Gale, Laurel Dead Boy

ISBN 13: 9780553510089

Dead Boy

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9780553510089: Dead Boy
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Fans of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book will embrace this darkly funny novel!

Crow isn't like the other kids. He stinks. He’s got maggots. His body parts fall off at inopportune moments. (His mom always sews them back on, though.) And he hasn’t been able to sleep in years. Not since waking up from death.
 
But worse than the maggots is how lonely Crow feels. When Melody Plympton moves in next door, Crow can’t resist the chance to finally make a friend. With Melody around he may even have a shot at getting his life back from the mysterious wish-granting creature living in the park. But first there are tests to pass. And it will mean risking the only friend he’s had in years.
 
Debut author Laurel Gale’s story about friendship fulfilled may be the most moving—and most macabre—yet.
 
Praise for Dead Boy
“A stinky, creepy tale for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider.” —Kirkus Reviews
 
“Gale takes readers on a dark and surprisingly funny journey. . . . A great recommendation to middle grade fans of dark humor.” —School Library Journal

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About the Author:

Dead Boy is Laurel Gale’s first novel. Gale says, “I wondered what it would be like for a ‘live’ dead boy to try to make friends. I had no idea what would happen next, so I kept writing to find out.” Like Crow, Gale resides in the Nevada desert. She lives with her husband and a band of furry monsters that might actually be ferrets. You can visit Laurel online at laurelgale.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Being dead stank. Cuts didn’t heal. Hair fell out and didn’t grow back. Maggots burrowed in the stomach, which couldn’t have digested anything anyway. And then there was the actual stink. The smell. The stench of rotting flesh. No matter how much spray-on deodorant Crow Darlingson used, he couldn’t quite mask it.

Death was lonely, too. While other boys his age played ball in the street, he watched from his window. When they went off to school in the morning, he stayed home. But he still had to study and take tests; his mother saw to that.

“Can’t we go outside?” he asked. “We can go into the backyard where nobody can see us.”

Mrs. Darlingson, a slender woman with perfect makeup and hair, shook her head firmly. “Too warm. Are you ready for your geography test?”

Anything much above forty degrees was too warm. Heat made the smell worse. Every once in a while, the Darlingsons’ overworked air conditioner would break, and for days Crow’s stink would spread throughout the block.

Maybe that was why the previous neighbors had moved, although they hadn’t said anything. But leave they did, in quite a hurry, and now another family was taking their place. Crow could see the moving truck from his window. He could see the new family, too--a man, a girl, and a dog. The girl appeared to be around eleven, same as Crow, with short brown hair, plaid leggings, and a very bright tie-dyed T-shirt.

She looked up at the window, her head cocked to one side, and waved.

Crow waved back, shocked. Nobody had waved to him in years.

Mrs. Darlingson grabbed his hand, gently so it wouldn’t fall off, and guided him away from the window. “Time for your geography test.”
He aced his test, as always, even though it was a particularly hard one that involved drawing and labeling a map of Africa from memory. He made sure to spell each country, from Algeria to Zimbabwe, correctly.

School had never presented much of a challenge for him. He’d helped his class win the academic bowl in the fourth grade, right before his death. He’d won the grade-level spelling bee that year, too, and would have gone on to compete against the fifth graders if he’d managed to stay alive for it.

Getting good grades was even easier without distractions like friends. Or food. Or fun. So of course he aced everything his mother placed in front of him.

Mrs. Darlingson put the test, marked with a bright red A+, on the refrigerator, where it joined the other quizzes and essays from that week. “Wonderful work. I’m so proud of you.”

Crow shrugged. The motion caused the dry skin of his shoulders to crack, adding to the series of fissures already there. “What does it matter? It’s not like I’ll ever go to college.”

“There are online colleges.”

“It’s not like I’ll ever get a job.”

“There are online jobs, too. You can do everything online these days.” She smiled brightly.

Crow did not smile. “So I’m just supposed to stay inside this house forever? What’s the point of studying geography if I’ll never get to go anywhere?”

“You’ll get to go out in a few weeks, just like you did last year. Don’t you remember? You visited all the neighbors. You saw other children your age. You even got a bag full of candy.”

“Halloween doesn’t count.” While the other boys and girls dressed up as their favorite superheroes and vampires, Crow chose a costume to hide behind. And he couldn’t actually enjoy any of the candy. His taste buds had rotted away years ago, and trying to eat just made the maggots worse.

He used to love Halloween. On the year before his death, he’d dressed up as an astronaut. His mother had sewn the space suit for him, and the costume was good enough to be used in the school play later that year. At least, it would have been used in the school play if he hadn’t died first.

Now Halloween just reminded him of everything he’d lost. Maybe it was better to stay inside forever.

The doorbell rang.

Mrs. Darlingson frowned. “Stay here. I’ll see who it is.”

The doorbell never rang. Mrs. Darlingson, much like her son, had stopped having friends ages ago. Mr. Darlingson had friends, but even when he had still lived at home--before the divorce--they had never come to the house. A sign instructed solicitors to stay away, and another sign warned about a dangerous, but entirely fictional, dog. Packages weren’t even sent to the house; they had a post office box for that.

Nobody came over, and that was just the way Mrs. Darlingson liked it. Only now somebody had come over. An impatient somebody, too--the bell rang a second time. A third time. Mrs. Darlingson’s frown deepened as she walked to the door. Crow stayed in the kitchen, as ordered, although he did sneak a peek or two around the corner.

“I’m sorry. You must have the wrong house.” She tried to shut the door, but something blocked it. Crow leaned forward to get a better view. A small foot was preventing the door from closing. He craned his neck and saw that the foot was attached to a girl. The girl who had waved at him. She had a friendly face, mostly freckles and smile, and long, lanky limbs that, judging by the way she fidgeted, she didn’t seem to know what to do with.

“Of course I have the right house. I’m your new neighbor, Melody Plympton. I wanted to see who lived here--you know, make sure I hadn’t moved next door to a bunch of ax-murdering psychos or spell-casting witches.” She pushed the door open as far as Mrs. Darlingson would let her. “Why is it so cold?”

“I think the temperature’s fine,” Mrs. Darlingson said, although she was wearing a very thick wool suit and a pair of leather gloves. “I also think it’s rude to ask questions like that. Or to assume that we’re a bunch of ax murderers.”

“Uh-huh. I saw a boy in the window. Where is he?”

“He’s sick. In bed.”

“No he’s not.” Melody pointed at Crow, whose head was poking out of the kitchen. “He’s right there. Why isn’t he at school? I have today off because I just got into town, but he should be there.”

“Well, if you knew where he was, why did you ask?” Before Melody could respond, Mrs. Darlingson added, “And he is sick, I’m afraid. Very sick. He can’t have any company.”

Melody rubbed her arms to warm herself. “Okay. I’ll come back in a few days.”

“No. He’ll still be sick in a few days. And in a few weeks. Don’t come back.” Mrs. Darlingson forced the door shut, ignoring Melody’s foot, still in the way, and Melody herself, who squealed in pain.

She locked the door, doorknob and dead bolt, before returning her attention to her son. “Ready for your geometry lesson?”
Silence fell over the house as midnight approached.

Crow made himself yawn. He did this once or twice every month, hoping the action of yawning would stimulate drowsiness, just as drowsiness stimulated yawning. It never worked. He hadn’t slept in years. Not even one short nap. Not since he’d woken up from death. Before, back when his heart still beat, he’d spent his nights dreaming that he could fly through the universe or ride on a dinosaur. But no sleep meant no dreams. No more flying. No more dinosaurs. Just lots and lots of time.

So occasionally, and even though he knew his mother would be furious if she learned about it, he went downstairs in the middle of the night, opened the back door, and tiptoed outside.

Blaze, a small town in the middle of the Nevada desert, had temperatures in the eighties, nineties, and hundreds most of the year. During the day, Crow couldn’t venture outside without his flesh giving off a putrid odor strong enough to make the maggots faint.

“Why don’t we move somewhere cold?” Crow had suggested on numerous occasions. “North Dakota. Canada. The North Pole. Then I could go outside.” Without having to sneak, but he had enough sense not to say that.

“We can’t move,” Mrs. Darlingson would say. “Our house is here.” That was her favorite response, but she was also fond of bringing up how difficult the move would be. Before Mr. Darlingson had moved out, she’d given his job as an excuse. “It’s not so bad, staying inside with me. Is it?”

And Crow knew that was the real reason she didn’t want to move. She wanted him to stay inside with her. Always. Forever.

He couldn’t do it. He needed out, if only for an hour a night.

Everyone was sound asleep by now, leaving no one to complain about the smell. Besides, on an early October night, it wasn’t all that bad. In a few weeks, on Halloween, Crow would even go out with his mother’s permission. Other children would wrinkle their noses, but no one would faint. Hopefully.

Under Mrs. Darlingson’s orders, Mr. Darlingson had taken down the old swing. The bike had been donated to charity. Pebbles had replaced the grass. Nothing remained to tempt Crow, except the fresh air and the stars. It was enough.

He stacked the pebbles in taller and taller towers. He searched for insects. Then he lay down and looked up at the stars.

Somewhere in the distance, an owl hooted.

Closer by, a fence creaked. Much closer. Someone was trying to open the Darlingsons’ back gate.

A burglar, Crow thought. He wanted to run inside and tell his mother, but then he’d have to admit to sneaking out. His mother would seal the doors shut. She’d nail boards over his windows. He’d never see the stars again.

There was only one other option. He’d have to fight the burglar off himself. He grabbed a handful of pebbles, ready to pelt the intruder with them.

The fence wobbled. Someone was climbing up the other side. A head peeked over, and Crow threw his pebbles.

“Ouch!” Melody said, rubbing her shoulder where the pebble had struck her. She jumped down from the fence into the backyard. “What did you do that for?”
Chapter Two

Crow stared at Melody. He had another pebble in his hand, aimed at her head. “I thought you were a burglar.” He hesitated. “Are you?”

“Do I look like a burglar?”

Crow shook his head. She hadn’t changed since that morning, and her plaid pants and tie-dyed T-shirt didn’t exactly scream stealth. A burglar would have worn black, maybe with a ski mask and some gloves.

“I couldn’t sleep,” she explained. “New house and everything. Who knows what strange things are lurking in it. Rats. Ghosts. There has to be some sort of problem to explain how my dad bought it so cheap. Anyway, I looked out my window and saw you, and I thought you might need rescuing.”

“Rescuing?”

She nodded. “Your mom was acting pretty strange, like she was hiding something. And if you’re really as sick as your mom says, what are you doing in your yard in the middle of the night?”

“I couldn’t sleep, either.” He took a step backward, wondering how much of his sunken eyes and balding head she could see in the dim moonlight. “You said your name’s Melody, right? I’m Crow Darlingson.”

“That’s a strange name.” She took a step closer. “What do you have? Your mom said you’d be sick for a long time, so it can’t be a cold or the flu. Is it mono? My older cousin got that from kissing a boy. She was sick for at least a month.”

Crow took another step back. “No. It isn’t mononucleosis.” He’d done a report on the virus several months earlier, back when he’d been studying infectious diseases. Mononucleosis spread through close contact with other people, something he never had, so even if his dead body had been capable of catching it, he never would.

Frowning, she looked him up and down. “Is it a heart problem? My dad’s best friend’s sister has that.”

Crow shook his head.

“Meningitis? Leukemia? TB? Polio? Tetanus? Leprosy? It’s leprosy, isn’t it?”

Crow shook his head for each of these.

“So what is it?”

“Generalized necrosis,” he said. He quickly added, “It’s not contagious.”

“Oh, I’m not worried about that. I never get sick. Well, I had a cold a month ago. And I got the flu last year. And I get lots of ear infections. And pink eye. But other than that, I never get sick.” With one more step forward, her toes were almost touching Crow’s. She took a couple of sniffs. Her nose wrinkled.

“Sorry about the smell,” Crow said. “It’s the necrosis.”

“That’s okay. I have an uncle who smells way worse.”

Crow smiled. The movement disturbed a maggot that had been sleeping in his left nostril. It woke up and wriggled out of his nose. His hands rushed to cover his face, but he feared it was too late.

“What was that?” Melody asked.

“Nothing,” he said, his hands still hiding his face. “I should go inside. Try to sleep.”

“Me too. But . . .” She paused. “I’ll come back. Tomorrow night, same time, same place.”

“Why would you do that?” The maggot was trying to wriggle its way into his mouth. He grabbed it and tossed it on the ground. Maybe, if he was lucky, Melody would think it was a booger.

Melody glanced at the spot where the maggot had landed, but it was dark, and she might not have been able to see anything. Her eyes returned to Crow, and she smiled. “I just moved here, and you have to stay home because of your neco . . . neca . . . ne . . .”

“Necrosis. Generalized.”

“Right. Because of your generalized nec-whatever. So you’re all alone, and I don’t know anyone here yet, so I’m all alone, too. Maybe we could be friends.” Her smile faded as she squinted at Crow. “Also, there’s something strange about you. Something more than just being sick. I intend to find out what it is. I’ll be back tomorrow. Don’t throw any more pebbles at me.”

“Oh. Okay.”
The next night, Crow sneaked out of his house again. He was early, so he wasn’t surprised to find that Melody hadn’t arrived yet. He took advantage of the time by making sure his fingernails were glued on straight and his thinning clumps of hair covered as much of his head as possible. Best to look presentable for company.

Minutes passed.

Hours passed.

Of course she wasn’t coming. She’d probably found a better friend already, somebody whose blood still circulated and whose skin didn’t rot. She claimed not to mind the stink, but she must have been lying. An attempt at politeness, no doubt.

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