Authors: Dale Mayer
Touched By Death
Copyright © 2012 Dale Mayer
Excerpts Copyright © 2012 by Dale Mayer
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidences either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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n perfect symphony the clouds swayed in the
sky, wrapping the moon in protective cotton wool as the ground shook
and trembled beneath the sleepy town of Jacmel in the south of Haiti.
Mother Earth growled and raged over and over again
as if she knew the secrets long kept hidden in the hills behind the
small town. As if she knew about the injustices done. As if she knew
this had to stop. She gave one last mighty shove and the earth cracked
Trees toppled, their roots ripped from the ground
in hapless destruction. Large rocks tumbled as their foundations were
wiped out from below. Everything fell to the force of Mother Nature
– at long last exposing old secrets to the light.
When she was finally satisfied, the clouds slipped
back from their protective stance, letting the moon glare upon the result
of Mother Earth's game of fifty-two pickup with the Devil. The rays
shone on bones long picked clean – now newly exposed to the sky.
The ground undulated one last time. The surrounding
hillside shuddered, sending a light dusting of earth and rock to rebury
the gruesome evidence. As if the sins of man were too much for even
the moon to see.
Five days later, a tractor, hastily called into service,
with a bucket on the front, groaned as it carried yet another load of
the town's dead to a large grave. The tractor driver was beyond pain
and grief and death. Herman focused on the gritty details of plain survival.
Five days of heat and exposure hadn't been kind to the dead – or to
the living. Survival had become a grim business and rotting bodies needed
to be buried or disease would crush them further. So many dead. No money.
No time. No help.
His neighbor, John, lifted the last small corpse
from the dump truck load on the ground to the loader's bucket. He pulled
off one work glove, straightened the bandana tied around his mouth and
nose and shouted, "Good to go!"
Herman popped the gear shift forward, swore and prayed
that Bertha would survive the job given her. He trundled forward. "Come
on girl." He patted the stick shift in his hand. "I need you
to get it done. If you quit on me, I ain't gonna make it through this."
And that was no joke. He knew for damn sure that he wouldn't if ol'
Bad business this
. He had respect for the dead. Every one of
his family and friends had received a proper send off, a decent burial
– as was fitting. Until this earthquake.
Pain clutched his heart and squeezed. So many dead.
He'd lost his wife, one son and two grandkids this
last week. Sex and age hadn't mattered here. Mother Nature hadn't cared.
She'd wiped them all out.
John, the only other person who'd stepped up to help,
had been lucky. His young wife and her family had survived the devastation.
Living out of town had helped. That also contributed to his motivation
to help out. This grave butted against his wife's family's land
so it made sense for John to make sure this grave was closed over right
and proper. There could be many people trekking to the grave on All
Soul's Day, as families came to honor their dead. Then again, complete
families had been buried together. There might not be anyone left to
He would come and visit. There were too many people
here to forget.
Herman tugged at the old t-shirt tied around his nose
and mouth, his black skin blending with the poor light. Nothing kept
the smell out. He'd already gone through a half dozen pairs of gloves.
But without the makeshift bandana the breath caught in his chest, making
him gag. His clothes would have to be burned after this. There would
be no way to clean them.
Bertha struggled forward. Darkness hid the evidence
of what they were doing. What he'd done. He only hoped he wouldn't have
too many more loads to haul.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, everyone had been
numb, in shock or frozen with grief. No one had been able to make decisions.
There'd been no army to take care of the problem. The government buildings
and staff had been as decimated as the rest of the population.
Herman hadn't been able to leave his people lying
exposed like that. Determined to do what he could he'd taken command
and had done something. Something so awful, he couldn't close his eyes
without seeing the stares of the dead – blaming him.
So far, close to sixty people had gone into this pit.
The natural depression, a ready-made burial spot, was a godsend to the
desperate survivors, a fast answer to the bloated dead rotting on the
sidewalks. He didn't know how many more were to come, maybe hundreds.
Later, much later, if someone cared, they could open this mass grave
and do the right thing. But not now. Now they had to get on with the
business of survival.
Mother Nature was a bitch.
One year later...
ade Hansen twisted in the cool sheets. Her sweaty
panicked body searched for a way out of the endless nightmare of bloated
bodies, desperate people and cries for help – pleas that would never
get answered. She turned in the fog as one more person, caught among
the fallen rocks, cried out to her. She came face to face with a woman
– blood congealed in her hair and streaked down the side of her face,
a chunk of concrete crushing her legs. She begged for Jade to find
Screaming, Jade took off to the safety of the tent,
the tent filled with the dead...and the living that searched for their
She couldn't help them all.
She couldn't help any of them.
She couldn't even help herself.
With tears streaming down her face, Jade woke in a
panic as if the demons of her nightmare had followed her into the present.
Shuddering, she recognized the hanging lamp overhead
as the one in her apartment. The Aztec print couch she'd fallen asleep
on was hers, a gift from her brother. And she finally understood that
the evening's in-depth television coverage of a small earthquake in
Haiti had been the trigger for her nightmare.
Jade curled into a ball, pulling her throw higher
up on her neck. She winced at the images still flashing on the news.
Another earthquake in Haiti. Only a little one this time. Not that the
size mattered. The memories of her one and only humanitarian trip to
that area, after the major earthquake almost a year ago, had etched
themselves permanently into her brain. A horrible time, a-praying-on-your-knees-for-help
kind of horrible time. In Haiti, nightmares had destroyed her sleep.
The shortage of food for those suffering had destroyed her appetite.
She'd lost weight in Haiti but nothing compared to
the pounds that had slipped off after her return home. Sure, that had
been almost a year ago. It didn't matter. With the nightmare fresh in
her mind it felt like only two days.
So much pain and suffering.
So much torment.
She couldn't stop it. She couldn't even begin to make it right.
There'd been nothing she could do to help – or so little relative
to the scope of the problem, it might as well have been nothing. If
she'd been offered a ride out of that hell on any given day, she'd have
jumped over her colleagues to grab it.
She wasn't proud of that.
In fact, it made her feel small and ashamed. Her colleagues
had done so much better.
She'd wanted to be better. She'd tried to be better.
She'd failed. Failed her colleagues. The victims.
The memories still haunted her.
She had her nice safe lab job back in Seattle. She
drove to work every day in a nice car and returned home every night
to her clean safe apartment with running water, heat and electricity.
All the comforts denied the Haitians still struggling through the devastation.
After she'd locked her front door behind her that
first day home, the tears had started to pour. It seemed she'd been
crying ever since.
Her life had gone from bad to worse for a while before
she'd picked up – somewhat.
And now another earthquake.
If a small one like that triggered her memories what
was the reality doing to all those poor people still living the horror?
The phone rang.
She ignored it.
It wouldn't quit. Finally, she couldn't stand it so
picked up the receiver. She didn't even bother to check the caller ID.
Duncan called every night at nine.
"I'm fine, Duncan."
"Hey, Kitten." Her brother's pet name for
her made her smile as he'd probably intended. She used to be like him.
Upbeat, funny and carefree. Until life had dumped her on her ass at
the top of the slide and given her a hard kick downhill. She wasn't
sure she'd hit bottom now either.
"I've got a job proposition for you."
His cheerful voice made her want to smile. The job
proposition didn't. "I don't want to hear it."
He laughed, a buoyant sound that rang around the
room. He never failed to raise her spirits. The effect just didn't hang
around after his calls. "Maybe you don't, but maybe you do. How
will you know if you don't hear it? It's a good one."
His wheedling tone made her smile in spite of her
horrible mood. "Not if I don't want to hear it."
"You don't know what you want."
Jade groaned. "If I don't know, then how do you?"
That laughter pealed again. She shook her head and
felt the lightness – the joyful spirit that was her brother –
ease the ache in her soul. "I know you keep trying to save me,
Duncan, but I'm fine."
The laughter and joy cut off suddenly. Duncan's voice,
sober and sad, whispered, "No. No, you're not."
Tears choked her. She rubbed her eyes. She wasn't
going to cry, damn it. Not tonight. Not
"This has to stop, Jade. You're going to collapse
and I don't want that to happen." Love slipped through the phone
receiver making it harder to hold back the tears. Jade didn't trust
herself to speak. She sniffled ever so slightly.
"I know you're hurting inside. I feel it and
I hurt for you."
"I know," she whispered, starting to shake,
knowing she had to stop – only she didn't know how. And once again
– couldn't deal with it. "Look, I'm really tired. I need to get
to bed. I'll talk to you tomorrow."
She didn't give him a chance to say good-bye and hung
up instead. As soon as the receiver clicked down, the tears rolled.
Hot and steady, they streamed down her cheeks. She snuggled back into
the couch and let them run.
The point of stopping them was long gone –
besides she no longer knew how.
"Hey Dane. That guy called again." John
"Yeah, which guy?" Dane walked over to stand
beside his stepbrother who'd stopped by the site for a visit.
Dane tugged his hard hat off to wipe the sweat running
down his forehead. Christ it was hot and humid here. He surveyed the
hospital construction site in front of them. Not bad at all. They were
ahead of schedule, but completion of the new wing was still months away.
Jacmel hadn't recovered from the last big earthquake and with smaller
ones continually causing setbacks, the country would be years getting
back on its feet.