It was completely dark. Me and some of the boys sat quietly in the club house as we listened to Kevin Connors begin his story. He lit a match and lit the candle that sat in the middle our circle. Then we all grew excited as Kevin cleared his throat and began.
“It was about a month ago,” Kevin started in a hushed, haunting voice. “A man was walking down the road. He had a horse with a black saddle on it. A black cat crept across his path, making a bad omen for the man.” My eyes grew wide and my heart started beating faster. Suddenly, Kevin yelled out excitedly. “He heard a noise and jerked-“ Kevin jerked his head around. Then he whispered. “-but there was nothing there!”
Kevin suddenly grew quiet. I could hear the others breathing as well. Kevin picked up the candle and held it to his face. “Suddenly, there was another noise. Then BANG!” Kevin put the candle down and slapped his hands together really loud. “The man fell off his horse…dead!” Kevin stopped. We looked at each other with wide eyes.
My heart was beating hard and fast. “Who was he?” I whispered.
Kevin slowly looked around the circle as he spoke the next words. “It was Mr. Wipple.”
“The hermit?” I asked. “You mean the one who was killed by that Indian…oh…what’s his name?”
“Mogollon,” Billy answered with a shaky voice. “The way I heard it, he was killed at his house?”
“No,” Kevin answered. “He was killed on the road after a black cat crossed his path.” We shook our heads in disbelief. “Well Mark, your Pa was foreman. Is it true, or isn’t it?”
I looked around at the boys. They seemed to know more about the murder then I did. I didn’t want to admit that Pa didn’t talk to me about it. He told me that knowing about it wouldn’t serve any useful purpose and he didn’t want me dwelling on it. I tried to get information from him one day and he sent me out to do chores – even though my chores were done. “I don’t think that’s the way it happened,” I answered.
“Oh, what does he know? I think it is!”
“It was a full moon that night,” Kevin insisted. “You know what they say about those injuns.” Kevin picked up the candle again and held it in front of his mouth. He slowly moved his mouth and said, “Indian medicine!”
My eyes grew big and we stared at each other. Kevin shook his head with a smile. “Magic!” Kevin whispered in his haunted voice. “Black…magic!”
“You mean like…killing people?” I swallowed.
Kevin nodded. “While they sleep! They have all sorts of magic spells they just say some words to you and throw shrunken heads at you. If you get a shrunken head then-“ Pow! Kevin slapped his hands together again. “-your dead!”
“Well, they stay up there in Twin Peaks,” I insisted. “They won’t bother us.”
“They’ll be here tomorrow,” Kevin stated with a smile.
We all looked at each other. “Yeah,” Billy said. “Pa said they’re hanging ‘em tomorrow!”
“And my Pa will be in town to watch it!” Kevin stated. “Pa said I could stay and watch it except we have a test.”
“Yeah, right!” Billy argued. “I bet your Pa said you couldn’t watch it!”
“A hanging?” I asked. “Tomorrow?”
“First thing in the morning,” Kevin answered. “And your Pa’s gonna be a guard. My Pa done told me that!” Kevin leaned in toward me. “You know what that means.” He smiled and looked around at the group. Suddenly, the candle went out.
“Ahhhhhhh!” We suddenly screamed and jumped two feet off the ground. “Who’s there?” Billy called.
I put a hand to my chest. “I-I hope it’s my Pa,” I whispered. “P-Pa, is that you?”
“Come on, son. We gotta get home.” Pa poked his head inside. “Why’s it dark in there?”
“The candle went out,” Kevin explained as he relit it.
“Mark, will you go get the horses ready? I’ll be down there in a minute.”
“Ain’t you coming?” I suddenly asked in a quivery voice.
“I will – just gotta go tell Micah I’ll be here first thing in the morning,” Pa answered.
“Oh, well, I’ll come with ya.”
“No you won’t, young man,” Pa answered sternly. “You’ll go down to the livery and get those horses!”
I stepped outside. Pa walked toward Micah's office. I stared at him. He stopped and turned around. “Well, come on, boy!”
“Wanta come with me, Billy?” I practically begged.
“We’re gonna stay and listen to-“
“Now, Mark!” Pa’s voice held a warning in it.
“Ye-yes sir.” I started walking down the road. Suddenly, I heard hammering. “What’s that noise?”
Pa turned back toward me. “Oh, there’s a hanging in the morning, son. They’re fixing the gallows. Now get going.” He planted a hard smack on my backside. That was my final warning.
It was dark and so very quiet. I slowly made my way down the street, looking every which way with each step I took. There was no one on the streets. There was a sort of eeriness in the darkness. I could feel death all around me.
I suddenly jumped again and let out a panicked cry. I turned to see Mr. Connors making his way up the street. “You act like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
“Ye-yes sir,” I answered.
“Well, I mean…no-no sir.”
Mr. Connors folded his arms and cocked his head to one side. “Did you just come from the clubhouse?” I started to answer when a scream erupted from that direction. My eyes grew wide. “Hm.” Mr. Connors shook his head up and down. “My son’s been telling scary stories again. Hasn’t he?” I nodded. “Where you headed?”
“To-to the st-stables,” I answered.
“Alright, come on.” He walked with me down to the stables. Nils lit the lantern and helped me get the horses ready. Mr. Connors shook his head and said he’d go deal with his son.
Pa soon arrived. As we rode home, I was really quiet. I felt so spooked, and I knew that Pa would give me a stern lecture about letting the boys tell scary stories when I knew they spooked me. Pa said I was a man in many ways, but a boy in many other ways. I suppose this was a way I was still a boy. Pa heard a noise. “Wait here, Mark,” he whispered as he started ahead.
“No!” I suddenly cried. I didn’t want to stay back in the dark.
Pa’s head spun around. He had heard the fear in my voice. I think that was the reason my “no” didn’t get me into trouble. “Wait here,” Pa said more sternly.
I did, but my heart was pounding. I felt like someone was in the darkness watching me. The seconds passed by slowly. I didn’t think I was ever going to hear Pa tell me I could come forward. Finally, he spoke. “Alright, son. Come on.”
When we got home, Pa suggested I get to bed. I felt safe enough with the lanterns lit. I quickly got in bed and pulled the covers up over me. Pa saw the lit lantern under the door and walked inside. “Lights out, son,” he ordered as he bent to blow the lantern out.
“Pa!” I cried.
Pa froze. He sat down on the bed. “Alright, son.” He folded his arms and raised his eyebrows. “What was the story about this time?”
“Kevin told us about the…the…Injuns that’ll be in town tomorrow!”
“He said they’ll kill ya cause you helped find that one injun guilty.”
“I see,” Pa said. “He told you about the hanging then?”
“Yes sir,” I answered.
“And I suppose he told you I’d be there.”
“He said you were going to be a guard,” I answered.
“Alright.” Pa stood up. “Mark, goodnight, son.” Pa blew the lantern out.
“Could-could you leave the door open?” I asked.
Pa walked back over to the bed. “You aren’t six years old anymore, son. You’re almost thirteen.” Pa stared at me for a few moments. Then he chuckled. “Alright, son. I’ll leave the door open.”
I bet you can guess that I had a nightmare that night. I couldn’t tell you what it was about, but it was a doozy! Pa jumped out of bed and hurried over to me. I wrapped my arms around his neck and held on tight. Pa laid me back down on the bed and rubbed my back like he used to when I was little. I mumbled as I tried to go back to sleep. I remember Pa’s soft voice telling me everything was okay.
The next morning, Pa threatened to poke me with his spur if I didn’t get up and get ready for school. I finally crawled out of bed but groaned tiredly as I sat down at the table. Pa sat the eggs and bacon in front of me and said, “Well, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you stayed out too late last night, son.”
“Yeah,” I mumbled tiredly.
Pa sat down in the chair beside me and crossed his arms on the table in front of him. With a sigh and raised eyebrows, he said, “Mark, if you know that Kevin’s scary stories scare you, why do you let him tell them while you’re around?”
I started eating as I answered. “What, you want me to just stand up and leave or ask him not to?” Pa nodded. “Then he’d think I was scared or something.”
“Well, you are!” Pa answered. He always was honest with me. Pa shook his head. “Look, son, you’re going to have to make a choice. You either need to learn to accept Kevin’s stories as just that – stories, or you are going to have to learn how to walk away. It’s that simple.”
“But Pa,” I argued as I looked up into this eyes. “What he told me last night…it was true!”
“Yeah,” Pa said. “I can only imagine what he told you.”
“Pa, he said those injuns perform magic – BLACK magic! They cast spells and throw shrunken heads at you and stuff! He said they’ll kill you for killing his son!”
“Mark!” Pa’s voice sounded annoyed. He sighed and closed his eyes to calm himself down. “First of all, I didn’t kill Juan. He killed Mr. Wipple as he slept in his bed because he wanted the gold he hid under his mattress. Second of all, there is no magic – Kevin is trying to scare you. Third of all, I talked to Kevin’s father just yesterday about his storying, and he told me that Kevin knows nothing about the hanging nor will he know anything because it’s none of you kid’s business.” I looked down at my plate after that. “Now, eat your breakfast so we can leave.”
I gathered up my books after finishing off my breakfast. Then I suddenly gasped. “I forgot, Pa. I need a new slate.” Pa turned and let out a heavy sigh. “Well, Mr. Griswald keeps telling me and I keep forgetting. He said he’ll start marking me down points if I don’t bring it today.”
“Mark, you were in town four hours yesterday. Why didn’t you ask Milly for a slate then?”
“Well,” I declared as we started out the door. “Milly’s not open on Sunday.”
“Mark!” Pa started toward me. I quickly backed up out the door. “You know that Milly would have let you in. In fact, we were over there visiting with her for two hours yesterday afternoon!”
I mounted my horse then. We rode into town. The second I rode into town, I felt the same eerie feeling creep into me as I had felt last night. I looked around, noticing that there were no stores open. No bodies were even present. “I don’t like this, Pa,” I mumbled.
“Hm…It’s just the hanging, son. No one likes to be around for that.”
“I know.” I swallowed. “But the town looks so…different.” I looked toward the General Store. “Pa, the store’s not even open.”
“Just go around back and knock on her door into her quarters, son. She’ll help you.”
I wanted to lighten the mood. “Yeah, she’ll help me cause she’s your special friend!”
Pa looked at me and shook his head. We continued down the street.
As we approached the gallows, my heart started beating fast. I could feel death in the air. I tried to shake the feeling off, but it was so very strong. In just a matter of minutes, a soul would rise from a body and escape this world. Thinking on it gave me the creeps!
I commented about how much I hated seeing the gallows up again. Pa said a few words to me as we stood there. The sent me off to get my slate and go to school. I hurried down the boardwalk to the back of the store and knocked.
Milly opened the door and smiled. She was wiping her hands on a towel. “Come on in, Mark.”
“You staying closed today?” I asked.
“Oh no. I’ll open as soon as the hanging’s over,” Milly commented. “Your father said he’d come tell me when I can open. He didn’t want me opening – he asked me last night to stay back in my quarters until he gave word for me to open.”
“Hm,” I shook my head. “He really cares about you.” Milly didn’t say anything but just smiled. “You care for him too?”
She opened her mouth to answer, but then quickly closed it. She turned and walked into the kitchen. “Uh…Mark…um…” She acted all flustered. I couldn’t help but smile. “What are you doing here anyhow?”
“Oh, I need a slate. Pa told me you’d sell it to me.” I handed her the dime. “Mr. Griswald said I need a bigger slate.”
“Oh Mark, I’m afraid that’s not enough,” Milly stated. “The big slates are fifteen cents – not ten.” I looked back toward the door. I didn’t relish going back out there to ask for another nickel. “Tell you what, I’ll get the nickel from your father later.”
“No, no,” I answered. “I best get it now. Pa’s pretty particular with his money. You remember last time I spent more then he allowed?” Milly nodded. “I’ll be right back.”
But when I went to get the nickel, Mogollon and his injun buddy had rode into town.. He walked right up to my Pa and cursed him! He told my Pa he would die, then he shoved a shrunken head into his chest and let it drop onto the ground. My eyes grew big and again, my heart started beating fast.
Pa picked the head up and stared at it. He wasn’t too happy about it. I wasn’t either because I feared that I had just witnessed Mogollon casting an evil spell on my Pa! Pa turned and looked at the injuns. He suddenly realized I was still there. “Well?”
I swallowed as I lifted a shaky finger toward the shrunken head. “P-pa, it’s jus-just like Kevin said…he…he…” I swallowed again.
Pa grabbed me by the arm and sat me down on the step. “It’s not a curse, son. He’s just trying to scare me,” Pa said in a calm voice.
“No!” I cried. “Pa, that’s a shrunken head! It’s-“
“Mark!” Pa’s calming voice stopped me. “Look-“ I gasped as he lifted the head toward me. “Son, look at this. It’s just buffalo hide like you make a ball out of. See? It’s stuffed with grass.”
I looked at it, but still wasn’t quite sure it didn’t hold some sort of magical power. Pa put a hand on my shoulder and chuckled. “Now,” he said in a quiet, calm voice. “Go get your slate and go to school.”
I stood and started to walk away, but then I turned back to him. “Pa?”
“Go on,” Pa said calmly as he smiled at me.
I went back to Milly’s and got my slate. She could tell I was upset, and I thought about telling her but I didn’t want to scare her. I didn’t want to go back by the gallows, so I left my horse tied up in town and took off for the school.
Mr. Griswald rang the bell at 8:00 sharp. The bell was a loathsome echoing that reminded me of the hanging. I could just picture it now – the trapdoor was going right about now. I heard a bang on the desk. I looked up. Kevin sat there with his hands around his neck and his tongue sticking out. “That’s what that injun looks like now, McCain!”
I pushed myself up from my desk and narrowed my eyes at him. If Mr. Griswald hadn’t come in just then, I probably would have given Kevin a hard shove. I listened all morning, trying to concentrate on the studies, but I couldn’t help staring out the window. I sure hoped Pa was alright!
When I walked out of the schoolhouse at noon, I saw Pa walk into the yard with Blueboy. He smiled at me, mentioning that I hurried out of town so fast, I forgot my horse. I reckoned he didn’t rightly want me to come back and get it anymore then I had wanted to. I reckoned right, he said.
Pa handed me a sandwich he had picked up from the café in town. I sat down with him and we ate together. He stood at the end of lunch and told me he was going home. I was to come straight home after school.
But as I went to get on my horse, Kevin came up to me. He asked me if Pa got any curses put on him this morning. I didn’t say anything. I tried to walk away. “You told my Pa I was telling scary stories last night,” Kevin accused.
“He figured it out. I didn’t have to tell him,” I mumbled as I started to untie Blueboy.
“Did my stories scare you?” He laughed. I reared around and glared at him. “Did the injun say he was gonna kill your Pa?”
“Leave him be!” Billy suddenly shouted.
I turned on Billy. “You stay out of this, Billy. McCain’s always fight their own fights!”
“Oh, so you do want to fight, huh?” Kevin was usually my friend, but I reckon he’s pretty sore about my getting him in trouble last night. And I reckon he liked to pick fun when he could.
I threw my books down on the ground. “I can fight you any day!” We put our fists up and started going around in circles. “Well, go ahead! Throw the first punch!” I ordered him
“Why me?” Kevin asked.
“Cause I want to tell Pa it was self defense when I come home with torn clothes and a dirty face! That way he won’t yell at me as loud.”
Kevin stopped and put down his fists. “Oh, forget it! You make a fight no fun!”
I jumped on Blue Boy and rode out of town. I was halfway home when I heard the distant sound of drums. I suddenly felt that creepy feeling again and began looking around. You see, I figured I had good reason to be afraid. Everyone who knew my Pa knew that the best way to hurt him was to hurt me first. Since this Indian’s son had been hung, it was probable that he’d go after Pa’s son.
I stopped riding completely and turned in the saddle one way – then the other. I saw nothing. Suddenly, I heard a noise. I turned around the other way to see a flock of birds fluttering into the air. I sighed and closed my eyes.
But then I suddenly heard Kevin’s words from last night – the old man had heard a sound before he was murdered! I jabbed my feet into Blue Boy’s flank and raced off just as fast as I could! When I got into the yard, Pa hurried up to me and grabbed Blue Boy’s reins. “Why are you running him so hard, son?”
“A…noise,” I panted out. “I heard a-a noise!”
Pa studied me. “What kind of noise?”
“I don’t know. It was just a-a noise!”
“I’m sure it was nothing, son,” Pa answered. He put me to work on my homework and chores. After the supper dishes were washed, I was restless. Pa asked me to go fetch some water, but I wouldn’t move from the table. He asked me again. “The well’s just outside the door, son.”
I didn’t care where that well was! I still didn’t want to fetch the water. Pa finally stood up and walked over to the table. He took the cigar from his mouth and rolled it around in his fingers. “Mark Warren McCain-“ Pa started.
I slowly stood up. Hearing my full name suddenly made me more afraid of my Pa then what could be outside the door. I grabbed the bucket and stepped out onto the porch.
I didn’t like this. It was too quiet! I didn’t even hear the bugs singing tonight! I hurried and filled up the bucket. Then Pa sent me to bed. I think it was because he was tired of watching me pace the floor worriedly.
You think that’s scary? Just you wait until the next part! It gets even more scary!
I again requested the door stay open, but this time Pa said no. He said I needed to learn how to live with my own fears, and an almost-thirteen year old boy was old enough to learn! I finally fell into a troubled sleep.
Suddenly, I saw a black horse travel down from Twin Peaks. The stallion reared up on his black legs as he cried really loud, the full moon stood behind him. He raced up to the water trough and began drinking. It was our house.
“He’s come back, Pa,” I mumbled. It was Shadow, a stallion who had occasionally wondered into our yard to drink from our trough. He had cottoned up to Pa, and Pa had aims to tame him and keep him. But not even Pa could tame a wild stallion like that and he soon left.
Suddenly, Shadow looked up. He looked straight into my eyes before again rearing back on his hind legs and crying out. “He’s come back!” I cried again.
Suddenly, I was awake. “Pa, it’s shadow!” I leapt out of bed and ran to the window. Pa raced in the room to see what the trouble was. I told him Shadow was back. We looked out the window.
There was nothing there! Pa said a wild stallion never returned after moving on to a new herd, but I knew it was Shadow! His cry was so real and those eyes…they were glowing…
Pa led me back to the bed and told me I was dreaming. Maybe it was a dream, but it was a creepy dream. Pa started to put the covers back over me. But thinking on creepy things made me think on the medicine man. I knew Pa didn’t believe there was anything to worry about, but I knew there was! “Pa?”
Pa took his hands off the blankets and sat down. “What?”
“When a person’s got a curse on ‘em, are they sure to die?” My heart was pounding again as I remembered that evil man standing in front of my Pa, throwing a shrunken head at him. It gave me chills just thinking about it!
“There’s no such thing as a curse, son. No matter what you’ve seen or heard,” Pa stated sternly and quietly.
I begged to differ with my Pa! "But Mogollon's a witch doctor!"
“He’s a man, son, just like anybody else.” There was a sternness in Pa’s voice. I knew he really believed that. But could Pa be wrong? “The only thing special about him is his hate. He’s so full of it – he scares people.”
“You mean it? He just threw that head at ya to scare ya?” Oh, how I really wanted to believe Pa!
"Sure,” Pa’s voice wasn’t funning. He was being totally honest with me. “Fear and superstition Mark - those are the weapons of hate. And they work sometimes if people aren't thinking straight." In his own gentle way, Pa made sure I understood that I was one of those folks who wasn’t thinking straight. "Remember how I showed you that the head wasn't anything more then a few scraps of buffalo hide stuffed with grass?" I nodded. "Fears are like that; you tear them apart and take a good close look at them…they’re not scary anymore."
I couldn’t get Kevin’s words out of my head. "But isn't a witch doctor suppose to be magic?"
"There's plenty of magic in the world, son. Sun, the moon, the stars, growing things. Plenty of magic. But witch doctors don't make it." That’s all he said. I knew what he meant because I watched the sun, moon, and stars in all their awesomeness. I watched my garden grow as I scratched my head, wondering how it grew. When I was little, I’d ask Pa how the stars got up in the sky and he told me God put them there. I asked Pa where the sun came from and he said God gave it to us to enjoy. I asked Pa where the moon came from and he said, God gave it to light our way in the night. Then I asked Pa why things grew and he said God made them grow. God was the magic. Only God could make things happen and I needed to trust and believe in that. It was important to my Pa.
“Yeah, I see what you mean,” I mumbled tiredly. Pa tucked me back into bed and reminded me there was a lot of work tomorrow. I don’t even remember Pa leaving the room – I was fast asleep!
But suddenly, I heard yelling. I jumped out of bed and ran into the living room. Pa and Tom had Jake on the cot. Jake was really sick! As I stood there and watched, Pa sent Tom to get the doctor while Jake cried out something about a ghost with glowing eyes.
My heart began beating faster. It was a ghost – Juan’s ghost! He had come back to haunt us!
Suddenly, Jake laid back on the cot. Pa listened to his heart and slowly lifted his head. “Pa?” I quietly choked out.
Pa brushed a hand over Jake’s eyes to close them. “He’s dead, son.”
I stared down at him as Pa got a blanket and put it over the body. I stood there, staring at the heap. My throat was suddenly dry and I began shaking. “Juan Mogollon,” I whispered hoarsely. “He’s returned!”
Pa heard me. He quickly came behind me and grabbed me by the shoulders. He led me back into the bedroom as he quickly buttoned his shirt. He lit the lamp and bent down in front of me. “Mark, it wasn’t a ghost.”
I shook my head as my mouth hung open in fear. I looked into Pa’s eyes and saw the fear there. He knew there was something to all this talk now! “Pa, he…he said…ghost with glowing eyes! You always say that when a man’s dying, he don’t lie.”
“He was out of his head, son. He was delirious.”
But I stood up and slowly walked to the window. “No,” I shook my head. “He was telling the truth. I just know it.” I whirled around. Pa sat on the bed shaking his head at me. I ran back to him. “Pa, Juan’s a ghost now! He can come straight into this house – no matter how tight the front door’s locked! He can just come in through the wall.” I swallowed as Pa’s eyes closed in disgust. “He’s just a spirit.”
Pa shook his head. “Mark, I think you need to stop hanging around Kevin for awhile. He’s putting too many wild ideas into your head.” Pa firmly laid his hands on my shoulders. “Son, when a person dies, their spirit leaves them. That spirit goes straight to heaven – or to…well, you know – the spirit doesn’t stay here.”
“Some think it does, Pa. I’ve read about it.”
“We’re all entitled to our opinions, son,” Pa stated. “But we have God’s own words from the Good Book.” Pa looked straight into my eyes. “You understand?”
I shook my head no. Pa pushed me back down on the bed and told me to go back to sleep. Was he crazy? How could a boy go to sleep after what happened? I told him there was no way I could go back to sleep! He said he’d sit with me, but if he ever heard of me listening to Kevin’s wicked tales again, he’d take me to the barn and tan my britches. From the tone in his voice, I believed him!
I laid down and Pa took the Bible. He opened it and began reading it to me. No matter how scared or upset I was, Pa’s gentle voice reading the Bible always soothed me. He said it was God’s spirit calming me through the words. I believed him. Before I knew it, I was fast asleep.
I woke up some time later. The sun was just beginning to creep over the valley. I could hear voices drifting in from the other room. “They just showed up on my doorstep in the middle of the night, Micah.” Pa was speaking.
I quietly crept up to the door and put my ear to it so I could hear better. “-won’t even leave town. He went into the saloon and started talking about ghosts with glowing eyes.”
I heard Pa’s sigh. “I don’t know what Jake meant, Micah. He’s got Mark believing in ghosts again. I had just gotten him calmed down from what happened yesterday when this happened.”
“Kevin’s stories?” Micah asked. I’m guessing Pa nodded. “Well, you know there could be some point to what Kevin says. Maybe Mogollon really DOES have magic powers.”
I heard Pa’s impatient sigh. “Oh, now Micah! You aren’t going to tell me you believe in magic!”
“Well, you can’t prove there is none-“ Micah started.
I gasped. My hand grabbed hold of the night stand. Something suddenly clattered to the floor.
“Well, I believe we have a ghost right now,” Pa stated. “Alright, come on out!” I hesitated, hoping he’d forget the whole idea. “Come on,” his voice got a little more demanding.
I slowly opened the door and hung my head in shame at being caught eaves dropping. Pa folded his arms. “Well, what do you have to say for yourself, boy?”
I looked up into Pa’s accusing eyes and swallowed. Then I turned to Micah. “You…you really believe in ghosts and magic, Micah?”
Micah turned and looked at Pa. I saw Pa slightly shake his head at Micah. Micah turned back to me. “Oh…no, son. Of course not.”
He was just trying to make me feel better. I knew that. “Alright, we’ll talk about your eaves dropping later, boy.” Pa pointed toward the bedroom. “Go on in and get your clothes on.”
I looked back toward the bedroom, hesitating about going back in there. “Go on, boy!” Pa’s voice held a warning.
I slowly turned and walked back into the bedroom. Quickly, I put my clothes on. I walked to the door. “You mean you can’t find a thing wrong with him, doc?”
“Not a solitary thing!” Doc declared.
We walked out onto the porch as Pa said goodbye to Doc. I didn’t say a word but listened silently as they started talking about the Trumpet Flower. I remembered Kevin telling me about that too – he said the medicine doctor uses it to work his magic. It makes his magic more powerful. After doc left, Pa told Micah that Mogollon was behind the death.
That’s when it got even more creepy – Micah said Mogollon was in town last night! I didn’t even notice Micah leaving. I was too busy thinking on more things Kevin said. He said they can perform their magic on people without being there. He also said that a ghost has been known to kill. I bet that ghost with the glowing eyes was Juan Mogollon – and he was killing people that his father cast spells on!
I suddenly jumped, almost falling off the porch. I let out a terrifying cry as well. “Mark!” Pa scolded me impatiently. “I said go do your chores while I fix breakfast.”
“My chores?” I asked, staring at Pa.
“Out in the barn,” Pa pointed toward the barn with an irritated voice. I just stared at him. Pa suddenly gasped and pointed a finger at me. “Now boy, I AM about to tan your hide if you don’t stop with this nonsense! I’m fed up with this whole blasted thing!” I swallowed as he yelled. “Now, get going!”
I slowly walked across the yard toward the barn. I stopped at the barn door and turned to look toward the porch. Pa was standing there with his hands on his hips, shaking his head in disbelief. I closed my eyes, then slowly opened the barn door. It let out a loud squeak. I gasped.
Rays of sunshine were shining into the barn. I quickly lit the lantern so I could see my work. The ghost could be in here right now. I looked around as I worked as fast as my hands would allow. There was an eerie silence in the barn I’d never noticed before. I dumped oats in the feeding troughs for the horses. Suddenly, Blue Boy neighed really loud. “Ah!” I cried, dropping the oats on the floor to his stall.
Blue Boy backed away a bit. My scream had scared him. I quickly began scooping up the oats off the floor and putting them back into the bag. Pa would skin me for sure if he knew I’d wasted a whole bag of oats.
I was just about done cleaning up my mess when the barn door suddenly opened. I jumped up with another cry. Pa stood in the doorway with his arms crossed. “Breakfast is ready, boy. What are you doing?”
“I-I’m sorry, sir,” I stated with a swallow. “I...I dropped the oats.”
Pa shook his head. Without saying a word, he turned around and walked out. I hurried with the rest of my chores and ran into the house. Pa didn’t say a word while I washed my hands at the basin. I sat down as he sat the oatmeal in front of me. As he sat down and shook out his napkin, he shook his head at me. I knew he wasn’t too happy with me right now.
But why couldn’t he see what I saw? We ate in silence. I wanted to ask Pa about the new discoveries, but I knew he would just get angry with me. He wasn’t joking when he said he’d tan my hide – I saw the promise on that in his eyes! I wondered what I would do all day to occupy myself. Suddenly, Pa’s voice spoke. “You best hurry or you’ll be late for school.”
My head shot up. “School?” I couldn’t believe what he was saying!
“Yes, school!” Pa answered. “It’s Tuesday. As far as I know, you always go to school on Tuesday.”
“Yeah but,” I started. Then Pa shot me one of his silent looks. I sighed. “Yes sir.” I took my last bite of oatmeal and thought on what I had to say. I finally mustered up the courage and just said it. “Pa?”
Pa looked up from his Bible as he sipped his coffee at the table. His eyebrow rose silently, telling me to go on. “Well, if Mogollon was in town…I mean…it could’ve been…” I swallowed.
At first, Pa’s eyes grew dark. I thought he was about to explode. But then he studied my face in silence. A smile broke out on his face. “Mark, what in the world am I going to do with you?” He shook his head at me. “Son, there is a logical explanation for what happened last night.”
“What?” I asked.
“Well…” Pa shook his head with a sigh. “I don’t know, exactly.”
“So you don’t know that there’s a logical explanation!” I stated.
“No, but-“ Pa started.
I suddenly stood from my chair and ran over to him. “Then it could be a ghost – with glowing eyes like Jake said! I heard Micah himself admit that-“
Pa suddenly stood up. The smile had disappeared from his face. “I think you should get to school now, boy.” Pa walked to the door and grabbed his hat. “I’ll saddle Blue Boy while you finish getting ready.”
I knew I had no choice. I quickly finished getting ready, grabbed my books, and walked outside. Pa walked out of the barn with Blue Boy. I stood in front of him. I had to ask him something else. “Are you…staying here today?” Pa nodded. “Well…I wish you wouldn’t.”
Pa motioned for me to mount Blue Boy. I looked down at him. “What if…I mean…What if Mogollon’s ghost is still here?”
Pa sighed. “Get to school, Mark.” His voice was very stern and held some annoyance in it again. “And stay away from Kevin, ya hear?” I started Blue Boy out of the yard. “Clear away from him!” Pa hollered.
It was a long way to school. With every step Blue Boy took, I heard four more behind me! I stopped several times to see what the noise was, but I never did see anything. The little boy part in me wanted to turn around, ride back home, jump in my Pa’s protective arms, and beg him to let me stay with him.
But Pa was right. I’m not a little boy anymore. I was almost thirteen years old – too big to allow such stories to spook me. That was what the logical side of me was telling me. But unfortunately, I still had a vivid imagination – something my Pa obviously didn’t have! That’s why he didn’t understand me.
I heard another noise. It sounded like a gunshot. I stopped, dead in my tracks and looked around. I didn’t see anything. Suddenly, something ran through the trees. I jammed my feet into Blue Boy’s flank and took off at lightening speed. I certainly wasn’t going to stick around to see what was going on! I kept kicking Blue Boy to go faster and faster. I decided to ride through town since it would be faster. Micah stopped me. “That horse of yours is tired, son. You been running him?”
I jumped down off the horse. “Yes sir,” I answered. “I heard something back there on the road.”
“From what your Pa told me this morning, you’ve been hearing things since Sunday night,” Micah accused.
I groaned. “Don’t tell me you don’t have an imagination either, Micah! Why you said yourself that there could be magic and ghosts. I-“
Micah held up a hand. “I was only debating with your father. It’s a quirk I have, son.” Micah smiled at me, but I wasn’t sure rather he was being honest or not. Micah grabbed my books and lunchbox off my saddle horn and gave it to me. “You walk from here, son. I’ll take your horse to Nils and have him stable him for the day. Looks like you’ve been working him too hard.”
I patted Blue Boy. “I’m sorry, Micah. Pa said Kevin’s a bad influence.”
“He is,” Micah agreed.
I should’ve known he’d take Pa’s side. “Pa said if I listen to anymore of his tales, he’d take me to the barn and tan my hide.”
“Well, then, I’d make sure to steer clear of Kevin,” Micah nodded. “I don’t know if he’d whip you or not, but I wouldn’t be testing him on it.”
“Oh, he would,” I assured Micah. Micah motioned for me to get going.
I felt pretty safe in school that day. But I was worried about Pa being on the ranch alone with that…thing hanging around. It was a ghost with shiny eyes. I didn’t like that and I prayed silently that I would never encounter that!
After school that day, Kevin ran up to me. “You’ve been avoiding me all day, Mark,” he stated.
I tried to walk past him out of the schoolyard, but he ran up beside me. I sighed but kept walking. “Well, are you gonna talk?”
“I can’t,” I answered as I tried to keep my temper in check.
I stopped and turned to him. He wanted to know – then I’d tell him! “Because my Pa said you’re a bad influence!”
“Why, that’s not a very nice thing to say!” Kevin argued. We were walking into town now. I quickly pushed him away and walked toward the stable. “You heard what happened in town last night?”
“Yeah, I heard,” I answered.
“I heard one of your Pa’s ranch hands was murdered last night too,” Kevin stated.
“He died. I know nothing about murder.”
“Good thing your Pa wasn’t out there. He-“ I didn’t even let him finish. I gave him a hard shove. Kevin landed hard on his backside on the ground. He stared at me then came charging toward me. His charge knocked both of us down. We started fighting right on Main Street.
I was barely aware that a crowd had gathered. I gave Kevin a hard punch and pinned him to the ground. “Now, you leave me be!” I ordered.
Suddenly, a hand lifted me up and pulled me away from Kevin. I turned and saw Micah. “Get yourself home, boy,” he ordered me.
“But Micah, Kevin-“ I started.
Micah nodded. “I heard. I won’t mention this to your father, but you better leave now.”
I went down to the stable. Nils had Blue Boy ready for me when I got there. As I started out, Micah walked up to me. “Now, don’t run him or your father will skin you for sure,” Micah ordered.
As I mounted, I grumbled under my breath. “The way my week’s going, I’m gonna be tanned before the week’s over anyhow. Why not get it over with?”
I quickly rode out of town and traveled for home. The noises were still there, but I just ignored them. When I got home, I tied Blue Boy to the post and called Pa’s name.
There was no answer. I ran into the house and looked around. The breakfast dishes were still in the sink. I ran through the house looking for some clue. But it was obvious – Pa hadn’t been there all day!
I hurried to the barn calling his name. The barn was empty. I climbed into the hayloft but saw nothing up there either. “Pa?” I called with a heavy worry in my voice.
I suddenly heard a noise. I darted around and saw that a bucket had been kicked over. I quickly turned and ran out of the barn. I ran throughout the whole yard, but Pa was nowhere in sight.
A horse suddenly wennied. I turned around and realized that Razor was gone. My heart started pounding. I was sure the ghost had returned for my Pa now. I jumped on Blue Boy and galloped out onto the range. Finally, I spotted him. With a branding iron in his hand, Pa branded another steer and let him go.
“Hi, son,” Pa greeted me. He was pretty dirty and sweaty – probably working for it all day. I jumped off my horse and ran over to him. “Pa, I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”
I told you I’d be here all day, son.” I didn’t say anything. “At breakfast this morning.”
There was a lot I didn’t hear at breakfast. I was thinking on other things. Pa branded the last steer, then stood up. We worked together finishing up the chore, then rode back up to the house. “Anything…strange happen today?” I asked.
“Nope,” Pa answered. “I think things are finally calming down.”
“Did you…ever find out what happened to-“ I started.
“No, Mark.” We walked inside and Pa put his rifle in it’s holder by the door. He pointed for me to sit down at the table and start on my homework.
After supper, Pa told me to work on the dishes. Pa was busy working on his books when I finished. I went over to sit at the table. “Milk the cow?”
“No sir,” I answered. “I’ll milk her in the morning.”
“Yes you will,” Pa answered. “You’ll also milk her tonight.”
I heard the sound of drums in the distance. I’d been hearing them ever since sundown. “Uh…can…can I-“ I started.
“Now, Mark,” Pa answered without looking up from his work.
I turned and stared at the door. I really didn’t want to go out there! My heart was racing and my palms were sweating. “Pa…” I swallowed. “I’m afraid.”
Pa lifted his head and looked at me. “I know. Now…get going, huh?” He narrowed his eyes and said that in a way that told me I was going rather I wanted to or not.
I walked to the door and stared at it. “Mark.” I heard the final warning in Pa’s voice.
“Yes sir.” I swallowed hard as I placed a hand on the door knob and slowly opened the door. Stepping out onto the porch, I closed it. I don’t know why I closed it. I should have left it open. I looked around before stepping off the porch. I turned and stared at the closed door, wishing I could go back inside and climb on my Pa’s lap.
What was I thinking? I’m not a little boy anymore! I’m about to become a teenager, and here I am acting like I’m afraid of the boogey man! Okay, okay. I WAS afraid of the boogey man! As I stepped off the porch, I thought to myself…”There’s no such thing as ghosts. There’s no such thing as ghosts.” I kept telling myself that as I started toward the barn.
But suddenly, my fears turned to terror. Right in front of me was the most terrifying sight I’d ever seen! A wild stallion winnied and reared back on it’s hind legs. But the most terrifying thing was the ghost that sat on the horses back!
I turned and ran back into the house crying for Pa. Pa heard the terrifying fear in my voice and ran up to me. “What’s wrong, Mark?” He suddenly sounded concerned.
“Well, he’s coming! He’s here!” I screamed. I could feel my heart beating really hard.
Pa started to go out the door. I suddenly became even more terrified. “No, don’t go outside, Pa! He’ll kill you!” I begged. Everything Pa had been trying to convince me wasn’t true was suddenly become a terrifying reality.
I was right in the middle of a night of terror! Thank God my Pa was with me.
Pa quickly turned to me to calm me down. “It’s alright, son.” He stepped out onto the porch to look around. “I just want to see what it is.” He stepped off the porch and looked around.
He didn’t need to see! I knew exactly what it was! "Well, it's a ghost...I saw him ride out of here!" My voice was panicked. "It wasn't a dream this time Pa!" I watched as Pa scanned the whole land as far as his eyes could see. Everything was quiet.
"Well whatever you saw son, it's gone,” Pa said as he turned back toward me.
I was afraid this would be like last time – Pa was about to accuse me of believing in something that wasn’t real again. I would be hurt. “You don’t believe me?”
“Oh, I believe you saw something. I’m just not sure what it was,” Pa answered calmly.
I had told him what I saw! Just thinking about it made me feel all panicked again. “But I did! I saw him right out-“ I started.
Pa stopped me. He gently laid a hand on my arm. In a calm voice, he asked me to calm down. He led me back into the house.. “Maybe you can try and describe it for me.” I was glad to be back inside. I felt safer.
“Well, it was a big horse - and a giant ridin' him...a giant with fire comin' out of his eyes," Just thinking about it got my heart to pumping hard again!
"A giant huh? Now tell me slowly Mark, what color was the horse?"
My head was spinning! I didn’t know what to think! "I don't know...lots of colors!"
Through all this, Pa remained calm. How could he stay so calm when a ghost was haunting us? "What colors son...red...purple...black?"
Pa mentioning the colors helped calm me down. I began remembering what I saw. "Black! That's it! A big black horse!" I declared.
Pa kept his voice calm. "What else? What about his mane? Think about it calmly."
"His mane was black too…and long.” I looked toward the door as I began calmly thinking on it. It was coming back to me now. "Real long…When he runs it stands out and he raises his front legs real high when he's running. Just like shadow use too."
"He has a white spot between his eyes and a halter...a halter with a broken rope. Pa, it was Shadow...it was!" I sat down in front of Pa.
I Pa figured he been caught and tied and broken loose somehow. "You didn't see a ghost Mark. You saw a horse in trouble." I didn’t understand that! Pa had tried to get near that horse when he came around our ranch. He couldn’t get too near him. Now Pa was telling me someone was riding him?
I knew the truth. Someone wasn’t riding him – a ghost was riding him! Pa told me to go to bed. I went into the well-lit bedroom and started getting ready for bed. But I heard the horse. I hurried out the door. “He’s out there, Pa! He is!” I screamed. I ran up to Pa and hid behind him. I was shaking something awful!
Pa wrapped a protective arm around me and patted my back. “He’s not, son. You’re just so scared you hear him.”
“No, he’s IS!” I shouted.
Pa led me toward the bedroom. He pushed me down onto the bed then kneeled in front of me. “Listen son,” Pa started with a sigh. “We’re going to figure this thing out. I promise.” Pa stared into my eyes and made me lock eyes with him. “Mark, please believe me. It’s not a ghost.”
“I’m telling you, Pa! It was something with glowing eyes! The eyes were on fire!” I insisted.
Pa tucked the covers around me and stood. I reached out and grabbed his arm. Pa patted my hand and smiled. “You’ll be okay, son. Just think happy thoughts.” He blew out the lantern and closed the door on his way out.
As I lay there in the darkness, every little noise I heard made me gasp. I rolled over against the wall and thought I felt someone looking at me through the window. I turned and looked toward it. Nobody was there. I wanted to cry out to Pa, but he had ordered me to go to sleep. I didn’t know what else to do. So I did the only dignified thing I had left.
I threw the covers over my head and closed my eyes. Finally, I fell asleep.
A nightmare did come that night. I woke up screaming in the middle of the night and before I knew what was happening, someone had grabbed me and lifted me up in the bed. They were shaking me. “Mark, Mark!” I heard.
I suddenly opened my eyes and gasped. My heart was beating so hard that I could hear it. I gasped deep breaths, wondering if I’d stop breathing all together. I threw my arms around Pa and clung to him. “It’s alright, son. It’ll all be over in a couple days, I promise.”
I didn’t move, but just laid there in Pa’s arms. Pa patted my back. “Let me tell you about a time when I was a boy,” he voice whispered softly as I stayed wrapped in his strong, comforting arms. “I was eleven years old and I dreamed of walking outside. Yes sir, I walked outside to see a rope that hung down all the way from a big, white puffy cloud. I grabbed the rope and was pulled up – up – up all the way on top of that cloud. As I laid there, I saw nothing but blue sky and white clouds all around me. All the bad things were down below…”
“Mark – Mark! Wake up son!” I opened my eyes. Pa was bent over me. A smile was on his face. “Morning, son. I have flapjacks on the table.”
I got up and dressed. Walking out of the bedroom, I looked out the window. Everything looked calm. I saw nothing scary out there this morning. Pa came over and put his hands on my shoulders. “See?” He said softly. “The world’s not a scary place, son. It’s our minds that make is scary.” He put an arm around me and led me back to the table.
I ate in silence, reflecting on all that had happened in the last three days. Pa stood up and took my plate. Then he sat down next to me. “I’ve decided to take a trip.”
His announcement was so unexpected that I let out a gasp. “What?”
Pa nodded. “It’ll only be for a couple days. I’m going to solve your mystery. I’ve got to make you see that there are no ghosts.”
“What if you prove me right?” I asked.
“I won’t,” Pa assured me with a smile. “But I’m also going to find out who’s behind all these strange events.” Pa took a long sip of coffee. He looked into his cup and swirled the coffee around. “I have a feeling I’ll find Mogollon at the end of my trail.”
I jerked my head up. “The witch doctor,” I stated.
“Will you stop calling him that?” Pa demanded suddenly. “He’s a man just like me.”
“He casts spells, Pa. He-“ I started.
Pa held up a firm hand. “No, Mark. He doesn’t have such power. He’s just a man.” Pa looked down at the table, suddenly very interested in stained spot on the wood. “I’m…uh…going up to Twin Peaks.”
My head shot up. “No!” I cried. “No!” I stood and grabbed Pa’s arm. “You-you can’t! You have a curse on you, Pa!” My heart started beating rapidly again.
Pa stood and put a finger to my lips. “Stop it, son.” I stared at him. Pa gave me a stiff smile. “Go get ready for school.”
“Mark!” Pa turned and stared at me. I nodded. “I’m getting the horses ready.”
I finished getting ready for school. When I walked out onto the porch, Pa had his mare with him – the one that was always really skittish. I found it odd that Pa would take her. Pa seemed to think she would lead him to Shadow.
I watched Pa get ready. I tried to stay quiet. I really did. But I was so very worried about Pa. “Please don’t go into Twin Lakes alone, Pa!” I begged. “All the kids say it’s Indian Medicine country!”
“It’s Shadow’s country too,” He reminded him gently. “It was Shadow who paid us a call last night.”
“But the…the one who’s riding wants to kill you, Pa! And…whoever it is…he knows Twin Peaks country better then anyone!” I knew who it was – or rather what it was – but mentioning that it was a ghost again wouldn’t help my case any.
I didn’t want him to go alone. I knew…I just knew…that if Pa went alone, he would die! I begged and pleaded for him to take Micah and a posse. “A posse would raise the dust so it would show up for miles, son,” Pa tired to explain. “No, the best way to track a wild stallion is quietly…and alone!”
I wanted to go with him – to make sure he’d be safe. "I’d be quiet," I said hopefully.
Pa smiled. “You have to be in school, son,” he answered.
“I can make up whatever I miss.”
Pa looked at me sternly. “I want you to stay with Milly. Now stop fretting. I’ll be back tomorrow morning.” That’s all that was said. Pa lifted my hat and patted it back down on my head. He gave me an encouraging smile. Then he mounted his horse and rode off.
I hurried into town. I had to get Micah! Micah was in the hotel having breakfast, Eddie said. I rushed in. “Micah! Micah!”
Micah stood from the table and rushed up to me. “What is it, boy? What’s wrong?”
“Micah, you gotta go find my Pa!” I told him what Pa was planning.
Micah sat back down at the table and started eating again. “Don’t you understand, Micah? Mogollon’s ghost is up there riding a wild stallion and-“ Micah put a finger to his lips and smiled at a couple at the table next to his. I suddenly looked around the room. Everyone was staring at me.
“Shouldn’t you be getting to school?” Micah asked as he calmly took a drink of his coffee.
“Well, I-“ I started. Then I sat down. “Why doesn’t anyone believe me? I saw him, Micah! No man has glowing eyes like that! They were eyes of fire!”
Micah sat down his coffee cup and put a hand on my arm. “Mark, I know it’s hard for you to understand. I assure you there’s a logical explanation for what’s happening. And I know your father will find it.” Micah turned back to his breakfast. “Your father’s right. It’s easier to track a wild stallion alone. There’s nothing more I can do – your father’s a better tracker and hunter then I’ll ever be.” Micah picked up the newspaper he had been reading. “Now, get to school.”
“But Micah, I-“ I started. Micah turned and gave me a stern look. “Yes sir,” I grumbled as I walked out the door.
I had no choice but to go to school.
That afternoon, I slowly walked over to Milly’s. She hadn’t heard from Pa. “He told me I was to stay here with you tonight until he comes back.”
Micah walked in then. “Let’s go take care of your chores at the ranch, boy.” I was sure happy he wanted to go with me! Milly said she’d have supper on the table when we got back. And she did!
After supper, she made me do my homework. I couldn’t concentrate though. She made me do about as much erasing as I did writing. Finally, she shook her head and told me to just go to bed. She’d send a note with me to school in the morning explaining why my homework wasn’t done.
I readied the cot in the store and laid down on it. The room was pitch black. I heard the music coming from the saloon up the street. I couldn’t sleep so got up and walked over to the store front. I stared out the window.
There was enough action out on the street that I wasn’t worried. Besides, my Pa was the one the ghost was after. I knew the danger wasn’t here – it was up on that mountain with my Pa.
I quickly dressed and snuck out the back door, shutting it firmly on the way out. I had to go find Pa.
I walked silently down the street. Suddenly, a shadow appeared and I hid behind a crate. “Alright, come on out. Show yourself!” I heard Micah demand.
I clasped a hand over my mouth and closed my eyes, hoping he’d go away, but he didn’t. “You better come out now!”
I slowly stood up and walked out Micah frowned and put his hands to his hips. “Well now, I figure you were at Milly’s asleep,” Micah stated.
“I’m guessing that’s where Milly thinks I am too,” I mumbled.
“Okay, come on, boy.” Micah grabbed me roughly by the arm and walked me to the General Store. He knocked hard on the door. Milly soon appeared. She held a hairbrush in her hand. Her black hair was flowing down her back. “Look who I found roaming the streets.”
“Mark McCain!” She grabbed me by the ear and pulled me inside. “Thanks, Micah.”
Milly stood in the General Store. I didn’t need any light to know that she had an angry look on her face. “What were you doing out there, Mark? You know it’s no place for a boy to be!”
“I-I was looking for my Pa,” I stammered.
“Well,” she gave me a hard smack on the back side. “You get back in that bed immediately! We’ll see what your father has to say about this when he gets back!”
“You have to tell him?” I asked.
Milly turned from the doorway. Her arms were folded and her lips were pressed together. “Yes ma’am,” I stated. “’night.”
I laid down and worried for a long time. Finally, sleep overtook me.
The next morning, Milly hollered from the other room for me to get up and eat my breakfast. She was still a bit miffed at me for the stunt I had pulled the night before. As we sat at the table eating breakfast, I sighed. “Sorry, Miss Milly.”
“I hope you are,” Milly stated. “Mark, I had no idea you were even gone! What if some drunk had bashed you on the head and left you in the alley? What if a wild animal caught up to you and attacked you? No one would have known where-“ She suddenly closed her eyes and sighed. I sat quietly and pushed my oatmeal around in my bowl. “Well, eat your breakfast so you can get to school.”
I kept hoping Pa would walk in the door before school. Milly told me to come to the Café at lunch. She’d meet me there. I started to leave, but I turned back around. “I really am sorry. I’m just…so worried…”
Milly suddenly put a hand on my shoulder. She smiled at me. “It’s okay, Mark.”
All was well between me and Milly again. I actually smiled as I left the store and started down the street. But the minute I walked back into the schoolyard, who else but Kevin ran up to me. He had heard my Pa had gone up to Twin Peaks alone and wasn’t back yet. “Bet Mogollon’s ghost got him!”
I stopped at the foot of the steps and turned around. “Don’t you dare start with me!” I yelled at him. “You do and I’ll punch you in the face!”
“Oh, I’m shaking!” Kevin did a mock shake with his hands.
My eyes narrowed. I started toward him with clinched fists. “Mark McCain!” I suddenly heard Mr. Griswald say from behind me. I turned. He pointed for me to get inside the classroom that instant.
The morning passed very slowly. I kept hoping Pa would come into the classroom to let me know he was okay. But there was no sign of Pa. I knew he wouldn’t interrupt school while it was in process.
At lunch, I hurried back into town. I walked into the café. A smile suddenly spread across my face at the sight that met my eyes. Milly was sitting at a table in the café. Next to her with his arm around her shoulders was my Pa! “Pa!” I cried. I ran up to him.
Pa stood and held out his arms to me. “I’m alright, son!” He declared.
“You’re alive! Did you see the ghost?”
“Uh…” Pa pushed away from me. “Yes, son. I saw the…uh…ghost.”
“So, I was right. There really was a ghost?” I grew excited.
Pa shook his head and laughed. “I’m not telling you anything until tonight. After supper, I’ll tell you the whole story. Rest assured, though, Mark, that it was a logical explanation – nothing supernatural occurred.”
I was surprised to feel disappointment set in. “Really?”
Pa turned and looked at Milly as he shook his head. “Really,” he answered. “Now, what do you want to eat?”
“Oh,” I sat down next to Pa. “I think I’ll take a steak and-“
Pa turned and looked at the waitress behind the counter. “Could you bring Mark a bowl of vegetable soup?”
After lunch, Pa sent me right back to school. I couldn’t believe all these grown up expected an imaginative, young man like me to go to school everyday as if nothing happened! Pa said he had to work everyday as if nothing had happened. After school, I raced home. Jumping off my horse, I ran into the house. Pa was in there washing his hands He said he’d been cutting wood out in the field most of the afternoon. I sat my books down on the table and ran up to him. “Well?”
Pa turned from drying his hands. “Well what?”
“You know,” I begged.
“Oh.” Pa shook his head. “Go do your chores.” I groaned. “When the supper dishes are done, I reckon we’ll have story time.”
“A true story?” I asked excitedly.
Pa laughed as he smacked me playfully on the backside. “A true story!”
Pa was working on building a fire in the fireplace when I got done with the dishes. “Well?”
“Well what?” Pa grinned.
I smacked my legs to my thighs. “Oh Pa, will you stop joshing already?”
Pa laughed and sat down at the table. “Okay.” He put a hand on my shoulder and stared into my eyes. “I left and rode up towards Twin Peaks yesterday morning. I traveled all day, following Shadow’s tracks this way and that. I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever find that horse. It soon grew dark and I had to track on foot.”
Pa held up his hands. His voice got really quiet. “Suddenly, I heard a noise. Blackie got restless. The wind stopped blowing and the bugs hushed their chirping-“
“Pa! Don’t make it scary!” I begged.
Pa laughed. “Okay, okay.” Pa got up and went to get a cup of coffee. “Well, it took me awhile, but I was finally able to get a good look at Shadow. You were right, Mark. There was some THING on his back with glowing eyes. But it wasn’t a ghost.” Pa sat back down at the table.
Pa shook his head. “It wasn’t, son. What you saw was a dummy.”
“Are you funning me, Pa?” I asked. “You calling me a dummy?”
Pa laughed. “No, Mark. It was just a scarecrow like thing on his back. Someone – meaning Mogollon – had gone to great lengths to get a saddle and dummy with glowing eyes on Shadow’s back.” Pa sipped his coffee as he watched the realization creep into my eyes. “I cut the saddle off and Shadow was free.”
Pa stood up. “Mogollon and Lobo tried to attack me, but I managed to shoot and kill Lobo. A wild stallion took care of Mogollon.”
“So they’re dead?” I asked.
Pa nodded. “They will never hurt anyone again, son.”
“What about the burning eyes?” I asked.
Pa grinned. “Well son, I thought you’d never ask!” Pa walked over to the door and grabbed something out of his saddle bag. He held them securely behind his back and walked over to me. Grinning from ear to ear, he whipped them out.
I gasped as I grabbed them. I couldn’t say anything. They were so amazing that I couldn’t even speak. Finally, I said, “That’s them alright! That’s what I saw!”
Pa went to stir the fire. Mescalero Apaches can do almost anything with a horse – even rope them and train them. Roping a dummy to a stallion is a dirty trick they’ve used for years. In the early days, they’ve used it to scare the settlers. Mogollon and Lobo used it to kill.”
I commented that I’d never seen rocks like these before. Pa told me they were found in caves and mines. He said there were a lot up in Twin Peaks. “I wonder what makes them shine.”
Pa came over to me. He put a hand on my shoulder and looked into my eyes. "Well, one thing’s for sure, son. It's not a ghost!"
I smiled. I was relieved about that, but at the same time, I was sort of disappointed that there wasn’t more to the story. “Oh, I know that now Pa! For sure.” But my school friends sure didn’t need to know the truth!
Pa laughed and suggested I get ready for bed. I groaned. He reminded me that tomorrow was Friday. “And maybe you’ll sleep tonight knowing there’s no such thing as ghosts.”
I stopped at the door and turned around. “Oh, Pa?”
Pa turned and looked at me, a smile on his face. “Well, have you ever heard the true story of a headless horseman?”
Pa’s smile disappeared. He planted his hands on his hips and started toward me. “Mark!”
I backed up into the room. “Okay, Pa. Okay.”
I turned as I closed the door. Pa was shaking his head with a grin on his face.
*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.
Mark's Memories ― Table of Contents
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
The Score is Even
around The McCain Ranch