Publish Date: November 28, 2014
~ Book Synopsis ~
“…Frosty The Snowman was a jolly happy soul…” unless his once mortal form was infected with an unknown pathogen that’s turned him into a biting machine.Then Frosty doesn't get a corncob pipe and a button nose…he gets two in the head.
Seeking a safe haven from the impending danger of the infected, Governor Steve Landis commandeers a rural peninsula at the top of his state to enact a grandiose plan outlined in the survival guide passed down to him by his great uncle.
People of the Bay Peninsula latch onto the ideals of their trusted official, desperate for sanctuary. But not Terry Riley. This hardened conspiracy theorist had packed up and fled to the north woods to join his son, who, like him does not trust the eager governor. In agreement on the uncertainty of the days to come, they journey to the family cabin to wait out the end of the world.
Try to avoid hypothermia as you plow through this bone-chilling blizzard of flesh tearing chaos, because snow isn't the only thing accumulating on Christmas Eve in this neck of the woods.
This Is Not a Test
swear to god, if the two of you don’t settle down right now, I’ll feed your breakfast to Spencer!” Laney Riley jabbed the spatula in the dog’s direction. Spencer, their twelve-year-old Labrador, remained curled by the back door, unaffected by the noise level produced by the Riley boys and their fed-up mother.
Ian and Sean, eleven-year-old fraternal twins, tussled violently (as usual) their highly physical play accompanied by boisterous chatter.
“Lick it! Lick it and looove it.” Ian held the dog’s freshly chewed and rather nasty rawhide to his brother’s lips.
“I’m gonna kill you, Ian!” Sean wriggled, trying to turn his mouth away from the dirt and dog saliva mashed into the soggy beef hide.
“I’m gonna end you both if you don’t cut it out,” Laney was forceful, her spatula in hand as she scrambled the morning meal.
She glanced at the microwave’s digital display. Seven o’clock in the morning and I’m already exhausted, she thought as she continued to poke at the wad of eggs slowly congealing in the skillet.
“Goddamn kids. Can’t get a moment’s peace around here,” she took a break from stirring to contemplate pulling the bottle of Jameson from the cabinet above the stove and putting a little Irish in her coffee. Just the thought of the booze warmly traversing her insides as it journeyed to coat every frazzled cell brought a split second of peace, quickly followed by torment. I will not cave to the temptation of self-medicating, she thought as she pulled the bottle of Xanax from her sweater pocket. I will not drink, I am not my father, she insisted. Just half of one, just half to take the edge off. She popped the pill.
She flipped through the TV channels on the small kitchen set. Why does the same news report have to be on every station, she protested internally as she perused. A few people are sick, it gets hyped, the media incites panic, and violence breaks out. Crap, I sound like my father-in-law.
“Finally, a local friendly face,” the morning news team provided a much-needed sense of familiarity.
“This just in,” Cap Bozeman clutched the latest report in his boney hands. “We’ve just received word dat there’s a state-ordered closure tuh-day for all Bay Peninsula county schools due to a health scare.”
Laney looked at Cap. “You’re the one having a health scare: pretty pale and thin today, Mister newsman.”
“No playdates today, I guess Cap,” the female anchors blonde hairdo was heavily sprayed and immoveable.
“That’s awesome. A few people in the deepest recesses of the world get sick, so they close school here. A few kids get a sore throat… now the boys will be home all day raising hell.” Laney dropped her head in defeat. Best keep to routines, she thought as she tried to find some strength before summoning her sons for breakfast.
She reluctantly made the announcement, “School is cancelled.”
They chanted in unison, working up a lather, “Whoop, whoop! All right, free day, free day…”
“Hush.” She held her palm flat, extended in that all-too-familiar stop position. “Would you please go get your sister, it’s time for breakfast—and be nice about it.” She worried they’d do something to set her off. I don’t need her lathered up too.
As the boys worked their way toward the staircase, Elle worked her way across the front porch, pulling off her shoes to creep more quietly up the front steps. She winced as the cold wood hit her bare toes. Thoughts of Josh swirled as she cracked open the door. Amazing night… Mom would be pissed…she won’t find out.
Now perched on the first step, they turned and watched as their older sister snuck in. She was disheveled. Her clothes were crumpled and her long dark-blonde hair was matted and sticking up in the back.
She set the shiny flats on the tile beneath the coat rack then lifted her finger to her lips. She ran her other hand past her throat in a slicing motion.
Ian and Sean nodded; they instantly understood that they should keep quiet or she would kill them.
With a judgmental finger pointed in her direction, Ian jumped from the step, headed toward his breakfast. Sean followed suit, chuckling quietly at the state she’d slunk home in. He added a few obscene gestures as he thrust his hips.
With her hand raised to hit her obnoxious little brother, Elle smoothed her hair as she walked toward the kitchen. With great focus she tried not to look suspicious. Sean ran ahead, wanting to avoid his sister’s wrath.
“Boys, did you get your sister?” Laney started toward the front of the house to investigate. “Oh, there you all are.”
The kids filed into the kitchen.
“You were so quiet, I didn’t think you did what I asked.” Too quiet, she thought as she served the eggs.
The three Riley children sat at the kitchen table, stoically chewing while Laney stared distantly out of the window. The sun had risen, but the deepening gray of the sky promised snow. Flurries from the day before had dusted the short mountain range that erupted from the back of the property. I hate the cold and the woods, Laney thought as she surveyed the landscape. I miss the city.
Elle flipped open the laptop and perused the Internet, hoping to further lay off her mother’s suspicion by trying to act normal.
The click of the keys brought Laney back from her daydream and drew unwanted attention to Elle.
“Your hair’s a mess.” She eyed her daughter. “And weren’t you wearing that yesterday?” Her irritation was now limited by the warm buzz of the medication.
“I overslept. I just grabbed clothes off of the floor and threw them on when the brats came to my door. I haven’t had the chance to brush my hair yet,” Elle searched her mother’s face for acceptance. I think she bought it.
“I think you were out all night. I think you snuck out to see that boy again and your brothers caught you at the front door. I’ve sent them to get you for years, and they’ve never completed the task that quietly or quickly before.”
“That’s crazy,” Elle tried to hold her ground. How does she always know? She was amazed by her mother’s intuition.
“I guess I’ll just have to interrogate your brothers, then.”
Not wanting to make eye contact with their mother or sister, the boys looked straight down into their breakfast as they shoveled quietly.
Elle lifted her feet under the table, poking them both in the shins. Just a gentle reminder to keep your mouths shut, she nudged, as she dug the tip of her toes into their legs.
They feared their sister, but they feared their mother more. Elle’s punishments were painful but swift. A punch to the arm or a pulled ear were a couple of the tools in her bag of tricks, but their mother, well, she had long-drawn-out punishments that would stick. She went for what really hurt, their fun.
Laney walked up behind the boys and placed one hand on the top of each of their heads, her eyes locked on her daughter. The computer screen was lighting Elle’s youthful face as Laney peered at her from behind the boys. She ruffled her sons’ hair, Sean’s brown locks in her left hand and Ian’s blonde in her right. She spoke at the back of their heads, her gaze locked on Elle. “If you value hockey, or video games, or watching television, I suggest you both get ready to talk.”
All Sean did was glance, eyes only, ever so slightly to his brother, looking for that familiar agreement to roll on their sister. That tiny movement was all their mother needed.
“Uh-huh! I knew it! You were out all night doing god knows what with that boy. Why do you insist on making me crazy? Are you trying to get pregnant and ruin your life?”
“Ahh man, you two and your stupid twin telepathy.”
The boys stood mid-shovel and backed away from the table. “Sorry, sis,” they vacated the kitchen.
Laney glared at her daughter; the stress of the morning had built quickly. Once again she faced the digital display on the stainless steel microwave, which was mounted above the induction cook-top. With her hands planted firmly on each side of the stove for support, she eyed the numbers: 7:20 and already on the verge. She studied her reflection in the microwave door. With professionally tousled hair and covered in the finest embellishments available for purchase at the local mall, her polished exterior was no indication of the mess that squatted within. She’d struggled, the last year or so, with some emotional issues. Her court-appointed therapist had suggested she visualize a gauge, “let’s call it your snap gauge,” she’d offered. Laney Riley stood in her high-end kitchen, visualizing the needle on her snap gauge, which was already in the orange, as she struggled with the stress of her rowdy sons and the promiscuity of her teenage daughter.
Elle, who at seventeen had the attention span of a gnat, had returned to surfing the Net.
“Mom! Mom, come see this, look what I found on YouTube.”
“You know I don’t like to watch anything on there, and besides, you shouldn’t be watching it either. I think restriction from the computer and a week of being grounded is on your schedule.”
“No, really, it’s crazy.”
Laney approached her daughter. “Move over a scosche would ya’, my ass is too big—I’ll hang off the end.”
Elle slid over in attempt to provide enough bench for her mother’s behind. “I can’t believe this footage.”
“What’s that? Oh my… is that a man?”
Mesmerized, they watched what appeared to be an African man in the midst of what seemed to be a series of seizures. He was lying on a dirt road, the fine dust clinging to his skin; it gave him a ghostly appearance. Several villagers had gathered around the poor soul. None of them came to his aid; they just kept their distance, simply spectators to the events that were unfolding before them.
Convulsions ripped through him in waves, every tendon in his body visible as his muscles tensed under the extreme strain of the violent episode. Dark, thick blood began to run from every orifice, cutting a path through the dust on his skin as he shook and flailed. With his back arched and his head thrown forward, he gurgled and groaned through his clenched teeth.
Laney was suddenly overcome with the impulse to shield her daughter’s eyes.
“What the hell, Mom?” she swatted her mother’s hand away from her face. “I’m seventeen, you don’t need to protect me.”
“I can’t look anymore.” Laney shut the laptop. “That’s one Internet hoax that’s gone too far.”
“It doesn’t look fake to me.” Elle re-opened the MacBook with every intention of viewing the video.
Laney couldn’t help but take one more peek herself. I’m sure if I really concentrate, I’ll find proof that it’s fake. “He does seem to really be suffering,” she was suddenly uneasy at the thought that whatever was happening to him could be real.
Once again they were sucked in, mesmerized by what unfolded before them. They both watched as he underwent this horrifying and seemingly real metamorphosis.
“You know,” Laney began to explain to her daughter, her head tilted to the side as she contemplated, “It kind of reminds me of those lycan movies… like he’s shifting.”
With his hands open and his palms facing skyward, he lurched and writhed as though he were pleading for divine intervention.
“Is that the sound of his bones cracking?” Elle gawked as his form twisted on the screen before them.
The bent and tensed fingers broke, each snapping loudly under the intense strain of the relentless spasms.
He was suddenly still, his joints bent and locked into configurations now more animal than human. His teeth were exposed to the gums, his mouth drawn into a snarl like some unknown force had pulled back his lips.
“Holy shit!” Elle cried. “You don’t think that’s what all the talk’s been about lately, do you?”
Laney cringed. “Don’t let your brothers see this.”
Just when they thought it was over, he popped up, lunging forward; the crowd scattered.
Startled, they jumped, the intense moment palpable even through the computer screen.
With great speed and agility, he moved, as he swept a man to the ground and tore into his flesh with his jutted jaw and extended teeth. He snapped, his head popping back and forth from his now distended neck. The camera kept filming as this now-rearranged man mauled an onlooker. Flesh was torn from tendon, as bits of tissue and sinew stretched from prey to predator, each tear followed by a gush of blood.
Unable to contain his horror, the filmmaker gasped with his heavy British accent, “Oh my god!”
The creature, now crouched on all fours, snapped his head, and turned in the direction of the camera. That’s when the filming stopped.
“What did we just see?” Laney sat mired in disbelief.
Elle was emphatic in her response. “I think we just saw a guy turn into something and then eat another guy.”
“Nonsense. I won’t believe it…I can’t. It’s just a farce, special effects.”
“Well, I’m convinced,” Elle crossed her arms at her chest.
“Convinced of what,” a familiar voice called from the kitchen doorway.
Laney turned to find her father-in-law, the shock of his presence plastered on her face. “What’re you doing here?”
Sue Riley, (Nan to the kids) crossed her arms and tapped her foot, already striking her judgmental posture.
Laney eyed her in-laws and then the dog. “Good job, if it was an intruder we’d all be dead.”
Spencer was still sleeping soundly, his nose stretched and pressed against the crack under the back door.
“My gut was telling me to flee Vegas. Weird news reports, brownouts, watering bans, felt like they were building up to something, made my ball hairs tingle, I didn’t like it. So I packed Ma into the car and started the drive north. I figured if the shit was going to hit the fan, this was the place to ride it out. I mean, could you imagine trying to survive out in that desert once the system broke down. The goddamn highway would be littered with bodies for miles. No water or air conditioning—certain anarchy.”
Elle harassed her grandfather. “Is this another one of your conspiracy theories, Pop?”
Now worked up, with his eyes glossed over, he flexed the tendons in his neck while his stiff and wiry gray hair stood at attention. It was unwavering as he flailed and gestured (in his typically violent fashion) while he explained his theory.
“No. You know they never tell you the whole story; trying to control the masses, manage the chaos by keeping us in the dark, only out to save themselves. Why do you think they try so hard to discredit people who’ve had encounters?” His thin but muscular arms tensed as he made air quotes. “And even if they don’t discredit them, they make them come off as crazy.”
The five o’clock shadow that coated his tanned and wrinkled face darkened the deep creases activated by his overly animated expressions. “Besides, it seems we got here just in time. If I hadn’t listened to that little voice telling me my government was lying to me, I wouldn’t have been able to get into town. National Guard vehicles were setting up a checkpoint.”
“What? What are you talking about? Why would they be doing that?” Laney’s anxiety multiplied. First the video, now a checkpoint, what the hell… With her hand now jammed into her sweater pocket, she rolled the pill bottle through her fingers, the sound of the powdery white pills tapping against the amber plastic a soothing lullaby for her tired nerves.
“To keep people in, or something else out. Probably whatever illness, or virus, or whatever’s been mentioned on the TV lately. Where is my son?” he transitioned abruptly as though it just occurred to him that he wasn’t present.
“He’s already down in his office. The ever-pressing needs of his job, I guess.”
Doolin Riley had left his station in D.C. when he was granted a virtual position to move his sick wife to a quieter setting. So now he analyzed his slice of the bureaucracy from his basement office.
Laney wished he were upstairs now; she didn’t think she could deal with the in-laws alone. (They made her self-conscious).
Both rail thin, she felt judged by them for her size and the size of her kids. They weren’t fat by any means, just thicker than Pop and Nan who subsisted on coffee and cigarettes.
Suddenly a high-pitched alarm blared from the television, cutting through the momentary lull in the kitchen. Laney clutched her chest, startled by the sudden noise.
“This is the emergency broadcast system. THIS IS NOT A TEST.
Please stand by.”
A clock appeared. It began to tick away; its digital numbers flipped rhythmically.
“Kind of cruel to make us wait like this, isn’t it?” Elle was now clinging to her grandfather for comfort.
“My guess is some official will appear when this clock is done counting down, and tell us how they plan to protect us from whatever it is bearing down on us.” With his hands on his hips, Pop broke into his sarcastic voice, which was just like his regular voice but high-pitched and mocking. “They’ll probably say something like “stay in your homes,” or “come to us, we’ll help you.”
Laney glanced at the computer, then at Elle, and then at her mother-in-law who was standing in the doorway, her judgmental arms still crossed.
Her blood pressure began to rise, along with her anxiety. We did just witness some terrible illness transform a man into something unmentionable. There’ve been vague reports of illness and some hysteria in the far reaches, but wouldn’t they tell us if we should be concerned? Wouldn’t someone warn us if there was a situation? Pop is crazy. It’s only been what, a few days since the first report. What could possibly move that fast? She stood quietly as she contemplated, rolling the bottle, until the needle on her snap gauge drifted out of the red and comfortably back into that zone between yellow and orange.
“You should see this video on the computer.” Elle beckoned to her grandfather. “It’ll make you believe.”
“Is that what you were talking about when I walked in—well, make me a believer my dear girl. Show old Pop what the media has neglected.”
Elle hit play, once again enduring the horrific transformation, in hopes that her grandfather would believe too.
“Kind of looks like those movies where a guy turns into a werewolf for the first time.”
“That’s what Mom said, except more zombie than werewolf, maybe.” She turned her head to the side while she tried to decide.
“No such thing,” Laney was unwilling to accept any such analyses. “There is no such thing; you are talking about movie nonsense. Fiction!”
“Clearly he was infected by something,” Pop posited, “who knows what, and, if they do know, they aren’t telling us. Hey, maybe there are other videos.”
“Yeah, something more clear.” Elle quickly typed, hoping to find anything else.
“There, click on that one.” Terry Riley was shoulder to shoulder with his granddaughter, eager to see what was next.
“It’s the same, but it’s so fast, they are turning so fast…” She was suddenly terrified. Elle looked to her mother, concern plastered on her young face as she watched those things attack and their victims spring up just moments later, they themselves now changed.
“This isn’t just an illness… some freak occurrence. This is meant to spread. It’s the form they’ve taken, the neck…the jaw… they are built to bite, to transmit. This is intelligent design.” With a shudder Pop nodded, sure of his observation.
“Design by whom?” Laney had to doubt the theories of her father-in-law. He was notoriously given to bouts of conspiratorial whimsy.
Nan shot her a look of disapproval, clearly defending her husband.
“Don’t start with me.” Laney was now on the defensive herself. “I refuse to entertain you when you’re hostile.”
Nan stood, arms crossed, her signature scowl laser-pointed toward her son’s wife.
Trying to ignore the rift between his wife and daughter–in-law, he explained who was responsible. “Nature, science, the goddamn government, who knows; but they are perfect machines, designed to attack, to bite, to spread.” He reiterated his earlier observation.
“Didn’t a guy recently get high on bath salts and then try to eat someone’s face off on the street?” Laney was still trying to rationalize any scenario but the one they were faced with.
“Yeah, but you have to admit,” Elle continued to plead her case, “it seemed like he died, right? I mean he convulsed and stopped breathing before he popped up. The way he was crunching, you’d think every bone was broken; how was he still moving?”
“That’s what I saw,” Pop interjected. “I mean, Christ, he, he was more creature than man by the time he jumped up.” With the palm of his right hand he vigorously rubbed his bristly hair. “Looked like a howler; I don’t know what explains that.” He stood with his hand to his gaping mouth, for once in his life speechless. “One more time. I have to see it one more time, just so I can really absorb it.”
~ About the Author ~
G. Nykanen was born and raised in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This small, rural land mass seems to cultivate a wide variety of colorful characters who provide a plethora of inspiration. The Point, Nykanen’s first novel, is filled with nuances of these local characters and the landscapes one might find in the north woods.
Well traveled thanks to her husband’s government career, she has lived in Europe and many of our United States over the last twenty years. She has recently returned home, moving back to her beloved Upper Peninsula where she resides with her husband and three children.
With The Point now completed, she will continue working on her next novel, Accumulation, along with continuing to develop other stories in the works.
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