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SandySha

 

The Ghost Tree

*I don’t own the characters but wish I did.
**This Halloween story is inspired by a photo given to me by Rosey Moreno-Jones of the Ghost Tree in Ocala, Florida.  The tree is located on property owned by James Gammons, who played Wes in the Lancer episodes Catch A Wild Horse and was also in Blind Man’s Bluff. 
**Thanks to Alice Marie and Susan for the Beta.

GhostTree

A light wind picked up, causing the campfire to flare and crackle; smoke drifted upward in swirls.

A coyote’s yelp and howl filled the night as men stared at the fire, mesmerized by the rising flames, dancing and swaying in shades of orange and red.

Walt tossed another log on the fire, causing the flames to shoot even higher.  Cinders glowed as they shot into the air, only to be caught up in the breeze and carried into the darkness.

“Have you ever seen a ghost?”  The voice was so soft that many didn’t catch the words at first. When he spoke again, his voice was still soft but louder.

“Have any of you ever seen a ghost?”

Johnny sat cross-legged, watching the flames.  On one side of him sat his brother, on the other, his father, trying to get comfortable on the hard ground.  A chill in the air and Johnny’s words caused the seven Lancer cowhands and vaqueros to shift closer to the campfire. 

It was the third night the ten men had been away from the ranch moving the herd; three nights of camping out under the stars.  It was their last, and tomorrow they’d be heading home.  Each night someone had told a story to entertain the others.  Tonight, they knew it would be Johnny’s turn.

When no one answered, Johnny looked at each man before quietly speaking again.

“I have.”   

The wind picked up once more and a low howl off in the distance sent a shiver up Scott’s spine.  He could only imagine the ghosts his brother had seen.  Scott looked past Johnny to see Murdoch’s face.  He knew his father was thinking the same thing. 

“I’ve seen my share of ghosts.  Some of them of my own making; hell, most of them of my own making.  Ghosts that come in the night to walk through my dreams and haunt my nightmares.”

There was another visible shift of the men moving closer to the fire. 

Johnny glanced up at the starry night sky.  As clouds drifted across the full moon, a shadow fell over his face.

“You know what day this is, don’t you?”

Around the campfire, some men shook their heads; the vaqueros nodded and crossed themselves.

“It October 31; el Dia de Los Muertos.”  He nodded. “That’s right…the Day of the Dead.”

Everyone’s attention was on Johnny and his soft voice.  

“North of the border, you call it Halloween.  South of the border, where I grew up, it’s called Day of the Dead.   It’s on this day that the veil between the worlds is lowered, and the dead can walk among us.  On this day, we can see and feel their presence.  They could be here with us now.  Can you any of you sense them?”

The men looked at each other and then behind them into the darkness.   There was a nervous chuckle among them as they turned to look at Johnny again.

Johnny could see he had their full attention.  Glancing to his left, he saw Scott staring at him and could swear he had seen his brother shivered.

“I used to spend this day in the closest saloon or cantina, drinking so that I could forget the day and the ghosts that haunted me.  Sometimes I was able to drink the ghosts away, but there was this one time…no amount of drink will erase it from my memory. I’ll go to my grave remembering it.”

Sighing, he stopped speaking and stared into the fire.

After a long silence, it was Murdoch who spoke up, eager to hear more of what he felt was going to be a good ghost story.  He could see his men were thinking the same thing.   He hadn’t sat around a campfire telling ghost stories since he was a boy in Scotland.

“Can you tell us about it, Son?”

Johnny turned his head toward Murdoch, saw the smile on the old man’s face, and nodded.

Leaning forward so that his arms rested on his legs, his eyes still on the fire, Johnny took his time before beginning.

“It was five years ago, across the border in Sonora.  I was 15, maybe 16 at the time.  I’d been hiring my gun out a couple of years, so yeah, I was 16.”

Johnny felt Murdoch tense beside him.  He knew Murdoch didn’t like hearing him talk about hiring out so young, but he kept going anyway.

“I rode into a small village looking for food and a place to bed down.  It had been at least two days since I’d had anything to eat and I didn’t think I’d make it much longer. 

“It was just at dusk when I got there, and the wind was picking up.  Tumbleweeds were rolling through the streets, and the town looked deserted, but I could feel it wasn’t.   

“I found the Cantina and tied my horse off in front of it.  I looked up and down the street, and there wasn’t anyone there.  I looked at the sign over the door, and it said ‘Cantina de la Rosa;’ ‘Cantina of the Rose.’  When I started to walk into the cantina, I ran into a man who was hurrying out.  He almost knocked me down.

‘Senor,” he said to me, “I must go.  Stay, eat, drink, if you wish, but I must go.

“I stood there for a second and tried to figure out what was going on.  The man tried to get by me, and I grabbed his arm.

‘Senor, where are you going?’      

‘I must get to the tree, Senor.  We must all be there by the time the sun is gone.’

‘The tree?  What tree?’

‘The Ghost Tree, Senor.’

“The man pushed by me and then stopped.  He turned back and got a good look at me for the first time.  His eyes went to my holster.  He nodded and then crossed himself.

‘She sent you to us, didn’t she, Senor?’

‘She?  No one sent me, Senor.  I’m looking for a place to bed down for the night and get something to eat.  I have money.’

‘No, Senor, your money is no good here tonight.   Come, I will show you where to stable your horse, then you will come with me.  There is food and drink and we will wait together to see the lady.’

“The man grabbed my arm and I let him pull me along.  I picked up the reins of my horse and followed the man to the stable.  Once I had my horse settled, I followed him to the edge of town.

“A full moon, just like tonight, reflected silver off clouds that rolled across the night sky.  The way the clouds moved over the moon threw shadows on the ground, that seemed to dance around me.

“It wasn’t long before I could see campfires burning; a lot of campfires.   As we got closer, I saw the people of the village clustered around the fires.  They were talking in whispers.   Looking closer, I realized the fires surrounded a tree, but it wasn’t like any tree I’d ever seen before in my life.

“This tree stood tall against the night sky.  It was grotesque looking as its limbs bent and twisted in all directions, some touching the ground.  The wood was burned and black as night.  The trunk was thick and hollowed in the middle. The limbs swayed in the breeze, and when the clouds passed, the moon’s rays flickered across the blackened branches giving them a ghostly shimmer.

“To tell the truth, I felt like turning right around and heading for the stable to get my horse and riding out as fast as I could.  The sight of that tree sent a shiver through my body that felt like… felt like someone was walking on my grave.  I would have rather faced a man down in the street than look at that tree.

“I felt a tug on my arm and the man from the cantina was looking at me, his eyes fixed on my face.  I looked around again and the people from the village had gotten up and moved toward me.  They were all staring at me.”

Johnny stopped to take a breath.  In the distance, another coyote announced his presence.  

Leaning back, Johnny pulled a bottle of tequila from his saddlebag, opened it, and took a long drink.  When he was finished, he handed the bottle to his father.

Murdoch took a drink and passed the bottle to the next man. As the bottle was being passed, Johnny took something else from the saddlebag and held it in his left hand, rubbing his thumb over it in a gentle caress.

Johnny didn’t speak again until the bottle had made its round and was back in his hand.  He took another drink and set the bottle between his legs.

“Like I said, I was ready to get out of there.  I knew nothing good was going to come of me being there.

“That’s when an old woman, a bruja, a witch woman, stepped out from the rest.  She walked up close to me and put the palm of her hand on my chest.  She had long thin fingers, and her nails were sharp and long and they curved inward, like a claw.

“The thought crossed my mind that she was going to tear my heart right out of me.

“The bruja turned to the people and nodded.

‘He is the one.  He is the one that has been guided to us.  He is the one who will stop her suffering and set her free.’

“I jerked away from her hand; thankful she wasn’t touching me anymore.  Then I asked her,

‘What are you talking about?’ 

‘The lady has sent for you.  It is you who will stop her suffering.’

‘I don’t understand.’ 

“I shook my head and started to move away, but the villagers had moved all around me.  The bruja took my arm and began pulling me toward one of the campfires. 

‘Sit.  Eat.  I will explain Johnny Madrid.’

“I stopped dead in my tracks.  I hadn’t told them who I was.

‘Yes, we know who you are Johnny Madrid, and someday all of the people of Mexico will know your name.’

“She pushed me down to sit next to the fire, and then someone put a plate of beans and tortillas in my hand.   Like I said, I hadn’t eaten in a couple of days and I couldn’t resist.   I ate so fast; I don’t think I even tasted the food.  Then they handed me a cup with tequila in it, and I downed it in one gulp.

“I remember the tequila burning as it went down and that cold chill I’d felt earlier was gone. 

“When I looked around, I saw that the people had gone back to the fires surrounding the tree.  I looked at the bruja; she was smiling at me.  It was a smile that sent caused me to shiver again.

“I got a good look at her now that we were by the fire.  Stringy gray hair hung down below her shoulders.  Her face was like wrinkled brown leather and her eyes were sunk deep into the head.  She had a hunched back, and I noticed for the first time that she walked with a cane.  And as she spoke to me, I could see she was missing some teeth and others were black with rot.

‘You have many questions, young one?

“I nodded at her.  ‘I do, bruja.  First off, how do you know my name?’

It was foretold that you would come someday.  Your name was spoken to me on the wind — a boy who is a man, a man who knows death.  She told me you would come tonight, and I have told the people.’

‘I don’t understand.  Who told you I was coming?  I didn’t even know myself until I rode in here.’

‘The lady of the tree; the Ghost Tree.  She appears to us on el Dia de Los Muertos, but only in the years when there is a full moon.   You see,’ she pointed toward the moon with her finger, ‘tonight is a red moon; a Hunters Moon.’

“I looked up and sure enough, the moon was red.  Not blood red like one I’d seen when I was a kid, but red all the same.”

Johnny stopped and looked up at the moon.  The eyes of every man around the campfire followed his gaze.

“See how the moon has a reddish color to it.  Well, that’s how it was that night in Sonora…  that’s the way it looked the night I saw her ghost.”

.********

Johnny looked at the men with him once more.  Between the light of the moon and the glow of the campfire, he could see their faces clearly.  They were hanging onto every word.

Murdoch wasn’t sure if Johnny was serious or if it was just part of the story being told to entertain them.  Coming from Scotland, he’d learned early there were things no one could explain, but he’d never seen a ghost, nor did he want to.   Did he believe in ghosts?  The answer was yes.

Shifting to get more comfortable, Murdoch cleared his throat.

“You actually saw a ghost?”

Johnny nodded.

“Yeah, as clear as you are to me right now.”

Johnny continued on as if he hadn’t been interrupted.

“I sat there watching the fire and listening to the people whispering.  I realized they were chanting, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying.  That’s when I went to move and couldn’t. The villagers must have given me something in the tequila. 

“It was close to midnight when a couple of the men lifted me to my feet and almost carried me to the tree.  When we were about five feet from the trunk, they let me go and backed away.  I stood there, swaying and listening.  All around me I could hear the chanting getting louder, but I still couldn’t make out the words.

“I started to turn and walk back to the campfire when a breeze came up and the faint scent of roses filled the air. I saw movement off to my left.   I wasn’t sure what I was seeing at first, but then I blinked a few times, and my vision cleared.

“There she was coming out of the tree; a lady dressed in a blue satin gown; the kind the Donas wore.  She shimmered in front of me.  Her face was beautiful, but there was sadness in her eyes.  She reached out a hand to touch me, and as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t move or pull away.”

Johnny took another drink from the bottle he was clutching.  Once again, he passed it around to the men sitting with him.  His left hand still clutching the object he’d taken from his saddlebags.

“She put her hand on my chest, right over my heart.”

Johnny placed his right hand over his heart to indicate where the ghost had touched him.

“The moment she did, I felt pain. Not physical pain but the kind of pain you get when your heart is aching and filled with sadness.  There was something else I noticed; the scent of roses grew stronger.

“It took me a few moments, but I was finally was able to speak and asked her, ‘Who are you?’

‘Dona Isabella Estrada de la Vega.’

‘Why are you here, Senora?’

“She shimmered again and then became solid.

‘I am cursed, Senor.  Cursed to walk the earth beneath this God-forsaken tree for all eternity.  Cursed to show myself only on this night when the moon is full.  I wait for one who will free me.’

‘What happened to you, Senora?’

“She looked so young and so sad.  I swear I saw a tear roll down her cheek.

‘I was young and in love, but not with my husband.’

“She removed her hand from my chest and put it on the side of my face.  I thought it would feel cold, but her hand was warm against my cheek.  She started to speak and suddenly everything around me changed. 

“It wasn’t night anymore.  We were still standing next to the tree, but now the sun was shining and the tree was alive.  Green leaves filled the branches that reached for the sky.  I could feel a warm breeze blowing and smell flowers and grass.  The strongest scent was of roses.

“You see, she wanted me to see her story as well as hear it.”

‘My story began in 1714; the year I turned sixteen. It was in that year I was forced to marry Don Antonio de la Vega.  The marriage was arranged as it always was for girls of my station.  There was no love between us; it was a marriage of convenience only.

‘Soon, he became tired of me and sought his recreation elsewhere.  I was alone most of the time. 

‘A year after we were wed, I was strolling the gardens of the estancia and saw a young man working one of the horses in the corral.  I was drawn to the gentleness of the man as he trained the horse.  

‘He stopped what he was doing and looked at me.  He had the bluest eyes I had ever seen.  He was so handsome, and when he smiled at me, I thought my heart would leap from my chest.  His name was Juan. 

Juan was younger than me by a year, but it did not matter.  At first, we talked and laughed together.  I was so lonely, and Juan was there to keep me company.  He became my best friend.  In time, however, we fell in love, and I gave my heart to him.   Juan knew it was dangerous to love me, but he did not care.  He wanted me as much as I wanted him. 

‘The day came that we planned to run away together.   My husband often went to the cantina to find his pleasures and left me alone for as much as two days at a time.   Juan and I planned our escape on one of the nights Antonio would be gone.

‘I gathered a few things together and met Juan outside the estancia walls where he had a horse waiting for me.    We rode until dawn and then rested.  As the day cooled, we started riding again.  That night we came upon this village.  It was a beautiful village full of warm and caring people.   The people welcomed us with open arms and hearts and gave us food and a place to rest.

“She seemed to sigh and another tear fell down her cheek. She let out a moan that caused me to shudder.

It was here, in this beautiful village, that Antonio and his men found us.  Juan was good with a gun, but he was no match for Antonio’s men.   I watched my love die before my eyes, and I ran…  I ran until I came to this tree.’

“She looked up at the tree only she and I could see.  A tree full of life.”

‘Antonio was furious when he found me here, cowering at the base of the tree.   I could see the hate in his eyes.  I had disgraced him and sullied the de la Vega name.  

‘I knew Antonio could be cruel but had no idea how brutal he was.  I thought he would take me back to the estancia; however, he had other plans for me.

“She started weeping, and I could hear the anguish in her voice.  Her sobs echoed through the still air.

‘Antonio ordered me tied to this tree.  He taunted me all that day, using such foul language that no woman should ever hear. When night came, and the moon rose, he had his men put wood around the tree, stacking it as high.  He then had his men place Juan’s body at my feet.

‘Antonio himself held the torch to the wood, setting fire to the tree and laughed as the flames climbed higher. 

‘I cursed him with my final breath, and he, in turn, cursed me.   The night I died was el Dia de Los Muertos.  Since that night in 1715, the curse has brought me here on this night, but only when the full moon casts its glow on the tree.  I must walk beneath the limbs of the tree until the first light of the new day.  Then I return to the limbo that is my hell until the next time a full moon appears on this day.

‘At first, the people of the village were afraid of me, but over the years they have come to sit vigil with me as the night passed.   Until this night, it has been just them and me, but now you are here. 

‘I know you are not my Juan, but I can feel his essence within you.  His love for me, through you, will break the curse and set me free.’

“She smiled at me and leaned forward and I felt her lips brush against mine.  I wasn’t afraid.  I had never felt so at peace in my life.  I reached up to wipe a tear from her cheek when I heard someone yell at me and then felt a hand clamp down on my shoulder and pull me backward.”

‘NO! You must not touch her! No one can ever touch her again!’

“I could see Dona Isabella start to shimmer, terror on her face and in her eyes, as she moved back a step.  I turned to look at who had grabbed me.  I knew who he was before Dona Isabella said his name. 

‘Antonio!

‘Yes, my beloved, my esposa; my puta.’  He laughed, and I could see the fire in his eyes. ‘Yes, my whore.  You dared to give yourself and your love to another and you will pay for it for all eternity.  No one will break the curse I have put on you.

“Dona Isabella moved forward again and faced the ghost of her husband.  I could see she wasn’t afraid anymore.

‘No, Antonio, it is you who will burn in the fires of hell as you burned me that night.  It is the love I have for Juan that will survive for all eternity.  You cannot stop this boy from touching me any more than you could kill the love I have for Juan.’

‘You think not?’

“I stood back, listening to what the two were saying.  When Don Antonio said, ‘you think not’ … well, I can tell you that got my attention.

“Antonio turned on me and I felt myself being lifted off the ground.  He had his hand around my throat, his nails were digging into my skin.  I couldn’t breathe.  His face was twisted in anger and rage. I looked into his eyes, and I swear I was looking into hell itself. 

“I felt my body start to go limp when he tossed me a good ten feet away and stood staring at me.  I could see Dona Isabella through his body.  She was crying again.  She looked defeated and then turned away and started to move back into the darkness.

“I knew I had to do something.   I jumped to my feet and took off running.  I intended to push Antonio out of the way, but I ran right through Antonio.  I felt a sharp pain in my chest when I did, but I kept going.  I got to Dona Isabella and reached out my hand to touch her shoulder.  I thought it would pass through her like I did Antonio, but it didn’t.  I could feel her cold skin under my hand as I turned her to face me.  

“She smiled when I reached out and wiped a tear from her cheek.  I leaned in, and my lips brushed hers.  For a moment, time seemed to stand still.  I wasn’t sure what to do next, but then she put her hands on each side of my face and I knew I had to kiss.  Our lips met again, and this time, I felt a warm tingling that started in my toes and went straight through my body.   

“When she leaned back and let me go, it was as it had been when it had all started. Don Antonio was gone.  It was night again and the tree was charred and mangled.  The campfires of the villagers still burned, and I could hear their chant, but now I could understand their words.

“They were calling for someone; they were calling for Juan.”

Johnny took another drink from the bottle. 

“I felt like I was floating, as something inside of me stirred.  That’s when I saw him walking out of the hollow of the tree.   A young man, much like I was, with dark hair and blue eyes.  He looked at Dona Isabella, smiled, and held out his arms.   She ran to him and he pulled her close to his chest.   

“After a few moments, they both turned and looked at me.  The people of the village had moved closer and were standing behind me.  We all could see Isabella and Juan. 

“Juan spoke to me for the first time.

‘Thank you, Johnny Madrid.  Thank you for setting us free.’

‘But I didn’t do anything.’

“Dona Isabella smiled and said, ‘Oh, but you did, Senor.  Antonio’s curse was that no man would ever touch me again.  He cursed me to walk the earth until a man who knew both life and death came to me and showed me love.  You have done that.  Only you could have done it; you who has also known death.  You came to me on this night; you touched me with not only your hand and your lips but with your heart as well. You have defeated Antonio and broken the curse. For this, Senor, we will be forever in your debt.’

“Behind me heard the bruja start to cackle, then everyone was laughing.

“I heard a rooster crow and knew it would be light soon. It got quiet as Isabella and Juan turned away from me and walked into the gathering light of the new day.  I watched as they shimmered out of existence.”

.********

“The sun’s rays topped the mountain range to the east and the entire area was filled with a warm glow.  I knew Isabella and Juan were finally at peace.

“When I turned around and looked behind me, I was alone.  There was no bruja, no villagers, and no campfires.  The tree I was standing next to was nothing more than a rotting stump in the ground. 

“I hurried back to the village and found it deserted.  All that was left was crumbling buildings, turning to dust.  The stable where I’d left my horse was all that remained. I saddled up and rode south out of town and never looked back. 

“Two days later, tired and hungry, I rode into Hermosillo.  I went to the cantina and settled at a table at the back.  I ordered something to eat and a bottle of tequila.

“I couldn’t get the images of the Dona Isabella and the Ghost Tree out of my mind.  I asked the owner of the cantina if he could tell me anything about the deserted village two days ride north of Hermosillo.

“Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing and stared at me.  The owner looked me over, and then his eyes fell to my gun. 

‘You are a pistolero.’

“It wasn’t a question.  It was as if he was stating a fact.  I nodded.”

‘You have been to the village; to La Rosa de Sonora?  You have seen Dona Isabella and the Ghost Tree, Senor Madrid?’

“I straightened up then.  He knew my name.”

‘We know who you are, Senor Madrid.  You have been to the village?  You were there on el Dia de Los Muertos?’

“I nodded again.  The owner looked around the cantina and then back at me and smiled. 

‘You have set her free, have you not, Senor?  You have broken the curse and set Dona Isabella free?’

“I didn’t know what to say, but I guess they could tell from my expression that I’d been at the village and I’d seen the ghosts. 

“I asked him, ‘Is that the name of the village, La Rosa de Sonora; The Rose of Sonora? What can you tell me about the village, about Dona Isabella, and about the Ghost Tree?’

‘All of Sonora knows of the village and the Ghost Tree, Senor.’

“The owner sat down as he answered me.

‘Don Antonio de la Vega owned most of the land in Sonora in those days. 

‘As the story goes, Don Antonio found Dona Isabella and Juan in La Rosa. The young man was killed and when the red moon was at its fullest, Don Antonio ordered Isabella burned alive.  His rage was fierce and, for helping the two lovers, he ordered the village destroyed and every man, woman, and child put to death.

‘Don Antonio’s own men spread the story throughout Sonora.  They had carried out Don Antonio’s orders and lived with the shame of their actions until the day each of them died.

‘It is said that Dona Isabella placed a curse on Don Antonio that day, and he died soon after, but the curse Don Antonio put on Dona Isabella has endured through the decades.  Many have seen her and the villagers on el Dia de Los Muertos when the full moon turns red.   

‘Senor Madrid, tell us you have done what no one else has dared to do.  Have you freed them?

“I didn’t know what to say. Then the owner went on.”

‘The tree as you saw it that night only appears in the light of a full moon on el Dia de Los Muertos.  It is believed the curse Don Antonio placed on his esposa, passed through her and into the tree.  As the curse encircled the village, the people were also cursed; cursed to walk the earth until someone came who would free them all — someone who had known death and survived.  Someone who had the courage to go to the village on el Dia de Los Muertos and touch Dona Isabella and show her love again.

‘They have waited these 150 years for such a man. You, Senor Madrid, are the one who was destined to break the curse.’

“I took it all in before I said anything.

‘I don’t know if the curse is broken, but Dona Isabella and Juan are together.’

‘Si, Senor, if they are together, then the curse is broken; broken for all time. No longer will they walk among us on el Dias de Los Muertos.’

“He got up from the table and went behind the bar.  When he came back, he handed me a piece of wood.  The wood was charred black and had the image of a rose carved into it.”

‘This Senor is from the Ghost Tree.  It is a symbol of Dona Isabella and her love for the man who died for her.  I believe she would want you to have it.’

“I took the piece of wood and looked at the rose carving.  It felt warm in my hand.  Suddenly, the faint scent of roses filled the air.  The cantina owner smiled and said,

‘Si, Dona Isabella agrees you should have it.  You have made her very happy.’  

“I thanked the man and started to pay before leaving.  He told me it was on the house.  By the time I got out into the street, people were beginning to gather around.  The word had spread about me and the Ghost Tree.

“As I mounted up and rode out of town, I heard the Mission bells start to ring.”

.*******

Johnny tossed a log on the fire.  The loud crackle of the fire and the rising flames signaled the end of the story.

The men shifted.  A few laughed.

“Good story.”  Scott sat up and looked at Murdoch, who was still mesmerized by the fire.   “Is there any truth to it?”

A slight breeze whipped at the flames of the fire.  A cloud covered the moon.  Murdoch, Scott, and the men of Lancer looked around at the darkness that suddenly seemed to close in on them.

Johnny gave his brother a whisper of a smile, opened his left hand and stared at the thing lying in his palm.  He stood up, stretched, and then handed it off to Scott. 

“Think I’ll go check the horses. Oh, and Scott, don’t get that too close to the fire.”

Scott watched Johnny until he was swallowed up by the darkness.

“Murdoch, you don’t think the story was true, do you?”

“Scott, I know you have your doubts.  Your upbringing in Boston was different than mine.  As a lad in Scotland I learned there are things none of us can explain.  I don’t know if the story is true or not, but it is one of the best ghost stories I’ve ever heard.”

“Patron,” Luis spoke up, “I am from Sonora.  I have heard the story of La Rosa de Sonora and of the Ghost Tree many times.  The tale is true.  It is true that Johnny Madrid broke the curse of the Ghost Tree and that Dona Isabella no longer wanders the night on el Dia de Los Muertos.  It is said the bells of the Missions ring for him because of what he did for the Dona.”

Scott shifted closer to the fire to get a better look at what Johnny had given him.

“What is it, Scott?” Murdoch leaned over to take a look for himself.

Scott’s breath hitched.  He stood up, handing the object to Murdoch before following his brother.

Murdoch looked in his hand and then into the darkness where his sons had disappeared.

“Patron, what is it?” Luis asked.

Murdoch held up the object closer to the light of the fire for all to see.  It was a charred piece of wood with a rose carved in it.

They all jumped when the flames of the fire shot skyward, and the scent of roses filled the air.

********
 

Johnny stepped out of the darkness with Scott right behind him. Quickly moving toward Murdoch, he reached down and took the wood from his father’s hand. 

“I told you not to get it close to the flames.  Dona Isabella’s not too fond of fire.”

Johnny walked over to his saddlebags and put the piece safely away.  Without another word, he spread his bedroll and laid down.

Murdoch sat for a moment, looking at his youngest son.  Nothing more was said as the men began to settle.

Looking around, Murdoch saw Scott standing next to the fire with a look on his face that told him his oldest was starting to believe.  As he’d said, there were things that couldn’t be explained, and the story of Dona Isabella was one of them.

With the tale of the Ghost Tree still fresh in their memories, the men made their beds closer to the fire than on previous nights, seeking as much warmth and comfort as they could from it.  The light of the moon was still bright as they drifted off to sleep. 

The sound of a coyote, closer than before, howled.  Soon another, and then another, joined the first in their song to the red moon.

 

 

 

~end~
October 2019

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