The water in the overflowing toilet gurgled at Stephanie and ran onto her boots and the towels that she put down.
"How long has it been like this?" she asked.
"It got plugged yesterday," replied a little man in a tweed jacket standing behind her. His name was Clive, the owner of the toilet.
Stephanie watched a bit of purple goo drip off of the end of her pipe-cleaning tool. Bright orange chunks, the same color as foam toys except with a greasy sheen, slid down the tool towards her hands with all the haste of a slice of butter sliding down a piece of hot toast.
The smell made her eyes water and her nose run. The only comparison she could make was the time her brother had used her popcorn popper to roast a pair of pigs kidneys, made a mess with it, and shoved it into the space under the stairs without telling her.
"I think the clog is further down the line," Stephanie said. "Let's go check the basement."
Clive led the way down to the basement. After they descended the stairs, they passed through a strange workroom. Cages and aquariums lined the walls, most of them covered in black velvet. The smell of life, sweet and tangy, hung thick in the air, like a greenhouse on a humid day.
"Are you a breeder?"
"Of sorts, yes," Clive said.
"What do you breed?"
"Exotic animals. You know, eels. Flying squirrels. Terrestrial things like that."
"Terrestrial? Eels aren't terrestrial."
"Oh, sure they are," Clive said. "Here's the sewer pipe."
A thick black cast iron pipe ran from the bathroom above them into the poured concrete floor. Stephanie opened the trap. A long, thick tentacle of the same bright orange flesh shone in the beam of her flashlight.
"Do you have a standpipe?"
Clive looked confused, so they went tromping through his petunias until they found it, a round terracotta hole in his garden. Stephanie went to her van and got a long wire with a corkscrew end. She poked it down the hole and came up with a chunk of bright orange flesh with dripping purple goo.
She called her office with her cell phone. "Could you get one of the municipal workers to call me? There's an issue that probably involves the main sewer line at 1041 Gunnahew Lane. Okay. Thanks."
"Oh, that's quite unnecessary," Clive said, wringing his hands. "The village surely doesn't need to be involved."
Stephanie shrugged. "Whatever this is, it's growing into municipal pipes. We'll need to see where it stops. That may even be where it came from."
The phone rang. Clive snatched it away from her.
"Hey! That's my phone. Give it back."
Clive dropped it down the terra cotta pipe. He wrung his hands violently and was twitching.
"No, no need to get the muncipality involved."
Stephanie backed away from Clive.
"But you're going to go get them, aren't you?" Clive said. "We can't have that, no we can't."
Stephanie made a mad dash towards her van just as Clive lunged at her. His fingers raked the air where her throat was only moments before. As she approached the van, she saw that she'd locked the driver's side door, but she'd left the back of the van open when she'd got the wire. Snagging the door handle while running at full speed, she used it to spin around and leap into the back.
Clive leapt after her and caught a monkey wrench full in his face. The blow laid him out on his driveway, knocked out cold.
Dragging him onto his lawn, she climbed into her van and left to go to the police station. Two officers followed her back to the house in their squad car. A trio of village workers had blocked off the sewer entrance in the street right outside Clive's house.
"Did the village dispatch you?" Stephanie asked, climbing out of her van.
"We've been out all day. There's a snarl of orange tentacles growing in the water treatment plant. It seems to be following the sewer lines. We've been fielding complaints about no running water. It's all over the system."
Stephanie looked around for Clive. He was gone, but there was a depression in the lawn where she'd dragged him.
"This creep attacked me. I think he has something to do with it."
A window in the house broke. They all turned. A sprawling orange tentacle shot out of the frame. Another crash and another tentacle emerged. They waved in the air.
Clive came running out of the front door.
"Save meeeee!" he hollered.
The police snatched him as he ran.
The house burst apart. A giant orange blob with bits of roof and aluminum siding sticking to it flowed like a pudding released from its mold. It made a terrific gooshy noise as it did so.
"I didn't know what to do with it," Clive sobbed, "so I flushed it down the toilet!"
"You're under arrest," one of the policemen said.
The blob began to flow towards the party.
Stephanie peaked into the manhole in the street. A thick orange tentacle was visible at the bottom.
"There's your problem," she said. She took a big spool of wire, gave one end to a worker and climbed down the manhole.
"Hey, are you certified to enter manholes?" one of the workers asked. "It could be dangerous."
"Are you certified to be digested by a giant orange blob? That could be dangerous," Stephanie said, already climbing down the ladder and trying to ignore the powerful stench.
"Point taken," the worker called down after her.
Holding her breath as much as she could and breathing into her sleeve, she managed to pass the wire around the tentacle, and carried the end out of the hole. She tied her end to her van, and ordered the worker to tie the other end of the wire to his truck.
"Stand clear," she said. She climbed into her van and drove. The engine whined and the van suddenly jerked forward. In her mirror she saw the wire shoot out of manhole and launch a great glob of purple goo into the air.
The blob heaved once, then deflated. The tentacles were still and its intense neon orange hue began to fade.
"It needed the constant water supply to maintain its turgor pressure. Simple."
The crowd looked impressed.
"Hey, you aren't the only person who's opened a book about biology," she said to Clive.
The Moral: Restrooms need a new warning sign: "don't flush hydrophilic blob embryos down the toilet."