by JOHN MC CAFFREY
ou have to get ready to go to school,” Becky whispered as she extended the dolls legs, sitting her down on the dirty back-porch. “Okay Mama,” she replied in a high falsetto, moving the other doll off the small plastic bed. She crouched over her dolls and their play furniture, her club leg twisted out and to the right in an uncomfortable looking position, but one that she seemed to prefer. She pranced the doll to the small building blocks she used as the vanity, “I have to be pretty for my first day of school,” she said.
A mud ball landed close to her, a second one struck amongst her dolls, scattering the small plastic furniture and building blocks. She turned and looked towards Richy Skinner's backyard. He was smirking, standing beside Billy and Munch. Becky struggled to stand and faced the culprits, “You are a'posed to leave me alone Richy Skinner,” she said with as much indignation as she could muster. “Your Mama said you're a'posed to.”
The three stood on the other side of the chain link fence that separated their yards and cackled with lewd, adolescent glee. Munch, the largest, and dumbest of the three, began lurching around in a circle, his leg stiffened in cruel imitation of Becky's, which brought hoots of laughter from the other two.
“What's wrong gimpy? Your dollies fall down?” Richy crooned as he leaned over the fence, his lopsided grin plastered to his sunburned face. Billy was already bending down to make another mud ball as Munch continued his stiff legged parody, staring at Becky with his tongue lolling out.
Becky's small hands curled into impotent fists at her sides. She looked towards her house, then at the expanse of marshland behind all the yards on this side of the street, before turning to face her tormentors again. Her lip quivered in frustration.
“You going to cry now gimpy?” Richy said straightening and jamming one of his knuckles into his eye. “You going to cry and tell your mom on me again? Go ahead, my mom and dad both says ya'all ain't nothing but redneck trash anyway.”
Billy had finished making the mud ball and was forming it in his hands like a snowball as he walked up next to Richy, “She's just mad she can't call her brother anymore. Right gimpy?”
“Yeah,” Munch said. “Cuz he's worm food now. He ain't so tough now is he? All purple and mushy.”
Richy snickered, as Billy flipped the mud ball from one hand to the other. Munch guffawed in idiotic mirth as Richy called over the fence, trying his most threatening voice, “Why don't you run out and play in the swamp so you can get killed like your brother did?”
Becky said nothing as the boys taunted her. Her lip still trembled, but she refused to allow the tears to flow. “You're a'posed to not tease me,” she whispered. A breeze picked up, blowing over the fens, bowing the high grass in its wake. With it came the pungent swamp odor of raw earth, brackish water and the musky smell of weeds. The breeze enveloped her in its gossamer wings, lifting her hair and chasing small dust devils across the yard. She closed her eyes for a moment and cocked her head to one side, listening. She could hear something, a very small something, a furtive voice just beyond the reach of comprehension.
“Becky?” Her mother's voice came from inside the kitchen.
Becky opened her eyes and stared at the three boys, who glanced at Becky's house when her mother called, then back at her before turning and running back towards Richy's house. Billy dropped the mud ball and flipped her the middle finger as they ran past the house and up towards the street.
Becky watched the three of them disappear around the corner of the house, then glanced around the yard, trying to pinpoint where the sound she'd just heard had come from.
“Are you still out back?”
“Yes Mama, I'm playing with my dolls.” She still struggled with the L sound, no matter how hard she tried, the word always came out as dowws. Her mother said something from inside the house, but Becky wasn't paying attention to her. She had already turned back around to look past the yard to the marshes beyond. Now that the three boys were gone, the tears came, and she let them fall, jamming one of her hands into her eye. Mikey had told her to never let anyone know when something was bothering her. Never let them see. She took a deep breath, wiped her eyes, and stooped to gather her dolls together. She brushed the dirt away as she picked up the first one and walked it towards the second.
Her mother appeared at the screen door, her hair tied back in a pony-tail. She pushed the door open, the hinges squeaking in protest, “What're you doing kiddo?”
“Just playing,” Becky responded without looking up.
“You stay away from those marshes out back. Okay?”
“I know Mama,” Becky said. There was no reason to keep telling her everyday. Becky had been afraid of the marshes even before the accident. She turned around, “Mama?”
Her mother had let the door squeak closed, but turned and caught it, stepping out on the porch, holding it open with one hand.
Becky put the doll down and scrunched her face up in a serious look, “Mama, do I have to go to school?”
Her mother let the door slam closed as she walked out and sat on the stairs that led down to the small yard and marshlands beyond. The rusted poles of a swing set, missing the swings, and the old falling down shed (another of the places Becky was not allowed to play) were the only things in their yard other than the faded porch. Becky gathered one of her dolls, stood up, and hobbled towards the stairs, sitting next to her mother. Mama did laundry for a good many of the locals to earn a little extra money. She smelled like bleach and soap as Becky drew close. It was a smell both familiar and comforting.
“Are you worried about school punkin?”
Becky looked at her mother, then to the field beyond. She lowered her eyes towards her doll, absently pulling on its leg. She shrugged her shoulders and remained silent.
“C'mere,” her mother said, extending her arms out.
Becky stood and fell into her mother's outstretched arms, burying her face in her shoulder. “Do I have to go?”
Her mother stroked her hair and hugged her close, “Yes. We've already talked about this. Don't you remember?” She pushed Becky back off her shoulder and placed a hand under her chin, pushing her face up so they looked into each others eyes.
Becky nodded, a pout on her face as she averted her eyes to any place except her mother's kind and patient eyes. Sure, they had talked about it, but she still didn't want to go. Now that Mikey was gone, she was scared. The kids had left her alone when he was around. No one dared tease her then. He had beaten Richy and Billy black and blue many times, and had chased Munch around Richy Skinner's house with a stick. They hadn't dared say a word after that, but now that Mikey was in Heaven, everything had changed. A tear found its way down her cheek as she buried her face in her mother's shoulder and clung to her tight.
Mama stroked her hair, “Is Richy and his friends bothering you again? If so, I'll go talk to his mother.”
Becky shook her head. After what Richy said his parents thought of them, she didn't think it would matter.
“Are you sure?”
She shook her head again,“No, don't talk to them Mama,” she said, and then fell silent for a moment. “Mama, Mikey said he'd be there when I had to go to school. He said if the school kids made fun of my leg, he'd make them stop. But now he can't be there. Why did God have to take him?”
Her mother began to rock back and forth, holding her tight. She kept her face hidden in her shoulder. She could hear Mama's heart beating, and felt the shudder of her shoulders as she began to weep.
The tall grasses behind Becky's house swayed in the August breeze, bowing their heads before the pale glow of the moon. Crickets chirped amongst the reeds, and deeper within the bog, frogs croaked and hunted.
Becky lay on her bed, the worn blanket kicked off, her good leg pulled up towards her chin, her useless one lay wooden, half dangling off the lumpy mattress. Mr. Whiskers curled beside her pillow, occasionally opening an eye to peer towards the open window when an interesting sound caught its attention. The dirty sheers puffed slowly back and forth, buffeted by the breeze. Quiet reigned over the house as Becky snored, lost in her dreams.
Mr. Whiskers' eyes opened and turned towards the window. He had heard something. Something soft, something furtive and fleeting. Something primordial, yet familiar. A murmuring of voices carried on the breeze. The cat's ears flattened as it stood, took a tentative step towards the window, then bolted from the room, launching himself off of Becky's extended leg.
Becky rolled over, jamming her small fist into her eye and rubbing deeply before raising herself up on her elbows. She glanced around the room, then to the right side of the bed, looking for her cat. She raised herself up further, looking towards the window. She'd heard something.
She peered around her bedroom, nothing appeared out of place. She rubbed her nose and glanced over the edge of the bed, expecting to see Mr. Whiskers on the frayed oval throw rug, but the floor was vacant except for her dolls. She swung her legs off the side of the bed and hobbled towards the open window, squatting to her knee and maneuvering her useless leg into a comfortable position. She rested her elbows on the nicked and faded windowsill and looked out. The breeze blew the sheers out behind her, then allowed them to drift lazily back into place before billowing them out again. She glanced up at the moon as a gray cloud drifted across it, then looked out towards the marshes. The pungent smell of swamp water and damp grass hung in the air as she watched a bit of fog dribbling out from the tall grasses, moving slowly past the old shed and rusted swing set, drifting across the weeds towards her house. She reached left, beside the bed, and pulled one of her dolls to her, propping it up on the sill. She listened intently as the wind breathed and sighed outside her window. She could hear voices, whispering slight and shadowy, just beneath the breeze.
“Did you hear that?” Becky whispered to the doll, pulling it closer. She was certain they were voices, but she couldn't tell where they came from.
One voice, just a bit louder than the others, drew closer. It sounded as soft as the comforter on Mama's bed. She was sure it came from outside, but though she leaned forward and glanced left then right, she couldn't pinpoint its location.
Now she knew. It came from amongst the tall grass behind the house. That was the bad place. That was the place she was not supposed to ever go into. Not ever, not for any reason, Mama said. She leaned forward and listened, looking for movement amongst the grass and thicket behind their yard. The reeds swayed in time with the sheers blowing above her. The tall pussy willows, their heads brown and heavy, nodded back and forth at her. It was no longer many voices, now it was just the one. It was faint and fleecy, gliding on the breeze, ahead of the wisp of vapor that wafted languidly over the yard. It whispered, and murmured, just beyond the reach of understanding. She gripped the doll tight to the side of her face, as her brow creased in concentration.
She was about to stand up and make her way to Mama's room, when the breeze whispered up to the house and over the sill. Becky closed her eyes and let the doll fall to the floor.
“Oh,” she said. The current of air was now in her room, it eddied and sighed, wrapping the sheers around Becky as she stood, still facing the window.
“When?” she whispered to the gust. She nodded her head and pulled herself free from the sheer as she hobbled to her bed. She gazed at a point in the middle of her room, just above where she was certain the whiff of air was, and once again nodded, “Okay.”
She pulled her sneakers on and made her way out of the bedroom, through the kitchen and out the back door. She limped across the porch, her right hand stuck out at her side, twirling in circles to keep her balance as she dragged her foot behind her, avoiding the stair that creaked as she made her way down to the ground. The gusts of wind swirled the mists that covered the yard around her feet as she hobbled forward. She stopped when she stood before the slight decline that led into the tall grasses and the bog beyond.
“I'm not a'posed to go in there,” she murmured quietly. “That's the bad place. I promised Mama I wouldn't never, ever, ever go in there. I promised.”
Becky cocked her head and listened as the tall grass swayed in the night breeze. The moon came from behind the cloud and shone its pale light down upon her as she nodded once more, “Okay,” she said as she hitched down the embankment and disappeared into the grass.
Angela took the whites from the dryer and began to separate them, socks and underthings she left in the basket, the button up shirts of Mr. Robertson she smoothed out and placed on hangers. When finished, she took the shirts into the living room and plugged the iron in. She hung the shirts over the back of the closet door and went into the kitchen to grab the aerosol can of starch and a cup of coffee while the iron heated up. Rebecca's cat, Mr. Whiskers, sat on top of the faded counter, soaking up the mid-afternoon sun.
“Get down from there,” Angela said, shooing the cat off. “Becky, come get this cat before I toss him out the front door.”
Becky had been unusually quiet all morning, playing with her dolls in the backyard. She typically helped with the dishes after breakfast (actually, she asked a thousand questions while Angela did the dishes, but that was still helping), but this morning she had gone immediately out back after finishing her oatmeal. Angela poured a cup of coffee, shooed the cat away again as it rubbed against her legs, and walked to the backdoor. Becky was sitting beside the shed, her bad leg off at an angle as she played with her dolls in the bit of weeds and grass. Angela leaned in the doorway and watched her daughter play. The kids were all she had left since Russell got his fool self killed. And now that Mikey...
She passed a hand over her forehead and opened the door to look towards the Skinner's house to see if their evil spawn and his friends were about. Seeing the yard empty, she let the door close slowly, glancing once more towards her daughter before heading back to the living room to start her ironing. She set her coffee down, stuck an index finger in her mouth then quickly touched the iron. The satisfying sizzle sound from the saliva on her finger let her know the iron was ready. That prissy Nora Robertson wanted her husband's shirts washed and ironed just so, and seemed to take great pleasure in pointing out a fault in Angela's work, even when there wasn't any. Nora had married well and lived on the other side of town, a fact she shared with Angela every chance she could. Angela was grateful for the few dollars a week that doing people's laundry brought in. It allowed her to buy Becky milk and a few other essentials, but Lord have mercy, she had thought on more than one occasion about the lovely welt the iron would leave on Nora's forehead. She took one of the shirts off the hanger, smoothed it on the ironing board, then set to work. A game show droned on the television before her as she sprayed the starch onto the shirt. Russell was a good man, no matter what that self-important Nora Robertson said about him with her uppity friends as they sipped lemonade on their veranda, as if calling it a back porch wasn't good enough for the likes of them. Russell just drank too much was all. Sometimes a man drinks, and sometimes he drives too fast, and sometimes he leaves behind a family who have to get along as best they can.
Angela flipped the collar up, sprayed a bit of starch on it, smoothed it out with her fingers and then grabbed the iron.
What she didn't appreciate was the gossip, blaming her for Mikey's death. That was unfair. That was uncalled for. She loved her children and made every sacrifice she could. Mikey knew he wasn't supposed to play in the swamp, Lord knows she had told him and told him, but boys will be boys and the more you tell a boy not to do something, the more he is going to do that very thing.
She brushed at an errant strand of hair that crept over her forehead with her hand as she started on the back of the shirt, smoothing it out, and spraying the starch before she set at it with the iron.
People liked to gossip, Lord knows, but she didn't need like to hear gossip about her dead husband and boy, and especially about Becky's bum leg. The Lord had dealt her family a sorry hand, but it was what she had and she'd always made the best of what the Lord gave her. Even when prissy Nora Robertson looked down her nose as she accepted the clean laundry, doling out the few dollars to Angela before reminding her she should use the back door for deliveries and shutting the door in her face, she held her tongue.
Angela gripped the iron in her hand, closed her eyes and imagined Nora's forehead in front of her.
“Forgive me Lord,” she whispered as the television switched to a commercial.
“For what Mama?” Becky said from the doorway. “Were you bad?”
Angela jumped, putting a hand to her chest, “Becky! Don't sneak up on your Mama, you'll give her a heart attack.”
The girl looked away, gazing at nothing in particular. The cat walked up behind her, swishing its tail as it circled the young girl's legs. Becky ignored it, a look of stern concentration on her face. Angela set the iron down, a hiss of steam sounding a protest to the indignity of inertia. “What's wrong honey?”
Becky found her mother's eyes and hobbled across the living room, placing her small hand inside Angela's.
“I had bad dreams last night,” she said.
Angela scooped her daughter up and sat in the tattered easy chair that had been Russell's favorite to nap in after a long night with the bottle. She propped Becky on her knee and pulled the girl's chin up until she looked into her eyes, “Want to talk about it?”
Becky shrugged and tried to look away but Angela gently pulled her chin back to make eye contact, “It's okay Becks,” she said, using Russell's pet name for her, “You can talk about it. It weren't nothing but a dream.”
Becky's face took on a countenance of adolescent determination, “Mama, how did Mikey die?”
Angela had expected a tale of dark dreams about monsters beneath the bed, noises from the closet, even creaking floorboards in the hall, but not this. This was not something a six year old should be dreaming about. She would need to take Becky to see Reverend Neemes. He'd recommended as much numerous times but Angela had thought her daughter was coping. She had been certain of it.
“Why do you ask Becky? Did you dream about Mikey last night?” She smoothed the girl's straw colored hair with her free hand, the other still gripped by Becky's small hand.
Becky shrugged again and leaned her small head against Angela's shoulder, “The wind came into my room last night.”
“What do you mean?”
Becky lifted her head and stared out the front window, Angela followed her gaze, but the front yard was bare except for the tall Maple tree, the old mailbox and the gravel road beyond. She was about to repeat her question when Becky began speaking in hushed whispers.
“The wind came into my room last night Mama. It was talking to me. It told me that Richy and Billy and Munch made Mikey die,” she looked from the window to Angela's face, “Did they Mama?”
Angela pulled her hand free from Becky's and placed both on her daughters cheeks, looking into her eyes, “Becky, no. That was just a dream. Your brother fell from the tree he was climbing and drowned. It was just an accident. He couldn't get free of the mud and he drowned. The doctor told me what happened. You have to believe me sweetheart. It was just an accident.”
The little girl nodded between her mother's hands as a lone tear stole its way down her cheek. She sniffled once and buried her head in her mother's chest, her useless leg tapped against Angela's shin as she held her close, “The wind told me that they hit him with mud balls and made him fall from the tree. Mikey was a good tree climber Mama. He was always climbing trees. He never fell. The wind told me when he tried to get out of the water, they all held him back with sticks until he got tired.”
Angela rocked her daughter and held her close, “It was just a bad dream baby. Just a bad dream. Hey, how about this? How about I make us some grilled cheese for lunch? That's your favorite, and I'll open up a can of tomato soup. How does that sound?”
Becky nodded and Angela pulled her closer, kissing the top of her head. “You go out back and play for now. I'll finish up this bit of ironing and call you when it's ready. Okay?”
Becky nodded and slipped to the floor, wiping the back of her hand across her eyes as she hitched her way towards the kitchen. She stopped and looked once again out the window, “Mikey was a good tree climber Mama,” then turned and left the room. Angela could hear her clumping across the old linoleum then the squeak and bang of the screen door.
Angela leaned back in the chair and raised her hand to her eyes, brushing back the tears that she didn't want to let fall. It was just an accident. The police told her it was. The doctor who had examined him told her it was. It was just one of those things that sometimes happened.
Mikey was a good tree climber Mama.
The tears came despite her best attempt.
The marsh stretched for miles behind Becky's house. It was ancient even when man worshiped the sun and hid in caves when lightning lit the skies. It spoke its own language, as old as the mountains and equally as strong. It was a realm unto itself, its inhabitants as dark and mysterious as any jungle in the Amazon, as it breathed and watched, listened and waited. It shared all these things, and more with Becky as she stood before it, mouth open in soporific wonder as the moon bathed her in monochrome. She understood little of what the wind shared with her, but felt the malice that rolled off the bog like a miasma.
And somewhere beneath it all, she felt the presence of her brother.
Mikey had joined with, and become part of, the marsh breeze. He was within the breeze, and he moved and danced on the wind, talking to her in the same quiet way he always had before. He whispered to her, assuring her, watching over her, just as he had when he'd been alive. He was all around her now, and she felt safe.
She turned to gaze back at her house, mute in the stillness of the August breeze that came across the marshes, bringing the smell of bitter plants and something darker. Something that should have scared her, yet didn't. Something that was old and fantastic, yet something familiar. Her young mind reeled with the information the breeze shared with her as she stood before the bog in somnolent wonder.
She wasn't scared. She bit her lip and nodded, “Show me,” she whispered and parted the reeds, disappearing within.
Becky stood on the porch, gazing across the yard at the Skinner's house. The three of them were goofing off, shoving one another and laughing. They had killed her brother, and they played and laughed as if everything was just fine. The wind had had shown her where it happened, it had shown her what they had done, and it had whispered to her what she must do.
They hadn't noticed her yet. She looked down at the two mud balls in her right hand, then back at the boys. She doubted she'd be able to hit them from her backyard, let alone make it to the fence but, the wind had told her, that wouldn't matter.
Becky listened at the screen door a moment. She could hear Mama in the living room, doing other people's laundry and watching her soaps. She turned and hobbled off the porch, her useless foot bumping behind her as she descended. The noise caught the boys attention and they ran to the fence.
“Hey gimpy,” Richy shouted, “Pick your feet up when you walk.”
This brought laughter from the other two, but Becky ignored them, making her way towards the reeds. Billy called out something crude about her mother and Munch guffawed in his idiotic nasal laughter. Becky gripped the mud balls in her fist as she came up to the tall grass, at the opening the wind had showed her last night. This was the path that led deeper within, to the mire. She turned and stared at her tormentors, her heart racing in her chest. She had never tried to run before, and wasn't sure she'd be able to, but the gust of air had assured her she would make it. She had nothing to fear.
The breeze blew the reeds around her, making a soft swooshing noise. She glared at the three boys. The only thing separating them was the small expanse of yard, and the chain link fence. She sucked in a deep breath, put one mud ball in her left hand and cocked her right behind her head, took aim, and threw with all her might.
It sailed through the air in a graceful arc, seeming to ride the air current once it reached its apex, then descended on target, slamming Richy in the chest as he threw his hands up in front of his face at the last moment. The three were struck silent in shock. Richy tripped and fell back on the grass, a look of comical amazement on his face as he fell. Billy had jerked to the left, his mouth open in shock. Munch had just stared as Richy fell, his mouth open in dimwitted wonder.
“You little bitch,” Richy said as he jumped from the ground and grabbed the top of the fence. Becky let loose the other mud ball, but it fell far short of its mark as she turned towards the billowing grasses and reeds that towered over her. The wind picked up and the dust devils scurried and danced about her feet as the strong breeze parted the grass. With a last glance she disappeared within, the boys close behind.
“You want more?” Angela asked Becky, pointing towards the saucepan of macaroni and cheese. Becky shook her head, and scooped another forkful from her plate, chewing thoughtfully. She hated feeding the child such a dismal dinner, but it was all they had. The Petersons, as well as that whiny Beatrice Connor, hadn't paid her today when she'd dropped their laundry off.
“You don't mind waiting a few days, do you dear?” Beatrice had asked.
What could Angela say? She'd smiled politely and came home to cook her daughter a dinner of boxed macaroni and cheese and the last bit of milk to wash it down.
She sighed and took her plate to the sink. She heard a car pull into the drive, and hoped it was Mrs. Peterson or that sniveling Connor woman come to pay their tab.
“Finish your dinner honey,” she said as she headed for the living room. She glanced out the front window as she walked towards the door. It was the Sheriff. She wondered if it was about Mikey, but she couldn't imagine it could be. If not that then what else?
She pushed the screen door open, stepping out onto the cracked single stair stoop as Sheriff Wilson pulled his bulk out of the squad. He nodded at her as he closed the door and walked up the gravel drive.
“Evening,” he said, stopping just short of where she stood and removing his hat. “Hate to disturb you during dinner time.”
“Hi Sheriff. No problem, we were just finishing up.”
“Good. How you and the young one getting along? What was her name?”
“Becky,” she said. “And we're both making it I reckon.”
He nodded and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, dabbed at his forehead, then put his hat back on, stashing the handkerchief in his pocket. He looked uncomfortable, nervous even.
“Is it something to do with Mikey?” she said.
He shook his head, “No, not quite.” He drew in a deep breath, and let it out loudly before turning to look at her, “We got a call about half an hour ago. He pointed towards the Skinner's house,”Your neighbor's boy didn't come home for dinner.”
“Oh? I've not seen him around. Don't suppose I would though, been busy all day and he don't play with Becky. Him and his friends make fun of the child.”
The Sheriff nodded and put his hands on his hips, “Yeah. That's the thing. The other two didn't come home either. Seems all three are missing.”
“Well Sheriff, I'm sorry to hear that. But like I said, I've not seen him, or the other two for that matter.”
“Mrs. Skinner says last time she saw Richy and the other two was early this afternoon out in their backyard over yonder,” he said with a nod of his head in the direction of the backyard. “Way she tells it, all three boys followed your little one out back towards the marshes.”
“I told you, they don't play with Becky. If anything, they torment her. Lord knows she's come crying to me on more than a few occasions about it. Besides, after what happened with her brother, I don't think she'd ever go back there with anyone, let alone those three.”
“Just the same, I'd like to ask her a few questions if you don't mind. We can do it right here. I just want to see if she spoke with them or if there's anything to what Mrs. Skinner was saying.”
She threw her hands up in exasperation, “Wait here.”
She opened the screen door and stepped inside, calling Becky. Her daughter appeared in the doorway, fork still in hand.
“Becky, come outside a moment. The Sheriff wants to ask you something. Okay honey?”
She nodded her head and limped towards Angela, extending her hand. Angela took the fork from her, placed it in the pocket of her apron and took her hand, opening the door.
“Hey there Becky,” the Sheriff said when they were on the porch. “You remember me?”
Becky leaned into her mother, clutching her hand tight as she nodded her head. The Sheriff walked up the single step and knelt down on one knee in front of the small girl, tipping his hat back.
“Well good, good. Listen Becky, I want to ask you something. Okay? Earlier today did you see Richy Skinner, the boy next door, or his two friends Bill Shanck and Evan Miller?”
“Who's Even Miller?” she asked.
“Evan, not even. I think they call him Munch.”
“Oh,” she said.
The Sheriff looked up at Angela, then back at Becky, “Well? Did you see them?”
Becky nodded her head slowly.
“Yeah? Where did you see them?
The little girl took a deep breath, and leaned forward, pointing with her free hand past her mother, in the direction of the backyard.
“You saw them out back? Did you play with them out back today? Did you all maybe go out in the marshes together?”
Becky stared at the Sheriff, but didn't reply.
“Sheriff,” Angela said as she reached down and picked the girl up into her arms. “She sees them everyday. You understand? Every day she sees them, because every day they tease her. She's a handicapped child for God's sake. Why would she possibly go into that marsh with those boys? They're twice her age.”
The Sheriff stood up and held a hand out, “Easy Angela. I'm not implying anything. I just had to ask. If a few kids are missing, and the last place they're seen is back in that bog, then I have to ask. You understand don't you? You should understand more than most seeing what happened with your own son.”
She kissed the top of Becky's head and put her down. She fished the fork out of her apron and handed it to her, and told her to go inside and finish her dinner. Becky took the fork, opened the door, but stood just inside watching them.
“She has nothing to do with those boys. She's afraid of them. She would never associate with them even if they wanted her too. She knows not to go back in those marshes under any circumstance. And I don't appreciate you bringing up Michael in front of her. Lord know it's hard on her as it is.”
“I meant no harm. It's just that, we've been all over town looking for them, and there ain't no sign of them anywhere. The only thing we got to go on is what Mrs. Skinner said. So I had no choice but to come ask.”
“Well, you need to look elsewhere. They're hooligans, Lord knows. They'll probably turn up sooner or later,” she turned to walk back inside, pulling the door open. She stopped before she went in, closed her eyes a moment and turned back to the Sheriff, “I'm sorry. You're right, I do know what it's like to lose a son, and it's horrible. I hope no harm's come to them. I hope you find them quick and unharmed. I didn't mean to be so gruff.”
He nodded, “Not a problem Angela, I understand. You two have a good evening, and if you do see them, give a holler,” he said as he turned to walk away.
“Mikey was a good tree climber,” Becky said.
The Sheriff stopped, “How's that?”
Angela knelt beside her daughter as the Sheriff came back to the porch.
“What did you say honey?” Angela said as she smoothed her daughter's hair.
“Mikey,” Becky said as she turned to meet her mother's gaze. “He was a good tree climber.”
“Is that so?” the Sheriff said, placing his hands in his pockets.
Becky nodded her head, “But those three boys, they weren't able to climb. When the wind came for them, they weren't able to climb that tree at all.” She turned and limped back towards the kitchen, her useless foot making a clumping sound as she dragged it behind her.
Angela still knelt by the door, watching as her daughter crossed the living room, heading into the kitchen.
“I think I need to have a little chat with your daughter,” the Sheriff said as he opened the door.
John Mc Caffrey writes tales of horror, the supernatural, science fiction, and fantasy. He was born in Illinois and grew up on the south side of Chicago. While still in grade school, he developed a passion for reading through the works of Tolkien, Poe, and Lovecraft as well as being addicted to watching Hammer Film's at the local Saturday matinee. Today he lives in northern Indiana with his wife and two dogs where he writes in his spare time. His works can be found at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords as well as various anthologies and magazines. He's online at jmccaffrey.com and facebook.
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