Summary: Adam takes his brothers on a camping trip upon his return from college.
Word Count: 1250
“It was a dark and stormy night. The—” Adam was interrupted by Hoss’s incredulous voice.
“It ain’t stormy, Adam. A bit cloudy maybe but not stormy. You gotta get your stuff right for us to believe it.” Hoss advised his oldest brother.
The campfire light danced against the night, and the tendrils of smoke drifted on the air. Three figures were huddled near the fire, hoping to warm up against the cool breeze.
“Fine. It was a dark and cloudy night. The sound of banging footsteps could be heard on the—”
“How do footsteps bang? I’ve heard of thudding and clomping footsteps but never banging. Makes it sound like they were walking on a door or something,” Joe interrupted, speaking with the ringing authority of a ten-year-old.
Adam let out a deep sigh as he pinched the bridge of his nose. He was out camping with his brothers and, at the moment, wondered how Pa would take it if he came home without them. Looking into the young faces across from him, he suspected they were trying to annoy him on purpose.
“Do you want to hear this or not? Because, quite frankly, I would like to go to sleep.”
Joe and Hoss looked at each other for a moment. Joe spoke first.
“Yeah, we wanna hear a story. Maybe you should stick to something you actually know.”
Hoss chimed in, too. “You got all that fancy book learnin’ an’ all, but you forgot how to tell a story.”
“Fine, fine. So, no one wants to hear a ghost story?”
“Naw, we wanna hear one. Just make it believable, that’s all.” Hoss’s advice drifted over the hissing sounds of the burning wood.
Groaning to himself, Adam had to wonder at what had possessed him to take a ten year old and a sixteen year old on a camping trip. I know it was to ‘reconnect’ after coming home from college, but I didn’t expect to have to entertain them all night. Sighing loudly, he began his tale.
“The nights on the trip across the plains were black as pitch. You could barely see your hand in front of your face.” Adam deepened his voice, speaking in soft tones. He leaned back a bit and shadows played across his face.
“You mean like now?” Joe asked, leaning forward, his eyes wide.
“Exactly like now. Only there wasn’t a home to go to for safety. We only had the back of a wagon to sleep in and there were no doors to keep roaming creatures at bay. You could hear the sounds of animals in the brush, just outside. We were never sure if they would come in with us or not.” Adam smiled at the look on his younger brothers’ faces. Hoss had been so little, it wasn’t surprising he had no memory of any of it.
“We’d meet travelers heading back East, and they would tell us of the town of Poker Flats. It had been settled by the Spanish, but renamed by the whites moving into the area. The town had been abandoned for many years, the families long gone. The only remains of the settlement were the cellar openings and the cemetery.”
Joe inched closer to his larger brother. He looked around him, trying to make sure there was nothing resembling the remains of Poker Flats nearby.
“They said if you stood in the middle of town, no matter what time of day, and closed your eyes – you could hear the sounds of the dead town. Mothers calling for their children, laughter, stock animals milling about. All the sounds of a live town but everyone had died or moved off.
“Pa and the rest of the adults didn’t think much about it; they thought it was stories told around a campfire to pass the time. A few weeks later, we found ourselves in a small area, weeds and vines everywhere, and cellar holes dotted the ground. In the distance, you could just make out a cemetery. They figured it was Poker Flats, but no one heard or saw throughout the day.”
Adam tried to hide his glee while watching his youngest brothers. Joe was almost in Hoss’ lap, and he wasn’t sure how much longer they’d stay on their side of the fire.
“But that night . . . it came alive. We were all bedded down; and, in the distance, you could hear children laughing and playing. A few of the men got up to go see who was out of their wagons, but no one was missing. After settling down, we could hear women calling to each other, and the sounds of plows in the fields drifted on the wind.
“I can tell you I was scared,” Adam said, laughing. Sure enough, Hoss and Joe had slowly crept towards him – if they inched any closer, one of them would get singed by the fire between them. “No one was willing to go out and see where the sounds were coming from. We all knew the stories had been true.
“I could hear Pa snoring towards the front of the wagon, and knew Hoss was snuggled close to him. I couldn’t sleep for the noises just outside. Close to daylight, I heard someone walking near our wagon. The slow, steady footsteps rounded the end of our wagon and climbed inside. I kept my eyes shut, scared of what I might or might not see. I could smell tobacco and knew no one in the wagon train smoked. A hand brushed the hair back from my face, covered me back up and left.”
Hoss was trying to be brave for his little brother, but to think he’d been that close to a ghost! He could feel shivers of fear running through him.
“I never did tell Pa what happened that night. Needless to say, everyone packed up the next morning and left. As we pulled away, I looked back to see old man near the cemetery watching us leave.”
His brother’s eyes were as big as saucers. Adam knew he shouldn’t be having this much fun scaring those two, but he couldn’t help himself.
“Who was the old man?” Joe wanted to know.
“I don’t know. He disappeared in the blink of an eye, and we never looked back again,” Adam said, looking down for a moment. He met their eyes and smiled brightly. “So, who’s ready for bed?”
Adam pulled out his blankets, watching as his younger brothers brought out their bedrolls as well and placed them nearer to him than normal.
“Look, why don’t you two go back to your side? I won’t be able to move,” Adam complained, trying to shove his youngest brother away.
“We don’t want ya to be scared,” Joe explained, scooting right back.
“Yeah, we thought that ya might get a fright after what happened to ya as a boy,” Hoss chimed in.
Adam closed his eyes, cursing himself for his bit of fun.
Adam lay next to the fire, watching the flickering light. He smiled to himself – Joe was practically in the bedroll with him, he was so close. Hoss had moved his blankets a bit closer, too. An elbow to his ribs from a squirming Joe caused him to grunt in pain.
‘This is not how I wanted to reconnect,’ he thought to himself.