“What did he mean when he said he hopes he doesn’t get to Heaven too soon?”
Barnaby sighed and took Victoria’s hand. “Well honey, he is in sort of the same situation you are. He doesn’t know something bad has happened to him so he thinks it isn’t time for him to go to heaven yet. He still wants to spend time here with his family and friends. But unfortunately he doesn’t realize they aren’t here anymore. I think he has wandered through these woods for a long time too just as you have.”
“What do you think happened to him?”
“I don’t know but I’m kind of happy we didn’t have to see it,” Barnaby replied.
Victoria and Barnaby began walking back the way they had come to the other side of the pond. The frogs jumped back into the water as they approached and once again Victoria pointed them out to Barnaby.
“What house did he think was haunted?” she asked after many minutes of silence.
“Your house,” Barnaby answered. He felt no need to lie to her. “You have lived here much longer than he has Victoria. When the bad thing happened to you, your house was beautiful, but much later when the bad thing happened to him your house was not beautiful anymore. It’s because when all the people left your house and no one took care of it, it grew old and dark and sometimes people are afraid of the dark. Sometimes they make up stories about old houses just for fun and say they are haunted.”
“But it isn’t haunted is it?”
“No honey it isn’t. There were no ghosts there.”
“What if I’m the ghost everyone is afraid of?”
“Who would be afraid of a sweet, little girl like you,” he said then tickled her so she would laugh and find enjoyment again in their walk.
“Stop it!” she squealed.
“Okay, okay, but I don’t want you to worry about any of those things. I will get you out of here.”
“I know. You don’t have to keep telling me. I believe you.”
“Well I’m glad you have so much faith in me!”
They were silent for a moment before Victoria spoke again, “Can we swing our arms again? We don’t have to be quiet anymore do we?”
“No we can swing our arms if you want.”
“And skip? You said we could skip on the way back!”
“Did I say that?”
“Yes you did,” she replied giggling.
“I have not skipped anywhere in a long time but I will do my best,” Barnaby returned a bit fatigued with the thought.
“Where shall we skip?” she asked with joyful anticipation. Barnaby marveled at how excited a child could get over so simple an activity.
“How about we start in this direction and then the Holy Spirit will lead us to where we need to go.”
“Okay! Let’s go!”
She and Barnaby began skipping through the woods making a great deal of ruckus as they went along, but Barnaby couldn’t be less fearful. He had a warm feeling when he held her hand and her faith gave him confidence he would find a happy ending.
They took a break after a few minutes of skipping and walked while they wildly swung their arms. Despite having advanced through a number of years since finding Victoria, she still remained with him while the ghosts from every other encounter had vanished once they had played their part. Even Victoria’s daffodils did not wither with time. Victoria had a significant role in this play and remaining with Barnaby was part of it. This comforted him as he felt he at least marched on the right track to satisfying his objective.
He heard the sound of an engine and noticed the road lay one hundred feet ahead. A pickup rumbled away from the beach and he could see their red brake lights shine as they sped around the corner.
“What was that?” She grabbed his arm and pulled back. “It is a monster!”
Barnaby knew to a child of the eighteenth century, a rumbling pickup truck with two red lights for eyes might appear dreadfully frightful.
Barnaby hugged her. “It’s okay, it’s not a monster. It’s a machine. Kind of like a wagon except you don’t need horses to drive it.”
She shook her head, “I’ve never seen a wagon like that,” she said shaking. “I think we should hide from it.”
“Honey its okay,” he said holding on to her. “It won’t hurt you. It isn’t alive. It is like a boat but on land and those red things were lights so it can be seen in the dark. So nothing runs into it. People ride in it and they don’t want to get hurt. See look it is already gone.”
She still trembled.
“Honey a lot of time has gone by since the bad thing happened to you and in all that time, people have built and created new things. People have invented machines which I’m sure appear scary to you but there is nothing to be afraid of,” he explained softly. “I won’t let you get hurt.”
Barnaby turned and looked at the road again thrilled to see a sign of the real world; a sign life had not gone on without him. The truck was older, not from his time, but still a truck, still a sign of the modern age.
“Can I get on your back again?”
“Of course you can honey.” He turned around and knelt down. She hopped on his back as she had earlier and he stood with a groan at which she laughed. He began walking towards the road.
“Hey there!” a man shouted.
Barnaby came to an abrupt stop as though someone reared back on his reigns and he turned to see an elderly man walking briskly towards him with a flash light.
“What is that?” Victoria whispered and dug her claws into his shoulders.
“Nothing to be scared of,” he reassured her. “It is like a candle or lantern but much brighter. People use it to find their way in the dark. Don’t be afraid.”
The old man walked with a limp towards Barnaby as fast as he could and held up his hand pleading for Barnaby to wait. The man hobbled towards him dressed in a pair of jeans and white collared shirt. His hair was graying and his mid-section hung over his belt. Barnaby guessed by his hobbling gait and aged appearance that he was probably in his late 60’s to early 70’s.
“Hello,” he said a little out of breath. “Thanks for stopping.”
Barnaby looked him over without responding and nodded.
“I’m looking for my dog. You didn’t happen to see a dog running through the woods did you?”
Barnaby thought the man’s first question might be why Barnaby walked through the woods so late at night but he did not look at all bewildered to see him.
“I saw a dog a few minutes ago walking with a man and two cows. They went that way.” Barnaby said hoping to be helpful and eager to learn where this encounter might take him.
“No that’s not my dog. My dog is a German Shepherd. He ran into the woods and I can’t seem to find him.”
So this man too saw or has seen the cows and the man walking them, Barnaby thought. Was this elderly gentleman a ghost or not?
“Why are you in the woods so late at night?” the man asked then slapped a mosquito on his neck and waved a few more out of his face.
Barnaby didn’t know how to respond. He didn’t have a good explanation for his presence in the woods so he came clean. “I wanted to see if there were any ghosts in the woods.”
The old man’s eyes lit up a little. “And you’ve seen them then? That’s why your child is so scared.”
Barnaby didn’t want to tell him the truck and not the cows had frightened Victoria because Victoria’s anxiety over a truck would make no sense to this person.
“The young man and the cows, those were ghosts,” the old man pointed out. “They looked real enough though didn’t they?”
“Yes,” Barnaby answered. “Almost too real to be ghosts.”
“I would imagine they have been walking through these woods for a good sixty years or more. Killed by men looking for treasure is what I understand. Not sure why they killed the cows and his poor dog though,” the old man looked sad when he mentioned the dog and Barnaby could tell he worried about his own dog.
“Are there ghosts in these woods of the men who killed them?”
“I reckon not,” the old man answered. “I’ve never seen them and unless you died in these woods you’re not going to be a ghost here. No, those men probably ran off when they realized what they had done.”
This made stunningly good sense to Barnaby and would explain why he did not witness the death of the man and his cattle as he had witnessed the death of so many others. The men who killed him fled and did not die among the trees and thus were not cursed to haunt the woods. Though there were some individuals he was sure had made it out of the woods, so why then could he still see their ghosts here?
He looked at Victoria whose chin rested on his shoulder and he remembered the moment he first saw her. The British Captain had pulled her onto the porch and had threatened to an unseen spirit that he would force Victoria to go into the woods if they did not comply with his wishes. Barnaby could not comprehend with whom the officer argued. He figured he had gone mad but what if he were actually arguing with his memories. What if the person he fought with was Victoria’s mother and the British officer continued to fight with her for years even though she was no longer present. Victoria’s mother had moved away. She did not die in the woods and was not doomed to endure the curse of so many others who had perished within the wooden walls therefor Barnaby would not be able to see her spirit. Captain Wilcox in his mind could still see her and whether the trees’ power produced this perception or pure madness infected his brain, Barnaby couldn’t be certain but the likelihood that every actor continued to play his part even if all the players were not there appeared probable. Wilcox fell back on the porch as though physically attacked and Barnaby recalled the other soldiers struggling to remove an unseen person as though the individual were still present.
“I live right across the road,” the old man said interrupting Barnaby’s thought. He pointed to a white, two story home sitting on the opposite side of the road.
Barnaby peered through the branches and saw Doris’ house though it looked to be in much better condition than it stood in present times. The paint did not look to be peeling and the grass around the house looked well cut. Flower baskets filled with red and pink geraniums hung from the porch. Overall the house did not look so uninviting. Underneath the porch light stood Doris though she looked to be at least twenty-five years younger and at least fifteen pounds heavier but this added weight made her look healthier. She wore her hair in a bun and her dress, not too dissimilar from the one Barnaby saw her wearing the day he last visited her, appeared brighter in color.
“My wife, Doris,” the old man said. “She’s waiting for me to come back with the dog.”
Barnaby felt bad for the man and finally understood why the old woman had never moved and why she stared at the woods. Her husband had gone in after their dog and never returned which must mean he too existed as a ghost and he forever sought for their pet.
Poor Doris sat on her porch watching the trees not for ghosts but for her husband to return.
“I’m Barnaby,” he said holding out his hand.
“John Callis,” the man replied and placed his sweaty hand in Barnaby’s to shake.
“This is my daughter Victoria.” Victoria gave a little wave over Barnaby’s shoulder and John waved back like a loving grandfather might wave to his own grandchildren.
“Do you know the Old House next to the woods?” John asked interested.
“Yes,” Barnaby replied.
“Well if you’re looking for ghosts they say a little girl haunts the house. Well “they” don’t say it, I say it but no one believes me but my wife. I have heard her though but not seen her. You can hear her on some nights in the house crying.”
Barnaby glanced over his shoulder at Victoria. “We just walked by there but we didn’t hear anything did we honey?” he asked with a hint of amusement in his voice.
“No, that’s weird,” she replied with a grin.
“I have only heard her, a couple of times,” John returned, his eyes wide with amazement for encountering a supernatural phenomena. Barnaby agreed that yesterday, if he heard an unseen child’s cries amongst the ruins of an old home, he too might have been amazed. Considering though he carried the said ghostly child on his back and presently converser with another ghost, hearing voices no longer ranked high on his amazement meter.
“I don’t know who the little girl is but she’s not the only one in these woods. My wife has seen a man walking this road at night and let’s just say he ain’t from around here. That’s why I’m so anxious to get my dog and get out.”
“How long have you been looking for your dog?” Barnaby asked feeling a bit sorry for the ghost who knew nothing of the sad routine in which he had been stuck for years.
“I think for about ten or twenty…” the man paused trying to recollect how long he had searched. He frowned and looked at his fingers contemplating the time. His face drooped and his shoulders sunk. Sadness came over him and his expression revealed he knew something was off. The man looked at his house again but this time it did not appear to him as it did moments ago when it stood in his day but rather in the decrepit state as it stood in Barnaby’s time. No lovely flower pots hung from the now dark and broken porch. The grass stood high all around the house and his once new truck in the yard, looked old and abandoned. A faint light came from the kitchen window and he thought he caught the glimpse of someone passing by it.
He looked at Barnaby very heartbroken. “I’ve been looking for my dog a very long time. Much too long I think.” He turned away from the house and looked into the woods. “He’s not in here is he?”
Barnaby felt like someone who had to break the news of a loved one’s death. “No I don’t think he is.” He did not know what else to say. This was the first ghost he had encountered other than Victoria who seemed to know he should not still be in the woods and realized time had not stood still.
“My poor wife,” he voice trembled. “She probably thinks I ran off with another woman.” A tear formed in the corner of his eye next to his nose and he looked away.
“Do you remember what happened?” Barnaby asked.
John stared into the woods recollecting immediately how he had come to remain in there. His eyes for a brief moment watered but then his face grew hardened and his breathing accelerated. He removed a pack of cigarettes and paused to count them under his breath before removing one. He pulled out a bright orange Bic brand lighter, fired up his smoke, took a long drag, then blew out a large plume of white exhaust. He continued breathing heavily and he immediately took another toke trying to calm his nerves.
He cleared his throat and began to speak. “I ran into the woods chasing my dog just as you see me doing right now. He heard something running, a deer probably and took off after it. Normally I would have just let him go. He would have come home when he got tired or hungry enough but I heard some gun shots earlier in the day and the hunters around here don’t always care about killing your animal if they think it’s interrupting their hunt.”
He took another drag and shook his head.
“I jogged through the woods the best I could. I’m not fast and didn’t think I could catch him but he generally comes when he’s called so I knew if I went in deep enough, he would hear me and come running.”
“I didn’t run gracefully. I made enough ruckus to wake the dead so I don’t know how they confused me for a deer. I heard a gun blast to my left and as I turned to look, their shot nailed me right here in the side.”
James pointed to an area about three inches above his left hip. “I fell to the ground and grabbed my stomach. I understood immediately they had shot me. I knew right away the wound was bad but I thought I would make it if they could get help quick enough.”
His jaw clenched and he took a long, powerful drag from his cigarette.
“I heard them coming through the leaves cursing at one another and I was relieved to hear there was more than one. I thought one could get help and the other could stay with me or at least let Doris know what had happened. I worried for her you see. I started to feel very cold and the natural panic that you’re not going to make it starts to overtake you. I was scared for sure.”
He took another long drag on his cigarette smoking it nearly down to the butt then ground it out against the tree, threw it on the ground and mashed it with his foot. He pulled his pack out once more and stared at the cigarettes again which Barnaby thought curious. John seemed to be confused about something. He removed another and lit it.
“They were scared too when they got to me. I could see in their eyes they hadn’t meant to do it. There were three of them. I don’t know how old they were; late twenties, early thirties I guess. They just stood around me staring and scratching their heads. Each had a shotgun in their hands. I reached up for them and they took a step back like they were afraid of me! I grew more and more scared because they weren’t doing anything and I needed to get to the hospital right away! They stood and did nothing, staring at me while I bled! I started feeling sick! I remember lifting up my other hand, the one stuck to my wound, and feeling nauseous when I saw all the blood caked to it. They each looked at one another nervously when they saw my blood because they knew how seriously I was hurt.”
He took another drag and cleared his throat again.
“One of them asked out loud to the others, ‘What should we do?’”
I said to them, ‘Help me!’ They looked down at me horrified I had spoken. Like I was an alien. I couldn’t understand what they were thinking! They knew I was alive! They should have gone to get help.”
“One knelt down close but not close enough that I could reach for him, and examined my wound. I looked at him and felt I might pass out at any moment. He knew I was looking at him too but he wouldn’t look me in the eye. I think that’s why they were so scared when I talked to them. They didn’t want to hear from me. They didn’t want to look at me as a person. ‘Please!’ I begged.”
“The man looking at me stood up and said very calmly, ‘He’s not going to make it.’ One of the other guys looked much more worried, ‘What do we do then? We’ll go to jail!’” he complained.
John took another long drag, shook his head and blew the smoke out through his nose. “I knew then I would die. They worried about themselves too much. I’m sure they were drinking. At least one of them would have gone to jail for shooting me and I probably would have pressed charges even if he did save me, but the others did not need to go along with it. They weren’t the ones who shot me. I never thought they meant to shoot me. It was an accident. At the worst the one guy might have served six months in jail and the others, nothing probably would have happened to them except for a fine for hunting while drinking if there is such a thing! Instead they all band together and let me die!” John exclaimed in disbelief.
“They didn’t argue or discuss it. They all had one mind. One guy held all the shotguns while the other two grabbed my ankles and dragged me through the woods. I tried to grab a tree, but they gave me a clean jerk and I had to let go because of the pain in my side. After that I couldn’t do anything else. I was losing a lot of blood and growing weak but I stayed conscious the whole way they scraped me across the floor of these woods.”
He toked on his cigarette again. “I thought of Doris. I would never see her again and she would never see me. We had a fight before I ran into the woods. Not a major fight but a spat nonetheless. I didn’t want me storming into the woods angry to be the last memory she had of me. What would she think when I didn’t come back? I started to cry while they dragged me,” he stated with slight disbelief as though crying was an act he did rarely. “I’m sure they thought it was the wound but it was because of Doris. I knew she would be heartbroken.”
“They dragged me for many minutes and the one carrying the guns lit up a cigarette as though he were out for a casual walk with his dog. I could smell the smoke in the air. My eyes went dark. I couldn’t see anything but I was still awake and then finally I heard them walking through the water and I knew we were at the pond.”
John mashed his cigarette against the tree again and pulled out another. This time he did not bother to examine the pack. “They shoved bricks down my pants which of course didn’t feel good on top of the hole I already had in my side. I don’t know where they got bricks from. Maybe they found them in the woods. I don’t know. They then dragged me deep into the pond and pushed me under. I had no fight in me. I could barely move as I sank to the bottom. I remember for a split second lying there in the mud. Everything was cold and black and silent. I held my breath. There was no point to it but I guess I couldn’t let go that easily. I didn’t last more than five seconds I think. A long five seconds.”
He looked over at his house. “Each time I appeared here I thought it was a dream, my death that is but it’s not is it? I just keep dying. I’m here at the woods’ edge long enough to see my beautiful wife. Long enough to remember how much I love her, and then I go into the woods to die. I don’t think it would be as painful if I didn’t see her each time but I suppose I have no control over it.”
Barnaby frowned and said nothing. He did not know how to comfort this man without lying to him. John would remain in the woods and die repeatedly unless he changed his actions but he appeared to have no control over them.
Victoria held on to Barnaby tightly as James began to shout.
“I know who they are too! I dare them to wander through these woods again!”
Barnaby thought about the hunting bluff and wondered if the men who owned it killed him. Since it happened so long ago, whoever did it might either be dead or were young at the time if they were yet alive.
He also wondered why John Callis did not scare the other hunters who came through the woods since clearly they still hunted.
“How often do you re-appear if you don’t mind me asking?” Barnaby asked.
“I don’t know. I feel like I left my wife only moments ago and ran into the woods. That’s when I saw you. But my house!” he stated with stunned incredulity. “I don’t understand what has happened to my house!”
Barnaby felt for the ghost. He was confused and couldn’t comprehend how long he had wandered through the woods though he realized it was longer than he suspected. He wondered where he went in between appearances. Where did any of them go? They were not in the woods every evening. Doris said a year had passed once before she saw again the ghost walking down her road. Missing one or two of his appearances if she wasn’t paying attention was conceivable but clearly he didn’t appear every night. Where then did their spirits reside and what prompted them to resurface? Before he could pose the question, James started with his own.
“What happened to you?” James asked Barnaby.
“What do you mean?” he replied puzzled.
“How did you end up here?”
“I came into the woods because I heard there were ghosts,” Barnaby answered awkwardly. He suddenly felt uncomfortable saying the word “ghost” in front of a ghost for fear there might be a more politically correct term for describing someone in such a state. Everyone was so sensitive in this day.
“How did you die though?” John asked.
Barnaby blinked and answered with almost a dash of apology as though he were ashamed to be alive, “I’m not dead. I came into the woods earlier in the evening and …”
“And what?” the ghost interrupted, “you were going to leave by crossing to the other side. It seems to me I had the same notion fifty or sixty times myself, but I always seem to come back here and then I’m killed and thrown into the pond.”
Barnaby looked at him a little bewildered.
“You don’t remember dying do you?”
Barnaby smiled and tried to return the sympathy, “I’m not dead though. I came into the woods several hours ago.”
“Are you sure?” John asked a little amused. “I remember coming into the woods a few minutes ago too but that isn’t true is it?”
Barnaby gave it serious thought. He had endured a great deal over the course of the evening. Had he died at some point in the night? Maybe a stray bullet hit him or maybe one of the cannon explosions. Perhaps he died and never realized it. Could his death be the reason why he could see all the ghosts?
Barnaby shook his head, “I can’t be dead. I know I’m not dead.” He thought about his wife. What if he was dead and months had passed if not years. Might Jules not think the very same thing poor John speculated his wife felt? Maybe his wife thought he had left them! He looked at the road again.
“I’m going to cross,” he said with determination.
“Good luck!” John said, “but you’ll be back.”
“Why don’t you come with me?” Barnaby asked.
“Shh!” John said cocking his ear. “Do you hear that?”
Barnaby listened but could hear nothing.
“It’s Aries!” he shouted. “I can hear him barking!” John hobbled off into the woods after his dog the best he could completely forgetting his dog did not exist. Chasing his dog and dying seemed to be the task John uncontrollably performed with each appearance.
“John, you are going to die!” Barnaby called after him.
“No, I’m going to get him this time and when I do this will all be over,” he called back.
Barnaby set Victoria down and looked at the road. She watched him for a moment and she shook as she realized what he was thinking. Tears ran down her cheeks and she tried her best to hold back her anguish for the sake of being a big girl.
“Over.” Barnaby thought. All he needed to do was jump the ditch, and cross to the other side. Then it should all be over for him. He wasn’t dead. He couldn’t be dead.
He looked down at Victoria and saw her tears shimmering in the moonlight. “What is wrong?” he asked very concerned.
“I don’t want you to leave,” she cried. The flood gates opened and she broke down. She fell into his arms and hugged him sobbing so hard she could not catch her breath to speak.
He rubbed her back and remained silent until she had stopped crying enough for her to hear what he had to say.
“Honey, I’m going to come back,” he reassured her.
“No you won’t!” she cried. “Once you cross you will be gone and we won’t be able to find each other again! I will be all alone! I will have to go back to my house!”
“Listen to me!” he said and placed his hands on her head. She could barely see him through the tears. “I promise I will come back for you. I think I know what must be done. I can set you free Victoria. I can send you back to your family. You have to trust me though honey. You won’t be all alone. I wouldn’t do that to you. I will be back for you and if I can’t find you then I will look day and night for you even if it takes me the rest of my life. Till the day I die I will search for you. Don’t be scared!”
She nodded but could not stop crying. The tears cut paths through her dirt stained face and he pulled her close again. Her anguish sunk his heart and he couldn’t imagine his decision to leave her could be any harder if had to leave his own child. In the short time they spent together, Barnaby felt very much like her guardian, her parent. As Charley had put it, if he had a daughter he would want her to be just like Victoria. Barnaby couldn’t have agreed more.
“Please don’t leave me!” she whimpered.
“I promise I’ll be right back. I won’t be gone but a few minutes, okay? You stand behind this tree and watch me. You watch me the whole time okay and I’ll be right back.” He brushed her hair out of her eyes and took the corner of his shirt and wiped away the dirt and tears. “You are such a brave girl. You lasted for so long on your own. Can you last just a few more minutes? I’m not going to forget about you.”
“Do you promise?”
“I promise. Remember the Bible verse. The Lord is with you wherever you go.” He kissed her on the forehead and hugged her one more time. He walked to the edge of the ditch with her.
“Here stand right behind this tree. I’ll be right back.”
“Okay,” she whimpered.
“Don’t be sad, baby.”
She nodded and wiped her nose with the sleeve of her dress.
“I’ll be right back.”
He ran, broke through the last few branches at the woods’ edge, and hurdled over the ditch. He landed hard and fell to his knees.
He spun around and looked for Victoria. She waved back to him and he breathed a sigh of relief.
“Look out Barnaby!” she shouted.
Alarmed, he looked in both directions. A man with an odd looking gun propped on his shoulder and dressed in antique armor from a place and period Barnaby could not determine walked towards him. The end of his gun fanned out like a horn. The story started over. John Callis was the last one to die in the woods and the last person Barnaby encountered. This individual must be the old soldier whom the woman saw walking repeatedly down the road at night and perhaps one of the first to die though Barnaby did not witness this.
Barnaby scrambled to his feet and backed away but never removed his gaze from the approaching ghost.
The ghost, perceiving Barnaby unarmed and not looking for a fight, proceeded with manners. “Pardon me sir. Is this the King’s Highway? I fear I have lost my ship.” He asked so politely that Barnaby did not fear him in the least.
Barnaby not wanting to waste time or spend any away from Victoria responded cheerfully. “Yes indeed this is the King’s Highway my good fellow. Proceed on your merry down this road and you should find her.”
The ghost smiled, bowed, and then continued down the road.
Barnaby shrugged his shoulders and smiled at how quickly the encounter passed. He looked at Victoria, “That was easy.” He felt a little guilty about fibbing to the ghost but if everything went according to plan, he would more than make it up to him.
“Make haste!” she whispered and then looked around at the trees.
He wasted no more time. He jogged across the road and into Doris’ yard.
He looked at how ruinous her home had become since John’s loss to the woods and felt more pity for her and for him. John still searched in vain for his dog hoping that if he found him, his task would be complete and his nightmare would end. Were his killers right now dragging him through the pine cones and thorns or did he rest in the muck beneath the stagnant waters of the pond? How would the agonizing cycle end for him? How would it end for any of them?
Barnaby pulled out his Bible and held it against his chest. His heart thudded against it. He got down onto his knees and prayed for his own safety and for that of his family. He prayed for strength and the ability to help Victoria.
He opened his eyes and with confident determination, waded through the grass of Doris’ yard and approached an old tool shed behind her house. He eased the door open and peered inside. His flashlight no longer worked but as his eyes grew adjusted to the dark he could see through the musty darkness what he needed. He grabbed the shovel and scraped it through the tall grass to remove the cobwebs and spiders that might be resting on it.
He ran back towards the spot of the woods from which he exited.
Doris drew back her kitchen curtain and watched him hop the ditch and disappear into the darkness. She shook her head and sighed heavily. She turned and for the first time in a long while, she closed her eyes and prayed.
Barnaby threw the shovel across the ditch, jumped over and rolled through the pine straw. He picked it up and looked for Victoria but did not see her.
“Victoria,” he called out in a hoarse whisper.
She did not answer. He moved around in and out of the trees growing more panicked as he called out for her louder and louder as he searched.
“Victoria……VICTORIA!” He looked behind and up in every tree near the ditch but he could not find her. Where could she have gone? He felt like a terrified parent who had lost their child at an amusement park; fear stricken and helpless. He scoured the immediate area for many minutes, his thundering in his chest. Victoria was right, they did lose each other. Where was she now? Was she as terrified and alone as before when he first found her? Positive she was not nearby, he sprinted with shovel in hand towards her Old House hoping to once again find her there. His shovel clanged each time the metal struck a tree but he had no time to worry with stealth.
She could not have run there herself in the time it took him to get the shovel but he didn’t believe she would have run anywhere willingly. She may be connected to the house he thought and when he left, it pulled her back.
His legs were so sluggish he felt like he was running up hill. Several times he fell down as he crashed through the woods which felt so much deeper to him now. He was scared for Victoria and scared she would think he broke his promise to her.
Victoria woke to find herself lying sideways on a dusty floor. Sitting up she wiped the dust from her face and brushed her hands on her dress. She scanned the darkness to determine her surroundings. “Barnaby?” she called out but he didn’t answer. She stood and recognized right away her old room.
“Barnaby?” she called a little louder and ran to look out the window. The woods revealed no sign of life and she saw no sign of him in the back yard. Her worst fears overwhelmed her. He had left and would not return. She fell down onto the floor and sobbed into her dress, gasping like a wounded creature. Her stomach felt like it was ripping open and her arms trembled. She wasn’t ready to once again take care of herself. She couldn’t endure the loneliness and horrors of this house or the trees. Why did he leave me she thought? Why am I back here? I don’t want to be alone anymore! I hate this place! I want my mommy and daddy she screamed inside her head! Please take me away God! Please!
Her arms shook as she crawled on all fours towards her door like a sad, punished child locked in her room. She fumbled for the porcelain door knob, popped the door open then willed herself in the same manner to the top of the stairs. She sat on her bottom and slid down the steps holding onto the banister as she went. Where did Barnaby go? Would she ever see him again?
She didn’t know what to do or where to go but she wanted to get out of her house. She thumped to the bottom and again began crawling through the darkness towards the front door, too grief stricken to walk. She didn’t know in what direction to head once outside. She wouldn’t go into the woods alone and she could not stand to linger within the darkness of her old home. What could she do but sit in her front yard and cry much as she did when Barnaby first found her.
She took a deep breath. He would find her again she thought. He promised. He would come straight to the house right away. He knew where to look for her. She wiped a tear away with her dusty hand. She scrambled to the front door on all fours anxious to get outside and wait for him. Hope and faith he would fulfill his promise would have to keep her going.
The room to her right groaned and she froze, cocking her ear in the darkness to listen.
“Barnaby?” she whispered.
“No, not Barnaby,” returned a chilling, familiar voice from out of the gloom.
The floor boards under her hands and knees rocked and twisted as the voice walked towards her. Fear froze her. The specter of a man stepped into the dim moonlight passing through the window on his right. The short flame of a lantern he held grew to a miniature sun within the glass globe and the orange radiance illuminated the trespasser’s face.
Victoria shuddered. “Mr. Wilcox!”
The British commander sneered. “I’ve told you child to address me as Captain Wilcox.”
He stepped towards her. His greasy hair hung past his gaunt cheeks and lay on his shoulders. If he were not dressed as an officer, one might mistake him for a vagrant. His eyes looked weary but angry and determined.
“I thought you died,” she stammered.
“Then consider me a ghost,” he snarled. “Get up!” He snatched her shoulders and yanked her to her feet. “Your mother is no longer here to protect you and neither is my subordinate, Charley.” His mouth closed to within an inch from her face and she cringed as his foul breath clung to her nose.
Victoria, who had momentarily stopped crying, began to let the tears flow again once more. How could her situation have become even worse?
“You’re going to show me where the gold is buried!” he commanded.
“There isn’t any gold!” she cried. “It’s not real!.”
He shook her so hard that her head snapped to and fro and she cried harder. “I know the gold is out there, take me to it or else I will hurt you!”
Her body went limp with fear and she fell to the floor like a heap of dead weight. He grew angry as he struggled to hold her up and slapped her. She fell to the ground screaming and began dragging her body across the floor back towards the stairs.
“Oh God help me!” she sobbed and screamed.
Captain Wilcox stalked her from behind. The boards creaked with each approaching step.
“Please take me away!” she cried. She crawled with little energy to the foot of the stairs, too weak from depression and anguish. “I know you are with me. I know you can hear me.”
“Who are you talking to?” the Captain sneered. “Who’s going to save you?”
“I think she’s talking to me.”
Wilcox spun and Victoria turned her head, her eyes wild with hope.
Barnaby stood three feet behind the Captain and the moment Wilcox spun, Barnaby struck him in the face with the shovel.
The Captain fell to the ground unconscious and the lantern he held exploded on the floor. The corner of the house ignited.
“Barnaby!” Victoria shouted with renewed might.
He ran over, knelt down, and pulled her up to her knees. “I’m so sorry I left you.” He gave her a deep hug then hoisted her off the floor.
“Thank you for coming back for me. I was afraid you forgot about me,” she replied, trembling against his chest. She wrapped her arms around his neck.
“No I couldn’t forget about you. I came right back but you were gone and I couldn’t find you.”
“I don’t know how I got here,” she said confused.
“We don’t need to worry about that now, we have to leave,” he explained as they ran out of the smoke filled room. “Is that Mr. Wilcox?” he asked surprised.
They ran onto the porch and Barnaby set her down.
“Hold my shovel, honey!” Barnaby said and he ran back inside.
“Where are you going?” she called after him with renewed desperation. After he disappeared into the smoky darkness she raised her hand and felt the mild inflammation on her face where Captain Wilcox had hit her.
One moment later Barnaby dragged Captain Wilcox by his boots out of the house. He yanked him off the porch not caring too much about Wilcox’s face as it thudded down each step, and pulled him a few yards from the house. The man deserved no compassion but Barnaby could not imagine God would be too pleased with Barnaby leaving him there to burn though already dead. Despite being a ghost, every specter he encountered still felt pain, and Barnaby couldn’t endure to see any more of it.
He moved to Captain Wilcox and removed his scabbard and sword but kept an eye on him fearing he might sit up and grab him. The captain did not stir.
“Is he dead?” Victoria asked.
“No I don’t think I could kill him, not for very long at least.” He ran onto the porch now filling with smoke and snatched up Victoria with one arm and in the other carried the shovel and sword.
“I thought he already died?” Victoria asked. “I saw Charley shoot him.”
“He did die, honey.”
“Is he a ghost?” she asked they ran down the front steps..
“Yes, he’s a ghost,” he replied.
“So I am a ghost then too?” she asked as they trotted around the corner of the house.
He stopped and she looked up at him. He squeezed her hand. “No honey you are something much more special.”
She smiled back the way she might at her own father and the two ran to the woods. She kicked her legs and asked him to stop once more at the small patch of daffodils growing next to the trees. He set her down and looked back at the house anxiously. The fire didn’t concern him but Wilcox’s pursuit did. He could certainly cause for them trouble if he regained consciousness quickly and Barnaby didn’t think he had it in him to more severely damage the ghost though he did experience satisfaction in hitting the ghost in the face with Doris’ shovel.
“I lost my flowers when I went to sleep.”
Barnaby patiently stood as she picked four flowers. Satisfied with her selection, they ran back into the woods.