Levi sat next to the pirate whose name he did not know and stared at the Bay as the brackish waves sneaked in, licked his boots, and then retreated quietly. He remained on the beach and waited for the bodies to vanish to witness how much time elapsed. A few minutes later, light blankets of water enveloped them and drew their apparitions into the sea.
Levi felt alone when they vanished. The woods and all the death he had witnessed drained the good spirit within him. No wonder spirits haunted the trees! So much treachery had occurred amongst them and on the shores of the beach.
He decided to leave the woods. He had plenty of material on which to write his story. He had seen things he would have struggled to imagine on his own; occurrences that would awe his readers. Most importantly, he had tested his mettle. True, most of his experiences throughout the night had involved running or hiding, but he did not leave the woods after the attack on his tent instead he bravely chose to remain.
He jumped forward and tried to prevent Mary’s death, rather than cowering in the shadows. He followed the pirates into the woods after they had landed on the beach when he could have remained behind the safety of the dunes. He felt he had nothing left to prove, at least to himself.
The woods stretched in both directions no more than a few acres and he knew the direction he should travel to make his escape. The road running along the woods would appear as time continued to advance and once it did he would cross to the other side. He counted on what the old woman said; “Nothing in there crosses over to here.”
He proceeded back through the woods along the same familiar course he had already traveled several times. If he continued in this direction he would reach the other end of the woods in brief time. By then the road should be in place.
Along the way he listened so intently for strange sounds around him that he did not pay close mind to his steps. He stumbled in the dark and hit the ground hard, crunching several pine branches when he landed. He turned off his flashlight and lay motionless for a few seconds ignoring the pain and listening for supernatural sounds as his heart pounded vibrations throughout his body. He heard nothing but the chirpings of bugs and the communication of fruit bats. No lights or un-natural sounds emerged from the dark.
He turned and shined his light on the object that tripped him. To his amazement he saw a skeleton partially covered by pine straw. He had never noticed a skeleton the last few times he had taken this path. He clicked his light off to avoid detection and crawled on his belly through the bedding of straw and pine cones to the skull.
He brushed away the pine needles to see the tattered remains of an old sailor’s uniform. He gasped to find the skeletal soldier who had attacked his tent! The uniform was unmistakable! The rusted remains of the sword he used lied next to him.
Another revelation struck Levi! The skeletal soldier was also the sick pirate whose ship mates had left him behind. This explained the coughing he heard from both this man and the man who attacked his tent. They were the same person but also different. He didn’t recognize him as the skeletal sailor despite the uniform because of his flesh. They were both ghosts but one ghost portrayed the man before he died and the other skeletal version depicted the after death version. Curiously he retained his illness even after he departed.
Levi un-brushed more of the pine needles and saw the man lied face down, pointing towards the beach. His right arm extended outward as though he died while still crying for their help. He must have collapsed in death either from fear or from disease right after the storm woman’s appearance.
Levi thought it strange he should meet this specter first in these woods as his encounter did not fit in with the way events thus far unfolded.
Perhaps the ghostly apparitions can appear whenever they want? They are not bound to the rules of a time line? They appeared before and after their deaths took place. He felt as though he watched a play which had to run its course but those whose story the play told, did not have to follow the script. The sickly pirate appeared only at the time of his death as it occurred in the woods, but his actual skeleton might appear whenever he chose suitable to reveal himself. In other words, Mary, Christopher, Edward, and the others could not appear again in their human guise but could show themselves at any time in their dead form.
Levi said a prayer for this man for even though he lived an unbecoming life, Levi felt sorry for the loneliness and terror he must have felt towards the end. He left the remains undisturbed and continued onward.
The skeleton, like the gold, was real but not real at the same time. If Levi should leave for a few minutes soil, roots and scavenging animals would take the skeleton before his return. He could not change the history of this skeleton’s final resting place, at least not now. Like with the gold, the skeleton existed as a ghostly illusion to Levi because he passed through a time in the woods’ history when the skeleton still lay naked on the forest floor.
As Levi walked he started to shake. His breath plumed forward like cigarette smoke. Small birds hopped on the frozen pond to his right. Winter had arrived in the woods.
Naturally when he entered the forest in July he did not dress for winter weather. He shined his flashlight around until he found his shredded tent and pulled out his sleeping bag. He wrapped the torn bag around his body for warmth and continued to make his way towards the road.
His exposed hands ached from the cold but the walk passed without event and so he felt optimistic he would encounter no more ghostly terrors. Once he crossed the road, winter would vanish and he would bask in warm summer temperatures once again. Unfortunately, soon after he had hoped for this, he saw in the distance a light. It neither moved towards nor away from him. He conceded the light must come from a ghost and not an actual human. At this point to believe in the supernatural made more sense than to assume the natural.
He shook his head and frowned. Here again another test to challenge his ego. He knew he shouldn’t let his foolish pride gnaw at his common sense. He should take another route to the road but pride and curiosity grabbed the wheel. Not in these woods where snow fell during the summer; not on these beaches where dead pirates washed ashore. No, his curiosity had to be satisfied and his pride had to be massaged so he took a deep, cold breath, and moved onward.
He ambled towards the light and with each step readied himself for it to suddenly make a move towards him as though an unseen specter held it.
A few minutes later he came to a small clearing and saw a soldier holding a lantern and wearing a British red coat. He stood at the corner of a two-story wood-frame home. In one hand he held the lantern and in the other a musket which he had laid on his shoulder. He walked around the corner of the house and out of sight paying no mind to any sound he may have detected from Levi.
The winter cold had vanquished the echoing sound of the cicadas and bats. He heard only a bitter wind whistling through the tree stalks.
Levi knew to be cautious of the soldier as his presence must mean the Revolutionary War approached and Levi didn’t want to get shot for his strange appearance. Jeans and a t-shirt might look odd to a sentry, at the very least Levi knew he didn’t resemble a British soldier. Dealing now with British soldiers rather than pirates who had believed in attacking first and asking questions later pleased him.
His feet ached, his legs throbbed, and he feared he might end up as a skeleton in the woods but he also appreciated the remarkableness of his situation. Most people lived their whole lives having never experienced a truly thrilling or awe-inspiring event but Levi, within a few short hours had encountered and witnessed numerous, spectacular occurrences
Watching history unfold as it did in the woods fascinated him to an immense degree. If anyone in the world had experienced a more extraordinary adventure, Levi would love to swap tales with them. He did not know if his book would be a success or even published, but he knew his grandchildren would at least appreciate his story.
Levi smiled when he realized the soldier guarded the old house after which “Old House Woods” was named. It appeared much like a home he would enjoy spending his time especially because it looked from the chimneys on opposite ends of the house, that the home possessed two fireplaces. Fireplaces were uncommon in new homes in his time but he always enjoyed the crackle and pop of a warm fire.
Snow fell and within minutes three inches accumulated while Levi sat observing the house. He shivered from inactivity and soon longed for the sweltering humidity he had endured a short time ago.
The British soldier emerged again from behind the house but now he had a snow covered blanket wrapped around him. He walked hunched over and carried his weapon close to his body trying to stay as compact as possible. He trudged once more along the rear portion of the home then disappeared around the corner as he had earlier but this time he did not re-emerge from the other side. Perhaps he went in, Levi thought.
Smoke rose from both chimneys and Levi speculated the house must be warm. He shivered and tried his best to wrap the sleeping bag tighter about his body but this left his hands exposed and they began to throb. His feet as well began to lose feeling as he sat crouched upon them and the snow deepened over his boots. He stood and kicked a small sapling. He cringed at the sting his toes felt. He wagered the temperature had fallen below thirty degrees and he needed to get out of the woods soon or else he might freeze.
He waited a few more minutes to see if the British sentry came about the house once more and when he did not he decided to bolt through the yard, jump the road and break free from the woods.
He emerged from his cover in the trees and jogged through the snow with numb feet while still holding the sleeping bag around his shoulders. He hoped to avoid the British sentry but if not, he would try to overpower the man then run towards the road. With surprise on his side and the peculiarity of his appearance, he figured the soldier would be too stunned to react quickly.
Loud voices erupted from inside. Fearful numerous men might emerge any moment, and for lack of good cover, he ran to the back of the house and pressed himself against the wall. A man shouted inside. His curiosity bested him again and he moved towards the window to peek. He held his sleeping bag around him with one hand and used his other hand to help him peer.
Inside he saw six British soldiers standing in the shadow and flicker of the fire. One stood before the others with his back facing the window through which Levi peeked. The man yelled at them and his tirade surprised the as they soldiers gawked with open mouths. Levi allowed his eyes a brief second to scan the room but never took them off the soldiers for too long.
Candles strategically placed around the house lit the darker corners with light. On either side of the fireplace sat two rocking chairs and a small pile of firewood. Levi glanced at the soldiers who stared at their commanding officer now with not so much shock but contempt.
A gust of wind blew sharp, tiny pieces of icy snow into Levi’s eyes. He blindly leaned on the chimney to clear them but instead fell against a log pile which crumbled and dropped him on his rear. Still holding on to his sleeping bag and feeling like a clumsy oaf, he scrambled to his feet and took a quick look through the window to see if those inside had heard him.
One of the soldiers approached and Levi knelt beneath the window to avoid being seen. His tracks leading from the woods to the rear of the house were evident and anyone with intelligence could determine someone might be under the window listening.
The soldier yelled at his subordinates to investigate the matter. Levi heard the front door slam and the crunch of snow under their running feet. Fortunately they all approached from the same side of the house and Levi managed to run around to the other side without detection. He left clear tracks though and he knew he couldn’t keep running in circles away from them, so he sprinted to the woods when he felt he had widened the gap enough between him and them.
He dove into the branches and rolled through the wet snow. He spun and saw the soldiers round the house. It did not take them long to notice where his tracks led but they pursued no further. They aimed their muskets at the trees and stared while conversing with one another but they did not remove their eyes from their sites.
Levi covered himself once again with the sleeping bag and remained still trying to contain his smoky breath. If he ran they would fire. He trembled in the snow and his muscles began to seize and ache. Briefly he thought about surrendering to interrogation to get inside to the warmth. Given the way time advanced, he should be rid of them soon, but he decided against it. He could tough it out. The snow after all should not last much longer either.
The soldiers did not shoot but remained fixed on his position for a good while despite the blustery wind kicking snow dust into their faces and blowing off their hats. They shivered from the cold but did not falter.
Satisfied no danger existed, one soldier turned, pulled down his pants and relieved himself next to the house. The others poked him in the rear with their bayonets and laughed at him while he lost balance. They had lost interest in their pursuit. After another minute the soldiers returned inside but flashed one more glance in his direction.
Levi considered why they did not give chase or at least investigate his tracks more thoroughly. They saw where he had fled. Perhaps they thought he was armed or maybe they feared the trees as he did. Could it be possible they too had seen ghosts from an earlier time than from which they came?
The house had no windows on the end closest to him so he stood, shivering and brushed the snow from his pants. He decided to waste no more time and leave when a soldier who had yelled at the others earlier, emerged onto the front porch. He had an average build and his greasy hair clung to his shoulders. Dirt stained his white trousers and stockings. His red jacket appeared to be clean however he did not wear a white waist coat underneath as Levi had often seen soldiers wear.
The man shouted once more but Levi saw nor heard anyone as though the ghost himself had either gone mad and argued with images in his mind or else only he saw the phantom to whom he spoke. Oddly his arguments were structured and he appeared to stand and wait for a response with each outburst but no one stood before him.
Levi crept through the woods until he stood in line with the porch and listened.
“We have lived here for three months! We cannot find the gold on our own! If you do not help us then we may be forced to take drastic measures. If you thought quartering us to be an inconvenience, perhaps you will wake and find no house with which to quarter us!”
Though Virginia was a British colony, many of its residents held divided loyalties. Most did not agree with the taxes the King had placed upon them nor their forced obligation to quarter soldiers and so the temper of the colonists rose. These soldiers represented the King and so in the eyes of the Virginia colonists, they also represented his tyranny.
The officer stood silent as though he listened to a response then smiled. “I most certainly will. If not for our protection you would have no homes. We could have left you to the mercy of the French or those savage natives. You owe us a mighty debt!”
He paced around the porch then spun with a ferocious anger in his eyes. “How dare you accuse me of barbarism? The way I view it, my men and I have protected your home for these past few months. A debt you will repay by revealing what you know regarding the gold buried near the beach.”
He paused once more listening to a response then fired a retort. “We know the gold is in these woods! We have researched all the accounts and know pirates intercepted a ship carrying King Charles’ money en route to Jamestown! I have explained this to you repeatedly and wish to do it no further! Now tell me where to find it and don’t tell me more stories about ghosts!”
He listened for a second then shouted, “My men saw nothing! More than likely fever made them delirious!”
“Because I don’t need to go into the woods!” he yelled as though whomever he spoke with questioned why he did not go into the woods himself.
He reached into the doorway and pulled onto the porch a small girl. She appeared no older than six or seven judging by her height. Two bare feet peeked out from under her brown dress. Her long, brown hair hung to her waist. She held her arms around her body in a bear hug and shivered in the cold.
“You leave me with little choice then. I will send your daughter into the cold. She will show my men where to dig.”
The officer fell to his back as though tackled. He struggled to hold an unseen specter at bay while shouting for his men’s assistance. The little girl stood and screamed until the other soldiers emerged. They reached down and appeared to pull the person off their officer then withdrew their pistols and held the person at bay. One of the other soldiers carried the crying girl inside the house as she struggled.
“Mama! Mama!” she shouted.
The commanding officer stood and walked between his men. He straightened his jacket and addressed the vacant air. “If not for your daughter’s presence my men would kick your body into the snow!” He walked into the house and slammed the door.
With whom did he argue, the girl’s mother, the girl’s father? Why couldn’t he see them when clearly the other ghosts could? How many ghosts might he have passed in the woods who floated in and around him a mere breath away, sneering and snarling? He trembled from the cold and the fear.
He thought of the little girl and her cold bare feet as she shivered and cried on the front porch. What a terrible time to live Levi reflected. These people endured so many hardships. The little girl must too be dead he thought. The old fables surrounding the woods had mentioned all he had witnessed thus far from the pirates, to the Storm Woman to these British soldiers, but no story mentioned a ghostly child. He hoped not to see her die.
A few birds chirped and as he searched for them he saw a few buds sprouting from the trees and noticed the snow around him melting. The air felt cool still but tolerable and he no longer shook uncontrollably. Spring and warmer air thankfully returned.
The commanding officer’s rants led Levi to believe they too searched for the buried treasure but had run into a few snags. His men apparently encountered the haunts of Old House Woods and feared to venture into the woods once more. This might explain why the soldiers didn’t pursue him.
The squad had evidently remained with the family for months. With the appearance of spring in the trees and the apparent jump forward in time, maybe much longer. How intolerable their stay must have been for the family? How long did these men intend to look for the treasure?
The sentry Levi had previously seen in the snow when he first approached, once again appeared behind the home and reconnoitered the house. The little girl emerged into the sun on the front porch, hopped down the steps and skipped into the back yard.
“Hi Charley,” she said to the pacing soldier.
He smiled and handed her a daffodil he had tucked into his belt. “I picked this for you.”
“You are most welcome. I found a patch of them growing near the woods,” he returned with a grin. He went on his way to the front of the home.
The little girl held the yellow flower to her nose then skipped around the yard enjoying the break from the cold weather. She found a log, turned it on end, then sat upon it like a stool and admired her gift.
Levi stared at her and forgot about escaping the woods. He moved gently through the trees to better see the child’s face. He took his time and the wetness the melted snow provided made the ground softer and easier to move upon without making noise. The whole time the little girl remained sitting on her log, looking at her flower, and humming to herself.
She sat at least fifteen yards from the edge of the woods and he stood a good ten yards in, but he still saw her well enough. She wore the same brown dress she wore earlier though it hung a little higher on her now. Mud caked her bare feet but she did not appear to care. She kept right on merrily humming her tune and rotating the flower between her hands.
She gazed at the small patch of daffodils blooming next to the woods for a moment then examined the trees. She glanced at her house to see if anyone watched, then stepped towards the woods but never took her eyes off the trees as she approached the flowers.
She jumped and spun. The British soldier stood at the corner with wide eyed fear on his face like his child had just run into traffic. “Don’t go too close to the woods!”
“I’m not,” she called back.
Regardless of her assurances, the soldier’s gaze darted between her and the woods and he appeared poised to rush in and snatch her away if necessary.
Strange these ghosts believed themselves to be alive and yet they feared the other ghosts they must have encountered. If they witnessed pirates then perhaps they understood the pirates must have been dead because of the year in which they thought they still lived. Strangely they too did not understand they were dead. How many times had they acted out this scene? Did they appear daily, weekly, monthly, or did these ghosts appear but once a year? How long were they doomed to linger in the woods running from one another and greedily seeking out treasure?
“If you want more flowers Victoria, I can pick some for you,” the soldier suggested.
“Yes, please,” she returned then withdrew from the trees with a look relief on her face.
He approached and Levi sank lower knowing this soldier might be on guard for alleged specters waiting at the woods’ edge.
The soldier knelt with his musket still in hand and picked two flowers for her.
“Is this enough?” he turned and offered.
She nodded vigorously. He stood and handed her the flowers. “Why don’t we go inside? I’ll tell you the story again about my boat ride over here.”
She skipped towards the house and he followed after her with a smile.
“I’m going to give these to my mother.”
“I’m sure she will enjoy them.”
“Are you going to be with us all summer?”
“I don’t know.” His shoulders slumped and he blinked slowly as though he had not slept in days. “How do you feel about that?”
“My mother says my dad won’t like finding you here so you have to leave but I will miss you Charley when you do.”
“I will miss you too Victoria,” he replied glumly.
They disappeared around the front of the home and Levi and their conversation faded with them.
The air warmed and the light faded. The sun’s rays slid up the base of the trees as though God had rewound the day to the moment of dawn. Levi knew this was not the same day though. The curtains had closed on an act he watched and then re-opened to reveal a new setting and new scenery.
He stood in the same spot but understood he had moved ahead in time due to the warm air and sudden dryness of the forest floor. He rubbed his hands through the pine needles. Half an hour ago melting snow soaked them but now they felt light and crisp. He tossed off his unnecessary sleeping bag now too hot to wear and smacked at a mosquito parked on his knee.
Arguing commenced again within the house but not one sided this time. A man fought with the commanding officer. A gun shot split the air and Levi jumped. He hid behind a large tree and listened to the continued screaming.
The little girl burst from around the corner of the house and sobbed like a punished child just as a shriek sounded from within the home. She stumbled through the trees right past Levi. He first thought to grab and shelter the child but he knew this would frighten her so he let her run. He followed at a distance and would approach her once she had calmed down.
Charley, the British soldier who had befriended the little girl ran after her shouting. “Victoria come back, it’s okay!”
Loud booms shook the air and the cicadas and bats stopped calling. Levi cowered low to the ground. The sound reminded him of the fireworks his county usually shot off on July fourth. He assumed the world outside must be continuing onward normally but fireworks did not make sense to him at this early point of the day. More thunderous booms in the distance reverberated through the trees and Charley, eyes wide with panic, ran to the edge of the house from whence the sounds came and listened.
“Victoria!” he shouted again.
In the woods on the other side of the clearing the remaining British soldiers from his group emerged running with muskets in their hands. Charley pulled his pistol from his belt and ran to meet them.
“What has happened?” he asked.
“The militia has dislodged Governor Dunmore from Gwynn Island! The Virginia commander is attacking him as we speak! The war has begun and the militia is pursuing us! We must flee and make haste to the beach! Where is Captain Wilcox?”
“I have shot him,” Charley replied. He took a deep breath and puffed out his chest. “He tried to hurt Victoria.”
The soldier paused but displayed no emotion over the news. “We will blame his death on the militia then.” The British soldier said nothing more and he and the rest of his company ran onward towards Levi.
Levi laid flat on the ground and threw pine needles over his head to conceal his presence. The British in their rush for self-preservation hurried past him and paid attention to only the tree branches slowing their escape. Within a few seconds of their passing, a group of soldiers dressed in blue clothes broke into the clearing.
Upon seeing Charley with his pistol drawn, they took aim and fired. Musket balls whizzed through the trees and broke branches above Levi.
Charley yelped in fear and ran into the woods after his comrades fortunate to still be breathing. He flew past Levi in the shadowy woods, weaving in and out of trees as he fled.
“Victoria!” he cried out. “Where are you?”
Levi seized the opportunity and made his escape. Twice he heard musket balls “thunk” into the trees around him. What a night he thought. Will it ever end? Will I survive?
He saw behind him the militia creeping into the woods. Levi ran with all out fear and did not care in the least about the noise he made. Pre-occupied with his pursuers, he forgot about the path in front of him and for the second time tripped on something in the dark he did not see.
He flew forward, skidded in the soft pine brush, then scrambled to his feet and turned. Charley knelt in the dark sobbing. Levi turned to run fearing this man as much as he did the militia but paused to consider over what he cried. He crawled to the sobbing man as another musket ball, fired blindly into the darkness, whizzed overhead.
Victoria lied beneath Charley. His tears landed on her face as he brushed her long brown hair from her eyes. She lay there like a sleeping, little angel under streaks of sunlight coming through the trees. Blood stained her dress at her midsection because the balls meant for the British had struck her.
Levi didn’t know the child and yet this experience shook him far greater than any emotional blow he had suffered so far in the woods. Her demise devastated him more than Mary’s and if death did not loom nearby, he would kneel over her body and cry like this man who had grown so close to her.
Levi shook Charley’s shoulder and he snapped to attention. He frowned when he saw Levi, a strangely dressed person he did not recognize.
“You have to go!” Levi pleaded. “They will kill you too.”
Charley wiped blood from the corner of Victoria’s mouth and swallowed his emotion. He didn’t care about Levi now while his grief for Victoria consumed him. “If I had a daughter I would want her to be like Victoria. She was so good,” he said softly and wept once more.
Levi peered around the tree and saw the militia men still a good distance away and ignorant to where they sat.
“Let’s take her with us,” Levi suggested. “We can give her a proper burial. I can bury her for you. You need to run!”
“And what of you?” he questioned. “How will you escape with her?”
“I will hide,” Levi replied. “I know these woods well.”
“As do I,” the soldier responded. “I have gone in and out of them for months but I have not seen you.”
“I’m good at hiding,” Levi lied hoping to persuade the soldier. “You have to decide quickly. They will be here soon.”
Charley brushed specks of dirt from her cheek. “No,” he said shaking his head. “She has to be returned to her mother. Her mother loved her dearly and deserves to say good-bye.”
Charley stood and took position behind a tree. “Please, do not fire!” he shouted. “I have a little girl here who lives in the home you just passed. You have struck and killed her.” Charley’s jaw trembled with anguish. The militia men stopped, cowered, and took aim when they heard his voice but did not fire.
“Please, I beg you return her to her mother,” Charlie shouted with tears in his eyes. “She is her only child. She deserves to have her back.”
“Hold your fire!” shouted the militia commander. The militia relaxed a little but did not lower their weapons.
“The child is dead?” the commander called.
Charley sunk next Victoria’s still body and cried. He remembered telling her stories, picking flowers with her and playing hide and seek in the house. He hung his head and gripped his face because of the overwhelming emotional pain attacking him.
“Yes, she is dead!” Levi shouted in reply. “She deserves a proper burial.”
“And she will have one,” the commander shouted back. “Set down your weapons and move into the open where we can see you.”
“I have no weapon. I am a prisoner,” Levi shouted. “My captor is overcome with emotion at the loss of this child and I fear of what retribution he may seek to exact upon me to satisfy his desire for vengeance. Please give him this and allow him at least an opportunity to flee. Please honor his request to return the child’s body to her mother.”
“We will honor your request. Are you militia?” the commander asked.
“No, a hunter,” Levi returned. “I was checking my traps when the British stormed through. They have taken my gun and I am now in their possession.”
“Very well. What is the name and rank of the British soldier?”
Charley, amazed with Levi’s deft negotiation and ploy answered, “Charles Durnigan, Private, Second Company. I want at least ten minutes before you commence in your pursuit and I keep my weapon with me. If you show yourselves early, then I will kill this citizen.”
“You have your ten minutes.”
“I will mark the girl’s position with my sword and hat upon it. Please dedicate at least one of your men to carrying her.”
“Upon the Bible I swear it will be done.”
“Very good then.”
Charley pulled his sword forth, stuck it deep into the ground then placed his hat upon it. He pulled out a flower from his belt he had earlier picked for Victoria, placed it into her hand and closed her small fingers around it. He knelt and kissed her warm forehead. “I love you Victoria,” he whispered. “I hope you are picking flowers with the Lord.”
Levi took a deep breath and brushed aside a tear forming in his eye. He felt a great, sickening pain of anguish in his stomach as he looked at the beautiful, lifeless, little girl. He no longer felt the woods or the history unfolding before him to be amazing.
“I am ready,” Charley said with a pitiful crackle in his voice. “If I could be buried next to her then I would die here with Victoria, but I know my wish could never be honored.”
They ran hoping to put as much distance between them and the militia in the ten minutes granted to them but Levi knew they would find no escape into the Bay.
The soldier ran and stared at Levi’s strange clothes as they ran, but since Levi too ran from the same threat, the soldier guessed they must be on the same side.
“We must get to the beach,” Charley shouted.
Levi nodded and kept going but he became confused over the strategy of running out into the open with no way to escape but into the water.
“Why the beach?” Levi asked through his huffing and puffing. “It’s a dead end.”
Levi’s American accent and use of words confused Charley but he decided to worry about it later. “If Dunmore leaves Gwynn Island, he will need to pass these woods to make his escape into the bay. We might be able to secure passage on his vessel and rendezvous with one of our frigates.”
Levi nodded again. Charley incorrectly and perhaps too irresponsibly, assumed Levi a British soldier but Levi had no intention of causing problems for Charley.
Charley ran towards the marsh through which Levi had earlier trekked when the two pirates pursued him.
“This way,” Levi shouted trying to re-direct Charley. “I know a shortcut.”
“What is a shortcut?” the soldier returned not familiar with the term.
“A shorter way to get somewhere,” Levi responded. “That way will lead you through the marsh and if the soldiers catch you while you’re in there, you may be a sitting duck for their muskets.”
“A sitting duck?” Charley questioned, again not familiar with the expression.
Levi half-way threw his hands up in frustration at how he continued to confuse Charley with his slang. “It means you will be as easy to shoot and kill as a sitting duck,” Levi explained while leading the soldier down the path with which he had grown familiar.
“I see,” Charley said. “What a peculiar way of describing our doom. I guess then my Captain should be called a ‘sitting duck’,” Charley stated solemnly.
Levi stopped. “Do you want to go back and help him? Is he still alive?” His own suggestion conflicted him. As an American, he should serve his fellow Virginians, not the British, but he felt compelled to help anyone in danger of dying.
“No, we must press onward. He deserves whatever fate befalls him for his deplorable actions. The man’s uniform had more quality than he. Please lead the way and let’s make haste.”
Levi ran once again while the soldier behind him did his best to keep pace while running in a full coat and carrying a pistol, canteen, and powder bag.
Levi emerged onto the beach and saw the backs of about twenty militia soldiers taking aim at Rigby Island thirty yards on the other side of White’s creek.
He turned to tell his new comrade to get down but he had disappeared. Time had once again taken a small, disorienting leap forward. The sun now sat higher and Levi saw in the light of dawn, the figures of four British soldiers on Rigby Island preparing to return fire on the militia soldiers.
He crawled behind a dune, out of the line of fire and watched the ensuing fight. The militia men must be those who pursued him through the woods. On the Island crouched the British soldiers who had burst through the clearing warning of the attack on Dunmore. With them squatted Charley, the grieving soldier who moments ago followed Levi to the beach. Levi recognized him easily because the other soldiers still wore their hats.
What anguish, what misery must her mother now be experiencing as she cradles the body of her only child? Who would she blame; the British or the militia who accidentally killed her?
Levi saw Charley ramming a ball down the barrel of his musket as he prepared to open fire. Mind boggling Levi thought. One moment he led this man through the woods and the next the man crouched many yards away preparing for battle against a superior force. Would the soldier even recognize Levi if he saw him right now? Did the ghosts possess the ability to remember things or were they only aware of the life they had until the point they died? The soldier clearly interacted with Levi and then faster than a blink, time took him. Did the ghost notice this time shift? Did the sudden change in events bewilder him as they did Levi?
Half the militia men stood while the remaining half knelt in front of the others. They took turns firing in this manner. While one group aimed and fired, the other group reloaded their own muskets. Fortunately for both the militia and the British, the weapons on both sides lacked accuracy. Levi often saw an errant militia musket ball strike the water on the British side yards short of its target. He couldn’t see where the British’s bullets sailed but for the first few minutes, no one on either side crumbled or screamed out in agony. By then smoke so concealed the air that each party fired in the general direction of the other and hoped they got lucky.
In the corner of Levi’s eye, he saw a caravan of ships creeping into view. Immediately he knew this to be the ships from Governor Dunmore’s floating city. They made their retreat as history had recorded. Many of the vessels looked ragged like chewed beef and at least two spewed a thick gray smoke, like that from a pile of wet leaves.
“Cease fire!” yelled the militia commander. “Regroup!”
The men ran several paces to their right, away from the enveloping smoke. They fired once again on the British soldiers who now had their backs turned and watched the approaching rag tag parade of ships make their escape.
One foolish man stood and waved his hat at the approaching ships. Seizing on this foolishness, all twenty militia men took aim and fired at the poor man, and this time at least one of the Militia did get lucky with their shot. The British soldier spun around then dropped to his knees and fell face forward into the sand. He did not even put his arms out to try and break his fall.
A British soldier ran to him and upon seeing his friend dead, took aim and fired at the militia on the beach. He then aimed his dead friend’s weapon and fired again. This time he clipped a militia man in the shoulder. The man dropped his musket and grabbed his shoulder screaming as the musket ball burned within.
One half of the militia reloaded, took aim and fired at the British soldier but their musket balls sailed clear of him and struck the water in the distance.
“Sit down!” cried one of the British soldiers from across the creek, “You are like a sitting duck.”
Levi smiled despite the mayhem. Charley did remember! This also confused Levi because if Charley remembered the expression then he must remember Levi so in that case, where did he think Levi vanished to when they ran towards the beach?
The lead ship, coming into line with the British soldiers slowed. The soldiers sensing the ship slowed for their benefit started to remove their heavier articles to better make the swim. The militia, not wanting their enemies to escape, began fired faster. The wounded ship, perhaps hoping to exact a little revenge for fallen comrades, fired its cannon at the militia but instead struck Rigby Island. The round exploded launching sand and the three remaining British soldiers off the island and into the creek.
“No!” Levi called out. He did not want to see Charley die, one of the few people who had not tried to kill him in these woods.
The Virginia Militia turned in his direction and evaluated the alien before them. Two took aim and Levi ducked once again for cover from someone who wanted him dead. Another cannon boom vibrated the air and a large ball ripped through the sand near Levi.
“Fall back to the trees!” the commander shouted.
The men felt cannon fire to be more life threatening than Levi, so they paid him no further regard and ran into the marsh.
A few more cannon shots pounded the air and at least one exploded in the marsh. He heard screaming.
He peered over his dune and saw the three British soldiers floating in the shallow waters of White’s creek. Each man lay face down either dead or drowning.
Levi plunged into the creek, ignoring the cannon fire, and swam towards Charley.
Once he reached him he guided Charley’s body into the shallow part of the creek, stood and pulled his body over. The shrapnel from the exploding cannon ball had through parts of his face. Levi dragged him to the edge of the shore and began rudimentary chest compressions. He had seen CPR given enough times on T.V. to somewhat know how. After a few breaths, the man coughed up water and rolled onto his side gasping.
Levi sat on his knees, soaked and miserable but impressed his CPR effort worked on a man who died over two hundred years earlier. He saw no point in saving Charley, a dead man, but he felt compelled not to leave him floating in the water and once he pulled him from the water he felt compelled to somehow save him.
The man gasped for air. His head rolled sideways and his gaze fell on Levi.
“I wondered to where you vanished,” he whispered with a smile. Blood mixed with water and dripped over his face like red watercolor paint.
Levi returned the most comforting smile he had in him.
“You brought me back to life.” Charley reached out, grabbed Levi’s arm and smiled. “Can I leave these woods now? I want to see Victoria.”
The man believed Levi’s breath broke the cycle and had set him free from Old House Woods’ hold. Levi’s face drooped as he gazed at the expectant man. He held on to Levi’s arm with gratitude but before Levi fabricated a response, Charley faded in front of him like hot breath on a cold surface. As he disappeared, so too did his hopeful smile.
Levi sighed and lied in the sand. He had not formed an emotional attachment to Charley in such a brief time but his death and the final, hopeful smile of a man who believed his torment over, haunted him. He did not wish to see the one man who so far had not tried to kill him, die.
He rolled onto his knees and prayed. He requested not only safe passage out but he also gave thanks to the Lord for protecting him thus far. He fell onto his back and gazed skyward. The sun which a few minutes ago rose now once again descended. The ships had disappeared with the advance in time. The woods maddened him and he hoped not to get trapped in them as had all the poor souls he had encountered thus far.
He lay there in the open on the shore of Rigby Island not caring for the moment who or what came for him. He checked the sky for the storm woman half hoping to defiantly stare her down. He had experienced his fill of the woods and the terror within it, and he grew weary of all the fear. He had done enough to prove his courage and received little reward except a story the most fantastic fictional writer could not summon. Not even the treasure was worth it. Nearly all who sought it died and he did not want to spend the rest of his existence wandering the trees as the “ghostly failed writer” of Old House Woods.
Reflecting on his night he realized he had nothing to prove to himself. His mettle always existed beneath the surface waiting to get tested. He wanted to prove his worth to his father and his wife but for different reasons. He didn’t want his father’s love, but he wanted his respect. He wanted an end to the snide remarks and insinuations concerning Levi’s manhood.
He also wanted his wife’s admiration because he felt he had never met the expectations she had for him before they married. She was happy with him but when they saw a friend driving a new car, going on a Summer vacation, or zooming by on their jet ski, Levi wondered if his wife thought less of him for his inability to provide all those things to her. She loved him and would never leave him but he knew inside she wished he were more successful. His father felt the same way. He didn’t want his father’s approval but he did want to silence him.
This night didn’t provide for Levi anything he didn’t already know about himself but he realized he needed to prove it to others. In one respect having to prove himself angered him, but on the other hand he understood the world did not work as such. To deserve a life of reward, spoils such as trust, respect, and glory, must all be earned; it won’t be given to you because you are a good person. Levi wanted to provide his wife with all the things she needed but he didn’t want her to love him more for it. Doing so would admit she loved more the material things he provided. He desired appreciation and respect, but the love had to be based on his quality as a person, not what he provided to her.
He stood and brushed the sand from his wet clothes. At the moment the cool breeze and soggy, abrasive clothing caused him the most misery. He hoped once again to take a hot shower and sleep in the warm bed he had always taken for granted.
He decided to make his escape once again. He surveyed the woods and formulated a plan. Dusk dropped onto the beach and he wanted to swim across the creek while light remained. He entered the water and gasped. Across the creek on the opposite shore he saw a little girl holding a flower in her hand. He stood motionless and when the wind lulled, he heard her weeping across the water. The woods had taken Victoria’s spirit like the others.
Levi waved to her and waded into the water. She turned and ran on her little legs and bare feet into the woods, and never released her flowers.