Title: Atavus Falls
Author: Jack J. Carroll
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 3
Lurking in the woods of Atavus Falls is the product of a deranged sociological experiment, a creature more than human…and less than animal.
When fourteen year-old Jackson's life is uprooted, he finds his new hometown, idyllic Atavus Falls, under attack. The locals choose to call the threat a rabid bear or mountain lion, but as the killer closes in on Jackson and his family, it comes to light that their monster is actually the product of a sociological experiment gone wrong, an experiment whereupon an unhinged psychologist raised a feral child, a child completely deprived of all human contact, in order to prove that language is a contagion, a virus infecting us all.
The fates of Jackson and the monster prove to be entwined at the rootmost level, and Atavus Falls soon shows us that sometimes a monster lives in the soul of a child and sometimes humanity can be seen reflected in the eyes of a monster.
He tried to read it out loud: "Fall – out – shel – ter." He turned to me, "Fallout Shelter?"
"It's like a hideout, I think."
"A hideout?" he asked. "Like what kind a hideout? We have a hideout?"
I could already see he was getting excited. I tried to downplay it.
"I guess we do," I said.
So of course it wasn't long until we opened the door to see what was inside. The lights in there didn't work either, of course. We started walking down this creepy corridor toward another door at the end. I was telling him more about that story Dad had read to me. Now it was like it was making him feel less afraid than more afraid. Funny how things work like that. Like something a little scary that's a story can be a distraction from something that's really scary in real life. "It's a story about a man brings one of his enemies down to a cellar to show him a big barrel of wine," I said.
"That's where he keeps it and people who like wine, really like wine. Especially Amontinallo."
"Why?" he asked.
"It's the best kind of wine," I said.
He always asked the dumbest questions.
The door at the end of that concrete hallway had a little hatch in it, like a small doggie door. We went inside and dust came up in clouds in our lights and we choked on it. There were spider webs everywhere and these giant cricket-like bugs that jumped up at us, higher than my head some of them. They made Freddy shriek. I didn't like them either. After awhile, they sort of settled into the corners and edges of that little hallway, and when Freddy calmed down, I said, "You wanna go back? It's all right to wanna go back."
He was trying to pretend to be brave so he said, "No. I always wanted to see what a hideout was like anyway."
"Okay, I guess."
"Are you afraid?" he asked. "Do you wanna go back?"
I told him it didn't matter to me one way or another. It's just a room like any other room. It didn't really bother me, creepy places like that. That was the truth.
Just like that we went in, and it's like he almost forgot about the creepiness of the place altogether. It felt so far away from even the new house we were just in, which was creepy to begin with, and like maybe a thousand miles from our old house. He just started wandering around, and the room was pretty much empty except for the rats that ran into little holes in the corners of the walls when my light touched them. I didn't tell Freddy about them. He'd probably want to play with them or something. I saw dark stains on the floor that looked like maybe dried blood. I knew better, and told myself so. Probably paint. There was a big hole cut into the ground and that's where the terrible smell was coming from. Other than that there were just these two giant pillars. I guess they were holding the ceiling up. The air was even worse in there than it was in the other room. I could hardly breathe.
"But there was no Amontinallo," I said. "No wine." I circled around one of the pillars.
"There wasn't? 'Cause it was stolen?"
"No. 'Cause there never was any," I said. "The guy lied about the wine so he could bring this other guy down into that creepy basement."
"Basement," Freddy repeated.
"And when he got him down there in that basement, know what he did?"
I came from behind the pillar and put up the flashlight up to my face like the old horror movies and said, "He built a wall around him and left him down there forever and ever until he was just bones."
He pushed the flashlight away from my face and said, "That's a scary story."
"Yeah. Pretty scary," I said. "Now you happy? You saw the big secret hideout. The fallout shelter. Now let's get out of here and go unpack our stuff."
"Another door!" he yelled pointing.
And yup, there was another one in the very back of the room. How many doors and hallways could there be? I imagined there were maybe a thousand creepy rooms all connecting into one another, like some underground ant farm. This one was latched shut, but it wasn't locked either. It looked like some of the wall next to it was patched in with concrete at some point. It was uneven.
I unlatched the door and there was another hallway. Except this one was much shorter. At the end of it, I saw metal steps, rungs, in the cement that led up to what I figured was a hatch to the outside. I could see a little light coming down, these thin shafts of light, through the cracks in the door in the ceiling.
"Must go to outside," I said. "Like a secret exit."
All of a sudden, one of the thin shafts of light got bigger, like it was just waiting for us to get there all this time. It got brighter with the daylight from outside flooding in, and my eyes were whited-out hot and I was scared, okay I admit it, and I thought what the hell could it be, and it was hard to believe that it was happening at all, like it was unreal or a dream or more like a nightmare when you feel paralyzed forever and can't move even though something is chasing you and getting closer.
I couldn't move for a second. We couldn't budge, either of us, like something froze us to the spot so we'd see whatever the hell was opening the door right there in front of us, and then something, I couldn't believe it, dropped down from up there and into this corridor where we were standing. I felt like I was choking on something. Whatever it was, I only saw it for a second 'cause Freddy screamed and I looked at him and when I looked back, it was close to the ground, already in shadow 'cause the hatch fell back down and blotted everything out. It looked at us from the darkness with green lights in its eyes like a cat's, and it made a horrible noise, like something I had never heard before in my life.
We turned and ran back into the fallout shelter. I shut the door as fast as I could and I tried to lock it behind me, but for a second I didn't think I could do it because of my hands not working right, but I finally got it to latch, and I started to run.
I saw Freddy collapse onto the ground crying and shivering, and I heard the thing on the other side of the door clawing, trying to get in, and I thought it might since there was no lock. It didn't matter if it did. I had to get Freddy. I turned back and felt my heart explode, like standing close to fireworks. I yanked Freddy up and forced him to run, and we ran and ran and closed every door until we were up again in the kitchen hardly able to breathe at all.
Freddy was holding onto me, saying over and over again, "What is it What is it What is it," but I didn't know what it was so I didn't say anything.
One thing I do know is that it was no animal like that cop said when my mother reported it 'cause I could see its skin was like mine, or anyone else's, except dirty and stained, but that it was something else, too.
I pushed the kitchen table against the door and we went and hid in my room until she came home. Freddy told her the whole story, but she didn't believe it at all, not a single word, until I yelled at her that it was the truth, goddamn it.