Buck reluctantly set up camp amongst the grove of trees. Darkness was already creeping up on him. If he had been able to continue just a few miles further, he might have made it to a town and been able to get a room in a hotel, or even sleep in the livery. He would have preferred either option to the woods this night.
Which was quite unusual for him. Any other time, he would have chosen to camp in the outdoors over a town any day. Towns brought with them stares and whispers, or even out and out hostility. Especially when he was alone.
But he had let Cody's talk get to him. Cody always knew how to push someone right to the edge.
Buck had actually volunteered for this run. No one else had wanted it anyway, and he had looked at it as an opportunity to avoid the party going on in Sweetwater this evening. He could probably thank Cody for that too. Cody had been reading aloud from the book for days, sharing the more "entertaining" passages with anyone and everyone. The thing about it was, Cody knew about Buck's beliefs, and was getting great enjoyment in taunting him.
So now Buck found himself camping out on a dark night in the middle of a bunch of trees with Cody's story flitting around in his head, while the others were at a costume party, dancing and having fun. Not that Buck would have enjoyed the party anyway. But maybe it would have been better than being out here this night.
This was the night that the others called All Hallows Eve, the night that, according to Cody's story, spirits rose from their graves and wandered the earth.
Buck was raised to believe in spirits, good and bad. And from the sounds of things, the spirits that were supposed to be walking around tonight were not the kind that Buck chose to encounter.
Rachel told him that Cody's story was just that, a story, and Buck thought that he could ignore what Cody insisted on reading aloud. But with the darkness descending on him, he was beginning to think that it just might be possible that Cody's story could have an element of truth to it.
Grabbing hold of the medicine bag hanging around his neck, Buck added more branches to the fire and tried to relax. He would eat and then turn in for the night. Before he would know it, the sun would be up and this night would be over.
He had no idea how long he had been asleep, although it didn't feel like it had been long. His eyes moved around the small camp, trying to locate the source of whatever had awoken him. The moon had risen, full and bright, but even as he lay there, clouds moved across the face of it, dimming the light it afforded. He glanced at what was left of the fire. Not much more than embers. Maybe he had been asleep longer than he thought. His eyes continued to search the small clearing.
Nothing. No unusual sound, nothing moving about. Buck closed his eyes again and tried to sleep. But he felt the same prickling feeling on his scalp that had caused him to wake in the first place. His hand slowly closed over the handle of his gun. He lay there for close to an hour, unmoving, watching as ground fog began to cover the forest floor. Finally he closed his eyes.
He knew this time that he had only been asleep a few minutes. He still wasn't sure what had caused him to wake. There had been no unusual sounds. In fact it was unusually quiet. Maybe that was it. But every instinct he had told him that something was wrong. He moved slowly, sitting up, gripping his gun tighter. He stood without a sound and moved in amongst the trees.
Quietly he circled his camp, watching for any sign of movement. He saw it out of the corner of his eye and instantly froze in place. His eyes widened in disbelief. He drug his hands over them, certain he must still be asleep. But he wasn't.
Moving amongst the trees, heading straight toward him, was a white apparition. Buck knew it wasn't human, wasn't alive. He tried to convince himself that it was just more ground fog. But it was upright, as tall as he was, and seemed to take on somewhat human shape. It glided across the ground effortlessly, blending into the low lying fog.
Buck couldn't move as it came closer. His feet felt locked in place to the ground. As it came closer what appeared to be an arm raised from its side. Buck could see a finger point in his direction. It came closer and closer.
As it came close enough to touch him, Buck broke from his trance. He turned and ran. But he stopped after just a few steps. There was yet another of these… ghosts… coming his way. He turned again, and again, as he became surrounded by more and more of the spectral visions. He had nowhere to turn, nowhere that he could run. The spirits descended upon him, covering him, suffocating him…
…He pushed against the whiteness, his fingers gripping the edge of the sheet and pulled it down over his head, tossing the pillow onto the floor. He drug in a lungful of air, waking fully now as several of the others sat up in their bunks staring at him. Cody was already up and getting dressed.
"About time you woke up Buck. You promised to take that run for me today so I can go to the All Hallows Eve dance."
Remembering the dream he had just had, the trees, the fog, the spirits, Buck shook his head.
"Cody, I've changed my mind. There's no way I'm taking that run!"