Chapter 15 – Expert Treasure Hunter

Victoria and Barnaby began their walk into the woods.  She held Barnaby’s hand with her left and in her right hand she clutched the daffodils he had given her.  She barely stood above his waist but for the first time in over two hundred years, she feared nothing.  She had a renewed sense of hope holding Barnaby’s hand and looked forward to spending time with someone whom she believed God had sent to protect her.

Barnaby had no idea where the beginning started but he knew it must begin in the woods.  He held a stick out in front of him to knock down the webs and walked in the direction of the beach.  The woods frightened him and the beach wore him down but he wanted to help Victoria more than he could recall wanting to help anyone so yet again, he made his way back through.  Barnaby was very unsure of himself and if God had told him to help Victoria, then he would meander around all night confident the answer would present itself, but he had no vision.  He had no assurances he could help her in the least and he felt sick when he thought about leaving her behind.

Victoria however appeared to have all the faith in the world as she swung Barnaby’s hand and hummed the same tune she had earlier when Barnaby watched her sit on her log near the woods.

“Do you pray?” she asked.

Barnaby looked down at her and smiled.  “Maybe we should use our quiet voices in the woods.”

“I think our footsteps are louder than our voices,” she whispered back.

“Yes, you are probably right,” he conceded with a light laugh.  “You are a bright little girl.  Yes I do pray.  Do you pray?”

“No, but my mother prayed a lot.  She prayed for my dad all the time.  She was scared for him.”

“I pray for my family for the same reasons your mom prayed for your father.  She wanted the Lord to keep him safe.”

She stopped and he paused with her, patient with curiosity.  She tugged on his shirt and beckoned for him to lean closer.  “Will you pray for me?” she whispered.

He knelt down with her again and parted her hair.  “I will definitely pray for you.”

“Do you think he will hear you?” she asked worried.

“God always hears the prayers of those who have faith in him,” he assured her.

“I don’t know God,” she whispered.  “Maybe that’s why I am not in heaven.  If you tell him I’m here then maybe he can come get me.”

Barnaby pondered her words and began to feel a sense of renewed strength within him.  Victoria’s faith in Barnaby mirrored his faith in God and because of her faith he began to believe he truly could get her to heaven.  He had a choice to either save Victoria or leave her behind, and for Barnaby, he began to tell himself he had but one choice.  He didn’t know how he would get her out but before him stood a little girl who wholeheartedly believed he could.  Such faith moves mountains!

“God is everywhere honey.  He knows you are here.  If you believe in him as your mother believed in him, as you believe in me, he will come and receive you.  He loves you every bit as much as your mother and father because you are as much a daughter to him as you are to your mommy and daddy.”

She grinned as a child does when they are safely tucked in at night.  “I can’t wait to see them again.  I’m so excited!”  She shook and almost laughed with excitement.

“I’m excited for you.”  He stood, took her hand, and they began walking again

“Have you ever met God?” she asked.

“No, but I speak with him about certain things.  Problems I am having, things I am thankful for, and stuff like that.”

“Does he talk back to you?”

“Sometimes.  He speaks to people differently.  He doesn’t always use words.”

“Then how do you know what he is saying?”

“Because when you accept God as your savior, someone who will take care of you and take you to heaven, he sends to you the Holy Spirit and this spirit helps you to communicate with God.”

“Wow!” she answered impressed.  “Can you see the Holy Spirit?”

“He’s inside of me,” Barnaby said pointing to his chest.  “The Spirit shows me what I am to do.  He moves me with a feeling of emotion.  Like if you see someone who is sad you go to that person and try to make them feel better right?  Nobody tells you to do it.  The good in you encourages you to help the person.  Well the Holy Spirit kind of does things in the same way and he helps me to understand what God wants me to do.”

“Does he want you to help me?” she perked up.

“That’s exactly what he wants me to do!”

A few minutes of walking expired and they saw the glow of a lantern ahead which Barnaby figured was the light he saw from the house.  As the wind blew, the lantern disappeared behind a tree as it swayed back and forth.  Barnaby stopped and pulled Victoria down to the ground with him.

“I don’t know who this person is but I think it would be best if we tried to sneak around him,” Barnaby whispered.

“I have seen him before at night.  He digs a big hole.”

Barnaby nodded.  No doubt another treasure seeker he thought.  “Here, get on my back.  Maybe we’ll make less noise if only one of us is walking.”

Victoria didn’t need a second invitation.  She jumped on to Barnaby and wrapped her arms around his neck eager to enjoy her first piggy back ride in a long while.

Barnaby grabbed a tree and pulled himself upward and began methodically making his way around the unseen ghost.  If the ghost saw him, then Barnaby would wave and hurriedly keep walking and pretend like he didn’t have time to talk to the specter as though it were an unwelcome friend he saw at the market.

His legs began to tire as he struggled stepping over logs and branches while carrying Victoria.  She remained silent the whole time but did not take her eyes off of the digging man.  A couple of times she would pat Barnaby on the shoulder and point out to him the man had stopped.  Barnaby would pause while the man drank some water and then Barnaby would not begin walking until the ghost once again started digging.

The man wore a muddy pair of pants and a collared shirt with suspenders.  His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows as he dug a hole with his shovel and the sight of his wrist watch indicated to Barnaby he had leaped through time a great deal.

Barnaby recognized right away the ghost dug in the same spot where the treasure was buried.  As he passed by, the ghost caught a glimpse of Barnaby’s shadow through the pine trees and crouched low to the ground.

“Who goes there?” he called out.  He looked side to side and began to tremble.

Barnaby lowered his head and kept marching but did not look towards the ghost.  Victoria looked away and gripped Barnaby.

The ghost pulled out a small revolver and aimed it at the darkness.  “Tell me who you are or I’ll fire.”

Barnaby sighed once more in frustration at having been discovered.  He thought the ghost could clearly see him and he did not want to get shot so he turned and  pleasantly exclaimed, “I’m no one.  Just passing through the woods.  Continue on with your digging.”  He turned to leave.

“You don’t sound like a pirate,” the man said hearing the voice come out of the darkness.  “Who are you?  Did you follow me here?”

“Nope, just taking a walk.  Don’t mind me,” Barnaby called from over his shoulder and kept walking determined not to get side-tracked by this new encounter despite his curiosity in the ghost’s identity.

“Wait a moment!” the man called after him and he began to jog through the woods after Barnaby.

Barnaby turned and the man met him with the gun at his side.  He was slender and slightly taller than Barnaby with a thin beard.  He appeared to be at least ten years older and smelled like a smoker.  He examined Barnaby in the moonlight with the same curiosity Charley had looked upon him.  “You are not dressed as a pirate,” he stated half relieved and half pleased.

The statement surprised Barnaby.  This man lived not in piratical times and yet his statement made evident the fact that he had encountered pirates in these woods.

“No I am not a pirate,” Barnaby answered.

“That’s a relief,” the man responded.  “I expected to see pirates tonight in these woods like the ones from the old stories.  You do know these woods are haunted right?” the man asked curious as to why Barnaby would wander through them in the dark if he were not the one haunting them.

“Um, yes that’s what I hear,” Barnaby answered with a slight smile.

“Then why are you here?” the man asked with a nervous squint in his eye.  He raised his gun and stepped backwards.

Barnaby held up his hands and Victoria struggled to stay on his back, choking poor Barnaby in the process.  “I’m not here for anything.  We simply want to leave the woods,” Barnaby croaked.

The man, feeding off of Barnaby’s anxiety, pointed his gun at the darkness from whence Barnaby walked, “Why is something following you?”

“No, no,” Barnaby reassured him.  “We just want to get home to my wife.”

“What’s on your back?  A girl?” the man asked unable to clearly see Victoria in the shadows.

Barnaby propped Victoria back up and turned slightly so the man could see her but turned away to shield her from the gun.  “This is my daughter.”

“Why would you bring your daughter in these woods?” he pointed his gun from the darkness back towards Barnaby.  “What are you two after?”

“We’re not after anything.  She’s only a child!” Barnaby retorted.  “I’m a writer.  I wanted to write about the woods.  I think I may have heard some of the same tales you heard and I thought they would make an interesting story.”

The man looked back to where he had dug then again at Barnaby.  “A writer huh?  I suppose then you’ve heard about the treasure that might be buried in these woods?”

“I have heard mention of it, yes.”

“Are you sure that’s not what you’re after?”

Barnaby looked skyward for a sign of the Storm Woman.  He wondered if she would soon be making a terrible appearance because this man had disturbed her gold.  Barnaby had quickly learned earlier the price of the gold was not worth his life.  “Trust me; I’m not after the treasure.”

The man picked up a small branch and poked Barnaby in the chest.  “Well you seem solid enough so you must not be a ghost.”

Barnaby smiled at the irony because this man was himself both solid and a ghost and did not seem to know it.

“No, I’m definitely not a ghost.”

“Though I wonder,” the man pondered, “if you would even know if you were a ghost.”

“That’s a good question,” Barnaby responded and gave it a little thought.  “But I am solid as you’ve discovered by poking me and I am certainly in no rush to scare you as I guess a ghost might try to do.  Thirdly did you ever hear in your tales mention of a ghost like me carrying his daughter through the woods?”

The man relaxed.  “No I don’t suppose I have.”  He looked down at his gun.  “I can’t imagine this would do me much good if indeed you were a ghost anyhow.”  He tucked the gun away and held out his hand.  “I’m Tom Pipken, expert treasure hunter,” he spoke with a puffed up chest.

Barnaby’s eyes widened and his mouth fell open as he knew the name immediately from the stories he had read about the Woods.  Tom Pipken disappeared after entering the woods looking for treasure and all they found of him were his boat and two gold coins.  Tom had evidently fallen fate to the woods and the curse, like the others who had died there, had damned him to wander among the trees reliving his life.

Barnaby shook his hand.  “My name is Barnaby and this is Victoria.”

Victoria gave a little wave and smiled.  Tom grinned and washed away any fear Victoria or Barnaby had for him.

“Those are some pretty flowers you have there.  You don’t often see those this time of year,” he said scratching his head in puzzlement.  He shrugged his shoulders, “But I suppose I have seen stranger things.  Well Barnaby would you like something to write about?” Tom asked.

“I really have to be going.  My wife is getting worried,” Barnaby fibbed.  He did not want to linger in one place for too long.

This did not sink in with Tom as his eyes widened with excitement at the prospect of a professional writer recording his dig.  “Trust me.  You will want to write about this.  I know where the treasure is!  Its right over there where I’m digging and in a little while I’m sure I’ll get it!

Barnaby looked skyward and thought, “Yeah if you keep digging you’re gonna get it all right.”

“You know, perhaps it might be best if you leave the treasure alone.  Maybe there is a curse on it,” Barnaby suggested.

“There are no such things as curses,” Tom scoffed at the idea and laughed.

“And yet you believe in ghosts?” Barnaby countered.

“Ah but those I’ve seen,” Tom answered with a frightened look in his eyes, “or at least I’ve seen their lanterns in these woods at night rummaging around and looking for their treasure.”

Tom walked back to his hole in the ground and Barnaby followed though his legs felt heavy.  Tom stood by his lantern hanging from the tree, reached into his pocket and pulled forth two gold coins.  “Look at these!” Tom thrust out his dirty hand.

The coins were rough looking.  Not smooth and perfectly round like our coins today.  On the back were Roman numerals just as they were described in the newspaper accounts Barnaby read.  He flipped the coin.  On the other side was engraved the image of a man who Barnaby assumed must be Caesar.

“I found those a month ago on the beach.  That’s when I started looking for the treasure.  This is pirate gold!  Well, pirate gold after they stole it I’m sure.  The pirates buried their treasure in these woods but were lost in a storm at sea before they could come back for it.  I have been coming into these woods at night searching for the gold but  I found no maps or any real mention of where the pirates hid the gold so I was on the verge of giving up.  But then I came upon them in the woods.  I couldn’t see them but I saw their lanterns and could hear them talking and digging.  I sat undercover for a while until they either walked off or disappeared.  I never saw them but I could tell from the distance exactly where they stood.”  He pointed to his hole.  “Right here!” he exclaimed.

Barnaby set Victoria down and the moment her feet touched the ground, she grabbed Barnaby’s hand.  Barnaby handed the coins back to Tom.  “What if they come back for it while you are here digging?” Barnaby asked.

“They only come on certain nights and at certain times of the night.  I figured out when by watching them a few more times from the same spot.  They won’t be here for a while.  I should be done and gone by then,” he pointed to his head impressed with his wits.  “See, expert treasure hunter like I told you.  Now all I need do is dig up the treasure, divide it into the sacks I brought, and then carry them one at a time to my boat on the beach.  I will be out of here before they arrive.”

Barnaby scanned the darkness for approaching lights.  A sense of dread burned in him.  Tom jumped back into his shallow hole and began digging once more.  He had several more feet of dirt to remove and Barnaby knew it would take Tom many minutes to reach his prize.  Barnaby did not want to linger for so long a time but he did not know how to continue his protests.  Tom had his heart set on Barnaby writing about him and because Barnaby knew Tom was dead, he felt moved to oblige.

“Do you have a pencil and paper to record what I discover?” Tom asked.

Barnaby guessed Tom must have mistaken him for a news reporter and not a fictional novelist.  He felt around for paper and instead grabbed hold of his Bible.  He pulled it out and sighed when he saw how wet it had become.  The leather cover would not survive the salt water.  His Bible however would definitely become a treasured heirloom if ever he made it out of the woods even if he could no longer use it.

He pulled out his notepad and pencil, broken in two pieces, and pretended to write on the soggy paper, just to humor Tom.  Tom looked up excited.

“You wouldn’t happen to be with the National Geographic would you?”

Barnaby smiled.  “No I’m afraid not.”

Tom’s smile faded a little.

“But who knows,” Barnaby added hoping to lift the ghost’s spirits, “perhaps I can submit my article and they will publish it.  Unfortunately I don’t have a camera with me to take pictures of you and your discovery but it is too dark for one anyway.”

Tom smiled again and kept digging.  Barnaby’s eyes darted around half expecting one of the old pirates to jump out of the woods and once again start chasing him with a sword or pistol.  He looked up again.  The pines swayed and clanked together under the moon but the Storm woman did not show.

He put his Bible away in his back pocket and leaned against a tree.  Victoria squeezed his hand.

“Are you from here Tom?”

“Not originally.  I came from Maryland.  I’ve lived here for only a few years.”

“How long have you been an expert treasure hunter?”

Tom laughed and wiped his brow.  “For about one month.”.

Barnaby smiled, “Since you found those two gold coins?”

“Yep, that’s when I became an expert treasure hunter.”

“What are you going to do with your treasure?”

Tom stopped digging and smiled as though dying to tell someone.  “Well, I’ve always wanted to get married and have a family.  My brother has children but I guess I’ve always been a little too wild to settle down.  Now I’m older and want to plant some roots.  I think with this money I can secure me a pretty young wife and start making little Pipkens; maybe even ones as pretty as your daughter there.  Build a house here, far away from these woods of course and maybe open up a business.  One I can pass down to my son.”  Tom began digging again.  “Yes sir, this treasure is going to make me quite a catch.  You don’t find many colored men who own their own business you know.”

Barnaby forced a smile and tried to mask the pity.  He knew Tom’s future would never come to fruition since no one had heard from again.  It could be he legitimately disappeared and started his life somewhere else but that seemed improbable since he  presently haunted the woods.  By the way events had unfolded all night, he knew he would soon witness Tom’s fate and a growing feeling to vomit gurgled in him.

Barnaby sat down next to a tree but in a position where he could clearly see Tom.  He was determined to keep up the ruse that he was recording the details of Tom’s dig.  Victoria slumped down next to him and laid her head against his arm.

“Are you tired?” Barnaby whispered.

She nodded and yawned on cue.

“You can lay your head in my lap if you want.”

“I don’t want to fall asleep.  When I wake up I may not be here.”

He squeezed her hand but said nothing.  He didn’t know what would happen to her but she had remained with him despite his jumps through time and this comforted him.

“You’re not going to fall asleep are you?”

“No honey, I’m not letting you go.”

“Are you married?”


“Is your wife nice?”

“Yes she is.  I love her very much.”

She didn’t say anything for a moment because she was afraid to ask and Barnaby picked up on it.

“What’s wrong?”

“What if I am supposed to go home with you?  Will your wife be nice to me?”

“I think I am going to get you out of these woods but if you are to come home with me then I know my wife will be very nice to you.”

“You going to school honey?” Tom called while throwing a heaping pile of dirt out of his pit.

“Not during the summer,” Barnaby answered for her.  He didn’t know if Victoria ever went to school and so wasn’t sure how she would answer.

Tom smiled.  “I bet you’re enjoying your break and spending some time with daddy.”

Victoria nodded and played along.

“Yeah I remember my summer breaks.  Boy did I not like school.”  He shook his head at the memory of it.  “I can remember leaving for school in the mornings and then hiding out in the woods all day until the kids started coming back down the road.  Then I would jump back in with them and my momma thought I had been at school all day.”

“You sound kind of like Tom Sawyer,” Barnaby mused.

“Yes sir I suppose that’s true.  A black Tom Sawyer though,” Tom said laughing.

Victoria, having been born prior to the publishing of Mark Twain’s book, did not know Tom Sawyer.  Regardless, she was too young to read the book.

“I bet you don’t get in any trouble like that?” Tom asked Victoria with a smile.  “I bet you are a good girl.”

Victoria nodded and looked up at Barnaby.

“Yes, she is an angel,” Barnaby concurred.

Tom smiled and went back to work.  “I’d like to have me a family one of these days.  I don’t care if I have a boy or girl as long as they are healthy.  I reckon though I’ll have so many kids that I’ll eventually get one of each.”  He started to laugh again.  “When I find this gold I’m going to build them a big house.  Maybe I’ll even have a couple of horses.”

Barnaby once again donned a fake smile because he knew Tom’s dream would never come true.  “Sounds like a wonderful dream, Tom.”

Tom frowned as though Barnaby were the one in need of comforting.  “I’m sure you’ll hit it big as a writer one day and make lots of money.  Maybe even this story will put you on the map.  Make your daughter real proud of her daddy I bet.”

“We’ll see!”.

Tom went back to work digging hard and after several minutes his shovel struck metal with a loud “clink”.  He looked at Barnaby very much the way you’d expect a man to look who just uncovered treasure.  Barnaby leaned forward and looked into the hole.  Tom reached into the dirt with his hands and pulled free a small length of chain.  Barnaby jumped to his feet and Victoria stood with him.

“It’s a chain!” he called with the excitement of a small opening presents on Christmas morning.  Tom’s veins popped as he pulled and pulled but the chain gave way very little.  He grabbed his shovel and began digging with renewed vigor.

Barnaby knew the chain secured the ankle of either William or Mary, the married pirates thrown into the hole with the pirate treasure.  He felt he should warn Tom but realized he couldn’t explain to him how he knew the bodies were there.  He remained quiet and looked on with anxiety coursing through his veins.

Tom cleared away more dirt and pulled the chain again.  The edge of a wooden chest emerged from underneath the soil as though the earth gave birth to it.

“Here it is!” he shouted.

Barnaby and Victoria looked around for approaching ghosts.

Tom jammed his shovel under the chest and tried his best to pry it up out of the ground.  The handle began to crack, so with an impatient sigh he went back to digging more dirt from around it.  After several more minutes he threw the shovel down and pulled on the chain once more with great strain in his face.  The chest emerged from out of its hole and lay flat at his feet.  The wood looked rotted but the structure of the chest looked intact.

“Get your pencil and paper ready Mr. Writer!” Tom exclaimed.

He picked up his shovel and began to hack at the decayed wood breathing like a winded smoker as he did so.  Barnaby despite his fear was also very anxious to see what treasures the chest held.  Once Tom had splintered enough pieces, he reached into the chest and began ripping back pieces of broken wood from the chest’s top until he had created a large enough hole.  He plunged in with both hands.

“I feel something heavy and metal,” he said with a mild strain in his voice.

“Can you pull it out?”

“Yes, almost got it.”  He pulled forth his hands and held before him a rusted ball of iron almost the size of a softball.  He scraped away the soil hoping gold might peek through the dirt but it was nothing more than a common cannon ball.  Disappointed, he tossed it aside and reached once more into the chest.  To his dismay he pulled forth once again another ball worth nothing more than a good story as to how it was found.  Tom pitched this one aside and began busting a larger hole in the top of the chest with his shovel.

“Hand me that lantern!”

Barnaby lowered it into the hole and Tom shined it over the broken chest.  He sighed deeply.  “There’s nothing in here but old balls and shot.  Why in the hell would pirates take the time to bury this?”

Barnaby knew the answer and he felt foolish for not realizing how obvious it should have been.  Pirates didn’t bury treasure.  What fool would do such a thing?  The old chests were filled with cannon balls to keep Mary and William from escaping.  No treasure existed here and yet how many people died seeking it?  How many people entered these woods in search of wealth after hearing a fairy tale?

Tom turned the chest over.  Nothing but a pile of shot and cannon balls rolled out to his dismay.  He reached for the chain and pulled on the other end.

“I bet there’s something attached to the other end of this.  Maybe it’s another chest,” he said straining.

“Um, perhaps that isn’t a good idea,” Barnaby suggested.

The dirt gave way and Tom fell backwards as an object flew free from the soil and landed next to him.  Tom picked it up, brushed off the dirt and held the lantern over it.  He held in his hands a femur bone and on the ground at his feet were the remains of a foot broken free from the bone as he pulled on the chain.  He threw the bone in disgust and in a panic began clawing his way out of the pit.

“These woods are cursed!  There is a dead body in this hole!” he exclaimed as he clawed at the sides of what now seemed to him his own personal grave.  “Help me!  Help me!”

Barnaby reached out and grabbed the man’s sweaty, dirty arm and yanked him from the hole.  Victoria clung to Barnaby’s waist.

“There isn’t any treasure here, just death!  Help me fill in this hole before the pirates come and see what I’ve done!”

Tom reached down and grabbed the tip of his shovel handle and pulled it out.  He began throwing heaping mounds of dirt onto the old chest and bones.  He paused for a moment with his chest heaving and pleaded Barnaby for help.  “Please help me brother!”

Barnaby picked up a thick branch and began scraping in the dirt the best he could with one hand.  Victoria released Barnaby, got on her knees and began shoving the dirt in also.  After many minutes they had filled the whole which clearly looked disturbed.  Anyone could see digging had taken place.

“We have to get out of here!  I’m sorry I asked you to stay!” Tom exclaimed.  He held his left arm in pain.  “Get on to your wife and kids before the ghosts come!  I’m going back to my boat!”  Tom picked up his lantern and shovel and ran away without a farewell.

“Where is he going?” Victoria asked.

“Back to his boat I think.”

“The person in the hole; did something bad happen to them like it did to me and Charley?”

“Yes honey, something very bad happened to them,” he replied staring at the soft dirt.

“Did they go to heaven or do you think they are still stuck here like me?”

Barnaby’s heart sunk.  He had never considered this and immediately an ominous feeling overtook him.  He sensed bad coming.  He turned to leave but looked once more in the direction Tom had fled.

“I want to go,” Victoria said and pulled on his arm.  “Why is he running away so fast?”

He caught one last glimpse of Tom’s lantern before it disappeared from sight.  Barnaby had to know what happened to him.  This story had to almost be at its end and  hope for that strengthened Barnaby to see it through.

Barnaby snatched up Victoria and ran after Tom but not along the same route on which Tom fled for fear pirates might appear in his path on their way to the treasure which, unbeknownst to them, didn’t exist.

“Where are we going?” Victoria asked.

“We need to make sure Tom is okay,” he answered through huffs and puffs.

He took a route not as direct and so it took him longer to reach the beach.  Tom already sat in his boat and furiously paddled his way out of the creek when Barnaby and Victoria emerged into the moonlight.  Barnaby thought he must have looked no different the day he fled in his kayak after hearing a branch snap.

“Go home!” Tom tried to shout but he couldn’t muster the breath.  He stopped rowing and motioned with his hands for Barnaby to leave.  “Get out of here,” he tried to say, but he had no gas left.

Barnaby could see Tom telling him to go but like watching an impending car accident, Barnaby couldn’t turn away.  He knew Tom would soon meet his end and he didn’t know what else to do but stand and watch.  He could not warn Tom of his fate what would happen.  Any suggestion he made might lead Tom quicker to his doom.  He set Victoria into the sand then fell on his knees next to her.

The sound of harp music carried on a delicate breeze once again reached Barnaby’s ears as it had when he first spotted the Spanish galleon earlier in the night.

Tom heard it first and looked over the water in every direction.  A large ship appeared from out of the crystal clear night and floated above the sea towards Tom’s boat.  This was the same Spanish galleon Barnaby witnessed before but the hull and sails appeared light and wispy as though the builder fabricated them from clouds.  Barnaby had seen the real ship as it existed hundreds of years ago and now he was witnessing the ghost version that even today still haunted these woods and one Tom Pipken evidently encountered on the night he fled the treasure.

Victoria cried out and wrapped her arms around Barnaby.  Barnaby, too paralyzed with awe, failed to seek cover for them.

Tom shouted an obscenity and smacked the water in panic with his oars to remove his boat from the ship’s path but little strength remained in his arms and lungs.  One oar lock came loose from his boat and Tom dropped the oar in the water.  He scrambled to the side to retrieve it but in doing so he released the oar in his other hand.  It too slid into the water.  The ominous ghost ship approached like a storm front and the harp music grew louder.  Tom grabbed his shovel and plunged it into the water.  For a few seconds he achieved a little propulsion, but the ship fell upon him and his fear struck him in the heart.  He dropped the shovel and grabbed his arm.  The intense pain pulled him downward and he sat on the edge of his boat not thinking about anything other than the immense stabbing agony slicing through his chest.  The moment he sat, the boat tilted heavily to one side and he fell back into the creek.  If the pain had not stricken him so violently, he never would have made such a novice boating mistake.

Tom did not resurface; he had no struggle left and he sank beneath the water as the faint shadow of the ghostly ship passed over him.  The coins he had discovered on the beach remained inside the boat destined for members of the community to find.  The town recovered no remains of Tom.  Local fisherman pulled his boat ashore and left it to rot out of superstitious fear.

Barnaby held Victoria close and tried to calm her as she cried into his chest.  He stroked her hair and rocked her as he had on her porch.  Barnaby said a prayer for Tom.  His dream of having a wife and child never came true.  He died from fear as had another pirate earlier in the night when he fled from the storm woman.

To his left the pirate ship rose and glided through the tall pines.  Tom’s death so depressed Barnaby he paid little attention to the phenomenon.  The ship emitted no glow but the lanterns of a few crew members pacing on deck lit the trees as they passed.  Orders were shouted as the ship slowed and came to rest hovering sixty feet or so in the open air and moonlight.  The tops of the trees swayed to and fro through the hull of the ship like sea grass in the ocean.  The anchor chain roared as it plummeted down through the trees and struck the floor of the woods with a loud clang.  Barnaby heard a few more voices barking commands.

He carried Victoria, who still clung to him crying, down the beach to the water to get a better perspective.  The spectral ship floated in front of the moon but its ethereal form hid the moon’s radiance no better than a sheet of worn wax paper.  The hull and sails now glowed with a golden brilliance.  The ship rocked and swayed in mid-air and at times even turned as though it were battling the waves of the water as a real anchored vessel might.  Ghostly figures began climbing over the railing and disappeared behind the trees as they descended to the ground.

“Those are the pirates,” Victoria whispered .  “We have to hide!”

Pirates invaded the woods!  The sight of ghostly, brutal spirits spilling over the side of their phantom ship chilled them and any normal person might flee and drown themselves in the Bay.  Barnaby however had endured so many frightening experiences over the course of the evening they had nearly numbed him … nearly.  He wasn’t so courageous he would remain standing in the open on the beach, but he also knew the pirates were focused on seeking their mythical treasure; the bounty that did not exist.  They would not disturb him as long as he did not disturb them.

“We will hide,” he said to her.  “I will protect you.”

Barnaby left the beach, once more heading back into the woods and determined he would never in his life set foot on the beach again.  As he approached the trees and the wind died down, he could hear the gruff arguments of digging pirates.