Steve was relieved to feel the ropes loosen around him. He didn’t know who it was who was untying him, but Steve was about to make sure he or she wouldn’t regret it. Once the ropes were loose enough, Steve jumped to his feet and began charging for the cage door. He had never broken through the metal bars of a cage before, and those bars looked pretty thick. Steve was positive, however, that he was extremely strong and he could totally break through if he wanted to.
Steve was not strong enough to break through. Slamming into the metal bars was painful enough, but Steve was not expecting the jolt of electricity that flowed through his body upon making contact. Crumpled on the dusty floor of the theater, Steve saw an inscription on one of the metal bars.
Grumble Industries Incorporated.
Steve had never heard of them before. They made a pretty nice electrified cage though. Maybe he should send them his resume.
“That wasn’t particularly bright,” said a voice in the darkness.
Steve slowly got back to his feet and turned around. The man who untied him was sitting in Steve’s chair. He was wearing an ornate gray suit and vest, a gold chain coming out of his breast pocket. He had an ash white ascot tie and similarly-colored wavy hair, parted to one side. He looked to be in his mid-thirties. His most distinguishing feature were his round frameless glasses. They were reflecting the light of the spotlight to where Steve could not see the eyes they were covering.
Steve thought this guy looked ridiculous. But this guy also untied him, so Steve, for the second time in a long time, decided to keep his mouth shut.
“They’ve been talking about you. They believe you are a highly important person,” he continued.
“Who?” Steve asked. “Those turds in the animal masks?”
The man began adjusting his ascot tie. “Indeed,” he replied. “But I must advise against using such language in their presence. The Bird, the Mouse, and the Sausage strive for a very particular sense of order, and they are not at all forgiving to anyone who challenges that order.”
“You must know a lot about them,” Steve said.
“I know about the source of their taken-upon personas,” the man said. “The story of the Bird, the Mouse, and the Sausage was one of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The Bird, the Mouse, and the Sausage live together in perfect order, and each of them fills a particular role. The Bird gathers wood for the fire, the Mouse gathers water, and the Sausage cooks for the three of them. The story is an allegory for the necessity adhering to one’s societal roles. If you were to try and interfere with their order, I guarantee they would not respond kindly. So to reiterate, be cautious in how you interact with them.”
Steve mulled this over in his head. “Why is there a sausage that lives with the mouse and the bird?” he asked. “Like really, there are two animals already. Why, of all things, is the third character a sausage?”
The man gave a wry smile. “It’s amusing that this is what you take away from my warning,” he said.
Steve began pacing around the cage. “But really, you seem to know a lot about fairy tales and stuff,” he began. “Do you read a lot, you know, when you’re not the prisoner to Inky, Blinky, and Clyde over there?”
The man laughed. “I shall accept the compliment,” he replied. “But to answer your question, I am a literary consultant to the Heaven’s Head Police Department.”
“Literary consultant?” Steve asked. “Is that a real job?”
The man nodded. “Indeed it is. Every so often, the police are faced with a crime, and solving it requires special knowledge of great literary works. That is when they call me.”
“That still doesn’t sound like a real job,” Steve interjected.
The man continued, ignoring Steve. “For example,” said. “Just a few months ago, the police were investigating a string over murders under a number of seemingly random circumstances. I was called and recognized the victims all matched descriptions of the various suitors who were vying for Penelope’s affections in Homer’s The Odyssey. I was able to deduce the identity of our killer, a deranged, would-be Odysseus, before he was able to claim his next life.”
“That’s pretty messed up,” Steve said. “And this happens often enough that they gave you a full-time job? How often do you have to solve these murders?”
The man adjusted his glasses. “Usually on a weekly basis, typically from the months of September to May, with a small break for the holidays.”
Steve paused and was about to lean against the side of the cage, before thinking better of it. “So you’re kind of like that Librarian guy, then,” he said.
“Please,” the man scoffed. “Doole E. Decimalsystem barely reads. His MO is more centered on the organization of literary works, not the actual content and thematic considerations of these works. We’re no more alike than Manchego cheese and simple cottage cheese.”
“So, you’re not alike then…?” Steve asked hesitantly.
“Absolutely not. And more importantly, the Librarian, the miscreant who sold you, is one of those so-called supervillains. I, on the other hand, am your ally.”
Steve was mildly relieved. “That’s good to hear. What’s your name, anyway?”
The man stood up and extended his hand to Steve. “I am delighted that you asked. My name is Vulcan Hephaestus.”
Steve tried to stifle his laughter. “Vulcan Hephaestus? That’s the most supervillainey name I’ve ever heard. Do you have evil forge powers or something?”
Vulcan lowered his hand. “I assure you, I am not a supervillain,” he said sternly.
Steve tried to compose himself. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry. It’s been a long day, that was uncalled for. I apologize, Vulcan Hephaestus.” Steve extended his hand.
Vulcan looked at it for a moment, before hesitantly shaking it.
“So where are we anyway?” Steve asked, looking around. “Is this some kind of theater?”
“You have a good eye,” Vulcan replied. “This is the old Catfish Grove Theater. It was once the pride of Heaven’s Head. But it closed close to thirty years ago.”
“What happened?” Steve asked.
“The last show that ran in this theater. It was called A Country Fried Christmas. It portrayed the Bullion family, a lovable Southern family, as they navigated the trials and tribulations of the holiday season in comic fashion. At the end of the play, all of the family members sat down for Christmas dinner, having learned that the true meaning of Christmas is the love of your family, and also apparently state’s rights. The play closed as they each ate a full serving of chicken-fried steak while singing Christmas carols together.”
“Chicken-fried steak for Christmas dinner?” Steve interjected.
“You and I may question this decision, yet A Country Fried Christmas was perhaps the most popular play that the Catfish Grove ever put on. It ran for weeks. At least until the night when the cast, having consumed a full chicken-fried steak dinner six nights a week for the past eighteen weeks, all died of simultaneous heart attacks during the closing scene. The theater was immediately closed, but the set remains to this day.” Vulcan pointed to the dining room table and kitchen appliances Steve spotted when he first woke up.
Steve was not happy to hear that he was trapped in a room where several people died due to overeating. He decided to change the subject. “So how did you end up here?” he asked Vulcan.
“HHPD had been investigating a series of grisly murders that I had tied to the Bird, Mouse, and Sausage. I had a feeling that this is where they had taken refuge.” He extended his arms and gestured towards the cage walls around him. “It appears I was correct.”
“Okay, so what do we do now?” Steve asked.
Vulcan’s wry smile came back. “Well, from what I understand, you’re quite the important individual. I heard the Bird, Mouse, and Sausage speak to each other about how you’re supposedly destined to save the world. So I ask you, if your journey were a story, would you consider yourself the protagonist?”
“Yes,” Steve said without a moment of hesitation or self-awareness.
“Excellent,” Vulcan replied. “Every protagonist needs a guide, a mentor. If what those three said is true—their talk of artifacts and prophecies and alligators—then you will need someone who can prepare you for the ordeals to come.”
“I can work with that,” Steve said. “Davy’s gonna be stoked to hear I’ve got a mentor.”
“Who’s Davy?” Vulcan asked.
“Oh, he’s my friend,” Steve answered. “I guess you could call him my sidekick, in your terms.”
“I see,” Vulcan said. “Well, if you want to see your friend again, I would encourage you to follow my advice. We need to find a way out of here soon.”
“Why so soon?” Steve asked.
“Because if I heard the trio correctly, they’re working for the Mother, and she’s coming here,”Vulcan began. “And when she arrives, all the advice in the world will not be able to save you.”