Exceprt: Ghost in
The dirt in the area where
his grandparents lived was called “red,” but to Davie it looked more like a
deep shade of orange. It was still called “Georgia clay,” even though the
Georgia border was a half hour’s drive. The dirt didn’t care which side of
the border it was on, Georgia or Florida. The orange dirt was everywhere,
right beneath the grass.
The orange dirt and gravel path ran through the center of the yard,
presenting Davie with a clear choice-—the gate and the road were on one side
of the path, and the fence and the woods were on the other.
Davie noticed that Grandpa still hadn’t repaired the broken logs in one
section of the ranch-style fence that separated his property from the woods.
The same fence had been broken six months before. Tell-tale hoof-prints
gathered around Grandma’s fake deer near the driveway were evidence that
woodland creatures were trespassing at night.
Dumb-butts can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not,
Decision time: Hunting for snakes in the woods, or Rock Band?
Davie was about to take the path down to the road and head for the Reed
house when he saw something move in the woods, beyond the broken fence. He
heard dead leaves marking footsteps as it ran away, fast. Whatever it was,
it was big.
A deer? Another kid playing?
Davie’s decision was made. He searched the castoffs from his grandparents’
own personal forest of pine and oak trees until he found a sturdy dead
branch as his walking stick. The stick was almost as tall as he was, and
Davie liked the way it fit in his hand. He stripped away the smaller
branches until it looked more like Mad-Eye Moody’s staff from Harry Potter.
He tapped the thick stick on the ground to make sure it would hold instead
of rotting at the center. Satisfied, he headed into the woods.
Davie leaned on his stick for support when he climbed over the broken fence.
The woods behind his grandparents’ house wasn’t shady like the woods in
movies. Most of the trees had thin trunks and not much shade to spare, but
they were growing as far as he could see. While it might not be much to look
at, Davie knew there were snakes, because Grandpa had told him he killed a
rattler in the driveway only two weeks before. At the very least, he would
probably go home with a story to tell.
Davie liked running in the underbrush, with obstacles every which way and
snap decisions to be made. There—jump on the stone! There—watch out for the
hole! There were stumbles now and then, mostly just harmless scrapes. Acts
of coordination and fearlessness were necessary for any ghost-hunter. Most
ghosts were friendly, but how lame would it be to leave himself helpless if
he met a hostile? Plan B was filed under R for Run.
Davie didn’t have to run far. He’d gone only about thirty yards when he saw
three boys huddled in a circle in a clearing. None of them were wearing
shirts, only ragged-looking shorts of varying lengths. The three of them
looked like brothers, each one younger than the next. The eldest could be
Davie’s feet made a racket crackling in the dead leaves, but none of the
boys turned around to look at him. When the boys held hands, Davie
understood why: They were praying over a huge hole someone had dug in the
ground. As he got closer, Davie saw a large German shepherd sleeping beside
Not SLEEPING, crap-for-brains, Davie told himself. The big dog was dead. Its
face and muzzle were matted with orange-brown mud.
He’d interrupted a funeral! Davie backed up a step and halfway hid himself
behind a rare wide-trunked tree of pale, peeling bark, thin as paper. Davie
had never had a dog—Mom thought keeping a dog inside the house was a
disgrace, as did her whole family in Ghana, where dogs apparently were not
considered man’s best friend by a long shot—but he understood how sad it was
when a pet died. He’d hat a rat once, Roddy, like in the movie Flushed Away.
Roddy was an awesome rat. Lay across Davie’s shoulder while he walked
around, no problem. Rats were as smart as dogs, people said, but rats
definitely got screwed in the life-span department. His rat had lived only
two years. When Roddy died, Davie had cried himself to sleep for two nights,
and hadn’t wanted a pet of any kind ever since. He, Dad, Mom and Neema had
buried Roddy in the back yard, just like these boys.
But Roddy’s hole in the ground hadn’t been nearly so big, like a tunnel. The
mountain of Georgia clay dirt beside the hole was as tall as the oldest boy.
Someone had done some serious digging, Davie realized. Maybe their Dad
helped, or someone with a jack. It would have taken him all day to dig a
hole like that. Or longer.
Davie noticed that all of the boys were caked in red clay dust just as the
setting sun intensified in a bright red-orange burst the color of a mango,
turning the boys into shadowed silhouettes.
Watching their vigil, Davie made up an epitaph: Here lies Smoky, a Hell of a
Dog / Crossed McCormack Road in the Midnight Fog--
Suddenly, the youngest boy turned and stared him in the eye, whipping his
head around so fast that Davie’s rhyme left his mind. The boy was standing
only ten yards from him, but his eyes were his most visible feature. The
whites were, anyway. That was all Davie could see, a white-eyed stare vivid
against dark skin.
“Sorry about your dog,” Davie said. No need to be rude. The oldest boy
looked about twelve, too. Maybe he knew somewhere to play basketball. This
clan could be a valuable find.
None of the others looked at Davie. The youngest, who looked six, turned
It seemed best to leave them alone. Davie had never been to a funeral, thank
goodness—-Mom couldn’t afford to bring him and Neema when her father in
Ghana died, so she and Imani went alone—-but he figured funerals weren’t a
good place to make friends.
If the boys lived nearby, he’d find them later. If not, whatever. Kids in
Graceville weren’t always nice to him, as if he didn’t meet their standards.
He talked funny and liked weird things, from a Graceville point of view, so
he never knew what kind of reception to expect.
Davie left and turned for home, digging his stick into pockets of soft soil
as he walked. He didn’t run, this time. It was getting dark, harder to see,
and there was no reason to take a chance on breaking his leg. It would be
ghost time soon.
Davie didn’t realize how relieved he was to leave the woods until he saw the
welcoming broken fence in the shadow of his grandparents’ huge oak tree,
which was covered in moss like Silly String. Home! The underbrush had seemed
unruly, and he was glad to find his shoes back on neatly-cropped grass. He
felt a strange wriggling sensation in his stomach. Until he climbed back
over the fence, he hadn’t let himself notice he was a little scared. Just a
But the real scare didn’t come until he got to the house.
Davie decided to go to the back door instead of the front because his shoes
might be muddy, and Grandma would have a fit if he tracked dirt on her
hardwood floors. As he was climbing the concrete steps to the back door, he
glimpsed the kitchen window.
What he saw there made his stomach drop out of him.
Grandpa Walter stood by the fridge, arms crossed and head hanging; he might
have been studying his shoes, except that his eyes were closed. Grandma was
clearing away dishes from the table, where Dad was sitting alone.
Muted through the window, Davie heard Grandma saying, “…It’s all right,
baby. It’s all gonna’ work out. No court in the country will let her take
them all the way over there, I don’t care if she’s the mother or not. What’s
she gonna’ do, steal them? If she wants a fight, well, she’s got one. We
have money put away. You’ll get a good lawyer, and that’s that. Don’t you
His father sat at the table, forehead resting against the tabletop, his arms
wrapped around his ears. His father was crying.
All night, Davie lay in bed
trying to unhear and unsee it. Every time he saw the snapshot of that
kitchen window, remembering Grandma’s words and Dad’s grieving pose, his
stomach ate him. Now he knew what people meant when they said Too Much
Information: It wasn’t about stuff being too gross, or none of your
business. Some information was too big for a single brain. Each time Davie
remembered what he’d seen and heard, the enormity grew exponentially, with
new and more terrible realizations.
His parents were definitely getting a divorce. Check. Hadn’t seen that
coming, since they never argued or raised their voices in front of him. They
snapped at each other sometimes, but who didn’t?
Okay, so Mom thought Dad worked too much. She’d never made that a secret.
And Dad definitely liked spending time alone. There was no denying it. And
Mom’s bad moods probably got on his nerves. So now, after twenty years, they
were getting a divorce?
That nuclear bomb should have been enough for one night—-hell, one
lifetime—-but there was layer after layer, and it unspooled slowly as Davie
stared at his grandparents’ popcorn ceiling, seeing only visions of the
As if the D-word wasn’t enough, Mom wanted to take them to Ghana. Dad didn’t
want them to go. Grandma and Grandpa were Dad’s war-chiefs, and they were
about to go to war.
Against Mommy. And Mommy against Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa. And no matter
what happened, he and Neema and Imani were FUBAR. Effed Up Beyond All
The only tiny morsel of comfort Davie could take from The Worst Moment of
His Entire Life was the knowledge that Grandpa Walter, Grandma and—-Thank
you, God—-Dad himself had not seen him at the window. He’d had the good
sense to duck away before a wandering pair of eyes found him and waved him
inside to take his seat at the Oh-Crap table.
“Davie, we’re glad you finally know the truth… You’ll need you to be a man
The very thought of that conversation with Dad made Davie want to vomit. He
kept his palm clamped across his mouth, just in case of a surprise puke
attack. He felt it in his throat.
As long as he ignored their sad eyes, went on with his life and pretended he
hadn’t heard, they would have to keep pretending, too. All of them would be
putting on a show for each other, like a reality TV show called “FUBAR,” but
at least then Neema wouldn’t find out. Or Imani, who couldn’t possibly know,
because she’d been in way too good a mood when she left for Evanston,
Illinois, to meet her future as an incoming freshman in a minority summer
Let them have their lives a while longer, anyway. For the summer, anyway.
Ignorance was the only mercy he could still do for them. He only wished his
father had his S-H-I-T together and could have kept him out of the loop a
little longer, too. How the hell would he get through the next month?
Davie was on the verge of crying himself to sleep the way he had after Roddy
the Rat died, but his unborn sob caught in his throat when he heard the
footsteps padding against the hallway floorboards.
He thought he’d imagined it, so he sat up and didn’t move, not even to get
his flashlight. His ears were his most important tool: He listened.
Click-click-click. This time, he heard not only the footsteps, but clicking
nails. Like a dog’s paws. A heavy dog—about the size of the big German
Davie had accidentally been holding his breath, and he needed to breathe. He
took a long gasp of air, louder than he’d meant to, and stopped breathing
The dog’s feet padded closer to his closed bedroom door. Davie stared toward
the crack between the door and the frame in the moonlight, and he saw a
shadow cross from one side to the other. About the size of a dog’s nose.
Sffffff sfff ffffff. Sniffing at the door.
“Holy effing S-H-I-T,” Davie said, but only after the sniffing noise stopped
and the sound of footsteps had padded away to silence.
Davie’s plan was to lie absolutely still and do everything in his power to
convince the dog that there was no reason to try to get into his room. Good
dog, bad dog, whatever, Davie didn’t want a ghost encounter with a dog. His
central plan in case of a hostile entity-—Communication and
Negotiation-—wasn’t worth crapola with a dog.
The first ghost he met up close should definitely be human.
But the ghosts were tracking him already.
© Copyright 2008 by Tananarive Due
Top of Page