The Legend of Brushy Creek

By Angelina Hawkes-Craig

Brushy Creek, Texas, 1880

Pete swished the coffee around in his metal mug. It tasted bad, but it was hot and that was really all that mattered on a cold night like tonight. He leaned back against a fallen tree, more hollow now than anything, and surveyed the setting sun. It was a massive fireball setting off jets of purple and pink across the evening sky. He could hear the complaints of the cattle, the swishing of their tails. They were irate due to the lack of grazing grass, and thirsty because the creek they were camped next to had all but dried up.

Pete chuckled. Damn cows better be glad it was a bit on the nippy side tonight; else they'd be eaten alive by flies.

"MOO!" Pete hollered at a particular group of moaning cows. Gave him a good chuckle to do that once in awhile.

"You bellowing at those cows again?" Harvey said, sitting down on the mostly hollow fallen tree, which caused it to shift, which in turn caused Pete to fall over onto the ground as his back support shifted away.

"Thanks." Pete said sarcastically and righted himself.

"Oh, don't mention it." Harvey laughed. "This coffee?"

"Sure as hell ain't champagne." Pete took the refill that Harvey was offering.

Harvey sat down again on the log and stared into his cup.

"Be there by noon." He stated.

"I reckon. Ain't far." Pete said.

Neither of them was a real talking man. What man was? Maybe one of them dandified, wine-sippin', spat-wearin', collar-starchin' city slickers; but, no real honest to goodness man was much of a talker. What was there to talk about? Things were what they were. Women do the talkin'. Men do the doin'. That's the way it was.

"That an Injun?" Harvey indicated by aiming his cup in the direction of the brown man coming their way. He took off his battered, tattered brown hat and wiped his brow with his shirttail, then plunked it back onto his head.

"Don't know. Any Injuns left around these parts? Maybe he's a Mexican." Pete squinted in the dim light to see their approaching visitor.

The man approached. He was an Indian. He was wearing white man's clothes though, made him look most peculiar.

"Hello." The stranger said with an odd, almost eastern sounding accent.

"Howdy." Pete nodded, tipping his hat a bit. No point not being friendly with a fellow until you knowed his business.

"These your cattle?" The man asked, waving his hand across the vast span of land the cows were occupying.

Pete pushed his hat back a bit. "We're just the drivers."

The man nodded, kicked the dirt a bit, and looked around.

"Be gone in the mornin'." Harvey stated and took a sip of the thick black coffee they were drinking.

"You might want to consider moving on." The man said politely.

"There a problem?" Pete asked. "Always stop near here on our way to Fort Worth."

The man pointed to the ground, "May I sit?"

"Coffee?" Peter held out an empty cup.

"No, thank you. I don't eat or drink." The man said somewhat absently.

"What the hell?" Harvey laughed heartily.

"I mean, since it happened." The man shrugged as if at some point in everyone's life the decision was made to stop eating and drinking.

"You got some kind of magic beans?" Pete laughed, looked at Harvey, and laughed some more.

"No. I'm dead." The Indian said simply, legs crossed, hands resting on each knee.

Harvey raised his eyebrows and looked at Pete, who in turn frowned and looked back at Harvey as if to say this nut must be a few ounces shy of a full bushel. Now Harvey and Pete had seen just about everything. Nothing seemed to shock them anymore. This time, however, was different. What sort of person just up and announced he was dead like it was everyday people drank coffee around a campfire with some dead guy? The way Pete figured it; they had two options at this point. They could sit and hear the guy out as if nothing out of the ordinary was occurring, or they could turn tail and run out of here screaming all the way. Pete couldn't remember a time when he had turned sissy and ran away crying, so he didn't figure he'd do that now. Might as well see what the "dead" guy had to say. Looking at him now, there was a sort of eeriness to the Injun's being, like he wasn't solid or something.

"Yer dead?" Pete said at last. "As in roll me in an old quilt, dump your cold ass in a hole in the ground, dead?"

"Yes. That would be one way to put it." The man smiled slightly. "Happened right here, actually."

"You talk funny. Where you from?" Harvey interrupted.

"Oh, yes. My accent, always throws people for a loop. I was educated back East by a missionary sponsored school for Indian children."

"Would them be the people that know yer dead, or were them people who knew ya before you was dead?" Harvey kept getting off the subject. But then again, Harvey wasn't the brightest candle in the box.

"The people I knew before I died. Confused them. Not used to hearing an Indian sound like an educated easterner."

"Yankee." Harvey gulped his coffee.

"Pardon me?" The stranger asked.

"We call them Yankees in these parts."

"Ah. I know that. Seems rude." The stranger smiled. "I don't like labels, heard a lot of them myself."

Pete shook his head. How the hell did they get off on all this crap? "How did you die? You said it was right here?"

The man acted relieved to get back on the subject. "I was camping by this creek, Brushy Creek, and myself and a friend heard a strange noise. Almost like a woman crying. Only when we looked, we couldn't find anyone around."

"So, how'd ya die?" Harvey tried to cut to the point.

"Let him talk." Pete frowned at Harvey.

Harvey shrugged.

"Well, after we looked around a bit, finding nothing, we came back to camp. Suddenly from out of nowhere, this man came to our fire and asked if we had any horses." The man sat up straighter. "We told him we did."

Harvey was watching the stranger intently.

"Then the man asked if he could borrow one. Well, we felt real bad for him, whatever his reasons were, but we couldn't loan a horse to a man we didn't know. We couldn't afford to replace it, and we were riding to El Paso, and weren't sure if the horses would make it the entire way anyway." The stranger sighed.

"So, the man said nothing, and left." The stranger leaned closer to the fire. "We all went to sleep. Well, later that night, I awoke thinking I heard something rustling in the grass near us. I opened one eye and looked into the shadows around our campfire. There was the man, leading one of our horses off.

I quickly, but slowly, nudged my friend awake. We silently decided to follow him with me in the lead, and my friend in back to cover me should I need protection. I crept closer to the man and the horse. Suddenly, the man turned and looked right at me. He was the same man, but not the same man, his face was twisted and ghostly, and his eyes burned like fire. Let me tell you, I have never seen something so hideously evil in all my life. His skin was twisted and scarred, as if it had been burned horribly. His nose looked like the snout of a wolf, and he had huge fangs like you'd see on a dog…I don't know what demons look like, but I am pretty sure he must be something close to one. The blood beat in my head so loudly that I couldn't hear my own thoughts. My body shook uncontrollably. Sweat poured from every inch of my body profusely. POUND! POUND! POUND! My heart beat so fast I thought my chest would explode. Never in all my life have I ever been so totally consumed by fear. It was if he stretched out his hideously evil hand and grasped me by the throat. That's how choked I felt, but he never touched me. Just looked at me with his fiery devil eyes. I tried to scream, but instead, I felt myself growing hot, I struggled to breathe. All that I felt was a searing pain in my chest, I tried to calm myself, but to no avail. I could feel my heart failing, and I fell to the ground and watched with my last moments of sight as the man just disappeared into the air. My friend rushed to my side, having seen the man vanish, but not the evilness of his twisted face. Then I died."

"Just like that?" Harvey asked.

"Well, it was pretty much, just like that. I just died. My friend dragged me back to the camp, and I suppose he buried me somewhere around here." The Indian looked around as if he half expected to see his own gravestone.

"And now, yer the ghost?" Pete asked simply.

"I suppose I am. Though I don't believe I'm evil or any of that." The man smiled.

"How do you know, yer not evil?" Harvey scooted the mostly hollow tree back a bit.

"Well, I don't have any sort of distorted evil face, do I?" The man asked, raising a hand to his somewhat transparent face to feel it.

"No." Harvey said, staring more closely, and then added, "Hey? Can you put yer hand through yer face?"

"Yes." The Indian stuck his hand through his face.

Harvey shuddered.

Pete rolled his eyes. "So, all of this is jest Jim dandy, but what you tellin' us fer?" Might as well get to the heart of the matter.

"Well, I need to borrow your horse." The Indian said softly.

"Holy Ghost!" Harvey whistled. "You gonna go and turn all evil faced on us, aren't you? Jest like that man did you. We're gonna say 'no, you can't borrow our horse', then you gonna sneak up, take'im, and when we follow you, yer gonna go all twitchy and devil-like on us, ain't you?"

Pete looked at Harvey like he was the world's original idiot.

"Don't know. Never had no one say no before." The man laughed.

"You mean you come around all the time and take horses?" Pete asked.

"Not all the time, not many people pass through this way." The man looked around again.

Pete was just about ready to say, sure go on and take the damn horse, when Harvey opened his fool mouth.

"Well, you can't have none of our horse, Injun man, so you might as well just go back wherever the hell you come from and leave us be." Harvey crossed his arms as if to emphasize the point.

The man stood up slowly and began to leave. Pete started to call out, but before he could, the Indian turned around and let out a war cry that all but scared the hairs right off Pete's arm. He looked over at Harvey, and saw that he had died right there, fell off the mostly hollow log, and was lying on the ground, coffee cup still in his hand. Pete raised his eyebrows. "Holy shit." He said softly.

The Indian took the horse and walked off into the darkness. Pete thought maybe he should follow him and get the horse back, but then remembering the Injun's story, and looking back at dead Harvey, he reasoned they had no need for Harvey's horse now anyway. He shook his head and reached for the rest of the coffee hanging over the fire.

Brushy Creek, Texas, present day

"What the hell way is that to end a story?" Bobby asked suddenly.

"Shh. How d'ya know he's finished." Joe Don elbowed him in the ribs.

"Yeah. I'm done. Why you boys out here anyways?" The man in the battered brown cowboy hat asked, waving away the soda Joe Don held out for him to take.

"Camping." Bobby said.

"County is pretty much cow land. Decided to ride our horses all day then find somewheres to camp at night." Joe Don popped the top on his soda. "The creek was a nice place for the horses to have a drink, and we could wash up a bit."

"This yer land? We can go if you want. Don't want to be trespassin'or anything. Most ranchers round here don't mind too much us campin', long as we don't litter." Bobby said.

"Don't mess with Texas." The old cowboy chuckled.

"Yeah. Don't mess with Texas. Good come back!" Joe Don laughed.

"Naw. Don't mind you stayin' here at all, boys. Have fun. It's a nice night. Hey, let me tell you somethin' though. I have a big ole barn up there, full of hay…had to sell off my horses last year due to the drought, why don't I take you boys' rides up there, and bed them down, and you can come up and get'em in the mornin'? While yer up there, the Missus will get ya some breakfast. She makes a mighty mean dish of biscuits and gravy." The cowboy stood up and brushed the dried grass and dirt off of his behind.

Joe Don looked at Bobby who shrugged. Free hay and free breakfast, sounded like a deal to him.

"Sure thing. Sure it's okay? Don't want to add to yer to do list or anything." Joe Don said.

"Won't mind at all. Have to walk home either way." The man laughed.

"Thanks!" Bobby said, he took his sleeping bag off the horse and handed the reins to the cowboy. Joe Don untied his horse from the scraggly, gnarled tree she was tied to, and handed the cowboy the reins.

"If you don't mind me askin', I don't think I asked yer name earlier?" Joe Don smiled.

"Oh, sorry 'bout that. It's Harvey. See you boys in the mornin'." The cowboy said and turned into the dark, whistling, going home.

"That was nice of him." Bobby said, rolling out his bag. "That must be his house right up there, you can see it when the fire is bright enough."

Joe Don zipped his bag around him and stuck his arm under his head.

"Night." Bobby said.

Joe Don was already snoring.

Morning came, and the boys packed up their gear and headed to the house. When they got there, they saw an older man chasing a wobbly-legged calf into a stall. They stood and watched.

The man grew aware of someone standing there staring and turned and saw the boys.

"Can I hep you?" The man said, winding the chain around the gatepost to keep the gate closed.

"Yeah. We're looking for Harvey, told us to come up here this mornin' and git our horses and some breakfast?" Bobby said.

"Horses?" The man asked and pulled out a red bandana and blew his nose noisily.

Joe Don waited until the man had finished. "Yeah. He came and took our horses, said y'all had plenty of hay in the barn, and no horses, and that our horses were welcome to stay up here for the night. Told us to come git'em in the mornin'."

The rancher looked at Bobby and then looked back at Joe Don and frowned.

"What did this Harvey look like?" He said.

"Old. Weathered. You know, been working outside all his life. Rancher." Bobby said.

"Mmm." The man said slowly.

Joe Don looked at Bobby strangely. Bobby stared back.

"He have a brown, beat up hat?" The rancher asked.

"Yeah. That's him." Joe Don said excitedly.

The rancher suddenly burst into a whooping laugh. He slapped the bandana on his knee, and bent over in a full throttle, break yer ribs fit of laughter. He suddenly grabbed his lower back, and stood himself up. ""ritis. Got it right here." He rubbed his back and straightened himself, but not his face. He kept laughing.

"What?" Joe Don finally said at last. He'd been taught to respect his elders, but enough was enough.

"You been had by the ghost of Brushy Creek, my boys." The rancher wiped the sweat off his brow.

"The what?" Bobby said incredulously.

"The Ghost of Brushy Creek. Old Cowboy Harvey. Comes and tells you the story about how he got to be a ghost, only he don't tell you he's the one in the story, then takes yer horses, and disappears. Been about 30 years since I last heard of this happenin'." The rancher shook his head. "Sends shudders up yer spine." The old man rubbed his arms and visibly shuddered.

"What do you mean disappears?" Joe Don didn't quite follow.

"Pouf!" The rancher flicked his fingers in the air. "Gone."

"With our horses?" Bobby asked.

"Yep. Gone. This probably gonna make the local paper though. Might even 'tract a few ghost hunters up here. Media circus most likely." The rancher scratched his chin and stared off blankly.

"I don't believe in ghosts." Joe Don laughed.

"I didn't either, up until last time this happened. But, since there isn't any other explanation fer it, you sort of have to admit it happened and get on with it. Last time, they brought trackers and all sorts of detectives up here to try to follow the tracks. What they found was, the hoof prints just disappeared after a bit, and the man didn't leave any prints at all. If that don't about beat all. They took pictures of nearly every square inch of this property. Went back in the county archives to find similar happenings. Was a real "who dun it".

Most finally categorized it under, "unexplained". But, that was a lie. It was the ghost of Cowboy Harvey, plain and simple."

Joe Don looked at Bobby. Bobby looked at the rancher.

"Come to think of it, he did tell us his name was Harvey and that was the name of the cowboy in the story. Didn't even get the connection. Man. So, that's it?" Bobby asked.

"Yep. Ghost. Horses. Gone. I can hep you with the breakfast part though. Addie's probably got it goin' right now. If we pop in, we can tell her to add a few eggs to the pan." The rancher stretched his arms out and grasped each boy's shoulder.

"Thanks." Bobby said weakly.

"Harold's the name." The rancher said as if nothing odd had occurred. "Hey, ain't you Jimmy Crawley's son?" He said to Joe Don.

"Yes, sir. You know my dad?"

"Sure do. Come on in, I'll give yer dad a ring and explain about the horses. Save you a lick or two." Harold laughed and led the boys up the backstairs into the kitchen.

The boys shook hands with Addie and had a seat. Harold dialed up Joe Don's number. They heard him explaining to Joe Don's Daddy what had happened just like it was everyday that a ghost popped up and stole yer dang horses. There was no way on God's green earth, Joe Don's Daddy was gonna buy this story.

Didn't matter how many reporters crawled around the creek, Joe Don's Daddy was gonna let them have it for handing their horses to some stranger, and then going to sleep for the night.

Bobby looked at Joe Don and shook his head.

Joe Don sighed and said, "We are so up the creek."

Bobby just nodded. What else was left to say?

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