Dale's hands were shaking so badly he could barely dial the phone.
"Whiteman Air Force base. How may I direct your call?"
Dale took a deep breath. He had to sound calm, credible.
"I just saw a UFO. I mean, I'd like to report a sighting"
"One moment please," came the reply. No judgment, no surprise, no laughter. Maybe they handled this sort of thing all the time. Dale listened to military recruitment ads while he waited, which was good because it allowed him to organize his thoughts.
The voice on the phone sounded weary, world-worn.
"I'd like to report an unidentified flying object. A machine, actually, hovering over my property. It was circular, maybe 60 feet in diameter, and it emitted a blue glow"
"Son, hold on a sec. You saw a what?"
Dale sighed. "A flying saucer. I swear, that's what it was. Hovering in broad daylight, over"
"Now, son," he imagined Sergeant McMasters as a grizzled old war vet, stuck answering phones, but still doing his duty -- patiently dealing with the public. "I'll be happy to take your report, but honestly
most of these things turn out to be regular military aircraft, tricks of the light"
"It was metal," Dale interrupted. "And glowing blue. It hovered over my yard, then shot off at thousands of miles an hour. That was no plane."
"I see. One moment, please."
The line clicked, and Dale caught the last few seconds of the recruitment ad before it looped. McMasters returned quickly.
"Okay, now I'm recording. Tell me what you saw again."
Dale repeated what he'd said, and included every detail he could think of. Eventually McMasters thanked him for his report and made sounds like the call was over.
"That's it?" Dale asked. "That's all? What happens next?"
"Well, son, frankly
nothing. We file a copy with the FAA and keep it here for 90 days before it gets tossed. Unless you got photographic evidence?"
Dale bit his lip. "No. I didn't have a camera."
"So. No photos, no evidence, just
a citizen saw something weird. Not much to go on, you understand."
"But what do you think it was? You're the expert. You know what I saw. Surely you know something."
McMasters was silent for many seconds before answering.
"You saw a weather balloon. That's what I'd go with. A weather balloon."
Dale's frustration and rage boiled over. "That was no weather balloon! I told you"
"Yep. Definitely a weather balloon. I'm even writing it down here. Resolved: Weather Balloon. You have a nice day, hear?"
The line clicked and Dale nearly threw the phone. He paced his living room, peered out between the drapes at the sky, went outside, came back in. He dug his camera out of the closet and replaced the batteries before slipping it into a front pocket.
Weather balloon! He ground his teeth in fury.
But then a thought occurred. Ten seconds of Googling gave him the phone number he wanted.
"KSHB ActionNews, your Kansas City source for news! How may I direct your call?"
"Weather desk. I'd like to speak with a meteorologist, please."
The music-on-hold was soft and jazzy, and after ten minutes Dale was about to hang up. What was he hoping to accomplish? It was a silly notion after all, not bound to resolve anything
but just as he'd decided to hang up a new voice greeted him.
Dale decided to be careful. Raving about UFOs was a bad idea.
what do you know about weather balloons?"
Long pause. "You mean in general? Like, you're doing a school science project?"
Dale laughed. "No, no
I mean, what do they look like?"
"Ah. Thought you sounded a little old for school. Weather balloons
well, big, round, and usually silver. Close to the ground they're kind of torpedo shaped, like a really long jellyfish. See one at altitude and it's round, more balloon-like. Why?"
" Dale took a breath. "What's the chance I'd see one floating around? Kind of
over my neighborhood?"
Another long pause as if Meteorologist Parker was adjusting the phone, maybe sitting down. "Whereabouts you live?"
Dale told him. This earned another long pause.
"Mister Parker? You still there?"
"Oh, hmm. Just trying to decide
oh hell, why not? The truth? Your chances of seeing a weather balloon out there are zero. Zilch. None."
Dale blinked, stood up straighter. "Tell me why," he invited.
"Well, it's very simple. Weathermen haven't used 'em for close to 40 years! Last balloon I remember working with was
1978? Yeah. Something like that. Even then it was kind of quaint. I mean, we've had Doppler radar, satellites, remote wireless reporting stations
for years. Hell, even I get most of my weather from Google! So you seeing a weather balloon in this day and age
"I see," Dale whispered. The saucer was back. He could see it between the gap in his living room curtains, hovering over treetops.
"So tell me why you called
no, lemme guess. You saw a UFO. Right?"
" Dale watched the saucer approach low over the trees, branches waving gently below. It emitted a blue glow, pale but still visible in daylight.
"Hello? What?" Parker sounded agitated. "Oh crap, I have another call
Parker put Dale on hold as the saucer descended in front of the trees. Dale held the phone to his ear listening to smooth jazz, watching the saucer come in for a landing.
The phone clicked, buzzed, and a familiar voice returned to the line.
"I changed my mind," he heard Sergeant McMasters say. "Not a weather balloon. Swamp gas. Repeat that back to me, son."
The saucer had set down, the blue glow fading. A seam appeared in the side. The seam expanded into a black gap.
Dale tried to say something, anything, but all he could manage was a hoarse whisper.
"Close enough. Yep. Definitely swamp gas. And leave the nice weather people alone, you hear me? We'll be in touch."
The phone clicked dead in his hand. A slab of saucer-metal had opened from the hull and lowered to the ground, like a ramp. A pair of F-16s roared overhead and the sound of helicopters came to him from the distance, growing closer.
"Swamp gas," Dale whispered into the dead phone.