Stuff That Happened to Thing #5
Part 11: The Eels! The Eels! They Have Me!
Special Double-Sized Episode!

Last time, Thing #5 managed to escape Dire Peril, but ended up in Stupefied Terror. Hwango the Indistinct and Albatross the One were left behind, where they soon faced the disorienting approach of a soft-drink machine pedaling a unicycle. The soundtrack was also getting very loud.

Tension made the air crackle with electricity. Well, it was probably the building thunderstorm that caused the crackling electricity, but there was tension, nonetheless. Albatross the One stood tall against the tearing wind of the storm like the tower of a castle under siege, dismissing the pouring rain as inconsequential, and laughing in the face of the swirling black clouds as if they were ineffectual arrows glancing off the hard stone walls of his being.

"Ooh," said, Hwango the Indistinct, "That's nice."

Thanks. Anyway, the unicycle was getting closer. Soon they would know the answers to the questions that had plagued them mercilessly for as long as they could remember.

"Well, they're not really plaguing us. And we've only had the questions since the end of the last episode." Albat said. "I mean, sure, I'm curious and all, but -"

At last they would know the end of the burning madness that tore at the very fabric of their souls. Finally they would be free of the unimaginable horror of not comprehending what was happening to them, and would at last be released to bask in the serene calm of awareness.

"Um," began Hwango hesitantly, "What's going on?"

You see?! The pain - no, the torment of their situation - was like a piece of hot iron branding their flesh! The searing heat of ignorance wracked them with twitching spasms of anguish!

"Ouch. That sounds unpleasant. Is that how you feel, Hwango?" Albat asked, actually sounding a bit sympathetic.

"No, I feel fine. The rain is actually kind of a nice change from the heat we had before. It's -"

Did I mention that the rain pounded on their heads like steel nails being driven through their skulls by a thousand sledgehammers wielded by the sadistic fiends of Hell?!

"What? Are we talking about the same rain?" Albat said, incredulously. "It's barely sprinkling! Heck, I think I can see a rainbow. What's he -"

Agony! They endured indescribably tortuous pain that made them writhe in the sand as if aflame!

"How could we be on fire in rain like he's describing?" Hwango asked, totally disoriented.

"I don't know. I'm confused. Thing?" Albat pleaded, struggling to be heard through the howling winds and deafening thunder. Reaching out to Thing #5, he begged his fallen comrade to find the strength with which he might save them from this horror. "Could you give us a hand?"

"Sure guys, what's up?" Thing gasped, fighting to draw air into lungs that felt as if they might burst. Despite the awful pain, he managed to drag himself through the sucking mud that threatened to pull him down beneath its filthy surface to forever hold him within its unholy grasp. "Oh, I see."

"Yeah," Albat cried out in anguish. "It was kind of neat for setting the scene at the beginning, but - hey, it's spread to us, hasn't it?" This realization sent Albat into a despair so profound that he toppled into the mud as if his bones had simply turned to dust under the unrelenting pressure of existence.

"I think the narrator has finally snapped." Thing howled in despair, hurling clods of mud at the sky as if to strike down the uncaring gods that inflicted such grief and suffering.

"We need to do something." Hwango moaned with his characteristic knack for stating the abundantly obvious.

"That sounded different!" Albat observed, doing his best to imitate the mindless idiocy of his companion, as if his own mindlessness were not enough. "Hey! That's not fair!" he whined, demonstrating again how ungrateful they all were, spitting in the face of an opportunity to finally be in something more than just gibbering dialog and mindless violence. Wretched, useless personifi - Urk!

"What happened?" Hwango asked, even further disoriented by the sudden break in narration.

"I hit the narrator over the head with a large halibut. We should be okay for a while." Thing said. He deposited some change into the soft-drink machine and pressed a button. It hummed for a moment, then dispensed a jar of applesauce. Thing opened it, releasing a cloud of flying albino mushrooms.

"Yes, things seem to be pretty much back to normal - or whatever state it was in which we previously existed." Thing said, nodding his approval.

"If the narrator is unconscious, then who's narrating right now?" Hwango asked, still very confused.

Thing gave him a dark look. "Don't overcomplicate the situation by asking stupid questions." he said. Hwango nervously fidgeted with the dark look. He thought it was kind of scary, but didn't want to refuse it, afraid of what he might get in its place.

"Thanks." Hwango said, finally, and slipped it into his pocket. Perhaps he'd get to use it later, he thought. That cheered him up a little, and he started grinning hugely, jumping up and down, waving his arms, and making odd little excited noises. Thing sighed and turned away in disgust.

They started walking, since changing their physical situation seemed like a logical way of introducing a shift in the subject of the dialog.

"So, Albat," Thing began, "can you really change into a shark?"

"Of course not." Albat said, surprised at the question, "What on earth gave you that idea?"

"You said that you were the shark that devoured me in Episode 7."

"Ah, that." Albat said, nodding in recollection. "It was a fib."

"A what?" Hwango asked.

"A fib. A lie. An untruth. I was dissembling. Fabricating a fictional set of circumstances for my own purposes. I think that should have been fairly obvious - people can't just turn into other animals."

"Sure they can. I didn't used to be a gnu." Hwango said.

Albat narrowed his eyes and looked closely at Hwango for a moment. "And you still aren't." he said in a tone one might use to speak to someone who was incredibly stupid, which was terribly appropriate, considering to whom he was speaking.

"Sure I am." Hwango said, "I turned into a gnu way back in Episode 4."

"Has it occurred to anyone else that this is getting needlessly redundant?" Thing interjected. "I mean, we don't do anything new, we just refer back to jokes and events in old episodes in the hopes that someone will still think they're interesting now. That, and we spend all of our time talking about things that happened in the past, and hoping that they're still entertaining."

"Hey, you're the one who brought up Episode 7!" Hwango said defensively. He took out his dark look and threw it back at Thing. "Besides, we used that redundancy joke already too!"

"No we didn't, that was a completely different story!" Thing shouted, waving his arms in fury.

"No it wasn't! It was Episode 3! Anyway, what's wrong with referring to other episodes? We've been doing it since Episode 4!"

"Don't you guys have anything better to do than argue about this?!" Albat said, clearly exasperated with the both of them.

"No! That is, in fact, the basis of my entire argument!" Thing declared triumphantly.

Then, without warning, Albatross the One's contract expired.

"What?!" he demanded, completely stunned. "My contract is up already?!"

Albat had clearly forgotten that he was hired for only four episodes. Since he arrived in Episode 7, and then appeared in Episodes 8, 9, and 10, we didn't even have to keep him on for this episode.

"Oh great! Now it's even showing up in the narration!" Thing interrupted. "Can't we do something besides talk about our previous triumphs of literary genius?!"

"Who the heck is narrating, anyway?" Hwango asked again.

"Shut up! You're repeating yourself again, and we already did that joke once this episode! You even complained when I used it!" Thing yelled, whacking Hwango in the back of the head.

Anyway, back to this situation with Albat. Albat's continuing inclusion in this episode was merely an act of professional courtesy, and compensation for the fact that his appearance in Episode 7 was very brief. He's got to go.

"This is absurd!" Albat screamed.

Hwango and Thing #5 stopped glaring at each other, turned to Albat, and blinked in surprise. "Well, yeah. That's sort of the idea." Thing said. "You haven't really been paying a lot of attention, have you? The whole story is absurd. I mean, look."

Thing walked over to the scenery and kicked it. The desert landscape keeled over with a thunderous crash. They now appeared to be standing in the middle of small patch of sand on the floor of the produce department of a large supermarket. Thing took at apple from a nearby basket, pulled out the stem with his teeth, and threw it towards the lettuce. A deafening explosion resulted, followed shortly by the screams of the store's patrons and the ringing of the building's fire alarms. A large fire engine operated by a squad of penguins in yellow raincoats crashed through one wall. Some began spraying the fire with salad dressing, while others added croutons, bacon bits, and ham cubes.

"Well, that may be, but I'm not about to leave now!" Albat said indignantly. "I demand that we renegotiate my contract this instant!" A mysterious voice suddenly echoed through the store.

"Contract negotiator to aisle 7. Contract negotiator to aisle 7."

"Right. Well. I'd best get to aisle 7 and meet with this person. Excuse me." Albat said, and hurried off. Thing and Hwango watched him go with the same expressions they might have worn had he been leaving to defuse land mines using only a pencil eraser and a piece of string cheese.

"Think we'll see him again?" Hwango said. Thing shrugged.

"Eh. I don't see as it matters much either way." he said. "What shall we do while he's gone?"

"Hmm. How about some character development?" Hwango suggested.

"Sorry, this area isn't zoned for character development." said a man standing nearby. He was wearing a hard hat and holding some kind of official-looking documents. Then he rolled them up, picked up a sledgehammer, and swung it at Thing's head. Thing ducked and leaped out of range. "This area's zoned for mindless violence." he said. "You should know that - after all, you threw the grenade."

"Did I?" Hwango said, puzzled. A squadron of airplanes roared by overhead, showering the area with several dozen atomic bombs.

"No, Hwango, I did." Thing said, rolling his eyes. "You can't remember what you did in the last page or so of text, but you can remember what happened in prior episodes?" Thing asked, then impaled a charging rhinoceros with a conveniently available spear.

"Hey, cut that out!" said the man in the hard hat, swinging the hammer at them again. "We're not zoned for recursive arguments about the content of the story here either!"

"Doesn't that make your last statement inappropriately placed as well?" Thing asked. The man paused, a puzzled expression on his face, and was promptly trampled by an enraged herd of bright pink animated zebras.

"Do you think we can get this area rezoned?" Hwango asked, ducking behind a large crate of oranges to avoid the stream of salad dressing fired at him by the penguins.

"Probably not. The paperwork would take a few episodes, and we'd lose all of our readers after they became bored from reading several pages of legalese." Thing said. Someone from scheduling ran past, trying to shield himself from the violence with his briefcase, which already had three arrows, two knives, and a banana sticking out of it. "Hey, you! How about the next scene? Can we have some character development there?" The man dove behind a barrel of kiwis and opened the briefcase. He took out a submachine gun and sprayed the area behind him, then consulted a few pieces of paper.

"Nope, sorry!" he shouted over the bedlam, "The next scene is scheduled to be tragic pathos." He pointed, and Thing turned just in time to see Hwango crushed beneath a runaway steamroller.

"That can't be right!" Thing said, marching over to the man, heedless of the fruit and bits of metal flying through the air. "If Hwango was just killed, the next scene should be some kind of party or celebration." He snatched the paperwork from the man, who just shrugged. Then a man riding a giant fish knocked over the barrel of kiwis and beheaded the scheduling official with an enormous pancake.

"Harold!" a woman at the customer service booth screamed, and vaulted over the counter. She grabbed a pike and dispatched several anthropomorphized crocodiles before running to the fallen man's side. "Why did this have to happen?! Why?!" she screamed, and then sobbed into his shirt. "We were finally going to get out of the crappy story and work for a prime-time sitcom!"

"My God!" Thing said, clutching his chest. He stumbled and collapsed in the green grapes. "That's so horrible! What could possess anyone to go work for a prime-time sitcom?!" He cradled his head in his hands and started babbling incoherently. ...well, particularly attentive readers might notice some change in his dialog. At least, they would if they could understand what he was saying. Never mind.

Hwango pressed himself back into a somewhat more three-dimensional shape, walked over to the grapes, and sat next to Thing. He patted him reassuringly on the shoulder.

"It's okay, Thing." he said. Thing looked up at him in horror.

"What the hell are you doing?!" he screamed.

"Comforting you?" Hwango said uncertainly.

"You were run over by a steamroller! You're supposed to be a gooey smear on the floor! You know - like you were in Episode 7 after I hit you with that resort complex!"

"Oh, come on, Thing," Hwango said reproachfully, "don't you think we've done that bit with the episode references enough this episode?"

"It's extra long - we have to do everything more to take up space." Thing explained.

"Oh." Hwango said.

"Never mind." Thing sighed. He looked at the scene around them, his eyes clouded with sorrow. "This is a disaster."

"In what sense?" Hwango asked, looking out over the heaps of mangled corpses, raging fires, and puddles of congealing salad dressing.

"This isn't what I wanted. When I was growing up in the verdant fields of Antarctica, I dreamed of a story that would be filled with -"

"Wait a minute!" Hwango interrupted, "Isn't talking about your hopes and dreams considered character development?" he asked. Thing suddenly seemed to get several inches taller, but that was probably just because he stood up. He also seemed to be breathing very hard, his veins seemed to throb, and his hands seemed to twitch spastically, but that was probably just because he appeared to be experiencing some sort of psychotic episode. He also seemed to begin violently throttling Hwango, but that was probably just because he began to violently throttle Hwango.

"I'd sort of hoped to slip it by them unnoticed, you horrifying waste of corporeal matter!" Thing screamed, his voice getting louder with every word. His rage was practically a tangible force, and Hwango feared that Thing might have finally reached his breaking point. Hwango thought of Thing as his best friend, and didn't want Thing to break. He wasn't sure where one might procure replacement parts for a Thing #5, and he had no idea who might have the owner's manual. Thankfully, though, Thing hadn't quite reached his breaking point, and he just bashed Hwango's head into the wall a few dozen times. Finally, exhausted, he stopped, and slumped back into the pile of squashed grapes. Hwango checked to make sure his brain hadn't fallen out, then sat down next to Thing again. He seemed to be thinking very hard about something.

Thing finally realized that nothing else was going to happen until the story explored whatever it was about which Hwango was concentrating so intently. He sighed and he resigned himself to his fate.

"What," he began, his sense of defeat clearly audible in every syllable, "is on your mind, Hwango?"

"Didn't a few dozen atomic bombs get dropped on this place a little while ago?" he asked, his brow furrowed in concentration. Thing looked around disinterestedly.

"Yup." he said finally.

"Wouldn't that leave this place a smoldering nuclear wasteland?" Hwango asked. Thing leaned over and picked up one of the bombs. He squinted at it in the poor light provided by the few surviving fluorescent bulbs overhead.

"Well," he said, still looking at the tiny object pinned between his index finger and thumb, "if one of these things had actually gone off, it might have caused a nearby Geiger counter to blip once or twice. I think 'smoldering nuclear wasteland' would have been somewhat overstating things." He carelessly threw the bomb over his shoulder, and it detonated among the cauliflower, sending up a mushroom cloud smaller than many of the nearby mushrooms. "Sure this scene was expensive to produce, but not that expensive."

"Ah." said Hwango, nodding to indicate his understanding, but catching his head before it fell off.

"Well, I think I'm going to go find the frozen foods section and take a nap. You come get me if we start dealing with the plot or anything, okay?" Thing #5 said, then groaned as he stood up and stretched. He was clearly exhausted, Hwango looked as if he might fall apart, and Albat was still engaged in contract negotiations. It seemed as if it might be a good time to break until the next episode.

"But there haven't been any eels yet!" Hwango said, clearly distressed.

"Shut UP!" Thing shouted over his shoulder as he headed for the freezer section.

Join us next time, as the story takes a dark and unexpected turn into a terrifying world of nightmarish horror and sinister supernatural phenomena. Either that, or more of the same old gibberish interspersed with acts of meaningless violence. Regardless, we probably won't supply the definition of "perspicacity" next episode either. But you never know.

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Feel free to send me questions, comments, and eels.

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