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Tales from the Centerville woods

WITH the recent wave of books recounting meetings with UFOs and aliens, I now feel I can come forward to add valuable data that I've been, until now, too reticent to share. You know the stories in these books: Someone is driving along back roads, they see lights, whamo! they lose track of time. Two hours later they're home and can't account for the time - but they have a two-inch slit on their left ankle! Aliens have been operating on them. And some have described their encounters, usually with beings that look like closely shaven Siamese cats. Herewith my findings from just one town in America:

Bobby C. was driving home late one night from a Webelos meeting. He is the den leader, and an all-around respected citizen in ``Centerville'' (not the town's real name). He was on a back road (Centerville is all back roads) when he saw strange lights. They hovered over him. He smelled something like mint Girl Scout cookies and then lost consciousness.

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Five hours later he arrived home. He couldn't account for the five hours. His wife refused to believe his story (she was sore) until they noticed Bobby C.'s teeth had been flossed - by aliens! and alien dentists at that. (Lab studies show that the extraterrestrial dentists use unwaxed floss and brush sideways, not up and down.) Bobby C.'s life hasn't been the same since. His gums are in great shape, but his life is a wreck.

Annie C. has a story that is chillingly alike, except for the details. Annie was driving home - back roads again - from a Brownie meeting. She is a troop leader, and after Bobby C. the most respected person in all of Centerville.

Again, there were flashing lights. (``Like an illuminated pizza with strobe-light anchovies'' was the way Annie C. described it later.) She smelled something like hot mozzarella and lost consciousness. When she awoke, three and one-half hours had elapsed and she was on her way home. She could not account for that time, except her ears had been pierced.

Her life, unlike Bobby C.'s, went along fine after this. She started wearing fancy earrings, got several dates, until she had a second ``encounter'' and had her nose pierced. Since then she's been in seclusion, running the Brownie troop via her Apple computer and a phone hookup.

Of all the stories of Centerville, though, it is Lowell Harding W. IV's story that shows it may not be a good idea to go blithely to sleep with the lights off. The world is an eerie place, particularly Centerville. One night Lowell was driving home from a Boy Scout jamboree, along a back road. He is hesitant to tell the rest. And in fact, somewhat embarrassed that he was on a back road at all. Lowell lives his life out in the open for all to see. It will be fair to say he is a pillar of Centerville: bank president, chief partner in the oldest law firm in town, Old, Old & Old - in short not someone who would be taking the back roads in his ESC (Expensive Sports Car, not the car's real name).

And again, lights - lots of lights. (``Like a Big Mac with strobe-light sesame seeds'' was how the shaken Lowell described it later.) He smelled something like, and I quote, ``30 pairs of wet Boy Scout socks that have been worn for a five-day jamboree.'' Needless to say, he passed out. But being a man of will, he fought his way back to consciousness and saw, through bleary eyes, a big well-lighted room, with a race of beings that looked like lemurs - big eyes, furry faces and long, long tails striped black and white. (It's at this point that people usually interrupt him to ask: ``Lemurs? Are you sure is wasn't something like a Siamese cat without most of its fur? But on this point he is emphatic. ``They were just like the ring-tailed lemurs of Madagascar,'' he says, his fist hitting his palm.)

They approached, leaping forward - about 30 or 40 of them, with some wearing surgical masks, others dressed for Mardi Gras. (On this, too, he is emphatic.)

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Ten hours later, he arrived home a deeply shaken man, but determined not to say anything about his encounter with a race of alien lemurs. He entered the house as quietly as he could, but his wife was eating breakfast, and peered over her newspaper. ``Dear,'' she said at last, ``No one wears that much pancake-white makeup anymore. Don't you think dressing up like Bozo the Clown is a bit much even for a Boy Scout jamboree?''

Howard Mansfield, a free-lance writer in Hancock, N. H., avoids the back roads there.

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