He emerged from the 1898 room, unable to speak.
Tessa (Brown) was waiting for him.
“Where shall we split to now?”
“Brrrr. Cold down at the beach. I think I’ll stay right here in front of this fire for a while, brother of mine.”
Kick-Ass Boos, unlike his brother, didn’t have cold feet, although they were bare. He’d given up his shoes just a minute before. He didn’t want to reveal too much too soon. Instead: “Well… what do you think about this town, village, community, whatever? This…” Kick-Ass Boos couldn’t remember the name all of a sudden, like it had been yanked from his memory by a falsity of time.
Kick-Ass Bogota kept warming his hands while chatting about the subject. “It’s okay, I guess. I like the swimming pool. I like the blues bar here. Something to do at night! And the game room, of course. We’ll head up there next — check it out.”
“The mountains and that pretty lake too.” ALERT
“Yes, that too,” the brother agreed. He drew back from the fire, toasty for the moment. “Whatever, we *can’t* go back to Black Ice. Evicted.”
“Yeah. Plus Elberta is gone from town too. What’s the point of staying on.”
Thinking about their old, common girlfriend, Kick-Ass Bogota glanced away from the fire at his brother, traditional rivalries stoked along with attached suspicions. He recalled a different name. “Who exactly recommended this place to you again?”
“Oh just a friend,” Kick-Ass Boos quickly answered, not wanting an awkward gap. “He likes the blues; he knew this place.”
“A blues friend,” Kick-Ass Bogota said, returning his hands toward the fire.
Good one, thought Kick-Ass Boos. Very close, except it was only one blues. Blue, then. And the friend was… *Darn*. Can’t remember again.
Tickie walked through the door. “*There* you are.”
Kick-Ass Bogota swung around. Gig is up, Kick-Ass Boos realized.
“How’d you get down here so fast? And what is that blue costume you’re wearing?”
“You’re… the *blues* friend,” Kick-Ass Bogota guessed correctly. Or blue *friends*, he thought while looking from one to the other, still not seeing his brother’s true face because of the bag.
15 minutes later, the Undertaker stood in the flower garden on the side of the house, taking pictures.
“Back to the old give and go, huh?”
MAT didn’t understand this comment, but he kept his mouth shut. He assumed a “this might be bull” position, which Marsha Slot (aka Olive Oylstick), the TILE channeler/tarot reader, picked up on, like a town.
“No bull,” she said. “Instead… COW,” she realized, staring deeper into the smokey sphere between her hands. “You missed something.” She stared forward now with everpresent scowl. Yet she was not a cruel person. The expression was a built in feature. She planned to change it one day. When she got the money. One 50 linden reading at a time.
“Cow?” MAT immediately thought of Cow Hill which he was tempted to visit yesterday but didn’t have the time. He didn’t *make* the time. He didn’t know what he’d find there but he did have the urge. While he was in the area again — just a hop and a skip up from Tiger’s place.
“I’m seeing a protrusion. A… fifth. A cow full of air which blows the wrong way, knocking, yes, knocking off a hat.”
That would be Slash Girl, MAT realized. No bull indeed!
Tickie came back from the bathroom; stared into an empty room with a vacant TILE tarot (etc.) reading table. Scratching his head again, he realized he had gone forward into the past once more. Better get back to the Blues bar.
“You’re one of our most trusted contacts, Bella.”
“Sandy here, YUCK. Sandy *Squirrel*. I’m a squir-rel, HO.”
“Right, right. You’re a squirrel here. You’re name is Sandy. *Not* Bella.”
“That’s right. And I can’t breath, HUH HUH HUH (pants). See? I just removed my helmet and the atmosphere’s plain POISON. It’s like I took a red pill, a blue pill, and then turned into a COW, hehe.”
“I don’t get it. Anyway…”
“It’s that old saying,” she explained with another chuckle, still without helmet. “‘And on the FIFTH day… wait, And SO on the FIFTH day…”
“Right, right. I get it. You’re a cow.”
“I’m NOT a cow. Becauuuuse… I didn’t take the *pills*. I didn’t become Phyllis. I h’ain’t no channeler, see. I’ll leave that up to…”
“Phyllis?” I interrupted. I didn’t see the connection between pills and Phyllis yet. I could tell I upset Sandy/Bella by interrupting her. Me and my big mouth. I think of the calming blue pills in my pocket that could slow me down. Getting anxious. I reach; try to disguise to Bella/Sandy what I’m doing. Cartoon-like, she begins to imitate me; reaches into her own pocket on her astronaut suit or whatever the heck she’s wearing.
“I got some TOO, and I bet they h’ain’t the same color, HO.”
Synchronized now, I pull out two, she pulls out two. I figure out the Phyllis-pills connection. Together we could do each other in. She reaches over with one and I do too. We exchange. We swallow.
We’re in a different place altogether, staring at trash that also isn’t trash with TILE channeler Phyllis and revived lady of the night Sammie Parr. It was all a dream.
Tickie comes back from the bathroom. “Where’d they go?” On his own now, he became even slightly more blue but it would take a while.
The Blue Thorn arrives at the Bellisaria Passport Office in Hammerhead Light but finds it boarded up. He’ll have to travel the continent illegally to find Knob Noster, a disadvantage. He decides to use a boat as much as possible, and also split into his component parts for further hiding. “Light of Aurelia, keep shining!” Jeffrie Phillips hopefully chants while assuming a Rose pose on the bow as Tickie prepares to cast off. The lighthouse doesn’t respond, knowing dark days lie ahead.
The next morning, Tickie finally caught up with Jeffrie Phillips, who was scared out of his wits at the events of the night before, damaged beyond repair even.
In the weakness and as a cure, Tickie *merged* with Jeffrie to become something else, unafraid of fear. A new superhero but hopefully not supervillian. Blue Thorn, perhaps the Blue Rose Thorn but with the Rose dropped because of fear of copyright infringement (see: Santman).
Blue Thorn looks around with new eyes for both, sensing that Knob Noster was not here in the Inbetweenland. Never mind Mr. Platinum/Operator/Undertaker/Zero Hero, because he was a different animal altogether. Blue Thorn could change back into Jeffrie Phillips (and Tickie, I suppose) after he had nabbed the similarly blue beast and brought him (or her) back home to mama (Charlene Brown the punk, who we know now is a type of bigfoot *herself*) for detailed study. She could finish her cryptozoology dissertation that way. She could become a doctor herself. Maybe then Jeffrie could find a way to finish off the other doctor he knew well, the one who could turn into a mouse (Pansy). It was all coming together if it wasn’t all falling apart. And actually it was both. The Blue Thorn stepped forward away from the now closed portal into the past.
Valley no. 2. Higher, more dangerous, more chance of monsters. He trods the path that Jeffrie Phillips walked before him again. Is Jeffrie dead already? Did Sammie make it back to the highway or was she done in like Tenty. We know, in fact, that she made it back to the highway but not in a good way. So: like Tenty, except a different type of transport.
Sammie was so red already that it was hard to tell where the body stopped and the wound began. This likened her to an alien, perhaps a Cygnus Xian this time. Why was she in all those collages in the Red Umbrella and why was she actually a 5n1? Yes, a member of Pan-Z, like Jeffrie, but one not nearly as established and in the loop. Qualities of a red shirt, then, Jeffrie realized; no better, really, than a middling to higher constituent of inferior Pot-D, he rationalized. He figured she would be done in, but he didn’t reckon this early; thought he would have at least *one* night with her in his “love tent”. He was surprised, just like Tickie in a different way. And soon they would find out why. Together. But first: two.
Jeffrie descends to the lakes and thinks he finds the first monster which turns out to be just an oddly shaped and hued rock protruding from the water. Charlene would not be proud.
Valley no. 1. Probably not far enough away from civilization to act as a bonafide monster attractor, but we’re on the way. Tickie reviewed the events of what just happened in his mind again. Tenty: dead! Or was he? And the Operator or Zero Hero. He is me! He’s jumped the rail, skipped the highway. He’s in lala land: a lala. He believes he hears a whale song far in the distance. Perhaps the sea is nearer than he thinks but perhaps not. New York comes to mind as well: he’s heard about a certain island on this continent that acts as a land antipode for a place on the opposite side of the world, proving Our Second Lyfe is a globe, a sphere (it has a belt). But it’s not New York; something *pre* New York. New Hamsterdam: that’s it. Pot-D sent a team in there a couple of weeks ago — hasn’t heard back from them. Pan-Z’s probably not far behind. They like to send the red shirts in first to test the atmosphere of a place. And antipodal Our Second Lyfe sounds dangerous.
2 hours earlier:
“Just up this path should be the second valley. More chance of monsters for certain!”
Sammie Parr hung back. She was scared. I should have never left NWES City, she bemoaned, thinking of Richmond.
Jeffrie Phillips was suddenly on his own as well as Sammie silently made her way back to the highway while she had the chance. He only turned around at the top.
He’s in there somewhere, Tenty. We’ll check that isolated valley over there first.”
“We’re looking for different people — entities — yes, but have a common goal.”
“To free the Inbetweenland of monsters (like us).”
“Alright, let’s move out!”
Inexperienced traveler Tenty never made it past the railroad tracks.
Tickie then spotted him across the road and knew this was no accident. The Undertaker. Some called him the Operator. Some… Zero Hero.
He lifted up his monstrous arms and screeched a horrible, echoing sound. “Watch out!!!”
Then he turned into me and I was gone.
“What just happened??”
Tickie was getting between good friends Tealy and Tillie. He had to run away. Tenty was the logical choice for a destination, a twin brother from another.
“Ground rules: *don’t* go over to Grimm unless absolutely necessary and, whatever you do, don’t go over to the Slot Mountain Castle. Death within!”
Tickie had heard about a head in a jar named Homer there who use to be a prominent resident of NWES City (*almost* NWES Town, but not quite). He wisely decided to heed the warning of host Tenty.
Tickie naturally looked east for answers instead of the forbidden west (Grimm; Slot Mtn.; Slot Mtn. Castle). They were sitting in identical chairs in back now, but Tickie had gotten up: restless. “Who lives over there?” he asks about the house between the source and the lake of a blue-grey stream beyond the wooden fence.
“Oh, just one of those TILE fanatics, hence the *river*.” Tenty didn’t really like the Tilists, and thought there were too many in the area and on the island as a whole. He stated this to Tickie. He told him about the river of the world as the Before and After, or the Zero and the Nine.
“Like Zero Hero?” exclaimed Tickie, getting excited despite himself. He was a hero worshipper by nature, and Zero Hero was one of his favorites. He’d never heard of a hero called Nine, though.
“That’s Jasper,” spoke Tenty through his tentacled mouth, but in a pretty ordinary man-voice despite this, more than Tickie’s which was kind of squeaky; mouse-like. “That’s the Land of the Dead. The Egg.”
Tickie didn’t know these terms. He felt like he was getting in over his head with Tenty, who use to be a professor of religion/philosophy/games at Northwest NWES but which wasn’t there any more, a victim of the Tar Wars as they called it in scholarly-land. He turned toward Tenty. A realization occurred. They had been here before!
“Tell me about core avatars, Tenty,” he asked, knowing his friend would know a lot. His very close friend.