Every July Dad would put me on the Greyhound, wave a hearty goodbye,
and shout, Housell be hollow without you! Then Id clamber
up on the seat to hoist my bag onto the rack and listen as he
pounded the horn in his rusty old pick-up. This year that parting
call sounded more forlorn than ever. To my early-adolescent mind,
Dad was becoming increasingly odd and worryingly isolated. Lately,
Id woken at night to hear him talking to Mom. The next day he
would confess to me how much he still missed her.
But, for the next month, I could put all that behind me. I was
off, a hundred miles to the west, to Granddads farm; an Illinois
retreat for me and my cousins Ray, Suzie and little Sam. It would
be a time of picnics and perfect sunshine, of bicycles in the
dust and splashing in the cool river.
As the bus moved out of the city, exchanging the squalor of the
slums for the lawns and colonnades of the suburban estates, my
thoughts were already racing ahead along the road. This holiday
would be so much more memorable.
This year... I told myself. This year I aim to catch me a Hay
* * *
Granddad met me at the bus stop. He sheltered from the afternoon
sun under Grans yellow parasolI no longer questioned whether
this was eccentricity or bravado. He ruffled my hair, picked up
my bag, and led me towards his battered red Buick. The pipe never
left his lips and neither did he light it. As agreed, not a word
passed between us until we were safely in the car. The fields have ears, Granddad would say.
The engine coughed to life and the fan began to squeal in a hopeless
attempt to suck coolness out of the overheated air. Granddad turned
the radio on. Dean Martin...too loud and too slick. I wiped sweat
from my eyebrows.
Can I put the window down, Grandpa?
He took the pipe and slipped it into the breast pocket of his
shirt. A scorch mark revealed that hed got that wrong on at least
one occasion. But my Granddad was a hero; he understood what mattered
to us, what made us tick. I knew he had a special empathy with
children, and my plan for this summer was in no way intended as
a put down. No, it was more a celebration. This summer we would
show him that wed finally grown up, and left behind our childhood
They may be shy in the sun, Johnny... Dont want to be seen.
But they sure like listening. He tapped the glass with a knuckle.
So lets save the window till we get moving.
Are there many about today? I gazed out at a world of grassa
yellow ocean with only an occasional haystack for an island. They
certainly keep their heads down.
Like Ive told you, they listen. He twisted around in his seat.
His teeth were a white blaze against his tanned, grey-whiskered
face. That beard was new and untidy, as though hed only recently
thrown away his razor. Let me see you properly.
Too much attention made me squirm. Im still not shaving.
Lord...look at you. Id swear youve put six inches on those
legs. Another year and youll be taller than your Mom.
Id been told my Mom had been a tall woman. I only remembered
her as being warm and essential, and one day suddenly not there.
With an abruptness that slapped the back of my head into the hot
leather, we were off down the track. The farm was only ten minutes
to the north. A cloud of tan dust drifted across the parched fields
as we passed.
* * *
Ray, Suzie and Sam had arrived at the farm yesterday and were
wedged into the tiny tree house when, in a scatter of chickens,
we pulled into the yard. The kids nearly tumbled down the ladder
in their haste to meet me.
Ray was the fastest. Hi Johnny. See any Devils on the way from
Hi John. Suzie always called me John. I think it made her feel
Little Sam, a boy of enormous height but limited intelligence
for his twelve years, welcomed me with a bear-hug which left my
tennis shoes kicking in the air. Hello Sam, I squeaked. He placed
me down gently.
Ray edged in closer. Did you bring the key? he whispered.
I nodded. I brought a whole bunch.
While Granddad ducked back into the car, I took the keys from
my jacket pocket and rattled them for Ray. I heard the car door
slam and slipped the keys out of sight again.
Okay kids. Inside for some refreshments. Ray, you fetch the lemonade.
Suzie, you cut up some bread. Ive just got to wash this dust
out of my beard. Granddad carried my bag into the house with
Ray and Suzie close in tow.
I looked at Sam, who stood there with inane pleasure on his dry
lips. Then I turned back to the house. The sight of that white
mansion stirred all kinds of memories. Now, however, I could see
the paint was cracked and bleached, like skin that had seen too
many hard years. That upstairs room, with the little dormer window
that allowed only a tight beam of sunlight to crawl across the
carpet, that was where I would sleep. Granddad had told me it
used to be his and Grans room. After Gran died, hed moved into
the room which used to be Moms, at the back of the house, where
the window looked out over the kitchen lean-to and gave a better
view of the chicken shed.
Id realised some years ago that the kitchen roof and the water
butt below provided a negotiable route down to groundfor a man
like Granddad: he might be hoarding the years, but he was still
lithe as a cougar.
I grabbed Sams sleeve. Ive got the key. Remember last year?
We made a plan.
Sams eyes darted fitfully as though chasing a bashful thought.
Well, this year well do it, I said. This is the last year
for the Hay Devils.
Sam lowered himself to his knees. He raised his hand, axe-like,
then chopped it to the ground. Dust billowed. He remembered.
Thats right, I said. Granddads going to learn hes not Orson
Welles...and we dont believe in Martians.
* * *
That evening we all huddled around the log fire. A cool wind had
started up and Granddads present tale of siege by winter snow
made the flames more welcoming still. I watched flickering reflections
on the brass poker handle and was drifting wonderfully when the
clock on the mantlepiece clanged its tinny celebration of the
hour. Granddad was smiling at me with a warmth greater than anything
the fire could offer.
After a supper of home-made crumpets and Granddads special-recipe
chocolate cookies, he entertained us with card tricks and sleight
of hand. The fire crackled; we gasped and laughed. We were enthralled.
Our Granddad was so amazing!
One year he showed us photos from his time in Europe, in the air
force. He displayed scars on his arm from the time hed had to
bail out over marshland, without a parachute.
Another year he set up a tightrope between the oak tree and the
porch and, with a pitchfork for balance and his trousers tucked
into his socks, mimicked Gravelets epic Niagara stunt.
Just last year he produced a bow and arrows and proceeded to give
a demonstration of skill which lacked only splitting an apple
on Sams head.
For so long now hed been an inspiration to me, an example of
strength in the face of calamity. They tell me that when Mom died
he kept Gran from slipping into madness. Then when Gran had followed
five years later, he had carried on with great fortitude. At the
funeral he didnt cry. He was so strong and in control. I admired
that; I thought I understood it.
The following year hed instituted the summer vacation for us
kids and provided us with a wonderland of fun and adventure. Thats
when wed first learned of the Hay Devilsof his experiments in
Peruvian shamanism and of his foolish mistake which had allowed
the creatures to slip through the fracture between their world
and ours. He told us he had sworn never to dabble in magic again.
Tell us about the shaman, I said.
He settled back into his armchair. Again? How many times do you
have to hear it?
Tell us something new. I wanted to test his powers of recall...or
invention. Why did he come to you?
Actually, I went to him. He was passing through. Everyone was
talking. I was curious. He took the pipe from his pocket and
tapped the stem on his nose. Ive told you before.
I glanced at Suzie. She seemed troubled.
That might have satisfied me last year, I said. But Im older
now. I just dont buy it.
Granddad sighed and stared into the flames.
Suzie threw me a glare, but I didnt regret my challenge.
Id heard he could do things, said Granddad. Meddle with life
and death. It was a bad time for me. Id lost my daughter. I had
to know if death was a one-way street.
I leaned forward. You mean he said he could bring back the dead?
He said he knew how...and like the old fool I was, I parted with
a large sum of money.
The room was silent except for the crackling of the logs.
Then Ray said, You mean like...zombies?
Granddad caught my eye and exploded with laughter. After a moment,
I laughed too. The others followed.
He was a mischievous old man, full of childish spirit.
But this evening, as he ushered us up the stairs to bed, this
evening with the wind gathering and the house creaking and the
stars cold and hard through the small-paned windows, I detected
a weariness about him, a resignation to something....
I hesitated at the top of the staircase as he went to the parlour
window and gazed out. He tilted his head, as though he was watching
What is it, Grandpa? I said quietly. I think I surprised him.
Oh, just the wind, Johnny. He returned to the foot of the stairs.
His eyes were oddly animated in the dim electric light. Dont
you worry yourself. By the time the Devils come rummaging, youll
be well asleep.
And then I felt better. He was still playing the game; or so I
figured it. He was a master at this kind of thing.
Years ago he had explained how the Hay Devils would skulk around
the farm buildings at night, to root out the detrius from the
human day. They collected, they hoarded, and for what? No-one
knew, and no-one had ever seen them. Once, Id asked him if they
were dangerous and his tardy reply had been a silent shake of
his head. Hed seemed unsure of his own story and Id rummaged
for another question to unbalance him. But a dry finger had pressed
to my lips. Fear is the danger, he had said.
Now I went to bed, comforted by this return to tradition. I needed
a good nights sleep. Tomorrow night I had other things to do.
* * *
The next day was a Sunday and, as always, Granddad trooped us
off to church, which was odd for me as Dad had stopped attending
and abandoned praying eight months back. Granddad had insisted
I wash and brush up. My gums still throbbed from the toothbrush
and my sandy hair had never been so neat, brushed back behind
my ears and flattened down with a touch of oil.
On the way home, Granddad drove with one arm resting in the open
window and sang hymns. Ray was happy to join in, while Suzie scribbled
in a notebook; she wanted to be a poet. I stared out of the window,
hoping to catch a glimpse of significant movement in the fields,
but there was only the gentle swaying of grass.
Sam and Ray were bundled into the back seat with me, while Suzie
got the comfort of the front seat. I didnt mind, but Ray, her
brother and younger by two years only, was peeved. He stretched
forward and pinched Suzies bare arm. She yelped, then turned
and tried to swat him with her notebook.
Come on kids, Granddad said. With my old eyes, its hard enough
as it is to keep this thing on the track.
Ray leaned on me to escape Suzies swipes. Punch him for me,
John, she said. Rays elbow ground into my thigh. I yelped and
shoved him off.
Little Miss Sophisticated likes a good fight, he said.
Suzie faced forward again, frustrated, and Ray sat back, smiling.
Granddad? he said. Did you hear the noises last night? I noticed
Granddad glance in the mirror.
Noises? No, Ray. He scratched at his thin beard. I slept like
What noises? I asked.
Sweat shone on Rays forehead, glistened in his cropped black
hair. I thought I heard a dragging noise.... First close to the
house, then fading away. He appeared to shudder, though that
could have been simply the car hitting yet another lump in the
road. And I think something tried the door.
Just a dream, baby brother, said Suzie. Her compact, black curls
bobbed as she laughed.
Heard it too. I...heard it too. That was Sam. He didnt say
much, but he also had never mastered the art of lying.
I shook my head. And you slept through all this, Grandpa?
If Id let those Devils keep me from my sleep, Id have lost
my farm, and my mind, years ago.
Sam grunted with what I took to be agreement.
And what about you? What did you hear, Johnny? Granddad asked.
Ive heard them before, I countered.
And remember, said Suzie. Last year they took all those dimes
we left for them.
I said, When the Devils are on the move in the early hours, youve
always been asleep in your room. Aint that right, Granddad?
With the window locked, he added.
Suddenly he stamped on the brake and pulled over to the side of
the road. A front wheel found a pothole and the car came to an
abrupt, juddering halt. Suzie slid off the seat and hit the floor
with a thud. What was...? Did you see that? Granddad said.
Suzie scrambled back onto the seat. I just broke my pencil!
Granddad threw open his creaking door and almost fell into the
field. He jabbed the air with his forefinger. See that haystack!
It was about a hundred yards away. Im sure I saw something move.
There.... To the right.
Yes, there was something...something dark. Possibly. My heart
was racing. My God! He could be right.
Okay, said Granddad, without taking his eyes off his target.
Are you ready, kids? Charge! And with that, he was off across
the field, running with head-down determination, arms punching
like pistons. We glanced at each other and followed. The race
was on. It was not a question of who would beat Granddadnone
of us wouldbut of which kid would be the first to see a Hay Devil.
* * *
So I ran. I ran as if everything depended on running. I ran to
prove I was right and in the childlike hope I was wrong. The sharp,
dry grass crunched under my feet and, as the warm wind flapped
against my cheeks, I ran back...through all summer...through all
the summers, until finally I tumbled to the ground, a giggling,
gasping city-boy on his first holiday in the countryside.
I was coughing with laughter when Granddad looked back at me.
Suzies pretty forehead folded into a bemused frown. Youre covered
with grass, Johnny.
But I didnt care.
We circled the haystack. Our prey was surrounded. Nothing had
Do you really believe its in there, Grandpa? I said.
A good fifteen paces around, the haystack was half as tall again
Of course it is, said Suzie.
Ray began to tear at the wall of hay. Not for long.
Suzie sneered. Another brilliant plan from baby brother. Granddad...do
Abruptly Ray stopped and edged away. He placed his hands on his
hips and pouted. Its in there, I know it. We cant let it get
What should we do, Grandpa? I asked.
He took the pipe from his pocket and placed the stem between his
How about we make a lot of noise, said Suzie. She began to clap
and yelp whilst charging at, and retreating from, the haystack.
Sam joined in, making thunderclaps with his giant hands.
I began whooping and Ray let out a scream so piercing it raised
the birds from the riverside trees a quarter mile away.
This lasted all of thirty seconds, then faded into embarrassment.
No terrified, or terrifying, creature had emerged from the haystack.
What now, said Ray. We cant let it get away. We might never
get another chance.
If its even in there, I said. I was beginning to feel foolish.
Oh, its in there, said Granddad. I have an idea.
We watched as he patiently took out his tobacco pouch and filled
his pipe. He struck a match and drew the pipe to life.
Then he threw the match onto the haystack.
* * *
As we drove away down the bumpy track, I gazed out of the rear
window at the diminishing plume of grey smoke. I had hardly regained
my breath since the mad rush for the car. That had been wild,
ridiculous. I was dumbfounded and, at the same time, touched with
admiration. I had to hand it to Granddad; just when Id thought
I had this game figured out, hed raised it to a new, and totally
No way would we ever know if there had been a creature trapped
in that inferno. We could hardly stick around to find out. By
the morning, there would be only wet ashes, a clueless calling
card from the local firefighters.
When we arrived back at the farm, Granddad hurried us out of the
car and announced, Okay kids. Thats enough fun for this morning.
Now weve got chickens to feed.
For the rest of the day, Granddad was much more sprightly than
usual. He whistled and cracked old jokes. He was obviously pleased
with his performance. He was back in control. In this crazy game
of poker, hed called our bluff, and now he figured the game was
But I still held an ace.
I had the key.
* * *
That evening the wind was cool and stiff. No clouds obstructed
the moons eerie light.
From my bedroom I could see the outlines of the barn and the oak
with the tree house. Closer to the farmhouse, that gargoyle shadow
was the rusty old tractor, abandoned now for a year, since Sam
blew out the tire with Granddads shotgun. Even then, Granddad
had been calm and understanding; I couldnt see why I now needed
so desperately to defeat him.
Ray crept into the room. Granddad went to bed an hour ago. Something
should happen soon.
We met Suzie and Sam on the landing and, together, we carefully
negotiated the staircase, avoiding the steps wed already identified
as creakers. The thin curtains in the parlour appeared luminous.
Cant we have some light? Suzie asked quietly.
No, I said. Use the moonlight, what there is of it, and walk
In the fireplace, embers still glowed.
Ray could have found his way to the pantry blindfolded and he
soon emerged with a bottle of cool lemonade. It was drinks all
round for the conspirators. Sam located a jar of cookies. I wondered
if John Wilkes Booth had shared a secret supper like this before
heading off to the theater.
Listen... said Sam. Johnny...I hear...
He was right. A dragging sound. It came from beyond the front
door. I rushed to the nearby window and peeked around the curtain,
but there was nothing to be seen.
Over here, said Ray, a little too loud. He was at the opposite
end of the parlour, by the kitchen. We froze...and listened. Yes,
a gentle sound, like a rat gnawing wood.
Somebodys quick on their feet, I thought.
But the dragging was at the front door again. Something scratched
against the heavy wood. I tried to imagine how the old genius
could have rigged that.
Suzie had her face through the curtains. Oh Lord,she whispered.
Look, look...oh Lord!
I swept the curtains aside. Dark shapes, small, a multitude, darting
about the shadowed farmyard. I counted twenty, no, thirty of them.
I could feel my heart protesting. A cold unsteadiness threatened
to topple me. Then I became aware of the familiarity of the sounds
from outside. That couldnt be the sound of Devils, surely not...they
I eased my clamped fingers from the window cill. Someones let
the chickens out.
Quick, said Ray. Into the kitchen.
We raced across the parlour. I crashed into a table. Pain flared
in my hip.
It was darker here. Ray directed our attention to the back door
knob. I couldnt see well, so I took hold of the polished wood.
Something turned the knob, something stronger than me. The door
shook against the top and bottom bolts.
Then the front door rattled violently.
That scared me. That really scared me. Any remaining doubts I
had about exposing the old fraudster were swept away in a conflagration
of anger. I clutched the keys in my pocket. One of these keys
would end this nonsense for ever.
Okay, I said. Follow me.
I charged up those stairs. The others followed.
I arrived at Granddads bedroom. I produced the keys and put my
hand gently to the door. Put the light on! It doesnt matter
Ray flipped the switch and a bulb glowed.
I took a key at random and inserted it into the lock.
Id borrowed the keys from my Dads drawer. Hed shown them to
me once and explained that they were Moms, and included a duplicate
to her old bedroom at the farmthe room Granddad now occupied.
Dad had said he couldnt bring himself to throw them out.
The first key failed. I tried the second key and the lock shifted.
I turned the knob and slowly opened the door. My cousins bunched
up behind me.
It would be safe right now, as Granddad could not yet have scaled
back up the kitchen roof and in through the window, not with all
those noises continuing outside and the whole ensemble being louder
and bolder than ever.
It did not surprise me that a dim tablelamp was on. With the door
opened fully, I could see that he was not in the bedthat it had
not been slept in tonight. Then I noticed the walls, the framed
photographs, dozens of them...and they were of Mom. Some, Dad
had shown me, while others were new to me; but that little girl
with the big eyes and straight, black hair was clearly my Mom.
I moved to the window and tore open the curtains.
The window was locked...from the inside.
I pressed my nose to the cool glass. The tin roof of the chicken
shed was pale with moonlight and dotted with scuttling shadows.
Suzie was crying.
I ran to her and grabbed her elbow. What is it?
She was staring down into the corner of the room, but Sam and
Ray were in my way and I couldnt see. I pushed between them.
Granddad was kneeling on the floor, rocking back and forth, and
Grandpa! I yelled. What is it? Whats happening?
I...I think they know, he cried. They know it was me that burned
one of them.
My stomach clenched. I thought I was going to throw up. How could
my Grandpa be...crying?
He put his wet face in his hands. He was terrified
I realised then that he had always been terrified. That was why
he locked his room.
Im sorry, Grandpa. Im sorry. I didnt believe...
Johnny, he said. His voice was lean, tired. I tried to bring
back your Mom. He shook his head and gazed at the floor. Im
I dropped to my knees and grasped his gnarled old hand. My eyes
She was so young, he said. How could God take her away from
us so young?
I sat back on the floor and strained to suck in breath; the air
was resilient. The others stared at me, but I had nothing to offer.
What did I know? What did I understand about anything?
It was the Devils killed your Gran. She went out to see to the
chickens one night. It was December...cold. They surprised herher
heart couldnt take it.
Glass smashed downstairs. It sounded like a window. I ran to the
doorway, but Sam beat me to it. Get back, Sam. I grabbed his
arms and moved him aside and ventured out onto the landing.
Something was shuffling in the parlour.
I dont know where I found the courageperhaps I was simply numbbut
I stood at the top of the stairs, with the lamp bright above my
head, and spoke to the shadows.
Leave him alone! Hes just an old man.
More shuffling and the tinkling of glass. I imagined other creatures
were coming though the window.
A shadow detached from the blackness and drifted to the foot of
the stairs. The creature was small and squat, like a hunched,
fat child and it was featureless black. Its knees and elbows were
angular and sharp, like no natural flesh.
I gripped the handrail. I was trembling and cold.
The Devil put one foot on the stairs, then the other. It was coming
Ray called to me, Johnny. Get back in here...weve got to lock
But I couldnt move yet. There was something else about the creature....
Then I realised that its head was down. Its face was hidden.
The Devil continued up towards me. I prepared to run, if my legs
would carry me.
Then the creature raised its head and my Mom was looking at me.
No...not my Mom, but a mocking parody of her face. Her eyes were
never bottomless black, her smile never so wide.
My head pounded with suppressed screams. I ran for the bedroom,
slammed the door behind me and locked it.
We all backed away.
First there was nothing, no sound at all. Then the door shook
and the knob turned. The creature began to hurl itself at the
door, but the wood held.
Granddad? I said. Why is this happening now? Theyve never
attacked beforenever broken in. It was only ever noises and things
I raised the stakes...the level of aggression, he said. Its
my fault. Theyre only a reflection of my mind.
Whatever he meant by that, it was certain that the Devils were
determined to get to usor him.
The window! I said. Check the window.
Suzie ran across the room. She gasped. Theyre on the roof, right
outside. Oh Lord, Johnny...the faces!
I know, I said.
Suzie screamed as glass shattered. Shards fell across the carpet.
Johnny...the photographs. Granddad was talking, though his eyes
were not on us. Its the photographs they want the most...theyve
always wanted them.
I grabbed the framed photographs of my Mom from the wall and tossed
them, one by one, out through the broken window. There was no
sound of impactthey never hit the shingles. After a minute I
approached the window. The photographs and the Devils were gone.
I dropped down beside Granddad. I leaned against him; he didnt
move away, but he would not look at me. Youve lived with the
Devils for years, Grandpa. You knew what they wanted. Why didnt
you just give them the photos?
I watched a tear fall from his chin to land on his aged hand.
One day... he said. One day youll understand.
He slipped into silence then and there was nothing we could do
to bring him back. He had suffered the grief and fear for too
long. His eyes were open, but they appeared focussed on a different
For hours we huddled together listening to the shuffling, the
scratching, the collectingan occasional crash from downstairs
would bring a whimper from Samuntil finally the sky became peach
and we were alone.
* * *
The next day, Sam and I walked into town and I telephoned home
from the post office. My Dad arranged for a local doctor to call
to the farm and Granddad was admitted to hospital.
The sheriff came round to the farm to help us pack and lock up.
He explained that arrangements had been made for the chickens,
then drove us to the bus stop. We sat on our bags, but talked
little. Eventually the westbound bus appeared in the distance.
My bus would be some time yet.
I guess this is a long-time goodbye, I said to my cousins as
we stood up. Ill see you.... I couldnt swallow. Sometime.
I shook hands with Sam and Ray and hugged Suzie briefly. Bye,
Johnny, she said.
As I watched them bundle their bags onto the bus, I thought back
over our plan. Well, it had been mostly my plan. Perhaps if I
had not driven Granddad so hard in my attempts to prove he was
a benevolent trickster.... I stood there, limp with guilt.
Then Suzie ran up, kissed me on the cheek, whispered, Dont,
and dashed back to the bus.
Yes, she was sophisticated; I was not to blame.
Granddad never returned home. The furniture was sold and the chickens
were acquired by a neighbor. The white mansion stood hollow, blind
to the windblown dust and deaf to the night-time scuttling. Stories
spread of how, over a matter of weeks, the farm was slowly dismantled,
board by board, nail by nail. Soon no-one would go near.
Today the land is pristine, except for a solitary, boney tree
and the lonely carcass of what used to be a tractor. A mass of
corroded metal too solid to be dismantled, it remains as a last
memory of a man who was too good to be true and of a farm which
Illustrations by Matthew Laznicka of Basement Productions. Colorization by Dan C. Rinnert.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form or any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any informational storage or retrieval system without express written permission from the author.
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