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RedPiggy's Comeback King Saga (a re-write)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction and Fan Art' started by RedPiggy, Aug 15, 2008.

  1. RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Chapter 17
    (Summer, 2011AD)

    Ms. Bitterman, a caustic Caucasian lanky brunette businesswoman in a royal blue pantsuit, slammed the door to the gas-electric hybrid taxi. She didn’t want the driver to have the satisfaction of having her hear his tirade against her abrasive personality. Besides, he really was an idiot … driving her halfway across Manhattan when all she wanted was a simple meal. Delivery had become so expensive thanks to rising fuel prices that if she had been any other person, she’d be furious. Although she was irritated that she was unduly inconvenienced, she couldn’t help but smile at what the oil companies’ philosophies did to everyone. She was always attracted to the power to make others’ squirm and she was thankfully immune to any ill words hurled in her direction.

    She had wanted nothing more than to see her senile husband's pet project, the Muppet Theater, torn down years ago. However, that backstabbing little king prawn Peepee (or something along those lines) cheated her out of it. It wasn’t about the money, though that’s what she told them and her stockholders. The Theater had a consistent twenty-percent profit. That wasn’t phenomenal, but they weren’t scraping the bottom of the barrel, either. What she despised was Kermit’s contentment. She couldn’t let him know they were doing well. She enjoyed watching him and his other friends writhe in despair. However, with the help of their friends Sarah and Jenny, those two-bit (yet irritatingly successful) Broadway broads, they weren’t suffering. No matter what she did, she couldn’t knock down Kermit even a peg.

    Fate hated her.

    <><><><><><>

    The palanquin moved at a fairly fast pace across the emerald countryside. A palanquin was an enchanted carriage with twelve small pawed legs from the front to the middle (though one pair was bound over the top of its ‘head’ with the reins) and two large pawed legs in the rear by a strong thick ten-foot-long stony-looking blunt tail, four eyes lined up in a row on each side of a thin upturned “nose”, a set of curved steps on a creamy bone body leading up to a spiked back between which was a mother-of-pearl cab bordered with gold and fanciful jeweled swirling designs on the sides with a velvet red two-person couch with decorative golden horns on either top corner.

    Inside the cab of the palanquin, two figures sat, trying to keep from touching the other. They had been riding for a week … in the same vehicle … for the whole trip. The male on the left, his feathery blond hair swaying in the breeze, his black riding coat rippling, and his right black boot swung out over the side of the carriage, stared intently at a small clear crystal orb in his gloved hands. The female on the right, her shiny black hair tied into two pigtails, her pale skin showing initial signs of sunburn despite the shade of the cab’s roof, her reddened scar over her left eye toughening her otherwise dainty features, her gold-trimmed navy blue dress rippling in the wind, sighed as she stared at a small cloud racing at their side.

    “If you love humans so much, why don’t you get an mp3 player or something?" the woman grumbled bitterly, trying not to look at him. When he didn’t respond, she whipped her head around, glaring. “How dare you ignore me?" she snarled.

    The man kept a blank facial expression. “You did want me to treat you with the same respect as your mother, dear Moulin," he retorted quietly.

    “Hmph," she snorted, crossing her arms and turning away. She hated it when she walked right into one of his cutting remarks.

    He flashed a brief smirk. “Besides, it seems peculiar that one who hates humans so much would enter their world and pretend to be among the mortal commoners.”

    Moulin frowned. “At least I do so to accomplish strategic goals," she replied. “I don’t go there just to woo mortal women, Jareth.”

    Jareth laughed heartily. He wiped away a couple of tears with a silk handkerchief. “No, that’s only one pleasure to be had, right, Moulin?"

    The small room was barely illuminated by a small forty-watt bulb in the center, dangling down from a thin wire to a steel conical lampshade. It was like an empty storage room. Well, actually, it was … since that was what Ms. Ardath had been using it for ever since Dr. Jerome Christian moved to Arizona to continue his archaeology work. It had been twenty-three years since “Doc” had moved, leaving the strangest thing in the bare room.

    Ms. Ardath checked her watch. The inspector was over an hour late and she had things to do at the Captain’s Inn.

    “Mrs. Betty Ardath?" asked a young female voice from behind.

    Ms. Ardath turned, jumping nearly six inches. “Ms. Ardath … I didn’t hear you come in," she gasped.

    The young woman, looking to be about twenty-five or so, wore her long black hair over her thin bespectacled face on the left side. Her dark red lips contrasted sharply with her pale skin. She smiled, adjusting her white blouse and black slacks. “I deeply apologize, ma’am," she said, bowing slightly. Ms. Ardath could see a pale scar running vertically across one eye. The woman stood straight again and smiled warmly. “I’m with the Water Department.” She stepped closer and shook Ms. Ardath’s hand. “I’m Miss Moraine. I understand there’s some issues with the piping here?"

    She nodded toward the hole. “Do you mind if I take a look at that? There’s a long record of troubles with the piping around here.” The young woman brought out a small PDA and pecked at it with a stylus. “Hm, let’s see … weird noises on a daily basis … unexplained losses of water pressure … groundwater pollution ….” She looked up, the smile leaving her face. “Am I missing anything?"

    Ms. Ardath cleared her throat and evaded the woman’s gaze. “Uh, no … I think that covers it.”

    Miss Moraine smiled and put her PDA away. “I’m sure I can take care of this. Give me a couple of hours and it’ll be good as new.”

    Ms. Ardath cocked an eyebrow in suspicion. “I don’t see any tools….”

    The young woman laughed and pointed to the door. “I have some tools in my SUV. You can watch if you like, but wall-patching can be rather tedious.”

    “But you’re just an inspector.”

    Miss Moraine shrugged. “Why be inefficient? I know what’s wrong with that hole and I have the time to fix it.” She smiled widely. “I promise I won’t charge you for it.”

    “How much farther is this Royal Convention of the Underground?" Moulin asked huffily, yawning exaggeratedly.

    “Depends," Jareth replied casually, shrugging. He was pleased with the Kingdom of Moraine’s choice of heir (not that they had much of a choice, since her sister had died awkwardly in the Gorg Kingdom). Moulin had so many buttons to push….

    Moulin could not reply for several minutes, her eyes widened. She felt as though the wind had been sucked out of her. She stared at Jareth, who kept watching his crystal. “What does that mean?"

    “We couldn’t hold it within one of the castles since our most recent member can’t fit inside," he replied in hushed tones. He frowned briefly. “Apparently we must go to the source of the problem. We have kept humans out of the Underground for centuries --.”

    “—with the odd exception here and there," Moulin retorted acrimoniously.

    “However," Jareth continued, ignoring her tone, “over the last decade or so, one particular place keeps a whole band of humans teetering on the edge of the Underground. We must not let them destroy what we have tried to keep from them.” He finally turned to his frowning companion. “Are you quite certain you closed off portals into the Rock from the human realm?"

    After Ms. Ardath stepped outside to return to the Inn, Miss Moraine walked over to the water heater which was still bolted to the wall about six feet from the floor. She was surprised at the small capacity of the device. She pulled a small test tube filled with water out of her pants pocket and pulled off a rubber stopper, letting the liquid flow down the pipe leading from the heater. It ran down toward the floor and entered the pipes going into the wall through small leaks in the joints. Almost immediately, she could hear changes if she closed her eyes. She heard the massive twisting of metal and stone as the pipes throughout the cavern behind the wall shifted. How was it even possible for this infrastructure to affect a region noted for its loose ties to space and time? She placed a hand on the water heater, feeling each individual drop as it flowed throughout the structure both known and unknown to the resident humans in this city. She could sense the water in the pipes leading to a very large reservoir somewhere relatively deep within. There seemed to be a lot of activity in this reservoir. Must be the little rodents, she thought to herself.

    She pulled her hand away with a start, her eyes widening in shock.

    She could feel traces of her mother’s presence in the water.

    Moulin didn’t expect that. She had always felt her mother’s presence, of course, even when she traveled to distant lands. For some apparently foolish reason, though, she assumed that she would stop feeling it with her mother’s death.

    She hurriedly patched up the wall and teleported back to her kingdom.

    Moulin rolled her eyes and sighed, exasperated. “I can hold my own, Goblin King," she snapped back. “The only entries involve an enchanted cave with multiple portals that are impossible to close and a hidden portal accessed only through special ritual.” She shook her head. “No human is smart enough to gain access to them, even your ‘family’, Jareth.”

    Jareth scowled, turning his attention back to his crystal. “The ones I’ve been watching might be.”

    <><><><><><>

    Charlie’s was a restaurant in some hole-in-the-wall place deep in Manhattan. The outside was marked only with a small awning with the owner’s logo printed on it. The neighborhood was a dump … from Ms. Bitterman’s point of view, anyway. The taxi driver would pay for dumping her here. However, when she went inside, it was like watching the beast transform into the beauty. Dozens of small round tables covered in expensive linens dotted the dining area. Decorative golden sconces on the walls went well with the dark red leather kitchen doors in the back. The meals were served on fine china.

    She was impressed, despite her mood.

    After she had been seated, she noted that non-humans worked here as well. New York was filled with them, she mused to herself. She wasn’t bigoted in any way; she enjoyed non-humans … they were so … so … easily manipulated, like puppets. She chuckled to herself. She looked at the clock above the kitchen door. After five more minutes without being waited on to take her order, she’d throw a tantrum. She noticed one waiter, a three-foot-tall blue furry creature with a round head and bright red lips, dashing back and forth, spending less than a minute at each table. He spoke with an exuberant, high-pitched gravelly voice. She also noted with a bemused expression that the customers were frowning and grumbling whenever he left their tables.

    “Oh, no," whined a middle-aged voice behind her. She glanced in that direction as a rotund blue-faced small male humanoid with brown hair ringing around the back of his head. He wore a black pin-striped suit and sat down in his chair at the table to her left in a huff. He shook his head slowly. “I don’t believe it," he continued. “I try coming at eleven, I try coming at two, I try coming only on the weekends … doesn’t that guy ever have a day off?"

    “Bad customer service?" Ms. Bitterman asked with a condescendingly sympathetic tone.

    The male nodded. “Yeah, you could say that," he said. He glanced at her and gasped. “You’re Ms. Bitterman, right? Owner of Bitterman Bank?" He held out his hand as she affirmed. “Johnson, F.B. Johnson. It’s a pleasure to meet the owner of one of the better banks in Manhattan.”

    The woman smiled, shaking his hand briefly. She’d rub on some hand sanitizer later. No matter how genuine she tried to be, she could never hide a hint of irritation whenever someone talked to her. “It’s always a pleasure to meet a satisfied customer.”

    Mr. Johnson grinned. “Yeah," he said, sighing, leaning his head back, “no matter what that waiter does to me today, at least I have someone pretty to sit next to.”

    “I bet you say that to all the women.”

    He smirked and hushed his voice. “Well, I said that once when I dined with my wife some time ago. She didn’t appreciate it at all.”

    Ms. Bitterman twisted her face in confusion. “Your wife didn’t like compliments?"

    He nodded, chuckling. “Oh, she loved compliments," he replied cheerfully, “but I wasn’t talking to herthat was her problem!"

    <><><><><><>

    The palanquin ambled on in the bright sunlight. They had passed endless fields of sparkling flowers, a dark forest with sentient (but rude) apple trees, various farms and ranches, a canyon or two, and a lazy winding river that shimmered in the sun. Jareth had closed his eyes, while Moulin communicated with her second-in-command, Esker, through a puddle of water in her palm.

    Suddenly, she jabbed Jareth with her elbow. “Awaken, King of the Labyrinth," she announced with a frown. “We will have company soon.”

    Jareth opened just one eye and glanced at her, shifting his weight. “Wake me if we’re attacked," he replied, snorting and returning to his nap.

    Moulin splashed water into his face, making him jump and hit his head on the ceiling of the cab. He glared at her, his lips curling. His eyes always seemed more sinister when he squinted thanks to that heavy mascara he used, which elongated his eyelids visually. She glowered as her cloud companion raced in circles around the palanquin in panic. “Your precious mountain of fur is approaching.”

    Jareth cocked an eyebrow. “The Yeti?" he asked, forgetting his temper momentarily.

    Moulin jabbed a finger at him. “Not your silly Yetis," she replied. “The Great ‘King of the Universe’," she continued in an exaggerated tone.

    Jareth soon felt the bounding pulse coming up from the ground. He realized that Moulin, new Queen of Moraine, could sense the vibrations in the groundwater, and knew of the two-story-tall Gorg’s approach. He ordered the palanquin to stop as they finally saw the brown shaggy king run up to them, panting. He wore a fraying purple robe and a golden cloth belt and carried a knapsack filled with unseen items.

    “Hey! Wait up!" screamed the Gorg frantically. “I wanna go to da meeting!"

    “Dunder-headed lummox," Jareth sniped under his breath, making Moulin smile for a moment.

    When the Gorg finally caught up, he stopped, his boots sending clumps of grass on top of the two royal faes. After the Gorg caught his breath, he bent down and saluted. “Hiya," he noted in a cheerful voice. “I’m Junior Gorg. I got dis invitation here sayin’ dat I got to go to some meetin’ for all da kings and queens of da universe.” He stood up straight, his face slackening in defeat. “Can you tell me how to get dere?"

    <><><><><><>

    The furry blue waiter dashed to Ms. Bitterman’s table, spilling her soda all over the crisp white tablecloth. She glared at him. He hurriedly tried to soak it up with a towel he kept draped over one arm. “Oh, I am so sorry!" he exclaimed. He plopped her steak dinner on the table with a rattling clunk. “Here ya go," he continued as if nothing had happened, with a tinge of impatience, “go ahead and chew on that while I get you a new drink.” He dashed off, screaming at the chef behind the kitchen doors.

    “I hope you don’t have a short lunch break, Ms. Bitterman," whispered Mr. Johnson helpfully. “Grover would rather see the restaurant close for the day than see you get your meal on time.”

    Ms. Bitterman flashed a smirk instinctively. She poked at her lunch with her fork. “Meat’s overdone and the potatoes are too soupy and the mixed vegetables look burnt," she commented with a bored expression.

    Mr. Johnson shook his head. “It’s not Charlie. It’s that dad-blamed waiter of his," he continued, slightly louder. “He keeps giving Charlie the wrong orders. This place would be raking in millions if he’d just fire Grover!" He sighed, his voice tensing. “Everywhere I go, it’s Grover, Grover, Grover. You can’t escape him! He’s like a bad rash that just won’t go away, no matter how often you see the doctor! And what’s worse, he’ll probably be the doctor!"

    Grover reappeared just as Mr. Johnson finished up his latest rant. He carefully placed a full glass of soda on Ms. Bitterman’s table, which was still stained and dripping. He patted her on the back hard. “There you go, ma’am," he announced with glee. “One glass full of soda for the nice executive. Leave the tip on the table!" he added before zooming off … still having never visited Mr. Johnson’s table in the half-hour they had been there. Just as Mr. Johnson was about to stand up to leave, grumbling, Grover zipped to his table and cheerfully went through a minute-long song and dance about the special today.

    “No!" Mr. Johnson bellowed, slapping his hand down hard on his table. “I’ve been waiting half an hour to get waited on! I’m leaving!"

    “But sir," Grover shouted back, “you have not waited long at all! You could have waited thirty whole minutes to place your order!"

    Mr. Johnson’s lip quivered, his whole body beginning to shake. “I did wait ‘thirty whole minutes’, you moron!" he barked.

    “Did you count them?" Grover asked with a slightly timid voice.

    Mr. Johnson screamed in anguish, his blue face threatening to turn beet red. “Of course I’m not going to count them! I don’t have time for that!"

    Grover sighed and rolled his head in a huge circle, his arms spread out dramatically. “Well, then, how do you know you’ve waited thirty whole minutes?"

    “You’re hired!" Ms. Bitterman interjected forcefully.

    “Beg your pardon?" Grover and Mr. Johnson gasped simultaneously, their jaws dropping.

    Ms. Bitterman wiped her lips with a napkin. “I’ve seen all I need to see. Grover, you are the most sociopathic waiter I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.”

    “What does "so-", uh, "socio-", what you just said … what does that mean?" Grover asked curiously.

    Before Mr. Johnson could interrupt, Ms. Bitterman smiled her warmest fake smile she could muster. “It means you’ll enjoy your job no matter what. You don’t let anything bother you. I want you in my customer service division.”

    “Oh, you’ve got to be joking," Mr. Johnson gasped. His blue face was turning almost white. “You’ll condemn us to global economic failure!"

    “But," Grover replied, “I cannot leave Charlie. He always hires cute, furry, little Grover.”

    “I’ll quadruple your salary," the smirking woman offered with a sultry voice full of temptation, pointing her index finger at the waiter. “I’ll even compensate Charlie by accelerating his business loan application. I’ll approve it myself. You’ll both end up rich. What do you say?"

    Grover put his fingers up to his lips, lowering his head in deep thought. He took out his fingers to ask, “The word ‘quadruple’ … that is like multiplying by four, right?"

    Ms. Bitterman grinned. “It is," she replied. “And if you don’t like customer service, there’s a whole list of positions you can fill at Bitterman: loan officer, security man, financial counselor … there’s no end to the rungs on the career ladder for you, my good man.”

    Mr. Johnson sighed. “That’s it," he stated with deep resignation, almost to the verge of crying. “I’m going to go jump in front of a taxi.”
  2. RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Chapter 18
    (Summer, 2011AD)

    Kermit, barely two-feet-tall, stood supervising, with one hand above his eyes, the Rock-climbing Wall Construction Team on a bright sunny day in Central Park. The area was closed off to visitors with yellow “Caution” tape, though occasionally muppets and monsters would pose with those who begged for pictures. After all, they didn’t want to make their audience unhappy. The muppets had been struggling to make ends meet for a couple of decades, forced to take less-than-minimum-wage just to keep the Theater afloat. Thankfully, with a little cross-promotion, ticket sales had started to pick up, when it was agreed to trade some cast members with Sarah Williams. Little crossovers here and there wouldn’t hurt, surely, Kermit started to think to himself.

    He turned his head and spotted Toby in a gray tank top and jean shorts sitting at a laptop several yards away, with Gonzo, a hook-nosed blue furry “alien”, wearing a loud yellow T-shirt with black blotches and slick black dress pants and some purple flip-flops and some rose-colored sunglasses, pointing at the screen. Those two were still plotting the best setup for the different athletic/sports areas with Toby’s software. Kermit smiled to himself. Toby had taken a bigger interest in helping where he could ever since the Great Fraggle Evacuation. He also refused to accept any wages, which was also a great help. However, he did request Bunsen and Beaker’s help with some big science project he had set his mind on, and Kermit felt obligated to agree to it. After all, keeping those two busy meant fewer technical problems at the Theater.

    “Hey Kermit,” a low-key gruff male voice said behind him, “I need to talk to ya for a minute.” Kermit turned around and looked up a bit to see Rowlf, sucking on an orange popsicle. Rowlf always had this cheerful “whatever, dude” look to him, which Kermit had always admired. Kermit tried to be like Rowlf, but he always fell prey to the mayhem around him. And then there was her, of course.

    “Yeah, Rowlf?” Kermit replied.

    “I think I came up with a name for your sports thing,” he offered cheerfully. “It even ties into the Theater for cross-promotion like you wanted.”

    “Oh?”

    Rowlf tried hard to keep a straight face. He kept his black lips tight for a couple of seconds until he could say it without laughing: “‘Break a Leg’”. He started to snicker.

    Kermit face contorted in that disbelieving expression of his. “Ha ha … cute, Rowlf, cute.” He gave his old friend a strained smile. “I don’t think the insurance companies would appreciate that.”

    “Oh, do you think so?” Rowlf asked, smirking. “I didn’t know slogans could be appreciated or depreciated!” He snickered some more, covering his face in embarrassment over such a bad pun. He stuck the tongue depressor from his finished popsicle in his mouth, gnawing on it casually. He slapped Kermit on the back. “So, anyway, Kermit,” he added, his tone getting more serious after a long pause, “when’d she come back?”

    Kermit swallowed hard. “Who?” he asked nervously. “Don’t tell me Wanda’s here looking for a job again.”

    Rowlf shook his head and kept his voice quiet. “Your ‘Athletic Coordinator’, Kermit. How’d you get her to come back?”

    Kermit stared at Rowlf for several minutes, despite the hollers of pain coming from a monster whose foot was stuck under the rock climbing wall frame. He sighed. He couldn’t keep secrets from Rowlf. Not for long, anyway, he thought to himself. He hung his head. “I told her … ESPN … would be here all week … covering the event,” he answered slowly and sadly.

    “You lied to her?”

    Kermit shrugged. “They might still show up,” he offered weakly. He looked up at the big brown dog, who wore a skeptical expression. “Rowlf, this is the twenty-first century. If I have to film her myself and put it up on Youtube, that’s what I’ll do.” He jabbed a thin green finger into the rotund belly of his friend. “She’ll get her exposure, Rowlf,” he stated emphatically. “That’s all she cares about and that’s what she’ll get.”

    <><><><><><>

    It was the New Year’s after the Family Christmas at Mrs. Bear’s house, Fozzie’s mother. Rowlf sipped a small fruity mixed drink at El Sleazo, which had been turned into a swank sports bar a couple of years ago. A small black-and-white television set sat on the table, where Rowlf watched the year’s highlights as techno-pop filled the air with those awful synthetic sounds.

    Skeeter sat down opposite him on a small black chair, her red hair swaying with small multicolored beads on each thick strand, glitter on her eyelids, neon pink blouse and neon green spandex leggings, and a yellow band around her wrist with little red hearts drawn on them made from what looked to be a segment of Venetian blinds. She nodded and Rowlf nodded back. They silently watched television for a little while. Then, she spoke in a serious voice. “I’ll be heading to South America soon to train in some martial arts down there,” she said as if reading from a daily planner.

    Rowlf nodded and continued to sip his drink.

    Skeeter frowned. “Rowlf, look,” she told him, “theater work is fine for all of you … but I want to be an Olympic gold medalist.”

    Rowlf stopped sipping and looked across the table, leaning forward slightly, his eyes betraying a suppressed hurt. “I’m not trying to stop you.”

    Skeeter gritted her teeth and shifted in her chair uncomfortably. She retorted in an angry whisper, her orange hands clasping the edges of the table, “Why can’t you people be proud of me? Why do all of you act like I abandon the group because I actually want to BE somebody?”

    Rowlf suppressed a sigh and shrugged, chugging down the last of his drink and smacking his lips. He stared at the table. “Must be that ‘Pathetic’ label we’ve all got stuck to our heads.” He flashed the subtlest frown and stared at her. “You know us … we’re so provincial that way.”

    Skeeter sighed and leaned back, letting go of the table. She stared at the television. “I’m not Piggy, Rowlf,” she said finally, avoiding his stare.

    “Do you base that assessment on the fact that, unlike her, you’re independent, condescending, or desperate for attention?” he sniped back (in his usual laid-back voice, of course). “It’s the pot calling the kettle ‘black’, isn’t it?” He shook his head. “I don’t take that stuff from her and I won’t take it from you, either, Skeets,” he added, his voice growing more tense by the sentence. “I’m not zero-percent fat. I KNOW that. I’m not into playing GOLF, much less that suicidal ‘skateboarding’ fad that’ll get everyone killed in a year. I’ve been one-hundred percent honest with you, Skeets.” He sighed, nodding to the bartender for another round. “I just wish you’d give me the same courtesy,” he said sadly.

    Skeeter’s lip quivered. “Do you REALLY think I’m so shallow?” She turned to him, tears welling up in her eyes. “Rowlf, we’ve been friends longer than I’ve spoken to my own BROTHER. Doesn’t that say ANYTHING to you?”

    The bartender showed up, leaving Rowlf a margarita. Rowlf took a sip from the slushy drink. “Even the PIG comes back to the frog when she’s lonely.”

    Skeeter slapped the table, stood up, and flung the glass at Rowlf, drenching him in frozen alcohol. Her voice quivered, “Maybe your perennial girlfriend ‘Margarita’ tastes better in your mouth!” She slammed the chair up against the table and turned slightly. “I am NOT Piggy!”

    <><><><><><>

    “Kermit,” Rowlf sighed, staring intently at his little green friend, “I’ve already discussed this with her back at her place. She wanted to come … this time,” he added unsurely. Kermit stared at him. ‘Discuss’ was Rowlf’s word for ‘argue’. Rowlf looked around. “She wants to be more socially responsible.”

    Kermit patted Rowlf on the shoulder gingerly. “They denied her again, huh?” he asked in a quiet and knowing voice. The old dog nodded without replying verbally. Kermit sighed, motioning for Rowlf to join him on an impromptu walk in the park. As they left the area, Kermit confessed, “I tried not to believe your story, Rowlf. I always figured Piggy was my unique problem. I mean, I knew Skeeter had been headstrong just as much as Piggy, even as a kid. But,” he added after a small pause, “when you said she tossed out all our home movies with her in them and left you for South America … I couldn’t believe she was that selfish and vindictive. You were always my role model. I didn’t … I didn’t want you to experience the sensation of being strung along in a relationship.”

    Rowlf smiled and draped a heavy arm on the back of his friend. “Kermit, what did I tell you in that hotel lobby, huh? I told you my trouble was women. We sang a about it, remember?”

    “Yeah, but --.”

    “No, ‘but’ nothing,” Rowlf replied, cheering up. “I only think of it as a curse when I’ve had too much to drink … which is what happened between me and Skeeter.” He patted his friend on the back. “Kermit, I’m okay. Life moves on. I’m an old dog and I don’t intend on learning any other tricks. I’m flattered you wanted to protect me … but we dogs don’t let that sort of thing leash us for too long,” he added, chuckling. He stopped, nodding in the direction ahead of them. “Besides, let’s focus on that competition-slash-educational experience.” He pointed ahead. “I think they’ll make the insurance company wet themselves.”

    Kermit followed Rowlf’s gaze until he saw a troop of metallic-clad creatures of all shapes and sizes approaching, looking as though they were ready for a medieval battle. A tall green-skinned heavily muscularized ‘man’ with a square jaw fitted with a trimmed goatee marched up to Kermit and Rowlf and saluted by pounding a fist on his chest, his armor chinking incessantly when he moved. The being had long slicked back black hair, which swayed slightly in a breeze. His voice was deep and commanding. “Kermit the Frog … by order of our master, we offer combat training classes for your war games exercise later this week.”

    Kermit shook while Rowlf whistled as he glanced at the leader in appreciation of his bulk. Kermit shivered and barely spoke. “Uh, th … that’s n-nice,” he exclaimed, craning his neck up at a being that seemed to step out of the Lord of the Rings. “Wh-who are you?”

    The ‘man’ could not help but smile, his sharpened teeth glistening in the sun. He enjoyed making smaller creatures quiver. “I am Candlewic, general of the forces of the Goblin Kingdom. With your permission, we would participate in your tests of skill and strength.”
  3. RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Chapter 19
    (Summer, 2011AD)

    Beastie sniffed the large ladder and shook its head, backing away. It looked warily at its master, Tosh. It pointed at a stray metal shard poking out of the rock wall near the ladder.

    Tosh shook her head, shivering. She glanced at Lou, who jogged in place to keep warm. “Someone got injured on that ladder, Lou,” Tosh noted sadly. “Beastie doesn’t think it’s a good idea to climb a broken ladder that brought blood.”

    Lou shook her head as she jogged. Her voice was filled with determination. “I’m not going to freeze to death in here because you two are a bunch of cowards,” she told them. She inhaled deeply and lunged and leapt and caught hold of the upper rungs of the ladder. She scrambled up and crawled into a tunnel not much bigger than a Fraggle. She looked around and glanced at Tosh and Beastie, who looked on her in awe. “Hey!” she exclaimed excitedly. “It’s not icy up here!”

    After crawling through the rocky tunnel, they found a hole that led to some strange room that reminded them of the kind of rooms Gobo’s Uncle Traveling Matt used to describe: plastered walls, strange boxes and half-melted metal objects … Lou, Tosh and Beastie gawked eagerly at what was clearly some place used by Silly Creatures. They also noticed a design repeated all over the place: a black emblem with a white seedling in the middle, surrounded by straight line trigrams. They walked around and noticed a large hole on the opposite side of the room. However, there was a large stain in the middle of the floor. Beastie shivered and whimpered.

    Tosh sighed, combing her pink fingers through her algae-tinged short hair. “C’mon, Beastie, whatever happened here happened long ago. Lou is right. We need to find the tunnel back to the Rock.” She shook her head. “Cantus has got Cave Madness or something.”

    “That’s not nice,” Lou lectured, following Tosh and Beastie toward the large hole.

    Tosh turned and glared at her. “Cantus sent us on a wild purple sproinger chase, Lou. He sent us on a journey that’s gonna get us killed before we ever get back to the Rock.”

    Lou snorted in indignation. “Don’t strain yourself being so positive, Tosh.”

    They found a small round object on the wall next to the hole. Beastie reared up and pushed it with a single paw. They all leapt backwards several feet at the sudden sound of mechanical grinding. A metal platform appeared from high above what must have been a vertical tunnel. The Fraggles (and Tosh’s pet) glanced at each other warily and shrugged, hopping onto the platform. It groaned and shuddered and started rising through the vertical tunnel.

    Nearly fifteen minutes later, they decided to sit down. Lou broke out a small radish bar from a pocket in her maroon blouse and broke it into three and shared it with the others. They looked up. A long way up the tunnel was a bright light coming from the side. Lou chomped on her piece of the radish bar (which looked like a Fruit Roll-Up, but stiffer). “This is a very long tunnel,” she noted in between bites, her tail swishing back and forth.

    Beastie groaned in agreement.

    When they at last reached the top, the platform stopped with a squeaky jolt and they blinked at the sudden infusion of bright sunlight, shielding their eyes. When their eyes adjusted, they cautiously walked out into an area filled with broken metal shelves and ivy and flowers and a peculiar humid, musty smell.

    “What is this place?” Tosh gasped in awe. “It’s got more plants than the Gorg’s garden!”

    Lou smiled widely. “It’s … it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen!” she exclaimed, sniffing a purple flower. “It’s so much better than that stuffy Silly Creature cave.”

    Tosh glanced around and noticed Beastie staring toward some trees, its ears perked up. “Beastie? What is it, sweetie?” she asked, adjusting her light blue tank top. “What do you --?”

    Lou crept up behind Tosh as they listened intently. A gaggle of barely audible whispers streamed through the trees. As soon as they ended, a grating sound much worse than the squeaky metal platform developed. What scared them even more, though, was the sight of branches and leaves flying up as though ripped from the plants below. A column of grey-black smoke rose from beyond the edge of the treeline, making the lost trio gasp and shudder, inching back away slowly.

    Tosh grasped Lou’s hand with a death grip. “Wh-what do you think that is? Is that the Invisible Gargoyle?”

    Lou’s voice shook. “I … I d-dunno.”

    It disappeared just as suddenly.

    Tosh and Lou looked at each other. A tremendous groaning filled them with dread, but they couldn’t help feeling … odd.

    Stop me, they heard in a garbled whispered chorus.

    Tosh spoke first. “D-did you notice it disappeared when we said it was invisible?”

    Lou nodded, nervously twirling her long pink hair with purple strands in her fingers. “If it really were the Invisible Gargoyle … why did we see it as smoke before? It should always be invisible, right?”

    Eem eeb oot veeleb oot mees, the whispers sang with melancholy voices.

    Tosh glanced to her side, noting Beastie’s cocked head to one side, its tail twitching in anticipation … the behavior it exhibited when it wasn’t one-hundred percent certain of a visitor’s identity. To be sure, though … Beastie was no longer shaking.

    An unearthly roar vibrated the ground beneath them. The trees all around them started to shake and shatter.

    “Maybe it’s Skenfrith!” Lou blurted out finally, making Tosh and Beastie jump, clutching at their hearts and gasping loudly for breath. Lou stared at Tosh. “Remember, Tosh? He was just barely bigger than us, brown and shaggy, with no visible eyes and a happy, even cheerful disposition.” She jerked at Tosh’s arm. “Remember?” she goaded.

    Tosh nodded, taking the hint. “Right! Skenfrith is a great friend to the Fraggles and the Gorgs and anyone else he meets!” she announced to the trees, the shaking of which was starting to die down. “Some Silly Creatures probably thought he was a monster! But he’s not! He’s the kindest, not-scariest creature in all of Fraggle Rock!”

    Tosh and Lou began to sing cheerfully, with Beastie mewing along in harmony:

    We only see what we seem to believe to be you,
    Making-believe that the dream in our head could be you.
    But it's oooonly we … that we see.
    But it's oooonly we … that we see.

    The roar and the shaking stopped.

    A few branches at ground level snapped as a furry brown object lunged at them. It jumped on Lou and Tosh, hugging them in its shaggy arms. Its voice was high-pitched and scratchy. “Oh, Fraggles! Oh, Fraggles! Oh, how I love Fraggles and Gorgs and anyone else I meet!” it babbled wildly. Just as suddenly it was sobbing. “They made me into the most horrible monster, dear Fraggles!” Skenfrith continued. “I told Red and Wembley I don’t like being a monster! I had to do bad things! I was even scarier than the Terrible Tunnel!” Despite his weight making them uncomfortable, they patted him on the back.

    “You’re safe now, Skenfrith,” Lou groaned.

    Skenfrith let them up and shook his head, wiping away tears from his snout. “Oh no, dear Fraggles!” he replied in terror. “Those creatures have this thing that teleports me here from anywhere … even the Gorg’s garden!” He whimpered, his knees shaking. “It makes me into that horrible m-monster! And then when I try to stop them, they lead me to these posts with bells on them that make this awful noise that hurts me worse than getting stomped on by a Gorg!” He sat down on his knees and cried. “I am whatever you believe me to be! How could those creatures want me to be something so mean?”

    Tosh dusted herself off and nodded sympathetically. “If you know where they summon you, maybe we can do something to stop them.”

    After many hours of walking both in the jungle and through some tunnels, the openings of which were too small for Silly Creatures, they finally arrived at a large engraved door. Skenfrith whimpered and shivered. “D-do y-you t-think you can h-help m-me?” he asked timidly. “I … I don’t w-want to be a monster any… anymore.”

    Lou and Tosh each patted Skenfrith on his narrow shoulders and Beastie licked Skenfrith’s cheek. “Don’t you believe we can?” the Fraggle girls asked.

    Skenfrith shrugged slightly. “I believe whatever you believe.”

    The trio smiled. “Then we believe we can help you!” exclaimed the Fraggles, while Beastie roared in agreement.

    Soon they found themselves within a hidden cave behind the engraved door. It was dark and they couldn’t see, even if they hummed or sang little ditties. They heard Beastie sniff around and groan quietly as if it were talking to itself.

    Tosh whispered, “Beastie smells something.” They could hear Beastie growl as it clamped its jaws onto something and growled and snarled until a loud snap confirmed it had broken whatever was there.

    Suddenly they heard soft whispers that didn’t sound as scary as the ones where all those flowers were: Hip hip hip hip hooree! Let's shout for you and me. We beat the beast, so we'll have a feast and now it's time for tea!

    A faint light was just barely visible coming from a small distance ahead. All four approached it and discovered a Fraggle Hole. They rushed inside to ensure it really … YES IT WAS! The multi-colored lighting of the Rock greeted them, as well as the smells of rock daisies and … and …

    Cantus stood there with the Storyteller, smiling. He clapped his hands and spoke gently. “Congratulations, dear Fraggles … and Beastie, of course,” he added. “You saw what could not be seen and heard what was never heard and freed Skenfrith from the Heart of that place.”

    “Yes,” Skenfrith added, hugging and kissing the rescuing trio. “I cannot thank you enough.”

    “Skenfrith,” Tosh started timidly, stroking his chest fur gently, avoiding eye contact, “I believe you can do anything you want to do from now on.”

    “I believe that, too,” Lou added. Beastie nodded in agreement.

    Skenfrith took a couple steps back and gasped. “You honestly believe that?”

    Cantus nodded, his smile weary but warm. “And we believe it as well. To be forced to dance to another’s tune must be horrible indeed.”

    Skenfrith began to reply, but couldn’t find the words and hugged Cantus, sniffling. He nodded and skipped away, humming to himself. Cantus and the Storyteller glanced at the Fraggles Who Were Found. The Storyteller smiled and patted them on the shoulders. “Tosh, Lou … why don’t you head over to the Great Hall and celebrate. I’ll be back shortly to get that story from you so I can add it to my collection.”

    The trio laughed and shouted “Whoopie!” and dashed away, singing and dancing loudly a medley of songs that announced they were finally home.

    The Storyteller sighed as she heard Cantus approach the tunnel the heroes had come from. Without looking, her tail slightly drooping, she said softly, “Cantus….”

    Come gather round you Fraggle clan and hear the tale I tell,
    About a Minstrel true who had known of the Rock’s Great Bell,
    About two Fraggle's bravery, about a creature’s curse,
    About a quest to save him from fate that could not be worse,
    About the tunnel back from which he never came again,
    About the Minstrel, the Rock, where he sang his last refrain.

    The Minstrel united Rock and Cave, and the Gorgs as well,
    Everybody loved him for he could make their spirits swell.
    The flowers bloomed, the lights did light, the Rock was harmonized,
    Lou, Tosh, and Beastie followed his plan, thought disorganized.
    They saved Skenfrith from the darkness, the violence, and the pain.
    Then old Cantus left the Rock and he never came again.
  4. RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Chapter 20
    (Summer, 2011AD)

    Ms. Bitterman checked her voicemail again for the fifth time today, tapping her long glossy fingernails impatiently on her office desk made of a black metal frame and a glass oval surface.

    Nothing.

    At least, nothing she wanted to hear. Most were spammy messages about getting a new home mortgage or new credit cards … like she needed those.

    Beep.
    Ms. Bitterman? The male voice was high-pitched and gravelly. This is your cute, furry pal Grover. I just wanted you to know the very, VERY good news, Ms. Bitterman! I have been counting VERY hard … and J. P.’s debt is almost fully repaid! Is that not nice to hear? I am sure Froggy-baby will be SO happy!

    Great, she thought to herself, frowning. How will she extort Kermit now? He was from that overbearing neighborhood, same as Grover. Surely Kermit would have figured it out by now. Then again, she smiled to herself, he hadn’t told her about it. Maybe he still wasn’t aware of his situation.

    She frowned again. The little green smear was also too nice to rub it in her face, too.

    <><><><><><>

    Dance your cares away,
    Ain’t got no worries, you say?
    C’mon, girl, let’s play,
    Right behind that rock!

    A baritone upbeat humming filled the tunnel leading to the Gorg’s garden, punctuated by loud cackles to unheard jokes. The sunlight from the Fraggle hole illuminated an approaching pale blue Fraggle with shoulder-length red hair, a multi-colored polka-dotted tank top, a red armband on each wrist, and a red and yellow patchwork cloth hat accessorized with lots of feathers of different colors and sizes. He stopped singing to himself as soon as he saw the taller lavender Fraggle with bluish-white shoulder-length hair, a burlap long-sleeved gown over a bright blue sweater, panting slowly just around a corner. She seemed fixated on the opposite wall, though nothing was there.

    “C’mon, Mokey, lighten up!" the smaller male Fraggle exclaimed heartily, slapping her on the shoulder. “A giggle a day keeps the blues away!" He spotted something on her nose. His head bounced up and down as he dramatically surveyed her face. “Mokey," he said, his voice showing a tinge of concern, “you’ve got rock mites on your face!"

    Mokey bit her lower lip, closed her eyes, inhaled deeply, and turned to her companion. She opened her eyes and stared at him. “I’m not infested with rock mites, Boober," she noted in a weary but dreamy high-pitched voice that always managed to soothe those around her.

    “Boober” scoffed and shoved her, nearly knocking her over. “Please! Do I look like that awful stick-in-the-mud to you?"

    “Sidebottom, I apologize," she replied in a deeper, sultrier voice. “It’s just I’m having trouble getting radishes today.”

    Sidebottom, the quirky “fun” side of Boober, smiled and shrugged. “If I had just put on some crystal dust makeup on my nose, I wouldn’t want it to get filthy either!"

    Mokey shook her head, her panting stopping. “It’s not crystal dust either," she continued in her deeper voice. She inhaled. “How can I put this? They’re just little specks of chlorophyll that make going out in the sun very difficult for me sometimes.”

    <><><><><><>

    The phone had been ringing off the hook all morning long. Scooter had nearly wiped himself out running the Theater while Kermit was busy over in Central Park. He had stayed in his small office room to keep away from all the noisy mayhem that was part and parcel of working at the Muppet Theater so he could have business conversations that didn’t involve lots of yelling and screaming. More than once he had had to apologize to investors and reporters … especially when loud screams were accompanied by the sounds of explosions.

    A brief knocking startled him as he had started to fill out some spreadsheets on his computer. It had taken him nearly five years to save up enough for even a low-end desktop, but it sure made his life a lot easier. Paperwork was hard enough without the threat of Animal or someone eating it or using it for the bathroom.

    He turned to the door just as it opened. An orange head with long red hair peered out from the doorway. “Fifteen seconds to curtain, Scooter," a cheerful female voice announced, giggling.

    Scooter gasped as his visitor finally came into view, wearing a white short-sleeved T-shirt with sports logos printed on the front and blue jeans and red and white sneakers. “Skeeter?"

    Skeeter bounded up to him, embraced him, and kissed him on the cheek. “Yep! Thought I’d come in and say ‘hey’!" She glanced around his office. The room was filled with boxes and computer equipment. “So," she continued, “you’re the bookworm of the theater group, huh?"

    “At least I’m not a dumb jock," Scooter retorted.

    Skeeter stared at him and started laughing, slapping her brother on the back. “Good one!" She wiped away a tear from her eye. “Nice to see you haven’t lost your sense of humor, Bro.”

    Scooter stared at his sister in utter confusion. He leaned back against his desk. She would’ve socked him had he said that when they were kids. She seemed … happy. “Uh," he started, “what brings you to New York?"

    Skeeter shrugged, looking around, and finally planting herself on a box near his desk. She looked up at him. “Oh, this and that, you know," she replied, smiling. “I’m Kermit’s Athletic Director for that thing he’s got later this week.”

    Scooter’s face fell slightly. He tried to keep his voice calm and even cheerful. “Since when? Today? Did you just get in?"

    Skeeter’s eyes widened. “You … he … he didn’t …?"

    Scooter shook his head and turned toward his computer. “Musta slipped his mind," Scooter mumbled. “He’s been kinda busy lately.”

    Skeeter walked over to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. He still avoided her gaze. “Scooter … I didn’t know you didn’t know.”

    Scooter typed. After about a minute, he shot back, “Phones are amazing little gadgets, Sis. They even allow for two-way communication nowadays.”

    Skeeter frowned and backed up a couple of steps. “You must not be able to afford outgoing calls," she sniped back. “Must be very hard to do business if you don’t ever initiate a conversation.”

    The pause was long and insufferable. Finally, Scooter mumbled, “Welcome to New York, Sis.”

    Skeeter growled. “Don’t, Scooter, just don’t, okay?" She pointed at him angrily even though he wasn’t looking at her. “I’ve already had this discussion with Rowlf --.”

    “So Rowlf knew you were back too? Great," Scooter moaned. “I guess we’re all having a wonderful little family reunion. Too bad actual family wasn’t told until just now.”

    Skeeter balled up her fists, gritted her teeth, and glared at her brother. She silently counted to thirty. She inhaled and exhaled deeply. “Scooter, I … I apologize if I’ve seemed distant all these years," she told him solemnly. “I don’t want it to stay this way. You live your life and I’ll live mine. Everybody’s happy.”

    “Whatever.”

    Skeeter sighed and walked toward the door. “Write this down on your little spreadsheet, Bro – I made the effort to patch things up first.”

    <><><><><><>

    Rachel Bitterman had just graduated high school at the top of her class. She had worked extra hard for her position. Namely, she had smeared her competition and drove many of her rivals to drop out. She was beaming. She stood up through the opening in the limo’s ceiling, whooping and hollering as it flew down the streets of Manhattan. She sat down opposite a twenties-ish young woman with soft black shoulder-length hair. They both wore snazzy dresses fit for the night life that Rachel was still too young to enjoy (legally). They had had a couple of drinks from the limo’s cooler and were laughing.

    “C’mon, I wanna get a tattoo like yours," Rachel announced spontaneously to her friend, who had a triangular red mark over her left eye.

    Her friend smirked. “It’s NOT a tattoo, I said," she replied coldy. “It’s like a birthmark.”

    Rachel shrugged and took another sip. “Birthmark smirthmark. I want us to look exactly the same.”

    There was a long pause. “You and I work really well together, Rach," the older young adult noted with a weak smile. “But you’re just not my type.”

    Rachel nearly choked. She gasped and gawked at her companion. “What do you mean? This isn’t one of those arbitrary ‘You’re too young for me’ kind of things is it?"

    The other young woman shook her head and crossed her arms. “No, this is one of those ‘I have pre-existing arrangements that don’t include you’ kind of things. It’s not personal. You don’t have to get so upset over it.”

    Rachel’s eyes started to tear up. She frowned. “You’re already in a relationship? I am NOT ‘the other woman’, I’ll have you know! I’m ALWAYS the better choice!" she barked.

    Beep.
    Ms. Bitterman? A deep guttural male voice spoke. Your repeated requests for a meeting have not gone unnoticed. Please be advised that at this time Ms. Moraine cannot attend due to mitigating circumstances. She hopes you are well and that business is going along nicely. She will contact you at her earliest convenience.

    <><><><><><>

    Sidebottom’s jaw nearly fell to the floor. “That’s what this is all about?" He fell to the floor laughing. “That is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard!"

    Mokey’s face slackened, downcast. “You think I’m silly, then?" she replied in a smooth, sultry, and sad voice.

    Sidebottom popped up and patted her on the back. “Are you kidding? I love silly! I thrive on mayhem and merriment!" He shrugged. “I’m not very fond of starving to death, though," he continued with a mischievous smile. “It’s your job to get the radishes, but that doesn’t mean we can’t share in the fun too! Just you wait – I’ll have half the garden in here by sundown!"

    Mokey whipped a hand onto Sidebottom’s arm before he could dash out into the garden. “It’s not right to just take their food, you know.”

    Sidebottom looked at her like she had just spoken gibberish. “What are you talking about? I’m not gonna get thumped by Gorgs! Where have you been? They haven’t tried to kill us for decades!"

    Mokey shook her head. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask for permission.”

    Sidebottom nodded. “Right.” He leaned toward the opening that led to the garden and put his free hand to his mouth. “Hey Gorgs! I’m gonna get some veggies! Say somethin’ if you don’t think I should!" he bellowed. After waiting a couple of beats, he shrugged and turned to Mokey. “Not a peep! Permission granted!" he announced cheerfully. He peeled her hand off his arm. “Look, Mokey, I intend to party as hard as I can in Outer Space. If you want to sit in Fraggle Rock and watch moss dry, be my guest.” He pointed at himself. “I tell you what – I’ll carve a little happy face in the side of a radish for you as a present, okay? Maybe we can take some twigs and make little radish dolls out of them and have little skits out in the middle of the Great Hall. Doesn’t that sound like fun?"

    <><><><><><>

    Skeeter sighed, wiping away a tear as she walked down the stairs to the first floor of the Backstage area. She turned to her left and walked over to the desk just offstage where a ton of papers and odds and ends lay. She sat down on a stool and stared at the desk.

    “Hey, Scooter, I thought you said we were having lunch today!" a cheerful male voice announced. Skeeter turned to see an obese pig with a thin tuft of black hair on top of his head, nearly five feet tall in a gray Armani suit standing beside her, impatiently tapping his foot. Suddenly, he looked her up and down, his eyes widening. “This is new," he commented dryly, putting a hand to his lips. “I had no idea you had decided to present.” He wrapped his thick arms around her and sniffed. “I am so proud of you, you little bright ray of sunshine, you!"

    Skeeter grunted as she tore herself away from him. “What on Earth are you talking about? I’m not Scooter – I’m his sister!"

    The pig gasped and stumbled backwards. “His … his … sister!" He nodded exaggeratedly. “Oh, he has a --," he laughed nervously, clearing his throat. “Ahem! What I meant to say was, "Have you seen your brother around?" I mean, I’m on vacation here in NYC and I thought I’d stop by and see how the Great White Way was nowadays! Heh heh!"

    Skeeter frowned. “You are?"

    The pig slapped his forehead. “Oh, where are my manners? Hollywood – go fig, you know?" He shook her hand. “Bobby Vegan. Actor extraordinaire, loving father," he showed her a bright gold ring with massive diamonds on it, “and married!" he shrieked, shrugging. “Of course, it wasn’t as fabulous as the frog’s wedding … but we were kinda in a rush.”

    “Congratulations," Skeeter replied with a frown. “You and Scooter are friends or something?"

    Bobby gasped and shook his head, waving his arms dismissively. “Not like ‘friend’ friends, you know. Strictly business. Completely aboveboard, uh, what was your name?

    “Skeeter," she replied curtly.

    Bobby stared at her for a few moments. “My, how derivative. You must know that little porky starlet. You definitely have the same taste in creative nomenclature.”

    “Better to be derivative than ironic," she shot back, unable to keep from smirking.

    Bobby leaned close, squinting. He laughed and slapped her on the shoulder. “I hope they keep you, toots. I like your spunk!"
  5. RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Chapter 21
    (Summer, 2011AD)

    Nine o’ clock in the morning and Central Park was filled to the brim with people and all different types of creatures. The place was divided into several sections within Sheep Meadow in the South End, which was a large fifteen acre stretch of grass bordered by trees. Sesame Street, in the northwest corner, maintained some nutritious snack pavilions and typical playground equipment such as slides, swings, and such. Their playgrounds also had ramps and tactile puzzles for those without the full range of senses and mobility. The Fraggle Rock area in the northeast consisted of several fabricated rock walls of varying difficulty, aboveground tunnels for greaseberry leaf-racing and stunts, and two rock hockey arenas (one for muppet and fraggle-sized visitors and one for taller visitors like humans adults and some monsters). Rock hockey was a unique blend of basketball, hockey, football, target practice … the rules were so complicated that for the most part it wasn’t necessary to worry about them. The important thing was to just have fun. In the southeast stood a circular arena filled with armor and weapons made out of Styrofoam (at the prolonged insistence of Kermit), with bleachers surrounding it. Candlewic, general of the goblins from the Goblin Kingdom, instructed visitors on basic goblin military strategy before they could practice against goblins or each other. Finally, the southwest corner, sponsored by the Muppet Theater, had a small stage for learning how various stunts were performed and an Epcot-like whirlwind tour of various types of sporting events, from biking on nearby paths to a skate park to a large fan for simulating skydiving.

    In the center was a large circular wooden stage with lighting rigs suspended above it. As the morning wore on, the Electric Mayhem band set up their instruments and spoke with two visitors: a gangly Caucasian male with long curly brown hair and wild eyes, and a light blue Fraggle with a brown cap and a red scarf. They spent a few moments working out the details of how the duet would go and then took their places. The human male, wearing a cheap mockup of a biohazard suit (the helmet was made out of papier-mâché), tapped the microphone as the band started a slow, dramatic tune.

    Sometimes I really want to be alone
    But that's one state I'm never in
    Because I know that I've got millions upon millions
    Of tiny, one-celled organisms living on my skin.

    The light blue Fraggle nodded, holding his own microphone as he sat atop a large speaker, singing:

    They'll come from the east.
    They'll come from the west.
    They're coming to get you when you wake and when you rest.

    The man nodded, his fake helmet nearly coming off. “Tell me about it, Boober, li’l buddy ….”

    Boober shuddered. “Al, you’re the first Silly Creature I’ve met to be this knowledgeable about infection!” he announced cheerfully as he continued:

    You know they're name is contagious.
    Their number's outrageous.
    They're wriggling and raging like worms.
    And it wiggles and squirms.
    I'm talkin' 'bout germs!

    “Aren’t they awful?” Weird Al Yankovic gasped as both of them pretended to wipe themselves off wildly. “I mean,” he said, as they both sang together:

    They're all over me
    I can feel' em all over me
    Over every part of me
    Microscopic bacteria
    I know they're watching me
    They're always watching me
    They're coming after me
    Microscopic bacteria
    Won't somebody help me
    Please sombody help me
    You've got to believe me
    They're out to get me
    They wanna control me
    They wanna destroy me
    They're tryin' to kill me
    It kind of upsets me!

    [song spliced from Weird Al’s “Germs” from Running with Scissors and Boober’s “Talkin’ Bout Germs” from Pebble Pox Blues[Fraggle Rock]]

    <><><><><><>

    Skeeter, wearing a navy blue biking helmet and joint pads, walked up to the aboveground tunnel in the Fraggle Rock section and watched for several minutes. She started to get in line, behind a group of slimy human children (for some, greaseberry juice was more amusing to wear than to use in sports), she heard someone excitedly calling out her name. She looked and the obese pink Fraggle with the unkempt brown hair ran towards her, his arms waving madly. When he finally got to her, he bent over to catch his breath, his short brown jacket starting to show some pitstains. “Hey, Skeeter,” he huffed and puffed, clutching his knees, “I saw you over at that ‘skate park’ thing and I wanted you to know that I think you are positively magical! I’ve never seen such aerial grace and beauty … the way you twirled that wheeled board on the edges, the way you hopped gracefully from rail to rail, the way you glided effortlessly across the ground --.”

    Skeeter smiled and touched him on one shoulder. “Thanks, uh, Marvin, was it? I tried my best.” She nodded. “I’m sure with enough practice you can be athletic too.”

    Large Marvin took a step back, staring at her confusedly. “Uh, I am an athlete?”

    “Speed eating?” she replied with her eyelids in a droopy droll expression.

    Marvin shook his head, still looking quite puzzled. “No, I am one of the top swimmers and splashers of Fraggle Rock. Only Red and Gobo can match me.” He grabbed her by the hand and started pulling. “Let’s go back to that place with the U-shaped platform you skated on. What is it called?”

    “The half-pipe?”

    “Yeah, that’s it,” Marvin nodded enthusiastically. Skeeter nearly flew behind him as he dashed south toward the half-pipe. Marvin grabbed a board and wrapped his tail around it, skittered up the ladder to the deck of the half-pipe some 14 feet high, and waved to Skeeter down below on the ground, bowing graciously to the cheers and mutterings of the crowd.

    Marvin stood atop the skateboard, moved it to the lip, holding one edge with his right hand, and gently pushed his front left foot down, making him zip down the ramp, up the other ramp, and back again. Marvin did this several times until he got used to the momentum and the sensation of speed and gravity. He wrapped his tail around the board again as he hopped back onto the deck, nodded with satisfaction, and announced cheerfully, “Okay, here I go!”

    He gave a loud whoop as he careened down the ramp, nearly squatting against the board, waited until he reached the top of the opposite side, kicked the skateboard up ahead of him, twirled around to face downwards, grabbed the board with his tail, whipped it back underneath him just as he made contact with the transition part of the ramp (the curvy part), rode it with his belly against the board partially back up the first transition, stood as he started going back down, did a headstand at the bottom, and finally kickflipped it as it came to a stop. He panted a little as the crowed erupted into applause. Skeeter could see some money change hands in several places around the half-pipe, as well as camera-equipped cell phones capturing the event.

    Marvin returned the board and walked over to Skeeter, whose eyes could not get any wider. He wiped off some sweat from his brow with his jacket. “So,” he asked with a tinge of exasperation, “do you think that was a good first time?”

    Skeeter nodded like she was a zombie. “Th-that was your first time? You didn’t fall once.”

    Marvin smirked, patting himself on his chest with one hand. “Of course … I have been told I have gazelle-like prowess!” he told her with a bragging tone. He winked. “There are certain advantages to having more mass than others, you know.” He looked down sheepishly, then he glanced back up at Skeeter with a hopeful tone. “Please don’t think of me as being fast, but … do you … do you want to … uh … hang out with me?”

    Skeeter couldn’t breathe, she was so taken aback. When she at last remembered to inhale, she nodded and smiled, taking him by the hands. “Marvin, I would be honored to hang out with you.”

    <><><><><><>

    After locating a suitable spot, the palanquin had stopped to rest. Moulin stretched her legs as Junior sat down in front of the enchanted vehicle, rubbing a reddish paste into his fur. “What is that?” Moulin asked with a bored tone.

    Junior looked down at her. Even sitting down, she was less than half his size. He shrugged. “It’s a wadish paste,” he replied. “Ma makes it fwom wadishes.”

    “I gathered,” Moulin responded coldly.

    “Well,” Junior offered with a hint of offense, “actually, I gathuh wadishes.”

    Moulin glanced over at Jareth, who napped draped across the cab’s couch, snoring slightly. She crossed her arms in indignation. “I don’t see why we didn’t just follow those two humans to the Council,” she muttered bitterly.

    “You mean Pwince Wobin da Bwave and Pwincess Melora?” Junior asked, putting away his radish cream. “I think Suh Hubwis said he wanted to go his own way.”

    “Typical,” Moulin shot back. “Men are allergic to asking for directions. I think they actually prefer being lost.”

    Junior stared at her. “You know, you’re not a vewwy nice person, Miss Moulin,” he commented dryly. He wagged a finger at her. “You haven’t smiled since we met.”

    Moulin rolled her eyes. “Entertainment is for the masses. There’s no point in frivolity on business among equals … if you could be called that,” she added under her breath.

    “You know what I think?” Junior egged on.

    Moulin snorted in disgust. “Nothing compares to knowing what you think,” she replied sarcastically.

    Junior pointed to himself. “I t’ink you’re upset because you’re Mommy died. I t’ink you haven’t wesolved personal issues wegarding her demise.” He began to sing an upbeat song:

    I feel glad and you feel sad.
    Just that kind of weather.
    Nudge your nose and touch your toes.
    Whoops! Feelin' better.

    “Please don’t psychoanalyze me,” Moulin replied, glaring at the singing mound of fur. “Furthermore, do not mock me in song!” she growled.

    Still, Junior continued, jumping up and dancing:

    I say yes and you say no.
    Who can say whichever?
    Nudge your nose and touch your toes.
    Whoops! Feelin' better.

    Moulin watched as he continued to jump up and down, kicking and waving his arms and singing to the top of his lungs, bellowing out one verse after another, no matter how much she protested. She motioned for her cloud companion, ordering it quietly to soak the ground underneath the gigantic Gorg’s feet. Junior squealed as he fell flat on his back, rocking the ground beneath him and waking Jareth, who started swearing and demanding what in the Underground was going on.

    Both Jareth and Junior, though, were shocked to see Moulin doubled over, laughing to the point of making her hoarse, tears streaming from her tightly-shut eyes.

    <><><><><><>

    Pa and Ma Gorg watched the roof intently as a large gray shiny box rose into view, sunlight glinting off its surface. They sat in front of their castle at the picnic table, sipping a fruit juice concoction handed down by Ma’s mother Queen Esmerelda. The sounds of drilling and pounding emanated the Gorg Kingdom, scaring birds and other creatures from their roosts.

    “I still don’t know why we need this new-fangled equipment,” Pa groused to his wife. “We’ve lived for an eternity without such high-falutin’ concepts as ‘electricity’.”

    Ma patted her husband on his hand and blinked lovingly. “Now, Pa, if that nice young man can clear up Junior’s sinuses and pump the water from the basement, then maybe it’s for the best.”

    Pa shook his head and chomped down on a brownie. “It’s against nature! The sun can’t make lightning!” He gulped down another brownie. “And you can’t store lightning in a box. I don’t care what that meeping little critter says.”

    “It’s ready!” Toby announced from atop the Gorg Castle roof with a megaphone. The two Gorgs walked into the castle and found a large mechanized fan in their bedroom and Junior’s bedroom, and a refrigerator with water from the basement piped into its back to cool food.

    Eventually, Toby appeared, drenched in sweat, atop a windowsill where he had rappelled to from the roof. He smiled broadly as the two Gorgs approached curiously. “Well, there you go,” he announced proudly. “That’s all we could put in that can be powered easily from the solar cell we put on the roof, but these things should make life a little easier.” He pointed down. “Now, I don’t have anything that can get rid of the water in the basement … which is why I switched to the idea of pumping it to the refrigerator. It’s so cold down there that it should work.”

    Ma glanced over at her husband who stood shaking his head. “Pa, what do you say?”

    Pa grumbled.

    “I don’t think that nice young man heard you, dear,” she growled, angrily putting her hands on her hips.

    “I said, ‘Thanks for the help’, oh Loving and Patient Glint in my Eye,” he snapped back, rubbing his chin.

    Toby smiled, rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment. “Well, you’re welcome, Mr. and Mrs. Gorg,” he said loudly so they could hear. “I hope you enjoy. If you need me, for anything at all ….”
  6. The Count Moderator

    Okay... All caught up now. There might be a bit of dialogue and pronoun confusion in Chapter 20 between Bobby and Skeeter... But I'm enjoying this retelling/reshaping of your fanfic realms. Hope to get more as soon as you can post it.
  7. RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Well, Bobby WAS confused. He didn't know Scooter had a sister so he (naturally) thought Scooter was in drag. :D The issue is supposed to be a reference to that go-go dancing scene in that Christmas special. While I personally view Skeeter/Scooter's issue as one of career choice, that scene really made me think.

    Act 3, the Scavenging Pangaea arc, will be delayed by a day or two because I have to upload some abridged Dinosaur clips for those "cheat sheet" things I now put on the beginning of each arc.
  8. The Count Moderator

    Right... That confusion I understand. It's towards the end of the chapter... Skeeter refering to Bobby as "her"? The snipping at each other, Skeeter throws out her own name as an insult aimed at how Bobby and Scooter know each other? That sort of thing. And like we say, post when you can, it's all great schtuff.
  9. RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Uh ... all the "her" I see refer to Skeeter:


    Skeeter didn't use her name to insult Bobby. She hadn't told him her name yet (at the time, all she'd gotten out was that she was Scooter's sister). She just said it abruptly because she didn't feel comfortable with what Bobby's gaffe suggested. It was Bobby who then insulted her, suggesting the oft-repeated theme in this arc that she's like Piggy. He was saying her name was uncreative because it was just a slight alteration of Scooter, just like Piggy's name was highly uncreative. So, Skeeter retorts that she prefers being uncreative over being ironic, since a pig's last name is Vegan. Although I didn't mean to, Skeeter defending her name could also be a metaphor for her acceptance of her self and her brother, just like how she finally accepted later that she shouldn't judge large creatures. One of the recurring themes I've noticed in all the Muppetverse is character hypocrisy. Skeeter disliked Piggy's "diva-ness", but she didn't see that she was just as bad. Even Rowlf in the flashback couldn't make her see. All Skeeter knew was that she wasn't into "shallow" pursuits like fashion. She didn't see that her sports career was just as superfluous (and I don't mean to knock either goal ... I'm just saying that one person's "deep" concept is another person's "shallow" one). That's why I made her have the same sort of troubles Piggy has always had in her career. Whereas Piggy's weight brings her problems sometimes getting a good fashion gig, Skeeter's small Muppet size decreases her chances in the sports arena. I wanted it perfectly clear that I thought Skeeter and Piggy were practically mirror images of each other. At any rate, Bobby liked the fact that Skeeter defended her own name because in his world, acceptance of oneself is hard to find. In the one pilot sketch of his, he suffers from some mid-life crisis because while he enjoys some of the more ... outward ... behaviors, he still has self-confidence issues that Samson wanted him to get over. Had the sketch continued (hinthint, guys), I think Bobby's stereotypical behaviors would have made more sense and he would have grown. I think that's partly why Bobby named the boy Foster ... while the description of his reasoning makes him seem like a callous jerk, I think Bobby was trying to "foster" a sense of accepting one's place in life.

    (For those readers who thought that Tinseltown was a bad stereotypical idea, I will still defend it because I saw a lot of potential.)
  10. The Count Moderator

    Okay... Found the quibble.
    Posted by Piggy in Red: "Skeeter grunted as she tore herself away from her. “What on Earth are you talking about? I’m not Scooter – I’m his sister!"

    That second "her, if it's refering to Bobby, shouldn't it be a "him" instead?

    Thanks for the explanation of the rest of the conversation between them, it makes more and deeper sense now. Post more when you can please.
  11. RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Ah, I see it now. Darn.
  12. RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Act 3: Scavenging Pangaea

    Episodes that should help (in order):
    … abridged
    … abridged
    … abridged
    (see the whole ep!)
    … abridged
    (see the whole ep!)
    … abridged (and yes, technically this comes after the finale … but that doesn’t make sense story-wise)
    … abridged (and this would be the finale and the starting point to this arc…)

    Chapter 22
    (60,000,000BC)

    A television encased in rock was finally turned on by the remote control. The screen took a couple of seconds to display an image. It started off blue, with a white pterodactyl head in profile surrounded by a thick white circle with the words “Please Stand By” printed on it. Finally, the image changed to one with a logo of a large trilobite with steam coming out of its nostrils. A dramatic musical interlude played for a few seconds before a stern male voice-over announcer came on, “Good morning, students of Bob LaBrea High!”

    The video cut to a student bathroom, rather large to accommodate the size of the students, with large skylights, dingy from lack of cleaning. Several beige stalls were in the back of the room, while a few white sinks were barely attached to the front walls, broken mirrors hanging above them. Just before the stalls were several potted trees to the right, with a large red and black sign nailed above them that read, “Number 1, watering trees is fun! Number 2, the stalls are for you!”

    Suddenly, a large hulking shape appeared at the bottom of the screen, as a spiky dinosaur lumbered into the restroom. It turned to face the sink. The male dinosaur had blue-purple scales and a pale yellow underbelly. His head was triangular: a broad skull with an angular snout. Very small spikes spread across his snout, slightly lighter than the scales on his skin. Some larger spikes grew along his brows. The sides of his head were punctuated by three-inch or so horns. He wore a red bandana, which stayed in place thanks to the many spikes. His long-sleeved jacket was made of black leather, with a thin silver chain wrapped around the left shoulder and a graffiti-like patch just below the shoulder seam of a tyrannosaur skull with a bloody fork on the left of the skull and a toothed saw on the right of it and “Scavengers” written above it. The jacket was torn to accommodate sharp spikes on his back, about ten or so, which reduced in size starting around mid-back. He also wore a red tank top underneath. His long thick tail had half a dozen or so foot-long spikes emanating from it, towards the end. He wore large black boots with silver chains wrapped around the ankles.

    He walked up to the mirror and adjusted his sleeves with his left hand before turning on the water, keeping his right hand in his jacket pocket. His eyes were a piercing yellow. He cleared his throat and spoke in a smooth voice, with only the slightest hint of a hissing quality. His accent denoted a poor urban street-smart upbringing. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, as if rehearsing a speech, “it is my solemn duty to inform you of the disastrous,” he said, his eyes and mouth widening for emphasis, “nature of the tale which you are about to hear.” He shook his head, frowning. “It is one filled with all kinds of uncivilized behavior,” he remarked, his face brightening at the thought, “and all-out mockery of manners and decorum.” His head, at the end of a neck roughly forearm-length, reared back. His voice began to sound more excited. “Ladies and gentlemen … you know me to be more than willing to tell you how it is. Well, here it is … this story starts off with complete destruction, followed by some charming survival tales as we scrape and scourge the countryside to keep from getting eaten by dinosaurs even more desperate than we are! My companions, members of the Scavenger Pack, are ruthless and cringe-inducing.” His face became ever more animated with a wide grin. “It has always been a pleasure to hang with my pack … and this humble little tale will express my … trials and tribulations … as the one you may recognize as the Connoisseur of Fine Females, the Maker of Deals, and the Scourge of the Swamp,” he exclaimed, laughing.

    A deeper male voice could be heard clearing his throat. The spiked one looked toward the unseen door to the restroom. “Mr. Pullman?” he asked in a shocked voice. “And to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”

    Mr. Pullman, the science teacher of Bob LaBrea High, expressed his thoughts in a constantly condescending tone. “Spike – I told you the school is closed today. While I appreciate your willingness to ‘hang out’ with the academic crowd, I must insist that you end this speech at once.” He paused. His voice sounded more exasperated. “After all, the students here must not be made aware of unseemly and juvenile delinquent behavior. Your particular brand of humor is completely inappropriate for upstanding members of Pangaean society.”

    Spike smirked, chuckling. “Well, Mr. P, when I see some, I won’t say a single word to ‘offend’, deal?”

    A long pause. Finally, Mr. Pullman could be heard patting the door. “Well, since you seem to like it here so much, I just came in to tell you that you have been assigned to the school marching band.” A long pause, as Spike’s face nearly blanched. “Do get out of those atrocious threads and get your hot pink frilly uniform out of the maintenance room, got it?” The door closed. Spike, his eyes wild, stared up at the camera.

    “Noooooo!” he screamed, waking up from a pile of broken boxes behind the Tavern on the Swamp, the place where he stayed most nights. Well, on those nights he felt like staying with anyone. The Swamp was nearly a couple hours’ walk from the Sinclair home, where he liked to pop in every once in a while … to tease Rob “Scooter” Sinclair, of course. The musty smells, mixed with ample boozy breezes, filled the air. It didn’t make him gag – he was far too used to it by now. It was still a ramshackle of a dump … cobweb-littered boxes everywhere, broken and warped boards forming the dive he called his home. Ever since he had taken out his leader, Andre (to save Robbie … er … to keep Scooter alive so his parents would still feed him at night), he had gradually transitioned the Scavenger HQ, bringing in Howlin’ J, a cool blue mammal jazz and blues singer, and turning the old dump into a dump of a jazz hole. It was a privilege only the Leader of the Pack could do without getting his throat stripped out to make a belt. His eyes squinted in the sunlight. He checked a pocket watch. Hm, he thought, ten in the morning … an excellent time to get up and head over to the high school. It didn’t matter that Bob LaBrea started classes at seven … for Spike, education was far more rewarding when it was … self-paced, he thought to himself.

    “Hey, Brother Spike!” exclaimed a scratchy gruff voice from the back door. It creaked open, out popping a green long-nosed male dinosaur with black sunglasses in brown rims, and a red baseball cap adorned with a thin silver chain. He only kept his head visible, which still had a couple of scars from the battle with Spike at Rob’s “funeral”. He spoke as if he had chain-smoked his entire life.

    Spike nodded. “How’s it goin’, Scabby?” he asked, feeling a little hung-over himself as he stood up, wobbling initially. He must have really had a good time last night.

    Scabby thrust his snout toward the direction of the high school. “You headin’ out to class today?”

    Spike shrugged. “Gotta go where the honies are, Scabby. ‘Sides, need to talk to Scooter.” The Scavenger Pack didn’t always agree with their new Leader about “The Mop” (aka, Scooter, so called due to some hijinks accomplished by other packs) … though, the last time a member chided Spike about it … Andre’s old second-in-command pterodactyl … Spike ate him. He never really liked the little tail-kisser anyway.

    “Huh,” Scabby replied, “good luck.”

    Spike glanced at him in confusion. “You not comin’?”

    Scabby shook his head. “Can’t. Drive-by eatin’ scheduled today.”

    Spike groaned, slapping his head. “That was today?” Maybe it was a bad idea not to have a “clerical position” in the pack after all. He took out his pocket watch. “When is it?” He paused. “Haven’t taken part in one o’ dose since … uh … January?”

    “Well, usually you’re too busy killin’ time with --,” Scabby stopped abruptly, noting Spike’s icy glare. “Uh, you’ve been … um … awfully busy … uh,” he stammered, his lip trembling, “providing … alternative … uh … community perspectives in … an attempt to diversify cultural attitudes.” He chuckled nervously. He bowed his head (less of out respect and more of an attempt to hide the soft parts of his throat). “You’re quite the inspiration to packs everywhere, Brother Spike.”

    “You’re too kind,” Spike retorted dryly.

    “Hey, Spike!” a young gravelly voice shouted from atop a pile of boxes. Spike and Scabby turned to find a bright blue mammal, about two feet tall, with a narrow snout. His face was always filled with exuberance, especially now that his father’s band’s music was getting more popular. A few more months and they should be able to afford a bathroom in the Tavern. A working one, anyway.

    Spike smirked. “What can we do for you, Sonny?”

    “Dad says to come inside – the Lizard has gone pure crazy!” The ‘Lizard’ was a derogatory mammalian slang for dinosaurs. Although Howlin’ J rarely used it anymore among his normal crowd, whenever a dinosaur instituted some stupid policy, it still came out of his mouth every once in a while.

    Spike and Scabby shrugged, glancing at each other, and went inside the Tavern. The band and a few remaining members of the Scavengers huddled around a television. Spike could hear the newscaster speak solemnly. “As the cider poppy crisis enters its second week, it now appears a solution is at hand. An independent task force of concerned citizens has come forward with a plan to spray the entire super continent with a powerful chemical defoliant.”

    The mammals of Howlin’ J’s band looked at each other with trepidation, their pointed ears drooping.

    Scabby shrugged. “What’s the big deal?”

    A shorter brown dinosaur with a turtle-like face maneuvered closer to the television. He wore a backwards black baseball cap, round black eyeglasses, a short-sleeved red shirt, a black leather vest with a silver chain draped around the right shoulder, and metal studded bracelets. Rounded tan spikes ran down his spine and along his tail. His voice was high-pitched and grating. His eyes were widened, his jaw agape. He pointed at the television. “They’re planning on poisoning us all!” he shrieked. His finger trembled. “Such a wide distribution of poison will not only destroy the cider poppies, but it will ensure the destruction of potable drinking water and increase incidents of respiratory dysfunction and contact dermatitis!”

    Everyone stared at him, unblinking.

    Sonny coughed. “Uh, Crazy Lou, what you’re tryin’ to say is that … uh … we’ll have no water, we won’t breathe real good, and our skin will itch a lot?”

    Crazy Lou nodded sadly, staring at the floor. “Yeah … and then we’ll die.”

    Spike shook his head in utter disbelief. “What kind o’ idiot …?”

    The footage showed Earl Sinclair, Robbie’s old man, discussing the plan alongside that slow-witted brown tyrannosaur buddy of his.

    Spike stifled a gasp. He jabbed Scabby with his left elbow. “Where’s Lingo?” he asked in a tense tone.

    Scabby nodded toward the front door. “He said he found a new use for those poppies yesterday. Hasn’t been back since.”

    Spike slowly exhaled. He shot a quick glance to Scabby, his lips curled, baring his teeth. “Get him.” He nodded at Crazy Lou. “We’re cancelin’ da drive-by, Lou. Get everybody we know in here … if they don’t come willingly … slice their Achilles’ tendon or something … drag ‘em here kickin’ and screamin’, if ya have to.”

    “Uh, Spike,” began Howlin’ J, who had a gruffer and deeper voice than Sonny, and looked like a scruffier and paler version of his son. He was rubbing the fingers of his right hand together under the table so no one would see. It was a nervous tick of his.

    Spike stared at him. “Nuthin’s gonna happen to the band … you worthless piece of tick-infested rugbag,” he interrupted with the type of tone he used when he was teasing. He cracked a smile. “I wouldn’t eat the bunch o’ you if you were the last rotten snack on the supercontinent!”

    Mudbelly, the band’s darker-blue fat drummer, smirked in turn. His voice was very deep and smooth. “Good to know, you purple spiky pain in the fur.” He forced a chuckle. Being mammals in the presence of desperate Lizards was not exactly on their list of good events. The insults, though, were just their way of telling each other how incredibly worried they were … without the humiliating sappiness.

    Spike maintained his grin. “Now, if you boys will excuse me … I got a bomb threat to call in.” He went through a side door beside the bar.

    The band stared at the door for a few moments until they were sure Spike was out of hearing range. Sonny glanced at his father questioningly. Howlin’ J shrugged, wiping off some nuts off the table. “He’s trying to evacuate his school, Sonny. Spike’s too proud to call for help.” He sighed. “You know that weak-kneed friend of his goes to that school, too.”

    “And of course there’s all the girls,” continued Mudbelly with a slight chuckle. “If all the fem-lizards die off, Spike won’t have anyone to slap him!”

    <><><><><><>

    Late in the afternoon, Spike was clearing out the empty bottles scattered around the bar. The band was trying to clear the floor. Scabby had found Lingo around two in the afternoon, nervously pacing in the woods, rubbing his arms constantly. Spike glanced over at where Lingo now sat, in a chair at the far corner of the room. Lingo was a tall narrow-nosed purple dinosaur with dark purple stripes on his tail. A white tie was wrapped around his head, the ends drooping past his shoulders. He wore a long-sleeved black leather jacket with round metal studs along the sleeves and rose-colored wire-rimmed glasses. His lips were pale blue … naturally. He continued to scratch, his head bobbing up and down in a state of almost delirium. He couldn’t seem to focus on any particular thing.

    “Hey! Lingo!” Spike called out loudly enough to make the others cringe. “You okay?”

    Lingo nearly threw up. He smiled weakly. “Kickin’ it, Brother Spike,” he replied in a deep voice.

    Spike flashed a grin before frowning. “Don’t blow chunks on the floor, Lingo. If you’re gonna do dat – I’ll eat ya right now.”

    “Probably don’t wanna do that,” noted Howlin’ J with a wry smile. “There’s no tellin’ what’s been in that kid’s gullet.” He jumped when he heard breaking glass. Howlin’ glanced over at the bar, where Spike had crushed a bottle in his left hand, his face scowling, eyes averted. Ever since he had had to stop Rob from making a mess of himself with thornoids, Spike had become rather touchy when it came to his “family” – whether it was the Sinclairs or the Scavengers – doing things they shouldn’t have been doing. Though Spike didn’t mind alcohol (which he considered a drink as natural as water or soda), the stuff he considered more dangerous was absolutely forbidden. Howlin’ tried to continue cleaning up … though no one else had come back yet. Crazy Lou was long overdue. Rob had called Spike, telling him his family was safe at their house.

    Finally, Crazy Lou walked through the front door. Spike asked him who he brought. Lou shook his head. “We aren’t exactly a triage unit or an emergency shelter, Brother Spike,” he retorted. He shrugged, seeking the bar for a glass. “Search and rescue is not typically our forte.”

    Just as Lou sat down at the bar, sighing when he realized Spike wasn’t going to give him anything, the sound of choppers sprang up. A thick rain of glop was sprayed everywhere, covering the windows with a yellow film. They watched and listened for about half an hour, mesmerized by the sensory experience of food sources die out en masse.
  13. RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Chapter 23
    (60,000,000BC)

    A flickering green light could be seen behind the counter of the Tavern’s bar. Mudbelly couldn’t sleep on the raised stage, what with all the beeping and whispering going on. He groaned to himself, rubbed his eyes, and walked over to the bar. All he could see were the backs of two of the Lizards: Crazy Lou and Scabby. Scabby wore a jean long-sleeved jacket with metal studs on his left shoulder and a bunch of brown fur pelts on his right shoulder. From the back, Mudbelly noted Lou’s tail, with a gash underneath the tip, jaw-sized, and a few cracks on some of the tail spikes. Mudbelly was surprised that Spike left them any body parts at all. No wonder they didn’t have the courage to eat the band. Anyone daring to stand up to Spike risked dismemberment or worse. They were fortunate Spike felt they were his family, or they wouldn’t have survived at all. At any rate, the two Scavengers were sitting cross-legged behind the counter on the floor. Mudbelly glanced up at the clock: one-thirty in the morning. He cleared his throat quietly. The two dinosaurs twitched, turned their heads, and bobbed a head greeting.

    Lou spoke first, whispering. “Hey, uh, you wanna come play with us?”

    Mudbelly’s jaw dropped. “Uh….” Crazy Lou was the most bookish of the pack, so hearing him sound like some eager two-year-old was rather off-putting. However, being locked up in the small jazz hole was making everyone antsy.

    Scabby pointed at the glowing screen in front of them. “It’s called a video game. Got it from some furry little punk before the yellow rain.”

    Lou slapped Scabby’s shoulder. “He knows that! He’s a mammal! They have all the superior entertainment merchandise.”

    Mudbelly rolled his eyes. “Right,” he said quietly, “because all us mammals have the time and the money to waste on something that’s even stupider than TV.” He glanced at Scabby. “Where’s the ‘furry little punk’? You two didn’t bring anyone in yesterday.”

    They looked at each other awkwardly. Scabby shrugged. “Hey, man – it was lunchtime,” he replied casually. “He was just a little guy … even you guys woulda liked him.”

    “Yeah,” added Lou, “he had a full-bodied, smoked mahogany flavor.”

    Mudbelly held up his index finger. “One … we’re mainly insectivores.” He held up another finger. “Two … let’s get back to that video game. What are you playin’?”

    Lou scooted aside so Mudbelly could see. They had small black controllers with a joystick and a few buttons on each, connected to the monitor by slender cables, which showed … a gardening simulation.

    Mudbelly cocked an eyebrow. “Well, that’s ironic.” The Lizard had destroyed every last leaf on the entire super-continent … and they were playing a gardening simulation.

    Scabby chuckled. “Yeah, you wouldn’t think a tiny little hyper guy like that would be that into a game about making plants grow.”

    Mudbelly sighed and shook his head. “Right.” He got closer. “So, how do you play?”

    <><><><><><>

    Spike had taken his bandana and re-adjusted it to fit over his snout so he wouldn’t breathe the fumes. The residue sort of smelled like rotten eggs and year-old carcasses all at the same time. Branches were falling off regularly. Cracking and smashing could be heard for miles, made much easier to hear since the forest was dying. He had a burlap bag slung over one shoulder, filling it with the bodies of small dinos and mammals who didn’t reek of poison but were dead anyway, probably from the smell. It was hitting the ground-dwellers pretty hard. He wanted the bag full by dawn, so his pack wouldn’t be tempted to have the band for breakfast.

    He wasn’t like those love-sick girls at school, swooning over Lizzard Skizzard on DTV. He didn’t keep the band around for some crazy fan reasons. No, it was the principle of the thing. Here were a bunch of mammals trying to live off their pain and misery, if not brought on by the Lizard, then by Mother Nature itself. He couldn’t describe, even to himself, why he found that fascinating … but he knew they understood. It was why they were such good friends.

    He stopped to pick up the remains of a sign, which was covered in dirt. He used the bag to wipe off any residue. A faded “Wesayso” logo appeared on it. He tossed it aside in disgust. If he had anything to say about it … those fools would be decomposing in his stomach right about now.

    But he wasn’t Scooter. Scooter enjoyed taking up causes and advocating and all that. Spike was just as happy to let things be unless they crossed him. Like when Andre tried to get the Scavengers to kill the Sinclairs, he thought bitterly. Spike hadn’t meant the attack to happen, but Andre had become blood-thirsty. It was one thing to involve oneself in a “messy retirement ceremony”, but actively killing an entire family was more the speed of Predators … a pack with no compunctions whatsoever about killing anyone within sight.

    And as much as he admired Predator determination, Spike felt that overkill was something generally to be avoided if possible.

    Not that anyone ever asked him.

    <><><><><><>

    It was no surprise to the slender brown-scaled female dinosaur that the large yelling tyrant in the beige trailer hadn’t left yet. He was known for spending long hours at “work”, doing whatever he did. With the moon barely able to cast a shadow on the trailer, the young dinosaur crept up to the trailer, which was only barely dusted by the poisonous material, dug into her purse, left a small beeping wristwatch, buried it underneath the trailer …

    … and walked away without looking back.

    <><><><><><>

    Another brown female dinosaur, with lots of tiny spikes all over her face and head, removed the fur hood she wore as she returned to the large cave where many fur-dressed cavemen sat. Normally they would have been asleep, but they patiently had awaited her return. They had sent her to investigate the smells … those awful smells. She was called Thighs of Thunder, a saurian female adopted by cavemen when she was just a little girl.

    Through grunts and gestures, she told them of the Lizard, who continued to destroy the trees. She told them she had climbed part way up Mount Thunder, as the Lizard called it, so she could survey the land. Most of the area was completely ruined. It was a dead sea of ash and snow.

    The chieftain, who sported a long black beard and shaggy black hair, nodded and shrugged. He, in the language of the cavemen, informed them that the Lizard would not return to their land anymore. They should take this opportunity to destroy the constructions the Lizard had been working on, as well as saving up as much food as they could handle. They had been slowly working their way back onto the land the Lizard had chased them from, and realized they were once again safe from the reptilian menace.

    <><><><><><>

    Deep in a large cave, the sound of footsteps awoke the pale blue Apatosaurus female as she slept on her side. She awoke, yawning, twisting and arching her long neck to look at her alarm clock. Two o’clock in the morning. She groaned.

    “Monica?” a male voice whispered, which resonated more loudly in the cavernous room.

    Monica’s eyes shot open. She raised her head from her bed, which was just a collection of very large pillows on the cave floor. “Who’s there?” she asked grumpily. “I’m warning you … I’m a really big female … I can squash you in no time flat.”

    A goofy brown tyrannosaur who had a crush on her, smiled despite his pronounced overbite, his tiny hands barely able to come together enough to be wrung nervously. “It’s me, Roy.”

    Monica sighed and lowered her head, rolling her eyes. Roy had been drooling over her for a couple of years, give or take, and at one point they had to … marry … though once the threat regarding her livelihood was over, she quickly put a stop to that. She wanted someone equal to herself in intelligence, but Roy was too simple-minded to take the hint. “I can see that, Roy … what do you want?”

    He tugged on his yellow short-sleeved shirt with black palm trees printed on it. He stared at the cave floor. “Monica? I was just wondering … since, you know, the plants are dyin’ and everyt’ing … if you were gonna find enough to eat over the next couple of weeks.”

    Monica groaned. “What are you talking about, Roy?” she asked with great fatigue. “I told you it was a bad idea to eat those leftovers, didn’t I?”

    Roy shook his large head. “No, you don’t understand … this wasn’t some nightmare I had. Wesayso wanted to get rid of all those cider poppies that had sprung up all over da place. I thought it was a really good idea … until I started t’inking about you.”

    Monica grunted as she stood up on all four legs, shaking her head somewhat to clear her mind. She glared at him. Her lips curled into a snarl. “What do you mean Wesayso killed all the plants?” she roared. Roy flinched, his knees trembling. He knew she was powerful – she had easily killed a large swamp monster, easily forty-feet tall, with just her tail. Now, she was going to turn that anger on him. “How in God’s name am I supposed to EAT, Roy?” She barreled towards him, making him nearly trip from running backwards. “I suppose Richfield is going to blame us four-leggers for this, too?”

    “He … he … he … didn’t mention anyt’ing about it,” Roy offered nervously. He was starting to get concerned … the entrance to her cave was still a bit of a ways off … and she could trample him before he got a chance to get out of harm’s way. “I promise I’ll find a way to convince him to fix dis whole little mess!”

    Monica snapped at him, making him fall with a loud thud. She was so close to grinding him into the cave floor … if only she wouldn’t have to clean up afterwards. Pushing a vacuum was slightly more complicated without hands, after all. “FIX IT? I’ll tell you the only way to ‘fix’ it …. I’m leaving this whole crappy country!” She inhaled deeply. When she roared, she made rocks fall from the cave ceiling. “GET YOUR WALNUT-BRAINED IDIOTIC FACE OUT OF MY CAVE, ROY! I NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU, EARL, OR THAT DISGUSTING RICHFIELD EVER AGAIN!
  14. RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Chapter 24
    (60,000,000BC)

    A deep male voice could be heard on televisions everywhere. The images showed nothing but snow and ash, all covering every square inch of every home, every school, every outdoor Jacuzzi, every vehicle … and on every carcass.

    “Wesayso would like all Pangaeans to understand that our company has their best interests at heart. Yes, you may be starving and your lower extremities may be developing gangrene from lack of warmth … and you may be hopelessly despondent over the fickleness of life itself….”

    A crudely-drawn animation of flowers appeared on screen, with bright pulsating colors.

    “Yet, if we all just think of springtime,” said the voice as a cheerful piece of classical music played, “we shall be born anew … awash with the sensation of letting out that inner child once more.”

    “EARL!” a female voice barked.

    The massive Megalosaurus, green with a pale underbelly and brown scales stretching from his brows all the way down to the tip of his tail, jumped, some half-eaten chips spilling off his red and black plaid shirt. He had almost fallen asleep as he sat at his usual place in the kitchen, facing the television set. The Sinclair kitchen was attached to the living room with a large arch. Its walls were mostly made of compressed dirt, arching high into stalactites. The roof was made to look like an active volcano, though a heating element and chimney vent were stored in the kitchen attic space, it was mostly for show. The kitchen sink and an island for food preparation stood opposite the family dining table. At the side entrance to the house was the refrigerator. The kitchen had taken on a musty odor as the Sinclairs had tried to remove the dead plants from the house.

    At any rate, Earl looked up at his wife. “Leave me alone, Fran,” he muttered in a low voice. “Can’t a guy watch TV?”

    Fran, a green allosaurus with four crests lined with pink edges, clicked the television off with the remote control. She adjusted her pale pink sweater and brown parka. They didn’t want to run the heater as much as most dinosaurs were. After all, they didn’t know how long the fuel would last them. She crossed her arms and frowned. “I think we’ve watched enough television, Earl.” She came up closer to him. “Besides, you can’t hide from your children all day.”

    Earl shook his large head, his multiple chins swaying slightly. “I’m not hiding from them, Frannie,” he shot back defensively. “If I wanted to hide from my family, I’d go to work!” He sighed, exasperated. A growl escaped in his voice. “But since there are no more trees to push, I guess I’m totally without purpose, aren’t I?”

    Fran rolled her eyes. “Earl, you’re not without purpose.” She placed a dainty mittened hand on his shoulder. “You are still a husband and a father.”

    Earl pulled away, avoiding her eyes. “Yeah, I’m really doin’ a bang-up job, aren’t I?” he retorted sarcastically. He stood up, his joints creaking from the cold. His … weight … made it unlikely he was going to freeze before the others, but even so … well, he tried not thinking about it … but he couldn’t help it. He shot a glance at his wife. “Fran,” he began, pointing a chubby hand toward himself, “how could I screw things up so badly? All a male dinosaur has to do to be successful, is to provide for his family, put food on the table, and keep his offspring from getting eaten or sucked into a tar pit before they’re married off to someone else.” His lip quivered. “Now we’re all gonna die … and it’s all my fault.”

    Fran inhaled deeply, trying to stall until she could come up with the right thing to say. If Earl weren’t bashing himself ever since Wesayso bombed all the volcanoes on Earth a week ago, her mother, Ethyl, would do it for him, emphasizing her point by whacking him in the ample gut with her cane from her wheelchair. “Earl,” she said quietly, “this isn’t all your fault.”

    “It’s a little late to try to make me feel better, Fran,” Earl retorted sadly, staring at the floor. “I didn’t pay enough respect for tradition. I became obsessed with modern conveniences.” He sighed, tears welling up in his eyes. “If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t let modernity cloud my judgment.”

    “We are still responsible for doing the best we can to make it right,” Fran replied calmly and motherly. “Besides, all of us ‘broke the dam’, so to speak. All we can do is try to clean things up as much as possible.”

    Earl stared at his wife in disbelief. “What exactly do you want me to do, Fran?” he asked cynically. “This isn’t exactly going to be helped by shoveling the driveway and putting the recyclables in their proper containers.”

    Fran stared back with a flat affect. “We’re going to do our job as parents, Earl.” She paused for what seemed like an eternity. She spoke more softly. “We are going to ensure the survival of our children.”

    Earl’s eyes grew wider, his mouth cracking a slight smile. He poked her in the chest. “You … you have a plan, don’t you, honey?” he inquired with a bit more enthusiasm. That was why he married her – she knew how to use her head.

    Earl had been a lot skinner, roughly Robbie’s size, when he was in high school. He was teased relentlessly because he, unlike his parents’ generation, didn’t want to bulk up just to kill his food. He thought that resources should be cheap and easy to obtain. However, he started to exercise more, simply because he wanted to impress a young female named Fran. She also seemed to want more out of the rough-and-tumble world of predator-versus-prey, but she dealt with it much more diplomatically.

    Unfortunately, one afternoon at the gym, he broke his wrist trying to lift some heavy barbells. Fran, who had been playing tennis, heard his screams and rushed over to him, cooing him to stop his screaming.

    Later that week, Earl managed to walk up to Fran cautiously and sheepishly. He had an ungainly cast on his wrist. It itched something terrible, for the thought of talking to Fran on even a casual basis made him sweat profusely. “Um, Fran?” he asked timidly, his voice not as deep as it would be in later years.

    She looked up from taking a sip at the water fountain and smiled, her attention drawn immediately to the cast. “Is your wrist going to be okay?”

    “Well,” he said, shrugging, his voice shaky, “actually it feels like a hundred boulders are slowly crushing red-hot nails into my skeleton.”

    Fran smiled warmly, caressed the cast, maintained a gentle look into his eyes, and kissed his fingers. “Does it feel better now?”

    “Would you go out with me?” Earl blurted out in shock.

    Fran giggled. “Of course I will, Earl.”

    Earl sighed. “Okay, great!” He paused, deep in thought. A sudden flash of inspiration went off. “Uh, I hope you don’t mind me being a little forward … but would you marry me? I don’t want to have to go through TWO anxiety attacks in my life.”

    Fran blushed and giggled. Lots of dinosaurs made fun of Earl, but she saw in him a sense of duty, of honor … and a low-enough IQ to keep him honest in a relationship.

    She decided to play with him a little, though, and refrained from answering just to see how much he’d tremble. When it looked like he was about to throw up from all the anxiety, she smiled and consented to be his wife.

    Fran bit her lower lip. She tried to hide the shaking in her own voice. “We’re sending the children away.”

    Earl stood motionless. He waved his arms dramatically. “Way to kill all sense of hope in the world, Fran! Geez!” he exclaimed, slumping back down into his chair. “And why, pray tell, aren’t we going with them?”

    Fran knelt beside her husband. “Earl … Mother can’t leave in her condition … and I’m not going without her. Ever since we decided she would live a better life not being hurled from a cliff a couple of years ago, I realized that it was my duty as her daughter to ensure her well-being.”

    Earl glanced at her skeptically from the corner of his eyes. “Fran … no offense … but how is dying incredibly slowly ‘ensuring her well-being’?”

    “My mind is made up, Earl,” Fran told him with a sure voice.

    Earl laughed condescendingly. “Well, exactly at what point did my mind not get made up?”

    Fran stood and turned her back to him. “I don’t recall you asking our opinion when you let Richfield kill us all.” She turned her head towards Earl. “You may leave if you wish … but we promised in our vows we would stay together no matter what.” She nodded toward the living room. “Our children have proven to be intelligent and persevering. If anyone can survive the trip to your ‘city’, it would be them.”

    Earl cocked a single brow. “My …‘city’?”

    Fran turned toward him, nodding. “Yes, Earl … remember? You went with Roy to the end of the world and found a pristine land filled with cavemen. The chieftain honored you for helping them get their land back.”

    “We’re forgetting Wesayso bought that land from them, right?”

    Fran smiled. “With no fuel and no access and no tourism, Wesayso will never profit from their new property … leaving it still available for anyone who has any chance in surviving this apocalypse.”

    Earl scratched his head. “Even if that were a great idea … the clouds are just going to destroy that land too.”

    Fran frowned. “How would they know? Other than telling the world they were going to build a baseball stadium there … we never heard another thing about it! It’s far from any volcano. It’s quite possible that any lands far from any of the volcanoes might still be safe. Dinosaurs tend to live around volcanoes for warmth. Maybe those cavemen have sufficient habitats in those caves of theirs.” She threw her hands up in frustration. “For heaven’s sake, Earl! This is the only chance our children have for living through this nightmare! Don’t we owe them that?”

    <><><><><><>

    A four-foot-tall Spike, his spikes and horns just rounded bumps, trotted past the railroad tracks just after sunset. His mother hadn’t returned to their small cave all day and he started to get worried. He wore a simple green hoodie jacket, which had multiple tears and scuffs on it. He stayed close to the trees and shrubs in the forest like his mother had taught him, so he would blend in more with the surroundings. It was dangerous for even a six-year-old to be wandering the woods alone.

    Eventually, after a walk that seemed to take forever, Spike could hear a low moan. A female moan. His heartrate picked up as he tried to run without breaking any branches and giving away his position. As he reached a small clearing, he gasped.

    Propped up against a heavily-scarred tree was his mother, a sauropelta. She was a mottled blue with a slender rounded beak, a graceful tail, and muscular arms and legs. Along her back were rounded bony growths that stretched to the base of her tail. On her shoulders, however, four two-foot-long spikes, as well as another pair of spikes just below them on her shoulder blades that stretched an amazing three-and-a-half feet. Her chest heaved in and out, while her right arm bled in multiple gashes.

    She glanced in the opposite direction of her unseen child. A brown thick-muscled adolescent dinosaur appeared, wearing a black leather jacket with light gray fur on the shoulders and multiple silver chains draped all over. His voice was cracking, but didn’t betray a remarkable sense of intelligence, though that could have been from all the booze.

    “Hey, spiky chick ... you feelin’ a little --.”

    The weary female snarled at the intruder. “If you finish that sentence, I’ll use your spine as a necklace!”

    The intruder guffawed. “You do dat, sweet t’ing,” he told her in a patronizing tone. “I’m here to make sure your ugly carcass doesn’t go to waste.” He crept closer to the injured female, his mouth salivating at the thought of such a spirited meal.

    Suddenly, he felt a large weight on his back, claws digging into his flesh. “What da heck is goin’ on here?” he asked in a stupor, trying to shake off the painful object. He managed to find a tail with his hands and he yanked on it, causing a shriek as he twirled the creature away. It landed with a thump on the ground. No sooner had young Spike landed, however, than he jumped up and lunged at the big brown oaf with a sharpened stick. The larger opponent grabbed at the stick, lifting up the young dinosaur in the air. He kept the child at arm’s distance and chuckled. “Hey, you got guts, kid,” he announced proudly. He shook his head, pouting. “Yo momma is still gonna get eaten, junior. Them’s da breaks, you know?”

    Spike dug his claws into the larger dinosaur’s hands, forcing him to let go with a shriek. Spike wasted no time in lunging close to the ground and biting the soft underbelly. The opponent roared in pain, his belly doubling over. He grabbed Spike by the tail this time. “I’m gonna impale ya on yo own momma, kid!” he yelled angrily. “No one keeps Andre from a meal!” No sooner had he announced this then they were both sent flying as Spike’s mother’s tail whacked Andre hard in his side.

    Spike, when his head cleared, twitched his tail to break free of Andre’s grasp and dashed over to his mother, who stepped in between her child and Andre. She glared at the scavenger. Spike could feel her hand pushing against his side. He looked up and saw her trying to give him something. He took the small object from her hand and put it in his right jacket pocket. His mother quickly glanced at him and smiled. “Keep those fighting skills up, Spike,” she cooed despite panting heavily. “And you keep my ring safe. Your father was a no-good low-life who ran out on us … but one day you’ll meet a girl. I want her to have it.” She kicked him away gently with her leg. “Get out of here. Live off the land like I taught you.”

    The sound of breaking glass jerked Spike awake. He could hear the others cheering. He stood up from the back of the room, his joints aching in the cold. The Tavern wasn’t exactly well insulated … and there was only so much fur to be pulled from the dead creatures he had brought back every night. Scavenging in the snow was even worse than doing it after the poison rain. Another glass broke.

    “Only ninety-five left to go!” Crazy Lou shrieked in delight.

    Spike went over to the main room where countless bottles had been fastened somehow to the walls. The rest of the Scavengers, even Lingo, joined the band behind some upturned tables as they would take turns using an improvised slingshot to break a glass. Lingo pumped his fists as Sonny managed to break yet another one. “Dawgs, I’m bettin’ some major dead elders that some tunes would go great with this game!”

    Howlin’ J shook his head, rolling his eyes. “If anyone ever makes money on a song about takin’ beer bottles off a wall, I’ll gnaw my own paw off.”

    Spike smiled. At least his “family” could keep their spirits up, despite the cold. He glanced over at his right as he used his right hand to take out a small golden band from his pocket. He quickly put it back. Spike almost never took out his right hand unless he absolutely needed to. It was too important to him to keep anything from happening to his mother’s wedding ring. Fortunately for him, he had learned to excel in fighting with just one arm. It also helped to have sharp teeth and a thick tail with wicked spikes coming out of it.
  15. RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Chapter 25
    (Summer, 2011AD)

    Sixty million years ago, three dinosaur children
    Found themselves searching for utopia.
    Just yesterday, a home video camera
    Was found deep in a pit.
    To create a media circus and propel
    Us to fame and fortune,
    We will now publish this video
    Without any thought for accuracy
    And verification….

    [A thin balding man with brown hair, wearing a khaki safari outfit, stands near a sign deep in the woods that says “This way: Montana. The Other Way: Canada, eh?” He smiles at the camera.]

    Man: (with British accent) Welcome to this edition of Digging Our Past. I’m Sir David Tushingham, callously shilling this video to the Thick Yellow Rectangle Society, a respectful society of tinkerers and naturalists devoted to airing any little ol’ thing on their network. I was out camping yesterday and came across a remarkable find. Naturally, something this vital should not wait for tedious ‘peer reviews’ and ‘investigations’. [Tushingham steps away from the sign. Camera follows him to a nearby small campsite with two yellow tents, a campfire pit in the middle of the site, and a table where an elderly Caucasian man with thin gray hair is tinkering with a beat-up-looking home video camera, connecting it to a small television set.] Let us now discover remarkable secrets of our past, with the help of my skillful colleague, Mr. Christian. (taps Mr. Christian on the shoulder) Are we ready, Mr. Christian?

    [Mr. Christian, wearing a bright orange jacket and dark clothing, finishes tinkering around with the internal workings of the camera and presses the ‘power’ button. He doesn’t even look up.]

    Mr. Christian: (proudly in an American accent, though somewhat fatigued) I think it’s about ready, Sir Tushingham. (nods) Yes, I think it should work now.

    [The monitor shows an uneven blurring, as though the camera is being handled roughly. After a few moments, the image of a five-foot-tall (or so) green ceratopsian bipedal dinosaur crunches through a mixture of snow and ash up to its calves, wearing a dark blue parka, thick woolen yellow mittens, and a knitted tail-warmer with boldly colored designs. It is barely holding a heavily wrapped smaller pink dinosaur with a turtle-like beak, pink skin, and dark purple spots along its tail. The camera’s image bounces slightly with the steps of the unseen videographer.]

    Green dinosaur: (irritatingly, young female voice) Ugh, you know, kid, there’s no reason you can’t walk.

    Little pink dinosaur: (insanely high-pitched voice, cheerful) I’m the baby … gotta carry me! (Green dinosaur drops baby with a fwoosh in the snow) (sharply) Hey! (pauses) Charlene! Gotta carry me!

    Charlene: You’re four years old –

    Unseen videographer: (scratchy teen male voice) – five years old, remember, sis?

    Charlene: (sighs exasperatedly) Right! So Baby’s five years old … which means the little whiner can walk on his own. (turns around, glaring at the unseen videographer, shaking a mittened finger at Baby, who is staring at her like he’s about to wail) Unless you want to carry him for about six hours, Robbie, you need to keep your sorry little tail out of this!

    [Video cuts to a shot looking down at three young dinosaurs from what seems to be a large carcass. Charlene and Baby are busy snacking on stringy meat beside a campfire, while a tall lanky green male dinosaur with a Mohawk made of pale green flexible spikes and wearing a bright red ski jacket and dark blue leg warmers, uses a small machete to hack into the unseen belly of the fallen beast.]

    Charlene: (smacking her lips) You don’t honestly expect us to sleep in that old rotting swamp monster, do you, Rob?

    Baby: I wanna sleep in the rib cage!

    Charlene: (glaring at Baby) You would.

    Robbie: (stands straight, wiping sweat off his brow) You want to freeze to death when the winds start up tonight? (the others shake their heads) Well, (points at carcass) then we’re sleeping inside him. Besides, it’ll also mask our scent.

    Charlene: (shrugs, crossing her arms in indignation) (mockingly) Ooh, yeah … and it also serves to make us seem like stuffing inside a holiday roast!

    Baby: (wiping his hands on his jacket, eyes wide) Is it Refrigerator Day again? I want presents!

    Robbie: (turns to face Baby, voice low-key) The present will be surviving until we get to our destination.

    Baby: (long pause, flat affect) That’s cheap…. (short pause, holding hand out) Fifty-dollar minimum! I’m the baby … gotta pay me!

    [Tushingham and Christian, hunched over in front of the television, glance at each other in disbelief.]

    Mr. Christian: (to Tushingham) Is this what I think this is?

    Sir Tushingham: (eyes wide, breathless) It’s … it’s –

    Mr. Christian: (turning his back, irritated) – it’s a pirated children’s show. We interrupted our wolf study for a bunch of people dressed up as dinosaurs!

    Sir Tushingham: (astounded, incredulous) How can you say such a vile thing, Jerome? This is a primary source of information regarding the fate of fascinating creatures! I’ve waited my entire career for something this juicy!

    Mr. Christian: (skeptically, staring at Tushingham) Dinosaurs with video cameras? Come on, David. (points at screen) The little pink one is a thinly veiled parody of Godzilla’s son, Minya … it’s not even a real species!

    Sir Tushingham: Were you there?

    [The video cuts to a barely lit interior, with ribs visible arching over the three young huddling dinosaurs. The sound of wind rushing past the abdominal opening pervades the audio track.]

    Charlene: D- do you think we’ll really be safe in here?

    Robbie: (nods) Don’t be such a wuss, sis. Of course, we’re safe.

    [Unintelligible whispers punctuate the wail of wind, making the three shudder even more. Barely detectable lights appear and disappear in the distance.]

    Charlene: (elbows Robbie, whispers) Robbie? I … I don’t think we’re alone anymore.

    Baby: (shudders) D- do you think they eat … babies?

    Charlene: (cocking an eyebrow, dryly) You’re a toddler, not a baby. “Baby” is just your name, you know. Stop being so emotionally manipulative.

    Baby: (glaring at Charlene) It’s worked so far!

    [Footsteps crunching through the snow can be heard. The siblings look in multiple directions, as though they are surrounded.]

    Robbie: (whispers, trying to sound confident) It sounds like there’s about ten of them. I think we’re all going to die.

    Charlene: (sighs, sarcastic) Way to be the alpha male, Rob.

    Robbie: (glances irritatingly at Charlene) I don’t see you going out there, guns blazing, you know.

    [Sir David Tushingham and Jerome Christian are flinging camping supplies at each other.]

    Christian: You 1-900 hack! (ducks as a can of beans flies just over his head)

    Tushingham: (dodges a notebook) You are so incredibly ungrateful! I didn’t have to (gets hit by a microphone) hire you, you know!

    Christian: (points angrily at television) I didn’t need your correspondence course to appreciate the scientific method, David! I’ve been in archaeology since before you waddled out of your crib!

    Tushingham: (scoffing) Ha! Some scientist! You talk so much about magical rodents … you should wheel yourself into a center for the senile!

    Christian: Oh yeah?

    Tushingham: Yeah!

    [An angular head at the end of a thick neck peers into the carcass opening. Just as the silhouetted head is about to turn toward Robbie and Charlene, who cower deeper within the cavity, the head rears back, bellowing in pain, smacking the ceiling of the beast.]

    Unseen deep male voice: Wait, wait, kid! We’re on your side!

    [The head jerks back out of the opening. Moments later, Baby is flung into the back “wall” of the carcass.]

    Baby: (shakes head, eyes lighting up in joy) Again!

    [A lit cigarette lighter, held by a blue-purple hand clad in a black leather jacket, appears through the opening. The owner of the angular head reappears as well.]

    Robbie and Charlene: Spike!
  16. RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Chapter 26
    (60,000,000BC)

    The Sinclair siblings, as well as the Scavengers and the Howlin’ J band, slept huddled inside the large chest of the swamp monster, a creature which in life had been well over sixty-feet high. Days and nights were difficult to differentiate, thanks to cloud cover that was miles thick. The only real difference seemed to be one could at least discern objects in the “daytime”. The winds had died down as well, another sign day had arrived. Last night had been the first night the Scavengers and the Howlin’ J band had felt somewhat comfortable, as they had been traveling some time after the Tavern fell into the swamp from the weight of the ash and snow. Although most of the swamp monster had been consumed by various carnivores and scavengers, the chest and abdominal cavities were still thick enough to provide decent shelter from the freezing gales of night.

    Screaming and cursing awoke everyone from their slumber. Spike was just outside the opening, kicking away the snow, hurling insults at a rate of ten or so per minute. As he cleared a ten-foot area, he started digging around in the dirt frantically with both hands.

    Robbie stuck his head out of the carcass, rubbing his eyes. “What happened?” Spike didn’t answer. Now, everyone was peering out, staring intently as Spike swore with increasing fervor and tenacity.

    Baby Sinclair watched with wide eyes. He chirped, “Can I help?” The saurian child left the protection of the cave and began to dig as well.

    Spike used his tail to fling Baby out of his way. “Leave me alone, squirt,” he hissed.

    Spike felt two hands grab the back of his jacket. “Hey!” Robbie yelled from behind. “You don’t touch my baby brother!”

    Spike whipped around and grabbed Robbie by the neck, his arm trembling slightly. “What did I tell you about touchin’ my jacket, Scooter?”

    Robbie tried to gulp. Not even when Robbie had been under the influence of thornoids did Spike threaten him so vividly. Still, he could feel something … off … about Spike. His friend was … nervous. Maybe, Spike was even afraid. At any rate, Spike was out of control. Robbie glared at his friend, trying to sound more in control than he felt. “We can’t help you find it if you kill us all,” he growled, guessing that Spike had lost some item of importance.

    Spike loosened his grip, but maintained his hold. He was the Scourge of the Swamp. Even though this was his best friend, he still had a reputation to keep. If he just let go, it could destroy years of fear and respect built into his image. He was impressed, though. He could feel Rob’s increased pulse through the skin of the over-achiever’s neck. Yet, Scooter stared him down … er … up (though Rob was only about two inches shorter). Scooter had seen the way Spike had defeated the Scavengers to become leader of the pack and he also knew Spike could take him even when pumped up on muscle-building thornoids. Rob knew for a fact that Spike deserved his position on the food chain. Yet, here he was … standing up to someone he could never take down, even if his life depended on it. Spike continued to stare at his friend, avoiding looking at the rest of the gang. Their opinions didn’t matter much, anyway. It took Spike several minutes to reply. His voice was low and even. “They took it, Scooter,” he growled, letting go of Robbie’s throat, sighing. He whispered with a barely perceptible tinge of begging, “My muddah’s weddin’ ring. Thievin’ little appetizers stole it.”

    Robbie cleared his throat, backing away a step. He glanced at Spike in confusion and surprise, the flexible spines on his head spreading out a bit along the midline of his scaly scalp. “That’s what you keep in your pocket?” He could feel the others staring at them from behind. He coughed, trying to sound tougher than he felt. “Look, Spike … just tell us what they look like … and we’ll mash ‘em into the dirt.” He paused, a triumphant and knowing grin flashing across his face. “No one steals from the Scavengers and gets away with it!” The Scavengers cheered behind him.

    Spike flashed a brief smirk. “All right, everyone … listen!” he shouted. “We’re lookin’ for some little brown t’ings wit’ big eyes and fat bellies. Can’t be more than a hand high. I want ‘em caught and searched. You see anyt’ing they weren’t born with … you take it, capiche?” He paused, grinning. “An’ if you think you need a snack before we move out,” he noted, continuing with a sudden dark tone, “eat ‘em.”

    The whole group started to search high and low for the tiny mammalian thieves. However, aside from from some tiny footprints here and there, they could find little evidence.

    Crazy Lou spoke up, visibly frustrated, his hands grabbing his hips roughly. “I think they’re tunneling underneath the snow to avoid detection,” he announced to no one in particular.

    Scabby’s face brightened. “Hey, guys! I got a great idea!” He quickly motioned for everyone to come near. When they all formed a tightly packed group around him, he continued excitedly, “If they’re under the snow, we could jump up and down and stomp ‘em ‘til they’re flat! That way, all we gotta do is pick up little flat pieces of meat!” Everyone cheered and began to jump up and down vigorously … for about five jumps, until the ground caved underneath them. They all screamed as they fell deep into the earth below among dead branches and glass and ash and snow.

    Everyone gasped after a few minutes as they tried to recover from getting the wind knocked out of them. Spike was on top of the squirming heap of dinosaurs and blue mammals. He got up, groaning and rubbing his backside. He stepped back to allow the others to get up.

    “Unh … again?” Baby muttered weakly, his arms bruised from being close to the bottom of the heap. Charlene, grunting, picked him up and asked him if he was okay. He could barely nod. He rubbed the back of his head with his chubby little arms.

    Robbie snapped his fingers and checked his tote bag. He dug out his video camera that his parents had given him last Refrigerator Day. It had some dents in its casing and a chip in the lens. Otherwise, it appeared to be okay. He placed it back inside and zipped the bag shut.

    They glanced all around. The cave was plastered in pale, tan stucco, with a few geometric frescos along the walls near the floor. A couple of strange potted plants stood near a small arch about four feet high. Still, they were all able to stand comfortably. They glanced up to see a shattered skylight.

    “Hey! What does it take to get some peace and quiet around here, huh?” barked a gruff elderly male voice. The group turned toward the small arch, in which stood a hunched over reptilian with brown scales, droopy pointed ears, a gnarled tail, bumpy large jowls that hung a couple of inches beneath his small lower jaw, and the top of his head filled with a multitude of squared off peg-like bony structures. Charlene thought they looked like a massage brush.

    Baby gasped. “Hey! You’re the monster under the bed!” He paused, switching to a more casual voice. “How ya doin’?”

    The “monster” adjusted his dark magenta robe, shaking his head. “You dinosaurs are somethin’ else, you know that? I finally get my new sun room remodeled … and you go and destroy it!” He sighed, pointing at the broken skylight. “It’s bad enough you freaks brought about eternal winter! Now you’re gonna let all that snow in? You think it’s easy to vacuum in here?”

    Charlene, carrying Baby with one arm, pointed at the monster with the other. “What are you doing here? Don’t you live near our house?”

    The monster shook his head and shrugged. “I had to leave a couple of months ago. The whole area was getting infested with some type of weird worm. You think I’m grumpy … this thing was huge … with red and gold scales, pale spines around its head, and a sharp poisonous barb on its tail. All the subterranean creatures are talking about it. It’s a massive swarm, burrowing until they come to a natural cave and setting up housekeeping … eating anyone who comes within sight of their nest!”

    Lingo glanced at Spike. “So, Brother Spike … we G Down just to book for some crawlies?”

    Everyone gawked at Lingo in silence.

    Crazy Lou cleared his throat, nodding. “What my esteemed colleague is asking is if we got all dressed up only to be sent running away like screaming little girls by nothing but worms.”

    “Oh,” everyone said at once, nodding.

    “Well,” offered the monster, “it seems to prefer the east side of the Great Swamp. You guys are just to the west of it, on the side taken by the four-leggers.”

    Spike closed in on the monster and, picking him up, started to shake him. “You see a bunch of little brown t’ings come t’rough here with shiny items dat don’t belong to ‘em?” he hissed angrily.

    Robbie panicked. “Uh, Spike? Don’t go roughing up that guy … he’s stronger than he looks!” A few months ago, all the Sinclair siblings had been captured and nearly eaten by this creature. Robbie had learned to respect beings with low centers of gravity ever since.

    Spike scoffed. “I ain’t afraid of a movin’ footstool, Scooter.” He pinned the creature to the wall. “I want my things back!”

    The monster nodded, trembling. He was one of the strongest subterranean creatures (that he knew of), but one look into this bluish-purple dinosaur’s eyes told him that he was definitely outclassed this time. “Those little brown mammals with the big eyes and the obsession with theft? Yeah, I’ve seen ‘em. Little monsters took my adult magazines for nest material a while back.” He grunted as Spike dropped him. He patted down his robe and stared at his intruders. “I’ll be happy to point you in their direction. However, not all the tunnels that lead to them can fit you hulking pieces of scaly meat.” He nodded toward the Howlin’ J band. “Your mammal companions might have to do the majority of the leg work.” He jabbed at Spike’s knee with a sharp-clawed finger. “You see ‘em … you get me back my magazines, deal?” He grumbled. “The cable out here is spotty at best. I don’t even think the four-leggers have even heard of premium channels!” He pointed to a large arch on the other side of the sun room. “You can go through there. Go straight ahead, turning to the right at every three intersections, beginning with the second one you come to. You should catch up to them in about a day or so. It’s a lot warmer in these tunnels, so you won’t need all those silly clothes.” He grinned, staring at Charlene’s tail. “Feel free to remove the extra layers here, if ya want.”

    Charlene glared at him, baring her teeth. “No thanks.”

    Howlin’ J put up one finger as they all prepared to leave. “Just one question,” he asked calmly. “If you know where they are, why don’t you get your magazines yourself?”

    The monster shuddered, rubbing his ears. “I can’t stand the noise … all that incessant ringing,” he griped sourly, his eyes shut as if to avoid picturing something bad in his mind.

    Crazy Lou clasped his hands together excitedly, his voice absolutely giddy. “This is fantastic! It’s like an RPG quest … and we’re the heroes!”

    Spike sighed, coming over to his small companion and slapping him upside his head. “Grow up, Lou.”
  17. RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Chapter 27
    (60,000,000BC)

    Sonny, the youngest member of Howlin’ J’s mammal band, walked alongside Baby, who had decided to crawl along the tunnel floor because Charlene kept sighing, irritatingly moving him from one hip to the other almost every five minutes. Baby had not had much experience with walking: his mother, Fran Sinclair, had almost always carried him or rolled him around in a stroller. It had been for his own protection, she had said. Now, though there were other dinosaurs smaller than him who could walk, he could not.

    He was only able to keep up because the tunnels were getting smaller, forcing the group to slow down and gradually travel in single file. Soon, only Baby and the band would be able to fit comfortably.

    About ten hours after they had left the monster’s abode, walking in near-darkness and getting scuffed up from the jutting rocks, it was finally time to split up. They could hear the faint pitter-patter of hundreds of feet, as well as unintelligible chittering.

    Robbie knelt down and handed Mudbelly his video camera.

    Mudbelly looked at the camera, then back at Robbie. “Uh … you want me to tape this?” he asked in a deep, quizzical voice.

    Robbie nodded. “I want to have a record of our trip … for posterity.”

    Mudbelly shook his head. “Uh, Rob, you do know you don’t have schoolwork anymore, right? I mean, ain’t no Lizard ever gonna see this.”

    Robbie stared at him with a blank expression. “Humor me?” he asked in a pleading tone.

    Baby sat down and waved his arms in front of the camera, even though it wasn’t turned on. He announced cheerfully, “Keep it rollin’! Give me my close up! This pan’s pretty good! I’m a star!”

    Mudbelly shrugged and sighed. He shook his head as he turned toward the tunnel leading to the sounds. “Lotta good this is gonna do in the dark. Ain’t even got night vision,” he muttered to himself.

    Baby followed the band in, ignoring Charlene’s repeated pleas and attempts to catch him by the tail. Some yards down the tunnel, Baby groaned and started to sing an , accompanied by Sonny’s harmonica:

    Charlene cannot stop griping!
    She just won’t go away,
    I guess I’ll keep on swiping
    Her secret stash of fish fillets.
    I just can’t win with,
    With Charlene, and Robbie too –
    I’m just the baby,
    The baby, who gets to sing some blues….

    Sonny nodded and continued with a verse of his own:

    My Momma always told me,
    “Hey, Sonny, hit the dirt!
    Lizard’s got you cornered,
    You need to stay on the alert!”
    But then our band got famous,
    Got famous, in all the land –
    Oh yeah!
    Now we sing this song –

    Howlin’ J reached around and clamped his son’s snout shut and finished the verse curtly:

    Hey, shut up! This song got out of hand!

    Sonny pushed his father’s hand away as Baby and Mudbelly snickered in amusement. “Aw, Pops … we ain’t been singing for a couple weeks now! Don’t you just … get in the mood?”

    “Not down here, I don’t!” Howlin’ J snapped angrily. “This is not the time nor the place to lay down some tunes! We gotta keep quiet and sneak up on Spike’s thieves! Now close that trap before I close it for ya!”

    “Aw, smoo,” Sonny grumbled. His head jerked back from the force of his father’s mighty slap. Sonny rubbed his cheek bitterly.

    “I didn’t raise you to spout off that language, boy,” his father barked. “Now, hush up!”

    Baby and the band silently continued down the winding tunnel, realizing they were hearing a strange ringing noise, growing louder every few feet. They slowed down, noting that the tunnel was filled with a peculiar white glow that throbbed with each ring. Just ahead, several tiny brown mammals with bare fat bellies, large yellow eyes, and a shaggy coat of brown fur on their backs, dashed in and out of a four-foot-tall hole. Only after watching intently for several moments did they realize that the creatures were appearing in between rings. As soon as the unseen object rang, the tiny creatures would dash back into the hole.

    “Cookie creatures!” Baby squealed, pointing at the small mammals. Baby remembered them from that time the grown-ups went to “war” over pistachios. Baby had discovered one living in a small hole in the kitchen wall. After several attempts to destroy it, Baby finally discovered that it had merely been feeding the cookies to its young, and so Baby gave the creature his blessing.

    The tiny brown creatures gasped, snapping their heads toward the intruders. They squeaked in alarm and ran into small crevices on the other side of the tunnel. Baby and the band soon heard another toll, followed by a scattering sound of tiny hard feet. About twenty foot-long red and gold centipede-like creatures with bulbous barbs on their tails skittered out of the hole, flicking their tails up and down, making a wheezing sound followed by a clang against the rocky ground.

    “Whee-bang! Whee-bang!” went the little arthropods.

    Mudbelly cocked an eyebrow as he aimed Robbie’s camera at the creatures. “That’s it?” he wondered aloud, unimpressed. “I’ve eaten beetles bigger than that.”

    Howlin’ J shrugged. “Well, I’m game. Let’s wrap this up … I ain’t eaten in five days.”

    As the centipede-like creatures rushed towards them, the band members each took about five and chomped on them noisily, spraying yellow juice everywhere, making Baby cringe and gag. After they had finished eating, they walked over to the hole, hoping to find Spike’s ring. Baby followed the band into the hole, which led to a large cave, in the middle of which was a large bowl-like object. A golf ball-sized object dropped from the cave ceiling, ringing the rim of the bowl, cracking it and hatching a foot-long centipede-like creature. It squirmed on the cave floor … before being greedily consumed by Sonny, who smacked his lips audibly in deep satisfaction, rubbing his stomach dreamily.

    Mudbelly arched his back, staring at the cave ceiling, his jaw agape. The others followed his gaze and spotted a large tail with a scorpion-like barb at the end sticking out of a crack in a large rock held in place with a tangled web of vines. Another round object appeared just below the barb, dropping what was now obviously an egg. Baby caught it before it hit the bowl and swallowed it whole.

    “Yum!” he noted happily. “Eggs better than yucky worms with feet!”

    Mudbelly was still spell-bound. “Uh … considering the size of that tail ….”

    “I bet that ‘whee-ba’ thingy is like fifty-feet long!” Sonny squealed, his eyes nearly popping out of his head. “That’s the most amazing bug I’ve ever seen!”

    Howlin’ J grunted. “Yeah … and take a look at those vines.” He pointed the others in the right direction, a few feet from the barb. A glint of gold could be seen among the vines. “I’m willin’ to bet the fleas on my back that that’s the ring Spike wanted us to find!”

    “I’ll get it!” Baby shouted eagerly, crawling up onto the rim of the bowl, twitching his tail for balance.

    “No!” squeaked a tiny voice from behind.

    They looked around and noticed a small brown creature standing in front of a small crack in the wall of the cave, waving its arms wildly. “Ring stay!” it continued. “Cave crash!”

    “That would be inconvenient,” Mudbelly deadpanned.

    “Make tunnels,” the creature noted. “Make light.” It pointed at the vines. “Tie break. Bring ring. Vines stay.”

    Howlin’ J stepped up to the creature and spoke condescendingly. “Ring stolen. Lizard ticked. Poor worm.”

    “Got it!” Baby cheerfully announced, hopping down from the metallic bowl. Small stones started to fall into the bowl, making it ring incessantly, causing some unseen force to make a strobe-light effect with each clang.

    The humongous centipede-like creature roared now that it was able to move, thrashing its body, causing ever-increasing boulders to crash from the cave ceiling.

    “Rock and roll!” Baby laughed, tugging on the band members as he started to crawl quickly out of the hole back into the tunnel.

    The group scrambled out into the tunnels as fast as they could, tiny squeals and shrieks punctuating the sounds of large boulders crashing and the tremendous ringing of the metallic bowl. They started to pant as the cave-in began, moving as fast as their little limbs would take them. No matter how fast they ran, the roar of falling boulders closed in on them from behind. Baby’s knees were starting to bleed from the frantic crawling. Out of desperation, Baby reared up, bracing one hand against the tunnel walls, and quickly mastered running. Now that Baby was no longer the slowest part of the group, they could all dash away much faster, finally reaching the cave with the Scavengers and the Sinclair siblings, just as a rush of smoke plumed out of the tunnel behind them.
  18. RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Chapter 28
    (Summer, 2011AD)

    Sir David Tushingham sulked, hunched over on the ground out of sight of the campsite. The sun had started to go down, the warm red glow giving the forest a surreal quality. Specks of dust caught the glints of light, swirling haphazardly in the air. A light tap on the shoulder jarred him out of his moroseness.

    “David?” asked a low-key elderly male voice.

    Sir Tushingham sighed. “Jerome, I don’t know if you know this – but I haven’t succeeded as well in paleontology as I would have liked. I didn’t even get to consult for those dinosaur movies everyone saw awhile back.” He paused. A cool breeze rippled through his shirt. “I mean, how scholarly is it to say, ‘Hey, Mr. Director, slap some scales on its tail and make it eat something’?”

    “David –.”

    The younger man shook his head. “I’m fast approaching seventy-four years of age. What have I done with my life?” His voice started to waiver. “I left my homeland to live in the States, to satisfy my natural curiosity about global history, to become rich and famous, to retire gracefully with a pleasant woman answering my every beck and call --.”

    Jerome sat down, grunting as he did so, by his co-worker’s side. He silently placed an arm around his friend’s shoulder. He smiled, as though he were going to make a joke, but he thought better of it and stared off into space. He sighed. “I didn’t want to be tied down. When I was a boy, I left my family and struck out on my own: shining shoes, selling papers, selling re-furbished junk … my dream was to be the first in my family to have a college education.”

    David nodded. “Archeology and paleontology are basically metaphors for our lives: our dreams of discovering something almost magical were nearly crushed under the weight of dusting off gravel with toothbrushes for days on end with little pay. It seemed that no matter how hard we tried, no matter how many hours we toiled, we just barely scraped by.”

    <><><><><><>
    (60,000,000BC)

    Charlene, with her emerald skin with blue stripes on her head frill, sat on the large sofa in the Monster-Under-the-Bed’s underground sunroom, a shaft of pale light illuminating her from the broken skylight as she wore a thin pink and blue blouse. She stared at her brother’s video camera and sighed. She spoke to the lens, her voice young but sullen. “Mom gave me her favorite sweater,” she began, twirling the edge of her blouse in her fingers. She told me I’d be able to fit into it in a few years, as I got taller.” She paused. “She said it was our job to protect our baby brother.” Charlene sighed with disgust, shaking her head. “I don’t know what Rob wants me to say. ‘It’s a format concept’, he said. I don’t know why he’s got this sudden obsession with filmmaking. Boys.” She stood up, turned off the camera as it stood on a small tripod, and left for the monster’s kitchen.

    A few minutes later, Lingo clicked on the camera and plopped down on the sofa, one leg hanging on the back, his tail slowly twitching at the end. He took off his small sunglasses and sighed. “Finding an identity was always rather difficult for me,” he noted dreamily with a tinge of sadness. “Until Andre found me, I was just a random student in school, getting average grades, lusting after females while getting ignored by them. He told me I had been learning the wrong things in school. He said, ‘Luke, you gotta pay attention to the important things in life, like the food chain. Scavengers are always treated like the back end of a brontosaurus, but they have the freedom to eat whenever and whatever they want. If all the world went down in flames, the scavengers of the world would have the last laugh.’ I didn’t realize until quite recently how astute my former leader really was, in his own monosyllabic way. He inspired me in a fashion I had never considered before. I made it my dream to study up on how to be the best banger in the world. I learned all the sacred vocabulary. I discovered the harmony of leather and metal.” He sat up, staring at the floor. “I guess what I’m tryin’ to say is, whoever finds this last hurrah of the dinosaurs should realize that, no matter how popular you are or how rich you are … it’s the lowest of the low who’ll have your flesh in their teeth the next morning.”

    <><><><><><>
    (Summer, 2011AD)

    The two elderly men sat staring at the trees as the sun lowered in the sky behind them. Jerome heard a wolf call to its pack. His lip started to tremble. He lowered his gaze. “Have … have you ever had a dog, David?” he asked wistfully.

    David shrugged. “To be rather honest, I was more of the lizard fanatic in my youth. They could always be found in the strangest of places.”

    Jerome chuckled briefly, a small grin flashing across his face as he remembered something in the deep past. “Well, so can dogs, you know.” He glanced up at the sky. “Mine discovered much more than I ever did about this world. It was so strange, to have a dog that was more in tune with the true nature of the universe than someone who had been studying it for decades.”

    <><><><><><>
    (60,000,000BC)

    Sonny teetered on Baby’s shoulders as he tried to ensure the camera had power. “Steady,” Sonny cautioned the two-foot-tall pink saurian toddler.

    Baby spat out some light blue fur from Sonny’s foot, matted from walking in the dirt. “Get a move on!” he barked sharply in his high-pitched voice as he held onto the tripod to steady himself in a standing position.

    “All right, all right!” Sonny shouted, frustrated. They ran over to the sofa and hopped on, sitting side by side, with Sonny only slightly smaller than Baby when they were both sitting down. Sonny adjusted his ragged white T-shirt, while Baby stared at him in his yellow short-sleeved shirt and large white pull-up diaper. Sonny spoke up first. “Okay, uh, my name’s Sonny, and I’m in a swamp band, known all over Pangaea for being the hottest mammal singer around.”

    “Stop shilling!” Baby barked. “We’re making a documentary … not a commercial!”

    Sonny tossed his head back and rolled his eyes. “Well, excuuuuse me for tryin’ to spread the word! What was gonna be your fascinating and profound message for the future generations?”

    Baby stared at the lens. “I’m the baby … gotta love me!” he announced cheerfully.

    Sonny sighed and turned away from his friend. “Yeah … that brought tears to my eyes.”

    Baby grunted his disapproval. “‘The hottest mammal singer around?’”

    Sonny crossed his arms, refusing to look back. “I am,” he retorted confidently, almost smugly.

    Baby shook his head briefly and held his small snout. “You stink!”

    Sonny whipped his head around and snarled. “You’re bald!”

    “Your fur is matted!”

    “Your diaper needs changing!”

    “Ain’t got no Momma,” Baby shouted, then paused, his head drooping, his voice quieting, “no more.” He sniffled, rubbing his eyes.

    Sonny sighed and patted Baby on the back. His voice was more subdued. “I know, kid. I know.”

    “Not even Not the Momma,” Baby continued sadly, blowing his nose on his yellow shirt.

    “I’m sure you’ll see them again some day,” Sonny offered after a few moments.

    Baby glared at his mammalian friend. “Don’t patronize me!”

    <><><><><><>
    (Summer, 2011AD)

    Jerome glanced over at his friend warmly as the sun finally started to disappear. “I’ll help you, David. A man needs to feel he accomplished something, something that can’t be taken away like our friends and our families. It’s in our DNA. We need to leave our footprint in the sand just to feel solid.”

    David nodded and half-smiled. “Thank you, Jerome,” he replied, his voice cheering up slowly. “Let’s promise not to let our ambitions and our preconceptions color our discovery. Let’s just focus on finding out the truth.”

    <><><><><><>
    (60,000,000BC)

    “Trust me … you’ll feel better,” Robbie told Spike, who stood to the side of the sofa. Spike didn’t like sitting down on soft cushions, since his back spikes got snarled in them so easily.

    Spike shook his head. “I told ya ‘no’, Scooter.” He turned and left the room.

    Robbie came out from behind the camera and sat down, shaking his head and shrugging. He clasped his hand together as he wore his typical black and white T-shirt with the red Rampaging Trilobite varsity jacket. He stared at the floor, his head spines drooping. “Dad and I never seemed to get along. He was so bent on stifling everything I could come up with. It didn’t matter what my dreams were. I mean, I can see chastising me for wanting to be a Teen Ninja Caveman when I was ten, but saving the environment?” He paused for several minutes, gulping visibly. “But then when Aunt Pearl showed up, I realized what got my old man’s plaid shirt in a wad. She had left her family to pursue dreams of glory, leaving Dad behind to take care of his mother. She ended up becoming a breakthrough artist, inventing a genre called ‘country’. She single-handedly transformed the music industry. He couldn’t stand the idea of his children following in her footsteps. For him, making children ensured they’d owe you the rest of their lives.”

    He shuffled his feet on the floor, running one hand absent-mindedly across his scalp. “When Mom and Dad told us we had to leave forever, Dad took me to the garage. He,” he choked, “told me … that he realized our troubles were just beginning. He said he had worked hard to make ends meet, and naturally assumed that we had been spoiled by civilization, having no cares in the world and no sense of duty and responsibility.” He sighed. “Then, he told me that maybe the way we were would help us make a new society. Maybe, we’d make one better than the one that ended so badly. He told me he was proud of my grades and my sense of responsibility. He told me … he … told me,” he continued, his eyes watering, “that I was going to be everything he could have been had things been different.” He glanced up at the camera, unblinking. “Dad, if you and Mom survive this at all and find this camera … I just want you to know ….”

    The red light went off. The battery was dead.
  19. RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Chapter 29
    (60,000,000BC)

    The refugees had spent nearly a week in the underground lair of the Monster-Under-the-Bed, welcoming the relief from the frigid air. The Scavengers and the Sinclair siblings had been busy helping themselves to various subterranean mammals who might supply them for a good week or so in terms of food and protection from the bitter gales at night, while the Howlin’ J band helped themselves to the large insect population. According to the Monster, they were just northwest of the Great Swamp, while Charlene told the group that the western coast of Pangaea was about two weeks from that position, a fact she knew from her march in search of a distant flower that would have helped change her pheromone scent.

    However, Spike had wanted to get a move on. He didn’t like the rock and dirt walls closing in on him. In fact, it had made him irritable the whole stay. Then, of course, Scooter had come up with this “confessional” thing he wanted to do on his video camera, where everyone sat in front of a lens and poured out their innermost thoughts.

    One day, Spike told himself, he’d let Scooter in on everything. One day. For now, though, he wanted to scout out the surface terrain, made much more relaxing due to the fact that it was just a flat wasteland covered in snow and ash. He headed opposite of the tiny pale sun barely visible in the clouds, chewing on a meatless bone he had yanked out of the leg of some poor amphibian who couldn’t hop nearly as well as he could scream.

    After walking a few hours that morning, he spotted a set of tire tracks. Following them, he came across a large vehicle, its tires half visible over the snowdrift. He could hear a screeching scream from a female voice. Several large and small dinosaurs were pouring out of the back of the vehicle, running toward the front where he could only hear the sounds of a scuffle.

    <><><><><><>

    “Get your stinking hands off me!” a female dinosaur shrieked angrily, shoving away her attackers. She was brown-scaled, about five-five, had a rounded turtle-like snout with a scalp that looked as though it had been cut into inch squares, and swung a thick tail accented with a line of small rounded bony protuberances down the midline, bashing a small stegosaurid against the grill of the vehicle.

    Many dinosaurs in Pangaea were only about two or three feet tall. Right now the female was surrounded by a horde of them, from stegosaurids to parasaurolophi to velociraptors. Okay, maybe “horde” was a strong word … let’s say, “ten”. Two velociraptors leapt up and landed on the girl’s torso, which was clothed in a thick wool blue sweater and fur parka. She grabbed them and slammed them together in front of her chest, knocking them senseless.

    Several larger dinosaurs, ranging from five to seven feet tall, stood in a large circle surrounding the group, cheering on the little dinosaurs, taunting them for having trouble against a female. Many of them were variants of the species represented by Lou, Scabby, and Lingo. They all wore light blue work shirts with “Wesayso” emblazoned in a red and white oval on their backs.

    The larger dinosaurs’ tails started to twitch and their jaws salivated as she winnowed down her smaller attackers to about three individuals, who were faster on their feet than the rest. The others who weren’t dead groaned in discomfort, trying to move but finding they couldn’t. Their eyes were tightly shut.

    Finally, the young female grabbed at the tail and the neck of the last of her small opponents and pulled hard, popping its spine. She tossed it to the ground and snorted in victory. Glaring at the larger ones as they closed in ominously, she smirked. She had stopped trembling due to the sheer tsunami of adrenaline that washed over her. “If you want more where that came from, come and get me.” Though she was starting to get tired, she had never felt so alive.

    On the other hand, she was completely surrounded by five similarly-sized Wesayso grunts, who realized she was up against the grill of the vehicle without a good exit strategy. No matter what direction she fled … she’d be caught within seconds.

    So, the female did the only sensible thing: she jumped up onto the hood and dashed over the vehicle’s roof. As she jumped off the back end, she spotted Spike, who had just recently shown up, looking a bit surprised (if amused).

    <><><><><><>

    Howard Handupme: Ahem. This is DNN senior correspondent Howard Handupme. As you might recall, several warnings were put in place before this weekly drama started, warning you that children under the age of thirteen may find some references ill-suited to proper members of society. Tonight, we will not stray far from that at all. In fact, an epic battle filled with breaking bones and jets of blood will ensue, all for a shameless grab for ratings.

    Should you find yourself the least bit disturbed at the awful carnage you are about to witness, please give us a call at 555-463-5000. Operators are standing by. Of course, we would not give you the REAL DNN phone number, but we will give you the phone number for Earl Sinclair … who probably needs a few prank calls anyway, considering he participated in global genocide.

    This just in: Should you find it necessary to call and complain … remember that only dinosaurs with no actual lives to speak of would do so. Everyone else is busy trying to afford fuel and food and clothes. Also, if you actually call a number starting with “555” … you are probably Earl Sinclair.

    We return you to your regularly-scheduled program, which may or not be already in progress.

    <><><><><><>

    “I don’t believe it!” Robbie shrieked. His jaw was agape, his eyes bulging, and his arms dead at his sides. He stared at the upturned vehicle, which sandwiched the lower half of a very large dinosaur with gray thick scales, dark gray pants held with suspenders, and a beaten up thick tail. Robbie was wearing his ski jacket, accentuated with some brown and gray fur pelts for extra warmth.

    “Is that … who I think it is?” Charlene quivered, clutching Baby tightly in her arms. Both wore fur parkas and brightly colored mittens.

    The female from before nodded, a stunned look in her eyes. She could barely move the rest of her body, but, somehow, her jaw managed to open to speak. “It’s Daddy.” She gasped. “Spike killed him.”

    Everyone, including the dumb-struck members of the Scavengers and the Howlin’ J band, stared at Spike, who sat in the snow clutching at his right upper arm, wincing. His bandana was nearly torn off completely, his Scavengers jacket in shreds marked with long blood stains, large red handprints overlying the pattern on his tank top, and two of his tail spikes completely sheared off with another one cracked. His breathing was slow and deep through his nose. No one … no one … had ever seen Spike that messed up after a fight.

    The female suddenly twirled around and roared at Spike, tears streaming from her eyes, “You killed him! You honest-to-Potato killed him!” She shook her head. “I didn’t need your help, Spike!” she continued. “I can take care of myself!” When he didn’t respond, she moved forward like she was going to bite him. The other Scavengers lunged forward to protect their leader.

    Robbie grabbed her by one arm forcefully. “Wendy,” he commanded, “lay off! Spike risked his tail to save you.”

    She turned and pushed her former classmate into the snow with enough force for him to “thud” against the ground underneath. By now she was crying without hesitation, her whole body shaking uncontrollably. “You two are just alike!” She pointed at her father’s corpse. “You whine about how mean and nasty my father was … but you both are as uncivilized as they come! No one rescues me!”

    Robbie growled and shot back up. “You honestly think Mr. Richfield wouldn’t eat you too? He’s not exactly Herbivore of the Year, you know!”

    Wendy growled through her sobs. “And you two are so known for your chivalrous reputations, right?”

    “I coulda left ya,” Spike grunted as the others helped him stand up. He waited a few moments until the pain became bearable and continued, “to get eaten by that psycho maniac.”

    Don’t you dare call him that!” Wendy screamed.

    “Wendy, your dad ate all your boyfriends except Robbie!” Charlene retorted, trying to get her to see reason. “This wasn’t some macho male challenge thing! Your father was going to eat you!”

    You don’t know that!”

    Spike cleared his throat. “And what do you call what he said to me? ‘After I gut you I’m goin’ after that rebellious little tramp of mine! This is the last time she walks out on me!’ Huh? What do you call that … Child Appreciation Day?” he hissed. He didn’t wait for an answer. He glanced over at Scabby. “Get that SUV right side up, boys. I think we just found a way to get to the West Coast a heckuva lot faster.”
  20. RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Chapter 30
    (60,000,000BC)

    They were due to find Sinclair City at any time, having traveled in B. P. Richfield’s stretch SUV for forty-eight hours straight. At least it had a working heater, CD player (though the Howlin’ J band shuddered at what passed for Lizard music these days), television set with VCR, and mini-fridge. Bare necessities, really, for a long road trip. Robbie drove numbly, his eyes never straying. What was there to avoid except the odd large carcass or broken house? However, they thought, deep in the distance, they could see a tree line near the horizon. He headed for that.

    While the band played their own tunes, Charlene cautiously stepped over behind Robbie’s seat and tapped him on his shoulder, her eyebrows upturned in a show of concern. Her voice was quiet and almost motherly. “Rob? You haven’t spoken for hours. You want to talk?”

    Rob shook his head slightly without answering verbally.

    Charlene patted him on the shoulder and shrugged. “We’re here, you know,” she replied softly. “One great big happy family.” She noticed her big brother bite his lower lip, gritting his teeth, his brows furrowing. He still didn’t respond, so she sat back down on a blue-tinged leather chair. All her life, she had focused on typical female things: fashion, status, and the like. Over the last year or so, however, she had come to realize that she could affect change in her own life. She could be just as smart as Robbie … or her mother. There were three things in life she was most proud of: proving the world was round like an orange, getting hired as her father’s supervisor, and going cross-country on her own to discover her own scent. Had Ms. Monica DeVertebrae never met the Sinclairs, she didn’t know if she’d ever have tried to challenge herself as a female. Her own mother had wanted to improve herself, but only Monica had been consistent in her worldview. It was something Charlene greatly admired.

    It was also the one thing she regretted: not telling her so before she left after the plants died.

    Rob kept driving. Driving was comfortable … almost hypnotic, a welcome respite from the massive amount of stimuli in the back. The sounds of Baby griping at Sonny over participating in one of the songs made him relive what had happened last night in the dark cold wasteland around them….

    <><><><><><>

    There wasn’t a moon. Spike lay outside in the snow, covered with the very large leather and carbon-fiber coat worn by his defeated opponent, though Spike had had to rip out some holes down the spine for his large back spikes. He would replace his Scavenger arm patch later, when they reached this so-called paradise. It would also need some major tailoring, as he was about half Richfield’s diameter. He stared at the gale-blown clouds, barely discernible against the black void of sky. Everyone else decided to sleep in the car, which was just fine with him. He didn’t like not being able to stretch out in the SUV … and the snow helped numb his wounds. He could hear faint footsteps crunching from around the vehicle, approaching him from the right.

    “Go to bed, Scooter.”

    Robbie rubbed his hands briskly, inhaled and closed his eyes to prepare for the cold, and sat down in the snow. He glanced at his friend uncomfortably. “Spike….”

    “Sorry I hit the kid,” Spike blurted out in a low melancholic voice. “It was uncalled for.”

    Robbie’s eyes blinked and widened. He hesitated, and then he cheerfully patted his friend on the shoulder. “I think he likes the attent--.”

    Spike glared at him suddenly. “What did I tell you about --?”

    Robbie smirked. “You told me I couldn’t touch YOUR jacket.” He nodded. “That’s Mr. Richfield’s jacket. I get a free pass!” he added, chuckling.

    Spike stared at him for a few moments, smirked slightly, and turned away. “Alright, I won’t rip your spine out this time. Just don’t let it happen again,” he teased. After a few silent moments, Spike sighed and began to look at the sky again. “Do you know why she hates me?” he asked his friend out of the blue. His tone suggested less like he wanted an answer and more like he wanted to educate Robbie about it.

    “Uh,” Robbie began slowly, “you killed her father, even though he’s responsible for destroying the entire planet and eating her boyfriends and selfishly using his corporation to bilk dinosaurs out of billions?”

    Spike grinned a bit more widely. “Don’t try to make me feel better, Scooter.” He took a long pause. “She used to be one o’ us.”

    Robbie shifted his weight and gulped. “She … she used to be a Scavenger?” he asked timidly. Spike might as well have told him that Wendy had three heads and fire-breathing abilities. He cleared his throat and stared at the snow. He liked Wendy. Like him, she had grown up under an ultra-conservative household and she desperately wanted to make a new life for herself. Besides, it wasn’t like he’d ever see Caroline Foxworth again. However, Wendy had been rumored to have a bad reputation. While it turned out it was her father’s fault, this new bit of information made him slightly MORE uncomfortable.

    On the other hand, he’d once been the LEADER of the Scavengers, so, maybe it didn’t really matter after all.

    Spike shot a glance at Robbie. “Why d’you think she wore that black leather vest when you two love birds met at the pet shop?”

    “Girls are into leather?”

    Spike snickered and shook his head. “Nah, Scooter … she was one o’ Andre’s flings. Her ol’ man never found out about it. That homin’ signal t’ing he placed on her got lousy reception in the swamp. That’s why she liked takin’ boys there.” He smiled warmly. “That’s what I liked about her … that little rebellious streak. I figured Andre to be real brave or real dumb – even I wouldn’t date a Richfield.”

    “So, she’s mad at you because you thought she’d eat you?”

    Spike scoffed and bumped Robbie with his shoulder, grunting and wincing as he suddenly remembered the pain in his right arm. “Don’t make me laugh, Scooter. I didn’t know about DAT particular rumor ‘til YOU started datin’ her.” He shook his head. “Nah … she knows my rep.”

    “Scourge of the Swamp?” Robbie asked, trying to hide his amazement. Spike wasn’t the kind of dinosaur to open up to anyone. He still couldn’t figure out where his friend was going with this.

    “Connoisseur of Fine Females,” Spike corrected. “I was fully booked with slender tails and dainty claws since before you entered high school.”

    Robbie nodded. “So I recall.”

    Spike lost his nostalgic grin. He stared at the ground. “You remember how I got transferred to La Brea ‘cause I ate the principal?”

    “That DOES seem to ring a bell,” Robbie replied. He hoped that this conversation would continue in earnest. Spike was notorious in their friendship for starting a tear-jerking story and then twisting it to something juvenile and amusing … well, amusing for teenage male dinosaurs, anyway.

    There was a long, almost frustrating pause. “I ate him ‘cause he threatened to make certain … personal problems … public.” He sighed. “I had been in a great relationship with a tall athletic fem lizard with aquamarine scales with golden highlights and a jaw that could break rocks and a tail that wouldn’t quit.” He smiled briefly. “I was almost sixteen. I guess dat woulda made you about thirteen at the time. Anyways, she was the furthest I evah got to havin’ a real adult relationship, wit’ all the trappin’s.” Outside of Robbie’s view, Spike wistfully rubbed the ring in his pocket with his fingers.

    Robbie stayed dead silent. He was terrified that if he said anything more, Spike would clam up. Whatever was wrong with arguably his best friend, it was bubbling and boiling within him … and maybe he was finally letting Robbie in on this secret after getting his tail handed to him by Richfield, barely winning except by stroke of sheer luck.

    <><><><><><>

    Baby flung tape after videotape in disgust. “Hostile Takeover on the Corporation … Sarcastic Convenience Store Employees … Crouching Raptor, Hidden Swamp Monster ….” He stared at one in wide-eyed wonder, caressing it tenderly in his chubby pink hands. “Little Underwater Girl?”

    Wendy smiled. “My father played that for me all the time when I was younger.” She shot a deadly glance at Spike. As though her anger vanished instantly, she patted Baby warmly on the back. “You can go ahead and play that, if you want.” She laughed cheerfully. “I loved the song, ‘Under the Water’ … I’d sing it all the time.”

    Howlin’ J buried his head in his arms. “Please … please … no,” he whimpered. “I’m an old mammal … let me spend my last few years in peace and dignity,” he added, making everyone chuckle … except for Baby.

    “It’s a classic!” he retorted angrily, sheltering it in his arms.

    Howlin’ laughed. “Yeah … a classic waste of time!” He pointed at it like it was possessed by evil demons. “Rebellious little fish-lizard hybrid wants to leave her posh underwater crib, moanin’ about how just awful and unfair her life is ….”

    “Go ahead and put it on,” Spike told the Sinclair youngest, egging him on. “She sounds like my type o’ girl,” he added, laughing towards Wendy Richfield, who rolled her eyes in disgust. Spike gulped and turned his eyes back on the kid slightly sheepishly.

    Baby stared at Spike in amazement. “You never watched the Little Underwater Girl? Or Pretty Gallimimus Girl and the Ugly Caveman?”

    Spike grinned warmly, leaning forward. “I had ta make up my own entertainment when I was a kid, Kid,” he replied. He briefly pouted teasingly. “We didn’t have the money to buy electronics back when I was your age. And stealin’ it made less sense since we couldn’t eat the stuff.”

    Baby perked up. “It’s real good! I’ll show you!” he added, plopping in the tape.

    <><><><><><>

    Spike ground his teeth, staring off into space. “The Queens of the Pack weren’t like us, Scooter,” he continued. “They were just there as a favor ta Andre, if you get my meanin’. They could leave or stay. They weren’t bound to the Pack.”

    “So Wendy left Andre?”

    Spike grimaced. “Stop talkin’ ‘bout Wendy, Scooter. I just mentioned it to transition into my story,” he told his friend bitterly, pulling the leather coat closer to him. “Anyway, Andre found out about my girlfriend and got jealous.”

    Robbie nodded. “Because having a girlfriend threatened his authority within the Pack?”

    Spike stared at Robbie for several moments. “You gonna let me tell it, Scooter?”

    Robbie lowered his head, shrugging slightly, rubbing his hands in the cold. “Yeah. Sorry to interrupt. It was rude of me.”

    Spike leaned back against the vehicle. “I thought so. You’re excused.” He licked his lips. “Havin’ girls wasn’t the problem. We ALL had girls on da side. No,” he continued, inhaling deeply, “he was mad because … because ….”

    Robbie stared at him expectantly, nearly bouncing up and down with anticipation. “She was pregnant,” Spike finally muttered. “I was gonna be a father. For the first time in my life, I was gonna raise a kid better’n my ol’ man raised me. It was too late for me, but I could help the kid become everything he or she deserved to be.” Robbie sat silently, mulling over this information. Spike continued, without a single tear being shed or his voice wavering, “He gut her and ate the egg right outta her, in front o’ everybody, Scooter.” He turned to stare at Robbie. “Someone in the Pack told Wendy when she was wit’ Andre.” He returned his gaze to the cloudy night sky. “Andre liked destroyin’ families. He didn’t mind if we had fun, but he didn’t want us to be involved wit’ anything that could make us leave the pack.” He sighed. “I just got tired of it eventually.”

    <><><><><><>

    Robbie continued to drive (as he was the only one with a license, though it really didn’t matter what with the destruction of the government and all), obsessing over his conversation with Spike. So, their friendship began to make sense. Spike had lost his family, so Robbie and his family were like surrogates to help ease his pain. He had known Spike for a few years and had never figured it out. After all, Spike considered the Scavengers his family. He always thought Spike befriended him literally for the food at his mother’s house. Now he realized Spike felt guilty about not being able to raise his own offspring. Spike really cared about Robbie’s academic and social success because it gave him a chance to take on the paternal role he had wanted almost four years ago for his own family.

    “Hey!” Sonny yelled from the front passenger seat, jumping up and down in excitement, pointing to the windshield. “Look, everybody … a forest!”

    Just ahead, a tree line several miles wide came into sharp focus. There was ash on the leaves … but they had leaves.

    It was about time.

    They were running out of gas.

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