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October 13, 2023

Wow!

"Spooky"

Man standing in a field at night

**I will preface this story by saying the Wow Signal is real, Jerry Ehman is real, the Dogon tribe's knowledge of Sirius' binary nature is also real. The rest of the details regarding the event are fictionalized and this story should be considered alternate history or something of that sort.


To date, the Wow Signal's origin is unknown...**


On a flat stretch of ground in Delaware County Ohio sat a damn big pad of concrete. Four acres big. The cement was bonded to aluminum sheeting for maximum reflectiveness, and on each side of this large bright slab were structures of steel. Towering 70 feet above the flat floor was a curved steel structure, a grid and tangle of metal coming together to form what is called a parabolic reflector. On the far side was its brother, a similarly tangled structure of steel, but this one was flat and 100 feet high, although its angle made it seem shorter.


His purpose was to receive signals from up above and bounce them towards his brother. Then, the curved structure would alley-oop the signal into two small, by comparison, metal protrusions in the middle of the pad. Those were called the feeder horns, and they, well, fed the signal to a series of machines and computers housed underground.


The large metal structures of the radio-telescope only had each other for company, but down below was a party of electricity and circuitry the poor metal brothers could only ever dream of. Still, every piece did its job regardless of how they felt about it. It was on a summer evening, in the year 1977, when the machines truly understood that what they had been calling a party was child’s play.


See, this collection of instruments and computers were taking in radio signals from space, they formed one piece in the search for extraterrestrial life. The instruments would translate any signals they received to the computers, who would then translate the information into something their human overlords could understand.


It worked like this:

The stream of radio waves passing through the complex array was fairly constant in intensity. That intensity was expressed in numbers first, with 1 being the lowest intensity received and 9 being the highest.


The highest expressible by numbers, that is.


After 9 came the alphabet, the entire alphabet. That’s 35 standard deviations above zero. The intensity had almost always hovered around 1, 2, or 3, with the occasional 4 being something the computers talked about for days. But, on this August night, the computers printed this for their human masters to read:


1-1-2-1-6?  EQUJ5   -2-1-1-1


Now that was a party.


The strongest signal they had ever received.


It was common for two or three days to pass without a visit from any humans, an arrangement the machines typically appreciated, but this was big. People needed to know. They were nearly jumping out of their circuits when Jerry climbed down into the technological bunker. The tired university professor gathered up the pile of paper that had fallen from the printer and into the catch basket. He put them in his attaché, did a sleepy little stretch, and drug his feet as he exited the subterranean room, not knowing the significance of the papers he now possessed.


Jerry arrived home to his lovely wife and a fantastic meal, after which he sat on his armchair and stared at the television for a while. He made love to his wife that night, and all as that pile of papers sat on a desk downstairs.


Jerry slept like a rock, though.


The computers couldn’t.



The following day went by just as many before it. Jerry lectured, graded papers, and casually flirted with the dean’s secretary. She found it amusing that this married, funny looking, bespectacled man would spend so much energy on her. Honestly, she rather enjoyed it, but today was different. Something told her to send him away, to actually be quite rude to the man, and before she knew it she was dismissing him.


“Don’t you have papers to attend to at home, where your wife is?”


She didn’t know what came over her but she knew that likely the last time he’d ever flirt with her.

He stammered a half apology and walked hurriedly towards his office. The professor he shared an office with was meeting a student, so Jerry quickly collected his things, deciding it better to finish his work at home.


So he went, walking through the threshold of the building and towards his car, each strike of his feet sending echoes through the ground.


Echoes and vibrations that reached all the way back to the radio-telescope.


The instruments were brimming with excitement.


The embarrassed astronomy professor arrived home, which he found to be empty. ‘She must be at the market’ he thought, somewhat grateful for his wife’s absence. He grabbed a beer out of the refrigerator, despite it being a Tuesday, and turned on the radio, hoping to unwind. He heard a little ditty by Elvis, after which the disc jockey expressed his sadness at the loss of said King. This was news to Jerry, and it was enough to upset him.


Turning off the radio he rose to his feet and scanned the room. He was feeling unusually off and the news of Elvis’s passing did not help. He decided it was best to distract himself with something. Eyes scanned the room and landed on the stack of papers. That was it.


He grabbed a second beer to save himself the trip later and sat at his tiny desk. Just like many nights before, countless nights actually. Jerry traced his finger along the papers. 1s and 2s filled page after page, forming the backdrop for the occasional four, after each of which Jerry would give a quiet “hm.”


Half of the stack was already on the ground and the second beer was nearly finished when he saw it.


6EQUJ5


He stared at the page, can of beer halfway towards his lips, frozen.


“Oh, you’re home early” came the voice of his wife as she entered their home. “And drinking beer in the middle of the week? Oh, is it because of Elvis honey? I know. What a treasure that man was.”


She kept speaking for a couple of minutes before realizing that nobody was responding, and approached her husband. He grabbed her by the arm and raised the page to her face.


“Look,” he said.


“I’m not quite sure what I’m looking at, dear.”


“Those numbers, they’re a message… A message from outer space!”


The days that ensued felt like a flash. Excitement, skepticism, hope, and downright criticism was felt from every direction and from every person. Even Jerry’s wife began to act differently, pondering the possibility, as if for the first time, that humans might not be alone in this universe. For her and so many others, the possibility clashed with their idea of God. The anger and vitriol of those whose faith was shaken was all directed at Jerry, as if he was the cause of the signal.


Fortunately for him and his team, they had no time to truly take in the criticism everyone was so ready to broadcast at them. The only concern they had was the broadcast from space. Very quickly it was deduced that the source of the signal was Sirius, a binary star system relatively close to our own.


The bulk of the faculty at the University of Ohio were concerned with debating whether or not the signal was of an extraterrestrial origin. Professors with no knowledge of astrology emerged from obscurity to spout their criticisms at anyone who would listen. Debates were organized, drawing crowds of students, local residents, and reporters all to listen to the “authorities” on the subject.

Meanwhile, a small team of teachers and students, men and women dedicated to discovering the truth, worked silently.


For Jerry, this was the most exciting time in his life.


The excitement affected his sleep, as a matter of fact. His dreams became more and more active and intense, a result of this obsessive crusade, no doubt. He dreamt of sand covered plains, earthen structures rising from the landscape. Dark colored people, Africans he could tell, met with white people. They spoke French to a dark man, who then translated to the group of Africans. Jerry watched this unfold like a movie, albeit a movie in a foreign language.


He didn’t understand the dream’s significance then.


The next morning he understood.



The team dedicated to proving or disproving the alien source of the signal had begun daily meetings in the underground room where the computers and instruments were housed. They would begin the day by sharing any findings from the previous day and sharing their intentions for the current day. It was after one of these meetings that a student approached Jerry.


“Professor Ehman, can I have a word?”


Jerry thought the young woman was familiar, but did not know her name or major.


“Sure, yes,” he replied, caught off guard.


“I’ll be quick, I know you’re busy. See, I was discussing our findings with a friend of mine, an anthropology major, and when he learned that the source of the signal was the twin stars of Sirius, it reminded him of something he had learned before. He said that a couple of French anthropologists reported on the oral traditions of the Dogon Tribe in west Africa. They said that while we only discovered the binary nature of Sirius 100 years ago, the Dogon have known there were two stars for centuries.”


Imagery from the dream flashed through Jerry’s mind. He was left stunned. Something like this had never happened to him before. The young woman saw that she wasn’t getting much of a response and pulled a book from her bag.


“Here, this is his, he said we could keep it if it would help. It’s more information about the Dogon. That’s not all though.”


Jerry held the book in his hands, staring at the cover.


“He’s written a list of other cultures, ancient ones, on the inside of the cover. He says that they all have some sort of mythology based on Sirius. He says that some of them even claim to have been visited by inhabitants from the star system.”


Jerry opened the cover of the book to see the list. His movements were slow, as if he was hesitant to learn this information. When he saw the list his stomach sank.


Five more civilizations with myths of Sirius.

He finally found the words to reply.


“Th-Thank you, uh, what is your name?”


“Sibyl.”


“I will look into this further,” he replied, attempting to regain his professionalism. “Thank you again.”


“I’m happy to help, sir. I look forward to hearing more.”


By the time she had ascended the stairs and returned to the surface, Jerry looked up from the book, realizing he was in the room alone. Despite the constant hum of computer fans and whizzing and whirring of instrumentation, Jerry heard nothing but silence.



The librarian, another woman Jerry was keen on, remarked how she had never seen the professor visit the library so much. She joked that he couldn’t stay away from her. His meek appearance was so disarming, but he had a charming way about him that tended to catch women off guard. These past few days though, Jerry was strictly business. He would come in and borrow two or three books without a word of banter, then come in the following day for two more. He wasn’t returning books and he wasn’t returning interest, leaving the poor librarian to wonder if she had said something wrong.


She hadn’t. She didn’t know that Jerry was experiencing a radical change in understanding. Each book he read had hinted at contact with other-worldly beings. The ancient Egyptians, The Sumerians, The Mayans, even the ancient Chinese, they all had pieces of the story. Bits of information written on tablets or passed down through stories, all corroborating each other, all building on the myth. Jerry could scarcely believe it.


He feared what others would think if he brought this information to them. Already researchers were claiming that the signal was an accident caused by errant radio waves bouncing off of space debris. The probability of that was slim, but those more skeptical of the signal’s origins were ready to believe it. Anything that preserved their view of the world.


Jerry wished he had that.


He wished for the comfort of willful ignorance. Whenever his mind wasn’t assaulted by the stream of new information coming to him he would sit and wonder.


He had spent so many years volunteering in the effort to find alien life, but he had never once asked himself if he was prepared to find them…


He was reminded of the children’s game, hide and seek.


Ready or not, here I come.


Jerry was not ready. He didn’t quite know what he was. All he knew is that for some reason he had gotten out of bed in the dead of night and began to drive. The pale orange lights rhythmically passing over and through his vehicle as the white stripes of the road blurred into one. For a moment he came to his senses, wondering what had compelled him to leave his bed, but only for a moment.

In the empty parking lot of the university sat one car, Jerry’s. He had parked in his assigned spot despite the vast openness of the asphalt lot. His feet sent echoes through the ground. Echoes and pounds, that reached all the way back to the radio-telescope.


When his toes felt the grass of the large field beneath his feet, he had another moment of clarity. Had he left home without his shoes? But, once again, t’was only a moment.


The large masses of gridded steel grew in size as Jerry approached. The whole array seemed so inviting. It beckoned him closer, and he obeyed, walking until he found himself standing on that concrete pad between them. There he stood near the feeder horns that had funneled the signal underground only weeks before.


Jerry felt as if he could hear the constant hum of space reflecting off of the large steel panels. The background noise of 1s and 2s passing through his body and into the feeders. He smiled at the thought of an occasional 4.


The smile managed to remain on his face, even when he noticed something moving behind the iron.

It seemed that people were standing behind the panels, and then began to walk out, and around towards him. Had other people felt the call of the radio telescope as well?


He turned around to see the panel behind him, more people. It was when he returned his gaze forward that he saw them more clearly.


They were short. Children maybe?


No, not quite. Something was different about them. Slowly the smile fell from his face. Their heads were… larger than normal. And where was their hair?


His smile had fallen completely to the floor by this point, replaced by an expression of intense wonder as well as agonizing fear. An interesting expression, no doubt.


He knew exactly what this was. The broadcasters.


“Be not afraid,” he heard them say. None of their mouths moved, and in the moon’s shine he could see that they hardly had mouths. Their eyes were large and contained a shade of black that seemed to suck in all light around them.


“Ok,” he found himself thinking.


They were so much closer now. Jerry could see them in perfect detail. Gray skin, bulbous heads, thin limbs. He was fixated on their appearance, trying to take in every detail so that he could recount this to his colleagues. Then the moonlight shining down on the beings dissipated, obscuring them in shadow… and Jerry looked up.


A large circular mass of darkness blocked out most of the night sky. Whatever it was appeared as a void, a place where no stars could be seen and where the gray moon light formed a faint ring around.

Jerry was blinded as a flash shot from the center of the dark mass. A white-yellow beam of light firing directly towards him. He reflexively turned his head away.


Then Jerry leapt out of bed, the light of the sun shining directly in his eyes.


He was in his bedroom.


His quick motion startled his wife awake.


“Jesus, Jerry, are you alright?” She asked, half asleep.


“I, uh,” was all he could muster.


He felt around his body, as if to check if he was really real. He gripped the blankets of the bed, he felt the bed shift as his wife got out of it, but he did nothing except stare at the wall.


“I’m worried about you, dear. I know this whole thing has gotten you stirred up but—

Gosh, Jerry! How did you manage to track in dirt all along the carpet?”

I hope you enjoyed that!

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