumbo, what was it?

    JK: Conjunctivitis.

    LBJ: See? That's the ticket, boy! That's what makes you a good critter chaser. Patterns. You've done another round in West Virginia, haven't you?

    JK: Yes, actually... Not just West Virginia, but all over the country. I've, err, told you about the Men in Black already, but now I'm finding that there was also a "Men in Checkered Shirts" phenomenon going on. The new fashion for bedroom phantoms, I suppose. Actually, it's been going on for some time.

    JK: To take an example... One girl, Linda Lilly, a quiet sixteen year old—she reported waking up one night and seeing a large man, in a checkered shirt, towering over her bed, grinning. Ran to her mom. Mom said she was imagining things. So she went back to bed, and when she looked up, there he was again, grinning, approaching her. She hid underneath her covers and when she looked back up, he was gone.

    Lyndon picked his nose, and flicked the booger, trying to aim it at the portrait of George Washington.

    JK: Going back to the Mothman, well, now that we're on the subject, there were some patterns there too. The fact that the most striking feature to witnesses—the thing that sticks with them—are the red eyes. Actually, witnesses' descriptions of their "hypnotic effect" is near identical to that of good old fashioned UFO lights, all the way down to the conjunctivitis.

    LBJ: Cut from the same cloth?

    JK: That's what people miss. The parallels speak for themselves: the "Mothman" would tend to show up to people who were not looking for it. After the first few sightings, people crowded around the TNT area, but, of course, our monster doesn't play to a crowd. It would make appearances adjacent to the TNT area, to lone drivers and such.

    JK: There's the obligatory prevalence of sightings on Wednesdays. Young couple in a car, parked for a lovemaking session? They were asking for a "Mothman" to intrude on them. And, of course, our vampiric friend was uncomfortably attracted to girls who were going through a menstrual period.

    LBJ: Shit, son. I was wondering what Nixon was doing down in West Virginia.

    JK: It's always been my suspicion that the superstition of old and new—whether it be angels and demons of antiquity, or witchcraft, or monsters, or aliens—all these things aren't actually describing entirely dissimilar phenomena. People are led to believe that it's one thing or the other, so they don't connect, say, the dual red lights of the Mothman, to the strange bobbing light in the darkness.

    LBJ: Now, boy, that brings us to the big question. A question so big, so dark, it'll remind you of my maid's ass. Why? What's the point?

    JK: I'm not going to be able to answer that. Everything they do, it seems, is to mislead. They give contactees delusions of grandeur and drive them away from serious investigation. They give people like me false prophecies. You know how I was anticipating a power shutdown as soon as you threw the switch to light up the Christmas tree on December 15, and what we got instead was the collapse!

    I still hadn't told the President about the prophecies I'd received of assassinations of MLK and Pope Paul VI. Although I'm sure he was trying to extract that out of me.

    JK: There was a coordinated, gamey effort to lead me astray during 67. It was the most frustrating thing I've dealt with! People—"people"—were going around to addresses that I had planned to visit, claiming to be me. I'd arrive at the address—having told no one of my plans—only to learn that "I" had already visited! Of course, they could mimic my voice perfectly. People would call me saying that I called them at midnight and told them insane things, when I had never done so. Men in Black would walk into Mary Hyre's office, and bother other folks around Point Pleasant, asking pointed questions about me, threatening them to stay away from me. And, well you heard my complaints about simple communication. I was getting calls from random "people" that'd mouth back details of secret cases I was working on, and even personal details!—all the way down to where I had misplaced my stopwatch. And when I had tried to contact them back, their addresses and phone numbers were all false. My mail was being regularly foiled, my telephone line was being tapped, and blocked. And in the end, I knew I wasn't just being led astray, I was being led the wrong way.

    JK: The things out there—the dancing lights—can move in physically impossible ways. I don't think they're extraterrestrials. I think they're on a different spectrum than us, and dramatically more advanced. Anyone who tries to figure this all out ends up in a dead-end. It's like trying to figure out the meaning of life. You won't find an answer. To answer your question, Mr. President, I don't think we're meant to know. You've been hounding at me with it each time we meet, but that's still all I've got. Greater forces are quietly guiding, nudging humanity, playing games with us, towards whatever their ends may be. To them, we seem to be just be chess pieces—puppets in a play. We're at their whim. Chasing down the truth is exciting until you realize that whatever we "discover" is simply what they want us to discover; until you realize that the limits of our perception severely limits what we can understand; until you realize we'll be extinct long before we find most truths; until you realize that the vast majority of truths are fundamentally inaccessible to our minds to begin with. Some of us delude ourselves into thinking that we can "figure it out," and that that will somehow solve the default human condition of pain and sufferring, but it won't. Einstein idolized Schopenhauer, after all. Our consciousness is kind of like a tragic glitch: We were probably meant to just be zombie-minded pawns, and in the process of our creation we were accidentally endowed with awareness. Awareness with nothing to fill it. It wasn't meant to happen, and now we're stuck with it. All we can do now is march on, in subdued consciousness, to our quiet end in our pocket of the universe. We're a tragically futile, contradictory existence.

    Now Lyndon took out his inhaler, and—God, I hated when he did this—he tilted his head all the way back, nostril hairs visible, then stuck the inhaler in his nose and slowly snorted it in, making a loud, disgusting slurping sound. Just inhaling wasn't enough. It always had to be so loud and dramatic that the whole room thundered. Andrew Jackson was wincing from the side.

    LBJ: Listen, boy. You once said these mystical phenomena light up in certain years. "Hot" years, let's call them.

    JK: Right. We're in one right now.

    LBJ: Was 1948 a hot year?

    JK: How'd you know?

    LBJ: What do you have on that?

    JK: Okay, well... here we go. In '48, there was a huge spike in sightings of bizarre "Garuda" figures that... you could say are eerily similar to the Mothman of '67. No red eyes, but going down the list a bit...

    JK: In January, a woman in Chehalis, Illinois, reported a dark man with silver wings flying above her barn.

    JK: January again, a boy saw a black, birdlike figure in Glendale, Illinois.

    JK: In April, there was multiple reports of this black, angelic figure, all in Illinois. A giant, black manlike figure with wings was also reported in Alton, Caledonia, Overland, Richmond Heights, and Freeport.

    JK: And later in April, the same thing—this "bird"—was spotted in St. Louis. A dark, completely black man flying in the sky like a bird.

    JK: Then, the same thing was spotted by a group of instructors at the Mississippi School of Aeronautics. One salesman complained, "I’ve seen it three times in the last four days and that’s too much tomfoolery for a man of fifty to take."

    JK: An inspector for U.S. Steel would say, "I thought people who reported seeing the thing were ‘bugs’ until I looked into the sky last night." Et cetera.

    LBJ: Anyone ever snap a picture of one of these things?

    JK: Nope. People have tried, but as it happens, camera malfunctions are pretty much par the course.

    LBJ: They might consider themselves lucky. Some things aren't meant to be seen. I have a picture hidden in a wardrobe in Bird's bedroom that's traumatized some people.

    JK: Really?

    LBJ: I'll show you the picture sometime. Words can't describe it. But I'm warning you, John, it's not for the faint of heart. To give you an idea: it's a picture of me in my pool, you know, back on my ranch? I was on the phone, and on my back flat on a floater, and I had my bare legs up on the plank, like... *He kicks his feet up on the desk.* Like this, you see? Like this, except I was half naked. Now, this was right after my heart attack, and I was watching my weight like an eagle, so I had some long, sexy stripper legs. Think about it, John. I looked like a young housewife gossiping about Mr. Mosely's affair. I looked like a woman taking it missionary. What do you think of that?

    JK: .....................

    I backtracked a bit.

    JK: Err, weren't we talking about 1948?

    LBJ: Yep. 1948, huh? Now that was a year. Almost lost my whole fucking career. One of the toughest years of my life. And now you're telling me there were flying niggers in the sky? God, what a horrific, fucked up year... Wish I could go back, *wheezing laughter*.

    To be clear, I wanted to bang my head against the desk after each of his comments. But I got it. The President was acting unpresidential on purpose. He had randomly brought up Indians, then went on a tangent. He had randomly brought up 1948, then went on a tangent. This time I caught him on it, and he wanted me to.

    I went on a sort of nihilistic rant earlier, and I realized it was very unlike me. I was fairly comfortable with our futile relationship with "the other", and yet, talking to Lyndon somehow made me break.

    LBJ: Hell, I got myself a cute nickname that year: "Landslide Lyndon." What do you think of that?

    JK: It's cute.

    LBJ: You once told me all these phenomena happen more during years with big political events. 1948 was a big year for politics, I'd say.

    JK: In what way?

    LBJ: Son, you know where Big Oil in the United States started?

    JK: Texas?

    LBJ: That's right. Started with Spindletop. Some guy, a nobody, went after it for 4 years straight like a stubborn bastard, like something was beckoning him towards it. Something that knew the land well. Strange, isn't it, John? He was foiled by quicksand, laughed out by geologists, and hissed out by his boardmembers and his cofounder, and he still went after it. Well, he finally gave up, and a bunch of other nobodies took over, and they'd end up striking, January 1901, the biggest gusher the world had ever had.

    LBJ: Those folks, they'd stay nobodies. Over the next decade, native Texans—wildcatters—they'd be bought out by the oil majors. Shell, Gulf, and all, they'd get the big bucks.

    LBJ: But in the 20s, some folks began to pay attention. They began watching closely, learning. They were clever folks. They took out loans so big their assets—their asses—couldn't cover 'em, so banks'd have to keep funding them. They sent scouts out to snipe the majors out of big fields. Sid Richardson gave a bit of stud service to some young ladies in the phoneroom. Grabbed Keystone Field from Gulf that way. They played all sorts of dirty tricks.

    LBJ: And then, in the 30s, Texas had another oil boom. And that's when some nobodies became somebodies. Some wildcatters became fatcats. Sid Richardson, Clint Murchison. You know: The independents.

    LBJ: In the 20s, the wildcatters learned how to find oil. In the 30s, they learned how to make money off it. And in the 40s, they learned how to use it. And politics was never the same after that.

    LBJ: 1948 may not look it on the surface, but it's the year politics changed. Old politics died and new politics began. That's where we are today, boy.

    LBJ: You know the bloke that lost the primary against me in '48? He got a hole in his heart after his wife died. Probably wouldn't've run in the first place if it weren't for that. Sitting here wouldn't have filled that hole.

    LBJ: He lost, he went back to working on his big ass ranch. He found himself a new girl, and now they're total lovebirds. Was like a goddamn romance movie, I hear. That'll do it. His hole's all filled up, I'd say. Not that hard, huh? He's moving cattle, and I'm moving mountains.

    My depressive rant earlier had been very unlike me. I considered myself very secure. People don't like the idea that we may be puppets. That our identities may just be illusions. But I knew there was a way to fill the hole: Love. Lyndon had asked if I were a bachelor. I was, but I did not intend to remain as one. I felt fairly secure about that. Of course I was going to find someone, and get settled. I knew what I was doing. And yet, I broke. Lyndon was carefully operating on me.

    I could tell that Lyndon was almost as clueless as I was about it all. Almost: If he had a clue, it was an inch more than what I had. But then I began to think: Isn't an inch an inch? My colleagues, from local reporters to physicists to military officials, had often had to grapple with a feeling of powerlessness and insignificance under the curtain of the cosmos or the great ultradimensional game. I'd often play psychiatrist to flustered, depressed contactees that were at the end of their sanity from their horrified awe at the imperceptible, sprawling otherworld. And, in the end, I'd advise them to just cut off contact with their entity and burn any trinkets and tools they'd received from them. And once they had done so, they'd call back and thank me, sometimes years later, saying that I had changed their life for the better. They'd tell me about how they got married, made a successful career, had lovely kids, and all that. Perhaps I deserve some sort of medal. But it was a simple thing, really. These witnesses's distraught experiences were only exaggerations of what most people go through in the modern age: Finding one's own lot in life, then devolving into a spiral of grand delusion or nihilism. And the solution is, almost invariably, to give up trying to conquer it all. That was the essence of my "life-changing" advice to downtrodden contactees. They often become absorbed by the grand narrative bestowed on them by their supposed entities' ravings, or absorbed in themselves due to the copious media attention, only to realize, in the dead of night when the cheers and lights have quieted down, that they're as finite as anyone else. Everyone knows that an emperor is no different than a peasant in the grand scheme of things. Everyone knows that money, power, success are all just trappings of happiness. But it's easy to forget. It's why ascetics seem so enlightened to us. If humans are futile, then the solution was to go back to basics. Love and simplicity were tried and true. It's all you need, as they say. It was a beautiful, elegant solution to a complex problem.

    But as Lyndon towered over me, I felt something different. Something creepingly complex, something pragmatic. "The President was acting unpresidential"—that was a statement with a dark meaningfulness. Isn't an inch an inch? He was exuding that inch, that raw, tangible inch, and waving it over my head. His whole career had been a game of inches, hadn't it? The slim 87 of 1948, his marginal counting as Majority Leader—making tangled calls in the cloakroom, hopscotching around a tense Senate floor, whispering, coaxing, threatening, forcing a vote-switch in the last minute, all for that trademark bare victory. Sweating days, sleepless nights making frantic calls to aides and fellow Senators in the dark, waking them up half-naked and half-conscious to give them a volcano of words, all to invoke a slight change in mood—that slight change in mood which would get him an inch closer to that single vote he needed. He was no different than me in the grand scheme of things, but what about the small scheme of things? I could feel my chest burning. The human being looming over me felt visceral. The President's career, due to the war, appeared to be in a period of decadance. But even just the echoes, the decaying vestiges of that old, great force felt locally massive. If humans were just puppets in a play, hadn't Lyndon, for at least some time, been the star of our little sideshow? If humans were just pieces on a chessboard, hadn't Lyndon been the queen?

    LBJ: By the way, John, you wanna know where the hole in my heart came from? Cigarettes. Mother-fucking tons of cigarettes. Fuck, I probably have a hundred holes in my heart from all that smoking back in the day. Listen to this, boy: My heart probably looks like Bonnie and Clyde's shot-up Ford Deluxe, *roaring laughter*. But I'll tell you, I haven't smoked a single one since my heart attack. Not a single one in 13 years.

    He beamed at me with a sense of pride.

    LBJ: Mothman doesn't take kindly to crowds, nor people that're locked and loaded. Seems like Mothman's pretty weak, eh? Least not strong enough to withstand a bullet, or a mob. Why does he catch young folks doing it in cars? Cause no bastard's gonna start fistfighting a Mothman while his dick's half stuck in his lady. Mothman's weak, but he still got his way, didn't he? Clever bastard.

    JK: Weak?

    LBJ: You have to play nice with the critters John. You gotta massage their breasts. Like this, *he gesticulates*. Some of them are as scared of you as you are of them. Gotta put on some lipstick and blow 'em some kisses, you know what I mean? What makes you a good critter chaser is you play nice with them—you know, those flashlight games—and you still kept your sanity. But you gotta step it up a bit more. You gotta get closer.

    JK: What do you mean?

    LBJ: I've got a story for you, John. It's a good one. Even better than the diaper one. It was a story a friend—well, let's call him Kevin Smale. Kevin Smale told me this story the other day, and you have to got to hear it.

    I will end this excerpt by saying that Lyndon ended up getting what he wanted out of me.

    John would never tell me the contents of this story. Despite Lyndon's framing, Keel supposed it was most likely fictitious, probably improvised. John Keel died in 2009. And Lyndon Johnson died in 1973. So unless this story had been yarned off to someone else, it seemed to be lost to history.

    So I decided, recently, to go ahead and see if I could find the yarn. It didn't go so well. I poked some acquaintances and relatives of the late Johnson, and most of them had no clue what I was talking about, and probably suspected that I was crazy.

    But then, I received an email:

    SUBJECT: He's coming for you.

    BODY: He's coming for you.

    ATTACHMENT: nooneescapethemathman_day0.txt

    Uh oh. So, either one of the people I had poked had anonymously sent this to me—and now I'm scared to talk to them again—or I've become the target of one of the critters that always used to bother John.

    It appears to be the first part of a multi-part story, detailing an incident—a disappearance—that occurred in the Texas Hill Country in 1941. I have my suspicions that it's an elaboration of the story Lyndon told John. Whether the tale was originated by Lyndon, or the pseudonymous "Kevin Smale," this draft was probably not written by Lyndon, given the length.

    I assume I'm going to receive the subsequent parts of the story according to some schedule. In any case, I'll hold off on publishing them for a week or so after I receive them (Like John, I'd like some buffer time to privately investigate what I'm reading before getting swarmed with meddlers).

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