1964-07-20 - Night of the Living Gwen
Summary: What happened before, during, and after the bombing at Clarisin Pharmaceuticals.
Related: 1964-07-20 - Birth is Always Violent
Theme Song: None

T - 01:30:00

“Gwen? It’s Johnny.”
Gwen had been parked in front of the TV, watching Bonanza. She was thinking Little Joe was a pretty handsome guy, but country and rock-and-roll would never mix. She had picked up the phone almost reflexively.
“Johnny? What’s going on?” A pause. “Why are you calling me? I told you it was over.”
“Look…Gwen…something bad is about to happen. The truth needs to come out. I need your help, because of your dad. Will you come to Midtown?”

Dr. Forrestal pressed the RECORD button on the tape recorder. The reels began to spin slowly.
“Continuing from Reel 12. The substance we have named ‘Living Oil.’ In spite of its travel through the empty space between stars for who knows how long, it retains activity, function, and mobility. We are keeping it sealed for safety reason. Harper tried something new today. He sent a sample of the substance into a chamber with a grasshopper. It consumed the insect. His next step was to introduce it to a standard guinea pig. It did not consume the mammal, but the mammal began to sprout wings, antennae, and the eyes became multifaceted. Harper swiftly terminated it and incinerated it, but it does seem like an interesting concept to use it as a delivery vehicle. We will resolve testing with Subject Four in the morning, after a battery of radiation treatments.”
He stopped the tape, then removed it from the recorder and put it in the file cabinet.

T - 00:40:00

Gwen stepped out of the subway and headed towards the young man smoking a cigarette. “Okay, Johnny,” she said as she got closer. “You better tell me what this is all about.”
“Doing the right thing.”
Gwen jumped, startled, and looked to her right. The dark man was tall and lean, and he was giving her a wide smile. “Who the heck are you?”
“Raymond Fiegler. It’s so good to meet you. Johnny told us about you.” He looked to each side as he was flanked by four other people, all of them college-age. We’ve found out that the corporation Clarisin Pharmaceuticals is making biological weapons. We intend to expose this violation of federal and natural law.”
So…what do you need ME for?”
Raymond smiled. “Credibility. It’s a tough old world, Gwen. We want someone who is not affiliated with us to see for themselves so we can provide an unbiased account. Especially with your father being a policeman.”
Gwen frowned to Tommy. She didn’t like him yanking her into this without talking beforehand, but if what this guy said was right…
“If I see ANYTHING I don’t like, I’m calling the cops and leaving.”
Ray nods. “Fair enough. Lydia here will stay outside, act as lookout, and call the press before any of the evidence can be buried.”He smiled to the brunette woman in the beret, who gave them all a friendly smile. “All right. Cisco should have the back way open?”
Gwen looks to Johnny, who was lighting a cigarette. “And YOU can give me my lighter back.”
Johnny lit his cigarette, then passed the lighter to Gwen. It was a featureless steel Zippo she had gotten at a Coney Island ring toss game on the 4th of July. She shoved it into her jacket pocket.

T – 036:00

Gwen frowned at the shopping cart with a sheet over it. “What is that?”
“Recording equipment. Cameras, tape recorders. We need to have everything documented, don’t you think?” Ray smiled to Gwen as the others split up. “We’re taking the service elevator up to Eight.”
“What’s there?”
“Oh, you’ll see.”

T – 00:16:00

Gwen looked around the large bays while Ray handled the offices and research bays. It was a little disconcerting. A cat with paws that looked like hands and a prehensile tail. A bat with claws that dripped venom…
She frowned as she reached the end of the bays, then turned back. She was going to tell Ray that she had seen enough, that she was going down right now to call her father.
Only she couldn’t find Raymond.
She found the stairwell access open, and made her way up the stairs. Usually these doors were sealed. How was Ray going to…
She stopped as she saw the body on the landing. It was a man in a white lab coat. The nametag on the coat read FORRESTAL. The body was propping the security door to the 9th floor open.
And the man was very, very dead. She could see the dent in his skull. Was this Ray’s doing?

T – 00:08:00

Raymond dropped the next two tape reels in the box, then kept rummaging. The more information he could get, the better. He was going to be a very rich man-
He froze, then turned to see the darkening scowl of the cop’s bitch daughter.
“Is that what all this was? Spy shit?”
Raymond smiled. “Anyone who thinks the universe is infinite should check out teenage naivete. This…” He held up the small box filled with magnetic tape reels. “This is going to be worth a lot of money to the right people in the right places.” He shrugged. “Anyway, if you just…”
Ray’s head rocked back and he dropped the box, backpedaling. The bitch had a hard right hook, that was for damn sure! He shook his head, looking for the box, which was the important thing.
He couldn’t see it for a moment, and then he did.
It was sitting at Gwen’s feet, and she was holding something up.
The lighter Johnny had given her.
He caught on in a moment, and smiled encouragingly, but his eyes were pleading with her. “Hey…Gwennie…look, you want in, there’s plenty to spread around. I can give you a cut.” He looked behind him. “Don’t screw around, the bomb’s gonna go off, and then this place is going to be a parking lot!”
Gwen looked at him as if he were some insect…which, in a way, he was. A flick of the thumb, and a flame flared into life.
“It’s a tough old world, RAY.”
She dropped the lighter.
It all went up in a FLOOMP! Ray’s eyes widen as he saw all the research going up in smoke.
Gwen backed away from the flames. Boy, those computer tape reels sure went up quick, the few papers only adding to the flame’s intensity. For a moment, she was fascinated by the flames.
Unfortunately, she took one moment too long, when dealing with a dangerous lunatic. She looked up just in time to see the fist appear in her vision, an explosion of stars…
…and then nothing at all.

Raymond looked down at her, then threw the prybar down the bay, hearing glass shatter. That would have to do. If some radioactive monster doesn’t do the job on her, the bomb will.

T – 00:03:00

Ray ran out of the hall, yelling, “Run! Get out of here! The cops are coming!”
The cops weren’t going to find out until it was all over, but the others didn’t need to know that. By the time these losers saw the explosion, they weren’t going to tell a soul.
Not with a dead cop’s kid.
They all bolted for the back exit.

The creature they called the “Living Oil” moved towards the supine body laying on the floor.
It had tried to bond with the spider-that-was-not-a-spider, but the creature was too weak and the blob absorbed it instead, disseminating its DNA throughout its protean form.
The body it was making its way towards was much larger, more suitable as a host, but it sensed a primitive urgency and wasted no time pressing against her exposed belly, pressing INTO the exposed belly, and then it was inside her.

T – 00:00:20

The sudden chill brought her out of unconsciousness with a sudden start. She smelled smoke, and was momentarily confused…and then the image of the bomb appeared, and she lurched towards the nearest window.
She almost made it.

T – 00:00:00

The roar suddenly filled her world. It sounded like the screech of a dragon. Before she even had the time to scream, it lifted her up, enveloped her in searing flame, then threw her body through the plate-glass window, seventy feet above the street.
The human-sized lump of flaming debris was eclipsed by the fireball belching out through the windows. It tumbled and spun, then landed on a fire escape half a block away, the impact blowing out the flames. It stayed there for a few minutes, smoking silently…and then the lump moved, blackened arms reaching, the smell of over-roasted pork filling the alley.

There has been a subway token in the scorched jacket. The subway car was empty, and the figure had seen no one as it trudged into the car, running off of blind instinct and muscle memory. The thing that had been Gwen Stacy had the charred hood pulled up to hide its face, the long sleeves indistinguishable from the skin underneath. The jeans were charred black, but too tough to disintegrate. One shoe was gone. Its hair was gone. There was no pain, but that was only because all the nerve endings of the skin had been burned away.
The watchman on the platform the figure had left had a glimpse of the face. Earlier that week, he had seen THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, and that face with the staring, filmed-over eyes had given him worse nightmares than the movie.

The figure walked down the street towards the apartment building. The streetlights illuminated the sidewalk, revealing it was alone.
After awhile, it turned to walk up the sidewalk towards the Stacy house. It reached into its pocket, reached THROUGH its pocket, then crouched to grab the spare key, letting itself in, leaving charred bits as it moved towards the kitchen.
She wanted to say that she was sorry, that she had been misled, that she had been tricked.
But right now, all that she felt was…hungry.
She opened the fridge, pulling out the leftover meatloaf, the lettuce bowl, the rice from the Chinese joint two nights ago, the gently-aging steaks, the potato salad. When you shopped for a guy who missed dinner so much, you make plenty of leftovers and you made food in bulk.
There was a startling amount of food on the counter when she was done. She gazed at it, glazed eyes seeming to take it all in, mentally process it.
And then she began to eat.
She ate with her hands. She was not messy, or throwing food around, but she continued to shovel cold meatloaf and greens into her mouth, chewing mechanically, like the animatronics in that place called Legend City in Arizona. Her father had taken her here while they were on vacation.
One by one, the trays and bowls and dishes were emptied. She paused only to drink water in great gulps from the tap.
When she was done, she put the dishes in the sink, and then went up to bed, still in some haze of growing pain that she felt strangely disconnected from. She was aware she had left something on the counter, a simple note left for her hardworking father:


It was the best epitaph she could think of.
She made her way up to bed. If she could get into bed, maybe it wouldn’t hurt..and maybe she wouldn’t leave TOO much of a mess. She dropped/tumbled into bed, eyes looking up at the ceiling.
God, she was so tired…but she had made it.
Her eyes closed.

Her eyes opened.
Everything was so BRIGHT, and she shut them again immediately. After the darkness, it hurt her eyes, but it was good, too.
Was she in heaven? Could you feel pain in heaven?
She didn’t smell smoke, or brimstone, or hear flames. Maybe it was over. It was over and nothing bad would happen ever again.
Then she opened her eyes again.
Heaven apparently looked a lot like her room in the apartment she lived in with her father.
She sat up slowly. She was aware she wasn’t wearing any clothing. Was that a thing in Heaven, too?
Then she heard Mr. Pulsifer yelling at his wife about the laundry. So…she wasn’t dead.
She wasn’t in Heaven or Hell. She was in Queens.
She sat up. There was no pain at all. There was also no sense of tightness of flesh, like burn victims usually were. She didn’t want to look down at herself. No, if she could stand, she would look at her hair…or what was left…then her face, and then the rest of her. And then she would…just have to deal with it.
She made her way to the bathroom mirror, her eyes still closed. Take a deep breath, face the mirror, count to three…
…and she opened her eyes again.

The unmarked face of Gwendolyn Maxine Stacy looked back.

For a few moments, she couldn’t speak. She just…gaped.
She had expected seared flesh, oozing wounds, exposed muscle and bone, even. What she saw was smooth, unmarred flesh. She saw HAIR, even. The blue eyes were clear and free of haze, and both worked.
But…she was different.
She had always considered herself “slender,” but what she meant was “skinny.” She had been 120 pounds, but that was in her boots. She’d had some upper body strength, but her success in the many scraps she’d gotten into and the reputation of her ferocity had more to do with her father’s self-defense training. And she had joked that she got her training bras from the kiddie aisle.
But now…
”Jesus, I look like the love child of Brigitte Bardot and Charles Atlas!”
She had…filled out. She didn’t get any taller, but Holy Toledo, had she filled out! Stick arms and legs had become lean but substantially-muscled. Her hips were wider, her butt was curvier, and no bra in her dresser was going to handle THIS cleavage!
She looked at her stomach. It wasn’t just flat…it was contoured and supple as the rest of her, but there was a faint…shape.
She took a breath, tightened her stomach, and the shape of the plane of her belly became a cobblestone of six-pack abdominal muscles.
She exhaled in a rush of breath.
She moved to the bed, half-wondering if she had dreamed it all. Maybe it had just been a bad nightmare, Ray had drugged her or something and…
Laying on the bed like a dead husk was the outline of her body in a curving “chrysalis” of dead and burned flesh. She touched it. The texture made her skin crawl. It was like the crispy fat that had been on the rack of ribs her father had made, and she realized she was NEVER going to be able to eat barbeque ever again without seeing this husk of burned flesh.
She had gotten home, eaten…well, everything in the fridge…and had come up here to die. But she hadn’t died. She had…MOLTED. Like a snake shedding its skin. No. That didn’t fit. Caterpillar to butterfly. That fit better, but…not quite for some reason.
But what HAD happened?
“Gwennie? You’re going to be late for school!”
“Holy crispy crap!” Which was appropriate, considering the past 24 hours. Her dad was still home!
She could hear him coming up the stairs, then looked at the bed. She shuddered, then got back into bed, WITH the husk, covering her and it both with the comforter. “I’m sick, Dad…!” she called back. “I can’t go in…!”
Captain George Stacy frowned as he called in, “May I come in?” One door opened in haste and seeing your own daughter in bra and panties was enough for one lifetime.
He stepped in and smelled something bad. “Gwen?” he said to the huddled girl under the thick comforter.
She felt the husk brush against her in a dreadful whisper, and Captain Stacy could see the shudder that moved through her. He reached down to touch her daughter’s cheek…wow, she WAS running a fever. “Gwen, what’s that smell?”
A pause. “Uhm…I puked. I don’t want you to see it. I’ll clean it up soon!”
He wrinkled his nose and backed away, backed out of her daughter’s room. “Okay…well, you just get some rest, drink plenty of fluids. If it gets any worse, call me, okay?”
”Okay…love you, dad!” she managed.
He closed the door, and Gwen backed away from the husk under the comforter, but she did not leave the bed until she heard her father drive away. Then she jumped out of bed, her breaths rapid, and said quietly to the husk, “First things first. YOU have to go.”
After dressing in sweat pants and a t-shirt (now a rather tight t-shirt), she got to work.
The next indicator of why her life was never going to be normal again was while she was cleaning the kitchen.
She was putting the empty bowls in the sink and wondering how she would explain this excess of devouring. She found it easily to balance the dishes as she was moving them to the sink, and she wondered if that was part of it. She’d been a little accident-prone when she was younger and…
…and she saw a plate falling off the counter before her.
She reached out and grabbed it, something tickling her mind and she suddenly realized that the world seemed to have…slowed down. She could see the bowls and plates she had been balancing on her arms tilting and falling, but…slowly and gracefully, like snow.
So slow, in fact, that she was able to put the one plate in the sink, then pick all the others out of the air, five total, before any of them hit the ground.
Then a crumb of leftover meatloaf hit the floor and she realized what had happened.
As epiphanies go, it was a little disjointed. Gwen went from trying to convince herself it didn’t happen to realizing it did to wondering what else she could do.

First things first, though. She had to get the house cleaned and removed all of the signs of her horror movie entrance—her father was a New York cop, after all.
After that, she needed to know if any of her clothes still FIT her.
“Well, this is a wash.”
Nothing in her closet fit. Even if she wore some of the looser stuff, it was still going to be tight. And then her father would put two and two together. And then what? Send her to the farm out in Yonkers? Turn her into some kind of weird supercop?

Yeah, that’s a laugh.

Ten minutes later, Gwen, in her trademark look, fully-adjusted yet loose on her new body, got in her car to use the money she was going to use for a dress to get some more food instead.
She wondered where Ray and the rest of them were, and decided to add a copy of the Bugle to her shopping list.
Well, wherever they were, they had their own problems.

The man who was only using the name of Raymond Fiegler shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
“You understand why we are requiring the return of your advance. You had three objectives—the theft of the Clarisin data, the destruction of their facility, and the death of Gwen Stacy.” This came from the man standing with the other two, a man and a woman, all shrouded in darkness.
“I got one out of three.”
“And that is a failing grade in any classroom. She was to be a message to the police—an example of those who interfere. The facility is destroyed, but the research and the test animals are gone, and Gwen Stacy was seen leaving her home three hours ago. She serves no purpose NOT being burned to a crisp.”
Ray sighed. “All right. I’d LOVE to know how she got out of there.” He stood up. “I’m keeping 20k for completing the second objective. Expenses.”
The leader spoke only once after Ray left.
“Open a file on Gwen Stacy.”

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