AND SO AJ TOLD HIS RUFUS STORY. IT WENT SOMETHING LIKE THIS:
When my granddaddy, Maize, was a little boy, about six years old, he had a little sister they called Pearl, and Pearl was only about three when this happened. This was before there were any paved roads around here and at that house they didn’t have any electricity or indoor plumbing, so they had to use an outhouse to go to the bathroom.
Anyway, their mama was pregnant and in labor, and the midwife was there, and they were all in the bedroom helping out with the birthing, and Pearl had to go to the bathroom, so they told Maize to take her to the outhouse. Well, it was night, so Maize got the kerosene lamp and lit it and he took Pearl by the hand to go out to the outhouse, which was about fifty paces from the house or so.
Well, when they got there, Pearl didn’t want to go in, she was afraid. Maize knew he’d get in trouble if he brought her back and she still had to go, but no matter what he said, Pearl wouldn’t even go near that old outhouse. And so Maize got mad and went over and flung the door open to shine the light in and show her there was nothing to be afraid of.
And when he flung the door open, he saw there was somebody in there. The light from the kerosene lamp was dim and it flickered, but he could make out this big man sitting there, and he was dressed in these raggedy old clothes and he had on a tattered old straw hat and his head was down so he couldn’t see his face, but he could tell it was a black man cuz the skin on his feet and hands was black like tar.
And Maize was froze in place. And the man raised his head up and his eyes was gleaming like fire and his teeth were sharp, like they had been sharpened into fangs with a file. And then he stood up and stepped out of the outhouse and when he did a bunch of big fat flies come buzzin’ up outta the hole, and Maize just turned and started to run.
He knew it was that old demon, Rufus.
And then he remembered his sister, Pearl. And he stopped and turned back and he saw the man wave this old sack over his head, once, twice, and he tried to scream at Pearl to run, but he couldn’t make his voice work and she was just standing there, too scared to move. And the third time, the man brought his sack down and snatched up Pearl, then he threw the sack over his shoulder and started off into the night.
And Rufus was taking her away from the light, and all Maize could hear was the buzzing of the fat flies and his little sister, crying all pitiful in the sack.
Scared as he was, Maize ran after him, and when he got about ten paces from him, he screamed the name “Rufus!” and Rufus stopped and turned toward him. And Maize heaved the lantern at him, and the lantern broke on the ground at his feet and the kerosene splashed on Rufus’s trousers and the fire got on him.
And Rufus was stumbling about trying to put out the flames and he dropped the sack. And the sack was on fire too. And so Maize ran up and he pulled his sister out of the sack and he just took off running back to the house, half dragging, half carrying Pearl.
When he got back to the house, the others saw how little Pearl was burned all on the leg and side, and so they tended to her and asking Maize what happened, and he tried to tell them about Rufus. So they went out there, the fire had spread back to the outhouse. And they didn’t find nothing, no sack, no straw hat, no nothing to tell them that Rufus had been there, just the broken lantern and the burnt up outhouse.
And so the adults figured that Maize had broke the lantern by accident and burned his little sister, and then blamed it on Rufus, cuz he didn’t want to get in trouble. But they didn’t punish him, because his grandma, that would be my great-great grandmother, she told’em the boy was telling the truth. She could smell Rufus on both the children. And she said they was lucky that the children were alive, that Rufus didn’t snatch’em both up and tote’em off to Hell’s back forty to roast over a fire for his dinner.
That was the only time anyone ever knew of that a child got snatched up in Rufus’s sack and lived to tell about it. Well, not exactly tell about it. For the rest of her life, Pearl lived with burn scars all up and down her leg and hip, and they always caused her pain. But she never could or would talk about Rufus. But she always stood by her big brother. For savin’ her life, I reckon.
They say Rufus lives in this swamp, right here in Hell’s back forty. He comes out every once in a while to snatch a child. Sometimes people see him walkin with his sack over his shoulder, or standing in the shadows, just waiting. And how you know he’s done his business? You can hear the baby crying from inside the sack. They say it’s a sound you never forget.
And AJ turns to D’Mon and he says, “That’s my Rufus story. What’s yours, hoss?”