“You will not!”
“Well,” Benjamin folded his arms over his chest as he spoke, “then you’ll get in trouble before I do, won’t you?”
William squinted. “What do you mean?”
“Well.” Benjamin stood tall, as if orating from the stump in the town square on Sunday morning. “I’ll just have to tell Mother how you made us late in the first place stealing old Mr. Packshaw’s apples. Weren’t for that we wouldn’t have had to try to go through Chinichak in the first place, now would we?”
“But you were swiping apples too. You’ll be telling on yourself, you do that!”
“Everyone knows you love apples. I just like ‘em.”
Benjamin shoved his hands deep into his pockets with a wistful expression as he stubbed one toe into the ground.
“Who are they going to believe when I tell ‘em it was your idea, them apples? Me, who just likes ‘em, or you, who loves ‘em?”
“But I… you… but you… aw, dangit!”
“That’s right,” said Benjamin, voice suddenly hard. “You just come along with me. I don’t want a whipping for being late, and it’s already dark. You just quit your whining and keep up.”
The older boy spun on his heel and headed down into the lowlands known in Virginia Colony as Chinichak swamp. William stood stock still for three heartbeats, looking at the darkness beneath the trees his brother had disappeared into.
“Wait up, Benjamin!”
Legs churning, he sped down the trail before his brother got too far ahead. He raced along for a few seconds, then slowed to a cautious walk.
He peered left and right through the trees, unable to see very far through the underbrush in the dark.
There was no sign of his brother.
“Ben?” His voice shook. “You better not be scaring me. I will tell Mother, you do that!”
Bushes beside the trail rustled slightly. The wind? An asinine older brother, perhaps? He stooped to pick up a stick from the side of the path, hefted it, took a deep breath, then started forward.
“Benjamin Radley if you’re in there I’ll make you sorry!”
William jabbed the stick into the bush, intending to poke his smart-alec older brother in the belly — and the bushes fairly exploded right in front of him. Leaves flew this way and that as the fox that had been hiding sprinted down the trail. William screamed and turned to flee— coming to an abrupt stop as he slammed into Benjamin, who was standing close behind him.
“Where you going, scaredycat? That was just a little fox. S’matter? Scared?”
“Yes I’m scared,” said William. “You did that on purpose, Ben Radley!” Benjamin just smiled. “Why do we have to go through the swamp? Can’t we just go around?”
Benjamin snorted. “Not if we don’t want to be to late we can’t. Come on, Yellow. Let’s go.”
Benjamin brushed past him and William had no choice but to follow. For a couple of minutes there was no sound but their feet crunching along the leaf-strewn trail. Suddenly, Benjamin stopped, reaching back to place a hand flat on William’s chest.
“What—?” William began.
“SShhh!” hissed Benjamin, without looking back.
William tried to see around his brother but all he could make out was that the narrow trail widened into a clearing ahead.
“What is—” he tried again, but again was shushed by the older boy. William felt fingers slowly closing to grip his shirt-front, then Benjamin let loose a mighty gasp.
“If you’re trying to scare me again—”
But that was as far as he got before Benjamin suddenly spun about, thrusting his younger brother aside and dashing past him back the way they had come.
“If you’re trying to scare me again, it’s not working,” William called after the retreating back. “You’re not going to catch me twice, Benjamin!”
“Not gonna catch me twice,” he repeated as he turned back toward the clearing, then froze, staring.
They were standing waist deep in a moonlit pool of standing water; two men standing perfectly still, glowing slightly in the night. Their outlines shimmered but he could make out what looked like his father’s flintlock in their hands, though smaller, like a toy. They wore outlandish costume of straps and buckles. Their skin, their faces, were a mottled green-black in the glow they threw out, and one wore something like Mrs. Donovan’s spectacles, but much larger, that completely covered the top half of his face. As William stared a part of his mind traced the far shoreline of the pool from their left to their right and noticed that it remained unbroken, a darker line in the night.
Oh, Lord in Heaven I’m looking right through them, he thought. They must be gho—
One of them took a slow step toward William and the boy broke and ran, screaming his brother’s name as he went.
~ ~ * * ~ ~
“Did you see that?”
Will turned back toward Sanchez and the latter reached up to pull the night-vision goggles from his face.
“You didn’t see those two boys? Right over there?” He pointed toward the bank of the pool they were crossing.
“Naw, man, and I was looking over there. With these.” He tapped the goggles now hanging about his neck. “Wasn’t nobody there. I would’a seen ‘em.”
Will usually enjoyed the night manouvers involved with his SEAL training, but for some reason he was feeling spooked tonight.
“You sure?” He stared at the bank where he’d seen the boys glowing slightly in the gloom. “I could’a sworn…”
“There’s been ghost stories about Chinichak swamp going back to Colonial days,” said Sanchez. He gave Will’s shoulder a friendly smack. “Maybe that’s what you seen, Radley. A ghost!”
“Yeah, right,” grinned corporal Will Radley. “You know I don’t believe in that crap.”
But as he slogged on through the pool toward the spot where the boys had stood, he didn’t feel so sure…
~ ~ * * ~ ~
This month on Friday Frights the prompt is "Writer's Choice of Artist". There are several artists who have donated some of their work for this little project, and our job is to look at the available art, choose a work that speaks to us and write a story based on that inspiration.
Chinichak is the tale that popped into my head when I saw the artwork to the left, a piece titled Seal, by Thomas Arensberg.
More examples of Thomas's work can be seen on his Facebook page.
Image created by Thomas Arensberg.