Norman Prentiss

Excerpts from The Apocalypse-a-Day Desk Calendar

Lava Scape

May 25

National Tap Dance Day

 

The girl upstairs is tap dancing on your head again.

She’s always practicing.  Some days for short bursts, other days for hours at a time, The rat-tat click-click of metal at the bottom of her shoes hitting the practice board.

That board might as well be the top of your head.  The sound carries through the ceiling and down the walls into your apartment.

You complained to the management company, but all they did was check to see that your upstairs neighbors had carpet on the floor.  They did, which satisfied management (who didn’t have to live beneath the racket) — but not enough padding to muffle those practice taps.  Clackity-clack, like a train rumbling down the tracks.  And probably, as the girl practiced, those odd circling arm motions, the frozen smile that imagines some audience enjoying the display.

Was that even a thing, these days?  Were there talent shows or pageants of some kind that invited this kind of act?

You tried with the girl’s parents, too.  Suggested they could buy her slippers to practice in, convince her to try a better hobby.  They rolled their eyes and shut the door in your face.

Even for her, though, this recent session has gone pretty late.  She’s woken you up, caused you to stare at the ceiling directly above your bedroom.

Tap, tap, tap.  Sweep, sweep, sweep.  Tap, tap, tap.

Wasn’t that the Morse code for SOS?

You’re still half groggy, which lets you convince yourself you know other Morse letters.  The urgent taps and sweep-dashes continue, and you transcribe the letters in your head.

Kill…me…now…Stop…Kill…me…now…Stop.

Wide awake now, you wonder why a young girl would tap out such a distressing message.  You sit up in bed.

You remember the girl upstairs is dead, along with her parents.

The tapping continues, tap dancing on your head, the jolt from a mildly irritating dream of the past into painful awareness of your apocalyptic present, the world’s decent into lawless violence, the relentless rapid taps of gunfire in the streets.

May 24

All the Way Down (Part II)

[…continued from May 23 entry…]

 

Just what you need.  Shopping done and in the trunk, but you can’t drive off because a turtle has wedged itself under your front wheel.

This isn’t the kind of thing your Motor Club would help with.

But you’d just dropped $200 in the Big Saver.  They could send one of the stockboys out, maybe with a push broom.  You’re already dialing the Customer Service desk as you start walking back to the store.

The store sends a teenage kid out with you.  Clearly their youngest employee, lowest on the totem pole.  Let him deal with the week’s most bizarre crisis.

The boy doesn’t bring a broom or other extender with him.  He’s puffed up and brave, planning to use his feet or his bare hands.

Then again, this kid hasn’t seen the turtle’s sharp snapping beak, the determination in his ancient reptile eyes.

“Up here,” you say, pointing to the far end of the lot where your car’s parked against the cement curb.

“How’d you know it was there?” the kid asks.  “Did it sing at you, like in the cartoon?”

You have no idea what cartoon the stockboy is talking about, which makes you feel old.

The kid races ahead, then ducks down to look under the car.  “Yeah, he’s under here real good.”  He crabwalks around to the front bumper to get a different view, and you’re surprised at how limber the kid it.

“Can you reach him?”  You’re standing above him now, somewhat amused to be in the same position you’d have over a plumber bent down to fix your sink.  The stockboy is suddenly your expert on turtles, instead of drains.

He reaches a cautious arm beneath the car, but doesn’t seem to have the right angle.

“It’s turtles all the way down,” you say — more to amuse yourself than anything else.

“Huh?”

And you’re sorry you’ve distracted him.  You want to get this over with as quickly as possible, so you can go on with your day.  “It’s an old joke.  A very old joke.” The kid seems slightly intrigued, so you offer a quick explanation.  “An old woman is talking to this philosopher, William James, and she disagrees with his explanation of how the Earth floats in space, revolving around the Sun.  Gravity and all.  She gives her idea, which is that the Earth sits on a giant turtle.  The philosopher, he wants to challenge the old girl’s theory, so he ask what the turtle is standing on.  She doesn’t bat an eye, says ‘another turtle.’  The philosopher’s sure he’s got her trapped, kind of an ‘ah ha!’ thing, saying, ‘Oh madam, what does that second turtle stand on?’  But she’s not phased at all, she says — ”

“It’s turtles all the way down,” the kid interrupts, completing the story.  He laughs.  You’re pleased, because you didn’t think he was paying that close attention.

You smile, nod your head at the front tire to draw him back to the task at hand.

“Oh,” the boy says.  “Right.”  He details a plan that he must have dreamed up while you shared the anecdote.  “I can’t quite drag the booger out, but I can push him deeper under the car.  That way, if you pull straight back, you won’t hit him.”

You’re skeptical, but follow along.  He’s the expert.  You should do what he says.

So, you get into the car, buckle into the seat, start the engine and wait.

The kid has ducked down out of sight.  For a moment you imagine a scene out of Beetle Bailey or Archie, the kid jumping up and dancing around, the snapper’s jaws clamped on his shoe or his butt.

The idea tickles you, and you almost miss the signal.  His hands in the air, waving you back.  Over the engine’s noise you hear the boy shout “Go go go!”

You’re already in reverse gear.  There’s nobody behind you in the parking lot, so you press hard on the pedal to back straight up.

The car lurches.  It holds for a second, and the front lifts up on your side for a moment, flattens out as you pull further back.

You’ve gone over a speed bump.  A speed bump that has lived for many years.  A speed bump that could crack beneath the weight of your car.

The stockboy is on his feet.  He points at the turtle on the ground, and at you.  “What did you do?  There was plenty of room.  Why’d you turn?”

You hadn’t turned.  You’re sure of it.  The car’s at an angle now, the way it normally would be if you pulled out of the space to turn towards the exit.  But you hadn’t turned yet.

Stepping out of the car, you move closer to the injured tortoise.  It’s awful what has happened, and you feel sick to your stomach at having caused it.  The shell is snapped down the middle.  Wrinkled reptile skin stretches and tears beneath the split, a dark sticky liquid oozing over the wound.

The stockboy keeps yelling at you like you’re the biggest idiot in the world.  “What did you do?  What did you do?

It is terrible.  You can’t deny it.  But the kid is carrying on way out of proportion to the injured turtle.  “Maybe we can take him to a vet or something,” you suggest.  “I bet they could still fix him.”

Still, the kid yells and cries.  He’s pointing at the turtle, at you…and at the asphalt lot beneath.  There’s a crack in the parking space, too.

That split wasn’t there before.  It’s spreading.

The earth rumbles.  The sick feeling in the pit of your stomach grows worse, as if you’re falling thorough air.

“All the way down,” the stockboy shouts. “All the way down!”

May 23

World Turtle Day

 

As you scan the Big Saver parking lot, you find three adjacent slots along the cement curb towards the back.  That section will be the easiest to pull into, and maybe the door of your car won’t get dinged again like happened last month.

You turn the wheel sharp, ready to zip in.

But…Is that what you think it is?

In the center slot, a large rock that seems to be…moving.

Moving slowly.  A turtle has somehow lumbered its way into the lot for this suburban grocery store.

You park more carefully than you’d planned, taking the spot to the turtle’s left.  As you get out, you walk through the neighboring space to get a closer look.

This guy doesn’t have the colorful green-yellow stripes that brightened the shell of the box turtle you remembered from your childhood.  Any color has faded from age, or from a dried coating of mud.   Though it’s hard to estimate the turtle’s age — they’re all a bit wrinkled, aren’t they? — you guess this specimen has had a long, rough life.  One of his front legs looks like it’s been crushed to a stump, possibly from a previous parking lot accident.

He glances at you with suspicious indifference.  A few spikes protrude from his lower jaw, and the upper jaw has a sharp, overhanging beak that looks dangerous.  A snapping turtle, most likely — though you’ve no plans to wave a finger beneath his mouth to find out.

Basically, you’re afraid to touch him.  Turtles are supposed to be slow, but this guy might go into an unpredictable rage of snapping.

You’re not really sure what to do.  There’s no collar or identification tags, so it’s not a family pet or lab animal.  It’s not a dog foaming at the mouth with rabies, so no need to call animal control.

It’s also not in your parking spot, so technically isn’t your responsibility.

So you let yourself off the hook, decide to go ahead with your mid-day grocery shopping.  The turtle got himself into this mess, so he can get himself out of it.  By the time you finish shopping, he’ll have lumbered somewhere else.

Just to make sure, you take extra time in the market — comparing prices, getting fresh-sliced meat at the deli counter, going through the slow regular line instead of self-check.

By the time you return to the lot wheeling a cart overflowing with purchases, the turtle is gone from his parking space.  You scan the immediate area, and see no sign of him in the lot, or in the sidewalk and street beyond the curb.  It’s possible he could have moved on his own, slow and steady like the tortoise of fable fame.  Maybe another shopper with more confident animal-wrangling skills had wandered by, had lifted him by the shell to a mound of grass, nudged him with a toe to encourage him toward safer terrain.

You unload the groceries into your trunk, then get behind the wheel ready to back out of your space and return home.  As soon as you put the key in the ignition, an uneasy thought stops you from turning it.

With a sigh, you unbuckle your seatbelt and step out of the car.  It’s not your fault if the poor old turtle wanders into the street, and you’re not nearby to stop it.  But if you actually run over it yourself….

You support yourself with one hand against the car, crouching low to check under the chassis.

It’s hard to see.  You have to bring your face close to the ground, squint at the shadows beneath the car…  The whole time, you worry the blur of a reptile head will launch forward, snap and clamp down on your nose or rip a chunk out of your cheek.

But there’s nothing.  Nothing under the car, and your circuit of the vehicle reveals nothing behind either back tire, behind the passenger-side front tire, or the driver-side —

Wait.  Right behind the front tire.  The old turtle wedged there behind the tire and still as a stone.

 

[…continued tomorrow…]

May 22

The Apocalypse Page (part the 2nd)

[…continued from May 21 entry…]

 

The scholar of ancient texts turned to that page now.

The Apocalypse Page.

Symbols here seemed to suggest an actual alphabet, arranged in patterns that indicated words and grammar.  But the meaning escaped him.

As he copied the shapes into his journal, his eyes darted from the ancient page to his own, and back again.  Whenever he concentrated on the bleached white page of his modern notebook, the letter-shapes on the older document would trick the corner of his eye, as if all lines converged to form a pictograph of menace: a mushroom cloud, a star in supernova, a demonic hand rising from a pit of fire.

The scholar continued to transcribe the page.  His copy was stubbornly lifeless — pen scratches with no meaningful connections.  Meanwhile, the original lines flickered anew in the corner of his left eye, a scaled and taloned finger curled in a beckoning gesture.

He imagined ripping the page from the book.  The supervising archivist would jump forward to prevent further violence to the ancient text, but the scholar would move too quickly, crumbling the page into his fist then biting into it, tearing at the page with his teeth like a starving man would attack a piece of boiled chicken, gnawing a wrinkle of warm skin, pulling it away as grease spurted his chin, exposing a pale, moist hunk of meat and chomping on that next, gnashing his teeth deeper, barely cautious to avoid the bones and sinews beneath the tender flesh.

The scholar glanced down and realized he had bitten into the heel of his own palm.  He kept chewing, imagining dry paper within his mouth, secrets of translation breaking through as the consumed letters mixed with his saliva.

The Apocalypse Page.  He finally understood what it meant.  He swallowed, and the secrets became part of him.

The scholar blinked, and his reverie ended.  His dream-gnawed palm was intact, the ancient page undamaged in its original binding.

He couldn’t shake the feeling, however, that he’d gained new insight.  The scholar would not merely copy the page.  He would look at it with fresh eyes.

Nothing, at first.  The letters and shapes continued to elude him.  The ink itself, the ink that he swore was human blood, seemed to mock him.

A line from Alexander Pope popped into his head — the moment in Essay on Criticism, where Pope defines, through example, the worst kind of plodding poetry:  “And ten low words oft creep in one dull line…”

Somehow, the scholar had stumbled on the key.  It wasn’t the symbols themselves, but something behind them.  Something lower.  Something creeping behind the blood-drawn lines.

He stared, not at the page, but into it.

The society had permitted him to view the ancient book, on the off chance he might find some clue to translating parts of it.  They let him view the book only under strict scrutiny.  He could take notes, but nothing else.

The scholar didn’t need to take notes.  The ten low words appeared to him now, floating above the Apocalypse Page, clear and coherent.

He spoke them aloud.

 

 

May 21

1688 — Birthdate of Alexander Pope

 

“And ten low words oft creep in one dull line…”

— Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism

 

The scholar of ancient texts turned brittle pages, transcribed the symbols and strange letters as best he could.

On his notebook pages, the copied lines lost their vibrancy.  In his pedestrian handwriting, in plain black ink, the scratchings seemed random and insignificant.

But in that old book, with the title he could partially translate as The Mysteries of ___________, the lines seemed to dance on the page.  In some places, the letters almost seemed to flicker, like small flames.

Such illusions were particularly surprising, considering that the book’s ink was a dull, faded brown.  Possibly human or animal blood, but the owner would not permit laboratory testing to confirm the scholar’s guess.

They wouldn’t permit photographs of the pages, either, and had confiscated his camera and cell phone before allowing him into the mansion’s library.

As he turned to the next brittle page, copied new patterns and angles into his notebook, the scholar felt frustrated.  He simply couldn’t reproduce the flicker of ink, the flutter of ancient lines that were at once indecipherable nonsense, and a dark voice whispering at the edge of his comprehension.

Behind the scholar’s shoulder, the society’s archivist stood with his back to the wall, supervising to ensure the irreplaceable book wasn’t damaged.  The scholar wished he had brought a replica in his briefcase, which he could surreptitiously remove and switch with the original.  He wished he had brought a small blade to make a quick incision to remove the book’s most infamous page.

The page everyone whispers about.  The page that could trigger the end of the world…

 

 […continued tomorrow…]

 

May 20

World Metrology Day

 

The measurements were all wrong.

Bryant regretted his grade school days in the 1970s, when the homeroom teacher introduced the US units of measurement.  Ounces and pints and pounds, foot and yard and mile.  He hadn’t paid attention.

According to Bryant’s father at the time, the US system was soon to be obsolete.  His dad was a kind of metric-system militant, insisting on the base-10 system as more sensible and convenient, assuring his son that the US would be converting everything to meters and grams within the year.

So why bother learning how many ounces fit in a cup?

When the US metric system adoption never happened, Bryant found himself in a kind of limbo, not confident with either measurement system.  Rather than being able to rely on memory, he constantly had to refer to charts and conversion tables.

He didn’t have any cheat sheets at the moment.  The diagram explained how to avert the coming tragedy, but the drawings were crude.  Symbols for beakers were of varying sizes, and the numbers indicating quantity were apparently not to scale.

Some of them were in US measurements, and some of them were in metric.

A third measurement system, a strange amalgam of the others, indicated uncertain weights of the key powdered substance.  The explosive.

Bryant poured liquids from decanters into beakers, a strange bubbling reaction suggesting that, in more than one mixture, he’d guessed incorrectly about proportions.  Perhaps the heating element would correct the apparent problem.  A crack appeared in the side of one beaker, while a cloud of black smoke rose from another.  He’d have to start again.

Meanwhile, the clock over the laboratory desk counted closer to the crisis point.  On the instruction sheet, a boxed diagram indicated the heating times for each procedure. Some of the clock diagrams were digital, and some were analog.  A few diagrams confused both systems, looking like drawings of clocks that had already exploded.

He had never felt more confused.  Bryant hoped he was trapped in a recurring dream, but the sense of urgency felt too real.  His decisions were vital, but each one of them was based on ignorance.

With a metal measuring spoon — was it a division of a teaspoon? a multiplication of grams? — Bryant gathered a heaping scoop of the loose, black powder, and then threw it at the imprecise liquids, anxious to see the colors of the flames.

 

May 19

1536 — Anne Boleyn beheaded by order of King Henry VIII

 

Shelly had been walking for a long while.  Her hometown was empty:  of people, of food and water, of hope.  The only chance was to find a town unaffected by the recent violence.

No cars had traveled past her during her journey, which seemed a bad omen.  But maybe people in the upcoming town had heard the terrible news, before all communication stopped, and they’d decided to stay put.

As she approached the town limits, the welcome sign listed the local population as 4,317.  Shelly wondered why the number was so specific:  wouldn’t it have been less work to round up, and change the sign only when the population hit a new milestone?

If things here went the same way they did back home — so quick, so violent — the currently posted number was dramatically optimistic.

A combination gas station and convenience store waited ahead, about a hundred yards from the welcome sign.  There were no cars at the pumps out front.  Shelley worried the store would be empty:  of people, of food and water.

Shelly’s mouth felt dry.  She had trouble lifting her feet as she walked, but her weak tread was still strong enough to stir up dust from the road, swirl it in the air until she breathed it in, felt it at the back of her throat.

She made her way closer to the station.  The front window was as large as the display window in a city department store.  As if to capitalize on the similarity, the owners had set up a mannequin display of two smartly dressed couples seated around a dinner table.  They raised glasses,  painted to look full of wine; they lifted forks that balanced wax simulations of cake or steak bites.

If only the scene were true.  If only the world of elegant dinner parties still existed.

Hell, she’d settle for a vending machine sandwich or a bag of crisps.

She moved closer, and noticed something odd about the mannequins.  None of them had any heads.

A strange design choice, but some department stores followed that practice — as if faces and wigs and identifying human features would detract from the featured clothing items.

Shelley walked closer.  The clothes on the mannequins weren’t covered with blood, fortunately, but the neck stumps had a grisly realism to them.  A painted effect perhaps.

Or perhaps she was too weary from walking.  Dehydrated, and thus hallucinating.

Her throat was still dry, but her feet no longer seemed to kick up dust.

The asphalt beneath her shoes shined as if it had been recently washed clean.  But it felt sticky, too, as each time she made a step.

A strange flutter sounded behind her, like the rapid patter of stealthy feet.  She heard a hiss like the whisper of a blade through air.

 

May 18

1980 — Eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State

 

“The people of Skamania County could see it:  the active volcano was part of their skyline.  Imagine what that must have been like, living under that threat — especially after the earthquake stirred things up in March of that year, the steam pressure building up, and then a second earthquake triggered the massive eruption on May 18th.

“Deadliest one in the US, at the time.  Killed almost 60 people.  The north side of the volcano collapsed, and an avalanche of volcanic mudflow destroyed buildings and bridges.  And the ash cloud, spewing up for hours and hours and hours, blackening the sky, practically turning off the sun.

“The people of Skamania County could see it, like I said.  But after a while, more of us could.  The ash cloud traveled, blocking out the sun in nearby states.  By the next day, it reached into Canada, as far east as Idaho.  I was a kid in Boise, then.  They cancelled school, and we joked that it was an ‘Ash Day’ instead of a ‘Snow Day.’  My brother and I made five dollars cleaning the ash off Dad’s car.

“We were kids.  We didn’t understand how serious it was — or how much more serious it could have been.  More ash, more blockage of the sun, and the weather patterns could change, the air could grow unsafe to breathe.  All of this could happen, even though the volcano was somewhere else, on somebody else’s skyline.

“Do you understand what I’m trying to say, kids?  That far away eruption, the one you saw on the television — it may seem like it won’t affect you.  We’re hearing about the steam and the cloud of ash, still erupting in the atmosphere with no sign of stopping.  That means, I think you realize, that our neighbors a few states over are in big trouble.

“But the wind is blowing in our direction.  The ash cloud is headed this way…”

 

 

May 17

World Hypertension Day

 

A tightness in your upper arm reacts to each rhythmic pump of air.  The pressure cuff squeezes and squeezes, and you wait for the tell-tale hiss as the cuff deflates.

Sometimes, you think the machine will forget to deflate.  As the nurse technician chews gum and stares blankly at an informative poster about high blood pressure, the cuff will cut off all circulation to your arm.  You look down, the underside of your forearm turning white, then red, your bicep fighting back but the cuff winning, a painful tearing sensation in the muscle followed by the crack of bone beneath.

“You okay?”

The nurse tech isn’t ignoring you.  She’s staring into your face, noting the beads of sweat forming over your brow.  The cuff hisses, and the pressure loosens.

“I’m fine,” you say.  “Just a touch of medical anxiety.”

“Over a blood pressure cuff?  You must be crazy.”

Actually she doesn’t say that aloud.  But you can almost see it in her expression.

She turns to the indicators on the machine, records the figures in your chart.  “Is it always that high?”

“Just when I come here.”  It really doesn’t make sense for them to take measurements at the doctor’s office, when your nervousness affects the outcome.  They should sedate you, play meditation music, give you a hot stone massage — then sneak the cuff on when you’re not looking.

“I wonder what would happen,” the tech says, “if we measured your blood pressure when something really scary was going on.”

It’s a joke, but you think she should be more sensitive about your phobia.

Maybe she’s thinking of a blood pressure reading on a roller coaster ride.  While you’re watching the latest found-footage horror movie, maybe, or while you’re in the teller line and a bank robber fires a warning shot at the ceiling.

And there it goes.  Those simple scenarios aren’t dramatic enough.  You can’t stop your mind from straying along the darkest path…

You’re on a deserted road.  A blood pressure machine on a metal post stands beside you, about at the level of a parking meter.  A corded cuff is already tight around your upper arm, and then the machine beeps.  As the tightness begins, the earth trembles beneath you.  Flashes of light and fiery clouds form in the distance, a terrible rumble reaching you a few seconds later, as the cuff tightens.  You’re on land, but a sound like the rush of waves begins to build from behind, and you’re afraid to turn around, and your upper arm feels like it’s going to burst.  Then the deserted road is no longer empty, and inhuman things are running towards you, hungry things with claws and sharp teeth, almost upon you, the cuff tighter and tighter, until you realize the cuff is around your neck instead of your arm, strangling you, you can’t breathe, you can’t —

“The doctor will be in shortly,” the nurse says as she steps out of the exam room.

 

 

May 16

Apocalyptic Excerpt from Life in a Haunted House

 

[Author’s Note:  The following is an excerpt from my novel, Life in a Haunted House. Inspired by the movies of his favorite director, the protagonist dreams that his school and hometown are being attacked by movie monsters.]

 

Tonight I am a director. At my command the monsters take over Graysonville.

The door bursts open, interrupting the tedium of Camen’s English class. The Lake Monster stands in the doorframe, brackish water dripping off its scale-covered body and onto the floor. All the students scream.

This Lake Monster is especially terrifying. Instead of a simple mask and hands, with the rest of the actor covered by everyday clothes, the makeup department has spared no expense. Thick tentacles undulate in place of arms, with lamprey mouths hungry at the center of each awful suction pad. The Monster’s eyes blink realistically at the ends of animated stalks as they search the room for potential food.

The mouth on the Monster’s face opens like the jaws of a shark, revealing several rows of large teeth. Mr. Camen tries unsuccessfully to push first-row Denny toward the creature, but it rejects the offer in favor of a larger meal. Tentacles python-wrap around the teacher’s waist, jaws widen, and a dreadful amber ichor drips over Camen’s head, paralyzing him. And with a loud crunch of bones, the Lake Monster begins to feed.

Panicked students race outside the classroom, pushing into each other, nearly slipping on a wet trail of slime in the doorway.

The closest exit leads to the playground, and the perimeter Melissa and I used to walk at lunch. As students rush outdoors, their screams rise in the open air.

A strange hum drowns them out. The sound is like a tremendous airplane engine, mixed with the hint of wailing, torturous music. Almost as one, the students glance upward.

A shadow arcs over the sun, and the schoolyard drops into darkness. Above them hovers, not a tin-foil flying saucer, but an uprooted alien city—buildings of impossible geometric shapes, connected with long transparent tubes.

As the city-ship moves closer, figures become visible within the transparent tubes. These living beings are not friendly humanoid visitors. Their thorn-covered bodies undulate in a sickening ambulation. Above the engine’s thrum, the voice of an alien crowd transmits through a monstrous amplifier. Nothing could translate the clicks from these creatures’ sharp mouths, but the general sense conveys a universally recognizable emotion: cruelty.

The city-ship descends, and the schoolyard is not large enough to contain it. Groups of students flee in different directions. Many of them are crushed, but the school building itself slows the craft’s descent along one edge, allowing a select few to escape harm. For the moment.

Red-hot blasts of rocket exhaust shoot from the craft’s underside, baking the school building’s brick and glass and cinderblock, cooking crushed mounds of flesh and bone and clothing.

We follow the dozen students who escaped the alien attack, as they emerge at the front of the crumbling, burning school. A lone orange bus awaits, and they pile inside and beg the driver to transport them to safety.

– Where’s that?

– Anywhere but here. Please hurry!

The bus speeds away. In the retreating horizon, several more city-ships appear in the sky.

One student wonders aloud if her family is safe. A senior boy suggests that the driver take them to the city square.

– It’s where everyone will meet. We can figure out how to fight back against this deadly alien threat.

As the bus heads down a flat stretch of road with guard rails on either side, a heavy dead tree suddenly falls across the path and blocks their passage forward. The driver shifts into reverse, and the wheels grind loudly, but the bus stays still.

– Why aren’t we moving?

– We’re caught on something. Branches tangled in the front axle, maybe?

A thick dead limb flails across the front windows, animated by the fruitless spinning of the vehicle’s tires. The branches wriggle like grasping fingers.

– Oh God, look! Look! There’s a face in the tree!

– I don’t see it

– Right there, halfway up the trunk. See the nose and mouth? The closed eyes? Like a sleeping giant.

The eyes open.

Branches scratch at windows all around the bus…

 

#

 

Meanwhile, in the next town over, the Twisted Face strains against the straps of a custom-designed straightjacket. Local officials have charged him with multiple homicides, and they’ve placed him in a mental institution. His unconventional body is more flexible than his captors realize. The fabric of his restraints begin to loosen, just enough.

He plans revenge against the nurse, first, then the supervising doctor. Into town, he will find the arresting officer, the incompetent public defender, then the corrupt judge. They have called him a monster, and he will live up to their label.

The straps strain and release, strain and release, and with a pop, a misshapen shoulder dislocates from its socket. The straightjacket falls to the padded floor, and the Twisted Face smiles a grim smile.

 

#

 

[For more, please consider purchasing my brand new novel, Life in a Haunted House now available at Amazon, and discounted to 99 cents during its first week!]

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