What happens when the U.S. government figures out a way to slip 10 years into three minutes? First, they use it to try to outsmart their rivals—then the time paradox starts shifting outward from its location in Texas into the rest of the United States and threatens to rock the whole world off its axis.
In a horrifying genre-bending thriller, Charles Wachter will take readers on an exhilarating ride as a group of teens must travel through this paradox to attempt to heal the rift—yet their handlers wish for them to continue to assist with the dominance building within the Naut’s walls.
As the teens make their way deeper, they encounter more and more terrifying obstacles, including a river of ants that can’t be tamed, killed, or removed. Read on for a taste of the sci-fi thrills included in The Twin Paradox, the book included in this month’s Creepy Crate!
Read an excerpt of The Twin Paradox, then sign up for Creepy Crate!
Jimmy stopped the truck. Cayce parked next to them.
“The only way there,” said Jimmy, “is Black River. It’s been a feature of the Crypt for a few months now. Or a few hundred years, I guess, depending on how you look at it. The ants are marching endlessly in a circle, never eating until they die, but there are always new ones. Vicious little things. Not much larger than our own, but with a few surprises. We think they have become an important feature of the life cycle, a sort of transportation system for bacteria and microorganisms for the Crypt.”
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Jimmy explained that it wasn’t a new idea. While ants have never been great pollinators, there are many ant-plant mutualisms in nature. Nearly a third of herbaceous flowering plants in North America rely on ants foraging and transporting their seeds. The plants’ outer shell carries key amino acids, sugars, and lipids the ants need, and in return, the ants bury the seeds safely underground so they can germinate out of harm’s way, continuing the cycle.
And one species of ant and plant are so intertwined that they can’t live without each other. Acacia plants’ internal structure have evolved domatia, a Latin-derived word for house, to accommodate ants, which in turn pay rent by being security guards at their housing project, fighting off insect and herbivore threats.
So it was not a first in nature.
“But it is really inconvenient,” Jimmy said as he inspected the outside of his truck. The kids watched him with deep concern.
“At first, we hoped they’d just die out,” Jimmy continued, ratcheting waterproof bags with straps. “Then we tried to kill them. But they breed as fast as they die, in a perfect balance like everything in the Crypt, and we discovered they were necessary for the whole ecosystem to work. So we gave up. They just march, forever following each other, unconsciously carrying things the Crypt needs, like an immune system.” He got back in the cab.
They are ferromagnetic. Mess with radio traffic too, which is why we can’t communicate with the hub while we are inside the perimeter of Black River. Every time we build a bridge, they’d consume it over ten years. So I’ve reengineered the trucks to make the crossing.”
Jimmy hit a switch. All the vents in the vehicle closed and the windows tightened, squeezing into thick rubber membranes at every seam. Some sort of liquid poured down the windows. Another switch and they were on internal oxygen.
“No!” said Kat and Milk together when the obvious dawned on them: Jimmy intended to drive the truck into the swarming, swiftly flowing biomass.
“How deep is it?” Milk asked.
“Not sure. Just kidding. It’s really deep,” Jimmy said.
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“You could’ve been working at Waterworld,” said Kat to Alastair.
Cayce’s truck was already disappearing into the blackness ahead. Jimmy inched his truck forward. By the time the ants were at window height, they started to get into the cab somehow.
“This ain’t right,” Jimmy said.
More ants were getting in. Jimmy ripped open the glove compartment and foam repellent cans spilled out. “Get ’em.”
“It’s your fault we’re here,” Milk said to Alastair. “Over there,” Alastair said.
Milk kept ranting. “Kat, over there!”
Ants were flooding in on Kat’s side.
The truck went deeper. Blackness descended in the cab and the running lights turned on, making the marauding ants that much more menacing. Kat hyperventilated, her face pressed up against the glass in terror as the Hello Kitty truck completely disappeared under the surface. A moment later, the scene was calm, the roar of the trucks muffled. Both vehicles were gone and the Black River continued to flow like it had for hundreds of years, oblivious to the fact that there were two foreign bodies crawling somewhere below the surface.
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Jimmy’s truck lurched to a stop. He jammed the gears, reversed, and went forward again, but they weren’t moving, stuck in both directions on some unseen boulder.
It was pitch black, save for the soft yellow illumination. The kids fell quiet. Suddenly, there was a crack and another wave of ants poured in. While Jimmy tried every countermeasure to move his truck, the kids fought off the ants with the foam spray. It killed the insects on contact, but it wasn’t working fast enough. The inky darkness and flood of ants into the suffocating cabin drove everyone’s panicked voices up an octave.
“We’re stuck,” said Jimmy. The cans of spray started to run out. Kat desperately hammered her cans on a roll bar, but they were empty.
On the riverbank, Cayce’s truck emerged and released its sheet-white occupants onto land. Leo danced around, trying to dislodge the last ants on his body. Cayce climbed down and turned to look at the river.
Where are they? he wondered to himself.
Leo and Zack slowly realized what concerned Cayce and stood by his side. The other truck wasn’t emerging. Cayce tried to radio Jimmy, but it was just static.
At the bottom of the river, ants swarmed the interior of Jimmy’s impregnable truck. Milk was lecturing everyone and no one. Kat focused on the ants matting into her hair. Jimmy had both hands on the gear shaft, trying to crank it back and forth as he pumped the clutch and gas in an attempt to rhythmically rock the truck out of its abyssal hole. Just when it seemed like the truck was on its way up and out, it suddenly fell deeper, slamming ass-end into a new hole, its front pointing almost straight up in the black swarm of ants.
There was no getting out.
Cayce stared at the river, almost willing something to happen. And then it did. Two giant flames, like rocket engines, burned white-hot out of the river in a giant V shape, extending in both directions from below at an angle. After a moment, the flames turned off, and the river ran black again. A second later, flames burst out of the river once more, burning a hole in the carpet of insects.
Inside the truck, scalding flames and dead ants melted against the windows. They were ensconced in fire; the cabin’s temperature was quickly driving upward.
“Come on, Dad!” Jimmy yelled.
The realization burst upon Cayce. “Oh, shit!” Cayce ran to the truck, yanked out a chemical suit, and started to pull it on.
“You’re not,” Zack exclaimed. “What if you don’t come out?”
“Let me go kid,” said Cayce.
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“I don’t want to come out if I can’t save my boy. And If I don’t, then head that way,” Cayce said, zipping shut the hermetically sealed suit. He turned on his oxygen and grabbed the winch on the back of his truck.
Leo stopped him. “If you want your son to live and my friends, which I do, you have to let me go.”
Down below, Jimmy gave up trying to move the truck. He sat patiently and put on some music, blasting the Offspring at full volume. The kids were a writhing mess behind him, twisted up in each other’s bodies and a black mass of ants.
Jimmy absentmindedly took a sip of coffee and spit it out when he realized it too was full of ants. He checked his watch.
Leo slowly waded into the stream of ants, fighting the terror and the tiny insects dragging him down. They tugged on his legs like a powerful river.
But it was alive.
It was tough to keep his footing, and finally, he too disappeared beneath the surface. Leo was immediately lost in black, his breathing ragged with fear, steaming up the glass in front of his face. Ants crawled across his cheek, stinging his eyes.
Then slowly, he heard it.
He headed toward the sound, determined not to let his friends die. And not to cry.
Up on the riverbank, Zack stared at the winch line. It was slack now, swinging side to side. Up and down. He was confused.
Cayce stared into the ants, as if he were willing them to part with his mind.
The cable snaked again. Suddenly, it hit Zack. The winch. It was Leo’s signal to turn it on.
He was alive!
Zack hit the lever. The cable locked into place and groaned. But instead of the line slowly coming out of the river, Cayce’s truck was instead being dragged toward the river.
Cayce ran back as quick as he could, trying to lean into the truck. The parking brakes weren’t holding. Zack took another cable to anchor it somewhere, but when he got to a tree, the truck was already too far away.
“Over here!” Cayce yelled. He had found a rock to lever with a tree limb. He was trying to roll it in front of the truck before the vehicle also disappeared.
It was too heavy. The truck was almost at the river’s edge, dragging itself into the ants.
Zack burst into action, running as fast as his twigs could carry him. He ran up the log like a squirrel. When he got to the tip of it, he grabbed the end, flung his legs over his head, and then swung down below it, his body dangling off the end.
The boulder started to move; Zack’s weight dangled off the end of the log, slowly winning the contest with gravity.
The leverage worked. Suddenly, the giant rock was free. It tumbled end-over-end toward the truck in an agonizingly slow fashion, each flip of the giant rock seeming like its last.
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The truck was up to its wheels in ants by the time the giant rock picked up enough speed down a muddy incline and caught it broadside with a giant crunch. It was jammed under the truck’s undercarriage, stopping it at the river’s edge, against another rock.
It was the winch’s turn to protest.
It whined and smoked under the stress until the cable started to move again. Moments later, it dragged Hello Kitty out of the hellscape. On its hood, Leo was draped like a shot deer, spread-eagled and motionless.
Before Hello Kitty was on shore, its occupants fell out of the doors. Ants poured out alongside them. Jimmy dragged Milk to the shore. She was unconscious.
Cayce used a powerful fire hose to cover everyone with a mix of foam and water, while Jimmy went to work trying to get Milk to breathe. Everyone surrounded her.
Leo said it first to Alastair. “This is your fault.”
With every pump of her chest, ants poured out of her mouth.
When the truck had shifted with the winch, she got pinned under Kat’s feet in the sudden movement, ants swarming over her entire body.
Jimmy took a can of the ant repellent. He slammed a key into the side of it like he was shotgunning a beer. He covered the hole with his thumb and then pressed the open end into Milk’s mouth.
Sodium tetraborate decahydrate flooded into her lungs. Jimmy pinched her nose to make sure the harmless, but irritating chemical didn’t escape while Cayce pumped her chest again.
“This is all your fault,” Leo repeated. There was no anger in his voice. Leo wasn’t looking at Milk; he stared straight at Alastair.
In fact, all of Alastair’s friends stared at him. The weight of their accusation pushed him away, until he sat, alone, with his back to them.
When Milk finally stopped coughing, Alastair wasn’t watching. He heard her gasps and crying, but he was lost in his own thoughts, still suffocating at the bottom of Black River.
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