If it is true that the Devil makes work for idle hands, then the Devil never met Old Joe. For as long as anyone could remember, Old Joe had been well past working age; indeed no-one in Micklethwaite could really recall his former trade.
Mavis Claythorpe, who knew everyone’s business and could not bear to admit to ignorance of anything, claimed her grandfather had worked with Joe as a thatcher, but Janet Armstrong, the blacksmith’s widow, who had comfortably exceeded her biblical span, was prepared to swear Old Joe had already been ‘Old Joe’ when she was a little girl. To the best of her recollection, the fallen tree beside the duck pond on the green, into which a seat had been roughly hewn by the removal of a quarter-round section, had always been the vantage point for the graybeard’s observation of the slow rhythms of village life.
Misty watched Joe pace the living room. Things had been going missing—car keys, loose change, magazines, and now his cigarettes.
“That’s the second pack this week,” he growled, lifting a stack of papers off the coffee table.
“Sorry, Joe,” she said from the couch.
“How does this keep happening?” He stomped into the kitchen and Misty heard drawers opening and banging shut. The edge in his voice told her to stay on the couch, out of his way.
He stalked back out of the kitchen and stood in the living room, fists on hips. Misty watched him take a deep breath in and out as he scanned shelves and windowsills. She supposed he was counting to ten. “Guess I need to get another pack,” he grumbled.
She had to get him out of this mood. “Maybe Chelsea’s swiping them,” she said, reaching over to pet the small, rust-colored tabby curled up next to her. “Maybe kitty doesn’t like smoking in the house.” Chelsea purred and rolled over to expose her soft white belly. Misty looked up at Joe with a tentative smile.
“The cat, eh?” His face was unreadable. Behind her smile, Misty clenched her teeth as he sat down next to her on the couch.
Lucy hated visiting Tom’s flat, mostly due to the risk of vampires.
“Why do you have to live in such a dodgy area?”
“Rent is cheap. Besides, it annoys Father.”
“But what about …”
“The vampires? Oh Lucy, don’t be ridiculous. You’ve been reading too many tabloids.”
Olivia looked up from grinding corn. A telltale puff of dust huffed up over the ridge, where Route 65 still ran. A traveler. No matter how hard the times, a traveler was always welcome. He’d be here in a couple of hours. She could finish the corn and heat up the soup, toast last week’s bread in time for his arrival.
“Corngirl, come here and set the table!” she yelled.
The girl gave her a death stare but slouched over after a proper amount of letting her mother know it was an imposition.
Every now and then Olivia looked up to watch for the traveler. It couldn’t be the merchant who walked back and forth between Kansas City and Springfield, he’d already been by a couple of weeks ago. Who else could this be?
“Help me get convicted.”
“You don’t feel I need to go to jail?”
Ruby groaned. “Being a defense attorney shouldn’t be this complex.”
“I will die if they put me back on that ship. How would that make you feel?” Ishmael’s plump face projected patience and interest, rather than fear and hope.
“I know you are innocent, and if I prove you are in court I’ll never forgive myself.”
“I agree. You can’t tell them what I’ve told you. You have to get me convicted.”
She threw her pile of legal documents across the room, spreading papers and breaking tablets. “I hate you! I’ll be disbarred for this! I hate you!” She glanced up to see the prison guard looking through the observation window inquisitively. Ruby discreetly wiped her eye, careful not to smear any makeup. Satisfied that he did not need to intervene, the guard disappeared from the small window.
Ishmael leaned back in his aluminum chair, crossing his arms with a broad smile. “Thank you.”
I didn’t want her to hear me. I didn’t want to disturb her.
Jayleen was kneeling with her back to me. This was the wrong setting for her. I’d tried to make the house look cheerful for Christmas. Tinsel braided the mantle. The few cards I’d received were displayed—robin and holly bright.
But Jayleen should’ve be kneeling on a rush mat, she should have been screened by paper doors as she worked on her shodō. I’d met Jayleen just a few months after Mother’s death. In that grey hopeless fog she’d reached out to me. She was so different from any woman I’d ever known. I could spend hours just watching her.
“I can sense you, Dave,” she said.
Gusting face-freezing wind displaced Sister Wendy Riley’s bonnet, pushing it nearly off her dirty brown hair. No matter how many steps Wendy made toward Zion in the Great Salt Lake Valley, the wind seemed determine to blow her back to Liverpool. The annoying and ill timed gust that finally dislodged her bonnet came as she pulled her handcart up a rise. Releasing one hand from the crossbar to fix the errant bonnet meant losing the cart and her few belongings to the hill. With hair whipping her face, she prayed the tie string kept the bonnet around her neck until she reached flat ground ahead.
Wendy stood to one side while pulling the handcart, as though her husband still might join her on his side of the cart. She turned down offers, even from the Wilson boys, to help her pull the handcart. She did not want anyone in his spot. It was silly, but a week was still too soon.
The window is smashed but nobody is brave enough to go in and fix it. The town is not filled with cowards, just ordinary people, but ordinary people know better than to go inside. The house, as you are looking at it, stands by itself and was once a good house on a good street. Some hundred years have passed since then, and it is now an empty house on a bad street. It has a creaking mouth with rusty hinges, and a soot-black face and wrought-iron claws and, now, one broken glass eye. It watches you as you walk past. You think perhaps there is another way through this part of town but you never look for it. You are on a bad street, but that does not make it a bad house, after all. It is just empty, and while it is empty nothing bad can happen. Sometimes you walk past the house when the sky is dark and the streetlamps are on, and once you thought you saw a light in one of the windows—a light like a lit candle in a darkened room. You know you can’t have seen it because the house is empty.
Donnie’s window muffled the clank of swords and the pop of rifles as if they were being played from an old radio. He hopped from his bed, walked over his array of toy soldiers on the floor, and watched the bright display along the shore.
When he woke the next morning his neck ached from sleeping with his head on the sill. The beach was calm and quiet in the dawning light.
“Just a dream, Donnie,” his dad said at breakfast, when Donnie told him of the battle on the beach. “This summer home is old and creaky. You’re just not used to it yet.”
“Eat up,” said his mom, pushing a plate of pancakes in front of his doubtful face.
When his parents settled into their Adirondack chairs on the porch with their coffee and their books, Donnie went down to the beach. An unusual rusty odor haunted the salty air as he walked along the edge of the water, letting the waves wash over his feet.
Something brushed against his ankle. Bending over, he plucked a small bullet casing from the water and rolled it his fingers, then he walked toward the fort.
She’s evil, the witch next door, she and her feline fiends. She with her hooked beak, they with their killing claws and dagger teeth that take my darling pretty birds.
I grab my broom. I throw the back door wide as her cats come creeping and leaping down into my garden. Black cats with marble eyes, brown streaky ones, milk ones with sulfurous spots.
My robin lovebirds dance on the seed table, pecking together in the morning mist. My blessed ravens squabble below in the weeds over scraps. I keep one eye on the weathervane, perched high on my leaky roof. The wind comes from the east north east, it’s safe and true; one degree westwards and it’ll blow me a deadly note. But I shan’t be caught out; I won’t be distracted whilst tending my herb garden to perish the way my wicked-hearted mother went, felled by the cursed changing of the wind. No true witch can endure the faerie wind which blows from the west with all its pale magic. My mother was careless, the faerie wind won’t get me, the oldest witch of Suburbville.
The cats though, and she next door, they ooze constant sneakiness and cunning; my feathered ones always dine in mortal danger.
I rattle my broom in the air; the furred ones pause in their wickedness.
“Woman! Cats!” I screech, stumbling to the fence, swiping at stalking cats. I bang on the wooden slats until my crooked teeth jangle.
And at last she appears, the cantankerous one, all bone and pallid chops, draped in washed out cloths and feathers, feathers I say, the worm.