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Death and the Matron

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by newsmanfan, Jun 17, 2011.

  1. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    AUTHOR'S DISCLAIMER: Due to my work schedule, I will NOT be posting on this everyday, as has been my previous pattern. I will endeavor to post new chapters as fast as I can write them AND get to the library, which currently is my only online access. So, anyone who does follow this, please bear with me and be patient! I have the whole thing writ in my head...it's just a matter of available time to write it out and get it here.

    Inspired in part by "Half of the Stairs Are Missing."
    Fragglemuppet and The Count like this.
  2. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    The fangs looked as long as he was tall. Gulping reflexively, the Muppet Newsman stared up in awe at the reconstructed skeleton of the prehistoric terror, Muppetasaurus Tex. The dark-stained fossil recently unearthed in the oilfields of west Texas had been pieced together, identified (after much scientific debate) as one of the Jurassic ancestors of modern Muppet monsters, and shipped carefully to New York for this special exhibit. Newsie had of course been thrilled to be the very first reporter to be allowed access to the exhibit before it opened this coming weekend to the general public; it was the only time he’d ever been first for something this big. However, the excitement and pride and worry that touched off in him was offset at this moment by the sheer anxiety shivering in his foam, just staring up at the monstrous bones. The curators had mounted the skeleton in what may have been a typical pose for it when alive: crouched on all fours, gigantic claws splayed, tail arched up and the heavy spikes of the tail-tip gleaming, its long neck raised and its head turned. It made Newsie think of a large cat interrupted at its dinner, swishing its tail as it looked around to see what the problem was, despite the fact that its bony features seemed more reptilian than feline. Its jaws were slightly open, and he shuddered at the mental image of gore dripping from those terrible teeth. He certainly would not have disturbed its feeding for anything!

    The renewed attention bestowed on the Muppets had made the Museum board decide to collect the various specimens of prehistoric and proto-Muppet species that existed around the country and bring them all together, here on the third floor of the American Museum of Natural History, for this special exhibit. Newsie turned away from the Muppasaur, nervous enough about turning his back to it to dart glances over his shoulder repeatedly, to see Museum workers on ladders affixing a banner to the entryway of this gallery. FELT AND BONES: MUPPET MILLENNIA, the banner proclaimed. Inspired, Newsie waved at Rhonda the rat as she tentatively crept around the cordoned-off base of another fossil Muppasaur. “Hey! We should do the stand-up right here!” he called to her.

    The blonde-haired rat scurried a wide route around the M. Tex and stood beside Newsie, staring critically at the banner while the workers struggled to raise it. Some marketing genius had decided it ought to be made from a long, wide sheet of bright green felt, and it wasn’t cooperating too well for the hangers. “What, with the banner? Booorrr-ing. C’mon, let’s at least get a teaser shot of Fangy back there!”

    The Newsman glanced back at the Muppasaur, which towered head and neck over the other fossils in the exhibit. “We can’t. The directors specifically forbade any shots of it until the exhibit opens.”

    Rhonda sighed. “What if we start with the stupid sign, then you walk this way and we pan with you, and you finish right at the foot of it? They’d let us show a foot, I bet! Talk about a teaser! Claws like that, they’ll have every kid under twelve beating the doors down Saturday morning!”

    Newsie considered it, trying to think objectively, although the very idea of standing anywhere near those vicious-looking toes (or were they fingers?) unnerved him. “Oh, come on,” Rhonda griped, paws on her hips as she glared up at him, “What are they gonna do, whine about it when it gets them better publicity on the six o’clock news? I doubt it!”

    The Newsman nodded. As usual, the rat had a good point. Annoying though she could be, he had to admit, her instincts for setting up a story were as sharp as her teeth. “All right. Where’s Tony?” he asked, looking around for their cameraman.

    Rhonda blew out an exasperated breath. “I keep telling you, his name’s Tommy! Sheesh! You really have had way too many things dropped on your head…”

    “Sorry,” Newsie grumbled, fishing out the notes he’d made in his small spiral notebook for the story. “I keep confusing him with an old roommate…”

    A large, three-toed sloth Muppet ambled over, his digital videocamera perched somehow upon one rounded shoulder. “I’m here,” he yawned. “What’re we shooting?” Then he slowly noticed the M. Tex towering behind him. “Like, wow, dude…that’s a really big jungle gym. Why’s it in the Museum?”

    “Point over here, at Pretty in Plaid, Tommy, okay?” Rhonda snapped, and then tugged on Newsie’s elbow to get him lined up in front of the workers still struggling with the banner for the opening shot. The Newsman scowled at her, though he was by now used to her frequent demeaning sobriquets. “I swear, it’s always 4:20 to him… Okay. That’s good. Start there.” She squeaked loudly at the workers, “Hey guys, can ya hold it up a little so we can actually read it, huh? – Yeah. That’s good. Now hold it, and smile for the news! Tommy? Roll it in four, three, two…”

    The Newsman straightened up a bit, clearing his throat, looking right into the lens as the camerasloth began taping. “This is your Muppet Newsman with a special report! This Saturday, a new exhibit opens at the American Musuem of Natural History which purports to shed some light on an historically murky subject: Muppet evolution.” He looked over his shoulder once, gesturing with the hand holding his notes at the workers on ladders, both straining to hold their smiles and the ends of the heavy banner. “Which came first, the felt or the bones? Well, science is still debating that question; it is an issue which has been hotly debated for decades, after the first few prehistoric Muppet creatures were dragged from the tar pits at the original site of Madison Square Gardens here in Manhattan!” Behind him as he spoke, the workmen groaned quietly. One of them finally tumbled off his ladder with a crash, and the banner flopped down over him. Irritated at the noise, Newsie glanced at Rhonda, about to ask for another take, but his producer shook her tiny head, gesturing for him to continue. Thrown off a bit, Newsie checked his notes.

    “Er…ahem. The world of archaeology and Muppetology was further thrown off balance just last year, with the discovery of a group of mummies in a deep cave in Indonesia. The mummies were proven to indeed belong to a previously unknown subgroup, Muppeti quidquid, and arguments over where exactly they fall in the line of Muppet evolution are still fiercely raging!” He walked slowly as he delivered the last sentence, the camera tracking him, until he stood before a clear case with one of the mummies laying inside. The weird burial goods beside the mummy puzzled him: a cup with two handles, a pair of staring eyeballs made of jade and ivory, and a fragile-looking piece of parchment flattened in protective plastic, presumably some ceremonial text fragment. He had interviews scheduled with a couple of scientists tomorrow; no doubt they’d explain the items to him. However, the mummy itself really, deeply creeped him out, and Newsie only glanced at it before moving on. The wrinkled gray felt over the shrunken foam body was at once horrific and oddly familiar, an unpleasant combination; Newsie didn’t even want to look at it again. Disturbed, he checked his notes once more. He knew Rhonda hated it when he had to rely on them, but honestly, he was no science geek…and that thing in the case was genuinely freakish. Even if it was a Muppet. A dead, mummified Muppet… With a shudder, the Newsman tried to regain some sense of professionalism.

    “Muppets and Muppet artifacts will all be featured, most of them for the first time ever, anywhere, in this amazing exhibit, which spans the millennia going back to the age of the Muppasaurs! Curator Dr Phil Van Neuter promises something to teach and tantalize every age group, from children to the elderly, from Muppets to mice. We’ll have more about this astounding new collection in tomorrow’s special report! For now, from the Museum, I’m the Newsman, for KRAK.” His long stroll ended up right next to the back foot of the M. Tex, and he forced himself to stay still and direct his close at the camera, even though every instinct in his body urged him to flee, so near to those horrendous claws. Rhonda gestured for a cut, and Newsie immediately stepped away from the fossil, looking up at it. Its head was still turned up and over its back, not down at the smaller, much more human-looking Muppet in a blue-and-green plaid check sports coat.

    “At least you waited ‘til the cut to freak out,” Rhonda complained at him, already making the sloth turn the camera viewscreen down so she could watch the playback. “It ain’t gonna bite you, Newsie!”

    “Never trust a monster,” he snapped back at her, adjusting his tie and his dignity a bit.

    “Yeah, yeah. Did you happen to miss the fact that it’s dead?” she squeaked back.

    “Are you sure that makes a difference?” Newsie grumbled, walking over to see the footage for himself. “I don’t suppose you ever noticed that weird creature hanging around the Muppet Theatre, that blue dragon thing…”

    “Who, Uncle Deadly? He’s cool. At least he knows how to deliver a performance in a cool and collected fashion!”

    The Newsman gave her a deep scowl. Ignoring him, Rhonda patted the sloth’s arm. “Yeah, yeah, that’s great, Tommy. Let’s wrap it up. I gotta dinner date with a hedgehog on Wall Street.”

    Momentarily taken aback, Newsie stared at her as the rat checked her delicate diamond-studded watch, pulled a hairbrush from her purse, and quickly teased her perm. “You…you’re dating a hedgehog?” he asked.

    “So? You’re dating a human,” the rat pointed out.

    Newsie shook his head. “No, I wasn’t judging! I’m just…well…you? With something that timid?” Relationships continued to mystify the Newsman, despite recent success in his own love life; he’d been living with Gina for a few months now, but her continued interest in him amazed the still-shy Muppet.

    Rhonda shrugged. “It was an online-dating match. We’ll see how it goes. He’s a broker in a trading firm downtown, though, so I’m letting him pay for dinner!”

    “A stockbroker?” Newsie tried to picture a suit overlaid on all those little prickles. “Er…what does he specialize in?”

    “Hedge funds, what else?”

    Newsie stared at her, then silently shook his head. Rhonda didn’t notice, checking her own appearance briskly in a compact mirror and dabbing some rouge on her cheeks before striding confidently toward the exit. “Tommy, make sure that gets there before the broadcast starts, willya? See you both tomorrow. Hey Golden Boy, don’t forget to wear the light blue shirt, okay? It’ll stand out better against all the beige around here without being so darned loud! ‘Night!”

    Was she suggesting his coat was too garish for the screen? Irritated, Newsie yelled after her, “Well, don’t you forget to brief the interviewees on our time format! I don’t want another grandstanding academic taking up my whole report!” He was still annoyed about the tech forum he’d covered last month, in which a Muppet competitor to Gates and Jobs had taken what was supposed to be a two-minute comment segment about Muppet-owned small computer businesses and turned it into a soapbox for himself. They’d wound up with a largely unusable half-hour of the strange pale man with wires coming out of his body ranting about no one ever appreciating virtual spaghetti, the Dangermouse cartoon, or androids who worked their shiny metal butts off without adequate recognition of their many talents.

    As Tony the sloth – no, wait, Tommy – slouched off after Rhonda, presumably heading for the exit and the KRAK van parked outside, Newsie sighed. Although he’d ridden over from the station with the camerasloth, it would probably be faster if he simply went out to the subway stop and caught the next train. He remembered he was supposed to be bringing dinner home, as Gina had been working all afternoon at the Sosilly Theatre, hanging lights in preparation for a charity show this weekend to benefit a city summer program for children in poor neighborhoods. The show would feature songs, dance numbers, a comedian, a stage magician, and a local troupe of acrobats. Gina had offered to light it all, and she and her techie friends had spent the last two days putting together the final plans for scenery and lighting. A pro costumer had volunteered stock costumes for the song and dance numbers, and the other performers would bring their own paraphenalia along. Newsie was impressed with how quickly the show had come together, and was looking forward to attending it with Gina on Friday night. It had been a slow news week, but that didn’t bother him as much as it used to; he had settled back into his News Flash job at the rebuilt Muppet Theatre fairly easily, and was able to spend as much time with his new love as her schedule permitted. Life, in short, was actually enjoyable.

    Walking down the broad flight of stairs, the Newsman’s attention immediately darted to the tiny green creature hopping up the steps. Robin the Frog recognized the journalist and broke into a big green smile. “Hi there, Newsman! Did you get to see the Muppasaurs? Are they really big? Are they scary? How many of them are there? Did you touch any of them? Will they come alive after sunset?”

    Unable to keep from smiling back, Newsie crouched and held out his hands for the tiny peeper to hop into, and raised him gently up to talk with him. “Hi, Robin. Yes, I saw them. Yes, they’re pretty big. Er…no, they’re not scary, not so much,” he lied. “And you know that was just a movie, right? The Museum doesn’t actually come to life when everyone leaves.” He looked around, puzzled. “Where’s your uncle?”

    “Oh, I’m here with my friend Ribsy,” Robin told him, flipping himself around to wave at another tiny amphibian hopping slowly up the marble steps, followed closely by a worried-seeming, overweight toad. “Hey Ribsy! Look who’s here! Newsie says the Muppasaurs are HUGE!”

    “Cooooool!” the tiny toad croaked in reply.

    “Robin? Robin, get back here! Your aunt will kill me if anything happens to you…” the older toad groaned, levering himself up one more step before stopping, panting.

    “Oh it’s okay, Mr Ribbot! He works for my Uncle Kermit!” Robin chirped happily, then did another about-face to pepper Newsie with more questions. “So is it true the Muppasaurus Tex is in it? Is it bigger than you? Does it have really big teeth like a monster? Is it a monster or a lizard? Ribsy thinks it’s a lizard, but I think it’s a monster! Can I see it? Can you let us in? Will you tell?”

    “Wait, wait, Robin!” Newsie said gruffly, trying to stem the endless flow of chatter. The toads had caught up and were sitting at his feet, Mr Ribbot giving him a suspicious stare, and little Ribsy bouncing slightly on his flippers, too eager for the answers to wait; as soon as Robin fell silent a moment, the junior toad jumped in.

    “Everyone knows Muppasaurus Tex is the largest known Muppet lizard fossil! Does it have a long tail? Did they show off its teeth? How big are the claws? Did it weigh five tons or six? Could it eat a Muppet if it were alive today? Could it eat you? You’re pretty tall for a Muppet, aren’t you?”

    The boys’ questions were not helping the Newsman’s anxiety about the deadly-looking fossil in the least. “Er…”

    “You work for Kermit the Frog? Don’t you work for one of those news shows? Do you often talk to small boys in public places?” Mr Ribbot glumphed, waddling around Newsie’s saddle shoes, giving them disdainful looks.

    Newsie gently set Robin down, and held up his hands, feeling a bit defensive. “Sir, yes, I do happen to work part-time for Mr the Frog, and yes, I also am a reporter for KRAK, and no, I do not often talk to small boys in public – or anyone else for that matter, unless I’m in pursuit of a news story!” He pushed his glasses up his nose and matched the toad’s glare.

    “So can we go in? Can we go in?” Robin asked, hopping in place.

    “Uhm…I believe the exhibit is not officially open to the public yet, Robin. I don’t have the authority to let you in. I’m sorry,” Newsie said to the boy, trying to be gentle.

    Ribsy nudged his friend. “Told you.”

    “You boys are coming on Saturday with the whole Frog Scout troop, anyway,” Mr Ribbot said. “Now come along! Let’s go look at the Amphibians and Reptiles wing.” Ponderously, the large toad half-hopped, half-waddled past the curtained-off gallery where the Muppet exhibit stood awaiting its grand opening, towards the nearby permanent exhibit for crawling, slithering things.

    “Aww…okay,” Robin sighed. He waved goodbye to the Newsman, and Newsie gave him a small wave back. Ribsy the little toad, however, sniffed contemptuously as he followed his friend.

    “Tool of the establishment,” the toadlet muttered, eyeing the Newsman in much the same manner as his father had. “Figures.”

    Taken aback, then insulted, Newsie glowered after the little group a moment. Called a name by a child! A TOAD child! Don’t parents teach their kids manners anymore? Irritated, he started to walk off, pulling out his handkerchief to clean his glasses. Robin’s eager queries had managed to get a little bit of froggie spit on them. He knew it wasn’t intentional, and cleaned off the thick lenses without complaint. Tucking the hankie away, he felt a rustling from his inside coat pocket. Curious, he tugged out the brochure the curator had given him, a special program with many photos detailing the new exhibit. Suddenly realizing what a treasure it might be to a young boy, he called out, “Robin! Wait!” and hurried after the frog.

    A few minutes later, pleased at the grateful look he’d been given by his boss’ nephew for the advance peek (on paper, at least), Newsie stepped out into late-August heat and walked briskly past the Planetarium toward the subway entrance. As a Muppet, of course, he didn’t sweat, and it would be unseemly to pant openly, so there was little he could do about the sweltering temperature. Underground proved much cooler, and by the time he disembarked at 50th Street he felt fortified for the walk of a few blocks to Gina’s apartment on the edge of the Theater District, stopping once along the way at Kubla Khan’s House of Stir-Fry and Mangoes (formerly, “and Bananas,” before this summer’s banana-boat tarantula health scare) to order takeout. He wasn’t inside the apartment for five minutes before Gina arrived home.

    “Hi, cutie,” she said, bending over to give Newsie a kiss. He met her lips happily, and quickly gestured at the little white cartons piled on the dining room table.

    “Hi! I brought you Orange Mango Shrimp, and Mango Hunan…I couldn’t decide which you might like better,” he offered.

    “Thoughtful man,” she murmured, stroking his hair back. He beamed at her, blushing. “It all sounds good…but I want to wash this scrum off first.” She pushed back her own long hair from her forehead, and Newsie saw the dark spots on her skin. “I got into a fight with an older light, and it tried to toss back the WD-40 I was using on it.”

    “Are – are you all right?” Newsie asked, examining the stains.

    Gina laughed. “Yeah – I won. But I’d love to get it off me now.” She took a few steps down the hall, then looked over her shoulder at him with a suggestive smile. “Are you coming?”


    He was repeatedly amazed at how she turned the simple chores of living into seductive situations. He didn’t actually need a shower – he never left the apartment before ascertaining he was as clean and neat as possible – but standing under the warm water with this tall, shapely young woman always thrilled him, always caused a pink flush to steal over his entire person as he dared glances at her unclothed form. Gina took every occasion to tease him mercilessly, although if the truth had to be told, he didn’t mind that as much as he pretended to, for decency’s sake… This time, she managed to drop the soap no less than three times, bending over to retrieve it various ways so that he couldn’t help but view her…uhm…features…from different angles, all provocative. Sometimes, she only wanted to wash, and to taunt him a little; tonight she was in no hurry, and she leaned against the tiled wall of the tub enclosure, murmuring his praises, her fingers twined in his soaked hair.

    Things became even more involved after that, and it was quite some time before they returned to the now-cold food.

    As Gina took charge of warming it all back up, Newsie finished setting the table, lighting an assortment of candles of various shapes and heights, all colored a relaxing green, and arranging them among and around a small tropical bonsai in its long pot on the table. Gina had suggested he take up the botanical hobby as a way to calm his nerves after stressful news days (or especially painful Muppet News Flashes), and he’d found he rather enjoyed the meticulousness of it. This one, a berry bush of some kind, he’d been carefully pruning and shaping for only a month, but already he could appreciate his efforts with it, as it slowly grew into a windswept-seeming form. Gina smiled at him, bringing the steaming food to the table. “Looking good,” she commented.

    Newsie shot her a smile. “Do you think so? I think I’m getting the hang of it.”

    “Oh, well, sure; the plant’s cute too,” she returned, and he chuckled and pulled her down for a kiss.

    Newsie sighed happily, looking around the room a moment as Gina slid into her seat next to him. The apartment felt comfortably cool; the candles provided just the right amount of soft light in the otherwise darkening room, with sunset’s last pink rays painting the buildings outside the living room windows; the tiny black-and-electric-blue fish schooled in their aquarium, lending a little movement to the peaceful scene. He turned back to his Gypsy beloved, admiring for the thousandth time her light grey eyes and silky auburn tresses, her small straight nose and well-defined cheeks. He’d never understand why she found him attractive, but her own charms were evident to all the world, he thought, and he could only thank whatever fates had smiled on him.

    Gina gave him a quizzical look. “Do I have something on my nose? I haven’t even dug into the mango sauce yet.”

    Newsie blushed. “Uh…no. Sorry. I was just…just…”

    She grinned. “Admiring the view?”

    He cleared his throat, unable to come up with a good response, and Gina giggled. “Fine by me. Same here.” He smiled, and she reached over to stroke his long cheek. “You are so cute in t-shirts. I wish you’d go casual more often.”

    “Er…um. Well. I really couldn’t, anywhere else,” he stammered, glancing down at the Solid Foam World Tour t-shirt he’d picked from her dresser drawer-ful of strange shirts to wear after the shower. All he had on at the moment was that and a new pair of boxers, dark blue with tiny yellow lightning bolts printed all over, which Gina had bought for him. Gina had opted for even less, and he found it hard to focus on the food while seeing quite a bit of her around the pink tank top and matching short-shorts she’d decided to wear to the table. He reflected that her idea of pajamas and his were miles apart…not that this was a bad thing.

    She giggled again, passing him a carton of rice, and started a more neutral conversation. “So, how’d the report on the exhibit go? Does it look cool?”

    Newsie told her all about the Muppet natural history displays, how large and intimidating the Muppasaurs were, how odd the mummy appeared, how he’d run into Robin after the first report filming wrapped tonight. “I can’t wait to see it all!” Gina said, grinning at him. “You did score free passes, right?”

    “They’re already on your desk,” he replied, and she leaned over to kiss his nose.

    “Fantastic! A charity revue Friday night, and a cool exhibit on Saturday! Sounds like a great weekend, Newsie.” He nodded, pleased.

    “What about your show? Does everyone seem ready?”

    “Ohhh…yeah, basically, except for that stage magician. I haven’t seen the guy yet at all, though Paul keeps saying not to worry.” She grimaced. “I’m supposed to be tech director as well as lighting designer and master electrician for this thing, and I don’t have a clue what the magic guy wants for his act yet, and we open in two nights! You’d think a performer would want to make sure he’s at least lit well.”

    They continued to eat and talk, interested in one another’s work, for a while until both admitted to being full and a little sleepy. Gina would have to leave early in the morning for an all-day tech run-through; Newsie already had her favorite iced scones in the pantry to warm up for breakfast, and planned to be up before her in order to have coffee ready, though he himself wasn’t needed anywhere else until the afternoon. Comfortably they snuggled together on the sofa, watching a detective show rerun, and when that was over, both prepared for bed in an easy routine they’d settled into months ago. Gina lit a stick of the amber-spice incense she preferred; Newsie had at first found it too exotic, disconcerting and bohemian. Now he was accustomed to the rich Arabian perfume, and inhaled it deeply as he pulled the light coverlet up. Sated in more ways than one, both woman and Muppet were content merely to hold each other tonight. Gina liked to fall asleep holding Newsie, her arm over him as she curled her body around his shorter form, and he was all too happy to relax into her, his nose half-buried in his pillow, his hand over hers on his stomach, a smile lingering on his face as they both drifted into secure slumber.

    His watch alarm awoke him at six, and Newsie gently pulled free of Gina’s arms, slipping out of bed and padding to the kitchen while she continued to sleep. By now he was expert with the French coffee press, and peered groggily at the selection of beans in the freezer door, trying to guess which flavor his love might best like today. Picking the “cinnamon jolt” one finally, he had just measured the right amount into the grinder when he heard a noise in the living room. Grinning to himself – he hadn’t told her he was fixing breakfast – he ground up the whole, rich beans in a few loud pulses of the machine, then tapped the rough granules into the press and started some water in the kettle. Stepping out into the dining room, wiping his hands on a kitchen towel, he looked up and stopped in his tracks upon sight of the figure in the next room.

    A tall, bone-gaunt, black-robed being seemed to suck all the morning sunlight out of the room. It held a scythe taller than it at rest in one skeletal hand. The Newsman felt his blood simply stop, his heart stuttering, ringing rising in his ears. “YOU HAVE TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS!” the figure intoned, pointing a bony finger at the Newsman, its voice echoing like a cathedral bell.

    “Ack!” Newsie choked, his legs simply failing. He dropped to his knees, staring up at the horrible spectre suddenly turning his paradise into a charnel house.

    Death sighed, shaking its hood. “OH, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. I’M NOT PICKING UP, I’M DROPPING OFF!” From behind the voluminous, tattered robes stepped a prim, grey, sharp-nosed, elderly Muppet woman. She frowned through thick spectacles at the Newsman, and set her hands firmly upon the straight hips of her shapeless housedress.

    “Aloysius Ambrosius!” she snapped in a crackly voice. “Young man, I am deeply disappointed in you!”

    Newsie’s felt turned from golden-yellow to pale beige all at once. With a soft moan, he slumped to the carpet, unconscious.

    The late Mrs Crimp turned to Death, jutting her large chin out. “Now why do you have to do that? Look at that! You just scared my lily-livered son to death!”

    Death rolled his red pinpricks of eyes in their black sockets.
    The Count likes this.
  3. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Two


    Gina gasped, reflexively making the gesture her Grandmama Angie had taught her to ward off the evil eye, at the sight of the gaunt, terrible thing darkening her home. Then she saw her Muppet journalist, pale and still on the carpet, and with a desperate cry rushed to his side. Scooping him into her arms, she shrieked at the ghastly spectre looming over him, “Mulesko angelo, leave him! I –I forbid you entry to my home!” Words of Romany she didn’t know she’d even remembered came pouring from her lips, frantic, terrified; in her grandmother’s native tongue, Gina shouted a countercurse for the sudden death of a loved one: “Pale king, you have no power here! Let the sun’s light drive you hence, may you scrape and skulk in the boneyard like a hungry dog; you shall not have my love for your deathly court!”

    A sigh like a cold wind through a morgue blew over her, making her shiver violently. Gina clutched Newsie to her protectively, but the hooded figure only raised its bony hands to the ceiling. “WHY DOES EVERYONE ASSUME I ONLY DROP IN TO COLLECT SOULS? YOU THINK I HAVE NO LIFE, I’M JUST ALL ABOUT WORK, IS THAT IT? YEAH, YEAH: SOULS, SOULS, SOULS. SHEESH!” The dark entity crossed its shrouded arms over its ribcage, lowering its head, and Gina couldn’t meet that terrible glower. “RELAX. HE’S NOT DEAD.”

    “Newsie?” Gina whispered, stroking his hair. With a quiet groan, the Newsman stirred, and she hugged him tightly. “Oh, no. Oh, no…” Shuddering, she attempted to look back up at the horrible angel.


    “Gina?” Newsie muttered, coming to with her arms around him, feeling weak and disoriented. A nightmare, it was just a nightmare! Relieved, he embraced her. “Good grief, what a horrible, horrible dream I just had…” The neglected kettle screeched, and he jumped. “Oh! The coffee…I was…I was…wait a minute…” The Newsman slowly lifted his head, trembling, and saw the very thing which had first frightened him. “Aaauugh!”

    “Newsie, Newsie, it’s okay,” Gina said hurriedly, holding him tight; he clung to her shoulders as she knelt beside him, and they both stared up at Death. “Uh…I think…” Gina amended, still trying to process it all; she wasn’t feeling awake enough to be this terrified.

    A grey-haired, grey-felted elderly Muppet woman with the same sharp, long nose and broad jaw as the Newsman shoved Death out of the way to glare at the couple. “And here’s the little trollop who’s been corrupting my boy! Don’t you have the least vestige of shame for yourself, you hussy?” the old woman snapped. Her voice sounded like dead leaves being crumbled in someone’s fist. She snorted in disgust. “At least turn off that shrieking kettle so I can lecture you without yelling over it!”

    “Oh please no,” Newsie whimpered, and promptly fainted again.

    Gina held him, mouth agape a moment, staring wideyed at the apparition. The old woman stepped smartly up to her and glared nose-to-nose at the helpless Newsman through tiny granny spectacles. “Who…who the **** are you?” Gina demanded, finding her voice again.

    “Look at him,” the old woman muttered, ignoring Gina. “Always had such a weak constitution. He gets it from his father, you know. Killed by a falling load of turnips at the docks. Just imagine! Turnips.”

    “FINE, *I’LL* GET THE DRATTED KETTLE,” Death groaned, stomping silently past them all into the kitchen. The whistling choked abruptly to a halt; Gina had the uneasy idea the hooded thing hadn’t even touched it or the burner control.

    “Too weak for his own good,” the old woman sighed, and with a thick gray finger stroked the unconscious Newsman’s cheek. He groaned softly, shivering. Gina could feel the cold radiating off the old woman, and suddenly understood.

    “You…you’re dead,” Gina accused. The old woman merely shot her a glare. Angrily, Gina dredged out of her memory her Grandmama Angie’s favorite exorcism: “Pale wretch, begone! Back to the night, back to the grave! By Saint Sarah I command you, by the two Marys, by Saint Michael and all the hounds of **** –“

    “KNOCK IT OFF, PEANUT,” Death boomed from the kitchen, and Gina cringed instinctively, then glared at the old woman, cradling her Newsie tighter, away from the ghost’s cold hands. “HEY, GOT ANY EARL GREY? OH WAIT. YOU HAVE A COFFEE PRESS. COOL.”

    “You take your filthy hands off him, you tramp!” the old woman hissed, her wide mouth curling down in contempt. “He’s mine! I never should have left him on his own, he never could think for himself! Look what you’ve done to him – wandering this horrible little hovel half-naked, just like you!”

    Furious, Gina stood, gathering her Newsman into her arms to lift him well out of reach of the crazy old woman. “What the **** would you know about him, you nasty old bag lady?” Gina shouted at her.

    “I was slapping clean diapers on him long before you were whelped, you presumptuous little puppy!”

    “Are you calling me a –“

    “You bet your dirty little paws I am! Put him down this instant!”

    Before the fight could get nastier, Death wandered back in, plopping his charnel rags into a chair at the dining room table, a mug of coffee in one hand. He leaned the scythe against the wall and slupped the coffee noisily. “I SEE YOU’RE GETTING ACQUAINTED.”

    “Tell that naked little tart to let go of my son!” the elderly Muppet woman complained to the spectre.

    “Get this smelly, wrinkly troll out of my home!” Gina shouted back, hip-checking the ghost to one side to dare a complaint herself.

    Death turned his skull from one to the other, his hood falling low like scowling brows. He sighed. “LOOK. HERE’S THE THING: SHE WAS ENOUGH OF A NUISANCE THE PAST NINE YEARS ALREADY. THEN *YOU* HOOK UP WITH *HIM*,” (with a nod at Newsie, who was beginning to wake up once more in Gina’s arms, though not the way he preferred) “AND DAY IN, DAY OUT, IT’S ALL ‘YOU HAVE TO BRING HIM TO ME,’ OR ‘YOU HAVE TO TAKE ME TO HIM,’ OR ‘YOU HAVE TO TAKE HER!’”

    Gina flinched, frightened into silence. “Unnngh,” Newsie muttered. “Gina…?”

    “Well?” the old woman demanded, her forehead crumpled over, glowering at Death. “So get rid of the rude little tramp!”

    Death pointed a long white fingerbone at her. “YOU CAN SHUT UP NOW, FLOSSIE! YOU’RE HERE, AREN’T YOU?”

    “It’s Florabeth, you awful tyrant,” the old woman sniffed, unbowed.

    Frozen, holding on to Gina’s shoulders, the Newsman recognized that voice. NOT a dream? Oh no, oh no, oh no! Trembling, he slowly looked into Gina’s eyes; her worried expression didn’t inspire much confidence. Turning his gaze down, he let out a small shriek and jerked when the familiar but dreaded face moved into view just below him. “Ack! Uh…M-mother?”

    “Aloysius! You let go of that creature this instant! You don’t know where she’s been,” the Muppet crone said, sounding smug.

    “You old bi—“ Gina began, but Newsie hurriedly put his hand to her mouth.

    “Uh…er…Mother…don’t say that. This is Gina. She’s my…” he gulped. “M-my girlfriend.”

    “I see perfectly well what she is,” Mrs Crimp, deceased, pointed her nose at the ceiling. “Now come down from there right this minute!”

    Deep, spectral bells tolled, making Gina and Newsie both jump. Death pulled a cell phone from beneath his robes. “SORRY…I GOTTA TAKE THIS. HELLO? WHAT? WELL, YOU TELL ‘EM THOSE FERRY BOATS CAPSIZE EVERY MONTH! *I* CAN’T BE HELD RESPONSI…RIGHT. YEAH. I KNOW.” He sighed, the breeze again making the living shudder. One of Gina’s thriving ferns hanging in a wire basket in the living room window shriveled and blackened. “WELL, I’M KINDA IN THE MIDDLE OF…OH, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. ALL RIGHT, ALL RIGHT! I’LL BE THERE IN A MINUTE.” He paused, listening, then waved a clacking fistful of bones. “GEEZ, MARTY, I DON’T KNOW – TELL ‘EM TO CLING TO THE WRECKAGE UNTIL I CAN GET SOME SHARKS OVER TO EAT ‘EM!” Annoyed, Death snapped his cell shut, gesturing to the stunned Newsie and Gina. “EH, I GOTTA SPLIT. SOME IDIOT OVERLOADED A FERRY IN THE INDIAN OCEAN AGAIN, AND THE SHARKS ARE ALL BUSY AT A FISHING FESTIVAL A HUNDRED MILES AWAY! YOU’D THINK PEOPLE WOULD BE *HAPPY* TO DROWN INSTEAD, BUT NOOO, EVERYONE ASKS TO GO QUICKLY…” He gulped the coffee, then slammed the mug on the table. Newsie and Gina both jumped again at the eerie hollow noise. “THIS IS LOUSY COFFEE! WHY DO I ALWAYS GET LOUSY COFFEE?”

    “Er…you killed the flavor?” Newsie guessed timidly.

    “Around here, I’m sure it tastes like sin anyway,” Mrs Crimp sneered.

    Death stood, brushing coffee droplets from his shroud. Alarmed, Gina stepped into his path, making Newsie cringe against her shoulder. “Uh…aren’t you taking the dead bag lady with you?” she asked.

    Death shook his skull in a definite negative. Newsie realized suddenly you haven’t really understood the depths of the gesture for No until you’ve seen the Grim Reaper do it. “SHE’S YOUR PROBLEM NOW. SHE WON’T SHUT UP ABOUT HER SON BEING INVOLVED WITH YOU, AND FRANKLY, I CAN’T TAKE ANY MORE OF THE NAGGING! YOU BOTH HAVE FORTY-EIGHT HOURS TO GET SOMETHING WORKED OUT.”

    “’Worked out’? What do you mean, ‘worked out’?” Newsie choked, looking fearfully from the ghost of his mother to the spectre of Death.

    “Why don’t you just bring him back with us? Or leave me here, and do something appropriate to her?” Mrs Crimp badgered.

    Death loomed over the grey Muppet crone. “AGAINST THE RULES, BESSIE! WE’VE BEEN OVER THIS A THOUSAND TIMES!” To Newsie, he intoned: “BUT I *WILL* BEND THE RULES IF I HAVE TO! I CAN’T – STAND – NAGGING!”

    “Erk!” Newsie gulped, shrinking away from the terrible Reaper.

    “SO WORK IT OUT! I DON’T CARE HOW! *YOU* CAUSED THIS; *YOU* SOLVE IT – OR ELSE!” The frustrated spectre glided off, somehow giving the impression of stomping angrily. “TWO DAYS! TWO DAYS WITHOUT THAT HARRIDAN SNIPING AT ME…I MIGHT ACTUALLY GET SOMETHING DEAD…”

    With a horrible shriek like an owl being strangled, swooping through the apartment in his wake, Death simply vanished. The sunlight slowly trickled back over the windowsills. The oppressive coldness filling the apartment dissipated. Newsie stared at Gina; she stared back. Both of them looked down at the elderly woman who so closely resembled Newsie; she glared back, arms crossed, tapping one foot in an orthopedic shoe. Before anyone could say anything, a cloud crossed the room, the living shivered, and in a burst of grave-dust and squeaking bats, Death reappeared.

    Everyone froze. Death grabbed his scythe, which he’d left leaning against the dining room wall. Realizing suddenly all eyes were upon him, he paused, looked around, shrugged, and grumbled, “YEAH? *YOU* TRY KEEPING TRACK OF OVER A MILLION DEATHS A DAY!”

    With another eerie, squawking bird-knell, he disappeared.
  4. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    What a pleasant surprise to find a new Newsie and Gina story from you just now. Finished reading both chapters... The references!

    You've brought in Rhonda as Newsie's aid... And though I only know her from my previous Muppet Listings efforts never having seen the character—and prefering Yolanda—I have to say I've come to like her inclusion and development in these fics.
    *Chuckles at the mention of Newsie remembering a former roomie and the name confusion over the camerasloth.
    BTW: Tommy the Sloth? Thought Rhonda's cameraman was Doolly the Aardvark. That reminds me, she also had an effective manner of dealing with unruly interviewees... Namely, Trapdoor the Cat.
    The fact you've got that Muppasaurus Tex makes me think there's a renewal in dino-interest around here, what with muppetwriter's upcoming fic in the fall.
    The interviewee who went on a tech-rant... Digit?
    Of corpse they'd think it's all about collecting souls for Death. Sheesh, he hasn't gone on a good reaping since the Huggy Bear incident (Mandy keeps him on a tight slave leash).
    *Smiles at Death going to get the coffee kettle... That's fright... Since they couldn't stop for you, you kindly stopped for them. And got the tea or coffee as the case may be.
    Hoo-boy, it's gonna be a looooong two days with Florabelle Crimp isn't it?
    And about that mummy... That wouldn't be a shot at the group of singing sarcophagi from the performance of "Night And Day" from the Gladys Knight TMS episode would it?

    Thanks for posting... More please!
  5. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Ed, as usual you have out-referenced me!

    Yes, I did look up the "original" Rhonda but mine is a slightly different take. I knew about the aardvark but somehow a stoner sloth just seemed really funny to me, especially in the high-stress, high-speed modern broadcast news world. As to Trapdoor...maybe. I haven't actually SEEN any of that show, and I hate using characters I know little about!

    Oh yes. I have many ugly things in mind for poor Newsie, caused this time not by his own curse but the curse of his birth to such a prim and proper Muppet. Hee, hee, hee...

    Wow! The Gladys Knight ep! Yes I recall it vaguely...but no. I was thinking of the "Hobbit" early-man discovery in Indonesia, and thought a similar skew of Muppet evolution would be fun to play with. Plus, as a kid I was scared when I read a kids' ghost story book which asserted that guards in the Museum (yes, same one as "Night at the Museum" in NYC) had heard odd noises coming from the mummy cases late at night, and objects moving around... And naturally, as a young child I was CONVINCED dinosaur skeletons came alive after everyone left, and was always awed and wary of them, when I saw some great ones at the Field Museum in Chicago (on visits from Detroit). And given our Newsie's rather nervous constitution... heh, heh, heh.

    More soon; working on part 3 already. Suggestions are happily accepted here as to which Muppets people might like to see in action, as I haven't fleshed out all the scenes in my head yet! Glad you like, and thank you!
  6. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Three

    Still shaking, Newsie wrapped his arms around Gina’s shoulders; she embraced him in return, but just as they were about to kiss they were rudely reminded of the intruder to their home. “Don’t you dare touch him with those dirty lips! I know what you were about to call me! Someone ought to wash your mouth out with soap, you nasty child!”

    “Mother, please,” Newsie groaned. He gave Gina a helpless look. Frowning, she gently set him upon his feet, hoping he could regain a little dignity on his own. As the Newsman turned reluctantly around to confront the frosty Muppet revenant, Mrs Crimp stepped closer, brandishing a waggling finger.

    “And don’t you ‘Mother please’ me! I raised you better than this, Aloysius!”

    Newsie flinched. Gina glared at the old woman. “I think I need some of that coffee,” Gina muttered, heading for the kitchen.

    “You…you might want to start a fresh pot,” Newsie said, shooting a glance at the mug Death had discarded. At least those bony teeth hadn’t touched his favorite pottery mug, or Gina’s either. “Uh…would you like a cup of coffee, Mother?”

    “Don’t be absurd. You know I had to give it up for my health,” Mrs Crimp sniffed.

    “Does that matter now?” Newsie mumbled, eyes downcast, hands clenched together over his chest. Forty-eight hours? To solve WHAT? He could barely come to grips with the idea that the domineering woman whom he’d felt obligated to devote most of his life to, and had finally been freed of nine years ago, was suddenly back and as harsh as ever…much less the apparent demand Death himself had just made concerning Newsie’s mother, who had never, ever, wavered from an opinion once her mind was set. Gulping, he tried the gentle approach, though he still couldn’t bear to look at her. “So…uh…Mother…how…how have you been?”

    “Well, up until a few months ago, fine enough, I suppose,” Mrs Crimp said, casting haughty looks around the colorful, formerly peaceful apartment. She sailed like an overburdened cargo sloop into the living room, with her anxious son pacing after. “Always a little too hot, or a little too cold, or too noisy with all those other people around, no such thing as a perfect underworld, but, just like the living world, it’s pointless to complain, no one ever listens.” She glowered at the framed Jacek Yerka print, “Illegal Light-Making,” which Newsie had hung on the living room wall among all of Gina’s Art Nouveau posters.

    The painting, a metaphor for small, personal resistance under the Communist rule in Poland during the Cold War years, had served as a quiet inspiration to the Newsman since he’d first chanced to see it. A rusted oildrum of a furnace took up the central spot of the scene, a wood fire beneath it stoking up a beautiful, pure white glow within the boiling container. Small bowls of light had already been scooped from the drum, perhaps as tasting samples, like moonshine in the Kentucky hills. Storage cupboards and a pile of red potatoes on the right, and a wall simply vanishing into a northern-latitude endless twilight to the left of the furnace, spoke of both secrecy and freedom. The soft earth colors felt more soothing than revolutionary; if this was a protest, as the title implied, it was a very quiet one. The symbolism of it attracted the Newsman strongly, especially since he’d met Gina. He was not a Muppet for broad gestures like Gonzo, or open defiance like Rizzo…but with his love, he felt free finally; around her, he could relax, safe from ridicule…or from things falling on him.

    His mother knew nothing about art. “She has a picture of an oil drum in a nasty, dirty cellar? And of alcohol, and sex?” She gestured at the posters depicting an ad for absinthe and for a clothier from turn-of-the-century Paris, both with voluptuous young women gowned in flowing wisps of fabric or mist. “I cannot believe that this is the company my son keeps!”

    “I can’t believe this witch was able to produce such a caring man,” Gina growled, standing in the kitchen doorway. Newsie threw her a worried look, but his mother didn’t seem to have heard.

    “Uh…Mother…I think maybe you, uh, you’ve judged a little quickly…” Newsie began, but his mother whirled on him with a scowl even more pronounced than his worst, her tiny glasses pinned between her nose and her forehead.

    “I should say the same to you!” she snapped. “How long did you know this tramp before she seduced you into moving in? Little gold-digger!”

    “That. Is. Enough,” Gina snarled, striding over, a mug of fresh steaming coffee in hand. She stopped right beside Mrs Crimp, taking advantage of her height to loom over the ghostly Muppet. “This is my home! Mine and Newsie’s! I don’t care who you are, I don’t care how dead you are, no one walks into a house of the kalo rat and insults one of us!”

    Newsie was thrown a second before he recalled a little of the scattered Romany words Gina had taught him. ‘Kalo rat’…true blood. Oh, no. Please don’t make this a Gypsy honor thing, he thought, worried. He knew from experience now that she only ever used words like that when she was really, deeply upset or angry. “Uh, Gina, uhm, I’m sure this is all just a, heh, heh, a case of mistaken impressions, a, uh, a culture clash…”

    Neither of the two most important women in his life was having any of it. “Oh, you’re gonna see a culture clash in a minute,” Gina muttered.

    “So now she’s a rat? And she objected to being called a dog!” Mrs Crimp sniffed.

    “Uh, no, Mother; that was Gypsy language. You see, Gina’s ancestors—“

    “You’re about to hear some non-animal-related words, so you’d better cover your prissy ears, old witch,” Gina warned.

    “Are you going to let her talk to me like that?” Newsie’s mother demanded of him.

    “Uh, er, please! Wait just a—“

    “Dirty hussy!”

    “Stuck-up old hag!”

    “What has she done to you, Aloysius? Now you come with me; I’ll take you down to the Y and get you all scrubbed clean…”


    “Clean? Why don’t we talk about the damage you did to him by insisting love was dirty? It took me weeks to get him to stop wearing pajama styles older than Waldorf!”


    “Love is chaste, you trollop! What you’ve done to him isn’t love, it’s so sinful I’ll have to scrub him bright red to get the filth off!”

    “Mother, ple—“

    “What warped corner of Puritania did you waddle out of? Do you know what he moans to me, during that wonderful sin?”

    “Gina! Ple—“

    Mrs Crimp drew back, shocked, then grabbed Newsie’s left arm. “That is enough! Aloysius, I am taking you home!”

    “N-no! Stop!” Newsie struggled to free himself from the ice-cold, iron grip.

    “What, you hadn’t smothered enough life out of him when you were alive, you have to drag him to the grave right when he’s finally begun to live for his own happiness?” Gina argued, holding Newsie’s right arm tightly. A tug of war ensued a few seconds, with the Newsman frantically caught between the two angry women, until with a cry of pain Newsie yelled at them both.


    Suddenly realizing he was hurt, Gina let him go; Newsie tumbled onto his mother, knocking her to the rug. With a gasp he quickly jumped back, freed of her deathly grip as well. “Clumsy little oaf!” the old Muppet shouted; Newsie hesitated before offering her a hand up, and she shoved him away, righting herself with many puffs of outrage. “This! This is what you’ve become without me: a rude, sinful, horrible little boy badly in need of discipline!”

    “Mother! I am not your little boy anymore!” Newsie shouted, unable to stomach the tension any further. Surprised, his mother stared at him a moment, then lifted up her nose, turned her head away, and drew her shoulders up tightly. Oh, no, he thought, Not the wounded thing. Not again, not now. Sure enough, the elder Crimp began sniffling, her eyes shut behind her spectacles.

    “I don’t freaking believe this,” Gina muttered. She drew Newsie closer, her arm over his shoulders. “Newsie, you have to get rid of her. I can’t deal with this much craziness. I’m sorry.”

    Unhappily, he looked up at Gina. She seemed about to kiss his forehead, then glanced at Mrs Crimp, changed her mind, and simply walked away, heading for the bedroom. “I have to get dressed. I have work.”

    Dismayed, he stared after her. Behind him, his mother loudly cleared her throat. “Good riddance to bad rubbish. I am willing to forget how you just treated me, Aloysius Ambrosius Crimp, if you leave this place at once and get yourself properly presentable for me. I am frankly shocked that you’d allow yourself to be seen in so little clothing – and such atrocious things, at that!”

    Newsie glanced down at the boxers and t-shirt he still had on. “It isn’t as though I even knew you were, uh, dropping in, Mother!” he muttered glumly.

    She glared imperiously down her long nose at him through those tiny spectacles. He’d always hated how she would tilt her head so the light would glare off the lenses, giving the impression that she had fiery bright eyes instead of dull, small, watery ones. It had always felt like the harsh light of judgment blazing down upon him. “And that’s your excuse? Have you forgotten every shred of decent manners I schooled you in? A fine legacy I find here! A Crimp, half-nude, living in sin! Just think what your poor Aunt Ethel would have thought – why, she’d have a heart attack if she knew what you were up to!”

    “I doubt she’d even recognize me, Mother,” Newsie retorted. His elderly aunt was regrettably now confined in the Long Shadows Upon the Dial Happy Home for the Dangerously Senile, out in Queens, where her own stepchildren had placed her after that unfortunate incident with the guinea pig colony and her weaving loom. The poor woman had mistaken the guineas for balls of yarn and given out some disturbingly squealing sweaters for Christmas that year…

    “Not how you’ve changed, no, she wouldn’t! I barely recognize my own son myself! I raised you better than this!” She resumed the sniffling, shaking her head. “I tried…I tried so hard to make you good, always sacrificing my bridge nights to give you the discipline you so badly needed! It’s your father’s fault, dying like that when you were a baby, so you never had a strong hand around the home to guide you!”

    Newsie reflected in some pain that he’d never felt deprived of a strong hand, though “guiding” wouldn’t have been the term he would’ve used to describe his mother’s typical laying-on-of-hands. Gina strode back into the living room, not even glancing at Mrs Crimp, opening the armoire holding all the entertainment electronics and doing something with the stereo and her iPod. Newsie hurried to her side. “What can I do?” he whispered, worried. “I don’t know how to make her stop complaining to Death! She’s always complained about everything!”

    Gina gave him a very dark look. “Stand up to her, Newsie. I’m serious. We can not have that…that woman lousing up our lives! At least, I know I can’t!” He stared at her, stricken, as she pushed a few buttons and some quiet acoustic guitar began playing a song he didn’t know through the living room speakers. Standing up, dressed in an even more raggily casual t-shirt and cutoff shorts than usual – no doubt to antagonize the disapproving Muppet lady further – Gina slung her small purse under her arm, and put a hand on Newsie’s shoulder. “I love you. But I will not deal with this pleasantly. So think about what you need to do. See you later.”

    She left the apartment. Newsie gulped, watching the door close. The song she’d put on the sound system seemed quiet enough, at least, and he hoped it was a peace offering: “Mother, do you think they’ll drop the bomb?” an even-toned male voice sang softly. “Mother, do you think they’ll like this song…”

    “Are you ready?” Mrs Crimp asked. Newsie stared at her, worried.

    “Uh…ready for what?”

    “To apologize to me for the horrible treatment I have received today! I have never been so ashamed! You stood there like a tongue-tied cretin and let her say those awful things!”

    “You said some mean things too,” he pointed out, disgruntled, and suddenly she was shoving one pointy-manicured finger against the underside of his nose. “Ow, ow, ow!”

    “You horrible, shameless, spineless, disloyal little beast!” she shrieked, making him wince again. He stumbled, trying to back away, to free his nose from that painfully sharp French tip, but she stepped with him, keeping the pressure up, as she’d favored ever since he’d grown taller than her by a couple of inches and dragging him by his collar had become difficult for her to manage, with her declining strength. “How dare you! How dare you insult me by…by shacking up with this disgusting, amoral little floozy!”

    “Gina is not a floozy!” Newsie yelled back, shoving his mother a step back.

    Both of them froze. Mrs Crimp looked so shocked, so hurt, that instantly he felt guilty. What on earth had got into him? He’d never had a violent temper! “I’m…I’m sorry, Mother. I…I didn’t mean…”

    His mother stared at him in silence a whole minute; the music broke into a slow rock rhythm, and Mrs Crimp scowled deeply. “Well,” she said icily. “I see things are worse than I suspected. There’s a phrase for what you’ve become, Aloysius. I am far too polite to use that sort of language, but if I were a nasty, crude, trash-mouthed hussy like that creature who’s ensnared you, I might be tempted to use the word,” she coughed delicately, distastefully, “whipped.”

    The Newsman blushed, immediately angry and ashamed. “Mother!”

    “I can see you’re in no mood for reason right now. We’ll speak more about this later.”

    “Mother, I will not—“

    But she was gone. Vanished, leaving only the faint scent of pine floor cleaner in the air, and a knife in her son’s heart. Dispirited, he stood there a long while, the words to the song still playing registering finally: “Mama’s gonna check out all your girlfriends for you, Mama won’t let anyone dirty get through…”

    He slumped onto the couch, removed his glasses carefully, and covered his face with his hands. His stomach roiled, and he grimaced, holding in the bile wanting to come up his throat. It couldn’t possibly be any worse than this. Suddenly he wished his mother was still alive; at least then he might have a chance, if he changed his appearance and moved someplace she wouldn’t follow him…say, Borneo.

    The song finished as the Newsman sat there, his body crumpled over, feeling a sickening sense of impending loss. He barely listened as the music ended and the apartment fell completely silent once more: “Mother, did it need to be so high…”
  7. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Four

    The acrobats seemed a little unsteady, and Gina made a wide swerve around them as they wobbled in a human pyramid. It seemed absurd to her that the heaviest member of the troupe would be the one they catapulted to the top of the six-man stack, but maybe that was all part of the act. Unhappily she grabbed the long locks which were trying to slip free of her ponytail and rewrapped the plain hair scrunchie holding them out of her face, then bent again to check her lighting plot. The specials for the acrobats, the downlight and spotlight for the comedian, and general area lights in attractive gels of soft pink and blue had all been hung, circuited, and roughly focused. That left…she sighed, studying the list with only half the items checked off. That left the sidelights for the dance numbers, whatever the magician wanted – assuming he even showed up – and a dimmer check, a few effects programmed into the lighting board, and assigning a few more simple “looks” to the board’s slider controls. At least this was going to be stripped-down enough, and a bit on the fly, so she wasn’t bothering to write formal light cues. Striding hurriedly with her hand-drafted light plot and checklist in hand, past the tall instrument “trees” on stage right at the Sosilly Theatre, she suddenly tripped. She had to grab one of the heavy steel crossbeams of the tree to keep from sprawling face-first. Angrily glaring at the spaghetti-nest of lighting cables which had snagged her, Gina wondered where the heck her tech assistant was. “Alan!” she shouted. Several people around the stage area, including all of the acrobats, froze and jeked their heads in her direction.

    Oh, dear. Did she sound angry? Well, she had d—d good reason to be! Fuming, Gina pointed at the mess of cables as her volunteer techie, a high school kid whose grandfather was on the board for the theatre, scurried over. “What does this look like to you, Alan?”

    “Uh…a lot of lighting cables?”

    “Wrong. The correct term for this is ‘OSHA violation and broken leg waiting to happen!’” Gina snapped. “Didn’t I tell you to make sure every single cable was coiled and stacked properly, and everything on the floor gaff-taped!” It wasn’t a question, and fortunately the teen who’d wanted so badly to help in an actual stage production realized no response was probably the best response. He whipped a heavy roll of gaff tape from a carabiner on his belt-loop and bent at once to fix the mess. Sighing in frustration, Gina stomped off toward the lighting booth. Dress tonight, open tomorrow; dress tonight, open tomorrow, she kept thinking. This morning’s confrontation with the departed Mrs Crimp had set her very much on edge, and small things going wrong weren’t going to ease the situation any.

    In the booth which overlooked the whole floor of the small black-box space, Gina’s friend Scott was hunched over the sound controls, one ear engulfed in a giant headset as he played back something on an old reel-to-reel machine. Gina fell into the chair before the lightboard, taking a deep breath and then a long sip of the energy drink she’d bought from a street vendor before she entered the theatre this morning, since her usual coffee had been cut short and breakfast was a bust. Scott glanced up, shut off the reel player, and sat back in his chair as well. “Huh. You thought about upping your caffeine intake?” When Gina shot him an irritated look, he continued mildly, “’Cause you’ve really been slackin’ off, and I’m getting’ tired of carrying the load. Pick it up already!”

    Gina snorted something unrepeatable at him, and Scott grinned. “Hey, chill, okay? Look, most of it’s done. All the areas are covered, they’re gelled and rough-focused; I tested the amps and mics for the singers earlier and it’s all good. Not even lunch yet and that’s the big ones all done,” Scott pointed out.

    “Yeah, okay,” Gina agreed. She leaned on the light console a moment, staring absently out as the acrobats shifted around and began practicing a tumbling move, somersaulting over one another back and forth within the bright but soft-edged lights of their onstage boundaries. “I still don’t know what the magician wants! Is he even here?”

    “Oh, that Amazing Mumbles guy? Yeah, he’s…” Scott stared out at the stage, then frowned. “Huh. Well, he was there a second ago.”

    “Well, whatever. If he wants lights other than general areas, he can come find me,” Gina decided, then looked quizzically at the reel-to-reel tape. “What are you doing with that dinosaur, anyway?”

    “Oh, this is for the magician. It’s his theme music and a bunch of canned applause. He wants it played after every trick.”

    “Are you serious?” Gina shook her head. “Canned applause? He does know this is a live show, right? Two nights and a matinee of real audience members?”

    Scott shrugged. “Guess he’s not that good an act!”

    Gina groaned. “Who booked these nuts, anyway?”

    Together, they chorused, “Paul.” Neither of them had been thrilled about the idea of the somewhat disreputable producer striking a deal with the Sosilly’s directors to stage his charity event here, mainly because they’d heard stories from other techies about what a skinflint, domineering, foolish impresario Paul Grouper was. After meeting him last week, Gina and Scott had agreed with the others’ impressions of the fast-talking, fat-lipped, perpetually-grinning producer, but they’d volunteered to run the charity show nonetheless, both because it was a good cause and because they worried that Paul might truck half the electronics out the back door some night if not supervised: he seemed a bit fishy to them. Gina had dodged him three times already this morning, in no mood to deal with his nonsense on top of everything else.

    “Ah! Ready to discuss my stupendous theatrical revival?” an unfamiliar, nasal voice drawled from the door to the booth. Gina had sworn she’d shut it behind her; she turned, puzzled to see a short, violet-skinned man in a formal tux, top hat and cape. He beamed broadly at her, though his eyes seemed squinted shut beneath heavy black brows. The booth door was not only still shut, Gina could see the deadbolt locked from where she’d sat. How had this character even entered?

    “Uh…can we help you?” she asked uncertainly. Scott waved a hand from the short man to Gina.

    “Hey, this is the magician, Amazing…uh…”

    “The Amazing Mumford, my son!” the purple man said grandly, bowing to Gina. “Professional prestidigitator, prevaricator, and purveyor of the most astounding acts you have ever seen, my child, I guar-an-tee!”

    “Uh huh,” Gina said doubtfully. “Mumford? What, after the band?”

    “I’ve no idea what you mean,” the magician said, then gestured with his hat out at the lights hanging from the grid. “Now, I’ll need some nice spooky lighting, as well befits the mysterious nature of the performance I intend to give to these good people!”

    “Spooky,” Gina repeated, looking at the tiny white tie and broad lapels of the old-school tux, the white spats and spit-polished shoes, the hat taller than the man’s actual head by several inches, and the self-satisfied smile. “You, uh…you do know tonight’s only the dress rehearsal, right? And we’re just doing run-throughs right now.”

    “Of course, very professional of you, I approve,” the magician drawled, sounding very like W.C. Fields to Gina. All he needed was a cigar to complete the attitude. He must have realized she’d been eyeing his formal clothing, and laughed lightly. “Ahh, this old rag? No, no! I shall present myself far more nattily for the actual shows, believe me!” Leaning a bit closer to Gina, he whispered loudly, “I’ll wear the red cape for that!”

    “Ooo…kay,” Gina said, and checked out the booth window. The acrobats were taking a break, so she began pulling up sliders on the console. “How about this one?” Several lights washed the stage in a central area of pale blue, surrounded by darker indigo-hued pools. “Is that spooky enough?”

    “Marvelous! Spectacular! It’ll do.”

    “All right,” Gina sighed, eager to get rid of the self-possessed performer and get on with the rest of her tasks. “Great. And do you want a spotlight? We have one, with an operator.”

    “That would be lovely! And are you going to be my assistant?”

    “What?” Gina stared agape a moment at the magician. Scott raised both brows, biting back a grin, interested in what reply Gina might make to that.

    “Why, your show producer promised me a lovely, leggy, redheaded assistant! I can only presume he meant you, my dear!” the magician said, leaning toward her with a smile he probably thought was charming.

    Gina stared at him speechless a long minute, trying her best not to speak aloud any of the curses going through her brain. Finally she was able to limit her reply to a simple, “No.” In the corner, pretending to fool with the reel player, Scott was shaking in silent mirth. Swallowing back her anger, Gina added, “I’m sorry. I have to run the show. Why don’t you just grab a volunteer from the audience?”

    “Oh,” the magician said, looking abruptly crestfallen. “My audiences typically haven’t been that…ahem…appreciative…er…enthusiastic…that is to say, I mean…adventurous.” He frowned. “I really wanted to launch my comeback to show business with a leggy redhead! That’s the only reason I chose this dinky little theatre; Paul Grouper promised me just such a young assistant, already well-versed in stage magic!”

    “Well, I’m sure he didn’t mean me,” Gina snapped. “Is there anything else we can help you with, from a technical standpoint, Mr Mumford?”

    “That’s Amazing, dear child. The Amazing Mumford…” he sighed. “I suppose not.” He suddenly whipped out a business card and thrust it into Gina’s hand. “If you change your mind, ever, please give me a call!”

    Gina turned the card over; it seemed to be blank, but then suddenly turned into a bouquet of dusty fake violets. Coughing, Gina threw the musty flowers aside, about to dismiss the magician from the booth: “Great, sure, listen, we really have to—“ But the magician was gone. Gina looked at Scott; he shrugged his bony shoulders, shaking his head.

    “Didn’t see him!” He burst into a guffaw as Gina glared around and out into the catwalks, unable to see where the short purple gent had vanished to so abruptly. “Hey, so, have you picked out a stage name yet?”

    “Shut up, Scott.” Irritated, Gina looked back at her checklist, taking out a pen to write channel four (blues) + spotlight next to her question mark for the magic act.

    “I’m thinkin’ the Feisty Firebrand, Gypsy Gina! Or – or how about – News, Flashier?”

    “Shut up, Scott,” Gina muttered, but her friend, too caught up in his own amusement, didn’t notice how her eyes darkened at that one.

    “No, wait! NewsieFloozie!”

    “Knock it off, d—it!” Gina yelled, startling Scott. As he stared at her, mouth hanging open, she ranted loudly, “I have one **** of a lot to get done today, and stupid, juvenile joking around is not going to help finish any of it! So unless you have something useful to say to me, please shut the h--- up!”

    “Okay,” Scott said quietly. “It’s cool.”

    Gina put her head in her hands a moment. She took several deep breaths.

    “You okay?”

    Gina nodded, but Scott wasn’t fooled. She heard his chair squeak, and a second later his large hands were kneading her tense shoulders. She resisted at first, then gave in with a deep sigh. Finally she mumbled, “I’m sorry. Lotta crap going on.”

    “It’s cool. You, uh, want to talk later?”

    “I can’t.” Gina gently pushed her friend’s hands away, straightening up, and studied her checklist again. “Have you done any work on the trees yet?”

    “Only a rough. We should still do a tight-focus.”

    “Okay. Why don’t we do that, then.”

    Without another word, they left the light booth and trudged down to the stage floor to adjust the lighting instruments on the sidelights, which would highlight every move the dancers made during their numbers. When the technicians had gone, a gray, primly scowling Muppet with her hair in a tight bun appeared in the booth. Well! Flirting with old and young, Muppet and men alike, I see! the very disapproving Mrs Crimp, deceased, thought as she watched the fire-haired hussy emerging below on the stage. It was only too bad Aloysius hadn’t witnessed his so-called girlfriend leading that magician on, with those too-high, ripped shorts and skimpy shirt – and then accepting the roving hands of that beanpole of a blonde young man! Mrs Crimp huffed. It was just as she’d feared: the tramp consorted with everyone behind his back! She nodded grimly to herself. The uncoiled cables had been a test, a warning, but clearly it was going to take stronger measures to dissuade the tall temptress.

    “Well,” Mrs Crimp muttered, “the nice thing about being dead, is that she’ll never know what sent her tumbling into the trash!”

    Gathering up her skirts, the self-appointed guardian of her son’s moral fiber sailed out of the booth, determined to put an end to this affair once and for all.

    “Well, I guess brown is better than so-neon-plaid-it-hurts,” Rhonda observed, giving the Newsman an appraising eye as he caught up to her and the camerasloth in the main lobby of the museum.

    Newsie glowered at her, in no mood to put up with the rat’s continual jibes. “You said the blue shirt! It goes with the brown suit!” He glanced down at himself, tugging his left shirtsleeve a little more past the jacket cuff. The chocolate-shaded jacket and trousers, with bright blue pinstripes, had been one he’d picked out and Gina had approved, so he knew there was nothing wrong with it, and besides, the pale blue shirt and navy-and-brown striped tie looked very smart with it, and offset his new blue-over-black saddle Oxfords quite well.

    Rhonda sighed. “Yeah, whatever. You look like a British pop star in that.”

    “Never mind,” Newsie growled, peering around the cool, wide-open lobby for any sign of the scientists they were supposed to be interviewing. “Where are our experts?”

    “Dunno. Eh, these lab geek types…maybe they got so caught up in poking through bones they forgot they were supposed to meet us here!”

    “I hope not,” Newsie sighed. “We have to keep the special report going another couple of days until the live feed Saturday.” He shot her a glare. “You did get a second camera for Saturday, right?”

    “Yeah, yeah, the aardvark says he’ll be there. Sheesh. What kinda amateur you take me for?” His news producer gave him an equally affronted glare, then looked around once more and reached for her cell phone. It looked expensive; Newsie wondered how on earth Steve Jobs came up with technology that tiny… “Hang on. Dang it…straight to voicemail! Ugh! I hate scientists!”

    Newsie reflected that Rhonda’s antipathy seemed reasonable to him; he wondered whether, like Rizzo, she’d ever been held captive in an experimental laboratory. Before he could ask, a tall-headed, pale-felted, large-mouthed man in a white lab coat burst out of a door marked ‘employees only’ and hurried straight to them. Rhonda cringed as one of the Muppet’s large, rubber-gloved hands reached forward, but all he did was grab the Newsman’s hand and pump it happily. “Oh, there you are! I was wondering why you were so late!”

    “Late?” Newsie asked, taken aback. “Er…I thought you were meeting us at one!”

    “Huh? Oh, no, no, no! Didn’t Mulch call you with the change of plans? Oh, never mind, you’re here now, so let’s do it!” the Muppet curator bubbled cheerfully, waving his hands as he practically danced in place. Newsie and Rhonda traded a bemused look.

    “Uh, Dr Van Neuter, I had thought we’d be interviewing the two scientists who assembled most of the exhibits,” Newsie ventured as they followed the enthusiastic man back through the employee entrance and into the fluorescent-lit, confusing corridors of the museum bowels.

    “Oh, really? You haven’t heard?”

    “Heard what?”

    “Oh. Well! Dr Abercrombie Fish, who discovered the Muppeti quidquid, was supposed to fly in yesterday from Des Moines, where he was attending some sort of fundraiser for hurting children – at least, I think that’s what his secretary said. But somehow his pilot got lost and the plane seems to have vanished!” Van Neuter said, his voice growing hushed a moment, relishing the mystery.

    Newsie started. “That’s terrible! Where was it last spotted?”

    “Over Papua New Guinea. But not to worry! The natives haven’t eaten anyone in almost seventy-five years!” Van Neuter bounced along cheerfully, flinging open the door to a storage room full of dusty crates and racks of specimen jars. Newsie shrank away from the weird, mostly unidentifiable things floating in formaldehyde, some tinted in bright colors. Rhonda poked his leg.

    “Where’d they get this guy, ‘Up with Geekle?’” she hissed at him.

    “He’s supposed to be an expert in his field,” Newsie muttered back.

    “Yeah, left field,” she snorted. “Hey Tommy. Film this. We can use it as filler.” Obediently the sloth adjusted the camera, panning around the crowded aisle of preserved things as they walked. Newsie shuddered. “Or sell it to the Jaycees as a haunted house idea,” Rhonda added thoughtfully.

    “Uh, Dr Van Neuter, what about the other contributor?” Newsie asked.

    “Hm? Oh! Well, Dr Bennigan O’Hara O’doul Friday says he’s contracted a virus and can’t make it.” Van Neuter hummed to himself as he bobbled around to the opposite side of a large desk crammed into the tight space between seven or eight packing crates, and promptly the stethoscope around his neck went flinging off to the side, sticking oddly to the wooden side of a long crate marked “US GOVT TOP SECRET.” When Rhonda and Newsie stared at this, Van Neuter chuckled awkwardly and tugged on the stethoscope. “Heh! Heh! Darned thing…frickle frackling magnetic charge…unnngh!” He yanked it loose with some difficulty, throwing it away to the other side, and beamed at the news crew. “Now, where were we?”

    “A virus? Seriously? Isn’t that the lamest excuse for missing an interview?” Rhonda griped, hopping into the only available chair, a tiny folding campstool which looked too small for anyone else anyway. Uncomfortably, Newsie glanced around at the shelves of jars and the oddly magnetic crate, which seemed to be trying to tug the spiral metal binding of his reporter’s notepad out of his pocket. He slapped a hand over it. The camerasloth stayed a few feet back, but still seemed to be feeling the pull on the camera, and the boom mic swayed a bit as he set it up overhead. Rhonda snapped at Van Neuter, “What is it with you lab geeks? Didn’t he realize this is going to be televised nationwide to all the affiliates? He didn’t want his face on TV?”

    “Not with green fur sprouting all over him,” Van Neuter responded amiably. “He seemed very up, which is good. I always say a positive attitude is the best weapon against any illness! I spoke to him earlier right before his lips turned to clamshells.”

    Newsie shuddered, startled; even Rhonda blanched. Oblivious, Van Neuter smiled at them. “So! I will be your guest today! I’m sure your viewers will be much more impressed that you got to interview the actual curator of the whooooole exhibit!” He looked around for an intercom button, but if there was one, it was hidden by the stacks of lab journals and random computer parts strewing his desk. “Oh where is that darned thing… Muuuuullllch! Mulch Mulch Mulch!” he yelled suddenly. Newsie wondered whether this was the odd man’s way of cursing until a lumbering blue quasimodo suddenly popped into view. “Oh there you are! Mulch, bring us some coffee!”

    “Aw ruh roongenuh urgh awwah!” the blue Muppet argued, gesturing at his boss. Newsie couldn’t help but stare at the assistant’s head; that had to be the worst toupée he’d ever seen. It looked like a pile of fake Easter grass.

    “Well then go get some! Honestly, what do I pay you for?” Van Neuter cried, waving his long arms in frustration.

    “Ruh awaaraghh oonga!” Mulch grumbled, but shambled away again. “Ruh!” he added as he left.

    “You’ll be lucky to get intern wages after that little quip!” Van Neuter called back, then returned his attention to the others. “So! All set up? Great! Ask away!”

    Newsie looked at Rhonda; she shrugged, rolling her eyes, and gestured at the sloth to begin filming. Newsie tried to get himself into a more professional frame of mind. “Ahem. Uh…Dr Van Neuter, what can you tell us about the proto-Muppet specimens on display in this groundbreaking exhibit?”

    “Groundbreaking! Ahah! That’s very good!” the curator exclaimed; Newsie remembered the camera was on, and refrained from giving Rhonda an incredulous look. Van Neuter beamed, grabbed the boom mic, and dragged it down to his mouth. A squeal came from the portable mixer the sloth carried. “Well! The so called proto-Muppets, or ‘Muppet Hobbits’ as we in the know like to call them…”

    Rhonda gestured at Newsie furiously; feeling like an idiot for having to do it, Newsie gently pushed the mic out of Van Neuter’s face, shaking his head. “Like, ow, dude,” Tommy the sloth muttered, his brain catching up to his ears even as the feedback quit.

    “Oh, sorry! Like I was saying, the proto-Muppets were a mysterious race! We know they lived in caves, where they had some form of organized religion, and made beautiful tools and personal ornaments! A very advanced species for the time!”

    “Do we have examples of any of the tools this enigmatic race of Muppets may have used?” Newsie asked.

    “Oh, certainly!” Van Neuter scrabbled through his desk, producing something that looked like a vegetable peeler. “We have this! Note, if you will, the careful craftsmanship, the curved form, the –ow—sharp blade! Dr Fish had speculated these early Muppets may have been carnivores, and this was used for scraping the flesh off a three-day-old carcass of a Muppet elephant, left rotting for days in—“

    “That’s a vegetable peeler,” Rhonda interrupted.

    “What?” The curator stared at the instrument, small eyes widening. “Oh! Hah hah! So it is!” He tossed the thing wildly away, but the magnetic crate attracted it with an audible zzhhhhooop. “Silly me! Well, that really isn’t my area of expertise, you know! I’m really more into the biology than the anthropology. But Mulch here has been working on a translation of the proto-Muppet language!”

    Everyone shuffled aside as the grouchy hunchback distributed paper cups of strong-smelling black coffee, muttering until he heard his name being mentioned. “Uhhrah? Awrh,” he nodded, his expression turning proudly complacent. Behind his back, Newsie and Rhonda each sniffed at their darkly ominous coffees, glanced at one another – Rhonda had been given a huge cup, Newsie a tiny one – silently traded cups, sniffed again, and as one set the dubious refreshment aside on the crates.

    Newsie tried resume the interview. “Er…Mr Mulch? What can you tell us about this ancient Muppet language?”

    He regretted the question immediately. The blue hunchback hogged the camera, elbowing Newsie aside so he was half-squashed against a box. “Ruh rah rahrah runga awoo ungh errah!” Mulch growled importantly, waving his hands to make whatever point he was making.

    “Oh, you did not go to Cornell! You padded your résumé!” Dr Van Neuter snapped, and an argument broke out loudly between the two of them as to Mulch’s actual linguistic qualifications. Rhonda smacked her face with a paw. Desperately Newsie tried to regain control of the interview.

    “That’s…that’s great. Thank you.” He flinched when the hunchback swung meaty arms and growled something which might have been protest, or insult, or merely acknowledgment, before trudging away. Straightening his jacket collar and tie, Newsie turned back to Van Neuter. “Uh, so, Doctor. Your background is as a biologist?”

    “Veterinarian, actually. But I am absolutely fascinated by the Muppasaurs!”

    Rhonda, out of camerasight, shook her head, giving up. “Where the heck is that cat when I could really use him…”

    “They, uh, they certainly are impressive fossils,” Newsie said, hoping against hope to obtain some kind of usable footage from this. “How many species are featured in the new exhibit?”

    “Oh, a bazillion!” Van Neuter exclaimed happily, then revised his estimate. “Hm. No, actually, I think it’s only about twelve. But that does include the amazing, ginormous, absolutely vicious specimen of Muppetasaurus Tex! Isn’t that one just to die for? Die for! Get it?”

    “Tell us about the history of that particular fossil skeleton,” Newsie offered. “I understand it was the first complete example of the species ever unearthed!”

    “Oh, who cares about that? It’s big, it’s mean, it’s dead!” Van Neuter cried, throwing his hands in the air. “Now what really interests me is the DNA I’ve extracted from the bone marrow of that stupendously massive thigh bone! Did you know,” he bent over the desk, staring wildly at the Newsman, “that Muppasaur DNA is still present in their living descendants, Muppet birds? Isn’t that amazing? Why, with the right techniques, you could activate those dormant genes and turn a simple Muppet bird into a hideous, raving, slathering Muppasaur with huge teeth!”

    “Erk!” Newsie gulped involuntarily, jerking back, but suddenly Van Neuter lunged over the desk, grabbing Newsie’s long, straight, pointed nose.

    “Why, all I need is a Muppet bird to inject a little prehistoric DNA into, to trigger the retro-genetic engineering process! You’re not a bird, are you?” He twisted Newsie’s nose this way and that, peering closely at it.

    Outraged, the Newsman yanked free, touching his fingertips to his bruised nose. “No!” he honked angrily.

    “Oh,” Van Neuter said, crestfallen. “Looked like a beak to me. My mistake!” He turned to Rhonda and the sloth, frowning. “You two aren’t birdish at all, are you?”

    “ThanksDocthat’sallthetimewehavetoday,” Rhonda squeaked in one breath, grabbing Newsie’s coatsleeve. “Cut!”

    “Cut?” Van Neuter repeated, eyes brightening.

    “Ack! Run!” Rhonda shrieked, bolting for the exit.

    “It does not look like a beak!” Newsie snapped at the curator, nervously backing away as well. When he was clear of the tight area around the desk, he turned and hastened after his producer. The sloth slowly lowered the camera, looked at Van Neuter, shrugged, and began packing up the equipment.

    “Oh,” Van Neuter said, disappointed. “Oh well. Bye-bye! Enjoy the exhibit!” He looked smugly at Mulch as the assistant peered after the slouching sloth. “Well! That should prove to you I can so do well on TV!”

    “Ungah row row raffahunga!” Mulch snorted, starting yet another argument.

    “What! I do not need camera makeup! I have perfect felt!...”

    In the relatively fresh air of the museum lobby, Newsie paused to take a deep breath after running all the way out. Rhonda was leaning against a pillar, panting, and gave him an angry look as he approached. “What did I tell you? I hate scientists!”

    Newsie didn’t have anything to add to that. “Can you…do you…do you think we can use any of that?” he puffed.

    Rhonda sighed. “Maybe. I should be paid extra for all the editing I have to do for your reports!” She shook her head, looked around, and pointed at the barosaurus display just inside the Central Park West entrance. “Creepy things. That’s what the viewers wanna see. Let’s go get a shot of one of the smaller Muppasaurs for your stand-up and then get the footage back to the station for cutting and pasting.”

    “All right,” Newsie agreed, beckoning to the sloth just now emerging from the employee door. He frowned at his notes. “I’m going to have to redo the intro completely! None of what I wrote could possibly prepare anyone for that ranting vet!”

    “Don’t worry about it,” Rhonda promised him as they set off for the next floor. “I’ll cut the ranting. We’ll just shoot more of the exhibit. Teaser shots, and you’ll voiceover.”

    “Voiceover?” Newsie frowned again. That was the lowest form of airtime a network correspondent could get.

    Rhonda shrugged. “Hey, your back was to the camera for the whole interview anyway – unless you want we should use the bit with him grabbing you by the schnozz. Nice profile, by the way.”

    “Absolutely not!” Newsie fumed. “You know, I am sick of everyone going out of their way to humiliate me!”

    “What?” Surprised, Rhonda stopped, but Newsie stomped past her, still furious. “Newsie, no one’s—“

    “’Pretty in Plaid’? ‘Newsgeek’? ‘El Pineapple’?” Newsie was close to shouting. “You think it’s funny? You don’t think I put my heart and soul into this job every day?”

    “Whoa,” Rhonda said, scurrying after him. “Hey, look, I thought we were friends! Friends kid around, right? I wasn’t trying to—“

    “Well I don’t kid!” Newsie roared, whirling around to yell in the rat’s face. Rhonda flinched at the full blast of anger from that wide mouth, then stood up taller, set her paws on her hips, and glared at him.

    “Fine! Fine!” she squeaked angrily. “Ya don’t have to blow my fur off!” She smoothed down her blouse, tossed her nose in the air, and huffed at him, “Forget it! I’m just gonna go back and start editing your wonderful, professional, perfect little interview, and if and when you wanna join me in recording something constructive you’re welcome to it!” She immediately headed back down the stairs to the lobby, muttering as she went: “Sheesh! Give a reporter a little face time with the camera, they start thinking they’re frog’s gift to network news!”

    Tommy paused, looking slowly from Rhonda to Newsie and back, shrugged again, and started lugging the equipment after the rat. The Newsman felt a pang of guilt. Kidding or no, his producer, editor, and yes, friend was indeed a pro at her job, and he had no right to yell at her as he’d seen the station manager do to the coffee interns. He realized he was still smarting from the conflict this morning. What the heck am I going to do? I don’t know how to make Mother like Gina – I couldn’t even get her to like ME! he thought, instantly depressed again. Come to think of it, it wasn’t like his mother to let an issue drop for even an hour, and it had been several since he’d had to deal directly with her. Where was she? This did not bode well at all! What if she was harassing Gina? Then he’d have to try to calm down both of them! Shivering unhappily, he looked all around, but saw no sign of the ghost. Of course, that means nothing, he realized. She could be right here and you’d never know it until she said something. If she was good at that when she was alive, how much better is she now? The prospect was far from comforting. His nervous temperament had been well-earned after numerous incidents of his mother sneaking up behind him to try and catch him doing something he shouldn’t be, such as taking a cookie from her stash of them. He’d almost never actually defied her, despite her constant belief to the contrary. Well, he thought grimly, then it’s about time you did.

    Taking a deep breath, he glanced warily around once more, and whispered to the air, “Mother, if you’re here, I’m not giving her up. Not ever!” He waited, but no reply came. Only slightly relieved, he ran after Rhonda. “Rhonda! Wait! I’m sorry!”

    The magician had been trying a coin trick for almost ten minutes now; Gina hoped this wasn’t the extent of his repertoire or it would be a very long evening. Although she’d reminded the strange Muppet this was only the dry run-through for the tech crew to get their routine in place, and so he didn’t really need to do a complete act, Mumford had insisted upon performing “just one trick,” and announced he was going to make a gold coin appear in an audience member’s pocket. After numerous waves of his wand, and repeated pronouncements of some nonsense about peanut butter sandwiches, the coin he’d tossed into the air and made to vanish had yet to turn up anywhere.

    “Okay already,” Gina growled. “Can we just move on?”

    Scott snickered, slumped back in an audience seat at the edge of the stage while Gina paced the aisle impatiently. His long outstretched arms showed off a multitude of tattoos, including the newest one on his left forearm, a rendering of the Great Gonzo dancing on a tightrope. When Gina had asked about the odd body art, Scott had merely said “That’s how I feel most days.” The sudden drag in the tech run-through felt more like an endless parade of elephants than a tightrope act to Gina. Scott asked now, “You want I should tell him to get the heck off the stage?”

    “No,” she decided, an idea forming. “No, I’m just going to send on the acrobats. He’ll get out of the way or they’ll tumble on him!”

    “Uh…the coin will now appear…in the hands of that spry young fellow there!” Mumford said, gesturing up with his wand at one of the other volunteer electricians currently adjusting the hanging angle of one of the downlights above the stage. “I wave my wand, I say the magic words – á la peanut butter sandwiches! – and the coin is now –“

    He looked up expectantly. The electrician shook his head and went back to his task. Disappointed, Mumford’s arms dropped to his sides. “I just don’t understand it! That trick usually works!” He frowned. “Maybe I shouldn’t have used a subway token painted gold…”

    “Hey acrobats! Acrobats next please!” Gina yelled into the curtained-off section which served in lieu of an actual wing in the square performance space.

    “Wait! I know! I shall pull a rabbit out of my hat!”

    “Do they still use real rabbits for that trick?” Scott wondered.

    “I doubt this guy is union- or PETA-approved,” Gina grumbled, watching the tumblers come running on, disrupting Mumford’s endless rehearsal. She glanced at her watch, pulling her hair back yet again. It didn’t seem to want to stay in place today…yet another in a series of irritants she could really do without. “After these guys, I say we break for dinner, and come back and just do a spot check for the steel drum player and a dimmer check before the full dress. We don’t have time for much else now.”

    “Sounds like a plan,” Scott agreed, getting to his feet and stretching. Mumford, ousted from his spot, wandered away, still complaining that he wasn’t finished practicing. Gina ignored him, looking instead at the way the lights hit the acrobats, watching for any dim spots which would necessitate a refocus. As she moved around to the back of them to see whether any of the front lights were shining too harshly into the eyes of the performers, she felt a snap at the back of her head. The hair scrunchie bounced away, and all her hair came sliding down.

    “Ow! What the—“ Angrily, she bent to retrieve the somehow-snapped band of lace before anyone tripped on it, and heard Scott’s frightened bellow:


    Years of training paid off; she ducked to one side just as the lighting instrument came crashing to the stage floor, right where she’d been standing. The acrobats, thrown off balance just as they were attempting their pyramid-hoist, faltered and the heavy guy at the top toppled over, knocking Gina down as he fell. Scott was there immediately, helping everyone to their feet, then yelling up at the techie on the catwalk: “Hey! Safety cable! Safety cable! Does that mean anything to you?” Gina brushed herself off, her knees bruised, her anger rising rapidly. Every light in the building was supposed to be attached to the grid not only by their heavy clamps, but with a loop of strong airline cable as well to prevent just such an accident.

    “Dang, man, I’m sorry,” the electrician called down, sounding shaken. “It was safety-cabled! I was just slidin’ it along the bar and the clamp slipped and the cable broke!”

    Gina and Scott looked at each other. The acrobats milled around uncertainly like spooked sheep in tights. “It’s okay,” Scott told them. “We were gonna break for dinner anyway. Why don’t you guys take a break too? See you at rehearsal later.” Grumbling, the tumblers crowded off. Scott studied his friend. “Uh…you okay?”

    “Fine. Great. Just lucking fuvely,” she snarled. That was an awful lot of accidents for one day. First the cable tripping her, then her scrunchie, the light, and the acrobats all at once? Worried, she touched the copper beads strung around her neck. It’s been fine for months…but what if Newsie inherited his curse thing from his mother? The discovery that the Newsman had a psychokinetic energy field surrounding him at all times, which caused the various mishaps during his News Flash job, and that Gina also had a similar energy which combined badly with her Muppet beloved’s, had been a serious problem for them before, causing all manner of unhappy events until Dr Honeydew and Beaker had figured out the cause and made this special necklace for her. She’d worn it constantly since. What if the nasty old biddy is giving off something as well, and messing up the field balance, or whatever Bunsen called it? She glanced worriedly at the grid again, wincing at the remembered pain of having fallen from it during that accident-prone time.

    “C’mon, why don’t we go get some eats? Ginger beer’s on me,” Scott offered, trying to lighten the mood.

    Gina shook her head slowly. “No…you go ahead. I’ll grab something on the way back.”

    “The way back? From where?”

    “The Muppet Theatre. I think I need to go have a chat with some mad scientists,” Gina said, and strode out of the Sosilly before Scott could respond.
  8. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Five

    Just as she reached the closed door marked with the international symbol for radiation hazard and a sign proclaiming COLD FUSION IN PROGRESS – PLEASE KNOCK FIRST!, a loud explosion sounded from within. Concerned, Gina paused, then carefully knocked on the door. It swung open, then dropped off the top hinge. Dr Bunsen Honeydew stood in the opening, coughing and waving the smoke from his smoldering lab coat away from his face. “Oh…Miss Broucek! What a nice surprise! Beaker, look who’s here! Isn’t that nice?”

    Wordlessly, the singed lab assistant poked his head out above Bunsen’s. Coughing as well, he waggled his fingers in a wave. Gina nodded at him. “Uh, hi, guys. Are you…are you busy?”

    “Oh, well, not terribly. We were just trying to extract the elusive cold fusion facilitator formula from carrot juice and paradimethylaminobenzaldehyde. The formula…” Bunsen coughed again. “The formula needs just a teensy tweak!” Beaker shot his lab partner an incredulous look, then swiveled his head back and forth. “Do come in. How’s the psychokinetic field anticharge portable modulating device holding up?” Bunsen trotted back inside the lab; Gina followed uncertainly.

    “Well, that’s…that’s what I came to talk to you about.” Beaker chivalrously cleared a stack of papers off a lab stool for Gina to sit. “Thank you…um, I think we have a problem.”

    “Oh? Beaker, would you fetch me the psychokinetic energy meter?” As Beaker rummaged through a large toybox, tossing aside the container of test strips for acidic titration, the self-adjusting slide rule they’d invented but never seemed able to sell the patent for, the remains of the gorilla sensor alarm, and, inexplicably, a rubber duckie, Bunsen gently lifted the copper beads off Gina’s skin, peering at them with his glasses raised, then lowered again. “Hmmm…well, structurally, the circuit seems to be whole! What sort of psychokinetic events has the Newsman been experiencing?”

    “It’s not him, it’s me,” Gina began. She told them about the unusual string of bad luck she’d had today. “Uh…his mother showed up this morning. I was wondering if maybe her being around would throw off your field thingy.”

    Beaker found the psychokinetic energy detector finally, turning it on and scanning Gina with it. It beeped softly, steadily, and Gina tried not to fidget while Beaker swept it all along her body. He shook his head. Bunsen peered at the meter readout on the instrument. “Well,” Bunsen mused, “your theory is sound in principle, especially if the Newsman’s energy was an inherited trait! However, the field seems to be intact and I see no evidence of recent energy spikes around you. I can happily assure you, Miss Broucek, that the specific-gravity-calibrated personal field anticharge is still in place and operating within normal parameters!”

    “Mormal marameters!” Beaker echoed, nodding.

    “Great,” Gina sighed.

    “I beg your pardon,” Bunsen said, “but I was under the impression that the Newsman’s mother had, er, passed on some years ago?”

    “Oh yeah. She’s dead. Does that change your calculations?” Gina asked, frowning.

    Beaker shivered, his head yanking down into his collar. “Oh, my!” Bunsen said, but then shook his head. “No, no…energy is energy. As you know, energy can neither be created nor destroyed, just morphed into something even stranger!” He looked again at the readout. “No, it would still register as a disturbance in your PKE field if the, er, late Mrs Newsman was responsible for throwing off your manifestational balance.”

    Gina started, the obvious explanation suddenly hitting her. “Responsible! Oh…” She muttered a long string of expletives which made Bunsen blush and Beaker cringe. “Oh, you bet she’s responsible! I think I know what’s going on.” She frowned at the scientists. “Do you know anything about poltergeists?”

    “Meep!” Beaker flinched, then began waving his hands in an “oh no” gesture. Bunsen put a thoughtful finger to his lips.

    “Hmmm…well, Beaker and I have done a little ghostbusting in our time; right, Beakie?” He smiled, ignoring Beaker’s increasingly fervent denials. “I take it you think the ghost of the Newsman’s mother has been pulling pranks on you?”

    “Pranks? I think she’s trying to kill me!” Gina snapped.

    “Oh. Oh dear…”

    “Listen. Can you guys make me something to send a dead thing back where it belongs?” Gina demanded.

    “How very intriguing!” Bunsen nodded. “That sounds like a wonderful idea! Don’t you think so, Beaker?”

    Beaker considered it warily. “Meep memoll mee meepie mee?” he asked.

    Bunsen laughed lightly. “Well, of course we’ll have to field-test it! How else are we going to know whether it works?” Beaker sighed deeply, shrugging. Bunsen gave Gina a puzzled look. “Ah, Miss Broucek…not that I, as a scientist, put much faith in, well, supernatural things, you understand…but…doesn’t your heritage have some experience with this sort of thing already?”

    “I can’t exorcise her,” Gina growled, kicking the lab table in front of her. “Death won’t let me. And if she is trying to get her son back by offing me, she’s got another think coming!”

    “Meep!” Beaker said, stepping back. He exchanged a worried look with Bunsen.

    “Er…well, of course, if you’d like us to help, we’re always happy to design a new toy, so to speak,” Honeydew offered.

    “I don’t need a toy,” Gina said darkly. “I need a weapon! This is war.”

    Ten minutes to air; the Newsman paced his dressing-room at the KRAK studios, too anxious to sit. He’d been unsatisfied with the report Rhonda had managed to edit out of the ridiculous footage from earlier in the afternoon, and had recorded his voiceover, which would play over a montage of shots Tony had taken of a couple of the smaller Muppasaurs and the walled-off gallery where the exhibit was shaping up. As a means of piquing interest, it felt terribly lacking to Newsie. He knew Rhonda agreed, but there was little either of them could do without the expert interviews they’d hoped for. Newsie’s frustration had only increased when several phone calls he’d placed to paleontologists and anthropologists at Columbia, NYU, City College, and even SUNY had been met with brush-offs by secretaries and assistants. He couldn’t even get a non-Muppet expert to comment. Now here he was, about to go on-air with the other Muppet news, and he’d have to stand by largely helpless and watch while his carefully-planned special report flopped. He could already hear the massive clicking sound of thousands of bored viewers switching channels. To heck with scientists; to heck with exhibits and Muppasaurs! Angrily sighing, he sipped from a bottle of Muppawater, which was sponsoring the exhibit. Better enjoy it while you can, he thought; After tonight, they’ll probably pull their support of this turkey. No more free bottles of Crushed Orange for you.

    Rhonda tapped on the door, peeking in. “Hey, you ready?”

    “Sure. Why not,” Newsie answered, and strode out of the room after her.

    “Cheer up. KRAS is showing that stupid dentist-wannabe reality show against us tonight; I bet almost nobody will even be watching us to begin with.” Rhonda gave him a smile; Newsie simply threw her a glower. She shrugged, sighing. “Eh. Whaddayagonnado. Just make sure you get the rest of the news right.”

    “What’s that supposed to mean? I always do!” Newsie snapped.

    Rhonda frowned. “Oh, look who’s still touchy! Did you forget suddenly that if it wasn’t for me you’d be stumbling around half-blind in Pittsburg?”

    The Newsman stopped in the corridor to the studio soundstage, took a deep breath, and counted to ten silently while Rhonda tapped her foot, waiting. Finally he mumbled, “I’m sorry.”

    “You darned well should be,” the rat sniffed. “Now hurry up!”

    Trying to dampen the inner fire he sensed still on the verge of flaring up, the Newsman entered the studio, and suffered himself to be miked and soundchecked and the sharp edge of his long yellow-gold nose patted with a powder puff by the makeup artist. He took his place in his own chair just off the news set, taking his notes from a jacket pocket to go over them one more time. “Five minutes to air!” the stage manager called.

    Rhonda suddenly reappeared at Newsie’s knee. “Uh, I forgot to tell you: when the stage manager cues you during the opening, smile, okay?”


    “They’re trying out a new opening, showing a closeup of everyone’s face as your name is announced over the lead-in. They want to do it live every night, you know, sort of a ‘here-we-are-tonight’ thing. So just do me a favor and pretend you’re happy to be here, okay?” With a final glare, the rat hurried away to the production booth to oversee the cueing of his report footage.

    Newsie sighed, tucking his notes away and watching the crew hurrying about, readying last-minute camera angles and turning on the rest of the bright set lights. Smile? She has to be kidding! Feeling far from happy, he waited for the signal from the stage manager. Anchor Bart Fargo strolled by, hardly breaking a sweat, his dark hair sleekly styled. He paused, then looked over at the Newsman. “Uh, hey, Newsguy?”

    Newsie glanced up, surprised. The anchor usually didn’t bother to even acknowledge the Muppet reporter’s presence when the cameras weren’t on him. Fargo pointed at Newsie’s suit. “That new?”

    “Er…I guess so,” Newsie replied, trying to recall if he’d worn this particular outfit on the air before now.

    Fargo frowned, but only lightly, not wishing to put a wrinkle in his baby-smooth skin. “Well, don’t wear it again! It’s upstaging me.” Without another glance, the star anchor of KRAK News continued along to the news desk and slid into his seat behind it, smiling at the sportscaster and the weather girl.

    Fuming, the Newsman scowled after him. Suddenly the director was gesturing at the cameramen, and the stage manager called out, “And…live in ten, nine, eight…”

    Newsie tried to straighten his tie and cuffs and quickly smoothed down his auburn hair. “LIVE from the Channel Forty-two Studios, it’s KRAK Big Apple News at Six! With anchor Bart Fargo…” the announcer belted out; Fargo turned on a dazzling white smile. “Sports with Rog ‘the Stodge’ Franklin! Weather with Susan Popatopolis! And Special Muppet Correspondent the Newsman.” Newsie gave the camera pointing at him what he hoped was a smile. The theme music swirled down, and Fargo, beaming still, took over the lead.

    “Good evening! Our top story tonight is President Obama’s Middle East trip, which had to be cut short today when a suicide bomber was apprehended just outside the airfield gates at Kandahar!”

    Newsie listened, sobered, realizing serious news really put his own problems in perspective. After all, his mother might be hard to deal with, but at least no one was in danger of dying…he hoped. Newsie gulped, recalling Death’s vague threat. ‘Or else?’ What exactly does that mean? Would he really take me away? Would he take Gina? The thought frightened him immensely. No, no, no! That has to be against the rules, doesn’t it? So what could he do? Another awful possibility came to mind. What if he just leaves Mother here, and I have to live with her all over again? Oh, please, no! Gina, he realized, would never accept that. She’d kick him out of the apartment. He’d be alone…well, unfortunately, not quite alone. Oh no. Please, please, please, not that! How could he persuade his mother to back down?

    Worried, he sat there in growing nausea until suddenly he realized his name had been mentioned. A moving flurry of floor personnel indicated the show was on a commercial break, and the stage manager was gesturing at him to get onstage; he’d be up next. Swallowing down his despair, Newsie hurried onto the set, stepping up onto his low platform so he’d be seen above the human-sized desk. Fargo hissed at him, “Camera hog! Go back to your ugly plaid!” He then smiled at the camera and pretended he’d just been chatting amiably with the Newsman as the feed switched back to them. “Now, here with the second of his special reports on the new exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, is our own Muppet Newsman! So what’s going on at the museum, Newsie?”

    The Newsman struggled to get his glare under control, hating Fargo for using his nickname after such a nasty directive. “Ahem! Er. Well, Barty, quite a lot of interesting things!” He felt pleased when Fargo frowned; only an instant, but a frown nonetheless. “I visited the museum earlier today and spoke with the exhibit’s curator, Dr Philip Van Neuter…” He really, really hoped Rhonda’s editing job had turned out better than the actual interview. “He shared some fascinating facts about ancient Muppets.” They cut to the taped, highly edited footage: the teaser shots of the mummy, Van Neuter saying “They had some form of organized religion, and made beautiful tools and personal ornaments! A very advanced species for the time!” Cut to the weird objects next to the mummy inside its case, and some other quick shots of artifacts on display.

    Fargo leaned over to whisper to the Newsman, “Real nice report. What high school student did you pay to put it together?”

    Flushed with anger, Newsie retorted quietly, “Uh…uh…nice hair. How many barrels of crude went into the styling gel?”

    They glared at one another. The Newsman’s voiceover sounded faintly in the studio while the footage segued from the ancient Muppet artifacts to one of the Muppasaurs, a tiny thing which vaguely resembled a chicken skeleton…if chickens had enormous head-crest bones and small, sharp claws on their wingtips. “Mysterious Muppet civilizations won’t be the only things on display! The exhibit also features never-before-shown Muppet fossils!” The film cut to Van Neuter exclaiming happily about DNA and birds, but stopped just short of him grabbing Newsie by the nose. As the view changed back to more fast teaser shots of the various skeletons, including a very brief glimpse of the M. Tex’s toothy jaws, his voiceover finished up: “Birds…or terrible lizards? Science may still be determining the classifications, but I’m sure we can all agree these amazing specimens fall under the heading of ‘not-to-be-missed!’”

    “Get bent, Muppet,” Fargo snarled at him.

    Shocked, the Newsman snapped back, “Get flattened, stuffed shirt!” only a second before the feed went live once more. Quickly he tried to erase the glower from his face. “Uh…so! Be sure to check out this wonderful exhibit for yourself this weekend at the museum! Ahem…” Unnerved, he had to check his notes, squinting in the bright studio lights. “In other Muppet-related news: Following last month’s landmark Supreme Court decision ruling the Frog Scouts could not discriminate against toads, a citizen’s action group representing salamanders, skinks, and cute fluffy…bunnies,” Newsie blinked at that one, then forged on, “Er…has…has demanded they all be allowed to join as well. The Frog Scouts declined comment.” He flipped his notes to the next item, then looked back at the camera, trying to project a confidence and coolness he certainly didn’t feel. “A new development in the Marvin Suggs paternity suit! Test results released today conclusively prove that Suggs is not the father of any of the Benson’s Babies. The Muppaphones went on record for their leader, saying, quote, ‘He has never, nor will he ever, have the opportunity to father anything.’ Ahem…” No more items. Relieved, Newsie tossed it over to the weathergirl. “And now for Susan with your KRAK local forecast! Susan?”

    As the weathergirl smiled from her stance in front of the bluescreen which would, on the viewer’s televisions, show up as a computer-generated weather map, Newsie stepped down from his platform, retreating to his chair. He wouldn’t be needed again until the closing bit, when he was expected to stand up with the rest of them and pretend to be having a nice chat as the credits rolled. He hated the falsity of it. He’d known he was in for a certain amount of pretense when he was rehired by the network earlier this year, but he’d never expected this kind of prejudice, jealousy, or whatever was prompting Fargo to be nasty to him. All this over my clothing? How shallow is this guy, anyway? Newsie wondered. He shot the anchor a glare as Fargo went past him, leaving the set, probably heading for the bathroom to make sure his hair was pretty. Sunk in gloom, he was startled when the news director suddenly loomed over him.

    “Hey, fill in!”

    “What?” Confused, Newsie stared up at the director. The man was gesturing furiously at the set, though looking at Newsie.

    “Fill in for Bart! He’s throwing up in the men’s room,” the director said.

    Newsie blinked in surprise. “He’s…he’s sick?”

    The director sighed impatiently. “Yeah. Someone switched his coffee for Pink Tummy Sludge. He didn’t notice it until he’d drunk two cups. Get up there!”

    “Uh…er…but I…”

    “What are you waiting for, an engraved invitation? Just read off the prompter! Geez, a second-stringer who doesn’t jump at the chance to get in that seat? What’s the matter with you?” the director harangued him, and Newsie, blushing, scrambled from his chair and up into the anchor’s seat. It was too low for him. He stared out at the tech crew, but only a couple of seconds remained until they would be back from commercial again; no time to switch it out for his platform! Thinking fast, he stood up in the chair, fingertips lightly touching the news desk for balance. The director raised his hands to the ceiling. The stage manager cued Newsie; the camera was on him!

    “Er…welcome back to Big Apple News on KRAK! This is your Muppet Newsman, filling in for Bart Fargo, who is…er…” He glanced at the sports guy, who shook his head slightly. Improvising, Newsie finished, “Who is on special assignment. Ah…in other news tonight…” He squinted out at the prompter screen, wishing he had notes to read from instead; now that he actually had a prompter feed, he found himself uneasy at the prospect of misreading the scrolling print. “Councilman Venkman today protested Mayor Bloomberg’s new city ordinance which states that no more than two hundred ectoplasmic entities may be confined in the same containment grid at one time, for humane reasons! Councilman Venkman reportedly said that enforcing such a law would bring about, quote, ‘a disaster of Biblical proportions.’ The Mayor has responded to Venkman’s concerns, ‘Maybe the Councilman should spend some time trapped in there before he decides what compassionate incarceration really is!’” Gulping nervously, the Newsman paused before going on to the next story. “The hunt for the serial dumpster thief known only as ‘Lefty’ continues tonight! Police thought they had the most-wanted criminal cornered in an alleyway behind Clifford’s Soy Chicken and Waffles restaurant earlier this evening, only to find the thief had vanished into thin air –whooof!” He gasped as a small but surprisingly heavy Muppet fell from the ceiling onto him.

    “Never take me alive, coppers! Never! Aaaagh!” Lefty cried as Newsie shoved him away, and the studio securitymen immediately pounced. As they dragged the diminutive trenchcoated con man from the studio, he shrieked, “They’re MY nickels! MINE! Youse guys’ll never find ‘em!”

    Shaking, Newsie tried to regain his composure, looking back at the prompter. “Er…well…it seems the thief is now in custody; a KRAK exclusive!” Nothing else showed up on the screen for him to read. Relieved, he was about to turn to the sportscaster when an intern darted up, crouched out of camerasight, and handed the Newsman a note. “Oh…ah…a breaking news item!” He read it cold. “The latest statistics from the city’s Department of Moral Security reveal that too many New Yorkers are now living in sin with vastly unsuitable partners!” Choking to a halt, Newsie looked out at the studio; sure enough, his mother stood coldly in the center of it. Everyone else became aware of the gray old lady at the same moment. “Er, uh – and now for major league scores!” Before the camera even cut to ‘the Stodge,’ Newsie had jumped from the chair and bolted for his dressing-room.

    That didn’t ensure an escape, unfortunately. No sooner had he slammed the door behind him than his mother snapped, “Have I made myself clear enough yet?”

    “Ack!” Newsie jumped, spinning around to find her directly behind him. As a young man, she’d insisted he never shut his door to her, hinting distastefully but vaguely at the ‘evil things young men are prey to in their private time,’ which he’d never understood; now it seemed he still couldn’t shut her out. “Mother! I was live on TV! What are you doing?”

    “What does it look like I’m doing? Trying to put my wayward son back on the path to goodness, that’s what!”

    “What is wrong with me dating Gina? She’s good for me – she’s good to me!” Newsie protested. “She encourages my work! She makes me feel happy!”

    “That is exactly what’s wrong! You are entirely too happy! I had always hoped that if you had to be involved with a girl, it would be a proper Muppet your age – not some young, non-Muppet tramp! Do you know what she’s doing right now? She’s flirting with other men, that’s what!” Mrs Crimp lectured sternly.

    “She would never do that!” Newsie said, startled. No! She wouldn’t! Mother is just trying to rattle you!

    “She most certainly is! I told you, Aloysius, that little whelp is a shameless hussy! Now you break it off at once!”

    A knock sounded on the door. “Uh…hey Newsie? You okay?” Rhonda called.

    Ignoring her for the moment, the anguished Newsman shouted at his mother, “Mother, will you stop calling her names? I love her! She loves me! I’m not walking away from that!”

    “You most certainly are! You have never known what’s good for you, you little ingrate! How many years have I spent feeding you, clothing you, making sure you were clean?”

    “For frog’s sake, Mother!”

    “Uh…Newsie?” More knocking. “Hey, I called your cab, it should be here any minute! You still have a show tonight at the Muppet Theatre!”

    Newsie put both hands to his head, overwhelmed. Mrs Crimp sniffed haughtily. “And you have a rat for your girl Friday? I told you nothing respectable would come of you hanging around that theatre!”

    “Mother, it is my job! I’m not loitering like some bum on a corner! I have two legitimate jobs: one here, one at the theatre! And more than that, the Muppets are my friends!” Newsie groaned.

    “Two jobs? You see! What did I say about going into accounting instead?” his mother argued, getting in front of him no matter which way he turned to avoid seeing her. “Not to mention, if you’d been working in an accounting firm like your Uncle Joey, by now you’d have settled down with a nice clean girl instead of making time with that – that –“

    “Shut up!” Newsie yelled, startling his mother; she actually took a step back. “D—it, Mother, I’m happy with Gina! Why can’t you just accept that? Why can’t you just be happy for me, for once? Just once!” He suddenly realized he was actually shaking his fist in his mother’s face. Stunned, he froze. Mrs Crimp reacted first: with a palm so chilly the cold burned him, she slapped him on the cheek. Hard. Newsie reeled.

    “That is for disrespecting your mother! If you ever, ever, raise your hand to me again, Aloysius, I will see to it you’re locked up where no one will ever see you again – except me, because I’m the only one who cares about you! You remember that! You remember that, when you find out how that nasty redhead has been playing around behind your back, that little slu—“

    Outraged, the Newsman slapped her across the mouth.

    Both of them stopped, shocked. Newsie cringed immediately. Oh good grief! I hit her! I hit my MOTHER! Backing away, gulping, feeling sick, he stared at the ghost, whose eyes grew cold and blue and fiery, like that scary dragon-thing who haunted the Muppet Theatre. Mrs Crimp, deceased, moved her jaw, though no sound came out yet; she seemed to be building to an eruption.

    Choking, the Newsman fled, bowling over Rhonda on the other side of the door as he hurtled past. He ran into the street just as a cab pulled up, yanked open the door, and dove into the back seat. The cabbie gave him an uncertain look. “Mu-Muppet Theatre, please,” Newsie gasped. He peered fearfully over the edge of the seat out the back window as the cab pulled away, but his mother didn’t seem to be pursuing. Shivering, he wrapped his arms around himself, freezing despite the sultry August night and the apparent lack of air conditioning in the cab. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. What have I done? How could I? Panicked, Newsie huddled tightly into himself, his cheek still stinging, but the rest of him going numb. What dire punishment would befall him for that? Could he ever make it up to her? Was there even a way to atone for an insult done to one’s dead mother?

    Terrified, the Newsman kept replaying the awful thing he’d just done over and over in his mind, sickened by his own anger. One thought kept surfacing: I’m a horrible son. Horrible. Mother was right about me. She was right. He couldn’t help it; tears began trickling down his face, and his nose clogged with sniffles.

    The cabbie shoved a box of tissues through the partition window at him. “Uh, hey, mac…use dese, okay? I don’t need no germs in my cab, aright?”

    Nodding obediently, Newsie accepted the tissues, blowing his nose loudly. He used his handkerchief to dry his eyes, and when the cab slowly rolled to a stop in front of the Muppet Theatre, he fumbled more bills than necessary through the window. “I’m sorry,” he muttered, “I’m so sorry!”

    “Huh? Hey mac, you okay?”

    “I’m so, so sorry…” Newsie choked, and his unsteady feet carried him through the lobby doors. By the time he reached the orchestra pit, he was crying again, helpless to stop it, but routine forced him onward, and he brushed past Scooter and Kermit and everyone else on his way through backstage, ignoring all, speaking to no one, barely able to see.

    “Uh, Newsman, you all right?” Kermit called after him, curious.

    At the sound of his boss’ voice, the Newsman looked up blearily. “Fine,” he said hoarsely.

    “Okay,” Kermit said. “Uh, because you look a little…ah, off-balance.”

    “I’m fine,” Newsie said firmly, trying to get himself composed quickly. He gave Kermit a nod, yanked down his sleeves, turned, and promptly tripped, tumbling noisily down the stairs to the green room.

    Kermit sighed, shaking his head. “Okay,” he called down, “as long as you’re all right!” Good grief. What next? Before Kermit could speculate further as to what had the Newsman out of kilter, Scooter ran up.

    “Hey, chief? Muppy’s stuck in a pot over on stage left!”

    Irritated, Kermit waved him off. “So? We’re about to open the show! The dog can wait!” Scooter shrugged, nodding. Curious suddenly, Kermit asked, “Why is he stuck in a pot?”

    “Well, you know the Chef is up first tonight?”


    “Uh…he was saying something about Korean barbeque!”

    “Eep!” Kermit gulped. “Oh, good grief! Chef!” The two of them ran off to rescue the dog from becoming a potsticker, and for the moment the frog completely forgot the Newsman.

    The steel drum player seemed to be enjoying herself, her eyes sparkling under long lashes, making the most of her colorful, ruffled dress as she swayed in time to her own light-fingered drumming. A band of pigs dressed for a luau (though as guests, not the main course) backed her up. Absently Gina watched from the lighting booth window, lulled into quietude by the thus-far smooth rehearsal. It wasn’t until the number ended, the drummer curtsied, and the pigs oinked appreciatively that Gina realized the band had been Muppet pigs and a human lady, and that made at least two acts in this charity show which involved Muppets. She sighed. “What theatre am I at again?” she asked Scott.

    He glanced up from the reel-to-reel machine, which he’d just cued to play the theme music for the magician, up next. “What theatre do you think you’re at?” he responded, grinning.

    “I have no idea anymore,” she grumbled. At least nothing else unlucky had happened tonight; maybe the old bat had abandoned her…but that probably meant she was tormenting her son instead. Oh, Newsie. I can’t believe this is happening, she thought, depressed. I’ll have to at least put up protections around the apartment so she won’t come back there…but we’ll have to get rid of her once and for all. In the months they’d been together, Newsie had spoken very little about his mother, and of his father said only he never knew him, the Muppet in question having died when Newsie was an infant. Gina had noticed that whenever she shared some happy story from her own childhood, of going to Romani festivals with her Grandmama Angie, or of playing hooky from school to float sailboats in the park, or of birthday parties or handmade Mother’s Day gifts or being tucked in after a bedtime story of traditional Gypsy fairytales, Newsie would listen intently, give her a smile which seemed somewhat wistful, kiss her, and change the subject. No wonder he never shared any good childhood memories in return…he probably doesn’t have any! Gina frowned, biting her lip, barely remembering to adjust the lighting in time as the steel-drum band left the stage and the Amazing Mumford’s table with a large black top-hat sitting atop a sparkly purple cloth was wheeled out.

    After the musical flourish – complete with canned cheers and clapping – no one appeared onstage. Gina looked down, her gaze roving the empty floor, seeing no movement from behind the curtains. She sighed, annoyed. “Maybe he didn’t hear his cue,” Scott offered.

    “Yeah, play it again,” Gina said. Once more Scott played the reel tape: music, applause. This time, a cheesy burst of blue smoke went off center stage, and the Muppet magician emerged from it, coughing as he tried to bow to the nonexistent audience.

    “Thank you! Thank you! Yes, I, the Amazing – cough, cough, cough – the Amazing Mumford, will now perform for you a trick so astonishing, so astounding, so amazing, you’ll all be talking about it for months!”

    Gina doubted that. She tweaked the levels of the brighter blue lights, although why anyone would want to see the corny clown was beyond her. At least Alan, on followspot right now, was able to keep the magician easily centered; then again, it wasn’t like a lot of actual movement seemed involved here. “Yes, my friends! I, the Amazing Mumford, have here a pretty, shiny, gold coin!” He held up a large, sparkling coin, showing it from side to side. “Now, I will make this coin disappear into thin air!” Gina wondered if anyone had ever tried to vanish something into thick air. “I wave my magic wand, and I say the magic words: á la peanut butter sandwiches!” He tossed the coin into the air; Alan followed it up with the spotlight, and it actually did seem to disappear. “Ha ha! Yes! And now, I shall make the coin appear again, in the pocket of that lady in the front row!” He pointed his wand at the pretty steel drum player, who seemed genuinely surprised. Gina shook her head. I see he found an accomplice fast, she thought. “One wave of the wand! Two waves! And…á la peanut butter sandwiches!”

    He looked expectantly at the girl in the tropical dress. She shook her head, perfectly coiffed dark hair sliding over her bare shoulders. “What? Melanie? You don’t have the coin?” Mumford asked.

    The girl laughed. “My name’s Suzanne!”

    “Ah! That’s the problem! I will now make the coin reappear in Suzanne’s pocket, not Melanie’s! I wave my magic wand…”

    Sighing, Gina slumped in her chair. This might take a while. She glanced at the booth clock; she’d give this joker exactly five minutes and then send the acrobats on. She wondered how Newsie’s night was going; he should be finishing up his regular newscast about now, and heading to the Muppet Theatre soon. With his salary from the KRAK job, he really didn’t need the second gig, but she understood why he’d want to stay on with the Muppets. They’d proven to be remarkably supportive friends, even when everyone thought Newsie was responsible for the partial destruction of the theatre. A good troupe, she mused, but her thoughts turned dark again quickly. At least, most of ‘em are. I guess even Muppets have bad apples. How had such a mean-spirited, narrow-minded, repressive woman raised such a generous, thoughtful, quietly passionate man?

    Onstage, Mumford was turning to the stage manager, then another techie, then one of the acrobats watching from the side, and even his hat, confused. “Not here either? Huh...I just don’t understand it! Where did it go? Confounded magic coin!...”

    It was that kind of horrible, overbearing attitude, Gina told herself, which had always made her determined to be free. She’d been mocked, called names, even spat upon once as a child for being Gypsy; but on the other side, the old-timers she’d met of the Romani hadn’t inspired her to copy them, either. All of them so caught up in their traditions and rules, trapping themselves in their own little-minded cages! She was proud of her heritage, but except for her grandmother, she’d never met an older Gypsy who thought it was acceptable for a girl to go into theatre. Music, perhaps, but not the actual theatre. Both cultures still seemed to regard the profession as tainted somehow, even though Gina had never wished to be onstage, just to work behind it, taking pleasure in seeing a design through from a paper sketch all the way to a successful show, or even just using her energy and determination to make a bunch of rusty, uncooperative lighting instruments bring forth subtle effects which would move people as much as the words spoken by the actors, although most of the time the audience never knew their emotions were being played upon by the lights. Just seeing a cue well-done made her happy. Grandmama Angie hadn’t really understood, but nevertheless she’d supported Gina, encouraging her dream and her drive, even telling distant relations proudly how her granddaughter was an artist! She’d never scolded Gina for going on dates with gadjo boys in high school and college, merely warning her to never let a boy show her disrespect – to her mind or her body. Clearly, the Newsman had never basked in that kind of parental love.

    Angrily, Gina picked at a loose thread on her cutoff shorts, completely forgetting her five-minute limit; below, Mumford was finally giving up. “Ah, well, I don’t know what happened with that…but on to my next trick! Ladies and gentlemen, I, the Amazing Mumford, will now pull a rabbit out of this hat!”

    The old woman’s insults this morning made it clear what she thought of Gina. Is the hag in a twist because I’m human, or because I’m Gypsy, or because her son is living with me – or all of the above? What right does she have to say a word about any of it? She’s dead! The dead have no rights over the living! Disgusted, Gina thought about Gypsy custom; traditionally, when someone died, their name was never spoken again unless absolutely necessary so that the ghost wouldn’t hear and come back. Wine and food were left out for them at the gravesite. All their possessions would be burned, sold, or given away outside the community…a custom Gina had broken by hanging onto her grandmother’s shawl, which had wound up being the thing that saved her Newsie from being swept into a deadly whirlpool during that weird, dark time right after they’d become a couple. Good thing his family’s not Gypsy, she thought. There’s no way in Hades I’d ever be subservient to HER as a mother-in-law! Traditionally, a bride of the Rom was expected to move in with her new husband’s family and obey his mother. Then again, Gina had no desire to be married. She’d had friends who’d dated a long time and finally married their lovers…and almost all of them had wound up quarreling, turning nasty and bitter and divorcing. Whatever it was about a little piece of paper and a ring that seemed to change true love into obligation and resentment overnight, she wanted no part of it. She was glad Newsie hadn’t even brought the subject up; the closest he’d come to it was telling her stories about the courtship of the Frogs. However, he’d related histories of many of the Muppets, as a way to include her in his world, and she didn’t think he’d been trying to drop any hints with hilarious narrations of the wedding-within-a-movie with a real minister, and how both Kermit and Piggy had played games with one another over being wedded or not right up to the actual day of the ceremony. Newsie did know how to tell a story thoroughly, she thought with a brief smile.

    “No? Well, let me try one more time! I wave my magic wand…I say the magic words…”

    Magic words. I wish I had some to fix this mess, she thought. If I can’t just exorcise her, will Death accept it if the lab guys come up with a ghost-busting machine? Shivering suddenly, she scooted her chair away from the air vent blowing a cool breeze overhead. He’s not taking my Newsie! Not to please that horrible old hag! She didn’t even want to wonder how long his life would be; he didn’t look or act his age at all – nor did Kermit or Rowlf or the others, and she knew almost all of them were quite a bit past her own thirty-one years. However long a Muppet lifespan, she was sure now was too early for her beloved Newsman, and she’d fight to keep him alive and out of his evil parent’s clutches. She sighed again, still lacking answers.

    “Still nothing? Hmmm…” Mumford scratched his balding head. “I guess I’ll just have to keep practicing…”

    “Keep at it, Mumfy!” the steel-drum player encouraged him. Gina glanced down at her, then stared in shock. The formerly-lovely young woman now had large rabbit ears, enormous bent whiskers sticking out of her cheeks, and was munching on a carrot as she flounced out of her seat and hopped away from the stage area. Oblivious to the change, the magician sighed, picking up his hat and carrying it off dejectedly.

    “I just don’t understand why I can never do that trick right!” he complained to himself.

    Gina looked over at Scott. He shrugged. “Oo…kay,” Gina said. She shifted the console sliders, bringing up bright, cheerful pink and orange lights as the tumblers romped onstage, bounding over one another with many a “Hey! Hah!” Settling back in her seat again, looking at but not really watching the acrobats, she wondered how her Newsie was handling his night. Hopefully, it was less strange than her own.
  9. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Oh what a wonderful chapter.

    The bits where Newsie reads the story about Councilman Venkman made me laugh.
    *Cheers for all the inclusions so far.
    Van Neuter and Mulch were exactly in character, Lefty's up to his usual shady deals, and I liked how Suzanne the steel drum player was turned into a rabbit by Mumford's errant magic.

    Serious stuff going on with Newsie's mother though... And that deadline's about half gone.
    *Wonders what busting toys Bunsen and Beaker will whip up. Maybe a proton pack and ghost trap? Or do you suppose it'll be some ecto goggles and a modified Poltergust 3000 borrowing from Professor E. Gad's tech?

    Thank you for this update, please post more soon.
  10. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Glad I portrayed Van N and Mulch correctly! Did my research.
    : >)
    Yes, the DEADline looms. And many solutions will be proposed, though their success rate will be dubious...
    Not saying what the lab boys come up with...but the results will be epic.
    New chapter hopefully tomorrow...writing tonight! Thanks for everyone reading so far!
  11. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Six

    Rowlf banged joyously on the piano, his latest upcoming weekend visit with the glamorous and tantalizing Foo Foo on his mind as he howled out: “You shake my paws and play fetch with my brain – Too much love drives a dog insane – My house is broke, oh what a joke! – Goodness gracious, great howls of fur!” The Mayhem joined in raucously as Rowlf swept both forepaws down the length of the keyboard and launched into the Jerry Lee Lewis-inspired tune full-blast. The band, the audience, and everyone backstage who could hear the happily rowdy song loved it…everyone, that is, except one certain journalist pacing the tiny confines of his dressing-room.

    I don’t deserve to be walking around free after that! he thought, wringing his hands so hard the felt was starting to ache. Maybe Mother was right…what have I become? A brute who hits his own mother, that’s what! How did I get here? I never used to resort to violence for disagreements! If anything, the violence had usually been done to him, not the other way around. No wonder she’s disgusted with me! Has…has my relationship with Gina really made me into a cad? Have I no sense of decency? Have I no sense of decency, at all, left? No, wait; that was McCarthy. Upset, Newsie shook his head, then deliberately knocked it against the drywall of his newly-created dressing-room, a space about the size of a small walk-in closet built into one side of the reconstructed green room, below the mainstage level of the Muppet Theatre. How can I take back what I said, what I did? Mother’s never accepted an apology without some kind of punishment… He shuddered. Did ghosts have even worse means of punishing their unruly offspring at their disposal than live parents? He was certain he was close to finding out. Feeling sick, he dropped into the single chair in the tiny space. This room wasn’t much longer or wider than the broom closet next to it, the space Newsie had previously claimed as a semi-private space to psych himself up for his almost-always-painful News Flash reports; the main advantage of having this new space was that he didn’t have to share it with Beauregard’s mops, buckets, and chemicals.

    However, it seemed tonight he was unwittingly sharing it with someone else. “Hey, can ya keep the emo angst down, buddy? Some of us are trying to sleep,” Rizzo complained from a hammock slung in a corner, just above eye-level to a Muppet. Surprised, Newsie looked up, then glowered as he saw who it was.

    “Can’t you read? The sign on the door says News Flash Assignment Desk! That means serious journalists only, rodent!” the Newsman snapped.

    Rizzo laughed. “Oh, puh-leeze! You couldn’t even fit a desk in here, and the only one who gets those assignments is you, Mr Rather-Not!”

    “Sure, take a cheap shot at the second-stringer!” Newsie snarled, shooting to his feet again and stomping closer to the corner where Rizzo lounged. “This from the freeloader who plundered all my news director’s cheese while calling himself her assistant! The only thing you seem to have assisted with is the depletion of the larder!”

    “How could I have depleted a larder? I have no idea what that even is! Sheesh, Newsgeek, you really could join the twenty-first century sometime,” Rizzo protested, trying to turn over in the hammock to block out the light. “Ya know, learn a little modern lingo, give up the ‘seventies coats for good, do a blog or something…”

    He shrieked as Newsie reached up and gave the hammock a hard spin, winding up completely tangled inside the canvas nap-sack. “I am in no mood to put up with your insults tonight on top of everything else!” Newsie yelled, trying to keep his voice from breaking. “Now – now get out!”

    “Okay, geez,” Rizzo grumbled, managing to poke his head out of the twisted hammock. He blinked at the sight of the Newsman slumping back upon his chair and worriedly clasping his hands together, gulping back a silent sob. “Hey…what’s wrong?”

    “Why – why would I tell you anything? You’ll just make fun of me,” Newsie muttered.

    Rizzo clambered from the hammock, swinging himself down the cross-braces of the half-finished interior walls to the floor, and coming closer to peer warily at the geek he’d once roomed with. “Oh, man. Did something happen with you and Gina?”

    Newsie glanced suspiciously at the rat. “Not…not specifically, no.”

    “’Not specifically’? What da heck does that mean? ‘Not specifically’ as in she hasn’t thrown ya outta the house yet, or as in she will throw ya out soon as she finds out what utterly brain-dead thing ya did?”

    “I haven’t done anything!” Newsie argued, then modified that guiltily: “Not…not to her.”

    “Okay,” said Rizzo, looking him over. “Uh…did she break her necklace?”

    “What? No!”

    “Did you break it? Is dat curse thing the both of ya have about to come alive again? Is – is all heck about to break loose around here?” Rizzo asked, nervously looking around as if expecting the closet to start closing in on him.

    “The necklace is fine! No! It’s…it’s my mother,” the Newsman said, choking up again.

    “Ohhh…I get it. Your ma’s sick and you’re worried, dat it?”

    “No!” Newsie glowered at the rodent. “My mother is dead, and she won’t leave us alone!”

    “Oh…kay,” Rizzo said, eyes widening, whiskers twitching.

    Suddenly feeling the urge to unburden himself, Newsie burst into rapid, gruff speech: “She doesn’t like Gina, feels she’s a bad influence on me, calls her names, says we’re living in sin and won’t leave me alone about it; I spent my whole life doing what she wanted, taking care of her, trying to be moral and humble and good for her, and I just lost my temper and slapped her! I don’t know…don’t know what I was thinking…I’m a bad son…I’m horrible…” Newsie broke into sobs, hurriedly yanking out his handkerchief and burying the lower half of his long nose in it. “And now she’s going to punish me and I know I deserve it!” he wailed, and his vision blurred in tears.

    “Uh…huh,” Rizzo gulped, opening the dressing-room door quickly and slipping out. Gonzo noticed him trotting away from the area as fast as his paws would take him, and blinked in surprise at him.

    “Hey, Rizzo! What’s going on?”

    “Oh, man. The geek’s completely gone all Norman Bates in there! Ya better lock up the kitchen knives! I’m not sticking around to see if he’s got Wayne dressed in a wig and negligee in the fly loft!” Shaking his head, Rizzo scampered upstairs.

    Concerned, Gonzo knocked gently on the narrow door next to the broom closet. The Newsman’s rough-edged, angry voice shot out at him: “And I do not need any advice from any thieving rodents!”

    “Uh…okay,” Gonzo said. After a second, the door opened a crack, and the Newsman peered out at him, his expression instantly changing to one of contrition when he saw who it was.

    “Er. Uh…sorry, Gonzo. I thought you were Rizzo.”

    “Yeah…I get that a lot,” Gonzo said agreeably. “I think it’s the Hawaiian shirts. You okay?”

    Newsie sighed, nervously adjusting his tie. “I’m fine. Thank you. I just, uh…I just have, er…have a lot of thinking to do. Is there a News Flash?”

    “Not that I’ve heard. I’m sure Scooter will come get you if there is,” Gonzo said, and Newsie nodded, starting to turn away. “Hey, if you need help, they say two heads are better than one!”

    Newsie paused, then looked worriedly back at Gonzo. “Do you…can you think of any way I could make amends for an insult to my mother?”

    Gonzo’s eyes widened. “You insulted your mother? Gosh, no! Ah, I was thinking maybe these guys could help,” he offered, pointing out one of the guest monsters tonight, a violet-furred creature with two distinct heads, red noses and horns; one had a goatee.

    “Muh?” one of the heads asked.

    “Ther!” the other responded. Both of them looked expectantly at Newsie.

    The Newsman slammed the door.

    At the Sosilly, Gina began cursing under her breath when she received the news that their scheduled comedian had contracted some sort of weird flu and wouldn’t be able to make it. “Green fur and clamshell lips? What the heck kind of virus is that?” Scott wondered aloud.

    Gina shook her head, frustrated, skimming over the schedule of acts. “Who cares? All I know is that leaves us ten minutes short, and the ads specifically mention comedy!”

    “You could always have Mumford stretch out his act even more,” Scott suggested, but Gina threw him a glare.

    “Please. It’s about ten too long as it is! Where are we going to get another comedian on short notice?”

    Alan spoke up, startling them both; they hadn’t realized the boy was anywhere near the lighting booth. “Um…I met these guys upstate at summer stock, and went ahead and gave them a call,” he said, looking at his tennis shoes. “They do comedy.”

    “Please don’t tell me they’re students,” Gina muttered. “This is supposed to be a pros-only show!” Seeing the boy’s face fall, Gina sighed. “Look, Alan. That’s a great idea on paper, but unless they already have a name they’re not going to be much of a draw, and the whole point of a charity show act is…”

    “To bring in the donors, I get it,” Alan said. He looked up at her. “They’re pros! They’ve both worked with the Muppets already!”

    “They’re Muppets?” Gina reconsidered. “Well, okay…”

    “Um…not exactly.”

    “They’re what, monsters?” Gina hoped not; Newsie was anxious enough right now without being asked to be anywhere near his worst phobia.

    “Uh, no, not monsters…” the boy said, giving her a puzzled look.

    “Are they here?” Scott asked.

    “Yeah! Hey guys, come on out, let ‘em see you!” Alan said over his headset. All three of them turned toward the stage as two very small people trotted out and sat upon black velvet cubes down-center, close to the front row. Well, perhaps people wasn’t the right term…

    “Good evening! It’s great to be here! Isn’t it great to be here, Topo?”

    “Yah, yah, it sure is, Chucky Bear! Hey, doesn’t this remind you of the show we did last time at the Hamptons?”

    The odd-looking wooden bear swiveled his head around to take in the empty theatre seats. “Why’s that, Sticky my friend?”

    “’Cause the audience then was another bunch of dead seats!”

    They laughed heartily. “No, seriously, it’s great to be here, folks! What a great chance for us to show how much we care about the, uh…”

    “The inner-city kids’ youth groups, Chucky?”

    “Oh! Is that what this is for? I thought we were speaking out against termites!”

    Gina turned slowly around, staring first at Scott, then at Alan. The intern beamed at her, grasping his clipboard with the air of a publicist who’d just discovered a real moneymaker. “Alan,” Gina said quietly.

    “Aren’t they great? They’ve offered me a position as their manager! It could be my show-biz break!” the student exclaimed.

    “Alan. Your ‘comedy act’ is a badly-made bear doll with a monocle, and a…a…” Gina was at a loss, gesturing at the weird pair still cracking lame jokes to an empty theatre.

    “A tongue depressor,” Scott supplied, watching the wooden things onstage in rapt fascination.

    “I know! Totally original, right? Do you think they could get into some of the clubs here after this?” Alan asked eagerly.

    Gina sat down. She stared in silence at the inanimate objects ribbing one another in the center of a large, bare black stage. Finally she looked back at Alan. “Did you vet them through Paul?”

    “Yeah! He loves ‘em!”

    Gina looked at Scott. He shrugged. “Cold fish likes stiff, dead jokes,” he rumbled. “Who knew?”

    Disgusted, Gina penciled them in on the act schedule.

    When Scooter knocked to tell the Newsman a bulletin had come in over the wire, he noticed their resident journalist looked pale and anxious. “Hey, you okay, Newsie?”

    “Fine,” Newsie muttered, taking the paper from the gofer-turned-assistant-stage-manager as they both hurried upstairs.

    Scooter persisted. “You’re not coming down with the green fur flu, are you? I hear it’s been going around!” He peered closely at the Newsman, who backed away a step, nervously smoothing down his hair and tugging his coat-hem to get the wrinkles out.

    “I’m not sick! I’m fine,” Newsie said firmly, and Scooter shrugged.

    “Look, if you feel like you’re going to puke, try not to hit the audience, okay?” Scooter gave him a pat on the shoulder and hurried off, directing the stagepigs who were setting the last couple of cheeses in place onstage. Newsie blinked. Green fur flu? Cheese? He shook his head as Rizzo and a large group of rats scurried out before the curtain opened and the band struck up a jazzy number.

    Why is it always something weird around here? Newsie wondered. However, that immediately brought to mind his mother’s repeated scoldings about the sort of company he worked with. Glumly he stood offstage, waiting, while Rizzo broke into fervent, if off-key, singing:

    “If dey could see me now,
    Dat little gang of mine –
    I’m eating fancy chow
    And drinking fancy wine!”

    The rat, dressed in a gold lamé top hat and tails-coat, danced merrily atop a giant stack of chunks and rounds of various kinds of cheese. Below him, a group of rats dressed, well…rattily…looked up and shook their heads in apparent disbelief, even as they moved to the music.

    “I’d like dose stumblebums ta see for a fact
    Da kinda top-drawer, first-rate mice I attract!”

    Rizzo gestured behind him; a chorus of gray mice dressed as Rockettes began doing a swaying, coordinated dance step on the level of Swiss just below him. One of them fell into a large hole with an indignant squeak.

    “All I can say is wow-eeee!
    Looka where I am! Tonight I landed, pow!
    Right in a pot of jam!”

    Rizzo did a cannonball into a large bowl of blueberry jam, flipping himself right back out immediately and licking off his arm in one fluid move.

    “Ah, what a setup! Holy cow!
    Dey’d never believe it
    If my friends could see me now!”

    “We see ya, already,” one of the rats below grumbled. “Quit hoggin’ da jam!”

    The Newsman watched, lost in his own unhappy musings. I thought I had a great set-up! Living with Gina, in her wonderful apartment, doing…everything…with her… He blushed. I thought it was paradise. What if Mother’s right? What if I’ve only been dragging myself down in the world? It really is a good thing Aunt Ethel can’t see me now; she would be truly shocked. He could just hear his prim, gossipy aunt telling her friends how her nephew had moved in with some girl half his age… Wincing, Newsie tried to fight off the self-loathing creeping into his thoughts. No! Mother’s wrong! Gina is good for me, and I’m…I’m good for her! She’s said so! She wouldn’t be with me if that wasn’t the case!

    Rizzo was joined onstage by Camilla, lolling extravagantly on a long fake-fur stole draped coquettishly over a rind of aged cheddar.

    “If dey could see me now, my little dusty group,
    Traipsin’ round dis chicken coop!
    I’d hear those thrift-shop rats say
    Bruddah, get her!
    Draped onna bedspread made from tree kinds a’fur!
    All I can say is wow!
    Wait ‘til da riff and raff
    See just exactly how we sign dis autograph!”

    Rizzo produced a pen as tall as he was to sign an oversized check with a flourish; Camilla, clucking happily, grabbed it in her beak and took off. Rizzo laughed.

    “What a buildup! Holy cow!
    Dey’d never believe it,
    If my friends could see me now!”

    He went into a wild dance, twirling with several of the mice in turn. Two more went spiraling out-of-control off the cheesepile with squeaks of outrage. “Rizzo, dang it!” “Watch it, you oaf!” “Hey, Tommy Tune you ain’t!”

    Newsie folded and unfolded the news bulletin, pacing tightly back and forth in the stage right wing. Yes, he’d gained all that: a decent salary (not the highest even in the local-news market, but far, far more than he’d ever made before), a fantastic apartment, a little fame earlier this year (though the questions about his experience with psychokinetic manifestational events had died down, he still had some nice articles and video files for his scrapbooks), and the love of a beautiful, smart, dedicated young woman…he’d made it. Personally as well as professionally. Did he still want a Pulitzer? Of course! But…he was happy. He’d been happy, at least, until Mother had shown up.

    What would happen if he couldn’t persuade his mother to back off? Just how annoyed was Death at the old woman’s harping? Newsie shuddered. Wasn’t there anyone he could turn to for help? Clearly, Gina was expecting him to deal with it; he decided unhappily that was fair. After all, it was his parent; her own grandmother, the only parent she’d known most of her life, had grudgingly approved the match…and the Gypsy woman had also been dead at the time! No, the only obstacle here was indeed his problem, his mother. The fact that she hadn’t caught back up to him yet only frightened him the more; as a child, even as a younger man, he’d been relieved when her wrath turned on him immediately after whatever transgression she claimed he’d made. It was over faster, at least. No…the ones you had to watch out for with Mother were the slow, smoldering rages, the ones where she made you think she’d forgotten all about the issue for a day or two…and then wham! You’d wake up to find all your term papers had been put through the shredder, or you’d walk down to the market and realize all the clerks were laughing at you behind your back and making cry-baby motions, or your prized souvenir Natty Bumpo action figure would’ve been suddenly missing, donated to Goodwill along with your entire Pat Boone album collection…

    Gonzo joined Rizzo, dressed as a waiter, bringing a hefty platter of sliced cheeses, which Rizzo disdainfully waved off, though he snatched a glass of champagne from the tray.

    “If dey could see me now,
    Right here wit’ Mr G,
    Who’s waitin’ on me like he’s a maitré-d!
    I’d hear my buddies sayin’…”

    The disgruntled rats, trying vainly to leap up to the next level of cheeses, sniped more than sang: “Crazy! What gives?”
    “Dat bum’s livin’ like da other half lives!”

    Rizzo gleefully danced around, hat raised in one paw, pointing at Gonzo as he re-entered and offered a silent toast with another champagne flute.

    “Ta think da highest brow –
    Which I gotta say is he –“ Gonzo wiggled his eyelids at the audience, not having brows per se. “Should pick da lowest brow—
    Which dere’s no doubt is me!
    What a setup! Holy cow!
    Dey’d never believe it –
    Oh if my friends! Could! See! Me!

    Rizzo stepped down the cheese-stairs one by one as he delivered the last refrain, the remaining mice line-kicking as they followed. Unfortunately, at the last line, Rizzo came within reach of the other rats, and they grabbed him, then attacked the cheeses. Although the audience applauded as the curtain closed, Rizzo was suddenly in a fight for his cheese. “Hey! C’mon! You guys, it’s just a song! Hey dat’s my Limberger! Knock it off!”

    The stagepigs quickly shoved the news desk out in front of the curtain, flying the backdrop of world time zones down before opening the main drapes again. Newsie couldn’t get onstage fast enough, desperate to focus on something beside his own troubles. “Here is a Muppet News Flash!” he yelled, rushing to the desk. “A Muppet has just been named the winner of this season’s competition on the popular reality show, America’s Got Lots of People with Kind of an Unusual Gimmick Which They Want to Share with the World! Ahem…little Carrie Louise, age eight, took her singing duet with Mr Turtle all the way to the finals, after having previously sung with a large bullfrog. Although she didn’t even make the auditions on the Muppet Show with that act, Carrie Louise persevered, and by switching amphibious partners, seems to have finally garnered the attention she so desperately wanted!” Seeing the note at the bottom of the sheet indicating he should go to a live interview, the Newsman turned around to face the viewscreen built into the backdrop. He hadn’t done one of these in a while…not live, at least. Not having Rhonda here to edit made him a little nervous, but he gamely addressed the screen as the live feed flickered on: “Tell us, Carrie Louise, what factor made the difference in your act?”

    A small Muppet girl with yellow hair popped into view, smiling brightly. “Hi! Am I really live on the news?”

    “Yes, you are! Miss Louise, what was it like going up before those tough celebrity judges on national television?”

    “Oh, this is so great! Hi mom!” the little girl shouted, waving.

    A voice somewhere off-camera grumbled, “You’ve gained the fifteen minutes of fame you so atrociously lusted after, and all you can say is ‘Hi mom’? Heavens, where’s Drella when you need him?”

    “Can you get me a spot on Barbara Walters?” Carrie Louise asked Newsie.

    “What? Er…no, I’m sorry. But tell us, Miss Louise, what made you decide to resume your unsuccessful singing act with a talking turtle?” Newsie was winging it at this point, nettled that celebrities didn’t seem to want to be interviewed by him. Not even temporary, questionably quasi-celebrities… Another question occurred to him as the Muppet girl continued to wave happily at the screen as though she were in a Little Miss Safeway competition instead of a televised talent show. “Er…where is your singing partner, anyway?”

    The same grouchy (though very cultured) voice sounded again from somewhere lower than the mic Carrie Louise held. “In a position of complete ignominy! Get off me, you little song-who—“

    The feed suddenly crackled and shifted. “Uh…we seem to be having technical issues,” Newsie said uneasily. “Miss Louise? Mr Turtle? Can you hear me?”

    “I hear you just fine, Aloysius!”

    “Yeeek!” Newsie cringed. The glowering visage of Mrs Crimp filled the screen, gray and smoldering. He could see wisps of smoke coming out of her ears, and her eyes were nothing more than glowing pinpricks behind those tiny round granny specs.

    “You want a news flash? Here’s a news flash!” Mrs Crimp snarled. “My son is changing his name from Aloysius Ambrosius to Benedict Quisling to show his new status as a guilty little traitor! In just the past twenty-four hours, he has engaged in immoral and probably illegal carnal acts, smeared the formerly good name of his family in filth, and abused his own mother!”

    “Aagh!” Newsie stumbled back, shoving the desk off-kilter, his hands automatically rising to defend himself from the terrible spectre looming on the screen. As he retreated, she began pulling herself through the screen, seeming to grown bigger and more dangerous than she ever was in life…a truly frightening apparition as far as the Newsman was concerned. “Mother, I’m sorry!”

    “You most certainly are!” she snapped. The audience murmured, looking at one another, unsure if this was part of the show. Offstage, Kermit and Scooter shuddered, surprised and dismayed at the ghost who looked uncomfortably like a female, older, dusty-gray version of the Newsman. She advanced upon her cringing son relentlessly. “This! This is what comes of bad little boys who ignore their mothers’ advice and reject all standards of common decency by falling into bed with Muppet-corrupting little tramps! What’s next, running for a Senate seat?” she shrieked.

    “Aaaaggh!” Newsie fled, tripping over the curtains on his way into the wing, recovering fast and pounding past the other Muppets, slamming the back door open so hard it immediately slammed back in his face. He staggered; then, whimpering, shoved the door open again and ran. Scooter, hurrying after him, saw him fall down the loading-dock steps. He never paused, picking himself up and running as fast as he could go down the alley.

    Scooter hastened back to Kermit, staring out at the stage. The apparition glared at them, scowled at the audience, and vanished. “Yeesh,” Kermit said. “What...what the heck was that all about?”

    Scooter shook his head, baffled. “Heck if I know, but I don’t think we’ll see the Newsman again tonight!” He sniffed, and frowned. “Weird. Is that lemon dusting spray?”

    Kermit simply gestured at the stagepigs to change the scenery, setting up the fake caravan and campfire for the musical number Piggy had asked to do. “As long as whoever-she-was is gone and we can get on with the show…” Kermit sighed. He tried to smile as Piggy air-kissed him, sweeping past to command the stage in a fluttering silk shawl and a skirt embroidered with a trim of jingling gold coins.

    Scooter watched a moment to see that the number was beginning smoothly, with Piggy walking slowly among numerous pigs dressed in colorful scarves and playing violins and shakers. Her voice, low and melodic, carried throughout the dim house: “Moi was born in the wagon of a traveling show…”

    Kermit nodded, watching his girl sway and sing and do an expert twirl with her arms above her head provocatively when the music launched into the loud refrain, with flutes and drums added to the mix: “Gypsies, tramps and thieves! We’d hear it from the people of the town…They called us Gypsies, tramps and thieves…”

    Scooter tapped his boss’ shoulder. “Hey, chief? Did Miss Piggy base her costume on Gina’s usual outfits?”

    Kermit shook his head, smiling. “Uh…no. I doubt this is derived from Gina’s wardrobe...or Cher’s. It, uh…it suits her figure, though.”

    “Uh, yeah.” Scooter thought of something, and glanced back at the closed rear exit. “Good thing the Newsman’s gone. Rizzo told me he was complaining earlier that his mother won’t leave him alone about Gina! Apparently she doesn’t approve, and I doubt this song would help his mood much…” The same thought struck Scooter and Kermit simultaneously. They stared at one another. “Uh, you don’t think…?”

    “She did look a lot like him,” Kermit said. Both of them shivered. “I’m kind of glad now she never came down to the theatre before!”

    “Uh…Rizzo also said that Newsie said his mother was dead!”

    “Oh, good grief! Isn’t one ghost around here enough already?” Kermit complained. “Uh, no offense, Uncle Deadly!”

    The phantom dragon waved his hand in gracious dismissal. “Not to worry, little frog! I know full well you finally revere me as the dramatic genius I always was, and my home shall always be here!”

    “Melodramatic genius, anyway,” Floyd muttered under the Gypsy-pig music as he sauntered past, heading down for a quick cup of java before the band was needed back in the orchestra pit.

    Slinking away from the usual backstage banter, Uncle Deadly mused upon what he’d just seen. This theatre was his territory, for heaven’s sake! His and his lady-love’s, at least…and he didn’t wish to share it with any other spooks. Especially not ones that raggedy-looking. She could have put on a little corpse-rouge, at least! he thought, irritated. So that was the deceased mater of the unlucky reporter? Why on earth was she haunting him? And what was all this about Gypsies? Perhaps, thought the departed master of the golden boards, perhaps I should look into this matter…particularly if that homely creature intends to haunt MY theatre! He was in no position to ask a favor of the reaper, even a favor of information…but there were other avenues to explore. He could always put a question out on the deadvine and see what crawled up…

    Nodding to himself, Deadly crept into the shadows; the show went on behind him.
  12. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Seven

    Gina stood a moment, taking a breath, as the door closed quietly behind her. What a rehearsal. I will never, never do a show under Paul Grouper again! The man’s an idiot! In addition to the random lineup of acts the producer had insisted on or booked himself, Gina had spent the last half-hour arguing with him over the programs. Boxes of them had arrived this evening and were currently piled in the ticket booth to the Sosilly, which was fine; the issue was not whether they had them, but what was to be done with them. Paul was loudly proclaiming they would be sold for two dollars each to the show attendees, “so we can rake in even more money – er, for the charity!” Gina had fruitlessly argued in favor of giving one out free to every ticketholder, pointing out it was just a show, not a stadium concert. As the matter stood, she envisoned a full recycling dumpster out back this coming Sunday after the last performance. Idiot.

    Sighing, she frowned, noting the apartment was blazing with light; every single lamp seemed to be on, from the aquarium light to the dining room’s small, hand-wrought iron chandelier. “Newsie?” she called. When no reply sounded, she set down her purse and keys and looked around. Oddly, she couldn’t find him anywhere. But his keys are here. What the heck? “Newsie? Where are you?”

    A muffled voice came from one of the storage drawers beneath the bed. Startled, Gina pulled open the drawer. The Newsman cringed, blinking fearfully up at her, wedged absurdly into the compartment next to her winter tights. “What are you doing?” Gina demanded.

    “Is she gone?” Newsie whispered, darting frightened glances all around.

    “Okay. I’ve had enough of this!”

    Newsie struggled to climb out of the drawer as his beloved stormed through the apartment to the kitchen. He hurried after her. “Gina? Gina, wait!”

    “That witch is not welcome here! I am taking care of that part of it, at least, right here and now!” Gina growled, unlocking the latch to her Grandmama Angie’s thick tome of special remedies, herbal and otherwise, which always lay on the marble prep counter in the kitchen. Catching up, the Newsman watched in growing concern while Gina let her hair down, shook it out angrily, and flipped through the pages of the book with a hard look on her face.

    “What…what are you going to do?” he asked timidly.

    “I’m going to banish her from this apartment. If I’m not allowed to send her back to the underworld, at least I can keep her out of my personal space!” Finding the right page, Gina scanned it a moment, then began yanking open drawers and cupboards.

    “Gina, wait…Gina…I did something…something awful…” Newsie tried to confess, touching her arm. To his dismay, she shrugged him off.

    “Not now, Newsie. This is way past due.” With a grimace that wrinkled her usually-cute nose, Gina laid out some evil-smelling dried whole herbs, a mortar and pestle, and a small, smoothly-carved stone bowl. Quickly she crushed the herb in the mortar, releasing a green, dank, swampy sort of scent. Newsie put his hands over his sensitive nose, stepping back.

    “What is that stuff?” he asked. Gina glanced at him only a moment, focused on crushing all of the weed.

    “Hemlock. Get me out a couple of lumps of charcoal from that cabinet, would you?”

    Confused, Newsie did as she asked. “Are we having barbeque?”

    Gina paused, looking at him. He stared up at her. With a sigh, she stroked his cheek once, took the charcoal pieces, and resumed her preparations. “Newsie…let me do this first, okay? We’ll be able to talk privately in a few minutes.”

    “Privately?” Newsie began to choke, fear rising in his stomach again.

    “Aloysius! What is that evil little heathen doing?”

    “Erk!” The Newsman backed against the kitchen wall, arms spread along it, finding nothing to protect himself with. His mother shoved one pointy-nailed hand toward him accusingly.

    “And now witchcraft! Heathen! I raised you to be better than this!”

    Gina stepped between them, waving the curling smoke from the stone bowl at the ghost; she’d lit the charcoal and sprinkled some of the crushed herb over the fiery coals. “This is simple incense, you horrible old hag! No different from what my people have done for centuries, from India all through Europe! And it has nothing to do with witchery, just simple chemistry: spirits don’t like certain smells!” Gina advanced, forcing Mrs Crimp to back away. “Now if you want the spiritual part, try this! I call upon Saint Michael, drive away this dead thing! I call on Saint Sarah, protect my hearth!” Still flattened against the wall, Newsie watched in shock as his mother’s ghost retreated, spitting like a wild bobcat before the advancing, foul-smelling smoke. He coughed, trying to breathe only through his mouth, baffled; Gina was speaking in Romany, he knew, but since he only caught a couple of words here and there he had no idea what terrible insults she might be spewing upon his mother.

    “Aloysius! Stop her! It hurts!” Mrs Crimp wailed, beckoning to her son.

    Gina paused, and angrily shot over her shoulder at Newsie: “She’s lying! Ghosts can’t feel pain, Newsie! Don’t listen to her!”

    “But…” Torn, the Newsman followed the strange procession of two out into the living room. Gina continued to sprinkle the herb over the coals, keeping up a steady trickle of smoke, waving the stuff around the doorframes of the kitchen, the dining room, and the front door, and into every corner high and low.

    “I call on all the angels, throw this mamioro back to her bones!” Now that one Newsie recognized, and shuddered, staring wide-eyed at his mother: Gina had told him some of the ghost stories her grandmother had told her, and many of them involved a mamioro, a malevolent spirit or ghost. His mother snarled like a wild thing, seeking some way past Gina, but the Gypsy girl shoved the smoke in the ghost’s face every time she tried to swoop around or over her. At the moment, his mother really did seem horrible, terrifying! He ducked when Mrs Crimp tried to slip past Gina again as she was forced back to the living-room windows.

    “Aloysius! Make her stop! How can you hate me so much? I’m your mother!” Mrs Crimp howled. Newsie froze, his automatic response to come to her aid countered by the hideous, crumpled expression on the gray face and the fiercely glowing eyes.

    “Don’t listen to her, Newsie!” Gina yelled, and threw open one of the windows. “Out! Out, pale wretch! Go and shriek at the crossroads! Come not again into this home!”

    Wailing piteously, the spectre flew out the window. She cried as she went: “Aloysius! I won’t forget this! Do you hear me? Alooooysiuuuuusss!”

    Gina slammed and locked the window, waving the foul-scented incense around the sill and the jamb, then moving on to the hallway, apparently determined to coat every inch of the walls and doors and windows with the smoke. The Newsman saw Mrs Crimp flying – actually flying – outside the ninth-floor windows, darting over to the bedroom, finding herself repulsed there as well, then coming back to stare balefully in at him. He could see her mouth moving, but the glass was thick enough to keep most noise out, and the angry, grating voice of his mother proved to be not strong enough to penetrate the sound defenses. Shivering, he stood there, numb and staring, jumping six inches off the carpet when Gina’s hand touched his shoulder. “Aaagh!”

    “Newsie! Newsie, calm down. It’s done. It’s done now.” Gina pulled him into her arms for a tight embrace, turning him away from the uncurtained windows. “Shhh. It’s okay. You’re safe. It’s all done. She can’t get in again. You’re safe.”

    “What – what did you do to her?” Worried, he began to turn, but Gina crouched, taking his head in her hands, making him look at her instead.

    “Nothing. She’s fine. She just can’t come in. That’s all.” He looked so fearfully at her that Gina sighed, and kissed him.

    “She’s…she’s not hurt?”

    “Oh, Newsie.” She sighed again, stroking her Muppet journalist’s soft auburn hair. “No. I don’t know of anything that actually could hurt a spirit. All I did was evict her, okay?” She locked his gaze until he gulped and nodded. “I’m sorry. I really am. But you and I both deserve privacy in our own home, don’t you think? She won’t bother us in here again.”

    A thump came from the window, making them both jump slightly. Gina frowned. “At least, she can’t come in again! Come on. Don’t look over there. Come into the kitchen with me.” Taking his hand, she led the shaking Newsman into the warm-hued kitchen and coaxed him to sit at the café table in one corner.

    Newsie huddled in his chair, his nose still bothered by the strong smell lingering everywhere. Gina started the kettle and set out their pottery mugs, preparing something herbal and less offensive-smelling, keeping a watchful eye on him. “I think we both need a night away from the craziness, okay? Now…what was it you wanted to tell me?”

    “I…I hit her,” Newsie mumbled, staring at the table.

    Gina sat down next to him, taking his hands in her own, noting how much his fingers trembled. “You did what?”

    “I hit my mother,” he gulped, meeting her eyes finally, his own beginning to feel wet. “I lost my temper…I’ve never…never done that! Never! But I…I don’t know…she wouldn’t stop calling you…awful things, and I…I just…”

    “You hauled off and slapped her,” Gina guessed, knowing her Newsie was not by nature a violent Muppet. She stroked his fingers softly. “Newsie…how many times did she do that to you?”

    His head jerked up so fast she knew she’d struck home. “I…she…I deserved it!”

    “No,” Gina said firmly, squeezing his soft, broad hands. “Nobody deserves to be abused! And I very much doubt you did anything bad!”

    Newsie broke into sobs, ashamed. Gina didn’t say anything for a long moment; then she simply leaned over and put her head against his, holding his hands tightly. He curled his fingers around hers, feeling small and foolish and very much needing her touch. “She…she always said I was her burden,” he said, getting his voice under control. “She had to raise me all by herself…I know she tried…sacrificed so much…”

    Gina let him babble on like that for a minute. Then she sighed, lifted his chin so he met her eyes, and said quietly, “Bulls—t.”


    She repeated the word firmly. “Newsie…I love you. But you have got to stop living by her standards. She may very well have been hard-put to raise a child alone; I don’t know. But I do know you, and there is simply no way on earth you were as awful as she makes you think you were!”

    He could only stare at her. From the living room, a couple more thumps on the glass told them Mrs Crimp hadn’t left. Newsie shivered. Gina continued, “Stop letting her control how you think, how you act! Do you think what we’ve done is wrong? Do you?” The kettle whistled, startling Newsie; Gina rose to pour the water for tea. She studied his expression as she did so.

    “I…uh…I don’t…I mean…” he stammered. She returned to the table, glaring at him.

    “You’d better consider what you say here really carefully, because if you think I’ve done to you half the things she’s accusing me of, you and I don’t need to be together any more!”

    Stunned, Newsie stared up at her. He had to swallow twice before he found his voice again. “Gina! I don’t…no! No, I…”

    “Good.” She leaned over and caught his open mouth in a deep kiss. When she released him, he blinked back more tears, ashamed of showing so much weakness, but she smiled tiredly at him. “Because if you think me loving you, or you loving me, is a bad thing, then…” Newsie reached up, pulling her lips down to his again, silencing her a long moment. Then he simply held onto her, taking deep breaths, eyes shut. She hugged him in return. He felt her sigh. “Let me get the tisane. We both need it, I think.”

    He nodded, and she moved to the far counter to strain out the herbs from the steaming liquid in both mugs, stirring a little honey into them. When she set one mug before him, Newsie recognized the blend of mugwort, chamomile and jasmine she favored for calming jangled nerves. For once, he sipped it gratefully, the oddly floral taste promising a quieting of the jittery blood rushing through him still. Gina swept her hair out of her eyes, sitting down once more. “So. Are you hungry at all?”

    He shrugged, doing his best to pretend it was a normal night. “Maybe…maybe a little.”

    “Yeah. Me too. How about sandwiches?”

    “Sure.” He winced when another thump came from the living room.

    Gina scowled, getting up again. “You stay here. I’ll be right back.”

    “What are you going to do?” he asked immediately, worried.

    “Nothing harmful. Relax. Drink your mugwort.”

    Newsie fidgeted at the kitchen table, surprised when he heard a lush, low voice begin singing, backed up by a slow jazz combo: “It was written in the stars, that what’s written in the stars, shall be…” After another minute, Gina returned to the room and sat back down as if nothing had happened.

    “Er…who’s singing?”

    “Ella Fitzgerald. Thought it would block the noise but stil be soft enough for your ears.” Gina smiled at him; Newsie nodded, listening. “Now…what kind of sandwich do you want?”

    “Uh…whatever you’re having is fine,” he replied, feeling guilty when Gina slowly rose and opened the ‘fridge to rummage through it. “Do you want any help?”

    She straightened up, smiling at him softly. “What’s the lousy-night rule?”

    “Er…the one who has a lousy night is exempt from chores.”

    “Right. So I’m invoking it. Drink your tea.”

    A minute later, Gina started; Newsie’s arms closed around her waist, and she felt him lay his head against the small of her back. She paused in her dinner preparations, touching his hands. “What’s that for?”

    “I love you,” he murmured against her shirt.

    Relaxing, she looked behind her to see him hugging her, eyes closed, looking deeply weary, his glasses off. A really loud thump sounded over the music, and she felt him jerk, startled, then hold her more tightly. She reached around to stroke his hair. “I love you too,” she replied, and finished fixing turkey-bacon BLTs for them both while he hung onto her.

    She swayed a little to the tune playing in the next room, “Love Is Here to Stay,” and Newsie shuffled along with her, not letting go.

    “You, rat!”

    “Ack!” Rizzo leaped straight up, landing hard and whirling to see the ghostly dragon peering at him from a shadowy corner of the otherwise deserted green room. Everyone else had gone home for the night, leaving the Muppet Theatre in the temporary possession of the bugs, the rats…and the resident spectre. “Geez, don’t do that!” Rizzo exclaimed, one paw over his heart. “My doc says I gotta jumpy heart! Scarin’ ain’t good for it!”

    “Perhaps cutting down on the cholesterol-laden dairy foods would be a bigger help,” Uncle Deadly suggested, creeping into the dim light of the open room.

    “Dat’s rich, comin’ from the dead guy,” Rizzo grumbled. “Whaddaya want?”

    “I understand you spoke with our special correspondent earlier about his familial woes,” Deadly said, gesturing at the tiny dressing-room by the broom closet.

    “Our special what?...Oh. The geek. Yeah, he was going off about some weird stuff with his mother. Real creepy. Ya know, I really think he’s gonna totally snap one’a these days,” Rizzo said, shrugging.

    Deadly glided closer, making the rat nervous. Dead or not, he still qualified as a monster as far as Rizzo was concerned, and monsters around here had a bad habit of scarfing up rats for snacks. “Did he say why she is haunting him?”

    “Uh…something about her not liking Gina. His girl,” Rizzo explained, edging away, but the dragon seemed lost in thought.

    “Hmmm. So she still thinks she needs to look after him? What an unfortunate duty for them both!” Deadly stared at the closed door marked News Flash Assignment Desk a long while, finally turning back to Rizzo just as the rat was about to slip away. “Why did he label that absurd little closet ‘assignment desk’ when he can’t even fit a desk into it?”

    “Dunno,” Rizzo said. “Heh, heh…he’s always had some kinda self-importance issues, I think. Rhonda says all anchors have that. It’s like a special gland in their brains that turns on when they think someone’s paying attention to ‘em.”

    “Hmmm.” The dragon stroked his wispy beard thoughtfully. “What precisely does the late Mrs Newsperson dislike about his paramour?”

    “I dunno! She always seemed nice to me…Gina, I mean. Haven’t met Newsie’s ma, and don’t think I want to. I, uh, I don’t talk to dead things! Uh…no offense!”

    Uncle Deadly turned slowly, his eyes glowing. Rizzo squeaked like a girl and took off, making the dragon chuckle loudly, his mirth building up to a hideous mwah! Ha! Ha! Ha! Abruptly, he fell silent, shaking his head. “Fool!” Sighing, the spectre slowly paced the length of the abandoned green room. Most ghosts returned to earth because they felt they had unfinished business, he well knew; he himself felt an obligation to this theatre, to this troupe: keeping them safe had been a priority of his for years now, and that meant safe from otherworldly entities as well as petty thieves and greedy would-be developers. He much misliked this new intrusion, even if it only affected one member of the Muppets thus far. If thwarted, who knew how far the new revenant might go to achieve what she believed to be her mission? Frowning, Deadly considered the empty news room, such as it was, as though some answer might be found there.

    He slipped silently upstairs to the stage, his keen eyes seeking the inhabitants most people had no idea lived in the high rafters above the theatre’s grid. Sure enough, one little bat, not yet flown out for the night, was testing its tiny wings high above, snapping up the few moths hovering around the single, so-called “ghost light” which illuminated the stage faintly every night. Deadly called to it, and the bat swooped down, alighting on his outstretched finger, swinging loosely upside-down to stare at him.

    “Go forth,” he told the little flyer, and held out the spare necktie he’d found in the Newsman’s dressing-room for the bat to sniff. “Find him. If the ghost who looks like him is there, bring her to me! Summon her! I demand audience with the intruder; tell her so!” With a squeak, the bat fluttered up and out, finding the hole in the roof ventilation Deadly had insisted be part of the remodeling of the theatre a few months back. He watched it go, nodding in satisfaction. Perhaps a frank discussion of the matter, ghost-to-ghost, would produce some useful results. Whatever the gray lady’s reasons for being here, he, the one true Phantom of the Muppet Theatre, would brook no more such arrogant invasions as had happened tonight!

    Grimly, Deadly vanished back into the deep shadows of the stage wing.

    Newsie tried his hardest to ignore the steady pounding on the living room windows while he and Gina ate a simple supper in the kitchen. Even with the soft music playing, it proved very difficult. When they retired to the bedroom for the night, he glimpsed his mother’s anguished face outside the living room window, and paused at the doorway to the short hall, feeling guilty. She looked so lonely out there…

    Gina put her hand on his shoulder, nudging him toward the bedroom. “Newsie, I told you. Don’t even look.”

    He did as he was told, but still the awful feelings returned. “Do you…do you think she’s cold?” he ventured while Gina undressed.

    She stopped, clad in shorts and her sports bra, and gave him an incredulous look. “It is ninety degrees out there! And ghosts don’t get cold!”

    “How do you know?” he shot back, ashamed of his own negligence. “Have you ever been a ghost? She looks cold, and lonely, and…and…”

    “Oh, I do not believe this,” Gina groaned, tossing her shirt into the laundry hamper hard enough to make the wicker basket rock slightly.

    Newsie stared at the floor, upset. “Now you sound like that dratted shrimp,” he muttered.

    Gina glared at him. “That is it. If you want to feel sorry for the abusive woman who spent your entire time with her sending you on guilt-trips, you do it without me! Heck, worse than guilt trips! I think those were full-blown guilt expeditions!”

    She strode across the hall to the bathroom. Newsie followed quickly, apologizing: “Gina! No, er…look…I’m sorry!”

    The door slammed in his face. “She’s a ghost, Newsie! A bad one! Stop paying attention to her!” Gina yelled from inside.

    “But…” Sighing, he fell silent. After a moment he crept down the hall once more, peering cautiously around the corner; as soon as Mrs Crimp spotted him, she resumed banging on the window with one fist, making plaintive faces at him, gesturing and apparently beseeching, although he couldn’t hear whatever she was saying. He ducked back into the hall, afraid, ashamed. She had appeared truly fearsome earlier…but she was his mother. His flesh and blood, and she had, in fact, made sure he had oatmeal every morning, made sure he washed behind his ears and had clean shorts on, driven him relentlessly to get better grades in school, to be a responsible person, to be honest and loyal and…and… He started sniffling. Loyal. Yes, she’d punished him many, many times, sometimes mildly, sometimes painfully, but she’d always insisted it was for his own good, to impress upon him the right and good way to live. And she had, often, sacrificed something she desired in order to provide for him, be it her time, her money, or her attention – she’d often told him so, in very clear terms, just how much she’d given up for him, her son, her burden and obligation. How could he turn his back on that?

    Gina stopped in the hall, waiting until he noticed her. “Bathroom’s all yours,” she said curtly, and went into the bedroom, clothed now in a long black satin nightshirt. When he glumly opened the dresser drawers for something to wear to bed, she looked at him darkly once, then threw back the covers and jumped in, immediately pulling the sheet up and turning away from him as she settled in. Newsie hesitated, about to grab his now-habitual shorts and t-shirt. Another round of thumping sounded, this time from the bedroom window (thankfully curtained), startling him. “Oh for...” Gina let out a long curse, making Newsie wince. He abandoned all thought of immodest sleepwear, instead pulling out one set of his pajamas, and retreated to the bathroom.

    This was horrible. Yes, he loved Gina – she was amazing, she was wonderful – but every admonition against immoral dress or speech or behavior ran through his mind, everything his mother had hammered into him for decades, and with a deep sense of having transgressed terribly, Newsie washed up and rinsed his mouth out and put on his long-sleeved, long-legged pajamas, a brown plaid pair, in fact, which his mother had given him for his birthday years ago. She always gave him useful things, not frivolous ones: socks or shorts or ties, sometimes PJs or shirts. Pencils. Pocket protectors. Guiltily he smoothed down the fabric over himself, then slowly returned to the bedroom.

    Gina was scowling at the window, where the pounding persisted. “She shouldn’t even be able to touch that!” Gina protested. “Not if there’s nothing left holding her…” Suddenly she swung around to look at Newsie; he froze a few steps into the room, startled by the intensity of her glare. “Newsie…do you have anything of hers? Anything that belonged to her?”

    “Uh…er…no,” he replied, taken aback. His mother had willed all her belongings to her sister Ethel. Gina stepped out of bed, coming closer to study him.

    “What about gifts? Things she gave to you? Anything like that?” Her gaze narrowed. “Your books?”

    “What? No,” he said, baffled. He’d bought all his books himself, through the years, with allowance at first and later, when he had employment, with what he could spare from his food money; his mother had thought owning books was useless when you could read them for free at the library, and had ridiculed every such purchase. “She…she believed in, er, practical gifts. She usually bought me…”

    “Clothes,” Gina said, sounding disgusted. “Of course. Do you have any of them still?”

    “Uh, a couple of ties; one of the sports coats; some of the shorts, I think...” He stared at her in complete confusion as she began opening his dresser drawers and the closet and pulling out his clothes pell-mell. “Gina?”

    “Which ones? Show me!”


    Exasperated, she explained, “When a Gypsy dies, all of their belongings are burned or given away to someone outside the community. The spirits can still be attached to the items, and follow around the family if any of them are foolish enough to hang onto something.” She saw him glance at her grandmother’s shawl, and snapped, “Yeah, I kept that! But I didn’t mind having her around once in a while, and she certainly didn’t plague me like a freakin’ poltergeist! Now show me! Which clothes did she give to you?”

    The Newsman racked his memory, pointing out to Gina the few items he still owned which he knew his mother had given him; they were in most cases indistinguishable from the rest of his wardrobe in style, save for the newer things he’d bought himself since he and Gina had begun dating. To his shock, she gathered them up and carried them into the hallway outside the apartment. He hurried after her, protesting: “What are you doing? Gina! Those are my clothes! Gina!” But she hurled them down the incinerator shaft, dusted off her hands, and with another grimace at him, stomped back into the apartment and shut the door tightly.

    “There. Anything else?” she demanded.

    “Wha…I can’t believe you just…”

    “Anything else, Newsie? Come on! This has to be done!”

    Reluctantly he indicated the pajamas he was wearing. His eyes widened as she reached for him. “Gina! Wait!”

    But in seconds she’d expertly stripped him; he huddled, ashamed, behind the bedroom door, hearing her leave the apartment again, the creaking sound of the garbage-incinerator shaft being opened and shut once more, and the slam of their door as she returned. “There,” Gina said, heading for the bed. “Come on. Climb in here.”

    “But…but…” he gulped. “I can’t…I can’t…like this! Can you, uh, throw me a pair of shorts, at least?”

    She gave him an amazed look, shaking her head. “Newsie, we’ve been sleeping in the same bed for how many months now? I have seen all you’ve got, you know!” She sighed, seeing his terrified expression, turning gentle. “And I like what I’ve seen. Very much. Now please…come to bed, my modest journalist.”

    “Turn out the lights?”

    “Okay, okay…” She shut off the lamp and the bedside light. Reluctantly, the Newsman crept into the bed, pulling the covers up high and sinking down into them. “Hey. Do you hear that?”

    “What?” he mumbled. Both of them were silent a moment.

    “No banging. It worked. She can’t touch us in here now. Not even to act like a nasty poltergeist.” Satisfied, Gina tried to curl up with Newsie as she usually did, but he pulled away from her. “Newsie? You’re safe, you know.”

    “I…I know.” How could he tell her how horrible he felt? Laying here, without a stitch on, while his mother was probably hovering outside somewhere, thwarted and frustrated and convinced he was behaving immorally… Newsie huddled beneath the sheet, miserable. Rationally, he knew he was being ridiculous; Gina loved him, he knew that. They’d enjoyed many lovely nights here, and many mornings and afternoons as well… He could feel a deep blush overtaking his felt. He’d ceased to be frightened of such intimacy, over the time he’d spent in Gina’s arms; why then, now again, did he feel ashamed of being here? He felt her try to touch him again, and almost groaned, terribly guilty, shifting closer to the edge of the bed, away from her.

    “She was wrong, Newsie,” Gina said, her voice low and angry. “You want to sleep way over there tonight, fine. You do what you have to do. But so will I, if you make me. Think about that. I love you, and I’ll always fight for you. But maybe it’s time you did some fighting for yourself.” She leaned close to him, and said softly in his ear, “The dead do not have the right to control the living. Stand up to her! Be your own Muppet for a change! Stop living for her happiness, and think about what you want!”

    Wordless, he blinked at her, the soft light from the small nightlight by the door just enough for him to see the gleam of her gray eyes. Was she crying? He wasn’t sure. She startled him by kissing his nose. “I love you,” she murmured. “But you need to choose.”

    He didn’t know what response to make. Gina turned away, moving to the far side of the bed, curling up facing the wall instead of him. Newsie lay still, his chest tight, his stomach starting to hurt. He thought of his mother, probably still floating outside, waiting for him. He had no idea how to defuse her. He had no clue how to make up for slapping her, whether it had caused physical pain or not. And he was at a loss as to how to make her accept the one woman who actually loved him, and had proven she did time and again. “I…I love you too,” he whispered across the bed, but if she heard him, Gina gave no sign. Depressed, he lay quietly, staring up at the dark ceiling, surrounded by a crushing blackness in the now-silent apartment.

    Outside, Mrs Crimp brushed away the insistent little flying rodent trying to get her attention. “Nasty thing! Get away from me!” she snarled, slapping at it. The bat dodged, then swooped back, chittering at her; to her surprise, she understood it. “What? Who says?” It squeaked, fluttering near her, just out of reach. Mrs Crimp snorted. “Well! The nerve! I don’t think so!” She waggled a finger at the bat. “You just go back and tell that ugly monster that Aloysius is my son, and I will keep trying to show him how far he’s fallen until he sees it himself, and gives up that tawdry little tart! Who knows what sort of disgusting, shocking, horrible things she’s subjecting him to in there, even now? Ugh!”

    The bat tried once more, repeating its message, but the prim gray Muppet would have no truck with it. “I most certainly will not go talk to that weird thing! I’ve had quite enough of my son’s freakish little friends, thank you! You tell your master I will do what I need to do, and go where I need to go, in order to turn my boy around – and if that means I go through his awful workplace, so be it! Now scram!” She swung at the bat, and it darted off, giving up.

    Disgusted, Mrs Crimp turned back to the window, annoyed at whatever the little witch inside had done to prevent her even touching the building. Well! I guess I’ll just have to see about you, missy! You’ll slip up, and I’ll be right there to see it! A better idea chanced into her dusty gray hairbun, and she smiled. Better yet, I’ll make sure Aloysius sees it – sees just how wanton and immoral you REALLY are! THEN he’ll give you up, and maybe even come with me! I could use him to rub my feet again…all that endless tromping about the underworld does wear on a body. Nodding to herself, she waited for daylight, and the exodus from the building which would have to happen at some point. She’d be waiting…and when that awful female who’d ensnared her boy made her next mistake, she’d catch her, and make sure her son finally saw her for the tramp she was.

    Whatever that took.
  13. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Ooh! How I love this story.

    Chucky and Topo, a wooden bear and a popsicle stick okay. His not a tongue depresors okay.
    Rizzo gets a musical number and fights to protect his cheese(s).
    Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves by Cher starring Piggy? Why not. *Needs to get that into my rock & roll MP3 library.
    References to Rowlf and Foo, and Mr. Turtle, and Carrie Louise...
    Uncle D! *Aws <3 at the scene with the little bat at the theater, that would make a nice illustration.
    The angst going through Newsie and Gina over the troubles presented by Mrs. Crimp...

    There's just so much here that it positively makes your head spin... Triple AH!
    *Head spins around wildly like another prominent poltergeist.

    More please!
  14. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Dear Ed: ask and ye shall (if my limited talents can provide) receive!

    Illustration (also posted under Fan Art, but since it belongs to THIS story):

  15. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Thanks for the drawing.

    Hope others like as much as I did the idea found in the fic itself.
    Please post more story when possible.

    *Tacks up note with the new :news: smilie created by frogboy4 and just added to the site by Phillip Chapman.
  16. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    :news: I love it!!! Will have to go thank frogboy4. Exxxxxcellent!

    Okay...storm warning ahead. Or Mother warning. Mother has been sighted in the area, citizens urged to travel with caution....

  17. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Eight

    The Newsman stared up at the ceiling for some minutes before it occurred to him he was actually awake. Awake again, more accurately; he’d slept only fitfully, unhappy at not having Gina’s arms around him, but worried about his mother no doubt lurking outside all night. He knew Gina hadn’t slept peacefully either; several times he’d heard her murmuring as she dreamed of unpleasant things, and almost reached out to her. Each time, he hesitated, and then the image of Mrs Crimp’s glower, even more pronounced than his own, would flash through his brain like news footage of a trainwreck or a combat zone, and he’d flinch. But Gina would then toss and turn, and make small unhappy noises in her sleep before subsiding into quietude once again.

    He turned his head, able to see even without his glasses that she was still asleep, her hair tangled over the pillow, her arms drawn protectively up near her face although very little sunlight came through the closed curtains and linen shades to disturb her. Guiltily, Newsie slipped out of bed, quickly locating a fresh pair of boxers and his knee-length brown plaid robe and covering himself with hurried movements. With his glasses on, he looked at his sleeping love once more, knowing he was at least in part responsible for her bad dreams. This was awful. He had to do something to make it all right again.

    Padding silently on broad, bare feet into the living room, he kept his gaze on the carpet directly in front of him. Movement flashed in his peripheral vision, and he had to consciously forbid himself to look over at the window. She was still out there. He wondered if the neighbors could see her. Good grief, I hope not! Please, please don’t let her bang on THEIR windows as well! Moving on through the dining room into the kitchen, his feet left the rugs and chilled a bit on the brick-patterned tiles of the kitchen floor. Relatively safe in here, he looked up finally, and realized Gina had never enjoyed the breakfast he’d begun for her yesterday. Yesterday! Twenty-four hours! Has it really only been that? Dismayed, he realized that meant the deadline was only another day away. Assuming the reaper meant two days as in forty-eight hours. Oh no. I hope he didn’t mean only daylight, and he’ll be showing up tonight! No, please! I don’t know what to do!

    Newsie took several deep breaths, fighting panic. Gina always says focus on the immediate. Breakfast. I should make breakfast. Try to make up for yesterday…and last night. Ashamed of himself for not being a Muppet of stronger stuff, he busied himself fixing a fresh carafe of rich coffee and warming up the iced cranberry scones his beloved preferred. One more day to figure something out. What am I going to do? I don’t want to lose Gina! Surely even Death didn’t have the authority to just take him, or Gina, right? Not yet! What then? If Death can’t stand having Mother around, and I refuse to break up with Gina, and Mother won’t budge…then…then…what’s the alternative? Thoughts churned through his head, all unpleasant. He was pouring two glasses of strawberry soymilk when he noticed lovely bare feet in the doorway. His startled eyes followed up the lean, toned legs to the slinky black satin nightshirt and, finally, the sleepy, bemused face of the young woman he loved. He stopped, staring at her, not sure what to say. “Uh,” was about all he could immediately manage.

    Gina squinted at him, not fully awake.

    “Er…” Newsie said.

    Gina sighed, leaning against the doorframe.

    “Um,” Newsie said, feeling like an idiot. “Uh…good morning?”

    She looked at him blankly a moment longer. Then she slowly knelt. Instantly Newsie went to her, relieved that she opened her arms to him. He embraced her tightly. She hugged back, wordless, but he felt the tension go out of her shoulders. When her fingers began toying with his uncombed hair, he sighed, closing his eyes.

    “You’re up early,” she whispered. Her voice told him she was too tired to even be conscious yet. He hoped the coffee grinder hadn’t woken her, feeling guilty again.

    “I couldn’t sleep,” he replied, and felt her nod. Slowly she released him and stood up, moving to the kitchen table to sit.

    “I had…bad dreams.” She simply looked at him; his toes fidgeted against the hard floor, and he couldn’t meet her eyes. “I’m glad you’re here.”

    “Where else would I be?” he asked, confused.

    Gina shook her head, her hair falling over her face. “Don’t… Just forget it. Was just a dream.”

    Newsie took her hands gently in his. “I’m…I’m sorry.” He swallowed hard. “I love you.” He could hear how rough his voice sounded, but she smiled even though her eyes remained closed.

    “I love you, Newsie. Sorry you couldn’t sleep.”

    “No, no. It was…” Frustrated, he sighed. “Um. Do you want breakfast?”

    Gina nodded sleepily. At once he brought her coffee, scones, and milk. Watching her sniff deeply was a pleasure, as was the smile which slowly crept across her face. “Mmmm. My observant journalist knows me.”

    Newsie could only nod at that, still feeling very much a failure, knowing the breakfast didn’t make up for much or solve anything. It wasn’t nearly enough. At least she seemed pleased, and began sipping the coffee and nibbling one of the warm scones. He sat a while, hands curled around his own coffee mug, just watching her carefully lick the icing from her fingertips between bites. It amazed him that a woman who could be so…passionately involved in the bedroom at night…could also appear so childlike at the breakfast table, before she was fully awake. She noticed him studying her, and smiled a little, and reached over to daub a bit of melted icing on his nose. “Oops. You got something on you there.”

    “Heh,” he tried, his heart not really in it. When she leaned over to kiss away the sticky spot, his eyes shut, guilt washing through him. I don’t deserve her. She’s not bad for me at all – she’s too good for me! Gina sensed his unease, and pulled back, frowning.

    “Since when do you not like nose kisses?”

    “No, I –I love them,” he assured her hastily.

    “Are those too immoral for you now?” she snapped. Newsie blinked at her, hurt. Gina lowered her head, sighing. After a long pause, she muttered, “I’m sorry, Newsie. Very bad night. I’m sorry.”

    He nodded, unable to say anything in his own defense. Gina picked at her second scone; reluctantly he made himself drink some of the milk, although he wasn’t hungry in the least. He’d need some kind of nutrients, anyway, and had learned to like the vaguely-sweet soymilk. It beat plain oatmeal.

    At length, after drinking her entire cup of coffee and some of her milk, Gina asked carefully, “So…have you decided what to do?”

    “What to do?”

    Gina met his hesitant gaze firmly. “She’s still out there.”

    “I…I know.”

    “We have one day left.”

    “I know.”

    When he said nothing further, Gina sighed again, and took his hand in hers. “I love you.”

    He couldn’t reply, feeling choked, but he nodded.

    “Newsie…you have to tell her to go away. She’s not going to ever listen to me, but if you were firm with her and really put your foot down, she’d have to accept the situation.”

    “She’ll never accept the situation!” He glanced up at Gina only a moment before returning his stare to the tabletop. “Gina, you don’t… She’s not the kind of person you can convince of anything, once she’s made a decision. I was never able to reason with her about anything! And since she’s…dead, she seems even…even more implacable.”

    “All right,” Gina said quietly. “So what are you going to tell Death?”

    He shook his head in despair. “I don’t know.”

    “You don’t know?”

    He blinked up at her, hearing the threatening tone in her voice. Her gray eyes seemed a little colder. “Hm. How about ‘Hey, Mr Death, I’m not leaving my girlfriend, and you don’t have the right to take either of us away, and why don’t you just lock the witch up in a deep, dark cell somewhere and leave us alone?’” Gina asked angrily. “How about ‘Man up and deal with her yourself and let the living live?’”

    “I could never say that to…to him!” Newsie gulped.

    “Then what do you think is going to happen?” Gina demanded. “Newsie, I can’t fight this one for you; you’re going to have to throw it right back at him! The dead are his problem, not ours!”

    “I thought…I thought maybe…” Newsie tried his best to put some strength into his voice; it still sounded like a fainter croak than Robin’s to him. “Maybe he could just…leave her here.”

    “Leave her here?” She stared at him incredulously. “Oh, yeah! What a great idea! I’d love having an angry dead hag hanging around outside the window every minute!”

    Newsie flushed pink. “We could…we could put up curtains,” he mumbled.

    “Newsie! I am not killing the houseplants and hiding away in a dark cave just to keep from seeing her ugly face day in and day out! And do you know how long that protection spell lasts? Do you?” Frightened, he shook his head, and she spat, “One month, tops! For a determined nuisance like that, probably only about two weeks, and then I’ll have to redo it – over and over! And that’s just the apartment – do you suggest I also cast a banishment over your theatre? And mine? And the grocery store and your news station and every single place we go? Just to avoid her hounding us – or worse?”

    “I…I don’t…what else can we do?” Newsie asked, startled when Gina shoved her chair back.

    “I am not living like that! That’s not living, that’s hiding, and I am not willing to spend the rest of my life having to deal with your stupid dead mother! Do you get that?” she yelled, and he cringed. She stopped, breathing hard, clearly struggling to get her anger under control. Finally she said, more quietly, “Newsie…my sweet Newsman…I adore you, still. But. I will not. Live that way. Not even for you.”

    She glared at him, waiting for his response; he had no idea what to say, what to do. Eyes narrowing, she suddenly left the room.

    Newsie sat there, stunned, horrified. Was she leaving? Was she going to leave him? Over this, because he couldn’t stand up to his mother – or to Death? He forced himself up, forced his feet to take him through the apartment again, glimpsed Mrs Crimp still hovering outside the living room; the sight spurred him down the hall faster. Gina was already half-dressed in well-worn gray cargo capris with black metal chains and studs darkly gleaming all over, and she pulled on a black t-shirt with the logo Nine Inch Snails as he stopped in the bedroom doorway. “Gina,” he choked. “Gina…”

    She said nothing, shooting a hurt glare at him, putting in a pair of dangling black skull earrings. He’d never seen her dress so…so…dark. Everything about the outfit seemed to thumb its cultural nose at his own more conservative wardrobe. She yanked flexible black shoes onto her feet, pulled her hair quickly into a ponytail and looped a simple black band to hold it in place without even brushing it. “I need to go out for a while. I’ll see you tonight, if you still want to be there with me.” Her pointed look shot right through him, and he instinctively grasped the doorframe.

    “Gina…Gina, don’t…I can’t…” he gulped, unable to voice his fear.

    Her voice rose in both tone and pitch. “You should get ready. Don’t you have a busy day of avoiding things ahead of you?” She paused at the bedroom door, looking down at him, blinking hard. “Good luck with that.”

    He felt the tears coming, trying hard not to let them. He heard the front door slam. He kept hold of the doorframe, but sank down, eventually sitting on the bedroom rug, crying openly, too absorbed in his own grief to recognize that she’d just broken down as well.

    The phone rang right as Beaker pressed the activation button for the laser.

    “Meeeeep!” he squealed, the kickback from the force of the beam staggering him.

    “That’s it, Beaker! Keep it level! Don’t let it zoom all over the place!” Bunsen urged him, then turned to the jumble of parts and pieces strewn over their worktable to find the phone while his ringtone, the chorus from the Busboys’ song “Cleanin’ Up the Town,” continued to play. “Ah! Hello, Muppet Labs, where the future is being made today!”

    Bunsen almost didn’t recognize the voice; she sounded flat and terse. “Dr Honeydew? It’s Gina.”

    “Oh! Oh, yes, hello, Miss Broucek! How is everything?”

    Beaker finally got the wildly dancing laserbeam under control, practicing aiming it at a Muppet cheese, which stopped singing “On Top of Spaghetti” and fell inanimate, if likely inedible. Pleased, he next tried the snapping, fortunately chained-up Muppet sofa, which they’d lured away from its pack at the edge of Queens where it had been roaming feral since 1977.

    Gina responded, “Great. Have you made any progress on that project I asked you about?”

    “Oh, yes! We’ve built the prototype and are testing it as we speak!” Bunsen said proudly. On the other side of the room, Beaker glared and meeped fiercely, shooting the laser like a squirtgun all over the raving sofa, and it gasped, croaked, and slumped, its eyes turning into harmless doilies and its mouth relaxing into mere moldy cushions.

    “Mee meep meep!” Beaker called happily. For once, an experiment which worked well! He was definitely appreciating its anti-animate properties.

    “Well done, Beakie!” Bunsen told him. Beaker smiled, standing up taller, turning off the laser. Just as he powered the whole thing down, Bunsen trotted over to the wall and pulled a lever, opening a glass sliding panel which had arcane symbols etched all over it. “Now let’s see how it does against an actual ghost Muppet!” Startled, Beaker stepped back, frantically looking from the malevolently-fanged, one-eyed, axe-wielding creature which floated out of its glass prison cell to his cooling-down spectral electron-disrupting anti-Muppaspectre beam-thrower…which would need another five minutes to reboot.

    “So it works?” Gina asked.

    “Oh, quite well!” Bunsen proclaimed happily.

    “Meeeeee!” Beaker shrieked, ducking as the ghost hurled the axe at him, only to have it reappear in the phantom’s hand and get thrown again. He punched the ON button of the laser over and over.

    “How soon will it be ready?” Gina wanted to know.

    “Oh, well, we’re doing the final test now! I was able to procure the ghost of an infamous mass-maimer known in life as the Cherryville Chopper!” Bunsen turned finally to see Beaker ducking, dodging, squealing, and tapping every button on the laser as fast as his pink fingers could move, while the ghost chortled and threw his axe over and over and over, destroying a chair, gouging the walls, and setting off an explosion when one blade whirled through a delicate chemistry experiment separating pure hydrogen from aqueous hyrogen sulfide.



    “Ah,” Bunsen stammered, taken aback. “Ah…soon! Very soon! I’m sorry, Miss Broucek, but I need to get back to work…see you soon…bye bye…” He snapped the phone shut and called out, annoyed, “Beaker! Be careful! Do you know how much a genuinely murderous Muppet ghost costs? Those are extremely rare!”

    They stared at one another through the window a long time, the Newsman in trepidation, his mother with a haughty expression.

    For Gina, he told himself, shivering. After all they’d been through, he was going to lose her if he couldn’t do this. He couldn’t bear that thought. Mother was just going to have to be mad at him. That was all there was to it. I have to do this, and accept the consequences, he thought, frightened. As terrified of telling his mother off as he was, especially seeing her floating, gray and immovable as stone, right outside waiting for him, Newsie was more frightened of losing the best thing in his life, ever. I’ll…I’ll tell Mother I’m never listening to her again, not ever! And she can complain and rant and...and hurt me…all she wants…but I’m not leaving Gina, and I’m not going with Mother, and she’s not going to bother Gina again! Whatever that takes!

    He jumped, his glasses bouncing on his nose, when his watch alarm went off in the bedroom, reminding him it was time to shower and get ready for work. Shuddering, he turned away from the unwelcome visitor on the opposite side of the glass, remembering he was supposed to be at the museum again today for the last of his special reports before the exhibit unveiling tomorrow morning. In the shower, he kept turning up the hot water; he couldn’t stop shivering.

    Grateful for the sheltered atmosphere of the bedroom a little later, he stood wrapped in one of Gina’s oversized bath towels from chest to toes, unhappily looking through his remaining clothes. To heck with visual interest, he decided; he simply didn’t feel cheerful enough to put on something bright. Although it would be hot to wear outside, he dressed in his dark gray pants and matching jacket over a plain white shirt and plain gray silk tie, a newer, serious outfit more suitable for delivering reports of casualties overseas than trying to hype the Muppet natural history exhibit. He didn’t care. I can’t lose her, he kept thinking as he automatically knotted his tie, combed his hair, tied his shoelaces. Oh, Gina, please don’t leave. Please don’t. He was too upset to think that if anyone would have to leave, it would be him; the apartment was technically hers, not his.

    His mother appeared beside him as soon as his shoes hit the sidewalk.

    “I see you finally put some clothes on,” she said snidely. “I was wondering whether you forgot what appropriate attire was!”

    He did his best to ignore her, walking on with his jaw set. Frowning, she persisted, “I saw your leggy trollop blow by in the most atrocious outfit. Does this mean you’ve got rid of her?”

    “Gina is not a trollop, Mother!” Newsie shouted, making several early lunch-hour commuters turn their heads. Humiliated, flushed, he increased his pace; years ago, when she’d been complaining about her hip constantly, he’d been able to outrun her with a fast walking speed. Not anymore; she glided effortlessly alongside, sneering at him.

    “Oh no? Dressed like some…some horrible stone-and-roll fanatic, like those crazy teens on Dick Clark’s show?” Mrs Crimp sniffed. “Why, that rag she had on was tight enough to be a corset – as if the wanton little puppy knew what that was!”

    “Mother, stop it! Just stop it!” He halted in the middle of the busy sidewalk, ashamed of doing this in public, having no choice. “For the last time, I don’t care what you think! Do you understand? I don’t care! I love her! I don’t care if me being with her makes you…makes you lose face with your old-dead-ladies bridge club or whatever! I don’t care how awful you think our relationship is! Yes I live with her! Yes I sleep with her!” He was shouting at top volume now; the passersby edged away as they hurried around the two Muppets blocking a few feet of the right-of-way. “And—and—I’m happy! So you can just – just go to heck!”

    Tears were streaming past his glasses. Angrily he turned away, whipping them off his nose and wiping his face with his handkerchief. He could feel the cold radiating off his mother over his shoulder, a cold which put the exhausting heat of the day to shame. As he shoved the glasses back on, his chest tight, eyes hot, he saw his mother staring at him; involuntarily he shivered. Those pinpoint, glowing eyes were tiny lasers of anti-happiness. They always had been, he realized. Even when she was alive. One icy glare from her, and he’d always wanted to shrink into nothingness, to be invisible, to be nonexistent, just to escape that scorn.

    “What makes you think she feels anything for you?” Mrs Crimp asked coldly, and he felt his heart contract.

    “She—she—she’s told me so! She loves me! She says so!” Newsie protested, but his fear gave Mrs Crimp all the opening she needed to press the attack.

    “A loose girl like that? Feh!” Mrs Crimp looked as though she wanted to spit, then thought better of it. “And whose salary is she living off of? She dresses like a hobo, you have a decent suit! I can see quite well who’s making the money here!”

    “She made more than me when we met!” Newsie argued. “Don’t even go there, Mother! Gina loves me!”

    She slapped him.

    “That’s for being stupid,” Mrs Crimp snapped. “What have I told you about those kind of girls! You should be taking care of me, after all I’ve done for you, Aloysius! Not giving your money to that reckless little –“

    “Mother! You – are –DEAD!” the Newsman yelled, fists clenched, almost nose to nose with her. “I did take care of you! I spent my whole life taking care of you! And now you are dead and I – I – I’m glad!”

    Oh! He stopped, stunned at what had just come out of his mouth. His mother even looked startled. Oh good grief…oh…it’s TRUE! He gaped, anger ovewhelmed by surprise, then guilt, then…amazement. All this time…he’d never even thought about it…through years of living alone, in rickety slums because he couldn’t afford anything better, after he’d spent all he earned and gone into debt on top of it, just to provide his demanding mother with everything she insisted she deserved, right down to the velvet-flocked casket. Even before he met Gina, even living in near-poverty, even when he’d been fired from the TV station and relied solely on his meagre Muppet Theatre salary, yes, even then…he’d been relieved. Relieved she was gone. Relieved he’d never hear her harping, grating voice again, or see her proud, hurt expression, or feel guilty for not doing something else right in her eyes. Newsie gulped, astonished at himself. Then he stared at the ghost, and his gaze hardened, and he said calmly, quietly, “Mother, I don’t need you. I don’t want you. Get out of my life.”

    Startled, Mrs Crimp backed away a step, for once looking unsure around her son. “I…I can’t believe you’re saying these things, to your own mother!”

    Newsie swallowed back a sour taste, but his voice gained a little more strength. “Believe it. And go away. Forever.”

    She hesitated. Newsie glared at her, then resolutely turned his back and made his feet start moving again. He couldn’t believe he was actually doing this. Walking away from her, once and for all! His heart was pounding in his ears; his throat was dry as cloth. But he was doing it. Finally, truly walking away.

    And then she said, “Then I suppose you don’t want to hear who she’s been cheating on you with.”

    He stumbled. No. No! Gina wouldn’t do that! It’s a lie! He tried to ignore his mother, resuming his pace, not looking back. He felt her cold form slide up behind him, and a cold wind breathed on his ear: “That tall delinquent with all the nasty tattoos, that’s who!”

    Newsie stopped, looking back at his mother, eyes wide. “N-no! You’re lying!”

    “Oh am I? Your own mother, who only ever wanted what was best for you, even when you were too foolish to know what that was?” Smiling nastily, Mrs Crimp hissed, “Do you really think a tall, young girl like that would want to be with you, when she can get her jollies with another young, immoral, non-Muppet brute? I’m sure she knows how absurdly blind you are to the evils of the world! I’ll bet she ran out of here this morning right into his big, tall, lusty arms!”

    “Shut up!” Newsie said, jerking back when his mother leaned in suddenly. “Gina wouldn’t…no!”

    “She’s not a Muppet! She has no morals! Why on earth would you think a tramp like that would be faithful? I’ll bet she even has other men besides!”

    “You’re lying to upset me! You just want me to break up with her!” Newsie accused. “You have no proof at all! You’re just making this up!”

    “Proof? Oh, I see, the fool of my own blood can’t take his own mother’s word for it, hm? Do you really think of yourself as some high-and-mighty reporter? ‘Newsman,’ indeed! Cuckold, more like!” As Newsie spluttered, too furious to speak, Mrs Crimp waggled a gray finger at him. “Fine! You want proof? You’ll get it in spades! Just remember, you asked for it! And don’t come crying later to me!” With a satisfied nod, the ghost suddenly vanished.

    Newsie stood, trembling in rage, abruptly alone in the crowd. Taller people flowed around him, casting irritated looks his way, unheeded. The noon sun beat down on the pavement, relentless, but even dressed in his heavy, dark suit, the Muppet Newsman felt frozen, from his heart out to the tip of his pointed nose...even the spot Gina had kissed again, just this morning. Frozen.
  18. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Yep... There's definitely a storm brewin' between both sides.

    But the best part was the toy testing at Muppet Labs.
    May I borrow the Cherryville Chopper? He's hexactly what I needed for one of the demons.

    Sure hope Gina doesn't get into much trouble or gives Mrs. Crimp so plenty of ammo to continue driving that wedge between the duo.
    Excited to read what may happen at the museum... And there's still that outbreak of the green furry clamlips virus going round.

    Thanks... More please! :excited: :sigh:
  19. Ruahnna

    Ruahnna Well-Known Member

    Howdy! I just finished up to this point! A couple of comments, if I may.

    I enjoyed seeing your take on an established character--Newsie definitely has my sympathy for his rotten family experience, and my heart went out to him because he was so miserable. I can understand why Gina is frustrated though, even though she wants to love him. He's going to have to stand up for himself--Muppet up, if you will--if he's going to move forward from this spot in his life.

    I was surprised, I think, about the subject matter of the story. Abuse and infidelity are tough topics to write a Muppet story around, but you engaged my imagination enough to make me care what happens to Newsie and Gina. (I did think Rizzo was a little unnecessarily harsh to Newsie--this is a rat that hangs out with Gonzo, for goodness sake--but I respect other folks interpretations of characters. Vive la différence!)

    This last is one of those it's-not-you-it's-me comments--the individual story sections in this story are so long it made it harder for me to read from a stop-accidentally-touching-the-touch-pad-and-losing-your-place point of view. Keep writing--by all means!--but could you break each story segment into smaller chunks?

    Nice to have you adding to our fanfic library!
  20. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Ed: borrow the Chopper, sure! I made him up on the spot. Was curious if you caught the "Thirteen Ghosts" vibe I was trying for. ; >)

    Lady Ru: glad you like. This thing went way darker than I planned, but it feels right to me, so I'm running with it. After all, what's a relationship without adverisities?

    Sorry about the length...but I think in terms of overall chapters, linked segments. Please feel free to copy/paste them to your own computer if that makes the whole thing easier to digest!

    More soon...writing tonight! Thanks everyone for reading so far. :news:

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