The executives of the North South Rail Corporation gathered together in a large white boardroom. The walls were covered with garishly colored posters, all of which were in the Alegria style, all of which carried slogans promoting Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity. The carpet was as gray as concrete, the table was made of glass, and the wheeled conference chairs were covered in beige faux leather. Standing at the far end of the table, in front of a digital whiteboard, was CEO Alec Schoenberg. He was the only white man on the board of directors, but he did not consider himself white. He had a large hooked nose and his bald head shone brightly under the fluorescent lights. His beady brown eyes scanned the room and saw that everyone was in attendance.
"Guys, gals, and non-binary pals," he said. "We have once again hit record profits, but we could always make more. I have a few ideas that will help us grow our bottom line. We’ll increase conductors’ work hours and make the trains longer. We’ll also cut back on inspections. These trains are the most advanced in history. They won’t break down anytime soon. If you think the workers will get angry over these changes, fear not. The United Earth Government threatened them all with life in prison the last time they went on strike. They haven’t planned anything similar since then. Just to be safe in that regard, we have also diversified the work force. After all, if they have nothing in common, then they can’t organize and advocate for their own interests. By doing all of this, we’re guaranteed to become the wealthiest rail company on Earth. Oh, and achieve perfect equality. Don’t wanna forget that."
The rest of the board nodded their heads in agreement.
One month later, in the early morning of February 3, 2213, a long train barreled through the dark into the small Ohio town of Mockatay. The conductor was up all night and was now struggling to keep his eyes open. Not even the clattering of the axleboxes could keep him awake. The wheels had been spinning so fast for so long that they started to glow red in open defiance of the freezing air around them. Eventually, the axleboxes on one of the cars caught on fire.
The conductor was oblivious. He only wished he could get back home. He remembered that the station was near, so he engaged the brakes. But they did not respond to his commands. His eyes widened and his graying hair stood on end. He tried everything he could to decelerate, but to no avail. The train flew past the station and towards the rusted steel bridge that spanned the Mockatay River. The fire burned so hot that the wheels began to melt. The burning car toppled over, and one by one, all the others followed suit. The conductor held onto whatever he could as the train fell into the river. The screeching and crunching of iron broke the silence of that frigid morning. A tank car containing toxic chemicals cracked open like an egg, and all its contents leaked into the water. As soon as those volatile liquids touched the still glowing hot wheels, they ignited. Fire danced on the polluted waters and sent thick clouds of black smoke into the sky. Firefighters rushed to the scene just as the Sun came over the horizon. It took them almost a whole day to extinguish the flames. Once that was done, they pulled the crumpled remains of the train out of the water.
One day later, all the fish in the river died and all the birds in the area dropped dead from the sky. Many of the residents fell ill. Some had a persistent cough, while others had bleeding noses. They began angrily complaining to both the rail company and the government, but were met with silence. The longer their complaints went unheard, the more infuriated they grew. One week after the accident, the Secretary of Transportation and a representative from North South visited the town. They and the residents gathered together in a high school auditorium. Mockatay was home to nearly 2,000 people, and nearly all were in attendance. The two men grimaced, disgusted by the thought of being in flyover country. The crowd was hurling insults and asking angry questions as soon as the meeting began.
The corporate representative - a short, bespectacled, rat-faced man with thin black hair - grabbed the microphone and said in a nasally voice, "Hey, listen. We’re really sorry for what happened to your town. To make up for it, we’ll give each resident five bucks."
The crowd responded with boos and more vicious insults. The pastor shouted, "May God punish your company for what they have done to our town!"
The Secretary was a thin, effeminate man. He smugly grinned despite all the verbal barbs thrown his way. He said with a lisp, "You all need to get some perspective. This accident was no big deal. There are one thousand train derailments in America every year, so stop complaining."
A beer bottle struck his head. A volley of garbage soon followed. Someone shouted, "Why is that acceptable to you!?" The crowd slowly approached. The two men ran out of the building and fled the town before the residents had the chance to lynch them.
Later that night, after everyone had gone to bed, a humanoid creature rose from the polluted river. Its body was made from a black, tar-like substance which glistened in the moonlight. Its arms were like that of a gorilla, its legs were as thick as tree stumps, its head was dome-like, and it was barrel-chested. It looked around and saw that the river was stained with the distinct rainbow color of chemical pollution. It reached down and held a dead fish in its hands. It knew that animal’s death was unnatural. It put the tiny corpse back down, climbed up the embankment, and walked onto the railroad tracks. The creature approached the wrecked train engine and examined the lettering on the side:
NORTH SOUTH RAIL CORPORATION
As if guided by instinct, the tar-like anomaly began walking south.
A convenience store clerk on the Ohio-West Virginia border stared out into the darkness with half open eyes, his head resting on his palm, his elbow propped up on the counter. He wished he was anywhere other than his current position, but he had to feed himself somehow. He raised an eyebrow when he saw a strange figure moving between the trees on the other side of the road. Stricken by curiosity, he got up and walked out of the building. He approached the tree line, and once he got a better view of the creature, his heart almost jumped out of his throat. He sprinted back to the store and jumped over the counter.
The manager of the graveyard shift was an obese white woman with bright blue hair. She stared at her phone, watching mindless videos with a dead-eyed expression. The clerk flung open the door and, between gasps, told her about the black creature he saw outside.
"Black creature?" she asked. "Stop being racist."
"I’m serious," he said, still trying to catch his breath. "It was made of black tar and-"
Her bloated face turned pink. "Stop being racist or you’re fired!"
He looked at her with an open mouth, then turned around and went back to his post, grumbling under his breath.
For several days the creature ventured through the dense forests of the Appalachian Mountains. A logger was busy cutting down trees when he spotted it. His hands turned clammy and he dropped his chainsaw. He ran a fair distance away, then looked back. The strange entity did not even acknowledge his existence. The man was still too frightened to approach it. He knew that no one would believe him if he just told them about what he saw, so with a shaky hand, he pulled out his phone and recorded a one minute long video of it. He then ran off, went back home, and shared the recording with his family and friends, who then uploaded it to social media. Many people were intrigued, but within just a few hours, the video was flagged as misinformation and swiftly deleted.
Some managed to save it before that happened. They analyzed every frame and became obsessed with the creature. Over the next two weeks, people searched the Appalachians for it, but they returned home empty-handed. Some believed it vanished without a trace like a ghost in the night. Others started to think it was some sort of elaborate hoax.
One week later, on a small farm in northern Georgia, a little black girl ran screaming into the house. She told her mother and father that she saw a slime monster walking around outside. At first they didn’t believe her, but when she brought them to the window and they looked out, they saw the creature slowly trudging beside the rusted barbed wire fence. Her brother pulled out his phone and started recording it.
The boy’s grandfather descended the stairs, shotgun in hand. "Don’ worry! I’ll git ’im!"
"Grandpa, no!" the girl cried.
The old man stormed out of the house and faced off with the creature on the dirt road. He took aim and fired. The recoil from the gun knocked him to the ground. The pellets passed right through the thing’s slimy body. Unfazed, the entity kept walking. The old man screamed, but was then perplexed as the creature went around him and disappeared into the woods beyond.
Shortly after his grandfather got back in the house, the boy uploaded the video to social media, reigniting interest in the creature. It soon reached the attention of Andrew George Robertson, police chief of Atlanta, Georgia. He was a fat black man with a bald head and a caterpillar-like mustache. At first he was skeptical, but the latest video expelled the remaining doubt from his mind. A younger officer was watching it with him. "So what do you make of it, chief?"
"That slime monster is no indiscriminate killer," Robertson said. "It’s clearly after something. But what? Any idea where it is now?"
"We received an anonymous tip saying they spotted it just north of Atlanta."
"Why on Earth would it be coming here?"
The young man looked down at his phone, then back at his superior. "The FBI just told us we need to kill that monster immediately."
"What for?" the chief asked. "It doesn’t pose any threat yet."
The officer shrugged. "FBI’s orders, sir."
Andrew sighed. "Well, I guess." He turned to his secretary, who was sitting all the way on the other side of the office. "Hey Sheela, send a squad to the northern outskirts of the city."
"I’m on break!" she shouted.
He shouted back, "You’re always on break, woman!"
The young officer awkwardly exited.
Atlanta’s police force was already stretched so thin they could not even solve burglaries anymore, so officers initially balked at the new orders. Then the FBI told them there would be consequences if they refused, so a police van filled with four officers went north and stationed itself at the city’s outskirts. The longer they stayed there, the more agitated they grew. One of them smoked a cigarette while another watched videos on his phone. Two hours later, the creature appeared over the horizon. The men stood as still as statues and stared in morbid curiosity and unspoken fear at the shambling, human-shaped mound of black ooze. They drew their guns as it got near.
"Freeze!" one of them shouted instinctively.
The creature neither understood nor cared. The men emptied their magazines into it, but the bullets passed uselessly through its body. It stopped, then it transformed into a large black puddle. For a brief moment, the officers thought they had killed it, but then the liquid approached them like a giant amoeba. They jumped into their van and watched as it glided underneath them. It made its way into the city and poured down into the nearest manhole.
Deep in the sewer, a vagrant, lighter in one hand and moonshine in the other, rambled to himself while shuffling about, "Wasted days, wasted nights. Hypnotized by the city lights! Another king, another queen. Livin’ in the shadows so they can’t be seen!"
A sloshing sound echoed down the crumbling brick tunnel. The man straightened his posture, turned, and saw a dark mass rapidly approaching. He pressed his back as close to the wall as he could, then watched as it rushed past him. His frightened expression changed into a grin, then he laughed hysterically as he climbed out of the sewer. He ran down the streets, shouting about what he had seen, but what few pedestrians there were gave him dirty looks.
The North South Rail Corporation was headquartered inside an inconspicuous glass and steel skyscraper that was much shorter than those around it. It was more like a cube than a proper skyscraper. The office drones typed away at their computers, unaware of what was approaching beneath them. The creature entered a large pipe and went up the building’s plumbing. The executives were once again gathered in the boardroom. Alec Schoenberg paced slowly in front of the digital whiteboard.
"I’m well aware of that chemical spill that happened in some podunk white trash town in Ohio," he said. "We don’t need to worry about that. Who cares what happens to rural white people? They’re all white supremacists anyway. Not only that, but the federal government has us covered. They’ll easily strike down any lawsuit that would be made against us. And thanks to our friends in the media, people will forget all of this in a year, so just sit tight and it will be smooth sailing from then on out. Yep, nothing will stop us."
They all laughed.
A drop of black fluid fell from the ceiling, then another, then another. The board looked around with confusion and disgust. The CEO tilted his head up, squinting his eyes and wrinkling his nose.
"That’s strange," he said. "I thought we fixed that leak."
The ceiling caved in, and in mere seconds the whole room was flooded with black slime. The directors’ screams were quickly silenced as the sentient fluids enveloped them. A few minutes later, the door burst open and the foul smelling material rushed out, leaving behind bleached skeletons. The creature poured down the stairwell like a dark waterfall and reached the basement. It dissolved the thick metal door, spread itself all over the walls, and began corroding the foundation. The steel groaned as it bent inward. The glass panes cracked, then shattered. Then the whole structure collapsed in on itself, and fire and smoke rose from the rubble. A crowd formed around the destroyed skyscraper, wondering what had happened. Some of them pulled out their phones and started recording. A few minutes later, the FBI showed up and told the crowd that there was nothing to see and to just move along. They also confiscated everyone’s phones.
"Hey man," one of the bystanders asked, "why you takin’ ma phone?"
The agent’s unfeeling gaze was hidden by his sunglasses. "You saw nothing."
The black man grew agitated. "What do ya mean? Why can’t I film dat?"
The federal employee repeated himself in a more threatening tone, "You saw nothing."
For a while, the man stood there dumbfounded, then walked away, angrily muttering to himself about the government taking his things.