THE MONSTER was lurking nearby. Waiting. For the girl.
“Maybe I’ll go for a dip,” she said, putting one toe into the black water. “Ooh - chilly!”
The creature, hunched over, crept along the bank, its yellow eyes fixed on the bathing beauty as she shimmied out of her cotton shift, revealing a bikini whose whiteness matched her bleached hair.
“Mandy!” called a man in the distance.
“Gee, that Perry - he makes me so mad! But he’ll never find me here.” Quietly, she slipped into the black lake, leaving the reflection of the new moon breaking in her wake.
The creature slid into the water, its green skin submerging soundlessly.
Giggling, Mandy dove down, confident pesky Perry would not find her.
“Mandy! Where are you?” A tall, crewcut man in military attire broke through the bushes and stood at the lake’s edge. Seeing nothing, he turned away and started back into the forest---as Mandy broke the surface, a claw across her mouth, stifling her scream. She kicked. Struggled. But the creature dragged her down. She got in one good jab with her elbow. Pushed away. Swam toward the bank, her freestyle a frantic thrash, feet kicking desperately, water filling her mouth---as a claw caught her ankle.
She kicked free, was entering the shallows---running toward the bank---calling out for Perry---when the thing leapt at her, pulling her back into the lake, its lizardlike face kissing her pretty one, causing her to faint, allowing the thing to take her down to the depths, a grotesque groom carrying his blacked-out bride over a watery threshold, the two of them disappearing as ... Perry reappeared on the bank, seeing nothing. He scratched his sparse pate. “Mandy? Babe?”
“Looks like Sergeant Perry left his run too late!” said a deep voice, lightly mocking.
The camera pulled back to reveal a black-and-white movie being played on a monitor, next to which sat a green-skinned, lizard-faced gentleman in a pastor’s collar, a gold cigarette-holder clasped in one claw. He lounged in an electric chair in misty, undefined surroundings. “Did you check out Mandy’s new man? What a handsome chap! We’ll return to A Hard Day at Black Lake shortly.
“But remember, horror hounds, entries close this week in my ‘Meet the Creature’ contest, in which all we ask is that you send us a scenario for an original horror movie - a brief breakdown of the kind of movie you’d like to see up there on the screen - and the writer of the best entry will win for themself and their friends a day on the set with yours truly, Preacher Creature. You’ll attend a taping of this delightful show, Preacher Creature’s Creature Feature, and enjoy a backstage tour. Now, here to tell us how those entries are coming along is my fiendish factotum, the always exciting Ellis!”
The camera pulled back to reveal a pale-faced figure in a shroud. Little could be made out of Ellis’s features. With one thin hand he dipped into a bodybag, pulling out a couple of large envelopes. “They’re flowing in like blood from a mummy’s wounds! As you can see, not too many - but the night is young---”
“Not really,” said Preacher Creature. “Haven’t you listened to a word I’ve said? Fool! This is the last week to get those---”
Russ Huntingdon used his remote control to mute the sound on his parents’ TV. “I’ve got mine in - Zombie Feast: The Oozing Dead, a Huntingdon original - it’s gonna be the next I Dismember Mama!” he beamed at the girl sitting on the couch beside him. Russ was a slender, wavy-haired lad with dreamy eyes and a hawklike nose. He liked B-movies, staying up late, and Maggie Banks.
Maggie smiled. She didn’t want to laugh at something her friend clearly took so seriously, but “the oozing dead” was a bit much, even by his wacky-tacky standards. Maggie was tall, slim, poised and confident. Many people’s first impression was that she was plain. In fact, she possessed an attractiveness as quirky as her character, directly linked to the power of her personality. And her most noticeable feature – a pile of wildly curly auburn hair which seemed to have a mind as idiosyncratic as its owner.
“So, whadaya think?”
“In my opinion, it’s … brilliant?”
Russ laughed. “You hate it! Anything that isn’t a murder mystery - that doesn’t have some kind of intellectual puzzle - you can’t stand it!”
“I don’t think my tastes are that narrow.”
“So are you enjoying tonight’s creature feature?”
“A Hard Day at Black Lake? Hardly.”
“See? Narrow, narrow, narrow. Go back to your Poirot and Peter Wimsey collections and leave me to my monsters.”
“Maybe I will. All those impersonations and false identities in sweet little villages that are really teeming with sinners – I love it!”
“Love? Really? Does that mean I get a kiss good night?”
She smiled. “First time for everything.”
“Well … what?”
“How about it?”
Preacher Creature came back on, introducing the rest of the movie. Russ restored the sound.
“Do we really have to listen to him?”
“Wait till the flick’s over and I’ll walk you home.”
“I don’t mind walking by myself.”
“Your father’d flip. One of Cotters Field’s finest letting his daughter wander around the badlands in the middle of the night?!”
Maggie laughed. “Cotters Field is about as bad as a day-old kitten - and about as dangerous. Besides, he’s out with Policewoman Pru - again - he won’t know how or when I get home.” With a grin, she started for the door.
Russ smiled, turning his attention back to the television. “Just make sure the creature doesn’t get you!”
“I promise if any slimy things come after me, I’ll try not to faint in their arms! That includes you.”
Russ frowned as Maggie blew him a kiss and closed the door. He went back to watching the movie. Or half-watching it, while thinking about their strange buddy-friendship. They watched movies together, wisecracked together. Years ago, they had climbed trees and skipped stones - the stuff of a sitcom from yesteryear, almost cheesily innocent. Maggie was not his girlfriend. But in a movie, she would have been. A twenty-first-century Fay Wray with a Sarah Silverberg twist.
Who would I be? Russ wondered. “The monster!” He laughed out loud. “But I wouldn’t kill the girls - I’d kiss ’em!”