Amanda Ross is on a school trip to Taos, New Mexico with several of her fellow creative students. Join Amanda, Cleo and their funny friend, Caleb, as they visit an ancient and beautiful landscape where a traditional hacienda, an ancient pueblo, and a haunted and spooky hotel all hold secrets to a wild and violent past. Does Cleo really see ghosts? Can Amanda escape the eerie wind that follows her everywhere? Perhaps the Day of the Dead will reveal the mysteries of Taos in this latest adventure of Amanda’s travels.
About the Author
Darlene Foster is an award-winning author and world traveller who spends her time in Vancouver, Canada and Orihuela Costa, in Spain.
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Amanda in New Mexico
Ghosts in the Wind
By Darlene Foster
Central Avenue Marketing Ltd.Copyright © 2017 Darlene Foster
All rights reserved.
Amanda tried to shout. Nothing came out of her mouth. Something tugged at the covers. Her breaths came in short gasps as she clutched the blanket tight to her pounding heart.
"Amanda, what are you doing? You're completely covered by your duvet."
She threw back the quilt when she heard her mother's voice. "I — I don't know. It felt like something scary was in the room."
"It's just a bad dream." Mrs. Ross stroked her daughter's short, sweaty hair. "Perhaps you should stop reading scary novels. Now, go get in the shower or you'll be late for school."
"Yikes! Look at the time." Amanda jumped out of bed and was nearly at the bathroom door when she remembered something. "Do you have the money, Mom? Today is the last day to pay for the school trip to New Mexico."
"The cheque is in your backpack with your homework and lunch. Now make it snappy or you'll miss the bus." Her mom looked at her watch and left the room.
After a quick breakfast, Mr. Ross handed Amanda her backpack. "The cheque for your school trip to Mexico is in here, make sure you don't lose it."
"Dad, how many times do I have to tell you, I'm going to New Mexico, not Mexico." She shook her head and sighed. "New Mexico is a state in the United States. Mexico is a whole country."
"Sorry." Don Ross shrugged. "I'm an accountant, not a geographer, or world traveller like you."
"I'm just glad you're not flying the plane." She glanced out the window. "Oh no! Here comes the bus."
Amanda ran down the street to the waiting school bus. "Thanks," she said to the smiling driver. Out of breath, she slid into the empty seat beside Cleo.
"Whew, you cut that close," said her friend.
"Whatever. Mr. Kozak always waits for me." Amanda flapped her hand. "Did you bring your money for the school trip?"
"Yup!" Cleo patted her backpack. "I'm not missing this for the world."
* * *
A few weeks later, at the airport in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a minibus waited for the ten grade six students from Calgary's Guy Weadick Elementary.
"That sun sure is bright." Amanda squinted and shaded her eyes with her hand. "Will it be this hot where we're going, Mr. Samson?"
The chubby art teacher threw another suitcase in the back of the vehicle. "We're going to Taos, which is in the mountains, so it won't be hot." He wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. "Now, everybody, please get on board."
Amanda pulled her friend along. "Let's get a seat at the front so we can see everything."
Cleo hesitated. "I'm not sure." Her face paled and her lips trembled. She brushed her curly red hair from her eyes.
"What do you mean?" Amanda knit her brow. "Don't you feel well?"
Cleo looked down. "I — I wish I was at home. I just got an awful feeling. I think something bad is going to happen on this trip."
Amanda gave her a reassuring hug. "It will be fine. You'll see. We'll have lots of fun. You probably just haven't been away from home before." She helped Cleo onto the bus. "I'll make sure you'll be OK," Amanda said as they settled into seats right behind Mr. Samson.
"Amanda, do you believe in ghosts?" asked Cleo.
"No, I don't," replied Amanda. "Do you?"
Cleo leaned over and whispered, "I saw a ghost once, at my grandmother's old house."
Amanda's head shot up. "No way!"
"Yes, way. It scared me so much I've never been back for a sleepover." Cleo bit at the skin beside her thumbnail.
"Well, you're sharing a room with me. I promise to keep all ghosts away," Amanda said with a comforting smile. She wasn't sure what to make of this new information from her friend.
* * *
They arrived at the town of Taos late in the afternoon. At the end of a quiet cobblestone road, the bus stopped at a three-story, terracotta house, tucked in between tall fir trees. The building looked like it had been created out of modelling clay. Colourful clay roosters looked down on them from the flat roof.
Amanda had done some research before the trip. She knew the house and other buildings on the property were originally built in the early 1900s by Mable Dodge Luhan. The wealthy woman invited artists and writers to stay there. Nowadays it was used for artists' retreats, conferences and school visits. Each room in the big house was named after a famous person who had once stayed there. Amanda and Cleo were given Spud's Room on the main floor.
Amanda opened the door of their room and peered in. "This is so sweet. Look, we get our own bathroom and a cool fireplace."
"The furniture looks old and spooky," said Cleo as she claimed one of the twin beds by placing her suitcase on it.
"That's the point. It looks just like it did all those years ago when famous people stayed here." Amanda ran her hand over a green leather chair. "I love it!"
A tall, dark-haired woman poked her head in the door. "Is your room all right?" asked Ms. Bowler, the grade six teacher.
"It's super!" Amanda's eyes sparkled.
"This was Spud Johnson's room. He was Mable Lohan's private secretary and a writer himself. He published a magazine called The Laughing Horse and printed it on a small handheld printing press. You can see the press on display in the living room."
"That is so awesome," said Amanda. "Where are you staying, Ms. Bowler?"
"I'm staying in the Gate House Cottage with the other teachers. We each have our own room. It's very cozy."
"Are there any ghosts here?" asked Cleo.
Ms. Bowler ruffled Cleo's curly red hair. "No, sweetie, there are no ghosts. Just great vibes from talented authors and artists. We are very lucky to be able to stay here. Remember, you were all picked for this trip because you like to write, paint or take pictures. Don't forget to log onto Kidblog so you can write about your experiences in New Mexico. You can start by writing about the bus trip here or your first impressions of the house and your room." The teacher glanced around. "Once you've freshened up, come downstairs to the dining room. The cook has prepared a nice meal for us."
"Thanks, Ms. Bowler. I can't wait to write about this place. We'll be down soon."
Amanda began to put her things in a drawer. "You can have the closet." She looked over at her friend.
Cleo stood in front of the open closet door, shivering like someone who had been soaked with a garden hose in January.CHAPTER 2
"What is it?" Amanda moved over to Cleo and peered into the empty closet.
"I — I thought I saw someone when I — I opened the door," Cleo stammered.
"There's nothing in here except hangers." Amanda swiped her hand around the inside. "Oh, and these two white bathrobes hanging at the end. Maybe they moved when the door swung open."
"Maybe." Cleo swallowed and looked down.
Amanda reached for Cleo's hand. "Let's go downstairs and get something to eat. We can unpack later. Besides, I'm starved."
Amanda led the way to the dining room on the lower level where they met the other students. The room felt warm and cozy. In the centre of the red and black tiled floor sat a heavy oak table with high-backed chairs surrounding it. Several smaller tables, each set for four, stood in the corners of the room. Vibrant art decorated the walls. French doors led out to a spacious courtyard with more tables and chairs.
Amanda looked up. The ceiling, painted with diagonal stripes of red, black and white between the wood beams, looked like a Navajo rug. A black, wrought-iron chandelier hung from the centre.
A woman, in a long white apron and a floppy chef's hat, greeted the children. "The kitchen and dining room are exactly as they were over a hundred years ago. Mrs. Luhan and her husband, Tony, entertained their many notable guests here. This room was often jam-packed. I'm Audrey, by the way, and will be your cook, hostess and general know-it-all during your stay. Anything you want to know, I'll do my dang best to answer for you young folk." She winked at Amanda and Cleo.
Amanda immediately loved Audrey's southern accent and warm personality.
"Come, have a look at the kitchen, and then you all can eat." Audrey motioned for the children to follow her.
The smell of roast chicken made Amanda even hungrier. Along one side of the kitchen, a dark wood cupboard with a brightly tiled counter top held a sink, toaster, coffee machine and a large spice rack. The windowsill, lined with cheerful red geraniums and herbs in blue pots, looked out into the garden. A massive stainless steel stove with two ovens rested against another wall. Beside it, a large rack held stainless steel pots, bowls and utensils. A butcher's block stood in the middle of the room, bearing platters piled high with chicken, dumplings, mashed potatoes, green beans and bright orange carrots.
"Most everything we eat here is from our garden, and is grown organically," said Audrey. "So, grab a plate and help yerselves."
"This is so good, isn't it?" Amanda took another bite of roast chicken and glanced at Cleo. She was enjoying the hearty meal, her face no longer pale. Amanda hoped she had heard the last of ghosts.
Later that evening, after unpacking, Cleo soaked in a bubble bath. Amanda took out her tablet and wrote an article on Kidblog about her impressions of New Mexico so far. Then she sent an email to her parents and one to her friend Leah, in England. She really wished Leah could be here with her on this trip as they always had so much fun when they travelled together. She wondered what her friend would think of Cleo's phasmophobia, or fear of ghosts. Amanda had been studying phobias recently and kept a notebook with a list of weird dreads.
* * *
After tasty breakfast burritos the next morning, the children went downtown to the Governor Bent Museum. A friendly man called George took them through the dusty old museum while explaining the history of the area. There was a stuffed eight-legged lamb that intrigued the boys. Some stopped to make sketches while others took pictures.
"This museum was the home of Governor Charles Bent who served as the first United States territorial governor of New Mexico," described George. "He lived in this house with his family and died here in this very room in 1847." He pointed to a bricked-up oval hole in the wall. "It was through this opening his wife and children escaped to the house next door when the local Mexicans and Indians broke into their home and killed the governor."
George picked up a piece of paper and waved it in front of the students. "This is a report of the incident in the words of Teresina Bent, his daughter, who witnessed it at the tender age of five. I have photocopies for any of you who would like to read it."
Amanda's hand shot up. "I would like a copy, please. Why did they kill him?"
"They were unhappy about having an Anglo-American rule the territory their people had lived in for many centuries."
"How sad," said Amanda. She took a copy of the story from George.
"Do you want one?" she asked Cleo.
When the group stopped at a café for a milkshake, Amanda began to read the article.
"I can't believe this. This poor little girl saw her father murdered right in front of her and the whole family!" Amanda read out loud from the piece of paper:
'"We were in bed when the Mexicans and Indians came to the house breaking doors. Some of them were on top of the roof, so we got up and Father stepped to the porch, asking them what they wanted and they answered him, we want your head, Gringo, we do not want for any of you gringos to govern us, as we have come to kill you."'
Cleo clapped her hands over her ears. "Oh, please, don't read any more of that awful story."
Amanda folded the paper in half and put it in her backpack. "I'm sorry, Cleo. At least we know his wife and children were spared. Teresina wrote this when she was a married woman. It seems they had a different way of saying things back then."
"Yes, they did. Let's go for a walk around the town," suggested Ms. Bowler. "There are some cute shops if you're looking for souvenirs to take home."
Amanda finished her milkshake with a slurp and jumped up. "I'm into that!"
The students had fun looking in the adobe style shops filled with unique local crafts. Amanda bought herself a tiny, terracotta, good luck pig called a chanchito and a beaded, multi-coloured gecko pin for her mom at a shop called Earth and Spirit Gallery. In a small, building that used to be the town jail, they sampled hand made chocolates.
"It's hard to think this place used to be a jail," said Amanda as she swallowed a tasty coconut truffle. She picked up a package of spooky skull-shaped sugar candies painted with bright skeleton faces.
"These are very popular for the Day of the Dead which is coming up soon," said the sales clerk.
Amanda wanted to ask more about the Day of the Dead but the other students had left the shop already. She quickly paid for the candies.
Once she caught up with the others, Amanda noticed a street sign which read, Teresina Lane. "Do you think this street is named after Teresina Bent?"
"I believe so," replied Ms. Bowler.
A breeze sent a shiver through Amanda. She thought of how terrified the little girl must have been on that horrible night her father was killed.CHAPTER 3
"Ms. Bowler, where are we going this afternoon?"
"We're going to visit a hacienda, Amanda." Ms. Bowler adjusted her glasses.
"What's that?" asked a boy named Caleb as he fiddled with his camera lens.
"It's the main house on a ranch or large estate." The teacher sounded like she was quoting from a dictionary. "The one we are going to is Hacienda de los Martinez. It has been restored into a museum depicting how the Spanish settlers lived here two hundred years ago. There'll be great photo opportunities for you." Ms. Bowler nodded at Caleb.
The hacienda was a short bus ride from the town centre. The flat roofed, windowless clay building stood lonely in the middle of a dry field. Two large, beehive shaped, terracotta mud ovens sat outside the door. The teacher explained the ovens, called hornos, were used to bake the daily bread.
Beside the massive wooden door, a post with a sign nailed to it stood guard. Amanda giggled when she read what was under the picture of a donkey:
MULE PARKING ONLY. ALL OTHERS TOWED AWAY.
She snapped a picture.
The group followed Ms. Bowler through the door which opened into a square courtyard. The teacher handed out a map of the hacienda to each student. "The people who lived here spent most of their time outdoors. This placita or courtyard would have been a hive of activity. Imagine the inhabitants processing wool and leather, cooking and baking, mending equipment and other farm activities. These rooms surrounding the courtyard would have been used only in bad weather." She pointed around. "You have an hour to explore the rooms on your own. Don't forget to take pictures, make sketches and jot down notes. Any questions?"
Amanda put up her hand. "Why is the front door so huge?"
"The large, heavy door was built so that in the event of an attack, the wagons and livestock could be brought into the courtyard for protection. Notice there are no windows on the outside and the walls are two feet thick. The hacienda was considered a refuge for the family and their neighbours."
Amanda glanced at an old stone well in one corner and a donkey cart in another. "Where should we start?" she asked Cleo.
"Let's start here." Cleo pointed on the map. "Please stay close to me though; it's spooky here. I have a bad feeling." Cleo tugged at the curls escaping from her baseball cap as she squinted.
"Don't be silly. This was just a family's home." Amanda entered the dim room called a sala and read the explanation on the map. "It says here this was the main living area."
"There isn't much in here," Cleo said, scanning the packed-earth floor.
"I guess they didn't have much furniture. Look, the beds are above the stove. That would keep them warm." Amanda stroked a carved chest. "I wonder what they kept in here." She tried to open it but it seemed locked.
A bright light flashed.
Amanda whirled around.
Caleb grinned from ear-to-ear. "Got you!" He held up his camera.
"Don't do that! Look how you frightened Cleo." Amanda glared at the boy.
Cleo trembled. Her freckles stood out on her pale face. Amanda steered her out into the sunlight.
"Maybe we shouldn't go into any more rooms," said Cleo.
Amanda groaned. "But I really want to see more. Cleo, there are no ghosts or anything like that." She crossed her arms. "It was just a camera flash."
Cleo looked down and chewed her thumbnail.
Excerpted from Amanda in New Mexico by Darlene Foster. Copyright © 2017 Darlene Foster. Excerpted by permission of Central Avenue Marketing Ltd..
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