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Stuff That Happened to Thing #5
Part 15: This is Not an Episode
Last time, an episode appeared out of order. Or is that this episode? This whole thing is so confusing. Anyway, our heroes climbed the Mountain of Evil, defeated the Dread Abomination of Blasphemous Horror, and retrieved the Sacred Ladle of the Four Winds. Or maybe that's this episode.
Thing #5, Hwango the Indistinct, and Albatross the One crawled from the ruins of the spaceship and stepped out onto the grassy field.
"Wow," said Hwango the Indistinct. "I was pretty worried there for a second." He poked a finger through one of the many holes scorched in his shirt. "I thought for sure that we - hey, wait a second."
"What the hell is going on?!" screamed Thing #5. "We were in Lord Villain's lab a second ago, about to be attacked by an army of -"
"And what happened to the Legion of Thwarting?" interrupted Albatross the One. Thing #5 glared at him and picked up one of the thousands of razor-sharp fragments of spaceship hull scattered across the sprawling field of well trimmed grass. He stepped up behind Albat and jammed it into one of his ears.
"Don't interrupt me!" he shouted furiously.
"Aargh!" screamed Albat, as he keeled over into the grass. "There's spaceship hull in my brain!"
"Anyway, this is clearly the wrong episode! What episode does it say this is, Hwango?" Thing said, wiping his hands on his pants to clean off soot from the hull fragment.
"Um...it's number 15, and it says it's not really an episode," Hwango said, squinting at the top of the page.
"What?! It is time for episode 15, but This is Not an Episode is supposed to be episode 16! Someone has screwed up badly. I blame you!" Thing said, pointing his finger accusingly at Hwango.
"I didn't do anything!" Hwango said defensively. "I was just minding my own business, poking around Lord Villain's doomsday weapons. I pressed a few buttons on his Death Ray, pulled a lever on his Armageddon Device, flipped a switch on his Time Mangling Machine, and...oh."
"Aaargh!" screamed Albat, who was still thrashing in pain in the grass. "It's still in my brain!"
Thing sighed in resignation and pulled the fragment out of Albat's ear. Albat immediately stopped thrashing, and a look of profound peace spread over his face.
"That's much better," Albat said. Thing #5 kicked him in the face.
"Get up! We have to figure out what to do about this!" Thing shouted at him. "First of all, what happened to the army of -"
"Hey, I found something shiny!" Hwango said, picking up a piece of spaceship hull. Thing #5 looked thoughtfully at the piece still in his hand, and at Hwango's head where his ears would be if he had any. Finally he decided it just wasn't worth the trouble, and kicked Hwango in the shins.
"Don't interrupt me!" Thing #5 shouted again.
"Oh, great," said Albat, "You've already used up our quota of exclamation points for this episode. Now what do we do when we scream and shout and become alarmed?"
"Oh, no, people with weapons have appeared, and look unhappy with us. Plus, I am alarmed about it," said Hwango.
Albat turned to look where Hwango was pointing, and raised his cutlass. Then he paused and looked down at the cutlass in surprise. "When and where did I get this?"
"You are trespassing on the grounds of the Imperial Palace!" shouted one of the men, who gestured at them with his sword.
"Hey, how come they still have exclamation points?" Hwango asked.
"Stop asking questions before we run out of question marks too," Thing said. He glared at the end of his last sentence. "Also, I am angry."
"You will come with us to the Imperial Palace to stand before the Emperor and be judged for your crimes, or we will kill you where you stand!" the man shouted at them. There were about a dozen men armed with swords and pikes standing behind him, and all of them wore colorful ceremonial armor.
"I think there's one other option open to us," Thing said. He bent down and picked a single blade of grass from next to his foot. "Let's talk about this like civilized people."
Somewhere deep in the tangled and mostly empty recesses of Hwango's mind, a memory perked up at the sound of this phrase. It ran through the twisted maze of Hwango's brain, and hammered on the door of his reflexes. His reflexes opened the door, yawning, and asked what all the trouble was about. The memory held up a few sheets of cardboard on which were depicted certain scenes in crayon, and then pointed excitedly at the readout coming from what would have been Hwango's ears if he had ears. Hwango's reflexes opened its figurative eyes wide in alarm, and dashed back into its office. It flipped a few switches and shouted commands through the intercom to the bits of Hwango that made his limbs move. In response, Hwango's body dove to the ground and put his hands over his head. Since all of this happened in the span of slightly less than a second, Hwango managed to reach the ground in time to have only his back lightly splattered with blood. Albat, who had less experience seeing people try to threaten Thing #5 and tell him what to do, remained standing.
"Oh," Albat said, a moment later. He reached up and picked a few broken pieces of what might have been a pike and might have been armor out of his hair. "I need a towel." Then he looked down at himself. "Let me amend that statement. I need a shower and a change of clothes."
"Let's go see the Emperor," Thing #5 said, tossing aside the bloody piece of grass.
"Wait, if we're going to see the Emperor, wouldn't it have been easier to just go with..." Albat trailed off as his instinct for self-preservation screamed louder and louder at the rest of his brain. "Never mind."
"Look, I found a supply of exclamation points among the damaged cargo crates!!!" Hwango shouted excitedly. Albat turned to see, grateful for a distraction from Thing #5 and his heretofore unguessed capacity for horrible destruction.
"That's great, but don't waste them," Albat admonished "There's no need to go throwing them around two or three at a time like that."
"But just look at them all!!!!!" Hwango shouted gleefully.
"Shut up!" Thing #5 screamed. It was rapidly becoming his signature phrase.
"See, Thing gets by just fine with only one per enraged outburst," pointed out Albat.
Thing started walking in the direction from which the armed men had appeared, kicking bits of exploded spaceship aside as he went. Albat and Hwango fell in step behind him, not interested in arguing against his current course of action. Thing seemed to be working out a puzzle in his head, and after a moment, he began to speak aloud, apparently to himself.
"Okay, according to the recap at the top of the page, we climbed the Mountain of Evil, defeated the Dread Abomination of Blasphemous Horror, and retrieved the Sacred Ladle of the Four Winds," Thing #5 said. "Since we haven't actually done those things, it would seem that the recap is actually for the next episode, or possibly this one. The problem is, I can't imagine what could possibly motivate me to do such ridiculous things."
"True Love?" Hwango guessed. Thing #5 doubled over in mirth, laughing so hard that...um...that it was like an appropriate simile for laughing a lot. If anything, this was even more frightening than his explosions of violence, because it was so alien and out of character for him. Eventually, he wiped the tears from his eyes and stood up straight again.
"Okay, I have to admit, that was pretty funny," he said. "Now, seriously, what could possibly motivate me to go on a quest up an evil mountain and pit myself against a dangerous monster just to get a holy serving spoon?"
"Maybe we're going to make some holy soup," suggested Albat.
"Interesting theory, but I already have the Blessed Ladle of Saint Ralph," Thing said, opening his coat and withdrawing a shining silver ladle, "so we're all set if that's the case." He put the ladle back into his coat next to the Cheese Grater of Faith, the Potholder of Salvation, the Salad Tongs of Truth, and the Eggbeater of Harmony. "Now, if it turned out that the Whisk of Enlightenment was at the top of the mountain, I might consider taking a detour to obtain it."
Eventually, they came to a small stone bridge that spanned a tiny pond, which was surrounded by a beautifully tended garden. Exotic-looking fish swam just below the surface of the water, and a single carefully placed lily pad floated gently above them. Thing paused in the middle of the bridge, surveyed the picturesque scene, and turned to Albat, who was still covered in blood. Thing stomped heavily on Albat's foot, who started wobbling on his other foot and clutching his injured toes.
"Aargh!, what was that for?" he managed to ask before Thing gave him a good hard shove. Already off balance, Albat tumbled over the side into the pond.
"You need a bath," Thing said. Albat's splashing and spluttering attracted the attention of some guards who were positioned near the doors of an enormous building not far away.
"Greetings, expendable personnel," Thing said, "Take me to your leader."
* * *
Surprisingly, no other deaths occurred before Thing, Hwango, and a soaking wet Albat were escorted before the throne of someone who could only be the Emperor, or possibly someone who would shortly be executed for sitting on the Emperor's throne without permission. Thing was willing to assume the former, however, since the man seated before them had the look of someone who, if he was not actually drunk with power, at least has a sizable wine cellar of power.
The guards had confiscated Albat's cutlass and Hwango's balloon. Hwango cried like a small child when they took his balloon away, and was still sniffling a little even now. They had been forced to wait in a small, cramped waiting room while they were announced, and Albat had spent the whole time reassuring Hwango that they'd get his balloon back before they left. Albat was no longer certain of that fact, however. Upon stepping into the throne room, he noticed that the Emperor had the string of Hwango's balloon tied firmly to the horn of one of the ornamental golden dragons that snaked up the sides of his throne.
"Welcome, strangers," the Emperor said lazily. "I understand that you crashed a space ship on my front lawn. How dreadfully discourteous of you."
"We didn't exactly crash, sir," said Albat. "We more sort of...actually, I don't know what happened. I guess we won't find out until next episode." The emperor's brow furrowed in annoyance, and he made a barely perceptible gesture with his right hand. One of the guards stepped forward and jabbed Albat in the ribs with the butt of his pike. Albat doubled over in pain.
"You will not speak until you are commanded to!" an official-looking man next to the Emperor said angrily. Thing #5 glared at him in outrage, which the official probably assumed was for their treatment of his companion. Actually, it was because the man had ended a sentence with a preposition, but that's not really important right now.
"Can I have my balloon back?" Hwango said, and both the Emperor and his official looked a bit surprised that someone had spoken immediately after the official's declaration. The Emperor's expression quickly returned to one of annoyance, and he made that same gesture, a little sharper this time.
The same guard stepped forward and jabbed Hwango in the ribs, who also doubled over in pain.
"If you want your balloon back, you must undertake a quest for me," the Emperor said, smiling.
"Wait, let me guess," said Thing #5. He looked back at the beginning of the episode to refresh his memory, and said "You want us to climb the Mountain of Evil, defeat the Dread Abomination of Blasphemous Horror, and retrieve the Sacred Ladle of the Four Winds." The emperor's jaw dropped in amazement. He was too stunned to wave his hand and have Thing jabbed with a pike shaft.
"How could you possibly know that?!" he said, utterly baffled.
"It's complicated," answered Thing, sighing in resignation. "Now, I know that getting back Hwango's balloon isn't motivation enough for me to go on this quest, so I assume that you'll come up with some kind of bribe, threat, or other motivation for me. Frankly, I'm not interested in standing around here long enough to find out what it is."
"How dare you speak to the Emperor in that manner!" one of the guards shouted. "You will die for your insolence!" He swung the blade of his pike at Thing #5, who raised an eyebrow in surprise.
Seconds later, the dismembered pieces of the guard slid to a halt in various corners of the room. Some courtiers fainted. One of the other guards dropped his pike and fled the room. Thing #5 brushed some imaginary dust from his coat. After a few moments, the Emperor recovered from his shock.
"Never before have I seen a...a paperclip wielded in such a manner," he said faintly.
"Yes, well, it's been an educational day for us all. Where can we find this Mountain of Evil?"
The Emperor gave them directions, told them to beware the Terrible Gaze of the Dread Abomination of Blasphemous Horror, to avoid the Hideous Crawling Thing That Dwells by the Side of the Bridge, and to please not step on the Flowering Tulips Near the Door when they left.
"Why did you capitalize that last bit?" Hwango asked curiously.
"Habit, I guess," the Emperor admitted, somewhat embarrassed.
The three of them departed, heading towards the mountain that the Emperor had specified. It did not appear noticeably evil. After walking for a while, they came to a rope bridge spanning a deep gorge. Thing looked next to the bridge for the Hideous Crawling Thing, but didn't see anything.
"Is this bridge going to snap in the middle when we're halfway across?" asked Hwango.
"It had better not," Thing said, "I am so sick of that tired old cliche. If even a single loose board falls out while we're walking along and plunges dramatically to the ground far below, I swear I'll rip the bridge apart with my bare hands." Thing clenched his fist and shook it menacingly at the bridge. Albat considered this.
"Why don't you go across first, then? I don't particularly relish the idea of you tearing the bridge apart while I'm on it." Albat said. Thing gave him a level look, and then strode out onto the bridge. It swayed ominously, and the ropes creaked. Thing gave the ropes a dark look, but then ignored them. One of the boards gave a sharp crack when he stepped on it, but he stood on it defiantly and glared at it. It held his weight. He started walking again, and made it the rest of the way without another sound from the bridge.
Once he reached the other side, he noticed a small booth like a roadside lemonade stand set up near the bridge. The middle-aged woman sitting behind it smiled faintly, and pointed to the sign over her head, which read "Hideous Crawling Thing That Dwells by the Side of the Bridge." Then she pointed to a small, rather pleasant- looking cottage not far away, and said "That's my cottage."
"Madam," Thing said, "I can't help but notice that, while it is true that you live near the side of the bridge, you are not crawling, and, if I may say so, you do not appear to be hideous." Behind him, Hwango and Albat were crossing the bridge, and the ominous creaking noise was back. However, the bridge was mildly insulted by the accusation that it would do nothing but the same old predictable stuff. So, when the two of them were halfway across it, it suddenly burst into flames and the ropes detached from both ends. Hwango and Albat plummeted screaming towards certain doom.
"That's nice of you to say, thank you," she said, smiling a little more. "Actually, it's my husband who is the Hideous Crawling Thing That Dwells by the Side of the Bridge, but I'm afraid he's feeling a bit under the weather today. He ate a caravan wagon that came up the mountain trail, and I think one of the horses didn't really agree with his stomach. I'd appreciate it if, should you survive your journey, you could tell anyone you encounter that the Hideous Crawling Thing That Dwells by the Side of the Bridge was the single most terrifying thing you've ever seen, and that you barely escaped with your life."
"Now you're going to try to sell me a sticker or button that says 'I Saw the Hideous Crawling Thing That Dwells by the Side of the Bridge and Barely Escaped With My Life,' aren't you?" Thing asked. The woman shrugged.
"Some people like them. I'll admit, though, that the 'My Caravan was Attacked by the Hideous Crawling Thing That Dwells by the Side of the Bridge and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt' shirts are a better seller, though. For an extra $2 you can get one with real blood stains on it."
Thing contemplated throwing her into the gorge, but she had at least been polite and not very pushy. Instead, he turned to look at the flaming bits of rope still attached to the posts on his side of the gorge.
"My companions appear to have plummeted screaming towards certain doom," he casually remarked. The woman nodded.
"I must admit, though, they did it in a much more spectacular fashion than most people," she said pleasantly. Thing nodded, and started tapping his foot impatiently, staring at the edge of the gorge. After a few moments, a hand appeared at the edge of the gorge, and Albat pulled himself up onto the edge. Hwango followed a few seconds afterwards. They both lay on the ground, gasping for breath.
"I knew it wouldn't be that easy," Thing said. "Come on, I don't want to be at this all day." Albat groaned.
"Give us a break, Thing," he panted, still out of breath, "we just narrowly escaped certain doom."
"I'm not going to even bother to point out the self-contradiction in that last statement. I will, however, point out that if you get up right this instant, you will yet again barely manage to avoid a horrible screaming death," Thing said. Albat correctly understood his meaning, and managed to drag himself to his feet. He gave Hwango a hand getting up, and they wearily fell in step behind Thing as he started marching purposefully up the trail. The Horrible Crawling Thing's wife waved amiably as they limped past her stand.
After a few more minutes, they reached the mouth of a giant cave.
"I suppose this is the place," Thing #5 said, examining the mouth of the cave critically. "You two stay here," he said to Hwango and Albat. "I want to be done with this quickly, and that means I don't want you two in there asking dumb questions and getting stepped on by the Horrible Blasphemous Horror, or whatever the heck it was called."
"DREAD ABOMINATION OF BLASPHEMOUS HORROR," thundered a voice from inside the cave. Albat and Hwango stared at Thing with wide eyes.
"Okay, we'll do it your way," Albat said, nodding eagerly. "See you soon." Unfazed, Thing strode defiantly into the cave. Not far inside, he spotted the towering form that occupied almost the entire cave. It was obviously dozens of feet long, or perhaps tall...it was difficult to be sure which way was up and which was forward. Its body was covered in chitinous armor plates, and it sported a disturbing number of appendages, many of which ended in gigantic crab-like claws or cruel talons.
"Now," Thing began, "We can do this one of three ways. There's the Hard Way, the Easy Way, and the Messy Way." The monstrous thing lowered what might have been its head closer to Thing. "The Messy Way involves one of us ripping the other into tiny bits. The Hard Way involves us resolving our problems with some kind of game, like Chess. The Easy Way is for you to just pretend that I beat you and let me leave with the Sacred Ladle of the Four Winds. Now, we've already determined that I'm going to get the ladle, because it says so at - urk!"
Thing was cut off when the creature suddenly lashed out with one of its claws and snatched Thing from his place on the floor.
"YOU'RE QUITE SURE OF YOURSELF, AREN'T YOU?" it said, seemingly from all around him. Thing felt his bones vibrating from the sound of its voice.
"I'm the title character. It allows me to get away with all kinds of things," Thing #5 said defiantly. "I'm currently scheduled to defeat the Dread Abomination of Blasphemous Horror and retrieve the Sacred Ladle of the Four Winds."
"I SEE," it said. "WELL, GOOD FOR YOU. I FEAR THAT I MAY HAVE UPSET YOUR SCHEDULE A BIT, THOUGH. YOU SEE, I'VE JUST EATEN THE DREAD ABOMINATION OF BLASPHEMOUS HORROR."
It had been a long time since Thing was actually worried about how things would go for him. The feeling was quite unfamiliar to him.
"Ah. Well, I can see how that might present a problem. What do you plan to do now?" Thing asked, trying valiantly to keep any fear from entering his voice.
"I THINK I'LL BEGIN BY - HEY, WHERE DID YOU GO?" the towering monstrosity said, but his prey had slipped free and run ahead to the next paragraph. Many of the creature's appendages had eyes on them, and it sent them into all of the corners of the cave searching for his quarry. It was nowhere to be found, however. Then it noticed that the Ladle was also missing from its hook on the wall. It roared in fury, and the mountain shook with the force of its rage.
Thing #5, for his part, came tearing out of the mouth of the cave and began sprinting down the path. Albat and Hwango immediately followed.
"What happened to defeating the Dread -" Albat began, but was soon cut off.
"Discuss later!" Thing shouted over his shoulder. He could hear the sounds of something huge following close behind them.
Soon, they came to the edge of the gorge, and Thing paused at the point where the bridge used to be. The wife of the Hideous Crawling Thing had abandoned her booth for the moment, realizing the wisdom of not being around when something huge came rampaging out of a cave in the side of the Mountain of Evil. Thing headed to the right, towards the mountain pass that she had mentioned earlier.
"Look!" Albat shouted after a few moments of running down the path. He was pointing to a small cave, partially hidden behind some stunted trees. The three of them rushed inside. "Hopefully it will go past the cave without seeing it," he said, panting from the exertion of running down the trail. Alas, among the creature's multitude of eyes was at least one that spotted the cave. Claws began to tear rock away from the mouth of the cave, and some of the narrower limbs snaked their way into the cave after them.
"If only this episode would end so we had some time to think!" Thing said.
"Well, if everything listed in the recap at the top of the page happens in one episode, and we've already climbed the Mountain of Evil, then this episode can't end until we've defeated the Dread Abomination of Blasphemous Horror and retrieved the Ladle. And there's not much chance of both of those happening now, is there?" Albat said bitterly. Thing smiled and held up the Ladle.
"Two out of three done, actually. And I just had an idea. Hwango?" he said, tapping Hwango on the shoulder. "How would you like the title 'Dread Abomination of Blasphemous Horror?' the previous bearer of the title is no longer using it."
"Well, not really. It's kind of a yucky title," Hwango said.
"Come on! We're doing this for your balloon!" Albat said. Thing gave him a dark look. "Well, that's why he's doing it, at least," Albat grumbled.
"But I don't want to be known as the -" Hwango started to say, but then Thing raised the Sacred Ladle threateningly and looked inquiringly at him. "Oh, okay." Hwango said.
"Good," Thing said, and punched Hwango in the face. Hwango sat heavily on the floor of the cave and clutched at his bleeding nose.
"I have now defeated the Dread Abomination of Blasphemous Horror, and we have the Ladle," Thing said. Now, if the episode would just end, we could -"
And, conveniently, the episode ended. Will continuity be restored next episode? Will we ever find out how we came to be where we are now? Will we ever find out what happens after now? Will the author become so disoriented by this whole nightmarish ordeal that he spends the next several weeks gibbering in the corner of a padded cell? Tune in last time...er, next time, and see!
Feel free to send me questions, comments, and sacred ladels.