Lincoln, New Mexico
Luke looked up from his tablet when he felt the car slowing down. They were turning off the main highway onto another road. They drove a little while longer and soon made their way into a tiny town with just one road going though it.
"This can't be Lincoln," said Luke, suddenly disappointed. The quaint little town didn't look like anything he'd ever seen in a western movie or on a TV show.
"It's Lincoln," replied his mother.
She drove past most of the buildings, finally stopping to park along the side of the road just across the street from the only two-story building. As they got out of their car she noticed a few puddles along the side of the road.
"It must have rained here last night," she said. "So let's watch our steps and try to keep out of the mud."
Luke and Jenny put on their backpacks while their mother locked the car. Then they crossed the road and entered the two-story building. It was called the Lincoln County Courthouse. Once inside a lady park ranger, seated behind a desk, greeted them.
"Welcome to Lincoln, folks. Would you like to see some of the historic museums?"
"Yes ma'am," replied Ellen. "How much is it?"
While she bought tickets Luke and Jenny looked around. "This sure doesn't look anything like Tombstone," said Luke to his sister.
"You're right about that, son," said the ranger. "That's because Tombstone was a big city, at least by Old West standards. And it was a mining town; Lincoln wasn't. It started out as a little Mexican settlement called La Placita del Rio Bonito."
She went on to explain that back in the 1870s and 1880s, Lincoln County covered all of southeastern New Mexico but not many folks lived there. Those who did were mostly farmers or ranchers, and Lincoln was a little community that also served as the county seat. She went on to say that the building they were standing in used to be the Murphy Store. It had also been called The House and later on it was known as the Dolan Store. She handed Ellen a map, took out her pen and circled some of the sites they might want to look at.
"There's the Tunstall Store, here's where the McSween house stood, and over there are their graves. And at the other end of the road there's the Anderson-Freeman Museum."
After thanking the ranger they looked at the exhibits in the next room. A number of old photographs and historic artifacts were on display. Then, at the end of the staircase, they discovered a hole in the wall covered by a piece of Plexiglas.
"I wonder what that is?" asked Jenny.
Another tourist standing at the top of the stairs overheard her. "Legend has it that hole's from the bullet fired by Billy the Kid when he killed Deputy Bell. They were going to hang him so he shot the deputy while making his escape."
"Cool," exclaimed Luke.
They made their way to the top of the landing. There they found the gray-haired tourist wearing a navy polo shirt and blue shorts.
"Then what happened?" asked Luke.
"Well," replied the man as he pointed to one of the windows, "if you look over there, in that corner--that's the window he ran to and shot Bob Olinger from after he shot Deputy Bell."
"Did he escape?" asked Luke.
"He sure did. But then later on Pat Garrett gunned him down in Pete Maxwell's bedroom. Or so they say." The man's friends came over to join him. "You folks have a good day," he said with a tip of his hat.
Luke watched them head down the stairs and couldn't help but imagine Billy the Kid shooting Deputy Bell on this very staircase. His sister soon interrupted his daydream.
"Are you coming, Luke?"
He caught up with his mother and sister at the window the man had pointed out. They gazed at the street below, and then turned to look around the courtroom. Afterwards they wandered to the other end of the building and found a room that had been used as a Masonic Lodge. Small rows of wooden chairs sat next to what looked like altars. On the walls hung paintings of famous men, such as George Washington, who had been Freemasons. A plaque on the wall explained that Murphy had also been a Freemason and that he had put the Lodge above his store.
"What's a Freemason?" asked Luke.
"It means he was a member of a secret society," explained his mother. "I don't know a whole lot about the Masons because they're such a secretive group."
"How come they're so secretive?" asked Luke. "Is it because they're doing something wrong and they don't want us to know about it?"
"I doubt they're doing anything bad. Your grandpa is a Freemason and they do a lot of good things for their community. I don't know why they're so secretive, but they probably get a big laugh out of watching the rest of us wondering what they're up to."
A few minutes later they went down the stairs and stepped outside. There they found plaques marking where both Deputy Bell and Bob Olinger had died after being shot by Billy the Kid.
From the courthouse they walked down the road to the Tunstall Store. It was a typical nineteenth century general store. Inside were three counters, two of which came together to form an L-shape. While their mother showed their tickets to another park ranger Luke and Jenny looked around. Old merchandise filled the shelves behind the counters; everything from antique shoes and clothes to dusty coffee cans and hardware. It all looked as if it had been there for a very long time.
"How could you go shopping when everything was behind the counter?" asked Jenny.
"People shopped differently back then," explained the ranger. "The clerk stood behind the counter. You came in, told him what you needed, then he went back and got it for you. It was simple really."
"Yeah, but it wouldn't have been that much fun."
Jenny's mother pointed out a nearby plaque. "According to this it was the murder of this store's owner, John Tunstall, that started the Lincoln County War. Interesting.
Let's go see what else is around here."
They thanked the ranger and went outside to look at the vacant lot next door. This was where the McSween house had once stood. Ellen showed the children another plaque that explained that Alexander McSween had been gunned down there by the local authorities and that they had also burned down his home.
"Geez," said Luke. "That's a bit harsh. What could he have done that was so bad?"
They spotted two graves behind the Tunstall Store and walked over to get a closer look. One grave was John Tunstall's, the other Alexander McSween's. Ellen read the dates on the headstones.
"They were both such young men when they died. That's really sad."
Luke, Jenny and their mother looked at more of the sites, including a big, round fortress-like tower. It was called the Torreon and it stood near the Tunstall Store. They were working their way toward the Anderson-Freeman Museum when Luke and Jenny started getting bored. Lincoln was a very quiet place compared to Tombstone. It didn't have all the little shops and restaurants or people walking around in western clothes like in Tombstone. And Lincoln wasn't as high up in the mountains as Ruidoso, so it was beginning to get hot.
The Anderson-Freeman Museum was also filled with many historic photographs and antiques. They even saw some letters written by Billy the Kid himself. But after a few minutes Luke became restless once again.
"I think I would have rather watched a movie about Billy the Kid," he whispered to his sister. Jenny nodded her head in agreement.
Luke spoke up. "Are we going to be here much longer?"
His mother looked at her watch. "You're right, Luke. It's later than I thought. We have a long drive ahead of us today so we'd best be on our way."
They left the museum and headed to their car. Along the way Jenny remembered she had wanted to take a few photos to e-mail to her father. As they approached the courthouse she stopped and reached into her backpack for her camera.
"Mom, why don't you and Luke stand over there?' she said, pointing to a nearby tree. "That way I can get some of the building in the background."
When she looked into the viewfinder she noticed the sky was getting cloudy. Very cloudy. She wondered if it would to rain soon. A cold breeze blew past her arm. It was much too cold a breeze for such a hot day. She took a couple of photos when a sudden gust of wind blew on her mother's face.
"Eeew, yuck," she said as she took off her sunglasses.
"Are you okay, Mom?" asked Luke.
"Yes Luke, I'm fine. The wind just blew dust in my eyes, that's all." She blinked a few times. "There, I'm okay now."
She started to put her sunglasses back on when another sudden gust hit, blowing her sunglasses out of her hand and onto the ground. She reached down to pick them up, but as her fingers touched the glasses they once again blew out of her reach.
"Well I'll be--" She thought better of completing her sentence as she stepped away to retrieve the sunglasses.
Jenny ran up to join Luke.
"Jenny, do you think--"
"Shhh," she whispered back. "Don't say the 'g' word around Mom. You know she doesn't believe in ghosts. Remember how mad she got at us in the Bird Cage Theater?"
"How could I forget?" Luke whispered back. "I thought for sure we were gonna get grounded right then and there."
The Bird Cage Theater was a historic saloon in Tombstone, Arizona that was now a museum. It had a reputation for being one of the most haunted buildings in America. And when Jenny had taken a picture inside the Bird Cage a strange, misty fog appeared in her photo. Both she and Luke thought it might have been a ghost. But then their mother got very upset and insisted, in no uncertain terms, that there were no such things as ghosts. She said the strange fog was nothing more than the camera flash reflecting dust in the air.
After leaving the Bird Cage their mother left them to rest on a bench while she bought souvenirs. While waiting for her to return Luke and Jenny were approached by a real ghost, although he preferred to be called a spirit person. He called himself the Swamper and he said he had lived in Tombstone in the 1880s. He took them back to his time and the next thing Luke and Jenny knew, they were face-to-face with Wyatt Earp and his brothers.
As they watched their mother chasing her sunglasses they began to wonder if indeed another ghost was around. Once again she reached for her sunglasses and once again they blew out of her reach landing in a puddle of water. She ran up to retrieve them. This time she was successful, but they were covered with mud. She walked back toward her children.
"Did you guys see that? That was the strangest thing. The weather must do some crazy things around here." She stopped and looked her sunglasses over more closely. "Well, at least they don't appear to be broken, but I'm going to have to take them inside somewhere and wash them off. Would you two mind waiting for me out here? I won't be but a couple of minutes."
"Sure Mom, take your time," replied Jenny. "Luke and I can take a few more pictures while we're waiting."
While they watched their mother walk away Luke asked, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"I sure am. Just before the wind blew in Mom's face I felt a cold breeze go past my arm. There's a ghost around here and this one wants to play pranks on us."
"But I mean you no harm," said a soft-spoken voice behind them.
Luke and Jenny spun around and saw a young African-American man standing behind them. He looked more like a teenager than an adult. He was wearing a U.S. Cavalry uniform complete with a sidearm and a sword. And he had that same eerie white glow about him that the Swamper and the other spirit people in Tombstone had.
"All right. So who are you and why are you picking on my mom?" demanded Luke.
"My name is Paul. I was an army private and a Buffalo Soldier here during the Lincoln County War." Luke and Jenny noticed the southern drawl in his voice. "And I wasn't pickin' on your mama. I know she doesn't believe in us spirit people so I figured I had to do somethin' to keep her busy for a while so I could talk to you. I hear you two had quite an adventure when you went back in time in Tombstone. Would you like to come back in time with me and see some of the things that happened during the Lincoln County War?"
"Was it a real war? With real armies? Did you fight in it?" asked Luke.
While they were talking they heard the sound of distant thunder. Jenny put the camera back in her backpack.
"Well, why don't y'all come with me and see for yourselves?"
Luke and Jenny looked at one another.
"What is it?" asked Paul.
"We're not used to all of this time travel stuff," said Luke.
Jenny added, "We're still trying to figure out how we're able to do it."
Paul thought it over for a minute. "You are two special people. You know, most people can't see us sprit people, much less talk to us, but you can because you both have a gift. As to how you're travelin' in time, well, it's sort of like mental telepathy. Maybe someday you'll learn how to do this on your own, but for the time bein', I'll help you.
"So you're saying we're having out-of-body experiences?" asked Jenny.
"We have an aunt who's into meditation and astral travel and out-of-body stuff like that but my mom says it's all nonsense," said Luke.
"That's a shame," said Paul. "I don't mean to criticize your mother, but you know, you should never call another person's beliefs nonsense just because you don't happen to agree. What if someone were to say what you believed was nonsense?"
They heard another rumble of thunder. Then a strange streak of lightning flashed across the sky. A moment later, they discovered themselves in a different time.
"Here we go again," said Luke.