Levi ran with his hands covering his head for fear the storm woman might rain 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 attempt to look over his shoulder to see if the “evil” thing pursued him. To see it, whatever “it” may be, might cause him to fall. Once in the dirt he would either be overtaken or 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.
Levi’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 watched.
Her appearance above the trees must have always coincided with an individual’s credible attempt to retrieve the gold. In Levi’s case, he knew right where it rested and could have uncovered it in a few hours. Why she protected it Levi could not figure but for the moment he did not care. Presently he valued his life more than any treasure.
He fled towards White’s creek and the beach because he knew the path and where to hide. Even in this short amount of time however the trees appeared different. The smaller ones had already grown and when he arrived on the beach, all evidence of his footsteps 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 he heard his heartbeat thumping.
Levi sat in the sand trembling with fear, his eyes searching in all directions 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? Why did she disappear? He continued scanning his surroundings anticipating 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. With a sick feeling in his body he glanced at the sky. He saw nothing and sensed perhaps that scaring him away satisfied her. She would not return unless he sought out the treasure again. That’s at least what he hoped for but he knew now she watched from the darkness.
Here on the beach he felt he could avoid trouble for a few minutes. Above, the moon remained full and offered enough brilliance that he might see danger approaching from a distance. Either the history unfolding in these woods had no power over the atmosphere or every past act occurred during a full moon.
The boy’s body he pulled from the bay and all the others that had floated ashore disappeared and Levi wondered what became of them in their time? Were they left for the scavengers or given a decent burial? Did the pirates even deserve charity after such heinous acts?
He felt sorry for Mary as she wept over the death of her husband, William but Levi 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?
A gentle breeze soothed Levi 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 tore his heart. He had experienced more terror in the past hour than he had encountered his whole life.
He lay 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 pass quicker, but he worried he might awake with a sword in his chest or buried neck deep in the sand. He sat up and decided it best not to get too comfortable.
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 faint music grew louder as he tip-toed down to the water. 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. A man barked orders in English though he didn’t believe the English made galleons of this size.
Levi retreated from the shoreline and took cover behind a sand dune. A cloud drifted in front of the moon and diminished its glow. Levi squinted and saw nothing but heard the splash of what he assumed was an anchor. The captain yelled orders for many more minutes but in the darkness Levi saw not what the men did or why they had arrived off the shores of Haven beach.
He turned occasionally fearing the cowardly, skeletal Spanish soldier might jump from the dark and attack him for doing nothing more than lying on the sand. He could not figure the soldier’s identity but he didn’t consider him brave for fleeing at the sound of a snapping twig. Cowards tended to attack first and ask questions later, which explained why he attacked the tent with such ferociousness.
The moon emerged from its hiding place and once again illuminated the beach. The ship rested easily against its anchor. A few lanterns sparked to life to provide light for the deck hands tending to various ropes about the vessel.
A small row boat with four men glided to shore. Levi’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 ordeal continued.
They skidded onto the shore only forty feet from Levi’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.
Levi noticed the man’s bound hands and hoped this man 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, behaved 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. He walked with no shoes, he wore trousers extending just below his knee, and his shirt had no sleeves. He wore a bandana wrapped around his head and he carried a small sack.
The other three men wore waist coats similar to Edward and Christopher but these men also wore tri-corn hats with boots. The bound man wore ordinary clothes while these others 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 Levi. 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 rare but Caribbean pirates who landed on local islands had better diets.
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 rises 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 still hides us.” The man whooped 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.
“Lead the way and you’d better hope we find something!”
“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 handicapped him with no light.
“Captain doesn’t want us settin the woods on fire. Then the Spanish will knows we’re here,” replied one of the other sailors. “Ye better hope yer memory is good.”
Levi 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 could legally be a pirate. This in no way meant the men behaved more civilized.
Why these pirates had dressed themselves as the Spanish they raided, Levi 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 experienced an unwelcome encounter. Was he safer here on the beach than following his enemies? Perhaps, but the beach presently had no story so he followed these new ghosts at a distance to determine their intentions.
As he walked he thought of Jules and contemplated if she would scold his foolishness or admire his daring? He wished she saw him now regardless.
The pirates entered the woods in the same spot from where Levi 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 want to be rid of it, let’s throw it over board. Why end there? Let’s blow our new ship to kingdom come while we’re at it!”
All three pirates roared with laughter at the prisoner’s expense.
Levi 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 lived 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 since tomorrow might never arrive.
The idea of burying treasure probably made about as much sense to these pirates as sinking one’s own ship and yet Levi had witnessed such a burial earlier.
Once the laughter faded the pirate with the cough wheezed and gagged and fell to the ground to catch his breath.
Levi ducked behind a tree.
The pirate hacked and hacked and then sat back on his knees, inhaled with a crackle, and wiped his glistening chin.
The two standing pirates shot worried glances at each other and covered their mouths.
“You have 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! Besides, what’s there to eat other than pickled eggs and furry biscuits? I will be good in a moment.”
“We don’t have many moments if we’re going to dig up this treasure before dawn. If we don’t return 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, carry me back even if ye have to kill the prisoner to do so.”
“We aren’t leaving ye!” one pirate stamped. “But we haven’t much time.”
After a few minutes more, the sickly pirate regained some of his strength and began stumbling through the woods once again. Where they headed was clear and if forced to show them, Levi could have guided 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 started counting.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t agree on the proper length of a pace and so one group walked much further in one direction than the other group. An argument ensued until the diseased pirate once again started to cough and so without further discussion, they left him sitting at the pond, eager to remove themselves from his presence and continued counting out steps.
Finally, they grew so tired of counting and re-counting that they started roaming about the woods looking for a spot matching the prisoner’s description his grandfather gave to him.
Levi 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 Levi couldn’t determine if he slept or not. The other pirates accused the sick pirate of having consumption a word Levi did not recognize, though by the way they covered their mouths, they thought it contagious.
“On what ship did ye grandfather sail?” one of the pirates called out to the prisoner.
“The Sea Eagle or maybe 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 stumble 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 King Charles II.”
“So why didn’t he ever retrieve this treasure?” the other pirate asked still skeptical over the idea of burying money.
“A storm sunk the ship and he was hurt bad. A Dutch merchant ship rescued him but he was unable to return. He has always been lame since I knew him.”
Levi realized about whom this prisoner spoke. It had to be Christopher the pirate who only an hour earlier buried the treasure 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 Levi thought! Christopher evidently told the tale to his grandson though Levi 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. Levi peered around his tree and saw the pirate had indeed stopped 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. They examined the distance between the pond and the two holly trees and determined the location best resembled the description than other spots. 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 contraptions the sailors had created on the ship. Why would a sailor bring a real shovel to sea?
One threw the shovel to the prisoner, “Start digging!”
The pirate grabbed the other and joined him. He noticed 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 the men and rained horror into their hearts. 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 recoiled as he thought they might kill him.
“We must flee,” shouted the other pirate, “lest hell hath our souls!”
The two pirates turned and ran towards the ship. The prisoner watched his captors flee and knew he could flee in a different direction 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 running a dozen yards. His fleeing shipmates never looked back nor did they hear the desperate calls from their fallen friend amid the echoing cries of the storm woman.
Levi waited for the pirates to pass then ran towards the beach behind them understanding the storm woman’s screams would swallow the sound of his footsteps. He glanced at the sick pirate as he jumped over his still body. The man’s arm stretched towards the beach and his face rested in the dirt.
Levi considered stopping but the Storm Woman’s cries intensified and the sick feeling of impending death 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 Levi’s view.
Levi slowed to a light jog and took cover behind a dune at the mouth of the woods. The pirates who fled mere seconds before him had vanished. He saw no sign of their row boat either but the galleon, still present, had drawn 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 Levi 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 snapped like sails 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 departing galleon.
Levi remained motionless too afraid to breath because he did not want her to notice him lying in the sand beneath her. She paid him no attention but maintained her focus on the galleon’s hasty escape.
Levi 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 shouted again. Levi 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. Levi 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, passed between them at a distance of about thirty yards on each side. Once the woman disappeared and the moon shed her shadow, it revealed to the pirate’s terror, two similar Spanish Galleons.
Fire burst from the galleons’ cannons and splintered the stolen pirate ship. The pirate captain had no cannons at the ready to return fire and his hope rested in surviving the onslaught long enough to pass between the two ships and make his escape. The two attacking ships faced the beach and had to turn to pursue. This should give the pirates a formidable lead, but they had first to survive.
Levi 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.
He stared, mesmerized by the unfolding horror. What despair must the fleeing pirates be experiencing aboard their stolen ship? They fled in panic from the storm woman, experienced elation once she vanished only to discover a breath later her disappearance had revealed to them their doom.
Two skulking vessels, as large as theirs, waited 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 appeared 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 ready to return fire. The battle did not last long enough for them to even make it below deck. What did the crew do then? Did they jump overboard or did they fight 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 ended and as they ran without sight through the smoke much as they had done through life, did they consider what hell might await them in death?
Levi guessed at least fifty men manned the pirate vessel and he doubted any survived to feel the cold comfort of treasure again.
Did the storm woman drive the pirates off the island right towards the hiding Spanish? Did she orchestrate the pirate’s destruction by revealing the moon at the precise moment the pirate ship nearly sneaked past the two galleons?
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 to the shore, turning at intervals 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 rolled in immediately as they had earlier after a storm destroyed the first pirate vessel. The sight, even if these men were full of evil and treachery, struck him with melancholy. What true human could dare say the sight of death lifted their spirits?
The pirate prisoner 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 possess power to curse a family and all their descendants?
He walked along, examining the bodies from a distance. Many were horribly disfigured and missed limbs. Levi felt compelled not to study them further out of respect for their new deformities. He knew he acted silly but he felt rude staring at their disfigurement.
Others remained intact with pockets stuffed with coins. They fled the fight to avoid injury and jumped overboard with as much booty as possible in hopes they could 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 Levi moved around him, he could not escape his eerie gaze much in the way the eyes of a portrait find you in each corner of a room.
He knelt 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 closed the soft, bloated eye lids, 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.
Levi reached in to examine one of the coins. As this was not the Storm woman’s treasure but valuables 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. 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 dissolved through his fingers. The coins existed as a ghostly illusion much like the men and they would soon disappear with the bodies of their pirate captors.
Levi stood and walked along the water’s edge. He made his way around 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. 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 Levi with his other arm.
Levi sprinted to him and without thinking grabbed his hand.
The man fell to his back exhausted but continued holding Levi with his wiry muscular arms. He had hair only above his ears and his skin was bronzed.
“What is your name sir?” he whispered.
“I am Levi.”
The man smiled. “You are a Christian?”
“Can you save me?”
Levi scanned the man’s body with despair and insecurity. He appeared to be well intact but possibly bled under his clothes or internally. He did not know how to save a man living much less one long gone to the grave.
“I’m s-sorry, I’m not a doctor,” Levi stammered.
The man closed his eyes, smiled, and shook his head gingerly as though to do it harder might cause him more pain. “No,” he croaked, “not physically, spiritually?”
Levi paused with realization. “You wish to be saved; as in through Jesus Christ?”
The pirate nodded. “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 Levi and grabbed his shoulder with his free hand. Levi winced 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!” He had never tried to save anyone spiritually and did not possess the confidence to properly do it. This man’s soul was at stake, an eternity of hell, and those things he would not relinquish to his incompetence. “But you can, you can save yourself! You don’t need me at all!”
The pirate appeared confused. “What are you talking about?”
Levi squeezed the man’s shoulder. He knew the man hadn’t long to live so he spoke with urgency. “If you believe in Jesus all you need do is ask him into your heart!”
“I do, I do believe in him!” the pirate blurted with a hint of craziness in his eyes that faded as quickly as it emerged.
“You have to repent then!” Levi exclaimed as the pirate’s eyes closed and his grip on Levi’s shoulder weakened.
“No!” Levi 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.
Levi pushed him over 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!” Levi shouted. The man lay dead and to where his soul traveled, Levi feared to consider.