Beyond Maximum Horror, part IV

by Pete Finkelstein

Within an hour Steele was back on the road, the station wagon's radial tires once again biting off and bolting great grey-black gobs of pavement in an orgy of free-wheelin', keep-on-truckin', heck-bent-for-leather motoring. But this time the Colonel's station wagon/trailer convoy sported a grim load, a forlorn parody of the shoes and streamers which adorn the limousine carrying happy Bride and Groom to their pleasure bed in a ski resort at Sun Valley: The corpse of Mommie Profundis bounced along, head to the road, attached by leather thongs wrapped securely about her ankles to the gridwork supporting the trailer's tail lights. Two sections of roof rain-gutter material were strapped to her bare chest; the gutters led upward and inside the trailer, where several barrels of cow's milk sat beside the nuclear atom bomb. A series of siphons sprouted from the barrels and fed the downward-sloping gutters with rich, whole pasteurized milk. Creamy rivulets of milk flowed smoothly down the troughs, bathed Mommie Profundis' cool, rhythmically flopping bosom, then spilled out into the road behind the speeding station wagon/U-Haul cavalcade. Steele was trolling, his Evenrud 450 horsepower outboard and 17 foot fiberglass Conestoga speedboat masquerading playfully as automobile and trailer. But his prey on this night of destiny was not a majestic, varicolored trout which leaps from the cool blue water and flops about in mute agony on the crafty fisherman's hook.

Tonight his prey was the Babe.

And to catch a Babe, you need mother's milk... and plenty of it.

Well, it wasn't precisely mother's milk (although I guess cows can be mommies just like people can), but if Baby Vetterlein were prowling the territory anywhere within a few hundred miles of Steele's convoy (and recent intelligence from Ted Kablansky at the White House Information Office suggested that this was, indeed, the case), then the chances were good that the siren's call of His earth-mother's succulent bosom would draw the Unholy Infant into an encounter with Steele.

The miles rolled by, good wholesome milk trickling down the Life Troughs and sowing the richly-scented maternal bait into the Nevada hardpan. Jonathan Steele watched the nightland, adjusting his trolling speed periodically, and reflected on the sordid nightmare of human life: Humans killing each other, yielding their souls to an Alien God who pined for their complete annihilation. Humans forfeiting whatever was glorious and noble in them, sinking to their scabrous knees and drinking of corruption, just because a buffed-up Infant from the unfathomable depths of cosmic Madness had bidden them betray their fellows or die! Puny humans! A Being had finally wandered into town with the power to exploit the abject, cringing servility of humankind. Oh, you could have seen it coming. It had to have happened sometime. In fact, anyone with an ounce of foresight would have slit his (or her) own throat long ago, as an act of simple common sense and prudence, in anticipation of the advent of a Being with such monstrous abilities and dark talents. A thin coating of tears washed across the gray-green depths of Steele's eyes: Dear humans, sweet dear humans. How fragile are ye! To enhance his aural environment and foster the bitter-sweet brown study which was rapidly absorbing his unlawful warrior's soul, Steele turned on the station wagon's old, reliable Philco radio. He began to sway back and forth to the lovely, haunting strains of Alberico's Concerto No. 5 for Piano and Banjo in G Minor, his eyes mist-cloaked pools in the reflected dashboard lights, the road hypnotically piercing his vision like the video graphics in one of those penny arcade racing games the kids like so much these days, his mind spiraling in on itself in ever tighter vortices of pure ingrown self-fondling thought, his big swollen head---

The attack came from the right rear.

Baby Vetterlein hit the trailer like a soft, baby-shaped piledriver. The car flew up on two wheels like one of Joey Chitwood's stunt cars, then flipped over with a scream of metal on asphalt. The flimsy case-hardened titanium/metalonium-alloy hook-in-eyeball rigging which linked the trailer to the station wagon buckled and then snapped; the trailer teetered precariously, the contents within shifting and tumbling about, then flopped over on its side. The station wagon skidded upside down several yards, then burst into glorious flame. Jonathan Steele frantically released himself from the chest harness which he wore to ensure safe motoring, but before he could wriggle his way out of the inverted automobile, a roiling ball of flame shot from underneath the hood of the car and bathed his bewildered, what's-going-on-here head in searing heat. Maybe you've never been in a flash fire, Gentle Reader, but I have, and let me tell you man-to-man that I'm not gonna let you open that bulkhead door and kill us all. The flesh on Steele's face, unaccustomed to the trauma which sheets of torrential flame can inflict, spot-melted and sealed shut the more important of the portals through which the body selfishly helps itself to life-nurturing oxygen: namely, the nostrils and the mouth-hole.

Steele flopped out of the twisted car, the leatherette upholstery bubbling and dripping in cruel, blistering runnels from the now fully-involved interior, and desperately began searching the ground around him for a piece of glass. But then he noticed (his flame-crisped nose wrinkling in distaste) that the glass on the ground was all... yucky and dirty and stuff. Miraculously, the window on the driver's side of the car had remained intact. Steele's fingertips probed the window, sought pointless purchase, drummed a catchy little impromptu staccato... then he quit fooling around and slammed his fist through the glass. He wrenched a jagged shard of the shattered saf-t-glass from the window frame, the gleaming edge slicing deep into his burned and bloody palm, and applied the pointy tip of the shard to his melted lips. He rammed the point home and, with a good field nurse's steady, no-nonsense precision, began neatly sawing back and forth to cut an opening for the flow of air.

Ah, it surely felt good to breath again!

And the air was so sweet and pure tonight!

He turned his attention to the trailer... and Baby Vetterlein. The Babe stood over His mother, splashing viscous, silky sheets of the cow's milk on her road-worn body and sucking it into His fetid innards. Steele examined his legs, and found to his pleasant surprise that, other than the splintered tibia protruding through the skin of his right shin, they were more or less all right. If only he could reach the Detonation Plunger before Baby Vetterlein sated His lordly hunger and reached that item on the evening's agenda which called for the extinguishing of Steele's life! Steele dragged himself to the door of the trailer, then slithered inside. The Atom Bomb appeared to be intact, its supply of Nucleonium 108 still stowed safely inside (where it bubbled and gleamed with an unearthly radiance). Jonathan Steele glanced back at the foul Babe.

Baby Vetterlein had ceased his frenzied, jubilant feasting and was watching Steele. And He was kind of... well, pantomiming an impatient glance at His wristwatch, or at least the place on His pulsating biomass where a wristwatch might have been mounted with the least inconvenience. The gesture might even have been comic, if the desperate circumstances hadn't tainted the merriment and gaiety with the shadow of the end of all human life on earth.

Baby Vetterlein tapped the ground with a lumpy appendage and gazed heavenward in exaggerated exasperation.

Steele reached the Explosion Plunger, pulled up the handle, then paused dramatically to deliver a final defiant line to Baby Vetterlein. It was supposed to come out, ``I'll save a place for You when I get to Hell,'' but because of the massive facial trauma he had suffered during the car fire, the declaration of reckless, manly bravado kind of dripped out of his shredded-sausage lips and ended up sounding something like,

``Do you like gelatin, Andy?''

Col. Jonathan Steele pushed the plunger down.

And nothing happened.

Steele looked at the Atom Bomb with bemused incredulity. How ironic, he thought. The product of Man's vaunted technology, his ultimate tool of destruction and defense, his sole means of deliverance from an alien Power beyond all understanding, dry-firing like a wizened old night watchman's poorly maintained service revolver. Baby Vetterlein climbed --- nay, oozed --- into the trailer, His slaughter-house breath billowing out in great, gut-cramping clouds, His eyes burning the liquid sulfur red of molten lava pits. And the last words Steele heard on this earth sputtered from the Babe's repulsive, grinning, quasi-humanoid lips:

``Here, let me give you a hand with that.''

And in the twinkling of an eye, Happy Nuclear Daylight reigned triumphant in the Nevada nightworld once again.

Well, you probably could have guessed it: Baby Vetterlein was born of the foul star-stuff which churns and gurgles inside the quasars pulsing endlessly (and pointlessly) at the unreachable boundaries of the Universe. The energy released by the Atom Bomb, far from destroying Him, simply empowered Him all the more. He drank it in, digested it, and worked it into the fiber of His blasphemous being. He grew to be a Super Baby, walking about like a new Colossus, stomping on things and killing people even more ruthlessly than before. Well, at this point people pretty much gave up. No one even felt like dressing for dinner as we are accustomed to doing in civilized lands where savagery has been subdued. The World just... collapsed inward on itself, much as a once light and fluffy souffle will sag lifelessly in the oven after Deke and the Boys have come stomping through the kitchen like they own the place.

And, of course, once all the anti-Babe humans had been dispatched, their eyes hopeless, their hearts breaking, their mouths screaming, the Babe turned to eliminating His disciples. The work went much faster now because of Baby Vetterlein's tremendous bigness. He was really astoundingly large. No kidding. He crushed, maimed, tortured, harassed.... And before long, the stain of human life had been wiped from the countertop of Existence, and Planet Earth was His alone. %At %that point, Baby Vetterlein kind of looked around for awhile until He %got bored, then He went and did some other things (which were %non-violent and constructive, for a change).

Oh, wait. I forgot to tell you about the small, courageous, hearty band of humans who escaped to the veritable plethora of other inhabitable planets in our solar system and galaxy via a magnetic space boat. Their inspiring journey of hope and endurance is fodder enough for a whole other story.

But I'm guessing that, at this point, you wouldn't read that story if it meant you could ransom your grandma's soul from Hell.