An Arizona Ghost Story
A miner was on his way to Dos Cabezas, where here heard there was good prospecting, when he found himself lost and alone in the flats just north of the Dragoon Mountains. In the blistering sun of midday, his burro dropped dead from heatstroke and the prospector knew that he would shortly follow if he did not find shelter and something to drink.
The landscape wobbled before his eyes, and he staggered forward, determined not to drop. But the heat of the desert flats seeped deep into his body and he found his wits wandering. The last sensible thought that crossed his mind before he collapsed was the sorrow his mother would feel when he did not return home from his wanderings.
He was awakened by a steady chug-chug sound. He raised his head from the hard and dusty ground and looked blurrily around him. It sounded like a train was approaching. But that was impossible. There were no tracks in this inhospitable location, and no town for miles. Clackity-clack. Clackity-clack. The sound came again, louder this time. Chug-chug-chug. Then the hiss of steam from an engine. He was hallucinating, he decided.
The miner laid his head on his arms and waited for death to come. As he broiled in the heat, he seemed to hear the words of the old-timer from whom he had learned of the good prospecting sites in the north. The grizzled man had spoken of a shadow train that had come bursting out of nowhere and ran just above the flats where no railroad tracks had ever lain. The shadow train had sped across the desert before his very eyes, a dark smudge against the dazzling light of noonday. It had vanished into the distance while the old man watched, wavering into mirage and then vanishing into the dazzle of the sun.
At the time, the young miner had thought the old man was a bit of a nut. It was an illusion caused by heat stroke, he assumed. But with the steady chug-chug-chug growing louder in his ears, he was not so sure. He raised his head again, and saw a black speck, dark as the deepest shadow, approaching rapidly. He heard the sharp whistle of a train, once, twice. The speck grew larger, and he could make out the shape of a black steam engine pulling two cars. A yellow headlight gleamed oddly in the white-hot glare of the sun.
The whistle sounded sharply again as the train hurtled toward him. The young miner wanted to leap out of its path, but his body was too far gone. He could not even lift himself. He closed his eyes and braced for the impact, but the train slowed suddenly and stopped just a few feet from his head. A jolly-faced conductor stepped out of the train and came over to him. The conductor bent down and lifted him from the ground. Someone else whom he couldn’t see caught his feet, and he was carried inside a passenger car. He felt himself laid down in the aisle, and kind faces surrounded him. "Water," he gasped faintly, just before losing consciousness.
He was wakened by the feeling of cold water smoothed onto his face. He opened his eyes and saw a tall man wearing a sheriff’s badge carefully trickling water from a pitcher over him. The man put down the pitcher and held a cup to his lips, careful not to give him too much water at once. The miner had to swish the water around his swollen tongue several times before he could swallow. When he was finally able to speak, he asked the sheriff what had happened.
"Fellow found you nearly dead about five miles out of town," the sheriff answered laconically.
"What town?" asked the young prospector cautiously, visions of shadow trains and jolly conductors in his head.
The sheriff looked at him strangely. "That sun sure must have messed with your head, son, if you can’t even remember where you was headed," said the sheriff. "You’re in Wilcox, Arizona."
"It’s a stop on the train, then?" he asked hesitantly.
"Train? There ain’t no train around for miles," said the sheriff. "You’d better have some more water and rest a bit. That sun’s nearly sent you loco!"
The young miner laid back down thankfully and closed his eyes. He wasn’t sure why the shadow train had come to his rescue, but he was sure glad it had stopped for him.
Years later, the Southern Pacific Railroad put a track right through Wilcox, Arizona and real trains started rolling through Arizona. But some say the shadow train still races through the flats at midday, where no track was ever laid.
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