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:
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!
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
Remember that all four anthologies are free!
Thanks for reading.