Authors: Frank Peretti
Tags: #ebook, #book
The judge's voice was not kind at all. “What about them?”
“Well . . .” John stammered a bit. “You've gone ahead with this auction without the sheriff to preside. And as for Annie, well, you know she's been seen around town the last day or so.”
The judge pounded the table so loudly it even made Jay jump. “That is nothing but ridiculous rumor! Annie Murphy is dead and buried!”
“Your Honor, there are people in this town who aren't so sure of that. After all, no one saw her body; no one saw what was in that coffin Stanley Hemple buried. People are wonderingâ”
“John, let me tell you something, and you can tell everyone: Dead or alive, Annie Murphy is a convicted murderess, and therefore, by order of this court, she forfeits her property. Now are there any further questions?”
Benny ventured a comment. “Guess this'll be a pretty profitable move for you and the sheriff.”
The judge snickered at that. “Of course I have no idea what you're talking about.” Then his voice grew very cold. “And neither do you, is that understood?” There was a nervous pause, and then Benny responded, “Congratulations, Judge!”
All three men applauded the judge's new purchase.
Â Â Â Lila found a small window in the attic at the front of the building, but even though she could look out and see the cliffs to the east, she couldn't make out what Annie had been carving. That had to be because she was too high for the image to line up. If she could just get down to the level of the judge's bench . . .
The porch roof was right below the window and slanted down toward the street where the crowd was still waiting. That roof might be low enough. With a firm tug, she opened the window, and with a careful hitching up of her long dress, Lila stepped through the window and out onto the roof.
The edge of the roof hid the people from her, but she could hear their voices just below.
“Don't know why we're waiting out here. The judge is going to have the highest bid.”
“He already owns half the town. What's he need the Murphy Mine for?”
“Annie's back, did you hear? She's come to settle the score.”
Lila crouched to remain out of sight and worked her way halfway down the roof one careful foothold at a time. This was no picnic. The old cedar shingles were slippery, the roof was steep, and the long dress didn't help.
She looked toward the cliffs.
She thought she saw something, maybe a face, maybe some vertical linesâ
Â Â Â
Her feet slipped out from under her. She hit the roof with a clatter, put out her arms to stop herself, and tried to regain a foothold, but it was no use. She was rolling, flopping, sliding toward the edge. The people below stopped talking. They could hear her coming. She tried to grab the gutter as she rolled by the edge of the roof. No good.
The next thing she saw was faces looking up at her as she rolled off the roof and tumbled into thin air.
The hem of Lila's long dress snagged on a nail and she stopped abruptly in midfall, hanging above the crowd. The people below screamed and scrambled and reached up to catch her and tried to figure out what to do.
“Somebody get a ladder!”
“Well, what's she doing up there, anyway?”
“Don't move a muscle! We'll get you down!”
, she thought,
the secret's over.
But there was still one big question to be answered. She looked eastward.
And saw it. Annie Murphy's latest carving. She gawked, then closed one eye as she slowly swung back and forth, hanging from the nail.
Vertical lines. Jail bars! And Annie's face, clear as could be, beyond the bars. Annie Murphy in jail!
The carvings were starting to make sense: Cyrus shot, Annie in jail, Annie weeping for her husband. There were still some parts missing, but now Lila could see it clearly: Annie
telling her story!
She felt a strange tremor as if the building were swaying.
Oh no, Lord, not here, not now!
She could see the tall, lanky deputy coming through the crowd with a ladder. Then the deputy, the ladder, and the crowd started to fade and become transparent.
“Hey!” somebody cried, “what's happening to her?”
“She's a ghost!” a woman gasped. The whole crowd got upset and started babbling at once and gawking at Lila while the deputy kept trying to push his way through with the ladder.
And then the sound of their voices faded as the town became a transparent, ghostly image standing over the crumbled ruins of the present.
Lila began to fall, right through the dress and into the open, kicking and struggling but slowly dropping earthward like a feather. She cried, “Look out!” but couldn't be sure anyone heard her.
Something caught her eye. Up the street, amid the ruins and the ghostly old buildings the ruins used to be, stood a big man in a black suit and hat. He looked as solid and real as Lila looked to herself. He was watching her whole misadventure with piercing eyes, and she recognized him the instant before she fell among the crowd: Sheriff Dustin Potter.
Deputy Hatch and the crowd had seen it but couldn't believe it: That pretty, blond-haired girl turned transparent like a ghost and fell right through her blue dress. When people tried to catch her, she fell right through their arms and then sank through the steps of the courthouse like water through sand. Her empty, blue bonnet fluttered down and lit on a woman's shoulder, scaring her into a faint. The woman's husband caught her, and her son caught the bonnet. The whole crowd just stared pale-faced at that bonnet and the empty blue dress still hanging from the nail.
“A ghost!” someone said, and then several folks repeated the word to each other in agreement.
Those who saw Deputy Hatch with the ladder helped him heft it into place on the steps and lean it against the edge of the roof above. The deputy climbed up to the blue dress and carefully unsnagged it. He thought he recognized it and found a name tag on the collar that confirmed the owner. He'd check into that later. Right now he wanted to know what the mysterious young lady had been looking at so intently even as she dangled from the nail. He turned and looked the same direction he'd seen her look.
What he saw in the cliffs did not startle him. By now it was exactly what he expected.
The door to the courthouse opened and out strode the auction committee.
“Well, we have the results of the secret bidding!” Mr. Forshay announced, and then he shook hands with Judge Crackerby.
Strangely, few seemed to care much about that anymore. Most were watching Deputy Hatch descend the ladder with the blue dress in his hand.
“Hatch,” said the judge, “what in the world are you doing?”
Hatch smiled innocently. “Just following your orders, sirâand making good progress, I might add!”
At the University of Arizona Research Library, Mac and Dr. Cooper met with Mac's secretary, Alice, and her son, Rob, around a large worktable in the historical archives department. Alice, an attractive professional woman, and Rob, a graduate student in history, had already laid out several old photographs of the town when it was in its heyday.
“Excellent!” said Dr. Cooper. He carefully studied the photos of the storefronts, houses, hotels, and saloons, reconstructing in his archaeologist's mind the layout of the town over the ruins that remained. “Annie and the kids would be moving about in the town and relating to it the way it once was, am I right?”
“Yes, especially Annie,” Mac replied. “Though she's between both worlds, she would mostly relate to the physical layout of the past where she's making the carvings.”
Rob clicked on a microfilm viewer on a side counter. “And here's the outcome of that auction, Professor.” He scrolled through old, microfilmed pages from the
, the local newspaper of that time. A headline read, “Judge Crackerby Highest Bidder,” and the smaller headline added, “Crackerby Takes Ownership of Murphy Mine.”
“What about this sheriff, Dustin Potter?” Dr. Cooper asked.
“There are several mentions of him in the
,” Rob replied, “as well as a record of his election as sheriff in 1874, but I haven't found any mention of what eventually happened to him. Strangely, he seems to disappear from the pages of history not long after June eighth, 1885.”
Mac and Dr. Cooper looked at each other.
“Disappeared from history or from the past altogether?” Cooper wondered.
Mac was intense. “If he never returned to the past, it's doubtful the kids ever made it back to the present.”
Dr. Cooper's eyes were set like steel. “We've got to know.”
Mac turned to Rob. “You've found nothing about him after June eighth?”
Rob scrolled further through the microfilm. “I did find one clue for you, although you may not like what it suggests.” He found the news article and pointed it out.
Dr. Cooper read the name. “Hatch. Deputy Erskine Hatch.”
Rob explained, “This and some other articles tell how he was appointed sheriff in Bodine the week following June eighth.” He looked over his shoulder at them. “This seems to suggest that Sheriff Potter was no longer around.”
Alice added with sadness, “I wish we had better news for you, but as near as we've been able to uncover, the judge became a rich man, and the sheriff never returned to Bodine. As far as anyone knows, Annie Murphy was shot by Sheriff Potter and buried right before June eighth, 1885.”
There was a knock on the door. Rob moved quickly to answer it. Another student stuck his head in and presented Rob with a small package marked “One-Stop Photo.”
“The pictures from the night camera!” Dr.
“In less than an hour!” the student proclaimed proudly. “I had them put a rush on it.”
Dr. Cooper received the package from Rob and tore it open. He pulled out the stack of photographs and froze, his eyes narrowing. His gaze locked on the first photo, and he felt his insides tightening like a drum. He handed it to Mac and then gazed with even more intensity at the second photo. He passed that one along and examined the third, then the fourth. By now they were all looking at the photos, passing them around in awestruck silence until Alice finally whispered, “My word . . . it's Annie.”
Two of the photos were blurry as if taken in a rush, but some were crystal clear and showed a ghostly figure, a young woman with red hair and frightened eyes.
Mac was stunned. “Incredible! Absolutely incredible!”
Cooper looked up from the photos and mused, “But consider this: These pictures establish that she was alive the morning of the eighth.” He looked at Rob. “So she couldn't have been shot before the eighth.”
“And certainly not by Sheriff Potter,” said Mac, “because he was thrown into the present before he got the chance.”
Dr. Cooper asked Rob, “Do you have anything more about Annie's death? Any details at all?”
Rob scrolled through the microfilm. “There's one more article with nothing new.” He found the article and brought it into focus. “This news story indicates that she was shot by Sheriff Potter while trying to escape from the jailâ” He stopped short, surprised. “It's written in the past tense, as if the shooting had occurred the day before . . . but the date of this newspaper is June seventh.”
“So Sheriff Potter is supposed to have shot Annie Murphy on June sixth,” Dr. Cooper said with a half smile.
“But Jay photographed her alive on what would have been June eighth,” said Mac.
“Which would have been the same day our friend the sheriff says he chased her, which would be a full two days after she was supposed to have been shot. And he
hasn't shot her.”
Mac had a thoughtful look on his face. “There's something fishy going on here, some incorrect information.”
“So there's still hope for my kids!”
“Rob, see what else you can find out about this deputy, Erskine Hatch. He may have kept a journal or records of some kind.”
“You got it.”
“Alice, anything else?”
Alice nodded. “An artifactâdirect proof of Annie Murphy's existence.” She opened a corner cabinet and brought out an object covered with plastic. Setting it on the table, she removed the plastic, unveiling a fine wood sculpture: an old miner smoking a pipe, sitting on a keg of blasting powder. She gingerly turned the piece over to show the inscription on the bottom. “You can see her name here, âA. Murphy.' Notice the crudeness of the letters and the numbers of the date. It looks like someone had to show her how to form the letters, stroke by stroke.”
Both Mac and Dr. Cooper recognized the carving technique. They'd seen it before in the cliff above cemetery hill. “Yes,” said Dr. Cooper, “the weeping woman was carved by Annie Murphy, no doubt about it.”
Rob had been scrolling further through the microfilm and announced, “Those photos of Annie brought something to mind. Come look at this.”
They huddled around the microfilm viewer as Rob scrolled down to an article in the
headlined, “Ghosts Visiting Bodine?”
Dr. Cooper and Mac skimmed the article.
“âGhosts . . .'” Dr. Cooper read aloud. “â. . . several ghosts sighted around the town . . . one thought to be Annie Murphy . . .'”
Mac exclaimed, “Here you go, Jake, third paragraph: âthe ghosts of two children are said to have appeared near the Crackerby Boardinghouse, and another, that of a young girl, in front of the court- house. Judge Crackerby emphatically denies the rumors.'”
Dr. Cooper's heart leaped. “Jay and Lila!” He leaned closer, carefully reading the whole article. “They were seen at the boardinghouse, the courthouse . . . on the roof of the mercantile! They've been all around that town!” He had to laugh with pride. “They're trying to track down Annie Murphy! They're retracing her steps. Way to go, kids!”