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

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

  1. Ruahnna

    Ruahnna Well-Known Member

    Whoo-hoo! This must be the week for muppet cuddling!

    Another stellar chapter, dear. Everything coming nicely to closure, all characters in play....very well done. (Although I would have suggested Rhonda try Build-a-bear for the clothes....)
  2. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    They make 'em in rat-sized double-C cup, three-inch-waist? ;)

    Thanks Ed and Ru and WhiteRabbit -- hey, if you wanna throw in your two cents as to WHAT you liked I'd be deeply appreciative! Criticism HELPS me improve, ya know... Thanks to all you patient readers silent in the back of the room. Trying to wind some of those loose threads together coherently...
    -------------------
  3. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Thirty

    When the intercom switched on in the dead of night, Van Neuter jumped almost a half-meter off the floor. “Doctor. How does the serum progress?”

    “I hate disembodied evil voices,” the vet muttered, then answered loudly, “Oh, coming along, coming along just swell!”

    “I was informed you now have a pool of test subjects to draw from. Why is the serum not yet ready?” The boss’s voice sounded displeased. Even Van Neuter shivered a little at that silky, ominous tone.

    “Oh, well, I’m working on it!” Van Neuter cast an irritated glance at the cage in the corner of the lab. “It would be easier if I didn’t have to work around their filming schedule, though!”

    “We had to do something with them,” the underlord said reasonably. “After all, it would be a shame to waste the rejects. Work faster, Doctor. The serum must be ready by Dark Ascension night! I will have your guts for…” The voice paused, then continued more calmly, “It is imperative that I complete the transformation that night. All the signs indicate it is the best possible atmosphere for complete and flawless genetic assimilation. If this chance is missed, it may be a long time before another presents itself…and that will be a long, long time for anyone who has failed me. An interminable time in which I will explore the limits of the felt to withstand pain…do I make myself understood?”

    “Oh, absolutely,” Van Neuter agreed, “except for that part about the Ascending. Does that mean you want wings now? Can we go over this one more –“

    The intercom shut off with an audible clunk. Van Neuter scowled at it. “I mean I understand he’s too darned big to get out of that control center and come see me personally, but honestly, this voice-contact-only-thing is worse than a text message breakup!”

    “Gah?” Thatch McGurk wondered, floppy ears perked.

    “No I don’t know anything about that! It was just an example!” Van Neuter fumed, quickly shoving his iDrone into a pocket so Thatch wouldn’t see the last message Composta had sent from her cliff-diving resort. So she was flirting with a local lichen-seller! So what? She was just trying to make him feel jealous; she’d done it before, this was nothing new, oh, Composta and her fickle affections…

    “Fahzagga bugga erg?” Thatch asked, indicating the cage in the back corner, where the newest subject was beginning to stir, the sedative wearing off.

    “Oh! Oh! She’s waking up! Hello darling!” Van Neuter hurried to the cage, crooning at its occupant. “Here’s some water for you. Welcome to your new home!”

    “What…what’s going on? Who are you?” the young woman asked, blinking in confusion at the wires of the cage. “Oh my god, what is this? Oh my god let me out! Let me out!”

    “There, there, nothing’s going to happen to you,” Van Neuter assured her, trying to offer the water bottle again, poking its long drinking-tube through the bars. “Don’t worry! We’re not perverts! We’re only going to do some protogenetic stem cell phantasmagoric modifications!”

    “You’re what?” the woman shrieked, and began banging on the wires. Thatch reflected it was a good thing they’d left her mittens and coat on, otherwise not only would she be cold down here with no fur to protect her, but her hands would really be bruised by the metal cage.

    Van Neuter straightened up, shaking his head. “Honestly, don’t they teach basic mad science biology anymore? It means we’re not going to do anything weird to you; we’re just going to try to turn you into a monster! Now you just settle down, and --”

    The woman didn’t seem ready to settle at all. After another minute of the screaming, a tired vet turned to Thatch. “Well this isn’t helpful! You couldn’t have found me a mute?”

    “Varazagga buzza razza muh!” the monster snapped back.

    “Don’t you get snippy with me about your hours! I haven’t had any sleep in ten days! What do you think this caffeine-infused ultrastimulant Jell-O is all about?” Van Neuter cried, waving a plastic tray of slippery green sludge at his assistant. “Now go get one of those loafers downstairs and get this screaming thing out of my lab! I can’t even think with all that noise!” As the grumbling, green-haired monster with three weary eyes trudged out to find his own assistant, Van Neuter threw an old Army blanket over the cage. “My goodness, if I wanted to hear all that I’d go catch a Peep show in Times Square!”

    Thatch’s head popped back in the door, looking more alert. “Peefa shazza?”

    “Oh you know, those little marshmallow things,” Van Neuter explained crossly. “There’s a group of the Halloween ones doing a scary show right now, some kind of street theatre thing. They scream when customers eat them. Kind of a hard way to make a living, I think, but who am I to judge show business?” He chuckled, then whirled on the monster. “What are you still doing here? Go find some muscles to move this cage down to the studio!”

    He fussed with his chemistry setup, replacing some of the pipettes with thicker-stemmed ones to withstand higher temperatures and adjusting the asbestos insulation around the burners. “Honestly! Some monsters just have their minds in the gutter all the time…although I guess that’s what happens when you live in the sewers…” At the woman’s quiet whimpering in the cage, he rolled his eyes and sighed. “Oh come on! You’re about to be involved in a highly unlikely physiological transmogrification which will change you into a slavering, furry monster on the cellular level! Doesn’t that make you feel any better? Some people have no regard for science,” he muttered when the whimpering, if anything, grew louder under the covered wires. “Now, if I can just finish this primordial glop reheating without any more interruptions, I can trot on down to that new show taping and administer it to all the contestants…”

    “Awright, buddy, where’s da fire?”

    Van Neuter stared, took off his goggles and stared some more at the group of shiny-shelled clams crowding through his lab door, a satisfied-looking McGurk right behind them. “What the heck is this?” Van Neuter demanded.

    “Whaddayou talkin’ about? Get this guy! Hey buddy, a little more respect for a workin’ bivalve, huh?” another clam shouted. It sounded like a Teamster on helium.

    “Ezza muzza fah cabba,” Thatch said, perplexed; hadn’t he brought exactly what the vet had asked for?

    “No, you idiot! I meant someone big enough to move this big cage, not…oh, the heck with it,” Van Neuter sighed. He gestured from the clams to the large square in the corner. “Take that down to studio number twenty-two…”

    “Where’s da crane?”

    “Yeah, ya don’t expect us to lug that thing down three stories, do ya mac?”

    “Forget it! Get these stupid oysters out of my lab!” Van Neuter shouted at a cringing Thatch. “And go find me some really strong monsters! Ones with more muscles than you apparently have brains!”

    “Hey, who you callin’ a’ oyster?”

    “Some noive!”

    “Eh, forget this wacko. Why don’t we go occupy the docks?”

    “Sounds good – as long as we stay away from the restaurants,” another agreed, and the pack of North Atlantic Rainbow Mussels tromped out the door again. Van Neuter sank to a bench, head in his hands. Much as it pained him to admit, he really, really missed Mulch right about now.

    -----------------------
    Humming to himself, Bobo the bear chewed on the end of a pencil which seemed to be more teethmarks than wood and lead anymore. “Five-letter word for protection, ends in a ‘D’…well, least I think it does…man, these Sudoku things are tricky!” He looked up as a woman in scrubs approached, and set the newspaper aside. “Hey, where ya think you’re goin’, sister?”

    “Time to check her vitals,” the nurse said, trying a key in the lock of the door behind Bobo. “Is locking her room really necessary? She’s perfectly safe here!”

    “Ah, well, that’s not the information I was given,” Bobo retorted, nose twitching. “Hey…you said vittles, but I don’t smell any food on ya! What gives?” He stepped between the nurse and the door, scowling.

    Irritated, the nurse snapped, “I said vitals! As in vital signs! If there’s no change at all before tomorrow morning, she’s scheduled to have the breathing apparatus removed. Now let me past so I can do my job, you big furry clown!”

    “Who you callin’ a clown? Hey, those rumors about me in the circus are completely false! Who told you that?”

    As they continued to argue, a wormlike thing with four eyes and vestigial claws slithered around their feet and wriggled under the door, unnoticed by either. The fat back end of it stuck in the crack under the kickplate, and it grunted and pulled, finally yanking itself all the way into the room with a small popping noise. It froze, each eye swiveling a different direction, but the coast looked clear: the only occupant of the room, the old Muppet woman in the hospital bed, seemed asleep. Confidently, the worm-assassin crawled across the cold linoleum and began wrapping itself around one of the lowered bedrails, pulling itself up like an inchworm. “Hehhh…hehhh…” it panted, enjoying the anticipation of murder. This job looked ridiculously easy: why, there wasn’t even a guard with a brain on duty! The worm would crawl into the old lady’s throat, and stop her breath, and that beeping little heart monitor would stutter and stop and Deathcrawler would revel in the sound of the flatli—

    The pink one was waiting atop the bed.

    “Yurgh?” the worm said, startled, coming eyeballs to eyeballs with a fuzzy pink thing with a very big mouth.

    “Bad! Bad cow! Yiiiip yip yip yip yip!”

    And tentacles, the worm realized too late. The thing also had quite a lot of tentacles…

    “Bad cow! No hurt! Bad! Bad bad bad yip yip!” a blue thing identical to the pink one chimed in, grabbing the tail end of the worm; the pink one grabbed its head. Tiny claws flailed helplessly as the two creatures yanked the would-be assassin back and forth. The worm screamed and wriggled but couldn’t pull free. However, in all the tug-of-warring, Blue’s tentacles became entangled with Pink’s, and after a handful of yelps and cries of “Ow! ow ow ow!” they ceased pulling, staring bewildered at the mess of ropy appendages. The worm, gasping, crawled at top speed toward Ethel’s mouth where a breathing tube currently lay.

    “Bad! Bad cow! Nope nope nope!” Blue shouted, trying to free himself from his companion.

    Inspired, Pink simply lunged forward and gulped the worm entire. He chewed a minute. They sat atop the bed, staring curiously at one another. “Cow…good?” Blue asked.

    “Cow…” Pink abruptly turned puce. “Nooope! Nopenopenopenope! Uh-uh! Uh-uh!” He jumped from the bed and raced to the tiny bathroom, dragging his partner along roughly.

    “Awwk! Not ten-legged race! Nope! Nope nope!” Blue protested, then righted himself finally by the commode as Pink disgorged the nasty thing from his stomach. Hastily Pink flushed, and a wailing, gurgling worm vanished. They watched the water swirl and refill quietly. They looked at one another with wide, round eyes.

    “Wash legs,” Blue reminded Pink.

    “Yip, wash. Yip yip yip,” Pink agreed. They dragged themselves up to the sink with difficulty, Blue hanging half-off the edge of the porcelain while Pink tried to reach the faucet. “Wash! Yip yip! Awww, wash!”

    “Awww!” Blue grunted, struggling to untangle himself. He succeeded right at the tipping point. He crashed to the floor; Pink tumbled into the sink. Groaning, both glared at one another.

    “Bad yip,” Pink said. The water poured over him from a broken-off faucet lever.

    “Wash legs, not eyeballs,” Blue scoffed up at him. “Uh-uh. Uh-uh. Noooope.”

    “You wash!” Pink splashed his partner, soaking half the floor. “Wash! Yip yip yip!”

    “Noooope nope nope nope nope!” Blue shot back, skidding around on the slippery tiles, unable to get a grip with tentacles sliding every direction. The room door opened; both creatures froze, then with a loud gulp yanked their lower jaws over their heads.

    “You could’ve remembered to turn off the water!” the nurse scolded Bobo; he lumbered after her, watching her carefully as she grabbed a pink rag in the sink and used it to forcibly turn the water shutoff. “And laundry goes in the hamper here!” She tossed the pink rag into the plastic bag dangling from a lidded hoop, used the blue one on the floor to mop up more of the spilled water, and plunked the sodding thing into the hamper as well.

    “Wasn’t me,” Bobo muttered. “Somethin’ funny’s goin’ on in here…”

    “The only funny thing I see is you, and that’s not much of a joke,” the nurse said gruffly, and checked Ethel’s heart monitor and breathing rate. Bobo studied the readouts as well over her shoulder, backing up only when the nurse glared at him.

    “Uh, she’s gonna be okay, right?” he asked.

    The nurse shook her head. “I’m sorry, but probably not. It’ll be peaceful, though…I doubt she’ll even wake up.” She shook her head at the bear shuffling from foot to foot. “Look, if you’re that determined to guard her, why don’t you park yourself in here?”

    “Oh, I, uh, that wouldn’t be right, y’see, I’m not exactly family,” Bobo muttered, embarrassed. “I’m just doing this for a friend, a guy I work with at the theatre. He’s not a clown either…though I gotta admit his act is pretty funny…” He chuckled, then remembered where he was when he caught sight of the motionless old woman in the bed, and sobered quickly. “Uh. Think I’ll just go sit outside some more.”

    “Whatever works for you,” the nurse sighed. Bobo followed her out of the room, gently shutting the door behind them. The nurse looked up when an enormous paw caught her sleeve.

    “Say, uh…about them vittles…do ya think you could send up a sammich or somethin’? Guarding people’s hard work,” he wheedled.

    The nurse looked at the small wastebasket next to his camp stool filled with discarded Slurpee cups and Hobos and Fwinkies wrappers. “Yeah, looks like it.”

    Inside the bathroom, two fuzzy-limbed creatures flapped against the thick plastic of the laundry bag. “AwwAWW…bag,” Blue complained. “Wet in bag! Yip yip yip.”

    “Your fault wet,” Pink growled, straining all eleventy-two tentacles and his face against the wall of the bag, making an image not unlike a sea anemone with googly-eyes as it stretched but did not break the plastic. “Mm. Bag hard. Yip yip yip.”

    Blue poked Pink excitedly. “Bag! Yip yip yip yip! Bag!”

    “Aaawww?” It took Pink a second to grasp the idea; then he began hopping happily along with Blue. “Bag! Bag! Yip yip yip!”

    Munching sounds and the strange noise of wetly ripping plastic sounded faintly from within the room. Seated outside the door, Bobo looked wistfully toward the nurses’ station a few yards away, where one of the girls was apparently chowing down on a sandwich. “Man, she sure knows how to eat well…all that noise is makin’ me hungry!” He sighed, hoping one of them would indeed take pity and bring him something to snack on, and picked up his paper again. “Lessee, where was I…oh yeah. Hmmm… ‘Card’? No, not enough letters…’yard’? Huh, no, although I guess a yard could be protected…man. Those Japanese really know how to make a tough puzzle!”

    ---------------------------
    The show taping wasn’t going very well. Carl shook his head, annoyed, as the All-Fur Glee Club Singers cavorted onstage, tripping over one another and flubbing the lyrics: “I am blue—“
    “I am green –“
    “I am red –“
    “I am…uh…purple?”

    “That’s gray, dummy!”

    “Who you callin’ a dummy?”

    “What’s the difference anyway?” the ones not immediately involved in the argument chorused, “We’re all monsters!”

    Carl waved his long arms like a conductor when the camera cut to him at his desk, then leaned back to snarl quietly at Snookie: “Go on, get out there!”

    “And let them rip me to shreds? Buddy, not a snowball’s chance in –“ Snookie snapped back, drowned out as the singers danced closer to the desk on the set of ‘Monsters Tonight!’

    “I am fat,” sang a skinny thing with horns sprouting like a chia garden all over his head.

    “I am thin,” added a monster whose obesity would have made Thog envious.

    “I am…uh…green!” bellowed the same monster who’d forgot his first line. The “fat” monster whacked him in the rear with a swing of his horns, and another scuffle broke out behind the main line of dancers.

    “I am tall,” shrieked a tiny creature as it frantically scuttled out of the way of the brawl.

    “Doesn’t matter much at all – we’re all monsters!” everyone yelled, with the audience rumbling along at the refrain.

    “The script says, you jump onstage at the end of the song, and Georgina there eats you alive,” Carl growled, nodding at the enormous orange-furred thing with round eyeballs and a demure spangled tutu.

    Snookie shook his head vehemently. “No! I won’t! I have had it, Carl! You have screwed up my chances to finally get off that d—d game show, you have barbequed me, you have humiliated me, and I have simply…had…enough!” Snookie crossed his arms over his chest, teeth gritted in a fake smile since the camera kept cutting to them for a reaction shot while the musical number continued.

    Bewildered, Carl turned to stare directly at his sidekick for the talk show. “You can’t refuse!”

    Though he knew it probably meant something worse was in store, Snookie clenched his whole body into what he felt was an immovable rock position. “Yeah? Watch me!”

    Carl scratched his furry knoll between the gilded horns. He beckoned his producer over. “Uh, hey, Bart? Snookums here says he won’t do the comedy bit. Can he actually refuse?”

    “Not really,” the goat-bearded troll growled, glaring at Snookie. The plaid-coated host swallowed a mouthful of fear, but stood – or sat, rather – his ground. The producer adjusted his headset uncomfortably; the left side kept slipping over his down-turning floppy ear. “Do whatever you want to him. Not like it matters anyway.”

    Carl waved at Georgina, who ambled over much the way a cement truck in a tutu might. “Bon appétit,” Carl said loud enough for the boom mike to pick up, and as the audience roared with laughter, the orange monstrosity with too much eyeshadow plucked a trembling Snookie from his chair and began stuffing him down her gullet feet-first. Snookie stared back at Carl, appearing deeply betrayed, then resigned. He closed his eyes and held his breath as the creature gulped, and applause thundered through the studio when the last lock of his black hair slid between her jaws right as the song finished:

    “Yes we’re happy girls and guyses – we’re all monsters!”

    The producer shrugged. “He’s only got a few days left anyway. Who cares what you do to him?”

    Puzzled, Carl had to return his attention to the camera. “The Gleeful Furry Club, folks! Direct from the sewers of Kalamazoo! Stick around, ‘cause we’ve got lots of great guests tonight, right here with me, Carl, the Big Mean Host of Monsters Tonight!” He tossed a cue card through the fake hellgate behind him to the sound effect of tinkling glass, and as they broke for what would be a commercial when the show aired later tonight, he ran after the troll. “Hey, whaddaya mean he’s only got a few days left? That’s my comical Muppet sidekick! Who else is trying to get him? I thought I had exclusive rights!”

    The producer shrugged again, checking his clipboard. “Get the stage swept; someone left their toes out there again!” He angled his headset mic away to speak with Carl. “Thought you’d heard: come Halloween night, anything non-monstrous around here is gonna be sacrificed. That includes short, yellow and obnoxious.”

    “Sacrificed? To who?” Carl demanded, shaggy fur bristling. “I get dibs! I always get dibs! I been working with Snookie for over twenty years, Bart! Who do I gotta talk to about this nonsense?”

    “Talk to the boss,” Bart said, glaring at Carl. “That’s his decision. Official memo came down days ago. Don’t you ever check your Screammail?”

    “Wait…you mean sacrificed like…dead?”

    “What other definition is there?” Bart wondered, shaking his raggedy head. “Get back on set; we’re ready to film the first guest segment.”

    Automatically but uneasily, Carl resumed his place at the big (and recently rebuilt) desk, and thumbed through his oversized cue cards, trying to bring his mind to bear on the first real segment of the show: he’d never interviewed Big Mama before, and he wanted to make a good impression for his audience, but he kept glancing over in the wing where Georgina lounged on a stack of rotten pallets. Snookie…killed? No more? No more chances to slather him in sweet molasses and roast him for three hours? No more beer-battered Muppet with chips? The idea was almost intolerable. Before the camera turned back on, Carl gestured to a stagefrackle. “Go find some castor oil, and give that lump of orange fur over there a bottle of it. Wait – slap a Perrier label on it so she’ll drink the whole thing, okay?”

    He leaned back in his custom-goblin-leather chair, smiling. “Welcome back! I’m Carl! You’ve known me for my wide throat and my gourmet taste for adorable animals, but my first guest tonight puts those traits to shame with her own delectable gluttony! Give it up for that scarily scrumptious scavenger – Big Mama!”

    The crowd hooted and clapped and thumped their various appendages as the shark-mouthed, somewhat groundhog-faced monster waddled onstage. She waved at the crowd, grimacing (or maybe that was a wide smile, hard to tell with her), and settled into the chaise opposite Carl. After the opening pleasantries in which Carl called her a chow-hound of charnel, and she returned the compliment by praising the stench arising from Carl’s unwashed fur, they got down to business. “So, Big – may I call you Big? – I understand you have a new documentary film you’ve been doing! Tell us about that.”

    “Oh, yeah, it’s a hum-dinger! We’re hoping to show it at Scumdance in the spring,” Big Mama said proudly. “It’s called ‘Requiem and a Scream,’ and it follows me around as I hunt, dismember, and devour everything from frozen yogurt to wooly mammoths…”

    As she rumbled on, Carl snuck a look into the wing stage right. Georgina had guzzled half the oil, and was making terribly crude faces as she wrestled with Snookie struggling in her gut. Oh, good, that shouldn’t take long, Carl thought. He beamed at Big Mama. She chuckled.

    “Ya know, Carl, you’re not a bad-looking monster yourself,” she growled.

    Taken aback, Carl looked her up and down once. “Uh…you’d never get the horns past your back teeth,” he advised warily.

    She chortled. “Oh, no! I didn’t mean for me! See, my mama, Even Bigger Mama, has been kinda lonely lately, since Bigger Daddy passed…”

    “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” Carl said. “My condolences to your family.”

    “Aw, it wasn’t that bad,” Big Mama assured him, “once Mama took that furball pill, he went right on through just fine.”

    “Ah…ha,” Carl gulped. He didn’t particularly like the idea of being swallowed by something even larger than himself. “So, uh. What other projects do you have in the pipeline…uh, in the works?”

    Big Mama cheerfully chatted on. Carl glanced twice more over at Georgina, seeing her being ill all over one of the unluckiest stagefrackles alive (having just returned from a trip through the sewers the hard way), then seeing her bawling out the Frackle who’d brought her the castor oil, smacking him over the head repeatedly with the empty bottle. A dazed, dripping Snookie crawled away from the fracas and plucked his makeup towel from a chair offstage. At the next break, Carl strolled by him to refill his coffee cup. The Muppet sat, head down, with his towel wrapped around his sodden shoulders. Carl grinned at him. “You’re welcome.”

    “I have you to thank for the slime in my hair? Great. Wonderful,” Snookie muttered. He tried to clean out his ears. “This is completely disgusting. Have I mentioned lately how much I hate working with you?”

    “Not lately,” Carl replied, and walked back to his desk. After a minute, a downcast, still-dripping Snookie joined him in his own chair over by the band. Carl introduced an edition of Stupid Muppet Tricks, and watched with a smile as Snookie rolled over and played dead for a giant feathery opossum; the audience howled when a glowering, silent Snookie received his reward of Snookie Snacks.

    “That’s right, friends: Snookie Snacks! Perfect treats for the pathetic co-host in your life!” Carl grinned. “Up next: gossip grrr Perez Stilted chats about himself, himself, and maybe even himself!” He cast a cheery smile over at the wing, where the snobby three-headed tabloid-site monster waited, all three noses in the air. Applause rose, and the band played “Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Carl turned to Snookie. “Come on, you were in there, what, two minutes? You’ve had worse.”

    The slimy-haired Muppet raised tired eyes, and simply stared at Carl. Wow…when did he get so…so…old-looking? Carl wondered, startled. “Hey, uh, ya might wanna get makeup. You got some serious shadows around your eyes, Snookums.”

    “Can makeup help me sleep?” Snookie retorted. “Do you know how many shows they have me doing every day now? Do you?” When Carl shook his head, puzzled, Snookie leaned closer and hissed angrily, “Twenty-three! Twenty-three, as of this morning’s count! I have had no sleep unless you count passing out on the set of ‘Take My Wife’s Fleas!’ earlier today! They won’t let me even see the sun! Look at my felt! I’m practically beige!” Carl fumbled for a reply, but Snookie kept ranting, too exhausted to care. “They feed me frog only knows what sludge, I’m lucky if I get a shower a day even when stuff like this happens, I’m tired, I’m sick, and I am ready to just call it quits!”

    Perturbed, Carl answered slowly, “Well…I guess…I mean…maybe you could…just ask them to go ahead and kill you?”

    Snookie choked, and spat out something from Big Mama’s stomach into his handkerchief. Disgusted, he tossed it into a wastebasket. “What, and leave show business?” he quipped, and then began to laugh. Softly at first, then louder, his voice rising in tone, until a bewildered Carl could only stare at the bedraggled Muppet bent over double in his chair, laughing so hard he was crying…and then he was just crying. Carl looked around quickly, saw none of the cameras were on, and carefully patted his longtime victim on the back.

    “Hey, uh, Snookie…look…take the rest of the show off,” Carl whispered. He didn’t know what else to offer, but he certainly couldn’t have a hysterical sidekick messing up his show.

    Snookie gulped loudly, trying to get his emotion under control. “Carl, I…I can’t…I just can’t do this anymore. I can’t.” He looked up at the monster with shining, deeply lined eyes. “Look, why don’t you just…just put me through your sausage machine like you keep saying you want to, and get it over with, okay?”

    Speechless, Carl stared at him. Snookie looked away, sniffling, then yanked himself upright and wiped his face with his sleeve, only spreading the slime around more. “Excuse me. I have to get cleaned up before the next show. This stuff might be flammable, and that would hurt.”

    Carl wasn’t the only one watching the spectacle of a slump-shouldered, goo-covered man of felt slouching offstage; from the doorway of the studio, Uncle Deadly’s eyes narrowed to pinpricks of glowing green. A Muppet so depressed he WANTS to be eaten once and for all? Looking around, Deadly noticed that Snookie was the only Muppet present. Now that he saw that, it seemed…odd. Monsters had always worked with the Muppets, however awkwardly or uneasily…and the Muppet troupe, irritating as they could be when one was trying to catch a few winks in the flyloft and they simply had to do a run-through of that silly dance-hall pun-cracking sketch, had always welcomed the odd, the unusual, the just plain drooling-all-over-themselves. For all the faults of the felted and furred, Deadly had noticed through the years that everyone who wanted to be accepted usually was, which was indeed more than he could say for the population of the world at large. Watching this pale-yellow Muppet with the bad plaid jacket trip over a lighting cable and then just sit there, despondent, until a stagefrackle bundled him into a wheelbarrow and carted him away, caused Deadly to frown.

    What could make a Muppet that depressed? Why isn’t he as happy working down here with all these fine fellows as our kind are up above? Deadly’s gaze switched back to Carl, who was exchanging insults of an increasingly personal nature with some gossip hack. Well, that’s very crass, but I suppose it makes for good ratings…but why are these performers concerned with such petty things? Why aren’t they out chasing people or laying in wait in closets instead? Why aren’t ALL of them? he wondered, his eyes sweeping the large and tightly-packed crowd of monsters in this soundstage. Scowling, he crept unnoticed back into the main corridor. This whole complex seemed to be nothing but soundstages. Who would organize such a ridiculous thing?

    Disturbed, he slunk along the halls, determined to find out what this was all for. I’ll find Pew. He was always a smart chap, if a little…misguided. Surely he has some answers. Deadly faded into the shadows as the stagefrackle pushing the wheelbarrow trundled past; the depressed Muppet was no longer in it. Deadly wondered where the poor fellow had gone. Hopefully to take a bath: while moldy clothing is always in style, hair grease went out decades ago. No, this was no convention, and no party, but what all this over-organization could augur still eluded the ghostly dragon…and he did not like that. He was accustomed to being the elusive one!

    With a snort of annoyance, Deadly glided along the wide tunnel until he found a passage leading down. As they say, dig deeper, Watson, he thought, starting down, then chuckled to himself. “No, no. I ought to have played Sherlock! I would have been very droll.” Another thought popped into his head, and he paused. “I wonder if they have anything like a proper Monsterpiece Theatre show here? I shouldn’t at all mind doing another Othello…” Cheered a bit, he hastened to the next level below.
    -----------------------
  4. Ruahnna

    Ruahnna Well-Known Member

    Lots of fun things in this one! Here's my list of highlights!

    The Peep show was hilarious. (And I should know about Peeps--several friends sent me Peeps for my birthday recently and my family is always on the look-out for unusual kinds of Peeps!) If I'd known they had a SHOW, I'd have gone to see it! (And maybe stopped for, um, dessert afterward--although they really aren't at their best until they are stale!)

    Okay--the mussels without muscles was pretty funny. My favorite exchange:

    The Yips were...weird, as usual. When the nurse wiped out the sink and mopped the floor with them, it was--as Scrooge's nephew Fred would say--"too wonderful." I was VERY disappointed that they did not succeed in eating the durn bug, though. One thing we have to remember--if Monsters attack, they probably won't be very effective...so we can probably just pull our lower lips over our heads and successfully hide.... (The bug inch-worming itself up the bedpost just seemed like the perfect touch--creepy and familiar.)

    The Sudoku thing was really funny. And Bobo DOES say "sammich" and beg for food, regardless of what he says about that circus rumor.

    I just cannot like Carl. I'm probably going to have "residual dislike" for Carl for forever! He's that bully that thinks his victims are having fun and it's icky. But I would love to see Deadly set things to rights down there. Something out-of-place is going on down there, with so many beloved (or, er, not-quite-disliked) monsters being completely casual about the death of other beings. While they certainly are not above eating anything that moves slower than them, they are usually, as Deadly pointed out, pretty okay play-dates if you keep track of your fingers and toes.

    We're heading for a big show-down of MONSTROUS proportions, and I'm ready for Armageddon!

    Ru
    (who has insisted that all closet monsters leave all the teeny tiny closets in her house and evicted the under-the-bed monster by installing a water bed years ago.
    The Count likes this.
  5. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    You do realize you've put good, er, monsters out of work like that?

    *Loves the update, follows reading Deadly's descent into darkness as the story progresses.

    *Puts head down as things spin out of control with the underrealm politics.
    *Wonders who Van Neuter's newest captive is... And will he be spared due to having married into the monster clan of the Heaps?
    PuppetMaster likes this.
  6. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    *Down in the underrealm... :batty: Hmm, that sounds like a song there.

    Step up, step up and vote for Uncle Deadly in this year's Muppet Madness tournament. He's a monster's best fiend!
    *Hands out choc creep cookies to every monster who votes for their last remaining representative in the Sweet Sixteen.
  7. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Thirty-One (I)

    They found Sweetums sitting down in the green room with a plateful of something wriggling. Newsie hung back, and Rhonda poked him. “Come on, come on, ask him already!”

    Newsie frowned, but then took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and approached the shaggy troll. The slurping, appreciative noises didn’t help any. “Uh, excuse me, Sweetums, I was wondering –“

    Scooter ran over, plunking a large goldfish bowl on the table. “Hey, sorry, but would you mind if I left my oscar here a while? It’s kind of crazy upstairs – Beau is trying to build a setpiece for that Full Loon sketch tonight, and Beaker is, um, helping...” All of them looked up as a heavy crash sounded from the stage above, followed by Beau yelling.

    “Beaker! You have to hold it up to nail it down! It’s not going to just stand there on its own, you know!”

    “Mee! Mee mee meep mee mee!”

    “Here, why don’t we put the Muppet Labs AutoNailer to work? It’s a much-improved design over the Electric Hammer; it works on Bluetooth!” Bunsen’s cheerful voice floated down. “You see, we simply program in the coordinates for the job here, and send the signal from any wireless device, so...”

    “Meeep! Mee mee mee me!”

    “Oh for heaven’s sake, Beaker! It’s not going to hammer you! Now just hold that upright like Mr Beauregard said, and –“

    WHACK! WHACK!

    “Meeeeeeeee!”

    “Uh, anyway,” Scooter continued, drawing everyone’s attention away from the probable carnage upstairs, “My oscar fish pretty much trashed his aquarium while I was out of town, so while his tank is being cleaned and repaired today, he needs a temporary home. Would you guys mind if I just set him down here a while?”

    “An Oscar fish?” Newsie wondered, studying the small brown-blue mottled fish with a very large underbite and big teeth. “I didn’t know Grouch fish existed...”

    “Oh, no, that’s just the name of the fish,” Scooter explained.

    Rhonda snickered. “You named your pet after Oscar? Oh this I gotta Tweet.” Pulling out her phone, her tiny claws ticked rapidly over the keypad. “He is gonna be sooo embarrassed!”

    “No, no,” Scooter corrected. “That’s not his name. The kind of fish he is is called oscar. His name is Cecil. Actually, I’m not completely sure he’s an oscar...he may be a Jack Dempsey...”

    “Wait,” Newsie said, confused. “So...you have a Grouch fish named Cecil Jack Dempsey?”

    “No, Jack Dempsey is the breed I think Cecil is,” Scooter said. “They were named after the boxer because of their pugnacious disposition!”

    “Oscar is named after a boxer?” Newsie asked.

    Sweetums chortled. “Your fish is a boxer? What does he fight in, the lightweight scale? Har har har!”

    The fish glared at them, then wound up one fin and whomped the little ceramic castle in his bowl, sending it sailing high up and out to crash across the room. “Hey, watch it!” Rowlf complained, ducking behind the upright piano.

    “What division does he box in?” Rhonda asked, impressed.

    “Well, uh, I was going to say he doesn’t box, but maybe I’m wrong,” Scooter mused. “Anyway, his name is Cecil, and he is either an oscar or a Jack Dempsey. Look, I gotta run. Catch you all later tonight.” The gofer hurried off, leaving Sweetums chewing his breakfast, Rhonda snapping a picture of the fish on her phone’s camera, and the Newsman looking perplexed.

    “Er...so...he doesn’t box, but he’s named after a Grouch boxer called Cecil?” Newsie asked.

    Rhonda shrugged. “I still think Oscar is gonna be peeved when this goes viral.”

    “I’m confused,” Newsie muttered.

    “I’m Rhonda. Pleased ta meetcha. Now can we get on with this? Ask him already!”

    Nervously, Newsie cleared his throat. “Ahem...uh...Sweetums?”

    “Yeah?” The troll’s head jerked up, his yellow eyes startlingly large up close, with something brown and faintly wiggling dangling from between his huge lips. Newsie forced down his instinct to flee, and tried to sound as humble as possible.

    “Er...Rhonda Rat here and I...were planning an expedition into the subway tunnels. Today, if possible...and we...we wondered if...you’d like to come along?”

    Sweetums blinked. “An expe-what?”

    “Like an adventure,” Rhonda said, seeming a little uneasy herself about standing so close to those enormous feet. “We’re going exploring. Wanna come?”

    “Oh, sure!” the troll exclaimed. “Can we bring a picnic lunch?”

    Newsie stared at him. “Uh...why not?”

    “Great! Oh, boy! I love underground picnics! But, uh...” His voice lowered as he glanced around conspiratorially. “Ya know there’s some nasty things down there, right? Are we going anywhere near the Pesties?”

    Newsie looked at Rhonda; she shrugged. He offered, “Uh...maybe. That’s why we wanted a, um, a big strong troll like you around.”

    Sweetums stared wide-eyed at him a moment, and Newsie feared he’d made some sort of faux pas, but then a loud guffaw sent the wriggling thing flying from the troll’s mouth. “Wuh huh huh huh! You think I’m big? You should see my cousin Morty!”

    “Well, you’re enough troll for us,” Rhonda assured him. She glanced at Newsie. “All that some of us can handle...”

    “Well...” Sweetums considered it, his head cocked to one side and his eyes rolling wildly a moment. “It sounds like fun...but ya gotta promise me we won’t try to fight any Pesties if they wanna steal our lunch! Those guys are mean!”

    “Er...okay,” Newsie said. “What...what kind of picnic were you hoping for?”

    “Ah, just grab a basket,” Sweetums said. “We can get the food on the way!” He pointed at his bowl with the oversized red plastic sand-rake he’d been using as a fork. “You guys mind if I finish breakfast first?”

    “Don’t let us stop you,” Rhonda said, and Sweetums continued shoveling the still-squirming, two-foot-long nightcrawlers with maple syrup into his ponderous jaws.

    Newsie checked the contents of his wallet. “I hope I have enough cash for whatever food he has in mind.”

    Rhonda shook her head, watching the worms disappear down the black maw with morbid fascination. “I think he means we’ll literally pick something up on the way.”

    “Yeeesh,” Newsie muttered. He pulled out the backup cell phone Gina had activated for him just this morning to notify her they had a guard for the expedition. When Scooter’s fish noticed the worm feast, he stood up on his tail, and managed to inch his bowl closer to the food. “I wish this thing had bigger keys,” Newsie grumbled, having difficulty texting, his broad fuzzy fingers too large for the tiny keypad.

    “Gimme that, Thumbelino.” Rhonda tapped out a message quickly: Have troll. Will travel. The Plaid Marauder sends his love.

    “The Plaid what?” Newsie cried, trying to take his phone away. “Hey!”

    On the table, Sweetums continued to munch contentedly, with many wet slurping noises. Cecil the fish took a deep breath, leaned out of his bowl, and grabbed a mouthful of worm ends. He plopped back into the water and began chewing, drawing them in like spaghetti. The longest one he munched, unfortunately, had its other end in Sweetums’ mouth, a fact nobody noticed at first.

    Rhonda kept texting Gina, dodging Newsie’s flailing hands with the expertise only a rat could have, giggling. “Stop texting her!” Newsie growled, swiping his phone away finally, only to see the last message sent read, His fingers are too big to type. Suggest you persuade him to have digit-reducing surgery to correct this problem. Will make him call you when we get out of the sewers. GPS is on so you can hunt down his sorry yellow butt if he gets eaten.

    “That’s not funny!” Newsie shouted, but Rhonda shook her head.

    “Look, Goldie, I’m just trying to lighten the mood, okay?”

    “This is serious!”

    “I know, I know.” Rhonda sobered a bit. “I still think we should stop on the way to load up on weaponry. And I am serious about that.” Behind them, Sweetums’ lips and those of the fish touched as both ends of the worm-slurping met in the middle. They stared at one another a moment. Then with a roar, Sweetums backhanded the fishbowl off the table. The fish leaped out of the bowl, landed on the floor, and caught the bowl before it could smash into the wall, then crawled back into the water with many a burbling grumble. Rhonda and Newsie stared at that, then looked at Sweetums.

    “I think we already have a weapon,” Newsie murmured.

    “I see your point.” Rhonda shrugged. “He wants a picnic, he gets a picnic.” She trotted over to the canteen, where breakfasty smells of syrup, cinnamon, and flash-frozen cod floated around a table of penguins. “Hey, Chef! We need a picnic basket!”

    “Doo picky-nicky-baskie?”

    “Yeah. Something Sweetums won’t crush just by picking it up...”

    Newsie walked away from the troll’s increasingly messy breakfast; apparently the bottom of the dish had a lot of syrup. He heard footsteps and turned to see Dr Honeydew and Beaker traipsing down; Beaker was groaning softly, holding his even-more-red-and-swollen-than-usual nose, with a handful of nails spiking up from it like a punk porcupine. “Oh, Newsman! How fortunate we should run into you! Isn’t that lucky, Beaker?”

    Beaker meeped glumly, still holding his nose. “Uh...hello, Dr Honeydew. Why, what’s going on?” Newsie asked.

    “Beaker, do you have the pills?” Bunsen asked; Beaker let go of his nose with one hand long enough to hand Bunsen a vitamin bottle, then grabbed his nose before it flopped completely over to one side, the weight of the nails dragging it down. “Yes, well, go put some meat tenderizer on it. That should take the sting out,” Bunsen said unconcernedly, and Beaker wobbled through the green room and down the hall to the lab. Honeydew thrust the bottle at the Newsman. “Voila!”

    He accepted it hesitantly; one never knew what to expect from the lab guys. “Er...Ventrum Titanium with extra B-twelve?” he read aloud.

    “Oh, no, sorry! That’s the only bottle we could find which didn’t have to be sterilized with broad-spectrum radiation after our last mold-growing experiment went somewhat...catastrophic. Newsman, you are looking at a revolution in supplements for sufferers such as yourself!”

    “Er...” Newsie hadn’t been aware he suffered from anything, except News Flashes. “Uh, thank you, but I already take gummi Muppavites every day, Dr Honeydew...”

    “No, no, these are special! These are Anti-Monsterphobia pills!”

    “What’s the recommended dosage?” Rhonda asked.

    “Oh...one a day.”

    “Take ten,” the rat told Newsie. He glared at her. She handed him a juice box. With Rhonda watching expectantly and Honeydew beaming, Newsie cautiously swallowed one of the pills.

    “There you go! Now please make certain you inform us of any side effects.”

    “Side effects?” Newsie asked, giving the bottle a worried look. He seemed to recall Beaker’s nose falling off once. Nervously he touched his own long, classically-sculpted nose.

    “Oh, you know...sniffling, sore throat, dizziness, fatal spleen failure...just anything you might notice which seems out of the ordinary.” Bunsen patted a startled Newsman on the shoulder, then trotted off to the lab. “Oh, Beaker! Beaker! Time for our morning yoga with yogurt! Do you have your gym shorts on yet?”

    “Okay, I’m ready,” Sweetums announced, nearly crushing a passing Bean Bunny as he shoved his chair back and stretched. He smiled a broad, wet smile, and Newsie had to struggle to suppress a shudder.

    Rhonda patted his hand. “There, there. Suck it up, Trollophobic. He could be useful.”

    Newsie sighed. “Actually, my research indicates the best place to start would be the old Statler –“

    Rhonda interrupted, “What? What would that cranky old codger know about the subway? No, strike that – he was probably there when they opened the first train...”

    “Not the old man, the hotel! Several luxury hotels, decades ago, had their own subway platforms underneath.” Newsie pulled out a map he’d copied from the subway route plans, and pointed out the location: one rat stretched on tiptoe and one troll crouched, knobby knees protruding widely, to peer at the map. “I’m sure monsters freely roaming the main lines would be pretty hard to miss...they must be using the older tunnels and stations.”

    “So what time’s the train come there?” Sweetums asked.

    “No, no...we’re not catching a train, Sweetums. We’re going down the abandoned lines,” Newsie explained.

    “Oh,” Sweetums said. Newsie squared his shoulders, nodded brusquely at them, and headed for the back door. He paused when he heard the heavy, rumbling voice behind him: “So...uh...how are we gonna get to the exploring part, if we’re not takin’ the train?” Rat and Muppet looked up at him, and the troll shrugged, bashful. “Uh...my feet are sensitive to moisture. Do I need my Croc shoes?”

    ----------------------
    Ruahnna likes this.
  8. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Thirty-One (II)

    Half an hour later, the Newsman kept an anxious lookout while Sweetums pried open the boarded-over entrance in the basement of the Statler Hotel (circa nineteen-ten). The troll struggled and strained with the massive iron-barred gate behind the rotted boards, then grumbled at Rhonda, “Crescent wrench!”

    “C-wrench,” the rat responded, handing up the tool from a sack the troll had brought along. Newsie jumped when Sweetums used the wrench to bang violently on the hinges of the gate; they clanged to the ground, and the gate fell inward with a long metal whine. “After you,” Sweetums said, extending a gallant hand to Rhonda as she clambered over the rusty remains.

    Newsie caught up quickly, glancing back several times, but apparently nobody noticed the noise upstairs in the near-deserted lobby of the hotel-turned-flophouse. They ventured into the dark, crumbling station. Newsie swung his flashlight out, up, and around, awed at the immensity of the place; the entire Muppet stage could have fit in here. “Aw, cool,” Sweetums said. “This would be a great place to hold the next Uggerh Family Reunion!” When the other two looked at him, he grinned. “Even cousin Morty would be able to play the trampoline-breaking contest!”

    “See anything...buggy?” Rhonda asked, her own light darting from point to point along the soot-stained tile walls and arched-dome ceiling.

    “No,” Newsie replied, stepping to the edge of the platform and checking the tracks immediately below. They looked more like old railroad lines than modern subway rails, with no third rail present. Just to be sure, he picked up a bit of wooden debris from the platform and tossed it onto the tracks. It made a dull clunk. “No...it seems safe.”

    A screeching blast of sound made Newsie and Rhonda cry out and clap their hands over their ears. They backed away in horror at the swarm of clicking, shrieking beetles which clambered onto the platform from underneath. Rhonda screamed, and in her haste to get away ran straight into Newsie, tripping him; they fell in a frantic, flailing heap. Newsie threw his arms over his face, expecting the worst – and heard a happy roar from Sweetums: “Oh great! Lunch!”

    Newsie stared, astonished, as the troll scooped up huge handfuls of the squirrel-sized bugs, stuffing them into his mouth and crunching with sickening joy. In seconds the tide had turned, with bugs scattering for the far reaches of the vast room, chittering in fear. Sweetums nodded at the picnic hamper they’d dragged along in the bed of a small red pull-wagon. “Hey, open the lid so’s I can pack a few for later!”

    Shuddering, Rhonda opened the lid and shoved the hamper toward Sweetums. He shook his fingers, tumbling terrified bugs into the container before slamming and buckling the lid shut. The basket bumped and jerked around like a demented fisherman’s creel. Noticing one last beetle scurrying desperately over his shoulder, Sweetums nabbed it. He held the squirming thing out to the Newsman. “Uh...want one? I think that’s the jelly kind.”

    “N-no thank you,” Newsie gulped. A dazed, shivering rat clung to his leg, but when he helped her to her feet, she shook him off with a glare of embarrassment. “Uh...according to the map, this line passes close by that Con-Ed tunnel where we found the leaking wall...and the caterpillar monster.” Rhonda nodded, and Newsie asked quietly, “You believe me finally that I did see something down there?”

    “Goldie, after my fur got slobbered off, yeah, I’ll believe just about anything you throw at me.” He nodded, grateful, and she added, “Although I still refuse to give any credence to Fleet’s report last week on giant marshmallow Peeps running feral through the Ramble in Central Park.”

    Together they joined Sweetums at the edge of the platform. Rhonda eyed the rails dubiously. “Ya really think this will work?”

    Newsie shrugged. “I hope so... Uh, Sweetums, can you put the wagon on the rails?”

    Shortly they were walking along the abandoned tunnel, flashlights constantly sweeping ahead and above them, though no more bugs troubled them; word must have spread quickly about Sweetums. Their wagon squeaked as he pulled it along the rusted rails, carrying the picnic hamper (still wobbling in a fashion which made Newsie queasy, so he tried not to look at it), Sweetums’ bag (which also moved around slowly; he didn’t want to know why), and a small videocamera. The camerasloth had begged off the expedition when Rhonda had called him earlier, and had simply hung up on Newsie, so Rhonda had brought along the lower-quality instrument as a means of capturing something down here. “Do you think we should go ahead and start filming?” Newsie whispered to her. The echoing silence of the old subway was starting to get on his nerves.

    “Might as well,” Rhonda agreed. She fetched the camera, avoiding touching either the hamper or the sack. Sweetums tromped along in front of them; she darted forward and got his attention by swatting repeatedly at his toes. “Hey! Hey, no kicking! Put me on your shoulder, ya lug, so I can get a clear shot!”

    Sweetums cheerfully swung his bulk from side to side as he strolled; Rhonda clung to his fur with one hand while filming with the other. Newsie tried to stay alongside them, swinging his flashlight everywhere, feeling warm as he increased his pace to keep up with Sweetums’ much longer strides. “Dum, ta dum, ta dum,” Sweetums sang tunelessly, not seeming to mind his voice reverberating so strongly off the arched walls that bits of the ceiling crumbled down around them.

    Ducking a large piece of fossilized junk tumbling past, Newsie hissed, “Sweetums! Please be quiet!”

    Baffled, the troll blinked at him, pausing mid-step. “Why? Are we hunting rabbits?”

    “We’re hunting secrets,” Rhonda told him, panning her camera around. “Much more dangerous.”

    “And it would be nice to have our heads undamaged,” Newsie muttered. His light caught something gleaming between the tracks ahead. “Uh...do you guys see that?”

    “Yeah,” Rhonda replied, training the lens on it. “It looks like...it can’t be!”

    “What? What?” Newsie hung back, but Rhonda swung down from Sweetums’ shoulder, camera trained on the object which sparkled and flashed in their lights. Newsie finally saw what blocked their progress. “It’s a...jar of gumballs?”

    “Yeek!” Rhonda cried, leaping backwards nimbly to end up just behind Newsie. Frightened, Newsie shone his light directly at the large, startlingly sparkly-clean jar...and realized those round things were not exactly gumballs.

    “Oh frog,” he choked, feeling ill. He averted his gaze immediately. Sweetums lumbered up to the jar, bent over to study it, and picked it up. “S-Sweetums, don’t touch tha—“

    “It’s only a jar of candied eyeballs!” Sweetums protested, opening the jar and tossing one of the dubious treats into the air to catch it in his broad mouth. “Aw, rats! Lemon flavor... Oh, well.” With a heavy sigh, he took another step along the tunnel.

    None of them saw the tripwire triggered by the jar. Suddenly an eight-foot troll was wobbling unsteadily right in front of Newsie; he threw himself to one side, rolling painfully onto the filthy tracks, Rhonda squeaking and bolting for the side of the tunnel. “Whooaa-ohh!” Sweetums yelled, crashing down, flattening the picnic hamper; hordes of screeching bugs fled in all directions. Dazed, Newsie felt briefly thankful the bugs weren’t sticking around, until he saw why...and it had nothing to do with the troll in their party. Huge shadows loomed, closing fast, rising to the very ceiling of the tunnel...and an eerie moaning arose, echoing horribly off every curving wall so that he couldn’t tell where it originated. “Dooooom! Doooooooom to aaaallll intruuuuders!”

    “Aaagh!” Newsie yelped, trying to get to his feet, but his coat snagged on a chunk of broken rail. Rhonda pointed the camera at the shadows.

    “Remember that bit about you running home if we found anything awful?” she shouted. “Now would be a good time for that!”

    “Ow, ow, ow!” Sweetums hoisted himself to his feet, hands pressed to his back. “Hey, that hurt!” He gestured angrily at the advancing shadows, growing larger by the second across the walls. “Whadda you guys got against trolls, anyway? And what’s the big idea only settin’ out lemon flavor eyeballs?”

    “Don’t say eyeballs,” Rhonda groaned, huddling close to Newsie, still pointing the camera ahead at the approaching menace.

    The shadows groaned, wavering over the ceiling and creeping closer along the ground. “Leeeeave...leeeave or staaay foreverrrrrr!”

    “Rhonda, help!” Newsie gasped, tugging frantically at his coat-hem. The rat yanked the coat open, startling him. “Hey!”

    “Leave it, genius! Let’s book!”

    He managed to pull his arms out of the sleeves, and staggered to unsteady feet, but by that time the shadows were upon them. Hearing a tapping noise along the rails, Rhonda shone her light there, just in front of Sweetums, and saw...three pairs of tennis shoes and spindly legs in stripey socks. Sweetums’ eyes widened. “Wha-! Stripey socks? Oh no – Pesties! Waaaauuugh!”

    Rhonda and Newsie called out to him, but the troll panicked, breaking into a pounding run back toward the abandoned hotel station. A bright blue light made the rat and the reporter wince. Shaking, Newsie shone his flashlight up from the advancing stripey socks still revealed by Rhonda’s tiny beam, and saw three squat bodies, three pairs of skinny arms with tiny claws; moving up, he saw six more arms upraised and swaying menacingly, three tiny heads with bobbing antennae...

    “They’re...bugs?” Rhonda asked incredulously. She stood up, stepping from behind Newsie to stare at the creatures halting just a few paces away. “They’re tiny bugs! Oh for crying out loud!”

    “They’re...what?” Newsie blinked, trying to see clearly against the spotlight just behind the creatures, but he could tell they were indeed fairly small.

    “Turn that thing off, you little creeps!” Rhonda snapped.

    The things looked at one another. One on the end continued to moan, “Wooooooooooh! Tuuuurn baaack!”

    “Geez, Howie, can it,” another grumbled. “They ain’t buyin’ it.”

    The moaning one sighed, tiny shoulders slumping, and turned off the large lamp mounted on a rolling platform. The middle creature groaned, letting drop the rope he’d been hauling, dragging the moving light behind them to cast the eerie shadows. Rhonda set her paws on her hips, whiskers twitching in disgust. “A Kleig light? Seriously? What the heck do you power that thing with?”

    “We gotta extension cord,” one of the things mumbled, looking defensive. “A really long extension cord.”

    Calming somewhat, Newsie stared at them. They resembled insects, but with round faces, fat cheeks, and downturned mouths. Each was dressed in a different jacket, and one sported an Islanders cap, but all wore stripey socks on their long lower legs. “What the heck are you?” he wondered aloud.

    “Hah! Looka him!” scoffed the one in the cap. “Is he deaf, or just stupid?”

    “Shoulda listened to the troll,” another snickered.

    “You’re...you’re Pesties?” Newsie asked.

    The bugs stood up proud and straight. “Dat’s us!”

    The bugs were the same size as Rhonda, and seemed sheepish now that their shadow illusion had been destroyed. She looked at all three of them, then suddenly thwapped the center one atop his head with the paw not holding the camera. “You idiots! A tripwire? A jar of...of...things?”

    “I thought up the eyeballs,” the Pestie on the left offered. The center one recovered from his smackdown and glared at Rhonda.

    “Yeah, well, it’s not like we used real ones! We figured they’d either scare people off, or catch ‘em in our trap! Anyway, we hadda do something! Those danged monsters wouldn’t leave us alone otherwise!”

    “Yeah, and now you mooks gotta come down here wit’ your camera and ruin everything!”

    “Yeah, please don’t post that online,” the third one begged. “Dis is our home, and dose monsters won’t let us stay if dey know we’re not...uh...we’re really...um...”

    “Tiny little bugs in stripey socks?” Newsie asked.

    The Pesties glanced at one another. “Uh...who you callin’ tiny?” the center one bristled, antennae twanging.

    Rhonda shook her head. “I’m gonna go fetch our troll, if he hasn’t run all the way back to the theatre by now.” Hoisting the camera, she stomped back the way they’d come. Newsie hoped the other, less friendly bugs wouldn’t bother her. One of the Pesties looked him up and down, head cocked sideways.

    “So whaddayou doin’ down here anyway, bub?”

    “Er, well...I’m...I’m actually investigating a secret monster television production studio which I believe is somewhere underground, and –“

    “Oh, sheez. Like dat’s a big secret,” the second Pestie grumbled, shaking his head.

    “Yeah, like, get with the program, mac,” the first added. “Everybody knows where dat is!”

    “What?” Shocked, Newsie took a moment to find words, and then to move them out of his mouth. “Er...uh...you...you know how to get into MMN?”

    “Sure, but why would ya want to?”

    “Yeah, dat place is crawlin’ wit’ creeps! Buddy, they’d snap you up for a snack before you could say ‘cool beans’!”

    The center one glared at the third one. “Dude. Nobody still says ‘cool beans.’”

    “Well, I do!”

    They started to argue. Newsie broke in: “Wait, wait! Can you tell me how to get to...“

    “Oh noooo way. I ain’t dealin’ wit’ dat red furry guy again,” the center Pestie groaned.

    “Tell me about it! First it’s all ‘yayy Huxley,’ den it’s ‘yayy Grouches,’ and next thing ya know the calls stop comin’, and even our agent drops us widdout a’ explanation, an—“

    “Stop, stop!” Newsie shouted, and again they shut up but glared nastily. Trying to think past his excitement, Newsie pinched the bridge of his nose, resettled his glasses, and tried again, “I need to know how to get into MMN! It’s a matter of extreme importance, not just to me, but to everyone in this city!”

    Voices sounded along the tunnel; Newsie whirled, bringing his light up, then relaxed, heart stuttering, when he saw it was Rhonda prodding Sweetums back this direction. “Ow, that was my ear!” the troll complained. “Uh...you’re sure they’re not really Pesties?”

    “Umm...call it a case of mistaken identity,” Rhonda assured him. “They won’t bite.”

    “Well, okay,” Sweetums rumbled uncertainly. “But can we get ice cream after this?”

    “Sure, big guy. Whatever ya want.”

    “Haw haw haw. She called me ‘big’,” Sweetums mumbled, blushing.

    “Will you show me how to get into the MMN studios?” Newsie asked the Pesties.

    They looked at each other. The center one shrugged. “Guess so. Your funeral.”

    Eagerly Newsie followed the grumbling bugs as they turned and trudged along the tunnel for several minutes. A section ahead had partially collapsed, and a heap of broken tiles and crumbling bricks blocked most of the tunnel. The Pesties grew visibly nervous. “Stop right there, Ricky. Okay, bub, this is as far as we take ya,” one of them said. “We usually slip through that hole over there to the J line when we go out, but if ya go past the wreckpile instead, you’ll see a big hole on the right. That leads right into the studio tunnels...”

    “But you’ll never get in,” another Pestie said, shaking its tiny head.

    “Oh they’ll get in all right, but they’ll never get out again!” the first one chortled. “Only monsters allowed!”

    “Newsie, maybe we should come back with more ammo,” Rhonda suggested.

    “Or...” He looked up at Sweetums, who towered to almost thrice his Muppet height. “We could send in a monster.”

    “Hmm. Hold on, I got an idea,” Rhonda said. She clambered into Sweetums’ shaggy fur, working her way with dainty grunts to the center, where she slapped the videocamera against his chest. “Hold that there a sec while I tie it up,” she commanded the troll. Baffled, he obeyed, watching as the rat carefully wove and knotted his fur around the camera to hold it in place and then brushed a lock of fur over the lens. “Okay, soon as you’re past whatever security they have, uncover the lens and film all you can!”

    “Rhonda, that’s brilliant,” Newsie approved. “Sweetums...can you...can you try to find my cousin? Here...” He dug one of the photocopied photos of Chester from his wallet. “This is him. He goes by Snookie, I think. He hosts some of their game shows.”

    Sweetums blinked at the picture. “How’m I gonna find him?”

    “Maybe...maybe tell the monsters you’re a fan, and you want to get his autograph?” Newsie offered, thinking of the piece of clay with his cousin’s signature.

    “Get as much of the layout of the place as you can,” Rhonda told the troll.

    “Tell Chester I’m going to rescue him,” Newsie instructed Sweetums. “Tell him I’m his cousin by his Aunt Florabeth!”

    “Do not tick any of ‘em off,” Rhonda continued; an increasingly confused troll looked from the rat bossing him on the one hand to the Muppet beseeching him on the other. “Remember, these guys may look fine to you, but they’re up to something really, really bad! Don’t let them talk you into staying!”

    “He might not know me; I don’t know if we ever even met as children,” Newsie continued. He dug out another photo, one of the wallet-sized pics he carried everywhere of himself and Gina. “Here, give him this! Tell him his cousin Aloysius has been trying to find him for months, and I won’t let him languish in a place filled with monsters!”

    “And make sure not to –“ Rhonda said, but Sweetums roared, shaking his head in frustration.

    “Cut it out!” Fuming, he glared at their startled faces. “How’m I supposed to remember all that stuff? I thought we were going on a picnic!”

    “We’ll...we’ll make it up to you,” Newsie said, trying to keep the trembling out of his voice. A troll was big and scary enough; an angry troll...

    “Ice cream?” Rhonda suggested, giving him a hopeful smile. “Any flavor you want! Our treat!”

    “How come da big lug gets ice cream?” Howie Pestie wondered, pouting. “We’re da guys what showed ‘em where ta go!”

    “Fine, fine, ice cream for everyone,” Newsie said hurriedly. “But please, Sweetums, this is really important! We need to know what’s inside this production company, and where my cousin is being held! Just...film whatever you can. Anything might wind up being useful, okay?”

    “Wellll...okay,” Sweetums rumbled. He touched the camera gently with one huge fingertip. “I, uh, I don’t have to bench-focus or do a white-balance on it, right? ‘Cause I always have trouble with those; everyone says my film comes out too yellow.”

    “Er,” Rhonda choked, startled.

    “No, just let it run...just remember not to let the monsters see the camera,” Newsie said, too worried to wonder how the troll knew anything about camerawork. “Will you do this for us? Please? It would...it would mean a lot to me, especially.”

    Sweetums stared at him a moment, then chuckled and patted him on the head. Newsie gulped, bracing his feet, and managed to stay upright. “Aw, sure. Your News Flashes always make me laugh! I guess I can walk around and film stuff for ya.”

    “Thank you,” Newsie mumbled, trying to fix his hair. “Uh...and my cousin. Snookie Blyer is the name he goes by; try to get my photo to him – wait, here.” He took out his trusty pencil stub and wrote a brief note on the back of his picture. “Try to get this to him, but if you can’t, just see if you can find out where they have him.”

    “And we need to know what the –“ Rhonda began, but Newsie nudged her sharply, nearly tumbling her over.

    “Thanks, Sweetums. We’ll wait right here for you,” Newsie said.

    “You did not just do that,” Rhonda growled.

    Sweetums nodded, and strolled over to the debris pile, tossing chunks out of his way to go around unhindered. They heard him greeting someone: “Hey! How’s it goin’? Any good bugs lately?”

    “Oh, was that you I heard roarin’?” a gruff voice replied. “You...you didn’t run into any Pesties, did ya?”

    “Oh, uh...naw, naw. Just stubbed my toe,” Sweetums said.

    “Oh...good. Those Pesties give me the creeps. Ya know, they say they can suck the breath out of you while ya sleep! Yeesh...well, come on in, ya shaggy lump, haw haw haw!”

    Newsie let out the breath he’d been holding. He attempted to dust off a large chunk of bricks and sat upon it, checking his watch with his flashlight. “I hope this won’t be a long wait. How much time do you think we should give him?”

    He jerked, startled, when Rhonda hopped up on his knee. She scowled and brushed back her hair. “Don’t get any funny ideas, sunshine. I just don’t want to get my new dress dirty...not that it’s a particularly expensive one...” She shrugged, settling uncomfortably. “Who knows? But we need that footage! I’m hoping to post the Nofrisko stuff online today, but being able to call it ‘Part One of an In-Depth Investigative Report’ would be fantastic.”

    “I hope we can at least find out how to sneak in there so we can expose whatever it is they’re planning,” Newsie muttered.

    “I hope we actually get the ice cream we were promised,” grumbled Ricky Pestie.


    ---------------------
    A spectral figure slipped unseen through the warren of cells beneath the Ars Moribunda Studios, frowning at what he saw: almost every rough-hewn rock cubicle with iron bars seemed to be occupied. He saw a few Whatnots, a few cute furry creatures, and most disturbingly, human women; Deadly watched from a bend in the corridor while two large, toothy Frackles forced one of the young women to put on a fancy evening gown and a string of pearls. Good heavens, what is this? This had better not be what it looks like, or I’ll –

    “Come on, come on, hurry up,” the green Frackle with bushy black eyebrows yawned, checking his watch. “You wanna be the featured girlfriend tonight, don’t you? We don’t let just anyone onto ‘I Married a Monster’, you know!”

    “Please, please let me go,” the woman begged. “Look, I don’t want to be on any TV show, I just want to go home, please!”

    “Hey JC, I think she needs more motivation,” the pink Frackle with a buzzardlike nose snickered.

    The green one sighed. “Look, I don’t have time for this! You have been selected out of literally thousands of potential monster-girls to be on the newest, hippest, most popular ‘Bachelor’ style monster show! Let’s hustle! Come on, work it, girl! The monster at the end of the show is only gonna pick one of you!”

    The young woman cried as she was dragged from the cell, “But I don’t want to marry a monster! I’m not a monster!”

    “Oh, don’t worry,” JC assured her as they led her off. “We’ll take care of that for you. Would you like to be green, blue, or orange?”

    Deadly shook his head, grimacing. Whatever was going on here, it was stranger than any convention of spooks he’d ever attended... Even that one back in ‘ninety-six where they stuffed Thog into a pool full of lime Jell-o. He turned a corner into the next cell block, and swiftly melted into the shadows when a thundering figure stomped into view, led by a far shorter monster which seemed to be mostly wild hair. “So’s this guy’s your favorite host, huh? I kinda like him myself. That bit last night on Carl where he got regurgitated by Big Mama was hilarious!”

    “Uh...sure!” a deep and rumbling voice agreed, and Deadly almost gave away his cover, popping his head forward in astonishment: he knew that voice!

    The monster led Sweetums right to a cell where a forlorn pale yellow Muppet sat on a plain concrete bunk. “Hey Snookie. Ya got a fan come ta see ya!”

    “I’m busy,” the Muppet answered, continuing to simply sit with his head down.

    “Get up before I bring the naked biting mole rats on sticks in here,” the hairy monster snarled. “Be nice to your fans!”

    With a sigh, Snookie rose and looked up...and up. He swallowed at the sight of the enormous troll peering curiously at him; the troll seemed to be studying his face closely. “There ya go. He’s not allowed out ‘til the next show taping in ten minutes. You’re lucky to even catch him down here; he’s been busy every day this past week!”

    “Uh...hi!” the troll boomed, wedging his massive hand against the bars. “Pleased ta meet ya! I’m Sweetums!”

    “...Right,” Snookie said, stepping no closer to the bars. “What...what exactly is it you want?”

    “Oh! Uh...” The troll scratched his head, then perked. “Oh! Could you, uh, sign an autograph for me?”

    “Huge fan,” the monster added.

    Snookie nodded. “Yeah. I see that.” Reluctantly he came to the edge of the bars, staring up at the troll, who had to stoop slightly under the rough-carved ceiling. “What did you expect me to write with?”

    “Uh...uh...oh. I didn’t bring a pen...”

    The hairy monster shrugged. “Eh, I’ll go get ya one. Hang on. Don’t eat him while I’m gone, okay? The boss would be mad.”

    Sweetums nodded, and the monster trotted off. As soon as he was out of sight, Sweetums leaned over and said in his quietest rumble, “I got a message for you!”

    “Here’s one for you,” Snookie muttered, caught in the whoosh of breath from the troll’s big mouth. “Floss much?”

    His disdain turned to surprise when the troll shoved a small piece of paper through the bars. “Here! This is from your cousin!”

    “My...?” Snookie accepted the paper; it was a photograph of a yellow, long-faced Muppet in a brown plaid sports coat, smiling as he held onto a lovely, dark-haired, tall young woman with amazing cheekbones. “Who...?”

    The monster returned; instinctively Snookie tucked the photo into his pocket. “One pen. Here ya go.”

    “Uh...great!” Realizing he didn’t have any paper, Sweetums thought a moment, then reached into a pocket of his torn workpants and pulled out a half-crushed but still-wriggling beetle. “Here! Could ya make it out ‘to my biggest fan’?”

    Snookie winced, but with the guard right there giving him the evil eye, he tried his best to sign the back of the bug without actually touching it. “Haw haw haw! Thanks!” Sweetums bellowed. Nodding, the guard monster tugged his arm.

    “Great, great. Hey listen, it’s wonderful you finally came by. Someone wants to talk to you about, uh, how you could maybe help us out. Why doncha come downstairs, and we can have us a little chit-chat?”

    “Uh, okay! But I can’t stay long; I’m meeting some friends for ice cream,” Sweetums said, frowning.

    “Oh sure, sure! This’ll only take a sec.” The monster threw a nasty look at Snookie as they left. “You behave. Someone’ll come get you in a couple minutes. You’re due on set for ‘Swift Wits’.”

    Snookie, for once, made no reply, waiting tensely until the monsters’ voices faded down the corridor. Then he unfolded the photograph and stared at it. My...my cousin? Well that’s certainly not Jethro or Mikey or Maryann...who the heck? Turning over the picture, he saw the note hastily but neatly writ on the back: “Been looking for you for months; didn’t know about you ‘til recently or I would have come sooner! Your father was my mother Florabeth’s brother. Hang on, help is on the way. –Aloysius Crimp.”

    Stunned, Snookie dropped onto his bunk, ignoring the dull pain this sent up his rear. Florabeth... Vaguely, he could recall his father having mentioned that sister, some sort of black sheep type who’d gone to New York and had a whirlwind marriage to a sailor. He’d never heard of another cousin from that side of the family! And yet... He looked at the photo again. There did seem to be something of a family resemblance. He has Grampa’s nose...poor sap. Holy frog. This has to be for real! Trembling, he kept turning the picture over and over, staring at the unknown Muppet and then rereading the note. Who’s the chick? She’s cute...wonder what she sees in him. Wow. Guess things really HAVE changed aboveground...a Muppet dating someone with no felt! He shook his head in wonder; his parents would have been horrified at the very thought. Snookie himself rejected that sort of bigotry, but even so, he found it hard to accept that this sort of pairing was acceptable to society at large... Well, you’ve been down here a long time. They say even Trump has admirers these days, so who knows what’s possible? Hearing approaching footpads, he tucked the photo under his shirt. His mind kept playing the note over and over as he walked escorted to the next studio of the day, outwardly silent, inwardly in turmoil. He’s coming to find me? How? Those guys’d eat him in a flat second if he tried! But...if he has a troll friend...a Muppet friends with a troll? Once again, he shook his head in wonder. “Holy flying frog, what’s the world coming to?” he muttered.

    “Huh...haven’t you heard, dude? The freaks will inherit the earth!” one of his guards jibed, and the other burst into laughter so harsh Snookie winced, and would have covered his ears had his arms not been restrained.

    Deadly paid little attention to them, instead slinking after Sweetums. One of the Muppet monsters paying a visit to the show host, and giving him some sort of contraband...the others telling the troll he can help them with something...what under earth is going on down here? With a thrash of his tail, the dragon easily tracked his quarry by the smell of bugs and onions, heading for the next level down, still full of questions and feeling more unpleasant by the minute.
    --------------------
    Ruahnna likes this.
  9. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    What a nice distraction to find this today.

    Naked biting mole rats on sticks = nippersticks, from the Labyrinth right?
    The bit with the Pesties was funny, especially when they get to grumbling about that place in New York everybody wants to know how to get to.
    *Hopes nothing happens to those two waiting outside on the tracks...
    *Continues trekking onwards as the phantomly dragon skulks his way into the inner workings of MMN's studios.

    More when you can post it please. :zany:
  10. miss kermie

    miss kermie Well-Known Member

    Ok, I finally got my lazy butt to read this whole thing!

    All I can say, is more Please!!!
  11. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    ----------
    Thank you! Working on it, though I became sidetracked with an issue bugging me after watching the movie again...

    Any comments or critiques appreciated, folks! :news:

    -------------
  12. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Fiendly little bump in the night.
  13. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Thank you...working on it, ideas bashing around in my skull...almost done with the final/third part of "Uncredited Performances" and then it's back to this!

    Still waiting on a reproduction book of circa 1910s Halloween books I ordered last week. Should give some inspiration. :news:
    -----------------
  14. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Well, you know you can always contact me since I need inspiration as well for the last 40 or so souls to gather to finish off my own tally. Though I am itching to start write-ups again, unsure if the Tim Burton spooks should be concentrated within the 401-500 block or spread throughout the entirety of the numbering of all haunts. Same for the demons. :sigh:
  15. Ruahnna

    Ruahnna Well-Known Member

    Okay--the part about the goldfish is the sort of thing that happens backstage at The Muppet Show all the time--it just usually happens to Kermit or Fozzie. Nice to see it happening again, and to someone else! (Although I don't really see Scooter as the fish-owning type--he strikes me as the sort to have something soft to cuddle instead. Maybe his Uncle Grosse wouldn't allow him to have a pet....)

    I have to confess that I am NOT as icky-horror sort of person, but I'm still hanging in there because the story is so good. The number of disgusting things that have been consumed--or have been consumed disgustingly--is approaching a new record, with Sweetum's breakfast wriggling at the top. I'm never going to view the Sesame Street monsters the same way again....

    You actually made me go and look up the Pesties to see if I could remember what they looked like. (Also made me think of the stone faces from Labyrinth who foretold Doom and Gloom until told to hush....)

    I like Rhonda's gallow's humor--or would that be "sewer's humor"--before they embark on their adventure.

    Wonders idly what Sweetum's "croc" shoes would look like, and whether or not they would have Kermit and Beaker croc plugs in them....

    Keep going, sweetie!
    The Count likes this.
  16. Ruahnna

    Ruahnna Well-Known Member

    Whew! Finally caught up!

    I like the peeks of genuine intellect from Sweetums. One always suspects that every muppet has more going on behind the surface than you actually see. I really FELT for Sweetums when both Rhonda and Newsie were pestering him--pesties, indeed!

    I like that Deadly has his, er, back up about what is going on down below the city. It is about time that someone dealt with it, monster to monster. Have people actually been devoured/destroyed by the monsters? Or do they just keep, um, cycling around everyone's digestive tract? (Perhaps a good case of the flu would end everyone's problems.) I know the fungus performer was devoured, and some other monsters were devoured, but are actual people being eaten? I can't tell for certain but it is squeamish-making.

    I am glad Snookie has some hope to buoy him out of the jaws of, um, despair. His own acts of valor may be needed when this all comes down, and I want him to be there for Newsie like Newsie is trying to be for him. Courage, down-trodden journalist!
  17. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Thanks Ru! I've always felt aspects of the Muppet monsters could be horrific if treated more seriously...perhaps it only takes a good Hitler rant to bring out the beast in them, hm? I give you...

    Part Thirty-two

    The sounds of whining power drills driving home screws, shouts and footsteps clanging from the grid, and heavy metal by Nine Inch Snails nearly overwhelming all else were familiar, even comforting sounds to Gina. She only looked up from her task of attaching loose-pin hinges to a series of flats when someone tapped her elbow. She pulled her finger off the trigger of her Makita, looking back – and then down, and finally saw the orange, lugubrious-looking Whatnot standing beside her. “Oh, uh, hi,” she yelled over the pounding music. “Can I help you?”

    “Abernathy Bland,” the blue-haired Whatnot announced. He frowned up at the noise. “Could you turn that off?”

    Gina waved her arms at the light booth until one of the other techies noticed. Gina yelled, pointed at the speakers, and made “cut” motions until the new electrician understood and turned down the sound. Gina looked back at the Whatnot. “Hi. Something I can help you with?” she asked. While people generally didn’t wander into tech builds in the middle of the day at the small theatre, it wasn’t unheard of, so she tried to be polite. A few other techies were stopping work and looking on, curious.

    “I’m here to discuss the awards ceremony set-up with your production coordinator,” Bland said, removing a fat sheaf of papers from a briefcase.

    “Awards...? Oh. The thing this weekend?” Gina asked, and the skinny orange Whatnot nodded. He glanced around at the other workers with what might have been distaste, or merely bafflement.

    “Whom should I speak to about the lighting and sound and the stage set-up?”

    Gina shot a look across the room at the theatre’s technical manager, Mike, who suddenly seemed to be very busy with part of a platform. “Hey, Mike?” Gina called. “There’s someone here to discuss the awards thing coming up. The theatre rental. Weren’t you coordinating –“

    The portly, bearded man in painter’s overalls wiped his hands on his seat and waved dismissively. “Uh, nope, that one’s all yours! You know the upcoming build schedule better than I do; you’d be better at figuring out what needs to go where! Besides, uh, my kids have a dance recital that night. Can’t do it.” Flashing a grin at her, her boss sauntered towards the green room. “Hey, anyone else feel like a break?”

    Gina glared after the rest of them as the space quickly emptied. She turned back to the lawyer. “I guess you’re talking with me, Mr Bland.” She studied him a moment as he nodded and looked around for someplace to set all his paperwork. “Um, you can spread your stuff out on that platform behind you. Are you...are you with that Muppet law firm?”

    “Ah yes! You’ve heard of us,” Bland smiled, though it faded immediately as he realized a thin layer of sawdust coated the platform. He whisked off a spot with a pristine handkerchief, looking regretful at having to dirty it.

    “You guys are handling Newsie’s discrimination case against KRAK.”

    “Oh! You know the Muppet Newsman?” Gingerly, Bland seated himself on the edge of the elevated plywood. Gina dropped onto it a couple of feet away, ignoring the dustcloud she sent wafting toward the lights.

    “He’s my...my partner,” Gina explained. She never knew how to refer to her beloved to other people; boyfriend seemed inadequate, and lover too clinical somehow, and love of my life too intimate for situations like this. “My...significant Muppet.”

    “Ah. I see. Well, Miss...”

    “Broucek.”

    “Actually, if that’s the case, my partner – law partner – Mr Blander is handling the Newsman’s case, so you’d have to ask him any details concerning its status. Shall we take a look at the stage plans my administrative assistant drew up?”

    “Sure,” Gina replied, a little put off by the lawyer’s careful neutrality. His stony expression when she’d explained what Newsie meant to her made her wonder whether the Whatnot personally disapproved of a Muppet being involved with a non-felted woman. I guess reverse discrimination isn’t covered by their tolerance campaign. “What were you guys wanting?”

    “Well, no doubt you’ve heard we are renting your little hall here for the entire evening of the twenty-ninth, from four p.m. until midnight. There will be a formal dinner, which we’ve arranged for Johnny Fiama’s Pasta Kitchen-Without-No-More-Plays to cater, so we’ll of course need space for them to set up their warming ovens. You do use two-hundred-twenty volt outlets? Good. The tables ought to be set up here, here, here, and there; and perhaps these platforms might serve for the awards stage, assuming you can paint them bright gold, as befits –“

    “Wait, hold on,” Gina interrupted, pulling the precisely-sketched diagram away from the Muppet to study it, looking from it to the actual stage space of the black-box theatre they sat in. “Uh, okay, we could pull up some of the masking curtains in the wing for the caterers to set up, I guess; and yeah, there should be room for you to set up tables along the front here; we can just move back the audience platforms, but –“

    “Oh no, no; perhaps your employer hasn’t made our needs clear beforehand,” Bland said, his heavy-lidded eyes blinking slowly. “Your staff must have the tables set and ready for us at four o’clock Saturday.”

    “Mr Bland, we’re not a party rental service. You bring your own tables.”

    “Oh...I see,” Bland muttered, frowning. “Well, that’s a little less than we were expecting for what you’re charging.”

    “We don’t have buffet tables, Mr Bland. We do have an assortment of prop furniture in storage, but I’m guessing you weren’t really wanting a cast-iron ice-cream-parlor table next to a midcentury modern coffee table.” Gina frowned right back, inwardly cursing Mike. She had enough to deal with, trying to get the build for two separate shows done in the next few days so that rehearsals for both could begin while paint and lighting commenced immediately after Halloween! Just because she was serving as tech director and designer for next month’s shows didn’t mean she had time or patience to take on this kind of silly customer service! She pushed the floorplan back at Bland. “Tell you what. If you get the tables here by four, I’ll have a couple of our guys help your guys set ‘em up. Now, the platforms: yes you can use them, but there won’t be time to paint them gold or anything else. I suggest you bring a couple of dropcloths to drape over them. We have some you can use, but they’re all grey. Now if that’s acceptable, we can have those in place by Saturday.”

    “Grey? But this is an awards ceremony for our biggest MADL donors!”

    Oh, wonderful, Gina thought. Newsie had told her of his run-ins at the Occupy camp with some of the MADL reps. Lucky him; he’ll be at his theatre that night for the usual show. “Well, Mr Bland,” she sighed, “This is really short notice. Your choices are: let us put down some plain cloths for you, or bring your own, or leave the stage platforms bare wood.” She thumped the one they sat on for emphasis. Bland looked glumly at it, then shrugged.

    “Very well...grey. We needn’t spend too much on overhead, you understand, Ms Broucek, since this is supposed to be a fundraiser as much as a ceremony to recognize those Muppets who’ve contributed the most to the cause this year. Ahem.” He checked his rider – no, list of demands, Gina corrected herself, suppressing a smile. “Now, as to music...”

    The negotiations continued another hour; work resumed around them, although people tried to drill or hammer quietly. Gina ignored the noise; this was work which needed to proceed to make their production schedule, and the stuffy lawyer could just suck it up and deal. Bland, though discomfited, went through every item on his long list of requirements. Finally he repacked his briefcase, and handed Gina a duplicate copy of the list and the groundplan. Gina sat adding up the number of employees they’d absolutely need, thinking that as much as he obviously wished non-involvement, Mike was still going to have to approve all of this and pick the crew to work that night. “Okay...so this is a four-person crew, minimum. You do realize most of our crew are IATSE, right?”

    “They’re what?”

    “Theatre techies’ union. Which means certain pay rates are going to be in effect.”

    “Oh,” Bland said, twitching his thick mustache with well-groomed felt fingers. “Well. Perhaps some of our members could volunteer instead...”

    “They can usher if they want. That’s about it.” Gina stood, retying her hair back with a skull-bejeweled scrunchie, enjoying the uneasy look on the Whatnot’s face. “Sorry. Rules and laws and so on. I’m sure you understand.”

    “Of course,” Bland murmured. “Well...perhaps we don’t really need a spotlight...”

    “I’m sure the awards will be just as impressive without it.”

    “Very well. Please finalize the crew list today so we can make identification badges for them. We wouldn’t want any of the wrong element sneaking in to disrupt the festivities, you see,” Bland said, unaffected by Gina’s look of surprise.

    “Today? Mr Bland, that may be impossible; my supervisor will have to be the one to organize that, and as you can see he’s very bus...” Gina looked around to see absolutely no sign of Mike. She let out a harsh sigh. “Nowhere to be found, probably went home. Look, we’ll send you a personnel list as soon as we can, all right?”

    “Very well,” Bland sniffed. “I’m prepared to be lenient. After all, I understand the non-felted are often not quite as efficient or speedy as we are. That’s perfectly understandable, given your slower metabolisms.”

    Gina gave him an incredulous look, then shook her head, biting her tongue. Good lord. Wait’ll Newsie hears all this. He might want to go to a different law firm! “We’ll be in touch, Mr Bland. Um, when you see your partner, would you please tell him my live-in, very much felted and efficient partner would like to speak with him as soon as he has some information about Newsie’s case?”

    Bland, already five steps away, paused and looked back. “Er...I assumed he was already working closely with the Newsman?”

    “Uh, we haven’t heard from him since the party this past Saturday.”

    “But...” Bland suddenly appeared something other than haughty or bored: he looked worried. “I...I haven’t heard from him in days either! I assumed he must be busy with that case...he hasn’t even checked into the office.”

    “I don’t know where he is,” Gina said, annoyed. “He didn’t ride back home with us. I had the distinct impression he had something against rats. Or maybe you both have something against non-Muppets, period.”

    “I am sure you’re not accusing the prestigious firm of Bland and Blander of anything like species discrimination,” the Whatnot muttered low. He shook his head. “I’ll...I’ll see if perhaps his assistant can track him down. I know he was very excited about the Newsman’s case; it stands to be a groundbreaker. And for the record, Ms Broucek: we at Bland and Blander support every Muppet’s right to pursue the lifestyle they wish...even those who seem to favor, ahem, more untraditional ones. Good day.”

    What is this, Nineteen-sixty? I bet they only recently removed the water fountain in their office labeled ‘nonfelted only’, Gina thought, shaking her head in amazed contempt. She glared around at the techies giving her frankly curious stares. “Allll right, nothing to see here, move it along,” she yelled at them in her best faux brogue. A few of them chuckled, and most bent back to their tasks of building platforms, stretching flats, or rigging backdrop canvases. However, as Gina resumed the project she’d been tackling before the lawyer dropped by, she wondered, Who DID Blander ride back to the city with, anyway? She thought hard about Fozzie’s party; she vaguely remembered the blue Whatnot in his silly bird costume hanging around the dinner buffet boring a group of chickens with a discourse on better benefits for feathered creatures under a new Muppet-animal agreement before the state legislature...but was he at the bonfire? Where had he bunked in the farmhouse? Was he even there at that point? Did anyone else leave early? I thought maybe he rode with Sam, they seemed to hit it off...but why hasn’t he called Newsie since then? Why hasn’t he talked to his own office?

    The scent of fresh sawdust, never a favorite of hers, but something she regarded as a necessary evil for work around here, didn’t perturb her as much as the growing recognition of something much fouler smelling about the whole situation.


    ---------------------
    Uncle Deadly moved silent and unseen through the rough-hewn corridors far below the Chinatown streets, all he observed proving more strange than enlightening thus far. He’d watched an angry-seeming, birdlike monster with pink wings growling unintelligibly as it hosted something about monsters driving big rigs from coast to coast. He’d listened in on a meeting between a long-snouted doglike reptile and a group of frightened-seeming Frackles, concerning whom might be taking over host duties for some of the other employees after what they kept referring to as “Dark Ascension Night”; the Frackles’ enthusiasm for the proposed assignments seemed to Deadly to be rather forced, but the doglizard thing appeared satisfied. And now, as he moved slowly through the shadows, a canned growl throughout the corridors from some sort of public address system announced, “Monster Rally in the Great Hall in five minutes! Everyone assemble for the Rally! Secure all hosts and contestants in holding cells for the duration of the Rally!”

    What the blazes is that? Deadly wondered. He’d seen, and felt rather disturbed by, the holding cells on the level above this one and below the show-taping studios. Since when did respectable fiends lock up Muppets, Whatnots, cute furry animals, and even young women? Certainly, he’d carted off a squealing soprano or three in his day...it was the natural impulse of every virile young monster to do so, preferably while laughing maniacally, but one always allowed them to go free once they passed out. It was the getting, not the having, wherein lay the sport of it! Why these monsters would cage anyone was beyond Deadly’s ken... Perhaps this ‘Rally’ will address the issue? Perhaps they’ll have hot dogs and cheerleaders, too...hmm. Worth a look, I suppose. He watched a number of monsters of all ilk hurrying along an adjacent tunnel, and fell in behind them, certain that his dragonly good looks would protect him from discovery.

    Everyone hastened into an enormous cave dripping with ragged stalactites and reeking of wet, unwashed fur and things left too long mouldering in dark corners. Deadly breathed deeply, pleased at the overall atmosphere. “This is delightful,” he murmured to himself, as he took up a perch behind a stumpy, broken stalagmite in a niche near the back. “I wonder if I could persuade the frog to build me something like, perhaps just off that basement hallway...”

    “Issss everyone here?” that same lizardy canine thing shouted over the rumble and growl of hundreds of monsters jostling for the few actual seats in the cavern. “Attention, all of you wormsss! Your mossst disssgussting lord and massster ssspeaksss!”

    “That crawling, flea-bitten blackguard is their leader?” Deadly asked, surprised.

    A small orange Frackle with so many teeth it couldn’t close its mouth all the way muttered at him, “Mo, foopid! Daf fuft da boffef wight-hand monfah!” It nodded in awe at the enormous flatscreen which winked into life at the far end of the cavern, where two red beams of eyeballs shot out from the darkness which shifted and settled. “Daf da boff!” The Frackle quieted immediately; a hush fell over all the assemblage.

    “My dear little minions,” a deep, flowing voice crooned, amplified so that it reverberated painfully off the cave formations; one of the smaller stalactites fell to the floor with a high tinkling sound. “We now have only six more nights before the event which you all await with baited breath...and some with actual bait,” the voice chuckled, “The Grand Dark Ascension! It is meet that at this time we take a moment to reflect upon what this will mean for us all...

    “It means no more sunshine,” the voice continued; a happy murmur rose and subsided in the crowd. Every monster, Deadly noticed, from a giant furry bulk which made Sweetums look tiny to a darting yellow mosquito-thing with teeth, trembled and shied away from those lasers of red light sweeping the audience from the screen, even though all of them hung eagerly on every word. “It means no more blue skies, only black clouds, and howling wind, and driving rain, and grime spread through the city streets evermore! It means the end of all happiness for all the men and Muppets living above us, insensitive to our needs, our wishes, our appetites! It means all the screams and shrieks and sobbing in terror you could ever wish to season your prey before you gulp it down still kicking and flailing!”

    Deadly looked around, startled, at the yells and growls of approval which went up at that pronouncement. What the Saint Olivier is all this? Concerned, he drew back behind the lump of calcium carbonate sheltering him as the whole room trembled. Several more pointed daggers of stone crashed to the floor; the yelps and squeaks of those caught under the missiles went largely unregarded in the general roar.

    “Yes, my fellow denizens of the deep, my brotherly bugbears and sisterly spiderkin! Yes! Oh, you cannot with your tiny brains even imagine the glory which awaits us, the true inheritors of the earth, when we have finally subjugated the nice, the good, the cute and the happy morons who traipse streets above us which rightfully should be ours! When I am arrayed in my full might and power, I will return to the world above which so mocked and scorned me, and I shall open wide the sewers and the drains for all of you, and the city will fall into a darkness and bleakness so profound as to know no end, no relief – a darkness, my horrible ones, brought about by your teeth, your claws, your halitosis!” The monsters roared loudly, and another few dozen stalactites crashed. On the giant screen, darkness moved in darkness, and the outline of heavy hands upraised in fervent joy could barely be seen as those red eyes roved the room.

    “Obey me, all of you, and reap the reward of your loyalty – I shall give you more frightened little people than you could eat in fifty years! This city has millions of foolish creatures, my frightening children, millions of soft bodies to swallow, millions of flittering little hearts to beat in terror as you chase them through the endless maze of buildings above! Can you feel their fear? Can you taste their terror, my children? Can you?”

    “Yeeeeesss!” the crowd howled, pounding the floor, leaping and laughing. The rest of the ceiling fell in chunks, and the monsters howled louder, fists upraised. Deadly stared at them, horrified.

    What absurd nonsense is this? Don’t they know that can never happen? What good is terrifying people if it becomes the standard, not the surprise? What fun is a dark corner if there is no sunlight to make people think they can escape? How is this lunatic planning on bringing all this about – or is he only stringing these fools along? Deadly shook his head, staying well out of sight, as the monsters continued to cheer. The black figure on the black screen gestured for silence, red eyes sweeping the crowd, and slowly they quieted once more.

    “But none of this wondrous change will take place if you do not follow me, my dear dungeon-dwellers! Only I can make this city a paradise for monsters! Remember I am not just your leader, I am the paragon of monsterdom: I am the darkness, I am the one who sees into the hearts of men and Muppets alike and knows how best to terrify them, how to undermine their whole society to bring about this new, horrible era of the Rule of Monsters! Heed not any who say these lesser creatures bleed like us, eat like us, feel like us! They do not! Only the Glorious Monster Race will be permitted to exist in the coming age of supreme darkness! Keep your thoughts pure and focused on this! Allow no doubt in your miniscule brains, no pity for them in your cold little hearts! Only the true monsters will triumph! Only us!” The voice raged, echoes making creatures wince and cringe throughout the room, but then all of them cheered, ragged voices raised in a cacophony of screeches and growls.

    “This is madness,” Deadly muttered, astonished. The monsters chanted, their voices louder and louder: Un-der-lord! Un-der-lord! “Madness!” Deadly whispered, backing away.

    Suddenly those lasers of crimson sliced through him; startled, he looked down at the beams disturbing his ethereal body...and then realized everyone had turned to look as well. “Er, ahh...heh heh...salutations, fellow ghouls!” Deadly said heartily, lifting one hand in a vague wave.

    “Does this one not work with the Muppets?” the dark lord murmured. A chill flew through the room. Shivering despite himself, Deadly backed away another step.

    “Er...not so much with them,” Deadly said. “I haunt the Muppet Theatre, ‘tis true; but I assure you, I take much joy in scaring them out of their tiny little wits on a weekly basis...”

    “Daidlee? Iz zat you?” Blind Pew cried out, staggering into the clearing rapidly forming around Deadly; no one wanted to appear to be standing next to the phantom dragon right now. “Mon ami! Ah can vouch for him, mah despicable oogliness: Daidlee has always been one scareee monstair!”

    “Quite so, old bean, quite so,” Deadly murmured, feeling distinctly unwelcome; the crowd edged forward, eyes narrowing, claws glinting in the eerie green glow suffusing the room.

    “That remains to be determined,” the dark figure on the screen said, its voice low and silky.

    “Oh, come on, I can tell by your diction you’ve done some stage work,” Deadly protested. “Haven’t you heard of acting? Really, do you think I’d associate with those...those...Muppets? Heh heh...when I so clearly am horns and whiskers above their ilk in talent and sheer charm and presence!” Silence fell; the monsters looked back at the screen for guidance.

    “Get him,” the voice said simply. Three or four hundred monsters surged at Deadly.

    “You fools! Beeeewaaaare!” Deadly cried, spreading the wings of his cloak wide; the leading edge of malfeasants fell back, startled. Deadly bolted. Phantom or no, he didn’t like the smell of this anymore. Not one whiff.

    He ran, desperately trying to recall which corridors he’d come through, which turns led to what tunnels, wishing he had the ability like some spooks to simply think himself back to his final resting-place. He remembered to vanish, but then tripped over an abandoned cart of spider eggs in a dark tunnel, and shouts of pursuit began to catch up to him. Suddenly he emerged through a jagged great hole in a wall into a brick-lined tunnel, some vestige of the first subways from the turn of the last century. He leaped forward, intending to jump a gap in the floor – and crashed back down, stunned, in a heap of tattered eveningwear. He sat up slowly, feeling as though he’d run face-first into an invisible wall, and then heard the soft trickle of water. Oh NO! You must be joking! he thought, staring down in horror at the tiny rivulet of filthy water flowing along the bottom of the floor. Had he been alive, it would have presented absolutely no problem, but being a ghost wasn’t always a plus...

    Running water! “Oh, come on, that can’t possibly count!” he cried aloud, realized he was visible, and whirled. A crowd of ugly, snarling monsters, fangs bared and compound eyes glittering, poured from the hole in the tunnel wall, advancing on him.

    Deadly remembered a story the legendary Phantom of the Opera had told him early one morning while they shared a coffee break during the last film shoot. “The living are gullible, no matter what the species,” the Phantom had advised the dragon. “Why, once, when I was cornered in the catacombs of Paris...”

    Deadly took a deep breath, narrowed his eyes down to pinpricks of evil green, and built up a truly menacing chuckle. “Mwah ha ha, ha ha ha... mmmwwooooaaahh ha ha ha ha ha!” Raising his cloak high over his head, teeth all exposed in his wide-laughing snout, Deadly took a step toward the crowd. Uncertainly, they fell back. Still laughing crazily, the Phantom of the Muppet Theatre took another step toward them, menacing; and another, and another. Confused, the monsters scrambled back, tripping over one another...until a tiny blue Frackle yelped.

    “You guys – anybody got a spectral net? He’s only a ghost!”

    Although the Frackle was instantly squashed by the misstep of a hefty furred thing with long spiraling horns, the crowd muttered and looked at one another. Deadly paused, his laugh dying in his throat, his eyes flicking from side to side, but he could see no way around the crowd. A monster near the back called out in a low, puzzled voice, “Uh, yeah...I do! But...what good’s that?”

    “You idiot,” a goblin snarled, snatching the filmy silver net from the dullard. He turned back toward Deadly, holding the one item guaranteed to trap a ghost which didn’t involve splitting plasma beams. Slowly the goblin grinned.

    “Now wait just a—“ Deadly said.

    The crowd fell on him.


    -------------------
    Newsie and Rhonda sat on a mostly-unstuffed sofa in the green room, staring intently at the laptop screen on the wooden bench before them. “I’ve never seen so many monsters in one place,” Newsie muttered nervously.

    “Sweetums, what are they all doing down there?” Rhonda asked.

    The puzzled troll scratched his head. “Uhhh...makin’ TV shows, I guess? They seemed like really nice guys. See there, that guy gave me his hamsterburger! Haw haw haw!” His enormous finger pointed out the intimidated-looking Frackle handing a wriggling thing between sesame-seed buns up to the troll, captured on the hidden camera.

    “Eeesh,” Newsie shuddered.

    “Uh...yeah. I see that. So they, uh, they didn’t tell you why they’re doing all this?” Rhonda tried again. Newsie stared at the Frackle onscreen, surprised to find he sympathized with the frightened look the small monster was giving the troll.

    Sweetums shrugged. “Uh, that one guy, I think his name was Harry, he took me down to some kinda office and asked me to sign somethin’. I told him I, uh, I didn’t get that far in kindergarten, though, so he just made an ‘X’ for me. Somethin’ about Santa...no, Klaus...yeah, that was it. Some kinda clause, I think he said; but I didn’t understand what that had to do with cons.” His eyes widened. “Uh, hey! Aren’t cons like criminals? I’m not a criminal!”

    “No, big guy, you’re not,” Rhonda assured him. “A...a confidentiality clause?”

    “Yeah! That was it!” Sweetums chuckled and rolled his eyes, abashed. “Huh huh...you called me ‘big’ again.”

    “What did they ask you to keep secret?” Newsie asked, looking up, ducking quickly as the troll’s huge tongue slurped his triple-dozen-scoop ice cream cone and another scoop of it fell to the floor; this one looked like Rainwater Runoff Ripple. Newsie scooted his laptop a little farther from the corner of the bench where Green Pistachio Goo and Peanut Tarantula made sloppy dissolving puddles.

    “Oh! Uh...well if I told you about the monsters taking over the city on Halloween night, it wouldn’t be a secret, right?” Sweetums rumbled, happily licking his ice cream cone.

    “Yeahh...gotcha,” Rhonda said. “Did they say how?”

    “How what?”

    “How they’re planning on taking over the city!” Newsie barked, worried. He glanced at his producer, who looked, for once, just as concerned. I was RIGHT! he thought, but this brought him no sense of personal triumph.

    “Oh, uh...hey! How’d you guys know about that?” Sweetums demanded, frowning.

    “It’s okay, Sweetums. You can trust us. We bought ya ice cream, remember?” Rhonda sighed.

    “Huh huh...’course I remember! This stuff is great! Hey, uh...can we go on another underground expedition again tomorrow?”

    “Er...maybe soon,” Newsie offered. “Please, Sweetums, this is really important! What exactly did they say the plan was?” They’d been through the footage thoroughly once already, but in places the troll’s fur had clogged the small mic of the camera and garbled the sound.

    “Oh, uh...somethin’ about, ‘elevatin’ the dark underlord to Supreme Monsterdom an’ sacrificin’ all the Muppets who stand in the way of pure unhappiness sweepin’ over the city forevermore.’” At the stunned looks on his friends’ faces, Sweetums bent over and whispered loudly, “Between you an’ me, though, I’m pretty sure he was speakin’ semaphorically.”

    “Erg,” Newsie choked, eyes wide.

    Rhonda recovered first, and patted the ankle of the shaggy troll. “Uh...okay. Thanks, big guy. Go enjoy your ice cream.”

    “’Big guy,’” Sweetums rumbled, grinning. With a pleased shake of his head, he lumbered off, a crowd of rats eagerly trailing after him with tiny spoons, scooping up the melting debris in his wake.

    “R-rhonda?” Newsie stammered.

    “This ain’t good,” the rat murmured. “All right, look. Let’s post this online right away. I’ll do a fast edit tying it into the Nofrisko footage and the...the bug-thing. You start working on writing a voiceover, and let’s get the word out! At the very least it’ll warn people there’s something nasty going on!”

    “I told you it was all a monsterish plot,” Newsie muttered. “I told you!”

    “Fine. Have you got all the I-told-you-sos out of your system yet? In case you haven’t noticed, this is a serious news story, and we have no broadcast anymore! The best we can hope for is a podcast, which my friend at the Times has reluctantly agreed to link to from their ‘Happenings Around Town’ page!”

    “What?” Newsie started, then scowled. “But this is serious! This isn’t some socialite giving a karaoke appearance at an uptown bar, this is a warning about monsters planning the city’s total takeover from a secret base under the sewers!”

    “You and I know that, but we’ve lost our journalistic standing,” Rhonda griped. “Check your email; I got a notice that Blanke’s revoked our press badges!”

    “What?” Newsie blanched. “He—he can’t do that!”

    “Unfortunately, he can. You know they only hand those things out to legit reporters working for legit media outlets, and since we’re suspended and probably gonna get fired –“

    “But this is awful!” Newsie pulled his prized badge from his wallet and stared at it longingly; he’d worked so hard just to earn one of these, the ultimate status symbol for any newsman working in the biggest news center on earth! It was the next best thing to a Pulitzer...well, at least, as close as he was likely to ever get...

    “Tell me about it, Sunshine,” Rhonda sighed. “Now I’ll never find a parking place again! But look; we gotta move on this, and I mean yesterday. So you sequester yourself in your little closet over there or whatever you gotta do to get those journalistic juices flowing in your foam and write me a kick-butt, five-minute V.O. for this story while I get all the film spliced together, okay?”

    “O-okay,” Newsie gulped, trying to gather his wits. Halloween night, monsters plan to take over the city? Sacrificing Muppets? Is the theatre safe? We should warn Kermit...cut off the drains completely...post guards...why us? So it’s true monsters think we’re delicious? Shivering, he remembered the pills Dr Honeydew had compounded for him, and dug the bottle out of his coat pocket. The plaid had ripped slightly at one seam when he’d wrested it free of the rusted subway rail finally, but at least he hadn’t lost his phone or this... He took one of the capsules, washing it down with a swig of coffee, wincing at the taste. “Gaaahhh...why does this taste like shrimp?”

    “Jou say somethin’, pointy-head?” Pepe snapped, glaring momentarily as he trotted by with a towel slung around his neck, showing off his new Speedos to the room at large. “Hey, Chef, jou gots my hot tub ready yet?”

    Newsie stared after him. Rhonda sighed. “Fine. Duck around the corner and grab us both cups of something drinkable, why doncha?” She poured her untouched cup into a wastebucket nearby, and focused her attention on the screen, claws clicking across the keyboard. “What if we start with a shot of the bug-thing?” she muttered to herself. “Hmm. Too jarring? Nah...that commercial for Al’s Chicken-Suit Costume Barn is scarier, and they show that every danged hour on KRAS...”

    Turning away, Newsie brought out his phone, thinking, I should call Gina again, make sure she’s okay... Although she hadn’t mentioned anything odd happening at the Sosilly, he wanted to hear her voice right now, just to soothe his nerves. Before he could even scroll through his contact directory, the cell phone rang, startling him. He managed not to drop it. “Er...hello? Muppet Newsman!”

    “Um...hello...this is Nurse Susan at Blucher Memorial...” In the background, Newsie could have sworn he heard a horse neighing for a second.

    “Oh. Yes, is...is my aunt...” He swallowed a dry throat, anxiety of a different cause rising.

    “She...uh...”

    “Just...just tell me. Did she...did she feel any pain?” Newsie asked, his voice rough, eyes closing, bracing himself for the news.

    “She’s awake, Mr Crimp,” the nurse said.

    “She...what?”

    “She’s awake. And she’s asking for you.”

    Newsie stood stock-still, frozen, disbelieving, several seconds. The nurse asked, “Uh...Mr Crimp? Are you there?”

    “I’ll be right there,” Newsie said. He hung up, and somehow found the energy to start moving his feet.

    “Whaddaya think about putting the shot of the Nofrisko building right after the running shot of the monster tunnels, Goldie?” Rhonda asked. When he didn’t reply, she looked up, frowning. “Goldie?”

    The short, golden-yellow-felted reporter had vanished from the Muppet Theatre green room. The rat sighed, shaking her head. “Him and his French-press coffee. I swear, that woman’s spoiled him.” Grumbling, she returned to her task, skimming through files of footage, trying to determine what combination of images would best make this city sit up and take notice, and take heed before the hour grew too late.
    --------------------
  18. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Good update. And yes, I've been up all through the night reading another rivetting fanfic elsewheres. That's the thing about my weird schedule, if I've got something that's gotten a hold of my interest and a workload to power through...

    Anyway. *Jots down the flavors of Sweetums's 36-scoop cone for future use.
    Ethyl? Ethyl awake? Yip yip yip yip yip, uh-huh.
    Gina's starting to put two and two together after interference from the Bland half of the law firm.
    Good references to the spectral catchers' movies what with the subway train and the crossing of the beams. I especially appreciated the flashbacky image of Deadly chatting with Eric under the Parisian pavement. Not afraid for Deadly as he can always disperse crowds thanks to the blue lightning blasts he can discharge unnaturally from his clawed palms. But know this... And consider it as an ominous warning... If any harm befalls my roommate, you shall be faced with my unleashing the vampire king from within my core. No, not my other roommate, rather the true darkness itself who commands Deadly's boss as it's servant. *Evil glare.
    :batty: You can do that?
    Sure. If Kelly's the heir to the Labyrinth then I can equally claim to be the master of monsters. Heck, my friend calls me that all the time.
    :Batty: *quietly, Fright.
    Fragglemuppet and newsmanfan like this.
  19. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Thirty-Three

    It took him a moment to argue his way past a drowsy Bobo, but then the Newsman burst into his aunt’s hospital room, out of breath, heart slamming. “Is she all right? What happened?” he cried. A doctor, a nurse, and his distant cousin Fred all turned to stare at him...although in Fred’s case it was more of a glare. “She’s conscious?” Newsie pressed, heading for the bed.

    The doctor stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “She’s...she’s conscious, yes, but you shouldn’t expect too much, Mr Crimp. We removed her breathing tube because she insisted on speaking...but her pulse is erratic, and it was her wish not to be revived if...”

    “I know,” Newsie gulped, trying to regain his composure. “I understand.” He looked up at Fred, but the taller man merely turned back to Ethel, watching the frail old lady wheezing, her pale hands clutching the sheets. Newsie stepped up to the bed, barely able to peer over the rail. “Aunt Ethel? It...it’s me, Aloysius...”

    Her unfocused gaze trailed around the ceiling. The nurse pushed a chair closer to the bed, and Newsie gave her a thankful nod and climbed up to better see his failing aunt. He took one of her hands in his, giving it a gentle squeeze. “A-aunt Ethel? I’m here...”

    Her eyes slid over to him, and she squinted. “Tell...tell my nephew to come...I have to talk to him...” she whispered.

    Newsie swallowed back rising grief. He gave her a nod, trying to appear confident. “I’m...I’m trying to locate him, Auntie. I’ll bring Chester to you as soon as –“

    “Not Chester,” the old woman spat with startling strength. She leaned forward, wheezing hard. “Aloysius! He works for a newspaper! You have to tell him!”

    Newspaper? I haven’t been with a paper since...since before the Muppet Show hired me... Realizing his aunt still wasn’t in the present moment, Newsie simply nodded at her, trying to reassure; the nurse gently coaxed her to lay back down, and her breathing eased slightly. “What should I tell him?” Newsie asked, his throat feeling thick, his voice hoarse.

    She gazed, unfocused, around the room. Fred paced slowly by the foot of the bed, listening but remaining silent. The doctor murmured something to the nurse and left the room. “Aunt Ethel? What did you need to tell Aloysius?” Newsie prompted.

    “Aloysius?” she asked, appearing confused.

    Eagerly he grasped her hand tighter. “Yes, Auntie...I’m here.”

    She shot him a very focused glare suddenly, and jerked her hand back with a gasp. “You let go of me, you vulture! I’m not dead yet! You’ll get your money soon enough!”

    Shaken, Newsie cringed back, at a loss as to what to say. “N-no, I...Aunt Ethel...”

    “I have to talk to Aloysius!” she yelled, her creaky voice far from the melodious tone he recalled from childhood. “They’re all under the city! They’re evil! He has to warn everyone! Get me Aloysius!”

    “Ethel,” Fred said, his tone sharp enough that she paused and looked at him. Fred placed a hand on Newsie’s shoulder. “This Muppet will make sure Aloysius gets your message. That’s what he’s here for. Tell him.”

    “Oh,” Ethel said, her voice fading again, her scowl smoothing out. “Oh, how nice. Thank you, Fred.” Fred nodded, backing off again. Newsie looked at him, startled, but then his aunt’s faltering fingers took his hand, and she smiled tentatively at him. “You...you know my nephew?”

    “Yes,” Newsie managed to croak out.

    “Then...you have to tell him,” Ethel whispered, glancing furtively around. “This is very important!”

    “Yes?” Newsie leaned in close, tamping down his fear and his dismay, doing his best to be what she needed him to be.

    “There...are...monsters under the city!” Ethel hissed. When he stared at her, she nodded, looking grim. “Oh, yes! Horrible things! Don’t ever ride the last train of the night! I saw them! I saw them...take an old man right off that train! They dragged him down into the tunnels!”

    “They did?” The disappearances ARE because of the monsters! I knew it!

    “Oh yes! They live...down there...they hide, they plot, they’re after all of us,” Ethel assured him, her voice barely a breath. “I saw them! He wasn’t anyone, you know...one of those crazy people who live on the street.” She gave Newsie a deeply serious stare. “Someone whom no one would miss, you see? But they won’t stop at that, oh no...it takes thirty-one lives, you see. They have to have thirty-one for it to work.”

    “Thirty-one lives?” Newsie blinked at her. “I...I don’t understand.”

    She grabbed his hand tightly, squeezing surprisingly hard. “It won’t work without the thirty-one! That’s why they’re doing it! You have to tell Aloysius so he can warn everyone! He’s a reporter! He’ll make them listen!”

    “Warn...warn people that monsters are kidnapping –“

    “Warn them about the storm!” Ethel shouted, startling everyone. “It starts with a storm! Blinding white! Freakish, like them! They’ll start it then! They’ll kill everyone! You tell him! You tell him what they’re doing before it’s too late!”

    She choked, coughed, and fell back against the pillow. Her monitor was beeping loudly. The nurse pushed Newsie aside, checking the readouts, then resettled Ethel’s head on her pillow. Newsie clung to the back of the plastic chair, stunned, staring at the nearly-beige, weary face sinking into the whiteness of the bed. A storm? A freak storm? What does that have to do with...how could she even know...

    “Is there anyone else we should call?” the nurse asked quietly. Newsie stared at her. Fred paused, then shook his head.

    “My sister and her husband have all the kids right now. They know it won’t be long. No point in them rushing over,” Fred replied.

    Newsie swallowed back tears, and with a shaking hand picked up Ethel’s once more; all the strength had left her fingers. He stroked her hand softly. “Aunt Ethel? I’ll...I’ll tell Aloysius...but...how...how do you know any of what the monsters are planning?”

    She fluttered her eyes at him, seeming groggy. “Hmm?”

    “How do you know about the thirty-one lives?” he asked, trying to keep her attention. “And what do you mean, a storm? What kind of storm?”

    “The kind that hides everything,” Ethel whispered. She seemed to be drifting off, her breathing shallow, her eyes barely open.

    “But how do you know?” Newsie insisted.

    She smiled sleepily at him. “I caught one of them. Tied him up and pulled his nose hairs until he confessed, silly! That’s what you do with their kind.” Satisfied, she sighed. “Joe, I want to sleep now. You stop worrying over that account and come to bed.”

    Newsie remained crouched, half-atop the bed, utterly overwhelmed, his aunt’s limp fingers still grasped loosely in his. Fred leaned over the bed, placing a hand on Ethel’s shoulder. “Grandma Ethel...”

    “Oh...yes dear?” She blinked up at him, smiling.

    “Is there anything we can get you, Grandma?”

    “No, thank you, dear. I’m all right. Oh...if you see Homer’s boys, tell them not to go down to the lake today; it looks as though it might rain,” she murmured. Fred gave Newsie a questioning look; Newsie shrugged helplessly, shaking his head. Ethel sighed again; the nurse shut off the heart monitor, and the silence once the alarm was stilled sent goosebumps over Newsie’s felt.

    He stroked his aunt’s hand, noting how pale, how frail her own felt appeared; he could see faint veins of cerulean underneath, like a tracery of lines on an old map. “I...I love you, Aunt Ethel,” he muttered, unable to find any strength for his own voice.

    “Love you too, dear,” she murmured. “Give your mother a kiss for me. And if you see Aloysius...tell him he’s a good boy.” She smiled, eyes closed. “Always such a good boy...he’ll like living at the lake. He was always so happy there.”

    Newsie felt tears coursing down his cheeks, but didn’t want to let go of her hand to wipe them away. The soft pulse and hiss of the oxygen line was the only sound in the room. Fred watched Ethel; Newsie couldn’t see anymore. The nurse gently checked the side of Ethel’s thin neck for several seconds. She tried another spot. She carefully removed the oxygen line from Ethel’s nose, and turned off the pump. Its soft, dying hiss sounded so final, so evocative of the unheard last breath, that Newsie felt fresh grief welling. He couldn’t let go of Ethel’s hand. A heavy weight settled on his shoulder; he blinked up and realized it was Fred’s hand. Ethel’s step-grandson gazed down at her, his expression tight and controlled. Trembling, Newsie released his grip enough to bring one hand up to his shoulder, and fuzzy skin touched tough flesh a moment. Fred swallowed visibly, let go of Newsie, and turned away.

    “I’ll just give you a few minutes,” the nurse murmured, slipping from the room.

    Newsie rubbed the water from his eyes fiercely, blinking hard as he readjusted his glasses. She found out. She really did know. How the hey did she manage to capture one of them? No wonder they wanted her dead! Anger swelled in his chest. They did this! They had to! Those...those stringy things! They put her here – they did this! “They did this!” he said aloud. Fred turned back to him, surprised. Newsie nodded hard, his voice gaining strength, depth. “She knew! She knew what they were planning – that’s why they hurt her! They’re responsible for this!”

    “Who?” Fred demanded.

    “The monsters!” Newsie gestured at the still, sunken body in the bed. “You heard her!”

    “Aloysius...Ethel was crazy. She had dementia. For God’s sake, she didn’t even know who you were! You can’t believe anything she –“

    “She wasn’t crazy!” Newsie argued. “So what if she didn’t recognize me? She – she knew what the monsters were planning – are planning! They d—d near killed her for it before she could tell anyone!”

    Fred grabbed his shoulder roughly, nearly unbalancing him in the chair. “Listen to yourself! You know, I thought, as naive as you are, even you had some sense of reality! Monsters? Killing? Get a grip, Muppet!” Angrily, he shoved Newsie back; the shorter Muppet grabbed the back of the chair, glaring through blurry eyes.

    “She was telling the truth! There are monsters underneath the city; I’ve seen them myself! You – you just watch my report tonight! It’ll be online, with a link on the New York Times!” he shouted. “She wasn’t crazy! She was right, and that’s why she’s dead!”

    “Are you insane? Does the phrase natural causes mean anything to you?” Fred shot back. “You know, I really can’t – Get out of here. Just get out of here! I don’t want to hear any more of this outrageous insanity! Show a little respect, for God’s sake!”

    Inflamed, Newsie jumped from the chair, advancing on Fred. “No! She wasn’t crazy! The monsters had her killed!” When Fred began to protest again, Newsie shoved him back a step. “No! I’m her blood relation! You’re the one being disrespectful by not believing her! You get out!”

    Breathless, they glared at one another a second. Fred straightened his shirtsleeves, and lowered his voice. “Fine. Fine.” Without another word, he strode from the room.

    Newsie gulped, reining in the sobs which threatened to come pouring out of his throat. The nurse returned, concerned. “Is...is anything wrong?”

    No, why would anything be wrong? Newsie thought, feeling dizzy. My aunt found out what the monsters were doing, and they tried to kill her, and now she’s dead, and I have no idea what she meant, and I’m supposed to warn the whole city, and I have no broadcast, and no one believes me except Gina and Rhonda...no, all of that’s perfectly peachy keen... “I...I’m fine,” he answered as calmly as he could. “Everything is...is fine. She’s...she’s fine now...” He glanced back at his motionless aunt, a tiny shell of lifeless felt and foam where once merriment had twinkled in bright eyes, where once song had lifted his spirits from her well-tuned voice, where once he’d been given an inkling of what parental love might feel like when she would sneak him a cookie from the kitchen, or listen to his hesitant ideas about his own future, or show him how to fly a kite in the clean, light air above the lake...

    The nurse nodded slowly, her eyes sympathetic. “Can I...can I call anyone for you?”

    Newsie wrested his tears back, digging out his handkerchief and wiping his nose. “No...thank you...I’ll...I have my phone. Thank you.” The nurse watched him a moment longer, then with a soft sigh, gently lifted the sheet and drew it over Ethel’s face. She offered to bring him a glass of water, and when she’d left again, Newsie backed away from the bed, clambering awkwardly onto a low recliner in a corner of the room. He stared at his cell phone a long while, giving up the idea of keeping his vision focused. Finally he called Gina.

    “Sweetie? Hi!”

    “I...” he gulped, choked, unable to speak. He tried again. “I... A-aunt...”

    Silence a moment. Then Gina said, “Stay there. I’m on my way.”

    He nodded, and hung up. He sat there, crying with as little sound as he could manage. The room seemed empty now.


    --------------------
    “Come along, come along,” said the skinny Whatnot with the large round head, strolling toward the formerly-impressive entry to the crumbling, condemned hotel. Suspicious eyes peered from narrow doorways hung with paper lanterns and plastic souvenirs of NYC made in Taiwan. Rizzo grunted as he hefted another box out of the trunk of the taxi.

    Below him at the curb, Pepe urged, “Move it already. The faster we get this done, the faster we gets back to the kitchen, no?”

    “I’m going – ungh – as fast as I – errrgh! – can!” Rizzo panted. He shoved the heavy box over the edge of the trunk. “Catch!”

    “Wait, I did not say I was –“ THUMP. “...ready...” Pepe groaned.

    Rizzo cackled. “Move it or lose it, chump!”

    Pepe complained at the avocado-felted young man with the triangular olive-felted nose, “So where is this party with foods and womens jou promised, amigo? All I see is a dirty street with lots of people giving me the...the seafood eye, okay.” Shuddering, he looked around once, certain he could smell five-spice seasoning...and the way a large man with a cleaver was staring at him from the window of a nearby noodle house was frankly disturbing.

    “The party is this Saturday, at an off-off-Broadway locale,” the bored-sounding Whatnot explained. “As I’ve already told you, help set up the decor for the charity walk, and I’ll personally issue you both passes to help clean up after the caterers.”

    “Eh, least it’ll be catered,” Rizzo grumbled, pushing one side of the box while Pepe dragged the other, inching toward the broken steps to the hotel. He paused to look up at the façade. Once-festive moldings above the windows had largely crumbled; specks of the whitewash made the stone pockmarked with bulletholes seem even more ancient than its actual hundred years. “Ya know, though, I kinda doubt any amount of banners is gonna make dis place look cheerful.”

    “I see spiderwebs, okay,” Pepe noted, searching the half-smashed windows with nervous eyes. “Do spiders eat prawns? Because I am not liking the looks of this place already!”

    “Nah, I don’t t’ink so,” Rizzo replied. “Besides, dey probably prefer stuff wit’ a little meat on ‘em.”

    “What are jou saying? I work out!”

    “Er...gentlemen, please,” the Whatnot called, checking his watch. “A little due diligence would be much appreciated!”

    “Listen at dis guy,” Rizzo growled low, huffing as he shoved the box slowly closer to the stairs. “Who’s he t’ink he is anyway, Mr Harvard?”

    “Well he isn’t talking at jou okay,” Pepe snickered. “I see only one gentlemans around here!”

    They continued to bicker as they moved the box all the way to the stairs; although he seemed impatient, the Whatnot never took a step to help them. He pushed open the door to the hotel lobby. “Through here, please.”

    Rat and shrimp stopped and stared at the seven steps leading up to the door. “Aw no,” Rizzo said, hands on his hips. “Dis is where my achin’ back overtakes my salivatin’ tongue! No way am I luggin’ dis t’ing up all them steps! Do it yourself, Boredish!”

    “The name’s Blandish,” the Whatnot chided, frowning. “Miles Blandish, attorney-at-law, junior partner with the prestigious firm of Bland and –“

    “And too-lazy-to-carry-a-box-already,” Pepe sniffed, agreeing with Rizzo. He stood next to his diminutive colleague, folding four arms over his puffed-out chest. “Jou wants our help, jou take the heavy box inside! What the madre de los camerones is in this thing anyway?”

    The lawyer sighed, and reluctantly removed his tailored grey jacket and tucked his silk tie within his crisp white shirt. “Very well...but only because this is for a good cause...”

    “Yeah, uh, what cause would dat be again?” Rizzo wondered as the three of them trooped inside the hotel. Dusty cobwebs festooned every high corner and lifeless wall-lamp, dirt and a crunch of dead leaves evoked distaste wherever their feet fell on the cracked marble floor, and the standing worklight which the lawyer switched on only made the shadows atop the long formal stairway seem deeper.

    “The charity walk will raise money for the Muppet Anti-Discrimination League,” Blandish reminded them crossly. He set the box on the old check-in counter; some of the wooden molding there immediately flumphed into a pile of dust. “Now, make sure you use all the decorations; we paid a ridiculous amount to have it all customized, and the cameras should pick up every last banner and sign.”

    “Wait, wait, okay,” Pepe said, peering into the box gingerly from a tiptoe stance atop the counter. He pulled a fat roll of crepe paper from the box. “Hold on, I thought jou said this walking thing was going to be on la Dia de los Muertos en Nuevo York, okay?”

    “What is he saying?” Blandish muttered aside to Rizzo.

    The rat shrugged, scrambling up to take a look inside the box for himself. “Eh, I nevah know half a’ what he says. Hey, I thought dis t’ing was gonna be on Halloween? What’s wit’ da blue and green streamers?”

    Pepe gestured at the ceiling in annoyance. “That’s what I was just saying, okay...”

    “Shouldn’t ya have used orange and black or somethin’?”

    Blandish frowned mildly. “Whyever would we do that? Clearly you both are ignorant of the official colors of Nofrisko! They’re the major sponsors for the walk, you know.”

    “Oh, wait – ain’t dey da ones who make dose tasty Goat Chips?” Rizzo asked, drawing a large plastic sign emblazoned with both the Nofrisko and MADL logos out of the box. “I like them.” He studied the sign a moment. “Dey really coulda picked a more exciting name for dis t’ing. Come on: ‘da Nofrisko Spook Walk for MADL’? Totally lame!”

    “Goat Chips? What is this mier—“

    “Dey make prawn crackers too, I hear,” Rizzo taunted.

    Pepe sniffed, antennae pointing at the chandelier haughtily. “Now jou is just messing with me.”

    “Remember, gentlemen, hang all of it! Make sure it’s all at eye level so the cameras will catch it!” Blandish admonished, and fell to polishing his fingers with a dainty hankie. “My goodness, just look how dusty I’ve become! I really wish they’d chosen some other, less dirty venue...”

    Rizzo grunted, hefting the sign up and smacking a couple of thumbtacks into it to attach it to the wall behind the counter. “So why didja choose dis old wreck?”

    Blandish sighed. “Well, I was only allowed a half-vote, as I’m only a junior partner. The senior partners Mr Bland and Mr Blander were asking around the community, and Nofrisko volunteered the use of this old place for the whole month! Terribly generous of them. They said, according to Mr Blander, that they were excited about working with so many Muppets all in one place on Halloween night.” He glanced around at the half-cracked mirrors which threw back cloudy shadows of movement instead of actual reflections. “I must admit, I’ve no idea what they intend to do with the property. I suppose it would make sense to demolish it and erect a Chinatown outlet store for MoHos or something. I understand the Orientals do love their silly-named snack cakes.”

    “Like da Prawn Puffyumi?” Rizzo asked innocently. He chortled and ducked when Pepe flung a roll of crepe at him; the tissue unwound, drifting lazily over an old coatrack. “Hey, good idea! Let’s roll da place!”

    Pepe muttered something unprintable under his breath. Rizzo scurried across to the stairway balustrade and began tossing a roll of green crepe over the banister, catching it each time as he darted under the rail to toss it up again, winding it up the stairs. When he reached the halfway point, beyond which the light below only picked out faint shimmers of cobwebs, he paused, reconsidered, and simply tossed the roll the rest of the way up. Trotting back down the stairs, he asked, “So, what, da snack company is underwritin’ da charity walk? Whadda they get out of it?” He jumped, startled, when the crepe roll came bouncing back down past him. With a frown, he retrieved it and lobbed it upstairs again.

    “Well, good publicity, I would imagine,” Blandish replied. “It’s quite an honor to have one’s name associated with our cause, you know!”

    “Jou mean that cause nobody outside of you has heard of?” Pepe snorted. He clung to a tattered curtain with three limbs, using the others to position and tack up another sign over the boards inside a once-grand window.

    “Hey, t’row me another roll a’ that tissue stuff,” Rizzo said. Blandish absently tossed a roll of blue crepe at him. Rizzo jumped again when his original green roll bumped him in the back as he was set to catch the blue. “Hey, what gives?”

    Pepe snickered at him. “Jou never heard of gravitys?”

    Irritated, Rizzo hauled back his arm and threw the green crepe roll as hard as he could up the stairs. Turning back to the blue roll, he looked around for a good place to start it, intending to drape it from frame to frame on the rotted, indistinguishable canvases still hanging on the lobby walls. A soft weight thumped the back of his skull, toppling him. “Ow! Hey!”

    “Don’t just focus on the stairway,” Blandish sighed impatiently. “Get the streamers going from wall to wall! And don’t forget the dining room!”

    “Okay, okay already,” Pepe grumbled. “Rizzo, give me a hand with this cada...paper,” he amended quickly, panting from a struggle, having somehow managed to tangle all six limbs while wrapping a green roll and a blue together for a streamer.

    Feeling skittish now, Rizzo hurried away from the stairs gladly, casting many a nervous look over his shoulder. The fat end of the crepe roll sat still at the bottom of the staircase. He let it lie.


    --------------------
    “Fascinating,” Van Neuter murmured, poking the neutronically-charged end of the plasma-wand through the force-field. The dragon ghost snarled, but wasn’t foolish enough to swat it away, having been shocked several times already. The cryptoveterinarian pulled at his rubbery lower lip, thinking; he started to tap the wand against his own arm, and Thatch leaped forward, grabbing it before the absent-minded scientist could shock himself. The monster received the full voltage instead, and his teeth ground together, his feathers jittering so hard a couple of them dislodged and swooped away. Van Neuter snatched back the wand, glaring. “Thatch! Stop that! That’s the third time I’ve had to ask you not to play with my wand!”

    “Graaaahhhh,” McGurk muttered, fainting.

    “Hmm, now...I wonder what would happen if...” Curious, the vet looked from his ghostly captive to his broad-spectrum mitochondrial photosynthetic globule splitter. The spectral form with glowing green eyes merely glowered at him. Van Neuter began tossing aside delicate pipettes left over from his biological cesium distillation and the remains of a club sandwich on stale baguette, hunting for the ectoplasmic sample grabbers he’d received as a birthday gift last year from Bunnie. “If I can just get a nice chunk of phantasmic flesh off you, I might be able to synthesize a coagulant which would allow me to manipulate your ghostly DNA, heh heh, so to speak!” Frustrated at the mess, he stood up straight and set his broad gloved hands on his nonexistent hips. “How can I be expected to transmogrify spectral specimens without that dratted sample grabber? Ah – there it is!” His temporary triumph, holding aloft the plastic alligator-head-on-a-stick, was sidelined by the chill voice on the intercom:

    “When will I be seeing your report on the transmutation process in our guests, Doctor?”

    “Wha! Oh! Uh...” Van Neuter jumped, fumbling; he stared sadly at the grabber plunging somewhere back into the jumble of objects on the floor. Thatch groaned, coming around with an even worse hornache than before. The monster wondered with a wince whether there was a point of diminishing return on these shock treatments. Van Neuter swung around to smile up at the camera the security Frackles had installed after the Nofrisko break-in. “Hello! Welcome to the lab, your dark underthing!”

    He sensed a pause in the other end of the line; apparently the boss was considering the epithet. Perhaps judging it immaterial for the moment, the dark, cool voice continued, “Doctor. While it is always amusing to observe you playing with your pets, I must know whether your experiments on the human subjects have brought forth any promising results yet.”

    “Experiments on...oh those experiments! Ha ha...yes of course...uhhh...” Van Neuter smiled, frowned, fumbled in his coat pockets, and finally produced a small notepad. “Here, let me see... Uh, Subjects number one through six responded to the transmogrification serum...unfavorably.” He adjusted his goggles and blinked up at the camera. “They, er, have been turned over to the game shows for prizes.”

    “Very well...I shall remind the hosts not to allow contestants to devour them unless they swallow them whole. We’ll need anything with human blood for the big night...which, I ought not to have to tell you, draws ever closer, Van Neuter.”

    “Well, I’m still working on it,” Van Neuter said. “The last one broke out into thorns. Gave Thatch here a rash.”

    “A...rash?”

    “Razza frazza!” McGurk agreed, rolling up his fur on his left arm to show the camera the blotchy turquoise spots on his lavender skin.

    “That doesn’t look so pretty,” the underlord mused. “I would not be averse to thorns.”

    Van Neuter shook his head. “But I was trying for coarse prickly fur! It’s just not working well enough yet...the outcome is wildly unpredictable, and you did say you wanted a thousand legs and claws and quivering drippy antennae and –“

    “Yeeeuurgh,” McGurk gulped, turning pale.

    “Keep trying! Do whatever you have to do! I must be ready to ascend at the conjunction of the Scorpion and the Destroyer of Stars! This is imperative!” Van Neuter waited, wringing his hands at that horrible voice; Thatch edged behind him. The voice calmed, though its abrupt return to silky hollowness was even more unnerving than the bellow. “Focus on extracts of the milliworms, Doctor. I wish my glorious new form to be one guaranteed to strike terror into the simpletons walking the surface! Get on it!”

    “Right away!” Van Neuter gulped. He heard the soft click of the intercom disconnecting. With a sigh, the vet turned to his cringing assistant. “Honestly...what does he think I’ve been doing?”

    “Plazza wuh drabba,” Thatch replied, pointing at the spectral entity watching them from his faintly glowing cell.

    “Determining whether or not a ghost has DNA which can be twisted is not play, I’ll have you know! It’s a very difficult, detailed undertaking which – oh! Undertaking! That was a good one! Ha ha ha!” Grinning, the vet elbowed his monster. Thatch merely narrowed all three eyes at him. Van Neuter sniffed. “Hmf! No sense of humor, either of you, I see. Fine. Let’s just grab the next contestant for ‘I Married a Monster!’”

    Leaving the lab, they paused just outside so Van Neuter could lock the faded green-painted door before heading downstairs into the warren of tunnels occupied by slimier things. Van Neuter greeted one of the giant centipede-things cheerfully: “Well hello gorgeous! My, aren’t we looking wonderfully crawly today!”

    The insectoid monster stared at him with wide compound eyes, then with a squeak it shot up the wall to the ceiling and booked away as fast as its hundreds of tiny legs could carry it. Van Neuter frowned, and turned his glare on Thatch. “Another one running away! Thatch, were you making that scary face at it again?”

    ------------------
  20. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Okay... Another filling slice of fanfic.

    Ethyl passing away... Reminds me of my paternal grandmother, those last few visits, *sniff.
    But she's right, there's got to be a freakish storm heralding the awful arrival. Or some event of great raging power or emotion that allows the hibernating evil to awaken.

    Blandish... Where do these Whatnots keep popping out from? The only senior partners in the firm are Bland and Blander right? Would hate to think someone from that law firm out in LA infiltrated their ranks.

    Methinks :rolleyes: has his holidays mixed-up. Halloween's on Oct 31, Día de los Muertos is usually November 1 or 2.

    Corporate colors, sheesh.

    Deadly in a force-bubble. And Van Neuter having to track down some of those large centipede weebabeast thingies. All good stuff. *Contacts the boss to tell him the phantom will have to take some off-time, though it's not like the reaper doesn't know where his employee's currently held up at.

    Post when you can. *Leaves cinnamon pecan muffin.
    Fragglemuppet likes this.


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