Barnaby saw the light vanish and knew for now he had ran far enough away that he could make his escape without fear of the skeleton man hearing. He jumped up, paid no attention to the dirt clinging to his clothes, and began running towards the road but he grabbed a hold of a tree after several yards and turned to look behind him.
Should he go, he wondered? Was he cowardly for running away? Was it not his daring of which he was most proud? Of course he should flee, he thought. A terrifying dead man shredded his tent! Could there be more than a handful of men in the world with sufficient bravery who would remain in the forest? Most would have run screaming at first sight Barnaby speculated but yet he remained, pondering whether he should indeed leave. Couldn’t this mere consideration to stay be a sufficient indicator of Barnaby’s courage when all others would have fled without a second thought?
Look at the skeleton soldier, he laughed to himself, he ran away at the simple sound of a stick breaking. As terrifying as he appeared, he possessed no more courage than he did beauty. Perhaps his fear pressured him into attacking the tent.
Barnaby crouched down by the tree next to which he stood and wrestled with his decision. Stay and prove his courage or leave and live. The logical choice for most men is to choose life, but when a man wrestles with a feeling of inadequacy for a good part of his existence, he often will go to extreme measures to prove his worth when given the opportunity, even if it is reckless to pursue it.
Barnaby didn’t have long to debate the pros and cons when he heard a voice in the distance. He saw no lights but heard arguing.
He knelt behind a tree and tried to make out the words but they came from too far a distance to decipher. The woods shed so many dead branches that sneaking up on anyone without making a sound was unrealistic. What was he thinking? He needed to leave right then, but his curiosity overwhelmed him.
He started to tip toe through the pine droppings towards the source of the voices hoping their own noise would cover his. The closer he got the lower he crouched until he crawled on all fours. Soon he could hear their conversation clearly. He lay flat on the ground when he came in sight of the commotion.
He saw two men bound to a large pine tree as two others dug a hole with crude shovels. Their lanterns hung overhead on branches and provided a swirling mixture of shadow and light as they swayed with the wind. The larger man bound on the left had hair down to his shoulders and a slight beard. His pants did not reach his feet and his shirt lay torn across his chest. The second, smaller man had short hair and a clean shaven face.
The two others digging the hole had their backs to Barnaby for most of the time but they wore similar fashion. Their pants did not reach their ankles and their light shirts looked to be tarnished with dirt. One man had a bandana wrapped around his neck, but the other darker man did not. Perhaps because his darker complexion prevented him from burning. Both wore small knitted caps on their heads but neither wore shoes which Barnaby guessed made it difficult to dig holes. Their dark coats which the men shed to better handle the heat and humidity, hung on a nearby tree branch.
Barnaby observed them for several minutes and neither individual spoke during the time they dug the hole which lasted for many minutes.
The two men dug and dug until they stood in a hole reaching just above their waists. They climbed out and disappeared from site for a few minutes then returned with two small wooden chests filled with something heavy by the way they struggled.
Barnaby’s excitement began to override his fear. He was soon to witness real pirates burying treasure! These pirates, he speculated, came from the Golden Age of Piracy when pirates plundered ships from the Chesapeake Bay all the way down to the Caribbean. They were ghosts like the Spaniard who slashed his tent but their bodies were intact and they were also from a different era given the appearance of their clothes.
He had witnessed more ghostly activity in a matter of minutes than most ghost hunters would ever experience in a lifetime of searching for it. These ghosts were not wispy, ethereal beings rather they appeared solid and hardy as they must have in life. Because of this Barnaby did not feel the same horror he experienced when encountering the skeletal pirate even though these men before him were just as dead.
He looked over his shoulder, this time careful not to break anymore branches, and scanned the woods for the skeletal Spaniard. He wondered if he were part of this group or whether he hid from them. He could very well be out there in the woods, watching these men, waiting for the right moment to run in with his sword and attack with mad vigor.
Barnaby could not determine why the other two pirates were tied around the tree but did not have long to wonder.
The two pirates carrying the chests dropped them next to each prisoner. Then taking a length of chain, they fastened one end to a strap on the chest and the other to the ankle of a prisoner.
“Why didn’t ye tell us about yer wife, William?” one pirate groaned to the larger prisoner as he wrapped the chain around his ankle.
“What good would that have done, Edward?” shouted the other, smaller prisoner in reply to the questioning Pirate. “We’d of ended up no differently. Captain would have saw to that.”
“I’m supposin that’s true,” mumbled Edward and he continued to tie the knot around the larger pirate he addressed as William.
“Let her go Edward,” shouted the larger prisoner William. “I brung her along. Leave her here and tell the captain ye killed her.”
“Forced her to come aboard the ship did ya?” the other pirate who worked on tying his chest to the smaller prisoner’s leg, sneered. “You know the code about bringin women aboard. You tellin me she didn know what she was doin? You telling me she didn follow you of her own accord? She knew what she be doin.”
“You can speak to me, Christopher,” shouted the smaller prisoner to the jesting pirate. “You don’t need to speak of me as though I weren’t sittin here in front of ye. We’ve been mates fer the past four months. You didn’t think of me as so lowly when ye thought I a man.”
The pirate called Christopher crawled up into the smaller prisoner’s face. “But ye aren’t a man are ye?” he asked. His lips hovered an inch from her nose and she struggled not to bite it off.
“No more!” exclaimed Edward. “What good is it to taunt the woman? Is killin her not enough?”
“Let her go Edward!” William the larger prisoner pleaded. “If she must be punished than let her watch me die but don’t take her life too.”
“No!” shouted the smaller prisoner. “If we must die then we die together.”
William turned to the smaller prisoner. “Mary be still! Ye can make a life here in these trees. There are settlements springin up. No one will suspect ye were a pirate.”
“There is no life without ye,” Mary replied.
“Awww Edward, me thinks me gonna cry,” mocked Christopher the sneering pirate.
“Silence!” Edward commanded. “Or I’ll throw you in the hole with them!” Edward took no pleasure in the duty commanded to him.
Christopher scowled and grabbed his jacket from the tree.
“I’m sorry William but I have to follow the Captain’s orders. You shouldn have brought her on the ship with ye.”.
“Curse your orders!” William shouted. “The worse he should do is maroon us somewheres. This is no fit way for a sailor to die!”
Once the chains were secured to their ankles, Edward stood with a long face and walked behind the tree to which William and his wife Mary were tied and began to cut their bindings.
Barnaby looked behind him again and scanned the darkness. He saw nothing.
Barnaby determined the situation. William the pirate had brought his wife Mary to sea with him and she worked amongst the sailors disguised as a man. According to some pirate’s code, bringing aboard a woman jeopardized the ship’s welfare as many men, starved for the affections of a woman, would quarrel and fight over her. Death was often dealt as the penalty for both the man and woman.
Barnaby shuddered as he prepared to witness the execution of both William and his wife Mary and he wondered how many times this ghostly act played out in the woods?
The second Edward cut the binds, William sprang forward and tackled Christopher. He sat on his chest and choked him with horrendous vigor. “I’ll make sure you don’t lay hands on my wife when I pass!” William shouted.
A pistol shot rang through the woods and William slumped to his side and fell partially into the hole.
“No! William!” cried his wife Mary. “Curse you! I curse you both!”
Christopher coughed and gasped for air.
“I did not want to do that,” Edward moaned as he stepped through the smoke. He tucked his pistol into the rope around his waist.
“What difference does it make ye heathen?” Mary screamed. “We were both as good as dead! You were going to kill him anyway.”
Christopher sat up and in a fit of anger kicked William’s body the rest of the way into the hole. He then picked up the heavy chest tied to William’s ankle and threw it on top of him.
“Curse you!” Mary shouted with venom. “I curse the both of you!”
Christopher pulled his gun and aimed to shoot Mary when Edward stopped him. “No!” he shouted. “Captain wanted them buried alive. That’s why we tie the chests to their legs, so they can’t dig themselves out.”
“You fiends!” Mary cried. “Pray you never have children so the curse on your families ends with your deaths!”
Christopher yanked her to her feet, struck her in the face with the back of his hand, then threw her into the hole with William and tossed her chest in with her.
Mary knelt down next to her husband sobbing and began to stroke his hair ignoring the pirates above. “We will be together soon darling,” she whispered. Her heart ached. She kissed his warm lips and looked for him to waken like the princesses did in the fairy tales. But they were pirates and pirates did not deserve fairy tale endings.
“If we hadn attacked good ole King Charles’ ship and stolen his loot before we put back into port, you might never had been found out,” Christopher sneered.
Edward and Christopher ignored her sobbing and began to shovel dirt on her but she paid it no mind as it struck her with a “thud” in the back. She continued to weep over her dead husband’s body.
Barnaby knew they intended to bury her alive, perhaps only to the extent where her upper body remained above ground. The heavy soil and chest tied to her ankle would prevent her from managing an escape. What a terrible way to perish. She would remain in the ground and die of suffocation, starvation or dehydration. Either fate was a nightmare. William seemed to have secured an easier death when he attacked Christopher. His poor wife must now go through her slow, painful death, alone.
Barnaby heard her wails of anguish but could not see her as Edward and Christopher continued to throw heaping mounds of dirt onto her body. Barnaby, moved by the emotional scene jumped forward and shouted.
“Let her go!”
The two pirates spun and Barnaby, who stood about ten yards away, stepped backward to flee. Edward dropped his shovel and began to reload his pistol. Christopher drew his once more from his waist belt and shot at Barnaby without properly taking the time to aim. A tree ten feet to Barnaby’s left splintered when the lead ball hit it. Christopher tucked his gun away and drew his sword in anger.
“Finish burying the woman, I’ll get after this one!” he exclaimed to Edward. Barnaby turned and fled when Christopher bounded toward him with his sword. He knew if he ran for too long then Mary would soon be buried up to her chest and would die shortly after but how could he turn and face a man skilled in fighting with a sword when Barnaby possessed no weapon at all?
As Barnaby ran in between the trees he could hear Christopher the pirate shouting obscenities at him.
“Stop runnin vermin and I’ll make yer death quick!”
Barnaby glanced over his shoulder and saw he easily maintained his gap between Christopher. Pirates were not the fittest people and their poor diets lent little to their endurance so Barnaby had no trouble in extending his lead.
Slowly so as not to draw attention to his plan, Barnaby began to turn back towards Mary in a wide swooping arc. He hoped he could lose Christopher along the way and make his way back to Mary undetected. With a little luck, Edward might already be gone and Barnaby could dig her out without the others knowing. Would it make a difference though? Did she not already die over three hundred years ago? Could freeing a ghost from her torment change the outcome? Wouldn’t all this happen again?
Barnaby’s thoughts were interrupted when another shot rang cracked the air and a pistol ball whizzed behind his head. Barnaby ducked and saw Edward the other pirate pursuing from his left. Christopher, many yards behind now, still gave chase. Barnaby had no way now of turning back towards Mary as Edward had cut off that route. His only choice would be to face the pirates, die, and perhaps live the rest of his existence as a ghost in these woods or continue to run.
He kept running.