By James Hold
[Copyright 2015 James Roy Hold
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This story features characters from the OUT OF TEXAS series. The events occur during Book 4 of that timeline.
THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT
The monster beneath the sewers had been quiet for some time, kept happy by a line item in the city budget that provided for its regular feeding. Only then came the unexpected meteorological changes brought about by Earth’s near miss with a comet and suddenly Houston had rain again. Lots of it. Unable to deliver food to the surging storm drains, city workers watched helplessly as the creature grew restless. Its first victim was an unsuspecting fellow in a basement break room, cursing a vending machine that had eaten his money. It gobbled him down without a thought of paying.
Now eating city workers is one thing, but tampering with vending machines is another, and before long, the racketeers put the squeeze on city hall to do something about it. Zoologists, biologists, and environmentalists were summoned. The monster ate the zoologists and biologists. It gnawed on the environmentalists, but spit them out, as it was not into vegetarianism. Things got serious. The rain kept people indoors and those who did venture out boycotted break rooms like the plague. Not only did the racketeers suffer but the junk food industry was threatened also.
“Maybe if we offered a reward,” Councilman Fine suggested.
“I don’t know, Larry.” Mayor Howard scratched his head. “Government’s job is to take money from people; not give it away.”
“I realize it’s unusual,” the alderman allowed, “but the Empty Calorie lobby is threatening to pull up roots.”
The mayor sighed. “That won’t make the tree huggers happy.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Councilman Fine pressed his temples irritably, feeling he needed a break. “You want a soda or something?”
“Okay.” Mayor Howard handed him some quarters. “Make it low-cal.”
A half-hour later, the mayor checked his watch, wondering when Larry was going to return.
“Now,” Jo gave her tambourine a rhythmic twirl, “I’ll sing the words to ‘Matchbox’ and you come in with the chorus to ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’.” It was an idea she came up with after hearing Procol Harum’s Liquorice John Death CD.
“Okay,” J ran through the A-D7-E7 progression on his Japanese imitation Telecaster, “but kin we skip th’ 20-minute flamadiddle intro?”
By an amazing coincidence, they were in the same building as the mayor’s office, practicing in the basement while waiting for the club next door to open. It was deserted when they got there and mostly clean save for a messy spot by some up-raised tiles near one of the soda machines.
Atop one of the machines crouched a small cat with a coat of many colors. Like them, the creature had come inside to escape the rain. J gave it a tacit nod, then nudged the guitar’s reverb and played the chords again.
“Yer a bit off,” he told Jo, stopping.
“What do you mean?” she asked. “I wasn’t flamadiddling.”
“Then whut wuz that thumpin’ noise?”
“Beats me,” Jo shrugged; “probably rain from the gutters.”
They tried it once more. Again came the offbeat thumping. J stopped, looked at Jo. Jo, staring bug-eyed, pointed over his shoulder.
Mayor Howard drummed his fingers in accompaniment to the rain. Earlier that day someone commented how spring showers make everything come up out of the ground. “I’m sure the guys at a cemetery will be thrilled,” he had responded.
“Don’t worry,” Jo whispered, as the monster’s snaky head backed them to the wall. “I hear it doesn’t like vegetarians.”
Unfortunately, J was not a vegetarian. “Besides, how would it know ‘til after it’s tasted ya?”
“Oh; right,” said Jo, and frisbee’d her tambourine at the monster’s face.
The monster batted it aside and came nearer, head wagging, jaws snapping. J drew the beast away from Jo, waving his guitar back and forth. The beast darted for him and J, crouching, hopped onto its back and hooked an arm around its neck, then held on for dear life hoping the chokehold would take effect. The thrashing beast emitted a roar so loud that the ceiling shivered, and smashed its head backward into the wall.
Mayor Howard listened to the rain on the window. An hour had passed and he was terribly thirsty. “Looks like I’ll have to get my own soda,” he said, rising.
J regained consciousness. Jo and the cat huddled beside him. “It’s all right,” she told him. “The monster’s gone.”
“When he crashed into the wall it cracked the ceiling and water gushed in from a broken rain spout; somehow that made him run away. Thanks for saving me, by the way.”
“Oh, sure, no problem; but why—”
“I don’t know,” Jo shrugged, “unless he’s not a carbon-based life form.”
“Ya mean like monsters of rock?” The thing’s neck had felt gritty.
“Something like that,” Jo nodded. “Everyone assumed the monster was attacking out of hunger. Only suppose it has a silicone body…not rocky, but sandy. Sure, he’d be hungry, but what’d really upset him is all the water flooding the sewers. Too much moisture would make him stiff and sluggish.”
It was a theory, anyway.
When Mayor Howard came down to the basement, he saw the floor covered with rainwater from a hole in the ceiling. Two kids crouched in a corner by some overturned tables.
“What the—” he stammered, eyeing the damage. “What’s going on here? And what’s that stain in the corner?”
“It’s the monster,” the girl told him, getting up to search for her tambourine. “Get all the fire hoses you can. Block every manhole so he can’t get out; then open every hydrant in the city. Flood the sewers and storm drains until the monster turns into mud.”
“Mud?” The mayor scowled disbelievingly. “What’re you talking about?”
“Exactly,” she nodded, clapping him on the shoulder. “Water. He avoids it like everything.”
“Dirty beast,” J added, fetching his guitar and leading Jo out the door.
“You’re sure you don’t want me to flamadiddle?” she asked. “Not even a little?”
“Oh, all right,” he gave in. “But try ‘n keep it down to 15.”
Mayor Howard watched the two of them disappear up the stairs. He shooed the cat and it too ran for the exit. He was alone now.
“Stupid kids,” he thought, making for the vending machine. Such was his concentration upon choosing a drink that he did not notice how the rain had picked up, or that the floor tiles were rumbling.
It wasn’t until he heard the Rrrrrrrrrwwwwwwrrrrrr!
And by then it was too late.
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