Storytime with KBC: The Red Ghost of the Desert
Wait, is this the first one of these things you guys are seeing? Damn, out of sync again. Okay, I guess an introduction is in order. Name’s Kentucky Blue Clay. Yes, THAT Kentucky Blue Clay. Scholar. Treasure Hunter. Gentleman of Atemporal Adventure. Not ringing any bells? How about, “Pseudoacademic Charlatan.” “Grave Robber.” “That Time-Machine Prick.” Yep, there ya go. I knew you’d heard of me.
I guess if you spend enough nonlinear time bouncing around history as I have, you get a bit of a reputation. You also collect a crap-ton of stories. Seriously you guys, I have seen some weird shit. It was just a matter of time before I crossed paths with the Brotherhood. Weird’s sorta their specialty. After they confiscated a few of the more exotic and perilously mystical souvenirs I’d collected over the eons, they offered me a job as the Official Brotherhood Historian. Apparently the last one exploded or combusted or melted or something, who knows? I was too busy ogling all the zeroes on the paycheck to listen.
I’m an adventurer by trade, but a storyteller at heart. There’s so much weird history out there that’s been lost to the ages. The Brotherhood Archives are just jam-packed with the stuff, and I consider it my duty to dig it back up and share it with the world. And maybe sell some of it off to the highest bidder when nobody’s looking. What? Nothing! Nevermind!
Anyway, back to the camels.
This is back in the mid-1800s. The US Army’s out in the American Southwest, building roads and fighting Apaches, and it’s just goddamn miserable. Soldiers and horses dropping dead in the heat. Eventually, some braintrust back at HQ figures, “Hey, you know who would love this hot, sandy shit? Camels!” So they order up a crapload of dromedaries and everything works out great.
Oh yeah, one problem. Camels are assholes. Seriously, you ever try to ride one of those lumpy bastards? They’re stubborn as hell, they fling spit all over the damn place, and they’ve got a voice like Barry White gargling ranch dressing. After a couple years of misery the army says screw it. Some of the camels get sold off, others just get released into the desert to fend for themselves.
The story gets interesting in 1883 when some woman in Eagle Creek, Arizona gets trampled to death. Now this is no everyday, run of the mill trampling (seriously you guys, the past is just awful—be thankful you missed it). An eyewitness describes the culprit as a “massive, reddish-brown abomination ridden by a ghastly, headless monstrosity.” A little melodramatic for my taste. A few months later some prospector gets a better look at it and recognizes it for what it is: a wild camel with a headless corpse lashed to it’s back. I know, right!? That’ll put you off your poutine. Hang in there, it gets worse.
Nobody knows for sure who that poor bastard was. Hard to ID someone without a face back then. Some say it was a soldier, strapped to the camel’s back in a hazing ritual gone WAY wrong. Others say it was a Mexican named Jesus Villegos, who got on the bad side of some angry Apaches. Either way, it’s a perfect recipe for a restless, tortured spirit.
Here’s the really messed up part though. Sightings of what people started calling the Red Ghost of the Desert continued for TEN FREAKING YEARS! For a solid decade, this poor camel was roaming the desert with a festering corpse strapped to its back. A rancher finally put the beast down in 1893 when he caught it in his garden. Its hide was covered in scars from the leather straps, but the body was gone. It was never found.
And that should be the end of it, right? Ha! You do realize who I work for, don’t you?
A few years later, more reports start coming in of a ghost camel and its headless rider. At first, the Brotherhood assumes it’s just drunk prospectors spotting one of the feral ones and tosses them in the crackpot file. Then the bodies start showing up. Lone desert travelers left headless with strap marks seared into their flesh. A single victim every year, always in the summer, but the dates are all over the place. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of pattern to the killings. It’s a couple decades before they have enough data to realize that every death occurs on the hottest day of the year.
Well a fat lotta good that does ’em! How the hell do you know what the hottest day’s gonna be until the year’s already over? There’s just no way to hunt this thing. It was pure luck they ever bagged it at all!
Upsilon Nineteen, under Fosbrook, got the honor of taking the bastard down. They must have pissed somebody off, ‘cause they’d been assigned to repair the Mexico/US chupacabra fence. So they’re sweating their asses off working along El Camino del Diablo when Fosbrook catches sight of the Red Ghost atop a nearby dune.
Now their bus is no use in a chase across the desert, so that crazy bastard hops on his Cipher’s back and rides it off into the sands. He piggybacks after that damn specter for nearly three miles before he manages to take out its legs with an aetheric disruptor. It doesn’t kill it, but it slows it down long enough for Fosbrook to perform a banishment ritual and finally send it to meet its humpbacked maker.
In the end, nobody can say whether it was the ghost of a man driven crazy by a slow death under the desert sun, or of a camel, driven crazy by a miserable life strapped to a rotting corpse. Either way, the American southwest got a little bit safer that day.
Well, actually, no. When Fosbrook got back, he took his team down to Nogales to celebrate the kill. They never actually got around to finishing the repairs on the chupacabra fence. Shitloads of those goatsucking bastards made it through before another team got down there to finish the job. They’re all over Arizona now, and they’re breeding like Mormon bunnies. I take it back. Stay the hell out of the southwest. Especially if you’re a goat.
Alright kiddies, that’s all for this month. Uncle ‘Tuck’s got treasure to hunt. Also it’s finals week and I’ve got a Babelesque tower of papers on my desk that ain’t gonna grade themselves, so I should go pawn those off on my TA. Later, folks! Or maybe sooner—time is an abstract concept.