A Walk at Dusk, “Books and Bones,” part 6

David wiped at his brow and realized, though it had grown quite cold, that he was sweating.

“What do we do?”

Charles looked up into the sky. They were enveloped by a blanket of grey, and the stars were invisible. The moon had set, and the only visible light was the wavering circle put out by the lamp.


David jumped at the soft voice, and realized in was Tiny. He was up on his elbows in the back of the wagon, frowning.

“Where are we?” he said. “My head hurts awful.”

“I don’t know where we are, Tiny,” David said. “I don’t know at all.”

Charles took a deep breath and said, trying to sound confident, “No use crying about it. I’ve got us lost and there’s no mistake. We’ll just have to camp up here and wait for sun up.”

“We should move on,” Tiny said softly. “This place doesn’t feel good, boss.”

“Shut up,” Charles said gruffly. He took another deep breath. “Let’s get away from the water to somewhere a little dryer.”

The worked the wagon around and drove a little way from the water. The horse struggled to drag the wagon through the mud, but they weren’t in deep, and the wheels broke free after a few yards. They found a long stretch of needle-laden dry ground well above the water among a tight cluster of pines. Charles chocked the wagon wheels, unhitched the horse, and handed the lamp to David.

“Go fetch some kindling. I’m going to work on clearing up a space for us.”

“What if I get lost?” David said, holding the heavy lamp above his head.

“Don’t go far. Whatever you find, you find.”

David nodded and walked away from Charles and the wagon. He kept them in close sight, so that Charles looked like a moving silhouette and the wagon like a great shadow.  He gathered up what dry timber he could find in the wet woods, bundled it under one arm, and headed back to the shadows. Charles was staring out into the night, his hands on his hips.

“What is it?” David said, dropping the wood.

“Heard something,” Charles said. “Grab your rifle and load it up.”

David did as he was told, and began loading a ball in the long gun while Charles arranged the dry wood in a small pile. He put a few of the pine needles into the sputtering lamp. They curled and smoked, but didn’t take flame.

“Let me do it,” Tiny said. “I can start a fire underwater if need be.”

“We need some paper,” Charles said. “David what about that book you had?”

“It’s not mine,” David said. “I can’t just rip out the pages.”

“Just give it here,” Charles said.

“No,” David said.

“Give it to me!” Charles said. He stood up, and David, in shock, toppled backward and landed on the wet ground.

“Relax, boss,” Tiny shouted. “Just use some of that gunpowder.”

“I thought I told you to shut up,” Charles said.

Charles sighed again and hunched back down. “Give me the powder horn.” David complied, bringing over the old capped horn. Charles popped off the top and poured the powder generously onto the wood pile. He took a cap from the pouch wrapped on the powder horn and placed it on the wood. He then took the rifle and smashed the butt of it into the cap. There was a bright flash as the powder went up in smoke, then a small flicker of a flame.

“We should get Tiny down,” David said. “And by the fire.” Charles nodded, and they helped Tiny down. It was much easier than when he was unconscious, as he was able to move himself quite well. The fire began to really get going, and they all sat around it, but even as the flames leapt, the fog penetrated their clothes and still sent chills through them. After a time, the fire began to die down.

“I’m going to fetch more wood,” Charles said. He re-lit the lamp and walked off into the fog. David watched the little point of light that was the lamp swing back and forth before disappearing from his view.

“You were right to not burn your book,” Tiny said quietly, scooting himself around the fire. “Books have power.”

“It’s just a novel,” David said.

“All books have power. Some power, at least.” His eyes looked strange, reflecting the fire light as he stared at David. “Some books have more than others. Some less. Some bright powers, some dark powers.” His voice lingered on the word dark. “Good men can be drawn to dark power. Good men. All it takes is one dark spot for the shadows to come in.”

“I don’t know what you’re going on about-” David began, but was cut off.

“Shh! Quiet now,” Tiny said. “Do you hear it?” David paused a moment to listen. The fog enveloped all, and the only sound, besides his own breathing, was the soft crackle and hiss of the fire.

“I don’t hear anything, Tiny.”

Tiny nodded. “You’re a good man, David. Here.” He drew from the baggy pockets of his torn and bloody pants a very small book. In the fire light David could see that it was a compact copy of the Holy Bible. David laid his hand on it, and it felt warm and familiar.

“Where did you get this?” David said, knowing his father forbade the slaves books.

“Don’t you worry about that,” Tiny said.

“Can you read it?” David said.

“Some. I’m slow with the letters, but I can read some. I need you to read it now, David. Read it.”

David took the Bible from Tiny and opened it. “Which book?”

“One for a dark night, David.”

David nodded and opened the bible to the book of Psalms. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” David paused and looked at Tiny.

“Good,” he said, and laid back, closing his eyes. “A book of prayer. A good book spoken by a good man.”

“Where is Charles?” David said, suddenly aware that his brother had been gone over-long.

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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