They Wanted To Talk To Him – The Black-Eyed Kids

I’ve been catching up with the Astonishing Legends podcast, by Scott Philbrook and Forrest Burgess and their team. It’s a great show and I highly recommend it.

The series has run since 2014, with the guys exploring numerous spooky stories, strange events and urban legends over that time, sometimes in one-off episodes and sometimes over short series of a handful of shows.

So far I’ve listened to episodes dealing with several cases I’ve heard of, like the Oak Island Money Pit, the Dyatlov Pass incident and “Tamam Shud”, or the Somerton Man case — and, of course, the notorious Point Pleasant Mothman. Others covered things I’d never run into before, like the Kecksburg Incident and the Kelly Hopkinsville Encounter.

But some of the most interesting shows have been those that talk about the experiences that don’t make it into the spooky story books as a matter of course. One early episode, The Devil In The Diner, focused on a single event, experienced by two friends who encountered a man in the titular diner, and described an intense feeling of revulsion and dread from him. There were no answers, no explanations — just the recollection of one of the friends years after the fact.

The last week or so, I’ve been listening to a series on a phenomenon I’d vaguely heard of but paid little attention to, for some reason. The most recent one — in terms of my listening order — is the story of the ‘black-eyed kids’.

I won’t go through the whole thing because, if you can find the time to listen, the show itself reviews the stories perfectly. But, briefly, the phenomenon came to prominence in 1998 with a posting on an early Internet group by journalist Brian Bethel, who reported an encounter he’d had whilst out on an errand in his car.

He was sitting in the car in a parking lot in Abilene, Texas, in 1996. He was approached by two boys, one about 12 years old, the other a little younger — maybe 9 or so — who indicated they wanted to talk to him. Mr Bethel stated that almost from the moment they approached him, he felt an intense and growing fear of the two boys. Still, he wound his window down a little to see what they wanted.

The older boy explained, in very confident, measured tones, with none of the hesitation or uncertainty one might expect of a child speaking to an adult stranger, that he and his companion wanted to watch the movie Mortal Kombat at the cinema across the road. But they had left their money at their mother’s house. Could Mr Bethel, they asked, give them a left back there to collect it?

Although very afraid of the boys, Brian reported that he felt himself almost compelled, somehow, to open the door and let them into his car, and as he fought the impulse, the older boy repeatedly urged him to go ahead and let them in. Brian resisted, told them he couldn’t help them, and the boy became highly agitated and angry. Brian noticed then that their eyes were entirely black, lacking irises or sclera (the “white of the eye”). This was the final straw, and he drove away, noting as he looked behind, he said, that the boys had vanished.

The story became infamous on the Internet, and has been variously supported by countless further similar stories, and debunked as many times by people who insist it was simply a fabrication built on the mundane occurrence of two kids trying to bum a lift from a stranger. The account has also become strongly linked with the tradition of the ‘creepypasta’ – a writing subculture of memetic stories posted online, copied and rewritten, which have a strongly eerie, otherworldly, unsettling or downright gruesome feel.

Mr Bethel strongly denies that his story of the black-eyed kids in Abilene was intended as a creepypasta, or any similar fabrication intended to net him Internet notoriety. He’s maintained the truth of the story consistently ever since, and it’s certainly hard to imagine how his career as a journalist — and by all accounts a consistently well-regarded one — would have been helped by a reputation for making up fantastic tales.

The common follow-up argument is that, well, of course he was testing the water to see whether making up sensational ghost stories would be more profitable than conventional journalism — and when he found out it didn’t he stuck with journalism. This argument is undermined by two things: firstly, it almost certainly would be more profitable, especially in today’s media; and b) he’s never, in all the years since, attempted to disavow or even significantly play down the story. He’s stuck to his guns for twenty years and still maintains his story is true — at least as he perceived it.

And that there is where the nub of all this can be found.

Ah! Hallucinations! Yes, we can jump on that, write off his black-eyed-kids experience as a moment of madness and go back to the comfy world where everything makes perfect sense!

Except no, not really, no. Brian is the first to agree that he can’t report objectively on this: as he explains to the Astonishing Legends hosts, he can’t know what a bystander would have seen while he was speaking to the boys in the parking lot. Would the bystander have seen them? Would Brian have been seen sitting in his car, talking out of his window to empty night? He doesn’t know. We don’t know. I suspect, though, that that bystander would have seen nothing untoward whatsoever. I’m not even sure he would have seen Brian stop his car, or open his window, or speak.

I don’t believe Brian made his experience up. I think the kids he saw were entirely real. Not human, for sure — although he’s said he’d be the first to write the whole thing off if anyone were to come forward and say, “I was one of these kids.” But he doesn’t think they will, and nor — for whatever my tiny opinion is worth — do I.

There have been countless reports of Black-Eyed Kids reported across the USA in the years since, and a few in the UK — although these latter don’t appear to be the same phenomenon, centring instead on a spate of ghost reports in the Cannock Chase area. Brian Bethel’s Black-Eyed Kids, and those reported in similar circumstances since, don’t appear to be ghosts. They’re something else — something more fundamental.

And next post I’ll explain where I think they came from, why, and how they can be a subjective experience and objectively real at the same time.

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