It was raining the day they laid old Tye to rest. Blind, and hobbled by the gout, Tye hadn’t been of much use to anyone—not even himself—for years, but he told the best stories. Some people used to say he was a prophet and he wasn’t really blind in the usual sort of way. They used to say he had a hard time making out what was happening in the present because he was seeing the whole past and the whole future all at once. I don’t know how true that was, but I, like most of the kids in town, would gladly skip a swim in the pond, or an afternoon of stick ball, to congregate at his feet on the porch of his cabin, listening to his tales of ghosts, ghouls, and—most of all—the goblins he claimed haunted the woods surrounding the town. We used to joke that he knew so much about goblins because he was one himself, although a more benevolent one than his kin.

“The goblin people are all black, head to toe, ‘cept a course the whites of their eyes, an’ their teeth,” he would tell us, punctuating each sentence by taking a long draw on his pipe. “They hides in the shadows, wait’n ta snatch up girls an’ boys who disobey their elders, an’ they carry ‘em off. They whisk ‘em up into the trees, and drag ‘em down into holes in the ground. Nobody ever sees ‘em again.”

This was unwelcome news considering most of us were disobeying our parents just by being there at Tye’s cabin. They disapproved of the old man and the hold he had over us. Sometimes, we would have nightmares, but we always wandered back to that cabin on warm summer afternoons to hear more about the ghosts that wail in the night out by the old Jenson house, and the little people who carried off children who were bad, or foolish enough to venture into their domain.

The muddy soil splashed back onto the overalls of the gravedigger as he patted at it with his shovel. Normally, they would have waited until the weather cleared, putting Tye in the storage vault they used for when the ground was too frozen for digging, but everyone was anxious to get Tye in the ground after what had happened. There had been no funeral, and nobody stopped by to say any last words as they put Tye in what everyone hopped would be his final resting place. I was there, though. I owed him that much.

As I stood there, watching the rain poke holes in the mud covering Tye, I thought back to that day 14 years before when all the trouble had started. It had been raining that day, too. It hadn’t been a fresh, cleansing rain, but was rather the culmination of several dreary weeks that had left the countryside a morass of mud and mosquitoes. I still remember how the air had been heavy with the scent of rotting wood and the mold that had appeared to envelope the houses, staining the white siding of our home green and black.

On that particular day, those of us who had been willing to slough through the mud to reach Tye’s cabin on the hillside were sitting on the porch, in a circle around Tye, as was the usual arrangement, but that day, there were no stories. Tye just sat there, rocking in his chair, and staring out into the woods. I remember how we all followed his gaze, forgetting he was blind.  As the drizzle turned into a downpour, he seemed to grow agitated, rocking faster to keep time with the patter on the tin roof, plumes of smoke billowing from his pipe.

“They’ll be coming for me soon,” he said, jolted from his silence as the wind threw droplets of rain into his face. “I want you children to promise me you all will stay out of the woods. This is a goblin rain. Ain’t no good can come of it.”

We all moved farther up on the porch to avoid the rain and waited for the story we believed Tye had been setting up with this declaration, but he had lapsed back into a trance, his dead eyes focused on something out among the trees. The rain drops on his cheeks looked like tears.

Eventually, the rain relented, and we crept back toward our homes, dissatisfied and bewildered. I planned to go back the next day, not so much to hear a story, but just to make sure Tye was alright, but as things turned out, I would never go back there again. None of us would.

The next morning, the police were at my house. Sheriff Cranston and a few men in suits I didn’t recognize were in the parlor, asking my mother if they could speak with me. I heard him tell her Becky Demaris hadn’t made it home last night. Some of the other kids had said she had been with us at Tye’s cabin, and they had already been up to talk with Tye, who claimed to know nothing of the girl’s whereabouts. As I listened in the hallway as the sheriff talked about making preparations to drag the pond as soon as the storm let up, I knew they wouldn’t find her there.

I told the sheriff Becky had been at the cabin, but that I hadn’t paid much attention to her, which was true, and that I hadn’t noticed where she was headed when we left, which wasn’t. After the sheriff and the others had gone, my mother scolded me for going up to the cabin, and promised dire consequences if she caught me hanging around “that spooky old man” ever again.

They have a stone up for Becky not far from where they put Tye. Of course, there isn’t anybody under it, but Becky’s parents still put flowers on that empty grave until they both were laid to rest in graves of their own, one on each side of Becky’s. Most people said it was out of guilt for never showing much attention to Becky before she vanished, and that Becky’s mom had never known how to handle her spirited daughter. Becky’s parents had adopted the dark-haired girl when they were themselves going gray, and keeping up with her presented a challenge they were not equipped to meet.

I could see the three graves, now barren and forgotten, from where I was standing. It was as forlorn a spot as one could imagine, but probably not nearly as grim as that place where Becky really was.

Just seven years old, Becky was the youngest member of Tye’s congregation, and was seen mostly as a nuisance by the rest of us, our interaction with her being mostly limited to pulling on her pigtails and stealing the old rag doll she insisted on carrying around. She also lived on the other side of town, beyond the woods, and that was where I had seen her heading as the rest of us made our way down the hill toward the road.

I didn’t tell the sheriff I called to her that day, reminding her of Ty’s prediction.  I didn’t tell anyone how I had watched, with growing trepidation, as she plodded on towards the woods, either not hearing—or choosing to ignore—my warning. As I watched the woods swallow her up, I ran after her until I reached the edge of the forest. I hesitated before the trees that reached up out of the ground to rake the sky and form a barrier between the town and the looming darkness. Unsure what to do, I glanced back to see the other kids had already disappeared over the hillside. Standing at the mouth of the narrow path Becky had taken, I shouted for her to come back, but my only answer was the rustle of branches flailing at the wind. As I stood there, my courage unequal to the demands of my conscience, a peal of thunder announced the heavens’ hostile intent, and I soon found myself seeking shelter beneath the overreaching branches. The rain had decided my course.

The storm was fierce. As I made my way down the path, the wind howled around me, and the canopy of branches above failed to fully shield me from the downpour. At the edge of a clearing, I paused at a spot where the intertwining branches above provided a modicum of shelter. It was then, looking out across the clearing, that I saw her. There, in the center of that clearing, stood Becky, seemingly oblivious to the rain pouring down upon her. She just stood there, her gaze transfixed on the trees in the distance. Through the rain, I could just make out something moving along the line of trees beyond the clearing. There were at least four of them. Becky saw them too, but seemed frozen to the spot, able to do little other than whimper. As they crept closer, I saw that they vaguely resembled men, but they were smaller, not much taller than the girl they were inching toward. Other than their size and their ape-like gait, I wasn’t able to discern much, for the creatures were entirely black. Like shadows, they enveloped Becky and dragged her back with them into the forest. Her whimper grew into a scream that was cut off almost as soon as it started by a black hand over her mouth.

As I watched them disappear into the darkness, the rain abruptly stopped, and an unnatural stillness settled over the scene. I would have doubted any of it had been real had it not been for the rag doll, lying there in the otherwise empty clearing, a testament to Becky’s passing.

They never found Becky, and I never told anyone about what I saw that day. Just like Tye said, they came for him not long after, and though they could never prove he had anything to do with Becky’s disappearance, they found an excuse to lock him away. I always wondered if it would have helped Tye if I had confessed what I knew, but I was young, and I was scared, and wanted nothing more to do with goblins or the police.

I stood there in the graveyard for several minutes after the gravediggers had tossed their shovels in the old white van and drove away, then headed back to my car. Glancing back as I pulled onto the road, I thought I saw several shadowy figures emerge from behind the stones to make their way toward Tye’s grave. I could have sworn one of them, smaller than the others, had pigtails. I quickly turned away and kept my eyes on the road ahead the rest of the way home.