The Devil in the Wood

by Sean Padraic McCarthy

When Julia awoke, her mother was already up, sitting at the table in the kitchen, looking out the back window upon the wood. There was a steep hill rising up from the edge of the wood, and now it wasn’t summer anymore, and all the leaves were gone from the trees, brown, dried, and dead, and covering the hill and the forest floor. Julia had never been over the hill to see what was on the other side, but she had heard stories. They lived in the wood, down a long dirt road with not many houses and not far from the sea, and the family had already lived here when Julia was born. Now Julia was five and her sister Sadie was seven.

Her mother didn’t look at Julia when she came into the kitchen, and she didn’t say anything. She was already dressed—still in the clothes she wore the day before—but her hair was messy and her eyes were glassy and they had black circles around them. Her mother had blue eyes and dark hair cut short. She was a little bit chubby, Julia knew, but also pretty, and she always made sure she wore a little lipstick and that her nails were painted. Her mother had told both Sadie and Julia that when they got older, they had to wear lipstick. The Lord did not like hussies, she said, but he had no problem with pretty. But this morning her lipstick was smeared on her face.

Julia listened for her father, or for water running—her father was always up before her mother, shaving his face and drinking coffee before he left for work—but there wasn’t any noise.

“Where’s Daddy?” she asked finally.

Her mother didn’t move at first, and Julia didn’t know if she had heard her. But then she turned and looked at her. “Daddy,” she said. “Is with the Devil.”

By the time Sadie woke, Julia’s mother was in her bedroom with the door closed. Julia had been watching the door for a while, waiting for her to come back out. Inside the bedroom she had a statue of Jesus’s mother, Mary, that she told Julia the church had given to her when it had to close, and she had a lot of pictures of Jesus on the walls, and a bowl of Holy Water right by the door. Their mother told them they had to dip their fingers in the water every time they entered the room, and do the sign of the cross. The room was Holy, she said.

Sadie was in second grade—but their mother said she was homeschooling them now—and taller than Julia, and her hair was darker. Now her hair was messy, too, and she wore her long white nightgown with little Teddy Bears all over it. Blue’s Clues was on the television—Steve. They used to watch The Wiggles, but now their mother said they couldn’t watch that show anymore because the men on the show were “suggestive.” Julia didn’t know what that meant, but she didn’t want to get the wooden spoon, so she only turned it on when her mother wasn’t home.

Sadie went and fixed herself a bowl of Cocoa puffs, and then sat on the floor next to Julia. Julia continued to glance out at the wood. Sadie slurped her cereal.

“Where’s Mommy?” she finally asked.

“She’s in her room,” Julia said.

“Is Daddy at work?”


“Then where is he?”

Julia looked down the hall at her parent’s bedroom door. Still shut. Then she looked at

Sadie. “The Devil,” she whispered.

Both girls knew about the Devil. They had seen pictures their mother had shown them in the big book she kept high on the shelf. They knew about his horns and big nose and big ears. Pointed teeth. Pointed tail. Feet like a goat. And the pitchfork he used to stab people who had been bad, even if they were little. The Devil was red—although some of the pictures were drawings in black and white, and he had wings, and he sometimes wore a cape.

And he lived in the wood.

“You don’t want to wander over the hill,” their mother had told them, “or you might run into him. He might get you. If you go into his part of the wood, sometimes you don’t even have to have done anything wrong, and he’ll still get you. And the worst thing is, you might not even see him coming. He’s sometimes in a cave by the sea out there, or sometimes he can even come right up through the earth, up through the leaves. Up from Hell.”

Their mother could say that word—Hell—and sometimes she said even worse words, but if Julia or Sadie ever said it, they would get their mouths washed out with soap. Julia had only got her mouth washed out with soap one time, but Sadie had had it washed out like three times. And the last time she did, after she stopped crying, she had whispered to Julia that she hated their mother.

“How do you know he’s with the Devil?” Sadie whispered now.

“Mommy told me,” Julia said. “She looked like she was crying.”

“Is he going to come back?” Sadie asked, starting to cry herself.

“I don’t know.”

Julia had heard their voices the night before. Growing louder. Her mother eventually yelling. She was used to her mother yelling—they all were—but not her Dad. He didn’t yell much. But this time her Dad had started to yell, too—about wanting Sadie to go back to school, about it not being fair to them, and then their mother was yelling about some woman, and calling her bad names. And then Julia’s father’s voice softened, whispering, and she couldn’t hear what he was saying.

Their mother was in her room until almost dark, after Julia told Sadie what happened, and when she came back out she was wearing a black dress that Julia had never seen her wear before, and she had her silver cross hanging on her neck. She stopped at the kneeler—also from the church, with a big picture of God and the Blessed Mother hanging above it—in the living room, and she knelt down and began to pray. In the picture, the Blessed Mother was standing with a snake stuck under her feet, like she was smushing him, and she was looking up at the sky where God was sitting in his big chair, riding on some clouds. He wasn’t looking at the Blessed Mother though—he was staring straight ahead as if he could see you. And Julia’s mother said that he always could.

When her mother finished praying, she looked back out the window, but now most of the trees had faded with the night. Hannah Montana was on the TV and as soon as Julia’s mother saw it, she grabbed Julia with one hand, lifted her up, and then spanked her quickly with the other.

Then she grabbed the clicker and shut off the TV.

Julia rubbed her bottom a bit, and tried not to cry—their mother always said they would get it worse if they cried. Sadie was huddled in the chair with her blanket.

“I don’t want you watching that show,” their mother snapped. “Neither one of you. I’ve read about that girl, and she’s trouble. She’s a whore. And the Devil loves whores, little ones and big ones. Your aunt Alice, my sister, was just like that girl growing up—she pulled her pants down for every boy on the block—and she ended up getting diseases and was married three times. Now she can’t see out of one eye and has to walk with a cane. Is that what you want? To be blind in one eye and walk with a cane?”

Julia was still trying not to cry. “No.”

“No, what?”

“No, Mommy.”

Her mother looked at her for a moment, almost like she didn’t know who she was. “I’m sorry you made me do that,” she said after a moment. “But I need to raise you girls to be proper young ladies. It’s just us now, and that makes it even more important.”

Julia didn’t move.

“And I need to ask you girls to stay out of me and Daddy’s bedroom. Do you understand? It is now an especially Holy Room, even more Holy than before, and it is where I need to do most of my praying. Jesus meets with me in there.”

“In the Holy Room?” Julia asked, and she was afraid to look at the door. She didn’t know what she would do if Jesus came out, especially if he had his robe pulled open so you could see his heart just like in the pictures.

“Yes,” said her mother. In the Holy Room. He’s trying to help me get your father back from you know where.” She pointed her finger at the floor and whispered the word. “The room is so full of bright light now that you would go blind if you looked inside. So remember that.”

The next day, their father still wasn’t home, and their mother was out in the backyard, so Sadie said she was going to be the teacher for the day. It had been a long time since their mother gave Sadie one of her homeschool lessons. Julia went to the window. Their mother was bundled in coats and a hat and down on her knees, staring at the wood and digging in the garden like she was pulling up weeds, but it was almost Christmas in a few weeks, and everything outside was cold and dead, and covered in patches of snow.

“You don’t know how to be a teacher,” Julia said to Sadie.

“Yes, I do,” said Sadie. She was wearing a white baker’s hat which came with their play kitchen and oven. “I used to go to school, Julia, you didn’t, and I learned a lot of words and I learned numbers and pluses and minuses.”

“Are you going to teach me pluses?” Julia asked.

“Tomorrow. Today we’re just going to do Jesus stuff. With art supplies. You can either draw a picture of him or make him out of clay. If Mom comes in and sees that, she’s going to be soooo . . . happy.”

“Mommy loves Jesus,” said Julia.

“Of course she loves Jesus,” said Sadie. “Everybody loves Jesus.”

“Except the Devil.”

“The Devil doesn’t love him because he’s jealous of him, and Jesus kicked him out of heaven.”

“Why did Jesus kick him out?”

Sadie held her palms to the ceiling. “Well . . . because . . . he’s the Devil.”

The next time Julia went to the window, their mother was walking through the trees coming down the hill in her black dress. When she came in, it was almost time for lunch, and Sadie and Julia still had the supplies out on the floor. Their mother had dirt on her face and all over her hands from being outside. She looked at the mess on the floor, and Julia thought she was going to start yelling again, and maybe get the spoon, but then Sadie held up her picture.

It was a picture of Jesus riding a donkey, heading towards the city. The city had rays of yellow light coming out of it, like it was the sun. Their mother looked at the picture, and then at Sadie, and her mouth dropped open, but she didn’t say anything.

Julia started to wonder if her mother had forgotten how to talk because she was still just staring, but then Sadie stood up and held the drawing closer. “It’s Jesus, Mommy,” she said.

“I know who it is,” her mother said, “I’d recognize him anywhere, and it’s beautiful. You get an A for the day. Everybody gets an A for the day. Your father would be very proud of you.”

Sadie started to cry again then. “Is he coming back?”

Their mother took a seat on the hassock and folded her hands between her legs. She had a look in her eyes like there was no one inside her, and then she took a deep breath. “Well, I don’t know, dear. But we’ll have to pray. I went looking for him in the woods, hoping to find him, safe and coming home, but you see once you make a deal with the Devil, he makes it very difficult for you to get out of it. He makes you sign the deal, and he keeps it in his book. It’s almost impossible to break the deal. People have been making deals with him for a very long time.”

“But for what?” Sadie asked. She was still crying.

“Oh, for all sorts of things,” said their mother. “Money. New jobs. Fancy cars and fancy houses. Trips to Paris. Other people’s husbands and wives. Loose women. Power. A lot of time it’s for power—that’s how President Obama got elected—and the Devil will give them whatever they want.” Their mother looked up at the ceiling, shaking her head. “Whatever they want. He just gives it to them outright, but there is a price. And sooner or later comes the day, and the Devil always collects his due. And then he comes for them. I begged and begged your father not to do it, but he wouldn’t listen. And then it was just after midnight, and you girls were long asleep when the Devil came walking down from the wood. Down the hill.”

“Does he just come at night?” Julia asked.

“Well, no . . . ” said their mother. “The Devil can come during the day or at night. But the other night, it was late. He had big horns, and a wicked, evil smile.” She made a funny grin. “The Devil is always smiling a rotten smile because he is always happy to ruin people’s lives and take away their souls, and take them to H-E-double-hockey-sticks. I was so scared though, I didn’t know what to do. His eyes were glowing like fire, and in one hand he carried his pitchfork, and in the other he carried his papers, his book. The Big Book. And that’s when he made Daddy sign the book.”

Sadie started crying harder then, and she yelled, “No! Not the book!” But Julia was too scared to cry. She knew all about the book, too. After she made a mess in her room and got ice cream all over her blankets a few weeks ago, her mother had told her that if she kept making messes like that, the Devil would show up and make her sign the book. Julia thought of one of the pictures her mother had shown her in the book on the shelf in the parlor. In the picture, the Devil was holding out the book to a man with a funny hat and a long shirt that looked like a dress, and all around them were skeletons, and people who had been stabbed by spears.

Julia didn’t know what they would do if their Daddy had been stabbed with a spear.

“Not the book!” Sadie cried out again.

“I begged him not to, too,” their mother said. “I went to hide in our room when I saw him coming, but then I told myself, ‘Barbara, if you don’t face down the Devil, then who will?’”

“And with that, I came marching right out with my Cross in one hand and my Bible in the other. The Devil hates seeing the Cross and he hates seeing the Bible. He held up his pitchfork and began hissing at me, but then there was a flash and they were both gone. I ran to the window and saw them both walking up the hill into the woods, the Devil pushing Daddy along with his pitchfork.”

“And then what happened?” asked Sadie.

“And then,” said their mother, “I saw the fires.”

That night, their mother stood in the bedroom doorway upstairs and watched them as they both knelt by their beds and said their prayers. They both had to say them out loud, and both had to include their mother and father—and a prayer that the Devil would let him go—and their Grandma and Papa, even though they hadn’t seen them in a long time, and their black dog Boots, whom their mother had taken to live on a farm in New Hampshire last year. Sadie went first, and after she shouted, “Amen! I love you, Jesus!” Julia said hers, and then their mother shut off the lights, turned on the Winnie the Pooh night light, and tucked them in. She sat on the edge of Julia’s bed and sang a song for them. A song about a unicorn. She had a pretty voice, and she used to like to sing a lot in church and even had a guitar. 

When she finished the song, she kissed them both and made them promise to always be good, no matter what, and told them she had to go to town for some business in the morning, and then she stood in the doorway again for a minute, looking at them, before she shut the door. Sadie had her head hiding under the covers as soon as she left, and Julia could hear her breathing like she was asleep. Julia looked at the Pooh night light and the drawings they had made that their Dad had taped to the wall, and she looked at the Christmas Manger in the corner, with the baby Jesus in a cradle, and the Blessed Mother praying on her hands and knees beside him. An angel above with her palms open to the sky. Julia climbed out of bed, and walked to the window, making sure she tiptoed so her mother wouldn’t hear her, and then she looked out up the hill and into the wood, looking for the fires.

The next day, their mother had already left for town by the time they woke up. Julia and Sadie hadn’t been to town in a little while, but the last time they went, their father had taken them to see the boat that Pilgrims came on. The boat was closed though, and the people who dressed like Pilgrims weren’t on it, so their Dad took them to lunch. Julia had chicken fingers and fries, Sadie had a lobster roll, they both had Cokes, and their Dad had a fish sandwich and a beer. They sat by a window so they could watch boats. Their father had blue eyes, was going a little bit bald, and sometimes he wore glasses. He had pointed to something spouting water in the distance and told them it was a whale. The whales were back in the bay now, he said, after being gone for a long time because too many people had hunted them.

He told them the stories about the pilgrims landing on the rock and growing corn with the Indians and catching fish, and a lot of people getting sick and a lot of people dying, and the Indians chasing deer and rabbits through the wood with bows and arrows. A lot of the pilgrims were buried on the hill up across the street from the boat, he said.

“How did they get sick?” Sadie asked.

“Well, a lot of ways, I guess,” their father said. “They didn’t have much medicine back then, and it was a very cold winter, and because it was winter, there wasn’t a lot of food, and sometimes when germs spread, a lot of people can get sick.”

“That’s why they have us wash our hands at school, Dad,” Sadie said.

Their father had smiled. “That’s right. That’s why you wash your hands.”

“When am I going back to school?” Sadie had asked.

Their father just nodded a little. “Soon.”

“Did Mommy get sick from germs?” Julia asked him. She remembered when her mother got sick a long time ago, back before summer, and was in the hospital for a little while, and at first, their Dad had to stay home from work to watch them, and then he hired a babysitter. A kind of old lady who wore glasses and a sweater with cats on it who used to make Julia grilled cheese and chicken noodle soup—Sadie was still in school back then—and used to read to her about In the Night Kitchen. But then when their mother got home from the hospital, she found the Night Kitchen book and got really mad because the little boy got naked in it and jumped in the milk. Her mother threw that book away, saying, “Night kitchen, my ass,” and they didn’t see the babysitter again.

“No,” their father said, “I don’t think it was germs. People can get sick from all sorts of things. And sometimes if they get really sad about something, they get sick from that.”

“And then they yell a lot, right Dad?” said Sadie.

“Well, sometimes,” he said, “but remember that a lot of times when people are having a hard time and are really sad and yell like that, they feel really bad about it afterward. And sometimes they have a hard time showing it.”

“Were the pilgrims yelling at each other?” Julia asked.

Their father had laughed at that, and said, “I bet a few of them were.”

“Mommy said once that the pilgrims came here to be alone with Jesus,” said Sadie.

And their father was quiet for a second. “Well, that was part of it. I think they had a lot of reasons.”

After lunch, they had gone up on the hill across the street from the buildings in town—their Dad said it was called “Old Burial Hill”—and walked through the graveyard and looked at the graves. Some had things written on them, but the letters were hard to read, some had angels on them, and others had faces on them with long noses, and on some the people had wings, and a few even had skull faces on the top and were either knocked over or broken. The leaves were already turning colors and falling from the trees and tumbling over the grass on the hill, and there was a bell clanging way out on the water. You could see the sea from the top of the hill, a couple boats on the water, and a church tower with a bell rising up towards the sky. Their father told them stories about some of the people buried there, and Julia had got down on her knees before the grave of someone their father had said was named Susanna, and then she had tried to say a prayer. She had seen people do that on TV before, and she knew that was what you were supposed to do. And then she did the sign of the cross. She thought about the ground beneath her, and the pilgrims lying down there in the dark. She could picture them with their hats with buckles on, some looking like they were sleeping, and others with their eyes wide open, looking up and watching.

On the way home, they stopped for ice cream, and then they stopped on the cliffs above the beach, and their father had taken out his binoculars and shown them some seals out on the rocks. Some were fat with white spots and lying upside down. And others still looked like babies. Julia remembered that day really well because she had come home and tried to draw a seal and a whale. Now she drew another picture of Jesus, this one when he was a baby just born with the sheep and the cows, and she drew a seal with them too. She was going to give the picture to her mother when she got home, and she was going to love it. You can never have enough pictures of Jesus, their mother said. Julia thought of that then, and she decided she should draw a picture of a bird because sometimes Jesus looked like a bird. A white one.

She went to the window to see if she could see any birds. It had started to snow again.

Julia looked about the trees. A squirrel ran by, stopped, ran back the way he had come from, and then stopped, and started running back the other way again. There were three turkeys out on the hill, too—they had little tiny heads, and sometimes they were running around the hill and sometimes they were up in the trees—and you couldn’t get too near them, or sometimes they would chase you. Turkeys liked to chase people. Julia looked towards the top of the hill, and then she saw something else. A black cat way up high in a tree, staring down at the house.

Sadie had made peanut butter and fluff sandwiches for lunch—Julia was good at making toast—and now Sadie had the Wiggles on again, and she was dancing with Slim Dusty. Slim Dusty was an old guy who wore a cowboy hat. He was sitting high up in a barn, playing his guitar, and the Wiggles were all dancing all over the place in the hay beneath him with Wags the Dog, who liked to Tango, and Henry the Octopus.

“We dance in the town and the country, where the atmosphere is great!”

Julia called Sadie over to show her the cat, and at first she didn’t come right away—she was still dancing—but then Julia called her again. Sadie came to the sliding glass door, and Julia pointed.

“I think he’s stuck,” she said.

“We should call the firemen. They’ll get him.”

“They will?’

“Yeah, Julia, that’s one of their jobs. When they’re not washing their fire engines and fighting fires, they get cats out of trees.” Sadie looked up at the cat again. “They might not want to get him though.”

“Why not?” Julia asked.

“Because he’s a black cat and black cats are bad luck, and sometimes they’re witches who work for the Devil.”

Julia thought about witches. Cooking their brew and flying on broomsticks. Last Halloween, one of their neighbors way down the street had a witch hanging outside that blew in the wind and looked like she was flying. The cat didn’t look like a witch, but sometimes witches had cats. “You think he works for him?”

“I don’t know. He doesn’t look mean. But the Devil is in the wood, and the cat is in the wood.”

Sadie got the step stool then and went to the bookcase and took down the book. She put it on the floor and began flipping through the pages, and then she stopped at a drawing, black and white, with some women dressed in funny clothes, holding hands in the circle. And the Devil was in the circle, too.

“What does it say?” asked Julia.

Sadie studied the picture for a second, and then put her finger under the words. “It says ‘Witches dancing with the Devil.’”

But Julia didn’t think the women looked like witches—they didn’t have pointy hats and they all wore aprons. “There are no cats in the picture,” she said.

“I think I’ve seen one somewhere,” said Sadie. “What if the one in the tree is spying on us for him?”

“He might have just been chasing a squirrel,” said Julia. “They like to chase squirrels. So do dogs. I think we should try and rescue him.”

Julia and Sadie both put on their boots—Julia’s looked like ladybugs, and Sadie’s looked like doggies—and they put on their coats and their hats and mittens. Julia went to the refrigerator and got a piece of cheese and put it in her pocket. She and Julia stepped out of the sliding glass door, and then down the stairs to the yard, but stopped before approaching the hill. 

Julia listened for their mother’s car. It would mean big trouble if they left the yard and went into the wood, but the tree the kitty had climbed was in the wood, on the hill.

“Do you think Mommy will be home soon?” she asked Sadie.

“How should I know, Julia? She went to town.”

“What if the Devil gets us while she’s not home?”

“It’s not nighttime.”

“Mommy said he usually comes at nighttime, but not always.”

“Well, if he comes Daddy will probably still be with him and he’ll yell ‘run!’ and then if he tries to get us, we’ll just run really fast.”

The cat was still looking down at them, but from here, on the ground, he looked even higher up than he had from the sliding door, up on the deck. If he had climbed the tree, he must’ve been running or hiding from something. Julia had seen a cat run up a tree before when it was getting chased by a dog, but there weren’t any dogs around. But he might have got chased by a coyote. Sometimes they heard the coyotes in the wood howling at night. Their mother had told them that that usually meant something was dead, that they had killed something, and the coyotes were calling each other to supper. But now she couldn’t hear them howling. Julia took the cheese out of her pocket and held it up so the kitty could see it, but the kitty still didn’t move—he just looked down at them. Sadie had picked up a stick and was holding it out in front of her pretending it was a sword.

“Do you want to play Robin Hood and the sheriff?” she said. “I get to be Robin Hood.”

Julia walked over to the base of the tree and put the turkey on the ground there before walking away. “Maybe if we walk a little bit away and wait,” she said, “he’ll come down.”

“We can play while we wait,” said Sadie, and then she started chasing Julia with her stick sword, “I need money for the poor!” she said.

Julia started to run, squealing as she did. She liked to get chased, but she didn’t like to get caught. And she was really fast. She went running through the trees, trying to be careful not to slip on the snow or trip on a rock, and Sadie was right behind her. “I’m Robin Hood! And you’re impossible!” she called out, and then she started to sing:

In a cottage,

In the wood,

A little old man at the window stood

Saw a rabbit running by . . . 

Julia ran past the little dark pond that had lily pads on it and frogs in the summer, and had a little bit of ice on it now, with leaves frozen in the ice, and all the frogs sleeping in the ground for winter, and she passed the tree that had a branch curved and almost looked like a heart, and she passed the big rock that looked like a face that their father had told them once was supposed to look like the face of an Indian chief, and then she was tired, and when she turned around, their house was far below her, and Sadie had started to walk, and it was then Julia realized she was at the top of the hill.

“Come little rabbit, Come with me, Oh how happy we will be…”

Julia stopped, afraid to look around, afraid the Devil might be coming. But she didn’t see the Devil. Just more patches of snow, more dead, brown leaves, bare trees, and a bunny in the middle of some thorns. In the way far distance, she could see some blue water through the trees, and knew that must be the ocean again. And then she noticed something else, down the other side of the hill. It looked like a pile of dirt, and it was covered with some snow, and more dead brown leaves. And there was a shoe sticking out from the bottom. And further up what looked like an arm and somebody’s hand.

Sadie had caught up to her now, but she wasn’t pointing her sword anymore. “We’re not supposed to be way up here. It will be big trouble.”

It started to snow again then, and with the dark, the wood turned gray. Julia pointed at the pile of dirt. “Daddy’s shoe,” she said.

Sadie still had the stick in her hand. She looked towards the shoe, the sock still on beneath.

“It’s his foot,” said Julia.

Sadie started to shake then, and she started to cry. She whispered, “Run,” and they started running back down the hill. Julia tripped and fell once and landed on her hands and knees, but she got right back up. Sadie was ahead of her. There were noises behind them that sounded like something running through the leaves, and then an animal called out, echoing, from somewhere far out in the wood, but Julia didn’t want to turn, didn’t want to look back. She didn’t want to see if anyone was chasing them. She didn’t want to see the fires.

Sadie waited for her in the yard, and when Julia caught up with her she was still crying. Julia looked up at the tree, but the cat was gone. And the turkeys were gone, too. She started to run up the stairs to the back deck, and the sliding back door, but Sadie called out for her to come back. They couldn’t go inside. Anybody could be inside now—the Devil could be inside—and anybody could be following them. They had to find their mother. It was snowing harder now, and when they ran around the side of the house, their father’s car was still there, but their mother’s car was still gone.

They ran down the dirt road which curved through the wood towards the main street.

They weren’t allowed on the main street because cars drove down it too fast, and they might get hit, but now they couldn’t go back to the house.

When they both were tired, they stopped to walk. Sadie was still crying and Julia started to cry, too. “Do you think he’s dead?”

“He’s buried, Julia. Once you’re buried, you can’t be alive anymore unless you’re a gopher.”

“Do you think he’s going to be a ghost?’

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t want to die,” Julia said. The wind picked up and blew the snow against their faces, and Sadie had her head down, and her chin against her chest. Julia was scared, looking side to side through the trees. She didn’t want to see the Devil, and she didn’t want to see the ghost of their Daddy out there. Once she saw another squirrel, and once she saw what looked like a coyote, but he was way off in the trees. Then Sadie sat down on a big rock by the side of the road and said she had to rest. She had her hood up and it was all covered with snow.

“Mommy will drive by this way on her way home and see us, and pick us up,” she said.

“She’ll be here soon.”

“It’s cold,” said Julia. It was dark now, and the trees were disappearing in the black.

Sadie was shivering, but she spread her arms and pulled Julia close to her. Julia’s nose had started to run and she could feel Sadie’s hair against her face. There was a loud crack then, and out in the wood a tree limb fell to the earth all covered with snow. Sadie held Julia tighter and started to sing:

Well, I love to have a dance with Wags the Dog

I love to have a dance with Wags

He loves to dance the tango,

And he carries his bone in a big brown bag

We dance in the town in the country,

Where the atmosphere is great

We love to have a dance with Wags the Dog,

‘Cause Wags is our mate.”

Julia was beginning to feel sleepy, and Sadie was still singing, quietly, and not saying all the words. Julia tried to picture their house and the lights on in the window and the television playing, and their mother at home. The wind picked up again, and now the snow was coming down harder, and everything was covered, even the road that led to the main street. There were lights on the road then, headlights, small and far away, and moving very slowly. When the car stopped, a person got out. A woman. She had a big jacket and hat on and glasses, and she looked like the old lady from down the street who had two dogs and worked in her yard in the summer.

Last Halloween Julia’s Dad had taken them to her house and she had given them Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and she had said, “I don’t get many trick-or-treaters anymore.” Now, the woman helped them into the car, and it was warm, and the snow was melting on Sadie’s face. The old woman wrapped them both in a blanket in the back seat, and then she got in front and turned around. The windows were covered with snow and the windshield wipers were squeaking. The old lady had the radio on, and Christmas music was playing. The Herald Angels singing.

“You poor things must be half frozen,” the old lady said, “Is anyone home at your house?”

Sadie had her head down and eyes closed, shivering.

“Jesus is in my Mommy’s bedroom,” Julia said.

The old woman looked at her, quiet for a moment, and nodded. Her eyeglasses were steamed. “And where are your parents?” she asked.

“My Mommy went to town and my Daddy is in the wood,” Julia said.

“In the wood?”

Julia wiped her nose. “The Devil buried him in the wood.”

A black and white image of a woman with black hair and two less defined depictions of two children right next to her.


by Donald Patten

An alumnus of USF’s Master’s in Writing program, Sean Padraic McCarthy has published stories, or has stories forthcoming in, The Hopkins Review, Glimmer Train, Water~Stone Review, The Sewanee Review, The Greensboro Review, South Dakota Review, Bayou, and Hayden’s Ferry Review among others. His work has been cited in The Best American Short Stories, and he is a 2016 recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Artist Fellowship in Fiction Award. His novel IN THE MIDST OF THE SEA was published in 2019 by Pace Press.

Donald Patten is an artist from Belfast, Maine. He is currently a senior in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program at the University of Maine. As an artist, he produces figure drawings and oil paintings. Artworks of his have been exhibited in galleries across the Midcoast region of Maine.

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