Monthly Archives: April 2013

Chap. 12 – New Arrivals

Barnaby ran with his hands covering his head for fear the storm woman might rain down upon him an unknown wrath from above.  He weaved in and out, not sticking to a straight course to make hitting him more difficult.

He didn’t dare make an attempt to look over his shoulder to see if the “evil” thing pursued him.  To turn would slow him down and to see it, whatever it may be, might cause him to fall.  Once in the dirt he would either be overtaken or would lack the will through sheer terror to stand once again and run.  He thus put his legs on auto pilot and willed them to mechanically flee.

Barnaby’s greed and selfishness angered him.  He had entered the woods in search of only a story but within mere seconds the possibility of riches overcame him.  Within seconds he became no different than all the others who had entered the woods in search of gold before him and the storm woman was watching.

Her appearance above the trees must have always coincided with an individual’s credible attempt to retrieve the gold.  In Barnaby’s case, he knew right where it rested and could have uncovered it in a few hours.  Why she protected it Barnaby could not figure but for the moment he did not care.  At the moment he valued his life more than any treasure.

He fled back towards White’s creek and the beach.  After having come from that direction, he knew he would not get lost and he knew to where he could flee.  Even in this short amount of time however the trees appeared different as though the smaller ones had already grown and when he arrived on the beach, all evidence of his foot steps had vanished.  He breathed so hard he did not realize the storm woman’s screeching wail had stopped.

He turned slowly, afraid he might see her above the trees staring at him with menacing eyes but she had vanished.  He heard nothing and not even a leaf stirred.  All had become so quiet that he could his heartbeat thumping in his ears.

Barnaby sat down in the sand trembling with fear, his eyes darting in every direction as they looked for a new threat to emerge.  He took deep breaths to calm himself, but he still shook.  He had felt naked and vulnerable running through the woods like a scared child while the Storm Woman floated above him.  Where did she go he wondered?  Why did she disappear?  He kept scanning his surroundings wondering if she might burst from the shadow of the woods or the thick of the marsh with a blood curdling cry.

No occurrence he had witnessed thus far had shaken his courage to so great an extent.  He didn’t know whether to stand and prepare for flight or sit and try to avoid detection.  His emotions ran wild and he couldn’t formulate a sound decision in his head.  He looked upward with dread.  He saw nothing and he sensed perhaps that scaring him away satisfied her.  She would not return unless he sought out the treasure again.  That’s what he hoped for at least but he knew she watched from the darkness.

He surveyed his surroundings.  Here on the beach he felt he could stay out of trouble for a few minutes and at least see anyone at a distance who might try to sneak up on him.  He looked at the sky and though he felt the time period had shifted forward, the moon had not shed any weight.  Either the history unfolding in these woods had no power over the atmosphere above or every past act in these woods occurred during a full moon within its own period.

The boy’s body he pulled from the bay as well as all the others that floated ashore were gone and Barnaby wondered what had become of them in their time?  Were they left for the scavengers or given a decent burial?  Did the piratical sailors even deserve  such charity?  After witnessing their vile conduct in the woods, Barnaby would have to say “no”.

He felt sorry for Mary as she wept over the death of her husband William but Barnaby frowned when he thought of all the husbands she may have killed during her life of piracy.  Did she not receive just punishment for their deaths?

The gentle breeze soothed Barnaby and he speculated whether he should wait out the night on the peaceful beach until morning.  A skeletal soldier had attacked him, two pirates had shot at him, and a screaming apparition above the trees howled at him.  He had experienced more terror in the past hour than he had encountered his whole life.

He lay back on the cool sand, not caring too much about getting it in his hair, and stared at the stars.  He wanted the night to end and thought about sleeping to make it go quicker, but he worried he might wake up with a sword in his chest or to find himself buried up to his neck in the sand.  He sat up and decided it best not to get too comfortable for fear of falling asleep.

He cocked his ear.  “Shh!” he ordered his heart.

The sweet, comforting sound of harp music floated off the water.  It’s not over he thought.

The music was faint but unmistakable and as he tip-toed down to the water, he could hear it more clearly.  A large wooden ship emerged in the moonlight at least one hundred fifty feet in length with three large masts.  The ship slowed as it approached the beach and came to a halt at the mouth of White’s creek around one hundred yards from the shore.  The harp music stopped and Barnaby could hear a man barking orders in English though he didn’t believe the English made galleons of this size.

Barnaby retreated from the shoreline and took cover behind a sand dune.  A cloud drifted in front of the moon and all light vanished.  Barnaby squinted but he could see nothing though he did hear the splash of what he assumed was an anchor.  The captain yelled orders for many more minutes but in the darkness Barnaby could not determine what the men were doing on the ship or why they had arrived off the shores of Haven beach.

He turned around behind him every so often because he feared the skeletal Spanish soldier might suddenly appear from out of no where and attack him for doing nothing more than lying on the sand.  He could not figure the soldier’s identity but he guessed a brave man would not have fled at the mere sound of a breaking stick.  Those types of people tended to attack first and ask questions later, which was probably why he attacked the tent with such ferociousness.  He had no courage to ask questions.

The moon begin to creep out from its hiding place and once again illuminate the beach.  Barnaby eagerly looked for the ship to see it now anchored in the spot Barnaby last saw it.  A few lanterns sparked to life; no doubt to provide light for the deck hands he could see tending to various ropes about the vessel.

A small row boat with four men slithered to shore.  Barnaby’s heart sunk and his stomach tightened.  In the dark, he had not seen them disembark from the galleon and did not hear their oars in the water.  His night time adventure continued.

They skidded onto the shore only forty feet from Barnaby’s dune.  Three of the men jumped out while the fourth remained sitting in the front with his back to the beach.  The three men pulled the boat a little further onto ground then yanked the other man out of the boat and onto the shore.

Barnaby could tell right away the man’s hands were bound and he hoped this man too would not share the same fate as Mary and William.  He began to understand that pirates, at least the ones he had so far encountered, were much like their ill reputed reputations.

The short, thin man quivered though this could not be from the cold as the humidity felt like a warm wash cloth pressed on the forehead.  His feet were bare, he wore trousers extending just below his knee, and his shirt had no sleeves.  He wore a bandana wrapped around his head and on his back he carried a small sack.

The other three men wore waist coats similar to Edward and Christopher’s but these men also wore tri-corn hats with boots.  The man bound looked like a common pirate while these others were dressed as naval officers, possibly from Spain which might explain the Spanish galleon off which they came but not the English they spoke.

Not surprisingly, all four men were shorter than Barnaby.  Most people in this time were not provided the vitamins and nutrition of today’s children and the fact they turned to piracy in the first place probably indicated they were poor and may not have eaten well in their formative years.  As pirates they had worse food options; salted pork and stale biscuits if good fortune shined on them.  Most food on the ships grew moldy or became infested with weevils or roaches.  Fresh fruit was a rarity, though Barnaby guessed the Caribbean pirates who landed on local islands had it a little better.

Two of the men grabbed the prisoner’s arms.

“Lead the way,” growled one of the pirates, “and make haste.  The Spanish will be lookin fer their ship and Captain wants to sail before dawn.”

The bound man nodded in the direction of the woods without speaking a word.

One of the other pirates pulled his knife and stuck it to the prisoner’s throat.  “Don’t ye be leading us all over these woods either.  If the sun comes up and we’re not holdin booty in our hands, than our orders are to bleed ye in there.  Understand?”

The prisoner whimpered, “Aye.”

“Let’s just take him in the woods and kill him and tell the captain he be lyin about the treasure,” suggested the third pirate.  “The Spanish will be coming fer their ship soon.  We need to flee while the night will still hide us.”  The man began to cough a loud, hollow, cough.

“If anything does us in it will be yer hacking and wheezing,” growled one of the men.  “They can hear you all the way in Ocacroke.”

The pirate with the knife laughed then removed it from the prisoner’s throat and stuck it under his belt.  The prisoner too laughed but not for humor’s sake but for his life.

“Lead the way and you’d better hope we find something,” he growled to the captive man.

“No torches?  How am I supposed to find it in the dark?”  His voice shook.  His life depended on them finding the treasure and they were handicapping him with no light.

“Captain doesn’t want us settin the woods on fire.  Then the Spanish will knows were here,” replied one of the other sailors.  “Ye better hope yer memory is good.”

Barnaby now understood the situation clearly.  These men were either pirates or privateers that had captured a Spanish galleon.  There wasn’t much distinction between privateering and all out piracy.  Privateering basically meant you had the permission from your government to raid other country’s ships so in a sense one was legally allowed to be a pirate.  This in no way meant the men behaved any more civilized.

Why these pirates had dressed themselves as the Spanish they raided, Barnaby couldn’t guess, and he didn’t know why they had yet another pirate as prisoner or what existed in the trees they thought this man could find.

He contemplated following them but hesitated.  Why go looking for trouble he thought but then he quickly rationalized trouble had a way of finding him.  No matter where he went whether it be in the woods or on the beach, he always had an unwelcome encounter.  Was he any safer here on the beach than he would be following his enemies?  Probably he admitted, but the beach presently had not story.  He would follow these new ghosts at a distance and determine why they were there.

As he walked he thought of Jules and wondered how she might react.  Would she scold his foolishness yet admire his daring?  He wished she could see him now regardless.

The pirates entered the woods in the same spot from where Barnaby recently exited when fleeing the storm woman.

“Where is this treasure hidden?” one of the pirates grumbled.

“My grandfather told me it is in the woods,” the prisoner almost stuttered fearing he might be beaten if he didn’t produce it.

“Where in the woods?” the pirate snapped and placed his hand on his dagger.

“I d-d-don’t know for sure,” the man stumbled on his words, “he told me he buried it on a small hill under two holly trees and a large pine tree one hundred and fifty paces from a pond.”

“What kind of dullard is your grandfather to go buryin treasure in the dirt?” laughed another pirate.  “It doesn’t do him much good in the ground.”

“Maybe we should take all the treasure we stole from the Spaniards and bury it on the beach,” laughed the third pirate.

“Sounds like too much work,” coughed the last pirate, “if we really want to be rid of it, let’s throw it over board.  Why end there?  Let’s just blow up our new ship while were at it!”

All three pirates roared with laughter at the prisoner’s expense.

Barnaby had heard Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island popularized the myth of buried treasure and though it’s not impossible that through the history of piracy a pirate never buried his treasure, they rarely did so.  Pirates were in constant danger from diseases running rampant aboard their vessels, governments seeking their capture, and Mother Nature.  They lived so few years that they generally spent their earnings quickly.  There could be no tomorrow.

The idea of burying treasure probably did make about as much sense to these pirates as sinking one’s own ship and yet Barnaby had witnessed such a burial earlier.

Once the laughter faded the pirate with the cough began to wheeze and gag and fell to the ground to catch his breath.

Barnaby ducked behind a tree because he knew the others would stop and turn.

The pirate on the ground hacked and hacked and then sat back on his knees, took a deep crackly breath, and wiped his glistening chin.

The two standing pirates looked at each other fearfully and covered their mouths.

“You’ve got consumption,” one blurted out.

The pirate on the ground didn’t want to hear it.

“Take care of yer tongue, I do not,” he whispered.

“When have you last eaten?” the other pirate asked taking notice of his shipmate’s condition.  “You look skeletal!”

“That’s not your business!  What’s there to eat anyway other than pickled eggs and furry biscuits?  I will be good in a moment.”

“We don’t have many moments if were going to dig up this treasure before dawn.  If we don’t make it back to the ship, Cap’n will leave us.”

“Quit yer worrying ye dog!  Go on without me if ye must but if ye should find me lyin here on yer return, pick me up and take me back even if ye have to kill the prisoner to do so.”

“We aren’t leaving ye,” one pirate said frustrated.  “But we haven’t much time.”

After a few minutes more the sickly pirate regained some of his strength and began trekking through the woods once again.  Where they headed was clear and if forced to show them, Barnaby could have taken them to the buried treasure in mere minutes.   They had to rely on the memory of their prisoner though, and so they staggered through the pale moonlight until they found the pond in the center of the woods.  They then set off in counting out 150 paces from the pond but the prisoner could not remember if the map said one-hundred fifty paces to the South or to the West and so the four split into two groups and began counting.

Unfortunately they couldn’t agree on the proper length of a pace and so one group went much further in one direction than the other group would have.  An argument ensued until the diseased pirate once again started to cough and so without further discussion, they left him sitting at the pond and continued counting out steps as they were eager to remove themselves from his presence.

Finally they got so tired of counting and re-counting that they began to roam about the woods looking for a spot matching the prisoner’s description as described to him by his grandfather.

Barnaby sat hidden under the shadow of a low hanging holly branch a good twenty yards from the location of the buried treasure and waited for them to find it.  The sick pirate lay on his side but Barnaby couldn’t determine if he slept or not.  The other pirates stated the sick pirate had consumption a word Barnaby did not recognize, though by the way they covered their mouths it was an illness they thought contagious and did not want to catch.

“On what ship did ye grandfather sail?” one of the pirates called out to the prisoner.

“The Sea Eagle or maybe it was Sea Sparrow.  A bird’s name it had,” he shouted.

The pirate laughed.  “Eagle sounds better than sparrow.  What was his name and how did he come upon this treasure?”

“I knew him as Christopher Wren but he said he changed his last name so as not to get caught.  The treasure according to him belonged to Charles II.”

“So why didn’t he ever come back and get this treasure?” the other pirate asked still skeptical over why any pirate would bury their money.

“A storm sunk the ship and he was hurt real bad.  A Dutch merchant ship picked him up but he was unable to come back here.  He has always been lame since I knew him.”

Barnaby realized about whom this prisoner spoke.  It had to be Christopher the pirate who only an hour earlier buried the very treasure which they sought!  The same man who chased him through the marsh and onto the beach.  It had to be him!  He was the only man other than Edward who knew the whereabouts of the buried treasure and Edward died when their ship sunk in the storm to which the prisoner referred.

Amazing Barnaby thought!  Christopher evidently told the tale to his grandson though Barnaby figured he may have conveniently omitted the part about killing two people and burying their bodies with the treasure.

“What about here?” one of the pirates called.  Barnaby peered around his tree and saw the pirate had indeed come close to the spot where Christopher and Edward buried the treasure.  Not much more than an hour ago there sat a hole but now it looked as though fifty years had passed.

The prisoner and the pirate who guarded him walked over to the other pirate and looked around.

They examined the distance between the pond and the two holly trees and determined the location best resembled the description than any other spot.  The sickly pirate lying near the pond climbed to his feet and stumbled towards them.

They removed the long sack tied around the prisoner’s neck and pulled out crude looking shovels that perhaps weren’t shovels at all but rather contraptions the sailors had created on the ship.  In reality why would a sailor need to bring a real shovel to sea?  There wasn’t much use for digging aboard a ship.

One handed the shovel to the prisoner, “Start digging!”

The pirate who handed him the shovel picked up the other and joined him.  He looked at the other pirate who stood nearby doing nothing and mumbled.

“We should have brought more shovels.”

He barely uttered those words when the wail of the storm woman cracked open the chests of every man present and rained down horror into their hearts.

The men cowered and looked skyward.  The shadowy figure of the woman floated above the trees and wailed at the sea.  She did not look directly at them but all knew why she had appeared.

“These woods are cursed!” shouted the pirate holding the shovel.  He threw it down and covered his ears.  “You’ve taken us to a cursed treasure!”

The prisoner looked in fear at the pirates as he thought they might kill him at any moment.

“We must flee,” shouted the other pirate, “lest hell hath our souls!”

The two pirates turned and ran back towards the ship.  The prisoner watched his captors flee and knew he could escape but sensed evil in the cold wind rushing through the trees.  Shaken with terror he chased after the two pirates deciding it best to be a prisoner than suffer the wrath of this wailing banshee.

The third, disease ridden pirate tried to follow but he collapsed after making it only a dozen yards back towards the beach.  His fleeing shipmates never looked back nor did they acknowledge the desperate calls from their fallen friend which were immersed within the echoing cries of the storm woman.

Barnaby waited for the pirates to pass then ran back towards the beach behind them understanding they would not hear his footsteps over the sound of the screeching storm woman.  He jumped over the body of the sick pirate and glanced back at him.  The man’s arm stretched towards the beach and his face rested in the dirt.  He remained motionless.

Barnaby considered stopping but the Storm Woman’s cries became fiercer and the sick feeling of impending death that he felt charging through the woods earlier, gripped him once more.  So he chose to save himself rather than a man he believed already dead.

He gained ground on the weak prisoner so he slowed as to not overtake him.  The prisoner exited the woods then broke right towards the row boat.  He disappeared from Barnaby’s view.

Barnaby pulled back to a light jog and took cover behind a dune at the mouth of the woods.  Darkness lingered on the beach but he could still tell the pirates who were  mere seconds ahead of him had vanished.  He saw no sign of their row boat either but the galleon, still present, had drawn its anchor and sailed many yards from shore.  A loan lantern flickered still on the aft end of the boat.

While he watched the galleon head out to sea the light disappeared and the ship all but vanished from sight.

The storm woman stopped screaming as she had before when Barnaby left the treasure and he sighed with relief, feeling he had dodged yet another bullet.  He turned to make sure she had vanished but to his horror, in the dark sky, her haunting apparition continued floating in front of the moon.

She hovered with her arms and legs outstretched and her dark dress billowing in the wind.  She eclipsed the moon and cast her darkness over the beach and sea.  She no longer cried but she continued to scowl at the galleon as it departed.

Barnaby remained motionless too afraid to even breath.  He did not want her to notice him lying in the sand seventy feet beneath her.  She paid him no attention but maintained her focus on the galleon’s hasty escape.

Barnaby wanted to turn over and check its progress but he wagered he could not see the ship in this darkness and he didn’t want his movement to catch the corner of her eyes.

Abruptly the woman began to shout again.  Barnaby jumped and covered his ears.  What anger powered the ferocity spewing forth from this woman?  He dared not look at her while she screamed for fear his heart might die.  Then as suddenly as she started, she stopped.  Barnaby opened his eyes and saw she had vanished revealing the pale moon.  He flipped over to try and catch one last glimpse of the galleon.

Yes there she is he thought but to his amazement, she had company.  The storm woman’s disappearance revealed the presence of two other galleons on the bay.  Each had hid in the dark while the pirates, unaware of their existence, began to pass between them at a distance of about thirty yards on each side.  Once the woman disappeared and the moon shed her shadow, the two similar Spanish Galleons were revealed to the pirate’s terror.

Fire burst from the galleons’ cannons and began splintering the stolen pirate ship.  The pirate captain had no chance.  He had no cannons at the ready to return fire and his only hope was to survive the onslaught long enough to pass between the two ships and make his escape.  The two attacking ships were pointed at the beach and would have to turn to pursue.  This should give the pirates a formidable lead, but they had first to survive.

Barnaby saw the small bursts of flame jump from the galleon’s cannons and moments later heard the repeated, loud “booms” as the sound reached him over and over.

The wind disappeared like a man over a cliff, and the pirate galleon slowed to a pitiful crawl.  The Spanish galleons hammered it with dozens of cannon blasts whose sounds impacted the air like thunderclaps.

The spectacular but brief confrontation horrified him.  What despair must the fleeing pirates be experiencing aboard their stolen ship?  To feel the crippling panic as they fled from the ghostly apparition of a woman darkening the sky and shattering it with her horrific wail; to feel the hopeful relief after she vanished only to discover a breath later she had revealed to them their doom.

Two skulking vessels, every bit as large as theirs, loomed with dreadful intentions, both prepared to unleash death and destruction on a simple spoken command from their captains.  Did the pirate crew hold their breath, did they utter a profanity, did any think to say a prayer when they turned their heads to see not one but two vessels of war ready to usher in their deaths?

Cannonballs ripped through them from both sides and mounting any type of offense seemed futile.  The pirate captain’s hopes for escaping died with the wind.   All hands had been so pre-occupied with escaping the storm woman that none were available and ready to return fire.  The battle would not last long enough for them to even make it below deck.  What did the crew do then, Barnaby wondered?  Did they jump overboard or did they do what good they could with their tiny pistols and go down with the ship?    The booms from the cannons and the screams from the wounded spread terror through the men like fire through dry brush.  They had little hope to escape.  Their lives were over and as they ran without sight through the smoke much as they had done through life, did any of them consider what hell might await them in death?

Barnaby guessed there were at least fifty men aboard the pirate vessel and he doubted any would survive to feel the cold comfort of treasure again.

Could the Storm woman’s revealing of the moon at the very moment the pirate ship nearly sneaked past the two galleons in the dark be coincidence or did she orchestrate the pirate’s destruction for disturbing her treasure?  Did she drive the pirates off the island right towards the Spanish who laid waiting in the dark?

Smoke so choked the horizon he saw only hazy outlines of the ships and he could not tell if the pirate’s galleon still lived or if she had sunk.

He walked down to the shore, turning every so often to check the sky for the menacing storm woman, and gazed through the darkness.  The ships were gone; vanished to where ever ghosts go when they’ve played their role.

The bodies began rolling in immediately as they had earlier when a storm destroyed the first pirate vessel.  The sight, even if these men were full of evil and treachery, struck him with melancholy  What human could dare say the sight of death lifted their spirits?

The pirate prisoner whose Grandfather had chased Barnaby earlier in the night drifted in first.  As he watched the body float onto the sand, he remembered Mary’s curse towards Edward, Christopher and their families.  Was this grandson a victim of her words?  Could dying women posses such power that they could curse a family and all their descendants?

He walked down the shore, examining the bodies from a distance.  Many of the corpses were horribly disfigured and missed limbs.  Barnaby felt compelled not to study them further out of respect for their new deformities.  He knew he was acting silly but he felt it impolite to stare at their disfigurement when they were helpless to turn away.

Others were intact and he could see their pockets stuffed with coins.  They fled the fight to avoid injury and jumped over board with as much booty as they could carry in hopes they could make the swim to land.  This greed ruined them.  The gold at that moment had less value than brick.  They drowned shortly after diving into the water trading their lives for the slim possibility of wealth.

One pirate, not more than five and a half feet tall, laid half in and half out of the water while the waves lapped softly over his waist.  His eyes remained open, and as Barnaby moved around him, he found he could not escape his eerie gaze much in the same way the eyes of a portrait always seem to find you in every corner of a room.

He knelt down next to the man to examine him further and tried his best to ignore the dead stare burrowing into his head.  A spark of excitement fluttered within him when he saw resting beneath the man’s left hand, three inches under the water, two shiny coins.  He found the pirate’s lifeless stare upon him unsettling so he pulled the soft, bloated eye lids down, and with a sigh nudged his head in the other direction.

“Sorry,” he said to the corpse.  “I won’t take them with me.  I just want to see it.”

With an icky feeling, he rinsed his hands in the water and wiped them dry on his clothes.

Barnaby reached in to examine one of the coins.  As this was not the Storm woman’s treasure but that stolen from the Spanish, he didn’t feel threatened.  He lifted a coin out of the water but the coin disintegrated and ran through his hands like gold paint.

Surprised and flustered, he reached in to grab another but tested its strength beneath the surface before pulling it out.  It felt hard and solid the way a coin should.  He turned it over under the water with both hands to examine its markings, but his body provided too much shadow.  Once again he brought it forth from the water but as before the coin disintegrated between his fingers.  The coins were simply a ghostly illusion much like the men and they would soon disappear as would the bodies of their pirate captors.

Barnaby stood and continued to walk near the water’s edge.  He made his way around what looked to be an old pirate lying on a wooden slab of the ship.  The man appeared old but who could tell in this light especially after near death had ravaged his body.  He could easily be only about forty or forty-five.  As he passed he thought he heard the creaking of wood and turned quickly to see the pirate struggling to balance himself on one elbow as he reached out to Barnaby with his other arm.

Barnaby ran to him quickly and without thinking grabbed his hand.

The man fell to his back exhausted but continued holding Barnaby with his wiry muscular arms.  His head was bare except for a bit of hair over his ears and the sun had bronzed his skin.

“What is your name sir?” he asked weakly.

“I am Barnaby.”

The man smiled.  “You are a Christian?”

“Yes.”

“Can you save me?” he asked.

Barnaby looked over the man’s body with despair and insecurity.  He looked to be well intact but he could be bleeding under his clothes or internally.  He did not know how to save this man nor could he save a man long gone to the grave.

“I’m s-sorry, I’m not a doctor,” Barnaby stammered feeling terrible he could do nothing for him.

The man closed his eyes, smiled, and shook his head slowly as though to do it any harder might cause him more pain.  “No,” he replied hoarsely, “not physically, spiritually?”

Barnaby leaned back a little with realization.  “You wish to be saved; as in through Jesus Christ?” he asked clarifying the man’s wishes.

The pirate nodded gently.  “I don’t have much time.  I feel the fires of hell nipping at my feet.”  He swallowed hard from fear, “I don’t want to spend eternity in agony.”  He leaned towards Barnaby and grabbed his shoulder with his free hand.  Barnaby winced slightly from the strength of the man’s grip but did not shrug off his death hold.  “Please don’t let me die a sinner!” the man pleaded.

“I’m not a priest or a minister, I don’t think I can save you,” Barnaby replied apologetically.  He had never tried to save anyone spiritually before and did not possess the confidence to do it properly.  This man’s soul was on the line, an eternity of hell, and those things he would not relinquish to his incompetence.  “But you can, you can save yourself,” Barnaby assured him.  “You don’t need me at all.”

The pirate looked at him confused.  “What are you talking about?”

Barnaby grabbed the man’s arm that held his shoulder and squeezed it tightly.  He knew the man hadn’t long to live so he spoke quickly and with urgency.  “I can’t make you believe in Jesus at least we don’t have the time but if you do believe in him, you have to ask him into your heart.”

“I do, I do believe in him!” the pirate answered desperately with a hint of craziness in his eyes that faded as quickly as it emerged.

“You have to repent then!” Barnaby exclaimed as the pirate’s eyes began to close and his grip on Barnaby’s shoulder weakened.

“No!” Barnaby grabbed the man’s hand and held it in place.  “Don’t go!  You have to repent of your sins!”

The man slumped and his head fell into the sand.

Barnaby pushed him onto his back and shook him gently at first then more vigorously when he didn’t wake.  “Wake up!”  He slapped the man on his face; a small price for him to pay to avoid the pits of Hades, but he didn’t stir.  “C’mon damnit!” Barnaby shouted.  The man lay dead and where he went Barnaby feared to consider.

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Chap. 11 – Storm Woman

Storm Woman

“Drive him toward the beach!” Edward shouted.  “We’ll corner him on the shore.”

Barnaby frowned at the sound of Edward’s plan but at this point he had little choice and in his fatigue could not think up alternative ways to escape.  He looked to his right but he could not see the road so he pressed on.

All three men began to slow and Barnaby hoped a fresh man wouldn’t appear from out of nowhere to join the chase because he would then surely be caught.  He jumped off an elevated embankment and plunged into the marsh separating the woods from the beach ahead.  His muscles burned so much that he felt like he waded through wet cement.

Several seconds later he heard the splash of his pursuers as they followed in after him.  Thankfully they too moved like exhausted zombies.  Edward pursued in the lead and Christopher followed right behind.  Edward now carried a knife and Christopher trudged along with his saber almost falling under a few times.

Ahead Barnaby saw thick patches of reeds and cattails in which he thought sure he could lose them but the pirates waded only a few yards behind and Barnaby didn’t have the speed to properly move out of sight, so he continued to proceed in a straight line.  His pursuers began to hack at the stalks with their swords and Barnaby gained substantial ground on them at this time as they tired themselves further.  Christopher shouted death threats as Barnaby disappeared.

“Death awaits you on the beach you foul beast!” he shouted.  “Stop now and we won’t bury ye like we did the woman.  We’ll kill ye quick but it won’t be painless.”

“Seriously?” Barnaby thought.  People really spoke like that?  Barnaby ignored his rants but insecurity about what lied ahead bothered him.  He might be running straight into a pirate camp on the beach.   If this occurred, he would have no where to flee.

Many minutes passed before the thick patch of reeds and grass began to thin.  Barnaby looked behind and could no longer see or hear Edward and Christopher.  He had no idea where they went but knew they could not have passed him in the marsh.

He emerged onto Haven beach exhausted, soaked from the waist down and began to stagger towards his left in hopes he might find a place to hide.  The wind blew much stronger on the water than in the woods and on the horizon he could see an army of storm clouds moving out to sea.  Rain had hardened the sand and he stared in amazement to discover it did not look the same as the one to which he often brought his children.  It extended into the water much further and around him he noticed hills of sand, like mini dunes.

Across the creek sat Rigby Island which looked more like an island rather than an oversized sand bar as Barnaby always considered it to be.  Strange Barnaby thought, it’s as though he were transported back through time to an era when years of erosion had not ravaged the beach.

He considered reentering the marsh in another spot and hiding as he figured Christopher and Edward would emerge from the marsh behind him.  If not to continue their pursuit at the least, to return to their ship, but he noticed no ship present on the water.  Generally a pirate sloop would enter into White’s creek between Rigby Island and Haven beach and hide behind the island’s dunes but he saw no such ship.

Then something in the small, ankle high waves caught his eye.  A man floated in and skidded to a halt on the shore.  Barnaby looked and saw another a little further down the beach.

He listened for his pursuers and confident they no longer pursued him, ran to the first man and rolled him over.  He was gaunt and the bumpy redness of his skin indicated the bay creatures had nibbled on him.  He wore nothing but a shirt and worn pair of pants.  A finger on his left hand was missing but this appeared to be an older wound.  He had a beard and long black hair and was probably no more than twenty or twenty-five years of age.

Engrossed by this experience, Barnaby hurried down the beach to a second corpse.  Upon reaching him, he saw further down other bodies floating onto the shore.  The man floated face up with a pistol tucked into his belt and a dagger on his hip.  He saw no other wounds on him indicating how he died so Barnaby speculated he had drowned.  He looked around.  No Edward or Christopher and he sensed he would not be seeing them again.

Barnaby proceeded onward looking over each man.  One he passed looked no older than twelve.  This boy he dragged onto the beach.  His eyes frozen open with death looked past Barnaby at the stars.  It appeared from the wound on his head that he may have died prior to entering the water and did not drown like the others.  His long, blond hair smelled of mud.  His clothes, much too large for him, must have belonged to another fully grown pirate who no longer needed them or of one who had been killed.

Barnaby closed the child’s eyes and said a prayer for him.  Though the prayer came three hundred years late, Barnaby knew God would hear it and hoped the words would make a difference when the boy had to account for his brief life of piracy.

Barnaby walked further and spotted a familiar face.  To his shock he saw Edward the pirate, one of the men who moments ago chased him through the woods.  He looked the same but he no longer held the knife he carried while chasing Barnaby.  He appeared older than the other pirates judging by the creases in his face, perhaps about forty or forty-five but appearances could be deceiving.  Because of the hard, weathered life he led as a sailor, he could have been five to ten years younger and only looked old.

Edward’s mouth hung agape and Barnaby could see three gold teeth inside.  He contemplated praying for Edward but could not rationalize why he would pray for a man who moments ago fought to kill him; a man who shot his own friend in the back and buried a woman alive.

He walked up and down searching for Christopher’s body feeling a little odd about leaving Edward’s behind to lie in the surf.  He figured he should have more compassion for his enemy but he hadn’t the heart to forgive so soon.

He could not find Christopher but did count eighteen others on the beach and guessed the remaining crew might have drifted elsewhere.

Barnaby looked outward to the horizon and noticed once more the fierce lightning and a low rumble of thunder fading in the distance.  Could this storm have destroyed their vessel?  How did Edward get back onto his ship when minutes ago he chased Barnaby?   Minutes after that he sailed on his ship and now he lay dead on the beach.

History, Barnaby deducted, progressed according to plan. Edward after killing William and Mary, returned to his ship only to have a storm drown him shortly thereafter.  This explained why Haven beach appeared so much larger.  Barnaby saw it as these pirates did three hundred years ago.  He wondered at what point Christopher and Edward vanished in their pursuit of him.  Perhaps Mary’s curse held more power than mere words and her vengeance sunk the ship.

Mary!  He hustled back to the woods taking a different route around the marsh grass.  Though he traveled with little obstacles his chest and legs burned and he moved much slower than desired because of his wet clothes.  He had the unsettling feeling that time for Mary had advanced as it had for the two pirates pursuing him.  When he reached her resting place, he worried he would locate no remains of her.

Finding his way back took a while because he was not familiar with the woods and the vegetation had also appeared to grow and change with time.

After wandering around for many minutes, he found what he believed to be the spot where Mary and her husband were killed.  As he thought, he saw no fresh soil and a thick layer of pine straw covered the spot.  The surrounding trees were definitely the same ones.

To be certain he removed his small flashlight he fortunately had kept in his pocket rather than leave in the tent for the Spaniard to hack to bits, and searched for the tree which Christopher’s pistol ball had splintered.  Up ahead, just where he guessed, he found a small mark on the tree where the projectile had struck.  The damage looked old because the tree had healed over time.

Barnaby placed his hands on his hips and looked back to Mary and William’s burial spot.  More than thirty minutes could not have passed since their deaths and yet the woods clearly looked decades older.  He still heard her heart wrenching cries and curses.  He wondered if she died fully buried or if they took the time to ensure her head remained above ground.

Few people get to see another murdered especially in so disturbing a fashion.  Barnaby felt uneasy and almost sick when he considered the reality of such evil existing in the world.  What might they have done if they caught him?

Two heavy chests were tied to Mary and William’s feet and thrown in with them.  Barnaby presumed the chests contained treasure considering he heard Christopher mention their attack on one of King Charles’ ships.  Evidently the theory of pirates burying their booty was not so far fetched.

Charles II was a deposed king of England exiled in France for ten years after his father Charles I died.  Years later Charles took his rightful place on the throne but historians theorized that when he first fled England he may have sent money to the New World so he could set up residence because he feared for his life in England.

Could it be possible the chests buried with Mary contained the gold Charles delivered to America?  If so, then the bounty would have to be substantial.  It would be enough to comfortably take care of his wife and children.  His wife would no doubt view him in a much improved manner and he could escape the belittling torment of his father.  He could share with Maxine so she could pay for her husband’s hospital bills.  He could even fix up Doris’ home.

He ran back, kicked away the blanket of pine needles, and began digging through the dirt with his hands.  He completely forgot about the murders he had just witnessed nor considered he would be unearthing their bones.  He knew it would take hours but the promise of treasure made the effort more than worth it and he didn’t want to risk driving all the way home for a shovel and lose this spot in the woods.

He fell to his knees and like a dog began digging with his hands.  He  unearthed only a few inches of soil when a shrill cry exploded above him.  He stopped digging and cowered as he looked upward.  In the sky he could make out the ghostly figure of a woman floating over the trees.  The anger in her loud voice struck fear into Barnaby’s heart more than any pirate or skeletal soldier could.

She is angry with me for digging he concluded!  She does not want me to disturb the treasure!

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he shouted, but she continued with her shrieking.  Out of the darkness he felt coming towards him a cold rush of evil.  Sticks snapped and he heard the clashing of branches as a force pushed through them intent on getting to Barnaby.  Rather than peer into the darkness and stand frozen like fool, Barnaby fled through the trees in terror.  I’m gonna die he thought!

Chap. 10 – Villainous Deeds

Villainous deeds

Barnaby saw the light vanish and knew for now he had ran far enough away that he could make his escape without fear of the skeleton man hearing.  He jumped up, paid no attention to the dirt clinging to his clothes, and began running towards the road but he grabbed a hold of a tree after several yards and turned to look behind him.

Should he go, he wondered?  Was he cowardly for running away?  Was it not his daring of which he was most proud?  Of course he should flee, he thought.  A terrifying dead man shredded his tent!  Could there be more than a handful of men in the world with sufficient bravery who would remain in the forest?  Most would have run screaming at first sight Barnaby speculated but yet he remained, pondering whether he should indeed leave.  Couldn’t this mere consideration to stay be a sufficient indicator of Barnaby’s courage when all others would have fled without a second thought?

Look at the skeleton soldier, he laughed to himself, he ran away at the simple sound of a stick breaking.  As terrifying as he appeared, he possessed no more courage than he did beauty.  Perhaps his fear pressured him into attacking the tent.

Barnaby crouched down by the tree next to which he stood and wrestled with his decision.  Stay and prove his courage or leave and live.  The logical choice for most men is to choose life, but when a man wrestles with a feeling of inadequacy for a good part of his existence, he often will go to extreme measures to prove his worth when given the opportunity, even if it is reckless to pursue it.

Barnaby didn’t have long to debate the pros and cons when he heard a voice in the distance.  He saw no lights but heard arguing.

He knelt behind a tree and tried to make out the words but they came from too far a distance to decipher.  The woods shed so many dead branches that sneaking up on anyone without making a sound was unrealistic.  What was he thinking?  He needed to leave right then, but his curiosity overwhelmed him.

He started to tip toe through the pine droppings towards the source of the voices hoping their own noise would cover his.  The closer he got the lower he crouched until he crawled on all fours.  Soon he could hear their conversation clearly.  He lay flat on the ground when he came in sight of the commotion.

He saw two men bound to a large pine tree as two others dug a hole with crude shovels.  Their lanterns hung overhead on branches and provided a swirling mixture of shadow and light as they swayed with the wind.  The larger man bound on the left had hair down to his shoulders and a slight beard.  His pants did not reach his feet and his shirt lay torn across his chest.  The second, smaller man had short hair and a clean shaven face.

The two others digging the hole had their backs to Barnaby for most of the time but they wore similar fashion.  Their pants did not reach their ankles and their light shirts looked to be tarnished with dirt.  One man had a bandana wrapped around his neck, but the other darker man did not.  Perhaps because his darker complexion prevented him from burning.  Both wore small knitted caps on their heads but neither wore shoes which Barnaby guessed made it difficult to dig holes.  Their dark coats which the men shed to better handle the heat and humidity, hung on a nearby tree branch.

Barnaby observed them for several minutes and neither individual spoke during the time they dug the hole which lasted for many minutes.

The two men dug and dug until they stood in a hole reaching just above their waists.  They climbed out and disappeared from site for a few minutes then returned with two small wooden chests filled with something heavy by the way they struggled.

Barnaby’s excitement began to override his fear.  He was soon to witness real pirates burying treasure!  These pirates, he speculated, came from the Golden Age of Piracy when pirates plundered ships from the Chesapeake Bay all the way down to the Caribbean.  They were ghosts like the Spaniard who slashed his tent but their bodies were intact and they were also from a different era given the appearance of their clothes.

He  had witnessed more ghostly activity in a matter of minutes than most ghost hunters would ever experience in a lifetime of searching for it.  These ghosts were not wispy, ethereal beings rather they appeared solid and hardy as they must have in life.  Because of this Barnaby did not feel the same horror he experienced when encountering the skeletal pirate even though these men before him were just as dead.

He looked over his shoulder, this time careful not to break anymore branches, and scanned the woods for the skeletal Spaniard.  He wondered if he were part of this group or whether he hid from them.  He could very well be out there in the woods, watching these men, waiting for the right moment to run in with his sword and attack with mad vigor.

Barnaby could not determine why the other two pirates were tied around the tree but did not have long to wonder.

The two pirates carrying the chests dropped them next to each prisoner.  Then taking a length of chain, they fastened one end to a strap on the chest and the other to the ankle of a prisoner.

“Why didn’t ye tell us about yer wife, William?” one pirate groaned to the larger prisoner as he wrapped the chain around his ankle.

“What good would that have done, Edward?” shouted the other, smaller prisoner in reply to the questioning Pirate.  “We’d of ended up no differently.  Captain would have saw to that.”

“I’m supposin that’s true,” mumbled Edward and he continued to tie the knot around the larger pirate he addressed as William.

“Let her go Edward,” shouted the larger prisoner William.  “I brung her along.  Leave her here and tell the captain ye killed her.”

“Forced her to come aboard the ship did ya?” the other pirate who worked on tying his chest to the smaller prisoner’s leg, sneered.  “You know the code about bringin women aboard.  You tellin me she didn know what she was doin?  You telling me she didn follow you of her own accord?  She knew what she be doin.”

“You can speak to me, Christopher,” shouted the smaller prisoner to the jesting pirate.  “You don’t need to speak of me as though I weren’t sittin here in front of ye.  We’ve been mates fer the past four months.  You didn’t think of me as so lowly when ye thought I a man.”

The pirate called Christopher crawled up into the smaller prisoner’s face.  “But ye aren’t a man are ye?” he asked.  His lips hovered an inch from her nose and she struggled not to bite it off.

“No more!” exclaimed Edward.  “What good is it to taunt the woman?  Is killin her not enough?”

“Let her go Edward!” William the larger prisoner pleaded.  “If she must be punished than let her watch me die but don’t take her life too.”

“No!” shouted the smaller prisoner.  “If we must die then we die together.”

William turned to the smaller prisoner.  “Mary be still!  Ye can make a life here in these trees.  There are settlements springin up.  No one will suspect ye were a pirate.”

“There is no life without ye,” Mary replied.

“Awww Edward, me thinks me gonna cry,” mocked Christopher the sneering pirate.

“Silence!” Edward commanded.  “Or I’ll throw you in the hole with them!”  Edward took no pleasure in the duty commanded to him.

Christopher scowled and grabbed his jacket from the tree.

“I’m sorry William but I have to follow the Captain’s orders.  You shouldn have brought her on the ship with ye.”.

“Curse your orders!” William shouted.  “The worse he should do is maroon us somewheres.  This is no fit way for a sailor to die!”

Once the chains were secured to their ankles, Edward stood with a long face and walked behind the tree to which William and his wife Mary were tied and began to cut their bindings.

Barnaby looked behind him again and scanned the darkness.  He saw nothing.

Barnaby determined the situation.  William the pirate had brought his wife Mary to sea with him and she worked amongst the sailors disguised as a man.  According to some pirate’s code, bringing aboard a woman jeopardized the ship’s welfare as many men, starved for the affections of a woman, would quarrel and fight over her.  Death was often dealt as the penalty for both the man and woman.

Barnaby shuddered as he prepared to witness the execution of both William and his wife Mary and he wondered how many times this ghostly act played out in the woods?

The second Edward cut the binds, William sprang forward and tackled Christopher.  He sat on his chest and choked  him with horrendous vigor.  “I’ll make sure you don’t lay hands on my wife when I pass!” William shouted.

A pistol shot rang through the woods and William slumped to his side and fell partially into the hole.

“No!  William!” cried his wife Mary.  “Curse you!  I curse you both!”

Christopher coughed and gasped for air.

“I did not want to do that,” Edward moaned as he stepped through the smoke.  He tucked his pistol into the rope around his waist.

“What difference does it make ye heathen?” Mary screamed.  “We were both as good as dead!  You were going to kill him anyway.”

Christopher sat up and in a fit of anger kicked William’s body the rest of the way into the hole.  He then picked up the heavy chest tied to William’s ankle and threw it on top of him.

“Curse you!” Mary shouted with venom.  “I curse the both of you!”

Christopher pulled his gun and aimed to shoot Mary when Edward stopped him.  “No!” he shouted.  “Captain wanted them buried alive.  That’s why we tie the chests to their legs, so they can’t dig themselves out.”

“You fiends!” Mary cried.  “Pray you never have children so the curse on your families ends with your deaths!”

Christopher yanked her to her feet, struck her in the face with the back of his hand, then threw her into the hole with William and tossed her chest in with her.

Mary knelt down next to her husband sobbing and began to stroke his hair ignoring the pirates above.  “We will be together soon darling,” she whispered.  Her heart ached.  She kissed his warm lips and looked for him to waken like the princesses did in the fairy tales.  But they were pirates and pirates did not deserve fairy tale endings.

“If we hadn attacked good ole King Charles’ ship and stolen his loot before we put back into port, you might never had been found out,” Christopher sneered.

Edward and Christopher ignored her sobbing and began to shovel dirt on her but she paid it no mind as it struck her with a “thud” in the back.  She continued to weep over her dead husband’s body.

Barnaby knew they intended to bury her alive, perhaps only to the extent where her upper body remained above ground.  The heavy soil and chest tied to her ankle would prevent her from managing an escape.  What a terrible way to perish.  She would remain in the ground and die of suffocation, starvation or dehydration.  Either fate was a nightmare.  William seemed to have secured an easier death when he attacked Christopher.  His poor wife must now go through her slow, painful death, alone.

Barnaby heard her wails of anguish but could not see her as Edward and Christopher continued to throw heaping mounds of dirt onto her body.  Barnaby, moved by the emotional scene jumped forward and shouted.

“Let her go!”

The two pirates spun and Barnaby, who stood about ten yards away, stepped backward to flee.  Edward dropped his shovel and began to reload his pistol.  Christopher drew his once more from his waist belt and shot at Barnaby without properly taking the time to aim.  A tree ten feet to Barnaby’s left splintered when the lead ball hit it.  Christopher tucked his gun away and drew his sword in anger.

“Finish burying the woman, I’ll get after this one!” he exclaimed to Edward.  Barnaby turned and fled when Christopher bounded toward him with his sword.  He knew if he ran for too long then Mary would soon be buried up to her chest and would die shortly after but how could he turn and face a man skilled in fighting with a sword when Barnaby possessed no weapon at all?

As Barnaby ran in between the trees he could hear Christopher the pirate shouting obscenities at him.

“Stop runnin vermin and I’ll make yer death quick!”

Barnaby glanced over his shoulder and saw he easily maintained his gap between Christopher.  Pirates were not the fittest people and their poor diets lent little to their endurance so Barnaby had no trouble in extending his lead.

Slowly so as not to draw attention to his plan, Barnaby began to turn back towards Mary in a wide swooping arc.  He hoped he could lose Christopher along the way and make his way back to Mary undetected.  With a little luck, Edward might already be gone and Barnaby could dig her out without the others knowing.  Would it make a difference though?  Did she not already die over three hundred years ago?  Could freeing a ghost from her torment change the outcome?  Wouldn’t all this happen again?

Barnaby’s thoughts were interrupted when another shot rang cracked the air and a pistol ball whizzed behind his head.  Barnaby ducked and saw Edward the other pirate  pursuing from his left.  Christopher, many yards behind now, still gave chase.  Barnaby had no way now of turning back towards Mary as Edward had cut off that route.  His only choice would be to face the pirates, die, and perhaps live the rest of his existence as a ghost in these woods or continue to run.

He kept running.

Chap. 9: A Full Moon Encounter

A Full Moon Encounter

Barnaby, annoyed with his father, and feeling a bit inadequate for hiding from his father’s friends, decided he needed one uninterrupted night in the woods to exorcise the disappointment he had with himself.  With his wife’s blessing he entered the woods again during a full moon as he felt it would provide sufficient light with which to see.  He of course left out the detail that the ghost soldier had returned but she would have doubted Doris’ story regardless.

He was uncertain how his father and friends knew exactly where he camped but he figured his close proximity to the road didn’t help.  This time he decided to move deeper into the woods and bring plenty of bug spray confident his father would not return to the woods immediately after their fearful encounter.  Barnaby wanted to get into the woods during this open window of opportunity before they re-summoned their courage.

He followed the same routine he had during his previous insertion into the woods and after listening to the trees sway and bugs hum, he decided to turn in.  This time sleeping did not come easy as he grew concerned the lost traveler would appear but he had a hunch the ghost stuck to the road.  Regardless he remained on guard for several hours until he passed out.

He dreamt of his wife as he often did.  He married her because he could not take his eyes off of her and because he knew for certain how much she loved him.  He could not pass up such an opportunity to spend the rest of his life with someone who genuinely wanted to spend the rest of their life with him.  He did not have to romance Jules but  rather she romanced him and he felt like a champion because of this.

Little by little, year by year, the nagging feeling she did not love him so much as she once did crept into his mind and spoiled his dreams.  The paranoia spawned from his own sense of self-worthlessness because of how little he thought he had accomplished in life.  He had not yet measured up to the standards he held for himself or the ones he thought his wife held for him.

In his dream they were apart.  She stood kissing her lover against an expensive car in front of a massive house.  He did not know the rich man she kissed but he held no anger towards him.  He resented his wife for choosing money over love.  He did not beg her to stay.  He remained still and observed but did not hide his presence.  He no longer wished to be with anyone who did not want to be with him.  Ruining his wife’s love for him saddened him the most.  His father stood behind the car, beyond the kissing couple and smiled at Barnaby with satisfaction.  He looked right into his eyes.

Barnaby sprang forward in the dark as he had during his previous incursion and held his watch up to his eyes.  The glowing hands indicated he had slept for only twenty minutes but he felt almost dizzy with fatigue.  A bad dream he thought.  He picked up his phone lying near him and considered calling Jules but decided against it.  Let her have her time alone.

Clearing his eyes he peered through the screen door of his tent as he had done many times before falling asleep.  He spotted the soft glow of a light many yards away and a creeping figure darting from behind one tree to another.  Barnaby watched while his heart banged against his chest.  The figure approached him in a zig-zag pattern pausing behind trees as he crept towards Barnaby.

Barnaby refused to let his father sneak up on him once more.  He slithered out of his tent and crawled several yards through the thick matting of pine straw until he crossed over a large fallen tree.  He intentionally left his tent up this time because he hoped it would be found and when discovered he would come running out from his hiding spot to scare those who wished to scare him.

He lay crouched behind the rotted log while the figure tip-toed over sticks and around pine cones.  The moonlight provided faint visibility but Barnaby knew this individual was not his father.  He also appeared to carry a lantern rather than a flashlight.  This lantern created a yellowish glow about the creeping specter but did not aid Barnaby in determining the identity of the person.

A minute passed and the figure came within several feet of Barnaby’s tent.  He paused behind a nearby tree and cocked his ear to the night.  Barnaby considered revealing himself but had second thoughts on scaring someone he did not know and knew of no other way to subtly reveal himself so he remained still and watched.  He thought he heard a cough but that could have been the clash of two tree branches.

The man lowered the lantern to the ground, then with the sound of metal on metal, he withdrew a sword and ran towards the tent.  Barnaby scrambled backwards a couple of feet but maintained his view of the man.

The attacker rushed forward with his sword high in the air and began to assault the tent.  He slashed to and fro sending pieces of the vinyl flying over his shoulder and  then stabbed the heart of it with such a roar that his sword stuck into the roots.  The vicious attack would have killed anyone inside.

Barnaby considered fleeing in the opposite direction but knew he could not do so without alerting this man and he was not certain he could out run him or the other specters that might be lying in wait.

The excessive attack lasted no longer than sixty seconds; but more than enough time to hack a person to bits.  The man took no chances of leaving any survivors.  Once done he grabbed the material of the tent to see what lied beneath but threw it down as though it felt alien to him.  His coughed echoed around the campsite as he pushed through the carnage with his sword and upon not discovering any bodies, grew alarmed.  He snatched up his lantern and held it out in front of him and surveyed the trees with its limited brilliance.

At this range, Barnaby needn’t be fearful the lantern would reveal his location as but the light did serve Barnaby better as it delivered to him the face of his attacker.

He saw nothing more than a skeleton dressed in an old Spanish sailor’s outfit.  He clasped his hand to his mouth to avoid uttering a cry and sunk even lower behind the tree until his face lay flat against the soil.  The creature’s bones were not white but stained like the bone of a chicken leg.  Barnaby looked up but didn’t dare raise his head to peer over the log.  Above he could see the gloomy light move back and forth through the trees as the skeletal soldier moved his lantern around trying to find who might have slept in the tent.

Barnaby fought to catch his breath and frightful madness almost overtook him.  Every instinct told him to break for the road but he feared he might trip or hit a tree in the dark and then he might be ruined.  The moon illuminated the way only twenty yards in either direction and he feared other possible specters lurking in the dark.

He did not know the dead person but he had no illusions about his authenticity.  No mask could deliver such a frightening image.  The man had not a cell of skin left and pits of darkness were all that remained for eyes and yet he had sight.

Could this be the same specter who terrified the young traveler many years ago as he changed his flat tire on Old House Woods Road?  How could it not be?  How many dead soldiers wandered the woods and road at night?  Was it the same man who one night earlier walked past Doris’ home?  He did not appear to be carrying a gun as Doris had described and Doris did not depict her ghost as possessing such a vicious nature.  Also this ghost did not appear to be clad in any type of plate or chain mail that Barnaby could determine and Doris described her ghost as wearing armor.

Barnaby began to calm down when he realized the skeleton remained still.  Summoning his courage, he pushed off the ground so he could take another look but in doing so he snapped a stick with his hand.

The skeletal soldier stood as rigid as a post and Barnaby dropped to the soil once more.  The soldier looked around for another moment then ran off in the opposite direction.  Barnaby listened as he heard its noisy footsteps and coughing fade away.  He climbed to his knees in time to catch a last glimpse of the soldier’s lantern as the dark swallowed it.

Chapter 8: Confrontations

Confrontations

Calvin Schroeder and his friends walked back through the woods laughing about their little adventure.  They were thick, hearty men and could attribute their weight to all the beer, steaks and fried food they ate.  Exercise for them was hopping in and out of their boats or climbing the bleachers at a high school football game.  They all wore flannel, jeans, work boots and ball caps on their head.  Their hats were embroidered with a brand of tractor they liked or the number of their favorite NASCAR driver.

Though they had slowed to a stroll, their hearts still thudded in their chests from the brisk jog they took through the woods in trying to surprise Barnaby.  If they had been fitter they would have found him sooner but their poor diets made them slow and loud.

Barnaby, not built like his father was shorter and leaner.  Though less athletic and coordinated than Barnaby, his father considered his son to be scrawny and frail or at least that is what he wanted to believe.

Behind drinking and fishing, Calvin most favored spending a good deal of his time rationalizing how poorly he treated Barnaby.  Calvin’s own father had mistreated him and so he in turn treated Barnaby with similar harshness.  Calvin knew he acted difficult.  At times he even admitted to himself he treated Barnaby cruelly.  As Barnaby grew older however and continued to succeed, his father rationalized that his manner of upbringing must not be flawed and so he continued down the same path.  He passed the point of no return.  He could never admit he had made mistakes with Barnaby or that he could have done better.  Any attempt to warm his ways and improve their relationship might be interpreted as an admission of guilt and he was too stubborn to bow and make amends for any injustice he had ever inflicted on his son.  Therefore he continued treading like an arrogant dictator down the same cold path and provided for Barnaby the minimum necessities.

Did he need to go out of his way on such evenings to torment Barnaby?  No, but it impressed his friends and provided amusement for them as they thought they were having some good-natured fun with Barnaby.  They didn’t understand the true animosity Calvin felt for his son.

Calvin wrestled with his conscience as they walked.  If he hated Barnaby so much, why couldn’t he at least leave him be and why did he have to hate him in the first place?  Because he loves his mother and wants to be with her.  Barnaby screamed for her the day Calvin threw her out and so Calvin sought to purge him of his “momma boy” ways but it didn’t work.  The moment Barnaby turned eighteen, Calvin returned to an empty home and a note.

Barnaby had packed up the things he bought, and left with the car he purchased.  Everything else to which Calvin may have contributed remained.  Calvin had no sense or warning of Barnaby’s plans to leave.  He stood in the empty room with a confounded expression!

Anger accompanied the humiliation of having his own son run out on him.  He would have to explain to his friends why Barnaby had bolted.  He would have to craft a lie so the neighbors and community didn’t conclude he really was the terrible man they speculated he might be.  College provided a simple enough answer.  He would tell them Barnaby had gone away to school.  That wasn’t what happened though.  Barnaby ran away to mommy, the woman who sought to betray him; sought to betray his secret.

Calvin hated his ex-wife and hated as much how Barnaby took after her.  Deep down Calvin wanted to sour Barnaby as his father had soured him.  Make Barnaby hard and bitter so his mother would not recognize him as the sweet child she left behind.  She would not welcome him back if he were as corrupted as Calvin.

He did not succeed though he tried his best.  He took things from Barnaby, punished him, poked and prodded him and belittled his mother but Barnaby resisted.  He turned his life over to Christ, caught rides to Sunday school and stayed away all day while Calvin chose to drink.  Barnaby asked for nothing.  He did not ask for friends to come over, he made no Christmas lists, wanted no rides to the movie theater and did not ask to see his mother.

Calvin noticed Barnaby did his best to live independently but every rare instance Barnaby came seeking approval, Calvin seized the opportunity and stomped on him.  He could not bear to see his son, his ex-wife’s child, succeed where he had not!

His plan didn’t work and his son while bitter reserved his resentment for him; not to the world or to his mother.  Calvin knew his son would hate him.  An acceptable sacrifice, but he needed his son also to hate the world as he hated it.  He needed him to be as bitter, angry and resentful.

            Calvin had returned home from his long day of work to see Barnaby’s car missing as usual from the driveway.  It was his 18th birthday and Calvin had no problem with Barnaby’s absence especially since he had not bothered to buy him a present.  He grabbed a can of cheap beer from his refrigerator, plopped down in his leather recliner and reached for his cigarettes on the end table.  With any luck he would pass out before Barnaby got home and he could avoid the disapproving glare.  Instead he found a note on top of his cigarettes, right where Barnaby knew his dad would find it.  Calvin unfolded the note card.

I’m gone dad.  I won’t be here to trouble you further.  I think you know where I’ve gone.  I’m sure you are angry as well but deep down you know this works out best for the both of us.  It was a hard life but one day I will forgive you.  I know you don’t think you need it but perhaps one day you will.  Barnaby.

            Calvin balled up the note card and threw it in the fire place.  He ran to Barnaby’s room but found everything intact.  The sheets and pillows remained on the bed.  The lamps and furniture were all present.  All that was missing were his clothes and Barnaby had purchased most of those.  Barnaby took nothing which Calvin provided and Calvin felt cheated.  He hungered for an excuse to go after him and take back what was his.

He gritted his teeth, dragged on his cigarettes and crushed his beer cans in his hands.  Forgiveness?  He needed no forgiveness.  He wanted respect and appreciation but not forgiveness.  In his mind he had done nothing wrong.

Calvin and his two friends jumped the ditch and pulled down the tail gait of the truck they had left parked on the side of the road.  They opened their cooler and cracked a few icy beers to quench their thirst.

“Man that tastes good!” one of them exclaimed after he chugged down a quarter of the can.

“Yeah, it’s hot out here,” the second man replied.  He pulled off his John Deere hat and wiped his brow with the cold aluminum.

“I remember coming down here when I was younger and sneaking around the old house.”

Calvin nodded.  “I can remember when it burned down too.  They say the old owner’s son burned it down after his father passed away to collect the insurance money.”

“Shh, do you hear something?” the burly man with the John Deere hat asked.

They all remained still and could hear coming down the road towards them the sound of footsteps on the gravel. They looked at each other.

“You think its Barnaby?” one whispered.

Calvin reached into the tool box and pulled out a long, heavy duty flashlight and shined it down the road.  The yellow beam reflected off a man in dull armor walking towards them.  Calvin and his friends took a step back but Calvin did not lower the flashlight.  The armored man held up his hand to block the light from his eyes.  Metal ground against metal as he withdrew his sword from his scabbard but he did not slow.

The light illuminated the bones beneath his skin and they saw his skeletal hand as he held it in front of him.

“Let’s get the hell out of here!” the large friend shouted.  He bounded around and jumped in the passenger side of the truck.  Calvin leaped behind the wheel while the other man dove into the bed.  Calvin fired the truck, threw it into gear, and sped away kicking up a large amount of dust and debris as they fled.  The armored man, fearing for his life, swung his sword and struck the side of Calvin’s truck as they passed.  A spark from clashing metal sent Calvin’s friend, who hid in the back, scrambling to the other side.

The soldier removed the gun from his shoulder and took aim at the fleeing iron monster, but when he pulled the trigger the gun did not fire.  He uttered a profanity and examined the firing mechanism but in the dark he could see nothing.

He watched as the truck sped away and then satisfied he had dispatched the danger, sheathed his sword and continued down the road.

Doris sat in an old rocking chair much like the one she used on her porch and watched a T.V. show with poor reception.  She had no cable, and no satellite and so had to rely on her television’s rabbit ears and the slumped over antennae on the roof.  She got but three channels and two of those came in fuzzy part of the time but since she was unaware of what she was missing, she was content with what she had.

Her chair sat next to a leather recliner far more comfortable than her rocker but Doris chose not to sit in it.  The chair belonged to her husband and no one had used it since he left.  A five inch tall stack of National Geographics stood next to an ashtray filled with his cigarette butts.  His black Bic lighter lay next to a crumpled pack of cigarettes.

Everything remained intact as it existed when he still lived with her.  She knew he wouldn’t return.  She didn’t keep everything in place hoping he would return.  She did it so she could still remember him sitting in his chair and pretend he still watched T.V. with her.  She even turned on the game shows he liked to watch, ones she didn’t even care for, and listened to the sounds as she washed her dishes.  Occasionally she would even light a cigarette, set it to burn in the ashtray, and let the living room fill with tobacco smoke to feel he sat there still.  When feeling especially lonely, she would carry on conversations with him or ask him about a show playing on the tube.

Her loving daughter tried to take her away many times but Doris wouldn’t go.  She could not leave the memory of her husband behind.  As the house began to fall apart and her daughter’s objections grew more profound, Doris cut contact off with her.  She stopped answering the phone and when her daughter and son-in-law showed up on the front porch one day, insinuating she would be forced from her feeble dwelling, Doris called the town sheriff.

This last straw broke her daughter.  In her mind her father had abandoned Doris and her mother like a lunatic clung to his memory even choosing to live in squalor to do so.  Humiliated, her daughter left with her husband and never returned.

Doris loved her daughter and Doris knew she shouldn’t be living in such a terrible place but she couldn’t leave.  Her hope for the impossible tied her there.  Before her husband left, they did all they could to maintain the house but once he left she lost the will to cut the grass, paint the porch, or even dust.  Sadness sapped her will and her social security checks did not provide enough income for repairs.  As the authorities could not find or pronounce her husband dead, she had no access to his life insurance or company pension.  Her daughter stopped sending support checks after the incident with the sheriff but Doris would not have cashed them anyway.

She had not dusted in years and not vacuumed in months.  She still washed the dishes from time to time but only a plate or two.  As a feeble old lady she didn’t do much to soil the house but years of neglect took its toll.  She existed in a home in which you would not want your mother or grandmother to live.  You wouldn’t set your grandchildren on the floor to play in a home like Doris’.

She spent most of her time looking out of the window.  She was old, alone, poor and living in a condemned home, but she still possessed a strong will to face each day and she wondered what power moved her to get out of bed every morning.  She did not want to die but did not know how long she could continue living in such a manner.  Sooner or later someone would remove her or the house might fall down and kill her.

At night she kept the kitchen dark because she did not want anyone to see her inside if they should be driving by and she especially did not want any ghosts loitering at the woods’ edge to stare at her as she washed her dishes.

She pushed herself from her chair and shuffled her feet into the kitchen.  You could hear the grittiness of her dirty floor as her slippers scraped over the linoleum.  She grabbed a glass from her cabinet, blew into it to remove any loose dust lingering at the bottom, then filled it with tap water.  She took a sip.  The taste of the hard, iron filled water didn’t phase her.

She opened her creaky screen door and took a seat in her rocking chair on the porch.  Perhaps she would catch a little weekend traffic going up and down her road.

The wasps in her porch roof sat huddled, upside down, on their nest but the rest of the woods’ insects were buzzing and chirping with activity.  The faint smell of cigarette smoke drifted out and the memory of her husband cursing at the T.V. as he watched his beloved Redskins lose filled her.  She rocked over her loose boards for a while but when no cars came by, she decided she would go back in and finish her T.V. program.

As she stood, she heard a rustling near the woods.  She eased over the porch railing and peered down the dark road.  She heard at once several voices but saw no one.  A second later she heard three loud thuds and saw the brake lights of a vehicle appear in the dark about one hundred feet down the gravel drive.  The headlights burst onto the road in front of the truck and it sped away in the opposite direction.  She watched the vehicle until it turned the corner and flew from view.

She remained at her porch’s edge for a moment wondering what those people were doing in the woods and why they fled.  Occasionally thrill seekers drove down to Haven Beach road at night and stared into the woods hoping for a quick scare which the gullible and weak minded usually received.  They often saw things that weren’t there.  She turned to go back inside when she heard the faint crunch of footsteps approaching her home in the dark.  She flattened herself against the wall of her house and peeked around the corner but saw nothing.  She heard the sound of each step as it ground into the gravel.  They did not near quickly enough to alarm her nor did they approach slowly enough that she might think someone was trying to sneak up on her. These footsteps belonged to someone out for a general stroll.  Of most concern however was whether these footsteps had caused the truck to speed away.

Doris bent low and opened her screen door.  She swore its creak could be heard for miles in the still air and she “shushed” it like a child.  She squeezed through without opening it any further and still crouching low, made her way to the kitchen window above her sink.  She raised her head a few inches at a time and peered through.  To her shock, the Spanish soldier strolled into view as he had many times on the road at night.   She had not seen him in years but he looked no different than the previous occasions.  The man did not look in her direction nor acknowledge the house in any way.  He kept right on walking towards the beach with his gun slung over his shoulder.

Barnaby lied stewing in bed next to his sleeping wife.  He went over various scenarios and all their possible outcomes in his head of how he better could have handled the encounter with his father and his friends.  He knew he had made the proper decision.  If he revealed himself he would have been vulnerable to their ridicule.  They would have teased him over camping in the woods or running and hiding like a child when he heard them coming.  Pretty much any explanation he gave would have been twisted and turned for their amusement and no way would any one of them listen to his legitimate explanations.  Like pack dogs, they’d have tore into him with their good ole’ boy ribbing and heard nothing else but their own words and laughter.

He did not like anyone believing he was a coward but he understood his situation would not have improved had he jumped out, so he took comfort in the fact his pride did not get the better of him.

Still he couldn’t ignore his father and friends’ effort to go out of their way to harass him and though these were men old enough to be grandfathers, they had no trouble foregoing their maturity for a chance at scaring Barnaby.  Though Barnaby was a grown married man, he still appeared as a child in their eyes because of the belittling way in which Barnaby’s father spoke of him.  His father had no problems putting him down in front of either his friends or Barnaby’s friends and upon occasion even did so in front of Barnaby’s children.

If it were not still for a sense of misguided appreciation he felt he owed to his father for his mediocre upbringing, he would have cut ties with the man years ago.  He felt obligated though to continue acting civil at least for the mere reason that his father had provided him with food and shelter until he turned eighteen.  His father provided nothing more.  Barnaby did not participate in sports as a child because he had no means to get to and from practice.  His father chose not to buy him a car and so he rode the bus for most of high school until he could bum rides home from his friends.  He eventually got a job and through the kindness of his co-workers and obtained transport to and from work before he could afford to buy his own car.

He was so proud he had paid for it himself and hoped his dad would be equally proud of him for obtaining the money on his own but he exhibited no pride.  His dad seemed even angrier Barnaby had proven able to obtain something without him and so he ridiculed the car and criticized Barnaby for getting ripped off in his purchase when in reality Barnaby had secured a very good deal.

At that moment Barnaby decided he no longer loved his father.  He had clung to the hope his father would turn the corner and begin to appreciate Barnaby as a man if he could not do so as a boy, but right then Barnaby knew it would never happen.  His father would not allow himself to love Barnaby.  Calvin would either hate him for what he couldn’t achieve or hate him for what he could.  It didn’t matter.

At Barnaby’s wedding, his father criticized Jules’ family for going cheap on the drinks but he himself refused to pay for the rehearsal dinner and left the bill for Barnaby’s mother and her husband to pay.  He stayed long enough to eat his free meal and drink and then left as though the Super Bowl were about to start.  Barnaby had no problem in seeing him go.  He had dreaded all night the potential embarrassment of watching his father stumble around and belittle everyone.

During the reception his father gave a toast for appearance sake and half-heartedly joked that Barnaby was a burden he was glad to relinquish to Jules.  Those who did not know Barnaby’s father well laughed and applauded at the end while the others who saw through the façade, clapped with false enthusiasm.  Yes, Barnaby and his father had a poor relationship which grew worse year after year.

Barnaby never knew about what his mother and father argued but did understand why she never came back for him.  His father had threatened to hurt Barnaby according to his mother and so Barnaby always dealt with this thought in the back of his mind when seeing his father.  He hoped it was not true but his father had never shown him the love to suggest otherwise.

Barnaby knew if he had not always walked away at the height of their arguments, they would have come to blows many years ago.  When his father stumbled around drunk he could see the disdain in his eyes; he could see his father’s yearning to hit him.  Barnaby always backed down.  He never wanted their arguments to reach a point where he had to throw fists to defend himself from his father.

Fighting was an actuality he was not ready to face; the reality his father did dislike him as much as he thought.  He would not gain his father’s respect by winning or losing the fight.  His father sought not to test Barnaby’s manhood but rather wanted to hurt him.

Barnaby felt his unwillingness to fight contributed to his sense of inadequacy.  He knew he could fight.  He had the knowledge, fitness, strength, and speed and with his father, the motivation to win, but he felt to lose control or allow such a confrontation to occur, would demonstrate weakness on his part.  To fight would demonstrate a lack of mental superiority and discipline.  Intelligence and self-control are what deserved respect but others would recognize this as cowardice.  He would not obtain the glory one does while achieving victory with fists.  Backing down made him look like a coward when in reality, through intelligence and self-control, he achieved true victory.

Barnaby was then a victim of his own double standard.  He felt weak for not fighting and weak for fighting.

The day grew near when his father would challenge him.  Age and deterioration approached and his father would make sure he got the fight in before he got too old to win.  That said, he would not have the balls to challenge Barnaby when sober because he would need excuses both for picking the fight and for losing, should it happen.

Barnaby looked at his wife sleeping next to him.  Did she consider him a man?  Would she be impressed if he finally silenced his father with his fists or did she appreciate his self-control?  He thought women’s minds told them they should be with a secure, mature man who didn’t fight, but he thought their hearts yearned for a strong man who could settle confrontations with knuckles, elbows, and knees.  He wanted so much to impress his wife but did not want such a thing to impress her.

He nudged her shoulder.  She opened her eyes and looked at him.  He stared back at her concerned.

“What’s wrong?” she whispered.

“I want you to know that I’m going to impress you one of these days.”

Jules smiled and closed her eyes, “You impress me everyday honey.”

He knew she didn’t mean it but appreciated her effort in trying to make him feel good.

Calvin sat in his recliner with a glass of gin in one hand and a cigarette in the other.  His big screen T.V. pulsated through the smoky haze drifting over his living room.  He stared at the stuffed deer’s head mounted on his wall.

Each time he brought the glass to his lips his left arm trembled and shook similarly each time he took a drag from his cigarette using his.  The cigarette burned down to his fingers as he took a long unhealthy puff and he mashed it into the ashtray.  He gulped down the last swallow of his drink, set it on the floor next to his chair, then lit another cigarette for himself.  He placed it burning into the ashtray then he poured another splash of gin into his glass from a plastic liter bottle sitting nearby.  The night proceeded this way for the three hours since he left the woods when they saw the ghost soldier approach them.

They had driven down the twisty back roads like mad men and they did not stop until they reached town.  They pulled over to the curb and let their friend who rode in the back jump up front with them.

“Did you see what he did to your truck Calvin?” he shouted  as he jumped into the back seat.  “He hit it with his sword!  There is a gash about an inch deep!  He almost got me!”

Calvin didn’t answer.  He pulled away from the curb and kept driving.

“I’ve never seen anything like that!” the burly man in the passenger seat said.  “That wasn’t a man.  It was some kind of ghost.”

“Don’t you remember the old story of the guy who got a flat tire on the road and a man came upon him in armor with a sword?”

“That was sixty years ago!” the burly man exclaimed.

“So what?” the other responded.  “Does that make a difference?  The ghost was dead then and he’s still dead now.”

“I know that!  What I’m saying is, don’t you think someone would have seen him again in all that time?”

“Yeah, us!  We just saw him,” the man blurted.

“Well maybe we did!” the burly man replied and turned to look out of his window.  “Maybe we did.”

“What should we do about it then?” the man in the back seat asked.

“What do you want to do about it?” Calvin grumbled.  “Talk to the Gazette about it like all the fools did sixty years ago?  Be made fun of in the community?  Heck they all think we’re a bunch of drunks already.  We need to just keep quiet.”

“What about Barnaby?” the man in back asked.  “What if he is still in the woods?”

“We’re not going back!” Calvin exclaimed putting an end to the conversation.  The other two exchanged anxious glances but said nothing.

Calvin continued to smoke and drink hoping to ease the anxiety coursing through him.  He never knew he could experience such fear.  He felt like the specter came for him for something he did long ago.  When the ghost drew his sword Calvin felt his time was over.  He was sure he would die and he knew a nice place did not await him.

He swallowed his gin and poured himself another shot.  He didn’t want to move, look at the television or Heaven forbid, out the window.  Fear crippled him.  He had not experienced it to this degree since he was a young boy when he ran from his father’s abuse.  Not since he physically overcame his father and saved the fearful little child inside of him had fear taken him.  Now he felt the scared, insecure child resurfacing and he hoped to drown him in alcohol.

The next morning Barnaby’s car crawled by his father’s house but he did not stop.  He wanted to confront the man but did not want to admit to him that he had hid so he kept driving.  His relationship with his father was like the cancerous black eye of a potato.  It needed to be carved out and he would have to dig to the core.  His father’s existence would gnaw at him just as his own existence tormented his father.  What it all came down to, Barnaby wasn’t sure.  When it all began he couldn’t determine; perhaps the moment he took his first breath, when his mother loved and nurtured him.  Maybe this is when the anger and jealousy within his father began to grow.

Barnaby continued to drive and cool his mind.  Eventually he ended up back at the woods.  He seemed to be drawn to them, and as he drove down the gravel road, kicking up dust, he noticed Doris sitting on her front porch.  He stopped and she watched him exit the car and make his way into the front yard with a smile.

“Did you go into the woods last night?” she asked like a grim general questioning his subordinate.

Barnaby nodded.  “I did but I did not make it too long.”  He didn’t crack a smile.

She didn’t smile or offer any indication of an “I told you so.”  “What happened?”

“Some people came looking for me trying I guess to scare me.  After that I was too angry to continue.”

Doris nodded and looked at the woods.  “I see.  Who were these people?  Do you know them?”

“I do, but it is irrelevant who they are.  Just immature men out for a good time at my expense.”

“I saw a truck pull away quickly last night down the road.  I would say those were the same people.”

“Probably,” Barnaby frowned.  “It probably was,” he mumbled and shook his head with frustration.

“I think their plan backfired though.”

“What do you mean?”

“They aren’t the only ones I saw last night,” she pointed her arm which looked much like a withered branch, at the road.  “My lost traveler returned not long after the truck I heard sped off.”

“What lost traveler?  The one looking for his ship?” Barnaby asked amazed.

Doris smirked.  “I think your friends got a dose of their own medicine.”

“You think they saw him?”  He shook with excitement.

“They roared away and only a minute later he came strolling down the road.  I’ll admit I wasn’t in the mood for conversation so I went back inside when I heard him coming, but I’m sure though they saw him.”

Barnaby’s smile stretched wider than the grill of his car.  Part of him was disappointed he did not get to witness the ghost if Doris spoke the truth, but the remainder took pleasure in the fact that his father’s friends were frightened.

“You made my day, Doris!”

“Did I?  A long time has past since I did such a thing for anyone.  How about you make my day then and not go back into the woods again?”

Barnaby grimaced and felt that pang of guilt that comes with disappointing someone.  “I’m sorry but,” he hesitated and glanced at the woods.  “I uh…I gotta go back.”

Doris gazed up at him once more with her ancient stare, “Then do me a favor and ask my husband who or what killed him?”

Chapter 7: First Night In the Woods

First Night in the Woods

             As Barnaby pitched his tent in the woods, he felt a wonderful excitement in braving the unknown.  He didn’t expect to encounter anything supernatural, but he knew others feared the woods or at least steered clear of them and though the kids might drive by them for a late night thrill, never would they consider sleeping amongst its trees.  Yes, he secured a sense of pleasure in being more daring than others.  His wife’s broad smile as he walked out the door indicated her admiration.  Such a smile could fuel him for days.

The light among the trees began to dim but Barnaby had no problems throwing  up the tent as he had done many times before.  He pitched it not far from the road so he could make a quick escape to familiar surroundings if required and he felt the mosquitoes would be too fearsome the closer he moved to the pond.

In the distance, through the trees, he could make out a faint glow coming from the old woman’s home and the knowledge she somehow had electricity comforted him.

He considered making a fire to both pass the time and provide light but he decided not to risk it without any available means in which to put it out and he had promised Maxine that he wouldn’t.

He sat outside his tent for a few hours listening to the sounds of the insects and peering through the darkness every which way before turning in.  He considered using his flashlight to walk through the woods but he didn’t see the point.  He experienced the creepiness of the woods to full effect sitting next to his tent.  He didn’t feel it would be any creepier or less creepy if he walked to a different area.

He lied on his side and read a book with his flashlight.  The walls of his tent billowed with a rising wind and the tall slender pines began to sway and crack against one another near their tops.  The outside noise soon drowned out all other sounds and he feared someone could sneak up on him if in fact ghosts even made sounds.

Every few minutes he peered through the screen door of his tent and shined his light through the trees.  He worried he might glimpse the gloomy apparition of an old pirate or Spaniard staring back at him but to his shameful relief, he did not see any.  Again, he was conflicted over whether or not he did wish to see a ghost.

In no time he drifted into sleep, rolling and turning with his flash light and Bible in hand.

He shot upright, cocked his ear but heard no sound that could have woken him if indeed one existed.  He tried to listen over the pounding heartbeat in his ears.  The wind had decreased but the trees still groaned as they swayed in the gentle breeze.  He considered shining his light into the woods to investigate but revealing his position concerned him.

He heard a loud snap as a tree branch broke and then another coming closer towards him.  Whoever approached had no concern for stealth.  Another branch broke and within a minute Barnaby surmised they would discover him.  His breathing quickened and his eyes darted everywhere in panic.  He thought about the validity of the old woman’s words concerning the frightfulness of the woods at night.

He scrambled out of his tent, deftly broke down the poles supporting it so that it lay flat on the ground, then dragged it through the pine straw until he and it rested behind the overturned roots of a fallen tree.

Mere seconds passed when several men appeared out of the darkness at the spot where Barnaby once camped.  Barnaby listened for voices but he could hear from their rapid gasping they had not the breath to speak.  These were no ghosts.  He rolled out from behind the fallen tree and tried to make out the three figures standing doubled over with their hands on their hips.  They knew exactly where Barnaby had slept and had ran with haste to his location.  Huffing and puffing they paused to catch their breath.

“I swear I thought I saw his tent over here,” said one, a voice familiar to Barnaby.

“I did too,” said the other and he leaned back to inhale another gulp of oxygen.

“He was definitely here,” the third said, a voice Barnaby knew all too well, “but he probably ran away when he heard us coming.  I figured he would do that,” he grumbled.

Barnaby wanted to emerge from his hiding spot to confront his father but he chose to remain still and not allow him and his friends to have their laugh.

One pulled out a flashlight and shined it around and Barnaby ducked as the beam brushed over his spot.

“You think he’s still about?”

The others looked around.

“No,” his father answered, “he probably took off and never looked back at the first sound he heard.  He’s driving home like a bat out of hell I guarantee.”

The other two chuckled and once again Barnaby wanted to emerge from his hiding spot to prove he had not run away, but the fact he hid in the first place would do little to help his case.

He remained motionless for several minutes as the mosquitoes’ terrible hum and biting began to madden him.  Barnaby’s father and his friends, bothered in the same fashion, left in as noisy a manner as they had appeared.

“Let’s go get drunk!” one said.

Barnaby, hiding there in the dark, felt ashamed of his cowardice.  So much for my daring he thought.  I hope they choke on their beer.

Chapter 6 – Into the Woods

Chap. 6

The next morning, still a little unsettled by his encounter near the woods, Barnaby researched his Bible for any occurrences of spirits or ghosts.  He hoped to find evidence either proving or disproving their existence and a way to deal with them if available.  Faith filled Barnaby and he believed with the power of God, that a trip into the woods could do nothing to shake his courage.  If ghosts were indeed there, they would have to submit to the power of the Lord.

He could find no concrete evidence in the Bible suggesting ghosts existed and though Jesus used the word “Ghost”, religious critics online asserted he used a term of fable with which his disciples could identify.  Jesus did not actually confirm the existence of ghosts.  A couple of instances suggested a person had come back from the dead but these people did not haunt a place; they were brought forth to provide consultation.  This confused Barnaby but he was content to conclude the alleged ghosts of Old House Woods weren’t spirits of loved ones or individuals inhabiting the woods for any Christian reason.  According to his research, they could be demons which Barnaby found a bit unsettling.  He welcomed the idea of garden variety ghosts more so than the confounding possibility of dealing with demons.  If ghosts were nothing more than the cunning tricks of hellish fiends, what business would they have in Old House Woods?

Upon returning home from church with Jules the following day, Barnaby searched online for any information he could regarding Old House Woods.  He found a team of paranormal investigators in Hampton Roads who had visited the Old House Woods site among other haunted places.  Apprehensive still about a foray into the woods, especially one infested with demons, Barnaby decided to contact the  investigators to discover what if anything their research discovered.

He did not consider this group to be experts of any kind despite the equipment they claimed to use to detect ghosts and figured he could learn as much using his own senses.  He assumed if you went to what you believed to be a haunted forest and wanted to see ghosts, your mind wouldn’t disappoint you.  This paranormal team in all likelihood went to the woods lacking objectivity and saw what any rational person would consider natural phenomena.  As his mind led him to believe people were charging through the woods towards him, so too did he guess these investigators for the sake of publicity, also saw and heard supernatural occurrences.

Barnaby emailed them hoping to receive a response in several days and smiled when they replied only a few hours later.

“What are you reading honey?” his wife asked as she walked into their little office they both shared.  Barnaby worked a forty hour a week job at a local bank, and worked from his home office on writing in his spare time while Jules used their office as a base for selling makeup.

“Just an email.  Do you need to use the computer?”

“No.  You’ve been in here since we got home from church so I wondered what you were so interested in.  You don’t usually spend so much time on the web.”

“I found a team of paranormal investigators online who have been down to Old House Woods,” he said while still reading the email he had received back from them.

“Really?” she asked interested.  “Do they say anything?”

Barnaby leaned back in his chair and looked up at his wife, “No.  I mean they’ve gone down there but other than giving a background history I already know, they don’t offer much.  I emailed one of the contacts on their website and the guy emailed me back.”

“What did he say?” she asked displaying a genuine interest Barnaby appreciated.

“He said they went a couple of times and the last time they went they saw the ghost ship but it mesmerized him so much he neglected to hold up his camera and get it on film.”

“Seriously?” Jules replied frowning.  “What are the odds you go down there armed with a video camera, see a floating pirate ship, and can’t think to record it?”

“That’s kind of how I feel.  The guy sees a pirate ship one of the two times he’s visited and still doesn’t get it on tape.  I think he’s full of it.”

“Sounds that way,” Jules replied opening a filing cabinet.

Barnaby’s childhood friend, Mistletoe the koala bear, sat staring at her.  Most of his back and part of his ear were missing with charred fabric at the edges.  His father had thrown him in the fireplace out of spite one night and laughed as his fur burned like fuses.  Fortunately the fire had all but expired and Barnaby managed to rescue Mistletoe with a pair of tongs.  His only confidant since his Father threw his mother from home, Barnaby ran screaming upstairs with the smoking koala in his arms.  His father drunk and satisfied with himself, gave no pursuit.  Barnaby hid his burned buddy until he left home.

Jules patted Mistletoe on the head and began thumbing through client files, “Are you going back?”

Barnaby sighed, “Yes.  I need to know what the woods look like from the inside.”  He spun around in his chair to face her.  “I’m a little concerned about what’s in there or what could be in there.”

She looked down at him dumbfounded.  “Are you kidding?”

“The old woman sounded convincing,” Barnaby replied.

“Honey do you think perhaps she wanted attention?  You said she lived alone.  Your conversation with her is probably the first real one she has had in quite a while.  She saw your interest in the woods and decided that was the best way to talk with you.  I’m sure she is lonely in that old home and probably mad as you put it.  Alone all day with her thoughts gets her to thinking about a great deal of things especially when she  lives near a patch of trees she believes is haunted.  I’m sure she gets spooked about strange noises in the woods and assumes it must be ghosts.”

Barnaby thought about his kayaking trip and how he panicked when he heard something running through the woods.  His wife had a point about permitting the imagination to take over.  What he allowed his mind to think was a ghost, might have been a deer or dog.

“Honey do you think you can write a great story about this?” she asked unable to mask the impatience in her voice which put Barnaby a little on the defense.

He did not like when Jules questioned his writing ability because her lack of faith forced him to doubt the fruition of his dream and the strength of their relationship.  If she could not believe in his dream and the future Barnaby thought it held for them, then how could she believe in the future of their marriage?  He felt their relationship crumbling and he believed the security of their union rested on his ability to write this book and get it published.  Accomplishing such a goal, in Barnaby’s mind, would provide his wife with numerous reasons about which she could be proud of Barnaby.

He needed her confidence and her affirmation.  He received too little of it growing up and when he noticed how seldom his wife started to dish it out, he grew fearful she would begin looking elsewhere for the security a more successful man could provide.

He always believed or at least wanted to believe because he could hate him easier, that his father had cheated on his mother.  He remembered his father stumbling through the doors late at night, too late.  He over heard him talking, boasting to his friends about things that didn’t make sense at his young age.  Now as an adult, he tried to piece together his father’s descriptions of women, and translate them into more than perhaps they were.

Jules frowned when she realized the impatient tone she used to ask her question.  She did not intend to express such frustration.  She appreciated her husband’s writing ability and knew not many people possessed the skill to craft lengthy stories as he could, but she thought of his pursuit as nothing more than a hobby that would provide for them no financial success.  Barnaby had about as much luck getting drafted into the NFL and considering he weighed only 155 pounds, that was improbable.

Writing a book was one thing but having the connections to get it published in a market where the agents were already overwhelmed with manuscript submissions would prove more challenging.  His chances were one in a thousand and she didn’t like to rest their future on such a long shot.

Also she was tired of scraping by and all her friends seemed to have husbands who made much more money.  Part of her wanted Barnaby to get real and focus more of his time on building a career then on wandering through the woods and talking to crazy old women.

Still she loved her husband and hated to see his feelings hurt, so she put on an encouraging face.  “I didn’t mean to say it that way,” she apologized.  “I meant, is this story going to be good enough to write your novel about?”

Barnaby shrugged his shoulders, “Pirates, treasure, British soldiers, Ghost ships; it has all the elements of a good page turner.  I think this could be a great story!”

“Well then go in there and get it!” she said with a comforting smile.  “Who or what could have a problem with you looking at trees?”  She went back to her filing cabinet and began once again rifling through her folders determined not to further reveal her lack of patience and faith.

Her lack of concern about the woods put Barnaby at ease.  The woods left him uneasy but the woods were nothing but a group of trees.  There lied within, nothing of which to be afraid.

The following weekend Barnaby drove to Old House Woods and parked in the empty lot where stood the ruins of the house for which the woods got its name.  Nothing remained other than a few bricks from the chimney and foundation.  The house burned to the ground and he found no recollection of how the fire started.  Once destroyed, no one bothered to rebuild on the location but whether superstitious fear caused this or a lack of money, Barnaby couldn’t determine.

The ruins looked as non-threatening as they could during the day.  Barnaby wondered at what time the woods obtained its name of “Old House” because at one time, the house was not old.  Later the house must have become ruinous enough for the locals to name all of the woods in honor of the old haunt that dwelled at its edge.

A gravel road stretched past the house and down to other homes on the creek.  Barnaby wondered how secluded this house might once have been.  It intimidated him little sitting next to a sunny lane leading onward to the homes of playing children and backyard cookouts.

Across from the house stood the woods and further down the road a marsh  nestled amongst the trees.  Barnaby jogged across the lane with notebook in hand and jumped the ditch.  He stumbled and grabbed a tree for support.  A tickle of a whimper floated through the air and he spun.  He saw nothing.  It had to be a child.  He scanned the house across the road.

“Hello!”

The whimper grew into crying.  He approached with worry that someone might jump out from the old foundation and yell “boo!”

“Hello?”

The crying burst into an unseen fit of despair.  He stepped back and felt uneasy like the day he heard the rustling through the woods.  It’s just a child playing somewhere.  Don’t be so jittery.  Where is she though?  The crying continued but began to lessen.   Maybe she’s hurt.  He ran across the road and the moment he stepped onto the property of the old house a breeze blew past his ears and took with it the child’s desperation.  Silence.

“Hello?”

Nothing.  He crept towards one of the foundations from where he heard the sound.  He looked up.  The sun shot warm friendly rays through the trees and yet he still felt on edge.  Not a good sign.  He peeked around the crumbled bricks.  Nothing.

“Hello!”

Whoever he heard must have run off without him seeing or hearing.  That didn’t make sense but he wanted to believe it.  He backed away from the ruins, turned and jogged into the woods.

The suns rays struggled to pierce the tree’s cover and the gloom added to the apprehension that had set in his heart.  He pivoted and looked towards the ruins hoping to catch a glimpse of the child watching him but he saw and heard nothing.  Where was the child?  He hid behind a tree and watched a few moments more believing whoever hid would soon come out but nothing happened.  Feeling foolish as doubt set in that he heard anything, he turned and began his walk.

The woods were not as dense as he imagined they would be.  He maneuvered through the trees without the trouble of climbing over fallen trunks or navigation around thick briars.

This common patch of pine trees had a thick bed of straw.  A great deal of large holly trees were present as well.  As he moved further into the woods he came upon a pond which he had been unable to see from the road and he followed this pond as he walked through the woods.  At its widest the pond may have extended fifty yards across though who knew how deep?

He had never heard any mention of a pond in the old ghost stories, but other than a spot called the “old cow hole”, he couldn’t recall reading any specific descriptions of the woods.  Green algae covered the pond’s surface and it looked not fit for humans to swim in but appeared rather inviting if he were an amphibian or reptile.

Several minutes later he came upon a structure in the trees similar to a tree house on the edge of the pond.  The appearance gave no indication the owners built it for children rather the lock on the door implied adult use only.  It sat a few feet above the earth with a pair of wooden steps leading up to the door.  Given its close proximity to the small pond, Barnaby deducted that hunters used the fort but for what they hunted didn’t seem obvious.  Ducks or other small fowl.

Barnaby grew self-conscious of the fact he was trespassing on another person’s property.  The possibility a resident of the community owned the haunted forest never occurred to him.  He assumed haunted forests like haunted houses remained abandoned.

He scanned the trees to see if he could see the roads running along the south side from which he entered and the east side.  If he couldn’t see the roads, chances are anyone traveling on them couldn’t see him.

The existence of this hunting structure discouraged him.  His next logical step, despite his trepidation, was to spend the night in the woods but he felt less comfortable doing so on another person’s property.  Also the presence of the hunting bluff somewhat diluted the spookiness of the woods because clearly people entered during hunting season.  Should ghosts and specters exist, he doubted hunters would spend much time in the woods among them.  The presence of hunters would also explain the noises near the woods Barnaby heard while kayaking.  This too deflated him because he enjoyed the exhilaration of the unknown.

All at once the mystery revealed a logical explanation and the possibility of ghosts felt faint.  A week ago the prospect of encountering ghosts or demons disturbed him but now he had conflicting emotions.  He did not want to be terrorized but he also had a curious hope to see one.

He decided to wish for the uneventful for as the Bible instructed him, pursuing the occult or supernatural was unwise.  He resigned to search for the truth of the woods as it existed in the real world; that is to say he wanted to get the best possible description of the environment and not worry about the ridiculous notions of spirits.

He began once again taking notes, noting the trees, the pond, the sounds of the wind and so forth as he trudged through.  The mosquitoes swarmed him. No doubt the pond supplied them with fresh breeding grounds.  Two hundred years ago, with the lack of insecticides and mosquito catching machines that existed today, the mosquito’s pestilence would have been worse.  Fighting a war or even burying a treasure in the midst of their intolerable biting and buzzing must have been maddening.

Minutes later, he exited the woods onto a private lane whose entrance opened on an east side road that led to the beach.  Barnaby had noticed the lane before on his trips to the beach and his discussion with the old woman but had not given much consideration to where it led.  Steel cable blocked the entrance and he figured whatever stood at the end belonged to the county as he assumed no person could live in the woods.

Now with the discovery of the hunting bluff he determined the owner of the bluff must live at the end of the lane; perhaps only during hunting season which would account for the blocked entrance.

Emboldened by his courageous trip through the woods, Barnaby decided to see what rested at the lane’s end.  He walked for no more than a minute, and checked behind him as he went for a car that might arrive home, before he saw a clearing ahead. A small home stood at its center.  He saw no cars in the yard and the long grass suggested no one had stayed at the house for weeks if not months.  Barnaby studied the house for several minutes hoping a person would come out so he could put on a smile and strike up a conversation.

White paint curled in patches on the outside but the porch boards appeared flat and firm.  Whoever owned it visited.  A few outbuildings stood to the right of the house.  Judging by the distance of the trees, the home had a small backyard.  The house looked a little run down but not altogether uninviting.  When the breeze picked up you could smell the salt air from the beach and its close proximity to the water must have made this home a quaint summer getaway.

Barnaby wandered around back to get a look at a patch of woods he had not yet seen to record any varying characteristics.  He saw a small open shed with a riding mower sitting underneath.  A wind chime clanged together from the small roof covering the rear steps of the house.  The woods looked no different from this perspective than any other.  Indeed he safely assumed they were the same all throughout.

“May I help you?” asked a firm voice from behind.

Barnaby jumped and gave the appearance he was guilty of an evil deed.  He spun around to see a woman staring at him from behind her screen door.

“I’m sorry,” he sputtered, “I didn’t realize anyone was home.  That’s not to say I go into people’s yards when I think they aren’t there but I didn’t know anyone lived here,” he said fumbling with the words.

She didn’t respond or make any attempt to ease his anxiety.

Barnaby put on the friendliest face he could muster.  “My name is Barnaby Lowe.  I’m a writer.”  This last statement Barnaby considered a fib since he considered only individuals with published works could call themselves writers and though he had written a great deal, he had yet to sell any of his writings.  He knew however this woman would warm faster to the idea of a writer in her yard, than a simple trespasser.

“I’m writing a story on these woods,” he continued pointing to the trees behind her home.

She glanced at them but a moment and returned her attention back to him.

The screen door made it difficult to read her face so he continued speaking, hoping to relax her.  “There is an interesting story behind these woods that I’m going to base my new book on and I wanted to get a good description of the area.  I saw your lane from the road but didn’t think anyone lived down here.”

She looked again at the woods.  “What is so interesting about these woods?”  She sounded not angry but bewildered.

Barnaby’s smile faded, concerned he would do little to improve her mood by explaining the trees amongst which she lived might be haunted.  He perked up and proceeded as though he were re-telling a merry old legend and decided to start with the most positive, intriguing aspect of the story.  “Well they say there is buried treasure in the woods.”

Barnaby of course didn’t believe this to be true but knew the possibility of buried treasure would interest her the most and get her mind onto other things.

“In these woods?” she questioned and pointed to her trees.

“Well, somewhere in Old House Woods.  The woods are pretty big.  They might not necessarily be here but I suppose it’s possible.”

“How much treasure?”

“Nobody knows.  It’s just a theory,” he suggested trying to downplay the story to avoid raising her hopes.

“Based on what?”

Barnaby took a deep breath but proceeded with confidence in his voice.  “Based on sightings of a ghost ship that allegedly hovers above the trees and off which pirates supposedly disembark so they can dig in the woods.  The story is pretty much the fabricated tales of drunken old men,” he waved off the theory with a reassuring smirk.

“Sounds like it.  I’ve stayed here many times but have never seen a ghost ship.  I have seen lights in the woods at night but my husband told me it had to be hunters illegally spotlighting deer.”
“Were they flashlights?”

“I don’t know.  They didn’t move about like flashlights.  They were glowing lights.”

“Like lanterns?”

“Perhaps.  Anyway other than those lights, I’ve never had much reason to fear coming down here and we’ve stayed here off and on for nearly eight years.”

Barnaby couldn’t help but feel disappointed.  This woman and her husband were the best candidates to have seen something.  They lived amongst the trees and near the beach.  The lights interested Barnaby but they could be explained after the discovery of the hunting bluff he found earlier.  If anyone saw a floating pirate ship, or seen ghosts running through the woods, this couple would be them.

“Do you come down every year?” Barnaby asked.

“For a while we came a few weeks every summer.  My parents lived here and they left me the home when they passed on and so we pretty much stay here full time now.”

“I don’t suppose they ever mentioned seeing anything unusual.”

She unlatched the hook and eye on her screen door and stepped out onto the brick steps.  She looked to be in her mid-forties, in somewhat good shape, but a faint shade of red colored her eyes and she blinked slowly like a child ready for bed.  She looked into Barnaby’s eyes the way one does before they contemplate telling a secret.  She searched for trust.  She sighed after a moment and proceeded.

“Well…..this probably has nothing to do with ghosts or these woods and mind you that I am the youngest child of four so my parents were old when they passed.”

Barnaby nodded.

“Meaning that when they told me things a lot of times it would go in one ear and out the other because they sometimes got confused near the end or maybe I wanted to think they were confused.”

She leaned her head against the door frame.

“I found that easier then listening to their conversations about this place.  I just nodded my head, said ‘uh huh’ and kept on rolling.  I didn’t pay much attention to their story but I guess they told it enough that it subconsciously sunk in.”

“What was it?”

“Again I don’t think this has anything to do with your story but they said it would storm above the woods sometimes.”

Barnaby nodded hoping for more.

“But not anywhere else.  Only above the woods.”

“Interesting,” Barnaby said with feigned fascination.  The storm could have blown in off the bay and passed over the trees.  How would this couple know it wasn’t storming somewhere else?

“Also the storm didn’t make any sound.”  She grimaced when she said this expecting that Barnaby wouldn’t believe her.

“What do you mean?  It just rained?”

“No…I mean there would be lightning but no sound.  And it lasted for no more than a few minutes.”  She looked uncomfortable retelling the story because she didn’t know what to make of it and as stated, struggled to believe it when told to her.

“This happened more than once?”

“Several times, but since they lived here at least eleven years, not very often.  Honestly I’m not being very fair to them because the first time they told me about it they couldn’t have been older than seventy-five.  They weren’t old enough to be seeing things.”

“You’ve never seen anything like that?”

“No but we’ve been here but a few years.”

“That is weird.”

“I know you don’t believe me,” she said smiling.

“No, no, its not that.  It really is interesting.  I’ve just never heard of such a thing.”

“That’s why it went in one ear and out the other for me.  Still I guess it is pretty interesting.  Maybe you can throw it into your book somehow.”

Barnaby pondered the idea.  “Maybe.”

“Is this going to be fiction or non-fiction?” she asked with a smile.

“It’s going to be fiction.  I haven’t thought much about the characters yet.  Right now I’m doing research.”  He seldom started a story without first getting all his facts in place.

“That sounds very interesting.”

Barnaby smiled and nodded, hoping she wouldn’t ask if he had ever written anything she would have read.  He would then be forced to tell the uncomfortable truth.

“I’m afraid I can’t be of much help to you but you are welcome to look around if you want.  Perhaps as a trade you can give me an autographed copy of your book when you are done.”

Barnaby grinned.  “It’s a deal!”

She pointed towards the water, “We have a dock that runs a hundred feet or so down to the beach.  You can take a look if you wish.  I don’t much care if you go wandering around the woods either but if you find any treasure I ask that you split it with me.  My husband and I could sure use the money!”

Barnaby smiled, “I certainly will.”  He knew no treasure existed but he wasn’t a selfish person and would be more than willing to share.  “Does your husband hunt?”

“At one time but not anymore.  He’s been fighting cancer for a while.  It’s in remission right now but he hasn’t felt well since the last run of chemo.  That’s why everything around here looks so raggedy.  He’s too ill to take care of the property.  The doctor said it would be good for him to reduce the stress in his life, so we sold our house to help pay for his medical bills and moved here.”

“I’m terribly sorry to hear that.  Is he going to be okay?”

“I think so,” she nodded and her eyelids drooped again.  “He’s been better but we’ll get through it.  You know the doctors tell you to avoid stress and then they hit you with a $20,000 bill for chemo and other treatments.  His prescriptions alone cost seventy-five dollars a pill!  Can you believe that?  Seventy-five dollars a swallow?”

Barnaby began to realize why the treasure interested her so.

“That is amazing!” he remarked with a distasteful grimace.  “Greed can be ugly.”

“Yes it can.”

“Maxine!” a hoarse whisper called from inside.

Maxine shot an anxious glance inside.  “Well listen, let me get back inside to my husband.”

“Of course.  I hope he feels better.”

“Thank you.  I’m sure he’ll be okay.  Go ahead and look around if you want.  There’s not much to see but I suppose from your point of view as a writer the world is a little more interesting.”

“I hope to write it that way.”

“I’m Maxine.  If you need anything or want to come back, let me know.”

“Thank you.  I might take you up on that,” he said looking at the woods.  “I hope you don’t mind but I think I might like to spend the night in the woods,” he said, jumping at her offer.  “Just to get a feel for what it’s like at night.  I won’t light a fire or anything.”

“Sure, go ahead.  What do I care?” she replied.

Barnaby smiled at how easily she consented.  He no longer had a trespassing problem.

“Thank you Maxine.”

“Maxine!” her husband called again sounding much like a man weak with sickness.  Barnaby’s college roommates sounded no differently when they hugged the toilet after drinking all night.

“Don’t mention it, honey,” she said with a slight country accent.  “Take care now,” she turned and walked back in easing the screen door shut behind her.

He took another glance at the woods but assured himself they were no different than the ones through which he had just tromped, so he decided to leave.  Rather than going back through the woods from which he came, he decided to follow Maxine’s lane back out to the road.  He would then walk around the woods back to his car.

Along his way he passed the old woman’s house and heard the creaking of the porch as her chair rocked over the boards.  Once within speaking distance, she sprang  from her chair with speed uncommon to people her age and thrust her finger at him.

“I told you to stay out of those woods!”

Barnaby crossed the road towards her, “I have permission now to walk through them,” he called back, not thrilled with her caustic greeting.  “Besides you have no authority to restrict me from entering.”

“You mean to say you were more worried about trespassing than the specters within those trees?  Don’t be stupid!”

“I respect the law, yes, but I do fear the unknown more than it.”  Barnaby looked up at the clear sky.  “It’s a beautiful day.  On a day like this, who could fear anything?  I can see everything in front of me, behind me and to the side of me on a day like this.  I wasn’t afraid.  I agree with you that going in will be a little more challenging at night.”  He frowned as he pondered this.

“You mustn’t go in there at night!  Why would you consider it?”

“Because I am a good man and I should be able to fearlessly enter those woods with God’s protection!  I am not after gold; I’m not even after answers.  All I want is a story to write about.  Why should any ghosts take exception?”

She spun around and returned to her rocking, angry she lacked a sufficient rebuttal.  Her dress which appeared as though it were bought at the local dollar store was faded and frayed at the ends.  Her chair, almost like she and the house, didn’t look as though it would survive the summer.

“Listen, there is a hunting bluff in the woods so hunters are obviously going in there, plus a couple lives at the end of this lane.  They have never seen anything in eight years,” Barnaby explained trying to ease her irritation.

The woman shook her head, “It means nothing.  They are a summer couple and a sick one at that.  They turn in early.”

Barnaby sighed.  He grew more convinced the old woman was no different than the old timers who told haunted tales fifty years ago.  “If these woods were haunted as all the old tales and I emphasize “old”, would lead us to believe, then they would be crawling with writers and amateur ghost hunters.  Kids go down to the beach at night every weekend.  They see nothing!”

“The woods have been dormant for years but I have a nervous feeling inside they are about to erupt.”  She increased the pace of her rocking and examined the woods with a paranoid squint in her eyes.  The porch boards wobbled as she rocked over them.  “My tales are not so old.”

Barnaby frowned.  He did not want to hurt the old woman’s feelings by suggesting he did not believe her tale.  “You know, I don’t even know your name,” Barnaby said trying to change the subject.

Without removing her gaze from the woods, she said, “Doris Callis.”

“Can I do anything for you Doris before I head on?”  He felt easing her pitiful state his obligation as he might be the only one with whom she had contact.

She shook her head and never removed her stare from the trees.  She looked like a widow at her husband’s funeral.

“Very well then, I’m sure I will see you again before the summer is out.”

She gazed at him.  Her face looked like two, dried hard boiled eggs sticking out of a cracked desert floor.  “They’re gonna murder you inside.”