A Walk at Dusk, “Books and Bones,” part 5

David helped Charles and the doctor carry him back to the wagon. It was much harder than bringing him into the house, as the anesthetized man hung in dead weight, making him very difficult to manage while avoiding his broken leg. They managed it with no shortage of effort, laying Tiny on a bed of old blankets in the bed of the wagon.

“I’ll be right back,” the doctor said. He went back into the house and returned with a dark bottle. He handed it to Charles. “This is an opium suspension. It will keep the pain away, but try not to let him have too much of it. Perhaps a shot at one time, at most.”

“Thanks doc,” Charles said. He withdrew his purse and opened it up. “You sure I don’t owe you more?”

The doctor thought for a moment and said. “Sure.”

Charles looked puzzled as he dug out a few coins. “Thee dollars seems awfully cheap. How do you make a living like that?”

“I do fine,” Ely said.

“Here’s an extra dollar as a thank you,” Charles said, tossing an extra dollar to him. Ely nodded and walked back inside. David hopped into the back of the wagon with the unconscious Tiny and Charles started the wagon on the bumpy road back to the plantation.

While they were heading back, the darkness became near total. The moon was already in the west and obscured by tall pines and vine-covered oaks. Every so often Tiny would moan in his delirious sleep. Charles and David didn’t talk and instead let the steady clop-clop-clop of the horse’s hooves on the beaten path fill the silence between Tiny’s fits.

“What’s he saying?” Charles said at length.

“He’s not saying anything, just moaning,” David said.

“You sure? I swear I heard him whispering just now,” Charles said, looking back under his hat with a frown.

David leaned forward and put his head near Tiny. He listened carefully, trying to make out words beneath the rattle of the wagon. Tiny’s lips were moving subtly, mouthing imperceptible words.

“I think I hear something,” David said, inclining his ears.

“Well what the hell is it?” Charles said, his voice rising in volume and pitch to be almost shrill.

“I’m trying,” David said. He put his ear almost to Tiny’s lips and heard a few words, each one stretching out in time and bearing, though very softly, a small rasp. For what seemed a long time to David he listened and took them in.

“No. Go. Stay away. Get away. Away from her. Go. No.”

“It sounds like,” David said, swallowing hard as he realized a dense fog had set in around them. The trees on either side were like shadows of many-fingered hands, and the wind had vanished.

“Sounds like what?” Charles said, more nervous than before.

“Like he’s trying to get away from somebody. He keeps saying get away.”

“From who?”

David swallowed again. “Her.”

“Her who?” Charles said. His voice dropped to a soft tone that was nearly eaten up in the fog.

“Witch of the woods?” David said. He meant for it to sound like a joke, but the quaver in his voice betrayed him, and it came out fearful. It did not seem to lack effect on Charles, big and adult as he was.

Charles let the wagon slow to a halt. He lit a large lamp, and then he hung it from a hooked pole.  fitted the pole into an iron fitting on the side of the carriage, so the lamp swung above the horses, illuminating the ground around their hooves.

“What it the hell,” Charles said, as he looked around them. Beneath the hooves of the horses, rather than a well-beaten road, was grass.

“How did this happen?” David said. “Why didn’t we notice?”

“The fog,” Charles said. “It muffles the horses hooves. We must have wandered off the road at some point.”

“Isn’t there a greenway going west to the river?” David said.

“Yes, but it’s miles and miles south of here,” Charles said. “Damn this fog. I can’t tell which way is which.”

“Why don’t we just go back the way we came?” David said. “We’re sure to hit the road.”

Charles sighed. “They say if you’re lost in the woods you should stay put till you figure your bearings, or you’re likely to walk further in, rather than out, but you’re probably right.”

Charles and David got out of the wagon and set to work turning it around. It wasn’t easy, as the green space around them was enclosed by thickly knotted pines and briars, but eventually they got the wagon facing the other way. Tiny began to moan and rock fitfully.

“Is there anything we can do to shut him up?” Charles said.

David didn’t answer, but instead hopped back up into the wagon. Charles set off again. He whipped the reigns frequently, but the horse had a hard time managing the uneven trail. The wagon rocked to and fro, and David wondered how they had managed to not notice the bumpy ride.

After what seemed like a long time, Tiny began to stir.

“No,” he said aloud. “Not her. No.” He fell silent again.

“Shut him up,” Charles said.

“What’s wrong?” David said. “We should have hit the road again by now.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” Charles shouted.

“Sorry,” David said. Charles licked the reigns again.

After another long stretch of silence, punctuated by Tiny’s moans, set in. Eventually, the wagon began to creak, and the horse whinnied, and they stopped.

“What’s going on?” David said.

“We’re at the edge of… water,” Charles said. He got down out of the driver seat, splashing into mud.

The river?”

“No, a pond, or a bog,” Charles said. “I can’t see the other side with the fog so thick on it.”

If you are enjoying this story, please consider heading to Amazon and buying my Historical Fantasy book, Muramasa: Blood Drinker. I appreciate it!

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