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THIS WEEK ON MOONSTONE CLIFFHANGER FICTION-
CITY OF THE MELTING DEAD
A STORY OF THE SPIDER
BY MARTIN POWELL
featured in THE SPIDER: CHRONICLES
from Moonstone Books
Human vermin swarmed out of a rain – slick alley, creeping like rats toward a rust-crusted manhole, melding with the midnight shadows. Their movements were precise and exact, resembling well-oiled soulless automatons. One by one, the gang labored with their weighted burden of ominous black metal boxes from the hidden supply truck, their booted feet ringing hollow chimes as they climbed down into the murk and slime of the sewer below.
A tall skeleton of a man descended last, the flickering of sputtering flares betraying the feverish madness in his eyes. His goons had worked rapidly in the fetid semi-darkness. The devices had been reconstructed even more quickly than during the hundred rehearsals of before. All was in readiness.
Commissioner Kirkpatrick and the Mayor had been stubborn to the end. The million dollar ransom remained unpaid. Now New York City was to pay a very different, devastating price.
“Masks,” he hissed.
The order was obeyed instantly with fidgeting fingers fumbling leather straps, and eleven pairs of yellow goggled eyes glowered from behind the gasmasks in anticipation of the next command. The cadaverous dictator secured his own protective respirator with a practiced ease. He cocked his head toward the leering lieutenants.
“They had their chance,” his voice, never quite normal, droned all the more weirdly through the muffling gasmask. “Do it quickly.”
They scuffled off, well-trained in exactly where to strategically plant the infernal gas bombs within the sewer system to filter their poison fog throughout the entire metropolis. No chances left. No mercy. Thousands would perish. Next time that damnable Kirkpatrick would have to give in. Yes, next time.
But wait. Where was Skaggs? He was to bring up the rear then turn east in the tunnel ahead toward upper Manhattan. Skaggs was nowhere to be seen. Supremely confident mere moments before, the skeletal commander felt an icy sweat crawl down his spine. He turned to bark an order to McQuade, and shuddered upon realizing he too had vanished. Something was very wrong.
“Oh Gawd!” a minion squawked around a curve in the tunnel. The commander splashed recklessly toward the cry, losing all stealth, his steely nerves melting like wax. The others gathered, drawn from their mission to the grotesque scene set before them deep in the arched underbelly of the city. For a full minute none said a word, not even their chief. They just stood there, knee deep in the filthy swill, staring at the horror suspended above.
Skaggs had been snagged and hanged by the neck, swaying like a puppet from an almost invisible silken cord. The crimson brand of a bristle-legged arachnid wetly embossed Skaggs’ forehead.
Each man moved as one, all drawing guns. Eyes bulged and throats grew dry. Outside the range of the sulfur-spattering flares the shadows themselves pulsed like something alive. Then, worse of all, came the laughter, a low mirthless reverberation that seemed to originate from everywhere.
“The Spider!” one of the gang cried fearfully.
“Shut up!” the skeletal commander barked. “Spider or not, he’s only one man.”
Instantly thunder erupted in the cavernous tunnel, the innumerable blasts echoing a deafening clamor as half the gang keeled and slumped into the reeking sewage. Six hardened killers were dead in less than as many heartbeats, each unerringly shot between the eyes.
Blind panic seized the surviving thugs. Rounds were fired as fast as triggers could be squeezed. More blasts answered from the blackness, finely tuned and finding their mark. Almost as abruptly as it had begun, it was over.
Only the gaunt and ghastly commander was still standing, his fist wetly melding with the pistol in his grip. He hadn’t yet felt the three forty-five caliber slugs that had ripped through his guts.
The faint wisp of a noise captured his gaze as a figure on a silken line floated like an inky ghost. From the flicker of the flares the descending creature appeared to possess multiple writhing arms, an illusion cast by the flapping of a billowing black cloak. A venomous, fanged mouth again uttered its hideous cackle.
“You were smarter than most.”
Oh God! The monster spoke!
The commander was more corpse-like than ever, his life pouring out in ruby driblets. The revolver weighed a ton, but still he tried to aim as the terrible hunched stalker crept nearer.
“Not smart enough to escape my web,” the cloaked thing laughed again.
Two big guns in each black-gloved fist bucked twice, exploding the silence. The Poison Fog was to menace the city no more.
The Spider surveyed his territory, satisfied with the scene before him. Human scum sprawled dead at his feet, each of them guilty of a dozen unsolved murders, each of them now with his eight-legged scarlet seal emblazoned on what was left of their foreheads.
The last Crime Ring. Finally. It was over. Kirkpatrick and his policemen could handle the petty crooks now.
At last, the Spider could rest.
Bill Henry had a deadline.
The crusty old crime reporter, nowadays known as “Bourbon Bill”, had seen better days, but this story was special. This story would make all the difference. It was a fluke really, not at all like the way he did things in the old days. He just happened to be in the right place to overhear the right thing. Most people hardly noticed the derelict sleeping it off in dark alleyways where darker deeds dare to be discussed. But Bourbon Bill wasn’t sleeping this time. Scientist missing. No word of ransom, so a kidnapping was not taken
seriously. Sometimes eccentric egg-heads just disappear, the authorities said. But Bill knew better. He’d heard things right this time.
This was something big.
The grizzled journalist glanced around his shabby apartment, normally a depressing place, but then he smiled his jack o’lantern grin. Everything would change once he turned in this story. The city beat would be his again, that was a cinch. And he could afford good whisky again, not that bathtub gin he’d resorted to. Maybe Linda would even take him back. Yes, sir, what a story. Award-winning stuff, no doubt about it.
Bourbon Bill lifted the bottle to his dry, chapped lips. Maybe he should stop drinking? Yes, perhaps he should. Tomorrow he would stop for good. Everything would be different. Tomorrow.
In celebration, he sucked in a short swig from the bottle and promptly, painfully, spat it out with a hiss. The liquor was scalding hot, actually sizzling on his blistering tongue. That didn’t make sense. Mesmerized, he stared at the bottle as the liquid inside actually began to boil.
They’d found out. They’d found him. Too late. Same old Bill Henry luck…bad as always.
His body was suddenly seized with thick sweat, wracked by a weird agony. They knew that he knew. And he didn’t have much time. Bourbon Bill felt his flesh dissolving, dripping away like candle wax. No. Not yet. Desperately, with his last effort, he clacked away at his typewriter, his fleshy finger-tips sticking to the keys leaving raw red-pink blobs. Had to leave a warning. He was the only one who could.
That done, a glorious leap out the window seemed the best solution to the torture. The cold wind whipped across his oozing face all the dizzying way down, and Bourbon Bill was at peace even before he hit the pavement, confident that his hastily typed warning would be heeded, and satisfied that the pain would stop at the swift end of his ten story fall.
Bourbon Bill Henry had made his deadline, after all.
END OF PART ONE
TUNE IN NEXT MONDAY FOR PART TWO OF CITY OF THE MELTING DEAD!!!