Known Unknowns

UFOs won't go away!

They were back on the front page. They never went away. They were being ignored was all.

For Edward, the recent Pentagon report stating some recorded UFO sightings were difficult to explain was a nice change of pace from what was an otherwise relentless and forbidding news cycle. Strikes, melting glaciers, government officials launching slurs at each other, border disputes, a poisoned reservoir in one state, drought in another, rampant disinformation campaigns. Heck, the flat earthers and creationists were making a comeback. WTF?

At his desk on the second floor of the house he and Lucy owned on a quiet street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, he continued reading through the Pentagon's report.

Of the 144 recorded UFO sightings, one was identified with high confidence. In that case, the object was a large, deflating balloon. The others remain unsolved.

One case out of one-hundred-forty-four was all that could be explained. The simple fact of that was obvious. The report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence didn’t rule out the possibility of aliens having stopped by Earth for a visit. He was processing that when Lucy appeared in the doorway.

"I checked everything one more time," she said. "They can take it from here."

"They" were the new tenants moving into their first-floor rental. Hanna and Richard were their names. A couple in their late twenties. Unassuming and polite, they knew from their previous visit to check the place out. Hanna was a freelance designer who worked remote most of the time. Richard studied Public Health in NYU’s graduate program, and he was a barista at an espresso shop in the East Village.

"This time next year I’ll have my degree," he added.

No matter. Hanna and Richard liked the apartment and he and Lucy liked them. They were glad to see their credit check come back without any issues. When that was out of the way they spent twenty minutes looking through their social media pages. Hanna had some of her design work on a website and more of it posted on Instagram. Both had Facebook accounts with the usual stuff, pictures, announcements, friend's comments. The same went for Twitter. They had taken part in several protests in the city and others in Washington D.C. and Boston. Images showed them carrying signs with the messages WE NEED A CHANGE, MY SKIN IS NOT A THREAT, RISE UP FOR CLIMATE. They were involved and that was okay with he and Lucy. They had done some of that themselves not so long ago. They agreed more of it was needed, not less.

"I'll let them in and hand over the keys," Edward said.

"I'll be out in the garden if you need me," Lucy said.

When she was gone Edward turned back to the Pentagon’s report.

The panel of scientists concluded some UFO sightings were accompanied by physical evidence that merited further investigation.

He was sure of one thing, some strange stuff had occurred there was no explanation for.


A lot of banging, squeaking and loud voices that afternoon. Same as it ever was on moving in day. Lugging boxes and furniture up the front steps, down the narrow hallway and through a tight doorway wasn't an unobtrusive activity. With the help of two friends, emptying the rented box truck took several hours.

After that, the quiet weeks of he and Lucy having the place to themselves were over. The winding down of the first-floor toilet flushing and knocking pipes in the walls were back in their lives. Music coming up through the floorboards, rock, jazz, vibes with a Latin beat. A conversation with a food delivery person at the front door that echoed up the hallway stairs. A creaking bed. At the end of the day, it was much like tenement life. You were aware of the sounds, smells, and appetites of your neighbors. It was impossible not to know what was going on with them.

Otherwise, they had no interaction until Edward ran into Hanna at the barrels out front five days after the move.

"You know about the new composting program?" he said.

Face to face, he took notice of her hazel eyes and small white teeth. Her dark hair was tied back.

A hesitant smile from her that tipped up a bit more at one corner. "I do, food scraps go in there." She pointed at the brown wheeled bin.

"It's going well?" he said.

"We're down to our last few boxes. Hooray for that. Do you mind if we leave a few items we don't need out here? Someone might want them."

"Of course, we do it all the time. Stuff goes fast if it's any good."

"That's what we'll do." Hanna smiled.

"Well, I won’t keep you. Let us know if you need anything."

"Will do," Hanna said. "It was nice talking to you."

"Same here," Edward said. He let her go up the stairs first and that was that.


Of course, people would come by to visit. That's what happens. Friends wanting to see their new digs. Siblings, mom and dad stopping in for a look-see. One of the things Hanna and Richard liked to do was drink beer on the stoop. After they did it a third time Edward shot an email their way asking them to sit behind the hedge using the folding chairs he put inside the front door. Stoops in New York City were considered public spaces. It was illegal to drink alcohol on them.

"It’s not likely to be an issue, but you never know," he said.

"We’ll do that," Hanna replied. "And thanks for the chairs. We promise not to make too much noise."

"Appreciate that," was his response.

Otherwise, they came and went as all people do. To work and back. Out on a Saturday night and back. Gone away for the weekend and back. Back from a march protesting the nomination of the new Supreme Court Justice, they told Edward the Sunday afternoon he met them out front as they were getting back from Manhattan.

"Keep after them," Edward said with a clenched fist.


A month later UFOs were still a popular news item.

On the local public radio station a Cal Tech scientist was being interviewed about the likelihood UFOs had visited Earth. She took the opportunity to advance the Pentagon's admission events in the report could not be explained and how their importance went beyond that.

"It forces us, everyone, to be able to have a conversation like this without people wondering if we should seek help. What we know is, as the report reveals, there are military pilots of sound mind who have seen unidentifiable aerial phenomena. Some admitted they kept that information to themselves out of fear their colleagues would laugh at them. They won't have to hide it anymore."

Edward listened as he chopped half a dozen Japanese eggplants into thin round slices, washed a head of spinach, and deveined shrimp. It was his night to make dinner and he planned to toss all of it into a pot with the mint and basil Lucy picked from the garden and left on the counter. He planned to serve it over brown rice.

"It is a big deal," the scientist answered the question. "Very big. Now we can look for UFOs in a concerted way using artificial intelligence and pattern recognition. We can gather radar data from all fifty states and elsewhere to seek out anomalies in the sky. We don’t only have to rely on our military pilots to point out to us something they saw might be a UFO."

"They’re out there," Edward told himself in a low voice as he poured olive oil into a heated sauté pan. No doubt about it. There had to be thousands more sightings than the Pentagon outlined. One hundred-forty-four was the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

In fact, at a recent group barbeque down the block their friend Amy swore she had one of those experiences. She described how years ago, on a trip to Utah with an ex-boyfriend, they encountered something there was no rational explanation for.

"We weren't doing psychedelics," she made the point up front.

What happened was, they were out on a hike in a remote canyon in the Grand Escalante Staircase. No other people were around. It was bright and calm. The weather wasn't an issue.

At first, they didn’t see anything specific. No flying saucer hovering overhead wanting to abduct them. No purple human-like form with one large eye greeting them with a wave of a three-fingered hand. Instead, they were aware of a presence. Looking around, they didn't see it, but something was there. Some energy source. They went on and as they did the feeling went away. That made them think wind got trapped in the canyon. But five minutes later it was back behind them. Turning, they saw a blue, whirling dervish like light streaking down the canyon wall. When it was on the ground, the light flickered, came at them and as it did they froze. What the hell? They didn't know what it was or what its plans were. As she said, it wasn't a spacecraft. Though it revolved like one. A kind of vortex of air.

"Go away," she screamed.

Her boyfriend swung a fist out at it.

Then, as if deciding it was afraid of them, it whooshed off into the sky. Gone in an eyeblink. Just gone. They knew one thing, they’d had an experience with something that wasn't of this earth. Of life and nature as they knew it. No form of earthly matter could act like that.

By the time they got back to their motel they were doubting themselves. Maybe they misinterpreted the event? It was a merging of the afternoon light, wind, and dust. A glowing dust devil? It might have been that. It might have been anything.

"We had a lot of drinks that night," she said.

A few days later they shrugged it off as nothing much. Six months after that they broke up.


Weekend afternoons in the warmer months Edward rode his bike on a route that took him into Manhattan, then along the East River and back to Greenpoint. It was a break from his routine workout at the gym he went to four days a week. In total, the ride was twenty miles and he got a lot of pleasure from it even with all the people and traffic hindering his progress.

On a Sunday that September he was in Lower Manhattan when he ran into a march he found out had started at Fort Greene Park, went over the Brooklyn Bridge with City Hall its destination. Without a way to get on the bridge's bike lane, he stood by the entrance ramp holding his Cannondale as the marchers streamed past.

He was there a few minutes when a voice called out, "Hey, Mr. Ferro."

"Oh, hey." He almost didn’t recognize Hanna in the mass of passing bodies and indistinguishable faces.

She and Richard came over to him with their signs. Hanna's said, MY MIND, MY BODY, MY POWER. WE WILL NOT BE DEFEATED in big bold letters was the message on Richard's.

"Did you come here to be with us?" Hanna said.

"No, no, I'm not here for that. Just out on my bike. I used to go to everything, but I haven't for a while. Not that I'm not for them any longer. I'm not one of those types that gets set up in life and forgets everyone else. Who turns the tables and complains about those who don't have it as good."

"Well, it has to stop, and stop now, no ifs, ands, or buts," Hanna said. "The Governor has to make the point consequences will be severe if and when it does happen."

"No, it can't continue," Edward said. "I'm with you one hundred percent on that."

"It's important we keep the pressure on," Hanna said. "He has to fire a man who harasses the women working for him no matter who he is."

"I'm surprised he hasn’t done it yet," Edward said. "I didn’t vote for him to act like his opponents."

"So many people out here," Richard said. "It's a great thing."

"Can't sit at home doing nothing and expect things to change," Hanna said. "Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."

"Got that right," Edward said.

"There's another in two weeks," Richard said. "If you’re interested, we'll send you the info."

"Sure, do that to my email," he said.

"Well, wanted to say hi," Hanna said. "We gotta catch up with our friends. Onward to City Hall."

"Catch you back at the ranch," Richard said.

Edward watched them turn into the crowd. When the last marchers and the police accompanying them went by, he hopped on his bike, rode over the bridge and from there pedaled through Dumbo and Williamsburg back to Greenpoint.


Unless they had company, or on special occasions, he and Lucy took their plates to the front room to watch the evening news. Of course, at that point in the day they had taken in some of the latest on their favorite online sites. Yet, it wasn't until they sat down that Sunday evening and clicked to a local channel that they found out about the clashes between the marchers and police at City Hall.

"All was cool when I was there," he told Lucy. "Though I suppose this is worthwhile trouble."

"I should have gone," Lucy said. "We should have. We have to start doing that again. Nothing's getting better. It still means something."

"Well, I was there," he said.

Lucy didn't bite at his attempt to be funny. "I'm being serious," she said.

On the television a male reporter stared into the camera to recap the events that took place several hours earlier. The altercation began when one of the marchers and a man recording them with a handheld camera got into an argument. More of the marchers began yelling at him, leading others to come to the man’s defense. Who pushed who first wasn't known. Both sides blamed the other.

However it happened, the confrontation escalated. Punches were thrown. Traffic on Broadway was obstructed. More pushing and fighting broke out and the police moved in to make arrests. In all, fourteen people were being detained in downtown holding cells.

They continued to stare at the screen as the camera scanned the marchers that remained gathered on the sidewalk next to City Hall. A few were interviewed.

"They only arrested us, not the other side," one said.

"They let them go," another said. "It's not right. We're not the ones who started it."

After that, a representative from the city came on to assure viewers the situation was under control. Those arrested would be charged with a criminal offense and punished to the full extent of the law.

"Did you hear them come back?" Edward said.

"Not unless they were quieter than usual," Lucy said.

"Might be out with friends. A beer or two after something like that is mandatory."

"I've had enough news for the day," Lucy said. "There has to be a decent movie to watch."

Later on, after the movie, the dishes washed and they were in bed, the front door banged closed hard enough for them to feel the vibration upstairs.

Edward read the number on the digital clock on the table next to him. "Eleven-forty."

They heard Hanna’s voice. There was another unfamiliar voice with her. They talked in heightened tones as the door to the apartment was unlocked, opened, and slammed shut.

"I didn’t hear Richard," Lucy said.

"I'm not sure," Edward said, and that was the end of the discussion.


No sign or sound of Richard the next morning into the afternoon. Much as Edward wanted to shoot an email to Hanna inquiring about him, he didn't. He didn't want to be a nosy landlord. Instead, at his desk, he typed a few terms into the search bar. On the Department of Corrections’ website he entered Richard’s full name. Sure enough, he was being held at the 5th Precinct on Elizabeth Street in Lower Manhattan.

"We don’t do anything," Lucy said when he told her. "It's not our part to play. We're not family. We're not in the bail bond business."

"Fighting and resisting arrest," Edward said. "He doesn't seem the type to start punching people for no reason."

“It might have been self-defense, we don’t know," Lucy said.

Edward said, "If we run into Hanna, I'll mention we heard what happened. See if she wants to tell us anything."

"I'm not going there," Lucy said. "We should do what we always do, stay out of the way."

That evening nothing much new on the matter was reported on "The News at Six." Some words about eleven of the protesters being released and a cut down version of the video aired the previous day.

A while later they heard voices out front. At the window, Edward saw Hanna with three others sitting on the steps. Richard wasn't one of them. Five minutes later they went inside.

"Why was he not let out with the rest?" Edward said.

Lucy shook her head. "I know as much as you do."

Music started up on the floor below. Someone went out and came back. Someone else did the same. As the evening went on the music got louder. Thumping beats and lyrics. The voices of Hanna and her friends rose to a higher pitch. Then came a unified, "Bullshit!"

The next night a group of them were back together behind the hedge. Five in all, drinking beer and talking in low, thoughtful tones. Still no Richard.

"All right," Edward told Lucy, "I'm going to the market before it closes. What do we need?"

"You shouldn't bother them," she said.

"If they want to tell me something, they will," he said.

He grabbed one of the cotton bags hanging by the door. On the porch, the voices behind the hedge went quiet. He turned to see the faces staring up at him.

"Enjoying the night?" he said. He glanced up at the clear sky.

"Do you know about Richard?" Hanna said.

"Know what?" Much as he tried to feign ignorance, Edward was sure the look on his face stated otherwise.

"He was arrested at the rally," Hanna said.

"He's one of three they won't release," the guy sitting next to Hanna said. He had a thin face and black, bushy hair.

"Why are they doing that, it doesn't sound fair," Edward said.

"We're not sure why," Hanna said. "They haven't set bail yet."

"He didn't do what they said he did, he shouldn't be treated this way," another spoke up. She had short hair and a silver nose ring.

"He shouldn't be in at all," Hanna said. "He didn't like being grabbed by the collar."

"But he was punched in the face," the guy with the bushy hair said.

"He has a bruised cheek to prove it." Edward recognized the voice of the woman who had stayed with Hanna the other night.

"Did you see him?" Edward looked at Hanna.

"No, we heard it from his Legal Aid," Hanna said.

"I don’t know what to say," Edward said.

"Nothing to say," Hanna said. "I wanted to let you in on what's happening."

"Thanks," Edward said. "I'll tell Lucy. She'll be interested to hear that. Keep us posted."

"Will do, talk to you later," Hanna said.

"Later," he said, and went off to the market.


A lot of imaginations gone wild, some insisted.

Manmade objects shooting across the sky, others were sure.

China and Russia stoking fear with their newest airborne toys. It's what they do. Psy-ops. Mind fucking. We do the same to them.

If something’s out there, then let’s go look for it, the chair of Senate foreign relations committee said in a hearing. When we find it, we'll likely see it came from a foreign power.

Not so fast Mr. Chairman, plenty responded to his summation. There are things we know and other things we can’t be sure of. As one astronomer testifying before the committee put it, "It would be arrogant to think there wasn't any other life in the universe besides us."

However it was seen, the longer the conversation went on the more people came out of the woodwork to talk about their experiences with UFOs even if, as their friend Amy mentioned, it had happened two decades earlier.

She was adamant. "I was there. I saw something. No one's going to tell me otherwise."

If asked to describe the experience would her boyfriend have a different take on it?

"A cone of swirling dust was all," he might say. "Not a UFO. We agreed on that back at our motel. Did she mention we toked some very fine weed?"


The first night Richard was out of jail he and Hanna sat behind the hedge. It pleased Edward and Lucy to see them back together. Edward didn't think anything serious would come of it. A warning not to do it again and a small fine would be the worst of it.

"One's still in the slammer," Lucy read the next day on a local news blog.

He shouldn’t be, was the opinion of his court appointed lawyer and fellow protesters who were interviewed. The charges against him were made up. Bail was excessive. Rallies were being planned in his support.

It turned out one of those rallies was that Thursday evening. At six o'clock they heard the bike bells and chants out front of their house. As many as twenty on racers and hybrids, dressed in t-shirts and shorts, with colorful helmets strapped on their heads. Most looked to be Hanna's and Richard's age. Others appeared to be the age of their parents.

"Our age," Lucy said.

With the windows open they could hear the chatter among them. The claps of hands and rise of excitement when Richard and Hanna came out the door. The side gate to where they kept their bikes squealed open then clanked closed. Bikes in hands, Hanna and Richard joined them. After that, there was a discussion and a raise of clenched fists. Someone said, "to the bridge." Then a voice yelled "to the bridge," and they were off.

"I feel like an eavesdropper," Edward said.

"We're spying on them, no two ways about it," Lucy said.

"I'm guessing they're going to hook up with others. It could be big."

"I think that's the intention. Let's go."

"With them? Now?"

"Sure, I want to see what's up. Don't you?"

They carried their bikes out to the sidewalk and strapped on their helmets. They took Franklin to Kent. From there it was straight to the bridge. By the time they came to South 5th they heard a cacophony of honking horns. Turning the corner, they saw the commotion up ahead. Bikers, hundreds of them, were gathered on the sidewalk and street. Closing in, Edward saw traffic was shut down by hundreds more bikers on the roadway. The jam up of cars and trucks went on past the ramp coming off the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

Dozens of police were present, with more on the way. The sound of sirens came at them from several directions.

At the back of the gathering, Edward and Lucy waited with the others.

"Where are you all off to?" Edward asked the group next to them.

"The jail on Elizabeth Street," was the answer.

On tiptoes, Lucy craned her neck to try to locate their tenants. "Nope," she said.

"Must be on the bridge," Edward said.

Not much longer after that came the call to cross the span. Edward and Lucy were two of last to get rolling. Behind the others, they peddled slow. In a while they made their way onto the bridge. Behind them police on bikes, in cars, and on foot followed, using their whistles to hold the traffic back. A little further on the staccato chant started up at the front of the group and those behind them joined in.

"Set him free. Set him free. Set him free."

Then, "Wrongly accused. Wrongly accused. Wrongly accused."

At the summit, the FDR Drive and the Lower East Side housing developments came into view. On the downslope they coasted all the way to Delancey Street chanting, "Let him out. Let him out. Let him out."

They went no further.

A block past the bridge police in helmets, holding shields and batons, formed a barrier that kept them from going on. The only way from there was to take the side streets around the blockade. Discussion among the riders at the front went on until a deep megaphone voice told the gathering, "You must move off the road. You must do that now. Do not continue to block traffic."

"We're going that way," one of the riders yelled. She thrust out an arm and pointed ahead.

"Move off the road or you will be arrested," came the order.

Frustration among the cyclists was expressed. The riders at the front insisted they be allowed to go on.

"Let us go. Let us go. Let us go."

What happened next was a blur to Edward. The clash between the protesters and police. The police using pepper spray to keep them back, grabbing and zip-tying those refusing to move. The swarm of bikers turning off the road, some onto the side streets, others onto the bike lane that went back over the river to Brooklyn. He and Lucy moving off to the sidewalk. Lucy setting her bike against a signpost and going over to a group of officers to talk to them. Her voice getting louder as she went on. "Let them, us, go to the jail. How does that hurt you?" One of the officers shaking his head. Lucy pointing at him. The officer turning and walking away. Lucy following. Another officer getting between them, telling her to step back. Lucy not obeying. The officer repeating his command. Lucy keeping it up, still not budging. Lucy yelling, “This is wrong, and you know it.” The officer taking hold of her arm as he and another officer led her away. He shouting to leave her alone. Trying his best to manage two bikes as he went after them. Hearing the officer tell Lucy, "You want to get to the jail, you can get to it this way." Lucy telling him, "Let go of me."

Struggling with the bikes, Edward couldn't maneuver through the crowd to get to her. All he could do was watch her being guided into the back doors of a police van with several others in it. The doors were shut, and the van went off, its siren blaring.

After that, not knowing what to do, Edward started his way back home. With a bike in either hand, it took him an hour. When he got there, he found Hanna and Richard on the front steps.

"We left when it got tense," Richard said, "I didn’t want to risk it."

He told them about Lucy. He sat with them and talked a while. Inside later on, he used his phone to try to make contact with her. That didn’t happen until she called him in the morning to let him know she was released on her own recognizance. The others arrested were also let out. That included the young man still in custody, whose bail was suspended by the District Attorney's office.

"All I know is it's my duty to stand up against an injustice as a way to show it can't and shouldn't be tolerated,” was Lucy's response to the "The News at Six" reporter who spoke with her outside the jail. "We still have free speech in this country, don’t we? Or is that a right we think we have but don’t?"

Two days after that the Governor’s office reported the man in his administration accused of harassing his aides was fired.

That put an end to that matter. Other news went on to dominate the headlines. So much was going on, or was said to be going on, or was manufactured to keep the public’s interest perked and eyes on the flashing ads, pop up sales offers, and links to more of the same. It was as difficult as ever to keep up with all of it. To know what was real and what wasn’t.

A month later the Pentagon released a statement saying another report about UFOs would be delivered to Congressional lawmakers at a future date.

But, a Pentagon official stated, there was data the lawmakers would never see, not even in a classified environment, and that meant the public would never find out about it either.



Paul Perilli

Paul Perilli's recent fiction appears in Fairlight Books, The Write Launch, The Fictional Café, The Writing Disorder, and several others. His website is: Paul recommends Democracy Docket.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Wednesday, May 8, 2024 - 21:23