EF 5 • by J.C. Towler

Cars inched forward like cattle pressing into a slaughterhouse chute. Zack thumped the steering wheel with his fist. Who knew there’d be road work at Dulles International at 5:00 on Friday? He should have left sooner. His white-boy dreadlocks and scraggly facial hair always ensured a “random” selection for the Homeland Security Shakedown. His time cushion was dying in the traffic congestion and if he missed his plane —

The driver behind Zack laid on his horn. The guy in the pickup ahead of him hoisted a middle-finger salute in response.

“What? It wasn’t me!” Zack pointed backwards, half turning. The accusatory finger remained aloft. He flipped the hood of his Baja up, withdrawing his head like a turtle. Good memories were steeped in the rough-spun grey wool with many more to come if he could get through this goddamn traffic jam.

A vanguard of raindrops slapped against the windshield of his Volkswagen bug. Zack craned his neck out of the hood and looked toward the sky. Clouds slid over the sun like a hangman’s shroud, turning the afternoon a premature gray. Wind buffeted the VW, whistling through the holes in the old car’s body.

Zack turned on the radio and flipped through the channels.

“…unexpected system over the Washington metropolitan area. Motorists should get off the road and seek shelter. Flights temporarily suspended at…”

A static blizzard obliterated the rest of the transmission. Zack rolled the tuner back and forth, then gave up. He slapped his palms against his thighs and slumped in his seat. He’d logged a shitload of overtime to pay for this trip and now he wasn’t even going to get off the ground?

The thrum of a cutout muffler reached him an instant before the motorcycle shot past his window. Zack flinched away; cheeks flushing with anger. A hand-painted cross stretched across the back of the biker’s jacket. The black leather background made the white seem to glow.

“Lot of good that’ll do if someone opens a door on you, dumbass,” Zack said.

The biker stopped under a nearby overpass. He dismounted, peered at Zack over mirrored sunglasses, and winked. He gave a finger wave, and then clambered up a slope that formed a sideways “v” with the overpass. Zack peered after the man, trying to see if he recognized him.

Rain lashed down, blurring the windows, washing away all visibility. Zack switched on the wipers just as powerful gusts jolted the car, slamming him sideways. Bits of gravel hammered the windshield. Hairs on his arms stiffened. Missing his flight was rapidly becoming a distant concern.

An unearthly howl built over the din of the debris pelting the VW. Something heavy smashed against the windshield, birthing a spider web the size of a baseball. The car shuddered and Zack felt himself being lifted. His stomach dropped with the car as it crashed against the ground, shattering every window on impact. Zack flung his hands across his face as rain poured in, soaking him in an instant.

He yanked open the door and rolled to the ground, the wind clawing breath from his lungs. Raindrops stung like BB’s. A few feet away, something heavy landed with a metallic crunch. Zack curled into a ball and moaned.

Screams propelled him to his feet.

He half-crawled toward the overpass, pain jolting his hands and knees as broken glass cut his flesh. Finally, the ground began to slope upward and he scrambled blindly higher. As he neared the underside of the overpass the wind and rain diminished. He wiped his eyes and glanced back at the road. In both directions it looked like a giant had scooped handfuls of cars, tossed them in the air, and then stomped them flat. The sight was almost as startling as the voice that called out to him a moment later.

“Hey, brother, over here.”

Zack slipped down the slope a few feet before regaining traction. Above him, the motorcycle rider held out a hand. Zack couldn’t imagine how he’d missed seeing him, big as the man was.

“You’re him, aren’t you?” the biker asked. His grit-encrusted goatee framed his crooked grin. Zack didn’t know who he’d been mistaken for, but felt it best to go along and get along for the moment. Brushing soaked dreadlocks away from his face, he took another step up the slope.

“Yeah, sorry I didn’t recognize you back there when you waved,” he said.

The biker gave him one of those ‘our-little-secret’ winks. “That’s okay. I recognized you.”

Zack crawled up the rest of the way and tucked in beside the man. He wondered why he was sitting by the edge of the overpass. Personally, he’d have felt much safer in the middle.

“Why don’t we move back some?” he said.

“Naw,” the man said. “This here’s a front row seat.”

Zack shook his head and turned his attention to his hands. Glass had sliced him up good, and he was leaking from a dozen different wounds. He plucked at the shards with shaking fingers. He noticed the biker staring at the bleeding palms and nodding to himself. What the hell was with this guy? A smile split the man’s face wide enough to expose a missing molar.

“What do you think happened?” Zack asked.

“Like you don’t know.” The man laughed and tapped his temple. “Finger of God. Good idea, brother. They expected fire or ice.”

The biker rose to his feet.

“Well, I guess I’m ready,” he said.

“Ready for what?” Zack asked.

The man pointed skyward. Dark clouds swirled in a clockwise direction. A dark funnel dropped toward the ground in slow motion. The biker latched onto the sleeve of his Baja with a terminal grip.

“The Rapture!” His crazed eyes bore into Zack’s as he hauled him out into the open. “I knew you’d come for me yourself, Jesus. Take me home!”

“Wait,” he screamed. “I’m not — ”

The tornado corkscrewed down from the heavens, swallowing his dying shriek.

J.C. Towler spins tales of mystery, suspense, science fiction and is particularly fond the deep, penetrating horror tale. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is his home which is odd considering he’s afraid of the ocean and doesn’t eat fish. His latest suspense story “Lottery Winner” appears in Your Darkest Dreamspell available at Amazon and other fine retailers. You can check out “The Fall” at Spinetingler.com and “Scales” in the Monstrous: 20 Tales of Giant Creature Terror anthology.

This story was sponsored by
Six Questions For… — where editors, agents, and publishers tell all.

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Every Day Fiction

  • Pulled me into pure escape.

  • Jesus in a Baja and a crazed biker – what a great story! I loved it, John.

  • Shelle

    Poor Zack. All he wanted to do was take a vacation. Great story choice for the day before a snowstorm!

  • Some great imagery here – ‘Raindrops stung like BBs.’ Rapture indeed. Peace, Linda

  • Kate Michaels

    I thoroughly enjoyed it, nice work.

  • Nicely written, but definitely a DOWNER! I have to give it credit for being a good story, I just didn’t like it. Too depressing.

  • I got goose bumps the size of acorns reading this. Jeeze, Jim, I don’t know what it takes to move you!

    I didn’t quite know what was unfolding which added to the roller coaster. The ending was especially delicious!

    J.C., I applaud you, man. Makes me want to jump on that Cedar Island Ferry and come shake your hand personally for this one!

    Nicely done!

  • Jen

    Nice twist at the end!

  • Ryan

    Woke me up faster than my espresso. Well done, sir, well done.

  • Steve

    Great story, John. Loved the twisted ending and the spidered windshield. I could feel the maelstrom.
    Very good.

  • I thought Zack was being rescued by a heavenly biker. Silly me. Nice work, J.C. Hey, waitaminnit…

  • Lisa C.

    Basically, nothing happens in the entire first half except scene-setting. It can be condensed into a single paragraph. But when something finally happened, it really did.

    The bleeding hands was too much for me. Felt like the author was bashing me on the head with The Idea.

    A number of word choices got me “slicked” (s/b “sliced?”); “was leaking” (what? blood? orange juice?); “terminal grip.” And what’s a Baja (I assume some sort of jacket, but by the end, I’ve forgotten the earlier reference and it could very well be the bike)?

    And in the northern hemisphere, most tornadoes spin counterclockwise. If you’re using the clockwise spin of this one to imply that the rapture is really happening, then it may be too subtle a point.

    But a good effort, and a cool story.

  • Sharon

    Ya got me, J.C. I admit it. (Nice initials, btw.) 5 gloved forefingers pointing upward.

    But I tell ya, when it all comes down, I hope those crazy Jesus Freak bikers are on my side.

  • Rick

    “He flipped the hood of his Baja up.” One moment I’m in the car and the next I’m out opening the hood, and then I’m back inside the car… or on Baja dirt bike?
    Was there a paragraph missing? I got very confused very early and almost stopped reading.

  • Thanks for spotting the typo, Lisa; I’ve now corrected “slicked” to “sliced”.

  • David

    Great story. Funny and frightening. Although I agree it was a bit slow to start, I love the beginning so much, I say keep it. Some great writing here, all around. Five stars.

  • Lisa, your assumption is right – a Baja is Mexican jacket, sort of like a hoodie only pullover style. There’s nothing more comfortable than a well-worn Baja. 🙂


  • J.C. Towler

    Thanks to everyone who stopped by to read and comment.

    The Baja has been covered (and I must agree with Debi (17) that there’s nothing more comfortable than a well-worn Baja. They look kind of cool too). Lisa, thanks for the tip about tornadoes. No excuses for that one except that I didn’t even think to look it up.

    I appreciate EDF accepting this story. I love this venue because you get feedback from readers who are not in your normal writing circles.

    Happy Holidays,


  • Great story. Had me going right up to the end. Kicker of an ending.

  • Marguerite

    Great, entertaining story John with a surprising twist at the end. Sucked me in just like a tornado would:) Love the bleeding hands reference and the overall build up of suspense. Nice job on this.

  • Kim

    The story clues are set from the very first line — cattle to the slaughterhouse.
    After reading that — I knew the possibility for a happy ending was nil. 🙂

    Good story JC — I couldn’t predict that a righteous biker dude would yank the dreadlocked Zack for a final ride on God’s spiraling finger. Cool stuff.

  • Henry

    Nice story, but I had a hard time following. I don’t know what is a “baja”, and neither do I know what “BB’s” are. I get that is third person limited point of view, so the world is described through Zack’s eyes. But the reader still needs to be able to follow the story.

    Also, I feel that you refer to the main character by his first name way too many times. For example, consider “The car shuddered and Zack felt himself being lifted….” and the last sentence of that same paragraph: “Zack flung his hands across…” There is only one character in the story! We know is him. Still nice story, and loved the ending. Three stars this time around. Good job!

  • DeborahB

    Nice twist to a vivid story.

  • The biker dude rocks. I dig his jacket and the symbology. Very cool, John.

  • Great similes . . . I love well used similes! The story was unusual and well written! I’ll come back and read some more!

  • Granddad

    Henry, how is it someone who does not know what a”BB” is feels compelled to make any comment about the writer’s work? You need to improve your vocabulary past the comic book level before attempting to offer “”constructive criticism on works clearly beyond your intelectual level.

  • Granddad: It’s my belief that fiction writers strive to avoid making the reader reach for a dictionary or for a search engine. I remember reading Stephen King himself saying so on his book, “On Writing.” Regarding “EF 5”, I praise the author for a very original story. He does an excellent job of using the POV of the main character to narrate it. Still, I believe that you shouldn’t have to be part of a particular subculture to follow a story, unless the author himself wanted only some people to be able to understand it. As a writer myself, I believe the most respectful thing I can for another writer is to criticize his work. It’s only through criticism and feedback that we can become better at our craft.

    Regarding your comment, I found it extremely disrespectful. I don’t believe in using the anonymity of the internet to hide. I address everyone as I would talk to them if they were standing in front of me. I encourage you to do the same.

  • Renee

    Granddad: Just a little note; I agree with Henry’s critique of this work. The writer has to consider all of his readers, not just a select few. The piece is well written, which Henry stated but there are areas for improvement. Any writer who doesn’t want criticism that will make their writing better should put away the pen and consider knitting.

    Also, it’s intellectual. 2 L’s.

    If people are going to have to worry that someone is going to insult them personally just because they don’t like a critique, then they won’t bother and that hurts the author.

    I believe maturity is the word I’m looking for. With a name like Granddad, I’d have expected to see a little of that in your comment. I was disappointed.

    Merry Christmas.

  • Acknowledging my personal issues with the concept of the rapture (theologically troublesome), I read this as a satirical treatment of the rapture and I like it. Sorry if the author intends something different. Good writing with some helpful suggestions by commenters.

  • I loved the opening line of this story: “Cars inched forward like cattle pressing into a slaughterhouse chute.” Great imagery in that simile. That’s exactly how I feel in a traffic jam.

    I agree with Henry about the use of words that might not be understood in other cultures. Not everyone has owned, used, or heard of a BB gun.

  • Very much enjoyed this.
    I don’t get the title though, anyone care to enlighten me?

  • J.C. Towler

    Hi Mazzz,

    I got that question every time I put this up for critique and was surprised I hadn’t been asked about it here. Just figured the EDF readers were avid Weather Channel watchers.

    Just as the Richter Scale is a measurement of seismic energy for earthquakes, the Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF Scale) measures the power of tornadoes. An EF-5 tornado is as powerful as they get.

    While not asked directly, I do feel a need to weigh in on the word-choice issue. A “baja” is perhaps not something everyone will recognize, though in the context of the story I think you could determine it was some article of clothing with a hood. I think a “BB” isn’t tasking many readers’ vocabulary; to be sure you don’t have to be part of any subculture to know what a BB is.

    I gladly accept and even encourage criticism and feedback about my writing. I’m under no illusions that I’ve mastered the craft and know there is always room for improvement. I love EDF because I’m getting feedback from strangers who don’t know me personally and will give me an unvarnished opinion. However, I’m not going to write to the lowest common denominator, using only words that are universally recognized to tell my stories. I would hope no writer would do such a thing. It is never wrong to challenge your readers with new ideas, new styles, and new ways of telling stories.

    If I have to reach for a dictionary (or if I’m reading online, the “Google” tab,) to learn a new word and enrich my own vocabulary, I consider myself better off.

    All that said, maybe “steel pellets” might sound better in some (distant) future revision. 🙂

    Thanks again to all who cared to comment.


  • Cecile

    Really enjoyed it! *****

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  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    I know what bb’s are; pellets used in childrens’ toy cowboy guns. I think they were outlawed years ago when I was a child because they might hit someone in the eye although they are not harmful to other parts of the body. “Baja” was mentioned in another EDF story, so I knew it, but that’s the dangerous word because it’s not in the dictionary. Someone should keep up and put it there.

  • fishlovesca

    Excellent story, I really enjoyed it from beginning to end. 🙂 Perfect set-up, impeccable description of action, great resolution.

  • R.A.S.

    Great pacing here. Drew me in at the start and kept me anxiously reading to the end. Well done.