The whole damned planet was a ...

FESTERING BACKWATER

by Jack Hammer

Part One

Mrs. Williams was in her roisterous twenties, gaudily buxom.

She spread like highly saturated margarine across the opalescent sheets. As she locked her gaze on Cadogan's, her tongue dragged along her satiny upper lip; then, after a theatrical pause, swept across the peerless lower ... her business lip, mused the private-detective; a porch that would worry the members of an invading expeditionary force until it dissolved helplessly in gurgling tsunamis ...

Cadogans's gaze dropped as though weighted.

The rest of her was put together every bit as ingeniously.

But what scuttled his last vestige of scruple was an orchidaceous effluvium; an indefinable deep-sea ambrosia, a perfume of hidden petals which mussed your hair, tapped your nose playfully, surrounded you like cling-wrap, squeezed until you felt like kicking off your brogues and climbing aboard, rummaging around in a deep, soft, luxurious pocket to see if you could recover some part of your lost youth, all sticky with tears ...

And then before you knew it, trembling, sweaty, disoriented, you had initialed away your nickel collection.

Cadogan struggled to snap out of it. He called on Mary; the children; the oaths he'd signed.

He fingered his license like a rosary.

Seen from up close, her pearly valley, densely wooded, blinked on and off, thanks to neon from the adjoining fleabag.

His tongue absentmindedly dangled out and lapped at his shoe.

Ella Williams instantly took note. A man whose tongue lapped at his brogue represented a very considerable resource.

As she pouted, puckered up, beckoned wantonly, breasts rampant, Cadogan thought for the hundredth time: the job did have perks.

He preferred hard cash, but wasn't above the odd grift or soft-spot of barter; not everyone could afford his services, modest though they be ... pro bono publico.

Cadogan, sighing, unbuckled his belt; removed and flexed it; smacked it lightly across the back of his hand; stepped forward.

His beeper sounded.

"Boss?"

"Kid? Call later."

"Nix! Urgent summons from Sgt. Palooka. Come quickly."

Loathesome Cthulhu, shapeless, formless, yet changing shape and form with each movement, crept along the corridor; dissolved, rolled, cascaded.

Hunger surged through his component molecules. Every atom sang the one strain, the urge uncontrollable:

Bag! snuff! bolt down!

It had been a long commute.

And he had yet to find the form in which he could masticate hapless denizens.

Hissing, Cthulhu flowed like mercury; then suddenly, alarmingly congealed.

The creature dragged his way clear of the smoldering spacecraft, out into gathering mist; the ravenous quickening gloom of miasmal swamp ...

Carnacki, short with big shoulders, stepped out of the squad car and nasaled the crisp blue autumn air inquisitively.

Ozone. In the brackens. It didn't make sense.

"Caesares", said he to his partner, who twitched apprehensively when called by name, "Stick to the car."

All alertness, Carnacki eased his Smith and Wesson clear of the leather muzzle. Alas, the largebore somehow snagged; a startling report shattered the eerie stillness and the windshield through which his backup jumped.

"Leapin' lizards!", said Rudy, "Don't ventilate them yet! Is only chapter one! We just got here!"

Five o'clock. A look of hard dry October sun in the opaque black of the foothills. Cadogan wearing his Florida-orange suit with bright red shirt, suede vest, black eyepatch, foulard tie, green argyles, denim pants, rusty bicycle pump ...

A nightmare in tutti-frutti.

The way he dressed made no sense and he didn't care who knew it. Where he was going; what he was looking into; all he was to do next; none of it made any sense whatsoever.

Cadogan, supremely confident, felt the satisfaction that comes from being decked out for the occasion.

Shuddering, heaving, Cthulhu went about his virulent routine with ghastly dispatch.

He raked into the center of the slope.

He landscaped his ground, making it slightly concave.

He placed shrubs tastefully around the perimeter.

He secreted meat tenderizer, squelching peculiarly.

He plastered it about, wet down the slope with that fiendish paste whereon no mortal could keep balance; then hunkered down.

All good things come to those who wait.

Carnacki and associates in blue, lacking a suitable opportunity since the temporary moratorium on winging brethren of color had been declared, owing to the nascent re-election hopes of Scorpion City's Chief Burgher, treated the gaping spectators to a popping-noise cum fireworks barrage as they heaped destruction on the alien screwship.

Their fall-short efforts failed to make dent one.

Assessing the lack of visible damage, Rudolpho Caesares, a.k.a. "Rudy", Carnacki's indefatigable sidekick, mopped at his brow; opined, "This job is for the big boys".

Warbling bluebirds. Ben and Jerry, merest of children, frolicking, gamboled in the sunny glade; sandbagging the gentle reader in preparation for their appearance in part two.

Mrs. Williams, spiffed to the nines, emerged from the bungalow into placid afternoon light. Humming a vacant tune, she proceeded south-southwesterly. A gentle zephyr wafted her silken tresses.

A powerfully alluring whiff meandered on the restless breeze.

Thought Cthulhu, "fodder".

Crossing the in-no-way-extraordinary slope, Mrs. Williams unaccountably slipped and fell. The contents of her pocketbook flew everywhere, helter-skelter. As lipstick, a cigarette-rolling machine, a diaphragm, plenteous sex toys, marbles, tin soldiers, and sundry what-have-you rained down around her, she began to slide, all-akimbo; rolled toward the hole in the center; and Cthulhu, who had squatted grinning, popped up in welcome, jaws aslaver.

Mrs. Williams, not unaccountably, screamed.

This cut off abruptly as the young adventuress, inundated with cascading slime, found herself unable to breathe.

Understandably distressed, she nevertheless recovered sufficient presence of mind to pull a snub-nosed .38 from her upended purse, stick it into Cthulhu's ravening maw, and depress the trigger.

A dull report. Pieces of Cthulhu scatter; fragments cling nto surfaces; begin to unison-writhe ... then, rather chillingly, regroup.

This unexpected development, while it will come as cold surprise to aficionados of the genre, made Ella Williams scream anew.

But not for long.

For soon old clammy, slimy lump-of-wet-clay Cthulhu osmosed her, skeleton and all; whistling, whilst he worked, a catchy (if unearthly) tune.

As he wolfishly bolted her down, slobbering not a little, a fleck of delicate pink flesh wedged in one toothless cavity.

A toothpick-like pseudopod dislodged young Mrs. Williams from the drooling fang.

Savoring her as Cadogan might have, had he the opportunity, Cthulhu found his first earthling to have an indescribably delicious, almost nutlike flavor; with highlights of clove and cinnamon.

He was going to like this planet a lot.


In the next ragged, wayward installment: "Festering Backwater" lurches on ...

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