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.
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.