Short chapter, I admit, but it works as a nice cliffie. Thanks so much, Renee and TogetherAgain. You're so encouraging. It really keeps me going with this! How lovely to read such nice comments from such great authors. TogetherAgain, I am quite sure that I would faint at being referenced in your writing. It's encouraging to hear you like my diction, as I'm not entirely sure my writing style is really suited to the Muppets. Well, I'm sure someone will call me on it if I get too unMuppety. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- The dress rehearsal continued to be rocky, with two incidents of Muppets being unexpectedly eaten, not to mention the Swedish Chef’s cherries jubilee turning out to be excessively jubilant and dragging him offstage like a homecoming hero, but it was not until Gonzo’s act, when rocky actually rode. Backstage, a small group of Muppets watched in amused fascination, mixed with varying levels of uneasiness, as the little blue Whatever announced his latest contribution to the world of art. Gonzo didn’t always gather rave reviews when he performed, but he had no trouble at all gathering a crowd. “And the frog man approved this did he?” Floyd muttered with a rueful shake of his head. “That frog would approve of anything that’s not good and decent. When an all-American act comes along like Wayne and Wanda’s…” “Oh, leave off, Sam. Kermit knows what he’s doing. He’s gotten us this far hasn’t he?” Rowlf stood up for his long time friend, chiding Sam without taking his eyes off the coming spectacle. “You’ve made my point for me,” the eagle groused, which is difficult for an eagle to do. “Like, where does he get all these crazy ideas from?” Janice looked around briefly before snuggling into Floyd’s side. “Don’t ask,” Rizzo advised firmly, “I asked him once, and unless you want to here a thirty minute rave on the role of cosmic fish in self-determination, you shouldn’t ask him either.” He paused for a moment, and then added thoughtfully, “I think he spends too much time with his mold collection.” Onstage, Gonzo was psyching up his imaginary audience with words like “stupendous,” “daring,” and “monumentally dangerous.” He gestured with an energetic flourish to his treasured stunt cannon, which was freshly fired during a brief cameo with the Electric Mayhem. “Here she is, the cannon which will propel me through a field of flaming bolts fired from the row of crossbows that you see arranged here. In the interests of Art, I will perform this stunt while reciting e.e. cummings’ beloved poem, In Just-. Due to popular request, and the insistence of a certain frog,” he added playfully, “this time the crossbows will face away from you and will embed themselves harmlessly into the backdrop that you see hanging there,” he paused and his face lit up in an eager grin, “unless I time it just right!” “Oh, brother,” Rizzo said with a long-suffering sigh, “I’m gonna go make sure there’s a working fire extinguisher handy.” He started away but didn’t get far before he heard Fozzie’s soft question. “Worried?” Startled, the rat immediately shook his head, “Who, me? Nah, weirdo knows what he’s doing. I just…really like that tie.” With a last nervous glance towards the newly burning crossbow bolts, Rizzo headed off to find an extinguisher small enough for him to maneuver. “Hah ha!” Gonzo barked out a short, not entirely sane laugh. “Look at that! Triggered to fire in sequence as the cannon does. Aren’t they great?!” With one last lingering glance at the six well-polished weapons, Gonzo approached the cannon. “Ladies and gentlemen, as fun as this looks, I must advise you not to try this at home.” With an excited little giggle, the daredevil lit the fuse, then quickly darted to the opening of the cannon and slipped fearlessly inside. In the split second before he was shot into the air, Gonzo felt the cannonball under his feet and realized he’d made a terrible mistake. By the time he’d managed to think about warning someone, he was already in midair. The heavy cannonball pushed into his feet and altered his trajectory, slamming him brutally into the stage floor while continuing in its own path. Over the sound of his own head ringing with the impact, he heard the groaning and sharp crash of metal and a chorus of alarmed cries. A feminine shriek pierced the din as darkness clouded his vision. Something was burning. Gonzo’s mind swam into unconsciousness but not before he felt the cool blast of a fire extinguisher spraying foam all over him.