The Cosmic Slug
by Chris Chapman
part 1 of 2
“Cheesy smile, Commander, cheesy smile,” cooed the non-descript soldier that crab-walked next to the rod-straight form of Commander Hastings. “Flash those pearly whites for the cameras, Commander. Go on, just take one. It will help with the smile. I promise.”
Hastings batted the plate away from his face and marched on towards the media tent.
Without turning his head he barked, “You bring that Edam anywhere near my gums and I’ll flatten your face. This is no time for hors-d’oeuvres son. This is a world at war.”
Hastings paused before entering, looked up, squinted at the midday sun and drew breath. “I love the smell of...” And he stopped. “What is that smell? Soldier, what is that smell?”
“Beef bourguignon, Sir, and it comes highly recommended. It’s on special today and tomorrow.”
“Son,” began Commander Hastings. He leaned forward, his wild eyebrows like a pair of hairy sea anemones gently tickled the tip of the soldier’s nose. “This is the military. In the military we protect. In the military, if we must, we kill. But we do both of these with minimal, and I do mean minimal amounts of cooking. Do you understand me, soldier?”
“Sir, yes Sir,” replied the soldier standing to attention. The deviled eggs on his tray skirted around like pucks on an air hockey table. “But with this Bangs fellow sorting out all the problems, we’ve just had so much free time on our hands. All the lads have just picked up other things to pass the time.”
“So that’s why Corporal Jacobs keeps offering to regrout my bathtub. Well top news, sunshine. Things are about to change.”
Commander Hastings disappeared behind the flap of the tent.
The solider, shoveling a vol-au-vent into his mouth, realized he’d left a soufflé in the oven and ran towards the kitchens.
* * *
“Gentlemen, we have in our custody one Mister Ludlow Bangs, who would not co-operate.”
The media tent was all but empty, yet Hastings addressed the air around him as though it were his enemy. He brandished his finger like an aggressive vegan wielding a cucumber. He was a man so disciplined that his teeth stood to order. Upon the command of “fall-in,” they would topple over his lips and litter the floor.
“Not co-operate!” Hastings reiterated. “Even so, the threat is under control. With this in mind, we feel it is important the world understand that the next move is crucial.”
The after-effects of the Cosmic Slugs’ landing had brought only boredom. In the past ten years, such intergalactic visitors as the Space Guff, the Lunar Pancake, and the Outer-dimensional Shrew had all failed to rouse any panic from the inhabitants of Earth.
The Space Guff had hovered menacingly over a housing estate in Carlyle. Its smell had forced the inhabitants erroneously to call out a plumber to see if the drains were blocked. It had then continued its reign of terror by attempting to convince people the word “whale” was spelled with a double “h” and finally ended up just shouting “piss off” at anyone that came near. This fiend had been vanquished from our Solar System by Earth’s designated supernatural protector, Ludlow Bangs. He had lodged a hose pipe up his nose, inhaled the Guff, coughed it into a jar, and then booted it into the sky.
The press, having realized the slug had no tits, only sent an office junior to cover the official announcement, and all he did was collar any passer-by and ask them if they thought he had small eyes.
It was said that Hasting had been born for the military, with a khaki birthmark and flaps of skin on his chest ready made to slot in medals. He spent his free time acquiring photographs of amusingly shaped shrapnel wounds and reciting his retirement speech to his wife, which started with the line, “If you cut me, do I not bleed powdered egg?” He had once showed his loyalty by painting his face green without even being asked to. Now in his dotage, he had been assigned to the position of Media Liaison Officer.
Discussion over whether a Cosmic Slug possessed a neck had reached fever pitch. The science contingent seemed adamant that hanging was out of the question. Two science students stood behind the rigid frame of Doctor Koenig and pulled faces at Hastings from behind clipboards. One of them had scrawled, “You have a mouth like a dog’s arsehole,” on a piece of paper.
“If it’s got a head,” began Hastings, his face boiling red, “and if it’s got a body, then I think you’ll find the bit that connects the two is called a neck.”
“It’s lodged in his bloody arm,” spat Koenig through clenched teeth. “You want to hang him by the wrist, is that it?”
Like a leaf drifting from the heavens, the Cosmic Slug had taken thirty-seven weeks to land. Its bulk had been whittled away by the long-term travel and its entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. What had been viewed as a mass as big as Sweden in space had, in time, come to rest upon the upturned palm of Ludlow Bangs. The sliver of black had burrowed into his hand and wormed its way next to the vein on his left wrist.
Bangs had been commandeered by the military but escaped and, after hours of arsing about involving the club-footed anti-stealth battalion and Bangs swinging from a chandelier, someone with a brain was called in who managed to sedate him by using a pole.
During the interrogation period, Bangs befuddled all by suffering from a bout of the “wandering yappers.” His mouth circumnavigated his head, yawning open segments of his flesh to show the bone and muscle that lay underneath. At one point, his mouth attempted to flutter off his face like a butterfly and make an escape, but one soldier slapped it with his beret then pinned it to the wall and punched it repeatedly. When placed back on his head, the lips were so swollen he was unable to talk.
“Right, well there’s nothing else for it. We’ll just hang him,” stated Hastings. “It’s living off him, inside him. If he’s dead, then it’s dead. Did you get that mister reporter? There will be a hanging tomorrow at ten.”
Doctor Koenig’s jaw fell open. He held it with his left hand and moved it accordingly to help him speak the following sentence: “You mean the Ludlow Bangs who has saved this planet more times than I care to mention?”
“Righto,” replied Hastings. “He’ll be doing the tyburn jig. Plenty of heroes to replace him. That guy who wears the sunglasses for one, sings about not liking the weekends, or is it just Sundays? Oh, and his friend who doesn’t like Mondays.”
“Bono and Bob Geldof?”
“Yeah, they’ll do. Get someone to post them out some spandex and laser guns. Right, reporter, any questions?”
The reporter, sitting alone in a sea of foldable plastic chairs looked around to make sure that no one else was being spoken to. Then, once he was sure that the question was aimed at him, he said, “Commander Hastings, taking into account the importance of the safety of the population of our planet and the unfortunate outcome of this event in which one of our most beloved and mysterious heroes has to sacrifice his life for the good of humanity, I put it to you: Do you think my eyes look small?”
The following day the hanging did not go according to plan. They had managed to get Bangs in the noose, but dying didn’t seem on the menu.
“What’s he doing?” Yelled Hasting, his shoulders hunched as though aiming to bury his head from the embarrassment.
Along side stood Corporal Jacobs, dressed in dungarees, plumber’s belt and beret. Behind them both, in the courtyard of the army base, Doctor Koenig muttered to a couple of his students. Giggles and words such as ‘arse-hound’ could be heard coming from them.
“It appears he’s doing some sort of stand up comedy routine, Sir,” answered Jacobs.
“God damn, well shouldn’t he be dying?”
The distant form of Ludlow Bangs looked quite casual dangling from the cast iron gallows. It was gesturing with its hands to a crowd of on-looking soldiers.
“Well no one’s laughing, Sir,” replied Jacobs.
The science contingency tittered louder at this and one of them blew a raspberry.
“Radio reports, Sir,” continued Jacobs holding the device to his ear and repeating verbatim, “notify us that Bangs is enquiring as to the places of origin of the soldiers within the immediate vicinity of the hanging and going on to inform them that said places are, quote ‘his kinda towns.’”
“Corporal this is not good, not good at all. I specifically ordered death by hanging, not this, not,” Hastings motioned towards the gallows. He cut short his sentence to exclaim, “What’s he doing now?”
Rather muted and red from embarrassment Corporal Jacobs answered, “I believe they call that the ‘Mash Potato,’ Sir.”
Hastings’ leather skin reddened, giving him the look of a uniformed salami sausage in a wig. He turned to Doctor Koenig and shook his fist,
“Is this your doing? Is that a smirk on your lips Koenig?”
Koenig wrinkled his brow in defiance, running his glasses down the bridge of his nose to the notch at the tip specially carved to give him that ‘you’re an idiot’ stare. The two students behind Doctor Koenig began pelting Hastings with bits of chewed up paper blown thought empty pen casings.
“Students, students, enough.” Koenig halted the barrage by raising his arms. “There is more than just the Commander’s ineptitude to worry about here, namely, just exactly what Mister Bangs will do once he decides he’s had enough of dangling. Clearly death isn’t on his agenda today.”
Hastings looked like he wore a papier-mâché facemask of a beaten up boxer. He used his sleeve to wipe the mess off.
“Did you check his agenda?” He asked picking the last clump of paper out of his ear hair.
“Hmmmm, oddly enough he didn’t hand one out.”
“Well,” said Corporal Jacobs fiddling in the front pouch of his dungarees, “he was handing these out at breakfast.”
Hastings snatched the paper and slapped his face against it. It showed a crudely drawn picture of Ludlow Bangs on a BMX soaring over a line of bloody daggers. A speech bubble emanated from his mouth and it said ‘sweet jump.’ Underneath this was a time table:
9:55 thumb wrestle a goose
10:00 Get Hanged
10:05 Improvisational Comedy
10:15 Sassy Dance Moves
“The ravings of a sick mind,” remarked Koenig, who had sidled over and was peeping over Hastings shoulder. “Bangs has always been quite the enigma. Aloof, yet the socialite, child-like, yet a genius. Now it turns out he’s just a total snap-case.”
“Well that’s what we all thought, but is it Bangs or the slug?” said Corporal Jacobs.
Copyright © 2008 by Chris Chapman