The following short story by Stephanie Jessop appears in Brick Moon's anthology Thirst: Stories about the Future of Water available at Amazon!
by Stephanie Jessop
We knew it was going to storm since it had been dark all morning. It was all anyone in the office was talking about. Bonnie was going on about how she didn’t want to drive home in it, which was ridiculous seeing as it was 9:00am and she wasn’t going out in anything for another eight hours. Then again, it was a refreshing change from her usual going on and on about her grandson. So, I guess I shouldn’t complain.
It didn’t get weird until about an hour and a half later. I was in my office entering bullshit into a spreadsheet. That’s my job. I’m a spreadsheet bullshit enterer. The company I work for has tons of bullshit they need entered into spreadsheets and I’m the one they trust with it. I can get it all entered in about three hours which leaves the other six for me to read blogs. It wouldn’t be a bad job if it paid decently. It doesn't.
Anyway, at about 10:30 I heard the intern, Dylan, yelling at me from the hallway. “Tierra, come look at this!”
I got up, welcoming any excuse to leave my desk. Dylan and the other intern, Kasey, were standing at the big window in the hallway, looking out at the rain.
“Oh my god,” Kasey was saying, “Look at it.”
“Is it flooding?” I asked.
“No. Look,” she said in a rush of breath. “It’s weird and gross.”
I went to the window. Dylan stepped slightly to one side so that I could see. It was raining heavily and the storm made it dark. At first, I didn’t notice anything unusual other than that. Then, I saw something moving in the grass under the window. It looked like a soccer ball-sized amber slug. The rain made everything look glossy, but the thing in the grass looked somehow slimy, maybe because it was slowly undulating.
“What the hell is that?” I found myself stepping back from the window.
“We don’t know,” said Dylan. “But Kasey says she saw it fall.”
“It did,” Kasey said, excitedly. “It fell straight down and landed in the grass.”
“Fell from where?”
“The sky, I guess. A plane? I don’t know.”
A plane made more sense to me. I decided it must be from one of those chemical toilets they use on planes. I had heard before that they just dump them midair sometimes or they leak or something like that.
I stepped toward the glass again for a closer look. It really did seem to be moving though and I couldn’t make sense of that.
“It’s alive,” Dylan said.
“Don’t be stupid.”
“How do you know?” asked Kasey.
“Because it’s stupid. There aren’t living slug-blobs that fall out of the sky.”
Then, we heard a thud. Something had just hit the roof.
“Oh my god,” Kasey breathed. “That was another one.”
I sighed dramatically to be sure they both understood how ridiculous they were being. Then, there was another thud.
“See?” Kasey’s voice was triumphant.
Bonnie, the accountant, came trotting down the hall. “What was that?”
That was the moment it really started, the glop from the sky. Hundreds of amber blobs, large and small, landed in the grass outside the window. The noise as they bombarded the roof was frightening. Amber goo started covering the window, translucent enough to reveal the movement outside as balls of glop continued to rain down.
“What’s going on?” Bonnie’s voice was harsh and piercing through the thunderous thuds from the roof.
“We don’t know,” I said.
“I don’t know,” I said louder.
Then the lights went out.
“Woohoo,” crowed Dylan. “No work until the power comes back.”
“Woot,” I agreed. “Meanwhile we’re getting covered in toxic waste.”
“Is that what it is?” Bonnie shrank back from the window.
“I have no idea,” I said. “But it can’t be anything that’s good for us.”
The hallway was very dark now and Dylan and Kasey had both taken out their cell phones to use as lights. Without a word, Bonnie took off down the hall.
“Where’s she going?” Dylan asked.
“Listen,” I said. “It’s slowing down.”
The rapid barrage of thuds had suddenly become sporadic. Thudthudthud…thud...th-thud...thud... Then silence. And just as suddenly, the sun came out again. The window was still covered in amber glop but we could see the sunlight shining through it. Kasey took a picture.
I turned and headed to the lobby. Dylan and Kasey followed behind.
“Where are we going?” Dylan asked.
“Outside,” Kasey answered.
“I’m not going outside,” I said. “I just want a better look.”
“I’m going outside,” said Dylan. “I need to film it to show people.”
“To show them how you wound up in the hospital covered in lesions with your hair falling out?” I asked.
“We don’t know it’s toxic.”
“No, you’re right. It’s probably just salty caramel.”
We reached the lobby to find the front doors covered completely. Kasey and Dylan took pictures.
“We probably shouldn’t open the door,” I said.
But Dylan was already pushing at it. “It’s stuck.” He put his full wait into it but it didn’t budge. Kasey joined him.
“Oh my god,” she said. “It really is stuck. Tierra, help us.”
I pulled out my cell phone. “How about we see what’s going on before we walk out into it?”
I looked at my cell but the weather app wouldn’t update. It took me a moment to realize why. “My phone has no signal.”
Kasey turned her phone around in her hand and tapped at it. “Mine either.”
“Well, that stuff is probably blocking it,” said Dylan. “We just need to get outside.”
"There are other doors."
"No, there aren't," Bonnie's voice came from down the hall. She came walking swiftly toward us, panting and puffing with excitement.
"Are they all covered like this one?" I asked.
"All except the break room door but that one doesn't open anyway."
"Why not?" Dylan asked.
"Because it's broken," I said. "The lock doesn't relock itself right or something, I dunno. We called the maintenance guys out here once and they said that it would cost over a thousand dollars to fix it and the company said it wasn't worth it. But it does actually-"
I was interrupted by the glass on the right lobby door shattering. Dylan and Kasey jumped back. Bonnie yelped. Glass bits collapsed in a glittering pile that spread across the floor toward us. The glop that was covering the glass, however, stayed in place forming a wall of amber where the door was.
Dylan took a cautious step toward it and looked closer. "Ew, it's alive."
"It's moving. Look."
Bonnie held back but Kasey and I were braver. Or just more curious. We went up to it. Kasey gripped my arm as we leaned in for a closer inspection. The glop remained perfectly flat and vertical where it had been against the glass even though the glass was gone now. But, the glop was also moving, swirling slowly in tiny spirals here and there, tiny hurricanes of amber. I was a little unnerved, I admit.
Kasey squeezed my arm with one hand and reached her other hand gingerly toward it. She tapped it lightly. It didn't react except to make a light thumping noise like she had tapped a plank of wood. Dylan grabbed her hand.
"Let's not touch it."
"We need to get out of here," I said.
Kasey looked at me. "You said we shouldn't."
"That was before we were trapped and our cell phones stopped working. And before-"And before weird alien slime was trying to seal us in, I wanted to say but didn't. It was too ridiculous a thing to say out loud, even if it was true. Especially if it was true. Instead, I said, "The break room door does open."
"No, it doesn't," Bonnie contradicted me. "It never has."
I sighed. "It does. There's a trick to it. Let's go. I'll show you."
The break room was dark but not as dark as the rest of the building. This was because of the light coming through the glass door at the back of the room.
"Why wasn't it covered like the rest of the building?" Kasey asked. Dylan shrugged.
Bonnie tried unlocking the door but it didn’t turn. She turned to me triumphantly. “See? I told you it was broken.”
I said nothing and stepped past her. I pulled the lock toward me as I turned and then pushed in. It clicked and the door swung open. “Something being broken just means you have to the know the right tricks to make it work.”
"It's everywhere…" I said, looking around in disbelief. But it wasn't just that it was everywhere. It was that it covered everything. It covered the grass and had hardened over it so that it sounded like we were walking on a pane of glass.
The sky had cleared completely and it was bright out now, but it was still an odd gray instead of blue. Kasey walked ahead. Dylan and I were behind her. Bonnie stayed in the doorway last, watching, I supposed, to see if anything would happen to us before she stepped out into it herself.
We were looking at the back parking lot. Every car was covered, plus the dumpsters and the bushes. Dylan walked quickly over to one of the cars. I assumed it was his but I wasn't sure. His footsteps were so loud and that's when it I realized. It was silent outside. There was no background sound of traffic, no birds, no voices. Just Dylan's footsteps on amber glass.
"It's solidifying," he called to us from the beside the car. "But it's still moving in some places."
I heard the click of Bonnie's footsteps approaching behind me. "Is it okay?" she asked.
I laughed in disbelief at the question. Dylan answered her, walking back to us. "We won't be driving home."
"My cell still doesn't have a signal," Kasey said.
I wanted to see what it looked like out front so I headed around the corner. The others followed me. There was a spot near the front walkway where a deep puddle formed every time it rained and sometimes if they were just watering the grass. I had worked here for so long that I stepped over it as a matter of habit. But just after I passed it, I heard a crunching sound behind me and a yelp from Bonnie.
I turned to see her hunched over awkwardly with her foot stuck in a puddle of glop. Bonnie wasn't a young woman and she was heavyset. She struggled to pull her foot free but I was afraid she was just going to fall over.
Dylan grabbed her arm and tried to help. He was a skinny kid, though, with no more muscle on his arms than I had. Figuring I'd better help, I grabbed Bonnie's other arm and we all tried to pull her free. Her foot remained firmly embedded in the glop.
I let go of her and reached down to touch it. "Damn," I said. "It's solid already."
Bonnie was stuck standing in an awkward hunch with one foot held inches lower than the other in a puddle of solid glop. She groaned and pulled. “It’s squeezing me.”
“There’s a hammer in the break room,” I said.
“What?” Bonnie sounded alarmed.
“We need to try to break it.”
“No, I can pull myself free. Help me.”
We tried again but again, it was useless. Her leg stretched as we lifted her weight but the glop held her foot firmly in place.
“I’m getting the hammer.”
“I don’t want you to.” Bonnie was breathing heavily and looking flushed from the strain but was still trying to pull and twist her leg free even though Dylan and I had let go of her.
Kasey called to us from the street. “Come look at this!”
Dylan and I left Bonnie for a moment and went to where Kasey stood. She had gone all the way around the building to the front parking lot. I wasn’t sure what specifically she wanted us to look at since the entire scene was bizarre. There were no cars in the front parking lot that morning since the three of us had parked in the back and no one else had come in yet. The emptiness made the parking lot covered in glistening glop even eerier.
Our little building was set back from the highway but even from where I was standing I could see that the few cars on the road were glopped in place. Kasey was walking toward one of them and calling for Dylan and me to come look.
Some of the glopped car windows were too opaque to see anything but a few let enough light in to reveal movement inside. People were trapped in their cars.
“I’m getting the hammer,” I said, turning back.
The hammer didn’t work. All three of us took turns swinging it at different car windows and windshields to no effect at all. We argued but couldn't think of anything else we could do for the people trapped inside and Bonnie was yelling for us so, reluctantly we went back.
It didn’t work with Bonnie either. Swinging the hammer as hard as I could as close to Bonnie’s foot as I could while she stood over me screaming at me to stop wasn’t much fun either. After Dylan made an unsuccessful attempt at it, which ended with Bonnie whacking the back of his head, we gave it up.
We needed to find help. Dylan volunteered to try to find some. We hoped the glop didn’t extend very far and that maybe just around the corner, just out of our sight, there were cops and ambulances just waiting until someone gave them the all clear to come in and save us. I doubted this but I kept it to myself. I did, however, ask Dylan to bring back any supplies he could find in the event there weren’t crowds of helpful emergency workers around the corner.
Kasey went with him and I stayed with Bonnie since we couldn’t leave her alone. Bonnie was, I suppose understandably, in a foul mood.
“I can’t keep standing like this. Bring me a chair from inside, Tierra.”
“What’s the magic word?” In retrospect, I may not have been in the best mood either.
“Goddamn it, Tierra.”
“We might be here for a while. I should see what sort of supplies we have.”
I ignored her and went inside.
It was starting to get dark when Dylan and Kasey returned. They both looked sweaty and exhausted and terrible.
Bonnie and I were sitting in folding chairs that I had brought out from the conference room. We had taken the food from the refrigerator figuring that it would spoil soon and so there was no sense in saving it. It wasn’t much. There was a single serving of some sort of casserole in a plastic tub, a packet of croutons from a takeout salad and lots of condiments. The freezer had a frozen organic vegan gluten-free burrito and a pint size container of ice cream with large spikes of ice growing all over it. The best thing I had found was actually a six-pack of diet soda.
Dylan flopped down in a folding chair next to me. “We can’t get into anything. Everything is…glopped.”
Bonnie handed him a diet soda.
“We can’t drink those yet,” I said.
Bonnie ignored me and tossed another of our precious sodas at Kasey who caught it but didn’t open it.
“You didn’t being back anything?” I asked Dylan.
“Nothing. We can’t get into anything. None of the buildings, none of the cars. There are people trapped in stores and houses. We could see them trying to signal us but there’s nothing we could do.”
“But you didn’t find anything,” I repeated. “So until we do, this soda and crap is all that we have. If we use it up right away, then that’s it.”
“The cabinets in the break room are stuffed with chips and noodles and junk,” Bonnie sounded weirdly defensive. “And there’s a vending machine.”
“Cabinets and a vending machine full of salty snacks and dried noodles. There’s no soda machine. We have these sodas and I probably still have a cup of cold coffee on my desk and whatever you guys have and that’s it for water.”
"There's no running water?"
"No." I had discovered that on my trip to the bathroom.
“There’s water in the toilets,” Dylan added and chuckled.
“Oh, no way.” Kasey sat down. She clutched the unopened soda to her chest like a teddy bear.
I didn’t want to think about that either. “Who wants mystery casserole from someone’s lunch last week?”
“I know what we can drink,” said Dylan. He jumped up and went inside. He returned moments later with his hands full of little packets of coffee creamer. He divvied them up between us. They were liquid at least.
As it got darker, we discussed where we were going to sleep.
“I wanna sleep in my bed at home,” Kasey said. “But it’s a thirty minute drive from here and my car is buried.”
“You’re not the only one,” I said.
“Am I supposed to sleep in this chair?” Bonnie asked.
“Well, what exactly would you like us to do about it? And we’re all going to have to sleep in chairs or else on the floor.”
“I’m not sleeping on that filthy office carpet,” Kasey said.
“Pick a chair then or sleep on the glop.”
“God, I’m thirsty.” Bonnie moaned.
“Drink your creamer. Save the soda. We don’t know how long it has to last. I’m going to sleep in my office.”
Bonnie threw up her hands. “You’re not leaving me out here alone.”
Dylan volunteered to sleep outside with Bonnie. Kasey and I retreated to our respective offices. I moved the cup of cold coffee from my desk to the top of my filing cabinet for safekeeping. I spent several minutes arranging my furniture trying out how to sleep in my chair without my legs falling asleep first. The only thing I could find to prop them up on was a box from behind the bookshelf. When I moved it, the cardboard flaps opened slightly, enough for me to get a glimpse of the contents: a twelve pack of sixteen ounce bottles of water. I grabbed a roll of tape from the bookshelf, sealed the box shut and put it back where I found it. If I told the others about it, they would burn through it too quickly and then where would we be? Someone had to be the sensible one.
I only slept a couple of hours, if that. I still woke up stiff and sore all over. My head was pounding and my throat felt raw. There was a moment of confusion before I remembered why I was sleeping in my office. When I did remember, it came with a jolt of fear. I jumped up and rushed outside.
Maybe it had gotten better. Maybe the glop had melted or someone had come.
When I got outside I found neither of those things to be true. Instead, things had gotten much worse. The glop around Bonnie’s foot had extended upward and was now encasing her leg, the chair, most of her arm and her entire head. She wasn’t breathing.
Dylan had woken up to find her like that. He and Kasey were examining her when I joined them.
Looking around, I saw that it wasn’t just around Bonnie. The glop was growing everywhere. Where it had covered the grass in a thin glaze, it was now at least three inches thick. Around the building itself it was forming tumor-like bulges.
Kasey said something about checking on the people in the cars. I couldn’t deal with that. I had a pretty good idea what we would find. No one had come and the silence outside was terrifying. I retreated to my office and paced.
I took a bottle of water from the box and drank it slowly. I needed it to cope.
The next day the glop had grown even more but especially where it was in contact with living things. There was now a six-foot high mound of solid glop where Bonnie and her chair had been.
The sodas were all gone. Dylan and Kasey had resorted to toilet water. When I declined it, they tried to argue with me for my own good.
We knew we couldn’t stay here much longer but none of us had any good ideas about where we should go. The heat was going to make travel on foot difficult especially when we were already dehydrated.
Kasey had an idea that I liked. There was a river just down the highway from us. That would make it easy to find, if it wasn’t glopped, and the highway would be the likeliest place to find anyone else who might be out there.
“Maybe the glop is local.” It was at least the fifth time Dylan had suggested this. “It might end a few miles from here for all we know.”
“Then why hasn’t anyone come?” Kasey asked. Her voice had been getting more and more hoarse over the past two days.
“Maybe they’re scared to walk across it or touch it.”
“Then why aren’t there any birds?”
“Maybe they don’t want to fly over it. I don’t know.”
“We haven’t heard a sound. No sirens, no traffic, no helicopters, no birds. Nothing.”
“Okay, stop,” I said. “We can’t stay here. The sooner we get going, the better chance we have of getting there alive.”
Kasey stared at the ground. “And when we get there and the river is covered over, then what?”
“Then we keep going. It can’t go on forever.”
We didn’t have backpacks or luggage of any kind. Luckily, I carry a pretty big purse which I figured would hold enough. We didn’t have much, after all. Of my original twelve bottles of water, I had four remaining. I hadn’t planned on drinking the rest, but stress and thirst affected me more than I had imagined they would.
I put the last four bottles in my purse and told myself that I would share them with Kasey and Dylan when we got really desperate. After all, if I hadn’t been able to stop myself from drinking the rest, how much self control were either of them likely to have? Giving them the water now would only guarantee that it would be gone too soon.
Kasey had packed up her purse and her lunch bag with the last of the chips and granola bars from the break room. She also thought of bringing the office first aid kit. Dylan had made a kind of bindle from a sweater that Kasey kept in her office. He had it tied and slung over his shoulder with a shoelace. I didn’t ask what he was bringing.
We didn’t say much as we left the building and we didn’t say anything at all as we walked past the spot where Bonnie was or past the glop-encased cars along the road. We just walked and took short breaks. Occasionally, Kasey would try to initiate a conversation about what the glop might be or how far it might reach. Those were things I was trying my hardest not to dwell on though, so I said nothing. Dylan must have had similar feelings. He just answered her in one-word sentences like, “Yeah,” and “Maybe.”
The thirst was getting to me. We had been walking in the heat all day and I had to pretend that I didn’t have bottles of water in my purse. We were walking down an open stretch of highway with nothing around us but cars so it wasn’t as though I could sneak off somewhere and break into my stash. Not that it was my stash. I was saving it for all three of us, after all, for when things got really bad.
By dark, we had not reached the river. We camped as best we could by the side of a glopped truck. Kasey refused to eat any more chips or granola bars because she said they were making her even thirstier and her throat was hurting. I ate mine, even though Kasey was right. They did make you thirstier. I thought about giving her one of the bottles but decided against it. There was no way to know how long they would need to last. We couldn’t burn through them right away.
So I only sipped a little from one bottle after Kasey and Dylan had nodded off.
Kasey’s hoarse screaming woke me up.
“You’ve had water all this time? You’re fucking hiding it from us?”
I sat up suddenly and jerkily, heart pounding. I started to say something when I realized she wasn’t yelling at me. She was holding Dylan’s sweater bindle in one hand and a plastic bottle in the other.
“Calm down, Kasey,” Dylan was saying. “I was gonna share it.”
I could see Kasey’s hands shaking. “When?”
“When we really needed it. It just seemed more logical for me to hang on to it. I mean, you’re not going to make the most rational choices especially with all this stress-”
“You son of a fucking bitch!” She threw aside the bindle and went to get her purse. I thought she was going to put the bottle in it, but she took something out instead.
Dylan saw it too and he stepped back. “See how emotional you’re being,” he said as she stalked over to him. “I was just looking out for our survival – all of our survival.”
Kasey yelled something unintelligible as she swung the hammer at his head. He caught her arm and they fought. I couldn’t move and I couldn’t look away.
It ended with Dylan lying on the ground and Kasey standing over him, still cursing and still holding the hammer. Then she started crying and that was worse somehow.
Finally, she turned to me. “Tierra?”
She went back to her purse and grabbed the bottle she’d confiscated from Dylan. She offered it to me. “Here. We need both need to have some.”
I didn’t move. She came over and sat next to me. “Here. Have some.”
I reluctantly took the bottle and took a sip before handing it back. She took a sip, too. We sat in silence for a moment.
“Tierra, are you mad at me?”
“I’m not glad I did that but I am, you know? I can’t believe him. We have to be able to depend on each other if we’re going to get through this. But you and I are going to make it now, right?”
I just nodded.
“We’ll get to the river tomorrow and everything will be okay.”
Stephanie Jessop won Best Original Horror Screenplay at the 2013 Shriekfest Horror Film Festival Screenplay Competition. She has also been a finalist in several other screenplay competitions across the country. She has published stories in various horror anthologies including A Chimerical World: Tales of the Unseelie Court and Ugly Babies Volume 2. She grew up in the sticky, swampy parts of Texas but can also be found online at stephaniejessop.com.