Lazarus, Come Forth!

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
The worst comes in the living and leaving the dead behind.

Submitted: January 17, 2009

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Submitted: January 17, 2009

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Lazarus, Come Forth!
The old dog sat in cheerful interest of the old man’s work. The grey fur of the dog was lit like silver from the fading sunlight. Its tail slapped at the grass every time the man peered down with a smile.  They were comfortable together and as the tough brown of the dog’s eyes met the man’s soft green eyes both the animals knew they were true friends and had been for a very long time.  It was in the way the old dog and man protected each other, and the canine felt equal to the man because its owner treated his pet more like a friend. They both had grown old together and somehow felt that if one were to depart the great Earth and ascend into the unknown beyond, the other would lose all will to survive and follow their friend into Life’s everlasting banishment. Their bond had been forged by love and even Death’s cruel, unbiased authority could not break it. The day was soft and quiet like a feather.  The old man held within a secret feeling that a great thing might happen, but doubted any validity to the late afternoon’s sensation. The sun glazed over the sky, birds nestled in the shade to rest, and the air held a calming intoxicant.  If you sat long enough the stillness would envelope your awareness and not soon after cause slumber to find you in earnest acceptance.
The old man sat on the ground beneath a large oak tree carving a chunk of wood into a long, clean shape.  When the slivers of bark flew through the air and landed softly into the blades of grass the old dog would watch carefully and hunt them out with its powerful nose. Both were drowsy and drifted into delicate thoughts. After a time, the dog heard a noise too far away for the man to notice, but the man saw his companion’s ears perk tight and its face draw itself into the direction of the alarm. 
“What’s the matter, ol’ boy?”  The old man smiled down to his friend, and with the wave of his carving knife he said, “Go check it out, Lazarus, and come get me if there’s real trouble.”
Lazarus seemed to understand his master’s command and nodded his wolf like head and trotted off low to the ground, hidden by the tall weeds of the field. Lazarus’ nose traveled the soil and his eyes searched between the long stalks and no sooner had he left the cool shade of the tree the dog spotted a grazing rabbit with two massive ears flopped down by its small head.  Lazarus thought in instinct, “I got him. He’s there, and I’m here, and he don’t know. Don’t move, don’t make a sound, let him turn his furry back to me and then I go quick and fast, before he can get those ears up and legs going. Wait.  Wait. Now go!”  Lazarus shot through the brush with his teeth bared in fierce display and it reflected deep into the unsuspecting rabbit’s frightened eyes. When Lazarus had left his owner the old man continued in idle repose and flicked his knife in constant procession against the wood. The man looked up into the fading light and noticed how red the clouds
were and tried to make meaning of it.  “Might be rain,” he said soft and low like a thunder cloud rolling.  He rubbed his grey beard and thought about old Lazarus and what he might be up to, and that they should be getting back to the cabin.
About that time Lazarus came marching out of the tall grass with a limp rabbit hanging from his mouth. As the dog dropped it at the feet of his companion he smiled a great happy face and let his wet tongue hang out in full, exhausted display. “Well done, ol’ boy.  It seems you’re as quick as ever.”  The old man leaned across and patted Lazarus all over and wrestled the dog to the ground.  The two played like young pups, each growling in fun-loving affection. After exhausting themselves upon the earth they laid flat, with Lazarus’ head on the old man’s chest, and both creatures, as one, looked far into the growing dusk while their hearts slowed to a pace identical in rhythm.
* * *
“So this is it?” Samuel Moses said to his good friend Jonathan Smith.
“Yup,” Jonathan replied frankly.
“A sad bunch,” Samuel admitted in earnest disbelief. “And their breed is Labrador?”
“Yes sir. Their dad is like a bear.  I call him Samson; a great, big, black beast.”
“Well, you don’t have to tell me. I’ve seen him.”
“So what do you think?”
The two men, aged about thirty years each, stared down with judgment into a running pile of little puppies.  The dogs’ mother sat watching close by as if she were a silent, golden idol waiting and listening but never acting. Her eyes moved only when you weren’t thinking or watching. Samuel saw a grey little thing run out of the mass of playing fur and settle itself between his leather boots.  It shook in want of protection from its more powerful siblings.
“And is that one of ‘em?” Samuel asked, pointing down to the grey puppy.
“Yup, sure is,” Jonathan answered. “Not the runt either, but he’s a small fellow. Not sure why he turned out grey and all. I guess it’s just one of those things: if Life wants a thing a certain way, well, be damned if it doesn’t happen.”  Jonathan smiled as he thought of his litter, and he wanted desperately for them to find decent homes.  He knew Samuel Moses was a good man and a good friend would be a great owner.
“I confess,” Samuel began in voiced thought, “he sure is a rare thing to witness; compared to its brothers and all. This one is special. There’s something to him.  I just don’t know what yet.”  Samuel reached down and grabbed the little grey puppy by the soft flesh of the neck and turned it to his clean shaven face, holding the puppy in safe report far above its siblings.  And for the first time the two creatures set their eyes upon each other.  The grey pup sat licking the powerful hands of Samuel, and without knowing what happened or to where the sound had vanished to, Samuel leaned over and gave the pup a great lick from his tongue, right on the pup’s tiny, grey forehead.
“I’ll take him,” Samuel said, tucking the dog under his arm.
“I figured that much out,” Jonathan replied. “I think you two animals are from the same tree. When I first saw that grey little dog running around I had an image of you fl ash across my brain. And I admit it wasn’t a pretty picture.” Both men laughed and shook hands in final agreement.
By that time the grey pup’s mother had walked over to Samuel’s feet and sat staring in solemn affirmation that she would not ever see her child again. With recognition of a sacred bond between mother and off spring Samuel kneeled down and put his dog gently by its mother so that they might have a chance to express their good-byes.  The golden mother leaned down, sniffed her son and licked its head several times.  The grey puppy received the licks with some quiet honor and immediately left its mother by walking over to Samuel’s knee and raised two paws upon it.  The man grabbed the dog, patted the mother’s head, and walked away from the mesh of puppies in joyful play.
* * *
“Lazarus, come here!” Samuel called to his old four-legged friend. The dog jogged across the front yard and up the front steps of the cabin. He sat at Samuel’s feet and looked up into the face of the man he had always known as friend. Samuel sat in an old rocking chair, taking in the cool evening breeze.  The stars had not yet started to shine and the old man waited for them to come forth in composed display.
“Now where have you been, ol’ boy?” Samuel patted Lazarus on the head and under the chin.  
The dog peered up and seemed to say, “Been out back; all clear. What have you been up to?”
Samuel felt the dog’s questioning demeanor and replied, “Me? Well, just sittin’ here waitin’ around for you.”
“Surprise, surprise,” Lazarus answered in unspoken thought.
“Now, don’t give me that,” Samuel answered. “I have to work for a living. A field doesn’t get plowed by itself, and I sure don’t get to chase rabbits around all day.”  The old man laughed and beckoned the dog with a slap of his knee.  Lazarus placed his front paws on one of Samuel’s knees and pulled himself up slowly onto his friend’s lap.  There he rested his head on Samuel’s arm.
“Well, I forgive you,” Lazarus muffled without words.  “Even though I’m twice your age.”  The dog gave a few licks to Samuel’s hand.  Samuel proceeded with rocking the chair in a calm pace, and the two sat resting from the day and against the intruding night.
Well beyond a good long time, the screen-door from the front passage of the cabin slapped shut and an old woman came out into the darkness.  She walked over and upon seeing the sleeping man and his sentinel dog keeping faithful watch she only spoke to Lazarus, but placed her hand on her husband’s shoulder.
“So Lazarus, are you two going to stay out here all night or are you two comin’ in for supper?”
Lazarus lifted his head toward the woman as if to say, “We’ll be in shortly Mrs. Moses. Let me wake him.”
“Well, you do that,” Mrs. Moses replied. “While you’re doing that I’m going back inside where it’s warm. And try to take care of him, Lazarus.  He’s not as young as he looks, and without me you’re all he’s got.” And the old woman turned and departed into a warmly lit cabin.
Lazarus raised his heavy head and gave several licks on Samuel’s bearded face, and eventually the old man opened his tired eyes and asked sleepily, “Time to go in already, ol’ boy?”
“The missus says it is.”
“Well, let’s get in before she locks us out.” And as the two sat deep in the slow moving chair, rocking back and forth, Samuel wondered why Lazarus was still alive, and so he asked aloud to construct some sort of answer to the mystery that is Life. “You must be close to a hundred and fifty years-old by now, ol’ boy. How are you still alive?”
“Just am,” Lazarus thought, also wondering about his timelessness. “I am and so I live. One does not choose life, but only how to live it.”
Samuel thought that perhaps since Lazarus had already passed into that unseen beyond, far greater than life could ever become, that the old dog held something secret within, and maybe that was keeping his companion alive for so very long. “Let things be,” Samuel said to himself.
Lazarus hobbled down and Samuel leaned up using the arm rests and the two old beings left the cabin’s darkened porch and locked the cabin’s door, leaving the black night behind.
Inside Samuel found a seat at the table, an old wooden thing that had been passed down to him from his mother, and Lazarus crawled slowly under the frame and laid head first toward his master’s feet.
Isabelle, Samuel’s wife, fetched some water and gave it to her boys: a cup to her husband and a bowl to her child, Lazarus.  As she went back to stir the beef stew she thought of how she once wanted many children of her own and how God had deprived her of any little ones that would live on to remember her face. Then Isabelle picked out a few pieces of beef and gave it to the dog. Lazarus ate slowly because the meat was still too hot.
“How is it that I’m the one bringing the food home and yet my wife feeds the dog first?” Samuel belted out a great laugh and Lazarus ignored it.
“Now my blessed husband,” Isabelle said as she looked back from the stove, “He’s very old.  He’s maybe older than you and I both.  And besides, he’s more a guest than you are.”
Samuel reached down and rubbed the dog’s head and stood up.  He walked over to his wife and placed his arms around her waist.
“Did I tell you that I’m in love with you?” He smiled and kissed her neck affectionately. His beard tickled her.
“Only twice today,” Isabelle laughed, jerking away. “Stop it or I’ll make you finish what you’ve started. Now go wash up, you old dog you.”
Samuel rolled up his sleeves and went to the wash basin.  He poured some water in and splashed his face clean.  Next, he took some soap and scrubbed the day’s grime away. When he had finished washing he dried off with a towel and went back to the table where a bowl of steaming stew sat waiting for him.  There was also warm bread in the center of the table.
Samuel slowly sat down and waited for his wife to join him.  Isabelle made her way to the table with her bowl and cup and sat down as soft as a bird.
“You can go ahead, Samuel. I’m ready.”
The man and wife held hands and bowed their heads in prayer. “Father in heaven,” Samuel bellowed solemnly. “We give thanks to You for this life we live and for this food we eat of today.  It may not be much but it’s more than enough. Please bless it all so that we may continue in Your good graces. Amen.”
“Amen,” Isabelle said.  Then all three slowly began eating their dinner.
* * *
Sometime after midnight a deep call growled forth from the blackness and woke the sleeping Samuel. Lazarus had already been alerted and was awake.  The dog stood on his hind legs at the windowsill. He gazed into the moonlit shadows searching for sign of the beast that was lurking somewhere in the night.
“What is it, ol’ boy?” Samuel said as he slipped on his pants and flannel shirt.  He pulled on his leather boots and a thick wool coat.  “Do you think it’s a cougar, wolf, or mountain lion?”
“Not sure,” Lazarus thought in reply, turning his head to his master.
“Maybe, but we better check on the others, and quick.”
“Well, let’s go check on the stock,” Samuel replied instinctively.
“We can’t afford to lose any of ‘em this year.”
“Take the BAM,” Lazarus motioned toward the shotgun. “We’ll need it.”
Samuel picked up the gun and loaded it with two cartridges and placed several into his coat pockets.
“Good,” Lazarus thought. “We should be fine with the BAM. One thing for sure: the BAM has an awful bite. I’ve seen it myself.  Now let’s get going.”  Lazarus was by the front door waiting on Samuel.
“I’m coming.” Samuel pulled on a cap and unbolted the front door. Lazarus crept out and stood on the porch, gathering the sounds and smells in. Samuel slowly closed the door and the latching woke Isabelle to a lonely dark room.
Outside Samuel lit a lantern and followed Lazarus into the night. The ground was white from the moon and the trees were phantom ghosts, black and grey.  The man and dog stood listening to the sounds of night when the growl came again.  It was close and it came from a big animal.
“I know that sound,” Lazarus growled low.
“Yes sir, a mountain lion,” Samuel said softly to Lazarus.  “Be on the look out, ol’ friend.  You go ahead and I’ll watch your back.”
“My pleasure,” Lazarus snarled as he made his way to the cause.
Isabelle, by now, was dressed and had a lantern lit on the kitchen table.  She was trying to sew and not to think about the sounds she was hearing.  “My boys can take care of themselves,” Mrs. Moses spoke loudly, trying to break the loneliness and doubt.
In the night, Samuel and his dog Lazarus became hunters.  They walked carefully, not breaking any fallen limbs, and doing their best to remain down wind.  The third roar came and stopped the two pursuers dead cold.  The cry had burned forth from a deep shadow beneath a tree, directly ahead of the dog and man. Lazarus leaned back in full contemptuous fury and growled a frightening answer with all teeth in glory.  Samuel lifted his gun to the ready position and waited for a target to present itself from the deep black. They could hear the lion purring its death call to them and both the boys were ready. Gradually, the mountain lion crept away from its hiding position and into the soft light of the moon, and into the light of Samuel’s lantern.  Its ears were short and fat, the face twisted with dirt and anger, and the body was lean and hungry.
“Try me,” Lazarus growled to the predator. Only about twenty yards separated Lazarus and the lion.
“Don’t be foolish, Lazarus,” Samuel whispered.  “Just a little closer and I’ll take him out.”  Samuel slowly leaned down and put the lantern on the ground.
“Be careful,” Lazarus replied. “He’s young and quick. Those legs say enough: Power!”
The mountain lion began to feel out its attack, watching the two forms of man and dog take shape into blood and delicious, wet meat.  Its eyes glittered silver and black and red. Lazarus knew a fight was near. Without warning the lion charged forward, leaping high into the air towards the dog.  Samuel pulled the trigger of the shotgun and it was soon followed by a deafening, “BAM!”
Isabelle heard the quacking voice of the gun and dropped her sewing items to the floor.  Immediately death came upon her mind and she thought quickly that the boys were in an intense struggle with life and lifelessness, and that somehow she had to save them. Isabelle threw a shawl around her shoulders and grabbed the lantern from off the table. Her footsteps sounded as they beat frantically on the wooden steps of the porch, but were forever lost to the night when the earth took them in.
* * *
“Well, you know how to pick ‘em,” Isabelle said holding the small, grey pup to her face.  “He has to be the ugliest thing I’ve seen since you woke me up this morning. It’s like it didn’t know what it should be:  a dog or a wolf.”
“I think he has character,” Samuel replied.  The man and wife were standing on their cabin porch amidst a sunny July morning.  A few birds, in a nearby oak, sang glorious songs of the living.  The puppy looked solemnly up at Isabelle’s judging countenance and as the woman peered into its eyes she saw Samuel’s figure appear in a reflection.
“Well, you paid for him,” Isabelle stated flatly.  “No going back now.”
“He’s a good choice.  Feed him right and some good old fashioned training and he’ll grow up big and strong.”
“Maybe,” Isabelle answered with laughter.  “If he’s anything like you he’ll be spoiled rotten!”
“I’m not spoiled rotten!”  Samuel scoffed.  He reached and took his dog back, and stroked its little, grey head.  The pup was ignorant of the situation and licked the hands of its holder.
“Do you have a name for it,” Isabelle asked.
“No, not yet,” Samuel said, looking into the front yard. “Maybe I’ll call him Luke or John.”
“What?” Isabelle questioned in scornful rebuke. “Are you joking? Those aren’t dog names.  They’re names of men, and great men at that.”
“Well, what should I call him then?”
“I don’t know: maybe another mouth to feed.”
“She doesn’t mean that, ol’ boy.”
“I don’t care what you name it; just as long as you two get to work. Why don’t you start training that hound of yours instead of wasting time here?” Isabelle wiped her hands in her apron and looked up into the sky. “Lunch will be ready in about an hour. Go and leave a woman to her work.”
The man and his dog walked off the porch and the woman went into the cabin. Samuel placed the grey pup into the soft grass and looked into its eyes.  “Your name will come to you yet.  Just be patient.” And the two sat looking for a moment into the eyes of the other, and the more they stared into the profoundness found in living things they began to fully understand each other.
“How about we go for a swim before lunch?” Samuel said playfully to the pup.  “If you’re going to be my dog, and the best dog, then you’ll need to know how to track and swim.”  The dog gave a small bark in agreement and hopped around Samuel’s legs playfully.  Samuel laughed and moved his large hands along the animal’s body. Isabelle stood smiling in the window and said, “Well I’ll be! I haven’t seen that man smile in an age. Maybe that dog will be of some use after all.”  And she watched until the dog and man were out of sight.
Upon reaching the creek Samuel took off his clothes and waded into the cold water. The grey pup ran to the edge of the strange, moving substance and licked it.  The dog recognized the taste to be water but had never seen so much of it at once. The creek glittered silver and black from the sun and shade. Waist deep Samuel cried, “Jump in, scaredy dog!” And the man splashed water toward the direction of the bewildered pup, but he was too far away to reach his target.  After several attempts of coaxing the animal Samuel walked out of the water, shining in the warming sun, and grabbed the reluctant dog. “Don’t be scared. I’m here,” Samuel said as he wiped the dog’s head with a wet hand. “Now for your first dip. It’s a little cold still, but it’ll make a man out of ya’.” Waist deep again Samuel slowly lowered his puppy into the water and it wiggled frantically for a few moments.  Then knowing his master held him securely it relaxed its grip on life and fear and finally began to enjoy the feeling of water upon its fur.  Then Samuel released his hold on the grey, wet pup and let it fight the ignorance of not knowing how to swim. “Kick those legs, damn it!”  Samuel watched very close but gave no assistance to the struggling puppy.  “You’ll swim or drown. Now swim!”
The puppy, glazed over in supreme fear, kicked and fought the endless water that surrounded it, and before it knew what happened its tiny head disappeared beneath the water’s surface.  Again and again it saw sun and darkness and took great breaths of creek water into its mouth and lungs.  Then the legs stopped moving and Samuel grabbed the drowning animal.
“Not bad for your first time.  The first lesson in learning to swim is to defeat the fear of…” and Samuel noticed his pup was no longer breathing. He rushed with great strides to land and placed the lifeless creature onto the warm ground. With two fingers Samuel pushed the chest of the dog in and he saw water come rolling out its limp mouth. Samuel felt the streak of death descend upon his neck and back and told himself, “Not today, damn it!  Not today!”
After several more light pushes to the dog’s chest Samuel covered the dog’s small face with his mouth and gave a dynamic breath.  The pup’s chest rose and fell and immediately it spat up a good amount of creek water.  It began to breathe and Samuel held the puppy in his hands. He watched as it opened its two eyes slowly in lost confusion. Samuel, on his knees, wept quietly and the dog immediately forgave its master for the accident.
“I’m sorry, ol’ boy,” Samuel cried.  “I didn’t mean it, honest. It was too much for those tiny legs of yours.  Maybe when you’re a little bigger.”
“It’s not your fault,” the puppy seemed to say in newly awakened thought, still unmoving.  “I need to learn to swim. I’ll be better next time.”
The sun fell brightly upon the man and dog and began to warm them.  Samuel did not think it was the bright star that lit his spirit, but the glow from heaven’s divine grace.
Then it came to him and he knew by the look of maturity in the pup’s eyes and face it had witnessed something spectacular and dreadful: sublime death.
“I shall call you Lazarus.” And Samuel leaned down and kissed the head of the calm, wet puppy.
* * *
With the mountain lion gone the bleak night became blacker. 
“Where’d it go,” Samuel asked, reloading his shotgun.
“Don’t know,” Lazarus thought in dark reply.  The dog was low to the ground, searching the shadows for any sign of the escaped beast.
“I think I grazed it,” Samuel said, picking up the lantern.  “Let’s go get the damn thing.”
“This way,” Lazarus pointed with his stiff nose.
And at that time the two, man and animal, heard a sound they did not expect but shook them awake into full anger.  They heard a woman’s scream of savaged terror and the fear found Lazarus.  Indeed he was not afraid but he could feel it from the woman, and it caused him to burst into a dead sprint.
“My God! Isabelle!”  Samuel shouted.  He began to run after Lazarus but the dog was already out of sight.
When the dog approached the scene he saw Isabelle beneath the claws and fangs of the beast, and in instinct Lazarus became a savage beast that could not be contained. He leapt with fangs fury onto the lion.  The two animals rolled together and soon found each other in conflict’s union. Isabelle dragged herself to a tree and watched as Lazarus became something else.  Even so, she loved him for being there, fighting for her life as if it were his own.
Back and forth Lazarus and the lion engaged in fierce combat, and though wounds were given in plenty, the two beasts felt only pure rage. But Lazarus had known death and unlike the mountain lion he was unafraid to die.
Samuel finally rushed into the glade and the lantern lit the sight of his dog not as a dog but as a son and a great warrior in dubious battle.  He quickly found his wife bleeding beneath a tree and went to her side.
“Are you okay, my love?” Samuel said genuflecting.
“I’m…afraid not.” Isabelle’s eyes were wet and she knew the wounds were too severe.  “I love you, Samuel, always.”
“Quiet.  Save your breath.  You’ll live yet.”  And as Samuel looked at his wife and into her fading eyes he said angrily, “Not today! Not tonight!”  And tears wet his face and beard.
Samuel then looked over his shoulder and his rage subsided only a little when he saw Lazarus ripping the lion’s throat into soft shreds of loose flesh. Lazarus spat the jugular out of his mouth and struck the beast’s limp torso one last time.  The force from the dog’s blow opened a deep gash into the beast’s side and blood spilled out in life’s complete exhaustion.  The mountain lion became useless flesh, and Lazarus limped away in victorious defeat. He had slain the beast but knew he had been too late for his master’s wife.
The grey dog walked sadly over to Isabelle’s side, ignoring his own wounds in the process. The dying woman reached up and kissed Lazarus on the head, leaving a small bloodstain.
“It’s your turn, Lazarus,” Isabelle said.  “Take care of my husband. You’re all he’s got now.”
Lazarus began to weep, because dogs can cry too, and he laid his weary head on the woman’s stomach.
“Now you, old man,” Isabelle said to Samuel.  “It’s okay that I go. It has to be this way.  Some things are just the way they are, and no one can say different, no matter how hard they try.”  She coughed and felt her breathing grow slower.  Samuel was gripping her hand, and he was crying.
Samuel Moses looked down into the face of his dying wife and all he could remember was that moment by the creek where Lazarus had died on a bright July day and came back to life.  All that time Samuel had quietly believed it was him who had brought the dog back, but it wasn’t and it hadn’t been him; instead, Samuel knew that the power which brought Lazarus back to life was a force far greater than his own, and even stronger than human’s love. Somehow the man had always known the truth but just couldn’t bring himself to admit the error.
With his wife in his arms, Samuel looked up into the dark heavens and shouted in Love’s greatest agony, “Not today, God! Not now, not ever!”  And a little softer he cried with bent head, “Not today, please, God, not my wife.”  Samuel became silent, drifting far away into self and soul, and then softly said, “Eli, Eli, la’ma sa-bach’-tha-ni?”  The man watched through his tears as silence followed his prayer to God, as often it does, and looking up into the ghostly grey clouds he saw them consume the light of the celestial moon.  All became dark.
“Ah, you beautiful man,” Isabelle spoke.  “Don’t…don’t cry for me. We had our life and we’ll…and we’ll always have our love.”  She looked up with all her spent energy into her husband’s wet eyes, and she finally knew that she had always been loved the way she loved.
Samuel Moses leaned down and kissed his dying wife for the last time and he whispered, “We’ll always have our love.”
It was the last thing Isabelle heard and felt, and she passed away knowing what people live their lives for.
* * *
The next day Samuel buried Isabelle on a hilltop overlooking the creek where Lazarus had first encountered death.  The old man gathered wild flowers and scattered them all onto the fresh soil of the grave.
Samuel hated doing it, but he did it anyway.  It had to be done.  Inside Samuel’s soul he felt the strength boil up and over flow into tears.  And like a tear not wanting to leave its home, the moment rolled down upon them.
And as the sun set on the world, like it has done since the dawn of creation, there stood a man and his dog with their two solemn figures casting a heavy shadow onto the ground before them, and they both knew that death was just another beginning.
 
 
 
Lazarus, Come Forth!
By Brighten Cambridge
 


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