Luke and his sister Jenny are mysteriously swept back in time. What begins as a normal family vacation to historic Tombstone, Arizona, suddenly changes when they find themselves face-to-face with Wyatt Earp and others at the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral. A true story presented in a fascinating tale.
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Luke and Jenny Books
Chapter Two: The Ghosts of Tombstone
After lunch, Luke, Jenny, and their mother strolled the streets of Tombstone. Soon they came upon an old, pink building with arched doorways. It was called the Bird Cage Theater. Luke noticed a sign posted on the sidewalk in front of the theater that read, “Curly Bill Brocius shot Marshal Fred White here on October 28, 1880.”
“What’s up with that?” he asked. When no one answered, he turned around and realized that his mother and sister had already gone inside. He quickly followed and stepped into what must have been the theater lobby. It was a narrow room with an ornately carved wooden bar in front of a large mirror at one end. The room was filled with t-shirts and books for sale. At the other end stood several old clocks and a large painting of a woman wearing what looked like a pair of pajamas. He looked back toward the bar and noticed a blond man with kind blue eyes standing behind it.
The man looked at Luke and said, “Welcome to the Bird Cage Theater, folks. Would you like to see the museum?”
“How much is it?” asked his mother.
While she talked to the man, Luke noticed a strange smell. He wrinkled his nose. Then he saw that Jenny had noticed it, too.
“This building must be really old,” she said. “It smells musty. Sometimes old buildings get a musty smell to them.”
Luke decided he didn’t like the smell of old buildings. He walked up to the bar and stood next to his mother, then smelled something else. Cigar smoke. “Was someone just smoking a cigar in here?” he asked.
The man shook his head and smiled. “No, sir,” he said, “It’s just them.”
“Who are they?” asked Luke.
“Why the ghosts. Did you know that the Bird Cage Theater is one of the most haunted buildings in America?” asked the man.
Luke and Jenny shook their heads.
“Back in the 1880s, this building was a saloon and gambling hall as well as a theater, and at that time the men smoked cigars. But a lot of murders happened in this place. That’s why it’s so haunted. Sometimes, when the ghosts are around, you can smell cigar smoke or lilac perfume. That’s the kind of perfume the ladies who worked here wore. Lots of strange things happen here at the Birdcage. Some folks say that when you walk past here at night, after everything has closed, you can hear piano music and laughter coming out of this building.”
Luke’s eyes widened. More ghosts.
The man went on to tell them that in the 1880s the wall that separated the bar from the stage was not there, and that the woman in the painting had been one of the many performers at the Bird Cage Theater. She went by the names Fatima and Little Egypt, and she had been a famous belly dancer. He explained that belly dancing had been a popular form of entertainment back then, and that Fatima had thought so much of the people of Tombstone that she had the painting made just for them and had given it to the town as a gift. Then he pointed out some bullet holes in the painting, as well as one in the bar, and told them that a lot of guns had been fired inside the Bird Cage back in its Wild West days.
“Let’s go inside and have a look at the museum,” said their mother.
The man came around from the bar and opened a door. This led into a big, dimly lit room where they saw the old stage with an old piano in front of it. This had been the rest of the original theater. Now it was a museum, filled with antiques.
Jenny grabbed Luke by the arm. “Look Luke! Up there!” She pointed to one of the theater boxes above them. “A ghost is sitting right there, and he’s watching you!” Then she started to laugh.
Luke looked up to see the old theater’s box seats, and indeed, a man was sitting in one of the boxes looking at him. His jaw dropped. He noticed that the wooden ceiling was dotted with bullet holes. He knew then that the Wild West really had been wild, just like in the movies. Only this was all too real. No wonder the place was so creepy.
“Jenny you stop that this instant!” her mother scolded. “That’s no ghost. That’s just a dummy—part of the display. They put it there to show you what the people coming to the theater would have worn back then. There’s no such thing as ghosts. The people around here just like to tell stories. Now let’s look around the museum. We can see some of the things that people really used back then.”
Luke sighed in relief. As they looked around the museum, Jenny took her camera out again. “Let’s have some fun, Luke,” she whispered, not wanting their mother to hear. “I’m going to take a picture of the dummy in the box, and we can email it to Dad tonight and tell him it’s a real ghost. Don’t you think he’d get a kick out of it?” Luke snickered under his breath as he looked back at her and nodded. If their father couldn’t be there with them, maybe they could play a little joke on him. As long as they meant no harm and admitted it in the end, it would be okay. Everyone in the family had a good sense of humor.
After Jenny took her picture, they walked around the building for a while longer, taking in relics from the past: from beautifully carved wooden desks to rusted metal kitchen utensils, and old photos of people who had once performed in the Birdcage and of people who had lived in Tombstone long ago. Backstage, they saw a horse-drawn hearse. Then they went down a narrow flight of steps into a small poker room. As they looked at the poker table their mother said, “It looks like everyone just got up and left in the middle of a card game.”
The longer they spent looking around the old theater, the more Luke got an uneasy feeling. From the moment he came in, he felt as if he was being watched, and a couple of times he thought he saw someone moving past him. But every time he looked around, he saw that no one else was in the room except for him, his mother, and his sister. He noticed, too, that in a few places the air felt very cold. He even felt a couple of cold breezes blow across his face and arms, but he decided not to mention it. He did not want to take the chance of upsetting his mother again. When they finally left the building, Luke breathed a sigh of relief.
Back on the boardwalk, Jenny stopped to look at the picture she had taken. “That’s strange,” she said. “Luke, look at this.”
Luke looked at the image on the back of Jenny’s camera and saw the top of the theater box, but the display of the man sitting in it was covered by some strange fog. It was something they had not seen when Jenny took the picture.
“Luke, do you think that building really is haunted?” she asked.
“That’s enough, Jenny!” scolded their mother. Not only was she becoming very annoyed, she was beginning to worry that with all the ghost stories the children were hearing, they might not be able to sleep that night. “Let me have a look at that, please.”
She took Jenny’s camera and looked at the photo. She shook the puzzled look off her face and shrugged her shoulders, “That probably happened because it was so dark that your camera didn’t work right, Jenny. Either that box was up too high for you to get a good shot, or the flash reflected some dust in the air, but it most certainly is not a ghost.” She handed the camera back to Jenny and decided to get the children’s minds off of ghosts, once and for all. “So, who wants ice cream?” she asked.
“We do!” replied Luke and Jenny together.
They soon found a little shop where their mother bought ice cream cones for them and a fancy iced coffee drink for herself. Jenny got strawberry ice cream, while Luke got chocolate. They sat down on one of many the benches on the boardwalk to finish their treats. Then their mother told them, “You two stay right here and eat the rest of your ice cream. I want to look around the stores for a few minutes and find something for your dad and for Grandma and Grandpa. I won’t be but a few minutes, and then we’ll go. Will you two be okay?”
“Sure Mom, we’ll be fine,” said Jenny. “You said I’m almost old enough to baby-sit, remember?”
“Indeed, I did. So you look after your brother, and I’ll be back in a flash.”
As they watched their mother walk down the boardwalk, Luke pulled his Game Boy out from his backpack. He noticed a sudden chill in the air. “Brrrr!” he said. He looked over at Jenny. She had goosebumps on her arms. “Are you cold, too, Jenny?” he asked.
“Uh huh,” she replied. “That ice cream must have been really cold.”
“Yeah,” said Luke, “but it was really good.” He turned on the Game Boy and had just started playing when it died.
“It’s busted!” he exclaimed.
“Here, let me see it,” said Jenny as she grabbed it away from him. “That’s weird. You recharged the battery, didn’t you?”
“Duh,” replied Luke.
She fiddled around some more. “You’re right. It’s completely dead. You must have forgotten to shut it off, and now you’ve run down the battery.”
“No way!” exclaimed Luke.
“Well, then you managed to break it. And Mom is going to get pretty mad at you!”
Before Luke could reply, a voice said, “What seems to be the trouble?”
Luke and Jenny looked up to see a rugged looking man with a graying mustache looking down at them. He was wearing the strangest looking old clothes that either Luke or Jenny had ever seen. His well-worn pants were dark brown and baggy. They looked like they were made out of wool, and they were held up by worn leather suspenders. He wore a red shirt and on his head was a beat up, brown felt hat with a flat rim.
“My Game Boy won’t work,” said Luke.
“Your what?” asked the man.
“My Game...” but before he could finish his sentence, Jenny interrupted.
“Everything’s fine. Thank you for asking. But we’re not supposed to talk to strangers.”
“I’m not a stranger,” said man. “I was standing right next to you in Big Nose Kate’s. I heard that guy who pretends to be Virgil Earp tell you about me. When you heard my name, you said it sounded like a monster.”
“I didn’t see you in there,” said Luke. “Besides, how do you know that man wasn’t Virgil Earp? And how would you know what he said to me? Like my sister just told you, you’re a stranger and we don’t talk to strangers.”
The man laughed, “That man who works in there is pretty good, and we all like him because he keeps our memories alive for folks like you who come and visit Tombstone. But he’s no Virgil Earp. I knew the real Virgil Earp. You see, I’m the Swamper.”
Jenny spoke up, “I get it. You’re another actor, only you’re pretending to be the Swamper.” But something about that man just wasn’t quite right and she was getting nervous. She stood up and handed the Game Boy back to Luke. “Put this back in your backpack,” she whispered to him. While Luke did as he was told, she looked around for a policeman, their mother, or anyone else who could help them. While she was looking, she noticed that none of the other tourists walking by seemed to notice this strange man who was talking to them.
“No, young lady. I’m not an actor,” said the man. “I really am the Swamper. And I really did live downstairs at the Grand Hotel. Oh what a grand and beautiful place it was! Today it’s called Big Nose Kate’s.”
Luke and Jenny looked closer at the man. Then they both saw something else that was very strange about him. He had a faint white, misty glow around him, and they could see through him. They looked at each other as shivers ran up their spines! “Luke,” whispered Jenny, “are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Yep,” whispered her brother back, “I think the man is a ghost.”
The Swamper knew the children were getting frightened, so he said, “Actually, I prefer to think of myself as a spirit person. It has a nicer ring to it, don’t you think? The word ‘ghost’ sounds too much like Halloween.” Luke and Jenny were still too surprised to speak. Then he said, “Oh don’t worry. I’m a very friendly spirit person. In fact, I’m not that different from when I was flesh and blood. It’s just that nowadays most people can’t see me. Sometimes that makes me feel pretty lonely. So while I was watching you in Big Nose Kate’s, I got the feeling that you two were sad about something, and I thought maybe I could help.”
Finally Luke spoke up. “We were supposed to go to Disneyland this year for our vacation. Then our dad got sent to Iraq. He’s in the Army, and we really miss him.”
“You don’t say,” said the Swamper. He scratched his chin as if he were deep in thought and said, “I know about serving in the Army. In my day, we lived through the Civil War. And when I was young it seemed liked everyone’s father, or uncle, or older brother went off to fight. It was a sad, sad time.”
“Well, Disneyland is like this magic place,” said Luke, wanting to change the subject, “and they have all kinds of adventure rides there. I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but it’s a lot more exciting than this place.”
“I bet you’re right,” said the Swamper. “Tombstone is pretty dull these days. But in my time it was different. Why back then, Tombstone was the biggest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. You know, at one point nearly 10,000 people lived here. And it was wild—oh it was wild. You saw all those bullet holes in the ceiling at the Bird Cage Theater, didn’t you?” Luke and Jenny nodded. “Well, that should give you a clue as to how wild this place once was.” He paused, “Hey! I’ve got an idea! You say you want an adventure? I could take you on an adventure you’ll never forget! How would you like to travel back to my time and see what Tombstone was really like?”
Jenny spoke up, “That sounds really nice, but our mom is going to be back any second now, and then we’ll leave.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” said the Swamper. “I’ll have you right back here in this very spot so fast nobody will even notice that you were gone.”
Luke and Jenny saw a bright flash that looked like lightning. All the buildings suddenly looked very, very different.