The Believers

Local UFOlogists bring a religious zeal to their tales of alien visitations. Delusions? For real? Whatever, they watch the skies and wait.

They identified themselves as members of the Intergalactic Command Council, and their purpose in meeting with her was to let people know they exist. They told her that their goal is to promote a more peaceful planet. They also used scientific terminology to explain how they could change into human form. "I don't know diddlysquat about physics," she says. "Why tell me? I'm no scholar, I'm just a property manager."

Toward the end of the meeting, the humanoid alien told her to go to the beach, where he would leave an object for her to find. The rock she picked up is her proof to herself that she did not make it all up.

But she feels they're not finished with her. About two months ago, she woke up with two puncture marks on her thigh. And just a few weeks ago, she was undergoing a hypnotic session about other personal issues when one of the spaceship entities began speaking through her, according to Marcy Roban, the metaphysical healer who hypnotized Ann. The being allegedly told Roban, "We're using Ann as a transmitter," then went on to chat for an hour about the need for planetary cooperation. Ann is not scared by her intense encounters, and feels she's grown spiritually: "I no longer fear anything," she says, "not even death."

Others are more haunted by their alleged contact with aliens. For example, Janet (not her real name), a saleswoman in Broward County, hauls out two scrapbooks filled with her drawings and diary notations about her visitations by beings from other worlds. She's been troubled by many of them. "I'm tired of what they're doing to us," she says with a hint of frenetic desperation. She's recently begun publishing a small newsletter that mixes born-again Christianity with musings about the often nefarious contacts between E.T.'s and humans. Accordingly, she offers a symptom checklist for those who either have been visited by aliens or originally come from outer space themselves. As for herself, she complains about such problems as high-pitched whining noises in her brain and a feeling that a square plate sits atop her head, although she places part of the blame for those physical vexations on a car accident she had many years ago; additionally, she claims that slivers of her tongue have been cut off as part of E.T. experiments.

Oddest of all, she believes she was impregnated by an E.T., recalling in detail an incident in the spring of 1993 when extraterrestrials supposedly took her aboard a ship, placed her in stirrups, and stuck a silverish probe up her vagina. A short while later, she missed her period for a month. (Although she won't disclose her age, she looks to be in her early fifties.) Janet didn't get a home pregnancy test, she insists, because "they didn't want me to be able to prove it, and I didn't have the ten dollars." Her only "proof" of all of this are the drawings she's made of flying saucers, transparent humanoids, and other creatures that fill her books and her life. She never knows when they might come again. "I know I'm not bananas," she offers. "I know all about them."

In the realm of UFOlogy, you can't reliably separate fact from fantasy. Cheryl Landy, a South Miami psychologist who has worked with about a dozen self-styled contactees, admits, "There's no way of being 100 percent sure that these incidents really happened." But as a therapist who often uses hypnosis to do "past-lives regressions," she's quite open to the possibility that her clients have had genuine E.T. experiences. During hypnosis, she notes, "It's emerged quite unexpectedly with vivid details."

When they first began telling these stories, Landy elaborates, "It shocked them and even me." To Landy, one hallmark of veracity is that such incidents have happened over a few generations to different family members. Unless patients demonstrate severe mental problems at work or in their personal lives, Landy generally assumes they're telling the truth during their sessions.

There are others in Miami, though, who try for more independent verification in their search for the truth about UFOs. They're the intrepid seekers after evidence, the eager amateur researchers who say they want to make UFOlogy more of a science and less of a religion, even as skeptics ignore or deride such efforts. But the impulse to look skyward for beings who might have answers to our problems is, after all, a kind of spiritual quest. (And one skeptic, New York City-based author John Keel, argues, "UFOlogists like to pretend that they're scientific, but it's actually all religious." Keel cites their pilgrimages to revered sites such as Roswell and their general ignorance about science.) Still, one of the dogged pursuers who is trying to bring some empirical rigor to the study of UFOs is retired schoolteacher Mary Margaret Zimmer of Kendall, the local "section director" for the Mutual UFO Network, or MUFON, a national organization of mostly lay investigators. "I tend to be very nuts-and-bolts," she says. "I'm not into the New Age." She was trained by MUFON as a field investigator, and one of her latest MUFON reports is the December sighting by Dan and Thais Austin in Kendall of a glowing red-orange object that zipped past their balcony twice. The second time Dan caught it on videotape, and some of his neighbors also said they saw it. The video footage aired on a Channel 6 news broadcast in late December. Dan Austin relates, "This made no sound, and you knew it was a UFO."

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