“Stop it, TJ, you’re doin’ it wrong!”
“Shut up, Alex, I am not.” Chalk staining his fingers, TJ drew a double inverted arrow, piercing the center of the circle.
“Are, too!” Alex crouched beside his brother, careful not to smudge the lines. “That’s not the way Mom showed us—”
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.”
“Fishie?” Little Evan asked over the sound of his mother flushing the toilet.
Ray stepped between Evan and Cecelia, squatting down to look into Evan’s watering eyes.
“I thought you said that Fishie went to heaven.”
Ray took a deep breath, keeping eye contact. “Evan, … Fishie, … well, he did some things… He’s gone to a bad place.”
The wind’s desperate grasp strips the frail leaves from the silver maple but the giant looks as if it still wears its finery, a borrowed dress perhaps, with the murder of crows gathered within its branches. The girl listens to the soft flutter of wings, stretches out her hand to catch a single black feather as it drifts down in a slow spiral. When the stiff plume makes contact with her skin the birds alight and she gasps, even though she has already seen their departure.
The girl watches the murder grow smaller. She watches the empty leaden skies for a long time, until the shadows of the night form and Morgan comes for her.
Morgan follows her gaze into nothing. “Just like you said.”
The girl tucks the feather into the breast pocket of her heavy flannel work shirt. “Is Sirin okay?”
Morgan looks down at the girl. “I haven’t seen her since breakfast.”
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?
“They used to be bats, you know. That was before they lost their wings.”
“I beg your pardon?”
It was going to be one of those kinds of conversations.
“The story goes,” the man persisted, “that when Noah built the ark, he sent invitations to the bats, but that they refused. ‘Why should we ride on your smelly old boat?’ they said. ‘Even if there is a flood, we can just fly over it.'”
I wrote my first prophecy when I was seven. I filled a diary with short statements like, “Sister leaves forever at Christmas,” and “The robot sets the house on fire.”
At the time, everyone else thought the writings just fanciful imagination. I knew they were more. They resonated in my young mind like an aluminum bat does when it strikes a knee. Wasn’t until years later, after the gift left me, the prophecies started coming true. That Christmas, my robot butler malfunctioned and melted down. My sister visited us that year. She didn’t make it out.