“Now, boys, take yourself back to the year 1874, to a winter so cold and harsh no sane man would venture out past the campfire. We was there in Chief Ouray’s camp, all debatin’ ’bout whether to head east toward Denver and the gold of the Rockies.”
“Wait a minute,” said Fox. “You weren’t there. That’s too many years ago.”
“Oh, but I were,” said Al. “Indeed, I were. See boys, I’m a ghost.”
“Good try, old man.” Fox stood up. “But ghosts don’t form people shapes like in the movies, and ghosts don’t smell. No offense, but a skunk has a better odor than you.”
The old man looked hard at Fox. He might lose this one, lose another chance at redemption. He decided honesty was his best tool right then. “Yep, I smell. I smell from the fires of hell, from the brimstone. Believe me, you wouldn’t want my smell attached to you.” A long, eerie wail bubbled up from Al’s chest and swept west over the graveyard, off toward the mountains, too dark to see at this time of night. The sound danced on the wind and was shrill enough for a coyote somewhere to respond in that same, lonely, hollow whistle, that could chill the warmest of spirits.
“That noise is as creepy as your laugh,” said the Alien kid. “Do it again.” He giggled and edged closer to Al.
“If I can catch a kid and scare ‘im straight, I earn a step out of hell,” said Al. “So sit down, both of you and listen.” His voice, now full of quiet fury, must have hit a note with the boys. Alien boy stiffened and sat up straighter, eyes wide. Fox shrugged a skeptical shoulder and sat on Al’s other side again.
“Now where was I? Oh, yeah, the tent in Ouray’s camp.” Al told the tale of gold fever that ran rampant through the white men, and the wariness of the Native Americans. He told the boys about the decision to go off, even in the midst of a winter storm; of the deaths of his five companions.
“What made you eat them?” said Alien kid, engrossed as any pre-teen might be.
“I blame it on the cold, on the dead of winter. But mostly, boy, I blame it on that axe.”
“Axe?” said Fox.
“There was an axe at Ouray’s camp. We weren’t ‘sposed to touch it on account of it havin’ what they called “bad spirits.” But the gold fever was stronger in Frank Miller than the fear of some bewitched axe. Said that axe would come in handy on our travels. He stole it, God help him. He stole it, an’ he used it to kill our buddies out in the wild. When he come for me, I grabbed that axe–oh I wish to God I hadn’t–but I grabbed it, and I made it work for me.” His creepy laugh rang out across the Halloween night.
“I smashed Frank with that axe. Split his head like a over-ripe watermelon on a Sunday picnic near the river. Pop! That head burst with all the blood and guts a man could tolerate in a lifetime. Worse than lookin’ at all the bodies I saw in the Civil war. Squish and slime and the eyes–oh those eyes just poppin’ out of their sockets, juicy, warm and ripe. I et them first.”
“Eew,” said the Alien. “How could you?”
“I was hungry boys, with a hunger so deep and frigid it twernt natural. Sure, we’d had slim pickin’s for days, but my hunger came the minute I touched that axe. Hunger and cold past through my body and settled into my soul.” Another long wail. This time the boys didn’t bother to interrupt. “Now I wander the earth, and hope to scare nice boys like you to travel the straight and narrow road of life.”
Fox’s voice dropped to a whisper. “What happened to the axe?”
“Why, I have it shackled to me, a reminder to all to obey the Injun spirit men.” He reached down and pulled upan old wooden axe. It was indeed chained to the old man’s leg. The axe’s head caught on moonlight and glinted. Al made a move to put the axe away.
“Wait,” cried Fox. “We haven’t had a chance to see it.” He reached out for the axe. Al pulled it back, but the Alien kid reached from the other side.
Just then, a car pulled to the side of the road in front of the boys. The driver didn’t acknowledge Al’s presence at all. She simply yelled through the open window:
“Eric David Harris, you get your butt in this car. Do you know what time it is? You were supposed to be home an hour ago. Come on Dylan. Your mom’s been calling our house to look for you. You both are in such trouble!”
“Bye Al,” said Fox-now-Eric. “Been real nice meeting you.” He stroked the axe and smiled.
“Thanks for all the creepy tips,” added Dylan Klebold, mimicking Eric’s move.
The boys looked at each other and laughed. It was Al’s own hauntingly familiar laugh. He shook his head sadly, knowing his step out of hell had failed. Then he felt a chill to his very soul.