A departure from EJ’s usual genre, this short story is an unusual evocation of confronting the devil you are afraid of and childhood fears.
It was the summer of ’63, Kennedy would be dead in a few months, George a lot sooner. We didn’t know that, of course, didn’t see that the long sequence of events that had started the previous summer was drawing to a conclusion none of us could have imagined.
On that day, we were at the point in mid-vacation when the joy of endless summer days had become the boredom of endless summer days. My mom was working the morning shift which meant I had to do the laundry. I didn’t mind the washing part, it was the hanging out part I hated. The silly clothes-pin apron was bad enough but there was something about handling my mother’s underthings that made me feel creepy. By the time the last clothes pin was clamped over the last fold of cloth, it was past 11:00 a.m..
I spotted McCain and Charly hanging out in the shade of the Birdseye Maple that dominated the empty lot at the end of the block, kitty-corner from Charly’s house. McCain was on his back, arms folded across his chest. Charly was hunched over, a large stick in his hand, drawing something in the dirt at his feet. I looked around for Dibbs then remembered he was at Bible school.
“Dibbs not back yet?” I said, surprising them both.
McCain sat up and rolled his eyes when he saw me. “Any time now, Mikey” he said, stretching out his hand, palm up. “And you know when he gets here he’ll be full of God, fire and brimstone and harping on about what sinners we are.”
I laughed and slipped him some skin. McCain hated Dibbs’ God talk. He claimed to be an atheist, a word I had to look up after he used it the first time, though I think he was just yanking Dibbs’ chain with the statement.
McCain was like that, always tossing out gold-plated words and silver-lined philosophies to illustrate the complexity of life. He was quick to anger and always ready with a practical joke, mostly at Dibbs’ expense. Charly, Dibbs and me were fourteen. McCain was a year older. Somehow he saw that vast age difference as making him both worldly and wise.
I always noted the words he used though, looking them up before I went to bed. He used a lot of them incorrectly I learned, and some I suspect he made up. At least I couldn’t find them in the old Webster that had gathered dust in the bookcase before I started leafing through it.
“He will,” I agreed. “And when we come up behind old man Duncan’s place and the holy spirit moves us to toss a rock or two at the windows, he’ll be there praying for our souls.”
Charly laughed and tossed his stick aside. “Or McCain here swipes a box of Mallo Cups from the store. We’ll be puking while Dibbs’ll be chanting and drooling.”
“Mallo Cups, Jesus,” I said, slipping Charly skin and noticing the bruise that covered the side of his face. I looked away, saying nothing, knowing there was nothing I could say. It was summer layoff at the Chevy plant and his old man was in the bottle again.
“Yeah,” he said, turning slightly. “I don’t know how much longer I can handle those.”
“Me either,” I said, my stomach giving a little lurch.
McCain had a thing for Mallo Cups, stealing them by the boxful from Tom’s store whenever he had a chance and passing them around. Dibbs loved the things but candy was bad as far as his church was concerned, especially stolen candy. It was like watching someone being torn apart when the Mallo Cups were around and McCain didn’t make it any easier on Dibbs, waving that box in his face every five minutes.
“Wanna go down to Chapel Woods?” McCain asked.
“Nah,” I said.
“Screw that,” Charly added.
“C’mon,” I said.
We cut across the lot and into the alley that ran behind my house. It was a hot, still day, the sky hazy, the sun a dull white smudge against a lighter shade of gray. The smell of moldering grass and decaying garbage hung in the air, the scent of some grotesque being Spiderman might have to battle one day.
Coming up behind my house, I reached beneath the garbage cans and pulled out a battered old Prince Albert can I’d cadged from the old man next door. Inside was a crumpled pack of Larks and some wooden kitchen matches. I offered the cigarettes around. McCain took one, Charly shook his head and turned away.
Me and McCain lit up, the cigarettes dangling from the corner of our lips, our heads tilted to one side so the curling smoke wouldn’t get in our eyes causing a tear to fall, something we knew would never happen to Bogey. Wouldn’t want to get tagged a pussy.
A clamor of snarling, barking dogs erupted from the yard next door. We turned in time to see Charly on the roof of my shed, hurling green apples at the dog enclosure that ran along old man Bonner’s garage. We didn’t have to see Bonner coming with his rock salt loaded shotgun to know he was on his way. His curses were louder than the dogs.
“Damn, Charly,” I yelled. “Bonner’ll kill us.”
We were running before Charly hit the ground. Turning up the alley that ran behind the beer store, we skidded to a stop when we spotted Dibbs coming around the corner, staggering from one side of the narrow alleyway to the other.
“Jesus,” McCain said as Dibbs crumpled to his knees.
Charly started running toward Dibbs. I flipped my cigarette to one side and followed, McCain right on my heels.
Charly had Dibbs’ head tilted back by the time we dropped down beside them. That was Charly’s way; he was the fixer among us, always stopping to help, tending to scraped knees and elbows, helping the little kids climb trees or fetching them if they couldn’t climb back down, picking the weakest players for a game of ball and praising even their feeblest efforts, standing up for them when no one else would.
Dibbs was a mess; one eye closed up and already purpling, his white T-shirt splotched with blood from a nosebleed, spittle and blood from a busted lip frothing around his mouth and dripping down his chin. His chest was heaving with sobs.
“I need some water,” Charly said. “And something to wipe his face with.
McCain took off and returned a moment later with a rusted coffee can, water sloshing over the dented rim, and a pair of old lady’s bloomers.
“Jesus, McCain,” I said.
“It was all I could find,” he answered.
“Hold his head back, will ya Mike?” Charly said. While I did, Charly dipped the bloomers into the water and gently wiped the blood from below Dibbs’ nose. A thin trickle of blood began to ooze out as soon as he took the cloth away. “Hold this against your nose,” he said.
Gingerly, Dibbs did as he was told and after a moment, slowly lowered his head. “Tanks,” he said, his voice muffled through the cloth.
“You look like you were hit by one,” McCain said.
Dibbs pulled the cloth away and glared at McCain. “Thhhanks, a-hole. Is that better?”
“What the hell happened?” I said.
“George,” Dibbs said, and we all froze.
“Oh fuck,” McCain whispered and we started looking around, expecting doom to be closing in on us unawares.
Bullies are a natural part of kidhood and we had more than our share of them in the neighborhood. Roland and Cole were schoolyard bullies but they were lazy predators and, if you got past the first two or three blocks after classes let out, you were pretty much home free. Bob Ball over on Trident street was always trouble and then there were Big John and Terrible Tish, either of whom might kick your ass one day and be your friend the next, depending on what mood they were in when you ran into them.
But George, George was the nightmare even bullies feared, the walking talking dead of sleepless nights, insanity incarnate. Snarling and slobbering and foaming at the lips like a dog gone mad, in your face with fury and foul breath no imagination could ever conjure. To look him in the eye was to know the way the mouse feels the instant before the cobra strikes.
Helping Dibbs to his feet, we made our way back up the alley and ducked into the long passageway that ran between the corner store and the sign shop. The ground was littered with broken glass, rusted cans and old Trojans that looked like dried up slugs, the dank air smelling of piss and sour beer. But it was cool back there and out of sight and, with openings at both ends, easy to escape from should George find us cowering there.
“I never had a chance to run,” Dibbs said, tears brimming his eyes.
“Where?” said McCain and we all unconsciously looked around again.
“Over by the drug store,” Dibbs said. “I was cuttin’ across the lot.”
“That’s four blocks over,” I said, feeling that four blocks wasn’t near far enough away to feel safe. “How’d you get away from him?”
“Cops came,” he said, brushing at the tears. “I was trying to crawl into the bushes when they pulled up. When I turned around, George was gone. The cops didn’t see me and as soon as they pulled away, I got out of there.”
We fell silent, listening to the sounds of traffic going by on nearby Schoolyard Avenue. None of us wanted to leave our dark nest and venture far into the neighborhood. McCain slipped out at some point, snuck in the back door of Tom’s store and came back with a pack of Pall Malls, a bag of chips and four cold bottles of Pepsi. The chips disappeared in a flurry of nervous hands.
None of us spoke of George lest we call him up like a ghost or the Devil himself but I couldn’t shake him from my thoughts.
He’d appeared on our block on the first day of vacation the summer before. Talk of girls had begun to compete with talk of cars that spring; me and Charly and McCain were sitting in the vacant lot waiting for Dibbs and bragging of our prowess with this new thing we had discovered when we spotted George for the first time. Man, we thought he was cool. Scuffed cycle boots, pegged denims, a bright white skin tight T-shirt with a pack of Luckies rolled up in one short sleeve. His hair was as black as a crow’s feather, shiny and slicked back and worn in a waterfall that the summer breeze that day couldn’t muss. He was the image of everything we wanted to be when we reached his age.
That image shattered less than a minute later when Dibbs came running up behind him, a Pepsi in one hand, a bag of chips in the other. As Dibbs stepped off the sidewalk to pass him, George swung his arm out, catching Dibbs square in the face and knocking him to the ground. The chips flew from Dibbs’ hand as he fell. The Pepsi, sputtering and foaming, rolled into the street. We rose to our feet but George turned, stared at us and, despite the distance, that stare was cold and sharp and froze us in place.
As Dibbs struggled to his feet, blood flowing from his nose, George turned back to him. He retrieved the Pepsi from the street, side-stepped and retrieved the chips. Dibbs was sitting up now, blood still flowing, mixing with tears. George extended his leg and pushed Dibbs back down, standing over him, one foot on his chest. Dibbs was crying, struggling to free himself. George reached into the bag of chips, pulled out a handful and crushed them in his fist, spilling the crumbs over Dibbs’ face.
Reaching into the bag again, he pulled out another handful of chips, ate a few and crumbled the rest onto Dibbs. He took a swig from the Pepsi, swished it around in his mouth, took another swig and what was left of the bottle followed the chips. Turning back to us, a maniacal smile on his face, he lobbed the empty bottle in a lazy arc toward us. It shattered in the street and the three of us jumped in unison.
Dibbs managed to get to his feet, stagger and began running back the way he had come. We followed suit, running in the opposite direction, away from George, his shrill laughter following us.
It had been like that all last summer and this summer had been no different. Turn a corner, step out of the store, come out of the woods and George was there. The questions I had about him led only to more questions, never answers.
“How come we don’t know anything about him?” I asked.
“Who?” McCain asked.
“Who’d want to know?” said Dibbs. “I sure don’t.”
“I mean, we know where he hangs out at night,” I said, ignoring Dibbs. “But that’s it. We don’t know where he lives, if he’s in high school, if he works and if so, where? Who he hangs out with, nothing.”
“He’s not in high school,” McCain said. “At least not Crawford. I asked around.”
“And that’s another thing,” I said. “How come no one seems to know him except us?”
“Yeah,” said McCain. “And you know something else that’s weird? I don’t remember seeing him around once school started last year.”
“I noticed that, too,” I said. “And we’ve never seen him hanging with anyone. It’s always just him.”
“That’s ’cause he’s the Devil,” Dibbs added.
“Fuck you, Dibbs,” McCain said.
“Whatever he is, we gotta get the son of a bitch.”
Charly never swore and that alone would have gotten our attention, but there was something so cold and monochromatic in the tone of his words that the three of us turned as if we’d been struck. He was standing several feet away, staring off over our heads, his hands at his sides, balled into fists.
“Yeah,” said McCain. “Us and whose army?”
“Just us,” he said. “I’ve asked around, too. No one’s heard of him, or seen him, or been chased and beaten up him. So it has to be just us that gets him.”
I knew Charly didn’t just fear George as the rest of us did. He hated him. Hated him for the beatings, hated him more for running scared from him. The summer before, Charly’s old man had seen Charly running from George. When Charly came home that night, not a scratch on him, his old man beat him into a hospital stay, pounding the word ‘coward’ into his face with every blow.
I walked over and put my hand on his shoulder. He shrugged it away angrily. “You know we gotta do it, man” he said, his voice low and cold and almost frantic now. He stared at me, his eyes a mixture of fear and planning and something else I didn’t want to know the truth of. “This can’t go on. We gotta screw him up good.”
He stepped to the side, looking past me at McCain and Dibbs, taking us all in with a sweep of his arm. “We gotta.”
Dibbs began to nod his head in agreement. McCain looked at me and back at Charly, shrugging his shoulders.
“How?” I said. “How we gonna do that?”
“I’ve got an idea,” he said. “C’mon, I’ll show you.”
A half hour later, hot and sweaty from cutting through yards and ducking down alleys, we were crouched in the bushes that surrounded the Duncan place, looking out at the Tiller’s open backyard. Old man Tiller was hardly ever home and mostly drunk when he was. The empty half of his unfenced double lot was a favorite place to play baseball in the summer, football in fall.
“There,” Charly said, pointing off in the distance.
The three of us looked at each other, puzzled. “What?” I said.
“The clothes line, Mike. The clothes line.”
We all looked out again. Two rusty metal poles stood in the backyard, maybe fifty feet apart, a single strand of wire strung tightly between them.
“What about it?” I said.
Charly rolled his eyes, exasperated. “We wait until it gets dark and then we get George to chase us, dim bulb. You know he will if he spots us and we run. And when he does, we lead him here, duck under the wire at the last second and bam, he hits it hard.”
“That’s crazy,” I said.
“Could work,” said McCain.
“The wire’s too high,” chipped in Dibbs.
“So we lower the wire,” said Charly. “See those turnbuckles at the end? We just need some oil and a pair of pliers, twist it round till the wire’s about chest high on George. Maybe break his ribs or something. Hurt him, anyways. Hurt him bad.”
“Yeah,” I said. “And when he’s done hurting, we’d be dead.”
“Maybe it’ll kill him,” McCain said.
“Yeah, and we’d end up in prison,” I said, the voice of reason.
“Nah,” said McCain. “They don’t send little kids to prison.”
“And you can’t kill the Devil,” said Dibbs.
“Fuck you and the Devil you rode in on,” said McCain. “There is no Devil anyway.”
“Will you guys just cool it,” Charly said. He looked at each of us in turn. “So what do ya think? Should we do it?”
I shrugged my shoulders, thinking it a fool’s errand. I had a bad feeling about the idea but wasn’t about to voice it and be tagged a pussy. “Sure,” I said. “Why not?”
McCain and Dibbs agreed and we spread out to make it happen. Back at my house, I grabbed a pair of pliers and some of my mom’s gardening gloves from the shed out back. The gloves were an afterthought and probably pointless but I’d seen enough episodes of Dragnet and M Squad and knew what a cop like Joe Friday or Frank Ballinger could do with a set of fingerprints.
Charly was already back at the scene, a beat-up can of 3-in-1 oil in his hand, smearing the rusted turnbuckles and tapping them with the butt of his knife. I handed him the gloves and pliers just as Dibbs and McCain showed up with a tape measure, a second pair of pliers and a dirty, half-full can of Quaker State oil they’d cadged from the Sinclair station.
“How tall you think he is?” Dibbs said. “We wanna make sure it catches him just right.”
“Tall,” said McCain.
“That’s helpful,” I said.
“Seven feet, ya think?” said Dibbs.
“No one’s seven feet,” I said. “Maybe six.”
“So that’d make his chest what? Five feet from the ground?”
“Maybe you could find him and ask if you could measure how high his chest is,” McCain said.
“F-you, McCain. What’a ya think, Mike? Five feet work?”
There was a squeal and we turned our attention to Charly. He had both pairs of pliers clamped to the turnbuckles and was slowly loosening them. “Make it five and a half,” he said through gritted teeth. “That should do it just right.”
It took us the rest of what was left of the afternoon to lower the wire to the right height and to practice running and dropping before hitting it ourselves. The wire was plainly visible in daylight but at night it would be all but invisible until the moment you connected with it.
The only thing we knew for sure about George was where he hung out at night. Me and McCain had discovered this on one of our midnight forays and had told Charly and Dibbs about it. There was an unpainted, cinder block building set well back from Schoolyard Avenue and nearly at the fringe of our territory. It was the only building facing the street and was surrounded by overgrown, rubbish strewn fields, its doors and windows boarded up with weather-beaten plywood.
It may have been a store once or a garage, but it had closed up long before I started exploring the neighborhood. Now it was a place where some of the older kids hung out, a place where they could smoke cigarettes and drink beer and do whatever it is older kids do.
We’d have to stay out all night if we were going to make this work. Using the pay phone outside Tom’s store, Dibbs called his mom and told her he was going to have dinner at my house and then stay the night. Next, I called my mom and told her I’d be staying at his. We’d done this often enough to know they no longer bothered to check. McCain didn’t have to call anyone. His parents were never home and didn’t much care what he did when they were.
“What about you, Charly?” I said.
He shrugged and looked down at the ground. “I just won’t go home,” he said.
“Your old man’ll kill ya.”
“Screw him. He won’t even know I’m gone.”
We all knew it wouldn’t go down like that, just as we all knew Charly would get a beating for it. We didn’t say anything, though, didn’t try to talk him out of it. When Charly made up his mind about something, nothing could turn him away from it.
We pooled our money together, bought supplies and hauled ass out of the store over to McCain’s house where he swiped the rest of what we’d need. We made it to Chapel Woods just at dusk.
Dibbs dozed, Charly paced and me and McCain smoked cigarettes, munched on hotdogs smeared in French’s mustard and ate roasted marshmallows covered in Bosco.
“Hey,” McCain said after what seemed like an hour of silence. “Did I tell you the Chinaman joke?”
Pulling a cigarette from my mouth and slanting my eyes with my fingertips, I said in a squeaky, sing-song voice a la Charlie Chan, “Me no know, me no tell, me push button, go like hell.” I flipped the cigarette back between my lips and squinted at him. “That’s like older than dinosaur shit, McCain.”
He shut up and I shut up and the minutes trudged by on shackled feet. By the time it was time to go, we were all exhausted and jittery with tension and doubt.
It didn’t take long to find George. We arrived just in time to see him step out of the grungy, cinder block building with no name, unroll a pack of Lucky Strikes from the sleeve of his T-shirt, shake one out and light up. He was exhaling a long, smoky stream when a rock struck him in the chest, staggering him back.
“Pussy!” screamed Dibbs, stepping from the shadows.
“Your mother sucks dog dicks,” added McCain, stepping out next to Dibbs.
“You little pricks,” said George, a slow smile curling his lips. He took another puff on his Lucky and flipped it into the brush. “I’m gonna kick your sorry asses to China.”
He took a step forward and then fell back as a shower of rocks pelted him. Me and Charly had stepped into the light alongside Dibbs and McCain and were tossing rocks as fast as we could cock our arms. George cursed, bellowed and charged.
We flew down Schoolyard Avenue, across Weststream and past the flower shop. As we turned onto the gas station service lot, Charly reached out, grabbed the Sinclair Dino sign and knocked it over. It skidded and clattered across the cement. George leapt over it neatly but his feet came down in a patch of oil and he fell hard on his ass. We slowed, turned, and taunted him. His curses grew louder and more violent as he sprang from the ground and resumed the chase.
We turned up the alley behind the Sinclair station and turned again up the alley that would lead us to Tiller’s yard and the clothesline trap we had lain. Our Keds kicked up a rooster tail of gravel behind us as we ran.
In a tight knot we turned into Tiller’s back yard. I bumped hips with Charly and both of us nearly went down. He stumbled and fell behind but regained his footing quickly. As we approached the clothes line we began to spread out, just as we had planned.
Dibbs hit the ground first, diving beneath the wire. McCain followed. I looked back over my shoulder and saw that Charly had fallen farther behind than I thought. George had something in his hand, a stick or a pipe, I couldn’t tell in the darkness, and he was raising it back over his head, an arm’s length behind Charly. He swung it with all the momentum of his forward movement, aimed at Charly’s head.
At that same moment I remembered the clothes line and without thought just dropped. A good thing, too. The steel line caught the tip of my forehead and scraped across my scalp, ripping skin and pulling out hair as it passed. I bounced off the ground, rolled once and came up kneeling just in time to hear the crack of pipe against bone and see Charly crumple and plow face first into ground.
George threw his head back and bellowed and maybe that’s why it ended like it did.
He hit the wire full tilt, right in the throat. I swear he spun completely around that thing, the bellow turning instantly into a strangle gawk. There was a sharp snap that made my stomach do flip-flops. The wire danced and thrummed as George fell away, hitting the ground with a sickening thump.
I rose to my feet. Something thick and wet rolled down the side of my nose. I touched my fingers to it. When I looked, they were smeared with blood, my blood. It didn’t register, didn’t even hurt and I returned my gaze to George.
“Is … is he dead?” McCain whispered, coming up beside me.
I looked at him and then back at George, sprawled out on the dark ground, one leg bent back, his pant leg rucked up over his combat boot, his T-shirt half pulled out of his black jeans, a line of pale skin glowing in the moonlight.
“He’s damn near decapitated,” I said, turning back to McCain. “Yeah, I think he’s dead.”
“Oh Jesus, oh Jesus, oh Jesus,” babbled Dibbs, his voice rising. “Hail Mary full of … oh Jesus Jesus Jesus.”
“Will you shut the fuck up,” hissed McCain, giving Dibbs a shove and knocking him down.
“Cut it out,” I said, grabbing McCain’s shoulder and spinning him around. We glared at each other, a hair’s-breadth away from blows when a groan from Charly caused us to back down.
He had turned himself over by the time we got to him. I brushed away dirt and grass from his face.
“You okay, man?” I said.
“Crap,” he said, spitting out a mouth full of blood and grass. He sat up, tried to stand, fell back and made it on the second attempt. That was when he spotted George and I swear he went as white as his t-shirt.
“He’s dead, Charly,” I said.
“Yeah, I can see that.”
“What are we gonna do?” asked McCain.
“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” babbled Dibbs.
Before any of us could come up with an answer, George’s body began to twitch, a jerky spasm that ran from his motorcycle boots all the way up to his hair. I think Dibbs may have screamed. We all began backing away. Before we had taken more than a few steps, George began to glow. A dense, choking plume of smoke rose from his clothes, his exposed hands and face, his hair. All at once he burst into flames and that was when we turned and ran like hell.
We dove through Duncan’s hedges and became separated in the overgrown jungle the yard had become since the old man died. Stumbling over an ankle-deep layer of leaves and broken branches, I came out on Weststream alone. I hesitated only a moment and then cut across the street, hopped a fence, hopped another, turning from one alleyway to another, tears streaming from my eyes, running until the muscles in my legs burned.
I stumbled at some point, caught myself, stumbled again a moment later and finally fell, unable to get up. I crawled until I found a patch of grass and curled up beside a rickety wooden fence, not caring if I was hidden or not.
I don’t know how long I stayed there, or if I slept, or what I might have dreamed about had I slept. Gradually I became aware of sounds; traffic, crickets in the grass, the wind whistling through the slats of the fence I was curled up against. I sat up, rubbed my eyes and looked up into the dark sky. The moon was lower in the west than it had been but no light yet edged the eastern horizon.
I stood up on shaky legs and looked around. I had no idea how far I’d run but I could see Schoolyard Avenue and following that, or the alley that paralleled it, would take me home.
I came up behind the Schindler’s house which sat almost directly across from Tiller’s. Their yard was lined with thick hedges and dotted with giant lilac bushes so I couldn’t see much from the alley. Ducking low, I made my way along the hedges until I had a clear view. There were no cops around, no ambulances or fire trucks or much of anything, or anyone, else. It was almost as if nothing had happened at all and for a brief moment I prayed that nothing had. But God was something they frightened you with in church and prayers were just words without meaning. George, whatever he may have been, was dead and we had killed him and no words were going to change that.
I stayed crouched in the bushes for what seemed a long time, my curiosity warring with my fear of being caught. There were no lights shining in any of the houses that I could see and the only traffic an occasional car on Schoolyard, half a block away. Weststream was as quiet as it was ever going to get and my curiosity won the battle.
I cut across the street as fast as I could and slipped through the hedges that surrounded the Duncan place, making my way to the rear where I could look out onto Tiller’s yard. The clothes poles stood as before and if I stared hard enough I could just make out the line itself. I expected to see a chalk mark or some other evidence that the cops had been here, that a body had been examined and removed, the scene investigated. But there was nothing.
Or was there?
As I stared at the ground, there seemed to be a light mist rising from the spot where I remembered George’s body coming to rest after hitting the wire. Cautiously I left my hiding place and walked over to the spot. It glowed faintly, a pale amber color. I thought at first the grass had died but when I touched the spot with my hand I discovered there was no grass at all; not crushed, not burned, not clipped, nothing. Just hard ground that felt slightly warm to the touch.
I stepped back and stared at the pale outline. It could have been the shape of a body or else my knowledge of what had lain there suggesting the idea. For a moment I wondered if I was imagining the whole evening, if this was some bizarre dream I was having. That was when I spotted the pack of Luckies laying in the grass several feet from the spot. I walked over, picked it up and shook one out. As I ran it under my nose to smell it, I heard a sharp hiss from behind me.
Turning, I saw the spot was glowing brighter, mist rising from the shape like steam from a tea kettle. I dropped the Luckies and ran, not caring if anyone saw me. And as I ran, I swear I heard the mocking laughter of George following me.
I cut across Weststream and back through Schindler’s yard, slowing when I spotted a faucet on the side of the garage. I turned it on, took a long drink and ducked my head beneath the flow, letting the water rinse the blood and dirt from my scalp and giving my heart a chance to slow.
By the time I made it to Chapel Woods, Charly, Dibbs and McCain were sitting against a giant elm. No one greeted me as I plopped down beside them, no ‘hey man’, no ‘slip me some skin’. Dibbs was clutching the cross he always wore, his head bowed. He was muttering something I couldn’t understand, a prayer or maybe just frightened gibberish.
“The body’s gone,” I said.
“Yeah, we know,” Charly answered. “The grass, too. Me and McCain went back for a look.”
“Cops take it?” I said, even though I knew better.
“There were no cops,” McCain said. “We watched from up the street. No one came.”
“What happened to the body?”
They both stared at me, shaking their heads.
Dibbs began to wail. “Get thee behind me, Satan, Get thee behind me, Satan, Get thee behind me, Satan, oh sweet Jesus he was the Devil.”
“Will you sh …” McCain began but Charly stopped him with a sharp stare.
“It’s okay, Dibbs,” Charly said, reaching out and giving Dibbs’ shoulder an encouraging squeeze.
“Did it …” I started. “Was it … glowing when you went back?”
McCain turned his head away. Dibbs started crying again, though quieter than before. Charly just nodded. I leaned back against the tree and stared off into the dark woods.
When morning came, it found us sitting there, four ancient gargoyles guarding the four sacred directions, wondering from which one the ghost of George would come for us.
The End – or is it?