• The dark and crushing force known as the Depression had swept across America like a dark cloud. Saul Goodwinter was personally thankful to still have his job and his house. He had a wife, a new girl barely five months old and a cozy new promotion. He earned that promotion, too. A few months of taking and belongings so that he could keep his own. Saul quietly delighted in that exchange, no matter how sweet and sympathetic he pretended to be while doing it. The economy, or lack thereof, had turned him into a ravenous shark.

    Though there was only one thing that he needed in his life. Saul needed to get his own car. He had to make longer trips back and forth now, to places where other people and public transport wouldn't go to. As he puttered down the road in his friend's car his eye's jumped to the sign that welcomed him to Burke County. He drove onward past any decent looking building. As he parked in the dirt driveway of the house before him, he sneered at it a little. The house was a dingy sort of white, like it hadn't been cleaned or repainted it decades, and shutters were hanging off of it from it either from age or the recent storm. Grass had become a distant memory to the dirt, yellow weeds sprouting in its place.

    Saul looked at the dry rotting porch cautiously as he approached it. Two old rocking chairs sitting in front of him creaked and squealed across old boards as the wind blew. Only one was occupied. Saul looked at the Negress of unknown but many years and nodded politely at her. She listened to the wind, or perhaps listened to him approaching, and returned the nod after a beat.

    “Ma'am?” he asked loudly as he walked toward the steps. He eyed the first one warily, unsure of whether or not his foot would go through the wood.

    “I'm almost blind son, not deaf. You can lower your voice,” she said with a warm smile. “What is it I can do for you, honey?”

    “I'm here to do business with...” Saul adjusted his wire rimmed glasses as he checked the paper in his hand. He looked back up at the woman and forced himself to smile at her. “Mr. McKinney?”

    “Can't do that, sir,” she said sadly as she shook her weary looking head.

    Saul set his foot onto the porch step with care and a light step, wood creaking underfoot. The wind picked up as he did and the remains of the woman's hair, falling out from age and years of straightening, bobbed gently in the breeze. She kept an eye on Saul as he slowly approached. He minded where he was walking and looked down at her. She stared up at him with eyes that had the slightest of milky hues to them, then smiled at him with the same sadness that had been in her voice.

    “The cancer been eatin' at Jimmy for about...five years now, I believe,” the old woman sighed as she stood. Saul feigned a look and soft “Hmm,” of sympathy, reaching to help her stand. She pushed him away with a shaking, withered hand. “I can stand by myself. Come inside and let's see what ya got.”

    As he followed her inside, Saul was met with the most offensive smell he had ever encountered. He wasn't sure what the source of it was but it smelled rotten yet somehow worse. Perhaps the old lady had lost her mind and left perishable foods out? The woman gestured for him to sit down and Saul complied, easing onto an old and moth eaten chair with visible disdain in regards to its condition.

    “I have a bank notice for Mr. McKinney,” Saul explained as he brought out his papers. His glasses were pushed up and down the bridge of his nose before he found a suitable spot for them. He looked back up at the woman across from him. “His loan is due. Could you fetch him, Mrs...?”

    “Just Maisey,” the old woman replied warmly, with just the slightest distaste etched onto her face. “And as I said, sir, I can't let Jimmy see you. He's too sick. Plus we don't really have the money to pay at the moment...”

    Saul forced back a sigh of annoyance. He figured he was going to hear that. Maisey looked at Saul with a pitiful look on her face and Saul tried to look at her sympathetically. Such an attempt twisted his features into a sadistic smirk instead. The steps creaked and his attention was taken away from her as he looked up to the source of the noise.

    “Jimmy!” Maisey exclaimed, calm and soft voice suddenly straining in panic. “Jimmy, get back to bed, baby, you can't be up!”

    It took a moment for Saul to accept that he was looking at a man. McKinney was more of a shadow. Once tall and most likely handsome, McKinney's eyes and cheeks were set deep into his skull. His skin stretched across his skeleton with no muscle or flesh between them. The pitiful creature, the source of the smell that Saul had noted earlier, began to shuffle downstairs. Maisey stood and rushed to his side at a surprising speed for her age. She helped him onto sofa finally and muttered something about how he deserved to have a change of scenery. She kissed his head with its few wisps of hair left and brought her arms around him to bring him closer. Heartwarming, Saul would have thought, if he were any other man.

    “ Mr. McKinney, your loan is due. The money you borrowed from-” Saul began. Maisey quickly tossed her hand up to silence him. He blinked at her and was surprised at himself for letting some old colored woman shut him up so fast.

    “Don't you dare start on Jimmy,” Maisey said very firmly. The softness and warmth in her voice was a faint memory. “He's sick and he doesn't need to be dealing with no bankers. He needs prayer and rest.”

    The ghostly man set his head on Maisey's shoulder, looking out at Saul from yellowed and almost blind eyes that used to be a bright and lady killing blue. He was more of a dying dog than anything resembling a man, sitting in his misery with some unknown and revolting smell wafting from him. Maisey brought the almost lifeless form closer to her and looked down at McKinney the way a new mother would her baby. Adoring and almost mystified by how delicate this life in her arms was, with more unconditional love than the world had ever known before. However, this wasn't a new mother. It was an old man and even older woman who needed to pay the goddamn bank so Saul could keep his house.

    “This seems to be the end of our discussion. Good day,” Saul said rather tersely as he began to get his things together.

    “Please, Saul, can't we make some sort of a deal? Compromise? Bargain?!” Maisey beg. She gently let McKinney droop to his side like a rag doll as she stood in sync with Saul.

    “I'm sorry, I really am, but I can't-” he paused. Something was bothering him. Not the lie, of course he wasn't sorry, but this old woman bothered him. “How did you know my name? I didn't tell you my name.”

    In her silence, Maisey's eyes felt like they burned into the young banker's soul. He stood where he was and shook in fright for the briefest of moments before recovering himself. Yet as he stood there, his mind wandered as if it was going a mile a minute. What if somebody had treated his mother this way when she was ill and dying? Saul shook his head in disgust and turned to leave. A searing pain shot through his arm and he turned to see Maisey was clutching him with strength far beyond her. He tried to pull his arm away but to no avail, a note of panic rising in his chest rapidly. McKinney observed the two people in front of him and tried to focus his eyes on them, which were beginning to fog in pain. McKinney observed the two of them calmly before a large and child like smile of glee parted his cracked and bloodied lips. Saul could smell his breath from the distance between them and could see the few teeth McKinney had, which were so rotten they were black. The young man gagged in disgust at the things around him and tried again to free himself. The note of panic was becoming higher and higher as his heart fought against his ribs like a bird against a cage. Maisey pulled him away from the door and sent him spinning, glasses flying off his nose and skidding onto the floor. Saul felt around wildly through his blurred vision as he was greeted with silence.

    Finding his glasses, Saul put them on and stood up shakily. He found no trace of Maisey and the sight of McKinney was what greeted his newly regained vision. McKinney's mouth spread to a width that was in danger of splitting his face open into a wide and ugly Glasgow smile. Saul felt himself trembling in fear when McKinney began to laugh. It was a wheezy cackle which sounded more like the soft failings of an old and mistreated motor. It caught and burbled in his throat before McKinney was practically draped over the sofa like an eager little boy. When Saul heard something very soft behind him he turned yet saw no Maisey. He had no idea what he was looking at. He was too terrified by what he saw for it to properly register in his mind. He was unsure if it was a real tangible creature or if this was all some sort of horrible nightmare. All he knew was that Saul's most basic instincts told him to run. He tripped over his own feet and fell against the sofa, flinching when McKinney's laughter grew louder in his ear. Spittle fell against the back of his neck and Saul cringed from him, standing on trembling legs and staring at the thing before him.

    McKinney continued his manic cackling, entire skeletal form quivering with delight and mirth at the seen before him. Saul continued to quiver and slowly tried to back away toward the door. The creature opened its mouth and screamed a sound like Saul had never heard before. It jumped at him and Saul fell against the coffee table with a crash as huge, hook like claws dug into his back. Saul screamed until his throat was raw from pain as something dug into his aching chest and stomach in addition to the back caused by the creature. He tried to flail away only to be forced down by the thing's giant paws. He wasn't sure what he was feeling as something sharp stung his neck. Pain flashed across his face and there was a loud snap that sounded through the room. Saul went limp.

    The beast slowly crawled off Saul's remains and the destroyed table, looking down at it proudly. McKinney stretched out his arms like a toddler wanting to be picked up as if he was unafraid of the monster in front of him. As a hulking frame eased next to the frail one, Jimmy McKinney hugged the thing as tight as he could. He buried his face into its coarse fur and closed his eyes in a content manner. When they opened again his face lit up. Maisey looked down at him with a warm gaze and smiled, her yellowing teeth having just the fainted tint of red splashed across them.

    “You showed him,” McKinney cooed in childish delight, setting his head against her bosom to listen to her erratic heartbeat. “You showed him good.”

    “Well I've kept you safe almost all your life,” Maisey replied sweetly as she smoothed down the few wisps of hair he had left. “I've kept you safe all your life, no sense in stopping now.”

    Maisey kissed the top of his head and helped him stand on weak and shaking legs. The two eased up the steps with Maisey behind and supporting McKinney in case he fell. When Jimmy turned around to look at her, he saw that familiar red gleam in eyes that were slowly becoming white and glassy. As he saw that gleam he smiled. That was his Maisey. That was his guardian.