Holiday Shorts - A Western Ghost Story

Ghost Town Holiday

By Alison Bruce

Tumbleweed was a ghost town. It had been a boom town, named for the tumbleweed that led Tex Raddon to the natural well that made the location a perfect stop for the stage. With canny business sense and a talent for playing cards, Tex built a hotel to serve travelers passing through, encouraging the stage company to make Tumbleweed a layover station.

Tex bought a bullet from some slicker who Tex had out-hustled, but it was the railway that killed Tumbleweed. The townsfolk moved on, leaving behind false-fronted stores and Tex’s gingerbread festooned hotel.

I’d been told the place was haunted - which is why I detoured to visit it on my way home for Christmas. Fortune hunters, convinced that Tex had left a fortune in gold and silver hidden in the hotel, had well nigh run screaming from Tumbleweed. On horseback, buggy, jalopy or pickup truck, they came, they saw, they fled. I stumbled in with a courier bag and empty water bottle. I didn’t care about the ghosts. I just hoped the stories of the well were true. Embarrassing as it is to admit, my car ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere. No bars on the cell phone, of course. I had to walk the rest of the way, Tumbleweed being my best bet for water and shelter.

It was the best water I ever tasted. It felt glorious to wash the dust off my face and hands too. The stage office offered shelter. It was sturdily built and had a pot-bellied stove as well as a bare cot I could sleep on. Judging by the abandoned backpack, 50's style coffee pot and other odds and ends I found, it looked like the place had been used by other travelers over the years.

I woke around midnight, having underestimated the efficiency of the stove. The room was hot and stuffy. Add in hunger and a hard bed, I had the mother of all headaches. I opened the door to get fresh air, ready to slam it shut again if I spotted a coyote or or other varmint. What I saw instead almost had me locking the door and hiding under the covers, except I had no covers to hide under. The hotel was lit up with a golden light.

Call me crazy, but I just had to check it out.

When I’d looked around the hotel earlier, I was impressed by the touches of faded splendour that had survived over a hundred years. Ghost stories had evidently been good at keeping the looters away. In the moonlight, it seemed like time had rolled back and the hotel was in its former glory.

I was about to chicken out. Who know who or what I’d find inside? Better to go back to the stage office and lock the doors again. The smell of food changed my mind. I pushed through the door and froze. The kerosine lamps sparkled. The ornate cast iron stove glowed. Strings of popped corn and red berries decorated the bar, which was polished til it shone. A ruggedly handsome man in a black frock coat, fancy vest and string tie, stepped forward and offered his hand.

The courtesy reflex had me taking his hand without thinking. Suddenly I was in a green satin dress with ivory lace and red ribbon trim. The room was full of people nodding and smiling at me, all in their Sunday best or better. My host led me to a table heaped with smoked ham, what looked like a haunch of venison, sweet potato pie, roast vegetables, and biscuits. Everything looked and smelled wonderful but strangely, when I started to eat, it all tasted like Spam and baked beans. Mind you, it was the best Spam and beans I’d ever eaten–I was that hungry.

After supper, I danced to music I knew was there but couldn’t hear. When I could barely keep my eyes open any longer, my host led me upstairs. He took me into a room decorated in red velvet and gilt. For a moment I was wondering if a ghostly seduction was about to take place, but he just turned down my bed and gave me a low bow before leaving.

In the morning, I found myself on a rickety cot, covered with a faded green sleeping bag. Downstairs, the saloon was dusty and strewn with cobwebs except for one table. That table top was clean of dust but was littered with two empty cans and a bent spoon. Spooky.

A car horn blared. I headed for the door, yelling, “Hello!”

The moment I was on the street, the State Trooper stopped honking his horn and called out “Thank heavens! You okay?”

“Yes. My car broke down.”

“I saw it and figured you came here.”

“You were looking for me?”

“Nope. I came out to check on the fire. Rancher down the way heard the explosion last night.”

Looking around I finally clued in that the stage office was no longer standing. It was a burnt out shell. How could I have missed an explosion?

“I was camping there,” I said dully. “My bag was in there.”

“You’re just lucky you got out in one piece ma’am. Looks like it was a near thing.”

I followed his gaze and took in my disheveled and sooty clothes. I put a hand to my forehead and found a lump.

“Did you light the stove ma’am? Cause those old chimneys are dangerous. Creosote builds up in them. Animals nest in them. Deadly combination. I’m thinking we should get you to the clinic and have doc check you out.

I nodded.

With my last look back, I saw the man in the black frock coat. I mouthed thank you. He tipped his hat to me.

Was he the ghost of Tex Raddon or a Christmas Angel? Either way, he was my hero.

Alison Bruce is the author of UNDER A TEXAS STAR and DEADLY LEGACY. She's also the blog host.

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