I live in a suburb of New Orleans and have been writing here off and on for 10 years. I have been married 53 years to the same crazy guy.
Where It Happened
I grew up in rural Arkansas. We had a farm for as a long as I remember. For a 12-year-old boy, I did a lot of work. I never knew anything different, though, so it didn't matter much. I got up at 5:30 every morning to help milk cows on our diary farm and feed the other animals. We usually got to eat breakfast around 8:00. One of the men who worked on our farm was named Pepper. I never knew exactly how old Pepper was. He wandered up at the farm when I was about 8 years old. I remember liking him immediately because he shook hands with me instead of tousling my hair or patting me on the head as many adults did. Sometimes I sat with him as we both ate our lunches when we were working, repairing the fences. It was bitter cold in the winter in rural Arkansas. Many don't realize how cold Arkansas can get. We would stomp our feet and leave our gloves on while we ate. We both liked the cows. We liked them a lot. Cows are smart, contrary to what a lot of people think. They knew Pepper and I liked them and always stayed as close to us as they could. One of the hands, a man named Dieter that I didn't like a bit, kicked a cow one day. I'll never forget Pepper walking over to him, taking his arm and saying very quietly, not raising his voice at all, "Do that again, and you will regret it." Dieter was bad news and I was worried for Pepper. They stood there looking at each other for a long time and it was Dieter who finally walked away. Pepper was a smaller man than Dieter and older, from what I could tell by looking at him, but something about him made Dieter back down.
My dad always wondered about Pepper's past. He told me he offered Pepper a job as manager of the ranch and Pepper said no, he'd just keep being a hand. He told my dad he might decide to move on one day and didn't want to leave him in a bind. A friend of my dad's from Mississippi who was passing through one summer and met Pepper told my dad he sure looked a lot like a sheriff he knew once. He said the sheriff was the best lawman he ever knew. He didn't know what happened to him, no one did. He just left the city in Mississippi where he was a sheriff. Gave his two weeks' notice and left. His name wasn't Pepper Martin, though. My dad asked Pepper about it and he laughed and said, "Me, a lawman?" But like my dad said, "He never said it wasn't him."
One winter, beginning right after Thanksgiving, the cows began to disappear. Not a whole lot of them, just one every week or two. We thought they were getting some kind of sickness and dying from it, but we never could find any carcasses after they died. Pepper was pretty quiet on the whole subject. When my dad asked him what he thought, he just said, "Not sure, Mr. Jamison."
Winter sunsets are the best in Arkansas and I guess almost everywhere. It's something about the atmosphere, I suppose. One day in December the year I'm talking about, Pepper and I were sitting on the porch of the camp house where he lived, drinking some coffee and watching the sunset. Pepper said, "It's funny, kid, I've been all over the country and the sun sets the same no matter where you are."
"What place did you like the best, Pepper?" I was always wanting to hear about other states and especially other countries.
"I think I like Canada best of all the places I've ever been. It's clean, the people are friendly but not nosy. A lot of the folks up in the northern part are Indians. I saw some beautiful sights up there, especially in Saskatchewan. One night I was walking back from a deer stand and I saw a snow owl. It's hard to even try to describe something that beautiful. That's some amazing country and I got on well with the Metis people who live there. I lived in a little settlement called Green Lake for a few years. I saw something there one night that I never told anyone about. I'll tell you one of these days, but it's getting dark tonight and I'm getting hungry. It's a long story." Pepper slung out the dregs of his coffee, said goodnight and headed into the camp house. I headed for home, wondering what his story was about and why he would tell me before anyone else. This was about three or four years after Pepper came to work for us, so I was only 11 or 12.
The cows continued to disappear, not in large numbers, just one every week or so. And when I say "disappear," I don't mean die. We never found a body. I heard some of the hands saying the coyotes were killing them and the buzzards were eating what they left of them. That just didn't make sense to me. Of course, it happened all the time, but that process took time. Buzzards took off small chunks of the meat at a time, nothing like what was left over from a coyote kill. It took weeks for buzzards to get rid of something like that. I did notice that Pepper didn't say anything and that he had become quiet during the last week or so and stayed more to himself.
One day as we broke up after work, Pepper called me aside. "Remember I told you about what I saw up in Canada?" I nodded. I was still waiting to be told that story, to be the first who heard it. "Well, if you can meet me out here tonight, I'll show you the same thing happening right here. But don't get caught coming out. I don't want anyone following us. And this is just between you and me. You can't open your mouth about it to anyone. You promise?"
Pepper held out his hand in a fist with the thumb raised. I grabbed the thumb and squeezed. I knew how to keep my mouth shut. "Ten o'clock," he said as he walked toward the camp house and I started home. The creek was frozen and hadn't thawed in days. I was thinking about how cold I would get coming out to meet him. We seldom had cold spells that lasted this long.
Witnessing the Impossible
As I eased out of the backdoor of my house at five to 10:00, I was a little apprehensive. I kept thinking: What if Pepper is involved in some kind of cattle rustling thing? But I knew that wasn't true. Pepper wouldn't be part of something like that. The thing that made me the most apprehensive is that Pepper seemed to be a little scared himself. I walked around to the front of the house and saw that Pepper was already out, waiting for me at the tree line. There was a pasture on the east side of the farm where we kept about 25 head of cattle and I assumed that's where we were going. It was about a half mile walk from where we were. We both were dressed for the weather. Pepper wore a knit cap pulled almost over his eyes and down over his ears and an old heavy coat with every button buttoned, far up under his chin. I had on pretty much the same except a cap with knitted muffs for my ears that my mom made. We both wore work boots. I had on two pairs of pure wool socks, but I could still feel my feet getting cold. We both had on gloves, but my hands were cold as hell. Pepper said it was 16 degrees.
He began to walk and I followed. Everywhere around us, the night critters were carrying on. I could hear the big ol' owl that lived along this path hooting. A possum waddled across the road in front of us. Pepper walked at a moderate pace, not slow, not fast. We were up and down hills and I was huffing and puffing when we got there. Pepper never seemed to get tired. Eventually we came to the edge of the a large clearing. I had always liked the area and had brought picnics here with my mom. The dirt was slightly raised in the middle and was a different texture than the dirt surrounding it. Of course it has long since grown up, trees everywhere, the raised portion hardly noticeable. Pepper said, "Here." He pulled over a log and sat down, several feet back from the pasture. "Sit down, Ardis." And I did. I didn't ask a lot of questions because I was too cold. After ten minutes, I said, "What are we waiting for, Pepper?"
"You'll know when you see it, believe me. I don't think it will be long now." Our breath as we spoke made smoke in the air. My feet were chunks of ice and I could feel my butt going numb on the log. I began to hear something a long way off. "What's that?"
Pepper said, "Just wait, you'll see."
It sounded like a freight train, very far away from us, though, but then suddenly it was closer and then I realized it wasn't a train, on the ground, but was in the air and I just wasn't sure what it was. I know it covered almost half of that pasture, which was three times the length of a football field. It had lights coming out almost every inch of it, all of them solid, not blinking. I had decided at this point that I was dreaming and pinched my arm pretty hard, which just hurt, nothing else. "What the hell, Pepper? "
"Be quiet, Ardis. Just watch." And I did. The "thing" -- and it wasn't shaped like a saucer at all, by the way, but a triangle with rounded edges -- hovered 8 to 10 feet over the ground. It sat there for about five solid minutes while I prayed and laughed and cried, in that order. Finally, out of the dark, one of the cows walked over to the center of the craft. (I call it "craft" for lack of anything better.) The cow stood very still for about two minutes, then something opened up and the cow was slowly raised up into the craft. I didn't see any ropes or anything. It just lifted up on its own. "Pepper, they're stealing our cows."
"Be quiet, boy, or they might decide to steal you!" Pepper seemed a little awed, a little scared and determined to stay and watch the whole incident play out. We sat there for another five or ten minutes. I had to pee and it was all I could do to sit still, not to mention I was scared out of my wits. Pepper kept his hand on my arm the whole time, squeezing it now and then.
Grazing in a More Perfect World!
As we sat there, the opening in the craft was visible again. A ladder was sent down to the ground and a figure descended it. Whatever, whoever it was was wearing a light-colored robe with a hood and carrying a cane of some sort. It walked a few feet in our direction and I fought an urge to run so strong it had to be cellular and remembered from the days of cave men and women. Pepper squeezed my arm. The figure stood looking at us. Now, I know a person couldn't have seen us because we were pretty far back from the pasture and behind a lot of dry grass, but I knew this figure, whatever or whoever it was, did see us clearly. I felt Pepper was the one being evaluated and that he passed the test. The figure nodded once in our direction, walked slowly back to the craft, up the ladder, and after he entered the opening, it closed. The craft begin to slowly lift, quietly this time, without the train-like rumble we heard before. When it got above the tree line, it slowly, quietly slipped across the sky. and the lights disappeared. We heard the roar again that we had heard when it first came.
We walked back in silence. The only thing I asked Pepper was, "Was that the same thing you saw in Canada?"
"Yep," he answered.
When we got to the camp house, he admonished, "Remember your promise, Ardis."
"Okay. I won't tell."
And I didn't. Pepper worked for us for eight more years, until a couple of years after I had left the farm and gone off to college. During those eight years, we never spoke of that night and what we saw. Only once, Pepper gave me a folded up newspaper and inside was a story of a couple in Fort Smith that had seen a triangular-shaped craft hovering over their cattle ranch. My dad said Pepper told him he was going back to Canada, that he was restless and wanted something different. I was a little hurt that he didn't tell me good-bye, but I got a package from him a couple years after he left with a National Geographic in it. It contained a series of pictures by a photographer named Pepper Martin who lived in Green Lake, Canada. The story I've told here happened in 1950. I was 12 years old. I am 89 years old now. I am sure that Pepper is long gone and that he would forgive me for finally breaking the promise I made all those years ago. I don't want to die without letting others know that extraterrestrials absolutely do exist and that one of them understood, without uttering a word, that Pepper was a good man and he knew that they meant no harm and wouldn't hurt the cows and that he wouldn't tell about them and have the government hunt them down and kill them or worse and that he wouldn't let me tell either. He knew all that about Pepper with just a glance and a quiet moment. And for all those years, I didn't tell -- until now.