by: Wes Ishmael

Even by the standards of Apache Flats and the Rio Rojo Cattlemen's Association (RRCA), the annual Harvest Moon festival was remarkable.

It was mostly standing-room-only in Peetie Womack's sprawling Quonset hut. Bonfires blazing beyond the doors at either end of the shop offered welcome respite from the unseasonably wet and clammy conditions. There were even a few snowflakes mixed in with the drizzle.

Along with the locals there was a large contingent of visitors who adopt Apache Flats as their home away from home. These included Sherry Waters, Hooter's long-ago, short-time wife, who was known to dabble in voodoo. She came along with her Auntie Marie. They did a land-office business at their kissing booth, all for charity of course. In fact, Aunt Pinky was seen dragging Doc Bulger from the line as he awaited his fourth visit.

Even the magician Squeak Jablowski was on hand. When asked how he could spare the time during the busiest season of the year for conjurors, Squeak announced: “Halloween is for amateurs.”

As usual, festivities began with a short RRCA business meeting to debate whether they should change the name of the fund-raising event since there was rarely an actual Harvest Moon in October when the festival was held each year, and certainly not at the same time.

Delmar Jacobs ended the wonderment by falling backwards off Peetie's rickety welding stool and announcing as soon as he hit the cement shop floor: “Thank goodness someone caught me.”

There was the obligatory cow bingo, armadillo race and chicken roping. The latter was cut short when Charlie's new Red Heeler, Barney, acquired a sudden taste for drumsticks.

There were individual contests, too.

Aunt Pinky, much to Nelda Isselfrick's chagrin, won the bake-off with her latest concoction: Prairie Oyster Cheese Cake. Everyone thought it was aces; most still thought so after she told them what it was called.

Izzy Franklin won the costume competition with his rendition of an honest referee. He sported a black and white striped shirt, whistle around his neck, pitch black sunglasses perched on his nose and brandished a white cane that he banged enthusiastically against everyone and everything in sight.

Delmar Jacobs won the talent contest with his stirring wash-board rendition of Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother. Until then, no one knew he could play.

Each created an impression, but it was Peetie Womack's cousin, Richard, who created the lasting memory.

Some of the grayer and more experienced set began recollecting legends they'd heard growing up, and how they'd later identified traces of truth in them or the sources of fabrication. What began as a small group ended up growing larger with each story. By the time Peetie asked his cousin to share his story, the circle encompassed most of the crowd.

Stubby Huggins Rides Again

“It was a day a whole lot like this one,” Richard began. There was a mix of uncertainty and vexation in his voice. He'd only met some of Peetie's friends a few hours earlier, and here his cousin was asking him to tell this.

“It must have been about 30 years ago. I was gathering some strays in the Sangre de Cristos. It started to get really dark and cold, but I could see lightening off to the west and heard thunder. Then it started to snow, not just a little, but from zero to blizzard just like that.” He snapped his fingers.

“Thunder snow,” said Izzy, mostly to himself. “Not as rare as fox fire, maybe, but I've never seen either one.”

“Anyway, me and my horse took cover between some rocks,” Richard continued. “The wind would let up every now and then, and I'd swear to anybody that I saw a girl on a horse, just standing there looking at me from a ways off. She had a scarf or something around her neck; the tails of it were flapping straight out in the wind. The snow and the wind picked up again for maybe five minutes. Then there was a big clap of thunder and flash of lightening and the wind and snow stopped. I mean it just stopped, like that.” He snapped his fingers again, took a long draw from his cup.

“It wasn't immediate, but soon enough, the clouds started to break and you could even start seeing some blue again.”

You didn't have to know Richard to see that telling the story unsettled him. He looked at the silent circle hanging on his words, glanced at his cousin and then continued.

“Anyway, I rode over to where I thought I'd seen the girl and her horse. There were no tracks, no signs. Then I saw it, barely moving in the breeze…a purple, charred scarf snagged on a tree branch. I took hold of it, and I swear, it was warm, like someone had just taken it off from around their neck. The charring was old, too, you could see that.”

Richard took another swallow.

“What then?” wondered Cousin Charlie.

“I left that scarf hanging where it was and got out of those hills fast as I could and I ain't never been back.”

“But…” Hooter started with disappointment.

Peetie stopped him. “Hold on, it's fixing to get interesting.”

“Anyway, it must be about a month later, I'm back home in Texas. I'm riding some pasture and I see something flapping, caught in some soap weed…”

If you could cut silence with a knife, there would have been enough here to build a barn and then some.

“…Yep…” Richard said, looking up at the faces gathered around him. “It was a charred, purple scarf. I didn't touch, it, but it looked for all the world like the one I'd seen on that tree in New Mexico. I skeedaddled. Then it happened again a few months later in a different pasture.”

“The same one?” Izzy ventured.

“Best as I could tell,” Richard said. “I ain't never believed in ghosts or anything of that nature. It sure got me to wondering. So, I got some history books, trying to see what might have happened up in those mountains. Soon enough, I ran into accounts of the Battles of Valverde and Glorietta Pass that happened in that area during the Civil War.”

The hairs on Hooter's neck were standing at attention. Just a few years earlier, a young man by the name of Elmo Huggins thought the site of lost Union gold was on Hooter's place. Best as they and Aunt Pinky could tell, Elmo's great grandfather, Stubby, was one of the rebels charged with stealing the gold and getting it safe to Confederate territory. They also figured out that McCormick kin—Aunt Sophie—was a spy for the Confederacy who had tried to help the rebels hide the gold.

“I got a full account of the battles,” Richard said. “I found references to a band of Confederates trying to carry off a cache of Union gold. I found all kinds of interesting stories, but never a mention of a girl wearing a scarf, much less a purple one.

“A few years go by, and I'd kind of forgotten about it. Then I'm out mending fence one day, a little ways off from where I have my horse hobbled. I go to get back on, and there it is, wrapped around the saddle horn…”

“The purple scarf…” Izzie said in a whisper.

“No, the Titanic, you dimwit,” gruffed Lonnie Johnson.

Richard nodded. “This time, I'd had enough. I built me a fire and tried to burn it.”

“Tried to?” Lonnie asked.

“Yep. It wouldn't burn. I left it laying in the ashes,” Richard said. “Then a package shows up in my mail box; no post mark, no return address. It's this old library book about Fort Craig and those battles in New Mexico. There's a page dog-eared. It tells the story of a Mexican girl named Margarita Santana. She'd befriended the Confederates. One of them gave her a purple scarf…”

“You mean…” several said in unison.

“According to the story, Margarita was trying to keep the yanks from destroying the rebel supply train. She climbed on board about the time it exploded. They never found her.”

Richard was staring at infinity. “That scarf still shows up every now and again. I don't know why and I don't know why me. It doesn't scare me anymore; I just leave it be.”

Hooter was fixing to ask a question when there was a mighty crash of thunder and bolt of lightening. There at Richard's feet lay a purple scarf.

Delmar took his second header of the night.

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