By Amanda Baldeneaux

After the first lost girl reappeared, sleeping like some fallen angel in a drainage ditch on the edge of the woods, Homily returned to her fossils. The lost girls were shells pushed deep into the ground, left to harden into stone, and then pried out again by fault lines and fingers and the nets of new flower roots. The lands of Dove Hill and the acreage beyond were thick with shells. Still, Dove Hill was known for its collection of such nice boys.

Nice boys make hard-working men, and they were one asset that attracted the sand mining company to the riversides hemming Dove Hill away from the bigger cities up north. They were merely a bonus, though. The company wanted what the hill country kept hidden.

The tracts of land in the Dove Hill oak groves had once been under the sea. Construction crews who carved interstates through Texas’s sloping hillsides long after the waters receded dug out Apache burial cairns, dinosaur bones, trilobites. Ancient seashells, blanched in limestone. As a child, Homily liked to hold the stone shells her father Lionel found while out sifting soil, and she wondered what other secrets the earth had to give up. Neither Homily nor any of the girls her age at the time could keep secrets, so why should the earth – young, for a planet – be any different?

The dead girls waking were like water: absorbed by the soil, funneled through trees, and rained out again like divine miracles or a locust plague, dependent on who one asked. They came in a trickle at first, then a flood, their spilled blood refilling the channels of petrified veins. One by one, they rose, and they stretched and walked out of the woods, fingers pointed.

Theories floated about the girls: they were runaways and druggies and grifters and liars. They were demons. They were a sign of Christ’s second coming. Mary. Persephone, awakening to spring.

Homily slept easy, knowing that, for now, it seemed to be only girls and women who did the returning. She scanned photos of the girls in the Sunday paper for Abby, hoping not to see her sister’s face, because that would only confirm what everyone else had long suspected: that Abby was killed, had been dead for years. Homily refused to believe it.

The first recognized girl was the brunette on the billboard overlooking the I-60 rest stop. An officer issuing speed tickets found the girl barefoot with dried blood soaking her blouse, searching her jean pockets for quarters. She stood staring at cracked photos of discontinued soda brands and snacks on the vending machines’ faces. The machines held nothing but cobwebs. That rest stop hadn’t been opened since the girl went missing in 1983, when strands of her hair and a water-soaked blood stain were found on the floor of the women’s tiled bathroom.

The officer arrested the girl for trespassing, then glanced at the billboard as he led her by the wrists to his car. There was no denying it was her – a breathing replica of the girl in the photo on the billboard, her face above the words “HAVE YOU SEEN ME?” printed in red with an 800 number. No driver on I-60 had seen her in the almost forty years the sign had been up there, but DNA doesn’t lie.

There’s no DNA evidence for girls thrown out the second they’re born, though, like Homily or Abby. Can’t prove someone’s found if they’ve never been registered by official records as lost. Material evidence could tell stories too, though. Like the basket Homily learned she and her sister were found in, the fibers half-rotted after years underground. How long can a baby survive in a make-shift casket, shoved into the corner of a cemetery so close to the river, a high tide could have washed her and her twin away? The basket had decayed almost to shreds, but the babies inside, hollow-bellied with hunger and crying, supple as if they’d just appeared there that morning.

Fairy babies, some sort of changelings, grown in the womb of the earth. There was no way to prove otherwise. No explanation, until the older girls started coming. The police had to work backward, then. The girls waking up seemed to do so in order of age. They’d reached fifteen, maybe sixteen years old. How many younger girls had already been found, but not believed? How many infants, adopted out as abandoned at birth? More people might have noticed the girls were returning if they hadn’t been so narrow-minded as to think resurrection happened only to men: Lazarus, Jesus.


Homily studied the cracked persimmon seed she’d split between her teeth, discerning whether the pale leaf inside resembled a shovel, a fork, or a knife. Persimmons were terrible liars; worse at forecasting the weather of things than a politician was at telling the truth.

She held the seed to the light and saw only a fat-headed ghost in the seed’s soft layers and then spit the rest of the shell in the sink. What good was a seed that predicted snow in a state where it never snowed? Old wives’ tales were just that. No one had use for the tales or the women who told them. She poked at the knife-shaped leaf in the seed that would never unfurl. Most seeds never grew. Lies were much easier to plant than trees. Less fragile. Easier to take root. Lies were aspen groves. Mycorrhizal colonies. Tendrils that spread from brain to brain, connecting each adherent to the belief implanted by a rumor, a retweeted tweet, a whisper passed across church pews and beauty parlor chairs.

Homily checked her face in the streaked kitchen glass. She had a long way to go before she could be cast with the likes of old wives, but when one has a baby as young as Homily did, it’s hard not to feel like fast-forward got pressed on one’s youth. She leaned over the lip of the counter and plumped her breasts out of the top of her dress, fixing them into place by her reflection in the window.

“Mom, hurry up!” she called. She ate the fruit. “The white wines will get warm. Peyton, use the potty.” Homily took her purse from a chair and fished her keys from a nest of torn tissues and gum wrappers. Homily had enough going on without Jubilee blaming her for them all being late to her party. Homily wouldn’t have even agreed to spend her Saturday morning at Jubilee’s sales pitch if Elva hadn’t made her feel guilty about family and sticking together and whatever else guilt-inducing drivel came out of Elva’s mouth.

As much as Homily hated to admit it, she was excited to be at a party selling Quest of the Crystal Kingdom gear alongside their usual offerings of cupcake caddies and milk foaming wands. The product partnership was new, and a younger Homily would have sneered at her favorite game selling out to a lifestyle brand, but Homily had already bought herself a Crystal Kingdom pocketbook, tea set, and water bottle with a rose quartz studded inside from Jubilee’s catalogue, and Homily had her eye on a few more things. Peyton wanted a lunchbox. Sterling would like the limited-edition pewter figurines for the tabletop play he did behind his wife’s back, among other things.

When they’d been children, Jubilee teased Sterling and Homily for playing tabletop games with wizards and swords. Now, with the game on smartphone apps and an HBO show, everyone loved it. Homily’s character, a level twelve sorceress, Rose Daggerblood, loved to make her enemies eat their own words. And their tongues.

Homily wished she could make Elva eat her own words for once, declaring the game was Satanic, but Elva liked to sugarcoat the past, except where Homily and Abby’s birth mother was concerned. The woman’s identity had never been learned, but Elva made sure the girls knew the woman was a murdering sinner who’d meet the hot end of a branding iron on the other side of the veil.

Homily had dug into the matter of her birth mother some, but ran into a wall when the timeline of her and Abby’s discovery intersected the heyday of the King’s Way Church. Homily could put together the pieces. She’d hoped Abby would be ferreted out when the compounds were raided, but her sister, like many of the girls who’d disappeared inside, had never come home.

“Peyton! Shoes!” Homily said. “Mom, can’t you wear something with color? It’s not a funeral.”

Elva pinned gold studs into her ears. “It’s not a nightclub, either,” she said, brushing past Homily to the carport door. Homily tugged her blouse back over her breasts. Some things – most things, with Elva – weren’t worth the fight.

Other things, though, were: the old-growth oak groves in the rupturing forest. Peyton. Abby. The Toda Sancta River that once brought them back home, and would again, Homily hoped.


The night before, a murdered girl walked out of the woods into moonlight. It was the first full moon of the shifting season, the summer nights cooling into the onset of autumn. Oak leaves had begun to dull from bright green to gray, draining themselves so their roots would survive the dry winter. The girl had been awake for some hours before standing, but she’d woken hungry, and needed to rebuild her strength after sleeping. She wiggled her fingers in the soft soil, sifting for the worms she’d come to know underground. She sunk her teeth into tree roots. She slurped the long veins of mushrooms, remembering noodles. Butter. Salt. She remembered many things, but not everything, as she awoke: velour car seats. Cassette tapes. The itch of church pews beneath her bare thighs when she’d sweat through a sermon. Open windows. Fans that clicked overhead in the dark.

Remembering hurt her head, so she stopped it, promising to let the rest of her life return in smaller bites later. Damp dirt clung to her lashes. Threads of mycelium looped around her thin wrists like bracelets, not wanting to let her go, yet.

Grass beneath live oaks is soft, mossy to the touch but thick with scorpions and snake holes. The murdered girl remembered this as she rose, picking her path through the trunks to the edge of a cow pasture and highway. She passed bulldozers parked in the forest. Fencing and machines where once had been trees. Her legs wobbled. Movement and living made her so tired. She made a bed in a ditch where she could sleep a few hours longer. An old motel stood on the roadway, but she knew better than to go inside that building ever again. Or did she? She rubbed her forehead. All buildings looked the same: four walls. Roof. There was no distinction. No clarity. She could hardly remember words in the language she was sure she could speak.

The girl stretched out in the tall weeds to let death’s sleep work its way out of her bones. Across the field and behind the woods she’d walked out of, a river churned over stones in its path. She knew the river, though it used to be higher. Stronger. Or maybe nothing she remembered was right or truthful at all. She could be dreaming, sleeping in sheets in a bedroom she’d never walked out of, in a house she’d never run away from. Her head ached, and she rubbed it. She’d remember who she was in the morning. Someone would find her and tell her come morning.


Homily had her own reasons for not wanting a sand mine built on cleared oak groves alongside the Toda Sancta River. It had nothing to do with the girls walking out of the woods, pushing up through thick cactus pads and dirt, the names of their killers stuck just inside of their reformed lips. Homily later calculated her own resurrection came in the same span of years when crews first chewed into the trunks of the trees of the private-land forests, clearing blank fields for cattle and pumpjacks, thinning the barriers between Dove Hill and the rock lid that held down the dead. What would walk out of the river once the water was gone? Homily shivered. Not all the dead deserved justice. Not all the living deserved it, either.

Homily rinsed Elva’s coffee pot, then picked at the brown stain ringing the glass with her nail.

“Peyton, last warning. Socks first, then shoes. Grandma’s already in the car. Come on.”

Outside, a blue jay scared away chirping sparrows and singing warblers, its feathers puffed by ego and rain. She didn’t mind when the sparrows scattered, but she got mad when the bully jays chased off a goldfinch or an indigo bunting. They were rarer. Bright yellow. Twilight blue. Her husband, Brady, never would buy birdseed for a feeder at their house – attracted mice, he said – so Homily had taken to throwing crunched up saltine crackers and dried bread scraps shaken out from the toaster onto the feeder and the ground below. Mice came, but she didn’t mind. They had cats.

Elva’s house – the house where Homily and her siblings grew up – sat far back from the road in the woods, in the dead space between cellphone signals on the rolling highway that stretched from San Antonio northbound to Lubbock. It’d been built after Elva’s mother died in the stone house that sat roadside in front of the new one. The builders borrowed oak beams, floor joists, and the exterior stone to construct the new, long-halled ranch Elva had designed with a shrine for the Blessed Virgin Mary built into the front façade. The statue was still there, less demure than before. Blue paint flaked off Mary’s robes. Rabbits tunneled their warrens behind her. Elva always called Mary a protector of small things, though invoking her never spared any of the Elmwood children a spanking.

The new house took almost everything from the old house. Elva used to say that about children – the young steal from the old. Homily thought it the opposite. By the time the construction on the new house finished, nothing remained of Homily’s grandmother’s house except a few stone pillars that once marked the house’s corners.

Revenant, the oldest Elmwood child, was as upset as Homily to come home from school and learn that their parents tore down their grandmother’s house. Jubilee, Abilene, and Brother didn’t seem to care, though. Jubilee wasn’t sentimental, Abilene hated the Elmwoods already, and Brother was too little. He didn’t have any memories of sitting on the screened-in porch in a rocking chair, sipping lemonade out of cut-glass cups with dried lip rings and flecks of Grandma Elmwood’s white chin hairs stuck to the top. Grandma Elmwood couldn’t see well, and her dishes and carpets were never clean. She didn’t have a dishwasher. She had a little chihuahua she called Potato with no teeth that peed when he walked and bit any hand that dared try to pet him. Potato died before she did, missed by no one but Grandma Elmwood, who swore she’d hear him barking out back every night till she died, pleading with everyone to please let the dog in.

Homily and her family lived in a single-wide set out back on the wooded property until the ranch house was finished. White-tailed deer wandered up to the doorstep, wanting handouts of apples. Most of them ended up dead and on the Elmwood’s table the following season.

The property sat square between the carved-out hollow between two hills, with the Toda Sancta River flowing not far behind the property line. There wasn’t much in Dove Hill that the river didn’t touch.

The old trailer still sat out back, and Brother lived in it now, had since he was a junior in high school and Elva caught him naked in bed with a girl from a protestant church. Not under her roof, she said, but she didn’t mean it. She just sent him to do what he wanted under her other roof. Brother didn’t mind the wall of cacti and the cobwebs that’d built up. He brought over propane tanks and got the plumbing soldered up and no longer had to hide his girlfriends or beer cans. He still lived back there, still worked his job driving up and down the highway scraping roadkill and litter out of the ditches, but the heavy things tore up his back. Homily brought home expired steaks and other cold-packed packages that were too old to sell from the discount freezer at the back of the supermarket and made him stuff the back of his shirts with the meats and the peas. He was still her baby brother, blood or not.

Homily packaged up cookies she’d taken out of a clamshell container from the bakery section of the same supermarket onto one of Elva’s chipped plates. Jubilee would be too busy to notice the difference. Homily handed Peyton a cookie and squatted to help him tie his shoes.

“Am I sleeping here again tonight?”

“No,” Homily said. “We’ll go home after Aunt J’s party.”

“Where did you sleep last night?” Peyton bit his cookie.

“Here, of course,” Homily said. She stood and turned toward the door. She thought she’d left after he fell asleep. She thought she’d come back before he woke up. She’d taken a hot shower to get Sterling off of her body. He was supposed to be hunting. She was supposed to be in her childhood bedroom, sleeping at Elva’s so they could get up early and ride the forty-five minutes to Jubilee’s house altogether. Homily’s stomach turned, and she wished she hadn’t eaten anything. Kaylee, Sterling’s wife, would be at the party.

“You were gone when I went to the bathroom,” Peyton said.

“Checking on Grandma,” Homily said. “Get in the car.”

The truth is as fluid as rivers, and everyone knew that’s why ghosts haunt lies and travel by water. Ghosts prefer rivers – movement towards something as big and unknown as the sea – because even ghosts want to believe something exists on the other side of their death. To ghosts, death is just as restrictive as life with its hemmed-in banks, concrete dams, and dirt-mounded levees. Madame Coralynn, who claimed to be psychic and Catholic at the same time, which Homily found hard to believe, had told both her and Elva that.

As a child, Homily went to sleep worrying about ghosts slipping out of the river, shimmying through the slits of the Elmwood’s chain-link fence and toeing into the rivers of her blood, circumnavigating her veins like ships. She’d outgrown fearing the river, though. The path the Toda Sancta cut through the cow fields and canyons toward the sea was escape, not fencing. She was part of the river. The river was hers, and the woods were hers; she belonged to them.

Madame Coralynn said ghosts could ride rivers like toll-free highways, watching the banks go by like scenery out a car window. Homily had joked she should charge them like she did the kids who came every summer renting innertubes from the Toda Tube Float Center she ran with Brady.

Homily’s high school science teacher once told her the world as it stood was destined to return to water. She thought of him often, as newspapers wrote of how oceans crept inland, threatening the barrier islands, swallowing cities. Homily knew many bodies of water ate cities; it was their nature. The Mediterranean ate Heraklion in Egypt. Beaver Lake in Arkansas consumed Monte Ne. Still, Elva and Brady told her all that was bullshit. “Fake news,” Elva said. She loved watching President Trump. He would stop all abortions. She didn’t pay much attention to what else he said. Brady had failed high school science.

Dove Hill sat on the banks of the Toda Sancta and had flooded no less than ten times over the course of Homily’s almost three decades of life. Today threatened to be one of those times, as days of rain and excess snowmelt from high up in the Rockies rose the river over its banks. Homily had been found on just such a day. Born again, as Elva saw it.

Homily turned the lights out in the kitchen and carried the plate to the car, struggling to balance the umbrella and purse. Rain plinked against the car windows. Elva’s flowers wilted in their mud pond beds. Up the dirt drive, on the highway, a truck blasted its horn, startling everyone as it turned onto a dirt road that disappeared into the forest. No one except those making money off of it liked the sand mine.

Homily pulled out of the overgrown drive, the tires dipping into the deep, rutted puddles, past the stone columns of Grandma Elmwood’s old place. A tree now grew tall out of its center, where the glass coffee table once stood. Homily turned onto the highway toward Jubilee’s.

The car tires crunched hard shells to sand on the asphalt, the road dense with scorpions crawling up from the dirt to not drown. Homily drove faster, killing all the small bodies that walked in her way. She’d been stung frequently, as a child, stepping on scorpions when she ran barefoot in the yard. They fell apart underfoot, their brown bodies flimsier than made sense, the barb of their stingers still lodged in her foot when she lifted it up off the gravel to scream. There were so many scorpions in the woods of Dove Hill that Homily used to think they were reborn every morning, soft and clear in their tiny white eggs.

Why couldn’t scorpions be resurrected? They weren’t so different from girls: numerous, quiet, and sharp.


Elva still wore black every day for Rev. The river killed Rev, though some detectives suspected foul play had helped. His body had been too damaged to tell if the wounds were from stray sticks or stabbings. Fish had nibbled his edges. He’d begun to decompose. All these facts were lucky for Homily. She hadn’t thought about Rev in a while – a concentrated effort – despite Elva bringing him up every chance that she could. She talked about him now, in the car driving through town toward the highway. Rev once played soccer there. Rev went to church with a friend after a sleepover there.

Elva said a son’s death was a mother’s death, too. Homily understood what that meant, since having Peyton. She didn’t know why it applied only to sons, though. Abby was still gone, too.

Homily switched lanes and checked on Peyton in the rearview. Cookie crumbs stuck to his lips, and he fiddled with a toy from the basket Homily kept on the floor at his feet for long car rides. Without the toys, Peyton spent the duration of driving pressing the lock and unlock buttons and crying if the window wouldn’t roll down on his whims. Peyton knew there had been an Uncle Rev, once, but the loss didn’t bother him much, as Rev died well before Peyton was born.

It was Abby who Homily thought about often. Impossible not to, when she drove this stretch of miles between her house and Jubilee’s. Abby had run away into the fields and the cedar, the twisted live oak trees, lining this bit of road back when she was young. Elva refused to mourn Abby. What kind of daughter deserted her mother? Joined a cult and wound up dead for all that they knew. That level of betrayal was treason.

“I need to pee,” Peyton said.

“We just left the house,” Homily said.

“I need to go.”

“I told you to try before leaving.”

Peyton whined and squirmed in his seat. Homily drove faster.

Bottles of wine clanked in the back beside Peyton’s car seat as Homily took the curve in the highway too fast. Jubilee had requested a variety of whites, rosés, and reds, but beggars couldn’t be choosers, and Homily had taken whatever was left over from the fourth of July party in her neighborhood’s clubhouse. A half-empty box of white zinfandel sloshed on the floor. It was too early for wine, but by the time the party started, the fog dampening the road and veiling the other lane of the highway would be burned off by the sun. It was Saturday, and the luncheon hour was the only time Texas women could be corralled for a sales party, a party consented to only on the promise of free-flowing drinks, gossip, and thawed canapes. Little else went on at eleven AM, and excuses to get out of a direct sales party were slim.

At least Homily hadn’t had to pay for the wine she’d been asked to contribute. By the time the next HOA party rolled around come Christmas, her elderly neighbors would have long forgotten the closeted stash she had raided, and build-your-own six packs of discounted bottles would be brought in anew.

A black car materialized out of the morning’s thick mist, stopped on the highway’s shoulder.

“Slow down,” Elva said. “It’s the police.”

“It doesn’t have lights,” Homily said, but she slowed anyway. When she saw the missing back wheel and a pink flag taped to the rear windshield, she floored her gas pedal again.

“I can’t make it,” he said. “I’m gonna pee now.”

Homily veered onto the shoulder as a semi whooshed past her hatchback. She turned the car quickly into the gravel drive of an old motel, sending the wine bottles clinking together toward the other side of the seat. She’d just washed the fabric liners of Peyton’s seat from an accident last week and didn’t have the patience to puzzle it back together again.

“I told you to try before we left.”

“I did.”

“Are you going to let him go here?” Elva asked.

“You want him to show up in wet pants?”

Elva sat back in her seat. Homily unlatched the six-year-old from his booster and guided him down into the ditch. A cow watched through the barbed wire across the road, chewing grass.

“Go,” Homily said.

“People can see me.”

“No one can see you.”

“From the cars.” He pointed at the road.

“They’re going too fast.”

“From there.” Peyton turned, pointing at the shell of the old roadside motel.

“No one’s in there,” Homily said. “Look, it’s got boards on the windows.”

“They’re in there.”

“No one’s in there.”

Peyton squeezed his legs together and whined.

“You said this was an emergency. Drop your jeans and get to it.” Homily checked her phone for texts from Jubilee.

“Turn around.”


“Turn around.”

Homily crossed her arms. “Really?”

Peyton nodded, and Homily did as he said, facing the graffitied façade of what was once the Dove Hill Motor Inn.

The Inn was a typical brick-and-glass roadside affair built in the late 1960s as a stopover for those who wouldn’t quite make it to San Antonio before nightfall. In homage to an era of gimmicks and themes, it’d been built with concrete effects of a castle, painted portraits of princesses and knights flaking away on the doors of each room. The check-in desk now stood in more of a carport than a lobby, the glass broken into rows of sharp teeth circling the window frames. Cement and stucco parapets, wind-whipped and chipped, lined the top of the building, and the iron buttresses were bent in decorative arches like a gothic cathedral. The parking lot had cracked into islands, the asphalt now floes in an ocean of rubble and weeds. The room windows were broken and mostly boarded, though some stood open, old curtains breezing in and out.

For as long as Homily had been alive – this go round – the shuttered Dove Hill Inn had been called the ‘cult motel.’ The name stuck ever since the body of a girl, no older than ten, was found tied to a bed in one of the rooms, arms, and legs spread out like a star.

The hotel had already long closed by the time a homeless hitchhiker found the child starved in the room beneath the word “demon” spray painted in red across the headboard and a pastel painting of waves. Though officially closed, everyone knew the building had housed a rotating number of squatters and hitchhikers after it went out of business when a Holiday Inn Express was built the next exit up. Then members of King’s Way bought the land vacant behind it.

When Homily was in high school, it’d been rumored that the King’s Way Church did blood sacrifices and black mass in the building, but those were the rumors of children. Come to think of it, Abby was the one who had spread them. In reality, the members of King’s Way didn’t consider themselves frightening at all, but a congregation. The members inside the motel were missionaries, looking for strays they could save. People in Dove Hill left the church well alone until the first bodies were found.

Testimony given by the few members after the group’s dissolution said no one was murdered. Only evil children – changelings swapped in by demons – were left to be taken back where they came from. They listed what constituted a changeling: too much crying. Not enough listening. Too much ugly. Too much pretty. Too much being a girl.

Homily shivered despite the late summer heat, thinking of those she knew who’d disappeared into King’s Way. Her polyester blouse was wet at the armpits, and she hoped the bright paisley pattern would hide the sweat stains quickly forming there and around her neck.

“Are you finished yet?” She didn’t like standing this close to the motel rooms, out in the open, alone. She stared down the highway, but a billboard of Kaylee Ansley’s pink face and blonde hair advertising her real estate office stared back. Homily preferred to risk seeing ghosts inside the hotel.

“It won’t come.”

“Close your eyes.”

“Why are there toys here?”

Homily turned to see Peyton hovering his penis over teddy bears and fabric flower stems zip-tied to a white cross.

“They’re not for you,” Homily said. “Don’t pee on them.”

“Can I have one? I want that one.” Peyton pointed at a blue bear tied at the cross’s base.


“Why are they here?”

“Someone had an accident here.”

“You’re not supposed to be looking at me.”

“You asked about the toys.”

“Turn around.” He stomped his foot, spraying wildly.

“We have to go,” Homily said. “Your aunt is waiting.”

“What kind of accident?”

Homily wanted to scream obscenities into the canopy of oak trees lining the highway.

“A car accident,” she said, though she realized the cross and the toys may have been for the girl found dead on the hotel bed. It happened years ago, but as Elva proved, family never forgets. Fake flowers and tchotchkes hot glued to crosses lined Texas highways – probably all for drunk drivers or victims; Homily didn’t know. “Are you finished?”


Some of the oak trees lining the road that led into the parking lot of the motel were bare, their limbs thick with clusters of ball moss. Homily’s own neighborhood had been fighting ball moss for years, though her husband, Brady, insisted the air plants didn’t hurt the tree. The evidence of bare limbs and dead oaks before her said otherwise. Brady, like most husbands Homily knew, was like ball moss: not parasitic in theory, but still choked out the trees that they lived on in their need for unobstructed sunlight and air. Homily knew people who collected the plants and kept them in jars on their bookshelves. The ball moss was fine until the plants needed more and took more from their hosts. And then –  Homily glanced over her shoulder as Peyton zipped his size-too-big jeans – dead oak groves.

A brigade of dump trucks sped past where they stood, headed back towards Dove Hill. A flatbed hauling bulldozers followed. The knotted balls of moss knocked together as the trucks shook the tree limbs with tailwind.

“Get back in the car,” Homily said. “Let’s go.”

“My hands are dirty.”

“Your hands are not dirty.”

“There’s pee on them.”

“Why did you pee on them?”

Peyton shook his hands dry over the ditch by the cross. He stooped low and wiped them on the bottom hem of his pants, and then screamed.

Homily jumped to grab him, fearing a snake, when a girl sat up in the ditch.

About the Author

Amanda Baldeneaux is a writer living in Colorado with her husband and two daughters. She attended the University of Arkansas for creative writing in poetry, the Tin House workshops, and Denver Lighthouse Writers Workshops. She was the recipient of The Missouri Review Jeffrey E. Smith Editor’s Prize in fiction in 2018 and the ASU Everything Change Climate Fiction prize in 2020. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Missouri Review, the Rappahannock Review, the Everything Change anthology, and elsewhere.

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