We were headed to Weedville when Annalise told me to pull over “right freaking now or I’ll jump out, so help me God.” I was gonna reply, “Why do you think God would be so inclined to help you, of all people?” (which sounds kind of harsh unless you’re hearing me say it with a powerful tone of teasing), but then I saw the elk in the road in front of us, so I figured she had the right idea and laid on the breaks and skidded to a stop on the side of the road. I was going slow enough and the elk was far enough away to where this worked without fatality or casualty. The elk meandered away and we were left in the car, alive but panicked.
“Why were you going to jump out?” I asked, turning to Annalise. She had her hand up to her forehead.
“Because I wanted no part in the slaughter of that elk!” Annalise cried, shaking her head. “Which, thank you for sparing.”
“Don’t mention it.” I looked around–just a quiet little neighborhood on the bend of a mountain. Annalise and I had traipsed through all these towns hundreds of times. When you grow up in Pennsylvania and you’re as wild-spirited as she and I are, you learn to make trouble with what you can. We knew we were gonna be out of there as soon as we graduated high school, so we made the most of our time while we could.
“Wait, what are you thinking?” she asked. I had been staring across the street, to our left, which had a ranch-style house tucked into the forest, and then it was all uphill from their backyard.
I turned to Annalise. “Let’s conquer mountains.”
We both jumped out of my mother’s pickup truck and ran across the street, using the cover of tree trunks to duck behind while we were still in view of the house. It looked like somebody was watching TV in the living room, which we could peek into from the big front window. Their decorating abilities were admittedly tacky- I was not impressed by the predictable deer head mounted on their wall, but had no more time for further judgment because Annalise waved me on towards her. Guess we wouldn’t be stealing anyone’s gaudy display of pride (read: righting any wrongs) tonight.
“Come on K, before it gets too dark!”
It was late in the evening, and the somber, cloudy afternoon had given way to a hazy, lavender sundown. We climbed up steep patches of hill, using the tree trunks to help pull ourselves up. The sweet, violet vibe enchanted the forest, and it felt as though I were wearing tinted glasses. Of course, in the moment, I exclaimed, “Everything’s so purpley!”
“I know, it’s cool as hell!” Annalise replied, also eloquently.
We were panting then, from trying to keep a steady pace while trudging upwards. Our foot steps sank into the soft, pine needle bed that blanketed the ground, while other times we stumbled over tree roots that caught our stride. The journey became devoid of our banter and filled with the breathy heaving of air flow to and from our bodies. The purple grew deeper.
Eventually we found a clearing in the trees, and a patch of boulders. We scampered up the cool, damp sides and pulled ourselves up. I almost slipped from bad footing on some moss, but Annalise grabbed my arm and helped hoist me up. We crawled to the edge and sat with our legs dangling.
It was almost too dark to see, but we could make out the silhouettes of mountains and the foggy sea of forest beneath us for hundreds of miles. Our breathing slowed as we sat there, gazing out at a landscape of shadows.
“What’s that?” Annalise asked, pointing at the sky.
A quick blip of silver flashed in front of the dark clouds, and then before I could even focus enough to discern its shape as it grew bigger, it dashed across the sky in an arc and flew upwards and out of sight.
“Was that a UFO?” I shouted.
“Well if we weren’t able to identify it, then hell yeah!” Annalise cried, jumping up. “Why didn’t we get that on video?”
“Are you high right now? Are you totally in a stable state of mind? Could you swear on your life you know what you just saw?” I yelled, also jumping up. We stood there, staring up at the sky searching for more unidentifiable objects.
“It all happened so quick, I’m doubting everything that just happened. What if I didn’t see anything at all? What if it was just something in my eye and I’m going blind?” Annalise turned to me, playing with her hair anxiously.
“Stop that!” I said. “We definitely saw something, because I saw it, too. Oh man, this is so cool!” Annalise and I watched a lot of alien and supernatural TV shows, so we had kind of been hoping for something like a UFO spotting to happen to us eventually. Of course, we never expected it to actually happen. It was just a crazy pipe dream–we only climbed mountains for the regular adventure properties of it.
“You’re right, we definitely saw what we saw. We gotta believe in ourselves. You’re right!”
I grabbed Annalise by the shoulders and looked her in the–well, it was dark, so I looked her in the where-I-figured-her-eyes-would-be. “Listen, Anna, they’re gonna try to tell us that we didn’t see what we saw and they’re gonna try to tell us we’re crazy because they’ll have some elaborate government-related explanation, but we can’t let them get to us. Do you hear me? We gotta believe in ourselves otherwise they win.”
Annalise nodded. “You’re so right, K. I saw a UFO take off in the sky and I have to believe in myself!”
We paused for a minute, looking at each other, and then burst out giggling.
“Only us, would this shit happen to,” I said.
“Well, only us, and an entire community of mad people who also think they’ve witnessed a UFO.” We began climbing down the rock, sliding down the side of it into the dark.
“Maybe next time we’ll be lucky enough to get abducted,” I commented. I pulled a flashlight out of my cargo pants pocket and used it to light the ground in front of us, illuminating the matted floor of dead leaves. It was a fairly small flashlight, considering even women’s cargo pants pockets are underwhelming in size, but it did the job enough to where Annalise and I wouldn’t be running face-first into the chest of any trees.
“Oh, that’d be cool,” Annalise replied. “All I know is, I believe!” She threw her arms out and turned her head up. “I believe!”
“Shut up. Let’s go steal that house’s deer head mount. It gives me the creeps.”
“Maybe,” Annalise said. “But we don’t want too much funny business around this area,” she said, “because we are definitely going back to that spot.”
I liked the way she thought.