by Jack Hammer

In the last installment of Festering Backwater:

Cthulhu heaved clear of his smoldering spacecraft, shuddering out into the gathering mists of the swamp.

Cadogan, inopportunely called on the carpet by Sgt. Palooka, left gaudily buxom Mrs. Williams up in the air, presumably to dry.

Clammy lump-of-clay Cthulhu, having raked into his slope, landscaped his ground, and secreted fiendish paste, squatted in the hole at the center; and when Mrs. Williams slipped and fell toward him, popped up jaws aslaver.

Savoring his first earthling, Cthulhu found her to have a delicious nutlike flavor, with highlights of clove and cinnamon.


"WILLIE GOODLY...was taken aback
when she espied the automated teller machine...
where none had been previously..."

CADOGAN in the big dark, cogitating hard.

He pushed on the bell, waited, pressed it twice again. He polluted the air with cigarette smoke and watched a mountain jay brassily imply he menaced the sub-division. Other birds sounded like they were making a tape-recording of warbling for a cassette you'd put on in the car to drown out traffic congestion until a teen-ager with a habit smashed your side window and took the tape-player to sell for maybe five dollars, but left the bird-song cassette behind in the glove compartment, although he took the silver pencil-shaped tube with which you gauged your tire-pressure.

Definition of bad timing: Sgt. Palooka summoning him last night for the obligatory dressing-down before he made a full investigation into Ella Williams' nether parts.

"Cadogan your attitude smells of three-day flounder. Ever notice how on your cases people develop a tendency to turn up sloppy-dead? One more exploit like the last and you're suspended demoted cancelled off the force. See it doesn't happen again."

"It doesn't, Sergeant."

Cadogan stubbed out his cigarette, scratched the back of his head, walked around the condo and craned his neck looking for an open window.

He came to the raked slope.

Last night, in the dark and in a hurry, crossing the suburban shadows toward the voluptuous woman with the morals of a lynx who was trying to get his mind off his fee, Cadogan had looked forward to having the aching stiffness coaxed from his member. Not the ideal moment to gauge relative topography.


The slope was the same, but different, like a film-script after a producer decides to put his imprint on it and has you rewrite it. Take the shrubs: their high gloss faded, the leaves dangled lifelessly. They had been removed, replanted, then put back in their original position.

Then the slope had been hollowed out and a hole dug at the center. After that the slope had been filled back in and the dirt packed down again. The same, but different.

He squatted by a patch of slime.

Cadogan had seen his share of slime. There were those who said of him, slime is his natural element. Not this slime. This slime was different. An alien slime.

Cadogan nudged it. His fingers skidded in it. Slime, all right. He smelled it. It smelled bad. Not like shit; like when you lifted the ham sandwich to your mouth after having eaten half of it with little appetite and this time caught the smell distinctly, and you knew. You lifted the bread off and there it was, a silvery-green film that spoke volumes about indifferent refrigeration.

Half-buried in dirt, something glinted.

Some grunting, then he had it. A gold lipstick case, obscenely corroded.

Or perhaps ...

... half-eaten.

Suddenly Cadogan got the feeling he would not delve into the mysteries below Ella Williams' waist on that evening or any other.

And as for his fee ... forget about it.

WILLIE GOODLY, one-time toast of Lawrence, Kansas, ex-university-prom-dream-queen, was taken aback when she espied the automated teller machine on the corner of Scorpion and Rind, where none had been previously; but she needed a hundred dollars for red pumps.

Willie darted across the street and placed her card in the outside slot. The door swung wide without making a click or any other kind of noise, which struck her as odd; she felt a disinclination to enter, which passed.

Inside the vaulting structure she noticed a peculiar smell, thought she heard distant squelching. Willie experienced an urge to run off down the streets of Scorpion City, free, young, nubile, twenty-three, gloriously alive; the red pumps won.

Tossing cornsilk-fine blonde hair out of her eyes with the offhand gesture that laid waste to Sigma Tau Delta, Willie fed the machine her card. She noted with displeasure that the dark glass of the booth reflected her imperfectly, distorting her wholesome aspect ... the odd half-light made her look pale, unearthly ...

And some flaw in the black mirror puffed up her bee-stung red lips. Studying herself, she pouted, whereupon they ballooned; and for a terrifying moment Willie thought she had fangs, for there they were, drooling in a face grown suddenly monstrous.

Willie clapped her hand over her mouth, drew in her breath sharply and backed up, fumbling behind her for the glass door, which seemed to have moved away.

And now on the screen the routine questions appear.

But tonight they are not routine.

How would you like to be eaten?

1. Shish-ka-bob. 2. With spring vegetables. 3. "Nouvelle". 4. In casserole. 5. On the clam-shell. 6. Other.

Willie defiantly punched "Cancel transaction" and pulled at her card.

Maddeningly, it retracted further, and when she reached in after it something grabbed her hand and wouldn't let go.

A pseudopod with skin problems appeared from behind her. Wet suckers unzipped and unhooked her until she was all-blonde and naught-else.

Then the slot widened and kept widening while something dragged Willie into the machine. She braced her petite feet against it, flashed peerless teeth, and screamed and screamed: exactly what Cthulhu awaited.

The automated teller closed in on her.

Jets of saliva poured down in a gurgling torrent. Super-heated gastric juices came to a kind of boil, making short work of the peppy ex-cheerleader.

Sloshing tenderizer, Cthulhu slurped awhile, agitated the consomme gently; then paused to render his verdict.

This earthling had undertones of coriander and dark cherry; not yet fully mature, but serviceable.

Cthulhu smacked his lips with satisfaction.

In picking Earth he had made an excellent choice.