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The bulb people, p.1
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       The Bulb People, p.1

           Brian Bakos
 
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The Bulb People


  THE BULB PEOPLE

  Coming to your town next

  Book 2 of the Terror Orchard series

  by Brian Bakos

  Copyright 2013 Brian Bakos / revised 07/2016

  Cover & Photos: Brian Bakos

  Table of Contents

  What Happened Before

  Trouble in Wonderland

  Plans and Schemes

  The Last Outsider

  Clash with the Bulb People

  Connect with the Author

  Next Book in the Series

  Brian’s Other Books

  What Happened Before

  If you haven’t read Billy Conner’s diary, Captive in Terror Orchard, here is some background information:

  Four years earlier, Billy and Cyndy – along with Professor Jonathan Rackenfauz – outfought a terrible evil.

  Morton Kasinski, a college student at the time, aided Billy and his friends. They did not tell Morton the whole story, however. Everyone just wanted to forget about it. But now they can’t forget because the evil is back.

  Morton still lives in Bridgestock, but the other good people have left. Plenty of bad folks are around, though.

  Some people are just better off gone, don’t you think?

  Trouble in Wonderland

  1: Nightmare Grove

  Icy dread gripped James Thromp’s heart as he emerged from his pickup truck. Shafts of late afternoon sunlight jabbed through the clouds like death rays. Muggy heat strangled the air. He reached a trembling hand into his pocket for the little whiskey bottle, but stopped himself.

  Somebody – or something – might be watching him.

  He climbed aboard the big, yellow earth moving machine. A coffin lid of stillness pressed down as he settled into the cab and shut the door. The bones in his neck cracked as he twisted his head around, scanning the area. Behind him stood a half completed mansion with skeleton timbers poking the sky. Ahead lay a dead orchard, its trees bent like tormented ghosts.

  A big man was approaching. Low sun glare turned him into a dark figure fringed with a halo of light. Thromp fumbled for the wrench hidden under the seat.

  “Hello, Jim,” the dark figure called.

  It was only Steve Cozzaglio, the construction supervisor.

  “Oh ... hi, Steve.” Thromp tried to sound calm. “How’re things going?”

  Cozzaglio stepped from the shimmering heat and leaned against the cab. His face was tight and his eyes carried a hard, disapproving look.

  “Not too bad, Jim,” Cozzaglio said. “I didn’t think you’d make it today.”

  “Something came up,” Mr. Thromp said. “I’m running a bit late.”

  He should have said, “I’m running a bit drunk,” which was the real reason he hadn’t arrived earlier.

  “Well, you’ve got the whole place to yourself now,” Cozzaglio said. “We’re just packing up.”

  “Uh huh,” Thromp said.

  “Can’t say as I envy you, working here alone,” Cozzaglio said.

  Mr. Thromp mopped his bald head with a handkerchief.

  “It don’t bother me none,” he lied.

  The last of the building crew was leaving the mansion. As they neared their cars, they walked faster until they were almost running.

  “So long, Jim.” Cozzaglio hurried off.

  The whole area was deserted now, and the stifling cab suddenly felt cold as a tomb.

  “Drat this place,” Thromp said. “What am I doing here?”

  He already knew the answer. Some rich guy was building his country estate here, and Thromp had been hired for the wrecking crew. First, he’d helped demolish the original house. Now he was to tear out the old orchard to make room for the tennis courts and pool. Sure, he was grateful for the job – but something about this place was frightening.

  Especially those big trees.

  An awful presence seemed to be focused on them, like the stench of a rotting elephant corpse. Fear tingled up his spine.

  “I oughtta go home!”

  But he quickly decided against it, he was already too far behind schedule. And what was waiting for him at home – Leota? Thromp suppressed a shudder.

  Mr. Warwick, the big boss, was planning to build a subdivision near town, and Thromp wanted to work on that project, too. He had to prove himself as a reliable employee, and he’d been making a botch of it lately.

  So, with a final nervous glance around, he settled into the cab like a man trying to make himself comfortable on an electric chair. He fired up the engine – Brooooom! Brooooom! – and belched along with the roaring diesel.

  Power vibrated through him, making him feel like part of the great machine. He fished the bottle from his pocket and brought it to his lips. Whiskey scorched down his throat.

  “Ahhh, that’s better!”

  The little bottle soothed him, taking his mind off his troubles, Mrs. Thromp, for instance. The thought of her made him take another swig. Then he lurched the earth mover toward the grove. The machine’s big tires gouged the earth, and smoke vomited from its stack. Thromp lowered the scoop and took aim at a tree. The blade cut into the trunk and knocked the tree down with a loud crack.

  “Yeeee Ha!” Thromp howled.

  He took aim at a second tree.

  Crack!

  It went down hard.

  The trees were so dried and rotted that they tumbled like bowling pins! Another one fell with a tremendous snap as if some giant had broken the grand daddy of all pencils.

  “Take that!”

  Thromp forgot his earlier fear. In his god-like machine, fortified with whiskey, he seemed to be King of the Universe. Diesel fumes wafted around him like magic incense. He invaded the heart of the orchard now, driving toward a particularly large and menacing tree. It glowered at him like a wooden troll – it almost seemed to have a face!

  Naw ... it can’t be!

  Thromp blinked and ran a hand over his eyes. If his judgment had been less clouded with booze, he might have paused. But his blood was up now. He hunkered down like a Kamikaze pilot and aimed for the great brute of a tree.

  He struck it with a violent jolt that flung him against the steering wheel and then back into the seat. Pain exploded through his alcohol numbness. The tree groaned backwards, partially uprooted.

  “Why you lousy – !”

  Anger pushed aside Thromp’s pain. He wrenched the gears and backed up.

  Beep! Beep! sounded the caution signal, but no human being was there to hear.

  He stopped and shifted into forward. His machine growled, a massive beast preparing to charge. Dead ahead, the tree leaned crazily. A tangle of broken roots poked into the air, beckoning him. Thromp ground forward, positioning the blade under the roots and gunning the engine hard. A horrible cracking-sucking noise filled the air as the tree collapsed.

  “Got ya!” Thromp bellowed, half mad with rage and triumph.

  A hole gaped by the fallen tree. A rotten stench belched up from it nearly gagging Thromp. Then, the machine began sinking into the abyss.

  “Hey!”

  Thromp wrestled the gears into reverse and tried to back out. More ground crumbled. Panic slammed his chest like a jackhammer as he battled to keep the big machine from flipping over. Tires flung globs of muck. The diesel roared like a wounded mastodon, drowning out Thromp’s shrieks.

  The tires bit into more solid ground at last. With a final desperate effort, the machine pulled out of its grave and hurtled backwards, crashing into another tree. Thromp bounced around the cab like a rag doll. The engine died, leaving him stunned and battered in the eerie silence.

  He wiped his bloody nose on his sleeve.

  You sure screwed this one up, Jim, he thought bitterly.

  Was the back
of the machine banged up where it had crashed into the tree? Had the engine been overstressed by so much abuse – would it even start again? Thromp prepared to leave the cab and check for damage.

  Then ...

  Something emerged from the gaping hole in front of him. It was long, flat, and greenish brown. Like a thick piece of kelp. He’d once seen such thick, slimy stuff on TV. Scuba divers were maneuvering through it out in California somewhere. But this sure wasn’t California.

  It’s the booze. Thromp licked his sandpaper lips. I’m seeing things again!

  Another green, ropy tendril flopped out of the pit with a thud. Mr. Thromp sat frozen, eyes bulging and hands clamped on the steering wheel. The two snaky things vibrated, then they began feeling about, testing the ground.

  A pointy head, sporting wiry hair, poked up from the hole. Then a huge pair of eyes emerged, yellow and bloodshot. They scanned the area with hatred. More than that ... with an evil so pure that it froze James Thromp’s blood.

  Thromp opened his mouth to scream, but nothing came. Flinging open the cab door, he jumped to the muddy ground and fell flat. He got up and started to run, fell again. A horrid rustling followed him, snaking along the ground. He dared not look back. Mud sucked at his boots, slowing his flight.

  Somehow he made it out of the orchard and lumbered across the open field toward his truck. It seemed impossibly far away. The more he struggled, the slower he moved, like in a nightmare. Gurgling, rasping noises pursued him – coming ever closer.

  Then he was at the truck, and his scream finally erupted.

  “Ahhhhhhhhhhh!

  Thromp leaped through the open window. His head banged against the steering wheel, but he scarcely noticed the pain. Thank heaven, the key was still in the ignition! Thromp nearly snapped it off in his terrible haste. The blessed engine roared into life.

  Something was snaking in the open window on the passenger side; he dared not look at it. He wrenched the truck into gear and stomped the gas.

  Then he was roaring off toward Bridgestock. Screaming all the way.

  2: The Psychotic Ice Cream Man

  I hate this rotten town! And practically everybody in it, too. I kick a stone hard. It clatters down the sidewalk angry and alone, just like me.

  I’m in an outstandingly foul mood. More than that, I am sick of being in a foul mood. I’ve been in one ever since we moved here. Me, Ryan Keppen, the kid everybody used to say was so upbeat and sociable. The boy who had lots of friends and interests, who the girls were beginning to notice.

  Now I’m trapped in Bridgestock – the only town of any size in this whole lousy county – also known as the “Kidney Bean Capital” of the state. Well, this place sure gives me a pain in the kidney. My four and a half months here have been the worst time of my life.

  Hang on, Ryan, I tell myself, there must be a way out of here, and you’ll find it somehow.

  I have to hold onto that thought, otherwise I’ll go nuts.

  The idiot tune of an ice cream truck – The Arkansas Traveler – drifts down the street toward me. My mouth waters while my stomach tightens at the same moment. To buy anything, I’ll have to deal with Mr. Johnson, the man in the truck, and that is a grim thought. Too grim for me to handle just now.

  I turn back toward the house and start walking, but a friendly voice stops me.

  “Hey, Ryan! What’s up?”

  My day instantly brightens. I turn around.

  “Spider!” I cry. “How’s it going?”

  Spider, Mark Cozzaglio, stops his bike on the sidewalk. He is about the tallest boy in the 7th grade, and very thin. This great skinniness must be why people call him “Spider.” He doesn’t seem to mind, though.

  “Just fine,” Spider says. “Thought I’d limber up on my bike before class.”

  “Class?”

  “Yeah, jujitsu,” Spider says. “Monday nights as usual – most Saturdays, too.”

  “Oh, right,” I say.

  Spider and his high school brother, Carl, studied Brazilian jujitsu before they came to Bridgestock. Now that Carl has wheels, they get out every chance they can to their old haunts back in the suburbs where the martial arts school is.

  “Did you talk to your mom?” Spider asks. “Will she let you come for a trial lesson?”

  “Well, she didn’t say no, exactly,” I say. “Maybe she’ll let me go next week.”

  “Sure, just let me know,” Spider says. “We’ve got a nice group – me, Carl, and another high school guy, Billy Conner. He’s real good, like an assistant instructor almost.”

  “Yeah?” I say.

  “Billy’s usually there whenever we go,” Spider says. “He’ll teach you a lot, if you come out with us.”

  Actually, I haven’t talked to Mom at all. She’d probably let me go, as she is always saying I should be more involved in sports. Also, I doubt that Bob, my stepdad, would mind if I went on the two hour drive to the suburbs. That would get me out of his way, all right.

  Well, I’ll have to think about it. To tell the truth, I’m not the athletic type and the idea of flopping around on floor mats choking people doesn’t do much for me. It would get me out of Bridgestock, though.

  “We learned this really neat arm lock,” Spider says. “Want me to show you?”

  “Some other time, maybe,” I say.

  “Sure thing.”

  The ice cream music is drawing closer. I can see the big white truck several doors down with its cheery, yet somehow ominous, graphics of outsized frozen products. A smiling clown face on the side of the truck is probably intended to cheer you up, but it looks downright creepy, like something from a Stephen King movie.

  “How about an ice cream, Spider?” I say.

  “Naw, I’m broke.”

  “That’s okay, I’ll cover it.”

  I have plenty of spending money, as Mom has really gotten open-handed since we’ve moved here. She’s trying to smooth the road for her guilt trip, I suspect. Besides, I enjoy being generous with my friends, and Spider is my only friend in Bridgestock.

  “Okay, Ryan, thanks!” Spider says.

  I hold up my hand. The ice cream truck passes us, then pulls over one house down. It sits lurking at the curb like some jungle beast, music wailing and engine rumbling. A mean, twisted face, covered with beard stubble, pokes itself out the window.

  “What d’ya want?” the man snaps.

  As always, the sight of Mr. Johnson scars the heck out of me. I’m glad that Spider is around.

  “Well?” Mr. Johnson says.

  Spider rolls on his bike toward the truck. I walk behind.

  “I’ll have the Daisy Cutter pop,” Spider says, “the one with the strawberry goo center.”

  Mr. Johnson turns a yellowish, twitching eyeball my direction. “What about you?”

  I take a step back. This guy is really weird. Sure, I’ve seen adults who are rude to kids, but those people are simply jerks. This guy is way beyond that.

  “I’ll have the same,” I say.

  Mr. Johnson flings open a freezer and thrusts his arms into its depths. Icy mist bathes his face; he looks like a demon surrounded by hellfire smoke. All the while the idiot tune plays through the truck’s loudspeaker. No wonder the guy looks demented, listening to that music all day could warp anybody.

  Mr. Johnson gives over our Daisy Cutter pops, and I fumble out the money. I have the exact amount, thankfully, as the thought of handling change from Mr. Johnson scares me somehow. He snatches the money and returns to the driver’s seat. Then he is gone, off to frighten people on another block.

  “That guy is definitely bad news,” Spider says.

  I nod. “So why do we keep buying from him?”

  “Because he’s got great stuff like this!” Spider tears the wrapper from his pop. “You can’t find it at any store. Have you tried his Bunker Buster cone?”

  “Not yet.”

  “Get one next time,” Spider says. “You’ll never forget it – trust me on that.


  I remove the wrapper and bite into the barrel-shaped pop. A tart, almost unpleasant taste stings my mouth. Then the sweet goo shoots out and mixes with the tartness. The combined flavor is incredible.

  “How is it?” Spider asks.

  “Like cold strawberry jam mixed with battery acid,” I say.

  “I knew you’d like it,” Spider says.

  Then he turns philosophical.

  “You know, Ryan, there are lots of strange people in Bridgestock,” he says. “Maybe that’s why Mr. Johnson can operate here without attracting too much attention.”

  “You’ve got that right,” I say. “I can’t imagine a guy like that running an ice cream truck back home.”

  I think again of my beautiful street in the suburbs – the wide pavement and friendly neighbors, the graceful trees, the pleasant ice cream lady who makes the rounds in her truck ...

  “Billy Conner is always asking about this town,” Spider says. “I wonder why.”

  “Maybe he wants to move out here,” I say.

  “Fat chance of that!”

  We are both outsiders. Spider’s dad works for my stepdad, Bob Warwick, and our families both moved here in January, in time for winter term at wonderful Bridgestock Middle School. There are some really mean kids there – such as “Dirty” Larry Nolan, my stepsister’s latest boyfriend. Most of the other kids are merely peculiar and stand offish. I haven’t made any friends, except for Spider.

  Everybody is so grungy in Bridgestock. I’ve never seen so many people with dirty, stringy hair and rumpled clothes. You see them shuffling around the ‘downtown’ kicking stray dogs or throwing stones at squirrels.

  “This whole town seems to be stuck in some crazy time warp,” Spider says. “Like a car stalled out at a trash dump.”

  “That’s a good way to put it,” I say.

  Of course, all this will soon change, according to Bob. Once his ‘Melody Acres’ housing development gets built, people will flock here bringing prosperity with them. Then the state will hurry up and bash a new freeway into town. And we’ll be rich, too.

  Sure.

  The ice cream tune drifts away. A new and frightening sound comes from the opposite direction.

  “What’s that?” Spider says.

  I move to the curb and look up the street. A battered old pickup truck is barreling toward us going way beyond the speed limit. It runs the stop sign at the corner.

 
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