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Mundementia One: The Book of the Matriculation
part 13
by J.(Channing)Wells


I'm sitting tonight in a bar on the Lower South Side of Hoderund, on a comfortable stool, watching the world go by. If I had a mind to do it, I probably _should_ be taking notes here with the hopes that someday all my experiences might be collected together into a sort of novel... but... who am I kidding. Wouldn't prolly be much of a market for it anyway, outside the wanked-out Science Fiction crowd. I wouldn't _Want_ to write a novel about this. It'd be too stupid. My life is just too darn stupid.


If my life were a _movie,_ and I were directing, it wouldn't be anything like this. If my life were a movie, it would open with a black screen fading to a city street wet from a recent rain. The camera angle would fall from an overhead shot to street level as your point of view moved up the street. Your focus would come to the door of the bar... it would open and as it moved, you would _NOT_ hear The Crystals singing "Da Doo Ron Ron" softly in the background .....

The place would be filled with smoke and the loud noises of people talking. The bar would be wood -- dark mahogany. The floors, littered with sawdust and crushed cigarettes. The urinals, clean, with fresh pink cakes resting pleasantly in the bottom. And the mustard... well, of course, that would be "Grey Poupon."

Anyway. Where was I?

Oh yes. The bartender would be a heavy-set middle-aged mug with a half-chewed stogie in his mouth and he'd be serving whiskey likker in shot glasses to hard muscled men and tough dames with--



I shake my head, rubbing my back from where Feeb has just slapped it in an overly-enthusiastic manner. "What?" I ask, jarred from my train of thought.

Feeb's eyes are wide. "NINE POINT SEVEN on the G.R.I.! Ye gods, I _knew_ this place was a virtual stockyard for Gratuitous Reference, but this is ridiculous!"

"FRINK!" Shouts Luke, getting caught up in the excitement of the moment and spitting pretzel crumbs all over me and Feeb and Feeb's clipboard.

Yeah, that's how I'd do it if it were a movie. But it's not. Reality is a little different. The bars that I am exposed to now, while indeed in cities and posessed of usual crowds and being on corners, are not named Joe's or Mike's or anything cool like that. Feeb tells me that this place is known far and wide in this city as a "specialty" bar. A place where people like me can sit and relax and have a few drinks and mull over the mysteries of life.

It's called the Emasculate Warthog Speakeasy.

And I've never been here before in my life.

I'm not sure I ever want to come back, either.

"Feeb." I say. "I'm not entirely certain why we're here."

"It's a bar, isn't it?" Feeb smiles and bobs her head quietly to the beat of "Da Doo Ron Ron" which plays quietly and incessantly in the background.

"Well. Yes." I say. Then I gesture around at the assembled patronage. "But... I mean... _LOOK_ at these people, Feeb!"

"yyyYes...?" She says.

I wet my lips and look casually over at Luke. He's still engrossed with the pretzel dish. Good. Quietly, I whisper to Feeb, "They're all... erm... Delta-somethings."

"Well, be fair, Charles. Not _all_ of them are."

"Good portion of them, though." I protest.

"That's really not the defining factor here, Charles. The point is, the Emasculate Warthog is _famous_ for MunOne tolerance. It's where you people congregate."

"'You People.'" I say.

"Sure. You MunOne's. We've been over this."

"So." I clarify. "All these people... just like me... were living perfectly normal--"

"--Mundane--" Interjects Feeb.

"--_PERFECTLY NORMAL_--" I restate, "--lives. When suddenly, one day, they woke up and found that, all this time, they had _really_ been huge, mutant animal-sorta things."

"Or whatever." Says Feeb.

"Right." I say. "So. What's with the music?"

"Oh." Says Feeb. "'De Do Run Run'?"

"Yes." I say, gritting my teeth against the insipid lyrics which even now still worm their way blithely into my brains.

"Simple. These people have a near-psychotic desire for times past, just like you. They wish to reclaim the Mundane days of their youth. That's why, inexplicably, even though there's been almost thirty years of musical progress between this day and the 1960's when these songs were _originally_ written, somehow, we don't hear any of it. Only songs from 1960 or before." She lowers her voice conspiratorially. "It's as though those years of music history _never existed_..."

I breathe slowly, to calm and steady myself. "Yes. Well. All well and good. But..."


"WHY in GOD'S NAME does it HAVE to be The Crystals singing 'Da Doo Ron Ron' over... and... over... again..." My voice falls into a dangerous growl.

Feeb spins her bar stool rather archly, if such a thing is possible, and blithely gestures at the speakers. "Actually, Charles, you're wrong."

"Ah." I say, patiently. "What, er, are we--"

"If you listen to it for a bit, you should be able to hear that the song in question is in fact _not_ 'Da Doo Ron Ron', but is instead a nicely copyright-free 'De Do Run Run.' Close inspection will reveal that, despite its maintaining the same catchy tune, all the lyrics have been replaced by similar words or differently spelled words with similar sounds."

I frown at her, and then prick my ears to the noise.

* * *
I mette himm onna Wednesday an mye hart stud stille
De do run run run de do run run.
Some fella tolde mi tha hys nayme wuz "Will"
De do run run run de do run run.
Yea, mye hart stud stille.
Yea, hys nayme wuz "Will".
An wen hi took mi howm,
De do run run run de do run run.
* * *

"By God, you're right." I say. "You have a theory, of course?"

"Two, in fact. The first," she holds up her index finger, "is that when you tucked around with that butterfly-mashing business back in the past, you screwed up all languages, everywhere, not just those within the confines of Capitol Centre." Feeb maintains her one-finger gesture while using her other hand to gesture up behind the bar. "However, based on the labels on the liquor bottles up there, I'd have to say it's not too likely."

"So, the second?"

Feeb holds up her ring finger. "Secondly..."

I stare at her. "How are you doing that?"

"What, holding up both my index and my ring fingers simultaneously without involving any other fingers?"

"Er... yes."

"It's complicated. Secondly, and this seems to be the far more likely scenario, our Uberauter is exerting some limited influence on the choice of music here tonight. Most likely, the musical selection was _intended_ to be 'Da Doo Ron Ron'. Problem there is that Hioshi doesn't have lyric reproduction rights for it." Feeb gets a curious expression on her face, and goes for her clipboard, so eager to make notes that her pen hits the board running. "Which means... he's too cheap to pay the licensing rights... and is probably writing about us for free distribution."

"So we've got an amateur on our hands."

"Precisely." She says, clicking her pen closed.

"Wonderful." I say, shielding my eyes from the raw potency of the tripe that surrounds me. "One question, Feeb..."


I grit my teeth and try and work through my inner pain. "If he went through all the trouble of changing the lyrics, why in the NAME of ALL THINGS SACRED AND SECULAR in HEAVEN or on EARTH did he keep... the same... bloody... tune..."

"Oh." Says Feeb. "I guess it's kinda catchy." She begins humming, then singing softly to herself, "'mmm Mmm mmm mmm mmm Mmm mmm an mye hart stud stille... De Do Run Run Run, De Do Run Run..."

I grit my teeth and attempt Zen meditation to close out the hatefully catchy lyrics. Because I _know_ if I let them enter my conscious mind... I'll be doomed...

And I'll be sitting awake in my bed at 4AM, with this damn song reverberating through my skull...

Finally, the barkeep comes over to the three of us, providing me with a welcome distraction. Buddy is not currently here, because he's off selecting his restroom. I questioned Feeb about this, against my better judgement, and she told me that every time Buddy is forced to use a public restroom he agonizes for fully ten minutes over which one he should be using. Funny. I never knew Buddy had gender issues before. Feeb said that he's always had this difficulty ever since he was created; she implied that it was partially due to his semi-cloacal genital structure. Go fig.

Anyway. The barkeep wanders up and raises an eyebrow as though to take our orders. He's a huge white Brahma Bull-Delta, complete with pronounced horns, hump and dewlap, but happily, I am able to ignore this fact. Multiculturalism has taken on a new depth in my life as it now stands.

"Killian's." I say.

"Milk." Says Feeb.

"Frink." Says Luke.

Courteously, the barkeep nods and goes off.

"That's Ferdinand. He runs the place."

"Quiet sort." I say.

"You'd be surprised." Says Feeb.

"Mm hm." I say. Then, glancing idly around the room, "Quite a cast of characters you got here."

"Oh, sure." Says Feeb. "All sorts. See the guy over at the piano?"

I nod, frowning at the odd-looking Delta seated before the old upright piano. "Ah... Yes?"

"One of the regulars. His name's D'okapi. Male D'okapi."

I frown at Feeb. "What was that name?"

"Male D'okapi."

"His first name is... 'Male'...?"

"Why yes." Says Feeb. "He's usually here, too, but unlike Ferdinand he _does_ have the ability to leave. Ol' Ferd's horns are just too big to allow him to get through the door, so he's just always here. He's got a closet in back that he sleeps in when nobody needs him."

"Oh." I say.

"And there's PeaceBear." She gestures, and my gaze follows to look upon a massive, bulky, ursine form dressed in tie-dyes and sporting a comical-looking pair of Lennon glasses which perch unevenly on his bear-like muzzle.

PeaceBear, moving calmly and relaxedly, raises one hand in a classic Hippie's 'V'. "Hunh." He says.

I blink at Feeb. "Retro." I say.

"Kind of." Says Feeb. "Actually, as a Deltabear, his metabolism is _so_ slow that it can actually distort the Space-Time Continuum. In a very real sense, Peace there has actually never physically _left_ the early 1970's.

"Oh." I say.

"Next to him is MimeWolf." She gestures at a scrawny-looking blondish Wolf-Delta, busily engaged in repeatedly placing his fuzz-covered hand/paws against unseen and imaginary barriers in the air around him. "Right now, he's pretending as though he's caught inside a box."

"Oh." I say.

The spectacle changes tenor somewhat, and MimeWolf's gropings become more frantic.

"Now, he's pretending as though he's caught inside a box with tigers in it."

"Invisible Tigers!" Cackles MimeWolf, eccentrically. "Tigers made out of Glass!" He cackles some more.

"I thought mimes were supposed to be quiet." I mutter to Feeb.

"You'd think so, wouldnt'ya. Thing is, nobody can get him to _shut up_..."

"Huh." I say.

"You stick around here long enough, you'll probably get treated to a brief visit from Lassie, too. He usually ends up showing up just about everywh--"

The door bursts open. A dapper, theatrical-looking Collie-Delta wearing an long and elegant cloak is revealed at the threshold. He smiles an easy, lupine grin, exposing lovely white teeth.

"Good Evening, Gentlefolks All! How fare the lot of you on this fine--"

Lassie never gets to finish his sentence.

In two shakes of a lamb's tail, a somewhat unbalanced- looking female Sheep-Delta appears at the door and leaps nigh-bodily upon the elegant figure. "LASSIE!" She shrieks.

"Yes, yes, dear girl... what is it?" He says, attempting to keep his garments straight and in good array.

"Oh, Lassie! It's _HORRIBLE_!" She begins shaking the canine back and forth rhythmically in her distress. "My sister Bessa just woke up this morning with a newly unraveled case of Mundanity, and she's just found out for the first time that she's actually a Rock Hyrax! SHE'S" *shake* "GONNA" *shake* "KILL" *shake* "HERSELF!!!"

Lassie composes himself, breathes deeply. "Yes. Well. Always happy to help out." He turns to the assembled bar patrons. "Sorry, lads. Back later tonight."

"COME ON!!!" Shrieks the Deltasheep. Lassie is dragged bodily back out the door, and it slams shut behind them.

Feeb calmly surveys the aftermath of the goings-on. "Lassie's an internationally-renowned star of stage and screen, a town alderman, the chairman of the local chapter of Lycanthropes Anonymous, a suicide-hotline responder, an EMT, a volunteer fire-fighter..."

"Busy guy." I say.

"Yup." Says Feeb.

Our musings are again interrupted by the arrival of the huge bovine barkeep. Carefully, he sets my beer and Feeb's milk before us, and then goes back to the prep area and returns with what appears to be a half-gallon brandy-snifter-shaped glass, filled to the brim with a frothy, nearly-iridescent fluid. A small parasol sticks out the top, and there's one of those little plastic fruit skewers there as well, loaded down with whole chunks of mango. No fewer than three twisty-straws in different shades of molded plastic complete the picture. "Frink!" Says Luke excitedly, bouncing up and down on his bar stool.

I look at the concoction. "Isn't that a bit much for the little guy?" I say to Feeb.

"You'd be surprised at how well Luke can hold his liquor." She says. "Besides, there's not all _that_ much hard alcohol in it. It's really quite diluted by all the mango juice and the Kool-Aid and the kahlua and such."

"That's another thing." I say, as Luke happily sticks all three of the twisty-straws in his mouth and begins sucking, his eyes following the loops of the rising liquid excitedly as he frinks quietly in the back of his throat. "This whole long entire day, Luke has said _nothing_ save the words 'Frink' and 'Wheeooo.' Yet you seem to be able to understand him with absolutely no trouble. What _is_ it that you're listening for that distinguishes one 'Frink' from another?"

Feeb frowns at me. "Eye movements." She says. "And some precision formant-frequency tuning."

I blink. "So. Through the use of eye movements and a little bit of frequency information, Luke there managed to convey to the bartender, using only the word 'Frink', that he wanted a half-gallon brandy snifter filled with some unknown hard liquor--"

"--Bourbon." Fills in Feeb.

"--Bourbon... mixed with mango juice, Kool-aid and Kahlua--"

"--On the rocks..." Adds Feeb.

"--On the rocks... topped with three twisty-straws, a fruit skewer and a parasol."

Feeb laughs. "Oh, nonononono. All _that_ would have required at _least_ a 'Frink, Wheeooo."


"Charles." She says, looking at me and smiling. "All the little dear had to _say_ was 'the usual'..."

I nod slowly to no-one in particular and start in on my beer. There are some days when the alcohol itself starts tasting really good...

Buddy returns, wiping his damp forepaws on the area that his pants would be if he were wearing them. As always, he gravitates to a faithful position slightly flanking Feeb.

Feeb sips daintily at her milk. It leaves her with a little white moustache.

And Luke has progressed onwards to, apparently, holding 'races' between the three different straws, seeing which one delivers the horrid concoction to his mouth the quickest. He's simultaneously whipping the little umbrella open and shut so quickly that it's making a noise like a tiny helicopter.

My friends.

My hero group.

My _team_.

We sit here in a moment of rest, of relaxation. Ashraak's curfew came up some time ago, and so we rest easy in the knowledge that none of his minions... at least the ones under his direct control... can now harm us. Eventually, we're going to need some sleep, and I _really_ don't know where we're going to accomplish that. Luke and I could go home to our dorm room, Feeb could return to her little one-room studio apartment... god knows what _that_ looks like nowadays... and Buddy could go with her...

That's how it used to work. It still could work that way.

But I find myself vaguely surprised in feeling that I don't _want_ it to. I _want_ us to be together. Sure, Feeb should probably get a separate room or something so she could do whatever strange and arcane things that women do to get ready for bed, but I at least want us to be in the same building.

There are practical reasons for it, I try and tell myself. Perfectly logical reasons. Safety, for one. There's safety in numbers. _That's_ the reason that I want my friends close tonight. It couldn't _possibly_ be that I'm latching on to them emotionally... coming to depend on what little modicum of stability that they can offer me in a world gone mad...

There are a _lot_ of possible reasons. Plenty of alternative explanations _other_ than the clearly ludicrous presumption that I am actually beginning to enjoy their company...

I nod quietly to myself and take another sip of my beer. Plenty of reasons.

Aw, hell. Who am I kidding.

They _are_ my friends, after all. And I find myself coming to believe that even though the trappings of their appearance are different, their souls must, essentially, be the same.

And in my own way, I _have_ sort of been treating them like dirt. So far today I've railed and ranted about how _they_ were the ones who were not respecting _me_ and _my_ rights. But how have _I_ been treating _them_?

Like delusions. Like figments of my imagination. Ghosts and spirits who Should Not Be Here and so should be dealt with and summarily ignored.

I sigh. Maybe I'm Angsting again.

But still, the point remains that there's no telling how many times over the course of the next week that our lives will end up being in each others' hands. And I'd best start appreciating that fact.

For example. It looks like Luke is having trouble eating the chunks of mango off his fruit skewer, as they keep on sliding off before he can actually get them to his mouth. It's obvious that the little plastic skewer is not the ideal tool for eating mango with. _Normally_, what I'd do in these situations is dismiss this as another peculiarity of his behavior and go back to sullenly drinking my beer.

But if I were to... try something different for a change... and try and be _nice_ to him...

By giving him, oh, perhaps, this little odd-looking bit of plastic flatware that I conveniently find lying on the bar beside me...

Yeah. Maybe that would be the _right_ thing to do.

Smiling beatifically to myself, I pick up the tiny plastic spoon-fork looking thing, saunter casually over to Luke, and hand it to him, with the intention of saying, "Here, Luke! Try _this_! It'll help you to eat your chunks of mango!"


I never get the chance.

A matter of three _very busy_ seconds later, I am standing dumbfoundedly in a puddle of exotic drink with a newly-forming welt on my forehead where a large, heavy glass has struck me and shattered after its contents were done being sloshed in my face. There are a series of overturned bar stools directly before me, and my ears are ringing and aching in the aftermath of panicked 90-dB frinking which had its source in the very, _very_ distraught Deltalemur who now hangs uncertainly from the ceiling light, gazing down at me with wide, copper-colored eyes.

Okay. Maybe that was the _wrong_ thing to do...

"Wha...?" I mutter indistinctly to myself, as, simultaneously, Feeb rushes up.

"Charles!" She says. "What the hell happened?"

I shake my head, still dumbstruck, and gesture up at the still-breathing-heavily Lemur hanging upside-down from the overhead lamp.

Feeb grabs my hand, which still nervelessly clutches the little bit of plastic cutlery. Her eyes go wide as well. Buddy wanders over, darkly, eyes scanning the corners of the room for danger. Patrons are slowly backing away from my position.

"...wha?" I say at last.

"A _Spork_..." Breathes Feeb.

"A what?" I say, looking at the bit of flatware.

"A Spork. An unholy fusion between Spoon and Fork." She looks up at me, nasty flames dancing in her eyes. "The most infernal of all plastic dinnerware." She says.

"Oooookay..." I say, looking at it. She's right, that's what it is... but it's hard to say from its innocent appearance exactly what the problem is...

"I don't get it. What's so scary about it?"

"Charles." Says Feeb. "There's nothing inherently frightening about the Spork itself. The _scary_ thing is the _implication_ of the Spork."

"And that is...?" I say, looking confusedly at the crowds of unnerved bar patrons around me.

"Charles." She says. "You're a _marked man_. This--" She seizes the troublesome bit of plastic. "--token means that you have somehow offended someone _very_ high up in the workings of the Hoderund power structure."

"Ashraak?" I say, confusedly, taking the Spork back.

"No." Says Feeb. "Not Ashraak. Someone _devious._ Someone who cares enough to send the _very best._"

"...wha...?" I say, understanding this less and less.

"The Brotherhood of the Fire Spork." Says Feeb. "The most skilled and deadly assassins known to man. All of 'em are top-of-the-line graduates of the Law School..."

"Lots of backstabbing in that department, huh."

"You wouldn't believe." Says Feeb. "And the Brotherhood is the best of the best. But they don't come cheap. Charles, _somehow_, over the course of today, you've managed to make a very powerful, very rich, and very dangerous enemy. God knows how and/or why... but that really doesn't matter right now. What matters... is this." She theatrically grabs the Spork back from me. "All targets marked by the Fire Sporks receive one of these tokens on the evening before their contract takes effect."

I nervously wet my dry lips. "So... ah... what... ah... does this mean?"

"It means," Says Feeb. "That you have until noon tomorrow."

There is a pause.

"So." She says, brightly. "No need to worry about it yet." She wanders back over to her stool and resumes sipping her milk. Slowly, the patrons return to their individual discussions and the music comes back on. Unsurprisingly, it's The Crystals singing... er... "De Do Run Run."

"But wait!" I continue, looking at the wide-eyed Lemur above us. "There's scared and then there's _Scared_, Feeb. I don't know if you're aware of this, but Lemurboy there just dumped his drink all over me, beaned me with his glass, jumped on my shoulder, screamed into my ear, and proceeded to leap bodily to the ceiling light. This is _not_ the behavior typically displayed by a person possessing relatively mild unease."

"Ah." Says Feeb, calmly taking a swig of milk, her eyes distant. "Luke has... a... shall we say... a very personal set of feelings about the Brotherhood of the Fire Spork."

I frown, glance up at Luke again, and then back at Feeb. "Tell me." I say.

Feeb sighs. "You couldn't have known this, of course." She pauses and collects her thoughts, then speaks. "Luke's father was... ah." She nods. "Luke's father was killed by the Brotherhood. By one of their foremost assassins. A... man... by the name of Ominous Darkfellow."

"Ominous, Dark Fellow?"

"Yes." Says Feeb. "Jake de la Deltalemur was a good man, Charles. I... knew him personally. He used to coach the Summer Junior-League Tee-Ball camp that I attended as a child. Later, he was also my High School guidance counselor. But he was more than that, Charles. He was a very close, personal friend."

I bite my lip with quiet concern and glance once again at Luke. He seems to be calming down a little bit. "What happened?"

"Same as you, I suspect." Says Feeb. "Pissed off someone in the higher echelons. They took out a contract on him. Killed him right out." Feeb sighs, as though the story is hard in the telling for her. "Luke was very young at the time. He was sent off to live with his paternal uncle, a humble rock-candy maker in Nairobi. When he became old enough, he applied for admission at L.U.D.D.D.Amber and moved back here to the states to get his Bachelor's. I'm afraid he has no conscious memory of the events in question. But as you can see, he's certainly very, Very frightened by the Brotherhood."

I sigh inwardly to myself. Try to do something simple and nice for someone in this world, and everything goes all to pieces. What's more, it goes to pieces for four or five whacked-out reasons that you couldn't possibly, not in your whole life, have foreseen.

"Look." I say. "I think half the problem here is that he's just plain hyper-stimulated and overtired. Hell, _I'm_ hyper-stimulated and overtired. Why don't we just call it a night...?"

Feeb nods. "It'd probably be good for the both of you. It's been a big day. Buddy and I are gonna hang out for a while longer, but we'll join you soon enough."

"Where we staying tonight?"

Feeb ponders. "There's a hotel right next door called 'The Traumatically Nerve-Deafened Capybara Flophouse.' It's cheap and fairly clean and you can check out board games from the front desk. Luke would probably like that."

"Fine." I say to Feeb. "Luke?"

"...frink...?" Says Luke, timidly.

"It's okay, Luke. Noone's gonna die until at least noon tomorrow. Why don'tcha come down from there, huh. We'll get you all set up for bed. You can take your mango along."

I carefully pick the skewer, still supporting one or two bits of fruit, out of the sticky mess on the bar. The skewer is a fairly good-quality one, albeit perfectly normal, cast artfully in the shape of a small plastic sword.

"Frink." Says Luke, quietly, sniffing away a tiny little teardrop. He clambers down and gathers up his holdall.

"So." I say to Feeb. "We'll just be going, then."

"Yup." Says Feeb.

The Crystals' rendition of "De Do Run Run" comes to an end, and another song comes on. Sure, enough...

"Oh! Buddy!" Says Feeb. "It's 'De Do Run Run'!"

Buddy nods pleasantly.

"Remember that time at that little cafe on the French Riviera!" Says Feeb, smiling more broadly.

"Rawr." Says Buddy, smiling and grinning.

"That WAITER!" She exclaims, reveling in a happy memory.

"Rawr!" Says Buddy.

"Oh, Buddy!" She exclaims throwing her arms around his saurian neck. "I am exceedingly happy! Let's _Dance!_"

"So!" I say, a bit more loudly. "The _TWO_ of us will just be _GOING_, then, okay?"

"Sure!" Says Feeb, breezily, skipping lightly over to the dance-floor area. She is already in full Jitterbug with Buddy by the time she gets there.

"We'll just be... going, then..." I say, quietly and somewhat helplessly.

There is no response from Feeb. She's already out of earshot, well on her way to dancing the night away with good ol' Bud.

"...De do run run run, De do run run..."

I shake my head and look away.

There is a small tug at the leg of my pants. "Frink?" Says Luke, looking anxiously towards the door and pulling me gently in that self-same direction.

"Yeah. Okay, kiddo." With one last backwards glance, I gather up my own bag, gather my windbreaker around me and step out into the achingly clear October night.

* * *

Four A.M.

/Hee took me out a' sevven an hee lukd sow fyne De do run run run de do run run./

Damn it... make it stop... make it stop...

/Sumday soone I'm gunna mayke hym myne De do run run run de do run run./

...please... for the love of god... make it stop...

/Yea, hee lukd sow fyne./

...yes... you _said_ that...

/Yea, I'm gunna mayke hym myne./

"...and... when... took... home..." I murmur quietly to myself...

/An, wen hi took mi howm,/

And me and the hellish voices in my head come into uneven chorus on the final line...

(/De do run run run) "De DO RUN frogging RUN,
(de do run run...) DE DO RUN RUN..."

/Yea, Yea, Yea. Yea, Yea, Yea, Yea, Yea.../

And then... it starts again...

/I mette himm onna Wednesday an mye hart stood--/

I let out a small, strangled mrph.

"Luke?" I say, quietly.

"Frink?" Comes the small voice from the next bed.

"Luke, I can't sleep."

"Frink." Says Luke, and I know that he's having the same problem. Perhaps for different reasons, I figure... I'd bet he's still worked up from his scare earlier... but no matter. Tonight we are brothers in insomnia.

I sigh. "What are we gonna do?"

Luke clambers out of bed, still clutching a cute little stuffed teddy-lemur which he cuddled himself to bed with. Sleepily, he leems over to the little hotel table, long flannel night-shirt and night-cap brushing the floor behind him, and promptly lifts one of the oblong boxes.

"Frink?" He asks.

"No, no, no, no. No more 'Risk' tonight, Luke. You've done enough damage to my ego for several months, I think."

"Frink." Says Luke.

"I _still_ don't know how you pulled off that defense of Madagascar. I mean, it shouldn't be _possible_ for a guy to roll that many sixes..."

"Frink!" Says Luke, proudly.

"Well, whatever it was." I say, idly.

Luke begins thinking again. He holds up another one of the board games. "Frink?" He asks.

"No." I say, a bit more firmly. "I _still_ say you're not supposed to stack your destroyer on top of the aircraft carrier."


"Well, I _know_ the rules don't say anything about it. It just goes against the principle of the thing."

"Frink." Says Luke, touching another box, the one that contains the 'Twister' sheet.

I sigh. "Luke, let's just forget it."

"Frink." Says Luke, sympathetically.

I lie uncomfortably in my bed for a few more moments before spasmodically leaping out of it and stalking over to the window and throwing open the curtains.

The nearly-full moon shines down from the sky. Oh, yeah. That's _another_ thing I have to worry about that I had almost forgotten about in the shuffle. Feeb claims that I'm a werecreature now. Wunnerful. And, well in accordance with the rules of dramatic catastrophe, it is readily apparent that good ol' Luna will go into full-mode sometime this week. Great.

Of course, I'm not _only_ a werecreature now. I'm also targeted for death by not one, but _two_ extremely powerful and inscrutable foes.

I've been ripped up by beetles and have subsequently been re-constructed from my own tissue scraps. I've been shot at, assaulted by a rampaging T-Rex with a dicky heart condition, and nearly barbecued over an open fire. I've visited the biggest mall in the western hemisphere and have permanently altered the spelling of modern-day English, at least within the confines of the Mall. And, through the gracious ministrations of my friend Feeb, I've learned about more things about which I didn't really even care than I had ever thought was possible. I've killed-- or at least incapacitated-- a man using an adult male sheep, and I've entertained the horrible thought of a Utahraptor with gender confusion. A porcupine has fallen in love with me. Or with my needlegun.

Luke pats me on the back again, then tugs on the sleeve of my sweatshirt.

"What." I say, looking at him.

Luke fixes his gaze on me.

Quietly, he says, "Cheep."

I nod to him.

A porcupine has fallen in love with me, or with my needlegun, and I've just heard the rare Third Vocalization of the Ring-Tailed Deltalemur.

It's been a hell of a day. Or whatever.

I sigh, nod once more to Luke, and then wander back over to the bed.

On the nightstand is Hioshi's Principal Indicator. The light is glowing a steady, quiet, red.

Suddenly, its presence is somehow, strangely, calming.

I'd best get to sleep. It looks like it's going to be another big day tomorrow.

Resolutely, I climb under the covers, and I am gratified to see Luke doing the same.

Of course... it hasn't been _all_ bad. Reggie's watching out for me topside. Hopefully, he's looking out for me in his own way.

And... I've learned...

That Buddy _isn't_ Feeb's boyfriend after all...

I put my hands behind my head and rest myself upon them. Hey, yeah...

Of course, they're starting to _act_ real chummy again... just like they _used_ to during my years as a Mundane...

But maybe, just maybe... if I act soon...

There'd be a chance that...

Hey. Yeah.

I guess it hasn't been _all_ bad.

I manage a small, faint smile and turn over on my side, finally ready to get the night's sleep that I _know_ I'm going to need for tomorrow.

Then, quietly, almost inaudibly in fact, I begin to sing along... accepting of my fate and making the words my own...

" do run run run, de do run run..."

And the music in my head begins again, and sets itself up to play all the way through the long, quiet night.

Smiling faintly, I glance at Hioshi's Indicator.

"Good night." I say.

There is a pause.

"Well?" I say.

There is another pause.

And then, with a noise as soft as the blowing aside of a dandelion seed, the light flickers ou--

* * *


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