"Angel bright, life in death; get off the road, don't suck my breath." This is the rhyme that Jem tells Dill he needs to say to keep the Hot Steam from sucking the breath out of him.
The summer has finally arrived in Maycomb, and that means that Dill will be back. Jem and Scout have missed their friend and are thrilled when he comes back. Once again, the kids are obsessed with getting Boo to come out of his house. They are talking about spirits and spooks when they start talking about Hot Steams. Dill has never heard of this, so Jem and Scout tell him the tale. In the beginning of the book, the kids are consumed with the need to see Boo. They associate Boo with the tall tales they heard from generations ago. What they don't realize at the time is that the real evil is just getting ready to infiltrate their safe world.
Harper Lee sets up the idea of what something scary is. The kids are afraid of Hot Steams, but they are about to face the scariest thing of all: the ugliness and evil that lies inside the human heart of some people.
In chapter four of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Jem, Dill and Scout are discussing Hot Steams. Dill is unfamiliar with the concept, and Jem explains them to him. According to Jem, a Hot Steam is the spirit of a person who has died and is unable to get into heaven. It is felt by people walking around on a "lonesome road" at night. The person walking passes through a "hot place." This hot place is the deceased person. Jem believes that if one is to walk through a Hot Steam that he or she will become one when he or she dies. According to Jem, the only way to keep from becoming a Hot Steam later, if one walks through a Hot Steam, is to say the following rhyme: "Angel-bright, life-in-death; get off the road, don’t suck my breath." Jem believes that this rhyme will keep the Hot Steam from wrapping around the person. Scout tells Dill not to listen to Jem (although it is not made completely clear if she does not believe in the tale or if it simply frightens her).