Ghost Train 2
Logans introduction to the day had come at 4:00 a.m. when flashes of lightening and claps of thunder woke her from a sound sleep. Three hours later when she was in the middle of a shower, the storm caused an electricity failure, which cut off not only the lights but the hot water as well. Her ritual fix of caffeine had also been delayed because the coffeepot failed to finish dripping when the power outage occurred.
Her mood was quickly beginning to match the gray of the mid-morning sky, and every piece of equipment she had counted on seemed possessed on this dreary day. At noon she found herself second-guessing the GPS that was responding to her inquiries like there was a fleet of UFOs swarming around the rental vehicle.
"Global Positioning System, my ass! Goddamn Pointless piece of Shit," she screamed at the inanimate object. Cold blue eyes glared at the faulty equipment and when that didnt make her feel any better, she banged it with her fist and cursed the agent who had assured her it would far surpass the maps she had brought with her. I should know better than to rely on technology or sleazy salesmen. Both come up short when you really need them. If I dont find that damn turn-off soon, Im going to have to get out in this downpour and get the maps from the back of the Jeep.
The roads in this part of the country were county maintenance and from the looks of this one, it was last on the list for repairs. To make matters worse, the windshield wipers were mere strips of rubber. Instead of wiping the window clear, they smeared the globs of mud that inadvertently splashed up each time she hit one of the unforeseen potholes in the winding road.
Each time she hit a bump in the road, Logan reprimanded herself for taking the current assignment. I should have known better than to accept this job. It wasnt mine to begin with, and I could have just as easily refused itShould have known better seems to be my mantra this trip. But noooo, I wanted to get an up-close-and-personal look at the prized piece of real estate that was finally going to put Rowen and Clark in the Fortune Five Hundred. She had learned early on in the surveying game that being the best had its disadvantages as well as its rewards, and she was tops in her field. But her mission on this job was a little different from the others. She already knew the boundaries of the property that had been purchased by the company. She had been sent out this time to initiate placement of the multi-billion dollar resort that was to be tucked away in the middle of Arkansas hill country. It would be her vision that would transform this rustic area into a thriving vacationland.
She continued to scan the road, looking for her turn-off. The country road had stretched for miles without a sign of civilization. Logan was beginning to wonder if she had taken a wrong turn when she spotted a run-down gas station about 500 yards ahead of her. There was a large sign on top of the building"Bobs Hunting, Fishing, and Roadside Supplies".
"Okay, Bob, heres hoping you can point me in the right direction," she mumbled as she got out of the Jeep. The rain had almost ceased, and Logan took advantage of the respite to stretch and look around. The place seemed deserted, but she was hopeful that Bob would at least have gas, coffee, and directions to go along with his acclaimed best bait in the county. She pushed open the screen door and walked into a turn-of-the-century country store.
"Howdy there, little lady," an old gentlemen said from a shadowed area behind the counter.
"Oh, hello," Logan answered. "You startled me. I didnt see you there. Are you Bob?"
"Nope. Bob was my kin, died a while back. I was gone ta school when he passed. Paw brang me back to run the store; he was getting old and said Id had nuff city learnin anyways. Paw said I jest needed nuff a school to get by talkin to strangers without soundin hick. They call me Jeb."
"Okay, Jeb then. Umm, I think I may be a little lost and was wondering if you could help me? I am looking for Solana Trail."
"Well, missy, ya ken look alls ya want, but ya wont never find it. Name aint never been changed. Real names Freemans Pass." The old man favored his left leg as he slowly walked toward her and closed the gap between them.
"Some young whipper-snapper showed up here a few years back and gobbled up all the available land he could sissy talk the natives into selling. Twer sinful the amount a money he gave em. Then he thought hed pretty up the place some by addin fancy names to all the roads, but aint no one here usin them odd soundin names. Nope, everythings jest like its been for hundreds of years, cept for the fact that some smarty pants now owns what used to belong to em who was here first."
The entire time the old man was talking he was painfully making his way to the center of the room toward the focal point of the small store. A large potbelly stove stood regally alone, surrounded by three chairs and a rocker. Jeb seated himself in the rocker and reached his hands out to take in some of the warmth from the stove before focusing his attention on his visitor.
Logan was glad Jeb had had at least a small amount of schooling; otherwise, she was sure she wouldnt have been able to understand a word he said. As it was, his hills vernacular merely spiced up the conversation with odd sounding words that made the woman smile in her mind to think that they were both from the same country.
"The only strangers that come through here are either fixin to do some huntin or some fishin. Then theres them who finds themselves lost and are jest tryin to git home. Course lately theres also them nature freaks, them who likes to walk all over tarnation with no place special to go. Ya one of them?"
Logan didnt want to get on the wrong side of this old man or anyone else who called these hills their home. She had found it best to keep a low profile when beginning projects such as the one she was here to initiate. Change was not something she figured these mountain folks would take to without a bit of a fight, even if the land no longer belonged to them. And there were probably still enough of them around to cause a ruckus if they so desired.
"I guess you could say I fit into the category of nature freak." She gave Jeb one of her prize-winning smiles. She had never known her smile to fail to melt the heart of even the most cantankerous of men, and this old gent was no exception. "I thought perhaps Id spend a few days exploring the area. Do the spring storms usually last very long?"
"Naw, this un should be wringin itself out in a bit." The old mans demeanor changed suddenly, and a solemn look crossed his face. "Ya need to be forewarned if youre thinkin of headin up the trails alone, girly. The Ghost Train aint nothin to come upon unprepared." He motioned for Logan to sit on the chair beside him. "Hows bout a cup of coffee to warm ya a bit before ya go explorin?"
At the mention of the Ghost Train, the hairs on Logans arms stood at attention. She shivered and then chided herself for being spooked so easily.
"Nothing Id love more," she answered truthfully, as she returned her attention to Jebs offer. She picked up the cup the old man pointed to and poured from the pot that was perking on the stove then sat down next to him and prepared to listen. At least the diversion would give the storm time to dwindle and perhaps the ground would be dry enough to walk on without getting muddy shoes, by the time Jeb finished his story.
"Most times tales like these begin with the words once upon a time or a long time ago," Jeb told his visitor, "but this dont start with neither. It was about 1858 when the first rumors of the Ghost Train started. Guess that would make it a once upon a timer to some, but them kinds a stories, the once uponers are from the far past, and this uns still happening.
"Bout five miles south a here, round the measure marks where that city boys land starts, the road turns. If ya look hard theres a path what leads back towards Muddy River, and thats where most of them hikers likes to start trompin.
"Its also the starting point of what yer callin Solana Trail, but like I already told ya, no one here calls it that. To us, its still Freemans Pass. But ya wont find no train tracks back in those hills. Just the trail that twists and turns on itself, but always heads north. More better name woulda been the ghost trail, steada the ghost train, cause there never was a train at all, just the long forgotten plans for a railway to run through this stretch of the country.
"My Paw says they called it ghost train because the trail was tramped down durin the mid-1800s, bout when the Underground Railroad was in full swing. That trail was one of the routes the slaves took from the south on their way to freedom.
"Werent no slaves here in this part of the country, though. Folks here were lucky to have a roof over their heads and food in their bellies. They didnt find no cause to make other folks miserable right along with them."
Jebs eyes met Logans and he studied her face before continuing on with his story.
"As strange as this might sound, ya can believe every word I say. Mostly cause it was my Paw who first saw the ghost. Im the youngest son of a youngest son. My paw-paw was in his late 80s, by all accounts when I was born and Paw was somewheres bout half that. Paw-paw knew little Mindy Lou when she was still in the flesh. He met her when he was still a young un.
When I was bout ten years old he began tellin me the stories he had once told Paw. His eyes would sparkle when he talked about her and his memories of her were so clear that I could actually picture her in my mind. Prettiest little gal I ever laid eyes on," he used to tell me. "Eyes the color of emeralds, with hair as soft as cornsilk and bout the same in color. According to Paw-paw, Mindy Lou had a heart twice as big as her size. It was her job to help the runaways as they came through this part of hill country. Some folks said it was might dangerous for a little white gal to be dealin with runaways, but Mindy Lou never paid them any mind. She had been born and raised in these parts and knew the land like the back of her hand. She still has kin that live in the hollow about 15 minutes from here, but theys kinda a closed-mouth bunch.
"Mindy Lous a legend in these parts, but the stories come mostly from those passin through whove heard from others that done the same. Mind ya, Im only tellin ya now cause yer here alone, and sometimes it aint safe in the woods at night. Ive heard tell of screams in the woods just past the midnight hour and again before dawn. Folks have told tales of mutilated animals found dead on the trail that the escapees once used.
"But to git back to my story . . . Paw was one of the first to see Mindy Lou after she passed beyond. He was in his early 20s and on a huntin trip in the woods surroundin the trail. Hed been stalkin a big buck when all of a sudden he heard voices. The first was the sweet lilt of a young girl tryin to get someone to follow her, then he heard the same voice filled with terror and screamin to beat all hell. Some say its Mindy Lou screamin, as shes bein killed by slave owners, theys that followed one of them slaves north. Nasty lotthem southern boys.
"Now I dont know if Paw told me that story jest ta keep me out of the woods or not, but it worked for a long while." The old man shook his head soulfully. "Aint never, personally, seen her though twernt from not tryin. Many a nights I roamed the woods in search of her. I jest wanted to lay eyes on the beautiful creature with a heart so tender she gave her life to help save others."
Again, he looked at Logan. It seemed to her that he had finished with his story and was searching her face for a response.
"Thats a very interesting story. But tell me, Jeb, has anyone ever been hurt by these ghosts?"
"Naw, jest scared. Mostly cause they didnt know about em aforehand, Im guessin. But it seems like since that young feller bought up all the land that theres been more folks trompin through the woods and more talk of the ghosts bein riled up, even in the daylight."
There was no longer the sound of rain hitting the metal roof and Logan wanted to get started with her inspection of the area. She didnt want to be stuck in this area any longer than she needed to be and spending more than one more night in the closest motel was not a comforting thought. The brunette had figured one night on this side of the lakes and one on the other and she would have the assignment finished. She had no intention of changing her plans.
Logan finished her coffee and placed the cup on the table next to Jeb, then she stood and extended her hand to the old man. "Thanks for your hospitality and the warning. Ill try not to be in the woods after dark."
"Yer welcome," he replied, as he shook her hand. "Take care of yourself, girly; like I said, even the day time aint all that safe. Stop on in on your way out, if youve a mind to."
"I will. Have a good day, Jeb."
The air that greeted her when she opened the screen door was fresh and clean. The sun had decided to grace the remainder of the day with its presence, and as Logan had hoped, the ground had pretty much soaked in most of the moisture. Although she could still tell that it had rained, it wasnt very muddy. She had purchased a few bottles of water and some munchies while in the store. She placed the items on the passenger seat as she got into the Jeep.
Okay, Jeb, off to visualize your old stomping grounds becoming a get-away for the rich and famous. Perhaps Ill even get a chance to see or hear an honest-to-goodness urban legend.
She followed the old mans directions and just as he had told her, the turn for Freemans Pass was not very far from the station. Logan followed the paved road which soon turned to gravel and finally to dirt. She had gone about five miles on muddy ruts and crevices when she saw the beginning of a footpath not far from the edge of the road. She got out of the Jeep and put her wallet, water, flashlight, and snacks into a backpack, which she slung over her shoulder. With a surveyors map in hand, she walked toward the trail.
Although the area was somewhat overgrown, there were still visible signs of the walking path. She had wanted to inspect the countryside in the early daylight, but it seemed that late afternoon to dusk was going to have to do. It was either that or add another day to her itinerary. She took another look at her map and located the point at which she now stood. Okay, Solana Trail starts here. There should be a ridge about a quarter mile north and then a small lake, adjacent to a larger one. I can drive around the other way tomorrow, as planned, once I get a feel for how the resort will fit into this part of the property.
As she neared the lake she heard rustling in the brush in front of her. Logans first instinct was to stop and listen for the voices of what she was sure were hikers making their way back to civilization after the rains had stopped. But there were no voices, just the occasional snap of a dry twig and the sound of footfalls on leaves. More than once Logan stopped in her tracks to listen for the voices that she was sure would follow. When she still didnt hear them, she replayed Jebs story in her mind. Right, Logan, its ghosts. I dont think so!
After she had walked a few more yards and the smaller of the two lakes was within sight, Logan blazed a new trail that took her down toward the waters edge. She no longer heard the crackle of footsteps and soon she was concentrating only on the job at hand.
The sun was beginning to lower by the time Logan finished surveying the area and writing a few notes on the map. She hurried to get back to the trail and figured she would have no problem backtracking even as the sun disappeared behind a mountain. Her flashlight was strong enough to show the way, once she got back on the walking path.
The sun completely disappeared, and a curtain of dark took the place of twilight. Logan felt a rush of air against her shoulder as if someone had just run past her. It was then that she heard the voice. It was sweet and lyrical, a female voice, urging someone to hurry. Then the tone turned to one of panic. Logan stopped to listen. She called out to the unseen hikers. "Hello." There was no response, so she waited a few seconds and then called out again, "Anybody there?"
She received a quick answer. "Sweet Jesus, child, keep your voice down, theys spies everywheres."
"Is we familiar?"
The sweet smell of honeysuckle permeated the area, and Logan felt the small hairs on the back of her neck rise. To the right of her there was a shimmer, making the wind almost visible. The brunette strained her eyes to focus on the anomaly.
"Not formally," Logan replied. "But Ive heard of your plight to help free the enslaved."
"You friend or foe?"
"Definitely friend," Logan assured the ghost. "But I cant see you."
"Im good at hidin." There was a giggle in Mindy Lous voice.
"Ill bet you are."
A small blonde woman stepped out from behind a tree to the right of Logan. "Been doin it fer some time now. And I gotta keep doin it til all thems thats owned is free. Least them that finds their way to these here parts." She looked at Logan and smiled. "But youre not from these parts are ya?"
"No, cant say that I am," Logan answered.
Mindy Lou was not transparent and the rays from the flashlight illuminated her fully. Soft emerald eyes stared at Logan for a minute and then looked around as if searching for something. "I thought I had a runaway with me."
"I didnt see anyone," Logan said.
"Think ya scared him away?"
"Not really, I dont think there is anyone else."
"Some nights they keep me runnin, but it feels like times passed me by since the last one needed my help. Jest look at this trail, all overgrowed and untrampled." She sat down on the stump of a tree. "I feel really old sometimes."
"Mind if I sit with you?"
Logan walked over to the stump and sat next to the ghost. Okay, youre not only seeing ghosts, youre talking to one and sitting beside her. "Mindy Lou, how long have you been helping slaves?"
"Seems like fer as long as I can remember."
Mindy Lou smiled and Logan felt her heart warm. This wisp of a ghost still thinks there are slaves to be saved. Shes working in the afterlife to make sure they have someone to help them.
"Do you realize that all the slaves have been freed?" Logan asked.
"Lordy, no! What a blessed event! When ever did that happen?"
"Mindy Lou, what is the last memory you have?"
"Well, we was runnin past here as fast as we could make our feet go when we heard some of them owners and theys dawgs comin up behind. Didnt even give a warnin, jest went and shot the little boy I had hangin on my apron string." Tears trickled down the freckled face and Logan instinctively reached over to wipe them away. She jerked back when she realized that she could actually feel the womans face and the warm, wet tears.
She composed herself and reached for a Kleenex from her backpack, then dried the tears that were still wet on Mindy Lous cheeks. "No need for these now, my friend."
"Didnt git a chance to cry for the little feller. `Stead I had to loosen my apron and let him drop; they was still comin after me." Her eyes widened and she looked around in fright.
"No ones here, Mindy Lou; youre just telling me what happened. Its all in the past."
"In the past? Dont seem so," the small woman whispered.
"Im sure it doesnt, but it really is. Pleasefinish telling me what happened that night."
The blonde took a deep breath and began talking again. "After they shot the little un, I called for his daddy. Hed been runnin aside me but was nowheres to be seen. I guess he runned faster when he heard the men yellin. I was so scared, I fergot to watch where I was going and tripped. One of them dawgs . . ." She grabbed her side and winced in pain, then looked at Logan in confusion. "It chewed me." She pointed to her side. "Right here."
Logan put her arms around the smaller woman. "Its okay now, Mindy Lou."
"Cant be! Them dawgs ripped me to pieces! By the time the men came, I was pretty much gone. I can still see the ugly face of that owner lookin down on me all sassy like. Well, little missy, he spat at me, guess youre railroadin days is up. Thats the last thing I remember."
She began to cry again and Logan held her tight. It broke her heart to feel the small woman trembling in her arms. "Hush, Mindy Lou, all thats behind you now."
"I dont understand."
"Im going to tell you something now that you are not going to want to believe, but it will put you at rest. You say you dont remember anything after seeing that man looking down at you."
"Mindy Lou, you died that night."
The smaller woman pulled away from Logan and stood up. "Thats just crazy talk. Why you want to be saying somethin like that?"
"Because its the truth. Look around you Mindy Lou; even you notice how the forest has changed. Its not just that its overgrown, theres much more to it than that. Even the trees have grown. Its been years since you walked these woods in the flesh. The only thing that kept you here was the thought of unfinished business. You wanted to continue to help those in need, even after you no longer had the power to do so."
"But jest look at me, Im standin here talkin to ya. Im visible. I aint no ghost!"
"Thats precisely what you are, my friend. Youre a ghost with a mission thats no longer viable. All the slaves have been liberated. Theyve gone on to have children who were born free and their childrens children are free. There are no slaves in America, Mindy Lou. You and people like you did their best to help in their fight for freedom, and the slave owners lost."
"Hells bells, if Im a ghost, why am I still here? How come I aint been told afore now?"
"Youre still here because you keep trying to save people who no longer need to be saved, people who no longer exist. As for why no one has told you before, I dont really know. Maybe it was my destiny to be here tonight and have the pleasure of meeting you. I feel honored that Im the one who gets to tell you that your job here is done and that its time for you to rest."
"If thats true . . . where do I go?" She sat down again next to Logan.
Logan took the smaller womans hands in her own. "You go wherever it is good souls go to reap their eternal rewards. Youve definitely earned yours. Its time for you to move on and stop being trapped in this cycle of confusion. The safe house on the other side of the trail no longer exists; its no longer needed."
The ghosts shoulders slumped for a second and then she sat straight up. "I spose thats a good thing. Ya know, Im mighty tired of runnin these woods."
"Its a very good thing, Mindy Lou. You did more than your share for the cause, and now its time for you to move on."
Mindy Lou put her arms around the stranger sitting next to her and hugged her tightly. "Bless you, girl." She kissed Logans cheek and then held her at arms length to get a closer look at her liberator. "Here I was spendin my eternity time tryin to rescue thems that no longer needs rescuin and then you comes along and does the same for me."
A single tear trickled down the blonde womans face, and once again Logan reached out to wipe it dry. "Its been my pleasure, Mindy Lou."
Logan watched in wonder as the ghost slowly faded from sight. The face of that angel would be etched on her memory forever. She continued to sit on the tree stump and let herself be bathed in the sense of satisfaction she was feeling. The experience had touched Logan deeply, and she thanked the heavens for allowing her the opportunity to meet Mindy Lou. Not only had Mindy Lou spent the last years of her life trying to rectify the unrighteous acts of slavery but went to her death doing it. Unfortunately, she tried to continue to do the same long after death had taken her. Logan felt honored that she had been the one to release Mindy Lou from the bond that had kept her earthbound.
She got up from the stump and made her way back to the Jeep. All she could think of the rest of the evening was the ghost of Freemans Pass. She had seen enough of the area to get a clear idea of how the resort would fit into the landscape, and over the course of the next few days, she began to envision how the sign leading to the establishment would look. It would be a tribute to an American heroine. There would be a portrait of a beautiful blonde with sparkling emerald eyes, and she would be dressed in clothes depicting the style from the late 1800s. She would be smiling and pointing to the instructions on the sign: Follow the road of the Ghost Train/Trail as you make your way to Mindy Lous Refuge The place to come when you need to free your soul.