Celia: Monster Hunter
By Jakub Grimstad
Published by Jakub Grimstad at Shakespir
Copyright 2015 Jakub Grimstad
Chapter 1: Happy Beginning
She didn’t live in the suburbs. The suburbs were blighted by zombies.
She also didn’t live in the city, because that place was crawling with ghosts. Ghosts were terrible. You could never sleep at night with ghosts around. They were always clanking their chains next to your bed.
Instead she lived in the country, where there were specters. It was annoying how they wisped about and blew your hair in your sleep, but it could be worse. And, sure there were the night-gaunts that roamed the hills, and also the were-cat gangs, oh, and the chupacabra, but so long as you had good solid doors and a steady supply of lamb’s blood, they usually wouldn’t break into your home and eat your skin off.
Celia was eleven years old, had blue hair and was unusually tan for her line of work. Most monster hunters worked at night, and so did Celia, but she worked the family farm during the day and she also liked to swim. Most monster hunters did not like to swim because most monster hunters were not eleven year old little girls. They were a very serious sort of person, generally. Most monster hunters were also not half mountain nymph, but Celia didn’t know that she was either. She just thought she came by her super-eleven-year-old-girl strength honestly. Which she did, I guess, strictly speaking.
This particular morning was one of those pleasant spring ones where everything is nice and green, or blue, or pink, or whatever vibrant color a particular thing should be in spring if it can help it. The roses, for instance, were not green. Some were pink and some were yellow and some were white, but in turn they were all the best versions of that color. At least almost, because the best ones were just a couple days ago; sorry you missed it. Celia was hoeing the garden when a young man passed by and stopped to talk to her. He was wearing a very bright, yellow shirt, sunglasses, and pants cut off at his knees. He wore his scraggly facial hair like he was in his early twenties, and he probably was. Celia, for her part, was wearing shorts as well.
“Hey, little boy,” he said. “How far is it to West Mavin?”
“I’m not a little boy. I’m a little girl.”
“You’re not a little girl. You’d have a shirt on if you were.”
“Because little girls wear shirts.”
“Well, I don’t. Not when it’s nice out. Why would I?”
“Because it’s not couth to run around with no shirt on if you’re a little girl.” He didn’t look like the type of guy who would really care much about social conventions; his hair was in a typical atypical fashion and his ears were pierced. But there it was.
“What’s wrong with not wearing a shirt?”
“Well, you could be mistaken for a little boy.”
“That’s fine by me.”
“Apparently not. You got all bent out of shape when I called you a boy.”
“I did not get bent out of shape!” she said, getting bent out of shape because she hadn’t been before.
“See. You are. But if you were more normal, you would never be bent out of shape, because then everybody would treat you with indifference, rather than distrust.”
Celia gave the man a blank, disdainful glare.
He continued. “So where is West Mavin? I hear they have a good music scene. I’m a musician.”
“I still don’t understand how come I have to wear a shirt,” said Celia, who seldom let something go.
“Because girls must cover their bodies.”
“My mom doesn’t always wear a shirt.”
“Well that’s because…wait, what? Really? Is this some sort of nudist colony?”
“It’s a colony. A colony for nudists.”
“What’s a nudist?”
“Somebody who runs around nude all the time.”
“I’m not nude now.”
“Fine, half nudist colony. You’re abnormal, whatever you are.”
“Where’s your instrument?” asked Celia, her mind wandering to his earlier comment, as you might expect a child’s to do.
“With my band.”
“Where’s your band?”
“In West Mavin.”
“Shouldn’t you be with your band?”
“I, uh, got held up in the last town.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did they take your money?” she asked, suddenly consolatory.
“Well, West Mavin is only another five miles from here. Just follow the road until you get to the big Pecan tree where it forks and then go leftward.”
“Is that the same as left?”
“Leftward, yes,” she said, exasperated.
“Alright,” he said. “Thanks, little boy.”
She chose to respond with a dignified silence as she went back to her hoeing. It wasn’t particularly dignified, though, because she had to go, “Hmph,” to make sure that the stranger knew she had heard him but chose to remain silent.
One of Celia’s very best friends was a cat. She was not one of those talking cats that you often hear about, but she was a cat, and she did talk. But she only ever talked to Celia, which begs the question of whether she was really talking, or if Celia was imagining she was talking. Time will tell.
Celia did not befriend only cats. She was actually a very likable girl, and all the people living around her in the countryside, old and young, liked her very much. However, there was a shortage of children in the area ever since that troop of traveling circus performers turned out to be trolls.
At the moment, on this fine afternoon, they were fishing next to a beautiful brook. That is to say, Celia was fishing. It would not be proper to say the cat, whose name was Muelie, was fishing, because she wasn’t. But Celia was fishing, and Muelie was keeping her company and also eating her fish. Which was fine.
“Well, well. Look who’s coming over.”
“Oh, it’s him,” said Celia, not enthused.
“He’s sooooo cute,” purred Muelie.
Celia shrugged. “If you like that sort of thing.”
“You mean boys?”
“I mean were-cats. Aren’t you a little young to be dating, anyway?”
“Come on, Celia. Don’t be a square. I’m almost sixteen.”
“Cats reach sexual maturity in their first year.”
“If you say so,” said Celia, not convinced that anything about sex could be mature.
“Hey there, Celia…Muelie.” It was Marcus Martin, the leader of the Hell’s Strangers, one of the were-cat gangs that plagued the whole community. At night they’d have raucous parties and keep the whole neighborhood awake with their caterwauling. They also occasionally ate farm animals, sometimes people, and made the barn smell terrible.
“Well, hello there,” purred Muelie.
“Nice to see you, Muelie. Doing a little bit of fishing?” Marcus could hear Muelie, because Marcus was a were-cat, though he was a human at the moment. But that’s how these things worked. Before when I said that Muelie only talked to Celia, you should have realized that she would talk to other cats. It only makes sense.
“Have any to share?”
“No,” said Celia, coldly.
“Sure there’s enough to share,” said Muelie.
“If he wants fish, he can catch them himself,” said Celia.
“Celia, baby doll, what’s with the attitude?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said snidely. “Maybe because you and your Hell’s Strangers ate my baby goat.”
“You have no proof that we ate that goat.”
“I heard you all yowling outside my window, ‘Yeah, yeah, we’re the Hell’s Stranger’s and we eat Celia’s baby goats!”
“The circumstances being?”
“We were eating your goat…damnit!” he yelled. He hated being so easily tricked into admitting the truth. This is why he failed at being a trial attorney, which had been his dream in his youth.
He still remembered that fateful day two weeks ago when his first and only client fired him after that debacle with the soup. “You’re fired!” the man had yelled from behind the bars of his cell.
“Don’t worry,” Marcus had said. “I’m sure we can get you an appeal.”
“An appeal? I’d like to see you try! I want a real lawyer!”
“I don’t understand. Soup theft doesn’t usually get the death sentence.”
“I’m sure I can get you out. The plaintiff’s case was pretty weak.”
“I was the plaintiff!”
Yes, the trial had not gone well. Marcus sighed and tried to smile his feline smile, which always made him feel better.
He felt better right away.
“So you can catch your own fish,” said Celia with finality.
Marcus sighed and rolled his eyes and said, “Fine. So, Muelie, what’re you doing tonight?”
“Well, why don’t you come on down with me to West Mavin and catch that rock band that’s come into town?”
“Don’t go, Muelie,” said Celia. “He just wants to eat you.”
“That’s nonsense. I’ll be a human tonight.”
“Then why are you interested in having a cat accompany you to a concert?”
“I might ask you why you want a cat with you fishing. You’re a human all the time.”
Celia thought she’d have a retort, but she didn’t. She clamped her jaw tight and went back to fishing and tried not to listen to the cat and sometimes-cat flirting. It was gross.
Mitch Bucolic was a twelve year old boy who had managed to escape the clutches of the circus trolls because he was always too busy working for his wicked step-mother to go do anything fun. On occasion, however, he managed to escape the house and get out for a bit. Such was the case today. He found himself happily wandering next to a brook, enjoying the trees and grass and flowers and bees and birds.
It just so happened, because that’s how these things go, that the brook he was wandering beside was the self-same brook by which Celia was fishing. She was beneath a tree, and he was in the sun, so he didn’t see her at first sitting there in the shade. But when he saw her, he started running. He didn’t call out to her, knowing that it would disturb the fish.
Unfortunately he couldn’t silence his testicles. Even though he was only twelve, his balls were huge and clanged like cow-bells when he ran. He might have thought to grab them to keep them from clanging, but he generally thought this was uncouth to do in front of people. He, and the people who knew him, mostly pretended not to notice the racket out of politeness.
Celia had no such pretensions of politeness, especially when she was fishing. “Shut your balls up already!” she hissed as he approached.
He slowed down and cupped himself, figuring that this lewdness would be more forgivable to Celia than the noise. “Hey, how you doing?” he whispered as she approached.
“Fine,” she sighed, not at all happy to see him. Celia mostly liked everybody; she was a happy and gregarious girl. Mitch bothered her. He was just so socially awkward, understandably given his upbringing and audible condition. He also was uncommonly fond of her and not at all good at curbing his enthusiasm; this annoyed her, as it would almost any girl her age.
“Meow, who do we have here?” said Marcus Martin who had been dozing against the trunk of the tree.
“Oh, hi,” said Mitch, surprised and dismayed to see another boy here, especially a boy like Marcus. Marcus was tall, dark, and handsome. Older than Mitch too. Marcus was almost sixteen. Straight, black bangs hung over his forehead, almost obscuring his dark eyes, and his arms were all lean and muscled and tanned. Mitch wasn’t small for his age; in fact he was fairly tall and pretty sturdily built, but not in a way that most girls thought was attractive. His hair was blonde but his skin was tanned from working outside. But then Mitch wondered, “Did you say ‘meow’?”
“’Meow’? Haha, uh, no. Of course not,” Marcus blithered.
“Well, my names Mitch,” said Mitch, extending his hand.
“Okay,” Marcus yawned, leaning back against the tree.
Mitch stared at him for a moment, wondering how he was supposed to feel about that snub. He didn’t quite feel like he could just talk to Celia normally with this stranger lounging around and possibly listening. Mitch tried his best to pretend the stranger wasn’t there. “So, Celia,” he said self-consciously, failing at ignoring Marcus, “What are you doing tonight?”
“Guh,” she said disgusted. “I’m chaperoning those two.”
“Those two?” asked Mitch.
“Muelie and Marcus.”
“Oh, I hadn’t seen Muelie there. Hi, Muelie.”
Muelie twitched her tail from behind the tree but otherwise made no reply. If Marcus saw fit to be cool to Mitch, then she felt no compunction to be friendly either. Mitch frowned. Muelie had always enjoyed his tummy rubs.
“Where are you chaperoning them to?” Mitch pushed on.
“That rock concert over in West Mavin.”
“You don’t want to go to it?”
“I did want to go until I found out I’d have to be watching these two.”
“Who’s making you watch them?”
“Nobody,” she said with a look that said, ‘are you stupid?’ “I have to watch them because nobody else will.”
“Well, I can go with you,” offered Mitch, since he had wanted to take her to the concert anyway. “I had wanted to take you to the concert anyway.”
She could not hide the disgust from her face as she gave him an awful look, but sensing that she should be more diplomatic, she simply said, “I doubt your step-mother will let you out for that long.”
“Oh, it’s okay. I slipped a little whiskey into her morning laudanum tea. She can’t handle whiskey, so she’ll be out until tomorrow.”
“Oh,” said Celia, actually a little impressed by his shrewdness. She had just thought he was always a spineless weakling. It softened her a little. “Yeah, well, I guess it’d be okay if you came along.”
“Gee! Really?” he said joyously, trying not to jump up and down so his balls wouldn’t swing.
“Yeah, I guess,” she said, already having second thoughts.
Celia came home yet more browned from the sun than she was when she got up that morning. Her mother Berta supposed the season was early and this darkening would go on for awhile. It always made Berta a bit nostalgic for Celia’s father, who was an oread, or mountain nymph. He always tanned well, even though when she first met him in the Ozarks he was white as a person should ever be, but in a beautiful, icy-milk way. He was a bit of a dead beat dad. He never came to visit Celia. But that was okay by Berta, she knew what she was getting into at the time. You don’t fall in love with a fairy if you want a steady husband.
“Hi, darling,” Berta called through open shutters as she saw Celia walking up to the house.
“Hi, mom!” called Celia back.
When she came into the little house, and into the little kitchen, she saw on the little counter the big watermelon that her mother had placed there for her.
“We’re going for 50 millimeters today, right?” said her mom.
“I’ll try,” said Celia.
Berta quoted Celia’s piano teacher, “’No. Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”’
Celia’s took the enormous cleaver from beside the watermelon and prepared herself. This was a simple exercise. It involved cutting a watermelon in two swift strokes such that it produced a perfectly round slice. The thickness of the cylinder had to be uniform, not cut like a wedge, and the inside watermelon had to be intact. Her piano teacher, who she suspected had other work on the side, once cut a slice that was paper thin, and yet the red innards were still kept in one piece and the seeds, instead of being knocked out, were actually cut along with the flesh. It was impressive, but Celia wasn’t quite there yet.
Whack-whack! The cleaver came down with two smacks. I mean whacks. It was so fast one almost wasn’t sure there wasn’t just one whack. The cuts were clean, but the bottom was a little thinner than the top. A bead of juice ran along the cut.
Suddenly! Sprays of arterial spewing watermelon juice gushed out of the cuts, covering Celia and her mother nearby with prodigious amounts of sticky, pinkish fluid!
As the last dying splats of the watermelon subsided, Berta put her hand on Celia’s shoulder. “I think you’re not quite ready for fifty millimeters yet. Go chop some firewood.”
Berta always tried to support her daughter’s choice to become a monster hunter. It wasn’t just that Celia was part oread and therefore inclined toward such work. Berta believed that everybody should follow their dreams and that parents shouldn’t quash their children’s ambitions just because they seemed outlandish. After all, it wasn’t like Celia had stupid ideas of being a princess or a ballerina. Although her piano teacher did make sure she practiced some ballet. He said it built strong and agile legs, which was hot, but also important for an ambitious monster hunter.
Firewood chopping was also an important exercise. In keeping with traditional social mores, Berta often had one of the neighborhood boys chop wood instead of Celia, even though it was good practice and Celia was better at it than the boys. That was now moot, however, thanks to the aforementioned troll circus. Celia did have two younger brothers, but they weren’t old enough to chop wood yet.
After some chopping in the hot sun, which wasn’t that hot, really, because it was in the early spring and they lived in a temperate region, Berta brought out some of the watermelon and they sat in the shade of an oak and ate. It was very refreshing.
“Oh,” said Celia. “By the way, I’m supposed to go to a rock concert in West Mavin tonight.”
“Oh, yeah? Who with?”
“Well, I wanted to keep an eye on Marcus and Muelie, and then Mitch Bucolic came along and wanted to go.”
“Oooooh. I don’t like Mitch very much. His mom is letting him go?”
“No. He drugged her so he could get out of the house.”
“Awww. To go on a date with you? How sweet. Well, he’s a good boy, and that witch of a step-mother had it coming. Where’s his dad?”
“I think he’s in the basement, still.”
“Oh, right. Well, that’s just great. But it’s getting to mid-afternoon and West Mavin is a bit of a walk. Don’t you think you should be thinking about assembling your party and heading over there?”
“Mom, come on, I can handle being out at night.”
“Well, I know you can. But you know how obnoxious escort missions can be. And with Mitch’s balls clanging you’ll probably attract all sorts of unwanted attention.”
“We’ll be fine, mom.”
Berta figured she was probably right.
Chapter 2: A Game of Red Rover
The quartet walked merrily along toward West Mavin, along the well worn trail. Marcus, with his sensitive ears, was constantly annoyed by the clanging noises, but Mitch ignored most of his insults, just happy to be included in a group and especially happy to be hanging out with Celia.
Marcus’s preoccupation with Mitch’s noises upset Muelie. The conversation was not particularly good between them, because all he could do was complain about Mitch. This pleased Celia, who hoped that Muelie would see Marcus for what he was, which was no good, so far as Celia was concerned. So she quietly paid attention to Muelie’s disenchantment while Mitch happily hummed beside her. Being shut up all the time, he wasn’t a particularly good conversationalist, so he mostly just hummed to himself and occasionally made quaint, if not amusing, observations.
“Oh, look, that flower is blue!”
“It’s a blue bell,” said Celia.
“Wow, that’s neat,” said Mitch.
“If you say so,” said Celia.
“Speaking of bells…” intimated Marcus, an edge on his voice.
The merry troop made their merry way, merrily, until they reached the town of West Mavin. That’s where the fun started.
There were lots of children in West Mavin, and once they reached the town Celia disappeared almost immediately, forgetting completely about her mission to keep watch over Muelie and Marcus. They immediately began fawning over each other as Mitch looked around to see where Celia had gotten off to.
He jangled anxiously about. Where could she have gone? She was there one moment, and then just gone the next.
It didn’t take long to find Celia. She had taken charge of a game of Red Rover and was shouting orders down her expanding line of kids. She had started with the team that was about to lose and now had swung twelve kids back to her side. Now it was a battle of wills and wits between herself and a couple of older boys on the other side. They would call somebody over, catch them, and then Celia would bring them right back. Somehow she managed to have her kids organized so that there weren’t any really weak links.
She had a way of inspiring others to greater heights.
To wit, a child rushed over from the other team and broke through part of her chain.
“Time out!” she called, walking over to the split as the boy who broke through (smugly, of course) walked back to his side.
“What happened?” she sweetly asked the little boy sitting on the ground.
“It’s mah knee, ma’am. I think it’s skint.”
“Skint knee?..Do you think I give a rats ass about your knee being skint? I can see its skint, there’s blood dripping down it for all the world to see! But if your leg was severed at the knee I’d still make you stand up and get in my chain!”
“But Celia, I’m so tired.”
“Get him up,” she ordered the two children next to him. Through shrewd maneuvering, she usually managed to make the chain links such that weaker and stronger alternated. “Now see, boy, you don’t even have to worry about how tired you are, because these two big strong kids are just gonna grab you by your wrists and not let go, no matter who comes through. Your arms will pop off your body before anyone will let you go. Is that understood?”
They all nodded.
“Good! Now form up…Red Rover, Red Rover…”
They all chanted along, and over came Cedryk, aiming for the weak link.
He failed and was assimilated.
The battle went on all afternoon, the opposing team hanging on but slowly shrinking.
The sun was setting, but the wiliest of the wily ones were still left on the other side of that epic Red Rover match. The brothers Bitters were both left, holding hands, and they’d catch anyone that came through, as long as it wasn’t Celia. They were stronger than anybody else. They were not twins, and they looked nothing alike, but they were actually the exact same age, the older one, Tony, being conceived before the other, but refusing to leave the womb until his destined brother, who he knew must come, was caught up and ready. It had been a hard pregnancy on the mother Bitters.
The sky reddened to blood above, the sun falling quickly below the horizon. A cold wind blew. The chant began.
“Red Rover, Red Rover…”
They let Bill come over. Bill was caught.
“Celia!” called Mitch. “We have to get to the concert! We won’t be close to the stage at all if we don’t go!”
“Yeah, Celia,” yelled Elliot, younger of the Bitter brothers, his red hair waving truculently in the breeze, his nose upturned in malice. “Go ahead and go! We’ll never give in! We have Bill back, and we’ll never lose! We’ll get him back as many times as it takes.”
“Run away, Celia,” yelled Tony, his nose upturned in malice, his red hair waving truculently in the breeze.
“You can’t win, Celia.”
“You have to go to the concert.”
“We can be here all night.”
“We have no curfew.”
Celia set her jaw forward. “This ends now.”
She turned her feet into the grass, leaned forward like a tiger ready to pounce. She could feel the breeze beneath her fingernails.
“Go ahead and take Bill back. We’ll just get him again next time.”
“Poor, weak Bill,” said Bill.
“…Tony come over.”
The meadow was silenced.
Except for there was a breeze blowing, and the crickets starting to chirrup for the evening. And there were some pretty lightning bugs already coming out and they were distracting. But the kids were all quiet and appropriately grave, except one of them kept sneezing.
“Harrumph,” harrumphed Tony, stepping forward, insolence in his step, his freckled nose upturned and his red hair waving truculently in the breeze. He rolled up his sleeves, because it improved his aero-dynamism.
Off he went like a red headed lightning bolt. The brothers Bitters were known for their speed. Celia’s line shifted, trying to move enough so he couldn’t go for a weak link. But he was strong, and the line was full of links too weak for his mighty, ginger power.
“He’s closing in fast, Celia!” yelled a kid. “Ten yards…five…four…” This kid had no conception of distance.
Tony was going straight for the littlest kids. Just then he suddenly changed direction, going for slightly larger kids, then again, back to the little ones. He was going to break through. The kids were already waning in their hand holding, fearing the imminent collision.
Then, at the last moment, Celia suddenly yelled, “HA!”
Was it just at the right moment? Was it some super power? A coincidence?
Nobody knew, but Tony stumbled, or tripped on a clod of grass that he couldn’t see in the dark, or stepped on a small land mine, and then he was flying through the air.
He hit the hand line.
The line held.
“Nooooo!” cried Elliot. “Brother!”
“I’m sorry,” cried Tony as he took his place in line, his hair no longer so truculent.
“Shut up,” said Celia. “You’re on my team now, so no going easy if they call you over.”
“Curses!” cursed Tony. He stomped his feet frustratedly. “Don’t call me over, Elliot! I won’t be able to go easy.”
“I’ll get you back somehow!” came the sad voice from the other side of the meadow. It was so dark now that you could barely see a bird a half mile away.
“Surrender, Elliot!” called Celia.
“Death first!” he cried in return.
“No, seriously. I gotta go to a concert now.”
“Oh, well…what’ll you give me?” he asked across the field.
“I’ll give you a fist up your nose if you don’t let me go!”
“You can go! It just means that you loo-ooooose!” Elliot sang.
Celia glowered, or growled. It’s only two letters different. Either way, she hated losing. “Fine, what do you want?”
“You can’t have my yo-yo! It’s made from magical oak from the enchanted forest!”
“Well can I borrow it?”
She chewed the thought up, wanted to spit it out, but forced herself to swallow. “Fine, but I don’t have it with me! You’ll have to wait ‘til next week!” she called.
The negotiations finished, the children, who had watched the proceedings with equanimity, unclasped hands and went about their business, mostly going home to eat dinner or whatever people do at home. The brothers Bitters reunited happily, and Celia and Mitch made their way to the concert hall.
Chapter 3: A Rocky Start
The concert hall was like a very big mechanic’s garage with cement floors and very high ceilings and hydraulic lifts. It had hydraulic lifts like a mechanic’s garage because it actually was a mechanics garage during the daytime. This made for interesting seating arrangements. Muelie the cat and Marcus the were-cat were perched atop one of the hydraulic lifts, which had been pumped up ten feet into the air, affording a pretty good view of the stage. Actually, Marcus was perched on the lift, and Muelie was perched on Marcus, who, since it wasn’t a full moon, was currently a were-person.
Mitch and Celia, however, were down on the floor below. They had gotten here too late to score the good seats. Celia was a little upset about this, even though it was her own fault for being late. Mitch didn’t mind at all. He was just happy to be out of his house and around people. The whole place smelled like vehicle lubrication, and the floor was smooth but had appealing oil stains on it. The place had that way of being grungy without being dingy.
Mitch thought he might like to run away from home and become a mechanic someday. It might not seem that glamorous, but Mitch didn’t need the life of glamour. He had never had aspirations to run away and join the circus or anything like that. Of course, we all know what happened to the kids that ran off to join the circus. The trolls ate them. Except young Ben Thompson. He survived to go on to a successful circus career.
The opening act was the usual local band Shameless Self Promotion, which despite their name did very little to promote themselves. They only put posters up outside their house, so even in the town, most people in town were unaware of them. They never even went on tour, because they felt bad about imposing themselves on others without being asked. This really put a damper on their music careers, so it was a good thing they all had day jobs.
They started up the show with an old favorite “Zombie Holiday”, which was always a crowd pleaser. It was such a crowd pleaser, that they also ended their performance with it. Though this may have been because it was their only song. They actually were very prolific musicians, but it was mostly experimental rock, which when an accordion is involved is often a very bad thing. Luckily the one song that everybody liked was a really good song, and nobody ever got tired of it.
“Heh, an accordion? Those went out with the zither,” somebody beside Celia scoffed. She looked up to see the guy from the band who had passed her by earlier that day. He had changed into a red checkered A-shirt, but his facial hair was still scraggly and his blonde bangs still hung in front of his eyes.
Celia was about to say, “You think you can do better?” but she knew that this guy probably could. But she was feeling petulant, so she said it anyway.
“Sister,” he said looking down at her through rose colored glasses, “You have no idea. What’s the name of this town again?” he asked.
“West Mavin,” she said.
“West Mavin!” he shouted, and it was like his voice was amplified through the whole concert hall/garage, even overpowering the incredibly intense “Zombie Holiday” bridge. “Are you ready to rock?”
Blam! There was an incredible explosion and suddenly Shameless Self Promotion was gone and in their place was the guy and his band! “I am Sardis Williack and we are Sordid Soil!” Loud, deafening cheers. “And we have come to Rock—Your—World!”
The incredibly hot bassist girl started picking a mean rhythm. That bass lick could have powered all the lawn mowers in West Mavin by itself, but just one measure later it was joined by two more guitars, keyboard and drums into a solid wall of sound that blasted the heads off of the wandering chickens outside. They died happy.
The raucous grooves of the sexy bassist lit with the crazy melodic lines from the keyboardist, who was also hot, creating a curving cacophony of crazy awesome. The voice of the singer melded with the ludicrous lambast of the guitars to slam luscious lyrics languidly down the ear canals of the audience, who were so blown away they forgot to dance, even though they were all dancing because they couldn’t help it.
“I spent five days in Hell for you, five five days in Hell for you, and I’m hoooooot, hot for you…” The singer sang a baritone so smooth that people were slipping and falling down.
And like was said, everybody in the band was a looker. The lead was the only guy, and the others were all dressed up in lots of black leather clothing that only served to accentuate everything that couldn’t be seen. Their hair stood rigid and multi-colored, plumed like peacocks or some really extra psychedelic toucans, but in a way that was cool and wouldn’t have made people think, “Oh, that hair kinda makes her look like a bird.” No, they would never have thought that. They would have been too overawed by the vibes of coolness emanating from them.
Their sound was everywhere and everything. It was the whole world.
The next song came on without even a pause. The sound never let up.
“You think you know me but you’re dreamin’. You’ll never catch up with my schemin’. I got the wool right o’er your eyes, and now you’re hypnotized, and next time I hear you you’ll be screamin’.”
The lyrics were darkly moving. They sped along at a pace that wouldn’t let you not jam to them.
That’s when the wall suddenly exploded.
Chapter 4: The Concert Ends Early
A wall of dust billowed out, blanketing the whole garage like a prickly fog. The rubble tumbling down from the wall crushed a bunch of people. The loud roar of a heavy vehicle growled and rumbled where the wall had fallen in.
Nobody was screaming or running, because nobody could see to know what was even going on.
Then somebody shouted, “Goblins!”
People pushed and shoved to get to the back of the garage where thankfully the garage doors were open. Unfortunately they seemed to be blocked by goblins.
The dust mulled and billowed.
“Muelie!” Celia yelled. “Muelie! Where are you?”
“I’m right above you!” called Muelie. “I’m okay. There are goblins in a pickup truck that came through the wall. They have some sort of cannon in the bed.”
“Yeah! Be careful! I’m getting out of here!”
Those goblins had to be stopped, and who better than a monster hunter to stop them.
As though hearing her resolve the Sordid Soil struck up a high voltage metal rock, it peeled through the room and stoked the fires of her vindictiveness with syncopation that had been cast out of Heaven and then cast right back out of Hell.
Bass line, simple, heavy.
Guitars wail into a wall of spasmic din.
Vocals: “Don’t say no! Just lay low! I’ve had enough with your undertow! You’re always burnin’ my house down, burnin’ my house down! Yeah!”
The crowd was pressing her in all directions, but she managed to find steady ground at the shaft of the hydraulic lift nearby. She climbed up on some people and then jumped to the lift, suspended midair. There was a pickup truck, alright, and with a death ray of some sort glowing bright blue in the bed. Flashes of green lit up, people vanishing in a puff of smoke.
Celia took out her knife of wood. It might seem strange to have a knife of wood, but it was special enchanted wood of mass decapitation.
“I said no! I won’t go! I won’t go out on a date with you! Oh, noooo! You’re always burnin’ my house down, burnin’ my house down! Yeah!”
She saw her opening and went for it. The goblins were distracted obliterating people and shoving others in sacks. She climbed along the metal frame supports that ran along the ceiling, like a quick and crafty sloth. She’d drop down right on top of that cannon and turn it around on the goblins themselves.
Then the gunner saw her, and in flash of green, she was gone.
Chapter 5: Something Odd Happens
Celia woke up in a beautiful field, with grass as soft as pillows, daffodils and daisies and other ‘d’ flowers growing colorfully all over the place, and pink bunnies hopped along, marshmallowy. Surrounding the clearing were friendly looking woods on all sides, and then, over the tops of the trees to the north, she could just make out a great crystalline spire.
Celia stood up, and only then did she notice the flowery vines wrapped around her ankles.
Maleficent giggles emanated from the patches of tall flowers surrounding her, and up like weeds rose four ugly goblins, with their pointed noses and bushy eyebrows, none of them any taller than young Celia. They were all dressed like Tom Sawyer.
“You’re our prisoner,” said one.
“Welcome to Hell!”
“Would you like some tea?”
Out from the woods trotted two goblins with a tea service. They held it in place in front of Celia while another poured her a cup. She sniffed at its wafting fragrance. It was some sort of flower tea, there was just a hint of mint, but no poison. Celia happened to have an acute nose and could detect any poison, no matter how subtle.
“Yes, please,” said Celia.
“One lump or two?”
“Just one, please.”
The goblin put two, and the others nearby all sniggered. He very cordially held out the cup and saucer to her. Celia smelled the tea again, but there was still no trace of poison.
She took a sip, cautiously.
They sniggered some more.
“Ha!” said one. “Now you’ll need to pee in just a few hours.”
“And there aren’t any public restrooms nearby!”
Celia took another sip. “Say, just what breed of goblins are you?”
“We’re Northern Kentucky Goblins.”
Celia had thought as much. Northern Kentucky goblins had the same mottled skin and puffy white hair as these goblins had. They were also known to have unusual aesthetic tastes for goblins and no sense of how to frighten people.
“Well, we’re going to leave you here for awhile,” said one.
“And then we’re going to eat you,” said another.
“You are?” asked Celia. “But North American goblins don’t eat people.”
They looked at each other, confused.
“Sure we do,” one finally said.
“Have a nice day.”
“Enjoy your torment.”
“Wait,” said Celia. “How’d I get here anyway? I thought I got shot.”
“You did. You got shot by our teleportation ray.”
“So long now.”
These were definitely the nicest goblins Celia had ever met. Then again, she really didn’t associate with goblins much because they typically were pretty nasty to people. But they were definitely the nicest goblins she had ever heard about. She didn’t have extensive knowledge about Kentucky goblins, but maybe they were one of the few North American breeds that liked the taste of human flesh. Most North American goblins ate primarily chicken and fried catfish. Celia lamented the fact that these goblins really didn’t seem all that unpleasant, and would probably be nice enough to befriend, if it weren’t for the fact that they wanted to eat her. Maybe she could talk them out of it.
At any rate, she needed to get out of here, wherever here was—she probably should have asked the goblins—and figure out how to get home. So she reached down and pulled the vines up out of the ground and strolled off into the woods.
The woods weren’t quite so bizarrely pleasant as the verdant field where they had her tied up, but they weren’t bad for goblin woods. There weren’t any giant spiders guarding the way or the usual myriad of poisonous plants. She headed north, because that’s where she had seen the spire, and even through the tree cover she could occasionally make it out through the leaves. She didn’t think it would be a goblin city. It didn’t exactly have the look. Crystalline spires weren’t their thing. Then again, these northern Kentucky goblins were a pretty unusual breed so far, so there was no telling. Even though they seemed pretty country, they had also had that nice tea service, so she wouldn’t be placing any bets against it.
Celia sensed something. She hid behind a tree.
Running through the woods came a stout little boy. Celia thought she recognized him from the concert. In fact, she did recognize him. That was Tommy Burgess, who was a little older than her. She knew him from town. They used to play together. She was about to call out “Tommy”, when she caught site of the goblins chasing him. They held up blow guns and shot darts at him.
Celia wasn’t too worried. They wouldn’t be using any serious poison or they wouldn’t be able to eat him later. Probably the darts were just tipped with something to knock Tommy out. She would sneak out when they passed and take the goblins from behind.
Uh oh, one of the darts struck home. Tommy only went a few more steps before he stumbled. All at once Tommy’s skin started to puff up. No, it didn’t start to puff up like he had a run-in with some nettle, he actually started to swell up like a giant berry. No, not a berry, but a marshmallow! His face stretched over his rapidly inflating head, his eyes pulled shut by the tightness and his thin lips being pulled like taffy across his fat head. “Ahhh!” he tried to scream, but all he could manage was a sort of sad whimper.
Celia scowled. Drat! Maybe sneaking up behind them just now wasn’t a good idea. She wasn’t about to get turned into a marshmallow! That was one of the worst possible deaths she could even think up! They were dragging his bloated body away while bubbly sputterings kept burbling from Tommy’s lips. His teary eyes managed to open just a sliver, and he saw her. “Help me,” he tried to say, or so it sounded to Celia. It was pitiful, and she felt pretty bad for him.
She should sneak up behind them and take those goblins out! She could do it. But she really, really didn’t want to be turned into a marshmallow. It was bad.
They took him back through the woods and into a different, but also very pleasant meadow where lots of other people were tied up. Celia recognized several of them, but she didn’t see Mitch or Muelie. They must have gotten away. Or, oh, no! What if they had already been turned into marshmallows? Celia’s stomach felt queasy. Why was she being such a wuss? She wasn’t usually so squeamish about little things like death by marshmallowfication and being eaten, or so she thought. It hadn’t really come up before. But she had always considered herself rather fearless.
The goblins set Tommy down, and then they started biting big chunks out of him, chewing whole mouthfuls; gooey, sugary dribble running out of their mouths. They ate their fill, which was a good bit, but not all of Tommy, and then they left. Celia waited until they were well out of sight and she was sure there weren’t any others nearby. Then she cautiously crept toward mound that was Tommy Burgess.
His face looked pitifully up at her. It was basically all that was left of him, and it wasn’t even all there. A big bite had been taken from the ends of one of his lips. Celia couldn’t help but wonder if it tasted differently than the rest of him, but she didn’t think she really wanted to find out for herself.
“Celia,” he whimpered almost incoherently through his mushy mouth. “I don wan ge’ ea’en. Bey turned be inthoo a marthmallow.” It sounded like he was chewing on marshmallows, and it was easy to imagine why. Celia could see his puffed up tongue shoved right against his teeth.
“I know, Tommy. But I think I can get everybody else out of here. No more pussy footin’ around!”
“Bu wub abow me?”
“Well, I’m not sure what to do about you. I mean, I guess you’re not dead, even though you’re a marshmallow, so I guess there’s not a way to get rid of you other than to eat you.”
“Don eat ne!” he cried weakly.
“Well I’m not gonna eat you. You’re probably going to attract ants. They’ll take care of you.”
He started crying.
“Don’t be a weeny, Tommy.” Celia was tired of dealing with him. She understood that nobody wanted to be a marshmallow, but crying about it wouldn’t make it better. She figured she should focus on freeing the others. But before she took another step, she sensed something behind her.
Too late! Something furry tackled her from behind.
Chapter 6: New Wave Hairdos.
Before she could even start squirming, somebody whispered in her ear, “Shhh. Follow me if you want to live.”
“What?” she whispered back. She could tell immediately that it was another kid. They didn’t seem to want to harm her.
“Just follow me. You can’t help your friends right now.”
“They’re not my friends.”
“Oh, then you don’t need to worry about them.”
“Well, I mean, I’m not gonna let them get turned into marshmallows.” She looked at the miserable people tied up around the field, all watching silently with helpless looks drawn upon their faces.
“Alright, alright. Anyway, follow me.”
Up and away they ran. She didn’t get to see the kid’s face, but it looked like he or she was wearing a raccoon skin as a cloak, complete with little ears sticking up off the top of the head and ragged animal feet flopping behind. The kid slowed down once they were in the woods.
“Where are we going?” asked Celia when they were away into the woods, not bothering to hide her voice.
“Quiet!” hissed the animal kid, “Stay slow and low…to the tent pole.”
“The tent pole?”
Speedily they crept along, deeper and deeper into the wood. Suddenly they burst into a clearing, but not a clearing. It was a wide space where long, thin grass grew green and greep, but huge tree branches formed a canopy over the whole area. In the middle of the clearing stood a really tall, metal tent pole, but no tent. There were a few other kids there, some more dressed than others.
“Hey, ladies!” a boy called at them. He was wearing a ratty shirt, but he had no pants on, just a loincloth made out of a squirrel pelt. Basically it was just the whole squirrel skin hanging in front of his privy parts. His hair was a tousled brown mess and full of leaves and twigs and Celia couldn’t tell if he was tan or just covered in layers of dirt.
“Screw you, Matt,” said the kid that had brought Celia here, flipping Matt the bird. Celia stepped forward to see the kids face because she hadn’t gotten a good look while they were running. She wasn’t sure if the kid was a boy or a girl. It was young, freckled even though he or she didn’t have light skin, and had a less than impressive jaw. After taking a look its face, Celia still wasn’t sure.
The other kids were gathering around now. There were about six or seven.
“Don’t take it personal, Madison. Not your fault.” Then Matt addressed Celia. “So who are you?”
“What do you mean who am I? You’re supposed to introduce yourself before you ask somebody else’s name,” said Celia, who pretty much only demanded propriety when it involved other people demonstrating it.
“We’re the Beastly Boys,” said Matt.
“Hey!” came a protest.
“And girls,” said Matt, rolling his eyes. “I’m Matt. You already met Madison. This is Adrienne, Lynn, and the others you don’t really need to know right now. Anyway,” he continued, “I’m glad you’re here, because we were just about to go on a mission to destroy the goblin palace.”
“Wait,” broke in Celia. “Where am I?”
“Kentucky,” said Madison in his or her sweetly boyish but gruffly girlish countertenor, or maybe contralto.
“But in another dimension,” said Matt.
“That’s right,” said Matt. “So, you’re coming with us to destroy the goblin palace, right? If you stick around I’ll make it worth your while.”
“What’ll you do?”
“I’ll get you back to your own dimension. The portals in the goblin palace anyway, so you might as well come or you’d never get back home.”
“Alright,” said Celia. “It’s a deal, but how are we going to free all the other people the goblins caught?”
Matt shrugged. “Does it really matter?”
Celia thought a moment. “Well, I need to see if some of my friends got caught, but otherwise I guess not. Then again, as a certified monster hunter I probably shouldn’t leave them to be turned into marshmallows and eaten.”
“Wow, you’re a certified monster hunter?” gushed Madison.
“I’m working on my certification.”
Matt broke in. “So these people you want to free, would they be doing anything interesting in your dimension otherwise?”
Matt shrugged with finality. “Anyway, you won’t be able to get them out unless we take the palace.”
“Yeah, but they could be turned into marshmallows at any time.”
“Nah, the goblins will be too busy with us.”
“How many of you are there?”
“Just us here and one more who’ll meet us later,” said Matt. “But don’t worry, there are only six goblins.”
“There’re only six goblins?” asked Celia, not believing it. “Then how did they build that huge crystal palace?”
“Hard work,” said Matt simply. “Alright Beastly Boys,” Matt said, addressing the group.
“And girls,” said Matt. “Celia here is a monster hunter from another dimension, and she’s going to help us raid the goblin palace. So let’s…”
“Hey,” interrupted Celia. “How did you know I was from another dimension anyway?”
“The goblins bring in everybody they’re planning to eat from another dimension,” said Madison, demurely picking his or her nose. “It’s a lot shorter trip than into town.”
A bunch of dirty faces nodded in agreement.
“But I got taken clear from Carolina,” said Celia.
“Don’t ask us how inter-dimensional portals work,” said Matt. “We’re just kids.”
They were walking along through the woods again. It was a nice wood. There were lots of trees and plenty of shade and not many brambles and undergrowth to get caught up in.
“So what’s your dimension like?” asked Madison, trying to start up a conversation.
“Well, uh…it’s not that different from here I guess, but I’ve never been to Kentucky before, so it could be totally different. We have northern Kentucky goblins, too, but I’m not sure they eat people in my dimension, and I’ve never heard of anyone being turned into a marshmallow.”
“Well, actually, most people don’t turn into marshmallows. That guy you saw was just allergic.”
“Seriously? What does it usually do?”
“Turns you into nougat.”
Celia gave Madison a reproving look, Madison smiled as though to indicate a joke, but it was just as ambiguous as his or her gender.
“Golly, why does Bill have to live so far away?” piped up Lynn. “I just wanna go to sleep.”
“No sleep ‘til the brook, Lynn,” said Madison evenly. He or she was apparently accustomed to Lynn’s complaining. Lynn had longish blonde hair, a round nose that seemed to indicate boogers, and wore a sort of squirrel necktie.
“We actually gotta pick up the pace,” said Matt, looking at his broken wristwatch.
Lynn asked, “What’s the time?”
“Its time to get Bill.” That seemed to shut Lynn up for awhile.
This part of the woods was crunchy. Everything snapped and crackled and popped underfoot. Rocks and leaves and dry weedy things littered the ground. They made an awful lot of noise marching along, which bothered Celia since she didn’t like the idea of being stalked by goblins or anything else, but the other kids didn’t seem to mind, so she tried not to let it bother her. She was confident that if anything attacked, the others would be hit first anyway. She made sure to position herself on the inside of the group.
“Hey, look,” said Madison and Adrienne at once. “The brook.” They said ‘the brook’ at the same time, too. They glared at each other suspiciously.
“You’re not copying me, are you?” asked Madison, squintilly.
“Why would I copy you?”
Now that Celia looked at them, there was something similar about them, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. They had basically the same hair and eyes, similar freckles on their noses, narrow, little chins, but there was something else about them that Celia just couldn’t figure out.
The brook crawled along the floor of the wood without causing too much stir. The trees shaded it entirely from the sun and it looked a bit murky and muddy. Standing next to it, Celia could just barely make out the bottom, which couldn’t have been more than a foot deep.
“So what are we doing here?” she asked.
“We’re getting Bill,” answered Matt. “Bill!” he called. “We’re here! Where ya at?”
In answer there was a rustling in the trees and something black and furry fell from a branch. “Hey,” said Celia. “Is that a bonobo?”
“Yeah,” said Madison.
“Hey, Bill,” said Matt. “Have a banana.” Matt produced a banana from somewhere or other and tossed it to Bill.
“Where’d you get a banana around here?” asked Celia.
Matt just shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. Now that we got Bill, we can go raid the palace.”
“You needed Bill to raid the palace?”
“Well, wherever we go we take the monkey with us,” said Lynn.
“It’s a sort of good luck charm, like something made of brass.”
Celia had never heard of brass being good luck, but she went along with it. When in Kentucky, do as the Kentuckians do, as the old adage goes. “So now what?”
“So now we go on to the palace.”
Chapter 7: Raiding the Crystal Palace
The goblin’s palace was really quite lovely. Despite being made of pure crystal, it wasn’t very gaudy at all. It also wasn’t much bigger than a goodly sized house as far as its footprint went, but it was really, really tall. From where they were in some bushes about thirty yards away from the main entrance, Celia had to strain her neck to look up to see the top of the spire. And she wasn’t sure she was actually seeing it. It was mind boggling. How did a bunch of northern Kentucky goblins build such a thing?
A few goblins were milling about aimlessly, looking for something to do. One was playing horseshoes by himself.
“Alright,” whispered Matt. “So here’s the plan. We’re going to steal that cart they have over there.”
There was a lot of nodding.
“Then what?” asked Celia.
“But I thought we were going to raid the palace.”
“This is raiding,” said Matt.
“It’s like, light raiding.”
“Light raiding is still raiding,” said Matt a little defensively. “Stealing that wagon of theirs will really make them angry. That’s the wagon they use to move people from the field and into the palace for dinner.”
“So, they can’t move people without the wagon?” asked Celia.
“Well, they can. It’s not a very long walk. But it’s still annoying.”
“Actually,” said Madison, “Since they have to drag the wagon themselves, its probably easier just to make the people walk.”
Celia was unimpressed. “I can’t stand it. I know you planned it…but this is a stupid idea.”
“Well la-di-da. Look who thinks she knows how to do things better in north Kentucky then north Kentuckians. Mrs. I’m from another state in another dimension.”
“Shut up. I do have a better plan, and unless you got something better than ‘let’s steal their wagon’, you’re gonna follow it. Alright. Listen all of y’all, this is sabotage…”
The plan went like this: first they had to observe. Celia insisted on it. She wasn’t the most patient little girl monster slayer in either dimension, but the Beastly Boys had no sense of information gathering at all. The door to the palace—which was surprisingly small for the size of the place—seemed to respond to the touch of the goblins skin, opening only when they pressed a hand or nose against it.
The next part of the plan did actually involve stealing the wagon. When only one goblin seemed to be around, a bunch of the Beastly Boys ran out and grabbed it in plain sight of it and ran it into the woods. The goblin followed, and when it came around the bush that Celia was hiding behind, she brained it. Then, while it was passed out, they skinned it and tossed the skinless body into a ditch somewhere. The skin itself Madison had to wear because he or she drew the short straw.
Besides being moist and smelly inside, the goblin skin suit was also a bit baggy on Madison. The face fit like an ill conceived Halloween mask with the nose drooping down past the chin and the large eye holes exposing not only Madison’s eyes but also Madison’s eyebrows and cheeks. They had cut out the soles of the goblins feet so that Madison’s own feet protrude out their bottoms.
She or he ran up to the front door, which really was small. It was only about five feet high and two feet wide. A normal sized adult would have had trouble getting into it, and for a goblin it was easy enough, but not exactly keeping up with the opulent feel of the rest of the place. The door was made out of solid crystal, like the rest of the palace, and was recessed smoothly into a wall.
“Why do you think it’s so small?” whispered Celia from their vantage in the bushes.
“I dunno. Maybe it’s the back door,” said Matt.
“Is there a bigger door in front?”
“I don’t think so, but the palace is round, I mean…”
“Yeh, you can’t front on that.”
Meanwhile, Madison was standing in front of the door not knowing exactly what to do. So Madison knocked on the door. It opened.
He or she looked around inside, then back at the bush for suggestions.
“Go inside!” hissed Matt.
“Charge!” shouted Pat, who hadn’t said anything else up to this point. To everybody’s surprise, everybody charged. Seeing that everybody was coming that way, Madison stepped further into the palace to lead the way. Then the door closed.
The Beastly Boys and Celia skidded to a stop.
There was a lot of confusion and everybody was screaming, “Madison! Open up! Open up, Madison! We can’t get in!”
When a few moments passed and it seemed like the door was not going to re-open, there was some question as to what they could all do.
“Around the side!” yelled Matt. “Get another goblin!”
They all ran around the round palace and grabbed the first goblin they saw, which was the one who had been playing horseshoes. They picked him up and ran back around to the door and knocked his noggin on the door until it came unhinged. Then they ran inside, towing the dazed goblin along in case they needed to open up any more doors.
They all had to stop a moment to marvel at the interior of the goblin’s crystal palace. The place was, well, swanky wasn’t the right word. It was…well the whole place was made of crystal, let’s just leave it at that. They couldn’t spot any rooms or hallways or anything. It was just one big crystal palace. It was like being on the inside of a glacier, but not as cold, and the ceiling stretched up and up and up until they could see light gleaming in through the pinnacle.
“Where do we go?” Matt’s voice echoed through the chamber.
“I don’t know,” said Lynn.
Adrienne called out, “Madison! Where are you?”
“Heeeeeellllp!” Madison’s cry came from somewhere very, very far away.
“Can’t anybody see if there are any doors out of here?” asked Matt.
“Start probing with the goblins head,” ordered Celia.
“Roger that,” said Lynn and Pat, who were in charge of the goblin.
“And you two,” said Matt, not to be outdone by Celia, “watch the door in case any more goblins come in.”
“Okay,” said Adrienne and Terry, who wore goat horns.
It would have been funny if the goblin’s head made a clanging sound each time they banged it against a wall to see if there might be a door there. But it didn’t. It just made a dull, scrunching noise.
They tapped his head again and this time a door opened up before them with a really cool ‘shwoomp’ noise.
A kaleidoscope of colors greeted them. They walked into the rooms. Throw rugs were everywhere along with things that looked a lot like lava lamps. The cornucopia of color was quite a change after the brittle blue of the palace’s crystal. All the crystal walls in here were covered up with the throw rugs and hanging drapes and such. The only nakedly crystal thing was a crystal ball at the center of the room.
And then all at the same time they realized that that crystal ball looked to be populated by Madison! They all rushed to the center of the room, gathering around the ball. “Madison!”
“Heeeeelllp! I’m trapped somewhere!” called Madison from far away.
“Woah…more kids,” said the goblin at the back of the room.
It was more or less clothed in the same things that were adorning the walls, so they hadn’t noticed it. It was sucking on a hookah straw, vaporous smoke wafting gently from its mouth.
“Hey, goblin!” yelled Celia. “How do we get Madison from out of that crystal ball.”
“I dunno,” shrugged the goblin. “I was just minding my own business when in comes this kid with a goblin skin on and gets my floor all dirty. Then the crystal ball sucked the kid up and they won’t stop yelling. It’s really annoying. Uh-oh, looks like it’s gonna happen again.”
Just then Lynn disappeared. “Lynn!” they yelled. Then, a few moments later, Lynn reappeared inside the ball.
“Hello?” Lynn called. “Where am I? Am I in the ball? It’s all foggy. Madison?”
From outside the ball the group could see them wandering past each other but never getting to each other.
“Looks like your crystal ball ain’t so crystal clear,” said Matt.
“No,” said the goblin, “That thing hasn’t worked right in ages. It’s all sorts of whack. Anyway, you guys are invading my crystal palace, so you’re gonna have to leave.”
“Like hell we will!” yelled Pat. “Not ‘til we get our friends back!”
The goblin puffed out some smoke and held out a finger with a long fingernail, bottom up. Suddenly, Pat was on the fingernail, and then just as suddenly Pat was gone again.
“Heeeelllp!” Pat’s voice sounded muffled and echoey, like it was in some closed container.
“Look!” said Adrienne. They all looked at the hookah. Pat was inside, floating around in the hookah water. Something was happening, something awful. It was like Pat was less and less there, and then they all realized that Pat was vaporizing into smoke!
“Nooooooo….” Then the yell faded away.
“Mmmm…” said the goblin, puffing out a fresh cloud of Pat scented smoke.
The rest of the kids took to their heels and got the hell out of there. They reassembled outside the room in the crystal foyer.
“Holy smokes!” cried Matt. “What’re we going to do?”
“Let’s get out of here,” said Adrienne.
“We can’t leave!” said Celia. “Your friends are in there and I still don’t know how to get back home.”
The goblin called from the room, “Come back in here, sweet cheeks, I’ll show you the way home.”
“I’m not going back in that room,” hissed Matt. “That place is crazy town!”
“Well we can’t just leave them all,” said Terry, who wore goat horns.
“I’m gonna smoke your friends if you leave,” said the goblin.
“What’re we gonna do?” whined Adrienne.
“Hold on,” said Celia, and she walked over to the door, stopping just short of it. “Hey you. We want our friends back, how’re we gonna get ‘em?”
“Come in and I’ll tell you.”
“I’m not going in there. You come out here,” said Celia.
The rest of the Beastly Boys behind her frantically waved their hands and whispered, “No, no, no!”
“Okay girlie. But it’s a real drag for me to have to get up and move for uninvited guests. Here I come. Hope you know what your—“
Ker-Shank! There was a hugely loud metallic bang followed by a stream of cursing and goblin yowling. On wobbly legs the goblin came stumbling out of the room, a huge metal clamp around his head. “Get it off!” the goblin shrieked.
“What on earth?” said Adrienne, aghast.
“I laid one of my dog traps in there while we were fleeing.”
“Oh, she’s crafty,” said Terry.
“Yeah,” said Matt in dreamily, “and she’s just my type.”
“Get it off!” the goblin screamed again.
“First tell me how to get my friends out of that crystal ball!”
“Argh!” yelled the goblin in pain, blood and eyeball dripping from his face. “Ahhhhhhh!”
Celia walked into the colorful room and came out rolling the crystal ball. It turned out to be too heavy for her to pick up on her own.
“What’s happening?” yelled Madison from the rolling crystal ball.
“This is scary!” yelled Lynn likewise situated.
“Get ‘em out!” demanded Celia. “Or you can wear that trap forever!”
Then with a gurgle the goblin keeled over and died. His body went suddenly stiff and he toppled like one of those obnoxious clown punching bags except for he didn’t pop back up.
Chapter 8: Unexpect the Expected
The raid wasn’t exactly a success, but they ended up only losing one beastly boy, so long as you weren’t counting the two trapped inside a crystal ball. Since they took out two and a half goblins, that wasn’t so bad. Unfortunately, Celia still had no clue how to get back to her dimension, but that wasn’t the most pressing matter at the moment.
“Alright,” said Matt, “how are we going to get them out of there?”
“Drop it off something really high!” suggested Terry enthusiastically.
“Hit it with something really hard!” suggested Adrienne.
“No,” said Matt. “What if it breaks and they’re itty bitty inside of there? They’ll be tiny for the rest of their lives.”
They were safely away into the woods now, though Celia didn’t know exactly why they had left. “Well maybe there’s something we can find back in the palace that’ll help us get them back out. Let’s go back and look around.”
The others all looked terrified. Collective head shaking.
“We can’t do that,” said Matt. “It’s almost night.”
“So?” asked Celia. “You afraid of the dark?”
“No, but the other goblins will be back from harvesting the fields.”
“Wait, what? What other goblins. You said there were six goblins.”
“Well, yeah, during the day.”
“Help,” they heard Madison yell breathlessly. “I think…I think I’m running out of air in here…”
“Hey, where’d Lynn go?” asked Adrienne.
“I dunno,” said Matt, peering into the ball. “I’m surprised they haven’t found each other yet.”
“I don’t think…I can last much longer. I think I have enough air for…ninety minutes maybe. If you can hear me, I’m setting my watch for exactly ninety minutes, and if I’m not out of here by then, I think I’ll probably be suffocated.”
“Did you hear that? They only have ninety minutes to live!” Matt was panicking.
Celia grabbed him by the shoulders, shook him, pinched his nose. “Get ahold of yourself, Matt. There’s gotta be something we can do. Isn’t there anybody you know around here who knows magic?”
“Oh, hey,” said Terry, “there’s that witch on the other side of the palace. She owes us because we gave her that TV set.”
“But that’s clear on the other side of the palace,” said Matt. “And it’s going to be crawling with goblins. It’ll take forever to sneak all the way around.”
“How long would it take to get there and back without going around.”
Matt looked at his watch, which didn’t work. He looked back up, his eyes tight with concern. “Almost exactly ninety minutes,” he said.
“Then I’ve got to go,” said Celia. “I’m the only one who stands a chance running straight through.” As a point of pride, Matt wanted to argue the point, but as a point of survival, he did not.
The other Beastly Boys protested.
“You don’t stop,” said Matt. “Just run as fast as you can. I’ll run that way and try to divert them away from you.” Matt took to his heels without further ado, running like somebody very afraid running away to do something very brave, possibly to impress the girl they just met.
“Alright,” said Celia. “There’s no time to waste. How do I find the witch?”
“Just head due north from the palace,” said Terry. “You’ll run into a creek. Just follow it upstream and you can’t miss her little hut.”
Celia heard Matt making a ruckus somewhere off to her right. He was banging sticks and shaking trees and yelling, “Hey! Goblins! Come get me!”
Celia could only imagine it was working.
When she broke from the tree cover into the palace clearing only a few goblins were there and they were already running toward Matt. They changed direction when they saw her speeding through the grass.
“Ow! Ow!” she heard Matt shout, and her heart tremored in a way she had never felt before. She tried not to think of Matt turning into a marshmallow. Her eyes stung. She felt the goblins behind her. By instinct she zigged, and a volley of darts missed her. She zagged and eluded several more. Then she was in the woods again, running faster now that the grass wasn’t dragging at her feet and glad she wouldn’t have to worry about the darts anymore.
Then something stung her in the back of her arm.
“Don’t look. Don’t look,” she told herself. “Just run.” And she did. But her steps grew slower and slower. “I’m just getting tired is all,” she told herself. “Just keep pulling.” She came to the creek, saw the water flowing left and she went right. In just a few more moments she saw the hut.
“What was that sound?” said the old witch as she came out of her little hut. She looked around and was surprised to see a swollen little marshmallow girl thirty feet from her door, still struggling to make it there. “Oh, my!” said the witch. “What’s happened to you?”
The witch was middle aged, had no warts but lots of moles, and wore a fedora with a feather sticking out of it.
“Helb be,” said Celia.
“Help you?” said the witch. “A little marshmallow girl on my doorstep, practically gift wrapped, and you think I’ll help you? What kind of witch do you take me for?”
“Beasley boys…” Celia tried to say, but her lips and tongue were just about puffed shut.
“Oh, the Beastly Boys said I’d help you. Hmmm…they did give me that TV set awhile back. Then again, I haven’t gotten much use from it. I don’t have a satellite dish so I haven’t been able to use it at all.”
“Wath videos,” suggested Celia.
“I don’t have a VCR either.”
Celia, ever the trooper, could hardly keep from pitying herself in her pitiable state. Being a marshmallow was just as bad as she had imagined it would be, and her one bit of hope, that the witch would help her, was not turning out well at all.
“Now, now. Don’t cry. It’ll spoil the flavor. But I tell you what, I won’t eat you. What I’ll do is take you down to the goblins and see if they have a satellite dish to trade.
It took awhile for the witch to pull out an old wagon, drug along by a happy little mule. She had to lean some planks up against it and roll Celia up them to get her on the bed, grunting and complaining all the way, though she seemed quite strong. Then she tied Celia down so she wouldn’t roll around and they were on their way. Since the wagon had to follow a little road, it took them a little while to get back to the palace.
Goblins looked at her hungrily. “Go ahead and shtare. I ‘ope you choke on ne!” Celia was over her somberness. She had had enough feeling helpless and sorry for herself and was now being as sour as possible in hopes that it would affect her flavor. “I’m goi gib you all irridible bow sydrome!” she muttered loud and proud as she could.
Then she saw marshmallow Matt. He was all tied up on top of a wagon carrying a half dozen non-marshmallow people along to the palace.
“Cebia!” Matt cried, his eye leaking a sticky fluid that should have been a tear. “Dey got du too.”
“Donb gib dem tha satisfaction, Math!”
Matt smiled at her as best he could, but he was pretty miserable.
“Celia! Is that you?” came a familiar voice. Mitch waved cheerily from the back of the wagon. “I sure am glad you’re okay!” he called.
“You dumby! I’m a marshmarrow!”
Mitch looked a little ashamed. He wrung his hands and blushed. “Well, seeing as how I’ll probably never get another chance to say it, since we’re about to be eaten and all…well, I love you Celia. Even if you’re a marshmallow, I love you.”
There was a ringing sound. They all looked at Mitch’s groin, but it wasn’t coming from there.
“Right beside you, Cebia!” said Matt.
Somehow or other Celia managed to crane her non-neck just enough to see the two giant balls floating in the air right beside her, ringing and jangling loudly.
“Wait a second…” Celia was deep in thought. “Mitch!” she called as loud as she could, which wasn’t very. “Jumb ub and down!”
Mitch kinda hopped in place. There was no sound.
“This is a dream!” declared Celia. “This isn’t real at all!”
“Oh, thank God,” said Matt joyfully. “I’m not real…wait, but this is still another dimension. That’s how it’s always been around here. I know, because I am real.”
“Then I’m in another dimension in a dream!” said Celia. “That means I was in a dream before I got to this dimension.”
“Does that mean you have to get back to our dimension before you wake up?” asked Mitch.
“No bay,” said Matt. “She ju hab do wabe up. Wabe up, Celia! Wabe up!” The ringing grew louder and louder. “Leb the balls guide you!”
“Damnit all! Said the witch angrily. “You can’t wake up. I won’t get my satellite dish.” The witch looked around desperately, but she had never encountered this situation before. She picked up a mallet she happened to have in a toolbox on the wagon and banged on Celia’s thick, mushy head. Celia didn’t feel a thing. She was drifting softly away.
Matt’s voice echoed in Celia’s ears. “Wake up! Wake up! I love you! Wake up!” Everything was growing soft and dark and warm.
She was back in the garage. The crowd was still there, just standing around. The band was gone except for the lead singer who was playing a mellow melody on his guitar. Then she realized the ringing was still there, and getting louder. She looked to her right, where Mitch should have been. And there he was! And a succubus was sucking his blood or soul or whatever! It was one of the girls from the band, all clad in leather, but now with glowing eyes and glistening fangs and leathery wings.
“Stay away from him you bitch!” yelled Celia. She wobbled as she took a swing at the succubus, still not very awake. The succubus hissed and shrieked and fluttered away back to the stage, snarling and spitting angrily at Celia. Celia grabbed Mitch by the shoulders and started shaking him. He jangled and clanged until he finally came to.
He looked around, dazed. Then he saw Celia. “Celia? Is that you? I was just having the craziest dream.”
“Did it involve goblins and marshmallows?”
“Never mind, we have work to do!”
She looked up at the stage. The lead singer had changed outfits again. He was wearing a pink jacket with gray pants and a checkered newspaper boy hat. You could see his eyes through his orange sunglasses. He smoothed his blonde bangs to one side as he looked out at where the succubus was pointing.
Celia didn’t wait to be seen. She yelled, “Seamus Wilcocks! You got a lot of explaining to do!”
“Its Sardis Williacks, stupid,” said Sardis in such a demeaning tone that it actually succeeded in momentarily hurting Celia’s feelings. “You’re that lewd little girl from earlier in the day, aren’t you? What are you doing here?”
“What do you mean what am I doing here? What are you doing knocking everybody into dream dimensions while your succubi band mates have their ways with them?”
“How’d she get out of her dream?” asked one of the succubi. Sardis held up his hand to silence her.
“So how’d you manage to wake up?” he asked through the microphone.
“That’s none of your business,” shouted Celia, not feeling inclined to share the secret of Mitch’s nuts. It might be the only thing that could save them. “Now you tell me what you’re doing to these people!”
“Well, since you can’t stop me, I guess I’ll tell you. I’m going around this whole region looking for normal towns. When I find abnormal ones, I destroy them.”
“Because I hate weirdos!” shouted Sardis. “Because you make the world uncomfortable for everybody else, and I won’t ever ever stop offing you guys until I’ve built strip malls over all your weirdness!”
“But, but…you’re not normal!” cried Celia. “You’re weird, and…and you’re music is great! It’s so cool! Why would you do this?”
“Don’t say that!” screamed Sardis, livid. “My music isn’t for you and all the other freaks! And now I’ll take you out for good! I didn’t even have my guitar amped up past low! Meet MoonRucker! My S+ class super weapon!”
“An S+ super weapon?” thought Celia. “Here? But how?”
Sardis grabbed a pick, lifted his arm, and strummed a power chord that was just off enough to make it awesome. Her knees buckled, but Celia withstood the blast.
“What?” said Sardis Williack surprised. “How did she survive that? She should have been knocked back three dimensions and two states of consciousness.” Then she looked over at Mitch. He was stuck in place with fright and shivering just enough to give his balls a little jingle. “Just you wait girl.” Celia saw him turn up the dial on his guitar.
She looked at Mitch, looked at the guitar. “Mitch,” she said. He didn’t hear her. “Mitch, you’ve got to dance!”
The succubi had all gathered back up on the stage, prepping their instruments for an encore performance. “It’s a pretty good gig, overall,” said Sardis. “My succubi get to feed, and all the energy moving around feeds my guitar, making it stronger and stronger. You must be a special girl, after all. But I don’t care. I won’t let you stand in the way of my dream. I’ll have my mini-malls, and your kind will never stop me. My succubi’s instruments are all hand made and designed to resonate with MoonRucker. You’re going down!”
“Mitch!” Celia shook Mitch. “Dance!”
“Dance? But I don’t have any rhythm,” he said, still in a daze.
“Damnit, Mitch! I can’t believe you’re making me do this!” And with that Celia grabbed his head and laid a big kiss right on his lips. A fat, blue rhythm emanated from the keyboards synthesizer, pulsing through their bones. The high hat lit up, the bass thrummed steadily, promising more. Mitch’s foot began to tap. His head bobbed in time. And as Celia really let him have it, he got all kinds of uncomfortably wiggly.
And then he started to really ring.
Celia let go, but Mitch kept moving. Then the band laid out a blood gusher of sound, obliterating any and all mediocrity left in the air.
This song wasn’t meant for you.
Oh this song wasn’t meant for you.
But I’ll play it, ‘til you’re through! Oh, yeah! I
won’t let you get in my way!
Won’t let you keep me back on yesterday!
Blood spray! Flesh splay!
This song wasn’t meant for you,
and you’ll never get to be part of my crew!
The band stopped.
Celia’s teeth rang, and she thought she actually tasted blood in her mouth. But she was still standing, Mitch’s clanging clatter still ringing beside her. The crowd was still lost in another world. Celia pushed the lulling persons away from the hydraulic lift, found the lever that lowered it. Then she jostled Mitch onto it, and up they went.
“Ready, Mitch?” she said, her teeth and lips stained bright red with bright red blood, her gums leaking from all the rock induced teeth rattling.
“Oh, yeah,” said Mitch, still dancing to the music that was only in his head.
“Then jump as hard and high and fast as you can. Let’s rock!”
Celia didn’t have any other backup besides Mitch’s nuts, and she was only eleven years old, so even though she could yell pretty loud, she sounded a little hollow when she started.
“Oh I’m not ever, giving up.
Not since you made me sip from the devil’s cup!
Rummy, Rummy Tuesday, get the hell out of my town!”
“Rummy Tuesday?” chided Sardis. “What does that even mean?”
But Celia didn’t let up, not one bit: “I’m gonna get, even. You’re gonna leave, believin’. Choppy socky rim-rod, juiced out to heaven’s door!”
“This is stupid,” said Sardis, but even he could see that something weird was happening. Somewhere, a bass chord rang. “What was that sound?” He looked at the bassist.
“I didn’t play it,” said the succubus, confused.
The synth lead played all by itself, D flat major, swap to minor, slide to seventh…it didn’t make sense, but it worked. “Stop that,” demanded Sardis, but looking back, the keyboardists just gave a shrug. “It can’t be…” said Sardis in disbelief.
The speakers started beating out Celia’s sounds.
“Back on your instruments!” screamed Sardis. “We’ll take this to her!”
Sardis: You might have your devils kiss, but I saw something that you missed. My beats won’t wait for nobody. Just try me and you’ll see.
But it was no good. The music was just making Mitch dance more, and the more he danced the louder that ringing got and the more Sardis’s band’s instruments seemed to work against him.
“I don’t believe it,” said Sardis, his jaw dropped. “That kid’s nuts…their a weapon of the super class!”
Celia went for the kill. The instruments went right along with her.
“You oughtta listen to me, or I’ll strangle you for eternity.
You won’t take my town from me!
No, you won’t take my town from me!
West Mavin rocks! West Mavin rocks!”
And now the crowd slid from their stupor and jumped right in, “West Mavin Rocks! West Mavin Rocks!”
Sardis couldn’t handle it anymore. Without even bothering to pack up they grabbed what they could and fled out the back door.
“We did it!” shouted Celia, and everybody cheered because it had been the greatest concert they’d ever attended.
END PART 1
BEGIN PART 2!
Chapter 9: Ridey Tidy
The days after the concert were difficult for Celia. On the one hand, she should have been dealing with the troubles of newfound stardom thanks to her heroic rescue of the town’s people. But nobody remembered any of it. In fact, it seemed like she was either the only person dreaming during the whole time, or she was the only one who remembered her dream. That wasn’t so shocking; she usually remembered her dreams.
And this dream had been so particularly vivid that she couldn’t forget it. Surely if other people had been forced into dream worlds they could remember.
Mitch didn’t remember much of anything from before he woke up, either. “I knew it was a dream all along,” she had told Mitch and Muelie. “There were just a couple things in it that didn’t make sense.”
But even though she had said that, and even though she kinda believed it, because she was good at lying to herself, the memories of her dream still weren’t fading like dreams usually did. She remembered all sorts of details, even smells and sounds. And what was worse, she remembered her emotions, and she was ashamed of some of them. She had been cowardly in the face of danger, and then there was that lovey dovey crap she couldn’t even bear to think about.
She did some research on northern Kentucky goblins. There were good books of continental goblin taxonomy in the library, but there weren’t many that delved into the many different species and subspecies that dwelled in the North American continent. She certainly never found anything about crystal palaces or marshmallowing victims. And even things that she thought she knew in her dream she later remembered weren’t accurate. And all that made sense, of course, because it had been a dream. Except it really didn’t seem like a dream.
“Well, even if it wasn’t ‘just’ a dream, I was in a totally different dimension. It wasn’t like I was zapped up to Kentucky in this universe,” she told herself. After all, Tommy Burgess was still in town, alive and well and not a marshmallow at all. But she still felt guilty for not having done better in her dream, and she still felt a little sad that Matt the Beastly Boy leader either didn’t exist or that she had left him in another dream dimension, far, far away to be eaten by goblins.
Even though the townspeople didn’t believe that she had saved them, Mitch did. In the first place, he would believe most anything Celia said just because he wanted her to like him. In the second, he did have vague recollections of waking up with a succubus clinging to him, though it was all foggy. He certainly remembered the battle of the bands between Celia and Sardis Williack and how nobody except for him was dancing in the crowd. That was some good dancing. He kept quiet about it, though, seeing as how nobody seemed to remember, and he didn’t want Celia to get mad at him for gloating about their kiss.
Celia had insisted he go see a specialist about his balls after the concert. He said he didn’t want to see a urologist, that his family doctor had said it was just a congenital condition that wasn’t threatening in any way and couldn’t be cured short of castration. But that wasn’t the sort of specialist Celia had in mind. She took him to see her piano teacher, old Dr. Terwilliger.
“So you say the ringing broke the super effect from the lead guitar?” he asked from behind his walrus mustache.
“As near as I can tell,” said Celia.
“Alright, boy, say ‘ah’.”
“Ahhhhh,” said Mitch as Dr. Terwilliger stuck a tongue depressor in his mouth.
“Great,” said Dr. Terwilliger.
“What did that tell you?” asked Celia.
Dr. Terwilliger shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m not a physician. I have a doctorate in music. But when am I ever going to have a chance to do that?”
“I thought you said you were a weapons expert,” said Mitch.
“I am,” said Dr. Terwilliger. “Anyway, drop your drawers and let’s have a look at those supposed super class weapons.”
A dumb, mute expression hung off Mitch’s face for several seconds. Then, “Wait, but, I don’t really wanna do that, not with Celia here.”
“Come on, Mitch,” said Celia. “It’s not like I don’t have little brothers.”
“Yeah, but I’m not your little brother!” Mitch protested.
“Maybe you should wait outside, Celia,” said Dr. Terwilliger. “I know you’re eager to find out about them, but if they are weapons we don’t want to have any mishaps, and you are exciting the patient.”
“Fiiine,” she drawled and rolled her eyes. On her way out she passed Mitch’s mother who was sleeping on the couch. They had to drug her coffee that morning so Dr. Terwilliger could come examine Mitch.
It was a beautiful day outside. The birds were chirping and the grass was greening, the sky was the same beautiful shade of blue as Celia’s hair. Mitch lived in a nice cottage not far from a creek on several acres of good farming land. The roof was a sturdy thatch and the walls were a whitewashed plaster. The windows, with their glass crosshatched by bronze bracings, had shudders with artistic flowery borders painted around them. Mitch had painted them at his mother’s behest. More or less he took care of the whole house, actually, and the farming. Celia had to admit he had a flare for domestic living, but that didn’t exactly enthrall her.
A little whistle floated over to her on the breeze and she looked up the path to see a little girl in a red sort of frock with a hood, holding a picnic basket, with creepy eyes that never opened beyond a squint, skipping her way along the path that went by Mitch’s house.
“Hahaha,” she tittered as she stopped next to Celia. “You have blue hair. That’s so neat. Let’s be friends!” She had pale cheeks that glowed rosily as she laughed and her eyes were held in a sort of perpetual squint because her cheeks were so high from smiling. Celia found her appearance disconcerting.
“Um, hi,” said Celia, trying her darndest to avoid snap judgments.
“Hi, there. I’m looking for somebody called Berta.”
“Berta? Berta Corby?”
“Yeah! That’s her.”
“That’s my mom!”
“Oh, wow!” shouted the girl excitedly from behind her squinty eyes. “Then you’re my new roommate!”
“Come on little sister! Show me the way home!” She grabbed Celia’s hand and started to skip away. “La-la-la,” she sang.
Celia didn’t budge and with a squawk and a titter the girl was yanked to a stop. “Wait. What do you mean you’re my new roommate?”
“Your mom took me in as a foreign exchange student, silly. Didn’t she tell you?”
“I’m being exchanged? What’s your name?” asked Celia, squinting from the glare of the girl’s bright disposition.
“Ridey Tidy,” said the girl simply.
“Uh, right, okay.”
“I got it,” said Celia, not amused. “Alright, come on home with me I guess and we’ll figure this out.” Now Celia was dragging Ridey Tidy by the hand and pulling her at a pace that wasn’t too fast or too slow but was just the right speed to be very inconvenient for skipping.
It was a speedy enough pace, so it only took them ten minutes to get there. “Mooooom?” called Celia. “Somebody is here to see you.”
“Oh, good,” said Berta coming down the stairs. “Is that the little girl I ordered?”
“Hi, Mrs. Corby!” said Ridey Tidy with an excruciatingly broad smile. “I’m sooooo happy to finally meet you!”
“Mom!” interjected Celia before the greetings could go further. “What’s this about? She’s an exchange student? Am I getting sent away?”
“Oh, no, no, no,” said Berta laughing. “She’s here in exchange for her services.”
“That’s right!” said Ridey. “I clean for room and board!”
“It’s just that you never really like to clean, Celia, and the house is a bit much for me to take care of on my own all the time. I heard about this exchange program and signed right up. It’ll be nice to have somebody help keep the house neat.”
“They don’t call me Ridey Tidy for nothing!”
“But, but—wait, that’s your name though—Nevermind—she said she’s a foreign exchange student. Student to where?”
“She’ll be going to school with you, silly,” said Berta.
“My school? Why would anybody come out here to the sticks to go to our little podunk school?”
“Now don’t disparage the country, dear. I moved out here for you.”
Celia sighed. “I’m not mom, its just that…I don’t get…You never said…grrr, nevermind,” she said, giving up. “I’m going back over to Mitch’s to find out about his…” Ridey Tidy was looking at her quizzically. “Nevermind. I’m going, bye.”
“Wait, Celia. Take Ridey with you so she can meet new people.”
Celia gritted her teeth to keep from complaining and tapped her foot exasperatedly as Ridey hopped down the porch steps. Hop, hop, hop. And off they walked.
After a bit of silence, Celia felt a little bad for being so rude to Ridey, but on the other hand it had come as a bit of a shock to her, and Ridey did seem more than a little odd. It was something about how she kept smiling; it felt uncomfortably wholesome.
“So, why did you decide to come here to study?” asked Celia unenthusiastically.
“We sent letters alllll over the place, so your mom must have signed up at your school.”
“Really? So did somebody from our school go to your school?”
“Well it’s not much of an exchange then. So you seriously do just come to do chores? I mean, don’t exchange programs usually have the kids switch homes?”
“I dunno,” said Ridey happily. “But our school is already overflowing with kids anyway, so we try to get rid of them.” That didn’t sound nice, but she said it rather cheerily.
“Well, I’m not sure you’ll find our school that interesting. It’s only one room and most of the kids died last summer…troll circus.”
“Oh, I love circuses!”
“Yeah,” said Celia, having nothing better to say. “Where are you from again?”
“It’s not really a foreign exchange student program, then, is it?”
“We have lots of kids go overseas to Canada.”
“But…” began Celia. “Nevermind, we’re here. Um, wait here for just a second. I need to go check on something with Mitch real fast.”
Celia left Ridey to wait. Not only was she already sick of Ridey, but she wasn’t about to share Mitch’s nuts with a stranger.
Celia walked back past Mrs. Bucolic, still passed out on the red chaise lounge in the den, and knocked on Mitch’s room door. She heard a sudden fit of coughing, then Dr. Terwilliger said, “Come on, buck up.” Then after a moment, “Come in!”
Mitch was well clad in clothes and embarrassment. No conversation about testicles was a good conversation he always said, or didn’t, because it would have a been a conversation about testicles. But what did Celia see behind that embarrassed blush? Why it was another kind of embarrassment. A sort of proud embarrassment, and Celia found it galling.
“Welcome back, Celia,” said Dr. Terwilliger. “Good news,” and he chuckled. It made his mustache wiggle when he laughed. “Your friend indeed has a mighty weapon hidden in his drawers. I have not yet ascertained just what their powers are, but just looking at this spectrogram.” He held up a colorful sort of graph thing printed on rolls and rolls of lumpy paper that a large, whirring device nearby spouted out noisily. Celia didn’t know what to make of at all. “Here, just for comparison, I have some others. Here are the Fonzeometric readings on a baseball.” He held up a piece of paper with just a plain, flat line going across it. “And here are the readings on a baseball owned by France Yallypapus.” This one had a straight line, but colors were leaking out the edges of it. “Here are the readings I got when I measured the shrunken head of a very wise shaman. They had made his head into an oracular device.” This picture had a wavy line and colors roundly bulging from it in all directions. “And now, here are the Fonzeometric readings from a Dual Bright S+ class super weapon. This one comes from the Schozzel Museum of Morphonomic Esoterica in Copenhagen.”
Celia examined the images. She had heard about the Dual Bright Sword. It was one of the only known super S+ class weapons still known to be in existence. Since super S+ class weapons were indestructible, all of the ones which had existed probably still did exist, but nobody knew where any of them were. Most of them were presumed lost after the Battle of Atlantis. The two opposing fleets had destroyed each other and the wreckage lay at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. Diving technology wasn’t what it used to be, so as far as anybody knew, there were no plans to go scrounging through the wreckage. The image Celia looked at had bright colors spilling in sinusoidal choreography in spiraling fractals.
“Wait, well…” said Celia, looking at the Fonzeometric images of the sword on the left and Mitch’s nuts on the right. “Look, at the end the pictures look almost the same, but Mitch’s balls get all saggy here in the middle.”
“Exactly!” said Dr. Terwilliger. “It seemed to start high, and then after you left it went down, and then when we heard you come back in the front door, it spiked right back up!”
“Wait, you’re not trying to tell me that his nuts respond to me?”
“Well, more or less, although I’m not suggesting that it’s specifically you as opposed to a particular emotional state.”
“This is so stupid,” said Celia, scowling, disdain dripping from her downturned lips. She was pretty put out by this. “Listen. It’s weird enough he has balls that jangle. Now they’re a super weapon too. And I set them off?”
“That’s the gist of it.”
Celia huffed, looked away indifferently. “I can’t be party to this kind of idiocy.”
Mitch, who had been sitting by in silence, had a hard time not taking this assault on him personally. “Well it’s not my fault I was born with super powered testicles! You think I asked for this?” It might have been the first time he had ever raised his voice in his life. It resulted in a pretty epic voice crack. Certainly he had never even thought to dispute anything with Celia. If a confrontation came up he would just assume he was wrong and acquiesce.
“Well why do they have to work when I’m around?” she shot at him, sharp pointies piercing from her glare. “What’s wrong with you?”
“It’s not like I control them!” countered Mitch.
“Well why not? They’re your nuts!”
“It doesn’t work that way!”
“Well maybe it should! You don’t see me all out of sorts because of my gonads!”
“Well she’s prepubescent,” offered Terwilliger, but neither heard him or really knew what he meant anyway.
“I’m not putting up with this anymore! I’m leaving!”
“Go ahead!” yelled Mitch. “Go away!” What was this feeling stirring deep inside him? He couldn’t know, but it was the first time he had ever felt empowered by self-righteousness. It felt good; he couldn’t stop himself, nor did he want to. “Nobody asked you to take such an active interest in my testicles anyway! You’re the one who wanted to be here!”
“Yeah, well that was before I knew what a perv you are!”
“I can’t help it that I like you!” And then he thought he should be more offensive and said, “But that was before I realized what a jerk you are!” He was truly angry, but also this was fun. Anger was great!
“Well just so long as you don’t expect me to like you back…then, then…I’m leaving!” And Celia actually left this time, storming through the house and out the door to Ridey Tidy who was humming outside in the sun.
“Come on, Ridey,” she said without looking at the girl. “Let’s go.”
“Okay!” she said cheerfully. “But aren’t I going to meet your neighbors?”
“No,” said Celia coldly.
Back inside the Bucolic house Mitch was breathing hard and unsure of what to do with his emotions. His heart was still running and his head was still spinning.
“Well,” said Dr. Terwilliger, “I’m sure she’ll get used to the idea. In the meantime, I think we should ask your mother if you, er, came by your gifts honestly. She’ll be awhile before she wakes up, though. Should we make some tea?”
“Sure,” said Mitch glowing. “I have some fresh mint growing outside.”
“So,” said Ridey Tidy in a not at all unsuspicious way. “What were you yelling about in there?”
“Nothing,” said Celia sourly.
“Aw, come on. We’re roommates now, so we can’t keep secrets from each other. You guys were awful loud. Does your boyfriend live there?”
“Boyfriend? Just how old do you think I am?”
“Eleven?” guessed Ridey, not really guessing.
“Well, yeah. But why should an eleven year old have a boyfriend?”
“So you can be married by thirteen of course!”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“Why would I?”
“Yeah,” said Celia, rolling her eyes. “I guess you wouldn’t. So, what’s in your picnic basket anyway?”
“Well, I figured. But what kind of lunch? Do you have any sweets?” Celia was supposed to be on a very healthy monster hunter diet, but like most little girls and half-pixies, she rather liked sweets.
“Yep,” said Ridey.
“Can I have one?” asked Celia expectantly.
This casual refusal upset Celia more than was probably called for. “Hey, weren’t you just saying how roommates shouldn’t keep things from each other.”
“So how come you’re not sharing your sweets?”
“Ate ‘em all.”
“Oh,” said Celia, put out. “Well, why didn’t you just say so in the first place? You made it sound like you had sweets.”
“Nope, sorry to have confused you,” said Ridey.
“It’s okay,” said Celia, glumly perturbed.
Ridey breathed a sigh of relief.
“Did you just sigh in relief?” asked Celia. “What are you sighing about?”
“Me? I didn’t sigh. Haha! You’re hearing things. Or maybe I’m tired. I’m tired is all, whew! Can’t wait to get back to the house.”
“Yeah, I guess you had a long trip and all that. I suppose you want to get some rest or something,” said Celia, half annoyed and half relieved. She didn’t like the idea of having such a wiener for a roommate, but she also would be pleased to have the rest of the afternoon to not have to be around that wiener. Of course, she had no clue what she was going to do. She just hoped her mom wouldn’t make her hang around the house to keep Ridey company.
Ms. Corby saw them coming and was ready and waiting at the door when they arrived. “Hey, girls,” she said in a very hostessly way. “I made you guys some snacks, so why don’t you show Ridey to her room and then come back down.” Celia had never seen her mom so house-wifey seeming. Disturbing.
“What room?” asked Celia. The frightening truth had not dawned on her yet. “I thought she’d sleep on the couch.”
“Don’t be silly, Celia. She’ll be sleeping with you in your room.”
“My room! In my bed?”
“Celia,” snapped Berta. “Be polite!”
“You never asked me if some stranger could stay in my bed!”
“Golly,” interjected Ridey. “I didn’t mean to cause such a fuss. I suppose if I’m in the way I can always sleep under the porch or on the lawn,” she said so innocently that it actually sounded innocent.
“See Celia, she doesn’t even feel at home here. Now show her upstairs right now!”
Celia grumbled her way up the stairs very inhospitably. She opened up the door to her room. It was painted a lovely cerulean and not nearly so cluttered as you might think a little girl’s room would be. Or at least it wasn’t the same sort of clutter. “Sorry about the mess,” said Celia as she shoved some weapons off the bed. She said it as a sort of formality. She wasn’t really sorry at all. She liked her bed, and she didn’t like the idea of sharing it with anybody, especially some strange little girl who showed up out of nowhere. “Now, now,” Celia chided herself in her mind, “you’re being rude. Don’t be rude. Give her the benefit of the doubt. That’s what mom always says you should do.”
“So, okay,” said Celia to Ridey. “I guess you can have the bottom drawer of the dresser. I don’t use it. You can put your stuff in that corner ‘til later, I guess.”
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When evil band leader Sardis Williack came to town to suck the souls of the living, he hadn't counted on Celia--a monster hunter in training--foiling his plans. Now Celia's out to get him where he lives. Accompanied by a mysterious, picnic basket toting teen, a superficially psychotic were-cat, and the boy with magical testicles whose love for Celia remains unrequited, Celia drives mercilessly into the heart of adventure, there to rip out its still beating heart with her magical wooden knife of adventure's heart ripping! Featuring death defying pie eating contests, death defying misadventures with creepy old men out to make questionable soups, death defying battles-of-bands, death defying shopping excursions into the heart of zombie riddled malls, and more(!), Celia is a zany adventure you won't soon forget, try as you might!