Mark of the Shadow Part 10: Seeing Ghosts
Miss the beginning? Start with part 1.
I was gainin on them. The caravan people that is. I counted fifteen. They were all walking along with their oxen, and horses. There was a boy in a blue shirt too big for him on horseback, a covered wagon with a few moving shapes inside and the rest were all on foot keeping each other company.
My feet hurt from running, and from having no shoes. I’d taken them off back at the lake for they were soggy and ruined. I felt lucky though, I hadn’t stepped on anything sharp. I’d been out of breath the past few minutes and my mouth was sticky and dry, but I couldn’t stop. Not now. Carlson was dying and these people could help, besides I was starting to get hungry and these people could help me. Course I knew I was taken a chance, strangers aren’t to be trusted till you know something about um, my daddy said. Well seemed to me I had no choice.
I looked up, they were slowing. They were looking around warily, but they still pressed forward. We were mighty near those mountains now, but from here the valley in between the mountains looked huge.
I stopped to catch my breath. Carlson wouldn’t survive if I died of exhaustion trying to save him now would he? I also remember Rolph tellin me I had to stay strong in order to fight off the shadow’s curse…still right now it wasn’t botherin me; maybe I was too focused on the pain everywhere else in my body to notice.
A minute later I knew I had to start again, or I would get used to this state of rest so I put my head down and started running. It helped if I just listened to the rhythm of my feet pounding against the ground. The sound of my breathing and heartbeat drowned out other worldly sounds which is partly why I was surprised to find myself at the base of the mountain so soon.
The world rushed back in and I looked around. The people were no where to be seen. They had been right here just a moment ago. Now I hadn’t looked up from the last leg of my run, but people didn’t just up and vanish, specially at the pace they was going.
Catching my breath I moved forward slowly. The ground was dusty, and grass gave way to loose soil. It felt good under my feet.
I collapsed to the ground defeated. So I’d come all this way for nothing then. Carlson might have woken up by now and he’d be wondering where I am. Course I couldn’t get back to him for a few hours now. Theres no way I could go back as fast as I came; my body wouldn’t allow it. I wondered if Rolph has made it out ok, I hoped that the breathing bond we carried wasn’t limited by distance, and I hoped he hadn’t gotten caught up in the shootin.
I shifted, placing my arms behind my back for support. Then the ground sort of gave way under me. My hand hit something hard. I turned around and started digging around it. The ground came away easily in my hands. I found a box. I placed it aside, and kept digging.
Then my nails dug into something that wasn’t dirt. I’d found a body. It was a child mostly skeletal, and I found remnants of a blue shirt. But this couldn’t be the boy that I’d been following, could it? I didn’t feel much like digging after that so instead I opened the box. It sort of cracked as I opened it. Inside to my surprise was a medical kit mostly intact. Some dirt had gotten in, but the alcohol was unsealed. I dug a little more around the area and found three more boxes. One had held some uncooked meat that was ruined now. The second held an assortment of nicknacks. A compass, a rough map of the territory, though no official one existed, a ball of yarn, some rocks, a feather, and a diary. I put that box away for looking at later. The third box had what I was looking for, some sealed jerky. I hadn’t had jerky for months at this point, for daddy didn’t get it all that often.
It was salty and hard just the way I remembered. For a moment I could almost forget the horrible mess I’d fallen into. But the thought of eating on a burial site was disturbing enough that I had to stop once I had my fill. I dug around a bit more, but I only found another body. Whatever had happened here had happened long before I found them, so what had I seen?
I grabbed the box of medicine, nicknacks and stuffed the leftover jerky in the same box. I was ready to set out. The boxes were heavy enough that I didn’t feel like I could run with them. So I walked. By the time I reached the shore the sun was setting. I found Carlson propped up against the tree I had climbed to look around earlier that day. His eyes were closed but he opened them when I got close.
He smiled, “I wondered if you had abandoned me,” he coughed, “I wouldn’t blame you.” He sounded bad, worse than I had imagined. He barely got the words out of his mouth it seemed.
I knelt down and looked at his leg. I couldn’t see much as mud covered practically his entire body.
“I wanna help you Carlson. Like you took care of me at your old place. I found this medical kit out there,” I said.
He frowned, “You really are my brothers daughter…” He started crying. Soft tears, no sobbing, you might have even said it was nice.
“Get water,” he said. I emptied the nicknacks box and used it to collect water at the shore. I returned and began cleaning his wound. It took many trips back and forth. Then when it wasn’t entirely covered in filth I poured some alcohol over it like he commanded, then I wrapped some clean bandages over the wound. I thought it was bad to leave the bullet in, but he assured me it was better this way.
We slept better that night, but it wasn’t any more comforting knowing I had helped Carlson. He still looked horrible to me. His face had lost its color, and his eyes were dull. The bigger question still loomed as well: how would we survive without food, drinkable water and shelter, the three things I never had to worry about back home with daddy.