Ezra was waiting on the green when David returned. She stood up and brushed the grass off of her dress when he strode back.
“What did you find out?” she said.
“They’re staying at the boarding house,” David said, and gestured down the street. “They told me they were here looking for an old homestead that belonged to their father.”
“Are you sure it was the two men from that night?”
“If I wasn’t sure before, I’m sure now.” David hunched his shoulders. “Can I walk you home?”
“I need to go check on something, and eventually I will be missed from home. I’m not so old yet I can act without knowledge of my father’s wrath.” David looked off toward the town. A breeze picked up and they both drew their arms in.
“What exactly are you checking on?” Ezra said. She reached forward and put a hand on David’s arm and he pulled his eyes back down to lock with hers.
“Don’t lie to me.”
David hesitated a moment. “I’m going to check the grave.”
“It’s not a grave,” Ezra said.
“Those two men don’t know that,” David said. “Or maybe they do. I reckon I can see if the ground is disturbed.”
“Be careful. Did you bring a gun?”
David nodded. “I highly doubt I’ll need it. If nothing’s amiss I can always pick a few mushrooms, eh?”
“Still be careful.”
“I will. Can I walk you home now?”
“You can walk me to the end of the lane. I don’t feel like having a conversation with my father about you.”
“He doesn’t care for me then?”
Ezra smiled. “He likes you and doesn’t like you. It’s hard to explain.” She reached up and touched his shoulders, and David leaned down and kissed her.
David pushed his way through the hanging willow leaves, now green and alive, though the inner ring remained a dull grey with but a few shoots to remind him of the life that once lived there. He stepped lightly around the great monolith of a rock where supposedly the Witch of the Woods had been placed to lie eternally. The soil around it was soft, giving way to his boots easily, and most of the ground was covered with a sparse, thin layer of yellowish moss.
Near one end of the boulder he knelt down. Muddy soil was piled high against the rock, smoothed by recent rain. Next to the pile was a hole, deep if not very wide, running underneath the rock like a tunnel. Grey roots protruded from the walls of the cavern like thousands of fingers. David took a breath and stepped down, finding the earth damp but firm as he put his weight onto it. Into the hole he went, feeling the cool smell of wet earth as he descended and darkness enveloped him. He reached above him and felt the boulder as he crouched lower.
A few more steps and it became too dark to see. He fished in his pocket and pulled out an empty envelope. He rolled it up and struck a match. The flash hurt his eyes for a moment, then the paper was giving out a cool orange flame. David could see another tunnel going off to his left, with cool daylight just hinting that it had a surface. The way forward was dark, but David scooted himself forward until he came to a dead end. As the envelope burned, he could see that whoever had dug the tunnel had decided to stop, but it didn’t seem they did so because something had been found. A bucket half-full of dirt lay at the end.
The envelope finally began to burn out, and David fished in his pocket for something else to light. The fire burned his fingers and David dropped the envelope. He stifled a curse, then froze.
Faintly, almost like the sound of the leaves in the wind, he could hear voices.