Chapter 3 (Spartacus)

Now comes a rapping on my door, the familiar tap-tap-tap of my old friend Mohamed Hashim Laith-Osman.  If there was ever a man worthy of his name, this man is one.  He fought with me against Rome decades ago.  He was fearless and steady at all times.  Now, the ravages of time have caught up with him.  He leans heavy on his staff and his feet are unsure on the broken stoop at my front door.

“Come in, my friend,” I call out.

The door opens and Mohamed shuffles in.  His ruddy complexion has turned gray.  His long, hooked nose seems to drape down to his chin and his eyes, once sharp and bright as an eagle’s, are now yellow and shot with blood.

“Allahu Akbar,” he says, as he stumbles across the floor, ever careful not to trip on the clutter that surrounds me.

“Allahu Akbar.”  I said it back to him.

This phrase, our not-so-secret code, always is said, always is meant.

The infidels had no such thing, no such strength, no such faith, no god.

I turned on the stovetop to heat water for our tea and Mohamed filled the bowl of my hookah with hashish.

“Do you remember,” he said, “how Ayatullah Durrani said, on September 10, 2010, that Sheikh Obama should offer the prescribed Eid prayers at Ground Zero and to declare himself Caliph?”

“Who can forget?” I said.  “Durrani was six years ahead of himself.”

The bubbling hookah made a happy sound and the tea pot whistled.

We were happy and at peace.

And then came the pounding on the door.

“What could that be?” I asked.

“Let us hope it isn’t the Shiite death squad,” said Mohamed Hashim Laith-Osman.

I felt for the pistol that was cinched by a belt under my robe before I went to the door.

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CHAPTER 2 (Illusions on a Double Dimple)

(I realize that some clarification is needed, here.  This particular CHAPTER 2 has nothing to do with extra-terrestrial monsters or gothic horror tales from a long-lost century.  This is the 2nd chapter of a different story, a story of Earthly monsters that live today.  Chapter 1 of this story, was “published” on WordPress.com February 7, 2016)

Okay, here we go…..

 

Here is a riddle for you.

Why am I, Jah-Keem Yisrael Mohamed Shabaaz, like a Tyranosaurus  Rex?

I sit in squalor.  There is no other name for it. It is my shame.  I cannot find the energy to dust my old furniture or to sweep the floors.  I no longer have the mental clarity that would enable me to pick up the clutter that surrounds me and to separate the trash from the treasures.  My only real treasures are my leather-bound copy of the Quran and my memories of my darling martyred wife, Zika Aafreen-Haiqa.

Her honey-brown skin, her burning eyes, her wide, sensual lips, and, most of all, her love for the Prophet, made her unique in all my world.  Until that day.  Until that day when I saw her speaking to another man.  Of course, he couldn’t see her, Beneath her modest dress.  He could see nothing but those eyes, those hypnotic eyes.

I knew, then, that she was lost to me.

It hurt me to beat her that evening.  She fled to her room in tears.  That should have been the end of it.  But it wasn’t.  This was all so many years ago.  If it wasn’t for the decision she made the next morning, all would have gone well and we would still be living in our joy, in our island of love.

But.

Following the first Brussels’ bombing, on March 22, 2016, Sheikh Obama (pbuh) ordered that some of the bomb-making equipment be transferred from the Baltimore Mosque to three mosques, far apart from one another, religious centers in the middle of kafir tourist-traps.  One of these was the Muhammad Mosque in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  One was the Burbank Islamic Center in California.  One was the Jama Masjid in Orlando, Florida.

It was on November 10, 2016, following the election of Donald Trump as putative forty-fifth President of the United States, that Sheikh Obama (pbuh) ordered that wheels be put in motion.

My wife, my servant, my slave Zika Aafreen-Haiqa volunteered to be a martyr and to detonate her bombs at the turnstile gates of Dollywood, in the Smoky Mountains of Amerika.  She did it on Thanksgiving Day.  It was beautiful.

Others that I did not know performed their holy duty at Disney World and at Disneyland.

Martial law was declared.

Christianity was finally outlawed.

Here is the answer to the riddle.  Like the Tyrannosaurus Rex, I live in the past.

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SWAMPGOD – Chapter 4

T’ung J’en [fellowship with man]

 

            Onboard the Forcados Princess, Forrest Avery and Henry Dawson cringed beneath the gaze of the monster.  Its one elongated eye studied them thoughtfully as the men watched the silhouettes of their comrades dissolving inside the alien.  Four of Chi-Ukwu’s tentacles slid around the boat, almost completely enveloping it.  The two surviving men, nearly suffocated by the fishy stench of the beast, crawled on their hands and knees in search of weapons while the monster began paddling back to the village where the natives had accepted it as their god.  Dawson, at the rear of the boat, located the crate containing his guns.  It was the only one that had been bolted in place.  He unlatched the top of the box and lifted the lid open.  He reached inside, pulled out his elephant gun, the Gewehr 88, loaded it with trembling fingers, and rolled onto his back.

 

Dawson pointed the rifle straight above his own head, aiming into the middle of one of Chi-Ukwu’s giant tentacles, and he fired.  The sound of the concussion nearly deafened him; but the huge bullet seemed to have no affect on the monster.  It continued slogging along through the water.  Some sort of fluid was now raining down on Dawson, though.  In the dark, caused by the nearly complete encapsulation of the boat by the creature’s arms, Dawson couldn’t tell what it was that was pouring onto him.  He hoped it was the creature’s life-blood.  Dawson fired again and again, emptying the rifle’s magazine.  The two men were thrown back and forth, trapped in the monster’s implacable grip.  Avery’s left wrist was broken by the time the beast sat the flat-bottomed boat down in the clearing.  Dawson had several broken ribs.  Both men, covered with black slime that had flowed out of the monster’s wounds, lay gasping for breath as the creature backed away from the boat.

Hesitantly, the Urhobo warriors crawled out of their mud huts and considered the shaken and disoriented white men.  With a rumble of tongue-clicking and whispers, the natives approached the boat.  Professor Avery had found a cache of rags and he was using his good hand to try and wipe away the oily residue on his skin.  It seemed to have penetrated into his flesh, leaving him tattooed with greenish-black welts.  He slid over to the landed boat’s captain and offered to help him up.  Dawson only moaned and shook his head.  He knew some things were broken inside and had no desire to be moved.  He tried to twist his head and trunk so as to be able to see the savages; but gave it up because of the shooting pain in his midsection.  He lay back against the side of the boat.  Avery picked up Dawson’s rifle and aimed it towards the natives.  They had either not seen a gun before or had no fear of it.  They continued their approach.

 

The scientist pointed the gun skyward while shouting out greetings in a variety of dialects.  The crowd shuffled forward.  Most of them had spears in their hands.  A few had primitive bows and were sliding arrows into them.  When they got within ten feet of the boat, one man among them walked forward and put his hand on the boat.  He was a tall fellow wearing a feathered head-dress atop an intricately carved wooden mask.  He held up an arm festooned with bracelets and amulets made of bone and feathers.  He planted the shaft of his spear into the ground in front of him and said, “Nibo lo ti wa?”

 

The professor, happy to hear a phrase he understood, answered, “Mowa lati Amerika.”

 

“By George, we can speak with the savages,” said Captain Dawson.  He raised himself up a bit and called out, “Se egbo Geesi?”

 

He wasn’t surprised to hear the response:  “Mi ogbe Geesi”.

 

“Well, we converse in their language, then,” whispered Forrest Avery to his sole remaining companion.  He lowered the rifle and handed it to Dawson.  Dawson, knowing the rifle was empty, lowered it gently onto the deck.  Avery gestured to the natives with his palms extended, hoping this would be seen as a non-aggressive sign.  It drew no reaction.  The Urhobo, now surrounding the small boat, seemed tense as piano strings.  There was some mumbling in the crowd.  Avery realized he was sweating profusely and that the slime that had dripped onto him was hot and beginning to form boils on his skin.

 

“My friend has been injured,” he yelled, in the native dialect.

 

The aborigine who was now leaning against the small craft nodded his head.  He climbed aboard.

 

Avery shook the native’s hand and then fought his way through the wreckage in search of the crate that had been filled with medicine and medical supplies.  It took him nearly ten minutes; but he ultimately found what he was looking for.  The crate had been torn to bits, but he found some soggy elastic bandages, squeezed them dry as best he could, and hurried back to Henry Dawson.  Dawson was coughing up blood and wiping it on his shirtsleeve.   He used the gun as a crutch and lifted himself up from the deck with a gasp.  He dropped down onto a wooden bench and tried to unbutton his shirt.  He was unable to lift his arms.  Avery knelt before him, undid the buttons of the other man’s shirt and slowly, carefully, slid the shirt over Dawson’s shoulders and down his back.

 

Avery was at a loss, trying to determine what he should do.  Dawson’s body was torn badly.  Avery had found no clean water, dry bandages, or any kind of antiseptic.  One of Henry Dawson’s ribs stuck jagged to the right of his sternum and his chest was distorted and swollen from the tossing about he had suffered.

 

The native touched Avery on the shoulder and pushed past him.  After touching Dawson’s broken skin with his filthy hands, he began to chant.  He reached into a bag that was tied around his neck and pulled out some small bones.  He threw them onto the deck.  He studied them, picked them up, and threw them again, several times.  Then he put the bones back in the bag and stumbled about on the deck while singing.  Neither Avery nor Dawson could make out the words of the song.  When he was finished, he smiled and said, “Gbo-gbo e wa daa-daa”.

 

“So,” grunted Dawson, “everything is okay, is it?”  He had a coughing fit and then held his sides as tears ran down his cheeks.  “Avery, there’s a flask of whiskey in my hip pocket.”  He leaned forward.  “Give me a drink and then rub some on the worst of it.  When you’ve done that, wrap up my ribs.  That’s all you can do.”  Professor Avery held the bottle up to Dawson’s lips and the injured man took three greedy swallows.  “Okay, get on with it,” said Dawson.

 

Avery took a slug of the liquor himself and recapped the flask.  “I’ll try to find something clean and dry to apply it with,” he promised Henry Dawson.  When he returned, with a stinking and wet towel, the captain had passed out and had fallen off the bench.  Professor Avery wrung out the towel, bent down, and poured some liquor onto the center of it.  Gently, he dabbed it onto the riverboat captain’s wounds.  Finally, he took a deep breath and stretched the dirty rag around the other man’s chest.  Only then, did he take a close look at his own broken wrist.  He tried pulling it straight out.

 

The next thing he was aware of, he was sitting on the ground next to Henry Dawson, leaning against one of the native’s shacks.  Directly in front of him, towering over him, was Chi-Ukwu.  The creature’s eye was distended in the white men’s direction.  Avery felt no fear of the beast.  Oddly, he felt a strange affinity to it.  He looked to his right and saw that Dawson was still asleep.  Blood had seeped through the towel that encircled his chest and ribs.  The boils on the skin of both men had exploded and were seeping profusely.  Avery was surprised to realize that neither his broken wrist nor his open wounds hurt.  In fact, they tingled as if a mild electrical charge was surging through them.  He lifted his left hand and tentatively shook it.  The wrist seemed to be intact; but his hand was white as ivory.

 

The giant beast waddled away from the men and, when it was about fifty yards away, the natives, heads facing to the ground, surrounded it.  Some of them had drums and they began to pat the leather heads of the drums with the palms of their hands.  In a few minutes, the soft tapping turned into rhythmic pounding.  The Urhobo began dancing in a circle with the creature in their center.  Occasionally, one of them would leap high in the air with a hysterical shout.

 

Henry Dawson leaned over and tapped Avery on the shoulder.  He whispered, “I know this sounds crazy, but, I feel pretty good.”

 

Avery nearly jumped off the ground.  He hadn’t expected to find the battered old riverboat captain conscious, let alone to hear him talking cheerfully.  Dawson began unwrapping the now-dried towel from his ribs and both men were startled to see the redness was gone and that the one broken rib that had torn through the skin had somehow disappeared from view.  The man’s chest, though, had a glossy white shine to it and, while he had been a hairy specimen before, his chest, his arms, and his shoulders now looked shaven.

 

“What’s happening?” Dawson wondered aloud.  He probed his flesh tentatively with his index fingers.  It didn’t hurt, not even when he pushed around his ribcage; but, strangely, his body felt spongy and soft, as if his bones had dissolved.  He pressed the palm of his left hand against his stomach and the hand passed deeply inside.  The knuckles of his hand barely showed around the putty-like material that had once been flesh and bone.  With a frightened intake of breath, he pulled his hand back and watched as his stomach slowly regained its natural symmetry.

 

As the natives danced wildly around and around the alien creature, a hundred voices began yelling, “Eze Chi-Ukwu,”.  The beast had squatted down, covering its feet with its bloated, jellylike body, and seemed to be undulating in rhythm with the chant.

 

“What the hell is going on?” mused Professor Avery.  “Dawson, can you understand what they’re saying?”  The scientist was so engrossed in the scene unfolding in front of him that he didn’t notice his companion was now standing up.  “Dawson,” he said, in a louder voice, “Are you still conscious?”  Avery turned his head towards the captain and was surprised to see the man standing above him, actually towering above him, since Henry Dawson had grown three feet taller.  The man’s eyes were glazed and his neck seemed to have disappeared into his shoulders.  Before Avery’s horrified eyes, Dawson’s legs began to wither and collapse beneath the weight of his rapidly-growing, egg-shaped body.

 

“Oh, dear God.”  The words escaped unbidden from Avery’s lips.  He pressed against the ground with his hands and tried to rise, to get away from the deformed and rapidly changing man at his side; but he groaned in both fear and pain when he discovered that his arms had no strength.  They had become flabby, wobbly, useless appendages hanging at his sides.  He rolled over and tried to rise up on his knees; but his legs, too, seemed to have lost any muscle tone.  With terror, he felt a churning inside himself and, with a boiling sound, his own torso began to lengthen and grow broader.  Within seconds, his unnatural growth jammed his face against the hovel that the two men had been leaning against.  With a jerky movement of his neck, he forced himself to rise up until his oddly elongated body was pressed diagonally against the building.  When he felt his back begin to sag, he allowed himself to roll around and face the tribe, the monster, and the oddly misshapen creature that had recently been Henry Dawson.

 

“Henry, what’s happening to us?” the doctor cried out.

 

Dawson, his head now the size of a softball that was currently melting between his shoulders, tried to say something. The sound that came out was more of a buzzing sound than that of a human voice.  He began stumbling toward the dancing, leaping, natives and the unearthly leviathan they seemed to be worshipping.

 

“Akpo r’Oba! Eze Chuk-wa!”  These were the words the men were yelling in cadence.  Then, one of them spotted Henry Avery, still about twenty feet out of the circle, but shambling in towards the group.  The dancer stopped and pointed.  Eventually, the entire group grew quiet and shuffled to a stop.  Chi-Ukwu’s eye-stalk languidly rose above the crowd.  A greeting droned from somewhere inside the monster and the Urhobo men began stomping their feet insanely.  A new chant started and grew spontaneously until it filled the hot African sky.

 

“Eze Obgunabali!”  The sound ripped through the clearing and into the jungle.  The group of nearly one hundred painted and tattoed men danced and stomped their way towards Henry Avery, who sat, rather comically looking, egglike, in fact, just thirty feet in front of Doctor Forrest Avery.

 

Avery was, himself, nearly overcome by the Tinnitus-like whistling or humming sounds that had begun to drown out all the other sounds.  But the last thing he heard was a dozen men without shoes, wearing clothing made from the jungle, looking happy as pandas, singing “Welcome Agwunsi healer.”

 

The old professor had never been happier.

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SWAMPGOD – Chapter 3

Huan [dispersion]

 

“Are we ever going to get out of this swamp?” asked Professor Avery. He stopped pushing into the muck with the long pole he had been using for hours and wiped sweat out of his eyes with a red bandanna. He looked at the other three men who, like himself, were nearly mad with exhaustion. His companions continued their arduous task of pushing blindly through the grass that waved fifteen feet above the water. The men’s shirts were torn and their torsos were bloody from being whipped by the blades of the finely-serrated saw grass. The team had been fighting their way through the swamp for five days. Two days ago, the day the steam engine had finally stalled for the last time, their compasses had mysteriously stopped working; and the men had continued on their journey using only the blistering sun as their guide. When the sun dropped past the horizon, they would lash the boat to clumps of weeds growing out of muddy hillocks choking the river, swallow minute amounts of their rations, wrap themselves in mosquito netting, and wait for the dawn.

 

Scott Chinaski exclaimed, “Whose bright idea was this, anyway?” Henry Dawson pushed a bottle of gin away from his sunburned lips and, sighting over the mouth of the bottle, focused on the questioner.

 

“You know, it’s crazy, but I can’t remember,” he muttered.

 

Doctor Matt Charbonneau rolled onto his back. His hazel-colored eyes stared up into the ochre sky that was fast fading to black. Forrest Avery, fever-ridden, sick with a headache and nausea, could not remember planning the expedition. His first clear recollection of anything, in fact, was the moment the needle on the ship’s compass began pointing straight to the southwest, towards their destination.

 

Chi-Ukwu sat up on the throne the natives had built it and it sniffed the air. The tiny slits surrounding its mouth opened and closed grotesquely. The white men were getting closer. The alien rose from the huge chair and slid down to the hard-packed dirt in the center of the village, the parade ground. It began slouching to the east and was soon lost from sight of the Urhobo.

 

In no time, it was wading, half-swimming, using its forty-foot-long tentacles to row through the murky backwater. Then, when it hit the deep water of the Forcados River, it let its legs rotate to the surface, and it began kicking with its huge froglike feet. It was moving at about twenty knots, against the current, when it saw them, the six men aboard the powerless river boat. They were in the center of the river, poling along, about a hundred yards away, when the monster dove downwards. Seconds later, Chi-Ukwu pushed against the rocky bottom of the river and grabbed the keel with its tentacles. In an instant, the bow of the small ship was twenty feet above the water and its occupants were thrown to the stern. With a deafening, birdlike screech, the creature shook the boat like it was a toy. Scott Chinaski and Matt Charbonneau flew into the air and splashed into the river. Chi-Ukwu sat the boat down gently, then plucked the two men out of the water and swallowed them.

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SWAMPGOD – Chapter 2

Lu [the Wanderer]

 

The alien’s dream came true. Seventy miles upstream on the Forcados River, four white men were boarding a rusty and filthy steam-powered river boat. Their plan was to explore the river to its muddy delta and salty mangrove swamps. As they labored to begin the last leg of their journey, deep inside the mind’s eye of each man, a disturbing image was growing clearer by the moment. Each man kept his vision a secret from his companions. Nobody in his right mind would mention daydreaming about an octopus resting on top of a house-sized puddle of jelly. Who would have thought that keeping these secrets would bring such tragedy?

 

The leader of the group was a bearded fellow, fifty years old, with graying hair and a gourmet’s belly. His name was Forrest Avery, PhD. An anthropologist and a botanist, his expressed goal in the mission was to make contact with the tribesmen of the Niger Delta and to enlist their assistance in securing some medicinal plants he had heard rumors of. A native Englishman who had studied the Nigerian culture most of his life, he could talk with the Africans in several local dialects. He wiped sweat from his broad forehead and leaned on a wooden barrel filled with drinking water.

 

Second in command was Dr. Matthew Charbonneau. He was an American medical doctor. His primary reason for being on the expedition was to tend to his companions’ health. He was thirty-two, an internist from Massachusetts General Hospital, fit as a steel beam, and on a two-month leave from his employment. He was working like a stevedore, loading supplies and medical equipment onto the primitive steamboat that was to take the four men nearly to the ocean.

 

Scott Chinaski, another American, was the third member of the team. Twenty-three years old and full of energy, he nearly slipped off the mossy dock as he raced with another case of provisions onto the shabby old boat. He stopped, shaded his eyes with a hand, and looked down the channel, hoping to see where this backwater swamp would join the flooding river. He wondered, as he wrestled the wooden crate into its place, how seaworthy the boat was.

 

Despite his misgivings, he had taken many photos of the old wooden boat as it bumped peacefully against the dock. Unless he was mistaken, one of those pictures would look fine on the cover of the book he was planning to write about the expedition. He had paid two hundred dollars to be a member of the crew. His investment paid for the food and the water needed, barrel after barrel of fresh water and dried food. In return for his money and his labor, he would come away with the exclusive rights to publish the story of the adventure, to interviews with the other members of the expedition and to the ownership of all the pictures he took. If the boat held together, he was looking forward to a generous payday.

 

Two sullen, half-naked savages completed the crew. These men were hunters. Heavily tattooed, black as night, sinewy and tall, they crouched by themselves, eyeing the white men.

 

Henry Dawson, an American expatriate born in New Jersey, owned the boat. An agent of the Royal Niger Company, he had lived in the jungle for nine years and had dozens of business partners between his trading post and the ocean. He had hired himself and his aging boat, the Forcados Princess, to ferry the five men down the river to their chosen destination. He was a crack shot and had three rifles and a pistol onboard. Following months of correspondence, he had promised that he could get the men to the malaria-wasted swamp they’d shown him on a map. He picked between his teeth with a small knife and wondered whether he could keep that promise. He had been a lucky man all of his life. He saw no reason for this to change. Still, his most recent trading adventure in that part of the river had left one Urhobo warrior dead and a second one swearing revenge; but that was the way things went in the jungle.

 

It took the men nearly two hours to transfer three weeks of provisions, medical supplies, and scientific testing equipment from atop the heads and from the carrying frames and carrying straps of the porters and onto the shabby boat. A feast of native delicacies had been prepared for them and the team choked most of it down before boarding the fragile-looking riverboat. By one o’clock in the afternoon, in hundred-degree heat and nearly a hundred percent humidity, the four were chugging down the river at a speed scarcely exceeding the current.

 

Henry Dawson manned the wheel. Chinaski and Charbonneau were up front with ten-foot staffs, testing the depth of the water and pushing logs out of the way. It was heavy work and the two men were sweaty. Several times in the first hour, the clutter in the stagnant channel turned into an unyielding barrier. When that happened, Dawson would stop the boat, put it in reverse, and aim for a safer passage. Scott Chinaski looked to his partner and laughed. He nodded his head, indicating Henry Dawson to their rear, calmly smoking a cigar and turning the wheel a bit to the left or to the right from time-to-time, straining to keep his boat from being grounded.

 

“I’d like to switch jobs with that guy,” Chinaski yelled.

 

Dr. Charbonneau didn’t respond. He couldn’t hear his partner’s voice over the sound of the engine, anyway, and he abruptly turned his attention back to his task of pushing debris out of the boat’s path. The water was thick and brown and it stunk. The MD was glad that he wasn’t steering and that his current responsibilities kept him moving and not thinking.

 

Professor Avery sat in the stern of the boat, watching the broad shoulders of Captain Dawson and the two other men as they struggled to keep the boat from getting stuck in the waterlogged clutter of the shallow stream. He had never been to Africa before. This all struck him as a magnificent adventure. He packed some tobacco into a pipe, spilling some of it on his lap when the boat crunched into a submerged boulder, and then spent several seconds trying to light the pipe. When he again looked up, the rock was behind them, the boat had left the channel and had entered a wider, deeper section of the river.

 

“Okay, men, you can take a break,” the captain hollered. Charbonneau and Chinaski cupped their ears and shook their heads to indicate they hadn’t heard. Avery picked up his battered walking stick and bobbed forward to tell them that they could put the poles down and rest. As soon as they got the news, the two exhausted men grinned at one another and tossed the poles noisily onto the deck. Dr. Charbonneau opted to stay at the bow, sitting and resting next to his work-station. Scott Chinaski staggered back to Captain Dawson and slapped him on the back.

 

“Nice job, Captain,” he said.

 

“We’re not out of it, yet,” responded Henry Dawson. “I’d say we’ve gotten past five percent of the junk. We have three more days to go.” When he saw the look on Chinaski’s face, he added, “You and Charbonneau did a fine job. We’ll make it.”

 

Chinaski joined Avery at the rear of the small vessel and worked at lighting a cigarette while Avery relit his pipe. Crazy sounds were coming out of the forest. The three men who didn’t live in the jungle wondered if they were hearing birds, monkeys, or something else, something they couldn’t imagine. The sun beat down. Clouds of gnats filled the men’s eyes and ears. Mosquitos buzzed and stung. The boat splashed through the water.

 

 

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SWAMPGOD

XU [WAITING]

 

                                                                                                                               

Nearly a mile above the city, the leviathan hung like a giant spider. Using the long tentacles that grew from the top of its froglike body, it had climbed up the support-cables of the long bridge and now it rested. It stretched its one eye upwards and silently prayed to the three moons floating high above. Nearly a mile below it, the swollen river and the broken pavement of the great abandoned city called to it, “Come join us in death.” The empty buildings, like giant tombstones, rose far above the beast and faded from view in the poisoned yellow sky.

 

The monster had been alone for as long as it could remember. It could not remember having any companions or any family. It could not remember who gave it the name Chi-Ukwu.

 

It exhaled fully, causing the air to vibrate with a helicopter sound. It let go of the bridge and tumbled soundlessly through the rotting sky.

 

Its saclike body bounced off glassy rails and metal rivets that cut into its watery flesh and the thing split into pieces, each one having its own thoughts, each bit reaching out to make herself whole again.

 

The black water rushed towards it as it spun downwards. Its face (if you could call it that) was blasted with ice crystals and its stomach floated sickeningly, without gravity, for a few brief seconds that felt like eternity. Its heavy tail snapped like a whip. Its soft but parrot-like beak opened and closed rhythmically.

 

When it broke through the thin crust of ice that had formed around the moorings of the bridge, a blinding white light exploded around and through her. Then came the terrible suffocation, the convulsive choking, the cold, the icy, icy cold, and then, after one final, stabbing twist in its heart, the peaceful serenity of sleep closed in.

 

Even as its physical body was dying, a spirit-body was pushing out, experiencing life fully for the first time in hundreds of years. It rejoiced at its newfound freedom and watched, emotionless, as the giant corpse sank to the muddy depths. When the red sun slid above the horizon, Chi-Ukwa’s spirit body rose into the upper atmosphere of Gliese 581d, and then moved on into the constellation Libra.   It absorbed eternity, floating without awareness into the void of space.

 

After countless ages, the life-force of the creature named Chi-Ukwu wandered into the Milky Way and became tangled in the web of Earth’s gravitational spirit. It fell for days, reaching greater and greater speeds, until at last it was exhaled like mist over a great swamp in what would one day be called Nigeria.

No radar or meteorological equipment had been built to record the event. There were no human eyes to see it.

 

The alien slept as it congealed, its myriad chunks drawing together like mercury, but slowly, so slowly that a human lifetime might come and go without there being any discernable movement. One day in the year 1894, early in the month of August, it regained consciousness. It was in the middle of the Niger Delta on the west coast of Africa, lying atop a muddy clump of wild grass.   It was near the edge of a wide river that had over-run its banks. A dozen of its tentacles pressed against the weeds it had been lying in and the creature rolled upwards. Its single eye swung three feet above its shapeless head on a rubbery stalk and the creature considered its unexpected situation.

 

The air smelt heavy with decay. Mosquitoes and gnats, hoping to gain a taste of blood, landed on its viscous surface, only to be absorbed, dissolved, and digested. Chi-Ukwa rose on its three heavily-veined, webbed feet and took a few tentative steps into the muck. The five-inch long claws on the end of each of its twenty-one toes dangled in the tepid slime. Its syrupy legs pulled it along, sinking deep in the foul water before landing upon anything solid enough to support it. As it walked, the beast scooped water out of the river with one of its sucker-covered tentacles. It curled that flexible arm above its hideous mouth and drank. It had been ages since the monster had taken nourishment. Its tentacles flew like propellers, sending waves of filthy water down its throat.

 

Far off in the distance, drums were beating. A hundred voices howled in cadence with the pounding. The giant squid-like apparition calculated the direction on the sounds; and, slobbering in its hunger, it stumbled relentlessly towards the noise. It trumpeted its greeting like an elephant. It roared like a lion. The drumbeats grew louder and faster.

 

The Urhobo tribesmen were stamping their feet frantically and singing in strange tongues when the reeds parted at the edge of the clearing they used for their ceremonies and the monster reeled into view. Primitive eyes strained to focus, to see what their music had attracted. The black-skinned shaman, with his feathered hat and rings of beads around his neck, sprinted towards the monster and prostrated himself on the ground in front of it. He was picked up and devoured in a single, slippery motion.

 

The witch doctor’s silhouette could be seen plainly, sliding down inside the opaque body of the beast. As the alien’s digestive juices pumped into the still-living man, the bluish-green monster took on a reddish tinge. In seconds, there was no sign, not even a shadow from within the creature, that it had consumed a man. The rest of the savages ran into the sheltering tall grass and left the beast alone. The profile of the creature disintegrated and it melted to the ground. The monster slept.

 

As it slept, it dreamed, and it dreamed that men were coming from far away to study it, to meet it, and to feed it. If the thing could have smiled, it would have.

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AND THEN

A hand grenade bounced off the wall behind Spongy Hahnemann. He couldn’t believe his eyes. What kinds of maniacs were they dealing with? He twisted and grabbed the little pineapple, expecting to be able to toss it back down the stairs.

Timing is everything.

Chunks of Spongy Hahnemann flew everywhere. Tiny Morrison and Light-Fingered Louie were sprayed with pale gray brain matter and liver, gobs of intestines, vivid organs of all sorts, and large pieces of limbs. Fiery red buckets of blood splashed over the two men as they cowered beneath the explosion. Shards of bone and the spine of the house flew in every direction.

Tiny Morrison scrambled to collect his sanity and his gun. Louie was knocked unconscious.

Downstairs, two new guns began firing from far across the house. Then, there was silence.

Silent footsteps came closer and closer to the bottom of the stairs. Tiny could hear the occasional thud of a boot against a corpse. A pistol shot rang out. Then, a familiar voice called up, “Anybody alive up there?”

“That you, Arizona?”

“That you, Tiny?”

“Yeah.”

“Looks like we got here just in time. Hey, man, we gotta get outta here. This is a crappy neighborhood, but the cops might come, what with all the racket.”

“It’s just me and Louie. And I’m not sure about him.”

Tiny rolled a four-by-four off of his partner and wiped some of Spongy Hahnemann off Louie’s face.

“He’s breathing.”

“Let’s get outta here, man.”

Tiny got up to his knees and tried to lift his partner off the blood-stained floor.

“He’s too heavy for me. Get up here.”

Arizona and Arturo Alvarez climbed the stairs and helped Tiny Morrison to his feet.

Louie was still out.

“Grab his other shoulder,” said Tiny.

Art joined Tiny Morrison and the foursome staggered down the steps.

The downstairs was a picture from Dante’s Inferno. Bodies lay stacked like cordwood. The furniture was all broken and tumbled helter skelter. Blood pooled on the linoleum and soaked the dirty carpet.

Arturo and Tiny Morrison grunted under the weight of Louie DeMarco. He was just coming to his senses and shook his head. “You shouldn’t a killed that broad, Tiny. You shouldn’t a.”

“Shut up,” said Tiny Morrison. “Shut up”.

Meanwhile, Freddie Jacobs and Spongy Hahnemann were trying to assess their status. Their eyes had finally adjusted to the blinding white light surrounding them.

The two men were sitting in a diner. Their porcelain coffee mugs rested on a sparkling tabletop  that glowed with internal iridescent lights that seemed to flow upwards

Freddie’s beady eyes got a nasty shine in them. “Okay,” he said. “If you’re positive. Let’s do it.”

“This is going to be so cool,” said Spongy, rubbing his hands together. “Everybody will be scared of us. C’mon, let’s go.”

Freddie reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a crumpled five-dollar bill and slapped it on the table. The two men hurried out the door of the plastic-and-chrome restaurant.

Out on the street, they found themselves in another world, a world of dripping menace, a world of undulating caves and tunnels consisting of what appeared to be organic material. It looked like the inside of intestines. It smelled of sulfur. Each footstep sent the men reeling. It was like walking in quicksand. Their feet were quickly encased and they had to keep moving for fear they would sink into the foul-smelling soup. They reeled and stumbled, the vile effluence sucking away at their feet. It was like a thick tide, pushing them back, back into the restaurant. Far ahead, almost inaudible above the sounds of their breathing and the splashing of their footsteps, they heard a hissing sound, a sound that a giant snake might make.

Freddie turned and struggled and finally pulled his right foot from the slurping, drinking roadbed. He planted it behind him and wrenched his left ankle, turning it around in the muck. Wherever he looked, orbs of multi-colored light flickered and died. He could scarcely make out the neon lights from the restaurant.

He looked back over his shoulder at his partner, wiped perspiration out of his eyes and whispered, “We gotta get outta here.”

Spongy spun on his left heel and raised his right. This motion drilled his left foot deep into the slime. He pushed himself out slowly, pressing into the waste with his right foot. He was afraid he would need to kneel and press his bare hands into the horrifying ooze. He took ten impossible steps, each one threatening to pull him down, and then found himself back inside the restaurant. He turned and looked for Freddie. He could not see outside the doorway. It was like looking into tar.

After seconds that seemed like hours, Freddy’s hand materialized before Spongy’s terrified eyes. Its fingers grabbed the rail at the center of the door and Freddie pushed his way back inside the restaurant.

The two staggered back to the booth they had been sharing and reflected for a time regarding the peculiar situation. A rolling blob of slime foamed up against the door of the restaurant, like waves on a beach.

Diners walked past them and left the restaurant. Freddie and Spongy could not focus on the double and triple images they were seeing. Outside the door, on the one hand, was the serpentine and twisting mass of viscous mud that had nearly trapped them. At the same time, they could see those others who had left the diner, chatting together, getting into cars or walking down a sidewalk, acting as if nothing was odd. There was also a third vision, somehow unfocused, somehow shining, hidden from the men’s view.

Inside the diner some of the other patrons pretended not to have noticed the pair’s odd behavior. Others glared at them. One man, clearly entertained, chuckled and waved at them as he departed. Freddie and Spongy could see all of them through the glass doors and through the mostly-glass front of the place, entering cars, driving off, doing what people do after leaving a restaurant.

Freddie and Spongy, two low-grade criminals without any great amount of intelligence or imagination were bewildered, frustrated, and more than a little frightened. It was just like when they were born. Once again, they found themselves tossed into a bizarre world they couldn’t comprehend and that they couldn’t adjust or conform to. It was just too weird.

Had they discovered a portal into a different universe? It could be that they were facing the destruction of their world by an onrushing, incomprehensible alien force. Were they in Hell? Without question, there were other explanations for the peculiar events of the day. There were, however, no simple answers.

They sat and watched their fellow diners pass them and walk out onto the sidewalk, into sunshine. Freddie and Spongy were frozen in place. The two of them were just stuck, somehow. Why had they been singled out for this? They didn’t dare move.

Spongy said, “You want to try it again?”

Freddie’s eyes widened and he shook his head violently. Dumbstruck, defeated, and miserable, he sagged back into the bench-seat and pulled his hat down, nearly covering his eyes.

After a few minutes of silence, though, Spongy sat up. He was grinning. He said to Freddie, “You’ve got a hundred bucks in your pocket.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Freddie.

“Just look,” Spongy suggested.

Freddie pulled out his wallet, opened it up and discovered five twenty-dollar bills.

His mouth fell open and then it was as if a light bulb flashed on in his brain. A smile twisted upwards on his thin lips.

“Well, at least we’re okay until this place closes,” said Freddie.

“Let’s get a burger,” said Spongy. “You know, I’m beginning to remember.”

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