story and artwork by K. Michael Crawford
The warning signs along the dusty and tumbleweed Arizona road should have been my first clue that I was going to stumble into something magical. Sometimes, fear can precede wonder. “NO STOPPING OR PARKING. ALL TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT!” screamed one of the signs. As always, I questioned what I was doing on that small country road where it would take searchers weeks, maybe years, to find my lifeless body, but I have never been one who roamed the well-traveled roads. I am always off on my own quirky adventures ––never with a group. So what if I get put into mildly sticky situations sometimes. They always allow me to see magical places and whimsical people to use in my art and books. Besides, my vehicle was not going to be deterred by warning signs and neither was I.
So I headed down that small bumpy road, not knowing where I was going to wind up or what I was going to see, but hopeful it would be something great. From the Sun’s position, I knew I still was heading in the right direction, West. So all was good and if I kept my car moving there was less chance being shot. Then it happened after the road turned a corner and head downed a small hill. I had driven smack dab into a magical place out in the middle of nowhere.
I couldn’t believe it as I pulled into the small town. I had driven back in time, early 1900’s to be exact. I didn’t know a road could create time travel to the Past. I only knew it could take you to your Future. But here I was back in a Wild West town full of creatures, chickens and lots of ghosts. My kind of mystical town. Signs along Main Street told you to yield to wild burros that roamed freely through the streets. To be sure that my car stayed clear of the wild beasts, I had to pause while a few decided to cross in front of me. I found a parking spot off Main Street and decided the rest of my journey would be on foot. I have learned that it’s a difficult to get the full flavor of places traveling past them in the car. Sometimes you just have to get out and walk.
My feet first lead me to a man sitting on the steps of the old hotel. It was if he had been waiting for me to pass by in order to tell me all his stories about the town and the hotel –what the town use to be like, what happened in the town and who stayed in the hotel. He said he was the caretaker of the hotel and if I wanted, I was more than welcome to walk through it, even though it had been closed for years. I jumped at the chance. As I entered the front door, he mentioned something about a ghost living in one of the upstairs bedrooms. But not to worry, he never hurt anyone. Instantly, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I was excited! I was going to see a ghost!
It’s hard to explain the feeling you get when you know you have entered a magical place. It has such a strong impact on you and your work for your remaining days on this earth. I was in that place at that moment and I knew I would always hold the magic of that place with me wherever I went from there on out. I wanted to remember every niche of that hotel and the town, so I proceeded through the hotel soaking in all the details. Objects around the room brimmed with stories that needed to be told and history dripped down the walls thick as syrup. As I walked through the hotel lobby, I imagined the piano player pounding out a tune on the ivory keys welcoming all guests, past and present.
As I made my way upstairs to the bedrooms, cold chills started to cover my body. Every bedroom had an iron bed and small nightstand in it and I walked into each hoping to come face to face with the beyond. It wasn’t until the last bedroom down the long hall that the magic began. I walked into the room and stood in the center. I heard footsteps echoing towards me down the hall. I thought it was the caretaker coming in to check on me, but no one appeared in the doorway. The sound of the footsteps stopped, and slowly, the door to the room shut and held me captive. This was it, I was standing in the room with a ghost, I was unable to see him, but I could feel his presence. I didn’t move. I just stood there taking in the moment. For some reason, I wasn’t afraid and as quickly as that moment came, it went. The door to the room opened and the footsteps continued down the hallway without leaving a trace of who was there.
Knowing that my magical moment was over, I headed outside to sit with the caretaker. A smile grew on his face as he looked at me. “Well, anything happen?” I took a deep sigh and replied, “No.” I was never quite sure why I didn’t tell him what had happened in that room. I have never been afraid to let people think I was crazy. Crazy is a nice place to live, because no one ever questions what you do. I do know that I have always let my imagination add things to all the stories I have lived and told. Did it really happen or was it my imagination? I don’t know if I will ever know for sure, but the storyteller in me will always believe in the magic of make-believe. That way I can keep creating the impossible to be possible.
Author's Note: From the moment I could hold a crayon in my hand, there hasn’t been a time when I haven’t been drawing and creating whimsical and quirky characters… all whom dwell in a magical land within my enchanted imagination.I have illustrated over 30 children’s books for publishers and educational companies and have won a number of awards for my art and books. Most recently, The Mystery of Journeys Crowne won a Biblio 2009 Best of the Year. So the story goes…and all the magical creatures and strange folks lived happily ever after in art, once their creator got back to work. Make a magical journey to: www.happilyeverart.com
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