New eBook, APOCALYPSE-A-DAY DESK CALENDAR, VOL. 2, only $2.99!

Keep reading to learn how to get Volume 1 for *free* (for a limited time!)

APOCALYPSE-A-DAY DESK CALENDAR, VOL. 2, only $2.99

In this eclectic assortment of flash fiction, Bram Stoker Award-winner Norman Prentiss concocts various end-of-the-world scenarios to match the days of the month (Volume 2 covers April through June). The stories range from humorous to bizarre to unsettling, commemorating holiday and observance days (April Fools Day, Mother’s Day, World Turtle Day), or notable historical events (the sinking of the Titanic; the anniversary of the first accused witch executed in Salem). This edition also includes a handful of longer, serialized stories, such as “The Hell of Food That Looks Like Other Food,” and the 6-part “Boardwalk Thrill Ride.”

Volume 2 includes more than 40,000 words of doomsday fiction, ready to be sampled in small doses just like the pages of those desk calendars you buy for 50%-off in February…or available all at once for your immediate binge-reading pleasure!

To celebrate the publication of Vol. 2, I’m also offering Vol. 1 of the series for *FREE* at Amazon for a limited time! (now through May 8)

Volume 1 of the Apocalypse-a-Day Desk Calendar (Jan. – March) offers another 40,000 words of flash fiction, including a riff on the first (and only) golf game on the moon; and “The Milking of Elm Farm Ollie,” which reinvigorates an in-flight publicity stunt by adding apocalyptic results.

**You can also sample different entries by visiting the dedicated Apocalypse-a-Day page here on my website:
http://normanprentiss.com/category/apocalypse-a-day/

TREE WORK (in memory of my father, James Prentiss)

My father, James Prentiss, passed away peacefully at his assisted living home yesterday, March 28th.  I fictionalized a version of Dad in my first book, Invisible Fences, but I’d changed things to make it a horror story, so the character became less admirable than the real-life counterpart.  As a result, I never let my father read that book.

However, much earlier I’d written a story that, for most of its essential details, is an autobiographical account of a summer I spent working with my dad.  I wrote the story during my sophomore year of college, and gave it to Dad as a Fathers’ Day gift.  It’s not a horror story at all, but I think it’s the first good story I ever wrote.  The full text follows below (and to keep it honest, I’ve resisted making editorial changes to the original story, written when I was 20 years old).

 

 

#

TREE WORK

Dad said his personality changed when he was up in a tree, but I didn’t see where it was any different.  He talked louder, but that’s because he was about 100 feet — he’d say about 30 meters — above your head.

“You want to drive by the Chambers’ mansion?” he asked me one day.

“Sure,” I said.  I had no idea we were anywhere near it — the beltway looks all alike to me — but once he steered the car onto the turnoff, I recognized the thin winding road we had traveled so many times last summer.

“They don’t pay your father for working twelve months anymore,” my mother had said whenever I told her I needed money for something.  Because of budget cuts, the County had decided to employ teachers for nine months out of the year.  “So you’re going to have to do without money for a while, like the rest of us.   I’ve got a $179 electric bill to pay, and the phone bill…”

I had to have a job.  But I had filled out applications for all the drug stores in the area, and McDonald’s, and their summer positions had already been filled.  I had waited until school was over to start looking (I told my parents I wanted to make sure I got good grades), and by then the stores had hired everybody.  It irritated me that Mark Jones — he was always getting his English papers handed back because of sentence fragments, and one time he was almost kicked out of school for gambling during lunch period — could get a job at Drug Fair and I couldn’t.

So I ended up doing the same thing my father did during the summer to earn money: he did tree work, and I was his ground man.  He said he’d pay me three dollars an hour, and I wouldn’t have to fill out anymore applications — not even a work permit.

Most of the work we did was around our neighborhood.  Where we lived they’d cut down most of the trees to build the houses, so there weren’t very many big trees and the work was easy.  I had to send things up to him in the tree by tying this knot (I don’t remember how to do it anymore) onto one of the ropes hanging down from where he was.  Usually he’d yell down for me to send up the little chainsaw that he could use up in the tree — it was the same one I got to use on the ground sometimes while Dad used the big blue one that I could hardly lift, let alone cut wood with.   But sometimes he would have me send up a pole saw by hooking it into a knot in the rope, or sometimes he would just need a regular hand saw.  And then there was a sticky paint can full of some kind of black tar that he painted on the tree where he’d cut a limb off.  It was impossible to pick up the can without getting gunk all over your hands, and it wouldn’t wash out too well.  Anything I touched would stick to me.  I ended up wiping a lot of it onto my pants or T-shirt.

And after he’d been up in a tree for a couple of hours, Dad would call down for something to drink.  He was never too specific about what he wanted until the one time I sent him up some really sour tasting lemonade that the lady who lived where we were working gave to me in a thermos container.  After that he always asked for water.

The hardest part of my job was dragging brush piles away from a tree.  I had to find some big limb with a lot of branches on it, then stack some other limbs and branches on top of it so I could drag a bunch of them away just by pulling the big one on the bottom.  Trouble was, I could never stack the piles too well, and they always fell apart halfway before I got them where I wanted them.  And I was always getting my arms scratched up by the branches.

But I loved the sound of a big tree hitting the ground.  It shook like an explosion, and the tree left a dent in the earth.  I had to hold a rope tight to make sure the tree would fall in the right direction (but one time Dad misjudged and this tree crunched up an old wooden fence in Mrs. Henderson’s backyard) while my father cut it down with the big chainsaw.

And when the tree fell down, this meant the workday was almost over.  All that was left to do was to cut up the wood.  The blue chainsaw would growl through the fallen tree.  On the big sections, I would have to hammer in a metal wedge above the cut so Dad could saw all the way through to the bottom without the two pieces closing back together and stopping the chainsaw.  I had to stand right over where he was working, and sawdust would fly up in my face and get in my hair.  Then we would pile up the logs into a stack for that family to use in their fireplace.

I liked doing the work around our neighborhood, because there was always somebody around to help me with my job.  People wanted to watch my father up in the tree, but they would have felt silly just looking.  So they would make themselves useful.

“Doesn’t he ever fall down?” they would ask me as they helped drag some brush out of the way.

“Nope,” I said.  “That’s what the ropes are for.  They hold him up there.”

And sometimes I would run into people from school.  “Yeah,” I would them with pride, “that’s my father up in that tree.”  It was funny because whenever there wasn’t anybody else around, it never seemed like such a big deal — just my dad doing a job.  But with those other people watching and making gasping sounds when he swung from one tree to another, it really seemed like something special.  I would kid with Dad that those were the only times when I ever really looked up to him.

After a job was done, Dad would tell clients to give me the check.  The gesture didn’t really mean anything — Mother managed all the money in the end — but it was nice anyway.  I always told Dad that he never charged enough.  Other people who didn’t do half as good a job charged twice as much.  “Charge them more,” I said, and you can pay me what I’m worth.”  Dad would always laugh at this, like he was paying me too much to begin with.

One time Mrs. Wright gave me the check for my Dad’s pruning two trees and cutting down a dead one.  He only charged her fifty dollars.  I remember Dad was standing next to me when I took the check to her.  It was the first time Mrs. Wright had seen Dad on the ground next to me.

“You’re almost as tall as your father, aren’t you?” she asked me.

“Oh, he’s still got a few centimeters more to grow,” my father said.  “But I don’t think he’ll be as tall as I am.”

“How tall are you anyway, Roger?” she asked me.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “About — ”

“180 centimeters,” my father interrupted.  I let Mrs. Wright see my eyes roll up to the top of my head.  Here he goes again, I thought.

“How much is that?” Mrs. Wright asked.

“180 centimeters,” Dad repeated.  Dad’s what you might call a metric system militant.

Everything changed towards the end of summer when Dad got this job to do a lot of tree work for some rich people before they moved into their new house (it was more like a mansion).  The Chambers had decided that their old house was too small, so they had a new one built just down the road from it.  I didn’t think it looked that great, but it sure was big:  it had more windows than any house I’d ever seen.  It was three stories high, square-shaped, and made of brick in varying tones of red.  The front door was white with stained glass church-like windows on either side of it.  They were still building parts of it when we started work, and I told Dad it was the kind of house that would probably never look finished.

We worked there every day for almost a month, except on Sundays and when it was raining hard.  This was a big change from the way the rest of the summer had gone: we had never had any jobs that lasted more than two days, and I always had a few days in between jobs to rest up for the next one.  With this new job, I didn’t like having to get up early every morning, especially to put in such long, strenuous hours.  I found myself looking forward to Sundays, or hoping that it would be raining in the morning when I woke, so I could go back to sleep.

And at the Chambers mansion there wasn’t anybody there to help me.  The only people around were the servants.  They hardly ever came outside, but every once in a while I would catch one of them peeking out of a window or something.  They always seemed to be looking at the most embarrassing moments — like the time my father was yelling at me from up in the tree.  Dad told me to pull on this rope until he said to stop, but all the time he was yelling “Hold!” I thought he was saying “Pull!” and I almost yanked him out of the tree.  He called me a “Blooming idiot” and a “Blockhead” and I don’t remember what else — sometimes I wish he would learn to curse like any normal person — and when he was finished I turned around ant there were two of those servants peeking through a ground-floor window.

“Were you trying to kill me?” he asked when he came down from that big tree to eat lunch.  He never seemed to get hungry up there, so I always had to remind him when it was time.

“Yeah,” I said.  “To get you back for those limbs you aim at me from up there.”

Lunch was always the best part of the day, and not just because it was a break from working.  It was really the only casual time Dad and I ever got to be alone together.  We had this whole huge area to ourselves, and we’d sit down and eat wherever we felt like it.  No matter what kind of sandwich we packed, Dad said it tasted like sawdust.  And I always teased him about how his glasses looked, because of the black strap he wore to keep them from falling off while he was up in a tree.  The black looked really funny against his gray hair.  His hair had always been grey, but these were the only times I ever really noticed it.  And lunch was the only time he’d let me see how tired he was — he never looked tired when he was up in a tree.

I never did see what the Chambers looked like:  the only other people I saw while I was working there, besides the servants, were two plumbers working outside one day.  They were pretty crude.  The only time they ever spoke to me was when the bigger one was walking out of the woods and he asked me what poison ivy looked like.

“I don’t know,” I told him.  “It’s got three leaves, is all I know.”  Dad had pointed the stuff out to me a bunch of times, but whenever I would point to something later that I thought was it, I would always be wrong.  I wasn’t allergic to poison ivy anyway, so it didn’t really matter.

“Well, I was taking a leak,” this guy told me, “and I hope I didn’t get any on my thing.”  If you’re only going to speak to somebody once, I don’t that that’s what you should talk about.

It didn’t seem like the job for the Chambers would ever end.  Before I could finish the ground work for one tree, Dad was already climbing another.   I got sick of the smell of sawdust and my own sweat, and I thought about Mark Jones working in an air-conditioned store and not having to do anything more strenuous than push buttons on a cash register.  I began to watch the clock for lunch more than ever, and it got so that every day I wished we would quit early.  But Dad never did.  Towards the end, I decided I never wanted to do tree work again.

But once the trees were down, or pruned, the job wasn’t over.  We had to throw all the dead limbs into this huge truck Dad rented, and then haul it off to the dump.  We never had to do this step when we worked around our neighborhood — the people who lived there would take care of it themselves — and it kind of made me angry that the Chambers never had to do this kind of work, that they were never around to see what we were doing for them.  But when Dad talked to the Chambers, he told them that he would clean up everything afterwards.  They didn’t want any logs — a big house like theirs, and they didn’t even have a fireplace.

That’s how Dad hurt his back, lifting up a big log and trying to load it on the back of the truck.  Everybody worried so much that he would hurt himself while he was up in a tree, and his back went out while he was doing something so simple on the ground.  He finished up the job, but after that his Doctor told him he couldn’t do tree work anymore.

“Looks like we did a good job,” Dad said a year later.  “Those two trees out front are going to make it, and I wasn’t sure that they would.”

I couldn’t tell one way or the other how much good we’d done, but I could see the satisfaction in Dad’s smile — with just a hint of sadness behind it because he knew he could never accomplish anything like it again.

“But the house still doesn’t look finished,” I told him.

Dad laughed.  “You want to stop in and talk to them?” he asked.

“No,” I said.  “We don’t really know them.”

“You sure?  They’re pretty important people.”

“Nope,” I said.  “I don’t see how they’d really be that different from anyone else.”

Dad turned the car around, and we left the Chambers’ mansion behind.  “I have to be at work in two hours, anyway,” I told him.  I had a job at Drug Fair.

I hated it.

 

# # #

NEW novel LIFE IN A HAUNTED HOUSE, now available!

Life in a Haunted House is now available at Amazon for only $2.99

“Prentiss continues to chart his own path through the horror genre, a path which more often than not is haunted by the monsters hiding inside us rather than slavering demons or serial killers…A poignantly moving, sometimes funny and oftentimes bittersweet human portrayal of a young man trying to make sense of his parents’ divorce, his place in the world, and the true meaning of friendship…I can do no less than give Life in a Haunted House my highest recommendation.” — Cemetery Dance Online [for the full review, click here:  http://www.cemeterydance.com/extras/review-life-haunted-house-norman-prentiss/]

**Only $2.99!**  Click the cover below to learn more or to purchase the eBook!

About the book:  

Brendan has always been fascinated by the low-budget horror films of Bud Preston. Imagine his surprise when he moves to a new town and discovers a high school classmate is the daughter of his favorite director. Melissa Preston’s home contains exciting secrets about such strange films as THE STONE STAIRWAY and THE DUNGEON OF COUNT VERLOCK. But Brendan’s film-fan obsessions threaten to undermine his new friendship…before he can truly understand what it means to spend LIFE IN A HAUNTED HOUSE.

Alongside the book’s release, I’m also offering previously unpublished stories — 9,000 word “novelizations” of films by the low-budget director featured in the novel.

As some of you may recall, “The Dungeon of Count Verlock” was Bud “Budget” Preston’s only vampire film.  “The Lake Monster” was his Black Lagoon-style chiller. And “The Space Visitor” was his low-budget sci-fi epic:

          

…To read the full Count Verlock story online for free on my website, click here…

…For eBook versions (only 99 cents each!), click a cover above to visit Amazon…

March 19

Return of the Swallows

 

Every year, at the end of a week of festivities, a flock of migratory swallows used to arrive at the Great Stone Church in San Juan Capistrano, greeted with cheers from sightseers.  The sky was black with the shapes of birds returning from winter in Goya, Argentina.  The swallows built nests beneath the arches and eaves of the ruined church.

In recent years, few swallows came to the Mission San Juan Capistrano.  Restoration of parts of the ruined church destroyed many nests and nesting places.  Man-made nests were placed beneath a prominent archway, hoping to tempt annual visitors, but the effort failed.

The celebrations continue, however.  Tourists from all over gather to celebrate the week-long Fiesta de las Golondrinas, and on March 19 (the feast of St. Joseph), mariachi bands and Spanish and Native American dancers entertain the vast crowd.  At noon, a bell-ringing ceremony commences, calling the birds.  Perhaps a few will come, but never in the tremendous numbers of the past.

We are always looking for them, a resident says this year, her face brimming with unfounded hope.

Tourists turn to the bank of bell towers, raising their phones to record the clamor.  They photograph the swinging ropes, the clappers striking metal bells, the scenic sun-dappled stone of the ruined church, but few of them bother to look to the sky.

A shadow falls over the Mission, darkening the images on camera and cell phone screens.  A distant, overhead squawking begins to soar over the clamor of the bells.

Theyre back, someone yells, and cameras and phones swivel, necks crane upward.

Like in years past, like in the famous song, the swallows come back to Capistrano.   

The sky is almost entirely black, but it is a black that ripples like an ocean.  Wings flap, and the cry of multiple birds is so loud that many tourists cover their ears.  The bellringers stop pulling the ropes, so the birds make the only sound.

It is not a birdsong or mating call.  The birds sound angry.

 This is more than I remember, an old gentleman remarks.  Many, many more.

Its as if there is not enough room in the sky.  The birds fight for space, and the dark ocean of feathers seethes with violent waves.

A group of tourists scream and jump away from where theyve been standing.  On the ground, a dying bird flaps its wings.  Its eyes have been pecked out.  The feather pattern, usually a mix of grays with white patches, is entirely dark with grime, as if the bird has been rolled in tar or oil.  The bird has four legs that struggle in the air as it dies.

Other birds begin to fall from the sky, their grime-soaked bodies pecked and bleeding, some with two eyes pecked out, but another pair above, blinking; most with extra legs, a few with an extra head. 

Tourists and locals alike seek shelter amid the ruined stones of the Mission, unaware what disaster struck in the southern hemisphere…only to migrate here in a dark, bilious cloud, then continue to spread as dead and dying birds rain onto the church courtyard.

 

 

March 8

International Womens Day

 

The Appointed Official stepped to the podium and spoke towards the dimensional portal:

Let me explain to you the importance of International Womens Day.  I have actually proposed the name be changed to Universal Womens Day, to broaden the scope even further — and to reflect our recent change in circumstances.

Youre welcome.

The history of this observance dates back more than a century, when women protested to gain the right to vote and to improve working conditions.  Progress has been slow, but steady, and everyone agrees we are in much better shape than we were even ten years ago.

Well, not counting the latest event, of course.  This situation isnt helping anyone.

Im reminded of those concurrent protests, dubbed A Day Without Women.  Around the world on March 8th, female workers declined to show up for their jobs:  some schools, lacking sufficient teachers, were forced to close; parents struggled to find daycare for their kids; nursing care suffered as well.  Of course, some professions were hit harder than others, but there was a definite impact.  Things kind of fell apart, for a day.

Message received, loud and clear.

So Im telling you that you dont really need to make the point youre making now.  Youve convinced us.  Well have flowers for you, boxes and boxes of chocolates.  More fancy dinners, and more compliments.  Youll definitely feel more appreciated, which is what we all know this protest is about.

From the dimensional portal, the Respondent cleared her throat, paused before speaking:

Are you finished?  Because, with all due respect, sir, thats exactly the attitude we feared from you.  Its the reason we left in the first place.  Its the reason we wont be coming back.

She waved a hand, and the portal screen slowly darkened, her image and voice fading, as the Appointed Official wondered what life would be like from now on, wondered how long civilization could remain viable, wondered what it was about his speech, exactly, that had been so terribly wrong.

 

 

March 5

The Last _______ on Earth

 

The Last Author on Earth sat in an armchair, pen raised over a pad of lined paper.

His laptop battery had drained months ago.  There was no electricity to power his desktop computer.

He’d considered trying to find an old-fashioned typewriter in the city’s looted pawn shops, but decided the streets were too dangerous.

Besides, pen and paper was the classic way to write fiction.  The civilized scratch of blue-black ink, some argued, matched the natural flow of a writer’s ideas.

The Last Author on Earth still wasn’t certain what topic to choose.  Many guidebooks suggested it was best to write about what you know.  He began in longhand at the top of the page:

I am alone.  The world has ended.

He crossed through the lines.  Too close to home.  And where would that story go?  He couldn’t imagine.

He tore off the page and crumpled it up.  He tossed the ball at a wastebasket across the room, where it landed amid other false starts.

Back when he was One of Many Authors, he’d responded to an interviewer’s question about why he enjoyed writing.  Thats easy, he said.  The characters.  I never know what my characters will do, what path theyll make the story follow.  They always surprise me.  Theyre the best companions I could ever imagine.

He now knew that fictional characters weren’t enough.  He needed food and warmth and escape from tedium.  He needed a stranger’s voice, a person with real opinions, and maybe a body he could reach out and touch.

The Last Author on Earth considered all the characters from all the stories he’d ever written.  Their bland, boring voices sounded too much like his own.

He wrote a new story that killed them all.

February 24

The Boy Who Avoided His Chores

(for Wilhelm Karl Grimm, born Feb. 24, 1786)

 

A certain boy hid behind his family barn, trying to escape his daily chores.  He knew his father waited for him on the other side of the large building, with pails for transporting gallons of water and fresh milk, shovels for shifting heavy piles of earth and manure.  The boy preferred to lie in the grass, watching for patterns in the clouds above.

One cloud had the shape of an old witch.  As the cloud moved across the sky, winds sculpted this decrepit shape into the soft image of a young maiden, her arms outstretched.  A slow wind further altered the cloud, cutting off the young girl’s hands.

He was startled out of his reverie by a deep voice like his father’s.  “Boy, why dost thou lounge with no cares?  Have you not chores to complete?”  The language was more formal than his father used, and the boy realized the words came not from the other side of the barn but from the sky.  He noticed a different cloud, in the shape of a devil’s face.

The boy did not answer.

The lips of the cloud-face curled in a dark smile.  “Are you too frightened of me to speak?”

In response, the boy lifted a finger to cover his own mouth, and the devil cloud understood.  “You are a mere youth, and have not learned fear,” the devil said.  “You are merely worried our voices will call attention from your father on the other side of the barn.  He will find you, and make you carry pails of water and fresh milk, and shift heavy piles of earth and filthy manure.”

The boy nodded.

“Well, have no worries.  My voice meets your ears alone; your father cannot hear me.  And I can make you a deal that will ensure you never again must carry out your father’s orders.”

As the boy looked up in the sky, the devil’s face did not transform in shifting winds.  But the boy began to see something different, nonetheless.  He began to see the face of a friend.

“All I ask,” the smiling devil continued, “is that you grant me whatever lies behind the barn.  In return, I promise you will never again suffer through daily chores that bring no benefit to yourself.”

Although spiteful, the boy was not stupid.  He remembered the tale of “The Maiden with No Hands.”  In that story, the devil takes the shape of an old man, tempting a miller with untold riches, if he will simply give up that which stands behind his mill.  Thinking the tempter refers only to an apple tree, the miller agrees — only to learn that his beloved daughter, at that moment, was sweeping the ground beneath the tree.  The girl was too innocent, “her hands were clean,” so the devil demanded that her hands be chopped off before she was given to him.

The barn loomed high behind the young boy, and he couldn’t see to the other side.  He whispered to escape his father’s notice, hoping the devil could hear.  “Is my father on the other side of this building?”

“Yes,” the devil’s voice boomed from the cloud.

The boy knew that, unlike the miller in the story, he could win his bet with the devil.  The miller loved his daughter, was agonized at the thought of severing her hands with his own axe.  In contrast, the spiteful boy’s hatred for chores outweighed any slight love he held for his father.  He would cut off his father’s hands at the devil’s direction, if that were indeed the last chore he ever had to perform.

“I agree,” the boy said.

And the cloud thundered.  Bolts of lightning struck from the devil’s eyes, arcing over the barn.  The boy crouched down, huddled against the building’s frame, covering his ears as the earth shook.  Above, dark funnels spun forth from the devil’s nostrils, and a hurricane wind emerged from the evil cumulonimbus mouth.  Torrential rains fell from the sky.

After what seemed like an eternity, the storm activity ceased.  The devil’s face no longer appeared in the sky, but the boy could swear that he heard laughter.

He stood, and collected himself.  A small pang of remorse hit him, over the sacrifice of his father.  He was surprised at how dramatic the devil’s actions had been, just to take a single victim.

He turned, and the side of the barn loomed ahead of him.  Standing this close, it was as if the building blocked out the entire world beyond.

A deathly quiet beckoned from the other side.

 

February 14

Valentine’s Day

 

Some spiteful magic took away our ability to love.

Cards in red envelopes remain undelivered; long-stemmed roses wilt in flower shop windows.  Boxes covered in red foil gather dust on drug store shelves.

Messages fade on hard, chalky candy:  the Conversation Hearts, instead of “Kiss Me” or “Be Mine,” might as well say “Let’s Not” and “Go Away.”

As some scientists and philosophers have argued, love is a survival instinct, encouraging us to perpetuate the species.  Many people hope that only the symbols have disappeared — the merchandise with simple poetry, rather than the deep emotions they pretend to represent.

Unfortunately, that wish is unfounded.  Any cursory look at how we treat each other proves the point.

However, there is a silver lining.

Not all of us look forward to Valentine’s Day.  February 14 has been an annually recurring insult to those among us who have never known love.  If our days are incomplete, they are not always unpleasant.

We are here to reassure you:

People will continue to share homes, in order to defray costs.  They will split chores, gather to share food and drink.

Societies will still create and raise children.

Life will go on.

Its not the end of the world.  It really isnt.

 

February 4

Over the Bay Bridge

(an Odd Adventure with your Other Father)

 

Celia, the first time I thought the world ended was your other fathers fault.  Of course, neither of us knew it at the time.  We were just two guys, fresh in love and fresh out of college, little dreaming what odd adventures awaited us.  Ill tell you the story again…”

 

#

 

May of 1985, our graduation ceremony was hours behind us, and we rode Jack’s punch-red VW Beetle across the wide span of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Jack was driving, stubborn since it was his car, but he should have surrendered the wheel to me. He hated bridges in general, but the Bay Bridge was its own kind of beast: three lanes wide on the westbound span and 4.3 miles from end to end.

Jack was tall, so he had to lean close so his head didn’t hit the roof of the small car. His hands gripped the wheel like he was ready to pull it from the dashboard. He was like somebody’s nervous grandmother sitting atop two phonebooks — which was funny, since he zipped that Bug like a racecar through the small-town streets of Kent County, Maryland.

The problem was the water that stretched around us for miles on either side, a calm light blue with sun glimmers on tiny peaks. Jack had never learned how to swim.

Two miles in, and I worried maybe he was going to pass out. I touched the top of his knee with a supportive squeeze, and his leg jolted against the accelerator in nervous response.

Okay. Maybe touching him wasn’t such a good idea.

And all the while I’m thinking What’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like Jack’s tiny car could crash like a battering ram through the side wall, sending us on a deadly plummet toward the Bay.

June air rushed through the car’s open windows, like a blast from a hand dryer. Our lane had a metal lattice section down the middle, making the tires hum whenever Jack drifted off center.

“It’s pretty solid construction. Concrete and steel cable.”

“Thanks,” Jack said through clenched teeth. Guess I forgot that logic couldn’t compete with somebody’s long-held phobia.

Then one of the steel suspension cables snapped. A dozen or so car lengths ahead, the bridge cracked down the middle as if a giant zipper-tab dragged open the section of metal lattice in our lane.

Gusts of air through the car window, tires on asphalt, the toy-car putter of the VW engine, and my scream.

More cables snapped. Ahead, cars in our lane dipped into the opening — a widening split-span of asphalt and steel and concrete, the flicker of water shining beneath, sun flecks now sharp as broken glass. The sides of the bridge buckled, and cars in the outside lanes began to tumble and slide toward the gaping crevice.

What do you say to someone when you’re both about to die? I shouted Jack’s name, said “love,” then spread one arm across his chest while the other hand gripped the shoulder strap of my seatbelt.

I might have uttered the word “brake” also, in the vain hope that slowing the car would give us a chance.

Jack kept driving at his steady pace. The car’s hood flew up, blocking the view through the windshield. I closed my eyes, fighting the sick-stomach sensation of falling, falling.

Falling.

“Jesus, Shawn. I’m having enough trouble on this damn bridge without you spazzing out.”

Jack’s hands granny-gripped the steering wheel. The hood was fine. The road ahead was smooth. I turned in my seat: through the rear windshield, the intact bridge stretched back as far as I could see, cars calm in their respective lanes.

I must have fallen asleep, had a nightmare . . .

“Pretty solid construction. All concrete and steel.” Jack’s imitation of my voice wasn’t very good, but the sarcasm was pretty effective.

I was trembling. My heartbeat raced, and my breaths started to wheeze.

And since my asthma never seemed serious enough to merit an inhaler, there was nothing to do but wait it out.

Jack attempted humor, to distract me from my tight, desperate gasps. “What was in the punch at the graduation picnic? Glad I didn’t drink any.” The comment actually made things worse. I was drugged, having a bad trip. That meant more awful images were on their way.

Don’t think of anything bad, I told myself.

Bright colors. Flowers. Kittens and rainbows.

Don’t think of a rock smashing through the windshield. Don’t think of a bolt of lightning flashing toward us. Don’t think about a nest of spiders in the seat well, an egg sack bursting open as newborns pour out, the tickle of a thousand tiny legs that crawl beneath the cuff of my pants.

Yeah, none of that happened. No more awful hallucinations.

At least, not yet

 

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Later I discovered that Jack had unintentionally projected his own fears into my mind — a strange ability he eventually learned to control.

Celia, it may have been the first, but it wasnt the only time your other father showed me the end of the world.

 

***

 

Authors Note:  Todays entry exists in the world of my first novel, Odd Adventures with your Other Father.  If you’re enjoying this or other posts on the Apocalypse-a-Day blog, please consider reading more of Jack and Shawns Odd Adventures by clicking the appropriate link:  Amazon US, Amazon Canada.

January 20

Alien Invasion Scenario #3-X

The ships visited a year ago today, but we didn’t realize it. Their hulls were shaped like clouds, and they reflected our skies back at us. Waves of distortion fooled human equipment, so no warning blips appeared on our monitors.

At the surface level, the visitors assumed the shape of our best people — politicians, athletes, school teachers, police officers, celebrities. Behaviors changed, so that people became almost unrecognizable.

Politicians fought with each other. They lied, and made decisions that weren’t in the public’s best interest. Baseball and football players grew unnaturally strong; in post-game interviews, they spouted foolish platitudes about teamwork and good sportsmanship.

Math teachers invented complex methods to solve simple equations. English teachers found newer, shorter books that were  more tedious than longer ones they’d taught previously; they changed rules of spelling and grammar more quickly than students could learn them.

Meanwhile, police officers beat and shot citizens they were supposed to protect. Movie stars who played admirable characters on the screen slipped into immoral behavior in their private lives, becoming poor role models for our nation’s impressionable youth.

The invasion happened a year ago, or two. Or maybe a decade ago. But to you it seems like it happened overnight. And now you know that society is doomed.

January 3

Anniversary of a 1958 Fire at the Top of the Eiffel Tower

 

“The one in Paris is much bigger.”

“Oh, you’ve seen it, have you?”

The two maintenance workers walked past the amusement park replica of the Eiffel Tower.  The top of its metal skeleton was visible from the stretch of I-95 north of Richmond.  Up close, in a park emptied for the season, the structure was even more impressive.

Though at 300 feet, the replica was a scant one-third the height of the Paris original.

“Yeah, my family’s from there.” Peter used his broom to push more garbage into the dustbin.  The park had a rare unseasonable event a few days ago, to offer an alternative New Year’s celebration.  Families bundled in winter coats to ride roller coasters and spider cars, eat candied apples and rocket pops, and pretend they vacationed in Paris as fireworks shone through bars of the looming metal structure.

After the January 1 break, it was taking them two full days to clean up.  Streamers and confetti were more stubborn than typical summertime trash.  A rainstorm had turned the paper into mush that resisted easy sweeping.

Mon dieu, his co-worker Blake said.  “I should call you Pierre.”

“Keep sweeping.”

But Peter didn’t follow his own advice.  He leaned against the broom handle, his eyes drawn to the top of the tower.  “You know, the real one?  It caught fire in 1958, this very day.  I remember the date, ‘cause my mom told me she was there.”

“No kidding?”  Blake took out a cigarette, feigning slight interest.

“Yeah.  Way she tells it, her little sister was all excited.  The fire lit the tower at the top, and sis said it looked like a giant candle.  Mom, a know-it-all preteen at the time, decided to taunt her a bit.  Said something like, ‘But Annabelle, dear.  Who, or what, do you suppose, lit that candle?’”

Blake thumbed the roller on his lighter, but the flame didn’t catch.

“Thing is, they were far enough away,” Peter continued.  “So they hadn’t felt scared.  But when Mom looked into her sister’s face, she knew she’d gone too far.  Anabelle’s eyes went wide, holding back tears.  The poor kid imagined some hideous giant stomping through the city, lighting the tops of every tall building.”

Blake thumbed the lighter again, to no effect.

“Her little sister’s fear was infectious.  My mom was older, so she could imagine more dreadful scenes:  enemy warplanes overhead, dropping bombs; saboteurs breaking into national structures, connecting dynamite to a timed fuse; comets tearing through the sky, brushing rooftops, flaming ash falling like deadly rain.  Mom couldn’t sleep that night.  Her sister’s fright made her believe it could happen.  The world was actually going to end.”

Blake’s lighter sparked, finally caught.

High above, the top of the Eiffel Tower replica burst into flame.

From surrounding cities echoed the sound of distant explosions, like the footsteps of some hideous giant.

New Blog of Free Fiction: “Excerpts from The Apocalypse-a-Day Desk Calendar”

The Blog to End all Blogs??  -or- Killing the World, One Day at a Time…

Starting today, as one of my more ambitious New Year’s resolutions, I’m beginning a new blog that I’d initially envisioned as a short story: flash fiction pieces that might have appeared on a hypothetical page-a-day desk calendar.  You know–those mini-calendars you might buy on the cheap during after-holiday sales.  But instead of Possessed Cat Pictures or Peanuts cartoons, my imaginary calendar would present holiday-themed apocalypse scenarios.  I would pick the “usual suspect” holidays, and write a doom-filled flash entry for each, and the story would be titled “Excerpts from The Apocalypse-a-Day Desk Calendar.”

But as I got going, researching which days to try and drafting a few entries, I decided to take the challenge further.  Why not actually attempt the entire desk calendar?  365 entries…

And if I posted the entries on my website, at a dedicated page, it would be even cheaper than the 75% discount for a Literary Quotations calendar I bought last year…

I’m probably out of my mind for trying this.  365 stories is a lot.  I’ll probably repeat myself.  Life, and other writing projects, will get in the way.  I could have technical difficulties with my website.  It’s going to be really tough to keep up.

But *all* New Year’s resolutions are ridiculous and ambitious.  That’s not going to stop me from trying.

And, just to cover my bases, I’m keeping the original title:  “EXCERPTS from The Apocalypse-a-Day Desk Calendar.”  Whatever happens, I’ll still be sharing a lot of free fiction! 🙂

Check out the first entry here (appropriately titled January 1: New Year’s Day), and please keep coming back for daily updates:  http://normanprentiss.com/category/apocalypse-a-day/

Or click the bleak image below, or try the banner on the right column of the website.

(Oh dear, I hope it’s not a leap year…)

The Apocalypse-a-Day Desk Calendar

 

 

January 1

New Year’s Day

Your head is pounding. You should have taken it easy last night, but your friends were in a partying mood and you had to keep up with them.

Everything after 10 pm is a blank. That was when you accepted a shot glass filled with a green glowing liquid. “Let’s toast two hours early,” your best friend said, raising his own tiny flourescent glass. If you sang “Auld Lang Syne” later that night, there would have been a noticeable slur in your off-key voice.

You’re lying on your stomach now, but you don’t remember how you made it into your bed.  You hope you didn’t drive yourself home.

Your head feels like it’s in a metal vice, even though your cheek is pressed into a soft pillow.  You struggle to move, but it’s almost as if another person is lying on top of you.  That person has duplicated your position exactly: legs over yours; arms over yours; head pressing heavy against yours, ear matched to ear.  You find it difficult to move.

The building around you groans, and you notice a spreading crack in the drywall beside your headboard. You imagine another house on top of your house, pressing down until concrete begins to crumble and support beams buckle.

Another body climbs onto the person atop your back, and the extra weight makes it hard for you to breathe.  A second house stacks above your home, and the entire building shakes. More cracks appear in the drywall, and your head throbs in agony.

The extra bodies are an illusion, as are the extra houses–but the weight, the extra weight, continues to increase. You think of the ball that dropped in Times Square last night, as it does every year to signal the New Year. Although you don’t remember seeing it on television this time, you’re certain it happened.

Something else happened. What if, the morning after the ball dropped in Times Square, your planet hit a disturbance in its orbit?  What if Earth also dropped like a ball?

In response, gravity shifted.

You feel it now: your planet spinning with different force, another body on your back, another building crushing your home.

Your head keeps pounding.  The walls fall.

Trade Paperback of ODD ADVENTURES WITH YOUR OTHER FATHER; free eBook of INVISIBLE FENCES

Now available in Trade Paperback, my horror/LGBT roadtrip adventure novel, ODD ADVENTURES WITH YOUR OTHER FATHER:

*only $12.99 at Amazon

*and at Barnes and Noble

[Note:  the ebook version is available exclusively at Amazon, for only $2.99]

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“It’s rare that I can truly say that I’ve never read anything like this before, but Odd Adventures with your Other Father is a unique creature. Norman Prentiss has given us a tale that’s funny, surreal, touching, magical, and heartbreaking, and we’re in the hands of a master storyteller from beginning to end.” — Jeff Strand, author of Blister, Dweller, and I Have a Bad Feeling About This

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Also, for a limited time, my Bram Stoker Award-winning novella, INVISIBLE FENCES, is being offered FREE at Amazon U.S. and Barnes & Noble. Be sure to get a copy!  (Any posted reviews at retail sites would be greatly appreciated!!)

“Cemetery Dance’s short novel program yields another gem with this sobering story about the imaginary barriers of fear we place around our life circumstances as we grow up… Carefully crafted prose… a lucid reflection on life’s inevitable burden of fear and fractured memory.” — Booklist

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TWO eBook collections for FREE!

Sign up for the Norman Prentiss Newsletter and get TWO eBook collections for FREE!

Click a cover below to get started:

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IN THE BEST STORIES… is a mini-collection of my 4 best tales: “Glue Traps,” “In the Porches of My Ears” (Bram Stoker Award-winner for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction), “In the Best Stories…” and “Four Legs in the Morning.”

QUEER PANICS contains 5 gay-themed horror stories: “The Shell (A Zombie Approximation),” “Interval,” “The Transfer Student,” and “The Well-Adjusted Child,” along with a never-before-published haunted house tale, “Panic.”

Each collection includes detailed notes about the composition and/or publication history of all the stories.

Author Spotlight: Jessica Knauss (plus giveaway link for $100 Amazon Gift Card!)

I’m participating in a Kindle Unlimited Swap Meet this month with over 20 other authors. ALL of our books are available to read for free through the Kindle Unlimited program. If you’re not already a KU member, you can sign up for a month-long free trial and read as many books as you want — for FREE!

I decided to discover a new author this month, and the book I chose is AWASH IN TALENT by Jessica Knauss, which shares some of the fantasy elements I explore in my own ODD ADVENTURES WITH YOUR OTHER FATHER. (And if you haven’t read my book yet, you can also read it for free this month through Kindle Unlimited.)

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Jessica’s book is a smart and original fantasy about people with special powers (telekinesis, healing, firestarting, mind-reading). I especially admired the novel’s unique structure, presented as a series of three interlocking novellas. One of the joys of the book was finding connections between the different parts, as the narrator of a new section crosses paths with the previous speaker–the technique keeps readers on their toes as they work to recognize the subtle threads. It’s all done very cleverly, and the final novella ties things together nicely.

I was interested in the book’s structure, since in OTHER FATHER I attempted another variation on a novel comprised of linked stories. So I contacted the author to get more info. about how she put her book together, and here’s what she said!

“When I began the first novella, Hope & Benevolent, I thought it was a short story. Over the course about two years, I kept going back to it to see where the out-of-control narrator would take it next. I should add that at the time, I was writing my first novel, SEVEN NOBLE KNIGHTS, a medieval epic that weighs in at about 120,000 words (after trimming!). Writing something briefer was a nice break once in a while. When the first novella was finished, I realized that the characters in AWASH IN TALENT had still more story to tell. It felt right to tell it from a different perspective, and thus the second novella, WaterFire, came about. A year later, Friendship Street came along to finish the story of the two special sisters. The different perspectives and additional characters helped give my alternate-reality Providence more depth. 

“The first inspiration for WaterFire only allowed for it being a story about a Providence native. When Kelly revealed her main challenges, I realized only Beth from the first novella could help her. Beth becomes a key character by the end of WaterFire, and its events help to tell her story.

“Friendship Street brought focus back to Emily. I wondered what would happen to Emily once her sister, Beth, sort of hit it big. I knew she would be in court-ordered therapy, and who more appropriate to treat her than a psychic who can read minds? I found Patricia the psychic’s story to be just as compelling as Emily’s, and in the end their fates are intertwined. So much so that both Emily and Patricia are demanding a sequel. I’m not sure I should humor them, because if I do, they may never stop demanding more stories.”

Thanks to Jessica for answering my questions, and for writing such an engaging book. Here’s hoping those sequels happen!

———–

Feel free to check out ALL the books in the Swap Meet this month. Many of them are up to 70% off, and there is something for everyone, from fantasy, to mystery, to romance. And be sure to enter to win a $100 Amazon gift card! You can enter by helping to spread the word about these great Kindle Unlimited books.

 

Interview @ CEMETERY DANCE ONLINE about ODD ADVENTURES WITH YOUR OTHER FATHER

Cemetery Dance Online recently posted an interview with me about my new book, Odd Adventures with your Other Father.

The interview was conducted by Blu Gilliand, and he did a fantastic job getting me to talk about why I published via Kindle Scout, how the supernatural elements of the book helped me explore LGBT themes, and how the various genre elements of the book interact.

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Click the image above to visit the interview, or click this link to learn more about the book at Amazon’s product page: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01EG5NGPA

New Blurb for ODD ADVENTURES WITH YOUR OTHER FATHER!

Just got a blurb from Peter Atkins, who kindly read the full manuscript for my new novel:

“Beautifully un-categorizable but wholly delightful, Norman Prentiss’s ODD ADVENTURES WITH YOUR OTHER FATHER is a heady mix of the surreal, the poignant, the scary, and the heartwarming. A gleeful mash-up of genres, highly recommended!”
– Peter Atkins, author of MORNINGSTAR and BIG THUNDER, screenwriter of HELLRAISER II and III, creator of WISHMASTER

Please preview the novel @ Kindle Scout, and consider nominating it (or sharing the link) if you like the excerpt! https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/31CCF08HMHST3 

UPDATE: The book was selected by Kindle Press, and is now available for purchase!

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THE BOOK OF BABY NAMES *sold out* pre-publication!

Delighted to learn that the Cemetery Dance signed hardcover edition of THE BOOK OF BABY NAMES sold out its limited run of 600 copies, within 24 hours of the publisher’s announcement! Some copies may still be available on the secondary market, and an eBook will be forthcoming eventually.  In the meantime, here’s the book description, cover, and full details about the stories inside!

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Sandra picked up the dull, saddle-stitched book. The child on the cover laughed, a mischievous gleam in her eyes. Water stains on the front cover blurred the outline of some of the child’s teeth, making a few look sharp, like an animal’s. But the girl laughed, so everything was okay.

Sandra didn’t realize The Book of Baby Names was a work of fiction. And that the stories inside were horrifying….

This mini-collection from Bram Stoker Award-winner Norman Prentiss contains six tales about sinister or endangered children. Features two never-before-published stories, “The Baby Truck” and “The Well-Adjusted Child,” along with a new Foreword/Afterword that places all the tales in an additional disturbing context.

Full Table of Contents:

  • “The Book of Baby Names—Foreword and Afterword” ©2016 by Norman Prentiss, original to this collection.
  • “The Baby Truck” ©2016 by Norman Prentiss, original to this collection.
  • “The Albright Sextuplets” ©2008 by Norman Prentiss. First appeared in Shivers V.
  • “The Covered Doll” ©2010 by Norman Prentiss. First appeared in Black Static magazine.
  • “Homeschooled” ©2009 by Norman Prentiss. First appeared in 4 Stories.
  • “In the Best Stories…” ©2006 by Norman Prentiss. First appeared in Shivers IV.
  • “The Well-Adjusted Child” ©2016 by Norman Prentiss, original to this collection.

ODD ADVENTURES WITH YOUR OTHER FATHER — PREVIEW of New Novel @ Amazon!

Announcing my first full-length book, ODD ADVENTURES WITH YOUR OTHER FATHER — currently on Preview at Amazon.com, as part of their Kindle Scout program.

If you like what you see and enjoy the 5,000 word excerpt, please consider becoming a “Kindle Scout” to Nominate the book (and encourage Amazon to publish it!).  I promise: the adventures get even more wild as the book continues!

UPDATE: The book was selected by Kindle Press, and is now available for purchase!

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ODD ADVENTURES WITH YOUR OTHER FATHER, by Norman Prentiss

A queer roadtrip of supernatural adventures!

Because one of her fathers died when she was very young, much of Celia’s family knowledge comes from stories her surviving father narrates—road-trip adventures from the mid-80s that explore homophobia in a supernatural context. As she considers these adventures (a rescue mission aided by ghostly hallucinations; a secluded town of strangely shaped inhabitants; a movie star with a monstrous secret), Celia uncovers startling new truths about her family’s past.

Follow this link to learn more about the book, or to purchase: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01EG5NGPA

 

“THE FUTURE OF LITERARY CRITICISM” (A Dr. Sibley Curiosity) — Now Available in BLACK STATIC #51

My latest Dr. Sibley Curiosity, “The Future of Literary Criticism, is now available in BLACK STATIC issue 51. Order a print copy of the issue from the publisher, or subscribe to support this excellent horror magazine!

Here’s the two-page illustrated spread that introduces my story:

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And here’s the cool cover to the issue, which also features fiction from Mark Morris, Stephen Graham Jones, Gary McMahon,  Caren Gussoff, and Stephen Hargadon, plus book and DVD reviews, and non-fiction from Stephen Volk and Lynda E. Rucker:

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