We get some further developments as the clone begins making itself more and more public. Major John Slattery (whose surname is more or less a pun on an old-fashioned way of saying "whore") is hopping mad and trying to contain the situation in the most boneheaded manner possible - by telling the people of Chicago that it's killer snakes coming out of the sewers! Sorry, Mayor, but if that were the case, then this book wouldn't be called The Clone and my recap of it would be posted over in Rivals of the Rats. This cover story is shot down when Mark Kenniston and Ian Sorenson barge into the studio where Slattery is delivering his address over the radio and they basically hijack the broadcast to tell people the truth, with a specific warning not to ever, ever touch the stuff. Of course... very few people are going to listen.
The other reason Slattery is pissed is because he's called a meeting of all the various heads of different departments in the city, and everyone has shown up except for the sanitation commissioner Timothy O'Herlihy. Apparently, O'Herlihy has been trouble in the past, because Slattery makes a big deal out of him being a no-show. "It's just like him to leave me here holding this!" he snarls. And where is O'Herlihy? Ostensibly, he's out of town on business... but in reality, he's still in Chicago, at his girlfriend Patricia Bauer's house on Lake Michigan. They've been alternately screwing and getting mildly drunk off and on for the past several hours. They did have the radio on, but when Mayor Slattery began his broadcast O'Herlihy turned it off because he can't stand the guy... so he and Patricia don't hear the "killer snake" warning or the real one from Mark and Sorenson! Uh-oh.
Elswhere at a store called Steinway's, the clone decides to go shopping and starts absorbing the employees and customers. This attack is much the same as the earlier ones, just on a larger and more public scale, but it does have a couple of interesting bits. One guy dies because he falls down an escalator and is knocked out, and then drowns from all the water pouring off the absorbed people upstairs which flows down the escalator and covers him. Jeez!
The other victims of note are Ellie Hagen and Charles Hallingford. First Ellie. She's a depressed woman who is upset because she's having an affair with a married man named Henry (I like to think it's janitor Henry Pollini from the beginning). In fact, she's so out of it mentally and emotionally that her reaction to the sight of the green flesh devouring her fellow shoppers is a mixture of boredom and mild surprise. Hey, I mean, yeah, you guys are getting absorbed by an all-consuming mass of living flesh... but she's distraught over the fact she's a homewrecker. Clearly her problems are more important! Anyway, after a bit of thinking, Ellie decides the blob monster is a Godsend and commits suicide by willingly stepping into it.
Next, Charles. He was busy debating whether to buy a suit when the clone attacked. Like Ellie, he has a rather disturbingly calm reaction to the death and chaos surrounding him... and in fact, his two main goals (besides getting out alive) are to save the suit he picked out and get a sample of the clone's tissue to give to a chemist friend of his so it can be analyzed. Setting the suit aside safely, he feeds a variety of clothes to it to determine what kinds of fabric it will and won't eat. Then, using a ruler, he is able to saw off increasingly smaller pieces of its flesh, having far better luck than Dr. Agnew before him, all the while being very careful to avoid letting any of it touch his bare skin. His idea is to get a piece so small it won't have the energy to absorb anything. Each time he cuts off a piece, he offers it the kind of fabric it enjoys sucking up. If it accepts it, he halves it, repeating this process until he has a piece so small it rejects the fabric.
Now he thinks it can be safely handled in his bare hands. Sure enough, he is able to hold it without endangering himself. Taunting it (!), he looks around for something to put it in, when he notices the main mass has taken a liking to the suit he set aside. Despite having been probably the most intelligent and careful character in the book for the past few pages, Charles gets a sudden attack of the Stupids and makes a mad dash to rescue the suit, and gets himself absorbed in the process. Great. All that effort for nothing, Charles! Now how is your chemist buddy gonna get his clone sample?
Ah, the old 'smart character suddenly acts dumb to move the plot on' ploy at work here, I see. No suit is so sharp it's worth THAT! Also, I notice that the slimy characters are all Irish Chicagoans... what had the Irish ever done to Thomas?Wilhelm?? Great stuff, keep it coming!
Which names besides the obvious O'Herlihy are Irish? I think Slattery may be (even though I maintain it was chosen by the authors due to its resemblance to "slattern"), but the other unlikable characters Ms. Shea and Dr. Agnew; are those Irish surnames? I can see how Shea might be Irish but what of Agnew? Not being from the UK and Ireland I'm not up on the origins of some names. I was ignorant of this particular theme by the authors.
Slattery and Shea are definitely Irish, while Agnew is Scottish, but many Scots ended up in Ireland as a result of the attempts to colonise Ireland by the ruling English (putting it maybe a bit too simply, this enforced wave of Protestant Scots for labour led to the Catholic/Protestant divide at the root of 'the troubles' in Northern Ireland. They're all Irish now, but the history weighs extremely heavy). So I kind of assumed that an Agnew in the USA was more likely Irish than Scots.
To be fair, I may be impugning a motive that isn't there, as Chicago seems a very Irish immigrant descended city, but it did strike me that all the villainous characters mentioned so far appeared to have Irish names!
From here on in the novel basically abandons any pretext of a linear narrative until close to the end, in favor of a variety of vignettes. Occasionally the story will cut back to Mark and friends, but their efforts to combat the clone sort of get lost amidst the confusion. For such a slim book, The Clone sure does burst at the seems with a huge cast of characters!
Somewhere in here we get introduced to commercial airline pilot Pete Laurenz, who is tasked with flying refugees out of Chicago to Detroit (insert "out of the frying pan and into the fire" joke at Detroit's expense here). He's a veteran of the Korean War, and this about all we learn about the guy despite the fact he appears in multiple chapters. After flying multiple evacuation missions to and from Detroit, his cowardly co-pilot elects not to accompany Pete back for one last batch of passengers. Hope ya get mugged, you jerk! Although it seems his danger sense was a-tinglin' 'cause Pete's final mission to Chicago really is his final mission. During takeoff, the clone gets aboard, and Pete crashes while everyone in the plane is being absorbed. I can't remember if he does this deliberately to prevent the clone from getting outside of Chicago, or if it's because the clone gets 'im. Either way, the plane goes down and Pete Laurenz bites the big one.
As for Carmel Shea the child-hating psychopath, she pops up again briefly to rant and rave over the radio at one point. They take callers asking for their opinions about the disappearances/the origins of the clone, and Ms. Shea predictably gives us some more of that hopeful, sunshiny spiel about how children are filth and they're not being absorbed by an amorphous lifeform, they're "turning back into filth" and returning to the sewers where they belong. I'm a kindhearted guy. For instance, the most I wished upon Pete's wimpy co-pilot was that he be mugged for his cowardice. So I'm tempted to believe that Shea's grotesque and offensive rants here are the product of some severe PTSD, that the shock of seeing her students getting absorbed only amplified her existing prejudices... but the stuff she spews here is so disgusting, and so many genuinely nice people have bought it so far in this story, that I really am annoyed Thomas and Wilhelm never kill her off.
Yes, that's right. Ms. Shea survives. Or at least she's never mentioned again after the radio interview she gives. Oh well. At least she's out of the picture.
The clone is by now spread more or less throughout the entire city, and its next attack is at some stockyards, where it gobbles up a bunch of cattle as well as a very large stockyard worker with the "ironic" nickname of Tiny.
Next on the menu, and speaking of students getting absorbed, we meet mechanic Dory Bernheim. Who is a man despite his name. Anyway, he's working in his garage with a blowtorch when he hears screams coming from the nearby school (they're never clear if this is the same one as before, but I doubt it, considering Chicago is a big city and must have multiple schools). Dory is an interesting character because he doesn't believe there's an amorphous monster on the loose, but hearing children screaming, he grabs his torch and goes running to the rescue anyway because, hey, kids in danger. Upon witnessing the clone on the attack, his reaction shows us what kind of a person he is despite his skepticism - he registers its existence, makes a mental note that he was wrong, and proceeds to simply not care anymore and charge forth to complete the task at hand and save the people inside the building. Yeah his attitude basically boils down to "Huh, so there is something that eating people. Oh well. Charge!"
Using the blowtorch as a weapon (the tissue may not die from being burned, but it still doesn't like it and flinches away at the touch of fire), Dory manages to assist the faculty in evacuating all of the children except for Mr. Lucarno's class on (I think) the second floor. He and his students are trapped up there. What follows is the emotional high point of the novel and (to me) its most heartbreaking moment. Without wasting time, Dory and his trusty torch head upstairs. He manages to get Lucarno and the kids out of the classroom, grabs the slowest child, and the all run downstairs for the exit, even as the clone tissue coats the walls like really aggressive bathroom mildew and begins sealing off the door. The description of what occurs next is a little vague, but it appears at least some of the kids and Lucarno manage to make it outside, but Dory and the little boy he's carrying become trapped.
The clone closes in and the torch's flame burns out. The boy starts crying and Dory "held on until there was nothing left to hold... and nothing left to hold with," comforting the child as they're absorbed together.
Meanwhile, in some genuinely happy news, we cut back to Timothy O'Herlihy and his girlfriend Patricia. He continues to set Irish-Americans back several centuries with some more charming domestic abuse before finally paying attention to the news, and, aggravated, jumps into his car and drives into the city. For what purpose I'm unsure. He's the sanitation commissioner, yeah, but they've been getting on just fine without him, thanks (his assistant has been doing a good job of filling in for him). Anyway, upon arriving, Timothy witnesses the clone absorbing cars' rubber tires and various other odds and ends, as its eating habits and the dwindling number of human victims it can get its fleshy tendrils on are forcing it to rely increasingly on non-organic nourishment. Timothy's response to this is to get out of the car... whereupon he thankfully rids the world of his presence by stepping right into a puddle of clone flesh. Bye, Timmy.
Next time - The clone's antics in the subway, as well as the further adventures of Mark Kenniston, and the introduction of the ever awesome fire chief, who is so badass the authors forgot to give him a name!
Down in the subway, a trainload of commuters find themselves getting clone-ified when the titular mass oozes into the train cars and begins converting them all. A few enterprising passengers attempt to escape by climbing over the seats, but, alas, they fall prey to ravenous tissue.
Unrelated, but only example I could find of an amorphous monster eating a subway train.
In response to the emergency, a crew led by Vern Worden is dispatched to assist the stranded train. The men arrive too late to do anything, although they do have the dubious honor of witnessing the last few people inside getting taken, seen through the windows. Vern calls his supervisor, Toby Seed, and warns him of the situation with the train. Blowtorches fail to do more than temporarily hurt the stuff, and so the subway is ordered evacuated.
Meanwhile, the increasingly hungrier and hungrier clone (bow, this stuff just lives to eat!) is now adapting its diet to eat different things, including parts of buildings. This severely weakens their structural integrity, causing them to collapse, hampering rescue efforts and endangering emergency services. Many an unfortunate Chicagoan is trapped inside the rubble only to be absorbed by the wandering tendrils projecting from the clone's main mass. The thing is now so gigantic that it is basically underneath the entire city, and it reaching Lake Michigan - or getting out of the city at all - is a real concern.
Now, remember how iodine kills it? Well, that's where Mark Kenniston comes in. Despite being just a junior pathologist of no particular importance, he is basically put in charge of the city's anti-clone operation. And Harry the meat cleaver-wielding dishwasher is always with him, despite having ceased to matter to the plot several chapters ago. Mark's girlfriend Edie Hempstead remains back at the hospital, just so we're clear on where all of our main characters are.
Mark's role as a leader during this phase of the authorities' efforts to kill the clone is primarily thanks to Dr. Sorenson, who, alas, gets taken by the clone in the TV studio while providing whoever might be watching television with up-to-date info about the crisis. Poor guy. It's rare to see such a reasonable and openminded authority figure in a horror story, and I hate seeing 'em bite the big one. As for Mayor Slattery, I honestly forget what happens to him, although considering his halfassed attempt at a coverup and the fact he's done nothing but twiddle his thumbs and let the Health Commissioner and some random junior pathologist run the whole show, I doubt he's getting reelected if he's survives...
So Mark and Harry, that dynamic duo, are to assist the Chicago Fire Department in combating the clone. Here we meet the fire chief. I sort of lied about the fire chief being "badass," but he does suitably fill Sorenson's shoes as the token reasonable authority figure, and appears in several scenes and has several lines of dialogue, and yet the authors never bother naming him. The firemen use hoses from their trucks to spray the clone tissue with iodine cut with water whenever the grisly green goo pops up. As with the intern earlier, this only kills the top layer of the skin, which hardens and forms a protective barrier against the iodine, while the core tissue remains safe and sound, much to Mark's frustration.
Worse, it's beginning to rain. Not only is this washing all of the iodine away, but with the clone tissue, living and dead, filling every drain in the city, there's nowhere for all the water to go. So now, not only is Chicago under siege from an all-consuming fleshy horror and falling apart because said fleshy horror is eating it from the inside out... but now it's gonna flood and potentially drown everyone.
It's decided that Mark will take a number of scuba divers from the CFD's search and rescue team and go down into the flooded subway to take the clone on head on. Yeah, I can already tell this is gonna fail, and not just because I've already read the book...
Yes, worth it. On my favourites list, and like the little GIFs between the reviews, too. Incidentally, is The Clone REALLY this barmy, or is the retelling adding extra 'eh?' factor? You might actually make me hunt a copy down to find out!
Incidentally, is The Clone REALLY this barmy, or is the retelling adding extra 'eh?' factor? You might actually make me hunt a copy down to find out!
Would you be mad if I said it was a bit of both? I'm embellishing some of it, but weird stuff like the child-hating teacher and the characters' weird under-reactions to some things, the department store scene (Ellie's reasons for committing suicide by clone and Charles' sudden attack of The Stupids), etc., all do occur. It definitely has a quirky nature to it. Especially since Thomas and Wilhelm describe everything in such a detached, clinical nature, like they're narrating a documentary (!).
A Tumblr I may have, but I still feel obligated to post here out of loyalty.
Mark and the fire department's rescue divers don their gear and head down into the flooded subway armed with compressed tanks of iodine. All of the divers get names, but the only one who matters is Chuck Danton, as will become apparent shortly. But, for the record, the other guys are Sy Riker, Bob Fulton, Charlie Kline, Joe Reilly, Ed Wolfert and Bill Heidig. So anyway Mark and the expendable meat--I mean the rescue divers head on down there and we get some lovely descriptions of them encountering all sorts of floating garbage, including a dead rat, before reaching their destination. This is one of the more effectively creepy sequences in the novel, with Mark and the divers battling the gigantic mass of clone flesh not just underwater but underground in absolutely pitch darkness, with their flashlights not illuminating a hell of a whole lot.
Their efforts are entirely in vain, unfortunately; as before, the flesh that dies upon contact with the iodine forms a protective layer around the living tissue underneath, preventing them from getting at it. As a parting gift, it also kills Chuck Danton. It absorbs from the neck up, leaving him headless. Mark and the others try and tug him free, but all they get is one decapitated Chuck. Defeated, they swim back to the surface and inform the fire chief of what happened. That monumental failure accomplished, it's decided to get the hell out of Dodge while the getting's. good. Everyone who's still alive begins to evacuate. Mark heads over to City Hospital with ever faithful Harry tagging along, to find the place mostly deserted. Almost everyone's been evacuated except for those patients in too dire a condition to be moved, and pediatrician Dr. Almquist has remained behind to look after them.
Mark inquires after Edie, and Almquist tells him she went to volunteer at the Davis Square Home For Girls, a women's prison. The clone begins attacking the hospital again, so they go to the roof, where Mark is able to flag down a passing news helicopter carrying reporter Buz Kingsley and his cameraman Dave Romaine. The copter lands and Mark and Harry get aboard and manage to persuade the pilot to fly them to the prison so they can find Edie. They invite Almquist, but he chooses to stay with the patients. The pilot promises another copter will be along soon and they take off. Almquist watches it go, then turns and notices the clone flesh beginning to seep out onto the helipad...
Later, when a second helicopter touches down on the roof, but finds nobody there; just Almquist's empty clothes. Finding no one else (the clone cleaned out the entire building of anyone left behind), they quickly vamoose.
Next time: Mark and Harry help evacuate some girls from jail!
The novel sort of peters out at this point, but at least it culminates in the rescue from the Davis Square Home For Girls. Mark and Harry indeed find Edie here, as well as the prison matron and a number of understandably upset inmates. The clone is closing in on the prison, and so Mark's plan is for everyone to cover themselves in cotton sheets and sacks, since, as we've learned previously, the otherwise all-consuming flesh of the creature doesn't like cotton for some reason. What follows is possibly the goofiest sequence in the entire book, and that's saying something: picture Mark, Harry, Edie, the matron and a number of female prisoners slowly working their way through the building, while covered in sheets. It's like an even more low rent version of the "escape while hiding under overturned tubs" sequence in The Killer Shrews. Could the authors think of nothing more elaborate or suspenseful...? I thought the sky was the limit in written works. Especially in this book of all books, about something as fanciful as a city-sized absorbing horror, to end it with a climactic escape plan that sounds like a game children would play is rather odd, but, hey, whatever works I guess.
And work it does. They successfully make it out (as far as I can remember, nobody gets absorbed, meaning poor Dr. Almquist is the final noteworthy character to be taken by the clone) and are evacuated by helicopter. Everyone still living at this points gets the hell out of there while the getting's good, and unfortunately this would seem to include Ms. Shea and Mayor Slattery. Oh well.
What follows is a very rushed but effective ending wherein Thomas and Wilhelm tell of the clone's demise. First, the National Guard shows up, and they're able to successfully seal off all of the underground pipes and outlets from Chicago, preventing the clone from pulling a large-scale version of what it did to that intern way back at the beginning. Then, having ensured it can't escape underground, they get tanker trucks and fire engines, all loaded with iodine, and spray a perimeter around the city limits. The vicious gunk doesn't dare cross it, and the weekend warriors are smart enough to stay well clear so it can't shoot a tentacle over the line and grab them. The clone could totally escape by throwing a streamer over the line, pool it at the other side, and allow at least that small bit of itself to escape, but I guess the troops are ready for that because they actually manage to keep the main mass successfully contained and always refill breaks in the iodine barrier whenever it begins to dry out. I'm pretty sure they've cleaned out every damn chemical company on the Eastern Seaboard of its iodine supplies to have enough of it to do this!
Imprisoned within the now abandoned and dead city, the clone begins to undergo something that'd be considered panic if the absorbing mass of flesh had any sentience. Unable to spread outside of Chicago, it searches the flooded ruins of the metropolis with its probing streamers and tendrils for any nutrients it missed, any last little bit of edible inorganic matter, any corpse or unconscious person or animal forgotten about. It finds a few, but they're not enough to satisfy the gargantuan mass which is now the same size as the city it inhabits. We learned back at the beginning that this thing exists purely to add to its own mass. We see now exactly what happens when you cut off a mindless eating machine's food supply (insomuch as what it does can be considered eating, anyway). Kept within the barrier of iodine, it has literally grown too big to keep itself alive anymore without a constant inflow of fresh biological tissue to convert into more of itself. The clone undergoes a crude metamorphosis, adapting, in a bid for survival, to eat all the things it considered inedible before. But even that fails to save it, because, again, it absorbs things so quickly that soon literally everything capable of being added to its body is gone, and it's still kept safely contained by the iodine. Finally, in a desperate attempt to save itself, it undergoes one final, ghastly transformation... and absorbs itself, reabsorbs itself, and just repeats this process in a mad display until it starts breaking down on a cellular level, and dies, melting into a city-sized lake of lifeless sludge. Jeez.
So that's it for our title menace. It ate itself to death. Yuck. But the authors are pessimists worthy of an H.P. Lovecraft story, since even this victory of man over mutant has the joy sucked right out of it by Thomas and Wilhelm's dire warnings that in sewers all across America, there are all kinds of chemical contaminants, just waiting to mix together in just the right way to create another monstrous entity. So the moral of the story is: properly dispose of your damn cleaning chemicals, idiots! That stuff doesn't belong in the sewers!
And that's The Clone. Sometimes disturbing as hell, other times just plain weird, occasionally quite silly. It's a quick read, a slim little horror book, but one that won my heart the very first time I read it.