LNH/ACRA/TEB: Net.heroes on Parade TEB Vol. # 2: Larry Tablet

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Thu Apr 13 15:22:20 PDT 2006

Larry Tablet

   For me, writing is primarily an experience of
exploration and discovery.  To facilitate this, I
don't usually sit down and plan a story; at most, I'll
come up with a general direction, the briefest of
outlines.  Some stories I write completely by the seat
of my pants, with no planning at all.  In these cases,
I'm only a step or two ahead of the characters,
figuring things out just before they do.
   Sometimes this works.  The story arc collected in
our first TEB, The Terrible Ones, was constructed in
this manner.  I think it's a fairly compelling read,
pretty tight (even tighter in TEB form: I culled
nearly eighteen thousand words from that story).  I
don't think it reads like I'm making it up as I go
along.  But as for _this_ story...
   The Larry Tablet story is the one that I find the
least satisfactory.  There are a few different lines
of action in the second half, none of which is really
explored in any depth or followed through to any
meaningful conclusion.  I think if it comes together
at the end, it's more in spite of itself.
   Another thing that sours me on the Larry Tablet
story is the way I shuffled scenes in episodes nine
through eleven out of chronological order.  When an
author plays around with the surface, it's usually to
disguise a deficiency in the substance.  And, looking
back on it, I'll admit freely that this was the case. 
I've restructured the scenes in chronological order
_within_ each of the last three episodes, thus
eliminating cheap cliffhanger ploys; however, there is
a slight jump back in time at the beginning of episode

--Tom Russell


   Lily was clean and pretty.  Her skin was smooth,
without blemish or abrasion.  She was tall and lithe,
a delicate little thing, possessing a body that she
always had to defend.
   I'm not buying into advertising, she said.  I'm not
starving myself to get this body.  This is just how I
   Just who I am.
   When she was a teenager, she wished she was a
little heavier.  A few extra pounds would stop the
accusations of anorexia, and probably help fill out
her tiny bust.  She was always ignored by the guys in
school.  Tall.  Thin.  Gangly.  Awkward.  And the
   And after the acne...
   Lily felt three pebbles break the skin of her lower
lip.  She sucked the blood from the wound.  And so the
cycle began anew.  These three tiny stones would be
the first of many that would multiply until they
covered her entire body with living rock.  Until
cosmic power flowed through her veins.  Until there
was no Lily Paschall left at all; only Groundswell.
   She didn't mind being Groundswell, didn't mind the
cosmic battle-ax and the control of all dirt and rock
and earth.  She didn't even mind her appearance.  As
Groundswell, she was cool, dynamic, even sexy;
twenty-nine year old Lily Paschall was sexy, too.  The
problem was that she never remained in one state or
the other for too long.  Groundswell only popped into
existence for less than an hour at a time; Lily for a
few days.  Then the long wait, the slow, ugly
transition, the weeks of being neither Groundswell or
   Another pebble, this one over her left eyebrow.  It
was only during this transition period that Lily felt
ugly.  She was a teenager all over again, acne ripping
across her body.
   Oh well.  Being pretty was nice while it lasted.
   She wiped the blood from her forehead and curled up
in her bed.  As soon as she had closed her eyes, they
shot open again.  What was that?  She thought she
   Yes, something... creaking... just outside her
   Three in the morning.  Who would be sneaking around
LNHHQ this late at night?  Maybe the Incredible
Unsleeping Man, or one of the other insomnia-powered
legionnaires.  Better not to take a chance, though.
   She sat up in bed, reaching for the electric torch
she kept on her nightstand.  As she reached, she
clumsily knocked over a photograph of her and Mimi
taken just after the alien invasion. [*--see JOURNEY
INTO IRRELEVANCY # 22.]  It fell to the floor with a
muted thump.
   The creaking came to a sudden stop.  Shit!  They
must have heard.  Lily pivoted, swinging her feet
around to the edge of the bed.  Carefully, she stepped
onto the floor, avoiding the framed photograph, and
crept towards her door.  She could see the creeper's
feet through the bottom of the door.
   She aimed her torch at the door, preparing to blind
him should he try to enter and catch her unawares. 
She rested her thumb over the on-switch and gripped
the torch tightly.  A large pebble erupted in her
palm, the sudden shock of pain causing her to let go
of the electric torch.  It bounced off the floor,
thudding loudly with each contact.
   Her door swung open, light flooding the room from
the hallway.  Lily rose her arms instinctively in
   "Lily Paschall, are you alright?"
   Of course.  It was him.  It would be.  "Tyler, you
scared the shit out of me."
   "And stained your fetching night-wear?  A pity. 
I've always found ducky pajamas a turn-on."
   "Tyler, it's late."
   "I didn't mean to wake you, Lily Paschall.  I was
trying to be quiet.  On my way to the kitchen."
   "You didn't wake me.  You can't get to sleep
   "I don't sleep," Tyler shrugged.  "Tried it once,
but I just couldn't get the hang of it.  If I was
capable of rest, I'd be nice and cozy inside my
   "Ghosts don't sleep.  Makes sense."
   "Some might," Tyler shrugged.  "I don't."
   "Learn something new every day."
   "Quite right.  Or you just remember something
you've forgotten."
   "Ooh.  Someone's getting philosophical."
   "If only superficially so.  I have to do something
with my afterlife.  So, in the interest of filling my
quota of having learned one new thing a day... what is
keeping Lily Paschall from the beauty rest she doesn't
   "Maggie warned me you're a flirt."
   "I wasn't flirting."
   "Tyler, you're not my type."
   "You prefer slow, stupid, and Neolithic?"
   "You're incorrigible."
   "You mean encourageable," said Tyler.
   "That's not even a word."
   "It is now.  It is our word, Lily Paschall.  Now,
when we are among other people, when one of us hears
the other say that word, encourageable, we'll know
that the other is speaking to the first.  Like the
young lovers and their secret song in Bazzy Bozzborn's
_2001: A Rouge Odyssey_, not to be confused with John
Huston's excellent _Moulin Rouge_, starring Jose
Ferrer and..."
   "How about you quit while you're ahead?"
   "I certainly would, if I was a head.  Right now, I
am in possession of an entire body, capable of basic
motor functions, such as walking.  Which is something
we have in common.  We both have bodies which are
capable of walking.  Side by side, perhaps?"
   Lily sighed.  "Where?"
   "Kitchen.  Even ghosts like to eat."
   "I am a bit hungry," said Lily.

   "By the collected works of H. Rider Haggard, this
is some good cheesecake," said Tyler.  He turned to
Lily and watched as she took a bite; after swallowing,
she let out a gasp.  "Is something wrong?"
   "No, nothing's wrong... it's just... this is normal
cheesecake.  Regular, Oldschool New York style
cheesecake.  Not Jungle Cheesecake.  Not Vegan
Cheesecake.  Not the Wails of a Thousand Damned
Cheesecake.  Not even Kentucky Fried Cheesecake.  This
is honest-to-god normal cheesecake.
   "No offense to Cheesecake Eater Lad, but after four
years of wondering if it's Sizzle Steak Cheesecake or
These Boots Were Made for Cheesecake, it's wonderful
to have the real stuff."
   "I'm sure that Cheesecake Eater Lad would not be
offended.  They can't all be winners."
   "Don't be so certain.  He can get fairly sensitive
from time to time."
   "Maybe he's on his period?"
   "Don't be vulgar."
   "I'm not vulgar.  I could have said that he's
preparing tea for vampires."
   Lily clicked her teeth.  "Though there was four or
five days last week where the cherry topping seemed
awful thick and bitter."
   Tyler raised his eyebrows.
   "It's a joke."
   "My apologies.  I was waiting for the funny part. 
Must have missed it."
   "I'll explain it to you," said Lily.  "The funny
part is where I kick your ass for not laughing."
   Tyler blinked.
   "Another joke," she said.
   "Still waiting for the funny part."
   "Like to see you do better."
   "Which president has the dottiest reputation?"
   "The dottiest?"
   "The dottiest."
   "What does that mean, the dottiest?"
   "Just... the dottiest."
   "I don't know," said Lily.  "Which president has
the dottiest reputation?"
   "Ellipses S. Grant."
   Lily blinked.
   "That was a joke," said Tyler.
   "I know," said Lily.  "I was waiting for the...
funny... part... um, Tyler?"  She pointed at the
   "Hmm," said Tyler.  "There appears to be a pair of
bloody severed feet in finely-made leather tap shoes
dancing on yonder countertop."
   Lily nodded slowly.  "It's nice that you can be so
nonchalant about it."
   "Nothing to be frightened about.  After all, what
can a pair of severed feet do?"
   In response, the feet slammed down hard against the
   "My apologies," said Tyler.
   The feet hopped down off the counter and began
walking, slowly, out of the kitchen.
   "I think it wants us to follow," said Lily.
   "Are you sure they're an it and not a they?"
   "Whichever," said Lily.
   The feet pivoted away from the door and towards
Lily and Tyler.  One was stationary; the other began
thumping rapidly.
   "I think they want us to follow," said Tyler.
   "Oh, for the love of... that's what I just said..."

   After half an hour, Lily's feet started to get
sore.  "Does it know where it's going to?"
   "Do you like the things that life is showing you?"
countered Tyler.
   Lily stared at him.
   "This is why I like hanging out with Maggie
Bernard.  At least she understands a good _Mahogany_
reference when she hears one."
   "Is there such a thing as a good _Mahogany_
   "Is there such a thing as walking severed feet?"
   "Point taken."
   The severed feet clomped their way inside a door. 
Above the door the words "War Antiques" were emblazed
in letters no doubt as rust as the knives and swords
that lay within.
   "Let's see what all this is about, then," said

   "That's a rather dead body," said Tyler, blinking
his eyes rapidly, his hand over his mouth.
   Spread across the table was a man about Lily's age,
slightly overweight and slightly balding; the only
thing that was slight about him was the ax wound that
had nearly severed his head.  His tongue jutted out
from between his lips, some saliva dripping into his
unshaven whiskers.  The ax lay nearby.
   Just below the pant-leg, someone had, in a very
clean and methodical fashion, severed the feet.
   "Tyler!  There's some people coming!"
   "Do they look friendly?"
   "Either they're a violin trio, or they're mobsters.
 Place your wager."
   "I'm not a gambling ectoplasm," said Tyler.  He
grabbed her by the wrist, quickly yet gently, and in a
whir of motion, they disappeared behind the counter. 
Lily caught a glimpse of the corpse, and tried like
hell to eradicate the vision from her memory.
   The door opened and a gruff voice complained of the
smell.  A second voice admonished the first: "Shut up,
Louie.  We didn't come here to sniff roses, did we,
   "Andrew Pepper is quite correct, Louis Zimmer. 
Time is of the essence.  Locate anything that might
link us to Larry Tablet."
   "That's my shtick," said Tyler.
   "Tyler, be quiet, they'll hear you..."
   "But that's my shtick, Lily Paschall!  That's my
   "You hear that?" said Andrew.  "Came from behind
the table..."
   Shit.  Tyler had really done it now.
   "What are we going to do now?" she whispered.
   "Stay here, keep quiet, and don't move."  He stood
straight up.
   "Oh, you went and made it easy for us," said
Andrew.  He took aim with his automatic weapon and
fired several dozen shots into Tyler.  He laughed and
turned to his colleagues.
   "Um, Andy?"
   "What is it, Louie?"
   "Andrew Pepper," said Doc, "please take another
look at your victim."
   Tyler waved.
   "That's impossible!" said Andrew.  "This creep's
ten feet away from me!"  He put his gun to Tyler's
head and pulled the trigger.  Tyler merely smiled and
came out from behind the table, walking towards him.
   "This creep is quite dead.  This creep happens to
be a ghost.  A ghost who doesn't like being shot at,
as it puts a damper on an otherwise enjoyable
   "Let's get out of here!" said Andrew.  "Guys?  Uh,
guys?"  He turned to see that his comrades had already
left.  Andrew followed suit.
   "That was brave," said Lily.
   "Not really.  I know I can't be hurt.  Kind of
takes the fun out of this net.heroing thing, really."
   "You were braver than I was."
   "That's one demerit."
   "One demerit?"
   "Yes.  I'm putting you on a twenty-demerit system. 
Every time you say something like that, you get a
demerit; once you've accumulated twenty, you must
accompany me to dinner.  This is the penalty you pay
for low self-esteem."
   "You're a devious bastard, Tyler."
   "And a charming one," he added.  "Stock and trade,
I'm afraid, for the bachelor apparition."  He admired
a German-made pocket-watch which sat on the counter
and began swinging it like a yo-yo, smiling like the
cat that ate the canary and then blackmailed it into a
date.  Out of clumsiness, the watch flung out of his
hands and landed on the floor, cracking its face. 
   "That's a good enough reason as any," said Lily. 
"This place gives me the creeps.  Let's get back to
LNHQ and call the police about the body."
   As they headed towards the door, the moonlight was
still pouring onto their tired faces; when they opened
the door, they were greeted by the newly-born dawn. 
Neither of them noticed the inconsistency.


   Lily felt out of step.  But why?  This was her
room, exactly as she had left it.  There was her bed,
covers strewn about.  On her nightstand, a book she
was reading.  Next to it, her lamp.  And the photo of
her and Mimi.
   Wait a second.  Didn't it get knocked over, onto
the floor...?  She must have picked it up and righted
it.  She just didn't remember...
   Too tired for this shit.  She shook her head and
closed her eyes.  She needed sleep.
   She stretched out her lithe form on the bed,
feeling the world fading away from her... pulling
away... away...
   Tyler opened the door and jolted Lily awake.  "Lily
   "What now, Tyler?"
   "The police humbly request our presence at the war
antique shop."
   "But we already gave a statement."
   "Apparently there's no body and no sign of any
bullet holes.  That's what the officer said, anyway. 
They seem to think that we have imagined it."
   "Damn it, Tyler.  I was just getting to sleep."
   "Won't be much longer, Lily Paschall.  It'll be
just a quick visit and then you can go back to the
land of dreams.  I think you should change, though. 
Your ducky pajamas are a sexy and striking fashion
statement, true..."
   "Too... tired... to... strangle..."
   "... but I don't think it will help convince the
police that we're not insane."

   "What happened to the body?" Lily said.
   "That's what we were wondering," said the officer. 
He was heavy-set with a thick, bristly moustache.  His
eyes were half-opened, his mouth eternally slack.  He
walked with a deliberate and unconvincing swagger over
to the table, tapping the pristine countertop with his
pen.  "And you say it was right here?"
   "Right there, yes."
   "Decapitated.  Missing feet."
   "Quite nasty," said Tyler.  "Quite."
   "And you found it how?  You were minding your own
business in LNHQ, in the kitchen..."
   "Right," said Tyler.  "We had gone done to get some
cheesecake.  And there was this pair of severed feet."
   "Pair of feet."
   "Severed feet."
   "Severed feet."
   "Right.  In tap-dancing shoes."
   "Hmm-mm.  Go on.  I'm listening."
   "They were a little too athletic for my tastes.  I
prefer a certain continental elegance myself..."
   "... at any rate, dear sir, the feet started
   "The severed feet."
   "Right.  And we followed them here..."
   "There weren't any, uh, major hallucinogenics in
that cheesecake?"
   "Yes, we're sure," snapped Lily.  "Why don't you
believe us?"
   "I've dealt with you silly net.hero types before,
with your wild stories and this and that.  Y'know,
before you started pouring in regular-like, we didn't
have this kind of weirdness going on.  No tap-dancing
severed feet.  No disappearing bodies.  No bullets
that went through a person..."
   "Ghost," added Tyler helpfully.
   "... and didn't leave a single knack in the wall."
   "I don't know how to explain it," said Lily.
   The cop groaned.  "I'm through wasting my time with
you schmucks.  You know, because of you, I've got to
fill out a report?  I don't much like filling out
reports.  In fact, to be brutally honest, I hate
filling out reports.  You know what I do with my
mornings?  I read the paper.  This one."  He waved a
copy of the NET.ROPOLIS VIGIL, a staunch anti-net.hero
publication, in Tyler's face.  "I don't fill out
reports.  You've ruined my morning.  Upset the
delicate balance of my regiment."
   "That's yesterday's paper," said Tyler.
   The cop looks at the paper and then at the two
net.heroes.  "You are weirdos.  Now get out of my

   A moment after they had left, Lily snapped her
   "That's it!" said Lily.  "This morning, or last
night, or whatever you'd call it, when you outside my
door, I knocked over my photo of me and Mimi.  And
this morning-- when we got back-- it was back in its
spot.  But I don't remember picking it up off the
floor.  And now, that cop thinks it's yesterday..."
   "Are you suggesting what I think you're
   "Time travel."
   "You and I went through a rather strange experience
last night, and yet all evidence of said experience
taking place has disappeared.  I think you're right,
Lily Paschall.  Somehow, we've traveled backwards in
   "Which is why there's no body..."
   "... because he hasn't been murdered yet."
   "So we can stop it from happening," said Lily.  "Do
you remember the name the mobster said?"
   "I remember the last name, but... not the first."
   "Well, what was it?"
   Tyler swallowed.  "Well, like I said, I don't
remember the first."
   "But what was the last?"
   "I, I can't..."
   "Tyler, come on.  His life is at stake.  What was
the last name?  You can tell me."
   Tyler opened his mouth to speak, but no sound
issued forth.  He tapped two fingers against his arm
and held them up.
   "Two syllables," said Lily.

   There were forty-two Tablets in the Net.ropolis
phone book.  Tyler and Lily picked out the most
obvious ones-- those being male-- while they ate their
breakfast in the cafeteria.
   Gary Niceguy sat down with them.  He had a hearty
bowl of Cheesecake-O's and a tall glass of milk on his
tray.  "Word on the street," he said with a
shit-eating grin, "is that there's two crazy
net.heroes who reported a body that wasn't there."
   "Gary," said Lily, "you've been a net.hero for a
while.  How many times have quote crazy unquote
net.heroes who witness things for which there is no
real evidence been wrong in the history of the Legion?
 And how many times have they been right even if no
one believed them?  The only story that hasn't been
substantiated that I can think of, off the top of my
head, is when Sarcastic Lad and Master Blaster said
they bedded a bunch of moon amazons." [*--PIGS IN
   Gary, having been conceived during the disputed
orgy, conceded her point.  "Let's say you're right,
then.  What are you looking for, exactly."
   "Thank you," said Lily.  "The corpse's last name
was Tablet.  It's not much of a lead, but it's all
we've got."
   "So, what, you're going to call up every Tablet in
   "You have a better idea?"
   "Then ssh," said Tyler.  "Short of the severed
dancing feet appearing again, it's all we've got, Gary
   Gary took a bite of his Cheesecake-O's and began
chewing.  "You know, back when I had that talk show,
we did this special on carnival freaks.  And there was
this guy who could cut off his feet, and they danced
by themselves.  And then, he could re-attach them. 
Strangest damn thing.  And then he would do that thing
people do when you shake their hand and it's a fake
hand and it comes off, only it was his real hand. 
Name was Larry something."
   "Larry Tablet," said Tyler.  "That was it!  Larry
Tablet!"  His ectoplasmic eyes began to wet.  "Oh,
Lily Paschall!  I can say his name.  It feels so good
to be able to say his name.  Larry Tablet."

   Larry Tablet's answering machine gave a work
number; the number belonged to a side show.

   The first thing Tyler said when they arrived was,
"Dilapidated."  The tent was old and dirty, in
desperate need of repair.  There was a tear that ran
from the pinnacle of the tent to the point where the
pyramid shape met that of the cylinder.  Surrounding
the tent there lay, in a similar state of ruin,
old-fashioned wagon carts.  The wood had started
rotting long ago.
   Posters adorned the wagons, their colours faded and
their corners torn.  Here were the old favourites the
Skeleton Man and the Bearded Lady; here, the world's
strongest midget; the pinheads; the Porcelain Girl;
and far in the back, his poster with brighter, newer
colours, there was the Astonishing Dr. Tablet.
   "Dead," said Lily.
   "Dying, yes."  This voice was new.  Tyler and Lily
turned to see a tall, stockily-built man in coattails
and a string-tie emerge from one of the wagons.  The
wagon had no poster and was marked, simply, Tex.  "For
a long time, we've been dying.  But dead?  Not yet. 
Not while there's still air in my lungs and blood in
my heart."
   "Just as long as you don't get the two mixed up,"
chirped Tyler.  "I'm Tyler Bridge, and this is the
ravishing Lily Paschall.  We..."
   "Tex," said the man, extending his hand.  Tyler
shook it.
   "Right, sir.  We..."
   "No sir about it.  Tex."
   "Go ahead, boy.  Call me Tex.  No formalities. 
Everyone calls me Tex."
   Lily spoke up.  "Tex."
   Tex looked at Tyler suspiciously.  "Everyone calls
me Tex, everyone except my father, who called me
Junior, on account of everyone called him Tex, when he
was livin', God rest his soul."
   "But Tex wasn't his real name?" said Lily.
   Tex cleared his throat.
   "Your father named you Tex."
   "Tex Waggner Junior, at your service.  That's
Waggner with two Gs."
   "Finally," said Tyler.  "Tex Waggner, we've come to
see a member of your merry little band.  We have
reason to believe his life might be in danger.  We
don't have time to explain.  Lily Paschall and I,
we're net.heroes."
   "You know," said Lily, "the people who wear garish
colours and have odd abilities and parade themselves
around for attention."
   Tyler poked Lily in the ribs, directing her
attention to the posters on the wagons.
   "Uh," said Lily, "the other people who wear garish
colours and have odd abilities and parade themselves
around for attention."
   "We're here to see Larry Tablet."
   "He isn't here," said Tex sharply.
   "Do you know where...?"
   "I get the distinct feeling that you don't quite
care for the chap," said Tyler.
   "You could say that.  Course, you could say a lot
of things about the man who seduced your twenty-year
old daughter and made her into a hussy.  Larry Tablet
is a lying, scheming, no-good cheat, a seducer of
women who laughs in their husband's faces.  He has
more enemies than a bearded lady has lice.
   "I chased him clear out of these parts.  If I knew
where he was, I wouldn't tell you anyway because if
his life is in danger, the bastard deserves it.
   "And what's more," said Tex, "if he comes
a-crawling around here for help, I'm going to shoot
him on sight.  And if he comes sniffing around my
little girl again, I'm going to shoot him in the
berries first, if you know what I mean."
   "I know what you mean," said Lily.  "Tex, if we
could speak to your daughter..."
   "But a man's life is at stake."
   "You get out of here, the both of you!" said Tex. 
"And if I see you again, I'll pump your berries full
of birdshot!"

En route LNHQ:

   "Did I ever tell you, Lily Paschall, that you make
my berries tingle?"
   "Well, that got us nowhere.  Now what?"
   "Nowhere?  Why, my dear Lily Paschall, you're as
smart as you are beautiful and yet you seemed to have
had a momentary lapse of that intelligence. 
Interestingly, your beauty is quite unaffected."
   "Except for the ugly-ass rocks sticking out of my
ugly-ass face."
   "That's two more demerits.  But, as I was saying,
this journey was not fruitless.  We've gained a juicy
glimpse into the character of our query."
   "He's an asshole."
   "So delicately put, Lily Paschall.  We also have a
lead.  The Porcelain Girl.  Tex Waggner's daughter."
   "He'll shoot us on sight.  You may be bulletproof,
but I'm not."
   "So we send someone else."
   "We're going the wrong way.  LNHQ is that way."
   "We're not going to LNHQ.  We're going to see
Maggie Bernard.  She spent the night at Arlie
Fertulus's last night.  Or rather, she will tonight. 
That's why I was wandering around last night.  Or
tonight.  Gah!  Time travel confuses me."
   "You want to ask Maggie to visit the carnival,
pretend to be a sideshow freak?  That'll do wonders
for her self-esteem."
   "I don't like it," said Tyler.  "But we need to
have someone else to get past Tex Waggner, and there's
no one I trust more than Maggie Bernard."
   "She's a smart girl," said Lily.  "Hopefully,
she'll realize we're only asking her because we know
we can count on her.  But, even if she gets in, Tyler,
how does she talk to the Porcelain Girl?  Maggie's
non-verbal when she's transformed."
   "For that, we need an actress."


   "Alright," said Maggie.  "I'll do it.  But I won't
like it."
   "You're a life-saver, you know that?" Lily hugged
her and kissed her on the cheek.
   "Not only that," chimed in Tyler, "but you're a
green life-saver.  The bets kind.  Not one of those
putrid yellow ones.  But a nice, sweet green one."
   Arlie Fertulus hung up her telephone.  "Alicia's on
her way over.  Gary wasn't there, but they said they'd
get the message to him."
   "Excellent.  Arlie Fertulus?  You don't mind if we
use your apartment here as our base of operations, do
   "I didn't object when you started," Arlie said with
a shrug.
   "I am sorry about ruining your little girl's
evening out, Maggie Bernard, Arlie Fertulus, but I'm
trying to ensure I don't find another pair of
impatient, tap-dancing severed feet in the kitchen."
   "Not a problem," said Arlie.  "We were just going
to watch some of my old movies anyway."
   "So what now?" said Lily.
   "I'm going to call my mob buddy Jimmy the Fish. 
See if we can get a lead on our friends Andrew Pepper,
Louis Zimmer, and... and... uh..."
   "Doc," said Lily.
   "What am I going to do, then?"
   "You're going to go home, Lily Paschall.  And get
some sleep.  If you were any more tired and worn out,
you'd have to change your name to Lily Firestone,
which lacks the pizzazz of Lily Paschall... or even
Lily Bridge."
   "Did... did you just propose to me?"
   "I think I did."
   "Remind me to punch you later.  "Tyler, I helped
start this thing.  You and me.  You just can't push me
out of it."
   "I'm not."
   "It certainly feels this way."
   "Look, I'll place a phone call at midnight, right
before Maggie Bernard and Alicia Avenue should be
beginning their operation, and I'll let you know
what's up.  Deal?"
   Lily hesitated.  "Deal.  Still feels like I'm being
pushed out."

   "So," Alicia said, "what's my motivation?"
   Tyler blinked.  "You did not just say that.  Please
tell me you did not just say that."
   "If you want me to do a good job playing Maggie's
sister, I'm going to have to know my character.  What
she's all about.  Where she's been.  Where she's
   "She's been here in Arlie Fertulus's apartment. 
She's going to the Net.ropolis boardwalk at midnight
and she's all about finding out where Larry Tablet
   "This is so screwed up," said Alicia.  "There is
almost no prep time here at all."
   "You've got four hours of prep time," said Arlie. 
"Jesus.  I'm lucky if I see the script five minutes
before shooting."
   "They have scripts in your business?"
   "Don't.  Start," said Tyler.  "I'm sorry if we're
unable to find you a trailer, Alicia Avenue.  But this
is the operation, and everyone agrees that you are the
best woman for this job.  We need you.  Now, are you a
Legionnaire, or are you a hanger-on?"
   "I'm a Legionnaire."
   "Good.  Now figure out your own damn motivation."

   The clock struck midnight, but Tex didn't really
pay it any mind.  The new day, the new hour: none of
it affected what he was doing tonight, what he did
every night.  He poured another shot from the bottle,
slammed it down his gullet, and poured himself
   It had been months since they had an actual show. 
That's why they were stuck here at the Net.ropolis
harbor.  No point in moving across the country if no
one wanted you.  The art had be in decline, it had
been dying, since the thirties.  An invalid for
seventy years, tied to some god-damn machine.  Hardly
any real dwarves anymore, and social activists (old
biddies with too much time on their gnarled hands) had
long since rescued all the pinheads.
   Footsteps.  Outside the door.  With a surprising
amount of coordination, he down another shot with one
hand and grabbed his gun with the other.  He lurched
dizzily towards the door.
   "I shoot trespassers.  Come out into the light if
you want to live.  Slowly."
   Of the two shadows, the thinner one was less
interesting.  Dirty blonde hair, muddy brown eyes,
delicate tan, and a body that had endured endless,
needless, frivolous altercations.  But the thicker
one?  Oh, it was a doozy.  It was the most beautiful
thing he had ever seen.
   Pink.  All pink.  Only vaguely human: it had the
basic shape, enough to suggest the species, but
nothing to confirm that suggestion.  No mouth, no
muscles, no nose, no ears, no digits.  Only a
half-formed gelatinous whole with two coal-black dots
for eyes.
   "Please, don't shoot!" shrilled the dull one.
   "I'm not going to shoot you," said Tex.  Pink.  The
answer to his prayers.  The new colour of money.  He
shook the woman's hand.  "Tex.  I'm the proprietor."
   "Ruth Ackers, a poor and modest woman struggling
against the misfortune that has shaped her life."
   "Uh... okay.  Well, Miss Ackers, it's a pleasure. 
And this is...?"
   He thrust his hand in the blob's direction; it
   "Wouldn't do that if I were you, sir," said 'Ruth'.
 "For to touch the Blob-Thing of Sig.ago is to shake
hands with death.  Once, it was my sister.  The two of
us were staying in Sig.ago when that terrible
catastrophe took place." [*-- THE TEAM # 25.]
   "Lucky to be alive."
   "I am.  But my poor half-sister, Marguerite...
sometimes I think she would be better off dead than
living the half-life of a half-thing you now see
half... uh, before you presently."
   "The catastrophe, somehow, it transformed her?"
   "Far be it for but a simple woman like Ruth Ackers
to question the acts of our Lord.  All I know is that
somehow, the two of us survived, and my poor
half-sister finds herself now and forever more
transformed into the Blob-Thing of Sig.ago!"  She fell
back in a swoon.  Tex caught her, set her upright.
   "My thanks, sir.  Every town has chased us out,
every door has been closed to us.  But now, we've
heard of you and your merry band of fellow castaways,
all victims of fate.  We have nowhere left to go,
   "Of course you're welcome to join us.  It's a
little late to be getting you settled in now.  You can
stay with my daughter, Evelyn, tonight.  It'll be
right nice and cozy."

   After making introductions, Tex hurried back to his

   Evelyn Waggner was delicate and albino, in every
way resembling a living doll, a Porcelain Girl.  "I'm
glad you're joining us," she squeaked, almost as if
the words had been squeezed out of her.
   "Thank you for your hospitality, Evelyn," said
Alicia once she and Maggie had gotten settled in.
   "It's pronounced Evil-Lynne.  Not Ev-Uh-Lynne."
   "Like in _Masters of the Universe_?"
   "You know, I still remember when I was working on
_Masters of the Universe 2: Weekend at Skeletor's_."
   "You were in it?"
   "Ah, well, that is, some of my friends say I look
like the actress in it.  I'm afraid that ever since
the catastrophe that transformed my half-sister, I've
gotten a bit confused sometimes as to who I am, I get
the two of us mixed up.  Me and... what is her name
   "Alicia Avenue."
   "Right.  Are you a fan?"
   "No!" Evelyn laughed.  "She's such a bad actress. 
I mean, she makes Kate Jackson look like Meryl
   Maggie grumbled inwardly.  She liked Kate Jackson.
   "Not to mention that her boobs are crooked,"
continued Evelyn.
   "My boobs are not crooked!"
   "I didn't say you..."
   "I'm sorry, dear, I got confused again.  It should
be obvious that I am not related to nor am in any way
in actuality Alicia Avenue (an actress whom I feel in
underrated, just for the record).  I'm just simple
modest Ruth Ackers, a woman to whom fate has been most
   "I've had a rough life too," said the Porcelain
   Maggie would have blinked if she had eyelids.  She
had heard this tone of voice before; spending the
amount of time she had with Goth culture, she had met
her fair share of drama queens, resulting in a
finely-tuned attention-whore compass and bullshit
   "But it is too painful to tell!" The Porcelain Girl
nearly swooned.
   "You can tell me," said Alicia, using her best
concerned mother face (carefully honed from many
_Lifetime_ movies of the week).
   "But I can't!"
   "You can!  Let it out, sweetie!"
   "I don't see how it could help... but... maybe... I
don't know..."
   A game.
   Maggie stopped listening to her, her ears cottoned
with a mounting sense of disgust.  A game.  Evelyn
needed to be prompted and pried and cared for to
reveal the hyperbolic, terrible truth that she could
never tell another living soul even though she
probably had told every living soul.  Just so she
could feel sorry for herself, and so that others could
feel sorry for her.  So she can be the tragic martyr.
   Maggie's attention jolted back to reality as
Evelyn's sob story was replaced by a scream.  The door
to the wagon was open, and on the other side, there
stood a wolf.  It leapt inside, fangs bared, heading
for Evelyn.
   Maggie leapt (or, more properly, lumbered) towards
it, trying to block its attack.  But for all her
girth, she was unable to prevent it from passing; it
cleared her body with ease.  Maggie turned, silently
cursing her slowness.  That was when she heard the
shot behind her.
   The wolf fell to the ground with a thump.  Maggie
turned back to the door, to the direction of the shot,
expecting to see Tax Waggner.  It wasn't him.  She
didn't recognize him.
   Evelyn did.  "Larry!"



   Gary knocked on Arlie's door and was greeted by
Tyler.  "Okay, Ty.  I'm here.  What's up?"
   "First of all, my name is not... that is, my name
is Tyler Bridge.  Secondly, it took you long enough. 
Thirdly, this is Jimmy the Fish."
   He stepped aside to reveal a handsome, slightly
chubby man with a permanent smile and a glandular
problem.  "Jimmy the Fish, Gary Niceguy.  Gary
Niceguy, Jimmy the Fish."
   "Charmed," said Jimmy.
   "Uh, likewise," shrugged Gary.  He turned back to
Tyler.  "I got your message, but it didn't say what we
were up to.  I assume it had something to do with
Larry Tablet..."
   "Correct," said Tyler.  "While the girls are trying
to get a lead on our stiff-to-be, you and I and Jimmy
the Fish will be tackling those whom would make him
that way.  Andrew Pepper, Louis Zimmer, and Doctor
Emil Amend."  He nodded towards Jimmy.
   "Well, that's great," said Gary.  "But, uh-- and I
mean no offense-- but who are you, Mr. Fish?"
   "I'm Jimmy the Fish," said Jimmy with a shrug.
   "He's Jimmy the Fish," said Tyler.
   "Jimmy the Fish, okay.  But what I'm asking is, who
is Jimmy the Fish?"
   "Jimmy the Fish," said Jimmy, getting irritated.
   "I think we've already established that."
   Arlie broke in.  "What he means is, how is Jimmy--"
   "the fish."
   "-- relevant?"
   "Oh," said Tyler.
   "Yeah, that's what I'm asking," said Gary. 
"Thanks, Miss Fertulus."
   "Well," said Tyler, "he's a mob guy.  Name like
Jimmy the Fish."
   "Yeah," said Jimmy.  "I mean, the name's kind of a
dead give-away."
   "A mob guy?" said Gary.
   "Hey!" said Jimmy.  "Don't worry, brother.  You can
trust Jimmy the Fish.  Ask anybody."
   "Go ahead.  Ask."
   "Um, Tyler?  Can I trust him?"
   "Trust who?"
   "Jimmy the Fish."
   "He's Jimmy the Fish," said Tyler.  "Of course you
can trust him."
   "Arlie?" Gary asked.
   "I don't know," said Arlie.  "I don't know him. 
But.  He is Jimmy the Fish."
   "This is very true," said Jimmy.  "Now, come on,
gents!  Let's get a move-on."

   Jimmy the Fish went ahead to get the car.  Gary
turned to Tyler.  "So, let me get this straight: you
know a mob guy."
   "Not just any mob guy.  Jimmy the Fish."
   "Okay.  So you know Jimmy the Fish, and he's going
to get us into a conference with the three guys who
are after Larry Tablet."
   "He's set up a meeting and everything."
   "Okay.  So why me?  I mean, you don't need all my
superpowers to handle a bunch of mob-guys."
   "Gary Niceguy, recall that the best offense is a
good defense.  I wasn't thinking so much in terms as
raw power needed, but as to which of my friends were
bulletproof.  There's you, and I, and Maggie Bernard. 
Maggie Bernard is otherwise engaged, and so that
leaves you and I."
   "It's simple subtraction, Gary Niceguy."
   "No, I mean-- I'm one of your friends?"
   "Sure.  Why not?  I am nothing if not a social
poltergeist.  Don't piss me off too much, don't show
me up in chess, and, yes, I think we'll get along
   "Wait a second.  What about Jimmy the Fish?"
   "Well, he does have an impressive end-game.  But I
let that slide."
   "No, I mean, isn't it dangerous to bring him along?
 Sure, he's our contact, but he's not bulletproof."
   "He's Jimmy the Fish."
   By this time Jimmy had returned with the car. 
Tyler motioned for them to get in, and they did, Tyler
graciously taking the back seat and giving Gary
   "Tell Gary Niceguy why you don't shoot Jimmy the
Fish," said Tyler.
   "Because I'm Jimmy the Fish."
   "And...?" said Gary.
   "And you don't shoot Jimmy the Fish."
   "Eleventh commandment," added Tyler.  "Thou shalt
not shoot Jimmy the Fish."

   The car came to a stop.
   "Well," said Jimmy.
   "Well," said Tyler.
   "Well?" asked Gary.
   "We're here," said Jimmy.  "I'll go in first and
then I'll give you guys the signal to come in after

   "Are you sure they're not going to shoot us?"
   "They're not going to shoot Jimmy the Fish," said
Tyler.  "And as for you and I, it doesn't matter if
they shoot us.  I'm a ghost and you're invulnerable,
   "More-or-less invulnerable?  Is that better or
worse than nigh-invulnerable."
   "I dunno," shrugged Gary.  "I mean, you punch me,
chances are you're going to break your hand.  I'm very
strong, very dense."
   "No comment."
   "Bullets bounce off of me, but the lasers that
would cut you in half would burn me a little.  It's
all relative.  Bullet might graze your arm and hurt
you; same bullet hits a fly, and the sucker's dead. 
Bullet hits me, well, I mean, bullets don't hurt, but
they sting, they leave a little dent when they push
off of me, is all."
   "Ah, indeed, Gary Niceguy--"
   It was at that moment that they heard the gunfire. 
The door to the warehouse opened and Jimmy the Fish
staggered out, falling to the ground.
   "Jimmy the Fish!" screamed Tyler.
   "After 'em," said Jimmy.  "Go get the bastards,
Tyler.  N-Niceguy..."
   "I'll get him to a hospital," said Gary.
   Tyler ran into the warehouse.  Gary cradled Jimmy
into his arms and took to the air.
   "Shit," said Gary.  "I thought you said they
weren't going to shoot you.  That it'd be like
shooting Jesus."
   "On second thought, it was a bad analogy," coughed
Jimmy, thin bubbles of blood foaming at his lips. 
"They killed Jesus in the end."
    He gripped Gary's shoulder and used it to pull
himself closer to the net.hero.  "I want you to do
something for me if I die."
   "You're not going to die."
   "Six or seven holes in my stomach."
   "We're almost there," said Gary.  "Save your
   "Melissa," said Jimmy.  "Give this to Melissa. 
Tell her I'm sorry."
   "Just be quiet, Mr. Fish," said Gary as he came
down for a landing.
   "In my p-pocket," said Jimmy.  "In my pocket.  She
lives in the Heights.  Apartment building, Oakwood
Apart... ments..."
   Gary rushed into the emergency room.  "This man
needs medical attention!  He's been shot!  Someone
help him!"
   Two men rushed towards him with a stretcher.  Gary
laid him down.  One of the men took his pulse and,
finding none, looked at Gary with practiced sympathy.

   Gary came down for a landing.  Tyler was waiting
for him.
   "The mobsters?" asked Gary.
   "Dead," said Tyler.  "Jimmy the Fish?"
   "I'm sorry, Tyler..."
   Tyler's face became taut.  He hissed and sputtered.

   By the time Tyler and Gary got back to Arlie's,
Alicia, Maggie, Evelyn and Larry had been waiting for
them all of five minutes.
   "Larry Tablet, I presume," said Tyler.  They shook
   "And you must be Tyler Bridge."
   "How do you figure?"
   "Miss Avenue warned me that you call everyone by
their first and last names."
   "Yeah.  Just about."
   "Now, perhaps you might be able to tell me exactly
what's going on?"
   Tyler proceeded to recapitulate all the events
previous, from the discovery of the severed
tap-dancing feet until the very moment that the owner
of the severed tap-dancing feet shook his hand.
   "I figured as much.  I very distinctly remember
being dead, and then, whammo, I was alive again. 
   "So, please, Larry Tablet, could you tell us your
side of this story?  Why would anyone want to kill
   "Many, many years ago, when I was just a kid, I
pissed off a gypsy."
   "A gypsy?"
   "You know those really vengeful gypsies that curse
   "It was one of those."
   "How'd you manage to do that?" asked Gary.
   "I teepeed his house and ran my car over his lawn."
   "That would do it, then."
   "And so I was cursed."
   "Which variety of curse?" asked Tyler.
   "This variety of curse," said Larry.  His hand,
with an audible pop, departed from his body, and
proceeded to dance on Arlie's kitchen counter.
   "I've got a big scene on that counter tomorrow,"
said Arlie.  "That's so unsanitary."
   Larry's eyes popped out of his head and landed on
the floor.
   "Damn it," said Arlie.
   "You needn't demonstrate any further," said Tyler. 
"Lily Paschall (that reminds me, I was supposed to
call her at twelve, I should do that before too long)
and I have seen first-hand (or more properly, feet)
what you can do."
   "How can you keep track of what you're saying when
you keep interrupting yourself?" said Larry with
terror in his voice.
   "We all have our little gifts," said Tyler as he
picked up Larry's eyeballs, handing them back.  Larry
thanked him and popped them back into their sockets.
   "I loved my little gifts at first.  Thought it was
cool.  Weird.  Chicks dig weird.  Like being grossed
out.  Makes them laugh.  But I quickly found it has
its disadvantages."
   "Such as?"
   Evelyn spoke up.  "His equipment keeps detaching."
   "Thanks, Ev."
   "No problem."
   "No matter how cool it was at parties, I did not
want to live in a world where my little fella was
useless.  And so I tried to kill myself.  That was
sixty years ago.  Since my body can detach and reform
at will, I'm surprising disease-proof, and effectively
   "Immortality," scoffed Tyler.  "Nothing to it,
   "Difference between being immortal and being a
ghost," said Arlie.
   "Picky, picky."
   "None of my suicide attempts were successful.  I'd
get close to some particularly nasty end and then my
body would heal itself.  So, then I hit upon the idea
of, what if I had someone else do me in for me?  A
real psychopath would keep at it until I was dead,
until there was no way that I could heal myself.  And,
if it wasn't for the time-travel thing, I would still
be dead now.  Well, at least now I know it's
   "So you hired the mob guys to kill you?"
   "No!" said Larry.  "Oh, I tried that before, but
you'd be surprised how many murderers don't want to
kill you if you want to die.  Even BTK refused to kill
me.  Rotten bastard.  His name is Dennis, by the way. 
Otherwise, a very nice man."
   "So you've made enemies," intuited Gary.
   "Mobsters and cultists and shot-gun wielding
fathers... even though my better half isn't fully
functional, I still have a talent with seducing stupid
nineteen year olds.  Uh, present company excluded,
   "But now the mobsters are out of the picture," said
   "And as for the cultists," said Larry, "that's how
I found my way back to the side-show.  No offense, Ev,
but your father's a terrible shot.  No incentive on my
   "Come again?  Cultists?" said Tyler.
   "Werewolf cult.  They were after Evelyn to get to
   "So you do care," said Evelyn.  "I love you, you
bastard."  She hugged him.
   "Aw, Jesus, Ev..."
   "Come now, Larry Tablet.  You can't still want to
bump yourself off now that you've been a hero."
   "But I have nothing to love for," said Larry,
looking down at his protrusion.  "I'm useless."
   "You're not so useless," said Arlie.  "You know, in
my industry, a guy like you could really go places. 
Just imagine the possibilities; a guy with an
independently moving Johnson is quite a novelty.  It
could spawn an entire new genre of fetish video.  And
just imagine your name, in sparkling lights: LARRY
TABLET dot, dot, dot AND LIL' LARRY!"
   "His name is Caesar," said Larry and Evelyn at
   "Okay, then," said Arlie.  "LARRY TABLET... AND
   "Larry Tablet," said Larry, as if in a haze, "and
mighty Caesar."
   "You'd be a celebrity," said Arlie.  "A star.  I
think you've got quite a prolific career ahead of
   "I could do prolific."
   "I'll go get my producer's number," said Arlie. 
She headed to her bedroom.
   Larry turned to Tyler.  "Oh, thank you, Mr. Bridge!
 Not only have you saved my life, but now, I have a
reason to live.  I HAVE A REASON TO LIVE!"
   "All in a day's work," said Tyler.  "I had better
call Lily Paschall; she's probably worried out of her
   The door to Arlie's apartment swung open.  Standing
in the doorway was Tex.  He had a rifle.
   "Don't worry," said Larry.  "He's a terrible shot."
   "Not anymore, I'm not."
   He began to levitate, and he pulled the trigger.

   "Jesus, Mimi," said Lily.  "I'm tired."
   "Why don't you get some rest?"
   "I can't get to sleep.  Too worried."
   "I'm sure everything's fine," said Michette.
   "Tyler should have called by now.  It's five after
   "Maybe he hasn't called because everything's okay. 
He's just being absent-minded."
   "You're right.  I'm sorry I'm being such a
worry-wart.  It must be tedious, having to hold my
hand like this."
   "It's not tedious.  I like holding your hand, being
there for you.  I know you'd do the same for me, in a
heart-beat.  You're my best friend, Lily.  Hmm.  You
know, I've never had a best friend before.  When did
it happen, do you remember?"
   "Not right away.  You kept to yourself a lot when
you emigrated."
   "Slowly, I found myself with acquaintances.  And
one day, out of them all, you were my friend.  My best
friend.  I always thought such things happened
suddenly.  Like falling in love.  But no.  It's
   "Falling in love is gradual, too."
   "Not for me."
   "No offense, Mimi," said Lily.  "But your
relationships never last.  Not that I'm one to talk,
but love always comes gradually to me.  I have a good
friend and one day, it grows into something more. 
Things I like about them become things I love about
them.  But it was never sudden, never a thunderbolt,
it never happened at the beginning.  It was more like
the rain.  Slow at first, drizzling, until it floods
   "You speak as if you are in love."
   "I think I am."
   "Do they love you back?"
   "I dunno."
   "A secret crush.  Tell me who."
   "Is it anyone I know?"
   "... yes."
   "Then tell me who it..."
   "No," said Lily, more forcibly.  "I don't want to
talk about it, okay?  This is making me..."
   "I'm sorry," said Mimi, backing off.  "You know, I
have a crush of my own.  You ever want to tell me
yours... I'll tell you mine.  You know.  Girl talk."
   The phone rang, sharply.  Lily answered it. 
"Hello?  Tyler!  Wait, what is... I'll be right over."
 She hung up the phone.
   "What's wrong, Lily?"
   "It's Alicia.  She's been shot."


   "Gary Niceguy took her to the hospital," Tyler
explained after Lily and Michette had arrived at
Arlie's.  "She's is stable condition; she was shot in
the abdomen."
   "Where's..." Lily blinked as her exhausted brain
retraced the events of the last day.  "Evelyn?"
   "Her father took her."
   "She went with him?  It was a set-up?"
   "I think it was a kidnapping."
   "Why didn't you go after them?  If Gary was able to
get Alicia to safety..."
   "It appears that I've been injured."  He lifted up
his gray sweater, impeccably immaculate, to reveal a
hole in his belly.  "Shot."
   "My god," said Michette.  "We have to get you to a
   "I doubt the surgeons are experienced with sewing
up ectoplasm.  And I'd go back to LNHQ and ask
Occultism Kid, but I'm terribly afraid he would banish
me to whatever Netherworld all good ghosts are
supposed to make their hearth and home."
   "You can't just sit here and bleed to death."
   "First off, I'm not bleeding.  So don't worry about
me.  Secondly, there are more pressing concerns.  My
gut tells me that Tex Waggner would have taken Evelyn
Waggner back to the side-show."
   "Wait," said Michette.  "What about Maggie, and
Larry Tablet?"
   "They're in Arlie Fertulus's bedroom. Arlie
Fertulus was there when the shooting started, thank
goodness.  Maggie Bernard absorbed the bullets that
hit her, but the shock of it appears to have knocked
her out.  These are not ordinary bullets."
   "Fine," said Lily.  "Then we're taking Tablet with
his.  The suicidal twit got us into this mess, he can
help get us out."  She headed into the bedroom.
   "Here," said Tyler to Michette.  "There's a station
wagon outside."
   "Whose is it?"
   "Jimmy the Fish," said Tyler, wincing.  "Take good
care of it, okay?"
   At that moment, Lily came out of the room, flanked
by Larry Tablet.
   "Michette Duclos, Lily Paschall?  Be extremely
   "We'll be alright," said Lily.  "Come on, Tablet. 
You've been elected human shield."
   "Terrific," said Larry.

   "This whole place looks dead," said Michette as
they filed out of the car.
   Lily flicked on her electric torch.  "Okay, we're
each going to check one of these wooden wagon carts."
   "Great," said Larry.  "I'll check mine."
   "What makes you think they'll..." began Michette.
   Larry burst into a sprint towards his cart. 
Michette began to pick up speed after him.
   "Mimi!  It's not worth it.  Let's just find what we
came here to find.  You take the girl's cart; it's
over there.  I'll take Tex's to start.  Stay in touch,
and be careful."
   "I'm a big girl," said Michette.

   Michette heard soft whimpering coming from Evelyn's
wagon.  She shined her torch in through the open door.
   The thing was beyond pitiful.  It had a wolf's
snout and a man's head, a wolf's frame and a man's
appendages, a wolf's hair and a man's sad haunting
eyes.  His forehead was marked by a gibbous lump which
was bleeding freely.  The sight of the blood made
Michette's gullet tighten.
   It spoke.  "I'll be dead quite soon.  No need to
   "Tablet shot me right in the head.  Christ."
   "You're still alive."
   "Not for long."  It screwed up its huge canine
teeth into a smirk.  "Still, when you've got a bullet
in your brain, lasting a couple hours..."
   "Pretty impressive," finished Michette.
   The werewolf smiled and attempted to nod its head. 
Finding it too heavy, it reconciled itself to a
half-finished gesture.  "You don't need to be scared
of me."
   "I'm not."
   "The wolf in me can smell it.  Can smell fear, and
   "Are you saying I'm evil?"
   "No.  But you smell of it, Mimi."
   "My name.  How do you know it?"
   "I know an awful lot about you, Michette Duclos. 
You have been marked.  There is a price upon your
   "The Terrible Ones."
   "You have one enemy, Mimi.  One enemy, with many
arms.  Many servants."
   "Did you come here for me, then?"
   "No. For the girl, Evelyn."
   "To make Tablet hurt."
   "Why not go after him, then?"
   "It's easier to hurt someone through people.  And
the wicked and their minions surely will always take
the easy path.  Well.  I think I'm going to die now,
Mimi.  Be wary.  Not just for your sake, but for the
sake of those you love."  The creature fell into a
heap and expired.
   A moment passed before Michette heard the gunfire
and Lily's scream.

   Bile dripped from the hole in her left abdomen and
through her twitching fingers.
   "He shot me," she explained.
   "Where's the nearest phone?  I'll call for..."
   "No time.  I pushed button on my card.  Emergency
thing.  Coming."
   Michette clasped Lily's hand in hers and held it to
her lips.  "Lily..."
   "I'm a big girl.  He has the girl.  Get him.  The

   The tent was empty.  Michette bobbed her torch back
and forth, looking for some sign of life.  She found
   A table in the center ring.  Fresh cloth.  Two
plates, and a rhubarb pie.
   Her eyes darted back and forth as she looked for
Tex and Evelyn.  She knew they were here.  But where? 
They hadn't had time to leave, had they?
   A voice inside her told her to turn around.  She
did, just as Tex Waggner fired his shotgun.  The
bullet struck her lunchbox, flinging it from her hand.
   "You missed," she snarled.
   "I won't this time."  He pointed the gun at her. 
He swaggered in mid-air, floating towards her,
suspended by a weird glowing green energy that
encompassed his body, his clothing, and the gun.
   "Where's Evelyn?" Michette demanded.  That's good. 
Distract him from wanting to kill you.
   "Look above you."
   "Don't expect me to fall for that."
   "No trick."  Tex tossed down his gun; as it hit the
ground, the green glow faded, the silver of the barrel
becoming duller, the black of the handle murkier. 
"Look up at the trapeze."
   Michette did so, slowly, so that she could still
watch Tex out of the corner of her eye.  Sure as a
sunset, tied to a trapeze swing, was the gagged
Porcelain Girl.  Tears streamed down her eyes; it was
hard to tell because they blended in with her albino
   Michette turned her eyes back to Tex.  He stooped
down now to retrieve his gun, slow and sure.  Michette
reached her hand out and cried the two words-- "I'm
hungry!" -- that would summon her mystic lunchbox.  It
flung itself through the air and into her hand.
   Tex aimed his gun.  "What are you going to do with
   "What are you going to do with that?"
   "Going to shoot you, Miss Duclos."
   "My enemy," said Michette.  "They've changed you,
given you these powers."
   "They've given me the power to finally kill Tablet.
 And I did.  All I got to do for them is kill you." 
He looked up at his daughter.  "I'm doing this for
you, Evy.  Doing this... for you..."
   Tex pulled the trigger.
   Michette opened her lunchbox and prayed that it
would summon one hell of a sandwich.  But, for the
first time, it was not a sandwich which emerged from
her mystic lunchbox.  Not even a sandwich from the
artifact which had never been of any real practical
use, that had only resulted in her being targeted--
marked-- by the Terrible Ones.  No.  It wasn't a
sandwich, not even one hell of a sandwich.
   It was one hell of a lightning bolt.  It poured out
of her lunchbox so quickly, suddenly, and unexpectedly
that Michette was thrown back into the table.  It
broke, the rhubarb pie sailing through the air.  She
dusted a few crumbs from her eyes and, ignoring the
fresh splinters in her back, she got to her feet to
look at Tex.
   There was nothing left of him but a burnt patch on
the ground.



Tom Russell
Director of MILOS,

"If a comic book, book, movie or novel is not somebody's fantasy 
then who wrote it and to whom does it appeal to?  In order for a 
shared universe to have a widespread appeal, it has to appeal on 
a primal level.  If somebody says superhero comics are just 'wish 
fulfillment' then he needs to explain what is entertainment that 
doesn't satisfy our wishes and what satisfaction at all you can get 
from it." -- Dr. Martin Phipps

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