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  • By Jesse Austin


The boy came out of the school, and with his round head down, he crossed the street. His name was William Wickham, and he carried with him his second grade reader. It was a heavy book, with wonderful pictures of Native Americans on horses, and great wooden sailing ships braving terrific storms at sea. There were also pictures of children, bright flowers, and little puppies on the beach. The reader was frightfully heavy, and William set it down on the stonewall bordering a sloping yard.

The boy, with his sandy blonde hair, looked up through the little trees at the large house across the street from Sunnyside School. Nothing moved at the windows. The boy walked away leaving his book on the low wall.

At home his grandparents made him wash his hands for dinner. His grandparents were quiet and dignified, and they asked him to eat without slurping his soup. After dinner he was allowed out in the yard to play. The boy ran around to the back of the garage, and got into the dirt and made a little city for himself.

When he was called to come in he was told he was dirty, and that he would now have to take a bath. On the other side of the bathroom door he heard them talking. His father had died in the fire, and his mother was in the hospital because she was insane. “We have to be patient with the child,” the grandparents reminded each other often.

For two days the boy didn’t go to school. First it was Saturday, and he played. Then on Sunday he walked with his grandparents to the wooden church on a bare hill. They said God was at the church, but the boy didn’t see him.

Finally it was Monday. The boy liked school, and being with the other lively children. But what he liked best was the walk to school. First he stopped off in the garage. He opened the little side door, and stepped into the darkness. It smelled like oil, tools, cardboard, garbage and kitty poop.

“OK,” the boy called. “I’m going to school now!”

He stepped back outside. It was a gray day, but the boy walked down the driveway with purpose.

When he turned onto the sidewalk his father fell in step with him. “I’m proud of you, son. Everything is going to be OK.”

The boy smiled, a huge smile. He looked up at his tall father wearing his Sunday white shirt rolled up at the sleeves.

“Is that what everybody wears in heaven?” he asked.

His dad laughed, and the boy knew his father was pleased.

Key, the dog, had died in the fire too. The boy walked in the middle. He knew he couldn’t pet Key; that was one of the things that was different. But he could hear the dog’s excited bark, and watch him romp up ahead and then back again.

It was the dog’s barking that had woke the boy that night. William sat up in bed, and his room smelled smoky. He could hear Key’s excited bark coming from down the hall. Suddenly the door was flung open and his father, wearing his underwear, rushed into the room.

“Are you going to be my brave little man?”

“Papa?” the boy asked as his father lifted him, covers and all, out of the bed.

His father explained that the house was on fire, and he threw him out of the window. The boy remembered falling, his room was on the second story, facing the narrow side yard lined by low bushes. The boy loved his father, and he trusted him and he didn’t know what game they were playing. Falling in the night, with the cracking fire behind him was exciting. It went on for a long time. The boy had all sorts of thoughts. One awful thought he remembered - “father is going to die in the fire.”

The boy fell into the rhododendron bushes and then hit the ground hard. He felt a sharp pain in his arm, and he passed out. In the hospital he woke and found they had put a heavy cast on his left arm. After he got the cast off William returned to school, but his grandparents had not let him attend his father’s funeral, nor was he allowed to visit his mother in the asylum.

The boy liked walking to school. Every morning his ghost father and the ghost dog walked with him. They talked. The boy asked questions.

“Why won’t my mom come home?”

“She is sick, honey. Her thoughts hurt her. But she loves you very much.

“What do you eat?”

“I don’t really have to eat, but if I want to I can eat anything I want.”

“Cookies?” The boy said.


That made the boy smile.

When they were about a half a block away from the school the boy could hear the children playing.

His father and the dog were already fading - the boy could hardly see them. He was excited to think he would soon be playing with the other children.

“Don’t forget your reader,” his father called. Key barked.

The boy was eager to join in the play, but he didn’t ignore his father’s words. Across the street he could see his blue book where he had left it on the low stone wall.

After one of the bright yellow school buses roared past, the boy stepped down into the gray street.

“Look both ways,” the boy clearly heard his father in his thoughts. He smiled.

William pulled the heavy reader off the gray stones. The cover looked the same, but he was surprised to find some of the pages clung together and made a big wrinkle at the edges.

He toted the reader up the steps, whistling.

“William,” a girl at the top of the landing called. When the boy had mastered the last step the two kids looked at each other. The girl had black hair and she wore glasses.

“My mom said I should feel sad for you because your father died.”

“Yes,” the boy said. “He died in a fire.”

“Do you miss him very much?”

“Yes,” the boy said. His eyes got wet and he dropped his round chin. “Was his death terrible?”

“It was my fault,” the boy mumbled. “He saved me from the fire.”

“Did your father burn up?” the girl honestly asked.

The boy nodded his head, weeping, his thin shoulders shaking.

The dark haired girl stood facing him, trembling as she listened to his woe.

Around them the other children were sliding past to get to the double doors. Then the bell went off, clanging loudly, and insisting that there be no more poetry.

Both the boy and girl gave a little jump, and turned towards the adult world.

“Do you want to eat my butter sandwich?” the girl offered.

“I guess so.”

She took his hand as they scooted through the heavy glass doors of the west entrance of Sunnyside School.

Psychic Medium Jesse Austin can be contacted by email at

Jesse credits his wife, Rita, for the story’s artwork

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