Here are the first three chapters of an urban fantasy, Keep Mama Dead. Okay, it’s more like a rural fantasy, but if I say that no one knows what I mean.
As always, take a read and let me know what you think.
In 1871, Henry Stanley traveled to the African jungles to find David Livingstone, who taught him about the natives’ mystical practices and rites. I cannot help but wish they’d left those mysteries there.
Chapter 1: A replacement for magic
Thomas needed to help Mama die and stay dead, but first he had to save his little brother’s second life.
So he followed Franky out to the front porch, where Papa had already assumed his place in the rocker. Only a miracle—such as some unexpected victuals—would get him out of the chair before lunch. Thomas jumped down all three porch steps to the dirt, and stopped.
“Where you going, Franky?” he said.
Near the corner of the house, fourteen-year-old Franky stopped but didn’t turn. “Same place I go every day.”
“That so?” Thomas said.
“I ain’t going to use magic. I promise.”
“Then where’s your fishing pole?”
“I’m going to make one.”
True, no doubt. But he always made puny fishing poles that broke unless—thanks to some idiot at the hatchery near Zion Canyon—he cast a spell. Sure, it made the fish lighter on the line, kind of lifted them toward the water’s surface, but it cost some second life days.
Using limited second life days that way was like trading gold for dirt. But Franky just wanted to catch fish, and the spell helped. Thomas could imagine the expression Franky would make when he realized he just couldn’t cast any more spells. So, Thomas had prepared a surprise.
“Before you go,” he said, “get me the hoe out of the barn.”
Franky’s shoulders slumped. “You ain’t had breakfast yet.”
Thomas raised his eyebrows. With a scowl Franky turned and started to trudge along a narrow path of beaten red dirt. It ran about fifty yards from the house to the barn in a straight line, worn smooth by twenty years of daily use. To the path’s right, sunlight crept up the northeast field that stretched a hundred yards down to the barbed-wire fence and dirt road. Thomas knew it was a trick of the morning sunlight, how it called out the reddish brown hues, but the field seemed to beg for planting, for the chance to expend its strength nourishing life. It had thus begged many mornings for two years.
To the left of the path, the morning light, shooting at a narrow angle over the land, cast shadows in the furrows that Thomas had plowed the day before. Brilliant red lines of turned soil extended out parallel to the path, separated by the shadowed furrows. That field extended west, to out behind the house, where the ridge steepened. Franky wanted to head that direction, toward the reservoir. But he would never get there at his defeated shuffling.
“I’m going to need that hoe before tomorrow,” Thomas said. “A little speed in your step wouldn’t hurt.”
Franky glared, but began to run along the dirt path. Twenty feet along, Stanley darted out from the side of the house, barking and leaping near Franky.
“Shut that mutt up,” Papa said. “Your Mamma can’t take that kind of noise in her condition. Doc’ll tell you the same.”
Thomas didn’t look at him. He knew what he would see. Papa slumped there, gut bulging against his overalls and gray shirt, straw hat pulled low over his brow. Soft hands gripping the rocker arms as if to make sure he didn’t fall off, and feet rocking from heel to toe, heel to toe in the purest form of unthinking habit.
Franky reached the barn and pulled the door open. Stanley yelped and started run back up the path as the hinges wailed. They needed oiling as surely as most of boards needed replacing. They’d long since blackened and cracked. The entire structure’s two-story frame leaned to the right, downhill, like it wanted to assume Papa’s usual repose. Many of the wooden shingles on the roof stood curled and warped, having lived long past their expected life.
“That dog will make her sicker with that yapping,” Papa said. “She needs some peace so she can get better.”
Get better? Not likely. She already walked with the dead.
Franky entered the barn.Stanleyback up the path, toward Thomas. Due to a recent cow kick to the head, the dog ran a bit crooked. Mud and water darkened his already brown fur, matted his legs and belly.
Thomas turned to look at Mama. She stood in the kitchen’s open window, just to the left of the open front door. The rising sun’s light hit the back of her colorless dress straight on, and lit up the entire front of the house. The usually black boards glistened silver in the light—all except for two below the kitchen window. Last year Thomas had gone to St. George and bought those to replace some that had simply fallen apart from being leaned on so much. Light brown and un-warped, the new boards looked like the bandages they were.
The window covering—three boards nailed together with a diagonal board—lay open against the house, next to the glassless window. The creak of that window opening had awoken Thomas ten minutes before, just like it did every morning. He would never oil those hinges.
Usually, Mama’s voice accompanied the screech of the window. Get up, Thomas! The day’s half gone by now and you’ve got work to get to!
On the window’s right, the door hung open like an old man that couldn’t quite get inside. Down low, at the wooden threshold, dust motes played in the sunlight. To the right of the door, a light sheet of fabric covered an otherwise open window. The fabric had once been white, and hadn’t had any holes, but Thomas could barely remember those days. To the left of the kitchen window, a third window, to Mama and Papa’s room, also hung open. From his angle, Thomas could only see the wall and ceiling to that room.
Above it all, a porch stretched along the entire length of the house, with a simple pole railing in front, split in half because of the three steps in the porch’s center, right in front of the door. The porch sagged in the middle, where it got most of its traffic—although Papa spending most if his time nearby surely worked to wear down its structural integrity, day after day, year after year. Above it, the roof of the house extended out, so that Papa could sit most of the day in the shade. Just not in the morning, when Mama worked in the house.
Thomas had first sensed her imminent passing two days before, when she’d stopped making eye contact and started moving slower each hour. Soon, she’d fallen silent, and about then her eyes slid clean over you like you weren’t even there. And to her you probably weren’t.
No, Mama wouldn’t get better. Her body wasn’t sick. It was her soul that ailed. She’d decided to die. No one could do anything for that.
All anyone could do was help her die faster.
Just inside the door, Clara May sat at the table, still prattling on about gathering eggs. Her voice hung over the rhythm of Mama kneading her dough. She leaned over the counter as she worked, moving slow, like she thought real hard about every motion even though she’d done the same thing every morning for two decades. That sound of her folding and working the dough, and the smell of that flour—they defined morning for Thomas.
He didn’t blame her for deciding to die. She’d suffered enough for any one person. She deserved a long rest, deep in the ground.
Problem was, how to make sure she got it? Because if Thomas knew his family, the Bakers—and he’d spent nineteen years getting to know them—they would try to resurrect her.
He felt wetness at his hand.
“Still afraid to go into the barn?”
With his moist nose, Stanley nudged Thomas’s hand again, rubbed his body up against Thomas’s leg. He wuffed.
“I don’t blame you,” Thomas said. “Getting kicked by a cow will make grown men afraid of barns.”
He scratched Stanley’s back, and the dog gave him a grin. His shaggy fur needed trimming.
Franky emerged from the barn. “Look at what I found!”
He started back toward the house, this time with enthusiasm in his step. In one hand he held a fishing pole and in his other a whole lot of nothing—specifically, no hoe. It didn’t matter, though. The hoe had been a ruse to get him into the barn.
He lifted the fishing pole as he ran, his face turned up as if he’d just bested a hundred foes in battle. Never mind his bare feet, his overalls with holes in the knees and the cuffs turned up, and lack of a shirt—he still looked like the victor of a war. Stanley ran toward him, barking.
“What’s that?” Thomas shouted. He removed his straw hat and scratched his head. “Is that—is that a fishing pole?”
Franky hooted as he ran back up the path, toward the house.
“Quit your bellering!” Papa said.
Thomas raised his voice. “That looks like a brand new fishing pole.”
Franky laughed. His eyes shone beneath his brown curls as he skidded to a halt by Thomas. He stood a full head shorter, and had the straightest teeth in the family.
“You’ll disturb Mama.”
“Where’d that come from?” Thomas said.
“Found it by the tools. Think I could use it?”
“I bet,” Thomas said, “that with that pole you wouldn’t have to use magic to catch fish. It’s probably already got magic that keeps it from breaking.”
“You think a pole like this could catch a big fish?”
“Probably one as big as you. Without you casting your spell. Maybe you should go see.”
“You think so?”
“Head on up to the reservoir. But listen. That pole is so you don’t have to use your second life days. You understand?”
Franky had already turned and started sprinting along the path. Stanley ran alongside him, and before they disappeared around the house Franky tried to kick him.
“Get away! You scare the fish!”
“Don’t use your magic,” Thomas said. “Understand?”
But Franky had disappeared around the house. Stanley, too, but after a moment the dog came back.
“You need to keep that boy quiet,” Papa said.
Thomas began to respond. He turned his back to the rocker, so he could to look down the lane that extended out from the house, separating the northeast and southeast fields. But he fell silent at the sight of horses passing inside the barbed-wire fence, turning up the lane. The sound of their hooves rolled up the hill, as riding the rays of sunlight.
In fact, his retort to Papa never came out, for on one of the horses rode an angel.
She wore a white dress. The still-rising sun hit it so she glowed. Her blonde hair bounced behind her, turning the morning light into a halo around her head. Even from a hundred yards out Thomas could see she moved in a comfortable rhythm with her mount, with grace and ease. The dust rising behind her horse hung yellow in the air, a trail of stardust.
Thomas stared, not paying the other rider much heed.
He’d kissed a few girls a few years before, back before his friends had all gotten married, but never considered courting one. However, the mere sight of how this girl moved and glowed—even at the distance—tempted him to rethink.
She rode at a gallop up the sloping lane toward the house, up past the field Thomas planned to fertilize that day. Only when she reached house and the second rider dismounted—and Stanley jumped up on him—did Thomas realize who her companion was: Mr. Robert Milne.
“I got word,” he said. “Caroline isn’t well.”
“A man can’t get ahead in this life,” Papa said. “She took sick two days back. We sent for doc and he said that barring paying customers, he’d come today.”
Mr. Milne fought Stanley down without the usual laugh, and lashed his horse to the rail in front of the porch. “I need to see her.”
“She’s inside,” Papa said.
But she didn’t stand at the counter, anymore. And the pounding of dough had stopped. Clara May had also disappeared from the table. They’d probably gone out back.
The girl dismounted by flipping one leg back over the horse like a man would have, revealing long stockings up to her knees. Most women wouldn’t ride a horse like she had, let alone in a dress, and certainly none would dismount without a little help from a man. From her horse’s saddle she pulled a folded white parasol and opened it. She held it upright, so its shaft didn’t touch her shoulder. At that angle, the sunlight snuck in under the parasol’s frilly edges.
Thomas had never seen Mr. Milne carry a gun, but he removed a rifle from his horse’s saddle and lighted up the three steps of the porch, skipping the second.
He motioned at the girl before going into the house. “This is Miss Sadie. My…guest.”
Stanley followed Mr. Milne into the house.
Papa paused his rocking long enough to lift his bottom out of the chair about two inches, and bobbed his head. Then he collapsed back down with a grunt. Mr. Milne proceeded into the house but Miss Sadie stayed at the bottom of the steps.
“It’s true,” Papa said. He rubbed his hands along the top of his overalls and squinted at the horizon. “A man can’t catch a break, I tell you. Not a single break. Ain’t nothing gone right in my life since the day I didn’t get my blessing.”
Miss Sadie turned to face Thomas. She looked seventeen. Maybe eighteen. About the same age as Clara May. Just a year or two younger than him. Tanned skin like everyone else’s, but smooth like a child’s. Freckles stretched over her nose. And long lashes framed green eyes.
“That’s my son, Thomas,” Papa said. He gestured by lifting a hand about an inch from his thigh.
She gave Thomas a smile unlike any he’d ever seen. Not flashy and all teeth and not looking down or away. But directly at him, closed-lipped, the right corner of her mouth rising more than the other, and the left eyebrow lifting a little.
She extended a white-gloved hand, and spoke. She articulated each word with precision, like it was arithmetic and there was only one right way to say something. And she meant to get it right. “Pleasure to meet you, Thomas. I’m Sadie.”
What girl introduced herself like that, offering her first name with such familiarity?
“Thomas,” Papa said. “Meet Mr. Milne’s guest, Miss Sadie.”
Thomas lifted his hand to shake hers, rather wishing she would remove her glove so he could feel her skin, but stopped short when he noticed the dirt on his hands.
“I’d hate to get your glove dirty.”
She cocked her head to one side, furrowed her brow, removed the glove, and extended the hand again. She had fine hands. Long fingers. Smooth skin. Probably hadn’t seen a day of work. Ever. How nice would those hands feel in his? Soft and pleasant.
“Pleased to meet you, Thomas,” Sadie said.
“Can’t catch a break,” Papa said. “Ever since I failed to get the blessing of persuasion, ain’t nothing gone right.”
She raised her eyebrows and extended her hand a little further. He wanted to take it and shake it. And never let go. But he would probably get the frilly cuff of her sleeve dirty.
What did he look like to her, wearing his faded dungarees and a gray shirt he hadn’t washed in more than a month? And ankle-high boots made of beaten leather, with holes near the big toes. And no socks. How long since he’d had a hair cut? For that matter, when was the last time he’d put a comb through his hair? Or taken a bath? Did his wide-brimmed hat hide any of that?
“Just look at these here overalls,” Papa said. “Been wearing them for nigh ten years.” Mama had sewn patches over the patches that covered the holes created by his rubbing. He lifted up his boots to show the hole-riddled soles. “And look at these. A man can’t work in shoes like that.”
“You wouldn’t work even if you had the right shoes,” Thomas said. He didn’t take his eyes off of Sadie. Heavens, he wanted to touch that hand. How soft would it be? How warm? “It might tax your weakened body.”
“Now, don’t be rude,” she said. She took a half a step forward and nearly thrust her extended fingers into his chest.
“It’s true,” Papa said. “He’s right. Since I didn’t get my blessing, I get sick easy. Like I’m on the verge of a deathbed. Can’t even work to get up a proper sweat.”
“Thomas,” Sadie said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Her unyielding gaze seemed to reach up through his own eyes, grab his brain, and squeeze.
It felt nice. Real nice.
She moved her hand forward one more time, and actually touched his chest with the tips of her fingers. It felt more like solid punch from a large man. A faint floral scent emanated from her.
He couldn’t resist any further, so reached to take her hand.
Livingstone never returned from Africa, but Stanley did, keeping knowledge of the rites to himself for fear of how the civilized world would react. Yet he couldn’t discount or forget them, and in 1874 returned to Africa to learn more. Would to the good Lord that he’d died there.
Chapter 2: Dead soon
Even through the dirt and calluses on Thomas’s hand, Miss Sadie’s skin felt smooth. Soft. He remembered as a child touching Franky’s cheek when he was a baby, and marveling at the softness. He’d thought there could never be anything as smooth as that. But here, Miss Sadie’s hand proved him wrong. Her hand.
“Too much work would kill me,” Papa said. A porch board groaned beneath the rock of his chair. “My body tires and I get sick. I try my best to do my work and the part that god gave me in this world, but my body can’t take it. ”
“The pleasure’s mine,” Thomas said.
She smiled at him again, her lips closed and her head tilted as if she wanted to view him from a different angle. She probably found him a foolish country bumpkin.
The thought made him release her hand and tuck both of his into his pockets. Sure enough, he’d gotten dirt on the cuff of her dress, although she didn’t seem to notice. She still held the hand out where he’d released it and just looked at him, like how Franky considered a large fish just below the surface of the water.
Heat rose in his cheeks but he didn’t look away. She might be high class and superior, but he wouldn’t show her he felt low class and inferior. He wouldn’t show that she’d impressed him.
She turned her attention to Papa, lowering her hand and raising her chin as she looked up at him. “You can’t work? Injury?”
Thomas hadn’t noticed it, but at some point Stanley had emerged from the house and stood at the top of the steps. He tilted his head at Miss Sadie as if she’d spoken to him.
“You might say that,” Papa said. “Ever since I went to Zion Canyon in 1890 and petitioned for the blessing of persuasion—so I could be a politician—I can’t work. My petition done failed, and sucked most of my second life days out of me, and now I’m weak. Can’t hardly lift nothing.”
“I’ve never heard of a failed petition doing that.”
Thomas rolled his eyes. “Oh, but it happened. Just look at him. He don’t have the strength to work. Why, if he starts to sweat, it’s like he was Jesus, sweating blood in that garden.”
“Thomas!” Papa said. “Don’t blaspheme.”
Sadie looked back and forth between them, her eyes calculating. They finally stopped on Thomas, and went to his hat.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a boy wear that color.”
He blushed again and looked away. “Mama gave it to me.”
When your mother gave you an object, it meant something—even if over the years the red had faded to nearly pink. She’d given the cloth to him when he was two or three, and she always wanted him to have it with him. She would tie it around his waist or have him wear it as an ascot when going to church. Soon he felt incomplete without it. So as he grew he wrapped it around the base of his straw hat’s crown.
“I’m sorry,” Sadie said. “to hear that she’s…sick.”
“Dying,” Thomas said. “She won’t live out the day.”
“Quit your talking like that,” Papa said. “She’ll live. A man’s got to get a break sooner or later, and she’s going to live. I can feel it. Besides, Doc’s coming. Be here by lunch.”
Thomas rolled his eyes, and kept his back to Papa. “She don’t want to live no more. Want to meet her before she dies?”
Miss Sadie nodded, so he led her around the side of the house to the back. He looked at his hand, thought of how soft her hand had felt in his. Stanley loped alongside them. Thomas could’ve sworn the dog leered up at Miss Sadie, admiring how her hips moved as she walked, swaying back and forth, leading her way.
They rounded the side of the house and the entire western field came into view. It stretched up the ridge’s slope, which turned steeper than in the font of the house, but remained usable as farmland. A narrow lane extended out from the house, separating the south and north portions of the field, which in all spread three hundred yards wide. In both halves, the sun brightened the crests of the furrows and cast shadows into the depressions, so that for two hundred yards, all the way to the line of bushes and cacti at the top of the ridge, stripes of red soil and black shadow covered the land. All except for where the shadow of the house stretched up the hill, elongated and narrowing further up the slope. It made the Baker home appear much grander than it was.
As they stepped into the coolness of that shadow behind the house, Miss Sadie’s eyes widened. She didn’t seem to notice Mama and Clara May and Mr. Milne standing behind the house. She just gestured at the fields.
“Do you work all that land?” she said.
“The fields, yes,” Thomas said. “Just me and Mama.”
Her mouth hung open a bit. “Look at those mountains.”
“In the early morning, ain’t nothing like it.”
Beyond the crest of the ridge, past the irrigation ditch, hills of red dirt and rock, spotted by patches of green bushes and sage brush, rose up over each other for a mile, distinct and bright in the sunlight. Further on, the land turned into mountains with steep cliffs and jagged peaks. Some of them still bore snow. A wisp of cloud stretched along the azure horizon.
Miss Sadie nodded in appreciation. “The land is beautiful.”
“Makes getting up early worth it.”
He admired the view for a moment, his appreciation renewed and amplified by Miss Sadie’s admiration, then turned back to the people behind the house.
Mama leaned over the wash basin, which stood against the house, to the left of the open back door. She rubbed a shirt on the washboard, but the basin contained only a hint of water and no suds. Usually, the sound of her scrubbing clothes on the washboard came with the sloshing of water and the rhythm of knuckles rubbing up and down, up and down over the metal. But now she moved so slow that she made no sound audible over the clucking and chattering of hens in their coop. Wasn’t no shirt in the world that could get clean with such scrubbing. Thomas had never seen her move like that.
“She’s worse than I feared,” Mr. Milne said.
He stood behind Mama, frowning, his back toward the fields. He always looked serious because of the pock-mark scars covering his cheeks, but now his eyes held no mirth like usual. They burned hard and cold. Fearful.
On the right side of the back door, half a dozen feet from Mama, Clara May sat on a little stool in front of the chicken coops. A pair of baskets sat at her feet. She spoke so softly that Thomas almost didn’t hear her over the hens clucking and chattering in their wood-and-wire homes.
“Mama’s just fine. Just doing the wash. She’ll be good by the time Doc gets here. Maybe I’ll go deliver my eggs.”
With Miss Sadie nearby, Thomas felt bad for his sister. Her colorless dress hung on her as if on a hanger, showing no shape of her body like Miss Sadie’s dress. And Clara May’s hair, brown like the rest of the family’s, pulled back like Mama’s, seemed drab next to Miss Sadie’s blond. Clara May’s face, so thin, looked like a naked skull.
Mr. Milne grunted. “Like as not, she’ll die by lunch.”
“I said the same,” Thomas said. “They didn’t believe me.”
Mr. Milne didn’t take his gaze off of Mama. In one hand he still held that gun, and in the other a fine black leather hat with a black band around the base. It matched the rest of his woolen suit and trousers—all black but covered in dust from the road. He was a tailor down in St. George, and had the blessing of fine dexterity.
Thomas suspected that he’d helped support the family ever since Franky’s birth because he was Franky’s Papa. At least, so Thomas believed, although he’d never voiced his suspicion. But why else would Mr. Milne come around so much, and give them money? It made sense for one of the fathers of the family’s children to do something for his offspring.
“She’ll die,” Mr. Milne said. “Nothing we can do.”
Clara May’s eyes began to water. She reached out as if to touch the hem of Mama’s dress, though she sat half a dozen feet away.
“Don’t listen to them, Mama. Doc’s coming. He’ll fix you right up. Give you a tonic. Or cast a spell.”
Miss Sadie squatted next to Clara May, not seeming to worry over soiling her dress on the hard-packed dirt. She took one of Clara May’s hands in her gloved fingers, and spoke so that Thomas almost didn’t hear it over the hens.
“I’m so sorry for your loss, miss.”
Clara May shook her head and pulled her hand free. “I need to gather the eggs and deliver them to the folks who live on the road between here and Hurricane. They’ll miss my eggs if I don’t. They’ll miss them.”
But she didn’t stand. She just sat there, looking at Mama and shaking her head so hard and fast that a few tears flipped out of her eyes to the sides. Some landed on Miss Sadie’s dress, tapping like rain on a canvas.
“William!” Mr. Milne called. “William, get back here! We need to talk about the spell.”
Thomas stiffened. The spell. The resurrection spell.
“I’m coming,” Papa said.
Soon, Thomas heard Papa’s shuffling through the house. Boards creaked. Shoes slid across the wooden floor. It grew louder until Papa arrived in the back doorway. He didn’t exit, but looked toward Mama with a dead expression. His gut seemed to reach further out than his gaze.
“We’ll need to resurrect her,” Mr. Milne said.
Papa nodded. “She used her second life days on spells to help us all. Probably used the last of them last year, sometime. Because of her love for us, to serve us.”
“More like to compensate for others’ inaction,” Thomas said. “Or to make life easier on Charles.”
Mr. Milne nodded, not seeming to care about when she’d last used magic. Everyone who sought the blessing of a second life—which was about everyone in the country of Sanctuary, just south of the state of Utah—received the promise of a resurrection. Then, when they died, they stayed dead for three days before coming back to life.
During those three days you had a Life Vision. Every detail of your life passed before your spirit. You saw all the things you did wrong and needed to change. And when it ended, you came back to life. Preachers said it was so you could repent and become worthy of heaven.
But before dying the first time you could shorten your second life by burning its days, using them as fuel for magic. If you consumed them all, you didn’t resurrect. Not naturally, anyway. Someone else could give you some of their second life days and cast a spell to resurrect you.
That’s what they wanted to do with Mama.
Well Thomas wouldn’t have it. He wouldn’t let his mother be brought back to a life she hated.
In fact, he seemed though she had her back to him, he seemed to hear her voice in the back of his head. Thomas, don’t you dare allow them to resurrect me. You make sure that I stay dead. You understand? That’s your job. You do it.
“Why would we resurrect her?” he said. “She’s done her part in life. We got no reason to bring her back.”
“She’s our mama,” Clara May said. “We want her back.”
“Why she would want to come back? She’s just our slave.”
“She’s a good Christian,” Papa said. “She’s worked hard and served us all her days. The good Lord would want her brought back to our bosoms, for us to cherish her.”
“Sure,” Thomas said. “About like he’d want her on a cross.”
“We’re her family,” Clara May said. “She loves us.”
Thomas clenched his fists. “Look at her. She don’t want to be resurrected.”
She still leaned against the stone basin, moving her hands up and down on that washboard, just staring at the shirt like she didn’t see it.
Papa pointed at Thomas. “She used up all of her second life days taking care of her family—taking care of you. Don’t you love your Mama, you lazy boy? You always was selfish.”
“Right—I’m lazy and selfish. I do the farming and care for the house while you sit there never doing a thing. And Charles just runs off with his horse. And Franky just goes fishing. I’m the selfish one, all right.”
“I tend to the chickens,” Clara May said.
“Sometimes I wonder if god don’t hate me,” Papa said. “Giving me a son like you. Willful and rebellious. Ungrateful for those who brought him into this world.”
“Oh, I’m grateful for the one that brought me into this world—and I say we let her rest. We don’t bring her back.”
“Thomas,” Mr. Milne said. It wasn’t a hard tone, just one to get his attention.
“You have no say here, Mr. Milne. You’re not family.”
Mr. Milne’s face remained calm. “Thomas, we have to resurrect her. You don’t understand—.”
“You can’t give me any good reason to do that. It’s illegal, anyhow. You’ll turn us all into Moabites.”
The Moabites worshiped in Arches and Monument Valley. Like those who lived in Sanctuary, they used magic, but they didn’t give their own second life days to bring people back for a limited time—they just trapped their kin’s souls inside their bodies, animating them indefinitely, turning them into zombies in a mockery of the natural resurrection and second life.
Sanctuary had outlawed the unnatural resurrection of any person—even by gifting second life days—to avoid the temptation to raise zombies.
Mr. Milne shook his head. “We won’t make Caroline a zombie. We’ll resurrect her the right way.”
“It’s illegal,” Thomas said.
“We’ll ask the mayor to make an exception. I assure you, he’ll oblige.”
“That’s right,” Papa said, as if the argument had ended.
But it hadn’t for Thomas. He just didn’t know how to stop them. And it would only get harder when Charles got back from his usual morning ride because he would side with them.
“I’ve got eggs to deliver,” Clara May said.
“We’ll need the ingredients to the spell,” Mr. Milne said. “William, are you familiar with the spell?”
Papa shook his head. “I don’t have the second life days for it. Although, it might do someone some good to show some appreciation to their ma.”
Thomas wanted to spit in his face. “I’m not giving any second life days to bring her back to a life she don’t want.”
“The spell has two parts,” Mr. Milne said. “The first part of the spell must be cast within one day of her death. We need five things for it: a piece of clothing she cherished; something that represents her connection to the person casting the spell; a favorite food to place in her mouth; and two things she held dear.”
Hearing those words, Thomas knew what he could do to stop the spell, to save Mama from living again.
Stanley returned to America from his second trip to Africa with irrefutable evidence that the deep jungle rites brought real power to any person who made appropriate sacrifices. I suppose at that point my fate was set.
Chapter 3: Magical implements
It was simple. Thomas just had to hide the two things she held most dear: her wooden spoon and bumblebee.
And he knew exactly where she kept them.
You do it, Mama’s voice said. You take them and you put them somewhere no one will find them. If you fail, you’ll have proven yourself as worthless as I suspect you are.
“Excuse me,” he said.
He lowered his eyes so no one could see in them his sudden plot, and pushed past Papa into the bedroom he shared with his brothers. In five steps he moved between the bed and the dresser, into the kitchen.
To his left was the closed door to Clara May’s room. Above it hung the family’s old rifle; the newer one hung over his head, above the door to his room. To the right, the open doorway to Mama and Papa’s room gave view of their half-made bed. Across the kitchen, the front door still stood open. From it came indistinct voices and Stanley’s barking.
Thomas paid the sounds no heed, and headed around the wooden table and chairs, straight for the counter under the window. On the table, in a film of flour, sat an abandoned mass of dough. Above the counter, a few pots and pans hung from a rack that dangled from the ceiling. On the wall next to it hung a series of shelves covered with wooden cups and plates, and a pile of cooking tools.
Thomas leaned over the counter. He used one hand to balance himself, and stretched the other high, for the top shelf. Unable to see what he looked for, he fumbled until his hand closed on something small and spherical. He brought it down and opened his hand to look at it.
Wooden. About as long as Thomas’s thumbnail. It’s once vibrant yellow and black stripes had faded. Frequent handling had left its body worn smooth. The little wooden wings, the most fragile part of the toy, bore seams where Mama had glued them back on.
It was nearly identical to the one that Thomas kept in his pocket at all times.
He turned it over in his hand. Mama had almost always kept it with her. Otherwise she’d kept it on the shelf, threatening anyone that touched it with a beating that would keep them from sitting for a week.
Once, when just four or five, Thomas had pulled a chair over to the counter, climbed up, and stretched as tall as he could to reach that top shelf. Sure enough, about the moment he’d gotten his mitts on the toy, Mama had walked in and surprised him with such a shout that he fell off of the counter. As he lay there, his back hurting and golden flecks flitting across his vision, she’d snatched the bumblebee away, then grabbed her wooden spoon and whacked him a good dozen times on the shoulders and rump.
He looked back at the doorway into his room. Past the bed, through the room, Papa still stood at the back door, his back to Thomas.
Mr. Milne said something that Thomas couldn’t hear well enough to understand. The talking from outside in the front was muddled, but Thomas could tell that it was Charles. Stanley still barked, and not in a friendly manner.
Thomas deposited Mama’s bumblebee into his left trouser pocket. It clicked against his figurine.
The wooden spoon sat on the lowest shelf, along with a fork, ladle, tongs, and a few other miscellaneous wooden utensils. Like she’d done with the bumblebee, Mama had worn the spoon smooth with years of usage. Its foot-long handle, half an inch thick, ended in a wide, shallow bowl.
Thomas owed many a bruise to this spoon. He half wanted to snap it right in half.
But he didn’t. When she died, Mama would want it buried with her, and he couldn’t disrespect her by breaking her favorite tool.
So, instead, he would hide it.
He slid it handle-first into his right pocket, near where he always wore a knife, just like Mama had instructed him to do. At first the spoon didn’t fit. It stuck out six inches, but he moved the handle around, searching for the hole in his pocket. When he found it, the handle of the spoon went through and the rest of the spoon descended into his pocket.
He would hide the objects. And then, when the time for resurrecting Mama had passed, he would retrieve them and bury her in peace. Everyone would know he took the ingredients, and they might try to make him confess their location, but he wouldn’t tell them. They would even try to force him into telling them. He might even have to brawl with Charles over it, and that guaranteed at least a black eye and bloody nose. So he had to hide them well.
Heading for the door, he glanced back at his bedroom to verify that Papa hadn’t turned. But by the time he looked forward, again, it was too late to stop from running straight into Charles, who bounded through the doorway.
He shoved Thomas back and said, “You idiot!”
Thomas stumbled and caught himself on the counter. His heart seemed to stop. Maybe Charles had seen him hiding the spoon.
But Charles just darted past the table, toward the bedroom and back of the house, his eyes straight ahead. Thomas hung there on the edge of the counter, trying not to draw any more attention, watching his twin enter their bedroom.
“Is she better, yet?” Charles said. “How is she? There’s people outside, asking about a girl.”
Papa said something that Thomas didn’t hear because of his haste for the door.
Outside he blinked in the sudden light that shone in his face. The sun hung over the mountains in the distance, casting long shadows from the two people who stood thirty feet away from the porch, each holding a horse’s reins. Thomas started down the steps toward them.
“Can I help you?” he said. “Quiet, Stanley!”
“We’re looking for a girl,” one of the men said.
The way he said it—the tone he used—made Thomas halt with one foot on the third step, and one on the first. The man hadn’t made a request. More like a demand layered with a threat.
The steps creaked as Thomas backed up to the porch.
The man who’d spoken grinned. He had a gold tooth in front, and wore a suit coat with long tails as if he’d originally set out for church. He had something of a fat gut, but held himself like a man used to working. His face, with the beginnings of a beard like he hadn’t shaved in a few days, had a dark countenance about it, and not just from the shadow of his wide-brimmed hat. It was like he was used to getting his way, and that way usually meant hurting others.
Stanley, standing in front of the porch, continued to bark.
“A pretty girl,” said the second person.
A boy. Maybe seventeen. He wore work trousers and a gray shirt. Dust from their ride covered him and his companion. Their horses breathed hard, as if recovering from a run.
“Her name,” said the older man, “is Sadie.”
Okay, there you have it. Three chapters to Keep Mama Dead. What did you think.