Guide to Moral Living in Examples: Tornadoes

The headlights of Jimmy's car cut through the rain and splashed up onto the abandoned house. He knew the details of the house well - he used to stare at it from the hill opposite, hoping that his friends didn't dare him to set foot on its lawn, to get up close to it, to touch its peeling paint and, the most verboten of all, to peek into a cracked window.

Of course, they inevitably did, and they called him a chicken when he came running back with panic snapping at his heels.

And he'd been right alongside his tormentors to berate another coward on another day.

Now he couldn't see a broken shutter or any of the cobwebs in the eaves. A supercell thunderstorm raged over the plains and had blotted out the sun. The only detail that Jimmy caught was the small turret silhouetted in the magnesium glare of a lightning bolt. Tornado sirens wailed at him to get to shelter. He knew that there was a cellar here. All of the children knew.

But neither Jimmy nor his friends dared another kid to go in, lest the victim turn the tables in the future.

Now Jimmy dashed from his car straight through the overgrown bushes. They shook water into his clothes to no effect: the rain drenched him the moment he opened his car door. The window shoved him along. Now came the hail. The wind drove each bullet against his face.

In the dark he felt for the cellar doors. He knew that they were never locked. A rusty chain had always lain next to the doors. Something had snapped it like a thread long before.

Jimmy had nightmares for six months straight after he'd seen that. What monster could snap a chain like that?

He felt for the iron handle and yanked. The wind lifted the plywood door and his shirt. Icy particles knifed into his skin. The door opened. He fell forward into the chasm.

Something soft broke his fall and then deflected him into something hard that broke his arm.

Armageddon raged above. Rain poured down through the hole. Jimmy saw a light and dragged himself towards it and away from his landing place. The house above creaked as if it might collapse at any moment. At least if it crashes down on top of me, Jimmy thought, no more of that damn hail will hit me.

As he soon as he found the source of the light he regretted it.

The light was from a set of candles burning in the ribcage of a skeleton, who was dancing a jig. Now and again he pulled his head from his vertebrae and rolled it down one arm, across his shoulder blades, up the other arm, and replaced it on his neck.

Around the skeleton sat all manner of ghoul and ghast. Some rattled tibias and fibias against wooden coffins that sat pulled out of the dirt floor. Others clanged chains in rhythm to the dance.

And Jimmy heard their song:

When on your deathbed

if a shout rather

than a sigh you give

to greet that skinless head

remember to join us

for we never loved to live!

They noticed Jimmy watching them.

"One of the living! Scram!"

All of the ghouls and ghasts and skeletons abandoned their instruments and stormed past Jimmy. The skeleton with the candlelight ribcage illuminated their retreat. They climbed out of the hole that he'd fallen through.

One by one as they alit on the threshold, the strong wind sucked them away. The final dancer paused and turned to nod at Jimmy.

"Have you been here the whole time?"

The skeleton nodded. "We always tried to keep the living away. Rumors did most of the work. You kids did the rest."

"But why?"

"Because the living are quite dull. You wouldn't, for example, toss yourself into a tornado because of a partycrasher."

The skeleton reached into his ribcage and turned out the lights in the dancehall.

The Moral: if you can't find monsters, that just means that you're not clever enough.

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