Sitting around a campfire in Big Bend National Park, four teens slowly fed a growing fire tinder as they traded stories back and forth, elaborating on the various evils of the world that just happened to lurk close by. Emily, a Chinese girl with her hair up in buns, laughed at Jacob’s attempt at making a man with a hook seem scary while Sarah cuddled up to her boyfriend’s arm as they listened. William, dressed in a modest sleeveless green shirt, sat with his back to the darkness, one arm around Sarah. The four were in their nightwear as they were “roughing” it and planned to sleep in the tents they’d hiked up the trail with.
Jacob sat back down, throwing his hands up in frustration. “Man I give up, I just can’t scare you, Emily. You grew up with all that scary-ass Asian horror shit, the plain old classics here in America just don’t cut it.”
“Oh you’re stories are alright, it’s just that they lack a certain…” Emily said, tapping her chin in thought.
“Fear?” Jacob asked.
“Suspense?” Sarah tried.
William stayed silent and remained content drawing circles on the small of Sarah’s back where her night shirt had ridden up.
“Passion!” Emily declared, flashing thumbs up to Jacob, who merely scoffed.
“Passion? You mean what I feel when I look in a girls eyes? That isn’t scary.” Jacob said, waving her suggestion away.
“Uh-huh, passion isn’t just about romance you big lug, passion in anything can be a driving force behind good or evil. All of the best Chinese horror stories have passion in them!” She said, nodding as she scratched at a mosquito bite.
“Well, if you know so much why don’t you tell us a story with passion,” Jacob said, earning a round of laughter from Sarah and William.
“Alright,” Emily said, a glint coming to her eye as she thought of a scary story. “I’ll tell you a local legend with the passion that I know you’ve never heard before. I’ll tell you the story of the Ghost of Big Bend.”
“The Ghost of Big Bend?” Sarah repeated, earning a swat from William for interrupting.
“Thank you,” Emily said, bowing slightly to William. “It all began many moons ago…”
Right here in Big Bend, before it was a park, it was just a canyon that America controlled right next to Mexico. The border patrols regularly rode by on their horses, scouting out the terrain and reporting in whenever they found a caravan headed from the South. But one woman evaded them all, for many years. She lived off the land and trapped wild game, gathering water from cacti, lighting campfires at the top of Emory Peak every night it was safe for her fellow Mexicans to pass into this country.
Her name was Isabella, and she had come to this country in search of freedom. But the U.S. government denied her citizenship, claiming she had no skills that would qualify her as a citizen. Devastated, she rode back in the wagon to the border with the other illegal immigrants, waiting to be dropped off in Mexican territory. It was then that she noticed the coyotes of the canyon running alongside the wagon, some ten to twelve of them. This gave her an idea.
Crawling out of the wagon, she shimmied around the side until she could see the driver. With the grace of a cougar, she leapt from her position on the wagon and onto the bollock seat, punching the driver across the temple, knocking him out cold. She took the reins and pulled the horses to a grinding halt. Before the coyotes could move in on her brethren in the back of the wagon, she pushed the knocked out white man onto the ground. He was dead within seconds, his throat torn out by one of the wild beasts. While they fed on his flesh, she ushered her compatriots out of the wagon and onto a trail headed north, to El Paso. She gathered the water that was given to the driver, as well as the food and gave it to them.
“Go on without me, I’ll stay behind and take care of any white men that try and hunt you down!” Isabella said, ushering her friends onwards. She pulled the wagon to the side and set it on fire, before slaughtering the horses and letting the coyotes eat them as well. Looking at the ruined hide of the white man, she pulled his buck knife and examined it carefully.
“With this I can fashion myself a poncho that will let me blend into my surroundings,” she said, looking at the red rock of the canyon. So she flipped the dead white man over and slathered his naked hide with blood before she began to skin him. It took hours, but she fashioned herself a full-length cloak and hood from the skin of the dead white man, sewn up with horsehair taken from the manes of the dead horses. The coyotes, now full from all the meat she’d blessed them with, howled their approval.
So into the wilderness she went, buck knife in hand and suit of skin protecting her from the heat. She spent many years beneath the relentless sun, tracking down lost groups of Mexicans and guiding them back to the trail, all the while evading the Texas Rangers that had set out to investigate the grisly murder of the stage coach driver. They took it as an offense, that someone working for the government would be so ruthlessly dealt with. They vowed to bring the “animal” that had done this into justice, namely by shooting it.
Isabella was always one step ahead of them though. By always feeding the coyotes whatever game she caught, she slowly domesticated a pack of them and had them patrol all around the canyon for her. Whenever they would see another white man, they would howl. Whenever she heard a howl, she would duck down against the dust and wait for the tracker to pass her by, his eyes not trained to see the tanned hide of a fellow White Man in the treacherous terrain.
The years crept by and Isabella grew lean from her hunts, and vicious from her attacks. She fought off mountain lions with nothing but her pack and her buck knife, which she regularly poisoned using the fangs of rattlesnakes and the stingers of yellow-banded scorpions. By this time the Rangers knew someone was out in the region, and merely labeled her as the Ghost; one minute she was there, fury incarnate with her quick blade flashing, but as the dust settled she was gone. Several Rangers lost their lives to her buck knife while several others gained scars.
One such scarred man was Franklin Sneed, a hunter who’d joined the Rangers with every intention of tracking down Isabella the Ghost. He waited until winter came and the frost settled in, freezing over the canyon, dusting the mountaintops with snow. Then he led in four men on horseback and began to track her, looking for human footprints in the patches of frost. When he found a set he followed them.
The first set belonged to a small family of Mexican immigrants, a wife and husband with their little girl. Franklin ordered his men to shoot them and left them in the cold to rot with the vultures, confident that Isabella was close by to see this happen. He hoped to infuriate her, have her make a mistake.
Unfortunately she was close by, hiding in the tree line beneath her frost covered skin coat, hood pulled up over her ears. She went down to the bodies of her fallen countrymen and bathed her blade in their blood, swearing to the moon that Sneed and his men would pay. That night, as Franklin Sneed and his four deputies set up camp, the winds carried the howls of the coyotes.
“What was that?” One of his deputies asked, sparking his flint and steel together in hopes of lighting a torch.
He never got past the first spark.
The following morning Sneed and his men found a bloody mess of packed ice and flesh leading away from their camp, down to a small river where the deputy lay dead. He’d had his throat slit and his innards eaten by hounds, with vultures now feasting off of his remains. Off of his back, the skin had been cut and laid against a rock, where a message was scrawled in blood.
“Turn back now and you will be spared,” Franklin read out from atop his horse before laughing. He turned to his deputies, who’d followed him on foot down to the river and ordered them to dig a grave for their comrade.
While they were busy with that, Isabella snuck into their camp and stole all of their gunpowder, filling their shot bags with sand instead. None the wiser, the men came up and donned their gear for the ride that they faced in the coming day.
Around noon, they noticed a smoke plume rising from a crag in the distance, some mid-way up Emory Peak. Franklin ordered his men to investigate, and they all quickly scaled the steep cliff, only to find a small campfire with nobody tending to it. Standing there atop the cliff, Franklin and his three remaining deputies were stunned; who would climb all the way up the cliff to make a fire, and then not stay and use it?
They never got to find out, as Isabella had packed the stolen gunpowder down below in a crack in the cliff. Using the dead deputy’s flint and steel, she lit the fuse that led to the small bomb, which blew the cliff apart at the base, creating a landslide down into the canyon, with Franklin Sneed at the top, fighting to stay alive.
Miraculously, he was only injured from the collapse. With a broken leg, he crawled out from under the rocks to find Isabella slitting the throats of his dead deputies, coyotes running wild through the mess feasting on the fallen Rangers as she left them. Reaching for his pistol, he pulled the trigger, only to have sand pour out the barrel. Staring in horror as the Ghost loomed ever closer; she stood over him with a bloody knife, two large coyotes standing at her side, growling.
“This skin was getting a little ratty for me anyway. I think it’s time I get a new one,” she said, silencing Franklin’s screams as she brought the knife down on his head.
“… and that’s the story of the Ghost of Big Bend. The reason I tell you this sordid tale is that we’re camping out right where the landslide occurred. Beneath this sediment and soil lay the bones of four Texas Rangers and their horses, one minus his skin.”
The whole group stared at Emily, who merely smiled in response. Jacob looked over at William, who was as wide-eyed as Sarah. “Do you believe any of that story?”
“You don’t have to believe it,” Emily said, pointing up to a cliff set against the full moon. Looking to where she was pointing, the trio could just make out a pack of coyotes gathered near a small, smokeless campfire. “As long as we don’t cross paths with her or make her think we’re here to hurt her, we’re safe.”
Jacob stared long and hard at the hounds some five hundred yards up before turning back to Emily. “Like I said before, you Asians have a whole different scale by which you measure your scary shit at.”