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Excerpt for The Complete Flashback Saga by , available in its entirety at Smashwords














THE COMPLETE FLASHBACK SAGA



by

Wayne Kyle Spitzer







































Copyright © 2018 Wayne Kyle Spitzer. All Rights Reserved. Published by Hobb’s End Books, a division of ACME Sprockets & Visions. Cover designs Copyright © 2018 Wayne Kyle Spitzer. Please direct all inquiries to: HobbsEndBooks@yahoo.com



Based upon “Flashback,” first published by Books in Motion/Classic Ventures, 1993. Reprinted by Hobb’s End Books, 2017.



All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this book is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.









































FLASHBACK















I | Flight



“We know now there can be no justice,” the preacher’s soulful voice boomed over the pickup’s radio, and a chorus of devotees chanted “Amen” over the airwaves.

“And we know now there can be no compromise.” Shattered glass sounded in the background, as though raining down on a dais.

“Amen.”

“But let us not eat of our own limb, brothers and sisters! Let us not become like those outside our windows, throwing stones at their own temple. For I have seen a light in the sky, and we must ready our souls!”

“Amen!”

“The day of reckoning is come, brothers and sisters. The wicked among us shall be devoured—”

More glass shattered and it sounded as though a bottle rolled across the dais. A woman’s scream rang out. A skeleton chorus cried, “Amen!”

“We stand ready to be cleansed, oh Lord! Let flow the flood! Throw wide the gates of hell, and let loose the beasts of prey!”

And then there was an explosion which caused the pickup’s speakers to rattle, and people were screaming over the airwaves.

Static rose up like flames, filling the cab with noise, and Savanna Aldiss looked to her husband. Roger only shook his head. “Never know what’s gonna go the distance, do you?” he said.

She twisted the knobless tuner with the vice grips, renewing her search for a weather report, and said nothing. There wasn’t much to say; they’d gotten out of town because they were contentedly poor people, and when there were riots such as those following the Harper verdict, it was the contented poor who always paid first.

That was part of the reason, anyway. But they were also going to see Savanna’s mother in Spokane, a four-hour drive Roger had hoped to enjoy very much. They’d notified their employers—a nursing home and a mall security agency, respectively—that their house had been mistaken for a pawn shop and put to the flaming torch of protest, and that they would be indisposed for an undetermined length of time. Like everyone else, they’d used the occasion to do something they’d wanted to do for a long time.

Roger stared out his open window, yawning. Not because the panorama rushing past was devoid of any interest; actually, it was quite refreshing after the flames and chaos of riot-torn Seattle. But it was all the same after crossing the Columbia River: mile after mile after mile of channeled scablands and various basalt formations—what had Savanna called it? The Lost Bonanza Backdrop. The sight would have put him to sleep at the wheel if not for the strange behavior of the weather.

The weather …

Since leaving Seattle, he’d spurred the Toyota 4x4 through a mild rainstorm, a brief flurry of snow, a stretch of sunny nirvana, a burst of hailstones, another rainstorm …

And now the sun was back again, and the sky was clear. He wasn’t sure what the hell to make of it.

Savanna gave up on the radio, detaching the vice grips and tossing them onto the dash. They were a handy tool, those vice grips. In addition to working the radio, they could be used to yank the long-stripped key from the ignition, or to roll the knobless driver’s side window up and down.

“Nothing,” she said.

Roger tilted the can of Pepsi against his lips and emptied it, his dark hair dancing in the jetstream.

“No biggie, honey,” he said, and added, jokingly, “The President lost his patience and had Seattle nuked. That’s all.”

She switched off the radio. “Poor selection, anyway.”

He laughed and squeezed the pop can.

“Bombs away?” Savanna asked.

“Quite.”

She lifted the throw-pillow away from the floor and Roger glanced down at the asphalt rushing past below. He reached behind the stick shift and dropped the can through the hole. It hit the blurred pavement with a tinny clatter and was gone behind them.

“You do know littering is a $1,000 offense in Washington,” she said.

“They oughta write me in for governor,” he said. “Somebody’s got to pick it up—hell, I just created a job.”

Savanna slid the pillow beneath her bare feet. “And I’m very proud of you, sweetie.”

He kissed at the air between them twice and she returned the gesture. It was their own little thing. He grinned at her, then grasped the wheel with both hands and returned his attention to the landscape rushing past; they were passing a stretch of tall grass and gently rolling hills, like green dunes. He listened as the radials droned endlessly against the asphalt, and several moments passed in silence.

“What on earth,” Savanna nearly whispered. “Honey …”

He nodded absently. He was drumming his fingers on the outside of his door contentedly.

Roger!” Savanna cried, and he jerked his head forward in time to see a pale blur vanish beneath the water-beaded hood.



II | Roadkill



Ker-thunk! Something hit the bumper of the 4x4 and the truck jolted violently. An eyeblink later something thumped against the undercarriage. Roger grimaced. He saw a greasy differential and a splat of blood in his mind’s eye—and felt as though his neck were being sucked down between his shoulder blades.

Shit …!” he cursed helplessly. His pale fingers clutched at the wheel as if choking the life from some venomous snake.

Savanna’s cold hand settled over his own as he took the pickup out of gear and steered for the edge of the interstate. Wet gravel crunched beneath the tires as the silver Toyota coasted to a halt.

He pressed back in his chair and exhaled, still gripping the wheel. Vehicles whisked past through the previous storm’s residue, a legacy of shallow potholes filled with rain, and threw fans of gray water onto the glass. Savanna craned around to peer out the rear window.

Roger faced forward, staring off at the horizon blankly. “What was it?”

It was difficult to see with the canopy and all. The sun bounced off the dark windshield of an approaching van and she squinted in the glare. “I don’t know, I only saw it for a second. It looked a little like one of those flightless birds. What are they called? Not an ostrich—an emu. But bigger, and without feathers.”

What?” He turned to join her. “Can you see it?”

She shook her red locks and a few stray ends ripe with the scent of shampoo tickled his cheek. He squinted through the glass with her.

“No blood,” he whispered, and breathed a bit easier. He turned away and threw open his door. “Be right back.”

Savanna reached over and switched off the ignition, then got out of the truck and jogged to catch up with him. A convoy of motorcycles roared past dangerously close, hurling sludgy water at them like flying shrapnel. The blast of its passage furled their clothes and jostled their hair.

Roger leaned forward with his hands on his knees and scanned the tall grass. The wind blew all around him and the plains responded. A million tall blades of grass did The Wave.

“Nothing,” he said.

“Honey …” Savanna’s whispering voice was but a pale sound beside him. “Look …”

He looked up to find her staring off into the distance, and matched her gaze.

“Holy Jesus,” he murmured, and stood straight to join her.

Ahead of them, the horizon had gone to a sooty black in what must have been mere seconds. Storm clouds were rolling in like before—but faster—and Roger found himself laughing more than a little nervously.

“This isn’t very damn funny anymore, is it?” he said.

Savanna gazed forward as if in a dream. As far as she was concerned, it never really had been all that damn funny. Roger had a frightening way of laughing off the ominous. The more he smiled and laughed his nervous little laugh, the more Savanna had always suspected real trouble.

Neither of them spoke as they watched the massive anvil clouds roll forward, boiling and tumbling as if captured in a loop of time-lapse film. Roger’s blood ran cold at sight of lights amidst the soup; not lightning kind of lights, but airplane kind of lights. And then he recalled joking about the H-bomb going off, and suddenly felt as though a battalion of tarantulas were crawling up his spine in single file. He put his arm around Savanna.

“I think it’s time to go,” he said, and she nodded absently, as though in deep thought. Her eyes were riveted to the odd lights.

They walked back to the truck. Roger walked around to the front and checked the bumper. The chrome was mildly scratched, and bent inward a little at the center. But the bend may have been there before, he couldn’t be certain. At any rate, there were no traces of blood.

They got in. Roger started the engine and let it run, making sure it hadn’t been damaged. After a moment, Savanna said:

It had arms.”

The motor idled. Roger stared at her. Then he pulled away from the shoulder to rejoin the wagon train east.

After several miles the freeway began to slope upward, and Roger pointed his finger southeast. “There,” he said. “Saved by the big ‘O.’”

She looked out her window and saw the glowing sign of an Ozark Gas-n-Go, turning slowly round against the rapidly darkening sky. Fossil-fuel Freddy winked at them thriftily from his home in the first oversized ‘O,’ making the okay sign with a scaly thumb and forefinger. Freddy was the saurian equivalent of Goofy; nobody really knew exactly what the hell breed he was.

“We can sit it out there, I guess,” Roger said. “Whatever it is.”

Savanna nodded, saying nothing, and turned her ghostly-eyed glare back to the boiling sky.

“Roger, look how fast it’s moving.”

He leaned forward and peered up, and found that the tremor in her voice had been well-justified.

It was almost upon them. The storm was thundering across the sky like a giant man o’ war: a harbinger of chaos trailing tendrils of rain—and now lightning—from beneath its dark umbrella. Its black shadow fell rumbling over the truck and Roger stepped on the gas.

An instant later the churning tempest seemed to roll right over the top of them, and the rain hit the windshield with such sudden fury that Roger was reminded of his trips through the auto-wash as a kid. He was reminded of that spinning, hissing, roaring tumbler that twirled wildly over the hood of his dad’s Buick and rumbled up the windshield in a red and black blur—like some great, shaggy caterpillar. Then the cold water slanted in through his window and began to patter wildly against the dash.

Jesus Christ!”

He switched on the wipers and set them to their maximum speed, then groped along the wet dash for the vice grips. His hair was already dripping in his face and his clothes were nearly soaked. The blades only whipped back and forth impotently against the glass. If they made any difference at all, he was hard-pressed to tell. “Honey …”

She reached over and grasped the wheel. He clamped the vice grips down on the rusty sprocket beside him and cranked the window up.

“Maybe we should pull over,” she said. “Wait it out here.”

He tossed the vice grips back onto the dash and took back the wheel, peering into the maelstrom between swipes. There was no longer a road. He was driving blindly at fifty miles per hour into what had become, in just seconds, a seamless gray void. Glancing southeast, he saw that the Ozark sign had completely vanished in the downpour. So had the taillights of the motorcycles somewhere ahead of them. “Yeah,” he mumbled at last. “I think you’re right …”

He hit his blinker and craned his neck around to check behind them. Someone might as well have pulled a shade down over the rear window—there was virtually nothing there. No freeway, no headlights, no anything except the roaring, tumbling, monster-caterpillar of the auto-wash. He cursed beneath his breath and steered for the shoulder anyway. A moment later they rolled to a stop at the side of the road.

“This is too weird,” he mumbled gravely. And then he laughed a little nervously.

Savanna cranked on the heater. “It’s getting cold.”

Roger looked outside. “Where the hell is everybody? We should be able to see something. High beams or fog-lights—something.”

There was nothing. Only the rain. Rain which came down from the blackness in endless sheets, wave after wave, pounding the hood, the windshield, the roof. The 4x4 had become an enormous steel drum.

Savanna switched on the radio again.

“Honey,” Roger began, “there’s no way—”

But there was something. It was just a flash, a brief blat! of sound, a voice. And then only static. They looked at each other in the dark of the truck.

“Try the vice grips …” Savanna said.

He had already reached for them. He maneuvered them around the tuner’s stub and began twisting it left and right hurriedly. Savanna watched his face as he worked and felt her blood run cold. Her easy-going husband was her barometer for measuring the tenor of any potentially dangerous situation. When the little needle surpassed even the nervous laughter and entered that red zone in which dark lines began to parch his face—she always knew they’d taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque.

“Go slow, sweetie.” She put her hand on his soggy shoulder. “You’re going to miss something.”

“There’s nothing here,” he said, looking as though he were twisting the vice grips just to be doing something. The corner of his mouth had started twitching nervously.

She rubbed his neck. “Honey—”

Again the snatch of sound came and went. He’d passed it by. Ever so briefly, it had sounded like the droning tone of the Emergency Broadcast System. He immediately began circling back, but the vice grips shifted in his jittering grasp and clattered to the floor. He swiped at air as the rusted tongs tumbled through the hole and rattled wetly below.

“Shit …” He reached for them and saw their steely handles skew sideways in the run-off. They skidded along the water to vanish from view.

“Oh, that’s just splendid!” he spat venomously.

He released his seat belt.

“Want me to feel around for them?” Savanna asked. “My arm’s skinnier.”

He leaned toward the hole and stuck his arm through. “It’s okay …”

He touched the cold asphalt and water sluiced between his fingers.

Go slow,” Savanna said. “If they’re there you don’t want to nudge them any further.”

His fingertips traced along the crocodile skin of the highway, questing, searching—

And then there was pain. And flowing warmth. And he couldn’t pull his arm back out of the hole.

“Ohmygod!”

What is it?!” Savanna screamed.

He began jerking his shoulder savagely. His eyes were wide and wet, literally gleaming with something, everything: anger, pain—unbelievable, vein-bloating, hair-whitening pain! Gleaming tears welled up in their corners to roll down his cheeks like shooting stars.

“Jesus!” The tiny metal drum was not enough to contain his cry.

There was something pulling at his hand. It had hooked him, penetrated his wrist, broken through to the other side of the flesh. And now it was yanking and thrashing savagely.

Savanna screamed helplessly, grabbing his upper arm and pulling with him. She heard what sounded like wet cloth ripping. And suddenly he was free, he was pushing back against his chair again. And all was warm and sticky as she licked at her lips and tasted salt there, and realized his blood was jetting from the stump of his wrist to draw stringy graffiti on her face and across the windshield and into his lap which had gone dark with urine.

She shrunk against the door shrieking, her long-fingered hands shaking and contorting and opening and closing madly in front of her. They danced as though possessed of the Spirit, responding to inaudible Tongues—like writhing bodies fallen to rapture in the isles of some backwater church. Still screaming, she shirked her T-shirt up and over her head. Holding the edge of the cloth between her teeth, she groped for Roger with both arms.

He was thrashing about in his seat as if it were electrified, the breath hammering in and out of his mouth, a mad kind of survival-light burning in his eyes. He seemed to be attempting some desperate kind of breathing method. She fell across the shifter trying to get a hold of his arm and its rubber crown jabbed at her ribs viciously. She suddenly caught his flailing wrist in a lucky snatch, but his flesh was covered in blood and her thin fingers slid helplessly away to grope at dead air. She tried again. The swinging, crimson-gouting stump only danced away each time, winking at her whitely with its flashing stub of bone. At last she caught it again and began squeezing to choke the blood flow.

And something nipped her in the stomach. She reared back and looked down.

Cold yellow eyes were staring up at her through the hole in the floor.

She screamed still louder and shrunk against her door yet again, dropping the T-shirt. Her hand raked along the dash, twisted into a long-nailed crook by her panic. Roger began to hyperventilate violently. Something poked its head up through the hole and looked to her briefly. It had scales. It looked like a big monitor lizard, colored beige with black stripes.

But its movements were twitchy and fast, exactly like a bird’s.

She blinked—and it had turned on Roger. She watched in fathomless horror as it sought out his spurting wrist and began to nibble and tear at the mutilated gristle. Her husband shrilled, throwing his head back violently against the backrest. His body had begun to spasm, bucking and quaking and lolling. His legs pumped wildly, kicking at the floor, the steering column, through the wheel to the dash, again and again and again. His red sneakers smashed out the clear plastic over the speedometer.

Savanna opened the glove-compartment and plowed through its jumbled contents. She came up with Roger’s .38 and pointed its muzzle at the back of the thing’s head.

Leave him alone you scaly bastard!” Her tear-strung face was a twisted white mask.

The gun wavered in her grasp as she sought an opening in the mish-mash of flesh. Roger’s dark blood (it’s type-O, she thought insanely, yes type O-negative rare so rare he’ll bleed to death and no one can help not me not me) was blotting the windshield like lumps of maroon paint.

Leave him alone!” she bawled. “Leave him alone leave him alone leave him alone!” There was an opening and she fired.

The pistol bucked and the thing’s head blew apart. Chunks of meat and pieces of bone exploded like shrapnel against the windshield. The smooth, bloody glass cracked into a thousand spidery rings. Savanna began to hack violently in the smoke. Her ears rang as if every radio and TV speaker in the world were shrieking with the searing tone of the Emergency Broadcast System cranked to full volume. The thing’s head collapsed steaming into her lap.

She stared down at it breathlessly, the smoking revolver slipping from her fingers to tumble against the carpet. The thing’s reptilian head twitched in her lap and she saw a tiny convulsion ripple down its neck.

“Honey, oh god …” Roger mumbled.

She looked up to find his face had gone completely blue. His eyes were glassy and still. That fiery survival-light had flickered and dimmed to a weary acceptance of death. The shock was clearly taking its toll. Something exploded inside of her and she shoved the dead animal off her. She half-heartedly tried to shove it down through the opening, but it was wedged in there tight and wouldn’t even budge—so she simply left it there.

She snatched up his wrist in her right hand, thinking, Concentrate, dammit, concentrate! Remember that first-aid course—then pressed her thumb into the outer flesh of his arm and the flats of her fingers against the inside. She did the same thing with her left hand—midway along his upper-arm, pinching closed the brachial artery against the arm bone.

Straining to keep his arm elevated, she dipped her head to the blood-splattered floor hump and snatched up the T-shirt with her teeth. She swung it around his wrist with a jerk of her chin, and managed to pin the twisted cloth where it crisscrossed itself beneath her bloody fingers. Glancing down she spotted the blue cap of a ballpoint pen, poking sideways out of the jumble of junk between the beverage holders. She drew the pen free with her teeth and clenched it there, then released his biceps and tied the shirt’s ends in a half-knot. He started hemorrhaging instantly, the blood leaping for the ceiling as if pumped from a squirt gun. She held the Bick to the half-knot and knotted the cloth twice more. Then she twisted the pen, praying it would not break—once, twice, a thousand times.

“Die you bastard and I’ll sleep with every member of the Houston Oilers,” she mumbled as she worked. “Just for spite.”

Gradually, the bleeding slowed to a trickle … and stopped. She secured the tourniquet halfway up his forearm with the T-shirt’s crimsoned ends and then threw open her door, pausing to lower the seat before jumping out and slamming the door behind her.

An instant later she yanked Roger’s door open. Grabbing the frame, she planted both feet against his side and shoved him over the hump and the rubber-crowned gear shift, into the passenger seat. Then she plopped into the driver’s seat, jammed the truck into gear, and they tore away from the shoulder—a scaly tail dragging behind like tin cans rattling behind a honeymoon Cadillac.

The pickup rocked and Roger stirred, staring at her blankly.

He coughed and managed weakly, “Try the Bengals. I hear they’re hard up for cooperation.”





III | Savanna



The metal-framed signboard read: OUT OF UNLEADED. As the 4x4 careened into the Ozark station’s parking lot, its right quarter-panel smashed the sign aside, whereby it hit the concrete and sent a flurry of hot sparks dashing against the gas pumps.

Savanna gripped the wheel like a vise and aimed the pickup at the store’s facade—visible once again now that the rain had given way to another burst of hailstones. A station wagon and a Ford truck were sitting out front, as well as a row of motorcycles, so she had to aim for the far side of the parking strip. She jerked the wheel too hard and the little 4x4 spun out of control, hydroplaning wildly across the wet, oily asphalt and smashing into the rear of the Ford. The Toyota’s front bumper crumpled in like an aluminum can and radiator spray geysered out from around the edges of the hood.

She jammed the shifter into reverse and tried to back away from the jumble of crushed metal. The 4x4’s big tires hissed against the concrete, spinning like turbines, burning through the slick layer of oil and finally their own rubber. It was no good, she realized, the two vehicles were locked together like Siamese twins. She put it into neutral and let off the clutch, and the engine stalled with a pathetic shudder. Throwing open her door, she ran around the 4x4 to the passenger side.

The hailstones were as big as marbles. They rebounded off her wet head and bare shoulders like white-hot meteors, leaving her pale flesh bruised and throbbing. As she yanked open Roger’s door one of the stones drilled her in the right temple, and by the time the two had begun shambling toward the building’s entrance, her right eye had been blinded by her own blood.

It was all Roger could do to remain on his feet, desperately clinging to his wife for support. He’d lost a lot of blood. He wanted so badly just to pass out and be free of the pain, but he didn’t want Savanna to have to face whatever was going on alone. He struggled to stay conscious, cradling his severed wrist between his chest and his remaining hand as if he were holding a wounded child.

The store clerk burst through the double glass doors. He was a thirtysomething black man in white sneakers and a brown attendant’s apron.

“Christ woman, that was my truck!” His eyes flashed to Roger’s stump, where the knob of bloody-white bone winked beneath the fluorescent lights and seemed to say, “Hi there.”

He swallowed dryly. “Jesus—what happened?”

“He did lunch with something scaly,” she grunted. “Come on.”

He took up Roger’s left arm and together the three entered the building.

Gasps and shocked profanities accompanied their passage through the room, and a crowd of figures clustered about them like a frenzied Washington press corps.

“We got it, man. We got it …” the clerk said.

They carried him on their shoulders to the little, pristine men’s room, and the clerk held him aloft while Savanna lowered the lid of the toilet. They eased him down onto its smooth, ivory-colored surface. Savanna turned on the water and let it flow between her fingers until it was hot.

“Got a first-aid kit in the office,” the clerk said, and left the room.

The toilet was right next to the basin. Savanna drew up Roger’s arm and began running hot water down over the stump. She wasn’t at all sure this was the correct thing to do, cleansing this severe a wound as if it were a skinned knee, but with an animal bite—and with no help on the way—who knew what kind of infection might spring up, or how fast. Especially with a lizard, or an emu, or whatever the hell it had been. Christ. Could there be poison, even?

Red water started swirling down the drain. Roger sat gazing at the opposite wall blankly, like a zombie. Savanna pumped soap onto her fingertips and rubbed it into his wound. She flushed it out with more clear water. Pink froth spiraled in the basin.

A moment later the clerk returned with bandages, gauze, and a plastic bottle of rubbing alcohol. He sat them on the blood-spotted Formica next to the sink. Savanna ripped open one of the packages and blotted Roger’s wound dry with a sterile pad. “Did you call for help?” she asked the clerk.

He shook his head. “Lines are down. Been down for some time. Nothin’ on the radio, either.”

“We caught a little heading in …” Savanna said. She pumped more soap from the dispenser and rubbed it between her crimsoned hands, then rinsed them off. “Part of the Emergency Broadcast System, just the tone.”

Roger stirred beside her, working his jaws open and closed like a grounded fish. Savanna looked up at the clerk in the mirror. “Whose station wagon is that out …”

He was shaking his head. “There’s water in the distributor. All that rain earlier …”

She nodded, considering life-flight by Harley unacceptable. “Best to wait for everything to blow over and get an ambulance, probably.” She twisted the taps and the water trickled to a stop. “We’re going to need some kind of suture, don’t you think?”

“Tourniquet will do,” he said. “There’s not enough skin around the wound to work with, and we’d need a curved needle.”

He paused, staring below her gaze. “Don’t forget to take care of yourself, now. Seems the same bee stung him stung you, too.”

She noticed her reflection in the mirror above the basin, and was shocked at sight of her own breasts straining against her bra. Then her gaze dropped to the laceration just beneath them.

She sneered. “Poor little bastard was about half-starved, I guess.”

She leaned over and kissed Roger delicately on the forehead. His parched lips kissed at the air once, twice. She looked at his twisted, dull-eyed face as a mother would look at her ailing son, and reached up to stroke his hair with a pale, wet hand.

“Roger, honey, try to relax.”

He nodded feebly.

And after a while, it seemed he’d fallen asleep. She turned to the clerk and nodded toward her husband. “Can you hold him?”

The middle-aged black man stared at her apprehensively, then squeezed in beside her and gripped Roger’s bad arm gently but firmly in both hands.

Having no idea if it was the right thing to do or absolutely the wrong thing, Savanna drew up Roger’s tattered brachial artery and began tying it into a simple knot. It slipped and squirmed between her fingers like a string of moist spaghetti as she worked. Roger felt a tugging sensation and opened his eyes, glancing sidelong at Savanna as she finished up. He noticed how white her face was, how empty her eyes were, and was scared for her. She rinsed her hands again as he watched, then twisted the cap from the bottle of alcohol. He grimaced and turned away.

He tried to sleep as Savanna began pouring alcohol over his stump. And as he did so, he counted bird-like lizard creatures hopping over a fence in time.



IV | Waiting



The store was mostly calm with soft muttering. Except for the occasional (but increasingly raucous) outbursts from the bikers, and the dim sound of static from the radio on the counter—which had been tuned to the approximate band at which Roger and Savanna had briefly caught the E.B.S. earlier—things had tentatively settled in.

The clerk sat with one of the stranded customers, in one of the bright-yellow booths which were laid out in a row along the long window at the front of the store, discussing the weather and the riots, gesturing from time to time with a can of 7-UP in his hand. The customer across from him was a lean, older man in western attire. He wore a big cowboy hat, a big, shiny belt-buckle (the name Roy B. in sterling silver), big boots—the whole Garth Brooks thing. He was smoking a cigarette and sipping coffee from a paper cup, nodding a lot.

The customer’s wife, a portly woman named Clara, had talked with Savanna awhile before wandering off toward the video games. Now she was blasting asteroids and apparently enjoying the hell out of it. Savanna, meanwhile, had stolen away to the booth that was farthest from everything.

It was partly because of the bikers. They’d congregated around the magazine rack with several cases of beer (without communications to the outside, the clerk had been reluctant to hassle them), and were leafing through the biker mags and swimsuit catalogs, having themselves a little hurricane party. They were downing the beer at an ungodly clip and, much worse, were beginning to show more than a little interest in Savanna. One of them noticed her looking their way now, and waggled his tongue at her. Her arms tingled with gooseflesh and she shivered all over, in spite of the oversized Ozark smock the clerk had fetched for her from one of the back rooms. She turned away.

Outside, the hailstorm had gone to snow once again. But rather than taking on the chrome-white hue usually associated with a snow flurry, the sky had grown strangely dark, as if night had fallen. Snowflakes the size of hockey pucks glided down from the dull-orange glow of the arc-lights, sticking to the window beside her like lint. She hardly noticed them. She was staring at the window, not through it, at the reflection of herself and the store’s bright interior, the shelves stocked with soup cans like an Andy Warhol print turned to wallpaper. She puffed on her Marlboro nervously, seeing the snow but not seeing it.

Roger was still sleeping. He’d passed out shortly after she’d begun pouring the alcohol over his stump. Savanna reviewed what had transpired since …



She’d finished the operation by securing a sterile pad over the stump and then wrapping the whole affair, except for the tourniquet, in a length of brown bandage.

Finally, they’d equipped him with a crude sling made of pantyhose—in the interest of keeping blood-flow to the wound at a minimum (by keeping his arm bent and his wrist as elevated as possible), while still allowing for mobility if the phone lines came back on any time soon. Unresolved, however, had been how to get a painkiller into him now that he’d passed out.

One of the customers waiting out the storm, a big-boned but nonetheless pretty woman (who had since introduced herself as Clara Bonner), had been watching from the bathroom door and offered her assistance. Savanna had politely but frankly told her there was little she or anybody could really do. But as it turned out, there’d been plenty she could do. She was a diabetic, she’d said, and had a package of clean needles right in her purse.

So they’d looted the medicine rack for Tylenol capsules and made a neat little pyramid of boxes on the counter next to Roger. Then Savanna had stood clear and watched as Clara broke open three of the capsules and emptied their powdery contents into a glass of bottled water. She’d dipped a fresh needle into the solution and pulled up the plunger, filling it with Tylenol, and had then administered the shot to Roger’s arm like a practiced nurse.

Perhaps, Clara had said, when Roger woke, the throbbing of his wound might just be a little more bearable. Savanna had thanked her with teary eyes and an emotional hug.

The clerk had found a folding cot behind the walk-in cooler—he’d told her the store had closed down some months back to have its fuel tanks dug up and refitted, and that he supposed the cot was a legacy of that “damn fool rent-a-cop” they’d brought in from Seattle to pull the night-watch—and they’d laid him out on it in the manager’s cramped office. Then she’d kissed her husband’s forehead and switched off the light, and came out here to help monitor the situation …



She’d been sitting in the booth ever since.

She glanced at the clock above the cooler. It seemed unbelievable because of the dark brought on by the storm, but the hands above the Dr. Pepper logo read only 11:16 am. The long hand of the clock twitched once. 11:17. Nearly three-and-a-half hours had passed, and still no luck with either the telephone or the airwaves.

She took a deep drag off the Marlboro and exhaled slowly, leaning back in the booth and closing her eyes.

The radio on the counter went: S-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s …”

A hodge-podge of the radio-preacher’s words played back in her mind, she didn’t know why. ‘We know now there can be no compromise … for I have seen a light in the sky, and we must ready our souls … throw wide the gates of hell, and let loose the beasts of prey …’

What the hell had he been talking about?

Savanna saw clouds boiling in her mind’s eye—clouds full of strange lights, like something from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. She saw the lizard-thing’s head poking up through the hole in the floor, turning on Roger.

And let loose the beasts of prey …”

There was a tap on her shoulder. “Honey?”

Savanna jumped, opening her eyes. Clara was standing by the booth, holding some magazines.

“Yes?” Savanna said.

The woman held the magazines out to her. “I managed to squeeze by the riff-raff and get you these. I don’t know what you like to read, I grabbed a selection. I thought maybe it would take your mind off everything.” She laughed. “Videogames seem to be working for me.”

Savanna took them, impressed by her concern. “Thank you, Clara.”

The big woman shrugged it off and walked back toward the arcade. Savanna heard one of the bikers sing: “Here she comes, Miss America …”

She shook her head and looked through the magazines; there was a U.S. News & World Report, a Cosmopolitan, a Better Homes & Gardens, a Discover. This latter’s cover had a picture of a dinosaur on it. She flipped through its pages absently—and passed something which caught her eye. It had looked like …

She rifled back in search of it, and found it was part of a four-page fold out. She pulled out the staples with her fingernails, her pulse quickening, and spread the diorama out on the table. It was captioned: The Great Dinosaur Predators, and depicted a line-up of nasty-looking saurians. Scanning it, she found Roger’s attacker somewhere in the middle. She stared at it intently. The likeness was almost perfect: the monitor-like face, the avian anatomy, the strange arms. That’s the one, officer, she thought insanely.

She examined it closer. It’s mini-caption read: Velociraptor Antirrhopus. Eighty-million years ago; six feet long; Asia. Aka ‘Dinosaur with an Attitude.’

Trembling, she took a final hit off the cigarette and crushed it out in the little tin ashtray on the sill.

Dinosaur …

She looked outside, actually noticing the huge snowflakes. What in God’s name is going on? she thought.



The steely knob was an ice-ball in her palm as she twisted it clockwise and nudged the office door open. A shaft of pale light fell slanting across the cot, and the motionless figure lying there. She walked in without a sound, placing her sandals ever so carefully on the plain concrete floor.

Kneeling beside Roger in the dark, she whispered: “Hey Old Hoss, what’cha doin?’”

He lay utterly still. Not even his watch was ticking. Her ears buzzed with the room’s silence. Carefully, very carefully, she eased her head down onto his chest and lay her tear-crusted cheek against the soft wool of his sweater. His heart beat was weak, but steady. She turned her head just slightly and kissed his sweater. Knitted wool pulsed gently and tickled at her lips.

His dry lips kissed at the air once, twice.



V | Chimera



Sunlight spilled through the open window and curtains rustled. Savanna awoke to a breeze. Roger lay beside her, snoring. She climbed out of bed and approached the window. As she took hold of the sliding pane, she heard the sound of animals outside. Looking out, she realized Seattle had been replaced with a forest. Dinosaurs lounged by the shade of a lagoon. A few predators chased their prey. The sky looked down and smiled. Savanna smiled, too. Then clouds began to boil in the distance. She watched as they rolled toward her, bringing with them strange lights. They passed over the apartment building and all was dark. There was a tap on her shoulder. She turned around, expecting Roger. It wasn’t Roger. It was something with huge dark eyes and gray skin, a tapered head, a slit mouth. It stepped up to the window and waved its hand. The hand had only three fingers. The scene outside changed drastically. Where before there had been peace, now reigned chaos. Dresden was incinerated by firebombs. Hiroshima was gone beneath a mushroom cloud. North Vietnam was doused in napalm. The hand waved again; and Seattle was in flames. Gunshots rang out from every corner. In the parking lot below, a white man and a black man died at each other’s throats. The gray man with the huge dark eyes regarded her. He lifted his hand and waved a finger back and forth. The finger was long like a knife. Shame on you, it implied. Then he was gone. She looked outside and the clouds receded. As they withdrew the forest returned. So did the dinosaurs. Sunlight spilled down and the sky smiled. Savanna smiled, too. The world was at peace again. She turned around to tell Roger. There was a velociraptor perched on their bed. It was chewing her husband’s hand off. Savanna screamed.



She awoke to sudden, fitful movement and violent coughing. She swallowed moistly, blinked, then sat up with a start.

Roger’s head was rocking back and forth on the cot as if he were having a nightmare, and he was drooling heavily.

“Bad dreams?” she groaned. “Yeah … you and me both.”

She reached for the Tylenol and shook out three capsules into her palm. Moving quickly, she cracked them open like tiny eggs and emptied them into a glass of water on the floor. She swirled the water briefly and reached for a needle. Tearing open the package with her teeth, she drew out the syringe and filled it with Tylenol. Then she administered the shot just as she’d seen Clara do, sliding the needle into the soft flesh of his arm joint, and plugging the hole with her thumb when she drew it back out again. She taped a cotton ball over the spot and began stroking his head lightly.

She glanced at his stump—recalling her dream. She recalled the velociraptor perched on their bed, gnawing at his hand. She recalled the boiling sky, and the gray man with the slit mouth. She recalled the flaming city and the struggling men, the long, waving finger which had implied: Shame on you …

She pushed it all from her head. Things were scary enough already—she didn’t need to be scaring herself, too.

She looked at Roger’s face and saw that he’d fallen asleep again. She stood up slowly and left the room, easing the door shut behind her.

It came just as she entered the front room. A burst of convoluted speech crackled through the airwaves, and everyone in the room erupted from their places, except Clara. Asteroids could be heard exploding and colliding in the little arcade.

Then, as the clerk and the others hustled excitedly toward the counter—Savanna saw the dark outlines of two giant, bird-like legs stride silently past the window. And she saw something else: some kind of rippling muscle held aloft over the concrete, like a huge black dagger.

A tail.

And like a scream-queen in some schlocky B-movie—she put her hands to her head and shrieked.

Everyone skidded to a halt on the smooth, yellow floor tiles, a motley crew of travelers gathered fearfully behind the handsome Negro clerk and his piercing shaman gaze. They all glared at her in terrified bewilderment. Clara Bonner came running in from the arcade, her hard shoes clicking along the floor. Her ship blew up in an electronic bang in the background.

Savanna stared past them through the window. The graceful, mighty legs and rippling dagger were gone. They’d crossed the entire length of the storefront in only two or three strides.

Her eyes shifted to the clerk’s. “There’s something out there,” she said hoarsely.

The clerk’s eyebrow perked up, like Mr. Spock’s. “Yes?”

They were looking at her as if she were mad. The radio squawked unintelligibly. Somewhere in the jumble of static there were words struggling to be heard. Its gleaming dial screamed to be adjusted.

“It walked past the window right after you turned around,” she said, her voice wavering. “And disappeared. Maybe it’s circling the—”

The clerk put his finger to his lips. “Shhhh …”

He turned his head very slowly.

Outside, blowing flakes of snow fluttered down like chicken feathers onto a handful of vehicles. Nothing new there. He saw a crusty Plymouth station wagon, a row of Harley-Davidsons, and the unfortunate couple’s 4x4 with its broken windshield and crumpled bumper. It was still hanging onto his old Ford like a metal and chrome pit bull. Again, nothing new. Just a bunch of vehicles—all blanketed in a thin layer of white. Nothing for anybody but the insurance company to worry about. Certainly nothing to scream over. He turned back and looked at her with something like pity.

“Oh, I see,” she sighed. “Crazy bitch has flipped her lid, is that it?”

She thought of her dream. The dinosaurs beneath the sun.

Clara stepped forward and touched her arm. “Hey-hey, listen honey—”

“You might even be right …” Savanna yanked away and moved toward the window.

A biker leaned forward to tune the radio as Clara and the clerk exchanged nervous glances. An instant later the jumbled dialogue on the airwaves ran clear.

“… a travel advisory remains in effect until further notice. Once again, a state of emergency has been announced for the city of Seattle and all outlying areas. In addition to city-wide rioting, it has been confirmed that at 10:43 p.m., Pacific Time, two twisters touched down in the Seattle-Tacoma area. Residents are advised to”—s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-s …!

Son of a bitch!” the clerk cursed, slamming his fist on the counter. “Get it back, man—get it back on!”

The biker was trying to no avail. “It’s gone, man. It’s all gone just like before.”

“Jesus,” the clerk bristled, turning away from them. “Tornadoes? What the hell is going on?”

“Oh my god,” Savanna said.

What?” he shouted, his voice high, and spun around to face her.

Savanna wasn’t looking at him. She was slowly backing away from the doors, staring through the glass at something outside.



VI | Roger



Roger awakened to semidarkness and the sound of shouting. He recalled faintly the smell of shampoo—had Savanna just been in to see him? And he recalled, too, the dream. The dream.

Just a dream.

The details were already slipping away from him, like so much muddy water sluicing through his fingers. He could recall only that he’d waken in the bedroom of their apartment, not to the alarm but to the sound of Savanna screaming. And a sharp pain. He also seemed to recall looking down, and seeing—

Panic gripped him. The reptile. His hand—his hand—oh my god, it was, it … was …

Gone.

He lay there on the stiff canvas of the cot, the details of his surroundings becoming slowly manifest as his eyes grew accustomed to the dimness. Gazing up at the metal grid and white corkboard of the ceiling, with its sleeping fluorescent tubes hidden behind opaque plastic, he experienced a sinking feeling unlike anything he’d ever encountered.

No, it hadn’t been a dream. Not that part. Not the hand bit and not the reptile-thing, either. This wasn’t Dallas or Knots Landing or Sci-fi Theater … It was reality, and if and when he lifted his hand (stub, it’s just a stub, like Captain Hook without his hook) to examine it he’d find graphic proof that his life had just become simpler. No more trouble with mismatched gloves, no more hassling with that left-hand/right-hand nonsense, no more giving his fellow motorists that potent, ‘curse you and all your brethren’ Right-hand Bird.

He lifted his arm—and nylon rustled in the dark. Floating in space several inches from his eyes was the bandaged stump he’d laid there fearing.

Hey …!” he mumbled in a poor parody of excitement. “You can’t show that on television …”

The pain was terrible, but it was a constant, droning kind of terrible, and so he found he was able to ignore it to some extent, though the thought that he could do so amazed him.

Far worse was the itching. Not the itching of flesh, which would come when he began to heal—but the itching to be whole again. It was a dull, persistent torment, like a cramped leg beneath the sheets. Something inside him couldn’t quite grasp that his hand was actually missing … Couldn’t quite grasp, he thought insanely. Get it? Get it?

The problem, boiled down to its essence, seemed to be: If his hand was gone, why then could he still feel it? And he could feel it. It was right there, responding to his commands, opening and closing, making a fist …

But it’s NOT there, Roger, he reprimanded himself. So bury it. Bury it before it buries you.

He dropped his arm to the cot. Melodramatically, he sang: “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun …”

Right-o. Okay, then … The question was: Where the hell was he? And where had Savanna gone?

He could vaguely recall being helped into a building. It had been hailing, hadn’t it? Yes, he suddenly remembered that very clearly: hailstones the size of grapefruits raining down at a thousand miles per hour. And he remembered being carried into a bathroom, where Savanna and someone else had flushed out his wound with hot water and soap, and then she’d whispered something in his ear, something reassuring … and there had been pain.

But where was he?

He blinked once, twice, focusing his eyes, and then rolled his head on the canvas and began glancing about the dim room. He saw a little wicker basket spilled over with refuse, a jacket hanging from the door, a battered-looking golf club standing alone in the corner. There was a small desk directly across from him, an entirely crude affair which looked like it had been purchased from Fingerhut or something like that, and assembled in a rush by someone’s dog. Its surface was cluttered. There was a slim stack of manila envelopes which seemed in danger of toppling off its edge, a paperweight shaped like a woman of impossible proportions, a six-pack of 7-UP with two of the cans missing, a small digital clock: Its little glowing numbers read: 11:59 am.

Lunch-time, he thought inanely.

Lastly, the desk supported a dormant reading-lamp minus its shade. Close behind it was a small window, set into the concrete like the slits found in prisons. Big flakes of snow fell slowly past its port, set aglow like embers by the cold orange glow of a light somewhere outside. Directly beside the window was a small poster. It was hard to discern any details, but it seemed to depict comic figures of some sort, workers in hard-hats, maybe. Bold, green lettering read: THINK SAFETY.

Something blotted out the view through the window and his eyes darted back to it. There was nothing there now but a faint sheen, like a buffed, black fender in twilight. He threw wide the covers and sat up.

He took three steps and fell. His head swam dizzily, and he wavered on his hands (his hand, rather) and knees. Was he still in shock?

His thoughts swirled. The dream … Savanna … she’d been screaming … the smell of shampoo—could a real scream have carried over into his dream? Where was she and what the hell was going on? The window … something blocking the window … start there …

Suddenly, amazingly, his sneakers were shuffling across the floor and he was reaching for the lamp switch. Its brassy tip kissed his fingertips and he twisted—click!

Something blinked, constricted, and he suddenly realized there was a tremendous eye staring through the window. He caught just the briefest glimpse of a vertical black ellipse dividing a yellow halo, like a giant cat’s eye reflected in headlights. Snow drifted lazily down past its stare and clung to the membrane of its iris like lint. It blinked again. Then the lamp’s bulb blew and the room fell dark, and he could see only snow and the faint glow of a light outside.



VII | Rex



Roger emerged from the back room to find himself inside the Ozark station. He stood at the rear of the store and blinked, feeling like a zombie. His flesh was pale and bluish, his hair wild. The bright of the room made his eyeballs throb.

He saw a group of people clustered at the window in the front, about ten individuals, all turned away from him. His wife was not among them. Two of the people wore the brown tunics of cashiers. Two others stood arm in arm, a short fat chick and a skinny guy in a cowboy hat. Of the remaining six, Roger saw only long hair and black leather, and recalled the roaring procession of Harleys which had passed his 4x4 on the interstate. Bikers, he supposed, though he couldn’t quite make out the inscription on their jackets. ‘The Dusty’ something.

Roger walked forward.

Everyone was muttering amongst themselves:

“Shit, man—it’s as big as a house!”

“Gods, what a monster.”

“The thing could weigh two tons.”

“It’s called a mass hallucination. It’s happened before …”

Moments later, peering between the shoulders of two grunting bikers, Roger saw his totaled 4x4 sitting askew in the snow. He had no idea how it had gotten that way. A shadow fell across its cab. Something big appeared at the edge of his vision, he shifted his gaze … And felt his blood run cold.

The thing was gray-green, with black stripes. It measured at least forty feet from its long, deep snout to the tip of its tail (which was held high and rigid as a lance), and walked on two powerful hind-legs, knees and ankles flexed like a bird. Its neck curved in an S down from the razor-toothed head to its upper body, which lay nearly horizontal, and its tiny forelimbs gripped at dead air with forked claws. A bony ridge ran up the middle of its snout, like a racing stripe. The ridge was blood red. The animal itself, give or take a genus, was a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Bowed low, it crept past the window, padding stealthily for Roger’s wrecked 4x4. Stalking it. The muscular neck dipped gracefully to the snowy asphalt (like a swan on steroids), and the rex squeezed its snout beneath the truck, causing the left tires to raise off the ground. It worked its massive jaws in shadow. From beneath the vehicle, a stain of dark blood spread creeping through the snow.

Knock-knock-knock!

Somebody was rapping on the glass.

“Who the hell …?” one of the cashiers barked, leaning back and staring down the line.

The tyrannosaur lifted its great head, swinging it toward the window, and the 4x4’s tires slammed back down. Everyone gasped.

Nobody move!” the cashier shouted.

The rex stared at them, its dark eyes glinting under horny brows, its deep snout tapered like a wolf’s. Its jaw dropped to reveal rows of worn daggers.

The clerk murmured to himself: “Easy … that’s a boy, nothing in here,” and to the others: “I think we’re okay. He can see us, but he can’t smell us. We’re just part of the scenery …”

The rex turned away at last, stooping to chew blindly at its elusive prize again.

The red stain in the snow grew larger.

Roger held up his stump and looked at it. My god, he thought. I’m part of the food-chain …

Then his eyes rolled back in his skull, and he fell.

Roger!” Savanna shrieked, and rushed to where he lay. The cashier and the Bonners followed close behind her.

The bikers laughed raucously. “Had you going there, didn’t I?” said one, elbowing a partner.

Roy Bonner stopped in his tracks, and pointed his finger at the man. “You could’ve gotten us all killed!” he snapped.

The biker turned to face him, his face deeply tanned, his beard mangy, his expression cold. He sized Roy up and said: “I don’t think so … Tex.”

Roy Bonner glowered at him. Clara pulled him away by his arm.

The biker laughed and turned away, reflected light running across the gold letters at his back. They sparkled one by one and spelled: T-h-e D-u-s-t-y M-o-t-h-s.

Savanna lifted Roger’s head and cradled it in her arms; he’d hit his forehead and lacerated the skin on one of the plastic-coated tables.

“It’s just not my day,” he said, looking up at her forlornly.

She leaned down and kissed him next to his new wound. “Understatement, honey. Can you stand?”

He nodded, and Savanna and the clerk helped him up. Then, at Roger’s urging, the two stepped back. He wavered, but motioned them away when they moved to assist him. “It’s all right,” he insisted. “I got it.”

“How do you feel?” Savanna asked.

“Thirsty … come to think of it,” he said.

“I’ll get you some water.”

She returned a moment later with an Ozark Super Tanker cup in hand. She tilted it against his lips and he drank greedily. “Easy,” she said.

He swallowed a few more times. She took the cup away before he was finished. “Let’s see how you handle that before drinking any more, okay?”

She sat the cup on a nearby stamp machine.

Roger groaned. His head pounded. He lifted his right arm to rub it, but the sling rustled and he stopped. He rubbed with his left instead. “Any luck with the radio?” he asked.

Savanna and the clerk shook their heads.

“Phone?”

They shook their heads.

He dropped his arm to his side. “Right …” He glanced toward the bikers and back. “We wait, then. Question is for how long?”

“That all depends on the …” The clerk looked toward the windows. “Hell, if it looks like a thing and walks like a thing, it must be that thing. The rex.”

He stepped over to the double-glass doors and peered outside. The two couples stepped up beside him, and the five of them watched as the gigantic saurian pranced back from the 4x4, obviously agitated. It threw back its head and bellowed like a lion. A flock of small birds erupted from the row of newly-planted trees opposite the parking lot.

The clerk shook his head. “I don’t get it, man. What’s under your truck that he wants so bad?”

“It’s called a velociraptor,” Savanna told him. “It’s a type of dinosaur.” She tried not to think about her dream as she continued: “We hit the thing on our way in and it latched onto the undercarriage. The rex must smell its blood.”

The man stared at her, bewildered. Roger stirred against the glass. “Look,”

The rex was pacing back and forth in a semicircle, padding around the 4x4 with quick, restless strides. Its hip-bones shifted stealthily beneath the folds of its flesh as it moved. It stopped and swung low its head. Again, it wedged its massive jaws between the white asphalt and the Toyota's underbelly.


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