David nodded to his left and pulled Ezra further away from the big rock, back toward his horse. Ezra’s skirt caught on dead twigs, causing loud snaps and pops as David pulled her under a grey, bare bough and toward the opening of the grove. David could see his horse standing idly in the moonlit meadow some fifty yards beyond, having pulled itself free of the makeshift hitch, yet not departing entirely without the will of its master. David could hear two voices distantly.
David pulled open his collar to vent a sudden, rising heat as his pace quickened. He whispered, “Where’s your horse?”
Ezra spoke aloud, trying to pull away from David, “My cousin brought me on my horse. That’s probably him.”
“Quiet!” David hissed. He gripped her arm tightly and pulled her back down, and then pulled both of them behind a mess of dead branches amidst the long grass. He whispered again, “I hear two voices.”
He couldn’t see Ezra in the dark, but he imagined she was glaring at him, but he did notice a relaxation of her body as he held her fast. They both peeked through the grass and branches and saw a steadily glowing lantern light. As it grew, so did the voices: one was gruff and full of raspy, whiny overtones, and the other was mellow and somewhat monotone.
“This looks like it, eh?” the raspy voice said. He held a lantern that illuminated a bearded face, younger than David had expected, beneath a wide-brimmed hat. The other man had a bare, bald head, but was darker of complexion, looking like a man of mixed Indian race. He carried a rifle on one shoulder, and chewed at something in his mouth slowly.
“Yeah, I think that’s it,” the bald man said. “Smaller than I figured, but he was less than specific.”
“How we gonna dig her up?”
“Dig until we find her, I reckon.”
“I mean, without the rock falling in.”
“They had to get her in there somehow. I figure we get her out the same way. I figure they dug down, then over, the stuffed her under.”
“Sounds easy enough,” The younger man said. He scratched his beard as he walked around the boulder. “But why bother with the rock?”
“So she can’t dig herself out. She’d dig upward into the rock.”
“Why not to the side?”
“She’s dead. Wouldn’t think about digging out sideways.”
The young man laughed and it sounded like a cough. “Since when are you an expert in zombies.”
“No zombie. A witch. Didn’t you listen to the boss?”
“I try not to. Chills me with that voice of his. Sounds like an empty hole.”
“I guess you get used to him, as I’m getting used to you,” the bald man said. “Go fetch the gear. I’ll find us a suitable spot to start.”
“Should have brought two lamps,” the young man said.
“Fair enough. I’ll give you a hand.”
The two men disappeared back down the game trail at the other end of the grove.
“Grave robbers?” Ezra said.
David swallowed hard. “The Witch of the Woods.”
“Michael said the Witch of the Woods is buried here.”
“I don’t know…” David shook his head. “Let’s get out of here. My horse is…” David grabbed Ezra’s hand and pulled her away from the boulder, right through the tall grass and over dead branches, which gave muffled cracks as they passed. David froze under one of the willows, and Ezra ran into the back of him.
“What is it?” Ezra said.
“My horse,” David said. Ahead of them, the wide meadow, still bathed in visible moonlight, was empty. “We’ll have to hope he comes to us,” David said. He stepped away from the grove and edged around the meadow, trying to see into nearby shadows for a trace of the horse. The branches of the pines and willows made all the shadows of the night into impenetrable black curtains, and David could hear no snort or stomp above his own breathing and the steady slushing of his and Ezra’s shoes through the damp grass.
“There,” Ezra said, halting David and pointing at a long rut in the grass, just visible as a series of black dashes where shadows of the long blades were allowed to drop closer to the earth. David knelt down and saw what he could, and guessed that they were indeed the tracks of his horse. The trail ran through the clearing to a grove of oaks pushing aside dead pines. They ran through the meadow, hand in hand, eyes downcast in fear of losing the trail.
“They’re back,” Ezra said, and David followed her arm to see a flickering light among the willows.
“Let’s hope that’s not your cousin this time,” David said.
“Oh hell, I’d forgotten about him,” Ezra said.
They reached the other side of the meadow and slowed as they entered the near total darkness created by a low-branched oak. David held his breath as best he could and heard, faintly, the heavy sighs of a horse. As his eyes adjusted further he the outline of a horse. He held Ezra’s hand as he rushed up to the horse, finding him to be very content chewing on a mouthful of grass.
“I can’t see in here,” David said. “We’re going to have pull him out of this shade so I can re-bit him.”
“Quickly, then,” Ezra said, and laid her hand on the horse’s neck. David moved the horse back out of the tangle of oaks and fixed the bit on the bridle once again before helping Ezra up into the saddle.
“Damn me for not thinking to grab a musket,” David said, pushing himself up into the saddle ahead of Ezra.
“I will not,” Ezra said. “But I will bid you to ride us out of here, quietly if possible.”
David nodded and nudged the horse toward the trail on which he had entered.
“Let’s hope we can ride around to meet your cousin in time.”