Set in the early nineteenth century, siblings Abigail and Thomas discover what happens when you play with things you shouldn't.
The sharp crack of the aged school bell tolled slowly, signaling the end of lunch break. Boys in white cotton shirts and heavy brown breeches and girls in long woolen dresses all raced towards the one-room schoolhouse to avoid the teacher's wrath. Any unlucky soul who was even a minute late was lashed five and ten times with the birch rod that lay waiting against the wall. Almost every student had been lashed at some point, and each could still recall the feeling of the hard wood against their legs, back, or hands.
Abigail was further away than most, having spent her lunch break wandering the meadows nearby. For the entire hour, she and her older brother Thomas had explored this area; her picking flowers in the meadow, him exploring the nearby forest. As the loud tones of the bell wafted over, she looked up towards the schoolhouse. "Thomas!" she called, rising. The pile of flowers that had been in her lap now fell to the grass, landing in a large heap. She brushed off the few stubborn flowers that stuck to her apron, and bounded over to the edge of the woods. "Thomas," she called again, stepping closer.
The noon sun was high in the sky, causing the various tree branches to cast shadows on the floor below. Pools of sunlight gathered where there were no branches, and they shined outward creating a warm golden glow around the sunspot. The air was warm, but not hot, accompanied by an occasional cool breeze from the nearby brook. She had rarely gone into the woods, and never alone. Bunching up her skirts, she held the fabric in one hand, the other pushing various limbs out of the way as she began her journey. The ground was more or less flat, with the occasional ditch that she would carefully avoid. The same for raised roots and the common fallen logs, she had already ruined a dress falling a few weeks ago, and she didn't want to ruin this one too.
Reaching a clearing, she paused, making sure she could eventually find her way back. Listening closely, she realized that she could no longer hear the loud tones of school bell ring through the air. "We are in for a lashing," she thought, brushing back a stray piece of golden hair. Scanning the nearby forest, she took in every branch, every leaf, looking for some sign of her brother. Nothing. It was if the entire forest was dead. The sunshine that had previously been so bright and cheery now faded behind a cloud, and a cold gust of wind blew in sending shivers up her spine. A twig snapped behind her, and she spun around to find nothing but empty space.
Shaking the incident off, she went to brush back her hair when she felt a hand reach up and grab a handful of the blonde locks. Pulling her head back, she felt the cool ridges of a blade press hard against her throat. Immediately she tensed, curling her fingers into claws, the scream left silent in her throat. For what seemed like eternity her attacker just stood there. She twisted to try and get a good look at him, but was rewarded by a sharp tug on her hair, and the blade pressing deeper into her throat.
Her attacker opened their mouth to speak, and she could feel the warm breath tickling her ear. The knife eased off her throat a bit, but the grasp on her head remained. "Gotcha," a male voice whispered. Abigail realized at once who it was, and head butted him. Her attacker flew backwards, and with his hand still entangled in her hair, took her with him. They landed in a heap on a pile of green grass, one of the few that had been able to survive in the woods.
Feeling the body beneath her, she spun around to find her face to face with her fifteen year old brother. He was five years older than her, and had an easy advantage. Loosening his hand on her hair, he placed one had on her shoulder and another on her waist and flipped, so it was he who was now looking down at her. "Miss me?" he asked casually, removing his hands and pinning her escape. His shaggy golden-brown hair gleamed in the sunlight, and his green eyes twinkled mischievously as he grinned.
"You do realize how much trouble we are in because of you?" she replied, squirming to get free. "You know how Professor Robinson hates tardiness. That's ten lashings each!" Glaring at her brother, she fidgeted, trying to escape his strong grasp. He shrugged, and grinned again when her struggling got her nowhere.
"You know you can't win," he declared. "No matter how much you try,"
Biting her lip, she ignored the comment, and instead focused all her energy on getting free. A few moments passed, and just as she throught she was free, his arm encircled her neck.
"Nice try," he whispered in her ear. "Better than what happened last time." Bored with his game, he let her go and stood up, offering a hand to help her up as well.
Declining the offer, she rose herself, gently massaging her neck with her hand. "So what's so important that you think it's all right to be late?" she asked, clearly annoyed. Brushing the dirt from her dress, she glared at him. "What, did you find a fish or something?"
"Better," he replied with a grin. Grabbing her arm, he raced through the woods, moving deeper and deeper until she had no idea where they were. Leaves and twigs crackled underfoot as he set a fast pace, Abigail barely able to keep her feet on the ground. After jumping over a fallen, rotten log, they stopped, allowing the silence of the forest to return.
Thomas pointed eagerly at the ground. There, half buried in the sandy soil was a hatchet. The forged iron gleamed in the afternoon sun, reflecting the beams onto the sibling's faces. The handle was buried in the ground at an angle, but a small portion was sticking out. It was stained crimson.
"Isn't this amazing?" he asked, squatting down to take a closer look. "I was exploring when I tripped over the blade." Looking up at his sister, he was amazed to see her horrified expression. "What is it?" he asked, genuine concern etched on his face.
"Thomas don't you see what this is?"
"It's a hatchet."
"A bloody Indian hatchet!" she screamed.
He shook his head in disbelief. "Abigail relax," he soothed, gently patting her forearm. "Whoever left this here has long since gone on. You know those old stories father use to tell us. Perhaps this was buried as a sign of peace."
"With blood on it?" she disputed.
"I'm not saying it isn't possible."
"You are implying it."
She ignored that last comment. Just as they did before, the woods suddenly grew cold, the once bright and cheery sun drifting behind a cloud, casting a shadow over the entire wood. A cool wind blew through the trees once again causing her to shiver. Leaves rustled, and what sounded like whispers echoed all around them. Looking down at Thomas, she met his gaze with one of her own, begging him to take her back.
Understanding, he nodded. Before rising, he grabbed the exposed part of the hatchet handle and pulled. It came out of the soft sand easily and he gripped it tightly as he rose. Once exposed, he was able to see it clearly. It was carved out of a dark wood, and polished until it was smooth as silk. It looked as if it was placed there yesterday, for it had not yet been touched by the elements. With the exception of the dark stain that covered the top of the handle, it was beautiful.
As soon as she saw it, she shook her head, taking a few steps back. "No way, no way. You can't bring that." She continued to retreat until her back was against a tree.
"Why not?" he asked, advancing towards her. With each step he took she seemed to shrink back, until he was right in front of her, and she had nowhere to go. He didn't understand her fear of an object. It was just a trinket that he found in the sand, nothing bad could happen.
"It just doesn't feel right," she whispered, clenching her eyes tightly closed.
Dropping the hatchet, he placed his hands on both of her shoulders. Gripping hard enough for her to notice, he shook her lightly. "Abby please," he begged, willing her to look at him. "There is nothing for you to be scared about. I just want to bring it back and show it to father. Then I'll get rid of it I swear."
She opened her blue eyes slowly; wincing as they made contact with her brother's piercing green ones. "Promise?" she whispered, her eyes pleading.
"Swear on all that is fun and adventurous as a member of the gang of thieves."
She smiled at the oath they invented when they were children. "Fine," she agreed.
He smiled and let go. Picking up the hatchet, he held it in one hand while wrapping the other around his little sister's shoulders. He could feel her shaking beneath his arm, and he gave her a gentle squeeze. "Don't worry," he soothed, setting a slower pace than what they had going. "We'll be home before you know it."
She nodded, but didn't say anything. The duo traveled for a while in silence, the only sounds being the leaves and twigs crunching underfoot. Suddenly, she stopped.
Thomas looked over at her, watching her eyes scan the area around them. "What is it?" he asked gently.
"Didn't you hear that?" she questioned, turning her gaze on him.
Her expression was puzzled as she looked around again. He listened closely, but all he heard was the wind rustling the leaves. "I don't," he started. Suddenly he whirled around, looking back in the direction from where they had found the hatchet. Silently he put a finger to his lips and nodded in the direction he had heard the noises from. Looking back at his sister, he watched in horror as she gave a mute nod.
Not too far off came the sounds of horse hooves pounding against the forest floor, accompanied by bone chilling war whoops. They would fall silent for a few moments, and then pick up again, this time closer. This continued a few times, both of them too scared to move. Thomas kept a tight grip on the hatchet, his fingers turning white in the process.
Suddenly out of the distance came an arrow. It struck a tree nearby, breaking the mystical trance that had ensnared them. Abigail screamed, her face turning a deathly shade of white.
"Abigail run" he yelled, turning to his sister. Another arrow flew by, this time closer, then another, and another. Soon a whole legion of arrows was raining down on them. They set off running, narrowly dodging trees and fallen logs, tripping in their hastiness. The sounds of horses grew closer, along with the terrifying cries. He could feel the horse hooves pounding the ground behind him, which spurred him to go faster.
Her chest hurt from running, and her lungs felt as if they were on fire. Branches scratched her face and arms, tearing into her dress enough to slow her down a little. She had heard the horses before he did, but had just assumed it was a rider passing through. It wasn't until after that she heard the faint war cries that she had pointed it out to her brother. She was just about to stop, when she heard a gasp and a thud behind her. Spinning around, she gaped in horror, the scream stuck in her throat.
Thomas was pitched forward on the ground, unmoving. Gasping for air, she turned and ran. Blindly sprinting through the forest, she ignored the snares in her dress and hair, and the numerous scratches on her face and arms. The only thing should could see was her brother lying motionless; the bloody hatchet in his back. She could feel the vibrations as the horses got closer and closer, the whoops as ice in her veins.
Then another sound caught her ear; the sound of running water. She quickly changed direction and headed to the river. It eventually led into the village and she could get help. Lungs aching, she pressed on, careful to slow her pace once she neared the river. Both banks were lined with sharp rocks and she along with every other kid in the village had been told the stories of kids falling on the rocks and drowning. She wasn't about to risk her life running quickly on rocks.
She didn't feel the blow at all, or the fall. One moment she was running parallel to the river and the next she was lying on the ground. She felt something wet streak down her face and she reached up to wipe it away. Her hand returned crimson and it fell motionless to the ground. The last thing she saw before fading into blackness was an Indian warrior standing over her, a raised bloody hatchet in his hands.