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PAGE 18 CONTINUED
RANDYIn between and banging me acheing head on the side of this ever desending blimp and screaming very off colour insults at Jen the maniac of lost it totally with sprinkles still clinging to her upper lip that is now curled in a snarl and a look of I want to KILL you in her crazy eyes and trying to keep the tip of the spear head from doing any more damage and trying to grab Jen by the throat and drag her to Murks lair and back,
When I return to the Square, I discover that the park bench has gone off on its own, perhaps in search of its master. I'll have to find my own way to the Elvyn Forest, the one place in the current MC world not accessible to me by tunnel.
At least the ferrets are with me. The Doll Showcase catches my eye; I can always use a few extra gears and screwdrivers, I think. While the ferrets rummage among the dolls and toys, I happen to look up to see a personage in a dramatic purple cloak enter the Square.
I sink down behind the window display. Cash and Wickerbat slink into my backpack. We exit the HOS without finishing it and slip out a back door. In the alley behind the doll shop is a red telephone booth which serves as one entrance to the tunnels, when you dial the right number. Keeping one eye on the shop's back door, I pop in and punch numbers. Nothing happens. I try three more times.
Then the back door of the doll shop opens.
MUNTINY my patootie , there is only ONE captain in this ??? now wait a cotton pickin minute I still have not figured out what in Sam'a Hill I am seeing and where I am besides crashed into a tower everything is turned around bottom is top , right is left, center is oh who in H*** knows , fingers start to slip and I start to sweat, I swear the day I catch that crazy loonie tone of a NOT well dressed wench she will curse the day we met,,, OH NOOOOOOOOO fingers cramp I CAN NOT LET GO I sneak a peek over my left shoulder is it my right ??? look straight into the gaping mouth of one of two fire breathing DRAGONS , wait wait guys I am one of the good guys and I do not taste good even with salt and butter I swear, fat lot of good that did they are crawling closer oh great now they are drooling thinking they have an easy meal, my mind is awhirl with how did I get down from this roof top ,away from those Dragons, and NOT fall into those two waiting wolves, JENIFER I SWEAR I AM GOING TO KILL YOU OR DROWN YOU,,sratch that she already one a ribbon for that dive yeah right must have made goo goo eyes at the judge,, I hear heavy foot steps OH GREAT I have been spoted by the Castel Gaurds now how am I going to explain this mess Jen got me into and how am I going to pay for this damage to the blimp that the Gnome sends to the blimp stop and unload cargo at a heavy price I might add, oh I am in DEEP DOO DOO with the MC Honchoos got a feeling I am going to pay dearly for this mess but nothing compared to what that catawalling wrench is going to pay,,THINK MAN this is NOT REAL this NOT REAL I am NOT IN A BASKET HANGING INCHES AWAY FROM BEING ROASTED AGAIN,, I hear voices on the wind, Grim? what ? you think Jen is a hero and I am the bad guy , oh the shame as I hang my head ,, OH OH cramp cramp more words,,, PTG missing?? oh double great I am really done for now,come on Cap think , this twin world we got shucked into by Murk I am sure of that , is all mirrors, backwards , and sillo,, owieeeeee as a flame grazes me hinnie,,,oh well thank you you uggy lizard that was the push I needed to get back in the basket,,okay now what , grab that spear come on and get me I will poke yer eyeballs out,,,I peek over the side towards Cloud City and the Square just in time to see a rather large bunny tail disapear into the Fabric Shop ,, groans a female shoping guess I will be stuck here for hours,,,
As I haul myself out of the briny onto the landing strip of this place, I turn round and scan my whereabouts.
I see in the distance across a bay the Harbor lighthouse, so I do have a reference point, but it is covered in a very strange shimmering mist.
Anyway, I take a couple of steps past the little waif towards the (NOT pearly) gates and notice a rather broken down boat on the right with a strange looking female occupant (Well she does have a female shape!).
As the little waif won’t say any more than to repeatedly ask whether or not I am the Spirit of Atlantis, I decide to go over there and have a little chat in order to find out where on earth (or otherwise) I am.
Suddenly, in my head, alarms bells ring out , and a deep voice whispers: “I wouldn’t do that if I were you!”
I am sufficiently fey to recognize my inner guardian angel speaking and beat a hasty retreat, but not before noticing a large hole in the side of the boat.
One of my strengths is that I can put two and two together and make five very quickly.
I recall Ellie, the amorous eel , telling us of the monster Medusa reclining in splendor and waiting for her next meal by some strange shore.
This must be she!!!
The last 100 steps to the top of the hill are very quickly accomplished
I gaze on a countryside vista the like of which I have never seen before. It is an idyll and I confidently expect that I will soon be surrounded by nymphs and shepherds coming away!
But nothing happens to break the utter stillness of my surroundings so I decide to have a little doze by the stream and analyze my present predicament.
My last conscious thought is whether Major Tom is Cap’n Bob’s superior and is there a Ground Control that I can contact?
I spend about ten minutes in a general dithering panic. It needed to be done.
Captain PogoRandy's monitor shows him fighting off imminent digestion with a spear.
Grim's monitor shows her dangerously close to the purple cloaked food spiker with unknown motives.
PTG's monitor is blank.
I collect myself. No idea how my arm fell off, but I put it back on.
Grim is closest.
I race out of HQ and pelt towards the City Square.
I see the purple cloaked figure rummaging through the Doll Showcase.
Pure adrenaline is my decision maker now. I hurl myself at the shadowy figure and we both burst out of the back door.
A startled Grim is in a red phone box.
"Got 'im!!" I stand up proudly with the purple cloak in hand. However the perpetrator is not inside it. "Aw craponacracker!"
We both look to the door of the Doll Showcase closing.
"We've got him on the run!" I cry to Grim. "Love the new digs!"
Grim ruffles her doublet with a smile and we barrel through the door and give chase.
There is no sign of anyone in the City Square. Three possible directions, not including tunnels.We are considering what to do when t
The black cloaked figure at the desk continues his tirade while the other two remain stoic.
"Your job is to fill the cells with as many MC denizens as possible! We have good numbers but not enough!"
Interesting… please go on…
"But you cannot seem to hold on to the ONE inmate we need!"
PTG? Randy? Me? I don't think Grim has ever been committed.
"We have almost enough inmates to get our funding increase! But it will all be for nothing if we don't have Patient ONE!"
"Now get back out there and find him!"
Him… PTG or Randy.
I nod curtly and turn to leave.
"Oh, one more thing."
I stop, but don't turn back.
"Remember... the boss is always watching."
Well that sounds mighty ominous! I nod again and walk out through the door.
Hoppy 2 and I breathe sighs of relief and head down the staircase.
The guards are waiting. "Sir, shall we escort you back?"
I shake my head and give a dismissive wave of my hand. They both nod and clank away.
I need to think. Patient ONE? Why does that sound familiar?
"Stamps! Unique staaaaaaamps!!!!" It appears Nancy is still here. I glance at room 405.
And then I have a thought. Patient ONE. Room ONE!
Last time we rescued him he was strapped to a gurney in a guarded room in the Experimental Medical Research wing. We never found out why. But there were a lot of explosions that day.
I have to find Randy! And hope he doesn't kill me before I can warn him he's in danger.
We slip out and down to the maintenance hatch in the Castle Entry. As we climb in I can hear the voice of the doctor explaining to the guards that he has a very important appointment, but has lost his robe.
The plot thickens. I accidentally step in it.
Below stairs there seems to be something afoot on the “dark side” of the Castle. But I am not privy to that information at the moment.
In the meantime, high in the main tower in a luxuriously appointed room, an antique phone on a very large plush oak desk rings.
The smooth suave man who is lounging behind the desk and zapping any stray flies with a swatter (borrowed from the inventory pool) puts the lethal tool down and picks up the phone.
There are three people (the doctor, the Head Nurse and the Captain of the Castle Guards) in a waiting room outside all knowing that they are going to be chastised severely yet again for dereliction of duty.
The last time this occurred they were threatened with loss of pay and the doctor in particular is wondering how he will keep up with his mortgage payments.
They look on with interest through the glass door where the CEO of the Midnight Castle is sitting with his aide de camp and a secretary (ready to take notes and dole out invoices)
He snaps into the mouthpiece, having had his day disturbed.
“Yes! What is it?”
He immediately puts the phone down on his luxurious table, stands to attention, straightens his tie and collar and smoothes his hair!
He picks the phone up again and simpers into it:
“Yes, MY LORD OF THE CASTLE?”
He listens, turns bright pink and then white - beginning to perspire.
The aide de camp, being a canny individual with high self preservation skills, flees the room, closely followed by the secretary.
The three miscreants outside look puzzled but haven’t a clue as to what is taking place.
They soon find out!
He walks through the door and addresses the three:
“It appears that people in your charge have destroyed a major part of the Castle- not just a mere hole in a Castle wall or by polluting the moat, but a considerable part of one of our locations which has been carefully developed by our lords and masters for those worthy denizens who have reached the dizzy heights of Level 74
You three are so incompetent that it is not worth me even firing you to give you redundancy pay.
I am calling in THE PROFESSIONALS to do the job,
These three renegades will be taken dead or alive, but preferably dead!
And that So-called Rabbit newspaper editor will be my Sunday lunch (preferably in a casserole with some brown bread).
You will co-operate with the Assassin or you will be used for target practice. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?”
He returns to his luxurious office and gulps down some very strong pink pills with alcohol
The three senior management staff slink out, back to their offices and await imminent developments
I am siting talking my head off to PTG ,explaining why we have to get away from here and back to camp where things are normal well some what normal and then we can launch an all out recon and and if you call me anything but Cap I am going to ... I look up to see if PTG is paying an attention to what I am saying ... half expecting him to be and dreaming of another adventure sans moi,,, my mouth hits the ground not only is he *POOF* again my mind has become a crystal ball and I can see and hear things that if I have NOT already lost my grey cells to da dagnabit dust bunnies I am sure going to lose it now,,, I find myself gentile touching my arms where I now bear scars from the *shudder**table those, creatures in long coats , gowns, and masks, can smell acids, and musk and other things I have no idea what in Sam Hill they are all I know is I am in for a world of hurt,,mind flash's back to the Castel Gates where I can barely make out a wanted poster
MY PICTURE = WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE=== 1,000,000 gold coins offered for my capture or body what ever comes first.
I also see smaller scrolls, it's PTG,,, Jenifer,,, and Grim with a broken ear, OMG how did they get hem pictures Grims ear just happened NO???Is the great one at Head Office that mad at me?? no no no this can not be true this is all Murk's dirty work and Arabella,, they are the ones that made the packiedermies go nuts and attack everythng around the Castel,they are the one who invaded the minds and bodies of the sweet Garden Gnomes and turn them into killers,they are the ones that brought the Gargoles, The Hounds from H*** The uggy smelly Trolls and there green bloo
The underground tunnel system here is extensive and far reaching, and my partner has either mapped or personally knows all of them.
I take her paw and she leads me into a series of turns and twists the like of which I have never experienced before (nor do I want to again!).
Suddenly we are in a well-recognized lit room with banks of humming monitors indicating what is happening all over the Castle.
Grim beams – “100% cover!”
“OK then.", I say: "Where are Jenny Wren and Randy?”
Grim twiddles and fiddles many knobs and begins to mutter:
“Reset –off and on again – sigh –sigh – reboot…….. “, and finally in a despondent voice:
“They are not here!”
This merely confirms my suspicions, cos’ while she has been fiddling with her equipment I have been trying my hardest to summon my magical steed – my bench. Also without success.
I suspect a certain damsel who is certainly not in distress has “borrowed it”.
This bodes ill for all of us, as I wouldn’t let her near a child’s scooter never mind anything more sophisticated.
However, I still have my magical broom so I tell Grim to just wait a while until a few Level 74 begin to complete the Atlantis (Watery Bridge) HOS.
It doesn’t take long and then I think hard and long: “Piles of discarded HOS, piles of discarded HOS!”
My broom begins to shudder and shake and zeroes in on the little heaps that the players have left behind.
Which so happens to be in the alternate dimension that I have visited before and in which Cap’n Bob has caused so much destruction to its infrastructure
Holding Grim’s hand - we Whoooooosh down onto the sward, to find Randy lamenting at his own reflection in the stream by singing a dirge , and Jenny Wren up a tree with MY bench!
Grim and I both greet the other two simultaneously with courtesy and decorum.
What they say in return is not for juvenile ears and so won’t be repeated here.
Jumped up her peticoat and bite her on the, CRACKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK
BOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM OUFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF as Jenifer lands smack on my chest cutting off my song and making me gag for breth, OMG woman get offin me you may be small but right now you weigh a ton,,
Jen is stradeled me like I am a horse and she is ready to ride me into neverland and as hard as I try to push this crazy galoot offin me me arms pined by PTG's moblie bench that is still sputtering chug chug spurt spurt, OMG woman talk about big DOO DOO you are really in fur it now, first you steal da Air Ship, hijack me in it, throw me over board , I know I know I threw you first but but but I had no choice I ran out of stamps and coins, by the way what in god;s name did ya blow up, Jen giggles and shrugs her shoulders , oh I see not telling huh, um um Jen kin ya gets offin me now cause I thunck you ruined yer surprize I had fer ya thunck it is under my neither sitter oner ,, and iffin ya thunck I is going let it slide what ya tryed to do to me thunck again woman , question is do I let PTG get ya first or do I throttel ya second I mean first,,
Just as Jen da wren is geting up I see over her shoulder a huge chunck coming right at us and befur I can say a word CRASH BOOM BANGGGGGGGG PTG and GRIM coming crashing down on top of moi and Jenifer okay da wakermelon is now juice and ya all kin call me pancake GROANNNNNNNNNNN
The transcription app goes overtime with bangs ! and crosshatches # and asterisks * and ampersands @. The gist of Jenifer's rant seems to be that the Developers have skimped on coding trees of sufficient strength; that the wait time to schedule appointments with medical specialists is unacceptable; and something about seatbelts and standard transmission. Randy is, as usual, an incoherent stream of consciousness, this time mixed with some bawdy tune or other
I look at PTG and offer to foot the bill for seatbelts.
Meanwhile the ferrets pop out of the backpack to reunite with their long-lost friends, Jenifer and Randy. Anyone whom they haven't seen for at least three hours is considered "long lost" to a ferret; although it's also possible they were just taking a cue from Randy's lyrics about petticoats.
A third possibility is that Cash and Wickerbat are deviously clever. The swearing quickly turns to giggles and guffaws. The antagonistic atmosphere eases and shortly the four of us, plus ferrets, are relaxing under the tree eating watermelon and enjoying the rare moment of not trying to kill each other.
Even the watermelon will prove to be safe.
"Okay" I whip Randy's file out of my teddy bear corset. "There is a nefarious plan to turn you into a weapon of mass destruction." I hand Randy his file.
"Dilutional? Ininvegetable? AAAH! Close toes curtains!" Randy shuts his file angrily.
"Right... there is also some clandestine cloaked coven - try saying that ten times fast - who has a boss that is always watching over everything."
We pause while everyone tries to say 'clandestine cloaked coven' ten times really fast. I'll bet you're doing it too, dear reader... I get to four; but in my defense - I'm completely drunk.
"I've blown up the lab where they planned to do Randy's transformation, but it's a stop gap measure."
I refer to my notes. "Lord Chamberlain is definitely Arabella's father, the knight is a simpering wet fish complaining about his predicament, Jeronimo is hiding out in The Residential district - which looks like the inside of a volcano - and he's been enlisted to poison the well of the werewolves. Something I, as the founder of the Critter Liberation Investigative Taskforce Offering Re-population In Safety, am vehemently opposed to!
"About that acronym... " PTG delicately begins.
"I've tried to think of others!" I snap. "You think of one, I'm tapped!"
I close my notes and tuck them away.
"So, what have you three uncovered?"
"What about Critter Rights Awareness Program?" PTG muses.
I sigh and eat some watermelon.
PTGIt has always been one of my little pleasures in life to
Chris drops his lute and picks up his crossbow.
"You sore loser!"
"I didn't lose!"
"The last quest I did for you, you promised me cake! Where is it?!"
"What? Oh, I lied about the cake."
I shake my head and tut. "Oh Chris… Chris… This is proof right there, that you are on the wrong side."
"I'm an assassin! I'm on no one's side!"
"Oh Chris… I understand it all now."
You are all alone
Oh, how you bemoan
"No I don't!"
And take a snippy tone
Have an ice cream cone
"I don't want it!"
Oh, I don't need to goad
Your interest has showed.
"Stop waving it in my face!"
Hereto ends my ode
Come on, it's Rocky Road…
He sighs "Fine!"
I smile and watch him eat it.
Just as I am about to throw up, while quaking in my very fashionable fur lined moccasins (issued to all Head Broom Sweepers of the Castle – ie Moi) , I am bundled into one of the many small rooms alongside a pure white haired rabbit also with the shakes by a very seriously disturbed Cap’n Bob.
I had always thought that he had a false left eye until now, but when it starts to roll like a roulette wheel it is all I can do to stop myself placing a bet.
We then begin to listen to the sounds the like of which I have never heard before and certainly do not want to hear again.
Comparing the dulcet tone of our dear soon to be belated Jenny Wren, with that suave, masterful but awful Assassin. I can only wonder where the nearest shovel is and begin to dig my own grave.
“Oh! Ye of little faith!” my inner voice tells me. “Hasn’t she always delivered the goods for us?”
“Her favorite mode of attack - hidden explosives won’t work with him”, exclaims Randy. “He is impregnable as well as being lightning fast with many years’ experience of being a successful Linebacker. NOTHING gets past him!”
In reply I very politely ask either of them if they have pen and paper handy as I urgently need to make a will, both living and dead. What is left of me after this latest debacle can be used to advance science.
I also need some headache pills rather urgently or any pills if they are around.
It is then I see a piece of decorated cake sail past me out of the Castle repository where it had been dumped, after an innocent player has just completed confessing his sins and of course rejecting the obvious temptations of the cake just lying there in the HOS
I am just about to follow it with my broom tutting and twitching at the lack of consideration for Castle cleanliness, when I am pulled back by Capn. Bob.
“It is part of her plan!” he hisses at me, much to my bemusement.
However, that doesn’t prevent me continuing to hold a shovel in the other hand!
"Thaaaaaat's it...." I slowly soothe. "Ice creeeeeeeeeeam is wonderful.... Would you like more sprinkles?
Chris nods with enthusiasm.
"Theeeeeere we go...."
I look to my purple cloak skirt.
Some changes will need to be made to convince Chris of the TRUE enemy.
I just hope he doesn't get distracted by the lobsters.
Or Warren Beatty.
That's the LAST thing we need!
I launch the transcription app and offer my phone to PTG, as he is considering making a last will and testament. I strongly advise against any pills, however. Everyone has made so much progress in kicking that Castle-enforced habit it would be a shame to start over.
We have followed Jenifer as far as the Chapel's main entrance, whereupon Randy shoves us into some nook or cranny where we have a view of the ensuing duel. Jenifer and the Assassin face off. The tension is fierce, but our Jenny is doing more than holding her own. She appears to be winning!
Randy mutters dire predictions about the inevitability of explosions. "Three… two… one… No, wait for it, NOW! Three… two… one… arrchg! Three… two…."
I am distracted. Something is wrong with this alcove serving as our current hiding place. I study it intently. Nothing. I study it out of the corner of my eye. Mostly nothing.
Jenifer offers Chris Arwin an ice cream cone.
I close my eyes. Nope, can't tell anything that way, and I open my eyes again.
Jenifer adds extra sprinkles.
Just as I see a shift in - well, I thought it was the local universum - Randy screams "Take cover!" and flings himself across PTG and me, offering his body as a human shield. As usual, the three of us land in a tangled heap on the ground. By the time we struggle up again, whatever I thought I saw is gone. Also, the duel is finished.
And there were absolutely no explosives involved on Jenifer's part
"Now, Chris, I'll be right back." I carefully back away.
"Where you going?"
"Just need a quick change of outfit."
"Oh... you'll come back?" He looks a little paranoid.
"Of course. I am a woman of honour and integrity!" I watch him polish off the last of the drugged ice cream.
I dash to the Metro Station. Things don't look right at all! A strange black vine is beginning to creep over everything. I notice the mine cart is now open. The vines are all through it. The cat has fled the Train Cabin. I may have to call an emergency meeting of the CLAP.
I switch my purple cloak skirt for one made from the blanket in the Passenger car. I use the various toys as adornments, but decide against the working train belt. As fabulous as it was, it was not particularly stealthy.
I return to the Ancient Park and look for Chris.
He is in a tree screaming about buttons. Apparently they are whispering about him.
The vines are spreading. They are in the Chapel.
"Uh, Chris? Did I have any of the ice cream?" I frown.
"NO! MY ice cream! I want more!"
I wave the shred of purple cloak at Chris. "This guy has more!"Chris jumps down from the tree adding a somer
I have to admit, I'm not entirely clear on the concept of a quantum nexus. My practical experience has always been with apertures and the local universum. But what happened at the Chapel entrance was something different yet again - no tangling or untangling of strands of time, no tear in the local universum, and no simple pyrotechnic explosion. But I am positive that, however briefly, we were in a little stone cell, and then we weren't. I saw snow globes!
i settle in for some serious web surfing and research.
Randy sits down in a corner to gnaw on a - wait, where did he get a raw potato?
Wickerbat and Cash are having a serious riot in a ball pit that has arrived from somewhere. I feel a chill.
I check on the Tree Hole, where Jenifer is currently hanging out. From the sound of it, she is holding another of her critter liberation rallies. A different monitor shows PTG sitting in a stairwell, conversing with an owl. He lifts his broom aloft and - shimmer, whoosh - is gone. Huh.
Sudden shrieks fill HQ. I look at the ferrets, then at Randy, then at the monitors. It's Jenifer, screaming "HOPPY, HOPPY, HOPPY!" Jenifer clutches at the rabbits of the Tree Hole, still screaming. The rabbit in her arms vanishes. She reaches for another but it too is gone before she can touch it.
As I watch, every single rabbit disappears from the HOS.
I stop betwix bits of potatoe peel phweeeeeeeee I hate dat more so dem eyes that seem to stare atcha and say bite me I bite back,,, yes I am THAT hungry I will eat a raw potatoe,
could use some of dat der salt and buccker but sigh to fer away,, I stop mid munch and look at Grim wiff a still broken ear poor poor bunnie have to fix dat fer her when we gets back home,, I look at Grim like she is bewitched, bewithered or bothered not sure whitch one just yet , then I notice we BACK IN A CELL?????????????? ok ok ok wat hoppin??
last thin I remember is ??? what ?? where?? why??? who??? oh craponacracker how in da heck ya all want me to remember what I don't remember, now what was I saying?? oh yeah remember now ,, I thunck,,, wait , crunch not bad not bad at all even raw,, Grim throws me a look.... ok ok ok fur burns rot rouh thunckin to hard downnnn a notice der ya go picure clear now, last thin I remember I was in Atlantis trying to sneek past good oe Medusa, when I got flattened like a pancake ,, oh P A N C A K E wiff maple syrup snaps back to where I was, ??? oh yeah flat I tell ya by PTG and goof Jenifer now you and I are here??? WTH????? NOW I remeber what I was trying to do ,, rescue you blumbering ijidits and get ya back to camp where we would be safe and I know yes I said KNOW what I am doing not being floped out of an air ship, slapt on a bridge,straped in a white coat wiff me arms behind me back and stuck like a pin cushion by nutso Nurse Krachen,, having me tussie burnt to a crisp lie an overdown steak on a pit,,or having to listen to all tis garbage about CEO's in Armaniy suits, or head hunter ASSASINS Chris be long gone ya know oh and those god awfull black vines and lava spitin flowes,thos e I remember well, and da FOG and da Black Cloat villian, all Murks and Arabella doing, da fog is the reason you all lost yer cotten pickin minds and are having these illsions THIS IS NOT REAL PEOPLE,,,no Grim listen cmere ,,closer so ya kin hear moi,, I grab her good ear and whisper,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
A world without bunnies is a dystopian nightmare of bleak unending hopelessness.
I feel the sudden urge for a pink pill.
No. We've all kicked the habit.
I look to PTG with helpless tears in my eyes. "Hoppy?" Is all I can say.
"Grim!" PTG shouts.
"Well of course I am! There are no bunnies!"
"No, you insufferable psychopath! Grim! If all the bunnies are disappearing - they must be after her!"
I wipe my tears. I have to think before PTG can say-
"I have a cunning plan!"
"Oh, for crying out loud!"
"We disguise ourselves as castle officials, infiltrate the group and find out who is doing this and now."
I sigh. "One small problem... We've already done that, so they are no doubt on high alert to catch cloaked impostors."
"Well what's your cunning plan?"
I sit down and cuddle the duckling. It's not the same, but it does give me some comfort.
"Okay... protecting Grim is useless, as she'll just slip through our fingers if they take her... Getting caught trying to infiltrate the inner circle would get us immediately back on wanted posters - or worse... so there's only one conclusion..."
"We have to let them take Grim."
I march up to him. With both hands clutching his broom, he swings at me with all his strength.
"THERE'S A MESS IN HQ!!" I shout as I catch the bristles. The broom vibrates and PTG tries to wrench me free of it before we can teleport. But I'm holding on, despite the pain.
We shudder and lurch and fall in a heap at HQ.
PTG jumps up. "She wants to let them take you!"
Grim looks alarmed. Randy spits a mouthful of raw potato on the floor. PTG sweeps it up.
"Is it true?" I ask her. "ALL the bunnies?"
I see The Interrogation Room on the monitor behind her. No Hoppy 3.
"It appears so..." her voice is quiet.
I don't care what she thinks. I rush over and cuddle her and stroke her fur and kiss her on top of her head.
"Just TAKE IT!" I won't let go.
It takes PTG and Randy both to pry me away from my enforced cuddling, that could be deemed as a form of assault.
"She said 'Let them take her'!" PTG continues beating me with his broom.
"It's the only way!" I cry between bristled thrashings. If he really wanted to hurt me, he should turn the broom around and use the wooden end! "She'll be sent to wherever they're holding all the bunnies and can contact us to rescue ALL of them!"
The bristling stops. All are thinking. We smell burning. Randy apologises.
We all look to Grim. Even Cash and Wickerbat have stopped playing. I wonder if it would be inappropriate to join them in the ball pit for a frolic.
Probably yes.Grim scratches her fur where I kissed her. "She's right."
"…I tried adjusting the marble, but that just offset the dustering so that I couldn't read the grids at all.
Crouching beneath the hutches, I see two sets of legs come into the room and approach the workstation.
"Dude, I could have told you that. Did you try increasing the taurine empathizer?"
"The realtime nantuck plug-in doesn't have that, but I'm hoping it will be included in the next upgrade. Until then, it just means extra overtime 'cause I have to log all the weeviling jigs manually. Man, the coffee is off today!"
"Dude! Did you leave the recall apps running when we left? You know Mackenzie said we have to be extra careful around this chick. I mean rabbit. She's apparently one crazy hack. Oh, sh---!"
I shrink further into the recesses. The cooks and chimneysweeps quietly rearrange themselves to give me as much cover as possible. I don't trust the look in the eyes of one baby girl, though.
"How'd she get out this time?! The alarms didn't go off!"
"Quick, just recall her again before anyone else notices." A strike on a keyboard, and a relieved exhalation.
Then banging of a wire cage, and a new third voice: "What the -----!"
And one of the original voices: "Oh, sh--."
And the other: "CEO? Sir….?"
I am about to open an aperture in order to travel elsewhere, but I hesitate. The CEO himself? And as per usual, several things happen simultaneously.
"Yes, sir! Get you out right away, sir!" The unfortunate computer nerds fall over themselves to extract the most recent occupant from my wire cage.
One also has (the Dude, perhaps) the sense to call for back up. So as per usual, we have various alarums blaring. My poor beleaguered ears!
"…. Major crises to deal with… half-assed assassin's brother threatening a lawsuit… need to run damage control on the dust bunny cafeteria situation… contract awards for weed control, black vines should not be invading the non-tourist areas of the Castle… need to re-establish trust with the residents, especially the three twizzers, we need them… Why am I still in this cage? I don't have TIME for this!"
"Immediately, sir!" And sotto voce hissing----- Dude, where are the wire cutters?
Even more new voices: "Grim, be ye here! Can ye hear! Yur pur ear!"
"Hey, that's decent rhyme and meter! You know, I'm thinking of starting a poetry appreciation class. Alternate Saturday afternoons only, of course, because it's so difficult to get time off from our adventure otherwise. The Rocksville public library has agreed to let me use one of the common rooms as a professional courtesy. You should sign up!"
It's Randy and Jenifer.
And just when I think things can't get any worse, the baby girl bunny tosses aside her rattle, rips off her rabbit skin, and rises up in the awful guise of Lily Munster. Or at least, someone wearing the Ghost Bride avatar.
Gasp, gasp, pant, pant! I scrabble backwards beneath the bleachers of staff gymnasium 2 faster than you can say "antidisestablishmentarianism."
Okay, maybe that wasn't the best comparison for my speed.
I GLARE at Jen and grab spidie man box whip out a P B&J crusty bread sandwhice and scoofs it down I am that hungry and shake the juice box uh huh half gone and looks at her when she wants the cookie , oh the one I ate already with the big bite mark?? that cookie? here take the apple or should I say da core and please tell me ya found it that way inside da box,,, snarls yeah right uh huh sureeeeeeeeeee yeppers and I have a swamp to sell ya,
We head off to find and rescuse Grim as I hold up da Key rings and show Jen da bunnie fur all over it, when I stop dead in me tracks and Jen crash's head first into me shoulder owwwwwwwwwwwwwwww she say ya broke me nose wiff yer stupid shoulder what ya got under dat torn shirt IRON, nope idjit dem der be what yall call musculces..we stop da creakin stops, I raise my finner to me mouth and look at Jen shhhhhhhhh listen,, I raise my right foot no squeke step foreward, nuffin, I follow wiff my left foot and creak squeekkk,step foreward and the boards groan, I look at Jen I knew it I knew it was na me RobKnee that crack came from under me left foot NOT my right ,I motion fer Jen to back up slow like and hug the wall as close as she kin get , summthin feels not right here, I look at the floor dirt and dust covered oh PTG would have a heart attack seeing this and poor boy wiff out his broom to clean it , look close Jen dem der slats are crooked and look there be nails stickin up and does dat not look like a handel over der ? thunck we found us a secret room or a cellar, whatcha thunck?
You still have dat screwdriver wiff ya?? she pulls out of her corset a stick of dynomite , a Bomb, a pistal and looks at me wiff puppy dog eyes and shrugs her shoulders can't feel it
well what in tar nations is going to help me wiff you blooming idjit??
Well good thin I still have me Bowie knife hid in me boot well what's left of me boot,
stay right there DO NOT MOVE I slowly bend on one knee me good one and swipe off some dirt till I kin see an outline and the handle is clear now , scary lookin thin it be a Lion holding a ring in his snarling mouth, I look at Jen iffin this thin bites me I am going to throttel you,, what what says Jen as I cut her off mid way HUSH WOMAN do ya want someone to hear us find us and drag us back to da Special Room hog tied chained shackeled and drugged out of our skulls??
This might be a way out of here and down to da tunnels and back to SANITYBut but what about the others PTG Grim, Hoppy Wicker and I Gibbs slap her hush calm da H*** down iffin this is an escape we will come back for them armed to da toofies and with reinforchments , Jen snaffels at me yeah right Randy you still in La La Land there is NO other outside here,,, Look you ding bat you have not heard a word I have been telling you THIS my arms fly all over da area IS NOT real OUT >>>>>> der is and iffin dis be da way out you will see fer yer self what I have been tryin to tell you all is da truff and ya know what else?? over der I speak normal,,am the Leader of a troop of ver
There is a hustle and bustle of wings, and an owl settles on the workstation near me. It's PTG's owl, it tells me; further, that my three friends were in the export lab when the fireball hit, but the owl is certain that they escaped and are alive somewhere. Then it asks if I have any mice handy.
I ask the owl, what does it expect, with two ferrets already on the premises? The owl ruffles politely and removes itself to a nearby coatrack.
When did HQ acquire a coatrack?
Cash finds a png named "note to self" which proves to be a screenshot with the words "password: sKybit33x."
An envelope flutters to the floor. Inside is a letter:
I understand you may be in need of my assistance in the near future. When you are ready, leave a message for Rudolph at the Customs Office.
PS ~ Do you think your friend Jen would agree to accompany me to dinner at the Rapscallion? My treat.
A little pinging from the computer announces email from Skull Pete. My shipment of smuggled goods has finally arrived.
I massage my temples. Everything at once!
I watch Captain Randy carefully while PTG threatens Tarquin with Boggle.
"We're not leaving." I announce.
"What?!" PTG is outraged. He slaps Tarquin. "There's nothing here!"
"Yes there is." I pat Captain Randy on the shoulder. "Randy's sanity."
"My what now?"
I turn back to PTG. "And we're NOT leaving without it!."
Using a term current in common parlance: “I am gob smacked”!
I just cannot believe the naivety of this flibbertigibbet
Does she not remember why we are here, in this place, on this planet, wandering around the environs of this Castle.
Furthermore, it is only recently that our esteemed medical staff deemed us insane, to such an extent that we wear lovely white padded jackets with long arms.
To emphasize this opinion of her "weirdness", she has adorned hers with whatever she has been able to forage from the nearest HOS (or failing that the rubbish tip).
I realize that “diamonds are a girl’s best friend” but she will stick anything onto her clothing that glitters.
I have always been dubious about the 100% quality of Carp’ Bob’s soundness of mind but he is at least functional, especially if he thinks that he is the “alpha male”.
Jenny Wren needs to explain herself and quickly concerning her current intransigence to move from this bleak place.
At least Cap’n Bob has the means to do so, whether or not he has all his mental faculties, and thence the ability to communicate with Grim and let her get us all out of this hell-hole.
I turn to face the stubborn face and expression of my female partner
I sigh and slap Tarquin. "LET'S GO!"
We all walk towards the cobweb covered munitions tent.
"This is a parallel universe! It involves 'A call To Arms'! Have you heard of it?" I forage amongst the neglected arsenal.
"Of course, but no one can read it!"
"I KNOW! It's been invaded by advertising!"
PTG vomits on Tarquin.
"My sentiments exactly!" I'd slap Tarquin, but I don't want to get my hand messy.
"WHAT HAVE THEY DONE?!" Randy stumbles towards the billboards for skin cream, male enhancements and movie ads. "MY WORLD!"
"If we want to get our Captain back - fully sane and fully capable - we have to kill every last one of these insidious motherf-"
"-Can I go? I have a job interview at a newspaper!"
"WHY DID YOU BRING US HERE?" PTG demands, while keeping his distance.
"SHE LIT A STICK OF DYNAMITE!" We're not sure if Tarquin has soiled himself again or if it's just his current smell.
"So? I always do that." I shrug.
"I DIDN'T HAVE TIME TO TELEPORT US ONE BY ONE!"
"STOP SHOUTING! IT'S POOR FORUM ETIQUETTE!"
"Sorry… As I was saying, I didn't have time to relocate us individually, so I had to do a group transfer. They can only be done by mystical means. And then those portkeys-"
"Oh! Now J.K Rowling's gonna sue us! I can't kill her! She's a Goddess!"
"Okay, those… uh… 'magical keys that open dimensional portals'…"
"Oh, we so need a shorter word for that!"
"Those 'keys' are constricted to Official Midnight Castle objects."
"My broom!" PTG softly weeps.
"And that big impressive desk with all the fancy buttons and lights…" I muse.
"Computer consol, yes." Tarquin nods.
"So can you get us back?!" PTG still doesn't want to touch Tarquin - especially now that his crying has progressed to the 'snotty nose' stage.
"Not till the job is done!" I stare PTG down with a steely conviction. The titanium, however, is appealing.
Randy is staring angrily at a pathetic little maggot holding up a sign. It is advertising a free download of a new movie still in cinema release.
"Hold on." I aim the bazooka and fire.
The bazooka shell shoots on wards and upwards until it disappears into the mist.
It finally gives up seeking a target and we get a firework display before a stillness reigns over the landscape once more.
Only the sounds of Randy sniffling and Tarquin sobbing break the silence
I can imagine Jenny Wren being a very popular opponent at all sports as she has absolutely useless aiming skills!I presume that the wriggly maggot with the large advertising hoarding was her aim.
Sadly, I have to say that we were the closer to it.All of a sudden out of the heavens an electrical discharge zooms downwards, and the maggot and its ad
"So... I've been thinking about 'Plan B'." I muse aloud.
"Does it involve explosions?" Grim frowns.
"Alright, let's hear it." Grim folds up the 'cunning' floor plan and passes around kibble, carrots and salmon for everyone's lunch.
"Well. this is a 'staff' gymnasium..."
"Tarquin is at a job interview for the local paper, plus he works as a guard..."
"Or he's reporting everything that happened to him to MC officials, who will immediately retaliate with more wanted posters and arrest warrants..."
"Agree... either way he's a loose end with a fancy watch we could use to rescue PTG."
"Only if we can catch him."
"Well, he strikes me as one of those insufferable healthy types, always banging on about 'runner's high' and gluten and how quinoa and goji berries changed their life."
"Precisely." I nod. "Meaning he'll be here sooner or later."
"And then what?"
"Well, there's a saying that applies here - as we are trying to rescue a friend. The saying goes;
A friend will pick you up from the airport
A good friend will help you move house.
But a great friend will help you dispose of a body."
I watch Grim as she is lost in thought, sifting through and categorizing all her friends. Then her eyes widen.
I pat her on the paw. "I'm a great friend to have."
"I know a variation of that, too: A good friend will bail you out of jail at 3 am, but a great friend will be sitting beside you saying D*, that was fun!" Jenifer and I grin at each other. "I think we should go for drinks next time we reach a lull in the plot. I can even smuggle in some Bundaberg!"
We sit under the bleachers. Jenifer teases Bell with a bell, while I sort through time threads. Unfortunately it seems to be all or nothing: either the gym is a smoking ruin of rubble, or it was never used to hold the rabbits in the first place. And I really wanted that custom workstation and database!
"Plan B it is," I say at last. "What sport or activity would lure Tarquin here?"
"Certainly not wrestling or boxing! He was a wuss!" Jenifer declares. "Racquetball, maybe? Yeah, racquetball sounds like something someone named Tarquin would play"
"Racquetball it is." I 'borrow' some careless admin assistant's account, find Tarquin's email address, and type up an email:
To: All Staff
From: Castle Health and Wellness Committee
Round one of the Midnight Castle Racquetball March Madness Tournament will begin in 10 minutes. First matches up:
Staff Gymnasium 1: Mackenzie versus Javier
Staff Gymnasium 2: Tarquin versus Maguire
Latecomers will forfeit their chance to advance to the next stage. Go get 'em, boys!
"That's it?" says Jenifer.
"It's all we need. Well, that and two disguises. Tarquin will come. He'll change out of his uniform and into gym clothes. If he doesn’t voluntarily take off the watch, we tell him it's tournament regulations to take off the watch, and we bolt."
"Ooh, what disguises?"
"Gym clothes and a referee's uniform."
"Two House Of Schpadoinkle originals coming up!"
We sneak into the Staff changing room and find Tarquin's locker. I have to jimmy it open. His civilian clothes are already there, but no watch. There is, however, a notepad with some ideas for news stories. He must have got the job.
"He still has the watch." I announce. "So plan A of plan B is a bust. Move on to Plan B of Plan B."
We move to Maguire's locker. It is unlocked.
"Handy!" I open it and pull out his sports wear. "Oh this is just hideous! Plain white! Where are the adornments? The accessories? The accoutrements? The appurtenances?"
"It's a disguise, not an outfit!" Grim points out, rather firmly.
"I know!" I grumble, "But I don't have to like it!"
I change into Maguire's uninspiring ensemble while Grim carefully tucks her ears under a referee's cap and hangs a whistle around her neck.
We turn sharply to see a jaunty young fellow sipping a pomegranate, kale and chia seed smoothie. I slap him and shove him into Maguire's locker, then lock him in.
"How did you know that was Maguire?" Grim is amazed.
We head out to find Staff Gymnasium 2.
We see Tarquin warming up alone in one of the courts.
"Okay, Grim, he's never seen you. Plan B, of Plan B is go!"
Grim opens the door and officially walks into the court in a very official way. Especially for a bunny.
Tarquin turns. "Hi Ref! Hey! Why are you a large rabbit with an owl on your shoulder?"
I smack myself in the forehead. There is still an ice cream cone there.
When it comes to disguises, we do tend to forget the little things.
Grim ignores his query, and carries on in a very official way.
"I'm sorry sir, Health and Safety regulations prevent you from wearing any jewelry on the court."
"Of course." Tarquin takes out his hipster earlobe hole earrings. You know the ones - the see-through black rings that get bigger and bigger and bigger until finally the sight of them makes you vomit. But it is, of course, very important that a latte swilling, inner city food blogger gets in touch with their tribal African roots. As it is, apparently, with blonde haired, blue eyed Tarquin.
Grim, however, resists the urge to vomit. I am impressed.
"And the watch."
Tarquin laughs. "Is this a test?"
"I beg your pardon?" Grim's voice takes on an uber official tone now.
"Rule Seven. Never let any mystical technology you are in possession, or control, of out of your sight. Rule seven. Nice test! You almost got me!"Tarquin turns back to his warm up and practices a serve. The sight of his floppy, dangling earl
YES AND YES AND YES!
After reminding people to put their clocks forward, this one here in The Valleys, did all the clocks and forgot the timepiece on her arm.
Can I come in and play, please.
I continue where PTG leaves off. "The ferrets and I have been accumulating a fair bit of stuff too. The main two things I want to bring up now are PTG's broom, and also some potential allies."
PTG perks up at the mention of his broom. "Yes?"
"I've searched, and Cash and Wickerbat have searched, and we just can't find any evidence of something called a Union of Mystical Objects or Magical Facilities Union Panel."
"But what if they've changed their name?" asks Jenifer. "UMO is a boring acronym, and MFUP is difficult to pronounce."
"And don't forget the Branch of Wooden Paraphernalia," adds PTG. "BWP doesn't even have a vowel."
"Could be Welsh. I don't speak Welsh."
"Tarquin might be able to. You said he got that job at the Cloud City Times."
"Tarquin can barely handle English! Did you read yesterday's paper?"
"I think Branch of Wooden Paraphernalia is a supposed to be a pun. Gah, forget about the acronyms!" I clutch at my ears. "I think that someone deliberately pulled away PTG's broom and bench to hinder us, and this so-called union is just diversion."
And very diverting it has proved, so far! There is a knock on the door, diverting us even further.
"Tell them we gave at the office," says PTG, but unexpectedly it is Shelley standing there, asking to come in and play.
"Please do," says Jenifer. "Hey, how do you pronounce BWP in Welsh?"
"Branch of Wooden Paraphernalia."
Shelley stands outside the door, wondering what on earth is going on behind that Green Door. Does she knock twice and ask for Joe or was it Nurse, she can't remember.
Shelley knocks once, the door is opened, Shelley is asked one question, hesitates and says
"Noson fy ffrindiau 'I' Cangen Paraphernalia wooden".
Silence from within room, then "what did she say"?
Is this a test Shelley thinks, silly test, just to get a room, and all because I forgot to put my watch forward 1 hour. What will become of me in October when the clocks go back 1 hour. I think I will become a cuckoo and climb into that clock on the wall up there.
My first thought on seeing the apparition that has just entered the room is that here we have yet another lunatic who has escaped Nurse’s clutches.
In front of me there is a stranger clad in a long sleeved white jacket.
This is just visible, but it is obscured by leeks and daffodils pinned onto some old bits of lace (which I recognize as coming from the Broken Statue HOS) and all arranged in a haphazard fashion. What is really amazing is the fact that this apparition is wearing a tall black hat (which could only have come from the Elfish Bas Relief HOS)!
Without even blinking Jenny Wren goes over and rearranges the greenery (+ some yellow) into some sort of order. Then stands back and admires her handy work.
I am bemused. I had not realized that other people could access the HOS Returns Repository and even borrow its contents.
So this apparition must be someone worth admitting to our coterie if only to counter-act Ms Wren’s outlandish attire.
Grim meanwhile has sniffed out the leeks and expresses a desire to eat some of them. Jenny Wren tells her that is rude!
My first thought is to pass over an application form and a pencil (specially sharpened for the occasion). Once filled in we three can then decide on how to address him/her and which room and corridor he/she has escaped from.
(There is one corridor in the medical wing) where the seriously deranged are housed and we already have had one partner from there. I don’t think we can absorb a second!)
I look up in my book of strange words (as housed in the Dark Tower Library) and find a suitable greeting:
Jenny leans over and snatches the book from me. She rummages through the pages until she finds the Index of defunct languages and says:
“Ah! Bore da!”
The apparition bows and doffs said hat. We have “lift off!”
"One final test!" I whip out my scrutinizing fife.
"Oh, welcome Shelley,
You're certainly not smelly
Would you like dome jelly?
I've never been to Delhi"
"Yup! She's in." I nod.
I feed Hoppy her leek. "HEY!"
Shelley stares at us all blankly. "I just came in to check the time."
"Oh, you poor pet." I pat her shoulder while Bell pounces on her dandelion. "You have to realise by now that anyone who strays into this thread becomes trapped forever."
"Anyone spoken to Bing lately?"
"No, but Tarquin's just reported that Jack's been recaptured."
In the distance we hear screaming from a locked pantry.
"Oh, PTG that reminds me, your owl made a mess of Fletcher's hideaway."
PTG sighs and focuses on his new broom. Nothing happens. "Broom! Respond!!"
Grim frowns. "Maybe it has to be enchanted?"
"As in Officially?" I honestly dread going anywhere near any official headquarters without some seriously heavy artillery.
"Could be a good cover." Grim ponders. "After all, PTG is still technically the official head sweeper-upperer."
PTG catches on. "I go in under the guise of official business, distract the CEO, you sneak in and rummage through his office."
It all sounds very official.We all look to Shelley. I adorn her hat with a bright blue rose. Now the outfit pops. "So! Up for a poorly planned, terribly executed covert mission that's guaranteed to go pear shaped withing five minutes of starting, followed by incarceration and a 97% chance of a large expl