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          The Resurrection was first published in Make Me Over, 2005, Dutton Childrens Books


This story is included in Reaps, available on Kindle.

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                      The Resurrection
                         © 2011 Jess Mowry

                                                                                     (excerpt)




       It had been raining for several days, that kind of dreary, drenching rain that finds every leak in rotten old roofs, traps careless rats in flooded basements, and drowns the small and helpless. The time was only around five o'clock, but the clouds hung low in the late March sky and it seemed as dark as midnight.
       The old bus's ceiling lights were dead, and its moaning heaters just fogged up the windows while actually chilling the air. The driver wore gloves and a black hooded parka, a faceless shadow barely seen in the greenish glow of the instrument lamps.
       Corey was the last soul aboard as the bus rumbled over some railroad tracks to splash its way along narrow streets, past rows of rotting Victorian houses, truck garages, container yards, and rusty piles of jagged junk, its wipers slapping monotonously while the rain rattled down on its roof.
       Corey was thirteen and midnight black. He was soaking wet from his walk from school and a half-hour wait at an unsheltered stop. His bushy hair was coldly dripping, his sodden jeans felt as heavy as lead, and his big battered sneaks were like cheap little coffins leaking slowly across the floor. His ragged puff-coat, a childhood relic, couldn't be zipped above his chest, where his white T-shirt was plastered skin-tight.
       "End of the line," announced the driver, only following company rules since Corey obviously knew that, and bringing the bus to a hissing halt that sent a wave of gutter water sweeping over the sidewalk. But he turned to smile at Corey, his face still hidden under his hood, revealing nothing but shadows and teeth. "Y'all hurry home, son, you'll catch your death.”
       "Or maybe somebody else's," said Corey, his sneakers making squishy sounds as he shouldered his pack and descended the steps to pause at the edge of a murky stream. "What you got for me today?”
       The driver glanced out at the gloomy evening. "It's always darkest before the dawn.”
       "An' then you put your black shades on. See you tomorrow, Louis.”
       Mist was creeping in from the Bay through the silver shroud of falling rain, and the feeble street lights were haloed with gold. The gutter drains were strangled with trash, and Corey splashed through oily lakes of swampy-smelling water. Like many West Oakland neighborhoods, his was mostly Victorian houses that looked like miniature haunted mansions, each with a dead little patch of yard and some with gap-toothed fences. Corey's house was three stories tall and higher than it was wide. It seemed to lean over the sidewalk a bit, especially at night, and looked about ready to topple now as Corey climbed the creaky steps to its high and unlit porch.
    "Yo," said a voice in the dark.
       Corey tensed for fight or flight, expecting a crackhead or some kind of zombie sheltering from the rain. His hand shot down for his box-cutter blade, but then he relaxed as a small slim shape materialized out of the shadows. "S'up, Sniffles?" he asked.
       "I'm c-cold. Can I come in?"
       Corey smiled at the younger boy, who was maybe eight, as black as himself, and as lean as a coyote he'd seen on TV. The kid was clad in ragged jeans that puddled over worn-out sneaks and dragged the ground in dirty ribbons. He was shirtless beneath an old Army jacket of sandy desert camouflage, a veteran of a war somewhere that nearly reached his feet. Its sleeves hung down cartoonishly to well below his knees, while a tattered Oakland Raiders cap adorned his nappy hair.
       "Sure, dawg," said Corey. He heard an eerie chattering sound and realized it was Sniffles's teeth. "Damn, Sniff, you're wetter than me! You wanna catch your death?"
       "I thought death caught you, not the other way 'round."
       "It's just a sayin', man."
       "I'm hungry," said Sniffles.
       Corey lifted the bill of Sniffles's cap to at least see part of his face. "Let's go dig somethin' up."
       "P-pizza, m-maybe?"
       "Dream on, little man, as long as you can." Corey pulled out a skeleton key that hung around his neck on a shoelace, and unlocked the house's front door. The hinges made a spooky sound as Corey pushed the door open, revealing a foyer dimly lit by a twenty-watt bulb on the ceiling. The house contained three apartments, but no one seemed to be home right now, and the only sound was the patter of rain and its trickle and drip from the eaves. The boys ascended squeaky stairs, dripping trails of water, their breaths puffing ghostly smoke in the air, to reach the third floor landing. The bulb was dead in the hallway, and Corey groped his way to his door with Sniffles clutching his hand.
       "I'm scared of the dark," whispered Sniffles, as if afraid of awakening something. He clung to Corey, squeezing his coat, which spattered the floor like a soggy sponge.
        Corey felt for the lock and inserted his key. "You keep runnin' around all wet in the rain, you better get used to the dark, man, 'cause there's no light where it's always night."
       "What you sayin'?" demanded Sniffles.
       "Nothin', dawg. Bad joke. Forget it."
       A street lamp's glow through the living room window cast rippling patterns across the floor as rain poured off the house's roof to rattle the lids of garbage cans and drum on a Dumpster below. Corey let Sniffles enter first, then pushed a switch on the wall. A gold-shaded lamp came on by a couch that was slowly bleeding cotton. Rainwater dripped from the lofty ceiling, plunking into pots and pans all close to overflowing. Corey locked the door, wiggled out of his pack, then went to light a little gas fire that crouched on clawed feet in a corner. He shed his coat and peeled off his shirt, revealing more muscles than actual mass, his chest jutting out like a small pair of bricks, his biceps round as baseballs, his belly armored by ebony stone. Even his V-jawed face looked hard, with a wide but snubby bridgeless nose and cheekbones high and fierce.
       "Get out them wet clothes," he said, seeing Sniffles shivering. "I get a towel to dry you off."
       Sniffles sat bare by the whispering flames, his knees drawn up to his tight little chest, his hair dripping glittering jewels on the floor, as Corey returned with a blanket and towel. "Stand up, little guy, let's get you dry. ...Damn, you smell like a wet puppy-dog."
       "Is that b-bad?" chattered Sniffles as Corey got busy with the towel. Where most kids' tummies would have stuck out, Sniffles's caved in below his ribs.
       "Probably not to another dog, but a nice hot bath wouldn't kill you."
       "Later, okay? I'm hungry now."
       "I'll check what's in the kitchen, but it probably won't be bitchin'." Corey gave Sniffles the blanket. "Wrap yourself up, little pup."
       Sniffles smiled. "Aight, I’m tight."
       The apartment was starting to warm up now as Corey pulled off his shoes and socks, stripped out of his jeans and peeled off his shorts, then emptied the brimming pots and pans by dumping them out the window. He went to the tiny kitchen, lit the stove to make coffee, then checked the contents of the rusty old fridge; half a bowl of mac-and-cheese, a garden salad from Safeway, and most of a gallon jug of milk.
       Sniffles appeared in the doorway robed like a miniature monk in the blanket. "No pizza, huh?"
       "Pizza lives in a land far away, little man, where chocolate cats eat marshmallow rats an' all the happy kids are fat."
       Sniffles giggled as if Corey had drawn him a funny picture. "Where's your dad?"
       "Workin' the graveyard again. They do most of the diggin' at night  so it don't give the visitors frights. ...An' why ain't you takin' a bath?"
       "I'm hungry, dammit."
       "Get in the tub an' start to scrub. I'll bring in the grub when it's ready."
       "Can you eat in the tub?"
       "On a night like this you can, little man."
       Sniffles giggled again. "I get in, in my skin."
      Corey woke up around midnight to find Sniffles hugging him skin to skin as if he was some sort of blankie. It was obvious from Sniffles's breathing that he was coming down with a cold and might be going to share it. Corey almost pushed him away, but then gently disentangled himself and quietly slipped out of bed. It seemed a little late to worry about catching Sniffles's sniffles. The kid almost always had them, which was naturally how he'd gotten his name. Happily, he smelled better now, after Corey had scrubbed him with hard water soap and washed his hair with lice shampoo so it fluffed like an Afro explosion. He still resembled a starving rat with fingernails like weapons, but at least he was clean for a change.
       The street lamp's glimmer shone in through the window, bathing Corey's little room with a softly sulfurous glow. The apartment was comfortably warm now, and the patter of rain was soothing. Corey found he wasn't sleepy and considered doing the rest of his homework. His dad would be back in an hour or so and it would be cool to see him... something that didn't happen enough since the man was working double shifts. Corey stood for a moment, enjoying the gentle drumming of rain and its watery splash as it poured off the roof. Rain was cool when you were dry and safe inside somewhere.
       He glanced at Sniffles resting in peace, then padded to the window. Rainwater trickled down the glass, gleaming like gold in the yellowish light. Droplets clung to a spider's web, making a necklace of amber sparks. A car rolled past in the flooded street, pushing a wave that swept the sidewalks; a long, ancient car like a black station wagon and almost as big as a truck. A chill ran suddenly down Corey's spine when he saw it was a hearse!
       The house next door was a funeral home, a rotting Victorian twin to his own, except for a small weathered sign on its porch that said Eternal Hope. Corey had never understood that... how long could you keep hoping before you finally gave up? But, the place had been closed before he was born -- which seemed to prove that even hope died -- its windows boarded, its yard a jungle, its paint peeling off like mummy skin. The hearse swung into its buckled driveway, nosing through weeds and decades of trash as if death had been taking a long vacation.
       Corey eyed the grim vehicle though the hazy curtain of rain and mist. A tall slender figure, dressed all in black, emerged and seemed to scope out the 'hood. It was too dark to see many details, but the shape was clad in a long leather coat and was almost too slim for its height. Corey couldn't see a face, which must have been the color of night beneath a bristle of short dreadlocks. The shadowy movements were masculine, though graceful somehow, suggesting youth. Casually parting the waist-high weeds, the ebony figure walked to the house, climbed the steps to its high front porch, and vanished into darkness.
       "Corey?"
       Corey opened his eyes to find his father stripped to the waist and gleaming with rain. He glanced at the clock atop the TV, which showed the time as 3:13. His father's old coat and blue work shirt were hung on a hook above the fire, stained with mud, softly dripping, and giving up ghosts of earth-scented steam.
       "Why ain't you in bed, son?"
       Corey found himself sprawled on the shabby old couch in only his skin and without a clue. He dimly remembered the ancient hearse and wondered if he'd dreamed it. Rain still drummed on the roof, and water still rushed off the eaves. Droplets plunked in the pots and pans, while the garbage cans rattled below. He noticed his history book beside him. "Guess I musta fell asleep. We got a test on Friday."
       "All the more reason you need your rest. Nobody got time to be stupid 'round here." The man frowned a little, hearing a cough from Corey's room. "I been in to see him. Boy got a fever. ...Son, we gotta do somethin' 'bout him. He been homeless since his aunt passed on an' he won't axe nobody for help."
       "He always axin' me," said Corey.
       "Yeah, but there ain't a lot you can do."
       "He’s scared of gettin’ locked up in one of those ‘homes’ that ain’t. Can't he stay with us?"
       The man sat down beside Corey. "In case you ain't noticed, this home ain’t rich."
       "He don't eat much," said Corey, before realizing how stupid that sounded.
       His father sighed. "There's a whole lot more to raisin' a boy than just how much he eat, son. An' I'm just too tired to go into it now."
       "Guess it's hard diggin' graves in the rain."
       "Just keep up them grades an' you'll never have to." The man sighed again and rubbed his eyes, reddened from too little sleep. "All right, Corey. Till he get better." He pulled out a sad-looking wallet. "Go to the store in the mornin'. Get some chicken-noodle soup an' a quart of orange juice. An' fix him some honey-lemon tea like I done for you last year."
       "Thanks, dad." Corey hugged his father, all stony muscle and cold from the rain, smelling of wet dirt and sweat.
       "Lord," said the man, rising and stretching. "No rest for the wicked this side of the grave."
       Corey laughed. "You ain't wicked."
       "Musta done somethin' wicked sometime, but damn if I know what it was. Y'all get a blanket an' sleep out here. Nobody got time for bein' sick. ...How's them grades?"
       "I let you know on Friday. 'Night, dad, you ain't bad."
       "'Night, son, you ain't dumb." The man started for his room.
       "Dad?"
       "Yeah?"
       "Did you see a hearse next door?"
       "Matter of fact. Maybe that death-house back in business." The man looked down at his hands for a moment, noting their muddy fingernails. "Never no shortage of customers.”


                                              Two


    "End of the line."
       Corey opened his eyes and blinked, surprised to see the sun shining in through the bus's grimy windshield, although it was low in the west. It had also been beaming brightly that morning when Corey had woken up on the couch to hear Sniffles cough in his room. His father had already left for work, and Corey had gone to the corner store to get the soup and orange juice. The air smelled clean and fresh for a change, the flooded streets were beginning to dry, and even the ramshackle houses looked better, their faded paint cleansed of dust and soot.
       "You all right, son?" asked the driver, minus his gloves and parka today.
       "Yeah. Just a little tired is all. No rest for the wicked."
       The driver laughed. "Not on this side of the grave anyway."
       "Or on this side of them railroad tracks."
       The driver glanced at Corey's pack, which was stuffed to bursting with books. "You'll be crossin' over, soon. Dyin' is easy, livin' is hard. But where there's life there's always hope."
       "'Long as you stay away from dope." Corey shouldered his pack and descended the steps. "See you tomorrow, Louis."
       The evening air was pleasantly warm with maybe a flavor of oncoming spring. Corey peeled off his tight T-shirt like shedding a worn out skin... he really needed some new ones. The same went for his beat-down jeans, which couldn't be buttoned all the way. The last rosy rays of the setting sun felt good on his ebony chest as he started walking casually home, noting new grass in the sidewalk cracks and a hopeful green in shabby yards, even if they were only weeds. But then he remembered Sniffles and quickened his pace to a trot.
       A few minutes later, back on his block, he saw the ancient truck-sized hearse parked in the funeral home's driveway. It looked more funny than frightening now, with its bulbous fenders, tons of chrome, and old-fashioned gangster-whitewall tires.
       Somebody was cutting the weeds in the yard; a slashing shadow as dark as death that swung a savage machete. It was a boy around seventeen. He wore only jeans and big battered sneaks, his long body shining with silvery sweat as if someone had polished a midnight. Despite his slimness his muscles were hard, though showing less starkly than Corey's. His face was almost more pretty than handsome, with gentle cheekbones, a small snub nose, and full lips at rest in an half-open pout. His hair was a crown of spiky locks, while his hands and feet looked a little too large, though there was nothing awkward about him. He moved like a stalking cat or a dancer, reaping a harvest of dead yellow thistles with every bright sweep of his glittering blade. He was clearly the long-coated, leather-clad shape who'd rolled up in the hearse last night.
       If not for Corey's concern about Sniffles, he might have gone over to meet the dude and ask what was up with the old funeral home. The boy seemed too young for an undertaker, but Corey didn't have time for questions.
       Sniffles lay wrapped in a blanket, curled up on the couch and watching cartoons.
    "Yo, Sniff, how you feelin'?" asked Corey, dropping his pack on the floor.
       Sniffles coughed. "Aight, I guess."
       Corey felt Sniffles's forehead. "You still got a fever. I make you some soup."
       "No pizza, huh?"
       "I once saw a pizza, it said pleased to meet ya, but you gotta buy me before you can try me."
       Sniffles managed the ghost of a giggle.
       "You drink lots of orange juice today?" Corey asked.
       "Yeah. The whole thing."
       "Cool. You be better in no time, man."
       "Then what?"
       "Huh?" asked Corey, pausing on his way to the kitchen.
       Sniffles coughed and pointed to the window, darkening now as night settled in. "Then I gotta go back out there."
       Corey returned to the couch, hesitated, then took Sniffles's hand. "I'll think of somethin'. Just get better."
       "Sometimes I wish I was dead."
       Corey grabbed the boy's shoulders. "Don't you NEVER say nothin' like that, fool!"
       Tears squeezed out of Sniffles's eyes. "Well, I do."
       Corey almost shook the boy, but ruffled his bushy hair instead. He came pretty close to hugging the kid, but his own body seemed too unforgiving, like it should have been softer somehow. "Look, little man, where there's life there's hope."
       "Who told you that?"
       "A hopeful bus driver." Corey knelt down and met Sniffle's eyes. "I'll think of somethin'. I promise. Aight?"
       "...Aight."
       "Blow your nose an' wipe your face. Nobody got time to cry in this place."
       Corey finished his homework around ten o'clock, clad only in jeans at the kitchen table, then went to his room for a peep at Sniffles. The boy was asleep but his breathing was stuffy. His forehead felt hotter, too. "Damn!" muttered Corey. "You ain't gettin' outta here that easy, man!" He tucked the blankets a little tighter, then remembered something his father had done when he'd had a cold the year before. He checked his pockets for lunch money: seven dollars and forty-eight cents, supposed to last until Friday. Then he slipped on his sneaks and went out.
       He found a jar of Vicks VapoRub at the little corner market... he'd massage the stuff onto Sniffles's chest and that would make him better.
       The funeral-home boy must have worked all evening, Corey thought as he hurried past: the weeds were gone from the little front yard and the boards removed from the house's windows. The power must have been restored, and dim light shone through deep-purple curtains. Corey noticed a slim dark shape at rest on the shadowy porch. The boy was still shirtless in nothing but jeans and seemed to be sipping a forty-ounce. Corey wished he could join him.
       "Corey?"
       Corey woke up on the couch. It was close to three a.m. The air was scented with VapoRub, but it hadn't helped Sniffles's cough.
       "Son," said Corey's father. "If he ain't better tomorrow, we got to call Social Service."
       Corey listened to Sniffles's breathing. There was something very lonely about a child's cough in the night. "Yeah, dad. I know. ...But maybe he be okay by then. Like, where there's life there's hope."
       "There ain't no hope in a grave, son. I'ma be home at six tomorrow, 'fore I start the other shift."
       Corey sighed. "Aight.”


End of excerpt. This story in included in Reaps, available on Kindle.