“Good afternoon, ma’am,” the burly man smiled at the young woman who was looking up and down the muddy street. “You lookin’ for someone?”
Her lips parted anxiously at being approached by a drifter, before she heard a familiar voice.
“Miss Jamieson? Are you done all now?”
She looked into the Kid’s eyes with palpable relief, but his scrutiny held the stranger’s gaze with mute challenge.
“Didn’t know she was with anyone, did I?” the stranger retorted, with the harmless smile of one who would only try the easy things in life. “Just as well, I was gettin’ tired of holdin’ my belly in for her anyway.”
“Your mother’s lookin’ for you, Miss Jamieson, she’s in the restaurant,” Kid’s eyes tracked the man as he walked away.
“Do you need me to carry your shoppin’ over for you?”
She shook her light brown curls. “No, thank you, Mr. Jones. They said they’d put them on the wagon for me,” her face lit up as another pair of boots clunked to a halt beside them. “Mr. Smith, you’ve bought a book.”
The Kid rolled his eyes as Heyes swung into a charm offensive.
“Wuthering Heights,” Heyes replied, with a tip of his hat. He beamed at the girl, after a triumphant glance at his competitive partner. “Would you like to borrow it when I’m finished with it?”
Kathleen Jamieson clasped her hands, her blue eyes glittering with delight. “I would love to borrow your book, Mr. Smith!”
“Well,” the Kid cut in, impatiently. “Let’s get you to your mother. No doubt she’s worryin’ about you. That’ll give Mr. Smith here time to do somethin’ useful, like finish his book. ”
“A book, eh? ‘Withering Heights’. Is that one of those gusset rippers?”
They rode steadily behind the Jamieson’s wagon, returning to the ranch. “I take it you mean, ‘bodice ripper’?” Heyes replied, smoothly. “No. It’s not.”
Kid gave a gentle laugh. “Surely you don’t think you can attract Kathleen by makin’ sure that she sure that she sits quietly on her own, readin’.”
Heyes shrugged. “I thought of reading it to her. It’s got it all; a tall, dark, handsome hero, passionate love, tragedy. You name it. It starts with the ghost of a woman on the moors, who grabs a man’s hand.”
The Kid arched his eyebrows, prepared for the verbal joust. “Is that it? Mind you, I’ve met some real scary women,” mused Kid. “Now, if I wrote a ghost...”
“Ghosts don’t shoot, Thaddeus.”
“I bet my version would be better than yours, Joshua. After all, I can think of a better way to romance a woman than lend her a book. I’ve got imagination.”
A dimpled grin spread over Heyes’ face. “I don’t doubt it, and you’re going need that imagination. Gordon Jamieson’s not going to allow his darling daughter to get involved with a casual ranch hand. That’s why I’m not wasting any energy on her.”
Kid arched his eyebrows. “No effort? You’re like a fox circlin’ a henhouse.”
Heyes twinkled in faux innocence. “Can I help it if she’s receptive to my natural charm?”
Kid shook his head ruefully. “I think we’re bored, Joshua. It’s time to move on. This is competition for competition’s sake. It’s just somethin’ to do. She’s cute, but she ain’t a keeper,” Kid snorted in exasperation before he changed the subject. “Speakin’ of ghosts, it’s Halloween next week.”
“Well, we ain’t never been around anywhere with kids for years when it’s been Halloween. It could be like old times.”
Heyes flicked up an eyebrow. “What age are you?”
“Old enough to have real fond memories of the way we celebrated as kids. Have you forgotten the party Ma used to throw for us every year?”
A grin dimpled across Heyes’ face. “It sure was special. Remember that year you dressed up as Grandpa Curry?”
The Kid laughed softly. “He had to wait until he could get a new pipe from the store when I broke his. Ma wasn’t too keen on me usin’ her flour to make my hair white, either.”
“Well, you did dip your head right in; ruined the whole sack. They had to feed it to the pigs,” Heyes threw him a sympathetic look. “They’re not going do Halloween that way on the Jamieson Ranch, Thaddeus. They’re not Irish.”
The Kid gave him a twinkle. “Their grandpa’s Scottish, though and they got folks comin’ in ‘specially for Halloween.
There might be a party. Scots got the same tradition. It was Celtic New Year, after all.”
Heyes gave a snort. “If there is a party there won’t be any casual ranch hands invited, Thaddeus. It’ll be family only. Anyway, Kathleen doesn’t look your way unless she needs a hand to hoist her foot into her stirrup.”
“You wanna bet?”
“I don’t bet over women, they’re too unpredictable. You’d be better betting on which way the wind’ll blow a month from Tuesday.”
The Kid’s jaw set in challenge. “Huh, wanna bet that I get invited in there Halloween night?”
“No, you’ll bribe one of the boys to invite you in,” muttered Heyes.
“Fine, an invitation from an adult,” Kid tilted his head as his voice rang with a warning. “But no bribin’ people to keep me out. It’s gotta be fair and square.”
The germ of an idea slithered around in the blackness of Heyes’ eyes. “It’s a bet, but it’s got to be an adult, you can’t pay them to invite you to the family party, and you gotta be well in with Kathleen. Twenty dollars, but it’s got to be a proper invite.”
“Deal,” the Kid replied, determinedly. “I’ll win this easy.”
“Not if I got anything to do with it,” muttered Heyes under his breath, a secret smile playing around his lips.
Heyes eyebrows arched in surprise as he dragged his weary bones into the bunkhouse after a jolting trip to town to get supplies.
“Something wrong?” he asked, as he drank in the huddle of men listening intently to Mr. Jamieson as he stood at the ahead of the table.
“Oh, somethin’ and nothin’. We were gonna have a Halloween party but we called it off.”
“Someone’s seen something, Joshua,” the Kid murmured. “Somethin’ weird.”
“What? What are you talkin’ about, Thaddeus?”
“A Bodach!” corrected Mr. Jamieson.
Heyes shook his head in bemusement. “A what?”
“A Bodach!” growled a voice from behind. An elderly, grey-haired man stood in the doorway, the October wind whistling behind him, whipping the straggly grey hair across the tufted brows until it gave him the look of a bedraggled, Old English Sheepdog.
“This is my father,” announced Mr. Jamieson. “He came to visit for the party, but we had to call it off.”
“If you don’t mind telling us, sir, what’s one of those, ‘bodick’ things?” asked Heyes.
The old man walked in to the bunkhouse and sat down heavily at the table. “It’s portent of death. All Celtic families have them in one form or another, some have the Bean-shìdh, some have horses, others dogs.” He paused, his snarling
Scottish tones rolling around in his gravelly throat. “Ours is a Bodach. They’re faceless spirits, all dressed in long dark robes that swirl around them like smoke. They come to take someone to the other side and when they do, the Bodach is seen leaving, but he suddenly has a face... the face of the recently departed.”
Heyes tried to hide his cynical smile. “Really? You saw that? Here on the ranch?”
The old man glowered at him. “Ach! You think I never met anyone who don’t believe before? I saw him clear as day, in the corner of the yard. I thought I saw him on the road earlier too, but I wasnae sure. I am now though. Someone is going to die tonight. The Bodach never leaves empty handed. He’s come for a soul, and he won’t leave without one.”
“You didn’t tell me you saw anything earlier, Pa,” exclaimed Mr. Jamieson.
“No, I didnae. I think he’s come for me. He’s following me.”
“Don’t say that. I’ll get someone to guard you.”
The old man shook his head, turning on his heel as he spoke. “That’ll be no good. Nothing can stop him. It’s fate.”
Jamieson gave a huge sigh as he addressed the hands. “I’m sorry about this, but can I ask that you keep an eye out for my father? He was brought up with those beliefs and I’m worried about him. He’s been talkin’ strangely recently, like he’s preparing to die.” He shook his head, “Old folks can get some funny ideas at times, but you hear about them givin’ up. They don’t seem to last long when that happens.”
“I’m real sorry, sir,” Kid stood and smiled at the worried man. “Folks can act strangely when they’re afraid.”
Jamieson shook his head. “He ain’t usually like this. I just don’t know what’s got into him.”
“We’ll look out for him, sir, but I can’t promise that we can be of much help. I wouldn’t know a ‘bodach’ if I fell over one,” Heyes sat down wearily and gave the man a reassuring smile. “Our grandpa used to tell wild tales like that. We understand.”
Kid nodded. “But they were just stories for Halloween, weren’t they?”
“Yeah,” Heyes nodded. “Maybe the season’s got to him?”
They watched Mr. Jamieson leave before the Kid spoke again. “They sure were happy times. I like to think of them.”
Heyes eyes softened before he spoke in a hoarse whisper as the Kid’s point suddenly hit home, splintering as it hit his heart. “Yup, we had our whole lives in front of us. We could have been anything.” he gave a ragged whisper as he mused on what the Kid had just said. “Fun times, he was a great story teller.”
Dark eyes looked into blue before Heyes spoke again. “Come into town with me. I arranged for a couple of girls to meet us. To have dinner and some fun.”
“I ain’t hungry.”
Heyes’ dark eyes burned into the Kid’s. This was serious. Since when was he not hungry?
“Are you alright?”
“I just feel a bit blue. Tonight I thought about things I thought I had forgotten about,” the Kid stood up and turned before he wandered off into the night. “Sometimes, the cold wind can get through a door you didn’t even know you’d left open.”
“A night in town will cheer you up. I arranged for us to meet a couple of girls.”
Kid shook his head. “I ain’t in the mood, besides,I still remember the last woman you set me up with.”
“Lulu wasn’t that bad.”
“No? Remember what Grandpa used to say? ‘Wisdom comes with experience, and experience comes from makin’ lots of mistakes.’ Lulu? Well, she was a mistake on so many levels. We nearly ended up in jail.”
Heyes followed his cousin into the yard. He had planned a night in town as a diversion to win their bet, but it still seemed a better idea than another night in the bunkhouse, now that the party had been cancelled
“Where are you going?”
“I’m goin’ to bed the horses down for the night. I ain’t lettin’ you arrange my love life again,” he replied, striding ahead.
“What was that?” gasped Heyes
The Kid turned and stared at his cousin who was scrying into the darkness.
“Something moved. A black thing. Over there.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Joshua. That ain’t funny.”
Genuine concern filled his voice as Heyes dropped to a whisper and his hand fell to his gun.
“I ain’t jokin’, Kid. There’s somethin’ in the shadows over there.”
The Kid strode over and followed his gaze to the black corners of the yard, where the darkness melted into murky, nebulous shadows between the outhouses. “I can’t see a thing.”
“There,” mumbled Heyes as the hackles started to rise at the back of his neck. “It moved again... don’t you see the glint? Like eyes?”
The Kid peered into the shadows before walking forward to check the area.
“Look. Nothin’. Not one damned thing. Now stop this nonsense and go back to the bunk house. We ain’t goin’ back into town tonight.”
An hour later, Heyes walked out from the bunkhouse and headed out toward the stables, sure that he could use his well practiced silver tongue to bring the Kid round to his planned evening.
The door of the house opened with a creak, casting a trapezoid of light across the dusty yard before a large, shrouded shape emerged into the night.
Heyes stopped in his tracks as he watched the figure drift down the steps of the porch, clad from head to foot in long black robes, the cowl hooding the face from view.
Tiny hairs started to prick on the back of his neck as whirls of smoke emanated around the hem in unearthly wisps, billowing and swirling with every movement, before dissipating into the blackness of the night.
“Who are you?” Heyes heard himself speak, the thought of the Bodach filtering through his mind. How had old man Jamieson described it? ‘Faceless spirits all dressed in long dark robes that swirl around them like smoke.’ That was exactly what he saw in front of him, but was this creature faceless?
It turned and looked directly at him, the light from the window glinting on the pale face beneath the hood.
Heyes sucked in a breath in spite of himself. “Mr. Jamieson!”
He stared wordlessly into the face of the shaggy haired, old man who had walked into the bunkhouse, but he was now as pale as tallow, with dark circles under the hollow eyes that looked straight through him.
The figure raised an arm and pointed a long, bony finger towards the house... or was it purely bone?
The shadow stared for a few moments, before silently turning and walking off into the darkness and disappearing from view.
Heyes shook himself back to reality, wondering if he had really seen what he thought he had before he ran to the stables. “Thaddeus.”
There was no sign of him there, so he turned and darted up the steps, before he hammered on the door of the house.
It opened slowly and the pretty face of Kathleen Jamieson appeared round the crack of the door.
Heyes looked into her serious little face. Her eyes appeared to be red rimmed and her voice was heavy with emotion.
“Miss? Is everything alright?”
“Please, go away.”
“Miss, is my friend in there?”
“Can’t you take a telling?” Kathleen demanded before she stepped back and pulled the door open, revealing the figure of her grandfather lying on the couch behind her, covered in blankets. “Your friend left. He went to get a doctor.”
“Is he hurt?” a shocked Heyes demanded, stepping into the room towards the old man.
“He’s unwell,” Kathleen still stood holding the door and trying to usher Heyes out with her free hand. “He’s asleep.”
“He can’t be. I just saw him outside.”
“What kind of nonsense are you talking? He hasn’t stepped out of that door since he came back from the bunkhouse.”
“But I saw...”
The young woman glared at him and pointed outside. “Go. My grandfather doesn’t need to be disturbed by this nonsense. Don’t you have any decency?”
She slammed the door in his face cutting off his reply before he turned and glanced edgily around the yard. That bunkhouse seemed an awfully long way away and there were a lot of murky, dark shadows between there and the comfort of the porch.
Prickles crept at the nape of his neck. What on earth was going on?
A smile spread over the face of the old man before he burst out laughing. “He bought it. The whole thing.”
Jed Curry walked out from behind the door with a crooked smile on his face.
“He’s been so full of himself, I thought it was about time he got scared the way we did when we were kids. He sure needed bringin’ down a peg or two, especially after we made a little bet.”
Kathleen Jamieson walked over, and slipped a delicate hand through the Kid’s arm. “I swear,” she laughed. “It’s the cleverest Halloween trick I’ve ever seen. How on earth did you think of it?”
The Kid smiled fondly down into her twinkling, blue eyes. “I had the idea when I saw that your grandpa arrived with his twin brother, while Joshua was in town. A man can’t be in two places at one time, so if one looked dead and was also seen walkin’... Well, add a few scary touches even Joshua doesn’t look too hard on a dark night.”
“The Bodach idea was Uncle Jimmy’s idea, Kathleen,” the old man sat up and pulled back the blankets. “It was also his idea to fill up the gown with smoke from the fire, so it drifted about him to look spooky. I thought of pointing at him with a chicken bone.”
Kathleen wiped away a tear as she laughed hysterically. “Uncle Jimmy was always a practical joker. Joshua won’t be too upset when he finds out, will he? When he finds out that we all watched through the window?”
“He’ll go mad,” the Kid laughed. “But he’ll see the funny side eventually. Shall we go and get Joshua and Jimmy back in?”
“Yes, you’d best go and get them so we can start the party,” giggled Kathleen. “He’ll be even angrier if he misses out on that.”
The Kid opened the door with a grin. “Get the party started folks. I’ll back in a minute; twenty dollars richer. I’ve done my trick or treat for the night. Pride comes before a fall, and he just landed flat on his face.”
Trick or treating was not common in the USA until about the 1930s but the practice of Souling or Guising has been recorded in documents recording Celtic practices for centuries. Robert Burns poem Hallow’een (1785) and John Mayne’s work of the same name (1780), both detail Hallow’een as a night of full of pranks and attempts to scare people silly just for fun, with both adults and children indulging whole-heartedly. There was a large church attendance the next day to remember departed loved ones who would not return to the earth until next Hallow’een.
Oíche Shamhna shona dhaoibh! Happy Hallow’een!