STORY: “Gremlins”

Dr. Vael ran his hand through the water, scaring away the baby gremlins. They swam like frogs to the far end of the swimming pool.

The hospital lights were dim. This was the therapeutic swimming pool. Normally, patients came here to get stronger and better. But over the past month Dr. Vael had taken over the swimming pool for use in his experiment.

He was creating a new form of life. Gremlins. They started as tadpoles and grew into two-foot high creatures. Their skin was pebbled and green. Their eyes were bloodshot. So far they kept to the swimming pool and didn’t venture onto land.

One gremlin wrapped his long, pianist’s-thin fingers around the edge of the pool and boosted himself up. He was a juvenile, almost grown. Dr. Vael smiled to see his “children” doing so well.

Dr. Vael reached into a steel bucket filled with ice and removed a chicken wing. He tossed it into the pool. This created a mad scramble as gremlins swam to get the meat. The winning gremlin tore into the chicken wing with sharp little niblet teeth. Teeth that were startlingly white.

Outside, the hurricane winds were really beginning to pound the hospital’s walls. Dr. Vael knew he shouldn’t be in here in the middle of the biggest storm in a century, but he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t leave his babies alone and scared.

The storm had started at 10:00 last night. West Metropolitan Hospital was supposed to be fine in most storms. But as Dr. Vael pondered the fierceness of storms, the lights flickered overhead.

Somewhere in the hospital, there was a cascade of sparks. A transformer blew out. Electricity died throughout the building.

In the swimming pool auditorium, Dr. Vael’s hand froze in the steel bucket as the lights failed. He could hear his heart thumping in his chest. This was not good. He wasn’t sure what no-light would do to the gremlins. They were calm when the lights were bright. But fear might drive them to do things …

Dr. Vael rapidly calculated. According to his notions, the gremlins should be able to take up to an hour of darkness. If power was restored soon, things should be fine. He would have liked to check this out on his computer, a Toshiba supercomputer dubbed the Samurai S-4000. He had done all his important work on this machine. That was where he coded the genes. You might say the Toshiba was the incubator for the little green creatures.

They started out their life as modified tadpoles, swimming in miniature through the water. As they grew, they became less like frogs and more like their own thing. Bony arms and legs. A sunken chest. Yellowed fingernails that scratched at bloodshot eyes that continually teared up with eye mucus and sorrow.

They were an emotional creature. Sometimes, Dr. Vael swore, he could hear them singing to one another. But he couldn’t believe his ears. It had to be an auditory hallucination.

In the dark, Vael knocked over the steel bucket, scattering chicken parts on the very edge of the pool. The gremlins scented this and rushed out of the waters to get at the meat. Dr. Vael found himself surrounded by all 20 gremlins as they threatened to rush farther onto dry ground.

“Back!” Dr. Vael commanded, swatting one on the bum. But it was no good. The combination of the food and the dark had excited them to a fever pitch. The emergency lights were on in the hallway leading away from the pool. A pinprick of yellow light, forming a rectangle, could be seen in the dark. The gremlins began to march toward it. They wanted out. And they wanted out now. They wanted to explore their new world. They had feelings, these creatures. They were semi-intelligent.

When they got to the door, three of them stood up on each other’s shoulders. They turned the door handle. Blessed light flooded into the far end of the auditorium, but it wasn’t enough to settle down the gremlins. Twenty of them — the whole bunch — escaped into the hospital, where they would wreak havoc for the next 24 hours of the storm.

== == ==

Nurse Catcheley was on the rag, menstruating. She was in the woman’s bathroom, alone in the storm, changing a tampon. Yet something from outside had sensed the blood of the pad and had grown hungry and curious.

A gremlin crept over tiles, its sharp foot nails making clicking sounds.

It had separated from the pack and come this way. Nurse Catcheley was humming to herself as she tossed the tampon into the specially designed container in the bathroom stall for such things.

The gremlin shimmied under the space between stall door and floor. Its green face, with pointed ears, looked up at the nurse, startling her.

The gremlin emerged fully inside the bathroom stall. Nurse Catcheley pulled up her pants, buckled the belt, and shrank against the wall. The gremlin broke open the tampon dispenser and retrieved one freshly bloodied tampon. It sucked on this reddish cloth like a lollipop. Draining it of fluids, the gremlin was still hungry. It whipped its head around to peer quizzically at Nurse Catcheley.

She was too paralyzed with fear to scream. The gremlin launched itself at her stomach. Powerful little hands seized on the love handles of the woman’s flabby belly. The gremlin ate its way into her belly. It reached up and covered her mouth with its one green hand, blocking any sound from emerging. Thin streamers of blood began to slide down the nurse’s legs, staining her thighs, as the creature fed. Its appetite was voracious.

Somewhere, a siren was going off, as if it knew an emergency was taking place. The nurse died when the gremlin buried its snout in her greasy intestines. That was it for Nurse Catcheley. Her limp dyed-blonde hair fell over her face.

== == ==

Dr. Vael rushed to his office. He began to compose an all-staff email for immediate distribution … then hesitated. Weird things happened in storms. The gremlins were small and clever, like rats. Maybe they wouldn’t create many obvious disturbances. Maybe their presence would go unnoticed.

Maybe, maybe, maybe. Dr. Vael slammed his fist on the desk.

“Drat it,” he muttered. “I had to create the little motherfuckers. They were all I dreamed about for years, since my dissertation at university. In fact, they were the subject of my dissertation: ‘Artificial Life In A Changing World.’ Now my world is changing.”

He drew in a heavy breath and let it out shakily. “I can’t let the others know about this. I have to clean up my own mess.”

The question was, he wondered, how best to do that. Somehow he had to lure the gremlins back into a holding tank. The problem was, there were so many of the little shits. No, calling them little shits was unkind. They were his babies, adorable creations wished down from the stars.

He remembered how their ears twitched when they were anticipating something: food, or the music he played for them. They liked music. It soothed them. It was funny to watch them floating on their backs in the water as the swimming pool auditorium piped in Top-40 music to their little heart’s content.

Dr. Vael returned to his computer. He began typing an email, yes, but not the original message he had intended. This email would warn the hospital of “escaped experimental animals” that the storm had set loose. They were harmless, these animals … subjects of experiments performed on them … used to advance the state of medicine. Vael added that they were plant-eaters and not to be feared.

He tilted back his head and laughed. Oh yes … not to be feared. Most of the gremlins were grown up now. The babies followed where the older gremlins went. But Vael knew they could be independent, operating as loners. Many times in the pool he had seen them scattered to the far corners of the pool to have alone time. Gremlins seeking privacy.

Dr. Vael closed his laptop computer. He shrugged on his white lab coat and pinned his hospital ID badge to the fabric and rushed out the door to begin the search for a lure that would bring back his escaped creatures.

== == ==

There was a shortage of staff in the operating room. One surgeon stood alone. He held a scalpel in his hand and was standing over a prone body. The emergency lights were holding well in here. He was pleased.

As he worked on the anesthetized body, he whistled to himself. He was cheerful, he was active, he was engaged, he was —

A little green head popped up behind the shoulder of the sleeping patient. It blinked twice.

“What the hell –?” the surgeon exclaimed, stepping back, but discipline kept him from dropping the surgical tool in his hand.

The gremlin got on the head of the patient and did a little dance. It was humming to itself and intermittently growling. The little growls sounded self-satisfied. It was free. Free! It fixed its flexible toes on the sleeping face of the patient and scrunched its feet up. Blood began to leak onto the top of the operating table.

The surgeon made a surge ahead and slashed at this thing that was killing his patient. The scalpel missed. The gremlin hissed. It was obvious this human wanted to hurt it. The gremlin resented and hated that.

The gremlin jumped down to the floor. It bounded across the floor like a chimpanzee, swinging its pebbly green arms. It jumped up to the door knob, hanging from it like a pint-sized circus performer. It tried to get away.

“Get out of here!” the surgeon roared.

The surgeon took a last glance behind him at the injured patient, then looked forward with steely eyes. “I’m gonna get you,” the surgeon intoned. “You will be mine.”

The gremlin dropped from the doorknob and spun around. Gremlin and surgeon faced one another in the deathly still operating room.

As the surgeon advanced, holding out his scalpel, the gremlin dashed between his legs, avoiding the narrow blade. The gremlin sank its teeth into the delicate skin behind and above the man’s black shoes. The surgeon became stiff and threw back his head and howled. The gremlin chortled to itself.

It gave the man a push. The surgeon fell on his own scalpel. Live by the sword, die by the sword. The scalpel penetrated his rib cage and lodged itself in his heart, where his heart-blood flowed freely. The surgeon was splayed on the ground, arms and legs akimbo, scalpel lodged in heart. The gremlin began to eat his fingers.

== == ==

Dr. Vael had an idea. He would turn the swimming pool auditorium into a discotheque. By blasting it with music, he would summon all the gremlins back to their comfortable birthplace.

Yes! It might just work.

Dr. Vael adjusted the speaker system in the auditorium to full blast. He linked the sound system to the hospital’s general P.A. system for full communicability. Then he flicked four switches with the edge of one palm. Abba, “Dancing Queen,” began to stream across the ceiling of the swimming pool. The sound vibrations touched the surface of the empty water, waiting for the gremlins to return home.

Dr. Vael waited fifteen minutes. Oh shit, he forgot to unlock the door! When he opened the door into the hallway, he saw that all 20 gremlins were standing there, swaying slightly in time to the music. There was clearly blood on some of their mouths and on their thick rubbery lips.

They marched hypnotically into the swimming pool auditorium, hands extended before them. One by one, like synchronized swimmers, they dove sideways into the pool, graceful and accurate.

Dr. Vael chuckled to himself, locked the door firmly, and turned down the music. Except for the dead, it was going to be a good day.

— Greg Nikolic

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9 responses to “STORY: “Gremlins””

  1. Scary stuff. Kind of reminds me of the movie, “Gremlins.” Also of a few hospitals, I’ve been in, that seemed to be full of gremlins. I barely made it out of those places alive.

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