By Chuck Fager
“Let me see that map again,” Terry demanded.
“All right,” Sarah said. She pulled it from a shirt pocket, and her brother snatched it from her hand.
Sarah sighed melodramatically, the way their mother did when her son was being particularly exasperating.
“Gimme the flashlight, too” Terry added.
Sarah handed it over. “At least I thought to bring one,” she couldn’t help saying. “And what exactly do you expect to see, that you didn’t notice the first three times you looked at it.”
“Just shut up, okay?” Terry answered.
Sarah peered down at the circle of light on the faded drawing. “Nothing’s different,” she pointed out. “We found the crooked pine tree on Foxville Tower Road, and followed the path down here, by Memory Creek.” She traced the lines. “We can’t be more than a mile from camp.”
“I know,” Terry snapped, elbowing her aside. “I wanna check this writing at the bottom. See if there’s anything about it getting dark early here, or that spooky mist covering the trees.”
You read too much Stephen King, is what Sarah wanted to say. But he did have something there.
The sun wasn’t down when they had slipped away from the camp. There should have been plenty of time to take their quick, unauthorized hike and be back before lights out. It didn’t seem like they’d gone all that far. But with each step away from the road, the sky had seemed to deepen into dusk, until it was now almost pitch dark. And there were streams of mist drifting above the pines, further obscuring the Rhode Island sky.
“Yeah,” she said, “maybe listening to that storyteller wouldn’t have been so bad after all.”
“Oh, please,” Terry groaned. “Spare me. He’s probably into another of his long tales about Quaker history already. Just like every summer; boring.” He glanced up. “There’s nothing here. Just this stuff about walking with the Indians, and how she’d never forget it.”
He peered at his sister. “I’m back to thinking you made this all up,” he said.
“Be serious,” she snapped. “You’re the one who found it.”
“Yeah, so how do I know you didn’t put it there, in that book for me to find in the lodge.”
“I would have,” she said. “in a heartbeat, buddy.” She retrieved the map, and fingered it. “But even though we know I’m smarter than you, I’m not genius enough to make this paper look fifty years old. Or to persuade you pick up a book that’s not a horror novel.”
“It was an accident, okay? The book was right next to Cujo, and the map just fell out when I went to put it back.”
Sarah had heard this before. And she realized why Terry was acting so tense. He was scared. She didn’t blame him. She folded the map carefully, then squinted toward the trees looming darkly in front of them. “Looks like there might be a trail over there,” she said, “to the right.” She took a step in that direction.
“If there is, it could be a short cut back to the main road. Then we’d be close enough to tiptoe up to the fire circle and nobody’d be the wiser.”
“Uh-uh,” Terry demurred. “I don’t see any trail. I wanna go right back the way we came. And right now.” He turned around abruptly, took three steps in the opposite direction,and tripped on a root.
That was when the flashlight went flying. Terry swore, and Sarah held her breath as the light’s narrow beam flashed on the mist above them, then clicked off when it hit the ground, somewhere in the dark.
“Oh no. Thanks, grace,” she said. “That cost me six bucks, and we’ll never find it. Any other ideas?”
Terry picked himself up. “Keep going,” he said, “what do you think?”
“Which way?” she asked, looking around at the circle of darkness which seemed to be closing in on them. I have never been afraid of the dark, Sarah reminded herself. But, she wondered, maybe it was time to reconsider that policy.
Her brother was silent for a moment. Then he touched her arm.
“Wait a minute,” he was whispering. “How about that way? I see a light.”
“Where?” she turned, and yes, there it was. Orange, and flickering. Like the glow of a fire. A campfire, somewhere close.
They moved toward the glow, stepping carefully and quietly. A campfire could mean help. Or it could mean trouble. The ground suddenly sloped up, and Sarah stumbled. Terry reached out to keep her from falling. That was better, she thought; they were working together again. They’d need to do that to find their way out of here.
They came to the top of the rise and saw the fire, below them in a clearing. Its glare of yellow and orange was bright, but looked somehow small in the thick darkness, dwarfed by it. Sparks rose from its center and seemed to vanish in the might. Nothing like the sense of warmth and safety that surrounded their campfires at camp, Sarah thought. Like the one they must be building there right now, once the storytelling was finished.
Terry nudged her. “There,” he whispered, close to her ear. “On the other side, right across from us.”
Then she also saw something move. She took a careful step to her right, then two more, and could see clearly. A man. Sitting there, arms hugging his knees, staring into the fire.
He looked harmless enough. Or did he? How could you tell? She turned to Terry, as if to ask what he thought, and a twig snapped under her shoe.
The man reached down beside him, picked up a handful of something, and threw it onto the fire.
The flames blazed suddenly higher, and he stood up. Then he spoke.
“You may as well come down,” he said. “I heard you coming.” They hung back. “You’re safe here,” he said.
Terry glanced at her, and she could just make out his face in the firelight. He had a “What else are we gonna do?” look. They walked down the rise to the edge of the fire circle, staying close together.
Now Sarah saw that the man was middle-aged, or maybe older, with strong features and mostly grey hair. He wore a dark t-shirt and shorts, and had an air of weathered strength, as if he worked hard, with his large hands, day in and day out.
“Um, I think we’re lost,” Terry said tentatively. “We’re from the Friends Wilderness Camp, over on Wampanoag Road. You know?” Sarah could hear the nervousness.
The man nodded, and looked back at the fire. “I’ve been wondering when someone else would come from there,” he murmured.
“What?” Sarah blurted. “You mean other campers have been here?” she’d never heard anything like this.
But the man was shaking his head. “No, not campers,” he said. Then he looked at her. “Did you know Abigail Macy?”
Sarah gasped, but Terry answered first. “Not personally. She gave the land for the camp,” he said.
“It was her farm once.”
“And,” Sarah stuttered, “Ab-Abigail Macy made this map.” She pulled it from her pocket.
The man glanced at the paper, and nodded again. “Yes,” he said. “She would have. She was here.”
When was that, Sarah wondered. Abigail Macy had been dead for ten years. “I found it,” she said aloud. “In a book at camp. One of Abigail’s. It was called Flintlock and Tomahawk.'”
“Of course,” the man said, “that would be right.” He stared back into the fire for a moment, as if thinking about something. “I’ll show you the way back,” he said finally. “But not yet.”
Not yet? The hairs on the back of Sarah’s neck stood up. What did he have in mind for them?
Now the man was holding up the map, and pointing at it. “This line is Memory Creek,” he said.
That’s an Indian name, like most around here. We call it that because the creek remembers. And these woods too. They remember what happened here, long ago. Every summer I come back, and I remember also. Abigail Macy came once, and she remembered. This map shows it. Now it’s your turn.”
Terry said, “You-you’re an, um, Indian?” He hesitated on the last word, for they had been carefully taught to say Native American.’ But Sarah was thinking, it’s our turn for what?
“Yes,” the man said to Terry. “I’m Alderman Walker, a Wampanoag. Not many of us around. But once, these woods, and all of Rhode Island, were ours. They belonged to us and the Narragansett people.”
He gazed back at the fire. “But that was a long time ago. Now–“
There were sounds in the woods behind them. Voices, the splashing of oars, and the thumping of wet wood. “It’s starting,” Walker said, looking past them. On his face Sarah could see both anticipation and something like fear.
He turned away from the fire. “Come on,” he called over his shoulder. “We’ve got to catch up with them. This is where the path leads.”
Sarah and Terry looked at each other. Terry shrugged, and they followed, in the direction of the sounds.
They had not gone far when they saw the flickering of another fire, and heard the steady rumbling of a moving creek. A few steps further and they could make out figures around the fire. On one side stood four men in colonial clothes, talking to an Indian, who was bare to the waist and in deerskin pants. Behind him several more Indians huddled. The Indians looked angry; the colonists grim.
Walker put up a hand, and the three watchers stopped, just outside the clearing. Walker leaned over to Sarah. “Stay here,” he whispered. Then he stepped into the clearing and seemd to meld into the group of Indians. Once he did so, Sarah could make out the voices.
“Nicholas Easton,” the Indian was saying, “you are brave to come here. We know you have been our Friend. But the Wampanoag are ready for war. Too many of the whites have taken too much from us for too long. And they have killed too many of us. My warriors want to fight back. They want to kill all the whites, and take our lands.”
“But Philip,” said one of the colonists, “you know there are too many whites in the land now, for even your warriors to kill. And they have many muskets, which your warriors do not. We have no soldiers here in Rhode Island; our Quaker faith forbids them. But in Boston, in Plymouth, and many other towns there are large militia bands. They will fight you. They will hunt you. Ask your warriors to wait. Fighting will create more new quarrels than it ends. Let me visit New York, and see if the governor there will mediate your quarrels with the whites in Boston and Plymouth. They will listen to him.”
There were angry murmurs from the men behind Philip. He whirled and spoke sharply to them in their own language. Then he faced the colonists again.
“I agree that fighting is the worst way,” he said. “And I am willing to talk with your New York governor,” he said. “But many of these warriors are not. I can’t promise you that they will wait for you to visit us again.”
There were more murmurs behind him, and rustling as several of the warriors stood up and ran off into the darkness. But one stepped forward past Philip, and tossed a handful of powder into the fire. It flared up, and then died away into darkness. The voices faded. Then Walker was back beside them.
“What was that?” Sarah asked. “Who were those people?”
“The forest remembers,” Walker said. “And it is remembering when Nicholas Easton tried to stop King Philip’s War.”
“The book!” Sarah exclaimed. “The one I found the map in. It was about that war.”
Walker nodded gravely. “Abigail Macy saw what you saw, and she wanted to understand.”
“When was this?” Terry asked.
“Three hundred years ago,” Walker said. “More. Come. We need to follow the path. But it won’t be easy.”
The path ran parallel to the creek, and Sarah and Terry followed close behind him. It wasn’t long before they smelled smoke, and Sarah thought she heard faint cries. The mist lightened ahead, and rounding a turn, they saw a log cabin.
Or what was left of it. The collapsed roof smoldered dimly. And when her eyes adjusted to the half-light, Sarah stifled a scream. On the ground just outside the cabin’s shattered door lay a woman, face up, her eyes staring, her throat slashed. Blood soaked the white collar of her brown dress.
Then Sarah did scream. Next to the woman was her baby. One of her hands still clutched lifelessly at its bare foot. The child’s skull was smashed.
“Jesus,” Terry murmured. “I think I’m gonna be sick.”
Sarah felt a strong hand on her shoulder. “Come,” Walker’s voice said. “If we keep walking, you will be able bear it. But this was just the beginning of the war.”
He led them past the smoking cabin. “Philip’s men killed many whites in cabins like this,” he said.
“And his Wampanoags were soon joined by other peoples. Narragansetts, Nipmucks. The whites fled their settlements and took refuge in their walled towns. In Boston the ministers said the war was God’s judgment on their sins, because they had not gotten rid of all the Quakers there. So they whipped and jailed them. But the war went on. And by the next winter, they raised an army of a thousand men to march down from Boston and track the Wampanoags in their winter hiding place. It was near here.”
The trail came up over another rise, and across the creek, flames shot up from behind the line of trees. Sarah heard shouts, muffled gunshots, and screams.
“When the soldiers found it, they attacked in the middle of the night, and burned it. Killed hundreds, including many women and children. The Quakers in Rhode Island told the army to stay out of their colony. The army ignored them.”
Sarah turned away from the sight of the flames. She had seen enough fires in one night to last her many years. “Why are we seeing this?” she asked.
Walker shrugged. “The creek and the forest remember,” he said. “But almost no one else does.
You were chosen to be ones who do. Like Abigail Macy. Like me. Come.”
“How much more of this is there?” Terry asked.
“After the Great Swamp Fight, as the whites called it, Philip’s warriors knew their war was doomed.
Their people were hungry, many were sick. All were hunted like rats. Many Indians turned against Philip, and went over to the whites. One was my ancestor, called Alderman. He had run through the forests with Philip, all the way up into Massachusetts, and now back into these forests. He knew where Philip was hiding, and he told the whites. The soldiers surrounded his camp, and attacked before dawn.”
He stopped. “Wait,” he said. “Listen.”
They heard rustling in the trees, somewhere ahead of them. Then a flash of lintlocks as a volley of shots rang out, followed by cries and the sounds of struggle. More shots, then a brief quiet. Finally an exultant shout echoed through the trees. “It’s him! Philip is dead!” There was excited hubbub as soldiers gathered. Then three lusty cheers resounded.
Sarah cringed at the shouts of victory. She turned toward Walker, and found him slumped against a large rock, his head in his hands. He looked up.
“That was not the end,” he said, and his voice sounded tired. “The soldiers told Alderman to chop
off Philip’s head. The commander said that because Philip and his warriors had left the bodies of many whites rotting unburied, not a bone of his body was to be buried. So Alderman was ordered to cut his body into pieces, which were hung on trees. Philip’s head was taken to Plymouth, and put on a stake, for everyone to see, and it was there for many years.”
“That’s horrible,” Sarah protested.
“That’s war,” Walker replied. “And Alderman did not complain. As a reward they let him keep one of Philip’s hands. He kept it in a bucket of salt water, and showed it to people for a penny.”
“Gross,” Terry murmured. “Like a pickle.”
Voices came from somewhere ahead of them. Shouts, but not of battle. Boisterous, and punctuated by loud laughter. More like a drunken party.
“Philip’s wife and son were captured,” Walker was saying, “and condemned to death by the magistrates in Plymouth. But then the assembly decided that was too harsh, and sold them as slaves instead.”
“Hey, way to go Plymouth,” Terry said. Sarah saw that he was feeling safer now. “They musta been real liberals.”
“See for yourself,” Walker said. Another campfire was ahead of them, with men in colonial clothing resting on the ground all around it, drinking from mugs and laughing.
“Hey, what have we got here?” said one of the men, spying the strangers. “Visitors to our peaceful land, eh?” He raised a mug. “Well then, how about a toast to the king?”
There were general guffaws at this, and a man at the far end of the circle stood up. He lifted a bucket with one hand. “Here,” he said gruffly. “You shake hands with king. Only one penny.” He stepped toward Terry. “You, boy. No have penny? Okay, you shake hands for free. Shake hand with king Philip.”
He reached into the bucket with his free hand, and drew out a wrinkled, shriveled lump. A stump of bone stuck out of one end, and water dripped from withered knuckles on the other, sizzling on the coals.
Terry recoiled. “Jesus, man, keep that thing away from me!” He pushed at the man with both hands, but instead hit the bucket. It tipped, and water cascaded from it right into the center of the campfire.
A great cloud of steam and smoke rose. Sarah blinked and coughed, then felt Walker’s hand on her arm again, pulling her forward. She staggered ahead, and the laughter faded. When she could see again, there was a line of trees ahead, and behind it, more light.
But not the red of fire this time. A pale, white light.
The moon. Behind these trees, the mist had dissipated, and the moon was rising. Almost full, and big, the way it is when it’s just cleared the horizon. Sarah and Terry stopped to admire it. Walker went ahead, stooped and picked something up from the ground, then called to them. “This way.” As they reached him, he handed something round to Sarah.
Her flashlight. She pushed the button, and it clicked on. “How did you find it?” she asked.
“I know these woods,” he said simply. “It’s not far now.”
In a few moments, they could make out the crooked pine tree in the moonlight, and then beyond it the near-white of the gravel on Foxville Tower Road.
“This is far enough for me,” Walker said, and he stopped. “You can find your way from here.”
“Sure,” Sarah said, “but–“
Walker gazed steadily at her. “Yes?”
“Well,” Sarah said, “I still don’t know what all this was for.”
“Yeah,” Terry chimed in. “And why us?”
There was the hint of a smile on Walker’s strong, impassive features. “I don’t know why you were chosen,” he said. “That is not up to me. But the reason is simple enough. Just remember. The creek remembers, and the forest. And now you are to remember, too.”
He turned back to the trail, and they watched him move quietly down toward the thick line of trees. Just before he reached them, he paused and faced them again. “Oh, and one more thing,” he called.
“Yes?” Terry said.
“The map,” Walker said. “Don’t keep it. Put it back in the book. For the next ones.
“I’ll do it,” Sarah called back. “I promise.” And she did.
Copyright © by Chuck Fager. All rights reserved.