Norman Prentiss

Excerpts from The Apocalypse-a-Day Desk Calendar

Lava Scape

December 11

The Apocalypse App

 

Imagine that, on a calendar date designated as National App Day, a previously unknown software company releases an Apocalypse App.

This particular application wouldn’t have gone through the usual approval process.  Major online retailers and cellular phone companies didn’t have an opportunity to review the source code for this piece of software.

No experts examined what the app promised.  How it worked.  What it did.

It might execute an immediate high-level calculation designed to strain the processor of a user’s device, causing a phone, tablet, or desktop computer to overheat, catch fire, explode.

It might search the user’s device for personal data, encrypted or otherwise, then redirect that information to unscrupulous international criminals.

It might secretly record video of the user’s most embarrassing moments or capture audio of insensitive remarks, then share them with people or groups most likely to be offended or amused.

It might siphon computing power across multiple devices, creating a parallel Web designed to corrupt hospital, airport, and government systems worldwide.

It might do all of these things.

As once happened with an album of songs by a pretentious rock band, imagine this app appeares on every user’s device simultaneously.  Unsought, unpurchased.

Rather than an honest icon depicting a mushroom cloud or the warning symbol for hazaderous materials, the icon for the Apocalypse App features an adorable cartoon puppy; its label name promises it will produce amusing sounds of outrageous flatulence.   Although most people will realize they didn’t purchase the app, and will ignore it, some people won’t be as cautious.

And that will be enough.

Or, imagine that the Apocalypse App doesn’t need your permission.  It already found its way onto your machine, and is working in the background.   In the time it takes you to hit the backspace key or the next-page button, the worst will have already happened.

 

 

December 10

The Manifestation (Part 9)

 

“I have a theory. But I don’t think you’ll like it.”

The scholar, Carlson, addressed the group in a private meeting room. He was the latest so‑called expert to debrief them after a session with the demon. They’d tried criminal profilers, psychologists, pathologists, police and military interrogators. The sessions produced lots of printed transcripts. Not a lot of answers.

Watkins had suggested they bring Carlson back in. Because he’d been present during the summoning, he might have extra insight. Plus, with his historical and literary knowledge, he could comb through the transcripts for any meaning that eluded the rest of them.

Myers’ first question had been, “Can we send it back where it came from?”

“We’d need to know where that was, to start with. This may be the first successful demonic summoning, at least in modern times. That fraud who led the ceremony, I’m willing to bet he’d never seen anything like it before it crossed the pentagram and ripped him to pieces.”

Carlson continued: “I believe that the forbidden texts were printed with significant flaws in the instructions, to keep an amateur from succeeding by accident. Only someone with actual training, with real understanding of passed-down lore, could decipher the texts properly.”

He stood from the table and began pacing back and forth, in full lecture mode. “I think we’ve lost that oral tradition, the inherited expertise. The only reason this ceremony worked was because its leader was Broken — and an idiot as well. He made mistakes that somehow corrected the flaws in the text; he blundered into an accurate, actual ritual.”

“But what demon did he actually call up?” Watkins asked.

This was when Carlson shared the theory they didn’t want to hear. He pointed at the stack of classified folders; combined, they were the size of three unabridged dictionaries.

“All this talk, but nothing new about the disease.” He waved over the papers, spread them out in a fan on the table top. “The demon only knows what we know. Whatever was in the minds of the people in the room during the ceremony, everyone watching from the observation booth. Things about the school, about the immediate area — including secrets even you, Commander Myers, haven’t chosen to share with us.

“But also, somehow, things from the past. Everything in the history of that place is part of what the demon is. Memories from frightened children. Embittered thoughts of juvenile delinquents. Perversities of Satanists, government bureaucrats . . .

“. . .and, worst of all, bargain hunters.”

He stopped pacing, set both hands on the table and looked down at them to offer his final summation.

“Gentlemen, you didn’t manifest the disease that’s been cursing our world. You summoned up the evil manifestation of a rummage sale!”

 

#

 

Sometimes the humans talked to it. They stayed as far away as possible, of course. Hid up in the booth and spoke through microphones.

Cowards.

Other times they let it watch television to keep from getting too bored or angry. They had replaced the scoreboard with a large‑screen monitor, mounted behind a piece of shatterproof plexi‑glass.

Once in a while, it saw some interesting bargains on the Home Shopping Channel.

The demon sat on a large makeshift couch, a bulky wooden contraption the humans had pieced together from the worst rummage discards. Whatever the demon couldn’t break easily.

It sensed people outside sometimes, particularly the large weekend crowd once a month. It couldn’t see them, but sniffed at the air like a child trying to smell cake and icing through the window of a closed bakery.

The Rummage Demon pressed his wooden pointer against the remote control. The television had switched to the golf network by accident. But now the channel wouldn’t change.

“Friggin’ remote,” the demon said, and shook it. A plastic compartment clicked open and two “AA” batteries fell to the floor.

“Typical.” It threw the remote into a corner pile of defective controls.

“Deitrich!” the demon yelled.

Send me back or kill me, the Rummage Demon thought.

Or find something for me to do . . . .

 

#          #          #

December 9

The Manifestation (Part 8)

 

Outside, everyone heard a huge crash.

Jake turned his head. It sounded like the door of the school had smashed open.

A woman yelled. A young child started to wail.

But the door was intact. Behind him to the left, a mother snatched a large plastic contraption away from her son. A piece had fallen off onto a competitor’s table and had knocked over a display of wooden alphabet blocks.

“Adam, I told you not to touch anything!”

Jake recognized the yellow plastic as the boxing platform for a vintage set of Rock’em Sock’em Robots. The red robot was still attached to the platform; the blue one was partially buried in a pile of wooden blocks in front of the table.

The mother shrugged at the dealer. “He’s Broken,” she explained, indicating her son. She turned to Adam, told him, “This is coming out of your allowance.”

Jake braced himself as the woman took her wallet from her purse. A pristine set of Rock’em Sock’em Robots was rare, and he guessed the dealer wouldn’t give her a special price. Once she heard the amount, there would be more screaming.

 

#

 

A face slid down the glass of the observation booth. Not a head — just the face. Eyeless and bloodied, the features retained an expression of agonizing pain.

The irony didn’t escape Watkins. The auditorium had been built for throwing basketballs at hoops. The obese demon couldn’t reach the booth, didn’t have the leg strength to jump toward them, so it tossed body parts at the glass front.

A smear of blood followed the peeled face, which clumped at the bottom ledge like a soaked washrag. Splashes of red dotted the window from the earlier thumps of a foot, several hands, a skull‑tattooed chunk of shoulder blade.

And, tangled in the top corner of the window frame, the Creep’s scalped mullet.

Deitrich was the only survivor. He cowered against the wall, whispered pleas for help into his microphone.

“I will spare you.” The demon spoke in a low, measured voice. Each syllable got the same emphasis. “You can tell them what I’ve done.”

“Oh, god. Oh, god.” Deitrich shook his head, tried to look away as the demon moved closer. “Everywhere the smell of urine and excrement and blood. Its hands — oh, god — they peeled off skin…”

Next to Deitrich was the only exit from the auditorium level, a steel door set firmly in solid, reinforced concrete.

“Keypad,” the demon said, and looked at Deitrich.

“I don’t know the combination!” He whined at the demon and at Meyers simultaneously. Then, in a conspirator’s whisper: “Can you tell me? Oh, please tell me.”

Commander Meyers remained silent.

The demon pursed its full lips at Deitrich. “That’s okay.” It swiveled its head, looked up over its shoulder towards Meyers in the observation booth. “I know it.”

The snail hand reached toward Deitrich, level with his face. Deitrich whimpered. Then the hand lowered to his front pocket, stuck onto the tip of a mechanical pencil and lifted it out.

Detrich continued his whispered commentary. “The texture of his hand, how it ripped people’s skin — I thought it was ridged and scaled, like a cheese grater. But it’s thousands of hungry little mouths. I felt the bursts of air on my face. And the smell of tiny breaths like hot garbage. Spoiled meat. Rancid — ”

The demon’s arm whipped forward, cracked the side of Deitrich’s head. “Nobody asked you to insult me,” the demon said as Deitrich’s body dropped unconscious to the floor.

Watkins figured out the reason for the pencil. The flat undersides of the demon’s hands couldn’t work a keypad. But with the pencil extended as a modified finger, it would be able to punch in the sequence.

“Do you really think it knows the code?”

“We’ll find out soon enough.” Meyers remained calm, at least outwardly. Was this the usual objective stance of a commander? He’s safe, even if the rest of the world is outside, unaware.

Watkins began to panic, turned to Hilliard. “Can’t you reset the access code? Reboot the security system?”

Hilliard shook his head. “Not from here. That door isn’t on the same circuit.”

The demon’s body loomed large over the door, blocked it almost entirely from view. They heard three slow beeps from the keypad, waited for the final fourth.

Then:

“Damn.”

A metallic scrape. The keypad panel snapped off the door frame and crashed to the floor.

“Damn it to hell,” the demon said. “I’m Broken.”

 

#

 

[…continued in December 10 entry…]

December 8

The Manifestation (Part 7)

 

Deitrich was the lucky team member Myers sent out of the booth. The metal door closed behind him as he sidestepped onto the upper platform. Watkins sympathized with Deitrich’s reluctant movements, his back sliding against the wall as he edged close to the stairs, the click of his heels on the metal steps, the frantic gusts of his nervous breaths into the mouthpiece.

Impatient, Meyers poked at the speaker button on the front console: “Bring him out. Fast!”

Carlson shrugged. “Maybe the rest of them can recover the integrity of the ritual.” He didn’t sound too optimistic.

The chaos below was not encouraging. Hooded figures lost their cool confidence when they noticed the ceremony was actually working. A few of them started to scream, their cries so loud Watkins almost worried they’d be audible outside the concrete building.

And what had the commander hoped Deitrich might accomplish? The little guy tried to herd people back into place and restore order, but everyone ignored him. Three sat on the floor and cried like babies. Several ran to the edges of the auditorium; one pressed random numbers into the keypad that locked the exit door. Watkins wondered if they could see more in that darkness than he could from the relative safety of the control room.  Perhaps there was something in the auditorium, in the air itself, that added to their terror.

When Deitrich moved to The Creep’s side, tried to pull him away from the pentagram’s edge, he wouldn’t budge. The highly recommended sorcerer…reduced to a useless, rigid scarecrow.

The Creep shouldn’t have been broken. At least, he wasn’t that morning when they brought him in, when they tested all thirteen “occult specialists” on the Efficiency Abacus, a patented contraption that predicted infection. It looked like a puzzle, complete with sliding levers and spring‑loaded triggers. If you completed a complex series of motions without breaking the device, you were probably “clear.” Probably.

Most likely, The Creep had contracted it today. Right in the middle of the ceremony.

And now the darkness tightened. Threads of black wove themselves together, flattened and glistened like a diver’s wetsuit.

A large leg stretched and tore out of the black casing. It was covered with hair and tapered to a hoof as big as a shoebox.

The darkness shrugged and fell to the ground. A large shape remained standing, an obscene pile that began to stretch its four flabby arms.

Was this, Watkins thought, was this the image of what has gone wrong in the world? It’s a horrible mess, a travesty of creation. It was the size and shape of an obese grizzly bear, its face the strange blues, reds, and grays of a baboon, with obscene, sensual, fish‑like lips. The torso was covered with scabby plates that cracked apart in the rolls of fat. Each muscular arm ended in a domed shell with a slimy black underside, as if the demon wore giant snails instead of gloves.

The horrible scene below seemed distant and unreal. Carlton spoke as if he whispered to a row of friends in a movie theater. “It shouldn’t be able to step outside the pentagram.”

The demon responded in a low, mechanical voice. “True. If the pentagram’s been done correctly.” A wet hoof slimed over the edge of the chalk outline, smeared it outward. “It wasn’t.”

Myers jumped forward, rolled Hilliard’s chair away from the control panel. “Christ, lock it down!” He entered a key‑code and pressed a red button. In response, a geared mechanism began to grind. The metal stairs slid away from the entrance to the observation booth.

Now the demon couldn’t get up to them via the stairs.

“What about Deitrich?” Hilliard asked. He swiveled in his chair, waived his arms in disbelief. “And why isn’t there some weapon power here?”

Meyers ignored him, picked up the phone to call for reinforcements.

“We didn’t expect anything to happen,” Watkins said. “Did you?”

“There’s about 300 people outside,” Meyers said into the telephone.

Watkins looked at the names on his clipboard. If he’d bothered to match all of these names to faces — if he could see their features beneath the hoods, their bodies snapped and crumpled inside their sackcloth robes — he could have crossed out each of their names in turn as they were destroyed.

#

[…continued in December 9 entry…]

December 7

The Manifestation (Part 6)

 

Jake McNaughton moved a plastic‑sleeved copy of Sticky Fingers to the front of his display table. He’d priced it higher than it was worth, not really hoping to sell it. It was a good eye‑catcher that lured nostalgic baby boomers to his table: they wouldn’t fork over sixty dollars for a Rolling Stones classic on vinyl, but after looking at it for a while they might plop down two bucks for something by Journey or, God forbid, Quiet Riot.

Most of the people who bought rock on vinyl no longer owned turntables. They bought strictly for the sweet memory of flashy cardboard covers, grooved plastic held gingerly by the edges, a needle dropped with nervous precision near the start of a favorite song. They’d slide a record out of the paper sleeve once in a while, spin it on air . . . then stream a pirated “Best of” collection by the same artist.

Jake’s profits from rock or pop records came from the quantity. Most people visited the rummage sale to spend a quick five or ten, and he had plenty of things in that price range. For the real quality sales, he needed the true collectors and the vinyl purists.

An old Miles Davis classic, or a good‑condition philharmonic of a Mozart symphony — yeah, those babies could draw the checkbooks out. Jake didn’t accept the idea that sound had a color, that the vinyl brought out a “warm” tone you could only get from analog recordings played through tube speakers. He preferred digital with its easier storage and as clean a sound as any human ear could really detect. But plenty of his regular customers believed analog recordings were superior, and that attitude helped keep him in business.

That, and the vague notion, in these Broken times, that any old fashioned technology might be more reliable.

His business was popular enough to earn him a good table, behind the sidewalk just near the school’s entrance — a high traffic spot convenient to the parking lot.

A balding man in his late forties returned a marked‑up copy of Who’s Next to the front display, shaking his head. He picked up Love Gun by Kiss, handed Jake a five dollar bill.

“This was the first record I ever bought,” the man said. He needed to explain, like a teenager buying pornography.

“You wanted the best, you got the best,” Jake said, and counted out three dollars in change. Then he snatched at the customer’s jacket sleeve before the guy could step away. “Did you hear that?”

“What?”

“I don’t know. Really faint. Like screaming.”

“Oh, yeah.” The customer pulled his sleeve from Jake’s grip and backed away from the table. “Place is haunted, don’t you know?”

Right. Probably nothing.

Anyway, Jake couldn’t expect his customers to distinguish subtle sounds. Not with all the kids running around out here, their parents too self‑absorbed to silence them.

You could drop a bomb on this crowd of bargain hunters, and nobody would notice.

 

#

 

[…continued in December 8 entry…]

December 6

The Manifestation (Part 5)

 

“He’s nearing the last phase of the ritual.” Carlson leaned forward, one hand flat against the glass front, the other cupping the earpiece of his receiver to help him catch every word. His voice began to lose its scholarly detachment. “If something’s going to happen, it will be soon.”

“Don’t hold your breath,” Hilliard said.

Watkins actually was holding his breath. Despite his key role throughout months of preparation for this moment, he never once believed they’d succeed. But after noting the somber mood of the thirteen, how they performed the words and motions with utmost seriousness, his skepticism started to waver. If now was the time…

“Look.”

It was Deitrich — the loudest whisper the guy could produce.

Watkins judged the angle of Deitrich’s outstretched arm; it indicated the direct center of the pentagram. He squinted, but didn’t see anything.

Their chants were a ridiculous and unpronounceable jumble of misplaced vowels and hard consonants, but the thirteen voices managed to recite the phrases in unison. One voice sounded louder than the rest in their headsets and over the speakers, gaining strength in a kind of inspired frenzy. Still, Watkins saw nothing.

Perhaps that was the point.

At the center of the pentagram. The hardwood floors of the basketball court had been painted black for the ritual, a flat layered coating of Sherwin‑Williams #32 that reflected almost no light. Yet there had been some slight glow from the candles, from the perimeter lights near the ceiling of the auditorium. Now one spot was, yes, definitely darker. Like ink dropped into water, it clouded outward from the center and absorbed any trace of light. Patches of the chalk outline seemed to disappear, laced by black thread.

This was like the darkness his mother had told him about. The awful day when the elementary school went dark, when the children panicked and screamed. Watkins could almost hear them now.

And then that one voice above the thirteen. The Creep suddenly, in his mania, translated the chant into English: “Demon, from the depths of Hell, we make you manifest. In your name. In the unholy name of — ”

**crackle**

Twelve voices continued the chant.

“What did he say?” Carlton asked.

Watkins glanced away from the black cloud, even as it grew, even as it took shape. He saw the Creep tuck the forbidden book under one arm and reach under his hood with both hands. The microphone piece of his headset snapped off and fell to the ground.

Then, Commander Myers’ voice from the back of the booth: “Get that broken son-of-a-bitch out of there!”

 

#

 

[…continued in December 7 entry…]

December 5

The Manifestation (Part 4)

 

“We can make it manifest itself.”

Deitrich had spoken during a lull in the discussion. It would have been difficult to hear his quiet voice otherwise.

“What?” Myers’ booming question simultaneously branded Deitrich an idiot and demanded an explanation.

“Well, aren’t there people who, I don’t know, specialize in this sort of thing?” Deitrich tried to shrug off the full attention of the group. He looked down at his index finger, traced lines in the wooden grain of the tabletop. Watkins was poised to write notes on Deitrich’s suggestion — as soon as he figured out what the hell the guy was talking about.

“We’ve been circling around different theories,” Deitrich continued. “And keep coming back to the same idea. Something supernatural.”

He was right. Of all the possibilities on the dry‑erase board, the ridiculous one, the one that seemed like a humorous afterthought, was beginning to seem the most plausible.

Under the heading in block capital letters — BROKEN DISEASE — Myers had written a list:

 

x ‑ Bad Luck

Myers had ticked a small “x” next to this line, ruling out the theory. Symptoms tended to cluster more predictably than could be explained by mere happenstance or coincidence. Bad luck was random, didn’t circle around people like weather patterns. Once contracted, this disease hung over each sufferer like the proverbial dark cloud.

x ‑ Psycho‑Somatic Illness

When objects you touch frequently fall apart, when the world itself seems broken, that has a pretty dramatic effect on your psyche. Small wonder, then, that initial opinions favored the idea of psychosis. People with the Broken Disease frequently appeared to be crazy — ranting at an uncooperative vending machine, going to pieces over a jammed photocopier. Medical opinion followed the track of previous intangible diseases such as chronic fatigue or Gulf War syndromes: they initially blamed the victims but, after a preponderance of convincing anecdotal evidence, grudgingly admitted there might be something there after all.

x ‑ Mass Hysteria

This corollary to the psycho‑somatic explanation focused on social groups rather than the individual. The disease was statistically more prevalent among the target demographic of tabloid newspapers — believers in Elvis, alien, or bigfoot sightings, or Christ’s image burned into a tortilla. But the disease didn’t follow the typical pattern of mass hysteria, didn’t limit itself to particular, gullible populations. As more and more isolated cases arose among the highly educated, this theory fell from favor.

x ‑ Medical Condition

They called it a “disease,” but there was no measurable cause for the symptoms, no isolated virus, no identifiable anomaly in a victim’s muscular or nervous system. Further, the symptoms didn’t exhibit in a predictable manner. Things didn’t break all the time — just often enough to be statistically impossible, often enough to drive many victims towards bouts of uncontrolled anger.

x ‑ Germ Warfare

The inability to locate a medical condition would eliminate this possibility as well. And clearly, the Broken Disease wasn’t interested in politics or national borders. High‑ranking government officials in all nations were susceptible, as were people in positions of trust such as doctors or airplane pilots.  Serious disasters continued to occur throughout the globe — and the next catastrophe, the worst and final one, seemed imminent.

x ‑ God is Angry

Televangelists solicited donations by aligning the disease with God’s wrath, but it seemed too small-minded to fit with the general public’s image of Him. The Broken Disease seemed too random, lacking any trace of so-called “intelligent design.”  If God planned to destroy the world, couldn’t he do a more efficient job of it?

 

Which left only the last item without an “x” next to it:

 

‑ Demonic Curse

Well, this was how the disease felt to its victims. So many testimonials brought up the idea of a “curse.” Broken people felt “damned from the start,” whatever they attempted. They weren’t broken physically, but in spirit — as if their soul had been devastated, devoured. Evil, with a capital “E,” had to be at work here.

 

“It’s what we’re all thinking, isn’t it?” Despite his timid voice, Deitrich had gained full control of the discussion. “The disease is supernatural, right?”

Nobody contradicted him.

“We go after cancer or alzheimer’s with science. But if this disease was created by a demon, medicine isn’t the answer. We’ve got to summon it up, make the disease itself appear.”

“Jesus,” somebody said. “I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

Meyers looked at Watkins, nodded slightly. “We’ll check into it.”

 

#

 

[…continued in December 6 entry…]

December 4

The Manifestation (Part 3)

 

All five of the observers recognized the man Hilliard jokingly referred to as Ozzy. His was the name each consulted source had mentioned in a dark, respectful whisper — a clear choice to lead the ritual. Watkins thought of him only as “The Creep.” He kept a printout reference sheet for all thirteen subjects, but he hadn’t bothered to connect their names to their faces. When this was finished, Watkins wanted nothing to do with them. The Creep could someday write a chapter detailing how he once helped the government with a secret ceremony. Nobody would believe him: the subjects had all been blindfolded, didn’t know where they were. They couldn’t prove this any more than they could prove a dream.

Watkins had organized the gathering. Although not a highly ranked officer, he gained respect for his ability to coordinate a sanctioned event quickly and discretely. He had compiled a list of names from online research, agent consultations, and study of classified documents. He interviewed each subject, then brought them here separately via private jet or helicopter.

Carlson, the scholar, helped secure some of the documents, including the leather‑bound book that eleven of the thirteen had argued couldn’t actually exist. He’d led the subjects in an intense workshop to reach consensus on the rituals, then collated the opinions into a ceremony. Demonic summoning by committee. Watkins got the impression that Carlson was, like himself, a skeptic. He approached the varied practices with a purely academic interest.

Hilliard, overweight with the arrogance of technological expertise, acted as if he ran the show from his seat at the control panel. They tolerated his jokes because he had knowledge they needed.

Commander Myers supervised in the background. Wiry thin with horn‑rimmed glasses and gray hair, he seemed the parody of a frail businessman. Until you heard him speak, his voice firm and assertive, reinforced by the determined stare of a true leader.

And Deitrich. Deitrich was here because he’s the one who had the brilliant idea:

 

#

 

[…continued in December 5 entry…]

 

December 3

The Manifestation (Part 2)

 

Watkins’ mother’s had been a teacher in this building, back during its brief tenure as an elementary school. She sometimes told the story of the day the power went out.

The idea of the school, in the seventies, was to create a controlled environment. Lots of concrete; large activity spaces; sleek, compartmentalized classrooms with no windows (to minimize distractions from the outdoors).

The school was as strong as a bomb shelter. When the storm hit, the kids were in the safest possible place.

Except the emergency lights malfunctioned.  Indoors, concrete, no windows: the classrooms were completely, utterly dark.

The kids were terrified. His mother would tell how she tried to calm her third‑grade students, asked them to hold each other’s hands and form a circle. From outside they heard muffled blasts of thunder from the storm that had surged their power lines. A siren sounded in the distance.

One child started screaming. He ran, not knowing where he ran. They heard his head knock against a concrete post.

Then other children screamed and ran. Small fists punched at cinder blocks that wouldn’t break away, wouldn’t open to admit the comfort of light.

After that well-publicized disaster, the building was no longer suitable as a school. His mother transferred to another district, another grade. The school board shifted selected high school students to the concrete building, particularly kids from “problem populations.” Many of the rooms were reinforced with locks and steel bars, which emphasized the prison‑like elements already nascent in the building’s original design.

Eventually the demographics of the district shifted. Couples with teenage kids left the area; older couples moved in, tempted by nearby discount stores; one neighborhood became popular with gay couples who sought a safe, quiet alternative to city life. There were fewer kids to feed into the school’s population.

Almost as if it had been planned that way, the school became obsolete.

But there it was, in the middle of everything. On a busy street, directly across from a strip mall with a giant pet store, two coffee chains, and a warehouse discount outlet.

On most weekends, the school’s parking lot became an impromptu showcase for used cars. It wasn’t clear how this practice began, but it quickly became a familiar diversion; halted at the traffic light, bored drivers would glance at the latest selections, prices hand‑lettered on slats of cardboard tucked behind front windshields.

The third weekend of every month, weather permitting, the grounds of the former school became the site of a gigantic, multi‑family rummage sale. Some antique dealers and oddity peddlers became regular vendors, which helped the event flourish. The stores across the street would post a “No Flea Market Parking” sign that weekend; otherwise, there’d be no spaces for their own customers.

In a morbid in‑joke, some locals still referred to the site as “the dead elementary school.” In general though, it was an unused building whose parking lot and grounds became useful on weekends. People saw it all the time — looking for cars, random weekend junk, or just enjoying the spectacle from a distance.

Always worth a glance as you drove by.

But, windowless and remote, right under peoples’ noses, the building itself wasn’t worth a second thought.

 

#

 

[…continued in December 4 entry…]

 

December 2

The Manifestation (Part 1)

 

“Do they have to wear the robes?”

“We’re doing everything by the book.”

Literally. The title was branded into the cover in a language Watkins couldn’t translate. The book was leather‑bound, the color and texture of aged human skin. Stains in the crevices might have been dried blood.

He didn’t want to know.

They looked down as a robed man held the book before him like an offering.  The man walked to the circled edge of a diagram chalked into in the floor of the auditorium below, white candles burning at each of the five points. Two figures stepped to his side, grasped the hood of their leader’s robe and gently raised it to cover his mullet of flat, brown hair.

“Why didn’t we airlift Ozzy in here while we were at it?”

“Quiet, Hilliard.”

“Ah, they can’t hear us.”

True enough.  They sat in an observation room forty feet above an indoor gymnasium — formerly the play‑by‑play booth for school sporting events. The glass surrounding the front of the booth was soundproof. Hilliard, their technology expert, manned the control panel: the scoreboard switches and announcer microphones had been supplemented with modern radio transmitters and state‑of‑the‑art recording equipment. The thirteen hooded figures below wore wireless headsets, and Hilliard controlled what instructions they heard from the observation room.

In the booth, they were safely out of earshot.

And, Watkins hoped, far enough away from any trouble that might get summoned up.

 

#

 

[…continued in December 3 entry…]

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