The woman took in an enormous gulp of fresh air from the open car window. It smelled of dank cedar and the vague hint of smoke from someone’s woodstove. Still miles from the coast she could already taste the salt breeze on her tongue. She was tiring of the long drive from the valley through the coast range but there was no option except to go on. She should be in Lincoln City by now. Daniel was waiting for her there at the cabin. Perhaps that was even his fire in the fireplace that she smelled. But, no, she was still too far away for that. The night roadwork and resulting detour had been unexpected. Now she wouldn’t arrive until after midnight.

Natalie was hoping for a country store or a gas station, someplace where she could stop and stretch her legs, perhaps splash a little water on her face. But she’d been rerouted onto a local byway that was little more than a logging road. There was nothing, not even a wide place where she could turn out for a few moments. It was just wilderness. The trees seemed to close in above her and around her. The only sound to be heard was the drip, drip, drip of rainwater through the pine canopy and the occasional plaintive call of an outlying gull. In the thick woods, the darkness was complete. No hint of starshine could reach her to illuminate the way. She had never felt so alone.

There hadn’t been another car for miles. Awhile back a speeding tractor trailer had passed her, splashing her driver’s side window and roaring past her little Honda. She had gripped the wheel more tightly and kept on at a prudent fifty miles per hour. The truck had disappeared in front of her. Now she was wishing she had sped up a little to keep him within sight. Knowing there was another human being close by would have been some comfort on so cold and so dark a night.

Natalie Donaldson was not a woman who feared her own shadow. She normally felt perfectly comfortable in her own company, having traversed the country on her own when she moved to Oregon three years ago. But that had been on the freeway, she thought. It had been well lit and there were other people just an exit away. It wasn’t like this. And she hadn’t been so tired.

Natalie rounded a curve and caught a glimpse of a small animal scurrying across the roadway. Perhaps a racoon or an opossum. Who knew what kind of creatures were sheltered in these woods? It could have been anything. All she saw was a hint of motion and the red of the eyes crossing her path. At least she hadn’t hit it. Whatever it was.

She rounded another curve and saw lights up ahead. Thank God, she thought. Civilization. But what she saw was not a house or business by the side of the road. It was the tractor trailer that had passed her earlier, stopped dead in the lane of traffic with its engine running and its headlights piercing the darkness. As she approached, she saw a tall man wearing a baseball cap standing off to the side of the cab. She could make out little more than his silhouette in profile, looking at something in front of the big rig. “What on earth?” she said under her breath.

She had no choice but to stop her car and wait for him to move. But after two or three long minutes of watching him stare off down the road, she saw that he wasn’t getting back in his truck. He seemed transfixed by something up ahead. Hopefully, there wasn’t a wreck. This was a treacherous stretch of road. But, no, she thought. There had been no other cars for so long. It couldn’t be a wreck. Maybe a fallen tree in the road?

Curiosity finally got the better of Natalie’s fear and she got out of the Honda. The man didn’t turn towards her but kept starring into the distance on the far side of the truck. She slammed her door shut but he still didn’t turn towards her. Perhaps he was having some kind of a medical emergency, maybe a seizure or a stroke. “Sir?” she said, approaching him cautiously; “Sir? Are you okay?”

Then she saw that he was aware of her after all. He glimpsed her way and then resumed starring at the road in front of them. Silently, he raised one arm and pointed. At first Natalie couldn’t make out what she was seeing up ahead. There was a small pasture where a lone horse danced back and forth nervously. But that wasn’t where the man was pointing. Directly in the path of his outstretched arm, there were lights up ahead, bright lights, and some sort of a vehicle on the pavement. Maybe it was a wreck after all. Someone had hit a fallen tree in the road.

But, as she drew even with the man, she could see clearly that it wasn’t a wreck. The vehicle she saw blocking the way wasn’t a car or a truck at all. It was something else, something her mind wasn’t prepared to process. It was broad as a barn and silver in color like a plane. It had white lights illuminating its rounded perimeter. There were no tires or wheels. It seemed to hover about a foot above the road, vibrating gently. More lights, closer together, illuminated a door-shaped aperture in the side of the craft. Natalie had a fleeting thought that if that door started to open, she would go mad.

“Jeez, I never seen nothing like this before,” the man said suddenly, causing Natalie to turn toward him.

“What on earth is that thing?” she said to him, glancing uneasily back at the silver craft and then back at the man. “Is this some kind of a joke? Or, I don’t know, a hoax?”

“This is no joke, lady. This here is a genuine UFO. Plain as day.” He took a couple of tentative steps closer and then stopped again. “I never seen nothing like this,” he repeated with wonder in his voice.

Natalie, too, was transfixed. She could only stand and stare, everything else forgotten. There was no beach house. No boyfriend Daniel waiting for her. No Honda just behind her to duck into and lock all the doors. Only this thing in the road, impossible and awesome.

She realized the vibrations were increasing, building to a rapid thrumming noise and the perimeter lights were tracking along like a string of berserk Christmas lights. The ship started to rise, just a yard or two above the tarmac at first and then a pause and a couple more. Before she could think to react or retreat, it rose straight up above the treetops and veered away into the dark sky.

“Lady, we just saw a thing we’ll never see again. Not in a million years.”

“Shouldn’t we call the police or something?” Natalie struggled to right her mind.

“Shoot, they’d never believe us.”

She realized he was right.

“We can never tell another living soul about what we done seen.”

“They would just think we were crazy, wouldn’t they?” She was catching on to his line of reasoning.

The man suddenly grabbed Natalie around the waist and spun her around like a child. He set her down on the road, grinning wildly. “But we saw what we saw, didn’t we?” And he winked at her.

Natalie was grinning too, “Yes, we saw what we saw.”

The horse in the clearing stood nonchalantly munching grass now. The show was over. Natalie’s thoughts turned to Daniel waiting for her at the cabin. She was trying, as sane people do, to compartmentalize the impossible event; “Do you know how far it is to Lincoln City?”

“Sure. It’s just another five miles or so.” There was nothing more to say. The man climbed into his truck and Natalie headed back to the Honda. Sitting in the driver’s seat, she could make out the man in the baseball cap high up in the cab, putting the truck in gear, still grinning.

Linda Caradine is an Oregon based writer. Her work has been included in The RavensPerch and other journals. When she is not writing, Linda manages a nonprofit animal rescue organization. She has written a memoir about that experience. Her book, Lying Down with Dogs, is due out in April 2024.