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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Convection (an excerpt)

Category 5 Hurricane Erika is bearing down on the town of Fausse Terre, Louisiana, and most of the residents have already boarded up their houses and fled to higher ground.  Middle school music teacher Jay Morvant, however, has decided to ride out the storm, and he and the other folks who have stayed to face the hurricane in the Bayou Vista Apartments think it might be fun to throw a hurricane party.

It's an odd assortment of people.  There's elderly, devout Mrs. St. Pierre; the acid-tongued convenience store clerk Jennie Trahan; a young divorcĂ©e, Marie Ducharme, and her eight-year-old daughter Joelle; the genial and easy-going Marc Caillet; Dan and Alana Thibodeaux, the perfect young married couple; the cautious, quiet Abe Gerard; and the bear-like caretaker Skidmore.  Such guests would make for a strange party under the best of circumstances.  But once the hurricane hits, and the party-goers have no way to leave, they find that the party is about to get a lot stranger -- and that being in the middle of a dangerous storm may be the least of their worries.



Below is an excerpt from my novel Convection, which is available as an e-book from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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"Let's go down to the second floor," Jay said.  "That's where we found his glasses."

The east staircase was nearer, and they left Abe's apartment, closing and locking the door behind them, then turned toward the stairwell door.  Skidmore was the first to get there, and grasped the handle and pulled the door open.

There was a shimmer of movement on the far wall of the landing, and then a whirring noise audible above the din of the wind and thunder.  Dan had his flashlight beam up, and it was probably his instantaneous reaction that saved them; he jumped forward, knocking Skidmore out of the way, and grabbed the handle and pulled it shut.

"What the hell?" Skidmore said.

"Shit," Dan gasped.  "The entire stairwell is full of wasps.  Look."

He shone his flashlight down at the carpet, where three yellowjackets were crawling.  As they looked, one of them flew up in the air, toward Jay's face.  He yelped and ducked, and the wasp landed on the wall behind them.

Skidmore's boot dispatched the two wasps on the floor, and he knocked the third off the wall with an easy swipe of his hand and crushed it as well.

"Goddamn pests," he growled.  "Hate them bastards."

"You're not scared of them, though," Jay said.

"Nah."

"Anyone get stung?"

Dan and Skidmore shook their heads.

"It looked like there was a thousand of them in there," Dan said, a little breathlessly.  "I don't want to think what would have happened if we'd just walked in."

"I'm glad you got quick reflexes," Jay said.  "I guess we got to go down the other set of stairs."

"Where the hell did all those wasps come from?" Dan asked.

"You know how Jennie would answer that."

"Yeah.  You believe all that?"

Jay suddenly felt bone tired, more exhausted than he had in years.  "Dan," he said, "I'm damned if I know what I believe.  We all saw Mrs. St. Pierre's Angel of Death.  I saw a man that I thought was killed in a car wreck six years ago.  Jennie had a vicious dog show up in her apartment."  He looked over at Dan appraisingly.  "You saw your wife's face in the mirror."

His jaw tightened.  "Yeah, I saw."

"You got another explanation for all that?"

Dan didn't respond.  Gotcha there, Jay thought, but didn't say anything else.

The three men reached the door at the end of the hall in silence, and then stood there, staring at the handle.  None of them moved.

Finally, Dan spoke.  "You think the wasps are in there, too?"

"They weren't before," Jay said.

"They weren't in the other stairway six hours ago."

"That's true."

"Jesus, I'll do it," Skidmore grunted.  "Pansies."  He reached out an opened the door a crack, and shone his flashlight in.  He turned toward the others and said, "Ain't nothing there."

Jay smiled a little at the obvious relief in his voice.  You're not as tough as you'd like us to think, Claustrophobia Boy.

The three went into the stairwell, and then down the stairs to the second floor.  The door was still hanging askew, its splintered wood pale and ragged in the light from the flashlights.

"You think Abe's on the second floor?" Dan asked.

"Where else can he be?" Jay said, and reached out and pulled on the door.  It moved with a grating creak, and Jay shone his flashlight down into the second floor hall.  It was empty.

They stepped through the door, swinging the flashlights around, looking at all of the closed doors of the abandoned apartments, their rooms empty, their inhabitants far away, out of the reach of the storm.

"Hey," Skidmore said suddenly, and pointed his flashlight toward the wall in the middle stretch of the hallway.

One door stood half open, leaning on bent hinges, just as the door they'd passed through had been.  It was swung toward them, and they couldn't see the entrance from where they were standing.

"Whose apartment is that?" Dan asked.

"Ain't an apartment," Skidmore said.  "That's a storage closet."

The three men walked up to the door.

Jay's heart was hammering in his chest.  The thought, This is where the monsters live, came unbidden to his mind, but he forced it away, and peered inside.

A vacuum cleaner lay on its side.  A basin sink was in fragments on the floor, the plumbing hanging bent and twisted from the wall.  There was a smear of red on the tiles, and another on the far wall.

"Jesus," Jay said.

"Look," Dan said, and trained his flashlight upwards.

Several of the ceiling tiles were missing, and the crawlspace above them gaped blackly, as if the darkness was some opaque thing that the beams couldn't pierce.

Skidmore stepped forward, but Jay caught his sleeve, and pointed downward toward the corner of the little room.

Sitting upside down on the floor, right underneath the hole in the ceiling, was an old brown leather shoe with a sprung sole.

Jay swallowed.  "I think we found what happened to Abe Gerard."

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