A pastiche short story, homage to the 1950s private eye and science fiction movies.
It’s also a puzzle: find at least 43 film titles in the story!
by Nik Morton
A gust blew his hat off but instead of chasing it he stopped in his tracks. By the time he remembered the head-gear it had gone with the wind. He felt sickly cold. His dark victory over the alien creatures at
Barbary Coast, his last port of
call, was hollow, he realised with an awful dread, as he looked at the woman in
red who stood on the corner of Hanover
Street above a diner sign-plate for "The
He said, "Don't look now, but the blob of goo on the sidewalk is moving, just by your feet!"
Alarmed, she stepped back and glanced down. And, against all odds, she avoided the goo that, cutting fast and loose, sprayed out at her. She let out a piercing scream and fainted, falling against the wall.
Within seconds he bundled himself and the woman into the diner, slamming the door shut behind them; the window panes rattled.
When she came to, she said, "What am I doing here? Who are you? Who?"
"Don't worry, you seem okay now, Mildred Pierce." Her eyes showed surprise. "I took the liberty of checking your purse, in case you needed medication. I'm a doctor, by the way. Elmer Gantry."
Then she must have remembered, and shuddered. "It's stifling in here," she said and stood up to leave.
He grabbed her wrist, said, "That wasn't some dream, lady. There are aliens out there. On some incredible journey, I reckon, from here to eternity for all I really know. And they like the temperature high - in fact, some like it hot."
She gaped. "You can't be serious! That - that goo - it can't have changed the temperature..." Mildred stared out the window.
People passed, all sweating profusely. "The whole city's in a heat wave - in December!
frozen over, for god's sakes!"
At that moment a strange scrabbling distracted them both. They turned, to stare at the dark at the top of the stairs of the diner. Something moved about up there, and it cast a giant shadow on the wall.
A fly came out of that darkness and buzzed over their table. For the first time they both realised nobody else was inside the diner. The fly landed and suddenly it started to grow and to change shape: in mere seconds it had transformed into a hand! The hand was disembodied in the truest of senses and it crawled sluggishly, fingers moving like a bizarre imitation of a crab.
Dr Gantry laughed ironically, "Guess who's coming to dinner!"
Mildred called out, "Dr - no!"
And Dr Gantry crashed down his chair onto the beast with five fingers. But it wasn't finished, it melded into the wood of the broken chair, began taking the form of Dr Gantry.
He upset the table on top of the half-formed creation and hurried with Mildred to the rear of the diner. "It's worse than the last time in
Barbary Coast, lady. They're even more difficult to kill - they
Gantry held her hands, said, "Look, Mildred, you've got to get out of the city, get help somehow, the National Guard... I'll lead them away." She started to protest, eyeing the shape that now cast a crooked shadow, but he cut her off, pulled her round to face him, "Look who's talking, Mildred. I'm of insignificance compared to all the people under threat out there!" He ran up the stairs, stopped halfway and turned, shouted, "Farewell, my lovely!" and rushed headlong into the shadows.
His terms of endearment rang in her ears as she heard eldritch screams and shouts. Slowly, she crept out the back door. Wherever she looked, small puddles of goo shimmered amidst the melting snow.
Movement above startled her, but it was only a lonesome dove, landing on the building's eaves. Abruptly, it screeched and feathers scattered and it was no more; instead the guttering of the building began to move with an intelligent purpose, the attached drainpipe snaking towards her!
She ran, leaping over the goo puddles, miraculously dodging the gouts of alien spume that darted up at her. As she ran onto
Elm Street, she
wondered about Dr Gantry. Had he
survived? Her heart hammered, but not
with the exertion of running. In a
different time and place, their meeting could have been a love story - or at
least an affair to remember. Instead,
this was, she realised, a Nightmare on Elm Street...
762 words - answers tomorrow!