Once upon a time there was a lit­tle boy who had both a dog and a monster.

This boy spent his sum­mer days with the dog trav­el­ing out with him in the morn­ing and return­ing each after­noon in the hottest part of the day to cool in the shade of the back porch with the glass of lemon­ade pro­vid­ed by the woman known to the adults as The Girl and to the boy as Maya. Maya was unique among the Girls of the neigh­bor­hood in that she agreed with her boy on two sub­jects. One, that the grey dog, called Roy, was the best dog in the neigh­bor­hood and deserved his spot at the north end of the boy’s bed every night. Two, that the mon­ster that took its days in the cool dirt under the back porch stairs and its nights with the dust and stray dog bones under the south end of the boy’s bed was just the right sort of mon­ster for a 10 year-old boy to have. Of course, this also meant that Maya believed in the mon­ster. She was the only adult in Grifter’s Bend who did not sub­scribe to the views of Dr. September, the child psy­chol­o­gist. She knew that the mon­sters were as real as the dogs, and the sis­ter’s cats, and the ham­sters in dirty aquar­i­ums that also exist­ed in the boys’ worlds. Our boy, whose name is Duffy Jackson, is par­tic­u­lar­ly lucky to have Maya in his house from 9 to 6 Monday through Saturday except­ing Wednesday after­noons, when she goes to see her own mama and get ready for church.


This Wednesday, at noon, Maya had left Duffy a plate with a peanut but­ter and grape jel­ly sand­wich, half a cut up apple, and two choco­late chip cook­ies on the kitchen table, as well as a large glass of milk cov­ered with a square of Saran Wrap in the wheez­ing Frigidaire. It was almost too hot for drink­ing milk, but cook­ies require a glass of milk. So he got the glass of milk off of the mid­dle shelf of the fridge and car­ried it to the kitchen table where he peeled off the Saran Wrap. He wadded the wrap up and tucked it under­neath the edge of the plate. He took the nap­kin off the plate and laid it down on the chair next to the one he sat in. It nev­er occurred to him to put the nap­kin on his lap. Napkins on laps were for din­ner when remind­ed by mothers.

Roy whined at the back door. Duffy got up from his lunch, and went to the back door. The screen door did­n’t fit exact­ly, and his father had­n’t had a chance to fix it, so it scratched on its way across the kitchen linoleum.

Roy came in and took up his favorite spot next to the door, under the lit­tle tele­phone table that was Duffy’s moth­er’s spe­cial place.

Duffy’s mom came into the kitchen, her long legs bare under a pair of pink capris.

Hello Dustin.”

Hello Mother.”

She sat down at the tele­phone table and used her san­dal clad toe to nudge Roy out from under it. “Go out­side” she said, but made no move to open the back door for the dog.

Duffy fin­ished his sand­wich and start­ed to pick the choco­late chips out of the first cook­ie, lay­ing them care­ful­ly in a row. Taking two bites of the now plain cook­ie, fol­lowed by a sip of milk, fol­lowed by the chips, one at time, tak­en from the row on the plate right to left.


Yes Mom.”

Don’t go too far from home this after­noon. Your father is com­ing back from Chicago and will want to see you when he gets home.”

Yes Mom.”

We’ll go for ice cream at the Dairy Bar after dinner.”

Yes Mom.”

Duffy con­tin­ued to care­ful­ly decon­struct and eat his cookie.

His moth­er con­sult­ed a cal­en­dar on the table.

You have a base­ball game tomor­row night.”

Duffy nod­ded.

Your dad will be home for that. That’ll be nice.” She looked back down at the cal­en­dar. “And we’ll still have time to stop at the Brown’s after­wards.” She tapped her lit­tle gold pen on the cal­en­dar in satisfaction.

Mrs. Jackson picked up the phone and dialed. She wait­ed a moment, star­ing off into the space above the refrigerator.

Celia!” she blurt­ed when the line picked up “Are you ready for this?”

Duffy looked at the last three choco­late chips laid care­ful­ly on the rim of his plate and ate the last bite of the cook­ie. There was one more swal­low of milk. It always made him hap­py when it worked out so well. He picked up the chips and called Roy away from his sec­ond favorite place at the bot­tom of the back stairs. Heedless of his moth­er’s admo­ni­tion he allowed the screen door to slam behind him as he went back out into the June heat.

Once on the porch he went to the fur­thest cor­ner and laid the three chips in a tidy row behind a stack of emp­ty flower pots.

Here you go, Stinker.” Duffy’s mon­ster rum­bled light­ly from under the porch and con­sid­ered that three choco­late chips was a nice offer­ing. But he missed the days of sand­wich crusts. Duffy had grown tall enough and hun­gry enough to eat all of his sand­wich­es over the winter.

Duffy took his new catcher’s mitt and a near­ly new base­ball from the bench box by the back door and whis­tled for Roy. His moth­er called out from inside the house. “Remember, be home in plen­ty of time for dinner.”

Stinker watched Duffy head out, wait­ing to see which way he was going to walk. Duffy head­ed toward the woods at the end of the cul-de-sac rather than up the road toward Mike Ruffolo’s house. So Mike would­n’t be play­ing today. A stroll through the woods would be nice on a hot day like this. Stinker enjoyed watch­ing Duffy play base­ball. When they played at the coun­ty park Stinker could sit com­fort­ably in a shade tree in the woods and watch all afternoon.

He wrig­gled him­self past the large pier block that held up the south end of the porch and sham­bled out across the yard towards the woods.


The after­noon wore on. A dry, but not yet arid, warm thing with­out much to dis­tin­guish it from all the oth­er long after­noons that make up a 10 year-old boy’s sum­mer when the days stretch out ahead in a rib­bon of end­less, hope­ful haze.

Duffy spent most of this par­tic­u­lar June after­noon crouched behind home plate work­ing at the crease in his new catcher’s mitt. The left-hander’s mitt had been a birth­day present from his father, brought back from Chicago two days late, Duffy will­ing­ly for­gave its tar­di­ness. Not that Duffy got to make much use of it. He spent most of the after­noon chas­ing after mis-thrown balls — pitch­ing being an art beyond most pre­teen boys.

The cicadas buzzed soft­ly on the edge of the woods. Stinker drowsed perched in the big maple that dom­i­nat­ed the far end of the left field foul line. It was near­ly three o’clock when Duffy came to bat late in the sev­enth inning. He’d had a bad day at bat, two strike-outs and a series of foul balls that had left him with­out a sin­gle turn on base.

Much of that was due to the pres­ence of Tim Scroggins. Tim was 12 and almost ready to move all the way back down the alley to the real pitcher’s mound that the high school kids used. Tim was the only pitch­er that Duffy had any use for. Duffy might not be able to make many hits off of Tim; but at least with Tim pitch­ing there was some­thing to do behind the plate oth­er than leap­ing up and run­ning down balls that land­ed far to the side of the bat­ter, or falling on the ones that land­ed out front and then drib­bled through the bat­ter’s legs.

Duffy squared up and took a long look up the infield toward Tim and watched as he pulled the ball and his gloved hand into his chest, hiked his leg up–bending his back away from the plate–and then hurled the ball with all the inten­tion and the begin­ning of the con­trol that he would lat­er demon­strate in the minor leagues. Duffy swung. Just a hair late but in good enough time to catch the edge of the ball as it flew past. The ball took off far to the left. Duffy pre­pared to sigh — anoth­er foul ball. But some­thing hap­pened. The wind shift­ed, the earth rotat­ed, Duffy’s luck decid­ed that a change would do him good. The ball sailed down the foul line trail­ing its own lit­tle tail of breeze and remained inside, fair. And bounced final­ly near the edge of the woods, snap­ping the tops off three dan­de­lions and leav­ing a puff of dust in the air. Then slow­ly rolled down the side of the drainage ditch and came to rest near the lit­tle trick­le of mud­dy water that was all that remained of the creek. Grinning, Duffy made his cir­cuit of the bases.

Stinker looked down from his perch in the maple. He could see the ball almost direct­ly beneath the longest branch­es of his tree. It was still most­ly bright white and the red stitch­ing had­n’t fad­ed to purply-pink from expo­sure to sun and glove oil and the rough han­dling of boys. He slid from his place in the crotch of the tree and slumped toward the drainage ditch. The grass on the side of the ditch was cool and green and it tick­led his feet between the calluses.

He real­ly had meant to toss the ball back up to the edge of the ditch so that the boys would be able to find it when they came out toward the woods to look for it. Really. But it had been so round, and smooth, and white. He’d tak­en one big bite before he was even aware of what he was doing. Then the ball had a sad bro­ken look about it. A big gash around the mid­dle and the leather torn on one side and the stitch­es com­ing unrav­eled and the horse hair spilling out and the lit­tlest bit of the cork cen­ter crum­bling. In a flash of guilt and hunger he took three more big bites and the ball dis­ap­peared. Gone forever.

Duffy and Tim and the rest of the boys had spent 15 min­utes, an eter­ni­ty in the mid­dle of a sun­ny Wednesday after­noon, look­ing for the ball before giv­ing up and declar­ing it Lost-for-Good. Duffy was­n’t look­ing for­ward to telling his dad about it. Maybe he would­n’t have to for a while. They went back to play­ing with the balls that Tim’s old­er broth­er gave them. Tom Scroggins played for the col­lege team and reg­u­lar­ly brought a hand­ful of cut balls home for his broth­er. They weren’t pret­ty and some of them flew a lit­tle fun­ny when you hit them but they were balls and the boys could play most of an after­noon with­out hav­ing to go out to the far­thest edges of the out­field to col­lect foul balls more than two or three times.


There were no base­ball games on Fridays; the field was used by the coun­ty for the fire­fight­ers’ and sher­if­f’s soft­ball team prac­tices. Duffy spent this long August Friday after­noon at home down by the creek just beyond the end of the cul-de-sac.

By three o’clock Duffy was dusty, dirty, and thirsty. He went back to the house, car­ry­ing a buck­et of brack­ish water hold­ing two juve­nile frogs and, unknown to Duffy, a large craw­fish that had been hid­ing in the mud at the bot­tom of the creek and had been inad­ver­tent­ly scooped up.

Maya met him at the back porch door.

Not ’til you take off your shoes and pants,” she said, look­ing at his filthy shoes and the mud­dy bot­tom six inch­es of his rolled-up pants.

Duffy shrugged. “Don’t wan­na come in.”

Then just what do you want?” Maya asked, with a very good idea of what the answer was going to be.

I, ah. Dunno,” Duffy mum­bled. “Something to drink?”

That a ques­tion or do you want to say ‘Please’?,” Maya teased him.

Duffy shrugged again. Maya shrugged back at him. Duffy’s mouth twist­ed a lit­tle to the right as he thought.

Can I have a Popsicle?”

Maya stood with her hand on her hip and an expec­tant look on her face.

Please,” Duffy added.

Cherry, grape, or orange?”

Grape.” This time Duffy only missed two beats. “Please.”

Maya smiled at him. “Be right back.” She dis­ap­peared into the dim cool of the kitchen.

Duffy sat on the porch steps and took off his mud­dy shoes. His socks were red with the silt that had sift­ed through the can­vas of his sneak­ers. He shoved the socks deep into the shoes and wrig­gled his toes in the breeze.

Stinker appeared next to the back gate equal­ly mud­dy and equal­ly pleased with the day’s activ­i­ties. He ambled across the yard and tucked him­self into the shad­ows next to the east side of the porch. Stretched and pre­pared to set­tle in for a nap.

Maya returned with two Popsicles.

What fla­vor is yours?” Duffy asked.


I don’t like the orange ones.”

Sure is a good thing I do,” Maya said.

She sat on the bench beside the kitchen door, unwrapped the Popsicles, and hand­ed Duffy his grape one. They sat qui­et­ly suck­ing on their treats for a few minutes.

Will you tell me a sto­ry?” Duffy asked.

What kind of a story?”

One of your ghost stories.”

A ghost sto­ry, on an August afternoon?”

That’s a good time to tell ghost stories.”

Maya snort­ed, “Hardly. But what­ev­er you want. Which one do you want to hear?”

Something new.”

I’ve told you all the ones I know.”

All of them?”

All of them. There won’t be any new ones until there are new ghosts.”

Duffy con­sid­ered that for a moment. He believed Maya was lying about there not being any oth­er sto­ries, but she was clear­ly not going to tell him a new sto­ry. So he had to decide which sto­ry he want­ed to hear.

Tell me about the drowned girl.”


Yeah, the girl who lives in your house,” Duffy said. “Stinker likes that one.”

Maya looked at the end of the porch where Stinker has set­tled. “I did­n’t know he had a preference.”

Duffy nod­ded. Maya insist­ed that she could see Stinker, but Duffy had his doubts. Still, it was nice to have some­one who did­n’t use that pre­tend voice when they talked to Stinker.

Abruptly Duffy asked, “What’s it like to live in a haunt­ed house?”

Like liv­ing in any oth­er house.”

How come my house isn’t haunted?”

It’s too new.”

How old does it have to be before it’s haunted?”

Why do you want to live in a haunt­ed house?”

Dunno, I just think it would be neat.” He shrugged. She shrugged back at him.

In the late sum­mer of 1915 there was a big hur­ri­cane that came in from the gulf and blew for three days. It was the biggest hur­ri­cane in a hun­dred years. The wind blew for days, the rain fell until it filled every pool and pud­dle. There was light­ning and thun­der and dark rolling clouds and every­one was frightened.”

Like the storm last September?”


Duffy was­n’t sure that he could imag­ine any­thing worse than last year’s hur­ri­cane. He and his par­ents had spent two days hud­dled in the lit­tle room at the bot­tom of the stairs, lis­ten­ing to the wind tear the roof off their neigh­bor’s house and trees crash to the ground. One had crushed the shed in the back yard that held his father’s boat.

Wow.” It came out as a soft whistle.

Out on Oak Shot Road, the Lesterham fam­i­ly had just built a pret­ty lit­tle house. It had three bed­rooms, an indoor bath­room, and a par­lor and a din­ing room for spe­cial. Lily’s par­ents got one bed­room, her two old­er broth­ers shared anoth­er and Lily got one of the bed­rooms all to herself.”

Duffy nod­ded. The sto­ry was just the way he remem­bered it.

The slough was just across the street and there was a dock for her broth­ers to fish and swim.”

Did they have a boat?”

Yes, they had a lit­tle shrimper.”

On August 16th of 1915, a hur­ri­cane began in the ocean near Haiti. There were reports of a fero­cious storm head­ing west. All along the Gulf, peo­ple pre­pared as best they could. Some bought extra food, some put up storm shut­ters, some packed up and moved to fam­i­ly inland.”

Lily’s dad­dy, Deacon Lesterham, went to church to pray with the con­gre­ga­tion, and Lily’s mama stayed home and built an altar to the Slim Man.”

Have you ever seen the Slim Man?” Duffy interrupted.

Of course.” Maya grinned. Duffy was­n’t sure if she was kid­ding. He hoped that she was­n’t. “You should­n’t ask so many ques­tions. I won’t get the sto­ry fin­ished before it’s time to start supper.”

Okay.” Duffy mimed zip­ping his lips together.

Lily was­n’t afraid of the storm.  There had­n’t been any bad hur­ri­canes since she was old enough to remember.

So when the wind start­ed and the rain began, she sat on the front porch and wait­ed for it to stop so that she could go back out into the yard to play.”

Maya stuck out her low­er lip in a per­fect imi­ta­tion of a six year-old girl kept from her games by unset­tled weath­er. Duffy nod­ded along with her. He’d also been kept on the porch by his moth­er’s insis­tence that play­ing in the rain at the front edge of a hur­ri­cane was dangerous.

The rain got heav­ier and the wind blew hard­er and the sky grew dark­er. Still, Lily was­n’t afraid. Just before dark her old­est broth­er came out onto the porch with some­thing the size of a large book in his hand and head­ed down the steps.

You can’t go out,’ Lily said to him.

Yes, I can. I’m not a lit­tle baby. It’s not dan­ger­ous for me,’ he told her.

He was wrong, of course, and their father would have told him to stay home but Father was­n’t home so her broth­er went out.

An hour lat­er, Lily was called into the house for sup­per. Her broth­er was still out in the storm somewhere.

Lily went to bed right after sup­per. Mother would­n’t light the lamps in a storm. Lily could­n’t under­stand why.

In the mid­dle of the night she woke up to the sound of her broth­er hol­ler­ing from the front yard. He was call­ing, ‘Come with me. Come to the slough.’ She got up and wrapped a blan­ket around her­self. Then she walked down the stairs to the front room. Her moth­er was­n’t up. Why was­n’t her moth­er up? She heard her broth­er again.

 ‘Hurry!’ he was calling.

She opened the heavy front door and went out onto the porch. It was strange­ly qui­et out­side. The moon shone direct­ly down from over­head, and the wind had stopped blow­ing. There was no rain, but there were heavy clouds to both the east and the west.

She walked across the front porch and down the steps into the yard. She could­n’t see any­thing across the street under the wil­lows by the slough. But she was sure that she could hear her broth­er’s voice com­ing from that direction.

 ‘Benji,’ she called to him. There was no answer. ‘Benji? Should I go get Daddy?’ Still no answer. Just the sound of a boy call­ing for help. Benji, she was sure of it. Hadn’t he gone out to the slough just before sup­per and then not been back when she’d gone to bed? She’d heard her Daddy come home an hour or so lat­er, but had­n’t ever heard Benji come home.

Lily crossed the street, still call­ing for her broth­er. The wil­lows were bent and creak­ing under the weight of all the rain that had fall­en on them. As she walked under them their long stringy leaves brushed against her face and her shoul­ders, mak­ing her blan­ket wet.

She walked down the path toward the dock. She still could­n’t see any­thing. ‘Benji? Are you there?’ The wind start­ed to blow again, stir­ring the tops of the wil­lows but noth­ing moved under­neath them.

Lily stood at the head of the dock and looked down it. It was cov­ered with slip­pery weeds and reeds, but there at the end there was some­thing tall and slen­der. About the size of her old­est broth­er Benjamin. She waved. Nothing. She jumped up and down, hollered and waved some more. Something waved back. ‘Come back here, Benji.’ The boy did­n’t move. Lily waved again. The fig­ure waved back. Lily wished that her Daddy would come. He’d be able to help Benji.

But Daddy was­n’t here. Lily made up her mind and stepped out onto the dock. It swayed under her in the rapid cur­rent. The water was high and mud­dy. There was slip­pery grass piled up on the upstream side, and some had flowed over the sur­face and was stuck between the boards. Lily stepped carefully.

The dock bucked. Lily reached for the rail­ing, but it swayed away from her hand and she stum­bled. Her face flew out over the churn­ing water. She caught her foot­ing at the last sec­ond and tum­bled her­self back onto the dock, slipped on a pile of greasy reeds and fell back­wards onto her bot­tom. She lost her grip on her blan­ket and it tum­bled off of her shoul­ders and fell into the water. She turned over and watched it swirl away off down the slough.

The boy at the end of the dock swayed and dipped. Benji was­n’t hav­ing any bet­ter luck with his foot­ing than she was. She hur­ried out further.

There was a shout from behind her. Her father! She turned and waved to him. ‘Hurry Daddy, Benji needs help!’ The big man on the shore began to come down the ramp to the dock and Lily turned back around and walked toward her brother.

The dock con­tin­ued to bump and rock under her feet. She did­n’t try the rail­ing again.

When she was almost to the end of the dock, she could see the slim fig­ure of her broth­er. From behind her, she heard her father’s pound­ing foot­steps. ‘Lily, stop! Stand still.’ But she could­n’t. She need­ed to reach her broth­er; he need­ed help. She was only a few steps from him at the end of the dock.

There was a scream. Lily looked upstream. Something large and black was in the water, com­ing toward her. She reached out for her broth­er and grabbed. A bro­ken piece of wood swiveled in her hand, and the remains of the davit her broth­ers used to low­er their lit­tle shrimp­ing boat into the water swung around to face her.

From the mid­dle of the dock, her father watched the huge black tree trunk slide silent­ly down the stream. It groaned to a stop against the pil­ing; then crashed through, tak­ing the end of the dock, the davit, and his only daugh­ter with it. Benji stood on the oppo­site shore hold­ing the rope that secured his boat to the dock of his fiancé’s par­ents, his mouth open and his voice gone.”

Duffy shiv­ered hap­pi­ly. Maya got up and held out her hand. Duffy put his own hand in it and let her pull him up from the step.

Time for me to make your supper.”


Maya inhaled the damp air of home. Her moth­er’s house sat at the back of a dust and sparse grass front yard, all in the shade of a mas­sive oak tree. The patch out back of her moth­er’s house was nev­er quite dry even at the height of sum­mer and here at the end of spring it was at its green moist lush­est. The house always car­ried the faint musk of the wet ground and the rot­ting greenery.

Maya could see the famil­iar out­line of a lit­tle girl sit­ting on the front steps. The lit­tle girl had always been there.  The lit­tle girl nev­er moved from her place two steps up on the right side just beside the hydrangea. Right now she was wear­ing the bright blue blos­soms as a crown.

To most of the folks on Oak Shot Street she was just a leg­end, some­thing to fright­en younger sib­lings with on dark October nights. Her old­er broth­er had done just that to Maya in the weeks before he had left for basic train­ing. Three weeks lat­er, after yet anoth­er spank­ing for slam­ming the front door in haste, she had con­fessed to her Aunt Tilly that she was fright­ened of the ghost she could now see, and had been hur­ry­ing to get inside before the ghost could catch up with her and take her to the slough to be drowned. Tilly had been sym­pa­thet­ic but firm. Door slam­ming would stop. The lit­tle girl on the steps would­n’t do any­thing to her if Maya was just respect­ful and kind.

Now there was anoth­er shad­ow at the side of the porch, Aunt Tilly. She had died four years ago of a cere­bral hem­or­rhage at the age of 53. Aunt Tilly pre­ferred the big glid­er at the east end of the porch, it gave her the best view of the street and the cor­ner but it also was the windi­est part of the porch when the weath­er turned.

The screen door creaked and the return spring sang a high, twitchy song as she opened it and went in. Her mama was in the kitchen sit­ting at the Formica topped table.

Afternoon Mama,” Maya said. “Ready for church?”

Yes, dear.”

Mama was already in her church dress. The light blue one with the white col­lar. A broad yel­low checked apron cov­ered her from neck to hem­line and wrapped gen­er­ous­ly around her mid­dle. Her hat was on the lit­tle table in the hall beside the front door along with a pair of white gloves and a small black patent leather hand­bag. Inside there’d be a lip­stick, two dol­lars, and four quar­ters. The dol­lars were for the col­lec­tion plate and the quar­ters for ice cream sodas after­wards. Some folks did­n’t hold with ice cream after church, but Maya’s moth­er fig­ured that a lit­tle refresh­ment for the body was a good thing right after the refresh­ment for the soul.

Maya kissed her mama on the cheek and took a seat across from her at the table. Her moth­er hand­ed her a bowl and a small par­ing knife. Maya picked up a bean from the pile in the mid­dle of the table and nipped off each end. She dropped the bean into the bowl, let­ting the ends to drop onto the table in front of her.

How are you doing?” her mama asked her. “How’s work?”

Doing well, Mama; work’s good. The boy is growing.”

Mama nod­ded. “Seen your brother?”

No Mama.” Maya had­n’t seen her younger broth­er in sev­er­al months. Her moth­er had­n’t seen her broth­er in two years. Maya’s younger broth­er had gone off to join the Army when he turned 18 and nev­er real­ly come back. He drift­ed by every cou­ple of months to look in on his sis­ter, and then went back to Texas where he worked on the oil rigs and made lots of mon­ey and had lots of friends and had noth­ing to do with old-fashioned ideas. His moth­er wor­ried; his sis­ter wor­ried. But about dif­fer­ent things.

They sat and cut the ends off of beans for anoth­er few min­utes. Not talk­ing, just snip­ping the ends off of the veg­eta­bles and lis­ten­ing to the whirr of the kitchen fan and the buzz of the insects outside.

Pastor Smith has a guest preach­er for us tonight,” Mama said qui­et­ly. “Someone from over up Gatling.”

Oh.” Maya was non­com­mit­tal, she nev­er could tell what kind of response Mama want­ed to these out of the blue state­ments of fact.

Preaching on the evils of the New Age.”

Uh huh.” Still not sure what her moth­er was look­ing for.

Suppose he’s going to go on about false idols and oth­er­world­ly influ­ences and all those celebri­ties and what not.”

I sup­pose,” Maya said and could­n’t help glanc­ing into the front room.

This fel­low from Gatling, he’s not one of ours?”

No,” mama replied. “He’s a Northern boy.” Meaning, from some­where that was­n’t here. “Very well edu­cat­ed, I hear.”

Ah, so he does­n’t under­stand how things are around here?”

No,” Mama said. “No, I expect that he would­n’t. I expect that he con­fus­es our old ways with a lot of Northern things.”

Maya con­sid­ered this turn of phrase. The sto­ries were cer­tain­ly old­er than any northern-educated preach­er could be.

They fin­ished the beans and Maya got up to put the bowl in the fridge.

While you’re up, get me a lemon­ade,” her moth­er said. “One for your­self, too.”

Maya got the cold pitch­er out of the fridge.

We’ve got the Lewises and the Walters and maybe the Sizemore boy com­ing to sup­per tonight. Do you want to make your spe­cial cornbread?”

Maya did­n’t need a roadmap to that sub­text. There’s two big, hap­py fam­i­lies and a sin­gle boy–a nice boy–coming. Why don’t you show him what a good wife you’d be?

Maya smiled at her mama. “I’ll do that if you’d like.”

Her mama nod­ded back at her. “We’ll leave for church after you’ve vis­it­ed the front room.”

This was Maya’s cue to get up and go into the front room and pay her respects to her fam­i­ly’s dead.

She had sel­dom vis­it­ed the front room when she was a child, but there had some­times been adults in there. Not every day, but once or twice a week, she’d come home to find a snack on the kitchen counter and the door between the kitchen and the front room closed. Quiet adult voic­es would come from under the door, for per­haps 15 min­utes. Then she’d hear her moth­er say “It will all be for the best. I’m sure.” The front door would open and some­one would go out, and then her moth­er would come into the kitchen and ask her about her day at school and start cook­ing sup­per. The smell of per­fume and herbs would drift out of the front room for the rest of the evening.

She brushed two fin­ger­tips across the case that held her father’s ser­vice flag. The one her moth­er had got­ten on a very cold February after­noon in 1943. The day the world had changed, she thought. A day she could­n’t even remem­ber clear­ly. Next to it was her old­er broth­er’s flag. Delivered on anoth­er cold February after­noon. Eight years lat­er. That one she remembered.

Like all the rest of the things on the table at the far end of the liv­ing room they were care­ful­ly dust­ed and had fresh flow­ers and fruit in front of them. There were pic­tures of par­ents, sis­ters, and sons; the most recent addi­tion being a big, black-and-white pho­to of a good look­ing woman wear­ing a fox stole over a styl­ish suit. Her hair was per­fect­ly done and she smiled a know­ing, con­tent­ed smile. Maya’s Aunt Tilly. There was also an icon of a Black Virgin and two small vas­es with sand in them, one milky green and the oth­er slight­ly oxi­dized brass.

Maya found a can­dle in the draw­er in the lit­tle table that held all of these things and lit it. She stuck its base in the sand of the milky green vase and whis­pered. “Protect me, Lady.” Then kissed her fin­gers and touched the icon.

That done, she returned to the kitchen and washed the lemon­ade glasses.


On Saturday, just after dark, Maya came back to the house. Duffy’s mom and dad put on going out clothes and got ready to leave for the evening.

We’ll be up at the VanderPloeg’s. The num­ber is by the phone.” Though Maya and Duffy both knew that there would be all sorts of hell to pay if that phone call was ever made.

The storm start­ed an hour lat­er. One of those big mas­cu­line storms that begins with the sky first turn­ing a twi­light blue, and then olive-green. The rain start­ed in big drops. One by one. Plummeting hard out of the sky and bash­ing through the leaves of the tree onto the porch roof where Duffy and Maya were sit­ting look­ing for the lit­tle bit of cool breeze, and for Duffy to enjoy the ice cream that was his treat when his par­ents went out at night. Maya sat drink­ing lemon­ade out of a tall glass ringed with drops of con­den­sa­tion, her slim, dark hand hold­ing it care­ful­ly with just her fin­ger­tips to keep the heat of her hands from melt­ing the ice too quick­ly and warm­ing the liq­uid. Stinker lay under the porch enjoy­ing the last of his din­ner, three pota­to chips and a big dill pick­le slice. He loved the crisp, salty tang of the pick­les. As they sat, the wind began to rat­tle the tall, stiff pam­pas grass.

Duffy fin­ished his ice cream and put the bowl down on the table beside the bench. He picked up his glove and went back to the soft, method­i­cal rub­bing that he believed would encour­age a per­fect crease across its palm. The rain fell a lit­tle hard­er. The wind changed direc­tion, now blow­ing direct­ly across the porch, mak­ing the pot­ted gera­ni­ums swing.

Time we got inside, Duffy,” Maya said.

Yeah,” Duffy agreed, pick­ing up his ice cream dish in one hand and his glove in the other.

Inside they stood side by side at the sink, Maya wash­ing Duffy’s bowl and her glass, Duffy care­ful­ly dry­ing them.

All done,” Maya said as she put the glass into the cup­board next to the refrig­er­a­tor. “TV or radio?”

 ‘Adventures of Robin Hood’ is on tonight.”

Oh. TV it will be, then.”

Duffy’s par­ents had a new TV, bought last year. A year that his father had referred to as ‘very good, all things con­sid­ered” more than once. The big RCA was the grand­est, most mod­ern set in the neigh­bor­hood, and Duffy loved it.

Maya sat on the sofa and Duffy sat on the floor in front of the set.

Not so close, ‘tater. You’ll ruin your eyes.” Maya’s tone teased a little.

The storm picked up steam. The rain drops began pelt­ing through the leaves on the trees and smash­ing into the flow­ers of Mrs. Jackson’s hydrangeas.

Suddenly, just as Robin Hood was wind­ing up to deliv­er his moral les­son to the greedy baron before rid­ing off into the woods with his band of mer­ry men, there was a pop and the light bulb in the table lamp to Maya’s left went out. The TV set went dark. In fact, the whole house went dark.

Maya yelped. “Oh, my.” And pat­ted her chest a few times in a ges­ture meant to slow her heart­beat. Duffy just sat look­ing at the now blank TV screen

Aw, I want­ed to see how it end­ed,” Duffy protested.

Sorry Sugar. The weath­er says ‘No’.”

The house was strange­ly silent. No hum from the refrig­er­a­tor, no gen­tle whoosh from the fan in the win­dow of his par­en­t’s bedroom.

The light­ning start­ed just about then. And the thun­der. Big roil­ing, shak­ing thun­der. Roy scratched at the back door, his bed on the porch no longer feel­ing secure enough for weath­er­ing the storm.

Maya got up and walked to the kitchen. “You stay right there, Duffy.” Her steps made reas­sur­ing clicks on the linoleum. “I’ll find a can­dle and some matches.”

In the kitchen, Maya opened the back door and Roy came in. He stopped halfway through the door and, though he’d been pro­tect­ed from the rain, shook him­self as if he were wet.

Shaking off the storm? Sensible fel­low,” Maya said to him as she held the door.

Just before the back door closed, Stinker slipped into the kitchen. He’d usu­al­ly rather spend sum­mer nights out­side. That’s why kids sleep so much bet­ter in the sum­mer. Winter is the time for slink­ing about under beds. Summer is for lay­ing out in the cool, moist dirt, watch­ing stars and lis­ten­ing to cicadas and frogs peep. But not on a night like tonight.

Stinker crept across the kitchen floor and found a spot between the refrig­er­a­tor and the wall. He did­n’t rel­ish going upstairs to Duffy’s emp­ty and over­ly dark bed­room any more than Duffy would.

Maya came back into the liv­ing room with two can­dle stubs, a saucer, and the big box of kitchen match­es. She took the ash­tray from beside Duffy’s dad’s reclin­er and put it, along with the saucer, on top of the TV. She lit a white can­dle and dripped a bit of wax into the ash­tray, then squashed the bot­tom of the can­dle into the lit­tle pud­dle of wax. She did the same thing with a green can­dle stub and the saucer.

There,” she said, “a lit­tle light makes every­thing better.”

Duffy did­n’t want to agree out loud, but the light did make him feel a lit­tle better.

Maya sighed and sat back fur­ther into the reclin­er, rock­ing slowly.

You don’t like storms, Maya?” Duffy asked.

Rain and wind are fine, but this thun­der has evil on its mind.”


Duffy drift­ed in and out of sleep on the floor in front of the sofa. Maya did­n’t think the boy should have to go upstairs to his room in the dark dur­ing such a storm.

Duffy rolled over onto his stom­ach and draped an arm across Roy’s neck. Roy had­n’t wok­en up. The wind was get­ting stronger. The tree out­side the liv­ing room win­dow had start­ed mak­ing lit­tle creak­ing nois­es above the sound of the wind. Maya got up to shut all of the windows.

Bring me a glass of lemon­ade?” he asked.

In a minute, Sugar. Let me get the back door shut first.”

There was a tremen­dous crash of thun­der. Roy woke, lift­ed his head and whined.

Maya stood in the kitchen, look­ing out across the porch. There was a shad­ow out at the edge of the lawn by the woods. A tall, slen­der shad­ow. A shad­ow that looked like some­thing she remem­bered from long ago. It wore a hat.

We need to make an offer­ing to the Slim Man,” she said to Duffy as she hand­ed him a glass of lemonade.

Offering?” Duffy mumbled.

Yes, an offer­ing to the storm. A meal for the Slim Man.”


To keep the house safe from the winds.”

Okay,” Duffy said with­out any real under­stand­ing of what Maya intend­ed to do, but he was game for any­thing that Maya suggested.

Maya went to the kitchen opened the fridge and took out a left­over chick­en leg and a dish of straw­ber­ries. She poured a glass of milk. Stinker watched her as she put these on a tray and then added the good sil­ver sug­ar bowl from the din­ing room table. Maya took the tray into the liv­ing room and put every­thing on the top of the TV — right on Duffy’s grand­moth­er’s spe­cial doily.  She got the Little Bopeep and her sheep salt and pep­per set from the break­fast table. Also a pack of Duffy’s dad’s cig­a­rettes and a deck of play­ing cards from the table beside the recliner.

She laid the food out around one of the can­dles and the cig­a­rettes and play­ing cards around the oth­er. Then she stepped back. The wind was still howl­ing, though Duffy thought that maybe the trees were groan­ing just a lit­tle less.

Almost. What’s miss­ing, Sugar?”

Duffy looked up curi­ous­ly. How could he know what was missing?

Dunno. It looks like you’re mak­ing sup­per for dad and his friends when every­one comes over to play cards.”

I am, but for the Slim Man and his friends.”

So where’s the drinks?” Duffy asked, a bit too smartly.

What a clever boy,” Maya said. “Drinks.”

Maya walked to the Jacksons’ liquor cabinet.

You can’t do that,” Duffy said in a hur­ry as Maya reached for the lit­tle key that locked the door shut.

It won’t hurt any­one. I’m not going to drink anything.”

But we’re not allowed to go in the cab­i­net,” Duffy answered. “Not even for just pretend.”

Maya smiled at him in the flick­er­ing light. It was a lit­tle spooky.

Maya opened the cab­i­net and stood look­ing for a minute. No rum. There was whiskey, gin, ver­mouth, vod­ka, but no rum. Gin would have to do. Though she’d have to put out an extra serv­ing of rum up next time she asked for a favor, she was sure of that. She poured a good two shots worth of gin into a shot glass and added it to the offer­ing on top of the TV. She was sat­is­fied. Duffy laid back down on the floor in front of the couch and curled up with Roy under a blan­ket. There was noth­ing to do but watch the can­dle flick­er and think about not going to sleep.


I’ll be just a minute, Duffy,” Maya whis­pered to Duffy’s unmov­ing back.  She went out to the front porch to check for street lights in the next block.

Stinker walked care­ful­ly across the liv­ing room. He could see Duffy in a sleepy lump in front of the TV — just as if it were on and play­ing the late show, and his par­ents had let him stay up on a Saturday when his aunt and uncle were over for drinks and a game of pinochle.

The can­dles lit Maya’s small altar. The milk glass was dim­pled with sweat. That would have been for Duffy’s con­tri­bu­tion. There might have been a cook­ie, too, if he had­n’t eat­en the last one for dessert. The chick­en looked good. A nice fat drum­stick. The skin would­n’t be as deli­cious­ly crispy and crunchy as it had been when Maya had made it for din­ner yes­ter­day, but the meat would still be moist and slippery-good on the way down. Stinker wrapped the four fin­gers of his right hand around the chick­en and got a good grasp on the shad­ow of it. Its shad­ow came away from the meat on the plate and Stinker lift­ed it to his mouth and ate it in three big bites. Bone and all. Yes, Maya’s chick­en was won­der­ful stuff. And a glass of milk to wash it down was­n’t bad. He’d have pre­ferred a Coca-Cola but when you’re eat­ing some­one else’s din­ner you can’t be too picky. He’d pass on the post-dinner cig­a­rette, they made him dizzy. But he wished that Maya had­n’t put the cards on the TV, he’d rather that she and Duffy had sat down to play Old Maid, or Go Fish. He could have helped Duffy win. Maya was tender-hearted toward the boy, but not so tender-hearted that she’d let Duffy win at cards. Stinker did a bit of cheat­ing on his behalf. Seemed only fair — he was just a kid.

Maya came back in from the porch. “No lights for blocks around,” she said soft­ly to Duffy, who was­n’t real­ly asleep, just bored and list­less. “I guess we’ll just have to wait for the pow­er com­pa­ny to send some­one around to fix the lights.”

How long do you think that’s going to take?” Duffy asked.

No idea.”

I’m hun­gry,” Duffy said, because he knew it was rude to say that he was bored but he need­ed to say something.


Peanut but­ter and jelly?”

Sure, and milk?”

Yes, please.”

Maya walked toward the kitchen ask­ing over her shoul­der “Do you want me to cut the crusts off?”

No, no thank you,” Duffy said. “You can stop ask­ing me that,” he added shy­ly. “I’m not a baby any­more. I don’t need the crusts cut offa my sandwiches.”

I just thought that maybe you’d like to give them to Stinker. It being a stormy night and him being maybe a lit­tle scared of the dark and a lit­tle bored with noth­ing to do and all.”

Stinker’s okay. He can eat the chick­en if he’s hun­gry,” Duffy waved a hand toward the TV where Stinker was stand­ing con­sid­er­ing the glass of clear liquid.

That chick­en isn’t for him.”

Then who’s going to eat it. There’s no one else here.”

It’s for the Slim Man. Once it’s been giv­en to him it can’t be tak­en back.”

Stinker’s going to eat it,” Duffy said with all the assur­ance of a ten year-old.

He should­n’t.”

Maybe if we cut the crusts off for him, he’ll leave the chick­en alone?” Duffy suggested.

Maya sighed. “He’s prob­a­bly already eat­en it.”

I hope no one minds,” she added softly.

Maya got a can­dle stub from the kitchen and lit it from one of the can­dles burn­ing on the TV set and car­ried it back into the kitchen. Duffy fol­lowed her.

She put the can­dle in a saucer and put it by the sink across the room from where Duffy was stand­ing. The storm had exhaust­ed itself against the win­dows and doors. The trees were no longer moaned in the wind. The thun­der had moved off far to the east, small dull rum­bles were the most that could be heard any­more. The light­ning no longer lit the house, only bright­ened the sky in the dis­tance above the trees and under the clouds.

I won­der where your folks are?” Maya mused. She lift­ed the receiv­er from the phone. Dead. “Well, they’ll be here when they get here, no doubt.”

In the liv­ing room, Stinker sniffed the glass. The liq­uid was clear and oily look­ing and smelled sharply of juniper and mud­dy riv­er bot­tom. His nose wrin­kled and his eye­brows curled a lit­tle fur­ther up toward his fore­head. This was some­thing that the Slim Man would like? It was some­thing that Duffy’s moth­er liked. His father pre­ferred the brown liquor that he drank on card nights.

Stinker smiled again. His nose itched. He lift­ed the glass and stuck his long tongue down into the liq­uid. His hair stood up. He licked again. The taste made him feel like his hair was try­ing to leave his head.  He took a tiny sip. His teeth want­ed to wig­gle in his gums. He did­n’t know if he liked the sen­sa­tion or not. He took a big­ger sip.


A half an hour lat­er, by lit­tle sips and tiny tastes, Stinker had drunk most of the glass.

After fin­ish­ing his sand­wich Duffy helped Maya wash up. Then they sat at the kitchen table and looked out at the world beyond the porch.

Stinker was woozy. The world was a lit­tle unsteady, or maybe he was a lit­tle unsteady. One way or the oth­er, his legs weren’t doing a very good job of get­ting him from the liv­ing room back into the kitchen. He kept hear­ing a lit­tle ring­ing noise in his head, like a buzzer in anoth­er room. He want­ed a nap. He found his space between the refrig­er­a­tor and the wall and slumped down into it. The dog snuf­fled a lit­tle by the back door. Stinker did­n’t care. Someone else could notice that the dog want­ed out.

Duffy went to the back door and let Roy out. He stared out the door over the porch rail­ing. Small twigs and leaf lit­ter had swirled up onto the porch floor.

The calm, still air smelled deep and earthy.

Smells like worms,” Duffy said.

Maya laughed a little.

Duffy could see a shad­ow on the edge of the lawn. It looked like a man, wear­ing a hat.  He was lean­ing on the tall post that held up the lamp by the gate. The lamp was dark. Duffy could­n’t fig­ure out where the light that lit the man from behind was com­ing from. But he could see a silhouette.

What are you look­ing at, Sugar?”

There’s a man over there,” Duffy said, point­ing to the edge of the yard.

Maya came out onto the porch and looked over Duffy’s shoul­der. The Slim Man was lean­ing against the lamp post like a lazy cow­boy in one of Duffy’s west­ern shows.

You can see him?”

Duffy hes­i­tat­ed. “Is there real­ly some­one there?” He had been will­ing to play along with Maya’s offer­ing. It only seemed fair since Maya always agreed with him about Stinker’s need for a cool place to sleep and the last three choco­late chips from his cookies.

There is. The Slim Man. He was look­ing after us dur­ing the storm.”

Oh,” Duffy fid­dled with his belt loop. “Is he safe?”

Safe?” Maya asked.

Safe, not dangerous.”

Tonight he’s safe.”

Duffy con­sid­ered this. “Tonight,” he stat­ed finally.

Tonight,” Maya agreed with him.

Duffy looked at the shad­ow a lit­tle longer. “Is he always here?”

No, only some­times. When we call for him.”

Duffy con­sid­ered this. “Stinker would­n’t like him here all the time.”

No he would­n’t,” Maya agreed.

Only some­times,” Duffy repeat­ed and shrugged.

Maya put a hand on Duffy’s shoul­der and guid­ed him back into the kitchen.

Would you like to lie down on the sofa? I could get you a blanket.”

Duffy nod­ded, he was tired. The house was very qui­et, and he was a lit­tle cold. A blan­ket on the sofa sound­ed good.


Duffy drowsed qui­et­ly for half an hour, Maya sat beside him and read. Roy wan­dered rest­less­ly in and out of the kitchen. Eventually Maya’s patience with the pac­ing dog reached it’s end.

Roy, bud­dy, it’s time for you to go out­side,” She got up and head­ed to the kitchen with Roy padding along.

Duffy half woke up when Maya got up from her end of the couch, reached out to pet Roy and sleep­i­ly not­ed his absence.

From the kitchen he heard Maya say “Oh brother.”

Duffy got up and went to the kitchen door; Roy came over to his side.

The dog scratched his left ear. Then stopped and direct­ed his nose at the silent refrig­er­a­tor. Duffy’s sleepy gaze fol­lowed as Roy walked over to the turquoise bulk.

Stinker,” Maya said, in the tone of voice that Duffy knew from that rainy October after­noon when he had­n’t remem­bered to take his mud­dy shoes off on the porch and had tracked sticky, red creek-ooze all over her kitchen floor. There was reproach and res­ig­na­tion and a sense of the inevitable in it.

Stinker was stuck in the cav­i­ty between the fridge and the wall, a bit of a tight squeeze for a chunky mon­ster. But Stinker had always found it a com­fort­ing spot, just at the edge of what­ev­er was going on in the kitchen.

The woozy mon­ster wavered a lit­tle in the can­dle light. Gin was a heady experience.

Well, you’re going to feel awful in the morn­ing.” Maya told Stinker.

Stinker blubbed a lit­tle. He felt pret­ty awful right now.

I’d send you out­side to sleep, but the storm has­n’t let up enough to be sure that you won’t get wet under the porch. And the tree is still sway­ing too much for a tip­sy mon­ster to sleep in its branch­es. You’ll have to spend the night next to the back door. The lino should be cool enough to keep you from overheating.”

Duffy was­n’t quite sure what or who Maya was talk­ing to, it sound­ed like it was some­one she knew well. “Maya?”

Never you mind, Duffy, it’s just that old Stinker.”

Stinker? He’s in the house?” Duffy asked. “He’s not sup­posed to be in the house. Not now.” Why not now Duffy was­n’t sure. Stinker was often in the house, under his bed or qui­et­ly sleep­ing in the toy box next to his dress­er. But right now Duffy knew for sure that Stinker being in the house was not a good thing. Not with what­ev­er it was the Maya was doing on top of the TV. It was going to be bad enough when Dad found out about that. But if Stinker had got­ten mixed up in it some­thing worse was bound to happen.

Duffy walked over to the refrig­er­a­tor. He stopped. He looked. There was some­thing large and lumpy beside it. Hunched and snuf­fling. And familiar.

Stinker?” Duffy asked the lump. Duffy did­n’t think the mon­ster look too good. His green face was pale and his lips stuck to his teeth when he tried to smile. There were leaves in the fur on his bel­ly and his arms were wrapped tight­ly around his middle.

He looked at Maya. “What’s wrong with him?” he asked.

He drank some­thing that did­n’t agree with him.”

That’s what Duffy’s dad some­times said when his mom did­n’t come down for break­fast on Sunday morning.

He does­n’t look so good,” she con­tin­ued. “But I think he’ll be alright by sup­per time tomorrow.”

No, he does­n’t look too good,” Duffy sighed.

Maya gig­gled, “His right ear has turned inside out.”

Duffy looked close­ly. Yes, the lit­tle flap on the side of Stinker’s head was flopped over his head with the rosy-pink under­side show­ing. “That’s his left ear.”

Maya turned half way around and waved her right hand in the air. “It’s your left,” she empha­sized, “it’s his right.”

Duffy turned around as well and looked at his hands. “Oh, it is.”

Maya smiled slight­ly. “His spines aren’t look­ing too perky either. See how they’ve gone yel­low at the tips.”

On Stinker’s dor­sal spines, the two that Duffy could see ris­ing over his shoul­ders, the blue had reced­ed from the tips leav­ing only the ivory col­or of the horn.

And his eyes are red and streaky,” Duffy said, try­ing to keep his face from betray­ing the fib.

Stinker’s eyes are black,” Maya stat­ed calm­ly, “Besides, they’re closed.”


There was silence for sev­er­al moments.

Maya?” Duffy whispered.

Yes?” Maya answered just as quietly.

You can really…”

Yes, real­ly.”

You’re not pre­tend­ing like my dad?

I’m not pretending.”

And the Slim Man… I real­ly saw him?”

Yes, I was­n’t sure that you would, but you did.

Can he see me?”

Of course.”

Duffy won­dered if this made him feel bet­ter or worse, then decid­ed that it was creepy but not scary.

Can he see Stinker?”


Is Stinker safe?”

Why would you ask that?”

He ate the Slim Man’s chicken.”

You saw that?”

No, I just, I just know that he would.”

He should­n’t have done it,” Maya said, “but I don’t think the Slim Man is going to hurt him for it. He’s going to think that Stinker has done him­self enough harm drink­ing that gin.”

Duffy looked at the bedrag­gled mon­ster and pondered.

Are you going to get into trou­ble?” he asked Maya.

Maybe. A little.”

There was anoth­er silence.

Time to clean up,” Maya announced and walked toward the liv­ing room where she began to clear off the top of the TV. She hand­ed Duffy the plate of chick­en and the glass of milk and she took the dish of straw­ber­ries and the glass of gin.

They walked into the kitchen with Roy fol­low­ing close­ly. Duffy gave in to his curiosity.

So I can see the Slim Man?”


And you can see Stinker?”


Duffy thought a lit­tle longer.

Could I see Lily?” he asked eagerly.


The ghost at your house.”

She’s not your ghost,” Maya told him.

Will I ever get to see a ghost?”

We all have ghosts, soon­er or later.”

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