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! Today, we’re presenting the exciting conclusion!
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 was attacked by a large dinosaur; they killed that one, but a T-Rex followed…and something worse seemed ready to emerge from the forest…
THE CANYON OF TERRIBLE LIZARDS, PART 6
(A HAUNTED ATTRACTION WITH YOUR OTHER FATHER)
BY NORMAN PRENTISS
What could possibly be worse than the giant gnashing nightmare bearing down on me?
That high-pitched scream indicated a horrific instant of torture — and the certainty that the torture would continue.
The Tyrannosaurus paused, its prehistoric ear-holes evidently pierced by the woman’s shrill outburst. It shook its head, then looked past me and into the forest.
Kenneth rushed out of the shadows, back into T-Rex territory. His face was flushed, arms waving at the air. The scream belonged to him, not Barb, and it continued.
Barb and Troy followed from the forest, both of their faces twisted in pantomimes of terror.
Whatever scared them, might also be enough to scare the Tyrannosaurus — a hopeful thought, but mixed with dread of what new threat awaited.
It poured out of the woods: a foul-smelling mass of hair and filthy, scabbing skin, rushing upright on multiple scrambling legs. A giant, bristled centipede.
Patterns along its segmented torso fluttered open like tiny screaming mouths. Stiff bristles, brown and talon-tipped like porcupine quills, waved in the air.
As with any worm-like creature, it was difficult to tell which end was which. I tried to distinguish the monster’s head.
Until I realized they were all heads. The repetitive mouth-like designs I’d seen along the centipede’s back actually were mouths, and each pair of legs belonged to a hideous humanoid figure. The stiff porcupine bristles were hand-fashioned spears.
The cavemen moved in such tight formation that their heads practically knocked together, and their dark hair intertwined into a massive frizzy carpet. As they swarmed onto the beach, they began to separate, each stocky, loping body becoming distinct.
There were hundreds of them — essentially an army — and I knew their number had frightened the rest of our group. But there was another aspect to their appearance that made them especially terrifying. These were not your well-groomed upright Cro-Magnon or the hunched and muscular Neanderthal that you’d find on the Ascent of Man chart in the first chapter of your Civilization textbook. These hominids were savage creatures, waving weapons they’d built, and moving as if they shared one primitive mind, swarming fearlessly across the beach toward that giant lizard.
Their faces were a mess of red-leather folds and wrinkles and crusted pustules; their teeth had rotted into sharpened fangs; their bloodshot eyes flashed a vacant yet malicious stare. Each of their hideous loping movements followed a preening choreography that was especially unsettling.
That’s when I knew why Kenneth and Barb and Troy had been so terrified. I wanted to let out my own high-pitched scream.
Because I recognized them. Our ancestors. The worst of us, unexorcised by veneers of civilization, unashamed of that unclean, gnarled exterior, their bodies swarming forth in a mindless mob.
The dinosaur snapped once at the area above them, careful not to catch one in its mouth. Spears flew through the air, but the foul mass of cavemen bodies was deterrent enough: the Tyrannosaurus turned tail and ran. The lizard stepped quickly across the beach, diving into the path it previously made through the forest. Its taloned foot caught the edge of our raft where Troy had hidden it, tearing through cloth and rubber.
The cavemen, soundless and relentless, followed the beast into the forest.
One of them remained behind.
Jack helped me up from the ground, and I tested one foot and then the other. My right leg was sore, and I had to lean against him to remain standing.
Kenneth held Barb close, in a territorial assertion of their relationship.
Troy instinctively moved ahead of our group, suggesting himself as our leader — appropriate, since he was the one who’d slayed the first dinosaur. Shirtless and covered in dried, stinking blood, he was also our most primitive representative, and the closest match for the caveman’s demeanor.
Up close, the caveman was even more horrifying. He was older than most of the group, but his hair had not turned gray. Instead of wrinkles, the skin on his face had ridges of leathery meat veined with a sickly white gristle, like undercooked bacon, framed by a lion’s mane of bristled beard. The hair on his torso grew in odd, matted patterns: a ring around his neck seemed almost like a braided collar, and his chest looked like a patchwork sweater that had been eaten by moths. Below the waist, he wore a small stiff undergarment which I guessed was the uncomfortable texture of steel wool.
The caveman — a straggler or a medicine man or a leader-chief, but I’ll call him the elder statesman — made a brief attempt to stand up straight. In response, Troy offered a slight bow. Next the elder statesman bounced on one foot and then the other. He pointed at the dead Stink Bug dinosaur, then at Troy, and grunted through rotten-fanged teeth.
<Did you kill that beast?>
(And Celia, I’m only guessing what he tried to say. Basically, I was on the losing team of the worst possible game of charades, downwind from a rotting dinosaur corpse and trying to keep a respectful demeanor while ol’ caveguy’s sweat-matted armpit and crotch musk wafted thick in the air.)
Troy acknowledged his kill by squatting in a rider’s posture, arms miming his attacks at the creature’s eye and neck.
The caveman paused, clearly impressed. Then he beat at his chest, with thumps so powerful that a few scabs or flecks of dirt fell from his arms. He shook his head back and forth, then pointed at Troy’s face. At his mouth.
<And are you also the fool whose boastful cries echoed in the forest, calling down an even mightier beast that you hadn’t skills or weapons to defend yourself against?>
(Or something to that effect. Believe me, Troy understood the gist of his grunted remarks. We all did. Our guide had beamed with pride when admitting he’d killed the smaller dinosaur single-handed, but now his face fell in humiliation.
I’d thought of our caveman as Elder Statesman, but the more accurate label should have been Jester — as borne out by his continued acts of mimicry.)
Our caveman Jester had trouble breathing now, hand on his stomach and a series of uncontrollable snorts from the back of his throat. <And you,> he said, high ballerina kicks alternating one leg then the other, while pointing a tsk-ing finger at Kenneth, <running away like a baby.> Pausing to catch his laughing breath, then scrunching his face to make a high-pitch shriek, <And squealing like a scared baby, too!>
After another series of snorts, the Jester nearly collapsed in laughter. Next he held one leg, then deliberately knocked it from under himself to crumple in an exaggerated pratfall.
His performance was so elaborate that it took a moment for the satire’s target to recognize himself.
Me. My fall as I’d run from the Tyrannosaurus.
The caveman rolled on the ground like a turtle stuck on its back. He touched his “sore” leg with a gentle fingertip, then snapped back in a mime of agony. <Boo, hoo, I hurt my widdle weg. I’ve fallen, wah, wah!> He kept rolling on the ground, his expression scrunched in a baby-cry face.
I felt warm. Not just from the Jester at my feet, pointing up at me and laughing, but from the sense that a whole swarm of cavemen were watching from the forest shadows, an audience for this primitive comedy routine.
As I thought of them — of that whole hideous population that swarmed to our humiliated rescue…and this older caveman left behind to mock us, a hunched figure lolling on the ground, the hair of his scalp swept up and away from his face, and falling to his neckline in the back.
A mullet. It hadn’t registered with me earlier, but all of the cavemen wore their hair in a mullet.
I felt even warmer. If Jack looked at me, he might have seen steam coming out of my ears.
But he didn’t dare look at me.
The way the hair around the Jester’s neck grew in an odd braided pattern, like a collar. Or a bow tie.
All of the caveman had a similar pattern, like an army dressed in similar uniform, or dancers wearing the same costume.
Oh God, that was the other thing that had been so disturbingly familiar about these cavemen. Mullets. Bow-ties. Speedo-sized garments over their loins.
An army of prehistoric men, choreographed like the world’s earliest troupe of male strippers.
“Stop it, Jack.”
“I’m not…” If my partner tried to feign innocence, he should have done it without a smirk on his face.
Despite that lingering smirk, Jack seemed genuinely confused. His head tilted — a sheepish gesture of apology, meant for my eyes alone.
Which made sense. I was the only person in our group who’d have any inkling that Jack had caused our recent fantastical experiences. If the others suspected Jack had summoned the whirlpool or the dinosaur attacks — a parade of images with sounds and smells…and teeth…to match, dream-glamours that had the physical presence to toss our raft like a toy or crush us with a giant taloned foot — they’d be furious.
They’d be angry at me also, by association. We’d have fared better with dinosaurs or Chippendale’s cavemen than we would with pissed-off Troy and Barb and Kenneth.
So to save Jack’s skin, and my own, I played dumb. I rubbed my eyes, and muttered a Shakespeare-stilted line, something like, do I dream, or do I wake?
Our environment shifted to support my utterance.
(I don’t know if I’ve ever explained what it’s like to emerge from one of Jack’s glamours, but it’s very similar to waking from a vivid dream. Reality intrudes but sometimes doesn’t fully banish the sub- or other-conscious follies that seemed so natural just seconds earlier. It takes deliberate effort to restore normalcy, a figurative pinch at logic — I saw that rabid werewolf so clearly, but that’s impossible because the lights were off in my bedroom, and I’m not wearing my glasses, that sort of thing, and also werewolves are stupid — and poof! you’re awake and back in the calm, mostly-predictable world. In this case, our Jester Caveman who’d been lolling on the ground to mock my clumsy fall was both there and not there, yet it’s as if I’d simply stopped thinking about him, or Jack had, our reality like a mind that has moved on to other things.)
The Jester was gone, because he shouldn’t have been there to begin with. Troy was shirtless, but without reptile blood war-painting his torso. The ridiculous dinosaur corpse had disappeared, too, the sky was blue with modern-day clouds, and we stood on a muddy shoreline that was nothing like a red-sand Jurassic beach.
Our raft lay intact, half docked in mud and rocks, half afloat on calm water.
“For a while there,” Jack said, “I thought this tour felt a little too authentic.” He shook his head slowly, arms out like a drunk driver preparing to walk a straight line after being pulled over by the cops.
“Kinda lost my place,” Troy said while taking in our surroundings. “But I know where we are now.”
“It was the drink.” Kenneth, whose girlfriend had angrily rejected his wire-kite Pterodactyl theory, again attempted the steadying voice of reason. “Your Pap’s batch of hootch must have gone bad — had some peyote or wacky mushrooms in it.”
Barb backed him up this time. “We’d been expecting dinosaurs on the tour. It’s power of suggestion, right? I mean, that’s what I thought I saw…”
She looked from one to the other of us for confirmation. I hoped everybody would keep quiet. A conspiracy of denial, like I imagine the Donner survivors tried to maintain when they realized they were being rescued. Nah, I don’t know where the others’ bodies disappeared to. <urp!> Oh, pardon me. Because if we started sharing stories, matching detail to detail, that would make our experiences seem more real.
“I saw colors,” I blurted out. “Bright wavy lights and floating geometric shapes.” I reached in front of me, as if hoping to pluck lingering shapes from the air — apples from Eden’s tree, bursting like soap bubbles.
Jack caught on and followed my lead, insisted he’d been flying like a fairy princess, his wings spread wide and a sparkling contrail following him thorough pink clouds.
(It’s not politically correct, but Jack made his account, well, as gay as possible. He actually mentioned rainbows and Judy Garland. The idea was to embarrass the others — hopefully, scare them out of sharing their dinosaur and cavemen stories and reaching a consensus.)
“That’s enough of that,” Troy said. “Important thing is to get back to the shop.”
Troy jogged over to inspect the raft. Kenneth headed that way also, and he tried to copy our guide’s confident stride — reasserting his masculinity, I guess, even though the rest of us weren’t supposed to have witnessed the taunting he’d gotten from Jester the Caveman.
Barb glared at me and Jack, her gears turning, and I could swear we were busted. Instead, she shook her head with a bemused chuckle, then walked over to join the men who hadn’t hallucinated about bright lights and Tinkerbell.
“It wasn’t me,” Jack whispered once she was out of earshot. “Not intentionally, at least.”
“I believe you. Except for those final moments.”
“Kinda had my signature.” He checked the others, their attention firmly on the raft, and risked an arm across my shoulders, a quick brush of fingers across the back of my neck. “I honestly wasn’t controlling it — was as scared as the rest of us. Then those cavemen showed up…”
Barb’s head turned slightly, and I stepped away from Jack’s half-embrace, letting his arm fall to the side.
“I’ll admit to some of those closing effects,” Jack said. “I mean, I’ve never been able to do that before — the sounds and smells and physical contact. Physical threat. I’d been nervous because of the water, that paper-thin raft bobbing on the river, and maybe those fears intensified some of my powers?” His next words were whispered so softly I could barely hear them: “I don’t want to go back on that raft. I’m afraid of what might happen.”
The exact same thought had occurred to me. But we’d been scared before, and it had never given a sensory boost to Jack’s projected hallucinations. “I actually think Kenneth got it right,” I reassured him. “There was something wrong with the drink we all shared.”
“A bad trip?”
“Literally. Terrible lizards.”
Barb jogged up from the embankment, her sneakered feet squishing loud in the mud. “Troy decided the raft looks fine,” she said, and I sensed Jack deflating beside me. “But he wants to be a hundred percent sure it’s seaworthy before using it again. There’s a trail that will get us back to the road, but he says it’s a pretty rough hike. You guys up for it?”
She looked mainly at me, as if recollecting a nasty fall I’d taken, a tender twist to my ankle. Knowing Jack’s preference, I figured I could answer for both of us. “We’ll be fine with the hike.”
Barb yelled our assent to the guide, and he and Kenneth secured the raft in place before joining us to share the game plan.
The route we followed took us through unmarked, unpaved paths, some of it steep. On one rocky slope, it felt as if I was climbing on a vast cheese grater — helpful with traction, but if I slipped my clothes and skin would have scraped off in fine shreds.
Physical exertion was a blessing, though. The ground may have been unfamiliar and challenging, but it was solid beneath us. We concentrated on the journey, getting from one spot to another. Troy shouted instructions whenever the terrain changed, and none of us talked about absurd whirlpools, dinosaurs, or cavemen. If we spoke at all, it was to complain of headaches, dizziness, sore backs and feet.
And an awful sinking in our stomachs from a bad batch of homemade hooch.
I never expected I’d be so happy to see that dingy gas station again. I coughed from dust raised with each footstep, but the ground was level, and the simple wood-and-glass building was surrounded with a firm walkway of concrete.
People took turns visiting the station’s one bathroom, while Troy went to the dinosaur exhibit to retrieve our belongings from the lockbox. The dispenser in the bathroom provided a gritty soap powder that barely dissolved in water, and I used it on my hands and arms and face, then took off my shirt and scrubbed at my chest and armpits, wiping off brown water with sandpaper-brown paper towels.
Jack smiled when I emerged back into the store. I guess I looked flushed and healthy, finally, after the day’s ordeal.
His own visit to the bathroom took less than a minute. Afterwards, he pretty much rushed me to the car.
I opened the passenger-side door and rolled down the window before climbing into the VW. “Not that I want to linger,” I said, “but don’t you want to interview Troy, or maybe his dad, about the history of the exhibits? For the travelogue you’re writing?”
He tapped the side of his forehead. “Got everything I needed.” Jack tossed his large pack between the bucket seats, and it thumped and sloshed behind us. Then he twisted the key in the ignition, and the Beetle puttered to life.
Jack glanced in the rearview mirror before pulling out of the lot. It wasn’t the routine move of a cautious driver: to me, it seemed more like the nervous glance of a bank robber pulling away as the alarms sounded.
A joke, really, because who would rob a bank in a VW Beetle?
Yet the metaphor seemed too accurate. Jack’s quick decisions on the road, without waiting for me to trace our route on the fold-out map, suggested he didn’t care which way we went. He was simply putting as much distance as possible between us and the gas station. His face had broken out in sweat — not simply from summer’s heat, or delayed nerves after surviving the day’s ordeal. There was exhilaration in it.
“What did you do?”
“Pay attention, Shawn.” Instead of answering my question, he tapped the half-unfolded map I’d started to spread over the dashboard. “I need your help getting back on the interstate.”
I brushed him off, reached for the pack he’d thrown in the back seat.
Because it was a bigger pack than the one he’d brought with him for the tour. Because it had sloshed when he tossed it behind us.
He must have run out to the car and retrieved this one while I was occupied in the restroom. “Heavy,” I said, shaking it.
Jack kept driving, but he stopped pretending he needed my navigation skills. Funny thing about being inside the tight confines of a VW Beetle: it’s hard to keep secrets there. Impossible to turn away once the other passenger has figured you out.
I knew what was in the pack, even before I unzipped the main compartment. Jack had taken out some notebooks and toiletries to make room, and he’d jammed the container in upright. A pattern of green plaid on the coated cylinder, with a scratched plastic cup-lid on top: Troy’s Thermos.
My boyfriend had stolen whatever was left of that homebrew hootch. The stuff that got us all stone-age wasted.
“You convinced me,” Jack said. “That stuff worked like Popeye’s spinach on my powers. Figured we might need it someday.”
THE END (for now…)
AUTHOR’S CONCLUDING NOTE
Thanks for the reading this 7-part story! The adventures of Jack and Shawn begin in Odd Adventures with your Other Father and continue in the brand-new sequel, Haunted Attractions with your Other Father. A third book is currently in progress, Strange Attractions with your Other Father. Hope to see you there!