Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Stranger At the Campfire

This is a true story, as I believe it, that I have related to only a few people. It happened in 2009 on a remote ranch in the Caprock Canyon country of Texas, home of the Comanche and West Texas cowboy history.  It is of a strange and haunting event that comes drifting into my consciousness and memory every once in a while, so I guess I will never forget that night. Last night I had a dream and saw the visitor in my dreams again. By telling the story I am hoping the stranger will quit sneaking into my dreams. I will tell you that I did not believe in ghosts that walk the earth but know that strange things occur. I also am aware that the Bible speaks of spirits and demons. As I age and now have a had some things happen that I can not explain I am no longer sure what I believe. The following is my story as best I can relate it to you.

Several years back my brother by choice, Ken, called and told me his family company was purchasing a ranch to hold as an investment. The ranch was located in far North Texas in the remote Caprock Canyon Brush Country. The place was supposed to have deer and hogs on it and he wanted to know if I would like to go up and spend the weekend. He planned to explore the ranch and possibly do some hunting. I was told it had an old cabin we could stay in while we were there. I always do the cooking on these trips so I began to get the supplies together that we would need for a weekend. I picked up some nice steaks along with some baking potatoes for the first night. There is nothing quite like a good steak grilled over mesquite coals when you are out on a hunting trip.

I drove from Austin up to Abilene to meet Ken. We loaded his four wheel drive truck and started the long drive north. It was almost dark when we arrived at the gate of the ranch and we saw no game as we drove to the cabin. We quickly unloaded the truck and each of us threw our sleeping bags on a bunk in separate rooms of the cabin. I then gathered some dry mesquite and started a fire in a stone fire ring out back of the cabin. I placed the grill I had brought over the fire and wrapped the potatoes in foil to bake while the fire burned down to coals. We decide to make a short drive and check out what we could of the place before dark, besides it would take the potatoes at least and hour to cook.  We made a couple of miles on the ranch roads and saw no game except for a couple of jackrabbits which did not interest us.  As we pulled up to the house we decided to check out the old barn close by.  As I opened the barn door there was a shriek and two white forms flew right over my head giving my heart a jump.  It was two almost solid white barn owls and I should have taken it as an omen.  We headed to the camp house and supper.  After a great steak we enjoyed the warmth of the fire, a good drink and the company of a good friend until we decided to turn in for the night.

It had been a long day and the warmth of a sleeping bag to ward off the North Texas chill was welcomed. The moaning and creaking of a windmill just outside my window made it difficult to go to sleep but exhaustion got the better of me and I finally nodded off. I awoke to notice the flickering of the fire reflecting off the walls of my room. I set up on the edge of my bunk and looked out the window and noticed that someone had put more wood on the fire and the flames were swirling in the wind. Smoke was rising against the cold filling my view with eerie white clouds in the freezing night air. At the edge of the illumination but close enough to take in the warmth of the fire stood a figure dressed in a western duster with the collar pulled up to block the cold wind. A familiar silver belly hat was pulled down over his face so that I could not make out the eyes. His hands encased in golden buckskin gloves held a steaming cup of coffee against his chest as if he was savoring the smell as much as the taste. My first thought was to get dressed and go have a cup of coffee with my bud, but thinking that my snoring might have driven him out into the cold I decided to let him enjoy the fire and his thoughts without my company. Besides the coffee would keep me up the rest of the night. As I climbed back into the warm sleeping bag it felt to be the right choice.

When I again woke there was a pinkish golden glow in the sky to the east. I walked to the front door and went out on the porch to relieve myself. The pre-dawn sky revealed an unbelievable scene with stars visible that I had not seen in a long time. Frost covered the ground and brush while my bare skin tingled with shock as I stood against the cold wind and looked at the sky. It never ceases to amaze me how visible the stars are when you get out in a remote area where the sky is dark with no lights from the city. I returned to the cabin to get dressed for the day. I lit the propane stove to make coffee and prepare breakfast.

The coffee made, eggs and sausage cooked, I hollered at Ken to get up for breakfast as I took the biscuits from the oven. After his brief morning ritual Ken came to the table and asked how I had slept. Feeling guilty about driving him from his bunk with my snoring I immediately started apologizing for waking him up in the middle of the night. He looked at me with a strange look on his face and replied that his head never left the pillow until he woke just a few minutes before. I retaliated with the fact that I had seen him standing out by the fire in the middle of the night. Visibly seeing that I was getting upset he again assured me that he had not moved from his sleeping bag all night.

I hurried outside to the fire pit where the fire still burned in the early dawn. No one was around and I could find no evidence of someone coming or going other than the fire not yet burned down to coals. We were miles from anywhere and would surely have heard any vehicle driving into the ranch. Anyone coming in on the road also would have had to come through a locked gate. The cowboy I had seen at the fire was dressed in period cowboy clothing but that is the usual garb for Ken or me when we are not on a hunt where camouflage clothing is needed. Both of us were wearing Silver belly old style cowboy hats on this trip and either of our coats would pass for the one worn by the stranger at the fire. I never found anything that pointed to who or what was standing at the fire that night. I will always wonder if he was sent to fetch me and something kept me from going out to the fire that night. I can think of a lot worse things that could come in the night. Peaceful dreams, Wild Ed

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