I would say, as a warning to this story, “lol I forgot how to science,” but I never really knew in the first place, so… yeah. I’m just going to hand-wave it and say that a supernatural being could totally find trace amounts of sulphur in a cow’s corpse. To be honest, this story ended up being a lot like my last Featured Fiction piece, Head in a Box. Partially because it featured a snarky female lead in a bizarre situation, but it also opened up a whole new Pandora’s Box of ideas that may or or may not go elsewhere at some point. So, like Head in a Box, this story doesn’t follow its own logic or arc as well as I would have liked it to, but it still gets there in the end I suppose. Plus, it might just be a fun start to a larger piece.
But, now I’m just prattling on about nothing. So instead, enjoy more of my prattling on about nothing and read the story below!
Word Count: 2269
If the elements weren’t bad enough, now she had to deal with a rookie oozing enthusiasm all over her crime scene- literally.
She sighed and pulled out the spray bottle from her back pocket. She sprayed her partner with a few squirts of water. Just looking at the moisture fall like mist onto the awkward green mass made Veronica thirsty. She turned the bottle on herself and spritzed her face. Veronica sighed and shook her head, trying to spread the water all around her face and into her hair. There wasn’t much water left in the bottle, but Veronica mostly considered that to be a sign from the universe that her time out in a sand-filled hell would be just about finished.
“Well?” Veronica asked, letting her impatience show though her voice. “What are you finding?”
“About as much as you,” the oozing mass said in its watery, warbling voice. Veronica always thought Smucker always sounded like a songbird underwater whenever he talked. She had considered telling this to his face so he would maybe speak less in the future but she was never quite sure where exactly his face was. “Sorry,” he continued. “I’m doing the best I can, but I’m just not getting very much out of this. But don’t worry, I’ll keep trying.” With that, the green blob expanded itself evermore over the ox’s carcass.
Why was I forced to bring you if you wouldn’t be any help? Veronica wondered. She and the agency had puzzled over the Great Sandy Desert Boneyard case for the last three weeks and all efforts made by mortal human investigators had turned up nothing but more questions. An entire heard of cattle from the west coast of Australia had mysteriously migrated eastward with a single herder until they apparently decided to drop dead in a very particular location in the sand.
Probably the strangest thing about the Boneyard case, though, was that the term “boneyard,” wasn’t even really applicable. None of the cow’s bodies were showing even the slightest signs of decay. In fact, even the flies and vultures in the desert seemed to go out of their way to avoid them. The agency had deemed this case too strange for humanity’s skills of investigation alone.
So, they called in… these.
Like many “fairy tale monsters,” slimes ended up being much more real than most people would believe. For centuries, slimes had been the enemies of humanity, usually devouring hapless medieval knights or bandits if they managed to wander into the caves or cellars where the slimes lived. However, modern ways of thinking and the complexity of modern-day crime scenes called for investigative skill that sometimes exceeded that of a human- especially when other supernatural elements were involved.
Veronica leaned down, raising an eyebrow at her goopy partner. “Do you even know what you’re supposed to be looking for?”
“I thought I was looking for anything that looked out of the ordinary.”
Veronica looked around at the bizarre circle of corpses lying in the sand. “That’s not very hard to do,” she said.
“I mean aside from the dead cow,” Smucker quivered. “Well, unless there’s something strange on or in the cow. I figured I’d be looking for anything at all when I’m out here. Seeing as how nobody else has found any sort of clue, anything that we don’t already know is potentially a clue.”
Veronica nodded. It was sound logic, relatively speaking for a slime. Veronica was one of the first detectives on-site, setting up the yellow caution tape, as if it was really needed in the middle of an Australian desert, and even she hadn’t turned up anything aside from migraines and sand. The most advanced electronics and good old fashioned investigator senses had been leveled against the case and still came up with nothing. There were cows and there was a man. All but one remained- dead and not decomposing while being partially buried in the sand. The cow hadn’t been moved in order to keep the scene as pristine as possible.The man was nowhere to be seen. Really, anything found that wasn’t one of those things was practically going to be a godsend.
“Boss,” warbled Smucker, “Boss come quick!”
Veronica ran over to the cow the slime was investigating, pulling her hat down a bit lower to keep the sand out of her eyes- they were red and irritated enough already from the stressful and sleepless nights. “What?”
The slime briefly recomposed and then pooled onto one side of the cow’s body. He looked up at Veronica with what she assumed was his face. Or, it might have just been some other applicable long appendage that slimes felt the need to extend during conversation. Any educational material about slime anatomy usually amounted to, “results may vary,” so ballparking was usually good enough for most people aware of slime’s existences.
Smucker jiggled happily. “This cow,” he said, “it’s not like any other kind of cow I’ve ever analyzed.”
“I thought you would have figured that out by now,” Veronica said. “Most cows don’t decay or die in the middle of deserts.”
“That’s not true,” Smucker said. “Meat is kept fresh and away from decomposition in freezers and cattle likely would die very easily when placed in the middle of deserts. What’s really strange about this one is what’s inside of it.”
Veronica allowed herself a small smile of relief. Part of what made slimes so skilled at analyzing bodies was their ability to worm inside of them without disturbing the body’s inner contents. Most regular crime scene investigators probably would have considered such an ability to be, at best, excessive and, at worst, invasive. However, when a colony of cockatrices could be breeding in a dead man’s stomach or a fanged worm taller than a basketball player might be lurking in a person’s digestive tract, plenty of crime scenes Veronica handled could hardly be considered “regular.” But now, her little green squishy tagalong looked to have just come through for her.
“See, all of these carcasses have apparently absorbed a strangely high amount of sulphur into the lowest parts of their bodies- the parts that are lying against the sand.”
Veronica nodded slowly, and then wiped a bead of sweat away from her eye. “And what about the minor issue about them never decaying?”
“Oh. Yeah, that. I have no idea why that’s happening. Or, not happening. But isn’t that cool about the sulphur?” I mean, cows generate methane when they’re alive, quite a lot of it actually. You humans sure have weird taste in animal companions sometimes.”
We don’t have questionable taste in just animal companions, it seems, Veronica thought.
“Well,” Smucker quivered on, “this amount and concentration of sulphur can only occur from one thing- absorption through the skin. In fact, it hardly even goes skin deep. Like, little flecks or bits of the stuff must have landed on the cow when it was still alive and then they got absorbed its body.” Smucker oscillated up and down in excitement. “Meaning, something involving huge amounts of sulphur must have happened here that caused it to absorb it!”
Veronica nodded slowly and squatted down to the harsh, grainy ground. She stuck out her hand almost instinctually, thinking (or was it more like hoping?) that she was reaching out to pet her big-eyed bichon back home. Instead, her hand almost sunk into Smucker’s cool, wet gelatinous body. Veronica probably would have recoiled instantly if the slime’s body wasn’t such a welcome change from the hot dry of the desert. Either way, Smucker seemed to enjoy the mostly unintentional praise, as his whole body jiggled like it was laughing.
Veronica tried to ignore the goop hanging off of her fingers and she actually began her investigation. “Sulphur, huh?” Veronica asked. “And it’s not some kind of fluke?”
“Pretty sure,” Smucker warbled. “I had noticed the element in a few places in the body, usually those that are under the sand but I didn’t really pay any mind to it until it started to become a theme.”
“Right,” Veronica said. “Well, if there was going to be something involving sulphur in the middle of the desert…” Veronica’s dark brown hand combed through the sand as she thought aloud. “A cow with sulphur in its body… mostly buried in sand…”
An explosion, Veronica thought. It would explain the small shards of rock and huge quantities of sand thrown everywhere. Veronica stood up, turning around and looking at the ground all around her feet. We’ve been looking at the wrong thing here. Well, the non-decomposing cow defying the laws of nature is probably something worth investigating, but that’s not what I’m getting paid to examine. “We’ve been looking at what’s on top of the sand,” Veronica said, mumbling her thoughts aloud, growing louder and more animate with each words, “we needed to be looking at what’s under the sand?”
“Smucker, do you think you can shift your way under the sand- just go straight down from here?”
“Sure, I suppose I could. It might take me a little while but I’m pretty sure I could do it. Why? What am I looking for?”
“Follow the sulphur,” Veronica said. “So, you already know what to look for. Just find the biggest concentration- find where it all came from.”
Smucker jiggled in what Veronica assumed was a nod and disappeared underneath the sand. There was no shade so far out in the desert, so Veronica made due by just squatting down and pulling her hat further over her eyes. She let out a tired sigh and gave the closest cow another quick lookover. I doubt a year’s worth of investigating would have turned up what that blob did in about ten minutes, she thought, chewing the inside of her lip.
Speak of the devil, Veronica thought as Smucker reformed from the sand. He looked noticeably smaller than before- the sand had likely dried up some of his damp body. Veronica took out her spray bottle again and spritzed Smucker as his fully form started to reconstitute and he started to excitedly jabber.
“It’s huge,” he said with an enthusiastic jiggle. “It’s huge and I was right!”
“You’re going to have to use something other than pronouns if you expect me to follow what you’re saying,” Veronica said.
“Underneath us,” Smucker said, “underneath the sulphur content just gets higher and higher. There was some kind of huge explosion near this spot.” Nobody really knew if slimes had to breathe or not, but Smucker seemed completely unable to catch his possibly non-existent breath. “Once I figured that out, I even looked for shrapnel in the cow’s body. There was only one tiny piece; it ran right up into its heart, probably killing the cow instantly and it just got left behind.”
“Let behind?” Veronica asked. “If it got left behind, then where was everybody else going to?”
“A whole city,” Smucker warbled, “right beneath our feet. Big towers with skulls on top and stone buildings that look like they’re made out of bones. It looked like it was all hundreds, maybe even thousands of years old! A whole network of stone tunnels runs right underneath our feet! The sulphur and shrapnel must have come from an explosion that was used to move the sand and get to the tunnels.”
“Meaning, the herder must have taken the rest of the cattle down into the tunnels…” Veronica said, slowly piecing everything together in her mind. “The one still up here must have just been stubborn and got caught in the blast.”
“That was clumsy of it,” Smucker warbled. “The blast charge must have been placed underground and the cow just got unlucky by staying too close to it.”
“No kidding,” Veronica said. “But there’s still the issue about the decomposition…” She stood up suddenly. “What did you say the buildings looked like?”
“Skulls, mostly,” Smucker said. “Bones, other such dead-looking things. It was all pretty cool looking.”
Veronica’s mind only picked up more speed as she thought.
“Is something wrong?” Smucker asked.
The Bleached White, Veronica finally realized with a bitter frown. The insane death cult took its name from the bones of their victims (and later, their experiments) that had been bleached white by the desert sun. Just because supernatural forces and creatures could help law and order, they didn’t always keep themselves on the side of righteousness. Some nutcases felt it their right to turn the ethereal forces of the world to their down benefit- necromancy seemed to be a popular choice. The art also made up over 60% of all supernatural/magical-related offences committed. It also gave off a kind of magical radiation that kept the dead from decaying near fonts of necromantic power, thought to help keep corpses fresh for use.
A man and his herd go missing, Veronica thought, and suddenly a whole can of man-eating worms is opened up. And we’ve got one cow still up here- that means there’s still a whole horde to be used as parts down below… The amount of paperwork Veronica knew she would have to fill out on this whole mess was almost making her reach for her aspirin in her back pocket.
And now, Veronica and her slimy companion were standing on a several feet of loose, tiny stones which separated the two of them from a whole city of death-crazed lunatics.
“No,” Veronica said, hoping that Smucker hadn’t been around humans enough to know when and just how much they lied through their teeth, “nothing’s wrong.” Not yet, anyway. Give it some time.
Well, that’s about it, that’s all I got. I kind of made a mess of this whole thing- an exploded-cow level of mess, too. But hey, it was a fun little thing I cooked up in two days all based around taking the suggested sentence as a really stupid pun. But that’s my savvy for ye!
Good luck, you brave writer folk!