Authors: Karina Halle
Bird eyed the house and
smiled at us. “I think Sarah is having her afternoon nap. This is
usually the time that Will does some work around the house, you
know, time to himself. I can give you a tour of the ranch first.
There will be plenty of time to unpack after.”
I looked at Dex. “Should we
bring the camera?”
He looked at Maximus, who
in turn looked at Bird.
Bird laughed. “She’s an
eager one! It’s probably best to leave that for afterwards, some
folk here can be a bit, er, picky.”
His expression on the word
picky made me pause. Hesitation noted.
We followed Bird across the
dusty paddock and around the side of the larger barn. In the shade
of the roof’s overhang, a diminutive man of Latino descent was bent
over a bench, hammering some nails into the horn of a western
saddle. He didn’t look up, even when we had all stopped in front of
Bird cleared his throat.
Miguel paused ever so
slightly, but kept working for a minute. Either to finish the job
or to make us wait.
He eventually looked up.
His eyes were narrow, as if he prepared to hate us off the bat, his
lips set in a dry, straight line that a crowbar couldn’t have pried
open. This must be the “picky” one. I’m sure if we did have the
camera out, we would have gotten a good Cameron Diaz-style
Miguel.” Bird cleared his
throat again. Even though he was three times the size of Miguel, it
seemed like Bird was a little afraid of him.
Miguel looked straight into
What do you
I’m not sure if was my
imagination or not but I could have sworn Miguel gripped the hammer
These are Maximus’s
friends, Perry and Dex,” Bird said quickly, with a loud, forced
The ghost hunters, yes?”
Miguel said with a trace of amusement. Not the funny kind. He gave
Maximus and Dex a quick, dismissive glance then set his sights on
me. His expression changed from annoyed to predatory.
So you’re the girl, yes?”
He snarled at me and looked me up and down. Now, I know I was
looking all shades of hell which made his lustful gaze even more
disturbing. I guess they didn’t get many women out here.
Easy Miguel,” Bird
cautioned. Miguel took a quick step towards me, an uncanny sense of
speed at his disposal. He was just inches away, smelling like
sweat, dirt and beer.
I tried not to look at him
but he made it impossible. Then he smiled.
You won’t last a day,” he
said slowly, exaggerating each word. He leaned in further. I wasn’t
sure if he was coming to kill me or kiss me.
Before I could get out of
his way, an arm shot out around me and pulled me to the side. It
was Dex and I was snuggly pressed up against him.
My wife would last longer
than any of us,” Dex challenged. The term “wife” was jarring to my
ears. I had forgotten all about that, again, but I was immediately
grateful for my fake husband. He was smiling broadly at Miguel but
his eyes meant business. Beat still my heart.
Miguel scoffed and turned
back to his saddle. “Just keep out of my way, Birdy.”
Bird nodded grimly and
pointed at the smaller barn which was down a bit of a slope and
surrounded by spindly corrals. “OK, let’s go see Shan with the
horses. He’s a bit more welcoming than Miguel here.”
He walked off and Maximus
followed, giving Dex a shrug by way of explaining the situation.
Dex took no notice. He kept his arm around me, watching Miguel
hammer back at the saddle. He didn’t look up. I wanted to get the
fuck out of there but apparently Dex was feeling a bit
confrontational. There was now something as equally intense in his
eyes as there had been in Miguel’s. I’d seen that look a few times
I poked him in the side and
gestured at Bird and Maximus and tried to walk in that direction.
His arm held me in place, then relented and off we went. We didn’t
say anything to each other and as we neared the horse barn, he took
his arm off me. I felt both vulnerable and free.
We followed the tall frames
of Bird and Maximus into the barn. The happy smell of horses and
hay contrasted with the musty darkness. We walked down a row of
empty stalls, the doors covered with heavy cobwebs, the interiors
looking strangely damp.
One stall had a lone, lit
bulb that was swinging subtly back and forth, casting an eerie
moving glow on the cruddy walls. I poked my head through the stall,
expecting to see an impatient horse inside. There was
But something in the
shadows caught my eye. It was like the shadows were moving. Was it
a trick of the light? My eyes? I tried to focus until I picked out
I saw a pair of yellow
eyes, low to the ground. I would have screamed at the sight, or
moved, or something, but all I could do was stand there and stare.
I felt like I couldn’t look away even if I wanted.
Then they slowly faded into
the blackness. It was like they were never there to begin with.
With them gone, I felt the weird trance-like sensation leaving my
body. I took my head out of the stall and looked down the dark
corridor at the three guys. I saw Dex looking in my direction but I
couldn’t see his expression.
Shan?!” Bird called out,
his voice echoing against the wood walls. No response. Bird walked
further on and said it again.
Hello,” a raspy voice
whispered beside me. I jumped at the sound and jumped again when I
saw a man standing in the stall where I was just looking. I almost
screamed, in fact I thought I had screamed, but it was caught in my
throat and expanded there silently.
The man was only a foot
away from me, but again I had trouble focusing on him, as if he was
buried in the shadows. His face was blank, devoid of expression,
and at times seemed featureless.
But that was ridiculous. He
had features. He had a flat nose, a pointy chin, scraggly hairs
that made up a beard, black, low brows and high cheekbones. He was
maybe 50 years old. He was also native, Navajo I was guessing, with
dark reddish skin. I could see these things clearly, when I made
myself. But it took effort. When I relaxed my eyes, it was like his
features went back to mask-like putty. It was the strangest thing
No stranger though, than
his eyes. They weren’t mean like Miguel’s had been but they were
hypnotizing. Shades of green, amber and streaks of vibrant yellow
made their way to a pinpoint pupil. Maybe these were the eyes I had
just seen in the stall. Even though that was impossible.
Shan,” Bird boomed out. I
jumped again. Bird, Maximus and Dex were right beside me. Bird was
smiling at Shan pleasantly, but Dex and Maximus were staring at me,
Are you OK?” Maximus asked
I nodded with some effort.
Then realized why they were staring at me so strangely. I looked
down. My hands were up around my throat, as if I was choking
myself. I delicately removed them, each finger coming off the
grooves on my cold neck, my heart pounding in my chest. I was
scared shitless. What the fuck was I just doing?
Bird smiled uneasily at me.
“Have you got a sore throat?”
I cleared my throat, afraid
I was unable to speak, but a meek, “That must be it” came out from
my lips. I looked at Dex. He didn’t look as concerned as the others
did, he just looked full on mistrustful of me, as if I had the
plague or something.
Well, we’ve got a lot of
teas that will fix you up in a second. Isn’t that right, Shan?”
Shan slid the door open and
stepped out into the hall. He nodded and smiled at me. In the light
(and reality) he looked like your normal rancher. Lean, relaxed,
weather-beaten. His eyes were still peculiar and vivid enough
though, that I found myself avoiding them.
We sure do,” Shan spoke
with a gregarious, lightly accented voice. “The Navajo have the
real medicine. Don’t trust any of that cheap garbage that Will
might give you. He’s lost the way.”
Yeah, he got married.” Bird
laughed and Shan joined him. I didn’t feel like laughing yet. In
fact, I just wanted to get out of that barn and into the light. I
smiled quickly at them. “I’m sure I’ll be fine. It was nice to meet
you Shan. I need some fresh air. I think I’m…allergic to
I coughed a little for
effect, turned on my heel and quickly walked out of the barn. I
heard Dex mutter something and Shan and Bird laughing along with
him. I didn’t care.
Outside, the air was filled
with swirling dust and wasn’t exactly fresh but it was dry and the
intense sunlight and overexposed landscape immediately made me feel
I heard footsteps shuffling
towards me from behind. I turned around thinking I’d see Dex but it
was Maximus kicking up the dust. He looked down at me, squinting in
the light, and put one meaty hand on my shoulder.
What happened in there?” he
I shrugged. “I don’t know.
Maybe I really am allergic to hay.”
He squeezed my shoulder. It
felt nice. “No. I mean, why were you choking yourself? You picked
the wrong place to try and get high.”
I may have smiled. He had
the same humor as Dex. And apparently way more concern.
I don’t know. I didn’t
know I was doing that. I was just looking in the stall, I thought I
saw something in there-”
I wasn’t about to tell him,
then I realized he of all people might understand.
I thought I saw a pair of
eyes. Like, low to the ground.”
He took his hand off of my
shoulder and ran it through his shlock of fiery hair and gazed off
into the distance.
What color were
Yellow,” I said
hesitantly. “Then they disappeared, then this Shan guy popped up
and then apparently I was choking myself. You know as much as I
He mulled that over. He
seemed to be holding something back from me and I wasn’t sure if I
wanted to find out what it was.
Well,” he said slowly.
“Strange things happen here, you can bet your mother.”
And that’s why we’re here,”
He smiled warily. He really
was quite a handsome guy.
careful while you’re here. Especially when I’m
I frowned. “What do you
mean by that?”
He shrugged, dust flying
off his plaid-clad shoulders. “You’re just going to want someone
capable on your side in this crazy land. If you have any doubts,
just talk to Bird. I trust him.”
I trust Dex,” I said
He scratched at his
sideburn and looked wistful, “I know you do. I reckon that might be
How was that a problem? I
opened my mouth to say something in his defense when Bird and Dex
came out of the barn.
There you are,” said Bird.
“I was afraid you wandered off somewhere.”
Bird peered at me. On the
surface he played the concerned grandfather type but deep in his
eyes I sensed an even deeper worry. Sometimes I saw that same thing
in my mother’s eyes.
Well, no, not after what
Maximus had just told me but I said yes anyway.
Dex was eyeing us
suspiciously. He probably knew we were just talking about him. I
glanced between the two ex-friends and knew that a phantom choking
incident and a volatile rancher were going to be the least of my
problems. Something obviously happened between these two guys and
the past wasn’t having an easy time being buried. I had a feeling
I’d find out by the time the weekend was over, and it wasn’t going
to come from Dex’s mouth.
Bird sensed something too.
Or he had good timing.
So, what say we introduce
you to Lancasters and get the ball rolling?”
We agreed and walked back
to the house. Bird stayed a few feet ahead; I had the boys on
either side of me.
Hey, just remember,”
Maximus whispered to us and pointed at his ring finger.
Right, the married thing.
Though Sarah was blind, she’d still probably see right through
Play it cool,” he
continued. “And don’t take anything she says
We walked up on to the
porch and waited while Bird knocked a few times and waited with
baited breath for this mysterious Sarah woman. The door opened and
revealed a tiny, tawny-skinned woman in her mid-life, with
sunglasses and a cane. She was wearing a very pretty green floral
dress that complimented her black, bunned hair. I might have been
expecting her to look like a witch.
Sarah, m’am. I thought you
were napping. Where’s Will?” Bird asked apologetically.
She snorted. “How can I nap
when I know strangers are snooping around