1. Welcome to the Muppet Central Forum!
    You are viewing our forum as a guest. Join our free community to post topics and start private conversations. Please contact us if you need help with registration or your account login.

  2. Sesame Street Season 45
    Sesame Street's 45th season officially begins Monday September 15. After you see the new episodes, post here and let us know your thoughts.

  3. "Muppets Most Wanted" Fan Reactions
    After you see "Muppets Most Wanted", read fan reactions and let us know your thoughts on the Muppets eighth theatrical film.

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

    ---------------
    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:
    ----------------------
  2. 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.
  3. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    ----------------
    Those better not be Canadian quarters.

    *bell tolls* Yes! Score one for Ed. He only gets the chocolates if he knows the movie, though...

    Wanda came in the straight hair wig that was the performer's trademark for a long long time.

    Nafrisco must wait...we have a daredevil reality show and a corn maze to get through...mwah ha ha ha ha!

    :concern: Hey, that was a pretty good maniacal laugh!

    Thanks. I practice.
    --------------------
  4. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Dern, the only work I know Joe Bob from is his stint as host of Monstervision late late at night on TNT back during the late half of the 90's when I'd stay up that late out of habit because the wrestling would inevitably go past 11 PM/12 midnight and then there'd be either the TNT Robin Hood or Mortal Kombat series after that back when I was an undergrad.
    The stuff I remember most was when Joe Bob was hosting his Monstervision Summer School classes. That's how I powered through the Beastmaster trilogy.
    Speaking of trilogies, watched the Family Guy Star Wars parodies all strung together on TBS. *LOL.

    Ooh... Maize maze, that's amazing. And we get another episode of Brake a Leg!? *Remembers to tune in since I don't have a tbone to record it.
    newsmanfan likes this.
  5. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Twenty-Five (I)

    Rosamond ‘Rosie’ McGurk, younger brother to Thatch the Horrible, restrained the urge to pace; if he moved too much he risked spilling eighteen-molar-strength hydrochloric acid all down his back. His fur already had a pale spot where he’d had to douse himself in bleach to counteract an accident during rehearsal, and his topknot was short a few feathers. Worriedly, he gulped another Scrums antacid tablet, grimacing. Though the bottle claimed it was squirrel flavor, all he could taste was chalk.

    “Okay! My nostrils are completely coated with Frackeline!” Gonzo announced, joining his assistant in the holding area; although the pen was still swiftly locked behind him, this time the monsters had escorted Gonzo through the corridors to the studio with something like admiration. He took a deep sniff, gasping at the fire along his nasal passages and down into his throat. “Waaaahhh! I love the smell of petroleum products first thing in the morning!” When McGurk looked confused, Gonzo sighed. “Never mind. Ready for your shot at the big time, kid?”

    “Yahh, abbabba tibba,” McGurk agreed, trying to sound more positive than he felt. Well, that wasn’t entirely the case: he was positive he was going to come out of this missing at least a limb. Or a head.

    “Okay, just remember, don’t put the barrel down, no matter what!” Gonzo cautioned. “Oh, hey, be careful with that. You could put a hole in your costume.”

    McGurk stifled a yelp; a stray drop of the stuff had eaten through more than the spangled purple jumpsuit he wore tonight. Gonzo touched a hand to the monster’s trembling shoulder, which uncomfortably supported an old beer barrel full to brimming of the acid. “Don’t spill any more! I have carefully calculated the exact amount I’ll need to neutralize the red-hots! Too much or too little will send the whole thing up in flames!” At McGurk’s terrified eyebulge, the daredevil chortled. “Hah hah hah! Kidding, kidding. It should only flame up where the barrel touches your fur, no big deal, relax.”

    “Unngaahhh,” the pink monster groaned.

    “Hey! Gonzaga! Your act weel be ze last tonight!” Pew yelled, whirling to point somewhere other than Gonzo, smacking a stagefrackle, who reeled and crashed into John Lamb. “Pay attention when ah am talking to you!”

    “Last?” Gonzo’s face fell, but then he realized the advantage. “Hey, that’s great! I bet all the other guys are so intimidated they don’t want to follow me!” He ribbed McGurk; the monster shuffled anxiously, somehow managing not to dribble. “Ha ha hah! The show’s only starting, and already we’ve got our competitors on the run!”

    Rosie McGurk sighed, calculating exactly how many minutes that meant he’d have to stand utterly still to avoid any more burns…

    “Make sure the cameraguy doesn’t zoom in so close tonight,” Snookie snapped at Pew. “I can’t get rid of these circles under my eyes!” Deep shadows made the host look like a raccoon with yellow felt.

    “Eet es not mah fault eef you deed not get your beauty rest!” Pew growled in reply, and stomped toward one of the roof-support posts. “Makeup! Maaaakeuuup! Do somesing about ze eediot who stayed up doing ze parteh!”

    “I wasn’t partying!” Snookie shouted as the director narrowly missed a nose-on collision with the post, veering off at the last instant to shoulder aside a sound tech instead. “My cot tried to eat me!” Irritated, Snookie stood still as a tiny goblin stood on the shoulders of another to reach the host’s face and dab some cold cream under his weary eyes. It wasn’t enough that these morons were working him into the ground; now he had to fight off suddenly aggressive furniture as well…

    “This’ll be the night I take it all,” Montrose the Mouse claimed, smugly seated atop the small monitor in the holding pen.

    “I don’t think so, cheese-breath,” Lamb muttered, flexing his hooves.

    “Quiiiiiieet! Places! Plaaaaceeees!” Pew howled, and the crew scrambled to stay out of his way as he charged through the backstage area. The musicians on the sturdy platform suddenly surged into life, thumping and pounding out the theme song on a variety of garbage cans accompanied by trumpet and oboe. “Hey, I deed not say begin! You eediots! Camera one! Camera one! Where is ze host? Go, go, go!”

    The studio audience finished finding their seats, cheering and snarling, clearly excited for the night’s performances. Snookie swiftly bounded onstage, grinning as his spotlight picked him out, grabbing a wireless mic from a soundfrackle as the monster scurried past. “Heeeyy! That’s right guys and ghouls, it’s time once again for the only show with a negative FCC rating for gratuitous body counts, it’s – Break a Leg!”

    As the theme ended, one of the garbage can lids raised and a dirty orange Grouch protested: “Hey, c’mon! I’m tryin’ ta watch TV down here! Don’t make me come out there with last week’s litterbox scoopings!”

    Snookie hurriedly smacked down the can lid, his smile frozen in place. “Heh heh, no comments from the peanut gallery, folks! Let’s say hello to our judges!” The camera feed flipped to the judges’ table as Snookie continued, “The only guy in a worse mood than that Grouch, Beautiful Day! …The world’s worst cheerleader, Behemoth!” Snookie consulted a cue card quickly. “Ah…and sitting in tonight, the world’s greatest glutton, Gorgon Heap! Shakey Sanchez seems to have gone AWOL.”

    Something bumped around in the guts of both Hem and B.D., and both burped loudly, looked sheepishly at one another, then burst into chuckles. Snookie shuddered, then presented his game face to the camera once more. “Without further cries for help, let’s get right into the action! And action it is: up first, that master of maiming, John Lamb!” Lamb stepped into a pool of harsh downlight center stage, nodding grimly at the cheers and boos alike, and stripped off his wool coat to show off his well-muscled physique. “As you’ll recall if you haven’t completely destroyed your brain cells with overconsumption of Fwinkies, last time the judges imposed a requirement on all the performers that their acts tonight must include and involve hydrochloric acid and red-hot candies! How they use those elements is up to the individual contestants, but the more dangerous, the higher score they’re likely to receive from our judges! Remember, those of you with phones smarter than you are, vote for your favorite daredevil after their act! Limit of five votes or five hundred dollars per voter, whichever is greater. So! Let’s dive in and see what exactly gets broken! For Break a Leg, I’m Snookie Blyer, and this…is the one and only Lamb!”

    “Lamb!” chorused a gaggle of Frackle groupies in the corner.

    The sheepfighter went into a defensive crouch as an enormous turquoise-furred Thing with a fat, powerful alligator-tail, a wide-lipped toothy mouth, and gold-lamé boxing shorts jumped into the circle. The eight-foot-tall beast roared, shaking his fists at the audience, which went even wilder; apparently the monster was a known favorite, as the chant of “Tim-my! Tim-my!” echoed through the room. Suddenly, thin jets of fluid spurted up in a ten-foot circle around the two combatants. “The legendary Acid Sumo Ring!” Snookie exclaimed. “Well! By traditional rules, folks, whomever gets pushed out of the ring first…er…loses! And with a continuous spray of acid, courtesy of the fine monsters at Three Limbs in the Fountain, they’ll lose more than the match!” Cheers, catcalls, and whoops sounded from the audience as the fighters feinted at one another a couple of times, then crashed together, muscles straining, struggling to shove the other one back. The Thing’s tail swished too close to the fountain jets, and he roared in pain, thrashing forward; Lamb ducked the swing, tackling the Thing’s fat knees, but wasn’t able to bring it down. “Looks like an even battle! But what about the red-hots?” Snookie wondered. “If Lamb doesn’t figure out a way to work those into this fight, he could win it and still get a claws-down from the…oh.” A hail of tiny red candies poured down on the fighters from above, bouncing everywhere, and immediately the monster skidded, the footing in the ring sweetly treacherous.

    “Mine’s better,” Gonzo assured McGurk, the two of them watching the action on the monitor. “I mean, look at that! Do they really think the voters will be impressed with that brash display of raw muscle and stupendous strength?” He shook his head confidently; McGurk eyeballed the Whatever’s scrawny, Spandex-suited frame with somewhat less certainty. “Hah! I’m twenty times as limber as that brawny brute!” Gonzo said, and proved it by windmilling both arms. “See? Flexibility! Mind over muscle! That’s what’ll win this, Rosie, not silly sumo moves! I am limber, I am talented, I am—“ He began windmilling his legs as well to demonstrate how very talented, and promptly went down in a tangled heap. “I am…tied in a knot... Rosie! Grab something and pull!”

    --------------------
    “Rules, everybody, rules!” Emily Bear called out, and the chattering, happy Muppets quieted enough to hear her. “Everybody going in gets one of these…” She held up a modified paintball rifle. “Which is loaded with five shots, so don’t waste them! It’s fluorescent ink, but it washes off, so don’t worry too much about getting hit by your friends. We’ve also modified it so it won’t hurt as much. Now if you get hit three times, you’re out of the game and have to leave the maze! The goal, however, is not to defeat everyone else…the goal is a golden pumpkin somewhere in the maze! First person or team to find it and bring it out without getting completely creamed wins!” She held up her hands at the excited hubbub this produced. “Now, you can enter and work in teams of two…but three hits goes for the both of you in that case, not each! If you get lost and want out, just whistle and shake the corn, and we’ll send the ref in to lead you out safely; but once out, you’re not going back in. Okay, who wants to try?”

    The bear was overwhelmed immediately by pigs, chickens, and assorted Muppets clamoring for the chance to enter. Gina tugged at Newsie’s feathered sleeve. “Sounds fun! Want to try with me?”

    “Er…what about the bonfire?” Newsie looked back at the pile of logs just now springing into bright and cheery life. Beau shooed everyone away from the edge of the fire, then hastily yanked off his conductor’s cap and stomped on it to put out the flames.

    “We can snuggle there after we win! Come on, this’ll be great! Did I ever tell you I used to kick the older neighbor kids’ butts at Lazer Tag?” She grinned wickedly, and the Newsman sighed.

    “All right, but I can’t really –“

    “Great! Let’s go!” She led him to the haybale-stacked entryway; beyond the solar torches and flickering jack-o’lanterns there, the corn stretched off in near-darkness, with small lights placed at intervals to keep people from wandering into the thick walls of cornstalks. Newsie held tight to Gina’s hand as she accepted a paintball gun from Mrs Bear, passing another over to him.

    “Uh…I’ve never shot anything,” he whispered to her as they stood in line; Muppets were being allowed into the maze every couple of minutes. Kermit and Robin stood just ahead of them, Robin without a rifle but with a tiny pad and pencil to track the maze as they went. Newsie thought that an excellent idea, and wished he had his reporter’s notepad.

    “You navigate,” Gina whispered back. “Make a little mark at each turn, so we know which routes we’ve already tried. You let me worry about the other guys.”

    The frogs bounded off around the first turn, quickly lost from sight and hearing among the softly rustling corn. Newsie stepped forward, wrapped in thought, and jerked back when an enormous hand barred his way. “Ack!” Looking up, he was further startled by the vast, shaggy head suddenly a few inches from his own. “Aaagh!”

    “Um…cute costume, Sweetums,” Gina said, trying to figure out what the green pointy ears and green rubber nose were supposed to signify.

    “Haw haw haw! Thanks! Uh, it’s okay, Newsman; it’s just me,” the troll said, lifting the rubber nose to show his own enormous pink one. “I thought a goblin would be a good Halloween costume, but I guess it’s a little too scary! Sorry I made ya jump!”

    Newsie nodded, self-consciously loosening his hold on Gina’s waist. “Er…uh…you’re guarding the exit?”

    “I’m the ref!” Sweetums said proudly, standing tall. “You get lost, you just shake those corns, and I’ll come find ya, haw haw haw!”

    “Won’t be necessary, but thanks,” Gina said, smiling. “Ready, cutie?”

    Newsie swallowed hard, but nodded, and the troll stepped aside, gesturing at them to enter the maze. Right behind them, Rizzo and Pepe jostled one another for next-in-line status. “Jou couldn’t hit the barn side of a broad already! Jou should go sit on the logs and warm up jour cold feets okay!”

    “Cold feet? Who’s got cold feet? At least I can regulate my own body temperature, fishbrain!”

    Gina leaned over to murmure to her nervous Muppet, “Stick close, and tell me if you smell anybody.” Together they hurried into the maze, taking the first left turn, then the next right, then the second left. The rows closed in around them, dry leaves whispering in the slight wind, darkness swooping down as they padded cautiously toward the small globe of light up ahead.

    ---------------------------
    Snookie gulped a glass of tepid water before the show returned from commercial break; he ignored everyone scurrying around him, though he kept an ear cocked for any sound of the crazy director careening too close. Frog, that tastes more horrible than usual. I hope they’re not tapping into the graywater lines now, he thought, doing his best to swallow it anyway. He could tell he was dehydrated: he was almost painfully thirsty, and his felt was dry and scratchy. No sleep, bland food, and now a lack of water…he could tell he was running on pure adrenaline. The surging crowd of slavering monsters just past the stage platform helped keep him alert, but he didn’t know how long he could maintain this pace before collapsing…and of all the places a Muppet did not want to show weakness, this would have to be the worst. He took his mic back as the musicians wound down their fanfare, and steeled himself to face the audience once more.

    “And we’re back! Well, for you channel-surfers just joining us, veteran brawler John Lamb may have bitten off more than he could regurgitate as cud when he attempted the acid-fountain sumo match just before the break! Lamb won the fight but earned one claws-down from B.D. for twisting his ankle in the ring!” The cameras cut for an instant to the scowling ram backstage, standing proudly though his hoof must’ve been aching. All the monsters in the studio cheered; Snookie suspected some of them were just happy to see an injury. “Next up: the mold of gold, the fearless fungus, Mungus Mumfrey!” Snookie stayed well back from the feisty fungus as it lolloped onto the platform. “Mungus will attempt to catch every red-hot thrown at him by our expert candy-tossers, while balancing over this two-hundred-gallon tank of acid!” Two lumbering yellow-furred monsters wheeled out a giant fishtank. A few skeletons with fins were rapidly disintegrating. “Uh, guys…you were supposed to empty out the fish first!” Snookie winced as the audience roared its approval. A half-dozen Frackles of all sizes and amounts of teeth lined up facing the tank, and the camerafrackle moved in for a closeup of the fungus as it slithered up the tank and spread itself thin over the open top. The band broke into a low rattling drumroll, and Snookie retreated to the relative safety of the judges’ table.

    “Say…is that Gray Poupon you’re wearing?” Gorgon Heap asked the host. Snookie yanked his coatsleeve out of reach, dividing his anxious attention between the judges and the bizarre stunt in the spotlight. He wanted to be far enough away that when the fungus collapsed into the tank, the splash wouldn’t hit him.

    The fungus had other plans. It twisted and writhed, contorting itself to catch the candies which the throwers pelted at it; after a few rounds, the Frackles tried throwing far above or out to the side of the tank, forcing the fungus to strain itself to catch each one. When an entire bag of candy had been hurled, Snookie signaled the band, who played a gloriously disharmonious chord. “Amazing! But Mungus, how’re you going to get down from the tank?” The tank, in fact, quivered on the verge of collapse as the acid ate through the sealant holding the glass walls together. In reply, the stretched-thin organism shifted and globbed and incorporated all the candies it had caught into its amorphous body. “Uh, Mungus, buddy, you might not want to eat them all…” Hooting a sound akin to a workday lunch-whistle, the fungus turned bright red, glopped into a ball and shot straight up. Snookie jumped aside as the fishtank collapsed, acid gushing over the stage floor.

    “Drainage!” Pew yelled, shoving a long-nosed blue monster toward the mess. Off-balance, the creature went down facefirst into the puddle; with a snorking gulp, he sucked all the acid into his snout. “Next act! Ze rodent es up next! Clear ze stage!”

    Snookie shook his head as the sloshing monster was ushered quickly off the platform, his nose unraveling as he tried to hold it all in. “Heh heh, that was Droop, with a reminder from our sponsor, Scrums Antacids! When you need to neutralize your dinner fast, use Scrums! Now available in Juicy Compost flavor.” He looked at the judges while the tiny mouse was released from the holding pen. “How did that act sit with your stomachs, guys?”

    “Stomach?” Gorgon muttered, and gave Hem a speculative look.

    The large brown monster backhanded the purple-furred one from his chair. “Back off, bignose! --Well, Snookie, I thought it was creative, and even though I was really disappointed that the mold didn’t fall into the soup, I’ll give him a claws-up. He really stretched himself for that act!”

    “He missed a couple of red-hots,” B.D. pointed out, grabbing one of the throwers by the arm and yanking her into the air to show off the two candies retrieved from the stage floor. “I say claws-down!”

    “Have to agree with Day-O here,” Heap said in a gravelly voice. “I liked the idea of the act, but grubble argha brakka…”

    “Can you not eat and talk at the same time?” B.D. demanded. “Savage!”

    “Sorry,” Heap muttered, spat out the gravel, and finished: “I’m not happy the fungus wasted two perfectly good candies! Claws down!” He snatched the dangling Frackle from B.D., swallowing the missing candies and the terrified stagehand whole.

    “Well, Montrose! We’ve seen two acts so far with technical difficulties shaving points off their scores! Think you can break the streak?” Snookie asked the mouse. Montrose sniffed disgustedly.

    “In my sleep! Or rather, in their sleep! Beasties and jugularmen, I give you…the Mouse’s Meanderings of Mumbleosity!” Snookie stared, astonished, as the mouse pulled out a pocketwatch and began swinging it gently at the judges, the audience, and the camera which edged in for a close-up.

    “Do you really think anyone is going to fall for that again?” he asked the rodent, who ignored him.

    “Wow…that’s…marvelous…” Hem mumbled, eyes whirling.

    “I give…the mouse…four claws up…” B.D. mumbled, swaying in his seat.

    “Mouse…tasty…” Heap mumbled, drooling all over himself.

    In the holding pen, John Lamb smacked the monitor, nearly knocking it off its stand. “Man, that’s cheating! If I was up there right now I’d be makin’ some mousetail stew!”

    “Cheeeeateeers…neeevvverrr…wiiinnn,” Wyatt Slurp said, poking one eyeball over the top edge of the stage. His psuedopod maneuvered a pistol onto the platform, and Gonzo saw the snail’s eye narrow as he took aim. BANGTHOCK!

    “You didn’t shoot him?!” Gonzo exclaimed, but Lamb laughed.

    “Nice shot, little hardshell,” the ram growled, then stalked over to the water cooler to frighten it into purifying the next cupful for him, using a glare he’d taught Chuck Norris. Gonzo rushed to the monitor, relieved to see the mouse still standing…although his watch no longer swung at the end of the gold chain in his paw.

    The audience murmured, waking up. B.D. grunted, “What the—hey! You’re not using acid!”

    “Or red-hots!” Hem growled.

    “Waiter!” Heap called.

    A skinny, furry blue creature with a towel draped over one forearm rushed over. “Yes sir! Yes sir! Have you made a selection? The soup is very tasty today!”

    “I’ll have the mouse soufflé,” Heap rumbled.

    “Very good sir.” The blue monster tucked the menu under one arm, but before he could run off, Heap gestured at the quivering Montrose.

    “You can skip the soufflé part. I’m in a hurry; this is a working lunch.”

    “Uh, of course, sir.” The monster grabbed Montrose by the tail, running offstage through a swinging door. “Hey Harry! One rodent to go – stack it and rack it!”

    “I didn’t know we had a café,” Gonzo mused. “Do you think I could get a walnut-pastrami on a pita with fried avocado?”

    “Ubba nah ahdidda,” McGurk shrugged.

    “The trick-shooting of the world’s fastest snail, Wyatt Slurp, coming up after the break! But first, a special performance by Gree-Lo Orange! Stay with us!” Snookie said, grinning until the feed cut, and then slumping into a chair stage left, clear of the performance area, while the techs hurriedly set up the audio equipment for the star monster pop singer. He gulped more cloudy water, borrowed a smear of lip balm from the makeup goblin, and glared at the waiter delivering a covered platter which shook and banged to the big purple guy at the judges’ table. “Nice. He gets a catered lunch. What do I get? A dry mouth and a foamache!” Irritated, he looked at his watch, counting down the minutes until this debacle went off the air once more and he could possibly get a few hours of sleep…assuming his cot had been let out to roam free and the floor of his cell didn’t animate next.

    -------------------------
    The Newsman crouched at a corner of the narrow pathway, the tip of his nose poking around it. He took a deep whiff. “High or low?” Gina whispered, huddled just behind him with her rifle on his shoulder.

    “Low,” Newsie muttered back. “Feathers.”

    “Excellent. Stay still.” Gina leaned around the corner formed by the sharp intersection of thick rows of dry stalks, aimed the way her Muppet’s nose pointed, and squeezed the trigger. The thoop of the shot was followed hard by a startled squawk, and then a flurry of protests from a chicken. Gina pulled Newsie back into the corridor of corn, and they hustled away before a return attack could arrive. “You are good at this,” she told him, stopping around the next turn for a breathless kiss.

    “We don’t seem to be any nearer the pumpkin,” he objected, though he enjoyed the kiss as well as the praise. Twenty-odd minutes from their entrance into the maze, Newsie had pinpointed four competitors…five now, counting whichever chicken had just been splattered with dye. However, he’d lost track of the turns with all the backtracking and sudden changes in direction that Gina took to keep them away from anyone else armed with a paintgun.

    “Trade me?” Gina asked, offering him her now-empty rifle. He was certainly agreeable; he couldn’t bring himself to shoot anything. Of course, it wasn’t as though he could see anything well enough to try…plus, he had the strong suspicion that if he attempted it, gallons of paint would pour out of thin air over him. Gina loaded a paintball into the chamber and grinned at Newsie. “Okay…I estimate we’ve covered about eighty percent of this place. Which means either we’re very close, or someone else beat us to it and is trying to sneak out right now. In which case…” She thumped the side of the gun.

    “How can you tell we’ve been through that many rows?” Newsie peered around at the endless, softly shifting stalks; each corridor was little more than a walking path, and taller even than Gina. He was glad he wasn’t alone out here; except for the solar globes illuminating the paths every ten feet, the night above and around them seemed black and ominous.

    “Bonfire’s that way, and we keep moving away from it no matter how many turns we take,” Gina pointed out; she could see the glow of the fire just above the tops of the tall stalks. Newsie shook his head.

    “Then I guess we keep going.” He sniffed. “I don’t smell any pumpkins, though.”

    “Well, Mrs Bear didn’t say it was a real pumpkin. Golden…could be foil-wrapped chocolate? Or painted plastic? Or real gold!”

    “I hope not,” Newsie sighed. “I had a really bad day the last time I touched a bar of gold bullion.” He allowed her to tug him along, trying not to let the soft rustles all around them unnerve him…it was probably just the wind…

    The low-slung, toothy thing skittered through the corn, careful to stay downwind of the Muppet with the sensitive nose. Slurg had been lucky, back in the farmhouse: that candle had smelled so strongly it negated everything else, but now that the walking piranha of a monster knew the Muppet was sniffing things out, it had to be careful. If only it could figure out some way to separate the unfelted female from its quarry; she seemed too good with that gun to risk a direct assault!

    A hue and cry went up a couple of rows over. “Cheating! Hey! Cheating!” The monster froze, gesturing for its fellows to fall back. Sweetums stomped down the vegetative hallway, heading for the commotion.

    “Cheating? Who here would cheat?” Walter wondered aloud, lifting his safety goggles to peer around, trying to get a glimpse of the offender. He was promptly splatted for the second time; turning, he saw the Chef waving cheerily at him before vanishing around a bend. Glumly the young Muppet examined the stain on his fleece pullover, then with a chuckle he plucked a packet of candy corn he’d won earlier from a pocket and lobbed it high. Racing to the same turn in the path, he saw the Chef bent over to poke the candy scattered in his way, half-expecting it to give him some trouble. The Swede jumped at the impact of the paint glob on his rear. With a war whoop, Walter scampered away, no closer to the prize but elated at his retribution.

    “No fair crawling under the corn!” Sweetums roared, hefting a rat in green overalls high and frighteningly close to his ponderous lips.

    “It wasn’t me!” shrieked the rat. “I swear it wasn’t me! It was Rizzo!”

    Sweetums, about to hurl the rat out of the maze, paused, tilting his head to squint at the tiny thing wriggling from his thumb and finger. “What? Rizzo?”

    “Dat’s right! Rizzo! It was Rizzo! He – he’s da one dressed like dat pirate!” the rat gasped, trying to slow his frantic heart before it popped out of his mouth. “I saw ‘im sneakin’ troo da corn just over dere!”

    “Huh!” Sweetums snorted, absently tossing the rat over his shoulder (and over twelve rows of thickly planted corn to land on a haybale at the entry, where he fainted) to go after the actual offender. Rizzo, hearing this, scrambled for dear life, trying to keep ahead of those tromping feet; Sweetums caught sight of him, and pounded an aisle of dry stalks into the ground in his haste. “C’mere, you!”

    “Aaaagh mother!” Rizzo screamed, veering into the trail and zipping between Gina and Newsie. Startled, the couple let go of one another and fell to either side as the troll crashed past.

    Newsie, suddenly smelling dirty wet fur, panicked. He didn’t have time to consider whether Sweetums was the source; he just needed to get far away now! Gasping, he dove into the corn. Opposite, Gina staggered, tumbling into the brittle stalks; when she righted herself, she couldn’t hear or see Newsie anywhere. “Newsie?” she called softly, unwilling to betray her position in case one of their competitors was near. She moved tentatively along the path, trying to see any movement in the wall of corn. “Newsie? Where are you?”

    Slurg elbowed the hefty goblin, waking it from its doze. “He’s alone! Now! After him!”

    The monsters slithered, crawled, and lumbered into the thicket of grain the way the Muppet had run.

    ---------------------
    Camilla muted the commercials, gazing bleakly at the fuzzy screen while she waited through the musical number by some chunky orange monster with heavy horns and a couple of backup dancers dressed in some kind of white armor. Outside, she could hear distant singing, laughter, camaraderie. Why, oh why wasn’t Gonzo here with them all? He’d have loved the bonfire…she realized she actually wished he was here to fire-walk the highest logs in the pile. Sighing, the chicken lifted the mute to watch that strange snail. There was a new judge tonight; Camilla wondered if that boded well or ill for Gonzo’s status. Whichever way they voted, it still wouldn’t help her honey with whatever horrible stunt he had planned. The last time Gonzo had tried playing with red-hots, he’d burned all the hair out of his nose…and his ears, and his tongue…

    The sound of Sweetums roaring, and assorted screams, told her the party was in full swing. Camilla fluffed her feathers against the chilly night, plumping the blanket more over herself, and watched in staid silence while the snail perched atop a dunking platform over a tank of presumably acid, daring a bunch of scraggly-looking monsters to rush up and press the button which would send him to a fate worse than escargot. She blinked, both impressed and worried as every single monster was shot down with a blast of red-hot candies shot from a Gatling gun in the snail’s foot before they could reach the tank. These performers are all good enough to beat him…so he’s only going to go bigger, bolder, deadlier! She shivered, impatiently clucking as the host took the judges’ reactions while the snail somehow escaped the bubbling bath, although his gun fell in and frothed horribly. Oh Gonzo, don’t do this! Just come home!

    But the host introduced him, and there was nothing the chicken could do to stop it.
    -------------------------
  6. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Twenty-Five (II)

    “Gimme a C, a bouncy C!” Gonzo yelled at the band. Obligingly they played something upbeat and carnival-themed. With a flourish, Gonzo threw aside his cape, revealing the special bodysuit he’d made for this act: hundreds of red-hots had been glued onto the shiny red Spandex from toe to chin. One of the judges had eaten his unicycle before rehearsal, so he’d had to scrap that part of it, but he balanced on tiptoe on a four-inch-square platform high above the stage, two spotlights centering him in their glare. “People of earth, monsters of the underworld, behold! The acid in the barrel atop the head of my colleague below is not just acid – it is eighteen-molar-strength acid, and only a coating of petroleum-fossil-bug jelly is keeping it from completely melting the barrel and my furry assistant right now!”

    “Gakk!” McGurk gulped, shaking. A droplet of the acid splashed from the movement, and he winced, doing his best to stay still. His knees quivered.

    “I will neutralize the acid with these red-hots! This chemical masterpiece must be exactly calculated and timed perfectly, or I will dissolve when I hit it! Observe, as I begin…the Reaction of Red-Hot Wreckage!”

    Back at Bear Farm, Camilla squawked and flapped wildly, zooming around the low-roofed coop, banging her head and landing ungracefully in front of the TV again. Dizzy, she bawked a soft protest, but her Whatever could not hear.

    McGurk waited anxiously, trembling, watching as high above, the Great Gonzo tossed a handful of red-hots into the air. With a crazed cackle, he twisted his head almost entirely upside-down to catch each falling candy in his nostrils, then with a mighty breath sucked them all inside his nasal cavity and then repeated the trick for a second and a third time, managing to contort himself enough to catch every red-hot. McGurk fully expected to hear the crack of a broken neck, but that never happened; instead, Gonzo extended his arms like a show diver, bounced up and off the tiny platform, and hurtled toward the barrel McGurk strained to hold up for him.

    “Wah-ha-haaahh!” Gonzo cried, heaved a breath, and spat out a glob of half-melted red-hots; it shot down into the barrel with a splash and a hiss. Only then, in his moment of certain triumph, two seconds before he hit the liquid, did he notice some of the candies on his bodysuit had melted under the hot spotlights. “What? Oh no, I needed those! This suit was perfectly calibrated to – whoa-ho-waaaaauuuugh!”

    McGurk yelped in pain, the splashes spattering hotly over his fur when Gonzo plunged into the barrel. A thick cloud of steam whooshed up, obscuring the performers. Snookie shielded his eyes, unwilling to see the result. The judges leaned over their table, fascinated. The audience held its collective breath.

    “Tah-daaaahhh! Thank you! Thank you!” Gonzo shouted, standing in the barrel; the remnants of his bodysuit fizzled as they dissolved, leaving a naked, joyous, and smoking Whatever. Then the barrel fell apart, and McGurk collapsed with a groan, and a startled Snookie fumbled for words as a stagemonster hastened to throw a blanket over the exposed daredevil.

    “I…uh…well! That was positively…revealing! The Great Gonzo, folks!” Snookie stammered, and applause broke out. “That has to be the most painful advocating of nudity onstage I’ve ever seen…looks like his assistant is trying to get more into the act and out of his skin, as well!”

    McGurk, with a gurgled shriek, leapt upright and away from the crumbling barrel. Most of his fur was gone. Embarrassed, he threw his hands over front and rear and sidestepped offstage. Gonzo, still grinning and waving at the audience, had to be forcibly dragged off by the monsters; he knew his act had topped them all, even if he’d had to unexpectedly go topless to pull it off…and bottomless as well. “Oh, don’t be such prudes!” he scoffed at the Frackle trying to knot the blanket around him. “Felt is beautiful! Fur is natural!”

    All three judges gave him a claws-up. Gorgon Heap even waved a mousetail like a pennant. Gonzo grabbed a shaken Rosie’s shoulders. “Do you hear that? They loved us! No one can touch us! Ahhh ha ha ha ha!”

    McGurk stared at the Whatever. Calming slightly, Gonzo nodded at him. “Hey, I really like the haircut, too. Keep the image fresh; good thought!” McGurk reached up a startled hand to feel the complete lack of feathers atop his head; behind him, a Frackle gasped and averted eyes, and hurriedly McGurk covered himself again. Still out of breath but in performer’s nirvana, Gonzo beamed at the other daredevils giving him ugly looks; all he could hear was the crowd still going wild. “Ah, Camilla, baby, I sure hope you saw this! Dream big, dare big, win big! Woo hooo!”

    -----------------------
    The wolf-nosed thing was ready, and when the goblin jumped up and startled their bird-costumed prey, he stumbled backwards right into the waiting claws. “Hey!” the Muppet protested, but before he could scream, Slurg thumped his head, and the Muppet slumped unconscious.

    “Hurry, hurry!” Slurg panted. The goblin and the wolf-thing grabbed limp arms and dragged the partygoer through the hole they’d cut in the corn. In seconds they were out of the maze; in under a minute they’d reached the root cellar beneath the old farmhouse. As Slurg threw open the storm door so the others could drag the heavy Muppet down inside, the wolf-thing began singing happily:

    “Buggawuggaboog, tugga zergel bergel, tuggawuggaboog, tugga snergel snort—“

    “Hey! Shut up!” Slurg snarled, smacking the wolf-nose. “You wanna give us away? Now move it!”

    “Sorry,” the monster muttered low. “I’m just happy; ain’t you?”

    “I’ll be happy when we get this load to the boss,” Slurg snapped. “Now heave!” He glanced around worriedly as they dragged the helpless Muppet into the cellar, where a recently dug tunnel provided access all the way to the Hudson, where a garbage scow waited to ferry them all home. No one seemed to have noticed the kidnappers. With a toothy grin, Slurg shut the cellar door.

    The spectral dragon’s eyes narrowed to pinpricks of blue light. He’d no idea what those creeps were up to, but clearly they hadn’t been invited guests. “I hate party crashers,” he muttered. Vowing to teach them a lesson if they stuck their noses out here again, he sauntered upstairs to chat with the resident ghost, a charming old sheep who’d died peacefully after the shearing of ‘fifty-eight. She seemed a nice enough old gal, even if her mind was a trifle wooly.

    ---------------
    “What are jou doing! I did nothing! Nothing!” Pepe yelled.

    “I’m innocent! I been framed!” Rizzo cried, his voice cracking.

    Sweetums scowled at the two tiny pirates, one clutched in each massive hand. “Well all I know is one a’yuh was cheatin’!”

    Rat and shrimp immediately pointed at each other.

    “Him!”

    “It was him okay!”

    Snorting in contempt, the troll swung them both over his head and released them; they screamed all the way down, landing near the bonfire. With a low groan, Rizzo wobbled to his feet. Seeing Pepe a foot away, he snarled, “Tanks! Tanks a bunch! I was dis close to da cheese pumpkin!”

    “Jou was nowhere nears it! If jou had not messed it all up, I was about to –“ Pepe stopped. “The what pumpkin?”

    “Cheese! Cheese! You hoid her: a golden pumpkin! Every rat knows perfectly well what dat means! It mighta been made a’ cheddar, or Gouda, or maybe Cheshire…and now I’ll never know tanks to you and your cheating!” Rizzo slumped, despairing, gazing back at the wall of corn, but Sweetums tromped out, sending a very direct glare their way. Clearly, sneaking back in wasn’t going to be an option.

    “Hmf! Cheese, ha! Jou has no ideas what jou are talking about already. And I would have had all that gold in my hands if jou hadn’t been eating jour way through the maze okay!”

    “Oh, yeah, sure! Like you weren’t –“ Rizzo suddenly noticed splotches all over the prawn. “Hey, wait a second! You were out anyway! You got hit more dan tree times!”

    “I did not!”

    “You did so! Look! Dat’s one, two, tree, four –“

    “It does not count if the same person hit me more than once, okay!”

    “It does too! A hit is a hit!” Rizzo cackled, then, curious, asked, “Who hit ya dat many times, anyway? Who we got dat’s dat good a shot?”

    “It was dark. I did not see them, okay?” Pepe grumped, brushing the dirt from his breeches. The pair began to trudge toward the bonfire.

    “Dose look like fish imprints! Did Lew smack ya to kingdom come?” Rizzo chortled at the mental image of the fish-flinger beaning the shrimp. “What, did he coat his fish wit’ da paint or somethin’?”

    “I don’t know who got me already! Stop laughing!” Pepe noticed several colors of paint coating the rat as they entered the brighter area around the fire. “Wait, wait, wait…jou is accusing me of cheating when jou got hit four, five times?”

    “I did not!” Rizzo twitched his whiskers, seeing the prawn grinning at them. “So dey got messed up – ain’tcha ever heard of backspatter? It’s from dis hit!” He indicated the splotch on his chest.

    “Then why is it a different color okay?”

    ------------------------
    “Newsie? Newsie!”

    Hearing her calls, the Newsman struggled out of the corn, grunting when several dry ears broke free of their stalks to hammer him as he worked his way free and into the path once more. “Gina?”

    “Newsie!” Suddenly her arms caught him up, hugging him; relieved, he hugged back. “Oh, geez, you had me worried there!”

    “Me too,” Newsie gulped, simply holding her tight. “I – I smelled something, and thought –“

    “A ha! Tag!”

    Gina and Newsie both jerked, startled, when paint splats smacked them both dead center. They looked up to see Scooter and Sara laughing at them before the couple ran down the corn path and took a turn a few yards away. Their giggles and rustles could be heard a few seconds more; then the quiet wind returned, leaving the Newsman and his beloved presumably alone.

    “Nuts,” Gina sighed. “That makes three.”

    “It’s okay,” Newsie said, embracing her again. “Can we…can we just go get some cider and get warm by the fire?”

    “Sounds good,” Gina agreed. She helped him upright fully, and together they headed for the sounds of singing and the smell of woodsmoke. She squeezed his shoulder as they walked. “I’m sorry I let go…Sweetums kind of surprised me, tearing through like that! Are you okay?”

    “F-fine.” He tried to regain his composure. “I’m sorry I…I panicked.” He felt awful; how could he have abandoned her like that? What if it had been a real monster! “That…that smell was there, and I…I…”

    “Newsie, it’s okay.” Gina paused to draw him close. “I’m pretty sure that was Sweetums; I smelled it too. I guess he took a bath before the party.”

    “Someone should suggest soap,” Newsie grumbled. He still felt like a terrible coward. He kissed her hand. “I won’t run again. I put you in danger!”

    She hefted the paintgun. “I have this. I’m sure even monsters don’t like paint in their eyes!”

    Yells and screams surprised them both; with only a glance at each other, they ran toward the sound, Gina bringing the rifle to bear as they rounded a corner and saw – a four-way battle of paint raging in a large open area. The Chef, Walter, Kermit, and Scooter dodged, rolled aside, reloaded, and shouted wildly, trying to deliver the shot which would put another Muppet out of the game; meanwhile Robin inched toward a large gold-painted pumpkin in the center of the clearing. Gina swore. “We were close!”

    Newsie ducked a stray shot as the Chef missed Scooter; Sara popped out of the corn nearby and splatted the Chef, who realized he’d been tagged out. “Voon der poompiekin arn der sploot-sploot!” he shouted, aghast at having failed so close to the goal.

    Laughing, Kermit nailed his second-in-command smack in the chest, and it was Scooter’s turn to express his displeasure at losing: “Oh…bubblewrap!” Sara rejoined her husband, the two nearly falling to the earth, out of breath but overcome with hilarity. Kermit whirled, trying to orient on Walter, who caught the movement a second before he lunged for the pumpkin himself. Doing his best Bruce Willis grimace, Walter fired his rifle one-handed, the other outstretched to seize the pumpkin, using his last shot in hope of knocking Kermit out…and the shot instead whacked Kermit’s rifle, sending it tumbling somewhere over their heads into the corn. Walter’s hand and Robin’s flipper touched the pumpkin at the same moment.

    “Wooo! Bravo!” Gina yelled, applauding. Newsie joined in, amazed at the lengths the more athletic Muppets had gone to in trying to gain the prize. Walter looked at Robin; Robin climbed atop the large pumpkin.

    “We got it first!” the little frog claimed. There wasn’t a splotch on him; everyone who’d considered hitting the peeper had hesitated – and then Kermit had nailed them.

    “Oh,” Walter said, crestfallen, panting. “Okay. Good game, Robin.”

    His competitive streak giving way to a little guilt, Robin looked at Walter’s fingers on the stem. “Well…maybe we both got it at once.” He looked uncertainly at the others regaining their equilibrium.

    The Chef pointed at Walter. “Der foon de poompy-kin furst!”

    Scooter and Sara exchanged a look, then shook their heads. “From this angle, looked like Robin to me,” Scooter said.

    “I was too busy dodging,” Kermit admitted.

    They all looked at the Newsman. “I wish Kazagger was here,” he sighed. “Uh, from over here, it looked like you both touched it at the same time…”

    “Are either of you tagged out?” Gina asked. Kermit and Walter examined themselves; each had sustained two distinct paint hits, but only two.

    “Then it’s a tie!” Robin said, smiling.

    “You sure? I mean, maybe you were a split second quicker…” Walter offered.

    Robin shook his head. “Nah. Besides, how’m I going to carry this thing out? It’s huge!” Though not the largest specimen of its species by far, the real pumpkin with a gold makeover dwarfed the tiny frog. Laughing, Walter shook hands with him, then Robin climbed onto the squash, and Walter lifted it (with a little straining and puffing). Proudly, the two of them headed out of the maze, followed by everyone else.

    Their exit from the cornfield brought cheers from the rest of the party. Cider and fresh pumpkin cannolis (delivered shortly before by an ape in a bakery van) made the rounds, everyone settled down by the fire, and Mrs Bear awarded the young Muppet and frog their prize: inside, the hollowed-out pumpkin was full of chocolate leaves wrapped in autumn-colored foil. Gleefully they split the hoard, handing chocolates out to anyone who asked, and forcing one into Rizzo’s paws despite his grumbling about lost cheese. When everyone had something warm in their bellies and all had snuggled into fleece blankets around the blaze, Emily stood on a large log and called for attention.

    “All right, everyone, let’s hear the costume contest results! Newsman, dear, where are you?”

    Newsie hurriedly wiped powdered sugar from his chin and did his best to look professional, though with his mask off and a blanket draped over his raven outfit that proved a bit difficult. “Ahem…uh, first up, Scariest Costume!” The stagepigs had helped Emily compile the results of the voting boxes, although she had to scold them when they kept complaining it was too hard a task. “The winner is...Janice!”

    “Oh, wow,” Janice said, running over to accept an orange-and-black ribbon and a toffee apple from Emily. “Like, this is so great, everyone! Thanks bunches!”

    “Hey, you can stop leaning your head sideways now,” Rowlf said, “The whole zombie thing is pretty freaky, but I’m sure that must hurt!”

    “Like, it rully does,” the guitarist agreed. “But my yoga teacher told me to hold it this way for a week to rebalance my chi!”

    “Er…” Newsie tried to return the announcements to a normal level when the groans and laughs died down. “For Cutest Costume: Robin, as Kermit!”

    A chorus of “awww” met the young frog, who then tried to out-news the Newsman as he accepted his prize of pumpkin-gnat bark: “This is Kermit the frog, live on the scene, where a yellow Muppet has just spilled cider on himself!”

    “What?” Newsie hurriedly checked, then blushed as he realized Robin was teasing. “Uh…no. Um. Next up…Funniest Costume! And the category goes to…Wayne and Wanda!”

    “Oh thank you, thank you!” Wanda gushed, rushing past Wayne to grab and wave her ribbon. She gave Emily a kiss on the cheek as the bear handed her a small felt pumpkin full of confetti bombs and bubble-blowers. “See Wayne? I told you this was a wonderful idea!”

    “I still don’t see why you got to be Cher,” Wayne huffed, pinning his ribbon on his open-collared shirt. “And I look terrible in this mustache! And why am I wearing a rosary?”

    “Those are love beads, sweetie,” Emily informed him. “Go on, Newsman!”

    “Ahem…er…for Sexiest Costume…er…” He shot a wary look in the direction of Miss Piggy. “Uh…the award goes to…Rhonda Rat!”

    “What?” Piggy growled.

    Rhonda twirled once atop a flat log, showing off her sleek thighs under the miniskirt. “Too true, Goldie! Mwah!” She blew kisses at everyone, wrapping the ribbon around her neck as a scarf, and trotted back to her seat with a round of aged Vermont white cheddar.

    Rizzo promptly rejoined his date. “Hey, ya know, I voted for ya, babe!”

    “Sure ya did. Wanna tell the pig that?”

    “Uh…Best Couples Costume…” Newsie announced loudly, hoping to quiet the noise among the log seats in the vicinity of an Egyptian-clothed pig, “goes to Kermit and Miss Piggy!”

    “Well, I should hope so,” Piggy declared. She elbowed Newsie aside to stand on his log. “Thank you all so very much! I would like to thank my costumer, and my hair stylist, and the academy for all its goodwill…”

    “Piggy,” Kermit murmured in her ear, “wrong awards!”

    “Oh…aha, ha, ha! But vous cannot blame me for such a simple mistake!” Piggy cooed; Kermit shook his head, and tied the ribbon to Cleopigtra’s royal staff; they returned to their seats bearing a basket of massage oils. Newsie wondered what would have happened if he and Gina had won…or Bunsen and Beaker…or (he shuddered) Statler and Waldorf…

    The hecklers chose that moment to yell at him. “Hey, no fair! We had that locked up! Foul!” Waldorf cried.

    “Bawwwk!” Camilla protested, seated near the other chickens, disgruntled at how oblivious to her daredevil’s near-death experience everyone else seemed to be.

    “You mean pig! The chicken didn’t win!” Statler corrected loudly, and they took up the chant together: “Pig! Pig!”

    Flustered, Newsie checked the name on the next slip of paper. “Uh, for Best Zombies, the Group Costume! Er…I mean…that’s backwards…”

    Floyd rasped his usual laugh. “Little dude don’t know whether he’s comin’ or goin’! Hey Newsdude, put them glasses back on your beak!”

    Gina smiled at Newsie, shaking her head, and he tried to shrug off the taunt. “Well, uh…I didn’t realize all that shambling was part of your costume; that’s how you guys usually move anyway!” he shot back, promptly dropping the remaining ballot results.

    Floyd and Dr Teeth approached to collect their prize; Floyd bent over the dropped papers. “Hey, man, lemme give you a hand – whoopsie!” His fake skeleton-hand plunked to the ground atop the paper, and laughter rang through the crowd.

    “Man, I love that joke!” Sweetums roared, clapping Lew roughly on the shoulder. A mackerel went sailing across the circle to slap Clifford wetly in the face.

    Clifford waved his proton-stream nozzle at Lew. “Man, don’t make me get all supernatural on your butt!”

    When the laughter finally died enough for the Newsman to be heard over it, he continued the announcing: “Uh…Worst Costume…we have a tie! Uh…half the voters cited ‘worst use of makeup’ for Pepe, and the rest claimed ‘worst attempt at squeezing into pirate breeches’ for Rizzo!”

    “What!” Pepe shouted, outraged.

    “Un-freakin-believable,” Rizzo groaned.

    They were only somewhat mollified by the prize of a gift certificate to a prominent costume shop back in the city, and went back to their seats arguing over who should take the sixty or the forty percent of the amount. “And lastly, Best Overall Costume,” Newsie said loudly. “Ahem…this category primarily addresses the qualities of the costume which seem best to suit the person wearing it, more than the value of the costume on its own,” he explained after peering closely at the notes for the category. “And the winner is…er…me?”

    Gina bounded up, laughing, wrapping him in her arms. Smiles and nods and happy faces surrounded him. “I…me? Why?” Newsie asked, baffled.

    Emily patted his shoulder. “Well, dear, I guess everyone thought you sounded enough like the raven already. It was a close race, though: a lot of people voted for Scooter, and some for Uncle Deadly, and even some for that lawyer fella that was here earlier!”

    “Er…thank you,” Newsie managed, and accepted the ribbon from Gina. She pressed something else into his hand. “What’s this?”

    “Um…it’s a sugar skull with your name on it,” Gina said, and caught the treat when a startled Newsman fumbled it.

    “What would I do with that?” he demanded, looking askance at the iced confection.

    “You eat it, dear,” Emily explained. “It’s supposed to be good luck! I bought a bunch of them on my last trip to Cancun. Okay, everyone! Who’ll start a ghost story? We have more cannolis from that nice Mr Fiama, and I’m bringing out a pitcher of pumpkin spice mudslides for the grown-ups!”

    Camilla sighed, hunched into her blanket, then decided to go get a mudslide. Her feathers felt frayed and her nerves strung taut, and a little pumpkin-rum-and-ice-cream might be just the ticket if she wanted any actual sleep tonight.

    The spooky stories went on until the logs had died to embers, and then a gaggle of sleepy, satisfied Muppets dragged their candy hauls with them to bed on sofas, chairs, tucked into curtains, sprawled in the bathtub, snuggled in the clean straw of the barn-loft, or tucked into bed. Animal snored softly from his chains on the foyer wall, and Uncle Deadly hung upside-down from the highest beam in the barn with some friendly bats he’d met, all cuddled together and dreaming of soaring flights. Newsie blushed at the snicker he heard behind him when he came to bed in his plaid flannel pajamas.

    “Thhbbbttt,” Gina offered her best raspberry to Floyd in response, and gratefully Newsie snuggled under the blanket next to her. He heard Janice giggling, the murmur of voices across the room as Piggy told something to Kermit which made him grumble quietly, and then at last everyone settled with their respective loves and the room fell silent. Newsie sighed, feeling the warmth seeping into his PJs beneath the heavy quilt, then started when he felt his love’s arm slide over his midsection.

    “Gina!” he hissed, “There…there are other Muppets present!”

    “And I guarantee you they’re all snuggling too. It’s cold,” Gina whispered, her breath warm across his ear. “Now hush, my handsome reporter, and get some sleep. I love you.” She kissed his cheek, cuddling close, and gradually he relaxed.

    “Love you too,” he whispered back, closed his eyes, and fell asleep free of any fear of scary things under the bed. He knew Gina had brought the paintgun inside, and it stood within easy reach. Comforted by that knowledge, he drifted off despite the growing moan of the wind outside.

    ------------------
    Along the muddy Hudson, a low barge crept downriver. The monsters huddled in a semicircle, picking through a trash bag for rotted scraps of food, but looked up when the canvas sack off to one side began stirring, and a feathery hat poked out. “Whuh…what’s going on? Why am I in a bag? Hey! Let me out! I’ll sue you for unlawful disposal of live Muppets! Hey!”

    The goblin unconcernedly whacked the top of the bag, and its occupant slumped unconscious again. The wolf-thing looked worried. “Uh…can he really do that? Sue us?”

    “You idiot, this dork’s gonna be in Heap’s lower intestine by the time the courthouse opens in the city! Fuhgeddaboudit!” Slurg chortled, and the other two joined in, relieved.

    “So, uh…can we sing now?”

    Slurg shrugged. “If it makes ya happy.”

    The lupine-nosed creature began crooning, and within a few words, the other two alumni of Scare U. raised their scratchy voices as well for the old school fight song: “Buggawuggaboog, tugga zergel bergel, tuggawuggaboog, tugga snergel snort! Buggawuggaboog, tugga booga bugga, boogawoogawug, tugga boo!”

    A disturbingly cheerful garbage load wound its way toward a sleeping Manhattan.
    -------------------------
    Muppetfan44 likes this.
  7. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Ah... It definitely helps take away the little grumbles I had earlier to find a heaping helping of fanfic freshly posted.

    When the monsters struck in the maizen maze... I thought there might have been some misdirection. No, I wasn't afraid they'd grabbed :news:, for I remembered there were two Muppets in birdlike costumes at Grizzly Farms' party. But were they really after :news: or the bland half of the firm's founding duo... We'll never really know. *Cryptic laughter.

    Using Gorgon Heap as a substitute for Shaky Sanchez, good, I like it.
    Montros went from top critter to getting chopped thanks to some shootin' slugs from the snail.
    *Loved the cameo by :super: as part of the wait staff in the undercity.

    Well, at least this time the giant pumpkin turned out to be just that and not another portkey that'd transport whoever touched automatically to... Sorry, I'm thinking of another overgrown maze-like competition. That reminds me, did we ever find out where Mookie-Mookie ended up at?

    Excellent choice with both the awards handed out and the assigned sleeping arrangements. :flirt:

    Other points to be doled out are references to Johnny's canoli catering industry and good ol' Scare U's fight song. Which leads me to additional speculation as to whethere Dr. Van Neuter studied with Sam's son at rival Stuffs University, maybe not, they'd have been in different class years.

    But the star of this update has to be the various acts performed during the show. Seems everyone had some sort of technical difficulties or miscues with their acts, wonder if that'll hurt their voting tallies depending on who actually moves on given the judges' criticisms.

    Thanks for this, hope you have a good night.
  8. Ruahnna

    Ruahnna Well-Known Member

    A nice muppety Halloween, with enough candy to put everyone into a coma.

    I enjoyed all of the costume choices, although I kept thinking of Dora Bruin as Dora the Explorer....yeesh. I was glad to see Deadly out for a haunt, and gladder still to see Walter out for some muppety fun. It was a treat to see Robin and Walter try to out-nice each other.

    I got the Sonny and Cher (yes, I am a relic myself--thanks for asking) reference right away, but wasn't here at MC to tell it, so I missed my bag of candy as a prize. (pout, pout)

    I liked Sam as Newt. A nice, patriotic touch.

    Still disgusted by the monsters. Check. Still worried about Snookie. Check. Still waiting for Newsie to lighten up a little. Check. You're doing great, chicka!

    My only quibble, and it is small, is this: I cannot really believe that anyone who loves someone who is glasses-dependent would expect them to go without their specs for any length of time, much less a party--even for a costume. When I wore glasses (I've since had my eyes corrected and have now graduated into a seriously-cool collection of reading glasses), I could take my glasses off and be lost--in bed. In a car. In a classroom. You get the picture, but I got nothing--blind as a muppet bat. But in the interests of story, I suspend my disbelief and go along with you.

    Let's here it for an update--soon! (And pass the mallow creme pumpkins--those are my favorite!)
  9. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    ----------------
    Ha -- yes, going without one's specs can be terrifying. I too have been lost all those places, and mistaken total strangers for my friend who was ahead of me on the waterslide not five seconds ago...yeep. My point was that Newsie trusts Gina enough to do so...and has even become brave enough to try to roam a little on his own while thus disabled. Of course, had his vision been sharper, he might have seen things at the party...things the Evil Author did not wish him to...yet. Mwwahhh hah hah hah hah!

    (Okay, yeah, it's a plot convenience. I will strive to eliminate them in the future!) :news:

    Yeah, what DID happen to Mookie-Mookie?
    heh heh heh heh...

    Happy you guys caught the joke references. Thanks also to Ru and Ed and Charlietheowl for certain of the costume suggestions! Trying to outfit that many Muppets was a bit of a challenge; appreciate the input! :)

    More soon! Next: the nebulous Nofrisko...

    --------------------------
  10. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Twenty-Six

    “Go away,” Snookie groaned.

    The guard shook his shoulder again; Snookie felt stiff from spending the night on the floor of his cell. “Gotta gets up. Showtime,” the monster rumbled at him. Snookie angrily wrenched his arm free, curling up tighter, wrapping the blanket around him and wishing he could shut out the world.

    “Forget it, you ugly overbite! I’m exhausted! Go away!”

    The guard conferred with another; Snookie realized the next step would be his forcible dragging to the showers, if he was lucky. One time they’d had a far-too-pleased Carl drop by to give him a tongue-bath instead. He wasn’t expecting the next voice he heard, however: “Oh, goodness! Are you giving these good monsters a hard time, sleepyhead? Well not to worry! I have just the thing!” Van Neuter bobbled into the cell, gaily producing a large syringe. “This monsteriffic vitamin shot should perk you right up!”

    “I’m up,” Snookie yelped, shooting to his feet, then hopping in place to get the cramps out. “I’m up!”

    “Well, let me just give it to you anyway. You’ll feel so much slimier afterward!”

    “I’m fine, thanks, gottarun,” Snookie gulped, hastily putting as much distance between himself and the vet as his painfully-tingling legs would allow. “Guard! I need a shower! Guard!”

    “Oh, well,” Van Neuter sighed, then perked as he caught sight of Thatch McGurk curiously peering into the cell. “You! You were very sluggish yesterday – why not let me make you even sluggier? Hey, come back here! It only stings for a minute, you big sissy!”

    Cleaned up and dressed, Snookie tromped into the studio in a foul mood. He slammed the door open, not noticing the tiny monster he crushed behind it against the wall. “You people have to let me out for some air! I’m suffocating down here in this stench!” Snookie yelled. The Frackles merely glanced at him before turning back to their jobs. “Well?” Snookie demanded, glaring at the Yeti who directed this show. The hulking, white-furred ape shrugged, pointed to a wall clock, pointed to a schedule clipboard. “And what if I refuse to perform until I get a breath of fresh air?”

    The Yeti shrugged again, then gestured to a stagefrackle. The sharp-faced creature trotted over, yanked up a startled Snookie’s large nose, and sprayed a dash of Mountain Aire FeSqueeze into the Muppet’s open mouth. Snookie gagged and coughed.The Yeti growled and pointed at the stage-floor area of the small studio.

    “So…much…better…cough, cough…thanks,” Snookie hacked, stealing a water bottle from the Yeti to try and regain some moisture in his throat. He drank continuously while the soundfrackle wired his lapel mic and checked it, handing back an empty bottle to the disgruntled director. Doing his best to compose himself, he stood in the center of the stage area and waited for the director to count down, the lights and theme music to go up, and the camera to begin filming. His smile wasn’t as wide as usual; he didn’t care. “Welcome, all you baconhounds and porkstuffers! Once again, it’s time to play the Hammily Feud!”

    Canned applause rose and faded. Snookie turned to his right to greet the new batch of porkers destined for the stewpot. “Aaaaand today we have two new families to snout off against each other for the prize of living another day! As if anybody here thinks that’s really going to happen… Here we have with us the Carne Asadas from Albuquerque! You guys really should’ve taken that left turn, heh heh. So, Papa Carne, are you all excited to be here?”

    A large hog with whittled-down tusks grunted, nodding. “Oh boy! Oh boy! They told us there’d be cake! With spinach!”

    “And you believed them?” Snookie asked; the monster crew played a burst of canned laughter. “Well, who’s this amazingly rotund lady?”

    “Snookie, this is my wife Prudy; my son Guapo; and my youngest son Mucho,” Papa Carne introduced them all proudly. Prudy sniffed haughtily. Guapo looked less than thrilled, and a very round little Mucho bounced up and down so hard he quivered all over with excitement. “We just can’t wait to get to the barbeque!”

    “Neither can the director! All right, and in this corner, we have the Utherwhite-Miit family from Rural Corner, Pennsylvania! Welcome in, fresh Miits!”

    The group of smaller pigs oinked happily…all except one. Snookie paused, frowning at the pink splotches over blue felt. “Uh…what’s your deal, little girl?”

    “Oh, dat’s our newest family member,” the mother of the clan explained in a thick Penn Dutch accent. “Ve adopted her choost dis morning! Isn’t she pretty…for an Englisher?”

    Snookie couldn’t resist touching the plastic-looking snout. It was plastic! Startled, he lifted the fake snout off the nose of a Whatnot girl with a gag in her mouth. “Hey, you’re not a pig at all! What the heck is this!”

    “Ve luff her like our own!” Vater Utherwhite-Miit assured Snookie. He added in a lower voice, “It vas de only vay dey vould let us compete! Ve needed anutter child!”

    “What’s going on?” Snookie demanded of the director, striding off-set; the camerafrackle hurriedly cut. The Yeti grumbled, gesturing fluidly. Snookie couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You ran out of pigs? Seriously? So you just threw in a…a girl and thought nobody could tell the difference? She isn’t that piggish!”

    “Mnnn mnnnnnn mrrrr!” the girl protested. Disgusted, Snookie went back to her and pulled the gag loose. “—and your mother too!” the girl finished.

    “Hey, sweetheart, I don’t make the rules,” Snookie told her. “Did you agree to be in this farce?”

    “I’m not a pig, I’m not a pig!” the girl yelled.

    “Now Sigride…” Mutter Utherwhite-Miit gently protested, but the girl shook off the comforting, hard-nailed hand.

    “They dressed me up!” the girl added, nodding angrily at the Frackles offset all trying to look somewhere else.

    “Is this true?” Snookie demanded.

    A chorus of “No! No, no, no!” sounded.

    A pink Frackle shuffled his feet nervously. “Well…we did do the nose…”

    “And the hat,” another admitted.

    “But she’s still an entrée! Play the game!” a scaly green thing yelled from the sound booth.

    “Yeah! Play the game! Play it!” the crew chimed in.

    Snookie sighed. The girl stopped him from replacing the gag, asking, “Wait, aren’t you a Muppet? This is discrimination! These monsters are blatantly disrespecting our inalienable Muppetness!”

    Snookie shook his head. “Look, kid, what are you, some kind of rabble-rouser? I can warn you right now, that’s not going to play well to this crowd.”

    “I’m not a kid! My name’s Stinkbomb,” the girl pouted. “I saw how they disregarded your demand for better treatment! Stand up to them! Be proud of your Muppetness! Felt is beautiful! We will not rest until no Muppet is ever discriminated against—“

    “Sweetie, if people looking at you funny is the worst thing you’ve ever been through, you have a lot to learn,” Snookie sighed, shoved the gag back in the complaining girl’s mouth, and set the fake snout over her nose again before the Yeti could decide they should all have an early and unpleasant lunch break. “Fine, let’s get to it,” he said, walking back center stage and putting on a smile for the camera. “So, our contestants are ready and eager to get going! It’s time to play the Hammily Feud! The topic chosen today by our carefully selected panel of losers found loitering around the train tracks is…” A clanging bell signaled the start of the round, as from the top of the large board behind the stage, Carl the Big Hungry Helper let drop a scribbled sign. “Things you’d take to a cookout!”

    The Whatnot girl fussed and strained against her bonds most of the show, while contestant after contestant was sent to the grill. Snookie pitied her: if amateur activism was the most strenuous thing she’d ever been involved in, she really wasn’t going to enjoy being basted over a spit…but there was nothing he could do for her. Carl and several other large monsters lurked close by, occasionally chewing on the unlucky goblins holding up drool buckets for them, waiting for the barbeque to impart smoky-sweet tenderness to every ham, whether real or not. Only his current contract kept them from adding him to the low, slow-cooking fire as well. They’re lucky, Snookie told himself uneasily, hurrying away from the sounds of screams and teeth gnashing at the end of the show filming: their awful day is over. I still have four more tapings to go through…and there’s nothing I can do.

    This thought, despite its truth, brought him no comfort.

    --------------------------
    “This is fun! What color are we painting the lobby?” Beauregard wanted to know as they jostled along in the cab of the rusted pickup.

    “Beau, we’re not. This is our cover,” Rhonda tried to explain again.

    Beau frowned. “Should I have brought extra tarps?”

    “You guys set up da paints,” Rocco Rodent directed. “I’ll get youse in, den I’ll…uh…I’ll keep a nose out for anyone inneruptin’ us!”

    “Rob the place blind, you mean,” Rhonda growled. “This is risky enough already, kid! Am I paying you for this job or what? Stick to the plan!”

    The Newsman shot a worried look at his producer. Bad enough they’d unwittingly involved the placid janitor; just by asking to borrow some coveralls, somehow the message of a painting job had wormed its way into Beau’s thick skull instead, and he’d cheerfully insisted on driving them and bringing the painting supplies. Rhonda had pointed out this would be perfect cover: if they actually allowed him to paint the lobby (and set tarps over the security cameras), who would question the weekend work order? However, Newsie was less then sanguine about Rhonda’s smug nephew wanting to tag along. Picking the office’s lock was one thing; trying to steal half the Nofrisko building was another.

    The camerasloth riding in the back of the truck with the paint buckets added another dimension of potential trouble. Newsie was pleased that Tony was coming along to capture visible proof of monsters, but worried that his presence might somehow backfire on their legal action against KRAK. He muttered at Rhonda, “It’s really nice of Tony to help us out, but does he know this could cost him his job too?”

    “His name’s Tommy, how many times do I hafta tell ya that? And it’s got nothing to do with nice! He owes me a favor from a station poker game a month ago.”

    “A month a—then why did I have to pay him for our last venture?” Newsie fumed.

    Rhonda shrugged. “’Cause last time, I thought you were foam-damaged.” She looked up at Newsie somewhat abashedly. “I, uh. I’m sorry, okay?”

    He sighed gruffly. “Okay. At least maybe now we’ll finally get proof!”

    “Just think: we might be able to bring down a freaky food factory and show up Blanke all at once!” Rhonda squeaked. She tried to fluff her hair under the painter’s cap. “Do I look cute enough for prime-time in this, ya think?”

    “Aunty Rhonda, yer always a doll,” her nephew assured her with a smirk. He let out a shrill yelp when Rhonda thwacked the top of his head. “What was dat for?”

    “That was for being the most insincere rat on the planet,” she snapped. “Buttering me up will not make me look the other way while you try to make off with their whole IT section!”

    “Fine, see if I trow a compliment your way evah,” Rocco muttered. “So, uh, why is youse breakin’ inta dis place anyways?”

    “We’re not breaking in, we’re journalists investigating a serious story about monsters,” Newsie said stiffly.

    Rocco stared at him a second, then turned to Rhonda. “Where’d ya say ya dug up dis mook?”

    “We’re coworkers, kid. Shut it.” Rhonda winced as Beau narrowly missed a corner mailbox. “Beau! Stick to the street!”

    “I thought you wanted me to drive on it,” Beau said, puzzled. “I might have some supra-glue in my toolbox, though!”

    “Just drive,” Rhonda groaned. She returned her attention to her sulking nephew. “They have security cameras. Make sure you keep your face hidden. Last thing I need is your father angry with me for you being thrown in jail, ironic though that would be…”

    “Is you implyin’ somethin’?” Rocco growled. “Dad ‘n my brothers ‘n me is all legitimate businessrats!” He told Newsie proudly, “We’re tops in the waste-reclamation industry in Joisey.”

    “Uh…fascinating,” Newsie replied. “Rhonda, about that: they know me! Will the coveralls be enough of a disguise?”

    “I’m so glad you asked.” From a large paper bag, the rat produced a Yankees ballcap. “An explosion has just taken place at the hat factory!” She plunked the several-sizes-too-large cap onto his head; he fumbled with the brim.

    “It’s covering my glasses! How’m I supposed to see like this?”

    “Just keep your eyes on me, sunshine. You only need it ‘til we get past the cameras. I’m guessing they don’t film in this alleged secret room.”

    “Who knows what’s down there?” Newsie grumbled, but adjusted the hat to peer from underneath it. “That’s the building, Beau! Park here!”

    Newsie hoped no parking cops would be patrolling today and give them a ticket for the skid marks on the sidewalk in front of the Nofrisko office. He helped the others unload cans of paint, rollers, and tarps from the back of the truck. Rocco paused at the front door only a few seconds before opening it and strolling in, paintbrush in hand. Rhonda and the sloth followed, setting up dropcloths and spreading plastic tarps over everything in the lobby; Newsie hung back, hoping no one was around who might recognize him, until Rhonda came and murmured to him that the lobby camera had been found and covered. Taking a deep breath of relatively fresh air, Newsie ventured once more into the minimal lobby of the snack cake company.

    “Rocco!” Rhonda hissed; the younger rat glanced up from munching a Fwinkie out of the welcome basket on the reception desk.

    “What?” Rocco asked, wiping strawberry crème off his whiskers. When his aunt only shook her head, he threw his arms out angrily. “What?”

    “That door, over there,” Newsie muttered low, just in case any sound surveillance was recording. While Beau cheerfully began priming the wall behind the front desk, Rhonda joined Newsie in front of the coat closet. Steeling his foam, the Newsman grabbed the doorknob and turned.

    It opened easily. Rhonda took a tiny flashlight from a pocket of her cargo pants and shone it in…and down. Stairs immediately led from the door into darkness. “Okay, score one for Goldie,” she whispered. “I’m guessing this doesn’t go to Narnia.”

    “Ton—mmy,” Newsie corrected himself, gesturing for the sloth to bring in the camera. The light mounted atop it didn’t do much more to chase the gloom; impossible to tell from here how far down the steps went. Newsie looked at Rhonda. She turned her cap around, bill at the back, and flashed a grin.

    “We are so gonna hit prime time with this,” she said. “To heck with Blanke!”

    He nodded agreement, removed his hat, and took another breath. He could smell it, faintly: dampness, filth, must and dust and unkempt fur…

    Rhonda prodded him, making him jump. “Well?”

    Shooting a glare at her, he felt for any sort of handhold along the wall, and jerked back fingers smudged with slime. “Oh blech!”

    “Oh, yeah, Newsie? Ya might not wanna do that,” Rhonda said smugly, having noticed the gleam of the stuff in the beam of her light.

    “Thanks,” he muttered, and took the first step down. Then another. Then another, and looked back to be certain Rhonda and the sloth were actually following. Seeing them cautiously descending after him, he continued on, placing each rubber-booted foot firmly, seeing some glops of…stuff on the concrete stairs as he went. “I told you there were monsters involved,” he muttered.

    “What, are they especially rotten things?” Rhonda squeaked. “This looks more like stuff the zombies at the party woulda left in their wake! Cripes, what is this crud?” She inadvertently stepped right into a splotch of the goo, and Newsie heard her using some words even Gina didn’t usually indulge in. “I knew I shoulda gone with the booties today! These are my favorite deck shoes, dangit!”

    “Shhh,” Newsie hissed, silencing her. “Listen! …Do you smell something?”

    The rat edged down onto the same step he’d paused upon, sniffing. “Uh…sorta. What does it smell like to you?”

    “You can’t tell?” he asked, astounded. “It’s like…like…garbage and dirt and…and…”

    “Smells like a bait shop,” Tommy murmured right over Newsie’s shoulder, making him jump.

    “Sloths fish?” Rhonda wondered.

    Newsie gulped. “What the hey is going on down here?”

    Rhonda poked his leg. “We’ll never find out if we just stand here and discuss the smell!”

    Nodding, he reluctantly resumed his slow descent. Their lights picked up different colors in the walls and steps, faded red and orange, and suddenly the stairs bottomed out. Rhonda shone her flashlight on the floor; Tommy swept the cameralight over the arched ceiling. Crumbling, dusty bricks formed a narrow but fairly straight passageway. “Holy Eliot Ness! Look how old those bricks are! Newsie, this must be one of those Prohibition tunnels!”

    “I didn’t know New York had anything like that,” he murmured, gazing around; though dirt and more sludge covered the floor of the tunnel, he could see bricks of the same rough color paving the way.

    “Sure! There was supposed to be a tunnel like this somewhere in Chinatown…”

    “We’re in the Bowery,” Newsie corrected.

    Rhonda smacked his knee, making him crouch and wince, surprised. “And this is heading west, Daniel Boone! Chinatown’s that way!” Her voice echoed eerily along the tunnel, and all of them paused, listening.

    “Hey, uh,” Tommy spoke up slowly, “You guys ever see the first ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie?”

    Gina had coaxed Newsie into attending a marathon showing of all three films at her friend Scott’s a couple of months ago. “This isn’t Helms’ Deep,” he growled, but instinctively kept his voice quiet.

    A low echo nonetheless traveled a short ways along the tunnel. “Point taken,” Rhonda whispered. Slowly, they walked along the corridor. Newsie glanced up; dusty webs of long-dead spiders traced over cracks in the bricks at odd intervals, and something like a tiny centipede scuttled ahead of their lights. He shuddered, and suddenly wished he had something to defend himself with…a stick, a club, even a paintgun he didn’t know how to shoot! “What could they possibly use this for?” he whispered to Rhonda.

    “Dunno, but someone’s used it recently for something,” she replied softly, nudging him to point out faint tracks in the sludge underfoot. Newsie stopped, staring at a three-toed footprint that was far larger than his own size-five boot.

    “That’s not comforting,” he muttered.

    “Hey, you’re the one who wanted to check this place out!” the rat hissed, staying close behind him.

    The air down here felt chilly, and reeked of offal. He wondered if the slimy sludge coating the bricks of the floor and halfway up the walls was the culprit, but refused to lean any closer to sniff it. Prohibition…why would anyone maintain this tunnel since then? Has it been open all that time? Were the monsters bootleggers? Realizing the absurdity of that thought, he shrugged it off, annoyed. Don’t be ridiculous! The monsters didn’t run moonshine, they operated the speakeasies! Well, then what are they doing with this? Running illegal drugs into Nofrisko? Using it as an escape route from the office? It doesn’t seem to go very deep, he thought, trying to recall how many steps they’d come down to reach this more-or-less level pathway. “Rhonda, how close are we to that ConEd tunnel?”

    She pulled her phone out and checked it. “Well, we’re deep enough I got no bars at all…”

    He frowned. “Why would you think we’d find a bar down here? Just because the tunnel might go back to the ‘twenties?”

    “You and Beau been blood brothers long?”

    “Huh?”

    “Forget it. I mean there’s no signal down here, Newsie! But, just at a guess…yeah, I think we’re close, within a couple blocks at most.”

    He didn’t like the look of the footprints he kept seeing. That one had what looked like webbing between the toes…and that one resembled an enormous pawprint… “Are you sure nothing big could get down here?”

    Rhonda didn’t reply; when he looked down at her, he saw her swallow hard and twitch nervous whiskers. “Are you filming?” Newsie asked the sloth. Receiving a nod in reply, he returned his attention forward, then paused. “Look…there’s the end!”

    They peered ahead; their lights picked out the edge of some sort of arched entrance, and a cold, empty dimness beyond. Their steps sounded muffled, the echoes ahead dying, sound swallowed into the open darkness past the arch. Cautiously they approached it, and discovered a large landing of rough-hewn stone. Brick steps curved upward to their right; stone ones wound down to the left. An ordinary door with peeling green paint sat directly across from them. Nervously, Newsie tried the knob. “Locked,” he whispered.

    “Want me to go back and get Rocco?”

    Newsie grabbed the sleeve of the rat before she could run back the way they’d come. “No! That’ll waste valuable time.” He took a deep breath, then wrinkled his long nose unhappily. “Gahh! Smells like drain cleaner.”

    “Smells like poison,” Rhonda muttered, shivering.

    “Smells like a meh—uh. Doesn’t smell good,” Tommy agreed.

    “Up or down?” Rhonda asked.

    Newsie considered it. Although he was curious what lay above them, everything he’d found out so far indicated the monsters were holed up somewhere below the city. “Down,” he said.

    Rhonda scowled. “How’d I know you were gonna say that.”

    “Come on,” Newsie urged, thinking they’d spent a long while just getting this far; at this rate, Beau would finish the first floor and move on to the second before they returned. “We need to find out what they’re doing, and get it on film!”

    “You really still think this is about monsters?”

    Newsie gestured at the slime; the thick trail of it, almost obscuring the stairs, continued down. “You think this is floor polish?”

    “You gotta stop hanging around me. You’re starting to sound rattish,” Rhonda grumbled, but followed him as he carefully placed foot below foot on the treacherously slippery steps.

    The smell increased until he had to breathe through his mouth, but the Newsman pushed forward, anxiety balanced nearly equally by his determination to get real proof of the monsters he knew had to be down here – something so irrefutable that Blanke would be shamed into accepting him back at KRAK, something Honeydew wouldn’t even have to test to confirm its horrible origin! There, just below: a stronger scent wafted up, so pungent he could taste it; and now he could hear something, a whispering, rustling, moving – Newsie froze. Rhonda bumped into him with a stifled curse. “Could ya warn me?” she squeaked. “I just stepped in –“

    “Run,” he huffed, nearly choking on the scent, a billow of it blowing up from the stairs ahead. The noise increased: a thousand scrabbling claws, a thousand clacking jaws, a sound of – “Rhonda, run!” Newsie yelled, tripping over the step behind him as he tried to reverse course.

    His nose had not been wrong.

    The rat shrieked. Two of the things burst around the turn of the staircase, bug-jaws snapping, bug-legs whisking over the steps and the walls, stalk-eyes focusing on them, purple fur bristling all along the endless backs of the giant, multisectioned creatures. Tommy staggered, nearly dropping the camera as Newsie pushed past him; the reporter grabbed the sloth’s shoulder and yanked him up. Rhonda was five steps ahead, dignity abandoned, running on all four paws, leaping from stair to stair. Screeching, one of the monsters lunged at Newsie; he flattened himself against the wall, gasping, and when the thing pulled back for another try, he grabbed the camera away from the struggling sloth and swung it as hard as he could. The mic in front crunched, but so did the chitinous jaws. The monster roared, and tumbled into its partner, and Newsie shoved the sloth ahead of him, turning to run backwards, pointing the lens roughly at the second thing scrabbling around the wounded one to come after him. They’d reached the landing again. Newsie pushed Tommy toward the brick archway, but heard Rhonda yelling: “Up here! Up here!”

    He looked up: Rhonda stood on one of the carpeted steps leading up, waving desperately at him. Just as he changed direction, he saw something she didn’t: the carpet she stood on was moving just above her. “Rhonda, no!” he shouted, too late. The rat screamed as the soft thing she clung to suddenly rolled and bucked, tumbling her upwards toward a gaping, slimy, toothless maw. “Rhonda!”

    “Holy sh—“ the sloth exclaimed, catching the camera as Newsie slung it aside. The Newsman clambered up the steps, reaching his friend just as the sluglike thing tried to gulp her down; she flailed ineffectually on its broad, slippery tongue. Newsie grabbed one of her paws and heaved; they flipped down the steps, crashing onto the landing. Rhonda was screaming. Newsie, barely thinking, simply shoved her bodily inside his coverall and staggered to his feet. Tommy kept filming, backing along the brick corridor.

    “Move it!” Newsie screamed, shoving the camerasloth. Tommy didn’t argue, hanging onto the camera and loping faster than he’d ever moved before. Newsie glanced back to see the slug-thing and the centipede-thing collide, snap at one another, then turn their attention to the tunnel. The cameralight picked up the gleam of multiple tiny eyes approaching fast. Oh frog oh frog chest hurts burning why am I burning is Rhonda still in there run dear frog run – His thoughts a blur, the Newsman pounded hard along the tunnel, panting, overtaking and then half-dragging the sloth along. Stupid this was stupid oh frog don’t want to die eaten by BUGS!

    They burst through the closet door into the lobby, startling Beau, with a detail brush in one hand atop a ladder to get the ceiling corner, and Rocco, halfway out the front door with his second load of office computing equipment. “Run d—it! Ruuunnn!” Newsie shrieked at them.

    Rocco vanished, the stack of laptops crashing to the carpet. Beau blinked at the uproar. “But…I’m not done with the touch-ups!” he protested.

    Newsie let go of Tommy, who staggered out the front door after the pawnshop-bound rat. Newsie yanked Beauregard off the ladder. “Never mind that Beau! The truck! Get in the truck!”

    “But – all our tarps –“

    Somehow Newsie got Beau into the driver’s seat; somehow a harried Beau found the keys and put the groaning old truck into gear in spite of the reporter screaming at him. Gasping, Newsie looked out the passenger window as they pulled away; a dark tentacle slithered around the open edge of the Nofrisko front door – and slammed it shut. What happened in the tunnel would stay in the tunnel.

    Sobbing, his chest on fire, Newsie tore open the coverall. Rhonda clung to him, wheezing, and now he saw the cause of the pain: half her clothes were dissolved, and so was a section of his undershirt. Slimy green gunk coated her fur, her eyes squeezed shut. With a choked cry, Newsie dug out a handkerchief and wiped her face. “Rhonda! Rhonda!”

    “I…hate…your frogd—d stories,” she gurgled, and slumped against him.

    “Are we going back to the theatre?” Beau asked, glancing worriedly at the half-undressed Newsman with the slimy rat, then back at the sloth crouched below the truckbed railings, still clutching a battered camera. “Kermit’s not going to be happy! Those special corner rollers cost a lot!”

    “For frog’s sake, Beau, the hospital! Take us to the hospital!” Newsie groaned, the stuff coating Rhonda burning into his felt; he shook her gently with one hand, grimacing when his fingers suddenly seemed to catch fire at the contact with whatever digestive fluid the slug-thing had spewed on her. “Rhonda! Wake up! Rhonda!”

    Beau stared at him a split second with wide eyes; then he spun the steering wheel hard, ignoring the horns and brakes screeching all around, and ramped the truck onto the sidewalk to avoid another car. “Watch it! Comin’ through!” he yelled out the window. “Move it! Woooooooooooooooo!” His siren impression was convincing enough to make people stop or get out of the way. Although it only took him three minutes to reach Organ General, it seemed forever to Newsie, who kept prodding the unconscious rat, begging her to respond. “Do we want the emergency entrance?” Beau asked.

    “Yes! Yes!”

    “Okay!” Another hard turn, and the thump of the wheels over a curb, and a dazed Newsie fell out of the truck cab when the passenger door flew open at the crunching stop right in the admitting lobby of the hospital. He struggled to his feet, cradling Rhonda, and a nurse ran over to see what the matter was.

    “Help her!” Newsie begged, holding out the unresponsive, smoking rat. The nurse recoiled.

    “A rat? Hey, we don’t –“

    “She’s my friend, d—it!” Newsie roared, then fell into a coughing fit, his throat hoarse. A young man in a doctor’s coat knelt by him, pushing the nurse aside.

    “Good lord, what did she fall into?” the doctor asked. Newsie shook his head, unable to answer, and the doctor scooped Rhonda up in gloved hands. The doctor swiped a fingerful of the goop off the rat’s midsection into a small jar and handing it to the flustered nurse. “I need this analyzed stat, and clear a space in Triage Four!” He ran with Rhonda in both hands through a swinging door; another attendant stopped Newsie from following, then saw the burns on the Muppet’s chest and hands.

    “You too! You, get that truck out of here! It’s not sterile!” the attendant snapped first at the Newsman, then Beauregard, hustling Newsie through the triage doorway. Newsie saw the doctor rinsing Rhonda under an open shower in one corner, swiftly washing as much of the slimy stuff off her limp body as he could; the instant he stepped out of the shower, the second nurse shoved Newsie under it, unsnapping his coverall the rest of the way and roughly tugging it off him despite the Newsman’s weak protests. His shirt was ripped free as well, splitting down the front where the goop had eaten through the fabric to his felt. Shivering in nothing but boxers and socks, he tried to focus on what they were doing to Rhonda; the doctor had her on one of the triage gurneys and seemed to be checking her with his stethoscope while a nurse attempted to insert a needle in one tiny arm. Rhonda coughed, and relief swept through him even as his nurse hustled him out of the emergency shower and onto another padded gurney. He tried to see around the people tending him, feeling dizzy, needing to know how badly Rhonda was hurt. He was barely aware of a towel patting him dry, of his heart and breath being checked, of salve being spread on his burns. He started when something sharp poked his left wrist, and frowned at the IV, forcing himself to look back at Rhonda before he could faint; he’d never liked needles. The room was a blur of movement and a cacophony of voices.

    “…burned all the fur off…” the doctor was saying.

    “How do we cross-match for…” a tech complained.

    “Get me the results…”

    “This one looks okay, minor burns,” the nurse examining Newsie called out.

    “Is she all right?” Newsie gulped, trying to get someone’s attention. “Rhonda!”

    “Pulse looks strong, start treatment for third-degree chemical burns,” the doctor said, then turned to Newsie. “What happened?”

    “We…we were underground, a tunnel, under Nofrisko,” Newsie gasped, the sting on his chest and fingers dulling; he felt remarkably aware of his heartbeat, a somewhat disturbing sensation. “A…a slug tried to eat her…”

    “A slug? You’re saying a slug did this?” the doctor asked, incredulous.

    “It was a really big slug,” Newsie mumbled. He clutched the edge of the gurney, feeling weak, desperate to stay conscious.

    The doctor shone a penlight in his eyes; Newsie blinked, startled. “Pupils dilated. Run a tox screen,” the doctor told the tech applying a clean bandage around Newsie’s chest.

    “I’m not drugged,” Newsie said. “We...we have proof! We have film!”

    “Your friend’s lucky to be alive,” the doctor told him. “Can you tell me what the substance is on her?”

    “Slug spit,” Newsie said, shaking his head. “I don’t know! Whatever monster slugs have!”

    The doctor turned back to Rhonda, laying still but breathing, with a huge-looking needle incongruously taped to her wrist to keep it in. Newsie gulped. “Watch the film! Our camerasloth is in the waiting room…watch the film! I’m not drugged!” He did feel nauseous, however; could whatever stench he’d been breathing down there have affected him? What if he had hallucinated this? No, no! It was all on film, and these people would see it, and then they’d believe him!

    The nurse who’d objected to a rat in the hospital entered, and conferred privately with the doctor. He appeared startled, then darted from the room. Newsie stared at Rhonda, who was gently being slathered with some sort of burn cream from neck to feet. Her fur was indeed gone. Realizing he was seeing a naked coworker, Newsie flushed and averted his gaze, stealing uneasy glances at the nurse treating her. Oh, Rhonda, I’m sorry! This is my fault! We never should have gone in after we saw the slime trail; that was just asking for trouble! Ill, he jumped an inch off the pallet when the doctor touched his shoulder. He stared up at the frowning physician.

    “Where did you say you were?” the doctor demanded.

    “A…a tunnel, under the Nofrisko offices, on Bowery,” Newsie managed, his mouth dry. “We…we shouldn’t have gone…we saw the slime, and went ahead anyway…that thing was waiting for us…horrible things!” He shivered.

    The doctor gently wrapped a light fleece blanket over his shoulders. His gaze was serious. “I just looked at that film your…your sloth shot. I’ve notified Animal Control and the CDC. We’re still analyzing the slime, but I can already tell you it’s strongly basic. The opposite of acid, but just as caustic,” he explained, seeing the confused look on Newsie’s face.

    “I didn’t know there was an agency just to handle Animal,” Newsie muttered. “Good luck with that…” Some of what the doc had said penetrated his dazed mind, and he perked. “You—you believe me? You saw the slug?”

    “Buddy, if that’s a slug, I’m Jonas Salk,” the doctor replied grimly. “Take it easy. Once we’ve figured out what’s in your system we’ll treat you for it. Meantime, try to rest. Your friend’s going to be okay…it may take a long while to grow her fur back, though. Start an oxygen line on him too,” he told a tech, and Newsie suffered tubing being hooked over his ears to stay in his nose. The doctor frowned. “You look sort of familiar.”

    “The Newsman, KRAK,” Newsie gulped, trying to take deep breaths.

    “I see. Going after a story, were you? Next time, leave it to the authorities, okay?”

    “They didn’t believe me,” Newsie said. “We had to get proof.”

    Slowly the doctor nodded, looking back at Rhonda. “Well, I’d say now you have it.”

    Newsie nodded, calming slowly. “Can I…borrow a phone? Need to call someone…”

    The doctor pulled out a cell phone, but before he could hand it over, an older man in a white coat hurried over and looked Newsie up and down with sharp eyes. “This the one?” At the first doctor’s nod, the second shook Newsie’s hand. “Melvin Cosgrove, CDC. I was downstairs checking out a possible TB case, so until a team gets here, I’ll be handling your case as well. I need all the details. Where did you encounter this creature?”

    Summoning what strength and concentration he could, the Newsman told the investigator all he knew about the strange Nofrisko corporation, from the odd ingredients for Shamrockies to the secret tunnel leading to a nest of monstrous invertebrates, relieved that finally, finally, someone was paying attention, and finally, something would be done.
    -----------------------
  11. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Herald the conquering hero's triumphant return.

    Left turn at Albuquerque, yeah, they make that mistake every time trying to get to Pizmo Beach.
    So now we know what happened to Costanza 'Stinkbomb', though just dressing her up as a pig because the other family was one member short? Frankly, I thought she'd have been taken to Van Neuter as another test subject after Fauxworthy first.
    That was Doglion as the director fright?
    Explosion at the hat factory, yep, I remember that one, *hands over ramchips.
    Okay, I know it may or may not have been intentional, but you also get some ramchips for that time-tested Labyrinth joke about which direction to go in. They're just lucky they weren't dropped further down a pit by the responsive Helping Hands.
    The film survived? Yay! Now we finally have proof! But at what cost? Rhonda's gonna be mad when she finds out she'll be more closely related to Rufus from Kim Possible for the next month. I hope the doctor gives Newsie the phone so he can call Gina soon. To which point, I presume you've seen the addition to Slackbot's thread by now.

    Great chapter, thanks and talk to you in a sec.
  12. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    ----------------
    Glad you approve....I didn't even think about the directional Labyrinth joke! But I see you missed the other one I tossed in from a favorite Python, which I can STILL quote almost all of by heart!

    Hm, didn't even think of casting Doglion there. I like the idea though. Will have to throw him in somewhere!

    It only gets darker from here, folks...sanity check! :news:
    --------------------
  13. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Yeah, well that's why I have Doglion as a "yeti", it's almost a similar monster-type. *Grins at what I came up for Behemoth and Shaky, now that was cleverly inspired by Aunt Ru.

    Labyrinth joke... You don't become a top-notch Muppet research/Walter without recognizing subtle unintentional hints like that. And you're well on your path young Kriswalker.

    As far as Python, the only thing I can think is the slime-encrusted underground walls being a nod to the Cave of Caerbannog?
    *Reads the writing on the locked door saying 'Here lies the sword, Aaaaaaaarrrrrggghhh!'
    *Thinks, they had time to write out 'Aaaaaaaarrrrrggghhh'?
    Look out! We're being violently switched into animated nightmare fuel mode!
    At least it's not 'black and white' animated nightmare fuel mode like when the Rabbit's watch went mad.
    Oh, you can't help that, we're all mad here.
  14. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Twenty-Seven

    Monday the twenty-fourth was a normal autumn day, with a crisp blue canopy beyond the skyscrapers, and just enough of a chill in the air to have the morning commuters bundled in trendy sweaters and jackets. The only thing not typical, Beaker reflected unhappily, was that today his usual manual labor involved lugging equipment piled unsteadily in a Red Flyer wagon which really should have been transported in a truck or a van instead. Beaker grunted and pulled, strained and puffed, and slowly dragged the wagonful of delicate surveillance electronics along the sharply curving street.

    From the steps of the condemned hotel, Bunsen called: “What took you so long? Come on, Beakie! A little exercise won’t kill you!” He took a deep breath, removing his wrist and head sweatbands with a joyful air. “Just smell that clean fall air! Jogging over here was a wonderful idea!”

    Beaker wheezed past an alley just as a garbage truck roared out; only a screaming burst of energy saved the wagon and its Muppet from being creamed underwheel. Bits of stinking trash sprayed over Beaker, and he coughed harshly.

    “Come along, lots to do today!” Bunsen chirped happily, opening the front doors and brushing the fresh cobwebs out of the way. “I think perhaps first we should see about shoring up that landing some more, before we attempt to install the upper-level cameras and signal boosters…” He trotted inside, ignoring his assistant’s vain struggles to heave the wagon up the front steps. Sighing, weary, Beaker began unloading the equipment and carrying it in an armful at a time. Irritated, Honeydew chided: “Don’t leave all that in the street, Beaker! That equipment is very valuable!” Immediately numerous early-morning residents turned speculative eyes on the wagon, whereas before no one had paid any attention to the scientists. Hurriedly Beaker shoved the wagon up the stairs and inside the hotel lobby.

    “Very good, Beakie! Now, what say I check the wiring plan for the surveillance system while you go make sure that staircase is safe?” Turning away, Bunsen hummed “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” (with tuneless whistles) as he unrolled the tube of technical drawings he’d made for the operation. Beaker, exhausted, brought out a MuppAid bottle, but Bunsen plucked it from his hand before he could take a drink. “Strawberry Muppafruit flavor! How thoughtful, Beakie! One should always rehydrate after a good jog.” Beaker stared at Bunsen as he gulped the entire bottle and then handed it back. “Don’t forget to recycle, please. Now go on and get that landing fixed!”

    Grumbling to himself, Beaker took the Muppet Labs Electric Hammer (Mk XXVIII) up to the first grand landing on the formerly-elegant curving staircase. He lined up the laser-sight with the rough boards serving as patchwork for the broken balustrade, made sure he was out of the line of fire, and started the hammer. Whack! Whack! Whack! As the machine did its job correctly, fastening the railing back onto the edge of the stairs, Beaker relaxed a little. Remembering he’d brought another bottle of MuppAid, he trotted down the stairs to fetch it and took a satisfying swallow. Whack! Whack! Whack! At least with that gadget hammering away, all the spiders should be scared off…

    “Beaker, what are you doing?” Honeydew demanded. “You’re supposed to be securing the staircase so we can use it, not blocking it off!”

    “Mee meep mee me mee…” Beaker began a protest, then fell silent, mouth hanging open, as he saw the hammer whacking into place the last nail, fastening the railing straight across the start of the next flight of stairs. As it had been engineered to do, the hammer powered down, awaiting something else to nail. Shoulders slumped, Beaker trudged up the stairs and found the rails firmly embedded in the landing. He grunted and strained, trying to budge them. Muttering curses, he stepped in front of the hammer to try for better leverage to move the railing. The hammer whirred into life. “Meeeee!”

    “Beaker! Stop messing around and get that railing out of the way!”

    Whack! Whack! Whack! Whiirrrrrrump.

    Terror past, pain kicked in. With nails protruding from his nose, fingers, and shoulders fastening him to the misplaced railing, Beaker groaned, then began the arduous process of freeing himself. He managed to tug one hand loose and was pulling the nail out of his nose when the hammer started again. “Meee!” Whack! Beaker yanked his head down past his collar, and the hammer missed, thunking a nail into the railing behind him. “Mee! Mee meep!” Whack!

    “Beaker! We really don’t have time for this!” Bunsen yelled, growing impatient. “Don’t make me come up there!” Whack. Whack. Whack.

    “Meeeeeeeeee!”

    -----------------------
    Camilla let the phone ring until she reached the recording again: “This voice mailbox is full. Please try back another time.” Worried, she hung up. Gonzo was usually prompt about checking his messages! Could he just be so busy planning his next act that he’d forgotten all about his life? Had he forgotten about her? She’d watched the results show last night, while all around her feathered castmates snored unconcernedly in their straw-padded beds. After Saturday’s astoundingly dangerous performance, of course the Great Gonzo had advanced another round. Montrose the Mouse seemed to have left the show, and the host announced last night that Wyatt Slurp had been voted off as well, narrowing the field of competitors. Camilla had barely noticed the snail sharpshooter desperately blasting away with both guns as a heap of small monsters pounced on him following the announcement; she only had eyes for her Gonzo, who’d whooped at the crowd, snorted a fistful of red-hots up his nose, and then pelted them at the front rows of the studio audience as an encore. The next episode wouldn’t be until Wednesday night…so why wouldn’t Gonzo answer his phone?

    Camilla didn’t know if she hoped he’d heard all of her messages or not: perhaps it would be better if he hadn’t…at least then she could feel he wasn’t deliberately ignoring her! At the party, Blackie the rooster, drunk on one too many cups of sweet cider, had made several passes at her until she’d jumped on his head and scratched him silly. She knew Bertie and some of the other hens thought she was a fool: Blackie was so handsome, so debonair, and he really did look good in that tux. But no…her heart beat only for the Whatever. Why, oh why, wasn’t he even clearing out his voicemails?

    She pecked at the TV remote, flipping through channels. She paused when she heard an ad blaring loudly for the very show she dreaded: “Wednesday, Wednesday, Wednesday on MMN! It’s down to the last three contestants! One of them will be exterminated! Who will advance to the championship round, and who will be eaten alive? This coming Wednesday, on Break a Leg!” Several clips from the past show flashed past: Camilla clucked softly when she saw Gonzo diving into the barrel of acid with a whoosh of reactive steam. This could only get worse! “Now back to daytime drowsiness with views you can lose, on MMN’s Amscray Show!”

    She stared dully a moment, not interested in the two snickering Grouch ladies sampling vinegar wine with moldy hors d’ouvres in a studio with rats shrieking and pounding on the windows right behind them; one held up a handmade sign reading Please Help Us! Sighing, Camilla clicked through the channels, finally giving up and leaving the TV tuned to a local morning news report while she gathered up her washcloth and oatmeal-scented French soap. Usually her morning dip refreshed her mind as well as her feathers, but today she felt no peace.

    Until she knew why Gonzo wouldn’t talk to her, nothing would be right.

    ----------------------
    “Which key is it?” Rizzo asked, balancing skillfully atop a stack of unhappy rodents.

    “Do I live here?” Rhonda snapped. She wriggled her shoulders unhappily inside the thick fur coat. “Gawd, Rizzo, why’d ya have to pick rabbit fur?”

    “Hey, da rabbit wasn’t too happy about it either,” Rizzo shot back, trying one after another of the keys on Gina’s ring in the doorknob and the deadbolt. “You wouldn’t believe how many carrots I hadda promise to get it! How about a, ‘Gee, thanks Rizzo, for gettin’ me a new coat for my bizarrely furless bod,’ or ‘you’re so kind to escort me over here,’ or –“

    “Or hurry up and open the door already ‘cause I feel ridiculous in this danged outfit!” Rhonda yelled.

    “Boy, somebody woke up on da grumpy side’a da bed,” Rhonda’s brother Rory muttered, trying to keep his feet steady on another rat’s shoulders while his son Roombert puffed atop his in the rat-stack needed to reach the locks on the apartment door.

    “Why ain’tcha comin’ home with us, Rhonda?” asked Philby Rat, her youngest brother.

    Rhonda snorted. “As if I’d get anything done with you schmucks filling up my place! You’re all lucky Newsie’s girl offered me a stay here, ‘cause if I was at home right now, I’d be making myself a new coat outta all of you!” Rizzo managed to unlock the door, and the pile fell inside as he pushed it open, with many a grunt and complaint. Rhonda breezed through it, her coat clutched tight around her. “Careful with the electronics, guys. Just set it on the coffee table.” As six of her strongest nephews careened and careered into the main room bearing her Powerbook on their backs, Rhonda climbed onto the sofa and fought the urge to itch. “Aggh! I hate scratchy coats!”

    “You’re welcome,” Rizzo grumbled. “So, uh, will there be anything else, your pinkie-ness?” Several of the rats tittered; one yelped when Rhonda beaned him with a thrown coaster from the coffee table.

    “Yeah – you can bring me some actual clothes! Now go on, get outta here!” Fuming, Rhonda slouched on the sofa until Rizzo and all her relatives had exited the apartment, then sighed and stretched and opened the coat to examine her furless torso. “Wonderful. I look like a freakin’ mole rat. Geez.” At least she could hole up here for the day, away from snickering brothers and too-curious nieces and overly sympathetic sisters-in-law. With a sigh, she booted up the laptop and plugged the memory card from the videocamera into it. “Let’s see just how much of the horror we got on film…”

    Although the running and dodging and screaming detracted from the footage somewhat, Rhonda could tell that anyone seeing this would definitely pay attention. “Holy ickfest,” she muttered, shivering at the sequence of herself writhing helplessly on the tongue of the Slug That Slimed Manhattan. She stared in shock, watching Newsie bound up the stairs to yank her out of the slug’s mouth right before the slobbery lips clamped shut. Reflexively she wrapped the coat tighter around her. If he hadn’t grabbed me… She shuddered, unwilling to complete the thought. Seeing the monsters chasing the camera all the way back through the tunnel wasn’t pleasant either; she’d been in too much pain at the time to be aware of much besides the mothball smell of the coverall she’d been stuffed into. When she could finally unclench her fingers enough to stop the playback, she consciously let out the breath she’d held, and tried to objectively consider how much of this could be shown. She was positive that once Gina saw it, Newsie would be grounded to the apartment for at least the rest of the year for his own safety…

    She checked the time. In just a few minutes, her rescuer and star reporter would have even better footage to add to this. Cracking her knuckles, she got to work editing.

    ------------------------
    The SWAT team leader conferred with the head of the CDC team; Dr Cosgrove bore in hand a warrant to search the premises and any tunnels underground connected to the premises for toxic materials or creatures. The Newsman stood well behind them, fidgeting, pacing, while Tommy checked to be sure the microphone Newsie held was broadcasting wirelessly on a wavelength which wouldn’t interfere with the police radios. Finally, finally! Those cops look prepared for anything, he thought, though he worried they hadn’t all taken his warning about monsters seriously; he’d overheard some of them talking about capturing a venomous animal in the basement. A couple of guys from Animal Control (which, surprisingly, had nothing to do with the Muppet drummer) also stood behind the well-armed police team. Newsie jumped when a hand touched his shoulder. Dr Cosgrove gazed grimly at him.

    “I wanted to remind you that although we can act on this matter as a public health threat, you may still be facing legal action from the owners,” Cosgrove said. Newsie nodded. He’d already tried to contact Blander about that this morning, only to be told the lawyer hadn’t come into the office yet. Although Rhonda was insisting they all claim the Nofrisko offices had been unlocked and any items already “missing” when they arrived to investigate yesterday, Newsie reminded the rat that they’d still technically trespassed. He didn’t feel right about lying to the authorities, but Rhonda had promised she would personally deal with her thieving little nephew…when she found him. Not that Newsie regretted any of it…except that he’d been too persistent in exploring, even after he smelled the stench getting worse, and Rhonda… Unhappy, he forced himself to focus on the present moment: the SWAT team was moving into position around the front door and windows of the Nofrisko office, which seemed strangely quiet. Banging on the door had brought no answer a few minutes ago, although it was after nine o’clock on a workday. Was it Columbus Day or something? Newsie couldn’t recall. It didn’t matter: the CDC was about to make sure this office was closed for business.

    WHOMP! The battering ram popped the front door off its hinges. With yells and weapons in hand, the SWAT team flooded the front lobby. Newsie hurried after them, gesturing for the sloth to film. Hoarsely he narrated as he ran: “The SWAT team has just broken down the door of this corporate giant’s main office! Any second now, monsters will be swarming up from the underbelly of the city to challenge them!” He hoped the mic caught Cosgrove yelling out the warrant. Police in riot gear yanked open the door to the actual offices and raced down the hall; peering past them nervously, Newsie couldn’t see anyone at all in the glassed-in cubicles. “Through here!” he called, pointing out the closet door, where CDC agents covered head to toe in anti-contamination suits gathered. One of the SWAT team pulled open the door, another raised his rifle, Newsie cringed back, the sloth filmed – a concrete wall.

    “What?” Newsie choked. “No!”

    “You’re sure this is where you were?” Cosgrove asked him.

    “Positive! This – this was a door to a stairway! Straight down!” Newsie stared, astonished, while the cop rapped the butt of his gun against the block of concrete completely filling what had been a doorway. It thunked solidly.

    “This hasn’t completely set yet,” another cop noted, brushing the surface of the concrete with a gloved thumb, pasty white stuff coming off. “This is fresh work.”

    “Break it down!” Newsie urged them.

    Cosgrove shook his head. “We’ll need construction equipment for that. I’ll put in a call to the Mayor’s office, see if he can speed up the work order in the interest of public safety…”

    “Building’s clear,” another SWAT member reported, returning to the lobby. “No one here.”

    “They – they must’ve cleared out after we found the monsters!” Newsie exclaimed. “Wait – the elevator! Go to the basement! It’s some kind of restricted level; maybe there’s another way into the tunnel from there!” He hadn’t found anything when he’d poked around under Tonkin’s smug supervision, but these guys had resources he didn’t…like height, and muscle, and guns… Blushing a little, Newsie led them to the elevator. “There! See? It needs a key – can you guys get in?”

    At a nod from the police sargeant, one of the men knelt and unscrewed the panel to the elevator buttons. While he worked on the wiring, Newsie turned to the other SWAT members milling around. “You should all be careful! That…slug-thing had corrosive spit! And who knows what a bite from the centipede-thing will do!”

    The cops exchanged querying looks. “Hey, look, bud…we already heard there was some kinda wild animal down here, and that the owners might be armed. If you’re worried about bugs, maybe you shoulda notified an exterminator instead?” one joked. Another chuckled.

    “This isn’t about bugs! They only look sort of like bugs! They’re monsters!” Newsie protested angrily.

    “Please don’t tell me this weirdo is our informant,” another cop muttered.

    Flushed, angry, Newsie noticed the sloth still filming. He almost yelled cut, then realized he might be able to turn this to his advantage. Addressing the camera directly, he said, “Clearly, the authorities find it difficult to believe this reporter! I won’t speculate as to whether this is due to the unusual nature of the story, or if some of these men have unkind opinions of Muppets!” Talking with the lawyer this past week had made him understand prejudice could be very subtle, and more widespread than he’d ever suspected.

    “Muppets I believe in,” the cop snapped at him. “Giant monster bugs, no!”

    “Weren’t any of you shown the film footage from my disastrous venture yesterday?” Newsie asked, perturbed.

    “What film?”

    “Man, whatever.”

    At the general negative rumbling through the cops, Newsie turned alarmed to Cosgrove, who was tucking his cell phone into a pocket as he approached. “Well, luckily I was able to stress the importance of this operation to the Mayor’s office. They’re sending out a contractor and his team next Tuesday.”

    “Tomorrow?” Newsie asked.

    “Next Tuesday. The first of November.”

    “What!” Newsie grasped the doctor’s sleeve. “But this is terrible! We need to root out these horrible things now before they spread all over the city! And…and why didn’t you show the film to the SWAT team? They need to know what they’re getting into!”

    “The decision was made to treat this as a toxic-material raid,” Cosgrove said stiffly, removing his sleeve from the Muppet reporter’s fingers. “We analyzed the substance which burned you and the rat, and there isn’t any known animal capable of producing that specific organic compound. Most likely, someone with a dangerous knowledge of biochemistry has played a horrible prank on you.”

    “But – but – no!” Newsie gasped.

    The specialist fussing with the wiring called out, “Got it!”

    “Go down and check it out,” the sargeant ordered.

    Newsie struggled to get into the car with them, only to be shoved back. “Please, sir. Civilians stay back until the area is secured.”

    “No, wait!” Newsie cried. “You’re in terrible danger! This isn’t a pet snake that got loose, or a chemical spill! This is a nest of horrible, spitting, vicious monsters!”

    “Found this in the big office upstairs,” one of the CDC team said, walking over to show Cosgrove a Petri dish with dark slime contained within: even with the lid closed, Newsie recognized the smell. “It was all over the floor, along with some animal hair, possibly feline.” He held up an evidence bag with a few strands of light tan fur inside.

    Newsie paled. “It ate Tonkin!”

    The elevator doors closed; Newsie whirled to see the indicator light above it showing B. “No! No, no! There could be things down there!”

    “Look, we’ll let you down in a minute, bub,” another cop growled at him, pushing him away from the elevator again.

    Despairing, Newsie pressed a hand to his brow: this wasn’t going at all the way he’d thought it would! Looking at Tommy’s camera lens still pointing his way, Newsie took a deep breath and stammered: “It…it seems things have become even worse here at Nofrisko. Slime has just been recovered from the office of the CEO which looks and smells exactly like the monsters this reporter encountered below…along with possible cat fur. It should be noted that the CEO was, in fact, a cat.” He swallowed hard, anxious.

    After a minute, the elevator dinged again. Newsie stepped back, half-expecting a monster to roar out when the door opened, but the only creature which did was one of the police. He gestured at Cosgrove. “Found something. Your guys might wanna take a look.” He glanced at Newsie. “Guess it’s safe enough you can get a shot for your news story, if you want.”

    Confused, Newsie nevertheless beckoned for Tommy, and they piled into the elevator along with Cosgrove and another of the CDC doctors. He knew there’d been something hidden down here! Could it be a torture chamber? A nest of monster eggs? He shuddered, clutching his microphone tightly. He wondered if it would work as a club, if needed…

    He stayed behind the armed policeman as they entered the basement. All the lockers and cabinets had been opened and the contents tossed out. Then he saw what the team had found: they’d shoved aside a whole row of tall metal lockers to reveal another room. Unlike the concrete, barren basement, this room was tiled in bright white ceramic; drainage grates punctured the floor at regular intervals. A metal table in the center of the room made Newsie think of a morgue. Shivering, he fell back another step. Cosgrove went to a long metal counter holding all kinds of shattered laboratory glassware. “Looks like a meth lab,” one of the cops said.

    Cosgrove cautiously sniffed one of the empty flasks sitting on the counter. “No…drugs, but not that kind. This is much too sophisticated for your common street lab.”

    Tommy panned the camera, taking in the pile of smashed glassware along one wall, the greenish fluid staining the floor in that area, the deeply gouged clawmarks in the tilework. Newsie gulped. “Uh…uh…it seems that whatever was going on here, someone wrecked the evidence before the police arrived!”

    “Get a sample of that,” Cosgrove told one of his assistants, indicating the dried green stuff.

    “What the heck did that?” a cop wondered, staring at the deep clawmarks; they were up to seven feet off the floor, and had gone through the ceramic tiles like Styrofoam, leaving ragged edges. Newsie carefully stepped closer to examine them, Tommy filming over his shoulder. When he touched the bottom edge of a furrow, the tile beneath it loosed and crashed to the floor. Two cops swung around with guns upraised, and Newsie nearly panicked.

    “Whoa! Whoa! Press!” he shouted, throwing his hands up. Disgusted, the cops lowered their weapons, and a shaken Muppet glared at the camera. Oh, great. Rhonda’s going to love that. Glumly, he realized perhaps allowing his producer and editor to have a laugh at his expense was slim payment for what had happened to her. Shaking his head, he peered up at the clawmarks. He didn’t recall either the slug-thing or the bug-thing having multiple toes like this: this reminded him more of a grizzly bear attack, or a violent tiger… With another shudder, he stretched on tiptoe to see how deep the marks went, and heard a crunch under his shoe. Looking down, he froze: the pieces and shards of grayish-white, hardened clay reminded him of…of…

    “Snookie,” he gasped. “Oh my frog! Snookie!”

    Pieces of clay with names upon them; monsters underground with their own TV network; game shows – game shows! Ethel had told him Chester had gone into the show-hosting trade – the phone number had gone to the studio which filmed shows for MMN – MMN ran monsterish game shows – that visitor had been to a show taping – “Deadly!” Newsie shouted, startling the others. “Deadly knows where my cousin is!”

    “What’s with him?” one of the cops wondered.

    Cosgrove gestured for another doctor to take Newsie out of the room. “He may still be suffering aftereffects of the poison in his system yesterday…or perhaps that green substance just triggered a relapse. Quarantine this area! Sargeant Hill, have your men return to the street. We need to seal off and test this entire building for toxins!”

    “I’m fine!” Newsie argued, struggling as two of the cops hefted him with them into the elevator. Tommy followed unhindered, still filming the scientists exploring the room as he retreated. “Wait, wait, you don’t understand! It’s all connected! This has to be part of it; the monsters were here!” Before the door closed, he shouted to Cosgrove, “Nofrisko was making cakes that caused monsterphobia! What if the monsters didn’t know? What if they attacked them when they found out?” But the elevator shut, and the cops held him firmly by both arms and escorted him out of the building when they reached the first level.

    Anguished, overcome, Newsie strode angrily up and down in front of the cheerful Fwinkie sign. “That must be it! What if Tonkin was being forced to allow the monsters access to the street through that tunnel, and had started work on a chemical to fight…” No, that didn’t make sense! “Why would he want people more afraid of monsters?” he muttered, halting his pacing a moment. “Those things are horrible enough to send anyone running once they get a look!” His fingers felt as though they were near an open flame; startled, he looked down and realized he’d brushed them through the substance splattered on the wall. It didn’t smell quite the same as the slug slime, however. Quickly he waved down a cab. “Tony, we have to get to the theatre, quick! Muppet Labs can tell us what this stuff is!” He glanced back at the office, where CDC agents were stapling plastic sheeting over the front of the building; he understood he couldn’t expect any help with his story from that quarter. If they’d covered up the monsters from the SWAT team, they certainly weren’t going to tell him what they found in that mysterious basement lab.

    The sloth climbed into the cab, asking slowly while Newsie awkwardly got in without using his green-smeared hand: “Dude…should I keep filming?”

    “Not now,” Newsie said, gave the driver the Muppet Theatre address, and looked back grimly at the quarantined office as they drove away. “Wait until we have more information.” Why would there be a secret lab below Nofrisko, if they make their cakes in New Jersey? Why would the monsters have wrecked it? Is Tonkin dead? Why would they have made monsterphobia-inducing snacks if they’re working with the monsters?

    Frustrated, he stared at his stained fingers. Was he being poisoned even now? “Hurry!” he urged the driver.

    “Dude…did you notice?” Tony spoke up.

    “What?” Newsie muttered, paying scant attention, more concerned about whatever possibly dangerous substance he’d unwittingly exposed himself to.

    “All the furniture was broken. Somebody was sure pi—“

    “What?” Newsie stared at the sloth. He hadn’t even noticed the state of the offices, focused on getting downstairs to that tunnel.

    Tommy nodded. “Yeah, dude. Whole place was trashed. Guess we really stirred up some sh—“

    “Why would they trash the office?”

    The sloth shrugged, which took him half a minute. “Who knows, man? Hey, uh, y’know, I kinda got the munchies…can we stop for some chips or something?”

    “No!” Disgusted, the Newsman studied his green fingertips. Whatever’s going on down there…the monsters are cleaning house. And if Chester is down there somewhere…what might they do to him? Shivering, he rebuttoned his coat, hoping Bunsen and Beaker would be able to tell him what the secret lab had been cooking up, hoping he’d be able to figure out what specifically had angered the monsters enough to destroy the office (and what about the workers? where were they?), and hoping that if Chester Blyer was trapped down there somewhere, he could hold out until the Newsman could find him.

    -------------------------------
    When Eustace returned to the control hub, the Frackles lowered their eyes and shuffled out of the way. He paused; they weren’t usually respectful enough to avoid his wrath. What was going on? Maybe the underlord had explained to them they ought to be more contrite to his favorite, right-claw monster…

    Then the voice came over the intercom. “Eustace. In here.”

    The Frackles shrank back, and Eustace suddenly realized they weren’t afraid of him…they were afraid for him. Gulping down a sudden mouthful of bile, the doglizard slowly opened the inner sanctum door and crept through. He wasn’t entirely prepared for the door to slam behind him, crunching the tip of his long tail. Stifling his yelp quickly, he stood with eyes averted. The dark, bulky shape in the control seat didn’t move, but the voice was firm: “Here. Now, if you please.”

    Eustace shuffled slowly toward the chair; suddenly he gurgled, yanked into the air by his throat, a strong hand choking him. “WHY is this happening!” the underlord roared.

    “Gahh…agg…erg…what, my lord?” Eustace managed to reply.

    The powerful hand shook him like a floppy toy; abruptly his face was shoved before a screen showing that short yellow reporter pacing on a sidewalk. Eustace, dazed, was able to recognize it as the front entrance to that snack-food office after a few seconds. “THIS!” His Huge-and-dangerousness bellowed. “You told me this Muppet was dead! WHY then do I see him VERY MUCH ALIVE and accompanying the humans on a raid at our food-tainting facility?”

    “Aggh…gahhr…your d-darknessss…pleassse…” The hand released him, and Eustace dropped to the floor, wobbling, gasping. “I…I cannot exxxplain it, Your Sssliminesss! It wasss reported to me Ssaturday night that the ssstrike team had brought him back to the tunnelsss and fed him to Even Bigger Mama!”

    A pointed fingernail jabbed the soft tip of the doglizard’s wet nose. “Clearly, your intel was wrong. There is no excuse for this!” A click of a keyboard, and the image of the reporter and a lanky creature with a videocamera froze. The boss tapped the screen. “This animal I saw with the rats and that gray thing, pretending to paint the office. Yet clearly he works for the Muppet. Which suggests the little nuisance in plaid was behind the break-in yesterday! Do you understand how much this…disturbs me, Eustace? Especially as you had assured me he would no longer be a problem?”

    Eustace nodded frantically. “Yesss, yesss, of courssse, my liege! Clearly, the report was missstaken! Errrg!” He gagged, lifted off the floor again.

    “I do not permit…mistakes,” the low voice hissed softly. “Fix it. Now. Or you will be fed to the wonderfully obese Mama clan…as a protein smoothie!”

    “Yess my lord! At onsse my lord! Absssolutely my lord!” Eustace yelped, running out the door as fast as he could once the terrible hand released him.

    Alone in his black silence once again, the underlord scowled at the image of the frightened reporter. Blocking up the Nofrisko entrance and stopping the chemical production had been regrettable but necessary, at least until the Dark Ascension Night arrived. After that, of course, he could restart the lab mixing the compound which the prey would unwittingly ingest. He nodded to himself: fear always made the meat taste so, so much sweeter… Meanwhile, however, this little Muppet was proving to be more of a nuisance than he’d first thought.

    He frowned, deeply creasing a face which would have sent the Frackles outside into hysterical screaming fits. How could those idiots have possibly mistaken anyone else for this ridiculous reporter? “Surely there aren’t two Muppets with that nose and that big mouth!” he growled. Angrily he switched the feed to the hidden camera inside the secret lab, and stared moodily at the humans examining, cataloguing, and treading softly in HAZMAT suits all over his formerly-delightful fear-producing equipment. With a growl, he hit the intercom button on his headset. “What has been done with the cat?” he asked.

    After a moment, a timid voice came back, “H-he’s still in a holding cell, Your Ickiness. We didn’t know how you wanted us to serve him, boiled or grilled.”

    “Who is this?” the boss demanded.

    A choked voice replied, “F-friggle Frackle, Your Scariness…”

    “Well, Friggle Frackle, you may have an extra ration of rat today for being brave enough to speak to me.” He smiled, imagining the little monster nearly wetting itself at being thus addressed. “And…bring the cat to me. I shall deal with him myself.”

    A pause, then the voice squeaked, “ThankyouyourAwfulness! Right away sir!”

    The underlord chuckled. His pet gurbled at him, and he reached down to gently pull the giant centipede into his vast lap. “Soon, my little one,” he murmured to it, enjoying its rumbling wriggle as he petted its mangy fur. “Soon, I will shed the last trappings of the flesh…and be just…like…you.”

    The monster growled its approval.
    ----------------------
  15. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Okay...

    Bunsen humming Always Look on the Bright Side of Life... Wouldn't that tune be more better suited for Gonzo? He does after all have the hooknosed profile for that role.

    Hmm, that sure was a quick recovery... Admitted on Sunday, discharged and back on the hunt the following Monday.
    Rhonda, stay with Gina, you're going to need to be there to help Newsie as he gets in deeper and deeper.

    The CDC and Swat team open the green closet door to find... A brick wall. Yep, saw that coming, classic cover your tracks practice. Good that one of the cops noted it was still fresh and could be busted down. Bad however they won't get anyone to do it until November 1.

    Newsie's mind hit the lynchpin unlocking his blacked out memory. Connecting the dots are you? Careful you're not spooked by what the image reveals. Glad he's off to the theater where he'll hopefully get some answers instead of more run-around.

    The Underlord has that weebabeast/woolly centipede as a pet? Aw, how nice. Wait, dark ascention? Soon he'll be just like his own pet? Okay, that adds a new name to my list of guesses as to his ickyness's identity. You've just scored yourself a bonus of ramchips for going that route. But remember the underlord needs to ingest the boxful of grubs if he wants the transformation to take place. At least we won't have to wait until Graduation Day for the battle this time.

    More please?
  16. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Just a fiendly little bump. *Leaves some coconut cake squares.
  17. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    (thank you! I like coconuts! :news:)

    Part Twenty-Eight

    Mondays being the weekly “dark days” for the Muppet Theatre, nobody was around when the Newsman burst into the backstage entry and sprinted through the stage right wing to the basement stairs. “Hello?” he yelled as he ran, “Hello? Dr Honeydew? Beaker? Help!”

    The commotion did attract attention: as Newsie fumbled for the lightswitch in the short tunnel below the stage, a scaly blue figure in a tattered evening jacket slunk around the green room balustrade, horns perked. “Good heavens, what’s all the racket?” the dragon grumbled. “Can’t a fellow enjoy some ominous silence once in a while?”

    Newsie turned the doorknob to the Muppet Laboratory, calling as he went: “Beaker? Dr Honeydew? Are you home?” A mechanical arm swung out from the doorway, whisking a metal pail through the air just over the reporter’s frazzled hair. “Agh!” Newsie ducked, staring up worriedly as the bucket tipped over, spilling a dark fluid onto the hall floor, then wobbled back through the doorway. A booby trap? Since when have those guys been so guarded? Well, at least it didn’t get me… “Uh…hello?”

    No answer came, save for the quiet bips and brups of the lab equipment. Newsie peered inside cautiously, but nothing else sprang at him. The soft whirr of a reel-to-reel magnetic tape recorder suddenly running and then stopping startled him. “Where could they be?” he wondered.

    “Like, dude, I’m gonna see what’s to eat around here,” Tommy spoke up from the end of the hall, shuffling back toward the canteen.

    Frustrated, the Newsman stepped gingerly into the lab. Was there any way to preserve the gunk now dried on his fingertips? Spotting a rack of empty glass vials, he grabbed one and did his best to scrape some of the crystallized greenish stuff into it, plugged it with a rubber stopper, and laid it upon a worktable. The sounds of the lab equipment running on autopilot may have been normal – relatively – but they quickly unnerved him. Digging his notepad and pencil stub from a coat pocket, Newsie scribbled a note for the lab boys: Need this analyzed! May be dangerous!

    Backing out of the lab with nervous glances all around, Newsie suddenly whirled: he could’ve sworn he saw movement in the dim corridor. “H-hello?” he called. Utter silence filled the space under the stage, from prop room to green room. “Tony? Is that you?”

    A low chuckle sounded right behind him. The Newsman spun, only to be whacked in the forehead by the dangling bucket booby-trap. “Waaagh!” he cried, nearly stumbled over his own shoes, and hastily broke for the green room. Just before he reached it, the door slammed shut; his glasses crunched painfully against his nose when he couldn’t stop in time. “Ow! Aaagh!” The lights in the corridor suddenly cut out. “Hey! No!” Newsie’s shaking fingers reached for the switch, only to touch something cold as the grave. With a frightened yelp, he jerked back. A pair of glowing green eyes advanced toward him from the darkness. “Yaaahhgh!” Screaming, Newsie ran blindly for the opposite end of the hall, where another door led to a short flight of steps up to stage left. He bounced off either side of the hallway, fumbling for the way out. Low, menacing laughter filled the corridor behind him. Monsters! Monsters! No! Gasping, Newsie bruised his shin on the lowest step and thumped his shoulder against the knob of the open exit door. With a whimper, he scrambled up the steps, emerging at last stage left by the dark flyrail.

    A shifting of the air behind him, the softest flutter of sound, made him turn, cringing; a ghostly figure swooped up onto the loading rail. Uncle Deadly alighted there, leaning over the safety railing with arms spread wide, chortling deeply. Newsie stared up at him, eyes wide, and the dragon grinned. “Boo! Mwah ha ha haaaa!”

    “You!” Newsie choked. “You – you’re one of them!” Though he felt almost too terrified to think, he yelled up at the spectre, “What have you done with my cousin?”

    “What the devil are you blabbering on about?” Deadly asked, frowning.

    “Snookie Blyer! You’re keeping him with the other monsters!” Newsie dared a step toward the rail. “T-tell me where he is!”

    “I haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re talking about,” Deadly sniffed haughtily. “This now makes twice you’ve accused me of some sort of kidnapping! You, sir, need a lesson in manners!”

    “Monsters! You’re a monster! You took that blind man to see Snookie! He had my cousin’s autograph on his little clay bits!” Newsie shouted, but the dragon only frowned.

    “Must I be pestered by insane big-mouths on my day off?” Deadly growled. “I suppose next you’ll accuse me of pandering anti-oil propaganda! Begone, foolish Muppet!”

    With a chilling cry of gibberish, the phantom swooped down upon the Newsman, his rotting silk cape billowing behind him like a dead moth’s wings. Newsie shrieked, flattening himself to the stage floor. Deadly landed a few feet away, and turned slowly, a wicked smile quirking his long jaws. “So, you fear monsters, do you? I’ll give you something to be afraid of! Mwooh ha ha ha hah!”

    In the deserted canteen, the sloth tilted his head slowly at the ceiling. Faint screams and echoing laughter drifted through the boards. Tommy nodded. “He did find someone home…cool.” Unconcerned, he resumed rummaging through the muttering greenish things in the ‘fridge.

    -------------------------
    “Did you get it?” Gonzo asked, standing up from his bunk.

    “Yabba,” Rosie McGurk nodded, reaching under his fur to produce a wallet-sized photograph. Before he could hand it through the bars, Gonzo slipped sideways between them to grasp the picture and gaze fervently at it.

    “Ohhh…Camilla,” he sighed. The photo was from their last trip to Coney Island. Camilla had enjoyed cotton candy on the boardwalk, and Gonzo had been smushed by a strongman at one of the test-your-strength games: a wonderful time all around. Gonzo swallowed down a lump in his skinny throat at the sight of his squashed body cuddling the chicken in the photo booth, on that sunny day a summer ago. “Thanks,” he murmured at McGurk.

    The monster blinked all three eyes in sympathy. “Garabba grelbem.”

    Gonzo leaned against the locked door of his cell, eyes misting as he gazed at the soft feathers, the cute little beak, the sexy red wattles… “Do you…do you think she’s forgotten me, Rosie?”

    “Agg! Nahhhg,” McGurk assured him, shaking his head so vehemently tufts of feathers came loose. He hadn’t grown back the acid-singed fur yet, so a borrowed caftan of bright scarlet fur made him look like a cardinal of monsters.

    Gonzo gloomily slumped within his own colorful egg-print bathrobe. “I mean…no calls, no fan mail…we do get fan mail, don’t we?” McGurk nodded in reply, pointing out a slushpile of unopened letters and postcards. A bored, buzzard-nosed blue Frackle was shoveling them into a metal trashcan in which a weak flame flickered, barely heating the underground jail. Gonzo stared at that dully, then sighed again. “I don’t even know if she voted for me! Maybe…maybe all this has been for nothing.”

    “Nahbba!” McGurk insisted, and gestured broadly, reminding Gonzo of the crowd’s acclaim, of the boss’ favoritism, of all the perks the daredevil had earned due to his popularity. “Fah ibba, monstah rabba rabba, puzza!”

    “Pizza isn’t everything, Rosie,” Gonzo said. “I mean, sure, finally finding my audience has been fantastic…but…I keep looking out into that surging crowd…all those drooling sharp teeth, all those bug-eyes, y’know, and wishing just once I’d see a cute little chickie-babe gazing up at me.” He sighed a third time, even more deeply.

    “Buh,” McGurk murmured. Awkwardly he patted Gonzo’s shoulder. “Grah Izznay, stupabba fah garabba magga nah blah!”

    “Yeah…Wednesday. I know.” Gonzo shook his head. “My mind’s a blank. It really kind of…just hit me today. I haven’t even seen her in weeks! And my phone’s dead, and they confiscated yours, and none of my emails seem to be going through…” Rosie’s eyes widened as Gonzo held up a clicking, ticking iCrab. Gonzo tapped the flat screen on its broad back and tweaked a claw, then turned the screen so McGurk could view it. “See?” The Frooglemail window blinked: address not found error. “Come on, what’s up with that?” Rosie wondered how the heck Gonzo had even snuck such an instrument into his cell; all his personal effects had been confiscated after the incident with the big screen on the ‘Break a Leg!’ set. “Could she really not…not want to talk to me anymore?”

    “Muhba shagga buzzah?” Rosie offered.

    “What could she be busy with? Or maybe it’s who she’s getting busy with!” Unhappily, Gonzo contemplated the possibility Camilla had finally accepted Blackie’s many not-so-subtle hints about nesting. After all, gorgeous though she was, the chicken wasn’t getting any younger, and maybe the rooster’s innuendo about eggs had… “Eggs,” Gonzo muttered, suddenly noticing the all-over print on his robe. Brown, white, speckled… “Eggs! Oh for crying out -- Rosie, I am such a dunce!” He grabbed the bewildered monster’s arms. “She kept clucking about eggs! A nest! She was trying to tell me – and I didn’t even – and those chick-rearing magazines she suddenly subscribed to – Rosie! I get it! I get it! Camilla wants to have an egg!” He gulped, the full implication of that whomping him so hard he sat down on a slow-moving giant lobster-faced turtle-thing which had ambled over to roast a marshmallow at the mail-fire. Ignoring the creature’s grumble, Gonzo turned astounded eyes to his friend. “She…she wanted to have an egg…with me!”

    “Egga?” Rosie repeated, confused. “Wuh…fragga egga, froh habba-boila…”

    “Hard-boiled? What are you, a cannibal?!” Gonzo exclaimed, shocked. Quickly McGurk took a step back literally and figuratively, waving his hands in shameful apology. “No, you weirdo! She wants to have kids! She was trying to…trying to…” Gonzo had to take a deep breath, the strength abruptly drained from his body. “She was trying to tell me she wanted something more…and I didn’t even listen. I was too caught up in myself, in my own dreams, to even think about hers…” He shook his head. “Oh, Camilla. Rosie, what have I done?”

    Perplexed, the monster bit his upper lip, then gestured hesitantly at the pile of props the other monsters had thoughtfully donated to keep the betting pool afloat: chainsaws, flamethrowers, a ground-to-air missile launcher, a vase of pussywillow shoots, and one sparkly blue Super Rubber Bouncy Ball. “Uh…plagguh boomba?”

    Gonzo dismissed him with a shake of his head. “No, I don’t want to plan the next act! Don’t you see, Rosie? Camilla…Camilla loves me…” He choked up. “Or…at least, she did…what am I gonna do?”

    The long tongue of the monster drooped in sympathy. At a loss, McGurk shook his head as well. The turtle-thing under Gonzo shifted and muttered, “Can you get off so I can toast this before the fire goes out?”

    Ignoring it, Gonzo suddenly leaned forward and clutched Rosie’s sleeve. “I have to get out of here, Rosie! I have to go find her!”

    Alarmed, McGurk shook his head violently. “Nabba! Nabba! Nooga fragga acka muhgagga ubbil ebba cohnfrah!”

    “Well to be honest, I hadn’t thought of it that way,” Gonzo said, sinking back onto the crawling creature before it moved an inch toward the trash-barrel fire. It groaned and flailed its stubby legs in vain. “You mean I can’t leave until the contest is over? What happens if I just split out?”

    “Agrahgga fubba waahhhh!” McGurk yelled, throwing his arms in the air. A piece of pink feather drifted slowly down from the scraggly tuft on his head as he stood there; both of them watched it hit the floor.

    Gonzo turned a frown to his friend. “Well, that doesn’t sound good.”

    “Nugga,” McGurk agreed, worried.

    “So…soon as I win this thing, I can get out of here, and maybe convince Camilla I’m ready to…to…” he swallowed hard. “To, uh, at least talk about this whole egg thing?”

    “Uhhh…shabba,” Rosie lied, wincing.

    “Well…it sounds kinda unfair. Are you sure the contract said that? I don’t remember any imprisonment clause.”

    “Unfair is being stuck under a naked weirdo in a bathrobe,” the lobster-faced thing muttered, thumping its short tail in annoyance.

    “Gagga rubba gawgrack,” McGurk assured Gonzo seriously.

    “Fine, okay, whatever,” Gonzo grumbled. He looked, unenthused, at the pile of balls, props, and implements of destruction next to the cell. “What was the requirement this time? Shovels and rakes?”

    “Shavah, rakkah,” Rosie agreed. He picked a promising-looking double-bladed coal rake from the stack and showed it to the daredevil. “Tah daaaagga!”

    “Eh…boring.” Lost in contemplation, Gonzo ignored McGurk hopefully producing construction and yardwork tool after tool from the pile, as well as the still-struggling thing beneath him. “Hey…what if…Rosie!” He shot to his feet, grabbing a startled McGurk. “I’ve got it!”

    “Finally…” the turtle-thing groaned, starting a slow crawl toward the dying fire.

    “Let’s do an act…with eggs!” Rosie stared at him, speechless. Excited, Gonzo looked around, grabbing a hook-pronged Frackle rake and a sharply pointed garbage shovel. “Yes! That’s it! Rosie – we’ll balance five and a half dozen eggs on these tools! We’ll juggle them, and balance them, and do it all while walking on extremely painful sizzling coals!”

    “Wuhgga?” McGurk gulped.

    “Yes, we! I’ll need your help for this! Okay, first, get me some eggs! As many as you can! I don’t care – any kind! We need to practice!” As McGurk stood there, stunned, an ebullient Whatever spun the rake in one hand and the shovel in the other, whacking the forelegs off the turtle-thing by accident.

    The creature glared at its limbs wriggling around trying to find their way back home, then at the unreachable fire. “Oh come on!”

    “Rosie, we are going to put on the best darned rake-and-shovel-egg-protecting act ever committed to film -- outside of that incident at the Easter basket plant in Patterson last year, anyway. If Camilla’s still watching me, she’ll see I finally understand! She’ll see how gentle and protective and – and – fatherly I can be! This is wonderful!” He grinned at the frozen McGurk. “Well don’t just stand there! Let’s get cracking! Er…wait. Bad expression. Get me those eggs!” He shoved McGurk toward the cell-block exit, whirling around to start tossing items out of the prop pile in search of just the right equipment, so he didn’t see his assistant trip over one of the clawing, clutching forepaws on the floor.

    “Waauugh!” Rosie cried, desperately trying to shake the grabbing claw free of his nose.

    “Gimme that! Paw-thief! Paw-thief!” the turtle-thing shouted, bumping clumsily against McGurk’s feet. With a strangled cry, Rosie stumbled down the rocky corridor. The turtle-thing reattached its other forepaw and began limping after McGurk, still yelling. Gonzo’s attention was focused on the pile of stuff: shovels, rakes, and implements of construction flew through the cramped corridor.

    With an annoyed sigh, the buzzard-nosed Frackle tamped down the last of the fan mail. He noticed the dropped marshmallow-on-a-stick on the floor nearby, and picked it up. Weird as this assignment could be, it did sometimes have its perks. Shortly, the crackle and hiss of a toasting bit of fluff added its small sound to the cacophony ringing through the cell block.

    --------------------------------
    Beaker trudged behind Bunsen as the two made their way through the theatre. Bunsen chatted cheerfully: “I thought the test of the spider-enraging spray went very well, don’t you? And tomorrow we’ll put down the motion-activated ghoul-droppers!”

    “Meep,” Beaker muttered glumly. His hair was covered in dirty cobwebs, and the back of his lab coat was shredded, with one broken fang still embedded in it. He thought he saw some slight movement out of the corner of one eye, and whirled. Something reddish and yellowish was sticking out from behind the edge of a rope-holding crate in the stage right wing. Beaker grabbed Bunsen’s sleeve, tugging hard to get his colleague’s attention. “Mee meep!”

    “Yes, yes, I already said we could order a pizza,” Bunsen said, turning, then realized Beaker was frantically pointing at something in the shadows of the unlit wing. “What is it? Oh! Did you find that mutant hamsterburger we re-animated that got loose last week?”

    “Muh-uh,” Beaker corrected, pointing again at the mostly-hidden thing crouched behind the crate. “Meep!”

    “My goodness, what have we here?” Bunsen wondered, trotting right over to the crate despite Beaker’s tremulous warnings. He leaned over for a closer look. Beaker cringed. Something yellow and red and waving crazed arms shot up from behind the crate. “Oh my!”

    “Get back! Shoo! Shoo! Leave me alone! You’ll never take me alive! Aaaaaaaa!”

    The lab duo stared in surprise as a disheveled, wide-eyed Newsman bolted across the stage, crashing into the flyrail; knocked loose, one of the levers dropped, and suddenly a row of black curtains billowed down, piling in thick ribbons until the batten holding them reached the end of its lines and bounced about two feet above the stage floor, twanging loudly. Honeydew walked calmly around the piles of curtains to the stunned Newsman laying on the floor. “Newsman? Whatever is the matter?”

    Newsie blinked up at him, glasses knocked off, then suddenly screamed again and scrambled to his feet. “No! No! You won’t eat me! I won’t let you eat me! Waaaggh!”

    “Beaker, stop him!” Bunsen called. When the terrified reporter ran by the low-dangling batten, Beaker shoved it hard; it smacked Newsie’s side, and over he toppled with a stifled groan. Bunsen hurried up, producing a syringe from a coat pocket. Beaker didn’t have time to wonder why Bunsen even carried something like that before the scientist jabbed it into the back of Newsie’s neck and depressed the plunger; a rubber mallet popped out of the middle of the syringe and whacked Newsie atop his skull. The frightened Muppet slumped unconscious. Bunsen, relieved, put away the gadget, smiling at a flabbergasted Beaker. “A little project I’ve been working on, for people who need their vaccinations but simply can’t stand needles!”

    “Mee mo,” Beaker mumbled, shaking his head.

    “Help me get him to the lab, and we’ll find out what’s gotten into the poor Muppet,” Bunsen said. Together they carried Newsie to the freight elevator and went downstairs.

    When Newsie came to, his head ached, his side felt sore, and a woozy feeling enveloped him all over. “Wha…what hit me?” He didn’t recall the News Flash, but a lifetime of such experiences made that the most likely culprit.

    Dr Honeydew beamed at him. “Oh, good! Feeling any better?”

    “Define ‘better,’” Newsie grumbled, tentatively touching the crown of his skull. A raised welt under his hair made him wince.

    “Mee meep me,” Beaker said, offering Newsie his glasses. He put them on very slowly, assessing what exactly hurt where.

    “I…I was…hey!” He stared at Bunsen. “The dragon! He was trying to kill me!”

    “Meee!” Beaker gasped, but Honeydew shook his head.

    “No one else is here today, Newsman. Except for that sloth fellow sleeping on the lighting rail on the balcony… We’ve analyzed the crystalline substance you brought us, and since you seemed to have been badly exposed to it, I took the liberty of creating an antidote and, er, administering it to you.”

    Well, that explained the sore spot on his rear, anyway. Grimacing, Newsie tried to recall everything. “Right, the stuff from the Nofrisko basement…exposed? So…so it was dangerous!”

    “Well, ‘dangerous’ might be a bit of an exaggeration,” Honeydew said thoughtfully. He backed off a step so Newsie could groggily stand up from the padded bench he’d been laying on. Pointing to a computer screen which showed some kind of complicated chemical diagram, Bunsen continued, “You see, the ingredients, though unusual, actually form a fairly simple compound which, when ingested – or absorbed through the felt, as happened to you, Newsman – causes an extreme reaction in the hippocampus, provoking an intense flight reaction! Since you were unfortunately infused with the stuff, you experienced an overwhelming negative provocation which shorted out your higher reasoning faculties!”

    “Come again?” Newsie asked, peering around the lab in confusion. Compact florescent tubes lit everything brightly, revealing the jumble and clutter of equipment which was at least normal for Muppet Labs…and yet he seemed to remember being terrified of this room for some reason…

    “Mee mee meep me, mee mee mee, meeeee!” Beaker explained, waving his arms at the end. Newsie stared at him a second, then turned back to Honeydew.

    Patiently, the scientist rephrased. “The stuff made you so terrified you couldn’t think straight.”

    “Oh.” Newsie frowned. “But – but there is good reason to be afraid, Dr Honeydew! I know I didn’t imagine that phantom attacking me! That only proves my suspicion that he’s part of the evil crew behind all the disappearances – and he must know where the Ars Moribunda Studios are!”

    “Meep?”

    “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bunsen said crossly. “We didn’t see any phantoms, did we, Beakie?”

    “Muuuhhh…” Beaker mumbled, thinking of the Phantom of the Muppet Theatre. Surely Bunsen hadn’t forgotten how angry the spectre still was with them for inventing a ghostbusting raygun? He tapped his lab partner’s shoulder. “Me mee meep mee meep me!”

    “Oh, that phantom!” Bunsen frowned. “How is he connected to the substance we tested? By the way, Newsman, that formula was in the same one you brought me earlier; you said it was for a snack cake? Except what you had on your fingers was in a vastly higher concentration than its usage in that first recipe. Hmm…I surmise you found the main cache of the monsterphobia-inducing additive!”

    “Monsterphobia…” Newsie, startled, perked up. “So…so I wasn’t being attacked?”

    “Well, certainly not by us!” Honeydew chuckled. “Perhaps that nice Mr Deadly just wanted to talk to you, and in your deranged state, you perceived him as a threat!”

    “Muh-uhh,” Beaker disagreed. He knew better than to get on that dragon’s bad side again!

    Newsie considered this, trying to think past the ache in his brain. “Since you already suffer from that psychological ailment, the effect was doubled, perhaps tripled on your delicate psyche!” Honeydew offered. “We’re going to run some more tests on the sample you gave us.”

    “But why would a company in league with monsters want to make anyone afraid of them?” Newsie wondered again.

    Honeydew shrugged. “Well, I have heard that some monsters prefer the taste of the adrenaline rush which accompanies extreme fear in sentient creatures. Mr Doglion and I had a most fascinating conversation about that oh, wasn’t it last year, Beakie, when he asked if we could formulate a diet food which still tasted scared? He wanted to slim down his hips for bathing-suit season,” he explained to Newsie.

    “They – they want us scared of them?” Newsie gulped. This was even more dastardly than he’d imagined!

    Honeydew turned back to his computer, twiddling with the equation on the screen. “Well, you’d have to ask them! I myself prefer my food immobile and a little on the spicy side, tsst tsst!” He smiled. “Speaking of…Beaker, why don’t you order us that jalapeño and Koozebanian bacon pizza?” As Beaker agreed and picked up the phone, Bunsen invited Newsie, “Are you hungry, Newsman? You’re welcome to join us…although we’d appreciate the donation of a few dollars in that case.”

    “No…no thank you,” Newsie muttered, trying to reorient himself. Although he knew the theatre like the back of his glasses, he still felt uneasy and out-of-sorts, and more questions swirled through his brain, it seemed, with each new piece of information. “I…I need to find that dragon. Need to find out what he really knows.”

    “Are you sure talking to a ghost so soon is a wise choice?” Bunsen asked. “You may still have a flashback or two from that overdose of omniamonstruophobiitis.”

    “I need answers,” Newsie snapped. “I have to find my cousin, before something awful happens to him! I just hope…” Leaving the terrible thought unfinished, Newsie walked unsteadily from the lab up toward the stage level.

    “Mee,” Beaker sighed, watching the grimly determined reporter leave.

    “Well put,” Bunsen agreed. He stared at the empty doorway a long moment, then suddenly perked. “Beaker! We could help him!”

    “Mee?” Confronting a notoriously touchy ghost didn’t sound like a good idea to Beaker.

    “No, no. Look! We have here the antidote formula, you see? What if we condensed that into a daily supplemental tablet which monsterphobia sufferers such as the Newsman could ingest as a counterweight to their natural disorder? Think of it! Muppet Labs Anti-Monsterphobia Pills!”

    “Meep meep,” Beaker said, considering it. He nodded. Wasn’t ‘better living through science’ what they were all about, anyway?

    Bunsen clapped his fellow scientist on the shoulder. “Wouldn’t it be nice to do something for him, especially considering the terrible toll his work surely takes on him? Ah, the poor Muppet. I really feel for him sometimes, Beakie. After all, can you imagine experiencing pain, humiliation, and regular squashing every day just for doing your job?”

    Beaker did a double-take, staring at Bunsen. Cheerful again, Bunsen rolled up the sleeves of his lab coat. “Come on, Beakie! Let’s get to work! The pizza can wait – we’re on a mission for Science!”

    ---------------------
    Newsie squinted up into the high rafters of the theatre grid, seeing nothing but endless lines of strong metal cables holding aloft the various curtains, rows of lights, and other scenery regularly used in the show. “Deadly?” he called, realized he sounded like a strangled frog, and cleared his throat nervously. “Ahem…uh…Uncle Deadly?”

    The stage remained silent as the grave. “Uh…look…I need to talk to you! Horrible plots are afoot, and you seem to know where the base of monster operations is! I have to find it!” Silence. Newsie walked slowly around the stage, his eyes searching the wings, the flyrail, the lighting bays out front all in vain hope of seeing a flash of dark blue scales or the glitter of unearthly eyes. “Monsters are planning something awful, something big, and it involves a television network called MMN! They film somewhere under the city, I think… Look, I know you’ve been there! That visitor had my cousin’s autograph, and he said it was underground, the studio where you took him to see a show, and my cousin was there, and…” Realizing he sounded confused and possibly ridiculous, Newsie stopped.

    Why would the spectre help him, anyway? Even undead, he was still definitely a monster…and Newsie was sure, despite his flurried memory of the past few hours, that Deadly had come after him, and not to exchange opinions on the weather! Trying one last time, he yelled, “I know you can hear me! Truce, okay? I need to talk to you! Please!”

    He waited. Nothing at all happened. Sighing, he turned toward the exit. Movement off to his side made him jump and flinch.

    “Whoa, dude,” Tommy mumbled, slowly raising empty paws. “Like, did you want the footage from today? I gotta get home. My favorite show is on in three hours.”

    Newsie glared at him. “Stop sneaking up on me! Yes, give me the footage. I’ll take it back to Rhonda.” He hadn’t even thought about the rat since he arrived at the theatre. Feeling guilty, he held out his hand and the sloth deposited the memory card from the camera into his palm. “Go home, get some rest. We may need you again tomorrow.”

    “You’re paying for lunch then,” the sloth informed him, and loped off slowly.

    Newsie curled his fingers around the precious card, sighing. He glanced once more into the darkened flyloft. Nothing stirred. “With or without your help, I will figure this out and find my cousin,” he growled, and headed out the front lobby to hail a cab.

    Dangling nearly invisible from one of the masking curtain pipes, Deadly mused in solitude again. A plot? Monsters? Television? The poor chap’s lost his tiny little mind. One too many things flattening his skull, no doubt. Still…Deadly had noticed a vast number of monsters belowground at that show taping; more, in fact, than he could recall ever seeing in one place before. He’d thought it a delightful display of solidarity at the time… What are they doing down there, indeed? Since when are the furred fearsome more interested in producing silly game shows than in chasing Whatnots through the park at night? Frowning, Deadly shifted his grip on the batten, his sharp memory bringing up images of monsters filling an audience, of monsters hurrying through back corridors as though they all worked there…and since when did monsters actually band together for a job which didn’t seem to directly involve eating someone within seconds?

    “Very well,” he muttered, dropping lightly from the batten to land soundlessly on the stage floor. “Now I am a bit curious.” He tapped a claw against his snout. “Perhaps I ought to pay another visit to my old school chum Pew.” Of course the silly reporter was simply voicing his own paranoia…but what if there was some sort of monstrous convention going on, and they’d neglected to invite the scariest spook of them all? Deadly snorted. “Oh, they’d better not have! And I shan’t hear any more excuses about invitations being lost in the mail, like last time for that goblin-pull and quilting bee!” With a grim nod, he skulked off to the nearest rain gutter, wishing those uncultured heathens would install a lightrail system to the underrealm. Didn’t he pay his spook tax every year – and for what, a sewer system with no motorized transport? “Honestly,” he growled as his feet splashed into the muck on the tunnel floor. “I shouldn’t have to ruin a perfectly rotten pair of slippers every time I wish to go say hello!”

    His mood dropping, Deadly tromped downward.
    --------------------

  18. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Yay! <333 entire chapter.

    Some lines I liked...
    Rosie now liked a cardinal of a monster.
    Gonzo: What? Are you a cannibal? No you weirdo.
    UD: "I shouldn't have to ruin a perfectly rotten pair of slippers every time I wish to go and say hello."
    Anti-monsterphobia pills.

    Newsie, if you want to get the scariest spook's help, the first thing you should say is you're sorry. Then he'll listen, I hope.
    Good show having Gonzo finally get what Camilla was trying to tell him. Little too late much?
    I'm delighting in all the little tweaks and barbs included about the under-realm.

    And about your signature... Is it midnight already? *Hopes it's not New Year's Eve's midnight though, then the master turns into an even more terrifying creature, Jack Parnell!
    Oh, and I did post another oneshot today if you're interested in that lot.

    Post more when possible. :scary:
  19. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Twenty-Nine

    Gina and Rhonda both stared at the Newsman when he trudged through the door to the apartment. Gina reacted faster, vaulting across the room to grab him by the shoulders in two seconds flat. “Sweetie! What happened? I was just about to start calling around!”

    “Ow,” he replied.

    Gina dropped to a crouch, examining him; he couldn’t meet her gaze, embarrassed at the damage he’d done to himself in his panic at the theatre. “Oh no. The snack company --?”

    “Er…no. Long story,” Newsie sighed. “Could we…just, uh, settle in? It’s been a really long day.”

    Concerned, Gina stroked his cheek, then kissed him. “For the moment, all right. But you owe me an explanation, cutie. When Rhonda told me she’d expected you back hours ago…”

    “Didja get anything good?” the rat piped up from her cocoon of a soft throw blanket on the sofa. She started to lean forward, then winced.

    “You can sit still, and keep pressing that poultice on your burn,” Gina informed her. Rhonda grumbled under her breath about bossy women. Turning back to Newsie, Gina enfolded him in a gentle hug; sighing, he returned it, careful not to stretch his injured ribcage too far. “Why don’t you wash up and get into your PJs, and I’ll order out, okay?”

    “Sounds good,” Newsie mumbled, then noticed Gina had streaks of grease on her clothing and sawdust in her hair. She must have arrived home only a short while ago. “Um…join me?”

    “Yeesh,” Rhonda muttered. “Showering together. Didn’t need that image.”

    Newsie walked to the sofa and deposited the videocamera memory card next to the rat. “I don’t know how much is worth showing. There’s more going on, Rhonda. A lot more! I’m sure of it now. And I have to find a way into that underground studio…”

    “I did not just hear you say that,” Gina growled.

    Newsie stood, head down, a long moment, then looked up at her in solemn resignation. “I’ll take Sweetums along.”

    She touched his forehead. “Huh. You feel normal.”

    He frowned at her. “Normal. According to the lab guys, I have a ‘delicate psyche.’”

    Gina stared at him, unsure how to react to that. Rhonda snickered. “Coulda told ya that months ago.”

    “You’ve seen the evidence; you’ve seen the footage of that – that thing underground!” Newsie said to Gina, ignoring his producer. “Please tell me you don’t think my – my justified suspicion of monsters is leading me to jump to wrong conclusions now! I’m not crazy, and I’m not making a mountain out of a molehill!”

    “Newsie, I believe you, and…” she paused, frowning. “Actually, no, I haven’t seen the thing you two ran into yesterday yet.” When she’d brought Newsie back from the hospital last night, all she’d been able to get out of him was that they’d encountered some sort of toxic creature in a secret tunnel, and that the authorities would be investigating today. “Maybe I should. Rhonda?”

    “Uh…it’s kind of raw; the camera was really wobbly while we were running, and, um –“

    “As if you haven’t been sitting here all day editing,” Gina argued. “Come on, let me see it.”

    With a shrug, Rhonda keyed up the film she’d finished; though not as visceral as the original footage, it still showed plenty of unpleasantness. She’d put a blackout mask over her face during the slug part, although she was positive the news of her misadventure had already spread throughout the rodent community. As Gina turned the laptop around so she could view it, Rhonda muttered at Newsie, “Nice working with ya, Goldie.”

    Gina watched the film in grim silence: Newsie venturing into the old Prohibition tunnel, finding the slime on the walls, and then the sound of the clattering bug-things accompanying a panicked run for the exit. When she saw Rhonda screaming on the tongue of the giant slug, Gina sucked in a breath and held it, frozen, through her desperate rescue. The time-edited film concluded with an ominous-seeming photo of the Nofrisko building they’d shot before venturing inside. “I, uh, was hoping he could get us something to add to that after the raid today,” Rhonda said.

    Gina swallowed hard, and gently touched Rhonda’s paw. “I knew it was bad. I didn’t know just how horrible. I am so, so glad you’re all right.”

    “Eh…I wouldn’t say all right, but it’ll grow back,” Rhonda said, shifting uncomfortably under the plush blanket she’d gathered around herself like a spa robe; it was a great deal less humiliating than the rabbit-fur coat.

    Gina pulled Newsie into her arms again; he welcomed the affection, and impulsively nuzzled his nose against her stomach. “And you…you are a very brave Muppet, my love.” Sighing, Newsie closed his eyes, holding her close as she stroked his hair. He winced when her fingers found the bruise. “Sorry! But…” She took a deep breath. “No way are you going back down there! Didn’t the cops go after these…things?”

    “The entrance was sealed up when they arrived,” he explained. “They say they’ll get to it next week. There’s more, though…” Feeling deeply weary, he met her gaze. “Um, can we just get cleaned up and relax a while first? I just…I really need…”

    Gina melted at the sight of his eyes looking even more tired and strained than usual. “I love you,” she murmured, leaning over to kiss his nose. “All right. But this gets discussed before bed. I do not want to have to go to work tomorrow worrying about what awful things you might run into in this quest for truth!”

    Newsie nodded, wrapping one arm around her, and Gina gently led him down the hall. “Hey, Rhonda?” she called over her shoulder.

    “Yeah?”

    “Why don’t you turn on some music?”

    “Why don’t I turn something on loud,” Rhonda growled, but picked up the remote to the TV and clicked through channels until she found an action film with explosive car chases. “Geez,” she said as she kept her ears tuned to that noise instead of any softer ones coming from the other rooms, “some things aren’t meant to be known! Bigfoot’s location, who really killed Kennedy, and what certain Muppets do in their private time!”

    ------------------
    Some time later (too much time later, in one disgruntled and hungry rat’s opinion), the couple emerged in the living room again, appearing damp and clean and, in Newsie’s case, a little too happily weary, but at least clothed in warm pajamas and slippers. Rhonda quietly closed her laptop, casting a searching eye at Newsie; if he’d been exposed to something in the hidden lab, as she’d just seen on the sloth’s footage from today, he seemed to be holding up well. Gina took their preferences for sandwiches; while she was on the phone to the deli placing a delivery order, Rhonda beckoned Newsie over. “So, uh…are you feeling okay?” she asked.

    “Wonderful,” he replied, blushing as he stole a happy glance back at his beloved.

    “That’s not what I meant! Sheesh…I mean I saw ya dip your fingers in some kinda gook at that lab. Any side effects?”

    “Oh, um. Er. Well…not anymore…”

    “Can the great journalist give me some actual words on the subject?”

    “They said it’ll be here in fifteen minutes,” Gina announced, dragging a large floor pillow over to the coffee table and settling crosslegged on it. She looked from an annoyed rat to a guilty Muppet. “Okay…what’s going on?”

    “Yes, Newsie, what is going on?” Rhonda seconded, folding her arms over her chest, then wincing and holding her breath a moment in pain. “Gotta remember not to do that…”

    “Er…uh…” Seeing expectant expressions on both the girls’ faces, Newsie sank down in the corner of the sofa opposite Rhonda. “Well, um…apparently…Nofrisko has been making a chemical that makes anyone who is, er, exposed to it, terrified of monsters…and apparently the monsters like that.”

    “So were you exposed?” Rhonda asked. Gina, startled, shot Newsie a worried look.

    “Sweetie!”

    “I was, but I’m fine now,” he hurriedly assured her. “Dr Honeydew came up with the antidote.”

    “So where were you all day?” Gina asked, visions of her Muppet scared out of his mind running amok through lower Manhattan taunting her.

    “At the theatre. I went straight there after the Nofrisko raid, looking for the Muppet Labs guys, but they weren’t home…so I, uh, just waited for them.” The blush on his cheeks told Gina there was more to it, but she only frowned and let it slide for now. “Er. I’m fine. But…but I really need to find another way into those tunnels! I remembered what it was I forgot,” he told Gina.

    “Good…” She wasn’t sure it was good, judging by his worried face. “What was it?”

    “Uncle Deadly knows where my cousin is. It’s somewhere underground – I think at the studios where MMN tapes all of its shows! Same place that phone call came from!” He turned to Rhonda. “I told you it was all connected!”

    “Wait, wait, wait,” Gina sighed before Rhonda could speak up. “Newsie…you’re saying your cousin is in a TV studio run by monsters, which is somewhere underground, where we now know there are horrible slobbering bugmonsters –“

    “Yes! Exactly!”

    “—And how does someone impersonating you, or anyone wanting to hurt your Aunt Ethel, fit in to all this?”

    “I don’t know yet. But that’s all the more reason why I need to find another way in!”

    “You,” Rhonda growled at him, “are an idiot. Want me to say it again? Will it sink in at some point?”

    Forestalling a retort by Newsie, Gina held up her hands. “My love, you aren’t an idiot. However…this has gone way out of control. Please do not go down there again! Let the cops do their job, even if it takes them longer than you’d like.”

    “But – but – you said I should pursue the story! You said I was the only one who’d do it and so I should!” Newsie protested.

    “I know. I know I did.” She shook her head. “That was before your friend got burned, and now that I’ve seen what did that…sweetie, it’s just too dangerous.”

    They sat in silence a long while. Trying to comfort him, Gina reached across the table to run her fingers through Newsie’s hair, but he only gave her a deeply unhappy stare. “Look…maybe there’s some other way to find out where this TV studio is, and you can tell the cops you believe your cousin is being held there against his will, and they’ll –“

    “How? How am I going to figure that out?” He shook his head angrily.

    “You could use a frequency-strength locator to hone in on the broadcast signal,” Rhonda said. Seeing their quizzical expressions, she explained, “They have to have a tower to send out the signal, and typically that’ll be right on top of the actual broadcast station.” She cocked her head in disbelief at Newsie. “Honestly. Haven’t you ever been up on the roof at our station? That transmitter is a huge pain in the tuchis! Remember last summer when a big storm knocked out the transponders and –“

    “I’m a reporter, not a technician!” Newsie snapped, but he gave the matter some thought. “How can we find their signal?”

    “Newsie, no,” Gina sighed.

    “Gadget’s easy to get, but you have to be able to tune it properly to pinpoint the signal. Most stations do a satellite bounce, and that can confuse the readings on the older instruments. Find the signal, find the tower, follow the cables down,” Rhonda said, shrugging. “Maybe way down, in this case.”

    “Find the studio…find Chester…figure out what the monsters are up to,” Newsie muttered, nodding to himself.

    Gina took his hands in hers and half-dragged him over the table. “Ulp,” he gulped aloud, staring startled into the very cool grey eyes of his love.

    “Aloysius Ambrosius Crimp, don’t you dare,” Gina said in a low and dangerous voice. He didn’t know how to respond. Or if he should respond.

    Rhonda cut into the tension. “So! Anyone wanna share some of my curry fries?”

    The doorbell sounded. With another glare at Newsie, Gina rose to buzz the deliveryperson in downstairs, and opened the apartment door to await their food. Rhonda hissed at Newsie, “Lemme guess. She only uses your whole name when she’s really, really mad?”

    “I don’t understand,” he whispered back, brow furrowed. “Just a few days ago she told me I should chase this story!”

    “She loves you, you foambrain,” Rhonda snapped. “She doesn’t want ya killed!”

    “I…I won’t be,” Newsie replied, trying to summon up more courage than he actually felt at the moment.

    Gina shut the door as the harried-looking purple Whatnot in the deli’s uniform left, and plunked bags of food onto the coffee table. Wordlessly she doled out Newsie’s pastrami and grilled onions on pumpernickle with mustard potato salad and Rhonda’s sandwich au jus and fries before unwrapping her own applewood-smoked turkey with cranberries on honey wheat. Condiments and pumpkin beer were passed around in silence. Rhonda, shrugging, started in on her sandwich, knowing better than to get into an argument between lovers. Newsie couldn’t take the silent treatment long; he reached over to clasp Gina’s hand in his own, and when she looked at him, he said solemnly, “I won’t put myself in any danger, I promise. I’ll…I’ll find out where MMN broadcasts from, and if it can be accessed from the surface. I’ll check out those stories about the subway tunnels. Maybe there’s a safer way into the monster lair through there…and I’ll take Sweetums and – and Rizzo with me.”

    Rhonda coughed, nearly choking on a fry.

    Gina sighed, and looked askance at Newsie. “What makes you think those two will agree to work together?”

    “I’ll…I’ll appeal to their sense of fair play and civic duty.”

    Rhonda chortled. “Rizzo can’t even spell ‘duty’, and he thinks ‘civic’ is a car!”

    “I’ll need someone familiar with underground spaces,” Newsie argued. “And someone small enough to scout ahead unseen!”

    “Forget Rizzo,” Rhonda sighed, knocking back a long gulp of her beer through a straw. “When were you planning on this subway expedition?”

    “T-tomorrow?” Newsie ventured, glancing nervously at Gina.

    She shook her head. “Only if Sweetums agrees.”

    “Find me better clothes, and I’ll go with ya,” Rhonda said.

    Newsie stared at her; she scowled, recognizing the tremble in his upper lip. “You hug me, I’ll bite you.”

    “Rhonda, I don’t think you’re healed enough to go tromping around in the subways,” Gina argued. “I appreciate your loyalty to Newsie, I really do, but –“

    “Sister, who said anything about loyalty?” Rhonda sniffed. “Those creeps took my fur off! They tried to eat me! This is personal now!”

    “What kind of clothes?” Newsie asked, casting about for his notepad.

    Gina shook her head. “This is ridiculous. And about as smart as one of Gonzo’s stunts!”

    “Hey, where is that weirdo, anyway?” Rhonda wondered. “He’s been outta the picture for weeks now…”

    “Are you sure you’re up for this?” Newsie asked her, finding his pad and pencil finally.

    “Goldie, she’s right about the ridiculous, dangerous, and stupid part,” Rhonda admitted, “but no one does that to me, got it? No one! Not even nasty big ugly…horrible…bug-things…” she trailed off, shivering.

    “Are you sure your cousin is at this TV studio?” Gina asked, trying a different tack to persuade her Muppet he was being dangerously foolish.

    Struck by a thought, Newsie grabbed the TV remote, turned the set back on, and flipped through the listings until he found MMN. Clicking on it, he stared at the game show underway onscreen…and then blinked…and then yelled, “Chester!”

    All three of them paused, food or drink or pencil frozen in hand, and stared at the pigs squabbling over something behind a long counter, the other group of pigs and what looked weirdly like a Muppet girl costumed badly as a pig on the other side of the set, and the yellow-felted Muppet in a loud plaid jacket waiting for the first group’s response. Behind and above them, a game board had words scrawled on cardboard pieces: COLLARD GREENS. MOLASSES. BEANS.

    “Well, Carne-Asadas, what’s your answer? Remember, if you’re wrong, the board goes to the other team and if they guess right, they’ll get all your points too!” the host urged.

    “That’s Chester!” Newsie gasped. “Snookie! That’s my cousin!”

    Gina recognized the face from the photos Newsie had shown her in his aunt’s photo album. Rhonda managed to choke around her mouthful of roast beef: “Oh my gawd they dress the same!”

    “See? See? I knew it! He’s down there! This show is produced by Ars Moribunda, and they’re below the city somewhere! Somewhere…” He fell silent, stunned, watching his cousin walk through the paces of his host duties. The sleek-haired Muppet appeared pale of felt, sad of eye, and the way his shoulders drooped plainly showed his lack of enthusiasm for his job. “He must be miserable,” Newsie said softly.

    “He ain’t no Guy Smiley,” Rhonda agreed. “That is the most sarcastic host I’ve seen since Jon Stewart interviewed Dick Cheney.”

    Snookie Blyer seemed indeed dismissive of the pigs’ fate, as first one, then another porker was sent to a large barbeque grill visible just off the main set in cutaway shots. Gina shuddered. “Ew. He doesn’t care if that…rabbity thing…eats them all?”

    Uneasily, Newsie offered, “Maybe he’s used to seeing it.”

    “Probably thinks better them than him,” Rhonda said. She pointed at the screen. “There, didja see how the monster with the cheesy rabbit ears just looked at that Snookie guy? Believe you me, I know a drooling, greedy, disturbingly hungry look when I see one!”

    “Yeeugh,” Newsie choked, glancing at his sandwich.

    “Oh, please. After the way that rent-a-cop roughed you up at the station, you should have no problem eating steak,” Rhonda grumbled at him. “Monsters eating Muppets is another thing entirely!”

    “Just once, I’d like to be able to eat something without thinking about what it thinks,” Gina complained. “Even a veggie tray snapped at me once!”

    “Don’t ever eat at the Muppet Theatre canteen,” Rhonda advised her.

    “My cousin, you two! My cousin!” Newsie cried, pointing at the screen, where a barely-smiling Snookie was waving a curt goodbye at the camera as the end credits rolled; in the background, the large furry horned thing which was definitely not a bunny and another enormous furry monster were swallowing glazed BBQ pigs so fast the sauce was dribbling all down their protruding bellies. “This is proof! I have to find him, I have to get down there somehow!”

    Agitated, he began to pace; Gina caught him and hugged him, and after a second he gave in, holding fast to her shoulders. “Newsie…okay. Okay. But please, please promise me you’ll stay clear of any monsters!” She glared at Rhonda. “Both of you!”

    “No way am I getting near the nasty things again,” Rhonda agreed. “I was thinking more along the lines of throwing grenades.”

    “If you find anything, you do not go in without me,” Gina insisted, staring into Newsie’s eyes. He swallowed back a protest, and nodded.

    “I wonder if Rocco knows any arms dealers,” Rhonda mused.

    “What…what happens then?” Newsie asked, his voice gruff but quiet.

    Gina shrugged. “Then, I guess, we alert the cops. And if they won’t get involved…well…then we’ll figure something out ourselves.”

    Newsie had no idea what they could do against an underground army of monsters, especially if they had more bugs. However, he nodded, and submitted to a long embrace, his cheek pressed against Gina’s, his nose filled with the softly spiced scent lingering on her skin after the shower. Breathing deeply, he tried to tell himself things would be all right, that he’d be able to find his cousin and rescue him somehow, he’d find out what the monsters had planned and expose them to the world, and it all would work out fine…somehow. Gina released him gently, giving him a faint smile as she stroked his nose, letting him know she still supported him. His tension dropped, and he kissed her; how lucky he was, to have such a woman on his side! She loved him, she worried about his safety, she volunteered to help if things became scary again --

    “Do you have enough left in savings to buy a rocket launcher, ya think?” Rhonda asked. Gina and Newsie stared at her. She shrugged. “Just sayin’. Uh…how soon can you get me those clothes? Not that I’m ungrateful for the sleepover, really, but I wasn’t planning on walking around your place naked, and since my brothers seem to have forgotten their nearest relation’s simple request… A girl’s gotta have some self-respect!”

    Newsie looked at Gina. She sighed. “Finish your dinner first. I think the TinyLand Doll Shop is open until eight…”

    ------------------
    After saying their goodnights to Rhonda, leaving the little rat opening package after plastic-cardboard package and grumbling about Mattel labels not being the sort of designer signature she’d hoped for, Newsie and Gina closed the door to their bedroom. Gina sank onto the low bed, pulling off the jeans and Henley shirt she’d grudgingly donned to go shopping. Her pajamas lay atop the comforter, but she ignored them, crawling under the warm blankets.

    Newsie debated removing all his clothing. “Uh…we do have, um, company…”

    “The walls are thick, the door’s closed, and anyway she’s occupied with deciding what to wear on a subway fishing trip,” Gina pointed out. “Get in here.”

    Unsure about the wisdom of disrobing with a guest in the apartment, Newsie only removed the sweats he’d thrown on over his all-over-pumpkin-print pajamas and climbed in next to her. He reached up to switch off the bedside lamp, turned to settle under the covers, and suddenly found himself pinned by a lithe, strong young woman. “Erk! Geez…”

    She silenced him with a deep kiss; shortly he was too involved in that to remember that she’d just startled him. Her fingers slipping beneath his pajama shirt and the way she positioned herself over his shorter body made him quickly forget all about the issue of another person in the apartment. Gina broke away finally, leaving him panting softly, gazing up at her in amazement; his pleasure, however, changed to concern when the dim illumination of his nightlight caught the gleam of moisture in her eyes. “Gina?”

    “I will not be put through that again,” she hissed at him. “Twice this year already I have had to deal with you in danger – almost killed! – and now I find out you d—d near were hurt again, and you’re planning on going places where there could easily be worse things, and – and – don’t you dare! Do you know what you mean to me? Don’t you dare get hurt!”

    Stunned, Newsie held her, fumbled for words: “Gina…I…I’m sorry…I…”

    “First it’s your cousin, then it’s your aunt, then it’s the story!” she snapped, holding him down with strong thighs, her hands tight on his shoulders. “I don’t care if you’re a Muppet, I don’t care how many times things have fallen on you at work, you are not indestructible!”

    “I…I know that,” he stammered, overwhelmed in more than body. “Gina, I…I love you! I didn’t mean to…”

    “You don’t think! You get all caught up in your next big scoop, the next big story, and off you go, rushing right into the jaws of – of – of some disgusting giant bug-thing I don’t even have a name for! And if you’d been killed down there I wouldn’t even know about it! I didn’t even know where you were except at that stupid snack company!”

    “I’m sorry,” Newsie gulped; he flinched when a drop splashed onto his nose, and his own eyes filled with water in response. “Gina, I’m so sorry…I love you!” He reached up to touch her face, caressing her cheeks, meeting her fierce, wet gaze. “I love you!” he choked hoarsely.

    “Oh God, Aloysius, I can’t lose you,” Gina said, her voice dropping, the anger giving way. “I can’t. Please don’t put yourself in any more danger. Please don’t…”

    “I won’t,” he promised, his arms clasping her neck as she lowered her head to his, touching noses, her tears streaming down his cheeks. He closed his eyes, stroking her face, feeling her holding him tight. He swallowed hard, heart sinking. Have I really been that callous? Is finding Chester worth upsetting Gina? The thought of losing her made his chest feel hollow. “I’m sorry… I love you.”

    “Look,” she sniffled, raising her head just far enough to stare into his eyes, “I know this is something you have to do. I understand that. You wouldn’t be you if you didn’t go after the news, no matter how screwed-up that news is. I loved that about you even before we met.”

    “You…you did?”

    “Yeah. How you present your News Flashes…always so dedicated, even when you know it’s going to hurt,” Gina said, and gave him the tiniest, briefest smile. “That told me then what kind of Muppet you were. I love that about you; I just –“

    He pulled her lips down to his, kissing her fervently, his tongue locking hers, determined not to let go. Eventually they both needed more oxygen, and broke the kiss, throats tight, eyes wet, nerves singing in chorus. “I’ll drop the story,” he whispered.

    “No. Newsie, no.”

    “It’s not fair to you,” he argued. “I’m sorry! I should have thought of that already. Rhonda’s right; I am an idiot, and I’ve been selfish, and stu—“

    “Shut up,” Gina growled, one hand grabbing his mouth and holding it closed. “Can’t you allow me a little emotional release after nearly getting yourself killed?”

    “Mf mnn?” he wondered, startled.

    “No I’m not mad at you,” she said, though her tone said otherwise. “I love you, Newsman. Every bit of you, including the part too curious for his own good.”

    She released his mouth; he worked his jaw a little, getting the kink out of his foam. “So…but…does that mean…”

    “It means,” Gina murmured, sliding both hands under his shirt again, “that whatever you do, remember you have someone who would be devastated losing you. Can you do that?”

    “Uh huh,” Newsie gasped, astonished at the swift turns of the conversation. Gina moved a little, and he groaned in unexpected response, and blinked up at her with blurry, baffled brown eyes. “What…what just happened?”

    She kissed the tip of his pointed nose. “Consider it a lesson in stress release.”

    “Yours or mine?”

    “Mine. But we can make it both…”

    Newsie stifled another groan at the next thing she did. “G-gina…”

    She kissed his mouth again, one hand tickling through his hair while the other slid to the waistband of his pajama pants. “Just keep this in mind: if you ever. Run into. A big nasty monster again…” Keeping quiet took all the control he possessed, as she punctuated each few words with a flex of her hips. “You had better…run…home.”

    “I will,” he gasped.

    Gina drew him into another deep kiss. When she pulled back for a long breath, he smiled at her hesitantly. “You…you still love me? Even though I…I wasn’t thinking?”

    “Absolutely,” she murmured, and bent her head to kiss the felt showing under his somehow-unbuttoned shirt. “Mmm…my delicious…Al-o-ish-us.”

    “It is pronounced A-loy-zhuss,” he corrected with a puzzled frown. She knew perfectly well how it went!

    “Oh,” she said, sitting up straight and giving him a wide, innocent look. “I guess I forgot, what with you away so much tromping down sewer pipes…”

    “I think you need a reminder,” he said gruffly, but a smile touched his mouth.

    “Oooh. Maybe I do,” Gina said, and with a giggle suddenly reversed their positions. Newsie clutched her sides, startled, then relaxed into a grin. Gina kept up the mock-bimbo act, pouting at him. “It’s just so hard to remember, when my Muffin’s never home…”

    “Muffin!” he cried, then growled at her, “You definitely need a refresher course in Muppetology!”

    “Refresh me, then,” she laughed.

    A few minutes later, she seemed to remember how to pronounce it perfectly fine: “Aloysius…oh, Aloysius…”

    In the living room, Rhonda groaned and drew the fluffy-soft blanket tight over her ears. The walls, as it turned out, were not thick enough.
    ---------------------
    WhiteRabbit likes this.
  20. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    *Delivers a larger piece of the coconut cake we've got left.
    *Ish melted thanks to the wonderful chapter where some of the cards are finally laid out for the intrepid news team to read.
    *Snickers at Rhonda's reactions... The end line that the walls werenot, thick enough after all, is priceless.

    Thank you for this steamy fanfic goodness, it's always well-received.


Share This Page

Find out more about Jim Henson the Biography