- CHESTER - Hours after strange lights hovered above her back yard in November,
Carla Alford stared at a face from her past - a frightening face she found
hidden in a Polaroid photograph taken more than a year before.
- She thinks it's the face of an extraterrestrial.
- "All that scares me are the eyes,"
Alford, 24, said. "The eyes are so big." They're eyes Alford
says she has seen before - on a figure standing in the door of a spaceship
21 years ago.
- "When I was 3 and I was living in
Rock Hill, I was crossing the road from my grandma's house to my aunt's
house," Alford said, recalling how she cut through a field in Lesslie
one night long ago.
- "All I can remember, to be honest
with you, is stairs and a big head, and it was going like this," she
murmured, crooking her index finger and beckoning with it. "I started
screaming then. That's all I remember."
- Alford is not alone in her experiences
and apprehensions. From 1947 to 1969, the Air Force checked out about 12,000
reports of UFO sightings. Today, the National UFO Reporting Center has
a database tracking UFO reports as long ago as 1954. It reports 639 sightings
this year, 12 of which were in South Carolina.
- The reporting center's database includes
two sightings in Fort Lawn, one in October and the other in the early 1970s.
A report on the October sighting describes a large orange ball of light
with four smaller lights. A report on the 1970s sighting describes a white
oval craft with multicolored lights all around it.
- Nonetheless, many of the sightings -
and the reports of alien abductions - often have mundane explanations,
- "Sounds from the sky"
- Although a Gallup Poll from 1992 indicates
3.7 million people claim to have been abducted by aliens, noted social
psychologist Shane Thye at the University of South Carolina contends more
plausible possibilities are usually uncovered.
- "In most cases, you can find alternative
explanations," he said. "I'm not saying the people who claim
this are charlatans - I'm sure that it feels very real to them."
- Many self-professed victims of alien
abduction actually suffer from instances of sleep-paralysis, a condition
Thye calls "very real."
- "You are effectively physically
paralyzed, and you are seeing auditory and visible illusions," he
- Also, a preoccupation with the paranormal
can lead one to find unfounded instances of the uncanny.
- "If you're looking hard enough for
something to happen, inevitably, you'll see something you could interpret
to be what you want," he said. "It's sort of a self-fulfilling
- Are there intelligent beings on other
worlds? The California-based Search for Extraterrestrial Life's Project
Phoenix, which has sought signs of life from other galaxies with costly
interstellar surveillance equipment, admits it has so far found nothing.
- But officials there aren't discouraged.
SETI describes its Phoenix program as "the world's most sensitive
and comprehensive search for extraterrestrial intelligence." Using
immense satellite dishes, SETI listens for sounds from the sky.
- "Only in the last few years has
the equipment been sophisticated enough or sensitive enough to even think
about finding anything," said spokeswoman Michelle Murray, noting
her organization's ears extend 150 light-years into space.
- That SETI hasn't found anything doesn't
help Alford. "I can't even sleep at night," she said, noting
she sees no point in alerting authorities to the extraterrestrial activity
around her residence.
- "What can they do? They can't fly."
- Philip Klass, the author of six books
and a leading UFO skeptic, took exception to that, saying, "She should
report it to the FBI or the local police department."
- "If I tried to abduct her,"
Klass said, "I'm sure she'd report it to the local police department."
- "Looks like he's winking"
- The spacecraft plaguing Alford in recent
weeks have yet to make threatening advances. Still, she sees them in the
sky, and they scare her.
- Alford's mother, Wanda, recalled her
daughter's reaction to what she saw as a child.
- "She was screaming her head off,"
Wanda Alford said. "I asked her what it looked like - she said it
had big eyes."
- The lights floating above Alford's Grants
Lake Circle home returned again in the evenings after she found the alien
in the picture. Her brother, Donnie, also has seen them.
- "It was weird," he said. "It
was in the shape of like a triangle, and it was a green light."
- "It went straight across,"
he said. "It was much faster than a plane."
- Charlotte-Douglas Air Traffic Controller
Jim Koon reported no record of anything unusual flitting about Chester
around the time of Alford's first sighting following the appearance of
the spaceman in the photograph. He conceded, however, that peculiar craft
can elude detection.
- "Air traffic radars filter out things
they're not designed to track," he explained, noting non-moving objects
such as buildings and other "clutter" slip past the radar's sweep
without being seen.
- "There's conceivably something out
there that we didn't track," he said.
- If "something" is out there,
it has been shadowing Alford for nearly her entire life. Her photograph
has made a believer of her friend, Heidi Butler.
- "I never believed in aliens,"
Butler said, until Alford showed her the picture. "I looked at Carla,
and my jaw just dropped," she said. "He looks like he's winking."
- Eerily, it was the prelude of finding
the alien gaping from the murky Polaroid that ushered in Alford's close
encounters a little more than a week ago.
- "(Sunday) night, I walked out of
the bedroom. For some reason, I was looking at pictures - for some reason,
I kept looking at it," she said, telling of how seeing the alien's
face and eyes jolted her back to her near-abduction 21 years ago.
- "It's plain as day," she said.
- Now Alford spends sleepless nights and
tearful days trying not to think about why the extraterrestrials have returned
- or what they want.
- "I want to move out of this house,"
she said. "I'm scared."