Justice fled through the dim, emergency lighting in the halls of the Long Beach Super 8. She heard a door shut down the hall behind her.
“Justice?” Toby’s voice called. She knew the machete from his cheerful, sticker-covered knife case would be in his hand. “Please Pet, don’t run.”
Justice, given name Petunia, ground her teeth at the hated nickname. But she didn’t stop to correct him. Something hanging from her jeans pocket slapped her rear under her flannel as she ran and opened the stairwell door. She reached behind her and felt – stiff work gloves? She didn’t take the time to wonder where they came from, but dashed down the ugly carpeted stairs from the refuge of the top floor.
Poor, brain-cell challenged Brittany had been right about Toby, aka Danger the Knife-Juggling Clown. Justice snorted a panicked laugh that was at least half sob. Brit was really brain-cell challenged now. Justice had found her body earlier, her head split open on the flat roof above. Her gray matter blended almost perfectly with the roof, but her blood did not. Like the others, she’d been mauled as if by a wolf. But claws and teeth did not make such clean, straight slashes.
Brit’s paranoid fear of clowns, especially “that knife wielding clown” as she called Toby, ended up being spot on.
Justice and four “friends” had been camping at the tip of the peninsula, an excuse to drink and hook up. Justice was the odd one out, invited along for her car.
They’d met handsome Toby performing at a small-town festival. Justice had been immediately infatuated, but the rainbow clown wig should have been a clue. Now only the two of them were left. Nerdy Justice and knife-wielding Toby.
Effing Lucas had run off, after he’d failed to protect Justice’s one true friend, Ramona. Tears clouded her vision. It should have been him they found on the beach, face down in a tide pool, cut to ribbons.
She stumbled on the busy carpet and tumbled down a half dozen stairs, something bouncing alongside her. She stopped on the landing and pushed herself up, jerking back when she felt something bite into her hand. Blood and razor cuts marred her palm. She scrambled back, away from the hand-carved mask with razor blade teeth. It stared back, in the horribly familiar guise of a wolf.
Justice gasped and swiveled her head around, looking for where the mask had come from. No one else was in the stairwell. Toby must have dropped it earlier, when he’d gone “looking for help”.
She’d seen the mask before, in a dream that first night camping. And then they’d found the rabbit, grisly and disemboweled. They’d blamed it on Lucas, the prankster, but he’d sworn it hadn’t been him. The next morning they’d found Eric, sliced and diced at the edge of the campground. And Mona, in the tide pool as they rushed to leave.
Before they could dial 911, tsunami sirens blared.
There were only two roads leading off the peninsula. Both were jammed. They’d barely made it into the deserted hotel, the tallest building in Long Beach, before the wave hit. The five foot high juggernaut swept up cars, trees, panicked tourists, and small beach houses and carried them inland without remorse.
She looked again at the parallel cuts on her palm, so elegantly raw, blood glittering in the emergency lights. She pressed herself against the wall, as far as she could get from the mask. It looked almost alive, snarling at her, begging her to touch it again.
The stairwell door, only a few flights up, opened.
“Justice?” Toby’s voice was deceptively kind. “Don’t run off too. It’s not safe.”
Justice panicked, snatched up the mask, and dashed down the stairs. She had to get away and destroy this thing. But how?
She reached the ground floor and found waist-high flooding in the lobby. She waded into the frigid seawater, the undercurrent sucking at her legs – in, then out – but she managed to keep her feet. If the current was this strong here, what would it be like outside?
“Justice! No!” Toby yelled. She turned enough to see his machete in one hand as he tried to grab her with the other.
She screamed and dove into the murky, debris-strewn lobby water. She kicked and paddled, struggling toward the front doors. The tsunami was her best shot to get rid of the mask. She’d probably get sucked in, hit by debris, and drown, but that seemed a better way to die than getting sliced to ribbons.
“Stop Pet, you idiot!” Toby yelled, wading after her into the lobby. “That’s suicide!”
Anger boiled through her, familiar though she’d somehow always forgotten. Justice hated people calling her “Pet” and treating her like she was incompetent. She tried to suppress the rage, but now remembered trying before, too. Something was taking her over from the inside. Something hot and irrational. She fought, but it was stronger, drowning her in repressed emotion. How dare he not be interested in her?
With the last of her will, Justice dove underwater, hoping to shock herself back into control. But instead, she saw everything through a dimmer, darker lens. Without her consent, her hand let the mask drift on the surface back toward Toby. She felt herself pull the stiff work gloves out of her back pocket and put them on. The palms had been facing each other, but she now saw sparkling razor blades sewn onto the dark-stained leather.
She kicked strongly underwater toward Toby and came up under the mask just as he reached for it. The mask fit well on her face, like the gloves on her hands.
“Justice? Pet?” Toby’s face was shocked.
“My name…” the voice that emerged from behind the mask could have etched glass, “is PETULANCE.” All her pent-up rage lunged toward Toby, clothed in razor teeth and claws.
*Karen is in the process of querying agents for her debut novel, Sunny from Afaar, a YA sci-fi novel. In the meantime, she’s working on book two and hopefully on publishing a few short stories to gain some sort of writing credentials. Janie’s Got a Car is her first attempt. She has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Economics from WWU, and lives in the small town of Raymond, WA with her amazingly supportive husband Mike and their beautiful son Gabe.