Where: Suburban Pennsylvania
When: Late January 1996
I was 17 years old. Really into computers. I had been accepted to college and was going to major in Computer Science. I was known as a technical wizard, as my brother and friends put it.
It was the second half of my senior year in high school. Christmas vacation had just ended we were recovering from the blizzard of 1996. Things were getting back to normal. I was 17, pretty normal. I was crazy about computers. My parents had bought me a Gateway 2000 P5-100 – this was a horizontal case with a 500MB hard drive and a standard 3.5″ floppy drive. Important details, remember that for later.
I turned in papers like any normal student did at the time. The machine was flawless, the modem worked for hours on end, remember CompuServ? 3.5″ floppy diskettes were everywhere, scattered on the desktop, and above the PC’s case.
Back then they have furniture made specifically to accommodate the huge heavy CRT monitors. Here’s a diagram of the desk, computer hutch combo, along with the room itself. My brother was away at college, and my parents were across the hall. Sorry for my atrocious diagram skills and even worse handwriting. No, I’m not a doctor.
It was Sunday night. As usual, my dad had to tell me to get to bed, it’s a school night. Being the typical teenager I waited half an hour, shut off the machine and went to bed around 11:30pm. A light woke me up. Why was Dad shining a flashlight in my face? Just to annoy me? Touché, Dad – credit where credit is due. But my clock said 4:30am. Not funny, Dad. I could hear Dad snoring, so who was shining the light on me? I bent up and there it was; a glowing head. Complete with a face. About as bright as a 40 watt light bulb. It lit up the whole room. It was the best poker face I had ever seen. It wasn’t smiling, it wasn’t frowning, it was not scary looking, bloody or anything. Just a generic face. Glowing. Looking at me. I slowly got up. I hugged the wall with the sliding closet doors, keeping my eyes on it. It tracked me. It moved as I moved. I kept my eye on it, as I’m feeling for the light switch next to the door. I found it, turned on the light and it was gone. Instantly. No fading, no moving, just disappeared. I turned the light off, still gone. Strange.
The pencil line is the path I took.
I went back to bed. Woke up that morning, figured I had a stupid dream. My dreams back then usually involved cheerleaders. But whatever. I went to school as usual. Normal day.
I got home and as usual, turned on the computer. I signed onto CompuServ like I usually did. I needed to send somebody a file. Back then trading JPG was a big deal, I’ll let you imagine what the JPGs were of. I grabbed one of the disks, popped it in the drive, went to access one of the files – “the disk in drive A is not formatted, would you like to format it now?” What? I tried another disk, same thing. Disk number 3 same thing. 4th time is a charm? Nope. I grabbed a disk from the same shelf the actual machine was on – worked fine. But it didn’t have the file I needed. Then I remembered; the face. No. Can’t be. That doesn’t happen to me. I signed off CompuServ and shut off the machine. I needed to think. The next day I brought three of the disks into school and tried them on the school’s machines. Same thing.
Later that day a friend, Will asked me why I wasn’t saying much. I told him what happened. He was a big X-files fan, believed in all sorts of paranormal phenomena. I did not. At least I don’t think I did. He says it was a textbook alien visitation. “Aliens wouldn’t be interested in me.” Will’s girlfriend ran up to me at the end of the day as I was getting into my car, demanding I take her to the scene of the crime. I think she was wiccan (?). I did. Will showed up later in his own car. We tried every disk; disks on the desktop and middle shelf all appeared to be erased. Those stacked next to the actual CPU and on the top shelf did not appear to be affected. The computer itself was functioning normally. I even ran a CHKDSK (I can’t believe I still remember the command). Two days pass with no aliens.
Thursday. My chemistry teacher (Mr. V.) gave us a surprise quiz. I bombed it. He put at the top “see me after school.” Great. After 8th period, I go up to Mr. V’s classroom. “Justin! What happened today? Are you OK? Is everything Ok at home?” A teacher actually noticing something is wrong with one of his students. “Mr. V, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” “I’ve been doing this for 40 years, I’ve heard everything. Try me.” I told him. I even told him Will & his girlfriend’s theories. Mr. V said “OK, I’ll admit, that’s a new one. Let’s get something straight, you were not visited be an alien. You were not visited by a ghost. We’re going to figure this out, and you’re going to laugh at this in 20 years. Bring Will and whatsherface tomorrow after 8th period on Monday, with those disks.”
Monday. Me, Will and Whatsherface (I forgot her name) report to Mr. V’s classroom. He has the computer teacher (Mr. Linn) with him, and one of those videotape erasers. The eraser was huge but hand held and had three settings, 1, 2 and 3. It also has wood paneling, so it was old.
This is the part I regret. Mr. Linn. told me to format all the disks. I did. We tried to erase the disks on setting 1. Only the disk directly under the eraser was toasted. Setting 2, same thing. Setting 3, three of the disks directly under it, were erased. Mr. Linn then said, “I’ve seen the way you kids treat those disks, you probably damaged them, and then damaged your disk drive. I have to replace at least one floppy drive a month because of damaged disks being shoved in there…” Case closed. I didn’t want to argue. Those disks were in perfect condition. That 3.5″ drive went on to work perfectly until 1999 when we finally got rid of that machine.
Conclusion. I went on to college, where I majored in computer science, graduating in 2000. I went on to the IT world where I spent nine years. I earned another bachelor’s in accounting, and a masters in business. I pretty much forgot about the glowing face. I never told my parents. I never told my brother. I consider myself a man of science. While I am open to something strange being the culprit, I am more inclined to believe a real world-explanation. I am 99.99% certain I experienced a strange dream and a finicky floppy disk drive. But there’s that 0.001% of me that thinks it was something else. Nothing like that ever happened again.
Miscellaneous facts. The house is considered modern construction, 1975. Nobody lived there before us, my parents had the house custom built. The property isn’t on ancient burial grounds. It is in the suburbs. The next house is 30 to 40 yards away, across the street is another home – 50 yards away, the local police regularly patrol, nothing can land without it being seen, thus ruling out aliens. Guardian angel? I would expect a guardian angel to at least smile.
Here are the lousy diagrams I drew. The first two are the room, the path I took and its location. The second two are the view from the bed along with the desk/hutch combo.