Jim Buchanan

Jim Buchanan

Then there was that time I saw an alien.

This would have been in November, I think 2013. Might’ve been 2012.

Whatever, I was at Mother and Daddy’s on a Friday night, having driven straight from work in Asheville. I’d settled in after doing the routine of making sure medications had been taken, etc., and sat in the living room long enough to work up a sweat from the overheated house.

So, it was off to the back steps with me. Stepping into the crisp air in the halo of light cast by the yard light out by the driveway, the autumn night was dazzling, the stars standing out in sharp relief.

This pastoral scene was completely shattered when the alien came staggering around the corner.

It had stumpy legs, only about a fifth of the length of its body, which was covered in fur. Its arms jutted out at right angles, and where its head should have been there was only a large tuft of hair.

Nothing about this thing added up. The only thing that seemed certain was it appeared to be hostile.

Being human is a terminal condition, so like everyone else mortality has crossed my mind from time to time. Disease, nuclear war, car wrecks were some of the things I figured could be the end of the line for a certain boy from East Fork.

A demonic interstellar Kewpie Doll? Did not see that coming.

All in all, considering the complete lack of philosophical preparation I was handling the scene with stoicism and grace, right up until the moment it marched in front of me and turned slightly in glow of the yard light.

This was not a hostile alien at all.

This was a skunk.

It was doing something I’d never seen a skunk do – walking on its front legs. And that tuft of hair where the face should have been wasn’t a tuft of hair but the locked-and-loaded weaponry of a skunk aiming to settle some scores.

Aiming right at you-know-who.

Somewhere right along in there the flop sweat started flying. I wanted to bolt so fast you’d have had to FedEx my shadow to me.

But the critter had the drop on me. I considered raising my hands in surrender but figured staying motionless was best.

It worked. Skunks have lousy eyesight but hear well and have a good sense of smell (there’s a joke there somewhere).

Thus, I reckon it could smell the fear and hear my teeth chattering. Or maybe it just got tired of doing a handstand. Whatever the case, it dropped to all fours and moseyed off.

When I was young and would go coon hunting with Daddy, sometimes the dogs would get after a skunk. Back in those days a lot of the old-timer’s homes near creeks would be on stilts with no skirting around the structure, so you could walk or crawl underneath with ease.

My instructions were simple: Do not let the dogs run a skunk under a house, where a fight could break out and serious spraying would commence.

I never got sprayed during those encounters. I’ve never been sprayed in my life, even in these later years.

That’s just dumb luck. Like many mountain natives, I once possessed superb night vision, but staring at computer and phone screens all day for decades has wiped that out. Thanks to that, I’ve had a few encounters, such as when I pulled a Mr. Magoo and was reaching down to pet the skunk between my feet before I realized it wasn’t the cat.

And I guess I was really lucky I didn’t get sprayed at Mother and Daddy’s. There were skunks all over the place – they reproduce very efficiently – and it was not uncommon at all to find two or three running patrols in the wee hours at the same time. They’d just appear out of nowhere, like they’d been beamed down from the starship Enterprise or something. We never could figure out where they were coming from.

Turns out they were living under the house.

Fortunately, by that time Daddy had run out of dogs.

Buchanan is editor of The Sylva Herald.