After Jacob's death, his mother, Lucille, would say that she'd known something terrible was going to happen that day on account of what had happened just the night before.
That night Lucille dreamed of her teeth falling out. Something her mother had told her long ago was an omen of death.
All throughout Jacob's birthday party Lucille had made a point to keep an eye on not only her son and the other children, but on all the other guests, as well. She flitted about like a nervous sparrow, asking how everyone was doing and if they'd had enough to eat and commenting on how much they'd slimmed down since last time she'd seen them or on how tall their children had gotten and, now and again, how beautiful the weather was. The sun was everywhere and everything was green that day.
Her unease made her a wonderful hostess. No child went unfed. No guest found themselves lacking conversation. She'd even managed to talk Mary Green into singing for them later in the evening. The woman had a voice silkier than sugar, and Jacob, if he was old enough to have a crush on someone, had a thing for her, something that Mary's husband, Fred, often ribbed the boy about. It was a good day, that day. A good day, until Jacob disappeared.
He slipped away unnoticed the way only children and other small mysteries can. It was sometime between three and three-thirtyas Harold and Lucille would later tell the policewhen, for reasons only the boy and the earth itself knew, Jacob made his way over the south side of the yard, down past the pines, through the forest and on down to the river, where, without permission or apology, he drowned.
Just days before the man from the Bureau showed up at their door Harold and Lucille had been discussing what they might do if Jacob "turned up Returned."
"They're not people," Lucille said, wringing her hands. They were on the porch. All important happenings occurred on the porch.
"We couldn't just turn him away," Harold told his wife. He stamped his foot. The argument had turned very loud very quickly.
"They're just not people," she repeated.
"Well, if they're not people, then what are they? Vegetable? Mineral?" Harold's lips itched for a cigarette. Smoking always helped him get the upper hand in an argument with his wife which, he suspected, was the real reason she made such a fuss about the habit.
"Don't be flippant with me, Harold Nathaniel Hargrave. This is serious."
"Yes, flippant! You're always flippant! Always prone to flippancy!"
"I swear. Yesterday it was, what, 'loquacious'? So today it's 'flippant,' huh?"
"Don't mock me for trying to better myself. My mind is still as sharp as it always was, maybe even sharper. And don't you go trying to get off subject."
"Flippant." Harold smacked the word, hammering the final t at the end so hard a glistening bead of spittle cleared the porch railing. "Hmph."
Lucille let it pass. "I don't know what they are," she continued. She stood. Then sat again. "All I know is they're not like you and me. They're they're " She paused. She prepared the word in her mouth, putting it together carefully, brick by brick. "They're devils," she finally said. Then she recoiled, as if the word might turn and bite her. "They've just come here to kill us. Or tempt us! These are the end days. 'When the dead shall walk the earth.' It's in the Bible!"
Harold snorted, still hung up on "flippant." His hand went to his pocket. "Devils?" he said, his mind finding its train of thought as his hand found his cigarette lighter. "Devils are superstitions. Products of small minds and even smaller imaginations. There's one word that should be banned from the dictionary devils. Ha! Now there's a flippant word. It's got nothing to do with the way things really are, nothing to do with these 'Returned' folksand make no mistake about it, Lucille Abigail Daniels Hargrave, they are people. They can walk over and kiss you. I ain't never met a devil that could do that although, before we were married, there was this one blonde girl over in Tulsa one Saturday night. Yeah, now she might have been the devil, or a devil at least."
Excerpted from The Returned by Jason Mott. Copyright © 2013 by Jason Mott. Excerpted by permission of Mira. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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