Book Review – DREAMLAND: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones

Dreamland

In fascinating detail, Sam Quinones chronicles how, over the past 15 years, enterprising sugar cane farmers in a small county on the west coast of Mexico created a unique distribution system that brought black tar heroin—the cheapest, most addictive form of the opiate, 2 to 3 times purer than its white powder cousin—to the veins of people across the United States. Communities where heroin had never been seen before—from Charlotte, NC and Huntington, WVA, to Salt Lake City and Portland, OR—were overrun with it. Local police and residents were stunned. How could heroin, long considered a drug found only in the dense, urban environments along the East Coast, and trafficked into the United States by enormous Colombian drug cartels, be so incredibly ubiquitous in the American heartland? Who was bringing it here, and perhaps more importantly, why were so many townspeople suddenly eager for the comparatively cheap high it offered?

With the same dramatic drive of El Narco and Methland, Sam Quinones weaves together two classic tales of American capitalism: The stories of young men in Mexico, independent of the drug cartels, in search of their own American Dream via the fast and enormous profits of trafficking cheap black-tar heroin to America’s rural and suburban addicts; and that of Purdue Pharma in Stamford, Connecticut, determined to corner the market on pain with its new and expensive miracle drug, Oxycontin; extremely addictive in its own right. Quinones illuminates just how these two stories fit together as cause and effect: hooked on costly Oxycontin, American addicts were lured to much cheaper black tar heroin and its powerful and dangerous long-lasting high. Embroiled alongside the suppliers and buyers are DEA agents, local, small-town sheriffs, and the US attorney from eastern Virginia whose case against Purdue Pharma and Oxycontin made him an enemy of the Bush-era Justice Department, ultimately stalling and destroying his career in public service.

Dreamland is a scathing and incendiary account of drug culture and addiction spreading to every part of the American landscape.

Published: April 21, 2015

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This book is a fascinating and disturbing look at the connection between the use of prescription opiates and heroin addiction. The author blends facts with real life stories, pulling us into this world where pharmaceutical companies and pill mill doctors are knowingly creating addicts.

Much of the story centers around Portsmouth, Ohio, a blue-collar town where families once thrived. We follow its history, through an economic collapse, the burgeoning pain clinics and Oxycontin push, and the subsequent onslaught of heroin dealers and addicts.

About the only new folks who came to Portsmouth then were merchants of the poor economy. Portsmouth got its first check-cashing places and first rent-to-owns. Pawn shops and scrap metal yards opened. And David Procter expanded his practice.

But the problem is certainly not limited to this one area of Ohio. Quinones takes us through the country, where opiate and heroin addictions go hand-in-hand.

We also learn about the Xalisco Boys, a loosely formed group of Mexican immigrants who take advantage of the new opiate addiction by providing a cheaper alternative. Black tar heroin comes from Mexico, not Afghanistan, and it is a far worse problem than the white powder has ever been.

Think of it like a fast-food franchise, the informant said, like a pizza delivery service. Each heroin cell or franchise has an owner in Xalisco, Nayarit, who supplies the cell with heroin. The owner doesn’t often come to the United States. He communicates only with the cell manager, who lives in Denver and runs the business for him.

Throughout this book, we meet the addicts and their families, the dealers, the doctors, and the DEA agents who are trying to make sense of this fast-growing epidemic.

Oxycontin, Oxycodone, and heroin all come from the morphine molecule. One is not safer than the other. They are all highly addictive drugs. Quinones uncovers the lies told to doctors and to patients about the supposed safety of the Oxy product, with pharmaceutical representatives calling it nonaddictive and pushing doctors to prescribe in increasing dosages. The pharmaceutical company here is worse than the street dealer, as they purposely and knowingly create a nation of addicts all in the name of profit. Yet no one is locking them away for their crime.

In 1998, Purdue sent out fifteen thousand copies of a video about Oxycontin to doctors around the country without submitting it to the FDA for review, contrary to the agency’s regulations.

This is a book that needs to be read by the masses. We have become a nation of drug addicts. Putting it in pill form and labeling it ‘medication’ only means our dealers are now pharmaceutical companies instead of drug cartels. That is, until the doctor cuts us off or we can’t afford the pills anymore. Addiction doesn’t go away because the doctor stops writing prescriptions or because the pills cost too much. When that happens, we just turn to the cheaper alternative. Whether we call them ‘legal medications’ or ‘illegal drugs’, it’s all the same and it’s all destructive.

So as the movement to destigmatize opiates and use them for chronic pain gained energy, the seeds of discontent were already being sown. These drugs were advertised mostly to primary care physicians, who had little pain-management training and were making their money by churning patients through their offices at a thirteen-minute clip.

*Neither I nor the author make the claim that pain meds should not be prescribed and used appropriately – only cautiously.*

 

Thanks for reading. :)

Book Review: WITHIN THESE WALLS by Ania Ahlborn

Within These Walls

From indie horror author and bestselling sensation Ania Ahlborn, this brand-new supernatural thriller questions: how far would you go for success, and what would you be capable of if the promise of forever was real?

With his marriage on the rocks and his life in shambles, washed up crime writer Lucas Graham is desperate for a comeback. So when he’s promised exclusive access to notorious cult leader and death row inmate Jeffrey Halcomb, the opportunity is too good to pass up. Lucas leaves New York for the scene of the crime—a split-level farmhouse on the gray-sanded beach of Washington State—a house whose foundation is steeped in the blood of Halcomb’s diviners; runaways who, thirty years prior, were drawn to his message of family, unity, and unconditional love. Lucas wants to tell the real story of Halcomb’s faithful departed, but when Halcomb goes back on his promise of granting Lucas exclusive information on the case, he’s left to put the story together on his own. Except he is not alone. For Jeffrey Halcomb promised his devout eternal life…and within these walls, they’re far from dead.

Published: April 21, 2015

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review: ★ ★ ★ ★

This book combines various genres – thriller, paranormal, suspense, horror. Most of all, it’s a fascinating and realistic look at cult behavior. We see how a cult leader preys on specific types of people, how easily these otherwise intelligent and good-hearted people get caught up in the madness, and how it all slowly escalates from something basically good to something horrific.

Her heart fluttered inside her chest. She couldn’t tell if it was love or nerves. She dared to shoot a glance at him, and their eyes met as they approached the clearing that would lead her back to her parents’ home. It was as though he knew everything about her, knew just what she needed to hear.

Throughout this story, we alternate between the present time with Lucas Graham and three decades past with a young woman called Audra and the cult she unwittingly allows to take over her life. Eventually, these two storylines collide in an explosive and creepy ending.

Some of the content is predictable, a bit Amityville Horror-ish with a heavy Charles Manson influence. I wanted to shout at Lucas to just get out of the house. Even so, the author does a good job of showing us why Lucas is so caught up in himself and his pursuit of the story at all costs.

He could have done the research from anywhere, but there was something about being where the crimes had been committed, something about standing in the very spot a person had died. Wandering through the rooms of a house haunted by death. Seeing the details. Touching the wallpaper. Smelling the air. It ignited Lucas’s work like nothing else.

I would have liked more of a presence from ‘the bad guy’. We mostly see and experience him through the impressions of others. I wanted to get a little closer to him, to better understand him and his motivations. Cult leaders have a way of making the illogical and selfish sound altruistic, and I would have liked to see this in motion directly from him instead of the roundabout after effects.

In the end, this book held my interest throughout, gave me a chill, and left me with something to think about.

 

Thanks for reading. :)

Cover Reveal: ELI’S COMING – You better run!

Eli's Coming Banner

Book Title: Eli’s Coming
Series Title: Chasing The Night – Book 1
Genre: Supernatural / Psychological Suspense

Eli’s Coming
You better run!

 

ebook Eli’s dark legacy holds murder as his rite of passage. They say his ability is a gift. He calls it a curse. A life of violence and heartache leaves him with nothing left to fight for.

Or so he thinks.

Amanda steals his heart, but love makes him vulnerable. He must give her up or accept who he is and fight.

Will he risk stepping into the darkness that could consume him?

 

I’m excited to show off the cover for my new book, coming in May! The design is by Biserka, two talented and incredibly nice sisters. You can find them on the 99 Designs website: https://99designs.com/profiles/biserka

I was about midway through writing this book, which at the time had no title, and I noticed a song kept intruding into my thoughts. I couldn’t make it go away. A few days later, I realized why this song wouldn’t leave me alone. The title was the perfect title for my story. In fact, the song itself makes the perfect theme song for the movie. (Anyone in Hollywood paying attention? :lol: Clearly you can figure out the song is Eli’s Coming. I’m referring to the version done by Three Dog Night, particularly the later, live version, which is darker in feel than the earlier studio recording. Because Three Dog Night made the song popular, most people assume they wrote it. But that credit goes to Laura Nyro, who also first recorded the song. You can find her original version on YouTube.

You can find at least a dozen different live recordings of Three Dog Night doing this song on YouTube. The opening of one in particular fits the mood of the book perfectly. It starts with this haunting vocal that gradually builds in intensity. Click the link for your listening and viewing pleasure: Eli’s Coming by Three Dog Night.

Now here’s the thing. While I love that version, Eli, my character, demands something current. And I have the perfect vocalist/musician in mind. His voice is deep and gritty. His music has that dark quality I’m looking for. He is also a very cool guy. So help me out. Let’s ask him to cover Eli’s Coming his way, and upload the video to YouTube. This man’s name is Geoff Lenox. He recently released his first album, called Into The Light, which I highly recommend. Ready to bombard Geoff with requests? Find him on Facebook and Twitter, and ask him to do a YouTube cover of Eli’s Coming for me. Then go check out his music on Bandcamp, where you can stream the album free. But beware; it’s addictive!

I’m working on the formatting for Eli’s Coming in both print and ebook. I have bookmarks being printed. Prepare yourself because…

ELI’S COMING

 

Thanks for reading. :)

Book Review – HOUSE OF ECHOES by Brendan Duffy

House of Echoes

In this enthralling and atmospheric thriller, one young family’s dream of a better life is about to become a nightmare.

Ben and Caroline Tierney and their two young boys are hoping to start over. Ben has hit a dead end with his new novel, Caroline has lost her banking job, and eight-year-old Charlie is being bullied at his Manhattan school.

When Ben inherits land in the village of Swannhaven, in a remote corner of upstate New York, the Tierneys believe it’s just the break they need, and they leave behind all they know to restore a sprawling estate. But as Ben uncovers Swannhaven’s chilling secrets and Charlie ventures deeper into the surrounding forest, strange things begin to happen. The Tierneys realize that their new home isn’t the fresh start they needed . . . and that the village’s haunting saga is far from over.

House of Echoes is a novel that shows how sometimes the ties that bind us are the only things that can keep us whole.

Published: April 14, 2015

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review: ★ ★ ★

I love old-fashioned, scary stories. No vampires or zombies. No gratuitous gore. Just a realistic story that makes me shiver with dread. With that in mind, I was looking forward to this book. In some ways, I got what I hoped for. In other ways, the book fell short.

No matter how much the Tierneys made the Crofts their own, the presence of the house’s former inhabitants would linger if given the chance. He felt this in the way that every empty room seemed to recoil at his presence when he walked the halls on sleepless nights.

First, Brendan Duffy excels at creating atmosphere. I was in that small town, looking at the huge home on the hill with awe. I stepped inside and felt that glimmer of hope mixed with the tremble of fear. Those surrounding woods felt both ominous and peaceful. I heard the sounds and smelled the air. Throughout the book, I was in that space with the characters.

The plot itself has a stutter. We meander, then we surge. The pace lacks consistency and often shifts gear right at the point where we’re losing our breath and completely falling into the story.

And sitting there smiling, laughing, telling stories, Ben felt it again: an actor. Everyone was gracious and said polite things, but the night felt like a performance.

One word of caution: This book contains a lot of animal-related violence. These actions do pertain to the story, although the scenes are quite graphic and might bother many animal lovers. My major issue with this aspect is Charlie’s reaction – or lack thereof. He is a young boy from a stable home, yet he seems completely unaffected by what he sees. I was at a loss to understand how complacent both Charlie and Ben were about this issue.

The incredible number of flies made it difficult for Ben to understand what he was seeing. There were bones in the ravine. Dead animals, Ben guessed from the varying sizes of the remains. Stark white rib cages arced from the ground, some still draped with graying sinew.

I felt the characters were underdeveloped. We get to know them on a surface level, allowing them to lead us through the story. But, for the most part, I felt they lacked depth. Some of their actions didn’t ring true, mostly due to lack of normal response.

Long after her footsteps faded down the hall, the feel of her mouth lingered alongside his, sitting there like an exhausted goodbye.

A final, minor issue comes with the ending. We suddenly shift gears, from a third person narrative with a traditional feel, to a second person narrative with a literary feel. While I respect the author’s approach here, the switch feels out of place and jarring.

In the end, this book falls short of the promise it holds. Still, the writing can captivate and the story is worth reading.

 

Thanks for reading. :)

HER WEREWOLF BODYGUARD – Paranormal Romance #MPRTour and Giveaway!

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Title: Her Werewolf Bodyguard
Series: Moon Pack Rules #1–4
Author: Michele Bardsley
Publication Date: March 31, 2015
Genre: Paranormal Romance

Her Werewolf Bodyguard Stephanie Draper is on the run from an abusive husband–a terrifying breed of shifter. She seeks sanctuary in Tulsa, Oklahoma at her childhood home. Her stepfather is a respected Moon Pack werewolf, and even though she’s human, she’s considered a pack member, too.

Nolan Wright is also a Moon Pack werewolf and a cop with the Tulsa PD. He can sniff out a damsel in distress from five miles away … and it doesn’t take him long to find the beautiful and haunted Stephanie.

Beauty wants the Beast. Stephanie has built solid walls around her heart–for a good damned reason. But Nolan’s kind and funny demeanor is creeping through the cracks of those walls, and soon, she finds herself falling for the handsome shifter. It feels like Stephanie may finally be able to piece together her shattered life … until her monstrous husband returns for his final revenge…

Amazon / Goodreads

 

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michele2Bbardsley New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Michele Bardsley writes howling good paranormal romances. When she’s not writing, Michele consumes chocolate, crochet hats, watches “Supernatural,” reads on her Kindle, and spend times with her awesome hubby and their fur babies.

Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads / Pinterest / Tsu

 

Getting to Know Michele:

What is your favorite cartoon character?

Scooby-Doo. To this day, I love the original Scooby-Doo cartoons because some of my fondest childhood memories are getting up on Saturday mornings, making a bowl of cereal, and turning on cartoons. Back in the day, cartoons only came on Saturday mornings, so it made the experience special. It was the one thing to look forward to on the weekends.

What is your favorite TV show?

Supernatural. I love me some Dean and Sam Winchester!

Do you prefer summer or winter?

Winter. So. Much. I live in Texas, and the summers are brutal here.

Are you an introvert or extravert?

Introvert. I prefer to be at home with my puppies, family, and computer. I’m not shy, but like most introverts, I’m perfectly cool being alone.

Do you prefer cats or dogs?

I’m an animal person. We have four dogs, two cats, and six finches.

What is your favorite food? Least favorite?

My favorite food is chocolate. My least favorite food is celery. Blech!

What is your favorite material possession?

I have a doll that was popular in the early 1970s called “Christine.” She has hair that you can “shorten” by turning a knob on her back. When I was five, I ended up in the hospital for a little while (I don’t remember why) and my grandmother brought me the doll as a gift. I’ve had Christine for more than 35 years.

What personality traits do you most admire in others?

Patience. Kindness. Honor. The most admirable trait anyone can have is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.

Some people believe we can tell a lot about a person by the books on their shelves. Share 3 titles from your bookshelf.

Shadows and Lace by Teresa Medeiros: This historical romance is one of my few “re-read” books. It’s pure joy, intrigue, and love. I heart this book so much!

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett: I’m a huge fan of these two writers and this book is amazing on many levels. Plus, you get two talented, wonderful authors writing a singular book that’s funny, entertaining, and an absolute must read.

A compendium of Edgar Allan Poe stories: Edgar Allan Poe is a master at creating sinister, creepy stories that crawl under your skin and worm into your brain.

 

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Prizes: A $10 Amazon/B&N/Book Depository gift card and another $20 Amazon gift card.
Ends 4/17.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Review: A STRIKING DEATH by David Anderson

A Striking Death

An elderly retired French teacher is found brutally bludgeoned to death in his bedroom. With very few leads to go on and no witnesses, Detective Sergeant Nicholas Drumm of the Violent Crimes Unit with the York Police Services is faced with a difficult task in finding the killer. One surprising event follows another, as Drumm finds himself in a race against a killer with a violent and twisted agenda.

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review:

This is an interesting whodunit type of crime novel. We follow the detectives as they investigate a pair of murders, and we find the clues right along with them. The plot is mostly a straight forward mystery, with a few little twists along the way.

For me, the characters fall short. Their behavior feels stiff, and they lack the depth I need to help me connect and get lost in the story. The dialogue often sounds scripted and awkward, making it obvious that certain things are said to advance the plot or make a point, rather than being a realistic conversation.

A major issue for me comes with the two prominent female characters. They are both stereotypical in an unflattering way. One is a moody scatterbrain, while the other is like a teenager in love. Both women are high-level professionals in their jobs, but their personalities come off as childish.

In the end, while not a bad read, this is one of those books I could have put down and not picked up again.

 

Thanks for reading. :)

#MondayBlogs: Help Me Choose A Book Cover!

Help

My next book is getting close to publication, and I can’t wait to share it with you all! I’ve been working on cover ideas with some of the best designers. With help from family and friends, I’ve narrowed it down to six finalists. And now I need your help in choosing a winner!

This book is Supernatural/Psychological Suspense. There are no vampires, werewolves, etc. The ‘Supernatural’ aspect is about enhanced… abilities. I can’t – or maybe I won’t – give you more than that… yet. I want opinions to be based solely on the cover and the accompanying description. Which cover would make you stop and look? Which appeals to you more? Which matches the description and the genre? Which would you buy?

To make this more fun for everyone, I’m including a giveaway. Everyone who chooses the winning design as his/her favorite will be eligible to win a signed, print copy of this book upon release. I’ll randomly pick one winner from that list. Here’s what I need:

  • Please rate every cover, so I get a clear sense of comparisons.
  • Rate only your favorite with 5 stars. All others 4 stars or less.
  • Feedback is not necessary, unless there’s something you’d like to tell me about the cover. Keep in mind that minor changes can be made, such as font color and style. If you love the cover but would like a minor change, add that comment. Only I can see comments, so feel free to express yourself.
  • To be entered in the giveaway, please include your e-mail address in the comments. Again, only I see the comments and I won’t share that information. I’ll randomly pick one name from those who chose the same cover I ultimately choose as the winning design. To be eligible to win, you can only have rated one cover with 5 stars, and you have to include your name and e-mail address.
  • You have until noon EST on Wednesday, April 8.

I’ll post the winning cover here on my blog on Monday, April 13.

Ready to vote? Here we go. Click the link and a new page will open with the covers:

 https://99designs.com/book-cover-design/vote-okcx05

Thanks for your help! :)

 

New Release: EASY TARGET by Jenny Hilborne

Easy Target EBOOK 03102015

Hours are missing from Lucinda Fitchett’s memory. She has no recollection of the events that occurred on Sunday night and she cannot recall leaving the bar.

The phone rings early the next morning. A stranger claims to know who spiked her drink and why. If she agrees to meet him, he will tell her, though he warns her the information comes at a price. Desperate to know what happened during the missing hours, Lucinda must decide if his offer is worth the risk. But can she put aside her troubled past, and will she be prepared to learn the truth?

Meanwhile, San Francisco police are investigating a shooting that killed a man in Lafayette Park. When Homicide Detective John Doucette visits the crime scene, it triggers memories that lead him to believe the murder could be connected to an old case, and to someone with a link to his past.

Published: March 9, 2015

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

I had the pleasure of reading an early copy of this book, before publication. Absolutely loved it! If you’ve yet to experience Jenny’s writing, I highly recommend picking up any one of her books. This one is the second in a series, with No Alibi being the first. While Easy Target works perfectly as a stand-alone, you might want to start with the first one just because it’s really good!


Thanks for reading. :)

Book Review: HELEN OF SPARTA by Amalia Carosella

Helen of Sparta

Long before she ran away with Paris to Troy, Helen of Sparta was haunted by nightmares of a burning city under siege. These dreams foretold impending war—a war that only Helen has the power to avert. To do so, she must defy her family and betray her betrothed by fleeing the palace in the dead of night. In need of protection, she finds shelter and comfort in the arms of Theseus, son of Poseidon. With Theseus at her side, she believes she can escape her destiny. But at every turn, new dangers—violence, betrayal, extortion, threat of war—thwart Helen’s plans and bar her path. Still, she refuses to bend to the will of the gods.

A new take on an ancient myth, Helen of Sparta is the story of one woman determined to decide her own fate.

Published: April 1, 2015

Amazon / Amazon UK

 

My Review: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

In simplest terms, I loved everything about this book.

The gods. Always the gods. Useless statues and temples – what power the gods might have had was spent on punishing us for their own divine sins.

First, Carosella has a natural gift for storytelling. We’re taken on a journey, the story unfolding like a flower, one layer at a time. We get to know the characters as we learn about their lives, their passions, their desires, and their secrets.

I was not Menelaus’s to own, Menelaus’s to guard. I could not stand to sit beneath his glare any longer.

I don’t think it’s necessary to know anything about Greek mythology in order to enjoy this book. The author does an excellent job of including enough detail on the associated gods, goddesses, and myths to keep us rooted in the period, without getting caught up in specifics.

The wine dripped from his fingers, and he closed his hands into fists, trying not to feel it as blood. How much blood would Zeus ask for in exchange?

The plot is intricate and layered, without ever feeling overly complicated. We have mystery and suspense, romance, political intrigue, and family drama. Carosella has a firm grasp on this era in history. Her handling of setting is masterful.

When he lowered his head to kiss my throat, I shuddered at the touch, a whisper against my skin.

Some reviewers have complained that the ending feels too abrupt. I wasn’t particularly bothered by this. While the ending doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat bow, and it does leave room for a sequel, I felt like we were given enough to reach our own conclusions.

I’m looking forward to many more journeys with Amalia Carosella.

 

Thanks for reading. :)

#MondayBlogs: I DIDN’T KNOW HIS NAME – Free Short Story

Last week I talked about the Bestsellerbound Anthology – Volume 1, and shared my story from that collection. Today I’m sharing my story from the BestsellerBound Anthology – Volume 2. First, here’s a look at the book:

 

BsB2

A collection of short stories written by authors from the BestsellerBound group.

1. What Was Lost by James Sophi
2. The Art of Breathing by Jaime McDougall
3. Soul Windows by Jaleta Clegg
4. I Didn’t Know His Name by Darcia Helle
5. Red Route by James Everington
6. Make A Wish by Susan Helene Gottfried
7. The Last Chance Motel and Mausoleum by Joel Blaine Kirkpatrick
8. Isolation by Maria Savva
9. Beyond The Green Hills by Tom Gahan
10. From Joy We Come, Unto Joy We Return by Ami Blackwelder

This is a free download!

Amazon / Barnes and Noble / Smashwords / Quiet Fury Books

 

The story I wrote for this collection began like many of the short stories and novels I write – with a sentence. Of course, all writing starts with a sentence, right? What I mean is that the first sentence popped into my head one evening out of nowhere. That sentence rattled around my head all night, marinating, churning up debris, making me itchy inside. I didn’t have the vaguest idea where the sentence was leading, but I knew I had to follow. I had to write whatever story that sentence meant for me to find. And so I did. I sat with the sentence. I typed. The story and its main character came alive for me as I wrote. I hope you enjoy it.

 

I Didn’t Know His Name

The sky wept for the man about to be buried. Fat drops splattered and spread until the greedy earth sucked them in. The shower of tears added weight to the dirt, causing miniature mudslides in the growing hole.

I didn’t cry for the man whose grave I was digging. I didn’t know him. The man could have been a wealthy philanthropist, donating millions to help eradicate world hunger. Or he could have been a pedophile. As with most people, he probably spent his life in the middle of these two extremes. He’d be known by many, truly missed by only a few.

I stuck my shovel into the wet dirt. The metal clanged against something hard and I spent several minutes digging out a baseball-sized chunk of rock. The cool rain dripped down the back of my lightweight jacket, raising goose bumps on my flesh. Despite the chill, sweat sprang from my forehead and armpits. I’d been digging for twenty minutes and had barely made a dent in the ancient land.

Mud sucked at my sneakers. I stepped back from the hole and wiped the rain from my eyes. This would be the man’s final resting place. He’d be watched over by the crowd of trees and the animals and insects that made this space their home. The earth would slowly reclaim him; the ultimate form of recycling.

I didn’t know the man’s name. Names were nothing more than labels attached to us at birth. We could just as easily be assigned serial numbers.

The rain eased to a slow sprinkle. I stuck my shovel back in the ground, came up with a pile of fresh earth. I set it beside the hole, went back in for more. Lift and dump. Lift and dump. A mindless activity, perhaps, though I found it profoundly stimulating. I had chosen this place, beneath these trees, and intended to treat this final resting place with the respect it deserved.

I didn’t know his name, this man whose grave I was digging. I didn’t know when he’d come into the world or how he’d lived his life. I would know the intimate details of his last moments. I would know where he’d been laid to rest.

How we lived wasn’t as important as how we died.

My shirt clung to me, wet with both sweat and rain. I lifted another shovelful of dirt, added it to the pile. The clouds rolled and divided. A slice of blue sky brought a glimpse of the sun. It had come to say a final goodbye.

A tree root impeded my progress. I worked diligently, breaking it with the blade of my shovel, dissecting it to allow space for the body that would rest here.

I didn’t know the man’s name. Anthony or Andrew, Thomas or Timothy. The name didn’t matter, though I would like the intimacy that one provided. I could give him a name, Christen him anew on this day, in this place where he’d come to the end of his journey.

I dwelled on this momentarily as I dug. No, I thought, as I uncovered another large rock. Names came with baggage. Identities bound us to who we’d been, the person others had come to know and expected us to be. Names created portraits, with colors and symbols, distinctions and associations. We grew to look like the name and the name grew to define us.

This man, whose final resting place I now dug, would remain anonymous to me. He would leave the world the way he came, a clean slate in which the portrait could be anything of his making. No boundaries to define his life or his death.

An hour into the digging and I was halfway there. New England dirt could be difficult, challenging, relentless in its struggle to remain intact. The earth here was never eager to give up its depths. That quality made it all the more perfect for its intended use.

Many would say that what I do holds no value. Digging a hole, moving earth from one place to another then back again. Many would scoff, call what I do menial labor. We have machines now to do most everything for us. We need not strain ourselves unnecessarily, whether that strain be physical or intellectual.

I vehemently disagree, as you might suspect. Digging a hole is not simply about creating an empty pocket within the earth. The process brings me to a place of solitude. The dirt beneath my fingernails, clinging to my skin. The rich, intoxicating odors of freshly bloomed flowers and long buried sediment.

Birth and death rarely meet.

The spot of final rest is never a random choice. I do not spin my shovel and dig where the blade points. I take my work seriously and cannot leave such things to chance.

While conception is often a random, thoughtless moment in time, death can never be. To start a complicated life or a simple story requires little. You see, no one would know the difference, whether you’d done it right or wrong or not at all. That thing, the life or the story, did not exist before you chose to bring it about.

Perhaps your child or your story was conceived by accident. The conception, that brief moment, is rarely remembered and matters not. The life lived, the story told, become the focus.

Death, however, destroys that which exists. The moment takes something away and gives nothing back. That end, whether it be a slow fizzle or a grand explosion, can overshadow all else. Death becomes the defining moment of the life lived.

I didn’t know his name, this man whose final resting place I’d finished digging. The rain had ended and the sun now worked to dry the dampness left behind. Drops of water slipped from the leaves above. The sound became like a thousand tiny fairies performing a farewell tap dance.

The time had come for earth and man to meet. I looked over now, at the man I’d left tied to the tree. His frantic squirming over the past two hours had caused the ropes to dig into his flesh. Blood trickled from the raw wounds. The gag forced his tongue to remain still. I did not know this man’s name and I didn’t want him to say it aloud.

I untied the ropes, releasing the man from the tree. The binds on his ankles and wrists remained. I bent at the knees and hoisted him up. He wasn’t overly heavy but I was tired from two hours of digging. The strain of lifting him made my legs tremble.

I walked him to the hole. His eyes locked on mine. I saw his story there, details of a life lived, as he pleaded with those eyes. But I didn’t want to know those details.

Down on my knees, I lowered him into the hole. A puddle had formed there at the bottom and he shivered at the chill. I picked up my shovel and tossed the first pile of dirt over his legs. He squirmed and twisted. I stuck my shovel in the mound of dirt. Lift and dump. Lift and dump.

I saved his face for last. The weight of the soil kept him still now, though his head rolled back and forth. Fighting till the end. I looked into his eyes and absorbed those last moments. An entire life condensed into this brief exchange.

The dirt splashed over his face. He sputtered, spit at the dark loam. Then he was gone. I continued on, lifting and dumping the earth. His hands, bound together, pushed through the mound and clawed for freedom one last time.

I didn’t know his name, this man whose final resting place I had chosen. In the end, his name hadn’t mattered. They never did.

 *

If you missed last week’s post, you can find my story and information on the BestsellerBound Anthologies here: You Can Call Me Ari

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Thanks for reading. :)