Luke and his sister Jenny travel back in time once again as they follow in the footsteps of the notorious James-Younger outlaw gang.
A Ghost in the Cornfield
This was to be their last night at Great Grandmother Katie’s house. Luke and Jenny wanted to do something special. They wanted to camp out in the barn. Their uncle Carl had told them stories about all the animals he and his sisters and baby brother had raised on their farm when they were youngsters. Back then there had been horses and ponies, dairy cows, pigs and chickens. But those days were long gone. The only animals left on the farm now were Rufus, Aunt Vickie’s sheepdog, and a few outdoor cats. The barn was now being used for storing some of the large pieces of equipment belonging to the company leasing the farm, and the only animals living in it were field mice. Their mother had made it quite clear that she thought it was much too dangerous for them to sleep out in the barn. Luke and Jenny were disappointed, but when Great Grandmother Katie suggested they could camp out on the screened-in back porch instead their mother agreed.
As she settled into her sleeping bag, Jenny reached into her backpack for her journal and began writing. Luke, as usual, was playing with his Game Boy as he settled into his sleeping bag. They could hear the grown-ups inside the house playing cards. It was a pleasant ending to a pleasant day.
“Jenny, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure, Luke, what is it?”
“How come you like to write in your journal?”
“I just like to write about stuff.” She paused for a moment. “You know, I’ve been thinking. I think I’d like to be a reporter when I grow up. I’d like to work for one of those travel magazines. Then I can travel all over the world and write about all the things I see.”
“Have you been writing anything in your journal about what happened to us in Tombstone and in Lincoln? When we met the Swamper and Paul and when they took us back in time?”
“No, Luke, I haven’t.”
Jenny thought carefully before she answered her brother’s question.
“Because we have to be careful, Luke. It’s like Paul told us. We have a gift. We can see things that most people can’t.”
She paused for a moment and looked over at her brother.
“Why all the questions?”
“Because something’s been bothering me.”
“I feel like we’re being secretive by not telling Mom about it.”
“I know what you mean, Luke. But even if we tried to tell her about it she’d never believe us. She’d probably say we were making it all up.”
“Yeah! And then maybe she’d ground us. And I don’t think it’s right that we should get grounded when we haven’t done anything wrong.”
“I know. I’ve been thinking about that too. And if we really were doing something wrong then yes, we’d also be in the wrong for keeping it from her.”
“But if we did tell her, she might think we’re nutty, like Aunt Tina.”
Aunt Tina was their father’s younger sister. She was an astrologer and the assistant manager of a new age bookstore in Tucson. Aunt Tina had always been kind to Luke and Jenny, and they were fond of her too. But they also knew their mother didn’t approve of her. And while she knew it would be wrong to discourage her children from having a good relationship with their aunt, she had told them that she thought Aunt Tina’s beliefs were nonsense.
“You know, Luke, while we were in Dallas, I had an instant messenger chat with Aunt Tina about it.”
“Really? What did she say? Did she believe you?”
“Of course she believed me. She’s a psychic, you know. She says sometimes she sees spirit people too. But she also warned me that we should be discreet about it. Otherwise people might think we’re crazy.”
“That’s messed up,” said Luke. “People shouldn’t think you’re crazy just because you can do things they can’t.”
“I know. But that’s what Aunt Tina said. She says there are a lot of skeptics out there, just like Mom. Only she says that some of them can be very, very mean just because you happen to believe in things that they don’t. But she also said we can talk to her about it anytime we want to.”
Luke went back to his Game Boy while Jenny went back to writing in her journal. A few minutes later their uncle Carl came out on the porch.
“Okay, you guys, it’s time for lights out.”
Both Luke and Jenny groaned in protest, but their great uncle reminded them they had a big day ahead of them tomorrow. Their mother was going to take them to the James Farm before they started home.
“Are you two going to be warm enough?” he asked. “Sometimes it can get pretty cool out here at night.”
“We’re fine,” answered Jenny. “We’re both sleeping in our sweats, and Aunt Vickie brought us some extra blankets just in case we need them.”
“Then it looks like you guys are okay. Have a good night.”
He turned off the light and told them their mother would be coming out in a little while to check on them. As they listened to him going back into the house their eyes adjusted to the darkness. They noticed the full moon lighting the night sky.
“What is it now, Luke?”
“I thought I saw someone walking around in the cornfield.”
Jenny rolled over on her stomach and propped her head on her elbows. She stared into the cornfield.
“Shhh! Keep your voice down,” she whispered back at her brother. “Do you want the whole world to hear you?”
She studied the cornfield again.
“You’re right, Luke. There’s something moving around in the cornfield. It’s probably Rufus.”
“I think Rufus is in the house with the grown-ups,” replied Luke.
He paused and thought it over for a minute.
“I guess it must be one of the cats.”
“Whatever, Luke. I’m tired. I want to go to sleep.”
Luke settled back in his sleeping bag. Moments later he and Jenny began to doze off.
* * *
Luke and Jenny suddenly woke up after hearing a loud banging noise. They both sat up and looked around.
“Jenny,” whispered Luke, “did Mom just come in here to check on us?”
They listened closely for a few moments. Then they heard the sound of the grandfather clock chiming inside the house. It struck three times. They realized the grown-ups would all be in bed by now.
“No, it definitely wasn’t Mom,” she whispered back, not wanting her little brother to worry. “Uncle Carl says there’s a lot of raccoons around here. I’ll bet that’s what it was.”
Luke thought it over for a moment. Then he began to shake his head.
“Whoops! I’m terribly sorry. I—”
“No, I don’t think it’s a raccoon,” interrupted Luke. “I think it’s something else. Maybe it’s the door to the grain silo.”
“No, I don’t think so” replied Jenny. “The grain silo’s too far away from the house for us to have heard a noise that loud. Whatever it was, it was a lot closer. Maybe one of the cats knocked something over.”
Luke stood up and put on his flip flops on.
“What are you’re doing?” asked Jenny.
“If it was one of the cats then I’m going outside to see what it was.”
“Are you crazy?” hissed Jenny. “It’s three o’clock in the morning Luke. And you’re not going out there! What if you wake Mom up?”
Luke ignored his sister and headed towards the screen door. Jenny groaned as she got on her feet and put her flip flops on.
“Maybe if you keep your voice down you won’t wake Mom up,” whispered Luke as Jenny joined him at the door.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she whispered back at her brother.
“Didn’t you just say ‘whoops?’ Maybe you’re the one who knocked something over.”
“No, I didn’t just say ‘whoops,’” replied Jenny. “And I didn’t knock anything over. I think you’re the one who said ‘whoops’ and you’re trying to pin it on me.”
“I never said ‘whoops,’” Luke argued back.
Luke and Jenny stopped and looked at one another for a moment. Finally Luke spoke up.
“Well,” he whispered. “If you didn’t say ‘whoops,’ and if I didn’t say ‘whoops,’ then who did?”
Luke and Jenny nervously turned around and saw a young woman standing on the porch with them. She looked like she was about eighteen years old. She was slender with long dark brown hair the same color as Luke’s. She wore a long blue dress with white lace trim and a little red and black hat. It looked much like the outfits they’d seen the women in Tombstone wearing back in the 1880s. She also had the same eerie white glow about her that Paul and the Swamper had. They realized she was a spirit person.
“I confess,” she said as she raised her hands into the air. “I’m the one who said ‘whoops.’ And I’m terribly sorry. I must have knocked something over.”
Luke and Jenny stood silent for a moment. Finally Jenny spoke up.
“So who are you? And what are you doing on my great grandmother’s back porch?”
“Now where are my manners,” she said as she stepped closer. “I should introduce myself. My name is Kate. I used to live around these parts back when Frank and Jesse James lived here.”
“You knew the James brothers?” asked Luke. “What were they like?”
“Well, I didn’t know them personally, but I certainly knew them by reputation. I overheard you talking about them during your picnic, so I decided to wait out in the cornfield until everyone else went to sleep. I’ve heard all about your adventures traveling back in time, so I thought I’d come and offer to take you two back to the past so you can see Frank and Jesse for yourselves.”
“Word must travel fast among you spirit people,” said Jenny,
Kate laughed. There was a light, almost lyrical sound to her laughter.
Then, as had happened before, a strange flash of light streaked across the sky. And the next thing they knew, Luke and Jenny were once again back in time.