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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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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.

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54. Jungle

Davy had wandered for a few minutes through the jungle before he found a road. He shrugged and decided to follow it. It could lead him to one of his friends.

Or it could lead him to a member of the Iron League.

Or it could lead him to another potentially dangerous creature like in the research station.

“There’s like, a one in three chance this road will take me somewhere not terrible,” Davy reasoned to himself. Those weren’t really horrible odds, all things considered. Davy decided to continue following the road.

Davy thought about what it was he was supposed to be doing. He had been directed to sneak into the Iron League’s secret base by his mind therapy, but he still didn’t know what he was supposed to be looking for. Was it the next artifact? Was it the key to defeating the Iron League? Were they the same thing? What was their endgame here? Should he have made more of an effort to think this through beforehand?

Davy tried to put these questions out of his head. But what replaced them was the memory of this final words that Davy saw in his mind.


Those words made Davy uncomfortable. “I’d actually rather obsess over those other questions than think about that,” Davy mumbled. He decided to put those words out of his head as well and focus on finding his friends.

Davy ran into an empty jeep stalled in the middle of the road. The headlights were still on, and some of the Windows had been broken open. What really caught Davy’s attention, however was the giant metal fence behind the jeep. It looked to be at least a hundred feet tall, made up of gargantuan cement supports and metal beams. It had also been shorn open; an immense hole, about thirty feet wide stood in the middle of the fence. Sparks shot out of the broken metal beams.

“That can’t be good,” Davy stated. He stood still for a moment. He didn’t hear or see anything that could be dangerous like he had heard in the research station. He cautiously decided to keep moving.

He turned a corner not far from the jeep and saw an outhouse. Davy was normally not one to examine outhouses too closely, but he noticed that not only was the door closed, but he noticed the sign above the door handle currently said “Occupied.”

Someone was in there.

Davy nervously held his head against the door. He could hear someone breathing. Possibly against his better judgment, Davy lightly knocked on the door.

“Hello?” he said softly.

There was no immediate response. After a second, Davy heard a click and knew the door was unlocked. He slowly pushed it open.

He saw Olivia sitting on the floor in front of a toilet.

“There’s a dinosaur out there,” she whispered.

She motioned him inside. “Close the door, buddy,” she continued.

Davy did so. The outhouse was pretty cramped but Davy managed to awkwardly sit down in the remaining free floor space.

He looked at Olivia, who seemed to be pretty on edge. “So when I pulled back the curtain and you all disappeared, did you all get taken to different places?” he asked quietly.

Olivia nodded. “I guess so,” she answered. “One second I was in that curtained room with the rest of you, the next second I was in this jungle.” She lowered her voice. “With a T-Rex…”

Davy figured that was probably what broke through the fence. What he didn’t completely understand was why Olivia was holed up in an outhouse. “Not to put you down or anything,” he said. “But why are you in this outhouse?”

Olivia sighed and gave a nervous grin. “I’ve had bad experiences with dinosaurs.”

“Huh,” Davy grunted, somewhat dumbstruck. “You’ve seen dinosaurs before?”

Olivia thought about how to replay for a second before answering with a simple, “Yes.”

Davy wondered if he should probe further. “How old are you exactly, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Olivia’s grin grew wider as she shrugged. “About sixty-seven million years old, as best I can tell.” She leaned forward to Davy. “But let’s maybe just keep that between you and me.”

“Okay,” Davy said. “But I’ve seen you take down way bigger bad guys than a T-Rex.”

“Oh, I know,” Olivia replied. “I just needed a minute to collect myself. Dinosaurs were not on my list of things I expected to see today.”

Davy felt the ground shake and heard a series of deep rumbling noises. Something huge was walking up to the outhouse and Davy didn’t have to guess what it was. He then heard a loud roar just outside the outhouse that confirmed that Davy’s hunch was completely accurate.

Olivia stood up. “Hang on just one second, buddy,” she told to Davy. “The Night Retcher’s gotta fight off a Tyrannosaurus Rex.”

“Do you need any help?” Davy asked. He thought he could do something a little more useful than sit on the floor next to a toilet.

Olivia grinned. “Don’t worry about it,” she answered. “Just don’t get the pretty face of yours eaten,” she said in a amicably mocking voice.

Davy pushed himself against the wall of the outhouse as Olivia pushed her way to the door. As she stepped out, she turned back to Davy with a manic smile. “I’ll be right back,” she said. “Don’t do anything cool without me.” She laughed to herself. “Who am I kidding. I’m about to fight a dinosaur; you can’t get cooler than that.” She paused. “Unless the dinosaur was in space…”

Olivia realized she had trailed off. “See you in a second,” she said to Davy before she closed the door.

Davy sat on the floor and listened. He could hear the muffled shouts of Olivia through the wall of the outhouse.

“Hello fake dinosaur!” she shouted in her heroic voice. “You shall not cause harm to any innocents on this day! The Bight Retcher will not allow it!”

Davy heard another roar.

“Very well,” he heard Olivia say. “You have made your decision. Prepare yourself for the consequences of your actions!”

Davy heard another roar, only it got cut off partway through. Davy heard some strange thumping noises, a few squishy squelch sounds and finally a thud off in the distance.

After a moment of silence, the door opened again and Olivia stepped in. She closed it behind her and shuffled past Davy and sat back down on the floor where she had been previously.

“Where were we?” she asked calmly.

“I guess the T-Rex is gone?” Davy replied, fairly sure he already knew the answer.

Olivia gave an exaggerated laugh. “Oh, that thing?” she asked markedly casually. “It won’t be bothering us anymore.” She stretched her arms above her head and yawned. “So how did you find me anyway?” she asked Davy.

Davy thought back on how he got here. “I was brought to a different place when I opened the curtain,” he answered. “But I found a door that looked like it didn’t belong where I was. When I went through, I was taken to this jungle.”

Olivia thought this over. “Huh,” she grunted. “So if we find another strange door, it might take us to Steve and/or Connie.”

“That’s what I was thinking,” Davy replied.

The two of them stood up and made their way out of the outhouse. Davy looked down the road he had been following. He could see the roofs of some concrete buildings further on down through the trees. “There’s some buildings down there,” he said. “The next door is probably that way.”

“Nice,” Olivia chirped. “I’m ready to go if you are.”

Davy nodded as the two of the continued down the road.

Olivia looked to Davy. “So where did the curtain take you?” she asked. “Before you got here?”

“I got brought to what looked like an abandoned research base,” Davy answered. “I think it was supposed to be in Antarctica.”

This seemed to strike a chord with Olivia. She looked down at the ground with a grimace.

“What’s wrong?” Davy asked.

“I guess you could also say I’ve had some bad experiences with Antarctica too,” she replied sheepishly.

“Wait, you’ve been to Antarctica?” Davy asked incredulously.

Olivia shrugged with a nervous grin. “In a manner of speaking, yes.” She leaned in closer to Davy.

“But let’s just keep that between you and me, buddy.”

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53. Tent

As soon as they stepped through the door, the group found themselves in an entirely new location that clearly did not look like the inside of a tent. Davy sighed. This seemed to happen to him a lot. Davy wondered if he would ever be able to really trust any door to actually bring him where he thought it would ever again.

Davy looked around. This time, they were in a small square room. He looked down at the tile floor that was arranged in a checkered pattern. Instead of walls, the room was covered by thick velvety curtains. At the other end of the room sat a coffee table flanked on either side by a plush armchair.

“Great,” Davy grumbled. They were in the enemy’s domain now. The domain of the Iron League of Reference Humor.

Steve walked up to the end table. He picked up a half-full cup of coffee. “Gross,” he said.

Davy heard the faint sound of music in the distance. A slow, jazzy tune, with a deep bass and a woman’s voice singing over it. It made Davy uneasy; he wanted to get out of this place.

“What do we do now, champ?” Connie asked Davy. “You think we should take a peek through any of these curtains?”

“I guess so,” Davy answered. “There’s something we need to find here. Let’s just look around and see if anything stands out.”

Davy approached the nearest curtain and grabbed it. Without turning around, he continued speaking. “We need to be careful though and make sure we stay away from the Iron League,” he said. “We can’t do anything to let them know we’re here.” He pulled back the curtain. “So it’s really important that we all stick together.”

Davy turned around and saw that his friends had disappeared.


He realized that he was also now in a completely different space than before.

“I didn’t even walk through a door this time,” Davy whined.

Davy looked around, the curtain he was holding seemed to evaporate from his hand. He suddenly felt very cold. Davy looked around and saw a barren snowy landscape in almost every direction. Was this supposed to be the North Pole? Davy thought he saw mountains off in the distance. Maybe this was actually supposed to be Antarctica? Why would this tent try to make it look like he was in Antarctica? Was this a reference to something?

Davy took a step back and bumped into something. It was a building. It wasn’t very big, but it was probably warmer inside than out in the fake tundra. Davy was feeling his body freeze in the cold, so he figured he might as well try to get inside. He looked around for an entrance and found a heavy metal door. He found the handle and struggled to pull it open. It felt like this door hadn’t been opened in years.

He finally got the handle down and listened to the door creak agonizingly as he pushed it.

He heard a commotion behind him. He turned around and saw a dog far off in the distance. A helicopter shortly came into view a well chasing after the dog. Davy heard a man shouting from the helicopter in a language he didn’t understand. In another moment, the dog disappeared over a hill, and the helicopter—maintaining its pursuit—soon followed out of sight.

“That can’t be a good sign,” Davy said to himself as he stepped into the building.

The entire building seemed to be abandoned. Flickering fluorescent lights barely lit the interior, made up of metal walls, a concrete floor, and exposed pipes. Davy walked past a small room with what looked like radio equipment, though none of the electronics seemed to be in working order. Was this some kind of old research station?

Davy heard something scuttle behind him. As he turned around, he managed to catch a half-second glimpse of something small shuffle around a corner. From the little Davy was able to see, it looked like it was about the size of a basketball. It also seemed to walk on what looked like spider’s legs.

Davy swallowed nervously. He had recent past experience being up close with a spider, and Davy knew that wherever that thing was, it was not a spider.

Davy knew he probably should get out of here. He was still in the Iron League’s tent so there had to be some way he could get out of this space. Davy also had a feeling that the key to getting out was probably through a magic door that would instantaneously transport him somewhere else.

He began to hustle down the hallway, opening every closed door he could find. None of them were taking him anywhere. Davy heard the shuffling return from the end of the hallway he had come from, only now it was a little louder and deeper. Davy picked up the pace, but he still couldn’t find a door to take him away.

He finally looked at the end of the hallway he had been moving towards. There was a wooden door that stood out from the metal doors he had been opening. Davy figured this was his way out. He turned around and saw there was something at the other end of the hallway staring at him. It looked somewhat human-shaped, but seemed to be covered with massive grotesque growths. The majority of its body was covered in waves of flesh.

“Hi, nice to meet you, but I need to go,” Davy said. He bolted towards the wooden door. He didn’t look back, but he could hear the stomping of the creature behind him. It was chasing after him. Davy tried to run faster, but it seemed the creature was gaining.

The door was only a few feet away. Davy clenched his teeth as he reached it and pulled it open. He felt something—maybe a hand—graze the back of his head as he jumped through the door. All of a sudden, Davy was out of the research station and felt the light drizzle of rain on his head.

He looked around. The creature was gone, and he was now in a jungle.

“I guess it could be worse,” Davy muttered as he set out to find his friends.