Ghost Woods
by D. Krause
forum: Ghost Woods
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

......... ....... ..... ..


Ghost Woods


"Goddamn CSI," Mark snarled.

Greg, popping gum as usual, shook his head. "It's just a TV show, Mark," he scrutinized a clipboard, "and you're just a crank."

Mark glared at him. He accepted the crank label but knew, even if Greg-the-punk-ass didn't, how that dumb show had ruined things, convincing half of America the science of crime scene processing was a mere matter of waving arcane and non-existent technology over a general area then, presto! fibers and fragments and prints, oh my. Thanks, thanks a lot.

Frustrated, he stood at the base of the trail, one foot on the shoulder of the road and the other on the hill where the trail began its climb. People, including the hundred thousand or so gawkers strung along the road right now and craning their country-ass necks at him and the uniforms and the taped-off woods and the jostled-together police cars forming a cordon around this portion of the road, would expect CSI-like miracles for this case, as would his bosses. And miracles it would take. How he was going to extract any evidence from a scene where so many goddamn dumbass useless civilians tromped their yokel open-mouthed fat feet, picking their noses and staring at the body of Mr. Smith while the newly widowed Mrs. Smith, still dressed in apron and slippers, screamed and screamed at the top of the trail, he didn't know. The three thousand boot prints left by the goddamn uniforms when they herded the yokels out was just icing.

"Shitheads," he cursed.

"Hey," Greg pointed the clipboard at the now sedated Mrs. Smith being bundled into the ambulance. "Take it easy."

"Yeah, yeah," he waved a hand. His performance reports labeled him 'insensitive,' but that was wrong. He was hypersensitive, to victims and unfairness and incompetence and office politics and butthheads getting promoted and hotshot know-it-alls invading the detective ranks (except for Greg, who was a good guy, for a punk-ass). Just because his voice carried well at inopportune moments didn't make him insensitive. Did it?

"You don't see this very often," Greg said.


Greg gestured at the curiously tented white sheet draped over Mr. Smith. "Arrows. Bows and arrows. Down right medieval."

"Which tells you what?"

Greg shrugged. "I dunno. Killer didn't have a gun."

"Which is odd for a robbery, isn't it? Would you take a bow and arrow seriously?"

"If someone was pointing it at me, I would."

"No you wouldn't, not as seriously as you would a gun, not in this day and age."

"If someone was pointing it at me, I would."

"Ach," Mark became more irritated, "listen. A bow and arrow is clumsy, hard to conceal, doesn't have a fear factor, has a surprise factor. Your victim is going to be puzzled for a few moments, and you want your victim scared, handing over his wallet, not looking at you like you're some kind of nut."

"So, what is it, then?"



"Yeah, accident. Couple of idiot kids with a new no-shit bow and arrow."

"Right," Greg looked down at the clipboard, "nobody saw any kids."

Mark watched a DC camera crew that was trying to move its van past an increasingly red-faced traffic cop. Great, any minute, a freakin' news helicopter will be overhead, blowing whatever shreds of possible evidence left into the next county. "Nobody ever sees anything," he said.

Like now. The crying and increasingly hysterical Mrs. Smith told him she flew right out the door when their Husky returned alone, terrified, dragging its leash behind. She ran to the tamed suburban wooded path located in the cul de sac at the end of their street, not even bothering to change out of her house slippers. She knew, just knew, that her husband was in deep trouble. If the clumsy old fool had merely hurt himself, caught his ankle or broke a toe as he usually did at least once a month, he would have dragged himself home somehow, trying to hide his discomfort, looking stiff and sober until he fell into the house and made a big show of this week's injury. She would have laughed and shook her head and railed at him and bandaged or soaked or wrapped whatever it was he had damaged. He would never, ever, have let the dog go. That would be undignified. Mr. Smith was anything but undignified.

She slapped down the trail, her heart pounding in fear. She expected the worst but didn't expect what she found. There, just at the angle of the trail's dropoff, where it dumped unceremoniously onto Powhatan Road so that, if you weren't careful, gravity would fling you far too quickly into traffic, Mr. Smith was crumpled against a fallen tree, one of the dozens left by the latest windstorm and which Fairfax County always took its sweet time clearing. It was the arrow, buried in his lower chest and carrying remnants of his heart out the back, which made her scream. Her screams attracted the yokels. The yokels destroyed the crime scene. Perfect.

Mark took careful notes of her babble because tiny details solved cases. Mr. Smith always walked the dog as soon as he came home, still dressed in suit and long coat, carrying himself with great import and soberly nodding at the neighbors because this was a Responsibility. He'd always been about Responsibility and Appearances. That amused her. He was bluff and posture but harmless, for all that, and why would anyone want to kill such a blustering but sweet, amusing, white haired old man? Mark had kept his face stone and professional and asked her the follow up questions about enemies and persons with grudges, but inwardly wailed her bewilderment, her sudden and unlooked-for loss. His heart carried hundreds of tiny wounds, each a murder he'd run the past thirty five years. The two or three unsolved ones still bled.

Greg shot a measurement with the range finder. "Maybe it wasn't a robbery."

"Maybe. We won't know till we check the body. You got us an approach?"

"Think so." Greg added a couple of touches and then turned the sketch where Mark could see it. "I think we'll just go straight in." He pointed out the line.

Mark peered at the drawing. "We could try the other side."

"Yeah, but this hill is steep. We'll have a good chance of finding something just below the body. Gravity and all."

"Okay." Mark pulled out his Alternate Light Source and hooked it to the generator. "You got the camera?"

Greg slapped his pocket twice and pulled out his own ALS, hooking beside Mark's. Mark took left, as usual. They stepped once and peered and prodded the ground and laid their lights obliquely along the path, searching. Greg slipped a filter in front of his, looking for organics. He marked the sketch, nodded, and they stepped again. It took them about thirty minutes to reach the body.

"Crap," Mark muttered. They hadn't found anything.

Greg gripped one end of the sheet, nearest the head. He looked at Mark, raising an eyebrow. Mark nodded and Greg gently pulled the sheet off. Mark stared.

Greg looked back towards the road. "Mark," he said. "Kray's here."

Mark saw the coroner emerging from his telltale black ambulance. "Good," Mark said, "now we can get Mr. Smith on the table."

"Funny lookin' arrow," Greg observed.

* * *

"Funny looking arrow," Kray said, peering at it with the aid of a glass and an overhead light. Mark had the mask pressed hard against his face, mouth-breathing the Vaseline he had liberally spread across it. Never Vicks, only amateurs used Vicks. Opened up the passages, defeating the purpose. Vaseline was almost as useless; the horrible, overpowering odor of autopsied guts rammed through and battered Mark's nostrils. Mark hated that smell—never got used to it.

"That's what I said," Greg replied, peeling a banana. Mark couldn't believe it. Sometimes he hated his partner.

"Hm," Kray pursed his lips, "you know, I think this is homemade."

"Homemade?" Mark sucked in more Vaseline.

"Yes. It's pretty crude, not quite straight, has lots of marks like it was fashioned with a knife or something. Definitely not commercial."

"Do people make their own arrows?"

Kray shrugged. "I suppose. There's kits for it, I think. You get some wood dowels or fiberglass shafts or something and you're supposed to turn them and burn the feathers, but don't quote me. A hobby."

"So that's what that is, came from a kit?"

"I don't think so. This one's far too crude, like somebody picked up a stick in their backyard and fashioned it."

"Like a kid." Mark gave Greg a significant look.

"Kid, adult, who knows? Some back-to-nature person, perhaps."

"Or an Indian," Greg offered as he dug around in his lunch bag.

Mark raised an eyebrow at him, forgetting how much he was gagging. An Indian. Or someone who thought he was an Indian. Every once in awhile, Greg proved his worth.

Kray frowned as he bent closer. "Whoever made it, they did a good job. It's pretty strong." He flexed the arrow a bit, moving the shaft around in the wound and causing its tip to rotate. They had opened the table to avoid damaging the arrow during the autopsy, and had used braces to keep Mr. Smith from sagging. Seemed pointless. He was deflated now, open and empty, deer dressed for the butcher.

"What makes you say that?" Mark looked away from the empty eyes and empty body.

"Well, it went through the chest cavity, through the heart and out the back, almost ¾ of its length without breaking. Even the stone arrowhead's intact. That should have shattered when it hit the chest, but it didn't. Rather remarkable."

"So a pretty strong shot."

"Very strong," Kray stepped back and rummaged around the table, "the bow must have been powerful."

Powerful. Mark bit at his lower lip and glanced at Greg, who frowned at him. They were both having the same thought. Not a kid.

"Something else, whoever shot it really knew what he was doing. Look here," Kray pointed his long scalpel at the feathered end of the shaft, all bloodied, "this angle. The bowman was standing well below the victim, at least 120, 130 degrees."

"You mean," Mark interrupted, "like on the road?"

"Yes, right about there, where the trail started on the shoulder, or a little further out on the road itself. He was shooting up. And he caught the victim right at the bottom of the rib cage and the arrow drove right through the middle of the heart. I mean, it was an instantaneous kill. Quite a marksman." Kray shook his head in admiration.

So much for the kid theory. So much for an accident. It looked like someone was rather peeved with Mr. Smith, someone versed enough in bows and arrows to fashion his own and murder quite expertly with them. Mark sighed. This was going to be a weird one. He hated the weird ones.

"So, you fellas want the arrow clean, or leave it embedded in some tissue?" Kray had the scalpel poised over Mr. Smith's bottom chest.

"We're more interested in the arrow as evidence," Mark said. "Clean, if you don't mind."

"No problem," Kray sliced into Mr. Smith below the shaft, "I'll leave some close tissue because I don't want to nick it. Never know, the guy may have signed his work," and he chortled a bit.

Mark looked away, queasy, seeking more Vaseline as the blade squished and screeched against bone. "Say," Kray said, gesturing at Greg's bag, "do you have another banana?"

Mark turned and lurched out the door.

* * *

"Detective Sanger?"

"Yep." Mark hurriedly swallowed the last of the Blimpie and hoped he didn't get mayonnaise on the phone.

"Lynne Hadastu, State Lab. I'm calling about your murder case? The arrow?"

"Oh, right, right." Mark sat up and brushed the napkins and crumbs away, reaching for his notepad. "Wow, less than a month. Thanks for calling so quick."

"Oh, no problem. Murders have priority, especially something as unusual as this. I'm going to send you a written report but I wanted to call you first."

"Well, I appreciate that. You guys are the best, you know." Never hurt to butter up a labbie.

"Well, thank you. Can you get us a raise?"

Mark laughed. "I wish. I wish I could get one. So, what have you got?"

She hesitated and Mark inwardly braced. Can't be good news. "I wish I could tell you something definitive but, well, this is just plain weird."

"Tell me about it," Mark sighed.

"Yeah, don't envy you. But, this arrow, it's funny."

"That seems to be everyone's opinion."

"But I mean, it's funny, it's just… funny. Strange."

The back of Mark's head prickled. "How so?"

"Let's start with the shaft. It's made of dogwood."

"Dogwood? Isn't that the Easter tree? Seems a bit sacrilegious."

She laughed. "Well, not to pagans. But dogwood is also known as arrow wood."

"I guess," Mark said, "because it was used for arrows?"

"You got it. The tree of choice for Native American fletchers."

"So, whoever made this arrow is sticking with tradition."

"Oh, you bet he is." She paused. "The shaft has heat marks and shows signs of an arrow wrench."

"Come again?"

"You heat a wood shaft to straighten it, using an arrow wrench. That's a block of wood with a hole in it slightly bigger than the shaft."

"And that was done to this arrow." Mark stated it, didn't ask. "So, a purist."

"Definitely, since he used bear grease and real deer sinew, too."


"Yeah." She couldn't help sounding pleased. Labbies loved it when they surprised the investigator. "The grease used to heat the shaft is genuine, honest to God bear. He also used honest to God real deer sinew to tie on the feathers, which are hawk feathers, by the way, and to support the head, which is real flint."

"But," Mark was perplexed, "where in the world do you get stuff like that?"

"You can buy it from specialty stores, mostly in the Northwest. But these samples didn't come from a store. No preservatives."

Mark blinked and drummed his fingers, thinking furiously. "So, what have I got here, Jeremiah Johnson? Some guy running through the woods of Northern Virginia killing deer and bears and making arrows out of them?"

"Well, no, we don't think so." She was hesitant.

"Well, what? Do you have something else?"

"Sort of."

He let out a breath. "Fingerprints. You found fingerprints and it's Cochise, right?"

She laughed. "No, not Cochise. We did find lots of fingerprints but they're not matched."

"Okay. So?"

"We tested the DNA of the deer parts." She paused for dramatic effect. "They're from a species that hasn't existed in 300 years."


"Well over 300 years. Could be four."

"I don't get it."

She sighed in sympathy. "Frankly, we don't either. When we identified the sinew, we got the bright idea we could check the DNA and narrow down what part of Virginia it came from. So we sent it to UVA for typing and they asked us if we were joking with them, that the DNA evolved out 300 years ago."

"I still don't get it."

"That species of deer hasn't existed since about 1600. They evolved into something else, modern deer, you know, the kind you hit with your car?"

"That's nuts," Mark observed. "They must have screwed up the tests. Eggheads."

Lynn chuckled. "We thought so, too, so we had Tech do it as a backup. Same result."

Mark blinked. "But, how's that possible?"

"Don't know."

"I mean," Mark struggled with his objections, "how, I mean… can there be some old timey deer somewhere? On a farm? Zoo?"

"Not that anybody who should know seems to know about."

Mark continued the finger drumming. "All right, so, what? Someone's got a stash of mummified deer somewhere?"

"Well, maybe not mummified, but some old specimens, definitely."

"Is that even possible? Does deer sinew even keep that long?"

He could almost see her shrug. "Under the right conditions, we suppose."

"And what would those be?"

"Preserved somewhere. Like a museum storage room."

"A museum." Mark drew those words out, using the time to think. "Do you all know of any museums with that kind of collection?"

"No, we checked. We even called the Smithsonian but they weren't aware of anything like that, either."

Of course. That would be too easy. "How 'bout those dioramas, those displays at the Smithsonian? You know, the stuffed creatures in the glass cases, painted to look like the wild?"

"The Smith says none of the displays have specimens that old. Neither does New York, Chicago, any of the big museums."

"But that would be your best guess, right? That the deer parts came out of a museum somewhere?"

"It's about our only guess. Anything else is just, well…" she hesitated. "Weird," she said, finally.

Definitely that. Something dawned on Mark. "Could it be an original?"

"An original Indian arrow?"

"Yeah, made when those deer and beer were running around."

"You mean, a four hundred year old arrow?"

"Yeah." He already felt stupid saying it.

At least she gave it a few seconds' consideration before she laughed. "No, no way. It's too new. The wood would never have survived that long, much less the sinew and feathers."

"What if it was petrified?"

"It's not." She paused. "If you want, we can do a carbon test on it." Her tone conveyed what a waste of time that would be.

"Hmm," Mark pretended he was considering it. "Nah, no, you're right, that's silly. So, you're sending it back, then?"

"Yep. Should be there tomorrow, along with the report. If you need anything else, call us." She paused. "Good luck with this."

"Yeah. Thanks," and he hung up. Mark stared down at his desk for a long moment before calling out, "Greg!"

"Yo!" came from way down at the coffee pot, Greg's favorite hang out.

"Let's go back to the crime scene," he yelled as he stood and grabbed his pistol and coat and the file. Always go back and look. You never know what you'll see.

* * *

"Nothin'," Greg said, kicking at some poison ivy. "Just like the last three times."

Mark frowned. "Stop that. You'll get the juice all over me."

"You allergic?"

"Yes. And so are you, so knock it off." He wanted to think, he wanted to look, and Greg spreading itch poison all over the place was too distracting.

"So?" Greg pushed away and began kicking at rocks instead.

"I'm still looking."

"At what? We've combed this place, the techies combed it, we've gotten all the tracks and fibers from every friggin' idiot who walked through here anytime during the past twenty years." Greg wasn't one to push a case beyond its Solvability Factors.

Solvability Factors. Mark was far too old school for that crap. Still, other than an arrow made from animals long dead, what did they have?

"No enemies," Mark said.


"No girlfriend."


"No pissed-off neighbors."

"No. And no, and no," Greg snapped. "We've asked all those questions."

"Okay, but now we know about the arrow. We know how weird it is. Now we ask different questions."

"We could have done that at the office."

True, Mark acknowledged, but something was left behind at crime scenes, some ghost of what happened. They were in the right place to glimpse the ghost, on the trail, right about where Mr. Smith had been shot. It was about the same time, too. Mark stared down the hill at the traffic going by.

"All right," time to start, "the killer used an arrow made out of pretty rare artifacts, or maybe it's an original old arrow, meaning a pretty expensive arrow, to kill Mr. Smith. Why?"

"It's the only one he had."

Mark snorted. "Yeah, right, an expert bowman who stocks his quiver with million dollar arrows."

"It's the only one he had with him."

Hmm. "So, target of opportunity?"

"Maybe," Greg said, "he was going by, saw Mr. Smith, decided to let him have it. Test out his skills."

"Saw him where?"

Greg gestured down the hill. "Driving by."

"How could he see him?"

"It's early spring. There's no foliage."

"No, no," Mark waved his hand, "how could he see him from the road? The angle's too steep."

"Hm." Greg acknowledged that. "Maybe he saw him further down, as he was driving up."

They both looked down the road, back towards the Daventry entrance, which was lost to sight by the road swell. You could see the windshields of the cars, though, as they crested the swell. About three or four cars crested as they watched, the drivers silhouetted by their rear windshields.

"Okay." Mark felt a little stirring in his stomach. That's why you come back to the scene, Greg. "So, he sees him as he crests the hill, decides to stop and shoot. With a very expensive artifact. Why?"

"Again, only arrow he had."

"But why is shooting someone more important than keeping the arrow?"

"Well, maybe he stole it, knew he had to get rid of it. What better way to baffle everyone?"

"Could have just thrown it in a ditch. Anyone finding it would be clueless."

"Maybe he needed to make a statement of some kind."

Mark tapped his chin, watching the cars. "What kind of statement?"

"Oh, man, I don't know, repression of Indian rights, exploitation by the white man, striking back at authority, take your pick."

"No," Mark held up a finger, "this is important. Our victim, was he involved in anything exploitative like that? Animal testing, maybe?"

"He was a unit chief at GSA."

"Okay, he ordered staplers for the government. The government exploited the Indians…" and let the thought hang.

Greg shook his head. "No, doesn't work. It's not like he was wearing a sign or something."

"Yeah, but everybody in Fairfax County works for the government. And the killer would've seen him here every day."

They both went "hmm." Mr. Smith had walked the dog through the woods on a little-deviating schedule for years.

"Which means," Mark said softly, "our killer goes by every afternoon. At the same time."

They both stared at the cars, suddenly alert, peering through the windshields until they passed out of view, looking for guilt, an avoiding turn of the head, nervousness. Like they could see that from here. Mark shook himself.

"So, Robin Hood drives this route mad, getting madder every time he sees the fat cat white man walking his privileged dog through woods that once belonged to the Indians, maybe his own people, maybe not, maybe just feels some affinity. Snaps, stops, shoots, drives off." Mark folded his arms, pleased with himself.

Greg nodded. "Could be. After all, this is the Ghost Woods."

Mark blinked. "What?"

"Ghost Woods, that's what they call this little patch."

"Who does?"

Greg shrugged. "Everyone does. I saw it on the county topo map when I was measuring distances. Ghost Woods."

"Why, 'cause it's a ghost of what these woods used to be?"

"No, it's an Indian name. A translation, anyway."

"Is it?" Mark was feeling even more smug. "That fits."

"Seems to," Greg nodded.

Mark smiled. Now he had direction, now the right questions, which narrowed the options and developed names and whittled those down until only one name was left, the killer. Yes. Screw you, CSI. This one wouldn't peter out, this one would be solved…

Mark frowned. He watched the cars go by.

"You know, Greg," he said, suddenly, "something really bothers me."


He pointed at the road. "How many cars have gone by since we got up here?"

Greg pulled at some bark on a small tree. "Dunno. I haven't been counting."

"A lot, right?"

"Yeah, thirty, I'd say."

"Yeah, thirty, a pretty much continuous stream of cars with a small break here and there, wouldn't you say?"

"Okay, I'll say that. What's your point?"

"How," and Mark swept his hand to take in the road, "do you pull off, blocking half the road and pissing off everyone behind you, get out, grab a bow and arrow, shoot someone on the trail above, get back in your car, drive off, and no one sees anything?"

They were both quiet, watching the cars.

"Ghosts," Greg said, finally.

* * *

"Doctor Bainbridge?"

The weedy little man looked up from the table, his slip-on magnifiers bugging his eyes out so all Mark saw were pupils. Cross between a man and a cricket. "Yes?" a weedy voice to match.

"I'm Detective Sanger." He paused, but nothing stirred in the giant pupils. "I called you last week? About an artifact?"

The giant eyes blinked in some puzzlement and then Mark saw his brow clear. "Ah, yes, the arrow! So sorry, Detective, I'm very distracted and can't remember from one day to the next what I'm supposed to do." He snapped the magnifiers off his head and his eyes shrank back to normal. Mark smiled.

"Please, please, here." Bainbridge pulled a stool up to the work table next to his while hustling several cloths off to on one side and pushing several brochures to the other and slam-closed a huge volume of full-sized parchments as he rearranged lamps and spotlights and was, before you knew it, sitting expectantly, blinking at the package Mark carried.

"Uh…" Mark said.

"It's quite all right, quite all right, Detective," Bainbridge fluttered a pale hand at him, "I know it's evidence and I must be very careful, can't compromise the integrity, wouldn't want to ruin a case, now."

"You've done this before?"

Bainbridge sat back a bit, the fluttering hand resting on his chest. "Yes, on stolen artifacts from time to time. The FBI uses me on their Native American cases."

"Really? So that's why the Smithsonian referred me to you."

"Yes, it's become sort of an inside joke. They've started calling me Joe Leaphorn."

Mark just looked at him.

"Oh. Sorry. He's a character in some Navajo mysteries. Sorry," and Bainbridge was flustered and both hands fluttered now and it was all Mark could do to keep from laughing out loud. So anxious not to offend.

"'Fraid I don't read a lot of mysteries, Doctor. Occupational hazard."

"Ah, yes," Bainbridge's eyes lit up appreciatively, "yes, I can see that, definitely. The same reason I don't read Westerns."

"Sure." Mark sort of got it. "Well, then." Mark laid the package down and undid the seals, carefully unfolding the cloth until the arrow lay exposed under the spots.

Bainbridge stared at it. "My. Oh my." He then lapsed into silence.

Mark sat quietly, watching him. Bainbridge was all eyes, absorbed by the arrow. The minutes dragged. Mark stood it for a bit and then stared around the workroom. Lots of charts with timelines and colored graphs and pictures stuck up haphazardly with thumbtacks on cork boards leaning precariously on tables that had open boxes and pottery and feathers and bones scattered on them. Bainbridge must have about ten projects going at once.

"It is," Bainbridge said suddenly, startling Mark, "absolutely, without a doubt, one of the best reproductions of a Powhatan arrow I have ever seen."

"Really?" Mark's brows rose.

"Yes. Exquisite work. May I?" and he reached for the arrow without waiting for permission. The evidence tech in Mark screamed a silent "No!" but all possible prints and DNA and fiber had already been gleaned, so relax.

"My, oh my," Bainbridge murmured again and Mark swore he caressed the arrow. "Whoever did this really knows his art. See here?" Bainbridge leaned the shaft so close to Mark he had to move back. "The feathers are not glued. They're secured around the front with cording, looks a lot like sinew. Only modern arrows are glued along the whole feather, something most forgers don't know. Forgers tend to impose anachronisms on their work. That's how they're caught."

"So it's definitely modern work?"

"Oh, undoubtedly."

"No way it's an original?"

"Oh, no. This is a definite forgery."

"What proves it's a forgery?"

'Oh, well, that's simple. If this was real, it would have to be over 400 years old."

"400 years?"

"Yes, maybe 450. This forgery is pre-Jamestown, before European technology began to influence Native American arts. The pigments are cruder, the scoring more primitive."

"How do you know it isn't 400 years old?"

"Well..." Bainbridge smiled, a shy look coming over him. He genuinely didn't want to show how smart he was. Mark found that refreshing. "This is in too exquisite shape to be that old. It would have suffered rot and mold and damage, even if it was carefully preserved. If it had been in any collection, even a private one, I would have heard about it." He held it up, admiring. "I would like to meet the craftsman."

"So would I. You said this was Powhatan's?"

"Not Powhatan's, Powhatan."

Mark cocked his head. "I thought Powhatan was a person."

Bainbridge dropped back to the smile again. "He was, but only because of a translation error. Powhatan is the nation's name. The chief's name was Wahunsonacock, but the English applied the tribe name to him. There were actually a lot of tribes that belonged to that nation, but we know them collectively as Powhatan."

"Wasn't he Pocahontas' father?"

"That's him." The smile remained.

"So, the Powhatans, they were all around here?"

"Oh, yes."

"In Fairfax County?"

"A branch of them called the Tauxenent."

"Hmm." Mark thought for a moment. "So, this arrow wouldn't be out of place here."

"Well, no. The forger is very well steeped in Powhatan lore, has to be, which narrows your suspect list somewhat. To even me," and Bainbridge's smile went from shy to genuine pleasure. Vicarious thrill.

Mark looked at him. "The arrow was used to murder someone."

Bainbridge blanched. "What?"

"And our lab says that's real deer sinew and real bear grease slathered all over it. 400 year old sinew and bear grease, I might add."

Bainbridge was open mouthed, staring at Mark. "But, that's, that's just…"


Bainbridge blinked and held the arrow out at arm's length, maybe repulsed by its recent employment, who knew, but still fascinated. "What happened?"

"A man walking his dog in the woods was shot with it."

Bainbridge started, turned to Mark with wide eyes. "Where?" he asked, insistent.

"Uh," Mark recoiled a bit from Bainbridge's sudden press, "in Daventry. In a place they call—"

"The Ghost Woods," Bainbridge breathed, finishing it. He turned to the arrow and paled, placed it hastily on the table.

Mark frowned and wondered, for a second, how far up the suspect list he should advance the little dweeb. "How did you know that, doc?" he asked, suspiciously.

"I heard it on the news," the hands fluttered again, all over the place, "and when I did, I remembered…" he jumped to his feet. "Wait here. There's something I have to show you," and with a pat on Mark's shoulder he whirled, a lab coat tornado, and ran out the room.

"What the hell?" Mark watched Bainbridge's back disappear around a corner. He whipped out his cell phone and speed-dialed Greg. "Hey. Me. Yeah, still at the Smithsonian. Quick, I want you to run everything on a Doctor Cary Bainbridge… Yeah, that's the spelling… I have no idea what his DOB is… No, I can't get it. Run the DL, for chrissake… Gotta go," and he hung up as Bainbridge's lab coat swirled back into view, entering as he had left, his face working, fluttering hands, one of which carried a parchment.

"Doctor," Mark's voice was a warning.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I don't mean to be so dramatic, but…" He rested his eyes on the arrow again. He stilled, stepping near it, fascination covering his face.


"Oh, yes. Again, so sorry. See, when I first heard the report about the poor man killed in the Ghost Woods what, a month or so ago? Yes? Well, it jogged a memory, something I read in grad school." He pulled his stool near the arrow and sat over it, the parchment resting against the table. Mark stared at him. "See, Detective, there are a lot of stories from the time of the Jamestown settlement, when the English made first contact with the Native Americans. The Pocahontas story is probably the most famous, but there are a lot more. A lot. I compiled several of them as part of a research project."


"Yes, yes, sorry, this is just so, well, odd. It's just so odd. Anyway, some of the settlers were great chroniclers, John Smith among them, although most of his stuff he wrote years later and there's a lot of doubt about them. How Pocahontas rescued him is thought something he made up, or maybe something Wahunsonacock cooked up ahead of time…"


"Sorry! Sorry! Anyway, an anonymous chronicler recorded a story he heard from a Tauxenent priest down near where Mt. Vernon is today, around that area, anyway, probably at Namassingakent village, although we're not certain."

Mark glared at him.

"I know. I'm getting there. Sorry, I am doing this so badly. The story concerned a white demon who'd been in the Plentiful Place, that's what the words translate to, and that a famous warrior had shot the white demon and the demon had disappeared, like smoke."

"Doc, point?"

"The Tauxenent renamed the place the Ghost Woods, and made it taboo. No one from the village was allowed to enter it after."

Mark blinked at him. "You mean, those woods?"

"Yes, they're the same ones."

Mark sat back, regarding the fluttery, anxious little man. "Doctor, you are, of course, not seriously suggesting…"

"There's a picture."


Bainbridge grabbed the parchment and rolled it open, holding the ragged edges down on the table. "The chronicler copied it from a lodge drawing. It's been copied a hundred times since, but, still clear," and Bainbridge gestured with his chin.

This is nuts, Mark thought, but he stepped around and looked.

It was a stick figure, like you'd expect from an Indian painting. But there was a little more to it, some parts fleshed out. And it was in color. The stick figure was black, but it had white hair. It was wearing what looked like a long coat with clearly drawn buttons going down the front to what looked like dress shoes on its stick feet. And it held what could only be a leash, which was attached to some wolf looking dog. An Indian figure was drawn beneath the man, shooting a bow. Up at an angle. And the arrow was sticking out the man's back, through the heart.

Mark felt a chill go up his spine.

"In the story," Bainbridge murmured, "the animal on the leash was a wolf. But it was white and brown. Tell me, was the dog a Husky, a white and brown Husky?"

Mark just looked at him, speechless.

* * *

Wahunsonacock sat, narrow eyed, while the Communer of Spirits, face blackened with charcoal and outlined in red ochre, a call to the Dark Ones, stalked the floor. The Communer gibbered at Opotenaiok, who was on his haunches, stoic, eyes closed, mouth set, the bow of a great feat laid across his knees. Great feat? Wahunsonacock set his lips grimly. That remained to be seen.

"Do warriors see God?" The Communer sneered at Opotenaiok and the lesser priests murmured because no, warriors didn't, only Seers did and Opotenaiok was no Seer. The Communer made his point—Opotenaiok consorted with devils. That was not a great feat. That was dangerous.

"I did not say he was God." Opotenaiok spoke quietly against the priests' hissing. "I said he was a man of white skin and white hair, with a strange wolf roped to him, and he appeared from out of a mist on a ridge of the Plentiful Woods, maybe thirteen paces above me. I knew he was not God. But he looked at me with great contempt and I knew he was a great danger. I shot him." At that last, Opotenaiok's eyes snapped open and his war spirit blazed out, striking the Communer, who missed a step in his warding and tumbled back, wary.

"Enough." Wahunsonacock gestured and the priests ceased their screams and the warriors, who had yelled and moved to Opotenaiok's side, faded back. The Communer regained balance and stared at Opotenaiok, his hatred evident. Wahunsonacock shook his head. This was getting out of hand.

"Opotenaiok, First Hunter," Wahunsonacock used the honorific to placate the warriors, "no white man, no wolf, no body, was found." That placated the Communer.

"You would not." Back to the stoicism, the blank look. "Chief of all the Powhatan, the same mist that dropped the white man took the body and the wolf away."

"It was a demon!" The Communer could not restrain himself. "You have brought them down on us!"

Uproar, fueled by Opotenaiok's sudden leap to his feet and the baring of his stone knife. He would kill a Communer here, in the safety of the lodge? Wahunsonacock's eyes widened. Is this the touch of a demon?

"Enough!" He roared this time, using the power of his voice, and Opotenaiok held the knife out for a moment and then sheathed it. Wahunsonacock glared the Communer back against the wall and Opotenaiok back to his knees. He stood, making himself tall, letting the magic work its influence. "I do not know what our brother saw or what he fought, but no man here can doubt his truth." Murmurs of agreement. "He has proven himself too many times for that."

He turned to the dissatisfied priests. "But we must be careful of the Other World and the dark spirits there. That one of the People slew one of the Dark makes those woods angry."

He paused, looking grave, letting them behold the majesty of decision. "This is my ruling. Let Opotenaiok be free of the demon's taint, never to be so considered. Instead, let us celebrate him, for he has performed a great feat. Let songs be sung of it."

"And let," he thundered, quelling the shouts of triumph from the warriors and cries of rage from the priests, "the Plentiful Woods be taboo. Let our people know that a Pale Spirit walks there with his ravening beast, and that he is the Herald of the Dark."

There was a shocked silence as the implications became clear. Opotenaiok escaped burning at the priests' hands. Indeed, he was now favored. The priests would have to spend several sunsets placating the spirits to make up for that, always a costly and exhausting business. But the Taxunent were now denied their best hunting ground. When Opotenaiok brought back that bit of unwelcome news, they'd probably strip his First Hunter rights.

On one side, you gain much. On the other, you lose much. Balance.

And as they realized the balance of it, the priests and warriors let out shouts of approval. The Communer and Opotenaiok quietly accepted the congratulations and songs of their supporters, even as they glanced murder at each other. That would be a future battle. Wahunsonacock supposed he would end up killing one or the other.

He sat still as the warriors retold the deed and the priests fixed the poem. He would have preferred to go to his palace and excite his wives, but this was now a thing of state. He stifled a yawn.

"A worthy decision, Chief of all the Powhatan," a voice whispered in his ear.

Wahunsonacock nodded slightly to the gray man who stood to his right, partly hidden by shadow. "It preserves some peace, Onxe."

"Yes," the wise one waited a heartbeat, "and what of the white man?"

"You do not believe he was a demon?"

"No more than you, my chief."

Wahunsonacock chuckled. "You read me too well, Onxe. Not one of the black robes, either."

"No, my chief."

"But a wizard, a white wizard, and a powerful one to walk our woods with so much impunity."

"Indeed, Chief, as if our lands were his," Onxe said, gently.

"My very thought." He paused. "If we credit the stories of the Croatan," and here Oxne chuckled appreciatively, "then the white men will come back from the sea. And if they are already sending their wizards to scout our land…" He left the thought out there.

"And they are powerful men. Their weapons, their armour, it will be difficult defeating them," Oxne said.

"We may have to find another way."

Wahunsonacock would have continued, outlining his idea of attacking the defiant Chesapeakes, who had taken in some of the last white men from Roanoke, but there was a disturbance. Shouts of anger and surprise came from the far end of the hall and followed a whirling flurry of dust and smoke. A small figure ran between the legs of angry warriors who grabbed at it but missed. Wahunsonacock peered through the smoke and then let out an exasperated breath.

"Matoaka!" he called out, "come here!"

The little figure dodged a few of the more agile warriors and leaped into his lap, squirming, her lively eyes dancing with devilment. He signaled the priests down and sighed. How many pelts would this violation cost him? He should beat her, he should, but when he looked at her, his heart melted. "Pocahontas," he said too gently. His favorite, obvious to all.

She looked at him defiantly. "I am not a troublemaker!" she declared, "Girls should be in here, too!" The priests within earshot gasped. Wahunsonacock shook his head. There go another three pelts.

"So," he said to her, "you want to help with the affairs of state, do you?" and tickled her until she shrieked. He noted that the priests frowned deeper, but the warriors secretly smiled.

An idea, a small one, just a wren's feather, brushed his mind. He looked at his daughter, so smart, so brave, able to wind men around her fingers. He felt the structure of a plan take shape. He glanced at Oxne, who read his look and raised his brows, anticipating.

Perhaps there was another way.






copyright 2007 D. Krause.

D. Krause is a retired USAF officer living in northern Virginia (right next to the Ghost Woods, as a matter of fact) and working as a contractor for various DC Beltway Bandits.

link to