Desert Reflections

April 6, 2021 |

The new year 2021 has been a time of reflections in Slab City. Spooky inexplicable reflections. I examine the mysterious to clarify and can shed some light on why six people independently told me in the past three months that they thought they were losing their minds. 


A general view is the men-like mirages have been popping out of the ground or sitting in trees and smiling down at like Cheshire Cats. These are not ghostly but shimmering mirages appearing between sunrise and sunset. All of the sightings have been in South Slabs just south of the Library to the orchard power line in the vicinity where I live. 


Of course, I went looking for them and, as warned by most, ‘You will not see them unless they want to be seen.’ The closest I have come to a personal encounter was one sunset as a large figure rose off the ground where I had just looked and there was none. He stood and shrugged a net-like cover off his shoulders, stared through me, and walked in a military manner down the canal road. 


The spottings by others have been eerier still. Each describes them as starting at dusk, sitting or standing holding a bush, and nearly immobile moving a fraction-of-an-inch at a time through the night. They often return every other evening or weekly. Sometimes single, usually a pair, and often 3-4 of the visitors. Their favorite spots are in the crooks of trees or sitting on stumps. 


In two cases the residents’ dogs have gone up to sniff the phantoms and barked, each time to recoil as if struck by a stun or ultrasound gun. One man shot a specter with his pellet rifle and found blood on the limb the following dawn. They don’t leave footprints because on close examination wear a cloth booty over their shoes. 


The first person in January to tell me about the desert reflections claimed his dog barked at something in a tree, but was propelled backward. The owner walked to the tree where the thing peered down at him but could see it only as an outline of a flickering man. ‘I see you,’ he yelled from immediately below its feet. ‘Get the hell out of here.’ He returned to a fitful sleep in his truck bed, and on awakening an hour later, walked to the tree again. ‘You are trespassing, I feel threatened, and believe you may harm my dog.’ The climber didn’t respond, so he went to his truck, raised a pellet rifle, and shot it in the leg, as evidenced by the blood the next morning.  


The apparitions returned to his camp every few nights through the first two months of this year. They were single, or one sunset he spotted five trudging ten steps away across his camp to a bluff. He watched through his rifle scope, where suddenly there was a whir and they disappeared. A murmur like an electric motor started and trailed toward the canal. In a few minutes in more light, he walked over and saw vehicle tracks where there had been none before. ‘I think their transportation lowered some kind of screen to hide it and them as they got in, and drove off.’ 


The spotting have all been in open desert with creosote bushes, palo verde, cactus, and their favorite haunt ironwoods. The next person I talked a half-mile south of me is an ex-marine who is said to be the toughest man in Slab City. He nonetheless admitted, ‘Something stood at dusk at the entrance to my driveway. I walked up in a zigzag because it kept disappearing and reappearing in the same place. It shimmered like heat off the desert floor around the shape of a man only it was chilly out. I got 8’ away and yelled, ‘I see you, dumbass. Don’t think I’m crazy.’ The man stared back calmly. ‘I didn’t touch it because either I was mad or it was military and I didn’t like how either panned out.’ He exhaled a sigh as I related that others had similar sightings. ‘Thank you,’ he replied. ‘I didn’t think I was going crazy but who knows the limits of PTS. I cross-dress to bring out my feminine side, and adjusted my bra and left him standing in the middle of my driveway.’  


Another ex-marine camped on Walmart Wash explained that his two dogs ran barking up to something that wasn’t there in the night. He got out of his tent and approached as the dogs were suddenly invisibly propelled backward. ‘The single figure was like a hologram but it wasn’t. It was easiest to see in the pitch black. When I shined a flashlight it cut it in half. I stepped forward and shouted, ‘‘I don’t know if I’m hallucinating you or not, but why are you here?’ When it didn’t answer I ran away with the dogs to the canal. I’ve faced bullets and fists, but I wasn’t trained to fight ghosts.’ 


The Belle of Slab City and her boyfriend took it with more equanimity. They have been living in an abandoned trailer near the shoe tree, sprouting old tennies and oxfords where no fruit grows. She revealed without hesitation, ‘Something has been visiting our camp regularly but it’s not so serious. What I don’t like is it doesn’t talk back.’ ‘And,’ chimed her boyfriend, ‘It doesn’t laugh at my jokes.’ ‘Neither do I,’ she quipped. ‘It began getting on our nerves when we returned late at night and found things moved around and it sitting on a stump in the front yard. I blamed him’ … ‘And she blamed me’ … ‘But we knew they had done it.’ Each described the 1-3 spooks at a time for a total of a dozen visits as like human mirages, immobile, and nonreactive. He theorized, ‘I think they’re from Camp Billy Machen military base down the road and training, or trying out new equipment. We learned to live with them.’   


Another man described the same sort of encounter. ‘It was like a projection standing holding the branch of a Creosote. I told it to leave. It was nonresponsive. So at dawn I looked again through binoculars from 20’ and could see a human mirage that was the same in appearance as the background where it stood, depending on the angle I viewed it from. I brandished a pistol but didn’t fire.’ A few minutes later when he looked, ‘A solid man in a black T-shirt, mid-forties, stood where it had been. I walked up and said, ‘I don’t know who you and your friends are, but I don’t like you.‘’ The intruder stared silently, shook his finger in the camper’s face, and wheeled away.    


I talked to the Mayor of Slab City who reported from the brink of Walmart Wash, ‘I was driving on Canal Road when two figures that looked like they came out of the ground rose up covered with what looked like dead leaves and moss. But there are no leaves in the desert. I thought they might be my passed-father and one of his buddies come back to haunt me, so I sped home and grabbed a bible.’ 


I thought back to my own camp under a spreading palo verde tree in the target spook area where someone one night placed a Teddy bear on a tire next to where I slept on the ground. The next morning I was looking in the eyes of a cross-eyed bear. The following morning the bear’s eyes were uncrossed. Another sunrise and it had shifted so it was gazing over its shoulder at me. I thought, At least whoever the visitor is has a sense of humor and none of harm. 


Since the reflections are invisible I searched the internet. There you may see the military has invented tactical clothing that reflects ambient light to make the wearer appear as his surroundings. It is called the albedo effect and one may try to see pictures of it online.  


Who are they?  The mayor thinks the living dead. The Belle believes the DARPA who guard the adjacent military base. The ex-soldiers are sure they’re Marines or Navy Seals. I think they are independent mercenaries working in conjunction with Camp Billy Machen. In any case, Slab City may rest assured they are being surveyed by flesh-and-blood. 


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