Ghost Story Now that their best chance for returning to the home planet has left without them, the "Czechoslovakian" residents of Roswell (code for aliens) must adjust to a more permanent existence on earth than they were expecting. Seeing a possible future for the two of them, Maria nags Michael about money, sending him packing on a salaried weekend trip to help a geologist study a proposed chemical company site. As the group camps out under the stars, a round of spooky ghost stories provides entertainment -- until one of the guys sees a real ghost. The kicker? Michael can see it too. River Dog has also been plagued by the shades of the past in recent days, and he brings Max out to the desert to bear witness as the apparition threatens him. He tells Max of an ancient Mesaliko prophecy that tells of vengeance being exacted by the tribe's ancestors if Visitors are allowed to remain among them -- Visitors like Max, Michael, and Isabel. As the hauntings increase in both frequency and violence, the alien teens and their friends know they must uncover the true origin of the phantoms -- whether physical, mystical, or alien -- before the ghosts follow through on their deadly threats.
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Pale lightning, the color of splintered bone, tore jagged streaks in the dark night sky. Thunder pealed, still a little distant, but definitely growing closer.
Lying on his back on top of his sleeping bag near the campfire, Michael Guerin stared up at the swirling storm clouds. Excitement coursed through him, and -- surprisingly -- the sensation felt good. Usually, given the secrets he held, excitement was a bad thing.
"What?" Michael asked, not bothering to look at the speaker and resenting the interruption.
"What are you grinning about?"
"Didn't know I was."
"Well you are, and I think it's about time you stopped. Getting caught by a storm out here isn't exactly something most folks want to do."
"Sure." Michael adjusted his laced fingers behind his head and tried not to look so cheerful. That morning he'd been glum and taciturn. Taciturn had been the word Junior Doggett had used. The word wasn't one that Michael had ever used, or intended to use. Except maybe on a test in school now that he'd decided to carry on with getting an education.
The lightning sparked again, threading the sky with spidery shafts. The air mass over the desert floor shifted, dropping at least five degrees.
"Going to be cold tonight," Junior said.
"Maybe you shoulda brought your flannels," Flynn suggested. Where Junior was narrow-shouldered and short, Flynn Boyd was big and burly, outspoken and rude. Flynn was one of the reserve backs on the Roswell High football team.
Michael didn't hang with either one of the guys back in school, but the summer had conspired to bring them together. All of them had been hired by Kurt Bulmer, a local geologist, to help survey the tracts of land outside Roswell where they'd camped out less than an hour ago.
The loud detonation of thunder sounded almost overhead. The sudden gust of wind that followed the crash gave the impression a cannon had gone off nearby and dusted the campsite with blowback that carried a spray of sand. The dome tents quavered under the onslaught, then once more looked like gaily-colored toadstools bubbling up from the harsh, broken ground.
Michael couldn't help himself. He grinned. The others were freaking, and he felt more alive than ever.
I'm free, Michael thought contentedly. No arguments with Maria for the next couple of days. No questions about what I'm going to do with myself. No discussions of responsibility.
Of course that freedom couldn't last. There was still the schedule at the Crashdown Café to return to in a couple of days when the surveying gig petered out. School had ended for the summer only a few days ago, and so had his chance to return to his home world.
Tess had gone, though, and she'd taken Max's baby. But Michael supposed he was pretty okay with that even though Tess's betrayal and murder of Alex still caused his stomach to knot up every time he thought about it; Max wasn't ready to be a dad no matter what he thought, but Tess wasn't the answer to that problem, and Michael still wanted Tess to pay for what she had done to all of them. To Michael's way of thinking, there was always plenty of time for Max to play dad later. It would be tough dealing with Max till he accepted that, but hiding out in a small town while not being quite human was pretty tough, too. Michael was all about tough living.
Lightning flared again, followed immediately by the sudden crash of thunder.
"Tents can leak," Junior grumbled.
"Nah," Flynn replied.
"Moisture passes right through tent walls," Junior argued.
"Only if you touch the tent wall while it's raining, numbskull," Flynn retorted. "Just don't lean up against the tent wall after the rain starts."
"And if I roll over against the tent wall while I'm sleeping?"
"No prob," Flynn said. "I'll just zip you up in your sleeping bag nice and tight. Kurt's got plenty of duct tape in the gear we brought."
Two of the other guys at the camp started to laugh. Junior cursed them all. For a guy who knew big words, Michael decided, Junior pretty much knew how to talk trash with the best of them.
Gathering himself with a lithe move, Michael spun around and sat up on the sleeping bag, roping his arms around his knees while he stared at the two verbal combatants. "Hey, Bert and Ernie," he said.
Flynn glared at Michael while Junior joined in with a reproachful look. Hostility and guilt all mixed into one convenient little package, Michael thought. Could be daunting, guys, but Maria's got you both beat.
"What?" Flynn snarled.
"Bored?" Michael asked. He wore a dust-streaked T-shirt and jeans. Baths were a couple days off after they returned to civilization. Maria couldn't have handled the rough living, but the hardship was cake to Michael.
"What are you talking about?" Flynn asked suspiciously.
Michael stared out across the campsite, knowing he had the attention of the other four guys on the work crew. All of them had gathered around the bonfire in the middle of the campsite. Only a short distance away, Kurt Bulmer sat in his private dome tent and worked at his notebook computer by the light of an electric lantern.
Tiller and Perry rounded out the work crew. Tiller was just a guy Michael had passed in the halls, somebody spending time in the institution to get on to the next phase of his life. Last year Tiller had dropped out of school after his ex-navy father had committed suicide, deciding to work to help out his mom and three younger sisters.
Perry was a gamer who was so geeky, he didn't even fit in with the brainiacs like Junior and his friends. As usual, he wore sunglasses even at night and a black T-shirt with a nearly naked anime babe wielding a sword and pistol. Seated only a short distance away, cross-legged, Perry unconsciously shuffled cards from a collectible card game he and the other gamers played at school and at the Crashdown.
"We're all bored," Michael explained. He glanced up at the lightning-streaked heavens. So far they'd been lucky and the rain had held off. "It's night, but the time's what? Maybe nine o'clock? Way before our usual bedtimes, and we don't have anything to do."
"Probably not before Junior's bedtime," Flynn said, drawing a scathing retort from Junior.
Michael took a deep breath and reached for what little patience he had remaining. "I was just thinking that maybe we could figure out something to do."
Perry shuffled his cards suggestively. No one took him up on the unspoken offer.
"I know," Junior said, scrambling for his backpack. He pulled out a couple library books. Further searching turned up a small flashlight. He shoved the flashlight under his chin and turned the beam on. The golden light played across the planes of his face, turning his eyes into cavernous hollows.
"You're a pumpkin?" Flynn asked. "You want to play Halloween?"
"No, you cretinous moron," Junior said in disgust.
Flynn stood up, rising to his full, impressive height. "Talking like that is gonna get you thumped."
Junior flicked the flashlight off as if trying to vanish into the night's shadows.
"Flynn crush," Perry said, laughing derisively. "Flynn destroy."
Flynn shot Perry a venomous glare. "I get done here, I got plenty left over for you, geek."
"Not Halloween," Michael said, trying to bring the conversation back to the subject of distraction rather than destruction. "Ghost stories."
Junior flicked the flashlight on again, highlighting his face once more. "Bwah-haaaa-haaaaa!" he bellowed.
Despite his rough-and-ready act, Flynn was startled and jumped back at the outburst. The instinctive retreat caused Perry and Tiller to laugh. Michael grinned wider, but really wasn't looking forward to ghost stories, which he considered almost as boring as the argument between Flynn and Junior. Still, he was glad someone had thought of something to do.
"Think you can handle it, Flynn?" Perry taunted. "How many times have you been out in this part of the desert? They got all kinds of spooky things supposed to be rambling around out here."
Tiller joined in, obviously enjoying the challenge of rattling Flynn. "The Mesaliko Indians believed in shape-changing monsters with a taste for human flesh. And there are all kinds of stories about murders on trail drives and wagon trains rolling into California during the gold rush." He nodded at the hills surrounding the campsite. "Maybe you don't know what's really out there."
"You guys are full of crap," Flynn said. "I haven't been scared since I was in diapers."
"Let's see," Junior mused. "That would make it...last week?"
Flynn doubled his fists and started toward Junior.
Normally Michael wouldn't have stepped in, because he liked to keep to himself. Instead he was up and between Flynn and Junior in a heartbeat. Tiller had gotten to his feet as well, but he would have been too late.
Flynn glared at Michael. "You want some of this, Guerin?"
Michael kept his own hands up, fingers outstretched in a nonthreatening way, but he knew he could use his forearms to block anything Flynn tried to throw. "Me?" He shook his head.
"Then get out of my way."
"Can't do that," Michael said.
Flynn set himself, ready to punch.
"Think about it," Michael said. "You guys fight, maybe we lose the job. I don't know about you, but I can use the money we're getting paid." He eyed Flynn levelly.
Flynn glanced at the tent where Kurt Bulmer still labored.
"What about it, Flynn?" Michael asked. "You think maybe a good payday means you can put up with Junior another couple days?"
Flynn shot a harsh glance over Michael's shoulder. "Still gonna kick your butt after we get back to town."
Junior laid back, his hands clasped behind his head like the threat was nothing.
"I'm thinking ghost story," Michael said, not taking his eyes from Flynn. "What about you, Tiller?"
"Sure. I got half a bag of marshmallows left."
"Perry," Michael said, "you want to tell the first one?"
"Sure," Perry said, rifling his deck of cards. "I got a good one. I call it 'The Head-Eater.'"
"Terrific. Sounds like a winner." Michael stared up at Flynn. "We okay here?"
"Sure," Flynn said grudgingly. After a final stare, he turned and lumbered back to his sleeping bag.
From the corner of his eye Michael caught Junior making a gesture that would have probably gotten him killed if Flynn had seen him do it. Michael retreated to his own sleeping bag as Perry began his story.
"This all happened a long time ago," Perry began in a properly creepy voice. "A hundred years ago. Maybe more. Back in the days before the West was settled. Only the Mesaliko bands roamed the mountains and alkaline valleys out here those days, and they weren't friendly."
Doubt stirred within Michael. During the encounters they'd had with River Dog, one of the medicine men of the Mesaliko Native-American reservation outside of Roswell, Max had done research on the tribe. The Native-American group hadn't been extreme or harsh unless persecuted or threatened in some way.
"There was this one guy," Perry continued, "the tribe kicked out. His true name was soon forgotten by the tribe, or never used again because they considered him less than human."
"Why'd this guy get kicked out of the tribe?" Flynn asked, glaring at Junior. "Being some kind of pain in the butt nobody could take anymore?"
"No," Perry said. "Head-Eater got kicked out of the tribe for the same thing that earned him his nickname."
"Eating heads?" Junior asked in obvious excitement. His eyes danced behind his glasses.
"Yeah," Perry replied, warming to the story.
"Cool," Junior said.
Even Flynn lost part of the effort he was putting into ignoring the others.
"Seems Head-Eater got stranded in the mountains during one winter," Perry said. "He was with a hunting party when a blizzard came."
Michael only vaguely paid attention to the story. The tale followed the familiar patter of every ghost story he'd ever heard. He wasn't surprised by a whole lot of things that were crafted from mechanical artifices. Stories followed certain routes, and he'd even figured out the trick ending of The Sixth Sense.
Figuring out the ending had been okay, but telling Maria had obviously been a bad move. Actually, he still didn't understand what had been so bad about telling her; after all, she'd been dying to know what was really going on. But that had only been until he'd told her the trick. Then she was mad at him -- again.
Perry strung the story out, building up the suspense and the gruesome horror of the grizzly bear that had attacked the trapped Mesaliko Indians and killed them one by one. The story was perfect camp tale fare, and the approaching storm added to the overall effect. Junior and Flynn were bug-eyed as they listened to Perry detail the bloodthirsty attacks by the bear.
Tiller kept to himself.
Too late Michael realized that with Tiller's dad committing suicide, ghost stories might not have been the best choice for an evening's entertainment. But there was nothing to do about it now that wouldn't make the situation worse by calling attention to Tiller.
"So Head-Eater's been lying there for days," Perry went on, "and he's getting hungrier than he's ever been. He starts looking at the dead warriors lying around him, and he starts thinking maybe they wouldn't taste so bad. So he starts a fire -- "
"In the middle of a blizzard?" Flynn challenged.
Perry looked irritated. "The blizzard's been over for days."
"What did he burn?" Flynn went on. "If there were any sticks up in the mountains, they'd all be covered by the snow."
"He found some sticks, okay?"
"Not in no blizzard," Flynn said.
"Besides," Junior said, "it would be better if the heads were raw. Grosser."
Michael reached for a nearby bag of marshmallows, took a couple out, and pierced them with the wire cooking utensil he'd used to fix hot dogs earlier. As the marshmallows caught fire, he thought about the way they looked kind of skull-like. He considered telling the others, but decided against it.
"Okay," Perry said, sighing, "the guy ate the heads raw. There he was, his leg all busted up from fighting the grizzly bear -- "
"I thought you said it was his arm," Flynn interrupted.
"Damn!" Perry exploded. "Will you just let me tell the frigging story?"
"It's more believable if you get the details right," Junior said.
"Fine," Perry growled. "This guy has a busted arm, and he's just discovered he's got a busted leg."
"A busted arm," Flynn said doubtfully, "and he's rubbing two sticks together that weren't somehow covered over during this blizzard."
"Hey, I'm just telling this how I heard it," Perry protested.
"Get back to the head-eating part," Junior said. "We're right there with you for that."
Michael pulled his marshmallows out of the fire and...
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2002. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110743418379
Book Description Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2002. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0743418379