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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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39. Insects

Olivia awoke to the sounds of singing. She excitedly leapt out of her bed in the log cabin. In no time at all, she was promptly dressed in her blue sweater and jeans. She looked at her hooded cloak hanging in the corner of the cabin.

“Your time will come again, old friend,” she said to the cloak in a mock gravelly voice. She turned to a table behind her and looked down at Mother Martyr’s veil. Davy had previously asked if she wanted to take it for herself and make use of its lightning powers. Olivia had declined. Her powers were cool enough already, and she wasn’t too keen on having to carry some crazy lady’s nasty old hat around everywhere anyway. It was probably better for them to keep it in the cabin for safekeeping. She smiled and picked up a plate before going out the front door.

She was in a bright, green forest, a vivid blue sky shining overhead. She bounded down the dirt path in front of her as colorful insects flew up to greet her, singing in perfect harmony.

It’s such a wonderful morning!

Sunshine all abound!

There’s no way I can lose my smile,

When I know that you’re around!

Olivia blushed as she approached the nearest tree. She held up her plate and three slices of sizzling, freshly cooked bacon plopped down right on top of it. As she continued down the path, Olivia struggled to imagine how anyone could not immediately fall in love with a meat forest.

She passed Mandy the spider, who gave a friendly wave with one of her eight appendages.

“Good morning, Olivia,” Mandy said. “You are rockin’ that sweater, girl!”

“Thanks,” Olivia replied graciously. “Did you have a good night?”

Mandy gave Olivia a wicked grin. “You could say that,” she chuckled. “Terrence and I had some fun with some friends.”

“Oh you two,” Olivia laughed. “Hope you stay out of trouble.”

“Heh, don’t worry. We will,” Mandy chortled as Olivia continued down the path. Olivia had failed to notice the cluster of feathers stuck to Mandy’s hairy mandibles or the ripped black tank top at Mandy’s feet.

Olivia finally reached a wooden picnic table in front of a large tree. Sitting at the table, not yet completely awake, but eating a bowl of cereal was Davy.  Olivia sat down next to Davy as the insects encircled the two of them, still singing about sunshine and smiles.

“Good morning,” Davy said.

“Good morning, buddy,” Olivia replied. She began to tear into her bacon. “How could you guys ever not love this place as much as I do?” she asked.

“It used to look kind of different,” Day answered. “The first time we were here, everyone was trying to scare us. Things are a little different now that Steve owns the place.”

A door opened up in the large tree and Steve stepped out. He was wearing a robe and holding a cup of coffee and was clearly not happy to be awake. A group of butterflies flew up to him and continued to sing.

“Honestly, I think I liked it better when you were screaming at me,” he said to the butterflies.

A shiny blue dragonfly wearing a miniature top hat flew up to Steve. “But we were just acting then,” it sang to Steve in a comically high-pitched voice. “We love to sing, and we love you, Steeeeeeve!”

Steve grumbled and swatted the dragonfly away. He sat down at the table across from Davy. “When are we going to do something?” he asked indignantly. “It’s been like a week.”

“Yeah,” Olivia interjected. She looked up at the forest around her in wide-eyes wonder. “A week of magic!”

Davy understood Steve’s agitation. He had a feeling that once he came back home to Bayou City, he would receive some sort of sign on where to go next. But Steve was right. They had been back a week, and there had been nothing. Davy needed something soon. He needed an excuse to keep not going to his law school classes, though he would never say that out loud.

Davy looked up from his cereal bowl and saw that Lady Gut Possum had appeared out of nowhere. She was wearing the same pink frilly dresses that she wore the first time they met. It still looked like it desperately needed to be washed.

“Lady Guy Possum!” he shouted. “You’re back!”

Lady Gut Possum nodded. “I don’t have much time, Steward,” she said. She sat down next to Steve, who didn’t seem thrilled to have a rancid possum lady right next to him.

Olivia held her hands to her face excitedly. “You’re real,” she gasped. “And just as amazing as I imagined!”

Lady Guy Possum looked at the three of them. “I see you’ve found two of your companions,” she stated. “You have done well.”

Steve leaned back in his seat. “Thank you,” he replied. “I look to think of myself as a valuable addition to the team.”

Lady Gut Possum looked Steve in the eyes. “You certainly do,” she said.

Davy figured this was the time for some questions. “Uh, Ms. Gut Possum,” he began. “I spoke to Mother Martyr. And this alligator in a suit. They told me things, about this quest.”

Lady Gut Possum appeared to have pulled a cup of tea out of nowhere. She took a sip. “I imagine what they told you is true,” she stated. “Your destiny is to collect these artifacts, so that the Endocrine may use them to stop your world from being conquered by the Grumblegator.”

“His name is the Grumblegator?” Olivia asked. “That is both really stupid and really cool.”

Lady Gut Possum took another sip of her tea. “The Grunblegator intends to use the same artifacts to bring about the destruction of your world. He currently possesses the remaining artifacts and has entrusted them to his subordinates in order to wreck chaos. You must take these artifacts back from him.”

“But where did the Grumblegator come from?” Davy asked.

Lady Gut Possum paused. “He is from another world,” she answered. “Another realm of existence. As am I.”

Another realm of existence. Davy felt like this was probably a major scientific revelation, likely undermined by the fact that he was at the center of it. “Is there anyone else from your realm that is in our world now?”

Lady Gut Possum had finished her tea. She extended her long tongue and ravenously locked up the remaining tea from her cup. When she finished, she said, “Yes, there are others. Including the previous owner of this residence. The man formerly known as Barnaby Willacre.”

Davy’s stomach sank. “So is he really dead then?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes. Transmutated into tungsten. And no, I do not understand why tungsten, of all possible substances. My people have found him and taken him in, but we are not hopeful.”

Davy wasn’t thrilled to hear this. After Barnaby Willacre and Vulcan Hephaestus, was anyone else going to die? Davy didn’t think he was important enough for people to die in his name.

Lady Gut Possum sensed Davy’s apprehension. “This just demonstrates why we need you. Collecting the Artifacts of Rebisome is the only way to stop the Grumblegator from hurting more people.”

“So what do we do next?” Olivia asked. “What kind of wacky hijinks are we getting into now?”

Lady Gut Possum stood up again. She looked at Davy. “You must go west. To your city called Sangre Dios. You will meet your final companion upon arriving there. You will also meet a league that will be a malevolent counterpart to your own group. They are aligned with the Grumblegator. Stopping them will lead you to the next artifact.”

Lady Gut Possum’s already serious tone became more serious. “But be cautious, Steward,” she said with narrowed eyes. “This league. It is very annoying.”

Lady Gut Possum dust off he dress. She was preparing to leave. “Do you have any questions?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Steve snapped. “Why did you wait a week before getting back to us?”

Lady Gut Possum thought for a second. “I was busy,” she said. After a moment, she added, “I also thought you would enjoy spending some time with these wonderful singing insects.”

A butterfly flew up to Lady Gut Possum and landed on her finger. Lady Gut Possum looked at it and smiled, right before she shot out her tongue at the butterfly like a frog and swallowed it whole. “They are wonderful,” she beamed.

“Gross!” Steve exclaimed.

“Cool!” Olivia exclaimed.

And with that, Lady Gut Possum was gone. Davy was watching her the whole time, but couldn’t pinpoint in his head how Lady Gut Possum actually left. She just seemed to disappear.

Davy reached his spoon into his bowl and took a final bite of his cereal. He looked to his friends. “So I guess we’re going to Sangre Dios,” he said.

“I’ll pull up the bus schedule,” Steve gleefully chimed in. “One step closer to a new cappuccino machine.”

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38. Burglary

The lizard people and the one owl person clustered together outside of the former Barnaby Willacre’s Hideous House of Horrors. It was the middle of the night, and no one else was in sight. The boss lizard addressed the rest of the group.

“All right, blokes,” he said in his exaggeratedly Cockney accent. This circus tent here is where we saw that nerd and his nerd friends go into earlier this evenin’. We know that he has two of the boss’s artifacts that he brought in with him. I says that we go in while they’re asleep and snatch ‘me right up! Right under their noses! It’s a good old-fashioned burglary!” The other lizard people chattered in agreement among themselves. Alan, the one owl person, raised his hand. The boss lizard’s eyes narrowed upon seeing this.

“Alan,” he growled. “Did I leave something unexplained? Do you have a problem with what I said? Because I sincerely consider it a fundamental failure on my part if I didn’t properly convey myself to you.”

Alan lowered his arm meekly. “Well, boss,” he stuttered. “It’s just that, we’ve already tried to stop the Steward twice now, and failed both times. And we’ve been reprimanded by the Grumblegator both times as well.” Alan cleared his throat nervously. “Do you, uh, do you really think we need to try a third time? Especially without telling the Grumblegator?”

The boss lizard stared at Alan blankly.

“I’m just afraid the Grumblegator has lost all faith in us,” Alan continued. “I don’t think he even talks about us anymore.”

“Alan, you damned beautiful creature,” the boss lizard growled back. “I’m one hundred percent positive that the Grumblegator talks about us all the time. In fact, I believe any objective observer can cite several instances in which the Grumblegator expressly mentions us in some fashion.”

The boss lizard clenched his hands into fists. “But I’d be a damned liar if I denied how enraged I am that your concerns are so valid. Your caution makes me so furious. So furious that I don’t think things through like you. Some nights I find myself sitting in the shower, fully clothed and crying my eyes out as I let the icy cold water flow over me. All because I genuinely wish I was more like you.” The boss lizard flexed his biceps in rage. “It just makes me so mad!”

Alan wrung his hands together and looked to the side. “Look, I’m sorry guys. I don’t want to be a stick in the mud. You all seem really excited about going into the circus tent, and I don’t want to be the one to keep you from having a good time.”

The boss lizard approached Alan, and put his scaly his hands on Alan’s feathery shoulders. “Alan,” he growled. “You know that Ryan’s Special Dreamboat is a group of stone cold badasses that will never marginalize the feelings of its members. We will not go in there if you don’t think it’s a good idea. I will not lose an ounce of respect for you if you think we should back out.”

The boss lizard knelt down into a thinker pose and flexed his calf muscles. “Because I respect you just so damn much already,” he added.

Alan took a step back. “Uh, well, I know that this is, like, really important to you guys, and I’m just happy I get to hang out with you and stuff. If you all want to go in and beat up that kid…” He clumsily put his hands on his hips. “Then you can count me in!” he shouted awkwardly, his voice cracking as he said this.

The boss lizard stood up straight. “Alan, you inspire so much rage within me, knowing that I will never be even a fraction of the noble, whimsical spirit that you are. I will be eternally I your debt for giving this mission your blessing.” The lizard backed up and addressed the entire group. “Okay, chaps. You know what to do!”

The others nodded. The groups rearranged themselves into the pyramid stack formation they had created on the road to Heaven’s Head. Once they were in formation, they all changed in unison.

“We are Ryan’s Special Dreamboat! OO-RAH!”

The boss lizard stood at the top of the pyramid, beaming with pride. He looked down at the ground.

“Uh, okay guys. Let’s get down. This isn’t really doing anything.”

The other’s nodded in agreement and got back down on the ground.

The boss lizard lifted the entrance flap to the tent. “All right, chaps! Let’s move out!”

The group shouted a war cry and charged into the tent.

The next thing they knew, they were in a dark and dusty hallway. There was purple, peeling wallpaper on either side and cobwebs hung down from the ceiling. A nearby window conveyed there was somehow a lightning storm outside.

“Guys, this is one of be scariest things I have ever seen in my whole life,” one of the lizard people stuttered.

“I completely agree,” the boss lizard whispered. “I don’t believe it is possible for this to get any scarier.”

The ghost of a rough rider came out of the wall in front of them. It stopped to look at them. It stared blankly in half-surprise, half-confusion, as if it wasn’t expecting to run into anybody.

One of the lizard people screamed in terror. “It’s the ghost of Theodore Roosevelt, here to haunt us all!”

“Theodore Roosevelt!?” the boss lizard exclaimed. “He’s the scariest United States president!”

The group began to panic running in all directions. More ghosts began to fly in to see what was going on, which only exacerbated their fright.

The boss lizard, in his terror saw a door at the other end of the hall. He read somewhere that even the scariest ghosts were weak to doors, so he began to sprint for it. He stopped in his tracks when he remembered something important. He found Alan off to the side, cowering his hands over his eyes. The boss lizard approached Alan and nudged him.

“Alan,” he growled furiously. “We need to move! You know damn well I would never be able to forgive myself if I left you behind in this really, really scary hallway! Come on!”

Alan gulped and sprinted after the boss lizard. The two of them made it to the door and stumbled through.

They were now in a forest. Meat was hanging from the trees around them.

“This is somehow even scarier than the last room,” the boss lizard muttered. He turned around and stumbled over Alan who had been paralyzed with fear. The boss lizard looked up and saw a giant spider right in front of them. It did not look happy.

“Who are you losers?” it asked. “What are you doing in my house?”

The boss lizard collapsed on the floor. “You’re a scary spider!” he mumbled.

The spider scoffed. “My name is Bastiomandus,” it bellowed. It was quiet for a second before adding, “But most people call me Mandy.”

Mandy looked down at the lizard and owl people in front of her. “What are you turds doing? I don’t think Steve invited you. You need to get out.”

The boss lizard watched as a flash of bravery appeared on Alan’s face. The boss lizard was enraged with joy to see Alan seemingly step up and finally believe in himself.

Alan approached the spider. “We are Ryan’s Special Dreamboat, and we are here to burgle your artifacts!”

Mandy appeared to smirk. “Oh, really?” she laughed.

Alan saw there was what looked like a river of brown liquid next to the spider. The liquid began to ripple as Alan saw something completely indescribable and infinitely more terrifying than anything else they had seen so far rise above the surface.

“What did they say?” asked Terrence.

“Oh, they want to burgle us and stuff,” Mandy answered.

“Cool,” replied Terrence. “Let’s get them.”

The boss lizard promptly decided that coming might have been a mistake after all.

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37. Shareholder

The Grumblegator grumbled to himself as he disconnected the video communication with the Steward. This kid wasn’t going to give him the artifacts like he had asked. Not that he expected him to. He seemed like a good kid. A stupid kid, but a good one. He was going to do what he believed was right. That didn’t mean the Grumblegator would hesitate to annihilate him when the time came, however. The Grumblegator was not one for mercy.

It was inconvenient to learn that the Steward had garnered some followers. The other kid—the one who asked about professional networking—was not as much of a concern. What did he do anyway? But the fact that the Steward had joined up with the Night Retcher? The vigilante thorn in Mother Martyr’s presumably annoying side? This warranted further investigation.

The Grumblegator sighed as Ms. Pamola Cherry’s voice cracked out on the phone speaker.

“Sir, have you terminated your call the Steward? Did he get scared, you know, since you’re such a big, scary alligator?” she sneered.

The Grumblegator pushed down the button to respond. “Yes, Ms. Pamola Cherry. He was so scared. Because I’m so scary,” he chided. “But not nearly as scary as your weird, nasty mutant brother,” he added. “He probably would have jumped out of his skin, if he saw that freak of nature.”

There was a pause. “That was a little too far sir,” Ms. Pamola Cherry stated.

The Grumblegator slumped down. This back and forth that he claimed to enjoy so much was hard to keep up with sometimes. “I apologize, Ms. Pamola Cherry,” he said. “You and I both know that Wyatt is a valuable member of the Grumble Industries family.”

There was another pause. Finally, Ms. Pamola Cherry’s voice cracked out on the speaker again.

“I appreciate it, sir,” she said.

The Grumblegator thought to himself about what he had to do going forward. He held down the button again.

“Ms. Pamola Cherry, how does my calendar look for the rest of the night?” he asked.

“One second, sir,” Ms. Pamola Cherry replied. After a second, she continued. In a somewhat grave tone, she stated, “Sir, you have a meeting with the shareholders in fifteen minutes.”

Great, the Grumblegator thought, rolling his head back and making an exasperated sigh. This is exactly what I needed right now. He pushed down on the button. “Understood,” he said. “But don’t tell me it’s with the shareholders,” he snapped, emphasizing the final ‘s’ in the word ‘shareholders.’ We don’t have shareholders now. We just have the one,” he grumbled. “Just him…”

Ms. Pamola Cherry was quick to respond. “Yes, I am aware. But regardless, you still need to meet with him in fifteen minutes.” After a second she added, “Is there anything you would like the rest of us to do in the meantime?”

The Grumblegator thought for a second. Pushing down the button, he said, “Yes, but let me just come to you. I’ll be right there.”

The Grumblegator got to his feet and walked out of his office. He walked down the hallway to a noticeably smaller office on his right. Inside, at the desk, was Ms. Pamola Cherry.

“Hello Ms. Pamola Cherry,” he said. He looked at the smaller head attached to his acting assistant’s head by a stem.

“Hello, Wyatt,” he added with trepidation.

The Grumblegator watched the faint outline of a face appear in the smaller cherry and begin to wheeze.

Ms. Pamola Cherry stroked Wyatt’s face to calm him down. Once Wyatt seemed to be soothed, his face receded back into the red of the cherry flesh.

“What did you need me to do?” Ms. Pamola Cherry asked, her eyes on the computer screen in front of her.

The Grumblegator paused to remember what he needed. “First, have someone follow up on the Night Retcher. Find out who she is and what she’s capable of. She’s not one of us, but we need to learn all we can about her.”

Ms. Pamola Cherry nodded and typed down the Grumblegator’s instructions into her computer.

“Second,” the Grumblegator continued. “Send someone out to find where the Steward will be going next. Knowing Lady Gut Possum, she’s probably going to send them to Sangre Dios.”

“And what do you want me to do if they are going to Sangre Dios?” asked Ms. Pamola Cherry?

The Grumblegator chuckled. “Have the Iron League take care of them,” he replied. “That’s the name they settled on, right?”

“I believe so, sir.”

The Grumblegator was amused thinking about how the Steward would handle the Iron League. “Man, I hate those guys so much,” he said. “If that kid thought the Mother was a nuisance, the Iron League will probably drive him insane.”

“Yes, we all hate the Iron League,” Ms. Pamola Cherry replied. “Why do we even have them?”

The Grumblegator shrugged. “It was a shareholder decision,” he answered. He realized he should probably get to that meeting.

“Anything else?” asked Ms. Pamola Cherry.

The Grumblegator remembered there was one final thing. “Yes,” he said. “The other kid, not the Night Retcher or the Steward. Add him as a friend on my WorkLyfe profile. I’m not going to turn down a professional networking opportunity even if it is with someone we intend to destroy.”

The Grumblegator turned to leave the office. “If you don’t hear from me, it’s probably because I died from hating this shareholder meeting so much.”

“You will be missed,” Ms. Pamola flatly stated, her eyes on her computer as the Grumblegator left the room.

The Grumblegator stepped into the elevator. He pulled a key out of his jacket pocket and used it to open a restricted panel below the regular elevator buttons. Behind the panel was an additional button. The Grumblegator sighed as he pressed it.

At once, the elevator began to descend. The Grumblegator watched the screen next to the elevator door, as it displayed the current floor. The number continued to descend until it reached ‘1.’ The elevator did not step then, but continued going down. The screen went blank as the elevator plunged further downwards.

After what felt like an irritating eternity, the elevator finally stopped; the screen simply signified a letter X. The Grumblegator rolled his eyes as the door opened, revealing not another office hallway, but a narrow, dimly-lit tunnel, cutting deep into the earth. The Grumblegator walked past the dank rock walls on either side of him. He walked in silence for several minutes until he reached a large, open chamber. In the center of this chamber was a large, round, metal ring-shaped object. It was the shape of an oval, at least thirty feet in height. A solitary, leather office chair sat directly in front of the ring.

The Grumblegator made one final, intentionally audible sign as he approached the chair and sat down. “Okay, I’m here,” he appeared to shout to no one in particular. “Let’s get this over with.”

There was no response for several seconds. The Grumblegator sat upright for a second, with the sudden hope that he wasn’t going to appear.

Unfortunately, after another second, the Grumblegator noticed a green cloud of gas had appeared in the center of the ring. The cloud grew as more gas began to materialize out of nowhere.

The Grumblegator gave an exasperated groan as the gas filled the interior of the ring and a malevolently deep laugh bellowed and echoed throughout the whole chamber.

The sole shareholder of Grumble Industries Incorporated had arrived.

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36. Conference

The sun was still rising as a gaggle of reporters and photographers gathered around the podium in front of city hall. An old man in a suit behind the podium addressed the crowd.

“As mayor of Heaven’s Head, I understand there are many questions about what transpired last night. Fortunately, we have an eyewitness who can give a firsthand account of this woman named Mother Martyr and her intentions to destroy our city.”

The mayor looked to his right. “Please,” he said. You may approach the podium.

Nodding, Lance Whitlock approached the podium and began to speak.

“My friends in the press,” he began. “Last night, Mother Martyr had acquired a device that she intended to use to flood our city and drown everyone in it. Fortunately, her plans were foiled by some heroic individuals, and she is now in police custody.”

Lance cleared his throat before continuing. “The first such individual was a man named Vulcan Hephaestus, who was well-liked by all the members of the Heaven’s Head Police Department, as well as the public at large. He sacrificed his own life last night in order to stop Mother Martyr from succeeding in her plans. I know that we will all miss that moment roughly once every week I which we hear about the latest literature-related crime that he solved through all sort of hijinks, but after eight years of service, maybe it’s for the best if he is finally given the chance to rest. Personally, I look forward to going back and revisiting the crimes he was able to solve during those second through fourth years of service.”

Lance took a sip of water. “The second individual is someone who I had the personal pleasure of being wrong about last night. Many of you probably know who I am talking about. She’s been in this city for months, doing everything she can to protect us from harm, but more often than not, her arrival has been greeted with shouts of fear rather than acceptance. Before last night, I too distrusted the Night Retcher. But not only did she rescue me from the Librarian–who we can all agree is the lamest villain in Heaven’s Head–she then went on to stop Mother Martyr and save the rest of our lives. And for that I thank her. Her abilities may be different from what we’re used to, but I think I speak for all of us when I say that the Night Retcher is always welcome in Heaven’s Head.”

Lance looked down at the reporters. “I will now take any questions.”

Davy watched the reporters begin to shout questions to Lance. He was standing across the street from city hall, under the shade of an awning and completely inconspicuous. Olivia, Steve, and Sarah were standing in either side of him.

“Man,” Steve said. “This Lance guy is weirdly eloquent.”

“I’m just glad he agreed to omit us from his account of what happened,” Davy replied.

Steve frowned. “Yeah, about that,” he said. “Did we really need to do that? You know how much I enjoy the adulation of the public.”

“Yeah,” Olivia added. She had changed out of her vigilante hood and was wearing a slightly oversized blue sweater and jeans. Even with the pale gray skin, she didn’t stand out too much from the people around her. “You two did a lot last night as well. It doesn’t seem fair to leave you guys out.”

Davy shrugged. “Well, I mean, there’s an evil alligator who wants to kill me, so I thought it would be better to stay under the radar. Besides, you were kind of the key player in stopping Mother Martyr,” he told Olivia. “I’d consider growing into a giant eyeball-teeth creature and eating the supervillain a major contribution.”

Sarah nodded in agreement. “You deserve this Olivia,” she added. “After all you’ve done to protect this city, everyone is finally going to see how great you are.”

Olivia put her hand to her cheek. “Aw shucks guys, you’re making me blush.” Her face morphed into a giant eyeball again. “Eyeball Face thanks you for your kindness,” she said, bowing, before turning her face back to normal.

“So what now?” Steve asked.

Davy thought to himself. “Probably go back home to Bayou City,” he replied. “I’ve got a feeling that our next step will make itself clear to us once we get back there.”

Olivia looked down at the ground. “About that,” she began. “You said you needed people to help you. Mind if I come too?”

Davy answered with no hesitation. “Man, you’re the most capable person out of all of us. I would have died several times if it weren’t for you. I’d be happy for you to come along.”

A thought came to Steve’s head. “But what about Mother Martyr?” he asked Olivia. “What if she tries something while you’re gone?”

Olivia laughed. “Please, if there’s one thing I know about being a superhero, it’s that once they go to jail, they stay there and are never a problem again.”

Olivia turned to her sister. “You gonna be okay if I go out of town for a while?” she asked.

Sarah smiled. “Absolutely,” she answered. “You go on ahead. Have an adventure and make sure these two don’t die,” she said gesturing at Davy and Steve.

“You could come with us too if you wanted,” Davy offered.

Sarah chuckled and shook her head. “Thanks, but I’m a medical student. I can’t just drop everything to go on a quest.”

“Oh, right,” replied Davy, the law student who dropped everything to go on this quest. Davy suspected he may not have fully thought this whole thing through.

It looked like the press conference had concluded, as the crowd was beginning to disperse. “I guess it’s probably time to go,” Davy said. “We got two artifacts down, we just need uh,” he looked at Steve. “How many are left?”

Steve shrugged. “I don’t know. You didn’t tell me.” Steve was silent for a moment. “Did you?”

Davy tried, but he couldn’t remember how many artifacts there were in total.

“Well, shoot,” he said.

“Adventure!” Olivia shouted.

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35. Veil

Almost immediately after swallowing Mother Martyr, the giant gray mass began to shrink down and return to its prior shape. In a matter of seconds, Davy saw the Olivia he knew standing in front of him. The only difference was the still somewhat oversized head, which was still playfully chewing on something. Davy didn’t need to guess what that thing was.

After another second, Olivia spit out the traumatized and drenched Mother Martyr, who whimpered to herself erratically as she tumbled onto the roof.

Olivia looked at Davy with a grin. “You didn’t really think I’d eat her, did you?” she chirped. “She tastes like Puritanism.”

Davy nodded, then remembered to run over to Mother Martyr. He promptly removed the veil from her head. He held it out front of him and faced Olivia. “So this is the source of her lightning powers, apparently,” he said. “Turns out it’s also one of the artifacts I’m supposed to collect.”

“That’s pretty convenient,” Olivia remarked.

Davy looked down at the Mother. She was cradling herself in her arms and rocking back and forth in the roof. “So what do we do with her?” he asked.

Olivia shrugged. “Pssh, no worries.” We’ll contact the police and leave some evidence behind showing them what crazy plans she was up to.”

Olivia looked back at Davy holding the veil. He had it at arm’s length and was holding it with two fingers, probably because it was stacked with her super-powered spit. She had been thinking about coming up with a catchy name for her spit; when your primary superhero tactic involves eating the bad guy then spitting them back out again, she figured at some point, you’re going to have to come up with a name for that junk. Power Spit? Saliva of Justice?

Olivia realized she had gotten way off track. There was something she needed to ask. She looked at the ground hesitantly. “So, Davy,” she began. “Now that you’ve got your artifact, you still need help getting the rest of them?”

Olivia was promptly interrupted by Steve opening the door to the stairwell. “Guys,” he said. “I think I found something you’re gonna want to see.”

Davy nodded and as he and Olivia proceeded to follow Steve down the stairs. Steve gloated as they descended. “So I saw you go into beast mode,” he told Olivia. “Which was pretty dope. I was on my way upstairs, you know, in case you needed any back up. But then I thought, ‘Wait, if Mother Martyr knows about Davy’s quest, then maybe she has my magic sack here somewhere.’ So I decided to look around.”

“Magic sack?” Olivia asked.

“It’ll make sense in a minute,” Davy answered, even though it honestly still didn’t make complete sense to him either.

“Anyway,” Steve continued. “I’m looking around the building, and then I find this.”

He opened the door in front of them to a lower level of the steel mill. Inside was a small, dimly lit room. Davy noticed a drafting table on one side with blueprints for what looked like the strange device they had shut down. He spied the words “Property of Grumble Industries Incorporated” on the bottom of one of the blueprints. On the other side was an open closet which contained alternate black habits.

“Mother Martyr has a lot of different outfits for someone who claims to hate everything,” he said to himself.

Steve, beaming with pride, looked at Davy and Olivia, backed up to the closet, reached inside and fished out the Ember Sack of Unrelenting Sorrows.

“I found my artifact!” he sang to himself. He performed a victory dance.

“So what does it do?” Olivia asked. “Do you pull out a really cool fire sword or something?”

“Nah,” Steve answered. “It emits a black gas that makes people really depressed.”

“Huh,” Olivia replied, keenly not too enamored with the answer. “That’s heavy.”

Steve frowned. “I take what I can get,” he responded flatly.

Davy wasn’t paying attention to the other two. He noticed a large television in the back of the room. He approached it and saw a blank blue screen with those words again.

Property of Grumble Industries Incorporated

Davy froze when he heard a ringing sound come from the television. New words appeared on the screen.

Incoming Call from the Grumblegator

Davy looked behind him. “There’s a Grumblegator in the line!” he shouted not sure what a Grumblegator was supposed to be. “What do I do?” he added.

Olivia and Steve both answered differently at the same time.

“See if he’s an enemy or ally!” Olivia shouted.

“Ask about professional networking opportunities!” Steve shouted.

Davy turned back to the television as a face appeared on the screen. Surprising in how it unsurprising it was, Davy saw the Grumblegator was literally an alligator. He was sitting behind a desk and wearing a suit, which was strange, but it was still an alligator. He was reading over a sheet of paper and hadn’t yet noticed Davy looking back at him.

“So Ms. Martyr, I take it that you were able to follow through and fulfill—”

He paused as he looked up and saw Davy, Steve, and Olivia. He sighed in irritation. “I suppose Mother Martyr did not in fact follow through,” he said in a disgruntled monotone.

“Uh, no, sorry,” Davy replied, unaware as to why he just apologized for helping save the city.

The Grumblegator rolled his eyes. He held down a button on the telephone in front of him.

“Ms. Pamola Cherry, could you please send a severance package to Mother Martyr?”

A woman’s voice came through the speaker of telephone. “Which one, sir?” it replied curtly.

“The bad one,” the Grumblegator answered, increasingly agitated. “The one we give to people who can’t do the simple job we asked them to do.”

There was a moment of silence. The voice cracked out over the speaker again. “Is that the one with or without the fruit basket?” Davy heard.

The Grumblegator took a deep breath and held down the button again. “I know what you’re doing, Ms. Pamola Cherry. And normally, I enjoy our little antagonistic back-and-forth banter, but I’m currently in the middle of my first face to face confrontation with who I assume is the Steward of the Endocrine, and I don’t want my menace to be undermined by the minute of a severance package.”

There was another moment of silence. Finally, the voice responded. “I’m going to send her the fruit basket.”

The Grumblegator put his green, scaly hand over his face and shook his head. He then looked up back at Davy.

“So I figure you know that I know that you’re the Steward. And I figure that you know that I was the one who gave Mother Martyr her hat and that weather machine.” He chuckled to himself. “I bet she called me the reptile from another world, didn’t she? Like, what was up with that? What was this lady’s problem?”

Davy just nodded along, unsure how to respond.

The Grumblegator put his arms on the desk and looked squarely forward.

“Look kid, here’s the short version of what’s going on. The major points. You now have two artifacts. Ancient Artifacts of Rebisome or whatever. I was never big into history. But those artifacts, they belong to me. There are other artifacts out there, and they also belong to me. What you need to do is stop trying to get the rest of these artifacts. You then need to also give me back my hat and my sack, and if—and only if—you do that, then there is a chance that I won’t track you down and kill you. You see, Grumble Industries Incorporated is coming to your world. We will take over and you and your possum friend and whoever those guys are behind you, none of you will be able to stop us. You need to get out of our way, or you’ll end up a dead tungsten statue, lost in a swamp like your weird circus man buddy. Do you understand?”

Davy was taken aback. Did they do something to Barnaby Willacre? Who was this alligator and where did they come from? An even bigger question caused Davy to speak without even realizing it.

“Tungsten?” he asked under his breath.

The Grumblegator sighed again. “I know, kid. Don’t even get me started on the tungsten.”

Olivia stepped in beside Davy. “I don’t know who you are, but anyone who tries to destroy my city is not a friend of any of us.”

Davy nodded as he regained some of his resolve. “Right,” he added. “We may not look like much now, but we will continue gathering these artifacts, and we will stop you from taking over the world,” he continued. He still felt that simply taking over the world was a fairly vague evil plan that was difficult to stand up to, but Davy wasn’t going to ask for clarification now.

The Grumblegator looked back down at the papers in front of him, unperturbed. “Very well,” he answered. “I look forward to meeting you again. You know, when I’m killing you. Any questions?”

Steve ran up next to the other side of Davy. “Yeah,” he exclaimed. “Would you like to add me as a contact on WorkLyfe, the latest hot online professional network?”

The Grumblegator looked back at Steve with an icy glare. “Goodbye,” he answered. He pressed a button and the screen went blank.

Davy scratched the back of his head. “Um,” he began. “So upside, we have two artifacts and saved Heaven’s Head. Downside, an alligator in a suit wants to kill me.”

Olivia held her hands in fists I front of her. “Downside? That’s not a downside,” she exclaimed. She put her hands on Davy’s shoulders and looked him directly in the face with a grin. “Dude, you have a nemesis!”

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34. Olivia

Steve didn’t have to look far to find the Night Retcher. He found her in a grassy patch of land in the direction Davy had indicated.

She called out to Steve as he approached. “Hey, Steve,” she grunted. “It’s Steve, right? Davy’s friend?”

“Yeah,” Steve answered. He saw that she was lying face up on the grass, her arms and legs extended in different directions. It didn’t look to Steve like she had moved at all since landing on the ground. Her face conveyed less pain and more major discomfort and she did not look at all happy to be experiencing it.

“As you can probably tell, I’m not exactly in the best mood right now,” the Night Retcher continued. “I was having such a great day too. And then some jerk-face, dime-store, Nostradamus wannabe turd-monster decides to throw all the magic lightning at me then throw me off a building. I mean, who does that!”

“Someone that I think we’ve all gotten sick of,” Steve replied.

The Night Retcher slowly lifted her right arm and held up her index finger. “One second, buddy. This is going to be unpleasant for everybody.” She held both of her arms straight up in the air in fists. Slowly, she forced herself to sit upright, making a single, protracted wheezing groan as she did so. She exhaled in relief once she was sitting up. “That’s so much better,” she grunted. “I don’t even have muscles on a one hundred percent consistent basis, and all of them are still so sore.” She looked at Steve and asked, ” So what did I miss?”

Steve scratched the back of his head, not sure he wanted to give the full rundown. “Uh, well,” he began. “So me and Vulcan Hephaestus, we shut down the weather device, but then Vulcan sacrificed himself to save me from the villains who were working for Mother Martyr and came back to kill us. Also, Mother Martyr said she was going to kill everyone in the city with her lightning powers, since we shut off the storm, so Davy’s up there trying to keep her busy until we can get help. I don’t think we have much time until Mother Martyr outright kills him, but I don’t know what to do next.”

The Night Retcher had managed to get to her feet while Steve was speaking and was now in the middle of some upper body stretches. “Thanks for the update, Steve,” she said. “But don’t worry about getting help. I’m taking this lady down myself.”

“But what about before?” Steve asked. “With the lightning?”

Steve saw a grin begin to form on the Night Retcher’s face. “Let’s just say she caught me off guard. Surprise lightning will do that to you. But I guess you could also say I was holding back. I wasn’t ready to tap into my full potential. But if someone is going to try and kill my friend, then–man oh man–I am going to go to maximum power so fast, you would think I was made out of sunlight itself.”

Steve looked down and noticed the Night Retcher was changing. Tendrils were coming out of her arms and legs and wrapping themselves around her.

“I used to think that I needed to keep myself in check. That I needed to make sure I didn’t do anything too weird that would keep me from fitting in. But I’ve learned tonight that there’s nothing wrong with being weird, as long as I’m being myself. If anyone has a problem with that, then that’s on them, not me.”

The Night Retcher looked at Steve with a wide, manic grin. Her head had grown, and Steve could see rows and rows of razor-sharp teeth inside. “I guess you haven’t really seen my powers in action yet,” Olivia told him, as Steve saw her mass begin to grow and additional eyeballs form on her face. “Well, Steve,” she continued. “You’re about to get one hell of an introduction to what the Night Retcher can do. And it is awesome.”




Davy knew what Mother Martyr was going to do next. He ran full force at her, but at the last second, just before Mother Martyr was able to reach out and grab him by the throat again, he jumped to the right and rolled past her. It hurt a lot, but was too happy that it actually worked to care.

“An A-rank level feint from Davy!” he shouted to himself. “And the crowd goes wild.”

“Stupid child,” Mother Martyr shouted she turned around. “There is no crowd here. There is only you and I.”

“I think you might be missing the point,” Davy chided. “So you said a reptile from another world have you this device,” he continued, pouting at the structure. Davy had a hunch that we wanted to follow up on since Steve said Mother Martyr knew about their quest. “Did he give you anything else?”

“How dare you speak of the reptile from another world!” Mother Martyr shouted back. You are not worthy!”

Davy took a step back. “Well, Um, you’re going to kill me anyway. Why not, don’t you think after all of your years of toiling, that at the very least you deserve some satisfaction in telling someone how clever and resourceful you were?” This false flattery felt sour coming out of Davy’s mouth. Not so much because of the lying or the sucking up, but just because he felt that it was so obvious what he was doing. He expected to get zapped any second now.

Surprisingly, Mother Martyr took the bait. “Very well,” she conceded. “The reptile from another world. Not only did he bestow this weather device to my care, but he also gave me this veil.” She gestured towards the black veil she was wearing. “It is the source of my newfound powers. An ancient garment from a world completely separate from our own. It is one of several powerful relics that must not fall into the hands of the Steward. For if the Steward is able to acquire all of the relics then he will be able to stop the righteous destruction of our world at the hands of the great reptile.”

Mother Martyr cackled to herself. “But this will not come to pass,” she continued. “I have met the Steward, and he is a meager welt. He will not take my veil, and his life shall be extinguished on this night. Right after I extinguish yours.”

Davy was a little dumbstruck. That was a lot more information than he was expecting. It was nice to learn more about what he was doing, though he wasn’t looking forward to having to deal with the reptile from another world. Davy then saw Mother Martyr raise her hands and point her palms at him. He remembered that he should probably figure out how to not die from electrocution before worrying about any reptiles.

Before he could react, Davy felt the roof shake beneath his feet. Mother Martyr apparently felt it too, as she lowered her hands and began to look around. A moment later Davy heard a low rumble as the roof quaked again. Suddenly, something swung over the side of the roof, landing behind Mother Martyr.

It was a tentacle.

Only, the tentacle was huge. It was at least fifteen feet long and as thick as street lamp. It was a pale gray color with hints of purple. The tentacle constricted as another one swung out from the side of the building onto the roof, this time between Davy and Mother Martyr. It was about the same size and color as the first one.

Mother Martyr looked at the tentacle in front of her in disgust, but mostly in fear. “What is this abomination!?” she exclaimed in confusion.

Davy looked in the direction where the tentacles came from. He smiled as he watched a gargantuan grey mass rise up from the side of the building. It looked more or less like a formless blob, grey flesh arranged into one shape with no sense of order. There were tendrils and tentacles of all different shapes and sizes erupting from the mass, some gripped to the side of the building, some writhing aimlessly I the air. Perhaps most notable were the scores of eyeballs and mouths covering the mass. Some of the mouths had teeth, some were open, making gurgling noises, and some were shut tight. Every eyeball, however, was focused straight on Mother Martyr. Davy grinned, knowing his friend was okay.

Davy watched a mouth visibly take form out of a previously featureless patch of flesh. It was far larger than any other mouth. “Foul beast of eyes and teeth, am I right?” the mass said in a voice that was still distinctly Olivia’s.

“It’s a pretty cool look,” Davy replied.

“I know right,” Olivia chirped back, all eyes on Davy. “But I kind of prefer just having the eyes. My depth perception is all kinds of messed up right now.”

Every single one of Olivia’s eyes looked back at Mother Martyr. “You’ve been a bad fake nun,” she said with every single one of her mouths.

Mother Martyr took a step back. “You heathen monster!” she shouted. “You’re supposed to be dead!” She raised her arms and shot lightning bolts at the mass in front of her.

Davy could see many of Olivia’s eyes wince in pain, but she held her from together. A tentacle rose up from the side of the building and wrapped itself around Mother Martyr, who began to shriek uncontrollably. Olivia lifted Mother Martyr off the roof and held her in front of the largest mouth. All the eyes looked at her.

“I think you’ve endangered my friends long enough,” the largest mouth stated.

Mother Martyr’s shrieks became mixed with sobs. “Why are you allowed to exist! You’ve completely ruined my destiny! Tonight was the night of my salvation!”

Olivia narrowed all over her eyes. “No,” she said. All of the eyeballs retracted from Olivia’s body except for the one closest to the largest mouth. “You know what tonight is?” She held Mother Martyr inches away from the remaining eyeball.

“Tonight’s the Night of the Night Retcher.”

Mother Martyr began to pound at the tentacle ensnaring her, as if she was throwing a tantrum.

“I have not forced myself to suffer for all of these years only to fail now!” she screamed.

All of Olivia’s mouths chuckled in unison. “Oh, I’m sorry. You think you’ve suffered?” they all said. The large mouth smiled and added, “Because that was all nothing compared to this.”

And with that, the tentacle flicked Mother Martyr directly into the large mouth. Davy saw a fear that he had never seen before in Mother Martyr’s face as she flew past rows and rows of jagged teeth into a black abyss.