Tom got up at six o'clock as he always did. He was a tall feline with creamy brown fur. His build was on the lean side in terms of proportions but it was solid as a tree trunk and he had thick, meaty arms from a lifetime of working. He had a square-jawed, handsome, kindly face. When he spoke, it was with a higher-pitched voice than one might expect from such a tall, masculine-looking fellow, and with an accent that gave him away as hailing from the western desert regions.

He was a farmer, and he was damn proud of it. Not that he had anything against city folk who worked in offices or such things. It just wasn't a life for him. Although he could see the Megakat City skyline from his front yard, and, indeed, his property was right on the city limits, a large sign and everything, he couldn't remember the last time he had been into town. He dealt with city folk now and again, though. Mostly representatives of the meat and dairy companies he did business with.

He went downstairs in his longjohns and made his own breakfast, looking a little longingly at Virginia's photo on a shelf by the fridge. They'd been married a mere eight years before she'd been killed in a car accident, but it'd been a happy marriage.

Tom and Virginia had had no children and so it was up to him to work the farm. Not always by his lonesome. His neighbors occasionally helped and sometimes he hired on some hands, but with this being early September, he was on his own today. He ate his meal of fried ham and scrambled eggs slowly as he heard the rooster crow. He wasn't in too much of a rush. Finishing, he went back upstairs into the master bathroom, where he brushed his teeth and gargled with mouthwash. He hated going to the dentist, so he took damn good care of his teeth.

He dressed. A red polo shirt with rolled up sleeves and his usual pair of rough blue overalls, and a pair of heavy, brown leather steel-toed workboots. They thudded heavily as he clomped down the stairs, whistling, and he grabbed his battered but trusty fedora from the hook by the kitchen door. Pausing to give Virginia's picture a kiss, he ventured outside into the cool, early dawn. The sun was just coming up, and although it cast everything in a heavenly orange light, Tom could see tints of red. Red at morning, sailor take warning. There might be rain today.

His farm was one of the smaller ones, and abutted the marshlands which signaled the beginning of Megakat Swamp. Unlike a few of his more superstitious neighbors, Tom liked the swamp, having had an affinity for alligators, snakes and toads ever since he was a boy. Everyone else dreaded it and avoided it. He knew why, and it was a load of nonsense. Determined not to become a country bumpkin stereotype, he'd taken night classes at a community college a little closer to the city, and his professor there had taught him to think rationally.

Sometimes, a reporter or some other curious fool would want to speak to him about Dr. Viper, although Tom didn't believe in the dreaded fiend of Megakat Swamp. Tom would've seen him, surely, in all his years living right next to the place that was supposed to be the evil scientist's domain. Besides, it was just ludicrous. He was supposed to be some kind of half cat, half snake undead ghoul or something.

Of course, there were unexplained disappearances and other things in the swamp. But Tom thought that was just quicksands and bogs claiming their victims. Tom thought everything had a rational explanation. And an undead snake doctor didn't strike him as rational.

This wasn't to say he wouldn't believe it if actual evidence presented itself. If he saw Dr. Viper, then he'd believe in him. And, of course, he had witnessed at least one genuine supernatural occurence, at least secondhand, when a gaping, swirling purple vortex of some sort had opened up right above Megakat City in the distance.

He hadn't know what to make of it. The news claimed it'd been the doing of someone called the Pastmaster. And him, Tom believed in, because the news had security camera footage of him from the museum. To date, though, there was no video evidence of this "Dr. Viper," and until there was, Tom the farmer was content to consign the ghoulish doctor to the urban legend pile and go about his business, unafraid of the swamp.

He got behind the wheel of his brand new pickup and drove across the farm towards where he kept his cows. They were milling around the fence that separated his property from the road. They were munching some grass, but they'd need a little more than that, he thought, noticing their hay trough was empty.

He drove over to the big barn where he kept his farm supplies and pulled the truck inside. Stopping and cutting the motor, he got out and pocketed his keys. As he headed over to the barn, one of the cows, Clementine, wandered over.

"Mornin', Clementine!" he said, and couldn't resist humming a few bars of My Darling Clementine as he petted her on the head. She mooed in response and then wandered off around the barn, out of his sight.

So it was, with that darn song stuck in his head, he grabbed a pitchfork from his wall of tools and started using it to shovel bales of hay into the truck bed. He was halfway into his task when he sudenly heard a commotion coming from outside. A sloppy gargling noise, followed by the sound of a cow mooing in terror. He froze. What in the world was happening? The mooing and the odd slurping noises continued. Then something bellowed. Tom felt his fur stand up. Whatever it was, it was big! The roar sounded strange, too, like a congested pro wrestler trying to hawk up a wad of phlegm.

Despite his growing unease, he decided he had to go investigate, especially when the moos suddenly ceased abruptly and the schlurking noises got louder. Pitchfork in hand, he exited the barn.

"What's goin' on out here?" he demanded.

The cows! He stopped in his tracks. They were all gone! The burbling noises were coming from around the corner of the barn, where Clementine had gone earlier. Holding his pitchfork two-handed, Tom mustered his courage and walked over, but when he rounded that corner he never in all his years thought he'd see what he ended up seeing.

Standing twelve feet tall was an enormous, hulking purple mass vaguely shaped like a cat, complete with thick legs with big, flat feet and arms terminating in thick, gooey fingers. It had what could charitably be called a head, set between its hunched shoulders, with four blazing yellow eyes in front, all lined up in a row. Underneath that and something that passed for a muzzle, a great, wide, gaping black maw opened, with thick strands of purple goo connecting its upper and lower "lips." And it was grinning, too! That hideous mouth was curled into the widest, evilest smile Tom had ever seen.

Clementine's tail stuck out of that cavernous hole, and, no sooner had Tom rounded the corner and seen this... thing, whatever it was, the tail was sucked out of sight like a noodle. Tom felt suddenly queasy. He realized he had a good idea of where his other cows had gone.

The creature looked down at him with all four eyes and lifted its big, slimy hands up, as if to grab him. Apparently, even after eating all of his cattle, it still wasn't satisfied. Feeling anger at the loss of his animals beginning to rise in him, Tom hefted his pitchfork, pointing it at the monster. It reached towards him and he began backing away from it, keeping the wickedly-pointed tines of the pitchfork pointed at it.

"Get away!" he cried.

It came at him all the same. Its shadow completely enveloped him. He thrust the pitchfork forwards, once, but the tines just sank into the slimy purple body like it was mud. He pulled the tool back and watched the three holes it'd made instantly seal up again. He felt a scream rising in his throat, a scream that was cut off by a sudden crushing constriction around his waist. He felt the air forced out of his lungs. Before he even had the chance to look down and see what in the world had grabbed him, he felt his feet leave the ground. He was lifted up as if he weighed nothing whatsoever.

As he lurched and swayed in midair, caught in the grip of whatever it was that'd seized him, he managed to tear his gaze away from the purple thing that'd eaten bis cattle and looked down to see a striped green snake tail encircling his middle. He whipped his head from side to side, trying to see who or what the tail belonged to, but they weren't to the left or to the right. Then he heard the voice.

"I'll teach you to tamper with my experiment!" it rasped. The voice of a snake.

Tom looked over his shoulder. A slender green-furred cat was attached to the opposite end of the tail. He was naked except a white coat that looked several sizes too large, and a had a long, narrow face with a cruelly pointed chin, and even crueler yellow eyes that gave a faint glow in the shadow of the barn. Crazy black hair stuck up and swept back in three long strands. Tom's mouth mouth and he mouthed the words but no sound came out because of how tightly he was held: Dr. Viper!

It was true! It was all true! Hearing wet movement, he returned his attention to the monster, and was greeted by the side of its mouth yawning open before him. Beyond it, nothing but blackness. A great gaping maw of oblivion. In that instant, Tom knew his fate. He was going in there. He managed to give a strangled yelp and a few token bucks of his body, and then felt himself flying forwards. Viper had simply flicked his impossibly powerful tail and flung him forwards into that hole of death. The mouth closed. Tom was encased in smelly, wet darkness. He flailed. It was like being immersed in a gigantic tub of marshmallow. Instead of sliding down a throat, everything just sort of poured in and surrounded him like a thick paste.

Dimly, he was aware he still had his pitchfork, but it slid from his fingers and disappeared into the depths of the goo surrounding him, crushing in on him, encasing and enveloping him, making him its. He wanted to scream. Couldn't. He didn't dare open his mouth and let any of this muck get inside of it. He felt around his hands but it was like struggling against air. Everything yielded to his touch, yet still somehow held him fast. He heard Dr. Viper talking outside, but couldn't make out what he was saying.

His hat came off. Lost amid the slime like his pitchfork. One of the shoulder straps of his overalls snapped. A fizzing pain overtook him, beginning as an itch, and then suddenly his body felt aflame. Despite the fact it did no good, accomplishing nothing, he struggled harder and harder. Only as time went on did he aware that the harder he struggled, the less... solid he felt. The more... malleable he became, like the surrounding creature. Due to the darkness he was unable to visually observe what was happening to him, but he felt a cold creeping horror overtake his mind as he realized he was becoming less and less solid and more slimy and gooey! He was melting! Being absorbed into the mass of the beast!

No! he thought. Then his thoughts started becoming less coherent and more jumbled. The excruciating pain reached its peak, and he let go. He opened his mouth to scream, and the purple slime flooded in, filling him, and in that moment, mercifully, the pain ended... but only because he no longer had much of a body to feel pain with. The last thought of his lingering, dimming consciousness was that he missed Virginia. Then he blacked out and subsequent events interested him no further.

Tom the farmer had been completely absorbed by the sinister Dr. Viper's mutant bacteria monster. As the two left, the farm sat quiet. The house empty. The fields devoid of its cows. The pickup truck, its bed half-filled with hay, sat unable to be driven because its keys had been in its owner's pocket. No one would ever really know what became of Tom and his cows. Even after the bacteria monster and its ravenous appetite made a very public appearance a mere half an hour later, neither Tom's neighbors or the Enforcers ever made the connection between the missing farmer and his cattle and Dr. Viper's monster.

More victims of the swamp, it was said, like those people who disappeared into the bogs and quicksand that swallowed them up, never to be seen again. Except this time, the swamp had come to claim its victims rather than waiting for them to come in.