Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Johnny Knockers (by Stefan Bachmann)

The Misselkree was nineteen days at sea when Johnny Knockers came aboard. 

The crew had just dragged up the little black whale, had sliced it open head to fluke, and then there he was, lying among the red, red ropes and glistening offal of the creature's belly.

He was little more than bones. His skin had been bleached white by the stomach liquids, and all his hair had fallen out. He lay still as could be, staring up through the bloody cleft. Every few seconds he breathed, a quick, shallow breath.

Hooks and paring blades clattered to the deck. The whalers jerked back, growling into their beards, wiping the blood off on their rough woolen sweaters.

“He's been swallowed,” one of them hissed. “Swallowed alive, like in 'em old stories.”

“Is he breathing? Oh, crikey, he's breathing. . .”

“Let's throw 'im back,” Eli, the cabin boy, suggested, but they were a thousand leagues from the nearest lighthouse, a hundred fathoms above the nearest ship. It would have been murder. Murder was unlucky.

So they kept him.

He had forgotten how to walk, but they lifted him from the whale's carcass and brought him below-deck. He was slippery as a fish, all knobby, slimy elbows and legs.

They propped him up by the iron cook-stove and fed him broth with arsenic and whiskey. At first the broth dribbled down his chin. Then he swallowed, and all the sailors that had gathered around him let up a shout.

They tried to teach him how to stand and how to speak. They asked him tricky questions to see if he might be a whaler like them. None of it worked.

“Well, we suppose we'll call you Johnny Knockers,” they said. “Because those knees knocks like a drum.” And then they all laughed.

That night, the clouds heaped against a stiff wind. Below deck, an air of anticipation had settled below-deck. Was Johnny Knockers a gift from the sea? Or a curse. . . They went to their bunks and left him, slouched on a bucket next to the cold stove.


Whaling was good the next day. The water chopped, deep and dark, and a fat whale was caught in the first hour of the watch, which was a rare thing and a lucky one. The men rolled up their chains and stowed the harpoons, and even the look-out was allowed to come in and sit the rest of the day out of the wind. Everyone was given an extra beaker of ale. Everyone except Eli. He was barely fourteen, and not a proper whaler, and so he was given the job of feeding Johnny Knockers.

Eli went over to the stove, scowling. He sat down on a bucket next to Johnny Knockers and began shoveling stew into the pale man's mouth so hard that the spoon clanked against his teeth. Johnny Knockers didn't protest, but he looked very sad. 

Eli stopped. He was such a piteous looking thing, Johnny Knockers was, so bony and haunted-looking.

Eli spooned slower. “All right,” he said, “I didn't mean it about throwing you back, yeh? We was afraid is all. You're a right frightening chap to look at.”

Johnny Knockers said nothing. But every time he swallowed, his throat clicked like a bird's, like there was a marble in his gullet.

Eli spooned the broth in silence. Then he said, “I don't suppose you'd tell where you came from? Where your home's at? D'you even remember?”

The whalers had tried to find out the first day. They had searched his garment (a shred of bleached cloth, stiff with salt) but all they had found was a long tooth on a leather cord, hanging around his neck, and black scribbles on one arm in some foreign writing. “What language is that?” they had asked, but he hadn't told them.

And he did not tell Eli. He did not look up. His pale blue eyes were fixed on the floor-planks, worn smooth and glimmering.

Eli listened to the whalers, merry in loud in the next room.

“I'm from Suffolk,” Eli said. “Suffolk by the Sea.”

Spoon, swallow, spoon, swallow.

“Have you been there? Don't worry if you haven't. It's a gloomy place. A nasty place, right up next to the water. Not as bad as this, though.”

Eli felt that Johnny Knockers agreed with him.


That night, a storm struck––a vicious, screaming storm, all lightning and waves and a white wind that rushed in the sails. A rope snapped. A barrel of whale blubber was lost, a part of a harpoon station went into the sea. But the men were fresh off the victory of the morning's catch, and so it was shrugged off as nothing.


Eli got the job of feeding Johnny Knockers again the next day. He grumbled in front of the whalers, which confused the cook, because that morning Eli had waited for everyone to leave and had begged him for the job.

Eli took the bowl of stew from the brig and sat down by Johnny Knockers.

Again he spooned for a while in silence. Then he said stoutly, “I'm not always going to be a whaler. In fact, not sure I like it much. Hauling all day, cutting and slicing, and shoveling. It's right horrid.” Then, with a furtive glance through into the dank brig, he said, “One day I want to be a shoemaker.”

Johnny Knockers said nothing, and Eli didn't mind. “I'm going back to Suffolk when I'm older and have got enough money. There's a girl there named Lizzie. I gave Liz a tin of taffy before I went, three years ago, and she gave me a ribbon.” His fingers unlooped a slip of cloth from one of his buttonholes. The weather had faded the blue to gray.

“What, d'you think o' that, Johnny Knockers? Sound like a plan? Sound like a good thing?”

Eli would have gone on, but then feet hammered the deck above. Shouts split the air. “Well, back to work,” he said, and left the remainder of the stew next to Johnny Knockers' feet. Eli did not see, but Johnny's eyes moved a bit as he turned to go, just a flick, and it made a sound inside his skull like a fingernail snagging.


Whaling had never been better, but no one spoke that night as they clambered into their bunks. Rations were going bad. Only twenty-four days at sea, and already food was spoiling.

That morning, a great big beast had been spotted going north, and all the whalers wanted the Misselkree to press on, despite there being nothing but rancid stew and tack to eat, and no fresh anything. They were becoming grumbly and lead-footed. The cook had found spiny crabs like spiders swarming the larder. But the whaling was so good, and so the whalers were convinced they were still on a streak of luck.

Still, they weren't sure of Johnny Knockers, and since no one would go near the bony figure by the stove, Eli had to feed him permanently. Which was all right with Eli.

He liked talking he had noticed. He liked telling someone things, whether he got any answer or not. In fact, it was almost better not getting answers. 

And so Eli talked. Even after the cook had gone to his hammock and the whalers were snoring in their bunks Eli murmured to Johnny Knockers in the dark, told him of Lizzie and how she was very poor and so was Eli, and how neither of them minded. He told of the house on the heath that he wanted to buy in a year or ten. Just a short jaunt from the town, Eli said, a short jaunt that a buggy and an old horse could manage nicely. And no more of the sea. No more fear of drowning, black waters creeping over pale faces, filling your nose, your lungs. You didn't drown on a dirt road. You didn't drown in a buggy.


The crabs had begun snapping at the men's toes as they slept. Barnacles were found on the inside of barrels, which was unheard of. But whales continued to be bountiful. They came steadily, one a day, at least, and they were becoming ever larger. Soon the Misselkree would be too full. It was a large whaler, and they had room for many barrels of blubber, but there was only so much space, only so many barrels.

“Perhaps it's him,” Crickets said one night to the other whalers, as he scraped a strange green fungus of his tack. “Johnny Knockers. Perhaps he's like a lure to them. To the whales.”

No one agreed at first, but slowly they came to realize: Johnny Knockers was very good luck indeed and whatever was happening around them had to be due to unfortunate weather and bad planning and a no-good blarsted tack-and-flour merchant back in Liverpool. Because yes, indeed, whaling had never been this good, whales never so foolish. And Johnny Knockers was a lure.

So they made him into one.

At the crack of dawn they took him from his place by the stove and dragged him onto the deck. A coil of rope was brought.

“Stop!” Eli yelled, when he saw what they were doing, but the whalers pushed him back. 

“Shut yer trap, boy. It's more blubber in the barrel, for you too.”

“I don't want any blubber, stop it!” he screamed, but they only clouted him and shoved him away from Johnny Knockers. Then they tied Johnny to the mast, tight so that he wouldn't flop about.

A whale came very soon. Its tale slid up out of the water. Then its head dipped up, very close to the ship. Johnny Knockers saw it. His eyes took on a sickly, desperate glaze. He began to strain, pushing against the ropes.

“Stop!” Eli cried again, but no one listened.

The whale approached. The pale man began to make croaking sounds, louder and louder, and then the first harpoon struck the whale in the water and the shriek that came from Johnny's throat was so ghastly that the sailors very nearly lost their grip on the whale. The beast began to struggle, suddenly, where before it had been calm. It thrashed and Johnny Knockers's did, too, his voice screeching up and up. The harpoons rained over the edge of the ship. For an instant the water was stained red.

When the whale was at last dead and they were scooping the pearly fat from under its ink-blue skin, Johnny Knockers stopped screaming. He went limp again. They dragged him below-deck, and Eli sat next to him, trying to feed him, because it was the only thing he knew to do, but Johnny didn't eat. He sat staring out into nothing, and Eli felt sure his eyes were full of hate.

The whalers went to their bunks, but not Eli. He stayed with Johnny.

The hours crept past. Eli began to doze. And then a hand crept forward and gripped Eli's arm. Johnny had not been in the water for days, but somehow his skin was still wet, slippery, as if the water were inside him, seeping out of his pores. The grip was so hard. Johnny's eyes were wide.

The cook woke at one point to empty the chamber pot and saw them silhouetted by the stove, the boy and the bone-thin Johnny Knockers. Later, when asked, he couldn't for the life of him remember later if it had been Eli whispering. . . or Johnny Knockers.

It was middle of the day, bright as a bell, when Eli came up on deck and wrapped his arms in chains and plunged into the sea. He sank like a stone before anyone could reach him, before anyone could even shout.
The whalers held a burial-at-sea. Ashes to ashes, brine to brine. The captain mumbled from the ship's damp and battered Bible. They had to shorten it a bit because a humpback had been sighted, so close by, floating calm as you like toward the Misselkree.


The hold was filled to bursting, barrel upon barrel of blubber, but there was still one corner left. One last corner with space for a few more barrels. The food was rotting, the men were sick, but it would only take one more whale.

They tied Johnny Knockers to the mast again, to speed things up. One last whale and they would turn keel to the sun and return home. Back to port, and ale-houses, and enough money to live at least until Christmas for those who drank, fairly well until June for those who didn't. The Misselkree's hold was very, very full indeed.

That day, a tiny whale came. Johnny Knockers did not thrash or scream this time. He looked at the whale, though. And just before it came within range of the men's harpoons, it turned and folded back into the ocean. The men cursed and shouted after it. They had been looking forward to the journey back. They dragged Johnny Knockers below and threw him to the floor.

A whale came not too long afterward. They killed it and filled their last barrels. They felt very pleased with themselves, very pleased as they vomited over the side of the ship.

That night, a whaler named Smithy died of dysentery. Several others were too sick even to move. But they were headed home now, headed to port and a year of comfort.

“What an expedition,” said Crickets. “What a lucky expedition.” And everyone agreed.


The whales came in the night. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, surrounding the ship. The night was black, the air still and cold, and the men barely stirred as the waves from the whale's fins began to pummel the ship. It started gently, became stronger. Then the whales struck, head-first on all sides of the ship, like hammers. Leaks sprang. A porthole burst, splashing Crickets in the face.

The men staggered from their bunks with weak shouts. They hobbled on deck in their nightclothes, lanterns swinging, tiny fireflies in a great black ocean. The whales struck again, again. The hull buckled. Men were thrown from their feet. And then the Misselkree split, right down the middle, with a deafening crack. She sank quickly––ten seconds and then she was gone––and all the little fireflies winked out.

But just before the last of it slipped under the waves, Johnny Knockers stepped off into the gurgling water. He did not sink. He did not swim. A whale's head rose up, a black monolith, blacker than the night. A deep, hollow sound echoed out of its belly. The whale opened its mouth and Johnny Knockers flopped in, curling into the dark and the red like a child into a womb.


Far away, a boy struggled up a rocky shore, dragging himself over the stones. He was paler than he had been, just bones. His hair was not as thick as a fortnight ago, and his eyes were somewhat sunken. A ribbon was looped through his buttonhole. Only the faintest threads showed that it had been blue once.

But he would live, years yet, forty, fifty, and he would find roads and travel them, to Lizzie and shoe-shops and houses on heaths.

Not the men on the Misselkree. They lay at the bottom of the sea in a boat full of blubber, and not all the luck in the world could have saved them. 

Neither had the whales.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Tin Man's Price (by Claire Legrand)


Mama always says we should never hurt each other but Mama don’t know nothin.
            She don’t know about all the marks on my chest.
            She don’t know what Edie and I get up to in the attic these days.
            She knows things are goin real swell for us all of a sudden but she don’t know why.
            I think Pa knows, but he won’t tell.
            I think it happened to Pa too.


Edie’s always wakin me up in the middle of the night. We’ve always been opposite of the other. Like Edie don’t sleep much and I can sleep through the end of the world, that’s what Mama says. And Edie eats enough for ten people and I eat like a bird. We’re opposites, Edie and me. Miss Vickers at school says sometimes that happens with twins. One of you’s this way and the other’s that-a-way, and together you make up one person.
            I like Edie but I don’t like us being twins. It’s like we were supposed to be one person but we got split up inside Mama and now we’re two people. It’s almost like one of us shouldn’t be alive. Like one of us is a mistake.
            So Edie wakes me up in the middle of the night and instead of goin out on the roof to play cards like usual, she says, Someone’s here, Tom. I know someone’s here.
Someone’s where? I say.
In the attic, she says.
How do you know?
I just got this feelin.
Edie’s always getting feelins. Sometimes I think her feelins are real and sometimes I think she’s lyin just cause she gets bored and thinks our town’s dull as mud.
            How do you know someone’s there, Edie?
I just know, why you gotta be such an idiot?
Well I wish I wasn’t an idiot but everyone says I am so I shut up.
            We go up to the attic. Pa keeps his old books up here, about geography and outer space and Egypt pyramids and irrigation. Sometimes Edie and me like to sit in the window and look through all these books. They’re hard but we read em anyway. We like to do somethin that Pa likes to do. We like to impress Pa. Pa don’t say much, and Mama says thank god almighty for that, why’d you want a chatterbox around anyway?
            There ain’t no one up here Edie, I say, cause there ain’t. Just dust and boxes and old clothes and Pa’s books. Why you always playin tricks?
            It ain’t no trick, says Edie. Her face looks stubborn, like Mama when she’s on a tear.
I know I heard something, she says. I felt it.
            Cause I know Edie won’t shut up about this till we do it, I say, Okay let’s look around then, and we do. Through the dust and boxes and old clothes. Out the window and on the roof. Under the loose floorboard where we hide our best stuff. Nothin. Nobody.
            I’m goin back to bed you scaredy-cat, I say.
            Wait, says Edie.
She’s by the chest full of our old toys, the ones we’re too big for now. She pulls out a tall round tin covered with pictures and letters I can’t read cause they’re old and scratchy. It looks like the kinda thing you might could keep candy in.
            I ain’t never seen this tin before. It ain’t one of our toys.
            It must be heavy, cause Edie drops it and it hits her toe.
Ow, she says.
Then we heard it:
            What’re you children doing up here.
            What’re you children doing up here.
            Why’d you wake me up.
            Why’d you touch me.
            Don’t touch me.
            DON’T TOUCH ME.
            We should run I guess but we’re too scared, so we just stand there starin at the tin. It’s shakin on the floor. It’s spinnin faster and faster. Then the lid pops off.
            It stinks at first.
            Then it smells good.
            I don’t know what’s comin out of that tin, but it’s dark and it’s slimy like tar and it’s silky and slow like molasses. It looks kinda like a person but kinda not.
            I don’t like it.
            Hello, it says, and I guess it’s smilin but it’s hard to tell cause its face is made up of globs and cracks. I apologize for yelling, it says, but you startled me you see.
            Who are you? Edie says. I wanna slap her for bein so stupid. We should be runnin, Miss Smarty Pants, not talkin to it. And they say I’m the dumb one.
            I have many names, it says. But you can call me Luck. Because that’s what I’m going to give you.
            Good luck or bad luck? I say.
            It looks at me. It blinks real slow. When it smiles, I feel sick to my stomach.
            Good luck of course, it says.
            Edie crosses her arms. Oh she thinks she’s so smart. She’s tryin to be like Pa.
How much? she says. We don’t got a lot of money here if that’s what you want.
            I have no need for money, Luck says. All you have to do is follow my instructions. It’s quite simple.
            What do you want us to do?
Luck blinks at Edie. It smacks its lips.
            I want you to hurt your brother, it says.
            Edie looks at me, at Luck, and back again.
            What? I say. That’s nuts. Edie let’s get out of here.
            How much do I have to hurt him? Edie says. And what’ll you give me for it?
            We’ll start out small, says Luck. A little hurt for a little luck.
            Edie’s thinkin fast. I see that look on her face. I got a math test tomorrow, she says. And I ain’t studied.
            Luck smiles real big. A slap will do for that I think, he says.
            Edie’s eyes light up. Hang on, I say. But Edie’s fast. She runs over and slaps me across my face. It hurts. I get mad and smack her right back, and it knocks her to the floor.
            Oh, Luck says. Oh oh oh.
Then Luck shakes, and then it’s not so slimy anymore. Like it figured out how to stand up straight. Now it looks more like a hole, just a hole in the attic where there should be wood and dust and boxes and now there’s nothing there instead, just a dark spot that almost looks like a person if you squint real hard.
            That’s good, Luck says. Thank you, darling ones. Now go to bed and when you wake up tomorrow you’ll feel so much better than you did today.
            I’ll pass my math test? says Edie. You promised I would.
            You’ll make a perfect score, says Luck.
            Then Edie says, And what about Tom? He hurt me, so he should get something too.
            How clever of you, sweet girl, says Luck. Then it looks at me. What do you want, Tommy Tom Tom?
            I don’t feel right. This don’t feel right. Edie’s got a red spot on her cheek. My cheek smarts where her hand hit it.
            But I got a math test too. And I need even more help than Edie does.
            Idiot Tom. Edie the smart one.
            Same here, I say. Math test. I want a perfect score.
            Luck smiles. Its mouth drips. Then you shall have it.


Our teachers don’t believe us both gettin perfect scores. Especially not me. They think we cheated so they’re makin me do my work on the board in front of everyone. And it’s like my hand isn’t my hand and my brain isn’t my brain, and soon there’s perfect algebra problems written all over that board. I didn’t have to erase once.
            At home Edie and I show our tests to Mama and she says she’s so glad we finally started studyin like we should now if only we could peel potatoes faster, that’d be nice.
We show em to Pa too once he gets in from the fields.
            He looks at us real strange.
            How wonderful, he says.
            We run upstairs before he says anything more. It’s like he knows, and I don’t want him to know. I got this feelin he’d make Luck leave if he found out.
            I don’t want Luck to leave.       
            I like having Luck around.
            I like it even though that night after Mama and Pa go to bed me and Edie go to the attic and pound on each other while Luck watches. Even though it leaves bruises all over Edie’s arms and all over my chest. Even though it hurts so much I almost pass out and Edie starts to cry.
            We don’t stop. We’d do anything for Luck. We go for hours. We pound and bruise and slam and cut. It hurts it hurts but we don’t stop.
            Very good, Luck says. It’s not as scary-lookin tonight. It looks more like a shadow than a blob or a hole. And shadows ain’t scary, they’re just places where the light don’t reach.
            Luck runs its hands through our hair. It makes me feel even sicker but I don’t complain. I got a baseball game on Friday and I wanna win. Make a double play. Hit a grand slam. Not sit on the bench the whole time for once. And Edie, she’s got a softball game, and she wants a grand slam too. Stupid Edie, always wantin to be the same as me. Just cause we’re twins don’t mean we gotta be the same all the time.
            I wanna hurt her again.
            Hurt and ye shall receive, says Luck. It’s laughin so I guess somethin’s funny but I don’t know what it is.


One day Luck gets tired of watching us.
            I want more, he says. I’m bored of you.
            We could go into town, Edie says. She’s cryin because I think I just broke her toe, but she won’t say nothin and neither will I. We won both our games this weekend. We’re gettin good grades for once. Amelia Simmons bought me a milkshake at lunch. Everybody’s lookin at us different, like we mean somethin. Like we ain’t just Tom and Edie those twins who live out on Hillside Farm, no sir. We’re Tom who gets hundreds on tests and Edie who hits grand slams.
            Town, Luck says. He looks happy to hear that. He moves his head funny like a bird. And I’ve started callin him a he because he looks more like a man now. He’s still dark and fuzzy around the edges and sometimes when he blinks that tar drips out his eyelid but he’s mostly a man. He has a tall hat on and he’s skinnier even than me.
            I should very much like to go to Town, Luck says.
            So we take him.
            And the first person we see, Luck points and says, That one. Hurt that one.
            We look. It’s a girl from the junior high school walkin her dog. I’ve seen her before but I don’t know her name.
            Edie frowns. But it’s the middle of the day, she says. We can’t just go up and start punchin her. Someone’ll see.
            Luck says, Not if we wait until she’s somewhere hidden.
            I don’t like this, I say.
            Oh. Oh no.
I didn’t mean to.
            It just came out.
            Luck, don’ be angry. Don’t be angry, Luck.
            I didn’t mean it.
            Luck looks at me long and hard. Edie looks at me even longer and harder.
            Don’t ruin this for me you idiot, Edie says. Don’t make him mad. We need him.
            I’m sorry, Luck, I say. I’ll do it. We’ll do it.
            You had better, says Luck. Or I’ll go somewhere else where my gifts are appreciated and then where you will be?
            You’ll be back in the rotten no-good place you came from, Edie says to me. You’ll go back to stupid bad-grades on-the-bench idiot Tom. Livin on a farm. Goin nowhere. Is that what you want? Is that you want for us Tom?
            Tom, Luck says real soft. Tommy Tom Tom.
            No, I say. That’s not what I want.
            So we follow the junior high girl through town and all the way to Thistledown Road, where it’s quiet and the grass is high on either side.
            We chase her down. She starts screamin and we run even faster. She sets her dog on us and we dodge and the dog runs right into Luck’s open arms and I don’t see what happens to the dog after that.
            I don’t want to either.
            We’re runnin faster than we’ve ever run before.
            Isn’t this great Tom? Edie says. She’s laughin her head off. We’re almost flyin, she says. We’re like superheroes.
            Ain’t nothin hero about it. Luck is right on our heels. I think Luck’s helpin us run this fast, tell the truth.
            It ain’t a good fast.
            It’s like runnin from somethin in a bad dream.
            I guess it’s like what the junior high girl feels with us gettin closer and closer. We reach for her arms. We grab em. We pull hard.
            It ain’t her fault she can’t outrun us. She don’t have Luck on her side.


We get home and eat dinner and go upstairs without sayin a word to nobody. Mama don’t notice cause she ran into Mrs. Jackson at the supermarket and there’s a whole scandal about Mrs. Jackson’s son runnin off to the city or somesuch and Mama’s happy as a clam about it. Finally somethin’s happenin, she says, in this dull as mud town.
            Pa watches me and Edie from across the table.
            I don’t like him lookin at me.
            It’s like he knows.
            It’s like he saw us hit that girl. Just the one time is all it took for Luck to shiver and shake and roll around on the ground like he got an electric shock. When he stood back up I could see his eyes real clear for the first time. They were dark and didn’t have no white around em.
            I don’t like Luck’s eyes.
            Edie stood there twistin her hands. Oh golly Luck, she said, we shouldn’t’a done that. We shouldn’t’a hurt that girl. She’ll tell on us.
            She didn’t see you, said Luck. He smoothed down his coat. He dusted off his tall hat. He kicked dirt off his boots. All she saw, he said, was her fear.
            Then he took our hands and led us home.
            And now we’re sittin here across from Pa tryin to choke down cornbread and I swear he knows what we’ve done.
            I almost say somethin. I can’t help it. This ain’t right.
            It ain’t right it ain’t right.
            IT AIN’T RIGHT IT AIN’T—
            Edie kicks me under the table.
            Stupid Tom. Stupid idiot Tom.
            I shut up. I don’t say nothin.
            I ain’t stupid idiot Tom with the smart sister no more. Not with Luck around.
            So I don’t act like it.


At first when I wake up that night I think it’s Edie comin to get me cause Luck said when he brought us home before dinner, he said, Darling children I want you to come up and see me tonight.
            But we just hurt that girl for you, I said. Ain’t that enough for today?    
            Luck touched my arm. He squeezed tight till I couldn’t breathe.
            It’s never enough, he said.
            But it ain’t Edie wakin me up. It’s Pa.
            Hurry, he says. Follow me.
            Where’re we goin?
            To the attic.
            I stop cold. Why?
            Cause I know what’s goin on and it’s gonna stop tonight.
            Pa, ain’t nothin—
            I ain’t an idiot Tom and you ain’t either.
            But I am an idiot, I say. Ain’t no use lyin. I ain’t a good liar. Edie’s the one who’s good at lyin.
            I need Luck, I say. We’re at the attic door. Pa’s holdin the cross from above the supper table like a gun.
            I ain’t no good without him, I say.
            I’m cryin.
            No you got that wrong, Pa says. He leans down so I can see him. His face got criss-crossed lines all over it. He looks tired but his eyes don’t.
            You’re a good boy, Pa says. He holds me tight.
            Where’s Edie?
            She ain’t comin with us.
            Cause she ain’t strong enough. Ain’t her fault. You could’a been the weak one just as easy.
            I’m the mistake twin, I say. I’m still cryin cause that’s what idiots do. I shouldn’t be alive.
            That’s right, says a voice.
            It’s Luck.
            You shouldn’t be alive, he says.
            The attic door flies open.
            Pa holds out his cross in front of us. He’s got it in one hand and me in the other. He rushes into the attic.
            Somethin’s screamin:
            You again.
            You you you.
            Not again.
            Get that away from me.
            GET IT AWAY.
            PUT IT DOWN.
            No, Pa says. I ain’t puttin it down.
            He grabs that heavy tin Edie dropped, the one Luck lived inside. It’s so heavy Pa can barely lift it. Maybe with two hands he could lift it but he can’t let go of that cross. I know that without even askin.
            Tom, he says, help me get it outside.
            So much screamin and so much wind. Books and clothes and boxes flyin all over the attic. There’s a kind of dark in here so thick it’s like drinkin cement.
            But we lift it together, me and Pa, and we get it outside.
            Luck follows us, and there’s dirt flyin in our eyes and the ground’s shakin under our feet but if I look out into the fields it’s calm like springtime. It’s a good thing we didn’t stay in the attic. We might’ve brought the whole house down.
            I guess Pa knows that.
            How’d you know Pa? I say. How’d you know what we done?
            It happened to me too. He has to shout it cause Luck is screamin nasty words so loud I cain’t hardly think.
            When? I say.
            When I was a boy. Luck found me too.
            You should’a gotten rid of it, I say. So me and Edie couldn’t find it. This tin, we found it with our toys.
            That’s the thing, Pa says.
            He looks at me.
            I did get rid of it, Tom.
            TOM. TOM. TOMMY TOM TOM.
            Don’t listen, Pa says, real calm. We’re by the creek now. He’s got the tin in one hand and the cross in the other and he’s tryin to bring em together like magnets that just won’t go. There’s sweat on his forehead and his muscles are big like mine’ll never be, I just know it.
            YOU’RE RIGHT TOM, says Luck. He don’t look like a man no more. He’s all kinds of slime and glob. He’s crawlin on the ground. His hat ain’t a hat no more. It’s just a tall tall head. YOU’LL NEVER BE AS STRONG AS YOUR PA.
            Don’t listen to it, says Pa. He’s sweatin hard. He cain’t hardly breathe. It ain’t nothin but tricks and lies, he says. Luck ain’t real. Luck don’t last.
            DON’T LISTEN TO IT, Luck says. He drips black on my feet. He’s real close now. DON’T LISTEN TO IT.
            Then Pa says, Okay Tom. Okay now.
            And I say to Luck, You got that backwards. And I’m cryin but I just don’t care.
            And Pa slams his hands together, cross to tin.
            And Luck shrinks into a smokin black piece of somethin burnt.
            And flies into the tin.
            And the lid slams closed.


With Luck gone everything’s quiet again. There’s crickets in the grass and a coyote out somewhere by the foothills. And there’s me and Pa starin at the tin on the ground like it’s this thing you don’t want to touch cause if you do it’ll blow you to bits.
What’ll we do with it? I say.
            What’ll we do without it? What’ll we do without Luck? That’s the question I really feel like askin but I know I probably shouldn’t. I think of all the things I done. I wonder if Pa done those things too when he was a boy. I wonder if anybody ever called him idiot or thought he was the dumb one.
            After a while Pa says, We’ll bury it. Far from here. Farther’n’ I did the first time. Deeper too.
            We’re walkin back to the house now, me and Pa. We grab two shovels from the barn.
            Me and Pa.
            Not Edie. Not Mama. And Pa’s lookin at me like I ain’t a boy no more. Real proud, he looks like.
            I bet you didn’t count on that did you Luck? I bet you didn’t see that comin.
            You thought I was nothin without you.
            You was wrong.
            I sling the shovel on my shoulder just like Pa does.
            I liked having Luck around, I say. It was nice.
            I know, he says. I did too.
            What’ll we do without it? What if we never get it again?
            There. I said it. I know it’s shameful but I said it.
            Well, he says. Well. Then he says, We’ll go to sleep.
We’ll wake up in the mornin, he says.
And then we’ll get back to work.