Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Slime (1953)

Go To
The Weird Tales cover.

"The darkness came alive! The darkness came alive!"
Dolores Rell

Slime is a short horror novelette written by Joseph Payne Brennan and originally published in the March 1953 issue of Weird Tales. It went on to inspire many Blob Monster stories and films like The Blob, Stephen King's The Raft, The Clone, Dean R. Koontz's Phantoms and many others.

An undersea seismic disturbance sends something fetid, slimy and alive to the surface of the sea and into Wharton's Swamp, a coastal bog near the town of Clinton Center. Homeless man Henry Hossing, who goes into the swamp to drink the whiskey he bought with a $10 bill he found, vanishes. The next morning, Giles Gowse, a farmer who lives right next to Wharton's Swamp comes into town complaining that his cow Sarey has gone missing and his barn interior is all slimy and stinks like dead fish.

Everyone laughs at him. Wharton's Swamp has a reputation, all right, but so does he, as being a bit on the kooky side. On his way home he passes his neighbor, fellow farmer Rupert Barnaby and his dog Jibbe. Despite Old Man Gowse's warnings, as the sun goes down, Barnaby, a rational man who considers the superstitions about the bog to be gobbledygook, wants to bag himself a raccoon, so he heads into the swamp with his rifle, accompanied by Jibbe. And then comes a slithering noise. He's about to wish he had been superstitious after all...

It's been published in many anthology collections (most memorably in Nine Horrors and a Dream and The Shapes of Midnight with an introduction by Stephen King), and a very well-produced three-part audio version read by Edward E. French can be found in three parts (here, here and here) and was even once ripped off wholesale for the first half of Victor Norwood's novel Night of the Black Horror.

Not to be confused with the 1988 novel of the same name by William Essex.

Slime provides examples of:

  • Acquitted Too Late: Henry Hossing is initially suspected of having killed the missing Rupert Barnaby and Jason Bukmeist. Eventually, survivors begin reporting the truth. Not that it does Henry much good, considering he was the first victim.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: The slime is frequently called a "hood of horror" or a "hooded horror" due to its preferred shape when hunting or attacking.
  • Alliterative Name: Several. The slime's first human victim is named Henry Hossing, while the farmer whose cow it eats is Giles Gowse (although it isn't pronounced alliteratively), and the druggist is Jim Jelinson.
  • Antagonist Title: It's called "Slime," and the main threat to Clinton Center is, well, Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
  • Artistic License – Biology: It's unlikely such an enormous water creature from the ocean's depths would be able to survive on land, let alone move with the swiftness that it does. However, Brennan does go out of his way to describe, in depth (no pun intended), that its great strength and resilience is not just due to its amorphous nature, but because it has evolved to survive at crushing depths in the abyss. The story also notes the monster taking time to "adjust" itself to its new environment when it first ends up on the surface, so the pressure difference isn't being totally ignored.
  • Asshole Victim: Rupert Barnaby, although he probably wasn't intended as such. He can come off as a jerk to modern readers by his mocking dismissal of Gowse and the fact he hits his hunting dog Jibbe when Jibbe gets scared.
  • Blob Monster: From the bottom of the sea!
  • The Cassandra: Nobody believes the local kook, Giles Gowse... that is, until more people start disappearing, including one of the cops searching for the missing people, forcing Chief Underbeck to start taking Old Man Gowse's fears seriously. It's even Lampshaded by Underbeck, who grudgingly refers to Gowse as "Old Man Cassandra."
  • Combat Tentacles: One of the creature's many ways of capturing its prey.
  • Covers Always Lie: A couple of examples:
    • The Weird Tales cover shows a woman being grabbed by the slime. The only woman attacked by the slime is Dolores Rell, and she survives. It's pretty obvious this was included as an attention-getter due to its salaciousness.
    • The Spoiler Cover for The Shapes of Midnight, one of the story collections Slime appears in, shows Luke Matson and Fred Storr in sheriff's uniforms. In the actual story, Clinton Center's police force are not a county sheriff's department.
  • Da Chief: Miles Underbeck.
  • Dark Is Evil: The slime is gray-black in color.
  • Darkness Equals Death: The slime hunts at night because it hates light, and its black color makes it all but invisible. For all intents and purposes, witnesses to the attacks pretty much see their friends and loved ones "taken by the darkness," as though the dark itself were alive and hungry.
  • Day Hurts Dark-Adjusted Eyes: Okay, so the slime, being a Blob Monster, has no eyes, but, all the same, used to living at the pitch black bottom of the sea, it is physically repelled by even the smallest amount of light.
  • Deer in the Headlights: Three times:
    • As soon as he senses the slime's presence near his camp, Henry pretty much freezes up. Justified insofar as he's intoxicated and not thinking clearly.
    • Officer Fred Storr can only watch in frozen horror as his partner is swallowed by the slime.
    • At the end, when the soldiers pursue the slime out of the swamp towards the beach, many of their companions guarding the water's edge are too stunned to even fire at the slime.
  • Detect Evil: The sheer alien smell and presence of the slime typically allows its victims to sense its presence just before it strikes, eliciting a sense of Primal Fear within them.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Each individual victim of the slime gets a hasty Info Dump just so we know something about them before they bite it.
  • Disposable Vagrant: Poor Henry.
  • Driven to Madness: Dolores turns into a Screaming Woman after seeing her boyfriend eaten, while Officer Storr suffers a Heroic BSoD and is found just sitting down staring blankly after seeing his partner killed.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The slime creature is impossibly old, having existed in the dark abysses at the bottom of the sea since time began, unknown to mankind until random chance forces it to the surface and into Wharton's Swamp. It's basically the Ancient Enemy from Phantoms if it never got smart and only left its usual hunting grounds by accident. The one thing giving humanity a fighting chance against it (vs. the Ancient Enemy) is that it is just an animal reacting to external stimuli.
  • Eldritch Location: The bottom of the ocean, as far as Brennan is concerned. Wharton's Swamp becomes one of these once the slime takes up residence there.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Barnaby's hunting dog Jibbe bolts the second he senses the titular menace is close by, much to his owner's surprise and consternation.
  • Evil Smells Bad: The slime really stinks, and its appearance is usually preceded by its victims picking up its awful stink.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The story takes place over just a single week.
  • Feuding Families: Neighbors Giles Gowse and Rupert Barnaby don't like each other very much and have a longstanding rivalry over an unspecified issue. Subverted somewhat in that both men are unmarried and live alone.
  • Food Porn: Brennan makes Henry's $2 breakfast sound like the most delicious thing in the world (likely as part of setting him up as Too Happy to Live to make the reader more sympathetic to the guy).
  • Godzilla Threshold: The attack against his men in the swamp which leaves Officer Matson dead and Officer Storr with a serious case of Heroic BSoD forces Chief Underbeck to realize that the podunk police force of Clinton Center is no match for whatever-it-is that's lurking in there, and so he opts to call in US Army reservists from Camp Evans.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: At one point, Gowse is described as "queer."
  • Howl of Sorrow: Jibbe emits one after his owner is killed.
  • The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: Farmer Barnaby is killed while out hunting for raccoons, and Officer Luke Matson becomes a victim as well while he and his partner are hunting for what they believe to be a human murderer. Towards the end, the slime itself has the tables turned against it by the Army.
  • Immune to Bullets: The slime, on account of being not entirely solid.
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: The story begins with a particularly nasty storm at sea, with huge waves that carry the slime over a mile inland and depositing it into the swamp.
  • I Will Fight Some More Forever: Even after his first volley of shots fails to visibly injure or deter his attacker, Rupert Barnaby continues blasting away with his rifle.
  • It's Quiet… Too Quiet: The swamp, due to the monster eating all the animals in it.
  • Jump Scare: Edward E. French's audio book version has a few very good ones through judicious use of sound effects and musical stings.
  • Kill It with Fire: Some of the soldiers called in as backup are armed with flamethrowers. One of these is used against the slime. As Brennan notes, "With good reason, the mantle of slime had hated light, for its ultimate source was fire." It burns up real good.
  • The Lopsided Arm of the Law: After finding Henry's hat and whiskey bottle in the swamp, the police initially conclude that the missing homeless man killed Barnaby and Jason in a fit of drunken homicidal mania (!). Underbeck even goes so far as to order his men to shoot to kill (!!) after only one (!!!) warning if they see Henry. If Henry hadn't already been the slime's first victim, he definitely would've been gunned down by the cops.
  • No Body Left Behind: Everyone the slime kills is completely absorbed.
  • No Name Given: The driver who saves Dolores from the slime and the soldiers at the end, particularly the one wielding the flamethrower which ultimately kills the monster.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: Just really dangerous. Whatever one may think of the slime, which is dark, voracious and exceptionally violent, it's still just a protoplasmic predator without a malicious thought in what passes for its mind. The only evilness attributed to it comes from its understandably terrified human victims, who are more put off by its alien presence than anything else.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: The slime's third attack against humans is related secondhand to Underbeck by Sole Survivor Dolores and the driver who saved her.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: This is what finally clues Rupert Barnaby in to the fact there really is something amiss in Wharton's Swamp. Jibbe, normally a fearless hunting dog, becomes afraid and runs off. It honestly shocks Barnaby.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: Used in the audio book version on YouTube.
  • Our Monsters Are Different: It's a naturally-occurring deep sea creature thrust to the surface and sent ashore by a combination volcanic eruption and storm. And although it take any shape it wants, it seems to prefer a sort of vague hooded shape.
  • Police Are Useless: Subverted. Underbeck and his men aren't so much incompetent as hopelessly outmatched, and do the best they can under the circumstances. Though, with that said, Underbeck's approach to apprehending who he initially thinks is the killer is pretty suspect (see The Lopsided Arm of the Law above).
  • Primal Fear: The slime's mere presence is enough to send its victims into "fight or flight" mode. When they don't just freeze up in sheer horror, anyway.
  • Red Shirt: Poor Officer Luke Matson.
  • Security Blanket: Officer Fred Storr's flashlight. After he barely survives the attack against him and his partner by driving the slime away with the flashlight, he refuses to relinquish the flashlight even after being found and rescued by his fellow cops.
  • Screaming Woman: Dolores Rell, when relating her story to Chief Underbeck. In fairness, she did just watch her boyfriend get eaten by a monster in the swamp.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Attempted by the monster after it learns fear for the first time in its life, when it discovers that the humans' flashlights and searchlights are capable of burning its flesh. It tries to return to the sea, only for the soldiers to doggedly pursue it and burn it up with a flamethrower.
  • Spoiler Cover: The cover for The Shapes of Midnight spoils the scene where Luke and Fred are attacked and Fred's flashlight drives the monster away.
  • Swamps Are Evil: The oozy Wharton's Swamp, where the slime ends up after being washed ashore.
  • Tempting Fate: Barnaby, the slime's second human victim, has plenty of time to escape, but stands his ground rather than flee. Instead, he chooses to remain out of stubbornness and confidence in his hunting rifle.
  • Touch of the Monster: The cover of the Weird Tales publication of the story, drawn by Virgil Finley, shows a woman being grabbed by the slime.
  • Too Happy to Live: The monster's first human victim, Henry the homeless man, has a lousy life. Nobody seems to like him and the cops keep trying to run him out of town. He's just about stupefied with joy when he finds a $10 bill on the sidewalk, which allows him to not only purchase his first real meal in days, a full breakfast complete with dessert and several cups of coffee, but also buy some rye whiskey and go get happily drunk in Wharton's Swamp all day long with change to spare, drifting into a contented doze by the dwindling light of his campfire as night falls and probably feeling like the richest man in town. And then ends up dying a pretty grisly death. Even after his death, he becomes a convenient scapegoat to pin the murders of the missing Rupert Barnaby and Jason Bukmeist on. Shoot the Shaggy Dog, much, Mr. Brennan?
  • Villain Protagonist: A goodly portion of the story is told from the slime's point of view.
  • Weakened by the Light: Due to how used it is to the bottomless black depths of the sea, the monster really hates light, which actually burns its flesh. Any light, from daylight, which it hides from by burying itself in pond muck during the day, to the light from fire like Henry Hossing's campfire, to artificial light produced by flashlights.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Several characters, Old Man Gowse in particular.