Category Archives: Old House Woods

Chapter 20 – Tearful Reunion

Tearful reunion

Barnaby sat on the shore of the pond waiting for John who had disappeared beneath the water’s surface minutes earlier. John walked straight in, fully erect and did not stop until he vanished under the water. Barnaby did not think the pond deep enough to cover the height of a man but then nothing in those woods should have continued to surprise him. John emerged a minute later from the water walking out much the way he entered, fully erect and holding items in both of his hands. In one hand he held a skull.

“I’m surprised no one ever found this. This is part of my remains.” He handed it to Barnaby. Barnaby tucked the wet skull under his arm like one would a football. He felt a little odd to be holding the skull of a man with whom he was speaking.

In the other hand John held out his wedding ring and his old rusted, water logged watch. “Please give these to my daughter,” he said. “Let her know I didn’t run out on her mother.”

Barnaby looked at the dripping wet old man and placed the watch and ring in his pocket. “I’ll take care of it for you. Are you okay to walk in those wet clothes?”

“I’ll dry off in no time,” John replied.

Barnaby led John back to the wood’s edge where they could once again see the worn down old home in which he used to live.

“You aren’t here because of any curse on these woods,” Barnaby explained. “That’s why you did not vanish like the others. You are here because you are holding on.”

Barnaby placed the skull down, jumped the ditch to the other side and ran across the dusty road, hopped up on the creaky, old porch and paid no attention to the wasps buzzing around. John watched him knock on the door and within minutes Barnaby led John’s protesting wife by the hand to the road. He brought her to John’s side of the drive, right to the ditch and John smiled when he heard how cantankerous his wife had become. He remained behind a tree as he did not want to scare her. At this distance he could see how very old she had become but beneath the wrinkles and frail figure, he could still see his girl.

“I do not want to be this close to the woods!” she protested and tried to pull her arm away from Barnaby but could put up no more resistance than a five year old child.

Barnaby rolled his eyes at her stubbornness but understood her fearfulness, “I have something to show you.”.

“I don’t want to see anything you may have found! I want no part of it! Those woods are damned I tell you!” Doris yanked her arm away with unusual strength generated by her intense fear of what may inhabit the trees. She turned and shuffled her feet back towards her house.

“Doris, don’t go,” John called and emerged from his hiding spot.

Doris stopped dead and rotated back around as fast as her old bones would allow. She looked at Barnaby in amazement wondering how he could produce such a tone of voice. Barnaby grinned and pointed to the woods. She followed his finger and saw her husband standing at the edge under the slight shadow of the trees. He looked as young as the day she last saw him and still as handsome.

She gasped and fell in the road to her rear. She could utter no words.

John jumped the ditch and ran to her the best he could with his limp. He was younger than she, but still not young. “Doris! It’s me John,” he put his hands on her face. “I didn’t run away. I didn’t leave you!” The fear of this belief had festered within him for over twenty years. The thought his wife believed he ran out on her. Finally, miraculously, he had the chance to explain.

“John?” she whispered with disbelief. Her eyes widened and she touched his face; the one she often thought of when she looked at his empty recliner. She grabbed his shoulders and felt within them the strength of a man much younger than her.

“Yes, dear it’s me.” He grabbed her hands. His eyes watered when he felt how fragile and gnarled they had become. He helped her up out of the dust. “I didn’t leave you.”

She touched his unchanged face. “Oh John I have missed you so much,” she murmured.

“I have missed you too.”

“You look so young like the day I last saw you.”

“I know,” he answered understanding how insecure she might feel for appearing so much older. “You are still my girl though.” He hugged her gently.

“Why did you not come to me?” she asked through forming tears. “I have waited for you for so long.”

John took a deep breath and tried his best not to cry. “I could not,” he answered with a quiver in his voice. “I could not.” He rubbed her back and squeezed his eyes shut to fight back the tears.

“I know. I remember now. You can’t cross the road.”

He took a deep breath. “I have to go,” he said. “I can’t stay in these woods any longer. I wanted to say good-bye and tell you I love you, that I didn’t abandon you. I wanted to tell you how much I have missed you. I’m sorry darling. I have to go but I can’t hold on here any longer. I have to say good-bye. I wish you could come with me. I want my girl back.”

“Please don’t go! Don’t leave me here! I am miserable without you John! I’ve waited and watched for years for you to come back to me! You can’t leave me now!” She hugged him with all her reserve strength and cried.

“Shhh!” he whispered and stroked her thinning white hair. “We will be together very soon. I promise.”

“What am I going to do without you? I am so lonely here. I have no one!”

John brushed away one of her tears and smiled at her. “You don’t have to hold on any longer, Doris. Don’t hold on dear! What now will keep you here?”

She laid her head on his chest. “Nothing,” she whispered.

He put his finger under her chin and her eyes met his. “Don’t be afraid then Doris. Have faith and you will see!” He kissed her forehead like he did every morning before going to work and she smiled and leaned back into him. “Good-bye Doris. Come to me soon and we will watch the sun rise together.”

She began to cry again. “Good-bye dear. I love you.”

John looked at Barnaby, smiled, and mouthed the word “Thank you”. He disappeared a second later.

The old woman fell forward when John vanished and began to weep harder. Barnaby rushed to catch her. He held her elbows while she cried until her long moment of anguish had passed.

“Thank you for that,” she muttered. “Thank you for bringing John back to me.”

“I’m sorry it could not have lasted longer.” He felt like he should hug her but also felt it would do her no good.

“It was enough,” she whispered. “All I needed.”

He helped her back to the start of her driveway where she insisted she could go on without his assistance. Barnaby let her go and watched as she hobbled up the porch steps and entered her house. She did not bother to even close the door behind her.

The old woman scraped her feet across her dirty kitchen floor, through her dusty living room, past her husband’s old recliner and climbed into bed. There she went to sleep and never woke.

Barnaby waited a moment then stepped onto her porch and shut her door. He thought she should be alone with her grief and decided he would check on her later. He would stop by to get her daughter’s number so he could call and explain to her what happened to John her father. The call he was pleased to make but one he understood would be met with skepticism. How do you explain to a woman that your father’s ghost told me who killed him and oh, by the way, here is his skull for proof?

Barnaby sighed when he looked at the woods. Nothing remained in there for him but painful memories. He recalled the day he first parked in front of Doris’ home and for the first time actually took a moment to size up the woods. He thought they had not looked so threatening but now he couldn’t remember ever laying eyes on so lonely a place. He didn’t want to leave because the trees held the memory of Victoria and for the same reason, he did not want to re-enter. The wound from losing her would not heal if he did not get away but he also feared forgetting. After today would he ever have the strength to return to the trees or the beach? Could he play in the water with his children one day and not feel the torment of remembering how Victoria vanished before him? With whom in the world could he share his pain? The answer was no one. He would deal with it alone, but he knew he paid the price of loneliness to be strong, to feel brave. God would mend him now. God had given him the test he needed; the opportunity to risk his life and prove his courage. The chance to be unique; the chance to feel special.

He had to make one more trip now however. Barnaby re-entered the woods and grabbed John’s skull. He carried it under his arm and headed back to his tent which he had not seen for what felt like ages. Sticking up right in the ground in the tent’s center stood a sword. He looked around to see if anyone was watching then pulled the sword from the ground. He recognized it as the sword the skeletal pirate used to slash his tent. A small ruby encrusted it’s hilt. He did not know how the sword got there or why it remained behind. Perhaps left as a gift. He smiled at the thought.

I will give this to Maxine he thought. It should help with her husband’s medical bills.

Barnaby ran out of the woods dragging the tattered remains of his tent, threw them in his car and sped away. He did not glance up at the remains of the old house in which Victoria once lived. He could not bear to picture her in the front yard crying. He drove in silence, thinking of her and wishing shamefully he could be in heaven with her or at the least that she could come visit him. He had spent such a short time with her and yet he felt as though he had lost his own child. He would embrace the loss and remember the pain so one day he never took his own children for granted.

He heard his dad stir inside when he knocked on his door. His father stepped onto the front porch smelling like he had drunk too much the previous evening. His messy hair and stubbled face trapped flecks of dandruff.

“Do you know what time it is?” he grumbled.

“I have here a relic to show you,” Barnaby replied and he held out the pale, mud stained skull of John Callis.

His father looked at the skull aghast, “What the hell is this?”

“This is the reason mom left. This is the reason you drink. This is why you hate me so. This is John Callis the man you killed and dragged into the pond. This is your doom.”

His father moved his mouth but nothing came out. Barnaby turned and walked away. He did not turn his father in to the police. John had his peace and so too did Doris. Barnaby also knew that when his book came out, treasure hunters and thrill seekers would comb over every inch of the woods and eventually reveal the truth about John Callis’ demise. He also knew Doris’ daughter would launch a police investigation once Barnaby called her, but what evidence would she have? No one would believe Barnaby’s story but his father and that suited Barnaby fine.

Barnaby spoke only once more to his father before he died. He passed him in the grocery store one day. They entered the aisle on opposite ends and spotted the other right away but neither would back out and go to a different aisle. Each continued down the aisle towards one another and pretended to look at the goods on the shelf. They were virtually total strangers now, neither having spoken to the other in years. As they passed Barnaby uttered, “I forgive you father.” He paused to look his stunned father in the eyes then continued on with his shopping never again to speak with him.

He did not forgive him for killing John Callis. He wasn’t sure his father was the one who actually pulled the trigger, but that didn’t matter. Only Doris’ daughter could forgive him for John’s murder but she knew nothing of Barnaby’s father and so Calvin would have to find forgiveness with the Lord if ever humility found its way in. Barnaby forgave Calvin for his upbringing. He forgave him for taking his mother away. He forgave him for all the belittling comments that dug at him more deeply over the years than he realized even when he convinced himself he no longer cared. He reasoned if he could forgive a pirate for trying to kill him, than he could forgive his father for his ill treatment though the pirate’s attempted murder truly did not hurt his feelings as much.

Barnaby rolled into his gravel driveway and began to cry before he even unbuckled his seat belt. Every bit of sadness and fear he experienced from the previous night came pouring out of him and he wanted to burn it all up before he entered his house. He thought again of Victoria clinging to his side and riding on his back. He missed her but he understood she lived in a far better place; a place where she never stopped laughing. He smiled thinking about her picking daffodils and running with a bright smile into the arms of her parents. He hoped she would not forget him.

He opened his front door and pictured Victoria running out of the living room and into his arms. He imagined kneeling down and scooping her up.

His wife came down the hall and Barnaby hugged her as though he had not seen her for many months. She wore sweat pants, a t-shirt, and her hair was tied up in a bun as she had not yet showered, but he could not remember her looking more beautiful.

She hugged him back, his tight embrace surprising her.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

He closed his eyes, fighting back the tears and sighed. “How would you feel if we got started on a family?” he whispered in her ear.

She pulled away and looked at him a bit shocked but answered him quickly. “I would like that very much.” She looked at the anguish in his face but asked no questions. Caressing his cheeks with both hands she kissed him and lingered with her lips on his for several seconds, assuring him of her love. “I am proud of you. I need you to know that.”

The End

Chapter 19 – Salvation

Salvation

 Barnaby began walking through the woods towards the beach and each man he passed fell in line behind him until every pirate, soldier, and common man walked in single file with Barnaby leading the way.  Charley walked behind Barnaby and Victoria and every so often she would turn around and wave to him.

Barnaby felt like a zombie being willed onward by the strength of his maker.  He had run back and forth through the woods several times and in a few instances a few of these fiends had fired upon during those occasions.  He witnessed men getting shot or blown to pieces.  He saw the destruction of two ships, and he heard the terrifying howls men made right before they died.  He watched as the dead rolled in on the waves and he fled from a screeching banshee in the sky.  His body ached and at this moment he wanted to be at home, sleeping next to his wife but instead he led a rag tag group of men to their salvation.

Edward murdered William and his wife Mary.  Did he deserve to be saved?  Was it fair he lived such a life and yet still be offered a chance at salvation?  What of William and Mary or any of the other pirates?  They thieved and plundered for a living.  How much did they steal and who did they hurt or kill during their employment?  Did paradise hold a place for such scoundrels?

A few of them lived well however.  They did not plunder other ships or threaten children.  They were men mistakenly killed.  Did Tom Pipken deserve to spend his years trapped amongst the trees because he sought out the gold which he thought could provide a better life?  What about the young man with his cattle and dog; should he be grouped in with this lot of plunderers and pillagers?  Should John Callis not be freed from the woods?  Did he not deserve more so the benefits of everlasting life on which these thieves and murderers turned their backs?

Barnaby did not wrestle long with the implications of saving a group of men he perhaps believed did not deserve to be saved.  He felt the Holy Spirit in his heart instructing him on what he must do and Barnaby obeyed faithfully.  He knew God was full of mercy and ready to forgive all those who called upon him.  If these men truly believed and repented of their sins then they could claim salvation for it was by faith one is saved; not of good works.

He did not understand the presence of ghosts.  The Bible made no significant mention of them, but behind him a whole troop followed.  When history had so many spirits in such a solid form come together for such an event?  Barnaby speculated never, but anything was possible.  He would record every detail from his first meeting with Doris all the way through to the salvation yet to occur.  If the world wanted to read his book then they were welcome to the story.  They could choose to believe it or not.  At the minimum, perhaps they could find hope within it.

He looked down at Victoria.  She was humming and smelling her flowers and swinging his arm which he had not noticed.  Who more deserved salvation than she?  What glory awaited her?

Farther back Barnaby could hear the coughing pirate and the ridicule he received from his fellow mates.

“Stop coughing on me.  I do not want to catch yer disease!” one very annoyed man stated.

“Fool, you be already dead!  Yer not catchin nothin!” the sick pirate shot back.

“Aye, but ye be dead too and ye still be coughin so I’m supposin it don’t matter none whether I’m dead or alive, I might still catch your consumption.”

“Awww it makes no difference anyhow,” the sick pirate returned.  “God will cure me.  There’s no sickness in heaven.  Didn’t you ever go to church when you was little?”

“Well never mind yer disease it’s still not mannerly; they don’t cough on people in Heaven do they?”

A couple of neighboring pirates laughed.

A few yards behind him he heard a familiar voice say, “Are you aware if this is the King’s Highway?”

Barnaby smiled.  He would look forward to getting that ghost out of the woods and knew Doris would be happy to see him go also.

Farther down the line, William and Mary held each others hand.

“I missed you so,” William said.  “I’m sorry I left ye.”

“It is not yer fault and let us not speak of it further.  I want no more trouble in my heart.  I just want to enjoy you.”  She reached up and caressed his face.

“Aye, I have a feeling we’ll have plenty of time for that,” he replied and leaned down to place his head against hers.  She smiled and closed her eyes.  They walked without speaking the rest of the way but every few yards William pulled Mary’s hand to his lips and kissed it.

Bringing up the rear behind two dozen more men, walked John Callis, Tom Pipken, and the young man who owned the cows.  His dog followed along side of him and his cows plodded behind.

“What do you think is going to happen to us?” the young man asked.  “Do you think we’re really going to heaven?”

“Probably so,” Tom Pipken answered.  “I bet there is a whole bunch of treasure in Heaven to be found.  Gold streets, gold trees, diamond forks, you name it, I bet they got it!” he exclaimed.  “I know it won’t be worth much if everyone has it but it will be a whole lotta fun seeing it all.”

“How do you think we’re gonna get there?  Do you think we’re going to fly up in the sky?” the young man asked.

“Who knows,” Tom answered.  “Maybe we just turn to dust where we stand.”

The young man walked silent for a moment looking at his animals and pondered this.  “What do you think will happen to my animals?  Will they go to heaven too do you think?” the man asked with trepidation and turned to look at his loyal animals following him.

Tom Pipken shrugged his shoulders.  “Whatever happens to them, I don’t think they will stay here.”

“Why not?” the young man asked sounding hopeful.

“I don’t think that’s God’s will.”

The young man smiled and seemed pleased with this idea.  He had spent so many years with his animals that he would hate to think they would remain behind without him.

“You got a name young man?” Tom asked.

“Yeah, it’s Keith,” he replied.

“All right!” Tom grinned.  “Keith and his cattle.  What’s your dog’s name?”

“Jasper.”

“Well that’s a fine looking dog you got there!” Tom commented on the black and white dog trotting along side Keith.

“Thank you,” Keith replied and thought quietly for a moment.  “Can I ask you guys a question?”

“Go ahead Keith!” Tom returned.  Since they began their walk to the beach Tom had a permanent smile on his face.  He had the appearance of a man headed home to tell his wife he won the lottery.

“How did you guys die?”

“Had a heart attack I think,” Tom answered.  “Hit me right in my chest.  I saw the ghost pirate ship coming up the creek and I was so scared I had a heart attack.  The next thing I know I fell off my boat and I’m sinking beneath the water.”

“So did you die of a heart attack or did you drown?” James asked.

A puzzled look formed on Tom’s face.  “I don’t think I remember.  Hmm?” he replied.

Keith smiled at how well Tom appeared to take his own death.  “Aren’t you worried about what happened with your family or if they worried about you?”

“Naw,” he answered.  “I didn’t have any family but I wanted to start one.  I guess that would be my only regret.  But I would reckon not starting a family isn’t as painful as actually having one and losing it.”

“I’m worried about what my mom thought?  I bet she was pretty sad.”

“Yeah, but look on the bright side.  You’ll see her soon right?” Tom added.

“I guess that’s true.”

“How’d you die James?” Tom asked.

“Some hunters killed me.”.

“I was killed too!” Keith exclaimed.

Tom grunted.  “You would think with all the murders in these woods the authorities would have caught someone.”

“How do you know they weren’t?” Keith asked.

“I think I would have felt it?” James added and stared at the ground as he went.

“Do you think the guys who killed us are in hell?”

“Maybe yours are,” James returned, “but who can say.  I’m sure there are more than a few among this bunch who were as bad as the guys who killed you but after today will they be going to hell?  I’m not so sure.  Is that fair?  It’s not for us to decide.  As for the men who killed me, I think they’re still alive.”

“Did you leave anyone behind?” Keith asked.

“I don’t like to think of it that way,” James replied, “because I didn’t choose to leave.  Yes, when I entered the woods I was living near them with my wife and she’s now alone, but I didn’t leave her any more then you intentionally left your momma.  I loved my wife and she loved me.  Fate has dealt just as great an injustice to her.”

“Well you’ll see her soon too right James?” Tom said with an up lifting tone trying to lighten the mood.

“She’s still alive,” James replied with a tone that took the wind out of Tom’s joyous sails.

Tom and Keith looked at James then exchanged startled glances.

“Still alive?” Keith questioned.

“I think she’s holding on,” James answered and avoided their gazes.

Keith looked down, frowned and thought whether his mother did the same.  Tom walked silently for a few minutes then began to whistle a merry song as the beach’s gray sky came into view.

Barnaby walked out onto the sand, stood near the water and turned to face the motley host of ghosts and soldiers who filed out of the woods and lined up horizontally to face him.  Victoria continued to hold his hand and her flowers while they waited until all took their places.  They stretched at least forty yards from Charley who stood at the very left all the way down to John Callis who stood at the very right and was the last to exit the woods other than the two cows.

Barnaby called out to them, “It says in the Bible, there will be joy in heaven over one sinner who repenteth more so than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.  How much joy then do you think there will be today when over ninety-nine sinners repent?  Make no mistake.  Heaven is watching.”

Most smiled, a few began to shed tears, and a few others cheered with laughter.

Barnaby knelt in the wet sand, Victoria knelt with him, and the others facing him did the same.  “Dear Lord,” Barnaby began and the others repeated his words, “I have sinned.  I have not led my life according to the way in which you would have me lead it.  I have not feared you and I have not kept your commandments.  I have lived a life in defiance of your goodness and your holiness.  I have become wicked and sorrowful in your sight.”

As the group repeated his words, many overcome with emotion began to weep.  Some of the pirates put their hands on their neighbors back in a sign of support.

“Lord I submit myself to you and humbly ask for your mercy.  Please forgive me of my transgressions.  Please bestow on me the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Create within me a clean heart, O Lord and renew a right spirit within me.  Lord I accept Christ as my savior.  I recognize him as the son of God and the only path to salvation.  Let him come into my heart and cleanse me of all my wickedness.  Please free me from this world so I may one day walk with you in paradise.”

Barnaby paused to allow those crying to regain their composure.  Barnaby began to recite the Lord’s Prayer and as he started the sun started to rise behind him and he felt as though these men were finally leaving the darkness and stepping forth into the light.

“Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thine name, thy Kingdom Come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil for thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory, for ever and ever.  Amen.”

Every man looked up and wiped their eyes.  The sun, like the face of God, renewed their spirits.  They looked to one another and either shook hands or hugged.  They appeared as men deserted by their actions for years on a lonely island who now received rescued.  They smiled and laughed.  A few threw their hats in the air while others pulled out their pistols and prepared to let fly with their shot but thought the Lord may frown upon them so they discreetly tucked their guns away.

“Are we done?” Victoria asked.  “Will I get to see my parents soon?”

“Yes, very soon,” Barnaby returned.  Barnaby began waving his arms until the assembly noticed him and grew quiet.

Barnaby addressed them so all could hear.  “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Everyone nodded and Barnaby smiled.  “Charley, would you accompany me into the water?”  He picked up Victoria, turned and waded into the creek until the water came to his waist.  The other pirates remained silent.  Charley waded out behind them and stood waiting for instruction.

Barnaby looked at Victoria with tears pooling in his eyes.  He knew the time of her departure was at hand.  He did not know the manner in which she would leave but he understood in his heart she was going and the loss overwhelmed him.

“What’s wrong?” Victoria asked very alarmed.

Barnaby took a deep breath.  “It is time for you to go now honey.  Would you like to say good-bye to Charley?”

Victoria nodded with a frown for though she was very happy to finally be leaving, she could also see how sad it made Barnaby.  Barnaby handed Victoria over to Charley and he hugged her warmly.

“We’ll both be leaving Victoria.  I’m sure I will see you when we get there,” Charley reassured her.

“I hope so.  I missed you very much when you went away in the woods.”

“I missed you too.”.

She turned back to Barnaby and held her arms out for him.  He quickly pulled her in and hugged her tightly.  She wrapped her arms around his neck and spoke into his ear.  “I’m going to miss you too Barnaby.”

Barnaby rocked her back and forth and began to cry in her long brown hair.  “I’m going to miss you too honey.”

She leaned back in his arms to get a look at his face.  His eyes were red and full of tears.  He knew this time when she went away, he would not be able to go and find her again.

“I’m sorry you are so sad,” she whispered and she too began to cry.

“Don’t worry about me, baby.  I will be okay.  I don’t want you to cry anymore.  You have cried far too much.”

She held up her four flowers she had picked after Barnaby had saved her from Captain Wilcox.  “Do you remember my flowers?” she asked with a quiver in her voice. “This one is my dad,” she said pointing again to the larger one, “this one is my mom, this small one is me, and this fourth flower is you,” she explained and Barnaby was forced to smile through his sadness.

“I’m going to plant these when I get to heaven so I will always remember you.  I don’t think it will ever die in heaven do you.”

He shook his head and laughed through his tears at how remarkable and pure a little girl she was.  “No honey, I think they will bloom forever.”

“I love you Barnaby.”

“I love you too Victoria,” he returned choking on his emotion.  He looked at Charley thinking of the first words Charley had spoken to him, smiled then looked again at Victoria.  “If I ever had a daughter, I would want her to be just like you.”

Victoria kissed him on the cheek and smiled.  He hugged her one more time.

“Ready?” he asked.

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Do you love the Lord, Victoria?”

“Yes.”

“Peace be with you, daughter,” and with those words Barnaby dunked her under the water and drew her forth again.  As the water ran down her body she began to disappear.

“Bye-bye, I love you,” she said and then vanished.

The congregation on the shore gasped but remained silent.  Barnaby bit his lip and turned away from Charley so Charley would not see the emotion constricting his face, but he could not keep it in.  He began to cry.   He wanted to sink below the water and indulge in self-pity.  She was finally free from the terror of the woods and giving that to her pleased him, but part of him wished she could have come home with him.  While they had sat in the woods leaning against the tree he had thought of raising her.  He wanted to take her to church in a new pretty dress and push her on the swings at the playground.  He wanted more time to be her hero.  He had never in his life felt as significant as he did when he helped her.  Never had he experienced such a level of gratitude from anyone.  Now she had gone onward and though he knew she was happy, the pain of knowing he wouldn’t see her for so a long time bit at his heart.  Was this the same anguish she felt when her mother and father rode away without even a good-bye because they could not see her?  How terrible the separation must have been as she chased their wagon screaming.  Poor Victoria deserved to be in paradise more so then any man or woman present and he hoped her mother and father were presently embracing her with years of overdue affection.

He wiped his eyes on his shoulders and faced Charley.  “I’m sorry,” he stumbled on the words.

“Don’t be.  I love her too.  Now you understand my anguish when she died.”

Barnaby nodded and thought about Victoria’s lifeless body in the woods.  She appeared as a little angel who had crashed to Earth and landed beneath the trees.

“I don’t know where you will go exactly or what you will remember, but if you can find her, will you?” Barnaby looked like a man who had been sitting up all night at his dying wife’s bedside.

“I surely will.”.

“Thank you.”  Barnaby swallowed down his misery and took a deep, composing breath.  “Ready?”

“I am ready.”

“You accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior?”

“I do.”

“May the Lord cleanse you of your sins!”  Barnaby bent Charley backwards until his head submerged beneath the water then yanked him upright.

“Tell Victoria I love her,” Barnaby blurted before Charley disappeared.

Charley nodded then waved to those on the shore before vanishing.  The people on the beach looked at each other with their mouths agape.

“How about that?” Tom said and he almost began dancing where he stood.

One of the pirates, a young skinny boy dressed in rags with scraggly hair, sprinted into the water towards Barnaby and almost fell under in his desperation to reach him.  His Captain, suddenly absorbing the boy’s youth as he watched him run, fell to his knees and prayed for forgiveness for allowing such a small child the grueling and unforgiving life of a pirate.  The sailors under his charge, those accustomed to his stoic and cold charge, avoided staring at him for fear of his wrath as he cried.  This man’s heart was no longer stone but flesh.

The boy waded out to Barnaby with tears in his eyes and Barnaby recognized him as the young pirate who had washed onto shore after his ship sunk at sea.  Barnaby had prayed over this young boy and he felt a warm sense of joy filling up his soul to see how God had answered his prayer.

The boy stood not five feet tall and his clothes did not fit him because he wore the clothes of an adult.  His long, dirty hair dangled over his thin malnourished face.  The sun’s scorching rays had ravaged his normally pale skin.  Overall he looked very pitiful.  The boy approached him very out of breath and stared at Barnaby with panic.

“You have asked Jesus into your heart?” Barnaby asked with redness in his own eyes because he had not recovered from losing Victoria.

“Yes,” the boy said with conviction but with also a saddened quiver in his voice.

“Then why are you sad?” Barnaby asked.

“I miss my parents and my sister, sir.  I haven’t seen them in so very long.  I ran away from home at eleven.”

“If Jesus has saved them as he has you, then you will be with them in the clouds when He returns.”

The boy’s face brightened.  “They went to church and read the Bible all the time.  I’m sure I will see them then.”

Barnaby smiled at the child’s strength of faith.  “You standing in this water represents your crucifixion.  Jesus died on the cross for your sins so you could have everlasting life.”

The boy bowed his head and nodded in understanding.  “The submersion in the water represents burial just as Jesus was buried and just as you come up out of the water so too did the Lord resurrect Jesus.  Barnaby grabbed the boy and leaned him back into the water then quickly pulled him forth.  With this baptism, you have proclaimed your faith in Christ.”

Everyone on shore began to applaud or cheer.  The boy smiled, waved back to them and then disappeared.

Barnaby smiled and almost began to cry in awe of God’s power.  “He is free,” Barnaby whispered.

One by one, they waded out in the water to meet Barnaby and he explained to every one of them the purpose of the baptism.  A few of the pirates were large, sturdy men and Barnaby struggled pulling them upwards out of the water.  Once they stood to their feet, they jumped and cheered like small children and disappeared while still smiling.  What happened to their guns or swords Barnaby couldn’t figure?  Perhaps they were deposited in Hell.

The pirate prisoner forced to show the other pirates where the treasure was buried waded out next.  This was Christopher’s grandson.  He was short and thin and his hair barely hung to his shoulders.  Barnaby guessed he was not a pirate at all but rather a prisoner stolen from another vessel because of his knowledge regarding the treasure.

“What is your name?” Barnaby asked.

“Malcolm sir,” the prisoner answered like a young suitor looking to impress Barnaby.

“Do you repent of your sins?”

“I do sir.  I have done things I have regretted in life.  I have always believed in God but I have not done what he asked of me which I guess is even worse than not believing at all.”

“Were you a pirate?” Barnaby asked.

“No sir, a fisherman,” the man replied.

“How is it then you were taken prisoner?”

“I wandered too far from shore and they caught me in the Bay.  I thought they were going to kill me and I told them the story about the treasure hoping I would be spared.  We never got the chance to dig it up.  I guess that was a good thing.  They would have been royally angry with me if all they found nothing but cannonballs,” he said with a smile.

Barnaby smiled back.  “Yes I suppose you were rather fortunate.”  He looked at the shore and found Edward with his eyes.  The man stared at the sand.  “Do you know if your grandfather ever took the Lord to be his savior?”  Barnaby asked.

The prisoner looked at him a little bewildered then grew a little fearful.  “I don’t know sir.  I did not see him the last days of his life.  I suppose he could have but cannot be certain.  If he did not then what has become of him?” he asked very worried.

“I cannot speak to that,” Barnaby answered.  “His fate is God’s business.”

Of all the ghosts, this man’s grandfather puzzled him the most because to Barnaby’s knowledge, Christopher did not die among the trees.  If this was the case, then Barnaby should not have been able to see him earlier in the night as no one who did not die in the woods, should have remained.

“Then sir why did you ask?  Did you know my Grandfather?” He maintained his manners but his eyes expressed growing concern.

“How did your grandfather know where the treasure was buried?” Barnaby asked.

“Well because he told me he….” the prisoner’s voice faded and a horrific look clouded his face as the realization of his grandfather’s treachery became apparent.  “Oh no, this can’t be!  How could he be responsible?”

Barnaby put a comforting arm on the man’s shoulder.  “You cannot choose your family but you can choose life over death.  Do you choose to love the Lord?  Do you believe in him?”

The man nodded but he appeared like a man on the verge of vomiting.  The truth brought to his attention disturbed him.  The truth his Grandfather Christopher had a hand in killing William and Mary.

“The Lord will not judge you for your family’s sins.”

“Yes sir, but I loved my grandfather.  He was a good man to me.  Not the kind of man who would do such an evil thing as this.  I can’t bear to think of him in hell!”

“I apologize for telling you.”  Barnaby placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder.   “I wanted to know if he had changed his ways.  If by chance he had become a good man.”

“He was a good man sir.  Truly!  He did good things for people.  Surely that will get him into Heaven right?”

“It is not good works that get us into Heaven, it is the gift of God through our faith in him.  There is still a chance your grandfather repented.”

“Yes sir, I’m sure he did!” the man exclaimed grasping at the idea.

“Take comfort then.”

Barnaby baptized him and the man grabbed Barnaby’s hand to shake it before disappearing but the strength of his grip faded with his body.

The coughing pirate waded out next.  The man who viciously slashed Barnaby’s tent hoping to kill whatever slept inside.  As he approached, the water moved around him and created a wake in the same manner a wake is created when a boat moves through the water.  When he coughed however, his body briefly appeared skeletal and for a split second the water did not move around him but through him.  Barnaby encountered him in the woods first and despite the attack and this man’s supernatural appearance, Barnaby did not fear him at all.

He stood shorter than Barnaby.  He had a dark mustache and goatee and dark stubble on the rest of his face.  His eyebrows were dark and bushy.  His yellow eyes exuded disease and the skin beneath them looked purple.  He strutted and grinned as he approached revealing a set of yellow and gold teeth.

He waded up to Barnaby and stood before him panting but grinning like a child about to receive a medal.  He was ready for salvation.  Unfortunately as Barnaby prepared to speak, a humbling lung attack overcame the man.  He held up his hand imploring Barnaby to be patient and turned away.  The fit at such a significant moment embarrassed him.  He coughed and hacked for many seconds and Barnaby cringed with each outburst feeling sorry for the wretch.  Once done, the pirate took several short breaths and wiped blood from his chin.  His face despite the years of sun looked pale and glistened with sweat.  He turned away as though embarrassed by his behavior.

“You haven’t felt well in a long time, have you?” Barnaby asked.

The man nodded with closed eyes but did not attempt to talk until he sure his attack had passed.

“I’m sure you are looking forward to feeling better,” Barnaby stated.

The man turned, cleared his throat and using a little bit of breath whispered, “That I am.”  The attack purged his arrogance and he appeared weak and frail.

Barnaby explained the baptism to him as he had done with many of the others then dunked him.  The frail man felt as light as the young boy he had baptized earlier.  When he emerged from the water he sucked in a large gulp of air and grimaced with fear as he prepared for a painful, coughing attack to follow but none came.  His lungs were clean, the fresh air filled them and he began to cry with appreciation for the power of the Lord.  He disappeared as had the rest.

A few people later and out waded a curious specter whom Barnaby knew little about.  The ghost who looked for King’s Highway and his ship drew near.

“I remember you,” the ghost said when he approached Barnaby.

Barnaby smiled sheepishly feeling bad he had fibbed to the ghost.

“I’m sorry but I do not know what the King’s Highway is,” Barnaby replied.  “I did not want to mislead you but I could not be delayed in trying to help you so I sent you on your way.”

The specter smiled.  He was not as sickly or supernatural as Doris had mentioned but perhaps that had a little to do with this ghost standing in the sun rather than in the moonlight.  Barnaby did not stare at him for very long when he had encountered him in the dark so he could not be certain.

“The King’s Highway is a path from the North to the South.  We stopped near these woods to unload supplies en route to a settlement on the Bay.  I remember sweating with fever.  Very sick.  They told me to scout the path through the woods and determine how far from the coast the Highway ran but I could not find it.  When I returned, my ship was gone.  I wandered around for a few days but without food and water my sickness overcame me.  I do not know where my final resting place is.”

Barnaby speculated whether he wasn’t just abandoned because of his illness but he saw no point in opening that wound.

“It is irrelevant where you died or where you were buried.  What is important is where you end up.  Your body was a vessel for your soul.  It no longer possesses any value.”

“I do not know for what sins I should be ashamed but I know no man is perfect and I am certain I have surely sinned and come short of God’s glory.  For this I am sorry.”

“Do you believe Jesus Christ is your savior?” Barnaby asked.

“I do sir.”

“Then peace be with you.”

When the man rose from the water he looked skyward as he vanished and whispered words Barnaby couldn’t hear.

He looked to the shore.  Edward waded out to Barnaby with his head hanging.  He removed the bandana from his neck, dipped it in the water, then wiped clean his face.

“You repented of your sins?” Barnaby asked.

Edward nodded and wiped his nose because he had been crying but still did not look at Barnaby.

“You accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior?”

Edward nodded again.  “How can he forgive me?” Edward cried and rubbed his eyes with his palms.

“Because you believe in him and you have repented.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful to forgive us of our sins,” Barnaby explained.

Edward, a weather worn man in his forties cried harder.  “I’m so sorry for what I’ve done!”

“The Lord hears you,” Barnaby replied.  “The angels are rejoicing.”

Edward looked at the sky and wiped his tears.  He could not remember the last time he saw so glorious a day.

“Ready?”

Edward nodded.  “I’m ready.”

Barnaby dunked him and he drew him forth.  The remaining dozen people left at this point all clapped.  Edward smiled.  “Thank you,” he said to Barnaby and then he vanished.

A British soldier waded out to Barnaby.  Taller and stouter than Barnaby,  powder stains blackened his coat.  This man served in Charley’s group and was most likely killed on Rigby Island by cannon fire from Lord Dunmore’s fleeing ship.  “I had already accepted the Lord as my savior when I was a young boy in England but I did not have the chance to be baptized prior to leaving,” he stated.

“Do you love the Lord?” Barnaby asked.

“I do sir.”

“Do you repent of your sins?”

“Indeed I do.”

“Then the Lord has forgiven you.”

Barnaby dunked the soldier.  He rose out of the water, waved to the three friends he still had remaining on the shore and disappeared like the rest.

Captain Wilcox approached next.  He waded out to Barnaby with no apparent humility in his gait or fear in his face.  He had pulled his still oily hair back into a pony tail and his vest was also now buttoned.  It appeared he had done what he could to make himself more presentable.  More importantly the wildness had vanished from his eyes.  When he reached Barnaby, he stared him right in the face and spoke like he addressed a senior officer.

“I apologize for striking the girl.  I can see she meant a great deal to you.  I too had a daughter whom I left behind before coming to the colonies and I would very much like to see her and her mother again.  I have no excuse for my actions.  I can only say madness sickened me otherwise I would not have conducted myself in such a despicable fashion as to bring dishonor to myself, my family, my country, and most of all my Lord.  The Lord has cleansed me of this sickness but the memory of my actions lingers and my behavior sickens me.”

Barnaby nodded and accepted the sincerity of Wilcox’s words.  “Do you repent?” Barnaby asked.

“I surely do,” the Captain replied.

“You have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior?”

“I am his humble servant,” he responded.

“Very well then, the Lord forgives you.  Are you ready?”

“I am indeed, sir,” Captain Wilcox replied.

Barnaby baptized him and pulled him upright.  “Bless you sir!” Captain Wilcox uttered and evaporated with the water.

William and Mary waded out together.  Barnaby gazed at the morning sky above the trees and tried to remember how terrifying she looked wailing in the pale moonlight.  Standing there in the warm air and watching the seagulls arrive on a developing breeze made the past night feel like a bad dream.

They stood before him with their arms locked at the elbow as though they were presenting themselves for marriage.

Her face was plain and weathered.  Barnaby could see why the men were unable to tell she was a man.  When she smiled at William however, her eyes and nose crinkled and she took on the lovely, feminine appearance of a woman very much in love with her husband.

“Do you forgive those who trespassed against you?” Barnaby asked.

“We do!” they answered.

“Do you repent of your sins and ask for forgiveness?”

“Most heartily,” William answered.

“We surely do,” Mary added.

“Do you accept Christ as your savior?”

“We do,” they both answered.

“Are you ready?”

Mary reached out and gently grabbed Barnaby’s arm.  “Thank you for everything you have done.  May the good Lord bless you.”

“Yes, thank you mate,” William added and he squeezed Barnaby’s shoulder.

Barnaby smiled back at them both.  “I can baptize only one of you at a time and when you vanish I am not certain where you will go.  There is no marriage in Heaven.  Perhaps you should hug each other once more.”

They both nodded.  “We understand,” Mary answered.  She looked sad and anxious like a woman departing from her true love at the airport.   “We said our good-byes to one another on the shore.”

William embraced her one final time.  “I love you Mary.”

“And I love you, William.”

“We agreed she would go first,” William said.

“Very well then.”  Barnaby smiled, laid her beneath the water then raised her up.

“I love you dear,” she said to her husband and she disappeared like sand in the wind.

William sighed the way Barnaby had when Victoria vanished.  “I did not get a chance to say it back to her.  I miss her terribly already.  We were just reunited.”

“I understand how you feel,” Barnaby replied thinking about Victoria.  “Would you like a moment?”

“No,” William shook his head.  “If I can be with her then I want to get there as quickly as I can.”

“Here we go then.  Ready?” Barnaby asked.

William closed his eyes as Barnaby leaned him back into the water.  Once Barnaby stood him to his feet William said, “Thank you,” then vanished.

Only three men remained; John Callis, the young man, and Tom Pipken.  Barnaby watched as the young man shook both Tom and John’s hand then waded out into the water.  His dog ran down to the waters edge but put no more than his front paws in the creek.  He whined and barked as his owner waded out to Barnaby.

“It’s okay Jasper,” Keith called back to him.  “It’s going to be okay.”

The dog barked again then paced back and forth along the water crying.

“What do you think will happen to Jasper and the cows?” Keith asked very concerned.

“I don’t know,” Barnaby replied honestly.  “It doesn’t make much sense they are here.  Animals don’t have spirits to my knowledge.”

“So they won’t go to heaven with me?”

Barnaby sighed, “I don’t think so but I don’t think they are going to remain here without you either.  Don’t feel like you are abandoning them.”

“I’m afraid to leave them behind.”

“It is your time to go,” Barnaby said.  “If they are still here, then I will figure out what to do?”

“You will take care of them?” Keith asked with renewed hope in his eyes.

“I’ll take care of them.”  Barnaby smiled and meant what he said.

Keith breathed a sigh of relief.  “Thank you very much.”

“You are welcome.  Are you ready then?”

Keith nodded.  “Goodbye boy!” he called to his dog.  “You’ve been the best darn dog I ever had.”  The dog cocked his head then began barking further.  Keith breathed heavily and grimaced in anger because he didn’t want to cry in front of Barnaby.  “I can’t believe I’m crying over a dog!  You must think I’m pretty stupid!  You lost your daughter and I’m crying over Jasper.”

Barnaby had forgotten Victoria told Keith she was Barnaby’s daughter.  “He’s been with you a long time.  It is understandable you should be so upset,” Barnaby said.  “I promise I will look after him.”

“Thank you,” Keith replied.  “I think I’m ready,” he said with a deep breath.

Barnaby nodded.  “You accept Christ as your Savior?”

“Yes.”

“Do you repent of your sins?”

“Yes.”

“Then go and be at peace.”  Barnaby dunked him as he had all the others.  When the young man stood he looked to the shore to catch one last glimpse of his dog and smiled as he saw both his dog and his two cows fading with him.

Barnaby also grinned, pleased the man could depart without a worry.

“Well how about that?” Tom Pipken said with a large smile to John.  “His dog and cows disappeared too.”

“I’m glad Keith got to see that before he went away,” John replied.

Tom only nodded.  “Well I guess we’re the last ones,” Tom said.  “Do you want to go first?”

John thought it over and shook his head slowly.  “No you go ahead.  I was the last one in I think it’s only fair I be the last one out.”

“Okay then, if you’re sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“You mind if I have one more smoke before I leave?” Tom asked with a large smile.

John returned the smile and pulled out his pack.  “Sure you can.”  He lit the smoke for Tom then handed it to him.

Tom took a large drag and exhaled happily.  “I don’t think God minds one more for the road,” he laughed.  He reached out and shook John’s hand.  “I’ll see you in the afterlife Mr. John.”

“You be good, Tom,” John returned.

“God will keep me straight,” he replied with a large smile and laugh.  He turned and headed to the water.

He waded out with his large smile stretched from his left ear to his right and merrily blew out smoke as he trudged along.  Before reaching Barnaby, Tom flicked his cigarette into the water at which Barnaby shook his head.

“You know if you knew how polluted the Bay has become since you died, you probably wouldn’t have done that.”

“The way I figure it, that cigarette ain’t even real,” he smiled again.

“You probably have a point,” Barnaby replied.  He thought it easy to like Tom.

“Do you think I might find a wife in heaven?”

“There is no marriage in heaven Tom, but I’m sure you’ll find the treasures you’re looking for.”

“Good enough,” Tom replied eagerly.  “Let’s go!”

“Do you repent of your sins?”

“I sincerely do.”

“Do you accept Jesus Christ as your savior?”

“With all my heart!” Tom replied cheerfully.

“Ready?”

“You bet I’m ready.”

Barnaby put Tom under then pulled him forward.  Tom waved to John and disappeared like smoke in the breeze.

Barnaby looked at the lonely shore.  An hour ago it held a full host of pirates and soldiers desperate for salvation and now all who remained was one elderly man who waited his turn while all the others had vanished before him.  Barnaby stood in the water feeling very somber and waited for John to wade out but John remained on the shore and watched the sun rise.

“John?” Barnaby called.

John did not answer; instead he sat down in the sand.

Confused, Barnaby lingered another moment then waded back to shore and took a seat next to John.  He so wanted to leave especially now that Victoria had passed on but he couldn’t leave anyone behind.  He was certain God wanted him to see the story through to it’s end.  He thought about his feelings of inadequacy.  They felt silly now when considered against all he had endured throughout the past night and all he had recently accomplished.  Though no one alive was present to witness his daring or to appreciate this task he had fulfilled for the Lord, he never would again doubt his courage or his worth and he realized he didn’t need the praise of others to feel good about him self.  The Lord had shown him this.

“What is wrong John?”

John looked down at the sand.  “I’ve already taken the Lord as my savior and I’ve already been baptized but I’m still here even after everyone else has gone.  Maybe I just don’t want to leave my wife.”  John picked up a stick and poked around.

“John…. its time for you to go.”  Barnaby tried to hide his impatience and his anxiousness.  He ached to leave suddenly.

“I don’t know how,” John returned, his voice cracking with emotion.

Barnaby frowned.  He could feel the same emotions John was experiencing.  He had only been in the woods for one night but he felt more sad and desperate than ever he could remember.  Now that only John remained, Barnaby felt the finish line within his grasp, and he felt more desperate than ever to get to it, but he couldn’t leave John behind.  His task was to get everyone out and so he prayed over what he must do as John sat smoking beside him.

“When we first moved here my wife and I would walk down to the beach in the early morning and watch the sun rise.”  John took a long drag of his cigarette then exhaled through his nose.  He looked down at the pack in his hand.  “I never seem to run out of these things.  I take one out but I never seem to have less or more than what is in there right now.”

Barnaby opened his eyes from prayer not hearing what John had said.  “I think I know what to do.  Follow me.”  Barnaby began walking.  His wet clothes chafed his thighs like a man who just dismounted a horse.  He looked at the water again before leaving and thought of Victoria.  She finally found her family once more and hopefully she would find the time to plant the daffodils that disappeared with her.  He wished she were riding on his back as he once more trekked into the trees he had come to hate.  He had received as much comfort from her companionship as she had from his and even though John walked with him, he still felt alone without Victoria.

“Will we be passing by the pond?” Tom asked.

“We can stop there if you’d like.”

Tom stood and brushed sand from his pants.  He flicked his cigarette on the ground and once again Barnaby rolled his eyes.

“Along the way I will tell you who killed me,” John said.

Barnaby spun around, shocked but said nothing more.

John nodded.

Chapter 18: At An End

At an End

“Where are we going?”  She hopped over fallen trees and ducked under low hanging branches with a smile as though she were at a playground.  Her energy and hope  had returned.  With Barnaby she felt the comfort of security and companionship and in contrast to the bleak loneliness she had endured for so long, this comfort brought about great happiness.

“I think I know how to get you out of here,” Barnaby replied out of breath from all his running.  “We’ll know soon enough if I’m right.”  He thought of the pirate on the beach who had washed up on shore alive.  He recalled the pirate’s wish for salvation as he lay dying.  The man was sure of his soul’s final resting place.  How long had he known his life would lead him to eternal damnation?  Could he feel hell’s fire at the brink of sleep?   Did the promise of suffering cause him to desperately seek forgiveness or had he regretted his choices for a great time?  Did it even matter?

Barnaby headed straight towards the part of the woods of most interest to nearly every party who entered it; the spot where many perceived treasure to be buried.

“Hold this honey,” he handed the sword to her.  “Stand back a few feet and keep watch okay?  I have a feeling we might get some visitors.”

“What kind of visitors?”  Her eyes widened as though she were given a shot of ghost adrenaline.

“The kind we’re both afraid of,” he replied, “but have faith.  God will protect us.”  He touched her cheek pleased to have her back and she smiled.  She disappeared for such a short time but the pain he experienced from her absence made it feel so much longer.

“Okay,” she replied and held the scabbard in both arms the way she might a cat.  “Why are you digging here?”

“This is where it all began and where it hopefully will all end.”

He began digging as fast as he could but they always kept a watch over the woods and the sounds coming from it because he did not expect his digging would go uninterrupted for long.

He was the third person this night to dig there, but the ground was well rooted as though no one had disturbed the soil in years.

In the distance Victoria could see a faint, yellow glow bleeding into the dark sky. The fire had engulfed her house.  When the wind shifted she smelled smoke in the air.

“My house is burning down.  My daddy would be mad.”

Barnaby glanced upward but did not linger too long on the smoke rising through the night sky.

“I know honey, I’m sorry.  You don’t need your house anymore.  You are going to a much better place and hopefully your daddy is already there.  Trust me he doesn’t care about his house any longer.  All he is concerned about is you.”  He threw a large shovel of dirt out with a groan.

“What is going to happen to you?” she whispered not taking her eyes off the trees.

Barnaby continued to dig.  “What do you mean?”

“When I’m gone what will you do?  Will you be okay?” she asked in a very grown up tone.

Barnaby paused in his digging and she looked over at him.  “Don’t worry about me Victoria.  Don’t you ever worry about me okay!  It’s not fair for you to have to worry about someone else.  You have done plenty already.  When you’re gone I will miss you but I will see you again and it may be sooner than you think.”  He smiled, amazed by her selflessness.

“I will miss you too.”

A short while later Victoria heard the snap of a branch in the distance.  She listened but heard nothing more and so she did not disturb Barnaby.  She watched Barnaby chop at roots and then jump on his shovel, pushing it deep into the ground, before throwing heaping mounds of dirt onto his pile.  A minute or so passed and as she glanced upward, she caught a glimpse of a man scampering from the cover of one tree to the cover of another.

“Barnaby, Barnaby!” she whispered.  “I saw someone running through the trees.”

He climbed out of the small pit he had already dug thus far never doubting her for a second and called out into the woods.  “We already saw you.  You might as well come out!” he shouted not fearing what may appear.  Most all the fear in his tank had been burned through the night.

The specter did not show himself but in the distance beyond, lanterns ignited and move towards his position.  He gazed around and saw men appearing from the side and emerging from the marsh behind him.  Many were pirates and a few were soldiers from other periods.

Victoria ran to his side but did not release the flowers in her hand or the scabbard in her arms.

“They’re coming to get us, Barnaby!” she exclaimed.

Barnaby drew forth his Bible, held it out and spun around for all to see.  He tore pages from it and laid them in a circle around his pit while the pack of phantoms approached.  The pages were light but despite a mild breeze, they only curled at the edges in the wind and did not move from the spot where he placed them.

“Stay in the circle, Victoria!  You have nothing to fear inside the circle,” he explained to her as calmly as he could.  He grabbed her arm and pulled her near.

After a few minutes dozens of men surrounded him.  Not surprisingly, considering they lost two vessels, many present were pirates.  Several wore the unmistakable British red and a few were Virginia militia who Barnaby recognized from the beach.   They grumbled amongst themselves and cast stares of both confusion and menace but they did not cross the boundary he had created.

“Charley!” Victoria exclaimed.

Barnaby looked up and recognized among the men the British soldier who he led through the woods and onto the beach.  Overjoyed to see Victoria Charley held his arms out for her.  Victoria moved to run to him but Barnaby seized her arm.

“Victoria, you can’t leave the circle!” he commanded.  He looked at Charley and with his stare directed Charley’s eyes to the pages.  Charley, sensing the danger, frowned and lowered his welcoming arms.

Victoria looked at Barnaby with puddles forming in her eyes as his scolding had hurt her.

“I’m sorry honey but it is for your protection.  Charley is but one person outside this circle among many and he can’t protect you from all of them as can the Lord.”

“He’s right Victoria,” Charley said.  “It is best you stay with him.”

Suddenly, as if to prove their point, Captain Wilcox broke through the ranks and looked into the pit.

“Curse you child!  That treasure belongs to the British army!  How dare you show him and not me!”

Wilcox approached as close as he could without crossing the boundary Barnaby laid down.  He paused at the Bible pages, not testing the border, some how knowing he was not permitted to cross.

Victoria unsheathed the sword and pointed it at Captain Wilcox with both hands.  Her small arms trembled with the weight.

“Don’t you come any closer!  I’ll stick you good,” she threatened.

The surrounding pirates who could hear roared with laughter.  Wilcox fumed and turned red.

“How dare you speak to me in such an impudent manner you foolish little pup!” he snarled but Victoria did not back down.

Barnaby stood next to her.  “After tonight you will never be able to hurt her again.”

“Give me back my sword!  It has no place in the hands of a peasant girl.”

“This young girl is braver and richer than you shall ever be.  Now be still or your former company in which you charged may have to remove you.”

“What?” Wilcox questioned and he looked around confused.  When he saw Charley across the pit his eyes widened with anger.  “You traitorous wretch, the devil’s curse to you!” he shouted.

“How dare you curse me!” Charley shouted in return.  “It is the devil who dwells in you!”

“It appears we have ourselves a lover’s quarrel, boys!” shouted another pirate who began coughing with laughter.  All the others joined in with their raucous bellows.

Barnaby recognized the sickly pirate who died lying face down while trying to flee from the storm woman.  Each time he coughed with laughter his skin momentarily disappeared and his skeletal form emerged.  The other pirates, though they were already dead, moved away from him, feeling they might still catch his sickness.

Charley ripped his pistol from his belt which forced everyone present who possessed a weapon to draw forth theirs.

The British soldiers joined with the VA militia and kept their guns pointed at the pirates.  The pirates, who outnumbered the combined forces of the British and Virginia militia, withdrew their swords and those who had them, pulled forth their pistols.  A few of the pirates glared at Barnaby with the same hateful gaze he might show his father but he held forth his Bible and they cowered.

Away from the main group, keeping their distance from the ghostly warriors, stood John Callis, Tom Pipken, the two heads of cattle, the dog, and the young man who a short while ago led them through the woods.

The two parties exchanged a great deal of words, a few profane and it appeared shots might be fired at any moment,.

Barnaby screamed above the din.  “Quiet!  Quiet!”  He ran about within his protective circle holding his Bible in front of their faces and they fell silent.  “The Lord your God commands you to be still!” Barnaby bellowed.  “There will be no further violence or evil deeds committed in these woods!  Remain at ease and I will show you the source of your torment or would you rather risk spilling blood on the Word of God?”  He pointed to the pages on the ground.

Both sides stared at one another for a brief moment then lowered their weapons.  Though many were evil, and did not believe, they would not dare challenge Holy ground for fear they might be plagued with bad luck.

Barnaby tucked his Bible away and then motioned to Tom, James and the young man to approach.  “Please come!  You should see this also.”

The three approached as did the dog but the cattle remained behind.

Barnaby went back to digging and felt a little awkward that so many impatient men stood staring at him with silent judgment.  Once they were comfortable in knowing they would not be fired upon, the pirate officers pushed their subordinates to the back and took forward positions so that they could see.  After several minutes, the mates on the pirate ship overwhelmed with curiosity, disregarded the hostilities between the two parties and moved to the other side of the hole where the smaller group of British and Militia stood, to get a better view.  The English and Virginia soldiers looked at them with rancor but the sailor’s seemed impervious to such gazes having been accustomed to receiving them their whole life.  Barnaby kept digging and ignored them.  Victoria sat down cross legged, laid the sword across her legs, and smelled her flowers, totally content in her faith that Barnaby’s holy circle would protect her.  She cared not in the slightest the two groups of ghosts were on the brink of an all out war the woods had never seen.

After some time, John Callis removed his cigarettes and handed one to Tom Pipken whose eyes lit up with the possibility of smoking once again.  John produced a small box of wooden matches which he used to light both of their cigarettes.  The pirates and the Revolutionary soldiers gawked at how easily he produced fire.  He began to hum as he ignited the cigarette, inhaled, then smiled as he blew a thick plume of smoke above him.  The young man however declined and mumbled something about his mother catching him.  Tom Pipken laughed at this.

“Your mother ain’t gonna catch you!” he exclaimed with a grin.  A few of the pirates who heard chuckled.

One of the pirates pulled out his pipe and then another and pretty soon men on both sides were smoking and talking amongst one another which pleased Barnaby  because it took the attention away from him.  They became so pre-occupied in conversation they did not notice Barnaby uncovering the two chests and skeletal remains of William and Mary.  He glanced up from time to time to see if anyone was watching waiting for a pirate or soldier to take sudden interest in his work, but they cared nothing for him at the moment.  Barnaby carefully to preserved the site so everyone could see exactly what had happened.  Once he had removed enough soil with the shovel, he knelt down and began removing the rest with his hands.  He scraped along the bones and rubbed clean the skulls as best he could.

The chest Tom had over turned rested still on its side and Barnaby blew the dirt away from the cannon balls and shot.

Four feet above, among the clamoring pirates and soldiers, Edward, the pirate who had a hand in burying William and Mary peeked into the hole.  His captain, who had given the secret order to Edward and his accomplice, Christopher, peered around him.  When they saw how neatly Barnaby had uncovered the false treasure and bones for all to see, they grew fearful and eased away from the hole.

Barnaby opened up the second chest that Tom Pipken did not reach and as with the other nothing but scrap pieces of lead and metal filled it.  Barnaby held a cannon ball out for Tom to see and both men frowned.  Truly no treasure existed.  Barnaby dropped it and leaned on his shovel, sweating and drained.

“Dear Lord!” one of the British soldiers shouted and everyone became quiet and turned to look into the pit.  Barnaby stepped to the other side of his hole so everyone gathered could assess the scene.  All were quiet as the reality of what occurred sunk in.  There lay Mary’s skeleton, draped over her husband William’s remains.  She had not struggled or tried to escape.  She had wept over his body and died in place as Edward and Christopher  piled on the dirt.  A few feet away, lay the broken leg bone with the chain still tied to it.

Whispers began to spread back throughout the large group to the ears of other pirates who could not see.

Unless you have forgotten, there were two pirate ships.  A storm claimed the first pirate ship responsible for this heinous act that brought misery to all those present.  Two Spanish vessels destroyed the second pirate ship which came in search of the treasure.  Its Captains and officers were not too pleased to discover the treasure they sought was worth no more than one of their own gold fillings.

The young man who herded his cattle through the woods spoke up first and  Barnaby turned surprised to hear him speak among this rabble.

“Men killed me for nothing more than cannon balls?” He breathed like a bull ready to charge and his jaw clenched.

“Villainous sea trash!” shouted one of the British soldiers at the group of pirates.  “You’ve cursed us all with your treachery!”

A great deal of shouting broke out once more as many of the pirates, as unaware and aggravated with this revelation as the others, fired their obscenity laced defense back across the whole.

Word of the false treasure blazed through the pirate crowd in addition to news that  two people were shackled to the chests!  A few of the brighter ones guessed the bodies were of William and Mary who they thought had been stranded.  They were surprised to hear of their fate.  They then remembered Edward and Christopher had taken them into the woods and began shoving and shouting accusations at Edward.  They demanded answers.

“Quiet!” shouted Barnaby.  “Be still!”

The crowd of soldiers and villains who had allowed Barnaby to take them this far quieted to allow him to take them further.  They looked at him with their chests heaving and waited with angry faces for him to start.

Barnaby took a deep breath and cleared his throat.  “Here lie the bodies of William and Mary.  Two pirates sentenced to death for being married on board their pirating vessel.  They were to be buried alive here with this fool’s gold strapped to their ankle to prevent them from digging out of their grave.  William, in an attempt to kill his captors was himself killed and thrown into the pit.  In her anger his wife cursed the men who did this to her.  They buried her alive while she cried over her husband’s corpse.  There is no treasure here and nearly everyone who has come in search of it has perished in these trees.  Treachery and vengeance has doomed everyone who has died within these trees to repeat a portion of their lives over and over again.  Look around you!  Look at the clothes I wear!  Look at the appearance of these soldiers or the men behind me!”  Barnaby pointed to James, Tom, and the young man.  “Have you ever seen such garments?  We are not from your time.  Time has stood still for you.  The world outside this forest has continued onward while you have sadly remained here for hundreds of years fighting, digging, killing and drowning for scraps of lead!  Many of the men here were not even looking for the treasure but they had the bad misfortune of dying within this darkness.  Did a curse doom your existence?  I like to think a woman’s grief and hatred could not hold such power but I know of no other explanation.”

The British and Colonial soldiers shouted accusations once again while most of the pirates looked around dumbfounded.

A large pirate with a great beard and dirty face pulled forth his cutlass and dagger and smacked them together, creating a high pitch harmonic sound.  He had a commanding presence and if you ever pictured what a pirate might look like, then chances are you envisioned a man such as this.  He stood taller than the other pirates and appeared much better fed which indicated he was probably a captain or at least dined with the captain, though if he weren’t a captain Barnaby couldn’t picture from who this man might take orders.  He wore a thick blue coat that hung past his waist and carried a pistol strapped to his chest.  His hands were thick; the size of small pumpkins and very calloused.  Everyone, even the Colonial and British soldiers simmered down again to listen.

“I had nothin to do with this foulness you scurvy dogs!” he shouted at the British soldiers and militia.  “And bein that me and mine men have searched in vain for this treasure fer hundreds of years, I wish to know as you do, who is to be held accountable.  Finally the treasure is here in front of me and it is worth no more than the silver ring upon my finger.  So I want to know who it is I am to trade words with if not blows.”  He looked all around hoping to find a guilty face but when none presented itself he addressed Barnaby.  “Do ye know?”  His brow furrowed over his stormy eyes but he did not direct his wrath at Barnaby rather he looked to Barnaby for direction on where to point his vengeance.

Barnaby took a deep breath determined not to be rattled but before he could answer, shrill screaming erupted and everyone looked skyward knowing only one person could produce such noise.  All the men cowered and a few pointed their trembling weapons in the Storm Woman’s direction but none dared fire.  Victoria dropped her sword, ran to Barnaby and wrapped her arms around his waist.

She hovered in the sky above everyone and stared at them with anger and contempt.  To everyone’s horror, the Storm Woman began to drop into their midst and the pirates, though Ghosts they were as well, skittered about in all directions like frightened mice.  Even the large pirate who had captured everyone’s attention with his powerful and fearful presence, bounded off into the darkness.

The Storm Woman wore a billowing white dress, partially torn by the wind.   Barnaby stood his ground and stared her in the eyes as she floated down through the shadow of the trees and came to rest on the floor of Barnaby’s pit.  Her black hair and dress flew around as she descended but fell still upon her shoulders when she landed.  The moment she touched the ground, her appearance changed to that of a pirate.  She turned her back to Barnaby and knelt down by the skeletal remains of Mary and William.  Up close, she felt no more threatening than any woman of average size.  Her hair now  appeared short and with her pirate clothes, in this darkness, he could easily confuse her as a man if he did not already know her to be the Storm Woman.

Screams started to echo in the dark and Barnaby crouched down but the storm woman did not stir.  She remained focused on the skeletons as she began to stroke the head of one.  Like dominoes falling towards the hole, so came the howls from the men, until the cause of their torment almost fell upon Barnaby.  He withdrew his Bible and held it forth at the moment a shadowy figure emerged and halted immediately, recoiling  at the pit’s edge.  The creature twisted and turned like a dark cloud and Barnaby thought it might be staring at him, but it moved away and fell into the pit along side the Storm woman.  The moment the creature crossed the boundary of the Bible pages, the specter transformed back into the likeness of William the Pirate and Barnaby knew at once the Storm Woman must be Mary.  William was the specter that had moved through the trees attacking the pirates who fell from their ship and plunged into the woods.  He punished each one, unfairly it would seem, for the misdeeds of their Captain, Edward, and Christopher; the men responsible for killing he and his wife.  Mary, the Storm Woman, instilled fear for years into every pirate who ever entered the woods and sought to bring about their destruction.

She watched William as he moved to the other skeletal figure and cradled the torso with the head lying in his arms.  Once he did so he took account of his wife’s presence as though he had not noticed her.  It took but a brief moment for him to realize who knelt feet from him.

His eyes widened and his disbelieving voice quivered, “Dear God, Mary?”

She nodded.  “Oh William!”

Husband and wife cried and crawled on their knees into each others’ arms embracing in an exasperated, human embrace.  Their exultation at seeing one another made it evident that despite inhabiting these woods in death, they were not together; their spirits had not crossed paths for hundreds of years.  The last time William had seen his wife, they were tied to a tree and he was pleading with his captors to spare his wife’s life.  The last time Mary had seen her husband, he lied in her arms dead after Edward had shot him in the back.  Neither died with much peace of mind.

Was that the key to all of this; to why these people remained behind?  Was it the manner of their deaths coupled with Mary’s curse?  Was there any spirit within these trees who had not been killed?  Getting killed or murdered could not be the whole key or else the world would be crawling with everyone who did not die peacefully within their sleep and what of Tom who drowned when he fell off of his boat and yet he remained behind?  Perhaps his eagerness to find the treasure bound him to the woods but could it be considered greed.  He had simply wanted to unearth an old treasure in which many did not believe for the purpose of raising a family and starting a business.  Who did not posses such a dream?  Mary’s curse must have been the key to their fates but why should Tom, James, the young man with the cows and especially Victoria suffer?  They lived cleanly.

Barnaby lowered his Bible.  Tom, James, and the young man crept back to the pit as did the British soldiers and VA militia.  The pirates, terrified of the Storm Woman and shadowy specter who had plagued them for years, were much more reluctant to rejoin the group.

Barnaby took a few steps forward with Victoria right in tow and addressed the reunited couple.  They stared at one another with tear filled eyes as only a long lost reunited couple could, but when Barnaby thought of the misery Victoria had experienced as a result of their vengeance, he grew angry and dismissed the manner in which they died.  “William and Mary!”  He said their names like an angry school teacher.

They separated and looked at him with no ill will, only relief they had been reunited.

“There will be no more terror in these trees.  You must let go!”

Mary looked into the face of William and brushed the hair from his eyes.

“Our souls are tired,” she replied without removing her eyes from her husband’s.  She felt detoxified as though the filth of anger had been flushed from her system.  Joy replaced her wrath.  “Now that I am with William, I no longer crave vengeance.”

“Nor is its taste any longer to my liking,” William replied.

“Then do you agree to release your anger and your hold on these woods and all those who have died here?”

They each took deep breaths, remorseful for their actions, and nodded.  People realize how selfishly they have acted after what they have lost is returned to them.

“Very well,” Barnaby said.  “Everyone gather around!” he shouted.

A few of the braver pirates and those overwhelmed with curiosity began to creep back but many of the pirates, untrustworthy in actions, were very untrusting therefore of others.  They feared being lured into a trap and remained behind in the dark.

Noticing the group’s attendance had significantly diminished, Barnaby climbed out of the pit and called into the darkness.  “Once the sun rises you will no longer be a prisoner in these woods so remain behind and hide if you choose.  You must know however that once you leave these woods you will be subject to God’s judgment for every sinful act and every ill will you have committed in your lives whether you choose to believe in him or not.  Considering many of you are scoundrels and married yourselves to a life of thieving and pillaging, I suspect what waits for you outside these trees is an eternity of torment far more terrible than any suffering you experienced within.  Every one of you will be judged according to your deeds and actions while you were alive,” he called out and then looked to Mary and William.  “And perhaps many of you will even be judged for your actions in death.”

Mary and William, who stood holding each other, looked downward, ashamed.

“What I offer you is a chance at salvation!” Barnaby called again into the darkness.  “A chance to spend eternity not among villains where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth but among your Lord in Paradise.  You must come forth and humble yourselves before your Lord Jesus Christ as there is no way to salvation but through him.  Please don’t let your pride or arrogance hold you back.  Your Father is offering you everlasting salvation.  It is not too late for your souls!” Barnaby called out.

When the men heard the conviction and sincerity in Barnaby’s words, they began to emerge from the trees and circle the pit.  Edward stepped forward and when he saw Mary and William, two friends he had betrayed, he fell to his knees and wept.

Barnaby climbed out of the pit, stood next to him and in his mind forgave Edward for trying to kill him.  “Edward, how you suffer for what you did to your friends; why do you not suffer for what you have done to your Father in Heaven?”

Edward could not bear to look at Barnaby or at his friends further.  He grabbed Barnaby’s ankles and begged for forgiveness.

“I am so sorry.  Please forgive me.  I didn’t want my friends to suffer.  Please, please believe me.  I want forgiveness.  I don’t want to suffer anymore.”

“Get up!” Barnaby said.  “I am not without blame and I am not without sin either.”  Edward stood but in his shame could not look at Barnaby.

“Every man and woman here has sinned!” Barnaby called out.  “We cannot pass judgment because we will then be judged in the manner in which we have judged others.”  He looked at Edward and addressed him quietly.  “Therefore I forgive you for trying to kill me but only God can save you for what you have done.  It is from him whom you should be asking for forgiveness.  Will you follow me?” he asked Edward.

Edward nodded straight away and with conviction.

“And what of you Captain Wilcox?” Barnaby asked.  “How deep does your pride dwell?  Is there sufficient humility within you to admit your wrongdoing?”

Captain Wilcox looked flabbergasted.  “You dare single me out as the filthiest of the filth.  Did I kill these people?” he asked motioning to Mary and William.  “Have I attacked innocent ships on the seas as have these rogues of the water?  Was not I  murdered?”

“You were about to kill Victoria!” shouted Charley in his own defense.

“Be quiet!” Barnaby shouted.  “Let’s not throw wood on our fiery tempers!”

Captain Wilcox bit his tongue and scowled at Charley.  He straightened his uniform and composed himself.  “I am an English officer,” Captain Wilcox stated as though he were a king, “I have no problems acting civilized.”

Charley moved to shout again but held his own tongue.

“Very well,” Barnaby said.  “Will you apologize for your mistreatment of Victoria?”

The Captain stared at Victoria but did his best to maintain a plain face though if it were day, one would see him clench his jaw in frustration.  “Please forgive me child for mistreating you,” he said with all the humility he could muster.  “I’m afraid madness plagued my mind.”

Victoria frowned, not fully believing the sincerity, but she nodded her acceptance.

“Well I think she owes you nothing more,” Barnaby said.

He took hold of Victoria’s hand and shouted, “God resisteth the proud but giveth grace unto the humble.  If any of you feel unworthy of his grace then follow me.”

Chapter 17 – Doris’ Husband

Doris’ Husband

 

“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.

“Me too.”

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.

“Yes.”

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.

 

Chapter 16 – Retribution

Chapter 16

Retribution

            Barnaby and Victoria sat at the entrance to the woods and listened to the digging and conversational roar of the pirates.  She shuddered with each clank of their shovels and bellow of their laughter.  Barnaby pulled her close and sang a song to her from his time.  She didn’t recognize the tune but it calmed her.  Barnaby planned to wait until they were done and then make his way back through the woods but towards what he didn’t know.  He prayed God would reveal to him the answers.

He imagined at the rate time passed, the pirates would soon be done and then he could again begin his search.  The digging lasted no more than minutes before it stopped and all lantern lights vanished.  The sudden silence and darkness scared him more than the flickering glow of their ghostly lights and sounds of their echoing laughter.  Barnaby stood and listened but could hear nothing; no digging, no voices, not even the sound of the cicadas.  The hair on his neck stood up as he stared into the blackness and he grew aware of how unusually dark it had become as though the moon had vanished.  His heart raced and his increasing paranoia told him something unseen in the dark stared back at him.

Erupting from the darkness a shrill, terrified scream punched Barnaby in the heart.  Another followed and then another.  Barnaby snatched Victoria, turned and tore through the branches.  She cried and he covered her mouth with his hand.  More screams ripped through the night and Barnaby knew someone was killing the pirates.  He ran beneath a giant Holly tree and lifted Victoria into the low hanging branches.  He climbed next to her and began guiding her up through its tight branches, scraping and tearing his face along the way.  He chose a Holly, despite the sharp leaves, because of its numerous, strong branches.

“Hold on to my hand!” he said panicked.  “Don’t let go!  It’s going to be okay.”

“What’s happening?” she cried.

“I don’t know but don’t let go.”

“Don’t leave me!” she pleaded as Barnaby began climbing to a branch above her.

“I’m not leaving you honey.  Just giving you room to climb.  Take my hand and try to climb up next to me.”

“I think I can do it,” she replied with determination.  “I can’t see your hand though.”  She waved her hand back and forth hoping to grasp Barnaby’s but she could see nothing.

A shrill scream, not very far off shot through the darkness.

Victoria began racing up the branches on her own to Barnaby until she grabbed his leg.

“Good Victoria.  We need to go higher now.  Do you think you can climb on your own?  I won’t leave you behind, I promise.  Reach out and feel for the branches in front of you!”

“Yes, I think I can.”

“Okay, I want you to go above me.  Do you think you can do that?  I will hold you steady so you don’t fall.”

She nodded “yes” which Barnaby couldn’t see and began groping for the branches above her.

She and Barnaby climbed up the tree as fast as Victoria could go while Barnaby remained below her in case she should fall.

“Is this high enough?” she whispered down.

Another pirate cried out in terror and Victoria in response scrambled further until they were near the top.

“That’s good enough Victoria,” Barnaby said.  He reached into the darkness and groped for her leg.

“Is that you?” she asked.

“Yes, it’s me.  I wanted to know exactly where you were.  We have to be quiet now.”

Once they had climbed high enough above the ground they froze and tried their best to control their rapid breathing.  The sky was so black Barnaby couldn’t see the branches in front of him and because he couldn’t see the ground, he didn’t know how high up they clung.  Nothing stirred.  He strained to listen but heard little over his loud breathing.  Many minutes past and all remained quiet like something had killed the forest and everything in it.  No mosquitoes buzzed, no bats chirped, no owls hooted, and the breeze did not breathe.  All creatures, like Barnaby, were too frightened to move or whisper.

A scream below ripped the air and he gripped the tree in fear.  Victoria slapped her hand over her mouth to muffle her cries.  The scream lasted only a second as though a man, who decided to hide behind the very same tree was struck down and ended quickly.  Barnaby debated on whether to climb higher but he couldn’t risk shaking the tree or dislodging a dead branch, so he held on and prayed that whatever was killing the pirates would not discover them.

He looked skyward. A silent flash of lightning illuminated the terrifying shadow of the storm woman floating above the pirate ship.  She did not scream but Barnaby knew she caused the horror on the ground.  A few more flashes woke the sky and Barnaby saw a few men trying to climb back aboard their ship but the vessel rocked above the trees as if a violent tempest hammered it.  Two of the men fell from the ladder back to the forest floor.  Within seconds Barnaby could hear their gut wrenching screams.

“Help me, Dear God help me!  Please nooooo!”  His voice expired.

 

Inside her home Doris Callis had moments ago turned on the infomercial and raced into her bedroom on legs barely strong enough to support the weight of a five year old.  She had not moved so fast in ten years.  Under her covers she crawled and trembled like a terrified child.  She wanted her husband.  He always comforted her on nights like this.

He would remove his shotgun from his closet and sit on the edge of the bed with it pointed at their bedroom door until the sun rose.  She would lay there watching him as he smoked one cigarette after another but he never left her, never made her feel her safety wasn’t his number one priority.

He was gone but she still pretended he sat at the edge of their bed protecting her as she shook beneath the protection of her sheets.

“Oh Father,” she prayed with her ancient, trembling voice, “please protect me.  Please help me to survive this night so I may one day live to find the answers I am looking for?”

 

Lightning burst around the ship and the sails snapped to attention but Barnaby felt no wind and heard no sound.  The ship rolled and pitched as though tossed by a spoiled ocean and Barnaby witnessed its destruction through flash bulbs of brilliance.  Men began jumping overboard and within a few seconds Barnaby could hear them crash through the branches and hit the ground.  An unseen specter efficiently moved among them and finished off any ghosts still alive.  Barnaby shook with each terrifying howl.

Skyward the ship fared no better.  One of the masts had broken and dangled from its base along the ship’s side like a splintered toothpick.  The boat began to roll and Barnaby could hear the sounds of more branches breaking as the dislodged pirates crashed through the trees.

A violent storm swallowed this ship after they had buried William and Mary.  Doomed for their treachery, they experienced the same fate repeatedly above the woods.

The ship floated upside down and as it took on unseen water, it began to sink beneath the sky and submerge into the woods.  The boat did not plummet as did the men, rather for what unknown supernatural reason, it sank slowly like a flat pebble through the trees as a giant glowing mass of sculpted clouds.   A number of seconds later it came to rest on the forest floor but it disturbed not a single leaf or pine cone.  The vessel remained still for a moment and Barnaby watched it settle on its side in between flashes of lightning.  No thunder or sound of any kind existed.  This ghost ship suffering a ghost death was the most awe-inspiring occurrence he had seen all night and it instilled within him, horror and fear.  He remained fixated on the doomed ship fearing that whatever killed its crew would soon find him until one more flash revealed the ship was present no more.  Barnaby looked above and could no longer see the storm woman.  He closed his eyes and whispered “thank you” to the Lord.

The moon reappeared and once again blessed the woods with its pale glow.  An insect near Barnaby began to chirp and then another until the whole woods buzzed back to life with the songs of its animals.

He heard no saw signs of any specter on the ground or in the trees around him and Barnaby was confident this frightening supernatural episode had ended.  Despite the calming sounds of the insect orchestra, his heart still thumped in his ears.  He had never heard such terror and pain.  What happened to those men who fell to the ground?  What force could move among them and carry with it such menace?  Would it return to stalk Barnaby and Victoria or was it interested only in the pirates.  If the thing could find the pirates in the pitch blackness than it may be safe to assume it also saw Barnaby and Victoria clinging to the upper branches but yet it did not attack them.

“Victoria,” he whispered but she did not answer.

He reached up and grabbed her leg which he could now see in the pale glow and gave it a little shake.

“Is it over?” she whispered back.

“I think so.  Did you see it?”

“I didn’t open my eyes.”

“It was a sight.”  Barnaby scanned the ground again and looked about as far as he could.

“I think it is safe to go down now,” he said.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m pretty sure.”

“Are you going to go down?” she asked.

“Yes, I think so,” he returned.  “Do you want to wait another minute to make sure it is safe?”

“Yes, please.”

“Okay, we’ll wait a couple of minutes and then we’ll go down okay?”

“Okay.”

He put his hand over his heart and breathed in and out deeply.  He closed his eyes and tried to think of pleasant, calming things but every thought that came to mind such as his wife’s embrace or a soft bed on which to lie, only made him more anxious, more desperate to leave the woods.  He decided then to think of the Lord and picture himself and Victoria sitting in his hand as it floated through the trees.  The Lord would give him peace.  The Lord would protect them.  The more his confidence grew with this thought, the calmer he became until his heart slowed.

“You know you were pretty good climbing this tree.  Did you used to climb trees?” Barnaby whispered.

“Sometimes.  I was scared.  That’s why I climbed so fast.”

“That’s okay.  I was really scared too.  I’m not sure I would be as brave as you if we were the same age.  I don’t know how you have handled all this scariness for so long.”

“How long has it been?” her eyes darted between Barnaby’s.  “I can’t tell.  Sometimes I fall asleep and when I wake up everything seems different, like I fell asleep for a very long time.”

Barnaby frowned, feeling deeply sorry for her.  “You have lived here for a very long time honey but I’m going to send you to a great place where you’ll never be scared again.”  He spoke his promise with more conviction this time.  He was starting to believe more in himself.

She slapped a mosquito on her face.  “Will there be mosquitoes there?” she groaned.

Barnaby smiled.  “No, there won’t be any mosquitoes.  There won’t be any pain or suffering of any kind.”

“Will I live in my old house again?”

“No, the Lord has prepared for you a mansion in which you can live.  You will see soon enough.  I think it will be greater than anything you have ever seen!”

“I can’t wait!”

“Then what do you say we get out of this tree and see what we can do about getting you out of these woods?”

“Okay.”

They climbed down taking their time not to miss a branch and crash to the ground.  The adrenaline started to wear off and his scratched face began to throb and itch.

His feet had barely touched the ground before he heard the hollow clang of a bell in the distance.  At this point he would have ignored his curiosity and made his way towards the road but the sound unfortunately came from the road’s direction.  The woods had depleted him physically and emotionally and the sound of yet another approaching phantom drained him further.  He felt if he were a few years older the night would have done his heart in as it had poor Tom Pipken’s.  As a result, he did not run.  He had no desire to go deeper into the woods and even less to go back to the beach that would remind him of all the deaths he had witnessed.  He thus decided to slump down behind a tree and wait for the bells to pass.  It was a risky play.  He didn’t know what drew near, but for some reason, the clanging of loud bells did not stir within him the same dread he had often experienced through out the night.  He would let the specter pass and once out of earshot he would make his escape before more ghosts reappeared.

“I’ve heard that noise before,” Victoria said.  “It comes from cow bells.”

“Cowbells?  There are cows that come through here?”  He then remembered Doris making mention of it.

“Yes, but they won’t hurt you I don’t think.  A man takes them through the woods.”

“What about this man; does he scare you?”

“No, he doesn’t seem scary.  I have never talked to him though.”

“I am too tired to run, Victoria.  Do you think we will be okay if we sit behind this tree and wait for him to pass?”

Victoria shrugged her shoulders.  “I don’t know.  I’m tired too though.”

Barnaby sat down next to the base of a large pine tree and cleared a place with his hand for Victoria to sit down.

Barnaby pulled out his Bible and flipped through the soggy pages.  They were clumped together and difficult to separate.

“What book is that?” Victoria asked.

“It’s a Bible.  Did your mom and dad ever bring one of these to church?”

Victoria nodded.  “We didn’t go a whole lot though because the walk was far and dad didn’t like walking through the woods early in the morning.”

“I understand,” Barnaby replied sympathetically.  He imagined a trip through the early morning darkness may have brought surprises Victoria’s father did not want his family to encounter.  The woods probably terrified him enough but more so when he had to think about the safety of his family.  “It sounds like life in the woods wasn’t always very fun.”

She shook her head.

“Would you like me to read some to you?”

“Sure!” she said with her face brightening.

He was uncertain why, but he stopped in the Book of Joshua and began reading the first chapter, stopping every so often to take account of the cow bells’ approach.  Every now and then when he came across a tough verse, he stopped and explained it to Victoria which she appreciated.

As he strained to read Chapter One by the moonlight he paused on verse nine and read it again.  He sat up, cocked his ear to listen for the bells which did not sound so very far off, and read the verse once more.  “Have not I commanded thee?  Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed; for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”  He stopped on this passage and went no further.  He felt it was not mere coincidence he should discover this verse in the midst of the most horrifying night he would ever experience.  Every attempt he had made to exit the woods frustratingly ended with another ghostly encounter.  Yet he had to be thankful he still lived.  The numerous ghosts he had met thus far were proof of all those who had died among the trees or on the beach but the Lord walked with him and protected him.  He also had to be thankful for Victoria.  She was the key to Barnaby’s purpose in all of this.  He understood now the reason she had remained with him but his purpose still eluded him.  He only knew Victoria was a part of it.

“Do you understand what this verse means?” he asked Victoria.

She frowned like an unprepared child called on by the teacher, “Does it mean I don’t have to be afraid because God is always with me?”

Barnaby smiled, “That’s exactly what it means!  You are very bright!”

She beamed at his compliment.

He laid his head back against the tree and yawned.  He had been chased or on the run so often through the night, he did not realize how tired and hungry he had become.

“Are you sleepy?” she asked.

He rubbed his eyes and smiled.  “Yes I am.  I’ve been awake all night.”

“I don’t know how long I’ve been awake.”

“You’ll get your chance to sleep,” he replied and put his arm around her.  “I promise.”

Despite the impending approach of a phantom, he found that he was still bored enough to yawn, funny.  What a terrible and thrilling night he thought.  How could such a thing only happen to him?  There was a hunting blind in the woods and the idea others had entered on numerous occasions and hunted deer seemed reasonable since hunting was popular within the county.  These hunters likely too had seen ghosts unless their appearances were not as common as old locals in the area had proposed.  Could coincidence have thrust Barnaby into the woods on an unusually active night?

He did not have long to ponder his theory.  He heard now not only the bells but also the crunch of the leaves and breaking branches as the phantom approached with heavy steps.  The noise grew in strength and he could tell they were almost upon him but he dared not look and reveal his position.

He half expected them to walk within feet of his tree but they actually came into view about ten yards to his left.  A young man and his dog were leading a pair of cows through a narrow path in the woods.  Where they were going Barnaby couldn’t assume but the man and his animals looked natural strolling through the woods as though it were a stroll they had taken many times.

“How many times have you seen him?” he whispered to Victoria.

“Only about four or five times but I don’t come into the woods much.  I wanted to talk to him to see if he could help me but his dog always scared me.”

The dog paused and looked in Barnaby’s direction.  Barnaby did not move his head or make any sound.  He thought he heard the dog growling but he ignored him.  After the dog fell behind a few yards, his owner whistled for him.  The dog looked to his owner than back at Barnaby and hesitated deciding on what he should do.  He took a step off the path towards Barnaby than chose to move on and not trouble himself with Barnaby’s presence.  Barnaby waited and watched them meander down the path and around the pond.  Why they were there or how they died he couldn’t speculate.  No ill seemed to come of them while he watched.

“Do you know where he goes?” Barnaby asked.

“I don’t know.  I’ve only seen him going that way.”  She pointed towards the pond.  “I’ve never seen him going the other way.  I tried to follow him once but his dog saw me and barked so I stopped and hid.”

“I don’t know why anyone would lead cows through the woods at night.  It seems odd to me.”

Victoria shrugged her shoulders.  “Do you want to follow him, and find out where he goes?” her eyes were wide with eagerness.

Barnaby did not know where else to look for answers so he too shrugged his shoulders.  “I suppose we could.”

She gave a little joyous clap.

“Do you want me to carry you?

“No thank you.  My legs aren’t tired.  But if the dog chases me then yes I won’t mind if you carry me.”

Barnaby laughed.

“You can hold my hand though,” she said holding it up for him.

“I’d be happy too.”  He took her hand and they began to walk after the new ghost.

“Can we skip?” she asked.

Barnaby laughed once more.  “After all we’ve endured you are in the mood to skip?”

“Yes.  We don’t have to be afraid anymore do we?  God is with us.”

“Yes that is true but we must be very careful not to test God,” he cautioned.  “God doesn’t want us to be dumb in how we do things because we think he will save us.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well there are still things that can hurt us.  For instance we climbed out of our tree right?  We didn’t jump from the top because we knew we would get hurt.  If we jumped from the top and said, ‘I won’t get hurt because God will save me’ then that is testing God.  You wouldn’t stick your hand in a fire even though you believe in God right?”

“No,” she answered.

“Neither would I.  If I got burnt that wouldn’t be God’s fault would it?  He didn’t make me get burnt.  I got burnt by being foolish but God has given me the ability to learn so I don’t make careless mistakes.  He gives us our wits and our abilities to get away from harm.  He didn’t scoop us up and put us in the tree did he?”

“No.”

“But he did make it so we could get up in the tree and we were safe in it right?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“And maybe the darkness though a problem for us blessed us as well.  It kept us hidden from the specter or maybe something else protected us, but whatever it was, we are still okay.”

“See we have to learn things on our own,” he continued.  “We aren’t puppets God will swoop in and save whenever we put ourselves in danger.  We don’t honor him by hurting ourselves.  He gave us life and he wants us to do our best to take care of it.”

“I guess I understand.”

“Okay, good.  If you don’t, let me know.”

“So you’re saying we shouldn’t skip and let the man know we’re coming.”

“Exactly!” he replied  impressed.  “You really are smart.  Maybe after we talk to him, we can skip back.”

“Okay.”

“But we do need to move a little quicker if we’re going to catch him so let’s try to walk faster.”  Barnaby picked up the pace and swung Victoria’s hand up and down.  She began to giggle and swung his hand in the same manner.

“Okay, okay, maybe I shouldn’t have gotten you started,” he said with a smile, “we have to be quiet now.”  He understood their need to be stealthy but he felt he needed to allow Victoria a little fun.  She had endured so much loneliness and misery over the years that he wanted to inject a little bit of happiness back into her life.  He wanted to take away the image of the cold little girl who sat in front of her worn down house, crying.

As she swung Barnaby’s arm with her left hand, Barnaby noticed she maintained her hold on the daffodils he had picked for her.

“Did you carry the flowers up the tree with you?” he asked.

“Yes.  I put them in my mouth so I could use both hands,” she replied with a smile and held them up for Barnaby to see.

“Those flowers are important to you, huh?”

“My dad picked me flowers before he left.  He would lay them on my pillow and when I woke up they would be next to me.”

“So the flowers remind you of your dad?” Barnaby concluded.

“I guess.  I guess they remind me of my dad and my mom.”  She held the flowers up again.  “I pretend each flower is a part of my family.  This big one is my dad.  This one is my mom and this one is me.  I don’t want to lose any of the flowers.”

“I understand.”

They rounded the end of the pond and Barnaby realized this was the first time all evening he had circled to the other side of the murky water.  Small frogs hopped from the edge and disappeared with a tiny splash beneath the surface as they approached.

“Look, frogs!” Victoria exclaimed.

“Yes, I see them,” Barnaby replied.  “Let’s not be too loud okay,” he whispered.

“Oh I forgot.  I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.  It is neat to see frogs.   Especially when they look like a family playing.”

“I didn’t have any brothers.”  She hung her head.  “My mom almost had another baby but he died when he was little.”

“Oh no, I’m really sorry to hear that.”

“Me too.  I wanted to have someone to play with.  My mommy couldn’t have children anymore after he died.”

“Yes, that happens sometimes.  I’m sure your mommy was very sad.”

“So was my dad.  I think he wanted a boy.”

“Some dads want boys especially when they already have a girl,” Barnaby replied.  “I’m sure he loved you very much though.”

“He did,” she replied with no doubt in her voice.  “Do you want boys?”

“Right now it really wouldn’t matter to me.  My wife and I haven’t been able to have children.  A boy or a girl would make me very happy although I’m not sure I can afford either one.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well I don’t have enough money to get all the things a little baby needs.”  Barnaby thought of all Victoria didn’t have and how he would easily be able to afford another child if his families’ demands were no greater than this small child’s.  She wore the same dress over and over and yet he and his wife had numerous outfits so they could wear something different every day of the week.  Victoria’s greatest treasure was three flowers which one could pick for free.  What treasures did he and his family seek: a larger house, a better car, a bigger tv?  All those things cost thousands and in the end they would hold them no dearer than Victoria held her free flowers.

“When my dad left, my mom and I didn’t have much money either.  She wanted to buy me new shoes but couldn’t.”

Barnaby looked at her bare, dirty feet sympathetically as she walked through the pine straw and prickly holly leaves and gave thanks to his good fortune.  His family had a house, heat, food, clothing, electricity; all the essential necessities this girl could not dream of having and yet he worried constantly because he could not provide all the extras.  He consistently compared himself with those around him, those who had obtained or achieved more in life than he, and because he did this, he felt inadequate.  If he focused more on what he already had, he might feel more fulfilled.

“Thankfully I probably could afford shoes,” he replied feeling a bit ungrateful.  “Would you like me to carry you now?”

She didn’t reply.  She pointed straight ahead.

Barnaby followed her finger and saw two cows standing alone about fifty feet ahead of them.

Barnaby picked Victoria up and held her close.  He spun looking for the young man and his dog.

They stood behind him on the path and stared at Barnaby and Victoria.  Obviously the man heard them coming and hid but since Barnaby and Victoria were not extraordinarily quiet, he knew the man couldn’t accuse them of trying to sneak up on him.

“Hello,” Barnaby said.

“Hello,” the young man answered.  Acne spotted his cheeks and a soft stubble grew from his chin.  Barnaby guessed he probably wasn’t more than twenty.   He wore denim pants and a checkered, collared shirt which hung un-tucked over his waist.  He wore a look of concern.

“I am Barnaby and this is Victoria.”

“I’m his daughter,” Victoria said proudly keeping up with the charade that Barnaby had started earlier when he told Tom Pipken Victoria was his child.

“Yes,” Barnaby agreed with a laugh as he set her down.  “Your dog is nice?” Barnaby asked.

“Oh yes,” the young man said petting his dog and relaxing a little.  “He won’t bother you.”

“We were walking through the woods and heard your cow bells so we thought we would take a walk to see what was making all the noise.”

“Those are my momma’s cows.  I’m bringing them back from grazing in the fields.  My momma does not have suitable pasture for them near her home.”

Barnaby nodded his head.  “I see.  Well we had never heard cows in the woods before so we were curious.”

“We live in the old house over there,” Victoria said.

The man turned and looked in the direction of where Victoria pointed.

“Which old house?  The only house I know of is the Old House at the other end that no one lives in and that is haunted if you didn’t know already.”

This time Victoria looked confused.

“What she means is,” Barnaby explained trying to cover, “is we live in an old house outside of the woods.  We don’t live in Old House Woods.”  Barnaby put his hand on Victoria’s head and stroked her hair.

“Ahhh,” he replied.

“Can my daughter pet your dog?” Barnaby asked trying to change the subject.

“Oh sure, he likes people!”.

“Do you want to pet him Victoria?”

She smiled and nodded then strolled up to the dog.  The dog took a step back and bowed his head as she approached but she bent down to ease his concern and the dog immediately trotted to her with his head lowered and tail wagging.  She giggled and clapped her hands in front.  He fell over to his back and bared his stomach so she could scratch it.

“He likes his tummy rubbed,” the young man said a little embarrassed.

Victoria scratched the dog’s stomach and he kicked his leg.  When she stopped, he laid on his back staring at her with his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, then flipped over and licked her on the face.

“Ew!” she giggled and pushed him away.

“Okay Jasper,” the young man said and pulled him back a little.

Victoria stood up and clapped her hands for the dog to come over to her.  The dog ran back with his tail swishing and put his front paws up on her dress.  She struggled but laughed as she held him upright.

Barnaby enjoyed watching her have so much fun.

“Will there be dogs in heaven?” she turned and asked Barnaby.

The young man smirked as though he thought it were a strange question.

“Yes there will be honey.”

“Well let’s hope none of us get there too soon,” the young man said smiling.

Victoria who couldn’t wait to go frowned at what she thought to be a strange statement.

“Well I need to get going and get the cows into the barnyard before my momma starts to worry.”

“Of course, it was nice meeting you.”

Victoria petted the dog one final time.  “Good-bye Jasper,” she waved.

“C’mon boy,” the young man said and ran over to his cows.  The dog pranced after him with tail high in the air.  Barnaby watched him lead the cows through the woods until he disappeared but he never witnessed anything bad happen to him and he couldn’t figure why he, the dog, and the cattle still lingered.

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?”

“Yes.”

“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.

Chapter 14 – Victoria

Barnaby stroked through the water the best he could with his heavy arms and fatigued legs.  Running in terror most of the night had taken its toll but the desperation to find Victoria pushed him.  He had an overwhelming urge to care for her even though she was already dead.  The sight of her standing on the darkening beach, alone and crying, hurt him and he felt the need to somehow save her.  When the water became too shallow to swim, he stood and waded the remaining way in and then staggered along the shore in his sopping wet clothes.

She had at least a ten minute head start on him and he had no way of finding her other than to call out her name which he hesitated in doing.  He did not want to bring undesired attention to his presence from less hospitable spirits.  He wandered through the dark on the path which wasn’t a path at all but mostly a familiar and easy way to get to and from the beach.  It changed in appearance each time he tread upon it as time advanced forward.

“Victoria,” he whispered in the dark.  He heard nothing.  “Victoria,” he tried a little louder.  No sound but the light, annoying buzz of mosquitoes in his ear.  He trotted a few steps to get away from them and heard the sudden burst of footsteps running from him through the woods.

“Victoria?” he called a little louder but when she didn’t stop or answer, he ran after her.  He could not see her well, but he could hear her frantic rustling in the dark.  His pursuit must terrify her, he thought and as he continued to chase her, he considered stopping.  Clearly she ran from him and he did not wish to scare her further but he couldn’t let her go; he had to console her misery.  He couldn’t leave the woods knowing a little girl remained trapped inside, terrified and alone.

He struggled in his run and it didn’t take long before he had to stop and rest.  The swim across the creek and his wet clothes proved to be an exhausting adversary.  He leaned against a tree and could hear the rustling of her feet fade into the distance.  He wanted to keep up with her, but physically couldn’t, even though she was a small child, so he decided to walk the rest of the way and hoped to find her once more.  Perhaps she returned to her house; the last place with any good memories she could remember.

He trudged through the woods not possessing much energy or patience to tip-toe from tree to tree.  He was on a mission and maybe for the first time that evening, self-preservation did not propel him more than a grim eagerness to help the little girl.

He stopped periodically to catch his breath and listen for any sounds of her running, but he heard nothing.  The woods were still….for now.

He removed his shirt and twisted it to remove the excess water.  He would have done the same with his pants but he felt as though something always watched and he didn’t want to get caught in a predicament where he had to suddenly run through the woods in only his underwear.

He picked up a stick, not for defense as it would do very little against musket balls and sabers, but to knock down unseen spider webs standing in his path.

He wished he had brought along a granola bar or a bottle of water.  His stomach growled and his mouth felt like it had been sopped up with a paper towel.  His wet pants began to chafe the inside of his legs.  His feet squished out water through his shoes with each step.   He may have considered himself to be in a miserable state if he had time to think it over but finding Victoria preoccupied him.

The clearing to her house came into view.  He paused on the fringe of the woods before entering, listened and looked for any sign of her but saw none.  Next to the edge grew a small patch of daffodils which normally grew in the spring but Barnaby could tell by the high degree of heat and strong presence of mosquitoes, that spring had ended months earlier.  The daffodils should no longer be growing and he speculated whether they remained alive just so Victoria could pick them.

He stepped into the open and listened.  At first he did not hear anything but as his ears grew more adjusted to the quiet as one’s eyes do with the dark, he heard the faint crying of a small child.  He walked to the front of the house and heard her cries grew louder.  He tip toed to the corner and peered into the yard.  Victoria knelt in front of the house, holding a withered daffodil and wept.  She very much appeared as a lost child in a crowded mall who had lost her parents;  fearful and all alone.  Her long hair covered her face and scraped the ground.

Barnaby contemplated how to approach her.  He couldn’t simply walk up to her.  She would run away screaming and the last thing he wished was to add to her desperation.  He turned and jogged back to the woods to where the daffodils grew.  He picked the two healthiest flowers for her then trotted back to the house.  He poked his head around the corner again.  She still cried.

A subtle way to approach was not possible so he stepped out from the corner into the front yard and held out the flowers before him.  She did not see him at first so he cleared his throat to gain her attention.  She jumped to her feet and turned to run but when she caught a glimpse of the flowers she faltered.  “Charley?” she asked.

“No, my name is Barnaby but I knew Charley,” Barnaby replied.  “I knew he would want you to have these flowers.”

She didn’t answer and stared cautiously at Barnaby while he eased towards her.  Feeling like a predator quietly stalking his prey, Barnaby stopped advancing and knelt down to appear less intimidating.  He held the flowers out for her to receive.

“I just picked them from behind the house.  I would like you to have them if they will cheer you up.  I am a friend, a good guy,” Barnaby explained.  “I don’t want to scare you.  I want to help you if I can.”

She still said nothing but she did not run away either which Barnaby felt encouraging.

He turned and looked at her home.  A few of the windows had holes or missing panes.  The front porch lacked a board leading to the door and the weather had disintegrated most of the paint.  Barnaby wondered if its ruinous state made her cry considering this was not the house she remembered.

“Do you want to go inside?” he asked

She nodded and wiped away a few tears.

“But you are afraid to?” he guessed.

She nodded again and looked as though she might once more come undone.

“I will go in with you if you want.  I will look inside to make sure it is okay.  Don’t cry.  Everything will be all right.  Is there something inside you need?”

She nodded again without a word.

“What do you need?” Barnaby asked seizing on the opportunity to gain her trust.  “Maybe I can find it for you.”

“I need my mommy,” she replied gently.

Barnaby’s shoulders sagged.  He couldn’t hide his disappointment.  He felt so badly for the child.  Her mother clearly no longer lived in the house.  What happened to her he had no idea.  Perhaps she moved away heartbroken by the death of her child.  Barnaby knew how grief stricken he would be if he had children and they were to die and he could remember the many nights he cried beneath his covers because he did not get to see his mother.  He now felt an even greater connection to Victoria as he knew how lonely and terrified she must feel without her mom.

He didn’t know how to help her.  How could he explain to this sweet, lonely little child that her mother had gone away?  What excuse could he provide as to why her mother left?  Could he tell her she was dead?

“I don’t think your mommy is here anymore, honey.  I don’t think anyone lives here.  Do you know why no one lives here?” He spoke with a sympathetic pain in his voice.

The little girl shook her head and covered her face as she began to cry again.

Barnaby wanted to rush and hold her but considered  how she would react to his embrace so he restrained himself.  He didn’t know how to console the child with words only as he always consoled his wife with an embrace.  She cried and cried in anguish so finally he made up a story.

“Your mommy sent me to get you,” he assured her.

She uncovered her eyes, brushed the tear soaked hair from her face, and inhaled a gulp of sniffly air through her nose.

“That’s how I knew where to find you.  She said you would be here waiting for me.”

“Where is she?” Her voice trembled.

“Your mommy had to go to heaven to be with God but she wants you to be there with her.”

She took her brown shirt sleeve and wiped it across her eyes.  “Is that where my daddy is and Charley?”

“I’m not sure honey.  I haven’t talked to your daddy but I don’t think Charley is there right now.”

“I saw you and Charley in the water.  I saw him get hurt.”

Barnaby nodded and guessed Charley’s death caused her crying earlier when he saw her across the creek.

“I’m sorry you had to see that.  I wanted to help Charley like I want to help you.”  He looked down at the flowers and presented them to her again.  “Charley did tell me you liked flowers so I picked these for you.”

She took a small step toward him.

“I promise I will take care of you.  I will keep you safe.”.

She ran over and grabbed the flowers and pulled them to her nose.  Barnaby beamed and tried to look her over but she unexpectedly jumped to him and wrapped her little arms around his neck.  Her hug stunned him but he embraced her with equal enthusiasm as though she belonged to him and he didn’t let go.  She laid her head on his shoulder like an infant and he lifted her into the air and swayed her back and forth the way his mother once did for him.  He pressed his head to hers and smelled her soiled hair.  Though a ghost, she smelled and felt very much alive.  She also experienced all the fears and terrors a normal seven year old would if left behind in the woods alone amongst terrible and treacherous villains.  She had experienced two centuries of frightfulness.  How many times as a ghost did she cry as she watched Charley die on the beach?  How abandoned did she feel when everyone around her died and all that remained were the ominous lights of greedy men as they dug for their treasure and the terrifying wail of the storm woman?  Did Victoria wander her house even after her mother moved away or past on from old age?  Barnaby was the first real person in over two hundred years to offer comfort and protection to her.  For the first time in a long while, she felt she could take a break from worrying about herself and allow someone to worry about her as most children are allowed.

“My name is Barnaby,” he reminded her with a whisper.

“I’m Victoria,” she whispered back.

“Are you okay now?”

“No.”

“Okay,” he smiled and carried her over to the porch and sat down with her in his lap.  She laid her head on his chest and they continued to rock back and forth for a long time under the moon.  Barnaby feared other ghosts might arrive but he would not let his impatience get the better of him.  Victoria would come first and so they remained there for many minutes while he comforted her.

“Do you like the flowers?” he asked.

She nodded.

“You know I have two boys around your age.  How old are you?”

“Seven.”

“Seven?” he asked pretending to be astounded.  “Well you are mighty brave for a seven year old!  I think you might be braver than I am.”

“Did you ever lose your mom?”

Barnaby nodded.  “Yes, but I got her back.”

“Do you think I will get my mommy back?”

“I hope so honey.  I’ll do what I can.”  Barnaby frowned as he rocked her.  He had no way of delivering on his promise and he would eventually have to leave Victoria as had everyone else.  He couldn’t take her with him.  She couldn’t leave the woods.  Nothing inside could cross to the other side.

“Are you going to go in?”

“I can if you want me to.  Do you want to go with me?”

She nodded.

“Do you want to see if your mommy is in there?”

“She isn’t,” she whimpered with certainty.  “I remember seeing her leave.”

“You saw your mom leave?” he asked trying not to sound too surprised.

“Yes, my daddy and her left in a wagon.  I remember my mommy being very sad when they left.  She cried when they drove away.  I ran after her and screamed but she couldn’t hear me and I couldn’t catch up to her.  She turned around but I guess she couldn’t see me.  She couldn’t see me at all before she left.  I wanted them to come back but they didn’t.  Then someone else came to the house and lived here and I knew I wouldn’t see my mommy again.  The new people left too.”

Barnaby frowned at her pain.  She was too young to experience such loss and abandonment.  He could almost picture her sitting at the woods’ edge in her brown dress crying as her parents rode out of sight.

“Do you know why your mommy cried?” Barnaby asked.

“She didn’t want to leave this house.”

“Yes I’m sure she didn’t,” Barnaby answered warmly, “but also she did not want to leave you and the memories of you in this house.  Her memories are how she kept you close to her heart and when she left, she felt like she was leaving the memory of you behind.  This made her very sad.  Your mother loved you very much and when she left I don’t think she knew you were still here.”

“Where did she think I was?” the little girl asked confused.

“Well do you remember the day Charley started fighting with the other soldier and Charley shot him?”

“Yes, I remember.  Mr. Wilcox pointed his gun at me and told my mom she had to go into the woods or he would kill me.”

So that is what happened Barnaby thought.  What kind of man could point a gun at a child?

“Charley got very angry at this didn’t he?”

“Yes.  He pointed his gun at Mr. Wilcox and the two started yelling at each other.  Mr. Wilcox said he was going to kill Charley too and I started to cry.  I tried to run and when I did Mr. Wilcox tried to grab me but Charley shot him.”

Barnaby sighed with sympathy for the horrors the little girl witnessed.  “I’m sorry.  You shouldn’t have to see such things.”

“I ran out of the house and into the woods.”

“Do you remember what happened after that?”

“No.  I didn’t run very far because Charley always told me to stay out of the woods because bad things were inside.  I stopped and got scared and turned around to go back but then I heard more guns.  I don’t remember anything else.”

Barnaby pursed his lips thinking of how best to explain a young, dead child’s situation to her.  “Well sometimes things happen to people; bad things that make people very sad.  Remember when you saw Charley get hurt on the beach?  Charley had a bad thing happen to him.”

Victoria looked at him with puddle filled eyes and listened.

“When you ran into the woods, your mom thought something bad happened to you the same way something bad happened to Charley, and I think she thought you went to heaven too.  When you came back she couldn’t see you anymore.”

“Why not?” Her voice still trembled at the thought of losing her mother two hundred years after it happened.

“Because when the bad thing occurred honey, part of you, the part your mom can see, stayed here and the part of you your mom can’t see, the part that was supposed to go to heaven, also stayed here.  The part she could see was hurt very badly and your mommy realized you were hurt so bad that you had probably gone to see God.  But the part of you your mommy thought went to Heaven stayed here, only your mommy can’t see that part of you.  Most people can’t.”

“Why didn’t I go to heaven?” she asked like a child not invited to her best friend’s party.

“I’m not sure honey.  Maybe God wanted you to watch over your mom even though she couldn’t see you.”

“Why can you see me?”

“Because now I think maybe God wants me to watch over you and in order to take care of you, I have to see you,” he replied with a comforting smile.

“Why aren’t you in heaven?”

“It’s not my time to go yet,” he replied with a smile.  “I still have a wife at home who needs me and I think God has a few things for me to do before I go home to him.”

“Do I need to go with you?” she asked with a brightening face.

She had the same hopeful smile Charlie had when he too thought he might be leaving the woods.  Barnaby would have taken her if he could.  He couldn’t afford a child but he would make it work.  He knew though she couldn’t leave the woods and why she and everyone else couldn’t, he had no clue.   More troubling still was how to set her free.

“I think I need to stay here with you until we get you to your mommy!” he answered with a pounding doubt  in his heart.  He had no confidence he could do this and the more time he spent with Victoria the more difficult he knew it would be to leave her.

“Have you been inside since your mom and dad left?”

“A few times.  The other people who lived here had a little boy and sometimes I would sneak into his room at night and play with his things.  I cried when they left too.  After they left no one came back.  I think they were afraid of the woods.  I didn’t go into the house anymore because I’m afraid of the dark.”

“Are you ready to go in now?”

“Can I hold your hand?”

“Of course.”

He stood her up on the porch then took her warm little hand that felt very much alive and walked inside.  The dark house smelled like the top of his father’s barn.  Much of the furniture was gone but an old iron wood stove still remained.  A few of the floor boards wobbled and creaked as they walked over them.  They stood in what was probably a living room.  Dust covered everything.  In the back of the room he could see the small window through which he peered when he first came upon the house in the snow.  To the left looked to be a small dining room and kitchen.  In the right rear corner of the living room a set of steep steps led up to the second floor and to the right he saw a closed door, perhaps to a bedroom.  The paint on it looked like broken glass.

“What did your dad do?” Barnaby asked.

“He had a store in town and then he joined the miltia?”

“The militia?” Barnaby asked clarifying her statement.

“Yes, that’s what I mean.”

Barnaby wondered if he was part of the group who ran the British away from this house and accidentally killed little Victoria.  If so, where had he been for all those months the British lived in his home?

He wandered around the room looking for anything interesting and held her hand as he went.

“This is where Mr. Wilcox got shot.”

“Right here?”  Barnaby looked around.

“Yes but he was looking that way.”

Barnaby turned and could almost picture Charley standing there.  He looked at the floor half expecting to see a blood stain, but those boards were undoubtedly replaced a century ago at least.  He decided to change the subject rather then have her relive painful memories.

“Is there anything you want to see?” he asked.

“I want to go upstairs.”

Barnaby walked to the bottom of the stairs and flipped the light switch on the wall but as he suspected, it did not work.

“Its pretty dark up there,” he said.

“Are you scared?”

“No, but it is going to be pretty hard to see anything.  I don’t want you to be scared.”

“I won’t be if you don’t let go of my hand.”

He held her hand as they climbed the steep, wooden stairs into the small room above.  The ceiling left only enough room for a young teen to stand and the sides sloped with the roof.  Windows sat on the north side and on the east side facing the woods.

“Was this your room?” he whispered.

“Yes, but this is where the soldiers slept when they stayed with us.  They all slept on the floor here.”

“Even Mr. Wilcox?” Barnaby asked surprised.  He didn’t think an officer would sleep on the floor with his subordinates.

“No, he slept in my mommy’s room.”

Barnaby frowned wondering if perhaps Mr. Wilcox had taken advantage of too much.  “Where did you sleep then if the soldiers were up here?”

“Usually downstairs by the fire.”

Barnaby moved to the window and looked out over the woods.  In the distance he thought he saw a light but it disappeared.

“Before the soldiers came, I sat up here and would watch all sorts of lights in the woods.”

Barnaby looked down at her surprised.  “You saw lights?  Were you ever scared?”

“At first, but daddy told me the Lord protected us.”

“How long have you seen the lights?”

She thought about it for a moment.  “I guess ever since I’ve lived here.  I don’t go near the lights.  I hide behind trees.”

“Why do you go into the woods Victoria?”

“I don’t know.  I was lonely.  I guess I wanted to find someone like you.”

Barnaby smiled.  “I understand.”  He looked out the window again for a sign of the light but saw none.  “Do you want to go down to your mother’s room?”

“Yes please,” she took his hand with a smile.

He led her back down the steep stairs and held the railing with his left hand and her with his right.

Barnaby turned the doorknob slowly and peeked in.  The room was as dark and empty as the upstairs.  He gave the door a gentle nudge and it creaked open on its own.

“My mommy and daddy’s bed used to be right there,” she said pointing into the darkness.  “Sometimes I would get into bed with them on really cold nights.”

Barnaby thought about doing the same thing when scared or did not feel well but when his father woke he made him sleep on the floor.

He knelt down next to her.  “Victoria, I’m going to do whatever I can so you can see them again,” he explained trying to reassure her.  “I’m just not sure where to begin.  I thought maybe I would find a clue in this house but…”

“It’s okay.  I didn’t think you could get me to heaven right away.  I’m just happy you are here.”

Barnaby smiled.  She had at least taken a little of the pressure off of him.  “You are a remarkable little girl!”

“You know when I lost something my daddy would tell me to start from the beginning.  I never knew what he meant but maybe it will help you.”

Barnaby looked towards the trees and sighed.  He knew the beginning existed within the woods but the thought of re-entering sickened him.  If he had not seen Victoria and felt the need to help her, he would now be speeding in his car, half-way home but presently he’d rather be no where than at this little girl’s side.  “Well I guess it is worth a shot.  You will have to come with me though.  I don’t want to leave you behind here.”

She nodded her head vigorously, “I want to come with you!  I don’t want to be here by myself.”

“Good!” he took her by the hand and wrapped his other around it.  Let’s go find the beginning.”