(a true story, somewhat embellished)
I was nine years old. My brothers were seven and five. To escape the constant clamor of the two boys I had locked myself in my bedroom and worked on braiding my own hair. For dramatic effect, I worked a piece of wire through one braid, bent it over the curve of my head, and worked it down through the next braid. I bent the wire until my braids stuck straight out like Pippi Longstocking.
As tempted as I was to open the door suddenly, so that my brothers would fall into the room in the midst of all their banging and shouting to admire my ostentatious hairdo, I decided to go out the window instead.
Earlier in the day I had put a ladder up against the window for just such an opportunity. I figured the two rascals would beat on my door for another half an hour at least.
I was the brains of our operation—or so I figured. They couldn’t come up with a fun idea on their own. But they hadn’t been showing due respect lately, so I was on strike.
I opened the window in the midst of a particularly loud wave of ruckus so they wouldn’t hear it squeak. Then, quietly, I climbed over the sill, maneuvering my head this-way-and-that-way to get my Pippi-braids through the opening, and down the ladder.
Unfortunately, Moses, our female dog (named by my brother) came around the corner of the house, barking. When she saw it was me, she stopped, but I knew there was a good chance the boys would check on that bark. So I ran.
It was only an acre of open grass before I was in the woods. I never did know who those woods belonged to. Maybe they were timberlands or national forest. I don’t recall any “keep out” signs or houses. We had explored and been lost and found several times in the four square mile area between our house and the next neighborhood.
It was late summer and the air stuck to my skin like a warm, wet towel. I kept running, trying to stay out of sight in case my brothers were following. The woods were timbered with oak and cottonwood. Some poplar trees stood on the edges. From the oaks hung long vines, as big around as my arm.
We had cut a few of them with a machete to use them as Tarzan-vines. Right after cutting them, we could drink the pure sap water that dripped out through the cut. Then we would swing from one tree to the next, never more than a few feet of the ground.
With a quick glance behind me, I reached the first vine and left the ground, sailing across a fern-carpeted valley to the next hill. My wired braids boinged and flopped. I had to pause and straighten the wire, then I was off again.
I heard voices behind me, and Moses barked excitedly in the distance. She was telling on me, and the boys were in pursuit. I was mad and glad at the same time. There’s nothing like a thrilling pursuit, and I did want them to see my braids. But I wasn’t going to be easy to catch.
Where could I go that they wouldn’t expect? They would look at all of our forts and hideouts first. The moss covered hut was my pride and joy and they knew it. I couldn’t go there. Then I thought of the perfect place: The Alien-Ship Crater out by the persimmon tree!
I had been a story teller as long as I could remember, and one of the stories I had told had been so compelling, my brothers and I had developed a real fear of the location in which my yarn took place.
Aliens had come to harvest persimmons from a big, gnarly, gray persimmon tree that stood in a clearing about two miles from our house. When they landed, their space ship had burned a large crater in which nothing ever grew. Even the persimmon tree had been blasted by the flames of their engines, but it had recovered, to stand alone on the edge of the crater.
Aliens love persimmon preserves, and in all the galaxy, there was only one tree that could provide the juiciest, sweetest persimmons. So, every year, in August, they returned to harvest persimmons from that tree. This is why we never went there, because the aliens might come back.
Now, as I swung from vine to vine, I chuckled with devious glee. It was time to revisit the persimmon tree.
The sound of the boys and the dog faded, and I knew they had mistakenly gone to search for me at the moss-covered fort. After they didn’t find me there, they would check the fallen-tree fort. After that, they would cross the edge of the clearing in which the persimmon tree stood. And when they did, I would be waiting, making weird noises to freak them out.
I knew my stories were fiction. I made them up myself. But the alien crater story was inspired by a real creepiness about the place. Why was everything dead around it? How did that big hole appear out in the middle of nowhere?
One time we had led our daddy out to the crater to look at it and tell us what it was. He couldn’t figure it out either, so the alien crater story was our best guess. Now, as I approached it, I laughed nervously at my own apprehension.
The tree looked prettier than I had ever seen it. Pale green leaves covered the spooky, gnarled form and made it seem pleasant and approachable. I paused on the edge of the clearing and critically analyzed the tree and the crater beside it. No aliens.
It wouldn’t take my brothers long to make the rounds. I needed to be ready, so I cautiously approached the tree and stepped under the shade of it’s branches. Then I leaped backward, causing my braids to wave forward like swinging doors. There were possums in the branches—possums hanging from their tails! After the first reaction of surprise and fear, I was overcome with amusement. They were so funny!
Possums look like large, white mice with black eyes. The possums hanging in the persimmon tree were half-sedated with over-ripe persimmon fruit. It lay on the ground all around me, filling the air with a sweet, sticky scent.
Possum heaven, I thought. There is no where else in the whole world they’d rather be.
Then I started grinning. These were our aliens! I couldn’t wait to show the boys. My plan of making spooky noises was forgotten. I wanted my brothers to come to the tree and see the possums I had found.
I heard their voices in the distance, and turned to see them running across the edge of the clearing.
“Hey!” I shouted at them. “Come over here!”
The sudden, loud sound of my shout startled the possums and they began dropping out of the tree just like the overripe persimmons. The dropping possums frightened me. I screamed and ran out from under the tree.
My brothers had stopped on the edge of the clearing, staring in my direction. Another possum dropped with a thud and I ran out into the clearing, still squealing.
By the time my brothers arrived, I had a grip on myself and a plausible story for why I had screamed.
“Couldn’t you hear me?” I fussed, “I’ve been yelling my head off trying to get you to come over here. You’ve got to see what I found in the persimmon tree!”
Their eyes were wide with alarm. “What is it? Aliens?”
I smiled smugly, leading them back toward the tree, keeping a firm grip on Moses’ collar.
“Yep,” I said. “Possum aliens. I told you how much they love persimmons. They were hanging in the tree from their tails. When I shouted at you, they started falling out. Now look at them!”
We looked, and then we started laughing. The possums were playing dead. Three of them lay on their backs with their little legs and hands sticking straight up in the air and their eyes closed.
“They’re playing possum!” one of my brothers exclaimed. “They’re pretending to be dead!”
“Not all of them,” I said. “Look in the tree. I see two babies still hanging by their tails.”
We waved overripe persimmons under the noses of the possums on the ground, but failed to get any sign of life out of them. Finally we turned away to inspect the alien crater again.
After walking around it, looking for alien tracks, we returned to the tree. The possums had climbed back up and were hanging from their tails again.
I had completely forgotten about my hair, and my brothers had not noticed, until we were about to start for home again.
“Hey!” my youngest brother exclaimed, “your hair is standing straight out like Pippi Longstocking. How is it doing that?”
“It’s the alien energy around the crater,” I explained soberly. “They must have been here recently to harvest ripe persimmons.”
Then I moved out from under the tree and shouted toward the crater, “Go home, you slimy aliens!”
To my satisfaction, I heard the possums dropping out of the tree and my brothers screaming as they ran.