2020 Indie Book Awards Press Release

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Next Generation Indie Book Awards is the world’s largest book awards program for independent publishers and self-published authors

The Girl in the Mirror: A Sarah Greene Supernatural Mystery by Steven Ramirez has been named by the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group as one of the best indie books of 2020.

Steven Ramirez’s book is the winner of the Horror category in the 2020 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the world’s largest book awards program for independent publishers and self-published authors. The winners and finalists will be honored June 26 in an online event which will stream live on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NextGenerationIndieBookAwards at 8:00 pm (Eastern Time) and 5:00 pm (Pacific Time).

2020 is the 13th year of the not-for-profit book awards program. Outskirts Press, an independent book publisher which provides services for self-publishing authors, was a Silver Sponsor of this year’s awards.

The Next Generation Indie Book Awards are judged by leaders of the indie book publishing industry, including many with long careers at major publishing houses. Their love of a great read and experience in the publishing arena identify books deserving a wider audience.

In an article at CNN.com titled If it’s cool, creative, and different, it’s indie, journalist Catherine Andrews wrote: “The term ‘indie’ traditionally refers to independent art – music, film, literature or anything that fits under the broad banner of culture – created outside of the mainstream and without corporate financing.” That definition remains true for book publishing.

Independent book publishing companies are independent of the major conglomerates dominating the book publishing industry. Indies include small presses, larger independent publishers, university presses, e-book publishers, and self-published authors.

According to Catherine Goulet, Founder and Co-Chair of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, “Like other independent artists, many indie book publishers face challenges that the industry giants don’t experience. The indies have to work much harder to get their best books into readers’ hands.”

“Authors and publishers who compete in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards are serious about promoting their books,” adds Goulet. “They aim to stand out from the crowd of millions of books in print.”

According to an October 2019 report by Bowker, publisher of the Books in Print database, the number of titles self-published in the United States grew to over 1.6 million in 2018, an increase of 40% over the previous year. “This trend is likely to continue as the quality of many self-published works now rivals that of traditionally published titles,” according to the report.

Worldwide, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates more than 2.6 million books are now being published in a single year.

To help indie authors and publishers reach a wider audience, the top 70 books in the 2020 Next Generation Indie Book Awards will be reviewed by New York literary agent Marilyn Allen of Allen O’Shea Literary Agency, or one of Ms. Allen’s co-agents, for possible representation in areas such as: distribution, foreign rights, film rights, and other rights.

The awards will be presented on June 26 in an online event which will stream live on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NextGenerationIndieBookAwards at 8:00 pm (Eastern Time) and 5:00 pm (Pacific Time).

This year’s awards event was originally planned to take place at Chicago’s Newberry Library, to coincide with the American Library Association Annual Conference, but was moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other prize-winning books in the 2020 Next Generation Indie Book Awards include:

Top Non-Fiction Books

First Place Winner ($1,500 Prize)

Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks, by QT Luong (Terra Galleria Press)

Second Place Winner ($750 Prize)

The Chimpanzee Chronicles: Stories of Heartbreak and Hope from Behind the Bars, by Debra Rosenman (Wild Soul Press)

Third Place Winner ($500 Prize)

Feast of the Seven Fishes: A Brooklyn Italian’s Recipes Celebrating Food and Family, by Daniel Paterna (powerHouse Books)

Top Fiction Books

First Place Winner ($1,500 Prize)

Lucky-Child: The Secret, by Dr. Chelinay Gates aka Malardy (Tellwell Publications)

Second Place Winner ($750 Prize)

Eve of Snows, by L. James Rice (Twelfth Star Publishing)

Third Place Winner ($500 Prize)

Marlon MacDoogle’s Magical Night, by Sean Covel and Diego Velasquez (Baby Buddha Publishing)

Other Winners

Top books were named as winners and finalists in over 70 publishing categories ranging from Action/Adventure to Young Author.

A complete list of 2020 winners and finalists is available at the Next Generation Indie Book Awards website at indiebookawards.com.

Where to Watch the 2020 Book Awards Event

This year’s event will be streamed live online and the public is welcome to watch. To see the 2020 Next Generation Indie Book Awards Presentation, visit https://www.facebook.com/NextGenerationIndieBookAwards at 8:00 pm (Eastern Time) and 5:00 pm (Pacific Time) on Friday, June 26.

June 2020 Highlights and What Happened to May?

Empty Pool
Courtesy of Matt Jiggins

I know, I know. I’ve been trying to get a newsletter out on a monthly basis. And I was doing pretty well there for a while. Then, May hit. Now, a lot of people would defend themselves by offering lame excuses like “I lost track of time” or “Was I supposed to do that?” Not me. I’m guilty, guilty, GUILTY. I messed up. There, I feel better. I hope you do, too. On with the show…

Writing

I have finished writing Book 3 of my Sarah Greene Mysteries series, and the manuscript is off to the editor. Originally, I had planned to publish the novel next year. Well, this one should be out in late 2020. At that time, I also plan to release a box set containing all three books.

For those of you who are Kindle Unlimited subscribers, you can read Books 1 and 2 for free. And speaking of KU, I’ve decided to move all my books to Kindle Unlimited. By the time you read this, everything should be available.

Recommended Reading

Cades Cove Cover

As I said in my review, Cades Cove by Aiden James is one mother of a scary book. If you like ghost stories filled with history and dark magic, check it out. You can read my review here.

The Gun Cover

The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura is a different kind of novel. Reading it, I couldn’t help imagine Holden Caulfield as an angry Japanese man with a weapon. It’s a fascinating story. You can read my review here.

Recommended Viewing

For those of you with a Netflix account, check out Black Spot, a dark thriller set in a French town located near a forest. Maybe it’s the trees, but the inhabitants of this town are seriously messed up.

And for you Amazon Prime members, if you like English dramas, then An Inspector Calls might be your cup of tea. It’s based on the play by the esteemed J. B. Priestley.

Stay well. See you next month, when I try to locate a swimming pool that only allows one person at a time. Peace and love.

Girl Who Reads Review of House of the Shrieking Woman

Hey, check out this Girl Who Reads review of Book 2 in my Sarah Greene Mysteries series, House of the Shrieking Woman. Many thanks to MK French. Oh, and regarding any unanswered questions and clarity regarding the plotline, fear not. Book 3, coming out later this year, wraps up everything nicely and even puts a bow on it.

Girl Who Reads Thrillers Post

House of the Shrieking Woman takes place three months after the first novel, so Sarah is traumatized and dealing with the physical and psychological effects of what had happened. If you haven’t read the first novel, it’s alluded to in the sense that Sarah can see spirits, almost died, and was seriously injured. Others were involved, as well as a hidden room and a cursed object, and all of them are dealing with the trauma in their own way. Some of it is outlined, enough that you can hit the ground running with this one. I like that the trauma is realistically dealt with, that Sarah is in therapy, and is dealing with the fallout. A lot of series have the main character bounce from one event to the other as if nothing happened, and charge right in when something weird and creepy happens. Here, Sarah is cautious and knows that there is danger. It makes her more realistic to me.

Much like in the first book, we have an investigation into the past to explain what might be happening in the present. Charlie and a nun explore Guatemala to figure out what happened to Ana before she emigrated to the United States, and Sarah tries to explore the possible explanations for the dark spirits and self-mutilation in the shelter. As the novel progresses, the mystery deepens and we find out more details that point to demonic possession and malevolent spirits. There is a quiet menace, which becomes more and more creepy over time. It reminds me of movies that involve demonic possession and exorcisms, with the rising tension as everyone gets drawn into it and you fear for who is going to be next. This is especially true in the final third of the book, when things progress rapidly.

To read the rest of the review, as well as see more thrillers, click here.

April 2020 Highlights and We’re All in This Together

Spring Squirrel
Courtesy of Joachim Dobler

Well, we’re carrying on in the Ramirez household. We have food, water, and enough toilet paper to make it through the next couple of weeks—and no one is sick. I sincerely hope you and your families are safe and that you have enough to eat. These are the strangest times I’ve ever lived through. I can’t wait for the world to get back to normal, whatever that means.

Steven with BeretLike many men out there, I’ve pretty much given up shaving. This is me now. What do you think? I’ve been told now that I’ve embraced the natural look, I need to invest in beard oil. Yikes. What happened to the good ol’ days of washing with Lifebuoy soap? Next, they’ll be telling me I have to wear cable knit sweaters.

One good thing came out of this, though. I finally purchased the French Basque hat I’ve always wanted. Yeah, I know. But come on, we’re in a pandemic, for crying out loud.

Writing

I’m making headway in Book 3 of my Sarah Greene Mysteries series. I’m hoping to finish it by the end of the year, God willing. When it’s published, I’ll create a box set.

Sheltering at home means many of you are reading a lot more. For those of you who are Kindle Unlimited subscribers, you can now read The Girl in the Mirror and House of the Shrieking Woman for free.

 

Recommended Reading

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If you enjoy psychological thrillers that leave you breathless, then One For Sorrow by Sarah A. Denzil may be the ticket. You can read my review here.

Recommended Viewing

For those of you with an Amazon Prime account, check out Fortitude, a dark mystery thriller set in the Arctic Circle. For me, this series is perfect for these pandemic times.

Once again, stay safe. See you next month, when I plan to spin up a face mask-making business. Keep your eyes open for a GoFundMe. Peace and love.

March 2020 Highlights and Writing Competition News

Courtesy of DaPuglet

With all the news surrounding COVID-19, I want to say first and foremost, stay safe. If you are sheltering in place, make sure you have plenty of food and water on hand. And try to stay positive. We’ll get through this. Speaking of which, I had planned to set up book signing events—which included attending this year’s Los Angeles Times Book Festival. Well, the festival has been postponed. And that made me reconsider doing other events. So, I’ll most likely look to start setting up these signings again in the summer.

Writing

Previously, I announced that The Girl in the Mirror had won a 2019 Best Indie Book Award (BIBA) in the Paranormal Fiction category. Well, it seems I’m at it again. The first book in the Sarah Greene Mysteries series is a finalist in the 32nd annual IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards Horror Category. These awards are regarded as one of the highest national honors in independent publishing. I’ll keep you posted on the final results. You can see a complete list of the finalists here.

Recommended Reading

The Curse She Wore Cover

What do you get when you combine a homeless girl from New Orleans looking to avenge her best friend’s murder, a time-traveling psychic grieving the loss of his family, and Jack the Ripper? To find out, grab a copy of The Curse She Wore by Jordan Dane. You can read my review here.

Okay, that wraps it up. See you next month, when I’ll be painting Coronavirus-free Easter eggs. Peace and love.

February 2020 Highlights and “I Must Be Nuts” Book Pricing

Essence of Love
Courtesy of Kumar’s Edit

Hard to believe it’s the middle of February already. Before I get any further, Happy Valentine’s Day! Here’s what’s happening.

Writing

Book 2 in my new supernatural suspense series, House of the Shrieking Woman, is available in electronic format, and the paperback edition will be out soon. For more information, check out my Sarah Greene Mysteries page. I’ve already begun writing Book 3, so stay tuned. As if things in Dos Santos weren’t bad, they are about to get worse.

Announcing “I Must Be Nuts” Book Pricing

That’s right. I’ve finally lost my grip on reality. I reduced the prices of all my ebooks, and you know what? I’m not sure I’m ever going back. You can check out my Amazon page—and also this page—for details.

Recommended Reading

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If you enjoy stories of mystery, suspense, and dark souls, then Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey is for you. You can read my review here.

Recommended Viewing

For those of you with Netflix accounts, check out The Stranger, a new series based on the novel by Harlan Coben. If you like police procedurals with lots of interesting twists, then check it out.

Okay, that wraps it up. See you next month, when I’ll be selling my house to raise cash for March Madness. Peace and love.

Check Out the House of the Shrieking Woman Book Trailer!

 

House of the Shrieking Woman, Book 2 in the Sarah Greene Mysteries series, comes out on Saturday. It’s still on sale as a preorder for 99 cents, though. So, if you were planning to get it anyway, now’s the time. Click here.

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“Pitting her nascent investigative skills against a sinister power that thrives in places of pain and suffering, the main character makes this quick thriller hard to put down. Ramirez is a master of building tension when the story most calls for it, making House of the Shrieking Woman a thrillingly dark slice of suspense.” —Self-Publishing Review

Evil is as evil does.

Despite the trauma she suffered after uncovering the deadly secret behind a house’s dark, violent past, Sarah Greene agrees to investigate a series of disturbing incidents at a women’s shelter. These events began with the arrival of a young Guatemalan woman—a troubled victim of domestic abuse. The frightening episodes point to a demonic force. And Sarah suspects the entity is connected to a powerful evil infesting Dos Santos—an insidious presence known as The Darkness.

January 2020 Highlights and Preorder News

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Courtesy of Wendy

Okay, so most of California doesn’t really look like this. But, come on, it’s winter. So much is going on—let’s get started.

Writing

The Girl in the Mirror, Book 1 in the Sarah Greene Mysteries series, has won a 2019 Best Indie Book Award (BIBA) in the Paranormal Fiction category! BIBA is an international literary award recognizing outstanding indie authors, and I am overwhelmed with emotion at having won.

Book 2, House of the Shrieking Woman, is finished and will be published February 1st. Keep reading to see how you can preorder your copy for 99 cents.

Preorder Now and Save!

House of the Shrieking Woman Cover (3D M)

House of the Shrieking Woman, Book 2 in the Sarah Greene Mysteries series, is scheduled for publication on February 1st, 2020. The ebook price is $5.99. But you can preorder your copy now and save $5.00!

Book Description

Evil is as evil does.

Despite the trauma she suffered after uncovering the deadly secret behind a house’s dark, violent past, Sarah Greene agrees to investigate a series of disturbing incidents at a women’s shelter. These events began with the arrival of a young Guatemalan woman—a troubled victim of domestic abuse. The frightening episodes point to a demonic force. And Sarah suspects the entity is connected to a powerful evil infesting Dos Santos—an insidious presence known as The Darkness.

Recommended Reading

Between Life and Death Cover

If you enjoy zombie fiction, check out Between Life and Death by Ann Christy. It’s an interesting take on the genre, focusing more on a girl’s loneliness and isolation in a post-apocalyptic world. You can read my review here.

Well, that’s about it. See you in February, when I’ll be wearing my heart on my sleeve. Peace and love.

The Girl in the Mirror Wins a BIBA Award!

The Girl in the Mirror Cover (BIBA S 3D)
Wow, I can’t think of a better way to end the year than to announce that The Girl in the Mirror, Book 1 in the Sarah Greene Mysteries series, has won a 2019 Best Indie Book Award (BIBA) in the Paranormal Fiction category!
 
 
BIBA is an international literary award recognizing outstanding indie authors, and I am overwhelmed with emotion at having won.
 
You can check out a sample of The Girl in the Mirror here. Just be sure to log in to your Amazon account. And one more thing—Book 2, House of the Shrieking Woman, is coming out soon. You can check out the cover and read the first chapter here.
 
Happy New Year, everyone! Peace and love.

Cover Reveal and Free Chapter—House of the Shrieking Woman

House of the Shrieking Woman Cover

I realize we are in holidays, but please take a moment to check out the cover of my newest novel, House of the Shrieking Woman. This is the second book in the Sarah Greene Mysteries series, scheduled for publication in early 2020. And to make December even sweeter, I’m also including a free chapter. Just scroll down to read it.

Enjoy this little taste of House of the Shrieking Woman. Peace and love.

Book Description

Despite the trauma she suffered after uncovering the deadly secret behind a house’s dark, violent past, Sarah Greene agrees to investigate a series of disturbing incidents at a women’s shelter. These events began with the arrival of a young Guatemalan woman—a troubled victim of domestic abuse. The frightening episodes point to a demonic force. And Sarah suspects the entity is connected to a powerful evil infesting Dos Santos—an insidious presence known as The Darkness.

Chapter One

January, 2011. It’s an off-day. Laurel Diamanté looked out the window of her four-hundred-dollar-a-week hotel room just off Pioneer Square. Normally at this time of year, the pelting rain would drive the homeless deeper into the dark recesses and under-explored burrows of Seattle, occasionally creating a comical juxtaposition of awkwardness during one of the city’s famed underground tours. But today was different. The sky was dense, an unrelenting gray blanket that covered the city to keep in the cold. It was a good day, Laurel decided as she gathered up her things and left her dingy rooms for the last time.

The elevator was out of service again. The hotness at the back of her neck made her curse as she headed for the emergency exit. Down, down she went, struggling to keep her purse strap from sliding off the smooth shoulder of her waterproof raincoat as she carried the neatly wrapped present in both hands. Fortunately, it was only two flights.

When she emerged, she found the usual malingerers infesting the lobby. Unbathed old men mostly, single and immune from the foul weather that seeped in whenever anyone entered the building. Could they be of some use? No. Too weak. Or drunk. There were plenty of other good candidates. Taking a last look at the forlorn, toothless denizens, she turned sharply and headed for the front desk to pay her bill.

“Sorry to see you go,” the man with the lopsided haircut said. “That’ll be four hundred even. Did you take anything out of the honor bar?”

“No.” She counted out four crisp one-hundred-dollar bills. “I don’t drink, and I don’t eat snacks.”

“Okay.” He handed her a receipt, along with a card with a website address on it. “If you wouldn’t mind, could you fill out a survey online? Even better, could you post a Yelp review?”

“Sure thing.”

She checked her watch. She still needed to get gas before heading to the office. The man at the front desk said goodbye, but she ignored him and walked briskly toward the door that led to the parking structure. She spotted an ashtray stand next to the doorway and deposited the card on top of a pile of yellowed, soggy butts.

One of Laurel’s tires was low. As she unlocked her car door, she hoped it wasn’t punctured. She would check it at the gas station. The heat radiating in her neck had transformed into a familiar dull throbbing at her temples as she placed the present on the passenger seat next to her purse and climbed in. Her bags were already in the trunk, along with everything else she needed. Nothing left to do now but get on the road.

It wasn’t long before she’d gassed up her car and checked the tire pressure. Nothing was wrong with the car. A woman dressed in active wear had just gotten into her vehicle as Laurel started to pull out. She shot in front of Laurel, causing her to slam on her brakes. The other woman stopped, too. Infuriated, Laurel got out and marched up to the driver’s side window.

“I’m sorry,” the woman said.

She tried to smile. But when she saw the strange, threatening look on Laurel’s face, she averted her eyes and reached for the switch to raise her window.

“You could get killed driving like that,” Laurel said in a voice that was not her own. Though she wore a smile, her expression was merciless.

“I… I didn’t mean to…”

“Don’t worry. I’m not going to harm you. You should be more careful.”

“Yes,” the other woman said in a meek voice.

“Have a nice day.”

As Laurel stepped back, the flustered woman put her car in gear and shot out of the gas station, barely missing a homeless man with a gimpy leg.

“We should all have a nice day,” Laurel said.

 

* * *

 

The day had gone surprisingly quickly, and Laurel looked forward to getting things underway. Her friend of six months was leaving the Catholic social services agency, Mary’s Gift, and they were going out to celebrate. Laurel had given her the present at lunch, a porcelain figure of a cocker spaniel. Her friend loved dogs but was allergic. If nothing else, the figurine had made her smile.

The plan was for Laurel to follow her friend to her house in Beacon Hill and drive the two of them to dinner. When they left a little after five, the sky was already black, and it was raining hard. Though it seemed to rain constantly in Seattle, people had never learned how to drive safely. There was always some idiot who thought he could speed down Pike Street toward the fish market. The unexpected steepness of the grade would get the best of him, and there would be the inevitable accident. Laurel planned to be extra careful.

“I’m starving,” her friend said as they got onto the I-90 toward Bellevue.

“Me, too.”

“I really appreciate you driving, Laurel. But did we really have to go so far for dinner?”

“It’s not that far. And I think you’re going to love the restaurant. So, what are your plans once you get to Phoenix?”

“I think I might take a few months off before looking for work.”

“I really will miss you, you know. But I understand. It’s this stupid weather.”

As if to underscore the remark, the sky lit up with tentacles of white crackling lightning. The inevitable thunder followed.

“Maybe I should go to Arizona, too,” Laurel said.

Her friend smiled. “That would be lovely. I was just getting to know you.”

Surprisingly, it took only fifteen minutes to get across the floating bridge. Laurel had already checked the directions and made her way easily to downtown Bellevue. On Bellevue Way NE, she spotted the restaurant and, luckily, found parking on the street.

“This place is beautiful,” her friend said as they entered.

“I knew you’d like it.”

Soon, they were seated. By the time her friend had returned from the restroom, their drinks were standing untouched on the table. Laurel raised her iced tea and toasted her friend, who had decided to treat herself to a martini since she wasn’t driving.

“I wish you all the happiness in the world,” Laurel said.

By the time the salads arrived, Laurel’s friend felt unwell. She thought she should go back to the restroom and splash cold water on her face. But when she tried standing, she became dizzy.

“Oh, dear,” Laurel said. “Was the martini too strong?”

“I feel so strange.”

A concerned restaurant manager came over. “Is there anything I can do?”

“My friend isn’t feeling well. Can you help me get her to our car?”

He and Laurel pulled the other woman to her feet.

“Oh, the bill,” Laurel said.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Thank you.”

Outside, the rain was coming down in sheets. Laurel and the manager helped the other woman into the car as a busboy held an impossibly large umbrella over the three of them. Laurel thanked them and drove off, peering through the windshield to find her way to the I-90 south. Blindly, she grabbed a fresh water bottle and handed it to her friend.

“Here, drink this. You’re probably dehydrated.”

“You’re such a good friend,” the woman said.

 

* * *

 

Within hours, Laurel had maneuvered her car down a treacherous dark road and found the small parking lot in Mt. Ranier National Park. The rain had abated; a good sign. She parked and looked over at her friend, who was unconscious. Turning around, she reached for her purse on the backseat and removed the martini glass she’d stolen from the restaurant. In all the confusion, no one had missed it.

She got out and stood facing the public restrooms. It was quiet except for the howl of a sharp wind through the trees, and bitterly cold. She would have to work quickly. She dropped the glass and crushed it with her foot, destroying all evidence of the Ambien she’d used to incapacitate the victim.

She opened the trunk. On top of her suitcases lay a folded plastic tarp and a coil of yellow nylon rope. Next to those were a neatly folded bundle of heavy clothing and a pair of waterproof hiking boots. She took out the tarp and the rope and laid them on the ground next to the car’s passenger side. Grabbing the clothes, she went into the restroom to change.

Taking her time, Laurel opened the passenger door and turned the unconscious woman until her back faced the door and hooked her arms under the other’s so she could drag her out. As she did so, the woman groaned. Laurel laid her on the tarp and tied it up at the feet. To make things easier for the short trip to the grave, she fashioned a noose and place it around the victim’s neck.

Now came the hard part. She would have to haul the body down the trail about a mile. She’d estimated it would take her less than an hour. Taking a quick look around her, she locked up the vehicle, draped the nylon rope over her shoulder and, like a logger, dragged the woman by the neck.

As she made her way slowly, she found that the tarp left a noticeable trail, as if some giant snake were slithering through the forest. She stopped and looked up at the sky. Clouds were moving in again. Soon it would rain, washing away all the evidence.

“Why, Laurel?” she thought she heard the woman say.

As she struggled over rocks, and mud that in places was inches thick, she decided to answer the imagined question. Why indeed. Because it was all part of the plan. His plan. And she’d been promised a great reward. To know the unknowable. To lord it over the vermin that were doing nothing more than occupying space.

To be like a god.

Laurel was sweating, despite the cold. Ignoring the vice-like pain in her head, she continued on. Soon.

Eventually, she saw it up ahead—a tree trunk, its top bent completely over and back into the earth, forming a huge upside-down U. Opposite that, she knew, was a hollow.

Stopping to catch her breath, she looked around her as if someone might be spying. She dragged the woman’s body up to the partially obscured entrance. Pausing to look at the sky, she climbed through, turned around, and pulled the body in the rest of the way.

She’d already dug the grave the previous night. The shovel lay where she’d left it. The hole was partially filled with rainwater. No matter. Only one thing left to do before disposing of the evidence. She picked up the shovel. Standing over the woman’s body, she unrolled the tarp, exposing the head. Livid rope burns circumscribed the aged neck. The victim’s eyes were bulging from a lack of oxygen. By all rights, she should be dead.

But she wasn’t.

Her eyes searched Laurel’s face for a shred of mercy. But there was none to be found.

“This is for the best,” Laurel said.

Straightening, she raised the shovel over her head and, grunting, brought it down hard on the woman’s head. Through a wet, crunching noise, she thought she heard the woman mewling like an injured animal. Reveling in the victim’s suffering, she repeated the action two more times. When she was sure her friend was dead, she went about burying the body.

As she emerged from the hollow, flushed with exertion and sweating under her heavy clothing, a wolf bayed somewhere far off. Everything was happening according to plan. Easy peasy.

Her work here was done.