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So We'll Go No More A-Roving, for Fear of Furry Monsters

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by newsmanfan, Sep 12, 2011.

  1. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Thirty-Six (I)

    “Plaicezz, people! Whair ees mah caffeh!”

    “So I says to him, ‘You sure got nice teeth –‘”

    “T-try swallowing m-me tonight, you wretch! Hah! S-spiked armor!”

    “Well, that’s cool, meeting a celebrity...but did you ever hear about the time a songwriter tried to mail me to Pittsburgh?”

    Snookie wove through the crowd of monsters milling around onstage, all chatting loudly but apparently barely listening to one another. Ignoring them all, and giving the director’s flailing cane a wide berth, he arrived at the tech table and stood reasonably still to be miked and to have some makeup dabbed on his nose and under his eyes. He drew the line at the hairstylist, shoving the goblin with a greasy comb away and smoothing down his mop himself with one hand. The audience already half-filled the bleachers, and it was still fifteen minutes to air-time. He hated these live shows. Anything could go wrong... He glanced down into the performer’s corral, where behind the chain-link fence, Gonzo and his pink assistant, the muscular and angry-looking John Lamb, and the slithering horror with a thousand psuedopods all eagerly awaited their turn in the limelight. Snookie shook his head. With THESE guys, anything WILL go wrong.

    He used the back-fin of a large, shimmery scaled thing working one of the boom mics to check his appearance and straighten his tie. The last one had finally become so grimy that even Pew noticed, and Snookie had been grudgingly presented with a very bland gray-and-brown tie even duller than his last one. He wondered briefly who they’d taken it from, then banished all speculation from his mind. Better not to know. Don’t get involved. Suddenly he thought of the tough-acting Whatnot girl, and wondered what atrocity she was being forced to suffer tonight. I...could ask around, he thought, then grimaced. There’s nothing you can do, no matter what it is! Don’t even ask! But immediately his brain cycled through the list of shows which he knew either taped or went live tonight in the underground studios. I really hope it’s not that ‘I Married a Monster’ drek. Forced dating for reality TV has to be the lowest point since that Grouch show ‘Treasures to Trash’... Pew yelled again, close by, and Snookie forced himself to focus on his surroundings.

    “Host! Whair ees mah host!” Pew cried, grabbing one of the stagefrackles by his beaky nose. “Ah hah! Thair you arrr! Wait – why are you not dressed yet?”

    “That’s your assistant stage manager,” Snookie told him. “I’m over here.” He didn’t pull away in time before Pew shoved the Frackle aside, causing the unfortunate creature to reel into a chair and go down in a heap; Pew’s clutching hands found Snookie’s nose instead.

    “Ah hah! Thair you arrr!”

    “I’m dressed, I’m miked, I’m ready,” Snookie protested, trying to pry the strong fingers from his soft, large nose. “C’mon, lay off! Save the grabby routine for your concubine!”

    “Mah what?” Pew released him, startled, and Snookie quickly backed out of reach. The director chuckled. “Aw haw haw! Ah theenk mah mic-zhockay ees having a bit of zee zhealousy, no?”

    “In a pig’s eye,” Snookie scoffed. Pew’s expression briefly turned dreamy.

    “Ah yes! Zee lovelay duet-colaired peeg, she is vairy sexy, no?” Pew sighed. “Ah theenk ah will give her a bottle of branday after ze show tonight!”

    “Duet-colored...” Horrified at the realization of whom Pew meant, Snookie argued, “She’s not a pig! She’s just a girl!”

    Pew waggled a finger at a nearby stage lamp, leering. “Ha hah! She tried to tell me ze same zing, but ah know what I saw! You cannot pull ze fur ovair mah eyes!” He peered through the thick curtain of matted fur covering the top half of his face. “But first, we haff a show to put on! Caffeh! Whair in ze name of ze grate Beel Zhatner is mah caffeh!” Muttering, he wandered off, bumping into a support pole and cursing it out roundly for a full minute. Shaken, Snookie stared after him.

    He wants to date Constanza? –NO! No, I can’t let that... In despair, he realized there was nothing he could do about it, short of either trying to shove Pew down a stairwell or somehow sneaking the young Whatnot girl into a different cell block...now there was a possibility. What if he bribed one of the monsters to switch the girl with one of the actual pigs? Then again, he wasn’t sure there were any pigs left... Brooding, Snookie paced the small backstage area behind the garishly-lit arches forming the set for tonight.

    In the pit, Gonzo counted under his breath as he lined up several dozen fiendishly sharp rakes, shovels, hoes, and assorted other pointy garden tools. “Thirty-eight...forty! Excellent!” He turned to Rosie, who was performing a similar tally on egg cartons. “You didn’t break any of ‘em already, did you? Okay, good, good.” Gonzo fretted as McGurk completed his count of the eggs. Although he’d been sure to tell the monsters to bring him only common, unfertilized eggs, he still wanted to catch them all tonight; the whole point of the act, after all, was to demonstrate to Camilla how responsible he could be. “Assuming she’s even watching,” Gonzo sighed.

    Rosie patted his shoulder. “Ahshabba shoo wabba,” he promised.

    Gonzo shook his head lightly. “Yeah...I hope so, pal; I hope so.” Winning the competition would still be great, of course, but it had ceased to be his priority. Hoping that his chickie-love was paying attention tonight was foremost on the daredevil’s mind. He forced his thoughts to focus. “Um, okay. Did you sharpen the rakes?”

    “Shappa!” Rosie said, showing off the host of bandages on his fingers.

    “Good, good...did you polish the shovels so they’ll sparkle?”

    “Passha!” McGurk showed the black stains the polish had left on his furry palms.

    “Great, excellent...um...is there anything I’m forgetting?”

    McGurk grinned, and held out a long purple cape to him. Shaking his head, Gonzo fastened it around his neck. “Sheesh. Thanks. I gotta get more focused if I wanna do this without a hitch.”

    “Hissha?” Rosie asked, scratching his head. He’d brought plenty of tools, but Gonzo hadn’t previously said he also wanted gate hardware...

    “Oh, it’s a figure of speech. Uh...if I want to do this without making a scrambled mess all over the stage, with Whatever sausages on the side,” Gonzo explained, and McGurk nodded.

    “Cagabba feena wugga boo,” Rosie said, pointing out the phone bank: since the first call-in-vote show, the public response had grown so immense that now two two-headed monsters and one triple-header were seating themselves at a long table, tally sheets before them, ready for the night. “Essa weeba!”

    Gonzo shrugged. “Eh...yeah, that’d be cool to win, but y’know, Rosie, right now I can’t get my chickie out of my head! I just hope she calls in after she sees what I’m gonna do.”

    Rosie nodded, three eyes blinking in sympathy. “Deddibabba, boo.”

    Gonzo stood up taller. “Darn right I’m dedicated...and tonight she’s gonna see it! I just...” he sighed. “I just hope I haven’t woken up too late.”

    Rosie nodded again, thinking it was a shame Gonzo wasn’t going to wake up to the fact that it really didn’t matter if he won or not...his chickie was likely never going to see him again. Swallowing back a sour taste at that idea, the monster threw himself into the preparations once more. Under the rumble and clamor of the growing crowd as showtime neared, a whispering growl caught his attention: the stage manager goblin (the third such one since the show first aired, reflecting the mysteriously high replacement-crew numbers) informed Rosie that Gonzo would be up first tonight. As the goblin hurried off, muttering gibberish into its headset, Rosie gave the oblivious Gonzo a sad look. The daredevil’s fate might well be decided in just a few minutes, and Rosie would just have to let it happen...if he didn’t want to wind up impaled on a rake himself. Wasn’t there anything he could do for the short, blue ragged creature? Some little nudge toward fame, some subtle maneuver which would better both of their fortunes?

    Nothing came to mind. Then again, the bustle of the small below-platform area at five minutes to air wasn’t the best location for deep planning. With a shake of his feathery mane, Rosie tromped over to inform Gonzo he would be starting off the show. “Wonderful!” Gonzo crowed, eyes alight. “Hey, you layabouts! Help me set all these pointy things up! Rosie, those other losers will be eating their leotards when they realize they’ll have to follow my act! Ha ha ha ha ha!”

    McGurk started to point out that only Gonzo had shown up in a felt-tight sparkly red leotard, then shut his mouth and began lugging bladed shovels onstage.

    The nearly-dark corridors in the lowest level of the warren, dug by mighty claws from the very bedrock of Manhattan, were almost empty; every monster who wasn’t working on something had crowded into the studio where Break a Leg! was filming. In the stillness, a faint breeze stirred, and two floppy-bodied creatures with trailing tentacles like furry jellyfish slowly materialized, humming.

    “Wobba-wobba-wobba-wobba. Urk. Eep.”

    “Mmmmm numma numma numma numma. Awwawww. Mn.” The pink thing swung its googly eyes from side to side, antennae alertly twitching down one tunnel direction; his blue partner did the same in the opposite. When both swung around, they startled and gulped their lower jaws over their heads a second before realizing they were seeing the other one. Pink thwapped Blue with a couple of tentacles. “Aww! No scare!”

    “You no scare!” Blue snapped in response. Quieting, they peered around once more, seeing no movement at all; even the glow-worms seemed to have taken the night off. “Mn. Dark. Dark. Yip yip yip.”

    “Dark, aaawww,” agreed Pink. He mulled the issue over a moment, then suddenly grabbed Blue’s bobbing antennae-tips and rubbed them together fiercely, ignoring his companion’s protests.

    “What? what do?” Blue demanded. In reply, Pink shoved the charged little tips into Blue’s own tentacles. A spark arced through them, briefly making the ropy limbs all stick straight out, and the flash of light showed them their immediate surroundings: a rocky corridor close to the control hub. Some thoughtful denizen of the deep had made a crude sign on a tattered piece of sheet metal: an octopoid-like skull and crossbones spraypainted in bright orange, with an arrow pointing toward the room where the underlord spent all his time.

    “Ow ow ow,” grumbled Blue. Pink began shuffle-jumping along the corridor. Unwilling to be left behind in the darkness, Blue hurried after him. When they reached a cross-tunnel, Pink stopped, but before he could reach for Blue, Blue poked his still-charged antennae into Pink’s tentacles, lighting them up and making the startled monster squeak. “Mm. Aww. There. Yip yip yip. There.”

    Disgruntled, Pink jerked ahead of his comrade. More or less together they cruised through a widening cavern, full of piles of crumbled stalactites, shuffling and hopping down the sloping floor to a large movie screen at the back wall. Just as they were proceeding toward the tunnel behind the screen, scraping, shuffling noises sounded up ahead. Pink drew back behind a stalagmite, grabbing his friend when the oblivious Blue tried to continue. “Shh!” he hissed.

    The sound, like something enormous dragging itself along a rough rock floor, drew closer and closer. The raggedy monsters exchanged a worried look. Coming down here with righteous intentions was one thing...actually confronting the boss another. “What do, awww?” Blue muttered. “What what what?”

    Pink worked his jaw nervously. It was too dark in here to see anything more than a few inches ahead, in the residual glow from his shocked tentacles... He jerked up straight. “Rub!” he urged, grabbing Blue’s antennae-tips and rubbing them together, then releasing them to charge his own frantically. Grasping the idea, Blue fiercely rubbed his own antennae until they faintly glowed with potential energy. The dragging sound was now accompanied by a slow wheeze. “Ulp!” Pink swallowed dryly, rubbing the little nubs so hard smoke began to drift up from them. With a grunt, a massive figure came through the entrance to the secret tunnel, a whiskery thing swinging before it.

    “Zap! Aww! Zap!” Pink yelled, and together the Martians swung their antennae right at the dark figure. An astounding amount of voltage coursed through them, making both jitter and yelp, but that was nothing to the shock which the monster emerging into the amphitheatre received.

    “Waaaaagghhh!” it screamed. Stunned, Pink and Blue reeled aside. Blue looked up groggily and saw the dark, misshapen thing staggering and flailing large clawed paws. It was still alive! Blue grabbed his partner, shaking him out of the daze, and yanked him back through the cavern as fast as wildly skittering tentacles could travel.

    “Go! Yip! Go! Yip yip yip yip uh-huh!”

    Eustace dropped the sack of scrap metal he’d been dragging laboriously backwards; much of it was now glowing and fused together. It had been a heavy sack of wreckage to begin with, the remains of several monitors and one of the server racks which had fallen victim to one of the boss’ angry fits, but now it was so hot he couldn’t budge it. He flopped to the ground, shaking, wondering dazedly what the heck had just hit him. Stunned, he sat there, slowly prying his teeth apart; his molar fillings seemed to be humming after the shock. With a hiss and crackle, the burlap sack abruptly caught fire. He watched it, unable to move, as within seconds the flammable sack crisped to nothing. The pile of metal rubble smoked for a while, creaking and cracking as it settled to an immovable heap, blocking the tunnel leading to the control hub.

    Eustace stared at that in mounting despair. Now not only was he in trouble for the strike team’s reluctance to go after monster enemy number one, but access to the control tunnel was nearly impossible, and there must be some kind of short in the cable from the projection screen which his sack of junk had scraped, and the pile was too heavy too lift himself...and too hot to even consider trying.

    On top of all that, it took his tail and his muzzle whiskers ten minutes to relax from the straight-out-stiff position...which really, really hurt.

    Camilla clucked fiercely at the efforts of Black Bart the rooster to budge her from her perch atop the comfiest sofa in the green room, close to the small, fuzzy-screened TV. She told him in no uncertain terms that he could offer her the lead female role in the spooky “March to the Scaffold” dance routine tonight, he could offer her candy corn, he could offer the frogging moon as far as she was concerned and she wasn’t about to leave her post! With a dissatisfied shrug, the rooster left, flouncing his scraggly tailfeathers. Camilla resettled her wings, clutching the remote in one claw and a cup of herbal tea in the other. She was really trying to stay calm...but the show host had just welcomed the audience, and reminded everyone that the judges had required garden tools be used somehow in tonight’s acts, and now, oh, now, he was announcing the contestants! She edged forward anxiously.

    “First up tonight, for your puréed enjoyment, is that wild Whatever, that insouciantly insane, that ultimately uninsurable – the Great Gonzo!” the yellow-felted host shouted, flourishing a large umbrella at center stage, where dim green lights picked up the outlines of numerous sharp rakes, shovels, hoes, and edgers...all with their business ends turned toward the ceiling. As a whiff of fog spilled over the edge of the stage from somewhere in the midst of the tools, the host opened his umbrella and hurried out of the way.

    “Tonight, poetry lovers, I give you – ‘Gonzo, Nestlings!’” Gonzo shrieked, his voice echoing in the dark studio as two harsh spotlights pinned him atop a thin high-wire. “A cuddlesome compendium of defenseless eggs, extra-sharp garden implements, and no net!...in verse.”

    Camilla stared, frozen in horror, as soft piano music tinkled in the background, eggs flew into the air in five different spots over the wicked tools, and her darling daredevil ran along the bouncing wire to catch them.

    As he easily caught the first couple of eggs in his hands, the high-wire swaying only moderately beneath his bare feet, Gonzo took a deep breath, reminded himself to project since the sound crew had adamantly refused to sacrifice a wireless mic for him, and began his paraphrase of the poet laureate’s work. “It is possible,” he recited loudly...

    “...to be struck by a meteor
    or a single-shot cannonball
    while sitting on a roost at home.
    Safes drop from ceilings
    and flatten the odd performance artist
    mostly within the confines of the theatre,
    so typically, we call it art;
    likewise the flash of gunpowder,
    the chickens toppling gracefully,
    feathers on the stage.”

    He waved a hand down at Rosie, who grimly packed eggs into a modified t-shirt cannon and shot them high. Gonzo danced wildly on the wire, jumping from foot to foot, frantically snatching the plummeting ovoid projectiles and tucking them all into rapidly bulging side pockets. Silence filled the studio; the judges watched in fascination, occasionally glancing at the spikes sparkling in the green lights below. Snookie kept his umbrella up in case of egg or performer hazard, peering worriedly up around its edge. Gonzo’s voice sounded somewhat strained as he continued:

    “And we know the warning
    can be delivered from within.
    The spleen, no happy camper,
    decides to spew out bile after a snack,
    the smell driving all away like a banshee,
    or a tiny fuzzy follicle ingrows
    into the creases of the skull’s canyons,
    the brain a prospector,
    oblivious in the mines.

    This is what I think about
    when I gather twigs
    into an attractive pile,
    and when I pluck a feather from my own head,
    then press into muck
    the sweet down of a sexy chickie—“

    Gonzo scrambled to and fro, falling once and grabbing the wire by his nose, catching eggs in between splayed toes, then finally hauling himself back aloft just in time to prevent another sort of scrambling with the next launch of eggs. He was panting now, and struggled to recall the rest of his masterpiece poem.

    “The...the exciting hand of Death
    always ready to grab me by the neck
    and shake me like a dirty dustmop full of stage grime!”

    Big finish! he thought, and hoped Rosie wouldn’t miss his cue. Now this should really get Camilla’s attention! He felt only an instant of relief when the fireworks went off as planned, Roman candles exploding right beside him in the air to illuminate dramatically his egg-saving swoops, as the wild gyrations of the wire threatened to dump him onto a waiting coal-shovel below. Gonzo yelled over the screaming explosions:

    “Then the nest is full of marvels!
    bits of twigs are like Chinese writing,
    soft white underfeathers, a mattress waiting
    for the consummation of our love!
    Then her wattles are a redder red,
    my nose a bluer blue,

    and all I see is the beauty of her round bosom
    over an ellipsoidal egg,
    the angels clucking
    with lifted beaks, and the roar
    of the cannon
    as art and life explode into love!”

    Triumphantly, Gonzo balanced on one toe, arms uplifted, yelling the final line, and one last egg sailed up and over him. With a flourish, he leaped to catch it – and his cape snagged on the wire momentarily, throwing him even more off-balance with his leotard stuffed so full of rescued eggs he could barely breathe. The egg fell. Gonzo followed it, shrieking. The audience gasped. Snookie cringed under his umbrella, wishing he could just leave the stage without being spattered with Whatever goo. Rosie choked back a groan, staring up in horror. Beautiful Day leaned forward, eager to see some disaster around here; Behemoth’s belly rumbled in anticipation of the omelette surely only seconds away; Shakey Sanchez trembled so hard his armor rattled in Hem’s throat, irritating the bloated monster.

    Gonzo tucked his arms and legs into a straight line, shooting down headfirst, desperate to catch the lone egg. He snapped at it, mouth open, an instant before he crashed into the rows of sharp pointy things. The impact shuddered the stage, the rakes and shovels wobbling; a few toppled. Rosie yelped, slapping a paw over two eyes, but the third remained fixed on the center of the pointy pile...where, incredibly, a blue furry hand now shakily raised. A spotlight swung down to fix in a harsh glare the crooked nose which lifted above the spikes. Gonzo removed the egg from his mouth with shaking fingers and held it up for all to see: unbroken! The crowd cheered, hooted, stomped on the floor wildly. Hem slapped the table in disgust. B.D. blinked, astonished. Snookie recovered his senses enough to offer commentary: “Wow! Uh...it looks like...it looks like he recovered every single egg, folks! What an amazingly sacrificial and utterly pointless act to accompany one of the strangest poems I’ve ever heard...well! It appears the Great Gonzo has survived yet another round!”

    Gonzo grinned weakly at the cameras, then collapsed, sinking slowly among the spikes. “...Or not,” Snookie continued. “While the judges deliberate and the clean-up crew tries to get the stain out of the floor, we’ll take a break. Stick around for more of Break a Leg! I’m sure Gonzo will...one way or another.”

    Mitzi Clucker found Camilla beak-down on the floor, wings akimbo. She squawked at the top of her lungs for someone to fetch the smelling salts.

    Snookie paced anxiously just offstage. Whatever his newfound acquaintance was going through right now, she shouldn’t have to deal with the smarmy director’s attentions on top of it. How could he possibly prevent the date from Smuggler’s Cove? His gaze wandered into the audience; in the front row, he spotted Carl, who sported face paint in black and red. When he saw Snookie, Carl grinned widely and waved a large foam hand with a finger pointing up; “SHEEP YO’ MOUTH!” was printed in white across the palm, and the finger wasn’t the usual digit Snookie associated with the gesture for “number one.” Snookie cast a look back at the director. Pew was deeply engrossed in instructing the nearest camerafrackle: “You must put in ze duex shots of ze ‘azelnut flavour, not un!”

    That guy is the most coffee-obsessed lunatic I’ve seen outside of a Moldyers Crystals ad, Snookie thought, scowling. Making up his mind immediately, he strode across the stage and knelt at its edge in front of Carl the Big Mean Fan. “Hi!” Carl growled cheerfully. “When do we get to the bloodshed, Snookums? I’m hungry!”

    “Uh...Lamb’s up next,” Snookie said, stifling a shudder. “Carl, I – I need a favor.”

    “Huh?” The gray-green monster jerked his massive head back, then wriggled a claw in one earhole. “You said flavor, right? Almost misheard ya there...”

    “No, no, you heard right,” Snookie said, steeling himself for a deal he really didn’t relish...oh, bad word choice; an arrangement he couldn’t savor... Shaking his head sharply to clear the food language away, the host grimaced and blurted out: “I need you to swap out that girl with the two-color felt for something that won’t mind a date with Pew!”

    “You who huh?” Carl stammered. He glanced around; the other fans were arguing over who was paying for the barking hot dogs making their way down the aisle. Carl leaned closer to Snookie, who gulped but didn’t flinch away. “You’re asking me?”

    “Yes. I...I don’t know anyone else, really...I’ll make you a deal. You can...you can use the barbeque rub. Once. And no separating limbs!” He stared unhappily at Carl; the monster considered it. From the stage, Pew began yelling for places; the commercial break was ending. “Please!” Snookie added.

    Carl’s eyes narrowed, but he gave a nod. “You’re talking about the not-a-pig girl? You want her moved?”

    “Moved – not eaten!” Snookie snapped. “Deal?”

    “Move the girl away from old batty grabby-hands, roast you in cayenne pepper and paprika?”

    “Yes. Deal or not?” At Pew’s snarl, closer behind him, Snookie called, “One sec!” He stared earnestly at Carl, wondering if this was a stupid mistake; after all, what if Carl reported him to someone higher up the food chain? Finally, Carl stuck out a huge furry paw. Relieved, Snookie took it gingerly, and nearly bit his tongue when the monster shook him violently up and down. When Snookie pried his fingers out of the paw, Carl roared with laughter.

    Angrily, Snookie staggered backwards, bumping into Pew. “You! Get back to your camera, you ingrateh, you wresh of an operator! You call yourself a technisshhian, hmf! Host! Whair is mah host!” Pew yelled, slinging Snookie by the arm towards one of the support posts just offstage; Snookie managed to stop himself from crashing. “Ag! We arrre live! Go! Go!” Pew howled, and in trying to leave the stage, tripped and fell into the audience. “You idiots! Get back in your cages!” he berated them.

    Snookie righted himself, smoothing back his hair, smiling as the spotlight hit him. “Welcome back, debutantes of demolition and cravers of carnage! Gonzo the Great just wowed the crowd with an egg-ceptional—“ He stopped, frowning, and tossed away his cue cards. “I’m not reading that imbecilic drabble. Folks, despite being impaled on what looked like at least a dozen garden tools that could’ve been used as ninja swords by scarecrows, Gonzo seems to have lived to die again another day. Let’s find out what the judges thought of his attempt at verse.” He walked quickly to the judges’ table. “B.D? Your thoughts?”

    B.D. scowled, flipping one tassel of his Peruvian hat up and down. “Well, I’m always in favor of tall sharp objects, naturally...but I really didn’t get the poem. He should’ve played a flute or somethin’ if he was going for artistic.”


    The shaggy brown thing cocked his head to one side, thinking. “Well...how should I put this...I love free verse, but I was really disappointed that he caught all the eggs! I could really use more protein.” His stomach rumbled, and he smacked his belly hard; Shakey popped out of his mouth. Tiny purple hands in chain mail grabbed the edge of Hem’s jaw and clung for dear life. “Hey!” Hem mumbled.


    Trembling fingers lifted the visor of the crested helmet. “W-well, Snookie, I r-really liked the poem! What a t-touching ode to t-true love!” Nervous eyes rolled around, hands clamped over Hem’s lower lip as the monster tried unsuccessfully to chew Shakey; the armor cladding the small creature clanked and creaked. “And I’m g-glad he didn’t t-turn into w-weirdo-on-a-stick.”

    Behemoth growled and with one hand shoved Shakey back down his throat, draining the water pitcher on the table after him. “Don’t the spikes on that hurt?” Snookie wondered.

    “Only when he c-crunches them inside-out,” a faint voice echoed from the black maw.

    Shaking his head, Snookie addressed the table as a whole. “So, judges! Should Gonzo move on to the final round? Your votes?”

    “Claws up!” Hem proclaimed. He smiled toothily. “Maybe he’ll finally become pat for his final act! I’ll give him a shot at it.”

    “C-claws up,” the foggy voice from Hem’s open mouth drifted up.

    Hem smacked his belly again. “Hey, move more to the right. My aorta’s got a itch...ooh. Oh, yeah, right there...”

    B.D. snorted, crossing his arms. “Poems? Really? Borrrrrring. I vote claws down.”

    Hem sniffed. “Like you would know art if it crawled up under your stupid girly hat and swatted your fat nose!”

    “Hey!” B.D. growled. “This hat was claw-knitted by underprivileged mountain-tribe goat-demons! It’s for a good cause!” He grabbed Snookie by the tie, yanking him closer. “You – don’t you think this is a great hat?”

    “Er,” Snookie choked out, “It’s...it’s a hat for a brave monster. A monster skulks down the sewers in a hat like that, everyone sees he’s not afraid of anything.”

    “Darn tootin’,” B.D. muttered, releasing him.

    “And speaking of fearless...here’s the master of wooly whomping, the sensei of skullcracking, the one and only...John Lamb!” Snookie shouted, hastening as far from the judges’ table as he could get without running into a disgruntled director, who was just now clambering back onto the stage platform from the side.

    If Lamb was still hurting from his sprain last time, he showed no sign of it as he walked onstage. The show band played a soft, lilting tune with Japanese flutes and sitar, and Lamb, with a long-handled hoe, began pretending to garden the stage floor. A floppy hat covered his face, and a monk’s red shift hung to his knobby hooves. Suddenly the music shifted, a trill of danger sounding; two goblins crept onstage. They picked up a shovel and a rake and tiptoed toward the apparently unsuspecting gardener. Right as one of the goblins swung his weapon at the gardener’s head, Lamb ducked, rolled, and with a swipe of his hoe knocked the goblin’s feet from under him. The second one attacked, and Lamb gave the creature a savage kick and jammed his hat over the smaller thing’s head, blinding it temporarily. As it fumbled, the first goblin was back on its feet; Lamb thwacked it smartly across its midsection with the handle of his hoe, twirled it, and whirled himself to face the trio of toothy monsters who now leapt into the fight. A drum pounded out a frantic beat and the flutes and sitar shrieked in terror, but Lamb remained cool, stick-fighting the challengers one after another, dodging, spinning, blocking and striking.

    B.D. was reaching for a squirming shi tzu on a bun when Lamb suddenly took the fight to a new level: as more monsters crowded the front of the stage, each armed with some kind of bladed garden tool, and there seemed nowhere left to go, a scrim behind the action suddenly rose, revealing a score of shovels jammed into a wide bed of dirt inset in the platform. Lamb’s muscular legs bunched and flexed, and he sprang straight up, landing with his feet atop two of the shovel poles. With cackles and screeches, the goblins and other assorted fiends followed, jumping, climbing, or slithering up the poles, and the battle continued as an aerial stunt. B.D. sat slack-jawed, staring up at the nimble ram leaping lightly from pole-tip to pole-tip and continuing to twirl and swing his hoe with deadly accuracy. Forgotten, the hot dog tried to escape by running along the table; five audience members lurched to their feet in anticipation, but Hem caught the dog and stuffed it down his throat. When B.D. looked over sharply at the muffled barking sounds, Hem appeared entranced with the stage act.

    Lamb knocked his attackers away into the shadows of the studio in twos and threes until only one remained, a nasty-beaked birdlike thing with green fluffy fur and a pair of whiplike tails which it used to snap at Lamb, trying to throw him off-balance while it jabbed a pair of pruning shears at him. The drums pounded in time with Lamb’s jumps, the percussion of his hooves striking the pole-tops precisely matched by the beat, erratic and driving. Carl and many other monsters cheered loudly, enjoying the martial-arts homage. When the tail-whip bird tried to use both of its appendages to strike Lamb at once, he suddenly dropped his hoe, grabbed the tail-ends, and yanked the startled monster off its uncertain perch. He swung it over his head three times, gaining momentum, then released it; it sailed out into an appreciative audience, burying three fans under the bleachers when it crashed down. “LAMB!” roared the spectators: “Lamb! Lamb! Lamb!”

    The band played a final, haunting note, and Lamb, panting, bowed to the audience and the cameras...and one of the shovels under his hooves wobbled and fell. The ram tried to leap to another pole, but wasn’t quite fast enough; he landed badly on his back, bearing a ragged, hunched figure to the floor. Every single pole toppled in a chain reaction, thumping on top of the unfortunate sheep. A gasp swept through the crowd.

    “Arrrgh! Get ahff meh, you woolleh bush of a bushido!” a familiar voice yelled. “Why arr all these trees by ze caffeh table? You made me spill mah latte!” A crumpled tin cup rose above the wreck, borne by a spindly hand with dirty claws. “Go to ze commersiall...and somebodeh bring me un towelll!”

    Snookie faced the camera as the stage crew hesitantly waded into the mess, avoiding the cane Pew swung above his head, to try and pry Lamb from the tangle of wood. “A brilliant martial-arts performance marred only by absolute failure to avoid a coffee-crazed mindless maurader! Will the sheep rise after his fall? Or should the judges send for mint sauce? We’ll be right back!”
  2. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Thirty-Six (II)

    The hens backed off once Camilla sat upright, though still woozy. “Brawww,” she mumbled, blinking through what seemed a haze at the TV screen, where a commercial for Mr Bog’s Nose Wax espoused the benefits of keeping one’s beak shiny. She kept blinking, trying to clear her vision, then heard the smoke alarm shriek.

    Scooter hurried downstairs. “Aw, come on, Chef! That’s the fourth time this month!”

    “Hurb der hoofenklutzen en der flippencaken!” The Chef complained, waving his hat to clear the smoke from the grill.

    Link backed off, protesting, “It wasn’t me! I hadn’t even reached that hotcake I was absolutely not stretching over the counter for when –“ He noticed his tie was on fire, producing most of the smelly smoke wafting throughout the green room. “Aaaaa! I’m on fire! Help! Help!”

    Scooter shook his head tiredly; Gladys dumped a bucket of used dishwater over the hog, drenching his naval outfit. Soggy bits of food slid over his snout, and soap suds gave him unearned epaulettes for a moment before dissolving into his jacket. “Oh, ohhh!” Link groaned, examining his dripping costume. “How am I supposed to accurately portray a dashing navy captain like this? I’m...I’m all washed up!”

    “Took him long enough to realize,” Miss Piggy muttered, setting down her teacup to sashay upstairs for the next number. A couple of other pigs snorked in amusement.

    Scooter yelled at Link before running back upstairs: “Just get up here, Link! ‘Sloop John B’ is next onstage!”

    Link’s shoulders drooped as his clothes dripped. “Do you think I still look...captainy enough?” he asked Dr Strangepork, who was trotting ahead in a cook’s apron with a bucket of corn on the cob in his arms.

    Strangepork paused, looking the hopeful hog up and down. “Isn’t dere a line about somevun getting trown overboard? You can be dat guy!” Chortling, the shorter pig hurried upstairs, with a disheartened Link sloshing after.

    Camilla fluffed out her feathers, irritated with all the chaos. Someone opened a small window to clear the smoke, Beauregard began mopping up the mess, and the chickens huddled around Camilla to ensure she was herself again. She waved them off, clucking; and most of them returned to the dressing-roost to prepare for their number. Although Camilla was disappointed she wouldn’t get to sing lead for ‘The Bawking Hen of the Republic,’ one of her favorite classic American folksongs, she needed to make sure her foolish daredevil was all right. The show returned from commercial, and while the host asked the monster judges about their opinion of the last act, Camilla replayed Gonzo’s piece in her mind.

    Eggs! All those eggs... She shuddered afresh at the thought of any of them smashing into the wicked tools below the high-wire; how could he have been so callous as to use eggs in such a dangerous manner? Why, if he hadn’t caught them --!

    She scratched her underwing absently, thinking hard. But...he had caught them. He’d made a point of even saving the very last one, at what looked like a painful expense...and that poem... She sighed, trying to recall the words. The poem had been so...so... She blushed. “Bawwwwk,” she murmured, and giggled coyly. If only she could hear him recite the daring verse again, without the distracting terror of falling eggs! She glanced back at the screen in time to see the camera pan over the contestants understage, and Gonzo, standing by a weird three-eyed pinkish thing, noticed and waved wildly for the home audience. He prodded his monster assistant, and the creature reluctantly waved too. Before the view cut to some sort of slimy fungus thing, Camilla saw Gonzo mouth the words, I love you Ca—

    She sat straight upright, startled. Oh. OH! That stunt...the eggs...the poem...the eggs! Suddenly, she understood.

    At the thump, Mitzi peered around the canteen counter, where she’d been trying to finish her interrupted couscous salad. She saw the unconscious hen, sighed, and with a grumble went to fetch the smelling salts again.

    John Lamb was borne out of the studio by a host of straining Frackles, each of them calling dibs on the chops; Hem had to be restrained by B.D. not to follow, and now he sat frumping at the table, using a piece of Shakey’s chainmail to wipe the drool from his chin. “We may have just seen the loss of another contestant,” Snookie announced, “But as long as he’s still alive, remember, your vote can keep him on the air one more week for the championship round! Vote as often as you want; these guys need all the pizza money they can get.”

    “Mutton pizza...” Hem muttered longingly.

    “Vote for your favorite! Vote for your wife’s favorite! Vote for the contestant least likely to survive! Your vote counts an infinitesimal amount next to the favoritism of our management but hey, keep trying!” Snookie urged the audience; some of the house crowd already had their cell phones out and were tapping keys rapidly. “Will the Great Gonzo advance? What will Mungus Mumfrey do to follow those two amazingly suicidal acts? Will your choice resurrect the mighty Lamb, or –“ Snookie paused, seeing a creeping figure in a black hooded robe making its way behind the platform, a scythe in one hand and a fresh garnish of spearmint in the other. “Uh...never mind. So, before we see what the Finnish fungus has up its thousand sleeves, let’s enjoy some retro rambling about seriously saccharine self-expression, sung by Frazzle with his Frazztones!”

    Snookie stepped off the stage as an orange-furred monster with curving horns, black fuzzy eyebrows, and so many teeth and a broad tongue filling his mouth that he couldn’t shut it if he tried took the center spot, dancing happily. A small four-piece rock band of fat blueish creatures with shaggy heads played the ‘fifties-era classic, and the lead singer nearly swallowed the mic:

    “There’s a monster name of Frazzle who’s a good friend of mine;
    he looks ferocious but he’s really fine!
    Go up and ask him for his autograph;
    he’ll be so happy that he’ll start to laugh!
    He goes...”

    “Haaaabbbbblllll!” yelled the orange monster, shaking his head rapidly. Snookie ducked the flying spit from that slobbery tongue; an elderly groupie in the front row shrieked and swooned.

    “That’s how he laughs,” sang the band. “He goes –“
    “Aaaaaluhluhluhluh!” screeched Frazzle.
    “That means he’s glad; he goes –“
    “That means he’s having the greatest time that he ever had!”

    “How is the closed-caption guy going to spell that?” Snookie wondered, keeping well below the level of the platform to avoid any more rock-star effervescence. He grabbed a bottle of water from the staff cooler, noting resignedly that although the bottle had a designer label, he could see little bits of gunk floating in it. “Great. They’re refilling ‘em with showerhead water again.” With a sigh, he uncapped it and took a swig. At least it isn’t from the city park sprinkler system this time. He figured by now he was probably either full of or immune to most of the waterborne parasites common to the tri-state area. Hope Constanza isn’t drinking this stuff... He edged around the corner of the platform to peer out at the audience, washed now in flickering lights spilling over the stage from the rock band as the performance dragged on. He couldn’t see Carl anywhere. Did he leave to sneak her out of her cell? Cripes, I should’ve specified where he should move her to! He cursed himself soundly, silently, a long moment for neglecting that aspect. He’d better not harm her...or put her where someone else can...

    He shivered at that. After all, there were far worse things down here than an amorous ex-pirate show director. A glob of wet something smacked his cheek; disgusted, he wiped it off, and sank below the level of the stage once more. “Aaaaaablblblblblbluh!” Frazzle screamed over the cheers of the audience. Snookie drew his shoulders almost up to his ears, trying to block the sound out as he continued to scrub at his cheek with a semi-clean hankie.

    Oh yes. Much worse things.

    Two levels beneath the soundstage, a ragged blue thing and a raggier pink thing conferred in hushed voices in a dark crevice. “Mmn. Aww. What now? What what what?”

    Pink jerked his whole body from side to side with anxiety and doubt. “Need big boom! Mm. Big. Big boom. Yiiiiip. Yip yip yip yip uh-huh.”

    “Big boom, yip yip yip, awwww,” Blue agreed, then poked his companion. “How? How boom?”

    Frustrated, Pink zipped in erratic jerks and stops around the tiny hole they’d found to hide in, near the back of the cavern with the huge screen. “Aww! Boom. Boom. Uh-huh. Uh-huh!”

    “Stop! Aww! Stop!” Blue said suddenly, and Pink skidded to a halt, tumbling tentacles-over-eyeballs. Righting himself, he stared every which way in terror.

    “What? What what what?”

    “Dizzy,” Blue said, holding several tentacles to either side of his eyeballs. He used his lower jaw to wipe them slowly. “Mm. Nom. Mn. Bet-ter. Yip yip.”

    Disgusted, his comrade resumed his zigzag pacing, albeit at a slower speed. Blue, struck with an idea, tapped Pink’s head. “Awwwaaaww! Boom boom sticks in glass room! Aww. Glass room.”

    “Awwwwaww,” Pink said, recalling what his friend meant. “Yiiiip yip yip yip! Uh-huh! Yip yip!”

    As one, they hummed loudly, wavering from side to side, and gradually dematerialized.

    “So, our last performer tonight, the fungus with a thousand hands, and he doesn’t bother to ever wash any of ‘em – your fiend and mine – the slithering slime, Mungus Mumfrey!” Snookie shouted, gesturing grandly at the other side of the stage. The fungus reared up, waving psudeopods in all directions. A mix of cheers, boos, and cries of “Shroom! Shroom!” came from the audience. “For this act,” Snookie continued, “the fungus has requested some help from the audience. A member of our staff will be coming around with a supply of sharpened shovels and shears; please take one and pass them down. Come on, guys, there’s plenty for everybody,” he scolded as two large beasts five rows back broke into a clawfight over who would get the tree shears. “The object tonight for our foolhardy fungus is simple: get to the other side of the stage within one minute...in one glob.”

    As realization of their role dawned on the crowd, a roar went up. Several stage lights shook on their beams. Glancing nervously up, and absurdly wishing he still had the umbrella though it would be no protection at all, Snookie waited for the noise to die back somewhat before continuing. “That’s right, when Mungus starts across the stage, heave those implements of dismemberment with all your might – but please aim at the stage, folks, not the judges.” B.D. scowled, standing up briefly to impart his disapproval to anyone suicidal enough to consider it. “Remember, Mungus has set itself the challenge of passing your gauntlet of garden tools mostly whole, so get ready to hurl and separate! On your mark, get set –“ Snookie dove off the stage, knowing someone inevitably would throw early.

    From the judges’ table, Hem shouted, “Hey! Who threw that?”

    “Go!” Snookie yelled, and winced, ducking completely below the platform as the sound of a dozen or more sharp implements thunked into the surface and the band struck up a wild chase theme.

    The fungus swirled, splitting itself briefly to flow around still-quivering gravel rakes, pausing when some of the tools speared its globulous body to split and re-form, advancing across the stage at a much faster pace than anyone would have guessed possible. Seeing this, the audience renewed their efforts; at least twenty tools all landed right in front of the fungus, blocking its way, and then two or three impaled it. With a shudder that was grotesque to behold, Mungus peeled its component cells off the tools and out of the holes in the platform, and in two separate masses flowed around the impediments. Shovels, rakes, and open shears hammered the stage, most sticking fast, a few toppling over, and still the fungus flowed. A large digital clock above the stage counted down the remaining seconds: twenty...eighteen...fifteen...

    The fungus surged forward like a slippery tidal wave, globbing over itself continually, sliding around each pointy thing thwacking into the platform, headed right at the finish line painted a few feet from the in-house band, who were playing their fur off and almost out of breath. Just as the slithering entity shoved a psuedopod across the line, a brick sailed out of the crowd and pinned part of the fungus. Desperately it yanked free, but as the buzzer sounded, a few loose cells had to crawl around the object to rejoin the main body of the amorphous thing.

    Boos sounded from the bleachers. B.D. shook his head and immediately displayed a downturned thumb. Hem frowned. Shakey raised his visor, peeking from Hem’s shoulder unnoticed, appearing glum as well. Cautiously Snookie stepped back onstage. “Oh, no! Looks like the frothing fungus didn’t quite make the deadline, and left his part under fandom’s brick throw! Heh heh.” He chuckled at his own pun; not like any of these morons would catch it – “Whoa!” He ducked as a wheelbarrow bounced onto the platform and went over him, crashing into the seven-foot-tall purple guy with the trumpet. Or maybe one of them did. “With only three contestants left, what will happen next? Judges, sound off!”

    “Left, right,” Hem growled. B.D. shot him a look. Flustered, the brown monster scratched his flat chin. “Er...sorry. Weekend warrior with the Sixty-fourth Bigmouths. You know, two Saturdays a month and they paid for my Fright School...”

    “Whatever,” B.D. grumped. He shook his head. “Snookie, that was the lamest act we’ve seen in several shows!”

    John Lamb, supported on either side by Frackles trembling under the weight of the large ram, yelled out, “I’m still in it to win it, you mutha—“

    “Second lamest,” B.D. amended. “I vote claws down! He didn’t get all of himself across the finish line!”

    “I h-hate mushrooms,” Shakey stammered, sticking his tiny arm out of Hem’s collar. “Claws down, because it m-made me s-sick.”

    “Aw, geez,” Hem complained, rolling his eyes. “Didja have to?” He frowned at the fungus, wobbling slowly into a more or less upright pose, its weary cells churning restlessly. “Well, I thought it was creative, even if it didn’t quite meet the deadline; I think this guy...uh...is it a guy? Does anyone know?”

    Snookie shook his head, shrugging. Hem shrugged back, and finished, “I wanna see what it can do in the final round. I vote claws up!”

    “O-kay!” Snookie said, turning to face the nearest camera directly. “It seems all our remaining contestants are still in the running, with mixed reviews from our monster panel! It’s up to you to swing the votes! Call the number on your screen to vote for the performer you’d most like to see crash under the weight of their own hubris on Saturday, and tune in tomorrow night for the results! I promise more danger, more daring, and more dustmop-related injuries next time – here on Break a Leg!”

    In the pit behind the stage, Gonzo waved at the camera, then scoffed to Rosie, “Sheesh. I don’t know why they’re even bothering to take a vote!”

    Rosie looked from him to the badly limping sheep being helped offstage. “Uh...bagabba brokka lamma?”

    Gonzo blinked, puzzled. “Huh? No, I wasn’t even talking about him, the poor sap; nah, if he tries to compete one more time with me, it’ll be a Lamb to the slaughter for sure!” Gonzo laughed; Rosie noted the gaggle of drooling monsters trailing after the staunchly-stoic fighter, some waving notepads, some kitchen knives.

    “Hey Mr Lamb! Can I have an autograph?”

    “Can I have a leg?”

    Rosie winced. Gonzo, his attention fixed on changing out of his costume so it could be washed, tossed his cape over the pole of a rake balanced between two boxes, and used it as a screen. As he threw clothes over the cape at Rosie, he continued, “I mean, why are they bothering to vote at all, when it’s obvious who the ultimate winner is gonna be?” An embroidered hankie followed the leotard. “Look how they cheered for me tonight! That was fantastic!” Eggs began flying over the screen; a startled monster grabbed an empty paper carton and caught them as fast and as well as he could. One, then another, splatted on the ground; with a grimace, Rosie tried to nudge them out of the way with a foot, then realized the smear was still fairly plain to see, and used Gonzo’s hankie to wipe up the mess. Gonzo nattered on: “Do you think Camilla saw me? Man, I hope she’s watching! Did the camera catch me telling her I love her? Could you tell?” An assortment of mini Frisbees, an unlit Roman candle, and two pairs of fuzzy handcuffs sailed over the screen. Rosie wondered how the heck Gonzo had fit any of that in his pockets. “Hold this a sec while I re-tuck, would you?” Rosie started as Gonzo handed him what looked like blue-furred tights. Eyes wide, arms full of assorted stuff, he waited baffled while grunting noises came from the other side of the screen. “Ungh...I think I need to lose a couple pounds...Speedos getting a little tight here...okay. Give ‘em back.” Rosie quickly handed the leggings over. “Thanks. Man, oh, man, we killed tonight, Rosie! You did great with the egg-cannon and the fireworks!” Gonzo abruptly whipped his cape off the pole and around his shoulders once more, grinning hugely at his assistant. “Hah hah! We have this thing locked up! Now if only Camilla would ca-ca-ah-ah-ah--choo!” Frowning, he sniffled, one hand at his beaky nose. “Ugh. I swear I must be allergic to fungus...hey, gimme back that hankie, would ya?”

    Rosie McGurk looked in dismay at the filthy cloth tucked snugly into the pile of weird items filling his arms.

    The biology lab was silent, only a few LED pumpkin-lights strung from one low-ceiling corner to another illuminating the space. Two tentacled things shimmered into existence atop a counter strewn with unwashed Petri dishes and various evil-looking surgical implements. Pink jerked back when a tentacle came in contact with a cold metal jaw-opener. “Awk! Mm. Uh-uh, uh-uh!”

    Blue’s round eyes swung up and down and back and forth, seeking the items he knew were around here somewhere. “Awww...boom stick, awww. Oaaw!” Perking, he poked his partner. “Loooook! Look look look!”

    “Uhhhmm?” Pink peered in the direction Blue pointed. “Aaawwww! Boom stick! Yip! Yip yip yip yip uh-huh!”

    “Uh-huh, uh-huh!” Blue chanted, doing a small happy dance. They both bounced around a moment, excited. Pink hopped jerkily over to the stand full of test tubes. Some were filled with greenish goop; some had a slowly fizzing pink liquid; still others roiled with some sort of bacterial sludge with motion of its own. The Martians stared with unblinking eyes at the wide range of choices. “Hmmm.” Blue tentatively touched one of the sludgy tubes; the substance within reacted, recoiling from the sides. “Awww...which? Aww?”

    “Mn. Awww. Hmm.” Pink studied one, then another, his antennae twitching. He grabbed one each of the pink fizzie and the green goop.

    Blue stared at him, curious. “Awww. Boom?”

    Slowly Pink poured the green stuff into the pink stuff; it fizzed more, and both creatures instinctively gulped their jaws over their heads...but nothing exploded. “Aww. Eh-eh-eh-eh,” Pink judged, shaking his head. “No boom. Nope nope nope.”

    “Hmmmm,” Blue mused. He put a stopper into one of the yellowish sludgy tubes and shook it rapidly, then, holding it well away from himself, uncapped it. A tiny shriek sounded, and the sludge slopped around inside the tube, but nothing else happened. “Mm. Nope. No boom. Noooope nopenopenope.”

    Both of them hummed, sinking into what passed for deep thought. “Hmmmmmm.”

    A noise at the small door opposite the stairwell exit startled both creatures. “Drat it all, never a deformed assistant around when you need one... Thatch! Thatch! You were supposed to bring me that golem extract an hour ago! Where is that –“

    “Augh!” Blue cried, flinging the tubes he held at the tall, skinny thing with goggle-eyes and a lit lantern emerging from the dark inner room.

    “Waaugh!” Pink howled, throwing the rest of the rack of tubes in the same direction. Both of them instantly wobbled and hummed and vanished.

    Glass shattered all over Van Neuter, protoplasmic goop combining with rudimentary flammable colonic bacteria; Van Neuter froze, frightened, slowly turning his gaze downward. Trickles of thick liquid, shifting color and texture as they went, traveled up his lab coat. He swiped at them with a glove. “Ack! Shoo! Shoo! Get off me! Bad bacteria! Bad bacteria! Ugh!” When he’d managed to get most of it off his coat, it coalesced into a glob and began slithering toward a rathole under a counter. “Hey! I didn’t say you could leave! Get back here!” The newly-created thing paid no heed, disappearing into the wall. He heard a startled squeak, then skittering sounds as a chase began somewhere beyond the sheet rock.

    Van Neuter groaned in frustration. “Arrgh! A brand new life form, and here you stand, you big ninny, still holding this stupid lant—“ He swung the candle-in-a-glass-box around, intending to set it on a table; hot wax spilled out, hitting the smear of slime still on his coat. The vet froze again, eyes widening behind goggles not tinted enough to shut out the flash.

    WebMistressGina likes this.
  3. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

  4. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    1 Love the references to Behemoth's big bit in the movie (though I missed that part) and BD's travel arrangements from the Season 1 TMS Episode 8.
    2 What's this "anything "could" go wrong?" Don't you know Snookie? Anything "will" go wrong.
    3 Forced dating reality show? Hmm, I wonder what that could be a minimal rant towards. Certainly not the one thing Kermit and Piggy appeared on this past Monday. :smirk:
    4 Hee... That's our skirt-chasing Pew all right.
    5 Good that Gonzo's moving on to concern himself with proving his intentions to that clucky little hen of his.
    6 Happy that the weirdo's found an able assistant in Rosie. *Chuckles at the comment about scrambled mess with sausages on the side.
    7 Why does the Martians' dialogue when they shimmered into the empty hallway remind me of the sketch where they showed up in :( and :p's bedroom scaring the latter?
    :(: Ask them if they want any oatmeal.
    Martians: Oatmeal!
    8 Charging their antennai like static emitters, clever. Light the way and lead on, we shall read and follow.
    9 And so Eustace's list of obstacles grows.
    10 Absolute deafening clapping for Gonzo's performance. Mayhaps that last egg he saved will prove to hide a Resurrection Yolk inside it, unrevealed until he figures out the meaning of "I Open at the Close".
    11 Smelling salts for :cluck:. Better not let :hungry: hear, he'll bring that and an armload of other spices too.
    12 Barking hotdogs. Maybe those are some extra Frankenfurtersteins snatched from the Cooking Show with Cat Cora.
    13 Careful Snookie... You just made a deal with a devil. Better the devil you know than the one you don't, but that doesn't change the fact he's still a monster. Although I do like the budding protectiveness from Snookie towards Constanza.
    14 BD voted 'claws down' on Gonzo? While I respect his opinion and fright to vote as he sees fit, he is a judge after all, I'm only expressing concern that he should know not to upset the Underlord's plans as the smaller furry blue thing was chosen as a "favorite".
    15 Another round of applause at incorporating the fight sequences of eastern martial arts into John Lamb's rakish repertoire. Only to have it come tumbling down thanks to Pew.
    16 Oh! Very pleased to find Gladys making an appearance. Poor Link though, his naval suit ruined. I'm sure that'll be a blow to all his fans. Or maybe not, they'd probably start chanting for "Shirt off!" like in the stupid Burger King commercial.
    17 Oooooh... Sloop John B, I adore that song. Also makes me sad as I know what the song talks about.
    18 Hand that poultry a golden star for connecting the dots.
    19 Good question Snookie. Probably the same way I or rather Ryan did for his WMW article.
    20 Love the performance by Frazzle and the Frazzletones. And yes, you got everything written correctly.
    21 Okay, I got Snookie's joke.
    :boo: Big deal, I left my teeth in Minneapolis!
    22 The Martians even infiltrated Van Neuter's lab in search of boomsticks. Classic cartoon chemistry class. No boom? Nope nope nope. Oh wait, *hears the result of the lab doctor's candle tossing. Ah, there's the earth-shattering kaboom. Well, back to the old electronic brain.

    Thanks for another exciting installment. *Skulks away merrily.
    newsmanfan likes this.
  5. Ruahnna

    Ruahnna Well-Known Member

    Yay! I'm finally caught up!
    I am too sleepy to have caught some of the references, but I'll try a second read and see what I can catch then.

    I like that Gonzo is getting his priorities straight, and it seems that Camilla's long-suffering affecti0n will finally be rewarded. I am--strangely--not at all concerned that Gonzo won't make it out of the sewers. He's just that plucky, and I'm sure he'll survive Ascension night. Beaker, on the other hand, I'm worried about.

    The spider and bat dialogue was great. I really like what you do with your original characters.

    Oh! And THANK YOU for letting something awful happen to Van Neuter. I've been wanting something despicable to happen to him since MFS.

    And I'm glad that Snookie is getting his priorities straight, too. Making Life meaningful is really about who you share it with, and I'm hoping that Snookie may emerge from his purgatory with someone to share his life with. (Yep, that's me--the first house on Ush-Gush lane....)

    Poor Link. I'm actually liking him better and better, even though he doesn't give Piggy her due like he should. No wonder male pigs are called "bores."

    Keep it coming! Can't wait to see what's next!
  6. Ruahnna

    Ruahnna Well-Known Member

    Gonzo: (straightening his suspenders with the lady-bugs on them in front of the camera before realizing that it is a live feed) Oh! I'm on? Am I on? The camera's on? Now? Oh! Fantastic! (waves) Hi there! This is Gonzo the Great, performance artist and plumber extroidinaire, with breaking news. I am tres sorry to report that our story spinner, Newsmanfan, has been eaten by giant earwigs, who were drawn to her dark humor and slightly-minty insides, causing this story to be...what? She wasn't eaten?
    Newsie: Get out from in front of the camera, you--you...ridiculous excuse for a journalist! Who let you into the studio? This is a serious announcement.
    Scribbler: (edging into the room eating a doughnut stolen from the cast caterer.) Bigfoot stole her--right? Am I right? I knew there were monsters in this city!
    Newsie: Of course there are monsters in this city! We're standing on Sesame Street! But that's not the point!
    Rizzo: It's not? Well, that's disappointing. I just showed up for the knees--I mean, um, the news.
    Rhonda: Beat it, creep, before I tap-dance on your shins.
    Rizzo: (sighing) Is it just me or is she sexy when she's tough?
    Piggy: Well, excusez-Moi. Sheesh--some people are such camera-hogs! (flounces away)
    Newsie: The multi-talented author of this story--Newsmanfan (blushing), ahem, is on a temporary and unavoidable hiatus caused by the death of her...car? Her car? It died?
    Gonzo: Kaput.
    Rizzo: Terminal.
    The Count: Shalom.
    Newsie: Her, um, car. And Newsmanfan will return when she is no longer being carried into work by rats in rickshaws. (Glares at paper.) Rats in Rickshaws? Rhonda--who's writing this stuff?
    Rhonda: I don't know. (Looks at notes) Some Miss Piggy fangirl, looks like.
    Newsie: Oh. Is she...reliable?
    Rhonda: Usually. Except when she's messing with her own timeline.
    Newsie: What about Newsmanfan's (blushes), um, timeline?
    Rhonda: Keep your shorts on--she's getting to it when she has wheels again.
    Rizzo: Oh, and I suppose the Rickshaw Union doesn't count?
    Rhonda: SECURITY!
    Newsie: But--how could her car...die?
    (Rhonda is saved from explanation with a small blue compact car wheezes onto the soundstage, coughs violently and dies--all four tires going flat at the same time.)
    Newsie: Egad. Is it...is there...um, anything we can do?
    Rhonda: Naw. These things happen.
    Rizzo: But donations for a new car can be sent directly to my bank account at www.ratsassets.com, forward-slash--
    Rhonda: SECURITY! (Rizzo runs and she gives chase)
    Newsie: (left alone in front of the camera) Um. And that is all. This has been a Muppet News Flash exclusive.
    Scribbler: It's not really that exclusive. I just walked in the front door and got food off the catering table--
    Newsie: (growling) Get out! (Chases Scribbler off camera.)
    Sam the Eagle: Weirdos. You are allllll weirdos.
  7. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    *Sneaks back into the townhouse after leaving mysteriously previously in the middle of the night.
    Pops: Very popular choice.
    Sheesh, and I'm the one who runs the place.
    *Listens to taped news flash. Oh. Oh! Well, that explains that. Was worried I hadn't heard back from Kris since Monday night.
    Deadly passes by, consoling a little blue coupe that was Newsie's car.
    Wait, isn't that... From that Disney...
    Deadly nods quietly, leading the automobile apparition off to its final haunt.

    Thank you Ru for the Mupdate.
    Blue: Mupdate?
    Pink: News.
    Both: Yip yip yip yip yip, uh-huh uh-huh.
    *They shimmer away back to their rooftop hangout.
  8. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    (giggling madly...
    I cadged a ride to the library to post. Car still dead, but mechanic thinks he knows what's going on. Hope so. Back when I can...)

    Part Thirty-Seven

    A cold wind out of the northwest blew clouds in until Thursday morning looked more like an evening; by noon the sky was so overcast and the wind so biting that Kermit wished he’d worn something even warmer than his old trenchcoat. Glumly he climbed the subway station stairs, one flipper grasping his fedora tightly when a chilly gust threatened to steal it. “Stupid fall weather,” he grumbled. Should’ve gone on that perfume ad shoot with Piggy yesterday; it was gorgeous...we could have had a picnic in the park... Sighing, Kermit looked around once at the top of the steps to get his bearings. The dime store on the corner had been replaced by a dollar store, and the ads on the walls at the intersection were different, but as he peered against the wind he could see the familiar outline of the spruced-up brownstones which indicated the start of the street. His street, once upon a time. Glad that he still recognized it, and feeling vaguely guilty that he hadn’t visited for a very long time, the frog steeled his shoulders and tromped into the wind toward the signpost which had served as a beacon to many.

    Kermit wasn’t sure whom he should seek out first; the younger monsters, he was positive, had nothing to do with anything horrible under the city. He was fairly sure the more mature residents wouldn’t sink so low either...but then again, the Newsman had shown him what appeared to be proof of terrible crimes going on, and a few of the Muppet Theatre’s regular monstrous performers had seemed to be involved.

    The frog wasn’t sure whom to trust anymore.

    Consumed in these thoughts, head down against the wind, he almost bumped into a purple monster on a pogo stick. “Whoooaaa! Hey, watch out, mister!” The orange nose wrinkled a bit, and the eyes went wide in worry as the monster dismounted his bouncing toy to grasp Kermit’s shoulder. “Hey, are you okay? Sorry about that! I was trying to practice my boingarooney when this awful wind –“ Kermit looked up, and Telly startled, dropping his pogo stick. “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Is that really you, Kermit?”

    “Uh, yep, yep...it is,” Kermit nodded. “Hi, Telly. How are you do—“

    “Hey everybody! It’s Kermit! Kermit’s back! Hey!” the excited young monster yelled. He banged on a nearby garbage can at the foot of a brownstone’s front steps – a city waste ordnance violation if ever Kermit had seen one, and one which made him quirk a wry smile. Some things don’t change. The cranky voice which shouted a reply even before the lid to the can slammed open didn’t sound as though it had changed, either.

    “Heeeyyy! Knock it off! I was about to take my ugly rest!” A scraggly green head arose from the trash can, and dark brows furrowed at a frantic Telly. “Hey, kumquat-nose, what gives?”

    “Oscar! Oscar! Look! Look, Kermit’s back!”

    The Grouch swung around, startled, then gave his former neighbor a frown. “Well, well, look what the wind blew in with the rest of the trash!” He sneered, but Kermit wasn’t buying it. The very fact that the Grouch bothered to speak to him indicated he, too, had missed the frog.

    Kermit smiled. “Nice to see you again too, Oscar.”


    Telly trembled, hovering at Kermit’s shoulder. “Does...does this mean you’re moving back?”

    Kermit sighed. “Sorry, Telly, no. Listen, it’s great to see you both, and I’m really, uh, I’m sorry I haven’t visited in a while...”

    The Grouch cocked his misshapen head to one side. “But lemme guess: this ain’t a social call.”

    “No. I’m sorry.” Nasty-tempered as he could be, the trashcan resident might have a better idea than most whether anything untoward was going on among the monsters around here. “Oscar, I have some serious things I came to ask you guys about, and, well, um...”

    “Serious!” Telly exclaimed, shaking. “Oh, no! Is...is Wall Street coming here?”

    “What?” Baffled, Kermit stared at him.

    “Well, I, uh...I heard my mom watching the news the other night, and they said that Wall Street was full of robbers out to steal our rights to assemble things, and Kermit –“ He grabbed Kermit’s arm anxiously. “I have a model triangle I’ve been putting together! Those robbers won’t come steal it when I’m done assembling it, will they?”

    “Uh, no, Telly.” How the hey could he approach this with such an innocent? “Look, Telly, I heard that...that some of the monsters who work at my theatre might be...uh...might be getting in with a bad crowd, who want them to do bad things.”

    Telly cringed. “Are they going to try and steal my model triangle?”

    Oscar waved a grungy hand at the youngster. “Scram, kid! Us grown-ups have some serious stuff to talk about! Now beat it before I grab your stupid triangle! Heh heh heh.” He grinned as Telly retrieved his pogo stick and hurried off, casting nervous glances behind him every few steps. Turning back to Kermit, Oscar asked, “So what’s up? Did you need to come film a cautionary tale about just saying No for the naughty monster thespians?”

    “Oscar, this is serious,” Kermit said, scowling.

    “So you’ve said about twenty times already! What’s the big deal? And why don’t you hop around here any more? Finally got sick of the goody-goody stuff, huh? Well how wonderfully grouchy of you!”

    “Oscar, knock it off, or I’ll...I’ll paint your can with pink polka-dots, and it’ll be the happiest, most cheerful trash can in the five boroughs!”

    “Okay, okay, geez,” the Grouch grumbled. “Can’t blame a guy for being trying.”

    Kermit stepped closer than he really wished to the battered waste-heap, avoiding a soggy, rotten banana peel. How does he still get away with this stuff, anyway? “Look...something is going on with the theatre monsters. Something that looks pretty dangerous...and I need to know if anyone here is involved. I mean, it seems unlikely, but...”

    “Oh, well, if it’s dirt ya want!” Oscar said cheerfully. “Lemme see...uh, Telly has been running illegal trapezoids, Cookie is in rehab for junk food abuse, and the two-headed guy is working the phones for one a’ those nine-hundred numbers!”

    Kermit blanched, and the Grouch chortled. “Heh heh heh! You should see your froggy little face right now! Whadda chump.” He shook his head, grinning. “Duh! They’re kids, frog! Whaddaya think they’re up to? They play, they sing, they learn about numbers and letters and...yeeeesh. I get sick just thinking about it.”

    “So...so nothing out of the ordinary?” Kermit asked, relieved under his irritation.

    “Regrettably, no.” Oscar gave him a sour grimace. “It’s all as sickeningly pleasant as usual. Now if you have nothing better to do than waste my time, scram! See if I care if you never write us!” With that, he slammed the lid down, vanishing into the bowels of the trash once more.

    Unsure whether he should pursue the matter further here, and feeling very guilty about anyone else spotting him under these circumstances, Kermit looked around. The wind, fiercely chilly and now with a hint of rain blowing past, made him shiver and wonder if going into the store down the street would be a good idea or not; everyone would have questions, they’d want to chat and catch up, and as lovely as that sounded, now was not the time. Maybe...maybe you could invite them over for early trick-or-treating this weekend? He knew Piggy wouldn’t be thrilled at the idea of a house full of children, especially when several of them were large enough to knock over things...like the ‘fridge...or the foyer chandelier. But maybe just ask them to drop by the theatre for a treat, to show them we haven’t forgotten... Things have just been so busy! Sighing, he trudged onward, turning up the lapels of his coat against the wind.

    “Pinwheels! Get your pretty fall pinwheels right here! Pinwheels so you can see the wind blowing – hey – watch it – hey come back here!” a familiar scratchy voice yelped; Kermit looked up exactly in time for a large paper pinwheel to smack him across the face. He struggled with it, finally prying it free of his damp nose, when the blue monster in a carnival barker’s vest and straw hat caught up. “Aha! There you are, you naughty pinwheel! Ah, sir! I see you are clearly an enthusiast of this classic and useful item! With this, you can tell whether it is windy outside!”

    “Grover, I think the stuff being blown all over the street is a pretty good indicator of just how windy it is.”

    “Oh! Froggiebaby!” With a happy cry, Grover threw both arms around Kermit, squeezing him hard, the pinwheel hurtling away forgotten. “Oh I am so happy you are back! Oh, let me hug you and hug you and –“

    “Groffmf,” came a muffled voice.

    “Oh it is so good to see you! We have all missed you very much around here!”


    “Oh I cannot wait to tell everybody you are here! This is so exciting!”


    “You do not have to shout in my ear, froggie baby,” the blue monster said, yanking his head away from the half-smothered froggy mouth. “I know you are as happy as I am, but I have sensitive eardrums, you know.”

    “Grover, it’s nice to see you too, but I don’t have time right now for a big homecoming. I actually came to ask about...about...” He wasn’t sure how to approach this. “Um, look, is there somewhere we can go to talk without half the street interrupting us?”

    “Oh, of course!” Grover, clapping his flimsy hat to his head with one furry hand, led Kermit to the scant shelter of a closed-up vendor’s cart; the leeward side of it offered a little protection from the wind, but not much. “There we go! Oh, I wish you had told us you were coming by; I could have asked my mommy to bake a cake or something.”

    Kermit frowned, pulling his trenchcoat tighter around his chilled body. “Grover, someplace out of the wind?”

    “You said someplace where people would not bother us,” Grover pointed out. “You did not say somewhere out of the wind. And really, isn’t it a beautiful day for pinwheels? Just look how they – auughh – oh nooo! Come back!” Before the distraught monster could chase after the toys now spiraling down the street, Kermit caught his arm.

    “All right, all right, look. I just...I can’t stay long; I just needed some questions answered,” Kermit tried to explain. “Questions about...monsters on Sesame Street.”

    Grover paused, then leaned closer to murmur, “Kermit, you were here how many years and you did not think to ask about monsters then? I would have thought you would have been more observant of your surroundings.”

    “I know there are monsters! I know all of you here!” Kermit snapped, then wrested his impatience under control. Somehow, he knew, the adorably furry blue monster had a way of bringing that reaction out in people... “What I need to know is: are any of the monsters on Sesame Street going underground to some sort of...secret monster base?”

    Grover blinked, stared, and then patted his old friend on the back. “I never knew you were under such a strain, froggie baby! Why don’t we go into Hooper’s for a nice cup of hot chocolate?” He looked around. “It seems to be a little breezy and wet today.”

    “Grover...look, my mental state has nothing to do with this conversation! Last night I saw proof that some of the monsters from my theatre are doing something under the city, something involving secret tunnels, and game shows, and cages...” He shook his head. “It looks worrisome, whatever it is, and I just wanted to see if you guys had heard anything about it, all right?”

    “Secret underground base...cages...tunnels...hmmm. Nope, not me,” Grover said brightly after a moment’s consideration. “I have been busy with a new job with Charlie’s Catering Service, however, so it may have slipped by me. Uh...I could ask SuperGrover for you!” He smiled. “We are very close, you know.”

    Kermit shook his head. “That’s...that’s okay, thanks.” He sighed. Well, it wasn’t very likely any of the monsters here would be involved in kidnapping or imprisoning anyone! Still, he was relieved that they didn’t seem to know what he was talking about.

    “I did cater to a game show last week,” Grover went on. “Oh, it was very exciting! The singing, and the dancing, and the acrobatics! Froggie baby, you should have seen the aquarium balancing act! It nearly made me forget I was supposed to be waiting the judges’ table!”

    “Glad to hear it,” Kermit mumbled. Should he press on, and talk to more of the monsters? It seemed highly unlikely that any diabolical plots would be in play here. “Well, listen, Grover, if you should hear of anything suspicious, please let me know, okay? Oh, and...ah...why don’t you tell everyone to drop by the theatre this weekend for some early trick-or-treating? And...” Oh, what the hey. He felt guilty enough about this visit having to be so brief; he knew if he stayed long enough to say hello to everyone, he’d get corralled and mobbed and likely never make it back downtown before showtime...and he really did want to check on Scooter’s progress in securing the theatre...and he had half a mind to run down the absent monsters and see whether they really were AWOL or just busy or sick. But here were old friends, dear friends, even if some of them could be repeatedly annoying. “Why don’t you guys come see the show this weekend? Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. I’ll tell Pops to let anyone in free who lives here on the Street.”

    “That would be very amusing and entertaining, Kermit! I will be sure and tell everybody! Heeeyy everybodeeee!” he yelled suddenly, startling Kermit. Just as suddenly, a loud ringing came from Grover’s vest pocket. “Oh! Oh, wait, that might be the temp agency; I have to answer that. Excuse me, froggie baby,” he apologized, and tried leaning against the cart to block the wind noise. “Hello? Yes, it is I, your cute, furry, loveable employee Grover!”

    Kermit scrunched down below the top of the cart, hoping no one had noticed Grover’s primal scream. No such luck; another furry blue head poked around the corner of the cart, large googly eyes rolling wildly. “Cookie?” the monster asked hopefully.

    “Uh, hi, Cookie. No, no, sorry, we have no cookies today,” Kermit replied while Grover listened attentively to his phone. He winced when the rotund, shaggy heap of a monster brightened and threw his arms open for a hug.

    “Froggie! You back! Oh, this almost as good as a cookie!” Cookie Monster exclaimed, hugging Kermit. “Oh! Oh, this so wonderful! We should have celebration! We should have...cookies!” He gave a speculative look to a wheel of the cart; Kermit patted his hand, distracting him.

    “Uh...not right now, Cookie, okay? Listen, have you heard anything about monsters under –“

    “I am off to work!” Grover said, shoving his phone in a pocket. “Do not worry, Kermit! I will tell everybody of your very generous invitation to your place this weekend! I am sure everyone will come and you will have a wonderful party!”

    “No; no, Grover, it isn’t a party; I just said you guys could –“

    “A person in desperate need of a lockmonster awaits!” Grover cried. “I must fly to their assistance immediately!”

    “A lockmonster?” Kermit asked.

    Grover shrugged. “Well, I told them my name is not Smith. No time to chit-chat, froggie baby; I am sorry, but you will have to wait until this weekend to hear all of my wonderful stories about the catering business at your house party! I must fly! Up, up, and away!” He gave a small jump in the air, but remained grounded. “Hm, that’s strange...up, up and away!”

    “Grover –“ Kermit tried to correct the house-party misapprehension, but the monster was intent on his nonflying problem.

    “Oh, silly me, I am wearing the wrong uniform! Excuse me!” He trotted over to what had to be the last phone booth remaining anywhere in Manhattan, and swiftly re-emerged dressed in a pair of gray coveralls, holding a tool box, and sporting a red cape. “And now – SuperLockmonster to the rescue! Up, up and awaaaayyy!” Leaping high, he flew straight up – and crashed into the top of a street sign. Hanging from the sign, he dazedly tried again: “Up...up...and awayyy...”

    Kermit shook his head, watching the blue-and-gray streak sputter and dart crazily from sidewalk level to the top of a building as Grover randomly traversed the street and left the neighborhood. Cookie offered sagely, “Me always wonder how he get insurance.”

    “Mm,” Kermit agreed. With a sigh, he turned back to the baked-goods-obsessed creature. “So listen, Cookie, do you know anything about monsters living under the city who seem to be...ah...seem to be doing bad things?”

    The monster scratched his head. “Uh...they doing bad things with cookies?”

    “No, I very much doubt it.”

    “Then it hold no interest for me. Good to see you again, frog.” The monster, heading away, paused. “Uhh...you want to see if Bert and Ernie have hot cocoa? And...and maybe doughnut?”

    Kermit gave him a curious look. “Doughnut? Not cookie?”

    Cookie shrugged. “Variety...spice of life.”

    Gusts of rain spattered the windows; the Newsman gazed unhappily out at the change in weather. Gina will make me take garlic, he thought, grimacing. Still, swallowing a pill, or perhaps drinking the fresh herb minced into a cup of hot broth, was far better than the castor-oil preventative his mother had used for just about everything. It was also assuredly better than trying to breathe through stopped-up sinuses. He chastised himself for complaining, and turned his eyes toward the street nine floors down. Where on earth is the locksmith? It’s been almost an hour! I guess the word ‘emergency’ isn’t in this company’s vocabulary. Every muffled tread in the hallway last night, every dimly-heard car honking in the street had caused him to jerk awake, terrified of monsters bursting through the door. Gina had agreed to his plea for better security, although she’d pointed out that the lobby had a coded entry lock, and black-and-white patrol cars cruised the street below regularly. ****’s Kitchen hadn’t been a bad neighborhood for over a decade, since many of the old buildings had been renovated and sold to more upscale tenants. Had Gina’s grandmother not left her this place, it would have been out of price range for a theatre technician...certainly more than the Newsman would have been able to afford. Especially since you currently have no salary, he thought, scowling.

    He paced the living room, trying not to think about his suspension. A few minutes ago, he’d turned on the TV to see the protesters on Wall Street and in Zuccotti Park arguing with the cops who were forcibly removing their generators, citing safety concerns, as the cold rain came sheeting down. He itched to be down there, braving the elements to deliver up-to-the-minute coverage of the situation. However, surely the monsters were alerted to his investigation now; what if they were watching him? He shivered. The authorities had to take aggressive action! Had the Mayor seen his report? He glanced at the phone, fingers clenching unconsciously, then sighed. Four thousand viewings this morning...and no way of knowing if anyone in a position to DO something about it has seen it. He’d already left two messages with the Mayor’s secretary’s assistant, but no one had called back yet. What if they don’t do anything at all? What if the monstrous plot to take over the city continues unabated? How can I stop them?

    Anxious, Newsie paced, wrapping his arms around himself. He checked the apartment’s thermostat. He wore a thick fall cardigan over his usual undershirt and dress shirt, and the thermostat claimed the apartment was a comfortable seventy-two degrees, yet he felt chilled. Maybe it’s the rain. Gusts of water had been randomly splatting against the windows a good hour now, clouds turning the sky dark which had been so clear and lovely only yesterday. Remembering his aunt’s admonition about a storm, Newsie pressed his cheek to the glass and peered out and up, but it didn’t seem to be actually storming per se, just intermittently raining.

    As he squinted through the windows, he spied a darker object against the clouds. It narrowly missed the older apartments and converted factory buildings as it quickly approached. Newsie didn’t realize it was heading right for him until it was too late to do more than duck and cover. “Aaaaaaaagghhh!” screamed a high voice, one broad pane of glass shattering, as the blue flailing thing came hurtling into the living room.

    “Waaaahhh!” Newsie yelled, throwing himself to the side; he bounced up frantic for a weapon. Grabbing the first thing he saw, he whirled to confront the intruder.

    “Tah daaaahh! It is I, your friendly SuperLockmons—“

    “Aaaagh! Out! Out, you fiend!” Newsie cried, swinging the stubby weapon. It clanged off some sort of knight’s helmet the creature wore, making them both stagger back.

    “Oww! Sir! Sir, wait! Stop! Just a – whooaa!” The blue monster in the red cape ducked Newsie’s second swing. “I think perhaps he has had too much coffee,” the monster muttered, then grabbed the TV remote when Newsie tried to attack him with it again. “Sir! Sir! Please! Is this any way to greet a helpful lockmonster who has come to solve your dire security problems?”

    “Get out of my—“ The Newsman halted, panting, words sinking in. The monster wasn’t attacking, wasn’t baring fangs or claws or anything except a toolbox. “What? Who are you exactly?” Newsie demanded, trying to catch his breath.

    The blue furry creature drew himself up straight and struck a pose, arms akimbo. “Sir! Do not tell me you do not recognize the extremely helpful SuperLockmonster whom you yourself summoned! Is this not apartment nine-oh-six?”


    “And did you, sir, not call for a lockmonster?”

    “I called for a locksmith,” Newsie corrected, warily looking the strange monster up and down. The cape clashed with the plain gray coveralls, and the helmet had more dings and dents in it than the old metal toolbox the monster plunked onto the coffee table. The monster, however, was shorter than the Newsman, with a round pink nose, a bit of a potbelly shape below skinny shoulders, and absolutely no teeth in his wide round mouth.

    “Well, we cannot all be named Smith, you know! Now! I am here; how may I be of service? Did you wish a new lock on your breadbox?” The blue furry thing eagerly looked around. “Oh, what attractive art you have hanging on the walls! Is that an original Mucha or a reproduction? Oh, well, I suppose it does not matter; of course you would want to protect such nice posters! Can I interest you today in our Super-Deluxe Home Art Guard Alarm System, sir?”

    “Why did you crash through the window?” Newsie asked, his initial panic giving way to a growing anger; chill wet wind blew through the shattered pane. “How is that making my home more secure?”

    “Oh! You have a hole in your window! Not to worry, sir; this SuperLockmonster always aims to please! I will have that window secured for you in a jiffy! Here, could you hold this? Thank you – now, where is my tape measure...”

    Newsie stared astonished while the monster rummaged through the tool box now cradled in Newsie’s arms, tossing aside a chalkline, a pipe wrench, and a twenty-four-piece set of miniature screwdrivers. Quickly the coffee table, then the sofa, then the adjacent floor was covered in more tools than even Gina owned. “Er...uh...you’re really a locksmith?” Newsie asked dubiously, watching the cheerfully furry monster darting to and fro next to the window with a flurry of hammering noises.

    “I keep telling you, sir, not all of us are named Smith. There! How do you like your new, secure window?” The monster proudly gestured at the formerly light-giving panes which took up most of the outer wall; he’d boarded them over haphazardly with one-by-fours, crown molding in an egg-and-dart pattern, and a couple of bands of aluminum screwed in place. The actual windows were completely hidden.

    Oh my frog Gina is going to be ticked, was the first thing that came to mind. Newsie paled. “But – you can’t even see outside!”

    “And no one will be able to see in and be tempted to steal these fabulous art posters!” the lockmonster argued happily. “Is that not more secure? Does this not make you feel better, knowing no one can come climbing up the building to break in your windows?”

    “Erk,” Newsie gulped.

    “Well, there you are, sir! No need to thank me; it is all in a day’s work for a SuperLock—“

    “I called because I wanted more locks put on the front door!” Newsie choked out. He shoved the toolbox at the bewildered monster. “I thought maybe some bars on the outside of the windows, or something – not boarding them over! And I mainly wanted another deadbolt for the door!”

    The monster shrugged. “Well, sir, I do not think it very likely that anyone can see through your door and want to come steal your posters, but I am here to please!” He trotted to the kitchen. “Ah! I see your problem! Why, how can your door be secure when you do not even have a door here? Do not worry! I am prepared for all security discrepancies!”

    Newsie grabbed the monster’s skinny arm before more invasive construction work could commence. “That’s the kitchen! It’s supposed to be open! That is the front door!” He pointed the monster at the apartment’s only door to the floor’s main hall. “I just want a deadbolt! Do not board up anything else!”

    The blue monster gave Newsie a long stare. “All right, sir, my hearing is perfectly good; there is no need to shout.” He examined the front door, peering closely at it from jamb to kickplate, hmming and aha-ing a couple of minutes. Newsie waited, fidgeting. Finally the monster nodded. “I see your problem, sir. While this door already has a knob and a lock, you will need something more thorough to ensure your apartment is protected from any art poster thieves! Do not worry, I handle this sort of thing all the time, sir. Stand back; I would not wish you to be injured by flying hinge pins.”

    “W-what?” Newsie stammered, but the monster shoved him back a step and went to work, sawing and squeaking and asking for a tube of WD-40 from the toolbox and suddenly standing back, panting, covered in sawdust. Newsie blinked; had the creature really moved that fast?

    “There you are!” Newsie stared, eyes wide, at the small hinged panel with an enormous padlock now centered in the door at Muppet eye-level. “Isn’t that better? Now you will be able to lock your door’s security window so that prying eyes will not be able to see your art posters! They will have no idea which wall the Mucha ad for absinthe even hangs upon! Hah ha! Does that not make you feel much more secure, sir?” A friendly blue hand patted Newsie’s shoulder.

    “You...you cut a hole in the door!”

    “Technically, it is called a porthole, sir.”

    “You cut a hole in the door!” Newsie yelled. “That is not more secure!”

    Puzzled, the monster pointed out the padlock. “But you can lock your security porthole so no one can see inside, sir. If you wish to see who is trying to steal your posters, you can always look out the porthole, of course...”

    Newsie felt like tearing at his hair. “I don’t care about poster thieves!” he yelled. “I care about the monsters who are trying to take over the city! I care about horrible giant bugs trying to eat my friends! I care about freakish rag-things trying to murder my aunt!”

    The monster blinked. “I think you have more issues than can be solved even by a SuperLockmonster, sir.” Newsie turned away, trying to contain his fury. He felt a soft hand on his shoulder again, and glared back into sympathetic eyes. “Dealing with deep-seated nightmares can be difficult... Have you tried Hare Krishna?”

    “Is this the right place?” a wolfish monster growled softly, squinting up at the backstage entrance to the theatre. The trio had already been to two other theatres today only to discover someone back at base had given them the wrong GPS coordinates.

    The fat, sniffling goblin, almost completely muffled in a thick burlap scarf, grumbled back, “Why do you even look at signs? You can’t read!”

    “I’m up to Q in the alphabet,” argued the wolfish thing, showing its two-inch claws to the smartmouthed goblin.

    Piranha-mouthed, slinking Slurg silenced them both with a hiss: “Shut up! This is the right one.” He studied the door, beady eyes narrowed under feathery black brows. After their first mission had failed, Slurg in particular had been angling for another chance to prove to the underlord how useful he could be; these two losers would be content to lay somewhere stuffing their bellies when the great aboveground takeover happened, but not him. Slurg very much wanted a commanding part in the New Monster Order. He curled his toothy mouth up in his best attempt at a smile. “Nowww...we must find a way in, and overpower the target, and drag it back to base!”

    The wolfish monster exchanged a look with the doubtful goblin. “Uhh...about that, boss...”

    “Captain Slurg!”

    The goblin rolled its eyes; fortunately the strike team captain couldn’t see them beneath the layers of gardening insulation fabric. “Captain Slurg,” the wolf-thing corrected himself tiredly. “Look, I mean, we ain’t afraid a’ nothin’...but...”

    “She beat up Scribbler,” the goblin ventured. “I saw it in the Goblin Gossiper.”


    “She can banish ghosts just by lookin’ at ‘em,” the wolf-thing added.

    Slurg sighed impatiently. “So? We’re not ghosts!”

    “She has magic cards!”

    “You know what they say about red fur!”

    “She summoned a demon to fight a dinosaur!”

    The wolf-thing corrected the goblin with a waggle of a claw. “No, no, you got that one mixed up: she summoned a magician to fight a chicken.”

    “That doesn’t even make sense!” Slurg snapped. “Who cares about chickens? Who cares about dinosaurs or gossip hacks or magicians? Since when are cards weapons of any kind? And not everything they say about red fur is true! I should know; my fifth ex was a redfurred kinkajou! Now let’s get on with this!” He spat in the dirt of the alleyway. “I’m ashamed of you both! You call yourselves monsters!” Slurg grabbed the doorhandle, though he had to stand on tiptail to do so. “Now let’s get in there and—“

    The door abruptly flew open, and a tall man with white-blond hair and numerous tattoos glared at them. All three monsters froze.

    “Hey! Audition in progress! Can’t you guys read?” The tall man jerked a thumb at a notice taped to the door. “Either pipe down or move out before I come out here and explain the idea of courtesy in a little more detail!” With a final glare at the trio of startled monsters, the man returned inside and the door slammed.

    The goblin shrugged. “Ah well. We tried. Let’s go home.”

    Slurg grabbed the traitor by his neck – well, attempted to. It was difficult to even find a neck on a goblin normally, much less one wrapped up like a roasting turkey against the cold rain. “You idiot! We can’t go back empty-clawed now! Do you know what the dark lord will do to us if we fail him again?”

    The goblin and the wolf-thing glanced at one another again, and shrugged. “Uh...no?”

    “He’ll...he’ll...” At a creative loss, Slurg threw his hands in the air. “Well, it’ll be...never mind what it’ll be, because it’ll be horrible! It’ll be painful for all of us, you moron! Now...now start looking for another way insi—“

    “Hey! Keep it down out here! Don’t make me call the cops on you!” shouted a younger man with a clipboard as he flung the door open; again, they froze in astonishment. Stuffily, the man adjusted a pair of lightweight glasses. “We are trying to hold an audition in here! Honestly, hasn’t anyone heard of common courtesy anymore?” At a shout from inside the building, the young man yelled back, “Right away, Mr Malkovich, sir!” The door banged shut behind him.

    An idea popped into Slurg’s fevered brain. “Heeeyyy! I got it!” When the others stared at him dumbly, he pointed to the audition notice. “Monsterman!”

    Understanding dawned. The goblin perked up. “Yeah...Monsterman!”

    The wolf-thing snickered, nodding.

    A few minutes later, a somewhat baffled Slurg perched atop the goblin’s shoulders, gesturing broadly onstage in a ragged long coat while the wolf-thing struggled to keep his balance on two legs underneath. “To be...or not to—“

    “Thank you, we’ll call you if we need you,” an authoritative voice spoke from somewhere in the center of the audience seats. “Next!”

    “But wait, I wasn’t even to the good part yet,” Slurg protested, but the next hopeful actor was already hustling onto the stage.

    “Next!” the unseen director yelled, and the strike team shortly found themselves tumbling back into the alley in a mess of burlap scarf, moldy old coat, and mussed fur. The door slammed behind them.

    Slurg snarled. “You’ll be pounding on our door before long, you two-bit Olivier wannabe!”

    The wolf-thing groaned, staggering to four paws. The goblin tried to rewind his scarf around his head, shivering in the cold muck of the alley. “Now can we give up?”

    Disgusted, Slurg began pacing, wracking his belabored brain. There had to be some way to get to the Gypsy woman their lord and master wanted captured. He growled to himself. Darn it, it’s always so much harder when we have to grab them alive! Ignoring the wind, ignoring his whining subordinates, the toothy monster grimaced and paced, paced and scowled, but could imagine no scheme likely to get them close to their unsuspecting prey this time. He wouldn’t give up, however...not when his place in the new pecking order demanded success! He hadn’t realized he was grumbling aloud until the wolf-thing asked, “Uh...is the boss gonna peck us for failing? I didn’t know he had a beak.”

    After five minutes, the goblin gave up trying to intervene and just let Slurg strangle the wolf-thing with the remnants of the coat.
  9. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    This chapter just made me happy all over. That's not so difficult when you've got such a great story going. The whole first segment, that alone is worth 4, no, what da hey, 5 golden Freds. *Fannish squeee when Telly showed up. *Laughs at the embellished crimes :grouchy: tattled. *Louder squeeee when Grover comes into the picture. And then you go and add Cookie to the proceedings. But the best part is the anticipation of Grover arriving at Apt. 906 and the inanity of how the lockmonster—we can't all be called Smith—goes about doing the job he was hired for. He's hired! He's hired! *Happy dance.

    Not to be outdone, we have the return of Captain Slurg's strike team at the Sosilly Theater attempting to abduct one autumn-haired gypsy woman. You boys do know that's the first mistake your Underlord's decided upon fright? I mean, kidnapping the hero's girl to blackmail them into not interfering in your icky plotlines anymore? Sure, that'll stop them for a little while... But it'll only make the hero all that more determined to stop you, rescue the love of his life, and ultimately ruin whatever neatly-proceeding plans you had chugging along until then. Besides... Gina's not one to be crossed, she does have a good source of her own innate supernatural abilities. Oh well, your funeral.

    Hope your car gets fixed...
    :sympathy: Aagh! Never say "fixed" to a dog!
  10. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    *tries to imagine what an Edsqueee sounds like*
    *is suddenly hearing "The Batty Bat" playing in brain background*

    Thankya thankya! I really tried to get the Street gang correct...there will be more of them soon. Hey, they just invited themselves to that party, pretty much...I wasn't even PLANNING that and they go and guilt-trip the frog...sheesh!

    The remaining chapters are being carefully plotted. "Okay folks, don some eye protection, we got a lotta loose ends all coming together here!"

    "Is this movie A or movie B?"

    More soon...
  11. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Friendly bump back to the top for :news:
  12. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Thirty-Eight

    “Hallo! An welcome to zee premierrr rromantic show on ze televeezhon! Ah am your host, Incredibly Handsome Pew!”

    The camera cut to a shapeless blue blob in a tuxedo. “Last tahme, our beseeching bachelor Gustar was having much trouble deeciding between zeez duex amazeeng blonde bombeshells, so we gave zem both ze special beauty makeovair!” A clip from the previous show ran while Pew sauntered vaguely in the direction of a faux pillar on the posh mansion set. “And aftair zat, Gustar picked ze one who had ze most work done! Wow, what a fabulous makeovair! Doesn’t she look much more extreme now?” He patted a potted fern, then started back. “Oh! Excuse-moi, Gustar! Ah deed not know you wair ovair here!”

    “Uh, I’m over here, Pew,” the blob gurbled from the opposite side of the set, standing next to a leggy blonde with a Fracklish beak and demure, googly blue eyes. She posed in her teeny bikini on what might have been the arm of the blob.

    “What ahr you doing on ze set? Go away, or ah shall taunt you to ze best of mah abilitee!” Pew snapped at the fern, then made his way confidently toward the voice of the blob. “So! Gustar, mah friend, do you think zis fragile beauty can fulfill all your slahmiest dreams? Is she indeed monstruous enough for – aagh!” Pew’s shins encountered a low tufted ottoman upstage of the main set, and he beat it thoroughly with his microphone a few minutes, spitting curses. The blob and the girl waited, confused, until the shambling green-scaled thing yelled Cut!

    “Durn it, Pew, stop hitting the props!” the creature from the fat lagoon grumbled in a thick swamp accent, removing his headset long enough to waddle on set and steer Pew away from the furniture. “Just do your danged intro, and let’s get into the challenges!”

    “Ah waz doing mah intro! Zis clumsy oaf keeps getting in mah way!”

    Sighing, the director shambled off. “Camera two, on Gustar; camera three on Babycakes there...and...action!”

    Straightening his back into his usual hunch, Pew gestured at the wall behind the blob. “So, Gustar, do you zink that this lovely creachair is indeed ze one you wish to spend your whole lafe with?”

    The blob rumbled, a ripple coursing through its jellylike body. “Oh, definitely, Pew! Susan here is perfect for me! I love that cute little beak –“ The girl, with a giggle, leaned over and bit the blob sharply. “Ow! Huh huh...and her venom makes me all wriggly inside.” On cue, the girl spat a stream of sizzling fluid that diffused once it penetrated the slick skin of the blob, and it jiggled all over. “Aww, honey, stop that! Wait for our wedding night!”

    “Well! Zat is good to hear, mah flabby friend, but tonight, you will have anozer girl to challenge zis sweet patootie!” Pew whirled, flourishing a hand at the second camera; behind him, a curtain opened and a very reluctant young woman in a tank top and shorts was shoved onto the set by barely-glimpsed furry hands. “Meet Susan! Ahh mah blobby bachelor, who will be ze girl who wins your heart? Er, zat is, assuming you have anything like a heart in zat glob of pudding. Who will our bachelor choose? Stay with us, and find out, you shameless voyeurs! It’s up next, on Ah Married a Monstair!”

    The new girl protested as the cameras cut, “My name’s not Susan! It’s Audrey!” Then she saw the shifting, rolling blob as its ten randomly spaced eyeballs began ogling her, and screamed. Her flight was halted by a couple of large furred hands behind the curtain, which shoved her back on-set.

    “Morty, keep the fodder in the picture, okay, if that ain’t such an issue?” the director groaned. “Okay, everyone set up for the girl’s profile. Gustar, you wait over there, and we’ll shoot the taste test next, all righty?” The gilled monster took a long gulp from a massive convenience-store cup, and looked around while the crew moved into position. “Where’s the vet?”

    “Oh, right here, right here; I didn’t want to interrupt such artistic genius,” Van Neuter said, waving. He stepped forward, and Pew sniffed the air.

    “What is zat delicious barbeque? Shicken? Roast pork?” Pew murmured, orienting his body to follow his nose.

    “What the hey happened to you?” the director asked at the same time, taken aback.

    Van Neuter waved dismissively, chuckling. “Oh, uh, nothing! I just...uh...was experimenting with flammable things again. It’s just a flesh wound.” The normally pale-cream-felted Muppet glowed a bright pink all over, and had swaths of loosening bandages wrapped around him under his severely charred lab coat. A smug-seeming Thatch McGurk trailed after him, carrying a Gladstone bag. “So! Ready when you are, and you’ll be so excited when you see what I’ve cooked up today! She should break out in multiple legs and beady crab-eyes!”

    “Great, fine. Stand by to shoot ‘er up,” the director monster said, turning away unimpressed. “Okay, we set yet?” The camera and sound Frackles gave claws-up signs, and the potbellied fishy monster resettled his headphone over a finlike ear. “Okay, Pew, do your – Pew! Stop licking the lab tech! Come on, monsters, focus! We only have this studio for another two hours!” Sighing, the director plumped himself into a sagging chair, and gestured at the techs. “Roll film...aaaaand action!”

    “Sorry...ah thought you were someone else,” Pew apologized to a very insulted McGurk, and hastened back to center focus, blundering over one small pink Frackle trying to tape down the cable for another front-light. “So! Susan, tell us a little about yourself! Has it always been your dream to marry a monstair?”

    “Wh-what is this place? You – you can’t be real! There’s no such thing as monsters!” the young woman gasped, struggling to lean away from the leering Pew, but she’d been chained hand and foot to the ottoman. She jerked back when Pew tried to sniff her hair. “Get – get away from me, you – you – disgusting thing!”

    Pew chortled. “Isn’t she a dahling, mon amis? Ahh, pretty black-eyed Susan, eh? Just look at zat gorgeous green fur!”

    The girl glared at him. “What are you talking about? My eyes are brown! And my name isn’t Susan!” She jerked hard at the chains. “Let me go, you creeps! When my boyfriend hears about this, he’s going to kick your a—“

    “As ah was saying,” Pew continued, “zis lovely young creachair has an opportunity to go home with our swinging bachelor tonight – if she has ze talent, ze looks, and ze yumminess to win him ovair! So, Susan, I understand you have always longed for a handsome pirate to come sweep you away?”

    The director put a hand over his bulbous eyes. “Great. He’s hittin’ on the contestants again. Someone distract him please?”

    “Pyoozza bagga breddah!” Thatch complained to Van Neuter, wiping down his wet feathery mane where Pew had tried to find the source of the barbeque scent.

    “Well, what do you expect me to do about it, give him some mouthwash?” the vet returned crossly. “Now stop complaining! A hundred other monsters would kill to have your job, you know! Heh...some of them have, but then there was that incident with the giant lobster...oh never mind. Just get the serum ready, would you?” Van Neuter cautiously rewrapped some of the gauze over the burns on his left pinkie finger, wincing. “Oww...and go fetch me more aloe after this!”

    Meanwhile, the blob had joined Pew and the trapped girl and was peering closely at her from all sides, his jellied body stretched to allow all of his eyes a good look. “Well, I don’t know, Pew...I mean, if it’s true she can cook, I’m all for that...but just look at Susan!” He angled part of his blobbishness back at the Frackle-beaked girl, who now seemed to be sprouting catfishlike mustaches. “Just look at how much she’s changed to please me! How can Susan measure up?”

    “My name is not Susan!” shouted the terrified girl on the ottoman, cringing away from every clammy touch of blobby fingers.

    The first Susan tossed her head proudly, showing off her flowing blonde tresses. A couple of them began hissing and slithering over her head. “Ah agree, zat Susan is much prettier,” Pew nodded, “but what about if we give your new girl an extreme monstair-over?”

    “Ooh! Oh, that sounds sexy!” the blob exclaimed, quivering. “Show me! Show me!”

    “Doctair! Our next challenge will involve being able to crawl on ze ceiling!” Pew said as Van Neuter did his best to look presentable and stepped into the frame. “Can you help zis poor girl achieve that so she may compete to marry zis monstair?”

    “Why, certainly!” Van Neuter cried happily, brandishing the huge syringe which Thatch handed him. “Ow...sorry...fingers still a little sensitive, heh heh... Hi there sweetie! Are you ready to be so beautiful it’s scary?”

    The director urged the soundfrackles to amp up the receivers to capture every note of the shriek which followed.

    Riding his Segway back to the staircase, Van Neuter smiled broadly, though it hurt his burned cheeks to stretch the muscles. “Well! That was fabulous, don’t you think, Thatch? Did you see those prickly feet all poking out of her ribcage? How genius of me to use the wooly caterpillar extract this time!”

    “Fabba,” Thatch agreed dully, panting as he lugged the bag alongside the gliding doctor. He paused at the foot of the stairs leading up to the lab, eyes narrowing as he contemplated dragging the heavy equipment all the way up.

    Van Neuter stepped off the Segway and handed his ride pass to the sullen, shaggy parking attendant to be punched. “Come on, Thatch, don’t shilly-shally,” Van Neuter said brightly. “Let’s go!” He held his arms open, waiting, but McGurk only gave him a disgusted look. Van Neuter grimaced. “Oh, come on! You don’t expect me to walk up all those stairs in this condition, do you? Come on, monsterback, let’s go!” Grumbling, McGurk knelt and whuffed out a harsh breath as the vet cheerfully climbed on his back for a ride up. The short purple monster staggered to unsteady feet with Van Neuter’s legs crossed over his chest, his hands grasping McGurk’s horns; it didn’t help Thatch’s balance when Van Neuter bounced impatiently. “What’s the hold-up? I need to get back to the lab and make notes on this wonderful triumph of science! Giddy-up!”

    A straining monster had managed twenty-five steps up, his legs trembling with effort, clutching the bag in one paw and the rough wall of the staircase with the other, when Van Neuter’s phone rang. “Oh! Oh! Hold still, Thatch; don’t want to walk into a dead spot, reception is so tricky down here – Hello! Hello? Who is it?”

    The chill voice on the other end of the call made Van Neuter sit up a little straighter, putting even more stress on Thatch’s shoulders. “I hear you may have perfected your serum, doctor. Is this correct?”

    “Oh! Uh, yes! Yes I did! Oh, your dark underarmness, you won’t be disappointed!” Excited, Van Neuter giggled. Thatch stifled a groan, trying not to collapse, but his knees were shaking.

    “Excellent. Bring it to me at once.”

    Immediately realizing the consequences of imperfection, Van Neuter squirmed. “Er...um...well...that is...I think it works. I mean I’m pretty sure.”

    “The hour grows near, and my patience dwindles, Van Neuter,” the underlord growled. A passing centipede, hearing the subsonic tremors of that voice even over a cell phone, squeaked and fled. “Is the serum ready or not?”

    “Well, uh...I...I just want one more day to observe the effects, Mr Slipperypants, sir, if that’s all right with you,” Van Neuter begged. “See, I finally thought to cross the wooly caterpillar material with those poisonous conch specimens, which slowed down the process and allowed better manipulation of the inner cells, which, heh heh, as it turns out was the problem all along! See, the serum had been mainly affecting the subdermal layer, not the actual bone marrow, and so –“

    “I don’t care about your silly psuedoscience!” the underlord roared; Van Neuter cringed, and Thatch wavered; he tried to plant his feet better, and his claws scrabbled on the wall for balance. “Just come to me within twenty-four hours with a working formula, or else your next experiment will be to discover how many gallons of acid it takes to dissolve you from the inside out in under a minute!”

    The connection cut off. Van Neuter recovered what he could of his dignity with a protest: “Wuh...well honestly! Some people don’t understand the delicate nature of my work! I mean, it takes hours and hours of trial and error to find just that perfect balance of—“

    Thatch’s foot slipped on the slime coating the stairs. “Waaaaagggaah!” he yelped. Van Neuter screamed like a girl, and the duo went tumbling past the parking attendant, who snarled and gave chase. No one could just waltz past without having their ticket punched!

    Gonzo paced the corridor, waiting to be allowed on-set. In just a few minutes, the results show would begin filming, and he would discover whether the audience had vaulted him into the final round of the competition. Rosie McGurk watched him with two eyes, the third darting nervously at the guard dog blocking the other end of the corridor outside the largest studio MMN had. “Do you think she voted?” Gonzo asked, the mostly-grown-back feathers atop his head bouncing as he wore a trench in the rock floor. “Do you think she saw my act, Rosie?”

    “Shabba,” Rosie assured him, his attention more drawn to the four-headed Doberman with a scorpion tail engrossed in gnawing a large and misshapen bone. The chains securing the beast to the wall didn’t look all that sturdy to McGurk, and he worried that if it became bored or hungry, it might try some monster and Whatever bones out instead.

    “Aw, man, the tension is killing me!” Gonzo yelled, making the dog look up. “Why can’t they just open the studio and let us in already?”

    “Uh...Gazza...” Rosie gulped, trying to get Gonzo’s attention; two of the dog’s heads were orienting on each of them.

    “I mean, come on! What are they doing, mopping the stage? At least let us sit in the audience until it’s time for the show!” Gonzo continued to vent, banging once on the studio door.


    The dog slowly stood up; it had to crouch its massive shoulders just to fit in the tunnel. Rosie heard a sickening scraping sound, and realized the giant stinger of a tail was wagging, dragging sparks across the ceiling. One head lowered, sniffing; another growled.

    “Seriously! I am an artiste! Is this any way to treat a show’s star performer? Come on! We all know who everyone is really here to see!” Gonzo griped, and pounded again on the door. “Let us in! I’m getting cold feet!”

    “Cabba feega?” Rosie asked, surprised enough to forget about the dog for an instant.

    Gonzo blinked at him. “No, really...I feel like I’m standing in ice or something!”

    Rosie peered into the ruts Gonzo’s frantic pacing had worn into the floor. “Uh...ya stagga en wabbaliya.”

    “I’m standing in the...” Gonzo looked down at the chilly sludge trickling by his bare toes. “Water line. Got it.” He smacked a fist against the door. “Come on, you philistines! Let’s rock this mother!”

    “Uh...Gazza...” Rosie gulped, poking his daredevil companion. The dog had advanced a step and extended two crinkled muzzles forward, baring large yellow teeth. It stepped on its bone; it snapped and then crunched into tiny bits under the weight of one broad paw.

    “Rosie, look, either help me out here or –“ Turning, Gonzo finally saw the dog. “Oh. Hello! Are you here to watch the show?”

    “Raaaaaaagh!” the dog snarled, then barked. Loudly. Dust crumbled from the ceiling.

    “Waaaaaagh!” Gonzo and Rosie cried, both immediately pounding on the door in earnest.

    The door swung open, and a dark, hooded figure stuck out a voluminous black sleeve to gesture angrily. “What! What! We’re about to do a show in here, and you morons are shouting loud enough to wake the...oh. Hey! You’re the Great Gonzo! Okay, you can come in.” The shadowed head poked out of the room far enough to get the dog’s attention. “No pets!” The dog growled, then harrumphed, then lay down in the middle of the corridor again to prevent performers from fleeing.

    “Uh...you, uh...you look a lot like someone I met once,” Gonzo said, eyes wide, as he slipped into the room, McGurk close on his heels. “Are you by any chance –“

    “Name’s Bob,” the hooded thing said. “Stage manager. You guys go straight backstage, okay? We’re not ready to film yet; the audience won’t be open for another ten minutes, and we’ll start promptly at seven.”

    “Uh...sure,” Gonzo said, staring after the figure as it glided off. “Huh...I could’ve sworn he was...”

    “Funggah twebba klak,” Rosie muttered, and Gonzo looked dead ahead to see Mungus Mumfrey slithering over the stage, checking the placement of numerous garden spades in a large net and then gesturing at a couple of burly goblins. The goblins heaved on ropes attached to pulleys, drawing the whole batch of sharp objects high above the stage. “Whaffa dugga?”

    “Hmm. Must be for his puff piece tonight,” Gonzo mused. “He thinks he’ll be in the final. Hah! Why would anyone vote for a glob of multicelled parasite?”

    Rosie shook his head, and the two made their way around the fungus toward the back holding pen. As they passed, Mungus raised a few spores and waved them mockingly at Gonzo, then at the EXIT sign in the audience. “Good luck to you too, pal,” Gonzo retorted. “I think you’re gonna need it!”

    Rosie snickered. John Lamb turned at the voices; he’d thrown off his crutches, but as he hobbled toward them, they could see his injury would make further competition difficult. Still, he was a legend, and Gonzo wasn’t sure if the crowds might choose him just to appease their desire to celebrate the past glory of ovine martial arts. “Uh...hi, Mr Lamb. Good luck tonight?” Gonzo said, holding out a hand uncertainly.

    The black-wooled ram gave him a haughty look down the end of his muzzle. “Don’t need luck when you’re solid, baby. Try not to immolate yourself in the flames of my glory, a’right?” With a smirk, Lamb squared his already-square shoulders and strode off to the cooler of water bottles being set down now by two very tired Frackles.

    Rosie blinked. Gonzo shook his head. “Egotism is rampant in this sport, Rosie,” he confided. “Don’t let ‘em get to you. There’s a trophy I gotta take back to Camilla!”

    Shortly, the room filled with sound: audience monsters crowding into the bleacher seats, corn-dog hawkers throwing yipping beer-battered Chihuahuas to patrons, Pew cursing out an amplifier which incessantly stepped right in his way. The trio of contestants paced and eyed one another, confidence warring with doubt in each brain. Snookie Blyer arrived only a few minutes before airtime, deposited on the stage platform by a chortling Carl, the Big Mean BBQ Griller; there was no time for him to wash the spices out of his hair properly, but he snagged two bottles of water from the cooler and upended them over himself in an attempt to look presentable as something other than an appetizer. He shook himself like a soaked dog, shooting a glare at the monsters in the audience who took note of his condition and laughed. When Pew began howling for places, Snookie dried his hands and took the microphone. The judges settled behind their table, the spotlight centered on the host, and the Mutations launched into the theme music. “Grab your popcorn, grab your soda, and take it all into another room so you can avoid seeing tonight’s live results show right here – on Break a Leg!” Snookie shouted, and the crowd roared.

    “Gabba da egga,” Rosie whispered to Gonzo, holding up a satchel with a dozen fresh eggs, but Gonzo waved him off.

    “No, no – yeah, I know what I said. Forget it. I have a better idea. Here, let me have those...”

    “Tonight, folks – and the rest of you in the audience – we will announce the results of your tallied votes and the judges’ scores, and determine who will compete Saturday in the final contest, and who will be on the menu in the studio canteen tomorrow!” Snookie looked out into the roiling mass of fur, claws, and teeth, and wondered whatever had possessed him to go into show business. He doubted Guy Smiley ever had to worry about being eaten by his viewers. Forcing a smile for the camera circling him in closeup, he continued: “So many of you called in to vote that it took all our heads just to keep up!” The feed switched to the phone bank, idle tonight, but manned by a two-headed monster and a triple-header, who waved and grinned. “Once again, let’s say hello to our judges...no matter how much we wish we were saying goodbye instead...”

    Gonzo took a few of the eggs out of the bag, weighing them carefully by balancing each on his nose, and finally selecting seven of them which seemed more or less evenly matched. Rosie watched him fussing with them, bewildered. The host introduced John Lamb again; a clip ran of the sheepfighter’s martial arts tour-de-force and embarrassing mishap, and then Lamb himself stepped into the lights and directed four of the stagefrackles to hold thin bamboo sticks upright. He leaped onto them with a grunt and a grimace, then danced to and fro on the tiny tips of the sticks, his hooves clacking, and finally jumped straight up, struck his hindhooves together to create a spark, and ignited all four poles before somersaulting to the stage floor. The audience cheered, but Gonzo could see the ram’s left foot wavering a little, and he was limping as he walked down to the holding pen.

    After a commercial break, Mungus Mumfrey repeated his own side-splitting trick, allowing a rain of spades from the ceiling to chop him up before he came back together in a massive, globby pile and bowed to the audience. A few of the crowd, eager to repeat their participation of the previous night, hurled beer cans and half-eaten bags of popcorn at him; one thrown javelin nearly missed Snookie. The fungus’ prior performance was shown on the large screen overhead. Gonzo fidgeted, muttering under his breath, and Rosie kept a worried eye on him.

    At last it was the daredevil’s turn in the spotlight. While his clip played, he took a deep breath, cradled a pile of eggs in his arms, and grinned at McGurk. “Watch this, Rosie! This is for my girl!” he exclaimed. He bounced up onto the stage amid cheers, and Rosie winced, crouched at the platform’s edge. How dangerous would this be? It was only supposed to be a puff piece, to tease the audience! Rosie took stock: they’d brought no explosives...no sharp implements...no acid. And yet, after all, this was the Great Gonzo... The pink-furred monster turned light lavender in dread, and stared up at his death-defying ward.

    Gonzo beamed at the crowd, bowed, and yelled at the band, “Just try to follow along, guys!” Then he tossed an egg into the air...another, and another, until all seven eggs flew in a circle above his head, the Whatever deftly juggling them. The crowd hushed, curious...and Gonzo began singing.

    “You alone, you are my one and only chicken...steady
    And if you leave I will alone and lonely sicken, fretting
    You and I
    We’re a team and that’s a fact
    You and I –
    What a terrific idea for an act!”

    The crowd looked at one another, puzzled. What terrible, death-mocking stunt was this leading up to? Gonzo began dancing, a softshoe toward stage left as he continued to juggle the eggs, working a little variation into their height.

    You’re sweeter than wine or vanilla,
    I’ll lie beneath this tree – it’s a willah

    Snookie stared at him. What the hey? How is this daring? What’s he up to? Gonzo shuffled to the other side of the stage, still singing; the monster band seemed at a loss, except for one purple leggy thing who’d picked up a ukulele and was strumming along.

    The night it grows stillah and stillah,
    Camilla –
    You’re prettier by far than Godzilla

    Gonzo suddenly flipped over, walking on his hands and juggling the eggs with his feet. “I love you chickie!” he yelled. “Bring it home, guys!” The lone musician strummed louder, and Gonzo belted out one last refrain.

    “Camilla –
    Without you I’d only be illah
    Please be only my...little...pillah
    Camilla, Camilla, Camilllaaaaaaa!”

    As the dumbfounded studiofull of monsters stared, Gonzo righted himself with a flip, and caught all the eggs in his mouth. When he grinned, seven round orbs spread his lips wide. “Fank ooo!” he shouted with his mouth full. “You’ a wonnaful aubienf!” Bowing again, he left the stage. McGurk met him with three wide eyes. “Whaf?” Gonzo asked, thumping down onto a bench and fanning himself with his cape. He carefully removed the eggs from his mouth, and to Rosie’s bewildered gesture at them, responded cheerfully, “Oh, that? Cool, huh? Steve Martin taught me that one. It works better when I play the banjo at the same time, but since it was kinda last-minute...”

    “Ooo-kay!” Snookie said, trying to ignore the rumble in the audience. “I guess the most dangerous thing about that was displeasing our studio crowd... Well, after this break, we’ll find out who will be moving up, and who will be mowed under! Stay tuned unless you actually have a life worth living to Break a Leg!”

    At the Muppet Theatre, a blushing chicken lolled on a sofa in the green room. At another chicken’s insistent clucking, Gladys sighed and trudged to the canteen kitchen. “Hey, Chef, got any more of those smelling salts?”

    “Hoo? Uhh...doon de speecy-ning sult!” the Chef replied, grabbing a few small jars from a shelf precariously overhanging the grill.

    “Seasoning salt? Well, okay...if you think it’ll work...” Gladys shrugged.

    Camilla didn’t even react too badly; a few pecks on the Chef’s balding head chased him back to the kitchen, and she resumed her seat by the television, feeling hazy and soft. Nothing mattered except what she’d just seen...not the theatre, not the scatterbrained cook, not even the rumors about the monsters having deserted the troupe she’d heard earlier. Nothing existed for her but the grinning blue thing serenading her in that wonderfully scratchy voice. Now...if only he’d come home.

    “Home free! I’m in! I’m in!” the wolf-thing growled. He peered around. The goblin clambered out of the trapdoor after him, and Slurg shoved the wooden cover completely out of its hole as he shouldered his way up. The wolf-thing sniffed the empty air of the darkened stage. “Uh...she was here, but I can’t tell which way she went...”

    “Spread out. Look around,” Slurg commanded. Elated, he swaggered as he explored the Sosilly stage. Pushing the goblin through the sewer pipes had been a chore, but after all, no especial nastiness had smeared his scales that way, and their undetected entry into the theatre promised success! Now if they could only discover where everyone...was... Swinging his long head around in sudden unease, Slurg realized the theatre was deserted.

    “Uh...maybe they all went home for the night,” the goblin ventured. He stopped by an open crate and stretched on tiptoe to peer inside. “Looks like they left some props.” He climbed inside the crate while the wolf-thing sniffed around a stool and table center stage. Slurg paced, glaring from the empty seats to the empty catwalk above. A few pale lights lent dim illumination to the whole theatre, but clearly if there had even been a show tonight, it was over.

    “Well, we’re in, and we’ll stay in!” he announced. “She’s gotta come back tomorrow, and when she does we’ll be ready for her! Find a hiding place, all of you, and we’ll –“

    “All of us? There’s only me and Burt,” the goblin said, drawing a scowl from Slurg. The goblin held up a goofy-looking orange furry thing. “Check it out! Puppets!” Putting his slimy hand into the floppy primate, the goblin began jumping it around, clumsily moving the arms, and squeaking in a high voice: “Oh, Joey, the lemur, he really is swell –“

    “Someone’s coming!” the wolf-thing hissed. Before he could bolt offstage, two young men in black clothing threw open the curtain to the green room and strode out. The goblin ducked into the crate. Slurg and the wolf-thing froze, trying to be inconspicuous.

    “Glad this stuff’s done and we can get back to some actual theatre soon,” a young man with short chestnut hair and glasses commented. He upended the stool onto the table, and in doing so noticed the wolf-thing. “I mean, look at this crap. Puppet slams? Really?” He grabbed the wolf-thing by the scruff of its neck, immobilizing it as he carried it to the open crate and tossed it in.

    “Yeah, tell me about it,” agreed the taller man with pale blonde hair. He spotted Slurg, and laughed. “Check this one out! What’s it supposed to be, an alligator?”

    “Got me. Come on, hurry up. The truck’s leaving.”

    Slurg gurgled as the man grabbed him by the neck and the tail and heaved him into the crate; before he could protest, the lid slammed down, locks clicked in place, and the two techies hefted the crate between them. “Quit swinging it! Heavy enough without you rocking it all over the place,” Alan complained.

    “Nice try, dude. Come on, lift that barge, tote that bale,” Scott returned, chuckling. Together they carried the crate to the waiting U-Haul in the alley and shoved it into the back before the driver slammed the door. “Hey, so where’s this guy playing next? Crosstown?” Scott asked.

    The driver consulted his schedule. “Nah – looks like Poughkeepsie.”

    “Hope they like dumb-looking puppets in the sticks,” Alan snickered. As the truck pulled out, he clapped his fellow technician on the back. “Wanna come out and toast the end of a stupid month?”

    “Sounds great, ‘long as you don’t mind me toasting it with ginger ale.”

    “Just don’t sing that d—d Joey the Lemur song again.”

    “What song?”

    “That thing you were singing. I heard you just a second ago, inside.”

    “Wasn’t me, dude.”

    They stopped, and slowly looked at the empty alley. The exhaust from the truck could still be seen in the chill, wet air.
    Ruahnna and WhiteRabbit like this.
  13. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Oh, <333 the update. How do you keep doing this? Every segment a smash.

    Bits I adored/picked out as fave moments.
    Guster and Susan, the real Susan.
    *Hears a girlish voice call out 'She's not Susan!'
    And then what Audrey got converted into, I imagine the prickling wriggling weebabeast/woolly caterpillar legs coming out from her midtorso adding to her monsterish sex appeal.

    Glad that Pew and Van Neuter got a bit of spotlight shined on them.
    Er, I think it's "pseudo-" as in "false".
    Such is the way, noone has any real appreciation for another's toiling at their craft to truly follow the intricacies of minutia.

    Carl deposited a burnt Snookie with BBQ powdering in his hair... That can only mean the monster did indeed rescue Constanza, hence the addition of a second Susan.
    *Hears that girlish voice again, 'She's not Susan!'
    But then where is Constanza? Is she safe? Inquiring minds need to know.

    Puff pieces for Brake A Leg!
    :insatiable: Me prefer puff pastry pieces instead.
    Yeah, I know Cook.

    Gonzo serenading his chicky with the egg and dance routine, cute.
    *Chuckles at :hungry: bringing out seasoning salt instead of smelling salts.

    No, not the Joey the Lemur song! (That's an MST reference for everybody else out in the audience).
    Oh, so the black wolfish thing is named Burt. Only the goblin remains to be identified.
    *Waves as the truck carts off the Monster Strike Team all the way to Poughkeepsie.
    Good luck boys... Have fun storming the castle!
    Meh, they're dead. *Hopes Kris isn't though.
  14. Ruahnna

    Ruahnna Well-Known Member

    Whoa! Looks like all of the scenery-chewing won't be figurative! So glad the Sosilly guys weren't so silly enough to leave those yay-hoos out where they might start trouble! Good riddance to bad monsters, and all that!

    And Camilla has my undying respect for FIGURING OUT what Gonzo stunt was all about, and still wanting him home and safe and ready to lay....um, something to do with an egg....

    LOVED the smelling/seasoning salts! The light touch of a master chef on this story!

    I thought Oscar was hilarious. Even though he tries to deny it sometimes, he really does understand that some of the monsters are really just kids, and innocents. I thought his comical take on what they could be into if they weren't so innocent was riotously funny--and Kermit's "Gee whiz, Wally? You think so?" was just priceless. Kermit may be grown up, but he's a bit of an innocent himself. But I'm glad he cared enough to actually go to the street and try to find out what's up.

    I appreciated Snookie's sacrifice in trying to save Constanza, but I'm dismayed to see another innocent in her place. I really want Van Neuter to be, well, aptly named, and I want all of his whacko, sicko experiments to reverse themselves in a burst of "a la peanut-butter sandwich." I don't know if I'll get my wish, but you can bet I'll keep reading!!

    Brava, chica! More, more, more!
  15. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Posted by :news: at 11:
    Good to see you again, frog.” The monster, heading away, paused. “Uhh...you want to see if Bert and Ernie have hot cocoa?
    And...and maybe doughnut?”

    Kermit gave him a curious look. “Doughnut? Not cookie?”

    Cookie shrugged. “Variety...spice of life.”

    Heh, that's such a Cookie-thing for him to say. *Waits for triumphant return of fan of :news: man.
  16. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Thanks guys! I haven't actually decided what else to slam Van Neuter with. Working for the bad guys is never a good idea, though...

    You'll see Constanza again soon. Along with some others I bet you thought I'd forgotten about. And hey, it wouldn't be a comedic horror story without some HORROR from time to time, yes?
  17. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    So long as you post, we'll read it. BTW: Check June's addition, as well as KG 122 if you get the chance. :D
  18. Ruahnna

    Ruahnna Well-Known Member

    Janice: Oh! Doctor Bob! The car is better!
    Rowlf: Better alert security--I hear this patient has a tendency to run.
    Piggy: When it can run in high heels, I'll be impressed.
    Rowlf: When it can run in high heels, you'll be out of a job! Heh heh!
    Piggy: Shouldn't you be chasing some parked cars?
    Janice: Oh, like, I'm glad her car is better. Maybe she'll post something soon!
    The Count likes this.
  19. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    :batty: Does he have a license?
    :sympathy: Of course I have a license, the leash laws in this city are really rough.
    :oops: But why they leash their rough laws?
    :flirt: I wonder if it buys high-heels or sneakers.
    :mad: You mean it already wears heels?
    :sympathy: Of course, haven't you heard of going to the pumps?
    UD: Clear! *Jolts the car with his lightning touch.
    Van Neuter: It's alive, it's alive!!!
    :sing: That's what I call a car-dog. *Raspy laugh.
  20. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Thirty-Nine

    Two monsters looked up warily, then slid aside for the troll to walk unhindered along a rough-hewn corridor. Strange glowing things crawled on the ceiling. Enormous bugs skittered underfoot. Wait – was that another corridor, off to the left?

    The Newsman paused the playback, rewound it, and carefully advanced it frame-by-frame on his PowerBook, but the shadow off to Sweetums’ left was no clearer. Frustrated, he let the film run again, making a dotted “x” for a possible exit on the graph paper map he’d been attempting for the last two hours, his right hand hovering over the touchpad while he drew with the left. So far, he’d been able to map the route Sweetums had taken for only about a hundred yards, judging from the length of the troll’s wide stride. Newsie removed his glasses, stretched his arms up and rubbed his eyes. It doesn’t matter how tired you are; this thing needs to be mapped if you have any hope of getting in and out of there alive! Scowling, he reached for his pumpkin mug for another sip of cooling coffee. His phone ringing startled him, and pencil and coffee mug nearly went flying.

    “Hello!” He tried to project more strength into his voice than he currently felt.

    “Um...Aloysius? It’s Mary.”

    It took his brain a moment to change gears. “Oh! Er...of course! How are you?” Then he realized what the reason for the call must be, and felt like an idiot for sounding so forcedly upbeat.

    Confirming this, Mary said, “Um...I’m...I’m okay. I just wanted to tell you that the...the memorial service will be this coming Tuesday. The first. Uh...I hope Our Lady of Muppaphones isn’t too far away for you?”

    There’s a church dedicated to Muppaphones? “Er...I’m sure that’s fine. Is this a place Aunt Ethel regularly...um...worshiped at?”

    “I guess so. It was specified in her will, according to Fred. The service starts at nine, and afterward there’ll be a private meeting of the beneficiaries. You’re included in that.”

    Newsie doubted his aunt had much to give away; the years she’d spent institutionalized must have decimated her estate. He’d go, however, as it was what Ethel would have wished. “Is...will Fred be there?”

    “Yes.” His distant relation paused, then added, “Please don’t let that be a reason for you not to come. Even Fred won’t be a jerk in front of the rest of the family. I know Ethel thought highly of you.”

    Newsie fought down the warmth in his eyes. Calmly as possible, he responded, “Thank you.”

    “And I’d love for you to meet the kids. All of them, including Fred’s. You are family, and it’s about time we all acted like it.”

    “I...er...thank you,” Newsie said, surprised. “How old are they now?” He dimly recalled hearing of babies born years back, just before Ethel was committed to Shadows on the Dial.

    “My Cindy is twelve, and Joey is nine...Fred and Marcie’s daughter Yvette is fourteen...” Mary proceeded to relate a few tidbits about each child. Newsie’s reporter instincts kicked in, and he grabbed his notepad and took it all down, hoping to appear less of a strange fool at the memorial around people he’d never met. Touched, he asked, “Is there...can I bring anything for the children? How have they handled Ethel’s loss?”

    Mary chuckled softly. “Oh, they hardly knew her at all...to them it’s going to be just some big formal family thing they have to suffer through. Just be yourself, be patient with them, and go slow. I’d like...I’d like it if maybe you could come by around the holidays?”

    Surprised again, Newsie swallowed back a lump in his throat. “Er...I’d...that would be very nice! Um...is it all right if I bring my girlfriend?”

    “You have a –“ Mary choked off her response, composed herself, and said instead, “Well, absolutely! We’d love to meet her! You’re bringing her to the memorial, then, right?”

    “Uhm...if...if she can take that day off, I suppose so, yes...” He hadn’t even considered that. Would Gina come with him? She’d told him she hated funerals, ever since her own parents were lost at sea when she was six; the only one she’d attended after that was her Grandmama Angie’s. Now he’d have to ask her...and she was already miffed with him about the boarded-over windows...

    “Good. I’m...I’m sorry it seems like it takes a death in the family to bring us together. But I hope we can start fresh, okay?” Mary asked. “And I’m...I’m really glad you’ve found someone, Aloysius.”

    He could plainly hear the unspoken sentiment: Who’d have thought he’d EVER find someone? However, as Mary was clearly trying to be welcoming, he simply nodded, found his voice again, and said, “Me too. Uh...directions to the church?”

    After hanging up, Newsie stared at his notepad a long while, half his brain trying to memorize what was on it simply out of long habit, the other half feeling very alone. Ethel had always encouraged the extended clan of Joe’s children by his first wife to feel welcome in her kitchen, her home, no matter that not a one of them had fuzzy skin. Newsie’s mother had viewed it...differently. A long-buried snippet surfaced in his memory suddenly: his mother hanging up the phone with a disgusted sniff.

    Newsie had asked, “What’s wrong, Mother?”

    The estimable Florabeth Crimp, née Blyer, had thrown a scowl that could freeze a fourth-of-July sparkler in the direction of New Jersey. “Your aunt has invited us to a picnic!”

    Cautiously, Newsie asked, “Er...is she serving that lemony potato salad you hate?”

    His mother whirled, fixing that awful glare on him; he flinched. “No, you ninny! She’s invited them!”

    “Giant ants?” Bewildered, Newsie cringed again when Florabeth took a step toward him.

    “My son, the class fool... No! Them! Those...those...feltless people!” She glared in the general direction of her sister’s home across the Hudson, and Newsie was fairly certain a few fireworks did turn to icicles out that way.

    Shaking off the image, he picked up his coffee mug, cradling it in both hands and turning to look out the narrow strip of window which Gina had uncovered last night (after a long struggle with a crowbar and a power drill). The windows faced east, not that it mattered; his aunt and uncle’s old house had been razed a decade ago for some parking-lot expansion project, so even if he were peering west with binoculars all he’d see would be cars. And maybe an SUV or three. Annoyed with his wandering brain, Newsie took another sip of coffee, grimacing to find it cold. He strode to the kitchen, popped the mug into the microwave, and at the exact moment his finger touched the button, a loud pounding sounded on the apartment door.

    When he’d caught his breath and regained his equilibrium, the panicked Muppet forced himself to approach the door. He flinched when the noise ricocheted through the living room again. Newsie took a hesitant step toward the door. Should he even chance a look into the hallway? What if that’s what the monsters were waiting for? What if they were small enough to squeeze through the tiny shuttered window that weird lockmonster had cut in the door? He stopped, key in hand, frightened at that thought.

    Then an indignant voice squeaked, “Come on already, Goldie! You asked me to come over, remember? Open up!”

    Abashed, he quickly unlocked the door and swung it open. Rhonda tromped in, a long sweater-dress and wool scarf covering her barely-fuzzy body and a glower wrinkling her elegant snout. “Fer cryin’ out loud! What are you doing, survivalist prep? Got a bomb shelter full of Spam in here now?” she exclaimed, looking at the padlocked porthole and then the still-largely-boarded-over windows.

    “Uh...the lockmonster did that. We’re, um, trying to modify it...” Gina had actually thrown down her tools in utter disgust last night after fighting with the haphazardly nailed boards for over an hour. When she’d left for work this morning, grim warnings about extreme un-makeovers and his vacation savings account had been spoken.

    Rhonda quirked a whisker at Newsie. “A lock monster? You had an actual monster in this apartment?”

    Newsie couldn’t meet those hard little eyes. “Er...um...they were all out of Smiths.”

    She kept staring at him. “Anybody tell you lately how completely weird you are?”

    “Did you get the detector?” he asked, ignoring her jibe.

    Shaking her head, the rat yelled behind her, “Hey, Ratbert, bring the thing in!”

    Grunting, a skinny rat entered, step by straining step, dragging a length of twine attached to a squeaking skateboard. A large brown paper bag sat atop it; Rhonda gestured at the coffee table where Newsie’s laptop and notes were spread. “Just set it over there.” She deliberately pretended to ignore the incredulous look the rat gave her, turning back to Newsie. “Yeah, I got it. Had to hunt all over here and Brooklyn, but yeah, I found you one that didn’t cost ya your first-born litter.”

    Newsie relieved the rat trying to heft the bag from the skateboard, lifting it himself and staggering a step. “Uh...it’s...kind of heavy!”

    “Thank you, Captain Obvious,” Ratbert grumbled. He looked expectantly at Rhonda, holding out a calloused paw. “A-hem.”

    “He’s got it,” Rhonda said, jerking a thumb at Newsie. She trotted to the window and hopped onto the sill for a closer look at the ridiculous construction. “Wow. What’re you expecting the bad guys to send, a wrecking ball?”

    Shooting a glare at Rhonda, Newsie fetched his wallet and tipped the scruffy delivery rat. Ratbert eyed the bill, sniffed it, then crunched it into a tiny ball and popped it into a cheek. “Mmn. Old ink. Tastes much better than da new currency. Have a nice day, folks.” Newsie stared after the retreating rat and his squeaky skateboard.

    “You shoulda given him one’a those Sacajawea dollars. It’s funnier when they try to eat coins,” Rhonda commented, hopping down from the sill. Newsie shut and bolted the door again, and then dragged the heavy paper sack to the sofa. “So, it’s an older model; found it in a used electronics store. Should work okay, though.”

    Newsie hefted the instrument with some difficulty, uncertainly checking out the dot-matrix readout screen, the collapsible antenna, the many dials and switches. “Rhonda – this thing is almost furniture! How am I supposed to lug it around?”

    “You could always get a skateboard.”

    “It’s completely impractical! I just need something that will find the MMN signal!” Newsie protested.

    “What’s this, chopped liver? It does that, genius! Look, for nineteen-ninety-five, whaddaya want? I am a bargain shopper, not a miracle worker!” Rhonda sniffed, unknotting her scarf. “Got any more coffee? And hey, if there’s any of those little pumpkin tart things left, I’ll take two.”

    Giving up, Newsie started the kettle for a fresh carafe. When he returned to the living room, Rhonda was studying his hand-drawn map. She accepted the miniature mug Newsie handed her. “Great, and keep ‘em coming. It’s chilly out there today. Hasn’t warmed up a bit since last night; it’s like the sun overslept or something.” She tapped the graph paper. “You’re planning on trying a commando stealth raid, I take it?”

    “We still don’t know what they’re up to!” Newsie growled, maneuvering himself onto the sofa carefully while balancing his coffee mug. Even with a lot of Gina’s furniture being somewhat low-slung, sometimes he wished he were a foot taller. Or two. “If we can get a better sense of direction down there, we’ll have a better shot at –“

    “Whoa, whoa, whoa, sunshine! What’s this we stuff, kemosabe? I am not going anywhere near giant toothy bugs again in this or Deadly’s lifetime!” Rhonda shook her head vehemently. “Newsie! Use your brain, I know you must have something controlling your higher nervous functions, frog knows you’re nervous enough... We can’t just go barging in there! Have you even watched this footage? There are monsters everywhere in those tunnels!”

    “Maybe there are places we can hide!” he argued. “Yes I’ve watched the footage, over and over! Look – ten yards in, there’s a corner; if we could hide right there until their patrol passes by, maybe –“

    Rhonda stared at him in disbelief. “Are you even listening to yourself? This isn’t an action movie, and I promise you if you get caught, Steven Segal is not gonna come save you!”

    “He might,” Newsie grumbled. “He spent a week tracking Piggy down for her autograph once.”

    “And that means he’ll risk his highly-paid neck for a short yellow guy who doesn’t look anything like a glamorous pig no matter how much makeup you wear? Puh-leeeze!” Stalling the indignant Newsman’s protest, confusion, and further protest, Rhonda took his hand in her paws. “Look, Goldie, it’s too risky! Have you got hold of the Mayor yet?”

    “He won’t return my calls,” Newsie said. “Don’t you think I’ve tried that angle? Rhonda, the authorities aren’t taking it seriously! No one is taking us seriously! I...I read some of the comments on the report today, on that stupid pop video site where you posted it, and half of them think it’s a joke! I could tell everyone I talk to that monsters are about to rise from the sewers and engulf the city and they would all assume it’s some sort of crank nonsense!” Mary’s phone call came to mind; Newsie slumped, shaking his head. “My...my step-cousin...I should have warned her...should have said something about the danger; what the heck, her brother already thinks I’m crazy...”

    Rhonda sighed, and sipped her coffee slowly. Newsie gazed glumly at the laptop screen, frozen at a moment of film showing a nearly-pitch-dark corridor with craggy walls and stout goblins staring up at the troll in their midst, unwittingly captured for the camera. “Mm. I like the ginger in this blend,” Rhonda said.

    “How can you be thinking of coffee flavors at a time like this?” Newsie groaned.

    “Because there ain’t much I can do about the rest of it, News Crusader. Look...there’s just no way you, or even you and I, could get in and out of there without being spotted...and frog knows what else. We haven’t got the muscles or the firepower, Newsie!”

    “No...” Newsie jumped when another banging sounded at the front door. “Ack!”

    “Chill, Goldie. I doubt very much those guys would bother to knock,” Rhonda grumbled. She hopped from the coffee table and went to the door. “News meeting in progress! Who is it?”

    “It’s da land shark; who’d’ya t’ink it is?” An annoyed voice snapped back.

    Rhonda rolled her eyes. “Natch. We have food; of course he showed up.” She tugged at the Muppet-level deadbolt. “Wanna open this or what? Then again, if you want to let him starve in the hallway, I have no objection...”

    Newsie unlocked the door; before he could turn the knob, Rizzo shoved the door open and barged in. “’Bout time! Ya know, you should really tell da building supe dat da halls in dis place are cold enough to keep meat in!” His eyes brightened when he saw Rhonda. “Ahhh...just what I needed!”

    “Are you seriously trying to get fresh with me, you one-track little twerp?” Rhonda said, then relaxed into a glare as Rizzo grabbed her coffee mug and slurped noisily. “Hmf. Figures...”

    “Uh...isn’t it better that he only wanted the coffee?” Newsie asked.

    “A lady likes being given at least the opportunity to blow someone off,” Rhonda responded. Rizzo finished off the tiny cup and looked bewildered at them both.

    “Huh? You guys talkin’ about me?”

    “Forget it,” Newsie muttered. “What are you doing here?”

    The rat planted his paws on his wide hips. “Oh, yeah, real nice reception for da bearer of good news! I am all agush wit’ warm happy fuzzies here.”

    “Rizzo...” Rhonda growled.

    The rat produced a long envelope from inside his letter jacket with a dramatic flourish. “Payday, guys! Scooter asked me to deliver a few a’dese around. Leastways, dat’s what I’m tryin’ ta do...dat last guy didn’t answer his door, and I couldn’t find any of dose big gangly purple guys anywhere...”

    “Purple guys? The Mutations?” Newsie asked, perking.

    “Yeah, dat’s dem.”

    “Who didn’t answer his door?” Rhonda asked. Rizzo dug out a fat stack of envelopes, riffling through them.

    “Uhhh...Big Mama? Huh. I nevah knew dat was actually a girl...”

    Newsie turned a grim look to Rhonda; she twitched worried whiskers. “Scooter asked you to deliver paychecks to the monsters?” Newsie asked.

    “Yeah, so? I get paid for da errand in cheese ravioli no matter if dey answer my knock or not!” Elated, Rizzo grinned. “Ravioli wit’ pecorino Romano, and ricotta, and aged Parmesan all smothered in a rich marinara...nothin’ like good fillin’ American food on a cold day!”

    “Ravioli is Italian, you idiot,” Rhonda snapped.

    “Not made by da Trembling Rodent Café in da Bronx, it ain’t.”

    “Have you tried to deliver to any other monsters yet?” Newsie demanded.

    Rizzo sighed, unwillingly digging through the whole pile. “Nigel...penguin...Lew...penguin...Gladys...penguin...geez, I wish dese were listed by residence, not alphabetically; I t’ink alla da penguins live at da ice rink under da Garden, don’t dey?”

    “Let me see those!” Newsie grabbed the stack and flipped through each plain white envelope. “This one – Carl. Did you try him yet?”

    Rizzo squinted at the address. “Uh...yeah. Already been to Queens. Nobody home.”

    “They’re all down there,” Newsie said, looking unhappily at Rhonda. “All of them! And who knows how many others...”

    Rhonda shook her head. “As if one nasty slobbering thing under the city wasn’t enough, they gotta do the whole strength in numbers thing. Well, we kinda guessed that already, Goldie; just look how many of ‘em wandered into the frame on our footage from that one visit!”

    “Strength in numbers...” Newsie looked at the names on the envelopes; most of them weren’t monsters, just ordinary Muppets: Whatnots and pigs and dogs and chickens and things...

    “Are you gonna offer me a refill, or can I go now?” Rizzo asked grumpily. “I wanna finish all dese in time for da dinner rush or dere won’t be any fat stuffed pasta left for dis hard-workin’ rat!”

    Newsie handed back the pile of envelopes, and Rizzo somehow crammed them into his jacket again. “One for da road?” he asked hopefully. Rhonda slammed the door in his face.

    “Oh, and look, he already opened your check for you,” Rhonda muttered, handing the Newsman’s envelope over. “How thoughtful of him to see how much you make.”

    “Same as everyone else,” Newsie said absently, wandering back to the coffee table, not even glancing at the check. “Except for Piggy, anyway.”

    “Yeah, but I doubt she’s content with double salary. Two times nothing is still –“

    “Strength in numbers,” Newsie said again. Rhonda frowned, and struggled to lift the carafe on the table.

    “You skip a groove like Zoot, or what? Yes, I get it; all the monsters are evil bad conspiratorial sewer Nazis. Point made. You wanna get me a clean cup? I am not touching where rancid-butter-breath has sipped.”

    “Rhonda,” Newsie said excitedly, taking the carafe out of her insufficient grip and using it to gesture, “They have numbers – but so do we!”

    She frowned quizzically at him. “What is this, the Union Army getting into a war of attrition? You want it should come to that?”

    “No, no, no!” Newsie began pacing, still waving the sloshing carafe from the French coffee press. “What if we all went down there? A surprise raid! Not to attack, just to see what they’re doing! All it would take is a distraction in one section to get their attention, and then you and I could sneak down to that lower level, where Sweetums went to talk to that office monster –“

    “The guy with the ledger and the file cabinet?” Rhonda shook her head angrily. “Wait, wait, don’t suck me into your foambrained schemes! What makes you think we wouldn’t all be captured and—and—gobbled up like Thanksgiving leftovers?”

    “We could sic Animal on them! Fifteen minutes, maybe? Just enough time to get into that production office and find out what the master plan is –“

    “What makes you think they even have one?”

    “There has to be! Somehow it’s all connected: the television station, the snack cakes, the abductions, the monsters at the asylum –“

    “What, you think you’re gonna waltz in there and find a ledger marked Evil Master Plan or something? Or are you gonna take a hostage and torture him?”

    “We have to do something!” Newsie cried. “Stop the monsters, uncover the plot, rescue my cousin – nobody else will, Rhonda! It’s up to us! Maybe we’re only journalists, and credential-stripped ones at that, but d—it rat, isn’t it still our duty to expose this heinous operation for the horror it is and shine the harsh light of day into the city’s underworld?” He stopped, breathless, staring earnestly at Rhonda. She stared back with wide eyes. After a second, Newsie realized coffee was dribbling down his arm from the carafe in his upraised hand.

    “Someone here has been watching way too much of his boxed collection of The Wire,” Rhonda muttered. Embarrassed, Newsie lowered his arms. He felt horrible: powerless, frustrated, and more than a little humiliated. Just like the old days... But then the rat stepped forward and crossed her arms, glaring up at him. “You do realize that Floyd’s not gonna be thrilled about the idea of winding Animal up to a full-blown wild hair, right?”

    “Floyd already thinks I’m a...” Newsie paused, her meaning penetrating his despair. “A...a wild hair?”

    “Well, I figure, the crazier we make him, the better his chances of causing a complete furry meltdown in the tunnels. Better his chances of surviving and getting back out, too.”

    “What a fantastic distraction that would be,” Newsie said, slowly starting to smile.

    “Where exactly were you planning on slipping in while the drum-fu is taking place, anyway?” Rhonda plumped herself onto the sofa, picked up the pencil and took over the mapping, hitting the playback on the laptop screen. “Can I have that fresh cup now? I plot insanely stupid recon missions better with caffeine.”

    Allowing himself a grin, the Newsman went to find a clean mug.

    Snookie expected, from the scents of coriander and cumin wafting down the corridor, to be curried today. He opened the door to the cooking studio with a heavy heart and a sullen tread, head down. “Hi!” Carl shot at him cheerfully. Snookie didn’t look up; he was more than accustomed to the monster’s demeanor whenever eating was involved.

    “Um...hi,” said another voice, not nearly as growly as Carl’s. Snookie’s head jerked up in surprise. He hadn’t misheard: there she was, with a silly skull-and-crossbones apron tied over her front and a hairnet containing her long purple locks. She grimaced wryly at him. “You look better with your mouth closed.”

    Regaining self-consciousness, Snookie shut his jaw and fumbled for words. “You...what are you...Carl!” Angrily he whirled on the bemused monster. “The deal was no eating her!”

    “Who said I’m eating her? I needed a sous chef,” Carl protested. Constanza glared at Snookie, as if the silly apron and hairnet were his fault. Carl grinned, his poufy white toque bobbing between his horns. “The main course today will be yellow curried Muppet with plum chutney! Now wash up; I heard someone from the board a’ health might be joining us, and I want everything shipshape!”

    “You’re getting inspected by the board of health?” Snookie asked, baffled. He glanced at Constanza again, who had resumed her task of chopping scallions at a large cutting board. Under other circumstances, he would have found the oddly domestic scene to be charming...

    “Who said anything about inspecting? Some mook from the department was dragged down here last night, and I asked for dibs,” Carl chortled. “If he has orange felt, it would complement the curry nicely...go on, scrub up and get in the pot!”

    Reluctantly, Snookie removed his shoes and sports coat and rolled up his sleeves. As he began washing his hands at the large sink, he hissed at Constanza, “How long have you been working for Carl?”

    “Hey, don’t look all traitor-to-the-cause at me! I’ve been moved from cell to cell for days and then suddenly this horned freak drags me in here and tells me I have to help him cook!” She shuddered. “So far today I’ve made a bouillabaisse, two cream roués, ground fresh spices for the curry, and chopped veggies...and that thing has gulped down two whole tunafish, three rabbits, and a sheep.”

    “Appetizers,” Carl chimed in, overhearing. “I’m gonna pitch my idea for a new cooking show to the boss: Carl’s Kitchen Frightmares! Catchy, huh?” He came over to examine the scallions. “Good...now the carrots! Quarter-inch coins, please!” He handed a bound script to Snookie. “Try to learn your lines by tomorrow so we can shoot the pitch reel, okay?”

    Snookie stared at the script, then at the monster. “Lines? You want me to learn lines?”

    Carl shrugged. “Hey, you know these things are never actually unrehearsed!” Humming happily, he returned to the cast-iron cauldron he was heating oil in, and began tossing in peppercorns, whole cloves, and sprinkles of a yellow curry powder. The smell permeated the room. Snookie decided he would never ever like Indian food again.

    “Is he...is he treating you well, at least?” Snookie whispered, taking as long as possible to scrub up his arms with the antibacterial soap.

    Constanza looked over at the cheerful chef, then shrugged. “Hasn’t laid a claw on me, if that’s what you mean, but as a vegan I am deeply offended by what I’ve had to witness so far!”

    Snookie frowned. “Then you’re really not going to like the rest of the day.”

    “You said a deal. What deal? You had something to do with me being here, I take it?” the young Whatnot growled. She glared at him. “Did you honestly think I’d enjoy having to play Betty Crocker to a six-foot furry carrion-inhaler?”

    “Never mind,” Snookie said, noting Carl looking his way.

    “I asked for advice, not a role on a bizarre cooking show! I can take care of myself! I’m not some helpless little – hey – hey what are you doing?” Constanza cried as Carl grabbed Snookie and hauled him toward the cauldron.

    “Finish the carrots,” Carl said, ignoring her distress. Snookie felt the heat coming off the pot, and winced, trying to brace himself mentally for what was coming. “This has to be timed right, or it’ll burn! Now hurry up!”

    “You’re going to...” Constanza said, horrified, realizing what was about to happen when Carl considerately ripped Snookie’s shirt and pants off so they wouldn’t be stained by the curry. He tossed the clothes aside; Snookie felt a blush on his cheeks, then felt ridiculous. Really? You’re about to be curried alive and you’re worried about skinny pecs and baggy shorts? Reality check! He wouldn’t look at Constanza, though he could hear her coming closer to yell at Carl. “Hey! You can’t do that! That’s definitely against the Lazer Convention rules of monstrous combat! Put him down!”

    Carl stared at her, then burst out laughing. “She’s so cute!” He turned that disturbingly wide grin to Snookie again. “Hope she’s worth it! In ya go!”

    Constanza cringed at the scream which immediately shot up out of the pot. Carl stirred quickly, adding a handful of sea salt. “Dum de dum de dummm...oooh, gotta love fresh ground coriander! Hey sweetheart, where’s those carrots? And get on the baby Yukon Golds! Diced, not chopped, got it?”

    The pink-spattered blue Whatnot continued to stand and stare, shocked, another few seconds, until those dinner-plate-sized eyeballs turned in her direction again. “You hard a’hearing? Move it! Don’t make me go all Gordon Ramsey on you!”

    Swallowing back a mouthful of sudden sourness, Constanza hastened to bring the chopped carrots and scallions, and set to work chopping baby potatoes into tiny cubes with a cut-press. When Carl patted her shoulder, she flinched. “That’s better. When you’re done that, uncork something white and fruity...I’m thinking maybe that Coastal Frightyards Sauv Blanc in the fridge, okay?” He smiled at her. “Now see? That wasn’t so hard to do, was it? We’ll make a decent sous out of you yet!” He went back to stirring the pot. “Tell you what: if you can have the saffron rice done in time to go with it, I’ll even let you have the first bite, just ta show you I appreciate a hard worker!” Contented, Carl went back to humming a Bollywood love song.

    Somehow, Constanza managed not to throw up in the sink.
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