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A very, very interesting account by Brian Bethel: Sometime last year, I was contacted by a television program that wanted to interview me about a strange event that happened a few years ago. With a touch of reluctance, I agreed.
The show itself runs tonight at 9 p.m. CST on the Destination America channel. It’s a … travel program, at least in certain respects. A cameraman and an interviewer came here last year and shot some footage of me and others in a rented home they used as a backdrop, out and about in Abilene, in a local coffee shop, etc.
There is a travel focus, as I said. Of a sort. They kept insisting I call this area “the Badlands.”
Having visited the actual Badlands in South Dakota, I protested, but they kept at it, and in the interest of just getting through the experience, I demurred — all the while explaining no one but no one calls this place the “Badlands.”
I think few would disagree that certain parts of Texas, especially dirt roads far away from artificial light under a sliver of silvered moonglow, can be places of both wonder and fear.
But our rolling landscape is far from the almost alien-looking landscape of buttes and spires found in South Dakota’s Badlands National Park.
Being the one interviewed was … different. I kept being asked to stop, to repeat certain things with more emphasis or emotion, and to rephrase something to make it more concise or to better coincide with the vision of the kind but somewhat-intense interviewer. The experience was similar to, but in many ways profoundly different from, what I do.
Despite a few bumps along the way, it ended up being a positive experience. No compensation involved, the only real sacrifice some time to tell (and retell in take after take) a single story.
You notice that I’ve kind of dodged the subject matter, and this is somewhat intentional. But we can’t go much further without going there.
So here goes:
Near as I can figure, this happened in 1996. I’ve managed to pin down the date that far. I feel like it happened in the spring or summer, since I remember wearing a pair of shorts, but one of my great regrets is not recording the actual date of the event.
After you hear the story, you’d think it would be something you’d never forget. But given enough time between, not the case. My memory, while good, isn’t quite eidetic.
I had gone down to the former site of Camalott Communications, one of the area’s original Internet providers, to pay my bill. At the time, Camalott was located on North 1st Street, near the movie theater, in the shadow of what is now Chase, then Bank One.
I was using the light of the theater’s marquee to write out my check, which I planned to put in Camalott’s night drop-slot. Involved in my work, I never heard them approach.
There was a knock on my driver’s side window. Two young boys, somewhere between nine to 12 years old and dressed in hooded pullovers, stood outside.
I cracked the window a bit, anticipating a spiel for money, but I was immediately gripped by an incomprehensible, soul-wracking fear. I had no idea why.
A conversation ensued between one boy, a somewhat suave, olive-skinned, curly-headed young man, and myself. The other, a redheaded, pale-skinned, freckled young man, stayed in the background.
The “spokesman,” as I’ve come to think of him, told me that he and his companion needed a ride. They wanted to see a movie, “Mortal Kombat,” but they had left their money at their mother’s house. Could I give them a ride?
Plausible enough. But all throughout this exchange, the irrational fear continued and grew. I had no reason to be frightened of these two boys, but I was. Terribly.
After a bit more conversation, I looked up at the theater marquee and down at the digital clock display in my car.
Mortal Kombat’s last show of the night had already started. By the time I could have driven the boys anywhere and back, it would practically have been over.
All the while, the spokesman uttered assurances:
It wouldn’t take long.
They were just two little kids.
They didn’t have a gun or anything.
The last part was a bit unnerving.
I noticed that my hand had strayed toward the lock on my door. I pulled it away, perhaps a bit too violently.
In the short time I had broken the gaze of the spokesman, something had changed, and my mind exploded in a vortex of all-consuming terror.
Both boys stared at me with coal-black eyes. The sort of eyes one sees these days on aliens or bargain-basement vampires on late night television. Soulless orbs like two great swathes of starless night.
I did what I feel any rational person would do. I full-on freaked out inside while trying to appear completely sane and calm.
I apologized to the kids. I made whatever excuses came to mind, all of them designed to get me the hell out of there. Fast. The aura of fear was now a palpable, black-hanging thing, almost as if reality itself was warping around me.
I wrapped my hand around the gearshift, threw the car into reverse and began to roll up the window, apologizing all the while.
My fear must have been evident. The boy in the back wore a look of confusion. The spokesman banged sharply on the window as I rolled it up. His words, full of anger, echo in my mind even today:
“We can’t come in unless you tell us it’s OK. Let us in!”
I drove out of the parking lot in blind fear, and I’m surprised I didn’t sideswipe a car or two along the way. I stole a quick look in my rearview mirror before peeling out into the night. The boys were gone. Even if they had run, I don’t believe there was anyplace they could have hidden from view that quickly.
I write for a lot of reasons. I’d do it even if I didn’t get paid to do so.
So I wrote down the story of what had happened, more or less as a cathartic exercise, and shared it with a small group of friends on an email list.
From there, it got out onto the wider Internet. And grew. And grew. And grew. Type my name in Google, you’ll find it soon enough.
In time, there was a term coined for what I’d seen: BEKs, Black-Eyed Kids. I wouldn’t have chosen it, personally, but it’s the acronym the Internet knows.
I’m pretty easy to track down, and so I still get calls, emails and inquiries from people all over the world who want to know more about what I saw, what I think they were, and what the encounter means in some cosmic sense.
I’ve been contacted by everyone from Korean television stations planning New Year’s Eve shows to regular people who just wanted to talk.
More interesting to me has been sporadic, but more than occasional, contact from people who think they may have seen something similar.
Some narratives follow the template of my original encounter a bit too slavishly, and those are easy to dismiss. But others have a more-than-subtle ring of the same sort of panic and helplessness I felt.
Similar experiences have been now in places from suburban neighborhoods to your standard dark alleys throughout the country, possibly beyond. Kids like the ones I saw have allegedly been seen wandering through certain 24-hour big box retailers in the middle of the night and banging on the front doors of numerous witnesses.
Are all of these accounts true? Unlikely. Are there enough to at least reinforce my belief that I encountered something truly strange?
Since my story leaked out to the wider Internet, I’ve gone through several phases. For a long while, I eagerly answered any and all correspondence about the happening. A few years later, I got tired of answering the same questions over and over and over again, and I read, but largely didn’t reply, to inquiries.
But with age and distance from the event, curiosity has had a rebirth.
So when a television program called Monsters and Mysteries in America gave me a call asking if they could interview me about that long-ago night, I said yes.
I’ve never wanted the Reporter-News to be a venue for this story. It’s easy enough to find online, as I said. And call it a weakness, or maybe common sense, but I prefer to keep my encounters with the paranormal (ask me sometime about the ghost that haunted our newsroom back in college) separate from my award-winning journalism career.
But one of the provisions my bosses at the paper made in exchange for me potentially making a fool of myself on TV was for me to tell the story here. And so, I have.
Do I expect you to believe me blindly?
Of course not. I might not believe it myself if I heard such a story from someone else.
What did I see?
Your guess is literally as good as anyone’s. I’ve had everything from vampires to demons to ghosts to aliens to a somewhat-detailed hallucination posited as possibilities.
I do feel like I can say this with some authority: This was back in the day when freaky coal-black contacts weren’t widely available to a couple of kids in Abilene, Texas, for anything under a small fortune.
And there wasn’t enough time to even put such things on in the short time I broke the spokesman’s gaze, if they could afford them.
Will I ever know for certain what I saw?
Do I ever care to see them again?
As much as I still don’t know about what happened that night and why, here’s one thing that I do know. It’s a gut feeling, but one that rises to a level of almost certainty.
If I had given the spokesman and his friend a ride on that long-ago evening, I don’t think I would be here to type this now.
End of story.
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