Monthly Archives: April 2013

Chap. 12 – New Arrivals

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?”

“Yes.”

“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.

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Chap. 11 – Storm Woman

Storm Woman

 

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

Levi frowned at the sound of Edward’s plan but at this point he had little choice then to stay the course.  He had no time to think up alternative ways to escape.

All three men slowed and Levi hoped no more men joined the chase because he would 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 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.

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

“Death awaits you on the beach you stinking beast!  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?” Levi thought.  People really spoke like that?  Levi ignored his rants but insecurity about what lied ahead plagued him.  He might be running straight into a pirate camp on the beach.

Many minutes passed before the thick patch of reeds and grass dissipated.  Levi turned and no longer saw or heard his pursuers.  He had no idea where they went but knew they had not passed him in the marsh.

He emerged onto Haven beach exhausted, soaked from the waist down and staggered 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 noticed a front 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 appeared more like an island rather than an oversized sand bar.  Strange Levi thought, I’m viewing the beach at a time when years of erosion had not ravaged it.

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.  Generally, a pirate sloop entered White’s creek between Rigby Island and Haven beach and hid 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.  Gazing around he saw another a little further down the beach.

He listened for his pursuers and confident they no longer gave chase, ran to the first man and rolled over his bony body.  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.  His left hand absent a finger.  His beard matched his long black hair and he looked no more than twenty or twenty-five years of age.

The experience captivated Levi and he hurried to the second corpse.  Upon reaching him, he saw 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 noticed no wounds indicating how he died so Levi speculated he had drowned.  He scanned the beach.  No Edward or Christopher and he sensed he would not see them again.

Levi proceeded onward and examined each man.  One he passed appeared no older than twelve.  This boy he dragged onto the beach.  His eyes, frozen open with death, stared past Levi at the stars.  His head wound suggested 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 killed.

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

Levi 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.  His face bore far more weathered marks than the others.  He may have been younger than he appeared because the hard, sun baked life of a sailor helped one’s youthful appearance, little.

Edward’s mouth hung agape and Levi saw three gold teeth inside.  He contemplated praying for Edward but could not rationalize praying 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 didn’t find Christopher but counted eighteen others on the beach and guessed the remaining crew might have drifted elsewhere.

On the horizon, the fierce lightning and low rumble of thunder from the passing storm faded in the distance.  Did this storm destroy their vessel?  How did Edward return to his ship when minutes ago he chased Levi?   A few minutes more he sailed on his ship and now he lay dead on the beach!

History, Levi 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.  Levi 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 doomed them.

Mary!  He had forgotten about Mary!  He hustled 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 took time because the woods were unfamiliar and the vegetation had also grown and changed.

After wandering around for twenty minutes, he located 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 he recognized.

To be certain he removed his small flashlight that he fortunately had snatched before fleeing his tent, and searched for the tree which Christopher’s pistol ball had splintered.  Ahead, just where he guessed, he found a small mark on the trunk.  The damage looked old because the tree had healed over time.

Levi placed his hands on his hips and evaluated Mary and William’s burial spot.  Fewer than thirty minutes had passed since their deaths and yet the woods had aged decades.

He still heard her heart wrenching cries and curses.  Did she die fully buried or did they take time to leave her head above ground?

Few people get to see another murdered especially in so disturbing a fashion.  Levi 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.  Levi presumed the chests contained treasure per Christopher’s mention of their attack on one of King Charles’ ships.  Evidently the theory of pirates burying their booty held water.

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 when he first fled England he may have sent money to the New World to establish residence because he feared for his life in England.

Could the chests buried with Mary contain the gold Charles delivered to America?  If so, then the bounty would 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 would 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 dug through the dirt with his hands.  He completely forgot about the murders he had just witnessed nor considered he unearthed their bones.  Digging would take hours but the promise of treasure legitimized the effort and he didn’t want to risk driving all the way home for a shovel and lose this spot.

He unearthed only a few inches of soil when a shrill cry exploded above him.  He dropped his shovel and cowered.  In the sky he spotted the ghostly figure of a woman floating over the trees.  The anger in her loud voice struck fear into Levi’s heart more than any pirate or skeletal soldier.

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.  In 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 Levi.  Rather than peer into the darkness and stand frozen like a fool, Levi fled through the trees in terror.  I am gonna die he thought!

Chap. 10 – Villainous Deeds

Villainous deeds

 

The light vanished and Levi knew for now the skeleton had run far enough that Levi could make his escape without fear of the skeleton man hearing.  He rose, paid no attention to the dirt clinging to his clothes, and sprinted towards the road but he grabbed a hold of a tree after several yards and spun.

Should he flee?  Was he a coward?  Was he not most proud of his daring?  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 run screaming at first sight Levi speculated but he remained, pondering whether he should indeed leave.  Couldn’t this mere consideration to stay be a sufficient indicator of Levi’s courage?

Look at the skeleton soldier, he laughed to himself, he fled 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.

Levi crouched 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 pursuing it is reckless.

Levi didn’t have long to debate the pros and cons when he heard arguing in the distance.  He knelt behind a tree and tried to make out the words but they came from too far a distance to decipher.  The litter of branches made sneaking impossible.  He needed ignore the new event, but curiosity overwhelmed him.

He tip-toed towards the source of the voices hoping their own noise would cover his.  The closer he approached the lower he sunk until he crawled on all fours.  Soon, he heard 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 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 Levi for most of the time but they wore similar fashion.  Their pants did not reach their ankles and dirt tarnished their light shirts.  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 Levi 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.

Levi observed them for several minutes and neither individual spoke during the time they dug the hole.

The two men shoveled until they stood in a hole reaching just above their waists.  They climbed out and disappeared from site for a few minutes then returned hefting two small wooden chests which they dropped with simultaneous grunts.  Levi’s excitement overrode his fear.  He would soon witness real pirates burying treasure!  These men, 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 remained intact and they lived in a different era given the appearance of their clothes.

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

He glanced over his shoulder, this time careful not to break more 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 might linger in the woods, watching these men, waiting for the right moment to run in with his sword and attack with mad vigor.

Levi could not determine why the other two pirates sat, tied around the tree but did not have long to speculate.

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 our admission have done, Edward?” shouted the other, smaller prisoner in reply to the questioning Pirate.  “How would our fate change?”

“I’m supposin you are right,” mumbled Edward and he continued to tie the knot around the larger pirate he addressed as William.

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

“Forced her to board 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 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 within an inch of 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 then let her watch me die but don’t take her life too.”

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

“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 Edward secured the chain to their ankles, he stood with a long face, walked behind the tree and sawed on their bindings.

Levi scanned the darkness and saw nothing.

Levi 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 pirates’ code, bringing aboard a woman jeopardized the ship’s welfare as men, starved for the affections of a woman, might quarrel and fight over her.  Death was often dealt as the penalty for both the man and woman.

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

The moment 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!”

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 hurt him,” 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 regardless.”

Christopher, in a fit of anger, kicked William’s body the remaining way into the hole.  He then heaved the heavy chest tied to William’s ankle onto William’s back.

“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.  Why do you think we tied these chests to their legs?”

“You fiends!  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 and then threw her into the hole with William.  He tossed her chest in with her.

Mary knelt next to her husband sobbing and stroked his hair ignoring the pirates above.  “We will be together soon darling,” she whispered.  Her heart ached.  She kissed his warm lips and hoped he might wake like the princesses did in the fairy tales.  But they lived as pirates and pirates did not deserve fairy tale endings.

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

Edward and Christopher ignored her sobbing and shoveled dirt on her but she paid it no mind as it struck her with a “thud” in the back.  She laid across her husband’s body as the dirt rose around her.

Levi knew they intended to bury her alive.  The heavy soil and chest tied to her ankle prevented her escape, but her head never surfaced again.  She appeared unconcerned about her demise.  What a terrible way to perish!  Imprisoned in the ground to die of suffocation, starvation or dehydration.  Either fate held torment!  William secured an easier death when he attacked Christopher.  His poor wife must now go through her slow, painful death, alone.

Levi heard her unseen wails of anguish as Edward and Christopher continued throwing heaping mounds of dirt onto her body.  The emotional scene moved Levi.  He jumped forward and shouted.

“Stop!”

The two pirates spun and Levi, who stood about ten yards away, withdrew to flee.  Edward dropped his shovel and pulled out fresh powder for his pistol.  Christopher drew his once more from his waist belt and shot at Levi without properly taking the time to aim.  A tree ten feet to Levi’s left splintered when the lead ball hit it.  Christopher tucked his antique handgun into a rope around his pants and drew his sword in anger.

“Finish burying the woman, I’ll get after this one!” he exclaimed to Edward.  Levi fled when Christopher bounded toward him with his sword.  He knew if he ran for too long he could not save Mary but how to face a man skilled in fighting with a sword when Levi possessed no weapon at all?

As Levi ran in between the trees Christopher the pirate shouted obscenities at him.

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

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

Slowly, so as not to draw attention to his plan, Levi turned back towards Mary in a wide swooping arc.  He hoped to lose Christopher along the way and make his way to Mary undetected.  With a little luck, Edward might already be gone and Levi 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?

A shot cracked the air and a whizzing pistol ball interrupted his thoughts.  Levi ducked and saw Edward the other pirate pursuing from his left.  Christopher, several yards behind now, still gave chase.  Levi had no way now of returning to Mary as Edward had cut off that route.  He had two choices; face the pirates, die, and perhaps live the rest of his existence as a ghost in these woods or run.

He kept running.

Chap. 9: A Full Moon Encounter

A Full Moon Encounter

 

Levi, 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 so he had sufficient light with which to see.  He of course left out the detail 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 proximity to the road didn’t help.  This time he decided to move deeper into the woods confident his father would not return to the woods immediately after their fearful encounter.  Levi 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 retire.  This time sleeping did not come easy as he worried 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 her and because he knew for certain how much she loved him.  He could not ignore 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 reached 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 Levi with satisfaction.

Levi 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 grabbed 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 often before falling asleep.  He spotted the soft glow of a light many yards away and a creeping figure darting from one tree to another.  Levi watched while his heart banged against his chest.  The figure approached him in a zig-zag pattern pausing behind trees as he crept towards Levi.

Levi 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 jump 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 this thin figure was not his father.  Rather than a flashlight he appeared to carry a lantern and it created a yellowish glow about the creeping specter.

A minute passed and the figure came within several feet of Levi’s tent.  He paused behind a nearby tree and cocked his ear to the night.  Levi 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.  Levi 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 assaulted 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.

Levi considered fleeing in the opposite direction but knew he would be detected and he feared the ghost, or other specters lying in wait, overcoming him.

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 survivors.  Once done he grabbed the material of the tent to see what lied beneath but threw it 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 remains, grew alarmed.  He snatched his lantern and held it out in front of him and surveyed the trees with its limited brilliance.

At this range, Levi needn’t be fearful the lantern would reveal his location but the light did reveal the face of his attacker.

He saw nothing more than a skeleton dressed in an old garb.  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 appeared not white but stained like the bone of a chicken leg.  Levi didn’t dare raise his head high enough to peer over the log.  Above he saw the gloomy light slide side to side through the trees as the skeletal soldier moved his lantern around trying to find who might have slept in the tent.

Levi fought to catch his breath as frightful madness thundered in his chest.  His instincts 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 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 only pits of darkness remained for eyes and yet he had sight.

Could this be the same specter who terrified the young traveler 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 plate or chain mail and Doris described her ghost as wearing armor.

Levi’s fear subsided when he realized the skeleton remained still.  Summoning his courage, he pushed off the ground to take another look but in doing so he snapped a stick with his hand.

The skeletal soldier stood at attention and Levi dropped to the soil once more.  The soldier remained rigid for a beat and then ran off in the opposite direction.  Levi 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 through the woods laughing about their little adventure.  The thick, hearty men owed their girth to the beer, steaks and fried foods they regularly consumed.  They exercised by 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 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 Levi.  If they had been fitter they would have found him sooner but their poor diets made them slow and loud.

Levi, not built like his father, had the body of a sprinter, not a shot put thrower.  Though less athletic and coordinated than Levi, 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 Levi.  Calvin’s own father had mistreated him and so he in turn treated Levi with similar harshness.  Calvin knew he acted difficult.  At times he even admitted to himself he treated Levi cruelly.  As Levi grew older however and continued to succeed, his father rationalized that his manner of upbringing must not be so flawed and so he stayed the course.  He passed the point of no return.  He could never admit he had made mistakes with Levi 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 suffered too much from obstinance to bow and make amends for injustices he had inflicted on his son.  Therefore, he continued treading like an arrogant dictator down the same cold path and provided for Levi the minimum necessities.

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

Calvin wrestled with his conscience as they walked.  If he hated Levi 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.  Levi 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 Levi turned eighteen, Calvin returned to an empty home and a note.

Levi had packed 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 Levi’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 had to explain to his friends why Levi bolted.  He had to craft a lie so the neighbors and community didn’t conclude he terrorized Levi as they speculated.  College provided a simple enough answer.  He told them Levi left for school.  He hadn’t of course.  Levi ran to mommy, the woman who sought to betray him; sought to betray his secret.

Calvin hated his ex-wife and hated as much how Levi took after her.  Deep down Calvin wanted to sour Levi as his father had soured him.  Make Levi 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 failed though he tried his best.  He took things from Levi, punished him, poked and prodded him and belittled his mother but Levi resisted.  He turned his life over to Christ, caught rides to Sunday school and stayed away all day while Calvin chose to drink.  Levi 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 Levi did his best to live independently but each rare instance Levi came seeking approval, Calvin seized the opportunity and stomped on him.  He hated 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 wanted 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 Levi’s car missing as usual from the driveway.  It was Levi’s 18th birthday and Calvin had no problem with Levi’s absence especially since he had not bothered to buy him a present.  He grabbed a can of cheap beer from his refrigerator, plopped into his leather recliner and reached for his cigarettes on the end table.  With luck, he would pass out before Levi got home and avoid the disapproving glare.  Instead he found a note on top of his cigarettes, right where Levi 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.  Levi.

Calvin balled up the note card and threw it in the fire place.  He ran to Levi’s room but found the sheets and pillows remained on the bed.  The lamps and furniture were all present.  Levi took only the clothes he purchased.  He removed nothing Calvin provided and Calvin felt cheated.  He hungered for an excuse to go after him and take back his belongings.

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 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 after the owner passed, his son set fire to it to collect the insurance money.”

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

They all remained still and heard coming towards them the crunch of footsteps on the gravel.

“You think its Levi?” one whispered.

Calvin reached into the tool box, pulled out a long, heavy duty flashlight and shined it up the road.  The yellow beam reflected off a man in dull armor walking towards them.  Calvin and his friends retreated a step but Calvin did not lower the flashlight.  The armored man held out 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 he used as a shield.

“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, 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 noticed nothing.

He watched as the truck fled and then satisfied he had dispatched the danger, sheathed his sword and continued onward.

 

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 sagging antennae on the roof.  She received but three channels and two of those came in fuzzy part of the time but since knew not of what she missed, she remained 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.

Her husband’s habitat remained intact as it existed when he still lived with her.  She didn’t keep it undisturbed believing he would return.  She did it to 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 lit a cigarette, set it to burn in the ashtray, and let the living room fill with tobacco smoke to feel he sat there.  When feeling especially lonely, she carried on conversations with him or asked him about a show playing on the tube.

Her loving daughter tried to remove her many times but Doris refused to leave.  She could not leave the memory of her husband behind.  As the house fell 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 appeared 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 bound her there.  Before her husband left, they did all they could to maintain the house but once he left she lost the drive 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 never cashed them anyway.

She had not dusted in years and not vacuumed in months.  She 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 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.  Her body ached, she had no friends, just enough money to keep the lights buzzing, and lived in a condemned home, but she possessed a strong will to face each day and she pondered what power moved her to get out of bed each morning.  She did not want to die but did not know how long she could endure living in such a manner.  Sooner or later someone would remove her or the house might collapse 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 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.  Her slippers scraped over the grit.  She grabbed a glass from her cabinet, blew into it to remove 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 hoping to 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 buzzed and chirped.  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 drove past, she returned to 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 away.  The headlights burst onto the road in front of the truck and it zoomed away.  She watched the vehicle until it turned the corner and vanished from view.

She remained at her porch’s edge for a moment speculating what those people were doing in the woods and why they fled.  Occasionally thrill seekers drove 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 inside when she heard the faint crunch of footsteps approaching her home in the dark.  She flattened herself against the wall and peered into the darkness.  She heard each step as it ground into the gravel.  They did not approach quickly enough to alarm her nor slowly enough to suggest sneaking. These footsteps belonged to someone out for a general stroll but whether these footsteps had caused the truck to flee concerned her most.

Doris bent low and eased open 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 a small sliver and still crouching, 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 numerous times on the road at night.   She had not seen him in years but his manner of dress and age had not changed.  He stared straight ahead and did not acknowledge the house in any way.  He kept right on walking towards the beach with his gun slung over his shoulder.

 

Levi lied stewing in bed next to his sleeping wife.  He considered 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 they would have teased him over camping in the woods or running and hiding like a child when he heard them coming.  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 want to be viewed as 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 wouldn’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 Levi.  Though Levi was a grown, married man, he still appeared as a child in their eyes because of the belittling way in which Levi’s father spoke of him.  His father had no problems insulting him in front of either his friends or Levi’s friends and upon occasion even did so in front of Levi’s children.

If not 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 his father had provided him with food and shelter until he turned eighteen but he provided nothing more.  Levi 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 acquired a job and through the kindness of his co-workers, 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 show equal pride, but no, his dad ridiculed the car and criticized Levi for getting ripped off in his purchase when in reality Levi had secured an excellent deal.

At that moment Levi decided he no longer loved his father.  He had clung to the hope his father would turn the corner and appreciate Levi as a man if not so as a boy, but right then Levi knew chances were nil.  His father would not allow himself to love Levi.  Calvin would either hate him for what he couldn’t achieve or hate him for what he could.

At Levi’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 Levi’s mother and her husband to pay.  He stayed long enough to eat his free meal and then left as though the Super Bowl were about to start.  Levi enjoyed seeing him go.  He had dreaded all night the potential embarrassment of watching his father stumble around and belittle the wedding party.

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

Levi never knew about what his mother and father argued but did understand why she never returned for him.  His father had threatened to hurt Levi according to his mother and so Levi always dealt with this thought during every encounter with his dad.  He hoped his mother misunderstood, but his father had never shown him the love to suggest otherwise.

Levi knew if he had not always walked away at the height of their arguments, they would have thrown punches years ago.  When his father stumbled around drunk Levi saw see the disdain in his eyes.  Levi always gave way.  He never wanted their arguments to reach a point where he had to throw fists to defend himself from his father.

He would not gain his father’s respect through winning or losing the fight.  His father sought not to test Levi’s manhood but rather wanted to hurt him.

Levi 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, demonstrated weakness on his part.  To fight conveyed a lack of mental superiority and discipline.  He would not obtain the glory one does while achieving victory with fists.  Backing down made him look like a coward but through intelligence and self-control, he achieved true victory.

Levi’s own double standard victimized him.  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 grew too old to win.

Levi watched 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.

“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 every day, 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 right.  The cigarette burned to his fingers as he took a long, unhealthy puff and then mashed it into the ashtray.  He gulped the last swallow of his drink, set it on the floor next to his chair, and 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 flown 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 bed 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!  What I’m saying is, don’t you think someone would have seen him again since?”

“Yeah, us!  We just saw him!”

“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 Levi?” 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 had never felt 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 expiring 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 his father beat him.  Not since before he physically overcame his father and saved the fearful little child inside, had fear so shaken him.  Now he felt the scared, insecure child resurfacing and he hoped to drown him in alcohol.

 

The next morning Levi’s car crawled past his father’s house but he did not stop.  He wanted to confront the man but did not want to admit to him he had hid so he kept driving.  His relationship with his father needed to be removed like the cancerous black eye of a potato.  His father’s existence gnawed at him just as his own existence tormented his father.  What it all came down to, Levi wasn’t sure.  When the resentment 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 ignited.

Levi continued to drive and cool his mind until he reached the woods.  He felt drawn to them, and as he drove 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.

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

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

“Some people tried to scare me.  After that I was too angry to continue.”

Doris nodded.  “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 tear outta here last night.  The same people don’t you think?”

“Probably,” Levi 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?” His mouth hung agape.

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 inside when I heard him coming, but I’m sure though they saw him.”

Levi’s smile stretched wider than the grill of his car.  He slumped he did not get to witness the ghost if Doris spoke the truth, but the remainder took pleasure in the turmoil his father and his friends faced.

“You made my day, Doris!”

“Did I?  Been a while since I did such a thing for anyone.  How about you make my day then and not go inside the woods again?”

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

Doris gazed 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 Levi pitched his tent in the woods, he felt a wonderful excitement in braving the unknown.  He didn’t expect to encounter the supernatural, but he knew others feared the woods or at least steered clear of them and though the kids might zoom past them for a late-night thrill, none considered 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 waned but Levi had no problems throwing up the tent as he had done many times before.  He pitched it not far from the road to ensure 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 saw a faint glow coming from the old woman’s home and the knowledge she somehow afforded electricity comforted him.

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

He sat outside his tent for a few hours listening to the sounds of the insects and peering through the darkness in all directions 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 swayed and crack their tops against one another.  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 at him but to his shameful relief, he saw nothing.  Again, he wrestled with whether 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.  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 the loud snap of a breaking branch and then another.  Whoever approached had no concern for stealth.  Another branch broke and within a minute Levi surmised they would discover him.  His breathing quickened and his eyes darted in all directions.  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, dropped it flat 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 Levi once camped.  Levi listened for voices but heard from their rapid gasping they had not the breath to speak.  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 Levi 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 Levi.

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

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

Levi 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 Levi ducked as the beam grazed over his spot.

“You think he’s still about?”

“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 Levi wanted to emerge from his hiding spot to prove he had not run off, but the fact he hid in the first place helped his case little.

He remained motionless for several minutes as the mosquitoes’ terrible hum and biting maddened him.  Levi’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.

Levi, 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

 

The next morning, still a little unsettled by his encounter near the woods, Levi researched his Bible for 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 Levi and he believed with the power of God, nothing could shake his courage.  If ghosts lived inside, they would have to submit to the power of the Lord.

He found 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 identified.  Jesus did not actually confirm the existence of ghosts.  A couple of instances suggested a person had returned from the dead but these people did not haunt a place; man brought them forth for consultation.  This confused Levi 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 Christian reasons.  According to his research, demons might be masquerading as ghosts which Levi found a bit unsettling.  He welcomed the idea of garden variety ghosts more so than the confounding possibility of dealing with evil beings.  If ghosts were nothing more than the cunning tricks of hellish fiends, what business did they conduct in Old House Woods?

Upon returning home from church with Jules the following day, Levi searched online for information 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, Levi decided to contact the investigators to discover what their research uncovered.

He did not consider this group to be sound experts 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 walked into what you believed to be a haunted forest and wanted to see ghosts, your mind would accommodate you.  This paranormal team likely visited the woods lacking objectivity and saw what any rational person considered 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.

Levi 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.  Levi 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 wanted to know what you were doing.  You don’t usually spend so much time on the web.”

“I found a team of paranormal investigators online who have been to Old House Woods,” he said while still reading their email reply.

“Really?  And what’s their take?”

Levi leaned back in his chair. “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 replied.”

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

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

“Seriously?” Jules replied frowning.  “What are the odds you go 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.

Levi’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 Levi managed to rescue Mistletoe with a pair of tongs.  His only confidant since his Father threw his mother from home, Levi ran screaming upstairs with the smoking koala in his arms.  His father drunk and satisfied with himself, gave no pursuit.  Levi hid his burned buddy until he left home.

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

Levi 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.”

His insinuation dumbfounded her.  “Are you kidding?”

“The old woman sounded convincing.”

“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 a while.  She saw your interest in the woods and used that to talk with you.  I’m sure she is lonely in her old home and 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.”

Levi thought about his kayaking trip and how he panicked when he heard footsteps running through the woods.  His wife had a point about permitting the imagination to take over.  The explanation was likely more natural than supernatural.

“Honey, do you think you can write a great story about this?” she asked unable to mask the impatience in her voice which put Levi 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 Levi 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 Levi’s mind, provided his wife with numerous reasons about which she could be proud of Levi.

He needed her confidence and her affirmation.  He received too little of it growing up and when he noticed how seldom his wife provided any, he grew fearful she searched 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 overheard him talking, boasting to his friends about things he didn’t comprehend as a child.  Now 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 providing for them no financial security.  Levi, at only 155 pounds, had about as much luck getting drafted into the NFL.

Writing a book provided challenges but having the connections to get it published in a market where hundreds of manuscript submissions overwhelmed agents, proved 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 tired of scraping by while all her friends seemed to have husbands who made much more money.  Part of her wanted Levi 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 disliked disappointing him, 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?”

Levi 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 smiled.  “Who or what has a problem with you looking at trees?”  She continued rifling through her folders determined not to further reveal her lack of patience and faith.

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

 

The following weekend Levi drove to Old House Woods and parked in the empty lot where stood the ruins of the house from which the woods derived 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, Levi couldn’t determine.

With birds flying in and out of the ruins, they appeared tame.  Levi wondered at what time the woods obtained its name of “Old House” because at one time, the house was young.  Later the house must have become ruinous enough for the locals to name all 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.  Levi speculated 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.  He 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 but saw nothing.  It had to be a child.  He scanned the ruins.

“Hello!”

The whimper grew into crying.  He approached with worry 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 the same uneasiness he felt the day he heard the rustling through the woods, burned in him.  It’s just a child playing somewhere.  Don’t be so jittery.  Where is she though?  The crying continued but weakened.   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.  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.  This speculation didn’t make sense but he wanted to believe it.  He backed away from the ruins, turned and jogged into the woods.

The sun’s rays struggled to pierce the tree’s cover and the gloom added to the apprehension lingering in his heart.  He peered over his shoulder hoping to catch a glimpse of the child watching him but saw and heard no one.  He stepped behind a tree and watched for a few moments believing whoever hid would soon appear, but nothing happened.  Feeling foolish he resumed his exploration.

The woods were more open than he imagined.  He maneuvered through the trees without the trouble of climbing over fallen trunks or avoiding thick briars.

The floor held a thick bedding of pine straw littered with the castaways from many large hollys.  As he moved further into the woods he came upon a pond which he could not 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 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 appeared unfit for human pleasure.

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 set of wooden steps leading to the door.  Given its proximity to the small pond, Levi deducted hunters used the fort.

Levi grew self-conscious of the fact he trespassed 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 saw 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 explained the noises near the woods Levi 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; meaning 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 today’s insecticides and mosquito catching machines the mosquito’s pestilence would have been worse.  Fighting a war or even burying a treasure amid 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 leading to the beach.  Levi 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 lived 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 explained the blocked entrance.

Emboldened by his courageous trip through the woods, Levi 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.  Levi studied the house for several minutes hoping a person would emerge with whom he might strike up a conversation.

White paint curled in patches on the outside but the porch boards appeared flat and firm.  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 he smelled the salt air from the beach Its proximity to the water made this home a quaint summer getaway.

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

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

Levi jumped suggesting he was up to no good.  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 attempt to ease his anxiety.

Levi mustered his friendliest face.  “My name is Levi Schroeder.  I’m a writer.”  This last statement Levi considered a fib since he regarded 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 to him.

He struggled to read her face behind the screen door 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 and that’s why I’m here.”

“What is so interesting about these woods?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

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

Levi of course didn’t believe this true but knew the possibility of buried treasure would best distract her.

“In these woods?”

“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?”

Levi 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 must 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 here and we’ve stayed here off and on for nearly eight years.”

Levi felt 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 Levi but they could be explained after the discovery of the hunting bluff he found earlier.  If anyone saw a floating pirate ship or ghosts running through the woods, this couple would be them.

“Do you come down every year?” Levi 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 had but a few creases in her face, an attractive figure, but a faint shade of red colored her eyes and she blinked slowly like a child ready for bed.  She searched Levi’s eyes for trust the way one does before they contemplate telling a secret.  She sighed after a moment and proceeded.

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

Levi nodded.

“Meaning when they told me things a lot of times it went in one ear and out the other because they sometimes became confused near the end or maybe I just 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 stormed above the woods sometimes, but not anywhere else.  Only above the woods.”

“Interesting,” Levi said with feigned fascination.

“Also, the storm didn’t make any sound.”  She grimaced when she said this expecting skepticism.

“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 frowned when 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 for at least eleven years, not often.  Honestly, I’m not being fair to them because the first time they told me about it they weren’t yet seventy-five and not old enough to be seeing things.”

“You’ve never seen anything like that?”

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

“Weird.”

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

“No, no, it’s 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.”

Levi pondered the idea.  “Maybe.”

“Is this going to be fiction or non-fiction?”

“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 interesting!”

Levi smiled and nodded, hoping she wouldn’t ask if he had written anything she may have read.  He would 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.”

Levi grinned.  “Deal!”

She pointed towards the water, “We have a dock that runs a hundred feet or so 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!”

Levi smiled, “I certainly will.  Does your husband hunt by chance?”

“At one time.  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 the yard and house look so raggedy.  He’s too ill to take care of the property.  The doctor he needed to reduce his stress, 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?”

Her interest in the treasure dawned on Levi.

“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 pray 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 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.  If 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.”

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

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

“Thank you, Maxine.”

“Maxine!” her husband croaked before succumbing to a fit of coughing.  Levi’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 inside easing the screen door shut behind her.

He glanced 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 returning through the woods from which he came, he decided to follow Maxine’s lane out to the road and walk around the woods 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 warned you to stay out of those woods!”

Levi 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 trespassing worried you more than the specters within those trees?  Don’t be stupid!”

“I respect the law, yes, but I do fear the unknown more than it.”  Levi admired the clear sky.  “It’s a beautiful day.  On a day like this, what is there to fear?  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 consider it?”

“Because I am a good man and I can 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 ghosts take exception?”

She returned to her rocking, angry she lacked a sufficient rebuttal.  Her dress which appeared as though 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, plus a couple lives at the end of this lane.  They have never seen a ghost in eight years!” Levi 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.”

Levi sighed.  He grew more convinced the old woman spun paranoia like the old timers who told haunted tales fifty years ago.  “If these woods are haunted as all the old tales and I emphasize “old”, lead us to believe, then writers and amateur ghost hunters would be crawling through them.  Kids go 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.”

Levi 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,” Levi said trying to change the subject.

Without removing her gaze from the woods, she answered, “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 sad stare from the trees appearing much 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.”