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Slime
Slime eating luke.jpg
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Real Name:

Slime

Gender:

Indeterminate/genderless

Color:

Black

Element:

Amoeboid/protoplasm

Type:

Series:

First appearance:

Slime (1953)

The Slime is the main antagonist of John Payne Brennan's 1953 short story of the same name. A deep sea creature that is effectively immortal, having existed since the time of the dinosaurs, the slime is inky black in color, and prowls along the ocean floor, propelled solely by a desire to feed and add to its bulk. It is capable of forming tentacles to grab prey, although its favorite method is to form itself into a vague hood or umbrella shape (one of author Brennan's favorite descriptions for it is "the hood of horror"). It eats everything from small fish and crustaceans to even other large predators such as sharks and giant squid.

One night, during a nighttime storm off the coast of the town of Clinton Center, an undersea upheaval propels the slime up to the surface, where a tidal wave created by the storm washes it ashore. Confused, but unafraid - lacking any natural predators, it knows no fear - it oozes its way into the coastal wetlands of Wharton's Swamp and gorges itself on muskrats and other small animals, until the sunrise brings, for the first time, pain; unused as it is to light, the slime finds that the sunlight burns its flesh, forcing it to bury itself in the muck of a murky pool in order to escape. That day, a homeless man passing through Clinton Center, Henry Hossing, ventures into Wharton's Swamp with a bottle of rye whiskey he purchased so he can drink it in peace without being hassled by the local police, who don't want him hanging around. He gets drunk and falls asleep. Come nightfall, he awakens to an unexplained sensation of dread, assailed by a fetid stench and the sound of something slithering through the undergrowth. His campfire holds the unseen menace off briefly, but soon dies out, and the slime rushes forth from the darkness to engulf Henry, making him the creature's first human victim. Due to the slime's black color, from Henry's point of view, it is as if the darkness itself rushes out to claim him. After this, it ventures onto the property of a local farmer, Giles Gowse, and consumes his cow Sarey, before returning to the safety of the swamp's inky black pools come daybreak. Gowse's efforts to convince Police Chief Miles Underbeck that his cow has been taken earn jeers from the townspeople; despite the fact Wharton's Swamp has a reputation for being haunted, Gowse is more superstitious than most and regarded as insane by his neighbors, particularly his fellow farmer and sometime enemy Rupert Barnaby, who he encounters walking home later that day.

Despite Gowse's warnings, Barnaby, who isn't a superstitious man, goes hunting in the swamp after dark with his dog Jibbe. He becomes the slime's second victim after his hunting rifle proves ineffective against it. Jibbe the dog escapes unharmed, and is found by Giles Gowse the next morning, whimpering and afraid. But still Chief Underbeck refuses to take action, insisting there must be some rational explanation for the disappearances; Henry Hossing probably heeded Underbeck's warnings and moved on, while Rupert Barnaby knows the swamp better than anyone and is probably still out hunting. But come nightfall, Barnaby still hasn't returned, worrying Underbeck. A third attack occurs when Delores Rell and her boyfriend Jason Bukmeist go exploring in the swamp as a lark; Delore is later found by a motorist passing through town, screaming that "the darkness came alive" and swallowed Jason up, similar to what Henry Hossing experienced just before he died. Again, as daybreak comes, the slime returns to the shadowy safety of its newfound swamp home. No one believes Delores, considering her insane. The day after Jason Bukmeist's death, the Clinton Center police comb the swamp. They find Rupert Barnaby's gun and Henry Hossing's hat. Underbeck seizes on the rational explanation that Henry robbed and murdered both Rupert Barnaby and Jason Bukmeist, and orders his officers to comb the swamp to find what he mistakenly believes is an ordinary human murderer... only for the slime to strike again once darkness falls, claiming its fourth victim, Officer Luke Matson, who is killed and absorbed in front of the unbelieving eyes of his terrified partner Fred Storr.

Officer Storr would've shared Matson's fate but for his flashlight, whose beam repels the slime long enough for his fellow officers to come to his rescue. However, he is left insane by what he witnessed. Finally concluding that their adversary isn't human, and that Henry, far from being the killer, is another victim of their unseen foe, Chief Underbeck demands - and receives - backup in the form of US Army reservists from Camp Evans, who arrive armed with machine guns and flamethrowers. Remembering that Storr's flashlight drove the creature away, and, indeed, Storr has refused to relinquish the flashlight since the incident, even in the daytime, Underback orders huge searchlights erected along the beach, planning to flush the dark menace from the swamp and into the open area of the beach, where, hopefully, the soldiers can kill it. He also realizes the killer, whatever it is, only comes out at night; after a fruitless daytime search, the soldiers comb the swamp that night. Meanwhile, the slime is thoroughly enjoying its new life as the apex predator of Wharton's Swamp, even though its hunger is neverending. As it surfaces, it finds that it senses more food... but this food, like its intended fifth victim the previous night, are armed with the one thing that it has ever hurt it, light, the slime for the first time in its long life feels fear and decides to flee the swamp and return to its more familiar hunting grounds of the black depths of the ocean. Underbeck's plan to flush it from the swamp is thus successful. However, the soldiers' guns fail to harm it. Their searchlights, however, burn its sensitive flesh, and it flees from the bright lights with increasing panic down the beach, with the Army in hot pursuit. Just as it is about to reach the water's edge, the lead soldier, armed with a flamethrower, opens up, torching the oozing horror, burning it to death before the horrified eyes of his companions. Author Brennan notes in closing as the solders soberly watch the deep sea horror burning, that "With good reason, the mantle of slime had hated light, for its ultimate source was fire."

Notes[]

  • For similar slimes, see The Ancient Enemy, The Clone and the Slime (from the unrelated William Essex novel of the same name).
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