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Light cut through the darkness that filled the nave, rousing Pastor Kane from sleep. He’d nodded off on a pew during morning devotion, and turned now toward the church’s entrance. The sunlight all but blinded him. As the door opened the light widened and he could just make out the silhouette of a man, gaunt and bent, wearing a hat with a shallow crown and a wide brim. The figure paused as if reconsidering, then stepped out of the light and into the darkness inside the church.

“Hello?” Kane called out. He could hear the murmuring of the pigeons roosting in the eaves.

“Hello?” he said again. 

Kane heard the man’s footsteps, the sound of shoes on grit, but couldn’t see him in the shadows. It suddenly occurred to him that he—or at least the church—was about to be robbed a second time. He stood up from where he’d been kneeling and raised his Bible in self-defense, as if to shield himself.

“Are you the preacher?” the man asked. His voice was high-pitched and hoarse.

“I am the pastor here, yes,” Kane said. 

“Am I allowed in?”

“Of course. This is God’s house. All who enter in his name are welcome.” 

Ministry had taught Kane to lift his voice in practiced cheer. He tucked his Bible under an arm and strode toward where the voice was, his hand open in welcome. 

“Don’t come no further,” the man said.

Kane turned, as if expecting to find someone else the stranger was speaking to. Earlier he’d lit a pair of candles and had set them on the altar, and as his eyes adjusted to the light he could now make out the man’s shape amid the shadows wavering in candlelight.

“What is it you want?” Kane asked.

“Just stay there. Don’t look at my face neither.”

“I can’t see your face,” Kane said.

Kane’s heart beat so hard he could almost hear it. The stranger’s shoes scraped again, heavy-sounding like boots. 

“Are you alone?” the man asked. 

Kane thought for a moment. 

“This is a place of worship,” he warned. 

“I’m asking you.”

The chalice was locked away, and Kane envisioned the safe with its mute black face, something more suitable for a bank than a church. It arrived after the thefts from the sacristy, obscene graffiti scrawled across the Sunday school building, several windows smashed. The community reacted with outrage and sympathy. Kane urged that they forgive their trespassers, and yet the feeling of violation and desecration his church had suffered remained so intense that passing by the safe could incite his fury. Though of course he felt ashamed at being so easily provoked.

“I’m alone here,” Kane said finally. 

“How long?” the stranger asked. 

Kane’s shirt collar dampened with sweat.

“You need to tell me what you want, what it is you came for.”

“I need to talk to someone. To make a confession.”

“Are you Catholic?”

“No,” the stranger said. “I got no religion. It’s been run right out of me. That’s what’s queer about all this. Why I am who I am. Why I’m here.”

Kane thought he heard a chuckle, though it could have been a rheumy wheeze.

“Have you come here before?” Kane asked.

“No,” the stranger said. “Least I don’t think so. I just took the highway and drove.”

“Why this church then?” 

“It’s the first one I come across. I seen it from the road.”

It was true that few churches anywhere near Johnstown were as large or remarkable as this one. From the first, Kane had admired its red granite and its crenellated towers. No other Lutheran church had so much stained glass. Now the mere upkeep of so many antique windows was an extravagance this community of miners and mill hands was hard-pressed to support.

“Are you the person who looted our church?” Kane asked. 

“No, sir. I’m not a thief.”

“What is it you’ve done?”

The man’s body shifted. 

“Are you afraid to say?” Kane asked.

“I ain’t afraid of nothing.” 

“You fear God, don’t you?”


“Then why have you come? Why here of all places?”

“I fear Satan.” 

“Well, Satan is powerful,” Kane said. “But you should fear God even more.” 

The man chuckled. 

Pastor Kane, stifling his fear, decided he must bear witness to the power of the Holy Spirit. He moved toward the stranger again, arms outstretched as if to gather him in. 

“Stay right where you are,” the stranger said. “I see now I was wrong to come.” 

“Wait, don’t go,” Kane said. “I want to hear what you have to say.” Kane knelt with one knee on the floor beside the pew. He laced his fingers in prayer. “What you say here will remain here, between you and God and myself. I give you my word.” The flagstones bit into his kneecap as he closed his eyes. 

The stranger cleared his throat. “There’s a voice won’t leave me be,” he said. “Work used to give me some peace but not no more. This voice gets louder and louder and drowns everything out. And truth be told, it’s not even a voice. It’s just a hiss, like blood singing in your head. Whispering at me.”

“What does it say?”

“It’s not what it says—it’s what it does.”

“I don’t follow.”

“I can’t say what year it was when it happened, and I cannot tell you where. Except I can tell you I was young. We was taking in the corn, but the fields was as hot and flat as a stove. No rain for weeks. The cornstalks, they just crinkled into dust. Just dust and haze and more dust that scratched your throat and stung your eyes. We knew we was ruined, my daddy most of all. But we had to take in what we could.

“At dinner we bowed our heads and prayed for water. My momma said it was a sin to ask for anything but forgiveness. But Daddy asked over and over, as if just whispering the word could bring rain. And every day the sun just kept getting higher and higher, and smaller and smaller, until the sky itself was like a blazing sheet of tin. And what we lacked in water my daddy tried to make up for with sweat. 

“One day, I remember, my head got to buzzing. It started with the heat, and it just kept buzzing and buzzing and buzzing, until the queerest things crept into my brain. We had been up before sunup and barely had a wagonload. My daddy drove me and my brother harder and harder, meaner and meaner. At noon we took our lunch in the cool of the springhouse, the three of us. We stared at the cleft in the rock where the water used to come up, as if that would bring it back.

“You know what it’s like when the sun won’t quit? Everything had a glitter over it almost, and the only relief we got was walking out the Bethesda road to the only good spring that was left. You almost marveled to see the water flow, to taste it. 

“That day the dray horse broke down. Snapped her leg in a woodchuck hole, till the point of the bone come clean through the skin. My daddy almost lost his mind—cursing, hollering, kicking the poor thing, which was something I’d never seen him do. He told me to fetch a rifle. 

“So I run back to the house, I get the thirty-thirty and hand it over. The horse had quieted some, but its ribs was still heaving. Then my father, he leveled the rifle—and boom. She pawed at the dirt like she was about to get up and run; then she quit. The dust soaked up the blood before the flies could even get to it. And then right there on the spot he give me and my brother a whipping. We was supposed to kill the woodchucks and fill the holes so this wouldn’t happen.”

Outside, the pigeons cooed in the eaves. Kane’s leg had fallen asleep from kneeling, and he felt a pang of foolishness at having committed himself to such a dramatic gesture he couldn’t sustain. He raised a knee as if he were about to stand.

“If you think that’s what I come to talk about, you’re mistaken,” the stranger said. “I’m not here about no horse.”

“Go on,” Kane said, lowering his knee. “I’m listening.”

“It was a month or so later, into one of the hottest, driest Indian summers ever put in the almanac. I was looking for woodchucks, though it’s no lie that by then I had probably killed them all. It was the regular hunting season too: squirrel, rabbits, and such. I walked all day long, the sun following after me, so bright the heat went right through you. Then the voice starts up. Badgering me almost. I come to a fencerow— I don’t know whose—near an old orchard and an abandoned homestead. All that was left was a square pit, and the foundation stones were knocked over. 

“So I sat a spell. I took my pocket watch out but it was broke: the hands come clean off. I seen then my own hands was red. My neck felt burnt up and my head was going now—just the hiss of hot blood, like I was boiling up inside. And I remember thinking: I might die of heatstroke right here and nobody would know. So I laid down beside the stone, hiding as best I could in that little bit of shade. I fell asleep or…I don’t know. 

“When I come to, I seen a woodchuck right off, about fifty yards away. A fat, old chuck: fur shining in the sun, almost as big as a little dog. 

“I’m looking through the peep sight—just about to whistle to get him to stand—when I see it ain’t a woodchuck at all. It’s a boy. A shaggy-headed boy in the grass, probably resting after mowing hay or eating lunch.

“Now my heart had been beating because I thought it was a woodchuck, but then it starts beating worse because of how close I come to making a terrible mistake. Everybody knows to wear a hat, especially in hunting season. Scared the daylights out of me, even though I ain’t even touched the trigger.

“Then suddenly the buzzing got worse, and I was rising up, hovering over my own body, as if seeing things from on high. I had the purest feeling of feeling nothing at all. I looked at the sun, right smack into the middle of it, almost daring it to make me go blind, and I thought of God, which I hadn’t ever done before. I mean, we was raised Christian as much as the next fellow, but all of a sudden I could see what God was. God wasn’t there. He wasn’t nothing at all. And I remember I almost laughed at the notion of it: staring at the sun till you can’t see no more, and God not being there, God being left out of the picture entirely. But truth is, I was taking everything in like never before. Every blade of grass. Cracks every which way in the dirt.

“And right there I decide to shoot that boy. Just like that. See, because beforehand—it was an accident God had almost let happen. But then a boy not even thirteen years old had seen his mistake. And right then I saw how things were, that one thing in God’s eyes might look no different than another.

“So I laid the rifle out across a stone. I seen the boy had just woke up, propped on an elbow. I couldn’t see his face, just the back of his head. I ease the hammer back, my hands shaking terrible, enough to shake the very stones. And then, poof: The rifle cracks off, but like a whisper. Then a puff of smoke. And then the boy drops like a sack of grain, down out of sight as though he could be buried there forever in the tall grass.

“And then it occurs to me he ain’t alone—that maybe I been seen. 

“There weren’t no place to hide. So I walk. And then I started to run. And then I kept on running until I couldn’t run no further. And I made up my mind right there that what I done was, I had killed a woodchuck. If you had come up to me with the rifle still hot in my hand and asked me did I kill that boy, I would have said, just as calm as you please, that I had killed a woodchuck. I worked it around in my head until it was just that, and nothing but an accident.

“The sun was down by the time I got home. I put the rifle up. And then I lay my head on the pillow that night to a night full of torment. But next morning, the sun came up just like always.

“A day or two later word come out about the boy. Found his body near the old Dunker settlement. My daddy asked me and my brother what we knew about it and we both said nothing. My momma said it had to be an accident but thought it wicked how that boy had been left to die. I only heard one person call it murder, and that was long after. Then people stopped talking about it. I never talked about it. Not with no one. Not until now.”

Only the faintest outline of the stranger’s face was visible.

“You’ve never told anyone about this in all these years?”

“Not a soul.”

Kane’s mind seemed to fly from place to place. 

“We should pray,” he said.

“I can’t pray no more.” 

“Have you considered turning yourself in?”

“No. And I do not intend to.”


“I said no!” the man snapped.

“Okay,” Kane said, raising his hands as if in surrender.

“And you won’t neither!”

The man moved toward the door. 

“Look away.”

Kane obeyed. A sheet of sunlight raced past as the door swung open, casting the man’s shadow on the floor. He paused. 

“You think it’ll quit now, this voice?” the man asked. “Or you think I’m going to hell?”

“God is merciful,” Kane said.

“We’ll see,” the man said, and the door fell shut.


Kane hurried next door to the rectory, his shirt sticky with sweat. He fumbled at the latch, swung the door open, and locked it. A cup of tea was steeping on the kitchen table. Beside it lay one of Sunny’s fashion magazines, opened to an ad for eye shadow. Her Bible lay open, too, off to the side.

Kane hurried upstairs. He heard Sunny stirring in the bathroom; he was about to knock when he heard the medicine cabinet click shut, then an aerosol can fogging the room with hair spray or air freshener.

“I hear you waiting outside the door, David,” Sunny said. “Don’t think I don’t.” She emerged patting her hair. “You know I hate that.”

She smiled, archly, with a bobby pin in her lips.

“I need to talk to you,” Kane said.

“Can we do it downstairs?” she said, already ahead of him to the kitchen, where she busied herself at the counter. 

“Piece of toast?” she asked.

Kane shook his head. He gripped the table, staring at her laminated reading schedule. It was his idea for them both to follow the Chicago Theological Institute’s program for reading the entire Bible in a year. Sunny had raced ahead, underlining with precision the verses she should bring to his attention. She also kept a daily journal of reflections, as the Institute recommended. 

“Nosy,” she said. “I don’t spy on you, do I?”

She closed the Bible and the journal and the magazine.

She was still in her bathrobe, which no longer fit but she couldn’t let go of.

“You sure you’re not hungry?” she asked.

Kane shook his head. 

“Well, I tried,” she said, spread her toast with jam and took a bite off the corner.

“What’s the matter?” she asked. “You’re all sweaty. What have you been doing?”

“It’s nothing,” Kane said.

“You’re pale too.”

Kane glanced at himself in a kitchen cabinet. His reflection was too muddy to distinguish anything except the sagging countenance of a middle-aged man. A wisp of hair rose from his forehead.

“Did something happen?” Sunny asked.

Kane nodded. She set her toast on the plate. “Someone broke into the church again.”

“No,” he said. 

“What, then?” 

“A man walked in during my morning reflection and told me he’d committed a murder.”

Sunny covered her mouth with her hand. 


“I don’t know. He was vague. It happened a long time ago, probably not far from here in the country.”

“What did you do?”

“I listened,” Kane said.

Sunny stared, waving her hands back and forth as if to get him to tell his story faster. 

“Are you going to go to the police?” she asked.

“I promised not to.”

“You’re not going to tell the police?”

“I probably shouldn’t have told you,” he said.

“What if he comes back?”

“I doubt he will.”

Sunny bit her thumbnail, a habit she had when deep in thought. “David, what are you going to do?”

“Right now, I think I’m going to take a shower. After that I’m not sure.”

The water beat down on Kane’s head like a reprimand. He shouldn’t have told Sunny what happened. But their lives had been entwined since his first missionary trip to Korea twenty years ago. He’d warned her then that marrying him meant marrying the church. And she had embraced the role, though almost too well at times, like a competitive event. 

She was waiting for him on the edge of the bed.

“I want you to try to forget what I told you this morning,” Kane said, tossing his wet towel into the hamper. 

“As if that’s going to happen,” Sunny said. She rose, fished out the towel and handed it to him, nodding toward the towel rack. “You shouldn’t have told me in the first place. Or else you should tell everybody—including the police.”

“I don’t even know if this actually happened,” he said. “I need to go to the library first or maybe the local newspaper to check it out. There aren’t many murders around here. If this really happened as this guy says, someone would know.”

“That’s all you’re going to do, I hope,” Sunny said. 

Kane slipped on his wristwatch, twisting the elastic band with the tiny silver crossbars that sometimes reminded him of footbridges.


“I’m listening.” 

“Tell me you’re not going to try to find him.”

“I need to find out. That’s all.”

Sunny slapped both hands on the bedspread.

“Of course, he needs help,” she said. “He needs to be locked up.”

Kane tugged at his black shirt and adjusted its clerical collar. He had never told anyone, not even Sunny, of his belief in its power to protect him from harm. “It must mean something that after all these years he’s come to my church to confess a crime,” Kane said. “Something must have turned him around, don’t you think?”

“Oh, God,” Sunny said, though she knew the phrase irritated him. “You see what’s going on here, don’t you?”


“I know you, David. You think you can get him to give up his soul to Jesus. Just like that. Off to jail he goes, born again, la la la.”

“Isn’t that where you just said he should be?”

“But it’s not your job to put him there! This is why we pay police.”

Kane watched himself in the mirror tugging at his jacket. She was right: He did stoop. It was a habit that had worsened with age, but at least he was still slim. 

“Placing your life in God’s hands doesn’t mean you refrain from taking action,” Kane said. “Faith should be a spur in your heart that prods you to act.” 

“This isn’t a sermon either, David. Isn’t it possible that you have something else in mind? Publicity? Other souls to save?”

“That’s not true, Sunny. And it’s not fair. I don’t plan on telling anyone else or turning him in. This isn’t about me.”

“What then?” 

“I don’t know what.” 

“Oh, I do,” Sunny said, and slapped her hand against her leg. “You’ll end up dead too.” 


After a time the smokestacks disappeared in Kane’s rearview mirror. The road wound its way along the Conemaugh River, a yellow ripple that thinned almost to vanishing in places. Then came green hills that darkened in late afternoon, a rolling patchwork of fields, and roads blackened with oil to keep down the dust. 

Kane took a deep breath. It was all so nerve-racking, the hours he had spent digging through files at the library and now driving around blindly in the car. He sang gospel songs to make the time pass. He worried that he might never find the stranger, but worried, too, about what would happen if he did. 

Kane slowed the Rambler for an old man walking along the road, rolled his window down. The man fixed his eyes on Kane’s collar.

“Excuse me—are we anywhere near the old Dunker village?” Kane asked.

“What’s left of it,” the man replied, and pointed with his sweat-stained hat. 

That had been the key. With the librarian’s help, Kane had sifted through newspaper clippings about the German Baptists until he found the story. A boy’s body had been found near their settlement, as the stranger had said. Kane had visited several farms already whose tenants had no idea what he was talking about. Still, he couldn’t help but feel he was getting closer, an exalted sense that the purpose of his journey lay just ahead. 

Kane turned onto an unmarked drive. He babied his car over ruts until a barn crept into view, then a farmhouse, its windows flashing with the late-day sun. Beyond the house stood a stone springhouse, its walls barely visible among the shuffling weeds. Something told him he had come to the right place, though he’d been wrong before.

He parked in the turning circle. A follow-on cloud of dust drifted by as he pocketed his keys. The barn was in disrepair, but the farmhouse was well-tended, almost weirdly so by comparison, its façade trimmed with decorative carvings in a variety of colors. The closer he came, the more obvious it was that the ornamental scrollwork depicted a garden. There were real gardens on the property, too, fanning outward from the house on all sides. As Kane lifted the latch of a prim iron gate, the air around him seemed to almost vibrate from the heat.

Kane climbed the porch and rapped at the door. No answer, and so he retraced his steps toward the barn. Swallows whipped overhead as he slid the barn door open. The eager grunting of pigs filtered up from below. Glancing back at the farmhouse, he caught sight of someone in an upstairs window. 

Kane’s heart raced. From this distance it was hard to tell if it was the man he’d met before. Whoever it was, living this far out, would likely be armed if someone they weren’t expecting was at the door. Summoning his faith, Kane returned to the porch and knocked again.

“It’s open,” someone said from inside—a woman’s voice. Kane opened the door and entered. Behind the door hung a pegboard with a pair of stained overalls and a felt hat. Below were several pairs of boots. A grandfather clock ticked on the far side of the living room, its pendulum winking as it swung and caught the sunlight behind a dimpled pane of glass. 

Then Kane saw the old woman. She stood in the parlor in a floral housedress, stooped with age, her hair pulled taut in a wiry bun. Her face seemed like a mass of wrinkles that had collapsed around her mouth. Her fingers pressed down on the knob of a wooden cane. “Who are you?” she said.

“My name is David Kane, ma’am. I’m the minister of the Greater Johnstown Lutheran Church.” His mouth felt dry, almost sticky. 

“Oh, my,” she said. “Has somebody died?”

“Not that I know of. Not recently. I’m here on another matter.” 

“My aunt was buried in Johnstown some years back,” she said.

“At our church?”

“I don’t recollect,” she said. “Won’t you have a seat?”

Kane thanked her and lowered himself onto the edge of the hard sofa. 

“A lovely home you have,” he said. 

The woman smiled at him in an odd way that raised her entire mouth before letting it drop. She sat down in a rocking chair by the window, clutching the armrests, and began rocking so slowly that the entire room seemed to be rocking with her. The parlor, with the blinds drawn, was stifling. Kane wiped a sheen of sweat from his lip as inconspicuously as he could.

“I was marveling at all the wood carvings out front,” he continued. “And all the real gardens! That looks like an awful lot of work for one person. Are you alone here?”

The woman, still rocking, said nothing. 

“What brings you out this way?” she asked.

“I’ve been looking for someone in connection with an event that happened around here many years ago,” he said. “Or at least I think it did. I mean, I know it happened, but I’m not sure where.”

“Can you speak up?”

“Do you recall there was a shooting around here that left a boy dead?” Kane said, louder. He gave a practiced account, using details gleaned from the stranger’s confession and old newspapers he had found in the library. He told her the boy’s name. “Such an unfortunate accident,” he said.

The rocker kept moving, and the woman appeared to be listening, but he couldn’t really tell. Now and then she reached out, nudged the window curtains aside and squinted into the sunlight, as if by long habit. 

“Does any of this ring a bell?” 

“Oh, my—yes,” she said. “Though I don’t know that I ever knew the child’s name. I seem to recall he was a visitor—or maybe traveling through? And the family that actually owned the farm lost the place not long after that. They moved out to Ohio, I believe. Terrible. I remember it now. But I can’t recall how it was left.”

“It was thought to be a hunting accident,” Kane said.

“Yes, that’s right,” she said. “And then left to rot. Can you imagine?”

“Well, I think—I have a reasonable belief, you might say—that the person who killed the boy is alive.” 

“Still alive, you say?”



“And, well, I’m looking for him, I guess.”


“Well,” he said, and coughed gently, his throat dry from the dust outside. “I’m a minister, and so I guess I’m predisposed to want to help another human being in need, in crisis possibly. See, this man came to me not so long ago, and he—and I suspect you might possibly know who I’m talking about —this man told me about this accident.” He coughed again. “Sorry. Things about the boy’s death, things that were so specific that only he and anyone who was there would know. And he seems, well, how to put it—he seems to be in agony over this accident, even after all these years. I believe he’s lost. In fact, I know he’s lost. He has been living in torment and feeling the consequences of his actions, but I believe I can help him.”

“Why you?”

“You mean, why did he come to me? To my church?”

“No. What makes you think you can help?”

“I don’t know really. I just thought—” Kane coughed again, and the old woman pushed herself up from the chair and, leaning on the cane, hobbled toward the kitchen. Kane heard the rusty screech of a pump handle and the crash of water and then tinkling glassware.

The coughing had slowed by the time she returned with a glass of water sloshing as she walked. Kane sipped at it timidly and set down the glass.

The old woman stood over him, leaning. She was small but standing so close seemed to exert a kind of force on him, a pressure to do or say something. Her odd, shifting smile caused Kane to take the sudden, fantastic notion she might have poisoned him.

“I should probably go,” he said.

“After you come all the way here?”

“Well,” he said, looking at the glass, “I’m in the right place, aren’t I?”

The woman smoothed her housedress, settled into the rocker again, and resumed a patient rhythm. “People feel haunted by all sorts of terrible things,” she said. “But most just keep it to themselves or Jesus, no matter what. I don’t mean any disrespect, Pastor Kane, but what is it about you that’s going to make anything different?”

“I’m not,” he said. “I’m not certain at all. In fact, ma’am, I’m more uncertain than ever, what I’m supposed to be doing and how to hear what God wants from us. So as much as my faith guides me, I’m not sure that I can do anything except try. That’s all.”

Kane reached for the glass, which was all but empty, and let the last few drops trickle into his mouth.

She left him alone in the dim room for what seemed a very long time. He heard the pump handle going again and, overhead somewhere, a faint rustling that reminded him of birds in the church’s eaves. Then suddenly the thump of boots on stairs. A man appeared at the door of the parlor. Kane jumped to his feet.

“So you come to look at the killer again?” That was his voice. 

“I beg your pardon?” Kane said.

“I’m surprised you come. Maybe I shouldn’t be.”

The stranger wore a baggy green uniform of some kind, with a braided cord around one shoulder. In his right hand, hanging at his side, he clutched a rifle. 

“As I was telling this—your—the woman here…Mrs.—”

“She’s my mother.”

Kane sighed. “I want to help.”

The man chuckled.

“Who else have you told? Sounds like half the countryside.”

“No, not a soul. I didn’t even tell your mother.”

“What about people at the church? Your wife and all?”


“Your own wife doesn’t know where you are?”


“You’re lying. Telling lies while shaking in your fine black preacher suit.”

The man’s eyes, fixed on Kane, were of indeterminate color and extremely close-set. He had a sharp chin, a high, round forehead, nose slightly crooked. He gently swung his arm out and back, patting the rifle against his thigh.

“I had no business coming to you.” 

“I don’t think that’s right,” Kane said. “I believe God led you. I also don’t believe you to be a killer.” 

The stranger’s face tightened into a small smile, as if with scorn or maybe pity on Kane’s behalf.

Just then, the old woman reappeared. She stood in the kitchen doorway, leaning on the cane and staring at the both of them. Water dribbled from the glass onto the floor. Without a word, the stranger turned and stalked out, slamming the screen door so hard after himself that the grandfather clock rattled. He walked just beyond the iron gate, aimed, and fired at the Rambler. The gunshots shook Kane where he stood as he watched the Rambler’s rear window shatter. Broken glass sparkled in the dirt, and a pair of neat, black holes peered from the fender. Then the stranger moved off toward the pasture, deliberate but unhurried.

“What in God’s name!” Kane said.

The woman struggled to the door. Up close, the wrinkles radiating from the center of her face gave her an almost kindly aspect. 

“Your son needs help!” Kane said. “You know that, don’t you?”

“He’ll see your car is fixed.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about.” Kane’s eyes followed as the woman, swaying side to side, crossed to the sofa. She set the glass on the coaster with a dismissive wave of her hand.

“His daddy died of a stroke and pure meanness,” she said. “And then his brother got himself killed in Vietnam and that was that. He thought the world of his brother.”

Kane was half-listening as he watched the man wade through the pasture and up a slope. He disappeared at the top of the ridge into a ragged stand of pines.

“I knew you’d come someday, or someone like you,” the woman said. “I suppose he did too. That’s how God moves. Not a sparrow can pass without him knowing it.”

Kane opened the screen door cautiously, as if to see beyond the ridge—and yet, if anything, the distance seemed to have grown. Then came a sharp crack, a faint but unmistakable sound. The old woman must have heard it, too, but she seemed to be somewhere else now, her mouth shaping words without making a sound. 

Kane stepped onto the porch as the grandfather clock picked at the gathering silence. Then he laid his brow against the cool varnish of a porch pillar that had been carved into the shape of an apple tree, only to see the image of another boy, still young, still alive, resting from his labors in the tall grass. 


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