Haunted Attractions with your Other Father by Norman Prentiss is the sequel to his Odd Adventures with your Other Father, and continues the horror/fantasy road trip adventures of Jack and Shawn as they fight monsters and homophobia in the ’80s. Cemetery Dance is proud to publish this new novel (with an e-book version now on sale at Amazon for 0.99!), and to celebrate we’re serializing a new novella featuring the characters from the books!
When we last saw Jack and Shawn, they joined another couple on a “Dinosaur Safari” tour, their guide Troy leading them downriver. After finding themselves on a strange beach, the group is attacked by a large dinosaur…
THE CANYON OF TERRIBLE LIZARDS, PART 6
(A HAUNTED ATTRACTION WITH YOUR OTHER FATHER)
BY NORMAN PRENTISS
In an amazing moment of spontaneous choreography, Jack and Troy dove out of the way in opposite directions.
They’d noticed the placement of the lizard’s eyes, bulbous on either side of its head, and with a ridged fin between. The creature would have trouble with depth perception, and with following quick movements.
It stumbled, front feet digging into the sand. From their side positions, Jack and Troy attacked with the oars, slapping and poking at the eyes.
On Troy’s side, the eye burst and bled black jelly. Troy swung again, and his wooden oar snapped in two.
Jack was jumping and swinging, trying to produce a similar effect on his side. Trouble was, since he’d become the only attacker the lizard could see, he now gained the beast’s full attention. Its head turned, massive jaws snapping, and as Jack dodged away from the bite, he moved within range of the front leg.
Though Jack dodged the talon’s swipe, the weight of the lizard leg knocked him off balance. He fell, and the creature rolled toward him, pinning him to the ground.
Strangely, the creature didn’t seem to know how to use its leg. It swatted at Jack, scraping foot pads against the life jacket covering his torso, but it didn’t dig in with the claws. Perhaps it reserved legs for walking and climbing, dealing damage with the jaws and teeth. The head was at an awkward angle now, bending towards Jack’s pinned body but unable to reach.
I bolted from my hiding place, determined to pull Jack out from under the beast. I wasn’t sure what would happen after that, but I quickly found myself leaning over him, hooking my arms beneath his shoulders and giving a solid yank.
There was an awful squishiness of the lizard’s underbelly where it had rolled over Jack, and his legs came free easily. From my vantage point, I had studied the angle of the creature’s head, its range of motion, and I quickly pulled Jack into a bite-free zone.
A snap and a crunch sounded, a grinding like teeth on bone.
Wood, actually. The lizard had bitten into Jack’s oar, and was chomping it into splinters.
Jack crab-walked backwards on the ground, then I helped him into a standing position. The lizard’s bulbous eye blinked then pivoted towards us.
The mouth barely opened, a rapid almost imperceptible movement, then the long red tongue shot out in our direction. I was the closest, directly in the line of fire, and the snake-like muscle brushed above my wrist, swept behind my back then caught my opposite arm on the way around. An awful earthy smell rose from sticky wet bumps on the tongue, and I felt a warm sludge dragging across the exposed skin above my wrist. The tongue tightened, simulating a python hug, and the muscle-grip was surprisingly strong. It pulled me towards the mouth, which opened in menacing anticipation.
Jack grabbed the collar of my shirt, reached one hand beneath the ropy slime of the tongue, and began a bizarre tug-o-war with me as the unwitting prize. I tried pulling at the tongue, too; repulsive and shiny red, it squeezed even tighter in response, trying to crush me as it drew me closer.
I felt Jack’s strength waning, and I slid closer to the monster’s head.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the lizard, Troy attempted his own style of attack.
The beast’s huge body blocked our view of his efforts, but I heard an irregular scratching or tapping or kicking. Then I heard muffled grunts, as if Troy had also fallen beneath the lizard’s torso and was being smothered.
The grunts got louder.
An awful smell like skunk spray and dog’s vomit filled the air. The tongue pulled with renewed force as the lizard’s head twisted up and down, side to side. Jack lost his grip, and I fell to the ground, the snaky tongue still wrapped around me. I was flat on my back, feet out, hoping to kick at the jaws in futile protest before they clamped down on me.
I didn’t want those slavering reptile jaws to be the last thing I saw. I twisted around to look at Jack, hoping to share an intimate good-bye glance.
Jack’s attention was focused fully on the giant lizard.
More accurately, on the man who was bronco-riding the giant lizard.
The muffled grunts I’d heard were those of a breathless mountain climber; the scuffle and kicks were our guide’s efforts to find hand- and foot-holds in the lizard’s rocky hide.
He held both pieces of his snapped oar, one of them still in the lizard’s burst eye socket, and the other digging beneath scale plates. He stabbed at the throat, tried to find a soft patch in the hide, all the while keeping his balance on the neck as the lizard’s head bucked from one extreme to another.
Troy pushed and wriggled the stick in the eye socket, trying to scramble the creature’s brain.
(I had a vague memory that some dinosaurs had brains in their tail instead of their head, but I wasn’t planning to yell out that bit of trivia.)
With the other spear-spike piece of oar, Troy continued to pry up scales and poke and stab beneath them. He grunted with each attack, screamed as the beast’s head swung back and forth, trying to shake him off.
Black jelly and blood oozed from head and neck wounds, more of that this rotten odor filled the air, and the lizard’s flailing movements slowly began to weaken.
The tongue was still wrapped around me. Even in the beast’s weakened state, I still should have felt the tug and drag towards its menacing jaws.
That’s when I realized why I hadn’t been moving. Troy’s attack had startled the lizard into biting off its own tongue. The end of that long muscle snaked away from me and ended in a curled clump, dark blood oozing into the sand.
The other couple ran out from the shelter, each holding a large branch they’d snapped off a tree. It was now safe for them to join the attack, since it was clear Troy had already won. The lizard’s head had fallen still to the ground, and they battered at it with their branches while Troy continued to grind the oar deeper into the dying beast’s eye.
Instead of beating a dead lizard, Jack tended to me. He helped me from the ground, then grabbed the sticky tongue and walked around me twice, unwrapping it.
I appreciated the attention. A genuine sign of affection, and also maybe an apology for ogling Troy’s bare-chested heroics as I was about to, you know, get eaten.
Honestly, Troy had been amazing. He had pretty much saved all our lives — and racked up some he-man “style points” in the process.
Which meant that he’d earned what he did next. Still astride the imposing lizard he’d killed, he lifted his arms high in the air, lizard blood and black eye-jelly smeared across his chest and face like war paint, Troy let out the loudest Tarzan-style yodel I’ve ever heard. It echoed in our small canyon, and I’m sure it felt really satisfying for him. Primal, even.
Like I said, he earned that yell. That’s not to say it wasn’t stupid.
The animal was clearly dead, but our travelling companions continued to batter their sticks at the lizard’s head. Barb swung with one arm, and used the opposite hand to pinch her nose closed. At some point I was hoping they’d both realize that their post-mortem attacks encouraged more of the beast’s foul odors to rise, like dust raised from a beaten carpet.
Troy climbed down from his perch, his face and torso still painted with red and black smears. Instead of a wet shine, those smears had a glossy, sticky finish. As he moved closer, it became obvious that the lizard’s stink spray originated in its body fluids — now mixed with Troy’s nervous, adrenaline-fueled sweat.
“Thanks for saving us,” I said, backing up a few steps.
“Yeah, that was amazing.” Barb had dropped her stick weapon, but her fingers remained pinched over her nose, so her words emerged in a honking monotone. “You were like Tarzan up there.”
“Troy-zan,” her boyfriend corrected.
Troy smiled. Because, well, those comments practically invited an encore. He thumped his fists on his pecs to add vibrato to the renewed jungle yell.
When he stopped chest-thumping, stopped the Weissmuller-style yodel, the performance continued to echo in the canyon. The echo was almost as loud as the initial cry, and it ran several cycles before it began to fade.
It struck me that Barb’s shouting had probably alerted the Stink Lizard to our presence. What would Troy-zan’s much louder cry summon to attack us?
Distant trees began to sway in the breezeless jungle. Brittle wood snapped like firecrackers.
A path took shape where there had been no path. The most direct root towards us.
Finally, the roar — a cacophonous trumpeting, the world’s worst orchestra trying to tune its instruments. And footsteps that signaled an animal strong enough to uproot trees, pry its massive bulk between them.
It had to be the King of them all. Once it broke through the tree line, there’d be nothing to slow its massive strides.
Our guide, Troy-zan the Brave, was the first to dart toward the opposite end of the tiny beach, with another line of trees stretching into a separate stretch of jungle. His plan made sense, actually: if we stayed out of the new lizard’s sight, it might be distracted by the large, freshly killed corpse we left behind.
Here’s hoping the Stink Lizard’s smell didn’t have the same repellant effect on its contemporaries.
Kenneth ran well ahead of Barb, not lingering to protect her as he had previously. Jack was more chivalrous, running alongside me even though his legs were longer and he could have made it to safety faster.
Heavy footsteps slammed against the earth, and more trees splintered.
As we raced across rust-red sand, Jack held my elbow to urge me forward. It was a respectful, masculine guidance — basically maintaining the fiction that we were two college guys traveling together, rather than a romantic couple. Jack usually didn’t care what others thought; instead, his behavior respected my own sense of discretion.
In our current desperation, I’d have forgiven him if he picked me up and carried me.
The heavy footsteps paused, and I heard the snap of closer branches, the rustle of heavy leaves, the straining of roots being pulled against rock and hardened soil. I imagined the massive head of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, bent low and battering between two trees to force itself onto the beach.
“Don’t look,” Jack said. His hand still brushed against my elbow, guiding me forward.
Ahead of us, Troy had already made it to the jungle sanctuary. Kenneth crossed into leafy shadows, and Barb was a few steps away from the tree line. They’d made it, and we weren’t that far behind.
I couldn’t help myself. I turned my head to look.
Turning my head, running at the same time, Jack’s hand urging me forward — and the sight of that terrifying dinosaur smashing through, one leg pawing at the air, green-scaled thigh as thick as the tree trunk it was pushing aside, the ridged yellow underbelly, those tiny useless arms I always thought were comical, but nothing funny about the wide steam-shovel jaw, snapping and frothing, and a cold lizard eye as big as a traffic light staring right at me — and I spun like a top, my legs braiding.
Yeah, I fell.
Jack’s momentum was carrying him forward, but he stopped. I estimated the steps I’d need to reach the sheltering trees. About a dozen, but also factoring in the effort of lifting myself from the ground, the very real possibility that I’d broken a leg or sprained an ankle, making each step a slow, painful burden. Jack would be a fool to come back for me, to try to drag or carry me across the tree line.
I didn’t shout Save yourself, but I thought it.
Three quick strides and the Tyrannosaurus would reach me. I was already done for.
Step one, an effortless bounding over the beast Troy had killed.
The second step, the lizard seeming bigger the closer it got. As tall as a trailer-home turned on its end, or a tornado-flipped eighteen-wheeler sailing toward oncoming traffic.
Its head lowered closer to the ground, positioned for snapping distance after the next step. I felt the warm breeze of air displaced by its enormous bulk, the hot steam of breath from lizard nostrils. It made me think of a dragon legends.
Then a blood-curdling scream emerged from the unknown forest.
To be continued…
AUTHOR’S NOTE: ON COVERS
Lynne Hansen (LynneHansenArt.com) did the artwork and design for the cover of my new book in the Other Father series, Haunted Attractions with your Other Father. She also did the cover for the first in the series, Odd Attractions with your Other Father.
Since this is a cross-genre series, with elements of fantasy, horror, and LGBTQ+ romance for Jack and Shawn, plus coming-of-age elements with their daughter, Celia, it’s hard to imagine a design that can incorporate all the elements. I gave Lynne a ridiculous wishlist, plus the manuscript, and hoped for the best. What she did for the first book was exactly what I wanted, and didn’t quite know how to request: some Polaroid photographs to indicate nostalgia, the VW Beetle to signify the ’80s road trip, and a spray of strange tentacles to represent the book’s monsters. The title does some other heavy lifting (“Other Father” hints at the gay relationship and the “your” refers to Celia). That first cover still makes me smile when I look at it: it perfectly captures the tone I aimed for, at once whimsical and wistful, humorous and unsettling.
The second cover was easier (at least on my end!), especially since Lynne has a gift for linking books in a series. Odd Adventures and Haunted Attractions look great side-by-side: similar font design and texture, with a theme of admission tickets rather than Polaroids for the newer book. I think the only thing I haggled over was whether the tragic-comic heads could be upside down on the Theatre of Majiks ticket — and we ended up compromising on that point, as you can see!
There was a gap between my writing of these two Other Father books, during which I wrote Life in a Haunted House plus four tie-in novelettes: for this book, Lynne did magazine style covers that linked everything together. And I also completed a year-long flash fiction project, The Apocalypse-a-Day Desk Calendar, which was later published as four separate eBooks. Again, Lynne found a way to link all the books together with a similar design, but with color schemes indicating different seasons, and a framed end-of-world image inspired by an entry from each volume.
Those other projects were fun, and I love all these covers…but I’m writing the next Other Father book without interruptions, especially since (don’t hate me!) the current one ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. The next book will be called Strange Attractions with your Other Father.
I wonder what the cover will look like…?
See you next time for the final installment of the “Terrible Lizards” novella!