The Poppy Street War "Games"

This is dated May 14, 1985, with about a month and a half to go in Grade 13. May is a great month in London, Ontario. The trees and lawns are turning green, flowers are blooming everywhere you look, and it's usually damned difficult to stay indoors when it isn't raining. Before I moved to Toronto in 1989, I used to go out with friends of my brother to a river bottomland park a couple of kilometers from home to play survival games with slingshots and various organic ammo (usually grapes, but often chunks of potato and turnip, or jujubes when we really wanted to make a mark, and even bath oil beads). I've even played with paint pellet guns on a couple of occasions, but by then I'd pretty much outgrown it and the last experience, with a big game on an exceedingly hot and humid July 1 where I drank down 3 litres of water and sweated it all away while fighting heat cramps, finished it off. Here you can see what happens when my imagination got the better of me on this topic.
Copyright © Harold Reynolds, 1998.

The daily 6:30 am car bomb blew up with a pair of thunderous roars. The first one was the demolition charge for removing pesky obstacles like walls, trees, guards and tank traps. The second one was the car, driven at several tens of miles per hour, smashing the walls of Bob's palace and destroying itself, the wing of the palace and the sleeping Bob and Susan. Their clones reappeared in the shattered courtyard.

"(Honk!) those (blank)ing Muppets!" yelled the ruler of Poppy Street City in psychotic rage, grabbing a chunk of masonry and ripping it to pieces. "I've had it! The first time, yeah, maybe it's funny! The second time it's not so great! But ten whole days in a row? Gnarl!" He jumped up and down.

"One would think they were trying to get your goat," said Susan mildly, walking towards an undamaged tree dressed in her slinky black leather negligee. Bob, his tantrum more or less abated for the moment, stomped after her. They stopped by the broken body of a guard killed by the blast. A bird twittered in a tree as the sun's first rays transformed the leaves into gold. As the twittering continued, Susan picked up the ex-guard's submachine-gun and sprayed the crown of the tree with lead. Two bullet-ridden Muppets fell out, gushing gore.

"I'd forgotten that the birds had left," remarked Bob, directing a kick at a body with his slipper. There was a groan and a third Muppet fell from a branch onto him, who staggered and shrugged him off.

"How do you keep getting past our defenses?" purred Susan.

"You'll--glurp--never find out from me," gasped the creature. His eyes glazed over and she gouged them out with her razor-sharp fingernails in annoyance.

"I wish we had something to do," she sighed, licking her fingertips.

In the forest on the same island some 80 miles north was the little Snuff village. Actually it wasn't totally the Snuffs' because the Shorties had moved in, now that they had found them. The Shorties were female types who had pungent body odours that resembled their names and who lusted after anything male. The Snuffs were male, save for Snuffette who had laid her claim to Clumsy, and had been avoiding the Shorties for some time until a chance meeting with a gang of Foods a little while ago.

The Foods had left again for the mainland after a bizarre series of incidents involving them, several officers from the U.S.S. (Uninterrupted Sustained Snoring) Improvise, Gargamel's spells and the Poppy Street Olympics. The Snuffs, Poppy Streeters and Shorties were bored, for their normal routines had been thrown out of whack.

"I hate boredom!" snapped Grouchy Snuff, throwing a hand grenade through Vanity's open window. There was a loud explosion and chunks of blue meat shot through the window.

"Grouchy, you didn't have to do that," scolded Papa Snuff, rounding a corner and wagging a finger.

"Papa, you come back here!" It was Strawberry Shortcake, who wanted him for entertainment purposes. The Snuff hurried on.

"I just remembered I have to go get some magic berries," he muttered. Meanwhile, not too far away in the forest, Gargamel and his cat Asriel had managed to escape from his house and the clutches of the voracious Sour Grapes and were making themselves scarce. Gargamel was an evil, two-bit wizard whose spells were not altogether reliable. Sour Grapes was the former quasi-ruler of the Shortie tribe, had a figure that wowed everybody except Gargamel and was a sorceress to boot. Her spells were little better than his. In fact, all magic on the island of Poppy Street was suspect even at the best of times.

Gargamel certainly wasn't bored. Apart from the lusting of Sour Grapes, which always kept him on his toes (and back), he had yesterday received a tight-beam radio message from Poppy Street City. Apparently Gordon and some of his henchmen had formed an alliance with a group of Muppets, all intent on the usual ideal of overthrowing Bob. It was they who had been planting the car bombs.

"Everybody here in Poppy Street is bored," Gordon had said. "Life has ground to a halt; that is, everyone is working and nobody is fighting. Dictator-For-Life Bob had been watching the news yesterday and one of the things featured was something called a "Survival Game" which the Foods have been playing. It involves shooting opponents with paint-pellet guns and trying to steal a flag from the opposite team."

"I'll bet Bob was very interested," Gargamel had replied.

"You should have seen him," Gordon had chortled. "He was drooling with anticipation thinking of ways to massacre the Muppets. But what I was wondering was if you could get the Snuffs and Shorties to join us. They really hit it off with the Muppets a while ago when we had the Poppy Street Olympics and I thought we could all join up and kill him."

"Sure!" Gargamel had said. "I'll leak the news to them in the usual way and they'll probably magic their way over. Maybe that will stop their infernal partying!" Gargamel hated the Snuffs virulently, the way some people hated spiders, small multi-legged insects or Knock-knock jokes.

Now that he was out of the house, he decided to act on his news dissemination plan. He and Asriel ambled aimlessly but quietly along the forest paths looking for Snuffs to capture. Sure enough, down by a Snuffberry patch, he found some.

"Greedy Snuff, why are you such a pig?" It was Brainy Snuff, going into lecture mode in his loud, nasal voice. Gargamel made a note not to catch him because the other Snuffs probably wouldn't bother to rescue him. "All the Snuffberries you could eat in an hour could feed three Snuffs for two days! It's a real surprise to me that you aren't fat! You know what Papa Snuff says about fat--" He was cut off by Poet Snuff idly stabbing him in the back with his hunting knife and ripping out his kidneys. Brainy died protesting.

"This is rather boring," yawned Dreamy, kicking Lazy into a semblance of wakefulness. "I wish some thing would happen around here." Gargamel was not one to resist a straight line.

"RRRAAAAHHHHRRR!!" he yelled in a blood-chilling howl as he and the cat leaped from the bushes and pounced on the four, foot-high blue creatures garbed in white caps and pant-shoes. They panicked as usual and ran every which way, but Gargamel scooped up Dreamy, stuffed him in his pocket and ran off to his hovel.

"Papa Snuff! Papa Snuff!" shouted Lazy, Poet and Greedy as they raced into the village. "Gargamel grabbed Dreamy!" Papa stuck his head out the window of his lab, the sash of which promptly and heavily fell, severing his neck. The clone popped up a few feet away, cursing foully.

"I wish I hadn't bought those windows from that Gil U. Tine fellow in Poppy Street," Papa glowered.

"What do you mean Dreamy's been captured?" demanded Raspberry Tart, the Shortie who shared his living quarters.

"He ambushed us near a Snuffberry bush and took him away," babbled Greedy, eating a flower box in excitement. "Now we have to get him!" He rushed off to tell the others and to arm himself. Soon the entire expeditionary force of 99 Snuffs and 98 Shorties was marching to the rescue.

"Here they come already!" giggled Gargamel gleefully. He was anticipating watching the Survival Game and all its subsequent bloodletting he knew was inevitable on his TV. He had locked Dreamy in a cage lined with fake newspapers that he'd conjured up. They had headlines like "Bob to Battle Boredom by Bringing Big Blast!" and "Dictator Challenges Muppets to Survival Game!" The Snuff, the wizard noticed, was reading the stories avidly.

"What are you up to now, Gargamel?" asked Sour Grapes, who had been recently satiated.

"You, my dear, are about to witness a Snuff punitive raid." She could have sworn he'd said this gleefully. "Help me set up the defenses." He dug out a battered spell book and tossed it to her. "See what you can find in there." He grabbed another and they began chanting spells for a defensive perimeter, automatic mortars and howitzers and land mines outside the perimeter, which was a bright yellow line in a circle 330 yards from the castle.

When the Snuffs and Shorties began blowing up, they realized that they had been spotted.

"Spread out, surround the castle and attack!" shouted Papa from the rear, where he was hastily writing a will. Strawberry Shortcake caught him at it and ripped it up. He cringed.

"Git!" she suggested, booting him ahead. They broke into the clearing where the house was and spotted Gargamel and Sour Grapes setting up the artillery.

Upon being spotted, they waved their arms and chanted the start-up spells and the battle began. The 22 automatic howitzers and 13 automatic mortars fired 135-mm shells and 3-inch bombs respectively every two seconds in random patterns. These caused the Snuffs and Shorties considerable difficulties because they kept getting blown up by the shells before they could set up their own artillery. If by chance the clones appeared on the wrong side of the perimeter, they were promptly atomized with fearsome blasts into a noxious red vapour reminiscent of bromine. Everything and everyone was coated with a layer of gore half an inch thick which caused guns to explode if fired without being cleaned. The two humans were busy recording what they could with video cameras.

"Somebody do something!" shrieked Apricot in frustration after her twenty-fourth death and recloning. In response, Handy trod on a land mine nearby and was destroyed. All around her howitzer and mortar shells were exploding, dicing attackers, churning the earth into bloody muck and reducing visibility to ten feet due to red fog and black smoke. A fresh mortar appeared out of nowhere complete with ammunition, so she aimed in what she hoped was the right direction and began dropping the bombs in.

Hers was the first concentrated barrage the Snuffs and Shorties had gotten off for the whole half-hour of the attack. Fortunately for them, she lucked in and blew the targets up, though nobody could tell at first. With their loss, the spells expired, the guns vanished and so did the thunderous cacophony of destruction and disorganization. Once the air had cleared, the house was stormed, Dreamy was rescued and everyone pulled out.

"That was not very good," said Papa once they had returned to the village. "They won the battle 3500 to 2!"

"Well how in Snuff's name were we supposed to keep ourselves from getting blown up?" demanded Lemon Meringue.

"If you all had listened to Papa Snuff's orders instead of--" His unappreciative audience eviscerated Brainy and strangled him with his own intestines.

"Papa, my cage was lined with yesterday's "Poppy Street Slop" that talked about Bob challenging the Muppets to something called a "Survival Game". What is it?" Papa shrugged.

"We shouldn't get ourselves involved in Poppy Street affairs," he hesitated.

"If it's a Survival Game, there must be killing involved," said Hefty. "Sounds like fun."

"Remember all the fun we had the last time we were there?" wheedled Snuffette, tweaking Clumsy as he fell down.

"Not to mention the other times Gargamel has magicked them here," added Strawberry Shortcake.

"It will give us something better to do than put bombs in your lab," concluded Jokey. "Here Harmony, have a surprise!" He gave him a gaudily-wrapped present that blew up violently as soon as the ribbon was pulled.

"All right then," sighed Papa. "Clean yourselves up, grab some weapons and be here soon." There was a general stampede for the houses and back. As usual they had a wild variety of light to medium-heavy automatic and anti-tank weapons. Papa pulled out a small notebook in which he kept his more frequently used spells. "Gogo logo mogo dodo!" he recited, jumping up and down. "Poppy Street ahoy!" he added for clarification. They vanished in a cloud of cheap pixie dust and plastic fruit and reappeared with a bang in the middle of a large, ill-kept park, increased to normal human size. Unfortunately there was a Bob Security Police tank nearby.

"Run!" squealed Peach Delight as those with anti-tank weapons reflexively and accurately used them. Gargamel and Sour Grapes, snuggled in front of their several large-screen TV sets with bowls of popcorn and junk food, watched as the tank was destroyed and its occupants grilled alive. The alert Muppets spotted them as they barged into one of Susan's chain of El Cheapo grocery stores past the booby-traps and began eating everything edible.

"I take it that you heard of the Survival Game?" inquired Grover, a hairy blue creature with a big nose as they were hustled to a secret warehouse. Kermit the Frog quickly introduced them to the rest of the Muppet High Command. They also noticed a couple of TV cameras placed in front of Cookie Monster's desk.

"Bob is due to make an official broadcast about now," said Kermit, turning on a large-screen TV. A loud, brassy fanfare sounded, during which there was a long shot of the palace, followed by a shot of Bob's face superimposed on a crowd of cheering Muppets, Adults and "innocent" kids. Throughout the city, watchers of the program booed lustily. The shot had been taken after Bob had been forced to concede defeat in the Poppy Street Olympics when the palace had been captured and savagely defended and looted by the Muppets. Bob appeared, sitting at a desk.

"Fellow Poppy Streeters," he began, "and especially the great unwashed known as Muppets..." A smoke bomb was hurled through the picture window behind him and began doing its thing. Bob ignored it. "As you have doubtlessly heard through my leaky security system..." He glowered. The shot changed to and from a couple of bullet-ridden security guards. "They're sure leaky now! Haw-haw!" he added brutishly. His bearded face leered malevolently. A mysterious hand reached from the roiling smoke and ripped the fake beard off his face. He roared with rage and pain.

"Anyway, as you have doubtlessly heard, I have come up with an ingenious new pastime. I call it the "Survival Game"." At this point Cookie Monster made a motion and a pair of Muppets flipped switches.

"So do the Foods on the continents," said the leader of the Muppets and the switches were flipped off. Cookie had temporarily jammed the broadcast. The smoke bomb had expired, leaving sooty stains on everything, including Bob's purple face.

"Well fine then!" he yelled, infuriated by such cheek. "We the Adults and "innocent" kids, represented by me, do hereby challenge you scumbag Muppets, Snuffs and Shorties to a Survival Game! Do you accept?"

"What are the rules?" demanded the Monster, repeating the above procedure.

"Easy. The object of the exercise is to capture the enemy's flag and bring it back to your own base without getting killed in the process. But considering the scale we'll be operating on, I have decided to alter the rules."

"What gives you the idea the Snuffs and Shorties are here?" asked Oscar the Grouch.

"I have my ways," Bob smugged, "especially when one of my poor defenseless tanks gets blown up by a mob of savage blue people and smelly females that appear out of nowhere. The idea will be this. There will be six bases, a "dead zone" and two re-entry points." Bob was about to elaborate when his chair unexpectedly collapsed. Four Adult stoolies hustled in and frogmarched the astonished dictator out before he could yell for help. Gordon stood up from behind the desk, holding the length of two-by-four that he had used to knock out the pre-cut legs of the chair. He grinned toothily, chucking the chair out the broken window with a crash.

"At the bases," said the rebel, "there will be a sign-in sheet, complete with attached pen. Anyone trying to steal the pens will be shot." A ruckus erupted off-camera as the stoolies engaged Susan's counter-attack squad. He shouted to be heard over the rattle of gunfire. "When you and your small party manage to capture a base, you sign in and indicate the team--Muppets or Adults. The time will be automatically noted. After the game is over, the lengths of time each team held the bases will be added and the head of the winning team will become leader of the City!"

"NO!" shouted Bob angrily from his manacles. "I won't permit it!" Gordon smirked.

"Somebody shut him up," he suggested. There was a clinking of unlocking restraint devices, followed by scuffling, a crash of glass and a scream. There was a moist thump a second later. Gordon was killed rapidly when a rocket-propelled grenade shot through the third-floor window-hole and exploded. Blood and guts, as they were wont to do in situations such as these, sprayed all over. The camera wasn't damaged because it was indestructible, just like the flying cameras that recorded the action for the TV program "Poppy Street." Susan charged in moments later, saw the camera and grinned foolishly.

"The rules," prompted Cookie Monster.

"Oh yes, the rules," she giggled girlishly, spotting Gordon's half-blasted head and drop-kicking it out the window. "The only weapons you will be allowed are light hand weapons--rifles, sub-machine-guns, pistols and grenades--as well as swords, clubs, knives and other hand-to-hand implements. NO ARTILLERY! You will have the entire afternoon from 12:00 pm to 5:30 pm to play in. Since it is 10:23 now, I suggest you pack something to eat and drink." Gordon's clone suddenly leaped in, bleeding from several stab wounds acquired in a knife fight, and cut her head off with his machete and a gush of gore.

"All right Cookie Monster, the deal is off! Go fight your own battles!" Nobody in the warehouse was at all surprised by this perfidy, for it was as common as "stabbing" people in the game of Diplomacy, which was very popular with the Poppy Street Islanders. On his signal, Oscar pushed a button that blew up Gordon's headquarters by remote control, annihilating the forces defending and besieging it.

The next hour an a half was spent in frenetic activity gathering food, drinks and weapons. The Snuffs and Shorties did some target practice on some "innocent" kids, Adults and even the odd Muppets who were foolish enough to stray into the open. They rarely ever missed.

"What are "dead zones"?" Jokey asked Ernie, tossing a present out a window at a passing Mr Hooper.

"It's the area you pop up in after you're killed. You have to stay there--" He paused while the "present" smeared Mr Hooper noisily around the neighbourhood. "--for twenty minutes in order to "regenerate". After that, you are teleported to the re-entry zone by the clone machine and you start off. If it gets crowded, the times get shortened."

"Fun, isn't it?" asked Ernie's arch-rival Bert, "accidentally" spraying him with a bottle of pop he'd shaken before opening. He laughed loudly, as did the others. Finally, the magic hour arrived and Bob's face appeared on the screen again.

"Since all of you are crack shots, not to mention crack pots..." He waited for the expected hoots and catcalls to die down. "...I have decided to make it more fair by introducing an element of inaccuracy in the guns you will be using. It will make things that much more exciting and fun." He got grudging agreement from everyone. "Ready? Here we go! Yurble globba gnack ploople!" he chanted, waving his arms in vaguely pentagrammic shapes. The entire city, all ten square miles of it, was destroyed and was replaced by the playing area.

It was bisected east-west by a fifty-foot deep valley that had a good-sized stream meandering through it. The slopes of the valley were quite steep in most places and consisted of soil, clay, dirt and other overburden usually associated with a glacial misfit stream. On either side of the valley the land sloped gently upwards into hills at the north-west and south-east corners. It was here that the main bases were located. Other bases were located on the slopes of the ravine and the non-valley part. The Adult re-entry zone was at the west end of the valley and the Muppets' was at the east. The dead zone was in the middle and the whole area was thickly forested and full of undergrowth.

"Little does Bob know that I have brought my new Banzai Belt. Won't he be surprised!" chortled Bert. Both teams had appeared around their main bases, with the Adults in the north.

"Okay gangie-wangie," boomed Bob over a neat sound system, "let the game begin! We'll show you who's boss around here!" Cookie Monster rallied his team around their main base, ignoring for the moment the infighting going on between Oscar and Big Bird. Oscar was losing. He made a brief but useless speech, since nobody listened to him as usual, and they all split up. As they found out after Grouchy Snuff shot the Muppet, deaths brought about by infighting didn't plunk you in the dead zone but just caused the usual recloning to occur.

The first engagement occurred across the ravine a half hour later at Adult Station 3, the one on the slope. Hefty, Handy, Harmony, Grouchy, Greedy and Snuffette had been scrambling up the slope when they spotted the base not too far off. They also saw Mr Hooper and a pack of "innocent" kids. Everyone took cover behind trees and the unfinished fort and began firing and found that the guns were indeed inaccurate.

"Surrender you crackpots!" yelled Greedy. "You cannot hope to win!" He flung a grenade and a kid was no more, erupting with a flash of gore. As the battle and others raged, Papa Snuff was trying to cheat.

"Hmm," he was mumbling, leafing through his pocketbook "Spells You Can Perform in Three Minutes or Less". "I know there was something about accuracy spells in here. Maybe I can counteract Bob's magic and teach him a lesson!"

"Papa Snuff, what are you doing?" said Brainy, stumbling across his little hidey-hole. Papa cursed.

"Ah, here it is!" he exclaimed, ignoring the other Snuff, who was alone because nobody would have him. "The accuracy spell! Yoobie goodie elsie mego squelcha! Koko blatz, baseball bats!" He jumped up and down three times, did a pirouette and shot Brainy with his pistol. The last was not in the spell book. A thunderhead appeared out of nowhere and a hail of golf balls, rubber chickens, moldy truffles and overripe broccoli pelted the playing area.

"What's going on here?" demanded Gordon and Ernie, who both saw their teams get brained by golf balls before their very eyes. Just as suddenly, the cloud was gone. So were everyone's guns. Their swords, knives, maces, axes and other hand tools were still there, as well as grenades and Bert's Banzai Belt.

"Now look what you've done!" yelled Bob over his sound system. "We'll have to do without! My magic won't bring them back!" As it turned out, magic wouldn't work any more at all. Then the cloud reappeared and showered forth great quantities of burnt beans, plastic plants, chocolate bars, dead cow carcasses and assorted eating utensils, mostly knives, which killed many.

"Oh Snuffette, love of my life!" Grover was saying to her at the time. Her reply was cut short by a Bowie knife embedding itself in her left eye, causing her to die. "Oh no!" wailed the unhappy Muppet. His sorrow ended when a cleaver chopped his skull in two. Blood sprayed about, turning green to red.

"Sorry, I forgot the grenades," boomed a disembodied voice. The cloud vanished and so did the grenades.

"Well, it looks like hand-to-hand combat for the rest of the day," sighed Susan. She brightened up when she remembered the sorts of atrocities that went hand in hand with knives and swords. The carnage began in earnest.

The battle for hillside Adult Station 3 began as the bolstered Muppet-Snuff attackers charged the Adult-"innocent" kid defenders from both uphill and downhill, for some had gone around.

"Aiyee!" howled Mr Hooper as his head was stove in by an improvised mace. All through the area the clangs, clanks, screams, shouts, oaths and yells sounded. The Adults of the station were bloodily massacred at the cost of a dozen attackers. Greedy signed the paper and the time, 1:03, duly appeared beside his name.

Elsewhere, a Shortie patrol stumbled into an "innocent" kid ambush. Blood and diced body parts flew and the dry earth greedily sucked up the fluids, forming a slippery, slimy muck. Lemon Meringue smashed her saber into a kid's head, but it was harder than it looked and it got stuck halfway into the skull. She died while trying to yank it out as another kid severed her torso from her legs. Orange Blossom and a kid named Freddy had squared off and were swinging away at each other with battleaxes they could barely lift.

"Take that you despicable varmint!" said she, letting forth a swipe. The kid ducked and her axe sliced through a good-sized tree that fell and brained someone else.

"And here's one for your mother, stinky stumper!" Freddy retorted. His axe handle proved its defectiveness during the swing when the head fell off and embedded itself in Raspberry Tart. With a scream, she slipped in the mud and her razor-sharp boomerang flew off its intended course and amputated Freddy's head.

As time progressed, it became apparent that the Muppets had taken the offensive and the Adults the defensive. The Snuffs and Shorties more or less dissociated themselves from the Muppet masses and had formed their own crack commando squads where possible. To avoid unruly behavior in the dead zone, it was split in half by a force field that vigorously dismembered everything that touched it with violent pulses of electricity.

The first attack on a major base was by Big Bird and the Snuffelopagus on Bob's hilltop, fortified with cut down trees and great heaps of underbrush. The two were smashing through the forest at top speed, waving 40-pound claymores in each paw as if they were rapiers and chopping all opposition to stewing-beef size with effortless strokes.

They had fought their way across the ravine with savage ferocity with the aid of a pack of Muppets and Shorties, but most of the latter had been butchered in the process. What few had made it had engaged a group of twenty Adults, killing many before finally being overwhelmed and crushed. Leaving battered and dismembered corpses littering the forest behind them, Big Bird and the Snuffelopagus barged towards Bob's stronghold, ignoring the far-off cries of triumph as kids captured Muppet Station 2.

Finally they came in sight of their objective and Bob, who was looking rather pale. On his yell, reputedly caused by Susan sticking him in the backside with her stiletto, some "innocent" kids and Adults released a tree trunk from above the attackers. It fell on their heads with a dull clunk, but didn't even cause them to stagger. Then a huge swarm of bad guys dropped from the trees and leaped from the bushes, all wielding knives of various lengths, and began hacking and hewing.

"Charge!" squealed Painter Snuff and the contingent of 20 Snuffs, 17 Shorties and 60 Muppets who'd either been shadowing the progress of the battlewagons, had just arrived at the scene or had been hanging around scouting, assaulted the base, leaving the two big fellas to their fate, which was a foregone conclusion anyway. The two had done what they could, but were stopped in their tracks by the mob and were in imminent danger of death by loss of blood and/or body parts. So they both fell down suddenly and began rolling and kicking, squashing about 20 before dying. The whole area was left a red, sticky, goopy mess.

Grover had just had the pleasure of unzipping Bob from the abdomen to the neck with one upward stroke of his scimitar and had allowed it to continue over his head, where its point embedded itself in Cookie Monster's head with a meaty chunk. Grover whirled, saw the leader of the Muppets die, jumped back as Susan slashed at him with her broadsword and laughed as Blueberry Muffin buried an ice pick in her brainstem.

"Hail Grover, new leader of the Muppets!" she shouted loudly over the noises of the last defenders being executed.

"No I'm not!" he protested as the others finished their work and came to either sign the sheet or to mutilate Bob and Susan's bodies. There were only 31 of the original 97, none of which were the other members of the Muppet High Command.

"Sure you are," said a Muppet named Basil. "You fulfilled both obligations of killing Bob and the former leader in less than an hour, just as the charter brought up by Cookie Monster says."

"Congratulations!" said Clumsy Snuff, shaking his hand.

"But I don't wanna be the leader!" wailed Grover. He had good reason to whine, considering that the leadership of any faction in Poppy Street usually ends abruptly and messily.

"All the better!" chimed in Lazy Snuff. "It means he'll be a good and responsible leader of the City, once we overthrow Bob." Grover sighed and decided to shoulder his responsibility, even though he knew the angry Cookie Monster would disregard his own rules and try and get back the leadership. They prepared themselves for the inevitable counterattack.

Meanwhile, at the dead zone, the waiting period had been cut from twenty minutes to two because of the large number of casualties. Bob and Cookie Monster appeared on either side of the force field at the same time, along with the others involved in the battle. Bob let forth a volley of foul oaths that caused a big tree in front of him to explode into flame and burn rapidly. Cookie's mood, as predicted, was little better.

"Blast it!" he cursed to Kermit, who had died in defense of Muppet Station 2. "Now Grover is the official leader of the Muppets under the rule I created to try and prevent it!"

"That's good to hear," said Guy Smiley, shamelessly eavesdropping. He was a Muppet who looked more human than most. "You were in danger of becoming a dictator just as bad as Bob."

"I heard that Smiley!" snarled Bob, lunging at them and getting torn apart by the force field.

"What about those rumors I keep spreading--er, hearing--about your having pro-human sympathies?" said Kermit nastily. Guy bristled. "And how is it that you always seem to be the first one to know of Bob's purges or actions against us?" Guy turned purple.

"Hey, that's the same colour Bob turns just before apoplexy," commented Cookie Monster suspiciously.

"ALL RIGHT! THAT'S ENOUGH!" he yelled, brandishing his sword and and swinging at them. Kermit ducked, but in the wrong direction and lost the top of his head. Cookie was luckier and managed to run him through with a rapier. Then Ernie popped up.

"Hey, Ernie!" Guy shouted loudly from across the compound. "Grover is the new leader of the Muppets!"

"Shut up, you!" growled the Monster. "It's supposed to be a secret!" Guy blew a fruity raspberry and they all vanished in order of their deaths to reappear at the re-entry zones, thirsty for blood. As the afternoon and the killings ground ruthlessly on, it became obvious that ill will was festering among the Muppets and that the always shaky alliance was in danger of collapse. News of the sudden change of leadership didn't change things much, especially since this wasn't a situation in which a leader could exert a calming influence.

As expected, the possession of the bases seesawed back and forth all afternoon, with even the Muppet command base being captured and recaptured a few times. The Adults were careful to prevent Big Bird and the Snuffelopagus from rejoining and doing something like they did before. Handy Snuff had an idea around 4:30 whilst incarcerated in the dead zone. He told the other Snuffs and Shorties to wait by the re-entry zone to rest and to snag any others who might come out. Together they would try to take as many of the Adult and "innocent" kid bases as possible in the half hour remaining.

"Boy, am I hungry!" said Greedy, devouring a large bush.

"Since when is that news?" sniped Brainy, agilely dodging a knife. "Pig!" he added as an afterthought.

"Dolt!" insinuated Harmony, blatting a fearsome solo on his trumpet.

"Knock it off!" snapped Strawberry Shortcake, more to Harmony than the others. "Papa, let's go! I don't want to wait any longer!" Papa grudgingly agreed, weighing the risks of the Snuffs and Shorties becoming fractious with the chance of getting more.

"All right then!" he said decisively, interrupting Poet Snuff and Blueberry Muffin who were throttling Harmony and kicking at Brainy respectively, who in turn was insulting and dodging Apricot. "Off to Adult Station 2!"

Said Station was opposite the hilltop site on the same side of the valley and was currently being held by the Muppets and a few Shorties. All the Muppet Stations and the other Adult Stations were in their proper hands. Unlike the other bases, both Muppet and Adult Station 2's were in open meadows, surrounded by knee-high grass and colourful, fragrant flowers. Alas, it wouldn't be so for long.

"That's the fourth messenger to Station 2 that hasn't come back," said Bob in the hilltop fort.

"Maybe it's your breath," suggested Mr Hooper through a held nose. The dictator wasn't amused.

"NOT FUNNY!" he snarled over his and the other Adults and kids' laughter. A nearby bush his mouth was aimed at shrivelled and burst into flame, like the tree a while back.

"Yeah, I'm bushed too," punned Susan, noticing this.

"You shrub my back and I'll shrub yours," Gordon chipped in.

"Let's quit beating around the bush and get back on topic," suggested Bob. The others took heed of the threatening rasp in his voice, the steely glint in his eyes and the exposed dripping yellow fangs and shut up. "It is obvious that the Muppets and/or Snuffs and Shorties have the base. We must get it back. We shall have an all-out assault on it with every available man, woman and "innocent" kid. Any other ideas?" He idly pulled out his machete and sliced a six-inch thick branch off a tree with one swing.

"Not me!" the others chorused. Bob beamed.

"Good, good. Let's go." The others hastened to obey. They could tell he was in the mood for mass murder, and if they weren't mistaken he wouldn't care who was murdered. They weren't mistaken.

"Fine then," said Grover to the assembled Muppet High Command and other flunkies. Cookie Monster, Bert and the Snuffs and Shorties were noticeable in their absence. The former were at Muppet Station 3 on the valley slope. "We know now that some of our compatriots were holding Adult Station 2 a while ago with little more to kill than the odd spy. Bob will doubtlessly realize that something's amiss there and will hit it hard."

"What makes you think that?" asked Oscar.

"He's paranoid, twit," sniped Kermit. "He wouldn't even consider their hitting an ambush en route to or from the base."

"Yeah, he's so paranoid that if one Muppet stands at the palace gates and moons, he thinks there's a general insurrection underway," guffawed Ernie, chugging a thermos of 180-proof rum.

"That's because there usually is," said the Snuffelopagus. "I say we all move to support the base before Bob finds and stomps it." The others echoed support for the upcoming Armageddon.

"Off we go!" enthused Grover. They began the treacherous traversal of the valley. As it turned out, the Snuffs and Shorties got there first. They set up guards all around the field, who soon spotted the first of the Muppet contingent marching irregularly through the woods. Shortly after this, the Adults arrived.

"Holy (bleep)! It's Bob!" shrieked Strawberry Shortcake. "The Adults are coming, the Adults are coming! To arms, to arms!" she howled, running back towards the base, followed by the others.

"But Strawberry, we already have two arms," said Papa, who was back at the base, as they drew their weaponry. The Adult force spread out and occupied the west end of the meadow, shouting obscene suggestions to their foes, who returned fire with Knock-knock jokes sung in chorus. There was a noise as several trees became matchwood and Big Bird and the Snuffelopagus emerged from the woods clad in rough armour made from bark. Cookie Monster was with them. He bellowed:

"All right Bob, you've always said you wanted a showdown and here it is!"

"On the count of three, charge!" shouted Grover, drowning out the ex-leader. "One! Two! Three! CHAAARRRGGEE!!" Yelling and screaming their war cries, most of which made no sense whatsoever, they did so. Brainy was doing the same as the others, but was by some mysterious coincidence going in the opposite direction. Papa caught him at it and forced him to go ahead. Papa was cursing under his breath because now he couldn't run away.

Initially 100 metres apart, with the base in the middle, the two armies raced towards each other, sounding like a herd of buffalo running over a wooden boardwalk or one of Mr Hooper's migraines amplified 30 times. After about five seconds of gaining speed, they plowed into each other and the base and the meadow became total losses. The area became a seething mass of hacking, chopping, screaming, dying, bleeding and variously slicing Muppets, Snuffs, Shorties, Adults and "innocent" kids.

Big Bird and the Snuffelopagus steamrolled their way into the mess by sheer momentum, trampling several with their big flat feet and killing others with their claymores before they once more were overwhelmed by the knife-wielding enemy. This time, however, the layer of attackers was covered by another layer of viciously defending Muppets. As the layers piled on, the original cores were chopped up into a bloody mess and the soil became a morass.

Everywhere the savage rule of kill and be killed cut the numbers down from 2000 to 1000 to 500 to 250 and less and less. Heads, blood, arms, fingers, blood, guts, swords, baseball bats, blood, clubs and other assorted yuck flew through the air. Within the space of fifteen minutes, the battle was over. There was not a single living soul left. It was very quiet except for the wind in the trees and the sound of a scavenger arriving.

"Hey, where is everybody?" demanded Brainy in his nasal voice. He had been one of the first killed and the only one with the desire to rejoin the fight. He squinted through his glasses and spotted the flapping piece of paper that was the sign-up list attached to the lone tree that was the remnant of the base. Checking his watch and finding only a few minutes left in the game, he slithered his way across the ex-meadow and signed the blood-spattered paper with a flourish.

"Hey, this is a nice pen," he said covetously. Looking furtively around, he broke the chain with a yank and stuffed it in his pocket. To his surprise, and as Gordon had predicted, a three-inch recoilless rifle poked from the tree trunk and blew him up.

But at the dead zone, things were no better. It was only five minutes to 5:30 and Bob's spell was wearing off. That is to say, the barrier between the Men and the Muppets shorted out and vanished. Another violent battle ensued, for they still hadn't slaked their blood lust. Here, the clone machine dutifully popped the clones into the dead zone, but since this was the source of the deaths the fight became chaotic. Then, at 5:29:00, a momentous event in the history of Poppy Street happened.

"BANZAI!" shouted a rather garbled version of Bert's voice. He had been on the top of the hill watching the dead zone for a while and getting a breather when the force fields vanished. He saw a perfect opportunity to test his Banzai Belt, which he hadn't been able to do all afternoon. So he used a small tree to catapult himself into the middle of the fray while ripping off his shirt.

On the sound of the code word, the twelve mini-machine-guns placed symmetrically about a thick belt around his waist and at slight angles to it began firing explosive bullets. The whole system began rotating counterclockwise propelled by the recoil. All around him, people were slaughtered, blown up and/or diced as he just stood there grinning malevolently. This carnage lasted for one minute until the spell expired and Poppy Street violently replaced the playing field. All the combatants appeared randomly throughout and quickly gelled into their respective groupings.

"Papa Snuff," whispered Hefty as all the other Snuffs and Shorties clustered around, "why don't you, when you're sending us home, send the Shorties to Shortietown where they belong? We could send their belongings back by return-of-spell." Papa wavered.

"It would bring the excitement back into our relationships," wheedled Painter, overhearing. Papa looked very, very tempted.

"Strawberry Shortcake wouldn't be pestering you," Hefty said.

"What's that? Who said my name?" demanded Strawberry.

"Ready?" called the aged but not old Snuff, ignoring her. "Gurba gawa Shortie nigack Shortietown!" The Shorties disappeared in a cloud of plastic dandruff and tinsel. "Doo-wap shebang gogo twist!" They vanished amidst a rain of paper boats and reappeared once more in their beloved village. Papa magicked away the Shorties' possessions and set up a confuse spell to surround the village that the blue critters were immune to.

"I'm tired," said Lazy, falling asleep in the village square. The others made it to their houses before doing the same.

"WE'VE BEEN TRICKED!" squawked Apple Dumpling as the Shorties realized where they were. Then they were showered with their own junk and had to scurry about collecting it. This wasn't too hard because everything stank like its owners. They too collapsed of exhaustion once the village had been tidied.

During all of this, Gargamel and Sour Grapes had been having the time of their lives. They had watched and taped the entire day's events with the aid of the mobile indestructible air-cameras that ordinarily filmed the occurrences. After passing through an editing computer, the events were broadcast to the mainland and it was this broadcast that the Terrible Two were tapping. They made special note of scenes where Snuffs and Shorties were slaughtered.

The only place that wasn't peaceful was Poppy Street and it wasn't peaceful because Cookie Monster was trying to reassert his leadership of the Muppets, but to little avail.

"We, Bob, Emperor of the City, do hereby recognize Grover the Impudent as the new leader of the Muppets, the band of losers who can't seem to admit to their defeat in their constant attempts to overthrow moi," Bob announced on the 6:00 news. "Oh yes, as for the results of the game, the Muppets were easily crushed by us--"

"Wrong, boyo!" interrupted Grover, jamming the broadcast. "We controlled the bases for a grand total of 19.8 of a possible 33 hours (5.5 hours times 6 bases) or 60%. We also killed more of you than you killed of us. Therefore, due to your promise, we are the rightful rulers of the City!"

"BOSH! I MADE NO SUCH PROMISE!" bellowed Bob furiously. "Gordon said it, not me! If you want control, you'll have to fight for it!" He signed off in a huff. Cookie Monster was incensed. As Grover was driving home in his blue car with the big nose hood ornament, he saw the Monster's big brown car several blocks ahead of him going the other direction. He apparently saw him at the same time. Both of them floored the accelerators and moved into the middle of the roadway.

Fortunately it was otherwise deserted. With a screech of tortured rubber they took off and Grover watched his speedometer climb to 150 km/h in 5 seconds, up from the original speed of 55, and Cookie's did the same. Kermit, Guy Smiley and Oscar turned around a corner and saw the two cars collide at 160 km/h each. Since they were heavily armoured, the impact didn't fold them like accordions but caused the rear ends to shoot up and smash into each other as well.

Glass fragments and shards of metal and engine parts flew for hundreds of metres and the vehicles smashed back on their wheels, which were solid rubber anyway. Then they blew up. The clones popped up far apart though and eluded one another for the moment. For better or worse, none of the spectators was hit by fragments, although a rear-view mirror embedded itself three feet into a concrete wall nearby.

Once more the sun set over Poppy Street Island, its equilibrium restored after a tough, grinding day's work. Nevertheless, at 6:30 the following morning Bob's palace was demolished once more by a car bomb.

"Old habits die hard," Gordon cackled.

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