The young fellow was dressed oddly. His rough clothing didn’t look like it came from Asian sweatshops.
But in my predicament, I would have welcomed any company.
I had located an old cemetery, about the only thing that’s left of the gold-mining ghost town called Crossfire.
There were some legible headstones, including a couple of ornate ones, surrounded by remnants of drunken wooden and wrought iron fences. As always, I was saddened by the number of little kids who died in those frontier mining camps.
I had taken photographs, and taken notes, and used pencil and paper to make a rubbing of the pretty headstone of Phoebe Brown, who had lived only 13 months. It was carved with cherubim, and a vine with a rose on it.
The sun was going down behind the mesas when I returned to my car. As I turned the key, I heard the dreadful silence that signals a dead battery–not even a click from the starter.
I wondered if I could tell AAA how to find me. But the face of my cell phone gave me a blank stare. It was dead, too.
So I was stuck in a cemetery, 32 miles from pavement, no place to walk to, and dark coming on.
I found a few sticks of wood and built a little campfire, more for the light than the heat. I had plenty of water, and a can of pork and beans I always carry for survival rations.
The young guy seemed to appear out of nowhere. He looked like he was in his late teens, muscular, in need of a haircut. He wore high-topped work shoes, canvas pants, a shirt of blue broadcloth.
He said his name was Bobby. When I asked him where he lived and what he was doing away out here, he seemed to shrug it off. He squatted across from me and stared into the fire.
“Hey,” I said, “it’s Halloween Reckon we’ll . see any spooks out here?”
Bobby appeared almost ready to smile, but said nothing.
Prattling along, I told him about some of the dumb Halloween tricks I pulled. I told him my dad’s favorite story, about how Halloween pranksters used to tip over his grandmother’s privy. One night, he and his pals moved her privy over by its own width, and left the pit open for pranksters to fall into.
“You ever pull any good Halloween jokes?” I asked.
“I did a bad trick,” Bobby said.
“Tell me about it.”
He didn’t say anything for several minutes, and I was starting to feel a little spooked.
Finally, Bobby spoke: “There was a bad man, Cougar Hoopes was his name. He stole things. He got drunk and beat men up.
“He robbed the store over at Fool’s Gulch, and stole a horse to get away on. He come ridin’ through Crossfire, drunk and crazy. His horse run over a little girl and kilt her. That’s her grave right over there.”
This was weird, so weird I didn’t dare interrupt. Bobby continued, “So all the men in the camp got together and hung Cougar. Strung him up from a telegraph pole.
“One of the carpenters from the mine made a coffin, and they laid Cougar out in it. Then all the men decided they needed a drink, and they went down to the tavern. Left Cougar layin’ there.
“My friend Fred and I had already had a few drinks, and Fred said we ought to play a joke on the men.
“We took Cougar’s body out of the coffin and hid it behind a pile of lumber. Then I climbed into the coffin.
“Fred and I figured that when the men came back to put the lid on the coffin, I’d pop up and yell at them. Scare the devil out of them.
“The men stayed at the tavern a long time. Fred seen a girl he liked walking down the street. He went after her. Said he’d be right back.
“I guess I must have went to sleep. When I woke up, there was a lid on the coffin, and they were nailin’ it down.
“I screamed and hollered and kicked. I heard one of the men say, ‘I heard a noise in there. Damned old Cougar’s still alive.’
“Another man–it sounded like Judge Baker–said, ‘Naw, he ain’t alive. You know how Cougar lies.’
“So they nailed the lid on the coffin. Wasn’t nothing I could do about it. Some trick, huh?”
I finally spoke: “What happened next?”
“They buried me. Right over there.”
My mind was scratching for something intelligent to say. I asked, “When did all this happen?”
“Nineteen-oh-four” Bobby said. “Halloween night, nineteen-oh-four.”
He rose from where he’d been squatting by the fire. Then he seemed to sort of evaporate.