This story, Twisted Ark, is on the back burner. I began it a few years ago, stopped then started… The story is written – 50,000+ words. I submitted the manuscript a long time ago but shouldn’t have. I’m placing it here for incentive. I need to decide whether it’s worth salvaging or not. I have many manuscripts and hope to make decisions on their futures as well.
(Twisted Ark Trivia: I arrived at the protagonist’s name while in my bathroom where a Georgia O’Keeffe poster hangs. The poster was used to advertise the Sante Fe Chamber Orchestra’s Ninth Season. Ninth Season/Nin Seaso… Twisted Ark, has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with a madman, a little magic and two broken teens searching for salvation.
5 a.m., Temple Estates, New York
An apocalyptic explosion cracks my house open like an egg. The force catapults me and the bed through the roof. I land with a thud, trusty bed still beneath me. Purple-painted room gone. Don’t know where I am. Flannel frogs are cartwheeling across my pounding chest. Can’t sit up–my head is stuck.
Must lose the heavy comforter weighing me down. After tossing the bulky quilt aside, I catch a glimpse of my left hand. There’s pain beyond anything I’ve ever experienced in those fingers. Can’t deal with bloody parts yet. I jam the throbbing appendage into a foam crater. This should slow blood loss and let denial flow. Can’t panic. Head stuck–hair is tangled around exposed bed coils. A few painful yanks and twists with my right hand forces my head sideways. Through a gap in the smoke orange and gold tree tops appear. I didn’t land on the ground? Tree canopies would place me and the broken bed about twenty-feet up next to a mountain of burning crap which was once my home.
Explosions continue assaulting my eardrums. God what’s happening? Flying debris is steamrolling the morning sky. Did a gas line rupture? Are terrorists annihilating the neighborhood? Why aren’t there screaming sirens or loud helicopters? Dank autumn air is pushing the cold through my skin. I’ve become a shivering, moaning, bawling heap of flesh. So much for not panicking. Deep behind my pummeled brain the words; live today so you can cry tomorrow flicker. I allow a few more pathetic sobs the luxury of escaping. Need to devise a practical plan before sheer terror does me in.
Plan A is for Abandoned. Dad’s golfing in Jersey–left 3 a.m.. He’s nowhere nearby. Won’t know his 5,000 square-foot house was reduced to a roach-sized motel. He’d never imagine his fifteen-year old daughter mattress gliding through the ceiling. I guess we’ll be eating Thanksgiving dinner out.
I gaze up at the darkening firmament and think God. I picture my old gargoyle-infested church sitting high on a hill like something ripped from a gothic novel. How quickly the agonizing Sundays flood back into my head.
Plan B is for Bogus. Dear God haven’t chatted in a while–okay years but you know why. Need a favor. I don’t want to die. Not up here. Not this way. Years of sitting through Sunday Mass has to count for something otherwise what was the freakin’ point?
Plan B isn’t gonna work ‘cause I’m still pissed. God never does anything anyway.
Plan C is for Crap. I must save me.
The smoke is thickening. Charcoal plumes are touching the sky. My bedroom is–was above the kitchen. In my limited view are the lame sheets twelve-year old me begged dad to buy. Thanks to an oozing hand, the black and white bears are now painted red. The wind is picking up. Hope nothing shifts. When did I become such a sorry-ass?
Sucks being alone. Wait! In all this insanity I forgot. “Where are you?” I whisper between parched lips. Promised my dad, Oscar would never run free in the house. I lied. You can’t cage a free spirit. Oscar was hissing beside my pillow before the house broke. Something must have freaked him out.
“Oscar,” I cry out, mouth dry as scorched hay. Did you fall off our flying bed? Ferrets smell rank but like us they have good days and bad. Can’t sniff him anywhere. A gust of autumn wind pushes putrid fumes into my nostrils. Could be burning flesh. Smells like charred hamburgers and old socks. Did everyone else in Temple Estates burn to death? Dad where are you? Don’t want to . . . head spinning . . . barf erupting in throat.
Is this it? The end of the world?
Everything around me fades from noisy grey to silent black–
The Enviro Earth Agency’s mission was to reclaim the delicate balance between humankind and the planet. Morton Fallow was handpicked to lead the effort. Unfortunately over time, heavy-handed politics weighed the agency down with mounds of paperwork and nothing more. Never again would this brilliant mind be wasted on bogus initiatives. Mortimer Fallow walked away, ten years wasted.
After leaving the Agency, the genius grew depressed. He remained lost until the day he sliced his finger open. On this particular afternoon Mortimer Fallow plucked up an old, leather-bound tome. He’d stolen the book from his ridiculous mother. How naive he’d been mistaking this useless Bible for a potent spell journal. Why did his sorcerer mother even own a holy book?
When he tossed the Bible back the cover sliced his skin open. The book crashed to the floor. Following the blood droplets downward, his eyes locked onto the open pages then onto a single paragraph–Noah’s Ark. Within moments his tired mind began reeling. The great flood tale woke something in Mortimer’s sleeping heart. Something which should have remained dormant.
Rather than repair the earth with mediocre strides, why not wipe out all surface pestilence and begin again? To symbolize his new environmental commitment Mortimer Fallow rechristened himself Cicatrix– the scar left by formation of new tissue over a wound. A new name. A new beginning. . .
Cicatrix fleshed-out out his grand scheme. Such an ambitious task would require assistance. He’d need many loyal soldiers and a place to house them. He’d invent a vessel technologically lightyears ahead of Noah’s. As for a cataclysmic deluge, the inventor couldn’t control weather yet. A second great flood wasn’t an option but unnatural disaster was.
Specialized nanos could build this impossible vision. There was only one problem. They didn’t exist. Cicatrix, intellectually beyond compare managed the impossible. It was essential these new organisms obey their creator. Though Cicatrix loathed the idea–his nanos required something from beyond the scientific realm. They needed a little magic. Mortimer Fallow visited his mother to steal what he couldn’t create.
After the nanos were perfected, Cicatrix moved forward selecting the perfect test site, a pretentious gated-community running parallel to the Hudson River in Orange County. This upscale New York suburb could be easily surrounded with his purple fog barricades.
Hell-bent on wiping away filthy humanity, Cicatrix put his planetary cleanse in motion beginning with Temple Estates.
Temple Estates, Phase I
How long was I passed out? Did I miss Thanksgiving? According to my demolished surroundings it’s the same morning. Damn, was having my wonderful dream. I gaze into his smoky black eyes then his beautiful face touches mine. His magnificent, warm body presses against me so tightly there’s no space for anything else to come in between. His gentle fingers caress my tingling neck as he whispers my name, ‘Nin–’ then we kiss like they do in the movies.
My eyes open wide. Can’t bring myself to look at my left hand. I’ll puke if raw flesh is spilling out. I try untangling more hair but it’s useless. Something starts tugging my toes. What is that! I kick hard. A cocoa ferret with black eyes encircled in white pops up by my feet. My legs stop jerking. “You made it! Took you long enough weasel!” Oscar leaps up to my sweating chin. “Get off my face,” I croak when I really want to kiss him.
He nudges my thrumming ear before his lean form vanishes into a foamy hole. “Hey come back,” I whimper futilely. “No time to play. Osc–” Burning stench continues wafting into my nostrils. Grease building in my ears. Head clogging. I wonder if Molly and Caroline are okay?
Still not even one siren sound to calm my freaking nerves. What’s going on? Being stuck to this bed severely limits options. Plan C is for Crap. I must save me. The only tool at my disposal is a parched mouth. Don’t relish screaming with a headache punching my brain. No other choice. I holler, “HELP ME! PLEASE HELP! HELP –” I lay deathly still hoping to hear anything over the echoes of a dying neighborhood. The sun has died. All living things (except me) are nonexistent. Is this THE END OF THE WORLD? After thousands of bogus predictions, the doomsday industry can finally cash in their checks.
Oscar is crawling out the mattress hole nearest my head. His silky hair is irritating my face. “You’re making me itch.” I growl, my raw nose pushing fur. Foam chunks and frayed hairs are threaded between his whiskers. “What did you do crazy rat?” He gnawed off the knotted hair. Brilliant Ferret Saves Loser From Evil Mattress; gets a zillion YouTube hits! I one-arm Oscar. Indebted to an odiferous rat . . . things could be worse.
The explosions have ceased and my head is free. I maneuver upright refusing to release the bloodied hand. Maybe one glance will show everything is okay.
Here goes. . .
One, two, three, four, no five. I puke. When the vomit stench reaches my nose I heave again. Disgusting. My teeth gnash. My left thumb is gone. Crawl up and die. As if my lame face and funky chewed-up hair aren’t enough, now I’m missing body parts!
Oscar is making nervous loops. “Stop,” I howl, salty tears blinding me. “Have to get off this mattress . . . we have to climb down.” I wail. Stop crying jerk-face! I push off with my right hand but lose my balance. Hitting the mattress makes me wretch again. After three vomits I’m lightheaded. My throat burns. No pain. No gain. But I have pain. Lots of pain. Can’t do this. I’m scaring me.
Plan C. Plan C is for Crap. I must save me.
I start dry heaving. A fate worse than death. “C’mon already, wuss! Nothing else can come out.” My frog flannels are soaked and it hasn’t even rained yet. Storm clouds continue gathering above the fetid air. The world can’t end yet. I never got started . . .
I lie on my side, dark defeat trying to creep in like the Blob. Plan C is for Can. I can save me! Must save me. Afraid to stifle newfound courage my legs swing back. I lean forward and check below the mattress. Much to my surprise I spot my red duffle snagged on the bed frame.
I make a grab. It’s just out of reach. I consider Oscar’s itty-bitty legs. “You got up. I can get down.” Nine-fingered girl plummets to death . . . Weather at ten. Thick red continues oozing out the hole where my thumb was. My hand needs wrapping. The panda sheets are in tatters. It shouldn’t be too difficult. But it is. Can’t tear the material. My sore jaw is preventing a decent grip. I glance past the smoke hoping for something–anything to inspire my brain into a brilliant idea. Through the billowing grey my disbelieving eyes detect an approaching silhouette.
Scream Nin Seaso Natale like your life depends on it.
‘Cause it does. . .
Beneath the Hudson River
Cicatrix’s vessel is several football fields long. Irony not lost on the inventor he christens his ship Ark. Hydrodynamic anchors will keep the enormous Ark hidden well below the riverbed’s surface. When the submersible needs to move it’ll be faster than any ship known to man. The segmented hull–an anatomical fish-inspired design will allow stealth-like speed beneath or above the water.
The hull is bookended by a galley on one end and a storage silo on the other. The interior is three levels. Level One houses the inventor’s special Machine and Recycle Room. Level Two contains human collection areas. Below these levels are stalls and pulse cannons. The vessel’s nano-brain is located topside beneath a silver solar bubble. Cicatrix calls this the Eye.
Cicatrix has grown his army too. Hundreds of forms in matching pairs. There is only one difference between the inventor’s creations and God’s–Cicatrix believes his are better. The beast forms loosely resemble their wildlife counterparts. Their impervious exoskins are a blend of compressed nannites and recyclable materials. Cicatrix must keep the environment his number one priority. The black creatures with the silver flashing eyes and retractable facial claws can also maim or kill on command.
A week before Thanksgiving the Ark attaches itself to Beacon’s Pier. Concealed in dense morning fog, Cicatrix’s monstrous legions take part in his glorious new reclamation. Before sunrise, nano-pulse waves level expensive houses while menacing beasts drug and imprison every Temple Hill resident.
That is almost every resident. . .
Temple Estates, Phase I
The smoke is taking its toll on my raw throat. “Hey . . . OVER HERE . . . I’m up he–” My voice is breaking. “Up here. I’M UP HERE, PLEASE!”
His neck bends searching the sky.
“I’M UP HERE!” I scream hoarsely again.
“Nin, Nin Seaso that you?”
I recognize the voice but still can’t believe my grease-filled ears. Plan D is for Decoy. Prince can’t find princess. . .saves me instead.
“Nin? Can’t believe it!” he yells, arms waving. “Just sit tight,” he advises.
“Yeah,” I hack, where am I gonna go? Oscar’s tail is wagging–actually his entire ferret body is rocking. The Prince begins scaling the appliances like Spiderman. Next thing I know wide, warm hands grip my ankles. Afraid to fall off my quilted lifeboat, my legs connect with his head. “You’re going pull the whole thing over!” I cringe, nervous feet assaulting my rescuer.
“Wanna stay up here, Natale!” He warns undaunted, eyes tearing from my solid toe-kick.
“Don’t want to fall off,” I sheepishly murmur.
He hops effortlessly onto my mattress in black running pants and a tight grey thermal. Before I can utter another syllable, he’s squeezing me with sooty hands. Don’t make too much of this embrace Nin.
His arms unlock. “Can you move?” My handsome friend inquires while giving me the once over.
“I’m fine.” I say, guilt-laden over whacking his cranium. “How’s the head?”
Raven shocks of hair partially hide his marble-black eyes. Raphael rubs his skull. He sees blood everywhere. “What’s hurt?”
Stubbornly I swing the freak hand center-stage. My eyelids squeeze shut. It’ll break my heart if he does anything but smile and that’s expecting too much from anyone.
He inspects the hand I refuse to be a part of. “How bad does it hurt?” His voice careful. “This could get infected.” His sharp eyes remain even with my mutation.
Luckily my friend hauls stuff in his pockets: loose change, gum, antibiotic. . . He wipes his sooty hands on the sheets.
I squirm while he tears open an ointment packet. He squeezes clear goo into the bloody crevice. I flinch. “That kills!” I attempt yanking away. The bed teeters. Raphael is 5’10” a scant few inches taller than me but brute strength doesn’t require height. My mangled mitt is locked in his grip like roots in cement.
“Hold on will ya Nin. This has to be cleaned.”
I grimace at his words and the absolute pain throbbing in my hand.
“Okay I’m gonna wrap your thumb. . .um–” Raphael stutters, unable to gloss over his poor word choice, “the place where your. . .um–”
“My what!” I fume. Might be okay if he was talking about someone else’s missing thumb, but he was talking about my missing appendage. Raphael continues wrapping while I sulk in thumbless self-pity. “Sorry,” I whisper. He breaks off a finger-sized sliver from the wooden box spring below the mattress. “Why are you doing that? It’s not broken.”
“A splint will keep your fingers from moving and the wound from opening more. God, Nin just trust me would you.”
Should trust. Can’t. Besides, God never helps. . .
Dolores Quinto, Raphael’s mom and the most intelligent woman I’ve ever met taught her son public speaking, algebra and proper wound care. I used to secretly wish the beautiful dark-eyed woman with the infectious smile was my mom. Raph packs my raw thumbhole with balled-up fabric. He continues tearing longer strips from what’s left of the top sheet. He wraps these around my hand and wrist making sure the splint is securely positioned.
My eyes blur watching his lightening-quick movements. “Humph–” I muffle a whine.
“Almost finished,” Raphael says.
It appears a whole thumb lives under the wraps. Maybe I can wear these bandages forever and no one will ever know I’m a nine-fingered freak.
“Done,” he says, mouth curving upward.
Surrounded by charcoal-smudges, my neighbor’s teeth look absurdly brilliant.
He ties off the EMT bandage with a knot. “Too tight?”
“No,” I answer in obvious discomfort.
“Let me fix it.” Without my consent, Raphael grabs my hand and starts undoing the knot.
“Told you it’s fine!” I spit.
“Do you have to be so stubborn all the time?” Raphael snarls. “You’re right-handed. Be happy.”
“Told you it’s FINE. I’m not an idiot, ya know.”
Raphael glances over the side of the bed. The ground is smoldering. “Yeah, we’ll both be dead idiots if we don’t get moving. Let me just loosen these a bit more.” He pulls a few strips apart.
“Fine,” I say, huffing like a two-year old.
Raphael starts retying. “Where’s your dad?”
“Not home. Where else.”
“Good, then he’s okay,” he says, pulling the knot too tight again.
Man-muscles, argh. “I’m sure he’s having a better time than us. Golfing down the Jersey Shore somewhere.” I consider the crimson streaks on my friend’s face. “You okay?” I grapple with my chewed tresses and frown. Can’t hide behind the hair anymore. My eyes drift toward my maimed hand. Pandas don’t have purple eyes. How naive I was at twelve. What a difference a few years make. Why can’t this all just go away? Sucky things creep in and out forever.
Raphael’s head burrows into my chest. Are we trapped in good pal limbo? I place my newly bandaged hand around my buddy. It’s the only thing I can think of doing. Tell you the truth, I don’t have any other plans at the moment.
Raphael whispers into my heart. “Can’t find anyone Nin. No neighbors, no kids, not even a dog. There’s nothing left.”