Excerpt from Mary Jo’s Journey Home

Li’l Sis handed me one of the suckers, and I herded her outside. On the way home we licked on our suckers. We had to finish ’em and get rid of the sticks ’fore we got home.

They were only half gone when we passed crazy McMaykin sitting on her porch. She was part Scottish and part Injun. Mr. Boggs said he never knew which part was worst. Billy Lee’s stories about scalps hanging inside her cabin made my heart sputter like Daddy’s truck. “Hurry.” I pulled on Li’l Sis and walked faster. Fear pecked at the back of my neck.

The old woman walked to the front edge of her porch. Maybe she looked to see if we had enough hair to scalp. Cold shivers danced across my head, and my feet ran ’fore I told ’em to. I gripped the bag with the matches and wick in one hand, dragged Li’l Sis with the other, and clamped my sucker between my teeth.

Miss McMaykin’s flock of guinea hens flowed out of the brush straight for us with their warning rattle. We ran so fast Li’l Sis dropped her sucker. We was too scared to stop and pick it up. The guineas ran along side of us, attacking our bare feet and legs with their sharp beaks, flapping their wings, and rattling deep in their throats.

My lungs heaved, and my heart pounded until the McMaykin cabin was out of sight and the guineas gave up chasing us. We reached the big sycamore and stopped to catch our breath. I handed Li’l Sis the last of my sucker to stop her crying. After she finished my sucker, I threw away the stick and cleaned her face with my shirttail and spit.