Mystery Walk

Chapter 5




Evening was falling, and still John hadn't come home. Ramona sat on the porch swing, as she had for most of the day, working on a new piece of needlepoint in the lamplight and watching the highway for John's car. The memory of what had happened last night still sent a tremor of terror through her It had been in the house, she knew, and she hadn't even heard it! It had tricked Billy, tried to kill him.

She felt an undercurrent of evil in the valley, running like silt in a stream. It had been in the Booker house the night of the violence; it had been in John's eyes when he'd come home one night smelling of tar; and it had been in that revival meeting last night, laughing and kicking up its heels as sick people were told Satan was in them and that they should throw away their medicine. The idea that only sinners got sick was ludicrous to her, and yet those two – Falconer and the boy – were trading on that inhuman notion.

She'd realized from the very beginning, when she'd seen a lanky red-haired boy at a barn social and her heart had galloped away with her head, that John should know everything about her. Her mother had urged her to tell him, and several times she'd tried – but John hadn't seemed to want to listen to any of it. Of course he'd found out after they were married. How could she have kept it from him? There were so many people, in little hamlets across Alabama, who'd heard the stories about her mother, Rebekah. For the first few years, John had shown her a gentle, loving kindness – but then it had all changed.

She recalled the day over thirteen years ago when a man named Hank Crotty, from Sulligent, had come to see her, and John, though puzzled, had let him in. Crotty said he'd first gone to see Rebekah Fairmountain, but the old woman had sent him to Ramona with a message: It's your turn now.

Her Mystery Walk called for her; how could she turn away?

Crotty's brother had been killed in a hunting accident two months before. But – and Crotty's face had gone dark with despair as John's had gone pale – some part of the dead man kept trying to get home, back to his wife and children. Something kept knocking on the door in the dead of the night, trying to get in. Crotty had broken into tears and begged for her help.

And that was how John had been made to realize the truth of Ramona's legacy: that in her Choctaw blood was the power to lay the dead to rest.

She'd waited alone at that house near Sulligent for two nights before the revenant came. It was first a small grayish blue light in the woods, and then as it approached the house it was a misty blue shape that took on the appearance of a man. Finally it was the outline of a man in a camouflage hunting jacket, his hands elapsed to a hole in his belly. Ramona had stepped between the revenant and the house; it had abruptly stopped, shimmering in the darkness, and Ramona had felt its confusion and agony. It was the essence of a human being, trying desperately to cling to life, not realizing it could give up its pain and confusion and pass on to another, better place. Her mother had taught her what to do, and Ramona had spoken gently to it, calling its name, bringing it closer to her by sheer willpower. It trembled like a small child who sees a lighted doorway but fears traveling through a dark corridor to get there. The entrance was through Ramona, and she would have to take its terror and earthly emotions into her so it could pass on unencumbered.

Finally, after a long time of trying to make the revenant understand it could no longer exist in this world, it had swept toward her as if rushing into her arms. The sheer force of its agony staggered her backward. She felt the bullethole in her stomach, felt the awful yearning to touch wife and children, felt a hundred different emotions that had to be left behind, inside her.

And then she was alone in the dark, lying on the ground, sobbing and full of terror. But the revenant had gone, shedding its pain like a dead old skin.

For a long time, the pain stayed with her She felt that bullet wound in a dozen nightmares. A package had come from her mother In it was a needlepoint kit and a note: I heard you did mighty good. I'm proud of you. But this won't be the last time. Remember I told you that once you'd done it, you'd have to handle the feelings that were left inside you? I recall you liked to sew as a little girl. Make me a pretty picture. I love you.

John had finally allowed himself to touch her again. But then the next caller came, and the next – and John had withdrawn into a scared chunk of ice. She'd been carefully watching Billy these last few years. He'd had his first contact with a revenant – a strong one, too, who'd needed his help badly. She hoped he'd be spared the ability to see the black aura, a power that hadn't developed in her until she was in her late teens. To her, that was the worst of it: knowing who was going to die, and not being able to help.

Ramona looked up, catching her breath. A car's headlights showed on the highway; the car turned in and started up toward the house. She rose unsteadily to her feet, clutching a porch post. It was Sheriff Bromley's dark blue Pontiac.

The screen door banged open and Billy, carrying the oil lamp he'd been reading a Hardy Boys book by, came running out of the house, expecting to see his father stepping out of the Olds. When he saw Sheriff Bromley he stopped as abruptly as if he'd run into a brick wall.

"Hi, Billy," the sheriff said; there was a thin, uneasy smile on his face. He cleared his throat and returned his gaze to Ramona. "I . . . uh . . . was at the tent revival last night. I guess most of Hawthorne was. I'm sorry you were treated roughly, but . . ."

"Has anything happened to John?"

Bromley said, "No. Isn't he here?" He worked his fingers into his belt loops and stared off into the darkness for a few seconds. "No, this isn't about John. I just have to ask Billy a few questions."

"Questions about what?"

He shifted uneasily.

"About Will Booker," he said finally.

"Billy, set that lamp on the table here to give us more light. You heard the sheriff. Will you answer his questions truthfully?"

He nodded uneasily.

Bromley stepped closer to the porch. "I have to ask you these things, Billy. That don't mean I want to."

"It's okay."

"Well . . . just when was it that you went down into the Bookers' basement?"

"The last part of April. I didn't mean to go in there, I know it was private property, but …"

"Why did you decide to go down there in the first place?"

"I heard a . . ." He glanced at his mother, but she was staring out toward the highway, letting him handle this on his own. "I heard a tapping. Behind the basement door."

"Did you go back there again, after you . . . saw what you said you saw?"

"No sir. I couldn't go back to that place again."

Bromley looked into Billy's eyes for a few seconds, then sighed and nodded. "I believe you, boy. Now can I speak to your momma alone for just a minute?"

Billy took his lamp, leaving hers burning on the wicker table, and went inside. Fireflies winked in the woods, a chorus of toads began burping down at the green pond. She waited for him to speak.

"After Dave Booker killed them," Bromley said in a distant, wearied voice, "he stuffed Julie Ann's body beneath a bed, and he locked Katy's in a closet. It was . . . like he wanted to get rid of them, or pretend it hadn't happened. We searched for Will all through that house, up in the woods, under the front porch, everywhere we could think of. We looked for bones in the furnace, got a diver to go down into the well behind the Booker place, even dragged Semmes Lake. We looked through that coal pile, too, but we . . . never dug up the floor underneath it." He took his cap off and scratched his scalp. "That's where Will was, all the time. His little body was . . . curled up in a croaker sack. Looked like he might have been beat to death with a shovel or somethin', from the broken bones. Ah, this whole thing has been mighty shitty, 'scuse my French." He worked the cap back down onto his head again. "Link Patterson, Cale Joiner, and me found Will this morning. I've had to handle some bad things in my time, but this is the …" He suddenly reached out and gripped a porch post, his knuckles whitening. "Mrs. Creekmore?" he said hoarsely, as if fighting emotions he knew a sheriff wasn't supposed to show. "I'm so sorry about what happened to you last night. I should've . . . done something, I guess. …"

"No need."

"You . . . know what kind of things are said about you, don't you? I've heard 'em too, but I never gave them no account." His mouth worked, forming the words that were hard to find. "Are they true?"

She didn't answer. She knew he wanted desperately to understand, to know the secrets in her mind, and for an instant she wanted to trust him because maybe – just maybe – there was within this bearish man the spark of his own Mystery Walk. But then the instant passed, and she knew she could never bring herself to trust anyone in Hawthorne ever again.

"I don't believe in ghosts!" the sheriff said indignantly. "That's just . . . fool's talk! But can you answer me this? How did Billy know Will Booker was under that coal pile?" There was a long silence, broken only by the frogs and crickets. And then Bromley said, "Because he's like you, isn't he?"

Ramona's chin lifted slightly. "Yes," she said. "Like me."

"He's just a little boy! What . . . what in the name of Heaven is his life going to be like, if he's cursed to see ghosts and . . . God knows what else! . . ."

"Is your business finished, sheriff?"

Bromley blinked uncertainly, feeling a raw power in her leveled stare. "Yes . . . except for one last thing. Jimmy Jed Falconer is a well respected and loved man in this county, and that son of his is a bona fide miracle worker When you jump up and start yellin' 'Murder' you'd best be standing on solid ground unless you want a slander suit slapped on you."

"Slander? Isn't that saying things that aren't true? Then I've no need to worry, do I? Did that man, or someone from his Crusade, tell you to say that to me?"

"Maybe, maybe not. Just listen to what's said. Now my business is finished." He turned and stalked to his car, but paused with the door open. "You know things are never going to be the same for Billy ever again, don't you?" He got into the car and backed off down the road.

Ramona waited until the sheriff's car had gone, then took the lamp and went inside. Billy was sitting in his father's chair in the front room, his lamp and the Mystery of the Missing Chums on a table beside him. She knew that he must've heard everything said on the porch.

"Sheriff Bromley found Will," he said.


"But how could it be Will if Will was already dead?"

"I don't think it was Will as you knew him, Billy. I think it was . . . some part of Will that was scared and alone, and he'd been waiting for you to help him."

Billy frowned, his jaw working. "Did I help him, Momma?"

"I don't know. But I think that maybe you did; I think that he didn't want to be left lying alone in that basement. Who would want to wake up in the dark, without anyone near to help them?"

Billy had thought about his next question for a long time, and now he had to force himself to ask it. "Is Will going to Heaven or Hell?"

"I think . . . he's already spent enough time in Hell, don't you?"


"I'll make our supper now," Ramona said, and touched the boy's cheekbone. He was over his skittishness from the night before, but there were unanswered questions in his eyes. "I'll heat up the vegetable broth and fix some corn muffins, how about that?"

"Isn't Daddy ever comin' home?"

"He'll be home, sooner or later. But right now he's scared. Do you understand that not everybody could've seen what was left of Will Booker, and very few could've helped him like you have?"

"I don't know," he said uncertainly, his face a patchwork of orange light and black shadows.

"I wish I could help you with all of it," she said softly. She gripped his hand and held it. "God knows I do, but there are some things you have to find out on your own. But maybe .. . maybe your gram can help you in a way I can't because there's still so much I don't understand myself. . . ."

"Gram help me? How?"

"She can start you over at the beginning. She can reshape you and mold you, just like she molds those pieces she makes on her potter's wheel. She did that for me, too, a long time ago, just as her daddy did for her Your gram can teach you things that I can't."

He thought about this for a minute, his brow furrowed. He loved his grandmother's place – a white house on three thickly wooded acres with plenty of meandering trails to follow – but what would his father say? "When would we go?" he asked.

"Why not in the morning? We could catch the bus down at the grocery store and be there by early afternoon. But we'll go only if you want to."

"What kind of things do I have to learn?"

"Special things," Ramona said. "Things you won't learn anywhere else. Some of it will be easy and fun, and some of it . . . won't be; some of it may even hurt. You're standing on the edge between being a child and being a man, Billy, and maybe there are things you can understand better this summer than you could in the next."

There was a darkly luminous look in Ramona's eyes that both unsettled Billy and sparked his curiosity; it was like seeing something sparkle down along a forest path he'd never dared explore before. He said, "All right. I'll go."

"Then you're going to need to get some clothes together, 'cause we might be staying at Gram's for a while. Why don't you get some of your underwear and socks out of your desk, and while you're doing that I'll get my clothes ready too. Then we'll eat supper. All right?"

In the lamplight, Billy opened one of his desk drawers and laid a few pair of Fruit-of-the-Looms out on his bed. Then he rummaged for some socks, his T-shirts, and – his favorite – his Lone Ranger suspenders. His shirts and jeans were hanging in his mother's closet, so he'd have to get to them later. He leaned down and reached under the cot, pulling out a large paper sack; in it was a Dutch Masters cigar box he'd found on the roadside last summer, and contained within the box – which still smelled vaguely of cheroots – were Billy's earthly treasures.

He could use the paper sack to carry his clothes in, he decided, and now he sat on the cot with the cigar box on his lap and opened the lid.

Inside were several green cat's-eye marbles, smooth brown creek stones, a rock with the faint impression of a skeletal leaf pressed on it, a Duncan yo-yo that whistled, twenty-five Civil War bubble-gum cards with gory battle pictures on them, and . . .

Billy tilted the cigar box toward the light. He stared into the box, his eyes slowly widening; then he turned the lamp's wick up, because suddenly the room had seemed too dark by far.

A small piece of coal, glittering in the orange light, lay half buried under the Civil War cards. I didn't put that in there, Billy thought; or did I? He couldn't remember; no, no he was sure he hadn't. At first it looked only like a bulbous black lump, but as he stared at it he found himself recalling Will Booker's face in great detail, and he could remember the good times they'd had together He picked it up and held it close to his face, studying the dark ridges.

He didn't know how the coal had gotten there, but he knew there was a purpose behind it. Will was dead, yes, Billy knew, but something of the boy lived on in Billy's memories; and if you could remember – truly remember, Billy thought – then you could stop time, and nothing ever died. His fist slowly closed around the coal, a sensation of warmth spreading up his arm to his elbow.

His mind went back to the night before. He frowned, recalling the way that young evangelist, Wayne Falconer, had stared at him. He didn't understand what his mother had said about the healing being "akin to murder," but he knew she'd sensed something strange about them as he had, something that he couldn't fully perceive.

Nightsounds pressed in on the house. Billy sat listening for the sound of his father's car pulling up in front, but it didn't come. The image of a beast in a truck's headlights came at him with no warning. He shuddered, then finally replaced the piece of coal in the cigar box and put his clothes down into the paper sack, getting ready for tomorrow's journey.


Jimmy Jed Falconer awakened in the soft blue light before dawn, brought out of sleep by Toby's barking in the meadow. He lay awake, his pretty blond wife Camille sleeping at his side, and listened to Toby. Chasin' rabbits, he mused, as the barking faded in the direction of the woods. When he thought of the dog, he naturally thought of the miracle.

It had happened on that day in April. Cammy had been washing dishes in the kitchen when she'd heard Wayne scream, and she'd raced out of the house to see what had happened. Wayne was running toward her with the bloody bag of dogflesh in his arms, and his mouth was open and straining to cry out again. He'd stumbled and fallen to the ground, and when Cammy had reached him she'd seen that Toby was already almost dead, the breath coming in whining hitches from its crushed chest. The big dog's sinewy body was a mess of shattered bones, its head crooked at an awful angle and blood dripping from its floppy ears. Wayne had screamed, "Truck hit him, Momma! I saw it happen! Get somebody to make Toby well!"

But Cammy hadn't known what to do, and all the leaking blood had repulsed her. She'd stepped back, dazed, and her son – the tears streaming down his livid, dusty face – had shrieked at her, "GET SOMEBODY!" in a voice that had shaken her to her soul. She'd started running for the phone to call Jimmy Jed in Birmingham at his advertising meeting, but she knew that Toby wouldn't last more than a few minutes longer. At the front door she'd looked over her shoulder and seen Wayne bent down over the dog, his new jeans filthy with dust and blood.

The long-distance operator had just answered when she'd heard Wayne's voice rise in a blood-curdling shout that stretched on for several seconds: "TOOOOOBBBBBYYYYYY!" She'd dropped the receiver, and was so startled her hair had almost stood on end. She had gone to calm Wayne down, then stopped on the porch, watching Wayne lift Toby, stumble and almost fall again, and then come walking slowly toward her, dust puffing off the driveway around his shoes.

And he was grinning. Ear to ear His eyes were red and tear-swollen, but they'd burned with an electric power that was like nothing Cammy had ever seen before. She'd actually felt herself shrinking backward, against the white porch railing. He'd said in a hoarse voice, "Toby's all better now. …"

Wayne had put Toby down, and Cammy had almost swooned. The dog's bones had been mended as if by a mad scientist or a frantic child. The head was frighteningly crooked, the front legs splayed and the back ones turned inward, the spine twisted and humped like a camel's. It was something that had stepped out of a freak show; but the dog's breathing wasn't labored anymore, and though it staggered for balance and its eyes were dazed, Camille could see that Toby was no longer near death. Then she'd gotten her feet uprooted from the porch floor, and somehow she'd made that call to Birmingham.

Falconer grinned to himself. He'd seen the X rays Dr. Considine had taken; the bones were a mess, jigsawed together haphazardly, but they were firmly cemented and showed only faint signs of having been snapped or crushed. The vet was frankly amazed at Toby's condition, telling Falconer that this was beyond science . . . way beyond. Toby's movement was limited, so his legs had to be rebroken and properly set, but now the dog had gotten used to its crimped spine and crooked neck and could run through the meadows of the Falconer estate like blue blazes again. And the question had begun ticking in Falconer's brain: if his son could heal an animal, what could he do for human beings?

The answer came in the shape of a beatup blue Ford pickup, carrying a grim-faced man and woman and a little girl with the perfect face of a doll. Their names were Gantt, they lived on the other side of Fayette, and they'd heard talk about J.J. Falconer's son from a friend, who'd heard the story in a direct line from the mouth of a certain veterinarian. The little girl couldn't walk; her father had told Falconer that her legs had "gone to sleep and never woked up."

"Who, Daddy?"

"A man and woman and their little girl. She's seven, and her name's Cheryl. Do you want to know why they're here?"

He nodded, carefully gluing a wing into place.

"Because of how you fixed Toby. Remember what you told me, that when you saw Toby about to die your head started aching so bad you thought it was going to explode, and then you felt that you had to lay your hands on Toby, and you wanted Toby to be fixed more than anything in the world?"

Wayne had put down his work and stared at his father, his eyes bright blue and puzzled. "Yes sir."

"And you said that in your mind you thought very hard of Toby's bones coming back together again, that your hands were tingling like they do when they've gone to sleep, and everywhere you touched you could feel the bones move?"

Wayne had nodded.

Falconer had gingerly touched his son's shoulder "Cheryl and her folks have come here to ask for you help, son. Her legs are asleep, and they need to be fixed."

Wayne looked bewildered. "Did a truck hit her?"

"No. I think this is a sickness in her mind and her nerves. But she needs . . . whatever it is you used before, to fix Toby. Do you think you can do that again?"

"I don't know. It's . . . it's different. Maybe I can't ever do it again, maybe I used all of it up the first time because I thought so hard. It made my head hurt so bad, Daddy. . . ."

"Yes, I know. But didn't it make you feel good too? Didn't it set you on fire, couldn't you hear the voice of God and feel His Power at work inside you?"

"I guess, but …"

"You're a healer, son. A living, breathing miracle-working healer." He'd placed one of his large rough hands over his son's. "You've got the power in you, and it's been given to you for a very special purpose. Cheryl and her folks are waitin' downstairs, right now. What shall I tell 'em?"

"I . . . I did it because I love Toby so much, Daddy. I don't even know this little girl!"

Falconer had leaned close to him, and lowered his voice. "Do it because you love me."

A sheet was draped over the dining-room table, and Cheryl Gantt was laid on her back by her father. The little girl trembled and clutched at her mother's hand as Wayne stood over her, seemingly not knowing what to do. Falconer nodded encouragement to him; Cammy, overwrought by the whole thing, had to leave the house and sit on the porch until it was finished. When Wayne finally touched the little girl's legs, he shut his eyes and rubbed the knobby knees as a vein slowly beat at his temple. Cheryl stared at the ceiling, whimpering softly.

The boy tried for over an hour until his face was shiny with sweat and his hands cramped into claws. The Gantts were as kind as they could be, lifting their daughter off the table and taking her back out to their pickup truck. Wayne stood on the porch until the truck was out of sight, his shoulders slumped in defeat; when he met his father's eyes a sob rattled deep in his chest, and he hurried upstairs to his room.

Falconer went to his book-lined study, closed the double oak-paneled doors, and sat at his desk staring into space. He decided to turn to his Bible for comfort, and wherever it opened would be a message for him. He found himself looking at the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, at Christ's parable of seeds sown on rocky soil, in thorns, and on fertile earth where they yielded fruit; it took three slow readings before he grasped the message. It hit him like a thunderbolt; of course! he thought, newly excited. Just as the word of the Lord was lost on some folks, so were the Lord's miracles! If that little girl wasn't healed, maybe it was because her parents didn't have enough faith, or they were deep sinners who'd strayed far from the light. The problem hadn't been with Wayne, but with either the little girl or her folks! And he was about to go up to talk to Wayne when the telephone rang.

It was Mr. Gantt, calling from a Texaco station on the other side of Fayette. His little girl had started shaking all of a sudden, and she'd said she felt sick so they'd pulled the truck into the station. Mrs. Gantt had held her while the little girl had thrown up in the ladies' room. Suddenly Cheryl had screamed that she felt the blood circulating in her legs, and her startled mother had let her go. Cheryl had collapsed to the floor, but had pulled herself slowly up and staggered out under her own power to the pickup truck, where her father had hugged her in his arms and started shouting about how Little Wayne Falconer had healed his Cheryl.

And three days later an envelope came, addressed to the Falconer Crusade. It was from the Gantts, and inside was a ten-dollar bill wrapped up in tissue paper The telephone calls and letters began landsliding in, and Falconer had known it was his responsibility to teach Wayne everything he knew about public speaking, getting up in front of a crowd and making them feel the love of God in their hearts. The boy was a natural, and at the last minute Falconer had added Wayne's name to the posters for the summer tent-revival circuit.

Falconer rose up out of bed, careful not to awaken Cammy, and went across the hallway to Wayne's room. He silently opened the door; weak shards of first light glinted off the dozen or so airplane models – a B-52, a pair of navy Hellcats, a British Spad, a Constellation, and others – dangling down from their wires.

Wayne was sitting in a chair drawn up to the window, the curtains luffing in a faint morning breeze. Beyond the window stretched the meadows of Falconer's thirty-six-acre estate.

"Wayne?" The boy's head swiveled around. "You're up awful early, aren't you?" Falconer stepped into the room, ducking his head under a green Spitfire.

"Yes sir. I had something on my mind, is all."

"Is it something so important you couldn't get a good night's sleep? You know, we've got to be in Decatur this evenin'." He yawned and stretched, feeling that long drive already. "What's on your mind?"

"I was thinkin' about what happened in Hawthorne, Daddy. I was thinkin' about that boy and his momma."

"Oh?" Falconer ran a hand through his hair and sat down heavily on the edge of the bed, where he could see his son's face. "You heard what was said about them. They're strange people, and that woman came to the revival just to cause trouble. But you shouldn't concern yourself."

"Is she a witch, like they said? And is the boy a demon?"

"I don't know, but it seems like everybody in Hawthorne thinks so."

The boy stared at him for a few silent seconds. Then he said, "Then why don't we kill them?"

Falconer was startled. "Well . . . Wayne, that would be murder, and murder's against the law. …"

"Thought you said that God's laws were above the laws of Man? And if that woman and the boy are Evil, then they shouldn't he allowed to live, should they?"

"Uh …" Falconer felt himself slipping in over his head. "The Lord'll take care of them, Wayne. Don't you worry."

"She said what I did was murder," Wayne said.

"Yes, she did. And that goes to show you just how twisted she is. doesn't it? She tried to wreck your work, Wayne, and she used that boy to get things stirred up."

"Am I doing right, Daddy?"

The question had come like a thunderclap. Falconer blinked. "What do you mean, son?"

"I mean … I know I've healed a lot of people this summer, but . . . the first time, with Toby, I felt something happen deep inside me, like my blood was boiling and . . . it was kind of like that time when I was little and I stuck a fork into that electric socket. It hurt, and after it was over I could still feel it in my bones. I don't feel it like I did that first time, Daddy; sometimes I get tingly, or my head aches, but . . . it's not the same. And remember in Sylacauga last week? That blind man who came up to the front? I tried hard, Daddy, but I couldn't make him see. And there have been others, too, that I don't think I really touched . . . maybe I pretended to, but . . ." He paused, his face an uneasy mask of deep concerns.

"I think you're lettin' that Creekmore woman make you doubt yourself, is what I think. And that's what she wanted, all along! When you doubt yourself, you make yourself weak. And I've thought about that blind man too, and others like him; it could be you can't heal some people because God has a plan for them just as they are. Or it could be there's a sin in their lives that keeps them apart from the Light, and until they confess it they can't receive a healing. But don't you doubt yourself, Wayne; if you do, the demons win. Do you understand?"

"I . . . guess I do."

Falconer patted his shoulder "Good. You going to be ready for Decatur tonight?"

Wayne nodded.

"Is there something else on your mind?"

"Yes sir There was . . . something in that boy that made me afraid, Daddy. I don't know what it was, but . . . when I looked in his eyes I felt scared right down in my stomach. …"

Falconer grunted softly and gazed out the window. "If you felt fear," he told his son, "it was because you sensed the sin in his heart and mind. Wayne, you're going to have a fine full life, and you're going to meet a lot of good people; but you'll meet people with Satan in their souls too. You'll have to stand up to 'em, and face 'em down. Understand?"

"Yes sir."

"Good. Breakfast is still a couple of hours away. Want to catch some more winks?"

"I'll try." Wayne left the chair and climbed into bed. His father smoothed the sheets and kissed him on the forehead.

"You just rest easy now, big buddy," Falconer said. "I'll come wake you up for breakfast. Okay?" He smiled and then started toward the door.

Wayne's voice stopped him. "I am doing right, aren't I, Daddy?"

"Yes. I promise you. Get some sleep now." And Falconer closed the door.

For a long time Wayne lay still, staring at the ceiling. The plastic airplanes stirred in the faint breeze, their wings swaying as if they were soaring amid the clouds. He heard Toby barking way off in the woods, and he squeezed his eyes shut tightly.


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