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A Strange but True Story

This is a strange but true story from twenty-five years ago, when I was sixteen. I had just hitched a ride back out to Interstate 90 as the sun set. The night before I had been caught alone in the back country on the northern edge of Yellowstone National Park, in a freak May blizzard. A grizzly bear pawed the ground outside my tent in the middle of the night. That is another story however.

This strange-but-true-story starts with my thumb out, as I stood on the side of the freeway ramp. There was snow on the lilac flowers, even here in the valley near Livingston. My tennis shoes were still wet from stumbling through the mountains earlier in the day. After an hour or more, a car finally pulled over. This is how I met Violet.

It was difficult to determine her age, but from the stories she told, I guessed she was in her fifties. She told me she was on her way home from her brother's trial in Bozeman. I asked her what he was on trial for, and she told me "He killed his girlfriend." In case I doubted her, she flipped over the newspaper on the seat and there she was on the front page, with the headline, "Sister Says He Should Be Hanged."

"He cut her up for no good reason," she added. Not knowing what to say, I said nothing. Although she seemed perfectly comfortable talking about it, she graciously changed the subject.

"Have a hard time getting a ride here?" she asked me. I told her I had. "That's because a few years back a man was killed by a hitchhiker on the highway down to Yellowstone," she explained. "They found the hitchhiker in the woods near the highway, roasting the man's heart over a fire."

"I guess that explains why it's hard to get rides here," I agreed.

She had only had trouble with a hitchhiker once, she told me. "He was even younger than you, and he pulled a knife on me and tried to rob me." I asked her what she did, and she replied casually, "I just pulled out my gun on him and told him he better behave if he wanted a ride." That seemed fair, I agreed.

She went on to tell me about the last time she was camping in Yellowstone, back in the fifties, when her husband was still alive. They saw a missile come out of the sky and hit a mountain, triggering an earthquake. Then army officials came and told everyone in the area that it was a matter of national security, and they couldn't say a word about it. I nodded and asked for a few more details.

Then came the story about the UFO. An alien spacecraft had hovered over them on another camping trip, picking up their trailer in a "tractor beam" and lifting it off the hitch, into the sky. It was dropped in a field nearby, and the sheriff, who was driving behind them at the moment saw the whole thing.

She generously let me spend the night at her house, in her brothers room. In the morning, before driving me back out to the freeway, she even offered to let me take any of her brothers clothes or cowboy boots, since, "He won't be needing them anymore." I declined.

Later that year, safely home in Michigan, I got a letter from Violet, wishing me a merry Christmas. She had drawn a picture at the top of a dog in a spacesuit, which she labeled "Space Dog." In the meantime, I had discovered that there had been an earthquake in the Yellowstone area when she claimed they saw the missile, and it had been strong enough to form a new lake.

I still assumed the killer hitchhiker was at least an exaggeration. It wasn't. Years later all the grizzly details were in the news because they were letting the killer go free now that he was sane. The authorities were having a hard time finding a town to place him in.

I still haven't read or heard anything about an alien spacecraft that picks up camping trailers, but I'm waiting. Who knows? Montana is full of strange but true stories.


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