Norman Prentiss

Excerpts from The Apocalypse-a-Day Desk Calendar

Lava Scape

June 27

Siebenschläfertag  (Seven Sleepers’ Day)

 

In German weather lore, the climate on Seven Sleepers’ Day predicts the next seven weeks of weather.

So, as a thought experiment:

If a hurricane were to hit on June 27, that would predict seven weeks of property-damaging gusts to follow.

If flooding occurred on June 27 — from heavy rains, from overflowing river banks — the world would be flooded each subsequent day, 9 additional days and nights than the deluge waters that tossed Biblical Noah’s ark.

If a tornado were to touch down on June 27, the finger of God drilling through villages, tearing paths of damage through fields…would that predict new funnel clouds in days ahead, to score the earth with misery?

And what if, on June 27, the hurricane and flood and tornado converged — joined by hail and lightning and, for good measure, a plague of locusts.  If the lore is correct, all those combined disturbances would recur for seven full weeks, creating the weather event to end all weather events.

The sky grows dark.  A crackle of electricity sparks through the air; a freight train rush of wind rumbles closer.  Icy rocks begin to drop from above; a cloud begins to rotate, and a strange dark tentacle stretches slowly toward the ground.  You hear a buzzing in the distance, and another dark cloud splits apart as if alive.

You never believed in the weather lore, the old wives’ tales.  All you need is to survive today’s impossible events.

You’re optimistic that the next seven weeks will bring calm, clear skies, and rebuilding.

June 26

Rat-catcher’s Day

 

The rat-catcher held out his hand for payment, and Angelina Fuhrmann simply glowered at him.  Disgusting man, his face smeared with grime, his shirt and trousers stained with filth from crawling under houses, setting traps in damp basements.

Nothing like the clean-cut musician the Brothers Grimm and Robert Browning wrote about.  The colorful clothes, the tent-shaped hat on his head…and the sweet-sounding pipe that lured unwanted vermin from Hamelin town.

The rat-catcher of legend used music; the real-life counterpart used snap traps, glue pads, and horrible poisons.

“Pay up for my services,” said the filthy exterminator.  An opportunist, finding his own profession after the floods nearly emptied the cities — washing warm, foul-smelling waters through the streets, bringing a mischief of large rats with each wave.

This man was exploiting the poor survivors in their water-ravaged homes.  Angelina Fuhrmann would not grant him a single penny.

“Pay up,” the man repeated, and she could only think of him as a large rat — a worse vermin than the ones he exterminated.  “Pay up, or I’ll take your children.  I’ll snap them in a trap.  I’ll stick them in a pad of glue.  I’ll feed them my horrible poisons.”

His words reminded Angelina Fuhrmann of the rest of the rat-catcher legend.  When the ungrateful townspeople didn’t pay the Pied Piper his fee, he changed the tune on his pipe and led all the city’s children out of town as punishment.  The people of Hamelin never forgot the day, June 26th, when they lost their youngest citizens.

“My children,” Angelina said, followed by a scornful laugh.  “After the floods, the rats were so plump and plentiful.  They were the only food we could catch.  Once you exterminated the rats, my children all starved.”

June 25

National Catfish Day (U.S.)

 

Whiskers.

They were such ugly fish, but the whiskers added a disturbingly human touch to their appearance.  Even when a catfish was gutted and breaded and fried, you found it unappealing.  The taste wasn’t bad, but you could never forget the way the fish used to look when it was alive.

It was one of those foods you’d never willingly ordered in a restaurant.  Perhaps you might have tasted some at a buffet, or as part of a seafood sampler tray.

After the Great Contamination, the whole country’s menu dwindled to a scant few items.  No beef or poultry, no dairy, no vegetables or lettuce.

No crab, shrimp, or oysters… and none of the appetizing fish were on the approved list.  But people insisted that catfish were safe to eat.

At a local restaurant whose hours were almost as limited as the menu, you spent a fortune for a few pieces of fried catfish.  No sides.  The taste was okay, as long as you tried not to think of what the fish would have looked like.

Because you’d seen a few in the tank at the front of the restaurant, displayed so the customers could know the product was fresh.  You stared into round eyes, each with a dark black pupil in the center; at the stringy growths that fell from the corners of the wide mouth; and at the white bristles that jutted from the fish’s chin.

One face was enough, but there were a dozen fish in the tank.  A dozen fish meant almost thirty faces, since most of the catfish had grown extra heads.

Whiskers at the end of the world.

June 24

1374 — Dancing Mania in Aachen, Germany

 

After the apocalypse, there was music.

The musicians came to meet afflicted survivors, hoping to calm them.

In 14th century Germany, the mania of St. John’s Dance — otherwise known as St. Vitus’ Dance or The Dancing Plague — began as a response to the poverty and daily stress of the people of Aachen.  The mania spread to other European cities, and more people danced in the streets, sometimes tearing off their clothes, or screaming and laughing at mysterious hallucinations.  The affected people kept dancing, until they injured themselves, or fell to the ground in exhaustion.

The apocalypse brought a fresh recurrence of this Plague.  What could be more stressful than the end of the world?  Money was useless paper, and systems of electronic banking had collapsed, making poverty a universal condition.

Spontaneously, people started to dance.  Their numbers grew, and the marathon continued.  Music, some decided, would give the fitful twitchings more focus, perhaps soothe the afflicted dancers and help them recover their senses.

Now, among the remains of your city, healthier minds watch as violins and guitars and clarinets try to charm the dancers with melodic runs and strums.  A steady drum beat hopes to coax their movements into a predictable pattern.

You’re one of the spectators.  Minutes earlier, the woman next to you in a pink and white blouse commented on how crazy the dancers seemed.  She pointed out one elderly man in the crowd who had fallen over, yet still kicked his legs in the air — not to ward off the crowd from trampling him, but to continue some inverted version of his frantic dance.

You glance to your right, and the woman had disappeared.  A pink and white floral print flashed briefly from inside the crowd of dancers.

You begin to tap your feet unconsciously to the music.  A few minutes later, you tear off your shirt and bound toward the crowd.

You dance and dance, and you don’t stop.

June 23

International Widows Day

 

The representative of the insurance company arrived in person to deliver the news.

Lois Styles was hoping for a check, but she’d prepared herself for another delay.  Insurance companies would say how much they cared as they pocketed your monthly payments…but then would fall back on obscure, corporate policies when it came time to pay up.

Lois really needed the money from her husband’s insurance policy.  Now that he wasn’t around, she was in danger of losing the house.   The family was slipping into poverty; the children might starve to death.

“We can’t take another delay,” Lois said.  “They’ve threatened to cut off our electricity.  We’re living off canned beans and powdered milk.”

“No more delays.”

For a moment, Lois felt hopeful — but the representative’s face looked sour.

“I’m here to tell you that the claim has been denied,” the representative said.  “We’ve closed the file.  I’m sorry.”

Denied?  Completely?  Lois hadn’t prepared herself for the possibility.  “But…he’s dead.  You can’t deny that.”

“Our company considers your husband’s death an act of god.  All of us, we lost so many husbands.  We can’t honor any of those claims.”

“But you’re a woman, too,” Lois said.  “How can you be so cruel?”  She’d been expecting, in this newly widowed world, that business decisions would be more compassionate, more favorable to the gender that had so often been discriminated against.  The idea had been a faint glimmer of hope within her grief — a hope now stolen so abruptly.

“We have to think about the future of the company,” the representative said, “which is the other reason I’m here.”

She then proceeded to pitch a fresh policy that would provide benefits to Lois’ surviving daughters, in the case of their mother’s untimely death.

June 22

2013 — Apocalypse training modules first introduced by an independent research firm

 

Warning:  You have not yet completed your Apocalypse Training Module.  You will not be prepared to survive a <fill in> apocalypse without full completion of this module.

Trigger Notice:  In order to adequately describe the challenges in a <fill in> apocalypse, we must present scenarios that may cause trigger reactions in certain individuals.  If you suspect that a depicted scenario will cause an emotional trigger, you may choose to skip that scenario — however, when the event recurs in real life, you likely won’t have the “skip” option, and you will probably miss a few questions on the end-of-module quiz.

Module #5:  <Asteroid> Apocalypse

Slide 1:  Our planet has been struck by an asteroid before, and it could happen again.

Slide 2:  Scientists tell us not to worry.  They say that most small fragments burn up in our atmosphere before they reach the ground.  The odds of a significant asteroid strike are slight, they say.  But are they right?

Slide 3:  Some scientists have theorized that an asteroid strike could affect the Earth’s orbit, driving it farther from the Sun and causing catastrophic drops in temperature.  In addition, the massive impact crater could produce multiple earthquakes.

Slide 4:  In this first scenario, we will show you one possible aftermath of an asteroid strike.  Please click on the drop down menu, and select the name of the large city nearest to your home.

<Click city name> or <Click to skip this scenario>

Intermediate Slide:  You have chosen to skip the scenario.  Please continue the module to learn possible strategies for surviving the asteroid strike.

<Click to continue> or <Click to resume at a later time>

Logout Slide:  You have chosen to suspend this Apocalypse Training Module.  When you next sign in, you can resume from the point where you left off.

 

#

 

You turn off the computer.  There will be time, you hope, to finish this module.  You’re at Module #5, having already completed the Wildfire, Flood, Black Plague, and Tornado Modules.  There’s three dozen in the series, and the company promises more to follow.

The Apocalypse Training Modules have taught you a lot of survival tips.  Tonight, you will dream of your planet, innocent in its predictable orbit…while large debris hurtles through space, seeking a target.

June 21

International Day of Yoga

 

Let’s meditate on the apocalypse…

Are there breathing exercises that would help in this time of stress…when half your family is dead, and the other half is starving?

Is there a phrase you could utter, repeated syllables to focus healing energies…that could un-drop bombs on your city, or by force of will cause ruined buildings to reassemble?

Is there a pose you could hold, enacting a calming unity of mind and body…that could also protect your brain from hungry zombies?

And what about a pose based on trees, your legs firm and connecting with the earth below?  Or poses named after the fiery sun, or the phases of the moon, expanding your mind, connecting you to the vast universe?

The time for meditation is over.  Exercises that calm the mind and body are no longer practical.

Since the apocalypse, only one exercise has kept you going:  Mindless running.

June 20

1893 — Lizzie Borden found not guilty of murder

 

The news shows were calling it Lizzie Borden Syndrome.

Technically, it might be a misnomer.  Lizzie Borden was acquitted of the charge of murdering her father and stepmother.

Tell that to your own daughter.

She’s outside your bedroom.  You’ve moved a heavy dresser across the closed door, but you’re not sure how long the reinforcement will hold.

If anyone had asked, you’d have said your family didn’t even own an axe.  You have central heating, with no need to chop wood for a fireplace.

With a heavy thunk, the axe head again strikes the door.  Your daughter wiggles the metal bit in the wood, and you hear splintering as the crack widens.  A grunt, and the axe is pulled back, only to strike again.

As you wait on the bed, arms hugging your knees, you notice your daughter hums that terrible rhyme.  You’re not sure if it’s the “even up the score” or the “saw what she had done” variation.

With a new hollow sound, the axe strikes through to the back of the dresser — and one of the drawers slides partly open.

You jump from the bed, push the drawer back in, as if that will stop her.

She’s relentless, like the other LBS children you’ve heard about.  You simply didn’t believe it would happen in your household, too.  That’s why you don’t have a hammer and nails and more boards to secure the room.  That’s why you don’t have a handgun.

Another whack at the back of the dresser, a drawer slipping open again, while your daughter hums another verse.

You look down at your defenseless body, and you imagine forty or forty-one places the axe might strike.

June 19

International Sauntering Day

 

Merritt kept guard from the porch of the farmhouse he and a small band of survivors had commandeered after the apocalypse.  He kept a shotgun nearby, ready to blast the head off any zombie that ventured too close to their home.

He used to watch a lot of zombie movies, and that aim-for-the-head advice turned out to be pretty useful.  Common sense really — which was why most filmmakers agreed on the point.

They couldn’t seem to agree on anything else.  In some movies, zombies were created by a voodoo curse; in others, a virus from space or a secret government lab caused the outbreak.  In some movies, a person bit by a zombie would simply bleed; in others, they became a zombie instantly, an hour, a day or a week later.  Some movie zombies could talk, calling for brains; others could only groan.

The biggest split, among zombie movies fans, was debates over whether fast zombies or slow zombies were more accurate, or “better,” or scarier.  Merritt had been of the opinion that slow zombies might have been more realistic, but they’d be too easy to avoid — and thus, not as scary.

He’d revised his opinion, of late.  The real-life zombie apocalypse — whatever caused it — created zombies who didn’t exactly run or walk.

They…sauntered.

A group of them sauntered by the barn.  Their steps were casual, almost jaunty.  Their eyes, which shouldn’t even function, scanned the field as if admiring the stretch of green grass.  Their hollowed noses breathed in, enjoying floral scents.

One of them broke off from the group, sauntering towards the main house.  Merritt grabbed the shotgun, lifted it.

A bird whistled from a nearby tree, and the stray zombie paused and tilted his head in that direction, to better hear nature’s song.

These sauntering zombies were the worst.  They paused to enjoy life, even as everything had fallen apart.  So many family dead, so many friends transformed — by whatever means — into these awful, sauntering things.  And survivors left to struggle for food and shelter…the endless, recurring burdens of life.

And the sauntering zombies enjoyed it.

You wanted to shoot them.  You wanted to join them.

Merritt wondered what the method of transmission was, what rules applied in the zombie movie he now lived in.  A viral transmission?  A bite on the arm from his strangely cheerful visitor?

He aimed the shotgun at the smiling, decaying face as the zombie sauntered closer.

 

June 18

Fathers’ Day

 

Desmond followed the hospital signs toward room 621.

His father had been in an accident of some kind, but he couldn’t get clear information from the call desk when he’d phoned.  Just come in right away, the duty nurse said.  He needs to see you.

Reaching the designated room, Desmond stepped inside.  A healthy man in a hospital gown sat up in bed, turned his attention away from the blaring television to acknowledge the visitor.

The man wasn’t his father.

Desmond looked past, checking behind a mid-room partition to locate his father as a second patient.  The other bed was empty.

In his distress at the unspecified news, he must have gotten the room number wrong.  He headed out the door to get better information from the nurses’ station.

“Desmond?”

He didn’t recognize the voice from the bed, but the stranger’s cry had been so plaintive that it stopped him in his tracks.

“I’m sorry,” Desmond said.  “I don’t know…”

“I’m so glad you visited.”  A smile spread across the man’s face.  Instead of making him look happy or healthy, the smile made the man seem older and more frail.

But still not his father.

Desmond and his father had lost touch for many years, but they’d found each other again recently.  After an unexpected reunion, with sincere forgiveness on both sides, they’d had many visits and phone calls rich with memories of happier times.  It had been wonderful to have his father back in his life again.  Desmond hadn’t realized what he’d been missing.  It was as if the world finally made sense again.

So who was this imposter in the hospital room?

“You’re such a good son,” the stranger said.  “Remember that time when you broke your mother’s vase, and how you cried, but I helped you glue it back together and she never found out?”

This was one of the memories Desmond recently shared with his father.  As they spoke, he’d relived the childhood pain of anticipating his mother’s anger and disappointment; he’d remembered how impossibly grateful he’d been for his father’s help.

“I fixed it,” the stranger said from the hospital bed.  “Good as new.”

Desmond imagined his real father in some other room, with some mysterious illness.  There had been some mix-up at the hospital:  the wrong birthdate typed into a computer, the wrong name printed on a wristband.

But…the wrong memories, transferred to another patient?

And as Desmond looked at this man in the bed, he saw some faint resemblance to his own features, how he might look in thirty or so years.  But he considered, also, how parents and children can change to each other, especially if they drift apart.

We’re different people, he thought.  Both of us.

The stranger kept talking, recounting events from Desmond’s past.  No one else could know these events in such detail.  But it wasn’t his father.  It wasn’t.

As Desmond stepped out of the room, the stranger shifted into a story about a carnival, a fun house attraction with distorting mirrors.

Further down the long hallway, a group of people were gathered around the nurse’s station.  Many of them were raising their arms, and their voices.

From a nearby room, he heard a woman scream.  “Who are you?” she shouted.  “What have you done with my father?”

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