The Skeleton's Lantern
An Arizona Ghost Story
S. E. Schlosser
We were on our way back to Yuma following a futile attempt to find Pegleg's lost gold mine out in the heat and dust of the desert. We stopped to make camp for the night between a rock and a hard place, and soon my friend Eddie was snoring loud enough to wake the dead. I drifted off myself, and started dreaming about the pretty girl I was engaged to marry.
Suddenly, I was rudely awakened by a shout in my ear. I looked up into Eddie's ugly mug and almost slugged him. He was pretty panic-stricken about something, so I hauled myself up and looked around. Eddie was clutching his rifle and babbling away about a skeleton. I figured Eddie'd had a bad dream and I had just decided to give him a thrashing for waking me up, when I saw the light.
At first I thought it was reflected firelight. But the light was flickering oddly, and seemed to bounce up and down. I grabbed my rifle and walked away from the fire towards the light. It was a lantern. A lantern suspended within the chest cavity of a huge skeleton. From the aimless, stumbling way it was walking, the light from the lantern wasn't doing the skeleton much good.
I'd never admit it to Eddie, but the sight of that eight-foot tall skeleton made my flesh creep. I told myself it was just Eddie playing tricks on me. To prove it, I took aim at the ghastly creature and fired off a couple of shots. The shots didn't faze the skeleton at all. In fact, my shots didn't even make the lantern flicker. That scared me. I knew then that this was no trick. It was some kind of terrible phantom, stalking the desert at night.
Well, we didn't fancy staying in a desert populated with eight-foot skeletons. We grabbed our packs and hightailed it out of there in the dark. As soon as we reached Yuma, Eddie hopped a stagecoach headed east. He'd had enough of lost gold mines and skeletons, and was going home to work in his Pa's store in New York!
You can read a longer version of this Arizona folktale, plus 29 other stories in Spooky Southwest by S.E. Schlosser.