New 5-star review for THE RED HAND–Many thanks!

The prose is crisp and delectable and the overall writing featuring descriptions that pull readers into a dark wave sweeping through a city. The chilling story is fast-paced, twisty, and with the potential to hold readers awake throughout the night. — Bertin Drizller

 

 

5 STARS: A serial killer on the loose, a city on edge, and a rookie, not your run-of-the-mill detective still learning the trade in the most ruthless of manners are elements that set The Red Hand by Michael Stephen Daigle apart, a fourth entry into the Frank Nagler Mysteries.

Ironton, N.J.is terrified by the bodies that pile up, counting nine bodies over several months. There is no clear M.O. for the murders and the diversity in the style of killing makes it even more difficult to determine if they are orchestrated by the same person. But there is so much more to that: the victims are people with different backgrounds — and Nagler has to establish the connection between them and solve the mystery. But how?

It is a far-from- a-burner kind of book to read, and the author creates a compelling character for a protagonist, a rookie detective with personal and family issues. His wife’s health is declining and in spite of all he has to worry about, his first case is a complicated one and he finds himself pithed against an unpredictable and savage murderer. The vulnerability of the protagonist and the inhumanity written into his personality attract the sympathy of the reader instantly. Michael Stephen Daigle is deft with the developmental arc, allowing readers to watch as the characters evolve through the conflict, learning to walk straighter from their initial, sluggish steps.

The Red Hand is the first novel I am reading from this author, and while it is part of a series, it reads perfectly as a standalone novel. The prose is crisp and delectable and the overall writing featuring descriptions that pull readers into a dark wave sweeping through a city. The chilling story is fast-paced, twisty, and with the potential to hold readers awake throughout the night.

 

https://thebookcommentary.com/index.php?view=Book_Detail&Book_id=192&reviewID=75

 

“The Red Hand” was named a Distinguished Favorite in the 2019 Big NYC Book Contest

Named Second Place winner for mysteries in the 2019 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards

Named a Notable 100 Book in the 2019 Shelf Unbound Indie Book Awards

Named a Distinguished Favorite in the 2020 Indepndent Press Awards

A Nominee in the 2020 TopShelf Book Awards

 

Available At: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00P5WBOQC)

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-red-hand-michael-stephen-daigle/1132368097

kobo.com and walkmart.com

 

Audio version of THE SWAMPS OF JERSEY at audible and itunes.com

Coming soon: Audio version of THE RED HAND, read and produced by Dane Peterson.

Here’s a sample: https://www.facebook.com/imzadipublishing/videos/215441556340654/

 

 

 

Posted in Bergen County Cooperative Library System, BooksNJ2017, Fiction, Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group, Hackettstown Public Library, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Mystery Writers of America, Paramus Public Library, Parsippany Public Library, Sally Ember, www.michaelstephendaigle.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A newspaper life

I miss the newspaper business. I spent half my life there.

So when a story as big as Covid-19 shows up, I want to be in on the reporting.

I want to be leaning over a desk with three or four colleagues throwing around ideas for stories, places to go and people to speak with; I want to hear what they had learned about the heartbreak or scandal they found.

I was always in awe of my colleagues, reporters, editors and photographers, and remain so to this day. Their work changed lives.

One of the main characters in my Frank Nagler Mysteries (https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00P5WBOQC) is reporter Jimmy Dawson. He first appeared in an early draft of what eventually became the second published book in the series, A GAME CALLED DEAD. I wrote that draft in my early 20s, a decade before I got into the newspaper business. He is a character of imagination. Over time he has taken on the qualities of my colleagues and is one way I can show appreciation for their work.

We were at the end of the shoe-leather era of newspapering. No Internet. No email, no cell phones, Twitter, Google. Jump into your car, run out of the office, work the phones, get a story.

Here’s a few on my favorite stories.

In 1981 I walked into the office of the Fairhaven, Mass. Advocate, a tiny weekly newspaper and knew I was home. We had one computer for the typesetter, so we cut and pasted press releases. It was basically a start-up, so we took on any topic that sparked our fancy. It was a fun introduction to covering towns, politics and life in a varied, lively place like Greater New Bedford.

We learned we had gotten under the skin of the editor of the big daily, New Bedford Standard-Times, and after they copied a promotional ad we had created, there as a summit meeting between our owner and the ST’s editor.

A friend at the ST was the reporter who broke the story of a bar rape that was made into a film that starred, Jodie Foster, “The Accused.”

Two years later I was the editor and general manager of a weekly newspaper in Skowhegan, Maine, The Somerset Reporter. When he hired me the owner gave me six months to turn around a paper that had been losing money for 20 years.

Two years later when I left to take a job at the Waterville, Maine Morning Sentinel, our circulation had increased by 50 percent and our income had doubled.

We had to do better: I had given my three full-timers, each a raise of $50 a week; for my office manager it meant that her take-home pay finally topped $100 a week.

We redesigned the paper, carved it into three sections — news, sports, and community – and tried to connect the paper back with its communities. The Somerset Reporter was founded in 1840. On its pages had appeared the Civil War, the opening of the great woods, fires and floods, log drives, the creation of industry, births and deaths and a showcase of decades of Central Maine life.

Scared me to death. I didn’t want to be the person who killed off such an important part of the region’s history.

The community section allowed us to showcase the chatty news and gossip that occurred in the dozen or so tiny towns we covered. In a town of 300, it would be big news when the head selectman and his daughter toured colleges in Boston.

We also experimented with such features as the star of the week for high school sports and a town of the week when we sent a reporter to one town for a couple of days. Those features later showed up at larger daily newspapers I worked at.

The impact of all this showed up in two ways.

First, the owner of a local insurance company whose family once owned vast acres of woodlands which set the family fortune in place, told me in my second year that he knew the paper had improved because it took two visits to the bathroom to read the whole thing.

Second, after we had covered the story of a schools superintendent who was accused of soliciting sex from teen-aged boys, and subsequently quit, the parent of the boy who was the first victim approached me at a restaurant and thanked me for our coverage.

At the Waterville Sentinel I found myself at one of the state’s premiere small newspapers, and I can say with pride that at one point we were the best newspaper in Maine. We covered our sprawling territory superbly. Our reporters took chances that turned into big stories, and our editors backed them up.

Too many stories: A 500-year flood that announced its presence in a police scanner call: “Downtown Farmington is under water;” two years of labor strife that centered on a nasty strike at local paper mills; the night when Martin Scorsese’s
Last Temptation of Christ” opened to religious protests while an earthquake stuck Waterville. A year later, one of the women we interviewed because her home had been damaged became a victim in a short killing spree.

A protest in Skowhegan about a play that we updated in a series of phone calls and jammed into the paper at deadline after the school board took a five minute break before the vote; the murder of a woman by her husband who shot her in front of witnesses at a local hospital (another on deadline story). He escaped jail because they were rebuilding his wing, and a year later was caught in Boston when he applied for a driver’s license under his own name. A jury convicted him in 45 minutes.

Then, at last, New Jersey. Twenty-one years at the Courier-News and Daily Record, learning to rise to the occasion of covering news in a fast-paced, no-holds-barred place.

It was here I was immersed in the non-profit world as agencies from Flemington to Dover and Morristown retooled to meet the needs of poor, underserved clients, the homeless, hungry and battered. Here I watched towns rebuild and move forward; walked through waist-deep water with a photographer during a tropical storm to reach people who chose to stay in their homes; wrote a story about 100 Randolph teen-agers getting busted in Vermont for underage drinking during an annual post-prom ritual.

There were stories that changed outcomes in communities. One night a man came into the Dover office where I was alone and said that something wrong was going on at a local Hispanic run non-profit. I directed him to the county and state agencies that oversaw the local group. And then wrote stories, including one about a meeting that took place in Spanish where I, as a non speaker, had the discussion translated to me live. Months later the management of the agency was replaced, a new charter was drawn up and the agency thrives today.

Another: I took a call from a doctor who had just left a meeting with the management of Dover General Hospital. He said they had announced the hospital was going to close. That led to a year’s-worth of stories by myself and two other reporters about the public outcry and an examination of state law that governed hospitals. In the end changes were made at Dover General, but it remained open, in part, the state said, because of the public outcry.

Then 9/11. Not so much the event and spending time in the Dover train station talking to fleeing survivors, or speaking with school officials who had to put in place a system to hold students until a parent or guardian could pick them up, knowing that some of those children would not see their parents again.

Not so much that, but the aftermath. Standing at the memorial placed by Morris County and absorbing the heavy silence, witnessing the grief expressed in tokens of life left on the memorial, silent cries, prayers, wishes; staring at the damaged steel columns that once could be seen in the sunny horizon to the east, carrying that sorrow.

Finally, Sgt. Ryan Doltz. A tip from a colleague from his hometown sent me to Mine Hill and into the silence that would build for weeks. Watching the town and larger community celebrate his life at a memorial service, and another at Arlington Memorial Cemetery where someone asked, after seeing the crowd of mourners gathered that day, if they were there to honor a general, only to be told it was a funeral for a Sergeant.

I wrote that story in the back seat of my F-150 parked off Route 95 in Maryland in a drenching rain storm with my computer plugged into the cigarette lighter. It was a highway exit in transition. Behind me were empty warehouses and next to me was an Arby’s and a Holiday Inn, from where I sent the story.

A few year later I wrote a story about a veterans service day at the Morristown Armory where the unit of Doltz and the three others killed in Iraq on that day was headquartered. I spoke with a Sergeant who was there to provide services, and who was fully aware what that building meant, a building filled with ghosts.

So today colleagues are still at it, even in a hugely diminished industry. They write stories that have helped a Roxbury family heal when Oklahoma authorities reopened a murder case and got a conviction, and others than bring clarity to the whirlwind that is Washington, D.C.

Read their stuff. You’ll be better for it.

 

Posted in Bergen County Cooperative Library System, Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group, Hackettstown Public Library, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Paramus Public Library, Parsippany Public Library, Sally Ember, www.michaelstephendaigle.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

THE RED HAND: Distinguished Favorite in 2020 Independent Press Awards

When we writers sit down to compose a story, we hope we will write the best story possible with the material at hand. Then we hope other people like it. Sometimes that notice comes in the form of awards.

So I am pleased and remarkably humbled to say that THE RED HAND, Frank Nagler Mystery No. 4, has been named a DISTINGUISHED FAVORITE in the 2020 Independent Press Awards.

Thank you to the contest runners and the judges.

What is especially important about this award is that it recognizes the work of small, independent publishers. So this award is as much for THE RED HAND, as it is for my publisher IMZADI PUBLISHING, www.imzadipublishing.com.

Thanks guys. You gave me that chance.

I also like that this award is run by a New Jersey company. Thanks.

Here’s the announcement: “We are thrilled to announce the winners and distinguished favorites in our annual 2020 INDEPENDENT PRESS AWARD.  This year included a myriad of excellent independently published books.  It is clear that independents are prospering in every corner of the earth.  We are so proud to be highlighting key titles representing global independent publishing.” said awards sponsor Gabrielle Olczak.

In 2020, the INDEPENDENT PRESS AWARD had entries worldwide.  Participating authors and publishers reside in countries such as Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, India, Ireland, Portugal, Sweden, and others.  Books submitted included writers located in cities such as Austin to Memphis to Santa Cruz; from Copenhagen to Mumbai; from Albuquerque to Staten Island; from Boise to Honolulu, and others.

2020 WINNERS:

https://www.independentpressaward.com/2020winners

2020 DISTINGUISHED FAVORITES:

https://www.independentpressaward.com/2020distinguishedfavorites

 

Kirkus Reviews: “A winning origin story for one of modern fiction’s expertly drawn detectives.”

 

The full Kirkus Review is found at this link: THE RED HAND.

 

THE RED HAND, the fourth Frank Nagler Mystery is a nominee for the 2020 Top Shelf Books Awards.

The multi-award winning book has been named: Distinguished Favorite in the 2019 Big NYC Book Contest; Second Place winner for mysteries in the 2019 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards; a Notable 100 in the 2019 Shelf Unbound Indie Book Awards; Finalist in the 2019 Book Excellence Awards.

My publisher, Imzadi Publishing, is also offering special pricing for its enter catalogue of ebooks from fine authors. Info: http://www.imzadipublishing.com.

The ebook versions of the Frank Nagler Mysteries are available for .99 each. https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Stephen-Daigle/e/B00P5WBOQC

Also coming soon is the Audiobook version of THE RED HAND, read and produced by Dane Peterson.

Here’s a sample: https://www.facebook.com/imzadipublishing/videos/215441556340654/

The audiobook version of THE SWAMPS OF JERSEY is available here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNSW8Ls8Y64&list=UUhsP65gzzjDU1nYTmw2jOvQ&index=9&t=0s

 

 

Posted in Bergen County Cooperative Library System, Fiction, Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group, Hackettstown Public Library, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, http://www.sallyember.com, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Mystery Writers of America, www.michaelstephendaigle.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

THE RED HAND a 2020 Top Shelf Book Awards nominee

THE RED HAND, the fourth Frank Nagler Mystery is a nominee for the 2020 Top Shelf Books Awards.

The multi-award winning book has been named: Distinguished Favorite in the 2019 Big NYC Book Contest; Second Place winner for mysteries in the 2019 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards; a Notable 100 in the 2019 Shelf Unbound Indie Book Awards; Finalist in the 2019 Book Excellence Awards.

My publisher, Imzadi Publishing, is also offering special pricing for its enter catalogue of ebooks from fine authors. Info: http://www.imzadipublishing.com.

The ebook versions of the Frank Nagler Mysteries are available for .99 each. https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Stephen-Daigle/e/B00P5WBOQC

Also coming soon is the Audiobook version of THE RED HAND, read and produced by Dane Peterson.

Here’s a sample: https://www.facebook.com/imzadipublishing/videos/215441556340654/

The audiobook version of THE SWAMPS OF JERSEY is available here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNSW8Ls8Y64&list=UUhsP65gzzjDU1nYTmw2jOvQ&index=9&t=0s

 

Kirkus Review is also featuring a profile:

From the profile, written by Rhett Morgan: “Daigle paints such a convincing picture because in all the small cities where he worked, he saw former economic powerhouses slowly fading and corrupt developers and local politicians using the situation to their own advantage. It inspired him to create a character that wasn’t just a detective, but also a hopeful figure who could stand up to the powerful elements that were allowing crime to take root. “Somebody needed to stand up and say this is wrong,” Daigle says.

Nagler isn’t the only character with strong moral fiber, though. Daigle’s books feature a slew of strong women that challenge and push the protagonist through each case, including the savvy Lauren Fox, who’s heading up a project to revitalize downtown Ironton, and tough police officer Maria Ramirez. “I didn’t want any of them to be just pretty faces,” he says. “In the newspaper business, some of the best people I worked with were women reporters. They’re very brave, and they’re very smart.” The most important woman in Nagler’s world, though, is his late wife, Martha, whose untimely death provides him with a complex motivation—to recapture the era when she was alive and Ironton hadn’t yet fallen apart.”

The link: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/news-and-features/articles/michael-stephen-daigle/.

 

 

From the Kirkus Review of THE RED HAND: “This dense, engrossing prequel illuminates why Frank embraces Ironton before economic decline and corruption totally savaged the town. Ironton is a character that Daigle (The Frank Nagler Mysteries: An Anthology, 2018, etc.) brings to atmospheric life in his work: “The sun had squeezed out of the mud the greasy mix of rotten plants, moldy, sweating trash, motor oil that had leaked from dismembered, rusted cars parts, and the musk of dead animals, and then compacted it.”

The author’s pacing is immaculate in this gruesome thriller, as he ratchets up the tension as each additional body is found. He also captures a portrait of a once-thriving community in chaos as fear sweeps through Ironton. While the fledgling detective often finds himself adrift while investigating the case, Frank’s moral compass never wavers, even when the town and its officials are ready to lynch an unlikely suspect. This makes him almost a lone voice in the wilderness but his gut proves right in the end. What results is a taut look back at the birth of a memorable character.

A winning origin story for one of modern fiction’s expertly drawn detectives.”

 

The full Kirkus Review is found at this link: THE RED HAND.

 

Posted in Bergen County Cooperative Library System, BooksNJ2017, Fiction, Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group, Hackettstown Public Library, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Paramus Public Library, Parsippany Public Library, Sally Ember, www.michaelstephendaigle.com | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Great Emptying aftermath. WIP: ‘Mount Jensen’

The injured voices will always fill the night, the child will always need succor. Who among us will harden their hearts when the cry comes? Whose will soften? There will come a time when your answer stares back at you. What you reply will be the measure of your soul.

The deacon’s diary after he and townfolk visit a troubled settlement.

The Great Emptying  https://wp.me/p1mc2c-Ii

Oct 5, 65. Skies so deeply dark, as are my thoughts. Warmth drenched away by a third day of heavy rain. The village ceased but for a stray farmer’s wagon. This is not God’s salvation. This is not our baptism. It’s as if we are drowning. We will not emerge clean and reborn, I foremost. This chill will penetrate us as people, as a village. There was a question before us that we failed to answer.

For these three days I have sat in the dark of my shelter, refusing those calling at my door. I have nothing to say to them and I do not want their good cheer to sway me from my thoughts, dark though they be.

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

I had sunk from the world as the flames destroyed the frames of building in that closed valley. My companions said, good enough, our job is done. Bless their souls. But I saw we burned away their existence, wiped them from this region. The woods will creep in, the critters reclaim. But we could not burn away the smell, the consuming sourness of life gone awry.

The first night I dreamed of the fire , the skeletal outlines dark against the orange flames, like creatures moving in a dance, some unholy celebration, a purging, not of the evil of the place, but of the goodness of hearts that might have saved those who sought refuge there.

I recalled my first visit and how my heart was filled briefly with hope that we could offer those people sustenance and brotherhood that could tide them through them, first hard days.

That hope burned in the flames and I felt the coldness settle. Who is so brazen to challenge so carelessly the ways God put afore them? Who so selfish they believed that time and the seasons bend only to them?

I watched the rain from my window for three days, barely moving even to spark the fire. I did not deserve the warmth, and could not reconcile my comfort with the restlessness of my darkening soul.

 

Oct. 7, 65. Sun at last. Three of our rescue number with their teams were filling a deep crack in the road worn by the heavy rain. Nearby was a load of stone and in the hole two men were laying the start of an arch that would carry the water beneath the road into the lake.

Ralph Mannix leaned in to say that a teamster who slept in his barn for two days because of the rain said he came across a straggling group out in the Mercer Bog. In real bad shape but they refused his help to establish a small dwelling. Sounds about like the valley folks. Refusing needed help. Don’t mean to be unchristian, Deacon, but they shoulda took it. Not mean, but there’s time ya get what’s ya ask for. Foreigners, that what they be. Come prepared. Or stay home, I say. We’re not here to save you.

 

Oct 9, 65. In the days after the rain the talk was all about contagion. The flooded streets and streams birthed fears that Mount Jensen might become that cursed valley. Some had heard repeated Dr. Shaw’s concerns and turned them real. Not even the destruction of the settlement by fire, or the closing of the road calmed them. “By our own hand,” they writ. Was that self destruction or the awakening that their grand experiment had brought on their end?

 

Oct. 12, 65. The members must have thought my sermon odd. It had no scripture, no lessons, just questions: Who among us will seek the voice crying in the night, or stop to assist the driver of a broken rig, or feed the stranger, warm the crying child or relieve the suffering of an injured animal? The injured voices will always fill the night, the child will always need succor. Who among us will harden their hearts when the cry comes? Whose will soften? There will come a time when your answer stares back at you. What you reply will be the measure of your soul.

Surprisingly my voice was a firm and friendly. They did not hear the breaking of my heart or the wracking of my soul. There is work in the northern woods and I desire for a time absence from my fellow man and to breathe the deep silence of the forest.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Bergen County Cooperative Library System, BooksNJ2017, Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group, Hackettstown Public Library, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Sally Ember, www.michaelstephendaigle.com | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

In honor of Shakespeare Day: Romeo and Juliet, Bennie Garza, and Martha Nagler: From THE RED HAND

“Do you remember the first time we came here?” Martha asked as

she picked another rose, this one freshly petaled, and inhaled its soft

scent. Then she offered it to him, and he buried his nose in the flower

before kissing her hand.

“It was seventh grade, after you played Juliet, opposite, what was his

name?”

“Bennie Garza,” she smiled. “Bennie, Bennie, where for art thou,

Bennie? He was always trying to tongue me when we kissed. But I had

braces, and he’d jam his tongue against them. I almost laughed in the

death scene.”

She threw an arm across her breasts. “I pointed at you in the front

row when I said, ‘Where for art thou, Romeo.’”

“I remember. I felt there wasn’t anyone else in that auditorium but

you and me.”

He leaned over to kiss her but stopped and pulled down her lower lip.

“Nope. No braces.”

She smiled and bit his finger. “And then you were mad at me the

entire time we were here because you had just wanted to make out in

the bushes and all I had wanted to do was recite Shakespeare, I loved

the language so much,” she laughed, then rolled sideways to kiss him. “I

was still high from the performance. Even with Bennie Garza as Romeo,

it was such fun.”

She held up the rose.

“What is this rose, dear one, what are its charms…”

“Oh, here we go.”

Martha just smiled, and then comically cleared her throat.

“Does it not blush, as do I, at the mention of your name, at the touch

of your hand?” She brushed the flower across his cheek and he smiled

deeply at her performance. “Does it not pulse with life when brushed

with pollen, drink in the dew?” She pulled off a petal. “And is it not

so frail?” She pulled off another petal and let it drop gently from her

fingers to Nagler’s chest. Her voice softened and trembled. “Its time is

so brief, its beauty so rare.” She jerked off the remaining petals, leaving

a bald stalk. Her voice harsh and firm. “It is time that I want, time with

you, sweet rose, before the petals fade; time I do not have. Time no one

can give me.”

She threw the rose stalk away and rolled into Nagler’s arms, closed

her eyes and signed deeply.

“How was that?” she whispered. “I liked acting a lot. I wish I hadn’t

gotten sick when I did. I would have loved the chance to act in college.”

Nagler lay down on his back beside her. That had been the shock

and the great test, he knew. Leukemia at nineteen. And two years of

treatment, then two more of recovering her strength and watching her

parents’ worried faces sag, the voices crack, the distant stares.

“I would have been a better Juliet in college, you know, in case you

were wondering,” Martha said to the sky after she had rolled onto her

back. “By then it was more than words. I knew about the loss, the pain,

facing death and had already experienced the great love” —she touched

his face— “and felt the poetry flow through me, the words of a soul’s

awakening coursing in my blood, bursting through the brain’s barrier,

throwing open the world.” A soft, teasing laugh.

She rolled to her side and faced Nagler, gently touching his face with

a single finger and kissing his eyes, cheeks, and mouth.

“That’s what that…that damned disease nearly took from me, Frank,”

her voice now hard. “That chance. You were my Romeo, dear Frank.

And for a moment I thought I would lose you.”

“No.” Words were trapped in his throat, unable to move. “Never,” he

coughed. “Maybe that chance comes again.”

She kissed him, holding his damp face in both hands.

“Could be,” she said, her voice distant. “I had already lived that death

scene. Had already known the poison in my veins, felt the dragging pain

of disease and how it felt to fade away. I knew how it felt to have limbs

stiffen, breath slow, colors fade, to see a descending haze and have no

way to cry out. To see the hovering outline of a dark companion.” She

covered her mouth with her hands and stared at the ground, eyes moist.

“I knew the loss,” her voice soft and shallow. “It would have been easy

to act it out on a stage, when I had already lived it. To die and then

recover. The hope of finding my love at my side. The tears on my face

at that moment would have been real.” She paused and caught a breath.

“Then my eyes opened, and it was Bennie Garza. Oh, why Lord?”

Posted in Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, www.michaelstephendaigle.com | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deacon Merrill’s diary: The Great Emptying of 1865

This is from an WIP called THE YEAR THE WORLD CAME TO MOUINT JENSEN, MAINE, about the fate of a small lake community.

 

Max and Emma Jensen are visiting Gramma Merrill to ask about an event they had read about, The Great Emptying of 1865. She presents them with the diaries of Deacon Edgar Merrill.

 

“What did you mean, the Great Emptying?” Max asked, as he opened one of the books. …

Gramma Merrill leaned back and closed her eyes. Which tale to tell? The one swapped around by the young men during fair meets, the one filled with debauchery and lust – that one was used by preachers on cold winter Sundays as the object lesson as to what happens when you wandered too far outside the church’s embrace – or the one about failed crops and famine, a well gone bad, and a family grudge, or the one about a plague, an illness so dark and swift it had arrived and left before anyone outside the valley even knew it had visited. She had heard those stories her entire life, pieces wrapped around pieces, some sounding true and other fabulous, but all ending at the same result: An empty land. …

She pointed to the top book (one of the Deacon’s diaries). “Open that one up to the first marker.”

 

****

 

Max read: “Jun 5 ’65. Have come to the valley after getting word of a new settlement. The road is barely opened. I counted 15 dwellings and some sheds and outbuildings that seemed hastily erected. I inquired as to their arrival which seemed recent, but received no firm answer from a man, Joseph, who said he was the leader. He declared that things were in good order in the settlement. I commented on the condition of the buildings and offered the help of my fellow churchmen. Winter will come, I gently reminded, and its best to have an abundance of stacked, dry wood and solid walls and roofs. Joseph declined. As I rode home I noted only small fields of corn and but a few rows of vegetables and fewer grazing animals. The vision troubled me and my heart sank, recalling my own family’s struggles with harsh winters. Even as I had spoken in a polite and friendly manner this Joseph declined to engage. I had offered a place in our church on Sundays, but the offer was declined, and as was one to come to the settlement and minister, if they so desired. I’m afraid I have offended.”

 

****

 

“June 7, ’65. Still vexed over what I had seen in the swampy valley I wrote letters to pastors in New Sharon and Farmington to ask their forbearance to send a missionary to the settlement to ascertain another opinion of its condition. I queried Mr. Hanson at the grocery as to whether anyone from that group had placed an order for supplies. He replied in the negative. He said a logging crew had passed by and offered to trim open the road, but were rebuffed. He thought it most curious.

I chose to sit lakeside alone and ponder the strangers. It was a still day and the sounds of the settlement flowed happily through the air. A wagon being unloaded at the grocery, children laughing as they rolled down the hill across the street. The sounds of a new roof being installed, loons crying on the water. All around the sights of commerce and living, of progress being made by our people. I wanted to be cheered, wanted my soul to be filled with generosity and good spirit, to be gladdened to understand how our common wealth was being fulfilled. Instead I felt a darkness. The image of that destitute settlement filled my sight. I wanted not to judge, but fell to consider how prideful a man must be to ignore a friendly offer of assistance, an offer made with nothing asked in return.”

 

****

 

“Sept.19, 65. I am a hollow man. Today to a full congregation I spoke about brotherhood and love of our fellow man and the words never had sounded so empty. I have been reluctant to mention the troubled settlement directly in my sermons, even though I added a collection basket for food at the door to the sanctuary. Our communion is not based on my telling the members what to do, but on our willingness to help.   I spoke in my sermon of being lost, of a man so sore of the world that he ran away to shelter alone, refusing even the most basic comfort of others. I offered conditions of that isolation based on what I had seen in the settlement, clues that for members who themselves had been there, would understand. I saw a few heads nod. These are good people. They filled the relief basket without question. And tonight they will gather for the church supper and pray in their humbleness for forgiveness and guidance. And I am at a loss, empty of God’s good graces: While completing the sermon this morning I softly cursed the leaders of that settlement for their blindness. But who am to demand more of them? I am but a man, one lost in my own confusion.”

 

****

 

“Sept. 22, 65. Dr. Shaw delivered appalling news today. He is the region’s only doctor and as such is obligated by the county to report on contagions. After a traveler’s report of trouble in the settlement, Dr. Shaw said he had ventured there to seek the condition of its members and found the place crawling with vermin and so thick with mosquitos and flies he could barely progress. He covered his own face with a cloth and used his coat to brush away the insects from his horse. He said the air was bitter. He knocked on several doors and heard no reply. The fields were in disrepair. He said he would help round up a gathering to venture to the site within days.”

****

 

Oct. 30, 70. Carrion birds circled overhead and the air, even chilled by an early frost, was sour. We came with twelve men. Half our wagon was filled with blankets and food, the other half with axes, picks and shovels. Dr. Shaw asked we spread out in teams. We first found a dog starved to bones dead along aside a home. What gardens were found were past ripe with unharvested potatoes, rotting squash and about a half-acre of corn pealed open and black. A searcher remarked at how much of the flatland had gone unused, and he cursed the fault. He lived within three miles of the settlement and would have gladly offered his plow team and sons to open the field. And as he spoke I recalled during my first visits here I saw only one horse and no mules or plow rigs, but I had failed to query their absence. How was it that these folks were so ill-prepared for life in these hills? Was it deliberate? My soul reeled to hold such a thought. Other searches found a bloated sheep in weeds at the edge of the swampland and another carcass wolf eaten. The air vibrated with darting insects whose buzzing was swallowed by the grave silence. No air stirred. No birds called. Perhaps to just hear a voice, Robert Tanner said, They could have drained the swamp. The land had a downhill slope and the water would have easily followed a channel. He asked how long the settlement had been there, and I could not provide an answer. No one saw them arrive. Dr. Shaw called us to the wooded edge and we found him kneeling before two small graves, marked with wooden crosses that declared, “Jacob, 5 mo.” and “Katherine, at birth.” I fell to my knees and hands clasped, prayed for the two little ones. Dr. Shaw placed one hand over his eyes and I believe he wept. Dr. Shaw took three men with him and scouted the woods, while I and the others examined the homes and sheds. Behind one we found the body of a man. He appeared in height to possibly be the man Joseph I had met before, the leader of the group. Two men hurried to where the children had been buried to prepare a grave while I wrapped the body in a torn blanket found nearby. I stopped when I saw the pox on his face and called for the doctor. He hurried to the spot and after an examination said it could be a contagion that had been seen before in the region. As we buried the man who might have been Joseph, Ralph Mannix presented the doctor with a note he had found.

It read, ‘If you find this, know that we came as free men to bless this cursed land and left this place of our own hand.’ Cursed land, alright, Ralph Mannix said. Cursed indeed. My soul shuddered at the possibilities.

A search of the near woods discovered three more graves of children, all dead, the markers said, in their first year. We as a group pondered the meaning. As best we could determine this settlement was perhaps three years old, and five children dead. Perhaps the entirety of the next generation. Oh, blessed children. What chance did they have? Is that why the left unseen? Why this valley is empty?

I recalled the unease I had felt when I first came to the valley on the half-cut road. I thought then it was just the voice of God raising my spirt to be concerned for the welfare of my fellow man. I know now it was dread and fear, the unformed sense that something terrible might happen there. Are these dead the evidence of that?

This is an empty place. I said to the gathering. Aye, ‘tis, said one of the group. But more, he continued, it is a place empty of everything but evil. Can you not feel it, Deacon? To my shame, I nodded. And it should remain empty, the doctor said. Unsure that the marks on the man’s face were not a plague, he said the searching must stop. He did not want any of the group to be exposed to an unknown illness. He had men secure a shield around the six graves and ordered the homes and outbuildings burned to the ground. As we watched the flames consume the buildings, Ralph Mannix said, This is a great emptying. This valley might best remain empty for eternity.

My spirit writhed as the flames rose, I wanted to reach for those we knew had died here and for the others who might have perished. I prayed they were blameless, and wished we the living would not assign them blame, for we knew little of their demise. We rush to judgement. But who are we to judge? I glanced with meaning to the men surrounding me and said, It’s about the edge of things, all this is. The place where roads end and the silence of all that begins. The place we stand stripped of our civilization with only our souls as companions, only our hearts as guides. After a silence, the doctor said, Amen.

Riding home to Mount Jensen I silently agreed with the assessment offered by Ralph Mannix. This was a Great Emptying. I prayed against my rising doubt that of all things emptied, my soul was in that number.”

Posted in Bergen County Cooperative Library System, BooksNJ2017, Fiction, Greater Lehigh Valley Writer's Group, Hackettstown Public Library, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Parsippany Public Library, Sally Ember, www.michaelstephendaigle.com | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The days before Monday

Just last week I watched as a high school quarterback threw a football in a perfect spiral to a player sprinting down the sidelines. Their echoed, joyous, “Oh, yeah” split the hollow space of the cement stadium.

This week, they are gone. I wondered at how they made the artificial turf so green; it seems to shine without light.

The dog and I have the streets to ourselves. Once weeds were pulled, the lawn raked and the mulch set, there was little else to do outside. A cloth mask adorns a lawn ornament.

Silence is relative. There is always a distant hum, a soft grumbling that brushes my shirtless arm and penetrates this neighborhood calm.

But this silence is consuming; no sound escapes from the still homes to overpower it or mask the slapping of my shoes on the hard, cold road.

 

Your voice lingers, dusky, elusive as your smoky eyes.

I drove past your house and recalled the day we drove back from the beach and missed the turn on the shortcut and tried to make a u-turn over this narrow bridge and when we stopped, you pulled me from the car and sat on the hood and I licked the salt from your skin.

All these days, all these dreams, bottled up, no one to tell.

They are what gets said in the messages and texts we send, our shaky voices that fill answering machines, not knowing who or when that collection of halting, hopeful words will be heard.

I would put a rose in your mailbox if it would help.

 

We want the cough to be nothing. The sneeze allergies.

We want the other side of the bed to be filled again, to hear another sigh;

Wanting not to take that ride.

We want to be laughing, stopping behind a tree to kiss,

To be in the sun, eyes closed, passing bad jokes; not in this  hallway,

Not with this burden.

We want be as young as we felt

In the days before Monday.

Posted in BooksNJ2017, Fiction, Hackettstown Public Library, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, http://www.sallyember.com, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Parsippany Public Library, www.michaelstephendaigle.com | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

When this is over

When this is over

Lovers will hold their kiss longer

And taste that sweetness again;

Sunrise will bring praise and relief

And nightfall an emptiness.

 

When this is over

Books will be put away and clothes folded,

A bed sheet smoothed, unused;

A room growing cold.

 

When this is over

A shovel will overturn some earth

And flowers rested in the hole

Then covered, watered,

The yet sealed flowers hope.

 

When this is over

Some poet will find the exact words

And a photographer will capture the perfect sunbeam;

Hearts hardened, will soften.

 

When this is over

Some kid will run and tumble

And make a miraculous catch on a green field;

Some cursing duffer will launch a ball into the woods.

 

When this is over

Someone will order a bagel with lox,

A server will shout, “Twenty-nine! Yeah, thanks.”

Coffee will be black and tea sweet, the first bite of a doughnut crumbling.

A baby will cry.

The garbage truck will clatter down an early morning street,

The dog will need walking and chase a squirrel up a tree.

 

When this is over

The rain will come

The sun will arise

The moon will glow

And the lawn will still need mowing.

(Photo: Sunrise, Belgrade Lake, Maine)

Posted in BooksNJ2017, Hackettstown Public Library, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, http://www.sallyember.com, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Parsippany Public Library, www.michaelstephendaigle.com | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s a striving world, this thing is

It’s a striving world, this thing is,

A place of pushing and pulling,

A get outta my way place,

An I’m right, you’re wrong place

That leaves us yelling from across the road

Like a couple of squabbling chickens.

 

It’s a burning place, this thing,

Tinder dry scorched souls

And everyone is carrying a torch.

 

It’s an earbud world, this noisy place

A jogging smart phone

random selected soundtrack world of internal sounds

where you have to unplug to be heard,

to ask what was that?

Because it is my voice, my aural shield, that matters.

 

 

A place cluttered with broken pieces

We left behind like a car with a smoking transmission

On a dark street at midnight.

Things we make someone else’s problem.

Childhoods, hearts, dreams,

Stuff we picked up, rolled around and crumbled

And left scattered on some trail as if we were coming back

With a pot of glue to fix it.

As if you’d be waiting.

 

As if I could walk up, sit down and say, Hey, sweetheart, how the hell are ya?

As if it would start again where it left off.

Mid-sentence.

Wordless wondering incomplete

With sad eyes and small tears

With a hollowness that ever echoes

With a basket of loneliness strapped like a gunnysack

That I asked you to fill.

Posted in Fiction, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, www.michaelstephendaigle.com | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment