Neewa the wonder dog and.., p.8
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       Neewa the Wonder Dog and the Ghost Hunters, p.8

          John Cerutti / Thrillers & Crime
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Mexican Americans have come to compete too, with multi-colored ponchos, gaucho hats, and short hair. In the crowd are a few sombreros with red and yellow trim, and gold tassels.

Finally we find empty seats at the far end of the arena. Dad sets up the tripod in the aisle with the infrared camera. Jackie is getting readings pointing the infrared thermometer toward the nearby competitors who are warming up for the next event. I raise the digital camera to my eye and zoom in and out on the spectators across the way. The K-2 meter, Ghost Hunter’s favorite device lays quietly next to me on the seat, no lights flashing detecting any EMF here.

No one sitting around us will ever guess we’re paranormal investigators disguised as rodeo fans. They have no idea what we are doing, nor do they care.

“Next event Calf Roping,” the announcer’s voice blares ceremoniously. “The first contestant is Josie Sullivan riding Sissy, representing the Sullivan Ranch, Gunstock, Colorado.”

While cheers radiate from the stands, a horse and rider stampede into the rink, galloping from the tunnel at a furious speed. I jump up in my seat at the sound of a Bang. The metal gate flies open releasing a calf from the pen near the tunnel. All three of them sprint straight at us at lightening speed, nostrils flared, hooves kicking dirt up in every direction.

The calf, fearing for its life, desperately tries to escape the horse and rider thundering toward it, squeezing the terrified animal closer and closer to the rail.

Suddenly, the cowgirl hurls her rope high into the air. It soars, as if in slow motion hanging above the ground, circling toward its target. Whoosh! As if by magic it falls around the neck of the calf’s head. Josie pulls the reins of her horse and the team skids to a stop. As the rope slices the air, it snaps tight around the calf’s neck. The calf spins a hundred eighty degrees, lands on all fours in shock, and rolls its eyes back and moos.

Jumping from her horse to the ground, she swiftly follows the taut rope with gloved hand to the calf’s neck. She then hoists her cowering prey off its feet and drops it to the ground on its side with a thud. In seconds she ties three legs of the bewildered beast together and steps back throwing her hands high into the air in triumph.

Everyone applauds and looks at the clock and standings to gauge her performance. All of this takes place in about fifty seconds, the amount of time it takes to inhale and exhale ten breaths.

For the next hour, horses and riders sprint up and down the arena, pounding their hoofs, flexing their muscles and snorting in the air. Again and again the challenge plays out, woman vs. beast, beast vs. woman.

At intermission everyone scatters to buy food, programs, and souvenirs as a big tanker truck applies water to the arena floor to keep the dust down. The wet dirt’s pungent fragrance filters through my nose to the back of my mouth. I can taste the floor.

“I wanna use the thermal infrared camera. Dad, let me have a turn, you always get it,” I demand.

Handing my camera to Jackie I say, “Here you take the digital, I’ll use the infrared.”

Infrared pictures are called thermo-grams. They display the heat given off by the horses, riders, or cattle in colorful shades of red, purple, and blue on the screen. The colors are representations of light outside of the visible spectrum called emitted radiation.

Wow, those horses are so beautiful all dressed out with elegantly braided tails and manes, and shiny coats sparkling from a recent brushing. Silver studs adorn the embossed saddles with strands of rawhide hanging down and their bridles and halters glisten from the lights above.

The women riders are dressed in colorful tops, jeans with chaps, and boots with imposing spurs. Adorned with just the right amount of makeup, bright red lipstick, and rouge on their cheeks. They are objects of beauty as well as power.

Jackie whispers, “I’m taking a close-up picture of that horse over there with this sixty X zoom lens. Wow, it feels like I’m riding on the horse myself, this is so cool.”

That was the last event; it’s the end of the rodeo.

All the awards and prize money is being handed out. Cameras are flashing as the press scrambles to interview the winners and console the others.

I hang out and get some autographs on my program. One of the girls who signed my program sat near us in the stands. I saw her chewing tobacco.

She asked me, “Did you have fun at the rodeo?”

I tell her, “It was really something to see you girls riding, roping, and wrestling.” She laughed and said, “We are good, aren’t we?”

“Yes you are,” I said.

As I walk to the exit I hear a woman’s voice, “Let’s go to that ghost town, the one just west of here.”

That was all I needed to hear. I turn to her smiling, “Excuse me Miss, where is the ghost town?”

We all shuffle along together to the exit.

She replies, “Ah, it’s only about five miles from here. You take the main highway west to a sign that says ‘Automotive Shop’ and points to the left. Turn right at the sign and take that dirt road to the end. It leads to a box canyon where the town is. We’re going there now. Do you want to follow us?”

“Can we Dad?” I say with a look in my eyes that fully explains the consequences for a wrong answer.

“Yes, Yes, definitely, we are going,” Dad says while trying to balance all our stuff, some strapped around his neck and the rest under his arms.

“Great,” I declare, “We’ll follow you.”

“We have a red pick-up truck with a horse trailer that says Rayburn Ranch on the side,” she replies.

“Okay, we’ll be right behind you,” I add.

I run to the van, hurrying to walk Neewa and throw all her stuff into the back of our van. Dad and Jackie pack the rest of our gear and get in, while I scan the parking lot for the Rayburn’s red truck.

Catching a glimpse of their trailer I yell out, “There, there they are!”







Chapter 13 - Ghost Town

I’m nervous as we turn onto a dirt road at the sign that says “Automotive Shop.” The lonely trail has desert on both sides, and those amber and rust mountain peaks I saw from the arena glimmering in the background are right in front of me.

Neewa whines as our van slows down. Dad cracks open the door just enough for Neewa to push it open with her head and jump out the door. Leaping onto the ground, she runs alongside of our van and then into the desert kicking up sand, her nose just a hair off the ground. She stops short, checks out a prairie dog hole and continues searching for any other scents.

“Run, Neewa, run!” I cry, inspired by her energy and ability.

My attention quickly shifts to a faint image of the discarded settlement coming into view. I silently stare at the eerie-looking scene. It looks staged, like a miniature playhouse dropped from above. Surrounding the forgotten colony are steep canyon walls on every side, and ten-foot high sand dunes block the only road leading in and out.

Main Street, if you want to call it that, is the one and only street with a small row of buildings on either side. The dwellings once bustling with people are now empty.

It’s a forsaken town, a ghost town. Nothing else is visible anywhere around it. No electric wires, streetlights, or government building proclaiming ownership. No abandoned wagons or cars lie about, nothing. Nor is there anyone to be seen, except the Rayburns and us.

Parking our van alongside the Rayburn truck, we all get out as Neewa catches up. She prances around, circling us wildly, jumping, excited that we are going on a hike. Jackie, Dad and I gather up our backpacks and begin the hike into town.

Taken aback, I see a cemetery in the foreground, just about five hundred feet from where we stand. It is small, filled with knee high weeds and surrounded by a faded, mostly broken picket fence.

Mr. Rayburn points at the cemetery. “Places like this were called boom and bust towns, and they all had their own cemeteries. When someone died, they were buried with everything they owned. Most people had very few belongings, so the undertakers left their boots on. That’s why all the towns out West named their cemeteries Boot Hill. That accounts for the “Boot” part of the cemetery name. The “Hill” piece of the name can be explained by the fact that the location picked for the burials was the highest ground near the town. That was in case of a flash flood. The town folks didn’t want bodies floating all over the place after a storm.”

Mrs. Rayburn adds as they walk off together, “Many of these boom towns lasted only a few years or until the gold or silver ran out. After that everyone left town, well almost everyone. None of the inhabitants of Boot Hill ever did, I hope, ha ha ha.”

I look at Dad and Jackie, neither of them is laughing.

Inside the cemetery I find grave markers so battered by the wind and weather they are blank. The names and dates have worn off. Others have only faint impressions of the letters and numbers that once spelled out the name, date of birth, and when the occupant died. If we’re lucky we might find an epitaph saying something about the deceased or maybe how they died.

I exclaim, “Wow check this out, Tabor, Agnes P., Pioneer, Wife, Mother.”

Moving to the next grave, I can hardly believe my eyes. “Dad, Jackie, look. Seaborn Barnes, Sam Bass Gang, Texas Train Robber, shot in the legs during the Mesquite Train Robbery!”

Dad walks from the middle of the cemetery and whispers, “Getting any readings on the K-2?”

“No, nothing yet.” I kneel down and touch the brittle grave marker, wood flakes away from under my fingers.

“Christina, this is so cool. Get a picture of that one with the infrared camera—I mean the camera.” Jackie looks around as if she let our secret out.

Dad says excitedly, “There has to be something here. We will know if one of these graves gives off infrared or electromagnetic energy.”

“Don’t worry about the Rayburns. They’ll never figure out we’re hunting ghosts,” I say.

Dad and I are first to turn and walk toward the gate to exit the cemetery.

“Hey wait up, I’m not staying here alone. I’m finished with this place. Let’s get out here,” Jackie calls out running to catch up to us.

We only have a few hours before dark, so I’m taking thermo images as we walk into town.

The Rayburns are already leaving, heading back to their truck. We meet halfway between the cemetery and town.

Mrs. Rayburn says, “We’re headed back home to California.”

“Once many years ago, there were gold and silver mines all around this town,” Mr. Rayburn adds.

“Thanks for the tip on the ghost town. It’s really awesome,” I reply.

Jackie agrees, “Yeah, this is so cool.”

“Watch out for Sally Ann,” Mrs. Rayburn says laughing.

I look at her— “Sally Ann?”

Mrs. Rayburn replies, “She’s the ghost that lives in town. There is a legend about her and her brother. He was very ill and she, although dead for years, came back from the other side to encourage the doctor to help him.”

Mr. Rayburn looks us in the eye and begins to tell the story. “About one hundred years ago the circuit doctor was in town and was awakened from a deep sleep by a bright light shining right in front of him. He sat up quickly, shading his eyes.

“At first he thought that he had overslept. But the glow was not coming from the window. As his eyes adjusted to the brilliance, he saw a woman dressed in white, standing at the foot of his bed. A heavenly light surrounded her, and she glowed from within as well. The doctor gasped in fear and huddled underneath his bedclothes.

“‘Do not be afraid,’ the spirit said in a kind gentle voice.

“The doctor took heart in her words. He withdrew his head from the covers and looked right at the glowing woman.

“‘I come to you from another world,’ the woman said.

“‘Who are you?’ the doctor asked.

“‘In life, my name was Sally Ann. I was sister to Simeon Carter.’

“‘Why have you been sent here?’ asked the doctor.

“‘I’m here to tell you that my brother Simeon will die of strychnine poisoning if you are not more persistent.’

“The doctor swallowed his guilt, remembering his pride in having thought he cured Simeon.

“One of the earliest lessons he had learned in medical school was how such pride could cause him to be too confident with his treatments. A patient could die if the doctor was not thorough. The doctor was falling into this trap with her brother Simeon.

“He thanked the ghost for her warning and promised to go to her brother at daybreak. Satisfied, the ghost vanished and the room was in darkness once more.”

After those words, the Rayburns walk toward their truck. Mr. Rayburn turns and says, “I ought to know, Sally Ann was my Grandmother.”

Seconds later they drive off, leaving Neewa and the three of us in the ghost town, alone with Sally Ann.

Within seconds of their departure, out of our knapsacks comes the paranormal stuff we have been concealing from them.

“Okay let’s go to town,” I say.

Dad warns, “We have a lot of ground to cover and not much time till sunset. Better get a move on it— our best chance to catch Sally Ann is at that hotel.”

It’s around eighty degrees, warm for this time of day. I can feel the nearby canyon walls radiating the day’s heat absorbed after many hours in the sun. There is little time before it drops from the sky and disappears. Then it will get cold and dark, fast.

Neewa runs off into the canyon, as if destiny was calling her.

“She can’t disappear in that box canyon, unless of course she can fly over those cliffs, ha ha ha.” We all laugh, although I am a bit nervous at the thought of it.

As we enter town, I stare at the faded gray structures that line each side of the street. The wobbly buildings, one and two stories high, have shadowy alleyways between them.

The entire town looks like it’s ready to collapse, complete sections of several roofs are torn away. Railings and steps on the front porches are crumbling and decaying. In the same condition are the wooden walkways connecting them. Splintered planks lie in the once muddy paths, left to rot. Long ago these paths connected the town’s bustling traffic of ladies in puffed-out dresses and feathered bonnets and men wearing vests, suites, and wide-brimmed hats to shade them from the hot sun.

Hollow openings are all that’s left of the windows and doors, blown out by the harsh windstorms that frequent the canyon. Several doors dangle by a nail or a hinge, still in place from the past. About the only things moving in town are a couple of shredded raggedy curtains fluttering about, still attached by a thread to the once modestly decorated second floor boarding rooms of the day.

Bang! Bang! Echoes down Main Street. The sound comes from somewhere and ricochets off the back of the canyon. I snap my head up to look for its origin, but I can’t tell which direction it came from.

“Jackie, make sure you don’t put your finger over the microphone. I want the audio recording of this ghost town to be perfect. It may be the only one ever made here.”

Dad whispers, “Be quiet, we might capture an EVP.”

I ask softly, “Jackie, what’s an EVP again?”

“Electronic Voice Phenomenon? It’s a captured recording of one or several disembodied voices. Most times the voices are not heard as they’re being recorded. Only when you play back the digital file can you hear them,” she smiles.

“Nobody go inside any buildings, they might fall apart at any minute.” Dad is repeating himself again because he’s stressed out about it.

“Chill, Dad, I heard ya! Stop with the crumbling buildings already, we’re not going in. You are so annoying.”

Jackie points, “Hey look! That was a dry goods store and over there the saloon, and there’s the hotel. What’s that other one?”

Jackie and I walk side-by-side, photographing the few signs still legible on the front of the buildings. One says “Sheriff’s Office,” another “Blacksmith.” We work our way around the back of town with my thermal imaging recorder in hand. I begin to tape the details of the back of every building. Jackie raises the digital camera with its sixty X zoom lens to her eye and scans through a door and down the hallway of a building. With that camera lens, it feels as if you are walking down the hall yourself. Next she zooms into each room through the outside windows.

“Christina, look! That door, it’s got a bright light around it,” she turns her head toward me with a chilling look on her face.

I walk to her and stare at the door. It’s glowing around the edge, and seemingly pulsing. An intense halo surrounds the border of the door.

The weather-beaten cedar door has deep silver and gray vertical ridges. The glass doorknob is missing, probably taken by a treasure hunter who didn’t have enough room or strength to take the door.

“I’m going in,” I whisper to her.

“No, Christina, Dad said don’t go inside.”

“I’m just going to check that door.”

“Don’t go,” she whispers.

Before she can finish her words, I climb in the window and walk at a snail's pace down the hall. The door frame shimmers, and appears to pulse. A breeze in the air rushes by me as it is funneled from the flat prairie, into the building, and through the narrow corridor. Sweat beads on my forehead and drops down into my eyes and nose. I stare at the glowing outline of the door. Closer and closer I tiptoe until the finger on my sweaty hand glides along its edge. I’m about to push it forward when it swings open—all of a sudden bright light hits me square in my eyes, blinding me. Trembling, I slink inside and peer around the room expecting to see something.

The brilliant orange and yellow setting sun sits in the middle of the window opposite me.

“Christina hurry up,” Jackie implores.

The room is empty except for a broke chair and a three-legged table turned over on its side. Just bare floorboards, no ghosts, nothing. I turn and walk back to Jackie who anxiously waits.

Dad’s gone over to the hotel with the K-2 and radio frequency field strength meter. He’s at the hotel door when we come from behind the buildings.
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