Dad looked out past the croquet lawn with its haphazard wickets to another farm some distance away where flames could be seen, and smoke. He shook his head and turned back to the kids. Souls are slippery, he said. If you don’t believe me try grabbing hold of one. You’ll never get it. You’ll lose your mind trying. He lifted a pitchfork and launched it like a javelin over the lawn and it landed sticking straight up in the duck grass. Jenny and Jimmy held their croquet mallets and stared up at Dad. Even with his stoop he was a tall, imposing man.

Just then a car skidded to a stop behind them, gravel crunching under its rubber tires. You see the space-man? Willie said, leaping out of the baby blue convertible. The spaceman, you see it? He pointed over by where the fire burned and there was, in fact, a figure levitating, silhouetted up in the smoke.

Calm down, Willie! Calm down! Dad said. I’m worried about you. You talk too fast. You’re gonna have a heart attack. Now what makes you think you saw a spacema—And now Dad saw it too. It looked like it was spinning in the hot air above the fire. Well, let’s go check it out, Dad said.

Cool! said Jimmy.

I’m gonna ask him to come down, said Jenny. He’s gonna get hurt up there.

Dad and the kids, along with Willie, crossed the grasses and the nearer they got to the fires the worse it smelled.

When they were close they stared up at what they’d hoped was a spaceman, or an alien, but it was neither. Someone’s got way too much time on their hands, said Willie.

It’s not a spaceman, said Jenny.

No, it’s not, said Dad.

It’s a blow-up doll filled with helium is what it is, said Willie. They painted something on it.

We’re gonna have to shoot that thing down, said Dad. Otherwise, it’ll affect air traffic.

Can I? Can I? asked Jimmy.

You shouldn’t shoot her, said Jenny. What did she ever do to you?

Dad went off to get his rifle.

Wait, look! said Jenny. She’s tied to something. Jenny ran over to where a fishing line tethered the blow-up doll to a heavy rock. She untied it and pulled the blowup doll after her like a balloon. Don’t worry, Jenny said. I’m gonna save you! She went running across the field back toward the house. When she saw Dad coming out with his rifle she diverted her path to the back field. No, don’t shoot her! she said, crying as she ran.

Dad stood with Willie and Jimmy, watching Jenny run. Dad put down the gun. It’s okay Jenny. I won’t shoot her. Jenny kept running until she got to the tree with the tire swing. She pulled the blow-up doll down out of the sky and made her sit in the swing. By this time the other three had joined her and Dad said, Here, Jenny, I’ll tie her to the swing so she doesn’t float away. This way she can swing all day long if she wants.

She doesn’t want to, said Jenny. She just wants to rest.

Dad tied the blowup doll to the swing so she stayed.

She’s gonna need some clothes, said Willie.

I know! We’ll give her some of Mom’s old clothes! said Jenny. She wouldn’t mind!

No, I suppose she wouldn’t, said Dad. She has no use for them anymore. Jenny ran back to the house and soon the blowup doll was dressed in Mom’s finest, sitting upright in the swing. I’m gonna name her Flame, said Jenny. Cause she came from the fire.

Okay, said Dad.

Nice to meet you, Flame, said Willie. Then Jimmy went and shook her hand. Nice to meet you, said Jimmy.

Now who wants ice cream? asked Dad.

Me! said the kids.

What flavor you got? asked Willie.


They finally heard sirens as they walked back to the house. Took them long enough, said Willie. What time you call them?

I didn’t call them, said Dad.

Oh, said Willie. You didn’t? He stared over at the fire and smoke across the field. You know, I best be goin’, he said. I’ll take a rain-check on that ice cream.

Suit yourself, said Dad. I can’t guarantee there’s gonna be any when you get back.


After Willie left, the three sat on the porch and ate huge bowls of ice cream, watching the firemen spray hoses at the fire. The sky was orange and smokey. They’re gonna need another truck, said Dad.

Then the kids brushed their teeth and went up to bed and Dad fell asleep on the couch downstairs. But the police came by later with Willie and woke him up. From upstairs the kids could hear the officers ask a lot of questions. When Dad came up to whisper goodbye to the kids they pretended to be asleep. Then the police led him away and Willie stayed. Willie watched TV in the living room as the kids lay awake upstairs, listening to the screaming siren of a second fire truck as it careened along the country road.


When the sun rose the next morning the fields were ashy grey and sparkling with dew. Flame swung slightly in her swing, dressed like a Southern belle, somewhat deflated but looking wide awake. Her plastic eyes observed their little farm with an expression of absolute amazement.



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