George downshifted the ’64 Chevy Impala and revved the engine.
“Damn, this car has some muscle!” he exclaimed giddily as he sped down US Rte. 41 towards the Everglades.
“I wish you would put down the convertible top,” Ringo groused from the back seat. “I can’t see very much out of this side window.”
John looked over his shoulder at his drummer. “Don’t be daft, Ritchie. We’re escaping the mad world of Beatlemania, remember? We’ve got a free day built into our first American tour, and I intend to enjoy it. We can’t let our fans see us barreling down the Florida motorways. They’d chase after us!”
“Best not let Brian see us either,” Paul called up to John from his seat in the back beside Ringo. “He’s going to be so cheesed off when he discovers we stole this Impala and went joy-riding. We were supposed to just hang around Key West this afternoon.”
“We didn’t steal this Impala,” George insisted as he sped up to pass the car in front of them. “We just took it off the motorcar sales lot for a test drive. For a very long test drive.”
“Yeah, but we’re not going to buy it,” Paul replied. “That salesman is going to be almost as cheesed off at us as Brian will be!”
John flashed Paul an impish smile. “No, he won’t. He’ll be able to sell it for twice the sticker price to some fan who wants to own the car the Beatles drove in.”
“You mean the car the Beatles stole,” Paul replied.
“Drive a little slower, would you?” Ringo called up to George. “Everything’s going by in such a blur, I can’t make out a single solid shape!”
“There’s palm trees to the left,” George called back to him. “And a swamp to the right.”
John adjusted his glasses and inspected the scenery. “Keeping an eye on the world going by my window,” he sang under his breath. “Taking my time…”
“We’re not taking any time,” Ringo corrected him. “We’re speeding! C’mon, George, I mean it. Slow down. I want to look for alligators. That pamphlet I read in the hotel said the Everglades were practically crawling with them!”
“You better slow down,” John agreed. “Bbbrrrr! Baby, now you’re moving way too fast!”
“Alright, alright, I’ll pull into that overlook up ahead so we can search for alligators,” George said with a sigh of resignation. He pumped the brakes on the Impala and turned into a small parking lot that offered a panoramic view of the Everglades.
The Beatles climbed out of the car and walked to the edge of the pavement.
“Great,” said Paul. “I see…swamp!”
“Yeah,” agreed John. He pointed to the lowlands in the west. “And look over there. More swamp!”
Ringo pulled out a pair of binoculars and scanned the wetlands in front of him. “Bullocks! Where’s the alligators? I came here to see alligators!”
“Help!” shouted a voice in the distance.
The four musicians turned towards the source of the disturbance.
“Who said that?” asked Paul.
John ripped off his glasses, grabbed the binoculars away from Ringo, and started scanning the area. “What the fuck? These binnies are broken!”
Ringo grabbed the binoculars back. “Don’t mess with the focus, Johnny. I adjusted them for my eyes, not yours.”
“Help!” the voice repeated.
“I think the noise is coming from over there!” George exclaimed. He pointed to a patch of land on the far side of the swamp.
Ringo searched the area with his binoculars. “Oh, you’re right! I see a man…and…oh, Christ!…he seems to be stuck in quicksand! He’s going down!”
“Quicksand?” John challenged. “I thought that only existed in cheesy American sci-fi movies.”
Ringo lowered his binoculars. “No, that’s not true, John. Quicksand can exist anywhere there’s grainy soil, including riverbanks, marshes, shorelines, and areas near underground springs. I read that in my pamphlet about the Everglades.”
George grabbed the binoculars away from Ringo and focused his gaze on the trapped man. “I see the bloke! He’s stuck to his waist in quicksand, alright. But…oh fuck!…I don’t believe this!”
Ringo reached for the binoculars. “What? Is there an alligator heading towards him? I want to see the alligator!”
Paul stole the binoculars before Ringo could grab them. “Oh, shit. That’s not an alligator. That’s a giant octopus!”
“Bloody hell,” John groused. “Give me the fuckin’ binnies so I can see it too!”
“No, you’ll mess up the focus!” Ringo shouted as he grabbed the binoculars away from Paul. “Oh, Lord! That thing is a monster! It’s got to be at least thirty feet long!”
A giant tentacle rose out of the swamp and slapped down at the hapless man on the opposite sure.
“Oh shit, I saw that,” John said, swallowing hard.
Ringo focused his gaze across the swamp. “Damn, that giant octopus is wrapping up that poor bloke in its tentacles!”
“Maybe it’s trying to help the sorry sod,” suggested Paul. “You know, pull him out of the muck and mire and all that?”
As if responding to Paul’s remark, the octopus flung one of its enormous, undulating tentacles away from the opposite shore. The luckless man was clutched tightly in its grip. He screamed out in terror. Then the tentacle slapped back down on the surface of swamp, dragging the man into the water with it. A few bubbles rose from the water beneath. Then all was quiet.
Ringo turned towards his bandmates with a big smile. “Well, that’s something you don’t see every day.”
“I thought you wanted to see an alligator,” George pointed out.
Ringo shrugged. “Maybe we’ll see a giant alligator next.”
George stared thoughtfully into the distance. “Do you suppose that monstrous beastie washed ashore in the hurricane they keep talking about on the news? Hurricane Dora, I think it’s called?”
“I dunno,” Paul replied. “But I think we should report this incident to someone.”
“To whom?” John challenged. “The giant octopus police?”
“Well, this is a National Park,” Paul replied defensively. “Maybe we should find a park ranger or someone, and tell him what we saw.”
George grabbed the binoculars away from Ringo and scanned the surroundings. “I see a house over that way. Maybe a park ranger lives there. And if not, we could still use their phone to call a ranger.”
“Sure, good idea,” said John. He started jogging back to the Impala and cried, “Shotgun!”
“Bloody hell,” Paul groused. “Why does John always get to sit up front?”
“’Cause he’s the leader of the band, remember?” replied George. “C’mon. I’ll see if I can find a side road that’ll take us to that house. You’re right. We ought to report this incident to someone.”
* * *
George pulled the Impala in front of the large house set back from the main road. “This doesn’t look like a ranger station to me,” he noted as he switched off the ignition.
“Yeah,” Paul agreed. “It looks more like a haunted mansion from some Hammer horror film.”
“C’mon, lads, let’s see if we can find a park ranger,” said John. “Or at least a telephone.” He stepped out of the Impala, threw his glasses on the dashboard, and slammed the car door shut behind him. His bandmates followed in his wake.
As soon as they all left the car, the sky went dark, and a flash of lightning streaked across the heavens.
“Fuck me!” shouted John. “What kind of crazy weather is this?”
“It must be that hurricane they keep talking about on the news,” suggested George. “Hurricane Dora, I think it’s called.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Paul mumbled. He stepped up to the house and knocked on the door. There was no response.
Another flash of lightning streaked across the sky.
“Well, then, I guess we tried our best,” said Ringo. “Now let’s go back to the hotel.”
George looked in vain for a door bell, then twiddled the doorknob. The door opened. “C’mon, mates, let’s go inside!” he suggested.
“Are you crazy?” challenged Ringo. “We can’t just walk in uninvited!”
Lightning flashed once more. A loud clap of thunder boomed, and rain started falling from the sky in torrents.
“Going inside might just be a good thing to do after all,” John pointed out. “I don’t want to be trapped outside in a hurricane.”
Ringo raced into the house ahead of John. His bandmates followed at his heels.
“It’s dark in here,” Paul noted. “Somebody find a light switch.”
“Can’t see one,” George replied. “It’s too dark.”
“Bloody hell,” John cursed. “Let’s walk that way. There seems to be a ray of light streaming through that little door beside the fireplace.”
George exchanged a nervous look with Paul. “Why am I getting a funny feeling about this house?”
“Perhaps it’s haunted?” Paul proposed.
Loud voices started pouring out of the room behind the small door. John gestured to his friends to be quiet, then led them towards the fireplace so they could eavesdrop on the conversation. They crowded around the edges of the door and looked through the square opening into a brightly lit laboratory.
“My government is very interested in your groundbreaking experiments, Dr. Vornoff,” said a man with a thick Russian accent. “We now believe that you, and you alone, have finally unearthed the true power of the atom.”
“Is that so, Dr. Strowski?” came the reply. “Then why did you and your comrades brand me a madman when I presented my research at the Symposium of Soviet Scientists last September?”
“We have re-examined your calculations,” answered Dr. Strowski. “I myself reviewed your paper, and I have concluded that you have been right all along. And I have come to Florida to see with my own eyes the fruits of your labors – your race of atomic super-beings!”
Dr. Vornoff laughed maniacally. “I have a better idea, Dr. Strowski!” he exclaimed. “You can help me create a new specimen for my collection! Lobo! Come!”
The Beatles’ eyes grew wide with fear as they watched a massive monster of a man stride into the laboratory from a side door.
“Damn, that bloke must be twice the size of Mal!” whispered Ringo.
“And three times as ugly,” John added under his breath.
“Who is this?” asked the man the Beatles now recognized as Dr. Strowski. “One of your superhumans?”
Dr. Vornoff laughed once more. “No, this is just Lobo. I found him wandering through the mists of Tibet. He is now my slave.”
“Your slave?” challenged Strowski. “I don’t understand.”
“You will,” Vornoff replied. “You will very soon. Lobo! Strap my guest to the operating table!”
The enormous man grabbed the Soviet scientist and lifted him onto a high, flat bed draped in a white sheet. He started binding him in place with thick leather straps.
“Um, lads, I think this might be a good time for us to head back to the car,” suggested George.
“Yeah, right,” agreed Paul. “I don’t think these blokes are park rangers.”
Ringo stood frozen on his feet, staring helplessly at the spectacle unfolding beyond the door. “I…can’t…move…” he whispered.
John looked back and forth between Ringo, Paul and George, then shrugged. “I still hear the rain pounding on the roof. We might as well stay in here and keep dry until it lets up.”
“Well, okay,” George said hesitantly. “But don’t you think…?”
A loud scream interrupted him. The Beatles focused their gazes back on the room behind the door. Vornoff started flicking switches back and forth in a seemingly random pattern. Strowski flailed back and forth on the bed. And then there was silence.
Vornoff walked up to the operating table and examined his victim. “He is dead, Lobo,” he announced in a flat voice that betrayed no emotion. “Dispose of his body.”
The giant man unstrapped Strowski from the bed, then started carrying his limp body out of the laboratory.
“When you are done, join me in the next room,” Vornoff commanded his servant. “It is time to check on our bride.” He turned towards the doorway by the fireplace and squinted. Then he flexed his hand back and forth a few times in the Beatles’ direction before following Lobo out of the laboratory.
John looked back at his bandmates. “Our bride? Okay, this whole situation seemed daft from the get-go, but now it’s getting kinky too.”
George rolled his eyes. “I don’t think ‘kinky’ is a strong enough word to describe what’s going on in that laboratory!”
“I…must…go…” said Ringo. He started pulling the door back so he could walk into the next room.
“No, Ritchie!” Paul said, grabbing Ringo’s shoulder. “I don’t think that would be a very wise thing to do.”
John pushed Paul’s hand away from Ringo. “Oh, c’mon, Paulie, let’s live a little. Vornoff just left through a side door. We should have enough time to explore this little laboratory while the mad doctor and Lobo are fetching their bride.”
“I…must…go…” Ringo repeated. He stepped into the laboratory, as if in a trance. John, Paul and George followed right behind him.
“Would you look at all this?” John marveled. “I haven’t seen so many flashing lights and switches since we were backstage at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London, waiting to perform for the Queen Mum at the Royal Variety Show!”
“This looks cool,” said Paul, pointing to a machine that projected a pattern of green waves across its screen.
“That’s an oscilloscope,” George noted. “I learned how to work with those when I did my electrician apprenticeship.”
“You mean when you blew up all the electrical equipment at Blacklers Store on Elliot Street,” John corrected him.
Ringo walked to the back of the room and tore back a curtain. Then he stared in horror at the watery image behind a large sheet of plate glass.
“Fuck me,” said John. “I don’t have my specs on, and that water’s pretty murky. It that who I think it is?”
“Looks like that unfortunate Dr. Strowski to me,” said Paul. He stood behind Ringo and patted his shoulder. “Sorry sod. I wonder why Vornoff and Lobo threw his corpse into this water?”
Just then, a large tentacle splatted against the far side of the window. The four musicians stepped back from the scene in unison. After the monstrous creature’s sucker cups unloosened themselves from the glass, the tentacle floated away, dragging Strowski’s corpse with it.
“So Vorloff fed Strowski to the giant octopus,” George surmised.
John shrugged. “Well, the bugger was already dead. I don’t suppose he minded too terribly.”
“Right you are. But still, what a way to go,” sighed Paul.
The sound of footsteps approached from the laboratory’s side door.
“Shit, quick, let’s slip into this closet so they don’t see us!” John said in a loud stage whisper.
Paul grabbed Ringo and pushed him into the closet after John. George squeezed into the small remaining space inside the closet before Paul had the chance to slip in.
“Fine,” Paul huffed. “I’ll just hide behind this curtain then, and see if the octopus swims back to keep me company.”
The very moment Paul slipped behind the drape, Vorloff and Lobo returned to the laboratory, accompanied by a young woman dressed in a bridal gown.
“Lobo, strap Miss Lawton to the operating table,” commanded Vorloff. “She will become my first female superhuman.”
“Get your hands off me, you clumsy creep!” shouted Janet Lawton. “My fiancé is a cop, and he’s on his way to Willows House right now to rescue me!” She struggled to break free from Lobo’s grasp, but succeeded only in tearing the sleeve of her dress.
“Now, Lobo! Now!” shouted Vorloff.
Lobo started lifting Janet onto the high bed, but then Vorloff noticed a flutter of movement behind the curtain.
“What do we have here?” asked the mad scientist. He pulled back the drape, revealing Paul.
Janet locked eyes with Paul for a long moment, then brought her hands to her cheeks, screamed in uncontrollable ecstasy, and collapsed on the floor in a faint.
Paul looked back and forth between the two strange men and the unconscious woman in the wedding dress. Then he focused his gaze back on the mad doctor and shrugged. “Sorry, mate. I have that effect on a lot of young women these days. They take one look at me, and poof, they faint. It’s all part of the Beatlemania phenomenon, I suppose.”
Vorloff furrowed his brow. “The Beatle-what? I do not comprehend what you are saying. But I see that you indeed have a mesmerizing power that eclipses even my own! I must study you!”
“Um, well, now wouldn’t actually be a very good time to do that,” Paul replied. He lifted his wrist and cast an anxious glance at his watch. “To tell you the truth, I’m running rather late just now, and my manager expects me back in Key West any minute. So I’ll have to ask for a rain check. But if you’d like, maybe I can get you a ticket to my band’s upcoming concert in Jacksonville. We’re playing at the Gator Bowl on September 11. Assuming Hurricane Nora cooperates with our plans, that is.”
“I think it’s called Hurricane Dora,” George called to him from inside the closet.
Paul laughed nervously, then threw an irritated look at the closet door.
“Lobo, go see who is hiding in that closet,” Vorloff commanded his servant.
Lobo stomped to the closet and threw open the door. George, Ringo and John spilled out and landed on the floor in a heap.
Janet Lawton started to recover her consciousness. She lifted her head off the floor. Her eyes fluttered open for a few seconds – just long enough for her to recognize the other three Beatles. She screamed once more, then collapsed again.
Vorloff scratched his head. “Each of you four young men seems to possess this hypnotic gift. I must experiment on you all! Lobo, grab the short one. I’ll study him first.”
“Oh, no you won’t!” shouted John. “We struggled for years to find a good drummer. You’re not taking our Ritchie away from us now that we’ve finally hit the big time!”
“Lobo, do as I command!” shouted Vorloff. He pulled a cat-of-nine-tails whip out of the pocket of his lab coat and started striking Lobo.
“You don’t have to put up with that kind of crap!” George implored Lobo. “I know what it’s like to play a supportive role in a partnership. But there’s never any need for violence. Stand up for yourself, Lobo! Don’t let that bastard hit you!”
“Yeah, listen to George,” Paul chimed in. “He knows what he’s about.”
“I…will…come…” said Ringo in a flat voice. He stood up and started walking towards the operating bed. John and George grabbed his arms and held him back.
Lobo looked back and forth between the Beatles and Vorloff, then grunted in exasperation. He turned around, grabbed the mad scientist, threw him on top of the operating table, and pulled a tightfitting metal cap over his head. Then he strapped his tormentor in place on the bed and walked to the wall of lights and switches.
“No, Lobo, no!” screamed Vorloff.
Lobo ignored his pleas and started pulling switches. A beam of intense white light coursed through a wire attached to the ceiling, and plunged into the metal cap on the scientist’s head.
Vorloff’s body started shimmering with radiated heat. Then he started to grow. His limbs spread over the edges of the bed. His head swelled up and sent his metal cap flying to the floor. His chest expanded, forcing the leather straps draped over his abdomen to snap open.
He slid off the operating table, cursed at Lobo and the Beatles, then scooped up Janet Lawton in his arms and started carrying her out of the room.
John looked at George. “He’ll never make it through that small door by the fireplace,” he noted. “Not now that he’s so huge.”
“Not to worry, I think he’s leaving through that side exit,” George replied.
“Maybe we should we try to rescue the girl?” Paul proposed.
“Master…I…will…follow…you…” Ringo bleated.
“Oh, bloody hell,” cursed John. “He’s hypnotized our Ritchie.”
George scowled at John. “You only just noticed that?”
“Well, to be fair, John’s not wearing his specs,” Paul pointed out.
“C’mon, let’s go back to the car,” George suggested. “Maybe if we put some distance between Ritchie and the mad scientist, the spell will be broken.”
“It’s worth a try,” John agreed.
“Brian is going to be so cheesed off at us when we get back,” Paul added in a nervous voice.
John hoisted Ringo over his shoulder in a fireman’s hold and carried him through the small door.
“Master…I…will…come…” Ringo droned on.
“No, you won’t,” John informed his drummer. “We’re taking you back to Key West. Maybe we’ll see an alligator or two on the drive home.”
The mention of the word ‘Alligator’ was all it took to shake Ringo out of his spell.
“What the fuck are you doing to me, John?” Ringo shouted. “Put me down!”
“Glad to,” John replied. He set Ringo back on the ground.
Paul held the front door to the mansion open. The other three Beatles followed him out of the strange house and ran to the car.
“Shotgun!” shouted John.
“Oh, bloody hell,” groused Paul. “Must you always claim the front seat?”
“No,” John replied. “I meant that bloke over there is carrying a shot gun. And the men he’s standing with have a whole artillery of other firearms with them as well.”
The four Beatles turned and watched a group of uniformed cops and plain-clothed policemen step out of a convoy of black and white cars.
“How did you make out the shape of those guns without your glasses, John?” asked George.
One of the cops turned and looked at the Beatles. “Were you four boys just in that house?”
“Yes, sir, we were,” answered Paul.
“Did you happen to see my fiancée, Janet Lawton, while you were there?” the cop continued.
“Yeah, she went that way,” answered George. He pointed towards the expanse of wetlands behind the mansion. “Some giant bloke was carrying her towards the swamp.”
“Thanks,” the policeman said curtly. “You boys run along now. We’ll take care of this.”
The four Beatles watched the pack of policemen disperse, then climbed into their Chevy Impala.
“Well, I never,” Paul said in an irritated voice. “They were rather rude, don’t you think? Here we were, trying to help, and that man just…”
John cut him off. “Coppers. Who needs ’em?”
George turned the key in the ignition. “Well, we do. If we didn’t have a line of policemen surround us at our concerts, we’d be carried away by our fans, just like that poor lass was carried away by that mad scientist.”
“I hope she’ll be okay,” Paul replied in a worried voice.
George backed the car out of the driveway and drove onto the main road. The rainclouds immediately cleared. The sun came out, and birds started darting back and forth in the blue sky overhead.
Ringo looked out the window from the back seat of the Impala. “Wow, this really is quite pretty, don’t you think? These Florida Everglades?”
“Right,” John agreed disinterestedly. “Who needs the Lake District?”
Ringo kept his eyes focused squarely on the swamp as George headed east towards the car dealership. He saw an enormous octopus tentacle rise out of the water, clutching a huge man in its grip. Then the tentacle splashed back down on the surface of the swamp and disappeared into the murky waters beneath, along with its atomically enhanced prey.
“Hell, did you see that?” asked Paul excitedly. “That gigantic octopus just…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah…” Ringo said dismissively. “That’s nothing new. We’ve already seen a giant octopus on this trip. But still haven’t seen an alligator. Slow down, would you, George? I want to find me one!”
* * *
Inspired by the film “Bride of the Monster” (aka “Bride of the Atom”), written by Ed Wood and Alex Gordon (1955).