Disclaimer: This fanfiction stories are written solely for the entertainment of the readers and are not for profit. Flying purple monkey butts. Yay, Disney. No infringement on their respective copyrights are intended by the author in any way, shape or form.

A/N: Narrated by Kid Blink, just so's you know.


We Don't Got Religion

Mush was a morning person. Annoyed the hell out of all of us, but there it was. He knew this song, I think it mighta been a hymn, and it went something like "Rise up singing," but that's all I remember. He used to sing that every morning.

Sure, the first we heard in the morning was Kloppman banging the damn cane up the stairs and yelling at us. But it wasn't never too long after that that Mush would hop outta bed and start singing his hymns.

I guess Mush must've had religion once. I never met him 'til we were seven or so, and by that time most of us didn't talk about our parents no more. But Mush had his hymns, and he prayed something every night, so I guess he had religion.

His prayer was called the Lord's Prayer. I don't remember it, even though I heard him saying it every single night up until the night he died. Something about "I pray the Lord my soul to take," about dying before you woke up.

That happened once. A little boy came to the Lodging House in the middle of winter, near Christmas. He was practically frozen through. We put him in a bunk, and piled blankets on him, and somebody paid his board for him, and we fed him soup like he was our brother. 'Round midnight we all went to bed – snow or not, there were papers to sell in the morning – and when we woke up, he was gone.

Gone as in dead. He just passed over in the night. We never even knew his name, but there it was. Some boys said prayers over him before we left for selling, and when we came back the body was gone too.

Religion wasn't a really big thing in the Lodging House for the plain reason that most of us hadn't ever had it before, so we wouldn't have known what was in it for us. But we knew about God, and most of us knew a little about the other stuff. And every now and then the real serious topics would come up, like "Where do we go when we're dead?"

Mush always knew the answer. "Heaven!" he would say proudly, like a teacher had asked him to recite his lessons.

"Nah," Race would say. Racetrack used to be Catholic, I think. He had this real pretty chain with a cross on it, and he sometimes prayed too, but that was more like "Please, God, don't let the mobsters kill me today."

"Nah," he'd say. "We're headed to hell."

Then we'd all gather around because Mush and Race were going to argue, and that was always funny. Mush was about the nicest fellow around, so he almost never argued. Race was usually nice too, but he was real sarcastic, and something about that just nagged at Mush and drove him wild, so the best times were when Race actually got Mush to lose his temper.

"We ain't going to hell!" Mush would say.

"We sure are. We're all sinners here." Racetrack would smirk around at us, like sinning was something to be proud of. He probably thought it was.

"Nah. God has mercy. The good Lord will let us repent for sins we commit," Mush would say, and then he would smile at us, and you'd get this nice warm feeling like everything was going to be okay, like the feeling you'd get when you slept through Kloppman and didn't wake up 'till Mush started to rise you up singing.

"Oh, yeah? Yeah? God has mercy?"

Mush nodded happily.

"So that's why you don't feel no shame for stealing an extra roll from the nuns this morning?"

We all made little 'ooh' noises like Mush was about to get in trouble.

"That wasn't for me!" Mush said. "I gave it to Blink."

And then everybody'd look at me, and I'd nod, 'cause it was true.

"We're all born sinners anyway, Mush. We're born sinners, and we'll die sinners, and God don't love sinners."

"God loves everyone," Mush would say. "All God's children – we're all God's children – is loved by Him. Just 'cause we gotta steal to live sometimes don't mean God loves us any less. He might be a little angry sometimes, 'cause stealing ain't right, but he loves us even though we're sinning."

"I don't know 'bout you, Mush, but I was a sinner the moment I was made. Just by being on this earth I'se a sin. Now you go on and say that God loves us all, and you can believe that if you want, but when the world ends and Judgement Day comes, you can bet your last nickel that I'll sit next to you in Hell."

And everybody knows that if you're betting with Racetrack, you ain't about to win, so Mush would screw up his eyebrows, and shove his lower lip out, and then he'd storm off, and it'd be up to me to go and convince him that maybe, if we tried real hard, and if we all gave each other lots of extra rolls, God'd forgive us for sinning and let us into Heaven anyway.

And the next morning, sure as grass is green, Mush would rise hisself up out of bed with a smile on his face and he'd sing us hymns. I haven't been back to the Lodging House in a long time, not since after Mush died, but I think about it lots, and I wonder if the boys who live there now have someone to sing to them.

I don't think any of us ever expected that Mush would go first. I mean, we was all real close in the Lodging House, especially us who'd been there for a couple years. Like Jack, and me, and Race, and Mush, and Skittery, and all the boys. We were like brothers. We didn't stab each other. You don't stab your brother.

I think I'd always figured Jack would go first, or Racetrack. Probably Racetrack, because of the gambling. He'd get picked off by some gang in a back alley someday, and he'd be missing for a while, but none of us would figure out it was him 'til the paper said something like, "Unidentified male of Italian descent found in Alley south of 89th, robbed and stabbed. No leads." And then we'd know that Racetrack was gone.

Or maybe Jack. Jack would just get sick of being a newsie and wander off someday. He did wander off, but it was to get married and make a family with Sarah Jacobs, and besides, he wasn't the first to go.

I could've seen me being the first. Not like I'm real edgy or nothing, but I've got in some scrapes before, especially with the bulls, which is how I lost my eye. Don't like bulls – never have, and never will. But I could've seen me being the first to get picked off.

Nobody figured it'd be Mush.

The day he died was real sunny, real nice. He sang extra loud that morning, rising up the little ones most especially, because they were always excited on sunny days.

What tipped us off was that he didn't come home that night. Mush almost never stayed out late. He liked putting the little ones to bed every night, and as far as I knew he'd never had a girl, so he didn't have any reason to be out late. We waited a little while, but when it was past dark, we figured we'd go out and make sure he hadn't gotten himself into trouble.

"Can you imagine?" Racetrack said, lighting up a cigar. "Mush in trouble? That's one for the records."

And we all smiled and laughed because Race was right. Mush hadn't never got in trouble before except for a couple times with the bulls.

That was where we checked first – the jail. Not the Refuge, they don't send you to the Refuge once you're old enough. You do a crime and it's off to real jail for you, and as bad as the Refuge is, jail is ten times worse.

Mush wasn't in jail though, which was good. 'Course, we hadn't expected him to be, but sometimes if you look at a cop funny he'll arrest you for nothing, and Mush sometimes smiled at people without them smiling first, which might've gotten him put in jail.

He wasn't, though, so we kept looking. We looked through all the alleys near the Lodging House, and then we went around to his usual selling spots, but he wasn't there either.

I was the one who found him, finally.

It was right near a whole bunch of big trash bins, near where he and I used to sell together when we were little. We'd given that spot up to a couple younger kids, and we hardly ever sold together anymore, but there it was.

There he was.

He'd been beat up real bad, it looked like. Somebody'd got him from behind, grabbed his wrist, and broken it. Then they'd pushed him to the ground, face first probably, and up against the wall a few times, and when they'd done with that, they beat him around a little, and then stabbed him in the gut.

He was still alive when I found him. Not much, but a little. I came up to him, and he lifted his hand – the one that weren't broken – and I held it for a second. And he tried to tell me something, but there was some blood in his mouth, so it didn't come out too good. I got a little bit of it. I think he said, "say goodbye," or "smile," or something. Something like that probably, because that's the kind of thing Mush would say when he died.

So he said that, and then he closed his eyes, and I told him not to go, I told him that the little ones still needed him to tuck them in, and I started to call for the other guys. But just like that, he went.

He went out with a smile on his face. Not a real big grin like he sometimes had, but a little smile like he knew a secret.

Maybe he did have a secret. Maybe he knew why he died, or maybe he was gonna tell me how come he knew hymns and prayers, or why he was so sure there was a Heaven.

If there is a Heaven, you can bet Mush went to it. Even Racetrack thought so. He never said so, but he never said nothing about Mush being in Hell neither, so I'm pretty sure we all thought Mush was in Heaven.

About a week later we heard the Cunningham Gang had been looking for someone who fit Mush's description, so they might've been the ones who accidentally killed Mush. That made sense. We knew it weren't a robbery, because his pockets were turned inside out, but all his stuff was spilled all over the ground and none of it was gone.

Kind of silly, ain't it? That somebody died just 'cause he looked like someone he shouldn't have looked like.

Maybe that's what Race means when he says we're all sinners and we're all doomed.

After Mush died, it sorta seemed like there weren't no point in hanging around the Lodging House anymore. We were grown-ups now, we were men, and men had factory jobs and wives and their own house.

The day Jack left, it was a month or so after Mush, and it was like we all knew it was coming. For a week at least, we'd known it was coming. Jack was jittery, real nervous, and it wasn't 'til Race said it that we figured out why.

We were sitting out on the roof of the Lodging House, me, Race, Skittery and Bumlets, just sitting and smoking, talking occasionally. And Race said:

"Think Jack's planning to pop the question." Just like that, casual as you please, and then he took a drag of his cigarette.

And the moment he said it, the moment we knew it was true.

"Think she'll say yes?" I asked.

"Sure. Why wouldn't she?" Race passed me the smoke, and I took it, nodding. He was right.

And a week later, Jack packed up his things, and he waved goodbye. "G'bye, fellas. For honest, this time, I'm leaving. But you take care of yourselves. And maybe I'll see you around."

We smiled, and waved, even though we knew we probably wouldn't see him again. New York is a big city. It's easy to get lost here, or to hide.

So Jack was gone, and Mush was gone, and it's like those big ferryboats, when they cut two lines to start her off slowly, and once two lines are cut, the rest just ease of slowly, and then the ferryboat drifts off into the river. Once the two lines are gone, there ain't no stopped the rest of 'em.

I left after another few weeks went by. Me and Race, we left on the same day. Went to a bar together with our sacks full of every possession we had in world. Talked about trying to get a place together, get jobs at the same factory, but he moved in with a girl of his, and I found a job making bootlaces downtown the next day, so that never really panned out. Which is okay, I guess.

Sometimes I pass the Lodging House, and I wonder what it's like to be living there. I don't think I'd ever go back inside, but I do wonder.

I hope there's still someone in the Lodging House to rise those boys up singing. I also hope there's someone like Racetrack to keep it real for them.

See, I had parents once, but it weren't 'till I came to the Lodging House that I grew up. Racetrack, he taught me how it was, how life was, that even if I thought I was a good person deep down inside, nobody else was gonna believe that. In the grand scheme of the world, we's all alone.

But a body can't live like that forever, convinced that life ain't a picnic and never's gonna be, and that's why Mush was my best friend – 'cause there was hope in him, hope for a better world. Even if the world is raining, tomorrow it'll be sunny again.

Race prepared me for life. Mush prepared me for death.


fin.