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On the Spot
by Jean McIntosh

A shiver of lightning flooded Helene's living room an instant before the thunder crashed. The lights flicked off, plunging the house into darkness. Helene's electronic adding machine went dead.

"Thanks," Helene told the ceiling. "I didn't want to balance the checkbook tonight, anyway."

A silky head pressed her knee. Her goosebumps almost jumped off her skin. Then she heard a whimper and remembered Buck, their retriever, who feared both thunder and darkness. She bent down to pet him.

"It's all right, boy, we'll get the lights on before George gets home."

She smiled at the thought. She was trim and thirty three and yet she still felt like a newlywed. Dear golden George, always so safe, always the sunshine to her shadow.

She peered through the dotted Swiss curtains. The rain swirled around the streetlight's yellow halo. The Lopez house was dark, but the streetlights were still on; maybe it was a fuse and not a power line.

A lightning flash lit up the living room, glinting on the spare flashlight George kept on the end table. Helene picked up the light and clicked it on. Its watery beam lit her way down to the basement where the fuse box waited.

The wooden stairs groaned under her light steps while the thunder rumbled like a sullen giant. She heard a steely squeaking as Fluff the gerbil ran his wheel. Something black streaked across the concrete floor. Helene almost screamed before the beam spied the green glittering eyes of Isis the cat, who liked to hide in the basement since Buck was afraid to go down steps.

"One of these days, Isis." Helene said in her best Ralph Kramden as she tried to slow her heartrate back to normal. "'Pow! Right in the whiskers!'"

Isis looked unimpressed.

The fuse box was next to the washing machine, near the orange shelf where she kept the bleach and soap. Helene flipped a few switches. The lights stayed off.

"Well, folks, we'll wait till George gets home and let him fool with it." she said. Suddenly Isis screeched like a crazed banshee. Helene whirled around, her flashlight beam skirling across the musty basement. She expected to see a rat, or a burglar--

It was worse.

It was a hole. Not a crumbly mouse hole. Not a shadow that slid away or vanished in the light. A black hole burning in the fabric of reality. Even though it was the size of a golf ball, there was something chillingly ominous in that gliding utter blackness.

"Who are you?" she said aloud, before she realized the absurdity of talking to something that had no mouth. "How did you get here?"

I was always here. You never saw me, a rich, gloating voice said in her head.

Helene knew it was true, much as she shivered at the thought. She had wondered about that dark spot under her shelf, but she had always been too busy to worry about it much. How long had it lurked there, too small to be noticed? Could it have started off as a pinprick, and grown bigger and bigger on whatever roaches and spiders it could reach?

Helene shuddered. It could, yes, it could.

The black hole floated up to Fluff's cage. The gerbil ran faster, faster, but he couldn't run fast enough. The spot blotted out the cage for a instant, and Helene heard a terrified squealing.

Then the black spot moved on, as big as a baseball now.

The wheel spun to a stop in the empty cage.

Helene cried out with grief and struck out at the spot. Her hand disappeared up to the elbow, swallowing her up. She barely had time to gasp before she felt what seemed like thousands of tiny cold knives sinking into her skin. The flashlight clattered at her feet. She wrenched her arm free; it was covered with dozens of microscopic bites.

Stupid, stupid, aren't you? Not strong enough for you, not yet . . .

Isis was still hiding under the stairs. She let out a reptilian hiss as the black spot approached. The cat shot out into the open, but the spot was faster. It pounced on Isis. The sobbing Helene heard an agonized RROOWWLL as the spot devoured the cat. She caught a glimpse of a furry foreleg stretched in agony, then the spot contemptuously spat out Isis's collar at her feet.

It was bigger now, the size of a basketball.

Crazy with rage, Helene grabbed up George's snow shovel and pounded at the spot. The shovel head dented and banged, then the spot caught hold and Helene felt a tremendous force grab it as though the handle was stuck in a garbage disposal. Helene barely let go in time. Splinters flew as the hole sucked up the shovel.

Helene scooped up the flashlight and ran. She heard Buck's anxious barking as she raced up the stairs two at a time. She slammed the door, rammed home the latch.

Buck's claws skittered across the linoleum as he ran after her.

First your gerbil, then your cat, then your dog, then you. And when George comes home--?

Helene's thoughts whirled like a tornado in her mind. Where to run? Where to hide? No, not the bathroom. I'd be trapped there. But that's the last room in the hall, the last place before the living room and the main door, the last place to stop that thing before it's loose on the world--

She heard splintering wood crashing, then Buck's low growl. The dog swung himself between her and the hole, as if he knew they had to put up a last stand.

Somehow, her 4-H years never taught her what to do when confronted with a malevolent black hole. Wolfsbane? No, that was werewolves. Garlic? That was vampires.

She flung open the bathroom cabinet, groping for something, anything-- A cool cylinder of Comet? No! A sleek plastic bottle of shampoo? No! A squeezably soft roll of toilet paper? No!

Buck's frantic barking rose higher and higher until it twisted into a searing yelp of agony and terror. She could hear the spot munching Buck's bones and gristle. She wiped her eyes fiercely as her hand closed on the solution she was looking for.

The spot floated to the bathroom door, paused.

It was the size of a streethole cover.

It seemed to stare at her, though it had no eyes.

And it floated forward.

"OUT DAMN SPOT!" she screamed, and she threw the cylinder. It vanished into the black maw. For a split second she thought it was useless; her soul shuddered with despair--

Then the black spot stopped. It shook. It twisted and writhed. Before her astonished eyes it swirled around like ink going down a drain, smaller and smaller until it winked out, leaving the warped, empty shell of the can on the floor.

She didn't know how long she sat there gazing at it. She was still staring at the remains when she heard the lock click. The front door creaked open.

"Helene?" George's voice called, as sweet and smooth as taffy. "Are you all right?"

"Now I am." she murmured. She picked up the twisted metal shards of the thing that had saved them.

A can of spot remover.

The End

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"On the Spot" ©2000 Jean McIntosh. Used by permission of the author.
Raven Electrick ©2000 Karen A. Romanko. Clipart by Corel®.