Day of the Tentacle
Written by Chris Ratcliff
LucasArts have produced some of the finest graphic adventures of the modern era (okay, there's only really been one era). Each of these games featured below can still stand up, today, with the best the world can produce. In novelised form, however, one can never hope to completely replicate the joyous experience that is playing a LucasArts adventure. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I suggest you run, not walk, to the nearest major computer software store and snap up these titles from the bargain bin. You will not regret it.
Having said all that, I hope you're still able to enjoy these novelised versions of the games - you can read them quicker than you can play them, and at more opportune moments too. Here they are.
They (nominative plural of third-person pronoun) say - lightning never
strikes twice in the same place.
Not true: park ranger Roy C. Sullivan of Virginia, USA, was struck seven times by lightning, from 1942 to 1977. He killed himself in 1983.
Also not true: more than twenty years ago now, the Edison family home was very nearly struck by a glowing purple meteor. After retrieving the thing, everyone in the place gradually went mad. The place was nicknamed 'Maniac Mansion' by the locals. Doctor Fred kidnapped one of them, the teenager Sandy, who was rescued by her college friends. The meteor was dispersed, the Edisons went sane again and everyone got on with their lives. The old place was converted into a motel and convention centre. They even made a computer game and TV series about the event.
Only once, you say? Well, watch what happens next.
It was a beautiful spring day. Clear as a whistle, the sky pale blue and
milky white, the ground a freshly mowed green. All around the Edison house
flowers thrived, butterflies flew, and the scent of nature was in the air.
Everywhere, that is, except for out the back. That was where the outlet for Doctor Fred Edison's patented Sludge-O-Matic™ was. KEEP OUT, proclaimed a large metal sign by the Sludge-O-Matic™ outlet. AREA CONTAMINATED WITH INDUSTRIAL WASTE. Foul, muddy brown water came out of a pipe in the basement, and sloshed into a passing stream. To one side, the stream was clear and blue - on the other, brown and bubbling. Here the grass was withered and decayed, the flowers were long dead, and the birds stayed well away.
But something was coming forward now. Two heads poked out surreptitiously from behind a tree trunk. One was green, the other was purple. Both were slimy and invertebrate. They reconnoitred the area, drew their heads back, then leapt forward toward the stream and the outlet.
A little description might be in order for those who have never seen one of Dr. Fred's tentacles. Imagine a dwarf inside a sleeping bag, a sleeping bag which tapers at the head to a narrow point. Now visualise a series of suckers, all down the front of the sleeping bag, so that the resulting creature looks like a swollen octopus tentacle. And that's nearly right, too.
Some other details. The tentacles have a mouth, eyes, even eyebrows, but no arms. No legs, either - the bottom of the tentacle is one large sucker, which has a tendency to stick to the ground.
Ssssllurrp-thunk, ssssllurrp-thunk, was the noise of the two tentacles leaping forward toward the stream. It wasn't often they got to go outside.
Purple Tentacle was in the lead. He was distinguishable from Green Tentacle not only by his complexion, but by a much larger and bushier eyebrow. And his voice, which was deep and serious compared to Green's younger, more enthusiastic voice.
Purple looked at the outlet. "Hmmm, I'm thirsty," he said, and leant forward.
Green looked worried. They shouldn't be out here, he knew it. Dr Fred would have a fit. "I don't think you should drink that," he said as Purple put his lips to the fetid water and slurped it in. "It looks bad for you."
Purple licked his lips. "Nonsense. It makes me feel great. Smarter. More aggressive." He leapt into a more open space. Green moved back slightly. "I feel like I could-"
Purple Tentacle struggled with himself. He writhed about, and Green heard bubbling, popping sounds come from the interior of Purple's chest. Green moved back further, trembling.
"Like I could-"
Purple tentacle's mouth opened enormously, and he roared. There were teeth in that roar. He shook himself from side to side, and to Green it seemed like Purple was growing slightly. His very skin shook, as pressures from within pounded it about.
"Like I could-"
Purple was nearly bent double, groaning. Suddenly, two folds of flesh on either side of his chest sprang out. Purple straightened up and looked at them, curiously.
He had arms. And that meant he could...
Purple drew himself up. Around him, the air grew cold. Clouds came from nowhere and lightning stabbed downward. Green cowered on the ground.
"TAKE ON THE WORLD!!" roared Purple.
The doorbell of a certain undergrad apartment rang.
Really, this apartment was no different to the many other undergrad apartments around. TV, couch facing TV, stereo, wooden floor, separate if tiny bedrooms etc. Occupied by three students, all who liked to interior decorate, the living room was a jumbled mess of three different personalities.
Posters of heavy metal bands, demonic skulls, and most of the CDs. That was Hoagie. No one, and certainly not his two roommates, seemed to know what Hoagie studied. Whether he studied at all was debatable - Hoagie was a short, but rotund guy who had unwashed black hair down to below his shoulders. He wore black T-shirts, exclusively, and they were always one size too small, so that between the belt of his pants and the bottom of the T-shirt was about an inch or two of bum crack. Hoagie wanted to be in a heavy metal band, or a roadie. He certainly had the right manners - that discarded pizza box on the floor with a few mouldy slices still inside was his. Oh, and the sock hanging from one blade of the ceiling fan.
Not quite at home with Hoagie's art sense were a row of formaldehyde jars on the bookshelf, and a grinning skull wearing a red fez and smoking a cigar. That was Laverne. Laverne was a pre-med student, with a keen - some would say obsessive - interest in anatomy. Whenever something needed dissecting, Laverne was the one to do it, and nearly always got top marks when she did. She never went anywhere without her trusty scalpel. She also never went anywhere unless she was wearing a red and white skirt, green sweater, med student ID tag, and a seriously out-of-whack grin on her face. When she did go somewhere, it was with a bounding, eager, knock-kneed gait that turned heads. She had a shock of wavy, unkempt blonde hair which extended outward in all directions from her head, like a corona eight inches wide. Perhaps it was nearly as unwashed as Hoagie's - they weren't so different, after all.
As uneasily as Laverne's possessions shared space with Hoagie's, they were even less happy about the computer desk in the corner and the Computer Fair poster on the wall. These were the work of senior Physics student Bernard Bernoulli, who was older than both of them. He never went anywhere unless he was wearing black shoes, black pants pulled up to his ribcage, a white shirt tucked into these pants (and the underpants), a solar calculator and a pen in the front pocket of the shirt. And, of course, glasses. Bernard was a bright, earnest but somewhat geeky guy who always tried to do right by everybody else.
Alone of the three, he had been to Maniac Mansion.
But it was Laverne who rushed to the front door when the doorbell rang that evening. She opened it, and was a little bemused to see a hamster standing there, holding a saliva-covered letter in its mouth and panting for breath.
"Look, Hoagie, it's a hamster!" she said to Hoagie, who was a little behind her. "Just what I need for dissection lab tomorrow!"
"I think I need that for the band, Laverne," said Hoagie. "You know, like we could bite its head off, or whatever."
Bernard rushed forward. "Hands off that hamster!" he said urgently.
"Friend of yours, Bernard?" asked Laverne.
Bernard crossed to the door. "He belongs to Weird Ed Edison - and it looks like he's brought us a note!" Bernard bent down and picked up the letter. He turned and kicked the door shut.
The hamster, outside, was a little miffed.
Bernard read, watched somewhat disinterestedly by Laverne and Hoagie. This is not going to be interesting, they thought.
"It's from my old friend, Green Tentacle!" exclaimed Bernard. "He says that Purple Tentacle's mutated into an insane genius-"
Hoagie whistled. Laverne's mouth fell open and her left eye throbbed. They started to pay close attention.
"-and Doctor Fred says he's going to kill them both!" Bernard was shocked by the terrible news. He folded the letter up and walked to the living room window.
Outside, stormy weather was brewing. Moonlight came through the shutters, casting a dramatic pattern of white and shadow on Bernard's body. He narrowed his eyes, staring roughly in the direction of the old Maniac Mansion place. "I thought I was free of Doctor Fred and those crazy Edisons forever. But now, I know that I must go..."
He looked up, at the moonlit sky. "Back to the Mansion!" Lightning struck again.
Bernard, normally a careful driver, fairly roared in his pickup, Laverne and
Hoagie in tow. They ran red lights, screamed round corners at full acceleration,
drove up high mountain passes and under shallow overpasses. Once, Bernard got
lost, so he simply pulled a hard left and drove through a farm paddock and a
It had to come to an end, and finally they crashed head on into a tree. They got out, everybody unhurt. They were at the base of a hill, and Bernard looked up to the house on its crest. Yellow light came from every window, and in one he fancied he could see the silhouette of an old lady.
Nurse Edna. Bernard shivered - they were back in Maniac Mansion. He led them up the hill, past a nearly empty car park, along the porch, and into the reception area.
Bernard was moving quickly, not bothering much with stealth. He remembered how cautiously he'd crept into the place those years ago, terrified out of his mind. All those tales of the crazy Edisons revolving in his head. Well, now those stories were still there, but so much fainter. He felt a lot more confident. After all, this place was a motel now. Open to the public.
He gathered everybody together in the reception area. No-one was behind the desk, or in the office. A staircase led up, past a grandfather clock, to the units. On their left, two large double doors were shut on the convention centre and dining area.
"Okay," said Bernard, to Hoagie and Laverne. They didn't know much about Maniac Mansion's violent, seedy past, nor of its present-day commercialised identity. So they weren't much concerned. "We'll spread out, commando-style. Laverne, you go secure the area behind those double doors. Hoagie, you take care of upstairs reconnaissance. I'll maintain Command HQ here, in the lobby."
Laverne had already opened the doors. "What are we looking for?" she asked.
"We've got to find where Doctor Fred is holding the tentacles!" said Bernard.
"This better not take too long," muttered Laverne. "I've got an anatomy final tomorrow." She disappeared into the convention centre.
"And I've got a show to set up later tonight," said Hoagie as he walked up the stairs, his hands in his pockets. "If I'm late I don't get to test the drums."
Bernard thought. "If I know Doctor Fred, he's got the tentacles tied up in his secret lab. Question is, where's his secret lab?"
He paced along the tiled floor (red, orange and beige tiles - horrendous), and tried to remember the layout. Around him all was still, excepting the steady tick-tock that came from the grandfather clock. It soon started to seriously annoy Bernard.
Bernard came and stood in front of the wooden clock. He did remember a grandfather clock, now. And there was something funny about this clock in front of him - something about the way the pendulum moved.
He reached out and opened the front panel of the clock. With it came the pendulum, and now Bernard, looking down, saw the space widen out below as stairs led down.
"Aha! A secret passage!" He climbed into the clock. "This is all too easy!"
Almost immediately he whacked his head into the top of the opening.
Hoagie was walking along the second floor. There were motel rooms on his left
side, but he didn't feel like taking a look. He passed an ice bucket, and a
candy machine, and now here was Laverne, bounding around with a confused
expression on her face.
"Laverne! How'd you get upstairs?"
"Am I upstairs?" said Laverne. "I got lost."
"Seen any tentacles?"
"What's a tentacle?" said Laverne.
A voice, behind them - behind Hoagie, at least. An old and wizened voice, a voice with crackles in it, a voice that leered, a voice that could have auditioned for any mad scientist role and taken it easily. "Oh, just something I whipped up in my spare time!" it said.
Hoagie turned. Standing there was a bald guy about four feet tall, wearing a lab coat and some kind of reflective lamp on his forehead. He looked a lot like a doctor, although not one you'd take your appendicitis to. Judging by what Bernard had said, this was Doctor Fred. "Make good pets actually," continued Doctor Fred. Then he frowned. "Until one of them tried to take over the world," he said darkly. "Had to tie the little buggers up in the basement!" Doctor Fred rubbed his hands together, a nervous expression he'd never really gotten rid of. Lately, he did it all the time.
"Good thing you told us that, Doc," said Laverne.
"Yeah," agreed Hoagie. "Bernard wanted us to set them free."
"Thank God you weren't that stupid!" said Doctor Fred. He paused. The rubbing motion of his hands ceased.
He turned to face them. "Did you say Bernard?"
Down in the darkness, the Sludge-O-Matic™ bubbled away. Tied to it by many
rounds of tight rope were Purple and Green Tentacle, or at least they were until
Bernard pulled away the final one. "There, you're free to go," he
"Thanks, Bernard!" said Green gratefully.
"Yes," agreed Purple. "Thank you, naive human. Now, I can finish taking over the world!" He bounded noisily away, laughing maniacally. Soon he was lost in the basement darkness.
"Wait!" cried Green.
"Oh yeah," said Bernard, suddenly contrite. "Now I remember. He's incredibly evil, isn't he?"
"Uhhh... I'll try to talk him out of it," said Green. He bounded away after Purple.
Bernard stayed behind. "Well," he said, trying to look on the bright side, "what possible harm could one insane mutant tentacle do?"
The lights were switched on. Bernard looked around, at a space much larger than he first thought. It was certainly more cluttered than he ever could have imagined. Machines, half-made machines, rubbish, even a beat up car and three portable toilets. Walking among them with an exasperated expression on his face was Doctor Fred.
He saw Bernard, and beside him the coils of rope lying uselessly on the floor. "Leaping labrats!" he exclaimed.
"Doctor Fred!" said Bernard guiltily.
"What have you done this time, you meddling milquetoast?" wailed Doctor Fred. "Now Purple Tentacle is free to use his evil mutant powers to take over the world, and enslave all humanity!!"
"Whoops," said Bernard.
"Our only hope now," said Doctor Fred, coming toward the Sludge-O-Matic™ with an intent expression on his face, "is to turn off my Sludge-O-Matic™ machine, and prevent the toxic mutagen from entering the river!"
"Isn't it a little late for that, Doctor?"
"Of course! That's why I'll have to do it... YESTERDAY! To the time machine!"
A damaged blue Buick, connected by metal pipes to three portable toilets -
this wasn't some bit of garbage, but Doctor Fred's time machine.
The toilets weren't your regulation standard issue toilets. They were bright green, with go-faster stripes. On the top of each toilet was a light bulb, and an electric fan. The bottom seemed to have some kind of bumper bar installed.
Laverne stood in one toilet, Bernard in another, Hoagie in the last. The doors had a small inset at head height which could be shut for privacy, but which now afforded their view of the situation.
The situation consisted of Doctor Fred, standing on a stepladder next to the Buick and rubbing his hands together. Beside him was a large lever extending into the Buick, an even larger diamond, and an orphaned pair of traffic lights.
"This is all your fault, Bernard," moaned Laverne.
"Behold, children!" shouted Doctor Fred behind them. "The Chron-O-John!"
"Doc, can't you just send Bernard?" said Hoagie.
"No," said Doctor Fred, "you must all go to increase the odds that one of you will make it there alive!"
"Have any people ever been hurt in this thing?" asked Bernard.
"Of course not!" said Doctor Fred dismissively. The three students cheered up. "This is the first time I've ever tried it on people!"
He pushed a button and the Chron-O-John windows shut on their shocked expressions. Then he pulled the large lever. It cranked into the ON position.
Bolts of electricity crackled around the diamond. On the Chron-O-Johns, the light bulbs glowed and the fans started to whirr, at first misfiring before smoothing out.
The Chron-O-Johns leapt into the air, at the same time squashing vertically. With a sound like a manuscript unrolling they vanished in a tinkle of light. Then, there was just the electric hum of the Buick machinery. Even Doctor Fred was impressed. "Well, I'll be," he said.
Hoagie opened his window, and peered out.
He was floating in a huge tunnel, whose surface was alternately ringed with blue and black. It whirled past at astonishing speed, but the Chron-O-John itself seemed stationary. It was the tunnel that moved.
Hoagie looked left. There, floating alongside, were Bernard and Laverne, staring around in horror. "Bernard," said Hoagie slowly and deliberately, "float over here so I can punch you."
Suddenly, an huge eyeball appeared. It seemed stuck to the wall of the tunnel, and whirled past them in a corkscrew pattern.
"This must be that Woodstock place Mom and Dad are always talking about," said Laverne wonderingly.
Mathematical formulae materialised in front of them. A black, curious looking cat with a white stripe up its back floated past. "What could it all mean?" said Hoagie.
"I don't know," said Bernard. "I don't want to know." A crazy woman in a chair span around them, cackling. A watch zoomed past, ticking. And now an extremely old, bearded Purple Tentacle appeared, with a green gun in its right hand. It aimed it at an unseen target. "Die!" it screamed, laughing. "Die! Die!"
"We may not live to see yesterday," said Hoagie.
"I'm sure Doctor Fred wouldn't have done this if it weren't safe," said Bernard, trying to convince himself as much as them.
"After all, he is a doctor," said Laverne.
'Doctor' Fred was beside himself with joy. "It worked! I can't believe
it! And they said imitation diamond wasn't good enough!"
Spoke too soon. Cracks appeared in one corner of the diamond, and sped across the surface. With the barest of sounds, the diamond shattered into tiny fragments and fell to the floor. Doctor Fred gasped, and cranked the lever back OFF. "Oh, oh," he said.
Bernard's Chron-O-John was plummeting at insane speeds through a tunnel that twisted and turned, throbbing at stroboscopic intensity. The other Chron-O-Johns were gone from sight. Everything was gone from sight. He fell, and he screamed.
In a separate tunnel, Laverne's Chron-O-John was just as out of control. Bulleting downward, her hair was nearly pulled out of its roots by the time wind. Her eyes bulged and she held onto the corners of the window with shaking, clammy hands.
Unlike the others, Hoagie was enjoying his whirling ride through the time
tunnel of Hell. He sat up, riding the buffeting waves of wind like the most
unflappable surfer in history. Mauna Loa, eat your heart out.
A black spot appeared, far below. He was falling so fast that in a second it had blown up to loom all around, a massive black disc that marked the end of the tunnel.
He crashed into it head on.
Maniac Mansion, two hundred years ago on a fine sunny day.
Of course, two hundred years ago it wasn't known as Maniac Mansion. In fact, it was a recently built, and mostly respected place. Indeed, something important was going on in there, right now, something that would shape the future of America.
But it wasn't inside that the Chron-O-John landed. Instead, somewhere beside the house, on a patch of lawn by a kumquat tree, in front of a pair of outhouses, it suddenly appeared, six feet up in the air, and crashed into the earth. The door swung open, revealing the squashed figure of Hoagie. No longer supported by the door, he fell facedown in the grass, landing with a thump.
Maniac Mansion, two hundred years hence.
It was another fine, sunny day. The new, metal surface of the Mansion gleamed in the sunlight. A rather extensive redesign had been carried out on the place, as befits a place so important to the recent history of the world.
The world as seen by Tentacles, that is.
One of the few areas left untouched by the tentacles held a large, ancient kumquat tree. From a sapling four hundred years ago, it had grown enormously, both in height and in breadth. So whereas Hoagie's Chron-O-John fell onto an empty patch of grass, Laverne's materialised right above the tree.
And it got caught by the tree twelve feet above the ground , on a thick and sturdy branch. The branch shook violently with the impact of the Chron-O-John, but held.
The door swung open and Laverne tottered out. A nasty fall to the concrete path below was averted by a protruding twig, which snagged her skirt. She hung there, all four limbs pointing downward like a cat caught around the middle, and looked around.
Maniac Mansion, the present.
Bernard's Chron-O-John crashed into its landing pad. The door swung open. Bernard didn't fall out - rather, he climbed out of the hole in the bottom of the Chron-O-John, dripping wet. Standing up, he wrung himself dry, grimacing slightly. It seemed to be just water down there, which was just as well.
"Cheap mail-order jewels!" ranted Doctor Fred, glaring at his invention.
Bernard looked around. Hoagie and Laverne, and their Chron-O-Johns, were nowhere to be seen! "What happened to Hoagie and Laverne?!" he said.
"I knew I should have bought a real diamond!" wailed Doctor Fred, ignoring him.
"Are they alive?"
Doctor Fred turned to his machine. "My dials say that the larger specimen landed two hundred years in the past - and the other is stuck two hundred years in the future!"
"Well, hurry up and bring them back!" urged Bernard.
"I will," promised Doctor Fred, "as soon as I get a new diamond! Then all your buddies have to do is plug in their respective Chron-O-Johns and-"
"Plug them in!?" said Bernard, interrupting him. "Where is Hoagie going to find an electrical outlet two hundred years in the past?!?"
Doctor Fred was unfazed. "Yes... well... he'll be needing my patented super-battery then, won't he?" He started rubbing his hands together. "Now, where did I put those patented super-battery plans of mine?"
"Plans? How are we going to get Hoagie plans?"
Doctor Fred waved the objection aside. "Don't worry me with details, boy! Just help me find the plans!" He scuttled past Bernard, looking around. "They're in this house somewhere!"
"Now what am I going to do?" wailed Bernard.
Doctor Fred stopped, turned around, and stared fiercely at him. He came back. "I think I made myself perfectly clear. Step One: Find plans. Step Two: Save world. Step Three: Get out of my house! Let's get cracking!" He immediately got cracking, walking swiftly up the basement stairs. "Maybe I put them upstairs," he wondered aloud. "That's got to be it! Upstairs!"
Bernard was more circumspect. He took a good look around the basement, walking slowly. He came to the Sludge-O-Matic™, and pulled the lever back. Now it was off, but it was too late now.
In the far corner was a complicated generator, seemingly driven by a treadmill. A small wheel-shaped treadmill, such as a mouse or hamster might run on. Beside it a bulletin board had been hung on the wall. Just the single piece of paper was tacked to the board.
Bernard read it. Doctor Fred's design for a super battery! Apparently, the battery was capable of storing one gigavolt with a charging time of just .01 seconds. Wow! thought Bernard.
He snatched up the paper. "I've got the plans!" he called out.
Doctor Fred appeared behind him. "Quick! We have to flush them to Hoagie!"
"How did you get over there?" said Bernard. He was sure Doctor Fred hadn't come down the stairs.
Together, they walked to the front of the Chron-O-John. "My ingenious super-battery design, please," said Doctor Fred, holding out a hand. Bernard gave it to him. Doctor Fred studied it, and nodded in approval. He rolled it into a tight scroll, then flung it into the Chron-O-John, right into the central hole in the floor.
The plans disappeared in the water. It swirled momentarily, accompanied by a flushing sound, then was still. There was a light grey glow emerging from the hole, but the plans did not reappear.
"You really flushed them!" said Bernard wonderingly.
"Down the toilet!"
"No!" said Doctor Fred. "Through time! Using the highly sophisticated Time-Flux Hydraulic Vortex Chamber I've installed in each Chron-O-John you can flush small, inanimate objects to each other through time!"
Laverne had not freed herself. Mainly because, a) when freeing yourself meant
a twelve foot fall to a concrete path, freedom started to lose some of its
appeal, and b) the branch which snagged her and amazingly held her weight was
caught right in the small of her back, that place you just can't reach
with your hands.
Nothing much had happened around her, except just these last few seconds the Chron-O-John had started to glow with a pale grey light. Now, she could just hear tiny voices coming from that gap in the floor.
Laverne craned her head as close as possible. The voice was that of Doctor Fred's, just coming to the end of a long speech. "...flush small inanimate objects to each other through time!" it said.
"Hello?" said Laverne. "Doctor Fred? Can you hear me?"
No response from the Chron-O-John.
"Drat," said Laverne.
"Did you hear something?" said Bernard.
"No!" said Doctor Fred. "Let's see if what's-his-name catches on." They crowded around the still-glowing Chron-O-John.
Hoagie was somewhat recovered. But now his Chron-O-John was starting to glow
with grey light. "Oh, great," said Hoagie wearily. "I'm stuck in
colonial times, tentacles are taking over the world, and now the toilet's backed
Doctor Fred's voice wafted out of the Chron-O-John. "Hoagie... come over here..."
Hoagie walked over, obediently.
"It's your old pal Doctor Fred," said Doctor Fred's disembodied voice.
"Doctor Fred?" said Hoagie. "How'd you get in there?"
"I want you to pick up those plans you see in the Chron-O-John, Hoagie," said Doctor Fred. "Bring them to Red Edison! He's my great, great, great, great, great, great, great-"
"-great, great, great grandfather," finished Doctor Fred.
"He'll know what to do."
Beside him, Bernard spoke up. "You need the plans to make a super-battery, so you can plug in your Chron-O-John!"
"Okay, if you say so, Bernard," said Hoagie's voice, from its vantage point two hundred years ago. The grey glow disappeared from the Chron-O-John. Hoagie must have picked up the plans.
"Good boy," said Doctor Fred approvingly. He turned to Bernard. "Does he have any experience with electronics?"
"Uh..." Bernard thought. "I once saw him take three thousand volts directly through his head without batting an eye."
"Didn't he pass out?" said Doctor Fred.
"Well, he was already passed out when it happened!"
Hoagie stuffed the patent application into his jeans. "Well, time for me to save the world, I guess," he said.
It was a fine, sunny morning, as we've said. The sky above was a perfect
blue, dotted willy-nilly with pale white clouds which, while large and puffy,
didn't forebode shade, let alone rain. The lower hemisphere, the ground, was
green all over, and all around. Gentle rolling hills surrounded the mansion.
Somewhere a brook burbled, with the distinctive sound of clean water rolling
over smooth stone. Birds perched and sang.
Hoagie, standing here in front of the Chron-O-John and the outhouses, took it all in. To his right was the rear of the Mansion, its shadow almost reaching his feet. A bank of colonial windows could be seen on the first and second floor, and Hoagie would have been visible from any one of them, but for now the only activity Hoagie saw was on the first floor, behind the nearest window. A few men were in there, standing around and not doing very much. The Mansion itself, seen by Hoagie in its heyday, was far more impressive than the decaying wreck it had become in the twentieth century. The paint didn't flake. The foundations looked strong. Basically, nothing had gone wrong yet.
It was away from the mansion, however, that Hoagie was first drawn. To his right, in a clearing surrounded by sycamore trees, a short balding man who reminded Hoagie of Jason Alexander was flying a kite. He wore bifocals, light brown pants, a tightly-fitted white shirt, and an even more tightly fitted blue vest. It was Hoagie's first encounter with colonial fashion, and he didn't much like it.
But he slouched over anyway, hands in pockets. There was something about this guy, something oddly familiar about his face when seen in profile. It studied the kite with a studious intensity. Or maybe it was the egg-shaped head.
"Hi there, Mister," said Hoagie.
The guy didn't turn around, just kept on flying the kite. "Franklin!" he corrected. "Ben Franklin! Soon to be known as the Inventor of Electricity!" Small droplets of spittle flew from his mouth, which had a tendency to open very wide when he talked his grandiose talk.
"Um, do you know Red Edison?" asked Hoagie. "He's a scientist too."
"Red Edison a scientist?" scoffed Franklin. "He's just an innkeeper who pretends to be a scientist! And he's not very good at doing either one! I can't believe Washington and Jefferson picked his inn, of all places, to write our constitution."
Hoagie could hardly believe it either. "Do you mean Washington, like, President Washington?" asked Hoagie.
"Did he tell you he was president?" said Franklin. "The nerve of that guy! Always trying to run things. But of course, no one will care who's president once I've harnessed the ultimate power! The power of electricity!" He laughed crazily.
"Uh, what was that part just before the crazy laugh?" asked Hoagie. The image of Ben Franklin flying a kite jogged something in his memory, for some reason.
"My experiments are bringing me ever closer to complete mastery over nature! As we speak, I am attempting to lure power out of the Heavens to do my bidding. When I succeed, I shall truly be the most powerful man on Earth!"
"You are truly whacked, Ben," said Hoagie admiringly.
"Ha! That's what they said about the man who invented bifocals!"
"Wasn't that you?" pointed out Hoagie.
Franklin paused. "Good point. Guess they were right!"
Hoagie, meanwhile, was starting to get an idea. "I could use some power for my time machine," he said to Franklin.
"There will be power enough for all, in time," assured Franklin. "There aren't any time machines yet, anyway. That's next summer's project!"
"How exactly are you going to do that power-luring?" asked Hoagie.
"Using one of my newest inventions!" said Franklin, looking up at the kite.
Hoagie followed his gaze. The kite flew steadily about twenty metres above the ground, barely moving around. It was made from white cardboard, in the ordinary diamond kite shape, and looked calm and serene against the clear blue sky. "I like to call it the Frank-O-Copter!" said Franklin.
"That's a kite, Ben," said Hoagie. "They've been around for thousands of years."
"Oh sure," admitted Franklin. "As toys! But this one is a letter to the gods! It says, 'Dear Thor, just one drop of your mighty juice, in the hands of a genius like mine, could illuminate the entire world! -Love, Ben'."
Hoagie shrugged. "I hope you wrote it in Swedish so Thor can read it... Or were those guys Norwegian?"
"I was speaking figuratively," said Franklin. "What actually is happening is that I'm waiting for lightning to strike my kite. Me, Ben Franklin, the Inventor of Electricity!" He seemed to like this title.
"Shouldn't you say, 'The discoverer of electricity?'" asked Hoagie.
Franklin took umbrage at the suggestion. "You think the ultimate power in the Universe is just under some rock, waiting to be discovered? Ha! I, Ben Franklin, am going to summon power from the heavens by sheer force of genius!"
Hoagie had finally remembered his history. Ben Franklin - of course! But some details seemed to be absent. "Aren't you missing a key or something?" he asked.
"The key to discovery is daring intellect, my boy! Daring intellect and rigorous science!"
"No, I mean a real key-key," explained Hoagie.
"You mean, the 'Where the heck did I put my keys' kind of key?" said Franklin. "That's a manual device! It needs no power! Seriously man, what are you thinking?"
Hoagie had to back down in the face of that scientific intellect. He changed the subject. "So, lightning strikes your kite - then what?"
"And then, the electricity charges the kite!" said Franklin.
Hoagie wasn't satisfied. "And then what?"
"Then the electricity travels down the string!"
"And then what?"
"It charges me, of course."
"And then what?"
"I glow with its almighty power!" enthused Franklin.
"And then what?"
"I use its power to make the world a better place!"
"And then what?"
Franklin's vision grew ever grander. "The world kneels before me, asking me to guide it with my mighty benevolence!"
"And then what?"
"I have all annoying pests like you locked up."
"And then what?"
"I see." Hoagie looked around. Not a single dark cloud threatened. "Isn't it a little too sunny for lightning?"
"Shhh!" hushed Franklin. "I know that! I'm just trying to keep my grant going until we get a storm!"
Somewhere, back in the distant depths of time, Hoagie remembered talking about Red Edison. He went back to that topic. "So, where's this Red guy at?" he asked.
"Down in his secret lab, of course," said Franklin, "neglecting his guests!"
"What's so bad about Red?" asked Hoagie.
Franklin smiled, superciliously. "What can you say about a guy who spent the last four years perfecting a left-handed hammer? He's insane! And he steals other people's inventions too, before they can even apply for the patent! Not that I'm bitter, mind you," he added.
"Well, I need Red to help me save humanity," said Hoagie.
Franklin misunderstood. "So he's a missionary now, eh? Well, why not? Can't be any worse at that than he is at inventing!"
Hoagie had had enough of this conversation. "Well, I'll let you get back to your tugging," he said.
"Yes! Back to Science!"
Hoagie walked away, toward the front yard area of the Edison house. A cobblestoned path led from the two outhouses (and the Chron-O-John), around the side of the house and to the front porch, where it widened into a courtyard large enough to hold several carriages.
At the moment, it held just one, a rusty, neglected jalopy that seemed to have been out of commission for several decades. It certainly hadn't been anywhere in a long time. Past it, Hoagie came to the front porch area. There was a mailbox by a lamppost, and stairs leading up to the front door.
Hoagie had a look inside the mail box. Inside was a letter, presumably for Red Edison. 'You're brilliant, what a novel design,' Hoagie read. 'Come to Baltimore at once.' He stuffed it inside his pants and entered the Mansion.
Inside, he had the most astonishing feeling of reja vu (I will be here again). The room he was in was eerily reminiscent of Maniac Mansion's reception area. Oh sure, the decor was a lot different - no garish colours, stag's heads hanging on the walls, flowering writing. But the structure was identical. Two double doors to his left closed off the Main Hall area. On the right, a set of creaky wooden stairs led up to the second floor. In front of them was a grandfather clock. And here, right in front of him, was the reception desk, and standing behind it a mummy wearing a tricorner hat.
"Wassup?" said Hoagie to the mummy. This was Dead Cousin Ted, presumably. Bernard had told them all about Ted.
Ted maintained his silence.
"Don't feel like talking, huh?" said Hoagie. "Vow of silence or something, probably, right? Well, that's cool."
Ted's eyes, shrouded in shadow and swathes of bandages, were invisible to Hoagie.
"I have something for Red Edison," said Hoagie to the immobile Ted.
"Do you know where I could find him?" asked Hoagie. Ted didn't answer. "Great hat, man," complemented Hoagie. "I know some dudes in a band who'd eat roaches for a hat like that." He considered this. "Of course, they'd probably eat roaches anyway. Maybe with a little chocolate sauce. They're like that. I once saw them play a whole set with grasshoppers in their nostrils."
Ted was still. "Awesome," said Hoagie. "Well, nice talking to you, dude."
Hoagie looked around. The grandfather clock was the most familiar object in here. Did it perhaps lead down to the secret lab of Red Edison? Hoagie went over to it, and sure enough the front panel opened on a set of narrow stairs.
Hoagie squeezed through, and found himself in a tiny basement, much smaller than Doctor Fred's. A short, old guy with white hair was working furiously at a cluttered bench, underneath a vast, crowded wall-mounted cabinet. He looked a lot like Doctor Fred dressed up for a colonial play. Red Edison, no doubt.
"Hey!" said Hoagie. Red stopped working and looked at him.
"What is it?" he said impatiently.
"You look kinda familiar," said Hoagie.
"Of course I do!" said Red. "I'm Red Edison, the inventor; not to mention owner of this inn. Perhaps you've seen my picture in some important scientific journal." Red Edison stopped, and looked up and down at this outlandish oversized long-haired guy wearing a black t-shirt with a flaming skull on it. "Then again, maybe not."
"Do you know Ben Franklin?" asked Hoagie.
Red reacted badly to the name. "Franklin!? I would never associate with that overstuffed goofball! He has the stupidest idea about glasses with one red lens and one blue one. Tchah!"
Hoagie looked down at the bench top, where something wholly unfamiliar to him was being worked on. "Watcha doing?" he asked.
"I'm inventing, you simpleton, what's it look like I'm doing?"
"I know an inventor who looks a bit like you," said Hoagie.
"Well, it's not one of my sons, that's for sure," said Red darkly. He'd started rubbing his hands together nervously - the exact same way as Doctor Fred did. "It appears that I, Red Edison, foremost genius of my day, am to be the last in a long line of gifted inventors. My nearly indistinguishable sons have decided that they want to be artists." Red spat the word out like a filthy vegetable. "I think it was Jed's idea, or was it Ned? Ah well, the left-handed one, at any rate. Must be some sort of bad blood on their mother's side."
"What are you inventing?" asked Hoagie politely.
"It's a new size-independent fastening mechanism based on circular geometry."
Hoagie nodded. Perhaps this guy would be smart enough to fix up the super-battery. He gave the plans to Red.
Red took them and read, eyes moving quickly over the paper. "Hmmm, super-battery, eh? Brilliant design. Sometimes I amaze myself." He put the plans in a spare place on the cabinet. "Now all I need is oil, vinegar and some gold."
That said, he resumed his work on the fastening mechanism, ignoring Hoagie.
Hoagie got the impression that getting oil, vinegar and some gold would be up to him. He walked back up the stairs, and climbed out into the reception area.
Those double doors, and the MAIN HALL beyond, beckoned. Hoagie pulled them open and went through.
The Main Hall of Red's inn was a wide, spacious room of thick, polished floorboards and regal grey-and-dark-brown colour scheme. Light came in from the stacked windowpanes on either side of the hall. There was a fireplace on the opposite wall to Hoagie, in the centre of the room, and this hall was the kind of hall that would look a lot cheerier if a fire was lit.
A fire wasn't lit, at the moment.
Beside the fire, on Hoagie's right, was a long, bare, varnished table, covered in a grey cloth. Clustered around it were three figures straight from the history books. Thomas Jefferson sat behind the table in a high-backed green chair, looking at a grey capsule on the table. Occasionally he would rub a log, sitting there next to the capsule. Thomas was tall and dignified in his yellow shirt, brown coat and spotless cravat.
Next to him, and closer to the empty fireplace, was John Hancock. John looked less dignified. He was curled up in his chair, a bright Indian rug wrapped around his body, and his long, melancholy face was grey and pale. John looked pretty cold. His thin, bony legs shivered, his teeth chattered, his hands rubbed up and down on the rug.
The final figure wasn't at the table at all, but standing a small distance away looking out the window, roughly in the direction of Hoagie's Chron-O-John. His back was turned to Hoagie, and Hoagie didn't immediately recognise him. He was, however, the most smartly dressed of the three.
So Hoagie went and talked to John. "Yo," said Hoagie.
John looked at him. "H-h-h-hello," he stammered.
"Wassup? You cold?"
"C-c-cold! I'm f-f-f-freezing!" said the shivering John Hancock. "What c-clued you in, the sh-sh-shivering, the knocking knees, the d-d-deathly pallor, or the ch-chattering teeth?"
Hoagie was a little perplexed by this - he was wearing a lot less than John Hancock, and he felt just fine. "Why don't you put on a coat?"
"I'm w-wearing a c-coat, you n-nitwit!" said John. "I've even g-got this b-blanket which m-m-makes me itch, and I'm s-still f-f-freezing!"
"Well, why don't you build a fire?" suggested Hoagie.
John looked miserable. "Well, I k-keep asking J-Jefferson to build a f-fire, b-but he won't. Says he n-needs the log for p-posterity, and won't p-part with it." Jefferson, seemingly not taking any interest in the conversation, nonetheless rubbed the log thoughtfully.
"Who'd want a poster of a log?" said Hoagie, confused.
"I don't g-get any respect around here," moaned John. "Why, I bet if G-George 'I spent the winter in Valley Forge' Washington was c-cold we'd get some h-heat in here." So that's who the figure over at the window was - George Washington! Ben Franklin was right.
"What are you guys doing in here, anyway?" asked Hoagie.
"We're writing a c-c-c-c- ... a c-c-c-c- ... writing a c-c-c-c-c-"
Thomas Jefferson came to the rescue. "We're drafting a Constitution for the United States," he said.
"D-Don't say d-d-draft," said John, "you'll only make me c-c-colder."
"Wimp," said Jefferson.
Hoagie looked apologetic. "Gotta motor, dude," he said to John.
"You h-have a what?"
Hoagie came over to Jefferson. "Hey, tall dark and spiffy, my name's Hoagie."
"Well, how quaint," said Jefferson. He had a cultured, statesmanlike voice. "I am, of course, Thomas Jefferson: noted scholar, musician, horseman, student of the sciences, member of the bar-"
"Oh sure, I've heard of you, dude," said Hoagie. "What's in the can, Tommy?"
"Thomas," corrected Jefferson. "My name is Thomas. And this, my chubby friend, is a time capsule. Filled with remembrances of our time to be revealed four hundred years hence."
"So, how's the time capsule going?"
"I'm sorry to say that except for my log, we haven't got a thing!"
Hoagie, looking at the metal capsule and the log, saw something else to the right. A fancy gold fountain pen, and next to it, mounted on a small stand, a scroll of paper.
Hoagie did a double take. "Dude, is that, like, the Constitution?"
Jefferson nodded. "Right now it's just a Constitution, I'm afraid. We hit a slight creative block right after the preamble. That's why we've put up a suggestion box, over there." Hoagie looked around to see a box mounted by the door, with a slit in the top and a lock on the door.
"Has anyone ever told you you're a very snappy dresser?" he said.
"Why yes. I studied at Virginia Coat and Technical, where I majored in collar theory. I was captain of the varsity cravat team."
"Those are impressive credentials, Tom," said Hoagie.
"Thomas," corrected Jefferson.
"Dude, I loved your work on the Declaration of Independence," said Hoagie.
Jefferson looked pleased. "Ah, thank you," he said. "What was your favourite part?"
Hoagie thought. He was having fun talking to all these historical types. "I liked the 'We the People' bit," he said.
"That's not in the Declaration of-" Jefferson stopped, and looked thoughtful. "Say, that's not bad. Maybe we can use it."
Hoagie remembered poor John Hancock. "Could you start a fire, please?" he asked.
"I'd love to oblige you, young man, but I can't. This is the only log, and I'm saving it for posterity."
"How can you let Hancock suffer like that?"
"A real man is warmed by the fires of his spirit. You should listen to Washington relate his experiences at Valley Forge, and take heed!"
"Well, later, dude," said Hoagie.
"What? What's going to happen later?"
Hoagie left and approached George Washington, still standing there at the window staring out. Even Hoagie was a little hesitant about starting up a conversation with this guy. Washington was like royalty.
He looked past Washington. There, through the window, he saw the rolling fields of the countryside. Ben Franklin was somewhere distant, still flying his kite. And the kumquat tree was quite close by, almost directly outside. The Chron-O-John was hidden behind its fresh, fruit-laden branches.
Now Hoagie had heard a lot of the conversation between Doctor Fred and Bernard, and even some of Laverne's cries for help. As far as he knew, then, he was trapped two hundred years in the past, Laverne was trapped two hundred years in the future (four hundred years, from Hoagie's viewpoint), and she was stuck in a tree.
Hoagie had noted the extraordinary coincidence, earlier, that Jefferson's time capsule was also to be opened four hundred years hence. He was starting to wonder - if the kumquat tree got cut down now, would that free Laverne?
He came over to Washington, still staring out the window. "What are you looking at out there?" said Hoagie to Washington, who stood still at the window.
"The future of our nation," said the mellifluous voice of George Washington.
Hoagie didn't think it was that good a view. What was Washington on about? "A system of free enterprise and opportunity?" he hazarded.
"No, no," chided Washington gently, shaking his head. He turned to face Hoagie. "I was just admiring my reflection in the window. Striking, aren't I?"
"Whoa!" said Hoagie involuntarily, at the sight of a face every bit as familiar as the illustrations and monograms he'd seen over the years. "You're like, George Washington!"
"Very much like him, according to my wife, Mrs Washington," said Washington placidly. He stood with his back slightly arched and his hands crossed behind it.
"My name's Hoagie," said Hoagie, a note of abasing respect in his voice.
"Like the sandwich? How quaint."
"Weren't you president or something?" asked Hoagie.
Washington nodded - a slight, carefully judged motion. "Yes, I expect to be chosen president unanimously. I'm very well connected. Do you think I should be the 'ecology president' or the 'education president'?"
Hoagie didn't take long to think. "Depends on how many cherry trees you've chopped down," he said. That was one thing he remembered about Washington - the story about him and the cherry tree.
"Well, I am quite the adept tree-cutter," admitted Washington. "Men still tell tales of my youthful prowess."
"Would you give me a demonstration?" asked Hoagie. He was hoping Washington might solve his problem by cutting down the kumquat tree outside.
"I don't see why I should," said Washington. "Besides-" he looked out the window "-as you can see, there aren't any cherry trees around. I only cut down cherry trees. Family tradition, you understand, cherry trees only. There's nothing out there but cedar and kumquats."
Once again, Hoagie remembered John Hancock. "Cold enough for ya?" he asked.
"Cold!" said Washington, in a strange restrained indignation. "Why, you don't know the meaning of the word! I spent a winter at Valley Forge, now that was cold! Why, my spit would freeze before it hit the ground!"
"Cool," said Hoagie.
"Extremely." Washington turned back to the window.
Hoagie, feeling slightly snubbed, looked back at the table. He wanted that gold feather pen for the super-battery, but it was right under the eyes of Thomas Jefferson. And how was he going to cut that tree down?
Very fortunately for Hoagie, he didn't have to search long to find an answer.
In a small food preparation area off the main hall, Hoagie found a bottle of
salad oil. He took it. And in a storage room on the far side of the food
preparation area, Hoagie found a tin of red paint.
The paint gave him an idea. With the paint tin in one hand and a brush in the other, Hoagie walked outside and returned along the path to the Chron-O-John. He stopped at the kumquat tree. It was fruit season, and many pale orange globes hung down from its branches, but they were all within reach of Hoagie and his brush. And Hoagie painted every single one of them dark red.
It took a while, and Hoagie got his t-shirt even more dirty, but finally the job was done. Hoagie stood back and admired his work. Even from this close distance, you couldn't easily tell it was a put-up.
Quickly, Hoagie re-entered the inn, put away the paint, and found Washington. Washington still stood at the window. If he had seen Hoagie's artwork, he gave no sign of it.
"Excuse me?" said Hoagie.
Washington turned from the window. "Yes?"
"I've been thinking about what you said about cherry trees," said Hoagie.
"Pondering the great truths, eh? Well?"
"I bet you've lost it," said Hoagie disparagingly. "I bet you couldn't cut down a cherry tree to save your grandmother."
Washington's indignation was less restrained this time. "Lost it, have I? Why, I'd show you a thing or two if there were any cherry trees nearby. But, as you can see, there-" Washington stopped speaking. Looking out the window, he caught a sudden glimpse of red. He shifted a little to the left. Yes, there was definitely a cherry tree out there. Strange how he'd never seen it before. "Uh, well what do you know!" he said wonderingly. "There is a cherry tree out there!"
He turned back to Hoagie. "Well let's go chop the sucker down!"
Hoagie and Washington stood outside, underneath the very same window, with Washington holding a sharp axe in his hands, painted red and white on the blade. Washington placed his feet, swung back his arms, and levelled a single horizontal chop at the four-inch thickness of the 'cherry' tree trunk.
The axe bit deep into the wood. The branches of the tree shook violently, and even as Washington pulled the axe back, it fell slowly to the ground.
"Voila," said Washington.
"You're quite a man," agreed Hoagie.
"Yes. I know."
Laverne's cries for help had not gone unheeded. So now, while she was still
stranded up in the tree, a purple tentacle with a butterfly net, a safari hat, a
broomhandle moustache and other British Explorer imitations, now stood
impatiently on the concrete path.
"I said, come down from there at once!" he said irritably (his voice, like the other things listed above, doing its best British Explorer imitation)
"Try to understand," said Laverne. "I'm stuck in this-"
Her words were cut off by a magical sparkling noise. Behind her, the old kumquat tree vanished in a swirl of white points of light. One moment it was there, the next it was gone.
And Laverne was free.
She flailed about violently, hanging motionless in the air in accordance with the laws of Cartoon Physics, but the effort was to no avail. Laverne plunged headlong into the concrete path, which cracked crazily beneath her. Most of her head and shoulders disappeared into the earth. Two skinny legs were left sticking up and kicking around, in a most undignified position. Behind Laverne, the Chron-O-John similarly fell to earth, luckily managing to stay intact.
The tentacle with the net leapt forward.
Back in the present...
Bernard looked up from the Chron-O-John and turned to Doctor Fred. "So, as soon as Hoagie gets that battery working, we're set!" he said hopefully.
"I'm afraid not!" said Doctor Fred. "We still need a diamond for the main unit. And your friend in the future needs power too, if she's still alive." Doctor Fred walked away, heading toward a wooden table, and the mug of hot coffee on it.
"Alive?" said a shocked Bernard.
"Get me out of here!" yelled Laverne. "I haven't done
The tentacle on guard put away his book. He was purple, sat on a blue spring chair, and wore a black hat with a yellow star on it, the mark of a kennel guard. "Well, you must have done something or you wouldn't be here, now would you?" he said reasonably. "You'd be out in the lobby with your tentacle owner, getting dressed up for the human show."
That's right, kennel guard. Tentacles, in this future world, did have prisons, but they were for other tentacles. Humans, as befitted a lower life form, went in the kennels.
"OWNER!?" shouted Laverne, outraged. "No-one owns me!"
She was not the only human in the kennel. There were three others, sitting down on a bench and wearing striped prison fatigues. Laverne thought one of them looked familiar - if she'd been Bernard, all three would have looked familiar - a wizened old guy sitting on his own, grumbling. The two she didn't recognize in any way were an old aunty-type woman, with big thighs and an even bigger red hairdo, and an enormous, young, unshaven, clumsy-looking fellow. He wore large chunky glasses and had a close crewcut. These two were playing cards listlessly.
"Gosh... no owner, you say? Well, don't worry about it," said the guard sympathetically. "I'm sure someone will come adopt you before we have to put you to sleep." Laverne's mouth was a wide, shocked O.
"Damn that Doctor Fred," she muttered.
"Hey, she knows the Edison family motto," said the wizened old guy.
Doctor Fred's really enjoying his coffee, reflected Bernard as he approached the mad scientist. As if by clockwork (and you could set your watch by it), Doctor Fred took a sip of coffee every fifteen seconds. In the gap between sips, he rubbed his hands together and brooded silently.
"Hey, Doctor Fred!" said Bernard. Doctor Fred looked at him. "We have to do something!"
"What do you suggest, college boy?" said Doctor Fred bitterly. "No diamond for the central unit! No power for the Chron-O-Johns! A mutant monster of my own creation roaming the countryside, taking over the world! It's a dark day for mad science."
"How about catching Purple Tentacle?" said Bernard.
"He's long gone! Probably taking over the world as we speak!"
That night, over the AP wires: RASH OF COW TIPPING BAFFLES POLICE TRIANGULAR MAN SPOTTED AT SCENE
"Soon, we'll all be speaking - well, English, I guess," said Doctor
Bernard was just itching to do something. "What if we unpollute the river?"
"I could just shut off my Sludge-O-Matic™, but it's too late!"
Bernard interrupted him. "You have a machine whose sole function is producing toxic waste?!?"
Doctor Fred looked at Bernard as if he was insane. "You can't have a high-tech laboratory like this and not spew poisonous filth; all the other mad scientists would laugh!"
"Well, why can't we just fix the time machine?" said Bernard desperately.
"It needs a whole new diamond! Now where am I going to get the money?"
Bernard thought. "Bake sale? Hey, I know! Let's put on a show in the old barn!"
Doctor Fred looked at him angrily. "Do you know how much a diamond costs?"
"Two months of the groom's salary?" guessed Bernard.
"TWO MILLION DOLLARS!!"
Bernard didn't see the problem. "So? You've got money, haven't you?"
A tired expression crossed Doctor Fred's face, one of old, but pressing worries. "Well, I didn't get all the money I expected from that TV show about us. We had to rent out our mansion as a hotel just to make ends meet. We're living mostly on that income - that, and Edna's tips from her exotic dancing." He sighed wearily. "If only I had signed that contract in time!" he bemoaned.
"What contract?" said Bernard, confused. "What TV show about you?"
"Well, after that incident where I was possessed by a meteor from outer space, somebody decided to make a show about us. But they didn't pay us anything! All we got was a cut of the video game."
Bernard whistled. "Wow. That thing made millions!"
"Yes. I forgot to sign the royalty contract in time, though. I still have it in my safe upstairs."
"Let's go get the contract out of the safe and sign it!" exclaimed Bernard.
"I forgot the combination!" said Doctor Fred.
Bernard was stumped for words. "But that's... that's so stupid, Doctor Fred!"
"I know! It gives my enormous brain nightmares. Every time I fall asleep I dream about opening the safe - but I find something horrible inside and slam it shut! Over and over again, night after night."
"Is that why you drink so much coffee?" asked Bernard.
"I haven't slept in two years!" said Doctor Fred.
"You're going to get really chafed hands doing that," said Bernard, referring to Doctor Fred's incessant hand-rubbing.
Doctor Fred stopped rubbing his hands. "Sorry. Coffee jitters."
"Maybe you should switch to decaf," suggested Bernard.
"NO!" shouted Doctor Fred. The word seemed to have been jerked from him. "Then I'd fall asleep and... the dreams would come." Unaware he was even doing it, he'd started rubbing his hands again.
"We have to do something!" said Bernard, reverting to his earlier theme.
"Yes! We have to get a new diamond!"
"Isn't there anything we can do?"
"Go diamond shopping!"
Bernard backed away. "Well, gotta go save the world," he said.
"Good luck!" said Doctor Fred. He returned to his coffee; Bernard was already walking up the stairs to the lobby.
Red Edison took the salad oil from Hoagie's fat hand. "Ah... I need that
for my super-battery." He put it on a shelf and went back to work,
completely ignoring Hoagie. Truly, this was an inventor dedicated to his work.
Hoagie left the room and walked up the stairs to the second floor.
That queer feeling of reja-vu only intensified. The layout of the passageway before him was identical to that of the latter-day Maniac Mansion - windows along the right wall, three high, closed doors on the left - but as if seen through a historical filter.
The carpet was a clean, stately bottle green. Red curtains draped the windows, giving a faint vermillion tinge to the light. The walls were painted in colonial colours, with rich brown wainscotting, and small portraits hung between the doors.
Hoagie tried the first door. The frame was slightly off-kilter, and the door jammed in. He gave it a push, and it finally swung open.
It was a bedroom. A small bedroom with a bare floor. Ornate, unidentified portraits hung on the walls. On Hoagie's left, taking up half the room, was a single brass bed, its sheets and blankets crisply folded. Hanging on the wall above it was a large wooden sign, on which was engraved, George Sleeps Here.
He was in the homely, yet austere bedroom of America's President. Even Hoagie felt a small tinge of awe. And he began to wonder something he'd first thought when seeing the new, incomplete Constitution. If he were to do something in here, something that pissed George off, for example, would it irrevocably alter the future of the nation? Hoagie had no idea.
Hoagie made a quick search of the bed. No gold, no vinegar. Then he looked up and saw a long cord, hanging by the doorway. Hoagie pulled it, just to see what would happen.
A horn blared somewhere. Seconds later, a maid appeared in the doorway. This was not a slim, young maid. She was older, and built like Hoagie, though even shorter and wider, if that were possible. "Here I am. Don't get your curls in an uproar," she said, coming into the room. It got a little crowded. "Excuse me, Mr. Washington. Boy, what a mess." Then she started dusting.
Hoagie blinked. He was not recognised. Admittedly, the maid was wearing extremely thick horn-rimmed glasses, but Hoagie didn't look a bit like Washington. "Miss, my name's not Washington," said Hoagie.
The maid bustled around the room like a cleaning dynamo. "Well, you've certainly messed it up as though you were. It's no use trying to fool me, Mr. Washington."
"I'll let you get back to your work," said Hoagie.
"Yes, there's a lot to be done," agreed the maid busily.
Hoagie walked away. Outside, by the door, was the maid's cart, and her cleaning supplies. There weren't many - just a lonely bar of soap.
Hoagie came down the hall to the second door. He tried it.
Immediately he heard the clatter of wooden machinery. Hoagie entered, and saw a woman sitting at a table, in front of an enormous sewing machine. She sat in a rocking chair, and rolled back and forth on the pedals. The needles, and her thin hands, worked and pierced like industrial machinery. Her face was set, and annoyed.
Hoagie looked around. The walls were not hung with portraits, here. Instead, various rectangular designs were tacked on. They were all the same size and shape, and all coloured in red, white and blue. None of them looked particularly striking, but their purpose was clear enough. These were prototype flags.
The sewing woman, Betsy Ross, wasn't any happier now she had some company. "I told you guys, I'll get to the flag next!" she said shrilly. "I'm working as fast as I can!"
"Hey, chill. Take your time," said Hoagie.
"Don't tell me you've got another design change for the flag!" said Betsy Ross.
Hoagie's answer was pretty automatic. "I've got another design change for the flag."
"I knew it," muttered Betsy.
Hoagie thought about what would, in his opinion, make a good flag. The ideas flowed from his mouth. "Could it have a chrome-plated bald eagle robot on it?" he said. "How about a skull with, like, scorpions in its mouth? It should have a hologram on it somewhere. No, wait, we need a babe in a leather bikini, swinging a broadaxe."
These outlandish suggestions gave even Betsy pause. She stopped, for a few seconds, and stared into space. Then she started work again. "Oh, what the heck! At this point, I'd do anything, just to have it over with. Put the pattern on the table and I'll look at it when I'm done with this job."
Hoagie suddenly realised he was in control of history. He could change the flag. He could put suggestions in the Constitution. It was an awesome feeling, and Hoagie's mind overflowed with the possibilities.
He ran through some ideas. "The guys downstairs say they want a big family crest... and in the four corners, they want a keg, some babes, a guitar, and some drum sticks... and underneath it all put, 'America rocks!' Or, what if it had the face of the Devil on it, with like red, white and blue flames coming out of his mouth? Let's make it just like the British flag, but upside-down to cheese them off. We could have this babe, like a waitress... and she's carrying this red, white, and blue cherry pie. Wait, I know, how 'bout a big old picture of me?"
A faint grimace crossed Betsy Ross's face.
Hoagie kept on going. "Make it just like you were going to, but put in flying-V guitars instead of stars. Let's just have a picture of a guy carrying a bundle of sticks, and not name the country anything at all. Two words: totally black. Okay, instead of fifty stars, let's have one of those reclining silver babes. Like truckers have on their mud flaps. Why don't we put a crossword puzzle on it, so you have something to do waiting in line at the post office? George downstairs wants the flag to be a pair of boxer shorts covered with little red valentines. And if you embroidered the order of poker hands in the corner, people would forget them less."
He stopped. "Are you finished?" said Betsy.
Hoagie shrugged. "I guess so."
"Well, just put the plans on the table and I'll get to it!" she yelled.
Hoagie looked at the table. One parchment was most prominent, with a familiar design. "Stars and stripes. Dull, dull, dull."
"Hey, don't criticise unless you've got a better idea!" said Betsy.
Hoagie didn't hang around - after all, he didn't have an actual design. So he walked out and tried the third door.
Another bedroom. And Hoagie thought he could guess whose it was too - Ben Franklin's. Mainly he could tell this by the white sheet stuck to the wall, on which were Ben's kite plans. Hoagie looked at them for a little while - he didn't really see how it could fly. The bed was neat and looked well-used. There were ink stains on the sheets. An oval mirror hung on the wall. And perched on a crate by the doorway was a bottle of wine.
Hoagie looked at the label. Chateau de Cheapaux, 1775. Hoagie looked at it a while, holding the suspect wine in his hands.
This was pretty much his speciality, which wouldn't have surprised either Bernard or Laverne. There wasn't a lot Hoagie didn't know about alcohol, and what it could and could not do to an average person. Looking at this particular bottle, he was getting a very good idea, a time-travelling idea, like none he'd ever had before.
Taking the bottle with him, Hoagie walked downstairs to the hall. Jefferson was still sitting behind the desk, Washington still looking out the window, and Hancock still shivering. Hoagie walked over to Jefferson and gave him the bottle.
"Thank you, this is exactly the sort of thing I need for the time capsule," said Jefferson. "I'll bury it tonight, and it won't be seen for hundreds of years. Future generations are in your debt."
"Whoa," said Hoagie. He went outside, toward the Chron-O-John.
Hoagie's plan was this - four hundred years later, the wine would have turned to vinegar. All Laverne had to do was unearth the capsule, flush it back to him, and Hoagie would have another super-battery ingredient.
She'd need something to open the capsule, but fortunately Hoagie had a can opener on him. Now, he put the can opener in the Chron-O-John's toilet, and waited.
And waited. The grey light did not wink out.
Several minutes he waited, until finally Hoagie got tired of waiting and picked the can opener up himself. This was not good. Where was Laverne? Hoagie stood there, unsure.
Laverne was not having a good time.
She was furious at these tentacles. How dare they lock her up? And what was more galling was that they hadn't locked her up at all. The kennel, despite holding Laverne and these three other humans, was not caged or barred. There didn't seem to be anything between her, the bored. guard and the door.
Laverne strode forward, determinedly. She had only gone several feet forward, however, when she ran into an invisible, electric wall. Yellow light sparked noisily. Laverne jumped back, her hair smoking. The tentacle guard didn't even look up.
She looked down, and saw a row of pulsing lights on the floor. Above them were a line of halogen lamps, or something that looked like halogen lamps. Force field.
"Get me out of here!" Laverne yelled to the guard. "This is a violation of my rights!"
"Rights!?!" said the guard. "You're a human, you don't have any rights!" He looked back down at his book.
Laverne walked over to the Edison lookalikes. If these were the inmates she was spending the rest of her life with, Laverne felt she could have done a bit better. The old woman and the young, clumsy man didn't look up from their cards. The old man just stared forward glumly.
Laverne spoke to him. "Doctor Fred? Is that you?"
He looked at her. "What? Yer nuts! There hasn't been a Fred in the Edison family for two hundred years! The last Fred was such a shame to the whole family... not to mention the whole human race!"
"Well, who are you then?" asked Laverne crossly. He sure looked like Doctor Fred. He even spoke like Doctor Fred.
"I'm Zed Edison," said Zed. He pointed to his fellow inmates. "That's my wife Zedna, and my son Ved."
"Nice to meet you," said Laverne politely, then turned to Zed. "Where am I?" she asked.
"You're in the ancestral home of the once-proud Edison family," said Zed. "We were once the masters of this house, just as humans were once the masters of Earth. Now we are the servants... the pets!" he moaned.
"And not very good at either one, I might add!" said the tentacle guard.
"Oh, get bent, you overdressed nightcrawler," said Zed.
"How do I get out of here?" asked Laverne.
Zed was not helpful. "If I knew that, do you think I'd be here?"
Laverne said, "Well, I've got a lot of rotting in jail to do, so-"
"I'm tired of talking now," said Zed. "It's been a long day, and I'm only..." he shuddered, realising what the sentence was coming to, "...human."
Laverne was not put to despair by Zed's words. She was just getting angrier. No slug was going to keep her in prison. The anger churned in her stomach, like a glut of bilious fluid.
She spoke up. "Yoo-hoo! Mr. Tentacle Guy!"
The guard looked up. "What?"
"Oooh... I don't feel so good," moaned Laverne, suddenly sickly. Her face went a pale grey colour. "I think I'm going to throw up-" her throat hitched "-all over."
The performance completely took in the guard. "Uh, oh," he said. "Time to visit Doctor Tentacle."
Laverne was led through several doors, and finally into a bare medical
She got to see some of the futuristic Mansion. Bare walls, all grey metal, and pictures of tentacles. No pictures of humans. The doorways were no longer rectangular, but the shape of an organic pyramid, or tentacle. They rolled up with a hydraulic whoosh whenever somebody approached.
The doctor's office was darker, and anatomical charts hung on the wall. The doctor himself was another purple tentacle, wearing a white med coat. A stethoscope hung from his ears.
Laverne was ushered inside, and the guard left. The doctor turned around. "Well, well, what have we here?" he said, with the comforting voice of a professional.
"I feel pukey," said Laverne, coming over.
"Indeed? OK, now, hold still."
"Are you gonna use your scalpel?" asked Laverne hopefully.
"No, of course not," said the doctor.
"Darn," said Laverne. She had a thought. "Do you wanna use mine?" she asked.
"Er... no." The doctor listened to her heart for a while with his stethoscope. "Hmmm," he said finally.
"What?" Laverne was ignored. The doctor hopped past her, to a human chart on the wall.
"Hmmmm," he said again.
The tension was getting to Laverne. "What? What?"
"Just as I suspected," he announced.
"There's nothing wrong with you, human," said the doctor.
Laverne turned away, disgusted. "What a letdown."
"Well, I'm late for the show," said the doctor. "I'll send your keeper back for you." He hopped out, but paused at the door. "Oh. Sit. Stay. Good boy."
He left. Laverne was a little confused that the doctor would leave her alone, a tentacle prisoner, like this. She looked around the office, at a loss. An anatomical chart, of a human, caught her eye. She chuckled - they'd gotten the liver and the spleen mixed up.
Another, larger anatomical chart was stuck to the opposite wall. It outlined a tentacle's anatomy, and Laverne's medical curiosity got the better of her. She studied the lines. To a layman it might look like a paint-by-numbers picture of sushi, but Laverne had specialised knowledge.
Even she was confused by this comprehensive if poorly-rendered diagram of the working parts of a tentacle. "I still don't understand how they can eat through a sucker," she muttered.
Laverne came to a decision. She looked around - the doctor had still not returned - then pulled the chart from the wall. She folded it up and hid it in a pocket. Furtively carrying her stolen cargo, Laverne left the office.
Outside, she took a moment to get her bearings.
She was in a long, wide room. In front of her were several tentacle-shaped windows, revealing the rolling hills outside. And between them, a tentacle-shaped door. The door to outside - which meant she was now in what once had been the lobby.
Behind her, the door whooshed shut. It prompted Laverne to action, and she stumbled forward. And pulled up sharply.
The room to her left had opened up considerably. She now saw, on the far wall, a set of curved metal stairs leading up to the next floor. In the space in front of these stairs was a futuristic couch, on which sat three humans, looking away from her. At least Laverne supposed they were humans. With all the frizzy hair and psychedelic colours, it was hard to tell.
Watching over these humans, and periodically glancing up at Laverne, was a purple tentacle wearing a safari hat and holding a butterfly in one net. The tentacle that had captured her earlier. Beside him was a grandfather clock.
Laverne froze. She had been spotted for sure. Seconds passed, but the tentacle didn't hop toward her, shouting angrily. He just stood there, not paying much attention to her at all. After a while, Laverne realised she wasn't going to be seized.
She stood there, still and smiling faintly for the benefit of the guard, and thought. What to do now? That outside door still beckoned, but if she tried it the tentacle guard would probably be spurred to action. There was another door, on her right, that led deeper into the mansion. Taking that might make her seem furtive. Finally Laverne just gave up and walked toward the cluster of humans.
On second thought, she decided to be even bolder and walked up to the tentacle guard. "Hi, I'm Laverne," she said.
"That's regrettable," said the tentacle guard. "Perhaps you should see the doctor." He sounded impatient.
"What's upstairs?" Laverne asked.
"Nothing that you need to worry about," said the tentacle. "An old time capsule and some worthless human relics. And, of course, the showroom. Off limits to humans, naturally, except for the showroom."
"Nice clock," said Laverne. She'd gotten a good look at it, close up, and she was pretty sure this was the same grandfather clock that had once led down to Doctor Fred's old lab. A nearby plaque just about confirmed this: 'This four-hundred-year-old clock is an amusing example of primitive human timekeeping.'
"Rather. No one is to touch it, especially humans. Now, be off with you!" said the tentacle irritably.
Dismissed, Laverne turned away. The three humans were seated right in front of her. Seen from behind and far away, she hadn't known what to make of them. She still didn't.
The three humans were eached dressed as brightly and gaudily as possible. Laverne was reminded of prize-winning dogs, dolled up for a show.
Two of the humans, sitting up straight on the far end of the couch, looked straight ahead with wide eyes and frozen smiles. One wore a green satiny dress, the other some mock Napoleonic uniform. Veterans of the human show circuit, their eyelids did not blink, at all. Laverne tried to get their attention, but it was useless.
The third human sat slightly apart, and was the most striking of the three. Tall and thin, he was dressed in skin-tight purple tights, a tutu and a low-cut sweater. He had an enormous tornado of soft blue-green hair, whirled up in a cone around his head, in which were hung gold tinsel decorations. He did not smile inanely like the other two people. His long, perfect face held an expression of confidence and readiness.
He was totally unlike any human Laverne had ever seen, but in this tentacle-dominated world she was glad for any contact. "Hi," she said. "My name's Laverne. I'm a sophomore."
"My name's Harold," said Harold, in his effeminate voice. "I'm a thoroughbred."
Laverne looked around. "What are you, uh, guys waiting for?"
"We're all waiting for the human show to begin, of course," said Harold. "If your owner's going to enter you, they'd better get you some name tags, quick. But then again, why bother? My owner says I'm going to win. I'm the most beautiful human there is." He ruffled the back of his bouffant hair, smiling like the cat with the cream.
"That's quite a tutu you've got there," said Laverne.
"Thank you," said Harold. "My owner paid quite a lot of money for it. My owner buys me anything I want." Harold sounded most pleased about this.
"Where is your owner?" asked Laverne.
"He's not here right now: but he would be, if he in any way possibly could. His bus broke down in Pittsburgh, so he's stuck there with the other owners. This is the first show I've ever done... alone."
"Is your hair naturally blue?" asked Laverne.
"Natural? How gauche! This took several very expensive sessions at a posh grooming salon! I've got the hair competition in the bag!"
"Well, then, good luck," said Laverne.
"Who needs luck when you've got beauty?" said Harold.
Laverne walked away. Not toward the front door, or the stairs (both being guarded), but to the double doors at the far end of the lobby. She was going deeper into the mansion.
The double doors whooshed up as she approached. Once, this area had been the
conference room of the Maniac Mansion hotel. Now, it was a curving, metallic
corridor. Two doorways, nearby, led off the passage. One, Laverne remembered,
led straight back to the kennel. She was not going that way.
Neither did Laverne want to try the second door, just yet. Instead, she followed the passageway. On her left was a wide, open fireplace, jutting out slightly from the wall. It was built from metal, and its sides were completely bare of soot. What the purpose of this fireplace was Laverne could not guess at (it looked more like the end of a huge vacuum hose), but the chimney still led straight up to the roof - she could see faint daylight, reflected down the bore.
The curving passage led her around the fireplace, and here was a blue tentacle, sitting at a desk and looking away from her, to a tiny tentacle-shaped window in the wall.
Laverne stopped, but didn't slink back the way she came. This tentacle didn't look that threatening - in fact, from behind, he looked a little bit like her Uncle Reggie. Even the tentacle guard at the clock had let her be, so maybe she should find out what this tentacle was doing here.
So Laverne stepped forward. "Hi," she said, "I'm La-"
The tentacle turned, and his eyebrows literally jumped. "Woo-ee!" he said loudly. "You are one ugly human!"
"Excuse me?" said Laverne.
"Man, I'm not kidding. You are just about the homeliest homo sapien I've ever seen!"
Laverne's initial fear was slowly turning into embarrassment and anger. "Are you trying to tell me something?" she said.
"Yeah. You're a real woof," said the tentacle emphatically. "I mean, your hair alone is going to give me nightmares. Not to mention your teeth, your clothes, your one eye that's bigger than the other..."
"Gee, how much worse could I get?" said Laverne. This deluge of insults was most unsettling.
"Not much, unless there were two of you," said the tentacle.
"Thanks. You ain't so hot yourself," said Laverne, trying to redress the balance.
The tentacle was equal to the task. "I never said I was, but sheesh! Have you taken a look at yourself lately?" His nose literally wrinkled with distaste.
"I guess I'd better just go shoot myself, then," said Laverne glumly.
"Oh, you don't have to do that!" the tentacle assured her. "We have staff here that can do that for you. The doctor monitoring the human show, in fact, is a specialist in the field."
That was gratifying to know. "Where I come from, I happen to be quite the babe," said Laverne. This wasn't strictly true, but this tentacle had gotten her back up.
"You mean the kennel?" scoffed the tentacle. "That doesn't say much. Everyone in there is a human show reject!"
"I think I'm going to kill you," said Laverne slowly.
"Now, now," chided the tentacle. "You're never going to get into the human show with that attitude. Not to mention that face," he added.
A sudden determination hardened within Laverne. She was going to enter this human show. And she was going to win it. And when she'd won it, she'd come back to this tentacle and rub his face in the certificate.
She grinned at the tentacle, showing slightly too many teeth. "Human show!?! Hot dang! Sign me up!"
"Sorry, humans can't sign themselves up, no matter how ugly they are," said the tentacle. "Go ask your owner to sign you up. Ask them to sign you up for a haircut while they're at it. The winner gets dinner for two at Club Tentacle."
"Why would I want to go there?"
"Not you," said the tentacle despairingly. "Your owner! Oh, forget it."
Laverne could not take any more of this. "Well, I gotta go arrange your death now," she said.
"You really should get some professional help," said the tentacle evenly.
"I already have a therapist."
"I was thinking more like a beautician."
Laverne walked away, her right hand holding the handle of her scalpel, in her pocket. She was sorely tempted to whip it out then and there and do something grievous to the tentacle, but this wasn't the place to cause a scene. Besides which, she and her therapist had an agreement.
She went through the second doorway, the one next to the kennel door. It brought her into a gloomy room of high-tech equipment.
By the door, on her right, was a huge cubic machine with a familiar red triangle logo on its side. This was the Recyclatron. They might be oppressive and power-mad, but at least the tentacles recycled stuff.
Near the Recyclatron was the largest microwave Laverne had ever seen. It had three settings: Cook, Jet Defrost, and Mutilate Beyond Recognition.
And then Laverne came to the most interesting machine of all. She saw three circular holes, set into the wall, and a green monochrome monitor. The labels were intriguing. One hole was labelled "Opener." The one next to it said "Remove specimen here." And the top hole, although hard to read, definitely said something about a rhesus monkey.
Laverne, her interest piqued, looked at the changing display of the monitor. It was labelled "Medula-oblongator." Jagged lines jumped up and down on the monitor, like an EKG reading.
There was no further clue as to how to operate the machine, however, and reluctantly Laverne moved on.
Here was a small door. Laverne tried it.
Instantly, she was out of the world of metal, and in a small, warm laundry room. A tiny forty-watt globe gave what little illumination there was, the rest coming from between the lattices of a nearby window.
It was like entering a time warp. There was a laundry machine, a plain recognisable human laundry machine. It was busted up good. Above the broken laundry machine were some empty washing powder boxes. The floor was that hideous orange and white tiling pattern Laverne remembered from the present-day Mansion, albeit thick with dirt.
In one corner was a pink storage cabinet. Laverne looked inside, but it was empty. Next to the cabinet was a dryer, which looked to be in working condition. It, too, was empty.
Laverne couldn't work out what was going on here. It was as if the room hadn't been used in two hundred years. But no dust, and no smell.
Eventually, she realised the importance of the window. An escape route! She came to the window, and looked for a latch. None. Frustrated, Laverne pounded on the glass. It hardly shook. She even tried making a discreet hole with her scalpel, but the glass was seemingly bulletproof.
Laverne sighed. She was out of options. She sat down on the dryer (in defiance of a yellowing sign) and thought about things. Eventually, she came to a decision, and stood up. Slowly, she walked back to the kennel.
The kennel guard was most surprised to see her at his door. "Hey!"
he said sharply. "How did you get out?"
He flipped the switch on the electric barrier. "Get back in there!" Obediently, Laverne walked into her cell. Not much had changed in here. Zedna and Ved were still gloomily playing cards, and Zed sat on his own, not doing much.
"I wish Dr. Tentacle would stop losing patients!" muttered the guard. To Laverne, he said, "Don't escape again!" He hit the switch, and the barrier was restored.
Laverne waited a few minutes. The guard flipped through his book. Zed stared at nothing. The only sound was the flip of cards, and the occasional grunt, as Zedna and Ved each cheated at poker.
After five minutes, Laverne spoke up, feeling confident enough to talk at ordinary volume. To Zed, she said, "What's this about a human show?"
"It's a degrading farce!" said Zed violently. "That's what it is! These slimy tentacles put humans in humiliating little costumes... do sickening things to their hair... and then force them to parade their ridiculous 'talents' in front of unqualified judges who were paid off weeks in advance!"
"Didn't get in, eh?" said Laverne slyly.
"They said macramé wasn't a talent... pointy-headed goons," muttered Zed.
"I heard that," said the kennel guard, looking up.
"Yeah, me too," said Zed.
Laverne stood up, and came as close as she dared to the barrier. This was a gamble, but it might just work. "Yoo-hoo! Mr. Tentacle Guy!" she said.
"I have to go to the bathroom!" said Laverne.
The guard laughed. "Ha, that's a good one! Imagine, a human using a bathroom!" He jumped down from his chair, flipping the barrier switch. "Come on, let's take a walk."
Laverne was led outside, to the lawn area in front of the Mansion. The
tentacle guard sat nearby, on a chair he'd brought with him. "Okay, human -
do your business," he said, then returned to his novel.
She looked around, at the gentle curves of the surrounding hillside. There were no fences or barriers in sight. She could run for it. Maybe. It didn't much matter, anyway. She didn't want to be stuck two hundred years in the future, in a world dominated by tentacles.
Laverne walked away, anyway, along the concrete path leading around the side of the Mansion. She was heading for the Chron-O-John.
And here it was, in a tiny cul-de-sac of lawn, fenced on three sides. Now that the cherry tree was gone (Laverne still didn't know how this had come about), the yard was a little bare. There was just the Chron-O-John, that squat machine, bastard offspring of a jukebox, refrigerator and outdoor latrine, its power-in cord coiled up on the lawn.
Laverne looked down at that cord, and felt a dull thump of unease. It was short. The Mansion was at least five metres away, at its closest point. And the Chron-O-John was far too heavy to move.
Which meant Laverne was stuck here, for the foreseeable future.
Not very hopeful, Laverne looked at the Mansion. She was around the side, well away from the front door, and there were no other entrances. Just those ubiquitous tentacle-shaped windows.
Then she saw something unusual. Down at ground level was a plain ordinary rectangular window. Laverne bent down and peered through.
Her pulse quickened. She could see Doctor Fred's old lab! And his generator was still there!
Laverne whispered, "Hello? Anybody there?" There was no reply.
She got up and brushed her knees. Boy, could I use that power, thought Laverne. But I'd never get through this window.
Another thing became clear. The grandfather clock being guarded inside still led down to the old lab. That was why it was being guarded!
Still standing by the window, Laverne looked back at the Chron-O-John. Yes, the cord was far too short. So she'd need an extension... A plan was starting to form in Laverne's mind. Well, not really a plan: more a set of goals she had to achieve.
But if this was going to work, she'd need absolute freedom to roam the Mansion.
Laverne remembered now why she'd come out here in the first place. She went and stood in front of the Chron-O-John. From one pocket came the tentacle diagram. She knew, from what she'd overheard of Doctor Fred, that Hoagie was stuck four hundred years in the past. It was time to see if she knew her history.
Through the streams of time, Laverne flushed it.
For ten minutes Hoagie had stood patiently by the Chron-O-John, when it
suddenly glowed. Hoagie came forward and looked inside. There was a piece of
paper in there, all folded up. Hoagie took it, slightly curious, and unfolded
the paper. "Looks like a paint-by-numbers picture of sushi," he said
From the Chron-O-John came the voice of Laverne, disconnected from her body and given an ethereal, floaty quality. "Hoagie."
Hoagie immediately forgot the paper. "Laverne? Is that you?"
"Yes. Hoagie, I want you to get that chart used as the flag design."
Hoagie remembered the paper. "This thing?"
The voice of Laverne had fallen silent.
"Uh, Laverne?" said Hoagie quickly. "I, uh, need you to open a time capsule and flush the stuff to me. You can probably use this or something." He flushed her the can opener. Laverne took it without comment.
After a moment, Hoagie started off for the Mansion.
Soon he was at the door of the hard-working Betsy Ross. She seemed to be in an even blacker mood. "Those founding fathers are driving me nuts!" she raved. "Flag design changes every five minutes! I'll never get out of here. At this point, I don't care what the flag looks like."
The treadle clattered up and down. "Well, as soon as I'm done with this, I'm making them a flag, ready or not! Then it's, 'Bye-bye Betsy!'"
Hoagie didn't even want to announce his presence. He walked carefully to the table, bowing down under its load of designs, and placed the tentacle chart on the very top. Hoagie started to walk toward Betsy Ross, to alert her to the new design.
"Back off or get stitched!" yelled Betsy Ross. Hoagie quickly stepped back and left the room.
Downstairs, the hard work of drafting the Constitution continued apace:
John Hancock had come up with an idea. "How about an amendment that the president has to be a human being?" he suggested.
"Please, this is serious business," said Jefferson.
Hancock thought for a moment. "You're right."
Laverne, her work done, returned to the guard. "Yoo-hoo, Mr. Tentacle
Guy," she said, getting his attention.
"It's about time!"
Not too much later, she was safely ensconced back in the kennel. Now, she again spoke up. Coming forward, she looked at the guard with bloodshot eyes. "Oooh... I don't feel too good..." she moaned.
"Again?" said the guard dubiously. But he still allowed her to be taken to Doctor Tentacle. After a brief examination, in which the Doctor could find nothing wrong, Laverne was left alone in his examination room.
She waited precisely one minute, then walked out and turned right. She was back in the passage, those two doors at one end, the fireplace in the middle, and Uncle Reggie on the far side.
Seeing that tentacle again, the blood rose to her head and she forgot her purpose for the moment. Laverne stepped forward.
"Is it too late to register for the human show?" she asked innocently.
The tentacle turned and saw her. "For you? Much, much too late. Why don't you beat it now? I've got a lot of standing around to do."
Laverne eyed the sheets of paper in front of him. "Uh, the guard-guy wants to see you in the kennel. He said to just leave all your stuff here." She waited.
The tentacle was suspicious. "Which guard? What's his name?"
"Just get your butt in there," said Laverne. "That's his name."
"What a coincidence - that's my name!"
"Of course not! Now, beat it."
Laverne was not giving up. She was going to be in this human show. "Could I register another human for the show?" she asked.
The tentacle was getting more and more exasperated. "You can't do anything! You are a human! This is a tentacle's world! Don't you get it? Only tentacles can own property, only tentacles can vote, and only tentacles can register humans in the show!"
"I'll ruin the show for everybody if you don't let me in," Laverne threatened.
"You'd ruin it for everybody if I did," said the tentacle.
"When's the show going to start?"
"We're still waiting for one more human to fill the last stall," said the tentacle.
"I'll fill it!" said Laverne eagerly.
"With what? Don't answer that."
Laverne gave up. She backed away, outwardly looking disappointed, inwardly feeling hopeful. Reggie didn't know it, but very soon the tables would be turned.
She stood in front of the fireplace. It had a huge opening, nearly five feet high. She looked up and saw a similarly voluminous chimney. It all looked pretty good. She stepped forward, ducking her head into the fireplace, and scrambled up the chimney.
Carried upward by sheer energy rather than careful ascent, seconds later Laverne poked her head out into the clear sunshine. Cool breaths of air floated past her face. She wriggled out of the chimney, which seemed to bend and curve around her like rubber, despite being made of metal.
Above was the blue sky; below the verdant green of the Mansion surrounds; all around was the ring of hills and, far off, purple mountains. For someone with a fear of heights, the view would have brought on a fierce attack of vertigo - fortunately Laverne wasn't afraid of heights.
She still had to be careful, though, for the Mansion's roof was a sloping, multi-peaked thing on which you could easily lose your footing if you weren't careful. Around here, however, the sloping was minimal, and she could stand with some confidence. On her left the roof did jut up, sloping sharply, and in this slope were two tentacle-shaped windows. On her right was a ten metre drop to the ground. The space between was nearly flat, and about a metre wide.
Along this narrow path Laverne walked, finally coming to a sturdy metal stand, a pole about two metres long, and hanging at the end of it, blowing in the slight breeze, the American flag.
Not the American flag you or I or the whole world knows so well. Betsy Ross had done her job very well, and what fluttered before Laverne resembled nothing so much as a red and white windsock, over a metre long. Three blue felt circles were arranged in a line - the suckers.
Laverne cranked the flag down from the top of the pole and pulled it off. Just her size. Tentacle disguise in hand, she jumped up and pulled herself into the chimney. The downward journey was as easy as the upward one - easier, even, as all she had to do this time was fall. Laverne thumped to ground in the bottom of the fireplace, and yanked herself out.
She furtively looked left and right. Nobody in sight except for Reggie, who was looking in the other direction. Satisfied she was not being watched, Laverne pulled the tentacle flag over her head.
There was no opening for the head. Laverne solved this by straining upward, and finally breaking off the top blue felt circle. Her head, unkempt blonde hair and all, poked out from the top sucker.
It was not the perfect disguise. Her arms were visible from the shoulder down. Her bony legs could also be seen, below the bottom of the flag. And of course the prominence of the head spoke for itself. But it would have to do.
Feeling very pleased at her ingenuity, Laverne approached the tentacle. He turned, and boggled as he had before. This time, however, the expression on his face was quite different.
"Hello," said Laverne. Maintaining a sober face, she nevertheless could barely keep herself from giggling. "I'm a tentacle. I'd like to enter my insignificant human in the show."
The tentacle just about fell over himself to agree. "Oh, my. Yes, yes. Of course. Take these tags, put them on your human, and have them wait on the bench in the lobby. Entrants will be judged in three categories: Best smile, best hair, and best laugh."
Laverne took the tags, a large smile on her face. "Thank you, fellow tentacle," she said expansively. "Unlike humans, you have been very useful."
The tentacle grew flustered. "Oh, uh, thank you. Believe me, it was my pleasure."
Laverne walked away, clutching the entrance tag defiantly. Behind her, the tentacle wiped his brow. "Yowza! That was one good lookin' tentacle!"
The tentacle disguise had worked beyond all expectations. Buoyed, Laverne entered the lobby. She crossed to the tentacle guard, still standing patiently by the clock. "Hi, I'm Laverne," said Laverne.
"'Laverne', eh?" said the guard. "Curious name for a tentacle, I must say. Are you here for the show?"
"Yes, that's right," agreed Laverne.
"It's the big event of the day," said the guard enthusiastically. "There are some jolly good prizes to be won. Why, the grand prize is a dinner for two at Club Tentacle!"
"Nice clock," said Laverne, looking rather unsubtly at it.
"Yes, it's a valuable antique. I'd like to show it to you, but I'm presently charged with the task of guarding it. No one will get near it while I'm here!"
The first rip appeared in Laverne's balloon of good spirit. "Couldn't I please touch the clock?" she pleaded.
"Sorry, no. No one touches the clock while I'm on duty. I'm under strict orders from tentacle number one... the almighty elder... the grand poobah, Purple Tentacle, not to let anyone near this clock."
"But I have rights! I'm a tentacle!"
"And a darned attractive one, I might add. I'm sorry. But no one gets to this clock while I'm here, and unless I have to go chase down some escaped humans, I'm glued to this spot!" He stood there, implacable.
"Rats!" said Laverne. She turned to the three humans, still sitting patiently on their couch. "You heard the man! Escape!" she urged.
"You're talking to the wrong people," said Harold complacently. "We like it here. We're celebrities."
Behind her, the guard suddenly piped up. "I say, have I told you about the time I tracked an escaped human to Madagascar?" he said. "He had stowed away aboard a tuna boat you see, and I narrowly missed stopping it leaving port. Unfortunately, the only other available transport was a rowboat, so I-"
Laverne broke off the story as diplomatically as possible. "Aren't you curious about what's inside the clock?" she asked.
"Not really," said the guard. "Guarding it is more or less the same no matter what's inside. I say, have I told you about the time I was nearly caught in a wheat thresher? I had tracked a renegade human to a farm in Iowa. There was a dummy in the field which was presumably meant to scare away crows or thieves. Anyway, the amusing bit is that-"
Laverne interrupted. "You're quite a tracker, aren't you?"
"Rather," said the guard. "I always get my man, no matter how long it takes. Like the time I tracked a human all the way to the North Pole. He was a short one, I remember, with curiously pointed ears. I had to eat my sled dogs by the time I caught up with him. He had holed up in a workshop there, and there was a fat human in a rather garish red suit who-"
Laverne just wanted to know one thing. Despite the setback, she already had the glimmerings of a plan in mind. "Has anybody ever escaped from this place?" she asked.
"Some try once in a while, but I always fetch them back," said the guard confidently. "That's my primary duty here, and I take it very seriously. I always get my man, no matter how long it takes. Why, I once trailed a renegade human for six days. He led me clear through the hills and up to the top of those mountains to the west. You couldn't possibly imagine the horrible things I had to eat to survive!"
"Grub and maggot salad?" suggested Laverne. "Putrefied squirrel intestines? Pieces of your own body?" She wasn't really paying attention.
The guard was horrified. "Good heavens!" Shocked, he broke off the conversation. Laverne's further attempts to get his attention had no success. She looked around, but those three relentlessly cheery humans on the couch were just too depressing to talk to. How could they just sit there? Why weren't they rushing as one to kick the tentacles out? Laverne didn't understand.
All of a sudden, she got angry. Laverne strode forward and stood in front of the woman in the satiny green dress. Laverne shoved her hand into the coiffured mess of the woman's hair and rubbed it around, ruining the style. Then she stood back. The woman just sat there, smiling vacantly, not even bothering to fix the mess. "Come on!" raved Laverne. "Get insulted! Aren't you gonna punch me in the face?"
She turned her attention to the human on the right, the Napoleonic figure. Laverne stepped forward and tweaked his military decorations around. "How d'ya like that, eh? Going to do something about it?"
Laverne stood back and waited. Neither human moved.
"I thought not," she said, grimly satisfied. What has become of humanity? she wondered, as she headed for the kennel.
The lonely, bored guard on kennel duty was very surprised to have a visitor.
He nearly flipped out of his chair as Laverne, now disguised as a tentacle,
appeared in the doorway.
"Say, cutie!" he said.
"How's it going, Mr. Tentacle Guy?" asked Laverne. She was here mainly because of something the tentacle guard outside had said - that his main job was to capture escaped humans. Now maybe she, in her tentacle disguise, could persuade the kennel guard to leave his post.
"Oh, same as ever," said the guard, in his can't-really-complain-but-I'd-sure-like-to voice. "I'm broke, hate my job, etc."
Laverne looked at him, a little puzzled. "Don't you recognise me?"
"Uh... no... I- Hey! Aren't you the waitress from Club Tentacle? I love that place! I'd be there right now if I weren't flat broke. What brings a hot tentacle babe like you to a dump like this?"
Laverne swallowed her pride. Putting on her best sultry voice, she said, "I'm, uh, here to see you, big boy."
The guard's eyes jumped. "Really?!? Well, what are you doing for dinner? How about Club Tentacle?" Suddenly the light went out of his face. "Oh, what am I saying... I can't afford to take out the trash, let alone a classy babe like you." He sighed.
This was all very off-putting for Laverne. It was pretty hard just to get fellow humans interested in her, but here in the future tentacles seemed to be falling over themselves for her favours. Which raised the question... actually, Laverne didn't want to know what questions it raised. Let alone the answers.
All this aside, the guard was still at his post. Fortunately, Laverne had a backup plan. She looked at the Edisons and said, "I'm looking for a pet." Zed looked back at her and Laverne thought she saw him recognise her.
The guard's voice was laced with regret - he didn't want to turn this beautiful tentacle down twice. "Sorry, honey. You came to the wrong place. These three are problem humans: disobedient, downright surly."
Zed spoke up. "He's just jealous 'cause we got opposable thumbs!" he cackled.
"Someday you will accept tentacles as your masters!" said the guard, glaring at Zed..
"Ha! You losers can't even ride tricycles!"
The guard looked apologetically at Laverne. "You see why no one wants them as pets?"
"Bite me, tentacle," said Zed defiantly. The guard's frown grew deeper. "Oh, go suck your thumb," continued Zed. "Whoops, I forgot! You don't have one!" Zed chuckled.
"Er," said Laverne. "Well, I guess I'll be going, then."
"Hey, I don't want to be here either," protested the guard. But Laverne was gone.
Meanwhile, Bernard was not having much luck.
Two millions dollars for a diamond? Bernard didn't have two million dollars. Where was he going to get two million dollars from?
It was such a large problem that Bernard was, for the moment at least, in denial. Surely Doctor Fred was exaggerating - the Edisons must have some money.
So it was that when Bernard climbed out of the grandfather clock into the empty lobby, he made for the office behind the counter. He flicked on the light switch and started searching.
The Edisons didn't keep much in their office. There were no cupboards or filing cabinets - just a large pinewood desk, whose drawers were mostly empty. On the desk were some family photos (the Edisons were a spectacularly ugly family), a telephone, and a Swiss bankbook. Flipping through the book, Bernard was dismayed to find that, as of this moment, Doctor Fred didn't have a penny. Disappointed, Bernard cast the account book back on the desk.
One thing was missing - Bernard didn't see the safe Doctor Fred mentioned. Where was that? He saw a Star Wars calendar, a security camera in a corner, near the ceiling, and a large picture of a smiling Doctor Fred, wearing a powdered wig. For some reason, the security camera was pointed almost directly at this portrait.
Bernard had a sudden flash of intuition. He moved to the picture, and pulled the frame. It swung out on hinges, revealing the blank metal face of the Edisons' safe. It was combination locked. Bernard tried a quick rattle of the combination, but unfortunately the safe was very firmly built.
So much for that idea. Bernard stood there a moment longer, thinking, then left the office. Maybe Nurse Edna and Weird Ed were around. If they were, it was time for all their differences to be put aside. Bernard needed their help.
More late breaking news on the AP wire... FROOFROO EMERALD STOLEN CIRCULAR PRINTS LEFT BEHIND
Bernard walked up the stairs to the second floor. As far as he could
remember, Edna and Ed had rooms higher up in the Mansion. But they could have
moved since then, so Bernard opened the first door he came to.
The room beyond was in mild darkness, alleviated by the fall of light from the passageway. It was a motel room, where an enormously fat man lay curled up on a large queen sized bed, snoring noisily. Bernard shut the door (quietly, so as not to disturb the man), then continued down the passageway.
He stopped at the next door and debated what to do. Probably this was another guest room. But there was no way to be sure. Discreetly, Bernard pushed the door open a fraction.
He couldn't have opened it any further if he wanted to. The door was on the latch. Through the narrow crack Bernard saw a room in disarray, with sheets lying tangled on the floor, amidst beer stains and slices of moldy pizza. There was a man, too, sitting on the mussed bed, staring into the middle distance. He was thin, going bald, with grey hair and a dirty shirt. And now Bernard saw with alarm that there was a gun on the bed, beside him.
"It's useless," moaned the man. "No one will ever be interested in my designs. So I'm ending my novelty inventing career right here in this tacky motel." He paused a while to consider this. "How appropriate."
Before Bernard could even cry out, the man lifted the pistol to his head, and pulled the trigger.
From the barrel, accompanied by a muffled 'whish', came a red and white object. It unfurled into a humorous flag, which said 'BANG'.
The man looked at the flag, and tossed the gun on the floor. He sighed. "I can't even do this right..."
Bernard spoke up. "Hi," he said, in a warm friendly voice. "My name's Bernard. What's yours?"
"Dwayne. Isn't that depressing?"
Bernard was, by nature, a generous and thoughtful person. What this poor guy needed right now was a bit of friendly companionship, someone to stick with him in his hour of need. "Nice music they pipe in here, eh?" said Bernard.
"It's from the 'Elevator Classics' series. It seems like this one tune has been on all day." Dwayne paused. "I've never been so depressed in my life."
"Gee. You look depressed," said Bernard sympathetically.
A note of bitterness crept into Dwayne's voice. "What clued you in, Braniac?"
Dwayne sniffed. "I'm having a crisis here. A warehouse of anguish. I'm a novelty goods designer by trade. I've come up with some fabulous ideas. The exploding lollipop, itching powder gum, and reverse 3-D glasses, to name a few. The problem is, no one likes my designs. I send them all over the world, and no one responds. I just wish someone would say they liked one, just once. Oh, woe is me." There were awesome depths of hurt and despair in Dwayne's voice.
"I like your design ideas!" said Bernard.
"Well, I didn't mean you," said Dwayne.
"Maybe I can help cheer you up!" said Bernard. He certainly intended to try.
"Oh, I can hardly wait."
"Why don't you try whistling a happy tune?" suggested Bernard.
Dwayne, if it were possible, got even more depressed. "I invented a whistle that turned your lips green. Nobody liked it." He sighed.
Bernard persevered. "Maybe some calisthenics would help," he said.
"Last time I tried calisthenics I ruptured my spleen," said Dwayne. Realising how pathetic that sounded, he sighed again.
What do you do to cheer up a failed novelty designer? Bernard thought. He couldn't see why that picture of dogs playing poker in his room wouldn't cheer him up. Ice cream usually brightened Bernard up instantly. Maybe he'd like to discuss theoretical valence analysis! thought Bernard. No, probably not. He'd probably be happier just if someone liked one of his designs.
"Let's discuss philosophy!" said Bernard brightly.
"Ok, here's my philosophy: Life is completely pointless, especially mine."
"Nietzsche had some interesting ideas along those lines," said Bernard, trying to draw Dwayne out.
It wasn't successful. "Oh, who cares?" said Dwayne. "Philsophers are all failures like me who couldn't make it in a real profession."
Bernard didn't immediately answer. He'd just had an idea, and was at the moment scribbling furiously on a blank piece of paper.
What he was about to do might have awesome consequences, and in the long run increase Dwayne's depression even more. But Bernard just couldn't bear to see the dull, glassy look in those eyes.
He scrawled in the last word, then put the pen away. "Hey, there's a letter here for you!" he said.
Dwayne perked up. "For me??" Then depression returned. "Probably another rejection slip," he sighed. "Oh, well." He stood up and trudged across the room to the door. He took the paper from Bernard's hand and read the single sentence, sandwiched between sender address and signature.
"'You're brilliant. What a novel design. Come to Baltimore at once.'" Dwayne stood there, his face blank, digesting this information. Suddenly, his mouth split open in an enormous grin. His eyes gleamed with excitement. Not even bothering to pack, Dwayne pulled the door open and ran down the corridor, once again full of life and energy.
Bernard watched him go. Good luck, Dwayne, he thought.
His work here was done. Feeling somewhat better, Bernard tried the next door.
Another wonderful surprise! Here, in his bachelor pad, standing ill-at-ease on a throw rug, was Green Tentacle!
"Green!" said Bernard happily. They were old friends. And Green had done his room up pretty well! There was a new stereo system, for instance, with huge speakers. Amidst all the memorabilia and books were some very interesting items: on the floor, a beanbag and a litterbox. On a desk, under a globe, was a bowling ball! And, most ominously, one whole wall was taken up by a map of the world, with tiny red dots marking key areas, and sheets of paper tacked up listing key objectives.
"Bernard!" said Green.
"What are you doing up here?"
Green sounded worried. "Well, I couldn't stop Purple, and he's going to go out and conquer the world, and I'm afraid of what he'll do if he catches me, if Dr. Fred doesn't find me first." He stopped. "Uh... Does that answer your question?" he added.
Bernard nodded. "Yeah."
"What's up, Bernard?" said Green.
"Why the litterbox?" asked Bernard. "Have you got a cat?"
"Don't ask," said Green.
"How does a tentacle sit in a beanbag chair?" continued Bernard.
"Oh, that part's easy," said Green. "It's getting back out of it that's hard."
"Can you actually use that bowling ball?" asked Bernard.
"No, Purple brought that in here after he grew arms," said Green. "He got really discouraged though, because he doesn't have fingers."
"What do you suppose Purple's up to now?" mused Bernard.
"Well, he wants to take over the world, so I figure he's up to something devious."
"Conducting cryogenic experiments on small animals?" suggested Bernard. "Designing a miniaturization ray? Pushing old ladies down the stairs?"
"I wouldn't doubt it," agreed Green, "but I was thinking more along the lines of politics!"
Bernard nodded. "Wanna help me save the world?" he said.
Green sounded regretful. "I'm afraid to leave the room. In fact, I don't think I can even move from this spot! Purple scares the daylights out of me!"
"How's your new band doing?" asked Bernard. It had been five years - there was a lot to catch up on.
Green was more than happy to explain. "Green T and the Sushi Platter? We're doing great! We've decided to really capitalize on our strongest quality as a band."
"Really? Which quality is that?" asked Bernard. Intoxicating three-part vocal harmony? Provocative lyrical content? Carefully crafted melody and distinctive counterpoint?
"Volume, man, volume!" said Green. "We have a chance to win a Grimy award as the loudest new band. We're pulling out all the stops."
"Weren't you looking for a new guitarist a while back?"
"Yes, but we decided to go with a guy who plays power tools instead. We can generate a lot more sound that way."
"Have you gotten any airplay?"
"No, we're a little too experimental for most radio stations," said Green. "But we have a huge following in the club scene."
"Are you working on an album?" asked Bernard.
"Yeah, we're doing a CD called 'Rap on the Forehead.'" said Green. "I've got a few tracks hooked up through the stereo, if you want to hear them."
"I'd love to!" said Bernard. He switched on the stereo. Immediately the room was filled with a thumping cacophony of noise, a low garrulous roar that must be shaking the whole Mansion.
"WOW!" yelled Bernard. He could barely hear himself. "This is LOUD!" He stumbled backward, involuntarily, and knocked over one of the speakers. Pressed flat into the floorboards, now the entire floor beneath his feet shook and rumbled with the beat.
Bernard hit the off switch. "Phew," he said, picking up the speaker. He crossed the room and had a look at the map of the world.
These were Purple's world domination plans. And, reading carefully, Bernard began to get worried. This looked like it might work!
The worry focused Bernard's mind back on the job: get a diamond. Reluctantly, he moved to the door. "Well, see you later, Green," he said.
"Yeah! Good luck saving the world, B-man!"
The Edisons obviously weren't on this floor. Bernard went to the stairs.
The third floor was a lot smaller than Bernard remembered it. There was just
a single narrow passage, with one door on either side, and a murky set of stairs
on the far side, leading up. Bernard looked left, looked right, and eventually
decided to try the left door.
It opened up on Weird Ed's bedroom.
Bernard's memory of Weird Ed was of a tall, extremely muscular person with a fetish for military fear. His bedroom, which Bernard had spent a small amount of time in, extremely worried all the while, had been wallpapered in camouflage colours, and Weird Ed himself, with all his brown clothing, would be invisible in a dust storm.
Neither the room, nor the man sitting down in front of him, resembled what he remembered.
No more maps of military campaigns hung on the walls. Though the camouflage wallpaper was still there, it had faded with age, and in any case was mostly hidden behind books, an old computer, and the pipes of the Mansion's sewerage system.
Weird Ed himself sat right in front of Bernard, at a small white desk. Ed was still a big individual, with formidable upper body strength, but he seemed to hunch down, as if trying to reduce his bulk and make himself less threatening. He wore square glasses, which gave him a slightly geekish look, and he held a small magnifying lens in one hand.
Bernard couldn't believe what he was seeing. Weird Ed was a stamp collector. There they were, on the desk, all neatly lined up in a large bound volume. Even as he took all this in, Weird Ed looked up at him. "Peace be with you," said Ed placidly. There was no immediate recognition in his eyes, just a look of blank friendliness.
"Hey, aren't you Weird Ed Edison, the paramilitary nut?" said Bernard. What a transformation! He felt much more confident talking to this particular Ed.
"Why yes, I-" Ed suddenly broke off. "Hey! Do I know you?"
"Yeah! I'm Bernard Bernoulli. I broke into your house five years ago, kidnapped your hamster, broke into your piggy bank..."
Weird Ed digested all this. "Mmmm... Nope. Doesn't ring a bell, but I can't remember much about that period anyway. My psychotherapist thinks something traumatic happened to me back then that I'm blocking out."
"Does it have anything to do with a hamster?" Bernard, his eyes registering movement, looked right and saw a large red hamster, sitting in his perforated box and reading a copy of the Wall Street Journal. Five years ago, when Bernard had first broken into Weird Ed's room, there had been another hamster there. One that Bernard had kidnapped. And something had happened to that hamster, hadn't it? Something involving Syd, or maybe Razor, and the microwave in the Edison's kitchen...
Weird Ed was blank on the subject. "All I know is that I used to have a cute, white hamster with spots. And now I have a cute brown one, with no spots. It used to worry me, and the nightmares would come." There was no real undercurrent of emotion in his voice. Just a relentless placidity, of enforced calm.
"So you gave up the crazy military commando thing?" asked Bernard
"I'm much better now," Ed said. "I don't have those... those bad thoughts anymore. Now, I collect stamps."
"That's quite a nice collection," complimented Bernard. "Can I have it?"
"NO!!!" said Ed, loudly. He blinked, and control was re-established. "I mean... uh... ...no. They mean a lot to me... Sometimes, I think they're the only friends I've got."
"Nice hamster," said Bernard. "Does he do tricks?"
"No, he just sits there," said Ed. "I used to have a really smart hamster, but..." Ed's face suddenly clouded, as if a dark memory had just risen, just below the surface: "something... happened to him."
"What happened to the old hamster?" asked Bernard.
Ed sounded baffled. "I... I don't remember. When I try, all I can think of is a flash of light... and this horrible sound."
"What was the horrible sound?" asked Bernard gingerly, aware he was pushing into dangerous territory.
Ed thought deeply, staring at nothing. "It was sort of like... 'DING!' Oh God, I hear it in my dreams 'til this day!"
"That hamster really should get some exercise," said Bernard, referring to the present one.
"Well, Dad puts him to work down in the basement sometimes," said Ed. "But then he starts sweating, and then he gets wet, and then he gets cold, and then he refuses to work."
"Your dad or the hamster?" asked Bernard.
Ed looked at Bernard. "Are you making fun of me?"
"No!" said Bernard hurriedly. "I-"
"I get upset when people make fun of me!" said Ed, and colour was rising in his cheeks.
"I just meant-"
Ed ignored him. "Ooooh! It makes me so mad! I just want to..."
Ed stopped. Not a muscle moved. Waiting, statuesque, the colour slowly drained from his face. "...relax," he said calmly. "I want to relax. I'll be okay, if I just focus on my stamps."
"Are all your hobbies this fascinating?" asked Bernard.
"I don't have any other hobbies," said Ed, once again looking at Bernard. "These stamps are my whole life. If anything were ever to happen to them..." The implication hung in the air as Ed looked at Bernard, then turned his attention back to the stamps.
"How are the folks?" asked Bernard.
"Well, Dad's in the basement, doing an experiment. Mom's in the next room, spying on a honeymoon. Ted's in the front yard..."
"Holdin' up a bowl-a-lard?" suggested Bernard.
"Well... It's a birdbath, actually, but it rhymes better your way," said Ed.
Despite Ed's excessively calm demeanor, it was pretty stressing conducting a conversation with him. Bernard couldn't take much more of it. "Well, hope I didn't get you too excited," he said. "Bye."
"Peace be with you," said Ed, again.
Bernard paused in the hallway, looking in the right hand doorway. In there he could see a large bank of electronic equipment, and several security monitors, so that it looked like a hybrid recording studio / security complex. Manning the controls was Nurse Edna, on a chair that rolled from left to right on greased wheels.
Bernard shivered. Nurse Edna. Nurse Edna scared him. And he could tell that, whereas Fred and Ed were somewhat changed, Nurse Edna was the same as ever, except perhaps that her frizzy red wig (surely it couldn't be real) was larger, and her face even more wrinkled and made over. Her fingers flew over the switches and controls.
The sight of that enormous expensive surveillance equipment calmed Bernard's nerves. Soon he was able to pluck up enough courage to step inside the room.
"Excuse me-" he began.
Edna interrupted, impatiently. "What is it? I'm rather-"
She stopped talking, and working, and turned to look at Bernard. Her piercing stare made him feel quite inadequate. "Say, aren't you Bernard Bernoulli?" she said, the voice of someone who's smoked rather too many cigarettes.
"You must have me confused with some other Bernard Bernoulli," said Bernard quickly.
"No, you're the one," said Edna. "I never forget a face. You broke into our mansion a few years ago to save your little friend. What did you come for this time?"
"It's a secret," said Bernard. "I can't tell you."
"A secret, eh? How exciting! Well, I won't rat you out, hot stuff." She leered at him. "Yeeeheehee!"
"How's Dr. Fred doing?" asked Bernard. This was what he really wanted to know.
"Well, he's still upset about the family financial situation, seeing as it's his fault and all - but he seems a lot better now that he's stopped sleepwalking."
So Doctor Fred hadn't just been protecting his bank balance. Bernard felt he was losing hope. "How'd he wreck the family finances?"
"Well, we should have made millions on the computer game they made about us, but the resident genius locked the contract in the safe in his office and forgot the combination."
Something Edna had said earlier registered with Bernard. "What's wrong with sleepwalking?"
"Ordinarily nothing," said Edna, "but when Fred sleepwalks, he remembers the combination to the safe. I'd find him in the office, opening it, screaming like a cat in the oven, and slamming it again... something about what's in there really scares him. Unfortunately, I was never able to catch the combination since he works it so fast."
"How did he manage to stop sleepwalking?" asked Bernard.
"He stopped sleeping," said Edna simply. "Fred drinks a lot of coffee. Me, I only drink decaf."
There was something significant in what Edna had just said. Bernard memorised the information. "Well, enough about Dr. Fred..."
"Shall we talk about me?" suggested Edna. "Eeeheehee!"
"I was just admiring your statue," said Bernard. It was in the corner, by the doorway. It wasn't actually a statue of Edna, but that of a tall, gaunt man, standing tall and proud. One arm was crossed over his heart, the other held a sword.
"Thank you. It's been in the Edison family since colonial times. One of Fred's ancestors carved it."
"This is quite an array of gadgetry you have here!" said Bernard, and he wasn't kidding. He was really impressed.
"Yes, it's the best surveillance system in the state," said Edna
"Is that a Plexus 7000 VCR?" asked Bernard, in the reverent tones of the true tech-head. He pointed to an unlabeled black slot, underneath the monitors.
"It sure is! It's got a dual tape speed motor with cobalt casing! Don't touch it!" she added, as Bernard made signs of heading towards it.
"Are those Zenophobe crystal-matrix monitors?" he asked.
"They sure are! They're so clear you can see the fleas on the bedroom walls. Don't touch!"
"Well, enough about your equipment." said Bernard
"Let's talk about yours." She grinned lecherously at him. "Yeeeheeheehee!"
"I'll let you get back to what you were doing," said Bernard.
"Come back any time, you big hunk. Yeeeheehee!" Bernard got out before things got any worse. What now? he wondered despairingly.
Laverne was thinking much the same thing.
One thought was uppermost in her mind. Somewhere, somehow, she had to find a human and enter it in the show.
This single thought was the end result of a complicated chain reaction of guesses and supposition. All Laverne really wanted to do was get at the grandfather clock, which presumably led down to Doctor Fred's old lab. She couldn't get the guard out of the way, and the guard himself said only one thing would budge him from that spot - escaped humans.
Arranging this had proved to be supremely difficult. One, Zed didn't know how to break out. Two, from what Laverne had seen of the lethargic Edisons, he didn't seem very keen on doing so.
So it was up to Laverne. Her seductive attempts to lure the guard from his post had been unsuccessful, but for only one reason: the guard was broke.
Laverne didn't have any money. She did, however, know that there was a human show on in the Mansion, and first prize was dinner for two at Club Tentacle.
So now all she had to do was enter a human in the show, get them to win first prize, give the prize to the kennel guard, and when he'd left his post, flip off the force field. The prisoners would escape, the tentacle guard would hop after them in his best British accent, and Laverne would have access to Doctor Fred's old lab.
Thinking about all this made her head ache, as she crossed the floor of the lobby. It was time to go upstairs, and so she was headed for the metal stairs by the grandfather clock.
The tentacle guard didn't look twice at her. Even with all her worries, Laverne still chuckled as she reached the top of the stairs. "Heh. Stupid tentacle."
The metal corridor of the second floor stretched away in front of her, curving to the left. There were no windows, just glaring white lights in the ceiling. On her left, dotted irregularly, were three tentacle doors.
Laverne started forward. One thing about her tentacle disguise was that it came down quite low, almost to her ankles. This was good for a disguise, but not so good when you had to move around. She actually had to reach down and pull the hem of the disguise up to her knees before she could move around with any kind of speed. The resulting gait made her look like a sprightly young peasant woman leaping down a hillside with a pile of hot steaming peppers in the folds of her apron.
She passed the first door which, sensing her presence, swung up with a whoosh. The room revealed was old in smell, illuminated by strong yellow sunlight from an open window, and incongruously vintage.
No metal. Instead, a wooden floor, plush leather seating, a table and a cupboard. On the table was a wrought iron candelabra, all three candles lit. A heavy-looking rug lay flat on the floor.
It all looked old. Much older than two hundred years even. Laverne remembered the tentacle guard talking about some 'worthless human relics' - this must be the place. That couch looked like it could have supported Thomas Jefferson.
Laverne wandered inside. She felt like a visitor in a museum. All the place needed were some plaques pointing out what the relics were.
In fact, there was one. It was set into the cupboard, right above a metal cylinder about a foot long. 'In Commemoration of the Constitutional Convention. Interred by Thomas Jefferson AD 1790. Run over by a plow AD 1795. Sorry about the dents.'
Laverne looked down at the cylinder. This must be Hoagie's time capsule. She took out the can opener, and after heaving and shoving away for several minutes, got the top off.
There was bottle of wine in there. Laverne took it out, thinking no wonder Hoagie wanted the time capsule open.
It was also a very old bottle of wine: Chateau de Cheap 1775. Over four hundred years old... surely it must have turned to vinegar by now. What would Hoagie want with a bottle of vinegar?
Laverne stowed the bottle in a pocket, and returned to the passageway. She walked on. A few metres later, another door swished open on her left. Laverne looked in.
Think of all the seventies cliches. Garish wallpaper in a dimly lit room. Lava lamp on the cupboard. Tacky Elvis merchandise. Billowing velvet furniture you could lose yourself in. This room had it all, along with a zombielike mummy resting against the armchair, wearing a white polyester suit. The mummy could have been a continuation of the theme, except he wasn't. He was Dead Cousin Ted.
Laverne came in. There was something comforting about Dead Cousin Ted, here in this warm, unmetal room. The door swished shut behind her, and now she was alone in here with Ted - a strangely exciting thought.
"Hello, my silent gauze-wrapped friend," said Laverne. Then, feeling very daring, she leant forward and kissed Ted on one parched cheek. It felt like kissing a bandage. "That's how we say Hi where I come from," said Laverne, her cheeks going red, "Mr. Mummy."
The mummy remained motionless.
"Do you think it's strange, me talking to a mummy?" Laverne asked. "I mean, you not being able to talk back and so forth."
The mummy didn't venture an opinion.
"Actually, I kind of like that in a guy," continued Laverne. "You probably haven't even got any lungs. Of course," she said, more for her benefit than Ted's, "it's not so different from talking to specimens at med school. Or guys at med school. Except you dress a bit better."
Ted didn't react. "All that white really gets to me," said Laverne. "My grandmother has a couch covered in that material. Is that what the well-dressed Egyptian wore?"
Maybe so, maybe not. Ted wasn't about to say. Faced with that somehow inviting wall of silence, Laverne began to unburden herself.
"I've got to get power to my Chron-O-John," she said to Ted. There was a moment or two of silence. "I guess I could wait for a lightning storm," said Laverne, thinking hard. "Maybe I could try to find some batteries. Maybe I might be able to use the hamster generator in the basement. That's if I had a hamster, of course," she admitted wryly. "Plus it's in the basement and the John's in the yard. And how am I going to get rid of the tentacle by the clock?"
There was something about Ted. He hadn't moved a muscle since she entered, but somehow Laverne could tell what Ted was more or less receptive to what she was saying. Right now, his blank face seemed to invite Laverne to continue.
"I could try to overpower him," Laverne suggested. Ted, somehow, seemed against this idea. "He must have something better to do," said Laverne. "I wish he was off chasing down hapless humans again."
She turned to another aspect of the problem. "I wonder where I could get a hamster?" She looked hopefully at Ted, but there was no help there. "I haven't seen any around here. Maybe I could find something similar."
The problem of getting power wasn't the only one weighing Laverne down. Ted was such an attentive listener, she just kept on talking. "I'm concerned about the human show," she confided.
Ted waited for her to continue.
"Is it really moral?" Laverne finally said, anguished. This was one of the grounds on which she was definitely opposed to the human show. "I mean, lining people up and judging them like meat," she continued. "Giving prizes for the best smile and hair? It reminds me of American politics."
Ted didn't say anything, but somehow Laverne got the idea that if the chance to enter ever came up, Ted wouldn't be averse.
That was another thing. "Where am I going to find a human to enter?" Laverne asked. "Most of the humans are probably entered already. I don't think I can get the Edisons out of jail in time. I've got to wear the costume and be the tentacle."
Ted's face, if it had ever offered advice or criticism before, was perfectly blank now. Maybe he was being polite.
Laverne, meanwhile, had said just about everything. "I really should go now," she said apologetically. "Call me sometime, OK?" She took one last look at Ted imperturbable face, then stepped back into the passage.
Third time pays for all. Laverne was now coming close to the last door. It swung open and Laverne stepped through before she knew where she was.
This was a mistake. She had entered a large metal room, clearly part of the tentacles' domain. Here, an old tentacle with a long bushy beard sat at a metal desk, underneath an enormous map of the world. The map was worrying enough - the tentacles' battle chart, it showed that most of the world was already under control - but it was the tentacle underneath, muttering under his breath, that caused Laverne to take in breath. He was purple, and distressingly familiar.
"Great Scott!" blurted Laverne. You're Purple-" She quickly got her voice under control. "-ahh, ahem."
"Yes?" said Purple Tentacle. The Purple Tentacle. The tentacle who had conquered the world.
Laverne was caught on the spot. "You look kind of familiar..." she stammered.
"Of course I do, nitwit! I'm Purple Tentacle, renowned world conqueror."
"Are you the same Purple Tentacle who knew Dr. Fred?" asked Laverne.
"Up on your ancient history, are you?" said Purple Tentacle. "Yes, I remember that insignificant insect." He chuckled. Not much had changed with Purple Tentacle, it seemed. The eyebrows had gone white and there were some wrinkles around the eyes, but still that same megalomaniacal attitude.
Laverne, meanwhile, was getting over her fears. This was the very tentacle they had to defeat. And up close, he really wasn't so fearsome after all. "Well, don't you just look good enough to eat?" she said.
"What's that supposed to mean?" said Purple Tentacle, baffled. "You're not a human sympathiser, are you?"
"Why, yes, I'm a firm believer in human rights," affirmed Laverne.
Purple Tentacle roared with laughter. "HAHAHAHA!! I'd almost think you were serious!"
"I couldn't help noticing you ranting," said Laverne. What was Purple Tentacle up to at the moment? she wondered.
"Not ranting, plotting!" said Purple Tentacle.
"So what are you plotting?"
Purple Tentacle, proud genius that he was, eagerly explained. "You know, I'm working on a way to get rid of the humans once and for all! I'm building a shrinking ray, which I can use to shrink those pesky humans out of my sight for good! I call it the Diminuator. The biggest problem left is to design a trigger that doesn't require fingers."
This sounded bad. "If you'll excuse me, I've got something in the oven," said Laverne, backing away.
"Anyone I know? Heh."
Outside, in the passage, Laverne was momentarily lost. Then she remembered Hoagie, and the bottle of vinegar.
Hoagie waited patiently by the Chron-O-John, thinking of nothing. He'd been
there an hour or so when the John began to glow. Hoagie reached in, and there
was a bottle of vinegar!
Whistling to himself, Hoagie returned to the Mansion. He didn't waste any time in getting to Red Edison's lab.
Red took the vinegar from him. "Aahh, I need that for my super-battery!" he said. "Now all I need is some gold."
That was the problem, thought Hoagie as he walked back up the stairs to the lobby. There was a gold pen in the main hall, but under the gaze of three founding fathers, and almost impossible to get.
On the other hand, Hoagie hadn't explored the whole Mansion fully. Maybe he might find some gold elsewhere. In particular, while he'd explored the second floor, the third floor and above were still unseen.
Humming to himself, Hoagie strode along the second floor hallway, and up the stairs to the third floor landing.
The third floor hall was much shorter. There was just one doorway on his right, and a horse on his left.
It was a large, placid horse, its head and neck sticking out of the open upper half of the door. It stared at the opposing door with an expression of weary contempt. Next to him, on the door sill, was a large glass of dirty water.
"Errr... Hi, horsey," said Hoagie nervously.
"Hi yourself!" grumbled the horse.
"Hi," said Hoagie. He stopped. There was something strange about what had just happened.
He realised. "Wow, you can talk!" said Hoagie.
"Wow, so can you! What a coincidence!" said the horse sarcastically.
"I didn't think horses could talk," said Hoagie.
"Maybe they just never had anything to say to you," said the horse. "Ever think of that?"
"You mean horses have been snubbing me my whole life?" said Hoagie.
"If you want to put it that way."
Hoagie peered forward, looking for the man undoubtedly hidden somewhere in the darkness behind the horse. "Is this some kind of a trick?
"I don't do magic. I'm just a horse," said the horse.
Hoagie came to the conclusion that this was genuine. "I'm trying to get back to the future and save the world," he said conversationally.
"The future, eh?" said the horse. "And I thought that Franklin guy was off his nut."
"See you later," said Hoagie. That glass of dirty water caught his eye again. "Looks like somebody's dentures have been in there," he said.
"Hey, I've got to put them somewhere," protested the horse. Hoagie turned back and looked at the horse's mouth. He felt a twinge of unease - apparently this wasn't something you were supposed to do - then he saw the dentures. Enormous, they were, gleaming yellow, and coated thickly with saliva. The horse showed them off, proudly. "I paid quite a bit for them," said the horse.
Hoagie nodded, and turned to open the door on his right. He heard the tom-tap of hammers on stone.
Inside was a large hall, with a bare wooden floor. Scraggy lumps of stone were piled up around the edges of the hall, leaving the centre free. There stood the Edison brothers, deeply embroiled in the artistic fire. One stood to attention, right arm over his chest, the sunlight from an open window falling down on his slight head. The other was several metres away, next to a large rectangular block of marble. He stood on a small stool, a wooden mallet in one hand, a sharpened stake of stone in the other.
The two brothers were identical. In dress, height, appearance, even mannerism. Moreover, the block of stone had already been carved halfway down, so that the head and shoulders of an Edison poked up from the bedrock, making three identical Edisons and further increasing Hoagie's confusion.
He looked from one, to the other, and back again. "Question is, which one's stuffed," wondered Hoagie, "and which one's the real McCoy?"
The Edison with the hammer answered him, sniffingly. "I assure you that we are both real, but we are neither one of us McCoys. We are Edisons: Ned and Jed."
"Who's who?" asked Hoagie.
"Does it really matter?" he was told. "Even our dear father can't tell us apart. He only knows that one of us is left-handed, while the other is right... but that neither of us are following in his tiny, scientific footsteps."
The second Edison, standing statuesque, tried to say something without moving his lips. It came out as "mmpflr!"
"Hold still, Jed!" Ned admonished him. He looked back at Hoagie. "So. I'm almost too frightened to ask: are you the marble deliveryman... or the model?"
"I'm the model," said Hoagie confidently. He liked the idea of someone making a statue of him. "Should I take my clothes off now?"
"No. No, you most definitely should not," said Ned firmly. "We couldn't get your body shape right anyway, unless we cemented two slabs of marble together. But then your statue would have a big seam in it..."
"That's okay," said Hoagie. "It would have one anyway."
"Look, don't call us. We'll call you," said Ned.
"Dang." Hoagie could see definite resemblances between the younger Edisons - well, Ned, at least - and Red Edison. For one, they shared their father's quick wit and impatience with fools. But they weren't scientists. Strange.
Hoagie had a small extract from one of Bernard's electrical engineering books in his back pocket. The impenetrably boring text never failed to amaze him. Just to see what would happen, Hoagie took it out and read a short bit.
"Ahem. The LALR compiler is constructed via the following method. First develop a rigorous elective grammar." He looked expectantly at Ned, who yawned.
"Did Father send you with that boring science text? Please inform him that we have chosen to pursue the finer pleasures of creating Art over the empty life of mad science."
"You some kind of artist?" asked Hoagie.
"What does it look like, nitwit?" said Ned sharply. "Oh, sorry about that... I'm trying to cultivate my artistic temperament."
Hoagie remembered what he was doing up here - looking for gold. He needed a pretext to get further into the room, though. "I'm the deliveryman," he said. "Okay if I unload in here?"
"Actually, we are well supplied with medium, so thank you, no," said Ned.
"This ain't medium," said Hoagie. "It's the extra-large stuff."
Ned tapped the statue a few times, but Hoagie was still there. "Please go away," he said. "We artists are very sensitive to your kind of people."
"What kind of people?"
"Big, dumb people," said Ned.
Hoagie thought of a joke. "I'm no marble deliveryman, but rock is my life. Heh heh."
"I'm sure that's terribly amusing," said Ned haughtily, "where you're from." Something struck him as strange. "Where exactly did you come from?"
Hoagie said the first thing that came to mind - as he so often did. "I can't really remember. I'm on the road a lot."
"Ah, the road," said Ned. He pricked up his ears. "Wait a second... what's that noise? I believe it's the road, calling your name right now!" he hinted, somewhat unsubtly.
"Well, actually," said Hoagie, "I'm from the Valley."
"Ah, the beautiful Shenandoah Valley," breathed Ned. "If only you could be there right now, eh? Wouldn't that be nice for both of us?"
"I'm from the future, also," explained Hoagie further.
Ned looked at him, a small smile with no humour in it playing across his lips. "Kind of spooky sounding, isn't it? Oooo-oooh! The future... I'm from the future... Look out!" He sighed. "Gosh, it would be so nice if you weren't here anymore..."
"I live off-campus with Bernard and Laverne," continued Hoagie.
"How nice for you!" enthused Ned. "How nice for Bernard! How nice for Laverne! How nice for everybody!"
"Well, actually they never let me play my music very loud," said Hoagie.
"Yes, of course," said Ned brusquely, losing what little shred of patience he had. "Well, goodbye."
"Sorry," said Hoagie. "Hope I haven't jostled ya."
"Too late," said Ned. He went back to work on the statue.
On the way out, Hoagie was troubled. Doctor Fred, the present-day Edison, was a scientist. But how? If Ned and Jed were to be artists, then none of the Edisons after them would grow up as mad scientists! Hoagie's mind, never the best at lateral thinking, had extreme difficulty with these time-travel paradoxes. But eventually it became clear to him that if he could somehow get Ned and Jed to regain the path of true science, Doctor Fred might yet grow up with a lab coat and slide rule.
And with this thought came a cunning plan. Most un-Hoagie-like. He ambled downstairs, whistling.
Downstairs, in the Main Hall:
"What do you suppose happened to Hamilton and Madison?" Hancock asked Jefferson.
"Yes, I'm certain we told them Thursday," said Jefferson. "I'll wager Madison's with that woman who bakes the cupcakes again... and Hamilton's probably gotten himself into another fight."
"I bet they show up late and take all the credit for our work," said Hancock.
A few minutes later, Hoagie was back, a wooden mallet in his left hand. A
left-handed mallet, courtesy of Red Edison. Red didn't know anything about
Hoagie's plan - he'd distracted him with a cry of 'Don't look now but the
British are comin', dude', then made off with the hammer in one hand.
Ned was the right handed one, thought Hoagie, a thought confirmed when he re-entered the hall and saw Ned tapping away at the marble. Ned looked at him, witheringly, but said nothing.
This would be tricky. Hoagie stood there, not moving, and just watched. It seemed to relax Ned, who seemed worried he was going to be spoken to again. Eventually Hoagie was forgotten.
Soon he saw a pattern. Ned would tap five or six times, then pause, resting the mallet beside him on the stool. It stayed there for several seconds. Then it was picked up again.
Hoagie inched forward, coming behind Ned. Unseen, he waited. Soon the mallet was put down. Hoagie swapped the two, then backed away quickly, into the shadows.
Ned picked up the mallet and aimed at the stake. He swung, and missed, the mallet slipping down the left side. "Oh no!" said Ned. Frowning, he tried again, swiping harder. This went down the left side, too. "I've lost it!" he said, his frown deepening. He swung harder and harder, and kept on missing.
"O! Where hath gone the muse that once guided my hand with such care?" Ned beseeched. "Must inspiration be so transitory? Must art be so cruel?"
Finally, with an almighty wallop, he nailed the stake.
There was a loud crack. The marble block shattered, and Ned's many hours of careful work were lying on the floor, mere rubble.
Jed, shocked, loosened his posture.
Ned was staring down at the ruins. He sobbed, and quickly turned his head from Jed, crying into his arm. "I'm a failure," he moaned.
"Don't say that, Ned!" said Jed, concerned.
"Father was right," Ned wailed. "We Edisons are made to be scientists, not artists."
Jed hopped down from his pedestal and laid a comforting brotherly arm on Ned's shoulder. "Dear brother," he said, "We must be strong in these times of creative adversity. Why don't you let me take over for a while. I'll clean up this rubble and start over. You relax," Jed reached into his coat and took out a steaming cup of coffee, "have a cappuccino."
An hour later, and the work was going along fine. Jed was handling the
left-handed mallet well. "I'm glad we switched places," he said.
"I think you're coming out quite well."
Hoagie, meanwhile, had left the room some while again. He felt better. Doctor Fred probably would turn out to be a scientist after all. Then he felt worse. It was Doctor Fred's bungling that had gotten him and the rest of the world into its present mess! Perhaps he shouldn't have done that.
Well, it was done now. Besides, he had one more floor of the Mansion to explore.
A narrow set of stairs curled up to the fourth floor. Here was just the one room, a cramped attic that seemed tohave been converted into a bedroom for Ned and Jed. Two beds, made up, nestled at opposite corners of the room. For an attic, it was clean, with hardly any dust motes suspended in the yellow shafts of daylight coming from the attic windows. Hoagie went to one and looked out. In addition to the commanding view, he saw to his right the main chimney of the Mansion.
He wasn't the only one here. On the floor, a black and white cat was batting a rubber mouse toy back and forth from paw to paw. He was utterly uninterested in Hoagie.
Hoagie went to the cupboards and bedstands, looking for gold. He didn't expect to find any, and he didn't. At a loss, Hoagie sat down on one of the beds, and his considerable weight caused the springs to jingle.
The cat immediately looked up, interested, and paced over to the bed. Hoagie wasn't quite sure why he did what he did next. He darted forward and took the forgotten mouse toy. Why? Well, maybe this might be easier to bite the head off, thought Hoagie. He stuffed it in his pocket.
Bernard was despondent. He'd been searching for an hour. No luck.
After the unsettling meetings with Edna and Weird Ed, Bernard had tried his luck one floor up. The attic was both bare and full of stacks of paper, but no spare diamond. A small loft adjoined the attic, with just enough room for a bed. It was easy to ascertain there was no diamond there as well. Bernard even climbed out the window and took a look around. A chimney on his right, narrow tiling on his left, and a massive panorama of darkness in front of him. Down there in the parking lot, Bernard could see someone trying to break into a car with a crowbar - fortunately, not Bernard's. No diamond, unless that locked car had one.
So Bernard walked down the stairs, slowly coming down each floor. In the second floor passage, something stopped him. The sound of snoring, quite loud. It was coming from the last door on his right.
Bernard opened up. Oh yeah, that's right: this was Fatty's room. Face down on the bed, he slept on, snoring like a chainsaw through wood.
"Late night?" inquired Bernard. Fatty slumbered on. "Do you ever inhale flies when you snore like that?" asked Bernard. It had been a long, fruitless night, and he was a little less tactful than his normal self.
Hearing no reply, Bernard nonetheless pressed on. "I had an uncle who snored as loud as you do," he said. "He lived in California until he was declared an earthquake hazard. The steel works next door complained about the noise. Once he inhaled a pillow." Something Fatty looked in danger of doing.
Bernard left him alone, and took a look around the room. Patterned green carpet, and decorated pink walls. This was the honeymoon suite, and the double bed was the word of all - a massive plush bed-head, shaped like a giant heart. Fatty took up the whole mattress.
And, amongst all that, was a television, sleek and black. Bernard switched it on.
There was a commercial on. Then another one. Then one after that, just when Bernard was reaching for the off switch, that got his attention.
A salesman was pointing to a bench, on which rested a massive octahedric diamond. "That's right, an incredible four-thousand carat diamond, for the piddling sum of two million dollars," he said. "This beauuutiful four-thousand carat diamond can be yours today - for the special rock-bottom introductory price of two million dollars. The number to call is 1-800-STAR-WARS. Don't miss this amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That number again, 1-800-STAR-WARS. Call now, tell 'em Yoda sent you!"
Bernard memorised the number. But it didn't seem like he was any better off. Where was he going to get two million dollars from?
He left, drawing the door closed behind him. Fatty was very slack with his security - a large set of keys were hanging from the inner side of the door, the motel key stuck in amongst all the others. Someone less scrupulous than Bernard might make off with them in a moment.
Bernard wished there was someone less scrupulous around. Maybe he could get him to steal a diamond.
Outside Fatty's room, Bernard considered his next move. There was just one area of the Mansion he hadn't looked through yet - the convention hall and dining area, downstairs. Not that there was going to be a diamond there, but he had to look anyway.
Maniac Mansion's convention hall was not the grand arena of earlier days. If Jefferson, Washington and Hancock had written the Constitution in here, two hundred years ago, it was a different, more majestic room then. Nowadays the convention hall was a small, dim, cramped room with blue, gum-stained carpet, a strange stale smell in the air, and furnishings at least twenty years out of date. Even the fireplace had been converted from its original brick respectability to something that looked built from plastic.
All this Bernard saw as he entered the hall. He also saw a lot more, which did not improve the place much. The hall had been festooned up, for a big occasion. Huge garish posters hung on the walls, the worst of them a two metre square drawing of a giant set of Chattering Teeth, another a silhouette of a Rubber Chicken. Streamers and balloons hung limply from the ceiling. An inflated clown stood near the door. The place looked ready for a party, until Bernard saw that the party had been and gone. Several tables were jammed together in one half of the room, and on them was piled mounds of junk, leftover food and dirty dishes.
There was only one person left, a short, balding white guy who was round all over. Going on forty, maybe fifty. As he saw Bernard come in, he spoke up, cheerily: "Hey, boy, you missed the party!"
"You and the clown were having a party?" asked Bernard.
"No, no. Last night! At the novelty goods salesmen's convention! I tell you, we novelty goods salesmen know how to have a good time." He chuckled, making a sound like a gopher falling off a roof. "So, what can I do for you, kid?"
Bernard took this as an invitation to come into the room. He joined the salesman at a table piled high with - well, at first Bernard had thought it was junk, but now he saw it was a smorgasboard of novelty goods: cigars, chattering teeth, disappearing ink, and perched rather worryingly on top, a gun.
Bernard remembered the suicidal novelty goods designer upstairs. He wondered what last night's party might have been like. "So, where is everybody?" he asked.
"The really big bash was last night," said the salesman. "I guess they're all sleeping it off."
"Nice cigars," said Bernard, looking not at the specimens on the table but a row of them perched in the front shirt pocket of the salesman.
"Nice?" said the salesman. "These babies are practically exploding with tobacco goodness! I roll them myself," he added proudly. "So, want a cigar?" he asked, looking at Bernard over the top of his spectacles.
Bernard didn't smoke, but he didn't want to be impolite. "Sure, lay one of those Havanan babies on me," he said.
The salesman took a cigar and put it between Bernard's lips. Then he grabbed the gun from the table and pointed it squarely at Bernard's head.
Bernard's knees suddenly went to jelly. He looked at the salesman with wide, fearful eyes.
The salesman pulled the trigger.
A small yellow flame came from the end of the barrel, lighting the tip of Bernard's cigar. Bernard relaxed, as the end of the cigar began to smoke. "Thought I was going to blow your head off there, didn't ya?" joked the salesman.
The cigar blew up in Bernard's face.
"Well you were RIGHT!" guffawed the salesman. As Bernard wiped some of the soot from around his mouth, the salesman laughed, great huge bellylaughs that were almost completely silent. He stood rocking back and forth on his feet, eyes screwed up shut, hands on his gut, shaking uncontrollably.
He got himself under some sort of control. "You shouldn't smoke," Bernard was chided. "It's a bad habit."
Then he started his silent laughter again. Slowly, and by degrees, he was able to calm himself down. Finally, he wiped a tear from his eye. "That cracks me up every time," he said. "So, kid-"
But Bernard had gone.
Walking up the stairs to the second floor, Bernard wondered what on earth he
was doing. It wasn't like him to go looking for revenge. But that salesman was
just so immensely annoying, especially his laugh. Besides which, Bernard
had come up with a brilliant plan, one that would get back the salesman and then
Two minutes later he was back on the convention floor. Everything was the same except for one thing: Bernard had the flag gun from the novelty goods designer's room. This called for some tricky timing, but he was ready.
Bernard came to the salesman's table. Suddenly an incredulous expression crossed his face. Bernard pointed behind the salesman. "Look, gravity has reversed itself over there!" he exclaimed.
The salesman turned. "Huh?" Quickly Bernard swapped the guns. "I don't see anything." He turned back, looking at Bernard.
"Oh, nothing," said Bernard.
The salesman looked at him a moment. Then he said, "So, want another cigar?"
"OK, but only if you promise not to light it this time," said Bernard.
"Would I do a thing like that?" The salesman gave him the cigar, then with whiplash speed took the gun and fired it.
A small red flag, ('BANG!') came out of the barrel with an unimpressive whooshing noise. The salesman stared at it, perplexed. "I don't get it," he said.
Bernard grinned. He pocketed the cigar.
The salesman turned his back. "Get lost, kid," he said.
I think we know who came out on top there, thought Bernard, as he walked away victoriously.
Hoagie's search for gold had come to nothing. Therefore, he was now waiting
by the Chron-O-John, in case Laverne or Bernard found some and flushed it to
After a few minutes of waiting, he saw a glow in the Chron-O-John. Hoagie had a look, and found a flame gun, an exploding cigar, and a pair of chattering teeth. These were courtesy of Bernard, who thought that maybe Hoagie might be interested in them. Hoagie, however, knew nothing of this and could only stare at them, confused.
Then the Idea came.
It was such a good Idea that it was worthy of capitalisation. There are ideas, and there are Ideas. This was an Idea. Surely divine intervention could be the only explanation for such an Idea materialising in Hoagie's skull.
Nevertheless, it was there. Hoagie picked up all three items and sauntered down to the Mansion.
Inside, he sought out the Main Hall. There, everybody was up to their usual tricks: Hancock was shivering in his chair, Jefferson was sitting straight and looking for time capsule items, and Washington stood at the window, admiring his reflection.
It was to George Washington that Hoagie went. "Excuse me."
Washington turned. "Yes?"
"Mr. President, may I offer you an excellent smoke?" asked Hoagie.
"Can you also provide me with a light?" asked Washington.
"Well, in that case..." Hoagie put the cigar between Washington's false teeth and lit it coolly with the flame gun. Washington dragged in deep, then lifting the cigar from his mouth (the set of false teeth came with it) blew a lazy series of smoke rings.
In his hand, the cigar exploded. Washington's false teeth were sent spinning across the room. "Blast!" said Washington, a trifle indistinctly. "I hate it when that happens! See if you can't find those for me, will you? There's a good lad."
Hoagie went to the far side of the hall, ostensibly searching. He didn't know where Washington's false teeth had gotten to, and didn't much care. Instead, he carefully took the Chattering Teeth from his pocket and wound them up. Then he returned to Washington, and offered the teeth. "Could you use these?" Gratefully, Washington put them in his mouth.
Immediately his jaw began to bounce up and down, as the chattering teeth gnashed steadily together. "Why, thank you, young man." said Washington. Then he noticed something was amiss. He didn't seem to have complete control over his mouth.
"Strange," he mused. "I wonder if I should cut down on the coffee?" His teeth chattered noisily.
Hancock looked at him. "Hey, Tom, look," he said. "The father of our nation is cold. Better build a fire."
"You're right," said Jefferson. He sighed. "I guess you can have my log."
"Me?" said Hancock. "Why should I build the fire? You build the fire."
"I'm bothered by the smoke," countered Jefferson. "You build the fire."
"I'm bothered by your attitude," said Hancock, beginning to show some life. "You build the fire!"
"No, you build the fire, Mr. Penmanship!" said Jefferson.
"No, you build the fire, log lover!"
"No, you build the fire!"
"No, you build the fire!"
The upshot of all this was that two hours later, smoke was coming from the
chimney of the Mansion. A fire was burning merrily in the fireplace, and Hancock
had gratefully cast his rug aside. "You big baby," said Jefferson.
Hoagie went to talk to Hancock. His face had lost some of that ghostly pallor, and he even looked a bit more cheerful, thought not much. Gloom seemed to be a state of mind for John Hancock.
"Hi there," said Hoagie.
"Feeling better now that there's a fire?" Hoagie asked.
"Much better, thank you," said Hancock. "My teeth were grinding into a fine powder, and that blanket was really making me itch."
"What's with the canary over the fireplace?" asked Hoagie. Seeing the fire and its concomitant faint trails of smoke had reminded him of the tiny yellow bird in the cage over the fireplace. But also, it was part of his Idea, and he wanted to be assured on a few points.
"Oh, that's an early warning system," said Hancock. "It's quite ingenious. The canary is trained to ring the bell madly the minute it smells smoke. Then we know the building's on fire and we run like crazy!"
"Who thought of it?"
"It was invented by Red Edison, the owner of the inn," said Hancock.
"Why doesn't the fire in the fireplace set it off?"
"I assume," Hancock guessed, "it's because all the smoke goes up and out the chimney."
"Who feeds the canary?" asked Hoagie.
"Actually, no one does, it's a self-feeding canary," said Hancock. "It's specially bred with some kind of nutrient-producing bacteria in its gizzard. It's quite a time saver. I expect everyone will have them in the future. Amazing, isn't it?"
"I see," said Hoagie. He had everything he needed to know. But Hancock was fairly easy to talk to, unlike Jefferson and Washington, and so Hoagie kept going with the conversation.
"Nice painting of a turkey, dude," he said. It hung on the wall behind Hancock, a grand portrait several feet high of a bird with a pair of testicles under its beak.
"I'm glad you think so," said Hancock, almost gratefully. "The choosing of the national bird is on our agenda for the convention."
"And you want it to be the turkey?" asked Hoagie, who was sometimes quick on the uptake.
"Well, yes, but I'm afraid I may lose out," said Hancock.
"I thought the national bird was the eagle or something," said Hoagie.
"It may well turn out to be just that," said Hancock gloomily.
"What about the national theme song and stuff?"
"First things first," said Hancock firmly. "We have to resolve the deadlock on the bird issue. You see, there are two schools of thought on the matter. Ben Franklin and I are in favour of the turkey, whereas Jefferson and Washington for some reason want the eagle. But Franklin's always outside playing with his ridiculous toys instead of here where he belongs, so it becomes two against one."
"What's so great about the turkey?" asked Hoagie, confused.
"They've helped us to survive since we set foot on this continent. They're symbolic of prosperity and the thanks we give for our lives here. Besides, they're kind of cute."
"What's wrong with the eagle?"
"Well, it's a bird of prey, for one thing," said Hancock distastefully. "I don't think that's an appropriate symbol for our country."
Hoagie was just a little taken back. There was something mildly disillusioning about the studied incompetence of these founding fathers. "Don't you guys have anything better to do?" he asked.
"Such as what?" asked Hancock.
"Errr... " Hoagie couldn't think of a thing. "Never mind."
"There, you see?" said Hancock triumphantly.
"Well, I gotta go, dude," said Hoagie.
With Idea in hand, that gold pen was as good as his. But before Hoagie left the Hall, he did one thing. He picked up the discarded rug and held onto it.
Rug in hand, Hoagie went all the way to the top of the Mansion - right to the
Edison's attic. Both windows were stuck (possibly one reason why it smelt so
much in here), and only after a lot of effort was Hoagie able to lever one open.
That wasn't the end of his problems, either. The resulting gap looked pretty
small, and when he tried to climb through his belly got stuck. Hoagie pushed,
and heaved, and pulled, and with a sickening gluggy rumbling the belly finally
gave way, and he was outside on the rooftop.
He had a pretty similar view to that seen by Laverne, while she was up on the roof four hundred years in the future, but didn't pay it attention. Hoagie walked along the narrow ledge to the chimney, not caring at all for the drop below. At the chimney he took the rug, and stretched it over the top.
All the smoke was cut off, except for a few wisps escaping around the edges. Hoagie climbed back in the window, wondering what might be going on downstairs.
In the Main Hall it was chaos. Black smoke issued from the fireplace, and the
canary rang its bell madly.
Jefferson was the first to notice. "FIRE!!" he shouted. As one, the three founding fathers took a leap at the nearest window, broke through it, and fell onto the grass outside.
After a while, the panic subsided and they all got to their feet. "Okay, who's the idiot who started the fire?" said Washington. Jefferson and Hancock both tried to look nonchalant.
"I bet this never happens to Tom Paine," muttered Hancock.
Hoagie walked down the attic staircase, along the third floor, along the
second floor, down to the lobby, and into the hall. Smoke had started to
accumulate at the roof of the hall, but even as he entered the flow of smoke
from the fireplace tapered off. Quickly Hoagie picked up the gold pen and hid it
from view. He turned to leave.
Washington and Hancock stood at the entrance to the hall. "It looks pretty clear in here now," Washington was saying to Hancock. "Say, did you get the pen on our way out?"
"No, I-" began Hancock, but Jefferson interrupted him.
He had suddenly appeared, holding the burnt remains of Hancock's rug. "I found a blanket blocking the chimney," he said.
Washington looked at Hoagie. "Son, do you know anything about a blanket?"
Hoagie did the only thing he could think of. He said, "Uh, didn't the dude next to you have one earlier?"
"Err..." said Hancock. Washington and Jefferson were looking at him; Hancock swivelled his head from one to the other, looking hopefully for some sort of escape.
"Uh... Hey, catch you later," said Hoagie, walking out. Once out of eyesight he went immediately to Red Edison.
Red Edison took the pen and smiled a glittering smile. "Ah, the final element for my ingenious battery! Stand back, boy! Give me room to work!"
Hoagie stood back. Red gathered the oil, vinegar and gold in a spare space on his bench, then began pulling all sorts of machinery, mechanised and otherwise, from his spacious pockets. Miniature chainsaw, pen, compass, clamps, hammer, nails, soldering iron, and more. It all went on the bench, and then without warning Red's hands whirled. Sounds of hammering, whirring, belting and screeching all melded together into one hideous cacophony. Red's hands were lost in a gathering cloud of dust, in which Hoagie could barely glimpse the growing activity.
Altogether too quickly, the final screw was in place. Proudly, Red held a small metal box aloft. Hoagie could see what looked like a small antenna and an electrical outlet. Then Red put the battery on the shelf. "A miracle of modern science! It will look lovely here on the shelf until I take it with me to Baltimore."
That wasn't supposed to happen. Red was meant to give him the battery. Oh well, thought Hoagie. He called out urgently, "Don't look now but the British are coming, dude!"
Red whirled and stared out the tiny window near the ceiling (though near the ground outside) "Eh? Where?" Hoagie took the battery.
Red turned back. "Is that supposed to be funny? I'm very busy." He got on with his work, grumbling a little, and Hoagie made a quick retreat, super-battery in pocket.
He was almost to the Chron-O-John when the problem struck. The super-battery had a power meter on one side, and as far as Hoagie could see it was registering empty. The battery hadn't been charged yet.
Perhaps he could flush the battery to Bernard and get him to charge it. Hoagie quickly batted aside that idea. Flush his one chance of getting out of here? Shyeah!
But where else was he going to get some charge from? Outside, Ben Franklin was really getting into the spirit of his experiment. "Soon all the power of the heavens will be mine!" he gloated. "All mine!!! If only we had some nasty weather..."
Laverne, saddled with a different set of problems, had just realised how to
She needed a human for the human show. And she had Dead Cousin Ted.
As soon as this insight came, Laverne was racing upstairs as fast as she could, quickly making it to Ted's idyllic pad. Sure enough, good old reliable Ted was there, lying recumbent against the plush chair.
"Hello there," said Laverne as she came in. No response from Ted. "My, those are nice clothes you're wearing." She took out the tag and stuck it onto Ted's polyester jacket. Then she stood back and rubbed her chin critically.
"How am I going to get you downstairs with the others?" Laverne said at last. "I can't carry you, you're too big. I don't suppose you'd walk down on your own." She thought. "Maybe I could cut a hole in the floor and drop you down." Laverne was just looking for an axe when she saw something better. A set of roller skates.
Laverne picked them up. "I nearly killed myself on a pair of these once," she said to Ted. "I think you'll do better, though." She strapped them to Ted's large, bandage-swathed feet, and eventually propped Ted upright. Ted looked even more suave and sophisticated now he was standing on his two feet, arms extended forward like John Travolta doing Frankenstein. He looked ready to boogie down!
Laverne lined him up with the door, and gave his back a large push.
Tentacles, being tentacles, have trouble with stairs. So the super-scientific
Mansion of the future had all its stairs taken out, replaced by smoothly sloping
metal surfaces that the tentacles were able to grip with their suction cups.
So when Laverne pushed Ted forward, he rolled out into the passage, glanced against the far wall, and headed for the stairwell, slowly picking up speed.
The stairwell was narrow, steep and banked. Ted fairly whirled down it, ejected at the bottom like the bullet from a barrel. Directly in his way was the couch of human show contestants, in particular Harold.
Harold's jaw dropped. He took in breath to scream. Ted ploughed into him first, knocking Harold off his feet, tipping the couch over and spilling all the other contestants. Harold was left nearly unconscious on the floor, his legs kicking feebly, and Ted's mummified body flat above him.
"Well, that's the spirit!" said the tentacle guard approvingly. "Everybody's raring to go! Let's get this show on the road!"
And so, an hour later, everybody was gathered upstairs, on the human show
floor. Ready for the show to begin.
Harold was particularly excited. Even being put in the seat next to Ted's stiff body didn't faze him. "Ah, here it comes... my finest hour!" he said happily.
Laverne stood at Ted's side, looking worriedly at the other contestants and hopefully at Ted.
This was going to be tough. There were five contestants in all. Looking at the far group of three Laverne recognised two from downstairs - the pert, smiling woman with the peach hair and walnut brain, and the Napoleonic figure with severe sunglasses and chestful of medals. Next to them was a new contestant, a Roman Emperor figure with bare feet and rings on his fingers, greasy black hair and a fat, royal-sized gut. He had spent the last half hour snoring.
Then there was Harold. What a pretty-boy. The green hair with the spangly things, the awesomely white teeth, and no doubt Harold had a laugh from hell. Laverne couldn't understand what on earth was so attractive about him, but she knew that the tentacles would probably fall over him like a group of fawning admirers.
The tentacles in question were a multicoloured group of seven tentacles, gossiping in the far corner of the hall. Behind them, and watching the trophies carefully, was good old Doctor Tentacle.
They were the ones who would judge Ted here. Laverne looked at Ted critically. She had to be honest here. She quite liked the retro charm of Ted's wardrobe, but human show entrants were judged in only three categories: best hair, best smile, and best laugh.
"Well," she began, "he's got no smile to speak of, absolutely no laugh, and he's bald as a cue ball."
"In other words," finished Harold, "not a chance in hell." Laverne glared at him.
"I'm concerned about this human show," she said to Ted in a low voice. "For a start, your smile isn't much to look at. Have you got any teeth at all? Maybe we can fake it. Pretend you're on a blind date or something."
There was a pause. "We've got to do something about your hair," said Laverne. "I couldn't help but notice you haven't got any. Most of the others have big, thick hair. I wish we had a wig," she added.
Ted didn't seem to care much. "I guess we can't do much about your sense of humour," admitted Laverne. "Can you laugh? How about if you heard a really funny joke? What if I tickled you?" Ted gave no reply.
It didn't fill Laverne with much confidence as she headed for the judging area. "...and so I said to her," one of the tentacle judges was saying, "'That's not my suction cup!'"
"Ha ha ha!" laughed another.
"You think that's funny, listen to this..."
Laverne got the attention of Doctor Tentacle. "Doctor!"
"What is it?" said Doctor Tentacle sharply. "Is someone sick? We can't have sick humans in the show!"
"I examined them all myself! They're all perfectly healthy-looking to me, except for the dead one. Now leave me alone!"
So obviously Doctor Tentacle wasn't involved in the judging. Laverne turned her attention to the circle of judges. "Hey, when are you guys going to judge Best Smile?" asked Laverne loudly.
"Oh, all right!" said one of the judges irritably. And Laverne was treated to her first sight of tentacles moving in formation. They didn't leap clumsily over the floor, instead the sort of... wriggled along, staying upright, and holding the circle together. It was fascinating.
The judges stopped in front of the human contestants and waited. Ted, of course, did nothing. The blonde woman smiled briefly then forgot what she was supposed to be doing. The emperor snored. And Harold smiled the most beautiful dental-perfect smile.
"Yow! That Harold sure knows how to bare them beauties!" said one of the judges.
"I could see my reflection in one of his incisors!" agreed another.
"Agreed!" Having decided this, the tentacles returned to their gossiping spot.
It wasn't looking good. "Hey," she said again, "when are you guys going to judge Best Laugh?"
"Oh, all right!"
Gathered in front of the contestants, the judges looked at each other. "Okay, who's got a joke?" said one.
"Hey, I just flew in from Baltimore," said another, "and boy are my suction cups tired!"
"Ha ha ha!" laughed the first judge.
They turned and looked expectantly at the contestants. Ted did nothing. Only Harold laughed, a cultured, dainty laugh that improved any joke it bookended.
"Harold by a mile."
"Now there's a sense of humour!"
It was hopeless. Laverne, looking at Harold, knew she shouldn't even bother asking the judges to judge Best Hair.
She went back to Ted, to offer some moral support. "We gotta do something about this Harold guy or we're sunk," she said. "I wonder how we could get him disqualified? I suppose killing him's out of the question. Maybe we could just make him really sick."
Laverne had no ideas. At last, she came to a decision. She'd head to the Chron-O-John and see if any of the others could help.
On the way down, she composed a note. It pretty much went like this:
Hi. Laverne here.
I need some help. I need a wig, or something that will do as a wig, something that laughs, and a big set of false teeth. Don't ask why.
She had just put it in the Chron-O-John, when she noticed something else was
in there. She reached in, and took out a flat, knobbly piece of plastic that
looked like a pizza, until she got a better look and saw it was fake sick.
Laverne suddenly grinned. This was perfect! Not bothering to wait for any reply from Bernard or Hoagie, she returned to the human show floor.
No prizes had yet been awarded. Quick as a flash Laverne dropped the fake sick on the ground. It looked humorously incongruous on the slick metal floor, right in front of Harold who, staring faithfully into space, as yet saw nothing.
Laverne ducked into the stairwell, out of sight of the judges. She raised her voice. "OH! HAROLD! That's gross!"
"What are you babbling about?" said Harold.
"You really should have told the judges," said Laverne archly, "if you weren't feeling well."
Harold glanced down, and saw the fake vomit. "Oh, ick!" he said, just as Doctor Tentacle hopped over to see what the fuss was about. "Now, how did that mess get there?" continued Harold in a queasy voice. "I think I'm going to be sick!"
"Someone in here not feeling well?" asked Doctor Tentacle.
"I was feeling fine," said Harold, "until I saw that."
Doctor Tentacle looked in Harold's mouth. "Is that your regurgitation?"
Harold suddenly realised what was happening. "No!" he protested, shaking his head. "I'm a healthy human!"
"Didn't you just say you thought you were going to be sick?" asked Doctor Tentacle.
"That's just a figure of speech-"
"Do you realise you could have infected the whole show with human influenza?" said Doctor Tentacle severely.
Harold was starting to cry. "But I just... got... all... my... shots!" Tears flew as Harold shivered with grief.
"You're a good-looking human, Harold, but you know the rules. You're out of the show." Doctor Tentacle took a control from his pocket and pressed a large button. A gap in the floor opened up, directly under Harold. He plummeted, along with the fake sick. "What a mess," muttered Doctor Tentacle, as the floor closed up again. "I hate cleaning up after humans." He hopped away.
Laverne came back, a smile on her face. Now Mr. Mummy had a chance. She went and got the judges. "Hey, why don't you guys judge Best Smile again?"
"Oh, all right!"
The judges gathered in front of the contestants. All in all, it was a sorry lot. There was barely a smile among the four of them. The judges conferred.
"Not a bad set of chompers on that blonde," said one.
"If Harold's not competing, I don't care who wins," said another gloomily. He sighed.
"Me either," agreed another judge. They left the contestants.
Laverne's smile, meanwhile, had also taken a battering. It seemed getting rid of Harold wasn't enough. She'd have to distinguish Ted from the pack.
There was one category she thought Ted might have a chance at. "Hey," she said to the judges, "don't you guys think you should judge Best Laugh again?"
"Oh, all right!" The judges gathered in front of the contestants and conferred.
"All right, who's got a joke?"
After a pause, "I know: Why did the human cross the road?"
"Because his tentacle owner told him to!"
"Ha ha ha!"
They turned and looked expectantly at the contestants. There was a long, painful period of utter silence.
"Nobody laughed," said one of the judges.
"Maybe we should come up with a better joke," said another.
They left the contestants, leaving the future of that particular category up in the air somewhat. It made Laverne's mind up: Ted was not going to win this human show unaided. He'd need a little prettifying, first. This in mind, Laverne went to the Chron-O-John to see what Bernard and Hoagie had come up with.
They'd come up with a fairly mixed bag. From Hoagie, Laverne found herself
clutching a handful of soggy spaghetti (it had been plain before Hoagie put it
in the Chron-O-John, but had mysteriously picked up meatballs from somewhere)
and an enormous set of yellow dentures surely too large for a human. Laverne was
no veterinarian, but that set of teeth wouldn't look out of place in a horse.
Hoagie had gotten the dentures from the talking horse. Getting them had involved reading out the extract from Bernard's textbook. The horse instantly fell asleep, discarding its dentures in the cup of dirty water, and Hoagie took them. Laverne didn't know this, which was probably just as well.
There was nothing from Bernard, except a terse note.
Can I borrow your scalpel?
It got Laverne curious, curious enough to flush her scalpel to Bernard. She waited to see what he had in mind.
What Bernard had in mind was a little shameful. But revenge was still on his
mind, and as he headed for the convention hall, scalpel in hand, he knew it was
time to extract a debt years in the making.
Bernard opened the convention hall doors, and there he was: Oozo. The rubbery inflated clown you could knock about, but never knock down. Painted on legs, painted on face, insane eyebrows. As a child, Bernard had pushed an Oozo. It had instantly flown back at him, knocking him flat on his back. Since then Bernard had lived in terror of Oozo, and all his bottom-weighted inflated toy chums.
Bernard stood directly in front of Oozo, who stared back at him as if he knew something Bernard didn't. "You lookin' at me?" said Bernard. "Are you looking at me?" he repeated, louder. "Then who are you looking at, huh? I asked you a question!"
Oozo just grinned.
"Okay, clown, that does it!" Bernard punched Oozo on the nose. Oozo rocked back. The weights in his base stopped the backwards motion, then swung him forward. Oozo crashed into Bernard's head, sending him flying.
Oozo rocked back into position, and his voice-box laughed its low-fi laugh. "Ha. Ha. Ha."
Bernard got up, adjusted his askew glasses, and pulled out the scalpel. An unhealthy grin turned his face into that of a serial killing maniac. Bernard slashed at Oozo with the scalpel.
It bit deep and long. Air gushed out, almost like a prolonged raspberry, as Oozo bid his defiant farewell to the world. And when the last air had vented, there was the metal voice box, alone amongst a mound of thin plastic.
"Ha. Ha. Ha."
It was only a few minutes of waiting before Laverne saw the laugh box in the
Chron-O-John. She picked it up. Another perfect item from Bernard.
Back in the human show room, she assembled her materials. The laugh box went in a pocket of Ted's jacket, and she tied a bit of string to it so she could activate it from a distance. The horse teeth she fitted over Ted's mouth. The spaghetti she just dumped on his head. It was an untidy mess, but she didn't have a comb or anything.
Laverne stood back and admired her work. "He's got an impressive smile, a nice hearty laugh, and lots of hair, but there's no real style to it. Pretty darn good for a mummy."
It was time to get the judges. "Hey," she said to them, "shouldn't you guys judge Best Smile again?"
"Oh, all right!"
They inspected the lineup. Ted's enormous teeth were a standout.
"I like the quiet one with the big teeth," said one judge.
"There's nothing in the rules about them being white," agreed another.
"First Place goes to the mummy!"
Laverne's heart rose. They were a chance yet! Before the judges could get distracted with gossip, she spoke to them. "Isn't it time to judge Best Laugh?"
"Oh, all right!"
Soon, all the judges were gathered in front of the contestants. "OK, who's got a joke?" asked one.
"I got one," one of the tentacles said. "How can you tell a human from a sack of flour?"
"Drop them both off a tall building, and the human will bounce!"
The tentacles all laughed. "Ha! It's funny because it's true!" said one. Everyone enjoyed the joke so much they forgot to wait for the humans to laugh, which was fortunate because Laverne realised she'd misplaced the bit of string. She searched hurriedly for it.
"Here's one," said another tentacle. "How many tentacles does it take to change a light bulb?"
"None!" said a tentacle exuberantly. "That's the sort of tedious labor humans are for!"
"Heh heh heh. Good one!"
This was turning into a jokefest. "Okay, a fat human and an athletic human simultaneously slip on a sucker print and fall in a river. Which one will swim to shore first?"
"Neither! Humans are too dumb to swim!"
"Ha ha ha!"
"A classic," said one of the judges, wiping a tear from his eyes.
"I got one," said a tentacle. "A blonde male human and a brunette female human jump out of an airplane without parachutes. Which one will survive?"
"Who cares!?!" laughed another tentacle.
"Ha! I can relate to that one!"
Finally, they all turned to face the contestants. Laverne had found the string, and quickly gave it a yank. What might have been an uncomfortable silence was destroyed as the mummy laughed. "Ha. Ha. Ha."
The judges deliberated. "It's amazing how the mummy can do that without moving his lips!" said one.
"I say we give him first place!"
Two out of three! Laverne resisted an urge to pump her fist. There was still one category left, and it was the trickiest of the three. "Hey," she said to the judges, "don't you guys think you should judge Best Hair?"
"Oh, all right!"
They all had a good look at the contestants. Then came the discussion. "The mummy's has improved," one of the judges said.
"Yes," agreed another. "But it's dull, flat, stringy... lacks body and control."
"A human's hair should stand up, not stand out."
"If only it was a little bit better," said a tentacle.
There was a momentary pause. "Let's give it to the blonde," said a tentacle.
"What's your reasoning?"
"She winked at me."
The judges left. Hmmm, thought Laverne. They hadn't won that category after all. Ted would have to do better. Laverne came forward and teased at the spaghetti hair with her fingers, trying to work it into shape.
She was no beautician, but after a few minutes of work she had curled the spaghetti into a single bouffant loop, upon which meatballs hung like cherries in a tree. She stood back, licked her meat sauce-covered fingers, and decided that would have to do.
The judges were much more forgiving this time around. "Wow! That's the best hair I've ever seen on a mummy," said one.
"Thick and full..."
"...and juicy!" completed another tentacle.
"The mummy wins!"
Three out of three! Laverne stifled an urge to shout out joyfully. "Well, that makes him best of show!" said one of the judges.
"Let's go congratulate him!"
The judges gathered around Ted. "He is very well preserved," said one.
"I'll miss his laugh," said another wistfully.
"It's time to give him his winnings and start packing up. We gotta get this whole show to Baltimore by Thursday."
"Yes, our work here is done."
Laverne looked at Ted with shining eyes.
After the festivities were over, Laverne was left alone with Ted in his
bachelor pad. The spaghetti hair, dentures and laugh box were gone, leaving Ted
suave and swinging on his rollerskate feet, ready to rock.
Laverne was happy, but sad as well. "I guess this is more or less goodbye," she began. "You've been a great friend. Thanks for never complaining about anything. And you look great in spaghetti." Laverne sighed. "I wish I could take you back with me," she said. "But I'm afraid of what my friends would say. It might mess up the space/time continuum. And I still don't know how your wardrobe would go over."
A short silence followed this. "Well, Ted, this is where we part ways," said Laverne. "You've certainly helped save humanity. Even though you've been dead for thousands of years, I think you're my-" Laverne suddenly felt an enormous lump in her throat. She sniffed, and wiped her eyes with the bottom of her tentacle disguise. "-favourite Edison," she finally managed.
Laverne leant forward and kissed Ted for the second time, this time on his bandage-covered lips. "Call me sometime, OK?" she said, walking to the door.
The door swished shut on Ted, and Laverne was left alone in the passage. She felt very sad. Only the knowledge that she had to get back to the present spurred on. She trudged down the passage, headed for the kennel.
There was a square of foil-stamped paper in her pocket, entitling the holder to Dinner for Two at Club Tentacle. Laverne was going to give this to the kennel guard, to get him off his post. Then the humans would escape, and the tentacle guard would jump after them, and-
But thinking about this again made her head ache. So she didn't think of much as she walked slowly down the halls and corridors of the futuristic Mansion. Soon she began to cheer up.
Finally she appeared in the kennel doorway. The kennel guard, as before, did a double take. "Hello, baby!" he said.
Laverne smiled and winked at him. In one smooth seductive motion she took the dinner pass in one hand and gave it to the kennel guard, who did another double take.
"Whoa! Dinner for two at Club Tentacle?!?" he exclaimed. Wasting not a second he leapt off his chair and bounded for the door. "I can't wait to tell my wife!" He was gone in a second.
Laverne, despite herself, was a little miffed.
She found the force field switch and flipped out. A distant hum vanished from the background. Laverne turned to the captured Edisons, who weren't showing much interest in proceedings.
"You're free!" said Laverne grandly.
None of the Edisons moved. "Free to do what?" said Zed.
Laverne didn't quite know how to answer that. "Free to... to... run wild through the woods, like humans should!" she enthused.
"Big deal," said Zed.
Laverne took a step forward, a stern expression on her face. "I said you're free! Now get off your fat, lazy butts and start enjoying it!"
"Enjoy being hunted for the rest of our lives by that moustached old tentacle with the big net?" said Zed. "If we ran off, he'd be right on our trail! If we stay here we know we'll be warm and comfortable. Outside we'd be eating bugs and moss."
"You'll be eating my fist in a second!" Laverne threatened.
Zed didn't budge. "The woods are filled with wild animals!" he moaned. "Lions... tigers... and skunks! Man, I hate skunks!" He shivered.
Laverne tried a different tack. She walked away from Zed, and paused at the door. "Oh, here I go out the door," Laverne said loudly. "Oh, I do so enjoy these freedoms that my forefathers fought and died for..."
"Give it up," said Zed.
"Darn," said Laverne. How was she going to entice these Edisons to escape?
Hoagie went to visit Ben Franklin, who was starting to look like his only
hope of powering the super-battery.
"Excuse me, Mister," Hoagie began.
"Mr. Electricity?" said Franklin. "That would be me."
"How's the power-luring going?" Hoagie asked.
"Not so good, I'm afraid," Franklin admitted. "The skies continue to taunt me with their cloudless visage. But soon I, Mr. Hammer of the Gods, He Who Glows With Righteousness, Big Thunder Ben, Mr. It-Strikes-Twice-If-I-Say-It-Does, Mr. BEN FRANKLIN will glow with the almighty power of the heavens and the world will do my bidding! Aha ha ha!"
Hoagie politely ignored the megalomania and looked up. The situation was as bad as Franklin had described. Not one cloud could be seen.
Well, nothing much he could do about that. He'd just have to wait for some rain.
Hoagie walked back to the Mansion. If he had to do any waiting, he'd rather he didn't have to do it around Franklin.
Following the fire alarm chaos, things had quietened down in the Main Hall.
Washington stood at the window, admiring himself. Thomas Jefferson sat behind the table, now without a log to warm the fires of his spirit. It was John Hancock who had suffered the worst, though. Not only was the fire out now, but his blanket had a rather gaping burnt hole in the middle. He was colder than ever.
"Wassup?" Hoagie asked him. "Still cold, huh?"
Hancock nodded gloomily. "N-n-now that the f-f-fire's o-out, I'm c-c-c-colder than ever."
"Why don't you have some hot coffee?"
"Oh, I c-c-can't stand c-coffee," moaned Hancock. "It m-m-makes me irritable, and want to b-bang my h-head against walls."
"You say that as though it was a bad thing," said Hoagie.
"Do you have any idea h-how much it c-c-costs to fix a w-wall these days? It's a r-r-racket!"
"Have you tried decaffeinated coffee?"
"I'm t-talking about decaf," Hancock stammered.
"Maybe you'd better move to a warmer state," said Hoagie.
"D-d-don't remind me," said Hancock. "I've been p-pushing for statehood f-for F-Florida, but all I ever g-get is the speech about V-Valley F-Forge."
"Shouldn't you guys be working instead of just sitting there?" asked Hoagie. They were the most recumbent group of founding fathers he'd ever seen.
"L-Look, this is h-hard work," Hancock stuttered. "We c-can't just write this thing off the t-t-tops of our heads. We've got to th-think about important issues."
Hoagie could help out here. "Dude, the latest issue of Bikes 'n' Brews is rad," he said.
"I was th-thinking about something a b-b-bit c-closer to my heart," Hancock confessed.
"You look like you're thinking about a wool sweater," said Hoagie shrewdly.
Hancock was. Without much hope, he turned to Jefferson. "Hey, T-Tom."
"Thomas," Jefferson corrected.
"C-Can we p-put in an amendment where the g-g-government provides everyone with w-wool sweaters?" Hancock asked.
"Oh, please. Can't you stop whining and think about something else? Why, if you'd been at Valley Forge with Washington you'd-"
"All right, already," said Hancock. He looked miserably at Hoagie. "You s-see what I have to d-deal with?"
"Why is the Constitution almost blank?" Hoagie asked. It was.
"Writer's b-block," said Hancock morosely. We c-c-can't think of any amendments or anything, so we p-put a suggestion box over there. I d-don't suppose you have any b-brilliant ideas?"
"No music in elevators," said Hoagie instantly.
"No m-music in what?"
"You could guarantee the right to free speech," Hoagie suggested.
Hancock thought about this. "Hmmm, f-free speech... n-no, that'll n-never work."
"Gotta go, dude," said Hoagie.
Hoagie went to talk to Thomas Jefferson, who, while sitting tall and proud and looking important, wasn't actually doing anything either. "Yo, Tom," said Hoagie.
"Thomas," he was corrected.
"How goes the framing of the Constitution?" asked Hoagie.
"Not so well," said Jefferson. He proceeded to run through the problems they'd come up against. "We can't decide whether we should allow a free press or impose a tax. An argument has broken out over whether we should separate church and state or legalise bingo parlours. We can't even decide what font to use."
Hoagie nodded patiently as Jefferson continued. "We're not sure if we should guarantee the right to bear arms, or if it will generate too many atrocious puns. We don't know whether to call it the 'Bill of Rights' or 'Appendix A.' I sure hope someone gives us a useful suggestion soon," finished Jefferson. Hoagie, a little worried for the future of his country, hoped somebody did too.
Hoagie was bored, waiting around for a storm. He stepped some distance away from the table and had a look through his pockets. There was all sorts of junk in there - backstage passes, gum wrappers, bits of chalk. Amongst the garbage Hoagie found a tiny advertising card. A guy called George wanted every American home to have a vacuum cleaner in the basement. George was of course a vacuum cleaner salesman, and had actually visited their undergrad apartment earlier in the year. But if you didn't know that, the message on the card was a little vague.
It was time to have some fun. Hoagie dropped the card in the suggestion box then went to the far side of the room. He stood behind the fireplace, out of sight of the founding fathers, then said in a low, carrying voice, "Ahem. BOY, IT'S SURE QUIET IN HERE. I WONDER IF THERE MIGHT BE ANY IDEAS WORTH DISCUSSING IN THE SUGGESTION BOX? MAYBE SOMEBODY SHOULD TAKE A LOOK."
At the window, George Washington turned round to face Hancock and Jefferson. "I say, lads, I have an idea," he said.
"H-harassing B-b-betsy with arbitrary flag d-design changes is g-getting dull," said Hancock. "B-besides, last time she th-th-threatened to stitch m-me."
"No," said Washington. "I was thinking it's about time we opened the suggestion box. Don't you agree?"
"S-sure George. If you s-s-say so."
"Yes, whatever you think is fine with us," agreed Jefferson.
"Excellent!" George went over and opened up the suggestion box.
Hancock turned to Jefferson. "What's he th-thinking? N-n-no one of any importance has b-been here all day. What c-c-could be in the s-suggestion box?"
"Perhaps he intends to suggest something himself," Jefferson said.
George suddenly spoke up. "Ah, here's a suggestion. It says: 'George says that every American should have a vacuum cleaner in their basement!' What do you think, gentlemen?"
"Um... whatever you say, George," said Hancock. "Your n-name's on it...I'm sure you m-m-must have a good reason f-for suggesting it."
"Yes," said George, a slightly baffled expression on his face. "It's strange... I don't quite... well, I'm sure I had a reason for it. If there are no objections, we shall add it to the constitution immediately!"
Nobody spoke up. "No? Good! And so shall it be law." George went back to the window.
Hancock looked at Jefferson. "What's a 'vacuum cleaner'?"
Franklin, precipitated by the lack of inclement weather, was starting to have second thoughts. "Hmmm... the design's solid," he said, referring to his kite. "But I need some waterproof material... like cast iron, or something."
Hoagie was also outside, looking at the sky. No clouds were flying in from
west, east, north, or south. It was clear.
He couldn't wait around like this forever. Surely there was something he could do to bring a storm closer?
One idea came to mind. It wasn't difficult or stupid, so Hoagie went inside, and got a bucket, water, brush and soap from the kitchen area. With these in hand, he went back outside, and stood on the cobblestoned front yard area, looking at the tumbledown rustbucket of a horse carriage that had been left to rot here.
Hoagie set the bucket of soapy water on the ground, dipped the brush in it, then started on the carriage. He was cleaning it.
It took ten minutes to go all over the surface, and in that time Hoagie had gotten the dirt and most of the rust first. It would take a few more minutes for the results of his effort to be noticeable, so Hoagie went back inside.
There was an air of recent activity in the Main Hall. Finally, the founding fathers seemed to have gotten down to business. He sought out Jefferson. "How goes the framing of the Constitution?" he asked him.
"Great!" said Jefferson. "George's suggestion about the vacuum cleaners really got the old creative juices flowing! In fact, we've just given ocelots the right to vote!"
"Wow," said Hoagie.
"We've just finished up amendment 425, which prohibits spelunking on alternate Thursdays," continued Jefferson. "Even as we speak, Hancock's polishing up his 'Single Syllable Undergarment' amendment. And in a few minutes, Washington's going to present his proposal to split the government into eight branches: Executive, judicial, legislative, bronchial, atypical, Freudian, elliptical, and extra-crispy. By tomorrow we'll have finished all 9800 amendments!"
"I hope they've got a good editor," muttered Hoagie. He heard low rumbling noises from outside and suddenly grinned. Moving with surprising speed for a slobby greaser Hoagie went outside.
A welter of clouds, black and hideous, had come from nowhere and were still gathering above, pressing together and flattening out. Lightning flickered from cloud to cloud, and the sky rumbled constantly.
"Looks like a big storm," said Hoagie. "See, this is why I never wash my car." Then Hoagie saw the small round figure of Ben Franklin returning to the Mansion, kite in hand.
"Hey, Ben!" Hoagie called out.
Franklin stopped. "Oh, it's you," he said. "What do you want?"
"Where are you going? What about your experiment?"
"Even science sometimes gets called on account of rain, my boy!" Franklin said. "My kite simply isn't durable enough to withstand the fury of the elements!"
"But how're you ever gonna get lightning if you're not gonna stand out in a storm?"
"To be frank, which I am, I don't know," said Franklin. "The science of electrodynamics - much like your mind, apparently - is still in a state of relative infancy. Back to the drawing board, I say!" Dramatically, Franklin rushed inside.
Hoagie could only shake his head. "What a genius."
Work on the Constitution, meanwhile, continued apace.
"Maybe we should add a rule that you can't dump sludge into the water supply," suggested Hancock.
"What manner of fool would do that in the first place?" said Jefferson sceptically.
Hancock considered this. "You're right."
Hoagie stepped back inside the Mansion with the single thought that he had to
find some kind of durable material for Ben Franklin to make a kite from.
The first place he went looking was Red Edison's basement. Red was still down there, tinkering with an invention. Hoagie looked around, trying to appear inconspicuous, and saw a white lab coat hanging on a hook. It looked like just the thing he needed.
He couldn't take it without being seen by Red. So Hoagie created a diversion. "Hey," he said, pointing at the window. "Look behind you, a three-headed monkey!"
Red turned. "Where?" Hoagie swiped the coat and stuffed it into his pants. Red turned back. "Will you stop pestering me! I'm very busy!"
Whistling, Hoagie walked out and took the stairs to Ben Franklin's room. He found Franklin hunched over a table, going over his fabric with a needle and thread.
"I got something good for ya, Mister," said Hoagie. "Uh, Mister..."
Franklin finally turned to him. "Mr. Brainstorm? Yes, hand it over." Hoagie gave him the lab coat, which Franklin inspected closely. "Hmmm... Doesn't this belong to somebody?"
"Yeah, Red Edison," said Hoagie.
"Ah." Franklin cast aside his old kite, got out the ruler and scissors, and immediately went about fashioning the lab coat into a new one. "I'm sorry, but the man has no vision!" he said, working hard. "A lightweight, durable fabric like this, going to waste down in his basement... When I'm done with it, it will fly!"
"Hmmm," said Hoagie, watching Ben.
"Eureka!" Franklin exclaimed, holding up the new kite. "The All-Season Frank-O-Copter! Ready to make history!"
Hoagie was holding the kite, and Franklin had the reel of string in his hand. Franklin was going over the experiment with Hoagie, and it was hard work. For what seemed like the fifth time, he said, "No, there's no fuse."
"So what do I light?" asked Hoagie.
"For the last time, you're not going to light anything!" said Franklin. "You just push it!"
"The whole time?" said Hoagie dubiously. "How am I going to get up that high?"
"Listen, just wait for me to say the word, 'Now'," said Franklin impatiently. "Then push the kite into the air. All right?"
"I'm on ya, lasagna," Hoagie assured him.
"Let's hope so." Franklin stepped some distance away, ready to begin flying the kite.
Hoagie, with a sudden stab of horror, realised he'd left the super-battery, his whole reason for helping Franklin, plugged into the Chron-O-John.
"NOW!" shouted Franklin. Hoagie just stood there.
"NOW!!!!" shouted Franklin again. He got no response from Hoagie. "NOW, IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE, NOW!!"
Eventually he realised Hoagie was not going to push the kite. Franklin came forward. "Oops," said Hoagie apologetically.
"What part of the word 'NOW' didn't you understand?" asked Franklin.
"Look, it's very simple: I say 'NOW', and you push the kite. Comprenez-vous?"
"Actually, I'd like to go think about it for a while," said Hoagie sheepishly.
"Marvellous," said Franklin. "I'll be here when you figure it out."
"Whatta grouch," muttered Hoagie. Quick as he could, he got to the Chron-O-John, took the super-battery and returned to the clearing amongst the trees, where Franklin was starting to get some of his relentless cheer back.
"Ready for another brush with destiny?" he said.
"Sure, why not?" said Hoagie.
"Splendid!" Franklin handed him the kite. Hoagie looked and saw a tiny fold on the back of the kite where he could put the super-battery. He tucked it in there while Franklin picked up the reel of string.
Franklin took a deep breath. "NOW!" he shouted. Hoagie pushed the kite, and as Franklin pulled on the string the kite sailed up into the air.
"Wheee!" said Hoagie. He joined Franklin.
Franklin's face was a mask of concentration. Sweat rolled down his brow. For some reason, flying this kite was proving harder than he'd expected. It moved far too heavily, buffeted by the high-velocity winds. "She's handling kinda funny," said Franklin
"You got it... just hang on there," said Hoagie.
"She's too heavy. I can't control her!"
"Hang on, Ben. Hang on!"
"She's breaking up! She's breaking up!"
A bright bolt of lightning struck the kite. There was an electrical crackling noise, then the kite plummeted to earth. "Run for your life!" shouted Franklin.
Some time later...
Franklin and Hoagie stood in the clearing. The storm clouds had cleared from above, and Franklin held the kite tightly in one arm.
"Now THAT was interesting!" said Franklin.
"Yeah," agreed Hoagie. "Say, can I see that kite for a second?"
"No!" said Franklin firmly. "I'm taking it back to my lab in Philly right now, so I can study the results! Wish me luck." Franklin turned and trotted toward the Mansion, and just when Hoagie was starting to lose hope the super-battery was jogged free and fell into the grass. Hoagie came forward to pick it up, but before he could Franklin turned around. "I never got your name!" he said.
Hoagie straightened. "It's Hoagie, sir."
"Nice working with you, Hoagie," said Franklin. "I promise to name an invention after you someday."
"Gosh, thanks," said Hoagie, as Franklin left. He picked up the super-battery, and now the meter registered full power.
Hoagie wasted no time, but went to the Chron-O-John and plugged in the super-battery. Immediately the rotor blades on the top of the Chron-O-John kicked into life, gradually rising to a steady, comforting whirr.
It had worked. "Well, I'm all ready to go," he said. "But I guess I have to wait for Bernard and Laverne."
Hoagie sat down and waited.
Laverne was trawling the Mansion, looking for something to injure the Edisons
with, and also get them escaping like they should be right now.
She didn't find anything. Eventually she had a look outside. There wasn't much threatening weaponry concealed in the rosebushes or tulips out here. Just a cat, which had gotten itself in the small gap between a picket fence and the ground, and was rubbing its back against thefence as if the motion gave it some sort of pleasure. Laverne approached the cat, but it pulled away and disappeared as she got close, only to reappear as she went away again.
Laverne got an idea. It was pretty strange. Not wanting to think about it too much, she went back into the Mansion and had a look around. In one of the passages, at the desk where the tentacle that reminded her of Uncle Reggie had once sat, she found what she was looking for - a bottle of whiteout.
She went back outside. As before, the cat backed away as she came near; but this time Laverne went right up to the fence. There she splashed a large amount on the palings, on the side and on the bottom. Then she retreated. "This oughta be good," said Laverne with anticipation.
The cat squeezed itself back into its comfortable gap under the fence. It's back rubbed against the fence, and a long white strip appeared all the way down the cat, from the head to the tail. If you squinted, the cat looked like a skunk that had been starving for a while.
The cat craned its head, and saw the stripe. It yelped, jerked itself out of the ground and ran for the Mansion. It leapt, scrambled up a post, and ended up on the balcony in front of the doorway. It licked nervously at the white stripe, and Laverne hoped that whiteout wasn't lead-based.
She looked up at the poor kitty. Make that the poor out-of-reach kitty. And it didn't show any inclination to come down either. Laverne pondered this, then went to the Chron-O-John.
'Does anybody have some kind of mouse or mouse toy?' she wrote, and tossed the note into the Chron-O-John. Almost immediately, she got her reply - a rubber mouse, courtesy of Hoagie. Mollified, Laverne took the mouse and stood in plain view of the cat.
She waggled the mouse around. "Well, what do we have here?" she said loudly. The cat perked its ears up, and glanced around. Instantly it leapt forward, peering down hungrily at the mouse.
"Looks like a prosthetic rodent!" continued Laverne. Greed got the better of the cat and it leapt down. Instantly Laverne grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and held it tight. "Another specimen!" she said happily.
'Skunk' in tow, Laverne entered the Mansion and went to the kennel. The force-field was still off, so she just tossed the cat into a corner, where it started licking the stripe again.
Zed glanced up. "Hey, look," he said in a bored voice. "A skunk." He started to look down again.
All three Edisons whipped their heads up. Zedna and Ved dropped their cards. As one, they screamed.
A distant observer on a far hill, watching the Mansion, might have seen three
trails of dust exit the Mansion at high speed and pelt for the horizon, each a
different way, as if the devil were at their heels. Then, if he'd peered closer
at the Mansion, he would have seen the tentacle guard, net in one arm, leaping
out the front door at an incomparably slower speed.
"Come back here you mangy humans!" he shouted. "You can't do this! This is an escape-proof facility!!!"
Laverne chuckled. They were alone in the kennel now. "Who says you can't
learn anything from cartoons, eh kitty?" she said to the cat. Boy, but she
felt good. The tentacle guard was gone, for at least several weeks, and they
pretty much had the Mansion to themselves.
Including the disused basement.
Upstairs, Purple Tentacle himself schemed and planned. The doorway opened,
and one of his faithful purple-coloured tentacle lieutenants stood at attention.
A little late for his summons, but as honest as ever.
"Tell me, lieutenant," said Purple Tentacle, "how do you really feel about humans?"
"Honestly, sir? I think they're filthy. Obscene. Foul. Sickening. Like the stuff in your eyes when you wake up. Like the wax that builds up behind your suction cups after a few days. Like-"
"That's enough, son. I just wanted to be sure you weren't one of those humanist sympathizers. What with this ridiculous 'human show' going on here there's humophiles everywhere."
"I'm no humophile, sir," said the lieutenant firmly.
"That's good," said Purple Tentacle. "Now lieutenant, I want to ask you something. It may trouble you."
"Ask away, sir. I can take it. I've got a strong stomach. Nerves of steel. Bowels of brass. Suckers of-"
"Can it, son, this is important. Have any of your friends seemed a bit... firm, lately?"
The lieutenant made a face. "Ew, ick. You mean like, non-squishy and non-slimy?
"That's right," said Purple Tentacle. "Come closer." His lieutenant obliged him by hopping twice forward. "I have recently become suspicious that humans might try to infiltrate us," he said in a low voice.
"No!" said the lieutenant, shocked.
"Though basically stupid, they can be tricky. They may be in disguise."
The lieutenant looked horrified. Abruptly, Purple Tentacle changed the subject. "Still, lieutenant, I'm glad you're here. What kept you?"
The lieutenant looked embarrassed. "Errr... Well, I hate to say it sir, but there was some trouble with one of the humans."
"Trouble? What sort of trouble?"
"Nothing I couldn't handle," said the lieutenant confidently, "but I've noticed something about the humans that may pose a problem."
"Do continue," said Purple Tentacle indulgently.
"Well sir, in general they seem to be a bit... larger than us tentacles. You know, taller. Heftier. More massive. Able to leap-"
"I get the picture, son," Purple Tentacle assured him.
"I don't mean to carry on, sir, it's just that it makes me feel... inadequate. Small. Inferior. Out of control of-"
"Before you go off the deep end there, let me tell you why I called you here. You see, I've invented something which will end our troubles with those glandular leg-walkers for good. I've invented...." he paused for dramatic effect "...the Diminuator!"
"It's a shrinking ray, dolt," said Purple Tentacle.
"Oh, I get it!
"Now, I need you to get me a few parts so I can finish the thing. Come over here." The lieutenant hopped closer.
Laverne pulled open the face of the grandfather clock. She climbed into the
dark passage beyond, and found the wooden stairs leading down.
They led her to a small room, more the basement of four hundred years ago than Doctor Fred's large expansion. Daylight came from the shutters near the ceiling. The air was filled with the smell of old boots, and there was dust on everything.
Nobody down here. It was like being in an attic, only at the bottom of the house. Lots of cardboard boxes were stacked against the shelf. In one dim corner Laverne saw the bowed remains of Doctor Fred's time machine.
There were only two servicable machines in the place. One, by the stairs, was a metal vacuum cleaner. Another, much larger machine sat flush against the wall. It had a large treadwheel, a smaller gear wheel, and lots of buttons. It was, in fact, the hamster power generator Doctor Fred bought a long time ago. You put the hamster on the treadwheel, it ran, and power was generated.
Only one problem: Laverne didn't have a hamster. She started to think about this, then got tired and just decided to ask Bernard and Hoagie for help.
Bernard had been everywhere by now. Upstairs, downstairs, in the attic, the
kitchen, the hall, the office, the basement, everywhere. And no diamond.
Currently he was outside, walking over to the parking lot. The guy in the ski mask was still trying to break into the dust-ridden car, although he seemed to have switched his attention to the trunk. Bernard's idea, which he had to admit wasn't very good, consisted of asking this guy if he'd mind stealing a diamond for him.
"Hi!" said Bernard brightly.
The masked man turned around with a start. "Don't sneak up on me like that!" he said in his weaselly voice.
"What are you up to?" asked Bernard, as the man tried to jimmy open the trunk.
"Er, I, uh... I locked my keys in the car," said the man, uneasily.
"If you're locked out, why break into the trunk?" asked Bernard.
"I, uh, have a spare set of keys in there," said the man. "Say, I'm kind of busy, so..."
Bernard got the picture. It wouldn't be worth his while to ask the masked man about the diamond. Dejected, Bernard trudged back to the motel. Seen from this angle, at this time of night, it looked pretty spooky, like the motel in 'Motel Slasher 3'.
At least his old pal Ted was still here, holding up a birdbath in the front yard. Bernard needed some cheering up, so he stopped to talk to Ted. "Hey, Ted," he said cheerily. Ted stared straight ahead. "Talkative as ever, eh, Ted? You haven't changed a whole lot."
Bernard looked around. "Boy, I haven't seen you since I was here five years ago. You know, I bet you'd really like my friend Hoagie. He's a roadie for a heavy metal band. You could hit him over the head with a bowling ball and it wouldn't faze him. He can pass out standing up and not drop anything." Bernard thought a bit. "The two of you have a lot in common."
Bernard sighed. "Boy, I wish I had as little on my mind as you do. No offense intended, of course," he added hastily. "I mean, my best friends are stranded in time. Purple Tentacle's probably taking over the planet by now. And I've got to somehow get hold of a diamond."
He thought about this. "Maybe I could make one. Maybe I could buy one. Maybe I could get someone else to buy me one. I wish I knew someone with a lot of money."
Ted said nothing. "I guess I'd best be on about saving the world," said Bernard. "Bye." He walked up the rickety steps to the Mansion.
Inside, Bernard was at a loss for what to do. He decided to check on the
Chron-O-John, and went down to the basement. Doctor Fred was still down here,
sipping his highly-caffeinated coffee and worrying about things. Bernard wasn't
expecting any help from that quarter.
There was a message in the Chron-O-John.
Anyone got a hamster? I need one to run a power generator. Laverne.
Bernard could help out here, at least. He didn't have a hamster, but he knew who did.
Weird Ed glanced up at the figure in his doorway, then looked back down at
his stamps. Just Bernard.
Bernard came into Weird Ed's room. He saw the hamster a few feet away, inside its specially aerated enclosure. Bernard lifted the lid off and took the hamster in one hand. It made faint squealing noises, and wriggled around. Weird Ed didn't look up. Either he didn't notice, or didn't care.
Only when Bernard was out in the passageway did he realise there was a problem. Doctor Fred, a few hours ago, had told him that living things couldn't be flushed through the Chron-O-John. How could he send this little fella to Laverne?
Bernard paced along the passage, worrying about this. Then he stopped. In one corner of the passage was a deep freeze. Bernard pulled the lid open, and saw it was full nearly to the brim with ice.
He looked apologetically at the hamster. "I'm sorry to do this to you little fella, but it's for the future of the whole planet." Then he thrust the hamster all the way into the ice, pulling the lid shut.
Would there be an ice machine in the Mansion, two hundred years in the future? It was a risky venture. Thinking about it, Bernard started to realise how risky. Even if Laverne found the icicle-ridden hamster in the future, how was she going to revive him? Then there was something Weird Ed had said. Whenever the hamster worked, it got cold and then refused to keep working. Laverne needed a steady supply to get the Chron-O-John working.
His problems weren't yet finished. Bernard had more work to do.
A few minutes later, and Bernard had one of his most hare-brained schemes
ever. He had a short written conversation with Laverne, in which he established
that the future Mansion had both an icebox and also a washing room, left intact
for two hundred years.
This information cheered Bernard up immensely. It meant his hare-brained scheme was possible. Bernard was also cheered by the fact that he'd thought of the scheme at all. For several excruciating hours since everything went horribly wrong, he hadn't come up with one good idea. Maybe this was the harbinger of better things to come.
Bernard started by going to Fatty's room. In there, he searched the cupboards and drawers until he found an icky sweat-soaked woollen pullover. Before leaving, Bernard pulled the door half-closed and took the keyring.
He didn't like stealing. But his idea specifically needed the keys. Besides, if Fatty owned the car Bernard thought he owned, getting it stolen would be a public service.
The next stop was the parking lot.
The car thief might have been incompetent, but at least he was persistent. He
was still here, trying to crowbar his way into the trunk. Why the car thief
thought there might be anything in the trunk of this rust-ridden jalopy was
He came up behind the car thief. "Here, perhaps these are your keys," said Bernard, offering the whole lot.
"Where?" said the car thief urgently. "Gimme!" He grabbed for the keys, in the process transferring the crowbar to Bernard's hands. "Hey, thanks pal," he said. "Keep the crowbar."
"Thank you, masked man," said Bernard courteously as the car thief started trying keys. He walked away, to distant strains of "It must be one of these. Drat. Maybe this one. What sort of person would carry around this many keys?"
The crowbar felt good in Bernard's hands. Kind of weighty, thin and powerful. Phallic, even. Holding it firmly he jogged up the stairs to the second floor passage.
In the passage was the object of his plan. The candy machine. Crisps, sweets, and all sorts of packaged goods were in there, his for the paying. Bernard didn't want them. Instead, he held the crowbar up against the coin box, then whacked it firmly, twice.
Coins spilled out of the return slot, piling up in a knee-high mound on the carpet. Bernard looked around guiltily, then started picking them up.
Some time later, Bernard was walking through the lobby, the coins jangling
noisily with each step he took, his trousers pulled several inches lower by the
weight, and trying to look nonchalant.
He found the laundry room, put the sweater in the washing machine, then started placing coins, one at a time, into the coin slot. Each coin kept the machine going for about thirty minutes. With this many coins, the laundry machine would be running for years to come, and the sweater irretrievably shrunk.
Down to hamster size, or so Bernard hoped.
Yes, it was a pretty hare-brained scheme. But the world, or at least Bernard's world, is a pretty hare-brained place. Who's to say what will and won't work?
Laverne, for one, thought Bernard had gone slightly mad, when she read the
note outlining his plan.
The icebox was on the second floor, in almost exactly the same place where Bernard found it. Laverne didn't expect to find anything, but there was the hamster, frozen in a cube of blue ice, a surprised expression on his face.
Bernard had worried about Laverne's ability to rescucitate the hamster, but Laverne wasn't worried. She'd gotten the idea, in fact, from something Bernard had said about his first trip to Maniac Mansion.
Laverne walked through the Mansion until she came to the room with the Recyclatron and the industrial strength microwave. Laverne popped the hamster cube into the microwave and set it to Defrost.
So quickly she could see it happening, the ice block melted and fell away from the hamster. Soon the hamster was standing in a pool of cold water, and at that moment life returned to his eyes. He looked around, and then started to sweat, whether with heat or worry Laverne didn't know.
"Gosh, I hope this isn't like the primitive, dangerous microwave ovens of my century," said Laverne. The head of the hamster suddenly expanded to twice its size, then fell back into place. "Those things could really pop a hamster good."
The head of the hamster popped again. Next, its body swelled from inside, as if hot gases were igniting, then fell back. "Uh-oh," said Laverne. She didn't know how to turn this thing off.
With a cheery 'bing!' the door of the microwave slid open. Laverne picked up the hamster. Small trails of smoke issued from his ears, but he was still soggy and cold. Laverne blew a gentle stream of air at his head, trying to calm him down. She looked around guiltily.
This shivering cold hamster would be no good at all for running a hamster
power generator. So, hare-brained or not, Laverne was pretty grateful for
The laundry was only one doorway away. Laverne entered.
Here it was, everything as before. And though Laverne could swear there had been nothing in the washing machine when she came here last time, now there was a tiny little sweater.
She took out the sweater and put it over the limp hamster. A minute passed, and the hamster started to come to life. It looked around, pawed at its mouth, and started wriggling. Cute little fella. Laverne wished she had some formaldehyde.
Maybe later. Right now she needed power. Hamster in hand, Laverne went to the basement.
She cast a quick eye over the power generator. Everything looked all right - at least, it was shiny and clean. Laverne dropped the hamster onto the belt.
A panel opened up in the wall beside her. A punching glove on the end of a long spindly arm came flashing out, striking Laverne full in the face. The blow tossed her right across the room, where she landed in the disused hulk of the time machine. Her head banged against a hubcap which, disloged by the collision, fell onto the ground and rolled around noisily.
The hamster realised it was free. It dropped down to the ground, where it lay for a few seconds, stunned. Then it roused itself and darted for a mouse hole low down on the wainscotting.
Laverne still hadn't wiped the utterly surprised expression from her face. Finally she managed to pull herself free of the time machine. She dusted down her disguise. The punching arm now slumped half in / half out of the wall, from where it had sprung. There was a face print on the glove. It looked broken. Laverne hoped it was.
She turned her head and stared at the mouse hole. She could see a pair of small beady eyes peering out nervously. Then she looked a little further right, where she saw the basement vacuum cleaner.
Laverne sprang forward, and grabbed the vacuum hose. The vacuum whirred as she switched it on. Acting on a lot of nervous energy and frustration, Laverne grinned and jammed the hose right in the mouse hole.
There was a low 'thwip', then the sucking resumed. Laverne felt the hamster get sucked up the hose, into the machine. She switched it off, and opened up the hatch.
There was a dusty ball in there with a familiar shape. It sneezed. Laverne picked it up and blew the dust off. There was her dusty warm hamster, wriggling about in her hand with all his former life.
Laverne was in no mood for any further obstacles. She immediately returned to the hamster generator and jammed him down on the belt. Acting on the training he'd picked up from Doctor Fred, the hamster ran, obediently.
Laverne stared at the wall. "Well?" she said, daring anything else to happen.
Nothing did, except that the hamster kept running and now bolts of electricity flickered between the two electrodes on the top of the machine. She had power.
How was she going to get it to her Chron-O-John. Laverne searched high and low and finally found an extension cord. She plugged it into the generator, then tossed the other end out the window. Looking through that window she could see the Chron-O-John squatting on the ground, barely five metres away.
She went outside, found the two cord ends, and plugged them together.
The Chron-O-John whirred into life.
Bernrad had just had another idea. A real humdinger. People waited their
whole lives for an idea as good as this one. As well they might - it was going
to net him a whole two million dollars.
Bernard started in the kitchen. One on shelf he found what he was looking for - two steaming hot jugs of coffee. One jug was marked 'DECAF', and presumably for Aunt Edna; the other fully caffeinated. He took both, just in case. Then he went to the basement.
Doctor Fred, by dint of judicious sipping, had managed to eke several hours of life from his coffee, but stocks were visibly low. So Bernard came forward, with the jug of decaf, and refilled the cup.
"Mmmm. Thanks," said Doctor Fred. "I needed a little pick-me-up." He sipped at the coffee.
Doctor Fred's fingers went lifeless, and the coffee cup smashed on the floor. His head dropped back, staring up at the roof with sightless eyes, and his arms stretched forward, ramrod straight. Then Doctor Fred began to sleepwalk, his voice droning. "Must ... open ... safe ... Must ... sign ... contract ... Must ... provide ... for ... family ..."
He was walking up the stairs to the lobby. Bernard followed, and saw Doctor Fred enter his office, just as he'd hoped. Bernard ducked in behind him.
Doctor Fred stood, his eyes shut, at the safe. His fingers whirled the combination, much too fast for Bernard to read, and pulled the safe door open. Bernard caught a glimpse of an envelope, and a slip of paper. The contract Doctor Fred had forgotten to sign, one that would have made them millions of dollars.
Doctor Fred opened his eyes on the safe, and boggled. One arm jerked, and the safe was slammed shut. Then the whole dreamy routine began again.
Soon, Bernard started to see the problem. The combination was working, but Doctor Fred worked the wheel so hard Bernard couldn't read the numbers. Second, he didn't dare reach in and take the piece of paper because Doctor Fred might slam the safe door on him and break his arm!
This was an unexpected snag. Bernard looked around the office for something useful. His eyes alighted on the security camera.
Now that was a good idea. Bernard went to find Nurse Edna.
She was upstairs in the security office, manning the controls and spying on
the patrons. She looked at Bernard in a mildly interested fashion, but let him
alone. If Bernard tried to use the security equipment, that'd change pretty
He could see the figure of Doctor Fred, though, a small white blob on one of the smaller camera screens.
Bernard came into the room. He thought a bit. The floor was well polished and smooth, and Nurse Edna seemed to be having no trouble at all getting around on her swivel chair.
He decided to chance it. Bernard came and stood beside Nurse Edna, so that she was between him and the door. He tensed himself, then pushed the chair hard. Giggling, Nurse Edna spun on her chair, headed for the doorway.
She knew this room like the back of her hand. And one of the things she knew was that there was a statue of Jed in the corner, his sword-arm sticking out in front of the doorway like a handle, so that she ever propelled herself toward the doorway on her chair (something she did quite often), the sword-arm was there to grab and pivot on, returning her the full half-revolution back into the room.
But it wasn't Jed there anymore, not since Hoagie's well meaning if misguided intervention. Now it was right-handed Ned, his arm in a completely different position. Nurse Edna grabbed for it and missed. She flew on out the doorway cackling. Bernard heard a distant tumbling noise, then there was silence.
"Well you know what they say," he said. "'If you want to save the world, you got to push a few old ladies down the stairs.'"
The security console was his! Ordinarily Bernard could have spent hours playing with all the gadgets, but there was no telling when Doctor Fred would wake up. So Bernard wasted no time in finding a videotape, slamming it into a slot, then recording.
Played at normal speed, the tape of Doctor Fred's actions would be just as incomprehensible as actually watching them. But at half-speed, or a quarter speed... it'd be slow enough to read the numbers.
Bernard sat and watched Doctor Fred, ready to stop taping when he began repeating himself. He was reaching for the stop button when the office door opened.
Two tall men in dark suits and sunglasses were standing there. One held up a badge. "Dr. Fred Edison?" he asked. "Internal Revenue."
Doctor Fred stood there, arms straight and horizontal.
"Come with us," said the IRS agent. "We'd like to go over some of your records with you... upstairs."
The monitor was suddenly filled with static. And every monitor on the console. Bernard stared around, close to panic. That wasn't in the plan at all!
Finally he got himself under some sort of control, enough to rewind the tape and play it at half speed. On the monitor, Doctor Fred's hand moved comically slow as he spun the wheel. Bernard saw the numbers clearly - 101, 999, 57. Then the office door open and the bizarre events of the last few seconds replayed themselves.
Bernard turned it off. He couldn't bear to watch. The IRS had Doctor Fred! Where had they taken him? One of the agents had mentioned 'upstairs'. Was that the attic.
He had to rescue Doctor Fred! That contract was unsigned, and he needed the signature!
Bernard stood still, torn between two paths. He decided, in the end, to get the contract first.
"Let's see," said Bernard in the now empty office, "it's 101,
All evidence of the kidnapping was gone. It was if nothing had happened. Which was disturbing, but made concentrating on the job of opening the safe much easier. Bernard crossed his fingers, and pulled the handle.
The safe door swung open silently. Bernard reached in, and took the papers. He had a quick read of the document. As Doctor Fred had said, it was a contract guaranteeing the Edisons a large slice of the gross profits - twenty percent. Which was, Bernard made a quick calculation, about two million.
The signature line was blank. And there was a line to the effect that the document had to be signed and at LEC hedquarters by July 1 1988. But that wasn't the problem. The problem was getting the signature.
Bernard put the contract in his pocket and started the journey to the attic. He was tense, and almost stumbled on the steps. What had the IRS done with Doctor Fred?
He found them up in the attic, conducting what's known in the trade as an 'involuntary audit'. The masses of boxes had been shoved to one side, and several of the closest were open. What was presumably their contents now sat heaped on a bare table under a single naked lightbulb, at which sat the two IRS agents. Seen in the flesh, they were almost identical. Same height, build, mannerisms, suit, and, when they spoke, same voices. They were working their way through the pile of paper, one bill at a time, and they did it fast. Talking all the while.
"Is that a W-390/B Frivolous Spending Report?" the agent on the left said.
"No, it's another 561-AB Negative Attention Statement," the other agent rapped back.
"Did you say you have a PP-41 Facilities Paraphernalia Declaration over there?"
Bernard didn't dare move from the stairwell. The IRS had strange powers.
"Say, what's the filing date for a BFD-206/ZZ Insufficient Credit Applications Form?" asked the agent on the right.
"You have until midnight on the twelfth working day past the first full moon after the end of your fiscal year," said the agent on the left. "However, you can extend the date by filing an RPM-78 Waning Interest Extension anytime before the close of business on the second Tuesday after the first Friday in March. And of course, if you're married, you'd also have to file the K-7209 Statement of Joint Intentions and declare any mutual gift expenditures. "
"Oh yeah, that's right."
More shuffling of paper. Then came a snippet of actual conversation, which was somehow much more revealing. "How do you suppose the Dodgers are doing?" asked one of the agents.
"Well, their win/loss ratio is 28 percent below normal... however, the successful slide margin is actually up 3 points since May. I've noticed that they seem to do well with a man on first after a fly ball when the opposing pitcher is left-handed and wearing a green hat."
Bernard made a face. Even for a geek like him, that was just too factual. But the next sentence made him listen much closer. "Good thing we've got Dr. Fred under wraps in the next room, eh?" said one of the agents. "All that red tape ought to keep him busy."
Bernard plucked up courage, and stepped out of the staircase and into the light. Looking nonchalant, he crossed the floor to the loft door. There was a tiny viewing portal, currently closed. Bernard reached up to open it, and one of the agents said "Hey. You can't go in there."
He turned round and went over to the agents' table. "What is it?" said one of the agents, looking at the steadily-decreasing mound of paper.
"Are you guys brothers?" asked Bernard.
"At the IRS, we're all brothers," said the agent.
"What have you done with Dr. Fred?"
"We've got him safely locked in the next room while we go over his books," said the agent. "No, you can't go in and see him. And don't even think about staging some kind of rescue."
"I'll just be moseying along," said Bernard.
"Keep your nose clean, kid."
Bernard went downstairs, obediently. The IRS seemed to have all bases covered. There was only one way into that loft, and it was under their eyes. You'd have to clamber all over the roof and then try to pry a window open if you really wanted to get inside.
Then Bernard realised there was a different way.
After minutes of sweaty scrambling, Bernard stuck a soot-covered head out
into the fresh night air and shook it firmly.
He'd climbed up the chimney. It wasn't so hard - if you wedged yourself in tight there was no danger of falling, and there was plenty of room for him to maneouver his slender body.
Spluttering a little, Bernard pulled himself out of the chimney and steadied himself on the roof tiles. The loft windows were right in front of him, beside a narrow strip of roof. Two items jutted out into space somewhat - a metal flagpole, minus flag, and a sturdy metal pulley hanging from the upper tip of the loft window overhang.
Bernard didn't have much stomach for heights, so he tiptoed forward toward the loft windows. He was acutely aware of the grip of his shoes on the sloping tiles - fortunately it hadn't rained recently, or he wouldn't have gotten anywhere.
The first loft window he came to was closed. Bernard tried to lift it open, making very small and slight movements, but it didn't budge. Aware of the long fall behind him, he didn't try pressing harder, in case his feet slipped. He tried the second window instead.
This one slid smoothly upward. With considerable relief, Bernard clambered into the loft, wiping a sweaty forehead.
They hadn't been lying. Doctor Fred was here, stretched out on the bare mattress. He was all tied up in masses of sticky red tape, and they'd tied a long length of rope around that just to be sure.
Bernard knelt by him, close to his head. "Doctor Fred?" he whispered. There was no response from Doctor Fred. In fact, he hadn't made a move since Bernard had climbed in. Must still be asleep, Bernard thought.
That would make his job harder. Bernard started by untying the rope. The knot wasn't especially tight, and he could work quietly. Soon he was able to coil the whole length on the floor.
Bernard started to rip the red tape free, but stopped almost immediately. It was making a low tearing noise as he did so. Low, but loud enough for the IRS to hear. In fact, they might have already heard.
Bernard waited, tensely. He heard no motion, and eventually decided he was safe. But he had to get Doctor Fred out of here.
He reached down and tried to lift Doctor Fred off the bed. But he was too heavy; his hands slipped; and Doctor Fred crashed onto the floor.
"Uh-oh," Bernard heard one of the IRS agents say, very clearly. Afraid, Bernard dashed around the bed and hid behind an old dusty chair. He knelt down in the dark.
The door peephole opened, letting some yellow light into this dim room. "Hey! Where'd he go?" said the agent.
The door opened. In came the agent, and he almost immediately spotted Doctor Fred on the floor, by the bed. "Ah, there you are," said the agent. "What are you doing down there?" He picked him up in one hand and deposited him back on the bed. "Oh, by the way," added the agent, "capital gains taxes apply even if you spell your name in lower case on the form." He walked purposefully out.
Bernard wiped his sweaty brow, again. This rescue was turning him into a bundle of nerves. There were too many problems on his plate. a) Doctor Fred was unconscious, which meant Bernard had to lift him out, b) Bernard couldn't lift him out, and c) the IRS would hear him even if he did.
Bernard went to the window. This was the only way out; if he was going to rescue Doctor Fred, it would have to be through here. Looking around, Bernard saw the pulley and got a glimmer of an idea. Maybe he could winch Doctor Fred right down to ground using the rope and pulley.
He gathered up the rope, and climbed out the window. The pulley was at about head height, and Bernard had no trouble looping the rope through it. He trailed one end back through the window, letting the other fall to ground.
The length of the rope was just about perfect. It reached right to the ground, a further two metres or so coiling on the grass. The coils of rope were right next to Dead Cousin Ted.
Bernard got an even better idea. After all, the IRS guys were cautious: they'd probably be checking on Doctor Fred every few minutes or so. But if he could arrange a body double...
The mummified Ted would be perfect. Bernard, leaving Doctor Fred alone for the moment, crossed the roof (with more confidence this time) and climbed onto the chimney.
He half lowered himself, half fell down the chimney, landing flat on his
backside in the empty fireplace. In no time at all Bernard was outside, standing
next to Ted and the coils of rope and wondering how to accomplish this.
Bernard took the rope and fashioned one end into a sturdy noose. He slung this over Ted's neck, and pulled it tight. That should do.
He dashed back inside, up the chimney, and was sweating good and hard by the time he stood on the roof, one end of the rope in his hands, the pulley only two feet away.
Bernard planted his feet firmly, and pulled.
There was one thing Bernard, normally a master of the principles of leverage, had forgotten. Ted, down below, was holding a stone birdbath in his arms. And stone birdbaths tend to be heavy.
The noose around Ted's neck creaked. He lifted a couple of inches off the ground.
Bernard strained harder. He succeeded in jolting Ted up a few more inches, then he stopped again. Ted's posture had tilted forward, and the birdbath was starting to slip from his bandaged hands.
Bernard heaved, going red in the face.
The stone birdbath slipped from Ted's hands and shattered.
Ted rocketed upward.
Bernard, caught by surprise by the sudden lack of resistance, slipped off the roof and plummeted to earth, still holding the rope.
Ted was pulled even further skyward by the rope and pulley.
Bernard hit the ground almost in a sitting position, jarring every bone in his body. He winced and let go of the rope.
Ted's ascent now slowed, and the pulley pulled him inwards. In a smooth arc calculated to perfection, Ted sailed in through the open loft window, crashing onto the floorboards with a loud clatter.
The door peephole opened. "Hey! What's this?" said one of the IRS agents. He opened the door and saw Ted's stiff, bandaged body jammed up in one corner of the room.
"Who's this, Doc? Relative?" said the agent. "Well, I'm sure we can audit him next." He paused at the door. "This isn't a party."
The loft door shut.
Bernard, back down on the ground, had just gotten himself together. He ached
everywhere, but at least he'd done what he'd hoped to - gotten Ted into the
There just remained the matter of disguise. Doctor Fred was wrapped all over in red tape, but Ted was an off-white colour. Bernard didn't think the agents were colour-blind, so he'd have to do something about that.
For what seemed like the fifth time that night, Bernard searched the mansion. Head to bottom. Somewhere down in the basement, he found what he was looking for: a tin of red paint.
Bernard jammed the lid on very tightly then, holding the paint tin and a brush in one hand, climbed up the chimney. With difficulty. But he did it, and for an encore was able to walk along that roof for a third time and climb in the window.
He saw Dead Cousin Ted lying up against the wall, untouched by the agents. Ted's bandages were a lot paler, in this light, than the tape around Doctor Fred.
Bernard spent fifteen minutes painting Dead Cousin Ted red. Ted's bandages were super-dry, and absorbed just about all of the paint Bernard laid on. At the end of it all, Ted was nearly dry to the touch.
Bernard put away the paint tin and brush. He went to Doctor Fred and pushed him gently off the bed. Then Bernard whipped around and seized Ted by the arms, lifting him up into the air.
Ted was heavier than he'd expected. Bernard stumbled backward under the load. His leg brushed the bed and Bernard fell back, Ted right on top of him. He landed on the mattress and nearly bent it double, managing to keep it straight only by straining hard with his feet and legs. And Ted was still above him, staring placidly at the ceiling.
There was the sound of movement outside the door. Bernard was trapped. There was no room to escape. He flatted himself and remained perfectly still.
The peephole opened, and the agent peered in. Doctor Fred was hidden in the shadows beside the bed; Bernard was right under Dead Cousin Ted, and similarly invisible. All the agent saw was a single red figure lying flat on the bed, and he made the obvious conclusion.
"Hmm. Thought I heard something," said the agent. "Everything OK in there?"
Bernard chanced his arm - literally - by raising his right hand into a round OK sign. In the dim light, the agent couldn't see the slightly paler nature of the arm. "Well, try to keep it down, OK?" he said. He shut the peephole.
Bernard slid out from under Dead Cousin Ted and collapsed on the floor beside Doctor Fred. He slapped Fred's cheeks lightly, but got no response. Still out cold.
He got to his feet, and dragged Doctor Fred to the window. Here he paused. He couldn't just bundle Doctor Fred out the window - he'd slip on the tiles and plunge to the ground.
The rope hung down from the pulley, just outside the window. Bernard reached for it and pulled it in. Bernard gathered a good length together, then began looping it around Doctor Fred. A couple of knots later, and Doctor Fred was neatly trussed up.
Bernard climbed out the window. He planted his feet, and was just ready to begin pulling when he remembered his earlier mishap.
"Nah," he said. "I'm not going to make that mistake again." Instead, Bernard went around the other side of the rope, to be standing almost at the edge of the roof. He pulled.
Doctor Fred was yanked off the floor and into the window. But he didn't come through. His head was jammed against the top of the window and the feet below the bottom.
Bernard leant back and pulled, like an overenthusiastic tug-of-war competitor. Doctor Fred's body bulged through the window. Bernard pulled harder. He was now leaning so far back his head was over bare space, and he really should have seen what was coming, but Bernard just wasn't thinking.
Doctor Fred burst through the window. Bernard stumbled backward and fell off the roof for a second time. He fell flat on his back in a patch of extremely soft soil, creating a Bernard shaped hole several feet deep.
The rope uncoiled in a whirl from the pulley. Doctor Fred spun in the air for several seconds, before the last of the rope pulled free and he plunged to earth.
Bernard was just stumbling to his feet when Doctor Fred hit him. They crashed back down into the hole.
"Oof!" said Bernard. He eventually managed to locate Doctor Fred. "Doctor Fred?" said Bernard. "Are you okay? Doctor Fred?" He got no response. "I'd better get him to the lab," he said, worriedly.
Down in the basement laboratory, Bernard laid Doctor Fred flat on his back. Doctor Fred's eyes were shut, and his face was unmoving. But at least the red tape was gone, which was an improvement.
"Well I got him in here, but he's out cold!" said Bernard. He could think of only one thing to do. Bernard found a funnel and fitted the end into Doctor Fred's mouth. Into the funnel he poured a large amount of full strength coffee. Bernard knelt down by Doctor Fred and saw the throat muscles working, swallowing the coffee.
Doctor Fred's body suddenly began vibrating. His limbs jerked spastically, his head rose and fell several inches. Bernard quickly got up and backed away, a little scared. Doctor Fred's body thrummed like a live wire.
Without warning his body suddenly jerked into the air. Doctor Fred's eyes jerked open and a whole range of hideous expressions crossed his face, faster than the eye could see: a thousand dispersed in one second. Steam was coming from his ears.
Then Doctor Fred dropped back to earth, on his feet and steady as a rock. He rubbed his hands together and smiled with satisfaction. "Damn good coffee!" He went to the table and started rubbing the hands together in that nervous fashion.
He seemed to have no memory of the past hour. Which was fine for Bernard, given his role in dispensing the decaf. Now he came forward again, the contract from the safe in his hands.
"I got the contract for you to sign, Doctor!" said Bernard.
Doctor Fred looked at him. "Sorry, I don't like to sign things I haven't read," he said.
Bernard couldn't believe it. "Okay, so read it first!" he said.
"I'm busy trying to think of a way to save humanity!" said Doctor Fred. "I haven't got time to waste on piddling contracts!"
How could Doctor Fred be so stupid? "But the whole human race is at risk!" Bernard blurted.
"Of course! That's why I'm busy trying to think of a way to save it!" said Doctor Fred.
"Sign it or... I'll... get real mad," said Bernard.
Doctor Fred looked at him witheringly. "And do what? Not be my friend anymore? Ha ha ha."
"Oh, forget it. I'll get rid of Purple Tentacle myself!"
Now Doctor Fred looked at him with actual, if amused, interest. "Oh yeah, how?" he said.
"I'm getting Purple Tentacle declared insane and arrested," said Bernard.
"That's a good idea!" said Doctor Fred.
Bernard had a brainwave. "But I need a note signed by a doctor..."
"Oh," said Doctor Fred. He realised something. "Hey, I'm a doctor!"
"We're in luck!"
"Wow! Where do I sign?"
"Right here!" Bernard showed him the contract, folded up so only the signature line was visible. Doctor Fred took a pen from his lab coat and scrawled his name on the paper.
"Well, good luck!" he said.
Bernard went to the Chron-O-John, and was about to flush it to Bernard when two problems struck. First of all, flushing objects through time tended to make them wet. No problem, he'd send it in a plastic bag. But the second problem was tougher. The envelope had no stamp on it. Not only that, but Bernard couldn't use just any old stamp. He needed one that was in use two hundred years ago.
Bernard remembered somebody who had a stamp collection.
As he walked up to Weird Ed's room, he also remembered that Weird Ed loved
his pony express stamps - the very stamps he was after - more than life itself.
He might not let Bernard take one.
Along the way, Bernard stopped at the now-vacated room of the suicidal novelty goods designer. He had a quick poke around, and soon found something useful.
Weird Ed, about a minute later, looked up sharply at the person standing outlined in his doorway. When he saw it was Bernard, he relaxed and returned his attention to the stamps.
Bernard came in and stood a prudent distance away from the collection. "Pony Express stamps!" he said enthusiastically, looking at Ed's collection.
"Yes," agreed Ed. "Not the most valuable kind, but they have a lot of sentimental value to me."
It was time. Bernard reached a hand into his pocket. "Hey, wanna see a neat trick?" he said to Ed.
Bernard pulled out a bottle of ink and splashed it on Ed's stamp collection. "Neat, huh?" he said.
Ed's face didn't seem to register anything, at first. But his gentle features hardened, and colour rose in his cheeks, and his eyebrows came together like two angry caterpillars, and now Weird Ed Edison, the paramilitary nut, was back in this room and blowing his nut.
"Uh," said Bernard, backing away.
"My pony express stamps!" screamed Ed. "You ruined my pony express stamps! Not to mention five years of therapy!" He drew in a shuddering, insane breath. "GET OUT OF MY ROOM!!!"
Bernard scurried out into the passageway. "Geeze! What a grump!" said Bernard. "He should really try to find some outlet for those-"
Ed threw the stamp album through the door, striking Bernard on the nose. It fell to the ground, three or four loose stamps fluttering after it.
"...negative feelings," finished Bernard. He knelt down and picked up the stamp album.
Every page was completely clear, as of course Bernard had expected. The ink was disappearing ink. Bernard leafed through the pages, not looking for ink damage but for the right stamp.
He came across one very quickly. A 1778 pony express general delivery stamp, and uncanceled to boot. Bernard put it in his pocket. Then he took the album in his hands and marched bravely back into Ed's room.
Ed had not calmed down. His brawny body looked ready to burst out from behind the table at any moment. "Get out of here!" he yelled.
Bernard set down the stamp album on the table - open, with each and every one of the pages purest white.
Ed's eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped, and all the angry colour drained from his face. "Hey! You fixed it!" he said wonderingly. "I guess I can forgive you now."
"Sometimes I do stupid stuff," said Bernard, "and I don't even know why - as if my body were being controlled by some demented, sadistic puppet-master."
"Well, we all feel that way sometimes," said Ed philosophically.
Bernard returned to the passage. Events seemed to have turned out all right here, but he wouldn't want to be around when Ed found out there was a stamp missing. Bernard licked the stamp and stuck it on the envelope. There. Ready to be posted.
Hoagie had been bored for quite some time now. So it was a relief, in one
way, to see that the Chron-O-John had just started glowing again. Hoagie reached
in and took out a plastic pocket, with an envelope inside. Written on the
plastic pocket were the words 'POST THIS' Even Hoagie could understand that.
There was a mailbox out the front of the Mansion. Hoagie dropped the letter in there. And just a few hours later, a Pony Express mail collector would ride past, pick up the letter, and take it to the general office.
The address on the letter didn't, as yet, exist, so the letter would be kept in storage for one hundred and fifty years, finally being delivered during World War II.
Hoagie didn't know this. And would just have gotten confused if he did.
Back at the present-day Mansion, the office phone was ringing.
After twenty seconds, an irate Doctor Fred entered the office and picked up the receiver. "Yeah, what do you want?" he barked.
"Hi there? Is this Dr. Fred Edison?" said a dweebish male voice on the far end of the phone.
"Who did you think you called? Dr. Spock? Look, I don't have all day."
"This is Farley Krock at LucasArts Games. I just discovered your contract among some very old files. And, well, our lawyers say that we, uh... have to pay you two million dollars in back royalties."
Doctor Fred's jaw dropped. Farley, naturally oblivious to this, continued talking. "Uh, for the use of your family in the Maniac Mansion video game."
Doctor Fred found his voice. "WHAT!"
"This is Farley Kro-"
"No, I heard that, you moron! When do I get my MONEY?!?"
"Oh, right now. It's been credited to your Swiss bank account."
Doctor Fred set the receiver down. He thought for a few seconds. Then he picked it up again. "Operator!" he said urgently. "Get me a travel agent! This is an emergency!"
A few minutes later, Bernard entered the same office and picked up the same
phone. He dialled a different number, however.
"Couch Potato Shopping Channel, Wanda speaking," said the receptionist on the far end of the line.
"Uh, I want to buy a diamond," said Bernard.
"That will be two million dollars. Do you have a major credit card?"
Bernard still had Doctor Fred's bank book in his pocket. "Umm, I have a numbered Swiss bank account," he said.
"What's the number, sir?"
"Uh..." Bernard shook the bank book back and forth in front of his eyes, trying to bring the barely legible number into focus. "It's 846-427-35327."
A short pause followed, during which Bernard could feel his heart in his mouth. There would be no funds. Of course. How could such a hare-brained scheme- "Very good, sir. We'll send the diamond by Pronto Post Light-Speed Delivery immediately. Thank you for calling."
Bernard, immensely relieved, set the handset down. The doorbell rang. Bernard turned around.
"Now that's service," he said approvingly.
There was a Fed Ex box on the ground by the front door. Bernard picked it up, and brought it inside. He went to the kitchen (the safest place he could think of) and slit open the box.
The radiant white jewel inside took his breath away. It was almost the size of somebody's head, a flawless octagonal gem with edges so sharp you could cut yourself on them.
Time to visit Doctor Fred.
By the time Doctor Fred set the diamond into the heart of the Chron-O-John's
main unit, he was grinning too. "That should do it," he said with
satisfaction. He turned to Bernard. "Where did you get this anyway?"
he asked curiously.
"Uh..." Bernard made something up. "It was donated by a group of girl scouts who were in the neighbourhood."
"How heartwarming," said Doctor Fred. He peered closely at the instruments and dials on the main unit, and his next sentence was laced with drama.
"According to my instruments, everything is in readiness!" announced Doctor Fred. "Your friends have activated their units, so it's time to THROW THE SWITCH!"
"Great!" enthused Bernard. Doctor Fred threw the main switch and the main unit crackled into life. Bernard suddenly realised he was standing on one of the Chron-O-John supports. He jumped forward. Behind him a Chron-O-John unit unfurled itself out of thin air, crashing to ground directly on the support.
Bernard turned to see Hoagie bounce out of the Chron-O-John and land unflappably on his feet. "Hoagie!" said Bernard. "I'm so happy to-"
The last Chron-O-John crashed to earth. Out came Laverne, leaping forward and grinning inanely. "Hi!" she said.
"Laverne!" said Bernard, overjoyed. Hoagie and Laverne gathered by him. "Wow! I'm so glad you two made it back ok!"
"I hate to interrupt," said Doctor Fred, "but there's no time to lose! Now that you're back, we've got to proceed with the original plan and send you back to yesterday to turn off the Sludge-O-Matic™."
Hoagie looked at Doctor Fred incredulously. "Huh?"
"Say what?!?!" said Laverne, near anger.
"Now, hold on a minute, Dr. Fred," said Bernard. "They just barely made it back to our time alive, and I think-"
A sound, somewhere to their right, cut him off. It was a horribly familiar sound: Ssssslurp-thunk.
Purple Tentacle stood, triumphant, in front of Laverne's Chron-O-John stall. "HaHA!" he laughed maniacally. "You can't turn off the machine if I get there first!" He leapt forward into the stall, slamming the door shut. Before Doctor Fred could react, Purple Tentacle had triggered machinery inside the stall. It leapt into the air, and vanished in a flicker of light.
"Uh-oh," said Laverne.
But, unexpectedly, someone else was leaping forward into the light of the basement. It was Green Tentacle! "Don't worry guys!" he said earnestly. "This time I know I can stop him!" He jumped into another vacant stall, which vanished a second later.
"Uh-oh," said Bernard. "I guess we'd better do something."
"Let's go!" said Laverne.
They all piled into the last stall, oblivious to the cries of Doctor Fred. "NO, WAIT!" he yelled. "You can't all go in the same stall!"
The last stall vanished in a shower of white light.
"Didn't you see 'The Fly'?!?" cried Doctor Fred.
It was just after dusk, on the front lawn outside Maniac Mansion. There was
no Bernard-shaped hole in the ground. No shattered birdbath on the grass. Just a
helpless Green Tentacle, tied up and on his back, wriggling around and trying to
spit out his gag.
The Chron-O-John hit the ground a few metres away, jolting Green Tentacle a little. The door opened, and Bernard's head peered out, then Hoagie's and Laverne's. As one, they pushed the door and stepped out.
It took a couple of seconds for them to realise that something had gone horribly wrong.
A creature had stepped out of the Chron-O-John. It had long, spindly Bernard-shaped legs, beefy Hoagie arms, and wore a Laverne skirt and Hoagie black t-shirt, both stretched enormously by the enormous load. From its neck sprouted three heads.
Hoagie, Bernard and Laverne looked down, and screamed.
Hoagie felt funny. He didn't seem to have any control over his legs, but his arms worked fine. Bernard had the opposite dilemma. His arms weren't working (it seemed they didn't exist anymore) but he had control of his legs. Laverne, stuck in no-man's-land, couldn't do anything.
"We're..." said Laverne unbelievingly.
"We're..." echoed Bernard.
"We're some kinda monster, dudes," said Hoagie flatly.
"Great," said Laverne. "Stuck here the rest of my life, listening to Bernard talking and watching Hoagie eat. Mom warned me there'd be days like this."
Bernard said, "Now, wait just a minute-"
"Mts pmpl tmpcl," spluttered Green Tentacle. Lying down on his back, he could see his friends upside down, and behind them, hopping forward menacingly, Purple Tentacle.
"It's Green Tentacle!" said Bernard. He ran them over to Green. "What was that, Green?" said Bernard. Purple Tentacle was even closer now.
"PMPL TMPCL G BHND J!!" said Green.
"I believe he's trying to warn you about me," said Purple Tentacle.
Bernard turned around. "Oh," he said.
Laverne, beside him, was triumphant. "We're going to turn off the Sludge-O-Matic™ and defeat your evil plans, you overgrown worm."
"You sorry lot are no match for me!" laughed Purple Tentacle
"But there's three of us," said Bernard, "well, sort of!"
"Nevertheless, I mean to crush you."
"Yeah?" said Bernard. "You and what army?"
"Why, this army, of course," said Purple Tentacle complacently. He gestured at the black space behind him.
Maniac Mansion was built on a hill, in just about the middle of nowhere. Being so far from the city, it got pitch-dark at night. At first, concentrating on Purple Tentacle, Bernard and co had discounted the orange glow behind him, an orange glow that shouldn't have been there. Now they crept forward just slightly, and saw the cause.
There was an army down there. Tens and thousands of Purple Tentacles stood in rank and file, all holding torches in their invertebrate arms.
"...yikes..." said Bernard.
"You see, I've been busy," said Purple Tentacle. "These are all versions of myself from the future. I've been bringing them back here using the Chron-O-John. Together, we will conquer the world!!"
He turned to his throng. Gesturing to the nearest group, he said, "You ten there! Go to the basement and guard the Sludge-O-Matic™. No one is to touch the Sludge-O-Matic™." The ten tentacles hopped up the hill and into the Maniac Mansion lobby.
"Now, creature," said Purple Tentacle, returning his attention to the three, "I must decide what excruciating tortures to-"
An old tentacle with a white beard leapt forward. "Leave them to me!" he croaked. "I've been itching for a chance to test out my newly completed diminuator!"
"Uh, oh," said Laverne.
"Excuse me, uh, us," said Bernard.
Purple Tentacle senior laughed and fired the diminuator. A yellow bolt of energy hit Bernard straight in the forehead. It felt like an electric drill, then the pain was gone. Bernard hitched up his skirt and ran them into the Maniac Mansion lobby. And as they ran, they shrank. By the time they reached the front door, they were only two feet tall. Before they'd run a quarter of the way inside, they were six inches high.
"BWAHAHAHA!!" laughed Purple Tentacle senior. He leapt after his quarry.
Purple Tentacle turned to his army. "All right, the rest of you come with me! Next stop... THE WORLD!"
Bernard and his friends felt like ants. Which was what they nearly were. The shrinking process had stopped at four inches.
"What do we do now?" said Laverne.
Her question was answered for her when they suddenly shot back up in size again, their bodies surrounded by a faint orange glow.
"Whoa!" said Hoagie.
"It wears off!" said Bernard.
Purple Tentacle senior stood in the doorway. "Ah HAH!" he gloated.
"Run for it!" yelled Bernard. They pelted away.
Purple Tentacle senior pulled the trigger. There was an impotent click. "Damn!" he swore. "The battery must not have had time to recharge... but it will!" He tapped the gun barrel, trying to speed the process.
Bernard ran them up the stairs and into the first room. Tomorrow this would be Fatty's room, but for now it was empty. Bernard shut the door. "Shh! Maybe he won't find us." he said.
They waited. Soon they heard the sssllurrp-thunk of Purple Tentacle's approach. "Yoohoo!" he called out. "Where are you, human?" He leapt on, and soon the noise faded.
Bernard waited until he was sure Purple Tentacle was gone. Then he opened the door and ran as silently as possible down the hallway.
They rounded the corner, and were unpleasantly surprised to see Purple Tentacle standing there, waiting for them.
There was no time to duck out of sight. Instead, Bernard kept on running, pelting for the nearest motel doorway.
He got his hand to the handle just as Purple Tentacle fired. "Take that!"
Bernard pushed the door open, then the handle zoomed above him as they shrank. They ran into the room.
"And this!" said Purple Tentacle, trying to fire again. The gun's batteries conked out for a second time. "Drat!"
Bernard ran around on the floor of the room like a worried mouse. The doorway was open, and Purple Tentacle could leap in here at any time. He had them trapped.
But Bernard saw something rather unexpected. Over there, on the wall between Green Tentacle's room and this one, was a mouse hole. Shrunk down like this, they were easily small enough to fit through.
Bernard ran into the mouse hole. It was a tunnel that led mostly straight, twisting occasionally leftward. The tunnel wasn't very short, but Bernard had the nasty idea that they might begin expanding again while still in the tunnel, very quickly ensuring a sticky end.
They made it. Bernard stood in the middle of the floor, getting his breath back. An inch was as long as a yard in this shrunken state.
They expanded, back to normal size (though 'normal' was being stretched considerably beyond its limit here). Bernard, Laverne and Hoagie each desperately looked around Green Tentacle's room for some kind of weapon.
Bernard saw it first. On the dresser table was Purple Tentacle's bowling ball. Hoagie obligingly picked it up for him. A twelve pound bowling ball, this would cause a lot of damage to a tentacle's soft, jellylike body.
Emboldened by the possession of a weapon, Bernard opened the door and came out into the passage.
There was nobody here. "Hey! Where'd he go?" said Bernard. He thought of something else that was strange - where were the Doctor Fred and co of yesterday?
It didn't matter much now. Bernard knew they had to go - to the Sludge-O-Matic™. There had to be some way to save the world!
There was nobody in the lobby either. Bernard opened up the grandfather clock
and somehow, some way, this threefold humanoid managed to squeeze through the
gap and hop down the stairs.
Bernard instantly grasped the situation. The Sludge-O-Matic™ machine was in the far corner, and standing in front of its control switch were the ten purple tentacles Purple Tentacle had assigned earlier. Four stood closest to the switch, then three, then two, then one at the apex of an impressive, efficient triangular formation.
Above them, tied to an upper pipe of the Sludge-O-Matic™ by lengths and lengths of rope, was an upside-down Doctor Fred. "Dr. Fred!" said Bernard urgently. "Are you all right?"
"Get me out of here!" yelled Doctor Fred. His mouth, at least, was free. "I feel like I'm pupating!"
Bernard came and stood in front of the tentacle formation. Hoagie's arm, holding the bowling ball, was hidden for the moment behind their large chest. "Excuse us," said Bernard.
"What is it?" said the tentacle at the head of the formation.
"Which one of you is the real Purple Tentacle?" asked Bernard.
"We all are, dopey. Weren't you paying attention earlier?"
"Could you let us pull that lever over there?" asked Bernard, most politely.
"No chance," said the tentacle emphatically.
Bernard tried deceit. "Look behind you, a three-headed monkey!" he shouted.
"The only three-headed monkey here is in front of us," said the tentacle nastily. "Now, buzz off."
Bernard didn't move. Instead, Hoagie's arm came up with the bowling ball.
There was roughly ten feet of polished floorboards between them and the triangular tentacle formation. Hoagie threw the ball. It crashed into the floor and rolled toward the tentacles.
The front tentacle opened his mouth sucker wide to let out a surprised exclamation.
The bowling ball cannoned into the tentacles, knocking them left right and centre in an explosion of purple flesh. There remained just one tentacle, closest to the lever, which sputtered around for a bit before kicking over.
Bernard made his way through the prone tentacles, until Hoagie's arm firmly grasped the switch. He pushed it back into the OFF position.
"Well, I'm certainly glad that's over with," said Laverne.
"Yeah, let's get out of here," agreed Bernard.
"Leaving so soon?" said Purple Tentacle senior behind them. "We haven't had the chance to get to know one another."
Bernard turned, slowly. Purple Tentacle was there, his diminuator in one arm, an irritated smile on his face. He fired.
The bolt struck Bernard right in the centre of the forehead. "Ha ha ha!" laughed Purple Tentacle.
They were only one foot high and still shrinking when Purple Tentacle leapt toward them. "Eek!" said Bernard, running around the table and away from Purple Tentacle. But Purple Tentacle was only interested in the Sludge-O-Matic™. He pulled the switch back on, then turned to gloat at his fallen human opponents.
"You humans are so SHORT-sighted," he said. "Your efforts are so TINY. You amount to so very LITTLE. Run all you like, you insignificant insect!"
They expanded. Bernard knew better than to run. They'd be shot in the back. Instead, he did the only thing he could in this situation: he talked.
"Just what is it you have against humans, anyway?" he asked Purple Tentacle.
"What's to talk about? I detest the whole cackling, hand-wringing lot of you," said Purple Tentacle.
"But humans created the Sludge-O-Matic™, which made you super-intelligent," Bernard pointed out.
"Nonsense," said Purple Tentacle. "I created that myself and sent it back through time. I knew Fred's mad scientist ego would make him use it. How's that for a paradox?"
"It makes my heads hurt," said Bernard. He wanted to keep going in this area - he thought he could see a weakness - but suddenly Hoagie piped up on his left.
"Are you really a future version of Purple Tentacle?" said Hoagie.
"Who else would be brilliant enough to invent the Diminuator?" said Purple.
"Could you give us some stock tips?" said Hoagie. Bernard looked at him.
"Don't invest in shoes! HAHAHAHAHA!"
"Do the Sharks ever have a winning season?" continued Hoagie.
"No, but the Tentacles do! HAHAHAHAHA!"
Now Laverne was joining in. Bernard looked at her - had his two friends gone mad? "Do we manage to defeat you and save the world?" asked Laverne.
"Of course not!" said Purple Tentacle dismissively.
"Are you more or less intelligent than the Purple Tentacle from our time?" asked Hoagie.
"The same, but I've had two hundred years to think things over. Heh heh heh heh."
"How is it that you can grow hair without follicles?" asked Laverne.
"It wasn't easy... but the secret made me very wealthy."
What was this - the Sixty Minutes interview? Bernard had had enough. He opened his mouth and quickly said, before anyone else could interject, "You're pretty handy with that ray gun."
Purple Tentacle looked pleased by the complement. "Center of the forehead, every time," he said.
Bernard looked up at Doctor Fred. And he got an idea.
"Would you like a demonstration?" asked Purple Tentacle.
"I bet," said Bernard slyly, "you couldn't hit your own forehead."
Purple Tentacle laughed. "Nice try."
Not so. That had just been a feint. Now Bernard attacked. "Let's discuss your hatred of humans further," he said.
The subject of humans always got Purple Tentacle angry. Just like always, he couldn't hold back. "Humans are our oppressors! They made us live in this horrible motel! They created us in ungainly forms so we could not rise against them! Try walking around with your legs tied together and glue on your shoes, you'll see what I mean."
"Sounds like that's all Dr. Fred's fault, really," said Bernard. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Doctor Fred struggling and glaring at him.
A thoughtful expression crossed Purple Tentacle's face. "Hmmm. I suppose you're right about that," he admitted. "I didn't start out hating all humans, just Dr. Fred."
Bernard laid the trap. "Why don't you zap Dr. Fred if you hate him so much?"
Purple Tentacle considered this. "Hmmm. Perhaps that would be entertaining!"
Bernard and co got out of the way. Purple Tentacle jumped closer to Doctor Fred. Leaning forward, he zapped the diminuator.
Centre of the forehead, every time. Most people's foreheads are bare; however Doctor Fred wore a strange lamp/mirror apparatus that was half coal-miner, half surgeon. The diminuator bolt struck it dead centre, rebounded, and hit Purple Tentacle full in the face. He shrank, to the size of a large slug. "Oh, drat!" said Purple Tentacle
Bernard and co came forward. Purple Tentacle now rapidly changed his tune. "Ummm... surely we can talk this out," he said hopefully.
"Hmmm..." said Hoagie.
"Talk..." mused Laverne.
"Surely..." thought Bernard.
A single thought-filled second passed. Then, acting as one, they lifted their leg and squashed Purple Tentacle under one patterned shoe.
They lifted the foot up and inspected the bottom of the shoe. Purple Tentacle was there, squashed but still lively. "WAIT!" he cried. "You haven't heard the last of me! I'll be back! And the next time the world and all its piffling inhabitants shall be mine! All mine! BWAHAHAHA!!"
Bernard took an envelope from his back pocket. He scraped Purple Tentacle off his sole and into the envelope, and then they licked the envelope shut. Bernard looked down, where he saw Ed's faithful hamster on the floor.
"All mine!" squeaked Purple Tentacle from inside the envelope. He was not expanding. It didn't seem like he ever would be.
"OK, little fella," said Bernard, giving the letter to the hamster. "Mail this to Siberia."
Ed's hamster sped off, the letter gripped between its teeth.
Bernard and co stepped forward to the Sludge-O-Matic™ machine. Hoagie pulled the lever shut.
The room was filled with a fresh, sparkling sound. Bernard and co turned to see the ten tentacles littering the room were each vanishing in a sparkling cloud of white light. The light faded, and when it had gone there was no indication anything had ever been there.
Outside, beyond their vision, all was well. Clean water flowed from under the Mansion. Butterflies fluttered, birds played.
Bernard sighed. He suddenly felt so tired. "Our work here is done," he said to Hoagie and Laverne. "Now we can go home."
A little later the next night, Bernard, Laverne and Hoagie stood in the
lobby. That is, though there were three of them, they stood on only two feet
between them. There had been no change in their condition, and it was all
getting very worrying. Not even the journey back in the Chron-O-John had helped.
Doctor Fred, however, was back to his lively, irate self. "Well, kiddies... it's been more fun than a jump-suit full of weasels. Now kindly get your freakish hide out of my home!"
"Please, Dr. Fred!" begged Bernard. "You've got to get us out of this mess! We look terrible! And we can't buy clothes off the rack!"
"I'm getting sort of used to it," Laverne confessed brightly. "Maybe we could go on the talk show circuit."
Bernard and Hoagie looked at her. Then Bernard looked back at Doctor Fred. "Help us, Dr. Edison. You're our only hope!"
"Oh, all right," said Doctor Fred. "Hmmm..." He trundled off, and came back a minute later with a portable x-ray machine. He wheeled it in front of the trio and switched it on.
"Mmmm..." muttered Doctor Fred, staring at the awkward conglomerations of bones on his screen. He reached a decision, and flipped the machine off.
"Idiots!" he berated. "It seems you're not exactly the sideshow attraction you imagined. You're just three complete goofballs... stuck in one suit of clothes!"
It happened in unison. As if controlled by a central switch, Bernard's, Laverne's and Hoagie's faces all began to turn a very embarrassed shade of red. They went through abashed lilac, perplexed pink, humiliated vermilion, abashed cherry, finally peaking at mortified rouge.
Bernard felt very hot.
The colour slowly faded, and then they started to look around for other distractions to get away from the gimlet gaze of Doctor Fred. Hoagie started whistling. Laverne took an interest in the lobby furnishings. Then she realised who'd she'd spent the last few hours at close quarters with and a sick expression crossed her face.
Bernard was the first to realise that they were free to separate now. He scrambled up through the tangle of clothes, putting a hand on Laverne's head and a foot on Hoagie's eye. Then he lost his balance and fell on the floor.
Now it was just Hoagie and Laverne. Hoagie tried to untangle his legs from wherever they'd gotten themselves. He felt them pushing against clothed flesh of some description, which must be Laverne's. Laverne gritted her teeth and waited for the clumsy oaf to disentangle himself.
Hoagie, completely inadvertently, found skin.
Laverne glared at him with smoking eyes. Hoagie grinned sheepishly. Laverne, however, had had enough. She was still stuck inside Hoagie's sweaty, oversized t-shirt, so she just ran forward, pushing the t-shirt ahead of her. It stretched, and stretched, as if Hoagie were wearing elastic, and Laverne soon found her forward progress stalled.
She slipped the t-shirt over her head. It rocketed back to Hoagie, picking him up off his feet and throwing him straight at Doctor Fred. They crashed into the staircase in a tangled bundle of arms and legs. Laverne, watching the carnage, grinned.
"Well, I'm glad that's taken care of," said Bernard happily. "Looks like everything's back to normal!"
On the Maniac Mansion flagpole, high above Bernard and the rest, the American
flag fluttered. It was a very unusual flag, the talking point of the world. A
red and white striped windsock, with blue felt circles along one side.
It was going to be another beautiful day.
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