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The Swamp Men

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Ms. Wallenbe was a strange old woman. She had chosen just about the worst place in the entire country to live, and that was right in the middle of one of the filthiest swamps in the south. She lived in complete solitude, her only neighbor being the equally-strange Mr. Carbuncle, who lived about a half-mile away in his shack of a home.

Contrary to Carbuncle's home, however, Ms. Wallenbe's house wasn't in a bad state. It was a fairly large two-floored deal, and looked fairly new. The woman seemed to take care in the looks of her swamp house. It did, however, look exceedingly out of place, considering it was in the middle of an overgrown forest of shit.

Ms. Wallenbe just so happened to also be my aunt. I had actually never met the woman before in all the sixteen years I had been alive. My mother never talked to her because of bad relations, but my fifteen-year old sister Sarah had insisted that we go visit her. Even after my mother refused, Sarah decided to work out a deal where just the two of us could go visit her while she stayed home.

My mother was completely against the idea at first. She called Ms. Wallenbe a 'crazy old shit who lives in the middle of the kind of place that suits her character well.' Mom had told us that the only reason she actually lived out there was to look for a secret deposit of treasure that had been hidden in the swamp long ago.

Well, Mom really shouldn't have mentioned that last part to us, because after she did, Sarah lost her mind. She said that, now, we absolutely HAD to go visit the old lady because she wanted to search for this treasure.

Eventually, after enough pleading and begging from Sarah, my mother finally gave in. She told us that we weren't going to be staying with the old woman more than a week, however.

She sent the two of us off on a bus from Alabama, where we lived, down to some bumble town in the middle of the Louisiana swamps. The lady on the bus, Martha, turned out to be a slightly overweight woman in her young thirties, and soon after we met her became the biggest bitch the both of us had ever met. She complained about everything from her boyfriend's manscaping habits to accidentally using her grandmother's Nair at one point. Martha did, however, know how to get to Wallenbe's house from the bumble town in which we had gotten off the bus. She told us that Wallenbe's house was about a mile down a trail which led into the swamp, beginning at the bus stop. Then, Martha left us while complaining about how only stupid hermits would live a mile off into the swamp.

Sarah and I departed the bus and headed off on the trail Martha had told us about. I happened to agree with the woman completely - Ms. Wallenbe was kind of a dick for living out a mile from civilization on a trail which didn't look like it could be accessed on any kind of vehicle.

The swamp was very misty and damp. There were strange-shaped trees all around the place, with patches of mud and water all around the place. About halfway down the trail, we passed a shack which looked like it was completely abandoned.

"Think that's Carbuncle's house?" asked Sarah.

"No," I replied. "Mom said Carbuncle lived further into the swamp. That 'pry isn't his house."

We continued down the path. Looking down the road, we eventually spotted a large, white house just kind of sitting there in the middle of the swamp. I knew, and I assumed Sarah did too, that the house belonged to Ms. Wallenbe.

As we approached the house, we noticed that the woman herself was standing outside the structure. She was indeed an old-timer looking woman, but hadn’t quite gotten the complete set of grey hair yet. She wore a dress made of rags and a white, dirtied shirt with overalls.

"There's the two!" said Ms. Wallenbe excitedly. "I'm guessing you two are Tim and Sarah? Well, of course you are! No other kids ever come into here."

"Not surprised at all," said Sarah quietly. The woman then came over and gave us both awkward hugs.

Ms. Wallenbe led us inside the house, where we all sat down and began a general conversation about each of out lives. It was that kind of conversation that one usually has with an old lady, where you answer questions about your interests, where you go to school, all those types of things.

Listening to Ms. Wallenbe go on about herself was one of the most tedious things I'd ever listened to. I was surprised there was so much going on in the life of a swamp hermit.

I had decided to, in attempt to not be rude, ask her why she lived in the swamp.

"It's a great place to be," she had responded. "I'm the kind of lady who likes a little seclusion here and now again. Mind you, it was a nightmare trying to get the city to allow me to build house way out here."

"Mom said you were out here because of treasure buried in the swamp," said Sarah. I cringed a little at Sarah's statement, thinking it was just a little rude for her to be saying such a thing.

"No, not really," said Wallenbe. She chuckled. "Although, it would be nice to have!"

Sarah smiled.

"It's not exactly treasure, you see," she continued. "It's actually just a load of gold. There's supposedly a big deposit of gold that was dropped off here about two hundred years ago. I guess there were some miners who, having struck it rich back in California, were traveling back east with their loads back then. One of 'em apparently died in the swamp, but had hid his deposit before he had finally keeled. Buried it around here somewhere."

"Fun story," said Sarah.

"Yeah, but that ain't the best part," said Ms. Wallenbe. "Now and then, folks around here say that the ghost of that miner stalks the swamps, looking for his gold. Apparently, he had forgotten where it was located after his untimely death, and now stalks around looking for it."

Sarah laughed. "Folks around here? Who are they? Are you talking about Carbuncle?"

Suddenly, Ms. Wallenbe's face grew silent and serious, almost unnaturally so.

"Carbuncle knows just as well as I do that that miner walks around here at night."

I then began laughing. "You're not serious!" I said. "Are you trying to convince us that this is actually true?"

"It is true," said Wallenbe.

"Bullshit," I replied. "Ms. Wallenbe, ghosts don't exist."

"I've seen that bastard with my own two eyes," she said. "And so has Mr. Carbuncle. Now, why don't you two go upstairs? It's getting dark outside."

Without hesitation, both Sarah and I got up from the table and went upstairs, grabbing our things and taking them with us."

"First bedroom on the right," yelled Ms. Wallenbe after us.

Sarah and I climbed the stairs and entered the bedroom. There was a bed and futon waiting for us in there. I closed the door and we both sat down.

"Crazy bitch," said Sarah. "Mom was right."

"I think being in this swamp has really gotten to her," I said. "This story that there's a miner - a fuckin' miner - that lives in this swamp is pure horseshit."

"Can you believe it?" said Sarah. "We've pulled ourselves into one of those cliche'd ghost stories. It's got all the elements, doesn't it - the swamp, the crazy old woman, the legend of a ghost."

"Well, the old woman needs something to think about, doesn't she," I said. "God damn living in a swamp and all. Who the hell does that?"

We both laughed. We talked a little more about our crazy situation which we had put ourselves into, then decided to go to bed.

Ms. Wallenbe, we realized that night, left her front porch lights on during the night. Those lights were just about as bright as lights can be, illuminating a whole hundred feet of the swamp in front of her house - not to mentioned the light blazed through the bedroom's window, on which there was no curtain.

About two hours into the night, the likes of which I had not even attempted to close my eyes, I heard a furious banging noise from down below.

Sarah and I both shot out of bed. She, apparently, had not been sleeping either.

"The hell is that woman doing down there?" I said furiously. I moved over to the window and looked out.

"I also don't know what she thinks she's doing leaving these lights - " I stopped. There was a person out on the front porch. He was a tall man, roughly a little taller than Ms. Wallenbe. He had a long, grey beard and black hat. He was wearing a brown shirt with brown overalls. The hat covered his eyes.

"Sarah," I said quietly. "There's a guy out there. Come look!"

She walked over and peered out the window alongside me.

"Who the fuck is that?" she asked. "And why the hell is he out here this late at night? What is it, eleven or something?"

"it's probably that Carbuncle guy," I said. "That old shit probably has nothing better to do than to wander around at night."

"Maybe it's the ghost of the miner!" said Sarah, grinning. "Ooh, spooky!"

"Shut the fuck up," I said, rolling my eyes. "That old woman is bullshitting us to the highest tier."

The man down below turned to face away from the window, his back facing the house. That is when Sarah and I noticed something - the man was holding a large, rusty knife in his hand. We both gasped at the same time.

"Oh, no fucking way," I said. "That old Carbuncle guy's a looney!"

"That shit sack probably carries that thing around because he's insane," said Sarah.

"What should we do?" I asked. "Should we tell Wallenbe about that guy?"

"No," said Sarah. "We should probably just stay up here. I don't think Wallenbe would do anything about it, honestly."

We both stepped away from the window.

"Don't let that bumblefuck know we're here," I said. Sarah nodded.

Needless to say, the rest of the night was completely sleepless for the both of us. We had simply lay in bed all night, thinking about that crazy old guy outside. The porch lights continued to shine in our faces for the rest of the night as well. By the time morning came, the two of us were not only shook up from the previous night but also a little pissed off that we didn't get any sleep.

We were caught off guard in the morning by the screams of "Breakfast!" coming from downstairs in the morning. The two of us lazily slithered out of bed, got dressed, and made our way downstairs.

Ms. Wallenbe had prepared pancakes for us - pancakes which, I must say, were not the least bit bad. They were almost perfect in taste, size, and shape.

"You two sleep well last night?" asked Ms. Wallenbe.

"No, not really," I replied. "Those porch lights kept us up all night."

"Oh, terribly sorry about that said Ms. Wallenbe. "I'll go up and put a board on the window today or something to help block the light."

"Why do you keep those lights on?" asked Sarah.

"Simple," said Ms. Wallenbe. "To keep away the ghost."

"Oh, for god's sake," I said, sighing. "What are you talking about?"

"The ghost of the miner," said Ms. Wallenbe, waving a small knife in her hand.

I turned to Sarah. "She actually believes this shit," I whispered to her. Sarah looked equally as astounded as I was.

Suddenly, there was a loud bang on the front door. It startled all three of us.

"Oh!" exclaimed Ms. Wallenbe, trotting over to the door. "It's Mr. Carbuncle - ah, shit!"

Ms. Wallenbe had accidentally cut her arm with the knife, dropping it to the ground. She quickly pulled a towel from the counter and wrapped it around her cut. She then opened the door, revealing a man standing behind it. The man was rather short and stout, with a short mess of curly hair on his head and no facial hair whatsoever. He was dressed in a green coat and black pants - a rather formal dress for someone who lived in a shack in the swamp.

"Good morning, Mr. Carbuncle!" exclaimed Ms. Wallenbe. "These are my guests for the week. My nephew, Tim, and my niece, Sarah!"

"Good morning," said Mr. Carbuncle with a wave of his hand.

"What can I do for you?" asked Ms. Wallenbe.

"I wanted to converse with you about that old shack on the side of the trail," said Mr. Carbuncle. "I think the both of us want to tear that thing down, but we need to, for some reason, get permission from the city to do so. Apparently, it's city property."

"Well, let's talk about it then," said Ms. Wallenbe. "Children, when you are finished, you may go and play."

Wallenbe and Carbuncle talked through most of the morning, it had seemed. Sarah and I had gone outside in the swamp, partially to get away from the woman, partially to explore the area.

"That old woman's really strange," said Sarah. "Don't you think?"

"I don't think she's that way on purpose," I said. "I just think she's a little sick from the swamp life, that's all."

"Listen, I need to tell you something important," said Sarah, instantly turning serious. "That Mr. Carbuncle that we saw this morning - he in no way looked like that guy we saw out the window last night."

"I know," I replied. "I have no idea who that guy was."

"I think we should ask Wallenbe about it," said Sarah.

"No!" I said. "She'll just tell us it was the miner or some bullshit like that."

"I don't know," said Sarah. "That guy did look an awful lot like a miner."

"Oh, don't you be buying into her crap now," I said. "It was probably some other guy from the city or something."

"What was he doing with a knife, though?" asked Sarah. "You considered that part yet?"

"I do not know," I said. "This whole thing seems strange."

"I don't know that I like this place," said Sarah.

"Well, I guess we should just try and suffer through the week," I said. "As long as we can deal with Wallenbe's obsessions with this miner shit, we can survive it."

The day drew on, and Sarah and I explored the area some more. We ended up finding nothing except pools of dirty water and the occasional frog.

We were heading back to Wallenbe’s house, the sun just beginning to leave the sky. We were complaining to each other about people we knew back in Alabama, people we hated, and people we knew were idiots. After all, we had to entertain ourselves with something since we were in the middle of nowhere.

As we approached the shack which we had passed on our way to the house the previous day, I was stopped immediately by Sarah. She had grabbed my arm and stopped me.

“What?” I asked. “What the hell are you-”

“Shut the fuck up,” whispered Sarah. She then turned and pointed to the shack, which, at this point, was about fifty yards in front of us.

I looked inside a hole in the wall which was probably a space for a window. There was a man inside the shack - a tall man, wearing a brown jacket with overalls. He had a long, grey beard and a black hat.”

“It’s that guy again!” whispered Sarah. “He’s in there!”

We both stared at the guy. He raised his arms and, holding a large, rusty pickaxe in his hands, swung at the ground, making a loud sound.

I was in absolute disbelief. At first, I assumed that somebody was playing a practical joke on us; perhaps it was Wallenbe, trying to convince us that this miner actually existed. I realized then, however, that the woman was probably a little too old and a little too bat shit crazy to do something like this.

“We run around the other side of the shack,” i said. “We need to get to Wallenbe’s house as fast as we can without being seen by this guy.”

Sarah nodded. We both turned to the side, and I began to walk quietly across the swampy land. Sarah followed close behind. We continued along the side of the shack. As we finally passed the side of the shack, we began to walk quietly along the side of the path towards Wallenbe’s house.

“I think we avoided that guy, whoever he was,” I said.

“I hope so,” said Sarah, turning around and looking behind us.

“Shit!” she suddenly yelled, pushing me to the side. I swiveled around. The man was standing right there, behind us. The hat was, once again, covering his eyes. The man raised his axe and began to run towards us.

A jolt of fear rushing thought my body, I turned back around and took off down the path. Sarah and I ran for out lived down the path, the crazed man following behind us. At this point, I clearly understood that, whoever this guy was, he was clearly not Ms. Wallenbe. There was a guy out here - a crazy, probably mentally unstable man was out here, stalking the swamp. And now, he was chasing us.

I completely lost my mind. Sarah and I kept running towards Ms. Wallenbe’s house, hoping against all odds that we could make it there alive.

I took a quick glance behind me. The man was still following us. His pickaxe was raised above his head, his head which bore a face I still could not see the eyes of.

Ms. Wallenbe’s house appeared behind the trees. Sarah pointed to it, and we rushed up to it. I quickly jolted the door open. The two of us flung it closed, and I locked it behind us as quick as humanly possible.

The two of us stood behind the door, panting, waiting for the man to burst in. We stood in a frozen state of terror, waiting for his pickaxe to break through the door.

Nothing happened, however.

Sarah and I waited for several minutes, frozen in terror. Still, nothing happened.

I motioned for us to go upstairs. We ran over to the staircase and sped up it, running into our room. We looked out the window, which we had noticed Ms. Wallenbe hadn’t covered up yet.

There was no man outside. Instead, there was only one person standing outside the house - and it was Ms. Wallenbe. She was walking towards the house, a garden rake in her hands.

“Where the hell did that guy go?” asked Sarah. “And Ms. Wallenbe is just out there, and she didn’t even see him? What the hell?!”

“This is creeping me the hell out,” I said. “Something is definitely not right here.”

“You know,” said Sarah, “I’m starting to think that Ms. Wallenbe isn’t so crazy anymore. Something’s definitely wrong with this swamp.” she paused and looked intently at me. “Do you think that guy was the miner?”

I laughed. “You’ve got to be shitting me!” I said. “You think that there really is a miner out there!”

“The fucker had a pickaxe!” said Sarah loudly. “What else do you want that guy to be!”

“I don’t know!” I said. “This isn’t exactly an easy situation to understand.”

The both of us heard the front door open. We quickly rushed downstairs. Ms. Wallenbe had entered the house.

“Good evening, children!” said Ms. Wallenbe. Meatloaf for supper! Should be ready soon. I’ll start making it now.”

I glanced at Ms. Wallenbe’s arm. Her wound from earlier had formed into a large, ugly scar.

Ms. Wallenbe glanced back at me. “Something wrong?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “There’s-"

“There was a man in the forest,” chimed Sarah. “A big ass man with a big ass pickaxe.”

Ms. Wallenbe’s expression shifted. “Shit,” she muttered quietly under her breath. She nervously began to look around.

“Children,” she said, “Do not go outside for the rest of the night. You understand?”

“Sarah, don’t bring up this miner bull crap,” I said. “Really. It was probably that Carbuncle guy playing a trick on us.”

“No, no, no!” cried Ms. Wallenbe. “Don’t you see - I’ve been telling you children that there’s a miner out here - and you…” she stopped. “Stay inside, you hear?”

I sighed. “I am not planning on going back out there,” I said. “ Especially after some old shit tried to kill us.”

“Well, good boy,” she said, turning back around and picking up a wooden spoon. She then swiveled around and pointed it at me. “And mind your mouth.”

Dinner came and went, night fell, and Sarah and I retreated to our room. Ms. Wallenbe came up before we went to bed and placed a board on the window, smiling, and saying, “Now you can actually sleep up here!”, chuckled, and then went back downstairs.

I actually got a fairly good amount of sleep that night. I had fallen asleep in the course of about half an hour.

I only woke up at about four in the morning. It was at that point when I heard a noise coming from outside - a furious hacking noise from outside the window.

I immediately jumped out of bed and stood in front of the covered window, Sarah still sleeping in her bed. I slid the board to the side just a hair, and peered out.

There was nothing in sight. The hacking sounded like it was coming from the distance - about a half-mile off. It sounded like the noise of metal hitting wood - a loud, obnoxious banging.

The noise ceased after about five minutes. Still unsure of what lay outside, I continued to stare out the window for about another ten minutes. It was only after that ten minutes passed when I saw the person who had been making that noise - that same fellow from the previous day.

It was the miner, walking towards the house. He was carrying his pickaxe over his shoulder, looking down towards the ground. He walked silently towards the front door, then turned the knob and opened it. The miner walked inside the house.

I panicked. I immediately turned to Sarah.

“Wake up!” I said quietly. She immediately began to stir. “That miner is inside the house! He’s fucking inside!”

Sarah immediately jumped up. “What?” she said, also becoming panicked. “He’s inside?

“I just saw him walk inside the house!” I said.

Suddenly, I heard loud, heavy footsteps. They sounded like they were coming up the stairs.

“Oh god,” I said, suddenly beginning to fear for my life. I backed up against the wall.

The footsteps continued to get closer. Finally, they approached our bedroom door and stopped. The knob turned and the door creaked open.

I was about to go into a full-out panic when I saw who the person at the door was - it was Ms. Wallenbe.

A huge sigh of relief flushed over me.

“Oh, sorry!” she said. “Didn’t realize you kids were awake. Didn’t want to disturb you. I thought I heard some noises and thought I’d better come check on you just to make sure you were okay.”

I breathed heavily. “Yes, we’re okay,” I replied, turning to Sarah, who nodded.

“Someone entered the house,” I said. “A man, through the front door.”

“Really?” she asked. “I was actually in the front room myself just now. Nobody came through it.”

I was startled. Confusion began to sweep over me.

Ms. Wallenbe’s face grew into a large smile. “Well, I’ll leave you kids alone for now.”

She closed the door and left.

The morning processed. At seven o’clock, Sarah and I left the bedroom and headed downstairs. Ms. Wallenbe was preparing a large pot of oatmeal.

“Morning, kids,” she said. “Sorry I woke you up so early. Didn’t mean to do that.”

“That’s fine,” I said. “We were, I think, just a bit freaked out over your miner stories.”

“Oh, the miner?” asked Ms. Wallenbe. “I’m so sorry about that. I guess I’m just trying to protect you kids, is all. He is definitely one scary fellow, that miner.”

Ms. Wallenbe did not sound at all concerned about the miner.

“What would you kids like to do today?” she asked. “We can go into town and go to the market! Fun time we’ll have there.”

“Sounds good,” I said.

We all finished breakfast, then walked out into town with Ms. Wallenbe. Mr. Carbuncle had joined us along the halfway point. We spent a good three hours there, going from market to market (the markets consisted of several wooden tables with gross vegetables lying on them), to one general store, and then to a bank. Being in a town that was this old and filthy made me glad I lived in a somewhat modernized area of the world.

We all eventually came back, Mr. Carbuncle saying goodbye and heading off to his shack. Ms. Wallenbe stayed in the house and began to unpack her groceries while Sarah and I went outside.

“I think we should go to that shack,” said Sarah. “The one we saw the miner in yesterday? We should go there.”

“Are you kidding?” I asked. “What if he’s there again?”

“He was there for a reason,” she said. “Maybe he thinks that’s where this fabled gold is.”

“Don’t be silly,” I replied.

“Well, I’m going there.”

“Sarah, do not go there. If hat miner’s there, you’re gonna get yourself into a shit load of trouble. And by trouble, I mean danger.”

Sarah, without another word, began trotting off down the path.

“Damnit,” I said quietly. I decided that it was in my best interest to follow and make sure she was safe.

We both followed the path, eventually getting to the shack. Sarah found the doorway, which was missing the door, and we both entered.

The shack was very small on the inside, about ten feet by ten feet. There was a wooden counter which extended from the wall on one side, almost like a bar. In the middle of the wooden floor was an array of hack marks and chipped wood.

“I knew it,” said Sarah. “That miner thinks the gold is underneath this shack.”

“Well, what do we do?” I asked. “There’s nothing we can do, actually. We should get the hell out of here, knowing that that miner could come back here.”

Sarah examined the mess in the middle of the shack. She shuffled some wood chips around. “Looks like he’s having a pretty difficult time hacking through this wood,” said Sarah.

“Sarah, let’s get the hell out of here!” I said intently. “We need to-" I stopped. I looked out a hole in the shack in which there may have once been a window. Out in the swamp, I saw him. The miner was walking towards the shack, pickaxe in hand.

“Shit, shit, shit!” I said. “Sarah, the miner’s coming!”

“What do we do?” she said, a look of terror immediately forming on her face.

“We need to hide,” I said. “Quick, behind this counter thing!”

We both ducked behind the counter. The miner walked into the room, his boots thumping heavily on the wooden floor. He grunted an unusually high grunt - then pulled up his pickaxe and swung viciously at the ground.

Sarah and I both flinched at the sound of the pickaxe hitting the floor. The sound matched the sounds I had heard from our bedroom last night as well. The miner took ten more swings at the ground before pausing. I slowly turned around and peered over the top of the counter, looking at the miner. He rose his pickaxe into the air, his sleeves falling to his elbows, the let the tool swing down.

In that moment in which his pickaxe was raised, however, I saw something. On the upper part of his arm, I saw a small line of red - part of a scar, engraved onto his skin.

I turned back around. Sarah was looking straight ahead, clearly fearing for her life. The miner took another swing - this one his last - and then grunted another high-pitched grunt, and then walked off. I stared at him as he walked off into the distance, down the path, back towards Ms. Wallenbe’s house.

“Listen,” I said, quickly turning to Sarah.

“What the fuck is that guy’s problem?” asked Sarah. “I’m beginning to think Ms. Wallenbe is telling the truth!”

“No,” I said. “Listen. I think Ms. Wallenbe is the miner.”

Sarah gasped. “What?” she said.

“There was a scar on that miner’s arm,” I said. “Just like the one Ms. Wallenbe got when she cut herself yesterday.”

“Are you serious?” asked Sarah.

“Absolutely,” I said. “I think Ms. Wallenbe is dressing up as this ’miner’ so that she can search for this gold! she wants to scare everyone else away so that she can have it for herself! I think Mom was right about Ms. Wallebe living down here for the treasure!”

“Shit, Tim!” said Sarah. “It all makes sense! I say we go confront Ms. Wallenbe about it.”

“No,” I said. “We can’t do that. She’ll just deny it. We need to catch her in the act.”

“How do we do that?” asked Sarah, the both of us getting up and beginning to walk out of the shack and back to Ms. Wallenbe’s house.

“We find part of her costume,” I said. “The beard, or something. We take it, then we come to this shack tonight - she’ll be back tonight, because she’s been out every other night. When she comes without the beard, we’ll pop out and confront her about it.”

“That sounds like a plan,” said Sarah.

We continued and arrived at Ms. Wallenbe’s house, where she was preparing dinner. We then ate, went upstairs, and into our bedroom. We decided then that it was time to execute our plan.

“We need to find Wallenbe’s room,” I said. “That’s where her costume probably is.”

The two of us left our room and went down the short upstairs hallway. Sarah opened a door on the right, and opened the only one on the left. Inside, I saw a bed and several dressers.

“Here,” I said. Sarah closed her door and walked over to mine. We both entered the bedroom and immediately began looking through drawers. We searched up and down, through drawer after drawer, before Sarah finally tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around to find her holding a long, grey beard in her hand.

“Jackpot,” I said. “I was right!”

The two of us crept downstairs and into the front room, where Ms. Wallenbe was sitting in a chair reading a book. We snuck behind her, slowly opened the front door, and crept out, heading for the shack.

The swamp was unusually eerie at night. There were sounds from unknown insects and creatures coming from all around, and the warm, damp air seemed to seep in and out of the surrounding atmosphere. The two of us eventually reached the shack, where we found a lightbulb dimly illuminating the structure from the inside. At first, I thought that Ms. Wallenbe had beaten us to the shack, but found that she indeed hadn’t once we realized the place was empty.

We entered the shack and, beard in hand, hid behind the counter.

“Now we wait,” I said. However, wait we did not. It didn’t take long at all - only about ten minutes, in fact - for the miner to approach. Sarah and I, peering out the small hole in the wall, saw him lumbering down the path, pickaxe in hand - although there was no beard missing. Ms. Wallenbe seemed fully dressed up.

“She must have a second beard,” I said to Sarah. “That’s good planning.”

“Do we still jump out,” she asked.

“Yep,” I said.

The miner entered the shack and immediately began hacking at the ground. However, this time, he only hacked twice. I peered up at the miner, who was looking around the room suspiciously. He then glanced behind him, and then left the shack.

“What?” I said quietly as the miner began strutting back down the path from which he came. “Why is she leaving?”

“I don’t know,” said Sarah. “Maybe she knows something isn’t right.”

“Then I guess it’s time to resort to a plan B,” I said. “I guess we just go home and confront Ms. Wallenbe about it.”

“I guess that’ll have to do,” said Sarah. “After all, we do have this beard. That’s enough evidence to convict her.”

We both agreed, and then began walking back to the house, keeping our pace down so as not to catch up with Ms. Wallenbe before she got home and undressed from her miner costume.

After about half an hour, we approached the house and entered. Ms. Wallenbe was, once again, sitting on the chair, reading her book.

“Ms. Wallenbe,” I proclaimed. She turned around.

“Oh, kids!: she exclaimed. “What were you doing out there? I thought I told you not to go out after dark.”

“Well, we did,” I said. “And look at this.” I held up the beard which we had found in her room.

Ms. Wallenbe’s expression changed from a look of confusion to a look of depression.

“Oh, children, I’m so sorry,” she said sadly. “I should have told you earlier.”

Sarah and I sat down on a couch in the room, facing Ms. Wallenbe.

“I’m sorry,” said Ms. Wallenbe. “I shouldn’t have been doing any of this when you kids arrived. I suppose I shouldn’t have been doing any of it in the first place, either.”

Sarah and I both looked at her, finally ready to get the truth out.

“I may have been dressing up as the miner,” she said. “I had heard the story about the gold, and the miner who died here. I made up the story about his ghost roaming the area to try and keep people out of the swamp. I wanted to look for the gold myself, I guess. And I think i’ve found it - I believe it’s under that shack along the trail. But that’s beside the point. I’ve been dressing up as the ghost of the miner now for a while, going out there any trying to get it for myself. I’ve been dressing up, trying to bring life to my story - so I can keep other people away from the treasure. Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “Just please don’t do it anymore - at least while we’re out here.”

“And I’m sorry I chased you kids down the path that one time with the pickaxe,” said Ms. Wallenbe. “I guess I went a little too far in trying to keep you guys away from that shack. I’m so, so sorry.”

“We were going to tell you that we’d found out when you went there tonight,” said Sarah. “We were going to tell you once you had arrived there - but you had left too early. We were surprised you actually had another beard.”

I nodded in agreement along with Sarah. We both smiled.

But Ms. Wallenbe did not return the smile. She instead returned our comment with a look of confusion. “What are you taking about?” she asked intently.

The smiles quickly left the faces of Sarah and me.

“I do not have two beards,” said Ms. Wallenbe. “I did not go to that shack tonight.”

Ms. Wallenbe quickly got up from the couch and moved quickly to the staircase. “I’m going to go ahead and give Martha the bus driver a call,” she said. “I do hope they run those buses at night."

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