Brendan Gatlin’s grade five Science teacher seemed unwell. In the darkened classroom his eyes were hidden behind sunglasses. On his head he wore a baseball cap, the peak pulled down low over a face that was shiny with moisture.
“Mr Murphy looks like he’s covered in slime,” Brendan whispered to his neighbour.
The teacher gazed disapprovingly at Brendan before addressing the whole class. “Your science homework this Halloween evening,” he announced, “is to grow sea-monkeys, or brine shrimps to be more accurate, in a bowl of water.”
“Isn’t the weather too cold for growing sea-monkeys?” asked Brendan.
Mr Murphy began handing out packets of Leo Whalen’s Ultra-Sea-Monkeys™. “These are special, young Master Gatlin,” he explained. “They follow a different law of nature. Tomorrow morning we’ll see how far the experiment’s progressed, then share the results with the rest of the school. And remember – keep the creatures out of direct sunlight.”
At home, in his bedroom, Brendan tipped the ultra-sea-monkey eggs into a bowl of warm water. Just then Brendan’s father popped his head in at the door.
“Your nanna’s arriving tomorrow, on the early morning train,” said Graham Gatlin. “So before you leave for school, you can expect a barrage of hugs and kisses.”
Brendan grimaced. With a grin on his face Mr Gatlin disappeared, closing the bedroom door behind him.
When Brendan turned his attention back to Leo Whalen’s Ultra-Sea-Monkeys™, his jaw dropped. Dozens of the translucent creatures were already flitting around the bowl. While he watched, the three largest sea-monkeys started ambushing the smaller ones, wrapping themselves around their tiny bodies and absorbing them. Soon, only the three plumpest sea-monkeys remained, squatting at the bottom of the bowl like obese amoebas.
Gripped by curiosity, Brendan dipped his finger into the water and poked one of the predatory blobs. The creature’s pliant mass immediately enveloped the boy’s fingers, spreading up his hand and arm.
Before Brendan could scream, a film of slime covered his mouth.
That Halloween evening, an evening when folk welcomed strangers at their doorsteps, Brendan and his parents went trick-or-treating together. Beneath a bright full moon their bodies shone slickly.
Mr Murphy was out, too, standing in the middle of the town’s main street, directing operations. From behind his dark glasses he observed his pupils and their parents approvingly.
Guided by the science teacher, the Gatlin family glided up the garden pathway of old Mr Royston’s house and rang the doorbell. An elderly couple answered, arms laden with candy.
“Mine!” Brendan spluttered, engulfing old Mr Royston and absorbing his organic material.
“Mine!” said Graham Gatlin, pulling old Mrs Royston into a fatal embrace.
“Mine!” gurgled Brendan’s mother, Jessica, and nourished herself on the Roystons’ barking dog.
Next morning, sitting in the back of a taxi, Nanna Gatlin shifted nervously during the journey from the railway station to her son and daughter-in-law’s house. The windows of the taxi had been tinted and the driver wore sunglasses. Even more disconcertingly, when the man verified the address she had given him, his words were indistinct, like the speech of a drunkard.
“We’re here, madam,” the driver said, pulling the taxi to a halt.
Nanna Gatlin placed a ten pound note in the man’s clammy hand, told him to keep the change and struggled out of the car with her overnight bag. Breathing a sigh of relief as the taxi departed, she knocked on the front door of the Gatlin residence.
Having been left off the latch, the door swung open.
“Graham? … Jessica? … Brendan?”
Nanna Gatlin advanced into the hallway and pushed open the lounge door. The room was in darkness, the curtains drawn. In the gloom, three shapes rose from the sofa with an unsettling squelch.
“Na-nna!” said Brendan, his voice congested as if he had a cold.
“Na-nna!” chorused Graham and Jessica Gatlin.
Putting her unease aside, the old woman said, “Come and give Nanna a big hug and a kiss.”
The transformed Gatlins needed no further encouragement.
Once they had finished feeding, Graham and Jessica grinned down at their son. “Shall we accompany you to school?” they asked.
Brendan grinned back. “Mr Murphy would like that.”
Paul A. Freeman is the author of ‘Rumours of Ophir’, a crime novel set in Zimbabwe. His narrative poem ‘Robin Hood and Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers’, and his second crime novel, ‘Vice and Virtue’, have also been published. Over a hundred of his short stories have appeared commercially in print. He currently lives in Abu Dhabi with his family, and despite reports to the contrary, he never swims in the nude. He can be found at www.paulfreeman.weebly.com.