Casper the Cheesecake

Casper the Cheesecake has a long history. The very first version, called Casper the Hostile Cheesecake (after Casper the Friendly Ghost) was written as something to do while we drove to the Maritime Provinces one summer on a family vacation in 1979. Nothing much became of it until the Spring of 1984 when I had to create a major project for my Grade 12 Creative Writing class with another of my long-suffering English teachers, Mr. Nobes. I resurrected the idea and re-wrote it into pretty much the form you see here (though this version is dated July 2, 1984). It got a good enough mark, but I look back on it with some degree of irritation at myself because I was so fixated on my Poppy Street focus that I had a very difficult time thinking of anything else that was even remotely amusing. I still feel I let Mr. Nobes down somehow with this, and feel bad about it. However, the story is (in my humble opinion) still pretty funny, and Part 3, The Poppy Street Olympics, still rates as one of the most violent things I've ever done.
Copyright © Harold Reynolds, 1998.

Part One: The Early Adventures

The sun hung hot and bright in the heavy, sticky air of Golly on the second of July in the early morning. There was scarcely a breeze to stir the mist that had formed overnight and was only now beginning to burn away. As Zelda Overdone, a tall, gangly woman with blue, popping eyes and frizzy brown hair was walking down her street towards the bus stop, she noticed her neighbours boarding up their windows. She noticed many more doing the same thing as she rode the bus to her job at the SLOB-TV station.

"I wonder why they're doing that?" she mused as she got off, going by a flagpole that had two square flags on it, both of which were orange with a black square in the middle. She mopped her face with a cold, wet sponge, shrugged and entered the building. Zelda Overdone was the host of the show "Fruitcakes and Zelda", a bake show of incredible happenings. She tried to present a new recipe each day, but they all had disastrous conclusions that made her studio look like the Three Stooges had paid a visit. She looked at her watch and saw it was quarter to eleven.

"Gotta hurry!" she muttered, rushing into her dressing room, tripping adroitly over a stool and wedging her head in a wastebasket, making it a total loss. She staggered upright, knocked over her wardrobe and fell over it, hopelessly entangling herself in her clothes.

"Miss Overdone, are you all right?" came the worried voice of her producer from outside.

"Help," she whimpered. The producer and a helper rushed in, extricated her from the trash can and the wardrobe and hustled her onto the set, ignoring her complaints.

"And now, live from SLOB-TV, Zelda Overdone!" boomed the announcer. The two all but flung her the rest of the way and she landed in a heap near the oven. Getting up, she shrilled:

"Hello all you cooks in TV-land! Welcome once again to my show! Today I am going to try again to make the very hard, er, difficult, Magical Gumbo Jumbo. If you remember, the last time I tried was during a guest appearance in Poppy Street City, where it was not a success." The director moaned audibly. She ignored him. "First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Celsius, then get a big mixing bowl and put in it 3 cups of flour, 6 of oatmeal, 2 of molasses, 5 of water and 2 of milk. Mix well." She vigorously did so, splattering generous quantities all about. "Now add some corn starch." She shook in about two cups and tossed the box over her shoulder. It hit a cupboard and ruptured whitely. "Isn't this fun, folks? Half a cup of white sugar and a couple of eggs will finish the first step." Gleefully she added and mixed. "Now comes the exciting part!"

She hauled up a black, ancient Gladstone bag and let it hit the counter with a thump and a cloud of flour. This made Zelda sneeze several times right over the bowl and her upper plate suddenly shot from her mouth, hit the inside of the bowl with a clang and entered the glop with a plop. "Whoops! Heh-heh!" She quickly replaced it, blew her nose on her apron and continued. She opened the dusty old bag and began removing some exotic stuff.

"Now add in this order: three bay leaves, a burdock sprout, ground mandrake leaves, two toad's eyes, a bat wing, an old boot and a wolf's whisker and repeat these words: 'Hobble gobble nobble bobble!'" The mixture turned green and began bubbling and emitting clouds of noxious purple smoke. "Oh dear," she coughed nervously, "it isn't supposed to be this way at all! I knew this black magic was unreliable! I suppose I should finish, though, and see what I get." The producer gargled grotesquely.

"Don't you dare! I'll wring your skinny neck if you do!"

"Too late!" she giggled. "Frog's legs, lavender, stingwart, mashed cranberries, grape juice, dead grasshoppers and snake spit! Now shove it in the oven, quick!" She hastily popped the gurgling bowl of black glop into the oven and shut the door.

"What have you done?" chorused the director and the producer.

"I have reached the penultimate pinnacle of my career."

"Yes, but what have you DONE?"

"Beats me," she shrugged. The timer pinged. "Gibble gabble wibble wabble!" she shrieked suddenly, waving her arms in big circles. The entire oven turned into a big black blob that rapidly began devouring the set. "Bye-bye!" hollered Zelda, making her getaway. Shouting imprecations, curses and threats of personal injury to her, the director, producer, cameraman and everyone else in the building cleared out too before the blob could eat them. As they stood outside watching the building, which was well away from its neighbours, being devoured, a detachment of the army and police arrived.

"If you find Zelda Overdone, arrest her and bring her to me at once!" said the irate owner of the station. "And a little police brutality would not be unwarranted, either!"

The hunt for Zelda had to be cut short when the hurricane, as advertised by the flags, manifested itself and the guards of the blob were recalled to safer headquarters. It had stopped growing and just sat there quivering until heavy rain and hail the size of golf balls began falling. It rapidly went through a kaleidoscope of colours and settled on a greenish yellow. Strange symbols appeared, eventually forming the words "This space for sale or rent" and, underneath, "Good-bye, cruel world!"

During the height of the storm, several persons claimed to hear a huge explosion near the site of the old TV station, but they were laughed at. When the hurricane had passed two days later, however, the blob had vanished. It had, in fact, been blown into several million itty-bitty bits and been scattered by the high-altitude air currents all over the globe before falling to earth. And where they fell, strange things happened.

"Mommy, mommy!" squealed little Sally Forth a few days later. "Come quick! There's a giant piece of fudge in the garden!"

"Yes dear, I'm sure there is." She didn't bother looking out the kitchen window, which overlooked the garden. She would have seen a large, humanoid block of fudge, complete with T-shirt, shorts and other clothes including a baseball cap, advancing towards the window. When he reached it, for the Fudge was most definitely masculine, he began pulling faces. Sally began laughing at this strange apparition and pointing.

"Oh Sally, I wish you'd..." Mrs Forth looked up. "Yeek! What in the world is THAT?"

"It's the fudge, mommy! Can I go out and play with him?"

"You most certainly may not! I'm going to call the police and have it removed!" The Fudge, hearing this through the open window, bolted. "Hello, police? I'd like to report a suspicious character lurking about. Well, he had black, wavy hair, brown eyes and looked like a big piece of fudge... Stop laughing! I'm serious! He was peering through my kitchen window making faces at my little girl! Stop that laughing and send someone over here to get him! Good day!" The sun had just barely risen.

"What the sam hill is going on here?" demanded Golly Police Chief Fuzziwig as he marched into the office of the Deputy Chief, only to find him, feet propped up on desk, picking his nose. Deputy Chief Wally Wazoo leaped to full attention upon spotting his superior a full five seconds later.

"I don't know sir, what is going on around here?" he beamed guiltily. The Chief muttered through clenched teeth:

"Give me strength!" He controlled himself. "What is this sudden barrage of calls about animated food wandering about, eh? And STOP picking your nose! It's disgusting!" he exploded, scratching his head with a flurry of dandruff.

"Well, we've sent out paddy wagons and are collecting them as best we can, but we have nowhere to put them and the switchboard operators are threatening to walk out."

"Give them to the army!" announced the Chief. "It's about time they earned their keep!"

"What do you mean, there's food on the loose?" demanded Lt-Col Sue Prize, Regional Commander of South Splat, of her second-in-command Captain Tom Swifty.

"It's just as you say, ma'am. Chief Fuzziwig says he and his force have better things to do than chase errant produce."

"It's just like him to dump things on us," she complained. "But it will get those lazy creatures off their butts, so go ahead. Put them in the old warehouse we have out in the country."

Meanwhile, in the city of Golly itself, a Cheesecake was skulking through backyards, going nowhere in particular and wondering where his first meal was going to come from. He too looked quite human, although he had a rather pale, pasty complexion, light brown hair and green eyes and stood six feet in height. Suddenly the Fudge previously encountered by the Forths burst out from behind a bush. The Cheesecake shrieked:

"Don't give up! I'll shoot!" and flung his hands up into the air. The Fudge looked puzzled.

"I'm afraid you're slightly mixed up," he said. Seeing that he wasn't going to be shot at, the Cheesecake lowered his hands.

"I'm not sightly mixed up. I'm Casper the Cheesecake." The Fudge rolled his eyes skywards.

"I'm Marvin Fudge," he replied. They shook hands heartily. "Now what do we do?" He was answered by a loud blowing of police whistles and a shout of:

"There's two more of 'em!"

"I think it's time we made ourselves scarce," said Casper, who was already becoming a proficient sprinter. They set off with the soldiers in hot pursuit.

"Stop that food!" one bellowed, who was rapidly gaining on them. Marvin replied with a juicy obscenity as they vaulted a fence. Then a couple of cops appeared around the corner of a house. The Foods tried to wheel about, but were promptly tackled by the army men.

"Let us go, you oafs!" yelled Marvin. There was a brief struggle that was abruptly ended by the Foods' being thrown into the back of a troop transport. It started up with a grinding of gears and the two picked themselves up and were seated on a bench. "Where are we going?" asked the Fudge.

"Beats me," replied a Grape sitting beside him. "Doubtlessly a lockup somewhere." After a longish journey, with several stops to pick up more passengers, the truck arrived at the former warehouse of the army which had been closed due to lack of use. More troops came, unloaded them from the truck and tossed them into the building. It was about half full of a wild assortment of Foods.

"Look at them all!" Casper exclaimed over the din of all the chattering they were making. Then the Grape returned with others.

"Hello there, I'm Geronimo Grape and these are Terrence Turnip, Len Lettuce, Ollie Orange, Tom Tomato and Lyman Lemon."

"Nice to meet you guys," replied Casper, introducing himself and Marvin. Before more could be said, an air horn shrieked.

"Hear ye, hear ye!" bellowed Captain Tom Swifty through a bullhorn in the deafening silence. "I'll bet you're hungry." There was a noisy affirmative, silenced by the air horn. "Well, we have solved your problem by capturing Zelda Overdone, the creature responsible for your creation, and, uh, persuading her to help us with her black magic. She has created a blob of doughy stuff that replaces itself when it is eaten. Bring it in, boys." A dump truck backed in through the massive entrance and dumped a huge blob of greenish-blue glop onto the floor. "Out of the goodness of our hearts, we gave some to the other continents infested with you, so eat up and be happy."

He retreated through the door as the dough was covered by a swarm of voracious Foods. After about half an hour, the Foods had finished their feeding frenzy and were sprawling on the floor, belching contentedly, picking their teeth and behaving crudely.

"That was pretty good," said Len. "Zelda should be given a medal for this. I wonder who she is, anyway."

"Zelda should be given a kick in the butt," groused Captain Swifty to his loyal underling Lt. Bob Boone.

"Yes, sir!" said Bob, snapping a salute.

"At ease, Lieutenant," sighed Tom. The other obeyed breathlessly. "I just wish I knew what to do with them," he complained. "Those above me expect "initiative", but only because they don't know either. Anyway, have the men keep an eye on them. Make sure they don't run off until we can figure out what to do."

"Yes sir!" replied Lt. Boone, nearly knocking himself out with his salute. Captain Swifty stalked off, muttering darkly.

"What do we do now?" asked Tom Tomato. "I don't want to be cooped up in this zoo forever."

"Therefore we must break out!" said Terrence cleverly.

"What, and ruin my complexion?" demanded Lyman in mock dismay.

"Hey, that's my line!" protested Casper, getting up. "Maybe you clowns can pun the guards to death."

"It certainly couldn't be stranger than anything else around here," said Len. "Let's try it." They all got up and ambled innocently over to the guard of a regular-sized door.

"Hi there!" said Ollie with a big, toothy smile.

"What do you guys want?" he demanded suspiciously.

"We want to tell you that vegetables cannot be beeten," said Geronimo. The guard didn't get it.

"We were looking around to see what might turnip," added Terrence. The light dawned and the human winced.

"Shaddap!" he threatened, swinging his assault rifle like a baseball bat. The Foods jumped nimbly away.

"Don't threaten us with that gun," Casper chided. "We call the shots around here." He wagged his forefinger.

"We'll shoot you and rifle your pockets," added Lyman. The man looked like he'd been hit by two heavy blows.

"And we'll get a bang out of it too," Marvin shot back explosively. The guard gurgled and fell against the wall, foaming blood at the mouth. "Just one more will get him!" the Food hissed.

"What?" asked Ollie, aghast. "That would be a low blow! A real cheap shot!" At that, the guard expired and melted into a puddle of evilly smoking slag. Tom daintily stepped over the mess, plucked the gun from the floor and opened the door.

"All clear," he reported. "I have a lump of dough left over from lunch that should be able to feed us." The eight Foods stepped out the door, closed it quietly and began slinking towards the main gate. Of course, they were spotted.

"And where do you think you're going?" bellowed a voice from behind them. They whirled, knees clacking, to see a sergeant.

"Uh, to the latrine," Casper suggested.

"There ain't no latrine around here," said the sergeant menacingly, pointing his gun. "Get back in there!" Tom made a wild shot with his gun and blew the man's helmet off. The Foods ran off at full tilt. "Stop them!" howled the sarge, diving for cover. But some more Foods, having noticed the previous break, swarmed out the door. "Jailbreak!" he babbled, opening up. More soldiers swarmed from the nearby building to try and stop the mob, but they missed Casper and friends, who had made it out and were hiding in the nearby woods. Exhausted and safe, they fell asleep and stayed out until nearly sunset. They awoke famished and ate some of Tom's dough. Once finished, they began to plan.

"Let's go back and spring the rest of them from the place," said Len. "With them, we can attack the army base, arm ourselves and head for the hills--" Ollie cut him off by stuffing dough in his mouth. This didn't deter the others.

"That's not such a bad idea," said Terrence. "We already have a rifle with some ammo, and with it we can get more!" The Foods set out for the camp as soon as it was too dark to recognize them.

"The clouds have come in tonight," said Ollie in his best hollow voice. "Maybe it will rain." He was the gun carrier.

"Mother Nature will reign all over us," said Casper quickly. He got a chorus of groans for his effort. "Perhaps if we took over the P.A. system and told puns..."

"Casper!" gasped Lyman. "That would be mass murder!" The others shrugged. "Oh well." When they emerged from the woods into the cleared area around the camp, they met the light of the arc lamps. "Argh, the light! The light!" They cringed until their eyes grew accustomed to it. They then began walking down the road.

"That's hardly the thing to encourage stealth, now is it?" asked Geronimo. Tom suddenly burst into song.

"You light up my life!" he shrilled, before being squelched. After a number of foolish pratfalls in the roadside ditches and potholes, they reached the outer perimeter, only to find nobody there. "That's strange," said Tom. "Where's our welcome wagon?"

"They must be watching the other Foods," said Marvin. They walked through the gate and made for the warehouse.

"Halt, Foods!" shouted a sentry. Ollie made a crazy shot that hit an arc lamp and plunged everything into darkness.

"Charge!" shouted Casper from the rear and they ran into the blinding darkness. They quickly reached the warehouse and smashed the big doors in. "Freedom for the Foods! Run while you still can!" he bellowed. "Grab a lump of dough and join us in crushing the Army camp!"

The imprisoned foodstuffs ripped the dough pile to shreds and stampeded out the door, overwhelming and trampling the surprised guards and taking their weapons. "To the camp!" shouted the victorious Cheesecake. The mob of 300 or so occupied the entire width of the road as they steamrolled their way to the camp. After an hour or so, they spotted the lights of the compound. They also saw headlights speeding towards them.

"Look, a jeep!" said Geronimo, catching Casper as he was trying to slink away. Some of the Foods in front opened up with their rifles. Just at the last instant, the vehicle swerved into the ditch, rolled over and, after a pause, exploded, roasting a few Foods who were too eager for the kill.

"L-let's go a bit faster now," Casper quavered. They hustled along the road and, when they got near the perimeter, spread out to surround it. Marvin shot his gun twice to signal the attack. Within moments the fence was ripped down in several spots and the Food army swarmed into the compound, shooting some of the arc lamps and any of the sentries and soldiers they saw. Then a siren started whooping loudly and the battle was on. The strident clamour of the klaxon and the rattle of gunfire rudely awakened Lt-Col Sue Prize from a rather pornographic dream. She sat up and looked around frantically before realizing where she was.

"Whew, I thought it was a police raid," she muttered. She hurriedly dressed, brushed her hair into a reasonable state, added a quick dash of lip gloss, grabbed her revolver and rushed for the door. It suddenly flew open and she reflexively tried to shoot Captain Tom Swifty with her tube of lip gloss.

"Blast it, Swifty!" she cursed, flinging the thing away. "Don't DO that!" Her window was shattered by a blast of gunfire.

"Sorry, ma'am," he replied as they ducked. "The base is coming under attack by Foods."

"Foods? What Foods? I thought they were locked up somewhere."

"They seem to have escaped," replied Tom inscrutably. There was the unmistakable boom of a mortar round detonating.

"Those idiots!" she shouted, rushing into the hall. "You can't defend yourself from close quarters with artillery!"

"I think it's the Foods who've got the gun," replied he.

"Now, where shall I shoot next?" said Geronimo Grape to himself as he and

Len Lettuce ducked out of the way of a spray of machine-gun bullets. Len

spotted the shooter and potted a few rounds back. The Grape twiddled the

azimuth knob, turned the gun and dropped the rocket in. It burped a bit of

flame as the shell sped away. Meanwhile, Casper and Marvin were having


"I think we're in trouble now," said Casper to Marvin from an opposing

doorway. "I've run out of ammo."

"Me too," responded Marvin glumly, pulling out his knife. The reason was a

squad of regulars coming towards them, burp guns blazing. Geronimo's latest

mortar bomb suddenly exploded in their midst, sending blood and body parts

showering about the vicinity. "Now we're safe," sighed the Fudge, leaning back

against his door after grabbing a fresh weapon. It whipped open and he fell

onto an unsuspecting Tom Swifty and Sue Prize. Casper, also with a fresh gun,

dutifully helped restrain them.

"Now what do we do?" he asked.

"You could let us go," suggested the Captain helpfully.

"Give us a tour of the building," said Marvin. Unwillingly, they were pushed inside and the door shut, just in time to block a barrage of machine-gun bullets and grenade fragments. But as they passed a light switch, the enterprising Lt-Col turned out the lights, plunging the area into darkness.

"No fair!" shouted Casper. The Foods shot wildly, but in the wrong direction and their captives escaped unharmed. "Party poopers!" he added. Marvin found the switch and turned it on. "Let's see what else there is to see," sighed the Cheesecake.

Considering their utter lack of strategy, the Foods did remarkably well in their attack. Nevertheless, once the army got its act together it began giving them problems. Utter ruthlessness on the part of the Foods was probably what did in the humans' hopes of immediately recapturing the base and the Lt-Col called the evacuation after an hour of bloody battle. The battalion, now reduced to a small platoon, drove out of the base in a troop truck, guns blazing, with the Foods unable to stop them. What remained of the Food force, about 150 of the 300, squelched their way to the main parade ground, where there was still light, once they realized it was all over. Geronimo Grape and Tom Tomato were among those who had died.

"All right, ladies and gents," said Casper to the assembly at the insistence of Len and Lyman. "The next thing we have to do is take all the guns and ammunition, load them and ourselves into trucks and make ourselves scarce."

"Why?" asked a Meat. "Now that we've got the place, let's rest a while." He got a chorus of assent from the other Meats.

"If you want to do that, fine," he retorted smoothly. "I won't be here when they come back with re-enforcements and destroy you. To the armoury!" All the Foods rushed over with renewed vigour. Within half an hour the entire contents of the building, mostly small arms, mortars and ammunition, and all the Foods were in five trucks. With a grinding of gears they left the devastated base and drove off into the country.

"Hi, I'm Atilla the Bun." Casper and Marvin, in the cab of the lead truck, looked at the large, overweight hot cross Bun sitting by the right door and introduced themselves. Suddenly the truck behind them turned onto a side road, nearly toppling over as it did so. The other Foods were consternated.

"What was that?" asked Casper, continuing on.

"It was the Meats and Junk Foods," Atilla replied. "Back in the warehouse I heard them muttering about "Meat supremacy" and garbage about how superior they all were."

"Good riddance," Marvin muttered. "I never liked them much myself." After driving randomly about for a while, Casper, the driver, pulled over to the side of the road and announced his intention to sleep. The others willingly followed suit.

Casper woke up first, feeling alert and refreshed. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping and a cool breeze was blowing. He got out and stretched with a great popping of joints and looked around. He was pretty grimy from yesterday's escapades and smelled rather ripe. He inhaled the fragrance of a fresh summer's day.

"I hope I can find a place to clean up," he remarked. He was just about to wander off when the pristine silence was shattered by the roar of an approaching vehicle. He quickly grabbed his gun and scrambled into the undergrowth. It turned out to only be a passing car which whizzed by, with the driver pitching something out as he passed. Casper investigated and found it was an edition of the morning "Ooze Who Journal"; he also discovered that he could read, much to his surprise.

"FOODS COME TO LIFE!" screamed a headline. "Army called out to capture them! Commencing at sunrise yesterday many thousands of people throughout the city, the country and the world reported seeing people-sized foods wandering about and frightening them. The police, inundated with calls, enlisted the army to help round them up. Also, Splat Forces Base 2, just outside Golly, was attacked and looted of weapons by a large gang of Foods after a fierce and bloody battle. Their whereabouts is at present unknown. Meanwhile,..." The article went on at length detailing more exciting events, which he ignored. By this time, the other Foods were beginning to stir.

"What's that, Casper?" asked Terrence, hopping from a truck. The Cheesecake handed the paper to him. After eating some more of the dough for breakfast, they set off once more, using the C.B. radios in the trucks to talk. After a bit of driving, they arrived at a small river where they stopped to wash themselves off. After this, there was a council of war. Atilla spoke first.

"Strange plague sweeps Peeyew! Continent totally sealed off!" he read from the paper. "Apparently, people are dying like flies over there and no cure has been found. The Foods, however, are not. The symptoms begin with a sudden, atypical interest in puns, followed by a wild delirium of Knock-Knock jokes and finally the explosion of the victim. It's very contagious and has been called 'punitis'." There was a moment of silence, followed by babble.

"I propose going into Ooze and capturing it," suggested Lyman. Since there was nothing better to do, the rest of the Foods agreed, got back in the trucks and were on their way.

"But ma'am, we don't need a twenty-mile hike!" Captain Swifty complained to Lt-Col Prize, who was with him at the head of a column of trudging soldiers.

"We do so!" she snapped back. "We've all gone soft! That defeat by the Foods humiliated me and I vow it shall never happen again! Garr!" Suddenly, the rumble of approaching trucks became audible. Tom brightened hopefully, turned around to look and blanched when he saw the driver of the lead truck.

"It's him! It's that bloody Cheesecake we encountered last night!" he squeaked. "Everyone off the road! It's them again!" shouted Sue. The column, consisting of fresh troops as well as veterans, hustled off, aimed their weapons and started shooting. Caught by surprise, Casper slammed on the brakes and skidded off the road. The Foods spilled out, armed to the teeth, and began shooting back.

A few minutes of battle later, there suddenly was a loud yelling and from the woods a hundred yards from the north side of the road a large mob of Broccoli, Cauliflower and assorted Baked Goods, mostly female, charged out brandishing guns, swords and knives. This encouraged the more foolhardy elements of Casper's mob to get up and run towards the soldiers. The others followed at length. The battalion of humans cut large numbers of them down, but they were taking heavy casualties too. Not having brought much ammunition with them and being numerically inferior, the people strategically withdrew to a corn field and just kept on going.

"What a mess!" said Terrence, eyeing the large number of bodies, most of which were Foods, lying about bleeding and looking unsavoury. Atilla and Marvin staggered from a clump of bushes as the Foods began returning to where the trucks were. Casper they found quivering in a ditch. He had been trying to sneak away, but instead had found a group trying to outflank the Foods and had shot them to pieces. The only other friends that made it were Ollie Orange and Len Lettuce. The leaders of the Broccoli brigade, the Cauliflower contingent and the Baked Goods bunch had also made it and joined them looking at the damaged transports.

"Hi, I'm Bertram Broccoli," said the former. "This here is Brad Bread and that there is Calvin Cauliflower. You looking for company?" The other six introduced themselves.

"I suppose so," said Ollie. "We seem to have a high turnover rate. Are you going to Ooze?"

"We are now," said Brad. "I've heard about some big battles they've been having there." Casper tried to make himself small and inconspicuous. "Casper, if you would lead the way..."

"But...but..." whimpered the craven Cheesecake. He was unceremoniously propelled to the first truck and deposited behind the wheel. Ten minutes later, they arrived in Ooze. Both the crackle of small arms fire and the thump of artillery could be heard. As they cruised down a four-lane road, dodging rubble and wrecked cars, a tank suddenly appeared in a side street.

"Oh-oh. Fun times ahead," said Calvin.

"As if that were something new," Casper muttered, doing an abrupt left turn onto another side street with a squealing of tires. The tank fired and part of the street in front of the second truck blew up, smashing what was left of the windshield. As it and the other three trucks turned the corner, the Foods inside, hanging on for dear life, let loose a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades which did little damage.

"We never met with one of those before!" Len shrilled. "We don't have any anti-tank weapons!" Several random turns later, the convoy burst upon a firefight between a group of frenzied humans and some Foods. They were so busy grilling each other with flame-throwers that some didn't get out of the way in time and were squashed. But all good things must come to an end, as Casper found out the hard way when his truck ran out of gas in front of City Hall and ground to a halt. The Foods swarmed out, loaded with everything they could carry.

"Ladies first," said Casper with a gallant bow to a female Cheesecake nearby and opening the door for her. Being the door-holder, he got to go in last.

"Very clever, very clever," said Bertram, who was waiting for him, as he corralled him. "Almost got away with it, too."

"Wha..what could you possibly be talking about?" he protested innocently, but under the Broccoli's accusing glare he smirked helplessly. "Rats! Foiled again!" he grumped. After a bit of poking around with the rest, he asked "Where is everybody?" There was no resistance at all. The whole building was eerily silent, except for some ghostly laughter from far off.

"This gives me the creeps!" said Marvin. "Yuk!" he stated, looking into an office. "Whoever was in here simply blew up!"

"The chair is a wreck too," said Atilla, joining him in the blood-spattered room. He ate a chair leg meditatively and surveyed the tattered remains. Meanwhile, Casper, who was determined to find the party (only a party would generate laughter, he reasoned) and get in on the eats, had gone up in the elevator to the sixth floor to look around. Upon stepping into the lobby, he saw a group of twenty or so humans around a number of tables piled with various foods.

"Oh, boy!" he drooled, about to become the first Food party crasher. His appearance, however, caused them all to collapse in gales of laughter. "What's so funny?" he demanded, devouring a bowl of fruit salad.

"Hey, Cheesecake," wheezed a person. "Knock-knock."

"Who's there?" he asked as the elevator doors whooshed open.

"Thayer." It was the female Cheesecake he'd let in earlier.

"Thayer who?" he asked, giving her some celery sticks.

"Thayer thorry and I won't throw thith pie in your fathe!" The joke-teller laughed so hard that he went into convulsions and exploded, splattering guck all about the vestibule. The others all thought it was a scream and laughed, many literally, fit to burst. The other Cheesecake draped herself around Casper's shoulders.

"Hello, Casper," she steamed into his ear. "I'm Clara." Some more of the people laughed their heads off and he daintily hopped over one that rolled past, blood gushing.

"Uh, hello Clara," he said, deftly disentangling himself. "How are you, or should I ask?" he said uneasily, noting the look in her eyes. "I think it's time I found my friends. Nice meeting you, though." He backed away.

"Don't go! Can't you see I WANT you?" she moaned, making a lunge but slipping un gracefully on some half-clotted blood and falling to the floor. The humans, who had been silent during this exchange, exploded with laughter, splattering the back of the fleeing Casper's shirt with gore. "Come back!" she cried, scrambling up and running after him. He made it to the stairs and raced down them to the fifth floor, where he burst out in sight of Bertram. As luck would have it, he was seen.

"Hey guys, there he is!" shouted the Broccoli loudly.

"Yipe!" bleated the pursued Cheesecake as he heard the menacing clatter of Clara's boots on the stairs. He whirled the other way and ran towards the opposite end of the building. Clara burst from the stairwell just in time to collide with a speeding Bertram with a volley of oaths from the latter.

"You aren't Casper!" she said, flinging him away. "You're the only one for me!" she shouted at him, heading for her stairs. "I won't accept substitutes!" Casper caught this and regretted it. He all but fell down the stairs right to ground level and he peeked cautiously out the door. Seeing nobody, he scooted out, ran down a hallway and into the main foyer, where again there wasn't a soul.

"Very curious," he muttered. "I'll bet they're waiting out there for me. Well I'll fool them." He went into a nearby room, opened a window, climbed out and dropped the short distance to the ground. "Where IS everybody?" he asked fearfully, clutching his rifle and looking for cover. Finding a large clump of bushes, he hid there to catch his breath and consider his position. "Hey, they left without me!" he squawked, realizing he should have been able to see the trucks from where he was. Before he could work himself into an attempt at rage, there was a volley of shooting and around the corner of the building came Atilla the Bun, followed by a gibbering gardener.

"You aren't supposed to eat the flowers!" the latter was bellowing. He was brandishing a pitchfork and trying to skewer the Bun with it, at least until Casper blew his brains out.

"Who did that?" asked Atilla, stopping short as the gunfire in the background crescendoed. He spotted a furtive movement in the bush. "Casper! There you are, you naughty Cheesecake! We've been looking all over for you!" Caught, he surrendered.

"Where is everybody?" he repeated, emerging.

"They seem to have encountered...difficulties," explained Atilla. "You remember that mob that came with Calvin, Bertram and Brad, how most of them were women? Well, they seem to have taken a fancy to us. Gulp." Casper smirked sympathetically.

"Yes, but where are they?" Around the same corner came Terrence, who was being chased by a sexy, hungry-looking female Turnip. Casper tried to shoot her, but found his gun was empty. "Nerts!" he exclaimed, annoyed. Upon seeing them, the chaser pulled out a whistle and blew some mighty blasts.

"There you are!" cried Clara, popping her head from a second-floor window. "Don't go away!"

"Now I'm scuppered!" Casper whined. He tackled the female Turnip as she and Terrence raced by. With the aid of the tired Turnip and Atilla, she was temporarily decommissioned. "To the trucks!" he shouted. "Wherever they are," he hastily added.

"We were in a no-parking zone," explained Terrence, "so we had to move." As they made their mad dash to the trucks, they were joined by Marvin, Calvin, Bertram and Brad, who had burst out of hiding from a thick hedge. There were more whistles sounded as the female Foods saw where they were going and took up the chase. As they were running along a sidewalk, they passed a mini-bus that had wild laughter emanating from it, quickly followed by a muffled explosion as the driver blew up.

"Here's our chance, guys!" said Marvin. "It's still running!" They scrambled inside, ignoring the the blood and gore. Just before they set off, Len dropped from a nearby tree, shouting:

"Wait! Wait for me!" The gals were now too close for comfort, but they opened the hatchback and he leaped breathlessly in.

"Bye Clara!" shouted Casper, flooring the gas pedal and tearing off with a squeal of tortured rubber.

"I'll get you yet, Cheesecake!" she shouted in frustration. "And when I do, I'll give you a going over you won't forget!"

"Is there a road map in here?" Brad asked. "There's got to be a safe place to go." He and Bertram rummaged around in the glove compartment and came up with a map of the continent.

"Let's try this place," suggested Calvin. "What is it--Poppy Street Island. They'll never find us there." After a bit of careering around following signs, the Foods found the southbound freeway shown on the map and headed for the city of Knot.

"Citizens of Splat, your attention please," said an announcer when Atilla leaned over and switched on the radio. "The deadly disease of punitis has been reported in all the major cities of our fair nation and people are requested to stay indoors or in one place to try and halt the spread of this highly hahaha contagious hahaha illnessshhyaahahahAAAAGH!" There was a dull thump and a brief silence, followed by more crazy laughter. Atilla switched the thing off. They were silent for a moment.

"Hey, why have I learned to drive so soon?" demanded Casper suddenly. "In the space of a couple of days I can walk, talk, read, write, shoot guns and run away from sicko women!"

"That's it!" exclaimed Len. "The women must be affected by punitis too, making them sex fiends instead of killing them!"

"And we must have it too," said Marvin quickly. "But it makes us shy and retiring to the point of utter panic when they're around. When I think back, I actually find Florence, the Fudge chasing me, rather attractive." They pondered the fact.

"Perhaps it's part of Zelda's magic," suggested Bertram. The others looked puzzled. "I overheard that Captain Swifty arguing on a telephone with that Sue Prize woman, with him saying that Zelda and her Magical Gumbo Jumbo she made on her last TV show were responsible for our appearance. The spell she cast must be what is helping us to learn so quickly." The windows of the car ahead of them suddenly turned red and it began weaving crazily and losing speed. "Whoops, another punner bites the dust." The car went one weave too far, plummeted off the road and exploded violently, but the Foods kept on. About an hour and a half later, they arrived on the outskirts of Knot.

"How do we find the docks?" asked Casper, some ten minutes later. "This place is big!" Calvin rolled down a window.

"Hey, you!" he shouted as they halted for a red light.

"What is it?" replied the pedestrian, a large Banana.

"Which way to the docks or the marina?"

"Down the road and left at the second light."

"Thanks, friend," Calvin replied. "Need a lift down there?"

"Not really," replied the Banana. Suddenly, a definitely female Banana turned the corner, saw him and squealed excitedly. "On the other hand, I think I could," he said hastily. He leaped in the opened door and they tore off. "Why the hurry? Someone after you?"

"Yes, they began coming on strong in Ooze," said Marvin. "We got away by the skin of our teeth, except for Ollie, who got caught, I guess." He explained their theories as Casper made the turn at the second light. "With any luck, we've left them behind," he concluded. "LOOK OUT!" he shouted suddenly as another minivan zoomed from a side street to collide with them. Casper swerved enough to make it only a glancing blow, but they did a 360 anyway. "It's them!" he wailed.

"And they've picked up the Banana, too!" added Belated, their new friend, glumly. The other minibus, once recovered from its attempt, began pursuing. "The marina is on the right, just up ahead." Casper made the turn, rather too fast, and wound up on two wheels, much to the distress of his passengers. He smashed through a gate and plowed his way right to the water's edge.

"Let's get us a boat and beat it!" urged Atilla needlessly, eating a seatcover nervously. They piled out and ran for the nearest motorboat. "Too small, nitwits!" admonished the Bun as they were busy swamping it. "This cabin cruiser is way better!" They scrambled from the overloaded boat and into the other, where Atilla turned on the engine and began backing out of the berth. Len's removal of the mooring ropes helped somewhat. Once again the Foods were able to watch the ladies dance in frustration.

"We ought to be able to find refuge on Poppy Street Island," said Brad. "Maybe by then the infection will have worn off and they will leave us alone." The troubled shore of Splat quickly receded and the island of Poppy Street quickly appeared and drew nearer and as it did so, each of the nine Foods wondered what it and the future would bring to them.

Part Two: Adventures with the Snuffs

"Ouch! Blast these brambles!" cursed Casper the Cheesecake as he and his friends Marvin Fudge, Atilla the Bun, Len Lettuce, Calvin Cauliflower, Bertram Broccoli, Terrence Turnip, Brad Bread and Belated Banana struggled to get through the dense undergrowth and off the beach into the protection of the forest. They had arrived on Poppy Street Island and, before they had all waded ashore, Atilla had turned their purloined cabin cruiser around and sent it on its way in the general direction of Knot, the place where they had escaped repeated attempts by female counterparts to capture them. After ten minutes of total vegetation destruction, they made it and burst onto a small trail.

"About how far is Poppy Street City from here?" asked Len. Nobody had the foggiest idea, and said so.

"I'm hungry!" complained Atilla. "When do we eat?" He snuffled suddenly. "I spy with my little nose...raspberries! Forty degrees at twenty paces!" The general confusion resulting from his directions gave him a big head start to the large clump of raspberry canes, which they all proceeded to demolish with gusto. Once finished, they realized there was a net on them.

"Where'd this come from?" asked Belated, easily removing it. "And look at the meshes! So small!"

"You'd think someone was trying to catch squirrels or something," added Calvin, not wanting to be left out.

"AHA! At last I've got you, you miserable Snuffs!" shouted an apparition suddenly as it leaped from another path. Caught by surprise, the Foods reached for knives and other equalizers that weren't there. The man, a tall, skinny and balding human with straight black hair, a long, thin nose with a wart on its end and garments that could have passed for those of a wizard some years ago, was also surprised. He retreated a few steps, tripped over an unprepossessing cat and fell over backwards. "Asriel, watch where you're going!" he snapped, bouncing to his feet, narrowly missing the tail. There was a brief silence.

"Who are you?" asked Len with a sigh.

"I am Gargamel the Great," he said, drawing himself up to his full height to reply. "Lord and Master of the Snuffs!" he said pompously. There was a loud outburst of laughter, hoots and catcalls from beneath nearby bushes. "Shut up, you little blue vermin!" he snarled. The Foods giggled.

"What are Snuffs?" asked Terrence, looking around.

"We are Snuffs," replied a voice and several foot-high creatures wearing white caps and pant-shoes emerged. They were a bright blue, as Gargamel had said. One had glasses, another, who was obviously female, had a white dress and a third had red clothing and a full white beard and mustache. It was the latter who had spoken. "And I am Papa Snuff. That there is one of the sleaziest wizards ever to have walked the forest--"

"After you, of course," sniped Gargamel.

"--and is evil to boot," Papa concluded, ignoring him. Gargamel growled and Asriel, after his cue, growled also.

"Seems like Gargy here set a trap for you," said Casper blandly, ignoring the hostile look at the nickname.

"I'll get you all for that!" he cursed, waving his fist at the group, wheeling about and running down the path. There was a sudden explosion and scream, followed by a hail of his blood and guts. The Foods were startled, the Snuffs unperturbed.

"That was a land mine," said the female Snuff, aptly named Snuffette. "Both he and we regularly mine the forest in hopes of getting the other and have long since forgotten where they were put. Hence, we keep getting blown up."

"At least that's the last we'll see of him," said Belated.

"Not at all," said Brainy, the one with glasses. "He'll be back." At the Foods' look of incomprehension, he elaborated. "It's easy. The instant you die by violence, you are instantly replaced by a clone which is at least ten feet away from the site of death." He was about to launch into an explanation when Papa, who had been anticipating it, cut him off abruptly.

"Come back with us to our little village and we'll tell you some more."

Having little more to do, the others followed.

"You can play some neat games, too," said a Snuff named Hefty. "Like seeing how many times we can blow up in two minutes." A Snuff at the head of the line trod on a mine and was destroyed. Soon they reached the Snuff village, which was quite picturesque from the Foods' point of view, since they towered a good two feet above it.

"Hang on, while I make some readjustments," said Papa, scooting off to his lab. Shortly thereafter, the entire village blew sky-high. After much of the dust and gore had settled, the village reappeared, but on a normal human scale.

"This is our normal size," assured Greedy Snuff. "We shrink to hide from Gargamel, as well as from the Shorties."

"Why did you all cringe when he said that?" guffawed Atilla.

"They're nasty," replied Snuffette, giving some of the prostrate Foods kicks in sensitive places. "They derive their name from their leader Strawberry Shortcake. They are exclusively female and now cruise around the forest trying to find the village. Before, they were after their male element, Purple Pieman and Banana Split, but not since they found us. There is also a sorceress, Sour Grapes, who has the hots for Gargamel and isn't making life easy for him." She waggled her eyebrows.

"So what's the big deal?" asked Belated. "They sound no more fearsome than the bunch chasing us."

"Enough of this chatter! Let's party!" said Handy Snuff. The Snuffs cheered wildly, for they liked little more than a wild party with lots of drinking. In a trice, Papa had thrown up a silence field to keep the noise out of the forest and tables had been set up. The sun was just beginning to set as the Foods, after some hesitation, joined in the festivities.

Not too long after Casper and friends had landed on the beach and entered the forest, the A-Team (Altar-Team), consisting of Clara Cheesecake, Belinda Bun, Betty Broccoli, Theresa Turnip, Cathy Cauliflower, Florence Fudge, Linda Lettuce, Beatrice Bread and Nana Banana, who had been picked up in Knot, landed on a beach on Poppy Street Island. They pulled the boat up onto the beach, for it was only a small motorboat, and stood there.

"See? Footprints! They landed here, all right! Let's go through these helpfully broken bushes!" said Linda. Ten clothes-ripping, skin-scratching, hair-mussing minutes later, they exploded onto the path. But instead of turning right, as the men had, they turned left. In a few minutes, they found a clearing.

"Raspberries!" drooled Cathy and they charged, only to have a net fall on them and several leg snares trip them up.

"AHA!" shrieked several female voices as their Food-sized owners leaped out from shrubbery. "Now we gotcha!" Powerful odours of orange, strawberry, lemon and blueberry also appeared.

"Ugh! Who overdosed on cheap perfume?" gasped Linda.

"You're not the Purple Pieman!" exclaimed the strawberry stinker. "You aren't even Snuffs!" After some blistering oaths from the Foods, they were let down. "I'm Strawberry Shortcake. These ladies are Lemon Meringue, Orange Blossom and Blueberry Muffin," she added. "Welcome to our forest."

"We're looking for some male Foods who landed nearby not too long ago," said Betty after introductions had been made. Following the Shortcake's lead, they began walking through the forest, with the various Foods explaining the circumstances of their arrival.

"I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Snuffs had found them," said Blueberry. "The only difficulty is we don't know the precise location of the Snuff village. Otherwise they wouldn't be single for very long." They arrived at the village square, which was bustling with Shorties who were running about at top speed carrying weapons and ammunition and colliding with each other. Strawberry's appearance created a mini-mob scene.

"Strawberry, I found the Snuff village!" squealed one, who was later revealed as Lime Chiffon. "They brought a number of giant, animated Foods to their village from somewhere and are now having a big party!"

"What a stroke of luck!" said Lemon Meringue. "Now we can test the new sleep gun!" She rushed off in a tizzy.

"Give us some too!" said Theresa impatiently. "We can use them, what with all practice we had on Splat."

"Why the sleep guns, anyway?" asked Florence, hefting her new rifle and liking it.

"We have clone machines here," said Orange Blossom. "That means that as soon as you are killed, you reappear elsewhere a fair distance away. So if your future hubby sees you coming and he is trapped, he blows his brains out and escapes."

"And the sleep gun knocks him out instead of killing him," said the Fudge, understanding. "Very clever. Now we don't have to worry about hurting them when we shoot. When do we attack?"

"As soon as we get our acts together, while they're still partying. They won't be expecting anything and will probably be well and truly drunk to boot. But we'll wait until nightfall to make our move." They giggled gleefully.

"Blast those wretched, stinking Snuffs!" cursed Gargamel at the top of his lungs. "I hate them and their singing, dancing, Snuffberries and their...their...niceness! Garr!" He directed a kick at the cat who, being used to the wizard's foul moods, leaped deftly aside only to crash into a table. "Stupid cat! Stupid weather! Stupid everything!" he raged, leaping into one of his tantrums. Just then there was a banging at his front door. "Can't I even have tantrums in peace?" he yelled, smashing his way to the door and opening it with a bang. "What the devil do you--" He stopped short on seeing who it was. It was Sour Grapes, come to pay a visit. She was a tall, twisted sorceress with a beauty contest figure that wowed everybody except Gargamel, whom she wanted. She was dressed in very revealing garments and had a distinct grapey smell.

"Gargy!" she cooed. "What a delightfully evil mood you're in! How's about invoking the seven deadly sins with me?"

"Holy frabbleflam!" he squawked, slamming and locking the door violently. "Asriel, head for the hills!"

"Let me in! Let me in!" she cried, scratching at the door.

"Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin!" he retorted.

"Then I'll huff and puff and blow your house in!"

"I'd like to see you try!" he snapped, hurriedly mixing some powders and adding a vile liquid. "Go away!" He threw the bowl at the door and it blew apart, taking Sour Grapes with it. The wizard grabbed a bag kept for just such emergencies and ran out the back door. "Maybe the Snuffs will help me," he sighed. "They're a forgiving lot, and I'll eat them later. Village, here I come, wherever you are!"

"I'll get you in my bed yet, Gargamel!" came the voice of Sour Grapes from afar. He thought and hoped otherwise.

Back at the Snuff village, the party was going full blast, with nobody neither knowing nor caring what was going on outside. As the Foods found out, food, drink and other material goods could be cloned as well as living things. They were impressed by the automatic rifles and guns that never needed reloading and procured some pistols for "protection". They all watched the sun set with relish, for it signalled the beginning of the "real" fun. Large amounts and varieties of alcohol were flowing freely and everyone was well on the way to getting plastered.

Jokey, as was his custom, distributed large quantities of his "presents" which blew up upon being opened, causing a fright but no real damage. Casper and friends had loosened up to the point where they were telling bawdy stories about their gals, which were all fiction of course. The Shortie brigade with the gals had arrived by then and overheard much, with lewd chuckles. The Shorties and Foods had surrounded and infiltrated the village, which was dark except for the central square where the party was. Checking their watches, they began shooting at the unsuspecting Snuffs and male Foods.

"Whatzhe that?" asked Dreamy Snuff. "Shoundsh like gunfire." He saw the nearby Greedy suddenly collapse. He looked around and saw a flicker of flame near a house and a faint, but very familiar form that even he in his stupor could recognize. He used the instant detox unit they all carried, the pistol, to blow himself into action. Fortunately he reappeared near the Shortie alarm and activated it. A siren howled, night became day and the village blew up for the second time in less than twelve hours.

"Blast it!" cursed the recloned Strawberry Shortcake. "I should have known there'd be an alarm! Now we're in for a real fight! They may be fun, but sneak attacks are more efficient." She began shooting at every blue shape she saw.

The Snuffs, rudely awakened from their alcoholic dazes, rapidly realized what was going on, grabbed all weapons handy and set to work trying to catch the Shorties alive and thus end the battle. Casper, Marvin, Brad, Harmony, Clumsy and Papa Snuff had appeared in Papa's lab and before Papa could stop them, the other Snuffs had looted a secret cabinet of weapons.

"Here you go," said Harmony, passing out assault rifles and setting up a machine-gun. "Now I know what these holes in the walls are for." He spotted a marauding Shortie barrelling confidently down the square and shot her to pieces.

"Why hasn't Greedy there disappeared?" asked Brad several minutes and hundreds of rounds and Shorties later. "He was shot a minute ago and the clone machine hasn't reclaimed him yet."

"He's still alive," said Papa, looking through some field glasses. "I can still see him breathing." Thinking the way was clear, a Shortie scooted from under cover and tried to drag him off. Casper and Marvin shot them both up and moments later the Snuff appeared in their midst.

"Jeez, that took long enough," he complained. Suddenly, Lemon Meringue, who had been killed elsewhere, appeared and Clumsy clobbered her accidentally while whirling around.

"Good work, Clumsy," said Papa. "Say, that's a strange gun she has. A new design." While the others kept shooting or were tying Lemon to a chair, he quickly took it apart and examined the bullets. "Hey, these aren't real bullets, they're something else!" Lemon stirred and awoke. "Have you been using knockout bullets instead of good old lead?" he demanded.

"So what if we have! It's the only way to win with clone machines! But I won't talk any more."

"Are there any female Foods with you?" Casper asked. She wouldn't answer, so he looked out the window. "That answers my question," he said, pointing out at Beatrice Bread and Brad shot her. "What is the purpose of this expedition?" he continued, staring her right in her big blue eyes. She stared back silently. "Well, does anybody know any good torture tricks?"

"Me, me!" said Papa excitedly over a rattle of gunfire. "I've been longing to try one out!" Harmony began blatting fearsomely on his trumpet, causing all to cry out in pain.

"Stop, stop! You're hurting us more than her!" groaned Greedy. "Perhaps if one of us did a striptease in front of her, with her securely tied up, maybe she'll go crazy and tell all."

"You wouldn't! That would be brutal beyond the call of duty!" she gasped, horrified. Lemon grabbed at a knife in her sock with a hand she had freed, but was restrained by Greedy who tied her up more thoroughly and gave her a thorough, stimulating body search, uncovering a stiletto in her bra and a pistol in her side pocket. "Beast!" she moaned appreciatively.

"Where did you get that idea, anyway?" demanded Papa.

"I remember the day when Snuffette was caught in one of Gargamel's traps and you went out to get her. I was cleaning a nearby Snuffberry bush and saw you do it to her. Boy, was she mad! She was all but ripping the thing apart when you were through." They all laughed and Papa blushed guiltily.

"There's nothing so dangerous as a Snuffette teased," giggled Harmony. Suddenly the door was blown off its hinges.

"What about frustrated Foods?" It was Clara, a-hunting for Casper. They all immediately pointed their weapons at her.

"Don't move or I'll shoot!" said Casper, who then pointed his assault rifle at his head.

"Oh no, you can't fool me!" she said, opening up with a spray of sleeper bullets. The others replied with lead and Casper blew his brains out as promised. She got them all except Brad before she died. The Bread then shot all the unconscious Foods and Snuffs except Lemon and continued to hold the post.

The battle raged for another fifteen minutes before the Shorties decided to pull out with what they had and they and the female Foods melted into the forest with their sleeping booty over their shoulders. Only a very few arrived at the village empty-handed and these vowed to return. Casper and Terrence were the only Foods who got any sleep that night, as were Grouchy, Papa and Poet Snuffs. They awoke in the freshly recloned village just after dawn and ate a hasty breakfast.

"I still don't see why we don't race into their arms and abandon ourselves to a life of pleasures of the flesh," said Terrence. "It just isn't logical that we should run away from such willing and eager ladies."

"Remember what I said on the way over here about it being punitis in humans but it takes a different form in us Foods and apparently in Shorties, Snuffs and Gargamel and Sour Grapes? The only cure may be to, as you said, indulge in fleshly pleasures," an embarassed Casper harrumphed.

"It won't be easy, though," said Poet. "It is insidious because we can make all the plans we want to here, but there the disease will take over in self-preservation." They looked glum.

"I hate punitis!" growled Grouchy and for once he got agreement. "I hate throwing away our weapons and tying ourselves up and waiting for them to return!" he added as an afterthought.

"That's a good idea, but how do we know they will? Or if once the relationship is consummated they will let us alone?"

"I think we will have to go to the Shortie village and do some observing," said Casper with a sigh.

"What's this, voyeurism manifesting itself?" quipped Terrence.

"Ha ha," said Casper, trying not to laugh. "If we can rescue the others, I think we should try for my original plan and go for Poppy Street City."

"It's big enough and the locals are violent enough to hide us for a good long time," said Papa. "Especially if Strawberry Shortcake really does go for older Snuffs as I've heard." They all paused to sweat a little. About an hour later, with a full complement of weaponry, the five were in the Shortie village.

It was quiet. Nobody was in the streets at all and suggestive noises and contented snores were coming from open windows. It didn't take long to find the Shortcake's house, where they peeked in various windows with periscopes until Terrence found the one they were in, eating breakfast. With the aid of microphones on the periscopes, they listened in.

"Now what do we do?" Apricot was asking the others. "They are too smart to remain in the village and will be next to impossible to find if they hide out in the forest."

"Must our true love go unrequited?" sniffled Theresa. "I wish I knew why this even had to happen." Terrence looked both distressed and panicky at the same time. "This need for Terrence came upon me like a sudden storm and it gets weaker when I'm far away and stronger when I'm near." She perked up visibly. "And I'm feeling sharp pangs again!"

"I feel it too," said Clara. "Almost if they were watching us." She looked out the window. "Hey! What are those things?"

"Oh no, she's found us!" wailed Poet.

"YOU IDIOT!" snapped Grouchy. "Now you've given us away!"

"I couldn't help it!" cried the other Snuff as they bolted away. "The disease made me do it! Here they come!" The ladies had leaped through the window and were racing after them. "Let's try the theory!" he bleated, crashing heavily into a wall and falling down stunned. In a trice Apricot had pounced and was tending his injuries. The others kept chase.

"Catch us, please!" huffed Casper. "I can't take this much longer and I can't stop either!"

"What do you mean, Cheesecake of my dreams?" asked Clara. "You aren't running any slower!"

"Any traps nearby?" wheezed Papa, not used to this sort of thing. "EEEYYAAAHH!" The ground collapsed as they passed by Lime Chiffon's house. Shrieking, they all fell into a deep pit lined with big, fat pillows that cushioned their fall. It didn't take long for the disorganized heap of flailing limbs to become four heaps of struggling Shorties, Snuffs and Foods at all.

"Hey, they're gone!" was the wail that could be heard from Orange Blossom's house about an hour later. "The Snuffies have run away!" Her sirening awoke the entire village from its satiated dozing with a start. Five minutes of frantic searching later, it was found to be true and they all gathered in the square, gabbling. Strawberry took the stand and they shut up.

"Ladies, this is a momentous day in our lives. No sooner had we accomplished our goal of capturing the men when they ran off! At least we got our money's worth, though." She drooled slightly at the thought. "Now what?" There was an awkward silence.

"Well, logic dictates that we go after them, but I don't feel like it for some reason," said one. They were very puzzled indeed.

Back at the village, the Snuffs and Foods were having a council of war and were discussing what would come next.

"Let's party!" said Snuffette and the Snuffs cheered wildly.

"No, you idiots!" shouted Casper. "That's how they got us the last time! We have to go to Poppy Street City!"

"Let's party first!" said Clumsy and the Snuffs cheered again. Papa waved his arms, gabbled a few words and blew up, spattering the area with gore.

"Wrong bloody spell!" muttered the clone. He tried again and suddenly the entire village was decked out in party decorations. "That's got it!" he said with satisfaction, grabbing a vodka on the rocks and swilling it down, spitting the rocks out after. He then eyeballed Snuffette threading her way through the dancing, chattering and drinking Snuffs and Foods towards him. He tried to avoid her, but was sandwiched between Lazy and Clumsy. She extricated him and lugged him to a safe spot.

"That was a clever plan, shooting the Shorties with sleep bullets while they were snoozing and getting us out."

"Of course, of course," said Papa modestly, "I knew it would work." Casper, who was nearby, overheard this.

"It was MY idea," he admonished. "Just remember that."

"Okay, okay," said the Snuff guiltily, cringing.

"Casper is right," she said over the noise of loud music. "We have to go to Poppy Street City. I think, being one myself, that the girls are satisfied for the time being, but the urge will grow until it becomes intolerable and must be satiated."

"I suppose you should know," said Brainy, butting in as was his wont. "You've seduced every Snuff in the village more times than there are grains of sand on a beach!" He snickered.

"I'll get you for that, Brainy," she replied. "Later!"

"My trampoline will be waiting," he smirked and vanished into the crowd. Papa and Casper got a few ho-hos out of that.

"Anyway," continued the unabashed Snuffette, "I think we should visit Poppy Street, just for a change of pace. We've never gone to visit them before."

"I was going to do that all along," the old Snuff said pompously. She tweaked his cheek appreciatively and flounced off. Meanwhile, Atilla the Bun had challenged Greedy to an eating contest and the latter readily accepted. The results were inconclusive though because both exploded at the same instant, making a frightful mess. This gave the irrepressible Snuffette the idea to challenge Papa to a drinking contest, with several other Snuffs joining. All committed suicide to start stone-cold sober.

An hour and a few tankards of booze later, the results began appearing. With great ease, Brainy downed his fortieth four-ouncer, but his follow-through was too complete and he fell over backwards with a slosh. He didn't get up. After forty-one, Harmony wanted to play Auld Lang Syne on his trumpet, but couldn't decide which of the three ahead of him was his and lapsed helplessly forward into oblivion.

After the next round of hard vodka, Jokey clamped his hand over his mouth, raced behind a bush and disqualified himself. After forty-five, Farmer and Handy collapsed and died from ethanol poisoning. The fiftieth round, dry vermouth on the rocks, finally did Snuffette and Papa, the only ones left, in. They paid the price for ignoring the increasingly strident calls of nature by exploding simultaneously, showering the surrounding intoxicated bodies with blood, guts and surprising quantities of alcohol.

After the required one-hour hiatus, the Snuffs were recloned by the machine dry as deserts. As usual, they were irritable. Shouts of "Nosepicker!", "Glue sniffer!", "Wimp!", "Creep!", "Clot!" and "Moron!", laced with obscenities, flew about as the Snuffs and Foods recovered from their mini-hangovers. No fights developed, but ill will and physically unpleasant practical jokes abounded. Finally, it was over.

"AHA! There you are, you little blue vermin!" rasped a familiar voice. It was Gargamel, armed with a burp gun, and Asriel. "At last I have found you! Prepare to die!" he bellowed, forgetting his earlier promise not to hurt them.

"Has Sour Grapes gotten you yet?" hooted Marvin. Before the wizard could react, he had nine Food knives sticking from various portions of his anatomy and he gurgled and died. They went over and took them out, doing a bit of twisting as well.

"Time to go to Poppy Street," said Belated Banana helpfully. "How do we get there?" Papa smirked shiftily.

"It's a secret, only I know it and I'm not telling."

"If you don't, I will embarrass you so much." This was Snuffette, who had come back. For emphasis, she began panting steamily and loosening her clothes. He got the idea.

"Oh all right, if you put it that way," he groused, capitulating with ill grace. "Everybody load up with what you think you'll need and be back here in fifteen minutes." There was a swoosh as the Snuffs and Foods rushed off to get their favourite weapons and they came back with everything imaginable from pistols to grenade launchers and bazookas.

"Where in the world did you get such an arsenal?" Len Lettuce asked, surprised at the sight of 100 bloodthirsty Snuffs.

"Gargamel had a number of books on human weapons, so we stole them and copied them out," explained Handy.

"Lead on, Papa Snuff!" said Casper. "And damned be he who first cries 'enurf'!" The others winced and Papa reluctantly began leading them into the forest. Calvin and Brad began to sing.

"Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to war we go, with razor blades and hand grenades hi-ho--" before they were squelched.

"Cool it guys, we're not a glee club," Terrence admonished dryly. "If you don't shut up, you'll be locked in Sing-Sing." He was showered with debris for his efforts.

"Here we are," said Papa a few minutes and a barrage of cheap puns from everyone else later as they arrived at a cave. "Waboonga nagawa brack okeefenokee!" he said majestically, waving his arms in triangles. The only thing that happened was that three men in outlandish uniforms appeared in the cave mouth.

"Cork to Improvise, Cork to Improvise, come in, dammit!" one was saying into a small box.

"Captain, that's your tricorder," said the one with pointy ears. "Besides, we have company." He pointed at them.

"Now I know where Zelda Overdone got her spell book," Casper hissed to Marvin and they laughed loudly.

"Wrong spell again, blast it!" cursed Papa. "Let me see..."

"Well I'll be gosh darned," said the third as they spread out. "Spook, look at that! Giant Foods and blue creatures to boot! What a TV show this will make!"

"Alakazoom! Waffleiron gabba goon!" bellowed Papa and the three vanished. "Gaboinga wahoo!" he added, but nothing doing.

"Gibble gabble wibble wabble!" Casper screeched, unconsciously mimicking Zelda accurately. Light flooded from the cave.

"Amateur! He only took one try!" sniffed Papa as they walked in. They entered what looked like a subway station, but in miniature. At the other end was a sign saying "To Poppy Street". It was a bare room just big enough for them and their weapons. "Kolobushnika!" Papa commanded and the room was replaced by one that had the three men in it, plus another behind a large console.

"Just where are we, Snotty?" asked Captain Cork. "We seem to have appeared in the middle of a madhouse! It looks like the mess hall on Fruit Salad Night!"

"Ah know what ye mean, sorr," replied Snotty. "Look behind ye." The others did so and started.

"See? See? I told you I wasn't going soft in the head! Make a recording of them before they bog off!"

"Inshallah goobi nagoya soweto!" Papa gibbered and they appeared in a room that had "Welcome to Poppy Street" written on a grimy, bullet-holed sign. They stared, waiting.

"That's the last time I'm drinking Smeerian brandy and having pizza at the same party," muttered Cork, rubbing his forehead. "Keep orbiting this place and give it a good scan," he told Spook. "I want to know all about it when I come back in the morning." He stalked off in search of aspirin.

"Well, here we are," said Vanity Snuff, looking around. "Now to get out and into the action!" Guns at the ready, the Snuffs and Foods swarmed out into the hallway. It was empty. Undaunted, they occupied the entire building. It was totally deserted. Next they spilled out onto the street and found they were on the fringes of the downtown shopping district. The innocent shoppers suddenly found heavily-armed, strange-garbed Snuffs and Foods in their midst and ignored them, almost as if this sort of thing happened every day. The natives were human or non-human, and the latter were of various shapes and colours.

"Now what?" asked Casper, scratching his head.

"Are you sure this is the right place?" asked Atilla, eating a lamppost. "I thought it was supposed to be violent here." Before Papa could answer, there was a wail of a siren in the distance, followed by another and a third. "Maybe I shouldn't have had that lamppost," muttered the Bun.

"It's the fuzz!" said Painter Snuff, who had a penchant for stating the obvious. Then a police car with the words "Bob Police" on its sides in green letters screeched around a corner on two wheels and skidded to a stop, with three cops leaping out and falling onto the pavement. Then around two more corners came two more cars, both emblazoned "Muppet Police". Six Muppets, the names of the non-human creatures, leaped out after spectacularly totalling the Bob car.

"I arrest you in the name of Bob, the true ruler of this city," proclaimed one of the cops, drawing a pistol.

"And we arrest you in the name of Cookie Monster, the true ruler of this city," said the Muppets, drawing burp guns.

"This is it, all right," said Papa. "My spells always work, or at least after a fashion they do."

"You swinish Muppets! Just because you live in half the city doesn't mean you can send your police where you want to loot and pillage!" raved one of the humans. "These are in our part of town and you can't have them!"

"Fools! The whole city is ours and it is our duty to destroy the evil tyrant Bob and his awful henchwoman Susan and liberate the town from their brainwashing!" Both sides opened up on each other and the pedestrians, who pulled out concealed handguns and began shooting at each other and the cops. By then the visitors had melted into the woodwork to avoid the inevitable crossfire. Soon the fighters were no more than piles of bodies and blood.

"Now the excitement begins!" said Len Lettuce, his first line for ages. "Boy, do they hate each other!" An unfamiliar thunder growled in the distance, with Lazy identifying it as artillery before falling asleep. There was a sudden whistling that rapidly grew in intensity. "Incoming!" shrieked the Lettuce. Jammed as they were in a small space, they couldn't run quite as far as they would have liked and were all pulverized in six bloody flashes by a barrage of 105-mm howitzer shells.

One of the more curious side effects of the clone machine in general was that if a large group was destroyed all at once, the clones would reappear scattered about a wide area, in this case the whole city. Casper, Hefty, Clumsy and Brad all appeared close to each other, weapons and all, and joined forces.

"Whose side should we fight on?" asked Clumsy, falling over his own feet and nearly impaling himself on his knife.

"Fight for us, the Muppets," came a voice from a shadow and from it stepped a Food-sized green frog, well equipped for battle. "I'm Kermit the Frog and want to tell you that we Muppets have been fighting for an equal say in the government of this City, equal rights, and imprisonment of the tyrants Bob and Susan and their henchmen Gordon and Mr Hooper. Since they refuse to listen to reason, we rebel every so often, when the weather's nice."

"Do you think you have a chance this time?" asked Hefty.

"Nah, we never do. But it's good sport."

"Freeze, suckah!" bellowed a voice and an Adult and five "innocent" kids burst out, pointing efficient-looking submachine-guns at them. "Bob has been wanting some of you guys to talk to," he sniggered. "Drop your weapons." They reluctantly did so, but Clumsy's went off in a long burst that maimed the nasties. The others pulled out jungle knives and pounced, hacking them until they were good and dead.

"Golly, I forgot to put on the safety catch," said Clumsy. "Too bad, isn't it?" They all looked really sorrowful.

"Let's move out!" said Brad, snatching his gun and moving onto the street. The noise of background gunfire was loud in their ears as they hurried across to one of Mr Hooper's Gun and Ammunition Stores. Brad shot the locks off the door.

"Wait! It's booby-trapped!" warned Kermit, tossing some junk through. A guillotine blade fell, an electric floor shorted out and blew up and machine-guns at right angles to the doorway began firing. Kermit silenced them with a grenade and they went in. It was just in time, for two tanks, marked with a blood-red B with a fist through it and "Security Police" below it, ground around a corner and began blowing up snipers. Seizing a bazooka from the plentiful supply, Hefty reduced one to a blazing hulk. The five then hastily evacuated as the other began shooting at them.

"I'll take you to our hideout until things cool off," said Kermit. "The Poppy Street Olympics will begin tomorrow and you'll get to be part of them."

"I don't think I'm going to like this," said Clumsy. Meanwhile, the Bob police was rapidly wiping out pockets of resistance as it had been so well trained to do. Police brutality was the rule rather than the exception and many unwary cops found themselves being killed, especially in the Muppet half of town. It wasn't really the Muppets' because Bob wouldn't tolerate for an instant another ruler. In fact, the Muppet Police cars were fakes designed to provoke him. Most of the Foods and Snuffs were taken to the Muppet hideout, but Vanity, Bertram, Snuffette, Handy and Harmony were snared by Bob's goons and hauled to the palace.

"Well, well, what have we here?" he asked when they were dumped in the throne room. "Guests, and just in time for our Olympics, too." He frowned. "Where are the others?"

"Beats me," said Vanity with a shrug.

"YOU LIE!" bellowed the dictator, leaping from his throne and trying to throttle the Snuff, who expertly grabbed and threw him across the room. "WHAT?? You dare throw me? ME??" Foaming furiously, he pulled out a pistol but before it could be used, Snuffette had blasted his brains out with her own.

"This guy's a real wacko," she said, revolving her finger around her ear. The others, including the guards who hadn't moved a muscle, nodded. The Bob clone reappeared in a nearby room and promptly went berserk, smashing everything he could. Finally the fit passed and he lurched back to sanity.

"Oh well," he drooled. "At least we'll be able to destroy those insolent Muppets like we do every year in the Games. Visitors or no!" The Foods and Snuffs left the palace in a huff, unopposed by anyone, and were quickly found by the underground.

The rest of the day was spent planning. Because of foul play, which Bob continually denied existed, the Muppets had never won more than three events. But now was the time for revenge. With the added brainpower and warped imaginations of the Foods and especially the Snuffs, they were able to concoct some ingenious booby-traps. Late in the afternoon, after each of the events had been gone over thoroughly, they decided to try some out.

"Yah, yah, Bob is an (expletive deleted)!" taunted Cookie Monster at a passing police patrol a distance from the HQ. To make sure they were mad, he made a series of vulgar, explicit gestures and remarks about their sexual habits.

"Get him!" the cops bellowed, intending to leave no bone unbroken. Cookie darted into an alley and bounced over a few track-and-field hurdles. When the cops tried, the hurdles shot up an extra two feet, making them fall into cursing heaps. The third hurdle blew up violently, killing them all.

"Well, the hurt-dles work fine," Belated Banana enthused back at the HQ. "Just where in the City are the Olympics going to take place?" he added. Grover, a hairy blue creature with a big nose, replied with a strange giggle.

"That depends on how Bob's magicking works out. He has this book of spells that he uses, but they are not wholly predictable in what they do or how they do it." The Foods looked at each other knowingly. From the distance came a loud roar, followed by a patchoong and a grunt. "By the sound of it, I believe we have it," he concluded. The Muppets cheered, with the Foods following suit.

Meanwhile, at the Shortie village, the gals were getting restless. Linda Lettuce was stomping around Lime Chiffon's house.

"I want Len and I want him now!" she asserted.

"Yes, yes, but how do we get them? Strawberry told us in that conference that they would very likely be in Poppy Street City, and there are no roads on this crummy island! How would they get there in the first place?" growled Theresa Turnip.

"Papa must have magicked them there!" flashed Florence Fudge. Strawberry had just entered in time to hear this and replied.

"I think he must have. He may be incompetent, but the spells work after a fashion."

"Then what are we waiting for? Let's get 'em!" Before long, the Shorties had gathered in a noisy, well-armed crowd in the central square. The Shortcake had a large, dusty black book.

"Ladies, your attention please!" she shouted, placing the book on a podium, knowing it wouldn't go with them. There was a general cheering, which was soon quashed. She opened the spell book, borrowed from Sour Grapes without her noticing, and bleated: "Ologlop nigwee gazorp brouhaha!" The scenery shifted to a large, round room with complicated-looking consoles on its perimeter and with people sleeping at them. In the centre there was an overstuffed Lay-Z-Boy armchair made from cheap purple naugahide, in front of which there was another console with two seats. There were people sleeping there, too. One who had been on the floor suddenly stirred and sat up.

"Captain, it's more of them Foods!" shouted Dr Destroy, kicking the somnolent Science Officer Spook.

"Where'she that awful shmell coming from?" slurred Engineer Snott, slowly opening his eyes. "Aye, but there's some lovely lassies here," he added, focussing his gaze on Raspberry Tart.

"What? What?" asked Captain Cork, sitting up with a start. Upon spotting the crowd of buxom and attractive women, his reflexes kicked in and he began drooling.

"Bloody spells," groused the Shortcake. "Grindle waps gnopee goway!" she recited carefully and they vanished from the bridge of the Fudderation Ship Improvise with a shower of plastic fruit. They reappeared on a deserted street filled with boarded-up stores and bullet-scarred walls. "This must be it," she said.

"I think we should stay here for the night," advised Betty. Accordingly, they broke into a bedding store, turfed out a bunch of rubbies and used the surplus stock well, though not as well as they would have liked under the circumstances.

Part Three: The Poppy Street Olympics

Consternation, confusion and pandemonium reigned on the Fudderation ship Improvise as it orbited sluggishly around the newly-discovered planet. The latest in a series of bizarre (i.e. stranger than the norm) incidents had the entire bridge complement of officers babbling excitedly, except for Science Officer Spook, who was snoring loudly, oblivious to the furor around him. Captain Cork, the inglorious leader, was stupefied.

"Come on Captain, snap out of it!" said Dr "Crones" Destroy, the ship's surgeon and all-around quack.

"Maybe this will help." It was Lt. Bubu, the navigator, who pulled out a mallet and hit him with it. "Whoops, sorry doc," he cackled, clouting the Captain next.

"Wha-what?" he asked over the noise of Spook's snores, which always increased to try and drown out background noise. "Where did those gorgeous gals go? And somebody shut him up!" The knock on the noodle seemed to have collected his scattered wits. Lt Yahura leaned over from her Communications post and gave the Sulkin a jab with her razor-sharp fingernail. With a snort and a variety of pungent oaths, the snoozing Science Officer woke up.

"Did I miss anything?" he asked, once his composure had been regained. He was regaled by a babble of often lurid descriptions of the female Foods and Shorties, who had made a brief, unexpected appearance on the bridge on their way to Poppy Street. Lt Yahura, the only female officer, abstained haughtily. "Hm, sounds like some of those giant foods we saw on the planet earlier," he said cleverly, doing some exploratory work in his nose with his index finger, a sign he was thinking.

"Divulge us your pearls of wisdom before we become overwhelmed by anticipation," cracked Ensign Checkout in his Brooklyn pseudo-Russian accent, getting a guffaw from Destroy.

"I suggest we go down there and do some more checking out of that island," said Spook pompously. There was excitement.

"But what about the General Order forbidding us to meddle in the affairs of a sentient race?" heckled Yahura.

"But we won't be meddling, only observing," said Destroy in a rare flash of rational thought.

"Besides, you want to see those hotsie-totsies again, don't you Captain?" asked Snott, taking a swill from his hip flask.

"Right, then, an exploratory mission tomorrow when the sun rises," said Cork before he could be upstaged more. "In the mean time, it's beddy-bye for moi," he added, stumping sleepily to the elevator. The others promptly fell asleep at their posts again.

It was one of those rare nights in Poppy Street--it was quiet. Sometimes almost half an hour would go by without a shot being fired. The booby-trapped hurt-dles were installed as planned by the Muppets who, like the Adults and "innocent" kids, added unpleasant surprises for their opponents in the coming eventful day. The sun rose, causing the city to gleam grubbily in the fresh and as yet unsullied air. Its various denizens were soon up and about, eating breakfast and boasting of exploits to come.

"I don't think I'm going to like this," said Casper the Cheesecake dubiously to Cookie Monster, the present leader of the Muppets. "Somehow the idea of a Kill-o-rama doesn't appeal to me, being a quiet, peaceful Food and all." There were hoots from from his companions Marvin Fudge, Len Lettuce, Brad Bread and Atilla the Bun, who knew better.

"It'll be fun, Casper," wheedled Bertram Broccoli. "Especially the field hockey game!"

"I wonder how many rules we can break," added Papa Snuff, the erstwhile leader of the Snuffs, who were hiding from the Shorties.

"I hate playing games!" chorused Oscar the Grouch and Grouchy Snuff. Casper's worries still weren't soothed. Once breakfast was finished, the Snuffs, Foods and Muppet High Command headed in the general direction of the stadium.

Also making for the stadium were the female Foods who were bent on finding and enjoying the other Foods, and the Shorties, who wanted the Snuffs. They all ran into isolated bits of sniping, backstabbing and general mayhem, mostly directed at Bob's police, who were shooting back.

"I'm going to like this!" enthused Bert, giving Ernie a trip, causing laughter. There was even more laughter from the Muppets when Ernie threw a glob of grease where Bert was walking, causing him to slip and break his head open. Feeling confident that the gals couldn't find them even if they were in Poppy Street City too, the Foods and Muppets sat in the bleachers at one end of the stadium. The Adults and "innocent" kids had their own sections, so it was no accident that the girls spotted them upon entering.

"Oh no!" wailed the guys.

"Oh yes!" squealed the girls, storming the bleachers.

"Ladies and gentlemen...and Muppets," said Bob over the stereophonic sound system. He was roundly booed by the Muppets. "The first event, the grovelling contest, has been cancelled due to an absence of competitors." There were more hoots and catcalls, from all parties this time. "The next event is the hammer throw."

The contestants, Mr Hooper, Guy Smiley and an "innocent" kid, ambled onto the field. The hammer was a large, heavy cannonball attached to a yard-long chain. Guy won the dice roll, despite the kid's loaded dice, and was first up. He grasped the handle and whirled the hammer around his head a few times, but for the final release the ball snapped off the chain and went soaring into the Adults' section of the grandstands. There it blew up, sending a shower of body parts and blood into the air. The Muppets and visitors cheered frenziedly.

Mr Hooper sniffed, grabbed his hammer and went into his windup. But when he tried for his release, he found that the handle had had an application of Silly Glue and had stuck fast. As a result, both of his arms were ripped off at the shoulder and flew through the air spurting blood all the way. Nevertheless, it blew up in the Muppet section, killing many and messing up more. The "innocent" kid's aim was not so good, however, and he wound up blowing many of his comrades to Kingdom Come.

"And the winner is Mr Hooper, with 45 dead and 30 mangled!" boomed Bob. There were cries of "Foul! Foul!" from the Muppets because the Adults had stolen their formula: two-inch nails embedded in jellied nitroglycerine. Mr Hooper had long since bled to death and his clone stepped forward to receive the prize, a rubber spider. "Next event is the pole vault!" Bob burbled, trying not to laugh and failing easily.

Kermit the Frog, Susan, a kid named Fergus and Hefty Snuff were the competitors. Fergus won the draw, shooting Kermit before his gun was out of the holster. He waited for the apparatus to be conjured by the clone machine, replacing the hammer setup. He tested the pole and went into action. He got up a good speed, put his pole in the right place and was well on his way over the top when the pole sheared off near the top. The surprised Fergus fell and was skewered on it and was dead before he hit the ground.

There were furious screams of outrage from the "innocent" kids in the stands, who accused the Adults of tampering. Bob had inadvertently left the microphone on and could be heard laughing heartily. Some of the kids pulled burp guns and let off a barrage and the Adults, the targets, fired back. The only hitch was that the Muppets and visitors were in the way, so they opened up too.

Meanwhile, the clone machine had removed the body of Fergus and Susan made her attempt. She made it over the bar with little trouble, but when she landed on the crash pad it was found that some enterprising soul had embedded large spikes in it. Her scream could easily be heard over the shouts, cheers and boos of the audience, which was still having skirmishes between its components. The Adults charged the Muppet seats as a result and fierce hand-to-hand combat with rapiers, bayonets, machetes, torn-up seats and anything else sharp and/or heavy ensued. Bob was laughing at the spectacle of rivers of blood and bodies pouring down the steps of the stadium until a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades blew up his observation booth.

A new crash pad had been obtained and Kermit made his dash. He went up, over and down with no trouble except that the new crash pad detonated violently upon impact. A loop of his intestine came in handy for Ernie when he caught it as it flew by. He led an attack on the kids in retaliation for their booby-trap waving it over his head. He managed to find Mr Hooper, though, and strangled him with it before he was beheaded by Gordon wielding a claymore, who in turn was eviscerated by Bert's flensing knife.

Hefty Snuff eyed the new crash pad brought in by the robots with clacking knees. Remembering the ways the others were disqualified, he muttered a prayer and ran towards the bar. The Snuffs, Shorties and Foods stopped fighting to watch. He was up, over and down with no trouble at all. The visitors cheered wildly, hugging each other in triumph. Hefty had won by elimination and this halted the battles in the stands. The ceasefire allowed clones who appeared in hostile territory to return to safety, with only a minimum of molestation. Hefty's prize was a chocolate vaulting pole, which he ate, and a box of poison-antidote pills, which didn't work, so his clone appeared with his friends.

"Now hear this!" Bob announced. (His booth had been recloned.) "The last track and field event is the 100-metre hurdles. Take your places!" This time Bob himself, as well as Gordon, Oscar the Grouch, Grover, two kids, Lemon Meringue, Snuffette, Casper, Theresa and Jokey marched onto the new track, complete with hurdles, to the wild cheers of the fans as the latter geared up for more battles.

"Go!" shouted Susan in the booth and they were off. Pushing and shoving, they made it over the first hurdle. When they landed, though, one of the "innocent" kids was destroyed by a land mine, spraying the others. A little further on, Theresa blew up too. The second hurdle shot up two feet in the air as Bob jumped, making him fall heavily. Before he could get up he was trampled by everyone else, most of whom going out of their way to do so. He leaped up screaming bloody murder and was promptly obliged by the devastation of Oscar. He sped up and joined to pack as they fought for the inside track.

When Gordon was blown to bits, everyone else was bowled over, with some finding that hitting the rail could give them a real charge--50 000 volts and 200 amps of it. This only left Casper, Snuffette, Jokey, Lemon Meringue, and the other kid, who had somehow survived contact with the rail and was staggering along with smoke and clouds of burnt-out brain cells pouring from his ears. The survivors reached the third from last hurdle and leaped tiredly over it and the next, though the kid didn't make it. Then Jokey trod on a mine which rocketed into the air, him with it, and self-destructed, showering gobs of him into the embroiled stands.

The spectators were having a grand old time, whaling away at each other with an unusual assortment of sharp objects and creating a frightful mess, oblivious to the rapidly-dying out race below. It was now neck-and-neck between Casper, Lemon and Snuffette as they headed into the stretch, but between them and the finish line there was a large, treacherous-looking mud puddle. They leaped over but didn't make it, landing with a squelch and a boom. The boom was Casper. The other two, being in close proximity, were also damaged but survived and dragged themselves to the finish line. There Snuffette expired from loss of blood and Lemon Meringue suicided to avoid the same fate. Their prizes were a bowl of ice cream, which they wisely threw away, and two stuffed bloatfish. Meanwhile, Bob had reappeared in the stands in the middle of a psychotic tantrum, where he smashed everything and everyone he could until he was shot and bayoneted to boot.

"That's enough of that!" he screamed into the microphone upon reappearing in the booth. "No more track and field! Time for field hockey! Yabba wabba goink fazoo!" There was a tremendous explosion (the only real method of change on the island) and the stadium was replaced by a field 500 metres long and 100 wide. The Muppets, Snuffs, Shorties and Foods, totalling about 3000, appeared in one half of the field holding green field hockey sticks, while the Adults and "innocent" kids, also totalling about 3000, appeared with red hockey sticks. Both teams were boxed in by force fields at the 20-metre line and had goals 2 metres long by 1.5 high painted the appropriate colour to avoid confusion. A clock, suspended in air by invisible skyhooks, was set at one hour, zero minutes and nine seconds. As the players found out, the force field dismembered everyone who touched it.

"That's MY line! After all, I'm paid 9000 credits per episode, so I should get the juicy statements!" he said haughtily.

"Why can't that Style learn to beam us into safe places?" whined Snott, chug-a-lugging a Scotch. "It's almost as if he wanted us to get killed or something."

"Quit griping!" commanded Cork. "At least he put us in the right area!" While they were talking, the clones of the dead had been appearing along the sidelines as they had and were rushing back into the fray. The men watched the arena with disbelief.

"AHA! There's one!" crowed Destroy as Beatrice Bread appeared beside him. He quickly tripped her up and sat on her. "Hi there, sweetie, what'cha doing tonight?" he asked by way of an opener.

"Go (bleep) yourself!" she snapped, twisting loose. "If you want a playmate, go to the Adult side. Their women are as fast as sound, as hot and steamy as geysers and as loose as oversized clothes!" she fabricated. "Now leave us Foods and Shorties alone! We're already committed!" With that, she grabbed her stick and ran onto the field. Meanwhile, Captain Cork had wandered off and encountered Nana Banana and a bunch of female Muppets. But he only had eyes for the luscious Banana and lumbered forward, arms and tongue outstretched. She saw him coming and expertly speared him with the end of her stick and ran off after the flying ball.

"Are you all right, Captain?" asked Spook, running up, treading on his hand and stealing Crones' line at the same time. For once the quack didn't mind, for he had returned with more interesting news. Juicing up on some of Snott's Scotch, which he got by pilfering the Engineer's hip flask, he burbled the news he had extracted from Beatrice (at great personal risk, he claimed) over the noise of the Captain's wheezes.

"That's good!" exclaimed Snott, snatching back his flask.

"Yes, nice and smooth," replied the doctor.

"You know what he meant," growled Cork, staggering upright. "Let's go!" He pulled in his paunch and marched off.

Meanwhile, the field hockey game was continuing, heedless of the offworld visitors. Even if they did know about them, the players couldn't have cared less because they were having too much fun hacking each other to bloody pieces. After the faceoff, the ball had been batted into Red territory (the Adults and kids) and the majority of the Greens (the others) charged after it.

The interesting thing about this ball was that it was inflated with a mixture of hydrogen and helium that reduced its effective weight to the point where it could remain airborne for several times longer than usual. This gave more reasons for the participants to slash and hack each other above the waist. Whenever it was clobbered off the field, it was teleported to the middle of the line marking its departure. This never failed to cause stampedes that left trails of broken bodies and blood strewn on the field. Such stampedes, or "scrums", were the best part of the game. During one such scrum at the 25-minute mark, half the people on each team were fighting for the ball. One enterprising Muppet tried tackling it, causing opponents to pounce on him and his friends to pounce on them, all wielding sticks.

Battles erupted on the outer fringes of the struggling pile of arms, legs, and hockey sticks and the air was redolent with cracks, thuds, crunches, oaths and screams as heads were cracked, bones crushed, guts were sliced, limbs severed and blood gushed all over. During the middle of this, the ball somehow squirted from underneath the Muppet and sailed into the air, eclipsing temporarily the view of the scoreboards where the values were well on their way to six-digit figures for both sides.

The scrum was abandoned as the players jostled for a position under the ball, hoping for a swipe at it. There was a lot of slipping on the greasy, gory grass which made it that much more difficult. Finally Greedy Snuff got impatient and threw his stick at the globe, but missed. This inspired the others and soon people were being brained by falling sticks too.

Some were lucky and managed to hit the ball, propelling it towards the Green goal, but here the Green defense (the not so bloodthirsty ones, including Casper) was ready. The members faced a charging wall of humans with great valour and the wave broke futilely on them with horrific casualties for both sides until Muppet counterattack squads smashed them from behind. Clara Cheesecake hit the ball in a line drive down centre field over the heads of the furiously battling Greens and Reds and straight toward the Red goal. It was only through misfortune that Susan's headless torso was flung by a desperate Bob and Mr Hooper accurately enough to deflect it towards the sidelines.

But over at those sidelines just minutes before, the Improvise crewmen had found some Adult women eager to let off some steam and soon the action had begun. Beatrice Bread had been right. But now that the ladies had been satisfied, they were showing signs of wanting to kill them. This precipitated a hasty retreat by the crew over the field and was just in time for the speeding ball to hammer Cork on the head, bounce off with a hollow gonging sound and into the Reds' net. There was a loud sirening, ringing of bells and flashing of lights and the Greens' score was incremented by ten. Before any more killing could be done, the teams were whisked back to their starting positions, the force fields were activated and a new ball was placed at centre field. The Improvise men, not being recognized by the computer, were also put there. Spook pulled out his communicator, wound it up and flipped it on.

"Beam us up, Mr Style," he said.

"What, so soon sir?" came the innocent query.

"Don't ask questions, Ensign! The natives are getting restless and we will be in great danger in about five minutes when the rest break is over!" Cork was coming to his senses slowly.

"Well, gee, that would be too bad, wouldn't it?" replied the transporter technician. Seeing what was happening, the others wound up their communicators and flipped them on too.

"Now see here, Style!" bellowed the Captain. "Why won't you beam us up? We're in big trouble down here!"

"I'm sorry, Captain, but the junior officers and crew have mutinied against the Bridge's overly oppressive, unproductive and lazy ways. Lt Yahura is now Captain Yahura, our noble leader."

"WHAT??" foamed Cork. "Yahura, I know you're listening in on this! What are you doing with my ship?"

"Preparing to leave orbit in five minutes, ex-Captain," she purred. "Oh yes, Dr Destroy has been replaced by Nurse Chapwell--" The quack sputtered furiously. "--Ensign Style is now Engineer Style--" Snott hiccupped insalubriously. "--Security Chief Bonbon and Master Chef Grunge are our navigators and Sub-Lieutenant Spark is our Science Officer." There were howls of outrage from Checkout, Bubu and Spook, who all thought they were irreplaceable.

"I'm shorry your mutiny hash to end thish way," said Snott, pulling a device from his pocket and hitching it to his communicator, "but time izh running out down here." It was thirty seconds to the second period. "Beam ush up!"

"Hey, what's happening? STOP!!" wailed the new Engineer. "You sneak, Snott!" he bellowed as the transporter energized itself. "I should have known you'd have something up your sleeve! I should have remembered the way you cheat at poker!" The game buzzer honked, the force fields disappeared and once more the teams charged for the ball. Despite last-minute attempts to sabotage the transporter, the six men shimmered and disappeared in a cloud of sparkle and rubber bands.

There were only twenty minutes left in the game and the Adults were determined to score. Their powerful wedge-shaped charge was met by a solid wall of Greens that folded around their flanks and savagely hacked them to bits. The ball was in the middle of the Red wedge, lost in a swirl of feet, legs and sticks. A misstep by Gordon tripped an "innocent" kid, who lost his balance while swinging at Cookie Monster and wound up hitting the ball with his downswing. A volley of Adult sticks sent the ball to the Green ten-metre line with fifteen minutes to play.

A band of recloned Foods, Muppets and Shorties waiting at the sidelines launched a counterattack from behind the Reds and managed to dent their drive before being steamrolled by a band of recloned kids. Atilla reached the ball first and belted it downfield, only to have it batted back by a kid thrown up into the air. Needless to say, said kid came down in several bloody chunks. There was now furious action around the Green goal as the Reds pressed their attack. Twenty stalwart Muppets stood guard in front, blocking all access, and these were defended by stick-swinging Foods who expertly decapitated Red after Red.

The only reason the Muppets weren't in the goal was because a solid force field, which they put their backs against, blocked them. Unfortunately, another vicious charge by Adults and kids was able to push, shove and hack its way through the Foods, decimate the goalies and pop the ball into the net.

With only five minutes remaining, the teams were once more transported to the starting positions. The real time was 11:30 and the scores were Red 293 438, Green 294 096.

"Is there anything set for this afternoon?" wheezed Handy. "I'm exhausted!" They all were. Clone machines didn't cure it.

"Well, I think I heard something about a car race," said Calvin Cauliflower, "but I don't think there will be enough killing lust left after this game to make it worthwhile."

"We're winning, anyway," assured Cathy, snuggling up. "We don't have to worry about scoring again. Just get out there and slaughter them! Right, Casper?" The Cheesecake started.

"Right!" he enthused. "There's nothing like the feeling of a hockey stick connecting with an enemy!"

"What about your being a quiet, peaceful Food?" smirked Betty Broccoli. "I remember that." Casper blushed guiltily.

"Heh-heh, uh, if you're doing something, you might as well enjoy it," he offered. "It's almost time to begin." Sure enough, the buzzer honked and both sides stampeded once more, this time throwing every single person into combat. The ball was all but forgotten in the seething, chopping mass of furiously bloodthirsty Poppy Streeters. The Reds quickly cut the lead from 658 to only 50 as both scores topped the 300 000 mark. Bertram Broccoli, who appeared beside Beatrice Bread on the sidelines near centre field, spoke to her.

"They're fighting harder than ever!" he remarked. "As if that were actually possible."

"If I heard Kermit correctly during the break, the leadership of the City depends on the outcome of this game. With our help, the Muppets have the upper hand, but it will be a squeaker." They rushed back to engage some clones who were fighting with Casper and friends. Casper, who was temporarily unoccupied after dispatching Gordon, saw that Greedy was in trouble, so he decapitated the attacker from behind, then ducked to avoid the same fate from a kid. A quick chop to the throat by Bertram ended the problems there. Now there was only one minute left.

Suddenly, about fifteen Adults and "innocent" kids broke free from the main battle zone and charged upfield with the ball. Only Casper, Bertram, Belinda and Greedy, at the 22-metre line, were between them and the goal, so the four did what any other Poppy Streeter would have done in the same situation. They pulled out their pistols, which they had forgotten until now, and shot them. They then clouted the ball as high as they could.

Now that the precedent was set, the remaining 45 seconds of the game was spent shooting everyone who moved. Heads exploded, guts exploded, blood flew in clouds and screams were deafened by shooting. Players were getting killed so fast they began killing each other on the sidelines (no side was reserved for each team's clones) to save time. By the time the final honk came, the field was a bloody, churned-up quagmire littered with unreclaimed corpses, organs and spent shell casings.

In those 45 climactic seconds, both scores topped 400 000 where they had been about 320 000 before. The teams were placed in their starting positions as the last people on the field died. The final score was Adults and "innocent" kids 438 644; Muppets, Snuffs, Shorties and Foods 438 644. The tension was electric. The only sounds audible were the wind and someone, buried beneath a pile of bodies, noisily dying. Then there was only the wind.

The Greens' score changed to 438 646. The field erupted with the sounds of wild cheering, yelling, screaming and joyful discharges of firearms, but not just from the victors. The Adults and kids were whooping it up too.

"We win! We win!" they all screeched. The field blew up cataclysmically and was replaced by the park it had displaced. Bob violently acquired a bullhorn.

"Yah, yah! You clods may have won, but it wasn't a decisive victory!" he jeered. "Therefore we still control the City!"

"You stupid (blankity-blank)!" shouted someone, reputed to be Oscar. "Your father was as effective as a bent golf club and your mother drank like a camel!" Bob turned a reddish hue.

"She smelled like one too!" said Grover with the aid of a bullhorn of his own. The Muppets who, like the men, had reappeared in full battle dress, began readying their weapons. There were laughs, especially from the Adults and kids, who'd known her better than the Muppets had. Bob turned purple and foamed.

"I can see the family resemblance!" shouted Marvin, who'd never even seen her.

"AAARRGGHH!" roared Bob, ripping his bullhorn to pieces. "Kill them! Kill! Kill! Kill!" He whipped out a heavy machine-gun and opened up on the crowd. His face was the colour of an overripe grape, which nicely accentuated his yellow, pointy teeth. The Muppets shot back and a grenade blew apart his head and torso. With yells, the Muppets surged forwards.

"Now's our chance!" shouted Cookie Monster. "Get them Adults while they're still here so we can take over! To the palace!" The Foods, Snuffs and Shorties, unaccustomed to such prolonged exposure to this vigorous and unorthodox type of exercise, were too tired to follow the Muppets as the park rapidly emptied. The 218 out-of-towners, at Florence Fudge's suggestion, trudged to a Susan-brand grocery store, smashed their way through the booby-traps and had lunch. It was 1:00 before they finished.

"Let's go back to the village and party!" enthused Lazy before falling unconscious. Strawberry Shortcake rebutted.

"Let's go back to the village before we get killed, get some sleep and THEN party!" This seemed reasonable enough.

"No hanky-panky though!" warned Len Lettuce sleepily.

"Not before our naps, anyway," leered Linda.

"I hope I can remember the spell," said Papa dubiously. Then one of Bob's Security Police tanks ground around the corner. "Wobba wooga nogga nooga!" chanted the Snuff quickly. They all vanished in a cloud of clinkers and cigar butts and subsequently reappeared on the bridge of the Improvise, which was still in orbit around the planet. Captain Cork was scolding Yahura.

"Really, Lieutenant, how could you possibly think it takes only five minutes to leave orbit?" During this, she was performing stretches and other maneuvers that revealed all sorts of interesting parts of her anatomy and his eyes were bugging out. "I just, uh, hope that you don't pull any more practical jokes like that..." He stopped being intelligible because his tongue was hanging too far out.

"Yoyo bolo polo!" recited Papa and the visitors vanished in a cloud of Klaxon propaganda pamphlets. The people on the bridge never even noticed, since they were all asleep as usual, save Cork and Yahura who were soon busy enough. Finally the Snuffs, Shorties and Foods appeared in the Snuff village, where they were supposed to, and they slept for four hours, weapons and all.

The party, the third in as many days, lasted well into the wee hours of the morning. Everybody had a good time, especially the ladies, once their needs had been fulfilled, and they all got well and truly drunk.

"Those wretched, stinking Snuffs!" snarled Gargamel at about 10:00 that night. "Why can't they have parties during the day when I'm not trying to sleep?" He had tricked Sour Grapes into believing that he was far away and was safe in his house. He went outside and fired several barrages with his battery of 135-mm howitzers. Though he couldn't see, they devastated the village and convinced Papa to throw up a silence field. "That's better!" He turned and walked into the arms and bosom of Sour Grapes.

"Nice try, Gargamel," she said. "But I saw through your little ploy. You're all mine now." He was not given a chance to reply.

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