“Ha, Palos. Ha, Francisco!” I called out from atop my burro.
Until now things had just never worked out for me to spend time with the Espinosa boys at the ranch. It had been more than six months since I’d played with anyone my own age. But Señor Espinosa renewed his invitation, and two weeks later I was on my way. Mr. Brently let me use the youngest burro to ride to the spot where our truck was parked, where I’d meet the Espinosa boys.
“Come quickly, Winston!” said Francisco, the older of the two. “Some calves got loose last night, and you’re just in time to help us round them up.” I knew they owned good horses, but out of consideration for me they were riding burros for the day.
Whooping with joy, Palos and I dashed off in the direction chosen by Francisco. Some of my dad’s pointers on trailing had stayed with me, and I was able to help as we tracked the missing animals. Palos finally spotted the calves grazing peacefully on a slope.
“Winston, you ride beside the calves on that side,” Francisco suggested, pointing. “Palos, you take the left side. I’ll ride behind.”
Working together, we soon had the young critters headed back toward the cattle pens.
We skirted Dinosaur Mountain on the east side. Steep bluffs formed the north side of the animal pens and provided excellent shelter from cold winds and storms. In one spot I could see an undercut the size of a cave, perhaps 50 feet wide by 20 feet deep. Its height averaged about five feet.
“What’s in the cave?” I asked as we shooed our herd through the gate.
The boys looked apprehensively at each other, and both crossed themselves in the Catholic manner before Francisco answered, “That is the cave de los muertos.”
I knew enough Spanish to understand. “The cave of the dead men? Why do you call it that? Can we go look at it?”
Palos said nothing, but after a few moments Francisco answered tensely, “All those tiny white fragments you see on the ground are the remains of human bones. Your friend Mr. Brently and others with him uncovered the skeletons of about 40 dead men many years ago. We don’t go in there very often, and then only in the daylight and when our father is around.” They crossed themselves again.
So that’s where John unearthed the ancient priest and the miners, I thought. It was flooded with light at the moment and didn’t look particularly threatening. I almost laughed, but then I remembered the face on the wall of our own hole and shuddered instead. I guess I wasn’t the only one with fears.
“Let’s go somewhere else,” I heard a voice suggest. Only then did I realize that I was the one who had spoken!
My friends again stared toward the cave, still apprehensive.
“You don’t believe in ghosts, do you?” I said, smiling. Turning, we rushed toward the house, leading our burros. As we walked we talked of our fears and thoughts on death. Francisco and Palos had never heard anything like my father’s ideas, which I now shared with them.
After a full day of other adventures, including going swimming in the cold water of a small pond, it was time for me to return to camp.
Waving to the boys, I bid them farewell. “Adios, friends, until next time.” As I rode away I thought about the long ride to camp ahead of me.
When I reached our parking area near the base of the camp trail, my eyes grew wide. “What—” I blurted. Three strange trucks and two cars were parked near ours, but I couldn’t see anyone there! “What’s all this about?” I wondered aloud.
The only clues I discovered were tracks that told me many people had tramped up the trail. Most of the tracks were small, so I guessed there must be a lot of young people. Probably some group on a picnic, I thought.
It turned out my guess was pretty close. A troop of Boy Scouts from Las Cruces were on a campout. They were setting up tents at Isaac Springs when I arrived. Who was more surprised, them or me, I can’t say. The appearance of a rough-clothed, sweaty boy riding a burro must have taken the group aback. There must have been 25 Boy Scouts and a half-dozen adults.
“Hello there, young fellow,” said a smiling man sporting a Scoutmaster tag on his shirt. “You, uh, out for a ride? You must be from that ranch in the next canyon.”
“No, sir,” I replied. “That’s the Espinosa ranch. I live up this canyon.”
“You live here?” he blurted out, obviously disbelieving. “But there’s no road or house!” The other adults just stood there. I felt the stares of the nearby Scouts.
“We have a camp up there. We live in tents—we have a mine . . .” My voice faded. Had I said too much already?
“Well, this is a real surprise,” interjected another man standing nearby. “Do you ever get to be around boys your own age?”
“Not much. Today I played with the Espinosa boys. They’re the first kids my age I’ve been around since last fall.”
The men exchanged glances, and the Scoutmaster nodded. “Would you like to spend the rest of the weekend with the Boy Scouts?” one of them asked. “Would your dad let you join us until tomorrow afternoon?”
“I’ll sure ask!” I said, beaming, then raced off, brimming with excitement.
I got back to camp at dusk. Thankfully, it wasn’t hard to convince Dad. This time I’d go on foot, with a bedroll.
As I approached the campsite, the troop had gathered around a fire in the open area by the old pine tree with the snake carved in it. They were conducting some sort of ceremony that had everyone roaring with laughter.
As the evening went on, the different troops performed skits or told scary stories. Since no one in my group volunteered anything, I decided to share something spooky that happened to Mr. Brently.
“Right up there”—I pointed uphill toward the dark cliffs just two hundred yards south of us—”is a small, rocky box canyon. It was in that canyon . . .” I told them about the time Mr. Brently claimed to have seen a mountain man vanish before his eyes!
Later, as I climbed into my bedroll, my two tentmates, Roy and Greg, wanted to know was if my story was true.
“Mr. Brently says it’s true,” I responded.
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” Roy affirmed, though a bit weakly. “Do you?”
“No, I don’t,” I quickly confessed.
“Then what did that Mr. Brently see?” Greg demanded in a quaking voice. “I’ve heard other stories like that,” he added.
“Just imagination,” Roy said.
“There’s more to it than that,” Greg insisted.
I thought back to my earlier conversation that same day with Francisco and Palos. The talk had been on the same subject. I thought also about my own fears and questions, and how my father had tried to help me. Now here I was, trying to put these thoughts into words for someone else.
“My dad read some things to me from the Bible,” I began. “And now I know there are no such things as ghosts.”
“Then what is it that people see when they call it a ghost?” Greg spoke for himself and Roy.
“The Bible tells about Satan as well as about God,” I responded, trying to remember what Dad had told me. “The devil lied to Adam and Eve, and lots of people still believe what he said. But the Bible says that when a person dies, he or she doesn’t do anything again until Jesus comes back.”
Roy broke in. “Well, my aunt Sylvia goes to some meetings every week, and she says that they talk to dead people there. What’s going on?”
“Those are just the evil spirits working with the devil. They can imitate dead people and fool us with lies.”
Greg spoke in a low voice. “You’re probably right, but I’m just as scared of evil spirits as I am of ghosts, so what difference does it make?”
“Well,” I said, gaining confidence, “when you know the truth and are following Jesus, you don’t have to worry about being tricked. Besides, Jesus can beat the devil, so we can pray and depend on Him.”
“Do you pray?” Greg asked me. “By yourself, I mean?”
“Sure. Do you?”
“Yes,” Roy said. “My mom taught me a prayer.” Then he repeated it for us. It was one I knew too.
We talked on for a while about praying, then fell silent. It felt good to fall asleep thinking about Jesus.