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

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

  1. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Twenty

    Snookie was too inured to the sounds of imprisonment to even flinch when the jailer slammed the door to his cell extra-hard, the metal bars ringing painfully at the upper edge of his hearing several seconds after the crashing clang. He stood still until the sound faded, then tiredly rubbed his large round ears. Haven’t these morons ever heard of tinnitus? Another year of this and I’m likely to lose my hearing as well as my sense of smell. His nose had ceased to register the stench of the privy room or the moldiness of most of the corridors down here; now only something truly outrageous, like the pizza the monsters had paraded smugly past his cell last night, could awaken his sniffer. Two of the Frackles had taunted him, eating a slice of the pizza just on the other side of the bars, but Snookie hadn’t bothered to tell them he wasn’t jealous, much less tempted: he’d overheard which show contestants the toppings were made of.

    Walking wearily to his stone bunk, he stripped off his coat and tie and hung them up. Six shows already today. Holy frog on a stick. And they expect me to be alert enough to deal with that ridiculous “results show” of ‘Break a Leg’ tonight? Disgusted, he shook his head, sinking onto the hard bunk, noting that at least Carl hadn’t taken his moldy pallet again. It seemed, if anything, a little too squishy…Snookie pushed his palm gently down on the pallet, and sure enough, a handful of worms came squirming out of the hole in the top left corner. He gazed somberly at them a moment, sighed deeply, and laid down anyway. He needed sleep.

    “Charming. Seems you always manage to get the star treatment,” a nasal, aristocratically-accented voice said.

    Snookie opened his eyes to discover one of the other hosts smiling at him from the cell opposite his bedside. A rake-thin lavender Whatnot, with dark mustaches almost down to his knees, removed his crusty ballcap and shrugged into a velvet smoking-jacket with a flourish of his long arms. Snookie managed a weak smile. “Geoffrey. Been a while. Where’ve they been keeping you?”

    The Whatnot grimaced. “Oh, here and there. They’re trying me out as the new host of Dirty Slobs down on sublevel four. You?”

    Snookie sighed. “The usual drek. Plus this stupid new talent show…oh, and sidekick for Big Mean Carl. Did you know he has his own late-night talk show now?”

    “I heard. How perfectly dreadful for you, my dear boy.” Although Snookie knew Geoff was approximately the same age as himself, he tolerated the dandy’s affectations of dress and speech; after all, it was nice to have someone intelligent to talk to once in a while. He swung his legs to the floor, biting his lip at the feel of slithering, shifting things in his meager mattress, and looked his colleague over. Doing the same, Geoff shook his head. “Goodness me. You seem a bit pale. Aren’t they allowing you your two minutes of sunlight anymore?”

    “They claim the shaft was blocked by construction on the surface,” Snookie grumbled. “No more sunlight at all. Of course, they’re probably lying again.”

    “I would always assume so unless the reverse can be proven,” Geoff agreed, stepping closer to clasp hands with his fellow host through the bars. “I heard an awful rumor that Carl had eaten you once and for all; I’m terribly pleased to see the report of your devouring was greatly exaggerated.”

    Snookie shuddered. “Not so exaggerated. But yeah…I’m still here. Still doing shows, still wearing this ugly coat,” he plucked at the sleeve of the brown plaid atrocity on the clothes horse, “still no winner on Swift Wits. Yes, everything is perfect.”

    Inexplicably, Geoff broke into song: “Everything’s in place, I can’t seem to wipe this smile off my face…”

    Snookie shook his head. “Have they suckered you into doing musicals now too? Let me guess, they’re reviving Name That Tuna?”

    The other host chuckled, filling his meerschaum pipe with something that smelled of vanilla; Snookie sniffed longingly at the puffs wafting through the bars. He hated smoking, but anything that actually tickled his nose in a good way was gold down here. “No, no, my poor deprived chum! New song. Heard it the other day on the pirate radio station. Delightful tune…delightful show, actually. Some sort of random Muppet radio. The disc jockey calls himself Wrong John Silver.”

    Snookie gave him a skeptical frown. “Radio doesn’t reach down here! Nothing reaches down here, all the transmissions are out-only…hey, have you been up to the surface?”

    Geoff glanced into the corridor, but the guards seemed absent currently. He whispered, “Well…yes. But it’s nothing I’d care to brag about.”

    “They let you go topside? Why? Why do you get to see the sky and breathe actual air and – and—I’m stuck down here!” Snookie hissed fiercely, but his friend made shushing movements with his elegant hands.

    “Shh, shhh! Look, it isn’t like that! I’m not allowed out either! I just happened to be chosen to help out in a new science show, some sort of educational thing for the kiddies, and the lab is close to the surface!”

    “That isn’t fair!” Snookie growled. “I’ve been down here longer, they use me for everything, I’m the most popular host here – why was I not—“

    “It’s not that wonderful!” Geoff snarled, and showed Snookie his crow’s feet. Snookie blinked, mouth hanging open. Instead of sleek stockings over his shapely felt calves, Geoff now had spindly, scaly, bright orange crow’s legs and feet. The Whatnot angrily jerked his pants legs down once more, glaring at Snookie. “Still certain you’d like to trade?”

    “What…what happened?” Snookie asked, shocked into a softer tone.

    “He called it a trans-genetic felt-displacement Muppet-monster something-or-other,” Geoff sighed. “Part of a lesson on the possible links between certain monster types and Muppet DNA…I’ve no idea what grade level the show is aimed for, however; at St Barretta Prep we didn’t get to cross-breeding noncombinant species until 10th grade!”

    “You’re…an experiment?” Snookie realized suddenly there actually were worse things than being eaten. “You’re being…turned into a monster?!”

    The Whatnot’s long face appeared even more drawn. “Snookie, my sleekheaded lima bean, this may be the last time you see me thus. If…if it should come to the worst…please know I will always hold you in the highest regard and friendship.” He choked up. “Even if…even if I wind up tearing you limb from limb and stuffing you into my gullet to be ground by the little pebbles I’ve been eating before digesting you.”

    “Ack!” Snookie flinched, but then realized that if monsterized, poor Geoff would likely have no will to resist his hideous and insatiable appetite. Awkwardly, he reached through the bars to pat his friend on the arm. “I’m…I’m so sorry, Geoffrey.”

    The Whatnot shrugged, smiling wanly. “As you said, my friend, everything is perfect. Would you like to learn the song? It’s rather cheery, and I’ve found it something of a comfort, despite the fact that Van Neuter whistles it unceasingly whilst he’s splicing my RNA with giant dodo-snorkelwhacker…”

    “I…I’m not much of a music fan,” Snookie admitted. “Can he…actually completely change you?”

    “Well, they have to leave the mustaches untouched, that’s in my contract. Everyone expects the mustachios, you know, for my role.”

    “They expect you to keep hosting like that?” Snookie felt outraged. Worse, what if that twisted vet decided to experiment on him next? “You – you should demand a renegotiation!”

    “No can do, old bean. I rather foolishly bargained away any say in my physical composition a year ago in exchange for a massage once a week.” His sorrowful eyes took on a dreamy cast. “Ah, the tender ministrations of Big Mama walking on my back…wonderful for the spinal health, you know. If only I’d foreseen what they’d do to me!” He sighed. “Take my bad judgment as a lesson, Snookie. Don’t let them make you one of them!”

    “**** no!” Snookie gulped, horrified. But they wouldn’t, would they? They like the fact that they have a captive Muppet to torment, to offset the monstrosity of everything else – don’t they? Even Carl said once I was irreplaceable! Frightened, he jumped when a clang on the bars announced the return of one of the guards.

    “Hey, Fauxworthy. You’re up,” the shuffling green blob of fur growled, swinging open the door to Geoff’s cell.

    “Just a moment, let me get into character,” the Whatnot snapped, and shot an apologetic glance at Snookie. “Take care, Snookums. Watch your back…and your front, and your sides, and your feet especially!” He removed his smoking-jacket and dress shirt, and pulled on a dirty white T-shirt and a ragged pair of suspenders. Settling the ballcap on his head and ruffling his mustache, he turned to the guard and spoke in the redneck accent he’d perfected for hosting Are You Smarter Than a Drainpipe? “All raht, y’all, guess I’m fixin’ t’go a-hostin’. Y’all take care now, y’hear?” he quipped at Snookie as he exited.

    Shaken, Snookie sat down on his bunk, ignoring the squirm of protest under his rear. But Geoff used to have twice the fan base I did! If even he has no choice in…in joining THEM…oh dear frog. What am I going to do? What CAN I do?

    Sunk in horrific imaginings, Snookie Blyer, the last wholly Muppet host on MMN, clutched his hands together so tightly the dull yellow felt turned cream, and sat frozen in place nearly an hour before the goblins came to get him.

    The apartment was fully in love with autumn. That’s how it appeared, at any rate: swags of silk leaves in reds and golds, many with coppery glitter dusting the lobes, dangled from every doorway and twined along curtains in the bedroom and the bath. Strings of tiny lights hung in the squared-off arched doorways, twined through grapevines loosely framing the wide living room windows, and flickered among a collection of wooden, ceramic, and real pumpkins crowding the sill. Gina had decorated cautiously at first, then when Newsie said he liked it, she threw all her enthusiasm for the season into it. A centerpiece of gourds, leaves, tall candles and fake spiderwebs crowned the dining room table beneath a slowly drifting mobile of black paper bats. Jack-o’lanterns of metal, pottery, and plastic peeked out of every possible cranny. Only the bedroom was largely untouched, as Newsie had said he didn’t want the grinning pumpkins or fluttery bats to give him bad dreams. All the household linens sported falling-leaf patterns, from the kitchen towels to the throw rugs in the hall. Gina had deliberately not used her collection of skeletons this year, hoping to ease her nervous journalist into the idea that they weren’t actually scary. The only thing she’d taken down to the thrift store to donate was the box with the pumpkinheaded monster in it, which normally she hung outside the living room windows to glare down at the street (and their neighbors) below. Newsie might be gently coaxed into accepting a few Dios de los Muertos figurines, even after their last run-in with the actual reaper, but she knew he would never, ever be willing to have a monster in their private sanctuary, even a fake one.

    He would have been horrified to see the two long-tentacled things materializing in the living room.

    “Aaawww,” the pink thing drawled, jerking its head as it peered up, down, and around.

    “Awww, mm. Uh-huh, uh-huh,” the blue thing said, its antennae twitching, scanning the area for any sign of life. It spotted a framed photograph on the windowsill among the pumpkins. “News! Awwww! News, News, yip yip yip yip!”

    “Yip yip yip!” its companion agreed, and they crowded close to the picture. “Greet. Ings.”

    “Hel. Lo.” They waited, but the photo of the couple, Newsie seated on Gina’s lap with her arms around him and his arms resting on hers, both smiling, made no reply to the Martians. “Greet-ings. Hel-lo.”

    “Mn,” grunted the pink one, shaking its head. “Nope. Nopenopenopenope.”

    “Hel-lo,” the blue one tried again, then had to agree with the pink one. “Uh-uh. Noooope.”

    The pink one peered behind the photo, then jerked back in fright. “Flat! Flat! Awww!”

    “Flaaaat?” Sure enough, there was no dimension to the picture. “Awww! Flat! Yip yip yip!”

    “Book! Book book book book,” the pink one asserted, pulling out their travel guide. Together they studied it. The blue one turned a couple of pages, then started up in realization.

    “Aaaaaw! Pic-ture! Pic-ture! Yip yip yip yip yip!”

    “Yip yip yip yipyipyip uh-huh!”

    Trying a different tactic, the blue one took a deep breath, then drew himself up as flat as he could, startling his comrade. In a strained, toneless voice, the blue one addressed the frame again: “Greet-ings.” The pink one jerked behind him and before him, amazed at how compressed the blue one had managed to make himself. “Hel-lo,” the blue one tried again, still receiving no reply. Forced to let out its breath, it flumped out into its normal dimensions once more, then shook its head. “Uh-uh. Uh-uh. Nope nope.”

    “Uh-uh. Nope nope nope. Hmmmm.”

    They hadn’t pondered the problem very long when the clacking of a key in the front door frightened them both; they yanked their lower jaws over their heads, then skittered behind the large armoire in the living room. Gina kicked the door open gently, wriggling the key back out of the lock while she managed an armful of bags through the doorway. She set the bags down momentarily to close the door; the noise startled the Martians back from their tentative peeking around the edge of the armoire.

    Gina checked the bags’ contents, picking up those which held food and carrying them into the kitchen. She’d decided to make some pumpkin-ginger mini cupcakes to take to Fozzie’s party this weekend, and had also stocked up on frozen foods in anticipation of next week being busier than usual, with the likelihood of several nights without time to cook when the Sosilly swung into full rehearsals and tech builds for the upcoming November shows. I’d still like to know who decided ‘The Homecoming’ and ‘Charley’s Aunt’ would make a good rep schedule, she thought as she tossed bags of cut broccoli and Brussels sprouts in the freezer. A weirder dichotomy I’ve never seen themed around “home for the holidays”! As she turned, she was too preoccupied with hunting through a bag for the ingredients for the cupcakes to notice two raggy-limbed creatures huddling just around the archway to the dining room.

    “Mn. Not News,” the blue one observed, shaking its head. “Uh-uh. Uh-uh.”

    “Mmm, nope nope,” the pink one said, staring at the young woman while she bent over to rummage in a grocery bag for the missing cardamom. “Not News… Not…flat.”

    “Nope nope, noooot flat,” the blue one said admiringly, the two of them crawling atop one another restlessly to get a better view without falling into the edge of light from the kitchen. This turned into something of an aggrieved wrestling match until Gina turned around, and both of them jerked back, flattening themselves against the dining room baseboard as Gina strode past, looking at her phone instead of the carpet.

    No messages; she hoped that meant her Newsie was having a relatively easy day so far. Of course, it could just as easily mean he was having a terrible day. She sighed, and called his cell. After one ring, his voicemail picked up gruffly: “This is the Muppet News Line! Please leave your news lead and your contact information after the beep. Uh…” Clack. Clunk. Clunk. “Er. What do I press?” Rhonda’s muffled voice: “Just hit end, genius.” “Oh. Uh…” Click. Beeep.

    Shaking her head, Gina took a deep breath and refrained from telling him again he really ought to fix that message. “Hi, cutie, it’s me. We had to finish early today because the owners are showing some charity group around; they’re renting out the space in a couple weeks for some one-night event. It means I’ll have to go back in tonight to finish organizing those flats because we need to put together a buy list for any materials we’re missing and get ‘em tomorrow in order to start build week on Monday…anyway. What that means for us is I won’t be home in time for dinner, so please warm up whatever you want; I just bought stuff and it’s in the freezer, okay?” She paused, concerned but not wanting to embarrass him by sounding overly so. “Hope your day’s going all right. Call me back when you get this, and maybe we can arrange a quick bite at your theatre tonight instead. If not, I understand. I love you.” Reluctantly she hung up, then remembered the bags still parked in the living room and debated laying their contents out on the sofa for her love to find. She grinned as she peeked into the plain shopping bags full of things she’d borrowed from the Sosilly’s wardrobe with the giggling permission of the costume shop supervisor.

    The Martians stared in fascination at the scarlet-haired human digging through large bags. “Whaaat? What what what?” the blue one murmured as they peered around the dining room doorway at her.

    “Mn. Book,” the pink one muttered, consulting their well-worn guide. “Bag,” it announced, though it had the sense to keep its voice low.

    “Awww, bag,” said the blue one. “Bag! Yip yip yip.”

    “Bag, uh-huh.” They watched, puzzled, while Gina stuffed the costumes back into the bags with a chuckle and carried them down the hallway to the bedroom. Pink gave blue a confused look. “News in bag? Awwww?”

    Hah! Serves him right for being ‘too busy,’ Gina thought, grinning at the reaction she could easily imagine her Newsman having when he saw what she’d picked out for him to wear to the Halloween party. He’d ducked out of their arranged shopping trip this past Monday, spending the evening hunched over a stack of blueprints after anxiously talking her into accompanying him on the failed tunnel expedition…and of course after that he’d been too ill to leave the house. So, now he’ll just have to wear this! Oh, man, I have to bring the camera. This’ll be too cute. She was fairly sure she’d walked exactly down the line between “adorable” and “mortifying” with her choice for his costume, and knew he would like hers…and although she wasn’t sure how many Muppets had actually read Poe, the ones who had would surely enjoy the theme of both outfits. Best as a surprise, she decided, and stuffed the bags into the closet under her rack of skirts and blouses to await revelation on Saturday. He’d better be able to take the night off! She knew he’d requested it right after telling her of Fozzie’s invitation, so hopefully they’d be able to go early and spend the night out at the Bear Farm as planned. She doubted Muppets would be partying late, and he’d told her it was a two-hour drive. “Not with me driving,” she’d promised him, which earned her a nervous look…but still, it would be good to get there before dusk, so they wouldn’t have to try to find the rural house in the dark on unfamiliar roads.

    The Martians fell over themselves scrambling out of the way as the young woman walked swiftly back through the hall to the living room, pausing only briefly to collect her keys, her hair now swathed in a trailing black crepe headscarf, a number of bracelets jingling on her wrists, and a flowing skirt with colorful paisleys over black floating along as she moved. The propmaster had told her today about a craft fair going on in the Village in which he had a booth to sell his silversmithing; he’d invited her to offer her card readings there, for a share of the profits. Gina glanced at the pumpkins on the windowsill, pleased with the sight of leaves blowing past from the tall water-oak outside the building. She was happy her beloved Muppet liked fall almost as much as she did.

    The stringy creatures watched around the corner as the human leaned over the flat picture to touch her lips to the glass. “My cutie,” she said, and chuckled once. “Ooh, I can’t wait to see you in that costume!” She checked to be sure the pouch holding her new deck was drawn tight, and without a backward look left the apartment. When the place remained silent a few seconds, the intruders crept out into the living room once more.

    “Cu-tie?” the blue one wondered, tentacling through the book without success. “Hmmm. Nope. No cu-tie. Nopenopenope.”

    Making the connection, the pink one gestured at the framed photo. “Cu-tie…News!”

    “Aaaawww!” Sagely, both began wriggling around the photo. “Yiiiiiip yip yip yip! Cu-tie! Yip yip!”

    “Still flat,” the blue one pointed out.

    “Hmmmmm. Awww. Hmmm…”

    Struck by a brilliant idea, the pink one raised itself up on tentacle-tips. “AwwAW! The-a-ter!”


    “News. The-a-ter! Cu-tie!”

    “Aaaw! Yip yip yip yip yip!”

    “Uh huh! Uh huh! The-a-ter!”

    The blue one began to shimmer from side to side, but his companion stopped him with the touch of a raggy appendage. “Uh-uh! Food!”



    “Aaaaw foooood! Yip yip yip fooood yip yip yip!”

    Pleased with their plans, the two jerked and wriggled into the kitchen, where they proceeded to happily munch the empty paper bags, their enormous mouths chewing in a circular motion like deranged cows.

    “Mm. Chew-y. Mmmm.”

    “Mmmmm. Nom nom nom.”

    “Nom nom! Yip!”

    The Newsman followed Rhonda uncertainly, feeling very out of place; he was, for once, the tallest person in the room. Rats peered suspiciously at him from their posts at banks of tall computers, or ignored him as they went about their mysterious tasks. “Rhonda…this place looks like a telephone switchboard,” he muttered.

    “Score one for Captain Obvious. It is a switchboard. More precisely, this is the switchboard, the big one, routing all of Manhattan!” the stylish rat held her head high, her sleek waves of hair bouncing along as she trotted between server racks and old-fashioned banks of plugs and wires and cords.

    Newsie stared at a row of plump rats sporting bouffants, all squeaking into the mikes of the headsets they wore around the backs of their ears so as not to disturb the perfection of their hair. One on the end nearest him turned to glare at him through sharp cat-frame glasses, and he looked away, embarrassed. “Ahem! Er…I thought all this was computerized now?”

    “That stuff is expensive! How d’ya think these guys cut costs and make such ginormous profits all the time?”

    “Um…” Newsie noticed a gathering crowd trailing after him. “Rhonda!” he hissed anxiously, “there are rats following us!”

    She snorted. “They’d better be, considering what you’re carrying! Now hurry up and be careful not to drop it! Here we are…” They turned a corner, the aisle broadening, and Newsie was amazed at the rows upon rows of rats at desks, rapidly talking on old-fashioned black dial phones, hurrying to and fro with messages, occasionally hanging the phones up and either dialing again or looking up excitedly at plastic tubes hanging over every desk.

    Newsie saw one rat grin as she slammed down her phone, and immediately thereafter, a bell sounded and a large pellet dropped from the tube onto her desk. She attacked it greedily, the rats around her giving her jealous glances while they talked: “So can I sign you up for the Preferred Family Plan? You’ll save twenty dollars a month over what an obscure long-distance company in Fiji charges…” “No, I’m sorry, call forwarding is not included in that package, but if you’d like to upgrade to the Every Bell and Whistle Unnecessary Feature Plan…” “No ma’am, we do not send technicians out to unstick a roach from your wall jack; you’ll have to speak to our Phone Pest Division. Transferring you now…”

    “I thought you said the world had moved past rotary dial?” Newsie grumbled at Rhonda, casting uneasy looks behind him; there seemed to be quite a lot of rats silently leaving their desks and following him…

    “Quiet already! We’re here,” Rhonda snapped, brushing her bangs out of her eyes and smiling up at a very large, very gray rat sitting in a plush chair, surveying the whole room from her platform within a glass enclosure. The rat pretended not to notice them at first, staring distantly out at her workers, her tall gray beehive perfectly arranged and held in place with rhinestone-studded bobby pins. Newsie thought it impossible that the rat hadn’t seen them approach, but kept his mouth shut and let his producer take the lead, his fingers clamped around the bakery box they’d bought at Rhonda’s direction a short while ago. Finally the queen rat deigned to look down, and smiled at Rhonda.

    “Well, well! The prodigal returns! How’s life in the sucker’s world, sweetie?” she asked, giving Newsie a very direct stare while she waited for Rhonda’s reply.

    The blonde rat chuckled; Newsie thought she sounded a little nervous, which worried him. He could feel rats breathing on his coattail. “Eh, you know, same old same old. You sell ‘em airtime, I sell ‘em current events and ads,” Rhonda squeaked.

    “And hamsterburgers,” the queen rat said, amused.

    Rhonda threw a quick glare at her reporter. “Not anymore.”

    “Well, how lovely of you to drop in and see us,” the large rat said, putting on a pair of tiny round glasses to peer at the box Newsie held. “And what does your man have for us?”

    “Oh, uh, this is Newsie. He works with me at the station,” Rhonda said, warning the journalist with a look not to comment on the presumption that he worked for her. “Newsie, this is ‘Ma Bell.’ Ma, we brought you…cheesecake!”

    Sharp beady eyes studied them both. “From DeRobertis?”

    Affronted, Rhonda put her paws on her hips. “Is Woody Allen a geek?”

    The gray rat snorted a laugh. “Please, come in. Shut the door.”

    Awkwardly, Newsie stepped into the small space beyond the glass wall and closed the hinged panel they’d come through behind him. At Rhonda’s nod, he handed the box up to Ma Bell. She opened the lid just enough to take a deep sniff of the contents, smiled, and set the box aside, gently dropping from her perch to hug and air-kiss Rhonda on both cheeks. “Well! Now I know this isn’t a social call. What are you after? Need the private line of another specialty piercing artist?”

    “No, no, actually, Newsie has a problem,” Rhonda squeaked hurriedly, ignoring the raised brows the journalist gave her. “Nothing like that. Uh…someone was claiming to be him, and gave out a local number as their contact point. As soon as Newsie found out about it the number was disconnected…”

    “Ah. Yes, of course. Do you have it?” Ma Bell asked the Newsman, somehow able to make him feel shorter than her with a long cool stare.

    “Ahem. Um.” Not sure what was going on here, Newsie pulled out his notepad and handed it to the rat.

    She read the number writ on it, and without looking up bellowed: “Jonas!”

    A shivering little rat in a blue necktie popped up at the glass wall immediately, though he had to squirm past a crowd. “Y-yes, your gorgeousness?”

    “He’s so cute. His mama used to work for me,” the queen explained in a low voice, then slapped the notepad against the glass so Jonas could see it. “Find me this person. Now.”

    “Y-yes ma’am!” With a twitch of a nervous tail, the rat vanished.

    The queen turned back to Newsie, smiling as she looked him up and down again. “You’ll have an answer shortly. So, what is it you do for darling Rhonda?”

    “Er…I’m a reporter for KRAK News, and the weekend anchor. Uh, I also deliver newscasts at the Muppet Theatre –“

    “Ooh, a reporter digging into a mysterious conspiracy, how exciting!” Ma Bell purred, sidling around to view Newsie from all sides. Uneasily he tried to follow her movements without actually turning in a circle. “Cute nose,” she commented to Rhonda.

    “Um. We’re not…” Rhonda said quickly, shaking her head and waving her hands in a no way gesture for good measure.

    “Oh?” The stare Ma Bell was giving him made Newsie want to cringe, but there was nowhere to go in the tight space of the enclosure; the raised platform took up most of the tiny room.

    Rhonda rolled her eyes. “He’s spoken for, Ma.”

    “I can look,” Ma Bell said, sounding amused.

    “Er…what exactly goes on down here?” Newsie asked, trying to get the focus off of him.

    “Isn’t it obvious? We rout calls, we sell airtime to the company’s cell customers, and we check up on every account the company opens to make sure the money rolls on in,” Ma Bell chuckled, one languid paw sweeping around to indicate the entire operation.

    “And…and everyone working for this phone company is a rat?”

    “Oh, no, darling. The board of directors are humans.” She grinned, showing sharp teeth, leaning uncomfortably close to the Newsman. “But I know everything about them, and I mean everything. You’d be amazed how much information some people will provide over a phone line…”

    “Especially when they don’t know anyone is listening in,” Rhonda added, and Ma Bell laughed.

    “You – you listen in on people’s private conversations?” Newsie was appalled.

    “Rats have done so for hundreds of years, sweetheart! But I was the one who realized we could make it a little more profitable than listening through the walls while scavenging for leftover bread pudding!” Ma Bell grinned again. “Do tell me your number. I’d love to overhear your one-nine-hundred calls!”

    Rhonda tried to smooth over Newsie’s startled recoil. “So I heard the company has a new CEO. Got any dirt on him yet?”

    Turning to her, Ma Bell smiled. “Honey, how do you think he got that position? I could tell you how many of his close, personal friends of the female persuasion are natural blondes! He made a sweet deal with me, and I provided some tasty little tidbits about the other board members for his use in his bid for the chair. He owes me a dinner a week at Ma Maison – with dessert!”

    “Blackmail?” Newsie asked, although Rhonda shot him a you can shut up now look.

    Ma Bell tickled his chin before he could jerk away. “Aren’t you a dear! Well yes, honey; what do you think makes the world go around? Oh, look, here’s Jonas.” She stepped close to the glass panel; the sea of rats seemed endless just on the other side of it, and phones were ringing loudly.

    “It – it belonged to a production studio until this morning,” the little rat gasped, fighting to stay close to the wall and be heard. “A television company! They disconnected it manually at ten-twenty-two this morning, and then called to change the number.”

    “Give me the new number. Give me all their numbers,” Ma Bell commanded, and Jonas, fighting not to be squashed against the glass, held up a piece of paper with a printed list of phone numbers. “There you are,” Ma Bell told Newsie; hastily he took back his notepad and scribbled down the numbers. “And the name of the company?”

    “Ars Moribunda Studios…owned by MMN…owned by Nofrisko,” Jonas squeaked out before being buried under a surge of rats. Unconcerned, Ma Bell turned away, watching the Newsman writing the information.

    “Is that enough?” she asked. Newsie frowned at his notepad.

    “Nofrisko…aren’t they a snack company?”

    “They make those little crackers with imitation peanut butter between ‘em,” Rhonda supplied. “Ya know, the ones that taste a little gamy.”

    “I don’t eat that stuff,” Newsie scowled at her. “And why does MMN sound familiar?”

    “They’re trouncing your timeslot on Saturdays,” Rhonda growled. “Hey, maybe this is just a case of journalistic espionage!”

    “Why would they want my aunt watched?” Newsie argued. “She doesn’t have anything to do with KRAK!”

    Ma Bell spread her silky smooth paws. “Well, there you have it. I wish you good hunting; I’m sure you’ll be able to sniff them out just fine.” She smiled, giving Newsie’s long, pointed nose a long, appreciative stare; he only barely resisted the urge to cover it with both hands. “It was certainly nice seeing you again, Rhonda dear. Thank you ever so much for the cheesecake…which will not be handed out to anyone not at their desk in two seconds!” she broke into a deep yell, and the noise on the other side of the glass squeaked to an abrupt halt. Newsie glanced back to see hundreds of little rat faces squashed flat against the glass staring in terror at their queen; then with a torrent of whipping tails, scrabbling paws, and shrieks, every single rodent abandoned their quest to catch a sniff of the cheesecake and resumed their posts, talking quickly on their phones, running back and forth with messages, and plugging circuits into switchboards.

    Ma Bell checked an elaborate stopwatch. “Oh dearie me. Two point two seconds. Looks like I’m the only one who gets the cake today.” A collective but muted groan came from the work floor. The queen grinned wickedly. “I love doing that,” she confessed in a whisper. She reached up and patted Newsie’s cheek. “Ooh, fuzzy. You come back too, all right? Maybe we can share a nibble.”

    Newsie couldn’t get out the door fast enough. “Thanks, Ma,” Rhonda called, trying to slow Newsie down to a respectful pace, hanging onto his coatsleeve as he moved determinedly toward the far exit. “I’ll see ya at Thanksgiving!”

    “Blackmail! Eavesdropping!” Newsie snorted once they were out of the room and climbing the tiny stairs back to street level; from the modern façade of the phone company building, he never would have guessed a network of rat spies labored beneath the retail store and offices. “And ‘Ma Bell’? Give me a break!”

    “Hey, stop kvetching, you got what ya needed, didn’t you?” Rhonda said, checking her phone for the time. “Come on, if we hurry we can act like we’ve been working the whole time when Blanke walks in!”

    He noticed the phone. “Don’t tell me you’re with that company!”

    She shrugged. “I get good rates. And I know better than to whisper sweet nothings on a wireless line. Why d’ya think their logo is the Death Star, anyway?”

    She hailed a cab. Newsie shook his head, still tense after being so frankly…observed. “That – that woman! Did you really work for her?”

    “Work for her? Heck no!” Rhonda sighed. “But ya know what they say, ya can’t choose your family…”

    “Your…” Newsie’s eyes widened. “Ma Bell?”

    Rhonda favored him with another eye-roll as the cab pulled up. “I guess you do have an excuse for the density, sunshine, what with all those cantaloupes whacking your noggin lately. Get in, I wanna grab a bite on the way.”

    Speechless for once, the Newsman had to be shoved to remember to climb into the cab. They made better progress through midtown traffic when Rhonda promised the driver a cheesecake too.
  2. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Yay! Chapter 20, you've reached a milestone, so be proud of yourself Kris.

    *Laughs at the mention of Ma Mason.
    *Grins at the clever addition of Jeff Fauxworthy, accent and y'all.
    So Snookie's alone. Truly alone. *Scratches out the next word from the suicide, er, sorry, wrong movie reference.

    The entire segment with the Martians was nicely laughable. It just adds evidence to Aunt Ru's claims that they're not completely as evil as made out to be as henchmen for the network's head honcho.
    *:insatiable: sneaks off with one of those pumpkin ginger cuppycakes.

    Gina picked out Poe-inspired couple costumes?
    Consider me intrigued as I know of three Poe female characters, two of which I've got in my roster.

    The entire set-up of the rats working beneath the phone company... Reminds me of my best real-life friend, who used to work at one of those call centers a couple of years ago before being let go as the company pulled up stakes and split town.

    *Worried that the Martians will show up at the theater, but is also excited to read whatever comes next, glad you remembered the subplot line of the party at Grizzly Farms.

    Also... Given that the MMN mastermind has an entire underground/undercity cavernous lair, is surrounded by monsters and minions, and add on top of that the theft of Newsie's identity... Due to researching Frackles, I have a better-formed guess at who he may actually be. Won't say anything because I'll wait for the big reveal with everyone else.

    Oh, and before I forget... If you want, now that it's a new year, you're welcome to submit an application for residency at HV if you want. Still waiting to hear from a couple of old residents, but I'll deal with the new business come Monday.
    Hope you have a great weekend.
  3. Ruahnna

    Ruahnna Well-Known Member

    Lots going on, I see!
    Decorated for Halloween--check
    Shows at both theaters--check
    Halloween costumes procured--check
    Party invitations accepted--check (Hope they don't have to sleep on the coathangers)
    Paper bags recycled...sort of

    Found the underground phone business suitably creepy, but was relieved to see that the Yip Yips, while clueless (along with armless and legless and shapeless) are appearing more and more like not-bad guys.
    I am hopeful, however, that Snookie gets out before the stomach acid ruins his plain jacket...
    And I think I've seen that show--Are You Smarter Than A Drainpipe?

    Can't wait for the next segment!
  4. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    (bows before joke creator) Lady Ru suggested the name for Geoff Fauxworthy's show, and it was too good a joke to pass up! Also, I can't take credit for the Death Star joke: Berkeley Breathed did it decades ago in "Bloom County."

    Ed. You will never, ever guess the identity of the Evil Overlord. Let's just say...SANITY CHECK! ;)

    Party soon...more pressing business to attend to first! And for you newbie readers, please, I welcome all comments and reviews -- it helps me write more better. :news:
  5. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    (This was so long, but so necessary to detail all that happens this night in one place, that I had to make this...)

    Part Twenty-One (I)

    The number of names on the charity walk sign-up sheet had grown substantially when Rizzo stopped to check it. He’d tallied the “donations” from the sewer rats earlier today, and felt confident his total thus far was better than most of the Muppets who’d signed up. Pepe was already glancing at the roster, mumbling under his breath: “Jou gotta be kidding. Where’s he gonna get sponsors, the head shop?”

    “Looks like you got some competition,” Rizzo said.

    “Jou funny. Is nobody that can compete with Pepe!”

    “Whatevah.” Rizzo shook his head at a couple of names. “Zoot’s in? Really?”

    “See, that is what I said! What, like, is he gonna sleepwalk through it, okay?”

    Rizzo chortled. “Eh, in all fairness, he probably didn’t even know what he was signin’. Huh…looks like da whole Mayhem joined in. Dat ain’t good.”

    “Sí, sí, Animal should go firsts, okay, so we don’t get stepped on,” Pepe nodded vigorously.

    “No, you prawn cracker! Dey’re famous, ya know? I bet hundreds of fans will pledge money for dem!”

    Pepe paused. “Are jou suggesting I am not more famous?”

    “Don’t get me started,” Rizzo growled. The two looked up as the Chef bellied up to the notice board and tried to scrawl his signature, ran out of room on the line, scratched his head a moment, then brightly wrote TOM. He ambled back to the canteen, whistling cheerfully. “Who’s sponsorin’ him, da board of health?” Rizzo snickered.

    “Jou know, jou should just drop out now, amigo. No way can jou hopes to beat the number of sponsors I has!”

    “Oh yeah? I got t’irty-two so far – and over a hundred dollars pledged!”

    The prawn shoved his nose close to the rat’s twitching whiskers. “So what? I gots seventy-two sponsors and a hundreds and four dollars!”

    “You realize dat means my sponsors have more faith in me than yours do in you!” Smugly, Rizzo sat back on his haunches. “I wonder if dere’s any prize for winnin’ dis race?”

    “Like, rully, it’s not about racing,” Janice said, having overheard the last part of the discussion.

    “Yeah, little dudes; it’s all about makin’ the world a groovier place for us and everyone!” Floyd turned to his girl. “Y’know, that’s not a bad idea, though. What say we talk to the frog about offerin’ up some kinda prize for the Muppet who raises the most for charity?”

    Dr Teeth, following the couple across the green room, chuckled hoarsely. “Right on! How about a little payin’ back for those payin’ it forward!”

    “Like, you guys are missing the whole point, y’know,” Janice complained.

    “Hey, this charity fund is to benefit Muppets, isn’t it?” Teeth asked, grinning widely. “Ain’t I a Muppet?”

    “Sometimes, that man is very deep, okay,” Pepe observed respectfully.

    “Well if dere is a prize, I’ll be sure ta take a picture of it for ya, ‘cause that’s as close as you’ll ever get to it!” Rizzo taunted the prawn.

    “Oh yeah? Well if there’s a prize at the end of this huge drain on my time, okay, I will be the one sending pictures to jou – oh, wait, I cannot do thats; jou doesn’t have the iPhones already!” Pepe waggled his shrimp-sized high-tech smartphone at the rat.

    “Too bad dere’s no such t’ing as an iPrawn,” Rizzo shot back haughtily. “Oh, my bad: dey haven’t invented a smartshrimp yet!”

    Below the ensuing racket, a dark, sinuous figure crept in from the understage tunnel, gently pulling along a taller person cloaked in a stylish wool overcoat and holding an elegant cane. “Wow. It’s even noisier back here than I imagined,” Countie remarked, listening to the clatter of pots in the kitchen, the hum of conversation, muted shouting from upstairs, and loud shouting from a few feet away.

    “That’s nothing; you should hear it on a bad night,” Uncle Deadly assured his guest. “Here’s the green room. Watch the piano…”

    “Uh…is there a tannery or a butcher’s over there?” Countie asked, wrinkling his nose as he caught an unfortunate whiff of rotting things.

    “No…that’s the canteen. Delightful, isn’t it?” the dragon murmured, smiling. “Now, through here are chairs, just go slow…”

    “Hey, ol’ blue and scary, who’s your friend?” Floyd asked.

    Deadly drew himself up to pronounce coldly, “A very dear friend of mine, so I had better not hear of anyone giving him any trouble, do you understand?”

    Silenced by that chilly voice, Rizzo and Pepe paused their argument; an instant of silence swept through the room. “We can dig it,” Dr Teeth said amiably, and stuck one long arm out to touch the stranger’s hand. “Welcome and salutitations, my optically challenged brothah! They call me Teeth, and this is my bass axe Floyd, and the sweet siren of the six-string, Janice, and –“

    “AN-I-MAL! AN-I-MAL!”

    “Easy there, Animal! He’s—“

    “The drummer,” Countie said, smiling. “And I guess Zoot is around here somewhere?”

    “Huh?” the saxman asked groggily before slipping back into a trance on the nearest sofa.

    “Exactly,” Teeth laughed. “Hey, hey! We got us a fan!”

    “The Electric Mayhem!” Countie said happily, and quickly removed his overcoat to dig into the satchel he had slung over one shoulder underneath it. “Would you mind signing some autographs for me?” The band gathered around as Countie found the tabletop and began laying small, longish slabs of damp clay in plastic wrap upon it.

    “Uh, whatta we do with these?” Floyd wondered, picking up one of the thin slabs.

    “I can feel your signatures in those,” Countie explained. “They dry out, and then I bake them in the oven, and…”

    “Oh, wow! It’s like having your own tiny walk of fame,” Janice exclaimed, grasping the idea immediately. She unwrapped one of the pieces and used her guitar pick to carefully carve her name into it.

    “Cool,” Floyd agreed, following suit. “Hey, that’s pretty nifty, man! Hey, Zoot, check it out! Brother’s gonna take all these little clay bits and make hisself a Muppetational mosaic!” He coughed his raspy laugh.

    Zoot shook his head. “No, man, I don’t like clay pipes…water-pipe’s got a cleaner drag…”

    “Oh, rully,” Janice sighed, shaking her head.

    In the back alley, the Newsman sprinted up the loading-dock steps, one hand keeping a tight grip on his attaché case which held his laptop and, tonight, about half of the stack of leads emailed to the station. He hoped to have time to read through them during the show. Clifford halted him just inside the building, armed with a clipboard and a frown. “Yo, Newsie. Good to see you back, but you’re ten minutes late!”

    “Sorry,” Newsie panted. “I had to change clothes. There, uh, was a story about the Muppet aid convoy to Libya…bottled water…”

    Clifford noticed the yellow Muppet shivering, and let it slide. “Well, don’t catch another cold, man! I’ll look for you in the green room when there’s a News Flash, all right?” The Newsman nodded and hurried downstairs. Clifford sighed, and checked off the reporter’s name on the night’s roster. “Guess that’s everyone aboard that’s goin’ aboard.” He settled himself at Kermit’s desk to look over the schedule of acts he’d painstakingly compiled and posted a copy of both back here and downstairs, so there would be no arguments over who did what when.

    Naturally, no sooner was he seated than he was pelted with objections. “Whuh-hey, catfish dude!” Lew Zealand said, waving a terribly overripe cod at the host. “How come my boomerang fish act was left off the list?”

    “’Cause it ain’t never gonna be on the list, man,” Clifford sighed, feeling a headache starting already. Good gravy, I can not WAIT for Scooter and the green dude to get back in town…

    “But I got a new routine! Check it out! I throw the pail a-way –“

    “You expect the pail to come back?”

    Lew laughed. “Aw heck no, that’d be weird! No – the fish brings it back! Fetch, Percy!” Lew shouted, hurling the fish after the pail.

    “Lew, not tonight, okay?” Clifford checked the clock, then his watch. “Uh, hey, Beauregard?” The janitor stopped dusting the odd collection of random props by the stairs, bright eyes attentive as he looked over at Clifford. “Listen, man, can you do a quick check of the electrics? I don’t know where that stagepig’s got to…and can you change that clock so it reads right?”

    “Sure!” Beau said, then frowned. “Uh, I didn’t know clocks had reading levels…but don’t you worry, Clifford! I will find you a clock from the advanced reading class!”

    “Never mind, man,” Cliff groaned. “Can you just run up the dimmers on those lights?”

    Beau scratched his furry scalp. “Uhhh…wouldn’t that be the brighteners? Or do you mean you want them all darker?”

    Lights are on, but nobody’s home, Cliff thought, wrestling his impatience under control. “Just bring ‘em all up so I can see they’re working, all right, please?”

    “Check!” Beau replied, hurrying across the stage to the lighting board. Clifford, shades in place to shield his eyes from the thousand-watt lamps, watched as each section of lights came up over the stage and from the bays over the house.

    Dang it, why is there always ONE? he wondered silently, sighing. At least this time it was a simple six-inch fresnel downlight relegated to backlighting the cyc. Nobody would miss it, so he wouldn’t stress about checking it now. He yelled for Beau to take the lights back down to preset, which the janitor misheard as “take them down and reject,” but fortunately the lighting pig returned from his mud break just then before Beau could manage to unscrew one of the sidelights, and chased the bewildered Muppet out of the wing with angry snorts. Sinking down at the desk once more, Clifford sipped his lukewarm coffee and grimaced. Two more nights. Just two more nights.

    “Excuse me, Mr Clifford?” trilled a wavering voice. Clifford raised his head to find Wanda standing there, smiling. “I just wanted to thank you for casting me in the dramatic piece tonight! I promise you won’t regret it!”

    “Then that’d be the first thing tonight,” Clifford muttered, but he managed a weak smile for the eager singer. “No problem, Curly. Just don’t miss your entrance cue is all I ask.”

    “Oh, I won’t! I won’t! Oh, finally, a real role onstage!” Wanda gushed. Piggy, passing through on her way downstairs for a nosh, perked her soft ears, frowned, and changed course.

    “Ah, ahem. Cliffie?” she asked sweetly.

    “Oh, hey Piggy. Did the costume for ‘Harvest Moon’ get altered right?” he asked, hoping he wouldn’t have to deal with wardrobe malfunctions on top of everything else.

    “Oh, oh, yes, it’s lovely. Ummm…did moi overhear correctly, that Wanda is getting a serious role tonight?” she edged closer, tossing a contemptuous look back at Wanda, who was gaily tripping up the stairs to the ladies’ general dressing-room.

    “Uh, yeah. Why, you don’t think she can pull it off?”

    “Oh, ha ha, well, of course I will leave the management of, ahem, talent to the Muppet my Kermie put in charge in his absence,” Piggy said sweetly. “However, need I point out that moi does not yet have a specific part in tonight’s show?”

    “What? Piggy, you’re in the closing number!” Clifford protested, shaking his head. “All us guys are gonna be singin’ that golden oldie to you!”

    “Yes, but moi does not actually play a major role, comprendez-vous? And…you know how much it helps me, with my frog not here, to bury my sorrow by throwing myself into my work fully?”

    A few paces away, Strangepork muttered to Link, “I tink she’s gonna bury someone else if he doesn’t give her dat role!” Link chuckled.

    Clifford tried reason. “Look, Piggy, it’s really a small role, that bit with Wanda; I didn’t think you’d be into it. Whereas the closing number –“

    “Listen, bandito-snout,” Piggy growled, grabbing the host’s long mustaches in one firm hand. “Obviously you don’t understand how this works around here! I am the leading lady at this theatre, and I did not reach this level of stardom by staying in the chorus! So not only will I be the star attraction in the closing number, but you will also cast moi for that dramatic piece!”

    Clifford froze; oh, so that was where the diva he remembered had gone – she was only tamed when her darling frog was around! “Hey, uh, sure; if you really want to do that silly act, you sure can. I’ll tell Wanda I’ll put her in the chorus ensemble for ‘Harvest Moon’ instead. We cool?”

    Piggy released him, smiling gently. “As a cucumber eye treatment, mon ami.” She glided away in her pre-show robe and slippers, and Clifford stroked his mustache, relieved.

    He glanced again at his watch, ignoring the incorrect clock above the desk: five minutes until the house opened. Cranking up the intercom and settling a headset over one ear, he called out, hoping every speaker was working tonight: “Five minutes ‘til people start pouring in, y’all! I repeat, that’s five minutes to house open! I don’t wanna see any of you lookin’ through the seats for malted milk balls tonight, got it?” He sighed, seeing two of the rats scurrying over the lip of the stage and dashing into the shadows, carrying boxes of popcorn and discarded half-candy-bars. “Oh, and Wanda, sweetheart, come see me.” He switched off the talk button and took another sip of the coffee before he remembered how bad it was. Grimacing again, he muttered, “Man, I have got to start bringin’ my own Thermos…” He didn’t want to guess why the Chef’s coffee tasted like salmon.

    Newsie was washing his hands in the men’s restroom downstairs when he heard a gurgling noise. Oh, great, not a plumbing backup again! Worried, he turned to stare at the center floor drain; the last time the drain had backed up, Gonzo had fearlessly extended what he called the “plunger of doom” into the main sewer line beneath the theatre to unclog it, although several unexpected things had happened before the problem was actually fixed, not the least of which had been one of the sinks collapsing into a weird snake-themed drainpipe… Startled suddenly, Newsie felt a chill of danger. The sewer! That drain led directly there…and those noises sounded completely unfriendly!

    Rushing out of the bathroom, he looked wildly around for help: the Chef had both hands and his hat full at the grill, the Mayhem were doing a tune-up jam so loudly they’d never hear him, Link and Strangepork were engaged in a discussion with a total stranger off in a corner. Spotting a group of rats standing around divvying up the spoils from the theatre’s audience seats, Newsie tromped over to them. “You rats! Quick! We need to block off all the openings to the sewer and to any other underground access!”

    The fattest rat glared up at him. “Why’d we wanna do dat, big mout’? Dem holes are handy!”

    “Yeah, I found a pipeline running all da way to dat bakery on Ninth!” another rat claimed.

    “Monsters are down there!” Newsie yelled over the band. “Aren’t you the ones who ran out of the sewer to get away from things?”

    The rats shifted uneasily. “Yeah, well, dat was den, dis is now,” the fat one argued. “Ain’t nuttin’ happened since we moved in here! Trust me, mac, dose holes are poifectly safe!”

    “Really?” Newsie scowled. “Go into the mens’ room!”

    “I’m good, thanks.”

    “There are sounds coming from the drain!”

    The rats looked at each other, no one making a move, tails and noses twitching. “Come on, give me a hand –“ Inspiration struck, and Newsie added, “or would you rather I tell Scooter when he returns how you guys have been raiding the concession stand after hours?”

    “Dat’s blackmail!” one of the rats squeaked angrily.

    Another rat padded behind Newsie; he whirled. “What are you doing?”

    “Checkin’ for a tail. You t’ink like a rat.”

    “Move it! Find something to close off that drain!” Newsie yelled, and the rats trotted off, grumbling. Newsie ventured back into the restroom. The drain lay silent, and he quickly peeked under the stall doors to make sure nothing ugly was slithering out of the toilets. A handful of rats came in, lugging a large, flat circle of black iron. “I hope that’s heavy enough,” Newsie muttered as the rats, grunting, shoved it into place atop the drain.

    “So do we, believe me,” a rat grumped.

    Ducking out of the restroom, Newsie saw the janitor ambling through the downstairs area, looking puzzled. “Beauregard! Can you bring a hammer? A really big one!” Newsie called to him.

    Beau brightened, happy to have something useful to occupy himself with. “Check! Hammer time!”

    One of the rats glared at another who was wobbling around, pretending to stretch his pants legs to the sides. “C’mon. Just don’t.”

    Shortly Beau returned with a very large mallet. Newsie pointed at the iron thing over the drain. “Can you tap that down so it’s secure?”

    “Sure! Uh…why are we blocking the drain?” Beau asked.

    “Because there are horrible things down there and I don’t want them coming in here! Please, Beau, just tamp it down!” Newsie barked, and watched anxiously while the janitor, with a shrug, whacked the thing securely over the drain. Newsie gave it an experimental kick, and it didn’t budge. “Good,” he sighed, relieved. “Thanks, Beau. Can you find something to do the same thing in the ladies’ room? And – and any other drains!”

    Beau stared at him. “You want me to stop up all the drains?”

    Frustrated, Newsie threw his hands over his head. “I wish we could! No…just…just anything bigger than a mousehole, okay? I don’t want us overrun with monsters,” he tried to explain.

    Doglion stomped past, forcing everyone to dodge, involved in a heated discussion with Sweetums: “But I hate the way lotion sticks between my toes! I’m telling you, Gold Bond Powder is way better!”

    Sweetums shook his shaggy head, wide lips flopping. “Nope, nope, nope. Powder won’t soften your toepads like lotion does!”

    Everyone stared after them. Rizzo shook his head in amazement. “First time I evah
    heard dat guy talk, and it’s about foot powder!”

    Newsie shivered, wishing his felt would dry out faster; he hadn’t had time to warm up, simply pulling on a dry change of clothes and bolting from the KRAK studios to the Muppet Theatre. “Just block up as much as you can, okay, Beau?” he asked tiredly, and trudged toward the canteen to see if the Chef had anything warm to drink. Seems counterintuitive to worry about the small holes when there are giants stomping through here unfettered, he realized, but he didn’t have the authority to banish them. Sensing something different in here tonight, he peered around, ignoring the dull pain trying to reassert itself right behind his weary eyes, and spotted a stranger sitting at one of the canteen tables, moving small pieces of gray material around on the tabletop while chatting with Sweetums and Robin. His natural curiosity roused, but then Sweetums let loose a belly laugh, and Newsie unconsciously backed away, all too aware of those huge hands and even bigger mouth…

    The Chef’s loud complaint startled the Newsman: “Nooo kin doo flopen-jacken! Foon de hur der griddle!”

    Gladys gave an exasperated grunt. “Whaddaya mean ya don’t have a griddle? It was right there! Well…use a pan or somethin’!”

    “’Scuse me,” Beau sang out, hurrying into the grill area and back out again carrying a shallow, flat iron skillet.

    “No habben der pans!” Chef protested, waving his hands around at the larger pots and implements. “Nooo kin doo der flippen-floppen!”

    “Well, what can ya make, then?” Gladys demanded.

    The Chef scratched his head, then seized a large two-sided press. “Der wuffles!”

    “Great, whatevah,” Gladys sighed. To the pigs and chickens at table two, she yelled, “Change a’plans! You’re now gettin’ candied corn waffles instead of pancakes!”

    The chickens clucked, shrugging. One of the pigs grumbled, “At least that’s better than last week when he couldn’t find the panini press…boiled cheese sandwich is really hard to pick up!”

    Newsie heard hammering sounds on metal coming from the ladies’ room, and relaxed a degree. Good. That’s part of the theatre protected, at least. He reached the counter, ordered a coffee, and choked at his first sip. “Gahhh! What the hey! This coffee tastes like fish!”

    “Der kaffe?” Chef asked, and Newsie shoved the cup back at him.

    “Taste it! It’s fishy!”

    The Chef sipped the coffee, spluttered, and quickly checked the large tureen it had been poured from, coming up with a long, thin, pinkish fish. “Ooh! Ja, ja, ees der feltritten!”

    “You filter your coffee through fish now?” Gladys wondered.

    “Forget it!” Newsie coughed, angrily striding away from the counter to find a vacant spot to peruse the possible disappearing-people leads, wishing fervently his cell phone hadn’t become soaked when all those water bottles bounced and splashed on him. He couldn’t even call for takeout java at this rate, and the aspirin he’d swallowed earlier seemed to be wearing off. Grumpily he settled in a large armchair near the stairs and began reading the stack of printed emails.

    “Fish in the coffee?” Rizzo wondered. “Dat’s a little weird, even for da Chef.”

    “Sí okay, like what is with all the weird things back here tonights?” Pepe asked. “It’s like we’re in the middle of a telenovela or something!”

    Rowlf shrugged. “I wouldn’t worry about it.” He watched as the waitress glumly tossed the dripping fish into the trash. “After all, that’s just a red herring.”

    Camilla sat alone in her dressing-coop, crowded next to the small TV that Beau had been kind enough to rig up for her. It had been clear to her that she was keeping the other chickens from performing, and like everyone else here, they loved being onstage, so tonight she’d insisted they go on without her. She huddled under a woven blanket as the game show about solvents finished (with only two contestants visibly scarred for life) and the MMN station logo came onscreen. Waiting anxiously while the logo animation ran (the letters becoming monsters which then ate the globe behind them), she hoped tonight’s results show wouldn’t involve any new feats of death-defying by her estranged weirdo. Below her, she could feel the floor rumbling with the pounding of dancing feet as the Muppet Show opening began, the music filtering faintly up through the back of the building. It was just as well that she was up here instead: since Gonzo had left, even going onstage didn’t feel right to her.

    “All right, maiming mavens and crippling connoisseurs! Tonight we tally your votes and compare them to the judges’ scores, and determine who lives and who – er – goes home, heh heh – tonight, on Break a Leg!” the host shouted, grinning for the camera. The view swooped out to show seats full of cheering monsters. “Our panel tonight, as always: the implacable Beautiful Day, the bubbly Behemoth, and the apparently invisible Shakey Sanchez! I’m your host although I deeply wish I weren’t, Snookie Blyer!” The cheers finally hushed as the lights dimmed. “Last night, we all saw some amazing and cranial-cracking acts on this stage – well, not this one, since they had to rebuild it – but Hem! Whom did you most favor last night out of all the stupendously stupid stalwarts we saw?”

    Hem rolled his eyes toward the back of his head, thinking hard. “Hmmm…y’know, Snookie, I’d have to say I liked Ms Fatwah the best –“

    “But Jasmine Fatwah disqualified her—er, him-self by leaving the studio! That violated our strict imprisonm—I mean curfew, heh heh, for all the contestants!” Snookie pointed out, the smile never leaving his face. Camilla frowned. Why did show hosts always seem so fake?

    “I-I kind of l-liked that Gonzo guy,” a voice warbled from under Hem’s fur.

    “What!” Hem jerked upright, glaring at the small, red-feathered head poking up from a hole in his shoulder. “Well who cares what you think! Get back in there!”

    “Shakey does have a vote,” Snookie said mildly.

    “Well you’re both nuts!” B.D. snorted. “Obviously, that quick-draw snail is gonna go all the way!”

    “Well, let’s take a look at the acts again!” Snookie continued a voiceover as footage from the previous show played: “First, that mistress of mayhem Jasmine Fatwah danced with death and one truly provocative scimitar, but left the stage without completing her performance when she received a little unexpected assistance from one of the crew!” The fluffy pink three-eyed monster planted one heck of a smacker on the exotic dancer’s furry lips, and she (or he) ran screaming offstage, leaving the monster wobbling confusedly under the weight of the sword through his skull. Camilla shook her head. Amateurs.

    “Next, the fabulous fungus Mungus Mumfrey barely escaped disqualification by repeating its earlier routine with flamethrowers; the judges decided there was just enough variation in this performance to allow it, but tonight we’ll find out what our audience thinks! Should the world’s only mobile fungus go big or go home?” A few seconds of the surging goop flailing around in a mesmerizing dance whilst continually flaming itself and then glopping over the damage had Camilla wishing she’d skipped dinner. “And just when we thought we’d seen enough crashes and burns, along came the Great Gonzo to prove us wrong!”

    “Bawwk!” Camilla gulped, wincing all over again at the film of Gonzo shrieking and crashing into the pile of exploding props.

    “Yes, he certainly brought the house down – or tried to, anyway!” Snookie chuckled while the studio audience howled with laughter at the sight of the giant screen crashing down atop Shakey Sanchez and Gonzo. “But his astounding survival places him close to the top of most people’s list, or at least the Darwin Awards list. Next up we heard an earsplitting performance by Jimmy Joe Bob…” Snookie visibly cringed at the recorded sound of the stunt-karaoke singer groaning “Peelings, nuthin’ more than peeeelings…” Snookie ducked as several audience members hurled shoes and beer bottles at the stage. “Hey! Guys, guys, that was a recording from last night!” Shaken, he emerged from behind B.D.’s chair as the scruffy blue monster scowled and hurled a couple of shoes back into the audience; thumps and cries of ow! could plainly be heard. “So…after the medics carted the whomped warbler offstage, the trick-shooter Wyatt Slurp showed us his skills with a six-shooter and a whole host of expendable crew members!”

    The snail, even in extreme slo-mo, hardly seemed to move, but his guns fired off numerous shots in rapid succession, bringing a row of heavy lights down one by one directly onto a line of stunned Frackles; then as they wavered, the second round of shots knocked them all into one another. They fell into a pile of artfully arranged furry bodies which, when viewed by the overhead camera, spelled out the initial ‘W’. Camilla shook her head; how did that even qualify as daring? Nice shooting, perhaps, but hardly dangerous!

    “Then we had some mixing it up, old school, as John Lamb took on a horde of sucke—er, volunteers from our audience!” Onscreen, the baaaad sheep was a flurry of kicking hooves and cracking skulls, and with every solid whack of his horned head against one of the monsters rushing him, fur and scales and felt went down, never wool. “Heh, heh, looks like someone brought a claw to a horn fight! Lamb showed everyone that some things do get better with age, even if there is a little gray under that black wool!”

    “I know you ain’t calling me old, greasehead,” a deep voice growled from somewhere behind Snookie.

    “Erk! Ah, heh, um…then finally, the world’s most dangerous mouse, Montrose, showed us…er…” Snookie paused, frowning at his cue card, then at the camera. “Does anyone remember what exactly Montrose did?”

    “He was amazing!” Hem exclaimed, looking a little dazed. “He spun and weaved! He did car chases while hanging out the back window with an Uzi!”

    Snookie gave the judge a startled look. “He did?”

    Camilla cocked her head to one side, thinking. No, she definitely did not recall any car chases! In fact, all she’d seen the mouse do on-camera was…sort of stand there…and wave his paws while he swayed back and forth and chanted. She’d thought it was some kind of Far Eastern entertainment bit, not an actual entry in the show. B.D. corrected Hem, “Nuh-uh! He fought off a whole army of vicious Sandinista cats using only the tip of his tail while biting himself free of rubber ropes!”

    “Y-you guys are blind!” Shakey insisted, popping out of Hem’s throat, shaking his head a little more than the rest of him. “He threw a whole bucketful of poison-tipped d-darts into the air and then dodged every single o-one of them!”

    “O-kay,” Snookie said, puzzled. “Well, it seems the judges can’t agree on what exactly the mouse did last night, but I guess he’s still in!” He suddenly noticed the little white mouse sitting at his feet, swinging a pocketwatch back and forth. “What are you doing, trying to time my intro?”

    The mouse frowned. “Dang it. You’re not a monster! This only works on monsters…” He sighed. “Fine. Just don’t say nothin’, okay pal?” Snookie stared at him, speechless, as the little rodent scampered backstage.

    “Uh. Stay tuned! We’ll get this contest underway again in just under two minutes after this word from our sponsor, ZikZak snack cakes -- assuming your brain hasn’t exploded by then. It’s extermination time, on Break a Leg! Be right back.” The feed cut from the host’s somewhat strained smile to a flurry of ads; Camilla looked away, sighing, and tilted her neck from side to side to unkink it. She always tensed up when stressed.

    Would the contestants reprise their acts, or would they just stand around and wait for the results of the show? Would there be a musical number? She wasn’t even sure how long tonight’s episode was supposed to be. She took a drink of Blueberry Grasshopper Mega Energy Boost, knowing the stress must be depleting her badly. Why, oh why, wouldn’t Gonzo answer his phone? She’d left two more messages on his voicemail, but no return call had come to reassure her. Was he even thinking of her anymore? She sighed, the memory of the enormous flatscreen smashing down on Gonzo flashing through her head. At this point, she couldn’t even be sure he was thinking.
    The Count likes this.
  6. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Twenty-One (II)

    Miss Piggy sat in a lovely Victorian tea-dress in an ornately carved chair, sipping delicately from a china cup in the mock-up of a dark, gloomy parlor. “Oh, how dreary today is!” she said, tossing back the pretty little feathered cap pinned in her thick hair. She wasn’t sure this piece was as much drama as melodrama, but at least the costume was gorgeous. She crossed one ankle demurely over the other, showing off the gleaming buttons on her high boots. The bustier displayed her substantial décolletage, though the long dress of dark green satin, with many fripperies and ruffles, hid enough of her to convincingly bring off the modest Victorian lady character. “Oh, how I wish that awful Drake Isingbreath would leave me alone while my darling Hector is off keeping the tea plantation safe from tigers!” With a heavy sigh, she took another sip of the tea, and frowned. “Yeesh. What the heck is this stuff, infusion of chimney soot?”

    A tremulous thrill of music announced the entrance of the villain. “So, Benjamina! Have you received my latest offer?” a deep voice demanded; Piggy, acting startled, really did do a double-take when she rose, turned, and found Uncle Deadly in a black tails-coat and stovepipe hat, leering at her.

    “Oh, cripes. Not this again,” Piggy muttered, then reconsidered: she wasn’t dangling off a cliff, nor was she tied to a train track. Regaining her composure swiftly, she went into a horrified recoil, bringing a huge fan up to block Deadly’s advance. “Oh! No! Isingbreath! Leave this house! My man had strict instructions not to even receive your cards, much less allow you inside! Jeeves, oh, Jeeves!” Desperately, the damsel in distress looked toward the door upstage. “Oh, where is that butler?”

    “Mwah, ha, ha! He’s where no one will ever find him – unless they happen to look into the abandoned well!” Deadly chortled, rubbing his scaly hands together.

    “Oh! You fiend!” Piggy cried.

    “Now, my dear, I will ask you one last time: will you marry me?” Deadly queried, holding out one clawed hand.

    Piggy waved the fan ineffectually at him. “Never! Oh! Oh, I wish my dear fiancé wasn’t in far-off India! Get away from me, you foul man!”

    “Ah, perhaps you’d better sit down, my dear,” Deadly crooned, coming closer step by menacing step. “Are you feeling a little…dizzy?”

    “Why, I –“ Piggy paused, realized she actually didn’t feel well, and struggled with the next line: “You – what have you done?”

    “Not only have I shanghaied your butler, but I’ve slipped a deadly venom into that dark, dusty tea, my dear!” Deadly chuckled. “I just happen to have the antidote right here –“ He produced a small crystal vial from a pocket. “—but unless you agree to be my wife, you shall never taste a drop of it, and within minutes you shall succumb to the horrible poison running through your veins!”

    “You what?” Piggy snarled, abandoning the script. “You actually put poison in my tea? You idiot! This was supposed to be just a sketch! When I get my hands on you, you scrawny blue jerk –“ She lunged at the dragon, but she overbalanced and slumped onto the stage. “Ohhh…ohh I don’t believe this!”

    The door burst open. “Never fear, my darling! I have returned!” Wayne shouted, running in.

    “Oh wonderful,” Piggy groaned, then struggled to get back in character in the hopes this might actually end well for once. “I mean, oh! Hector! Save me, I’ve been poisoned!”

    “Yes, that’s right, I, Hector the Hero, am back from deepest India, where I’ve been fighting off tigers and tea-poachers, keeping Daddy’s commercial ventures safe!” He turned to Deadly. “You, cruel fiend! Hand over that antidote!”

    “Never!” Deadly growled, and the two foes circled one another while Piggy gasped and tried unsuccessfully to haul herself into the chair.

    “Faster would be nice,” she grumbled. “Ooh my head…”

    “You awful monster, putting deadly venom in my betrothed’s afternoon sherry!” Wayne cried, but Deadly paused, holding up a corrective finger.

    “No, no, old chap; I put it in her tea.”

    “What?” Wayne checked a pocketwatch. “But it’s five o’clock! Tea is over; it’s time for sherry!”

    Deadly shrugged. “Well, naturally! But that’s not what the script says…”

    In the stage right wing, Clifford groaned and put his head on the desk. The frog was going to let him have it about this one…assuming he lived past what Piggy would do…

    Wayne stopped circling too, and asked curiously, “Tell me, do you prefer cream sherry or tawny port?”

    “Oh, well,” Deadly murmured, warming to the topic, “I always drank palo cortado, but I suppose cream sherry would have been more appropriate here.”

    “You think?”

    “Well, it is more ladylike.”

    “No, no! She’s not ladylike enough for that!” Wayne proclaimed. “I say, let’s go with a good strong port!”

    “Hey, you freaks, gimme that antidote already!” Piggy yelled.

    “Well, any port in a storm,” Deadly chuckled.

    Wayne looked out the painted windows at the painted clouds. “Hmm. It does look like a storm’s coming…”

    “You better believe there is!” Piggy howled, hoisting herself up and taking a wild swing at Wayne. “Hiii—YAAAHH!” The chop missed, Wayne stumbled into Deadly, and the three of them went down in a heap as the curtain closed.

    Clifford urged Fozzie out front as he ran to check on Piggy. “Go! Go! –Piggy, you okay?”

    “Raaagghh!” Piggy screamed, launching herself after Deadly; with a smirk, he simply vanished, and the pig crashed down on top of the clueless actor instead. She grabbed the tiny vial and chugged it; Wayne, recovering at least some sense, made a break for the stage left exit, but a gloved hand caught his foot and he tumbled. “Cream sherry?” Piggy roared as the actor cringed. “Cream this!”

    Piggy must have still been out of sorts, because her kick missed as well. “Ho, ho!” Wayne laughed, picking himself off the stage and enjoying a moment of smugness before a large Muppet tiger appeared out of nowhere and, snarling, bore the thespian to the floor.

    Countie felt the unmistakable chill of his host next to him, and leaned over to whisper, “You didn’t really poison Piggy, did you?”

    “Merely a drop of twilight hemlock,” Deadly murmured in reply, the two of them far back enough in the wing for the angry pig not to see them as she staggered up to her dressing-room. “The dizziness should wear off shortly…however, it does carry the unfortunate side effect of making one rather sparkly for a day or two, in direct sunlight.”

    Countie stifled a snicker. “Uh, she might like that.”

    Nervously adjusting his floppy tie, Fozzie tried to ignore the shrieking and crunching sounds behind the curtain. “Wocka-wocka-wocka! Heeeey folks, it’s wonderful to see you all!”

    “Wish we could return the sentiment!” Statler yelled down.

    “Did you keep the receipt?” Waldorf quipped. “Oh ho, ho, ho!” And they were off to a running gag.

    The Newsman sighed, pausing to massage his forehead after rejecting the twenty-sixth useless “lead” in the stack. Should’ve grabbed dinner; somehow the headache is even worse on an empty stomach, he thought unhappily. He hoped Gina would have something comforting in the kitchen when he arrived home later. He hadn’t spotted her in the audience when he’d done his bit in the arches earlier, so she must’ve had to work late. He polished his glasses and settled them back on his nose, bringing the next poorly spelled email into focus: “So liek I wuz hangin w/my pepps by the back dorr of Scrumbly’s on 10 St and we all saw a guy go in to the suwer! And we were there over an hr and he dint come back out! Yu shld investergat!”

    “Do schools not teach grammar anymore?” Newsie muttered. Over half of the ones he’d read thus far sported similar atrocities, and trying to translate them wasn’t helping his headache in the least.

    “Sure, man! They’ll teach grammars or grandpers or anyone who can afford continuin’ edumacation!” Floyd Pepper cackled, strolling up the stairs behind Janice with his bass guitar in hand. Zoot laughed dryly, then looked confused, but followed his bandmate up. Lips shook his head, smiling, and patted Newsie’s shoulder as he went.

    “Funny,” Newsie grumbled. He heard deep voices nearby, and turned to see the Mutations just a table away, conversing among themselves. One of them glanced over, saw Newsie, and very pointedly turned his chair so his back was to the Muppet. Newsie ducked his head, at first embarrassed, then wondered what was so private; he dared glances at the tall monsters while they continued to mutter to one another. One of them said something, and all three of them looked the Newsman’s way; then they all laughed.

    Newsie’s long cheeks flamed. Were they saying mean things about him? Or…or was it worse than that? He glared suspiciously at them, suddenly unable to recall seeing them around for a while. Kermit had reinstated the arches opening for the show a couple of months back by popular demand, but since then, Newsie had only seen the trio of lanky purple monsters a handful of times in their designated positions on the bottom tier. Where had they been? Have to ask Scooter, he decided. Maybe stopping the drains is the wrong approach – maybe a complete monster ban should be instated! Uncomfortably, he edged back in his chair, lifting the stack of papers like a shield between himself and the table of monsters. His gaze flicked from them to Doglion, who was playing with the small gray things on the back table where that stranger had been sitting before the show. Who was that guy, and what had he brought that would interest a shaggy-brained monster? The Newsman badly wanted some answers, but didn’t dare approach the table while the huge-pawed beast sat there. Nervous, he huddled behind his flimsy papers, ears straining to catch anything from the unintelligible discussion nearby while his eyes stayed fixed on the table across the room, waiting, feeling very, very vulnerable.

    Two-thirds of the band stepped into place onstage; Floyd shoved a half-splatted tomato out of the way with his boot. He looked at the others, and when Janice nodded, he turned to Zoot. The lights shifted to a dusky, dreamy blue with violet edges, and Zoot launched into the haunting sax intro to the swing classic, Floyd plucking the bassline softly while Janice strummed the rhythm.

    “Slow drag,” Floyd sang raspily, “It sure is draggin’ me down…I’m almost hangin’ the ground, when I hear that blue drag.” Janice gave him a bit of melody. “And slow drag…it’s got that new lazy swing; I crave that new crazy swing, I must have that blue drag!”

    The lights grew more purple as Floyd swayed a bit, getting into the feel of the song. “Now the rhythm, that rhythm has brought me peculiar days…ohhh, the rhythm, that rhythm has brought me peculiar days, can’t get enough of blue drag! Oh, it’s got my soul on fire; I know that I’ll never tire, of that low dowwwwn, blue drag.”

    Lips raised his trumpet and joined in for a long solo, rambling soulfully over the continued, relentless strumming Janice laid down. Zoot picked up where Lips left off, carrying the melody higher. Floyd shook his head, smiling, happily plucking along.

    Off stage left, Thog came through the door to the tunnel and up the short steps to the stage level, then abruptly stopped. “Oh, gee,” he muttered. “I’m on the wrong side! How’d that happen?” Uneasily, he waddled back down, but the door seemed either locked or stuck. “Hey, the door won’t open!” he told the stagepig manning the flyrail, but the pig shushed him angrily. “Can’t you just come unlock this?” Thog asked, and the lighting board pig joined the flypig in a loud Shhhh!

    Sighing, Thog looked out at the musicians onstage. He enjoyed the music, but he knew he was really supposed to be stage right to join the next act; Clifford had agreed he could be in “At the Dance,” and Thog really didn’t want to mess up his entrance – he even had one of the jokes to deliver! Worried, he studied the stage, noting a little space between the backdrop and the back wall. If he moved really, really carefully, he might be able to squeeze through there…

    “Slow drag…it sure is draggin’ me down,” Floyd sang, repeating the verse, enjoying the simple swing of the tune. Thog reached the midway point and hesitated; one of the lights was out back here, and he couldn’t see his next step! He wavered, uncertain, then realized if he didn’t get across, he wouldn’t be ready for his cue, and he’d miss his opportunity to be in the sketch! Frightened, he plowed ahead. His foot snagged on the bottom of the cyc; panicked, he pulled hard, and the taut curtain tore. Another heavy plod, and the cable powering the lower lights for the cyc caught a toe – and that in turn lifted the sound cable to Floyd’s bass, run perpendicular to the electrics.

    As Floyd sang, “I must have that blue drag!” the bass ripped out of his arms. “What the --?” Janice looked over, startled, when her lover was tripped by his own suddenly moving sound cable and dragged offstage. Thog was fully visible to everyone as the entire cyc tore free of its rigging and flapped after the huge blue beast like a bridal train. Lips shrugged, his horn blaring out the end of the song a couple of phrases early; Zoot stared in surprise at all the commotion; the audience hooted and clapped.

    Clifford smacked a hand over his face as Thog ran by at a fast lumber, with a torn curtain, sparking cables, bumping lights, and a protesting musician all hauled along after. “Oh, man,” he groaned. “I sure hope Kermit don’t hear about this.”

    Rizzo chortled, snacking on a Mars bar on the top of the desk. “Twenny bucks, and my lips are sealed!”

    Clifford just glared at the rat. Pepe tugged his elbow. “So, I can do my romantic solo now, sí?”

    “No!” Cliff barked, and yelled into the ‘com: “Rowlf! Rowlf, I need you up here, man! Let’s do your poem!”

    Zoot wandered offstage. “Is the song over?” he wondered.

    Clifford stared at him, then pushed the ‘com button again. “Rowlf!” Seeing Deadly’s guest sitting attentively on one of the crates backstage, he sighed. “Oh, man. I wish you’d dropped in on some other night! I’m sorry your first live Muppet Show is going this way,” he apologized, but Countie shook his head, smiling.

    “Actually, it’s pretty much what I expected. I’m enjoying it!”

    Fozzie gave Clifford a hopeful look. “Hey, at least it’s going better dan Tuesday…”

    The host called out the percentages of accolades each contestant had received during the viewer voting, and spotlights turned on each of them as their names came up. Camilla watched, wringing her wingtips; thus far, it had been a lot of buildup but no dangerous acts. She hoped the next show would be as tame, though she knew odds were high against it. She felt a flutter of pride when Gonzo’s cannon-fueled disaster earned him almost forty per cent of the votes, and he pumped his hands at the audience in a triumphant gesture, beaming from one side of his curly nose to the other. Realizing if people liked his act too much, he’d stay on the show and keep doing it, Camilla sank back into a sick despair. How could she vote for him to continue, when all she wanted now was for him to come home, back to the theatre? But what if he did? She couldn’t just peck and make up…that wouldn’t teach him anything!

    She was further dismayed when the host announced, “On Saturday’s show, the remaining masters of microcephalia will be required to theme their acts! Every contestant must use two things chosen by our judges in their performance! And those items aaaare…” Snookie glanced at a cue card a Frackle ran up to hand him. His smile faltered an instant. “Cinnamon red hot candies – and hydrochloric acid!”

    “Bawwwk!” Camilla moaned, feeling ill. Red hots! WHY did it have to be red hots!

    “Let’s say farewell to Jimmy Joe Bob, and sing him to his final res—resplendent performance! Sorry Jimmy, your dulcet tones simply didn’t win over our judges – and it seems not enough of our audience is hard of hearing for you to continue!” Snookie said, ducking as a size eleventy-four steel-toed boot sailed out of the crowd and beaned the rustic.

    “But hey, let’s give him something to remember this show by!” B.D. yelled. The studio audience roared approval…and a hail of shoes, bottles, rocks, and one large enameled kitchen sink pummeled the unfortunate contestant. Snookie shook his head as a black-robed figure followed the goblins dragging the pile of stuff offstage.

    “So, tune in next time and see who’s left breathing on another episode of – Break a Leg! For MMN, I’m Snookie Blyer, and I hope to see you all here – and me there – Saturday night! So long!” The host’s expression seemed gloomy as the credits rolled. Camilla heaved a sigh, clicking the set off.

    Two contestants eliminated, but her daredevil was still in the running; moreso, he seemed to be at the top of the board! Torn between wanting Gonzo to be voted off and feeling proud at seeing that happy, goofy smile of his when the results were announced, the chicken groaned and flopped down in her bed of straw. She adored him, but how could she make him realize he didn’t need to suffer quite so much for his art – or to make her suffer, having to wonder every show whether he would live ‘til the end of it?

    The newswire ticked and chunked and spat out a sheet of copy. Great, Newsie thought, grabbing it from the wire and forcing his feet up the stairs to the stage level. When he headed for Clifford, the interim host stopped Rowlf with a hand on the dog’s shoulder. “Uh…dang. Hold that thought, Rowlf. News set!” he called out, and the stagepigs, grunting, shoved the desk onstage. Nodding unhappily at Clifford, Newsie ran out, nervous energy making up for a lack of enthusiasm.

    “Here is a Muppet News Flash!” he barked, glancing at the sheet in his hand. “The famous Muppet Pumpkin Cannon competition is underway this week in Crackerville, West Virginia! Competitors will attempt to shoot pumpkins the greatest distance using homemade explosive contraptions. The record to beat is held by Japheth and Trey, Jr, Bumblefoot, who last year reportedly shot a forty-pound pumpkin across two state lines into Tennessee –“

    He must’ve been too distracted by the headache; he never heard the sickening whoosh of air which usually preceded things falling on him. In pain, half-conscious, his blurry vision barely took in the two yokels trotting across the stage to examine the splattered orange squash. “Hah! Still unbeaten!” one of them crowed.

    The other shook his head. “Yeah, but what’d I tell you now about pointin’ th’ danged thing south? You know New Yorkers ain’t never impressed by nothin’! This shoulda hit Barnard’s chicken coop in Memphis!”

    “I done told you I warn’t no good at that compass thing,” the first one grumped.

    Newsie groaned. What was left of the pumpkin echoed weakly, “Think you got problems?”

    Then both of them passed out.

    Countie was mildly concerned when Beauregard tromped offstage with the Newsman and the pumpkin in a wheelbarrow, the two rural-sounding Muppets arguing about wind direction and gunpowder amounts trailing in his wake, but then Rowlf went onstage and tried to give a recitation of something he titled “It’s a Dog’s World” but which seemed to be more and more loudly interrupted by yowling, spitting cats until the dog couldn’t stand it anymore; loud barking and hissing signaled the end of the piece. “Pardon me, my friend, but I’m in the closing number,” Deadly said.

    “Break a leg,” Countie replied, and Deadly chuckled.

    “I’d rather someone else did! Ha, ha! We’ll mingle a bit and then join the cast for cream sodas at a tavern, shall we?”

    “Sounds perfect,” Countie said, beaming. He felt the chill dissipate and knew the ghost had gone onstage. Although he was disappointed at not having met Kermit or Scooter and having missed the chance to speak to Gonzo, the rest of his visit had gone wonderfully; the Muppet Show was everything he’d hoped for, and he was having the best time just listening to the chaos.

    “Please, please, just do the last one right,” Clifford muttered, and handed off his headset to a penguin. “Don’t call for curtain until everyone bows, got that?”

    “Merk merk,” the penguin agreed, and Clifford swiftly donned the dark red cardigan and scarf for his costume in the final act of the night before running to his mark onstage. He signaled the flypigs; as the maindrape opened again, the band began playing the old standby, and a crescent-moon cutout slowly lowered, with Miss Piggy seated in its cusp. Piggy smiled and blew kisses at the growing number of male Muppets on the stage. Fake fall leaves blew across, and several of the boys, wrapped in autumn jackets, pretended to shiver.

    The male chorus of Deadly, Fozzie, Beaker, Link, Wayne, Rizzo, Pepe, and some understudy frogs and hogs sang out: “Shine on harvest moon… January, February, June or July; I said January, February, June or July, shine on, shine on harvest moon, up in the sky!”

    Countie smiled, able to pick out individual voices in the nonetheless pleasant harmony, especially one which meeped. Clifford stepped downstage, addressing first Piggy, who looked down on him kindly, then his fellow singers: “I ain’t had no lovin’ since January, February, June or July!”

    “Ah, ah, ahaaa…” sang the others.

    “Snow time ain’t no time to sit outdoors and spoon,” Clifford continued, mock-shivering, then singing up to Piggy once more, “So shine on, shine on harvest moon –“

    “For me and my gal!” Rowlf chimed in, putting out an arm to welcome one of the ladies now sashaying slowly out from the wings. The chickens, a sheep, and some Whatnot girls giggled demurely and each chose a boy to stand by.

    The whole ensemble harmonized: “So shine on, shine on harvest moon, up in the sky! I ain’t had no lovin’ since January, February, June or July!”

    “Now looka here, don’t you know better than to sit out there in the snow and spoon?” Clifford scolded, and beseeched Piggy, “Come on, I don’t want no half-moon, I want a full moon!”

    “Oh won’t you shine on, shine on harvest moon…” the others sang, while Piggy slowly opened her arms, gently hanging onto the edge of the moon cutout and showing off her spectacular silvery leotard with shimmering moondust drifting onto the singers from her hands.

    “Ah-ooba, ah-ooba…” the men sang, while the ladies cooed in tune, snuggling with them. Everyone was paired up except for Clifford, who turned to the audience.

    “Doncha know you’re gonna freeze to death, settin’ out there in the snow tryin’ to spoon?” He shook his head sadly, though whether at the thought of lovers freezing in the snow or because he had no partner was unclear.

    Everyone together, as Piggy swang slowly back and forth, the moon dispensing magic over all: “So shine on, shine on harvest moon, for me and my gal!”

    The crowd applauded, the singers bowed, the curtains stayed open. Clifford kept smiling for the audience, but looked sharply into the stage left wing where the flypigs seemed to be cringing away from what looked like a couple of moving throw rugs in bright blue and pink chenille. Clifford glanced back at the penguin stage right, who threw up its flippers in a “What? I’m trying!” gesture. Deadly led the cast in another bow, and another, and the applause continued, but Clifford hastily worked his way across to the flyrail.

    “What the Jelly Roll Morton are you two doing? Close the drapes already!” he ordered.

    “Th-they won’t let us!” one of the pigs stammered, pointing at the strange creatures swarming the rail of levers for the various lines over the stage. Clifford saw the googly eyes and quirked antennae then, and jerked back himself, startled.

    “Hey! You two…whatever you ares! Get away from there!” he yelled, waving a hand at them. He suddenly wondered what he would do if they turned on him, but they only zipped in between the lines of cables faster, making odd groans and yips. “Stop that! Shoo!”

    “Shoe?” the pink thing asked.

    “Mn. Shoe. Yip yip yip, shoe!”

    They abandoned the flyrail to glomp onto Clifford’s shoes. “Hey!” he cried, dancing in place, trying to shake them loose; they held on with sticky tentacles. He kept kicking, jumping, and heard laughter. What—? Oh, no! He’d danced the funky chicken right back onto the stage, and the curtain hung open! “Close it!” he yelled, and the flypigs, regaining some of their senses, hurriedly closed the drapes. The claps and laughs continued, but Clifford was far from amused. “Get these danged things off me!” Surprised Muppets surrounded him, but for a second no one moved.

    Then Link panicked. “Aliens! Weird space monsters! We’re being invaded!” Wailing, he fled the stage.

    “Every Muppet for himself!” Wayne choked, diving for the exit.

    “Aaagh!” Wanda shrieked as the blue thing let go of Clifford’s shoe and swooped up to investigate her hair. Gallantly Rowlf swatted at it, but the thing quickly zipped out of harm’s way with strange, jerky movements.

    “Somebody call monster control!” Cliff yelled.

    “Why don’t we go collect your autograph bits, and see who’s left to join for an actor’s supper?” Deadly suggested to Countie.

    “Well…I guess there are safer places to be at the moment,” Countie agreed reluctantly. He’d been enjoying the sound of another raucous end to the show.

    “Safer, no. Quieter, yes,” Deadly said, leading his friend down to the green room.

    Clifford spotted Robin watching the headless-chicken imitations going on with a fascinated expression. “Hey, little man, you’d best go downstairs,” Clifford called to him. “And do me a favor: don’t tell your uncle about this!”

    “Oh, it’s okay,” the peeper piped up, “You’re doing a swell job! This is just like when Uncle Kermit is here!”

    “Great,” Clifford sighed. “Least I got something right.”

    Groggy, the Newsman nevertheless jumped when he felt a hand on his arm. “You all right?” a voice asked.

    He blinked up at the unknown man with dark glasses and curly brown hair. “Uh…fine. Thanks.” A replacement pair of glasses sat on Newsie’s nose, although that was feeling very out of joint, and all he could smell was fresh pumpkin goop…though a shower might fix that.

    “I realize this might not be the best time,” the stranger said, “but would you sign your autograph for me?”

    “My…my autograph?” Newsie couldn’t recall anyone ever asking him for that. Noting the cane as well as the shades, he asked, “Uh…do you know who I am?”

    “The Newsman,” the stranger said, smiling. “Would you mind?”

    Pleasantly puzzled, Newsie followed the man to the back table. Numerous pieces of clay were spread out: one side of the table held pieces with Muppets’ names inscribed, the other held a few blanks. “I’d like to get as complete a collection as possible,” the man explained. He frowned. “I’m sorry I missed Kermit and Scooter – and Gonzo – but Deadly’s promised to try and get their signatures and mail them to me, since I have to leave tomorrow.”

    “Oh,” Newsie said, grasping the concept as he looked at the tablets. He saw that Sweetums had smushed together four pieces just to scrawl his name with those huge fingers…and that Robin’s took up only half a tablet. “That’s…that’s very clever! Certainly I’d be happy to add my name to your project, Mr…?”

    “Countie. I’m actually supposed to be at a law seminar, so I’m not telling anyone my name,” the man said, grinning mischievously.

    Newsie was amazed. “You’re a lawyer? You…you skipped a seminar just to come see our show?”

    “Absolutely,” Countie laughed, and his fingers located a blank piece of clay. He unwrapped it and pushed it toward Newsie. “You guys are my favorites! I grew up watching you…meeting you all has been a dream come true!”

    Newsie thought it was more like a fever-dream, but carefully cut his professional name into the clay. It felt odd to see it written like that, knowing that once it dried, it could last a very long time. He felt old suddenly. Trying to shake it off, he looked over the signatures Countie had compiled thus far. Some obscure folks were represented along with the regulars: Big Mama, Thog, Carrie Louise, Sal Minella, Snookie Blyer, Lunch Counter Monster – Geez, why does he have so many monster signatures? I haven’t even seen half of them arou—Newsie nearly swooned. He choked, grabbing the back of a chair, and sat down hard on another.

    Concerned, Countie began, “What’s wrong? Are you—“

    “Where did you get that signature?” Newsie cried hoarsely, startling the guest.


    “Snookie! Snookie Blyer! Where did you find him?”

    “He – he was hosting a show I saw last night,” Countie said, unnerved by the harshness of the Muppet’s voice; he would have been even more uneasy at the sight of yellow felt turning creamy-pale. Newsie’s hands clenched into fists on the table, shaking.

    “Where? Where?”

    “Uh…I…I’m not sure,” Countie replied. “Underground somewhere! You can ask Deadly; he knew the show director!” He listened to what sounded like the Newsman gulping back tears, gasping for breath. “Why? Is he some kind of blood enemy of yours or something?” He knew Muppet passions tended to run high, but he’d never suspected the buttoned-down Newsman might have a feud with anyone else…

    “He’s my cousin!” Newsie shouted. “I’ve – I’ve been trying to find him for months! Where was this? What show? Underground? Where?” Suddenly he jerked upright, eyes wide. “Underground – with monsters? Why do you have so many monster signatures?”

    “Uh…there were a few of them down there. I think some of them worked there,” Countie said, very worried now at the obvious sounds of distress: the Muppet sounded like he was strangling.

    “Snookie is down there? With those things?” Newsie choked out, horrified.

    Deadly stepped up, having heard the commotion, annoyed at being dragged away from the charming talk he was having with that Doglion fellow about palo cortado versus amontillado for burying with enemies. “What seems to be the problem?”

    “Agh!” Newsie cringed away from the spook, then jabbed an accusing finger at him. “You – you’re all in league! I was right! Where is he? Where is he, d—it!”

    Deadly looked at Countie, who seemed to know a confused chilly glance when he felt one. “I have no idea; something about his cousin?”

    “Snookie Blyer! Where is he?” Newsie shouted, leaning toward Uncle Deadly, but then the dragon made an imperious lunge at the reporter. “Ack! Don’t touch me!”

    “You started it!” Deadly growled. “What is this nonsense?”

    “Tell me!” Newsie demanded. “Snookie – where is he? This man has his signature! You took him to a show! Where was it?”

    “You’re making absolutely no sense!” Deadly huffed. “I don’t know any Snookies! I took my dear friend to see another old friend of mine, a famous Collinswood director!”

    “Apparently the show host is the Newsman’s cousin,” Countie offered.

    “What, that pathetic plaid perpetrator of…of fake smiles?” Deadly scoffed. He glared at their startled expressions. “What? This is all off the cuff, you know! Can you think of a good word starting with P?”

    “You have to tell me where he is!” Newsie insisted, his voice rough, feeling close to collapse, the shock of this right after the clobbering pumpkin too much to Muppetly bear. “You – you monsters! Skulking around here, laughing at us, plotting your plots! I was right! You’re all in on it, whatever it is!”

    Deadly drew himself up, eyes afire with cold blue light. “I have no idea of what you speak! I am a respectable ghoul, and you, sir, are out of line! Come, Countie, let’s be off!”

    “N-no,” Newsie gulped, his knees shaking, clinging to the chair. “You have to tell me! He’s my cousin, and if he’s down there with all the monsters… No! Tell me! Where is he?”

    Countie winced; he’d never heard the reporter sound so close to meltdown, not even when being attacked by a mad English comic. “Deadly, maybe we should –“

    “I will not be spoken to in that tone!” the dragon roared, blowing the Newsman back with the force of his anger. He swept all the clay pieces into his cape, grabbed Countie by one hand, and dragged him away.

    Newsie, struggling both to keep from openly crying and to get back to his feet, heard an all-too-familiar sound right next to him: “Mn. Yip. Yip yip.”

    His head jerked up. Both creatures hovered in the air on either side of him. The blue one began chanting in its frightening monotone: “Newwws. News. Yip yip yip yip yip uh huh.”

    “Yip yip, uh huh. News,” the pink one chimed in, wriggling closer.

    Newsie launched himself up and forward. The motion was too much for his injured head to take; darkness swirled up, a rushing noise filled his ears, and down he went.

    “Ulp!” the pink monster cried, disturbed by this unsettling development. “Nooooope nope nope nope!”

    “Uh uh, uh uh!” the blue one agreed, and together they vanished.
    The Count likes this.
  7. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    *Is in love with the newest of double chapters from this story.

    Points to dole out include...
    1 Chef signing his name as "Tom".
    :hungry: Ja, *chuckles*, Tom.
    2 Newsie recalling a sink in the Muppet theater's men's room collapsing into some weird snake-themed drainpipe.
    Although to be technically correct, that sink was in the ladie's room, but still huge smile.
    3 The bit with the fish in the coffee pot providing filtration... That's just weirdly Muppety funny.
    4 The logo's animation turning into monsters, then devouring the globe behind them...
    Is that meant to be a reference to the logo monsters from Sesame Street Stays Up Late? Cause if so, that was the MNN.
    5 Muppet Melodramas!
    6 Yep, definitely enjoying the show going on so far. Don't worry Cliff, you're doing as good as Tuesday's show.
    7 "She couldn’t just peck and make up…that wouldn’t teach him anything!"
    Loved this line relating :cluck:'s worries.
    8 Blue Drag and Harvest Moon, good song choices, especially with the addition of two motley mischeivous Martians.
    9 If only it had been so... Skipping out on law schooling to go and see the Muppets live at that convention in December 2001. But it was my first semester... And I'd already gotten a needed proceedure done in August just before starting. And we all know what happened in September that year. At least there's a DVD recording of it I could get from one of the trusted tape traders.
    10 Newsie finally finds out where Snookie is... Though the consequences of such a revelation have ended his broadcast for tonight as he faded off to black.
    We thank you for posting this thrilling installment and conclude our review. Good night out there, whatever you are.
    *Warped music plays as the screen snows itself white.
    newsmanfan likes this.
  8. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Heh heh heh....okay, glad someone got at least some of my silly references. Extra brownie points to anyone who knows where the fish in the coffeepot is from! I did think it simply fit the Muppets, though, and am glad Ed thought so too. :news:

    I didn't even know there WAS such a thing as MNN...and no. Mine was independently created, and it is M M N, for a good reason. (I still tune in to GNN now and then for a Grouchy perspective on world news, though.)

    For anyone who doesn't know the songs, there are so many versions of "Harvest Moon" that I'll leave it to the reader to track down one he/she likes, but the version of "Blue Drag" in my mind's eye comes from this take, by the New Orleans Jazz Vipers. It just seemed like one Floyd and gang would dig:

  9. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Twenty-Two

    Soft candlelight was gentle to his tired eyes; the Newsman blinked several times, finally realizing the world wasn’t coming into focus because he wasn’t wearing his glasses. Soft strokes along his cheek made him sigh and turn his gaze that direction. Gina smiled at him. “Welcome back. How are you feeling?”

    He squinted, figuring out he was in their apartment by the feel of the quilt beneath his hands. Pillows propped up his shoulders. “I…oooh,” he groaned, throbbing pain smacking into his head before he could formulate a reply.

    Gina grimaced. “My poor cutie. I knew you weren’t over that cold fully yet.”

    “What happened?” he croaked.

    She sighed, snuggling over double, bringing her face closer to his so he could make out her features if he peered hard enough. “Well, Clifford called me. I took a cab over to your theatre and Sweetums brought you up. You were out cold, sweetie.” She brushed a hand lightly over his brow. “You feel feverish to me. Clifford said you fainted in the green room…and that you got clobbered by a pumpkin just before that.” She kissed the edge of his nose. “And something about bottled water?”

    That part he remembered. “Ungh…news story…those things really are bad for the environment. Mine, at least…”

    Gina studied him carefully, looking deep into those almost-closed dark eyes. “Do you remember getting hit by a pumpkin?”

    He tried. “I guess that’s what I’m smelling.”

    “Yep.” She fished a seed out of his hair. “I didn’t want to put you in the tub unconscious. Feel like tackling it now?”

    “Wait…I fainted? After the pumpkin?”

    “That’s what Clifford said. Apparently you were having some sort of argument in the green room with some visitor, and you got overexcited, and down you went.” Newsie racked his memory, uneasily certain there was more to it, but unable to remember any of this. Gina stroked her fingertips across his forehead. “I’m prescribing bed rest, and no arguments. You weren’t ready for the stress yet, I’m thinking.”

    “Why was I arguing with a visitor?”

    “I don’t know. Cliff said everyone else was onstage dealing with something. At least this time there weren’t any explosions.” She smiled. “Come on, cutie. Can you stand up?”

    Frowning, Newsie wriggled himself to the edge of the bed and tried to sit up straight and put his feet on the floor; he noticed Gina had removed his shoes. Even that much movement caused his headache to intensify. Holding Gina’s hand, he staggered to the bathroom and silently accepted her aid in undressing; he sat unhappily in the tub while she ran the water for him, and didn’t fuss at the lavender-scented bath oil she added in. She fetched him ibuprofen and a glass of cool water while he listlessly washed the pumpkin goop from his hair. When finally he felt clean, if no better otherwise, she helped him climb out of the tub and wrapped him in a plush robe that came down to his ankles. Sitting in bed again soon after, he tried to recall anything else about the evening, and when Gina reentered bearing a tray with veggie egg rolls, plum sauce, and hot Oolong tea, he frowned at her in frustration.

    “I know I’m forgetting something,” he muttered. He sipped the tea gratefully, knowing from experience that it would help the headache lessen.

    Gina shrugged lightly. “Well, this happens sometimes. It’ll come back to you; it always does.” She’d been alarmed at first at the small short-term memory losses her Muppet was prone to, given the hazards of his job and the dangerous but apparently natural energy field he projected which tended to draw disaster down upon him regularly. However, whatever small thing had been jarred out of his brain, inevitably he would recall within a day or two. It did mean she had to forgive the occasional missed dinner date or milk not picked up from the grocer’s, but he was always so embarrassed and apologetic about such things; and she’d grown to understand keeping him relaxed and minimizing stress would help matters along faster. “Get some hot food into you.”

    Newsie nodded, dipping an egg roll in the sauce and chewing it thoughtfully. Gina remembered Sweetums being careful to hand over Newsie’s attaché case as well as the Newsman himself; seeing her beloved unconscious in the protective arms of the gentle troll had at first alarmed her, then reassured her of Sweetums’ benevolent intent. “You…you have some papers in your case. Was it something about those?”

    “Oh,” Newsie said, brightening. “Those…those are possible leads for the disappearances…I was reading through them all night…” He thought hard, but couldn’t recall any specific piece of information from all that. “I can’t…”

    “Newsie, it’s okay. It’ll come back to you. Let’s just focus on you getting some rest.”

    He scowled. “I feel like I’ve done nothing but lay around all week!”

    “Well, if you were overwhelmed enough to faint, I’d say another week is in order.” She met his worried look with a frown of her own. “I know, I know. You’ll go crazy if I coop you up. So how about you staying here until you have to be at the news station tomorrow afternoon? That’ll at least let you sleep in.”

    “What if there’s some report work I’ve forgotten?” he wondered unhappily. “I should call Rhonda.”

    Gina checked the clock; only nine. “All right. Give her a call.” Relieved, Newsie nodded at her, found his sports coat and fished in the pockets before he remembered the water.

    “Oh…uh…my phone was soaked. I left it with the battery out to dry, back at the station,” he mumbled.

    Gina smiled. “You need a crunchproof, waterproof, everything-else-proof phone.”

    Newsie snorted, picking up the house phone from the nightstand. His head still ached, but at least individual thoughts weren’t sending it on new romps of pain. He punched in the rat’s number. She picked it up on the second ring. “No I have not heard from Goldie; what’s he under this time?” Rhonda snapped.

    “Er,” Newsie stammered.

    “Oh. It is the Golden Boy. I figured it was your girl trying ta track down where the herd of stampeding rhinos dragged you or something. What’s up?”

    Rhinos? Deciding not to complicate the conversation any more than his pounding skull could currently bear, Newsie muttered, “I just wanted to know if we had a report to work on tomorrow morning.”

    “What? No! Blanke forbade us to – oh. You got one a’those kinds of poundings, huh?” Rhonda sighed. In the background Newsie heard high-pitched shrieking. “No, sweetheart, nothing special. Just the usual newscast, be there by four if you don’t wanna be yelled at, five-thirty if you don’t care.”

    “Okay, four,” Newsie agreed. “Uh…what’s all the noise over there?”

    “My marvelously wonderful nieces and nephews. Hang on. I am on the phone, you little cheeseweasels! Shut the frog up!” Newsie held the phone with the screeching rat away from his ear. Gina started giggling. “Sorry ‘bout that. Makes me remember why I don’t want a family all over again. Hey, I talked to my brothers, and they all dodged the question, but I cornered Philby – he’s the youngest – and after a little sisterly persuading he finally told me they all fled the drainage tunnels because of weird noises…and because they had friends go missing.”

    “Rats? Going missing? Are they sure?”

    “Newsie, this stuff we don’t joke about.” Rhonda lowered her voice, sounding nervous. “There’s only one reason why your friend doesn’t come back after a food run.”

    He was silent, thinking about it. The implication wasn’t pretty. “Are…are you all right, Rhonda?”

    She blew out a breath. “Yeah…yeah. I’m on the fourth floor, smack inna middle of NoHo. Should be fine, right?”

    “Stop up your drains,” Newsie advised, suddenly remembering he’d accomplished that much at the theatre. “Make sure nothing bigger than you can get in.”

    “I’m not so much worried about that as I am about the little ones going out – hey! What did I tell you little shrikes about eating the sofa cushions! ‘Scuse me a sec.” Newsie heard muffled noises, some loud thumps, and then squeaks. “Sorry. I just paid that thing off. Vernon, control your offspring or I will! …Geez. They’re making me think twice about not tossing ‘em down the garbage chute. Look, you let that sweetie of yours take care of you, and I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon, ‘kay sunshine? Gotta go.”

    Gina smiled as Newsie placed the phone back in its cradle. “I’m having trouble seeing Rhonda as a mom,” she remarked.

    “I think she is too,” Newsie agreed. He sighed. “More confirmation from the rats. Something is under the city…and it sounds like it’s…” He looked down at his half-eaten egg roll, suddenly not hungry.

    “Um,” Gina said, catching on. “Is…is her family okay?”

    “Hopefully.” He gazed seriously up at her. “Gina, I have to go down there again.”

    She drew him into a kiss. “I know. I know you do. But not tonight. And not without backup.” She poured fresh tea from the dragonware-china pot for him. “Why don’t you ask Sweetums to go with you? He might agree as long as you’d go, so he wouldn’t be so afraid.”

    Newsie sputtered, quickly setting down his teacup to avoid a spill. “So he wouldn’t – Gina, he’s a troll!”

    “He’s a nice troll.”

    “He’s almost eight feet tall!”

    “And he handed you over to me very gently.”

    “He huh?”

    Gina told him quietly of the worried monster carrying the unlucky Newsman up from the green room to the front entrance and gently setting him inside the cab. Newsie, shocked, sat silent a long time. Finally he asked in a low voice, “You think I can trust him?”

    “Positive. If there are monsters underground, what better protection than another monster?”

    He had to admit, there was a certain logic to that. He rubbed his eyes, terribly weary. “I wish I knew what it was I forgot.”

    “Newsie, don’t worry about it. You always get it back; just give it some time. Ask around at the theatre; maybe someone else talked to you about all this. Maybe that visitor had some information.”

    “Maybe.” Newsie scowled. “I don’t even remember talking to anyone…just… something about fish, and coffee.”

    “It will come back,” Gina insisted. “Just relax. How’s your head?”

    “Hurts,” he admitted. Gina cleared away the dinner things from the bed and curled up with him, lifting the blankets enough for both of them to get underneath. He snuggled close to her, deeply relieved to have her there. Her touch was so gentle…her skin so silky, so pleasantly unlike his felt, and her fingers stroking his temples made him melt into the pillows. “Mmmmh,” he sighed, giving up, all worries released by her touch. “I love you…”

    Gina smiled; there was something about those words spoken in that always-a-little-gruff, somewhat nasal voice that amused her and melted her heart all at once. “You would be such a curmudgeon if I hadn’t found you,” she teased.

    “Sure. I’d be doing shuffleboard scores from the box next to the geezer critics,” he muttered, though he managed a smile.

    She did something to tease him a different way, feeling him tense all over in surprise. “Hmm. Doesn’t seem too old to me…”

    With a groan, Newsie nudged himself closer and reached for her, fuzzy fingers happy to encounter smooth skin. He was indeed very, very glad she’d decided she could love such an accident-prone Muppet…and in her arms, he was at last able to focus on something besides a foamache.

    Eustace forced his snout into an approximation of a smile. He’d never tried one, so it felt strange, but orders were orders… “Complimentssss of the head of the network,” he said, handing down six large pizza boxes from Big Mama & Son’s Pie Joint (“a LARGE smile every time!”).

    Gonzo’s eyes widened. “Oh, cool! Hey, look, Rosie! We’re a hit!”

    “Mubba?” The monster sniffed, then all three pink eyes brightened. “Puzza!”

    “Aw, this is so great! Hey, d’we have any sodas?” Gonzo asked, and while the monster hastily shuffled off to find something for them to wash down the slices, Gonzo beamed at the doglizard. “Wow, how nice! So the big guy likes my act, huh?”

    Eustace considered how much to say. “He hasss sssaid he findsss you…amusssing.”

    “Hah ha! Well, great! You tell him I said thanks – and my next act is gonna be a real showstopper!” Gonzo looked into the various boxes. “Ooh, sardine salami onion pomegranate! Wow, a man after my own heart!”

    “He hoped you would find it…pleasssing,” Eustace said, noting the monsters gathering in the cell corridor, drooling. “He thought you might wisssh to sssselebrate your top sssstanding in the contessst. He wisssshes you great sssuccesss.”

    “Well, that’s really nice of him! Wow, the head of the network is a fan!” Happy, Gonzo waved at the growing monster crowd. “Hey! This is for me being at the top of the leader board! Anyone want a bite?”

    All of them looked at Eustace. He shrugged, and the mob fell upon the pizza boxes ravenously. Gonzo managed to save most of one box for himself and McGurk. Over the din of chewing and slobbering, he yelled at the departing doglizard: “Tell him I said he ain’t seen nothing yet! Woo hoo!”

    Eustace moved silently through the rough rock corridors, intercepting the rosy-furred monster as he trotted back bearing a couple of bottles of Mega Fishburp Cola. “You! Jussst what do you think you’re doing?”

    Confused, McGurk displayed the sodas. “Ahb…blabba muh gugga?”

    Irritated, Eustace swatted them away. “I am sspeaking of your infatuation with thisss prisssoner! You look entirely too pleasssed to asssissst him with his idiotic ssstuntsss!”

    “Ugga…wugga?” McGurk asked, then tried to assure the boss’ right-hand flunky that there was nothing more than professional courtesy involved. “Muh, muh! Abba meh Gubba frahabba nuh nuh pegabboo…”

    “And he will be sssacrifissed at the prosscribed time along with all other prissonersss! Do you have any isssue with that, sssslimebrain?” Eustace demanded, raising himself on clawtips to dominate the squat-bodied monster. McGurk flinched. “All non-monssterssss are cattle for the ssslaughter! Thisss our dark underlord hassss revealed to usss as our true purpossse! Do you doubt hisss inutterable majesssty?” Eustace roared.

    “Nuh! Nuh! Inubba dugga puppa, gob id!” McGurk hastily repeated, backing away from that angry, toothy snout.

    Eustace reined in a little of his fury; goblin, it felt good to unleash some of his pent-up stress! But he wanted the pink-furred thing cowed, not crushed. He glowered, fussily wiping the terrified spittle off his scales. “Remember your plassse, foolisssh featherhead! If you cannot ssseparate yourssself from the prey, you are of no ussse to his ickinesss, and you too ssshall be exxxtirpated! Asssissst the fool in hisss sssilly ssstratgemsss, but never forget where your liver belongsss!” He turned to stride away, then paused and looked back: McGurk, hornfallen, was sadly bending to pick up the dropped sodas. “Oh, and Rosssamond? Try to enssure hisss sssurvival until the big night. Our lord findsss him…entertaining.”

    Smugly, the doglizard departed, his tail whipping around a corner and cutting the nose of a passing orange critter with ten legs. “Ow!” the critter muttered, but when Eustace whirled, glaring, it cringed. “…Sorry?” With a snort, Eustace glided off.

    Disconsolate, McGurk carried the sodas back to Gonzo’s cell. Most of the other monsters had finished their share (and some their companions’ shares and possibly also the companion) and wandered back to their duties; Gonzo sat on an empty explosives crate, grinning. “What took you so long? Here, I saved you a couple slices of the mousetail-applebutter one with extra cheese.”

    “Guh,” McGurk said, handing over the soda.

    “Did you shake it up?” Gonzo asked, and when the monster nodded, Gonzo grinned and opened the cap pointing at himself. Sticky froth shot all over his nose. “Woohoo! Man, I love it when it goes up my nostrils! The sugar gets to my brain faster that way,” he explained. He nudged the monster as his friend sat down. “Hey, why so quiet? Aren’t you excited? The boss likes us! That means we’ll be sure to get lots of airtime, maybe a special interview or something!”


    “Ohhh…you’re wondering how we’re going to top that last one, huh? Yeah, their putting actual requirements on it seems kinda limiting. But don’t you worry! I already have a fantastic idea!” McGurk blinked, ruffling his pink-and-yellow mane uneasily. “Picture this: the announcer introduces us, the lights come up, the camera zooms in…and you’re onstage, balancing a vat of hydrochloric acid on your head!” McGurk cringed, blinking in surprise. “So the audience has gotta be wondering, where’s the Great Gonzo? The camera pans up…and there I am, on a unicycle on a revolving red sphere, tossing red-hots into the air and catching them in my nostrils until my nose is completely full – and guess what I do then!”

    Stunned, the monster sat there with wide eyes, speechless, as Gonzo continued to outline the most outrageous act McGurk had ever heard of…no, check that: McGurk had never heard of anything that ridiculous, foolhardy, painful, and likely to cause serious injury or death to both of them. He tried to express some faint enthusiasm in the face of the weirdo’s boundless eagerness, but the doglizard’s warning floated through his head. As they ate their pizza, McGurk sighed to himself. It really did seem a shame to waste this much baffling…er…talent, but the hideous dark scary boss was the hideous dark scary boss, and not to be crossed, ever. Still…

    McGurk looked up as Gonzo poked him. “Hey, check this out! Can you do this?”

    The monster stared. Two pizza crusts stuck out of the whatever’s nose. With a mad cackle, he opened his eyes wide as he snorked the crusts up and in. “Ha ha ha! Go on, try it, it’s fun!”

    The atmosphere the Newsman awoke to was quiet, calm, and smelled of dying leaves. Newsie smiled at the scented candle Gina had left to ease him gently into the morning, and blew the flames out, always safety-conscious. His beloved was already at work, so he fixed himself some cranberry-almond cereal and more pumpkin coffee and brought his attaché case into the kitchen. As he pulled his laptop onto the small café table in one corner of the snug, warm kitchen, a sheaf of papers tumbled out of the case. Frowning, he retrieved them. He couldn’t recall whether he’d read through the entire stack of possible leads or not. Remembering that he’d jotted down a few notes, he found his notepad, but leafing through it turned up something more compelling: the list of phone numbers and company names given to him by Ma Bell.

    Gina had asked him to stay home until he needed to get to work, for his own health…well, he could do research perfectly well from home, right? He sipped his coffee, crunched the cereal, and started a search for any and everything about Ars Moribunda Studios. The uneasy hunch in his foam still said all of this was related somehow: the monsters, his aunt, people disappearing…so this seemed as good a place as any to dig in. The first several entries he found were listings on IMDB, production credits for various television shows: “Hammily Feud,” “You Win a Fish!”, and “Name That Solvent” seemed tame enough, but Newsie shuddered at a few more obvious fiend-fests: “Lice Road Suckers,” “Monsters Tonight! with Carl the Big Mean Host,” and the upcoming reality-romance show, “I Married a Monster!”

    What the hey is all this? he thought, the growing list of credits with monster-friendly titles making him nervous. When a neighbor’s garbage disposal growled on the other side of the kitchen wall, he jumped, resettling in his chair only reluctantly. Going back to the original search page, he looked for anything with an actual street address and found only a P.O. box; a newspaper ad from two weeks ago turned out to be an expired link. Guess I could stake out the post office and see what turns up…no; they’d probably call security if I hung out there all day. Newsie shoved his cereal bowl aside, frowning deeply as he considered any other option for finding this production company, but going several pages into the online search only brought up more game and reality show titles, a handful of trade reviews, and a tiny article on a blog called “FRACK!” about the studio garnering the Pointy Beaktooth Award for Frackle Equality for hiring a huge number of the strange creatures.

    Frustrated, he turned his attention to the second company on the list, MMN. Although he couldn’t discover what the letters stood for, he learned they were an independent television network based here in the city, which seemed to show Ars Moribunda productions almost exclusively. He found a schedule listing for the station and saw many of the game shows and reality knockoffs he’d already read about; the only thing on tonight, for instance, which hadn’t been produced by the mysterious studio was a reshowing of “Ghoulies 5 ½: The Regurgitation.”

    Newsie shuddered, and took a break from the awful stuff to warm his coffee again. He searched another hour, but found only local ratings charts (MMN, indeed, was beating his weekend-anchor timeslot – and with airings of some ridiculous stunt contest, to add insult to injury!), a few mentions couched within articles about some of the shows (critics for the Post and the Scandal seemed to lavish undue praise on Big Mean Carl in particular, claiming he was “funnier than Jay!”), and one small article in BusinessWeek about MMN receiving their FCC license late last year and starting operations with a viewing radius of approximately forty miles. A radius from where, exactly? Newsie wondered, but nowhere could he locate more specific information.

    A second fresh cup started him on the third name on the list, the better-known Nofrisko corporation, makers of snack cakes and bargain-priced crackers which sold all along the eastern seaboard and in Kahfrackistan, according to the cheery homepage for the company. And there, at last, a street address! The corporate head office was right here in downtown Manhattan! Excited, Newsie quickly jotted it on his notepad, then flicked through the site, eager for any connection between a junk-food maker and monsters…but it all appeared perfectly harmless. Disgusting from a nutritional-value standpoint, but otherwise ordinary. No mention of monsters, or even MMN, anywhere. Newsie realized he had reason to feel grateful to Ma Bell for providing him with a link he wouldn’t have been able to track on his own: nowhere was it listed that one of Nofrisko’s ownings was the strange new TV station.

    I’ll just tell Rhonda, and if she wants to pass that along, fine, Newsie thought with a grimace. He had no intention of setting foot among the phone-rats again, ever. He looked at the time, checked the current temperature, drummed his fingertips on the table a moment and weighed his options. Naturally, the new lead won out, and within minutes he’d showered, dressed in his starkest gray suit and dullest brown-and-gray striped tie, and put on his wonderful new fedora before he left the apartment. Who knew the gift of a hat would inspire such a bold disguise! Anxious but motivated, he hailed a cab and gave the driver the address in the Bowery.

    The building seemed to take up only the lower two floors of a renovated tenement wedged among restaurant-supply storefronts, but it was at least clearly labeled, and gaily decorated with a molded-fiberglass Fwinkie snack cake over the entrance. Newsie checked to make sure the shiny badge he’d been inspired to bring was firmly stuck in his wallet opposite his ID. He took a deep breath, offered up a silent prayer to St Murrow, and trying to picture the way Miss Piggy strode into any room as if she owned it, pushed open the door and entered scowling, his hat pulled down on his brow.

    A round-faced, yellow Whatnot lady with hair so bright orange it could only have come from a yarn dye greeted him with an uncertain smile. “Welcome to Nofrisko! How may I help you, and which cake is your favorite?” She waved a beatific hand over a platter of representative products: Fwinkies, Hobos, and Flingers.

    “Health Department, Dyes and Additives Division,” Newsie muttered, flashing his ID and his old toy press badge at her only an instant before slipping the wallet back into his pocket. He glared at the snacks. “Investigating a complaint about possible fatal reactions to red number twelve in your products.”

    “O-oh,” the receptionist said, startled. “Um…did you have an appointment?”

    “If I had, what would be the point of a surprise inspection?” Newsie snapped, hoping he sounded authoritative enough to bring this off.

    “Oh! Um, of course, yes. I’ll…I’ll just page Mr Tonkin for you…”

    “Don’t bother,” Newsie growled, heading for the first door he saw. “I’ll just take a look around.”

    “Oh, that’s – that’s the coat closet,” the receptionist stammered, hurrying to plant herself in front of Newsie. “Er…may I take your coat, Mr…?”

    “Murrow,” he ad-libbed. “No, thank you. I’m not planning on being here that long…unless of course I find something I don’t like!” Scowling again at the flustered woman, he turned to the next door, a larger one with ornate handles. He pulled it open and strode through, terrified and excited at the ease of his progress so far. The receptionist didn’t follow him, and he glanced left and right into glass-doored offices full of desks, computers, and curious employees who watched him pass. As far as he could tell, the ground floor was nothing but white-collar stuff. He found an elevator and stepped in; the buttons said 1, 2, and B…but the basement level required a key to access. Unhappily, he punched 2, sure that what he wanted was lower, not higher, but determined to see everything. On the second floor he walked into a large, open area divided partly into half-walled cubicles and half into a large conference room. Opening the door to that, he interrupted a group of children eating some sort of green-icinged muffins; a man with a clipboard swung around in perplexity.

    “Ah…sorry, this is a test group, we won’t be done for another half-hour,” the man said. A couple of the children stopped chewing the apparently rubbery muffins to stare at the Newsman.

    “Murrow, Health Department,” Newsie muttered. He picked up one of the snacks and sniffed cautiously. “Er…anchovy paste?”

    “It’s been filtered; it’s mercury-free,” the man hastily assured Newsie. “We…we did send the ingredient list to the FDA months back before we even started production!”

    “Well the Additives Division still needs a copy!” Newsie barked. “We’ve had some complaints involving your products and a recent outbreak of…of redmonella, so I’ll need any material you have on this immediately!”

    “Uh, sure,” the tester said, thrusting a sheet of paper at Newsie entitled Shamrockies! A full serving of Omega-3 in every delicious cake! “Wait…redmonella?”

    Realizing the only way out of it was boldly through it, Newsie snorted haughtily, glancing at the cupcake ingredient list. “I see you folks don’t read our emails either, hm? Perhaps a little more diligence in all areas would have saved you this inspection!” Some of the items mixed into the cupcakes gave him serious pause. “Uh…arachnoflightis gerundis extract?”

    “For the color,” the tester explained, looking a little anxious himself now. “A natural additive.”

    “Hm,” Newsie said, thinking he’d better run this by Honeydew, who might be able to decipher some of the stranger ingredients. “And this particular test was submitted for approval to the New Snack Food Clinical Trial Division?” He was winging it, but the more officious he sounded, the less likely it was his ruse would be shattered…

    A soft, purring voice asked from the doorway: “Is there some issue I could clear up here, gentlemen?” Newsie turned to see an enormous sandy-furred cat in a silky light gray suit, staring shrewdly at him.

    “Mr Tonkin,” the tester said, sounding both relieved and afraid at once. “Uh, um, this man is from the—“

    “Health Department. Yes, so I heard.” The cat smiled suavely. “What can I assist you with today, Mr Murrow?”

    “Ahem. It, uh, it seems there has been a complaint lodged concerning some of the additives your company uses in its cakes, particularly the crème filling,” Newsie said.

    “Oh, well, by all means, take a look around…though you are of course aware we don’t actually make any of our fine snacks here, but in our main bakery in Newark,” Tonkin said. His deep blue eyes never blinked.

    “Yes, naturally,” Newsie said. “However, we strive for thorough diligence, Mr…Tonkin was it? You’re the head of the company?”

    The cat waved a paw languidly. “Merely the CEO. May I show you around?”

    Unable to think of a good objection, Newsie grunted assent, and walked stiffly next to the cat. “We run taste tests with our target audiences almost every day, always sensitive to changing tastes in the marketplace, you understand. Almost every month there are miniscule adjustments to our formulae. The snack industry is quite competitive, and every small edge helps us maintain our profits while ensuring the continued quality of our products,” Tonkin said, gesturing at the office area. “Here, our market researchers pore over the results of every test – those done here, and in supermarkets and events all over. They gather and interpret those results to determine how much fish oil the public really likes in their dairy-free lime crème…as an example.” He gazed narrow-eyed at the Newsman. “Which additive is the suspected culprit? Which product?”

    “Er…red dye number eleven, in – in all products which use it!”

    “We don’t use that dye at all,” Tonkin purred, smiling. “But I could have sworn you said red number twelve?”

    “Of course, that’s correct,” Newsie said gruffly. “Twelve! Which products use that?”

    “Well, we did previously include that in our Flingers Strawberry flavor,” Tonkin admitted as they strolled at his leisurely pace along the cubicles. “However, we discontinued its use months ago. I’m afraid your sense of urgency is somewhat misplaced, Mr Murrow.”

    “I…I see. I still require a complete inspection of your offices,” Newsie said.

    “Of course. Shall we go downstairs to the tech and advertising departments?”

    “The basement,” Newsie snapped.

    “Oh, well…all we have down there is storage files, current product samples, and the restroom,” Tonkin shrugged. “As you see, we’ve streamlined our offices a great deal in order to focus more on the products themselves. But certainly, you shall see every inch of the place.” His smile was too smug for Newsie’s comfort.

    The cat produced an elevator key to unlock the basement level, and down they went. “If it’s nothing important, why limit access?” Newsie asked.

    “Oh…this isn’t the nicest portion of real estate, you know. We had burglars last year, thinking we had a safe downstairs or something like.”

    Newsie wondered, if that was true, why the entire office was so easy to walk into, but kept his mouth shut, not wishing to blow his disguise by seeming too nosy in the wrong areas. The elevator door opened to reveal a very plain, whitewashed level full of filing cabinets, identical storage closets labeled printer supplies or ‘Hobos’ Promos or similar ordinary-sounding things. Newsie opened a few of them, finding their contents exactly as listed. He poked around in the tiny restroom, but its drain was too small for anything larger than a dustmite to come through; he doubted it even drained at all. Tonkin waited by the elevator, stroking his thick whiskers absently. When Newsie turned toward him again, the cat smiled. “See all you need, inspector?”

    Newsie glanced around one more time, trying to compare the walls with the footprint of the building on the street, but if there was room for a secret section he couldn’t tell. “I suppose,” he muttered, and joined the cat for the ride back up.

    “We wish to always be on the correct side of the FDA and health board regulations,” Tonkin assured him. “Come and have a look at our ad offices; we never even advertise a use for our cakes which they cannot be put to! Remember that failed product, the Day After Fruitcake? When consumers showed no interest in it as a food stockpiler for their nuclear shelters, we still made a profit off them by marketing them as wonderful doorstops!” He put a hand on Newsie’s shoulder, guiding him toward one of the glassed-in offices on the first floor; Newsie went along with it, trying to act mollified despite his nerves, when suddenly his nose picked up a whiff of wet, dirty fur. He whirled – and saw a greenish, clawed hand quickly closing the formal wooden door to the lobby.

    Newsie hurried after it, but the small lobby was empty except for the woman behind the desk. He looked out the front door, but saw no sign of anything monstrous on the street. “Who was that?” he demanded of the receptionist.

    She blinked at him. “I’m sorry…do you mean Mr Tonkin?”

    “No, the – person – who just left!”

    “Oh, must have been the mailman,” she replied, patting the empty outbox on her desk with a nervous chuckle. “See? Mail’s gone.”

    Newsie scowled; the scent lingered. “Can I…can I interest you in a Fooberry Hobo?” the wide-eyed Whatnot asked him.

    “Now, Miss Snorkle,” the cat purred, padding silently up behind the Newsman. “I think we’ve taken up enough of the good bureaucrat’s patience. Do send us a copy of your report, for our records, won’t you?” he asked Newsie, eyes glinting.

    “No…yes…er. I certainly will,” Newsie returned, drawing himself up and hardening his stare. He left quickly, uneasy at the certainty that the cat was laughing at him once the door closed.

    On the sidewalk, he checked again for any sign or scent of anything untoward, but the swirl of noise and movement and chemical smells negated any chance he might’ve had. He tried twice to hail a cab, then began walking north, thinking. That was a clear line of sight from the elevator to the lobby doors, couldn’t have gone that way; couldn’t have vanished that fast on the street, could it? Which leaves…which leaves… He tried to recreate the scene as he’d first viewed it, and recalled with a start: That door! Coat closet, my foot! Angrily he looked back. Just barging in again would likely get him tossed out, or arrested, or worse… He shivered, but knew he had to come back and find out what was really behind that innocuous door.

    Pembroke Tonkin shut the door to his private office, lifted the phone from his desk, and touched one button. Without waiting for a reply on the other end, he said simply, “We had a visitor. I didn’t like the look of his felt…sending you the security footage now.” He hung up, tapped a sequence of keys on his computer, and sat back in plump satisfaction. The great thing about being a controlling officer but not the president, he well knew, was that Muppets like this were happily someone else’s problem.
  10. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Mmm, I love when a fic I fondly follow's been updated.

    *<33 the first segment with :news: and Gina. They make a great couple.
    :concern: Yeah, but a couple of what?
    Hush you guys.

    At least he remembers most of what happened the night before at the theater... Water bottles from 6 o'clock nightly news broadcast, check. Smashing pumpkin to the noggin, check. Printed out email leads to the underground disappearances, check. I'm sure he'll get the rest of what happened eventually.

    Those mini egg rolls with sauce are good, we had those on New Year's night while watching the countdown and then trying to find the balldrop.

    *Is greatly amused at the weirdo's quickness in coming up with new feats of fancy free at ludicrous speed.
    What speed was that?
    Ludicrous speed, but you don't want that...
    What's the matter Colonel Sanders, are you :cluck:?
    Prep-prepare to go to ludicrous speed!

    *Is fascinated by :news:'s detective charade. Maybe we can pitch the idea of Murrow H.I. to the headhonchos at the TV studio, but we gotta be quick about it, he's got a meeting in two minutes with Steve Guttenberg's people.
    *Loves all the subtle nuances at the Nafrisco company's Manhattan offices. Shamrockies.
    Okay, will that be an order to go or will you be dining in?
    Mmm, I think we'll dine in. Just push that button to bring our ship down.

    And another nicely funny bit with Rhonda. That rat's getting praise in my book.
    Thoroughly enjoying the entire read, post more when you can.

    And happy birthday :news:
    *Leaves slice of canoli cake from Jull's.
    newsmanfan likes this.
  11. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Ludicrous speed?? Oh no... They've gone into PLAID!

    And you inspired the deep cover investigation with your suggestion for that fedora!

    :news: Er...why are we talking about plaid? *scowl* This isn't another one of those "insult my taste in clothing" threads is it?

    Rhonda: No, Seventiessofacushion, not at all! Go eat some cake.

  12. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Glad to know I could be of help. Now then, what other deviltry can we think up of?

    Also, I like how you portrayed Pembroke Tomkins. His mannerisms, at least the knowing glint in his icy blues and the way he commanded his own workplace remind me of how Shere Khan was used in Talespin.
    Oh, and Pembroke... Haven't heard that name in years, not since that old show with Scott Baio.
    Bai-o, baaaaaai-o, baylight come and we gotta go home.
    *Screams, no!, not one of the Gamera movies!
    newsmanfan likes this.
  13. Ruahnna

    Ruahnna Well-Known Member

    Wow--I'm behind! So much has happened and there's more yet to come.

    I am dismayed that Newsie cannot remember the momentous event of finding out where Snookie is. Mehopes his memory comes back in time to run to the rescue.

    I loved the melodrama bit with Piggy, although I did feel a bit sorry for Wanda. Poor thing, stuck with Wayne and always second-fiddle to Piggy. Of course, everybody is second-fiddle to Piggy....

    I was mildly repulsed (as intended, I assume) by Gonzo eating mouse-tail anything as he is good friends and sometimes roomies with a rat. Still finding the monster eating habits officially and terminally disgusting, and sorry to see the degree of back-stabbing and underhanded dealing that goes on amongst our muppet monsters. They are, after all, muppets, and one wants to like them--at least a little.

    Glad Newsie is getting a little TLC but thinks everybody needs to stop working against his journalistic instincts and let him investigate below the city. I know this must all be working toward a phenomenal showdown of some sort, but I am anxious for him to get Snookie out of there. Gonzo, I'm not so worried about. He'd ride an alligator like a surfboard through any sewer rapids without so much as blinking, so I'm sure he'll come out of the coming Armageddon with nothing but a few permanent scars.

    I'm sending chickie-hugs to Camilla--it must be as much of a trial to be married to a dare-devil as it is at times for Piggy to be married to such a boy scout. Er, frog scout. Here's hoping that he learned his lesson, comes back home and decides to seek the audience approval of those who already love him best.

    Speaking of--if we're voting, I'm with those that think Rhonda is not-so-much Mom material. But what a wardrobe, eh?

    Keep writing, chicka--I'm gonna keep reading!
  14. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    (Author's Note: the views of all monsters expressed within this story, including dietary preferences, are purely the monsters'. Newsmanfan accepts no responsibility for these views and is only presenting them as commentary. Concerning diet, which previously had been an issue for some readers, may we remind the public that on at least one occasion, Gorgon Heap devoured Wayne Butkus. There is no accounting for taste.)

    Part Twenty-Three

    “Hey, it’s my turn!”

    “It’s my turn! You know, you remind me of a jack o’lantern!”

    The jowly gent with dark gray hair on the sides of his head but nothing on top scowled at his longtime companion. “Eh? How’s that?”

    The rotund elderly Muppet with a frizz of white hair chuckled as he delivered his punchline: “Because you’ve got a big mouth and nothing at all in your head!”

    “Is that the best you could come up with?” Statler huffed as he moved his knight to set up a check. “You remind me of a spiderweb!”

    “Oh? Why’s that?” Waldorf studied the board a moment, then calmly moved his king out of harm’s way.

    “Because your logic is all sticky and blows away with the wind!” To illustrate, Statler tried to blow the thin toupee off the top of Waldorf’s skull, only to wind up wheezing and coughing. Waldorf laughed gleefully. Their usual parley was interrupted by a blue, balding Whatnot in a dull navy blue suit.

    “Pardon me, gentlemen, for disturbing you on such a fine day. I wonder if you’ve sent in your donations this year for the Muppet Anti-Discrimination League charity drive?”

    Waldorf peered closely at the newcomer. “Have we sexed a door station for who?”

    “You need a new hearing aid,” Statler grumped. “He’s talking about Muppets!”

    “Muffins? Sure I’d like a muffin! How much are they?”

    “Gentlemen, no doubt you’ve heard of our organization,” Bland (or perhaps Blander) continued, undaunted. “With the help of generous citizens such as yourself, we’ve been able to pressure companies to hire more Muppets, and to enable job-seeking, upstanding folk with felt to pursue any career they wish! I should mention we’re hosting a catered dinner and award presentation for Muppets who’ve done the most good for their fellow-felted next weekend, at a local theatre, wherein anyone who’s donated more than five hundred dollars will receive a beautiful certificate, suitable for framing…”

    “Hootable raisins? He’s not listening,” Waldorf complained to Statler. “Tell him I don’t like bran!”

    Irritated, the long-jawed Muppet shook his head. To the lawyer he said, “Ignore him, he forgot to put his brain in this morning. So you’re telling me you support Muppets?”

    “That’s right,” Blander (unless it was actually Bland) agreed. “Our charity needs your support as well, in order to continue the work we set out to accomplish years ago: to see to it that every Muppet, every Whatnot, every Anything, is able to work and live in an environment free of prejudice from the non-felted! We donate our time to the legal cases against discrimination in the workplace, but continuing to lobby for equal feltrights in the legislature requires more than my associates and I can—“

    “Why is he going on about belted muffins?” Waldorf demanded. Frustrated, Statler smacked him on the side of his skull; a small ear of decorative Indian corn popped out of the Muppet’s ear. Waldorf looked at it in surprise. “So that’s where that went to! Astoria always insists I help with the decorating, and then complains I do it all wrong…”

    “So how much would you gentlemen care to donate this year?” the lawyer asked, trying to keep his pitch from being upstaged.

    “Donate? I already gave at the office,” Waldorf said.

    “What office? You’ve been retired longer than most of the work force has been alive!” Statler pointed out indignantly.

    “The DMV office! I gave ‘em my drivers’ license!” Waldorf chortled.

    “You old coot! You haven’t even owned a car since that Stutz Bearcat back in…in…”

    “That’s not the point! They thanked me – even gave me a certificate of appreciation for staying off the road!”

    “Gentlemen!” the Whatnot shouted, startling the codgers into momentary attention. “Please…this is a very serious issue! Hundreds of Muppets in this very city face discrimination and ridicule every day from the ignorant and the uneducated! We don’t just act in the workplace; we also have a bill before the state senate to introduce Muppet Studies into the core curriculum of the public school system. If we are to eliminate discrimination against all Muppets, we must—“

    “End discrimination against ‘em?” Statler exclaimed, incredulous. “Heck no!”

    “We’ve been trying for decades to encourage people to heckle ‘em!” Waldorf agreed emphatically. “Doh, ho ho ho!”

    “You…you want people to ridicule your felted brethren?” the lawyer asked, startled.

    “My miniscule melted Excedrin?” Waldorf frowned. “Statler, this fellow isn’t making any sense!”

    “Let’s get back to the game,” Statler suggested. “My move.”

    “It is not!” Waldorf growled, and picking up a pawn, jumped it over all the remaining pieces to land finally on the opposite side of the board. “Ha! King me!”

    “That’s checkers, you idiot!”

    “Why are we talking about Dick Nixon now?” The white-haired geezer scowled. “Has the world gone mad today? None of you are making any sense!”

    As the disappointed lawyer moved off into the park, looking for more likely prospects, Statler yelled at his heckling partner, “Take the corn out of your other ear, you old fool!”

    Dr Van Neuter carefully added a few drops of warmed giant spider venom to the Pyrex container clamped over a low flame. The spider, none too happy about having been milked, grumped, “Are we done here?”

    Van Neuter waved a backward hand absently at the arachnid. “Well I’m not, but you go spin your web or whatever it is you do, Muriel.”

    “The name’s Warren,” the spider snarled, jumped onto the ceiling, and scuttled away.

    “Whatever,” Van Neuter muttered, focused on the exact temperature of the solution. Just as it came to a bubbling boil, he grabbed it with heavy-duty pliers, removed it from the burner stand, and poured it into a gigantic syringe. Capping it off quickly, he brushed a hand across his forehead in relief. “Well! All ready! Roll up your sleeve, please!” He chuckled as the show host gave him a steely stare. “Whoops, silly me, you don’t have sleeves anymore! Just sit still then.”

    Fauxworthy, chained to a heavy lab table, offered no comment. Van Neuter stuck the sharp end of the syringe under the bright yellow-spotted purple fur on the altered Whatnot’s arm, and depressed the plunger all the way…which took a good minute and a half. Fauxworthy winced, but held his tongue; it tended to drag the ground now if he didn’t. “Wonderful! Oh, you’re such a good patient! Thatch, give this good boy a lollipop!” Pausing, Van Neuter realized that might be inappropriate now. “Uh…or would you rather have a critter cookie?”

    Thatch McGurk ambled over, a ceramic cookie jar in the shape of a famous blue googly-eyed monster in one hand and an oversized lolly in the other. “Ahfrazza blah?”

    Fauxworthy, feeling the serum burning its way through his veins, turned his head away, stoically refusing to give in to a groan. In the past few days, he’d suffered crows’ feet, fur over his upper torso, a rubbery tongue and a beak where his nose used to be. He gripped the table with still vaguely-Muppet hands, bracing for the inevitable change, while Van Neuter and his monstrous assistant watched eagerly. “Oh for crying out loud, you should be bursting into spikes by now!” Van Neuter complained. He whirled on the elder McGurk. “Did you get me the centipede teeth like I asked? Those better not have been millipede fangs, you lazy fluffball!”

    “Bahrazza sebbipeeza mah gugga!” McGurk protested. A series of quick popping noises made both swing back to see Fauxworthy burst out in…enormous pink butterfly wings. Muppet and monster blinked and stared.

    “Oh bloody frog,” Fauxworthy muttered. “Incompetent mad scientists, yet!”

    “Who’re you calling mad? I am positively ecstatic about that!” Van Neuter crowed. “Look at that, Thatch! Flight! The dream of men and Muppets alike, ever since the first experimental flight of the kittyhawk!”

    “The locale was Kitty Hawk, you myopic crank,” the host grumbled, test-flapping the new appendages with a sour look on his beaky, mustached face. “Clearly, that elongated cranium of yours is due to the air bubbles in your brain.” His feet didn’t leave the ground one inch, and Van Neuter’s expression fell.

    “Oh, drat! And I put in three milliliters of kittyhawk extract, too!” He turned to a nearby cage, where a tiny brown-tabby kitten with huge batwings placidly lapped at a saucer of milk. “Hm. Perhaps the beast needs to be a grown adult instead of a fledgling kitten…”

    “Kah hazzah no goobah?” Thatch wondered, hungrily eyeballing the tiny caged beast, but when he reached a hand toward the cage latch, a fast, vicious swat of a clawed paw made him jerk back with a yelp.

    “Stop annoying the test material,” Van Neuter scolded the monster, though he didn’t look up from the formula printout on his clipboard. “Oh, well. Every setback is a kind of progress, as the captain of the Hindenburg said…Thatch, fetch me the muzzle. We have to get Geoff here back to his cell in time for his next show taping.” He smiled pleasantly at Fauxworthy as Thatch, sulkily sucking his injured fingers, trudged off to find the beak-shaped safety muzzle. “So, which is it today – Drainpipe or whatsit, that other one with the four-by-fours…”

    “Truck Monsters,” Fauxworthy grumbled. “Paragons of culture both. Does it really matter? The target audience is interchangeable.”

    “Interchangeable! That’s it!” Van Neuter exclaimed. “Oh! Oh! I’m such a sillyfoam! The answer was right in front of me!” He whirled around to find himself face-to-face with a confused purple-feathered monster with three eyes. “Thatch! Hold it right there!”

    “Uh?” the monster wondered, when abruptly the vet stuck a needle right between all three eyes. “Ugga!”

    “I said hold still!” Van Neuter complained. He held up a few precious drops of green fluid in a tiny syringe. “Of course! Feathered monster blood!”

    “Ungha,” Thatch groaned, then slumped to the floor.

    Oblivious, the vet turned back around and jabbed the needle into the same vein he’d suffused earlier on Fauxworthy. “I say, old jabberwocky, that’s hardly sanitary!” the host protested.

    “Oh, no worries, the centipede fang venom will destroy any lingering Hep Z. Now…how does that feel?” Van Neuter asked, examining his subject closely. Fauxworthy began shivering, and shaking, and threw back his head for a loud caw. Suddenly his eyes changed, almost disappearing under heavy blue lids, and the butterfly wings flumphed out into huge pink webbed wings instead. Glumly, Fauxworthy peered over his shoulder at them, and flapped once; the chains creaked as the Muppet-monster hybrid rose into the air and then resettled. “Thatch! I did it! I did it! Hooray for me!” Van Neuter cried, doing a little happy dance in place.

    McGurk raised a woozy horned head, his tongue sticking out more than usual. “Gazza?”

    “Yes! Yes! Just look at those wings! Oh, tell me, and remember, this is for posterity, so please be honest: how do you feel?” he asked Fauxworthy.

    “Like I may be ill at any moment,” the former Whatnot groaned, turning away as much as he could.

    A long, toothy snout sidled around the doorframe of the lab. The doglizard stared at the half-monster chained to the table. “Why have you ressstrained thisss…” He stopped, and looked more closely; Fauxworthy peered sullenly back. “Isss thiss the ssshow hossst?”

    “Yes! You thought it was a real monster, didn’t you!” Van Neuter crowed, pointing a rubber-gloved finger joyously at the boss’ flunky.

    “It iss indeed impressssive progresss,” Eustace admitted, edging around the freak to draw the tall veterinarian aside for a private chat. “Hisss dark-and-murkinessss is impatient to advanssse this project quickly! Have you readied hisss transssformative ssserum yet?”

    Van Neuter threw his hands in the air, this time in exasperation rather than jubilance. “Rush, rush, rush! What’s the hurry? Obviously I’m making progress; just take another look at that wonderful hybrid!”

    Eustace grimaced. He personally didn’t approve of mixing pureblood monsters and this…creature Van Neuter was in the process of gleefully remodeling to his own whim. If such half-things were permitted to blend into the underground, what would become of the glorious monster race? Bad enough those Frackles had been welcomed in, he thought; of course he would never express such distaste aloud. It might get back to the underlord, and the underlord’s wishes were not to be questioned… To the mad vet, the doglizard said merely, “I sssaw it. I will inform his ssslitherinesss of it. However, he isss anxiousss to prossseed with the Grand Assscenssion.”

    Van Neuter blew out a breath so long it was in danger of sounding close to a raspberry. “Well, fine! Then you tell him I need better test subjects! I mean, working with Muppets is fun, I’ll grant you, any day of the week – but if your boss wants me to make him—“

    “Sssshhhh!” Eustace growled, raising a claw to strike the foolish doctor, then thinking better of it. His sliminess would have Eustace’s tail for a coach-whip if anything happened to the vet which set back this secret project. He vastly resented the fact that Van Neuter had been permitted a private audience with the underlord, at which, rumor had it, the vet had actually been permitted to gaze upon the unutterable horror of the dark leader’s person without concealment! And yet, after such an indescribable honor, one which had reportedly driven lesser Frackles mad, this idiot of a Muppet was treating his sacred contract with the underlord as…as something frivolous! Angry, Eustace lashed his long tail. A few feet away, Thatch yelped in protest, then went to find a Band-aid, grumbling.

    “Hey, I’m the only one allowed to maim my assistants!” Van Neuter complained. “It’s in my contract!”

    “Jussst remember whom that contract isss with, you flighty fool,” the doglizard snarled.

    “Flighty! Oh that’s a good one!” Van Neuter giggled. He bounded over to the mostly-changed Whatnot, stroking a wing. “Do you like the pink? I think Thatch must have a recessive gene; I was expecting purple!”

    “I will inform hisss horridnesss that you require different sssubjectsss,” Eustace spat out, disgusted with the entire business. “Get thisss…creature back to his ssssell. It isss almosst time for hisss next performansse.”

    “Thatch! Where is that muzzle! Thatch!” Van Neuter sighed, frustrated, not noticing the doglizard’s exit. “Honestly! I think Mulch was actually faster and better-trained!” When repeated yells failed to produce his assistant, the vet unhooked the chain from the table and tugged at Fauxworthy’s collar. “Well, come on, then, let’s get you back down to--- waaauuugh!” The half-monster beat his new wings, lifting himself and Van Neuter about a foot off the floor, then crashing down on top of the skinny vet. “Oh my! Well…that was very…very well done…good boy…” Van Neuter puffed, trying to extricate himself from beneath the birdlike feet. He looked up into the very sharp beak and angry furrowed brows of the maligned host crouching over him. “Ummm…”

    A camerafrackle plunked down a tripod and began setting up his equipment. “Ready ta shoot in a sec,” it said.

    “You were supposed to be here an hour ago!” Van Neuter protested. “I can’t film now, I have to get Geoffy here back to his…er, his…” He blinked up in growing awareness of just how sharp he’d made that beak, and how unhappy with his scientifically groundbreaking status the Whatnot seemed to be. “Why are you looking at me like that? Uh…nice birdie! Good boy –waaaaaahhh!”

    The Frackle shook his head, annoyed. Why couldn’t they ever wait until he was fully set up? Sighing, he went ahead and turned on the camera, focusing on-the-fly while the half-monster expressed his displeasure at what had been done to him…although the ferocity with which that beak nipped and ripped suggested perhaps a monsterish nature was surfacing in the formerly blasé show host. The soundfrackle showed up, and exclaimed at the scene: “Oh come on! I didn’t bring the fuzzy mike – no one told me there’d be screaming today!”

    The orange-furred one manning the camera shrugged. “Professionalism is a dying animal, George. Do whatcha can.”

    “I swear to ya, Pete, no more vet gigs! No more! Ya hear me? I’m tired of this! Last one!” the long-nosed dark blue monster grumbled as he tried to capture the highest squeaks in Van Neuter’s shrieking voice.

    Pete peered around the eyepiece a moment. “Ya may get your wish on that, George.”

    Rhonda found her reporter sitting coatless and tieless and frowning at a sheet of paper. “Were you thinking of doing your segment more casually tonight? That’s actually a good look for you,” the rat commented, appraising the Newsman from the doorway of his dressing-room.

    Embarrassed, he hastily went to the coatrack and picked out one of his brown plaid standbys and a brown-and-red striped tie. “No. I…er…had to drop my jacket at the cleaner’s on the way in…I walked all the way from the Bowery, and there was a puddle of standing liquid at a curb, and a taxicab…”

    “Gotcha,” Rhonda said, shaking her head. “Good thing you keep a supply of plaid on hand for just such situations.”

    “Foresight is the journalist’s best friend,” Newsie responded seriously.

    “Does Gina know you still wear those? Never mind. Why were you in the Bowery?”

    He filled her in on his adventure earlier at Nofrisko. “I’m positive it was that…that big green thing that hangs around the theatre sometimes! There has to be a secret entrance to the tunnels in that office!”

    Rhonda quirked her ears sideways. “Wait…are you talking about that bigmouthed black-lagoony thing that danced with Alice Cooper, back in the day? Newsie, that thing couldn’t fit down the ConEd tunnels! And why would a snack company be in league with suspicious monsters?”

    “Nofrisko owns MMN,” Newsie pointed out, tapping off each item on his fingertips: “MMN shows a lot of monster-oriented programming! They also own the production studio which makes those same monsterish shows – and it was someone at that studio who was claiming to be me – and there have been monsters all over the asylum where my aunt lives, not the least of which are those two freakish chenille things that put her in the hospital in the first place!” Seeing Rhonda about to object, he added, “And I smelled that same wet, dirty fur stench, in the Nofrisko office, right before I caught a glimpse of the monster! Rhonda – do you – um…” Looking sheepish, he whispered gruffly, “Do you have any rat friends who know how to break into places?”

    The rat’s eyes were wide. She stood stock-still a long moment, then slowly shook her head. “I never. Ever. Thought you would ask for something like that!”

    Dropping to a crouch to look her in the eyes, Newsie grasped her paw in both his hands, gently. “Rhonda, I don’t know what else to do! I have to get in there and find out what the frog is going on! It’s…there’s so many leads to this, so many angles, it’s driving me up the wall! I know it’s all connected, all of it!”

    “You start pinning notes to the wall and connecting them with string, and so help me, I will call your aunt’s loony bin myself and ask if you two can share a room!” Rhonda took her paw back, and nervously fluffed out her hair. “Look, not even Woodward and Bernstein ever broke in anyplace – they just talked to the guy who knew the guys who broke inta places! That kinda stuff is for the cops, Newsie. Why don’t you go find your friend on the force and –“

    “He’s on administrative leave, remember?” Frustrated, he realized he still hadn’t put on his tie or a fresh jacket, and tossed the tie angrily around his neck, tucking it under his shirtcollar. “Rhonda, no one else is going to follow any of these leads, and they all seem to be pointing to something big and nasty happening underground! We need to find a way in and get proof enough to expose it for anyone else to take it seriously! We should—“

    Rhonda leaped up, grabbed one end of the knot he was tying, and yanked on it with just enough strength to pull a startled Newsie down until his nose bumped hers. “We do not have to do anything, you brown plaid foamhead! Will you look at what this obsession is doing to you? You’ve already made yourself sick once, and you just impersonated a health inspector, and now you’re talking about breaking and entering! What is wrong with you!”

    Regaining his presence of mind, though still bent over and half-choked by his exasperated producer, the Newsman yelled at her, “I am a newsman! I follow the story, and frog it, rat, this is the story! What the hey is wrong with you that you’re not?!”

    His bellow had blown Rhonda’s hair all over; glaring, she released his tie to smooth it out again. He straightened his back, returning the glare. Neither of them said anything for a few seconds. With a huff, Newsie turned away from her and used the long mirror over the makeup counter to fix his tie. He pulled on his jacket and adjusted his cuffs properly, brain aswirl in a sea of facts and hunches, feeling deeply hurt. When Rhonda climbed onto the counter, he glanced at her, then back at his own reflection, stonily silent.

    “Okay,” Rhonda said quietly. They looked at each other in the mirror. Rhonda sighed, and her voice was much more gentle. “But Goldie…what if you’re wrong? What if you get arrested? You’ll lose your job, Gina will wonder if you just sustained one too many head injuries, and…and…well, you’ll feel like a total idiot.”

    Newsie took a deep breath, gazing unfocused at his hands. He’d considered all of that; worried about it, gone over and over the events, the coincidences, and the undisputable facts during his walk uptown this afternoon. “I feel like that most of the time anyway,” he muttered. He raised his eyes once more, and met Rhonda’s gaze in the mirror.

    His expression was so open, so earnest, that for an instant Rhonda understood what Gina saw in the misfit journalist. Then she noticed the spot of street gunk on the underside of his jaw, and snickered. He shot her a very hurt look, and the rat sighed and grabbed a tissue to wipe the spot off his felt. “You’re an idiot.”

    He grimaced at her, but the anger dissipated. “Are you in or out?” he growled.

    She took out a compact and powdered her nose lightly, although she knew perfectly well she’d have to do so again before six o’clock rolled around. “I gotta nephew that can pick any lock, and I mean any. I don’t usually deal with him or his father ‘cept to say hiya at family dinners, and this is not something I want to ever hear from anyone else’s lips around here, but…yeah. You could say I’m connected.”

    Newsie, surprised, started to smile. “Rhonda…your family is…Family?”

    “What did I just say about lips and certain terms? What did you just hear me say?”

    “So when can you…”

    “Let’s wait ‘til after the party tomorrow. I say middle of the day Sunday.”

    “What? T-try to break in, in broad daylight?”

    “Trust me, sunshine. Get one of Beau’s coveralls and caps; you guys are almost the same height, should fit ya all right. People sneaking inta a place middle of the night, people notice…painters coming on a weekend to do a little work, nobody cares.”

    “Painters…Rhonda, that’s genius.”

    “Gawd, I cannot believe I am agreeing to call ‘Fredo,” the rat sighed. “Are you one hundred per cent sure you saw a monster hand?”

    “Saw it, smelled it.” He scowled briefly. “I keep wondering why you don’t smell these things! I thought rat noses were pretty keen!”

    “Uh, well…sad to admit, but certain odors we just kinda…don’t notice. This is more attuned to fine cuisine. And finely crafted French perfumes that sell for hundreds and up per ounce, of course.” Rhonda twitched her delicate whiskers at him; he wondered if she might actually be blushing.

    “Of course,” he agreed at once, grinning. “Um…I’ll keep going through the emailed leads. There may yet be something useful in all that garbage. And I want to show this to Dr Honeydew tonight…” He retrieved the paper the Nofrisko product tester had given him, with the ingredients for Shamrockies. “I want to know why a snack cake company is supporting a pro-monster network.”

    Rhonda shivered. “Iccch. You don’t think they’re putting weird stuff in the Fwinkies, do you? ‘Cause I’ve—I mean, my nieces and nephews have, uh, eaten that stuff a time or two…”

    Newsie shrugged. “I can’t tell what half of this stuff even is! I’m hoping the scientists can shed some light on it.”

    “Or enlighten us about the shedding,” Rhonda said, reading over the list. “Muppalepus snarlodontus 3x? What is this, homeopathic fur use? Newsie, that was the name of the extinct monster rabbit that attacked Kermit at the Museum this summer!”

    Embarrassed at not having caught that, Newsie took the paper back and studied it. “I wanted to learn Latin, but Mother said she didn’t want me to be a pansy bookworm…” he muttered.

    “Okay, look, how about this,” Rhonda said, tiny brows scrunched. “You keep at those possible leads from our darling viewers. I’ll research more on MMN; I wanna know what’s so compelling about their game show thing that has people watching it instead of the news on Saturday nights. At the very least, what the hey, we’ll find some way to scoop the ratings competitors, right? We keep our noses clean around here –“ She gave the Newsman an annoyed glare when he checked the underside of his nose for any more stains from his unfortunate puddle encounter. “—and Sunday we’ll go check out the Coat Closet of Doom, okay?” She sighed. “Does this mean you’ve given up on exploring the subway tunnels?”

    “No. But Gina had a good suggestion: take Sweetums with us.”

    Rhonda stared at him. “He’s a troll.”

    “I know that!” He couldn’t meet her eyes. “I, uh, was informed I may have been a little unfair to him…Gina trusts him.”

    “You are a tightly-wound yellow fuzzy heap of contradictions, ya know that?” Rhonda shrugged. “Fine. Anything else got your newsie-sense tingling?”


    “Nothing. Look, Blanke’s been patrolling the halls acting all jumpy the past hour; let’s get down to brass tacks on tonight’s stories, okay? Best not to provoke him right now.”

    “Why is he jumpy? Has…has there been some other trouble with a sponsor?” Newsie wondered.

    Before Rhonda could even speculate, the dressing-room door slammed open and a very agitated Harlan Grosse Point Blanke strode in. “You! Do you have any idea how much trouble you’re in?” Blanke roared.

    “Er – uh –“ Newsie gulped. “…No?”

    “What did I tell you about no more special reports?” Blanke shouted. “And I find out that today, not even twenty-four hours after I reined you and your big nose in, you’ve been harassing our parent company, poking around over some trumped-up health violation! Well I have had it with you Muppets!”

    Newsie’s jaw dropped; even Rhonda looked frightened. “Our…parent company? Nofrisko? Our parent company?”

    “Danged right Nofrisko! They own fifty-two percent of our stock! Just what the hey did you think you were doing? They have you on tape impersonating a health inspector and interrogating the CEO at his office this afternoon! Nofrisko has nothing to do with those blasted hamsterburgers! What possible reason did you have for going over there?” Blanke continued to yell, turning beet-red down past his collar.

    “Uh, you might wanna loosen your tie,” Rhonda piped up uncertainly.

    “And I warned you to keep him in line!” Blanke turned on her angrily.

    “But – but – since when has Nofrisko owned this station?” Newsie sputtered, stunned. Oh frog! That means there could be a connection to all this right here in the building! I never thought to check the drains here!

    “Why were you over there?” Blanke demanded, still apoplectic. “Just what sort of cloak-and-dagger B.S. do you think you’re playing at, Muppet? You read the news! That’s it! And you know what? That’s it is right! I hired you to avoid that silly lawsuit by the ACLU and MADL, not because I wanted you to play industrial spy! Your special reports are ridiculous, your on-air segments are a joke, and your weekend anchor spot was only supposed to be temporary until I could find someone else willing to work that cheap! Muppet, you are fired!” He thrust a shaking finger at Rhonda. “And you are demoted, as of this instant, to coffee rat!”

    “I didn’t do anything wrong!” Newsie cried, recovering from his shock just as Blanke was turning to leave the room. “There is a story involving Nofrisko, whether they own us or not! And – and you can’t fire me for actually practicing investigative journalism! I’ll go right to those MADL people and tell them how – how prejudiced you are! See how your wonderful parent company likes you being cause for a very public lawsuit!”

    “And I do not fetch coffee for anyone!” Rhonda yelled, planted in a fighting stance atop the makeup counter. “You’re nothing but a slave in a suit! How dare you threaten a reporter doing his job, or a rat doing hers!”

    Blanke looked about to boil. Yanking down his tie, gulping for breath, he stared at the two outraged journalists with wide, crazed eyes. “I –I – then – then you’re both suspended! The FCC and the FBI and – and everyone else I can think of will review your personnel files and this latest act of insubordination and then you’ll be fired, and lawsuits be d—d!” He gasped, looking on the verge of spontaneous combustion. “Now get out of this studio, both of you! I don’t want to see either of you back here until you’re standing in front of a review board! Out! Out!”

    Blanke stormed down the hall. Rhonda heard a soft murmur starting up out there, as people wondered what had just taken place. The Newsman grabbed loosely at the back of his chair, and sat down hard. “He…he can’t…he can’t…”

    “Good reporters have been fired for messing with the corporate masters before,” Rhonda muttered darkly. “You know what? Now I believe there’s more to this story, Goldie.”

    People glanced into the room as they passed by. Humiliated, the Newsman rose and slammed the door. To be degraded like that in front of everyone! Gulping, fierce tears wanting to escape from his eyes, Newsie gasped, “My…my reports are not ridiculous! They’re not!” He fell into his chair once more, shaking. Suddenly he thought of the Tarot card showing the bully, and Gina’s prediction about a cruel humiliation. “Oh…oh frog…he can’t…he can’t…” Desperately he looked over at Rhonda, still standing tall on the counter.

    She shook her head. “We’ll fight it, hon, but ya know, money talks louder than the truth too often. Geez, I still can’t believe you posed as a health inspector. That’s more like Scribbler than you, Newsie! They might actually nail you on that one.”

    Choking up, he buried his face in both hands. Rhonda pulled out her cell phone and texted one of the contacts she kept in memory. “Get your stuff together,” she said to the distraught Muppet. “Security’ll be in here to toss us any second.”

    He rose shakily and pulled his spare coats off their hangers. “Who…who are you calling?”

    “Your girl. Tellin’ her to meet us at the Muppet Theatre. You should be among friends right now…plus I’m sure alla them will want to know there actually is anti-Muppet discrimination going on. I’ll get the MADL people’s number next.”

    “This is complete bull,” Newsie spat, pulling the strap for his laptop case securely over his left shoulder.

    “You called?” rumbled the security guard. Hard hands grabbed Newsie’s elbow and tossed him roughly into the hallway. “Your clearance is revoked. Get out.”

    “Philistine,” Rhonda sniffed, scurrying out of the bull’s reach. “Touch me and pull back a bloody hoof, buddy!”

    Being Muppethandled wasn’t the worst part, though Newsie was sure a bruise would show on his arm; seeing Blanke turning away and shutting the door to his office, on the phone – no doubt with the station’s lawyers – wasn’t the worst. Having to walk out of the building with every single employee, from the weathergirl to the techs to the receptionist, staring curiously at him every step of the way…that was the worst. He climbed into the cab Rhonda flagged down and turned away from her, wiping the moisture from his eyes. Did the rest of them think the same as Blanke? Was he just a joke to them all? He kept his eyes closed the entire ride to the theatre, holding everything in as best he could.

    He wished he’d never asked for a card reading. He wished he’d never conceived the idea of bluffing his way into the Nofrisko office. He wished there really was no such thing as monsters. And more than anything, he wished he could curl up in his beloved’s arms and pretend it was all better.

    She was waiting for him in the green room, and while Rhonda gathered everyone else around to explain why the normally-sturdy Newsman appeared so upset, Gina took him up into the lighting bay for some privacy, and simply held him, and for a little while he was able to pretend. For a little while.

    Constanza la Whatnot, huddled tightly into her new leather jacket with the bejeweled outline of a stinkbomb on the back, darted across the darkened plaza to the port-a-potties. Every one she knocked on turned out to be occupied. “Oh come on,” she muttered after several minutes’ wait. “Hey, I’m as legitimately in need here as any of you unfelted people! You can’t deny me a restroom because of my felt!”

    A taller girl in line behind her sighed, also shivering and bundled in a heavy coat against the chill night. “Nobody’s denying anything. That chili was a bad idea.” The formerly-blue Whatnot turned a grim scowl up to the girl, daring her to say anything about the neon-pink splotches decorating her cheeks, but the girl had facial tattoos and multiple piercings and wasn’t likely to judge. She gave the little Muppet a wan smile, and nodded across the street. “I heard they set up more toilets over in the alley. You could see if any of those are free, if you don’t want to wait.”

    “That’s, like, a long run,” Stinkbomb argued, but when the line didn’t move one step after another couple of minutes, she blew out an impatient breath and dashed between the tents covering the plaza. A few people still lingered around the food stations, and the cops hadn’t yet done anything about the trash-fire in an empty garbage can, so food and getting warm might still be possibilities tonight before she crawled into a cold sleeping bag in her own pup tent; but right now, her most immediate need was that empty sanitation stall, oh good, it was empty! Brightening considerably, Stinkbomb headed right for the port-a-potty.

    When she trotted in front of the open manhole, an enormous pair of green, furry hands grabbed her. Her squeak was immediately stifled, and then the only sound in the alley was the scrape of metal on stone as the manhole cover resettled. The group of young men ten feet away arguing over which bank to picket in the morning never saw or heard a thing, never noticed the small blue girl never re-emerged from the alley, and when Bland checked on her tent Saturday morning, he only sighed in discouraged acceptance.

    These young people, so undependable, he thought, leaving the few belongings as he found them. Well, joining the Occupiers had been a bit of a long shot anyway… The lawyer checked his phone, seeing he’d missed a few calls, and chided himself for leaving it silenced all night…but then again, a Muppet needed his sleep, didn’t he? Forthright Bland called his voicemail and wandered off down Wall Street, passing by the alley where another disappearance had occurred, never thinking to even turn his head.
  15. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Twenty-Four (I)

    Emily Bear fluffed out the sheaves of cornstalks she’d just tied to the porch posts, smiling as the sound of a sputtering engine hove around the last bend in the gravel drive. Turning, she dusted her hands on her cheery pumpkin-design apron and watched the old Chevy truck screech to an ungainly halt uncomfortably close to the tractor. Her son clambered down from the passenger side with a distinct air of relief at having survived the trip. The grayish, large-nosed creature behind the wheel turned to yell at the bevy of pigs all clinging to the rails in the back: “We’re here!”

    “Ma! We made it!” Fozzie announced, eagerly running up for a hug.

    “I’m so glad you all could come!” Emily laughed, and swiped Fozzie’s hat off to tousle his fur. Embarrassed, he grabbed it and jammed it back on his head. “Well! I hope all of you came ready to work! There’s a lot to be done before the other guests arrive!”

    One of the pigs snorted as he looked around: the tractor barn and grain silo painted a traditional red, the white farmhouse with its cheery red-and-yellow check curtains, and the young ornamental maples in the front yard seemed to elicit more contempt than pleasure. “Thought I went to the city to get off the farm,” he muttered. However, the other pigs all snorked and sniffed the fresh air scented with turning leaves and grunted their approval.

    “Ma, this is Beauregard, I dunno if you remember –“

    “Of course! Hardest worker at the Muppet Theatre!” Emily beamed, and Beau blushed and took off his cap politely. “Nice to see you porkers as well! Now, we have all these decorations to get up, and solar lights to set up in the corn maze, and the games will need to be organized and I expect you all to referee them,” the elderly bear proclaimed. The pigs looked resigned, nodding, so Emily smiled and added, “There’s a mess of corn pancakes and stewed apples that’ll be waiting as your breakfast just as soon as you—“

    The yard cleared instantly, and within seconds there were pigs on the porch roof tacking up swags of fall leaves, setting jack-o’lanterns in every window, and hustling armfuls of solar globes on stakes into the nearby cornfield. Emily grinned. “Works every time.”

    “Uh, what can I do, ma’am?” Beau asked.

    “Well Mr Beauregard, I have a special job just for you,” Emily said. “I need you to take that wheelbarrow there into the woods and gather up the biggest logs you can carry for the bonfire tonight! We’ll set it up right over there.” She pointed to a flat, cleared area down near the cow-pond, perhaps fifty yards from the outbuildings. “There’s a chainsaw in the barn. Do you know how to use one?”

    “Oh, sure!” Beau replied, eyes alight with the joy of responsibility. “I’ll build you the biggest, bestest bonfire you’ve ever seen!”

    “Ma, I don’t know dat Beau is the best person for the job,” Fozzie whispered, but the janitor was already sliding the barn door wide and rummaging loudly through the tool area.

    “Pish posh, son. Come on now; here’s a list of the games we came up with for people to play. Some are for daytime and some are for night-time; I want you to gather supplies and put them down here by the porch for the pigs to set up, all righty?” Smiling at the bustle all around, Emily went inside to the kitchen to fix the promised breakfast, humming Van Morrison’s “Moondance” as she set about her task. Fozzie sighed, reading over the list. Most of the games he was familiar with: pumpkin bowling, pumpkin relay race, apple bobbing…he followed his mother inside, puzzled.

    “Ma? What’s dis one?”

    She glanced at the paper. “The Goblin City? Oh, that’s just a fun name for the candy hunt. That one’ll be in the cellar. You just need to set up those cutouts and hide the candy.” Emily nodded over at a stack of cardboard goblins painted in various hideous poses.

    “Oh, okay,” Fozzie sighed. “For a minute dere I was worried dis was gonna be something scary!”

    Emily cackled. “Oh no, if you want scary, wait ‘til you see the corn maze! That’ll be a real challenge for your friends!”

    Fozzie groaned softly, but decided he probably didn’t want to know. He was about to go back to his assignment when another question hit him. “Uh, Ma? What do you mean, games that we came up with? I don’t remember helping with this list!”

    “No, son. That would be myself and Dora.”

    “Dora? Dora Bruin?”

    “Did you forget she was coming tonight?”

    “I was kinda hoping she had to cancel,” Fozzie sighed.

    Emily shot him a wry smile as she stirred the batter. “Tsk, tsk! She was very insistent about it! I had to promise her you’d be here!”

    “You what? Oh, Maaaaa! Last time I saw her, I…I…dere was all dat stuff with the Wormwood Soames story, and…and…oh I’m so ashamed,” Fozzie moaned.

    Emily patted his shoulder. “Yes, you made a total fool of yourself. Luckily she still thinks you’re cute! Better get started on those games, son. Lots of work to do!” Calmly she shooed him out of the kitchen, singing happily: “Oh, with the moon and the stars up above, it’s a marvelous night for a romance…”

    Wishing he’d suddenly come down with cluckitis or something equally unrecognizable, Fozzie trudged outside, staring at the dashing, jumping, hammering, snorting pigs, completely unable now to share their enthusiasm. Why on earth did Dora want to see him again? Unhappily certain he’d manage to make an even bigger fool of himself with the costume he’d chosen, he sighed and tried to make sense of the jumble of party supplies.

    Gina found her Newsman sitting glumly on the bed. “Sweetie? You’re not dressed to go? We need to get moving; we said we’d meet at the rental car place at eleven-thirty.”

    He shook his head. “I’m sorry. I just…I can’t…” he sighed. “I’m not really feeling up for a party.”

    Gina knelt at the bedside to stroke his cheek. “Look. You need to get out and have some fun. Trust me on this; a party is exactly the right move.”

    He raised his eyes to meet hers, frowning. “How can I be expected to enjoy anything right now? I’m on suspension, my station is a pawn of that creepy snack company, there are monsters below the city planning something horrible, my aunt is on life support, I still have no clue where my cousin is…”

    Gina drew him into her embrace, and whispered in his ear: “Which is exactly why you need to just step away from it all for a little while. Do you know what Gypsies do when there’s a death or a disaster?” He looked at her uncertainly, and she explained, “They have a celebration.”

    “Because things are bad? Seems like a form of denial!”

    “Because they’re still alive, and they have one another,” Gina corrected softly. She kissed the tip of his nose and caressed his unhappily set jaw. “And you have your friends, and you have that lawyer who’s going to help with the idiots at your station, and you have me.”

    Feeling guilty, Newsie gave in to a kiss. “You really think this will help?”

    “You’re wound up so tight right now I’m surprised breakfast didn’t bounce back out of your mouth,” Gina teased gently. He frowned again, and she continued to stroke his chin and cheeks. “Aloysius…please trust me. Taking a day off from all this crap will be useful. Then tomorrow you’ll be refreshed and ready to head into the storm again.”

    “I thought the forecast for tomorrow was clear skies,” Newsie argued, puzzled.

    Gina sighed. “Do you know I adore you?”

    He nodded, giving in, hugging her in return. “I love you…okay. If you really think this is the right thing to do…”

    “You. Need. A day. Off,” Gina insisted, kissing him for emphasis with every word. Blushing, he wriggled out of her arms before their schedule was thrown off any more, looking around for his comb. She smiled. “Wanna wear your costume up, or change once we get there?”

    “I’ll wait,” he said immediately, and she laughed.

    “Suit yourself. I’m going all out!” She pulled her tattered, wispy gray gown off its hanger, shrugging it on over the full silk slip which would protect her from the chill. Though the air felt mild outside, Bear Corners was supposed to be cooler than the city today and tonight. “I hope that Blander guy remembers to get a costume.”

    After their meeting with the lawyer early this morning here at the apartment, Gina had felt obligated to invite the dull Whatnot along with them; he’d looked so wistful at the mention of an actual party. Newsie grimaced, pulling on a dark red sweater over his dress shirt. “I hope he doesn’t hit up everyone there for donations.”

    Gina laughed. Newsie looked up at her, always entranced by that sound: how could she keep such a light heart in the face of all these woes? She saw his expression, and gave him a deep kiss. Smiling again at the way her Muppet melted for such demonstrations of affection, Gina tossed out her hair, settled the torn, ethereal veil atop her head and struck a melodramatic pose of anguish. “Lost! So lost and alone, woe, woe, tragedy…”

    “Not alone,” Newsie muttered, enjoying her antics a little despite his anxiety.

    “That’s right,” Gina said, suddenly hoisting him by the arms onto the bed so he could reach her lips, and pulling him close. “You’re not.” She kissed him until she finally coaxed a smile from him, and grinned back. “Come on, Gloomy Journalist. Move that cute skinny fuzzy butt!”

    “Gina,” he protested, but gathered up his costume in a paper sack and pulled his shoes on. He volunteered to carry the two-tiered container of mini cupcakes along with his overnight bag; Gina hefted the pack with their bedroll and her own things, disregarding the incongruity of it over her dress. They received a few odd looks on the street and on the airport shuttle bus, which Gina cheerfully grinned at and Newsie did his best to ignore. Once at the rental car counter, Gina took care of the paperwork. A large rat snorted his annoyance:

    “’Bout time you got here! I’m getting’ hungry and I need road trip snacks!”

    Newsie stared at him. “Rizzo? What are you doing here?”

    “I figured someone needed a party date,” the rat smirked just as Rhonda emerged from the ladies’ room.

    She noted Newsie’s incredulous look and shook her head. “Trust me, it was not my idea! He claims he read something that made him decide he’d been ‘neglecting’ me too long.”

    “Hey, I’m a rat, you’re a rat, dere’s gonna be food,” Rizzo said. “Sounds like da perfect date ta me!”

    “Okay, I has the travel musics already,” a loud shrimp said, marching up to the counter. He plunked down a duffel bag bearing a designer label. “Are we ready?”

    “Newsie? How many people did you invite?” Gina wondered.

    “Just Rhonda!” he protested. “You asked that Bland guy; I certainly don’t recall either of us asking a crustacean along.” He glared at Pepe.

    “Well, maybe that’s because jou has taken too many direct hits to jour pointy head okay,” the prawn cackled. “Of course I am riding with jou! Jou needs a little party atmospherics with this group, trust me.”

    “Animal tried to eat him when he got on da Mayhem’s bus,” Rizzo snickered.

    “I’m sure there’s room enough in the backseat for you both to sit way on the other side. Far from me,” Rhonda grumbled.

    “Oh, wonderful, you’re on time,” the blue Whatnot lawyer said, ambling over. He already had on his costume: a large orange beak was attached over his nose, a cap with blue feathers stuck jauntily up in stark contrast to his bored expression, and a short cape covered in blue feathers lay over his suit-coat as though it wasn’t sure what it was doing there. He regarded the rats and the prawn dubiously.

    “Jou gots to be kidding, okay,” Pepe said. “He’s coming with us?”

    Rizzo shook his head. “I call shotgun!”

    Gina frowned at him. “No. Newsie has shotgun. He’s navigating. I’m sure all of you can make do in the back seat.”

    Rizzo sighed. “Please tell me ya didn’t get a compact.”

    Pepe gestured at them all impatiently. “Can we just get this trip moving, okay? I made a special mix CD just for jous! Party times, okay!” As the group headed for the car lot to find their reservation, the prawn sang happily and not quietly enough: “There is a monster in my pants, okay, and he does a scary dance; when he comes into the room, all the womens start to swoons…”

    “Can we listen to NPR instead?” Newsie grumbled.

    “Shotgun gets to call radio as well,” Gina assured him, and did her best to block out the questionable tune Pepe persisted in cheerfully singing.

    “Kermieeeee! Are you dressed yet?” Piggy sang out. Kermit sighed, eyeing his faux-bronze armor breastplate and leather skirt unhappily.

    “Well, I guess,” he grumbled. Piggy popped her head out of the bathroom-area curtains.

    “Whaddaya mean, you guess?” Then she saw Kermit had indeed put on his entire costume, and squealed with appreciation. “Oh Kermie! Vous are so very…dashing!”

    “I feel ridiculous,” the frog muttered. “And these sandals are really hard on the flippers, Piggy!”

    “But Kermie, surely vous appreciate my homage to the late, great, exquisite Elizabeth Taylor?” Piggy made a minor adjustment to her gown and stepped into the main room of their bedroom suite, lifting one hand as though expecting him to bow and kiss it. Her gown, not only pure white but of actual papyrus linen, draped wonderfully over her full frame. The elaborate headdress may have had real lapis lazuli and gold; Kermit gulped, deciding he didn’t want to know. Piggy batted her heavily-made-up eyes at him, and Kermit gulped again.

    “Er, Piggy, are you…are you wearing anything under…”

    “Kermit! One does not ask these things of an actress!” the pig huffed.

    Kermit felt his cheeks warming. “Uh, no, uh, I only ask because, well, it might be cold up there, and –“

    “Then you’ll just have to stay…very…close,” Piggy purred, sidling up to the froggy Roman soldier and stroking the purple sash he wore over the light armor. “Burton was never handsomer, my prince.” She favored him with a teasing kiss.

    “Aw,” Kermit murmured, all objections forgotten momentarily. “Piggy…”

    From the grand staircase just outside the master suite, Scooter called, “Hey, are you guys ready to go? I’ve got the car warmed up right out front, but the traffic warden isn’t going to be happy if we take much longer!”

    Piggy glanced in the mirror, turned herself this way and that, and decided she looked properly queenly. “Well?” Kermit asked, itching to get on with the road trip…or maybe just itching in all that hard-cured leather.

    His wife smiled at him, and lowered her lashes to give him a very suggestive stare just like the great Liz would’ve done. “Lead on, my bold conqueror,” she said, her voice husky.

    “Aw, geez, Piggy,” Kermit groaned, taking her hand in one of his and grabbing his overnight satchel in the other. “Uh, you remember how small Fozzie’s mother’s place is, right? We’re not going to have any privacy!”

    She smiled wickedly at him, sashaying down the stairs of the townhouse. “Oh. What a shame. I guess that means you’re just going to have to admire my…costume…without ever knowing what I have on under it!” She wiggled her rear deliberately, murmuring over her shoulder, “Trick…or treat!” As Kermit stifled a groan and hurried after her, she changed tone completely to yell downstairs: “Hey Scooter! Make sure ya get all the bags this time! I need both hairdryers and the curler!”

    We’re only going to be there one night, Kermit thought, but then brightened a bit, and smiled at the saucy pig. ONLY one night. Trick or treat, huh? We’ll see about that!

    On the street in front of their building, he smiled at the girl helping Scooter load all of Piggy’s accoutrements into the trunk of a luxury sedan. “Ha ha! You look great, Sara!”

    The redhead brushed her tangle of frizzed, curly hair out of her gleaming green eyes to grin at the frog. “Like it? Took me forever to get it to curl right!”

    “Hmm. That’s not a bad look for you, dear,” Piggy judged. Then she saw Scooter, and chuckled. “Oh I see! Giving us some competition for the couples costume, hm?”

    Scooter grinned; his hair had been temporarily dyed dark brown, and he wore a traditional school robe which matched Sara’s. “Hey, Miss Piggy, wanna see my wand?”

    Piggy stared at him. Scooter produced a twiggy-looking stick and waved it at the pile of luggage. “Wingardium leviosa!”

    Sara gave him a cute scowl. “I keep telling you, it’s not leviosa, it’s levio-sahh!” The pair giggled, and as Piggy settled herself and her priceless costume in the back seat, Sara continued under her breath, “And I wish it did work…”

    “Go climb in; I’ll get the rest,” Scooter muttered back, still smiling.

    Shaking his head tolerantly, Kermit hopped into the backseat, noting his pig was still being terribly coy. So she thought this party was an excuse to toy with him, did she? He hummed softly, considering the possibilities for tricks if she was going to taunt him with an unattainable treat…

    Scooter pulled the car into the slow flow north toward the Washington Bridge. “Hey, chief. Did you hear anything else yet about that anti-discrimination thing?”

    Rousing reluctantly from his devious green plotting, the frog leaned forward to talk with his second-in-command. “No, but I know that law firm was meeting with the Newsman this morning.”

    “It seems weird that anyone would dump on you guys for being Muppets,” Sara mused.

    Scooter nodded. “Tell me about it! I guess those lawyers were right. Glad we’re doing the charity walk after all, at that rate.”

    Piggy sniffed. “No one has ever discriminated against moi… They wouldn’t dare!”

    Kermit chuckled wryly. “No, I’m sure they wouldn’t.”

    Sara wriggled half-around to address Kermit directly. “So it’s true, then? That news station really did try to fire the Newsman over nothing?”

    Kermit shrugged. “I only heard about it third-hand. I was with your hubby, remember?” The frog and his assistant had stepped wearily off a small plane late last night; Clifford had personally been there to hand the keys to the theatre back to the former gofer and lie about how much fun he’d had being in command.

    “Kermie, you never did say where you found us a cabin to film,” Piggy said.

    The frog nervously adjusted the tunic under his breastplate. “Geez, is this thing wool? It’s awfully scratchy…”

    “Well, uh, it’s not so much a cabin,” Scooter jumped in.

    “Oh,” Piggy said, mystified. “But…are we changing the script? I thought the whole point of the setting was to give the tagline some meaning? The, what was it…”

    “’Ham in a Cabin’?” Sara piped up. Before Piggy’s startled look could transform into something more dangerous, she explained, “A famous horror-movie critic called the original haunted-shack-in-the-woods film ‘Spam in a cabin,’ but, um, obviously, you’re not –“

    “Not going to stoop to that level,” Kermit took up the slack quickly.

    “Oh. But of course,” Piggy agreed. “So, ah, what did you two find after roaming all over the great white north?”

    Kermit sighed, sinking back into the plush cushions. “Well, we found a porch at one place, and a great barn at another…”

    Piggy raised herself up to stare at him. “Are you saying we’re going to film the exterior shots all over the place? Kermie! That will mean I’ll have to have a driver full-time if we keep moving my trailer from location to location! Can we afford that?”

    Kermit scrunched his face. “Uh, Piggy…I don’t think we’ll be lugging along your trailer everywhere, no.”

    “Ohhh,” she said, smiling. “So we’ll be sharing a trailer? How cozy!”

    Though married, Kermit had long ago learned the expediency and opportunities to actually get work done that allowing his wife her own private trailer on-set afforded. “Er, well, not exactly, Piggy; the studio wouldn’t okay an expense like that…”

    Piggy, nonplussed, tried again. “Ah…hotel rooms? Please tell me you found something at least four-star within driving distance…”

    “Try tents,” Scooter said. Silence fell inside the car.

    “Tents?” Piggy asked finally.

    Sara looked at her husband. “What say a little traveling music?”

    “What say,” Scooter muttered. The indie radio station almost drowned out the sounds of outrage from the back seat.

    Gina knocked on the door of the bedroom they’d be sharing with the frog and pig, the gofer and his lady, and Floyd and Janice, Mrs Bear having prudently put all the steady couples in one room while everyone else spread all over the farmhouse and into the barn. “Newsie…”

    “I look ridiculous,” came the muffled response.

    “So does everyone else; it wouldn’t be Halloween if you couldn’t be silly. Come on, get out here! The games are starting!”

    “I look ridiculous.”

    Sighing, Gina opened the door. A large raven of black velvet and real, glossy black feathers stood unhappily next to a small vanity, looking at himself in the mirror. Only a little golden-yellow felt showed beneath the costume. Gina tucked his sleeves into the gauntlet-like gloves, fluffed out his feathery tunic, and tweaked the beaked mask on his face. “It would look less silly if you took the glasses off,” she pointed out.

    “Then I won’t be able to see four inches past my nose!”

    Gina thought that was a generous estimate, but didn’t say so. “My love…I won’t let you walk into anything. This is supposed to be a couples costume, remember?”

    Newsie sighed, relinquishing his specs, nervously watching his now-blurry beloved tuck them safely into a blurry case by the blurry bedside. “Remind me what we’re doing?”

    “Well, your role is fairly easy. Just say ‘Nevermore’ a lot, and perch over people if you get the chance.” She giggled at his scowl, obvious even under the mask from the way it scrunched. “Mine’s a little harder. I have to be tragic and lost.”

    “I never understood that about that poem,” Newsie complained. “If the narrator lost this Lenore person, why didn’t he just go looking for her instead of sitting around moping with his bust of Pallas?”

    Gina hugged him; he returned it, confused. “That’s my practical Muppet… Come on, handsome, let’s get out there and have some fun!”

    Abashedly, his fingers fumbled into her hand. “Don’t let go.”

    “I won’t. Don’t you either, except to flap now and then!”

    Their entrance on the front lawn was greeted with cheers and laughter. Gina curtsied, then rushed over to Scooter. “Lost! Woe, woe, I am flitting endlessly on the night’s Plutonian shore…”

    “Nevermore!” Newsie muttered, which provoked laughs all around.

    “Who says my Newsie doesn’t get comic timing?” Gina whispered to him, smiling. Feeling relieved as he understood no one was actually mocking him, Newsie peered around.

    “Looks like a lot of people were able to attend,” he remarked, recognizing a small green frog hopping by with a microphone and a fedora and trenchcoat five sizes too large. “Kermit! Nice to see you in the old frog-on-the-scene outfit!”

    “Oh, hi, Newsman,” a thin voice peeped in reply. “Wow, you thought I was Uncle Kermit? Terrific! I am so gonna win the ‘Completely Unrecognizable’ costume category!” Robin bounced over to the side of the house, where a bowling lane of sorts had been constructed from haybales, with long gourds standing up at the far end to serve as the pins. “Fozzie! Hey Fozzie! Guess who I am!”

    There were quite a lot of people, as the reporter had put it, milling around the grounds. A wild jam winding down with thumping drums and a screeching guitar announced the arrival of the decrepit but somehow still mobile bus bringing the Electric Mayhem, along with Nigel and Rowlf. As they disembarked, Newsie tugged Gina’s ragged dress sleeve. “Uh…I know that’s the band, but are they all right? They seem to be moving a little, er, under the influence…”

    Gina snickered. “Nope. They’re just dead.”

    “What?” He realized it was some sort of costume, and relaxed. “Oh.”

    “More like no longer pushin’ the pedals or the daisies,” Dr Teeth cackled as he shambled past. “Friends, I am indubitably in need of cranial refreshment!”

    “Braaaiiinnns,” Animal growled, getting a little too into his part. The entire Mayhem sported pale felt, torn clothing, and fake wounds; Floyd set aside his bass and tucked one arm inside his costume to better display the bony hand dangling loosely out of his jacket sleeve. Janice shuffled beside him, her head cocked over at an angle, dead leaves and realistic dirt matting her normally shiny hair.

    “Dratted walking dead,” Nigel drawled, hot on their trail with a bright pink water assault rifle, his sheriff’s get-up making the group costume’s theme current.

    Zoot shambled behind them all, still carrying his sax. “Wuh-huh-huh! Hey Zoot! What kinda zombie are you?” Lew Zealand asked.

    The saxman paused to look blankly at him from behind his customary shades. “Zombie? I don’t do mixed drinks, man. Too heavy!”

    Rowlf, looking comfortable in a long khaki coat and rumpled tie, scratched his ear in puzzlement at the fish-thrower. “Uh, Lew? Sorry, man, but I don’t get your costume. What’s the joke?”

    “Oh, uh, it’s not a costume!” Lew grinned, equally warm in all-over footie pajamas in a fishie print, with fat plush sharks cushioning his feet. “I was told this was a sleepover!”

    “Bogey?” Gina guessed, looking at the dog’s simple, if slept-in-looking clothing.

    “Hardly,” Rowlf said, slipping into a passable imitation of another famous detective. “I had my suspicions about that fish-flingin’ guy. Never trust the guy in the room who looks too comfortable. Oh,” he said, turning back to Lew, “just one more thing…”

    Gina laughed, and Newsie caught the reference. “He was a good man,” he told Rowlf seriously, and the dog nodded.

    “That he was. Did you catch the other homage over there?” He tilted his nose in the direction of the Egyptian queen and her Roman lover.

    “Holy cow. She does one heck of a Liz,” Gina said. “Who did the costume?”

    “Dunno, but I bet it cost as much as ol’ King Tut’s bedroom! Hey, Clifford, gonna bust some spooks for us?”

    Newsie squinted at the odd coverall and some sort of pack on the purple Muppet’s straight back. “Uh…are you supposed to be an exterminator?”

    Clifford laughed. “Yeah, man. Somebody saw a cockroach up on twelve!”

    “Funny,” snorted a tiny bug, trotting past in a Ziggy Stardust costume.

    Newsie walked along with Gina toward Cleopigtra and Frog Antony. “I don’t get it,” he muttered at her, but she shushed him.

    “Miss Piggy, that costume is amazing,” Gina said, and Piggy gave a queenly nod. “And Kermit! Uh…that skirt really shows off your legs!”

    Kermit scrunched his nose. “So I’ve been told about twenty times already. Thanks. Uh, Newsman, any progress on your complaint? Will there be a formal hearing of some sort? You know I or anyone here would be willing to speak up for you, if you need us.”

    Newsie thanked him. “Mr Blander says I definitely have a case. He’s going to serve my boss and the KRAK management with a notice of intent on Monday.” He sighed. “I really hope that fixes things without having to go through civil court.”

    A detailed discussion of the whole debacle for the benefit of Kermit and Scooter began, and after a minute, Gina squeezed Newsie’s arm. “Cutie, you go ahead and talk shop; I’m going to find us something to snack on, okay? I promise I’ll be right back.”

    “Me too,” Sara said, brushing a kiss over Scooter’s mouth, and after a second Piggy strolled after them.

    “Moi thought this was supposed to be a party,” she sniffed. “Why do they always have to drag business into things?”

    “Well, it is pretty serious,” Gina pointed out. “I’m hoping that idiot station manager realizes what a bad move it would be to fire Newsie. Honestly, I wish Newsie would go to some other station! One not run by corporate cretins!”

    They browsed the long table set near the back stoop leading to the kitchen. Every conceivable fall-themed treat seemed to be represented on the groaning board: toffee-coated apples, pumpkin cupcakes, candy-corn parfaits, fresh grapes and figs and sharp cheeses jostled for space with marshmallow ghosts, little hot dog mummies, chocolate bat cookies and spidery candies. Gina shook her head in amazement as she picked over the offerings. “Nice! Looks like the great hall at Hogwarts!”

    Sara smiled at her, and said, “It’s nice to meet someone else who stands by their Muppet.”

    “Oh, you’re Scooter’s wife, right?” They exchanged pleasantries a moment, then Gina sighed deeply. “Do you ever have to deal with people giving you grief about being with a Muppet?”

    Sara considered it. “Not really, but I know not everyone understood Scooter choosing me.”

    Gina’s gaze swept once over the young woman only slightly shorter than her, then looked back at the Muppets in deep conversation on the leaf-littered lawn. “Because of the height thing?”

    Sara giggled. “Uh…no. Because I’m more outgoing than he is.”

    They laughed together. “Same here.” Gina watched her Newsman gesturing broadly at a perturbed Kermit; in his costume, the resemblance to a raven attacking some smaller competitor for the same prey was undeniable…and unintentionally comic. She shook her head. “Why is it, do you think, they all seem younger than they are?”

    “It’s the felt,” Sara asserted. “No wrinkles.”

    “Trust me, it’s even worse with the frog,” Piggy assured them both.

    Curious, Gina tentatively asked, “Have you and Kermit ever taken any flak for being a couple?”

    “Well, I can’t say we haven’t raised a few eyebrows…except on his side of the family…” Piggy mused, loading up a plate with the least outré of the spooky-themed foods.

    “Frogs are more tolerant?”

    “No eyebrows,” Piggy snickered, and all three of the girls burst into loud laughter.

    Newsie looked over at the sound, wondering what had caused such merriment. “It’s good to see everyone getting along,” Scooter said.

    “That’s right,” Kermit agreed. “We’re all friends here. Just try to set aside your problems for the night and enjoy the party,” he advised Newsie.

    “All friends except maybe that guy,” Scooter mumbled, shaking his head at the sight of the blue Whatnot cornering Sam the Eagle; the bird, for once, seemed very discomfited to be on the other side of a lecture. “I know he’s representing you and all, Newsie, but he’s really very…bland…”

    Kermit stared at Sam’s costume. “Why is Sam dressed as a lizard with an American flag?”

    “I’m not going to ask,” Scooter said.

    A rat in a gold lamé dress with platinum straight hair appeared on the voting table nearby, sipping from an orange martini glass, her enormous shades balanced by her spiraling earrings. “I did ask. The eagle is apparently under the misconception that one of the presidential candidates is an amphibian. I laughed, and he didn’t see why it was funny.”

    Newsie knew that voice. “Rhonda? Er…who are you, some sort of spacegirl?”

    The rat struck a pose worthy of the pig. “Honey, I was born this way! ‘Scuse me. I heard there was a contest; I’m gonna vote for the zombies for Best Group Costume.” She filled out a slip of paper and stuffed it in the appropriate ballot box.

    Scooter nudged Newsie. “That reminds me – go find Fozzie! Or Mrs Bear; they mentioned they wanted you to announce the results later tonight after everyone’s voted on all the costumes!”

    “M-me? Er…all right,” Newsie agreed, surprised. “Has anyone seen either of the Bears?”

    Emily Bear was in the kitchen at that moment, looking down cheerfully at the blue chicken in the funny white hat and skirt. “My goodness! How adorable! Is that Camilla?”

    The chicken clucked agreeably. The smell of baking apples had drawn her into the bright, old-fashioned farmhouse. “And who are you supposed to be, dear?” Emily continued; Camilla clucked again. “Oh…I’m afraid I never watched it, but I know Fozzie has an old videotape of his favorite Smurf episodes somewhere still! It’s so nice to see you again! Now where’s your…your…whatever he is?” The matronly bear chuckled at her own awkwardness. “I never know what you young people call that sort of thing these days; I know you’re not married, but ‘boyfriend’ seems too casual…” The chicken offered a suggestion, and the bear nodded. “Significant ‘Other’! That sounds perfect. So isn’t he with you?”

    Camilla explained in a few short squawks the basics of the situation. Emily frowned. “My, my! Well of course you can use the television in the front room…I’ll just have that nice Beauregard carry it out to the coop for you. There’s an outlet outside; we’ll just unplug some of the Halloween lights so you can use it while your honey’s show is on.” Camilla thanked her. Emily yanked on a rope dangling from the ceiling; although it didn’t appear to be hooked to anything, a train whistle screamed, and within seconds Beau popped into the back door, dressed in blue-and-white-ticked overalls with a matching cap.

    “You called?”

    “Oh, Conductor Beau! Would you take the TV out to the chicken coop and plug it in for this young lady? She shouldn’t have to miss her daredevil performing tonight,” Emily said, and Beau nodded, tried to salute, looked confused, then yanked on the train whistle with a smile.

    “Comin’ right up! Next stop, happy coopers!”

    Link Hogthrob sauntered in, led by his deeply sniffing snout. “What is that wonderful smell? Oh, hello, Mrs Bear! Wanna go for a spin?” Grinning, the leather-clad boar leaned against the kitchen table, cocking his biker hat low over his brow – then lost his balance and landed ungracefully on his generous rear.

    “Well, if it isn’t the Rebel Without a Clue,” Emily laughed, helping him up. “James Dean, am I right?”

    “Well, yes, but for you, it’s ‘Jimmy,’” Link murmured, suavely puffing up his shoulders in the traditional studded jacket.

    “Link sweetie, I don’t think you really want people to call you Jimmy Dean,” the bear advised, turning back to her cooking.

    “Why not?”

    “Ach, again vit the pork jokes,” Dr Strangepork huffed, trotting into the kitchen, Annie Sue in tow. “Vat do you tink of our get-up, Frau Bear? I tink ve are sure to vin!” The white lab coat and his usual round spectacles didn’t immediately clue Emily in, but then she saw the tall black bouffant with streaks of white on the young sow, and started laughing.

    “Dr Frankenswine, I presume?” Emily asked, and Strangepork kissed the back of her hand. “Well! Such nice manners!”

    “Such nice cinnamon spices!” Strangepork returned, licking his lips. “I love a woman who gets her hands dirty in the kitchen!”

    “Hey, I didn’t get to lick her hands,” Link complained, trying to do so. Emily swatted his fingers with the back of a wooden spoon.

    “If you have to be in here, make yourselves useful! Frankenswine, stir this; Link, please fetch me another jug of cider from the cellar; Annie dear, would you help me make these popovers?”

    “I just love home cooking!” Annie Sue exclaimed, tying on an apron over her ragged gown.

    Link pouted. “The cellar? But…but…what if it’s dark? What if there are…spiders?”

    “I’ll feed you to them if you don’t hurry up!” Emily teased, but Link fled, wailing about dark scary cellar spiders. The bear sighed as the other two pigs snorted with amusement. “Honestly…Beau! I need you, dear!” She yanked the train whistle again, and plunged into her cooking with a smile. A bustling kitchen and a home full of Muppets, though a lot of work, was so contagiously cheerful; she certainly wasn’t going to let one cowardly pig spoil the fun…or the mulled cider.
    Muppetfan44 and The Count like this.
  16. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Twenty-Four (II)

    “Okay, girls, okay, everybody gets a turn,” Fozzie chided, and the chickens stopped clucking at one another and drew straws to determine who would bowl first. Fozzie checked the basket of small candy pouches behind him; he was supposed to hand them out to anyone who bowled a strike, but he was wary of the rats he’d seen lurking around trying to gobble them up before that happened. One of the chickens clucked something about his scarf, and he frowned at her. “Hey, come on, this is classic! I mean, if you’re gonna talk costumes, what da heck are you all supposed to be anyway?” He gestured at the flockful of colorful-spandex-jumpsuit-clad chickens, all wearing ponytails and lots of sparkly jewelry.

    “Bawwwk. James Bawwk,” a brown rooster announced, stepping up to the throw line.

    “No, I’m Bawwk,” a black rooster argued.

    “Wait, wait, I get it,” Fozzie said. He pointed at the brown one. “You’re, lemme see, Cawjer Moore?” The rooster nodded, puffing out his chestfeathers past the confines of the tuxedo. “So you must be –“

    “Sean Cawnnery,” Blackie said, leaning coolly on a haybale.

    “Oh,” Fozzie muttered. “I woulda thought Daniel Crawg… So, so who are the girls?”

    The chickens clucked, each striking a daring pose. Fozzie’s jaw dropped. “Poultry Galore…? Guys, come on! Dis is a family party!”

    “Cute outfit, Fozzie,” a sultry voice behind him made the bear whirl around, nearly stumbling over the nine-foot-long scarf. “I didn’t know you were a Whovian.”

    Fozzie stared at the other bear; she really had grown up a lot since she’d been the cub next door…and the low-cut, Gothic fairy costume with its short skirt and playful butterfly-wings didn’t help him pull his jaw off the ground. “Wha…ha…who?”

    “It’s Dora, silly,” the girlish bear giggled. She wrapped a long brown curl around one delicate claw, smiling at him. “Don’t you recognize me?”

    “Wha—of course! Dora! Hi!” The chickens clucked loudly; the brown rooster had just bowled a perfect strike – perfect, anyway, if one discounted the pins knocking into one another, wobbling around wildly, bouncing the bowling-ball-pumpkin into the air and then finally falling over at the same instant as Blackie when the pumpkin crashed onto his head. Distractedly Fozzie awarded the brown rooster a bag of gummi pumpkins. “I, uh, it, it’s really great to see you again!” Fozzie finally stammered. Dora stepped closer, flipping up the ends of the scarf.

    “Very cute. So which was your favorite monster, the Daleks or the Cybermen?” she asked. Fozzie, trying to formulate a sentence of some kind in his short-circuited brain, was interrupted by the rooster tugging at his coat-hem. He swapped out the gummi pumpkins for a bag of candy corn, and the contented rooster moved back to watch the jumpsuited chickens struggle with the ball as a pig at the end of the lane reset the gourd pins.

    “Uh…wha…uh…honestly, I thought both of them were too scary,” Fozzie admitted. “I liked K-9.”

    Dora laughed. “Yeah, have to go with the robot dog. Do you like my costume?”

    “It’s great,” Fozzie said immediately. “Uh…is it…a fairy?”

    “The color doesn’t give it away?” Dora asked, turning so he could see the extremely close-fitting dark blue minidress from all angles, which didn’t ease Fozzie’s nerves at all. Seeing he didn’t understand, Dora smiled and leaned close to him. “From Pinocchio! I’m the Blue Fairy. Want me to make you a real boy?” Grinning, she tapped him lightly on the nose with her star-tipped wand.

    “Wah…aaaaaahhhhhave you met everyone else? I don’t think you really had the chance to last time,” Fozzie gulped, retreating to the front yard, a grinning fairy bear following fast on his tucked tail.

    At the bowling contest, the chickens looked after the departing bears, then at one another. Shrugging, a chicken clutched the pumpkin stem in her beak, ran to the line and released it: it knocked down four pins. The rooster crowed, and awarded her a little bag of Smarties. The next chicken forgot to let go of the stem, and scored a strike, feathers poufing everywhere, to the loud enjoyment of the others, and the rooster started tossing candy bags at everyone; the pig pin-setter grunted a complaint until a bag was tossed his way. “Mini Reeses! Sweet!”

    Newsie flapped his arms at a couple of rats dressed in overalls. “Nevermore!” he rasped.

    “Agh! M-m-m-mario!” the rat in green overalls cried, clutching at the rat in red overalls.

    “Oh knock it off, willya? Dere’s no way we’re winnin’. Let’s go raid da buffet,” the other rat suggested.

    “You’re getting into the spirit of it,” Gina praised her Muppet, offering him another cup of hot mulled cider. Nodding thanks, he downed the drink, grateful for its warmth; the day, though clear, had turned chilly, and a light breeze seemed to find every tiny chink in his feathered armor. “Your friends are definitely performers; I’ve never seen so many great costumes at one party, even the last one the Sosilly guys threw!”

    “I wonder where Rizzo and Pepe went,” Newsie said. “For all that bragging about who was going to win Best Costume, I’ve yet to see either of them.”

    “Speak of the devil,” Gina giggled. Newsie turned to see the Swedish Chef yelling and throwing random kitchen implements around; everyone nearby ducked. A meat tenderizer nearly missed Newsie’s beak. Red horns and a pointy tail stuck out of their appropriate places, but otherwise the Chef looked as he always did. “Wow…never seen him so angry,” Gina mused.

    Hearing her, the Chef stopped, leaning up to murmur conspiratorially: “Nooo, em nut ongry! Em der Gurdun Ramseyseysey, sey, sey!” He waved a pitchfork at the rats on the outdoor food spread. “Hey! Nooo habben der crème broolee mit unfer du bloogen-torchen!” Grabbing a small blowtorch, he flamed the dessert stand. A crisped rat blinked astonished at him as the Chef, still in character, continued his rant: “Whereun yoo no der lernun cooken-frooken!”

    “Got it,” Gina giggled.

    “I don’t get it,” Newsie muttered. “And now the popovers are all fried-overs…”

    “Check it out. Dueling Jacks,” Gina said, pointing out Rizzo and Pepe glaring at one another on the top step of the porch.

    “Oh jou has got to be kidding,” Pepe groaned. “Jou doesn’t even have a bottle okay!”

    “You call those dreadlocks?” Rizzo demanded. “Come on! And my mascara is much better dan yours!” The rat and the shrimp both sported black dreads poking out of brown bandanas, eye makeup, and garish pirate outfits. Rizzo waved his cutlass at Pepe. “Dis was my idea foist!”

    “It so was not, okay! Jou know that story about escaping the desert island riding on the backs of two sea turtles?” Pepe smirked at the rat. “That was not in the original script! Where do jou thinks Johnny Depp got the idea already my friend?”

    “You so did not ride sea turtles off a desert island!”

    “Well, okay, so it was only one sea turtle; his name was Jorge. The point is I am a much better Captain Jack than jou!”

    “On guard!” Rizzo growled, and a swordfight ensued, the tiny combatants running up the sheaves of corn, swooping from swags of tied leaves, and finally trying to keep their balance on a large pumpkin as it rolled down the steps and off across the yard, aluminum swords clashing repeatedly.

    “Drama queens,” Rhonda snorted. “Hey, check it out! The new kid made it!”

    A beautiful Auburn roadster pulled serenely into the drive, blocking the path from the party to the porch. A short Muppet waved enthusiastically from the back seat; a purple tuxedo clothed him and a bluish-gray, curved nose stuck out from the hat tied to his head. “Wow! I’m really here! Everyone’s here! Oh wow!”

    Seeing the new arrival, Kermit tried to get everyone’s attention. “Hey everybody, look who’s here! It’s Wa—“

    “I know, I know, settle down now,” Wayne said, stepping out of the driver’s seat and sticking out his meager chest. The long black wig, fake mustache, and love beads dangling around his neck looked as incongruous on the singer as the bell bottoms and Indian blouse. “That’s right, I am here at last! You may now begin the celebration!”

    “Cripes, Wayne, he didn’t mean you,” Wanda sighed, shaking her extra-long, straight wig out of her face. Her slit-thigh, slinky dress fluttered in the breeze as she helped the kid down from the back seat. “Come on, kiddo. This’ll be fun.”

    “Oh you bet it will!” Walter yelled, and at the sight of Kermit he trilled a happy whistle. Kermit laughed, applauding; Wayne, hearing the sound, instinctively turned and bowed. Walter bowled him over running past. “Kermit! Fozzie! Chef! Dr Teeth! Wow, this is great! What amazing costumes!”

    “I like yours,” Kermit responded, grinning at the sleepy-looking eyes glued to the hat. “Will you be shooting yourself out of a cannon tonight?”

    “Only if the real Gonzo shows me how!” Walter laughed, then looked around quickly. “Uh, where is Gonzo?”

    “He couldn’t make it,” Emily said, reaching down to shake hands with the newest member of the troupe. “Nice to meet you, young man! Fozzie says very nice things about you.”

    Both the bear and the young Muppet blushed. Walter saw Dora, and immediately shook her hand as well. “Thanks – hey, you must be Dora, the bear Fozzie always had a crush on as a kid, only he couldn’t tell you because he was too embear*****, get it? Ha ha ha! Wow! Hi everyone!”

    “He’s cute,” Gina observed, as Fozzie suddenly remembered a chore left undone in the corn maze and scurried off to do it.

    “He’ll learn,” Rhonda said, and wandered over to the cider cauldron where another rat had leaned in too far and was now swimming and shouting for help. “Gawd, Ricky, didja at least shower today?”

    Walter stopped his excited dashing in front of Newsie and Gina a moment. “Hi! Wait, wait, lemme guess…you’re…Sam?”

    “Nevermore!” Newsie protested, and Gina giggled.

    “Close. The eagle is taller,” she hinted.

    “Hey!” Newsie turned on her, and Walter chuckled.

    “Oho! I recognize you now! Newsman, right?” When Newsie nodded, Walter smiled up at Gina. “That’s a really pretty dress! Are you a ghost?”

    “Thank you. Well, sort of. I’m lost.” She clasped lace-draped hands together. “Ripped from my love before my time, as he mourns in the bleak December, in his violet study with the lamp-light gloating o’er…”

    “’But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o‘er, she shall press, ah, nevermore!’” Walter recited, and at Gina’s surprised expression, he confessed bashfully, “I had to memorize the whole thing in sixth grade. Oh! Oh! There’s Rizzo! ‘Scuse me!” He raced off again, the fake Gonzo-nose bouncing atop his head.

    Gina shook her head. “He is cute.”

    Newsie cleared his throat unhappily, and suddenly found himself caught up in a strong hug from his beloved. “No, not as cute as you, my adorably pointy-nosed journalist! Stop fussing!”

    “Ahem,” he mumbled, blushing under the mask. Seeing a couple of black suits approaching, he whispered, “Did the rest of Bland’s law firm attend too?”

    Gina checked where he was looking, and laughed. “Uh…no. Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

    In turning to see who’d addressed them, Bunsen and Beaker bumped the edge of the apple-bobbing tub, and Honeydew teetered on the edge a full second before splashing down. As Beaker touched a concerned hand to his mouth, the other holding the tiny derby hat on his fiery hair, the scientist spluttered and tried to wring out his tie, then checked to make certain his small mustache hadn’t become ungummed from his upper lip. “Pfft…well…now this is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into!”

    “Is that Dr Honeydew?” Newsie asked. Gina gave Bunsen a hand out of the tub. “Have you had the opportunity yet to decipher that ingredient list?”

    Beaker nodded, raising a finger. “Oh, yes,” Bunsen said. “Most curious! Can you tell me what ailment that particular remedy was supposed to be treating? I’m wondering what studies the formula was based on, or if this is some irresponsible test of the ingredients…”

    “Ailment? That was the ingredient list for a snack cake!” Newsie argued.

    “Oh. Oh, dear. Well…”

    “Is the formula dangerous?”

    Beaker nodded worriedly. Honeydew frowned. “Well, no, not as such…but if consumed in large quantities, the active ingredients could very well have some adverse affects!”

    “Such as?”

    “Oh…it’s hard to say…”

    “Doctor, if you have any idea what that stuff will do –“

    “No, I mean it’s very hard to say: omniamonstruophobiitis!”

    “What the heck is that?” Gina asked in chorus with her Newsman.

    “Well, it’s…it’s similar to the symptoms you yourself suffer from, Newsman, but much more deeply ingrained: a severe monsterphobia!”

    “Mee mo mobia!”

    Newsie started. “The…the snack cakes could cause monsterphobia? Why on earth would they…” He frowned. “That makes no sense!”

    Bunsen shook his head; Beaker shrugged. “As I said, the foodstuff would have to be ingested in vast quantities! Of course, given the high sugar content in the formula, anyone with a sweet tooth would be likely to overconsume such cakes…or anyone misled by the claim of omega-3 in it; there isn’t enough fish oil per serving to equal what you’d find in one itty, bitty, fin of a teensy, weensy sardine!” Beaker nodded agreement, holding his fingertips together to show just how teensy the sardine would have to be.

    Newsie looked at Gina. “Why would a monster-friendly company make cakes that cause fear of monsters?”

    “Well, there you have it!” Bunsen chirped. “Oh, there’s the band! Come on, Beakie, ready to do that number we rehearsed?”


    “Those two are singing with the band?” Gina wondered.

    “It doesn’t make sense,” Newsie growled, still musing over the snack cake issue.

    “Since when does anything they do make sense?” Gina sighed. She stroked the feathery top of his head. “Sweetie, Robin’s waving at me. I think the fortunetelling table is set up. Want to sit with me, or go play a game?”

    “I…I should probably go over my case some more with Blander,” Newsie said, but Gina crouched to look him in the eye. Though blurry, he could tell she was frowning.

    “Newsie, don’t you dare. This is a party, and you are supposed to be taking the day off, remember?” She kissed the black beak covering his nose. “Why don’t you try the apple bobbing? I bet you’re good at that. Win some candy.” Every contest had little bags of various sweets as prizes for those who succeeded at them, from the bowling to the pumpkin relay to pin-the-tail-on-the-monster. Clusters of Muppets were gathered at every station ranged around the lawn, laughing and cheering one another on. “Come on…just cut loose for a while, okay? You’re welcome to sit in with me if you’d rather.”

    Newsie thought about it; although he was curious about the cards, sitting still right now didn’t appeal to him, restless as he felt. “Uh…all right, I’ll try the apple bobbing. I’ll win you something,” he offered, and Gina kissed him.

    “That’s the spirit! See that table over by the barn?” Squinting, he could just make out a blurry black blob near the big blurry red blob. “That’s where I’ll be until the group events later. Come find me whenever you want…” She grinned. “And I’ll send someone to find you every half-hour if I don’t see you!”

    “Not necessary,” he mumbled, embarrassed. Blurry or not, he could certainly handle himself for a while! After all, this was a quaint family farm, far from the scary tunnels of the city, and he was surrounded by friends… Sighing, he realized both she and Kermit were right. He ought to take advantage of the company and the surroundings and just try to relax. “Okay. Go do your readings. I’ll see you soon.”

    “I love you,” she murmured, kissing him once more before gliding across the lawn. Squaring his shoulders and setting his jaw determinedly, the Newsman headed for the apple tub. Five minutes later, Scooter steered him back in the right direction.

    “All ready?” Dr Teeth asked; everyone nodded.

    “Braaaaiiins?” Animal asked.

    The good Doctor chuckled. “Well all riiight!” His hands swooped wildly down the keyboard, and the Mayhem kicked into a neglected New Wave classic. As Muppets continued to gather at the front of the makeshift stage (the flat bed of the haywagon), Bunsen flourished a smoking flask, standing in front of the wagon on a haybale platform.

    In his reedy voice, Honeydew sang, and began to dance:
    “Doctor Heckle works late at the laboratory,
    where things are not as they seem!
    Doctor Heckle wishes nothing more desperately,
    than to fulfill all his dreams!
    Letting loose with a scream in the dead of night
    as he’s breaking new ground –
    Trying his best to unlock all the secrets but
    he’s not sure what he’s found!
    Dr Heckle is his own little guineapig
    ‘cause they all think he’s mad;
    sets his sights on the search of a lifetime and
    he’s never never sad!”

    The band joined in one line: “Oh whoaa-ohh!”

    “It’s off to work he goes,
    in the name of Science
    and all its wonders!” Bunsen sang, and downed the contents of the flask. A smoke bomb went off, and waving it clear, Beaker stepped out where Bunsen had just stood, resplendent in a Travolta-style disco suit.

    Everyone chorused: “This is the story
    of Dr Heckle and Mr Jive!
    They are a person
    who feels good to be alive!
    This is the story
    of Dr Heckle and Mr Jive!
    Believes the underdog
    will eventually survive!”

    Beaker danced maniacally, meeping along. As the music took over once more, Teeth’s keyboard prominent, Beaker ducked under the wagon and Bunsen took the platform once again as Dr Heckle. People laughed, clapped, and those old enough to remember when the song was a hit sang along to parts of the second verse and the repeated chorus. Bunsen and Beaker shoved one another offstage repeatedly to hog the glory of being frontman, much to the amusement of the audience. When the band wound the tune down at last, a couple of other heckles could be heard over the applause:

    “If they had to pick something from the ‘eighties, why couldn’t it be Thomas Dolby instead?”

    “Oh? Why’s that?”

    “Then at least we’d be too blinded by science to see any of this!”

    “Oh, ho ho ho ho!”

    Waldorf poked his comrade-in-costume with a straw-stuffed glove. “Come on. Let’s go scare some crows.”

    “You might want to take off the costume then,” Statler jibed. “You’ll scare more of ‘em that way!”

    Gina smiled at the smug hog seated on a large pumpkin before the card table. She smoothed out the festive, sparkly black cloth and laid three cards precisely upon it. “Well…here’s what I see,” she offered, looking over the reversed Knight of Bats, the Seven of Ghosts, and another reverse for the Three of Pumpkins. “This says a lot about your approach to life…I see a lot of daydreaming, a lot of artistic laziness, and a lot of self-love. You could be doing creative work, but your own brashness in forging after silly, self-involved goals is preventing you from reaching anything deeper in life.”

    “Boy,” Link said, nodding at Clifford. “She’s really good at this!”

    The purple Muppet shook his head as the satisfied hog sauntered off. “You always get that positive a reaction from complete foamheads?” Clifford asked.

    “Ask me again after I do yours,” Gina quipped, grinning, and Cliff chuckled.

    “Now, baby, don’t do me like that! Come on. Ask your pretty cards if there’s a lady somewhere just waiting for me to sweep her off her feet!”

    “Love for the soul brother,” Gina mused, handing him the deck. “Let’s have a look. Focus on that question, and shuffle these until you feel ready. Then we’ll lay down three cards and see what fate has in store for you.”

    “No such thing as fate,” Clifford objected, but did as he was instructed, and watched intently as Gina turned over the top three and studied them. “I see some happy-lookin’ spooks there…but what is that vampire all about? Uh, I’m not into that whole duskfall thing or whatever it is…”

    Gina giggled. “No…this is very good.” She indicated the first card, the Lovers, in this deck depicted by a young woman reading a staid love letter in bed surprised by a vampire as dapper as the Count leaping through her open window; symbols of temptation swirled in the background. “You need to decide whether you’re looking for something fast and exciting, or something that might last longer than a fling. You’re being pulled in two different directions, trying to balance loneliness with a hunger for something truly fulfilling.” Next she tapped the Strength card, with a gentle lion-tamer comforting an uneasy big cat. “This card is all about inner strengths; about having courage enough in yourself to overcome your fears. You need to give yourself more credit as a desirable guy, Clifford, and get past your doubts.” Last were the spooks Cliff had noted, the Two of Ghosts, a happy couple holding hands. “If you can get past the thoughts of Miss Right-Now, and just be comfortable being you, you’ll find the real Miss Right…and she’ll feel the same for you.”

    “For real? Those really say that?” When Gina nodded, smiling, Clifford chuckled uncertainly. “Don’t tell me you stacked the deck.”

    “The deck says what the deck says,” Gina argued, still smiling. “It’s only bringing out what you yourself put into it. You know what you need to do, deep down. This is only a reflection of that knowledge.”

    “Thanks…” Clifford said. He sat there a moment longer, staring at the cards, then thanked her again and walked off, lost in thought until Rowlf hailed him and steered him toward the cider cauldron. Gina swept the cards into the deck once more, pleased. The prohibitive necklace she always wore, which regrettably prevented her from any foreknowledge about her Newsie’s mishaps, at least didn’t interfere with other people handling the cards, and she’d been a reader for so long that interpreting for others was easy. She held her blowing veil away from her eyes, looking around for her Muppet.

    Aha. Oh, for crying out… With a sigh, she gathered up her cards into their pouch, tying it to her dress sash before breaking up the lecture that boring lawyer was giving the Newsman, having cornered him next to the almost-empty food table. With the day’s light beginning to fade, the jack-o’lanterns in every window and on every table had been lit, and twinkling orange lights switched on in cheerful swags between the trees and along the porch eaves. Gina interrupted Bland as the bluebird of boringness droned on: “Never been to many parties, naturally; too much work to do! Now, if you’d like, may I return the favor of this invitation by asking you and your lady-friend to our little shindig next weekend…there’ll be a chicken cordon bleu, of course, and an awards ceremony…”

    “Sounds nice, but I think we have plans,” Gina said, and Newsie shot her a grateful look. “Hey, I think they’re about to start the gory story! Come on, let’s go grab a seat.” Taking Newsie by the hand, she tugged him inside to the living room, where chairs, sofas, and pillows on the floor were rapidly being covered with Muppets, everyone chattering and feeling the excitement that sundown near Halloween is wont to bring. Pumpkin-spice scented candles flickered around the interior, filling the room strongly with their joyful odor.

    “Everyone settled?” Emily Bear asked, beaming at the crowd all squeezed into the large but still overstuffed room. “Well then! Time for some spooky fun! Son, get the lights; Mr Deadly, would you begin handing the bowls around?” Fozzie dimmed the lamps, so that only dark shapes which giggled and whispered and nudged one another could be seen by anyone else.

    “For tonight, madam, it is not Deadly, but He Who Must Not Be Blamed,” the spectral dragon intoned, settling his black cloak and taking his place next to a mysterious tray full of covered bowls. “Quiet, all of you, for I have a tale most horrible…”

    “I thought the head was worse than the tail,” Waldorf muttered loudly, but others shushed him.

    “Silence!” Deadly boomed, and everyone stilled. Satisfied, with a gleaming eye, the dragon handed the first bowl to Kermit. “Earlier this evening, a body was found buried beneath the root cellar! No one knows how it came to be there, but its condition was most terrible…the poor dead Muppet had been stabbed, strangled, and then…completely ripped to pieces!” With a gloating laugh, Deadly peered around the circle of nervous Muppets. “John Whatnot is dead, and this is his hair…”

    “It’s not real, right, Uncle Kermit?” Robin whispered. His uncle shook his head, patting the little frog on the shoulder, and with relief Robin accepted the first bowl from Kermit and reached a tentative flipper in to feel the furry, coarse strips. He passed it to Piggy, who merely brushed her fingers over the stuff before passing it along.

    “John Whatnot was murdered, and this is his foam,” Deadly said mournfully, starting the next bowl around the circle.

    Newsie put his hand into the first bowl only reluctantly. Gina nudged him. “It’s okay, Newsie…it’s not real. This is an old party game.”

    He nodded, but kept glancing over at Deadly, those glowing blue eyes eerie in the dark room. He’d always felt anxious around the dragon, but tonight was even less pleased to see the spook in attendance. Trying to shake it off as the effect of the atmosphere in here, he touched the furry stuff in the bowl briefly and passed it to Gina. He jumped when she grasped his left hand, then edged closer to her on the chair they shared.

    “John Whatnot was buried in the cellar, and these are his eyes, which saw the horrible Thing that killed him…the last thing, in fact, he ever viewed!” Chuckling evilly, Deadly handed a bowl with a couple of peeled grapes to Kermit, who seemed a bit discomfited. Piggy didn’t bother dirtying her pristine gloves, handing it down the line.

    “Icchh,” Newsie muttered when the ‘eyeballs’ reached him. “Who thought this up?”

    Gina gave his hand a squeeze. Farther along the circle, Miss Mousey squeaked in disgust at the sponge-cake serving as the deceased’s ‘foam’. Giggles and groans and noises of amusement or revulsion were spreading through the room regularly now. “John Whatnot was ripped limb from limb – and this is his arm!” Deadly chortled, passing a slime-coated doggie bone over to the frog. “John Whatnot was still alive when the Thing tore out his insides – and these are his intestines!” Cold, oily spaghetti followed the ‘arm’.

    “I don’t think I like this game,” Newsie whispered, quickly passing the bone to Gina when his fingers touched it.

    “Newsie…it’s okay, I promise.” He felt her wrap an arm around his shoulders, and felt ashamed of his fear. It wasn’t even as much the silly game, he realized, as it was the clear enjoyment Uncle Deadly took in repulsing the players, each reiteration of the storyline sounding more and more grotesque…and those glowing eyes… He shuddered.

    “We can drop out if you want,” Gina suggested, but he shook his head. It was just a foolish game, after all; no reason to be upset; no monsters here…well, though, what about Deadly? ‘He Who Must Not Be Blamed,’ what a ridiculous choice of character…blamed… Newsie frowned, something tugging at the back of his thoughts. Blame. But the dragon was to blame, for something, wasn’t he?

    He felt another squeeze of his fingers, and squeezed back, trying to think, while the deep, intimidating voice kept adding to the feeling of menace: “John Whatnot was brutally slain, and here, dear friends, here is his brain!”

    “Hey,” someone complained near the far edge of the circle. “I don’t get it – there’s nothing in this bowl?”

    “Hm?” Deadly looked over, scowling. “Of course there is!”

    “No, this is supposed to be his guts, and I got nothin’,” the stagepig grunted, holding up an empty bowl.

    “What?” Vastly annoyed, Deadly strode over to examine it…and then heard chewing, slurping sounds. “Oh, for crying out…turn on the lights!”

    Everyone looked at Rizzo as the lamps brightened. He froze, then slucked the last inch of spaghetti between his lips. “What?” Seeing everyone’s reactions, he glared around. “What? It’s only noodles – and I was hungry!”

    The game broke up in hoots and groans. Disgusted, Deadly stalked off to see if the spiders in the cellar would rather trade stories instead. Relieved to be able to see at least somewhat better in the warm lights, Newsie exchanged a kiss with a smiling Gina. “All right, why don’t we have dinner, then?” Emily Bear offered, and cheers went up. “Boys, help me bring it all out!” Numerous volunteers scrambled into the kitchen, and shortly a multitude of platters and bowls and dishes of roasted ears of corn, mashed potatoes with three kinds of gravy, bowls of barley soup and pumpkin bisque and all sorts of cooked veggies covered the dining room table, and every Muppet got in line with a plate or bowl to sample the feast.

    Standing with his beloved, Newsie noticed a small bowl of suspect substance among the chicken-and-pig-sensitive buffet. “Er…don’t eat any of that,” he warned Gina.

    “Are those…”

    “Maple-coated bees!” Kermit exclaimed.

    “Gotcha,” Gina murmured.

    Newsie touched her arm gently. “Um…thanks for…holding my hand back there.”

    She smiled. “I won’t let you get lost, sweetie. Want me to help fill your plate?”

    “Thank you,” he agreed, but then corrected, “Uh…I meant…during the spooky story just now.”

    Gina paused, then frowned lightly. “Newsie…I had my arm around you, but I wasn’t holding your hand.”

    “What?” Startled, he looked back into the living room, but couldn’t make out any details. “Then…then who…”

    “It was probably Fozzie; he was sitting just below you,” Gina assured him. “Don’t say anything; he’d probably be mortified!”

    “Oh,” Newsie said, his unfocused gaze finding a brown blur among the jostling, happy crowd around the table. “No, of course.” He didn’t see the blue dragon anywhere, which was just as well…something unhappy kept nudging the edge of his consciousness, something he couldn’t quite coalesce into a real thought. Uneasy, he stayed very close to Gina as they joined in the dinner.

    The short, scrawny creature with long fangs slunk onto the porch unnoticed by the crowd and met up with its comrades, a fat hulk of a goblin and a black-furred wolf-thing. Together they peered in the windows at the oblivious people. “Everyone, eat up but don’t overstuff yourselves!” Mrs Bear ordered, pointing with her spoon at the field past the barn, where small globes of light marked the entry to the corn maze. “After dinner, we’ll light the bonfire, and then whoever feels brave enough to try and win the Great Pumpkin can enter…the maze!”

    Camilla turned her gaze toward the enormous pile of logs Beau had assembled, wishing someone dear was here to cuddle her by the generous flames and share a cup of mulled wine. With a sigh, she pecked at her dish of barley and apple bits, checking the clock on the living room wall. It was almost time for his show. Finishing quickly, she clucked at the other chickens, who wished Gonzo luck for her, and then she headed out for the coop. Fortunately Mrs Bear’s cable provider carried MMN. Camilla settled onto a shelf with fresh straw and wrapped a tiny quilt over her costume, steeling herself for whatever awfulness her absent love might attempt tonight.

    The monsters on the porch conferred quietly a moment. “Remember,” the scrawny one hissed, “He looks like a bird! Try to get him alone before you grab him!” The monsters hurried out to the cornfield and burrowed in among the stalks, a shadow and a rustle the only trail they left behind.

    At Blucher Memorial, Bobo the bear snuffled and shifted around uncomfortably on his camp stool at the door to Newsie’s aunt’s room. He’d really wanted to go to the party, but when Sam had exhorted the pleasures of a good political rally Bobo had decided it didn’t sound like the right kind of party. Sam had promised to bring him back some informative campaign literature, but Bobo didn’t mind filling in tonight for free.

    “Poor old girl,” the bear muttered, peeking into the room a moment at the still, tiny figure in the cold-looking, white-sheeted bed. These kinds of things were so sad. Trying not to get emotionally involved, he shut the door again, sighing. “Poor Newsguy.” He wasn’t really sure what he was supposed to be guarding against; maybe the old lady had been a mob wife or something. “You can never really leave the Family,” Bobo mused aloud, then perked. “Hey…wonder if that means Newsie’s a Goodfella? Huh. I wonder if he knows anyone in the waste disposal business? I could really use a steady, nine-to-five kinda job…with bonuses, yeah, those are good…and health insurance… Does the mob have insurance? Well, I know I mean they offer it, but I don’t know if it’s as good as Moo Cross…”

    Two tentacled, soft-bodied creatures materialized on either side of the bed. For once, they said not a word, and the only sound inside the room was the hiss and puff of the felt lung machine.

    The night darkened. The monsters waited.
    The Count likes this.
  17. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    And for those of you born too late:

    Note: extra special brownie points for anyone who knows which movie is being referred to during the in-car conversation between Scooter, Sara, Kermit & Piggy...and if you can not only name the movie, but ALSO know what critic publicized the "Spam in a cabin" quote AND what writer originally said it -- I will mail you a scary Halloween chocolate!
  18. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Okay, this is what I jotted down during reading, which is why it took so long.

    1 Goblin City for the basement candy grabbing game, cute reference.
    2 Is Gina meant to be Lygia or Lenore.
    3 Kermit and Piggy as Anthony and Cleopatra, nods approval.
    But where's Cleopigtra's asp crown?
    4 a. Cheers at seeing Sara included.
    b. :laugh: at Scooter's comment, remembering a different yet similar one once.
    c. Wait, Sara's Hermoine and Scooter's Ron? Then shouldn't he have left his red hair alone?
    Thought that and freckles were the distinguishing marks of the Weezly clan.
    d. Wingardiam leviosa? To make suitcases fly into the trunk? Me thinks the spell you'd want is "Locomotor" followed by the name of the object intended to be moved on its own under the caster's will by having Scooter point his wand at the luggage, as seen when Professor Trelawney was sacked by Professor Umbridge in Order of the Phoenix. *Is such a Potter nerd.
    5 Reads on past Piggy's peak at the filming location not being pinned down.
    6 Oh, it's Lenore after all. It is Lenore?
    Yes, it's Lenore and the eponomous Raven. For a moment I thought you'd been inspired by the Poe and Annabel Lee LDD set.
    7 Cute having Robin as his uncle in his famous reporter role.
    Perhaps referencing what happened when Kermit ate the "Eat Me" cupcake after interviewing a certain blonde girl?
    8 Showing off Kermit's legs? Careful Hopper doesn't show up at the party.
    9 Was Rowlf supposed to be Columbo? Cause for some reason I got an Eddie Valiant vibe from his lines.
    10 Mmm, mummy onion-wrapped hotdogs and chocolate bats.
    11 If it were the Great Hall, you'd have the kitchen directly beneath the tables so that food and clean plates can be transported easier. Think of it as a house/color-coded elevator. The Hogwarts house elves load up the meals onto the red Griffindor table in the kitchen and it then gets sent straight up to the red Griffindor Great Hall table directly above.
    12 "No eyebrows". Nope, only nictatating membranes instead. *Read Prawny's trilogy for the reference.
    13 Sam's costume... *Reads on to hear Rhonda say she got an explanation. Ha, it is what I first thought.
    You know, they parodied that particular candidate as a Muppet character, even related to Kermit as depicted in an appearance on the Larry King Show.
    14 *:laugh: even more at the thought of Rhonda as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, makes me feel better about my choice as for what to add her as to the monster roster.
    15 Is thoroughly repulsed by :cluck:'s costume choice. It's not you, it's my own personal hatred of that which'll go unmentioned from here on out.
    16 Conductor Beau? *Feels like there was a missed opportunity for a better costume fright there.
    17 *Chuckles at the pork joke at Link's expense.
    18 :sing: Whatever Poultry wants...
    19 Whovian? You mean from Grinch's Whoville?
    Oh, it's a reference to the myriads of Dr. Whos.
    20 Dora as the Blue Fairy... Cute, woulda thought, er, no, I didn't know what other thing to think since you mentioned it first as something gothic lowcut but yeah, it makes sense now.
    21 *Awards points for the rat plumber siblings.
    22 *Awards more points for :hungry:'s appearance.
    23 Walter as Gonzo, to quote the dog... Classic.
    24 Who are Wayne and Wanda supposed to be?
    25 Rat overboard! Quick, get your best apple-bobber. *Hopes noone has to give mouth-to-mouse resucitation.
    26 O-o! Dies in a good way from hearing Dr. Hekyll. *Got it in my rock&roll folder, will play it later.
    27 *LOL at Uncle D as Lord V, or Tom Marvolo Riddle. *See note above about my fandom.
    28 Miss Mousey? Points for the cameo.
    29 Aw thanks a lot :shifty: There's always someone who ruins it for the rest of us.
    You're supposed to wait until they get to the brain of the big ninth grader, John Whatnot.
    Then, surprised, you ask what they used for the brain.
    And when they reply that they couldn't find anything, they just used a real brain, then you quip...
    Oh, I just love brains. *Crunch.
    Aaaaaaah! ! !
    30 *Notices the extra guests outside on the porch.
    31 Er... All I can think of is perhaps Gene Shallit, as that was parodied with a charicature Muppet reviewing Piggy's first movie role in Return to Beneath the Planet of the Pigs?

    *Is definitely satisfied with the mondo update. *Departs with a sigh of good-natured reviewing/remembering over the highlights.
  19. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    You are SO a Potternerd! Scooter is Harry -- thought Ron would be too obvious, and besides, the glasses are perfect!

    I'm not saying who Wayne and Wanda came as. Points for anyone who gets it. Hint: they had a tv variety show. One went on to a solo singing career and one turned hyperconservative and got into politics and then died.

    Rowlf is Columbo, yes. I wanted to pay a small tribute to the celebs who died this past year in his and Piggy's costumes. I had more train jokes for Beau but space is limited... And sorry Camilla's choice made you gag. I'm not a fan either -- just thought it would be cute and current for the chickiebabe. :cluck:

    Hm, no takers for the Spam-in-a-cabin ref? No fair using IMDB. C'mon, there have to be one or two horror buffs around here who've seen old issues of 'Fangoria' or read the reviews of a certain drive-in movie critic! :concern: Trust me. Classic. Launched at least two film careers...

    More soon! Still welcoming reviews or comments from other readers...I know you're out there, and soon I will set the Frackles upon you. :grr:
  20. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    :fishy: Then don't throw the red herring of clueing who Scooter and Sara went as by using dialogue that took place between Hermoine and Ron. Harry is Jinny's senior by one class year.

    Okay, now I know who Wayne and Wanda are. Did she show up with full black curly hairdo wig?

    Sorry, never read the mag. And unless you're talking about Joe Bob Briggs, I'm still coming up blank.

    *Wonders if :news: will be able to get those extra overalls to infiltrate the Nafrisco broom closet on Sunday.
    *Plunks a few more quarters into the can to get to the next installment.

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