The British are Coming!
Barnaby 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, then retreated quietly. He remained on the beach and waited for the bodies to vanish to see how it happened and how long it took. A few minutes later, light blankets of water enveloped them and drew their apparitions back into the sea.
Barnaby felt alone when they vanished. The woods and all the death he had witnessed attacked the good spirit within him. No wonder spirits haunted the trees he thought! So much treachery had occurred amongst them and on the shores of the beach.
Barnaby thought it best to leave the woods now if he could. 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. Now he needed to get out and hope he could prove his value to Jules in the real world.
The woods were not very big and he knew the direction he should travel in to make his escape. He knew that soon the road running along the woods would have to appear as time continued to advance and once it did he would cross to the other side. He remembered what the old woman said; “Nothing in there crosses over to here.” He would count on it.
He proceeded back through the woods along the same familiar course he had already traveled several times. He knew if he continued in this direction he would easily reach the other end of the woods. By then the road should be in place.
Along the way he listened so intently for any 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. All he heard were the chirpings of bugs and the communication of fruit bats. No lights or un-natural sounds emerged from the dark.
He turned and flashed his light on the object that tripped him. To his amazement he saw a skeleton lying right there under the trees. Pine straw partially covered its body which is why Barnaby did not see it in the dark. He had never noticed a skeleton the last few times he had taken this path. He clicked his light off again 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! It was 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 Barnaby! 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 was of the man before he died and the other skeletal version was the after death version. Curiously it sounded as though he retained his illness even after death.
Barnaby 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 died shortly after the storm woman’s appearance and collapsed in death either from fear or from disease.
Barnaby thought it strange he should meet this specter first in these woods as it did not fit in with the way events thus far unfolded but he reasoned he met the man’s skeleton and not the man himself.
Perhaps the ghostly apparitions can appear whenever they want? They are not bound to the rules of a time line. They could appear before and after their deaths took place. He felt as though he was watching a play which had to run its course but those whom the play was about 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.
Barnaby said a prayer for this man for even though the pirate wallowed in sin, Barnaby felt sorry for the manner in which he died; alone and terrified. He left the remains undisturbed and continued onward. Presently he knew he could not change the fate of where it rested.
The skeleton was no different than the gold. It was real but not real at the same time. If Barnaby should walk away for a few minutes and return, he knew the skeleton would be gone, taken by the roots and soil of the woods or by scavenging animals. He could not change the history of this skeleton’s final resting place, at least not now. Like with the gold, the skeleton was a ghostly illusion and existed to Barnaby because he through a passed through a time in the woods’ history when the skeleton still lay naked on the forest floor. In a few minutes many years of time would devour the skeleton.
As Barnaby walked he grew cold and felt perhaps his senses were telling him a ghost was near. He realized the chill came not from the inside but the outside. His breath plumed forward like cigarette smoke and small birds hopped on the frozen pond to his right. Winter had arrived in the woods.
Naturally when he entered the forest he dressed appropriately for the oppressive humidity. Why would a sane man pack a heavy coat in mid-July?
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 was uneventful and so he felt optimistic there would be no more ghostly terrors to experience. Once he crossed the road, winter would vanish and he would bask in warm summer temperatures once again. Unfortunately, very soon after he had hoped for this, he saw in the distance a light which he thought could be a candle but he could not tell at that distance. 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 conclude the natural.
He shook his head and frowned. Here again another test; one that if he avoided, would challenge his ego. He knew he treated himself unfairly. He shouldn’t let his foolish pride gnaw at his common sense. He should take another route to the road but pride and curiosity could not be beaten. 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 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 up on his shoulder. He appeared relaxed so he must not have heard Barnaby approach. He walked around the corner of the house and out of sight.
The winter cold had vanquished the echoing sound of the cicadas and bats . All he heard now was a bitter, lonely wind whistling through the tree stalks.
Barnaby knew to be cautious of the soldier as his presence must mean the Revolutionary War approached and Barnaby didn’t want to get shot for his strange appearance. Jeans and a t-shirt might look rather odd to a sentry, at the very least Barnaby knew he didn’t look like a British soldier. Dealing now with British soldiers rather than pirates who had believed in attacking first and asking questions later pleased him though he never thought he would be telling himself that he would be pleased to be dealing with one ghost versus another.
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 the woods. Most people lived their whole lives having never experienced a truly thrilling or awe inspiring event but Barnaby within a few short hours had encountered and witnessed numerous, spectacular occurrences
Watching history unfold as it did in these woods fascinated him to an immense degree. If anyone alive in the world had experienced a more remarkable adventure, Barnaby would surely love to swap tales with them. He did not know if his book would be a success; he did not know if ever he would be published, but he knew his grandchildren would at least appreciate his tales.
Barnaby smiled when he realized the guarded house was actually the Old house after which “Old House Woods” was named though at this time it practically looked brand new. It looked very much like a home he would not mind inhabiting in his time especially as it appeared from the chimneys on opposite ends of the house, that the home possessed two fireplaces. Fireplaces were not common in new homes in his time but he always enjoyed the crackle and pop of a warm fire.
Snow began to fall and accumulate around him much more quickly than it should have and he guessed time moved differently within the woods. The snow thickened to three inches while Barnaby sat observing the house. He began to shiver 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 walked once more along the back 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, Barnaby thought.
Smoke rose from both chimneys and Barnaby speculated the house must be very 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 ache. His feet as well were beginning to lose some feeling as he sat crouched upon them and the snow deepened over his boots. He stood and kicked the snow from his boots on a small sapling. His toes began to sting. He wagered the temperature must be below thirty degrees now 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 to the other side of the clearing. Once safely on the other side, he could cross the road and break free from the woods.
He emerged from his cover in the trees and began jogging through the snow with numb feet while still holding the sleeping bag around his shoulders the best he could. He hoped he would not run into the British sentry but if he should, 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 and so Barnaby would have the advantage.
Loud voices erupted from inside. Fearful that numerous men might emerge at any moment, and for lack of any good cover, he ran to the back of the house and pressed himself against the wall. A man shouted inside but Barnaby could not make out through the walls the source of his anger. His curiosity got the best of him again and he moved towards the window to take a peek. He held his sleeping bag around him with one hand and used his other hand to help him peer through the window.
Inside he saw six British soldiers illuminated by the glowing fire. One stood before the others with his back turned to the window through which Barnaby peeked. The man yelled at them while the other soldiers gawked with open mouths, surprised by his tirade. Barnaby allowed his eyes a brief second to scan the room but never took them off the soldiers for too long.
The fireplace’s warm glow lit the room while candles strategically placed around the house lit the darker corners with light. On either side of the fireplace were two rocking chairs and a small pile of firewood. Barnaby glanced back 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 Barnaby’s eyes. He blindly leaned back against the chimney to clear the ice from 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 anyone had heard him.
One of the soldiers approached and Barnaby knelt to the ground beneath the window to avoid being seen. His tracks leading from the woods to the back 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. Barnaby 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 Barnaby managed to run around to the other side without detection. His tracks were clear though and he knew he couldn’t keep running in circles away from them, so he ran to the woods when he felt he had widened the gap enough between him and them.
He dove into the woods 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.
Barnaby covered himself once again with the sleeping bag and remained still trying to contain his smoky breath. If he ran they would fire for sure. He trembled in the cold 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, it should not be very long before he was rid of them 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 they were safe one soldier turned and began using the bathroom 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 went back inside but flashed one more glance in his direction.
Barnaby wondered why they did not chase him into the woods 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 the best he could 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. This individual he assumed was the commanding officer. He had an average build and his hair was not pulled into a pony tail as Barnaby assumed it would be rather it hung in a greasy fashion on his shoulders. His white trousers were stained with dirt as were his stockings. His red jacket appeared to be clean however he did not wear a white vest underneath as Barnaby had often seen soldiers wear.
The man again was yelling but Barnaby could see nor hear anyone as though the ghost himself had either gone mad and argued with images in his mind or else only he could see 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.
Barnaby 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 up with no house with which to quarter anyone!”
Though Virginia was a British colony, many of its residents were divided in their 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 it were 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 back again with 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 they were delirious from fever!”
“Because I don’t need to go into the woods!” he yelled as though whomever he was speaking 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 looked no older than six or seven judging by her height. She wore a long brown dress, but her feet were bare and Barnaby felt sorry for her. Her long brown hair went down to her waist and if she ever had it cut a day in her life, Barnaby would be surprised. 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 backwards as though tackled. He struggled on his back trying 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 be presently kicking your body into the snow!” He walked into the house and slammed the door.
With whom did he argue, Barnaby thought; the girl’s mother, the girl’s father? Why could he not see them when clearly the other ghosts could? Perhaps certain ghosts he could not see? He cringed at the thought. 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 Barnaby reflected. These people endured so many hardships. The little girl must too be dead he thought. The old fables surrounding the woods had mentioned everything 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 he would not have to see her death.
He heard a few birds chirp and looked around for them. He saw a few buds sprouting from the trees and noticed the snow around him melting. The air was still cool but tolerable and he no longer shook uncontrollably. Spring and warmer air thankfully returned.
The commanding officer’s rants led Barnaby to believe they too were looking for the buried treasure but had run into a few snags. His men apparently encountered the haunts of Old House Woods and were maybe too fearful 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 Barnaby had previously seen in the snow when he first approached, once again appeared behind the home and began his reconnoiters around the house. Of what he looked out for Barnaby couldn’t be certain.
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.
Barnaby stared at her and forgot about escaping the woods. He moved gently through the trees to the back of the house once more to get a better look at the child’s face. He took his time and the wetness the melted snow provided made the ground softer and easier to walk upon without making noise. He walked many minutes and 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 could still see 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 looked up and noticed the small patch of daffodils blooming next to the woods. She stared at them for a moment then examined the trees. She looked back at her house to see if anyone watched her, then slowly walked towards the woods but never took her eyes off the trees as she approached the flowers.
She jumped and turned around. 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 continued watching her. He had grown close to the child over the past few months and appeared genuinely concerned for her well-being. Also evident was his fear of the woods or at least his of fear them for the child’s sake.
The fact these ghosts believed themselves to be alive was strange 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 backed away from the trees with a look relief on her face.
He approached and Barnaby sank lower knowing this soldier might be more on guard for alleged specters waiting at the woods’ edge.
The soldier knelt down with his musket still in hand and picked two flowers for her. He turned and held them out.
“Is this enough?”
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 would you feel about that?”
“My mother says my dad won’t like finding you here so you have to go away 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 Barnaby could not make out further what they said.
The air warmed suddenly and the light faded however the sun wasn’t setting. The sun’s rays were beginning to rise up the base of the trees as though God had rewound the day to the moment of dawn. Barnaby 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 were 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 argued with the commanding officer but the shouts were too muffled for Barnaby to understand what they said. A gun shot split the air and Barnaby jumped. He moved closer and hid behind a large tree and listened to the continued screaming.
The little girl burst from around the corner of the house just as a shriek sounded from within the home. She ran the best she could on her little legs and sobbed like a punished child. She stumbled through the trees right past Barnaby. He first thought to grab and shelter the child but he knew this would make her more hysterical so he let her run and decided to follow at a distance and approach her when she had calmed down.
Charley, the British soldier who had befriended the little girl ran after her shouting. “Victoria come back, its okay!”
Loud booms began to shake the air and the cicadas and bats stopped calling. Barnaby cowered low to the ground and looked to the sky. 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 ran to the edge of the house from whence the sounds came and listened. His eyes were wide with panic.
“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 Barnaby.
Barnaby laid flat on the ground and began throwing pine needles over his head to conceal his presence. The British in their rush for self-preservation hurried past him and paid no attention to anything but the tree branches slowing their escape. Within a few seconds of their passing another group of soldiers broke into the clearing. These men were dressed in blue clothes and Barnaby guessed they must be Virginia militia.
Upon seeing Charley with his pistol drawn, they took aim and began to fire. Musket balls whizzed through the trees and broke branches above Barnaby.
Charley yelped in fear and ran into the woods after his comrades fortunate to still be breathing. He flew past Barnaby in the shadowy woods and began weaving in and out of trees.
“Victoria!” he cried out. “Where are you?”
Barnaby seized the opportunity and made his escape. Twice he could hear musket balls “thunk” into the trees around him. What a night he thought. Will it ever end? Will I survive?
He looked behind and saw the militia creeping into the woods. Barnaby 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 back to his feet and turned. Charley knelt in the dark sobbing. Barnaby 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 over head.
Victoria lied beneath Charley. His tears landed on her face as he brushed back her long brown hair. Her eyes were shut and she wasn’t breathing; she laid there like a 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.
Barnaby didn’t know what to do. He 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 for many months.
Barnaby shook Charley’s shoulder and he snapped to attention. He frowned when he saw Barnaby, a strangely dressed person he did not recognize.
“You have to go!” Barnaby pleaded. “They will kill you too.”
Charley looked down at Victoria and swallowed down his emotion. He didn’t care about Barnaby at the moment while his grief for Victoria consumed him. “If I had a daughter I would have wanted her to be like Victoria. She was so good,” he said softly and then began weeping again.
Barnaby looked up and saw the militia men moving through the trees but they were still a good distance away and they did not appear to see Barnaby or Charley.
“Let’s take her with us,” Barnaby 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,” Barnaby 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.”
“That’s because I’m good at hiding,” Barnaby lied hoping to persuade the soldier. “You have to decide quickly. They will be here any minute.”
Charley looked at Victoria and brushed a little 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 jumped 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 took a deep breath as his jaw began to tremble 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. “It is the only child she has. 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 back.
Charley looked at Victoria’s still body and began to cry. 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 and could not answer.
“Yes, she is dead!” Barnaby shouted in reply. “She deserves a Barnaby burial.”
“And she will have one,” the commander shouted back. “Put down your weapons and move into the open where we can see you.”
“I have no weapon. I am a prisoner,” Barnaby shouted back. “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 bring the child’s body back to her mother.”
“We will honor your request. Are you militia?” the commander asked.
“No a hunter,” Barnaby returned. “I was checking my traps when the British came storming 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 Barnaby’s deft negotiation and ploy shouted back, “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 back to her mother. Upon the Bible I swear I speak the truth.”
“Very well 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 that he had picked earlier for Victoria, placed it into her hand and closed her small fingers upon it. He knelt down and crying once again, kissed her warm forehead. “I love you Victoria,” he whispered. “I hope you are picking flowers with the Lord.” He wiped his eyes and looked at Barnaby.
Barnaby 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 choose to 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 allotted to them but Barnaby knew in ten minutes they would eventually run out of room. There would be no escape into the Bay.
The soldier ran and stared at Barnaby’s strange clothes as they went, but since Barnaby too ran from the same threat, the soldier guessed they must be on the same side.
“We must get to the beach,” Charley shouted in an English accent.
Barnaby 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?” Barnaby asked through his huffing and puffing. “It’s a dead end.”
Barnaby’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 by 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.”
Barnaby nodded again. Charley incorrectly and perhaps too irresponsibly, assumed Barnaby was British but Barnaby had no intention of causing problems for Charley. This was not his war.
Charley began running towards the marsh through which Barnaby had earlier trekked when the two pirates pursued him.
“This way,” Barnaby shouted trying to direct Charley in a different direction. “I know a shortcut.”
“What is a shortcut?” the soldier returned not familiar with the term.
“A shorter way to get somewhere,” Barnaby 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.
Barnaby 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 would be,” Barnaby 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 back in the house could be called a ‘sitting duck’,” Charley stated solemnly.
Barnaby stopped. “Do you want to go back and help him? Is he still alive?” His own suggestion conflicted him. As an American, his place was not to serve the British in their war against his fellow Virginians 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.”
Barnaby ran once again while the soldier behind him did his best to keep up while running in a full coat and carrying a pistol, canteen, and powder bag.
Barnaby emerged onto the beach and could see the backs of about twenty militia soldiers taking aim at Rigby Island thirty yards away on the other side of White’s creek.
He turned to tell his new comrade to get down but he saw no one. Time had once again taken a small, disorienting leap forward. The sun now sat higher and Barnaby could make out 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 were the British soldiers who had burst through the clearing warning of the attack on Dunmore. With them crouched Charley, the grieving soldier who moments ago followed Barnaby to the beach. Barnaby could make him out easily as everyone but him still wore their hat. His hat he left behind so the militia would be able to find Victoria’s body.
What anguish, what misery must her mother now be experiencing as she cradles the body of her only child? Who would she blame Barnaby wondered; the British or the militia who accidentally killed her?
Barnaby saw Charley ramming a ball down the barrel of his musket as he prepared to open fire. Mind boggling Barnaby thought. One moment he is leading this man through the woods and the next the man is many yards away preparing for battle against a superior force. Would the soldier even recognize Barnaby 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 up until the point they died? The soldier clearly interacted with Barnaby and then faster than a blink, time transported away. Did the ghost notice this time shift? Did the sudden change in events bewilder him as they did Barnaby?
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. Many times Barnaby saw an errant militia musket ball strike the water on the British side many 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 concealing smoke so filled the air that all either party could do was fire in the general direction of the other and hope they got lucky.
In the corner of Barnaby’s eye, he saw a caravan of ships creeping into view. Right away 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 up beef from the assault laid upon them. At least two appeared to still burn. A thick gray smoke, like that from a pile of wet leaves, trailed behind them.
“Cease fire!” yelled the militia commander. “Regroup!”
The men ran several paces to their right, away from the enveloping smoke, so they could see. They began to fire once again on the British soldiers who now had their backs turned and were watching the approaching rag tag parade of ships make their escape.
One foolish man stood up and began waving 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 over to him and upon seeing his friend dead, took aim and fired at the militia on the beach. He then picked up 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.”
Barnaby sat up a little and smiled in spite of the mayhem. Charley did remember! This was even more confusing because if he remembered the expression then he must remember Barnaby so in that case, where did he think Barnaby vanished to when they ran towards the beach?
The lead ship, coming into line with the British soldiers began to slow. 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 firing faster. The wounded ship, perhaps hoping to exact a little revenge for fallen comrades, fired its cannon at the militia but instead ended up striking Rigby Island. The round exploded launching sand and the three remaining British soldiers off the island and into the creek.
“No!” Barnaby called out. He did not want to see Charley die, one of the few people as of yet who had not tried to kill him in these woods.
The Virginia Militia turned in his direction and looked at the alien before them. Two took aim and Barnaby 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 Barnaby.
“Fall back to the trees!” the commander shouted.
The men felt cannon fire to be more life threatening than Barnaby, 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 and if they weren’t dead, they would soon drown.
Barnaby plunged into the creek, ignoring the cannon fire, and swam towards Charley. Oysters shells scraped the bottoms of his boots and a few times he thought he felt a fish graze his leg. During this time period the Chesapeake Bay and its neighboring creeks were much more abundant with fish and shellfish. The detrimental effects of pollution in Barnaby’s day had yet to scathe the Bay.
Barnaby reached the soldier, and being able to stand in the shallow part of the creek, pulled his body over. Charley’s face bled from a variety of tears in his skin caused by the shrapnel of the exploding cannon ball and he wasn’t breathing. Barnaby pulled his body through the water to the edge of the shore, pinched the man’s nose, and blew into his mouth. 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.
Barnaby sat back on his knees, soaked and miserable but impressed his CPR effort worked on a man who died over two hundred years earlier. He wasn’t sure the point of saving Charley as he was already dead, 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 Barnaby.
“I wondered to where you vanished,” he whispered with a smile. Blood mixed with water and dripped over his face like red watercolor paint.
Barnaby returned the most comforting smile that he had in him.
“You brought me back to life.” Charley reached out, grabbed Barnaby’s arm and smiled. “Can I leave these woods now? I want to see Victoria.”
The man thought Barnaby broke the cycle by breathing life back into him and had set him free from Old House Woods’ hold. Barnaby’s face drooped as he gazed at the expectant man. He held on to Barnaby’s arm with gratitude but before Barnaby could fabricate a response, the man faded in front of him like hot breath on a cold surface. As he disappeared, so too did his hopeful smile.
Barnaby sighed and lied down 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 to be over, haunted him. He did not wish to see the one man who so far had not tried to kill him, die. .
He rolled over and began to pray. He prayed not only for safe passage out of the forest but he also gave thanks to the Lord for protecting him thus far. He turned onto his back and looked upward. The sun which a few minutes ago was rising now once again began to descend. The ships were gone which meant Dunmore sailed back to England. The woods maddened him and he hoped he would not 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 after him. He checked the sky for the storm woman half hoping to see her so he could defiantly stare her down. He had experienced his fill of the woods and the terror within it, and he tired of all the fear. He had done enough to prove his courage and received very little reward except a story the most fantastic fictional writer could not summons. Not even the treasure was worth it. Nearly everyone who sought it died and he did not want to spend the rest of his existence wandering the trees as the “ghostly writer” of Old House Woods.
Reflecting upon his night in the woods he realized it was not to him he needed to prove his courage. He knew 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 that Barnaby was not a real man.
He also wanted his wife’s admiration because he felt he had never measured up to the expectations she had for him before they got married. She was happy with him but every time they saw a friend driving a new car, going on a Summer vacation, or zooming by on their jet ski, Barnaby 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 deep down she wished he were more successful. Barnaby knew 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 prove for Barnaby anything he didn’t already know about himself but he realized he needed to prove it to others. In one respect he having to prove himself made him angry 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. Barnaby wanted to provide his wife with all the things she needed but he didn’t want her to love him more for it. To do so would be admitting she did not fully love him for the man he was. He desired appreciation and respect, but the love had to be based on his quality as a person, not what he could provide to her.
He stood up 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 he would once again get to take a hot shower and sleep in the warm bed he had always taken for granted.
He decided to make his escape as he had earlier tried before running into the British soldiers.
He looked towards the woods and formulated a plan. Dusk dropped onto the beach and he wanted to swim back 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 could hear her weeping across the water. The woods had taken Victoria’s spirit like the others.
Barnaby waved to her and began to wade into the water. She turned and ran on her little legs and bare feet back into the woods, and never released her flowers.