This is the conclusion to The Ghost of Pinacate Ranch, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. Click this link for Part 1.
The Ghost of Pinacate Ranch (Conclusion)
Next thing you know a loud crash of thunder makes me sit up like a telegraph pole. It was the middle of the night, and thundering and lightning all around. Man did that ever scare me. Here I was, sitting on this stagecoach on a trail I didn’t even know, on a pitch black, stormy night.
And I was completely lost.
And then the clouds burst into pieces. And it rained, and it poured, and it deluged, coming down in sheets that actually seemed more like blankets.
The horses seemed to be doing good though, trotting along with their ears all perked up, like there was something up ahead they were trying to get to. I figgered a horse is smarter than a man in a situation like this, so I just let them have their heads and take me to wherever they wanted to go. Meanwhile, I hunched my slicker over my head and peered out at all that falling water.
After about an hour or so the coach slowed to a halt, so I popped my head out from under the slicker to see where I might be. To my surprise, I was looking straight at a big old two story ranch house. So I jumped down, thinking about a nice warm bed and place to stay the night out of the rain. There was candlelight showing through a window, so I rapped on the door as pellets of rain shot all around my feet.
That’s when I remembered the ghost of Pinacate Ranch. Something seemed to grab my body and shake me to my heels. Naw, I thought, it was just the cold wind, not superstition that was making me feel this way. I hoped. Besides, who said I was at the Pinacate Ranch anyway? Why I could be anywhere. I rapped again, only this time not quite so enthusiastically.
And then the door slowly creaked open. And standing there was a beautiful young woman, olive-skinned, and shapely as a prime pear. She may be a Mexican, I thought, but still I could be anywhere. Besides, that Pinacate woman hanged herself, didn’t she? Then I thought, well maybe this is her murdering ghost. I laughed it off to myself, then said, “Evening ma’am, mind if I step in out of the rain?”
She smiled the most warm, inviting smile I’ve ever received from a woman that beautiful. That alone raised my suspicions.
She nodded and stepped aside.
Well, once inside I felt better, but was still a bit wary of this strange woman. I told her of my predicament about getting lost, omitting the part of my falling asleep at the reins, and asked her if I could stay the night for a fresh start in the morning.
Well it was like she was just waiting for me to ask, ’cause she assented a bit too eagerly, saying she’d go upstairs right then and prepare a bedroom for me. My suspicions were growing.
But I went back outside and stripped the leather off the horses and put them away in the stable. Come back inside and there she was, all smiles and cheer, a’waitin for me.
I wondered how she could be so trusting of a stranger, so I asked her if she was there all alone. I was surprised when she said she was, and told me she was the only person who lived at the ranch since her husband and children had died. Visions of Hector Gonzales’ worried face kept coming back.
The woman asked if I wanted to visit, but I was too edgy and nervous to be in the mood for it. So instead I yawned, drooped my head, and asked her to show me my bedroom.
Upstairs there was a tightly made bed by the window, with a nightstand next to it. There was a chest of drawers on the far side of the room, and a grandfather’s clock on the side near the door. I told her a bedroom seemed an unusual spot for a grandfather’s clock, and think I made her mad for saying so. The cheer flushed out of her face, and she became tense as a coach spring.
She said I was not to move a one stick of furniture while in there, and not even to touch anything except the bed. No matter what. When she said that part about no matter what, a hard gleam flashed in her eyes, like the red glint off a bloody butcher knife.
I slept like pancakes at a cookout that night. Tossing and turning every few minutes. Kept thinking about the Pinacate Ranch, and how no one ever woke up alive there. I wondered if I would be next.
But that woman seemed like real flesh and blood to me. I had stared hard at her with all my eye muscles, but couldn’t see through one bit of her. To think of her as a ghost was ridiculous. Gradually, sleep crept up to me like it had done earlier on the stagecoach.
Suddenly I woke up, goosebumps freezing on my naked skin. The window was wide open, with a gale of wind and rain blowing straight through. I got up quickly and closed it, then dove back to the warm bed.
My eyes were adjusted to the dark, so I spent a few minutes examining the bedroom walls. Something just didn’t seem right. I couldn’t put my finger on it until it occurred to me that the grandfather’s clock was on the wrong side of the room. Now it was where the chest of drawers was, and the chest of drawers was near the door.
Instantly, my heart thumped up my throat and sucked my mouth dry. Now that was weird. Mighty weird. I sat up in bed and looked all around. I thought I could be mistaken about where things originally were, so I laid back cautiously. Before I knew it, my immense fatigue put me to sleep again.
The grandfather’s clock banged loudly, four distinct times, and I jumped awake again. I squinted through the darkness to find it, because I couldn’t figure out why it was so loud. It had sounded like it was coming from right next to me.
I hugged my ribs and sucked the dead air of the room. It was right next to me. It was where my nightstand had been, and my nightstand was where the clock last was!
That was it. I knew then and there that I was in a haunted house. Either that or someone was playing a downright cruel joke on me. I backhanded the sheets away and sprang out of bed. I danced into my clothes, jerked on my gunbelt, then crouched low behind the mattress with my pistol drawn. I pointed it at the clock.
This time there was no more falling asleep, I told myself. I was waiting it out until sunrise, which was only about an hour or so away, then shy-tailing it on out of that joint like a deer for open country.
I plucked lashes from my drooping eyelids, held burning matches to my skin, ground my boot heels on my toes, and anything else to stay awake. Along about six a.m. by the mysterious grandfather’s clock, a knock came on the door. It was the woman. Or ghost, maybe.
She opened the door and stood there with a sunny warm smile on her face, wishing me a “buenos dias.” When she stepped into the room I could tell she knew that the furniture was different, by the way she glanced her eyes about. But she didn’t say a thing. Just stayed her same cheerful self and, in fact, insisted I eat breakfast with her.
I quickly declined the invite, saying I had to get on the trail fast, as I was behind my schedule. Being behind schedule had never bothered me before, but I needed any excuse to get out of that house.
She didn’t seem to notice how hard I was looking at her, but I was giving her body a thorough scan to see if she really was transparent or not. As we descended the stairs I kept studying her, and finally she returned the gaze with a somewhat annoyed look.
I pardoned myself, then told her I really had to go, and bade her adios. But then I just stood there and kept staring, trying to find anything wispy or otherwise weird about her physique.
She asked me if anything was wrong, and I vehemently denied it. Then I just couldn’t help myself. I said, “Pardon me ma’am, you’ve been very kind to me, and I hate to intrude. But there’s something that’s been bothering me about you ever since I got here. I heard rumors that this here house was occupied by a very beautiful Mexican woman, just like you. Only I was told that she was a ghost. I know it sounds funny, but there were some strange things that happened in my bedroom last night that almost scared the skin off me. Can I just ask you point-blank, ma’am? Are you, or are you not a ghost?”
Well, she cocked her head back and cackled long and loud, then reassured me that, no, she was not a ghost.
She said, “Just to prove to you that I am not a ghost, señor, why don’t you touch me. Here,” she opened her eyelids up wide and pointed at an eyeball, “touch me right here. Touch me right on my eye.”
It seemed like a strange place, but she wasn’t inviting me to touch her anywhere else. And in spite of all my other faults I do like to behave like a gentleman when I’m with a woman.
So I did it. I reached up and—with my forefinger—placed it softly upon her eyeball.
Only it went right through. It went straight through her eyeball and into her head. There it stopped, pushing against something soft and squishy.
And that’s when I woke up.
Now look at my finger.
That’s how far it was stuck up my asshole.
Click to the next story, to read Horse of Daydreams.
Categories: Series (Stories): Go West Or Go Weird