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Mundementia One Interludes: Black Friday
In the back room of the restaurant, things were not going well for Buddy the Dinosaur. In retrospect, he probably really shouldn't have taken the spare tranquilizing agent, especially in a crisis situation. But Buddy was a Construct-Raptor of the modern, liberated variety, a cosmopolitan, large-living playboy of the Western World, fully at ease with his relatively cushy role in life and tentatively so with his potentially bisexual status. And most of all, Buddy was a hedonist. None of this stagger-around-slavering-upon-the-whims-of-Master for him, no sirree. It didn't hurt that the Mad Scientist who had created him, Miss Dimmesdale, the one currently facing down Hell-risen steers in the other room, had a similarly modern view towards construct servants. She didn't seem to mind the frilly lace getups that he would occasionally show up for work in, stipulating only that they not have enough loose dangly bits and ribbons that he might risk getting them caught in the Huge, Pointlessly Rotating Gears. Buddy never went near the gears in the first place; they always seemed to him rather opportune places for young upstart heroes to engage either him or the mistress in battle. Feeb had insisted on their presence, however, on the grounds that if she ever needed to tie someone up to something that would most surely crush them in a matter of minutes, you couldn't do much better than Huge, Pointlessly Rotating Gears.
Anyway, all the other scientifically-created amanuensi that Buddy chatted with on-line (on the rare occasions that the Lab computers were free from Feeb's obsessive calculations or Luke's seventy-eight hour marathon Quake II Deathmatches) seemed to be okay with Buddy's "Liberated Construct" philosophies on life. Oh, there were some purists from the old school, the hunchback garde, who shook their misshapen heads in wonder and bemusement at how loose the profession had gotten of late, but Buddy felt wonderfully chic, and beautiful, and in touch with his feminine side to boot, and whenever questioned about it, he would politely tell all the potential nay-sayers exactly what he felt in carefully matter-of-fact terms, not impolite, but firm, eloquently expressing his right to be the fresh, free and fabulous zombie servitor that he had always dreamed of being.
In fact, he said "Rawr." But it amounted to pretty much the same sort of thing.
It was, perhaps, this sort of fast and loose attitude towards life that got him in trouble here. He hadn't really _meant_ to incapacitate himself, after all; Buddy's hedonism typically stopped at his fashion sense. Occasionally, however, Buddy would treat himself to a little bit of animal tranquilizer in much the same way that a being of more typical physiognomy might enjoy a quick smoke once or twice a week. When time came to put Luke temporarily under to work around the possibility that he would go gaga and start trying to bite the ears off their captors in an admittedly dicey hostage situation, Feeb had instructed him to do the dirty work, mainly because Buddy was already the one holding onto the little grey tornado of wild-eyed prosimian fury. He accepted the preparation from Feeb with relatively good grace and administered it to Luke with the typical "pssht" noise made by all hyposprays so that you can tell that they've worked. In fact, at the current level of technology, hyposprays were perfectly capable of functioning completely soundlessly. Unfortunately, marketing got such bad advance word on them that they went back to making ones that made the "pssht" noise, sometimes going so far as to hook up a cheap little sound-effect generator to the activation button.
So, a potential problem was defused in the bud. Unfortunately for Buddy, Feeb had included a separate dosage just in case the little bugger wiggled so much that the first one missed. Since Buddy had done it so well, though, there was still that last dose. And he _was_ feeling a little tense. He wouldn't be any good for _anyone_ while tense. Buddy was big on relaxation.
And since something that would safely knock out an itsy little Deltalemur couldn't _possibly_ be more than a little relaxing to a creature of his size and bulk... well. Shame to let it go to waste, really.
What he hadn't counted on, of course, was that Luke's nervous system was working way above redline, and Feeb knew this fact full well. In sight of his ancient ancestral enemies, the bovines, _especially_ Heck-Spawned Undead ones, you could hit Luke's system with fifteen cc's of Thorazine and the entirety of John Tesh's "Live at Red Rocks" without making a dent in him. Feeb had, alas, planned accordingly.
Buddy felt decidedly non-fabulous right now. The steer named 'Bob' (the one _most_ in need of a good makeover, in Buddy's opinion) had ushered him, keeling and stumbling, into this secluded employee break room, Luke's comatose form in his clawed forelimbs. Bob seemed to have some problems comprehending the whole hostage situation thing, and he had left the windowless room unlocked and completely unguarded, which would have made a difference if (a) there were any way out but back through the kitchen, (b) there were any way for one dinosaur, even a sharptooth like him, to fight three unholy bovines, or (c) there were any way for him to get the damn room to quit spinning.
Buddy was not typically as slow as most people thought he was. Even in his drugged stupor, he was working out times in his mind, trying to estimate his speed of recovery from the tranquilizing chemicals. He knew that, were he to charge out of the room too early, he'd still be too woozy to be of any help to his Mistress Dimmesdale or Master Glass, but if he waited too long, there might not be a Mistress Dimmesdale or a Master Glass left to help.
He was also worried about Luke, who was finally stirring restively over on the far bench.
"Rawr." He called out to Luke, pensively.
"...frink...?" Said Luke, as from a great distance.
"Rawr rawr rawr. Rawr rawr rawr rawr."
"...cheep." Cursed Luke.
"Rawr." Said Buddy sympathetically, nodding.
"...f...f..f..FRINK!" Said Luke, enthusiastically trying to rise from the bench. "WHEEOOO!" In a twinkling, his drug-wearied limbs came out from under him. Buddy rushed over, shaking his head.
"Rawr!" He said, gently. "Rawr rawr."
Luke sniffled. "...frink..." He said eventually, tears welling up in his copper-colored eyes.
"Rawr." Said Buddy, compassionately, and Luke fell promptly against him in a comforting hug. "Rawr." He said, with quiet resolve even as the little Deltalemur buried his face in Buddy's patchy and unevenly-stitched hide.
Buddy's upper lip began to stiffen.
With a mighty heave, he lifted the limp and helpless form of Luke into his arms again, and turned bravely towards the door. This one-eighty degree spin almost threatened to do him in right then and there, as he staggered and almost fell, the walls and floor dancing in particularly intriguing pinwheels.
"Frink!" Said Luke, desperately.
"Rawr." Intoned Buddy, with a growing determination, gathering his balance about him and sinking his massive foot-claws into the tiles of the break room floor as if to prevent it from escaping. One step became two, then three. Step by aching, agonized step, the two beings made their way across the nearly impenetrable barrier that was the four yards of open space between them and the door.
After an eternity of travel, this wasteland was crossed. The door presented yet another challenge; never mind about locks, the handle was challenge enough. One failure here, and Buddy might overcompensate and go tumbling to the floor, from which chances of rising a second time were dubious. A slip here, a nudge there... suddenly, the room gave a particularly violent lurch and Buddy lost his grip on Luke for a moment. Only Luke's prosimian clutch reflexes, kicking in at the last possible instant, saved him from an irrevocable fall.
"Rawr." Said Buddy, grimly.
"...frink." Said Luke.
Buddy nodded to him, resettled him in his arms, and gingerly pulled open the door into the pandemonial kitchen, J. Faust, architect. Sensing that three of their number had somehow slipped the bonds of Tartarus, the spirits within the great black Cooker seemed to have been driven into a frenzy. The warding runes without, penned in horridly fragile-seeming red inks, sizzled with wrathful pyrotechnics, and great clouds and gusts of billowing flame surrounded the monstrous machine like some diabolical halo. Sandwich-grade produce, lettuce and tomatoes and onions, charred and flared up into ash in the blaze. It was into this infernal place that Buddy staggered, bearing Luke above the flames in the manner of Christopher.
With a rending scream, a bolt of spectral energy discharged from the mouth of the Cooker, shattering a large cabinet-like ice machine into flinders and causing its frigid contents to spew themselves onto the floor, where they sizzled and boiled in the lingering hellfires. Buddy let out a long, drawn-out "Rawr" and continued his desperate quest for forward motion, his path complicated by the slick ice, feet nearly skidding out from under his center of gravity more times than Buddy cared to count at that moment.
Suddenly, there was a shriek, and as Buddy's horrified eyes looked on, one of the runic sigils on the Cooker flared a bright orange and then died into dull charcoal. Through the tiny chink in the arcane web came a willowy, bone-like spectre, howling in the manner that only spectres who've had a good long time to practice being damned can put out. Luke hanging onto his chest for dear life, Buddy seized the horribly toothy creature in one hunting claw and shoved him back into the aperture, while at the same time reaching with the other claw to a nearby stack of scalded tomatoes. Fruit selected, Buddy crushed it to jelly in his grasp, and working delicately with his long claws, he refounded the sigil in tomato pulp. It wouldn't last, he _knew_ it wouldn't last--already, the jerry-rigged sigil and the three or four surrounding it were beginning to crackle under the spectral onslaught--but perhaps it would last long enough for the menace to be taken care of once and for all.
Staggering wildly through cinders and ice, Buddy reached the lip of the kitchen just as a tremendous fireball roared from the cooker, singing Luke's fur and blasting him forward with its accompanying heat wave. Skidding with wild imbalance, Buddy made a desperate leap onto and over the ordering counter, ducking for cover behind its mass even as more broad fans of fire spewed forth from the kitchen door. Buddy and Luke huddled close as the fires roared overhead for another endless moment.
As suddenly as it had started, it ended. The backdraft from the fire sucked the door violently closed, and all was cold and black ash again. Buddy knew, however, that it was simply a matter of time before the infernal beast let out its breath again, and the next time, there might be no containing it.
He had to help Mistress Dimmesdale. She could do something about this horrible situation. The image of his creator strong in his mind, Buddy stalked forward into the dining room.
* * *
The sight which greeted him made him, briefly, wonder as to whether or not there might have been something a bit more exotic than tranquilizing agents in the drugs Feeb had given him. However, the crowd of frantically lowing restaurant-goers, mooing away as though their very souls depended upon it, did not in fact throw Buddy for very long at all; for when he caught a glimpse of his Mistress amongst them, he felt certain that this was all part and parcel of some brilliant scheme of hers for extricating them all from this mess. Indeed, the large black steer seemed so distracted by these goings-on that he did not even remark upon Buddy's arrival. His mood, however, still vacillated wildly, and it was clearly unwise to remove him from the equation just yet. Even as Buddy looked on, the black one whipped his gaze around to face one hapless, bespectacled patron. Seething, the black steer approached him.
"We," said the black steer, in a horribly dangerous tone, "are on STANZA ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY FOUR! AGAIN!"
"Moo?" Hazarded the single voice.
"NO! DESPOILER! THAT WAS STANZA _SEVENTY-NINE!_ AGAIN!"
"AARGH! I SHALL FLAY THE SKIN FROM YOUR WORTHLESS CORPSE AND PEN UPON IT A LIST OF GRIEVANCES MADE BY YOU AGAINST MY SENSIBILITIES, you INSIGNIFICANT NONESUCH! YOU'VE NOT CAPTURED THE SUBTLETY OF IT AT ALL! AGAIN!"
"The runes are nearly unmade, _balebos_." Wheezed the brown one with the smart-looking little cap at the door. "One more incantation, and we will be free."
The black steer looked disoriented for a moment. He turned towards the dread portals and his Yarmulke-clad lieutenant. "But... but we aren't ready yet! We haven't even _started_ on the two-hundred block, and they hardly even have the first fifty committed to memory!"
"GORN TRIMMINGS!" Frothed the white one, turning on Big Black. "SPEAKA'AM TROUT!"
"It pains me to say so, Lord and Master, but Bob has the right of things. These actions do not show good _seykhl_." He sneers disdainfully at us. "Leave these _paskudnyak_ to their fate here. We must say the final rune and be gone!"
"NO!" Demanded the black one. "Seditious creature, you _DARE_ question the mighty ANGUS?"
"PASTIES WIT' ONIONS!" Shrieked the white one, suddenly lunging at the black one with his teeth. In a flash, the one known as 'Angus' whipped about, bringing the spectral steel of the bolt around in a black-shining arc, terminating in a solid smack across the white one's neck. In a brilliant follow-through, Angus subsequently disengaged and lowered the captive bolt into a fencer's stance, warding off the enraged 'Bob'.
"FOOLS! Cease this _balagan!_ The world awaits us!"
"HE STARTED IT!" Screamed Angus.
"It doesn't matter who started it." Came a heroic voice from the direction of the restrooms. With no fanfare other than a faint cloud of ancient stench to precede him, a figure stepped into the light of the dining room, caked brown-black with filth so as to be nearly unrecognizable as Charles Madison Glass.
"It doesn't matter who started it." Repeated Charles, clearly savoring the line. "Because I'm going to end it."
"You?" Sneered Angus, gasping for breath. "Who are _you_ to challenge _me?_"
"Nobody, really." Shrugged the sludge-covered Charles. "However, I'd just _love_ for you to ask my friend here the same question." Charles turned one head over his shoulder and called backwards. "HEY IRVING! LOOK AT MY BLOODY AMUSING ANTICS HERE!"
A savagely friendly voice came from the darkness behind Charles.
"IT's Ulmawst as thaw 'E's _LEADING_ us somewhere! Let's foolaw! C'mon!"
"Oh no..." Breathed the one at the door.
"What?" Said Angus, inspecting Charles's smug expression with growing unease. "What is it?"
"It can't be..."
"WHAT?" Demanded Angus.
Irving the Crocodile stepped into the light, his face a mask of horrible glee. A tiny camera-wielding rodent promptly took up a position of serious loaf right behind.
"Cor!" Said the crocodile to his companion. "LOOKIT HERE! THREE, Count 'em, _THREE_ *WUNDERFUL* specimens of _Bos Taurus Infernalis_, or 'Cows from Hell!'"
"Not... 'cows...'" Said the door-standing one, helplessly.
"DESPOITE MOY _JOY_ AT SEEING THESE CRAYTURES HERE, we must REMEMBER, of course, that THESE SPUNKY LI'L FELLOWS don' COME from 'ere ORIGINALLY! BOY all roights, these BAYSTS WOULD _CERTAINLY_ be more _CUMFORTABLE_ Back in HELL where thoy BELONG!"
"Oh, no." Said Angus, calmly.
"Shit." Said Bob.
Irving's eyes blazed with mad cheer, as he trembled in almost orgasmic glee. It was a long moment before he could speak, but when his voice came, it was not unlike the sound of the trumpets of the Rapture.
"_OI THINK WE SHOULD PUT THEM--_"
And at that very moment, in a burst of screaming noise and fire, the entire wall dividing the dining room from the kitchen exploded into fragments, backlighting Irving with the very fires of Perdition itself.
"--_*BACK IN THE WOYLD!!!*_"
* * *
"Well." I say. "That's done with."
"Yep." Says Feeb, mopping delicately at her soot-strewn face with a few miraculously-intact paper napkins as she sits in the rubble of the nearly-demolished dining room.
"Of course, all the food we paid for is gone." I note.
"Frink." Says Luke, disappointedly.
"Rawr." Adds Buddy.
"And this whole place has been trashed." I continue.
"Yep." Says Feeb.
"And we're all covered with soot and ichor and shit from the final catastrophic explosion of the cooker." I note, with more than my usual degree of exposition.
"Mm hm." Says Feeb. "I think Irving destroyed it shoving those three bodily back into Tartarus." She idly toys with a puddle of ash, her face pensive. "Do you think he'll get along well in the Netherworld, Charles?"
"Who, Irving?" I wave my hand. "Oh, he'll escape soon enough. And in the meantime, he'll be having the time of his life. Cataloguing all the fiends and stuff."
"Guess you're right." Says Feeb, shrugging.
"It's not him I'm worried about." I sigh, deeply, and turn to her. "Feeb, what kind of a Thanksgiving celebration is this, anyway?"
"It's not Thanksgiving." Says Feeb. "'Member?"
"It's the day after. We're still in the proximal zone. My point still stands here, Feeb. I had expected to spend a nice, if frantic, day downtown doing the Christmas shopping for your mom. Instead, what happens? We stop for lunch and end up having to fight off the demons of Hell, summoned via some unsafe food preparation techniques, and now, look at us! We look like shit, I _smell_ like shit, and we didn't even get our meals!"
"Frink." Says Luke, looking downcast again.
"Well." Says Feeb, straightening herself in the wreckage. "We won, didn't we?"
"Well, yes." I admit.
"And we've got a nicely drawn map to Small Household Appliance Hut, where they're just _bound_ to have a coffeemaker for my mom."
"True." I say.
"And the Sycamore Foundation will be receiving a hefty check from Mister Pywacket himself for damages incurred. They're even talking about discontinuing the Hell-cooking process in Burger Hell restaurants around the country! Making dining safer for everyone in America! Charles, what more could you ask to be thankful for?"
"I'd kinda like some lunch." I say.
"Frink." Agrees Luke.
Just then, the Burger Youth emerges from the desolate ruin of the Back Room area, hauling a packing-box. "Hey, guys!" He says, cheerfully. "I checked up on the food, and, well, just like we thought, most of the back stores are either destroyed, missing, or contaminated." He grins, pleasantly, and indicates the case. "But I _did_ find this big box full of ginger cookies and small cheesy crackers, and they look just fine!" He opens the case and shows them off. "Individually wrapped, see?"
"Great!" Says Feeb, happily. "See, Charles? Lunch!"
"Mmrph." I say, noncommittally.
"Charles." She says, putting her hands on her hips. "Now you're just being a sourpuss. After all, Thanksgiving isn't just about eating a lot of food, and it's not just about saving the world from demon cattle. It's about friendship, and companionship, and the knowledge that, no matter what, we'll always be by each others' sides, right there to cover each other's asses. It's about being with ones you love, and ones you want to love more! It's about poor drugged-out old Buddy hauling the nearly-comatose Luke all the way through the burning kitchen in horribly theatrical past-tense narrative _just_ so he could be there to provide a P.O.V. for your entrance with Irving. Now, _That's_ friendship. And _That_'s what Thanksgiving is all about!"
"Amen!" Says the Burger Youth, bursting into spontaneous applause.
"Rawr!" Says Buddy, hugging Luke chummily.
"Hey." I say, at last, fingering the plastic crinkle-wrap on the cheesy crackers. "You're right. C'mon, over, guys. Let's make this a Black Friday to remember. Burger guy, you're welcome to join us, seeing as you're the one who brought the food and all."
"Hey, Great!" Says the Burger Youth. "Count me in!"
And as the five of us, four old friends and one new one, dive into the meager, but still strangely satisfying, fare, I can envision the cameras of the Uberauters lifting up and back, giving at the last a beautiful bird's eye view of the ruined restaurant now inhabited by none save our five souls. Everything else is as it was before, every square inch of the downtown filled with the teeming faceless masses of grouchy Holiday shoppers, thick as flies on the rotting carcass of the True Holiday Spirit. But even as all the rest of the population of Hoderund seethes madly around our little plot of wreckage, each man, woman and child intent upon his or her own little dreams and holiday aspirations and whatnot, our little space remains perfectly, wonderfully clear.
And it stays clear all the way through to the dark.