“Pseudopods in Summer” – The September 2018 short story

 

Oscar raced down the gravely road, his bike tires spitting up tiny rocks and dust in his wake.  He didn’t need to turn back to know his pursuers were still trailing behind him.

“I’m gonna kill you!”  Oscar wasn’t sure if that was Nelson or one of his cronies, but Oscar was definitely not going to pause to figure out who it was.

There were definitely more vulgarities and other epithets shouted, but Oscar pedaled on, well aware his life might be on the line.  

No one really had expected Oscar to have actually punched Nelson in the face.  Oscar was athletic – the pitcher during his stint in little league – but he was still downright scrawny in comparison was to the hulking behemoth of a eighth grader that was Nelson Judge.  

Nelson ruled the middle school with a compassion of a starving jackal and his physical strength and size was that of a teenager three to four years older (which, to the nerds he picked on, was the tell-tale sign of someone routinely held back in school).  Regardless, Nelson’s parents also owned the local canning factory, so few people, parents or teachers included, were brave enough to discipline this little nightmare.

But that warm August day, when the heat of summer had not yet receded but school was back in session, Oscar was fed up.  One can only take so many years of daily taunts and having milk poured on one’s pants. So when Nelson had not-so-subtly implied that Oscar’s mother had consistent sexual relations with animals, Oscar spun around and punched Nelson in the face.  

Nelson reeled back and fell backwards to the ground, surprised by his prey’s attack.  School had just gotten out, and he found himself surrounded by a majority of the student body who had all seen his humiliating defeat at the hands of a puny little nerd.  Nelson could feel his face flush with embarrassment, and as he wiped the blood from his nose, that embarrassment turned into rage.

Oscar was no fool, knowing that while he might be able to get one punch in by surprise, in a fair fight, he would be decimated by the bully.  By the time Nelson had landed on his ass, Oscar had already taken off running. He fortunately hadn’t bothered to lock up his bike, and he jumped on and sped away.  

As he raced away, Oscar found himself biking past the edge of town, past the closed-down quarry, and towards the aptly named Dead Man’s Pond.  The pond was actually more of a wetland, with lilies and cattails and tall grass peeking out of the water. As he approached, Oscar could smell the familiar scent of plant decay in still water, the earthy rot causing his nose to twitch.

Oscar didn’t really mind the smell, as he usually hung out there during the summer break, and this past summer was no exception.  He knew he would go nose blind after a while, and he could relax and read and nap under the shade of of the huge trees in peace. No one else really went out to the pond, probably due to the local myth about it being a good place for dead bodies to be dumped. Its desolate nature could have also been due to the discharge pipe running into the pond from the factories near town, but Oscar loved reading crime novels, and the idea of running into a dead body was much more interesting than your standard corporate irresponsibility.  Oscar’s mother didn’t particularly like that he went out there as often as he did, but as it was keeping him away from the television and the malls with all the bad kids, she usually didn’t have much to say besides a warning of staying safe.

To the immediate north of the pond was a fairly dense forested area, while the south was pretty much all hip-high grasses and dirt.  Oscar had found that if you followed the shore past where the road turned away from the pond, there was a small dirt trail that led you to a small clearing in the trees, which was Oscar’s favorite place to read and be alone.  

It was this secret clearing that Oscar piloted his bike towards as he left the road and careened down the grassy hill towards the pond.  Oscar almost fell, but he managed to regain control of his bike and took off down the dirt path on the edge of the water.

Oscar slowed a second to look over his shoulder, and he realized that the gang of bullies had gained a lot more distance on him than he would have liked.  

As he approached the clearing, he abandoned his bike where the dirt path was thinnest and took off running.  He kicked a broken yardstick into the water, and ran to the tall oak that grew on the edge of the shore, and skittered up the rope ladder he had made last summer.  

Oscar pulled up the rope ladder to the lowest branch where he was crouching, a good ten feet above the ground just as he heard Nelson swear.  Nelson had braked hard to avoid crashing into the water or Oscar’s downed bike, and this inconvenience just made him more furious.

“Alright, you little piece of shit, you had your fun.  Hope you’re ready to die.” Nelson cracked his knuckles and stepped towards the tree.  

“You’re gonna have to catch me, you neanderthal.”  Oscar, emboldened by the height of the branches, snorted deeply and hocked a loogie at Nelson.  The phlegm fell short, but nevertheless it incensed Oscar’s tormentor.

“Alright you little monkey.  I’m really gonna kill you today.”  Nelson reached into his back pocket of his jeans and pulled out a small knife.  “I’m gonna cut you open and feed you to the fishes, and there’s nobody out here to ever find your body.”  

Oscar felt a pang of fear creep over him.  He hadn’t thought that Nelson might actually have a knife on him.  This sudden extra element of danger was not good.

“Ha, scared now, aren’t ya?”  Nelson sneered. “Brett, Clarence, go pull his ass out of the tree.”  The two blonde, mullet-wearing football players stepped forward and jumped towards Oscar.  

Oscar’s calculations were thankfully accurate.  He figured that even the taller kids wouldn’t be able to jump up and grab his leg if he was already up in the tree, and he was right – Brett and Bill’s hands were falling a full foot below where he was standing.  Brett cursed as he tried again, but hit his stomach against the tree and fell back on his ass. Oscar allowed himself a quick smirk. Clarence turned back towards Nelson.

“Nelson, he’s too high up.”  

“Thanks, moron, I can see that.”  Oscar watched as he could see Nelson’s fury-filled mind try to come up with an idea.  Oscar’s hand slowly slid up the tree’s trunk to where he had duct-taped a short wooden dowel.  He peeled back the tape with one finger, letting the dowel slide down into his palm. The splinters of where the dowel was sawed off poked the flesh of his palm and he winced.

“Why don’t you just leave, Nelson?  You’re too dumb to figure out how to get me, and I can stay up here all night.”  Oscar then threw the dowel.

Nelson watched as the dowel flew into the reeds to his right, landing in the brush close to the water’s edge.  

“That was sad.  You didn’t even get close to hitting me.”  Nelson laughed and walked over to the reeds.  His opponent had unwittingly given him a weapon.  “I’ll show you how to throw something at someone.”

“What the-?” Nelson had frozen in his tracks, and was staring into the water. “Oh shit, you guys, get over here and look at this.”

As Brett and Clarence approached, they gasped.

The boys saw a globe-sized pulsating mass of greenish slime on the edge of the water.  It seemed to pulse and quiver, with striations of different colors of olive with blackish veins streaming through it.  The pustule sat there, slimy tendrils extending away from its base, anchoring it onto the ground.

“Look, boys, it’s a giant booger.”  Nelson laughed. “Hey. Let’s make Oscar there eat it!”  

Brett and Claranced laughed along.  Oscar merely squatted on his tree branch and gave Nelson the finger. Nelson stopped laughing.

“Clarence, pick that up and hit him in the face with it.”

“No way man, why do I have to touch it?  Brett, you pick it up.”

“Fuck you, I’m not touching it. You pick it up.”  

The bullies continued to bicker about who would be the one to pick up the ball of slime.  Oscar felt he should chime in.

“Nelson, can’t you do anything without your two clowns doing it for you?  Are you a man, or what?” Nelson’s face fell, and the pond was silent.

Nelson silently walked over to the bank of the pond, and stared daggers at Oscar.  He reached down and scooped up the pustule. The basketball-sized ball of slime was warm to the touch, and Nelson was reminded of when he was cleaning fish with his father and had to pull out all of the fish guts with his hands.  It was the same texture as viscera, but Nelson quickly realized that whatever this was, it was not nearly as benign.

“Oh shit, it’s burning me!”  Nelson screamed. Nelson started waving his hand in the air, but the slime had stuck to his hand.  Bubbles of bloody ooze began to form as the slime began to dissolve Nelson’ hand. “Get it off of me!”

Brett and Clarence, startled by the turn of events, backed off.  They stood a few feet away, as Nelson was now on the ground, trying to smear the blob onto the dirt like a kid wiping their hands on their pants. The slime held fast, enclosing his hand in its translucent green mass that was increasingly turning darker as blood filled the creature.

“You idiots, use that stick I threw.”  Brett turned towards Oscar, who was now pointing towards the foot-long dowel that he had thrown earlier.  

Brett nudged Clarence and ran to pick up the stick. They ran to Nelson, who was now on the ground, screaming and sobbing, snot and tears mixing in the stream pouring from his face.  

“Hold on, Nelson, we’ll pull it off with the stick.” Brett approached with the stick in hand, ready to poke at the the blob. “Hold still, Nelson!”  Nelson was still flailing, and the two other boys were hesitant to approach as they didn’t want the slime wiped on them.

“Clarence, hold his arm for me.”

Clarence grabbed Nelson’s shoulder, then slowly moved down to hold onto this forearm against the ground.  Nelson’s strength quickly overpowered Clarence, and so he knelt down to use his weight to keep Nelson from flailing more.

“Now, Brett, get it off of him!”

Brett jabbed the dowel into the pustule, and tried to drag its mass off of Nelson’s hand.  Brett began to pull away, and it seemed for a second that it was going to release Nelson and get pulled off, but that’s when the tendrils came to life.  

The slime sent out misshapen pseudopods that wrapped around Brett and Clarence’s arms.  Both boys screamed. As Brett pulled back as hard as he could, he fell backwards, the elongated tendril breaking and falling back with him, still wrapped around his arm.  

The main blob then sent out more tendrils, wrapping around Nelson’s face and Clarence’s arms, pulling the boys into a collision that left them on the ground, their bodies covering the slime from view.  

Brett screamed again as the tendril that had pulled away from the main body started branching out along his arm, leaving bloody chemical burns as it spidered up his arm.  He watched in horror as the slime began turning blood red, devouring his arm and growing rapidly, red froth bubbling up at the edges. He looked over at Nelson and Clarence, who had suddenly stopped screaming.  

The two boys seemed to be huddled on the ground next to each other.  Brett staggered over, then screamed again when he realized their heads were completely enveloped in the living ooze.  

Brett, still crying out in pain, used his left hand to take his shirt over his left arm and head to bunch up and press against the slime crawling up his right arm.  He could feel the warm movement of the slime against the bunched up fabric and he wasn’t sure how long he could keep it from swallowing his own head. He noticed that Oscar had come down from the tree.

“Help me, Oscar, this thing-”

Oscar kicked Brett in the stomach, pushing him backward.  Brett tripped over Nelson and Clarence, and the main body of the ooze sent out another thick tentacle of slime to wrap around Brett’s torso.  Brett screamed again as he was pulled against the bodies of his friends and he saw Nelson’s face slide off of his skull like well-cooked meat from the bone.

 

 

Oscar pulled his notebook out from his back pocket and consulted his notes.  For the squirrel he had seen get too close to the slimeball, it had taken less than a minute for it to be completely swallowed by the slime.  Same with the bird that had pecked at the slime only to become a meal itself.

He noted that for three full humans, it only took a fifteen minutes to completely encapsulate the boys  and to grow from the size of a basketball to the size of a small recliner. It would be interesting to see how the slime metabolized its prey – would it continue to stay in such a massive size, or would it shrink down some?  He had seen it bloat a bit, then settle as it digested the small animals, so he assumed it would do the same, but the mass difference was so great he didn’t know what would happen.

Oscar was sure to keep his distance as he scooted past the mess of bloody ooze and body parts earlier.  He remembered back to a week earlier, when he was first testing to see what the slime was, poking at it with his yardstick.  

He had jumped back, surprised from the quick pseudopod extension of what looked like an inactive ball of mucus.  The tentacle quickly wrapped itself around the yardstick, and Oscar had abandoned it. While he had lost the yardstick, it at least allowed him to get a proper measurement when sawing down the dowel to size.

Oscar figured that if the slime could extend about one and a half times the length of its body, he had better give the new, larger slime, an extremely wide berth.

He had noted that the boys had died fairly quickly, at best from asphyxiation, and so he had ample time to push the other three bikes up the hill, then down the ravine towards the blob, careful to use his own shirt whenever he touched the bikes as to not leave fingerprints.  Oscar figured he wouldn’t need to explain himself, as long as he was careful not to leave any traces that he had been around the scene of the slime. He would have to own up to the punch, but he could always say he had lost the bullies in the bike ride, and didn’t know where they had went.

Oscar hoped that when they did find the slime, no one else would get absorbed into the quivering mass, but if they did, it would be their own fault, not his.  It wasn’t Oscar’s job to warn people about the threat of unknown ooze monsters, and it wasn’t like adults would actually listen to what he had to say if he tried to warn them.

Oscar walked his bike back up to the main road, took one last look at the slime, now flushed with pinks and reds, and began his ride back home.  

  

 

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