An unknown man or woman sneezed violently in the parking structure across the street. It echoed through the concrete box and shattered the November morning calm. The sound nearly toppled Mrs. Bellevue as she was walking Marmalade. It almost distracted Jim Farley from the big, dumb, gross blob laying in his front lawn — but not quite.
     Mrs. Bellevue ventured over to Jim's lawn to see what was so entrancing. Immediately, she pulled Marmalade back from licking the big, dumb, gross blob for fear he would yack or keel over, god forbid.
     “What on earth is it?” asked Mrs. Bellevue.
     “Don’t know,” said Jim, his hands in his robe pockets. “When I came out to get the paper, I found it right there. Can’t seem to take my eyes off it.”
     “Where did it come from, though?”
     Jim almost snapped at the woman for not listening, but pulled back, seeing that she was as shocked as he had been. 
     “I have no idea, Mrs. Bellevue.”
     Mrs. Bellevue stuck a suede gloved hand into the pocket of her forest green suede overcoat and pulled out her computer phone. She fiddled with it for a moment, her expression growing more quizzical by the millisecond. 
     “How do I open the camera on this damned thing?” she mewled. 
     “You need to take off your gloves, Mrs. Bellevue.”
     “Well, that’s a poor design. Why should my gloves be a part of the equation?”
     “They just are.”
     She fumbled, juggling leash, gloves, and phone, but finally managed to take one blurry, poorly framed picture of the thing to send to her son in Atlanta.
     Marmalade wheezed at the end of his leash, trying to get a taste. 
     “Do you suppose it’s alive?” asked Mrs. Bellevue.
     “I really have no idea, Mrs. Bellevue."
     The big, dumb, gross blob sat on the lawn just to the right of the driveway, which was still occupied by Jeanne’s old Plymouth. She had left it sitting there when she left Jim, and Jim had left it sitting there because she hadn’t left her keys. He had told her not to buy a white car. “They’re dirt magnets,” he said, but Jeanne had wanted a white sedan with cherry-red leather interiors since she could remember. 
     “Haven’t sold the Plymouth yet, eh Jim?” asked Pete the mailman as he walked up the drive. 
     “Nah, not yet,” said Jim.
     “What in the heck is that thing?” Pete yelped, clutching the name patch on his coat.
     “A blob of some kind,” said Jim. 
     Pete let go of his coat as he realized how effeminate a gesture it was. He was the  thinnest man in the entire town. As a child, people had thought he was ill; in high school, they thought he was a homo; now, they thought he was… still a big ‘mo. He was, but he didn’t want people to know. Truthfully, his peers didn’t think he was queer because he was thin, but because of his mannerisms, like grabbing his chest like a debutant when shocked. 
     “Shouldn’t you call someone?” asked Mrs. Bellevue.
     “I suppose so,” said Jim. “The exterminator, ya think?”
     “Exterminator sounds right,” said Pete. 
     “Do you mind if I use your phone, Mrs. Bellevue?” asked Jim.
     “What’s wrong with yours?” She pulled away from him. 
     “Never mind, I’ll go and get it.”
     Jim’s living room was still full of Jeanne’s old chachkies and dust collectors: the wooden rack full of useless decorative spoons; the porcelain figurines of children ice skating; several tiny blown-glass penguins, gulls, and other sea birds. All things he despised but tolerated. He grabbed his phone from one of the matching antique Victorian side tables. She had spent hours at the flea market trying to find the perfect pair of doilies to cover the side tables. None of them had piqued her interest until she saw these—lace king’s lilies and gerbera daisies around a perfect circle. It was an odd choice to sew summer and spring flowers together, but Jeanne had loved them anyway. Jim had too, but he would never say it out loud.

     As the morning progressed, more and more neighbors scuttled down the street to ogle the thing on Jim’s lawn. Patricia (or was it Penelope? Jim didn’t know) hovered around the thing in her Jazzy Scooter. The Waspy couple (or brother and sister?) from up on Heliotrope Court stared with crossed arms from across the road with looks of judgement on their faces like Jim had purposely laid this damn pile of whathaveyou on his grass (he had not!). Pale incestuous freaks. Does no one have a job to get to? Even Pete the mailman was still there. Damned government employees. 
     At 9:30, the van for Bug Daddy pulled up to the curb, and out plopped the exterminator. His monkey-shit-green coveralls clung to his corpulent frame, and his backpack of chemical sprays looked tiny in comparison.
     “What have we got here?” asked the exterminator.
     “A big blob. Showed up this morning when I came out to get the paper,” said Jim. 
     “Hmm,” said the exterminator, “never seen a blob like this before.”
     “Do you suppose it’s alive?” asked Mrs. Bellevue. 
     “Don’t know, lady,” said the exterminator, “but there’s a darn simple way to tell.”
     “How’s that?” asked Pete. 
     The exterminator pulled his Bye-Bug multi-jet triple-action poison spray wand from its holster on his back, put his hand on the trigger, and poked the thing in its side. The thing let out a long mlumph, and then a skloish, followed by a heavy krunnnnt. Then it sprayed something despicable, viscous, and blue all over Jeanne’s old Plymouth. 
     “Well, there you go, seems to be alive,” said the exterminator. 
     “You really shouldn’t drive a white car, James,” said Mrs. Bellevue. “They are magnets for filth, you know.”
     Jim sipped his coffee. 
     The exterminator walked off to call his scientist friend at the DFT, and Pete continued on his route after posting a photo of the thing on the internet. Mrs. Bellevue stayed. Marmalade sneezed.

*          *          *

     Deep in the grass, a small brown dust mite named Darren stood in front of its home, staring at a pile of viscous dog mucus. Across the small crack in the dirt, another dust mite named Gary was walking its pet amoeba toward Darren’s lawn. 
     “What the heck is that?” asked Gary.
     “No idea,” said Darren.
     “Is it alive?” 
     “I have no idea, Gary. Shut your stupid mouthparts.” 

*          *          *

     When the exterminator returned from his call, his brow had developed a sheen of sweat and his pink skin had sallowed. 
     “My friend Maxine at the DFT says she’s never seen anything like it before,” he said, “She can’t think of any animal that would have produced something this size.”
     “You mean it’s feces?” shrieked Mrs. Bellevue.
     “No, lady,” said the exterminator, “it’s not feces, it’s too big to be feces. That’s what I said.”
     “Oh, thank gracious,” exhaled Mrs. Bellevue. 
     “Max is on her way down here to see,” said the exterminator. “She’s gonna take an early lunch, but she said we shouldn't let anyone else know about this until she gets here.”
     Jim glanced six houses up the street to see Pete delivering mail to the Gonzalez family. Mr. Gonzalez was in his robe on his porch. He had a concerned look on his face. Pete pointed  down the street to Jim’s lawn. That little busybody, thought Jim, as Mr. Gonzalez yelled inside to his wife and kids. Pete noticed Jim staring and waved like he was in a parade. Jim waved back with less enthusiasm.
     “Well, no doubt Pete has told everyone on the block already." 

     Jim watched from his living room window as the crowd around the thing grew. Mr. and Mrs. Gonzalez kept an eye on their twin seven-year-old sons, who were sputtering around the yellowing grass in their plastic mini SUV.
     Jeanne used to stand right where Jim was and drink her morning tea. Cream and honey, set aside until barely warm. She would wipe the left corner of her mouth with her thumb after every few sips, and watch the morning pass through her street. Maybe she would adjust the rug with her toe, maybe reposition one of her porcelain babies. Maybe I could've kept her.

     At 11:28, Maxine from the DFT arrived. A small crowd had gathered around the blob, but Maxine from the DFT managed to tear their attention away from the thing. She walked with confidence, like she was willingly participating in the laws of physics instead of constrained by them. Her feet only touched the ground if or when she felt they should. Her power suit was black and starched to hell, her high heels pointed. Jim watched her calves flex as she stepped up the garden walkway. Jeanne would wear shoes like those on special occasions. Maxine’s heels didn’t even stick into the dirt as she approached the blob. Jim locked eyes with her momentarily when she gave her friend the exterminator a hug hello. He kept staring after she broke their eye lock. Kept staring as she bent down to prod at the thing with long tweezers. Kept staring as she pulled tongs from her briefcase, removed a small slice of the thing, and placed it in a zip-lock bag. Kept staring as the blob rumbled again. As the side of it opened. As slimy gums bore rock-like teeth. As the thing sunk its teeth in Maxine’s arm and crushed the bones. As it pulled her closer by her broken arm. As it tore bite after bite from her and slurped her lacerated skin like noodles. As it popped her head like a tomato in its jaws and her hair flossed its teeth. As it sprayed Mrs. Bellevue and the exterminator with Max’s blood. He turned away as the crowd screamed, and didn’t look back while he called the police. He wished he had turned away before, but the massacre had occurred rather quickly.
     Sometime around 11:30 it must have developed a taste for young children, because by 11:31 it had eaten both Gonzalez twins and spat their bones and slip-ons onto the cool November sidewalk, implying their overalls were fully digestible. Their plastic SUV rolled down the street into the intersection of Woods and Garfield, where it caused the arriving patrol car to spin out. 
     When the screeching tires stopped, the police ran up the incline toward the blob. They  yelled for the crowd to get out of the way while they pumped the thing full of lead. It didn’t move much while they shot it. When their clips ran out, there wasn’t much to do but reload and shoot it some more. Several slugs whizzed through Jim’s walls. He laid on the floor with his hands over his ears as his bath robe was peppered with drywall. Mrs. Bellevue scurried up the street to her house with Marmalade in her arms. Pete was struck in the arm by a stray bullet and ran screaming to the hospital. 
     A rubbery tongue shot out of the blob’s side-hole and wrapped around the exterminator’s leg. It dragged him across the lawn. He grabbed at clumps of grass, but the grass came apart in clods. He tried to use his remaining leg to slow his progress, but one of the officer’s bullets plugged him in the temple and saved him the agony of being torn apart and digested by the pile of goo. 
     Jim inched across the floor on his belly to the bathroom. Sirens from more police arriving pierced his ears. He reached up to grab the door handle. A bullet drilled through the doorjamb, and he recoiled. He reached out again, too afraid to stand. His hand shook. He fumbled with the knob. Finally, the latch loosed and he clambered inside and into the bathtub. 
     He pulled the curtain closed. Jeanne had picked this curtain out, too. Little angelfish swam across the translucent plastic sea. He held it to his face. It smelled like her Sunsilk shampoo… and some mildew. 

     As the hours passed, pistol fire turned semi-automatic, then fully automatic. Sirens gave way to helicopter rotors. Screams of fear yielded to screams of rage, and a riot broke out in the street. “It’s alive!” and “Let it live!” pervaded the air.
     By the time the sun had gone down, Jim's lawn had become a full-fledged war zone. Machine guns blared, and someone beaned the thing with a Molotov cocktail that didn't explode. 
     News vans were parked all down the street. Cameras rolled, bright lights shined on the blob. It sat wholly unimpressed by the violent tedium flashing about it. Every so often it would roll out its tongue, devour a cop or a news anchor, and spew their bones into the street or at Jeanne's Plymouth. Mostly it stayed plunked where it was. 

     Still finding sanctuary in his bathtub, Jim pulled his phone from his pocket. Mrs. Bellevue was calling.
     "Hello?" said Jim.
     "James," said Mrs. Bellevue, "What is happening out there? Have they killed it?"
     "I don't know, they're still shooting."
     "Has the news called you yet?"
     "No, why?" 
     "Because I gave them your phone number. I thought you'd like to tell your story."
     "What story?"
     "Your story," Mrs. Bellevue insisted, "about how this thing mysteriously came to you, how it chose you, and all the rest about your life as a divorced man. It's a true human interest story!"
     "It didn't choose me, it's just here. No reason to it," Jim's voice rose as he forgot the calamity around him. 
     "I'm sure it - " she started.
     "Goodbye, Mrs. Bellevue.” He hung up on her before she could finish the sentence. 
     Over the course of the evening, Jim received six phone calls from area news stations, several from newspapers, and four more from Mrs. Bellevue, all of which he let go to voicemail. He also received one from Pete, which he picked up. Pete played off his injury like a battle scar, but Jim could still hear the fear in his voice. He told Jim the riot had expanded to the four blocks surrounding his house.
     "How bad does my house look?" Jim asked. 
     "It's not so bad," said Pete, "Mostly cosmetic issues. Your boxwoods are blown to hell, though."
     "Eh, that's alright. I was going to uproot those anyhow."
     "Let me know if you need anything."
     "Thanks," said Jim, "I will."
     They hung up.

     By 2:00 a.m., the sounds of gunfire and furor had turned to feeble buzzing in Jim's ears. He rolled up the bathmat to use for a pillow, and the hard bottom of the tub became comforting. He closed his eyes and took a breath deep into his stomach. 

*          *          *

     "Tuscany," said Jeanne. She stood at her mark at the window, sipping her tepid Earl Grey. Jim read his paper on the couch. 
     "What about it?" Jim asked. 
     "I think we should go."
     Jim  thumbed to the next page of the paper.
     "What's there that we can't get here?"
     "What's here at all?"
     Jeanne set her cup on the windowsill. 
     "We can't afford it, anyhow," said Jim. "Not after the Plymouth."
     "So sell the damn thing!"
     "I just bought it, Jeanne! I didn't want it, it's a magnet for dirt, but I bought it for you!"
     "Well, what the hell use is a nice car like that if we never go anywhere interesting?"
     "Why don't we take the car up to Temple Lake, this weekend?"
     Jeanne turned from the window. She saw Jim, on the couch, in his robe. In his slippers. His bald head. A seed from his morning grapefruit plastered to his undershirt. 
     "Temple Lake is no Tuscany.” 

*          *          *

     When Jim woke up, the air was still. He checked the time on his telephone. Noon, and two more voicemails from Mrs. Bellevue. 
     Cautiously, he climbed out of the tub. His neck had a knot in it the size of a golf ball and his left foot was asleep. He cracked open the door and peered out. No bullets, no sirens or strobes, and no screams.
     He limped out to his porch. His foot tingled. The thing was still there. It had moved to his driveway, and it was chewing on a combat boot like cud. Did it eat everyone? Jim thought. He pulled out his phone again to play the voice messages. 
     "James, are you alright?" Mrs. Bellevue's voice filtered through the speaker. "I asked the reporters and they said they didn't get ahold of you." She paused while Marmalade yipped at something in the background. "Hold on, darling, I'll get your treats... James, I told the reporters your story. They seemed to like the melancholy angle of it. Hope you're well."
     The message ended. He played her second one. 
     "James, your house looks terrible. Your boxwoods are a mess. I'll give you the number for my landscaper. I just heard from my neighbor, Debra. Do you know Debra? Busty woman. Her nail polish is always chipped. I don't know if you know her, but she told me there is a goat wearing a tuxedo in the park, and it's walking around like a maître d'. Can you imagine, James? A goat!" she paused, "I'm going to take Marmalade for a walk and see it. A goat, James! I mean, really..."
     Her voice cut off. 
     Jim looked to the sky to see the News Channel 6 helicopter flying around the park. 
     The blob rumbled. It spit out the boot. 
     Jim stamped across the yard to the driveway. He picked up a rock from the retaining wall and smashed the driver's side window of the Plymouth. His fingers slid around in the goo, searching for the door lock. He ripped the door open, sat on the broken auto glass covering the cherry-red leather driver's seat, and threw the car in neutral. He jumped out and grabbed that  stupid car by the front bumper. He pushed so hard his slippers came off. The Plymouth rolled backwards onto the mess. 
     The blob spit out more blue gloop as it tried to fit the car into its mouth. It chomped it into scrap in ten seconds, and spit the tires into a pile of undigested debris. 
     Jim's breathing cooled and slowed. The blob licked oil from the corners of its mouth. 
     Good riddance to dirt magnets.
     He strolled inside to grab the broom.