Richard sat on the front porch of Monty’s house, enjoying the feeling of the cold night air on his face. The farm had a certain smell about it, an old, musty smell that he liked more than he would have thought. Just ahead of him, on the road up to the farm, Johann and Wilhelm were fixing a wheel on the cart they were going to use to steal corpses. There was a lot of yelling and swearing in German, but it looked like they might have been making progress. Richard had tried to help them, but Johann insisted that they didn’t need any help. It made Richard feel worse with every passing minute.
However, he also had Monty leaning against his side, which he liked a great deal, and Deirdre, Sylvia, and Alice were having fun poking around the dilapidated stables to one side of the house.
Monty was quiet and slow in his movements tonight, for no discernible reason. Richard didn’t want to bring him because of that, but Johann insisted that he should come.
“The stars,” Monty said.
“They are beautiful tonight,” said Richard.
Monty pulled something out of his pocket and placed it in Richard’s hand. He looked down and saw with a jolt that it was the strange doll who he’d conducted a conversation with.
“I talked to this doll,” Richard said.
Monty smiled faintly. “Me too.”
“I don’t like what it has to say very much.”
Johann approached and roughly pulled Monty to his feet. “Get in the damn wagon.”
Richard whistled to the girls, which sent them running to get in the wagon. He climbed up to the seat, beside Johann, and pulled the map of Nantucket out of his pocket. “We have to go down the road and around here to the graveyard. We’ll need to disguise ourselves as some more legitimate operation.”
Sylvia’s head popped up from the bed of the wagon. “We have all these old empty sacks in the stable. Seems a shame they should go to waste. Why don’t we fill ‘em with dead grass so they look like some kind of grain or something, and we can pour out half and then hide the bodies in with the grass? These are really big sacks I’m talking about here.”
Johann shrugged and looked to Richard. Apparently, he was by default in charge of this mission.
“That’s a smart idea,” Richard said. “Wilhelm, go help Sylvia with getting those sacks. Alice, get some blades from the shed. Johann, look at the map and see where we can get dry grass. Monty, make sure we have enough shovels for everyone.”
Deirdre raised her hand. “I’m going to go inside and get oil and matches.”
That was slightly disturbing, considering they were going to be working with dry grass, but she might have wanted it for some reason other than setting the grass on fire. Richard waved his hand to signal that everyone should go off to do their separate tasks.
Johann wasn’t looking at the map. “Richard?”
“Through the woods there’s a huge clearing with a lot of long grass in it. According to this map, if we went there and continued through the woods we’d come out onto a graveyard for poor quaker farmers around this end of the island.”
Sylvia and Wilhelm returned with a wheelbarrow full of empty burlap sacks, which they dumped into the bed of the wagon. Sylvia jumped up on them and leaned back to lounge back on the pile.
Richard had a feeling he knew what Johann was getting at. “Sylvia, are you completely comfortable with leading a group through the woods?”
“I’m sorry? No.”
“Wilhelm, are you completely comfortable with leading a group through the woods?”
Wilhelm shrugged. “I don’t know these woods.”
“Monty, are you-”
“For God’s sake, I’ll do it,” Johann said.
Alice threw a selection of blades onto the wagon’s back and crouched on them so that no one would lie on top of them and cut themselves. Deirdre returned and held her cask of oil in her lap.
“What are we doing?” Sylvia asked.
“Here’s the new plan,” said Richard. “I’m going to take Alice on this wagon to the target graveyard here.” He pointed to the place on the map. “Everyone else will follow Johann through the woods to a clearing full of long grass that you’re going to cut and fill these sacks with. You’ll then continue through the woods to the graveyard, where you’ll meet me. We’ll dig up the bodies there and hide them in the sacks of grass. Does everyone understand?”
“Isn’t the idea that the sacks will help to disguise us before and after?” Deirdre asked.
Oh, right. Richard took a moment to reconsider before speaking. He pointed to a new spot on the map. “Okay, we’ll meet you here, instead. That’s near enough to the clearing, and near enough to the graveyard. Is that better?”
Johann looked at what he was pointing to. “That’s sort of close to the clearing. Maybe to the right of the church.”
“There’s an old church in the clearing.”
Richard shivered. The concept of old churches lost to the woods scared him. “Alright, that’s where we’ll meet you.”
“Do I have to go?” Monty asked.
“You know this island the best,” said Richard. “You’re the guide.”
Monty groaned and rolled off the wagon, somehow landing on his feet before he hit the ground. Johann, Sylvia, Deirdre, and Wilhelm followed him as he walked back towards the woods. Richard watched them until they were all but out of sight, then he signaled to Alice that she should climb up on the seat. “Listen, Alice. You’re my maiden daughter who’s engaged to your dear sweetheart Wilhelm, and we’re going to meet him across the island.”
Alice pulled a bonnet out of her pocket and tied it around her neck. Richard put a top hat on his head and cracked the reins of the wagon. They had only a single horse, a big black stallion named Thistle, but he pulled the wagon well enough.
The plan went off without a hitch until they had to take a detour through town past the local Catholic church, which the deacon was loitering outside of. He hailed their carriage to stop, which Richard reluctantly did.
“Where are you going?” The man asked.
Richard opened his mouth to talk, but Alice cut him off. “We’re going to meet my dear sweetheart Wilhelm. He’s a right brave young man, and devout, too. I love him! Have you met him, good deacon?”
The deacon’s brow furrowed. “Not that I know of. What does he look like?”
“He goes to the broken church across the way, in the woods. Oh, love! I cannot wait for a moment of apprehension!”
Richard pushed her away, acting annoyed. His fake American accent was less good than hers. “Sir, we’re going to meet the young man she’s t’marry. Excuse us, if y’will.”
“Oh- Yes, sorry. Best of luck to you.”
Richard and Alice continued on their way, until they were stopped again by an old man.
“In my youth,” the old man said, “A pair of able-bodied young men like you would be out on the sea, catching whales for the glory of Nantucket, not hiding on a wagon dressed as a woman.”
“I’m a girl,” Alice said.
“Oh,” the old man said. “Well, you’re still nothing compared to people in my youth. A strong young man like your friend-”
“I use a cane,” said Richard. “I’m disabled.”
“They’d still find plenty’a use fer you on a whale ship. They don’t care if you got noodles fer legs, you go on that ship you’re put to work. I knew a young man once… Ishmael, he was called. That boy had some problems like you, but he didn’t let that stop him. He was a magnificent young man… we were together, fer a time. Y’know what I mean. Then he died on a whaleship. The noblest way to die!”
Richard nodded along with his story, wanting both to be polite and to get the story over with as soon as possible. “Seems correct.”
“The noblest way! No one has any respect for whaling any more, but what do they know? Anyway, where are you two boys headed?”
“I’m still a girl,” said Alice.
“Where is this boy and this girl headed?”
“To the little quaker graveyard on the other side of the island,” said Richard. “Not the main one. The one for farmers.”
“Good luck, boy and girl.”
Richard tipped his hat to the old man, and cracked the reins to get the cart going again. It wasn’t long before they were stopped a third time by a small girl with bouncy blonde curls who was carrying a heavy iron bucket along the road.
“I got this water for my mama back in town,” the girl said. She had a strange, cruel smile. “Can I ride with you?”
“We aren’t going that way,” said Richard.
“We aren’t going towards town.”
“But could you turn around?”
“We have to meet someone.”
“Would you buy this water, then?” The girl asked.
“Why would I do that?”
“Because I won’t go away until you do.”
Richard didn’t have any American money, but he threw her a few pence as payment for the heavy bucket of water. This seemed satisfactory, because she put the coins in her pocket and bounced away.
Alice put the bucket of water down by the side of the road, and they continued on their way.
When they got to the place beside the woods, they positioned their wagon slightly out of sight so that they would be able to surreptitiously wait for the others. However, after half an hour of waiting, the others still hadn’t shown up. Richard began to feel uneasy. Where were they?
“Is there some kind of problem, I wonder?” Alice asked.
Richard shook his head. “I don’t know. Nothing to do but wait, I guess.”