The Moth Short Story Prize 2021: Read the winning story chosen by Ali Smith

‘Janice Deal’s Lost City is such a good story, far-reaching, with a strangeness that feels true’

“Janice Deal’s Lost City is such a good story, dimensional, far-reaching, with a strangeness that feels true,” said Ali Smith of her chosen winner of The Moth Short Story Prize, worth€3,000.

“It anatomises narrative, and also the hows and wheres of how and where we imagine we live, and do live, and the inevitable deteriorations, physical and mental, of hope and spirit and promise. It holds these things very lightly so the effect is even more haunting, as haunting as that lost place in the forest or in the self that you can’t ever really map though you keep tripping over the kerb of it all your life. Its revelation of inevitable disaffection is so quiet and true it’s near-cataclysmic, and very everyday.”

American Janice Deal signed up for a fiction-writing class at Northwestern University while working as a magazine editor in Chicago in the 1990s. That experience proved to be transformative, sparking within her a love of storytelling. Since then, her work has won the Cagibi Macaron Prize for fiction and has appeared in magazines including Fiction, The Sun and the Harvard Review Online. Her first story collection, The Decline of Pigeons, was a finalist in the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and her debut novel, The Sound of Rabbits, is forthcoming from Regal House Publishing in the US.

The second prize (a week at Circle of Misse, plus €250 travel stipend) was awarded to Kathy Stevens for her story From Among the Dead with Go. “I loved this,” Smith said. “It’s dry as f*ck, there’s not a sentence wasted, it’s funny and mordant and piercing and dark and well judged, and it’s a total delight. May this writer flourish.”


Stevens, who works as a butcher in Stratford-upon-Avon, studied English at Bath Spa University. She later earned a master’s in creative writing at UEA, winning the inaugural Kowitz Scholarship for a writer of limited financial means. Her fiction has appeared in The Moth, Litro, MIR and elsewhere, and she won the Bath Short Story Award in 2017.

Ali Smith had simply this to say about the €1,000 third prize winner, Miss Pauanui by Cait Kneller: “It is funny and brutal. Its brutality is necessary and nourishing. You might say this story’s – a beauty.”

Kneller lives in Auckland, New Zealand, where she works as a bookseller. Her writing has also appeared in Strong Words: The Best of the Landfall Essay Competition. She is working on a novel-in-stories, of which Miss Pauanui is a part.

Smith also commended Evan Brooke’s story Thanatosis, which “manages against all the odds to have one foot off the ground, and to pull off a marvellous ending” and Barry Sheils’ The White Death: “a piece of real courage. Its uncompromising form and uncompromising eye both release something necessary and human.”

The three winning stories appear in the autumn issue of The Moth, which is available to purchase in select bookshops and online at

Lost City by Janice Deal

They used to call their mother Key Lime Pie, because of her penchant for going off to a timeshare in Florida without them, and because for a long time they thought the name was funny. Rex stopped using it before his sister Claire did; this was around the time their mother went to Florida with Art, one of her boyfriends, to get married. At least it seemed that way to Rex later, when he tried to remember how it was when he was still nice.

Whenever Rex’s mother disappeared to Florida, usually for a month, sometimes longer, Rex and Claire were left in the care of their grandmother, a stout, diabetic woman whose only child was Rex’s father, Key Lime’s second husband. Technically Granny was really only Rex’s granny. Key Lime had been married once before, to Claire’s father, an alcoholic who had left little Claire and Key Lime Pie in the lurch. Good riddance to bad rubbish, Key Lime was fond of saying about her exes. She’d divorced them both.

There was no love between Key Lime and Granny, but Granny still came. A widow, she chain-smoked and cooked exactly two things for the children: pasta in a watery red sauce made from tomato soup, and something she called meatloaf. The day after meatloaf nights, Rex and Claire each got a thick slice, marbled with fat, in their lunchboxes, packed with bread-and-butter pickles and a slice of white bread. They routinely threw this food away on the way to school; Claire, who had a job at McDonald’s, always came up with money for the cafeteria for them both. The high school Claire attended was situated right next to Rex’s grammar school. They both took the bus; Claire rode with her own friends, but she always made sure Rex had money before she took her seat.

She tries, was something Claire said about their grandmother. And the house was in fact cleaner when Granny was in charge. When she came to stay she’d bring her cat, Good Boy, a fat one-eyed tom that liked no one but Granny and, sometimes, Rex. Granny would play cards with Rex after school too: War usually. Granny had not gone past the sixth grade but she knew things. She taught Rex how to field strip a cigarette, for example. She would stop in her cleaning or mending to tell him about patterns in nature.

Art was the boyfriend with the timeshare, and the October Rex was in third grade, Key Lime announced that she was going to Florida to marry him because, as she said, the third time was the charm. Claire and Rex were not invited: ‘Plane fare isn’t cheap, honey bun,’ Key Lime told them. Claire sniffed and left the room, but Rex felt obliged to give his mother a hug. ‘That’s my boy,’ Key Lime said. She worked at a dry cleaner’s but because Art was the owner, getting time off for the wedding proved to be no problem.

What was more of a problem was that Granny, experiencing complications with the diabetes, was laid up in the hospital, her legs swollen to the size of great hams. Key Lime was carefully painting her nails a sky blue as she shared this, so she didn’t see Rex’s face. Claire did, though; later she promised him Granny would be fine and that they’d drive up to visit as soon as she had a weekend off work. Granny lived in Wisconsin, just over the Illinois border.

So it would just be Claire and Rex at home for a while: with Granny out of commission, Key Lime had decided Claire was probably old enough to watch her brother while Key Lime was getting herself married and honeymooning (where will your honeymoon be? Rex asked, and she told him it was none of your beeswax, dummy, before relenting and saying maybe the Everglades).

This arrangement was actually all right by Rex. He liked Claire’s boyfriend, Dustin, who spent a lot of time at the house when Key Lime wasn’t around. Dustin was already in college and wore tattoos and the tiniest ponytail Rex had ever seen. One night, after Key Lime had left for her wedding, Rex heard Claire and Dustin talking in the TV room when he was supposed to be in bed. The TV room used to be an attached garage, but previous owners had converted it by painting the cinderblock walls and laying carpet over the concrete floor.

‘I’ll probably have to stay here for college,’ Claire was saying. She was graduating high school in the spring. Rex, crouched with his ear to the crack between the door and the kitchen lino, could barely hear her. ‘I’ll probably have to go to Ghettos!’ She meant Ephrem’s community college, which even Rex knew wasn’t very good. Dustin said something then that Rex couldn’t hear, and Claire laughed in her angry way. ‘Granny’ll be dead soon, which leaves Key Lime taking care of the kid. Jesus!’

‘He’ll eventually have to learn to take care of himself,’ Rex thought Dustin said, and Claire laughed again and said she guessed she could stick around for two more years, maybe. ‘After that I could transfer. I can stand anything for two years,’ she said. Then they made different noises, noises Rex had heard before and which troubled him. He went away, to his own room.

He was never sure if Claire would come up to check on him, like Granny, but this time she did.

He was practising somersaults across the floor when Claire appeared in his doorway. Somersaults calmed him down because they made him dizzy and gave him something else to think about, but he stopped when he saw her and stood up quickly. Claire’s cheeks were flushed and her hair was crazy with static electricity, which the afghan in the TV room did to his hair too. Her hair was also red like Rex’s, but a better red, with little lights in it, like the last coals in a fire. Rex understood from the rude comments Claire got when she took him downtown Ephrem that his sister was beautiful.

‘What are you still up for?’ she asked crossly, but when Rex climbed into bed she smiled and came over to tuck the covers round.

‘Dustin’s staying the night, okay now?’ she said. She had said this every night this week since Key Lime’s departure, and every night Rex had said that was fine. ‘He’ll make us breakfast in the morning,’ Claire said, and then she turned out the light by Rex’s bedside. She started to leave but when he couldn’t stop a sniffle she came back and sat on his bed.

‘Is Granny going to be okay?’ Rex said. He tried not to sound as worried as he felt.

‘We’ll go see her, Rex.’

Rex wanted to see Granny. ‘Are you going anywhere?’ he asked.

‘I’m here right now,’ Claire said, and then she sang to him, in what Rex thought of as her sugar voice, until his eyes were heavy. He closed them, just the once, thinking hopefully of deer, and when he next opened them his room was filled with light.

‘Claire?’ The house was very quiet. It was a Saturday. Rex saw the calendar his granny had given him earlier in the year to mark off the days during Key Lime’s absences. Every month showed a different outdoors scene: this month the picture was a close-up of autumn trees, the branches pale and orderly behind yellow leaves. He slipped out of bed and regarded it seriously. Granny had showed him how a tree branch can divide: into two branches that divide into two branches that divide again and again. Rex looked at the calendar a long time. Then he went downstairs in search of Claire and Dustin. Dustin really did make them breakfast in the mornings: pancakes and bacon and sometimes scrambled eggs. But this morning there were no breakfast smells, not even the coffee Claire made for Dustin, though she never drank any herself.

Rex came into the kitchen. The counters were crowded with snacks from the night before (cheese puffs, a plastic tub of guacamole, empty, a packet of the cookies Granny called jam dots), and two wine bottles. Key Lime didn’t allow alcohol in the house.

But there the bottles were, empty. And Claire and Dustin were in the TV room, sleeping on the couch with the afghan pulled over them. Granny had made this afghan. It was crocheted, green and orange, and Rex could see Claire’s bare shoulder through the neat squares of yarn. The room smelled of smoke: Key Lime’s heavy glass ashtray was on the floor by the couch, piled with butts, at least some of which were marked with Claire’s bright lipstick. Two cloudy wine glasses lay on their sides. Rex picked one up and sniffed at the red dregs. He had seen Claire drinking the night before, sipping at the wine slowly like a much older person. He grabbed his backpack, then let himself out through the door behind the couch.

Rex crossed the packed earth of the yard and ducked under the barbed wire fence that enclosed it. He went without breakfast plenty of mornings, never when Granny was here, but she wasn’t here now, was she? He stopped to look back, just in case Claire had wakened and was fixing to call him in. But the house, with its two upstairs windows, covered by shades, looked like a sleeping face; the door was the mouth. Some chickens his sister kept for eggs pecked lazily at the ground in their pen.

He turned back to the dirt path. This path skirted Rex’s yard, winding up a hill, and at the top of the hill there was a meadow. Beyond the meadow, which was Indian grass and a few abandoned box springs, lay a forest preserve called Badger Hollow. There weren’t any badgers there that Rex had seen, but there were deer. When Rex saw a deer he would stop, as Granny might say, glued to the ground. He felt the deer were his kin, like cousins, closer to him than his own kin even, except maybe Granny. No one, not even Granny, knew his feeling that the deer were nice; this was Rex’s secret. Sometimes he pictured himself hugging the deer. Or he imagined them leaping into his arms.

Badger Hollow was also the site of an abandoned neighbourhood, or at least the beginnings of one. The story went that in the 1920s, someone had started building houses here. Granny said the area was near enough downtown Ephrem and its rail line that someone probably thought you could live here and still get into Chicago if you had a mind to.

‘Fool’s errand to build something like that,’ Granny always said. Ephrem had been too goddamn far away from the city; as far as Granny was concerned, it still was. She had grown up across the state line but her husband, Rex’s grandpaw, told her, and she told Rex, how they laid the sewer pipe and even put some sidewalks in before the Great Depression hit. ‘Then no one was thinking about buying new houses any more,’ Granny told him. ‘They was thinking about holding on to what little they had left.’ For a while, she said, a man named Desmond Purvy rented the sidewalks that led nowhere so that he could spread out, to dry, the mineral salts he used for his water softener business. Then the Sarkis County Forest Preserve District bought the land. Granny shrugged. ‘Them trees took over.’

Rex spent enough time in the woods that he knew where most all of it was: the grid of sidewalks buried under drifts of leaves on the forest floor, the concrete all heaved up and cracking; the sewer pipes opening under your feet like sinkholes. But every once in a while he still came upon something new to him – a rectangle of concrete, maybe – and he wondered about it.

Last summer, he and Claire had had a dust-up. They didn’t fight often, but when they did it was usually about Granny. Granny wasn’t blood to Claire, and who knew where her own Granny even was – maybe she was jealous. But Claire just seemed mean when, behind Granny’s back, she made fun of Granny’s thick legs in their strange flesh-coloured tights, or said that she talked like a hick. That got to Rex, because he knew it wasn’t fair, even if he didn’t tell Claire this. Besides, he liked the way Granny sounded.

That day he’d balled his hands into fists and escaped to Badger Hollow, where he stumbled onto something he hadn’t seen before: a half moon of curbing for a dead end, erupting out of the forest floor like a mineral crust. It was like a lost city out here, he thought for the first time, and it was then he decided to make a map. Rex knew where north and south were (up and down), and east and west (right and left), so whenever he went to Badger Hollow after that he took coloured pencils and a notebook in his backpack. Little by little he mapped it out, and the more he drew, the more he saw a pattern in it.

Lost City was his own secret place, so it shocked him whenever he came across another person there. Once it was a man sitting on a log, drinking water out of a plastic bottle and reading a book, and once it was an older boy and a girl having a picnic on a blanket, and then once it was another boy and girl in a clearing, leaning against a tree and making noises like Claire and Dustin did. And just like Claire and Dustin, they jumped apart and tugged at their clothes when they saw him.

Rex had been warned that you might come across druggies now and again, though this had never happened to him. Claire had told him about Ephrem’s meth kitchens, and the dealers who waited, patiently smoking cigarette after cigarette in their cars along the entrance road to the preserve. But Rex never went by the main road. He never saw anything like that.

On the day Rex found Claire and Dustin sleeping, he followed the river that cut through the forest preserve till he reached its northern bend. From an outcropping of rock he could see the ribbon of water and pilings of what must have been a bridge, which rose above the river a few feet and looked old and green. Rex settled in. First he held up the bit of horn that Granny had given him, an old hair clip she’d used when she was younger, and which he kept in his pocket. Rex liked seeing the way light passed through. It was his good-luck piece. Then he chose a blue pencil from one of the backpack pockets. Sun filtered through the trees, which still held most of their leaves. It was warm for October, and Rex was wearing his fleece pullover. He was comfortable. He found a baggie of oyster crackers in the front pocket of his backpack, and ate these while he drew.

He’d just finished colouring in the sharp bend in the river when he was surprised by the sound of voices just beneath him. Pushing his notebook into the backpack, he rolled onto his belly and inched to the edge of the outcropping.

He peered over to see a man and a lady like Granny, but bonier. They both wore shorts, and where Granny was soft, these two were stringy, with knotty calves and corded necks. The woman’s white hair foamed out from under her fishing hat, and she wore large round sunglasses that gave her the look of an insect. A red bandanna was tied around one wrist. She removed it now, handing it to the old man, who wiped at his face.

‘Water?’ the woman said.

Rex edged closer, listening, and a scattering of gravel rolled away from him, over the edge, pinging against the rock face.

‘Ah, just what the ole doctor ordered,’ the man said, taking the bottle of water she offered him and looking up. He had a pink face, like a pig, and when he smiled, as he did now, his teeth were little gray nubs. ‘I see we have friends gathered here,’ he said. ‘Come down, young man.’

Rex rose shyly to his knees.

‘Come down! Come down!’ the man said, and the granny lady joined in. Rex slid down the embankment behind the outcropping. ‘Who’s this, then?’ the man said when Rex emerged from behind the column of rock, swiping at the dirt on his butt.

‘I’m Rex.’

‘Tex, I’m Giles. This is Helen. We’re hikers here.’ Giles nodded at Rex’s backpack. ‘I see you are, too.’

‘Rex,’ Rex said. He gazed at his new companions, who had backpacks of their own.

‘We were about to have lunch,’ Helen said. Her lips were thin and dry. Smiling at him, Helen settled onto a rock ledge and began to root industriously in her pack. She produced two heavy glasses with stems, like the wine glasses Claire had used at home, but prettier and sturdier, carved with leaves and flowers. ‘Join us in a drink, young man?’

Rex blinked. ‘I’m eight,’ he said, and Helen only laughed.

‘Of course you are, dear. It’s juice. Good apple juice from the orchards of Michigan.’

‘We’re from Michigan,’ Giles said. ‘We’ve lost our way.’ He winked at Rex. ‘What say you, Rex? Shall we drink to the orchards of Michigan?’

‘Oh, leave the boy alone, dear,’ Helen said mildly. She handed Giles a wax paper packet. ‘Eat your sandwich.’

‘What’s this, then,’ Giles said. He poked at Rex’s notebook, which stuck out of the pocket of his pack.

‘It’s my map,’ Rex said. ‘I’m drawing a map of this place.’ He pulled out the notebook, opening it to a page that showed a neat pattern of intersecting lines. ‘There are sidewalks here,’ he said, ‘under the leaves.’

‘Really? Imagine that,’ Helen said in a friendly voice. ‘We haven’t seen anything like a sidewalk.’ She extended her hand and Rex gave her the notebook. He edged next to her, pointing at spaces between the pencilled lines.

Helen smelled like the lemon soap Granny used, though there was also something underneath, dusky and strange. Like marigolds, Rex thought. ‘See?’ Rex said. ‘The circles. That’s where the sewer pipes come up.’ He gazed at Helen, who wore a pendant around her neck. Creamy yellow-white, it was shaped like a rose and looked as smooth and cool as frosting. He reached out and almost touched it, but Helen scooted away from him.

‘That’s ivory,’ she said.

‘So you’re making a map.’ Giles was still standing, and had been eating his sandwich bite then bite then bite, like it was his job. But he stopped his chewing and regarded first the notebook and then Rex.

‘I draw here,’ Rex said.

‘In the woods? You come here alone?’ Helen had Rex’s notebook on her knees and was leafing through it. ‘Look at this,’ she said to Giles. She pointed to Rex’s half-finished drawing of the river and the pilings. ‘Our Bobby should have an imagination like this, don’t you think, Giles?’

‘It’s real,’ Rex said.

Helen closed the notebook then, and wrinkled her nose. ‘Bobby’s our grandson,’ she said. ‘He isn’t much, I’m sorry to say.’

Giles snorted. ‘Takes after his father.’

‘He does, he does.’ Helen sounded wistful. ‘Our son is Bobby’s father. He’s trying to find himself.’

‘In Arizona,’ Giles interjected.

‘He’s doing meditation, and some sort of martial arts.’

‘On our dime,’ Giles said.

‘On our dime,’ Helen agreed. ‘And the mother!’ She laughed a musical laugh. ‘You don’t even want to know about the mother. Now we’ve got Bobby, it seems. Oh, well. And where are your parents, dear?’

‘My mom’s in Florida. We call her Key Lime. Me and my sister. Like the pie. Key Lime’s marrying Art. He’s going to be my stepdad. My dad’s in jail,’ Rex explained, which was the truth, and then he said, ‘he robbed a bank,’ because he wasn’t supposed to tell about the selling heroin, ‘to feed us.’

‘To feed you.’ Helen looked at Giles.

‘Really,’ Rex insisted.

‘Okay,’ Helen said, patting the rock next to her. ‘Come and sit with me. Have a sandwich. Have some juice.’

Rex sat down on the rock and watched as Helen poured apple juice into the two glasses. It didn’t look like any apple juice Rex had seen, but it didn’t look like Claire’s wine either. ‘Homemade apple juice,’ Helen said, when she saw Rex looking.

‘From Michigan,’ Giles agreed. Standing over them both, he was through half his sandwich.

‘So you call your mother Key Lime,’ Helen said conversationally. She hadn’t opened her own sandwich yet, but she drank the juice off steadily. ‘And you do that because …?’

‘Because she goes to Florida all the time,’ Rex said. ‘Where there’s pie? It’s like a funny nickname?’ He could tell she didn’t get it. Maybe it wasn’t really funny.

‘Bobby has nicknames for us, I’m afraid,’ Helen said thoughtfully. Riffling the pages in Rex’s notebook, she finished off her juice and poured herself another glass. ‘He is not’, she said abruptly, ‘a very nice boy.’

‘Maybe he needs a hobby,’ Rex said, adding ‘for Chrissakes’ for emphasis, the way Claire did, but it came out louder than he’d intended.

‘I’d like to show this to my grandson,’ Helen said then, patting the notebook on her lap. ‘I think our Bobby might enjoy it. May I keep this, dear?’ Setting down her wine glass, which was empty again, she started putting the notebook into her pack. She still hadn’t touched her sandwich, Rex noticed. It was so warm for October, and suddenly Rex realized how hungry he really was. And tired. So tired.

‘Garbage, dear,’ Helen said, holding out her hand to Giles, who passed her the crumpled wax paper from his sandwich. Giles drank his juice in a single swig, then wiped his hands on his shorts.

‘Garbage in, garbage out,’ Helen said brightly to Rex as she stood up. ‘I’m afraid we have to go now.’ She shoved the wax paper and the wine glasses into her pack, next to Rex’s notebook, then bent to pick up the uneaten sandwich. ‘I’d share but I’m afraid I’m going to need this later, where we’re going.’

She gave him an unfocused smile, and Rex nodded mutely. Then he said, ‘Maybe I could come with you.’ She had his notebook, and he’d put so much work into it.

‘You’re a funny pinched little thing,’ Helen said airily. ‘I’m afraid we have our hands full with Bobby.’ She peered at Rex, her gaze suddenly sharp. ‘My God, all you children are alike, aren’t you?’ Then she turned to Giles. ‘Bobby will be wondering where we are,’ she said. ‘It’s been days. But I was getting a little sick of him, wasn’t I?’

‘He has his mother,’ Giles said.

‘His mother,’ Helen echoed, ‘such as she is.’ She looked back at Rex. ‘You should respect your mother. Key Lime. My word …’ With something like wonder, Helen shook her head.

‘Goodbye then, Tex,’ Giles said. ‘I think I’ll just call you Tex, after all.’ He stuck out his hand for Rex to shake, and his grip was strong: he pulled Rex right off the rock. Then he leaned close and whispered something. Giles’s breath was bad, like old fruit, and Rex twisted away.

Helen was watching him, her eyes narrowed. ‘Sidewalks in the forest,’ she said. She made a scoffing sound, then slung her backpack over one shoulder. ‘Just because we’re old doesn’t mean we’re stupid.’

Rex made a little chirrup, like a protest, but Helen cut him off.

‘You know what I think?’ she said, turning away. ‘I don’t think you are a very nice boy.’

‘The sidewalks are there,’ Rex said, but neither Helen nor Giles looked back at him. Rex watched them as they climbed the rocky hill, surprisingly quick for such old people. It was like they had hooves. Rex didn’t really like them but he didn’t want them to go either. He waited a while. When he finally lifted his backpack it didn’t weigh a thing. His notebook was really gone. The pack held the memory of weight though. Breathing quickly, Rex scrambled up the slope himself. His legs were short. It wasn’t easy.


He found the notebook discarded by the side of the trail. There were creases in the cover, and it was sticky with juice, but the drawings inside were intact. Rex smoothed the pages and put the notebook carefully in his pack. ‘You’re okay,’ he said to it. Then he made his way out of the woods, to the meadow with the box springs.

Rex saw the buck before the buck saw him. The animal was thick, and strong, its tangle of antlers held proudly aloft. Rex was downwind and watched it pace closer; he saw the broadness of its chest. When the buck did finally spot him it did not startle; usually this was the part where Rex would imagine the beautiful weightless leap into his arms. But Rex, closing his eyes, felt nothing. There was no hugging a deer, was there? All those sharp parts, those hooves and pointy antlers. And thinking a deer could jump into his arms was stupid. Dummy, he thought. He opened his eyes. Look how it just stood there staring at him! No wonder people could shoot them. That happened, Rex thought. It didn’t make sense but it happened. Suddenly he felt sick. The buck moved away.

When he got to the house, Claire was waiting.

‘Where have you been?’ she said.

‘The woods.’

‘You missed breakfast. Dustin made pancakes.’ Her voice was tired.

Rex slipped out of the backpack, the burden of it. Claire and Dustin were going into town. Claire, dressed in a pair of Dustin’s cut-off jeans, had lined her eyes with dark pencil.

‘We’ll be right home,’ she said.

‘I won’t hold my breath.’ Rex stared at the ground. He could be as stubborn as Granny.

Granny would recover, as it turned out, and return to Ephrem often, minus part of a leg, which they took at the hospital. It wasn’t that. And it wasn’t that Rex would soon outgrow their games of War, either.

It was hard to explain, and no one ever asked. But it had something to do with how Granny had known him before he went bad. Key Lime and her angry new husband, swollen with sun, eventually returned to Ephrem from the Everglades, or wherever it was they’d been. Rex never did find out where the honeymoon was, though Key Lime did bring him a T-shirt (too small) with a picture of an alligator on it. Granny wanted it, but it didn’t fit her either, even though she’d become so much smaller after the hospital, and not just because after the surgery she took up less space. She seemed befuddled some of the time; she didn’t understand him like she used to. Maybe that was a good thing, Rex thought.

‘I’m glad you don’t go into them woods any more,’ Granny said to him once. In middle school by then, Rex wouldn’t tell her that he’d outgrown the woods too.

But all that would come later. That day with Claire, things could still have gone either way, and so Rex let his sister take his chin in her hands and lift it so that their eyes met.

‘Don’t worry, honey bun,’ Claire said. ‘We’ll see Granny soon.’

‘And she’ll see me,’ Rex said. He didn’t know if he could bear it.