Friday, 15 February 2013

Paradise Earth

So we're taking today to talk about Paradise Earth by Anthony Mathenia.

When the ground quakes and blazing balls of fire fall from the sky, a religious sect interprets it as the fulfillment of long-held prophecies foretelling the end of the world. The members flee to their religious sanctuary, believing that this global cataclysm is the portent of a new paradise of eternal happiness. Inside, one cold and starving man struggles to hold onto his hope for the future. He’s sacrificed everything for his faith in the prophecy, including his family. As the tortuous night drags on, he struggles to hold onto his hope for the future and grapples with a lifetime of beliefs, and expectations. If he survives to see the paradise earth, will it be worth it? Paradise Earth is a deconstruction of faith at the end of the world and beyond.

Anthony Mathenia is a novelist, blogger, and freelance writer. Having spent the majority of his life trapped in a religious cult he now writes on the liberation of the human spirit. His latest project is Paradise Earth, a novel in three parts about the survival of faith and love after the apocalypse, to be published by Curiosity Quills Press in 2012. Anthony lives in Illinois with his wife and daughter. He sincerely apologizes for waking you up on Saturday mornings in order to recruit you.


It’s the end of the world as we know it! In Paradise Earth: Day Zero a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses is trapped in their Kingdom Hall while fire rains down outside, obliterating the world.

Take a picture of you posing in front of your local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses with the cover of Paradise Earth: Day Zero. No Kingdom Hall in your area? Select another suitable location for riding out the apocalypse.

The best entry gets a signed copy of Paradise Earth: Day Zero and a $15 Amazon gift card.

If you want to win big, you gotta send us lots of pics. Very simple to do: post your picture somewhere on social media – your own blog, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, Google +, where ever you like! Then email us the link to your pic at and our three authors will do the rest – i.e. judge and award prizes! The best pics will be displayed on the Curiosity Quills website, and you get to brag about them.

When you post on social media, we’d love to see you use the #cqpress hashtag or tag Curiosity Quills Press and/or the authors in your photo. The contest runs from now until 2/17. We’re looking forward to seeing your entries!


I was busy scavenging through a house when I came across a book that I immediately recognized, even though it had been many years since I had last seen a copy. Once upon a time, we had distributed them by the hundreds of thousands, so it came as no surprise that some were still lingering around on bookshelves. Yet it was extremely unsettling to find one after so many years. Why in that place, at that time? I didn’t need a reminder about the past with its dead desires, abandoned hopes and lost dreams. The past was for forgetting. What God didn’t destroy when the infernos swept across the old world we were entrusted with sweeping away.
From house to house and door to door we went; that much didn’t change from old to new. What did change was our purpose in calling. We didn’t expect anyone to answer the door. What we hoped for was not a hearing ear but first off a well-stocked pantry, then after that maybe some clothes, tools, fuel; whatever could be used. We had to be strict and exercise discretion with what we collected, because we couldn’t risk contaminating the new world with the old – a little leaven ferments the whole lump. After we made our inspection we had to torch the house, or what remained of it. We moved through the neighborhood like a devouring army of locusts, taking what we could to sustain us and destroying everything else in our marching path.
If the winds were not favorable or if the building was too close to dead, dry vegetation, we would simply clear out any of their literature, books, magazines, videos, music, anything belonging to that wicked old world. Place it all in a burn-pile, incinerate it, and move on: that was how we worked, systematically through our assigned territory of what had once been the small city of Black Island.
I was in the process of pulling waterlogged and mildewing books off a living room bookshelf and tossing them into a rusted out wheelbarrow in an automatic way, not allowing the titles or covers to trap my attention. This was how it had to be. If I looked, maybe I would hesitate for a second, allow my mind to drift toward the discarded past, and then where would I be? It was only my intense familiarity with that particular book that caused me to even pause as I pulled it from the shelf. The dark red hardcover was an instant tip off. I already knew what it was even before I laid eyes on the fading, gold embossed title.

The moment of recognition was short lived; I didn’t hold on to it. I had more pressing needs than a trip down memory lane, so I dumped the book into the wheelbarrow with other books, with other covers, and other titles I did not know, didn’t care to know. It was the same with the other items lingering on the shelf such as a collection of photographs of the family who once called this half-collapsed space home: photos of a dad, a mom, a daughter progressing in age to about thirteen, and an Italian greyhound, a very cute dog. I put the happy, smiling lot of them with the rest of the garbage.
This family was no longer around, something I was particularly thankful for. They must have split when the war started. If they had been in the house it would have meant unpleasant work I would rather not have had to deal with.
We called the people that tried to flee the destruction “runners.” You could tell a runner’s house because the place would be tossed in a panic: closets flung open with clothes and hangers blown out like a tornado ripped through; drawers hanging loose, spilling their contents on the floor; bright spots on the wall where pictures once hung. No telling where the runners ended up. They could be dead just in the backyard or at the bottom of the ocean, flung far and wide in their panic. How could a person flee from a destruction that was everywhere?
And then there were others: the ones that didn’t try to run; the ones that resolved to face whatever end was coming with quiet acceptance. These were the ones that endeavored to stick together no matter what. I would walk in and find them sitting in their family rooms, still clutching each other, frozen in the same pose as when the lights went out. I hated them.
I hated them because of the work I would have to do. It was so hard to break their bone white death grips apart.
I hated them because it stirred something in me, a sick feeling in my gut that made me question what I was doing, a sinking feeling I could never quite bury.
I hated them because I was allowed to hate them.
I hated them because God first hated them.
Once the shelf was cleared I wheeled out toward a pile I was haphazardly constructing on what was left of the front walk. I let the books, photos, and other miscellaneous garbage slide out in a soggy mess. I followed with a couple of other hauls from the rooms that were still standing and accessible. The house itself was split down the middle and the front wall was mostly missing. It made getting in and out a fairly easy affair. When I cleared most of the trash out of the way I turned my attention to the kitchen, the most important room. I was fortunate to find the room still intact with the exception of a large hole in the ceiling and a rusting refrigerator underneath. I made first for the pantry because it contained the food least likely to rot.
In a runner’s kitchen there was no telling what would be found. Sometimes when they left they exercised some forethought and maybe threw some canned goods into a backpack or bag in their mad dash for what they hoped would be safety. But most would simply neglect food and grab other things they deemed more urgent and necessary. It was crazy to come across a runner in the field and see the kind of inane things they fled with. I guess to them nothing said personal security and peace of mind like a curling iron, a video game system, or in the case of one runner I recently came across, a very nice set of golf clubs. It was strange to consider the things we used to see as valuable compared to what was critical now. Food was the most important thing in the post-war, happy ever after.
These runners left the food behind, though they must have been an eat out kind of family due to the mostly empty cupboards. I made a brief inventory as I checked the expiration dates and placed the items carefully in a box:
  1. Mandarin Oranges, One Can
  2. Tuna, Three Tins
  3. Tomato Soup, One Can
  4. Tea Bags, One Package
  5. French Cut Green Beans, Two Cans
  6. Vegetable Oil, One Jug
  7. Unlabeled, One Can
  8. Corn Niblets, Three Cans
  9. White Rice, One Bag
The other food items were in packages that had begun to rot and had to be left behind. The tuna could not be eaten – we no longer ate meat – but it still had to be collected for safe disposal. Next I opened the refrigerator and was smacked by the pungent odor of rotting meat and spoiled milk. Once upon a time I would have found it repulsive but I now know of worse smells, the filthy, clinging kind a person never becomes used to. Within the thick odor, the refrigerator held no big finds except for a jar of pickles and a mostly full bottle of soy sauce. All things considered, it was a fairly decent haul for a middle-class family. We focused on hitting the middle-class houses because those of the more affluent were simply summer homes and never seemed to a have a good stock of anything except for liquor and pills.
My grocery “shopping” completed, I took a walk around the uneven back yard. Moving a fallen deck table out of the way to get to the back door I found the remains of the family Italian greyhound just inside. The wooden door was splintered where the dog had tried to claw through the door; its paws were bloody, skinned, and its nails broken and split. In their panicked flight the family must have left him behind. I imagined that the dog had frantically tried to dig through the door until it collapsed from exhaustion. Did the dog feel betrayed when his family left him on that night? Did it feel forsaken when they had to make a split second decision to take along what they valued the most and then opted for some cheap gold jewelry and the wedding china instead of their treasured pet? Poor little . . . “Poncho,” read his tarnished nametag. I wished I had not noticed.
The sight of his dead, fly peppered body blurred my eyes with unwelcome tears. It was pathetically unsettling. Ever since the war I had run across all manner of gruesome sights, so much so that my heart was pretty numb to it all. It was crazy to be moved to tears by a dog I didn’t know and it made me feel foolish and ashamed. This was a time of triumph and strength; we were victors claiming our spoils. It wasn’t a time for crying, that was certain. Those days had passed away and there was no room for sadness in our new world. I quickly collected myself and continued on, sweeping the dog to the side with my foot, splitting his bloated belly open and spilling writhing maggots on the floor.
I continued on to check out the bathroom medicine cabinet. I instinctively reached for a bottle of cough medicine, but stopped my hand short and reminded myself that I no longer needed it. Instead I grabbed something I did need: toothpaste. I was happy to find two tubes, one full, the other partially used and neatly rolled. After smearing a greasy menthol splotch under my nose I stashed the toothpaste tubes in my pocket for later.
Moving outside to the front of the house I sat down by the dump pile and attempted to get the trash heap to light. It didn’t help that it was so wet. I had found some lawnmower gasoline in the garage but I didn’t want to use it. Fuel was another scarcity. Instead I used a can of linseed oil, opening it and letting it dribble over the pile. When the match hit, the oil caught on fire quickly and helped some of the dryer paper to burn. I used a seven-iron golf club to stoke it and move away some of the wetter pieces of paper to the side. They would rot soon enough anyway even if they would not burn. A little more oil made the flames climb and I fanned them to a fever with a broken, commemorative edition John F. Kennedy plate. With the fire making a more determined effort, I sat down and watched it for a moment. You would think I would have had enough of fires but there was something about them that I still found soothing. As I watched the glowing bits of paper floating off on the stilted breeze, the dog, Poncho, kept intruding into my mind, his broken body tormenting me, his splintered paws digging into my skull. It dismayed me that after all the horrors I had witnessed and forced out of my mind that it was a stupid dog that was plaguing me so much.
I surprised myself when I went back inside for the dog in order to bury him. Why should this dog get a decent burial when our neighbors were now being left simply uncovered to rot? I couldn’t explain it, but I had to do it. Maybe it was just something to put my mind at ease. In a flowerbed full of dead tulips I dug a shallow grave and buried the dog along with what I hoped was misplaced guilt and that sinking sickness that had taken permanent residence in my gut. I was unable to bury the dog with the same abandoned detachment that I had when I went about my normal grim work. My pained tears made me feel guilty. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I was supposed to be happy. Everybody else was happy, so why was I having such a difficult time holding on?
As I turned back to the fire, through my clouded eyes I got a glimpse of that familiar red book smoldering in the burn pile. I picked up the golf club and surprised myself again, knocking the book loose. It was slightly scorched but the title was still legible: You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth. I looked up at the oppressive, orange-red sky eternally locked at sunrise by the motionless sun and then I looked around at the fractured, crumbling ruins of this once vibrant neighborhood. It was now “forever” and this was our “Paradise Earth.”

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