For 2022, I’ve been wanting to write more ‘creature features’ and generally improve my short story writing. My partner got me a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual for my birthday so I came up with the idea of writing a story every week based on a different creature from that – All There in the (Monster) Manual. Hope you enjoy!
This Week’s Inspiration: Ooze
Having come to earth inside a meteorite, the Ooze has now consumed every living creature, every man, woman and child, every animal, every insect, every tree and plant, on the face of the earth – except for one person. Time has come to find out exactly why they were saved.
The ooze came to earth inside a meteorite near some podunk town in the American midwest called Yeaworth. According to frantic early reports, it’s believed the alien entity was no bigger than a chicken egg when it hatched. It grew rapidly. Displaying some rudimentary survival instincts, it attacked woodland creatures and pets, getting larger with everything it ate as it incorporated their biomass perfectly into its own, before moving on to humans. By the next day it was as big as a tank, then a house, and it was consuming everything in sight. Putting aside petty divisions and political divides, the citizens of Yeaworth came together to fight the alien menace, to capture it, kill it, and stop it from spreading.
And they failed.
In fairness, a lot of people failed to do anything to stop or contain the ooze once it got started. Bullets did nothing, bombs barely disturbed it for more than a few seconds before it recovered. The ooze wouldn’t burn or freeze, it couldn’t be poisoned. Even nukes did little except vapourise the portion of ooze caught in the initial fireball, the rest was blown backward by the shockwave but recovered quickly and the fallout did nothing to affect it.
The ooze spread as it grew. Like a slime mould moving between food sources, ooze stretched between towns and cities along freeways and roads. It grew exponentially. Within two weeks, it had reached both the East and West Coasts. It spread across the entire North American continent. When it had consumed every population centre, it rolled across the countryside and everything in between. Eating not just people but animals, birds, insects, trees and plants.
The rest of the world held their breath, hoping the ooze would stop at the coastlines. That the saltwater would be enough to keep it at bay. But the alien ooze plunged great tendrils into the oceans and continued to grow. It scooped out all life from the world’s oceans and spread to every continent and island. To every forested, frozen or arid region. It ate every living thing, every plant and animal. Every single human being.
It wasn’t as if there was anything special about me, that I knew of at least. I didn’t come up with some clever way to escape or fool the ooze. The ooze ‘caught’ me half a dozen times. Every time it held onto me so long I nearly suffocated in its slimy bulk. Twice I passed out. But each time the ooze expelled me and I recovered, at first with great relief and then with mounting confusion. After that it started to actively avoid touching me, parting or pushing me back even if I threw myself at it.
Maybe there were still people, high up government types, in deeply buried bunkers. Although the ooze had an uncanny ability to sense every single sliver of life, and would relentlessly dig it out. Maybe there were still people scraping out a life in some truly remote regions. There could even be astronauts orbiting the earth, watching as everything below collapsed beneath the relentless tide of the ooze. But I hadn’t seen a single other person since the ooze took over. I hadn’t seen a single dog or cat or other animal. Not a tree or bush or a single blade of grass left behind in the way I had been. If there were others like me, I’d never seen a sign of them. Alone, all alone, just me and the ooze occupying an otherwise lifeless world. Saved for some reason or purpose I couldn’t imagine.
I woke up feeling sick and with morning light lancing through my eyes, setting my brain on fire. The bedroom smelled like alcohol and puke. I’d drank myself to sleep last night, like every night, and didn’t remember getting to bed. Turning over, I knocked a glass bottle to the carpet and ignored it as bourbon spilled everywhere.
When I was finally ready to wake up, although I had nowhere to be, I turned over and grabbed a bottle of painkillers. Swallowing a handful with a swig of water, too many, more than the label would say was safe, I sat up and staggered to the house’s back deck. It wasn’t my bedroom, my deck, my house. I’d moved around a lot since the ooze came, looking for other people or signs of another single life form other than the ooze.
I’d chosen this house for the time being because of the working solar panels on the roof, which at least provided some electricity and hot water. The size and luxury of the mansion was a bonus. The view might have been a bonus, I had mixed feelings on that. The back deck looked toward the ocean. Dead and empty, the ocean still rolled in day and night. Raw and naked hills surrounded the bay below, all the trees and plants stripped away and eaten leaving dirt and bare stone. About a mile off to either side, enormous, pink limbs, each several times larger than a train tunnel, delved into the ocean. All along the coastlines, massive tentacles of pink ooze grew into the oceans and spread throughout the world. Veins of pink also covered the rocky hillsides, occasionally pulsing with life.
In the middle of the yard before me, stripped of grass, lay a huge firepit. Surrounded by stones, I’d piled it high with dead wood and bits of broken furniture. If I saw any kind of ship or movement on the ocean, I planned on lighting it as a signal. But, of course, as my bleary eyes scanned the horizon I saw nothing. Always nothing. Disgusted, I took another long swallow of water and tossed the plastic bottle over and across the yard. A couple of moments later, a probing tentacle of ooze appeared to inspect the movement. It looked like a python, a thick, pink snake with no tail, stretching away from the nearest mass. Nosing around the bottle, it found the plastic, nothing of interest, and retreated again.
Trash filled the kitchen, and had been scattered to the corners of the room. Cardboard boxes, empty cans and broken plates, as well as crumpled beer cans and empty liquor bottles. If rats, mice, cockroaches or other bugs still existed I guess I would have attracted them but the ooze had gotten them all. As it was, I felt free to trash the place and then I would move on as I had done many times before. My remaining supplies were scattered around the kitchen but sorting through them I found nothing I actually wanted. No fruit, no baked beans, not even any spam.
“Shit.” My stomach rolled at the thought of eating anything I picked up.
Another part of the reason I’d picked this house was that it was out of the way. Less masses of ooze surrounding the property. The ooze would seek out organic matter like a tidal wave, feed, and pull itself back. But I’d have to drive into town for more supplies. The latest car I’d been using was parked in the driveway. Concepts of ownership were pretty meaningless. My car, my house. Except the world, it was the ooze’s world.
Masses of ooze covered buildings and thoroughfares. Most of them split open to allow me passage, like I was Moses parting the Red Sea. The ooze had absorbed the mass of every living creature on Earth, except me, and draped over everything accordingly. Apart from smashed windows and broken doors, the ooze left houses and other buildings, and vehicles, unharmed, except for where its sheer mass had crushed them or done additional damage. If you didn’t look too closely, and ignored the lurking walls of bubblegum pink, everything appeared simply abandoned. No green lawns existed in front of houses though. No bushes, no hedges, no trees. Parks were stripped, just dirt patches that had been dug up and furrowed. All that were left of the trees were dead trunks and broken bundles of branches.
Closer to the city, the ooze layered itself across streets and buildings. Limbs hung like fattened vines between skyscrapers, roots moving in and out of windows. Waving tendrils dangled from these limbs all the way to the street as if searching for any life it hadn’t consumed. Apart from occasionally probing my moving vehicle they left me alone. Singular pulses went through the entire visible mass. Nothing was left for the ooze to hunt, however.
Sometimes the ooze parted and revealed a scene reminiscent of some forgotten tragedy. A crashed car or a painted barricade. A baby carriage tipped over on the sidewalk. These reminders always drilled deep. The scale of death brought on by the ooze was unimaginable. The human mind couldn’t hold onto those kinds of numbers or that much grief. Every human being on the planet. Every man, woman or child. Every animal, every plant, every microbe. A dead world except for me and the ooze. Even now, I knew I existed in a kind of denial. Part of me believing that all those people and animals and life had not been wiped out but simply taken somewhere else. That this lifeless world was my hell and mine alone, no one else’s. But then a reminder of just one death struck like a lightning bolt. Knowing everyone I’d ever loved, everyone I’d ever known, talked to, seen in any context, being dead, that was too much. But remembering a single life stolen could make me inconsolable until I drank myself to an insensate state.
Finding a grocery store I’d never visited before, I stopped at a slant across the street. Its windows had been barricaded, and those barricades had been ripped apart by unimaginable strength and the glass shattered. The ooze had attacked, consumed everyone inside, and withdrawn. Carrying a flashlight, I climbed inside easily and started gathering. Whatever had been in the store’s fridges and freezers had all spoiled in their own way, dried up, but without microbes nothing actually rotted. Pickings were slimmer here than in some other places. The people in coastal areas had time enough to panic, to raid stores and attempt to flee, even if they didn’t get far, before the ooze reached them.
I’d gathered a load of cans and untouched dry goods in a basket when I sensed movement behind me. To my surprise, a probing tentacle of ooze had slipped through the same broken window as me and followed me inside. As thick as my thigh, ending in a blunt tip, it was gelatinous and its skin looked shiny in the beam of the flashlight. I saw the tendrils everywhere of course, waving and searching, but it had been so long since any of them had shown an interest in me that I was surprised. A surge of rage quickly followed, and I dropped my basket.
“What do you want? What? Huh?” I yelled. “You fucking piece of shit! Fuck you, you’ve finally made up your mind about me? Then eat me! Eat me!”
Reaching into the basket at my feet, I grabbed a can and hurled it at the tentacle. Landing with a splat, the can swam through the semi-translucent mass where it was inspected, tasted, and then spat out again. Grabbing my t-shirt by the collar, I tore it open.
“Come on, finish it!”
I leapt toward the tentacle. I’d done similar things many, many times since the reality of my situation became real to me. It seemed like the most obvious method of suicide if it worked, to die like everyone else. Just like every time since the half a dozen times I’d been swallowed and spat out though, the ooze rejected me. It slimed back toward the smashed windows and disappeared.
Despite the slight strangeness of the encounter, once I’d calmed down I finished collecting as much food as I could. I didn’t bother with booze. In spite of the rate at which I went through it, I had plenty of alcohol at home. Returning to the house, I felt watched. The ooze was everywhere, there was no escaping it, but in spite of what it represented, and its pulses of life, I’d gotten used to it being largely passive. In places, the ooze still split open and let my pass but I took more notice of the ooze webbing between dead trees and buildings and almost thought bits of it followed me.
Back at the house, I ate joylessly and wandered the deck with a beer. Another tentacle of ooze wormed its way into the brown yard. I didn’t feel another explosion of anger, just despairing resignation.
“What the fuck are we both doing here?” I asked. “Just you and me, just fucking existing. At least you’ve got an excuse, you’re just a mindless eating machine. You’re just some alien slime. Me, why am I still here? So you rejected me, for some reason, but what am I doing? Why don’t I just jump off a cliff and drown? Or eat a fucking bullet? Do I just wait until the canned food goes bad? Even if I could, you won’t let me grow any other food. Am I waiting for answers? To find someone else? What the fuck am I doing?”
Nights were long and silent, the quiet inescapable. Everywhere I went, no cars, no televisions, no life. No distant voices, no birds, no bats, no crickets, not even a rustling in the trees when the wind picked up since none of the trees had leaves. Another reason I guess I liked the coastline, because at least I had the sound of the waves.
Thanks to the solar panels and the house’s battery, I could run the television. Nothing was being broadcast but I had a pile of DVDs and Blurays. Sometimes I had to turn the movies or television shows off though as I remembered everyone in them was dead. I’d started to prefer the really old films, black and white or from the early days of colour, because even if the people in them were dead now they’d lived normal lives and died normal deaths and I found some comfort in that. I had books I kept picking up and putting down every time I got so drunk the words started falling off the pages. And a stack of porno and swimsuit magazines. I was surprised they even made those magazines any more but was grateful they had in a world without internet. Cycling through the options, I kept an open bottle of liquor between my legs.
The last man on Earth heard a knock. Hearing something tapping and rattling, I staggered to my feet. Besides the solar panels, I kept battery powered lanterns dotted around the house. Picking one up, I went to the window that seemed to be knocking. Another pink tentacle pressed itself against the glass as if watching me again.
“Again? What is it? What do you want?”
The tentacle didn’t reply, of course, or move. I returned to the main body of the house. Generally speaking, I didn’t keep a gun with me. Nothing existed for me to shoot at, and it would be too much temptation. But I had found a handgun this house’s original owners had kept, and I’d left it in the kitchen. I went and snatched it, thumbing off the safety and returning to the window. Firing, the blasts ruined the silence and smashed the glass. The tentacle absorbed a couple of shots and then lazily withdrew.
“Leave me alone! Haven’t you done enough?”
Just because the ooze didn’t want to eat me, didn’t mean it couldn’t kill me. Nothing I could do would harm it. The tentacle could return and strangle or smother me. The sheer bulk of the creature just in the immediate area could crush the whole house like a tidal wave. But it didn’t do anything like that, and I was left with the distant white noise of the ocean.
Disturbed, I paced the house and looked out through the other windows. Nothing outside looked out of place. Nothing moved or stared eyelessly in at me. In spite of its uselessness, my fist wrapped tightly around the gun. Eventually, I settled back down but I couldn’t concentrate, not on movies or books or magazines, not even on alcohol. The couple of strange encounters kept playing over in my mind and I wondered if we’d reached the point of some new shift in the ooze’s behaviour.
I went to bed drunk but not as wasted as I often got. Despite my thoughts, I fell asleep quickly. A short while later, however, I woke up, feeling something in the room with me. The weight of another living presence. Groping for my flashlight, I turned it on and looked around.
Pink ooze filled the room. From wall to wall, a smooth, flat mass that almost reached the top of my mattress. Holding my breath, I stared. Earlier that day, the actions of the tentacles had been odd but not so remarkable. However, I’d never seen anything like that since the days of the ooze first spreading.
“What? What do you want?”
I rolled and went to take a step into the ooze but it withdrew. It moved lazily but steady as the tide, sucking its way out of the room in only a few seconds, leaving my clothes and the trash filling the bedroom in further disarray but taking nothing with it.
“What do you want? Tell me!”
Taking the flashlight, I staggered after the ooze. Its mass moved with incredible speed, like water, and contracted in on itself many times as it squeezed through broken windows. I made my way to the living room, the flashlight making shadows leap in such a way that I wasn’t sure if they were waves of ooze coming or retreating. I stumbled into the living room. All my DVDs, books and magazines were scattered around the floor.
Most of the ooze had moved on but not all. A shape moved on the far side of the room. I watched, astonished, as a woman crossed the carpet toward me. Not a woman, although she was beautiful and with an hourglass figure. Her skin was gelatinous, pink and shiny. Her bikini swimsuit existed as part of her skin. I recognised her. My eyes tracked around the room and saw one of my swimsuit magazines lying open. The ooze had turned itself into the centrefold.
My blood ran cold. It wasn’t really the centrefold of course, they were in colour and had been a real, living woman once. The ooze was pink and grotesque. It moved bonelessly, limbs too loose and weight making it sag, but it had clearly modelled itself on the woman in the magazine. A kind of umbilical cord, a rope of ooze as thick as a firehose, ran out of the ooze-woman’s back and across the room to the nearest window so that it stayed connected to the main mass.
“Oh, God, no! What are you? Get away from me!”
The ooze-woman slimed up to me, and reached for my face with its boneless hands. I made a wordless noise of disgust and shoved her. She, it, was heavier than she looked. It wobbled backward but didn’t seem upset. The expression on her face was unchanging, as if painted. I’d never seen anything like it before. Never seen the ooze impersonate anyone, or do anything other than hunt and eat and rest.
“What do you want? What is it?”
The ooze-woman gathered itself up and started toward me again. It wasn’t threatening though, it seemed almost tender. Once more, it reached for my face. This thing had killed the world. It ate everyone, and now it mocked them by taking on a human shape. At least before now I’d accepted it as terrible but ultimately no more responsible than a hurricane, an asteroid or a solar flare. But now it turned out the ooze had the capacity to observe and to think. Tears rolled down my face. I should run, I thought, but where? And part of me didn’t want to run, it had been so long since I’d seen another face.
“I’m so-, I’m so lonely. I’m so alone.”
The ooze reached for me and I accepted it. Its womanly shape melted against me. I wrapped my arms around it and it wrapped itself around me in a heavy embrace. I felt the tentacle sticking from its back and trailing across the room. The ooze’s bulk pressed against the window. It filled all the windows and I could feel its presence hanging over the house.
“I’m so alone.”
The ooze kissed me, mashing its face into my face. I choked a little as it smothered my mouth and nose. It spread, filling my eyes and ears as well. The pressure shoved my eyeballs back into my skull. My hands automatically began to fight but tentacles wrapped around my limbs and hugged me tighter, so I couldn’t move. The ooze was inside my head, my actual skull, and touching my brain.
I felt myself consumed. Not physically in the way so many others had been, but my mind, my memories, consumed with an unrelenting and alien hunger. Life flashed before my eyes. My life bled out of me, a geyser of thoughts and feelings and sensations, sights and smells and sounds. No particular attention was paid to memories of my life as an individual. It felt more like something, in a general sense, wanted to learn what it was to be human. I remembered people and crowds and classrooms and cities, and then more, animals and oceans and nature and trees. Everything and everything and everything. I didn’t know how long it went on until I surrendered totally and completely to its embrace.
Sunlight beat down on a city in motion. Thousands, millions of beings teemed along streets and sidewalks. In and out of buildings left abandoned and in ruins. Sometimes in and out of cars left in the streets, going nowhere but imitating the same forms of life that once occupied this place.
The replacements’ skin was uniformly shiny and pink. Hair and clothes were the same, all part of the same material. An impossibly vast puppet show which did nothing to hide the strings. Tentacles stretched between all of the replacements, sometimes snapping and reforming for the sake of convenience. Every single individual, if they could be called individuals, communing and remaining part of the whole.
In one of the city parks, pink ooze moulded itself over the remaining tree trunks to bloom into branches covered in unmoving leaves. Gently rolling lawns bristled with blades of pink jelly imitating grass. More imitations of individuals traced routes around the park, some even walking pink, four-legged impressions of dogs with thin tentacles trailing between them like leashes. They babbled to one another in meaningless impersonations of language although as part of a single mind they had no need to communicate anything to one another verbally.
An old man sat on a bench at the edge of the park. Streaked with grey, his beard reached his chest and unruly hair ran to his shoulders. Passing beings made of ooze treated him with respect. He was like a father to them, after all. A teacher, an inspiration, even if his kind’s time had passed. Even though he was so different to them. Most obviously, he was not part of the whole. His skin was a different colour, and rougher. His hair and ragged clothing weren’t part of his skin either. He breathed, and slept, and needed to eat to stay alive. And sometimes, trails of water cut down his cheeks, which they couldn’t replicate and didn’t understand.
Sean: This may come as a shock to you, but the ooze in this story was inspired by the classic movie horror, ‘The Blob’ (cleverly disguised, I know). The town where the ooze landed is named for the director of the 1958 original film. I always wonder in films like The Blob or ‘The Thing’, which are set in these isolated locations against creatures that become almost unstoppable as they gain ground, just what would happen if they actually escaped to the wider world? So here’s a variation on that with a little weirdness tossed in.
You might have also spotted the title is a play on the Goosebumps’ book, ‘The Blob Who Ate Everyone’, which I distinctly remember being very disappointed by as a kid. I was already very into monsters and monster movies back then and was looking forward to reading about, well, a blob that ate everyone, only to find most of the book was about a magic typewriter.
Keep your eyes on my website for more in this series, and for more updates you can find me on Facebook and Twitter.
Next Week’s Inspiration: Magmin