It’s time for another excerpt from The Willing Spirit. If you’re getting tired of teasers, you can read the whole thing soon.
“Why’re we stopping, Mister?”
Dowland sat on a bed of pine needles with his back against a tree, while Joe paced in front of him. In the starlight from the gaps in the trees, he was just a dark shape passing before darker shapes.
“We’ve been moving for the whole day and some of the night. My eyes are tired, and so are my feet.”
“But they’re still after us. I know it—they’re still after us.”
“Sit down, Joe.”
The boy collapsed to the ground, and his feet scraped the soil as he settled.
“I think that we’ve lost them, but we won’t know it if you keep making noise.”
“So what’a you reckon we do now?”
Joe jumped up and paced again.
“Good land, Mister. Are you crazy?”
“Not that I know of, but I will be if you can’t calm yourself.”
Heavy feet crunched the twigs and dry needles on the forest floor until the boy thudded into a tree. He commenced to pounding the bark with his fists.
Dowland picked himself up and walked over to grab Joe’s arms and hold them at his sides.
“Stop it! You’ll make yourself bloody.”
“I don’t care.”
“I do.” Dowland put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and guided him back to the small clearing. “Lie down and sleep.”
Joe stretched out on the ground, and Dowland sat once more to keep watch. In an open patch between the trees, the square of the Big Dipper filled the sky. No one had guided Dowland through the Slough of Despond, as much as he had needed a helper, and he didn’t know what he could offer the boy. Joe was still, though his wet breathing told that he was struggling to hold back tears.
But the calm didn’t last. Joe sat up. “It ain’t no good, Mister. I can’t sleep.”
“I know. I couldn’t, either, after my first time.”
“Does it ever go away?”
Faces floated through Dowland’s memory. He waved his hand in front of him, a futile gesture for dark ghosts in a dark forest.
“You will learn to live with it.”
“How?” The boy wasn’t even trying to hide his tears.
“Some men stop caring.”
Joe was silent for a moment.
“I don’t reckon I wanna be like that.”
“Good for you.” Was it good, though? Was it better to have a soul in pain than to be a man with no soul at all?
“What about you, Mister? What do you do?”
There was the question. Dowland couldn’t have given an answer to it before—it would have made no sense—but after this battle, Joe had crossed over into his world.
“I remember every time. It hurts like hell most days, but it reminds me to watch what I do. If I’m honorable in that, the ghosts have no claim against me.”
“Yes, it is, but we have to take what we’re given. You killed one man to save another. That has to be good enough.”
The sounds of pine needles being crushed in fists stabbed through the darkness. “Did I save him?”
“I don’t know.”
“Can we go find out?”
Dowland stood and walked over to the boy to offer him a hand up. “We may as well. I can’t sleep anyway.”
Crossposted on English 301: Reading and Writing.