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61. Power

The Grumblegator slumped in his chair. He was in the cave again, waiting for the shareholder to show up for their scheduled meeting. He was not in a good mood. He had just received word that the Steward had taken the Sled of Infernal Roses from the Iron League.

He sighed. Why did he give the sled to the Iron League to begin with? They were just a bunch of nerd losers who likes to quote stuff.

Oh wait, he thought to himself sarcastically. The shareholder demanded it. Well, Mr. Shareholder, looks like your idea sucked.

The Grumblegator would never say that to the shareholder’s face though. He was on thin ice with the shareholder already, and he didn’t want to jeopardize his job. Especially not with Rick from operations gunning for it.

“Rick, you suck,” the Grumblegator muttered to himself.

He heard his phone ring. It was Ms. Pamola Cherry.

“What is it?” he said as he answered the phone.

“I’m having a great day, thanks for asking, sir,” Ms. Pamola Cherry retorted. “Have you had your meeting yet? How big and bad and scary is he? When are you going to invite me to one of your meetings so I can see how mean and scary he is.”

The Grumblegator wasn’t currently in the mood for Ms. Pamola Cherry’s mockery.

“I enjoy the good natured ribbing, Ms. Pamola Cherry,” he told her. “Really, I do. But you really don’t want to be down here. I legitimately think it’s better if as few of us as possible have to deal with this guy.”

Ms. Pamola Cherry didn’t seem to be moved by the Grumblegator’s uncharacteristic earnestness. “Whatever you say, sir,” she replied.  “Anyway, I called to let you know that it looks like the Steward is on his way to Bowie. Looks like he’ll be at the Cloud Connection 20XX expo. Shall I proceed with our plan that we discussed?”

“Yes,” the Grumblegator answered. “You may proceed. Let’s just hope we find the artifact, before the Steward and his buddies do.”

The Grumblegator noticed the green gas beginning to form in the ring in front him. “I’ll call you back.”

“Say hi to the big, scary shareholder, Ms. Pamola Cherry managed to get out before the Grumblegator hung up on her.

The Grumblegator grumbled as the gas began to fill out the metal ring again. Soon enough, he could make out the shareholder’s features as if an image were projected onto the gas. More specifically, the Grumblegator could make out the one feature the shareholder seemed interested in showing off. It was an unnaturally wide grin, accompanied by excessively long teeth. It looked more like his mouth was filled with fangs than actual, functioning teeth.

The scaly green skin surrounding the grin warped into a smile. “It seems the Iron League has failed,” the shareholder said in what sounded like one voice and a thousand voices at once.

The Grumblegator hated that voice. It gave him chills. “They couldn’t handle the task they were given,” he answered. “They didn’t have what it takes.”

The shareholder’s smile turned into a frown. “Maybe,” he replied. “Or maybe you don’t have what it takes.”

“What do you mean?” the Grumblegator said, slightly panicked. “Did Rick say something? Because I just wanted to let you know that Rick steal from the break room fridge, and I know that you—”

“Silence,” the shareholder bellowed. “Do not concern yourself with Rick. His transgressions in your break room have been noted and he shall be punished swiftly and without mercy.”

The Grumblegator leaned back, unsure about what was going to happen next.

The shareholder’s mouth closed, at least as far is it could close. The teeth were so long, it looked more like a vicious grin.

“Perhaps this most recent failure is not entirely your fault,” he remarked. “You were not given the proper resources.”

The Grumblegator felt relieved to hear this. He was going to reply, but he was interrupted by the shareholder.

“Grumblegator, I have decided to grant you additional power. This power shall help you stop the Steward, but it will come at a grave cost. Do you accept this power?”

The Grumblegator didn’t like the sound of this. “Could you give me a little more on what you mean by grave cost?” he asked.

The shareholder didn’t seem to hear him. “I have decided to grant you this power,” he exclaimed. “Use it to stop the Steward. I expect to hear good news from you when we meet again.”

The gas began to dissipate. Suddenly, the cave was filled with a blinding white lift. The Grmublegator felt an indescribable sensation, as if some kind of energy was coursing through his body. It became increasingly painful with each passing moment.

“Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!” the Grumblegator whined.

And just as quickly as it appeared, the light was gone. The Grumblegator looked around, he didn’t know how to put it into words, but he somehow felt more capable. It was not that he felt smarter, but as if his brain had more channels. Like it could process faster and process more information at once.

“That’s not so bad,” he said to himself. He held up his arms and got ready to stand up, when he noticed something.

His right hand had three fingers.

“That’s weird,” the Grumblegator whispered. He was sure he had four fingers and a thumb, as all alligators do. He held up his left hand and confirmed that this was the case.

But his right hand only had three fingers. It didn’t look that he had a finger removed; it looked like his hand was built to only have three fingers.

The Grumblegator blinked. Suddenly he had four fingers on both hands again.

Then suddenly, without even blinking this time, his right hand went back to three fingers. He looked at his hand more closely and noticed his skin ripple, as if he were looking at it through water. He watched as a fourth finger reappeared, but this time out from the middle of his palm. It rippled before disappearing again.

The Grumblegator stared blankly at his warping hand.

“That’s not good,” he said.


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60. Grave

Boss Lion proceeded solemnly down the dirt path. She cradled the bouquet of flowers as she approached the grave. Boss Squid stood morosely to the side. Boss Wolf was behind him talking to a tree.

“Here’s lookin’ at you, Kid,” Boss Wolf said to the tree.

She looked down at the grave and sighed as she read the epitaph again.

Boss Stag, he could not be topped.

He had ambition, but then he popped.

Boss Lion smiled under her lion helmet. She knew Boss Stag would have approved of their rhyme.

She still meant what she had said to the Steward. Boss Stag was, by all accounts, a jerk. He was snooty, self-absorbed, and she couldn’t get behind the homicidal tendencies he had developed by the time he exploded. But she still loved him. She was alone in a universe that hated, or was at least grossly indifferent towards reference humor, until she met someone who appreciated it as much as she did. Someone who showed her that no matter how obscure—or pointless—your interests may be, you don’t have to enjoy them in solitude.

She wanted to tell him how she felt. Her hope was that they would do that whole thing where Boss Stag would eventually realize that the one who he loved the most was standing in front of him the whole time, and he would rush over to tell Boss Lion that he loved her. Also, she would be getting on a plane or something, but then Boss Stag would catch up to her at the last minute and tell her how he felt. Then at that climactic moment, Boss Lion would respond to Boss Stag’s pleas by saying, “You had me at hello.”

Of course, Boss Stag would have to begin by saying hello. She would sound really stupid if Boss Stag never actually said hello.

Boss Lion knelt down in front of the grave. They didn’t really have a body to bury, since he popped like a cartoon character. Instead, they buried his helmet and the remains of his tracksuit. Boss Lion felt like this was good enough.

Boss Squid stood behind Boss Lion. “Anything you want to say?” he asked.

Boss Lion thought for a moment as she struggled to come up with an appropriate eulogy. “Oh captain, my captain,” she began. “Um, love means never having to say you’re sorry. And, um, there’s no place like home. And so, in conclusion, you’ve got a friend in me. Tusk.”

Boss Squid sighed. “He probably would have really liked that,” he admitted.

“Still,” Boss Lion replied, sitting on her knees, looming on the freshly overturned dirt beneath her. “I get the feeling that he left us too soon. Like his soul yearns to make one final reference.”

At that moment, the decaying arm of Boss Stag shot out from the dirt, straight up and grabbed Boss Lion by the throat.

As Boss Lion screamed in terror, Boss Squid rolled his eyes. “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” he sighed.

Boss Wolf waddled over to the scene. “Stay tuned next time for the thrilling conclusion!” she shouted to nobody in particular. “Same bat time! Same bat channel!”

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59. Bench

Davy, Connie, Steve, and Olivia sat next to each other on a bench in front of the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory. Their excitement for ice cream earlier had been suppressed the moment they remembered that Consecration Tony owned the ice cream shop and was likely feeding them undisclosed neural agents. None of them felt like eating ice cream, but they hadn’t reached the point where they felt like getting something that wasn’t ice cream. So they sat on the bench indecisively.

Davy could see the river from the bench. He watched as one of the tour boats floated by. The tour guide’s voice was faintly audible from this distance.

“…and no trip to Sangre Dios is complete without a visit to the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory.”

Davy felt like the world has certainly become a lot stranger in the last few weeks. He wouldn’t argue if someone told him that he found law school boring and that maybe he was looking for a way out. But he never would have predicted that this way out would have taken the form of a magic door leading to a possum lady. Or that the aforementioned possum lady would send him on a quest to save the world from an evil corporate alligator.

Or that his journey would take him through an underwhelming, yet still somewhat endearing Hideous House of Horrors; a city currently under siege by a cabal of outrageous super villains, including a librarian, a narwhal man, and a crazy lady who believed nuns to be the epitome of high fashion; and into an odyssey through his own mind as part of a plan to thwart a gang of deluded reference humor fanatics.

He also never would have expected to be joined in his quest by his oldest friend who was still insisting to everyone that he was actually an astronaut, a multi-million-year-old superhero who could generate and manipulate her own biological structure, and whoever Connie was. Davy realized he still didn’t know much about her, but he did recently learn she could use a sword, which was pretty cool.

He also hadn’t expected that he would live in a world where a city he once knew well was now apparently being brainwashed by an ice cream parlor owned by an anthropomorphic lizard who somehow was also one of the good guys.

Davy smiled to himself. This was more interesting than law school, that was for sure.

He felt his phone vibrate in his pocket. He pulled it out and saw a text message from an unknown number.

LAdy guT piossun heRe

Comeinside ICE crewam pRlor

Davy shrugged. “Guys,” he said to the others. “Lady Gut Possum wants us to go inside.”

“You got it, buddy,” Olivia replied, jumping to her feet. The four of them got up and entered the Very Dairy Ice Cream factory.

The parlor was empty once again, except for Lady Gut Possum who stood behind the counter. She didn’t waste any time as she saw the group arrive.

“Do you know your city called Bowie?” she asked Davy.

“The state capital?” Davy replied. “Yeah, it’s not far from here. Maybe about an hour’s drive to the north.”

Lady Gut Possum nodded. “We believe your next artifact is there,” she said. “I have learned that there is some kind of exposition that will be taking place there.”

“You mean Cloud Connection 20XX?” Steve interrupted excitedly. “That’s one of the biggest tech expos of the year! All the tech companies will be there! And I guess they do movie and music stuff too. But most importantly, I did read that WorkLyfe will be there!”

Lady Gut Possum didn’t seem to understand or necessarily care about any of what Steve said. “Your friend is likely correct,” she said. “But please exercise caution. The next artifact is apparently there, but it’s nature eludes us. We are not familiar with this artifact, nor with the form it takes or what powers if bestows to its holder. We do have reason to believe, however, that it is currently in the hands of an agent of the Grumblegator. We also believe that Grumble Industries Incorporated itself may have a presence at this exposition.”

Connie appeared to think this over. “So just so we’re clear, you’re basically asking us to attend one of the premiere tech/media events in the country and to keep our eyes open for an artifact and probably the Grumblegator?”

Lady Gut Possum nodded. “Yes,” she answered.

Connie laughed. “Lady Gut Possum, you can count on us,” she replied.

“This sounds exciting,” Olivia chirped. “I don’t think I’ll have been around so many people before.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Steve confidently responded. “These are my people. I can lead you all to the next artifact, no problem.”

“I hope your confidence does not waver,” Lady Gut Possum stated. “Your task will only become more challenging. But I believe the four of you have what it takes to persevere.”

And with that, Lady Gut Possum seemed to disappear in thin air.

The door behind the counter opened and Consecration Tony poke his head out. “You look like you require sustenance,” he stated. “Enjoy some ice cream for your delight!”

Lady Gut Possum promptly reappeared and shoved Consecration Tony back through the door and locked it. She looked at the four. “I am afraid I must ask you to refrain from eating any more ice cream on your journey,” she said. “Consecration Tony may be aiding our efforts, but frankly, well, I don’t like the bastard.”

And in another moment, she was gone again.

Davy turned to his friends. “Okay,” he said. “That was a lot of information. But I guess we know where we’re going.”

Olivia seemed excited. “We’re going to the big city!” she exclaimed.

“Olivia, you are going to have the time of your life,” Connie added. “I cannot wait to see what kind of antics we get into next.”

“And I can’t wait to meet the geniuses behind WorkLyfe,” Steve said. “I know for a fact that this is going to be awesome.”

The three of them looked to Davy. “So what do you think,” Steve said. “You ready to go?”

“Yeah boss,” Connie added. “We’re right behind you.”

Davy was caught a little off guard. His friends were looking to him for guidance. Had he really grown into a leader? Davy didn’t feel like a leader, but they were still in the early stages of their quest, maybe if he pretended he knew what he was doing, he would eventually learn how to actually be a leader.

“Sure,” he answered. “I’m ready to go.” It was difficult, but Davy also tried to speak from the heart for a second. “And I can’t think of a group of people I’d rather have travel with me than you guys.”

Olivia smiled as her eyes went wide. “Aww Davy,” she said. “That’s so cheesy.” She gave him a hug. “But that’s why we love you, buddy.”

Davy was feeling weirdly optimistic about whatever experiences stood ahead of him. He had accomplished a lot already, and was feeling good about himself. He had friends who had his back and together, they could achieve anything.

The group’s feel-good moment was interrupted by pounding on the door behind the counter. The door shook as Consecration Tony began hitting it from the other side. Davy could hear Consecration Tony shouting through the door in his unnervingly loud and friendly voice.


Davy didn’t want to be in this building anymore. “Let’s get out of here, guys,” he whispered.

“Yeah, this just got really creepy,” Connie replied.

The four of them snuck out of the Very Dairy Ice Cream Factory as the reptilian owner of the establishment continued to pound away at the door.

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58. Sled

Davy looked blankly at the three remaining members of the Iron League of Reference Humor who had not previously exploded.

They stared blankly back at him.

Davy then looked to his friends who appeared just as dumbfounded as him. Steve shrugged at him.

Davy looked back at the Iron League. They looked lost. Davy felt he should say something, but wasn’t sure what was normally the appropriate thing to say when the leader of a hostile group pips like a balloon in the center of a volcano lair.

He gave it a shot. “So that was unexpected,” he said. “I didn’t know that would happen.”

Boss Squid scratched the back of his head and looked down at the line stag helmet on the ground. “No kidding,” he replied. “I mean, I like reference humor and all, but Boss Stag? He lived and breathed it. And died it, I suppose.”

Boss Lion knelt down and picked up the helmet. “He was too beautiful for this world,” she said somberly. “He was also a massive jerk, but he understood us. We just like to quote things. He got that.”

Boss Wolf began to strut around the room, chanting, “I AM ERROR. I AM ERROR.”

Boss Squid watched her for a second before turning back to Davy. “Okay, I never really got what her deal was.”

Connie took a step towards them. “So, Boss Stag said something about an artifact that gave you powers,” she began. “My friends and I need it. Do you know where it is?”

Boss Lion nodded. “Yeah, I can take you to it,” she answered. “We were going to use it as part of our big plan, but I didn’t know Boss Stag was going to get all murdery with it. It’s probably better if you take it. I don’t think we should have it.”

She beckoned the four of them to follow. “Come with me.”

Davy nodded as he and Connie, Steve, and Olivia began to follow Boss Lion. They passed Boss Squid who was standing still.

“I’m, uh, sorry for your loss,” Olivia said.

“Yeah, sure, thanks,” Boss Squid replied, still seemingly processing whether he himself was actually sorry for his loss. “Part of me thinks that now would be the opportune time to break out into singing ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead’ but the other part of me knows that would be in poor taste. But weirdly, I think Boss Stag would have been happy to see someone make that reference right now.”

“You guys are nuts,” Steve whispered to himself.

They followed Boss Lion to a door in the back of the volcano lair. “The artifact should be in here,” she told the group. “You’ll know it when you see it. I’ll just be happy to see it gone. Let me know when you get it and I can show you the way out of here.”

She opened the door and ushered them through. It was a small room with nothing in it save for a single marble Corinthian pedestal in its center.

Davy approached the pedestal. Sitting on it was a small wooden sled. The word Rosebud was painted on it in flowery red letters.

“Of course this is the artifact,” Steve sighed.

“So what does it do?” Davy asked. “The Ember Sack makes people feel depressed, and Mother Martyr’s veil let her shoot lightening from her hands. What is this supposed to do?”

Connie picked up the sled in one hand. As she examined it, she seemed to notice something. “Hold on,” she began as she held up her left fist. Davy saw flames start to radiate from her hand. Connie pointed at the ceiling and a small stream of flame erupted from her finger straight upwards. It left black mark on the ceiling.

“Heh, that’s pretty cool!” Connie exclaimed. “I don’t see the correlation between the sled and fire powers at all, but it’s still cool.” She looked back at the other three with a sly grin. “If you don’t mind, I might hold onto this for a while.”

“No complaints here,” Steve answered. “I’m so done with references.”

Olivia leaned against the pedestal with a smile. “Well, I think this all wrapped up pretty nicely,” she said.

Davy couldn’t shake this uncomfortable feeling that he had been harboring for the past several minutes. “I don’t know,” he replied. “We did kind of make a guy explode. Does that make us murderers?”

Steve laughed. “I don’t know, you tell me,” he answered. “You’re the law student. Wasn’t this self-defense or some junk?”

Davy perked up, remembering that he was in fact a law student. He had taken a semester in criminal law, maybe he could remember something that would alleviate his conscience.

“I guess the different forms of murder require an element of malice, and I don’t think poorly quoting stuff has ever been considered malicious by any court, especially because none of us intended to make Boss Stag inflate and explode,” he began. He continued to recall what he had learned in his class. “I don’t think we committed manslaughter either, since our conduct wasn’t realistically reckless nor did it fit any of the other possible criteria. Even if we did commit murder or manslaughter, I think Steve might be right that this could be considered self-defense. He said he was going to kill us, and I doubt that our response would be considered excessive in light of our reasonable fear of harm.”

Davy thought he could reach a solid conclusion. “So I think, based on what I remember from that one semester of criminal law, I think we should actually be okay. I think. I don’t remember the class very well.”

Davy decided to follow up with a disclaimer he had learned and sort of remembered from another class. “Uh, also, I am not a lawyer. I am not licensed to practice law. Do not take anything I say as legal advice. If you have any questions regarding a particular legal matter, please see a licensed attorney, and stuff.”

Olivia clapped quietly in wonder. “I am blown away by your legal knowledge,” she whispered.

Steve patted Davy on the back. “Great to hear that,” Davy. “If the legal system says we’re not culpable, then I think that means we are off the hook in every way.”

Steve stood up straight and held his arms akimbo. He grinned and looked to the rest of the group. “I think we’re ready to put all this reference humor stuff behind us,” he said with a grin. “Now who wants ice cream?”

The other three shouted yes excitedly. The four of them jumped in the air and gave each other a high five.

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57. Volcano

“Welcome to our volcano lair, losers,” sneered Boss Stag.

Davy looked around, sure enough, he found himself in what looked like the villain’s secret base in a spy movie. It was a massive room that seemed to be roughly cone-shaped, as if it really was inside of a volcano.

Steve, Connie, and Olivia were standing on either side of him. Boss Stag stood in front of Davy, flanked by his cohorts.

“Do you expect us to be impressed” Davy asked.

Boss Stag folded his arms pompously. “No, Mr. Steward. I expect you to die!”

Davy tilted his head. He supposed he had kind of walked into that one.

“Do you really expect that?” Connie added, taking a step forward. “Are you really going to kill us, or are did you just want to quote something.”

Davy heard Boss Squid whisper something to Boss Lion. “We’re not actually going to kill anybody, right?”

Boss Stag apparently heard this too. He turned around and snapped at Boss Squid. “What did you just say?” he shouted. “You got something to say to me, bub?”

Boss Squid wrung his hands nervously. “Well, it’s just that I signed up for all this, because I was promised hijinks and the opportunity to spread my affinity for reference culture,” he answered. “But I don’t know about killing people. I’m a lover, not a fighter.”

Boss Stag looked at him blankly before flatly stating, “Last time you saw these losers you literally shouted ‘Falcon Punch’ and uppercut one of them into the horizon.”

Boss Squid nodded. “Yes, that’s correct,” he replied sheepishly. “I guess at that point my moral compass was still in its formative stages.”

Boss Stag continued to stare at Boss Squid. “That is, without a doubt, the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Boss Stag looked at the ground. He was silent for a moment, as if he were trying to think of a way to punish Boss Squid for his insolence. Suddenly it seemed he had an idea. He looked back at Boss Squid.

“Hey,” he said. “A sphincter says what?”

Boss Squid looked confused. “What?” he replied.

Boss Stag chuckled menacingly. After a few seconds, a look of realization filled Boss Squid’s eyes.

“Wait,” he gasped. “I’m the sphincter?” He fell to the floor in despair and began to sob.

“This is really stupid,” Steve grumbled.

Boss Lion looked down at the inconsolable Boss Squid. The hesitation was evident on her face as well. “Come on, Boss Stag,” she said. “You are the wind beneath my wings and all, but we’re not killers.”

Boss Stag glared at Boss Lion. “Et tu, Boss Lion?” he said with narrowed eyes.

He shifted his gaze to Boss Wolf who was nonchalantly swaying from side to side.

“What about you, Boss Wolf?” he asked. “Are you going to betray me too?”

Boss Wolf threw her arms into the air and started spinning in place. She shouted, “I’m a computer! Stop all the downloadin’!”

Boss Stag shrugged. “Okay, I’m just going to assume you’re still on board with my ‘kill ’em all’ plan.” He looked back at Boss Lion and Boss Squid with outright contempt. “Unlike those two who betray me.” In an intelligible accent he added, “I’m fed up with this world.”

“Looks like their team is falling apart without us,” Olivia whispered to Connie. “What do you think our chances are in getting through this?”

Connie thought for a moment then smiled. “Well, at least one of them still wants to kill us. And he can throw those flaming fists at us, last I saw. On the other hand, you told us all how you beat the snot of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which is Latin for Lizard King, so that’s pretty impressive. But going back to that first hand, you did get tossed into the sky earlier by that crying squid guy over there, so I don’t know. If I had to arbitrarily make up a number, I’d say our odds of living through this are about fifty-fifty.”

Olivia grinned. “I like those odds. And your reasoning is also compelling,” she replied.

“I like to think of myself as a compelling individual,” Connie remarked. “It’s one of my many talents.”

“What other talents do you have?” Olivia asked.

“Oh, let me think,” Connie answered casually. “I’m proficient at a number of sword-based martial arts, I dabble in interior design, and I have an uncanny knack for being able to guess whether or not a person has had an English muffin for breakfast?”

Olivia’s eyes went wide at that last one. “Really?” she said. “Do me.”

Connie grinned any put her hand to chin. “Hmm,” she began. “I’m going to say no.”

Olivia could barely contain her fascination. “Incredible!” she exclaimed. “How did you know?”

Connie felt Davy tap her on the shoulder. “Um, guys…” he said. He pointed to Boss Stag who was staring at them.

“Hey. Statler and Waldorf,” he said to Olivia and Connie. “We done here? Can I resume with my killing you deal? I’m trying to decide whether I want to tie each f you to a table and proceed to slice you in half with a slow moving laser or if I should throw all of you into a pool filled with rabid sharks. I’m kind of leaning towards the former, because I currently don’t have the rabid sharks on hand, and I don’t really feel like driving out to get them this late at night, and I read online that sharks can’t get rabies anyway, so now I gotta follow up on that too—so you know what, I’m going to go with the lasers.”

“Come on,” Davy interjected. “You don’t really want to do this. You don’t want to work for the Grumblegator. You know he’s trying to destroy the world, right?”

Boss Stag shrugged. “Sure,” he replied. “But e also gave me this artifact that gave us our powers and will make people worship reference humor. And I will rule over them.”

“Technically, the Grumblegator will,” Connie rebutted.

Boss Stag was silent for a second. “Uh, yeah,” he replied. “But he’ll delegate. I’ll be like a leader just below him on the chain of command. I’ll be like a governor to his president.”

“You know that governors don’t report to the president, right?” Davy asked.

“You know that your face is stupid and you should shut your stupid face?” Boss Stag retorted.

Steve seemed to have had enough of this. “Come on,” he shouted. “Don’t you know how dumb your goal is? First of all, it’s vague. You will make people worship reference humor? What do you mean by that? What’s your endgame? Are you going to make everyone be like you where you quote everything at every opportunity? Or are you just going to punish people for groaning whenever you interrupt a conversation to arbitrarily say, ‘Luke, I am your father’ or some other dumb quote?”

Davy saw Boss Stag’s muscles seemed to contort painfully when Steve said that line. He composed himself after a moment and raised his finger to correct Steve. “Actually,” he began. “The correct line is ‘No, I am your father.’ It’s a common misconception.”

Steve shook his head. “No, I’m pretty sure I got it right. ‘Luke, I am your father’ sounds right to me.”

Davy had spent enough of his life alone playing video games and watching movies to know that Boss Stag was actually correct. But when Steve repeated the wrong version again, Davy noticed Boss Stag twitch again, a little more violently this time.

Something clicked in Davy’s brain.


Was this what his mind was trying to tell him, if so, that was a major relief, since it didn’t mean that he was just doing anything wrong on a more general level.

He looked to the side at his three friends and nodded to get their attention. “Follow my lead,” he whispered.

He turned to Steve and in a loud, flat voice that Davy knew Boss Stag could hear, he said. “I think you are right, Steve. And that was a good line. I also liked the part where the one guy says, “I hope the Force stays with you.”

Steve didn’t seem to immediately follow, but then he also noticed Boss Stag clench his fists and start to anxiously pace from side to side.

“Th-that’s not how it goes,” he stammered, trying to keep himself composed. “That’s not the line. Not the line.”

Steve looked back at Davy with a grin. “Yes. That is a good line from a good movie,” he stated in a tone that matched Davy’s. “I also liked the movie where the man says, ‘We will require a bigger boat.’ That was good too.”

Boss Stag clenched the antlers of his helmet with his hands. “That’s not the line…”

Boss Lion approached her leader. “Are you okay?” she asked.

Steve turned to Connie. “What about you?” he asked. “Is there a line or quote that you enjoy.”

Connie grinned and gave an exaggerated nod. “Yes, Steve,” she replied in a matching voice. “I like the cat who is always saying, ‘I do not enjoy any of the Mondays.’ He is a silly cat.”

Boss Stag fell to his knees. Boss Lion tried in vain to console him. “Come on,” she said. “Sometimes people get the quotes wrong. You can handle this.” Boss Stag ignored her and continued to stammer.

Olivia jumped in between Davy and Steve, eager to join in. “Cheers, lovelies! The cavalry is present!”

Boss Stag began to roll around on the floor, making all sorts of manic, yet indecipherable noises. By this point, Davy and the others had dropped the pretense of having a normal conversation and had begun to just shout misquoted lines at each other.

“I will order whatever it is that she ordered!”

“We were going through a break period!”

“The island is analogous to a cork!”

“It is not safe to go out alone! Try bringing this!”

“Does anybody feel like getting a peanut!”

“Frankly lady, I do not give a hoot!”

Boss Stag struggled to get to his feet. Panting, he forced himself to shout at the group. “What do you think you’re doing!” he screamed. His body seemed to tense up to an extreme degree.

“Do you know who you’re dealing with? I will destroy you! I will—”

Davy stopped listening, as he noticed Boss Stag’s body appeared to expand. In a matter of seconds, he was floating off the ground. His body had inflated like a balloon and was several feet in diameter.

“Uh, Boss?” Boss Squid mumbled, but Boss Stag continued ranting, apparently oblivious to his current predicament.

Boss Stag was now at least twenty feet in the air and continued screaming.

“I will have order!” he shrieked. “I invented the piano key necktie! You can’t handle the truth! I—”

And suddenly, like a balloon. Boss Stag popped. His helmet clanged to the floor in front of Boss Lion. Some shreds of white tracksuit floated to the ground behind the helmet.

Boss Wolf looked at the helmet and chuckled. “He always did have an over-inflated opinion of himself,” she said in a fake British accent.

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56. Stop

Steve slumped down on the bench of the bus stop.  He was still by himself and getting really sick of his current situation. He looked up at the flickering light of the bus stop. It was the only source of light for miles. Everything else was pitch black. He looked back at the road in front of him. It stretched out into darkness in either direction.

Steve groaned. He was tired of sitting here, but he also figured if he ventured out into the darkness, he would probably run into something dangerous—or more likely, something really stupid.

He looked at the short glass wall attached to the bench of the bus stop. There was what looked like it had once been a bus schedule pasted on the glass, but any text or images had long since faded into obscurity. A white sheet of paper was posted over the faded schedule. It was some kind of flyer asking about a missing bicycle.

“Don’t look at me,” Steve said to nobody. “I haven’t seen it.”

Steve heard the faint sound of a motor in the distance. Off to the left he saw the headlights of a truck. Steve sighed as an eighteen-wheeler came into view and slow down as it began to reach the bus stop.

Steve sighed. “Here we go again,” he grumbled.

The truck slowed to a stop as it reached the bus station. The door of the cabin opened to reveal an obese old woman sitting at the driver’s seat.

“Hello again, Marge,” Steve said in a drill tone.

Marge didn’t seem to hear him. “You lost, kid?” she asked.

“No,” Steve replied, as if he had said this several times before.

“Do you need a ride, kid?”


“Did you ever hear the story of Large Marge, kid?”

“Yes,” Steve snapped back. “You’ve told it to me a million times already. I get it. Large Marge is a spooky ghost, and the twist is that your name is Marge. Then you make a freaky face and speed away.”

Marge looked down at Steve blankly. Then suddenly, her face looked as if it had turned to clay. In less than a second, her eyes bulged out to the size of baseballs, with a small pupil in the center. Her mouth opened wide and her jaw dropped down a foot or so. Her teeth grew apart and pointed towards Steve as Marge’s hair stood on end. She shrieked maniacally at Steve for a few seconds before the door to the cabin slammed shut and the truck sped off into the distance.

“Great,” Steve sighed. “I’ll see you again in about ten minutes.”

Steve had lost track of how long he had been there. Davy opened that curtain and Steve suddenly found himself here. That truck had come by about every ten minutes since then, the same series of events playing out every time. The first time, it might have been a little shocking, though not scary. Steve would be the first to tell anyone that a jump scare wasn’t actually scary and just preyed off a natural reaction to being surprised.

But at this point, the ghost truck was nothing more than irritating. At the same time, Steve didn’t intend on walking away from the bus station.

“I’d probably get lost and run into something even dumber,” he muttered.

Steve leaned back and rolled his eyes. This show thing felt like filler. He was under the impression that they would be going into this tent and then promptly defeat the Iron League of Reference Humor. But now he was having to deal with being stuck in a bus stop for no reason, as if someone was trying to just hit a minimum word count.

But what irritated Steve the most was what he saw on the back of the truck every time it drove away. A bright pink door with a rainbow and unicorn painted on it.

“I don’t get it,” Steve complained. “It doesn’t even tonally fit the rest of what’s around me.”

Steve sighed as he struggled to understand any of this. He also didn’t understand how Connie, Olivia, and Davy suddenly appeared across the street.

The materialized out of thin air a few feet above the ground and swiftly proceeded to fall on top of each other in a pile.

Steve continued to sit on the bench as he watched his friends scramble to get up. Davy looked across the street and saw him.

“Steve!” he exclaimed, making his way across the street. “We found you!”

“Let me guess,” Steve flatly interjected. You pulling back that curtain took you all to completely different places, and you’ve been going through all of them finding us one at a time.”

He looked at Davy closely. “I figure you probably ended up somewhere mysterious with a vague threat that you never got a good look at until right at the moment you barely escaped it.”

He looked at Olivia then back at Davy. “Then I guess you probably ended up in an entirely different location and found Olivia where you had a sort of heart-to-heart moment before she saved you from something outrageous.”

“This time it was a Tyrannosaurus Rex,” Olivia added.

He glanced at Connie then continued. “And finally, I’m guessing you ran into Connie who was having the time of her life in some place where she was in no danger at all.”

“You know it, Steve,” Connie said. “Nothing but whimsy and pastries in Connie’s world.”

Davy was a little dumbstruck. “Wow, that’s pretty spot on,” he remarked. “How did you know?”

Steve shrugged and said “Just a hunch,” he answered. “I’m good at picking out where plot lines are going, and I’ve had nothing better to do for the past hour or so.”

Davy furrowed his brow. He was impressed at Steve’s ability to guess what he had been doing, but wasn’t thrilled that his entire range experiences reduced to being labeled a plot line.

He managed to laugh it off. “In all honesty,” he told Steve. “I’m just glad I don’t have to give you a whole recap. I already did it twice and wasn’t crazy about doing it a third time.”

“Cool,” Steve said. “Do you care if I skip the part where I tell you what I’ve been doing? It’s stupid and I feel like doing so would just waste time and not add anything worthwhile to our adventure.”

“Sure,” Davy answered. “I’ll just tell you then that we need to find a door. That’s how we’ve been getting around. We find a door that looks like it doesn’t belong and that takes us to a new place.”

“The last door was in a turtle,” Olivia chirped.

“Sweet,” Steve replied. “I think I know what door we need to take.”

“That’s awfully convenient,” Connie remarked. “This magic tent business is all wrapping up pretty nicely. That’s fine by me.”

Steve stood up from his seat. “There’s a big eighteen-wheeler that comes by and stops here every ten minutes,” he said. There’s a pink door in the back with a unicorn painted on it. That’s probably the door you’re looking for.”

“Great,” Davy replied. “Is the truck coming soon?”

Before Steve could answer, he saw headlights appear in the darkness to his left.

“Man, oh man,” Connie exclaimed delightedly. “Right when Davy asked!? Just when I think this couldn’t get any more convenient, this truck just shows up!”

Steve grumbled. It looked to Davy like Steve might not be as willing to characterize his time at this bus stop as convenient.

Steve cleared his throat. “Okay, follow me,” he commanded. “The truck is going to stop here, but speed away not too much later. It might speed away even faster if the driver sees that I’m not there. So let’s get ready to move.”

Davy and the others nodded. As the truck came into view, they followed Steve down the road. Sure enough, the truck slowed down and braked at the bus stop.

Steve ushered them to true door. Olivia went up to it and pulled it open. “See you on the other side, guys,” she whispered before jumping through.

As Connie followed Olivia through the door, Steve listened to hear what Marge would say this time, now that there wasn’t anybody at the bus stop.

“You lost, kid?” he heard her say.

There was no response.

“Do you need a ride, kid?”

Steve shook his head. This lady had been automated or something this whole time?

“I’m done with this place,” he muttered and threw himself through the door.

Davy climbed up to the door. He had found his friends again. The next step was still unclear, but now that everyone was reunited, maybe they had a chance of succeeding after all. As long as they didn’t come face to face with the Iron League, they would probably be fine.

Davy smiled and jumped through the door. The next thing he knew he was face to face with Boss Stag and the rest of the Iron League.

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55. Wonderland

A bright blue sky shone down over Davy and Olivia.

They had found a door in one of the buildings near the outhouse. They were now in what looked like a European countryside. Green, rolling hills extended in every direction. Davy could see an extravagant castle coming out from behind a nearby hill. It was made up mostly of white stone with prominent deep red accents.

Olivia nudged Davy with her elbow. “Call it a hunch, but I think we should head to that castle there,” she stated.

Davy didn’t have any reason to argue. This place looked far less dangerous than the research station or the jungle. “Sounds good,” he replied as they began to move.

They walked towards the castle and approached a hill. Davy looked at the foliage around them. There were trees, but they were bent and curled at unnatural angles. Bright colored fruit that Davy had never seen before hug from their branches. The trees looked almost whimsical.

As they reached the top of the hill, Davy could see something down in front of them. There was a small pond at the base of the hill with a round stone table near the shore. Two creatures were sitting at the table. Sitting between them, eating a pastry was Connie.

She laughed jovially as she saw Davy and Olivia approach. Davy looked at the two creatures. To Connie’s left was what looked like a griffon. To the right was a seven-foot turtle. Instead of a normal turtle’s head, it had the head of a calf.

“Hey guys!” Connie called out cheerfully. She gestured at the hills around her. “Look, I’m in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I can say that. It’s public domain; I can definitely say that.”

She held out a plate of pastries to Davy and Olivia. “You want an eclair?” she asked. “They’re delicious.” She suddenly put the plate down on the table. “Oh, sorry,” she said. “Let me introduce everyone. This is the Gryphon.”

The winged creature bowed. “How do you do?” it said.

Connie pointed to her other side. “And this is the Mock Turtle.” She leaned I towards Olivia and whispered excitedly, “He’s where mock turtle soup comes from!”

“What’s mock turtle soup?” Olivia asked with a smile.

“No idea!” Connie replied. “Something old British people see to eat, I guess!”

Davy sat down at the table. “Is this where you got taken when I opened the curtain?” he asked.

“You bet,” Connie answered. “I was in that room with the rest of you, then suddenly I was here. I met these two and it’s been a blast. The Mock Turtle over here was asking me about the school I used to go to and I was telling him about it, and he got all confused, then he told me about his school, and then it was me couldn’t follow what he was saying! And then—here’s the twist—we realize we’re talking about different kinds of schools! Like I was talking about a school as in the place where you go to learn, but he was talking about a school as in a school of fish!”

She took a bite of an eclair. “It was just delightful.”

The Mock Turtle nodded politely. “Miss Consuela here is certainly a pleasure to be around.”

Connie leaned back on her seat. With a mouthful of eclair, she asked, “So where did you guys end up?”

Davy reached for an eclair. “I was in an abandoned research station in Antarctica, and Olivia got brought to a jungle with dinosaurs.”

Connie shrugged. “This sound pretty cool too.”

“I beat up a T-Rex,” Olivia added before stuffing a handful of eclair into her mouth. “It was enriching.”

“So how did you find each other?” Connie continued. “And how did you get here?”

“Yes, do tell, friend of Ms. Consuela,” the Gryphon chimed in.

Davy put the eclair he was holding back on the plate. He wasn’t feeling too hungry. “Well, I found a door in the research station that looked like it didn’t belong, and it took me to the jungle where I found Olivia,” he answered. “We found another door that took us here.”

“We have reached the conclusion that doors take us places,” Olivia chirped.

“And I believe I would be correct in saying that you haven’t found Steve yet?” Connie asked.

“Yeah,” said Davy. “I think we need to find another door to get to him. But they’ve all been attached to buildings so far. And the only building I see right now is that castle in the distance.”

Connie looked behind her. “Oh, that castle belongs to the Red Queen. My friends here aren’t fans.”

“She likes to cut off people’s heads,” the Gryphon added.

“So if we start snooping around there trying to find a magic door…?” Olivia began.

Connie shrugged. “Yeah, she’d probably capture us and cut off our heads,” she said. “Kind of nasty, right?”

Davy rubbed the back of his head. “There’s gotta be something else we can do,” he said. “Sneaking into the Red Queen’s castle sounds like a whole drawn out detour that I don’t really want to do. Like it doesn’t feel necessary in the context of what we’ve been doing at all.”

“I’m with you, buddy,” Olivia added. “I kind of just want to get this Iron League thing wrapped up.”

“Yeah, I’m ready to just move on to the next thing,” said Connie. “Any ideas?”

The Mock Turtle perked up. “I believe I may be of assistance,” he said. He stood up and turned around, facing away from the rest of the group. Embedded into his shell was a blue, metal door.

“Well would you look at that?” Connie exclaimed, delighted. “The door was here the whole time! Unexpected and convenient! And so weird!”

The Mock Turtle turned around again. “Are you quite sure you do not want to remain here just a little while longer, Ms. Consuela? The Gryphon and I were about to conduct a performance of the Lobster Quadrille.”

Olivia laughed and turned to Olivia and Davy. “It’s a song they like to do,” she whispered. “I have no idea what it’s about! What is a quadrille anyway?”

She turned back to the Mock Turtle and shook her head. “Sorry champ,” she said. “Gonna have to ask for a rain check on that one. My friends and I need to take care of an evil gang devoted to reference humor. You understand.”

The Gryphon patted Connie on the back. “It was wonderful meeting you Ms. Consuela,” he said. “We wish you luck I your future endeavors.”

Connie laughed. “Same to you guys. You’re the best.”

The Mock Turtle gave a shy smile and turned around again. Connie grabbed the handle and pulled the door open. “Come on,” she said to Davy and Olivia. “Let’s got find Steve.”

Davy saw Connie leap through the door and quickly followed.

“I’m walking through a door into the back of a giant turtle,” Olivia said to herself. “This day just keeps getting better and better!” she exclaimed as she leapt through the door.