Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Eerie Terror

#34



No home will want to be without one!  Oh, yes, co-editor D.K. Latta tinkers together this mesmerizing monstrosity formerly published in the e-zine Spaceways Weekly and reprinted here with his generous consent!  It's a spine-tingling tale of devilish devises as Wellington Elles, an eccentric old inventor, happens upon the invention of the Century!  But don't rush out to the store just yet, Faithful Fiends, because this is one little do-dad that is definitely labelled "Buyer beware" -- a little offering we call...

The Google-Wumpf
(Part Two)

By D.K. Latta
About the author


ANNA SNORTED, LOOKED AROUND A MOMENT as if unsure where she was or why, then she lurched to her feet. "Come on," she grunted hoarsely.

They followed it into the night, he clutching tightly to his baseball bat, Anna holding a golf club that had belonged to her ex- husband, and neither entirely convinced that either tool would be of much use if the Google-Wumpf should turn on them.  But as it moved down the deserted street, flashing in and out of the pools of light cast by the street lamps, its three legs propelling it with a grace that its two human trackers could not mimic, it seemed oblivious to their presence.  Oblivious or unconcerned.

They passed dark houses, the occupants blissfully in bed, the occasional porch light burning brightly to ward away burglars.  The dead of night was positively its own universe, Wellington realized. The absolute stillness, the way little sounds became amplified, almost deafening; the way the air itself took on a subtle, sharp coolness.  It no longer seemed like the world they knew in daylight.  It was a world the Google-Wumpf seemed eerily at home in.

"You o.k., Wellsy?"

Wellington looked at his companion, realizing that he was breathing in ragged gasps.  He nodded.  "I'll be fine," he said curtly.  To himself, he thought, "I really am getting too old for all this." Anna, too, was no spring chicken, he knew; but the Google-Wumpf--it was in the prime of its unnatural existence.

The Google-Wumpf stopped for a moment, its weird body canting and twisting until it was peering down at something in the grass beside the cement.  Please, thought Wellington, not a cat.  I don't know if I have the courage to fight it to save an animal.  But he was spared the dilemma.  The Google-Wumpf reared up and started away again, its little metal legs making a rhythmic tap-tap-tapping as it moved fleetly across the cement.  They came to where it had hesitated, and Anna clicked on her flashlight, revealing a hole, almost invisible behind a web of grass.

"A groundhog?" he wondered aloud.

"There," Anna muttered.

Their quarry moved easily up a grassy knoll to the neighbourhood park.

Wellington froze.  There were no street lights in the park, and the tall trees, an artful blend of pines, oaks and weeping willows during the day, was now just a dense black blot that confounded the light of the moon.  Anna, either not noticing, or braver than he, tugged on his sleeve.  "Come on."

Reluctantly, he followed her up the hill.

In moments they were immersed in an ocean of darkness, shadows furling and unfurling around them as the gentle breeze stirred the branches, momentarily permitting a lance of moonlight, illuminating a patch of earth like an island in a sea of jet; then the darkness swallowed it again.  They could see almost nothing.  The Google-Wumpf was gone.

Anna raised her dark flashlight.

"Wait," Wellington murmured fearfully, not wanting to betray themselves to the mechanism.

"We can't see a thing," she objected.  He hesitated, then relented. The light flared out and he winced.  "See anything?" she whispered.

He looked around.  "No."

They moved deeper into the park; since they had only the one flashlight, they could not split up, for which he was grateful.  As they moved between the ebony boles, he wondered if the Google-Wumpf had just used the place as a short cut, whether it might already be scuttling along another street.  He almost wished that that were the case.  Then he reminded himself: if they lost it, they'd merely have to repeat the exercise again tomorrow night.  Worse, if they lost it, someone else might die.

No, better that things come to a head tonight, whatever the consequences.

Anna's fingers squeezed his arm, making him turn; his breath caught in his lungs.  Her beam clearly carved the brass and silver form of the Google-Wumpf out of the surrounding darkness.  It did not seem to look at them as it stood, momentarily still, as though oblivious to the light, their presence, as if single-minded to the point of blindness.

Suddenly its legs collapsed with a silky whirr, some of the rods and spires jutting from its body folded up, or withdrew entirely. It pitched over, head first, and seemed to vanish into the grass.

They looked at each other unsurely.  Then, as one, inched forward. The flashlight beam revealed another hole in the grass, this one nestled unobtrusively beneath some baby ferns.  For a moment they stood there, silent and bewildered.

Something rustled from deep within the dark hole.  Silence again. Then a weird squealing commenced and there was the sound of great commotion, of struggle, between what and what, they did not know.

The Google-Wumpf, presumably, and what else?  A groundhog?  Was it killing a groundhog?  But you didn't get human blood from a groundhog.  Was the mechanism homicidally omnivorous? he wondered.  A human one night, a groundhog the next?

Abruptly there was silence, rushing in like water to fill a sudden vacancy.  They stared at each other, open-mouthed.

Then Anna shoved him.  "Back," she hissed.  Something glinted in the light of her flashlight, something shooting up the hole like the proverbial bat out of hell.  They stumbled back just as the Google-Wumpf burst from the hole, its legs snapping out effortlessly beneath it now that it was in the open.  In the beam of light they could see its torso glisten with various ill-defined, gooey substances.  Its digestive enzymes, no doubt, Wellington thought grimly.

Ignoring them, it trotted away.

They were momentarily stunned.  Before they realized it, it had vanished into the surrounding brush.  Hurriedly, they set about looking for it.  This time, though, it really had gone.

Dejected, they started back.

He halted Anna beside the hole they had first passed on the way to the park, and Wellington took the flashlight.  Joints popping audibly, he knelt beside the hole and shone the light down it.  It tunneled down, far, far down; farther than any animal burrow he knew of.

He squinted.

There was a flicker of movement at the extremity of the light's reach.  Taking his bat by its pommel, he thrust it into the hole, his arm following it into the ground as he sought to test the true length of the passage.

"Wha--"

"Shhh," he said, grimacing as he lay himself out on the ground, his arm vanishing up to the shoulder.  Something made an odd sound from deep in the earth.  Something jostled the bat.  He gripped it more firmly, knowing it was the only thing between him and the hole's inhabitant--or inhabitants, because he thought he could distinguish several distinctive squeaks.  The bat was jostled again.

Then, seemingly without any effort, it was wrenched from his hand so violently that it almost broke his wrist.

"Jesus!" he cried, pulling back from the hole, literally clawing his way up Anna to his feet.

"What?" she repeated.

He said nothing as he grabbed her hand and ran down the street, his free arm windmilling almost comically.  He did not stop until they were safely inside his house with the door bolted and a chair jammed under the knob for good measure.  Then he went to make some coffee, black, and strong enough to eat through brick.

He was still trembling when Anna finally coaxed him into speaking. He stared at his coffee cup, the black liquid rippling in his unsteady hands.

"Vippy Veg," he managed at last.

"What?"

"He was going to kick Chia Pet's ass--with something called a Vippy Veg.  He had a botany degree, you know."

"No, I don't know.  What're you talking about?"

"He said it went awry," Wellington continued, unheeding.  Then he laughed hysterically.  "Awry!  Now there's an understatement.  Get it?  Some sort of plant substance, mixed with human blood and digestive enzymes.  The Google-Wumpf didn't kill anybody--but whatever it fought had.  That's why he thought his ugly, ungainly Google-Wumpf was going to be big, why no home would want to be without one.  He accidentally created some sort of killer plant, mobile, that reproduces like crazy based on the holes we saw and the fact that the Google-Wumpf has to stay out all night.  God, there must be hundreds, thousands--how many of those murders and disappearances reported in the paper are attributable to them?  So he built his Google-Wumpf to hunt them down and kill them. Presumably no poison'll do the trick, or any other method known to man, otherwise, why invent a Google-Wumpf?

"One Google-Wumpf, a prototype.  But there are no blueprints, no design specs.  I don't dare take the thing apart, in case I can't put it together again.  So there's just the one.  I'll have to study it, visually, try and duplicate it by observation alone."  He laughed hoarsely.  "It'll take years of trial and error to make another one.  And god help us, we'll need more.  That's what Harris obviously thought, and who would know better?"

Anna stared at him, her dark features blanching slightly.  She opened her mouth to speak, but could think of nothing to say.  The same problems they had had that morning remained--it would be almost impossible to convince anyone of the truth.  Even if they dragged the Google-Wumpf to the authorities, covered in blood, it would more likely be confiscated than anything, and that could be disastrous, given Wellington's observation about the reproductive rate of the--Vippy Veggies.  So all she said was, "Jesus, Wellsy."

***

The Google-Wumpf returned in the morning.

Wellington Elles immediately set to work measuring it, sketching it, photographing it, all preparatory to trying somehow, and in some way, to replicate it.

And at the back of his mind was one more little nagging horror, the final shoe as it were, making his hands shake as he jotted down various numbers on foolscap.

"I was hoping you could help me work out a few kinks," Harris had said.

Humanity's only defence -- and somewhere, somehow, it had a few kinks that needed to be worked out.

The End

Part One




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The Google-Wumpf is copyright 1999 by D.K. Latta.  It was previously published in issue 119 of the e-zine Spaceways Weekly in December 10, 1999 and is reprinted here with the author's consent.  It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)