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  2. Sesame Street Season 47
    Sesame Street's 47th season officially began Saturday January 7 on HBO. After you see the new episodes, post here and let us know your thoughts.

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

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

  1. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

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    I personally find Van Neuter to be laughable and tend to write him as such...hard to be scared by someone so utterly doomed to failure. But yes, he does have even nastier tricks up his filthy coat (when was that thing last dry-cleaned, anyway?)...

    "Bland of Brothers"...LOL. Nicely coined!
    :( Coins? Nifty. Though not as cool as my bottlecap collection.

    I had to make a decision on Ethel. Her loss will not be pointless; much will come of things she set in motion. Especially her connection to the Yipyips. Hope I do it right; all of you throw stones if I mess it up, okay? :eek:

    As always...critiques much appreciated! The next few chapters are going to be very tricky for me. Let me know what you think...
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  2. WebMistressGina

    WebMistressGina Well-Known Member

    Oh noes! :eek:

    Finally finished and now I'm on pins and needles. It all comes together - the monsters, the studio, the missing, and the Muppets! Dun dun DUUUUUNNNNN!

    Actually, Count, I thought Gonzo's prize for winning would be his sacrifice to the uber monster god at the alter. Which of course, makes me worried; now that Gonzo's figured out what Camilla wanted, he needs to figure out that he's in danger. Hopefully, he'll run across Uncle D sometime soon.

    So awesomes this is!
     
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  3. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Ha, yes, awesomes this is. But have you read up on the other stories that build up to this one? *Goes into fan-mode. Eagerly waits for next chapter, whenever Kris can post due to her schedule. :zany:
     
  4. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

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    Geez, you guys are turning the yellow felt tomato red...thank you!! :news:

    My house is currently something in Afghanistan. Or maybe Bosnia in the '90s. ALL the 60-year-old-plumbing has finally been completely ripped out and replaced and up to code...which involved pretty much destroying the master bath. Guess where *I* sleep? And am allergic to dust? And get heatsick easily and it was over 100 this weekend?... Will TRY to write tonight while on a supervisory work shift with a sleeping client...I hope. *fuzzy fingers crossed*

    Oh, I have...plans...for Gonzo. Oh yes we does. Plannsssss...
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  5. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Thirty-Four (I)

    Only after threatening to actually talk to the boss was Snookie allowed to hit the showers. He had no idea what time of day it might be outside; the glow-worms in all the hallways seemed to have no internal clock of their own, and radiated cold gloomy illumination all the time, as far as he’d been able to observe. All he knew was that he’d done nearly thirty show tapings and commercial spots today, and he was tired, ragged, and covered in some kind of mushroom sauce. (That fifteen-second spot promoting Flukeman’s Fabulous Fungus Funporium really stank...in every sense.) He’d yelled hoarsely at the blugh-speaking monster trailing after him all day until he was brought a clean towel and shorts and an undershirt which actually still appeared white instead of yellow or grey; realizing this was the most luxury he’d experienced in months gave Snookie no great feeling of satisfaction.

    He trudged into the shower room, snarling at Blugh: “I don’t need you in here! Leave me alone for five minutes – unless you want me to tell everyone you have a Muppet fetish!” Abashed, Blugh hastily ducked back outside, and Snookie sat down on one of the cracked wooden benches just outside the actual stalls. Ye frogs, my kingdom for a private shower. Sighing deeply, he curled his knees to his chest, laying his head on them a long moment, eyes closed, just taking in the relative silence of the room. A dripping faucet kept him company, but that was fine. Just a day, one whole day, to sleep...alone...that’s all I ask anymore, he thought.

    His mind wandered back to the message he’d been given earlier that day – was it only today? Seemed like a week already, but who knew, down here... My cousin’s coming to rescue me. Yeah. Right. These freaks get one look at him, he’ll be sharing a cell with me, I bet. Or he’ll go straight down Carl’s gullet. What an idiot. He really thinks he can just come find me and all will be well? Not froggy likely. If he only found out about me recently, where’s he been all this time? I was famous, d—it! Well...for a while, I was... Depressed, he turned his thoughts away from the bleak timeline of his rise and sudden fall in show business. History now. Unable to quell the uneasiness the strange message had brought up, he glanced around once, then extracted the small photo from the inside of his trouser-leg hem. The yellow-felted Muppet pictured had deep lines around his squinting eyes, but his smile seemed genuine, and the way he held, and was held by, the nonfelted girl spoke eloquently of the kind of partnership Snookie himself had only halfheartedly considered. He’s free, and he has someone, Snookie thought. Must be awash in bliss twenty-four-seven.

    The door to the shower room banged open, startling Snookie, who fumbled in trying to stuff the picture back into the safety of its hiding-place. A blue Whatever covered in yellowish goop and eggshells bounced in, followed closely but with far less energy by a pinkish-furred monster with three tired eyes, similarly coated in what looked like Easter gone horribly wrong. “But that was just a practice run!” Gonzo exclaimed. “Of course I won’t drop the whole carton next time – I just got distracted when you set off the sparklers early! You have to wait until I say, ‘Then the nest is full of marvels!’” Suddenly noticing the game-show host, Gonzo smiled. “Oh – hi! Long day for you too, huh?” He sniffed. “Hey, smells good. What was that, stroganoff?”

    Snookie glanced up at the mushroom sauce slowly sliding from his hair down his large rounded nose. He was frozen with the photo still in one hand and his leg absurdly stuck out. Easing into a more natural pose, he tried to pretend he hadn’t been doing anything questionable, eyeing the fluff-headed pink monster with some anxiety. “Uh, heh heh, I guess so. Does it normally smell like month-old gym socks?”

    “When it’s done right,” Gonzo said affably. “Uh, did you want to go first?” He gestured at the shower stalls.

    “No...you go ahead. You look like you both need it worse,” Snookie said, thinking if they busied themselves with that he’d have a better chance of concealing the photo; he lowered his hand to his lap, covering the small picture with his fingers, and gestured broadly at the daredevil with his other hand, a classic misdirection he’d learned from hosting Three-Yard Monty! about a decade back. “You two look like you’ve been working on your next act for tomorrow, huh?”

    “I’m going to be saving three dozen eggs of various sizes and densities from certain extermination-by-garden-tool, while reciting a paraphrased version of Billy Collins’ ‘Picnic, Lightning’,” Gonzo explained. He indicated his monster assistant. “Rosie’s throwing the eggs.”

    “Ebba,” Rosie muttered, seeming far less enthused than Gonzo. He began to slouch toward the nearest shower stall, but paused when Gonzo stepped toward Snookie and grabbed the photo before Snookie could completely hide it.

    “Hey, cool! Did Newsie send you that?” Gonzo asked.

    “It’s a token of appreciation from a fa—who?” Snookie gulped, his glib explanation cut short in confusion. He stared at the friendly Whatever. “You...what did you call him?”

    “Oh, uh, sorry; I know he used to get a little huffy about his nickname. The Muppet Newsman. I work with him. Well, you know, not with him, technically; I did offer to let him hold the target up for my motorcycle jump once, but he said he was busy all week,” Gonzo said, but the look on Snookie’s face made him pause. “Oh, er...you don’t actually know him?”

    Snookie darted a furtive glance at Rosie, unsure how much to say. “Uh...he...he’s my cousin. You work with him? And he’s in the news?” Snookie frowned. “What is he, your publicist?”

    Gonzo laughed, and grinned at Rosie. “As if any of those philistines would support a genuine artiste! No, no...he works at the Muppet Theatre.”

    “It’s still running?” Snookie wondered, amazed. He could recall hearing of the place as a young man; he hadn’t thought a venue devoted to silly things like singing and dancing and corny jokes would ever last long...certainly, not long enough for any of the performers to make a living at it.

    “Well, yeah!” Gonzo chuckled. “Geez...how long have you been down here, anyway?”

    Snookie’s expression darkened at once. “Heh, heh... A long time.”

    Gonzo handed the photo back, feeling sheepish. “Oh, uh...sorry. I didn’t realize. Um. Well, yeah, the theatre’s still going...and we shot a movie recently in Hollywood...and they’re gearing up for a spooky one to start shooting soon. Hey, would you like to come aboard? I mean, we already have an emcee, of course; but, uh, you know, maybe you could do a game-show sketch? Kermit and I go way back, and I’d be happy to put in a good word for you...”

    “No thank you,” Snookie said, shuddering at the thought of ever doing another game show again. If he were out there again, free again, he’d never be caught in front of a microphone or a fake audience! Not ever! Not even working with other Muppets... Overcome by a wellspring of unusual thoughts, he paused, then asked softly, “What...what is this Newsman like? What’s it like...working with Muppets?”

    “Oh, well, uh...it’s great, although Kermit won’t let me do all the stuff I really want to. That’s why I’m here.” Taken aback by the odd questions, and by how desperate the cynical host suddenly seemed, Gonzo took a seat next to him on the bench. Rosie hovered nearby a moment, impatient to wash the egg off his face, then shrugged and chose a stall. He flung his towel over the swinging door; a moment later, the sound of running water was accompanied by scrubbing, humming sounds, and then a cleanly-rinsed coat of short pink fur landed over the stall door to drip-dry. Snookie stared at that a second, decided he didn’t want to even think about a naked monster using the soap-on-a-rope, and returned his attention to Gonzo. “Well, umm...Newsie’s a good guy. Y’know, a little, uh, conventional...not the artistic type at all. He used to be really uptight, but that lady of his has definitely changed him for the better! I’ve actually seen him smile a couple of times this past year...”

    “But he...he works with you, you said?”

    “Oh. I should’ve explained that better. I mean he works at the theatre, but he also has a regular news gig. He’s an anchor or something now, I think,” Gonzo said. “That’s so cool that he’s your cousin and he sent you fan mail! Hey – maybe we could get him to cover me in the winner’s circle at the last show!” He grinned. “Or did that sound overconfident? Ahh, dream big, win big! Hey, would it be prejudicial for you to tell me who you think my strongest competition will be?”

    Snookie tried to digest all this. “Has he...said anything to you about visiting down here?”

    “No...but I haven’t seen him in weeks,” Gonzo reminded the host. “They keep us contestants kinda secluded. I guess they don’t want us stealing ideas from the mainstream entertainment media. Hey, why don’t you invite him to the next show? He doesn’t normally do showbiz news, but I’m sure since you’re his cousin he’d do you a favor. He’s a nice guy...just a little dry, that’s all.”

    “Uh...sure. I’ll do that,” Snookie muttered. He tucked the photo away. “Speaking of dry, you should go wash those yolks off. Otherwise you’ll be scratching yellow dander for days.”

    “Good point,” Gonzo agreed. “Nice talking with you. See you tomorrow night! It’s gonna be fantastic!” Beaming, he snatched up his own towel and went dashing into the free stall. “Hey Rosie, toss me some of that lava shampoo!”

    Snookie was too caught up in his own thoughts to notice the splash-fight over the three-quarter stall walls which ensued behind him. My cousin goes by ‘Newsie’? How quaint. And he’s a no-nonsense reporter type...great. No way can he have any idea what’s going on down here. He’ll be walking right into the monster’s den. Poor schmuck is doomed already. He shook his head. Man, I wish I COULD send him a note – I’d tell him to run the other way! Save himself! Coming after me isn’t wonderful, it’s suicide! Depressed again, he slumped on the bench, the mushroom gravy plopping off his nose barely a nuisance next to the black shade of his train of thought. But what if he does come down here? What then? What can I do? He scowled. Nothing! Nothing I CAN do! That idiot’s on his own! I can’t be responsible for anyone trying to rescue...me... He gulped, abruptly feeling guilty. It was not a sensation he was accustomed to, and he struggled with it. I didn’t ask him to come find me! I didn’t want anyone to...to... Bullcrap. Yes I did. I just didn’t think anyone would REMEMBER me, much less want to get me out of here... He wiped away an unexpected tear. Man, that lava shampoo is pungent. Hope they finish soon so I can wash up.

    He repeatedly steered his mind away from any further thought of his cousin’s misplaced heroism, waiting until the water stopped and two laughing, soaked creatures emerged with towels around their waists. As they dried themselves, chatting about shovels, rakes, and ellipsoidal weight distribution midair, Snookie slipped the photo into his clean underwear and folded it with the undershirt on a shelf high inside one of the shower stalls, where the water splashing would be minimal and he could keep an eye on it. He heard the snap of a wet towel and a monsterish yelp, followed by Gonzo’s laughter cut short: “Oh! Uh...sorry... Rosie, put your fur on, for crying out loud...”

    “I see machismo runs rampant even down here,” griped a strident voice. Startled, Snookie looked over to see the pink-spattered blue Whatnot girl standing just inside the room, glaring at everyone. A sheepish Rosie finished shrugging into his fur, hastily smacking closed the Velcro tabs up his belly. Gonzo wrapped an egg-print robe over himself without removing his towel, and nodded apologetically at the girl. “Look, if the bathroom has to be co-ed, can you jokers at least give me some privacy?” Stinkbomb complained; Gonzo and Rosie hurriedly left. She turned to Snookie, eyes narrowing as she recognized him. “Nice. Not only co-ed, but co-monster-and-Muppet. So much for respecting our felted rights.”

    “You’re lucky they even let you get a shower,” Snookie retorted. “What’d you do, gripe until they couldn’t take it anymore?”

    “Yeah...and then some big ugly shark-mouthed groundhog ate me. Again,” the girl snarled. “What kinda crazy joint is this place, anyway? I’ve never seen so many monsters disrespectful of basic Muppet rights! What makes them think they can just –“

    “Because they can,” Snookie interrupted. “You just don’t get it, do you, kid? They run this place. They own us – you and me and every sucker who gets tricked down here.” He gave her a sour look. “Lemme guess: they hooked you with the promise of a soapbox to stand on.”

    “Nobody hooked me, they grabbed me!” Stinkbomb argued. “They grabbed me right off the street! Dragged me through the sewers! Pure anti-Muppet kidnapping! When I get out of here, they better –“

    “You’re not getting out,” Snookie corrected, stepping closer to glare at her eye-to-eye. Well, almost; she was slightly shorter than him. “Hasn’t the reality of all this sunk into your fuzzy little brain yet? None of us get out! Up there, kid, maybe you were some hotshot young rabble-rouser, but down here, you’re...you’re...a slave.” He paused, swallowing hard as he realized that really was the perfect word for it. “All of us, everyone except the monsters; we’re slaves... Well, maybe them too, under that big scary boss they’re always whispering about. Who knows? Point is...there is no escape. Nobody’s going to find us, nobody’s going to save us, and anyone that tries will...will be gobbled up just the same.” He stopped, waiting for her next outburst, but she was surprisingly silent. She stared at him, round eyes turning moist, and Snookie fought down the urge to sympathize. He’d tried making allies before, and what had come of that? Betrayal...or else the painful loss of a friend. He wondered how poor Geoff was doing...whether he’d become one of them, as he’d seemed to be heading for the last time Snookie had laid eyes on him.

    Finally the girl said quietly, “You’ve been down here years, haven’t you.”

    Snookie nodded, his throat feeling too thick to talk.

    The girl swallowed as well, looking him over, seeming to at last notice the scum in his hair, the bedraggled clothing, the weariness in his face. She asked, “Will you...will you tell me what to do?”

    Boggled, Snookie stared at her. She added quickly, “I mean, to get by. To not make them mad. To not get...get...again.” She trembled a little, just once, but Snookie felt a tremor of empathy go through him. He couldn’t say a word. He simply nodded again, and the girl relaxed a notch. “Cool. Great. So...uh...which of these two mold-covered cesspools is the better shower?”

    “That one,” Snookie said, indicating the stall he knew had the stronger water pressure. He removed his own clothing from the shelf there, and stood back to allow her to go first. “Uh...do you...did they give you any clothes?”

    Stinkbomb looked down at herself; her once-stylish jean jacket was covered in digestive slime. “Uh...no...I thought maybe I could...could wash this in there...”

    Snookie held out his clean undershirt to her. She looked askance at it. “It might be a little big for you, but it’s clean,” he said sharply. She looked into his eyes again, and without a word accepted the shirt. She stepped into the stall, and Snookie sank onto the bench again, wondering at himself. How could he possibly help this kid? Sure, he could tell her what subjects to avoid mentioning around certain of the touchier monsters, but there was no way he could stop any of them from gulping her down, or subjecting her to game-show participation, or from tossing her into the Big Monster house with its invasive cameras and attention-hungry roommates....

    “You better not be peeking, you perv,” she called over the sound of water.

    Snookie, startled, realized the thought hadn’t even occurred to him. It really had been a long time since his frat-boy days... He began to chuckle, and suddenly he was laughing strongly, really laughing. It took him a few minutes to wrest himself under control. The girl, puzzled, asked, “What, you think I’m ugly? You think heck no, you’d never even want to look at someone with two-tone felt? At a girl with a disfigurement, huh? Too ugly for you, with your sleek hair and your cute nose and your – your – manly chest, or something, is that it?”

    Snookie blinked. “I...uh...no! No, I...you...” Well, what the heck. “No, you’re actually...very pretty...uh, kid.”

    There was a long pause. Only the running water echoed in the moldy-tiled room. Then he heard her say quietly, “I’m not a kid.”

    She went back to washing, soft splashing noises oddly comforting to Snookie. He sat there, astounded at himself, not yet reminding himself this girl was destined for bad things as much as he was. Not yet. For just this moment...he was going to think about a young woman of felt, not three feet from him, who would shortly be wearing his long shirt...and possibly nothing else.

    For just this moment, he was going to think about that. Not how little sleep or food or sunlight he’d had, not Carl’s obscenely pro-monster show, not the insane schedule he’d be forced back into in probably only a few hours...for now, just that. Just her.

    He’d never felt protective over anyone before. It was, he decided, kind of...interesting.


    ------------------
    The blue raggy thing couldn’t bear to look at the still form under the sheet. With lower jaw drawn over googly eyes, it wrapped half its tentacles around its head for good measure, keening. “Aaaaaoooogie! Aaaaoooogieeeee!”

    Its pink twin shook its head, sighing as well: “Ooogieeeee...” Mournfully, it tapped the edge of the padded gurney the small body lay upon. “Eth-el...”

    “Bad cow got Eth-el,” Blue groaned, but Pink comforted him, five tentacles wrapping around his companion.

    “Nooooope. Nope nope nope. No bad cow. Was...” he paused, searching for a word which had no equivalent in their own language. “Ack-see-dent. Ackseedent. Yip. Yip yip yip yip.”

    “Aaawww?” Blue asked, puzzled.

    “Yip yip,” Pink assured him. “Eth-el fall down... Awww. Fall, mm.”

    “Why?” Blue demanded, gesturing wildly at the covered body of the Muppet they’d both adored. “Not right! Not fair! Uh-uh! Uh-uh!”

    “Not fair,” Pink agreed, and with another sigh offered the wisdom of his somewhat greater timecycles: “Just way is. Awww. Just way.”

    Blue stared widely at him a moment. Abruptly he hauled several tentacles back and thwopped Pink hard enough to send him tumbling jelly-over-eyeballs. “Not funny! Noooope! Nopenopenopenope!”

    “Not try funny!” Pink protested. “Way is here!”

    Blue turned away, gazing up at the gurney. “Aaaaooooooogie,” he wailed.

    Pink rejoined him, staring up as well, but silent. After a few more minutes of Blue’s mournful keening, Pink’s wide jaw slowly raised, tightening into a straight, determined line. He poked Blue, startling the grieving monster. “Ooog?” Blue grunted.

    “Big boss go down.” For once, the strange harsh voice was quiet. Pink’s eyes narrowed to catlike slits, though they went horizontal instead of vertical. Blue looked uncertainly at him; he’d never seen his friend in this mood. Pink’s tentacles vibrated, sending a ripple up his wobbly body until his antennae quivered. He glared at Blue. “Big boss go down now.”

    “Mm. Down. Down now,” Blue said slowly, beginning to bounce lightly in solidarity with Pink. “Mm. Down. Awwwww yip yip yip. Down! Uh-huh! Uh-huh!”

    Each of them, quivering, humming softly and tonelessly, hovered a moment above the still, sheeted form. Gently they brushed their soft tentacle-tips across the covered face of the late Ethel Muppman before wavering in the air and vanishing, and the nurse technician who entered the room a moment later only thought he saw an odd ripple in the air, and shrugged it off as fatigue. The gurney wheels squeaked as he took the body from the room.

    At the elevator down the hall, Gina heard the sound of the wheels, and looked back; she saw the gurney slowly being taken away. At least whomever had been honking that ooga-horn had finally stopped; the noise had disturbed them, seeming badly inappropriate for such a sober time. Her Muppet clung to her, his face buried in her coat. She clasped him tighter, hoping he wouldn’t turn around. The elevator softly chimed, the doors opened, and Gina walked her Aloysius inside, sparing him the last sad sight. She saved that for herself, and before the doors shut, thought, Goodbye, Ethel. Thank you for loving my Newsie...he won’t forget you. She stroked Newsie’s hair, and he did his best to hold back a sob, pulling his useless glasses off his face. I’ll be his family for you. She bent over to kiss his forehead. “I love you.”

    “Love you,” Newsie replied, his voice hoarse. “We...I need... I need to go to the theatre.”

    “Sweetie, no. Kermit won’t insist you work tonight, I promise. Let’s go home...”

    “No, not yet,” Newsie said gruffly. He wiped his face with his coatsleeve, and turned hard eyes up to his beloved. “She knew about the monsters. That’s why they tried to kill her. I have to get that report out. Right now. Rhonda just needs me to deliver a voiceover...I need to do that. Now.”

    Gina felt both a surge of pride and a deep uneasiness about his determination; she could see it plainly in his gaze, in the set of his jaw, in the tenseness of his whole posture. Reluctantly she nodded. “All right. I’ll go with you.” She kept her arm around his shoulders, and after a moment, he took her hand in his, and held it through the whole cab ride back to the Muppet Theatre.
    ---------------


     
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  6. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Thirty-Four (II)


    Rhonda threw her hands up in exasperation. “There you are! Where the heck have you --“

    “My aunt’s dead,” Newsie snapped, and the rat froze, mouth still open. “Those raggy things are responsible, Rhonda. They must have made her fall, and the fall caused a lot of damage, she was so – so frail...” He choked back his grief, forcing himself to Muppet up. “We have a lot of work to do. Is the footage all compiled?”

    “Well, kinda. I wasn’t completely sure what order you wanted to tell the story in; I went with the slug-thing as a teaser intro –“ Rhonda grabbed his hand. “Newsie, I am...I’m so sorry...”

    “We have to get this report out,” Newsie said curtly. “People have to be warned! We’ve delayed this far too long already! Ethel confirmed the monsters are kidnapping people; the ones we saw on the hidden camera were there against their will!”

    “But why? Why would they do that? I mean, okay, I know their appetites are...disgusting, truly, but...”

    “She said something about thirty-one lives, about the monsters needing so many for some...some big plan. I don’t know enough yet.” Newsie paced angrily, the rat watching him with worried eyes. “Let me see what you’ve edited.”

    Rhonda turned the laptop toward him, cueing up the report footage. Newsie played it, watching carefully, unconsciously chewing on his fingertips. Gina slipped into the room, and Rhonda went to her. “I am so sorry,” Rhonda murmured. “He didn’t have to come to work after that!”

    “He’s not going to be working. I just spoke with Kermit, and he said Newsie can take as much time as he needs. I think...I think Ethel’s grandson is handling the arrangements, so we don’t know yet about a funeral.” Gina shook her head softly, seeing her Muppet intensely staring at the laptop screen. “He insisted on doing this report tonight. Please, just...help him with it. I’m not going to be able to get him home until he’s satisfied with this.”

    “You bet,” Rhonda agreed. “Uh...could be a while.”

    “Yeah, I figured. I’m going to go get us all some coffee.” Gina touched Newsie’s shoulder; he glanced up at her, clearly irritated at being interrupted, but then reined himself in when she bent to kiss him. “Aloysius...do what you need to do. I love you. I’ll be right back, I’m just going to fetch coffee, okay?”

    “Okay,” he said, and then gave in to a hug. “Thank you.”

    Gina paused, unsure what else to say; he obviously wanted badly to work on this report. She wasn’t sure whether this was a good thing, throwing himself so fully into it immediately after the shock of the afternoon. Muppets were beginning to fill the green room, some of them throwing curious looks their way; some greeted Newsie, and he barely acknowledged them. She stroked his hair once. “I love you. Are you going to be able to work here? Maybe it would be better if we went back to the apartment...”

    “Everything’s set up already. I just want to do this. Please.”

    “Okay, all right...I love you.”

    “Love you,” he said, and promptly returned his attention to the screen.

    Gina shook her head again, concerned, and told Rhonda as she left: “Keep an eye on him, please.”

    The rat wasn’t sure what she could do if her reporter decided to run after another lead right now, but she nodded, and climbed atop the bench next to the laptop. “So, whaddaya think? Can you work up something tonight so we can maybe tape it tomorrow, and –“

    “I’m ready,” Newsie said, brushing down the front of his coat, tucking his tie in smartly. “Start recording.”

    “Uh...you don’t even have a script, Goldie. Look, I understand; why doncha go home and see what you can –“

    “No. Start recording. I need to do this,” Newsie barked at her. Rhonda flinched.

    “Uh...okay then. Lemme mic you, and set up the audio; hold on.”

    Newsie waited, fidgeting impatiently, while Rhonda clipped a mic to his lapel, running a wire straight into her computer and creating a new audio file in her editing software. “The clarity on this should be okay, ‘long as there’s not too much background noise,” Rhonda told him, looking around once at the Muppets milling around downstairs. The Chef was singing at his grill, Link and Strangepork were arguing over whether Link’s fingernails and hooves being trimmed and polished weekly qualified him as a metrosexual hog, the chickens were practicing their version of “Gypsy Moon” in one corner while Rowlf rehearsed “Maple Leaf Rag” at his slightly out-of-tune piano in another...and it wasn’t even time for the house to open yet. “Y’know, maybe we should go up to the flyloft or...”

    “Everyone please be quiet!” Newsie yelled, startling the room. Numerous eyes stared, and more than a few jaws went slack. “This is a very important report I have to record right now! This needs to air immediately! So all of you just shut up for five minutes, if that’s not too much to ask!”

    “Uh...anything you say, Newsman,” Rowlf offered. “Is...is something wrong?”

    “Uh...his aunt died today,” Rhonda explained apologetically, and after a stunned pause, an outpouring of sympathetic words came from all over the room, but Newsie shook his head, holding up both hands.

    “Please! Not now!” He realized finally how he must sound, and tried to soften his voice: “Sorry. Thank you, all of you, but I...I really need to take care of this right this minute. Just...please. Please give me some quiet.”

    Nods, murmurs. Rhonda gave him a worried look. “Newsie, hon...I don’t think this is the best time for you to deal with this, okay? Look, we can do this tomorrow, it’s not that –“

    “It is that urgent!” Newsie insisted. “Is the recorder ready?”

    “Yes, but –“

    “Then start rolling.” His narrowed eyes and thinly-set mouth made Rhonda simply nod, and press start. She gave him a finger-count silently: three, two, one...go.

    Newsie took a deep breath, hit replay on the footage Rhonda had spliced, and began speaking, clearly and firmly. “This is a Muppet News Special Report. The film you are seeing is not a horror movie or an internet prank: this is actual footage shot beneath the streets of the Bowery near Chinatown, in a secret tunnel connected to the corporate office of Nofrisko, makers of sugary snack cakes. On Sunday, October twenty-third, this reporter entered the tunnel seeking answers to a rash of disappearances throughout the city, previously reported on KRAK Big Apple News. The horror you see is what we found.” He paused as the scene changed to a shot of the Nofrisko building exterior, with the SWAT vehicle parked out front. “On Monday morning, a joint investigation by the city police and the Centers for Disease Control attempted to gain access, only to find the building deserted and the tunnel walled up. Efforts to get into the tunnel have been forestalled by an apparent lack of any sense of urgency by city officials; a demolition crew is scheduled to break the wall down next week. Meanwhile, in the basement of the Nofrisko offices, a hidden chemistry lab was discovered. A mysterious substance there was analyzed by Muppet Labs and found to be a concentrated fear-inducing drug – which Nofrisko may have contaminated their own snack cakes with. Why? It seems to have something to do with these.”

    The film ran of the slug-thing and the centipede-thing chasing them. Newsie let it proceed a moment in silence, then said, “We do not yet know what these creatures are or how they came to be underneath the city, but these aren’t the only ones! Our sources confirm many, many more strange, bizarre, and menacing things are living in underground tunnels and caverns beneath Chinatown – perhaps all over the city!” Some of the footage Sweetums had managed to film came next, showing dark rocky corridors with monsters hurrying about. “There is a monstrous conspiracy underfoot, literally! Hundreds of these horrible creatures are operating a television studio underneath lower Manhattan, which broadcasts under the station name MMN. I have already linked them to fraud, and to attempted murder of a woman named Ethel Muppman; she died a short while ago today, apparently of injuries which may have been caused by two of these monsters. Further investigation on that story will be brought to you as information is uncovered.” Rhonda gave him an incredulous look; Newsie didn’t care. He was sure the link was there, and once he found it, he’d tell the world...but for now, even a vague warning was better than silence on the matter!

    He paused to think a moment as the footage continued, showing monsters running by with armfuls of camera equipment, or hustling along bound and unhappy pigs. “This secret-camera footage obtained by our exclusive source earlier today clearly shows that the monsters are indeed keeping individuals against their will in this hidden base – for what purpose? We do not yet know. We do know that many recent missing persons were last seen in or near tunnels, such as subway platforms, aqueducts, or utilities-access passages beneath the streets. I urge you all to stay away from any underground entrance until this matter is fully investigated! If you must ride the subway, go in groups; never get on an empty train or platform or ride the last train of the night. Board up any outside access in your cellars; beware of sewer or drainage tunnels! Whatever these people are being kidnapped for, no reports of ransom have yet been received, and no one has been returned!” He swallowed dryly, watching the footage of the lab beneath Nofrisko. The deep claw-marks on the wall stood out starkly against the white tiles. “An expert chemist from Muppet Labs speculates that the drug Nofrisko was making, which contained numerous non-FDA-approved ingredients, was for the purpose of aiding the monsters by inducing an extreme fear reaction in consumers; monsters apparently enjoy eating prey that tastes more terrified! This revelation is especially disturbing in light of the missing persons.”

    The scene shifted to the abandoned subway tracks. “An entrance to this secret compound was discovered leading from the disused subway tunnel next to the J line. We urge city officials to take this threat with the same seriousness as any terrorist activity! Whatever these monsters are planning, it is clearly inimical to the people of this city! Please find these furry terrorizers, and shut them down!” He paused, looking at Rhonda. “Can you give me a video feed for the exit?”

    “Uh...sure. Hang on.” Rhonda grabbed their small videocamera, quickly setting it up on a short tripod, gesturing for Newsie to stand closer to a section of blank wall (the only bit not covered by old promo posters for various theatre acts). When she signaled him again, he took only a second to clear his thoughts before finishing the report on-camera.

    “This is a sincere appeal to all citizens to be on alert for these furry menaces, to stay away from any underground access which the fiends might use! And for our law enforcement to realize they have a serious problem, and must immediately root out this hidden nest of horror underneath us! For Muppet News and the city of New York, this is your Muppet Newsman.” He didn’t have to tell Rhonda to cut; she stopped the camera, shaking her head.

    “Holy monster movies, Newsie. Didja really have to throw in the speculative stuff? I mean, we don’t know for sure that monsters tried to kill your aunt, or –“

    “They did!” Newsie snapped. “What else could it have been? She was fine! Maybe a little disoriented, but fine! And –and she told me she caught one of them and made him talk! It just keeps getting worse, Rhonda,” he said, trying not to shout. “Worse and worse. She told me they needed thirty-one lives, that’s why people have been kidnapped, some sort of plot...and that they’re planning on unleashing the worst of it in a storm.”

    “A storm?” Rhonda asked. “Uh, Newsie, I don’t think we even have rain in the forecast all week. And how could monsters make it storm? Or are they just waiting for one? Why would they need a storm for anything? They’re already kidnapping people and attacking anyone non-monstrous who goes down there – and we still don’t know what was up with that leaky wall! Are they planning on flooding the city?”

    “I don’t know,” he growled, tearing off the mic so he could pace. “I don’t know! But whatever it is, it’s going to be horrible! We have to stop them!” He whirled, glaring at her. “Just get that report posted right now! We have to stop anyone else from being hurt!”

    “Newsman?” Scooter called; Newsie turned to see him, Kermit, and even Miss Piggy coming downstairs, all looking worried. “Geez, I am so sorry. Is there anything at all we can do?”

    “Board up the prop room,” Newsie replied. At Scooter’s confused expression, he explained, “Those things could get in here! Board up every possible portal to the sewers, the drains, the whole underground system! And...and ban the monsters!”

    “Ban the monsters? Why?” Kermit wondered. Piggy, holding his arm, stared uncertainly at Newsie.

    She demurred, “I’ll grant you, their fur sheds all over the place, and some of ‘em need air fresheners hanging off their noses permanently...but why would we ban them from the theatre? Monsters have always been part of the show!”

    Gina returned, handing a small moccaccino to Rhonda. “You have to talk to him, he’s gone completely overboard,” the rat hissed. “He just threw stuff into his report we can’t even prove yet! I have never seen him treat speculation as actual newsworthy material!”

    Newsie gestured at the room at large. “Where are they tonight? Did you notice that except for Sweetums, not one monster is here?”

    “I thought some of them were on vacation,” Kermit said, startled, looking at Scooter. His second-in-command nodded.

    “Well, yeah! The Mutations said they had a concert gig on a cruise line all this week; Carl called in sick; Big Mama hasn’t checked in; uh, I saw Thog upstairs napping, so he’s certainly not involved in anything bad –“

    “Oh come on!” Newsie yelled. Gina startled him when she touched his shoulder; he untensed enough to accept the coffee she offered, but then continued to argue: “A cruise? Sick leave? When have any of them ever called in with excuses like that? They’re always here! And now suddenly they’re not! They’re all in league, all underground planning something horrible! Kermit, they’re kidnapping pigs!”

    “What?” Piggy and Kermit exclaimed. Piggy growled, “Oh I don’t think so.”

    “It’s true,” Rhonda muttered reluctantly. She cued up the footage Sweetums shot. “They don’t look glad to be there to me...”

    Piggy’s fingers clenched; with some difficulty, Kermit pulled his loose from her grip. “What...hey, that’s Doglion! Where...what is this?” he asked.

    “A secret base of monsters, underground,” Newsie said grimly. “Watch the footage. Judge for yourselves. But if we don’t take steps to protect ourselves...those things will be after us next.” He turned back to Rhonda. “Get that online. Please. Right now.”

    “Um, sure you don’t wanna edit out the –“

    “No edits! Just paste it together and post it!”

    “Ooookay,” Rhonda sighed, shaking her head at Gina.

    Kermit, Scooter, and Piggy continued to watch the hidden-camera film. “I...I don’t understand,” Kermit muttered. “What the hey is going on here? Are you sure this isn’t just a Halloween prank, Newsman?”

    “I would never –“

    “By the monsters,” Scooter amended. “Maybe...maybe this is all just some big monster party, ya know? They do things a little differently.”

    “That pig was squealing,” Piggy protested. “And not in a happy way!”

    “Look, let’s...let’s think this through,” Kermit said, scrunching his mouth. “Why would monsters want to hurt anyone?”

    Newsie shook his head. “Watch my report, Kermit. Horrible things will happen unless those creatures are stopped now! Just...just see for yourself. Ask Sweetums; we sent him in to shoot this because they would have eaten us if we’d tried! What do you think attacked Rhonda? Why do you think the theatre monsters are all suddenly away? They’re all in on it! We can’t trust any of them!” Upset, he paced the room. Gina joined him, casting a frown at him when he pulled out another anti-monsterphobia pill to try and quell his trembling at the thought of what might happen if the monsters returned here en masse. “Barricades,” he muttered darkly, “weapons...we need defenses...”

    “We need to go home now,” Gina said firmly. She took his shoulders in her hands so that he was forced to stop and look at her. “You need rest.” When he began to argue, she pointed out loudly: “You can’t fight off a monster invasion if you’re so stressed and exhausted you drop in your tracks!”

    Newsie considered it, finally nodding. Gina guided him up the stairs and toward the exit. Several Muppets offered condolences on the way out; he only gave small nods to each of them, feeling tense and overcome. In the cab home, he couldn’t stop more tears from flowing, but his Gypsy girl held him, and sang softly, a whisper of a tune, an old song about loss from her grandmama’s heritage. Gradually he fell silent and held her, listening, soothed by the music though he couldn’t comprehend the Romany words.

    At the theatre, Kermit stopped the playback, frowning. “Rhonda? Is this all true?”

    “I sure as heck hope not,” the rat sighed. She met worried looks with one of her own. “But...paranoid he may be, crazed by grief he may be, but I have to admit...he’s been right on everything we’ve found so far.”

    Silence fell in their corner. Scooter cleared his throat. “Uhm. So. Round up Beau and the stagepigs and get some boards?”

    Kermit nodded slowly. “Maybe...that would be a good idea. Just as a precaution. I’m sure this is all overblown. But...yeah. Do that.”

    “Mon capitan,” Piggy whispered, “what do we do if the monsters walk back in? Can we trust them?”

    “Sweetums!” Kermit bellowed, and in a few seconds the shaggy troll lumbered over, blinking curiously. “Guard the back door. Tell Thog to guard the front. Until we get this sorted out...no monsters allowed back in. They’re all on leave as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure this is a big misunderstanding, but...”

    “Hoo boy. They’re not gonna be happy...” Scooter said.

    “Either way, a week without that dirty fur smell sounds delightful,” Piggy said. “And if they get past those guys...they’ll answer to moi!”

    “I hope pork’s not on their menu tonight,” Rhonda muttered; fortunately Piggy didn’t hear her. As the others went their way, getting the theatre ready for the show with more worries than usual on their minds, Rhonda began digitally splicing audio with video. “I wonder if Goldie’s realized this’ll make him a target, if he wasn’t already?” she sighed. “Eh, knowing him, he’s already putting extra locks on the door...hope Gina can handle him.” Another fact struck her, and she stopped, paws on hips, annoyed. “Oh, gawd. This means I have to go back to my place tonight. Oh, man, I swear, first little pinkie that shrieks tonight is going right into the breadbox and staying there!”
    ----------------
     
    The Count and WebMistressGina like this.
  7. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    *:insatiable: is patting his stomach after another helping heaping of newsmanfan's fic.

    Glad that :concern: showed up to talk to Snookie about who his cousin is.
    *Sniggers at the thought of Rosie having to take off his fur and then velcro it back up. Reminds me of that monster from Doug that scared him for the whole weekend until he saw the zipper of the costume.
    Snookie being a gentleman for Stinkbo, er Constanza? The entire play between the two of them as she wisened up as to her new imprisonment was very endearing.

    The entire segment with the Martians mourning over Ethyl's departure made me smile. Doing their voices while reading, trying to give each line the deserved pathos/entonation, then realizing what Pink proposed to Blue. Go get him boys. But please remember to free Deadly, he'll help you if you lend a tentacle or twenty-three.

    :news: has started to show the rigors of such a heavy-duty reportage into the underrealm's underhanded undoings. Sweetums and Thog should make valiant bouncers... And I rully like Rhonda's attempts to keep the reportage's posting on the straight and narrow. But things are going downhill to heck and a handbasket quickly. The only thing you can hope for is to head for higher ground, surviving the coming Muppapocalypse.

    Thank you for posting. *Disappears into the shadows once more.
     
    newsmanfan likes this.
  8. WebMistressGina

    WebMistressGina Well-Known Member

    Alright! Everything's falling into places, as in may not be what they seem.

    Of course as I'm reading this, my question is - when will the Muppets at the theatre realize that Monster ground zero is the same place Gonzo is? I'm hoping that Rizzo will cotton on, but something tells me that Pepe, in his own special way, will glade by and say, "Dat's de place where Gonzo is, hokay? he went there for his crazy stunts. What? Jus didn't know dis? Unbelievable, hokay?"

    :rolleyes:

    don't look at me like that! You have a hard accent to write. Why you don't get a little hooked on Phonics, huh?

    :rolleyes: Why? Did it work fer ju?

    I feel like shrimp. Who's with me?
     
  9. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    To quote Aunt Ru from Pepe's earliest appearance in KG...
    "Oo Pepe, ju sais to jourself, dis womans, she is more interested in de cocktail than cocktails okay. So ju is having to get jourself out there and mail jourself to da bear. Well, not da bear okay, but da Muppins in Vegas okay, where ju can shake jour bonbons in Kermin's Vegas show for da celeries okay."

    Yeah, he's crazy like that. *Passes popcorn to WMG.
     
  10. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    -------------
    I thought he only worked for cash monies okay?

    Next up...the next extermination round of... BREAK A LEG!

    ------------
     
  11. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    Shh, all he knows is he gets da greens if ju know what we means okay.
    :shifty: We'll take cash.
    :rolleyes: Credit cards.
    :shifty: Personal checks.
    :rolleyes: Belgian waffles.

    Also interested in what Constanza disclosed of herself. Is the two-tonedness because of her violet hair and blue felt? No, I'm not taking into account the pink splattering from the hogwash the monsters forced her to go through.

    Please, post more? :halo:
     
  12. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Yep...that would be the spraypaint which isn't washing out. Felt stains easily, ya know.

    Post more? I gotta WRITE more...and Gonzo's acts are getting increasingly complex and ridiculous...give me a few days!

    Where's YOUR entry for May, huh? Huh?
    -----------------
     
  13. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    You cut me to the quick. Dunno, maybe next week since it's more of a motherly scene in the Grosse family garden I've planned. I've gotten distracted with some good fics at Fanfiction.net. If only you could stay logged in as permanently and post/upload stories as easily as we can here. Le sigh.

    If you need help, you know where to reach me. Unless you get a prerecorded holographic version of me that knows how to answer your questions as if I myself were there at that time, like what Gonzo did on JHH.
     
  14. Ruahnna

    Ruahnna Well-Known Member

    I managed to read this today but didn't have a mo to post until now. There were some things to love. The yips getting all indignant and wanting to take down the BEO (Big Evil One) was super. The way that ush-gush--the need for human attraction and affectionate contact--can surface in any situation. Newsie finding his reporting center in the midst of great sadness and concern. Gonzo's sanguinity (is that even a real word?) in the weirdest of situations. Kermit and Piggy and Scooter and everybody showing solidarity with the cause.
    Can't wait to see what happens next!
     
  15. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    ------------
    Thanks Ru...and don't be afraid to post your private critiques here; your notes are ALWAYS helpful!!

    That goes for anyone: I do really welcome feedback. Helps me fine-tune. More soon as I'm able...:news:
    -------------
     
  16. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    (Author's Note: okay, so I was amiss in announcing 'Break a Leg' yet...there was more, I realized, which needed attention first! Stay tuned NEXT time for the most devastatingly dumb stunts on the planet, so amazingly suicidal they make the idiots over at 'Jackdonkey' jealous! Now for this week's feature. Please use your headphones so the creatures around you will not be disturbed any more than they already are. There is a paper sack located in the pocket of the seat in front of you in the event of monster-food stomach turbulence. Enjoy your movie.)

    Part Thirty-Five

    Wednesday dawned crisp and cool; by late morning the sky was that special shade of cerulean reserved for brisk autumn days, cloudless, with the fire of trees throughout the city creating the kind of bright, wondrous contrast which made people gaze up in startled contentment, no matter how harried their life. It was the kind of day made for going out and flying a dragon kite, or raking leaves and jumping into them in a schoolyard, or suddenly needing another pumpkin for the front stoop.

    Gina stole a quick glance at the still figure in the windowseat of the living room, then spoke softly over the phone in the kitchen. “Thanks, Mike. I’ll make it up this weekend...yeah, please do. Tell him all my plots are on top of the gel storage cabinet in the booth. He knows what I’m going for. Yeah, well...just tell him what’s going on, but sure, I can owe him a coffee. Okay. I hope so too... Thanks.” She hung up, took another look at her beloved, and sighed to herself. He hadn’t moved in three hours, after losing the argument to march right over to City Hall and demand to see the Mayor. She poured a cup of fresh pumpkin-spice coffee, hesitated, then added a couple of ounces of similarly flavored liqueur before bringing it out to her Newsman. “Sweetie? Here...”

    He accepted the mug without a word, sniffed it, and took a long gulp. As an afterthought, he handed her the cold mug which had been sitting on the ledge of the windowseat for quite some time, largely untouched. “Thanks,” he mumbled, setting the fresh mug in the old one’s place and proceeding to ignore it, returning his attention to the pile of papers in his lap. He didn’t think anything truly useful would come of these alleged leads, but it was his duty as an investigative reporter to leave no grimy, distasteful city stone unturned...

    Gina stroked a hand down his arm; he barely glanced at her. “Drink your coffee,” she urged. “It’ll help.”

    “Coffee won’t stop anything,” he said, bloodshot eyes locked on the page before him. Gina, worried, sat down on the sofa, watching him. Twice last night he’d bolted awake with a shout, wracked by nightmares; he’d barely slept. They’d had a terrible start to the day, with much shouting, when she’d refused to let him go running after city officials to demand they press into the subway tunnels in search of monsters. She’d had to beg before he gave in and unhappily agreed to stay home today. Now he was curled into a compact bundle of washed-out-looking felt, a heavy robe, and a throw blanket at one edge of the windowseat, unaffected by the wondrous day outside. If anything, the blue sea of sky above the gray buildings seemed to anger him whenever he glanced out at it, but mostly he’d focused on these papers, a stack of tips from the news station he’d yet to wade through completely.

    Gina noticed he’d stared at one for several minutes. “Does that one look like a good lead?” she asked.

    He glanced at her with a mild frown. “No...it’s just as inane as the rest of them.”

    “Well, does staring at it for an hour make it any better?”

    Disgusted, he tossed it away; it drifted to the carpet. “No.” He glared out the window. A pair of small birds flitted by; he watched them resentfully. Two million people and change out there, all having a normal day. None of them suspect the horror beneath their feet. None of them! “Can I please check the video now?” he asked, his voice a barely controlled growl.

    Gina regarded him a long moment. “Deal – if you finish that cup of coffee.”

    He sighed. “Fine.” He took another gulp of it, fingers brushing back and forth along the edges of the paper pile. “These people are fools. Isn’t there even one person in this city besides me who knows what the hey is really going on?”

    “Sorry, didn’t realize I didn’t count.”

    He looked up at that, chagrined enough to amend his tone. “I...of course you do. I know you do.” He paused, swallowing back mingled guilt and frustration. “I know you do.”

    She sighed again, and fetched his Powerbook for him. As she settled it in his lap, helping him move the papers, she leaned over to kiss his forehead. “Got your back, you know.”

    He nodded, and after a minute added, quietly, “Thank you.”

    While he navigated through the Times website, Gina thumbed through the stack of printed emails. “Man. This guy thinks Bigfoot is living in the park...well, guess that’s not so far off,” she mumbled, thinking of Sweetums’ cousin with a shiver. “Here’s one that says they saw Elvis partying on the subway at one in the morning. Right...the King is back, and kidnapping nubile young women for his secret love nest.”

    Newsie snorted. He continued to search the news site for the video Rhonda was supposed to have posted last night. “She said it would be linked to the ‘Around Town’ page...and there’s nothing here! What the heck!”

    “You know she wouldn’t have blown it off,” Gina chided him. “Maybe the editor decided not to link to it.”

    “We have to get that information out! Who knows how many people they’re snatching every night!” Angrily, Newsie clicked on link after link, searching the entire site section by section. He swore loudly. “Where the frog is it?”

    “Calm down,” Gina said. “Look, go check your email. Maybe Rhonda wasn’t able to post your warning at the Times; if they killed it you know it’s not her fault! Maybe she’s left you a note about it.”

    Trying to calm himself, Newsie nodded, took another sip of the coffee, and set about logging in to his email; he’d begun changing the password frequently since this investigation had begun, and it took his sleep-deprived brain a moment to recall what he’d used this time. Gina held up a sheet of paper with a half-smile. “Giant spiders nesting in the head of Lady Liberty.”

    “Not likely,” Newsie shot back. “I think they’re all under Chinatown.”

    “What’s up with the location, anyway?” Gina wondered. “This is like ‘Big Trouble in Little Muppettown’ or something. Do you think they started with Nofrisko and moved underground, or took over the company because it was close to their lair already?”

    “Who knows?” He knocked back a deep drink of the coffee, then sniffed at it again, curiosity roused just enough to comment. “Uh...whatever you did to this, it’s good. Thank you.”

    “Extra-strength brew,” Gina said, hoping he’d eventually forgive her the small deception. “I thought you really needed it after last night.”

    Newsie nodded again, then set aside the mug as his email loaded. “You’re right. She emailed me. She says...” He scowled. “She...she was rejected by the Lifestyle editor at the Times, so she posted it...she posted it on MuppTube?” Bewildered, he clicked on the link the resourceful rat had sent.

    “I thought that was all bad singers trying to lip-synch in their underwear, and kitties playing with gerbils in plastic rolly balls,” Gina said, rising to peer over his shoulder at the screen. The video, when it finally buffered and played, looked exactly as Newsie had narrated it last night. Gina pointed to a corner of the screen. “Look, sweetie! It already has over a thousand hits!”

    “Great,” Newsie muttered. “So less than one per cent of the population has seen it...assuming they’re even all from this city!” Disgusted, he closed the site, reading the rest of Rhonda’s note. He sputtered. “Blanke – that – that – no!”

    “What is it?”

    His glower deepened the shadows around his eyes. “She says Blanke called her asking her to turn in her press ID until the hearing. The hearing. As if it’s even going to be close to a fair trial! He’ll...he’ll fill the bench with so-called ‘adjudicators’ on his station payroll – or Nofrisko’s! With those creeps actually in charge of things, how can we get anything like a fair shake?”

    “Is he expecting you to send in yours as well?”

    Newsie unconsciously pulled his robe tighter around himself, although the badge in question was in his wallet in the bedroom. “He can have my badge when he pries it from my cold, still foam!”

    “Well...I won’t let it come to that,” Gina promised, wrapping her arms around him. Though tense, he gave in just enough to touch her skin briefly before pulling away. It was more affection than he’d demonstrated since their fight earlier, however, so Gina accepted it silently as progress. She sat back down, and with a sigh resumed reading through the ‘leads.’

    “Uhm. Is there...could I...could I have a little more coffee?” Newsie asked gruffly. When Gina met his gaze, he appeared contrite. He held out the empty mug. “You’re...you’re right. It is helping a little.”

    “Told you,” Gina said, relieved. “Nice warm drink on a cool, depressing day.” He didn’t pull back when she kissed him, and he slumped with a sigh as she took the mug.

    “Look at it out there,” he said, his voice so quiet for once that Gina had to stop and listen carefully to hear him. “The sky’s so...blue.”

    He continued to stare out at it as if seeing it for the first time. Gina refilled his mug, again adding a little of something guaranteed to calm him whether he wanted to relax or not. She brought it back to him, and relaxed more herself as she watched him absently sip it, still gazing up at the brilliant, arching expanse of pure blue. “It’s...” he hesitated, seeking words, then finished, “It’s...nice out.”

    She nodded, and folded herself onto the seat beside him. “You’d never know bad things were happening under something that pretty.”

    “Why...why is it like this?” Newsie asked, suddenly turning weary eyes up to her. “Why are they doing this? Not that I ever thought they were choirboys, of course, but...why this? Why now?”

    “My sweet journalist, I don’t know,” Gina murmured, taking his free hand in hers. His soft fingers brushed against hers, seeking reassurance in a touch; Gina held his hand firmly, and gave it a gentle squeeze. “The monsters at the Muppet Theatre never kidnapped anyone before now, right?”

    “Right. They...well, I remember a skit where Gorgon Heap ate Wayne...and those weird, violent Hugga Wugga things always made me uneasy...things like that were pretty commonplace, but nobody was hurt,” Newsie said slowly, thinking about it. “I don’t know how long any of this other stuff has actually been going on! It...it seems very...planned, doesn’t it?”

    “Organized,” Gina agreed, considering. “It does.”

    They gave the matter some thought in silence. Newsie finished most of his second spiked cup. “Somebody is guiding them,” he decided aloud. “Someone’s ordering them around. They’re way too chaotic to have done all this on their own. A TV studio? Alliances with major corporations? It’s too conspiratorial...frankly, they’re not that bright.”

    “Um...I think Sweetums is more childlike gentle giant than village idiot, and that’s a good thing in my book.”

    “I wish he had more to say about what he saw down there,” Newsie muttered. “It was all just a big fun fair to him!”

    “And it’s that very innocence which keeps him safe,” Gina pointed out.

    Newsie nodded, reflecting that the troll was definitely an asset on their side against so many fiends. Gina broached a sore subject carefully. “Hopefully...the Mayor and the cops and everyone else will see your report today. Maybe by tonight all this will be over.”

    “I hope so,” he muttered. He stared out at a breeze shaking the leaf garlands on the flowerboxes; the golden mums Gina had planted last month looked a little worse for wear, and would no doubt be dying back soon. He tried to view that as a metaphor for the underground threat.

    She waited, still holding his hand. “It looks really nice out...we could go for a walk, if you want. I have the day off. Scott’s going to help with the build today, and hang lights tomorrow for me.”

    He felt guilty again. “You didn’t have to stay home for me.”

    She held back the many tart comments about rushing into disaster which sprang to mind; he’d calmed, and she felt reasonably secure he wouldn’t do anything embarrassing like call the FBI crying monster. Instead, she lifted his fingers to her lips, and kissed his felt. He met her eyes, appearing so sorrowful she melted at once. “I love you,” she said. “Look, Newsie...maybe we should go for a walk. It’ll be too cold to really go outside and play soon enough; let’s take advantage of it while we can. We can go by that newsstand you like on Forty-ninth,” she suggested.

    He shook his head slowly. “No...I think...I think I just want to stay here a while.”

    “Okay,” Gina replied. He closed his laptop, setting it aside, and gazed out the window with nearly-closed eyes. “Want me to keep looking through those leads with you?”

    He shrugged. “Maybe you’ll have more luck...my eyes hurt.”

    She nodded, stroking his fingers; this time, he held on. Giving him a gentle smile, Gina picked up the paper stack again. She read through another few unhelpful ‘tips.’ At her sudden snort of amusement, he turned those tired eyes back to her, curious. She held up the information of note. “This person believes the old hotel on Doyers Street is haunted. Says she’s heard moans and cries there late at night.”

    “Right,” Newsie grunted. “More likely addicts crashing in a condemned building than spirits back from the dead.”

    “No doubt,” she agreed. Newsie released a deep sigh that seemed to take all the remaining strength from his body. “We’ll check the video again in a couple hours, okay? See if it’s circulated enough, or if we should try and push it at other sites?”

    “Rhonda’s probably already doing that,” Newsie said. He moved everything away from him except her, and lay down along the windowseat, resting his head in her lap. She tucked the Muppet-sized blanket around him, and he sighed once more. “Ghosts,” he said simply.

    “Do you...do you want me to try to...”

    “No,” he mumbled, eyes closing; wearily he pulled off his glasses, and Gina set them on the bookshelf. “No. Let her go. She’s probably happier now.” He shifted, getting more comfortable. “Besides...even if there were ghosts at some decrepit old wreck in this town...they wouldn’t be able to tell me why a bunch of monsters have suddenly gone postal.”

    “I don’t think they let monsters work at the post office,” Gina said, ruffling his hair.

    “Hmf,” he grunted, just conscious enough to be dryly amused...and then his breathing slowed, and she knew he was fast asleep, finally. Gina leaned back, getting as comfortable as she could, resolved to let him sleep that way as long as possible. Maybe in a while he would be settled enough to remain asleep if she took him to bed. Maybe later her efforts to soothe him would actually work. Exhausted herself, Gina allowed her eyes to close.

    Soon there were two redheads, one felted and one not, fast asleep in the glorious dappled light of a wide window on a fall afternoon.


    ----------------
    Beaker approached Bunsen armed with real facts this time. This time, he would make his comrade-in-science listen when he voiced his concerns about things in this creepy old building! Honeydew turned from calibrating the transmitter which would send all the equipment signals out in a web-TV simulcast Halloween night. “Isn’t it wonderful they already had a digital transmitter up and running for us, Beaker? Our little scare project will broadcast to the five boroughs and beyond! Isn’t that exciting?”

    “Mee mo moo moo mee meemee,” Beaker said, brushing aside Bunsen’s dreams of fame.

    Bunsen frowned. “Really, Beakie? You’re going to bring up that nonsense about haunted hotels again?” Beaker shoved a thick paperback book under Bunsen’s nose. “What’s this? – ‘Rick Steves’ Top Ten Places He Had His Bad Hair Scared Right Off His Head’? Oh, honestly, now! Did you get even one twitch of the needle on the PKE meter last time? No! There are no ghosts in this place, unless you count old memories...which I’m sure any hotel this old and storied must carry in its crumbling walls.” With a sigh, he looked at the page Beaker opened the book to and thrust at him. Bunsen adjusted his glasses. “Hmm. ‘The Chinatown district of lower Manhattan is home to many gruesome tales, stories of revenge and bloody opium wars and clashes between street gangs with names like the Dead Rabbits, but perhaps the most haunted locale in this part of the city is the old Happy Lotus Hotel on Doyers Street. Although the tiny, crooked street outside was the grim setting for so many gang ambushes and assassinations in broad daylight that it was known decades ago as the “Bloody Angle,” inside the once-beautiful lobby of the hotel, you get a chill simply walking on the dusty marble floors and looking up the formerly grand stairway to the guest rooms. I wouldn’t recommend trying the stairs, however, as all of the floors above the ground level have been condemned by the city as dangerous since an inspector fell through a wall in Nineteen-seventy-eight.’” Bunsen handed the book back to a wide-eyed, expectant Beaker. “Well, it is always nice to know a little local history! Thank you, Beaker. Now, shall we go get the third floor hooked up?”

    Astounded, Beaker gaped at him. Recovering his voice finally, he protested, “Mee meep mo meepie!”

    Honeydew shook his head, annoyed. “I don’t believe ‘creepy’ is a scientifically valid quantification! Now come along, grab a few of these infrared camera packs and motion trippers and let’s get them in position and online, shall we?”

    Grumbling, Beaker tossed away the guide book and began shoving equipment in a battered canvas satchel for lugging upstairs. “Oh, careful, Beaker. Remember we don’t have the budget to replace any of this! Wasn’t it generous of Nofrisko to fund our tech needs? Ah, so nice to finally encounter a company which actually respects and advances progress!”

    “Meep,” Beaker muttered; he wasn’t certain what they were doing here actually counted as progress. He reached the grand landing with its ungracefully-shored-up balustrade, and realized he was alone. Looking back quickly, he saw Bunsen rummaging through boxes of brand-new computer monitors and external hard drives in the center of the lobby. “Mee! Mee meep meep me mo mee?”

    “No, you go on ahead. I’ll get all the monitors set up and interfaced,” Honeydew said with an airy wave in Beaker’s direction.

    Beaker stared at him, then looked with a shiver up the turn of the stairs. The second floor had been bad enough, with its meandering corridors and tiny, cobweb-filled rooms, but the third floor seemed even darker...and then there was the attic... Gulping so hard his head bobbed down into his collar, Beaker reluctantly trudged up the creaky stairs. He remembered to avoid the loose board on the eighth step up (two nasty tumbles after having it skitter out from under his foot had implanted the location of the hazard firmly in his brain), but nearly fell when he placed a hand on the railing from the second landing to the third flight of steps and it collapsed. “Meeeeep!”

    “Careful, Beaker! Try not to damage the fixtures! Remember, we can’t replace history!”

    Thinking they might well make history here, for the most injuries suffered in a condemned building during a Muppet production, Beaker regained his footing and cautiously advanced upward, shining a thin beam of greenish light around. He wished he’d thought to bring more glow-sticks to leave as a trail to light the way back. That might not work anyway, however: the ones he’d laid down at each turn of the hallway on the second floor earlier this week had seemed to vanish minutes later when he returned seeking his way out... He peeked over the steps at the third-level landing. The doors seemed farther spaced apart, and the hall quickly branched to left and right, so it was impossible to discern much. Shaking, he advanced slowly, glowstick brandished like a lightsaber, clutching his satchel tightly. Tiny swirls of dust puffed up at his every step, which upon reflection reassured him somewhat: it certainly indicated no one had tread up here in years.

    Then again, ghosts wouldn’t leave footprints.

    He wondered if the PKE meter could possibly have malfunctioned. Didn’t it seem colder up here? Shivering again, he scrunched his flat chin against the warm striped muffler around his shoulders. Was that a skittery sound off to the left? Stifling a yelp, he whirled, eyes wide, searching the dark hallway. A door gaped blackly farther down, torn or fallen off its hinges long ago. A window-shutter slapped the wall outside; Beaker jumped, and tried to peer in every direction at once. He moved back toward the stairs. Something smacked his leg. “Meeee!”

    It was only his satchel. Realizing he’d never hear the end of it if he bolted downstairs with a full bag, Beaker shook his head and looked around with an eye more to judging the best places to set up the motion detectors and cameras. Perhaps if he moved quickly, and didn’t venture too far from the stairs, he could hurry back down and truthfully claim to have put them all in place? That sounded like a plan. He pulled a motion-trigger from his bag, yanked a screwdriver from the toolbelt just under his lab coat, and fastened the sensor to a crumbling newel post. As he installed the camera and made sure fresh batteries went into everything, he had to turn his back on the hall with the open doorway.

    The small, batlike thing with a tooth-overfilled mouth flinched as a huge droplet smacked its head. It glared up at the gigantic orange-furred spider clinging upside-down to the doorframe. “Quit droolin’ on me!” the bat-thing hissed. Annoyed at the reprimand, the spider drew back a little into the shadow of the once-luxurious Princess Crane Suite, its preferred lair on the upper floor for its spaciousness and disintegrating bedlinens. “You can’t eat ‘im yet! We needsh ‘em for the big night, bosh says,” the bat-thing reminded the much bigger spider.

    “But me so huuuungry,” the spider whined. Another twelve-ounce drop of drool plashed into the dust of the doorway.

    “Shtop that! You wanna make the plaish look too clean?” the bat-thing scolded. It crawled back into the suite, dragging itself along by the wicked claws tipping its wings.

    “You gets eats,” the spider complained, eyeing the bat-thing grumpily. “You fat!”

    “I am not!” Drawing itself up haughtily, the bat-thing waggled wings far too tiny for its round body. “I’m...big-furred. Now...shtay out of shight!” He waddled over to the circular bed and crawled into his nest in the half-collapsed box springs. “We hash to have firty-one, and bosh shays the more Muppesh, the better, sho no shnacking, Shteve! Clawsh off til the big night!” The bat fussed with the bedcover. “Eew! You been nibbling thish again!”

    “Uhn-uhh,” the spider denied.

    “Hash too. Look, I can shee the fringe ish all chewed!” Disgusted, the bat shoved it away from his nest.

    Giving up, Steve the giant spider sighed, casting a longing look at the doorway. In the corridor outside they could hear the skinny, flame-haired Muppet tinkering with his electronics. “What all that for anyway?”

    “The shurveillansh? Ish sho the bosh can make the whole world shee ush eat Muppesh!” The bat cackled, then remembered to silence himself. In the hallway, Beaker froze, looked around anxiously, and decided maybe the third floor only needed a couple of cameras, after all. Whispering, the bat continued, “Halloween night, they’ll all be trompin’ froo here, and when ish time, we grab ‘em all and rip ‘em apart and ish all gonna be on TV!”

    “Oooo,” Steve murmured, impressed. Then all eight eyes narrowed. “Wait...can’ts me wrap ‘em up for later?”

    “No! Bosh shays they all gotta be killed wifin, like, sheconds for his big ashenshion thingy to work – and then we take over the shi—“ Catching himself with a scowl, the bat reworded, “We takesh over the whole town!”

    “Neat,” said Steve.

    “Yep.”

    “But...uh...” The bat-thing sighed, eyes rolling, as his larger but not smarter friend puzzled it out. “Wait. If we rips ‘em up...all the good stuff fall out.” Plaintively he whined, “Me likes the insides!”

    “Well, then, shuck on the legsh if you want! But all firty-one needsh to be dead at the right minute or bosh won’t ashend, and he’ll be mad at ush! You don’t want to make bosh mad, right?”

    “No no no,” Steve murmured, drawing his legs in, cowed. “Uh...maybe they be extra tasties can save for later?”

    “I dunno. I shaw the lisht today. Sho far they only got eighteen Muppesh shay they gonna be here. Dunno how many other peoplesh that weird doc got down below. May need to kill all of ‘em jusht to make quota.” The bat sighed. “Ish a hard world, Shteve.”

    “Yuh...” Silence fell in the hall; apparently the scientist had gone back downstairs. Just as well. Neither monster particularly wanted to rouse themselves since morning nappies was commencing. “Hey, Clarence?”

    “What?”

    “We can has cookie after nappies?”

    The bat-thing sighed again. “Shure, cookiesh. Where the heck am I gonna find you cookiesh?”

    “Uhhh...” The spider shuffled six of his feet, abashed. “I got some from doc. Wait! I show you!” He rambled over to a large web filling what had been the bathroom of the suite, and brought back a struggling shelled thing. “Crunchy kind, with jelly in middle!”

    Clarence stared at the snapping thing trying to free itself of its webbed cocoon. “You idiot! Thash a clam!”

    “Who you callin’ a clam, you fat-bellied orthodontist’s worst nightmare?” yelled the mussel. “Lemme outta here! My union rep is gonna sue you guys’ butts inta the middle’a next month!”

    Clarence stared at it, then looked up at the hopeful expression on the spider’s face. “Never mind. Enjoy your cookie.”

    “Goodie!” Clapping, Steve tucked the still-protesting clam away for later. He snuggled atop the decrepit bed. After another long silence during which Clarence nearly fell asleep, Steve mumbled, “Uhhh...me can has binkie?”

    “Oh for cryin’ out...fine! Take it! You’ve eaten half of it already anyway,” Clarence groaned, tossing the remnants of the silk coverlet up at the spider. A few seconds later, the sound of slurping came from the bed, as the spider curled up with a corner of the blanket in its mandibles, acidic drool slowly wearing a hole in the fabric as he sucked it contentedly. “Sheesh...all the monshtersh in the joint and I gets shtuck wif the biggesht baby of ‘em all,” Clarence grumbled, but quietly. After all, he had no wish for his perpetually-hungry companion to start looking at him as a potential cookie.


    -------------------
    “No I do not want a cookie!”

    The purple furry thing with heavy black eyebrows cringed back, nearly spilling the tray of gerbil meltaways he’d brought as timid tribute to the underlord. Eustace motioned him away from the door to the control hub, and the monster scurried off. The underlord fumed, glaring at one of the multitude of screens filling the curved wall before his throne. “Who? Who took this footage?” the dark boss roared. One of the flickering monitors shorted out.

    “It...it appearsss no one the culprit sspoke to had any inkling they were being filmed, your awfulnesss,” Eustace ventured, but flinched when a heavy hand nearly collided with the doglizard’s crested head.

    “I can see that, you microcephalic! How! How did a camera get past the guards?” The angry boss pointed at a large, scaly blue thing with pink tusks greeting the cameraman briefly, just inside the subway tunnel entrance. “That one. Bring him to me. He shall be made an example of, for allowing this to happen!”

    Eustace agreed: “Er...sssshe alwaysss ssseemed a bit too friendly to me, my lord.”

    A pause. “In any case...bring her to me then, Eustace. This sort of laxity cannot go unremarked when we are so close to the Dark Ascension!”

    “At onsssse, my liege,” the doglizard promised, turning to go, but an enormous thumb and finger hooked one of his whiskers. Eustace yelped, and immediately silenced himself, waiting, trembling, for further instructions.

    “That reporter. He posted this. All this is his work,” the boss snarled, his red eyes pinpricks of light as he glared at the screen, where a short yellow Muppet was speaking urgently and earnestly about the monsters underfoot.

    “Sssshall we...ssshall we find him and kill him, my lord?”

    The dark underlord rewound the clip, and listened carefully to the little nuisance Muppet’s voiceover while shots of those cute little bug-things skittered past. “Hundreds of these horrible creatures are operating a television studio underneath lower Manhattan, which broadcasts under the station name MMN. I have already linked them to fraud, and to attempted murder of a woman named Ethel Muppman; she died a short while ago today, apparently of injuries which may have been caused by two of these monsters...” said the Muppet reporter. The boss paused the playback, one clawed finger thoughtfully tapping a massive lip, seen only in silhouette by Eustace against the dim lights of the many screens and equipment pilot lights.

    “There’s one piece of good news, at least,” the boss growled. “It sounds as though our stringy friends finally remembered their jobs! I see I won’t have to punish them for insubordination after all.”

    Eustace reflected that the Martians probably couldn’t even grasp the concept of obedience, much less disobedience; they simply did whatever they felt like from moment to moment. He was relieved they hadn’t been around for days, and hoped they wouldn’t return anytime soon. Those things gave him the creeps: too many tentacles... He swallowed back an uneasy twinge in his belly, and asked: “He namesss the ssstation, my huge monsstrossity! What do we do about that?”

    The boss noticed a large white centipede with purple fangs waiting uncertainly at his feet, and thumped his broad lap for the thing to crawl up and be petted. “Look at that, Eustace. My pet wishes to comfort me. She knows I’m upset. Isn’t that sweet?” Eustace nodded, hoping this didn’t mean the boss wished to pet him too. “Loyalty, Eustace! This is what we demand; our enterprise will not succeed without structure, without obedience! Someone out there who looks like one of us and yet is not with us has betrayed us.” Eustace squirmed, consciously banishing all thoughts of disgruntlement just in case the boss could read his mind. One never knew... Finally the dark lord said, “Send out the strike team. Tell them to get it right this time.”

    “Er...um...”

    “What is the problem, Eustace?”

    “Well...my...my liege...you know we’ve had him under obsservation sssome time... and...and...well...er...he ssseems to alwaysss have sssome defenssse near him, my lord. Either that dimwit Thog or the little fool troll at that Muppet Theatre are alwaysss around, and the abductorsss have not been able to gain easssy accessss to him there...”

    The boss snarled. “Why do you tell me of this continual failure, you useless twit? So find where he lives, and capture him there!”

    “M-my liege,” the doglizard gulped, “the ssspiesss report that at his home, he isss alwaysss with the sssame woman who aided in the defeat of the Muppasssaursss and the great undead ssshaman thisss sssummer...and who once threw another Muppet into a gaping maelssstrom...”

    “Are you telling me,” the underlord asked, his voice dangerously quiet, “that my subjects...my monsters...are afraid of a single human woman?”

    “N-no! Sssertainly not...they never...” Seeing those fierce glowing eyes fixed upon him, the doglizard cowered. “Yesss.”

    That great hand hovered over him; Eustace shut his eyes, bracing himself for the pounding...but instead, he felt the boss patting his crest and horns. “I see. Well then, my faithful underling, tell them to bring her here. We can always use another life for the grand sacrifice, and perhaps she could be used as leverage to silence the little nuisance with a microphone. Leverage...or bait.” The underlord chuckled; cautiously, Eustace joined in. Suddenly he was jerked aloft by the neck, choking, gurgling. “See to it the strike team succeeds this time, or I shall have to replace you with someone able to command the cowards, you sniveling worm!” the boss roared. He flung the squirming reptilian creature out. The door slammed shut behind him.

    Eustace drew ragged breaths, slowly climbing to his feet in the antechamber, humiliated and frightened. Bring her here? The one who was rumored to have some sort of Gypsy secrets? Who banished a ghost, if the stories could be believed? A movement in his peripheral vision made him flinch.

    The purple-furred monster offered a tray of mostly crumbs, with a few shattered bits of treats left. Apparently the rejected monster had been consoling itself out here. “Uh...cookie?” it suggested.

    With a snarl, Eustace knocked the tray aside, and stalked off with a cold heart and an aching windpipe to find the strike team.
    -----------------
     
    WebMistressGina likes this.
  17. The Count

    The Count Moderator Staff Member

    There's much in this chapter to like and reply to, be assured I will do so when I'm able to find some time.

    *Cue creepy organ music as it segways into a medly of At the Movies with Oscar and Telly.
     
  18. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    --------------
    *ducks popcorn and...stuff...thrown from trashcan to screen*

    What? I'm WORKIN' on it!!

    --------------
     
  19. newsmanfan

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Thirty-Six (I)

    “Plaicezz, people! Whair ees mah caffeh!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Ah hah! Thair you arrr!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Hem?”

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

    “Er...Shakey?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    newsmanfan Well-Known Member

    Part Thirty-Six (II)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    “Mutton pizza...” Hem muttered longingly.

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

    Oh yes. Much worse things.


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

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

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

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

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

    “What? What what what?”

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “Can I have a leg?”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    BOOOOOM!
    ------------------
     
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