DeepSeaElkFish

I make and play games! Let's talk about them.


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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?”

“No.”

“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.

YOU DO IT WRONG

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.

“Great.”

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.


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52. Moonlight

Davy, Olivia, Connie, and Steve sat huddled behind a bush. It was the same bush they hid behind when they formulated their last plan against the Iron League of Reference Humor.

Davy looked up at the night sky. The moon looked exactly like it did in Davy’s head. He didn’t know how his mind would have been able to predict what the moon would look like tonight, but he had more important things to think about at the moment.

He looked through the bushes at the campground. There was no sign of the Iron League. There was only the tent. Davy pulled out his phone and checked the time. It was 3:37. He breathed a sigh of relief as he put the phone back in his pocket.

The plan was going well so far. The Iron League was likely asleep within the tent. Davy looked at the tent again, and felt uneasy about the strange light shining through the translucent canvas.

Olivia nudged Davy with her elbow. “You said you met a penguin-dad in your mind,” she whispered. “Was it Gary von Jackolantern?”

Davy nodded. “Yeah,” he answered. “He also wanted me to tell you hi for him.”

Olivia’s eyes went wide. “Cooooool,” she whispered excitedly.

Steve nudged Davy with his elbow rom the other side. “I might be having second thoughts about his, guys,” he whispered. “That tent isn’t that big. How are we going to sneak around in there without drawing any attention?”

Davy thought about this, but Connie interrupted his train of thought.

“This looks like their secret base, right?” she said. “I kind of get the feeling that with their crazy reference powers and whatnot, that we’re probably working with one of those bigger-on than-inside-than-it-looks kind of deals. If it doesn’t end up looking like a massive labyrinth in there, I’ll buy all of you guys lunch tomorrow.”

Steve was quick to reply. “Okay. First, I’m never one to turn down a free lunch, but you just brought me to my second question. This is their secret base. We know what kind of wacky surprise powers they can pull out of a hat when they’re outside the tent. How do we know the whole inside won’t be like that? We have no idea what will be greeting us when we walk inside.”

“Hopefully some kind of massive labyrinth,” Connie added with a sly grin.

Davy had to agree with Steve. He had no earthly knowledge of what would be on the other side of that entrance flap. But he knew this is what he had to do. If that mind therapy was going to have any purpose at all, he needed to follow through.

“I get it, Steve,” he said. “But I think I’m still supposed to go in there. I really don’t have a problem if you want to hang back.”

“Are you kidding?” Steve replied, almost shouting. “What if there’s something really cool in there? I don’t want to miss out on anything. If you’re going, then I’m going.”

“Yeah, I’m with you all the way,” Olivia added.

“Me too,” chimed Connie. “This has all been way too interesting to pass up.”

Davy was not expecting the sudden show of support. Being looked up to was still something Davy was not used to.

“Okay,” he said. “Follow me.”

The four of them got on their feet and quietly made their way to tent. Davy heard a low humming sound as they got closer. When they reached the entrance flap, Davy felt another nudge from Steve.

“Hey, look at this,” Steve whispered to him.

Davy saw Steve pointing to a tag attached to the tent there was text printed on it. Davy read over it closely.

Imagination Tent by Grumble Industries Incorporated

If You Can Dream It, Why Not Put It in a Tent?

“Of course,” Davy mumbled sarcastically. Davy figured they were going to deal with the Grumblegator at probably every turn from now on before this was all over.

The four of them looked at the entrance to the tent.

“All right, bring it in!” whispered Olivia. She turned towards the others and held her arm out in front of her, her palm facing down.

“What?” Davy asked, confused.

“Oh, I was thinking we could do that thing where we put our hand on top of each other, say ‘Go Team!’ or something then lift our hands up at the same time.”

“Uh, sure,” Davy answered. He put his hand on top of Olivia’s. Connie and Steve followed suit.

“Okay, on three,” Olivia began.

“Wait,” Steve interjected. “What are we saying? Are we just doing ‘Go Team’?”

“I guess so,” Connie answered. She looked at Olivia. “Did you have something else you wanted?”

“I really didn’t think that far ahead,” Olivia replied. “‘Go Team’ works for me.”

“Okay, let’s do it then,” Steve said. Olivia counted to three and he four of them said the agreed-upon phrase.

“Go Team!”

Steve felt a rush of relief. “Wow, I was feeling kind of antsy about going into this tent just a second ago, but that actually made me feel a lot better. Maybe we are a team, guys.”

“That’s the power of positive feeling,” Olivia gloated. She gave Davy another nudge and whispered, “Let’s get in there.”

“You got it,” Davy replied. He slowly unzipped the tent flap. Once it was open, the four of them stepped inside.


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51. Awake

Immolation Zebra stared at Davy with apparent apathy. “He took longer than the others,” she said in a flat voice. “The revelations of his personal sojourn may likely prove the most fruitful.”

Davy looked around him. He was sitting on a chair in the front room of the Institute of Mind. Lady Gut Possum had been right in his face when he woke up and had since backed off. To one side stood Olivia, Steve, and Connie. Immolation Zebra and Consecration Tony peered at him with curiosity on the other side.

“Your mind has been awakened,” Consecration Tony stated. “Share your experience!”

Davy rubbed his forehead. “Was I really out longer than everyone else?” he asked.

Steve chimed in. “Yeah dude,” he said. “We woke up after about twenty minutes. You’ve been asleep or whatever for almost two hours.”

“So the rest of you guys went inside of your minds too?” Davy asked.

“You bet,” Olivia chirped. “And it was awesome! I got to hang out with Admiral Moustachepants and Sunglass Butt! Like, the real Admiral Moustachepants and Sunglass Butt, or at least the ones that exist in my own head. We played board games, and I won all of them! Though I think Admiral Moustachepants let me win a few. She’s such a noble lady.”

“That sounds pretty cool,” Davy replied. He turned to Steve and asked, “What about you? What happened inside your mind?”

Steve hesitated for a second. “Uh, nothing all that weird,” he muttered. “I was just a pig for some reason and a bunch of clowns were throwing rocks at me and laughing and the clowns were also on fire the whole time.” Steve’s face went blank as he recalled the experience. He snapped back and gave Davy a forced casual grin. “Nothing that crazy or anything. I’m good. We’re all good.”

He quickly turned to Connie. “What did you see?” he exclaimed.

Connie shrugged nonchalantly. “Not much,” she answered. “I just sat in front of my TV and watched a cooking show. I learned a nice recipe for chicken kebob with a serrano chimichurri. We should try it sometime. My brain said it was great for a summer barbecue.”

“Your brain is acute!” Consecration Tony interjected. “It knows the correct ways of food!”

Lady Gut Possum ignored him. “None of that sounds helpful for your current situation,” she said, worried.

“Well what about you, buddy?” Olivia said to Davy. “What did you see?”

Davy thought back on everything he had experienced in his mind. He decided to give the condensed version. “Well my penguin-dad told me I needed to believe in myself,” he replied.

“A penguin-dad is almost always a source of sage advice,” Immolation Zebra stated. “Its teachings should be taken with optimal seriousness, like azure water from a dilapidated cistern.”

“Okay sure,” Davy responded, brushing off whatever that was supposed to mean, if anything at all. “I also was pointed to that tent the Iron League was hanging out in. I think we’re supposed to go in there.”

Steve didn’t appear happy to hear this. “Why?” he asked. “Won’t they just beat on us again?”

Davy thought back to when he saw the tent in his mind. He remembered seeing the moon above him.

“In my head, I was there at night,” he continued. “I think, maybe if we sneak in there in the middle of the night, we can find whatever it is we need while they’re asleep, or doing whatever it is they do in the middle of the night.”

“A revamped sneak attack,” Olivia said. “I like it.”

Lady Gut Possum looked surprised. “Tony’s therapy usually doesn’t provide epiphanies on such concrete terms,” she said. She smiled at Davy. “You should consider yourself lucky, I was expecting the answers you were looking for to be far more abstract. Was there anything else?”

Davy didn’t want to bring up the words he saw in the white space just before he woke up.

YOU DO IT WRONG

He figured sharing this message would do little to inspire confidence with the rest of the group.

“No, not much else,” he said. “I got stuck in a hole for a while, I guess. And I saw a sea monster or something, but none of those seemed as currently applicable as seeing the tent.”

Davy felt that Lady Gut Possum could tell he was leaving something out, but she didn’t push the issue. “Very well,” she replied. She addressed Davy and his companions as she began to head for the door. “I believe your path has been illuminated for you. I wish you luck in your next steps.”

Connie followed Lady Gut Possum. “It should be fun,” she said, grinning. “I bet we’ll find something in that tent that will take down the Iron League. They’ve had their fun long enough.”

Olivia followed as well. “They’re about to finally taste the sweet scent of justice,” she added. “For real this time.”

Steve helped Davy off his chair. “I don’t know about you, but I’m really feeling like some ice cream right now.”

“No ice cream for now,” Lady Gut Possum interjected, glaring at Consecration Tony. She paused a tool a breath before addressing the lizard who was smiling back at her.

“Consecration Tony,” she began reluctantly. “Thank you for your help. You have likely been instrumental in helping the Steward save this world.”

Consecration Tony tilted his head. “Mind therapy is always an answer!” he exclaimed. “I appreciate the recognition you have given to the mind. Always pay it heed!”

Lady Gut Possum nodded as she ushered Davy and the others out the door. “Again, I am thankful for your help,” she said. “And for both of our sake, I hope these four never see you again.”


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50. Gary

Davy couldn’t tell how long he had been in the tunnel. Was it only minutes, hours, or maybe even days? Davy figured that the natural flow of time may not even apply to the inner realm of one’s mind, but Davy also conceded that he didn’t know all that much about the mind anyway, so maybe this idea was nonsense. In any case, it felt like he had been there a long time.

Was he supposed to reach an epiphany here? Maybe if he reached an epiphany, then he would be able to get out. Davy racked his brain for possible epiphanies

“Okay, I’m stuck in a hole,” he said to himself. “Maybe the hole represents something. I’m stuck. Like I was stuck on how to handle the Iron League. Maybe how I get out of here is supposed to show me how to beat them. This is good, I’m getting somewhere. How would I get out of here? I can’t push myself back up, and I can’t go forward any further. Am I supposed to find a non-traditional solution? Think outside the box?”

Davy tried to wrangle his lateral thought process.

“Okay, I just need to reexamine the parameters. Is there some factor I haven’t considered? Is this really stone? Maybe I can actually dig through it.”

Davy scratched at the tunnel wall with his left hand. The tough stone cracked one of his fingernails.

“Okay, that is definitely stone. I cannot dig through that. And also, that hurt.”

Davy struggled to come up with something. He noticed his eyelids getting heavy as his thought process seemed to slow down. He felt like he really needed a nap.

Davy noticed this and started to slightly panic. He knew that suddenly feeling like you are going to fall asleep was not at all a healthy development when you’re stuck upside down in an tight, enclosed space with little oxygen.

Davy wondered if it was possible to die in your own mind, because that would suck. Davy then remembered that he was in his own mind. He should be able to exercise a little more control than this. He wasn’t expecting god-like superpowers over the space around him, but he should at least be able to create some way out of here.

His eyelids continued to grow heavier as he concentrated on getting out of here.

“I will get out,” he said to himself through clenched teeth. “I will get out. I will get out.”

Davy scarcely noticed a slight tug on the tip of his left shoe. He continued to chant to himself. It was getting increasingly difficult to maintain his consciousness.

“I will get out. I will get out.”

The tug grew stronger, now coming from both feet. Davy was pulled upwards, not back through the tunnel, but straight upwards. Davy’s body loosened as the stone walls of the the tunnel slowly appeared to fade from existence.

Davy didn’t notice any of this as he continued to rise. His eyes were shut tight as he continued to chant to himself. The chanting eventually slowed and then finally stopped as Davy fully lost consciousness. The world around Davy had turned pitch-black as he continued to rise.

***

Davy awoke to the crackling of a fireplace. He opened his eyes and saw he was inside what looked like somebody’s living room. Warm red wallpaper with wood paneling surrounded him on every side. He was lying on a soft brown couch next to a window. Davy looked at the night sky through the window. It was snowing.

Davy sat up and saw the fireplace on the other side of the room. In front of the fireplace was a massive armchair, facing away from him. Davy looked down at the couch he was sitting on and was struck by how large everything in this room was. He wasn’t a short guy at all, but he noticed that even when laying down, there was still a couple of extra feet on the couch that his body didn’t cover.

A deep, almost soothing voice called out to Davy from the armchair. “I’m glad to see you’re okay,” it said.

The armchair began to rotate to have him. The armchair had four short, wooden legs, so it didn’t exactly make sense that it was able to rotate, but Davy wasn’t focusing on that right now. Davy was instead focused on who was sitting in the armchair, greeting him.

It was Gary von Jackolantern.

Or at least, it looked mostly like Davy’s old plush penguin toy. He somehow looked to be about ten feet tall, and had a strangely humanoid body. He was wearing a red smoking jacket and holding a pipe in his right hand that was emitting bubbles. He held a newspaper in his other hand. His legs were crossed, and causal loafers hung from his feet. His head, however, looked exactly like the stuffed penguin head Davy remembered from his childhood.

Gary looked down at Davy with a warm smile. “I know it’s been a long time, Davy, but I just want to say that I’m so proud of who you’ve become.”

“Uh, thanks,” Davy said to the unusually paternal penguin in front of him. “I guess I’m still inside my mind,” he continued.

Gary nodded. “Indeed you are, sport,” he said. “If I understand it right, it seems you might have lost your way.”

“Yeah,” Davy answered. “There is this evil group that likes reference humor that we’re acing trouble defeating. I don’t know what to do.”

Gary rubbed his chin. “That’s okay,” he said. “Everyone loses they’re way sometimes. The important thing is that you don’t give up when things get difficult.”

“Sure, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing,” Davy said. “I agreed to this mind therapy to help me find the answers within or whatever, but I’m don’t know what I should be looking for.”

Gary leaned forward to Davy. “Well, what have you found so far, son?”

Davy looked up at the penguin in front of him. “Well, that I clearly have some unresolved issues with my father or something,” he stated. “But I don’t think I’ve found much more than that.”

Gary von Jackolantern chuckled. “I think you may be selling yourself short there. If I saw it correctly, you were able to escape from that hole all by yourself using nothing but your own willpower.”

Davy shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, this has all been in my own head. It’s not that big of a deal to escape from my own mind.”

This seemed to amuse Gary. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you there, sport,” he said. “In my experience, I’ve found that one of the most difficult things that a person can break free from is their own head. We have a tendency to hold ourselves down harder than any tangible weights.”

Davy tried to get his thoughts together. “So you’re saying Im holding myself back?” he asked. “Are you saying that I should stop being afraid and believe in myself and stuff?”

Gary folded his newspaper and placed it on an end table next to him. “I think that it’s not my place to tell you what to do, son,” he answered. “But I do want to ask you, why do you think you were chosen for this quest? Why were you chosen to be the Steward of the Endocrine?”

Davy scratched his head. “A prophecy and poor plotting?” he answered hesitantly.

Gary have a hearty laugh. “Davy, you are far more capable than you know,” he said. ” There’s a reason this prophecy chose you. You have a quality that will prove essential in the time to come. I believe that you will find what it is, and once you do, you can prevail over any adversity that comes your way.” Gary stopped to blow to his pipe, sending bubbles out in to the room. “All you need to do is recognize this quality within yourself.”

Davy nodded. “Okay, so I have the power within me already?” he asked. “I just need to believe in myself?” Davy sighed. Steve was going to have a field day with the generic advice he was getting.

Gray have another warm chuckle. “I know what you’re thinking, Davy,” he said. “I know what I’m saying is probably the kind of thing you’ve heard in millions of movies and books before. Some might even call it cliché. But Davy, sometimes it’s the most obvious advice that we tend to forget the easiest. I don’t want anyone calling me insightful or clairvoyant, because none of what I’m saying is new. But I do believe that remembering the power you already possess can sometimes be a considerably underrated notion. Try it out sometime, and let me know how it goes. Maybe we can play catch afterwards.”

Davy figured the penguin may have a point, but he was also feeling ready to go. “Okay, I’ll do that,” he stated. “I have the power, and believe in myself. Got it.”

Gary smiled. “Don’t worry, Davy. It’ll come to you. But I understand your apprehension. You want to get back to your friends.” He pointed to the wooden door to his right. “This door will take you out of here. Follow the path that will appear in front of you and you will wake up soon enough. Who knows, maybe you might find something that will help you with your current situation.”

Davy got off the couch and made his way to the door. “Thanks, Gary,” he said. “It was good to see you again.”

Gary von Jackolantern chuckled. “It was good to see you too Davy,” he replied. “Come back any time. And when your quest is over, I’m looking forward to taking part in your detective adventures with you and your friend Olivia. Tell her hi for me.”

“Sure Gary,” Davy said. He opened the door and saw nothing but blackness in front of him. Davy took a deep breath and stepped into the darkness. Gary and the living room appeared to immediately dissolve around him. As the last traces of the room faded away, Davy heard one faint final line from Gary.

“Never forget, Davy, that I am so proud of you.”

Davy looked around in the darkness. He saw a faint light in the distance.

“This isn’t much of a path,” Davy said to himself, as he began to walk towards the light.

As he got closer, he could make out the faint shape of a building. It looked like the light was coming from a window. As he got closer, Davy saw that it he building was a house. It was three stories, the light coming from a window on the top floor. Davy realized that he had he had seen this place before. And that this wasn’t a house. It was a tent.

Davy saw he was standing in a ghostly version of that campground where he had been beaten by the Iron League of Reference Humor. A spectral moon hung over him in the sky. Davy looked at the tent again. There was a light shining through the translucent canvas. He approached the tent and unzipped the entrance flap. Bright light splashed out of the entrance onto his face. Davy shielded his eyes, but the light was so bright he couldn’t see anything inside. He slowly took a step into the tent.

The world around Davy dematerialized once more, and Davy found himself in an empty white space.

“Great,” Davy muttered. He was really getting tired of seeing so many empty spaces inside his mind.

Some massive black letters appeared in front of Davy. Davy scratched his head as he read the words they formed.

YOU DO IT WRONG

“Huh,” Davy uttered. That didn’t seem reassuring.

Some more letters appeared out of the air, they began forming the same phrase all around him.

YOU DO IT WRONG

YOU DO IT WRONG

YOU DO IT WRONG

Davy groaned. He had just had this pep talk from Gary von Jackolantern telling him how capable he was and now his brain was insisting how incorrectly Davy was going about his quest?

“I’m kind of getting some mixed signals here,” he whined to the words all around him.

The black letters continued to materialize. They filled up the white space more and more until the white was almost gone. Davy was getting really fed up as blackness filled the space around him. He was about to complain very loudly about having to deal with yet another empty space, but all of a sudden, he saw Lady Gut Possum’s face inches away from his own.

“He’s awake,” she said.