Beyond Maximum Horror

Beyond Maximum Horror

by Pete Finkelstein

Atom Bomb #4579B21-X, mounted deep in the bowels of the Spectacularis Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, had been carefully preset to detonate at a height of 500 feet above sea level over Oahu, a remote Pacific island in the obscure Hawaiian chain. The Spectacularis had been launched from Gunderson Island, 300 miles off the coast of the Holy Alliance of American Commonwealths, as part of a test program to investigate the feasibility of delivering nuclear payloads over strategic (rather than tactical, which were a walk in the park) distances. The research and development team nursemaiding the Spectacularis included groups from General Dynamics (accelerometers and gyroscopes), Draper Labs (better accelerometers), Lockheed (fuselage and rocket engines), and Morton-Thiokol (o-rings, gears 'n pulleys, and bearing assemblies). The Spectacularis was scrupulously (nay, lovingly) designed to satisfy an accuracy criterion quantified by a Circular Error Probable (CEP) of 2.5 nautical miles, meaning that in a statistical ensemble of N identically-prepared flights (with N large), over one half of the time the missile would blow its load within a circle of radius 2.5 nautical miles centered upon the designated target. Unfortunately, a small ball bearing in Gyroscope Input Torque Shaft #348Y7-B developed a microfissure due to vibrations suffered upon takeoff. Continuous metal fatigue during the flight eventually caused the ball bearing to disintegrate, and the happily scattered fragments, released from the wearisome bondage of sphericity, froze up the bearings of the shaft. As a result, the gyro blew out with a tired, despairing whine of metal on metal.

The ICBM's once purposeful and manly trajectory degenerated into a lazy, looping, limp-wristed arc which twisted back toward the mainland of the Holy Alliance of American Commonwealths.

Rich and Tammy Vetterlein had parked their automobile just outside the old, fenced off, abandoned Holy Alliance Army Nuclear Atom Bomb Test Grounds in Farleysville, Nevada. The two huddled inside the car, making kissy-poo motions the one to the other. The old Testing Grounds were a spooky-fun makeout venue for the kids in the area, and Rich and Tammy had only been married a month or two. So you can sympathize with their eagerness to explore one another's bodies. A mournful wind blew across the scorched, dead mesas and sent chilly little tendrils through the cracked wind-wing of the grimy black Ford Torino. Tammy shivered and drew her angora sweater tight across her shoulders. Little horsies danced and pranced playfully in patterns embossed on the pink material.

``Honey, it's kind of spooky here. Do you think we're safe?''

Rich gently kissed her forehead, his grey-pink tongue exploring the micro-organisms which thrived in the detritus of her eyebrow, then smiled at her with loving indulgence.

``Of course, honey. As safe as two writhing things in a warm place. The Holy Alliance Army has assured us that the radioactivity in the old Atom Bomb testing sites, Trinity and Mach Ferlingburg, has dropped to safe levels. The half life of Atomicum 97B is only 10.5 years, and it's already been 15 years since the testing was concluded forever. The half life, as you probably learned in Mr. Hallingworth's sophomore chem class, is a quantity (characteristic of a given radioactive substance) which tells how long it will take before half of a statistical ensemble of N identically-prepared people (with N large) will die in excruciating, gut-blowing agony after being exposed to massive doses of the material. So you see, we're beyond total safety, and if you're thinking there's some possibility of dangerous genetic warping from the ambient radiation --- leading to a possibly monstrous, apocalyptic birth if I impregnate you here --- then I must simply smile at you in loving indulgence.''

``Well, if you say so, darling. It IS kind of creepy-fun being out here, just the two of us, at the birthplace of the Device built to rain cleansing fires upon our Nation's enemies. But thank goodness, no nuclear testing is still going on in the continental Holy Alliance today. We've turned our attention to incinerating little inconsequential islands in the Pacific Ocean.''

``Yes, darling. Which is all the more reason to feel totally safe here. Now let's climb in the back seat and... well, you know. Do that thing we do. Like when we were kids.''

``Oh, that...!'' Tammy said, then blushed prettily.

And as the pair reached a state of profound climax in their sacred act of sexie-poo, the Spectacularis ICBM descended to a height of 500 feet above Ground Zero, 35 miles upwind from them at Mach Ferlingburg. A group of humble shepherds, tending their flocks which grazed in the lush Nevada pasturelands bordering the abandoned military reservation, marvelled at the Dark Star which approached from the West, arced indolently across the sky and descended. They marvelled, their fleshy lower lips trembling in quiet awe, and earned vaporization for their reverence.

The Spectacularis ICBM was only 2400 miles outside its 2.5 nautical mile tolerance (which classified reports of the Draper Lab group would label ``marginal satisfaction of the prescribed performance specifications'') when the atomic air burst turned the flashlight of businesslike Day (one of those big 5-battery ones, like cops carry) on the drunken vagrant's stupor of Night.

Nine months later, Tammy lay on an operating room table at Nevada General Hospital. Her abdomen was heavy and bloated, the skin stretched taught over... something within. Everyone anticipated a perfectly normal birth, and why shouldn't they? Little babies were born all the time, with not so much as a tip o' the hat to indicate any trouble. Tammy's mom, Doreen, had proudly mailed out pre-birthing cards to all of the relatives. The convenient Hallmark brand cards (which had been hot sellers in the communities surrounding what the federal Alliance disaster relief programs designated ``contingency area alpha'') had little empty spaces which one filled in with the names of the parties involved. The cards read, ``Thank the good Lord, our TAMMY and RICH survived the dangerous, penetrating radiation rays that buffeted their bodies when the off-course atom bomb blew up. Now TAMMY is heavy with child, and we anticipate a fully natural, healthy, complication-free birth. Our lives will be changing, and we couldn't be happier!''

Tammy was dubious. One night about 5 months into her term, she had suffered an unnerving, disquieting dream. Her dream landscape featured a cold, blasted nightworld which had once teemed with all manner of life. Now nothing grew; no one prospered. Prospered? Hey look, no one could even get it up to draw breath, because (sadly) they were all dead. Some sweeping cataclysm had drained the sweet juice of existence from this once bountiful land. Tammy found herself strolling toward a wooden storage shed with languid, yet curiously relentless and unalterable, steps. The shed stood alone, encompassed by rubble, a rude wooden structure devoid of charm and barren of relief for the eye panting for aesthetic refreshment. She could hear a baby crying. This baby's cry lacked the sweet purity of newborn innocence which makes a normal human infant's delightful screaming and howling such pleasant music to the ears; instead, it sounded discordant and jangling, and a harsh, rasping undercurrent of atonal whining set Tammy's teeth on edge, highlighted as it was by the dead framing silence of night. She entered the shed and stepped across the bare dirt floor. The crying emanated from a crude cupboard mounted on one wall of the shed. She approached the cupboard and opened the door. On the shelf sat a jar of some milky, phosphorescent substance which swirled and churned, alive in the darkness. The baby's cry was coming from the substance in the jar. The substance sensed her presence, and Tammy understood with quiet certainty that the foul turbid putrescence had come from her and sought her warmth, her body --- the succulent, untouchable, don't-you-even-think-about-it Body of Woman --- to nurture it.

She had struggled to the surface of the dream-pool of sleep, her Porcelana-coated hands stuffed into her mouth to stifle a panicky scream, and had endured a convulsive bout of morning sickness (her first since the second month of pregnancy). And as she gazed into the ivory depths of the toilet hole which gaped in tantalizing invitation before her, she knew in her heart that something momentous, something truly Big Time, was going to attend the ripening of the Seed couched within her.

Well, finally the big day had arrived. The birth of the Child!

Doctor Benjamin Kincaid stood over Tammy's parted legs, his strong hands caressing the ankles which dangled in a pair of elevated stirrups, ladling out big, steaming bowls of encouragement and support. ``Just keep pushing, Tammy! That's a good girl! You're doing fine. We all spend the first nine months of our lives floating in warm amniotic fluid --- it's perfectly natural and healthy. Everything's going to come out perfectly normal.'' Tammy was breathing hard, her cheeks flushed with the effort.

``Are you sure, Doctor? This act of Childbirth feels so... hideous and obscene; it's as if the Dark Things which live beyond the unseen borders of the Cosmos Nocturnus have taken up residence within my womb, transmogrifying that serene chamber of motherhood's sweet caress into a charnel house, a suppurating abattoir tended by the Unnameable Abomination which Stalketh by Night.''

``Oh, don't be silly, Tammy. Just keep pushing. You're going through a perfectly normal and healthy period of pre-natal hysteria. We all do; it's Nature's way of keeping us on track during times of trauma. Nurse --- sponge please. Thank you.''

Push. Push-puff-puff-push.

``Dab my brow, nurse, if you please. Thank you.''

Push. Grunt.

``Clamp, please. Thank you.''

Push... and torrential release.

``Nurse, shotgun please. Elephant-blasting gauge, if you can manage it.''

A spongy appendage wrapped itself around Kincaid's midriff and yanked him toward Tammy's birth canal, where something unspeakable was emerging into the sterile operating room light. A pair of slick, grey, ichor-coated tendrils shot out at blinding speed and sank deep into the doctor's eyes. His head was yanked violently down, his screaming mouth smashed against thighs which he might have found deliciously creamy in happier times, and Baby Vetterlein twisted its thick, ropy umbilical cord around his neck. (Two weeks later, Theresa Lundquist of Hapsburg, North Dakota would read with wide eyes in the ``National Informer'' trash-tabloid that, as she paraphrased the lurid headline for her husband Kyle, ``Baby strangled doctor with its own navel cord.'') A quick surge of lethal pressure followed, and the leathery umbilicus crushed Kincaid's larynx and collapsed the fragile, yielding trachea. The ear-splitting screams of the nurses rang out in the night, shrill, annoying buzz-bombs of sound which impinged like little shock wave water balloons on the ears of several puzzled witnesses in the parking lot three stories below. These same witnesses presently sampled the tittilating spectacle of Nurse Ginny Rogers' eviscerated carcass shooting through the window of the operating room and down to the parking lot, assorted bits and pieces of her lower intestinal tract trailing behind and flapping in the wind like gruesome party streamers. (And by the way, just because she was a woman didn't mean she had to be a nurse, or vice versa.) The savage whirlwind of carnage continued until only Tammy remained alive in the operating room, although she was (quite understandably) dazed by the sudden turn of events.

Baby Vetterlein turned from His handiwork and eyed His mother's body with naked hunger. He climbed onto the operating table with wet, slurping tugs of his gelatinous grasping appendages (which not even the most generous of anatomists would have flattered with the name ``arms''), approached Tammy's rich flowing founts of nourishment, and supped of the sweet Milk of Life from her swollen pleasure mounds. And as He feasted, savoring the squirting goodness, He informed Tammy of His purpose, His mission.

The Earth had ripened and grown old as it passed through eras which historians have seen fit to label with all-encompassing, over-simplifying, vitality-sapping catch phrases: You had your basic Stone Age, your Bronze Age, your Steam Engine Age, your Cotton Gin age, your Space Age.... And if any of these dusty, pompous historians should survive to write of the coming age of despair and darkness, they would have little trouble encapsulating the events of that time in a convenient sound-bite:

Baby Vetterlein Ascendant.

to be continued...