NOTE: Ghost Town-ing is a series of stories that follow Pat and Sherry (Fast Break) as they explore some of the places Jesse and Jennifer (the Sweetwater Saga) visited. Although these stories are connected, each episode stands by itself and you do not have to wait for the entire series to be completed. Nor is it necessary for you to read the Sweetwater Saga series and Fast Break to understand these stories but it is highly recommended.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author.
PART SEVEN – GARNET and COLOMA
by Mickey Minner
“Beautiful day,” Pat commented as she guided her pickup along the highway that snaked alongside the Blackfoot River.
“It’s hard to believe it was pouring rain yesterday,” Sherry smiled, glancing upward through the windshield. The sky was bright blue and there were only a few light, fluffy clouds to be seen. Her eyes dropped back to the road and the cliff lined canyon they were traveling though. “Hey, Pat, look,” she pointed excitedly to a small group of animals at the edge of the road not far ahead of them.
Pat was already slowing the truck in order to pull off the highway so Sherry could have a good view of the sheep grazing just off the road. “Big horn sheep,” Pat informed her lover. “They love the cliffs and you see them a lot along this stretch of road.”
“They better be careful,” Sherry winced as a SUV sped past the small herd as if they weren’t there. “They could get hit.”
“Unfortunately, some of them do get hit. People just aren’t willing to slow down for them and, worse, a lot of drivers aren’t paying that much attention and don’t even see them.”
“That stinks,” Sherry muttered, opening the truck door. She stood on the running board to take pictures of the sheep from over the top of the cab.
As the women watched, the sheep gradually made their way back into the safety of trees and disappeared from sight.
“That was a great way to start our day,” Sherry smiled as she settled back into her seat and fastened her safety belt.
“Sure was,” Pat agreed, pulling back onto the highway. “Now let’s get to those ghost towns I promised you.”
Just as the highway crested the top of a pass, Pat turned off onto a dirt road.
“Garnet is about twelve miles up this road,” Pat told to Sherry. “And Coloma is a couple of miles before that.”
“These are two of the mining camps Jesse drove freight to, right?” Sherry asked. She had read Charley’s journal several times but still got the towns and mining camps he referred to mixed up.
“Yes. But Jesse would have taken the old stage and wagon road from Bearmouth to get to Garnet then continued on to Coloma.”
“Why aren’t we going that way?”
“It’s really steep with a number of sharp, hairpin turns,” Pat explained. “And the canyon it runs up the middle of is pretty narrow and doesn’t get much sun. So the road can be pretty nasty after a rain storm. We’ll take it another time.”
“Alright,” Sherry looked out the window at the passing pine forest. Occasionally, a large mountain meadow would open up and she was surprised at the varying colors of the wildflowers that were peeking up through the green grass. “It’s beautiful here, Pat.”
“Yes, it is,” Pat agreed. She liked the drive to Garnet. It was along a national forest scenic byway and, although the road continued to climb almost the entire distance to the old mining camps, it provided a variety of scenes from dense forest to wide open panoramic views of the surrounding valleys and mountain ranges.
The road twisted and turned as it climbed and the women spoke little, content to just enjoy the passing scenery.
“Here we are,” Pat said as she brought the truck to almost a full stop before turning off onto a narrow side road barely wider than the truck itself.
The road, not much more than a pair of well-worn ruts, was pitted with large potholes and strewn with rocks and tree branches that had fallen from the nearby pine trees. After a couple hundred feet, the road split and Pat followed the branch to right.
“This is actually part of the old stage road,” Pat said as she slowly drove up a short rise. “Coloma is just on the other side of this hill.”
“I hope it was in better condition then,” Sherry said as Pat eased through another pothole, the truck leaning sharply to the side.
“Probably not,” Pat laughed.
They crested the hill and were greeted by the sight of a pair of collapsing shacks sitting about twenty feet off the road to their left.
“Those were cabins back when,” Pat told Sherry.
“They look like they’ve seen better days.”
“Most of Coloma looks like that,” Pat pulled the truck off the road and parked in the shade of a large pine tree. “It used to be in pretty decent shape but a few years back the owners of the property decided to thin out the trees. The loggers weren’t very careful and a lot of the cabins and buildings had trees fall on them.”
“Why would they do that?” Sherry looked at Pat in disbelief.
“Not every one sees these old places the same way we do,” Pat shrugged. “A lot of people think they’re just a nuisance. Especially the mining camps like Coloma. The places are full of placer mines and collapsed mining tunnels, if you’re not careful where you step you can fall into them. To the land owners, they’re a lawsuit just waiting to happen. Don’t forget your sunscreen and bug goop,” she said as Sherry stepped out of the truck.
Sherry nodded and reached back into the back of the cab for her day pack. Removing the tube of lotion Pat had insisted she bring, she squeezed a generous portion onto her hands and rubbed the lotion into her arms and legs as Pat walked around to meet her.
“I’ll take some of that too,” Pat picked up the tube. “Believe me, you’ll be glad for this by the end of the day. The bugs can drive you nuts this time of year.”
“I haven’t noticed too many up to now,” Sherry straightened up after coating her ankles.
“Nice thing about winter, no bugs,” Pat tapped the end of Sherry’s nose, leaving a gob of lotion on it. “Rub that into your nose and cheeks. I don’t want to be taking home any lobsters tonight.”
“Funny,” Sherry smirked, bending over to use the mirror on the pickup’s door to see.
“Where is the journal?” Pat asked, scanning the contents of the back seat and not spotting the book.
“Under the jackets.”
“Oh,” Pat slipped her hand under the light jackets they brought just in case there was another late afternoon thunder storm like the previous day. “Got it,” she pulled the book free. Opening it to the page she had marked before they left home, she began to read.
“Mommy said the best thing about Coloma was the view. Whenever she took a load of freight to the mining camp, she would stay with a friend who had a cabin on the edge of the mountain, the front door opened onto a porch that concealed the opening of her friend’s mine. Off to the side of the porch, a rock wall no taller than her knees enclosed a spot to sit in the evening and enjoy the view of the mountains far to the north. She said the long, dusty trip to Coloma was well worth that view. Years later when she brought Momma, Sis and me to see Coloma we all agreed the view was still worth the long trip.”
“Think we’ll be able to find that cabin?” Sherry asked tucking her digital camera into the front pocket of the shorts she wore.
“Maybe,” Pat said, looking around at the buildings she could see from where they stood. “The side of the mountain is over there,” she pointed down a path. “So if it’s still standing, that’s where we’ll find it. We don’t have much to go on except the rock wall Charley mentions. But that should make it stand out from the other cabins. The main part of town is further down this road on the other side of those trees. Where do you want to start?”
“You pick,” Sherry smiled.
Pat pushed the journal back under the jackets, grabbed a pair of baseball caps and shut the truck’s door. Placing one of the caps on her head, she dropped the other onto Sherry’s head. Resting a foot on the running board, she bent over to tighten her boot laces then switched feet and tightened the laces on her other boot.
“Can we go now?” Sherry asked when Pat stood back up. She was a tad annoyed with Pat’s lack of movement toward what remained of the mining camp.
“You’re so cute,” Pat grinned at her companion. “All excited about seeing your first ghost town.”
“Pat,” Sherry growled but her eyes sparkled with her excitement.
“Come on,” Pat reached for Sherry’s hand. “Let’s go find us a ghost.”
“Hey, Pat,” Sherry said, looking around nervously. “If it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll pass on seeing a ghost.”
“Party pooper,” Pat chuckled.
Pat led Sherry along an overgrown path through the jumble of small trees and bushes. “Amazing how nature reclaims these places,” she said as she picked her way along the barely visible path. “When the town was active, this would all have been open ground crowded with shacks and cabins.”
Sherry looked ahead and could see the ground giving way to open sky as they neared the side of the mountain. Directly in front of them were the remains of what once had been a decent sized cabin but was now a ruin of unstable log walls and a shattered roof.
“Careful,” Pat said as she walked along the side of the cabin, “the ground is pretty uneven here.”
Sherry paid close attention to where she was placing her hiking boots as she followed Pat. The last thing she wanted was to end their day before it had begun by twisting an ankle on the rocky ground. “Wow,” she exclaimed when she stepped out of the underbrush to join Pat in front of the cabin.
Standing on slightly sloping ground that once had been covered by a wooden porch, the women stood on the edge of the mountain. Just in front of them a deep hole, its sides caved in, provided evidence of a long abandoned mine shaft. Past the hole, the mountain dropped straight down leaving an unobstructed view of a wide valley far below and snow-capped mountains far to the north.
“If this is the view Charley was describing, he was definitely right about it being worth the trip,” Sherry said, pulling the camera out of her pocket to snap some photos.
“It very well could be,” Pat smiled. “Look,” she told Sherry.
Sherry turned her head to see what Pat was talking about. A roughly constructed rock wall made from stacking irregularly shaped stones on top of one another enclosed the opposite corner of the porch area. “Is this the cabin Jesse stayed in?” she asked in a hushed tone.
“It fits the description,” Pat smiled. She couldn’t believe their luck in finding the cabin so quickly. “Edge of the mountain, fantastic view, porch over the mine opening and a rock wall. My guess would be this is the cabin,” she smiled at Sherry.
“That would mean Jesse stood right here,” Sherry looked down at her feet as if she expected to see the frontier woman’s boot prints beside her own.
“I know,” Pat nodded. “Awesome, isn’t it?”
“I’m not sure awesome even begins to describe my feelings right now,” Sherry looked up. She was grinning from ear to ear, “but it is definitely an amazing feeling. Can we go inside?”
Pat stepped to the doorway and peered in. “Better not,” she said, disappointed to see the unsafe conditions that would prevent them from entering the cabin. “But you can look in if you want,” she said, moving to one side of the door-less opening to give Sherry room to stand beside her.
“Not very big is it?” Sherry asked as she poked her head into the cabin.
“Bigger than most,” Pat draped her arm over Sherry’s back, hugging her close. “This one had two rooms.”
Sherry straightened, leaning against Pat. “I can’t believe we’re here in the same place that Jesse and Jennifer once stood. It makes me feel so much closer to them. You know what I mean?” she asked looking at Pat.
“Yeah,” Pat smiled. “I think I do. Come on, let’s see what else we can find.”
“Okay, but,” Sherry raised the camera back up to her face to focus. “Let me get a couple of pictures first.”
The women spent the next couple of hours wandering around the remnants of Coloma. After exploring several more cabins, they located a row of stores including one with what was left of a platform for the unloading of freight wagons. They walked the route of the stage road as it led out of town until the forest reclaimed it and blocked them from continuing.
“Ready to go see Garnet?” Pat asked as they walked back toward town.
“Yes,” Sherry nodded. “Is Garnet in the same condition of Coloma?”
“What’s left of it is actually in better shape. A few of the commercial buildings are still standing and there’s a three story hotel you can go into.”
“I can’t wait,” Sherry said excitedly. “Ghost town-ing is fun.”
“I always thought so,” Pat grinned.
“Why are we stopping?” Sherry asked as Pat parked at the bottom of a short incline.
“See those ruins up there in the trees?” she asked pointed up to the top of the hill. “That was the stage stop between Garnet and Coloma.”
“Oh,” Sherry said pushing the truck’s door open. She dropped to the ground and starting walking up to the ruins before Pat was able to shut off the truck’s engine.
“You could wait for me,” Pat shouted after her lover.
“Hurry up, slow poke,” Sherry turned around to shout back as she continued walking backwards uphill. She watched Pat exit the truck and start after her. “It’s not my fault you’re taking so long.”
“Be nice,” Pat smirked catching up with Sherry. “Or I’ll leave you here and do the rest of my ghost town-ing alone.”
“Okay, I’ll be nice.”
“So where is Garnet?” Sherry asked as Pat pulled into a parking area. She looked around and saw only the beginnings of a walking trail and some informational signs.
“At the end of that trail. We have to walk to it.”
“Okay,” Sherry said, climbing out of the truck.
“Wait,” Pat stopped her lover. “I want to re-read what Charley said about Granite. I think we may be able to find a couple of specific buildings he wrote about.”
“I thought you said the hotel was still here?” Sherry remembered that Charley had written about his mother’s dislike at having to spend a night or two in the noisy hotel.
“It is,” Pat reached into the back of the cab to retrieve the journal off the back seat. “But he mentioned a cabin Jesse would stay in sometimes.”
“That’s right. I forgot about that,” Sherry climbed back into her seat, twisting around to look at Pat while she read.
“I’ll always remember the way Mommy said she liked to stay in the cabin whenever she was in Garnet. She said that she knew Momma was looking after her during the nights she spent in it. Unlike the hotel where she sometimes stayed, lying on a cot squeezed into a room on the top floor of the noisy hotel. Several other cots occupied the same room and almost always all the cots would be full of snoring miners and drunk businessmen. But the cabin was different she would say. It was quiet and she could sense Momma’s love surrounding her.
“Many years after Garnet was no longer a booming mining camp, Mommy brought us here so we could see the town. Momma asked her if the cabin was still standing. Mommy smiled and said it was. I asked Mommy how she knew since there were so many cabins and they all looked alike to me. She ruffled my hair and told me it was the only one with Momma’s star protecting it.
“Sis and I set off to find the cabin and the star. And sure enough, on one of the cabins that sat up the hill from the main street we found one with a star on the end of one of the logs that formed the cabin’s wall. Momma cried when she saw it and Mommy held her for a long time after that. That night we all stayed in the cabin surrounded by the love of both my mothers while we slept.”
“What do you think he meant by a star on the end of one of the logs?”
“I’m not sure. I supposed it could have been drawn or painted on. Or some natural marking that looked like a star. I guess we’ll just have to see if we can find anything like it.”
“Think we will?”
“My guess is it probably isn’t very likely. Most of the cabins are long gone, victims of a couple of fires that swept through the town while it was still occupied.”
“That’s too bad.”
“Yeah. But we’ll never know if we stay here,” Pat said as she opened the truck door. After climbing out, she reached back into the back seat to replace the journal and open the cooler they had packed before leaving home that morning. “Let’s grab some snacks and eat as we walk.”
“Good idea,” Sherry said, walking around the truck to join Pat. “I’m starving. Ghost town-ing must take a lot of energy.”
“It’s all the walking you do,” Pat explained as she pulled some apples out of the cooler. “You don’t realize how much you’re doing because you’re having too much fun to notice.”
“I’ll be right back,” Sherry patted Pat on the butt. “I’m going to use the restroom.” She started across the parking area to an outhouse conveniently placed for visitors.
“Okay,” Pat grinned. “I’ll meet you over there by the educational signs.”
“I thought it would be bigger,” Sherry said as she and Pat stood at the overlook above what remained of the town of Garnet.
The trail was an easy half mile walk through the pine forest to the overlook before dropping down into the town itself. The main street of Garnet stretched below them, the remaining commercial buildings lining one side and the hill behind dotted with miners’ cabins and other buildings.
“Use to be,” Pat said. “Before fire, the hard winters and destruction by people took their toll.”
“Is that the hotel?” Sherry asked, pointing to the end of the main street where a large three story wooden structure stood.
“Yes. Further up the street are the jail and the schoolhouse,” Pat told Sherry. “And beyond those, behind a locked gate, is one of the larger mines. Ready?” she asked as Sherry tucked her camera back into her shorts’ pocket.
“Lead on,” Sherry smiled.
From the overlook down to the main street, the trail was narrower, steeper and rockier but also shorter so it took only a few minutes for the couple to cover the distance. They walked up the street to the buildings that once housed a saloon and stores.
Sherry was fascinated by the general store. It was rectangular in shape with a counter running partially down one side. Tables were spread along the other side of the room holding items that had been found in and around the town. One table was covered with parts of shoes and boots, all of a size much smaller than her own. She wondered if people were that much shorter a century before or if the leather had shrunk over the years since the footwear had been worn.
At the rear of the store, a doorway led into a room substantially cooler than the store itself.
“This was their cold storage room,” Pat said as she walked into the rock walled room. “See that chute there,” she pointed out an opening in the rear wall. “That’s how they got the ice in here. Rumor has it that the storekeeper kept gold and valuables hidden in secret compartments in that wall too.”
“Really?” Sherry peered closely at the wall but could see little due to the lack of light that managed to make it into the windowless room. “It’s creepy in here,” she shivered, wrapping her arms around herself. “Feels like…”
“Like what?” Pat asked, smirking a little to herself. “Like someone is watching you?”
“Yeah,” Sherry quickly stepped back out of the cold room.
“Maybe it was a ghost,” Pat slipped up behind Sherry and whispered into her ear.
“Pat!” Sherry shrieked. “Don’t do that.”
Wrapping her arms around her perturbed lover, Pat tried to make amends for scaring her. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I was just trying to spook you a little.”
“Not funny, Pat. I did feel something in there.”
“Most likely it was just the cold,” Pat tightened her hold on her lover. “Garnet is rumored to be haunted and there are many stories about people seeing and hearing ghosts during their visits here. But I’ve never heard of any stories that involved a mean-spirited ghost. There wasn’t much bad that happened in Garnet. In fact, the jail never held an official prisoner, mostly just miners needing to sleep off a drunk. I think, if there are ghosts in Garnet, they probably come back because they had a good time here and want to re-experience it.”
Sherry turned in Pat’s arms, resting her head on Pat’s shoulder. “I’m not sure I believe in ghosts,” she murmured. “Have you ever seen one?”
“No,” Pat kissed the top of Sherry’s head. “And, even though I do believe they exist, I’d like to keep it that way. I think I’d freak out if I actually saw one.”
“Really?” Sherry looked at Pat, surprised by her statement.
“Oh yeah,” Pat grinned. “Especially if it was headless or just a shadow or you could see through it.”
“I definitely don’t think I’d be sticking around long if one came floating by,” Sherry shivered again as she considered the possibility.
Sherry walked through the front doors of the hotel. What had appeared to be a rather large building from the outside, shrunk considerably upon entering. She stopped to stand in the confined entry. Immediately inside the ornate glass and wood front doors were two more doors leading to a sitting room on the left and a small office on the right. Directly in front of her a narrow and steep stairway led to the second floor. An equally narrow hall led to the hotel’s dining room located in the center of the main floor and the kitchen at the opposite end of the floor.
“Boy, you couldn’t have much luggage and expect to carry it up those stairs,” Sherry said when Pat joined her. “I thought folks traveled with luggage trunks back in those days. You’d have a heck of a time carrying one of those upstairs.”
“Let me show you something,” Pat took Sherry’s hand and walked back out to the boardwalk in front of the hotel. “Look up there,” she pointed above their heads.
Sherry looked up. Above a doorway on the second floor, a beam stuck straight out from the building.
“There used to be a pulley on the end of that beam,” Pat explained. “The stage would pull right up under it and the trunks and other pieces of luggage would be lifted up to that door and pulled inside. The fancy guestrooms are on the second floor.”
Sherry twisted to get a better view of the front of the hotel. “Guess that would work,” she nodded. “I’d sure hate to be standing down here if they dropped a trunk though. Major ouch.”
“Let’s hope most people were smart enough not too,” Pat laughed, tugging Sherry back inside the hotel.
They walked down the hallway into the dining room, empty except for a table in one corner and four mismatched chairs placed around it. They continued back into the kitchen area.
“It’s almost as big as the dining room,” Sherry said as she wandered about the room examining the work area.
“It would have to be,” Pat followed. “Nothing came pre-prepared. It would all have to cooked and baked here. Think of the number of people that must have been served at each meal, the hotel guests, stage passengers, miners, business owners. Maybe even some of the town’s womenfolk. I bet the cooks worked round the clock to make sure there was enough food for them.”
“I wonder if this is what the kitchen at the Silver Slipper looked like. I can just imagine Bette Mae bustling about in here,” Sherry stood in front of the wood cook stove and looked over at Pat standing in front of a large basin most likely used to wash the dirty dishes and pots.
“It’s probably pretty much the same as the Silver Slipper. Want to see where the folks who could afford a room stayed?” When Sherry nodded, Pat reached for her hand and the couple walked out of the kitchen, back through the dining room to the stairway at the front of the building. She let Sherry mount the steps first.
“These are small rooms,” Sherry said, looking into the first guest room at the top of the steps.
A metal bed frame, its head and foot boards twisted from years of service, sat in one corner of the room but took up more than half the room. A well used trunk sat in another corner of the room and a once stylish upholstered chair occupied the third corner. Under the room’s only window, a rickety wooden table held a pitcher and wash bowl full of several decades’ worth of dirt and dust.
The walls of the room had once been covered with bright wallpaper but years of neglect and exposure to the sun had long ago destroyed the bright patterns on what remained. Most of the wallpaper was gone and what was left was streaked with dirty stains caused by rain dripping down from holes in the roof.
Sherry sighed, as she tried to imagine travelers spending a night in the now shabby looking room.
“At one time it was considered pretty fancy,” Pat stood behind Sherry wrapping her arms around her lover. “After a day of riding the stage as it bounced along dusty roads, you’d probably think this was a heavenly place to spend a night.”
“Maybe,” Sherry looked around the room once more. “But after a day of riding a dusty stage, I’d want a nice hot bath. Where’s the bathtub?”
“Downstairs, just off the kitchen but you’d have to wait your turn for the tub,” Pat informed her lover who was learning a lot about the old west. “And if you were lucky, you would get to take the first bath in the hot water.”
“You mean they shared the water?” Sherry looked aghast at the thought.
“It takes a lot of time to heat buckets of water,” Pat grinned. “And even more to carry those buckets from the closest water source. They didn’t just turn on the tap and hot water poured out.”
“Yuck,” Sherry grimaced. “Sharing bath water. Double yuck.”
“Hey,” Pat frowned. “We share bath water.”
“That’s not the same,” Sherry giggled. “We take our baths at the same time.”
“Yes, we do, don’t we?” Pat smirked.
“So where is the room Jesse stayed in?”
“Next floor up.”
The women walked down the narrow hall lined with identical guest rooms to an even smaller and steeper set of steps at the far end of the floor. After climbing up to the third floor they found themselves in a large open room.
The top floor of the hotel had undergone restoration work to repair the leaky roof and remove rotting wood. The floor was new and wooden strips had been nailed to the surface to show where the original walls had been. The room had been split into three areas, two side-by-side rooms for the cots where miners and travelers could sleep for much less than the cost of a guest room on the second floor and at the far end two smaller rooms for the hotel’s staff to stay until they could arrange for their own lodging in town.
“I can see why Jesse hated to have to stay here,” Pat said as she walked around the room. “With all the people staying on this floor and their comings and goings, it must have been too noisy to sleep most nights. And I don’t even want to think about how it must have smelled,” she wrinkled her nose at the thought.
“Thanks,” Sherry rubbed her own nose. “I could have done without that comment. But I agree. It’s easy to see why Jesse tried to stay with her friend whenever she was in Garnet. Let’s go see if that cabin is still here.”
Pat and Sherry were exploring the cabins on the hillside above Garnet’s main street. After leaving the hotel, they had walked as far up the road as they could before reaching the locked gate that kept the curious away from the decaying and unsafe mine structures. Along the way, they had visited the town’s jail and schoolhouse. Disappointed to find the latter locked up tight preventing them from going inside.
“It says this was one of the nicer homes in town,” Pat read off the brochure they had picked up at the old saloon that housed the town’s visitor center. “It even had a covered walkway from the house to the woodshed and outhouse out back.”
“Bet that was nice in the winter,” Sherry said, peering in one of the home’s windows to see another empty room. Except for the hotel and general store, none of the buildings in Garnet contained any reminders of the people who once lived and worked in them.
“I’m sure it was.”
Sherry pushed away from the home’s window and walked to the front of the house. Scanning the remaining buildings, she looked for any they hadn’t examined close up. “Let’s see, we’ve been to the stores, hotel, jail and schoolhouse. And I think we’ve looked at everything else. That’s the blacksmith shop,” she said pointed out buildings between where they stood and the hotel. “And that was a horse barn. We looked at those miner cabins,” she looked to her left where half a dozen small log buildings occupied space on the hill. “Guess that’s it.”
“Don’t forget the four-seater outhouse behind the hotel,” Pat laughed, remembering the face Sherry had made when she first looked inside the building to discover its function could be shared by so many at the same time.
“Don’t remind me,” Sherry scowled.
“Come on,” Pat chuckled. “You have to admit it must have made for some interesting conversations.”
“Ugh,” Sherry grunted as her eyes continued to scan the old buildings hoping to see one they had missed. “Hey, Pat?”
“We haven’t looked at that one, have we?” Sherry pointed to a cabin behind the stores.
“No, I don’t think so.”
Sherry started down the hill to the cabin. After taking a few steps, she came to an abrupt stop causing Pat to almost plow into the back of her.
“Hey, you could signal before you slam on the brakes like that,” Pat grumbled.
“Look,” Sherry said, excitedly. “Look, it’s a star.”
“On the corner of that cabin, see it?” Sherry started walking again, her steps quickening into a trot.
Pat hurried after her lover, unable to move as rapidly because of the slope of the hill and the knee brace she wore.
“This must be the cabin,” Sherry called to Pat as she dropped onto her knees beside the corner of the building.
“It sure looks like a star,” Pat leaned over Sherry, placing her hands on her lover’s shoulders as she peered at the marking. “It’s not painted is it?”
“No, it appears to be natural.”
“Major wow,” Sherry grinned, tilting her head back to look up at Pat.
Pat helped Sherry stand then the women entered the cabin. It wasn’t big, no more then ten by fifteen feet. The floor was dirt and, like the rest of the cabins, no furnishings adorned the bare room. A single window next to the door allowed light into the room.
“It’s a lot smaller than the cabin in Coloma,” Sherry said as she paced off the length of the room.
“Seems the miner that lived here didn’t need as much room,” Pat said. “He probably spent most of the days working for the company at the mine and only used it as a place to sleep.”
“I’m glad we found it,” Sherry said, walking back to stand beside Pat. “I think I know how Jennifer must have felt when she saw it for the first time.”
“Yeah,” Pat smiled, wrapping her arms around Sherry. “Me too.”
“I love you, Pat,” Sherry leaned into the embrace.
“I love you too, sweetheart.”
“It’s too bad we can’t stay in the cabin,” Sherry said as she and Pat walked down to the main street heading for the trail back to the parking area.
Pat saw the ranger come out of the visitor center, his day nearing its end. “Hang on a second,” Pat said. “I want to check something out with the ranger. I’ll be right back.”
Before Sherry could question her, Pat was hurrying across the street to the visitor center. She watched as Pat talked to the man, gesturing once toward her then up to the cabin they had recently left. After a few more minutes, she watched Pat shake hands with the ranger, a huge smile beaming across her face.
“Let’s get back to the truck,” Pat said as soon as she walked back to where Sherry was waiting.
“Going to tell me what that was all about?” Sherry asked as she allowed Pat to grab her hand and they began walking down the street to the trail.
“Yes, but not yet,” Pat said mysteriously.
Sherry was persistent in her attempts to entice Pat to give up her secret as the women walked back to the truck but her lover refused to reveal any information about her conversation with the ghost town’s ranger and caretaker.
As soon as they arrived at the parking area, Pat hopped into the truck and started the engine. She grinned at Sherry who was standing beside the driver’s door scratching her head and looking through the window at her. She pushed the button to roll down the window. “Get in,” she laughed.
“Not until you tell me what is going on.”
“The sooner you get in, the sooner you’ll know,” Pat teased as she put the truck into gear and released the parking brake.
Seeing she would have to comply to find out anything, Sherry reluctantly walked around the truck and climbed into the cab. As soon as she was seated, the truck began to move. She wasn’t too surprised when instead of leaving the parking area the same way they had arrived Pat guided the pickup down a different road. However, she was surprised when they drove back into town and parked at the end of the main street.
“How would you like to spend the night in Jesse’s cabin?” Pat asked after parking the truck.
“I’d love to but I didn’t think that was allowed,” Sherry looked at her lover, puzzled by the question.
“Normally, it isn’t,” Pat grinned. “But the ranger said he’d make an exception for us. He’s a big basketball fan,” she said. “So do you want to?”
“Pat, I haven’t a clue what is going on. Will you please explain what you have on your mind,” Sherry asked, more than a little perturbed with her smug lover.
“Alright,” Pat could tell she had kept her secret a little too long. “I’m sorry,” she said apologetically while placing a hand on Sherry’s knee and squeezing gently. “I noticed in the guide we got at the visitor center that the cabin was called the ‘Honeymoon’ cabin because the owner used to let newlyweds stay in it until they found a place of their own. So I asked the ranger if it would be possible for us to spend the night. He said that it wasn’t something he should do but because he knows us, he would turn a blind eye. But we have to be out by eight in the morning, that’s when he opens up the visitor center.”
“Pat, how can we stay in the cabin? There’s nothing in it but a dirt floor.”
“Not a problem,” Pat smiled. “I’ve got sleeping bags in the back. And a lantern and even a camp stove. But we shouldn’t need that because we brought enough sandwiches and snacks to get us through one night.”
“You carry camping equipment in here?” Sherry smirked. Her lover’s ability to be prepared for any situation never ceased to amaze her.
“Sure. You never know when you might want to sleep out under the stars. Are we staying?” she asked, biting her lip nervously.
“I’d like to stay,” Sherry smiled. She leaned across the seat to kiss Pat. “Thanks for asking the ranger to let us.”
“You’re welcome. But he really did it for you.”
“Yeah. He’s a big fan of yours and I promised him your autograph.”
“Small price to pay,” Sherry laughed. “So what do we need to do?”
“Let’s get the stuff out of the back and get it up to the cabin and set up. Then we can sit and watch the sun go down.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“Pat,” Sherry nudged the woman sleeping beside her. They had zipped the sleeping bags together to make one big enough for both of them. “Pat, wake up.”
“What?” Pat asked sleepily. “What’s wrong?”
“Do you hear something?” Sherry whispered. She had been awakened by unusual sounds and she was straining to identify them.
“All I hear is you,” Pat rolled onto her back.
“Listen,” Sherry hissed. “It sounds like….”
“Like what?” Pat yawned.
“You’re going to think I’m crazy but it sounds like a piano playing.”
Pat sat up. Listening intently, she identified the sound of a small animal rustling about outside the cabin and an owl hooting from its perch in a tree nearby. She was just about to tell Sherry she was hearing things when the tinny sound of a badly tuned piano being played reached her ears. “I hear it,” she whispered.
Sherry sat up, scooting closer to Pat and pressing against her. “Do you think it’s coming from the hotel?”
Pat wrapped her arms around her lover. “If it is, I’m not going down there to find out.”
As the women listened the music became loudly and more distinct. It was joined by the sound glassing clinking and men laughing. Occasionally, a woman’s voice could be heard with the others.
“I told you there were stories about Garnet being haunted,” Pat said nervously. She had read and enjoyed the stories but had never expected to encounter the ghosts first hand.
“Get up there, ya old nag,” a deep voice boomed and the sound of horses whinnying, leather slapping and wood creaking floating on the still night air. “Clear the way for the stage, ya lolli-gaggers.”
“Pat?” Sherry clung to her lover.
“I know,” Pat tightened her hold on Sherry. “It can’t be a real stage but it sure sounds like one.”
“Let’s get out of here,” Sherry said, but she wasn’t sure her legs were strong enough to carry her back to the truck if they attempted to leave.
“I have a better idea.”
“Let’s lay back down,” Pat said as she pulled Sherry down with her.
“What about them?” Sherry asked about the sounds coming from the town’s commercial area.
“They seem to be coming from the main street and hotel,” Pat inched down as far as she could to the bottom of the sleeping bag and Sherry followed. “I say we leave them to their business and they’ll leave us to ours.” She pulled the sleeping bag up over their heads, zipping them into the cocoon.
“How do we know they’ll leave us alone?”
“We’re in Jesse’s cabin,” Pat placed her cheek against Sherry’s, needing the comfort of their closeness. “Let’s hope Jennifer’s star will work for us too.”
“Let’s hope,” Sherry pressed as close to Pat as humanly possible. “What do we do in the meantime?”
“We could try to sleep.”
“Ain’t gonna happen,” Sherry said as the noises from town became louder.
The once quiet night was alive with the sounds of wagons and horses moving up and down the main street. And from the stores, saloons and hotel, it sounded like the town had suddenly been repopulated with hundreds of miners and businessmen.
“Then we hope for daylight. And soon.”
“I’m with you there.”
To be continued in the next episode of Ghost Town-ing
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Pat and Sherry visit in these stories
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