I began this journal in the immediate aftermath of my doctoral research at the University of Glasgow, as a way to digest my findings and supplement the notes made in more official academic capacities. It soon flourished as a record of my thoughts, and I decided to photocopy some of my research notes to accompany certain entries. I was discovering the frankly astounding disruptions to a typical maritime micro-climate that fell upon the central belt town of Lanark during certain time periods. Evidence was gathered that suggested not only were the peculiar weather phenomena noticed by locals, but had been picked up by national forecasters and kept hidden from the public. The BBC kindly lent me their records for the purpose of subsequent research, on the condition that these notes would not be released publically for at least fifteen years. The journals document the time of my research (between 1990-1994) and my initial discovery of several ‘alien artefacts’ in the woods, with the assistance of the late Mr. Douglas Payne, of Lanark descent.
From an archival perspective, the distinction between diary and research note is not always clear, but I have endeavoured to date all my writing retrospectively or otherwise for the purposes of the Lanark Artefax project. My hope is that others with an appropriate intellectual thirst will be encouraged to pursue the meteorological and artefactual enigmas which have plagued my career since its earliest days, without resolution. I fear my time on Earth is not long; pursue the truth, my friends and colleagues, for what is out there gapes at the seams of the actual, casts into shadow the longheld science of fate...
It is with much trepidation I make my final venture to the town of Lanark. Having recently completed a doctoral dissertation on the geophysics of central belt communities and certain meteorological phenomena, it felt imperative that I visit the place one last time before returning home to my native Missouri. Already craving the National Forest of Mark Twain--its sprawl of fiery trees in fall, the infinitude of its hikes and trails, that vast expansion of scale--I found myself boarding the train to humble Lanark with a sense that this was a place in miniature, a place that came to exist solely for the purposes of my research. Lanark was my simple case study in localised weather phenomenon, but it soon became more than a template. Lanark became my terrible obsession, my undoing.
One of the more curious phenomena I encountered during my trawl of the Lanark local news archives was a report concerning a particular ‘freak’ storm in the summer of 1990. The news reports described a shadowy, ‘gargantuan’ cloud coming over the Cartland Craigs reserve, tinting the silhouettes of trees a ‘terrible, charcoal black’. The description of this cloud chimes with my own primary research: residents informed me of a toxic-looking mass that would gather occasionally around a particular hardware store near the outskirts of town. The midsummer storm included fork lightning, a streak of which came right down upon the high street, shattering the famed ‘Provost’s Lamp’ which used to signify the home of the town provost. The lamp has since been restored to its former glory, however when sufficiently probed, locals informed me of their suspicions regarding the lamp, even in its restored form. It is likely such tales amount simply to exaggerated suspicion and town gossip, a sort of Hawthorne effect created by my outsider’s appearance; however, in tandem with other findings on curious atmospheric phenomena, they bear interest in their own right.
I recall one lady assuring me she’d heard ‘voices’ emit from the lamp: a series of incomprehensible ‘rasping whispers’ that would occur during the hours of twilight. Another reported seeing the lamp haloed one day by a curious, ‘luminous blue’ around the time of the solstice--‘the colour of nitrogen’, his friend confirmed. Upon closer inspection, the lamp seems to be constructed of a slightly pearlescent material, completely distinct from the other streetlights in the area which follow a traditional, Victorian model. Although the surface had been deliberately distressed to simulate an aged effect, I was reminded of the sleek metallics of laptops and weaponry, surfaces designed to provide comfort to human users, or to conceal the elaborate machinations of circuitry within them. My application to prise apart the ‘Provost’s Lamp’ for research purposes was denied by the council, who cited comparisons to local planning permission cases and referred to the lamp as a ‘listed artefact’, protected by Scots Law. This was in spite of assistance from local residents, including esteemed engineers and town historians. As such, I cannot help but regard the council’s rejection with a sneer of suspicion; although it is important not to sink too deeply myself into the town’s undercurrents of misgiving and accusal.
It is with base instinct that I write this down as soon as possible, a full 24 hours after my initial encounter. The ethnographer’s imperative is to write everything down--to assemble vast quantities of data--but it is the scientist’s to do so with an eye towards objectivity. Such distance I fear I cannot attain in this particular case. What I have recently seen defies easy surmise within the theoretical boundaries long established by my field, by the fields of geology, atmospheric chemistry or indeed any of the natural sciences. In making such grandiose statements, I fear myself a twinge of the Victor Frankenstein. In fact, my good friend Payne cracked a similar comparison when I relayed my fears to him in the aftermath of this event. It was Payne, indeed, who brought me to the site in question. It is not easy to put into words what I saw.
Picture a grove in the woods, thickly ensconced among dark lush pines and scores of peaty topsoil, sprawling mushrooms. I had not seen such quantities of fungi, but it was quickly apparent why. The earth must be very nourishing for them. A more fantastical man would start to make enchanted comparisons. The stream that runs through much of the woods comes to a fall here, a dip in the ground like some sort of volcanic cavern of the soil. A waterfall. Despite the flat land, here was a dip, a pool, a recess. The water ran clear as vodka and sparkled in the wan light that spilled through the canopy. Payne sat me down on the rotting trunk of a felled tree. I started to open my pack, feeling quite peckish, when he stopped me. Held back my hand and told me to listen. Hearing only the chaffish cries of woodland birds, the lulling murmur of the miniature falls, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at his whimsy. I had known him about a year now, and each time he would insist on producing before me some increasingly incredible phenomenon, one which I could easily explain in terms of climate or conditions of light. He liked to point out odd conveyances of shadow or the peculiar arrangement of gardens. I felt he was a man possessed, but something in his frenzy nonetheless compelled me to listen.
“I know they’re near here.” He poked around the forest vegetation, sweeping back branches, kicking aside rocks as if in defiance of some overarching philosophical law. He scratched away needles, bark; pulled out the roots of flowers and dug at clumps of moss. Frankly, he was starting to look like a madman.
“This is where I found them,” he kept saying. “Can’t you feel it?” I glanced around me for a whiff of this intangible energy but felt nothing but the coming chill of an August night.
“Someone must’ve taken them.”
“How can you be sure of what you saw?”
“They were here. The objects. I touched them. I burned my hand, I caught my breath I wrote them down, the elaborate descriptions. I lost the papers when the wind took them, swept them into the falls. It all happened so fast. But it happened, it happened.”
Dear Payne made us sit up well into the evening, waiting for these objects to materialise. I was starting to get impatient, even when he permitted us a small meal on the banks of the water.
“You mustn’t touch the water,” he insisted.
“Nonsense.” I found myself scooping handfuls of the stuff into my mouth, thirsty after our long hike. I settled into the last of the evening light to write some observations about the local fungi, intent on discovering their names and purpose. I pictured a sprawl of luminous bluebells in the midst of May, surrounding the falls like a fragrant sea.
Eventually, Payne started to set up a fire. Grateful for any source of light, I allowed him to establish the temporal boundaries of our evening: the very act of wood-gathering signalled we were in for the long haul.
It was when the flames started licking the tips of the forest shadow that something happened. It was so fleeting, so blurred in my mind, that I can only write down my impressions. Therefore, this is not to be taken as a scientific report. Perhaps not even fieldwork. I hope my readers do not find me to be a raving fantasist as they say; but I can assure you that none of this happened in my dreams.
At first, there was a rising drone that came over the sky. I say came over, but really it seemed to emanate from the trees. The quiet whimpering of some primitive pain, the sense that a wound had opened and from its gaping mouth bled the sharp and strange interminable sound. It was a creature’s suffering, that much I knew. But what creature could produce such a noise? This collective sense of outcry, languish, sorrow? It came from a very distant place indeed, the organic modes of the deep. I shuffled away my papers, clutched Payne’s arm in fear. His face had gone very pale, the wan colour of milk. A closeness came over the forest, a sense of the trees coming closer, a rising heat.
When I looked from his face to the fire to the edge of the grove, the flash occurred. It was over so quickly, I could hardly acknowledge it. But acknowledge it I did. The sinister noise exploded as one long cry and the air became quicksilver, mercurial so I could not breathe. All environmental features dissolved in that argent plasma; no longer could I make out the trees, the fire or the figure of Payne. Instead, what appeared was a series of objects, floating in apparent sequence, turning on some unseen axis. I call them objects for lack of a better term. They seemed more like components of something broken, fragments from a grander structure; each one unique and different, though something similarly apparent in the texture of each one. They reflected a luminescence that did not seem of this world; it scorched the back of my eyes like a shot of the purest UVA, those long-wave beams of the strangest violet, electromagnetic burning clean... My first instinct was to snap a photograph, but with the singular flash my camera combusted, scolding my hands. I had lost a day’s worth of valuable field photography. When I glanced back upwards, the plasma was gone; the world restored. Somehow, it was already dawn, the light arising through the trees with its pastelline milky quality, the fire long dead before us. A whole night had passed in the space of that moment. Payne, on the journey home, could only fathom a single expression:
“I told you. I’d seen them before, but last time, they weren’t in the sky. They were there on the ground and you could touch them. Someone must’ve taken them and what was left were the traces, the shadow phantoms…”
What I saw yesterday continues to haunt me. I have made a list of possible explanations: mostly pertaining to fumes from the fire, toxic qualities in the woodland water; perhaps a practical joke played upon me by Payne, who may have slipped some hallucinogenic mushrooms into my sandwiches. I have suspected a certain unhinging of his mental state for a while now, and it would make sense for him to attempt dragging me into his private paranoias, his parallel realities. To clarify the encounter, I have been conducting personal perception tests in the hours since returning to the university, checking my coordination and functional vision. All seems okay. This experience goes without explanation. I cannot convey it in person to any living soul, for fear of being suspected as someone insane.
What I saw in the sky was real: the brief impression of alien objects--not quite hologram, not quite tangible--flashing miasmatic in the impossible gloam. It is with great dismay that I leave Scotland tomorrow, set forth to America again to take up a lecturing role at a college in Missouri. I wonder if ever I’ll find something similar in the forests of Mark Twain, despite the vast divergence of scale. I wonder if ever I’ll return to Lanark. Perhaps it is best that I leave that shadowy town for good, leave those mysteries without resolution.