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A thousand generations live in you now. See Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in theaters December 20.

James Bond 007 No time to die 2020 Daniel Craig, Rami Malek

Trailers in 2020

The Devil in America

Scant years after the Civil War, a mysterious family confronts the legacy that has pursued them across centuries, out of slavery, and finally to the idyllic peace of the town of Rosetree. The shattering consequences of this confrontation echo backwards and forwards in time, even to the present day.

Like some other stories published on Tor.com, “The Devil in America” contains scenes and situations some readers will find upsetting and/or repellent. [—The Editors]

This novelette was acquired and edited for Tor.com by consulting editor 

Emmett Till, sure, I remember. Your great grandfather, sitting at the table with the paper spread out, looked up and said something to Grandma. She looked over my way and made me leave the room: Emmett Till. In high school I had a friend everybody called Underdog. One afternoon—1967?—Underdog was standing on some corner and the police came round and beat him with nightsticks. No reason. Underdog thought he might get some respect if he joined up for Vietnam, but a sergeant in basic training was calling him everything but his name—nigger this, nigger that—and Underdog went and complained. Got thrown in the brig, so he ended up going to Vietnam with just a couple weeks’ training. Soon after he came home in a body bag. In Miami a bunch of white cops beat to death a man named Arthur McDuffie with heavy flashlights. You were six or seven: so, 1979. The cops banged up his motorcycle trying to make killing him look like a crash. Acquitted, of course. Then Amadou Diallo, 1999; Sean Bell, 2006. You must know more about all the New York murders than I do. Trayvon, this year. Every year it’s one we hear about and God knows how many just the family mourns.

—Date 1877 August 23

Tis all right if I take a candle, Ma’am?” Easter said. Her mother bent over at the black iron stove, and lifted another smoking hot pan of cornbread from the oven. Ma’am just hummed—meaning, Go ’head. Easter came wide around her mother, wide around the sizzling skillet, and with the ramrod of Brother’s old rifle hooked up the front left burner. She left the ramrod behind the stove, plucked the candle from the fumbling, strengthless grip of her ruint hand, and dipped it wick-first into flame.Through the good glass window in the wall behind the stove, the night was dark. It was soot and shadows. Even the many-colored chilis and bright little pumpkins in Ma’am’s back garden couldn’t be made out.

A full supper plate in her good hand, lit candle in the other, Easter had a time getting the front door open, then out on the porch, and shutting back the door without dropping any food. Then, anyhow, the swinging of the door made the candle flame dance fearfully low, just as wind gusted up too, so her light flickered way down . . . and went out.

“Shoot!” Easter didn’t say the curse word aloud. She mouthed it. “Light it back for me, angels,” Easter whispered. “Please?” The wick flared bright again.

No moon, no stars—the night sky was clouded over. Easter hoped it wasn’t trying to storm, with the church picnic tomorrow.

She crossed the yard to the edge of the woods where Brother waited. A big old dog, he crouched down, leapt up, down and up again, barking excitedly, just as though he were some little puppy dog.

“Well, hold your horses,” Easter said. “I’m coming!” She met him at the yard’s end and dumped the full plate over, all her supper falling to the ground. Brother’s head went right down, tail just a-wagging. “Careful, Brother,” Easter said. “You watch them chicken bones.” Then, hearing the crack of bones, she knelt and snatched ragged shards right out of the huge dog’s mouth. Brother whined and licked her hand—and dropped his head right back to buttered mashed yams.

Easter visited with him a while, telling her new secrets, her latest sins, and when he’d sniffed out the last morsels of supper Brother listened to her with what anybody would have agreed was deep love, full attention. “Well, let me get on,” she said at last, and sighed. “Got to check on the Devil now.” She’d left it til late, inside all evening with Ma’am, fixing their share of the big supper at church tomorrow. Brother whined when she stood up to leave.

Up the yard to the henhouse. Easter unlatched the heavy door and looked them over—chickens, on floor and shelf, huddling quietly in thick straw, and all asleep except for Sadie. Eldest and biggest, that one turned just her head and looked over Easter’s way. Only reflected candlelight, of course, but Sadie’s beady eyes looked so ancient and so crafty, blazing like embers. Easter backed on out, latched the coop up securely again, and made the trip around the henhouse, stooping and stooping and stooping, to check for gaps in the boards. Weasel holes, fox doors.

There weren’t any. And the world would go on exactly as long as Easter kept up this nightly vigil.

Ma’am stood on the porch when Easter came back up to the house. “I don’t appreciate my good suppers thrown in the dirt. You hear me, girl?” Ma’am put a hand on Easter’s back, guiding her indoors. “That ole cotton-picking dog could just as well take hisself out to the deep woods and hunt.” Ma’am took another tone altogether when she meant every word, and then she didn’t stroke Easter’s head, or gently brush her cheek with a knuckle. This was only complaining out of habit. Easter took only one tone with her mother. Meek.

“Yes, Ma’am,” she said, and ducked her head in respect. Easter didn’t think herself too womanish or grown to be slapped silly.

“Help me get this up on the table,” Ma’am said—the deepest bucket, and brimful of water and greens. Ma’am was big and strong enough to have lifted ten such buckets. It was friendly, though, sharing the little jobs. At one side of the bucket, Easter bent over and worked her good hand under the bottom, the other just mostly ached now, the cut thickly scabbed over. She just sort of pressed it to the bucket’s side, in support.

Easter and her mother set the bucket on the table.

Past time to see about the morning milk. Easter went back to the cellar and found the cream risen, though the tin felt a tad cool to her. The butter would come slow. “Pretty please, angels?” she whispered. “Could you help me out a little bit?” They could. They did. The milk tin warmed ever so slightly. Just right. Easter dipped the cream out and carried the churn back to the kitchen.

Ma’am had no wrinkles except at the corners of the eyes. Her back was unbowed, her arms and legs still mighty. But she was old now, wasn’t she? Well nigh sixty, and maybe past it. But still with that upright back, such quick hands. Pretty was best said of the young—Soubrette Toussaint was very pretty, for instance—so what was the right word for Ma’am’s severe cheekbones, sharp almond-shaped eyes, and pinched fullness of mouth? Working the churn, Easter felt the cream foam and then thicken, pudding-like. Any other such marriage, and you’d surely hear folks gossiping over the dead wrongness of it—the wife twenty-some years older than a mighty good-looking husband. What in the world, I ask you, is that old lady doing with a handsome young man like that? But any two eyes could see the answer here. Not pretty as she must once have been, with that first husband, whoever he’d been, dead and buried back east. And not pretty as when she’d had those first babies, all gone now too. But age hadn’t only taken from Ma’am, it had given too. Some rare gift, and so much of it that Pa had to be pick of the litter—kindest, most handsome man in the world—just to stack up. Easter poured off the buttermilk into a jar for Pa, who liked that especially. Ma’am might be a challenge to love sometimes, but respect came easy.

“I told him, Easter.” Ma’am wiped forefinger and thumb down each dandelion leaf, cleaning off grit and bugs, and then lay it aside in a basket. “Same as I told you. Don’t mess with it. Didn’t I say, girl?”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Easter scooped the clumps of butter into the bowl.

Ma’am spun shouting from her work. “That’s right I did! And I pray to God you listen, too. That fool out there didn’t, but Good Lord knows I get on my knees and prayevery night you got some little bit of sense in your head. Because, Easter, I ain’t got no more children—you my last one!” Ma’am turned back and gripped the edge of the table.

Ma’am wanted no comfort, no acknowledgement of her pain at such moments—just let her be. Easter huddled in her chair, paddling the salt evenly through the butter, working all the water out. She worked with far more focus than the job truly needed.

Then, above the night’s frogcroak and bugchatter, they heard Brother bark in front of the house, and heard Pa speak, his very voice. Wife and daughter both gave a happy little jump, looking together at the door in anticipation. Pa’d been three days over in Greenville selling the cigars. Ma’am snapped her fingers.

“Get the jug out the cellar,” she said. “You know just getting in your Pa wants him a little tot of cider. Them white folks.” As if Ma’am wouldn’t have a whole big mug her ownself.

“Yes, Ma’am.” Easter fetched out the jug.

Pa opened the door, crossed the kitchen—touching Easter’s head in passing, he smelt of woodsmoke—and came to stand behind Ma’am. His hands cupped her breasts through her apron, her dress, and he kissed the back of her neck. She gasped aloud. “Wilbur! the baby . . . !” That’s what they still called Easter, “the baby.” Nobody had noticed she’d gotten tall, twelve years old now.

Pa whispered secrets in Ma’am’s ear. He was a father who loved his daughter, but he was a husband first and foremost. I’m a terrible thirsty man, Pa had said once, and your mama is my only cool glass of water in this world. Ma’am turned and embraced him. “I know it, sweetheart,” she said. “I know.” Easter covered up the butter. She took over washing the greens while her parents whispered, intent only on each other. Matched for height, and Ma’am a little on the stout side, Pa on the slim, so they were about the same thickness too. The perfect fit of them made Easter feel a sharp pang, mostly happiness. Just where you could hear, Pa said, “And you know it ain’t no coloreds round here but us living in Rosetree . . .”

Wrapped in blankets up in the loft, right over their bed, of course she heard things at night, on Sundays usually, when nobody was so tired.

An effortful noise from Pa, as if he were laboring some big rock heave-by-heave over to the edge of the tobacco field, and then before the quiet, sounding sort of worried, as if Pa were afraid Ma’am might accidently touch the blazing hot iron of the fired-up stove, Pa would say, “Hazel!”

“. . . so then Miss Anne claimed she seen some nigger run off from there, and next thing she knew—fire! Just everywhere. About the whole west side of Greenville, looked to me, burnt down. Oh yeah, and in the morning here come Miss Anne’s husband talkmbout, ‘Know what else, y’all? That nigger my wife seen last night—matterfact, he violated her.’ Well, darling, here’s what I wanna know . . .”

Ma’am would kind of sigh throughout, and from one point on keep saying—not loud—“Like that . . .” However much their bed creaked, Ma’am and Pa were pretty quiet when Easter was home. Probably they weren’t, though, these nights when Pa came back from Greenville. That was why they sent her over the Toussaints’.

“. . . where this ‘violated’ come from all of a sudden? So last night Miss Anne said she maybe might of seen some nigger run off, and this morning that nigger jumped her show ’nough? And then it wasn’t just the one nigger no more. No. It was two or three of ’em, maybe about five. Ten niggers—at least. Now Lord knows I ain’t no lawyer, baby, I ain’t, but it seem to me a fishy story done changed up even fishier . . .”

Ma’am and Pa took so much comfort in each other, and just plain liked each other. Easter was glad to see it. But she was old enough to wonder, a little worried and a little sad, who was ever going to love her in the way Ma’am and Pa loved each other.

“What you still doing here!” Ma’am looked up suddenly from her embrace. “Girl, you should of been gone to Soubrette’s. Go. And take your best dress and good Sunday shoes too. Tell Mrs. Toussaint I’ll see her early out front of the church tomorrow. You hear me, Easter?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” she said. And with shoes and neatly folded clothes, Easter hurried out into the dark wide-open night, the racket of crickets.

On the shadowed track through the woods, she called to Brother but he wouldn’t come out of the trees, though Easter could hear him pacing her through the underbrush. Always out there in the dark. Brother wanted to keep watch whenever Easter went out at night, but he got shy sometimes too. Lonesome and blue.

 

And this whole thing started over there, in old Africa land, where in olden days a certain kind of big yellow dog (you know the kind I’m talking about) used to run around. Now those dogs ain’t nowhere in the world, except for . . . Anyway, the prince of the dogs was a sorcerer—about the biggest and best there was in the world. One day he says to hisself, Let me get up off four feet for a while, and walk around on just two, so I can see what all these folk called ‘people’ are doing over in that town. So the prince quit being his doggy self and got right up walking like anybody. While the prince was coming over to the peoples’ town, he saw a pretty young girl washing clothes at the river. Now if he’d still been his doggy self, the prince probably would of just ate that girl up, but since he was a man now, the prince seen right off what a pretty young thing she was. So he walks over and says, Hey, gal. You want to lay down right here by the river in the soft grass with me? Well—and anybody would—the girl felt some kind of way, a strange man come talking to her so fresh all of a sudden. The girl says, Man, don’t you see my hair braided up all nice like a married lady? (Because that’s how they did over in Africa land. The married ladies, the girls still at home, plaited their hair up different.) So the dog prince said, Oh, I’m sorry. I come from a long way off, so I didn’t know what your hair meant. And he didn’t, either, cause dogs don’t braid their hair like people do. Hmph, says the gal, all the while sort of taking a real good look over him. As a matter of fact, the dog prince made a mighty fine-looking young man, and the girl’s mama and papa had married her off to just about the oldest, most dried-up, and granddaddy-looking fellow you ever saw. That old man was rich, sure, but he really couldn’t do nothing in the married way for a young gal like that, who wasn’t twenty years old yet. So, the gal says, Hmph, where you come from anyways? What you got to say for yourself? And it must of been pretty good too, whatever the prince had to say for hisself, because, come nine months later, that gal was mama to your great great—twenty greats—grandmama, first one of us with the old Africa magic.

 

It wasn’t but a hop, skip, and jump through the woods into Rosetree proper. Surrounding the town green were the church, Mrs. Toussaint’s general store, and the dozen best houses, all two stories, with overgrown rosebushes in front. At the other side of the town green, Easter could see Soubrette sitting out on her front porch with a lamp, looking fretfully out into night.

It felt nice knowing somebody in this world would sit up for her, wondering where she was, was everything all right.

In her wretched accent, Easter called, “J’arrive!” from the middle of the green.

Soubrette leapt up. “Easter?” She peered into the blind dark. “I can’t see a thing! Where are you, Easter?”

Curious that she could see so well, cutting across the grass toward the general store. Easter had told the angels not to without her asking, told them many times, but still she often found herself seeing with cat’s eyes, hearing with dog’s ears, when the angels took a notion. The problem being, folks noticed if you were all the time seeing and hearing what you shouldn’t. But maybe there was no need to go blaming the angels. With no lamp or candle, your eyes naturally opened up something amazing, while lights could leave you stone-blind out past your bright spot.

They screamed, embraced, laughed. Anybody would have said three years, not days, since they’d last seen each other. “Ah, viens ici, toi!” said Soubrette, gently taking Easter’s ruint hand to lead her indoors.

Knees drawn up on the bed, Easter hugged her legs tightly. She set her face and bit her lip, but tears came anyway. They always did. Soubrette sighed and closed the book in her lap. Very softly Easter murmured, “I like Rebecca most.”

“Yes!” Soubrette abruptly leaned forward and tapped Easter’s shin. “Rowena is nice too—she is!—but I don’t even care about old Ivanhoe. It just isn’t fair about poor Rebecca . . .”

“He reallydon’t deserve either one of ’em,” Easter said, forgetting her tears in the pleasure of agreement. “That part when Ivanhoe up and changed his mind all of a sudden about Rebecca—do you remember that part? ‘. . . an inferior race . . .’ No, I didn’t care for him after that.”

“Oh yes, Easter, I remember!” Soubrette flipped the book open and paged back through it. “At first he sees Rebecca’s so beautiful, and he likes her, but then all his niceness is ‘. . . exchanged at once for a manner cold, composed, and collected, and fraught with no deeper feeling than that which expressed a grateful sense of courtesy received from an unexpected quarter, and from one of an inferior race . . .’ Ivanhoe’s just hateful!” Soubrette lay a hand on Easter’s foot. “Rowena and Rebecca would have been better off without him!”

Soubrette touched you when she made her points, and she made them in the most hot-blooded way. Easter enjoyed such certainty and fire, but it made her feel bashful too. “You ain’t taking it too far, Soubrette?” she asked softly. “Who would they love without Ivanhoe? It wouldn’t be nobody to, well, kiss.”

It made something happen in the room, that word kiss. Did the warm night heat up hotter, and the air buzz almost like yellowjackets in a log? One and one made two, so right there you’d seem to have a sufficiency for a kiss, with no lack of anything, anyone. From head to toe Easter knew right where she was, lightly sweating in a thin summer shift on this August night, and she knew right where Soubrette was too, so close that—

“Girls!” Mrs. Toussaint bumped the door open with her hip. “The iron’s good and hot on the stove now, so . . .”

Easter and Soubrette gave an awful start. Ivanhoe fell to the floor.

“. . . why don’t you come downstairs with your dresses . . . ?” Mrs. Toussaint’s words trailed away. She glanced back and forth between the girls while the hot thing still sizzled in the air, delicious and wrong. Whatever it was seemed entirely perceptible to Mrs. Toussaint. She said to her daughter, “Chérie, j’espère que tu te comportes bien. Tu es une femme de quatorze ans maintenant. Ton amie n’a que dix ans; elle est une toute jeune fille!”

She spoke these musical words softly and with mildness—nevertheless they struck Soubrette like a slap. The girl cast her gaze down, eyes shining with abrupt tears. High yellow, Soubrette’s cheeks and neck darkened with rosy duskiness.

“Je me comporte toujours bien, Maman,” she whispered, her lips trembling as if about to weep.

Mrs. Toussaint paused a moment longer, and said, “Well, fetch down your dresses, girls. Bedtime soon.” She went out, closing the door behind her.

The tears did spill over now. Easter leaned forward suddenly, kissed Soubrette’s cheek, and said, “J’ai douze ans.”

Soubrette giggled. She wiped her eyes.

Much later, Easter sat up, looking around. Brother had barked, growling savagely, and woken her up. But seeing Soubrette asleep beside her, Easter knew that couldn’t be so. And no strange sounds came to her ears from the night outside, only wind in the leaves, a whippoorwill. Brother never came into the middle of town anyway, not ever. The lamp Mrs. Toussaint had left burning in the hallway lit the gap under the bedroom door with orange glow. Easter’s fast heart slowed as she watched her friend breathing easily. Soubrette never snored, never tossed and turned, never slept with her mouth gaping open. Black on the white pillow, her long hair spilled loose and curly.

“Angels?” Easter whispered. “Can you make my hair like Soubrette’s?” This time the angels whispered, Give us the licklest taste of her blood, and all Sunday long tomorrow your hair will be so nice. See that hatpin? Just stick Soubrette in the hand with it, and not even too deep. Prettiest curls anybody ever saw. Easter only sighed. It was out of the question, of course. The angels sometimes asked for the most shocking crimes as if they were nothing at all. “Never mind,” she said, and lay down to sleep.

 

While true that such profoundly sustaining traditions, hidden under the guise of the imposed religion, managed to survive centuries of slavery and subjugation, we should not therefore suppose that ancient African beliefs suffered no sea changes. Of course they did. ‘The Devil’ in Africa had been capricious, a trickster, and if cruel, only insomuch as bored young children, amoral and at loose ends, may be cruel: seeking merely to provoke an interesting event at any cost, to cause some disruption of the tedious status quo. For the Devil in America, however, malice itself was the end, and temptation a means only to destroy. Here, the Devil would pursue the righteous and the wicked, alike and implacably, to their everlasting doom…

White Devils/Black Devils, Luisa Valéria da Silva y Rodríguez

 

1871 August 2

The end begins after Providence loses all wiggle room, and the outcome becomes hopeless and fixed. That moment had already happened, Ma’am would have said. It had happened long before either one of them were born. Ma’am would have assured Easter that the end began way back in slavery times, and far across the ocean, when that great-grandfather got snatched from his home and the old wisdom was lost.

Easter knew better, though. A chance for grace and new wisdom had always persisted, and doom never been assured . . . right up until, six years old, Easter did what she did one August day out in the tobacco fields.

On that morning of bright skies, Pa headed out to pick more leaves and Easter wanted to come along. He said, Let’s ask your mama.

“But he said, Wilbur.” Ma’am looked surprised. “He told us, You ain’t to take the baby out there, no time, no way.”

Pa hefted Easter up in his arms, and kissed her cheek, saying, “Well, it’s going on three years now since he ain’t been here to say Bet not or say Yep, go ’head. So I wonder how long we suppose to go on doing everything just the way he said, way back when. Forever? And the baby wants to go . . .” Pa set her down and she grabbed a handful of his pants leg and leaned against him. “But, darling, if you say not to, then we won’t. Just that simple.”

Most men hardly paid their wives much mind at all, but Pa would listen to any little thing Ma’am said. She, though, hated to tell a man what he could and couldn’t do—some woman just snapping her fingers, and the man running lickety-split here and there. Ma’am said that wasn’t right. So she crossed her arms and hugged herself, frowning unhappily. “Well . ..” Ma’am said. “Can you just wait a hot minute there with the mule, Wilbur? Let me say something to the baby.” Ma’am unfolded her arms and reached out a hand. “Come here, girl.”

Easter came up the porch steps and took the hand—swept along in Ma’am’s powerful grip, through the open door, into the house. “Set.” Ma’am pointed to a chair. Easter climbed and sat down. Ma’am knelt on the floor. They were eye-to-eye. She grasped Easter’s chin and pulled her close. “Tell me, Easter—what you do, if some lady in a red silk dress come trying to talk to you?”

“I shake my head no, Ma’am, and turn my back on her. Then the lady have to go away.”

“That’s right! But what if that strange lady in the red dress say, Want me to open up St. Peter’s door, and show you heaven? What if she say to you, See them birds flying there? Do me one itsy bitsy favor, and you could be in the sky flying too. What then, Easter? Tell me what you do.”

“Same thing, Ma’am.” She knew her mother wasn’t angry with her, but Ma’am’s hot glare—the hard grip on her chin—made tears prick Easter’s eyes. “I turn my back, Ma’am. She have to go, if I just turn my back away.”

“Yes! And will you promise, Easter? Christ is your Savior, will you swear to turn your back, if that lady in the pretty red dress come talking to you?”

Easter swore up and down, and she meant every word too. Ma’am let her go back out to her father, and he set her up on the mule. They went round the house and down the other way, on the trail through woods behind Ma’am’s back garden that led to the tobacco fields. Pa answered every question Easter asked about the work he had to do there.

That woman in the red dress was a sneaky liar. She was ‘that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world . . .’ Warned by Ma’am, Easter guarded night and day against a glimpse of any such person. In her whole life, though, Easter never did see that lady dressed all in red silk. Easter knew nothing about her. She only knew about the angels.

She didn’t see them, either, just felt touches like feathers in the air—two or three angels, rarely more—or heard sounds like birds taking off, a flutter of wings. The angels spoke to her, once in a while, in whispering soft harmony. They never said anything bad, just helpful little things. Watch out, Easter—gon’ rain cats and dogs once that cloud there starts looking purplish. Your folks sure would appreciate a little while by theyself in the house. Why not be nice? Ma’am’s worried sick about Pa over in Greenville, with those white folks, so you’d do best to keep your voice down, and tiptoe extra quiet, else you ’bout to get slapped into tomorrow. And, Easter, don’t tell nobody, all right? Let’s us just be secret friends.

All right, Easter said. The angels were nice, anyway, and it felt good keeping them to herself, having a secret. No need to tell anybody. Or just Brother, when he came out the woods to play with her in the front yard, or when Ma’am let her go walking in the deep woods with him. But in those days Brother used to wander far and wide, and was gone from home far more often than he was around.

The tobacco fields were full of angels.

Ever run, some time, straight through a flock of grounded birds, and ten thousand wings just rushed up flapping into the air all around you? In the tobacco fields it was like that. And every angel there stayed busy, so the tobacco leaves grew huge and whole, untroubled by flea-beetles or cutworms, weeds or weather. But the angels didn’t do all the work.

Pa and a friend of his from St. Louis days, Señor, dug up the whole south field every spring, mounding up little knee-high hills all over it. Then they had to transplant each and every little tabacky plant from the flat dirt in the north field to a hill down south. It was back-breaking work, all May long, from sunup to sundown. Afterwards, Pa and Señor had only small jobs, until now—time to cut the leaves, hang and cure them in the barn. Señor had taught Pa everything there was to know about choosing which leaf when, and how to roll the excellent criollito tabacky into the world’s best cigars. What they got out of one field sold plenty well enough to white folks over in Greenville to keep two families in good clothes, ample food, and some comforts.

A grandfather oaktree grew between the fields, south and north. Pa agreed with Easter. “That big ole thing is in the way, ain’t it? But your brother always used to say, Don’t you never, never cut down that treeWilbur. And it do make a nice shady spot to rest, anyway. Why don’t you go set over there for a while, baby child?”

Easter knew Pa thought she must be worn out and sorry she’d come, just watching him stoop for leaves, whack them off the plant with his knife, and lay them out in the sun. But Easter loved watching him work, loved to follow and listen to him wisely going on about why this, why that.

Pa, though, put a hand on her back and kind of scootched her on her way over toward the tree, so Easter went. Pa and Señor began to chant some work song in Spanish. Iyá oñió oñí abbé . . .

Once in the oaktree’s deep shade, there was a fascinating discovery round the north side of the big trunk. Not to see, or to touch—or know in any way Easter had a name for—but she could feel the exact shape of what hovered in the air. And this whirligig thing’um, right here, was exactly what kept all the angels hereabouts leashed, year after year, to chase away pests, bring up water from deep underground when too little rain fell, or dry the extra drops in thin air when it rained too much. And she could tell somebody had jiggered this thing together who hardly knew what they were doing. It wasn’t but a blown breath or rough touch from being knocked down.

Seeing how rickety the little angel-engine was, Easter wondered if she couldn’t do better. Pa and Señor did work awful hard every May shoveling dirt to make those hills, and now in August they had to come every day to cut whichever leaves had grown big enough. Seemed like the angels could just do everything . . .

“You all right over there, baby girl?” Pa called. Dripping sweat in the glare, he wiped a sleeve across his brow. “Need me to take you back to the house?”

“I’m all right,” Easter shouted back. “I want to stay, Pa!” She waved, and he stooped down again, cutting leaves. See there? Working so hard! She could help if she just knocked this rickety old thing down, and put it back together better. Right on the point of doing so, she got one sharp pinch from her conscience.

Every time Easter got ready to do something bad there was a moment beforehand when a little bitty voice—one lonely angel, maybe—would whisper to her. Aw, Easter. You know good and well you shouldn’t. Nearly always she listened to this voice. After today and much too late, she always would.

But sometimes you just do bad, anyhow.

Easter picked a scab off her knee and one fat drop welled from the pale tender scar underneath. She dabbed a finger in it, and touched the bloody tip to the ground.

The angel-engine fell to pieces. Screaming and wild, the angels scattered every which way. Easter called and begged, but she could no more get the angels back in order than she could have grabbed hold of a mighty river’s gush.

And the tobacco field . . . !

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