𝗚𝗹𝗼𝗿𝗶𝗮

𝘣𝘺 𝘑𝘢𝘤𝘬 𝘏𝘰𝘸𝘭𝘪𝘯𝘨

It was on the third day of collecting life specimens from the planet known as 22606 Lito-b that the three-man crew of research vessel Ember 5 brought back the large, mollusc-type creature they’d begun jokingly referring to as the blob, but which MacQuoid, for reasons the others pretended not to understand, later nicknamed Gloria.


It was a gelatinous, semi-transparent, roughly cylindrical invertebrate which they’d discovered wedged into a cave mouth some way along the beach from where Fernsby set the lander down. It gave no indication of being alive, but it didn’t look dead so Hart estimated it to be in a dormant state. Prying it out of that cave and onto a rubber stretcher so they could carry it back to the lander took hours. It was about the length of a man if he was lying down and had a height of roughly a metre. It had an orifice at each end—one small, one large—and six limp tentacles which protruded from what they had already begun thinking of as the head-end despite there being no features such as eyes or a mouth. It was by far the largest specimen they had so far discovered on 22606 Lito-b, and Hart was already excited about studying it.


Carrying it into the largest of the ship’s three labs, Hart instructed the others to lay it down in the middle of the room.


“Good Christ this thing’s heavy,” Fernsby said.


Once they’d set it down, MacQuoid crouched to examine the smaller orifice at the creature’s head end.


“What is that?” he said, glancing over his shoulder at Hart. “The thing’s mouth?”


“Don’t think it’s a mouth,” Hart said. He indicated the descending rings of muscle inside the circular hole. “Could be its anus though.”


MacQuoid stood and walked around to the other end of the creature. “Then this thing has two assholes?”


“Maybe.” Hart said. He took a probe from the pocket of his hazmat suit and inserted it into the small orifice. His eyebrows shot up when he saw the rings of muscle tighten and clamp down on the probe, almost jerking it free of his fingers. For a second Hart panicked, thinking his probe was about to be swallowed by the creature, but instead it was simply held fast. The rings of muscle appeared to ripple and flutter around the probe; a sight Hart found mildly disturbing.


“Jesus,” Fernsby said when the flaccid tentacles at the creature’s side lifted up and began to waver and feel at the air up around its head-end. “You woke it up.” He pointed at the body of the thing, which—as if at the flick of a switch—had lit up from inside with a dull, reddish glow.


Hart placed one hand on the creature’s body and felt a slight pulse. “Looks that way.”


“You did just shove a cold probe up its butt,” Fernsby said.


“We don’t know that’s an anus,” Hart told him.


MacQuoid, who had come back around to the creature’s head-end, watched with interest as Hart struggled to retrieve his probe.


“She’s clamped down on that thing pretty tight, eh Cap?” he said, and gave a bawdy laugh.


“It’s not a she,” Hart said. “Molluscs are asexual.” With some effort, he managed to retract the probe, which came free of the creature with a slurping-sucking sound which made MacQuoid’s eyes widen. The probe was slicked with some clear gel-like secretion. The blood had risen to Hart’s face and when he stood he was alarmed to realise that his penis had stiffened and was pressing uncomfortably against the inside of his underwear.


“Reckon this is some kind of mollusc we haven’t seen before,” MacQuoid said. A blush had also risen to his cheeks, and he had a leery look on his face which Hart didn’t like.


In the back of his mind, Hart detected a new smell mixed in with the stale sweat stink he and the other men gave off: something equally pungent, sharp and bitter.


“I’m calling it a day,” Hart said. “Let’s hit the showers.”


“You two go ahead,” MacQuoid said, putting his back to Hart. “I’ll finish up here.”


Despite his vague unease at leaving MacQuoid alone in the lab, an unease he couldn’t justify, Hart nodded and followed Fernsby into the decontam room. To his bewilderment, he realised he had a full erection.


Whilst showering, he turned the water as cold as it would go in the hope of dampening his inexplicable arousal, but to no effect. His engorged penis throbbed and slapped against his abdomen. What’s wrong with me? he thought. He couldn’t stop thinking about his wife, Greta. She was a few million miles away on a science research space-station named Miracle in orbit above the planet 54678 Saltern HB, and it had been three Earth months since he’d last seen her. Now all he could think about was her body. Images flickered through his mind of the two of them in bed together. How she writhed when he sucked on her nipples. How her slender legs peeled open to allow him to enter her. The way she bucked and sighed beneath him. Oh God. As the images flooded his mind, he also recalled the way the muscular orifice on that creature they’d brought up from 22606 Lito-b had clamped down on his probe. He didn’t want to think about that but couldn’t help it. Taking hold of his penis in one hand, he jerked once, twice, and then, biting down on a moan so as not to be heard by Fernsby in the adjacent cubicle, he ejaculated, spraying the cubicle wall with a blast of semen.


My God.


Spent, he propped one hand against the wall and allowed the cold water to cool the heat in his face. He fought to regain control of his breathing.


What the hell?


Emerging from the showers, both he and Fernsby were silent as they dried-off and began to dress. Hart noticed Fernsby avoided catching his eye. Had he been similarly afflicted?


What was that? What the hell came over me?


He wondered if his sudden arousal could have had something to do with that creature. Could it have emitted something perhaps? Something that had generated that state in him? Some kind of—of course! That smell! That slight musky odour, barely detectable, which he’d noticed after removing the probe from the creature’s orifice. Pheromones! It had exuded pheromones! And—


Oh God!


In a sudden panic, he peeled off his jumpsuit and grabbed a fresh hazmat suit down from the locker.


Fernsby froze and stared at him. “What’s going on?”


“MacQuoid,” Hart said. “We shouldn’t have left him alone back there.”


Fernsby’s brow knit before realisation lit up his face. His mouth fell open. “Oh no.”


Hart struggled into the hazmat suit, while Fernsby followed his lead by unzipping his jumpsuit and rushing to the locker. Without waiting for the other man, Hart passed through the decontam room and ran along the short corridor to the labs. Not much time had passed, he told himself, not much time since… but then looking through the window panel in the lab door, he saw to his utter horror that MacQuoid was pressed up against the head-end of the mollusc. He’d shed his hazmat suit and wore only a thermal shirt and his underwear which was down around his knees. He lay upright against the creature and—Hart saw—he was rhythmically working his hips. The creature’s tentacles encircled MacQuoid’s waist like arms and appeared to be holding him pressed against itself. A shimmer of light radiated up and down the creature’s body, changing from a vapid red to orange to yellow during the few seconds that Hart stood and watched.


MacQuoid!


Hart barged the door open. At once a sharp, pungent odour assailed him, thicker than what he’d smelt earlier. Images of Greta’s naked writhing body immediately began to swamp his mind again. He pushed them away. “MacQuoid! What the hell are you doing? For fuck’s sake—no!”


He ran, but before he reached MacQuoid the man cried out and began to flip and jerk on the spot. Hart froze. MacQuoid’s buttocks tightened, he arched his back and snapped his head back. Thinking to yank MacQuoid free of the creature, Hart shook off his inertia and leapt forward but MacQuoid pushed his palms into the creature’s yielding body and let out a great orgasmic roar which froze Hart once more in his tracks. There was a moment of stillness. Then MacQuoid staggered backwards away from the creature, his legs appeared to buckle under him, and he collapsed into a sitting position. His arms fell limp at his sides, his head lolled to one side, and he was laughing uncontrollably under his breath.


Hart ran to him and slapped his face, trying to bring him to his senses. MacQuoid’s mouth was slack, his eyes half-closed.


“MacQuoid! MacQuoid! Are you alright? MacQuoid!”


Behind him, Hart heard the door bang open and a gasp of disbelief. Fernsby.


MacQuoid’s eyelids fluttered. He shook himself and with some apparent effort focused his eyes on Hart. A grin crept up one side of his face. Darting one hand forward, he grabbed at the front of Hart’s hazmat suit and jerked him forward so that they were eye to eye. His breath clouded Hart’s visor.


“What have you done?” Hart said, shaking his head. “What have you done, man?”


“I’m not sorry,” MacQuoid said. “It was the best damn fuck I’ve ever had in my life. Oh my… You have to try it, Cap. We should all try it. At least once.”


“Are you mad?” Hart said, pulling himself free from MacQuoid. “You could be in some serious trouble for this. We’ll have to quarantine you! We don’t know… We haven’t even had a chance to study that thing yet.”


At this, MacQuoid started laughing again, becoming increasingly hysterical. Tears spilled from his eyes. Hart turned to Fernsby who stood gazing at the creature. It had become placid again, its internal light extinguished, tentacles lifeless on the floor. But the orifice at its end oozed the thick, clear secretion Hart had seen on his probe earlier. Hart shivered in disgust.


“Fernsby,” he said. He snapped his fingers when the man didn’t respond and said more sharply, “Fernsby!


Fernsby switched his head around. “Captain?”


Hart indicated MacQuoid who was lying on the floor now, balled up with laughter.


“Help me get this idiot out of here, will you?”


“Captain…uh…?”


“Get it together, man!”


MacQuoid put up no resistance when told he’d be going into the quarantine chamber for fourteen days. He was languid and compliant. Hart and Fernsby sometimes heard him singing from the other end of the ship, some ancient song from the last century.


“Glooooooria! Gloooooooria! All night! All day! Yeah!”


Hart and Fernsby busied themselves doing preliminary tests on the first specimens brought up from 22606 Lito-b: some phytoplankton taken from a rock pool and large, crab-like creatures about the size of a man’s head. Hart found he was struggling to focus his mind.


“We going back?” Fernsby said one day.


“Back?”


“To 22606 Lito-b. Are we going to take more samples? You said there might be some large mammals down there, maybe some kind of humanoid creatures. Remember those footprints we saw on the second day?”


“I think we might have been mistaken about those,” Hart said. “22606 Lito-b’s biosphere isn’t advanced enough yet for those kinds of creatures to have evolved. From the look of things, life is still in its early stages.”


“But—”


Hart glanced up at Fernsby, willing him to continue, but Fernsby diverted his gaze. The man had been unlike himself since the incident with MacQuoid: distracted and mostly mute. They’d not discussed the incident, except when Hart told Fernsby that he thought it best that, for the time being, they should both avoid entering the lab where the mollusc was housed. Fernsby agreed.


Still, Hart wondered if Fernsby had been tempted to visit the creature. Most nights, he himself lay awake, hot and restless, his mind plagued by images of MacQuoid pressed up against the creature, his buttocks working. It was the best damn fuck I’ve ever had in my life, he remembered MacQuoid telling him. You have to try it, Cap. We all should try it. At least once. As much as he attempted to push these thoughts and images away, they kept returning, to a point where he thought he’d be driven mad by them. Of course, he mentioned none of this to Fernsby.


One night, unable to sleep, Hart could stand no more. He threw off his blankets, got up, dressed, and went into the labs. He intended only to look in on the mollusc. He would stay outside the room and look in through the glass panel. He wanted to see it. See what it was doing, if anything. He thought that if he looked at it, saw it for what it was, he could end his maddening obsession with it. But in the corridor on the way to the labs he encountered Fernsby. Fernsby staggered like a drunk. His eyes were glazed and he could not stop grinning, even when Hart threw him up against the wall.


“Fernsby, you haven’t—?”


“MacQuoid was right,” Fernsby said. “MacQuoid was right, Captain. It—”


Limp and apparently unable to support himself, Fernsby slid down the wall into a sitting position.


Hart, hands on hips, stood looking down on him. He bit at his lower lip. “That thing has made us all crazy. We have to get rid of it.”


He remembered then that a storage unit set onto the wall opposite the door to the lab housed a number of flamethrowers, for use if any of the specimens turned out to be hazardous. He went there and unlocked the unit. Inside, he also found some biohazard masks. He took one of these and put it on, then took down a flamethrower and placed the strap over one shoulder. He entered the lab, certain that the mask would filter out any pheromones in the air.


The creature was still laid out on the rubber stretcher in the middle of the room, flaccid and inert. As Hart approached it, he noticed the orifice in its head end dripped that clear secretion. He remembered how the muscles inside the orifice had fluttered and rippled when he’d inserted his probe.


You have to try it, Cap. We all should try it. At least once.


No, I


I have to destroy it.


I have to—


At least once.


At least…


Hart lifted the strap of the flamethrower over his head and set the thing down on a nearby bench. He approached the mollusc.


What am I doing?


He took off the biohazard mask and was immediately besieged by thoughts of his wife. And not just her, but other women he had known too: pinned beneath him, or bent over a chair, or splayed out against a wall, or sitting astride him, or knelt on the floor on their hands and knees. Oh God. Memories of these women filled his mind: all panting and sighing, wet mouths opening, and all saying yes, more, yes, yes, yes!


Without having realised what he was doing, he’d unzipped his jumpsuit, taken out his engorged penis, and pushed it into the orifice on the end of the mollusc. The creature came alive as soon as he did, and he was at once dizzied by a sensation like none he’d ever experienced. The blood rushed to his head so fast he almost swooned. He began working his penis in and out of the orifice, emitting involuntary cries as he did, images of all the women he’d taken to bed still crowding his mind. He felt something pressing him from behind, forcing him to push deeper into the orifice, and glancing back he realised it was the creature’s tentacles. One lightly probed his anus, sending a bolt of pleasure through him. The body he lay against was undulating and a light had come on inside it again, seeming to change with the rhythm of Hart’s thrusts from a reddish glow, to orange, to yellow, and back to red.


Losing control, he began frenziedly working his hips, slapping up against the creature’s head end, uttering little deep-throated moans. “Oh oh oh oh oh.”


“Oh! My! God!” he roared then, the cry shredding his throat. “Oh my fucking God!


When he came to his senses he was lying on the floor of the lab, his limp glistening penis protruding from his open fly, and a warm, peaceful, sated glow coursing through his entire body.


Fucking hell.


This is how it must feel, he thought, this is how it must feel to be accepted into heaven.

From that point on, madness overtook them all.


MacQuoid was released from quarantine and they worked the mollusc, all three of them, taking turns, night and day. They couldn’t get enough. On a few occasions they even came to blows over who was to go next. Or if one of them spent too long a time pressed up against the creature, one of the others would begin to get tetchy and aggressive. Gloria, they all three called it now. They would grab at its undulating flesh. I’m next! Gloria’s mine!


How long did it go on?


In his rare moments of lucidity, Hart looked at the creature and saw that it had grown—bigger, longer—and that the lights inside it were brighter than before, and radiating up and down its length constantly. The entire body of the thing pulsed and throbbed.


A horrified convulsion would run through him then, and he’d think: It’s feeding!


He looked down at himself, and at the others. He and his crew mates were thin, drawn, and exhausted. They weren’t eating. They barely slept. They didn’t leave the lab. Ribs exposed. Legs pale and thin. Sunken faces. But that thing, that thing, it was growing more vital every day. How long had it lay dormant in that cave mouth, Hart wondered, until he and his men had pried it out? How long had it been there, waiting?


These thoughts pushed through the turmoil in his mind, the heat in his body, and he realised he had to do something. Do something, or he and his men would soon be dead. Then his mind would again be besieged by thoughts of sighing women and soft flesh and he would be on his feet, fully erect, and ready to take his turn.


Once he slept and dreamt that a monster the mollusc birthed through the large orifice in its tail-end, chased him through the ship’s corridors. The thing had six arms and four legs, and half its face was MacQuoid and half Fernsby. The pair of eyes in the centre of its forehead Hart recognised as his own. It was some kind of patchwork baby and as it pursued Hart up and down the ship it wailed and screamed out “Daddy! Daddy!


He jerked awake from this nightmare with a cold sweat on his brow and saw Fernsby hunched over Gloria’s head-end while a pale and sick-looking MacQuoid looked on, eagerly waiting his turn, and it was then that Hart knew he had to act.


Casting his eyes around the room, he saw the flamethrower and biohazard mask he’d set down on a workbench that time he’d come here to destroy the mollusc some days—weeks? months?—ago. As he began to crawl towards the bench, a deluge of sexual thoughts and images filled his head.


“No!” he shouted. He tried to clear his mind. “No, goddamn it!”


In a bid to stem the flood of imagery clouding his thoughts, he sang a song to himself, the first one that came to mind—a song he remembered from his childhood.


“Three little monkeys jumping on the bed. One fell off and bumped his—ah!—his head.”

Reaching the bench, he pulled himself up into a standing position.


“Mama called the doctor and the doctor SAID. No more—GODDAMN IT!—monkeys jumping on the—


He had managed to get the biohazard mask on before MacQuoid saw what he intended and leapt forward to try and wrestle him away from the flamethrower.


“Two little monkeys jumping on the BED…”


Wrenching himself out of MacQuoid’s bear grip, Hart spun around and punched the man as hard as he could in the face. MacQuoid went down.


“One FELL OFF and bumped his head.”


Hart grabbed the flamethrower, flicked the ignition, and turned to face the mollusc.


“Mama called the doctor…”


Fernsby was still hunched over the head-end of the mollusc, working his penis in and out of the orifice, his eyes squeezed shut and his mouth making an O-shape.


“Get out of the fucking way!” Hart shouted.


Fernsby turned his head and fear pierced the mask of delirium he wore.


“Get out of the way! Can’t you see it’s feeding on us? Milking us? It has to die! Get out of the way, man!”


Instead of doing as instructed, Fernsby shouted ‘No!’, threw up his arms and arched his body protectively over the mollusc.


“Idiot!” Hart yelled. He strode forward, hooked one hand over Fernsby’s shoulder, intending to yank him backwards away from the creature, but he had forgotten about the thing’s tentacles, which encircled Fernsby’s waist. Hart saw the tentacles tighten as he tried to pull Fernsby away, and Fernsby was snapped back against the mollusc. Aware that he was rapidly losing the battle against the urge to rip the biohazard mask from his face and take a deep breath of the pheromone-riddled air, Hart pointed the flamethrower down and blasted the tentacles with a quick stream of fire. Fernsby screamed. When the tentacles jerked away, Hart clutched the wailing man’s shoulder again and threw him backwards to the floor. But then, when he twisted around and pointed the flamethrower at the mollusc, he was hit by a fierce blast that spun him around and knocked the weapon out of his hands. As he tried to right himself, he realised that his head and upper body was covered with the goo the creature secreted. A thick musty odour invaded his nostrils—the biohazard mask had been breached! No time to waste! In moments he would be enslaved again. As he turned, another blast of the goo knocked him off his feet and he fell to the floor alongside Fernsby and MacQuoid. Looking up, he saw the flame thrower lying a few feet out of reach. Hauling himself onto hands and knees, Hart scrambled over to it and grabbed it. Rolling onto his back, he pointed it at the mollusc.


“Die! Fucking die!”


But the mollusc was no longer there. What he saw in front of him was his wife, Greta. She was naked, with her hair loose about her shoulders, and she held her arms out to embrace him. He blinked.


“Greta?”


Tears rose to his eyes. He sat up straight.


“Greta?”


Greta smiled. “Come to me, my darling,” she said.


He shook his head. “No.”


“Come to me.”


“No. This is a trick! I’m seeing things! Hearing things! Greta’s not here! She can’t be!”

He raised the nozzle of the flamethrower.


Still smiling, Greta cocked her head. “I love you, my darling,” she said. “Come to me.”


“Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”


It took all of Hart’s willpower to press down on the trigger of the flamethrower. A great arc of fire lit up the room.


Hart staggered to his feet. He was sobbing. He kept his finger pressed down on the flamethrower’s trigger until all he saw in front of him was a blackened, smouldering lump.


•••


In his report, Hart advised against setting up a human colony on 22606 Lito-b.


One of the lifeforms taken from the planet was discovered to be hazardous and threatened the life of crew members on board research vessel Ember 5, he wrote. He didn’t elaborate. It was too horrific to think about. If he tried to raise the subject with his crew mates, one or both would become agitated and plead with him to be quiet.


They all agreed that it was best to pretend it never happened. Fernsby, though, still had the burn scars on his back, buttocks and thighs to remind him. And MacQuoid had a crooked nose because Hart had broken it when he punched him. Hart’s scars were confined to the mental but were, he suspected, equally indelible.


In the days that followed, Hart occasionally caught himself singing under his breath, usually when he was standing at one of the ship’s portals, looking down on 22606 Lito-b. It was the song MacQuoid had sung when he was in quarantine.


Glooooooria! Gloooooooria! All night! All day! Yeah!





Jack Howling spent six years fronting a goth/rock/industrial band, during which time he became known for his dark, imaginative lyrics and confrontational stage presence. After the band disbanded in 2014, he began a creative writing degree at The University of West London, whereupon he discovered a love of writing short stories inspired by the likes of Laird Barron, Robert Aickman, Lewis Carroll, and Vladimir Nabokov. His ambition is to destroy mediocrity and find new and interesting ways to write scary stories. At heart, he's still trying to think of ways to stir people up. E-mail: darklanebooks@gmail.com

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