“What did he mean when he said he hopes he doesn’t get to Heaven too soon?”
Levi 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 are no longer here. 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,” Levi replied.
Victoria and Levi returned the way they had come to the other side of the pond. The frogs jumped into the water as they approached and once again Victoria pointed them out to Levi.
“What house did he think was haunted?” she asked after many minutes of silence.
“Your house.” 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 looked 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 fear 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 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 walked in silence 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 in a long time but I will do my best,” sounding much like a grandparent asked to ride the world’s tallest roller coaster for the twelfth time in a day.
“Where shall we skip?” she asked with joyful anticipation. Levi marveled at how excited a child acted 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 Levi began skipping through the woods making a great deal of ruckus as they meandered, but Levi had no fear. He had a warm feeling when he held her hand and her faith gave him confidence to find a happy ending.
They took a break after a few minutes of skipping and walked while they wildly swung their arms. Despite time having advanced many years since finding Victoria, she remained with him while the ghosts from other encounters had vanished once they played their part. Even Victoria’s daffodils did not wither with time. Victoria had a significant role in this play and remaining with Levi was part of it. This comforted him as he felt he at least marched on the right track to satisfying his objective.
He heard an engine and noticed the road lay one hundred feet ahead. A truck rumbled from the beach and he spotted their red brake lights shine as they sped around the corner.
“What was that?” She grabbed his arm and pulled. “It is a monster!”
Levi understood to a child of the eighteenth century, a rumbling pickup truck with two red lights for eyes might appear dreadfully frightful.
Levi 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 it’s 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 passed 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.”
Levi shook with excitement to see a sign of the real world; a sign life had not gone on without him. The old truck appeared not from his time, but still a sign of the modern age.
“Can I get on your back again?”
“Of course you can honey.” He turned around and knelt. She hopped on his back as and he stood with a groan at which she laughed. He began walking towards the road.
“Hey there!” a man shouted.
Levi came to an abrupt stop as though someone yanked on his reigns and he turned to see an elderly man making haste 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 hobbled with a limp towards Levi and held up his hand pleading for Levi to wait. He wore a pair of jeans and grey collared shirt. His pepper grey hair matched his thick side burns and his mid-section hung over his belt. His hindered gait and aged appearance suggested he was in his late 60’s to early 70’s.
“Hello,” he said a little out of breath. “Thanks for stopping.”
Levi assessed him without responding and nodded.
“I’m looking for my dog. You didn’t happen to see a dog running through the woods did you?”
Levi thought the man’s first question might be why Levi 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.” Levi 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 find him.”
So this man too saw or has seen the cows and the man walking them? 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.
Levi didn’t know how to respond. He didn’t have a good explanation for his presence so he came clean. “I wanted to see if there were any ghosts in the woods.”
The old man’s eyes lit. “And you’ve seen them then? That’s why your child is so scared.”
Levi didn’t want to tell him the truck and not the cows had frightened Victoria because Victoria’s anxiety over a truck would confuse him.
“The young man and the cows are ghosts,” the old man pointed out. “They looked real enough though didn’t they?”
“Yes,” Levi answered. “Almost too real to be ghosts.”
“I 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,” his face drooped when he mentioned the dog and Levi realized he worried about his missing dog.
“Are there ghosts 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 Levi and explained 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 not cursed to haunt the woods. Some individuals he was sure had made it out of the woods, so why then could he still see their ghosts here?
Victoria’s 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. Levi could not comprehend with whom the officer argued. He figured he had gone mad but what if he argued with his memories? What if he fought with Victoria’s mother and the British officer continued to fight with her for years even though she no longer lived? Victoria’s mother had moved away. She did not die in the woods. The curse that doomed all those who had perished within the wooden walls did not ensnare her. Captain Wilcox in his mind saw her still and whether the trees’ power produced this perception or pure madness infected his brain, Levi couldn’t be certain but the likelihood every actor continued to play his part even if all the players were not present, appeared probable. Wilcox fell on the porch as though physically attacked and Levi recalled the other soldiers struggling to remove an unseen person.
“I live right across the road,” the old man said interrupting Levi’s thought. He pointed to a white, two story home.
Levi peered through the branches and saw Doris’ house though it appeared to be in much better condition than it stood in present times. The paint had not peeled and the yard did not resemble a jungle. Flower baskets filled with red and pink geraniums hung from the porch. “My wife, Doris,” the old man said and motioned to his porch. “She’s waiting for me to come back with the dog.”
“She’s out there now?” Levi questioned because he could not see her.
“Yes, right there on the porch. She’s waiting for me.”
“She is pretty,” Levi pretended.
Levi 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.
Poor Doris sat on her porch watching the trees not for ghosts but for her husband to return.
“I’m Levi,” he said holding out his hand.
“John Callis,” the man placed his sweaty hand in Levi’s.
“This is my daughter Victoria.” Victoria gave a little wave over Levi’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,” Levi 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 but haven’t seen her. You can hear her on some nights in the house crying.”
Levi glanced over his shoulder at Victoria. “We just walked by there but we didn’t hear anything did we honey?”
“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 phenomenon. Levi 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 conversed 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?” Levi felt 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 looked off trying to recollect how long he had searched. He frowned and counted his fingers contemplating the time. His face drooped and his arms fell to his side. His expression revealed he recognized the agonizing truth. 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 Levi’s time. No lovely flower pots hung from the now dark and broken porch. The grass stood high around the house and his once new truck in the yard, languished in a blanket of dirt and sat low on a flat tire. A faint light came from the kitchen window and he thought he caught the glimpse of someone passing by it.
He rubbed his red eyes. “I’ve been looking for my dog a very long time. Much too long I think.” He turned towards the woods. “He’s not around is he?”
Levi 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 knew he should not still live in the woods and realized time had not stood still.
“My poor wife! He leaned over and placed his hands on his knees like an exhausted marathoner. She probably thinks I ran off with another woman.” A tear formed in the corner of his eye next to his nose.
“Do you remember what happened?” Levi asked.
John stared into the woods recollecting immediately how he had come to remain in there. His eyes watered but then his face 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 spoke. “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’d let him go. He’d 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 interfering with their hunt.”
He took another drag and shook his head.
“I jogged through the woods the best I could. He generally comes when he’s called so I knew if I walked in deep enough, he’d 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 and that the wound was bad but I thought I’d make it if they got 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 felt relieved to hear 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 feeling cold and the natural panic you’re not going to make it starts to overtake you.”
He took another long drag on his cigarette smoking it nearly 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 Levi thought curious. John’s brow furrowed with confusion. He removed another and lit it.
“They were scared too when they got to me. I saw in their eyes they hadn’t meant to do it. There were three of them. I don’t know how old; 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 for them and they took a step back like they were afraid! I grew more and more scared because they did nothing and I needed to get to the hospital! They stared while I bled! I started feeling sick! I remember lifting my other hand, the one stuck to my wound, and feeling nauseous when I saw all the blood caked to it. They looked at one another nervously when they saw my blood because they knew how seriously they had hurt me.”
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 stared 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 close but not close enough that I could reach for him, and examined my wound. He refused to 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 see me as a person. ‘Please!’ I begged.”
“The man examining me stood and said calmly to the others, ‘He’s not going to make it.’ One of the other guys lost it, ‘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’d die. They worried about themselves too much. I’m sure they had been drinking. At least one of them would get jail time for shooting me and I’d probably pressed charges even if he did save me, but the others did not need to go along with it. They didn’t shoot me. I never thought they meant to shoot me! At the worst the one guy might have served six months in jail and the others, probably nothing except a fine for hunting while drinking if there is such a thing! Instead they all band together and let me die!”
“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. Blood poured out of me and I grew weaker 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 seldom did. “I’m sure they thought my wound caused it but I cried because of Doris. I knew she’d be heartbroken.”
“They dragged me for ten or fifteen minutes and the one carrying the guns lit a cigarette like he was on a stroll with his dog. I smelled the smoke in the air. My eyes went dark but I didn’t lose consciousness. Finally, I heard them splashing through water and I knew we had reached 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 found bricks. 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 barely moved as I sank to the bottom. I remember for a split second lying there in the mud. I saw nothing and I shivered. I held my breath. No point to it but I guess I couldn’t quit. I didn’t last more than five seconds I think. A long five seconds.”
“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. Be less painful if I didn’t see her each time but I suppose I have no control over it.”
Levi 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.
“I know who they are too! I dare them to wander through these woods again!”
Victoria clutched Levi.
Levi thought about the hunting bluff and wondered if the men who owned it killed John. Since it happened so long ago, whoever did it might either be dead now.
He also pondered 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?” Levi 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! I don’t understand what has happened to my house!”
Levi felt for the ghost. He was confused and couldn’t comprehend how long he had wandered through the woods though he realized he had wandered longer than he suspected. He contemplated to where he disappeared in between appearances. Where did any of them go? They did not appear every evening. Doris said a year had passed before she saw again the ghost walking down her road. Missing one or two of his appearances was conceivable but clearly he didn’t appear every night. Where then did their spirits reside and what prompted them to resurface? Before he posed the question, James started with his own.
“What happened to you?” James asked Levi.
“What do you mean?”
“How did you end up here?”
“I came into the woods because I heard about the ghosts.” He suddenly felt uncomfortable saying the word “ghost” in front of a ghost for fear there might be a less offensive term for describing someone in such a state. People were so sensitive in this day.
“How did you die though?” John asked.
Levi blinked and answered with a dash of apology as though 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. I’ve had the same notion fifty or sixty times myself, but I always seem to end up here to be killed and thrown into the pond.”
Levi pondered his question.
“You don’t remember dying do you?”
Levi 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?”
Levi 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 saw all the ghosts?
Levi shook his head, “I can’t be dead. I know I’m not dead.” He thought about his wife. What if he died and months had passed if not years. Might Jules not think the same thing poor John speculated his wife felt? Maybe his wife thought he had left her! He stared 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?” Levi asked.
“Shh!” John said cocking his ear. “Do you hear that?”
Levi listened but heard nothing.
“It’s Aries!” he shouted. “I can hear him barking!” John hobbled off into the woods after his dog 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!” Levi called after him.
“No, I’m going to get him this time and when I do this will all be over,” he called back.
Levi lowered Victoria and turned to face the road. She watched him for a moment and she shook as she realized what he contemplated. Tears ran down her cheeks and she tried her best to restrain her anguish for the sake of being a big girl.
“Over.” Levi pondered. Jump the ditch, and cross to the other side. Then the ordeal should all be over for him. He wasn’t dead. He couldn’t be dead.
He turned to Victoria and saw her tears shimmering in the moonlight. “What is wrong, honey?”
“I don’t want you to leave!” She fell into his arms and hugged him, sobbing so hard she struggled to catch her breath.
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 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 barely saw him through the tears. “I promise I will be 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 must trust me though honey. You won’t be all alone. I won’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 continued crying. The tears cut paths through her dirt stained face and he pulled her close again. Her anguish sunk his heart and he imagined his decision to leave her couldn’t be harder if had to leave his own child. In the brief time they spent together, Levi felt like her parent. As Charley had put it, if he had a daughter he would want her to be just like Victoria.
“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?” He brushed her hair out of her eyes and took the corner of his shirt and wiped off 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 won’t be long.”
“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 his eyes met Victoria’s. She waved to him and he breathed a sigh of relief.
“Look out Levi!” she shouted.
Alarmed, he spun in both directions. A man with an odd gun propped on his shoulder and dressed in antique armor from a place and period unknown to Levi, walked towards him. The end of his gun fanned out like a horn. The story started over. John Callis died last and Levi encountered him last. 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.
Levi scrambled to his feet and backed away but never removed his gaze from the approaching ghost.
The ghost, perceiving Levi 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 Levi did not fear him in the least.
Levi 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.
Levi shrugged his shoulders and beamed at Victoria. “That was easy.” He felt a little guilty about fibbing to the ghost but if his plan worked, he would more than make it up to him.
“Make haste!” she whispered and knelt next to a tree.
He wasted no more time. He jogged across the road and into Doris’ yard. He noted 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 completed task would end his nightmare. 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; for any of them?
Levi pulled out his Bible and held it against his thudding chest. He knelt 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 saw in the musty darkness what he needed. He grabbed the shovel and scraped it through the tall grass to remove the cobwebs and spiders resting on it. He sprinted to 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 knelt and for the first time in a long while, prayed.
Levi threw the shovel across the ditch, jumped over and rolled through the pine straw. He grabbed it and called for Victoria in a hoarse whisper but 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 moved through and around the neighboring trees but he could not find her. He felt like a terrified parent who had lost their child at an amusement park; fear stricken and helpless. He scoured the immediate area, his heart thundering in his chest. Victoria was correct, they did lose each other. Where had she gone? Was she as terrified and alone as before when he first found her? Positive she vanished, 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 in the time he spent searching for the shovel but he didn’t believe she would run to her house willingly. She may be connected to the house he guessed and when he left, it pulled her back.
His sluggish legs provided little propulsion. Several times he fell as he crashed through the woods which felt so much deeper to him now but he would not abandon her!
Victoria woke to find herself lying sideways on a dusty floor. Sitting up she wiped the grit from her face and brushed her hands on her dress. She scanned the darkness to determine her surroundings. “Levi?” she called out but he didn’t answer. She stood and recognized at once her old room.
“Levi?” she called a little louder and ran to the window. The woods revealed no sign of life and she saw no sign of him in the backyard. Her worst fears overwhelmed her. Once again she stood alone. She fell onto the floor and sobbed into her dress, gasping like a wounded creature. Her stomach twisted and her arms trembled. She despaired once again taking 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 while holding onto the banister. Where did Levi go? Will I 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 crawled through the darkness towards the front door, too grief stricken to walk. She didn’t know in what direction to head once outside. She refused to enter the woods alone and she didn’t want to linger in the lonely darkness of her old home. What could she do but sit in her front yard and cry much as she did when Levi first found her.
She took a deep breath. He will find me. He promised. He will come straight to the house. She wiped a tear with her dusty hand. She scrambled to the front door on all fours anxious to get outside and wait for him. Hope and faith that he would fulfill his promise kept her moving.
The room to her right groaned. She froze and cocked her ear in the darkness to listen.
“Levi?” she whispered.
“No, not Levi,” 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. She froze. The specter of a man stepped into the dim moonlight that passed 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 were bloodshot and dark but also 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.
Her tears flowed once more. How could her situation have worsened?
“You’re going to show me where the gold is buried!”
“There isn’t any gold! It’s not real!”
He shook her so hard her head snapped and she cried louder. “I know the gold is out there, take me to it or else I will hurt you!”
Her body fell limp and he grew angry as he struggled to hold her up. He slapped her. She fell to the ground screaming and clawed her way across the floor 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.
Levi stood three feet behind the Captain and the moment Wilcox spun, Levi 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.
“Levi!” Victoria shouted with renewed might.
He ran over, knelt, and pulled her 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 feared you forgot about me.” She trembled against his chest and wrapped her arms around his neck.
“No, I couldn’t forget about you. I came right back but you were gone.
“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 Levi set her down.
“Hold my shovel, honey!” Levi 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 Levi 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 on each step, and pulled him a few yards from the house. The man deserved no compassion but Levi new God preferred he saved him. Despite being incorporeal, the specters he encountered felt pain, and Levi wanted no part in seeing more of it.
He moved to Captain Wilcox and removed his scabbard and sword but kept an eye on him fearing he might spring awake and grab him. The captain did not stir.
“Is he dead?” Victoria asked.
“No, I don’t think he can be killed, not for 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 squeezed her hand. “No honey you are something much more special.”
She smiled 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 lowered her and spun to make sure no one followed. The fire didn’t concern him but Wilcox’s pursuit did. He could certainly cause for them trouble if he regained consciousness quickly and Levi didn’t think he had it in him to more severely damage the ghost though he did experience satisfaction in hitting him in the face with Doris’ shovel.
“I lost my flowers when I went to sleep.”
Levi patiently stood as she picked four flowers. Satisfied with her selection, they ran into the woods.