Featured on THE INFINITE BARD, Thrilling Adventures.
White hot pain shot through me, and my pistol clattered to the messy lab floor as the scimitar-sized insect claw stabbed into my right shoulder.
“Ray!” Agent Two shouted, taking aim from where he lay on the paper-strewn concrete. The bug-monster had decked him before stabbing me.
“Never mind me!” I grunted, trying to pull away from the thing. “Just shoot it!”
Ace hesitated, clearly thinking he couldn’t blast it without nailing me, too.
The creature was shaped like a man but didn’t look remotely human—aside from the white lab coat and ragged pants that draped its hideous form. A pair of bulbous multi-faceted bug eyes stared from its misshapen head. Its pincer mouth snapped hungrily, scant inches from my face. The thing’s skin looked like armor, and its feet terminated in twin talons. One of its arms ended in a human-like hand, the other in the single, long claw embedded in my shoulder.
I lurched forward, butting my head into its ugly mug. Its mandibles gouged a scrape across my forehead, but the blow seemed to stun it, and I managed to pull myself out of the monster’s grip.
I staggered back, overturning a rack of metal shelves as I tried to stanch my shoulder’s bleeding with my other hand. Beakers smashed on the floor, spilling God-only-knew what chemicals.
Two’s automatic barked, the flare from its muzzle momentarily illuminating the dimly lit room. But the shot ricocheted off of the humanoid bug’s armored carapace,
The Mansect—there was no other word for this abomination—came at me again, its deadly claw dripping with my blood.
Bellvue, Colorado, hadn’t looked like a place where I might die when Agents Two, Seven, and I arrived a few short hours ago.
“Runway built for crop dusting, probably,” Agent Seven commented on our approach to the narrow airstrip nestled in the bucolic countryside.
“And not much else,” Two added as he touched us down on the bumpy tarmac.
The Bureau had a Dodge Power Wagon waiting for us, not the usual Studebaker.
“Good thing I like you boys,” Seven remarked, “’cause that front seat is pretty cozy for three. Unless one of you wants to ride in the back.” She jangled the truck’s keys as she said it.
“Shotgun,” Agent Two called.
I didn’t object. As Agent One, I outranked them both, but I liked “Ruthless” Ruth Donlevy, and riding shoulder to shoulder with her was definitely not the worst thing in the world.
“I’m gonna check on those unusual cattle deaths,” she announced as we got going.
“Drop us in town on your way,” I said. “Ace and I will talk to the locals—see if we can find out about the cattle, the saucer sightings…”
“All the usual stuff,” Agent Two, Buster “Ace” Freeman, concluded
Seven dropped us off, and we chatted up the townsfolk. Bellvue isn’t a big place, just a cluster of western-style buildings with some small, outlying farms. With the recent mysterious cattle deaths, they were glad to have us federal agents around, though the locals remained wary. They were wary of both strangers and of each other.
However, they were most suspicious of a local scientist—Dr. Vince Hedison—who’d lately become very secretive. Some folks even speculated that Hedison might be the weird figure seen sneaking through the nearby fields and around the edges of town at night. He’d come to Bellvue to help the locals with crop and livestock yields. At first that had seemed to be working out. Now, people weren’t so certain.
Ruth was still out checking the cattle, but Hedison’s place lay close enough for me and Agent Two to hike to it.
The scientist’s house was an old two-story ranch with a newer, barn-like metal structure at the rear. The front door hung open, banging in the dusty breeze. A faint acrid odor raised the hair on the back of my neck.
“Somethin’ smells funny,” Two confirmed.
“Doctor Hedison…?” I called as we entered. “Are you home? Is everything okay?”
Getting no answer, we did a quick sweep of the house. The trappings of everyday life lay in disorganized heaps throughout. Eventually, we discovered a steel door at the back.
“To his lab, I’m thinking,” Ace deduced.
I nodded. In silent agreement, we both drew our guns.
We knocked, but only a metallic echo replied.
“It’s not locked,” I noted.
“Let’s take a look.”
The door creaked open, and we cautiously advanced into a cluttered laboratory—a big room lit only by scattered, dust-covered skylights. The equipment looked almost like the Teragons’ set-up, seeming to have every piece of gear imaginable as well as cages of numerous sizes and examining tables big enough for a horse… or a slaughtered cow. Naturally, the light switch didn’t work.
“Doctor Hedison…?” Two called. “You in here? US Science Bureau… We need to talk to you.”
Only a faint skittering sound gave us any warning of the attack.
The pain in my wounded shoulder flared as the Mansect bore in on me, jaws clacking, scythe-like arm raised for the kill. I stumbled over the fallen shelving; I had nowhere left to retreat.
Two’s gun lit the semi-darkness once more. His shot found a vulnerable spot in the monster’s left knee.
The Mansect staggered but didn’t go down. It turned on my partner.
Ace fired again, and the monster chittered angrily as the shot bounced off its shoulder, missing the exposed joint.
Two backed up, taking better aim. But he misjudged the length of the thing’s claw. It lashed out, whip-like, and sent him sprawling to the floor, unconscious.
The Mansect turned toward me once more, greenish drool dripping from its clicking jaws.
I gauged the distance to my fallen automatic. I can shoot left handed, but I wasn’t sure I could reach it. I ignored the pain in my shoulder and coiled every muscle in my body to try.
“Hey, you!” a feminine voice called.
My foe wheeled at the sound, just as Ruthless Ruth Donlevy tossed a beaker full of something into the Mansect’s ugly face.
The monster screeched as a cloud of broken glass and chemicals enveloped its bug-like head. It took a step toward Agent Seven and then staggered and fell, twitching, to the ground.
Seven grinned. ‘You guys all right?”
“Gettin’ there,” Ace moaned, staggering to his feet.
“Been better,” I replied. As my fellow agents helped me up, I asked: “What did you do to it, Ruth?”
“Chloroform. You boys should learn to read labels if you’re gonna fight in a lab.”
“Wasn’t our original plan,” Agent Two pointed out. “What is this thing?”
“Mansect,” I managed to mumble. The world was starting to spin a little.
“Good a name for it as any,” Ruth agreed. “Ace, tie it to that chair while I keep Ray from bleeding to death, would you?”
Half an hour later, both the Mansect and I were coming around, and somebody had fixed the lights. The monster didn’t look any handsomer now that we could see it clearly.
“Dr. Hedison, I presume,” Agent Seven said. She’d found some notebooks after patching me up and had been paging through them.
“You mean that guy’s the doc?” Agent Two asked. “He’s the one responsible for the dead cattle and mysterious shadows people have been seeing?”
“Looks like,” Ruth replied. “From what I can piece together, he was working on some kind of animal husbandry experiments, and something went wrong. He might be responsible for a whole lot more, too.”
My turn to be puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“Remember how Doc Teragon recently said that someone might be behind the giant insect invasion…?” She shot a meaningful look at the Mansect.
“Tera… gon..!” The inhuman voice of the creature made all three of us jump.
“What in tarnation?!” Ace blurted.
“Help… meeeee…!” the thing that had been Dr. Hedison chittered. “Anti… dote!”
“Is he saying there’s a cure for this?” I asked.
Two quickly searched the notes again. “It looks like he was working on one… But he didn’t have a chance to take it before his mutant-insect nature asserted itself. Everybody, look around.”
“Pleeeazzze…! Before…. too… laaaaaaate…!”
Still woozy, I had little luck. “Anything?” I asked.
“A hell of a lot of honey,” Two replied.
“Food, maybe?” I suggested.
“Found it!” Seven exclaimed. As a field-science specialist, Ruth probably had a better idea of what to look for. She returned with a syringe of yellow-green goop. “His insect-like hands would have made it hard to use this. Lucky it didn’t break in the ruckus.”
“But will it work?” I asked.
“Muzzzt… work!” the former Dr. Hedison insisted. “Pleeeazzze…!” His inhuman body was shaking now, straining at his bonds, the insect part of him reasserting itself.
“I’ll have to inject it into a joint,” Ruth noted.
It took a bit of work, but she managed it. Hedison’s bug-like form shook even more, and an eerie wail escaped his pincer mouth. The ropes restraining him began to snap—one, and then another…
And then suddenly, his whole body jerked, and he lay still.
The three of us watched in awe as the insect parts of his physique melted away, revealing an emaciated human being underneath.
Ruth checked his pulse. “Dead,” she announced sadly.
“The Teragons are gonna be mighty disappointed,” Ace said.
“But maybe this is the end,” I offered. “If Hedison was behind the giant insects, maybe it’s over—maybe we can mop up whatever’s left of the bugs and finally be done with it.”
Agent Seven looked thoughtfully at Hedison’s notebooks, piled on a table nearby. “Maybe,” she said. “But I wouldn’t count on it.”
It’s a little surprising to me that there aren’t more classic human-insect mutant movies. Oh sure, there’s the original The Fly series—which spooked the heck out of me when I was a kid—and there’s Joe Dante’s wonderful Mant mini-movie in Matinee. (I wish it had been a whole film on its own!) Plus, there’s Wasp Woman, and of course, Weresquito: Nazi Hunter. But there should be more!
Those first two films, especially, were playing around in my mind when I decided it would be fun to do a human-like insect in ATOMIC TALES. It was the name, though, that convinced me to do that story sooner in the series rather than later.
The word Mansect came to me in one of those drowsy moments from which cool ideas often spring. I think I was walking around the bedroom when it stung me, though I don’t recall whether it was morning, evening, or naptime. It was right before I went to sleep, though, because it was one of those “You have to remember this when you’re awake,” moments. Which clearly means that, right then, I wasn’t fully awake.
Sometimes, those great half-asleep ideas vanish into the dreamlike twilight, never to reappear.
Happily, I managed to pull Mansect back out of that void when I focused my mind on it again. (Though, not without a bit of effort.)
And with the title/character name established, I had to write the story.
You be the judge as to whether it’s as cool a moniker as I think it is.
The Mansect scientist is named “Vince” for both my late friend Vince Rotolo and Vincent Price, and “Hedison” for David Hedison (also known as Al Hedison). Both Hedison and Price starred in the original The Fly, and Hedison was Captain Crane in the TV version of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which I still call “Seaview” (the name of the submarine) because that’s what I called it when its fantasy-SF episodes first helped shape me into a very young Monster Kid.
Clearly, at the end of this story, our heroes seem to think they may have reached a turning point in this strange invasion. Have they seen the last of the giant bugs, the freaks of nature, or even the Mansect?
As “Ruthless” Ruth Donlevy notes at the end of the tale: I wouldn’t count on it.
You can listen to this story produced by Christopher R. Mihm from SaintEuphoria.com!
Click here to listen. Story starts about 47 minutes from the start.
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