Child prodigy Ronald Earl Pettway has always accepted his gift of healing, which has led to endless tent revivals and a sheltered life on the road with elderly, scripture-spouting evangelists Sugar Tom and Certain Certain and his great-aunt Wanda Joy. But now that he’s turned 16, Ronald Earl, known simply as Little Texas, finds himself doubting his once-solid gift. He has begun to take an interest in girls, especially a ghost-like girl named Lucy, whom he failed to save one evening on a revival stop.
“One thing I have learned is every story of the strange has a mustard seed of truth,” Sugar Tom tells the boy, and in R.A. Nelson’s modern-day horror story, Days of Little Texas, forgotten truths wail to be heard.
Sensing Ronald Earl’s adolescent changes, Wanda Joy leads the troupe to Vanderloo, a former cotton plantation in Alabama. This last remaining structure atop an island, created when the Tennessee Valley Authority flooded the area, is better known to the locals as Devil Hill. Wanda Joy hopes to encourage the teenager’s loyalty to the church by testing his gift and avenging the diabolical death of her grandfather decades earlier.
With the help of Lucy, Ronald Earl discovers Vanderloo’s dark slavery secrets, held captive since its pre-Civil War days. His battle against its demons also becomes a personal fight against fear and for love and independence. Nelson’s eerie and sometimes downright scary descriptions of the plantation’s evil inhabitants and effective twists create a spine-chilling experience.
Although Ronald Earl may have a gift from God, he questions the world like any teenage boy. His stolen moments with Sugar Tom and Certain Certain, discussing his dilemmas and their own scrapes in life, provide rich commentary on living in the world today. Readers drawn to the story’s horror will also find a formidable champion for setting the past and present straight.
Angela Leeper is the Director of the Curriculum Materials Center at the University of Richmond.