Chandler’s Secret Weapon
by Patricia J. Weaver
Chandler brushed his teeth, making sure each tooth got a good scrub. When he looked in the mirror he saw fear lurking in his eyes. To boost his courage he told his reflection; Stop stalling. You know Joey will be here any minute. You’re not backing out! Everybody has to do this if they want into the Boys Only Club. Ghosts ain’t real, so why are you worried? The pep talk didn’t help.
He took a deep breath and finished brushing his teeth. After washing his face, Chandler studied his reflection for any sign of panic. Satisfied that his face didn't show the fear that was twisting inside him, he pointed at the mirror; “You have two goals! Getting into the club and not letting the other guys see you’re scared.”
Back in his bedroom, he checked his backpack to make sure he had everything he needed to achieve the last item on the list of rules for the Boys Only Club. The first three rules were easy: to be at least ten years old, swear you didn’t like girls, and become blood brothers with the other guys by pricking your finger with a needle. It was rule number four that separated the boys from the wimps; spending the night alone on Devil’s Claw.
Everyone knew that Devil’s Claw was haunted by the spirit of Fleeing Elk, a Cherokee Indian chief. In 1868, Fleeing Elk fell in love with Emily Tatum, a local rancher’s daughter. When her father learned that she planned to run away and marry Fleeing Elk, he rode to Devil’s Claw and demanded the chief leave his daughter alone. Fleeing Elk refused. In a rage that an Indian would defy him, the rancher pushed him off the highest cliff. Since then the chief has haunted the woods, walking the mountain’s twisting trails looking for Emily.
Joey called from downstairs. It was time to go. Chandler put on his favorite Atlanta Braves cap, picked up his sleeping bag that hid his secret weapon, whispered a prayer and then raced down the stairs to meet Joey.
“Ya’ll have fun camping tonight,” Mom called as the boys headed out the door.
“Be careful, and remember I love you,” Mom added coming over to kiss Chandler on the cheek.
“Mmmmom, not in front of Joey.” He wiped the spot she had kissed.
“Sorry.” She grinned and gave him a quick hug.
As the two boys walked toward Devil’s Claw, Joey asked, “Are you scared?”
“A little,” Chandler admitted. “But you know, guys have been going up on that mountain for a longtime and that ghost ain’t hurt a single one.”
“That’s not exactly true,” Joey said. “Only three have ever seen the ghost and something bad happened to all three. Grandpa said that Tommy Lambert broke his foot when he ran like a scared jackrabbit from the ghost. And your dad told us how his best friend, Billy Carson, got bit by a copperhead when he hid in a hollow log when the ghost walked by where he was camping. Levi Gargis got ribbed for years for screaming like a girl when he saw the ghost. So I wouldn’t say that ghost ain’t hurt anybody.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” Chandler looked at the distant cliff and wondered if he would be number four, or if his plan to stay brave would work.
A short time later, the Boys Only Club members stood on the trail that led to Devil’s Claw. The Club’s camp was set up on the picnic grounds. Chandler would go to the top alone.
“Remember, you have to stay on that ridge until 6:00 a.m. to qualify to be a member of our club,” Tommy Dale said pointing to the top of Devil’s Claw, “If you don’t, we can’t let you in.”
Chandler walked up the stony, narrow path, reaching the ridge just as the sun was setting. The sky was different shades of pink and yellow but he hardly notice. All he saw were the dark shadows of nightfall. Feeling alone he looked down at the club’s campsite far below. They had a campfire burning. They were roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. Sighing, he moved away from the cliff edge. He needed to get everything ready before dark. After rolling out his sleeping bag, he reached into his backpack for his sister’s portable CD player with the “absolutely no outside interference” headphones, his dad’s soothing nature sounds CD, and his brother’s wrap-around, midnight sunglasses that blocks out most light.
Then he pulled out his secret weapon, the one that would ensure a good night’s sleep. He had slept with Spit Wad, his stuffed dog, every night since his fifth birthday. When Granny gave him the stuffed dog; she told him it was a special guard dog that would protect him from bad dreams. “I’m going to need all your special powers tonight, Spit Wad,” Chandler told him.
He put the nature sounds CD in the player, turned the control to repeat and slipped on the earphones. Adjusting the dark sunglasses, he snuggled into his sleeping bag. Tucking Spit Wad close under his chin, he concentrated on the songs of crickets and katydids coming though the headset. Chandler closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Sometime later, he felt a chill run down his spine. The nature sounds were still coming though the headphones, but he was certain he had heard something. Sitting up, he removed the earphones and the sunglasses. A boiling mist was rising from the cliff and Chandler sensed that he was not alone. The mist enclosed him like a heavy fog and he could no longer see the stars. A choking, sickly sweet stench radiated from the cliff and a raspy voice called, “Emily? Emily?”
Fighting to control the fear lumping in his throat, Chandler turned to face whoever or whatever was coming. He started to tremble when he saw the glowing form of the legendary ghost. It had vacant holes where his eyes should have been and the rest of his face was horribly distorted. Eagle feathers were braided into his long black hair. He wore a beautiful white buckskin shirt decorated with beads, soft buckskin pants and moccasins.
Chandler closed his eyes and whispered, “Ghosts are not real. Get a grip.” He reached inside his sleeping bag and grabbed Spit Wad, then turned to face the spirit.
“Mr. Fleeing Elk, Emily died over a hundred years ago.” Swallowing hard he continued, “You’re dead too.”
The light from the spirit increased to a pulsing glow and an ear-piercing howl filled the night. Chandler wondered if that was how a ghost cried. He felt sorry for the ghost and wished he could help. "Emily, my Emily,” the shadowy form called as it moved toward the frightened boy.
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” Chandler screamed, holding Spit Wad up like a shield. “I must be dreaming! I don’t know what you are, but you’re not a ghost. Spit Wad will protect me! I’m not running! You’re just a bad dream!”
An unearthly hand reached out to touch the soft, worn cloth of the stuffed dog. Jerking back, Chandler dropped Spit Wad. Time stood still as he looked up at the specter, wondering what would happen next.
The phantom’s ghostly form started to fade as the small stuffed animal was raised from the ground and given back to Chandler. Clutching Spit Wad, Chandler heard a whisper on the wind, “What a strange dream catcher.”
Next thing Chandler knew, someone was shaking him awake. He rolled over and saw Joey standing over him.
“Are you all right?” Joey asked.
“Do you know what time it is?”
Chandler looked at his watch, “6:45,” he said. “I did it! I’m in the Club”
“Yep, you’re a Boys Only member,” Joey said grinning. “Did you see the ghost?”
Chandler pushed Spit Wad to the bottom of the sleeping bag with his foot, crawled out of the warm sleeping bag and started rolling it up.
“Well, did you?”
“Nope, I didn’t see anything. Boy, I’m starving! Come on; let’s go see if Mom has breakfast ready.”
Chandler reached down to pick up his sleeping bag and paused for a second. Laying there on the ground was a worn black and white feather, like the ones that had been braided in the spirit’s hair. He quickly picked it up and slipped it into his backpack. Then patting the small lump in the middle of the rolled up sleeping bag, he whispered, “Thanks, Spit Wad, for protecting me.”