Oh we got a scary one for you tonight, kids! The tale begins as a mysterious figure walks into the Baxter Building past the always alert doorman O'Hoolihan.
Faith 'n' begorrah! Who could this be? She makes her way to the reception desk where Johnny is repairing the robo-receptionist. Then the scene shifts to the laboratory of Dr. Reed Richards, and the stubble, as ever, tells us he has just failed in another attempt to turn Ben back into a human.
Johnny brings the mysterious woman in to the workout room, and once she enters we discover it is none other than the legendary...
...whom Ben has referenced frequently throughout the series. Until now she has been like one of those people in sit-coms that are referred to frequently but never seen, but here she is in the flesh.
But that just sets it up for the main story. Aunt Petunia meets the rest of the FF, and relates that she is not there for a social visit. She wants the FF's help back in her town of Benson, where she lives with her husband, Ben's uncle Jake. She says the town is in danger of being frightened ...to death!
They jump in the Fantasticar and soon they are in Benson, Arizona, where an archaeological dig is taking place. They meet famed archaeologist Dame Ruth Efford, who began the dig following the discovery of an arrowhead by a local little girl named Wendy.
That same night, some of Dr. Efford's students go wandering the desert. When suddenly -
The bodies are found, the next day, apparently with expressions of horrific fear on their faces - related to us with a conversation between Johnny and a pre-Nova Frankie Ray. Frankie gives Wendy a ride back to her home, where she discovers the little girl is being abused by her father, and Frankie threatens him if he touches her again.
There is some dialogue over what it could be they are up against. Dr. Richards says it may be something they simply can't fight. We then see Wendy, in despair over her father, go wandering into the desert alone at night. She is seemingly taken up into a maelstrom of sand, and then the scene cuts to the Thing asleep in his bed at the Benson Motel.
I love that picture because it's not often one sees a monster awakened by bizarre creatures in the middle of the night, a bit like if the Frankenstein monster were being abducted by aliens or something. Suddenly these proto-Gremlins critters are everywhere in the hotel, and as the FF runs out, they see Benson is in chaos. The FF do what they can, putting out fires, but in the morning all the townspeople get in cars and leave.
Wendy has turned up with her father, who says the creatures shows him he can change his ways. It is up to Reed Richard to try as best he can to explain what happened.
The ending is a bit odd, as it almost seems as if the FF just leave Wendy there by herself, but I assume that her now-reformed father is somewhere about. She walks to a secret cave only she knows, and we are left with the following chilling tableau.
It's an interesting, mysterious story. I like that the FF doesn't really get to the bottom of things, and don't exactly have anything solid to fight. Not that I'd want every issue to be like that, but it's cool to have a Twilight Zone story in a superhero comic.
The critters in the ish remind me a bit of this little gem -