Gray Man

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Maya stood by the wide, white gate that divided the uphill part of the farm where she was allowed, from the downhill part where she wasn't. The gate was open but she didn't notice; she had one letter left. Three mailboxes stood at attention in front of her, one of which belonged to Miss Augusta down the hill who scared her. She had already put two letters into mail slots at the Big House (where Charlie lived) and the Carriage House (where she'd seen Mad Tom's eye), but the third letter was giving her trouble. She had intended to push it through the slot at the Stone House where Kate's parents lived when they weren't away, but they were away and it was important for the letter to be found. So here she was at Miss Augusta's mailbox. The question was: did she want to waste the letter on the thrill of pushing it through a slot, or would it be better to have it found by a lady who scared her?

She bit her lip and twisted the leather strap of Mother's best purse which wasn't as big as the mail lady's bag, but it had pockets and straps and her three letters just fit inside. She'd been very careful when she took everything out of it and left it all on the living room chair. Even the lipstick. That was tempting but Mother had been extremely clear about lipstick last time she'd borrowed some, and she hadn't had time right then for kissing prints anyway since there was mail to be delivered. She looked at the letter in her hand with satisfaction. "MALE" was printed on one side of the envelope and "FROM MAYA" on the other, both in big purple letters.

A stall door creaked and movement caught her eye in the paddock. She peeked around the gate and through the paddock fence. If her feet stayed on the uphill side of the gate, she wasn't breaking the rules, so she planted them behind the gatepost and held on to the slats, leaning out as far as she could to see.

A man in gray pants and a dirty gray sweatshirt slipped out the door of the big mule's stall carrying two dead pigeons upside-down by their feet. A greasy gray beard covered most of his face. Maya froze as he glanced over his shoulder and sighted her. His wild eyes took her in and spat her out again. He squinted, bared his craggy teeth and loped off into the woods.

Maya hid behind the gatepost and made herself small, her heart flapping in her chest like a captured bird. The man in gray was clearly Mad Tom. And he was not a gentleman, that was clear too. He was more like an animal wearing clothes, only not the round, happy kind in library books. This Mad Tom was like the wolves and the bears in Mother's dark green book on the high shelf that had fairy tales from a hundred years ago which they never ever read before bed. It was every bit as bad as she'd feared. And now that he'd seen her, what if he came back? Trembling, she jammed the letter into Miss Augusta's box and ran like the wind for home.

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