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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

    I didn't, but thank you -- I'll use it. Maybe he and BD are more than just close friends? heh heh heh...

    Have been mapping out notes for the finale chapters...what a headache...but will post more later this week after I have time to write more. Am back at work, so can't promise any specific dates. Thanks for sticking with me, any readers out there -- and PLEASE leave comments! More soon...
  2. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Forty-Two (I)

    Rosie McGurk walked very slowly past the call-in voting phone bank, pretending to study the checklist on his clipboard, in actuality hoping to overhear what the last vote results had been, to better gauge Gonzo’s chances in the final tonight. He wasn’t sure whether Lamb’s elimination had been a good thing or not...although he had to admit to himself, those shanks with harissa rub had been pretty darn tasty. Feigning deep concentration, McGurk squinted all three eyes and perked his horns carefully toward the double-header and the triple-header chatting at the table.

    “Uhhh...mabibba Gazza fooboo arrabba!” the purple head with upturned horns suggested.

    “Nah, nah, nah – bugooba raffa muggah!” argued his downturned-horned other half. Rosie frowned, puzzled by the odd language, then noticed both halves were using an awful lot of hand gestures. Ahh, he thought sagely, deyz eye-tallan!

    “Eh, you’re both nuts,” the middle head of the pink-furred triple-header scoffed. “That fungus doesn’t have a chance in a Petri dish of surviving this!”

    “Unh?” Both heads of the purple monster blinked in surprise, and one goatee and one mop of hair were scratched in confusion.

    “Yeah, not a chance!” The leftmost head of the triple-header agreed. Rosie felt suffused with pride. And those guys in the cell block thought they’d be winning the betting pool tonight! Hah! Only Rosie had backed Gonzo to go all the way!

    “Oobibbuh mooga habba?” Horns-down asked. His companion nodded, scowling, and poked the triple-header, for once agreeing with his other half.

    “Yeaahhhh! Bubboo oobah fruggah?” Horns-up demanded.

    The right head of the triple-header managed a shrug. “Well, no, not really! See, it really doesn’t matter how many people vote for Mumfrey tonight!”

    “Nah madda?” Horns-up wondered.

    “Nah, doesn’t matter! D’ya really think Gonzo got past the last round with that stupid, sappy song?” the middle head chuckled. Rosie froze.

    “Buh ibabba mooga vuttuh pagga!” Horns-down argued, picking up a phone and waving it around for emphasis.

    Lefthand-head nodded. “Yeah, don’t worry, we get paid anyway! Just...answer ‘em, and make it look good, okay? We got a lot of monsters watching at home!”

    Shocked, Rosie dropped his pencil. All five heads swiveled in his direction immediately. “Hey, no peeking at the results! You gotta wait like everyone else!” the middle of the triple-header scolded. Abashed, Rosie retrieved his pencil and hurried back to the waiting area behind the stage platform. Seeing Gonzo testing one of the flaming hoops, Rosie debated telling him what he now suspected: that the contest might not be a fair fight.

    Gonzo observed the sparks and sputters of the orange-burning kerosene-drenched straw wreath-on-a-stick, and then, satisfied with its burn speed, handed it to a stagefrackle. “Great...make sure everyone lights ‘em at the same time, okay?” Discomfited, the Frackle juggled the superhot hoop before thinking to shove it into the large ice-filled cooler among the bottled water. Gonzo turned to Rosie, smiling. “Does the sound tech have the music? I think these guys know their cues finally...I’ve been drilling them all afternoon.”

    “Uh...yagga,” Rosie said. “Gazza...ahhh...sumba nohga...”

    “What?” Gonzo grasped his assistant’s arm in concern. “The dry-cleaners didn’t mess up the wizard robe, did they? Costume is kind of key here –“

    “Nagga, nagga,” Rosie gulped, uncertain how to broach this. “Gazza...da votah...”

    “I know! I must have an amazing amount of grassroots support by now!” Gonzo glanced up at the rough-rock ceiling. “Well, some kinda roots, anyway...”

    Shaking his head, Rosie tried again. “Gazza – da votah nah mattah! Tribba-hebba sezza!” He gestured worriedly at the phone bank.

    Gonzo stared at him. “Oh, come on, Rosie! Don’t tell me you’re listening to anything that guy says! He can’t even agree with himself! Er...herself and himself... themselves...how would you put that, anyway?”

    “Buh...buh Gazza...”

    “No more! Not another word! I don’t want a hint of negative attitude tonight, Rosie!” Taking a breath that expanded his chest very little in the tight, sequined black leotard he wore, Gonzo thrust his arms at the world above. “Finally, finally, I have found my audience! They have spoken, and I am here, Rosie! The finals! The ultimate contest between suave, sophisticated, complicated post-Freudian symbolism and—“ He shot a contemptuous glare at the fungus doing chin-ups off a stage truss a few yards away. “And the banal. And tonight, I am utterly confident: Art will win! Ha ha ha ha ha!”

    Rosie stood there, dismayed, until Gonzo thwapped the clipboard with an impatient hand. “Come on, come on, we have a lot of prep still to do and the show starts in an hour and a half! Finish that list, Rosie! Oh – and tell the little guys to take the longest sticks, or else this whole thing’ll just look weird, okay?”

    One of the goblins whom Gonzo gestured at scrunched pouty green cheeks. “He did not just pull the height card, did he? Did he?”

    A skinny yellow Frackle with a finch-beak shrugged. “Dunno...what I wanna know is, who the heck is Art?”

    Fortunately, the catering company did indeed show up, although both Gina and Alan were taken aback at the astonishing number of monkeys who dashed back and forth between the green room and the buffet tables. Since the gorilla setting up the tables and the chimps throwing down various plates, silverware caddies, and little plastic pumpkins filled with after-dinner mints seemed to have everything under control...more or less...the human employees stayed clear of the chaos. A sleek-haired, green-felted Muppet in a sharkskin jacket gestured vaguely with an unlit cigar. “Yeah, dat’s it, put da meatballs over dere – no, you hairy oaf, over dere, next to da noodle warmer, capiche?” He shook his head, noticed Gina watching him, and gave a lopsided smile. “Dese guys. Enthusiastic for sure, but not so good in the organization department, ya know?”

    “Dat’s why ya got me, Johnny,” a long-armed, ginger-furred ape proclaimed, pausing in his gyrations around the tables.

    “Oh, is dat why?” Johnny Fiama grunted. “And here I t’ought it was for your brilliant sense a’ humor, Sal. Hey – hey you guys! Stop helpin’ yourselves to da coffee urn! Dat’s for da guests!”

    “Hey! Johnny says stay outta da urn, you numbskulls!” Sal repeated, charging over to the silver-plated urn, where two smaller monkeys reluctantly removed the cups they’d been dipping inside it.

    “Can I getcha a cuppa Joe?” Johnny offered Gina. “On da house.”

    “Um...no, thanks.”

    “Eh, don’t blame ya.” Johnny shrugged, looking the much taller young woman up and down with an appreciative eye. “So what’s your story, toots? You wit’ dese Muppet-rights guys?”

    “Not really...I work here,” Gina responded, crossing her arms over her chest. She’d changed into her running blacks, suitable for staying unnoticeable while in the lighting booth, but the clingy leggings and soft tunic suddenly made her feel a little more visible.

    “Ah, gotcha! So, what, you an actress? No, wait – a dancer,” Johnny said, snapping his fingers and grinning. “Sure got the legs for it, don’t she, Sal?”

    “Uh—yeah, Johnny; legs, sure t’ing,” Sal agreed, nodding at Gina before he dashed into the green room after the gorilla. “Hey! Hey! Bring dat podium back here, dey need dat for da stage!”

    Unmoved by the racket of a dozen primates all carrying warmer trays of food or armfuls of gel flame, Johnny offered, “Ya know, I don’t gots my playhouse anymore, but I know a guy who knows a guy who is da single biggest employer of exotic dancers in da Village right now, and who knows? I might be able ta get ya an audition.”

    “Thanks, but no,” Gina said firmly. “I’m just a techie, Mr Fiama. I don’t get onstage.”

    “Call me Johnny, please,” the Muppet insisted. Suddenly he snapped his fingers again. “Waaaaitaminute...I know where I seen ya before! Dis summer, up at da Crusty Lake Resort and Casino, in da Catskills! Yeah, dat’s it...I was a little too hungov—ah, incapacitated one Sattiday to go onstage, so dey had some lameo magician guy instead...but he had dis amazing assistant...”

    “Wasn’t me,” Gina said immediately. “Excuse me, Mr Fiama, I really have to discuss the lighting cues with the show director.”

    He waved a generous hand. “Eh, dat’s okay sweetheart, it’s time I blew dis joint anyway. Sal, make sure ya wash all da dishes tonight, not just da warmer trays! An’ polish da silverplate before ya put it away!”

    The monkey skidded to a surprised halt. “But – but Johnny! Ain’t you stickin’ around too?”

    “For what, da most boringest speechifyin’ since dat roast of Papa Gambino a couple years ago? Fuhgeddaboudit! Ivanka is expectin’ me to grace her Halloween party shortly!” He winked at Gina. “She’s blonde, cute, and loaded – and did I mention blonde? How could I say no, ya know? Ciao, Sal! Hold da fort! I’m countin’ on you!”

    “Ivanka? Johnny, you can’t get into Trump Tower widdout an invite!” Sal protested, but Fiama only grinned, spreading his arms wide to show off his stylish attire.

    “Sal, bubbe, how is she gonna resist this? Please! Seeya, toots—and if ya change your mind about dat dancin’ gig, you just give me a ring, okay? Arrivaderci, and, uh – enjoy your speeches, guys!” Still smirking, Johnny strolled out of the theatre.

    Sal stood there shaking his head. “I hate it when he does dat.”

    “Oh, frog...Muppet lawyer, eleven o’clock,” Alan muttered as he hurried by, doing his best to stay away from everyone as he finished setting up for the sound check.

    Gina looked down, startled at something cold in her hand; Sal pressed the chilled energy drink can firmly into her palm. “Somet’in tells me you’re gonna need dis,” the ape said.

    “Something tells me you’re right,” Gina said, managing a smile. “Thanks.”

    Sal smiled back, then jumped at the gorilla lumbering past carrying a ten-foot-high stack of folding chairs. “No, no, no! Not on top a’ da tables, you maroon! Where’d you loin ta set a buffet, Kazacklystan?”

    The lugubrious orange-felted lawyer bellied up to the stage platform, peering carefully at everything before turning to Gina. “I see things seem to be progressing about on schedule. Good, good. Now, we’ve polished the program for tonight and I would like to go over it with you to ensure there are no mistakes...”

    “Right, sure,” Gina said. “Mr Bland, you should know we’re working a little short-staffed tonight; only myself and one other technician are –“

    “Oh! So we only have to pay for two crew members? Hah – I knew your supervisor sounded like a reasonable man. How nice that he took steps to reduce our cost! That will help the charity coffers significantly!” Bland smoothed down his blue mustache happily.

    Gina started to correct him, then thought, Why bother? Just get through this nonsense, and go home... Well, maybe by the time you actually get out of here, it’ll be too late to worry about a sewer expedition. Her beloved Muppet, though tightly wound by nature, did eventually crash and sleep, usually quite hard; maybe he’d fall asleep before she arrived home. With a forced smile, she accepted the program for the event which the lawyer handed her, and invited him to walk up to the booth to see the lighting cues, hoping he wouldn’t demand any more changes; tonight was going to be difficult enough already. Walking ahead of Bland, she popped open the energy drink and quaffed a long gulp. Hope they brought more of these.

    One way or another, it would be a long, long night.

    Snookie glared at the wardrobe goblin. “Forget it! I am not wearing that ridiculous thing!”

    “But we’re promoting the Pumpkin Hour special,” the goblin argued, shoving the ridiculous thing back at Snookie. “Boss’ orders! Everything is big-time Halloween stuff from here on out!” It gestured at its own floppy-soggy, straw-stuffed arms. “You think I wanted ta look like frickin’ Ray Bolger?”

    “This is outrageous,” Snookie growled, snatching the pumpkin-suit of orange plaid coat, orange plaid pants, and ribbony green tie out of the grubby hands. “Fine. Whatever. But this is the dumbest idea I’ve heard in a long while, and that’s saying a lot!”

    The goblin shrugged. “Don’t forget the mask.”

    “Absolutely not!” the show host huffed, angrily stripping off his usual brown plaid to put on the ugly coat in four shades of orange, each louder than the last. “Nothing covers this handsome face!”

    The goblin shrugged again, walking away with the jack-o-lantern mask. “Divas...” it muttered.

    “Plaicezzz!” Pew shrieked, stomping across the stage. When a stagefrackle tried to hand the director his headset, Pew snarled and would have backhanded the feathery monster, had the Frackle actually been on Pew’s left; instead, a boom mike swung crazily out of position, victim of the director’s wrath.

    Snookie paused in his outfit-changing. “What’s with him?”

    A camerafrackle shook his long snout. “Eh, he’s been in a nasty mood a couple’a days now...something about a pig turning him down for a date.”

    “Uhm.” Nervously, Snookie turned to look into the overcrowded audience; sure enough, Carl the Big Mean Fan was front and center again...and tonight he had a guest. Quickly finishing his costume change, Snookie hastened to the front of the stage, nimbly dodging the claws which tried to grab him, and crouched in front of the tall grey monster. Tonight, Carl sported a long black box which nearly covered him, with “RIP” painted in a white scrawl across the front. Next to him, sitting so stiffly straight Snookie wondered if she had a board strapped to her back, was a blue-felted girl with pink splotches all over; she wore a pair of rubber horns and a fake nose attached to fake glasses and a fake mustache. It had to be the worst monster disguise ever contrived, but whether they were too afraid of Carl to say anything or just too stupid to see past the Groucho get-up, none of the surrounding audience members paid any attention to the Whatnot.

    “What the heck are you supposed to be?” Snookie asked Carl.

    The monster grinned, and opened the top half of his box to offer Snookie a small wrapped candy. “Hi! Coffin drop?”

    Snookie shook his head, and then hissed at Constanza, “What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here! Didn’t you notice the crowd in here is not exactly Muppet-friendly?”

    “Didn’t you notice I don’t have many options?” she snapped back, holding up her left wrist; a springy orange leash led back to Carl. “Why are you here? Didn’t you just get...um...”

    “Expelled is the word you’re looking for,” Snookie grumbled. “Yeah, guess I forgot to sign up for the vacation cruise in time and got stuck here. Silly me.”

    “Relax, Snookums,” Carl said, patting Constanza on top of her head; angrily she readjusted the rubber horns. “I’m takin’ good care of your scrumptious little blueberry, see? She’s safe as can be around me. I’d never eat a good sous chef – it’s not like any of these morons could make a decent cream roux! Hey, but what’s up with Lamb being knocked out of the contest? I thought he was winning!”

    Snookie shrugged. “Got me. The judges said the tallies last time had Gonzo and the fungus ahead by a hair.”

    Carl snickered. “By a nose and a blue cheese, ya mean! Look, do me a solid here, Snookums: can you make sure whoever loses gets sent to my kitchen? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love cookin’ you...but a good chef needs to expand his repertoire, ya know?”

    “I’ll see what I can do,” Snookie said dully. Carl grinned widely. Constanza frowned. Snookie looked back at her. “Listen, if he pulls anything weird with you –“

    “Sure, I’ll tell you,” she growled. “Oh, my hero. I feel so protected.”

    Blushing, Snookie glared at her, then jabbed a finger into Carl’s poufy nose. “I mean it, Carl! Break our deal and I’ll make you so sick you’ll bring up stuff you’d forgotten you ate decades ago!”

    Carl blinked. “Well that ain’t gonna happen, lemoncheeks. I never forget anything I ate!” He flapped an enormous paw at the stage. “Go get this thing started! I wanna see some good ol’ fashioned Halloween carnage!”

    At a loss for a reply, Snookie glowered at him, glanced again at a puzzled-seeming Constanza, then stalked to the back of the platform to see if the judges and performers were set. Constanza nudged Carl uneasily. “Does he host this show too?”

    Carl chuckled. “This and about a hundred other crappy shows! Eh, he’s just lucky he’s got me to take some of the burden off him. Hey, wait’ll you see what I got comin’ up on Monday for Monsters Tonight! It’ll blow Leno right outta the water!”

    The Whatnot girl looked around at the noisy, restless monsters completely filling the studio audience, and shivered. Reluctantly, she shifted a little closer to Carl. She watched Blyer conferring with that weird blind shaggy thing, the same thing that had tried to bring her flowers one day shortly before Carl had dragged her... Suddenly Constanza had an idea as to what the deal Carl and Blyer had struck might be. She looked at the ravenous monster again, then back at the host. Suddenly she felt bad for having snapped at him. Maybe she would try to say something nice to him...before Carl ate him again...

    Gonzo bounced lightly on tiptoe, muttering, “Rubber baby buggy bumpers...rubber baby bumper buggies...buggy rubby bumping babies...”

    Rosie McGurk regarded the waiting stacks of flammable hoops with an uneasy flutter in his stomach. “Uhh...flabba huppa za goog idah?”

    “Huh? Oh, sure! Sure it is!” Gonzo said. “They said this had to be Halloween-themed, and hey, nothing says crazy-trick-night like flaming hoops of hay, right? Rosie, this is deeply symbolic! Did you know the Celts used to pass all their animals through hoops of fire on Samhain, to protect them against evil spirits?” Gonzo clapped his dubious partner on the shoulder. “Trust me! This is old-school, and classy as heck! Besides, I worked out the ratio of kerosene to sparkly additives finally, so nothing should explode this time.”

    Rosie cast a worried look at the giant screen overhead.

    Snookie checked with the judges, each attired festively tonight, to see what would be first. “You’re kidding, right?”

    Behemoth frowned. “Do I look like I’m kiddin’?” he demanded. The deely-bobbers sticking up from his round head quivered. Oversize black rubber claws covered his own mitts, and an uncomfortable-looking fake tail made of aluminum cans fastened together and painted black clanked as he shifted in his chair. “Look, we ran outta money for guest acts, so it’s all you, chump.”

    “I can’t sing!” Snookie protested. “Why don’t you do it? You’re, what, an alligator tonight?”

    “Alligator!” Hem growled. “Clearly you ain’t familiar with the terryfyin’ art of H R Giger! Yo, Tiny, get out here and show the man the whole costume!”

    Shakey popped out of Hem’s mouth, balancing shakily on his broad tongue; the diminutive monster had been spraypainted a shiny black. “R-raaarrr,” Shakey stammered, sticking his own tiny tongue out.

    “That is the best Alien I ever seen,” Beautiful Day said.


    “What about you?” Snookie asked B D.

    “Can’t,” the square-headed beast replied smugly. “I’m doin’ a trombone solo at halftime. An’ Pew’s got the end credits. You gotta do the opening, or we run short.” The judge had taken a more lighthearted approach to costume night, donning a long white curly wig, black robes, and a heavy noose around his neck. “I know you can’t really compete with me playing ‘I Love a Parade’ while dangling from the rafters, but give it your best shot, dude.”

    “You know that’s not what a ‘hanging judge’ is,” Snookie snapped, then strode off before the monsters could react. He accosted Pew. “Hey! What’s this mess about me having to sing something? That’s not in my contract!”

    “Fine,” Pew shrugged. “Then eet is in your contract for zat reedeculous bunneh to eat you alive in front of alllll ze viewairs, eef zat is what you would prefairrr...”

    Snookie looked across the platform at Carl. Noticing the attention, the monster waved cheerfully. Constanza shrank into her seat a little more. Snookie swallowed dryly. “What do I have to sing?”

    The house lights dimmed, the band played the theme song with exaggerated movements that showed off their glowing skeleton costumes, and a very anxious host stepped into the spotlight. “Tonight! For weeks you’ve seen them get maimed, enflamed, and shamed by their own actions...and finally it’s come down to the final two contestants! Each of them is fearless, senseless, and members of freak genetic sprouts off the tree of evolution, but which of them will emerge alive from this show – the scariest, freakiest, and possibly bloodiest episode ever oooof...Break a Leg!” The crowd yelled out the title along with Snookie, cheering wildly. Snookie saw flickering light over his shoulder, and knew that clips of both contestants were playing behind him on the big screen. “Mungus Mumfrey has proven he has the guts...or whatever...to take this to the next level, but the Great Gonzo has a history of not even knowing where levels are and forging ahead regardless of the danger! Our judges have specified that tonight’s acts must be themed around the approaching holiday in some fashion, and they’re expecting both performers to push above and beyond anything we’ve seen before in order to win the title of Most Astoundingly Braindead Stunt Ever!” He heard cheers, boos, and the clapping of heavy paws as past footage of the two daredevils played.

    Taking a deep breath, Snookie continued, “But before we get into the bloodbath almost certain to follow, let’s take a moment to think about the significance of our upcoming national night of nightmares, your favorite party and mine: Halloween!” The audience quieted as the lighting shifted, orange lights softly playing over the stage. Snookie took a couple of steps forward until he could clearly read the words on the TeleMonSter screen at the front of the platform; Pew frantically tried to cue a hot dog vendor. The band looked confusedly at one another a moment and then launched into the gentle, touching holiday classic. Awkwardly, trying to find his range, Snookie followed the lead of the purple monster conducting, and sang:

    Children roasting on an open fire
    millipedes nipping at their toes
    midnight woes being screamed in the mire
    and the quicksand sucking down their throes...
    everybody knows a bonfire built of corpses
    helps to make the season bright...
    tiny goblins with their eyes all aglow
    will keep the nervous tykes awake all night!

    They know that monsters are lurking near
    happy to gobble up all the little dears
    and every bogeyman will jump out soon
    when every werewolf’s howling at the moon!

    So I’m offering this simple praise
    to things with crawly legs from none to ninety-two:
    although it’s been said many times, many ways,
    Happy Fright Night to you...
    Happy scary frightful night, to youuuu.

    The crowd roared...and shrieked, and screeched, and pounded their seats and their neighbors, some of whom took offense and pounded back. Snookie backed away nervously, his tongue feeling like sandpaper, desperately wishing to be far, far out of this place. The lights brightened, but he wasn’t sure allowing them to see him more clearly was all that wonderful; they seemed to have liked the song more than he did. A lot more. Clearing his throat roughly, he snapped into the mic: “And up next: the Finnish Fungus tries for a fun finish! Don’t touch that dial – though any other soap might be a really good idea, guys. We’ll be back with even worse music, if that’s possible, right here on Break a Leg!”

    Gina started, her head jerking up from her crossed arms on the light board. “Wha...is it time for the awards?” she croaked, guiltily realizing she’d been nodding off.

    Luckily, it was the ape, not the lawyer, who crept into the light booth. He offered her another can of liquid caffeine and B-vitamins. “Eh, no...but looks like I t’ought right about you needin’ dis.”

    “Thank you,” Gina agreed, and gestured to the seat in front of the sound board, currently empty. Once they’d set a level for the main mic, Gina had focused her attention on the lights while Alan stayed backstage to cue the long parade of speakers...assuming he wasn’t napping too. “So, uh, how’s the buffet holding up?”

    Sal shrugged, settling in. “Ah, da usual...everyone fills up their plate once...” He paused. “Once.” When Gina was unsuccessful at repressing a smile, he grimaced. “Hey, I didn’t cook it!”

    “Do you cook?”

    “Oh you bet! Banana fritters, banana cream pie, banana burgers, peanut butter and banana sammiches, and scrambled eggs.”

    “Scrambled eggs?”

    “Wit’ bananas.”
    “Sounds like a great menu,” Gina said, and Sal beamed.

    “Dat’s what I said! But Johnny, he...he says it ain’t Italian enough.” The ape sighed. “So, I just do da overseein’ for da catering.”

    “Hey, didn’t you guys bring those pumpkin cannolis to the party at the Bears’?”

    “Yeah, dat was us.” He shrugged. “Personally, I like my banana cannolis better...but was dey okay for youse guys?”

    “Oh, those were fantastic! But why didn’t you stay for the party?”

    “Oh, uh...see, Johnny had his own party dat night, and I hadda serve da drinks, an’ wash da dishes, an’ vacuum da rugs after...” Gina nodded, trying to come up with something to say to that, but Sal wasn’t done. “An’ take out da trash, an’ clean up da yard, an’ tuck Johnny inta bed...and den clean da rug again when da pumpkin schnapps didn’t agree wit’ him...”

    “You do a lot for him, don’t you,” Gina observed. “Are you guys best friends?”

    “What, me an’ Johnny?” Sal perked. “Oh, absolutely! Da bestest!”

    “So you don’t mind cleaning up after all this? I hope you get time to relax afterwards...”

    “Oh, sure, sure,” Sal agreed. “Right after I iron Johnny’s shirts, an’ bake da banana bread for his French toast in da morning, an’ make sure da recyclables is out at da curb, an’ –“

    “Geez,” Gina interrupted. “You do all that after working here? While he’s out partying with the trust-fund girls?” Sal shrugged, nodded. Gina shook her head. “I sure as heck hope he appreciates all that!”

    “Well...whadda you doin’ after dis? Ain’t you got a lot ta do too?”

    “Me? I’m...” Gina sighed. “I’m going hunting through the tunnels under the city for a secret monster base because my significant Muppet thinks only he can stop an imminent invasion from below, and I’m not about to let him try it on his own.”

    Sal leaned forward and gripped her arm a moment. “Ex-actly.”

    She felt a smile creeping up. “Uh huh. Okay.”

    “Dere’s no way dey can do what dey do widdout peoples like us,” Sal proclaimed, taking a long swig of another energy drink.

    Gina sipped hers as well, regarding the ape with a little more respect. “To peoples like us, then,” she offered, and held out her can.

    Sal grinned, clunking his drink against hers. “To – uh, I t’ink you gotta t’ing comin’ up here...” Gina looked where the ape was nodding, out the booth window at the center platform, and checked her program schedule. All it said was “second musical number;” the first one had been a Whatnot in a dull suit with light blue felt, graying hair and mustache, and large glasses singing the city’s hate-crime statutes to the tune of “Born This Way” to open the event. The same gent was climbing onto the stage while Bland tried to lead the mostly-sleeping audience in a round of applause.

    “Once again, dear friends, I give you the incomparable...Clive Cawinga!” Bland said, and turned the mic over to the beaming civil servant. Gina shook her head, and brought up the special aimed at the singer.

    “Uh, huh huh, hello again,” Cawinga addressed the tables where numerous other felted patrons lay in a stupor. “Isn’t this just great? I gotta say, I am so honored that my friends Bland and Blander asked me back this year to perform for all of you again! So, let’s continue shaking it up here; let’s make it a little funky, shall we?” He squinted in the direction of the booth, and Gina hurriedly cued up the second cassette of music. She was startled to hear the familiar piano opening to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” come raggedly out of the large overhead speakers, and then dismayed when Cawinga began singing to it: “Supreme Court of the State of New Yoooork, Muppet rights versus the state school system; final ruling seven to one, in favor of including Muppet history in the general curriculuuum...”

    “Oh...god,” Gina sighed.

    Sal patted her on the back. “Lemme know when ya need anudder fix, okay? I’ll just go see how da gel fuel is holdin’ up...”

    “Thanks, Sal.”

  3. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Forty-Two (II)

    Gonzo scoffed as stagefrackles placed level after level of stacked jack-o’lanterns in a pyramid onstage. “Hah! What pandering! No sense of subtlety at all, Rosie,” he muttered, watching the fungus slither into the spotlight and wave at the audience. Both Gonzo and Rosie gaped a moment as the fungus hefted his blowtorch and with a couple of sweeping gestures set the whole pile of pumpkins alight; the opening strains of “Night on Bald Mountain” whined over the loudspeakers. Throwing aside the torch (and singeing a camerafrackle, who screamed and abandoned his post), Mumfrey leaped onto the lowest level of the lit jack-o’lanterns...and the music suddenly surged into a disco beat.

    Gonzo shook his head. “Dangit! He stole my flame idea! Now it’ll look like I’m copying him! Nuts!” He cocked his head, listening. “And ‘Night on Disco Mountain’? Really? Who does he think he is, Travolta? Nobody respects the classics anymore, Rosie!”

    McGurk gulped out a vague agreement, watching spellbound. Mumfrey danced – at least, those wild gyrations and flowing twists might have been some sort of dance – along the bottom row of pumpkins, then jumped up to the next level. Flames licked rapidly at all of the vegetables and at the fungus; Rosie realized the bizarre daredevil was being burned at almost every step, but moving so fast, psuedopods flowing and shifting over one another so rapidly, that the wounds were extinguishing immediately. Well...almost immediately. As Mungus hopped onto the third level, and some of the pumpkins on the bottom slumped inward, melting in the intense heat, Gonzo remarked, “Hey Rosie...does he look like he’s getting smaller to you?”

    “Yazza,” Rosie said. Both of them squinted to see the blob of gyrating fungus clearly against the growing light of the pyre. A pumpkin collapsed right as Mumfrey landed atop it, making him sway and glop over to the next one before it could take him down with it. A small square platform lowered from the trusses overhead, stopping just shy of the topmost jack-o’lantern. Mumfrey leaped to the third level, sliding itself along with strange hop-skids, its malleable appendages slapping and glopping over itself faster to keep up with the many tiny blazes which kept breaking out over its surface. Nearly falling again, it missed a beat in the song, and a few boos came from the crowd. Mumfrey scrambled onto the fourth level, which only had three pumpkins on the verge of utter liquefaction.

    Gonzo shook his head. “The pile’s sinking! He’ll never make it! Rosie, behold: the result when too much ego meets too little talent!”

    Another small fire burst out on the fungus, but it couldn’t focus on that and keep its balance on the melting, flaming pumpkin at the same time; it leaped desperately for the platform from the top pumpkin, which crashed underpsuedofoot and tumbled to the stage, scattering flaming orange bits. As the music reached a disco crescendo, tiny fireworks shot up all around the edge of the hanging platform. When they fizzled out after a few seconds, the platform was empty.

    “Get a closeup!” Pew snarled, waving his cane so wildly he knocked unconscious his coffee assistant and assistant director. He stepped atop the prone body of the A.D., yelling, “Camera deux! Camera deux! Ah need a close-up now!”

    Gonzo, Rosie, Snookie, and the judges all turned to stare up at the big screen behind the stage...where, in extreme closeup, a tiny bit of fungus waved. Mumfrey had reached the platform, technically...what was left of him...

    Murmurs and uncertain applause smattered in the audience. Snookie snapped his fingers, getting the camerafrackle who was supposed to be focusing on him to actually do so instead of gawping at the bigscreen. “Well! We’ll have to see what the judges thought of that red-hot performance; did the Finnish fungus shrink in their esteem, or has his give-it-all dedication melted their resistance? Find out in a minute after you’ve suffered through these gratuitously disgusting ads sponsoring...Break a Leg!”

    “That took him down a few notches! Ah ha ha ha ha!” Gonzo chortled, then nudged Rosie. “Okay, hurry, hurry! Get the hoops onstage! Hey guys, where’s the extra tank of kerosene I ordered? I need that standing by just in case this isn’t flamey enough!”

    The wind whistled around the walls of the theatre. Camilla pulled her comfy quilt tighter around her, and fluffed her feathers again to keep warm. When word had come down that the Muppet Theatre would put on no show tonight, due to the extreme weather which would keep a lot of patrons away, the chicken had reflected that at least she’d be able to watch the stunt show without enduring the haughty looks of some of the other chickens, or having to turn the volume all the way up to hear it over the green-room racket. However, that also meant that except for the fowl who always roosted here, and a few of the rats, the place was deserted and cold...and she really didn’t like the sound of that wind. The basement green room’s temperature had dropped fast this afternoon, and now she shivered, hearing the wicked cold whistling like a demonic teapot through all of the cracks in the walls upstairs. Camilla was willing to bet even that ghost would come down here to get out of a chill that fierce.

    She glanced toward the empty canteen, contemplating a pot of tea; normally she asked Beaker, and he was always helpful, but tonight the lab boys had gone out (despite frequent meeping protests from the carrot-haired assistant) to finish some sort of job they’d been working on, something about the charity walk. Camilla wasn’t keen on the idea of chilling her toes walking over to the stove, and so glumly stayed put in her makeshift nest of old blankets on a couch. Feeling something uncomfortable, she shifted back a little, and squawked in surprise when Rizzo popped out of the nest.

    “Whew! Geez, guy tries ta take a nap and suddenly he’s got poultry sittin’ on ‘im!” the rat complained.

    “Bugawk bawk bawk bawk!” Camilla snapped. Rizzo glared right back.

    “Well how’s I ta know it was your nest? I didn’t see a sign on it or nothin’!” Rizzo scooted over, though he kept a length of blanket to wrap up in. “Brrr...sure is cold tonight. You’d t’ink it was January areddy. Hey, so what’re we watching?”

    “Bawk buh bugawk.”

    “What?” Rizzo brightened, staring at the fuzzy old TV. “Aw hey! Ain’t dat Gonzo’s show? Is he still in da running?”

    “Bawwwwk,” Camilla assured him, annoyed.

    “Huh. I figured he’d be mortally maimed weeks ago,” Rizzo mused. “Oww! Hey! What was dat for?” At the angry clucking which followed, the rat grumpily climbed out of the blanket nest, dragging a small rag with him. “All right, all right already, I’m goin’! Hmf...it’s not like da weirdo ever bodders ta call me anymore...funny how fame goes right ta some people’s heads!” He stomped over to the kitchen. “Hey Murray, wanna help me break da ‘fridge open or what?”

    Camilla returned her attention to the set, worried, wringing her wingtips through the judges’ critique of the shrinking fungus and some sort of grotesque trombone number from a monster in black robes and the worst hairpiece the chicken had ever seen. Her beloved Whatever was up next. She hoped, deeply hoped, that having seen the fungus crash and burn...more or less...that Gonzo wouldn’t feel as driven to perform something even more deadly, more dangerous, more eyeball-wreckingly horrific than ever before. Didn’t he know he had her heart, and always would?

    Praying that Gonzo would remember that in order to have an egg with her, he first had to come back to her alive, Camilla huddled in a tense ball of feathers, and waited, and watched, so afraid she didn’t even realize she was breathing through an open beak...until she heard Rizzo snickering about it.

    The rat was completely unprepared for the thrown hot water bottle.

    Gonzo waited, shaking his hands rapidly to stay loose, as the host introduced him for his final stunt on this show. He glanced around; the stagefrackles all seemed to be in place, each standing ready with their straw hoops on the darkened stage. A single center spotlight came up, the haunting woodwind intro to “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” echoed through the studio, and Gonzo took a deep breath, yanked the dunce cap lower over his brow, and strode into his destiny.

    Rosie watched anxiously from the left side of the platform, manning the tank of kerosene, fumbling to make sure the extra matches were in his pocket. He really, really hoped this went off without a hitch...and not just for the pepperoni rats in the betting pot. Maybe, just maybe, if Gonzo impressed the boss enough, the silly little Whatever might be set free, like a victorious gladiator of old...

    Gonzo produced a large book from the folds of his voluminous robe, and a wand in the other hand, and in tune with the music, began swirling the wand at the various Frackles around him. One by one, as if awakened by magic, they stirred, stretched their hoops upward, and surreptitiously lit the straw, so that small bursts of light came into being all over the dark stage, drawing a few ooohs from the crowd. Gonzo began dancing lightly among them, directing them with little swoops of his wand. As the music picked up and smoothed into a regular beat, the Frackles began dancing too, slowly at first, swinging the fiery circles up, around, down, and up again, and then turning themselves around, then gradually falling into an erratic orbit around Gonzo, the hoops apparently dancing by themselves on the dark stage as Sorcerer Gonzo set them twirling circles-in-a-circle. All at once, with the descending notes of the first crescendo, the hoops dipped and swung before resuming their patterns, each of them moving at a slightly different tempo so the effect was staggered all around.

    Now Gonzo tossed the spellbook away and started dancing with the “floating” hoops, ducking under them, weaving between them, and as the music grew louder and faster, he dove into the larger hoops, somersaulting on the stage floor and bounding up again to dance some more. All along he kept waving the wand, and trying to adjust his hat: the elastic strap holding the cone atop his head kept slipping. Gonzo laughed, swirling around and around, keeping time as the song played faster and faster still. At about the point he figured the audience wanted more, he cried out, “Together! Together, my little rings of fire!” and waved his wand in a tight circle.

    The Frackles, on cue, began shuffling closer together as they continued to whirl. “Uhg this is making me dizzy...” one groaned.

    “Hey, that’s my foot!” another yelped.

    “Circles! Circles!” Gonzo hissed, reminding them they were being paid to dance, not talk. He kept up a manic grin, hoping the camera was catching him in close-up from time to time. “Arrriba!” he yelled, diving through a hoop, dodging two flaming circles swooping right at him, and dancing sideways between two more before leaping up onto the shoulders of two of the Frackles. The stagehands drew closer together, many of them out of step and offbeat as they frantically tried to keep swirling their hoops.

    “Owch!” one of them cried, the flames licking down to his hands.

    “Oof –hey watch it!” another snapped as an off-balance monster careered into him, making him drop his hoop. Another stepped on the flaming hoop, and did some impromptu dance steps. Gonzo hopped from shoulder to shoulder, jerking crazily to avoid the cluster of flames as the hoops were dragged closer and closer in, the stagefrackles compacting into a smaller and smaller space. Collisions broke out all over.

    “Keep circling! Keep swooping!” Gonzo yelled; the music reached the cymbal crashes and frantic brass blares, and he tried to dive and roll through flaming hoops held above the heads of the jostling Frackles. In just a few seconds, he would leap into the air and do a triple flip while waving his wand in a large circle to scatter the Frackles and bring the whole thing to a crashing finale...he listened hard to the music over the now-frequent yelps and growls of the stagehands. Leap in three...two...

    “Aaaggghh I’m on fire!” howled a Frackle, throwing his hoop in the air and slapping at the flames on his feathery head. His discarded hoop landed on the shoulder of another, who jumped and screeched and bumped the two Frackles holding Gonzo aloft on their heads at the exact moment he tried to leap up for the dramatic climax. They shouldered apart, more hoops came down, and B D shouted a warning as sparks hit the judges’ table and began licking at the banner decorating its front.

    “Whooooaa!” Gonzo yelled, pinwheeling all limbs, landing unsteadily on a flaming hoop. “Whoa-ohh-owwww!”

    Rosie ran onstage, tripping over the kerosene canister and knocking it aside. He shouted at Gonzo, “Gazza! Kessha!” and spread his arms wide, beckoning – an instant before another staggering Frackle smacked into him, catching his scarlet fur coat afire. Rosie patted it out hurriedly, leaving bare patches scattered over his torso.

    Snookie backed away, wishing like **** this place actually had a fire extinguisher handy. B D was trying to put out the fire on the table with a flapping, screaming Shakey; Behemoth yelled and tried to pull back the animated part of his costume which was still attached to his tongue with Grusomeglue; fire-headed Frackles screamed and flailed around blindly onstage. The stage manager in black robes advanced, staring at Gonzo. Snookie looked into the audience, but the house lights were still off, and he couldn’t make out individual figures in the dark, seething mass of cheering monsters. If Carl let anything happen to her...

    Gonzo, crazily tripping on tiptoes from one swaying, swerving Frackle to another, stamping his feet to put out his own flames, looked around for some means of escape, and saw a large blue pipe crossing the ceiling just above the lighting trusses. “Rosie! Dogpile!” he yelled.

    The frightened McGurk looked at him, looked up where Gonzo pointed, and understood. “Raaaaaaahhhhh!” he screamed, charging straight at the two Frackles wobbling under the Whatever’s smoking feet. They swung around to stare at him, terrified, and he grabbed one in each arm and slammed them into each other, leaped onto their shoulders, and hurled Gonzo upward with all his monstery strength.

    Gonzo tumbled up, his hat slipping over his eyes, his cape tangling his legs, but somehow managed to hook an arm around the water pipe. He yanked on it, unable to see anything, the wizard’s hat over his face and flapping cape making him look like some crazed blind moth trapped on the pipe. “Ungh! Agh! It won’t budge!” he shouted.

    Rosie gathered his muscles, and with a grunt leapt straight up...and his claws just barely caught Gonzo’s toes. “Aaaagh!” The two of them swung dangerously; Gonzo almost slipped from the pipe, but then his cape caught on a rusted flange.

    “Get him down from thair!” Pew ordered, slapping Behemoth by mistake. The monster stumbled, sending Shakey flying; the tension B D had been pulling against on the tiny monster suddenly snapped in his face, and he fell sideways, feet dancing clumsily to try and regain balance, and smashed into Pew. The director, cursing at the top of his considerable lungs, careened across the stage flat into the slowly seeping kerosene tank. With a howl of outrage, he stomped on it; the soaked floorboard right underneath it creaked and snapped, sending the tank beneath the platform; the other end of the board snapped up with a sickening sproing-oing-oing, and sent a hapless host flying.

    “Waaauuugh!” Snookie shrieked, arms flailing, shocked at being suddenly airborne. Something brushed by his arm, and he grabbed it, swinging around like a drunk pendulum on what turned out to be Rosie’s left leg. “Ungh,” Snookie groaned, clinging tight. Rosie yelped in pain, Gonzo cried out in surprise at the sudden extra weight, which pulled his cape tighter around his neck as he hung by it, hands knocked loose; the music reached the smashing climax where the real sorcerer was ending the wreckage caused by his apprentice; a low rumble and a very loud pop came from beneath the stage as the kerosene met one of the dropped flaming hoops.

    “Uh oh,” Gonzo and Snookie gulped at the same moment.

    “What ze hail ees going on heeere!” Pew screamed.

    The entire stage blew up. Boards spattered the audience. Snookie kicked his legs, trying to swing out of the way, and that was just enough force to finish crumbling the rusted bolts holding the water line to the ceiling. It juttered and fell; Gonzo, Rosie, and Snookie swung, shrieking, to crash into a side wall; and thousands of gallons of water feeding into the giant tank next door for You Win a Fish! instead poured down on the studio center stage.

    Flames guttered and died, as did the big screen. Emergency glowworms lit up, showing the stunned audience the extent of the damage: stage a wreck, charred, soaked Frackles blinking like poleaxed cartoon characters, a cursing director repeatedly kicking the remains of the judges’ table, the judges themselves staring with jaws all agape. Gonzo weakly stood up from the pile of Muppet and monster on a tiny section of intact stage, shoved up the dunce cap so he could see where the audience was, and held up both arms as if signaling a touchdown. “Tah daaaaaah!”

    The final, upbeat whistle and violin zing ended the music.

    After a few seconds of utter silence, one of the monsters began to clap. Slowly, he was joined by a few others, then more, and finally the whole house was whooping, stomping, clapping, and howling their approval.

    Then the bleachers collapsed.

    When Camilla recovered from her swoon, that d—d rat had stolen all her blankets.

    Gina sighed, throwing the oversized switch that killed all the remaining lights save for the single, faint ghostlight on the wall just off stage left. In the gloom, she looked around once more. The caterers were long gone; she hoped by now Sal had crawled into bed, free at last of all obligations...until the morning, anyway. Alan shrugged into a heavy coat he’d borrowed from the wardrobe room, a parka they’d used in a production of “K2”. “Ha, this is nice! Sure you don’t want me to snag one for you, G?”

    “G?” Gina repeated. “Do I look like a rapper to you?”

    Alan giggled. “You look like a really ticked-off elfin princess.”

    She snorted. “Elfin princesses won’t pick you up by your scrawny neck and fling you into the critic’s seat in the fifth row.”

    He laughed, but Gina wasn’t amused. “Come on, let’s go. I just need to check the front-of-house locks and set the alarm in the lobby.”

    “You’re not gonna walk home in just that?” Alan asked, indicating the jacket Gina had pulled on over her black outfit.

    “Heck no, I’m calling a cab,” she replied. “Go on, get out of here.”

    “Want me to wait for you?” he offered, though he was clearly eager to get home. Although the snow had turned to rain, it was still bonechilling out there, with a possible freeze predicted on the radio; they’d listened grimly to the weather report while sweeping the stage.

    Gina hesitated. Normally she had no problem hanging around here by herself; this theatre had no rumors of ghosts, despite the age of the building. All night, however, as they toiled to return the space to its previous configuration so rehearsals could resume tomorrow, Gina had felt uneasy. Several times she’d glanced up, thinking she saw some little flicker of movement in her peripheral vision, only to find a masking curtain swaying lightly in the blown air from the heaters, or a paper napkin fluttering on the floor. Still...the doors had been locked for a couple of hours now, all of the MADL folks had staggered out to be woken up fully by the cold air an hour before that, and she was positive only she and Alan remained. “Nah...you go ahead,” she told the younger techie. “Remember, we finish painting the flats Monday!”

    “Yeah, yeah, cool – long as we can get out in time for the night,” he said, grinning.

    Gina gave him a wry smile. “Oh yeah? You trick-or-treating with your big brother again this year? Going as Underdog or one of the Transformers this time?”

    “Ha ha,” he grumbled. “No, I have a party to go to, which will have candy of a more adult nature!”

    “Good for you. Tell Candy you don’t have anything bigger than a twenty,” Gina advised, and grinned at Alan’s blush. “Go on, shoo! I’ll finish locking up and wait for my cab inside. See ya.”

    “See ya!” Not needing any more encouragement – or teasing – Alan hurried out the back door; Gina heard it click locked behind him. Wearily, she looked around once more.

    Great. That took long enough. When I get hold of Mike I am telling him to whip those lazy dogs who didn’t show up, or else I’ll do it for him! Shaking her head at the thought that many hours of activity still lay ahead, she pulled out her phone and started to hit the house number, then reconsidered. Nearly midnight...he has to be asleep by now. He’s always out by eleven...maybe better not to wake him up, just show up, and put him to bed, and worry about this whole tunnel thing tomorrow? She liked that plan much better. She walked to the green room carefully, feeling her way past the platforms and curtains more than seeing them, until she reached the lamplight of the lounge area. Sinking into a chair, she pulled the phone book into her lap and flipped to the cab listings. She was too tired to hear the soft skitter of claws on the painted floor of the stage area.

    Burt scrambled back to the trapdoor. “Now! Now! She’s callin’ someone!” he gasped. Slurg thumped the shoulder of a giant cockroach with a headset on, crouched next to a large box of wires and antennae.

    “Show time,” Slurg growled. The roach nodded once, and tuned his receiver to the outgoing call signal, hacking it and redirecting it. He nodded again at Slurg, who took a deep breath and clicked a button on his own headset. “Uh...yeah,” he grunted, trying to sound less snarly.

    Gina paused. Wow, that’s some great customer service attitude, she thought. “Is this the Brown Checkered Cab company?”

    “Uh...yeah!” Slurg said. “What can we do ya for?”

    “I need a pickup, at the Sosilly Theatre, soon as you can get here,” Gina said. “Rear entrance, just off the alley, on Fifty-third –“

    “Yeah, sure, I think I got a driver right over there now,” Slurg said, grinning. Burt snickered, and Andy shushed him. “Back entrance, got it.”

    “Great, thanks,” Gina said, and hung up. Eh, at least it sounds like the driver’ll be here quick. I hope these guys really are cheaper than Yellow. Stretching sore shoulders as she rose, she slung her purse over one arm and made her way up front to arm the lobby alarm system. A bit of whiteness onstage caught her attention; walking over, she discovered she’d somehow missed one of the paper napkins left all over the floor by the monkeys. It had snagged in the edge of the trapdoor. Gina tugged it free, frowning. Huh...I’d almost forgot this thing was even here, we haven’t used the trap in forever...hey, maybe John would like to use it for that quick scene change in act three? Considering the possible usefulness of the old understage entrance, she walked through the hall to the lobby, tossing the napkin in a trashcan as she went.

    “Out!” Slurg hissed, shoving the roach. “Go! Go!”

    Irritated, the bug shot him a glare as it slowly packed up its equipment. “Don’t rush me, sweetcheeks, dis is expensive stuff heah.”

    “The alley! Move it! Move it!” Andy puffed, hustling through the old vent system beneath the stage, the wolf-thing crawling ahead of him and Slurg bringing up the rear, while the roach finally scuttled off through the basement towards the sewer drain.

    When she came back across the stage floor, Gina noticed another bit of white out-of-place, and stopped, feeling a bit surreal: hadn’t she just cleaned that up? Slowly she approached the dimly-gleaming piece of paper, checking the shadows all around: in the house seats, on the main platform, and among the blackness of the hidden, curtained wings, nothing moved. Another shred of napkin fluttered in the crack of the trap. As she cautiously stepped closer, Gina suddenly realized the air vents were off. A spike of fear shot through her. She stared at the trap door. When was the last time that thing had even been opened? Shouldn’t the edges be full of paint, and sealed closed?

    No weapons handy; thinking fast, she pulled her keys from her purse, wrapping her fist over them so that the sharp prongs of them stuck out between her fingers. She crept right to the edge of the trap, crouched, and wriggled the fingers of her free hand into the crack. It definitely was not sealed shut. She held her breath, counted to three silently, and flung open the door, thrusting her fist down with a sharp cry.

    Nothing at all was visible below. A whoosh of air rushed out, startling her, but then nothing but blackness filled the hole beneath the stage. Gina remembered her mini flashlight, and dug it from her pocket, shining it quickly down and around. A narrow passageway leading to the utility room, some electrical conduits, and the remnants of some stage tape on the floor below were all she could see. Nervously she peered further in, checking in all directions with the light. Nothing seemed out of place.

    Uncertainly, she shut the trap again, stepping firmly on it. Okay...maybe...maybe Mike needed to get to the floor circuit breakers when I wasn’t here the other day? And that little crack is blowing up a little cold air...maybe that was just enough to catch the napkin in it? Maybe it fell through earlier, and the breeze down there blew it up, where it stuck? Plausible though that sounded, she could no longer shake a feeling of being watched. Okay, enough! Go home! All this monster stuff is starting to get to you...you need sleep...make him sleep too, and deal with the rest of it tomorrow. Yes, that was a good idea. A very good idea. Backing away from the somehow threatening trapdoor, she felt something touch her back and jumped, whirling. The masking leg curtain piled up on the stage floor at its bottom edge; another step and she’d have tangled herself in it. Angry with herself, Gina turned on her heel and strode through the green room to the back door. The cab should be here any minute, although she hadn’t heard a horn yet; she just wanted to be out of the building, right now. She punched in the code for the alarm on the back door, yanked it open and hurried out, slamming it firmly behind her and hearing the system beep. All secure. If anything was in there, it wouldn’t get out now without setting off the alarms.

    She headed for the street a few feet away. Suddenly a small mummylike thing stepped in front of her. “Goin’ somewhere, sister?” it chuckled.

    Gina reacted faster than the goblin had anticipated. One good kick sent it flying into the side of the alley dumpster. “Now!” Slurg yelled. Gina turned, startled, and the other two monsters leapt at her.

    Rhonda rubbed her eyes, and stared dully at the TV. Onscreen, what appeared to be a black-and-white but all-monster version of “I Love Lucy” romped in a poison factory. The rat grimaced. “Geez. This channel is just plain weird.”

    No response came. She looked up at the other end of the long leather sofa. A pointed yellow nose stuck up from a cocoon of plush blankies. As she glared at Newsie, he snorked, sniffled, and resettled his body before resuming a light snoring. “You are such a wuss,” she grumbled, checking the clock. “It’s only just midnight!” Frumping, shoving her bangs back, quite unhappily aware that she must look like a mess...maybe even a mouse...Rhonda decided one more cup of hot cider, and then she was calling it quits. “No point in waiting up if Gina’s this danged late,” she muttered. “I knew I shoulda brought my overnight bag, I just knew this was gonna be another ridiculous night...”

    Trotting to the kitchen, she heard her ringtone. “Who the heck is that? I already told Rizzo I wasn’t going for drinks with him, ever, no matter how many nightclubs he’s found without pest control,” she complained aloud. Fishing her cell from her purse by the sofa, she was startled by the caller ID. “Ma? What’s wrong?”

    “Rhonda!” the matronly rat on the other end squeaked, then composed her voice only a little, still sounding strained. “Do you know how to reach that cute long-nosed boychik of yours? The reporter hottie?”

    “Wha...I...” Rhonda blinked at the sleeping, wrapped-up-like-a-burrito Muppet on the sofa. “Uh...yeah...I’m actually at his place right now...why?”

    “Oh, well that’s awkward,” Ma Bell said.

    “Ma! I am not sleeping with him! He has a girlfriend!” Rhonda snapped. “Besides, he looks like a pineapple met up with a can opener...yeeesh.”

    “I know he has a girlfriend! I’ve been trying to call him all night!”

    “Ma, do you know how late it is? As in make-some-sense-already-thirty or I am hanging up?”

    “Something’s happened,” the elder rat gushed all at once, “Rodney brought me the trace about half an hour ago, and it looked strange so I checked it out myself, and you have to tell your reporter friend that his girlfriend is in trouble right now!”

    “What?” Rhonda’s whiskers pinged. “Gina? Wha...how do you know? What trace?” Suddenly she scowled at her phone. “Ma, were you tracking his girlfriend?”

    “Mm, well, you never know when someone might become available,” Ma Bell deflected. “Rhonda, sweetie, I don’t know why I can’t reach him, but put him on. Right now!”

    Rhonda’s gaze flicked to the coffee table; Newsie’s phone was there, but even from here she could see the blinking red light signaling a dead battery. “’Cause Data here never charges his danged phone,” she growled. “Hang on.”

    Newsie started awake at the rough shove. “Aagh! Choir practice!” Before he could regain his wits, a blonde rat was shoving something silver in his face. “Huh? Rhonda?”

    “It’s my ma. She says something’s wrong with Gina,” Rhonda said quickly. When he gaped at her, she smacked his nose with a paw. “Answer it, you twit!”


    “Hi, gorgeous. Listen, no time for pleasantries: your girlfriend called a cab a half hour ago, but she didn’t reach a cab company. Someone hijacked the call.”

    “Wha...uh...” Newsie tried to process this, still waking up. “Wait. Gina? What?”

    “Ah, just how I like ‘em, cute and dumb,” Ma Bell sighed. She then yelled so loud that Newsie cringed: “Your girlfriend called a cab from her theatre, but the call didn’t go to the number she thought it did! Someone else picked it up! Listen, we recorded it, here...” After a moment of noise and a click, tinny voices played over the line. Newsie heard Gina asking if she’d reached the Brown Checkered Cab Company...and then a rough voice, too gravelly and creepy to possibly belong to a person, replied. Stunned, Newsie listened closely to the conversation...and when it ended, and he was about to ask Ma Bell if she could track the call’s origin, or Gina’s phone, the rat came back on and added, “Okay – now listen to what we caught in the background. We had to amp it up a few decibels, but this is bad, sweetie. This is very bad.” He strained his ears, heart thumping, and heard the faint sound of something giggling...and something else shushing.

    “Oh frog,” Newsie gulped. “Mrs...Mrs Bell, can you tell me where –“

    “But that ain’t the worst of it,” the rat continued, “I’m so sorry, sweetnose, but...that call...that call came from inside the theatre!”

    Newsie choked, feeling a lurch in his stomach. Seeing the glazed look in his eyes, Rhonda snatched her phone back. “Ma? What the Swiss cheese holey hey is goin’ on?”

    As Ma Bell repeated what she’d been able to discover, Newsie tried to call Gina on his phone. “It’s dead!” he yelped, starting to panic.

    “Plug it in!” Rhonda yelled at him. “Ma, can you track her number? Tell us where she is?”

    “The signal keeps going in and out, but best we can tell, she’s down the south side, Chinatown or the Bowery maybe.”

    Newsie found the charger after dumping out a drawer in the nightstand, and raced back to the living room to shove it into a socket. As soon as he plugged the phone in, it rang. “It’s her!” he cried. “Oh thank frog...it’s her...” He answered immediately, nearly dropping the phone. “Hello! Gina!”

    The voice on the other end was low, cold, and definitely not his beloved’s. “Why hello there. Nice of you to finally answer your phone; I was beginning to think I’d have to send a postcard.”

    “You!” Newsie gasped.

    “Oh yes. Me. Your biggest fan, my little Muppet Newsfreak.” That chilling voice sounded even more frightening with the hint of amusement behind it.

    Newsie struggled to regain his own voice, all his nerves trembling so hard his foam felt on the verge of collapse. “You – you hurt my Gina and I’ll –“

    “You’ll do nothing of the sort,” the voice said, turning hard as flint. “If you call the police, if you go underground, if you so much as alert your sorry television station, first we will kill her, and then we will come for you. Do you comprehend, little Muppet?”

    “You...no...no, you can’t!” Newsie cried. Rhonda told her mother to shut up, and put down her phone, staring in growing fear at Newsie. “You leave her alone!” he shouted, rage and terror pushing his voice into its roughest range.

    The voice chuckled. “I will find you!” Newsie yelled. “I will find you, and if you’ve touched her at all, I will hurt you, you frogging *******! You let her go this minute or I will hurt you!”

    The laughter rose, loud enough Rhonda could hear it. She paled, shivering. Newsie clutched his phone so tightly his felt had turned white. “Let her go, you monster – you—“

    “You talk, she dies,” the voice said, all humor vanished. “Oh, and...pull that foolish video. If it’s not down in five minutes, I’ll kill her anyway.”

    The phone went dead.
  4. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    *Buckles in for highlights from Chapter 42.

    1 The Two-Headed Monster from Sesame! Well, Kermit will have to talk to Oscar again, if he finds out that is.
    2 Probably the best characterization of their dialect, "Na Matta?!" Horns-Up demanded. *Can hear Richard's pitch.
    3 Yeah, Horns-Up and Horns-Down... That pretty much sums up the difficulty we've had in its name in terms of research. An old website study list had them as Horn and Hardac, while Frank and Stein was another possibility, but there's no source that backs either of those. So I just named them Jerr and Rich in honor of their respective heads' original Muppeteers.
    4 Posted by News tonight: “I know! I must have an amazing amount of grassroots support by now!” Gonzo glanced up at the rough-rock ceiling. “Well, some kinda roots, anyway...”
    :) Cute, cute joke.
    5 After hearing Gonzo's admonishing remarks regarding the tallier... The triple-header? Tom, Dick, and Harry from TMS!
    6 Who the heck is Art? He's the guy who helps Newsie over at the Muppet Theater with his News Flash sketches.
    7 :skeptical: makes another appearance! And there's Sal too!
    8 Heh, caught with the cups in the coffee urn, like the hand in the ol' cookie jar.
    :insatiable: pops up, someone say 'cookie jar'?
    Er, ask Piggy, she's in charge of the party.
    9 Nice throwback to the one month last summer Gina would rather forget from her performing career.
    10 Yep, typical Johnny exit.
    11 Ray Bolger, chuckles.
    12 "Coffin drop", now that's my kind of joke.
    BTW: Forgot to say this when she appeared as Carl's soux chef, but I rully liked Constanza in that appearance. For some reason, she reminded me of Chef Anne Birelle.
    13 What is Constanza supposed to be? The best/closest I could come was Groucha Sharx, but she'd need a plastic headfin for that, and all she's got are the rubber horns instead. Maybe one of the Monsterocrats? Also, nice touch with the springy wrist chain, inspired by Jabba and his prisoner, were you.
    14 Gonzo, leave the tongue twisters to those of us who can say them.
    Posted by Flash of News: "so nothing should explode this time.”
    Famous last words...
    15 *Appreciates the costumes worn by the officiators of the crazed contest.
    *Hanging judge, yeah, if the noose fits...
    16 *Is not a dry eye in the haunted house after the revered classic. Though I always hold the song Anything Can Happen On Halloween from The Worst Witch TV special as the standard. Yeah, I'm old and seen many frights within my time.
    17 Maybe Sal should try some plantains, especially when they're in their sweeter state.
    18 Already knows the musical entertainment at the Sosilly is Clive Cahuenga, smiles, then inserts earplugs.
    19 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, made into a parodical version of itself? Well, I do have the version sung by Kirk "Juaqeen"(SP?) Chapman years ago when the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals. Still have a bit of latent resentment towards that from 2005. :grr:
    20 Intermission, thank frog, will return for Part Deux later.
    Ruahnna, newsmanfan and Twisted Tails like this.
  5. Ruahnna

    Ruahnna Well-Known Member

    Wow! You ROCK, chica! You've got more balls, um, in the air than Gonzo has. Er, eggs. More balls in the air than Gonzo has eggs. Yeah.

    I liked how Gina tried to logic-out what was happening, and that she doesn't just dismiss her spidey-sense when it goes off. Here's hoping she did some damage on the way down!

    And why, oh why, are, um, some of the guys the guys so technology challenged?
    Kermit: I'm sure I don't know what you mean.
    Piggy: Moi is sure you don't know what she means--that's part of the problem!

    I like that Beaker is sometimes helpful to Camilla, because Camilla, at least, would be grateful. I hope Bunsen is taking good care of Beaker tonight at that creepy venue.

    Speaking of creepy--good to see Johnny again. Er, at least, good to see Johnny leaving again. Sal isn't stupid--he's just unwisely devoted to someone who doesn't deserve him. Here's hoping Johnny brings Sal back a cannoli from the party, eh?

    I think I was hoping that Gonzo, Rosie and Snookie (sound like a band, don't they?) would somehow access the water pipe to freedom, but I knew it wasn't going to happen. I'm still holding out for a happy ending for Snookie and a bad end to Carl. Hmmm...maybe Carl and Van Neuter could duel to the death or something...?

    You're coming down the bumpy home stretch, Sweetie! Keep going!
    newsmanfan likes this.
  6. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    I cannot urge strongly enough that all readers have "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" playing while reading Gonzo's act. I had it running constantly in my head...and hey, the weirdo version is WAY better than Fantasia! C'mon! Dancing brooms aren't death-defying! :concern:

    Clive has been a card-carrying member of MADL since its inception in the back of Yu Fung Wu Tu restaurant back in the early '70s. Of course, it took a few decades before they had enough members to move OUT of the restaurant...long after the place had actually been shut down for fur-in-the-food violations...

    Thanks everyone for sticking with it! Doing my best to wrap this up...next: into the tunnels! :eek:
  7. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Forty-Three

    “Okay, it’s down,” Rhonda said, turning from Newsie’s Powerbook to discover the golden-felted reporter was suddenly glossy black all over. She blinked, and realized he was wearing his raven costume from the Halloween party. “What the hey are you doing?”

    He glanced at her before tugging the beaked mask over his face. “They know what I look like, Rhonda; I’m in that video report.”

    “What makes you think they won’t see right through that stupid costume?”

    “Help me tape up the seams,” he urged her, holding out a roll of black gaffing tape he’d taken from Gina’s toolbox. He adjusted his glasses over the beak. “Hurry! Do I – do I look monstery enough?”

    “You look froggin’ ridiculous!”

    “It’ll have to do,” he muttered, and before Rhonda was done with the tape, he strained to pick up the toaster-sized-but-far-heavier signal finder. “How does this work?”

    She showed him, nimble paws flicking on the controls and manually tuning it until they heard the soundtrack for the “I Love Gruesy” show still playing on MMN. Rhonda yelped, clapping her paws over her ears. Newsie ran to the bathroom and brought back the glass jar of cotton balls from the counter, desperately prying the moaning rat’s fingers from her ears to stuff the cotton in instead. “Are you okay?” he asked; Rhonda turned wide, frightened eyes to him, but then nodded.

    “Guess I haven’t had enough of those anti-monsterphobia things yet,” she whispered, still shivering. Newsie hefted the signal-finder box again, heading for the door.

    “Come on! Grab the gear!” He ran into the hallway, stopped at the elevator, and only then realized no one was behind him. Hastening back to the open apartment door, he found the rat glaring at him, surrounded by bulging knapsacks. “Rhonda, come on! That creep’s got my Gina!”

    “And I weigh less than any of these danged bags, you idiot!” Rhonda snapped. She waved a flashlight. “Here! This is what I can carry!”

    “Oh,” Newsie muttered, then took one of the knapsacks with a coil of nylon rope tied to the back, and shrugged awkwardly into the straps. “Oof...okay...come on!”

    “You gotta plan, or are we just running headlong into disaster?” the rat asked as they waited impatiently in the descending elevator.

    “We save Gina,” Newsie growled.

    “That’s it? That’s your big plan?” She shook her head. “Newsie, we don’t even have any weapons! How’re we gonna get past an army of drooling, nasty monsters?”

    “Er...there is sort of a weapon...”

    “Yeah? I’m all ears! Flamethrower? Grenade launcher? Bunny cannon?”

    “Uhm...a mousetrap.”

    “What was that you just mumbled? I couldn’t hear it over the sound of you turning red!” She scowled at him. “A what trap? Are you out of your froggin’ mind?!”

    “Look, it’s an old one – Gina had it from before – from before she met you, okay?” Embarrassed, he wouldn’t meet her glare. “You never know. Maybe we can use it as a distraction somehow.”

    “How? By entertaining the creeps with me flopping around in it?”

    “I don’t think that kind of humor is appropriate right now!” Newsie snapped.

    “If ever there was a time for gallows humor, it’s now, when I am about to be eaten alive by frog only knows what kind of hideous giant bug-thing this time!” she shouted back. Catching her breath, she saw the Muppet smack his fist against the wall of the elevator, and relented. “Newsie...I’m sorry...this is just...this is just way more than I bargained for tonight, okay? And I’m...I’m scared as heck, and you know we might all die trying this kind of stunt,” she said softly, gulping back her fear.

    Newsie struggled to say anything for a moment. The chime dinged, the door opened on the building’s ground floor, and before he stepped out, Newsie took a deep breath and with great effort lifted the signal-finder. “I know,” he muttered. “But I have to find her, Rhonda. I have to.”

    Rhonda sighed, and gently patted his feathered arm. “Yeah, Goldie...we do.”

    Together, they walked outside into the freezing street, the cold lights casting weird shadows over the unfamiliar shapes under the eaves of every building, where the rain hadn’t reached the piles of snow. Newsie strained, grunting, and after a few steps, Rhonda wriggled underneath the electronic box and helped carry it as best she could.

    Gina awoke with a vicious headache and elbows which felt burned and raw. She groaned, and something moved in front of her. With blurry vision but responsive reflexes, she swung a fist, and it connected with something yielding that went oof! Struggling to sit up and clear her eyes, she saw retreating movement, and then a low, chilling clank came from a few feet away. She blinked rapidly and finally discerned the hard dirt floor, the cold concrete slab she slumped upon, and when she raised her pounding head, saw iron bars...and two bizarre creatures peering in at her from the other side.

    One of these, a reptilian thing with floppy ears and a canine snout, hissed softly, “You were not ssssuposssed to harm her, you imbesssilesss!”

    “Er,” grunted an unraveling thing farther back from the door to the cell.

    “Uh,” said a wolfish thing with blue fur crouching beside it.

    “Well, quite the little spitfire, hmmm?” cackled the second thing standing right in front of the bars; he looked vaguely humanoid, but with a very long, tall head and goofy Prince Charles-sized ears. He crossed his lab-coat-clad arms and smiled broadly. “Well, not to worry, not to worry, I’ll patch her up nicely for you, Lester!”

    “Eustace,” the dog-faced thing snarled.

    “Whatever,” the tall-headed Muppet said airily. “Hello, honey! How’re you feeling?”

    Gina put a hand to her forehead. “What the h---...where am I?” The fact of iron bars finally clicked, and she glared at them. “Open this door right now and let me out of here, you creeps!”

    “Hm, no, no, I don’t think that would be wise,” the white-coated Muppet mused. “It took three monsters just to subdue you! No, sweetie, until my assistant gets here with the sedative, I think I’ll just stand right here, thanks!” He turned to the smaller monsters, who seemed reluctant to speak. “So, what an exciting story! The wild redhair captured on safari in the deepest heart of the dark city! How did you finally manage to take her down?”

    “Oh,” the wolfish thing said, perking his ears. “Well, first she kicked Andy into the dumpster –“

    “Ungh,” the goblin agreed, holding a hand to his stomach. Tattered strips of newspaper and sticky garbage covered him head to toe; slowly he began unpeeling them. He didn’t want to look like a complete fool in front of the boss, and who knew but that the underlord might want to commend them personally for this strike-team triumph!

    “It was a monstrous fight,” growled a piranha-jawed thing, raising his long muzzle; the entire creature seemed to stand only a few inches above the floor on stumpy legs with long claws. “For a while, it seemed as though our valiant team would be outfought, despite our surprise attack and our formidable strength, but then –“

    “Then she slipped in the slush and banged her head on the dumpster,” the wolf-thing chimed in. Everyone turned to stare at him. Seeing the alligator-piranha thing glaring at him, the wolfish thing amended quickly, “Uh...I mean...and then Captain Slurg performed his Koozebanian jujitsu and knocked her out!”

    Eustace hissed. “Incompetentsss!... Be that assss it may, at leassst sshe is now in our grasssp. His inutterable sssliminessss is pleasssed.”

    “Let me out this instant, or a sore stomach will be the least of your pain,” Gina snapped, struggling to stand. She lurched toward the bars, and all of the creatures fell back a few steps warily. “What do you freaks think you’re doing?” She peered around; strange glowing worms crawled along the cave-like ceiling, and to her left and right she could see more cells as rough and dirty as this one. “Oh, god...I’m underground...” The severe chill of the place penetrated her dazed senses, and she shuddered, clinging tight to the bars. “You’re the monsters! The ones under the city my Newsie is trying to stop!”

    The creatures looked at one another, and began snickering. Eustace grinned. “Oh, exssssellent. Sssshe knowsss why ssshe isss here! Lisssten, you weird red-furred skin-thing, you will do assss you are told if you ever wisssh to sssee your pressshious reporter again!”

    “What have you done to him?” Gina asked, tugging hard at the cell door, ignoring the splitting pain in her skull. A little dust shifted down from the ceiling, and Eustace glanced up worriedly a moment, but she couldn’t budge the iron bars, rusty though they appeared. “If you so much as look at him --!”

    “Oh, I certainly hope we’ll see him soon,” the tall-headed scientist person chirped brightly. “I’m hoping the dark odiferousness will let me play with him before tomorrow night! I’ve simply always wanted to put some feathers on the beaky ones...”

    Gina shook the bars again, but then a wave of sick dizziness washed through her, and she sagged. “You touch him, and I’ll stuff your head up lizard-guy’s –“

    “That could be intriguing,” the white-coated scientist mused. “Oh, but here’s my good-for-nothing lackey! Honestly, Thatch, does it really take that long to microwave the sandwich and grab a sedative from the cabinet?”

    “Urrrr...” The three-eyed, purple-furred monster grimaced uncertainly, then cautiously handed over a stale loaf of French bread and a sagging plastic syringe.

    The scientist threw his hands up. “Ack! Thatch! No, you were supposed to put the sandwich in the nuker, and – what the hey kind of sandwich is this?”

    “Beeza sammage,” Thatch shrugged.

    The tall Muppet stared at the unopened can of beans between the two crumbling bread pieces. With a snort he tossed it all over his shoulder, and shoved Thatch at the bars, floppy syringe still in hand. “Well, then you can administer the sedative so we can get her ready for her big TV debut later! Go on!”

    The monster’s third eye blinked; the other two looked at the strike team monsters. All of them glanced at one another, and as one with the scientist, took a firm step backwards, leaving Thatch alone at the bars. “Uhhh...gizza seggadizza?” he offered, holding the syringe out to the doggish lizard.

    Eustace shook his head, grinning. “You volunteered, fool! Remember, Van Neuter, our mosst ssscurrilousss underlord wissshesss her intact until we have her Muppet partner in chainsss! Try to contain yourssself!” With a hiss, the monster swung on his clawed rear foot and stalked away.

    “Don’t I always?” Van Neuter sniffed. He gave Thatch another push. “Go on! Here...get right up close and just jab that in anywhere...come on, we don’t have all night!”

    The purple-furred monster looked slowly up at Gina. Her eyes narrowed, she took a deep breath, and tensed in readiness. If they’re using me as bait, then Newsie’s still out there, she realized, relieved. Sweetie, be careful, and don’t rush down here! I’ll get out fine on my own. She glared at the monster, all three of his eyes now focused on hers; she saw his topfeathers shaking.

    “For crying out loud, you lazy coward, get over there!” Van Neuter yelled, shoving his hapless assistant.

    Gina grinned.

    The yells echoed through all of the prison underlevel for quite some time. Two guards at the exit heard, looked at one another, and suddenly found a spot of slime on the ceiling terribly fascinating.

    “Does that look a little stronger to you?” Newsie asked, setting the signal-finder down so Rhonda could check the level gauge alongside him.

    She shivered, brushing a smattering of raindrops off her bedraggled blonde hair. “It looks the same as it’s looked for the past two hours. Are you sure this is the right neighborhood? I sure as heck wouldn’t put a transmitter anywhere around here...the local five-year-olds would make off with it and stow it in their stolen cars, and spraypaint their initials on anything they couldn’t wrench loose!” She glared up at the old tenements closing in on either side of the narrow street. “I can tell no one around here can even pronounce the word ‘gentrification.’”

    Frustrated, the raven-coated Newsman looked around. “It has to be here somewhere! Nofrisko is a block away, and that Con-Ed tunnel entrance is just down the street!”

    “Look, logical though that sounds, Goldie, we’ve had barely a blip on this thing all night and we’ve been going in circles around the whole lower east side!” Rhonda shook her head in disgust. “My hair is ruined, this scarf will probably shrink so much my little niece could use it as a bracelet –“

    “Do you think I care about your clothing?” Newsie shouted, making her cringe. “I bet this ancient thing doesn’t even work!” He kicked the signal-finder box hard. “Grrrrrah! Ow...ow...ow...”

    Rhonda glared at him as he hopped on the unhurt foot, about to snap back some tart comment, but then the box beeped. Both of them turned to stare at it. It beeped loudly, and the needle on the gauge was flicking strongly into the higher ranges, indicating the MMN signal output was very close. Rhonda quickly turned down the volume. “Nice work, Goldie,” she murmured, removing the cotton from her ears.

    Newsie looked at the signal strength, then stood on tiptoe, vainly peering up at the surrounding buildings. “It has to be one of these!” Eagerly he lifted the box again, limping slowly closer to a storefront, checking the gauge. Rhonda fell in step with him, her eyes darting from the dark, silent buildings to the box and back.

    “Go that way,” she directed, pointing where the street took a sharp curve toward the east as they moved southward. Newsie did so, and the needle swung toward the higher range. Excited, they paced along the edge of the broken sidewalk, determining which side of the street seemed to be stronger, heading into the curve. Just past the turn, the needle spiked into the red. Newsie stared up at an imposing edifice, the façade encrusted with crumbling plasterwork; he could tell the decorations evenly spaced above the second-floor ledge were supposed to be some sort of flower, and a vaguely pagoda-style roof, though missing many tiles, added to the Oriental flair the once-grand structure still possessed. Rhonda squinted, and read aloud the letters painted next to Chinese characters across the curved front door: “Happy Bogus...no, wait...Happy Lotus. Happy Lotus Hotel.” She blinked, surprised. “Holy spookfest, Goldie! This place is on just about every ghost-hunting list there is!”

    Newsie gave her a puzzled look. “You keep track of stuff like that?”

    She shrugged. “My niece has a crush on that cute plumber-turned-parapsychologist guy on TV. I watch it with her sometimes.” She shook her head. “Okay...four...five stories with the attic. Must be a small tower, I can’t even see it from here.”

    “Then their studio must be under the hotel,” Newsie guessed. “Wait a minute! Aren’t we on Doyers?”

    Rhonda pulled out her cell phone to check a satellite map, but quickly frowned. “Dang, no bars. Their stupid transmitter must be interfering. Yeah, I think so, why?”

    Newsie felt like slapping himself. “Doyers Street! The hotel! Rhonda, this is where that charity walk is taking place in –“ He looked at his watch, which showed the date as now Sunday the thirtieth. “About thirty-six hours! We can’t let that happen!”

    “Let’s kill their fear signal,” Rhonda suggested. “Then we can call the guys and warn ‘em.”

    Newsie saw the rightness of that, but frowned. “I...I have to find Gina! Frog knows what they’re doing to her even as we speak! She’s been missing for hours already!”

    Rhonda looked up at the decrepit roof, swallowing hard. “Okay...all right...what if I go up, and you go down? We’ll meet back up in the lobby, soon as I disable the transmitter and you find your girl?”

    Newsie paused, then nodded. He put both hands on the rat’s slender shoulders. “You be careful.”

    She nodded back, less than thrilled. “You too, sunshine. Be as monstery as you can, okay?”

    “I will,” he promised. He dragged the signal-finder to the side of the entry stairs, shutting it off and pulling a snow-covered abandoned magazine from the sidewalk over the instrument to hide it from any casual observers. “Okay,” he breathed, checking to make sure he looked nothing like his usual golden self. “Let’s roll.”

    Rhonda gave him a curious look as they bounded up the steps together. “What?” he muttered, worrying that perhaps some of his felt was showing.

    “Nothing,” the rat replied. At the threshold, she added, “Courage looks good on you.”

    He blushed, glad she couldn’t see it under the costume. “Thanks,” he said gruffly, and pushed the front door open slowly. It creaked, and dust filtered down inside. A few paper banners and streamers swayed in the cold air they brought in with them, but otherwise, nothing seemed to be moving. One of the larger signs caught his eye. “MADL...sponsored by Nofrisko!”

    “Yeah, that can’t be good,” Rhonda agreed. She peered up into the darkness above the grand landing of the wide staircase. “Well...here goes nothing.”

    “Stay out of sight!” Newsie hissed after her.

    Rhonda paused once in her scramble up the stairs. “Oh, I’ll be back. And you will be buying me a new coat! Spiderweb gunk is not chic!” In seconds she was out of sight.

    Newsie looked around, and cautiously began exploring. When he entered the dining room, he thought he heard a skittering noise overhead; a nervous look up revealed nothing. Ghost list, huh? No...I’m sure it’s just spiders...seems to be an awful lot of webs here... Then again, he thought of the giant centipede somewhere below, and shuddered. Bugs are just as bad as ghosts! He hoped any he encountered could be bluffed...

    Walking slowly back through the lobby, he noticed a tattered web swaying in an air current...but it didn’t seem to be anywhere close enough to the closed front door to catch a stray breeze through the cracks. Approaching it, he suddenly realized that the shadow under the grand staircase which he’d taken for just a shadow actually concealed another stairway, this one going down, and made of blocks of granite. He turned on his mini flashlight, shining it down only a few seconds, and saw the polished steps quickly gave way to more rough-hewn blocks. Taking a deep breath, doing his best to quell his anxiety and think only of Gina, his Gina, in danger somewhere down there, Newsie shut off his light – monsters didn’t need lights – and slowly began the descent, one gloved hand trailing along a wall for whatever security he could receive. Gina, I’m coming! I’ll find you...I love you!

    He wished Rhonda luck, silently, and strained his eyes, peering ahead and down...and down...and down, into the blackness filled with whispery scuttlings and the scratchings of things like dry leaves on a windowpane at night.

    The upper hallways of the hotel looked to Rhonda like something out of a videogame. Probably the kind with zombies. She tiptoed fast from doorway to doorway, pausing at each one to glance inside before she passed it. Don’t wanna know what those noises are...don’t wanna know, so don’t show me... Breathing hard but as quietly as she could, she scrambled for the next staircase heading up. The second and third floors had been warrens of dark corridors punctuated by rotting doors or open doorways where the doors had fallen...or been torn...off their hinges. She didn’t want to know what was in the rooms; skitterings and whisperings and, once, the sound of faint, low laughter frightened her. Don’t wanna know...just get me to the roof!

    The fourth floor seemed divided in half, with no continuing staircase in sight. Off to the right, enormous arched doorways opened into a vast, dark space; scant light from the street filtered in through half-rotted curtains draped from ceiling to floor over broad dusty windows. Rhonda peeked inside cautiously; movement in a far corner made her freeze and crouch low. Across the wide room, a huge orange-furred spider was busily fussing with some thread... Webbing, she realized, watching a moment, curiosity getting the better of her. It’s using web silk to...to... She frowned in disbelief. A giant spider crocheting?

    The monstrous arachnid hummed as it worked, its front two legs wielding silver crochet needles, rapidly making what looked like a giant hammock anchored between two tall decorative pillars. What the heck is a giant spider doing crocheting a hammock in a ballroom? Deciding that, again, she probably didn’t want to know, she scanned the room for other exits. There was an open shaft for a dumbwaiter in one wall, but the doorways all seemed to lead back to the fourth-floor landing. Moving silently, Rhonda picked her way through the thick dust coating the floor, her nose wrinkling in disgust; she never, ever went barefoot like this, especially not in frog knows what decomposed debris, but her shoes might have made too much noise. Not to mention, feet are easier to clean than Jimmy Choos.

    The other half of this floor seemed composed of suites of rooms; back in the hotel’s heyday, this must have been where the wealthiest guests stayed, when formal balls were actually held in the great room across the hall. Bet the schmucks on the lower floors loved hearing the fat cats partying over their heads all night. Hah...symbolic. One of these doors had to lead to the roof stairs. Rhonda hurried from one to another of the doors, trying to peer under the jambs, but the dust was so thick she wound up backing away and stifling a cough. Nuts...gonna have to start opening doors. She approached one at the end of the row, hoping it made more sense that the stairs up would be at one or another end of the building instead of the middle, and studied the glass doorknob. A gentle push on the peeling wood at her level confirmed the door was indeed shut tight. Sighing, Rhonda took off her scarf, knotted a noose in one end, and flung it high. It took her three tries to lasso the doorknob. She yanked down hard, tightening the noose, then grabbed the scarf in finely-manicured little claws and hoisted herself up, grateful she’d continued her fitness training even after that cute instructor Gene Gerbil had been fired for sleeping with the clients...her arms were strong, and she kept her balance when she climbed to the knob, braced her feet against the door, and with a ladylike grunt wrenched the doorknob to the left. The door creaked open very, very slowly. Panting, Rhonda loosened the noose and leapt to the floor with the scarf, staring worriedly inside.

    At first she couldn’t make out anything, though she heard a strange sucking, slurping sound. Then two pairs of glowing eyes turned toward her, and in their faint illumination she saw the two monsters smooching. Their lips parted with a pop, and a rough-voiced growl sounded: “Seriously! Do you mind?”

    “Sorry,” Rhonda squeaked, and tugged on the door-edge to swing it closed. She ran for the next door, expecting to be caught any second. This one wasn’t shut all the way; she wriggled inside, looking around quickly, to find yet another sitting-room with decrepit ottomans and wingback chairs. Something stirred in the bedchamber beyond. Rhonda rushed out, hurrying to the next door down the landing hallway.

    This one, though shut, had a loose piece of wood in the jamb where termites or dry-rot had eaten away at the frame. Gritting her teeth, Rhonda pulled down the loose wood; it crumbled in her paws. “Ugh,” she muttered, then poked her head in – to come almost nose-to-nose with another rat. “Yeek!”

    “Agghh!” the rat cried, then darted forward, grabbing Rhonda’s nose with a heavy paw. “Shhhhh! Don’t tell ‘em where I am!”

    Rhonda fought him off. “Get off me, you moron! I’m a rat too! Ewww...your paws smell like garbage!” She spat, wishing she’d brought a breath mint along.

    “Oh...uh, sorry,” the bigger rat apologized. “I was rootin’ through the dumpsters behind Long Foo’s earlier.”

    She stared at him; he was as burly as Rizzo’s friend Bubba, and clad in a survivalist vest over his thick gray fur, but his eyes seemed more intelligent than most of the rats’ she’d ever met in the city. He had an odd accent, too. When he turned to check the room behind him, making sure nothing stirred, Rhonda saw his tail was long, furry, and had a puff at the tip. “You’re not from around here,” she observed.

    “Naw, Sydney’s me home, love. Chaz Doonkirk, at your service.” The kangaroo rat stuck out a paw, thought better of it, wiped it on his vest and then offered again. Rhonda shook it carefully. “So. What’s a sweet little slip of a gal doin’ in a place like this?”

    Rhonda shook her head. “I really, really wish I had time to explain it to you...believe me, I do,” she said, appreciatively eyeing the muscles shifting beneath that sleek fur. “But right now I really need to get onto the roof and shut down that TV transmitter! Do you know how to get up there?”

    “Well sure, love, howd’ya think I came in here, through the front door like some common bloke?” Chaz grinned; a gold tooth sparkled. “Rat o’ all trades like me, I got some tricks about gettin’ into places. Especially places what the locals all claim to be haunted, y’see, ‘cause that usually just means boobytrapped or guarded by some mean sneaky cat!” He lifted his jaw proudly. “I’m an adventurer, love; I go places nobody else will, and reap the rewards for a bold heart!”

    “Uh huh,” Rhonda sighed, starting to melt. She shook herself out of it impatiently. “Okay, great – can you get me onto the roof?”

    He grinned again. “A request from a damsel in distress? How could I resist?” He slipped past her out the hole in the doorframe; Rhonda shivered when his fur brushed her coat. “This way,” he hissed, beckoning, and Rhonda hastened to follow. The two rodents scurried along the floor trim, pausing now and then when Chaz suddenly stopped and held up a paw like a point-man in a military detail, then gestured forward again. They reached a small door set between two of the suite doors, painted to blend in with the wall – at least, in the dim light of a gray dawn coming through the dusty window at the end of the hall, Rhonda thought it was. Hard to tell since all the paint seemed faded and peeling, but this door was skinnier and less ornate than the others. Chaz uncurled a bullwhip from his belt. “Woven cat whiskers,” he told her, with another cheeky grin.

    Watching him expertly sling it up and catch the doorknob, Rhonda asked, “So, if ya don’t mind me asking, what’s an Aussie rat doing in New York – especially at this junkheap?”

    “Got bored hunting crocs,” Chaz muttered, tugging on the whip to secure it. “Thought I’d come here and try to get into some trouble. Worked for that crazy zookeeper, why not me? Might get me own show. Chaz Doonkirk, wild urban explorer!” He gestured, picturing his name on a title screen. “Right then. Up ya go, love.”

    Rhonda could feel his eyes on her, and felt warm for the first time since setting foot in the rickety hotel. She climbed quickly up the whip, seeing an enlarged keyhole just under the door. Her coat wasn’t going to fit. She paused, stuck in a dilemma, then thought of the monsters below holding Gina and Newsie’s cousin...and the horrible fear she’d experienced from hearing that screeching signal through MMN. With a breath to steel herself for the ridicule, she shrugged out of her coat one arm at a time and dropped it so she could shimmy through the hole. When Chaz dropped down on the other side of the door a moment later, she wouldn’t meet his gaze.

    “Goodness,” the Aussie murmured. “Love, ‘scuse my asking, but would you happen to be one a’ those naked mole rats?”

    “No, I’m not,” Rhonda snapped. “I was almost eaten by an acid-spitting slug and thank you so much for bringing it up. Does this go to the roof?” She glared up a set of plain wooden stairs.

    “Uh, yeah... An acid-spitting slug? Crikey, that sounds exciting...where on earth was this?”

    Rhonda didn’t look back, climbing the stairs toward a sliver of light at the top. “Near here, underground. You want adventure, hotshot, down there’s where it’s at!” She heard a commotion in the hallway they’d just left, and moved faster. “Oh crap – they saw us!”

    “Who, those big hairy blokes?” Chaz laughed. “No worries, love! They’re too fat to get through the hole, and the lock’s rusted!” But even he jumped when heavy pounding rattled the door. “Um. Up ya go. Quickly now.”

    They scrambled to the stuck-partly-open door leading to the roof; Rhonda shivered uncontrollably. The night air had stayed barely above freezing, and the dawn slowly creeping up beyond the cloudy sky didn’t help dissipate the extreme chill. She jumped when a strong arm went around her shoulders. “Goodness, you poor girl! Now, where’s this thingamajig you need to shut down?”

    Rhonda decided not to comment on his sudden closeness; at least he was warm. She cast an anxious gaze around, at last spotting the small metal structure in the center of the roof, partly hidden by a water tower for the building. “There!” Together they raced for it. The sounds of howling, snarling, and something large and gruff yelling for a battering ram came from the stairwell. “Oh frog, oh frog...” She tried not to think about how the heck she was going to get back down, much less how Newsie might be faring somewhere below. Reaching the transmitter, she studied it quickly from a couple of angles, locating the power cables and the main line of the antenna. “Okay...looks pretty old-school, shouldn’t be too hard to disable. All we gotta do is disconnect the power, and they lose the signal.”

    Chaz glanced up at the transmitter, then back at the roof entry; loud, steady banging sounded from just below. “I didn’t even notice that thing before. Why is there some kind of signal thingy atop this old wreck?”

    “Because there are monsters trying to take over the city who run a TV network underground,” Rhonda explained hurriedly, tugging at the base of the power conduit, unable to budge it. “Ungh...and...and they’re broadcasting a signal which terrifies anyone who watches their station...and they’ve kidnapped my friend’s girlfriend...and they eat rats!” She gave him an exasperated glare. “Wouldya help me already?”

    His expression changing to one of determination, Chaz nodded. He pulled a multitool from a pocket of his vest, and set to work unscrewing the base of the conduit. “Got a wire stripper on this too, but isn’t this thing live?”

    “Yes,” Rhonda panted, stepping back to let him work.

    He paused to look at her seriously. “You’re willing to get electrocuted just to shut this thing down?”

    She shrugged. “Not if a big strong man volunteers instead...”

    He shook his head, amazed. “You’re either crazy or the bravest gal I’ve ever seen.”

    “Both,” Rhonda agreed. “Can you get it open?”

    “Yes,” he grunted, spinning the last screw out of place. Rhonda peeled open the thin metal of the conduit guarding the insulated wires running power to the transmitter, and took a deep breath.

    “It has to be so wrecked they can’t just plug it back in,” she muttered, studying the wires, trying to decide how to do this.

    “I think we have another problem,” Chaz said, and Rhonda suddenly realized he didn’t hear a banging noise anymore. She whirled. A large orange spider, two bearlike things with fat pink lips, and a squat, obese bat all glared at her as they advanced along the roof. “All right, you lot, clear off! This is an electrical company routine signal-maker inspection!” the rat yelled.

    “Nice try,” Rhonda sighed when the monsters looked at one another, then continued to come for the rats, toothy grins trailing drool along the rooftop. “Oh my frog, these look almost as gross as the bugs...”

    “Nice knowing you,” Chaz told her, and suddenly flicked his whip at the crawling bat. It yelped, stung.

    “Get thaf rat-bish, Shteve!” the bat croaked, waving its tiny wings. The furry orange spider roared, lunging forward, the smoochy-lip monsters right behind it.

    “Aaaaaggghh!” Rhonda shrieked, leaping up the transmitter.

    “Come on then, you cowards!” Chaz was yelling as they overwhelmed him. “Takes four a’ you to gang up on me, does it? You wankers! You nasty, crawly, flea-ridden—“ His insult was choked off; Rhonda looked down, terrified, to see a fluffy tail-tip disappearing between the lips of one of the lumbering big-mouthed creatures with a sickening spaghetti-slurp.

    “Oh frog no, no, no!” She climbed and climbed, reached the tip of the antenna, and realized she had nowhere to go. The top of the water-tower was close by, but then what? Seeing the spider climbing fast behind her, Rhonda held her breath and jumped. Her claws caught and clung to the peaked round roof of the tower. She looked back; the spider was readying a net of silk, creepy mouthparts weaving it as his pointed feet gathered it from under him. Rhonda looked around desperately. Could she make it to the edge of the roof, and climb down? The façade had appeared on the verge of total disintegration...but the alternative didn’t hold much appeal. With a squeak of effort, she launched herself from the tower, aiming for the nearest edge of rooftop, bracing her muscles for the landing. Tuck and roll and run like heck, she told herself, remembering the gymnastics she’d taken until her late teens, when she’d wanted to become a stunt rat, before that journalism class in community college had changed everything. She felt the impact on her shoulders, gasping in pain, and tried to roll with it...and found herself bound tightly in a grubby clawed fist. She screamed, thrashing, but the fat bat only chuckled.

    “Outfielder for the Cavernsh High Troglodyshe, nineteen-eighty-nine,” the bat crooned at her. “Come on, shweetie. I know a monshter downshtairsh whosh gonna pay me top dollar for a tashty morshel like you!”

    “Awww but Clarence,” the spider groaned, loping over, “I didn’t get ta use my net! Can I – Can I at least has your cookie?” He leaned over, eight eyes wide and drool dripping from his fangs. Rhonda looked up into that horrible face, and couldn’t breathe from the tight grip squeezing her ribs, and then the spider’s awful breath wafted into her face...she fainted.

    The spider’s face drooped. “Heeeyyy...cookie stale already?”
  8. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    :insatiable: Someone say, you know wha, forget it. Me lost me appetite.

    You're a cruel cruel person. Don't you know the heroes accomplish something if they're going to get captured? At least Rhonda could've taken out the transmitter. Although this only makes for even more heroic a rescue.

    Stay awake Gina, you're going to need to be alert to help your reporter... Unless he gets caught and thrown into a cell beside you. Then again, you could always talk to Gonzo and get him to free you after he squeezes through the bars of his own cell.

    Er, did you mean to say Clarence was part of the "Troglodytes"? Maybe he played with Casey, the bat from that Muppet Monster Mash issue.
    :batty: I love baseball.
    Yes, we all know that's when you get to count up to 9.

    Okay, I'm ready for the rest of this story. Bring on the onslaught!
    newsmanfan likes this.
  9. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    *Going six feet under to bring this story back to the top for Kris where such a monsterpiece frightfully deserves to be. :scary:
  10. Ruahnna

    Ruahnna Well-Known Member

    Ru: Well, flog me with a wet noodle! I missed this post altogether!
    Pepe: Like, h'okay, Ru lady--Hi will flog you. When is the wet noodle?
    Ru: Um, it's just an expression, Sweetie. Shove off, okay? And somebody fire the secretary who's supposed to be getting me my messages!
    Pepe: Look--Hi only have h'four hands, h'okay? Hi am only one prawn, and this section has, like, lots of authors. So fire away if you want to do without! (Turns and pouts.)
    Ru: Oh. Um, look. Sorry. I'm just sorry I missed this post!
    Pepe: Why? What is so special about it?
    Ru: Ooh! Pepe--you'd love it! It has two tough gals in it--Newsie's girlfriend, Gina? You remember her?
    Pepe: Si. Hi am remembering fondly.
    Ru: Well, she's down below the city right now giving a whole cadre of monsters what for! And when she gets done troucing the monsters, she's going to dismember Van Neuter!
    Rizzo: Um, Ru, honey, I hate to break it to you, but I think Van Neuter's going to make it out of this one intact.
    Ru: (pouting) But, but...but I want something bad to happen to him! Maybe if we hope really hard....
    Rizzo: Um, I'm pretty sure that only works with fairies.
    Pepe: Exactly what are you insinuating? Hi am a king prawn! And if I sometimes choose to asserts my manliness by performing "Dance of the Sugerplum--"
    Ru: Okay, okay. Fine, Pepe. You're, um, a magnificent king prawn.
    Rizzo: Um, sure.
    Pepe: Magnificent and manly?
    Ru: Er... (trading looks with Rizzo)
    Rizzo: Um... (trading looks with Ru)
    Ru: Uh, sure, Pepe. And there's another tough gal--you remember Rhonda? She's single-handedly--(muttering) um, okay, she has the help of a hunky male kangareoo rat--trying to--
    Rizzo: What?! She's doing what with a hunky kangaroo rat?
    Ru: Um, it's okay. He's been eaten already.
    Rizzo: Oh. Welll, then.....
    Ru: (quickly) And will probably be reconstituted later when he's, um, come out. But the main think is that there's all sorts of great stuff in this chapter. Thrills and chills and creepy staircases, and big creepy spiders and spiderwebs and bats and broadcast towers. It's great!
    Pepe: Sp-spiders? Big creepy spiders? Hold me!
    Rizzo: Bats? Like Countie's buddies?
    Ru: Er, no. No well-manored (heh heh), cultured bats. This one is slow and slothful and used to play...dun dun duh! Baseball!
    Pepe: Si, bats do love baseball.
    Rizzo: Okay, who called Captain Obvious?
    Ru: Well, I liked it. And now both of the gals are in captivity below the city with creepy icky monsters and...(shudder) Van Neuter.'
    Rizzo: Gosh--do you think they're going to be okay?
    Ru: Well, Newsie's looking for them right now! And he's got a good...well, a disguise and he's going to find them and bring them home! And he's going to try to find his cousin and Gonzo and bring them out, too?
    Rizzo: Yeah--where is the little blue furball anyway? I haven't seen him around the kitchen lately.
    Pepe: I haven't seen him hat all, h'okay?
    Ru: Well, he's been, um, pursuing other career opportunities lately.
    Rizzo: Any money in it?
    Ru: Hmmm.....
    Pepe: But the womens--the womens will be okay?
    Ru: Sure. I mean, I hope so, right? Right?
    Rizzo: Tell me more about this kangaroo rat, woncha?

    (Hoping I'm right.....)
    newsmanfan and The Count like this.
  11. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    *Wonders if an appointment for Aunt Ru should be scheduled with Dr. Otto von Scratchandsniff to explore her deep resentment towards a fellow scientist in the monstrifying field. Maybe transfering some latent hatred of Dr. Gene Splicer (look it up at the Tiny Toons archive kiddies) possibly? And I know Gina will make it out okay, it's all the other Muppets we gotta worry about.
    BTW: I like Clarence, because of his speech and demeanor, he reminds me of Bartholomew Bat (yeah, another obscure character, check the Beetlejuice Animated Series sites).

    Eagerly awaiting the next segment to be posted.
    *:batty: hopes to hear back from Lady Ru about miss Mary.
    WebMistressGina likes this.
  12. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Thanks guys! I apologize truly for the sloppiness of that last chapter...I didn't take enough time to edit, breaking my own rule, and the result makes me wince...but I'm working on the followup now!

    There will be reunions! There will be unusual alliances formed!

    :shifty: Will there be any FOOD?

    Where did you come from?

    :shifty: From dat uddah post up dere. What's all dis I'm hearin' about a kangaroo rat? What kinda cockamaimie t'ing is dat anyway? I nevah hoid a' sucha t'ing!

    Well, they DO exist. Try opening a book sometime, huh?

    :shifty: I tried one once.


    :shifty: Very dry. Hadda use a LOTTA ketchup.

    sigh... Anyway. I promise more action, more sliminess, mo' monsters, mo' monsters, and MO' monsters!

    :shifty: What about da Curly and Shemp ones?

    *angry armwaving* Will you just GET OUTTA HERE?
  13. WebMistressGina

    WebMistressGina Well-Known Member

    I think Dr. Scratchandsniff has got his own problems, you know?

    But Chaz? Hellloooooooooooooo Nurse!

    Like Ru, I'm also like why do I only find these tings when I go traveling about on this board, heh? Hey! Hey, yeah you! Up there in the notification board!

    :eek: Mee?

    Yeah, I'm talking to you! What gives, Beakie? You're laying down on the job, baby. I needs to know about my Mup fics, yo.
  14. WebMistressGina

    WebMistressGina Well-Known Member

    I give that two snaps and an around the world! *snap snap*
    newsmanfan likes this.
  15. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Hey Rizzo... If you wanna see a kangaroo rat, just go to Tennessee Tuxedo's zoo and visit with Jeremy Jump, one of the few antagonists.
    Like I've said before... I've watched a looooooooot of animated stuff, including stuff I'd like to erase from my mind but can't, can only condemn it to dark recesses and blow 'em up when they try to resurface.
    :crazy: *Kablam!
    Thanks Harry, needed that.
    WebMistressGina likes this.
  16. WebMistressGina

    WebMistressGina Well-Known Member

    You get a like just for knowing who Tennessee Tuxedo is.

    Now, I'll give you a cookie if you know what other show the voice of Tennessee did(trick question - one was animated, one was not. Two cookies if you get both)
  17. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Please, that's easy. Inspector Gadget and Agent 86 of CONTROL, aka Maxwell Smart.
    Or should I have said Don Adams as exterminator extraordinaire in that one SD Movie Mystery episode he guest starred as the animated character instead?

    *Thinks 2PM is too early for CN to be airing SDMI Season 2.
    Hello Nurse?
    Would you have me committed if I said Fifi was more in my list of cartoon crushes along with Cleo the Cat and Teen Lobster and others that'd sound weird? Yeah, I gots a messed-up mind sometimes.
  18. WebMistressGina

    WebMistressGina Well-Known Member

    :excited::eek::fanatic: <----- my reaction to the above.

    No one ever gets that! Or rather, no one EVER gets the Get Smart one (which means you actually get my Get Smart references!) AND...no one ever remembers the episode of the New Scooby Movies.

    :flirt: I love you.

    I don't even want to get started on that, but...

    :flirt: I love you.

    You're talking to the person who was madly in love with Dick Grayson aka Robin from BTAS. Madly in love. And my friend and I decided last week that if Google was a man, I'd marry him.

    So no, would not have you committed.

    :halo: Sawry for muffin!
    The Count likes this.
  19. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    I agree that SDMI has flaws, everything has flaws.
    :sympathy: Did you say fleas?
    No, flaws. But it's the new Scooby-Doo series and I've been a fan and I watch when Scooby's on air. The one thing that frustrates me is my CN channel's identity crisis of airing some stuff which is the new series or newer SD animated movies like from Goblin King onwards in English, but it airs the older stuff like What's New and older movies in Spanish.

    At least the Season 2 Crybaby Clown episodes have Mark Hamil back as part of the voice cast.

    BTAS, ah the silver age of my animation-watching fandom. That's when most of my cartoon crushes were being defined.
    *Has memory of Ivy in full-color from the Nintendo Power coverage of the BTAS Game Boy game. *:fanatic: faint.

    So yes, we're a couple of crazy fans. *Leaves muffin for :news:
  20. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Forty-Four

    The stairs proved slimy and treacherous, and the Newsman reconsidered his choice to descend in darkness. He could hear alarming scratching and skittering noises all around him, and suspected that if he suddenly switched his light on he would see hundreds of creepy-crawlies shying away...or veering closer. Monsters don’t use flashlights, he reminded himself nervously. Be a monster. Act like you belong here. Rizzo said bluffing is all about sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong and telling everyone it does. He’d asked the rat to give him some card-playing tips a few weeks back, when Gina accepted an invitation to attend a poker night at her friend Scott’s place and coaxed Newsie into coming along. There had ensued more advice about kings and aces and drawing for a straight flush than Newsie had been able to process, but he remembered one phrase, and it seemed useful now. Act like you hold the right cards, and they’ll have to play along.

    He wondered how Rhonda was faring. That charity walk simply couldn’t take place – at least, not here! She has to get that transmitter down...and warn the rest of the guys! If she doesn’t... He chided himself. Hey, have a little faith in your colleague! She’ll get it done...after all, she knows all that technical stuff – she can even EDIT! Nodding, feeling sufficiently humbled, he stiffened his foam against whatever lay below. Just focus on YOUR job here! Everything will work out fine with Rhonda...just go find Gina! Step by careful step, he continued down.

    The feel of the rock against his hand, even through the glove, became rougher, more like a cave wall than concrete, and then his feet found a flat level, making him stumble. Catching his balance, Newsie patted the air with his hands, trying to sense how large this area might be, advancing slowly. After a moment his foot found an edge; he tapped lower cautiously, and found another stair. A landing, he realized. Some kind of landing...so what’s here? His questing hand discovered something that squeaked and squirmed before he yanked away in disgust. Don’t turn the light on, don’t turn the light on... He found a piece of wall off to the right which felt smoother; further investigation gave him an idea of how big it was, about as far as his arms could stretch and bounded by a frame of some sort...and then he found the doorknob. A door! But there’s more stairs going down... He hesitated, then realized since he really had no idea where exactly to start looking for Gina, this was as good as anyplace. He tried the knob.

    The strings of small pumpkin-and-skull-shaped twinkle lights hit him like streetlamps after so much darkness. He stood in the doorway several seconds, blinking, trying to adjust. What the hey? Some kind of chemistry lab? Tables full of glass beakers, distillation flasks over simmering burners, and strange machines took up much of the space. More disturbing were the body parts scattered around: bug-wings pinned to a piece of cardboard, jars labeled “fang marrow” and “octo-arms” and “cute fluffy feathers” lined a series of shelves. “What the heck is going on in here?” he murmured aloud.

    A loud scuffle and squeak jerked his attention outside to the landing; in the light cast through the open door, numerous centipedes, worms, and unidentifiable bugs scrambled up the walls. Newsie gulped, shuddering, and then heard what was causing all the disturbance: a heavy set of feet tromping up the lower stairs. Something roared, “Doc? That you?”

    Hastily Newsie ducked back into the creepy lab and shut the door, but the footsteps continued to close in, echoes shaking the fragile test tubes in their stands. Frantically Newsie looked around; this room was too crowded with junk, he couldn’t see anyplace he might hide, and suddenly the idea of bluffing a monster with a silly raven costume seemed less than wise. He spotted another door half-hidden by party streamers. He didn’t allow himself time to wonder why the whole room looked decorated for a Halloween party, lunging at the door and pushing it open. A room full of cages startled him, and he stood confounded a moment, staring at the winged kitten and the blue hamster with ram’s horns and the slithery thing that looked like a feather boa come to life. Mewlings and growls and barks sounded all over the room. The loud tread outside stopped at the lab door, and a heavy hand knocked twice. “Yo, Doc! Saw a light – that you? Hey, didja finish that dancing spider yet? Haw, haw...always wanted ta see a tarantula do a tarantella...” The doorknob turned.

    Panicking, Newsie cast about for any haven at all, and saw one corner of the room which seemed unoccupied, holding only a large glass enclosure. He opened the front of it, barely noticing the symbols etched into the glass, and turned to face the room again, shutting himself in quickly. When the door to this room opened, Newsie held as still as he could, willing the trembling in his limbs to stop shaking the feathers, pretending to be a stuffed specimen. Something with the face of a bulldog and crablike eyestalks, all covered in stripey yellow-and-green fur, shoved its head through the doorway; Newsie expected the creature to be too big to come all the way inside, but then it squeezed its head through, and the outlandishly tiny body which trotted in under it almost made him gape and give himself away. Straightening stiffly when the monster’s gaze swung his way, Newsie held his breath. “Huh. Guess he ain’t here. Maybe he went upstairs...” The monster glared around at the caged creatures, which all fell silent. “You freaks shut up! Don’t you know it’s daylight? Time for good little monsters to get some sleep!” With another scowl around at everyone, the bulldog-headed thing slammed the door. Newsie heard its disproportionately heavy tread stomping back to the landing, and then going upstairs. “Hey Doooooc! I wanna see that tarraaaaantulaaaa!” it howled.

    Newsie exhaled. Everything else in the room seemed to do the same, and then numerous pairs of eyes were staring at him. “Uh...hi.” Newsie tried, with a halfhearted wave of a black-feathered glove, to be friendly. However, the creatures backed away, cringing into their cages as tightly as they could curl themselves. “No, no...it’s okay...see? I’m a Muppet,” Newsie tried to reassure them, pulling off his raven mask and resettling his glasses on his golden-felted nose. “See?”

    “Youuuu,” a throaty, threatening voice sounded...right behind him.

    The Newsman whirled; a blue snout wrinkled in contempt shoved up against his nose. “Aaaauuugh!” Newsie cried, stumbling away; his back slapped against the glass wall. The spectral blue dragon in a ragged velvet cloak pressed closer, still snarling. A clawed finger poked Newsie in the chest, and he choked on a shriek.

    “This is all your fault!” Uncle Deadly accused, raised both arms, and lunged. “Grrrraaaaaaaahhh!”

    Newsie yelped, turned on a toe, and smacked his face right into the glass so hard he knocked himself unconscious.

    They had to splash cold water over Snookie to wake him; the party had raged on all night, and Pew, BD and Hem had insisted he stay until the very last Smell-O shot had been downed. It felt like he’d barely staggered into his cell and lain down on the cold, hard floor before the guards were laughing at him and dragging him to his feet. “N-no,” Snookie groaned. “No, I can’t...so tired...”

    “Come on, slug! Move it!” the goblin ordered, jabbing Snookie’s soft round nose with a sharp finger. “You’re due on set in an hour! Gotta get you all presentable!”

    “Too bad ya can’t make him handsome, too,” rumbled the guard, one of the weekend-shift members with huge crawfish arms. He used a claw to hoist the weakly protesting show host along the corridor. “Shower time, lunch meat! C’mon, ya smell like strawberry Smell-O...”

    “I think Pew threw up on my shoes,” Snookie groaned. He could barely move his feet across the floor, and this dragging was really straining his shoulder. “Froggit, stop! You’re pulling my arm off!”

    “Oh yeah? Well den we’ll just hafta call the Doc and have him stitch you up, Muppet!” the guard chortled. Snookie had no say in the routine; he felt about to lose whatever might be left in his stomach. He nearly collapsed when they shoved him under a chilling showerhead, but the three-degrees-above-freezing water shocked him into a howl of outrage.

    “Aaaagh! Stop it! Stop it!” He thrashed, but strong hands shoved him back under the stream of icicles, and another yanked his undershirt and shorts off. Snookie whimpered, barely able to stand, as another monster scrubbed him haphazardly with a grungy loofa. The smell of whatever soap they’d lathered in it made him heave. “Frog, what the frog is that frogging stuff?” he moaned, hastily protecting his more sensitive area with both hands.

    “Sheesh, language!” the guard scolded. When they decided he was mostly clean, they dragged him out of the water and slapped a rough burlap towel around him. “You should be grateful! One a’ your sponsors ordered you special soap, not burning lye like the rest’a the mooks down here!”

    “If that’s special, I’d hate to see the regular menu,” Snookie gasped, teeth chattering. “Come on, guys, I can’t work like this! That stupid party went all night, I’ve had no sleep at all, I feel like foam on a shingle...”

    The goblin overseer snorted. “Well then I guess you shouldn’ta stayed out so late, should ya? Move it, Muppet! Your schedule says...” He consulted a bright pink clipboard. “You got ‘Are You Dumber Than a Box of Rocks’ up first today. Studio thirty-seven, let’s hustle.”

    Snookie tried to stay on his feet as fresh clothing was unceremoniously pulled onto him; he didn’t have the energy or the will to bother with tying his tie or tugging his shirtsleeves past the cuffs of the ugly plaid sports coat. He stumbled after the goblin, shoved frequently by the clawed guard. “No...no more...can’t do this any more...need sleep...” Snookie mumbled, but they ignored him. Vaguely he saw a door opened for him, camerafrackles stretching and yawning, and a yellowish feathery thing with a duck’s bill and enormous flippers surreptitiously checking the cheat sheet it had written on the inside of its wing before the game show started. “I can’t...” Snookie groaned, but he was dumped into a chair just off the set.

    “He’s all yours,” the guard grunted, leaving the studio. Snookie strained to open his eyes fully; when the director-monster, a giant pink thing with six-foot-long arms, dipped his head to stare into Snookie’s face, he was too exhausted to react.

    “All ready,” a stagefrackle announced; the director bobbed his mouthless head in a nod, and gestured at Snookie. The host looked slowly around at them all: monsters at the cameras, monsters at the sound board, monsters in the small audience, and a box of rocks and the duck-thing both squared off against one another at raised, lit podiums. Snookie shook his head, clinging to the arms of the canvas chair.

    “No...no,” he muttered. “Just leave me alone...I can’t do this today. I just can’t.”

    Outside the door, Carl checked the half-eaten taping schedule tacked to the wall. “Aha, here he is...” He pushed open the door, looking around, careful about interrupting a show taping, but they didn’t seem to have started yet. He hailed the leggy director: “Hey, Bob! You seen Snookums here yet?”

    The monster which seemed to be all arms and legs waved at Snookie, then back at the set; one white-gloved hand grabbed Snookie’s wrist and tried to pull him up. With a groan, Snookie struggled to his feet. He took a step, eyes barely open, then another – then fell face-first to the floor and remained there. The director poked him with a shoe, then began gesturing angrily. Carl hurried over. “Hey, language!” he snapped; the director gave him a rude gesture and loped away, flinging down his headset. Carl shook Snookie’s shoulder. “Hey, buddy, c’mon, ya gotta show to do! Up and at ‘em!”

    Snookie registered the familiar, if not exactly welcome voice. “Carl...? Whaddayouwant?” he groaned.

    “Well, I just dropped by ta give you your script for tomorrow’s ‘Monsters Tonight’; there’s this great bit I thought up, where you come out dressed as a pumpkin, and I stuff you in a piecrust, and...” Carl trailed off, blinking in surprise. He’d expected a joyful argument, a tart protest, something, anything much more energetic than the reception this news garnered: Snookie had drifted off again, his face pressed sideways to the ground, damp black hair falling over his eyes. Carl stood up fully, regarding his Muppet sidekick in some confusion. The show director took two steps and loomed over them both, long arms reaching down to grab Snookie. Carl stepped in his way.

    The director jerked up, startled, then launched into a series of gestures and head-shaking which made even Carl, the Big Jaded Cynic wince. “Can’t ya see he’s bushed?” Carl snarled. He hefted Snookie over his shoulder; the Muppet felt lighter than a sack of saffron. When the director angrily shoved his round head with its cucumber of a nose into Carl’s fat, flat one, Carl took that bobbing nose firmly in a huge furry paw and shoved it back as hard as he could. Off-balance, the director flailed and crashed in a pile of loopy pink limbs. “Use a re-run!” Carl shouted, glaring around at the rest of the crew to see if anyone else had a problem. Since he was bigger than all of them, none of them did, though they all stared at him. “Stupid slave-driving wombats!” Carl growled, and with a huff, carried the unconscious Snookie out of the studio.

    Snookie came to briefly, smelling cinnamon and allspice. He turned his head slowly, hoping to disturb the pounding as little as possible, and saw a fluted rim all around him; the stuff under his head was soft and a bit gushy, and smelled pleasantly spicy. He managed to focus his vision a little more, and saw Carl cheerfully whistling “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” as his paws massaged a giant pile of dough. “Did you...did you say something about a pie?” Snookie whispered, unable to find any strength for his voice.

    Carl perked, and turned to him with a grin. “That’s right! But it’ll take some practice...I hate pastry, it’s so darned hard to get perfectly flaky...you just lay down a while, Snookums. You can play pumpkin filling soon enough.”

    “Great,” Snookie mumbled, turned his head away from the obscenely perky monster, and within seconds had passed out again.

    Constanza paused in her grating of the fresh nutmeg to glare at Carl. “That’s really, really mean of you to bake him when he’s like that!”

    Carl growled at her, suddenly looming over her shoulder. “It’s not your place to criticize me! Now shut up and grate that nut, or I’ll practice my mince-Muppet technique on you!” When the dual-toned girl clamped her mouth shut, but continued to glare while she worked, Carl relented, going back to his dough. “Besides,” he muttered, “I’m not cooking him today.”

    Constanza stopped cold, staring. “You’re not?”

    “Are you kidding?” Carl snapped, with an angry thump of his paw against the giant pie crust Snookie was curled in; the sleeping Muppet groaned, and Carl hastily drew back, with a worried look at his pie filler. “He’s...he doesn’t taste nearly as good that way! I like ‘em better awake and screaming!” Two huge yellow eyes narrowed at the sous-chef. “Back to work!”

    Constanza did as she was bidden, but after a moment, glanced back at Blyer... and was very surprised to see Carl stroking back that dark hair almost gently, and then prodding Blyer’s mouth with a spoonful of pumpkin pudding until the Muppet accepted it. Carl watched, making sure he swallowed, then offered another spoonful. Sensing eyes on him, Carl turned, but his kitchen helper was diligently scraping the nutmeg into a bowl. Carl resumed trying to feed the malnourished Muppet, gently urging him to swallow spoonful after spoonful of pudding. “Come on, buddy,” Carl whispered. “Gotta keep your strength up. That’s it. I even used milk instead of sewer gunge...there ya go...”

    The kitchen remained quiet all morning, and although one trial pie was baked, no Muppets were harmed. Snookie slept soundly, tummy full and sore head cradled in soft dough, breathing in autumnal spices and steamy air, and dreamed of places and times long ago, when he last felt safe.

    “Are you going to lay around all day, or can we expect something possibly useful out of you?” the sonorous voice demanded; the Newsman blinked to clear his vision, but what he saw made him cry out hoarsely and scramble to escape it. The ghostly dragon frowned. “Oh come now! That wasn’t even my Carradine impression!” He preened his floating whiskers. “Although I must say I found your reaction quite flattering...er...do you need a change of pants?”

    “What? No!” Newsie snapped, managing to rise after taking a moment to figure out which way his feet were. Dazed, he stared at the phantom. “You...you’re the ghost from the Muppet Theatre!”

    “You know, as you call yourself a journalist, I would expect you to remember proper titles and actually address people by them,” the spectre sniffed. “That would be the Phantom of the Muppet Theatre, thank you! Uncle Deadly, to my friends.” He leaned closer to a trembling Newsman. “Which you most definitely are not!”

    Recalling what the ghost had said, Newsie tried to formulate a coherent protest. “Wait...I...what’s my fault? I didn’t do anything to you!” Memory returning, he scowled right back. “In fact, last I remember, I asked you for help, and was roundly ignored!”

    Deadly lifted his chin haughtily. “You idiot, how do you think I wound up imprisoned in this horrible dungeon, trapped cruelly far from all I hold dear...and you simpletons as well?” He flicked a well-clawed hand at the glass walls. “Were it not for your insistence that the monsters were up to no good, I should not have come here to investigate, and never have been so foully tricked and stuffed into a glass case like some sideshow specimen!”

    Newsie blinked at him, then turned his head to look at the glass. “Why don’t you just walk out? The door’s unlocked,” he pointed out. “Ungh...” He squirmed as his nose was shoved flat against the glass door.

    “Do you not see those cabalist symbols, you fool?” Deadly demanded. “That is black magic of the lowest, most diabolical order, which holds me fast within this cell! I cannot simply walk out! It’s against the rules.” Releasing the Newsman, he folded his arms, snout in the air.

    “Black mag—wait. Against the rules?” Newsie stopped trying to get his nose to resume its usual pointed dimensions, glaring at the ghost. “Are you telling me you’re stewing in this corner because of some stupid gentleman’s agreement?”

    Deadly waved a hand at the etched symbols. “Well, it wouldn’t be sporting, would it, if the undead could do whatever we wanted? You lot wouldn’t have a chance! It would be utter chaos and pandemonium! It would...” He paused, considering it. “You may just have a point there, goldbeak.”


    “But enough with the petty discussions of who ruined whose weekend,” Deadly said airily. “Open this cell at once, and I shall be on my way!”

    “Wait,” Newsie said, a crazy idea forming. “Did you just say you came down here to investigate the monsters?”

    “Yes, what of it?”

    “Well, what did you find out?”

    Deadly sighed. “You know, I never did like your kind.”


    “The press!” Deadly huffed. “Always pointing out my Othello was the bluest they’d ever seen! As if Orson Welles was Moorish!”

    “I’m not that kind of press,” Newsie argued. “I’m a legitimate journalist, Phantom! Now tell me, please: what did you find out? What’s the monster plan?”

    “Ho ho, good one!” The smirk died immediately, and Deadly turned serious. “They’re planning to destroy the city – to draw obliquely over it an endless night, as a hunting ground for all monsters! They’re not playing very cricket, I can tell you that.”

    “H-how will they do that?”

    “How should I know? It may just be campaign rhetoric,” Deadly grumbled. “That dictator they’ve got doesn’t exactly seem to be performing to a full house, if you catch my drift...”

    “What dictator?”

    “Oh, you know, the big shadowy fellow with the red glowing eyes,” Deadly said with a shrug. “Massive ego, proper diction, wields the entire monster population like his own personal Punch-and-Judy players...this isn’t ringing a bell for you, is it.”

    “I knew it,” Newsie gasped. “I knew there had to be someone controlling them! They’re never this organized!” Anxiety rising again, he grabbed the dragon’s raggedy arm, though he quickly released it when both of them looked down at his gloved hand going right through the spectral fur. “Er...have you seen where they keep the other prisoners? Tell me!”

    Glowing green eyes narrowed to pinpricks. “Why, are you going to break them all out? You haven’t done a spectacular job on that front yet,” he needled, looking from Newsie to the closed glass door.

    Annoyed, Newsie swung the door open. “There! Now just tell me where the prisoners are! My girlfriend’s down here, and they say they’re going to kill her!”

    “What?” Startled, Deadly reared back, studying the earnest Muppet’s face mistrustfully. “They’re not allowed to do that! Eating people, yes, certainly...but actually killing them? As in making them dead? Bereft of body? Corpsical casualties?”

    “Yes!” Newsie shouted, getting nose-to-nose with the dragon. “Yes! Killing! As in dead! As in what they’ve threatened to do to my Gina!”

    “That lovely Gypsy girl with the cute little cards?” Deadly put a claw to his lips, musing. “Oh now that simply won’t do! She did the most delightful reading for me the other day...all my cards came up Ghosts, of course...”

    Newsie started. “What? Gina did a reading for you?” When the heck was that? She never mentioned it to me!

    Deadly grinned, showing an unsettling amount of jagged fangs. “Ooh, looks like she doesn’t tell you everything, does she? How very naughty! Oh, I like her even better now...”

    “When was this?”

    “At that charming little soirée at the farm...where last I saw you in that ridiculous get-up. You were bumping into the grass.”

    “I’m nearsighted,” Newsie grumped. He thrust a pointing finger out the glass door. “Do whatever you want, but first show me where they’re keeping her! I have to get her out of here!”

    Deadly strolled out of the cell, making a great show of stretching immaterial muscles and taking a deep breath into nonexistent lungs. “Ahhhhh...that’s better! All right then, let’s go find your lady...and shut these naughty nellies down.” He swaggered across the room, then realized the Newsman wasn’t behind him, and turned, puzzled. “Well? Are you going to stand there with that positively enormous mouth agawp like some game fish, or are you going to do what you came here to do?”

    “You...uh...er...” Newsie swallowed and tried again. “You’re going to help me?”

    Deadly scowled. “Whatever makes you think that? I am going to uphold the sacred laws of monsterdom, which these foolish fiends have evidently forgot in all their playing at Third Reich!” He swirled his cape around him, lifting it before his nose in proper skulking position. “Come along, little Muppet! And do at least put your head back on, you look even more idiotic without it.”

    The Newsman shut his jaw again, grabbed his raven mask and pulled it snug over his face, hastily resettled his glasses on the beak so he could see something, and hurried after the Phantom stalking magnificently out of the lab.

    Kermit looked around at the before-show chaos, feeling calmer than he probably should. Then again, why shouldn’t I? The proofs for Piggy’s perfume ads looked great and she even liked three of the shots; Fozzie came up with some Halloween jokes that are actually less corny than usual; the Mutations are back from their cruise and seem perfectly normal...relatively, anyway, he mused, glancing again at the gangly purple monsters checking each other’s bow ties and cummerbunds, getting ready for the opening theme. He’d questioned them earlier, and all three of them said they didn’t know anything about an undercity plot, but the ladies in Majorca sure were furry... Kermit shook his head, relieved. I guess someone just gave the Newsman a bad tip. Well...it’s not as though many of his stories seem all that credible most of the time. He felt guilty for thinking thus, but shrugged it off. Probably his info came from the Muppet Newswire, and how reliable can a story be when it’s usually about feral sofas or pigs FROM space?

    Scooter stopped at his desk mid-dash. “Hey Boss, did Beau get that tree onstage yet?”

    Kermit peered out; behind the closed maindrape, he could see vague scenery-ish shapes. “Uh...I hope so. Wait. Why do we have a tree onstage again?”

    “Oh, remember, the opening number is ‘Turn, Turn, Turn,’ and we need the leaves to fall and then grow back and then fall again. Gnarled Barkley has been rehearsing with the girls all week to get the timing right!”

    “Gnarled...” Kermit decided he didn’t want to know. “Okay. Uh huh. Hey, Beauregard!” he yelled. He peered around but didn’t see the janitor anywhere. “Where’s he got to now? Beau! Beaureee—“


    Kermit jumped. “Eeesh! Don’t do that! Things have been unsettling enough around here lately as it is!” The baffled janitor just stared at him, so Kermit regained some composure and pointed onstage. “Did you get the tree set up for the opening number?”

    The furry brow furrowed. “Uhhh...what tree?”

    “The tree for the opening number! It’s big, it has a trunk and branches and leaves –“ Kermit began, feeling his earlier calm evaporating.

    A lightbulb went on; Beau’s eyes widened. “Oh that tree! Oh...uh...last time I saw it, it was chasing Beaker with a chainsaw.”

    Kermit shuddered involuntarily. “Why was a tree chasing Beaker with a chainsaw?”

    “I’m not sure...it was roaring a lot. Something about...it didn’t want any Muppet Labs Patent Pending Miracle-Fro?”

    “Eeesh,” Kermit groaned. He got on the intercom. “Scooter! Axe the tree! Just have some of the stagepigs dump some leaves from the flyrail or something!”

    A very large oak suddenly bent over the frog. “What did you say, tiny squishable creature?”

    “Eeek...uhh...figure of speech, heh heh?”

    “Thought so.” The tree creaked its roots, shuffling slowly onstage. “And I better not see that skinny guy again either.” Grumbling, it moved center stage, waiting for its cue.

    Shaking his head, Kermit slumped on his stool. “When am I going to learn it just keeps getting weirder around here?”

    Scooter shrugged gamely. “Gee, I don’t know, Chief -- when will you?” At his boss’ glare, Scooter laughed, and held up a flyer. “Take a look! Got the promo sheets back from the printer’s.” He handed the orange paper with black printing to Kermit; the frog looked it over, nodding in approval.

    “Looks good. Nice job,” he said. The flyer had grinning jack-o’lanterns bordering big block letters: MADL CHARITY WALK Featuring THE MUPPETS! LIVE on MMN MONDAY OCT 31st at 7 pm! SIMULTANEOUS WEBCAST at WWW.MUPPETSDIELIVE.COM! Kermit frowned lightly. “Kind of an ominous website address, though...”

    Scooter shrugged. “It’s the only domain name they could get on short notice, they said. But hey, it’s Halloween! It’s supposed to be good scary fun, right?”

    “True,” Kermit agreed. “Has everyone been issued their ‘Ham in a Cabin’ t-shirt?”

    “Well, most of ‘em. I’ve tried to reach the Newsman twice; he’s not answering his phone.”

    “He’s probably taking a bereavement day,” Kermit observed. “I imagine there’s a funeral he has to attend soon.”

    “Yeah,” Scooter said, sobering. “Uh, about that other thing, Chief...” Lowering his voice and glancing around, the gofer continued, “I still can’t get hold of Big Mama or Timmy or Gene or Beautiful Day...although there was a message from Carl earlier; said he was nursing a sick friend.”

    Kermit made a wry face. “Yeah, sure. In other words –“

    “He’s hungover again,” Scooter agreed, sighing. “Anyway, I’m not sure what to think about that monsters-underground thing. The Mutations are here, and they seem fine. And Sweetums and Thog were playing Bataan Checkers in the green room a minute ago, and Boppity’s here, and the bats showed up for their dance rehearsal...”

    Kermit shook his head. “I’m not sure what to think. I guess we go on as usual...just let me know if any of the monsters show up acting suspiciously, okay?”

    “Okay!” Scooter paused. “Uh...how would that be different from how they usually act?”

    Kermit scrunched his mouth up. “I don’t know – just – suspicious! Weirder than normal!” He sighed, trying to untense his shoulders. “Is there any coffee left?”

    “Uh, yeah, but I don’t think you’re gonna want any...”

    “Why not?”

    A large herring came flopping across the backstage floor, panting desperately; hot on its fins ran the Chef, waving a cleaver in one hand and carrying an old-fashioned metal kettle in the other. “Hoo! Geddendere, yuu pishy-wishy coopasheeno!” The chase swerved upstairs and through a starred door; a moment later, frog and gofer cringed at the shriek and crash which followed.

    “Gotcha,” Kermit sighed. He checked the clock. “I think I have just enough time to slip around front for a real cup. Cover for me?”

    “You bet,” Scooter agreed. His froggy boss hopped out the back door, heading for the local coffee cart. “Hey Chief, it’s cold, don’t forget to take your...” Realizing Kermit was gone, a worried Scooter hurried down the steps after him. He threw open the back door to find a frogsicle on the loading dock. Hastily dragging him back in and rubbing his shoulders briskly, Scooter muttered, “...coat. Hey Boss, why don’t you sit here under the vent and I’ll go grab you a coffee, okay? You want a little cup of Frosted Flies on the side today?”

    “Brrrrrr,” Kermit groaned, shuddering. He huddled beneath the warm air coming from the heating vent, and nodded. He couldn’t even get the word thanks out before his trusty assistant was bounding out the door, snapping up his own letter jacket as he went. That kid’s too nice to be in show biz, Kermit thought, then smiled at his own condescension. Except he’s hardly a kid anymore! Married, with a place of his own, and a college degree... He shook his head, slowly returning to room temperature. Still has the energy of a child, though. Speaking of... He smiled at the small frog climbing onto his desk and waving a paper half-mask on a stick.

    “Booooo! Boooooooo! Hey Uncle Kermit, guess who I am?”

    “A very excited frog?” Kermit guessed.

    “Awww...no, I’m the Phantom! Wooooooo!” Robin moaned, trying to undulate his flippers in a menacing way.

    “Excited about tomorrow night?” Kermit felt something uneasy poking at the back of his mind, something Robin’s mask had triggered, but his chilled brain was too out of whack yet to nail down what it was. Robin hopped up and down in place, and the nagging something vanished from Kermit’s mind.

    “Oh you bet! Uncle Kermit...Rizzo and Pepe said this place we’re gonna go is a real haunted house! Is that true?” Robin asked nervously.

    “Robin, there’s no such thing...and even if there is, all of us are going too! The Mayhem will all be there, and Miss Piggy and I will walk with you, and Bunsen and Beaker will be filming it all for us...”

    “Are you sure they know how?”

    Kermit chuckled, making a wry face. “I certainly hope so! Remember to wear your special t-shirt, okay?”

    “I will! Hey, does this mean I can have a part in the movie too?”

    Kermit hesitated. “Well, I don’t know, Robin. Your parents still aren’t sure that a horror movie is appropriate for a young frog to take part in...”

    Robin made an unhappy tadpole face, bulging out his mouth in a pout so that his eyes seemed to pop up. Kermit tried his best to hold in a chortle at that. “Awwww...but you said it won’t be scary, it’ll be funny!”

    “There will be just enough scare for the audience to sympathize with moi, the lady in distress,” Piggy assured the young frog as she came down the stairs. “At least, in distress until moi turns her considerable skill at kicking tuchis on, and then it’s pig versus zombies! Oh, and Kermie?” She sashayed sweetly up to him; Kermit pursed his lips, expecting a kiss; instead, she dusted her gloves off in his face. A shimmer of red scales fluttered onto his nose, and Kermit sputtered and spat. “Keep the danged aquatic life out of moi’s dressing room or it will be Fish Fry Sunday!”

    “Hey, that wasn’t very nice!” Lew Zealand protested, and chased after the limping fish while the Chef came slowly downstairs, looking dejected, with his cleaver embedded in his toque. Robin giggled. Kermit shook off the remaining scales and pulled Piggy in close for a smooch.

    She allowed it, and even returned the pressing of lips a moment, then broke away and headed for the green room stairs. “Ta, mon chermoi must get a honey tea for her throat! This place is so cold today...brrrr!”

    “Yeah,” Robin agreed. “It’s like the whole theatre is a cold spot, like on that spook hunter show! Gotta go put my costume on for the trick-or-treat song, Uncle Kermit. See ya!”

    Kermit frowned, looking up into the flyloft, but could barely see any of the ropes suspending the scenery and electrical battens, much less into the dark recesses of the grid. Spooks...I wonder why Uncle Deadly hasn’t insisted we feature him this weekend? Halloween is tomorrow, and I would’ve thought he’d jump at the chance to do some corny recital of Poe or Bierce or something...come to think of it, where is that non-pig ham, anyway? He would have given this more thought, but just then Scooter returned with a large paper cup of absolutely amazing-smelling caramel apple coffee paired with Frosted Flies heated in a little cup with mealworm milk, and Kermit’s stomach growled, and he set about making sure he devoured every bit of the late breakfast before the matinee began.
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