I was given an assignment a couple of years ago, by an instructor of a course I was taking, to write a story of an episode in my life that made an impact on me.
Other students wrote about the death of a parent, or sibling. Divorce. Bigotry. Suicide.
I wrote about UFO’s. Maybe not quite as life-altering as some stories, but what can I say. I thought it was awesome, at the time.
Who am I kidding, I still think it’s awesome.
The Heebie Jeebies
I was popular in 1974. Sixteen years old with a car and a job; if there had been cell phones back then, I’d have been on many a speed dial. Instead, we relied on our right-in-the-middle-of-the-kitchen wall phone.
“Well, I guess that’s that.” My best friend, Marlene, always gave up too easily. She was, still is, a good person.
“Why?” I whispered. “Because my parents said I couldn’t go? Since when has that ever stopped me?” I wasn’t so good.
“We can’t get there without your car, the bus is full.” She sounded defeated, and that makes me crazy. Makes me want to shake her and yell, “Let’s do something stupid!”
If I ever end up in jail, it will be Marlene’s fault.
“Even if the bus wasn’t full, I wouldn’t get on it. Too many tits and teeth.” I wasn’t a fan of cheerleaders. “We’ll go, we’ll take my car, my parents won’t know the difference.”
A small silence while Mar weighed the consequences. “Okay. I’ll let Janet and Joy know we’re going but there’s no hanging around after the game. North Bay is a four hour drive. Even if we leave right away we still won’t get home until after midnight.” In other words, after our curfew.
“No problem.” I attempted nonchalance but knew there could be a problem. My old Toyota was a trusty car but didn’t like to start without persuasive manipulation of the choke. And if you didn’t manipulate just right…you had to call your dad.
I never did have to call my dad. My little Corolla behaved like a well-trained quarter horse. She started out from Sault Ste. Marie Friday afternoon and stopped in Sudbury for snacks. Started right back up and didn’t stop again until North Bay. After the football game (I have no idea who won, the object for us teenage girls were the teenage boys), the old car started up without even needing the choke. She was ready to go home.
So we started on the trek home, me driving, Mar shotgun, Joy and her sister, Janet in the back. Two hours into the ride it was quiet in the car. The novelty, of escaping the parents and the clamour of the game, had subsided. The weather was good and the sky clear, but the road was dark on that particular deserted stretch of Northern Ontario highway, and the Toyota’s small headlights did little to cut the night. Seatbelts were still two years away from being mandatory, so Joy was sitting sideways on the backseat, with her head resting on her arm, gazing out the back window.
“Look at those lights in the sky. Look at the way they’re moving.”
Janet craned her neck around to look out the back window. “Where?”
“There,” Joy pointed over Janet’s head. “Watch.”
Marlene looked out her side window in the direction Joy was pointing. “All I see are stars…no, wait. That star just fell. Now it’s disappeared. Shooting stars, that’s all.” She faced back to the front and spoke to me. “You all right?”
“Fine,” I answered. “Tired but not sleepy.”
“There!” Joy yelled and I jumped.
“What?” I yelled back.
“It came back, that star, only it’s higher up. And there goes another star right beside it, moving fast.” She paused. “I don’t think stars can do that.”
“They can’t, dipstick,” Janet said. “They can’t be stars.”
Marlene turned back to her window. “Where are you guys looking?”
“You can’t miss them,” Joy said, “they’re ziggzagging all over the sky, three of them, going nuts.”
I adjusted my rear view mirror and picked them up right away. “Okay, they’re definitely not stars. Or planes. Or helicopters.”
“Now they’re blinking!” Joy and Janet said in unison, their voices rising.
“Settle down,” I said. “You guys are watching way too much Twilight Zone.”
“I’m not,” Marlene whispered, her face plastered against the window. “They are blinking. In fact, they’re following us. And they’re getting closer.” She looked over at me. “I don’t like this.”
I took my foot off the gas. “I’m pulling over.”
“No!” It was unanimous. Apparently no one else thought this was a good idea.
“I want to get out, see for myself.” But as I eased onto the brake and steered toward the shoulder of the road, my trusty little car started to shudder. I caught my breath, held it and without thinking, immediately moved my foot back onto the gas pedal. I knew what that shudder meant. She was about to stall.
I also knew enough not to tromp on the accelerator. That was a sure fire way to stall the engine, so I gave her just enough gas to smooth out the ride and got us back on the road.
“Don’t stop,” Marlene pleaded. “If she doesn’t start again, we’re stuck out here in the middle of nowhere with who-knows-what sneaking up behind us.”
She didn’t have to ask twice. I kept my foot full tilt on the gas, all the way home.
I don’t remember much about the rest of the trip. I do, however, remember the next couple of days after this incident for two reasons. The first is the strangest.
My car was fine for the rest of the night. I dropped each friend off and never once did it shudder or stall. But the next day, she wouldn’t start. Dad came out and played with the choke but the car refused to cooperate.
“Was she acting unusual yesterday?” Dad asked.
I couldn’t tell him where I’d been and I certainly was not going to mention what must have been a case of teenage group hysteria.
“She coughed a couple of times,” I mumbled.
“I haven’t got time to look at her right now. Let her sit and we’ll try again tomorrow.”
Which we did, and she started just fine.
And that would have been the end of it, except for the article in Monday’s newspaper. The article that told of strange lights in the skies between Sudbury and the Sault. Lights that no one could explain.
It was the affirmation we needed. We had actually seen unidentified flying objects. We were thrilled. We told everybody and even those who scoffed at us were jealous, you could tell. We had come this close to being abducted by aliens.
There were some who said we were caught and released. Comedians. “They always throw the small ones back.”
But you’ve got to wonder, don’t you? Why did my car suddenly shudder? What if it had stalled on the dark stretch of desolate highway? Deserted, except for four teenagers and three UFO’s.
Thirty years later, I still get the heebie jeebies.