Thursday, July 21, 2016

Fiction: The Thing in the Tank by Alexander Kautz

The Thing in the Tank
By Alexander Kautz

My name is Evan John MacDonald, I'm twenty six years of age and life as I knew it, has ended... I'm not even sure exactly what happened, what began the nightmare, but all that I do know, is that someone has to tell the story, before it's too late...
It was a particularly hot afternoon in mid-June, as returning home from my job at Zoo World, one of the largest pet and pet supplies chain in existence, that I got a phone call from a fellow employee. Looking down and seeing the number as being from my assistant manager, Mark Gaines, I quickly pulled over to the curb and answered,
"Evan here--hi Mark--what's happening?"
"Evan buddy--did I get you at a bad time?" He was several years my senior and known for having always been polite and more than pleasant, but on this day, there seemed to be something strange in his tone? A hesitation, tension that I had never heard him use before?
"No--I was just heading home to my aunt's--why, what's up?"
Since my parents had picked up and ran off to live in Hawaii, after my graduation, I had remained in the sleepy little town of Anchor Cove, in the home of my aunt, Shelly. She had never married and having also become "inheritance rich" when my grandmother had passed away, had become a bit of a spinster. She had always been good to me and we got along famously, so, I occupied the basement suite in her beach house.
"Sorry to bother you--," Mark cleared his throat,
"But I was just wondering? You know that aquarium that you were looking at last month?"
I had to smile to myself. After having worked there for almost a year and having ever only looked at one with any interest, he didn't miss a turn.
"That one hundred and fifty gallon tank--," I nodded to myself,
"It’s a little out of my budget right now."
'Well, not exactly?" Mark thought for a moment, saying,
"You know that one that we used to keep the big Pleco's in--in the back room?"
'Sure--," he had caught my immediate interest and I recalled the names that we had given those monstrous fish,
"Gopher and Captain Stubing,"
'Yup--our Love Boat crew--," he chuckled,
"Well, it seems something went wrong. The temperature in the tank went through the roof. We couldn't figure out what happened, the heater was fine. Long story made short--both fish died and now we have that big old tank, empty and taking up space."
I could hear where he was going with this and felt a combination of excitement and nervousness, having always wanted my own aquarium, saying,
"Things are packed pretty tight--I doubt that we would find room for it in the display area?"
"Well--this is exactly it--," He sighed,
"I talked it over with Bill--and he just wants the thing gone now. You interested?"
Grinning foolishly, I nodded to myself,
"Sure--but like I said, I'm not sure how much I could come up with right now? I'm still paying off the credit card and insurance for my beater,"
"Then you'll love this--," Mark laughed,
"Bill told me if you wanted it, just take it. You've put in a ton of over-time and never let us down. Consider it a gift. And heck--I'll even use the store delivery van and help you get it home."
Speechless, I stuttered to reply, choking out a few words,
"Hot damn! I mean--thanks so much! I have the perfect place for it!"
"Okay, this Friday--work for you?" He listened as once again, I fought back the excitement, saying,
"I'm off early Friday--that's perfect. Thanks so much--I really appreciate this!"
"You got it! Oh--by the way," he paused in thought,
"You get the pumps and filters, river rock, lava rock, driftwood and rest of the stuff with it. Package deal. We don't want the old stuff anyway--too much effort. You know Bill. But you should buy a new heater--just in case."
"That--I can afford--," I laughed,
"But it might be a while before I can get the fish?"
"Well--once you get it all set up again--," he kindly remarked,
"As you know--you'll need fresh water and starter fish to get the ammonia and PH balanced, before you can even put the one's that you really want in there. So, I'll toss some starters in for you, once you get all set up. But then you're on your own kid."
I had gone straight home and set to work immediately. My aunt's house was a large two story bungalow with a huge, covered, surrounding balcony. It stood alone on a hill at the end of a long road that took you almost within a stone’s throw of the ocean. It was, by no means remote, as we did have neighbors only a few hundred yards down the beach, but it was more private. My parents had always complained how they didn't like having to listen to the people next door argue all of the time. So, to me, this was complete paradise.
My basement suite was large, having recently been renovated, had a more modern, open floor plan. Being a huge fan of nautical antiques and marine life, it had the appearance of something between a beach-front, antique shop and mad scientists laboratory. The walls were filled with numerous displays of mounted shark jaws, taxidermy, mainly carnivorous fish and assorted nautical, brass instruments. The couch, love seat, chair and coffee table, all things left by my parents, rested against one wall and my big screen TV was against the other. When you first entered the place, you came in through a large kitchen, passed through a corridor which had a bathroom on the left, then entering into a spacious living area, turned to the right and at the back, was the door to my bedroom. The windows in the place were small, mainly due to that fact that being located so close to the ocean-front, we had some fairly severe storms, but that never bothered me. Like my aunt always said; "if you want a view, go for a walk, it's all out there--and right at our front door."
I had cleared a space directly beneath those main windows. The floors were a brown tile and I had found an awesome green, shag rug that covered a large portion of it. Combined with antique plant stands, gifts from my aunt, large exotic plants and old lanterns and a large Captain's wheel from an old schooner, it would be perfect!
The waterbed, a customized pine monster that my parents had left to me, sported old brass ship's lanterns mounted upon either side, and best of all, had a custom stereo with controls at the base of the huge, mirrored, head-board. Being a huge fan of all the classic Surf music, my aunt never really minded that I played it a little loud at times. She had said that it had made her feel young again.
Friday seemed to take forever that week. The water in the tank had become very foul, even acidic. So, wearing gloves, I utilized one of our electric pumps to drain it. All our tanks were drained directly into the ocean as being located so close to the water's edge, and containing no toxins, it was harmless to the environment. It went fairly quickly and after having removed the live plants and placing them into another fresh water tank for later removal, I busied myself cleaning the lava rock, river rock and driftwood. It was an enormous task, as doing this after my regular hours, I boiled over eighty pounds of river rock, the lava rock to stack into a reef, and then the pieces of drift wood. I bought new filters and products for the heavy duty, external, filtration system, a new heater and assorted water treatment and medication to protect my pets from sickness. I had it all clean and ready to move by Thursday and when the big day arrived, I felt like a kid at Christmas! Bill and Eddie, one of the other staff, helped us move it after work and once that monster was sitting upon its black stand beneath the window in my suite, I could only just step back and stare.
"Well--," Mark chuckled,
Now we can all be sure that you will never get mixed up with drugs or alcohol."
Finding the question odd, I asked,
"Why is that?"
"Damn Evan--," he winked,
"With a hobby like this who could afford both?"
After thanking him and seeing him on his way, I turned my attention back to this wondrous new addition to both home and life! Deciding to add warm water, I skipped on running the hose into the window as first anticipated, using a five gallon bucket instead. This took seemingly forever, but as while playing my favorite surf tunes, the excitement rushed through me with each bucket full!
Having finally reached the three quarter mark, I added water treatment, the river rock, lava rock, drift wood and careful to place rooting compound pellets beneath each live plant, soon had it all together. Staring the filtration system and plugging in the heater, set carefully in the high twenties for fresh water tropical fish, I finished filing the tank. It ran silent and as I switched on the canopy lights, finishing the last detail, I sat down and just watched as the plants leaves gently danced in the filters jet stream.
I had fallen asleep, just sitting there watching, Awakened for supper by my aunt, something that we had always shared, she had stood and gazed upon the aquarium, a light of magic within her bright blue eyes. It was obvious as to where my inherent fascination had come from, as neither of my parents had ever cared for such things. She was a tall woman, mid-forties, well-kept and attractive for her age. With long flowing, curly blonde hair and a laugh that could warn the coldest day, most had mistaken us for mother and son.
"Now isn't this an absolutely marvelous tank! You did such a terrific job with decorating it--," she leaned down to closer examine it,
"It looks just like a real river or lake bottom."
"Thanks, Aunt Shelly--," I stood next to her and peered at my handiwork,
"I have wanted one like this forever."
"It will be a pleasure for us both dear--," she excitedly, clapped her hands together,
“I just can't wait to see what kind of fish you bring home!"
"Neither can I?" thinking aloud, I shrugged,
"I'll have to see what Mark gives us--I've never done this before."
Hugging my she winked,
"It's going to be wonderful. Now, let's get to dinner before it cools off on us. I made breaded pork chops, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob--your favorite. They had that lovely peaches and cream corn--," she added, leading me up the stairs,
'It’s just so wonderful--with just a little butter."

The morning had arrived in a blend of hot sun and swirling sands as, getting up much earlier on a weekend than ever before, and hurrying to my car, I planned to take Mark up on his offer to provide the starter fish! It was a short drive down Maribe Avenue, where having stopped only to purchase a coffee on the run, I soon arrived at the Zoo World parking lot, staring in disbelief?
"An ambulance? Oh no..." Getting out of my car and hurrying toward the side of the building, I ran into Mark, who panicked and speechless, gently pushed me aside as the ambulance attendants, hurrying past, struggled to keep an oxygen mask on Eddie!
"What happened?" The words came out so quickly that I barely had time to breathe, chasing both Mark and the gurney with Eddie toward the awaiting ambulance.
"We don't have any idea--," Mark's eyes were huge and filled with fear,
'I found him down by the tank, drainage pipe--on the beach, in shock. I can't figure it out, his right hand and arm are burned badly. It looks like he came into contact with some kind of chemical or acid? But that's impossible? We only use that drain to empty aquariums, nothing else."
"Boy's, I'm going to need a statement." Sheriff Thomas James Montgomery approached us, tugging his belt up around his belly, he frowned, nervously pulling at his long white mustache. He was an average sized man, with white hair and bright blue eyes, near retirement, he had been more like a grandfather to all of us than local law enforcement. He was loved and known by all, we had all just simply called him Tom, for as long as I could remember.
I watched as the ambulance sped away, sirens howling and lights flashing, it was not a common sight in our town...
"I really didn't see anything, Tom--," Marl led the way as I followed the two of them down the beach to where the drainage spout entered the ocean from our store,
"I pulled into the parking lot--," he motioned back to where one could gain clear view of the area where Eddie was found,
"And saw him-- just laying here, kicking and screaming. By the time I got down here to him, he was just twitching, in some kind of shock> I didn't want to touch him--."
"It's alright son," Tom rested a hand on Mark's shoulder, producing a camera and taking several different, angled shots of the scene,
"I'm sure the folks down at St. Mary's will get him all fixed up. Maybe he came into contact with a jellyfish or something. We get a few of those big old nasty ones up this way around this time of year?"
"His hand--," Mark choked on the words,
"His arm looked--all eaten away?"
"Well--just hang in there kid--," old Tom patted Mark on the back, shooting a curious glance at me,
"You were here too?"
"No Tom--," I rubbed at my eyes,
"I just pulled in and saw the ambulance..."
"You boys take it easy today--," the old Sheriff glanced back a the drainage pipe, pausing suspiciously before slipping his sunglasses back on and quietly saying,
"Maybe stay clear of this area? Just until I can send someone down to run a few tests. Better safe than sorry..."
Although having honored his promise to provide some beginner fish, Mark was silent as he loaded a dozen, brightly colored Cichilid's into two bags for me.
"I'm sure that Eddie will be fine--," attempting to offer a little comfort, I could only watch as Mark looked back at me, his face pale and expression blank, he said,
"Evan--did you see Eddie's hand an arm? It looks like a puddle of flesh--and was just running off his bones..."
"But you know that, there's just nothing here that could do something like that?" I felt helpless and utterly confused.
"No--," he knotted the last bag, handing me the fish, his expression stern,
"Nothing that we know of..."

Driving home, I was listening to surf instrumentals and as the Twilight Zone theme came on, found myself staring out over the ocean, dreading each impact of the waves upon that golden sand. I looked out over the crowds of bathers, swimmers, tanners, every man and woman, the elderly and children alike. An icy cold lump forming within my stomach as I remembered how Eddie had looked, prayed that whatever had happened to him, was an isolated incident and that, whatever it had been, was not out there somewhere, waiting to strike again...
After allowing the bags to float in my tank, so that the fish could adjust to the new temperature, I slowly released them, stepping back to admire them.
"They certainly do look happy--," aunt Shelly walked up behind me, closing the book that she had been reading to peer into the tank,
How long until you can populate the tank?"
"Well--," I thought aloud,
"I have to wait until the cycle settles. The fish will get the ammonia and PH levels going and balance things within a month maybe?"
"I find it all so amazing--," she sighed deeply, shaking her head and watching our new little friend swimming happily around,
"Nature is such a delicate balance. You would never know how, even the simplest of changes either kills or brings about some new step within evolution."
Her career as a teacher of biology at the local University was showing through again.
"Um yeah--," I grinned, saying,
"So don't feed them cookies, no matter how much they beg."
She laughed, gently flicking a finger at the blonde curls on my tanned forehead, saying,
"I heard that there was an accident at Zoo World?"
"Not exactly--," grabbing an orange soda from my fridge, I paused to take a long cold sip, before answering,
"Eddie was burned by something out back--where the drainage pipe empties into the ocean."
"Burned?" she raised an eyebrow, her eyes mere slits. I could see that the comment had captured her full attention, as she asked,
"What exactly--do you mean, burned?"
"Well--," I fought back the gruesome image within my mind, struggling with the words within explanation,
"His hand and arm were covered --in a, milky kind of film and--well, all the muscle and fat was just melting away and just running off..."
"That does sound like some type of acid--," she was thinking out loud again while speaking to herself in thought,
"But there is simply nothing that concentrated--not coming out of that pipe or in our waters here?"
She had worked at Zoo World for quite some time, so knew the system far better than most, saying,
"Nothing comes out of that drain, but aquarium water when they flush the tanks. And the only chemicals that are used, neutralize chlorine-- and are harmless to skin, so that couldn't have anything to do with it?"
There was a loud knock at the front door and Aunt Shelly, raising a finger, excused herself, rushing off to answer it. A few minutes later she returned, her expression pale and drawn, as she spoke, hesitantly, saying,
"I'm sorry dear--that was Tom. Your friend--Eddie--, she stuttered within hesitation, her kindly features twisting with sorrow,
I'm so sorry love-- he passed away from his injuries. Tom-- has asked if I would be kind enough to come down to the morgue, to examine the wounds..."

I stayed in my car in the hospital parking lot, awaiting Aunt Shelly’s return. She had been gone well over an hour when I finally saw her and old Tom, walking out through the Emergency entrance. She seemed unusually disturbed. It was apparent just within the way that she moved, her hands waving wildly about as she shook her head. They halted just in front of my car and having the windows rolled down in the mid-day heat, I caught some of the conversation, as aunt Shelly said,
"Tom, you heard what Bill said--," she appeared horrified,
"Whatever caused all that tissue damage, was not some--chemical spill. The samples were comprised of a neuro-toxin, a powerful venom that causes paralysis--and some type of--proteins."
"So, --," Tom removed his glasses, rubbing at his eyes
"We’re dealing with--some kind of an animal."
"Yes---," she looked out toward the ocean.
"Some kind of an animal, or organism that paralyzes its victim with venom, like a jellyfish does--and then uses acid, to digest the tissues."
"You know of anything that does that?" Tom was visibly frightened.
"Insects--like flies, vomit acid on their meal and then use a proboscis to drink the liquefied remains. Certain plants use digestive acid the same way." She looked out over the dark churning waves as the clouds gathered on the horizon,
"The seas are full of new species which have yet to be discovered. It could be anything..."
"What was that kid doing out there by the pipe?" The old sheriff cursed under his breath.
"We check the drain every weekend--," I got out and closing my car door, said,
"To make sure it doesn't get plugged by debris."
"So whatever did that to the kid--," Tom looked back at my aunt,
"Might still be in that pipe?"
"That would explain why only his hand and arm were burned--" Aunt Shelly reasoned,
"He must have reached inside that drain and come into contact with something that washed in on the tide?"
"You coming?" Tom nodded, gesturing for us to follow, as we both hurried after him toward the patrol car.

The waves lapped gently at the shore beneath the solemn, gray heavens. There was a storm coming from out of the south, but everything felt too calm. A stillness that now bothered me as I watched old Tom and my aunt examine the opening of the drain pipe.
"Well--," Tom sighed, tossing the long stick that he had been using to dig into the pipe off to the side,
"If there was anything in there--it's sure not there now."
"Do you think that it might have been some kind of big jellyfish?" I glanced at my aunt who immediately shook her head within reply, saying,
"No--jellyfish leave tendril marks. Distinct--and often deep, burn tracks from wherever they touch the skin--," she swallowed hard,
"The tissue on the young man's hand and arm, was almost completely dissolved. Like something had just covered the entire area all at once, and then, instantaneously, liquefied the flesh."
"So the kid never had a chance." Tom frowned.
"Well--," she pondered,
"Whatever it was--it must have been very fast..."
"We'll know more when Bill gets the samples back from the lab--," Tom removed his glasses, looking out over the crowds of frolicking tourists
"I just hope to God, that whatever did this--isn't out there now, near any of them..."

The day having been far too grim and long, I had decided to take Aunt Shelly to dinner, settling for fish and chips at our favorite dock-side diner. Sal's Fish N Chips was as old as our town. As a matter of fact, my parents had become engaged on that same old dock, one moon-lit, summer night. It was one of those places that just seemed timeless.
"Did I ever tell you--that your parents met here?" Aunt Shelly forced a smile, the day having weighed heavily upon her heart, she attempted to make light of things as always, saying.
"They were engaged-- right over there--," she pointed to the end of the old dock, adding,
"Under the biggest and brightest moon that you ever did see."
"Yes--you did--," I smiled, sipping at my lemonade,
"But it's a great story. You tell it like you were there."
"Well dear--," she grinned mischievously,
'That’s because I was! I was parked in the lot, just up top. I was with Norman Leeds, nice enough fellow, but nasty breath. It never went anywhere."
Laughing, I looked out through the large windows where we sat eating dinner, admiring the moon on the ocean. There really was a kind of magic in that place. It was hard to believe that anything bad could ever happen in Anchor Cove.
"I'm sorry about your friend--," she looked up from her dinner,
"That’s never an easy thing, especially under the circumstances."
"It's sad--but I didn't know him too well to be honest--," I played with my fries, having no real appetite, adding,
"I won't lie. I'm nervous about going anywhere near that drain pipe..."
"That brings us to something else that I had wanted to ask you?" She leaned back in her seat, glancing out over the dark ocean before turning back to look at me, a hint of fear in her large, blue eyes, she said,
"Would you be kind enough--to stay out of the water? Just until we figure this out?"
"After what happened today?" I patted her wrist,
"Are you kidding me? I doubt that I'll ever go near the water again."
It was a simple promise to keep, having few friends, no interest in water sports and having seen every killer shark movie ever made.
"Thank you--," she tilted her head, looking at me and smiling,
"If ever I had been blessed with a child--I would have wanted a son just like you."
"Well--you're in luck. I don't think Mom and dad are coming back for me any time soon." It was the first genuine laugh we had shared all day.

The night had passed all too slowly as awakened by nightmares, I had tossed and turned before finally getting up and going to get a cold drink. Wandering out of the kitchen, I paused before my aquarium. Was it just my eyes? Or had I seen something white and filmy, ooze from behind a rock and slither back into the shadows again? You’re not awake, just go back to bed...
It bothered me, but I was tired and writing it off to nothing more than that, went back to bed and was out the moment that my head hit the pillow. There were no more dreams that night, just endless and silent blackness, deeper and darker than the ocean...
The Sunday went past quickly as helping Aunt Shelly in her garden, we talked about plants, soils and nutrients. Although my interest was limited, it made her happy to share, so I always indulged. After all, it really wasn't so much to ask for?
After a fine dinner of Southern style, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and those wonderful, fresh rolls that she had always baked, I retired for the evening. I had put on the television, watching the ten o'clock news, and as I had sat and watched, my eyes kept moving back to the aquarium? It wasn't that anything seemed or appeared wrong, the fish were well and doing fine, but something haunted me... Where was that sick looking, pale slime? That oozing filth, no larger than a dime, that seemed to move against the filtration pump's stream? Such a large tank, how could something so small, so insignificant, have caught my attention? Obviously I'm just imagining things...
Having shrugged off the thought, I turned off the television and made my way to bed. Back to work Monday and a thousand things to do...
Morning did not arrive as expected, but instead, I awoke to the sound of a shriek! Falling out of bed, I leapt up and rushed out into the living room! It was still dark, but by the glow of the aquarium's light, I made out the form of my aunt, standing before the tank, staring in horror. Hurrying to where she now knelt, her gaze frozen upon something near the bottom of the tank, I looked to where she stared. There, in a clump of writhing flesh, were gathered all of the fish that had been within that tank. Caught within some kind of milky, oozing mass, the fish died, their flesh dissolving into that ghastly, pale slime. I could feel the heat coming off the tank. It was as though, by some means, that foul ooze had caused the temperature to rise as it visibly grew larger, while consuming the fish.
"Oh, my God--," Aunt Shelly choked, her voice little more than a whisper,
"That’s it.... My God, that's it..."
"It?" I felt the hairs at the nape of my neck stand erect, a cold greasy lump forming within the pit of my stomach.
"That--," she pointed a trembling finger to the oozing mass in the tank, her eyes huge and filled with horror,
"Is what happened to that boy?"
I turned slowly to look upon the thing in the tank, my heart racing as I noticed that, having now finished consuming the fish, it move slowly toward where my aunt's finger narrowly touched the surface of the glass. Ever upward it crept, now the size of a football and roughly the same shape. It didn't seem to be a solid mass, but rather, streaming, numerous particles flowing as one. As we both gazed, entirely captivated by this monstrous thing, it halted, pausing near the top of the tank, just beneath the canopy.
"What is it?" I felt the heat of bile in my throat, looking down upon the sickly mass.
"It appears to be--, she leaned closer to the glass, scrutinizing the drifting, undulating thing, and “some kind of pure protein? Or, protozoa?"
"What's that?" I was entirely lost, but always fascinated within her vast knowledge of the natural world.
"Protozoa are a diverse group of unicellular, eukaryotic organisms--," she saw my expression and added,
"Single celled life forms with animal characteristic. They are mobile -- and predators. They are one of the oldest living life forms on the planet."
"So this is the animal or animals that we were looking for?" I felt a shudder of revulsion course through my entire being.
"They aren't animals--," she corrected me, her teaching instinct's surfacing,
"Just a plant that is animal-like. Also, they usually feed on bacteria and algae, not flesh. These creatures literally exist in many forms and everywhere. From the deepest parts of the ocean to the backyard. But this is some kind of mutation or possibly, evolution, moving them up the food chain."
"And sending us down..." I felt sick at the thought of this nightmare, lurking within our own home,
"Well, there is nothing in recorded data that shows anything like this--," she squinted, cautiously opening the canopy lid, grabbing a small plastic cup from the kitchen counter, and moving toward the tank,
"We need a sample of this."
"Is that safe?" I raised both hands, filled with sudden panic.
"It should be perfectly fine as long as I don't come into direct contact--," she forced a smile,
"As we can see, this type is strictly aquatic. But, you're right--," she snapped her fingers,
"I'll grab some rubber gloves--just to make certain."
My nerves were screaming as she hurried off, soon returning with a large pair of rubber cleaning gloves,
"Alright then--these should do the trick."
I stood silently, my heart pounding within my ears as I watched her slip into the gloves, lean to one side, and reach down with the little cup into the tank.
There was a moment when, as the first thought of alarm crossed my mind, before I could even react or call out, the canopy erupted within a sudden explosion of foam and the thing was upon her!
Oh my God! There was nothing that I could do as she screamed, falling backward as the thing fell upon her breast and throat! She crashed down heavily against my stereo cabinet, becoming pinned between the large book shelf and stereo, her back pressed tightly against the wall, flailing and shrieking! Her screams of terror and pain were beyond anything that I had ever heard! Dear God in heaven! Heart wrenching, but by horror filled, I could do nothing for the flailing woman! It had her! My God, it had her and her flesh ran like a crimson, gore imbued river as the thing absorbed her, growing larger and larger as she faded beneath the oozing and pulsating mass!
"Run!" She wailed, choking on her own blood in one last effort, her screams muffled, the ghastly thing entirely covering her! God forgive me, cowardly wretch that I was! I ran from that room as fast as my legs would carry me, straight down the dark street and onward into town!
I reached Tom's home first, pounding upon his door as though the very devil himself were at my heels! The lights came on and the old man answered the door in his robe, staring at me within utter disbelief as I blurted out what had just happened. Stuttering and shaking, he took me inside, supporting me onto the couch where he poured a glass of whiskey and told me to drink some. This I did, coughing and choking as the burning liquid slowed me down and numbed the senses enough to speak.
"Calm down--drink that, I'll just be a second," Tom motioned towards me to remain seated, rushing off as he got dressed and shouted from the bed room.
"Start from the beginning--what happened?"
Before I could form the first sentence, it all suddenly hit me?
"Oh my God---, the tank--," I turned to look as Tom hurried out of his room, sitting on the couch before me to slip into socks and button his shirt,
"That’s where that stuff came from. Before I got the tank--," I explained as Tom hurriedly buckled his belt and checked his revolver,
"The fish died. I drained that water---which stuff must have been in the drain pipe--when Eddie checked it?"
"What stuff?" Tom put on his jacket and shoes, grabbing his police radio from the charger on the kitchen counter.
"Aunt Shelly--," I felt myself violently trembling, vividly recalling her expression of shock and horror as her face had melted away before me,
"Said they might be a type of--protozoa--," I sounded the word out slowly,
"Some kind of microorganism, plant, that moves and hunts."
"Jesus H Christ --," Tom choked on his own words,
"Finish that whiskey kid--, he rushed me,
"Let’s get over there."
"No!" I leapt up, dropping the glass,
"That stuff is loose--it's fast. There's no telling where it is?"
"I'm calling the CDC right now--," Tom pointed a finger at me, his expression stern,
"I need you to calm the hell down. Now, I know you just went through something terrible. But losing our wits could cost us our lives. We need to be steady and alert, got it?"
Gripped within utter terror, words failed me as all that I could do within response was nod.
"Okay--," He slipped his hat on,
"Let’s get to the bottom of this..."

The rain had come, a slow drizzle that soon became a torrent as we sat before Aunt Shelly's house in the cruiser. I stared through the streaming rain upon the haunt that had once been home. In the glow of the headlights, my head ached, my heart pounding to the steady rhythm of the wipers. Silently I had sat as Tom contacted the Center for Disease Control, requesting immediate response and relaying what little we knew. The message within reply was very clear. Secure the perimeter, do not attempt contact, assistance has been dispatched.
The wait had not been as long as we had anticipated, as within thirty minutes, a helicopter landed, a team in hazmat equipment rushing toward us!
"We need you to back away from the area." A tall middle aged man shouted through his suit and mask, pointing toward an area some fifty yards distance,
"Please remain in the vehicle until further notification, an agent will be with you shortly for statements."
Tom did not hesitate and as we backed out, several large vans arrived, the area now buzzing with excitement as within the pouring rain, they set up large tripod lights.
"It looks like a damn lunar landing--," Tom leaned over and sifting through his glove compartment, produced several candy bars, handing one to me,
"Eat that--it's going to be a long night."
Tom had never been more wrong in his life, for no sooner had I begun eating that candy bar, than did all hell break loose around us! We could hear the shrieks through the rolled up windows as men armed with flame throwers began setting my aunt's house ablaze! We leapt out of the car, both staring in utter disbelief as several members of the team rushed from out of the house, screaming and covered in that ghastly slime! No sooner had they emerged, than did their own fellow team members turn the flame throwers upon them, burning their companions alive!
"Sweet Mother of God!--,"Tom wailed, turning toward me and barking,
"Get in the God damn car--right now!"
We had just leapt back into the vehicle, when the thing emerged from out of the inferno! Having grown many times its original size, it now pursued the team, a wall of pulsating gore and seething foam!
More members ran from the vehicles, flame throwers casting brilliant streams of hell into the darkness! I could only stare at the utter chaos, watching them die as Tom backed the car out and we sped back down the road toward the main street.
"This is out of control!" Tom cursed, wild eyed,
"We need to warn the people, evacuate the town!"
"Oh My God!" My eyes had been drawn out toward the beach as we sped along the main street, my mouth and throat running dead dry as only a single word was allowed to escape,
"Look..."
There, like a pale tidal wave and coming forward at an alarming rate, was the thing that had been released into the ocean through draining that tank. It was enormous, the length of the coast line and towering fifty feet high at the very least!
"Hold on!" Tom stepped on the gas, the engine roaring as he slid around a corner, speeding up the steep hill leading through the center of town and away from the beach.
'We won't even be able to warn anyone!" My heart screamed as looking over my shoulder, I could see the thing, close behind us, and now slam into the first homes, an enormous wall of thick, foaming death!
"It must have eaten every living thing along the coast!" Tom wailed, his eyes filled with tears,
"Oh dear God--all our friends, all those helpless people, women and children!"
We ascended high above the town, and looking back, I could see all the lights disappear beneath the steadily growing mass. My heart sank as the last lights faded, everything falling into utter blackness below...
"Watch out!" I shouted as we narrowly missed an oncoming vehicle, which now careened, slipping off the highway and crashing into the darkness behind us. Without a second thought, Tom stopped the car, turning around and racing back to the wreckage. It was a large white van without markings, but a man now clambered out, stumbling toward us.
"I need to get to Anchor Cove--," he pleaded, his brow cut deeply and bleeding profusely. He was an older gentleman, average build, white beard and dressed within a fine gray, three piece suit,
"Please help me, it's of the utmost importance--," he appeared horrified, clutching a briefcase as he struggled to stand before Tom's window,
"There's nothing left back there--," Tom got out of the car, assisting the man into the back seat,
"Was there anyone else in the van with you?"
"No--I am alone. Nothing left?" Our guest choked on the words, leaning into the front seat and gasping,
"What do you mean--nothing left?"
'Something --," Tom jumped back into the car, pulling back onto the highway and looking into the rear-view mirror at the man,
"Came out of the water and engulfed the whole town. We are all that's left."
"Oh no--no..." Our companion sank back into the seat, wiping the blood from his brow with a hand kerchief, covering his eyes and weeping,
"This can't happen...”
Tom shot a suspicious glance at me, turning to look back at the old man,
"What are you talking about?"
"This thing--of which you speak--,' the old man sniffled, wiping tears from his eyes, opening his brief case and producing classified notes and photograph's, retrieved a phone, dialing out and waiting, asked,
"Has it reached the ocean?"
"Yes--," I swallowed hard,
"So--what's going on here? Is this some kind of government conspiracy or military weapon gone wrong, experiment?"
"No--," The old man frowned, raising a finger as his call was answered and he simply said,
"Reitman here--specimen nine sixty six has breached containment--it's in the water..." and hung up, dropping the phone back into the case and looking at me, said,
"My name, is Dr. Ivan Reitman. I am a professor of Molecular Paleontology."
"What the hell is that?" Tom sped dangerously along the dark highway.
"It's the science--," Dr. Reitman explained,
"Which refers to the recovery and analysis of DNA, proteins, carbohydrates, or lipids, and their diagenetic products from ancient human, animal, and plant remains. In the nineteen fifties, a man named Abelson, discovered preserved amino acids in fossil shells that were about 360 million years old. This brought about the idea of comparing fossil amino acid sequences, with existing organisms, so that molecular evolution could be studied."
"I never did understand this science, hocus pocus--," Tom cursed,
"Would you be kind enough to break that down, so the rest of us, less educated folks, can understand you?"
"Science discovered a way--," Reitman explained,
"To closely examine the characteristics of fossil amino acids and proteins, the building blocks of what we are all made, understand the structures, and re-introduce those DNA sequences into modern species. In this way, we are also able to clone extinct life forms."
"Alright, so you’re telling me--," Tom thought aloud,
"That whatever is back there, murdering innocent people--," he gripped the steering wheel tightly enough to turn his knuckles white,
"Is some kind lab generated, genetic mutation?"
"No--it isn't--," Dr. Reitman cleared his throat,
"It’s a fossil specimen discovered in a glacier formation, from the last great mass extinction. A previously undiscovered variety of--carnivorous protozoa."
"Aunt Shelly was closer than she thought--," it hurt to even speak her name aloud.
"So what's this thing doing here?" Tom turned onto the mountain highway, traveling North.
"A specimen disappeared from the lab some months ago," Reitman sighed deeply,
"There were rumors that a foreign, terrorist organization, had stolen it with intentions to utilize it as a world threat."
"World threat?" My heart sank,
"But why would terrorists bother with Anchor Cove? We were almost a ghost town as it was."
"Last place anyone would look or expect something like this--," Tom grumbled,
"Just drop a sample into a tank and walk away. It does the rest all on its own."
"You wouldn’t think a prehistoric dribble of slime could ever do something like this...." I shuddered with the thought.
"Indeed young man--," Reitman almost whispered,
"Viruses have always been a murderous threat. Bacteria, often lethal. This particular organism, was most likely responsible for the end of the dinosaurs, and possibly, every other mass extinction. Due to the colony's rapid rate of expansion, it is virtually indestructible and will continue to feed and multiply, grow--until nothing living, remains..."
"But we are safe from it--as long as we go somewhere cold, up North?" I felt a glimmer of hope.
"There are species of protozoa and parasites living in the Arctic ice--," Reitman scowled,
"We did not have the opportunity to run more than preliminary tests on the specimen. So, there is no way to be certain of its, true potential..."
Tom's eyes became huge in the rear-view mirror,
"So what do we do now?"

Epilogue

A little over a year has passed as while, staying with Dr. Reitman and Tom in a hunting lodge located deep in the Yukon, we had listened to the world slowly end over the radio. When the day came that we were greeted by only an endless stream of static on all waves, we had simply switched if off. Though the winter months, bitter as they were, had offered some sense of security, the spring has once more arrived. A season that unlike the previous, now feels far too warm...
In the beginning, we had been joined by several families, a few hunters and an old trapper. But there have been no traveler's on that lonely road since, nor any signs of any other living thing. As I write these final words into the diary that holds whatever future there may be for mankind, I gaze into the cloud filled, dark horizon. A storm is approaching and who knows what rides upon the rains, as we huddle in fear, within this, the last outpost of humanity.

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