Stuff That Happened to Thing #5
Part 10: Ambiguity and Other Vacation Spots

Okay, okay, so I didn't starve before I could complete Episode 10. Sue me.

Last time, the main characters prepared and ate a whole lot of figs. Well, they prepared them, at least. They didn't really eat them during the episode. That sort of happened in between episodes. That's There's a word for it. Or if there isn't, there should be.

After a hearty meal of figs, Thing #5, Hwango the Indistinct, and Albatross the One went for a walk. This was partially for exercise, but mostly to put some distance between themselves and Thing's house, in the hopes that helpful household spirits might clean the kitchen and dining room while they were away. The chances of this occurring were, of course, astronomically remote, but they figured they would take whatever odds they could get if it meant they might not have to personally encounter the remains of their meal.

"Wait a minute," Thing said, "I though Hwango added the number 23 to his name last episode. It wasn't there when we were introduced just now."

Hwango shrugged disinterestedly. "It was just a phase. I don't care about having a number in my name anymore." he explained. "Now I'm considering getting my ear pierced."

Thing sighed and shook his head. "Hwango," he said wearily, "you don't have any ears."

"Oh." Hwango said, and appeared to concentrate intently for a moment. "Do you think that might be a significant obstacle?" Thing simply closed his eyes and imagined himself doing Hwango great bodily harm. This didn't take long, since Thing had a great deal of practice at this particular activity.

After a few hours of walking, Hwango began looking around nervously.

"Thing," Hwango began, hesitantly, "do you know where we are?"

"Not exactly. I haven't seen a street sign for the last twenty minutes." Thing replied. This may have had something to do with the lack of streets for which there could be signs, since they were walking across miles of burning desert. "But one thing is for certain. We are in Dire Peril." The sky darkened visibly as Thing said these last words. Eerie music began to play in the background. Hwango's eyes darted to the thickening storm clouds above them.

"Why do you say that?" he asked, trembling a bit.

"Probably because of that sign over there." Albat said, pointing. Hwango looked at the large metal sign, which proclaimed in cheerful green letters "Welcome to Dire Peril!" and then in smaller letters below that, "Home of Unspeakable Horrors Beyond Imagining!"

"Oh." Hwango said. "Um...could we consider leaving?"

"I'm not sure there's much point." said Albat. "A stagehand just handed me this road map. Some of the other towns around here are places like Mortal Danger, Agonizing Pain, and Deep Trouble."

"Do you at least know what state we're in?" Hwango asked. Albat was about to respond when Thing interrupted him.

"This location pun isn't going to lead back to that tired old joke of being in a state of confusion, is it?" he demanded, frowning severely.

"Well, actually, the State of Confusion seceded from the union a while back and became the Republic of Limited Understanding...though it's actually more of a constitutional democracy than a republic." Albat said. Thing glared at him for a while before speaking further.

"So what state is this ridiculous town in, then?" he asked, finally. As if alerted by an unseen cue of some sort, the aforementioned sign suddenly began to wobble back and forth. After a moment it began to creak loudly, and then collapsed with a thunderous crash.

"State of Disrepair, by the look of things." Albat said. Thing groaned and collapsed in the sand, cradling his head in his hands.

"Why has our previously enlightened and highly refined satire degenerated to such lowly puns and word plays?" he moaned. "At least the puns in the first few episodes were clever. Downright brilliant, in fact." Thing added these last two statements in a totally transparent attempt to suck up to the author and thereby perhaps get them out of this mess. Nevertheless, his torment continued in the form of Hwango's next contribution to the dialog.

"It sells better." Hwango supplied helpfully. Thing leapt to his feet and began to vigorously throttle Hwango.

"What about our artistic integrity?! What about our moral responsibilities to the entertainment community?!" he screamed.

"You just used the word 'moral' in conjunction with the entertainment community." Albat pointed out. Thing paused a moment to reflect on this absurdity, and to ponder whether or not it might be possible to throttle each of them with one hand, thus allowing him to vent his frustrations upon both simultaneously.

"You know, your recent behavior has involved an awful lot of three-syllable words and multi-clause statements." Hwango observed. "I think our less enlightened readers might get a bit lost."

"Oh no - and we're already lost ourselves! That means we might run into them!" Thing gasped in horror. The possibility of encountering stupid fans was more than he could handle, and he staggered across town lines into Stupefied Terror (population 342).

"You know," Hwango said, his brow furrowed in concentration, "I don't think the phrase 'entertainment community' even really makes that much sense. It implies a sense of mutual cooperation and understanding that doesn't mesh well with the selfish, exploitive nature of the industry."

"Shut up, Hwango, we haven't been talking about that for the last two paragraphs." Albat said.

"That doesn't place it so far back in continuity that I can't still comment on it, does it?" Hwango argued.

"Probably not. That was just a lame excuse to try to make you shut up." Albat said, with the characteristic bluntness and commitment to honesty that would forever bar him from a career in politics, law, public relations, or elementary school teaching.

"Well, how about if I change the subject, then?" Hwango asked.

Albat winced a bit. He didn't really want to talk to Hwango at all. Unfortunately, he didn't really have any other options, since Thing was still busy lying in the dust of the neighboring town, his eyes glazed over in Stupefied Terror, which at least meant that they were in the same place that he was.

"All right, fine. What do you want to talk about?" Albat asked, sitting next to the fallen sign.

"I'd like to have an introspective discussion on the nature of human perception, and the implications of independent consciousness." Hwango said, hopping up and down like an excited four-year-old.

"Well, screw that." Albat said. "I think our readers would much rather read about me kicking sand in your face." He then proceeded to kick sand in Hwango's face.

"I don't know. They still don't look happy." Hwango said. "What do we do if they leave?"

"We're in big trouble. If we don't keep a large audience, we won't sell any copies of the book when it comes out. And if the book isn't a best seller, we can kiss our movie deal goodbye."

"What do we do?!" Hwango screamed, rapidly becoming hysterical. He was really looking forward to using those prosthetics that would make him look like a bowling ball.

"We've got to get Thing #5 back into the story. He's the title character - he shouldn't just sit in the background of the story in Stupefied Terror while the two of us explore the ramifications of human thought! And we need more surreal things. Do something surreal!"

"Like what?!"

Suddenly, across the shifting dunes of the vast desert, came a large soft-drink machine pedaling a unicycle.

"What's that?!" screamed Hwango, backing away slowly. He considered joining Thing in Stupefied Terror.

"Aren't you listening to the narrator?" Albat said, irritably. "It's a large soft-drink machine pedaling a unicycle!"

"Oh." said Hwango, a fraction of the terror gone from his voice. He paused in his journey towards Thing. "What does that mean?"

"What do you mean by that? What does it mean in a metaphorical sense, or what does it mean literally?" Albat shouted at Hwango impatiently, raising his voice to be heard over the sound track, which was thundering dramatically.

What does Hwango mean? What does the soft-drink machine on the unicycle mean? What does "perspicacity" mean? Why is Albat so mean? Well? Oh, sorry, you probably don't know either. Maybe you'll find out next episode. Maybe... (Music booms ominously, lightning flashes. Nice effect, eh?)

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Feel free to send me questions, comments, and the definition of "perspicacity."

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