The Ghost on South Slope

By Mary Joyce Capps

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    Riley and Ted were not only frightened when they heard voices and saw the light from flashlights darting about at the Indian digging grounds, they were angry too.

    Grandfather had never plowed nor planted the south slope because he had discovered that the area was the site of an ancient Indian village. For many years he had tried to preserve the land even though he was poorer because of the loss of crops he might have raised there.

    As a boy Grandfather had found a number of arrowheads and pieces of flint-edged tools on the slope. When he was older he had written many letters trying to interest scientists into exploring the area. Finally, a university archaeology team became interested in excavating the slope.

    After a preliminary investigation, they had sent several crews of students to work under the direction of two experienced archaeologists. As various layers of earth were carefully stripped away, the teams became excited when they discovered that more than one ancient civilization had occupied the slope at different times.

    Every arrowhead and fragment of bone or clay pot had to be tagged as they were removed so that the separate cultures could be studied. And now, looters were endangering the project!

    The students and professors went home on weekends and Grandpa had gone to town to deliver a load of grain. He had not yet returned and Riley and Ted were the only ones left to protect the ancient site. They wondered how they could possibly stop the looters.

    “If only we had a telephone, we could call the police,” Ted suggested as he watched the looters’ light.

    “But we don’t have one, so there’s no use iffing,” Riley said. “Maybe I could slip through the trees and try to see who the thieves are while you run over to Mr. Howard’s and have him call the sheriff.”

    “Okay, Riley,” Ted murmured uneasily, “but be careful. They might be armed.”

    “I’ll be careful,” Riley assured him and then continued, “Lots of people have come to watch the digging, but I’ve noticed it’s Jim White and his friends who keep asking Professor Jackson how much money a war club or spearhead is worth. Maybe they’re the looters. They wouldn’t care about reconstructing history. They’d only want to find a two-dollar arrowhead or a bone knife they could sell. Wouldn’t it be great if some Indian ghosts showed up to haunt them? I’ll bet we’d see some hard-running thieves take off then!”

    “Yes,” Ted said quietly as an idea began to form in his mind. That would beat running all the way to the Howard’s, he thought. But he didn’t mention it to his older brother who had already disappeared into the trees.

    Grandfather had left a wide wooded area between the excavation site and his cultivated land that provided cover for Riley as he climbed the slope. Three-fourths of the way up the hill he stopped. The flashlights had converged on the canvas-covered area where boxes of tagged artifacts were stored before being taken to the university. It was Jim White and his friends all right. One of the lights passed over Jim’s face as he used a rock to hammer at the lock on a toolbox.

    “Take the shovels and dig like crazy all along the trenches where those students work with tiny brushes and metal picks,” Jim ordered. “Don’t bother with junk like fragments. We just want stuff we can sell. We’ll show Professor Jackson how to grub out Indian relics!”

    Riley felt sick as he thought of the slow, painstaking work of the students. They knelt in cramped positions for hours, hardly noticing the hot sun as they brushed soil away from a potsherd. And he was helpless to prevent the destruction of months of hard work!

    Not only was he outnumbered, but the looters were much bigger than Riley. When the sheriff arrested them he could identify all the looters, but that wouldn’t restore the relics Grandpa had protected for so many years.

    Suddenly Riley’s breath caught in his throat and he felt the hair stir on the back of his neck as an eerie moan sounded in the darkness. A voice rose and fell in angry waves but Riley couldn’t distinguish any words. In a few seconds he realized it was drifting down from the summit of the hill and not from the young men who had frozen in a huddle around the battered toolbox.

    Riley shuddered and his heart began to thud like a tom-tom when Jim’s flashlight picked out a figure coming down the slope. It was an Indian dressed in a loin cloth and an elaborate war bonnet, astride a brown horse! His bronze skin glistened in the dim ray of light.

    “A ghost! He’s gotta be a ghost!” someone shouted. No one took time to argue about it. The terrified group broke up and ran off in all directions, leaving behind any thoughts of looting.

    Riley ran too, going as fast as he dared down the steep slope. He had never believed in spooks, but he was convinced he had just seen his first! And his last, too, he hoped.

    “Wait a minute!” Riley gasped, tripping over a log and rolling against a tree. “That horse looked exactly like Grandpa’s Benjo! And the war bonnet is the one I wore in the Thanksgiving Day play at school!

    “It worked, Riley! It worked! They thought I was a real Indian ghost!” Ted cried, as he caught up with Riley. “You said you wished a ghost would scare them away, so I rubbed brown shoe polish all over myself and got your old school costume out of the trunk. Did you see the way they took off? I guess those guys were really scared.”

    “Yes, they were,” Riley agreed. Then with a sheepish grin he added, “And you had me fooled for a minute too.”

    Illustrated by Paul Van Demark