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"Aah, what a beautiful morning," enthused Papa Snuff, sticking his head from the upstairs window of his house and snuffing the fresh air. The summer morning's sun shone brightly on the little Snuff village, nestled deep in a lush, green forest. A gentle breeze rustled through the leaves of the gigantic (to them, for they were only a foot tall) trees and occasionally wafted through and around their mushroom-shaped and brightly-coloured homes. The birds were singing joyfully, the squirrels were chattering and arguing and the rest of the Snuffs were going about their tasks laughing, singing and talking as if they hadn't a care in the world. Papa smiled as he heard Brainy Snuff's distant voice, nagging as usual.
"Lazy! Get up! You know what Papa Snuff says about Snuffs who don't pull their fair share of the load! That's better! Now I'm sure that...HEY! PUT ME DOWN! NO, NOT THERE, IDIOT! YAAAHHH!!" There was a loud splash as Brainy hit the bottom of the well.
"Good morning, Papa Snuff!" said Harmony, walking by with some firewood on one blue shoulder (the Snuffs were sky blue, you see) and his ever-present trumpet slung on a strap over the other. Papa waved back at him and returned the greeting. "What a beautiful day! The sun is shining, the birdies are singing, what could possibly go wrong?" Little did he know.
"Oh, hi Harmony!" said Clumsy, staggering around Hefty's house next door to Papa's. He was carrying too much, as usual: a double armload of wood and a bucket of water to boot.
"Looks like you spoke too soon," said Papa as a breeze teased his full white beard and moustache.
"Oh, hi Papa Snuff!" said Clumsy, looking up. "Oops!" He promptly tripped over a branch lying on the ground and flew forward, flinging his load every which way. Harmony leaped to one side to avoid the pail and in doing so lost his balance and fell down too. Papa snickered.
"OW!" howled Harmony. He had landed on his trumpet and his wood had landed on him. As the two were floundering about, Hefty appeared, also carrying some wood.
"Hey, Papa Snuff," he greeted him. "You ought to tell these two that littering is in bad taste!"
"That's not funny, Hefty!" said Clumsy, staggering to his feet and pushing the white cap that he and all the other Snuffs wore, save Papa who had a red one, away from his eyes.
"Oh no! My poor trumpet!" wailed Harmony, examining the mangled instrument. He tried a few test notes, but could only get a few strangled gasps and wheezes.
"Hey, that sounds better than usual," quipped Hefty, opening his door with a kick. He hustled inside as the trumpet bounced off the doorjamb.
"Well, I guess I'd better get started," laughed Papa as Clumsy and Harmony began picking up their wood. "I don't want to lose out on this beautiful day."
Meanwhile, deeper in the forest, Gargamel was hunting Snuffs with his cat Asriel and his 40-gauge shotgun. Gargamel was an evil, two-bit human wizard who hated Snuffs virulently, though just why was a mystery to all concerned. He had given up trying to catch them alive a while ago to torture them because the rest of the Snuffs would launch a violent attack on his large rambling hovel with their high-powered automatic weapons and artillery to regain their lost Snuff(s). Of course, Gargamel mused, skulking behind a tree, he was often able to butcher them all a couple of times over before they could storm his place, but of late he just didn't feel like the hassle was worth it.
"Grr! If it wasn't for those blasted clone machines, I'd have eradicated them all years ago!" he snarled to himself, pulling out of the clutches of an all-too-friendly thorn bush. "But then again, I'd be dead too," he added, then shrugged. The gun he had was very good for obliterating the little blue varmints, and that was what he intended to do.
"I hate the berry detail!" crabbed Grouchy Snuff's voice nearby. Gargamel and Asriel hid behind a Snuffberry bush.
"Oh, you hate everything, Grouchy!" retorted Snuffette as they and Dreamy and Vanity scooted under a small shrub to arrive at the Snuffberry bush, baskets in hand. Snuffette was the only female Snuff in the village. Instead of the usual white pants-shoes garment that the Snuffs wore, she had a white, patterned frock. Her cap was also bedecked with a few flowers. "EEK! IT'S GARGAMEL!" she squealed as the pseudo-mage poked his shotgun from the bush and fired, an evil leer on his face. She was blasted to bloody ribbons and Vanity and Grouchy were badly mangled by the exploding shot pellets. Dreamy was unable to get a shot away with his Snuff-sized pistol before he too was slaughtered gorily and the other two finished off.
"Hargh, hargh, hargh!" laughed the balding human as Asriel began noisily gobbling the remains. "I triumph again!"
"Whaat? Who make big noise to wake Bigmouth up?" roared a loud, groggy voice nearby. A large form Gargamel had assumed to be a fallen tree stirred and sat up. Bigmouth was an eight-foot tall ogre with a very large appetite and a very small brain. "You again?" he bellowed as he focused his gaze on the cringing wizard. "Bigmouth told you never bother him again! I kill with my bare hands!" He could too and Gargamel knew it all too well.
"Uhh, heh heh heh," he tittered weakly, stepping back a few paces as Bigmouth stood up and flexed his muscles. Suddenly he remembered the gun he was holding. "Arr, I'm not afraid of you, ya moron!" The human found out that the shotgun was also useful for obliterating unwanted ogres, and with very colourful results.
The loud booms of the weapon echoed through the forest and eventually rolled into the Snuff village. The Snuffs were puzzled because Jokey was there in the village. In fact, he had just accosted Brainy, Handy, Farmer, Painter and Greedy as they were venturing out to gather herbs.
"Hey guys, you remember the golf game we played a while ago?" he said. They nodded unwillingly, dreading what he'd say next. "Well guess what you'd have if you took a wedge, wrapped it around your hand and put it in a sand dune?"
"Beats me," shrugged Brainy before he could be stopped.
"A knuckle sand-wedge," said Jokey, poker-faced. The Snuff victims groaned and grimaced and Jokey laughed heartily.
"Brainy, you idiot!" cursed Farmer, kicking him. "You had to give him the straight line!"
"Don't take it out on me!" retorted Brainy, whacking him on the head with an empty pail. "You guys had it coming to you anyway! You never listen to what I tell you!"
"Here guys, have a present!" said Jokey, just before what looked like a major brawl was about to erupt. He propelled a large, gaudily-wrapped box across the grass towards them with his foot. "Bye now!" He scooted off.
"Oh boy, a cake!" said Greedy, diving for it, but getting tackled by Handy.
"You moron! It'll blow up on you! Don't you know by now?"
"Well then I'll have a blast eating it, won't I?" replied Greedy, wrestling furiously as Brainy and Farmer continued having at each other. Painter tried hopping delicately over the struggling two, but a stray leg tripped him and he fell on the box. From his vantage point a fair distance away, Jokey laughed as he saw the shredded Snuffs and their associated blood shoot skywards and heard the satisfying explosion of a job well done.
But before the rest of the Snuffs could react to this latest prank or to the gunshots, something even stranger occurred.
"La, la, la-la-la-la, la, le-la-la-la!" sang a high, cracked voice which was coming from the source of much crashing and smashing at the forest's edge. Suddenly, out lunged Bert, who was familiar to the Snuffs because they had visited Poppy Street City a number of times, always growing to normal human size via the clone machine first. The rapidly swelling crowd looked up at the 5'9" Muppet in disbelief.
"Bert, why are you blue?" asked Handy with a snicker.
"Hey, Bert, those white caps aren't meant for coneheads like you!" sniped Poet Snuff. Bert surveyed the crowd of 100 blue creatures and announced, still in the shrill voice:
"I am Bert the Snuff!"
"What?" asked that half of the village that wasn't giggling.
"I am Bert the Snuff!" he repeated, a glassy look in his eye. "Come! Let us sing and dance and play!" The Snuffs all exploded with laughter, and laughed even harder when the befuddled Muppet began skipping around and singing the Snuffs' "la" song. The delirious critters had to dodge out of the way of his large, flat feet, covered with what looked like his combat boots that had been painted white.
"HA! There you are, Bert!" yelled a loud voice from the woods. Suddenly, the entire village, the ground beneath it and the forest around it exploded. Dust, grass, wood and bits of pulverized organic life forms were flung all over what was left of the forest. When enough of the crud had settled out, there was a thunderclap of displaced air as a new village, this one scaled up to normal human standards, materialized from nowhere. The Snuffs, Bert and all the others reappeared exactly where they were before, relatively speaking. The Snuffs, of course, were a lot bigger.
"HA! There you are, Bert!" repeated the voice, a bit more uncertainly this time. "At last we have tracked you down! Give us back that information, spy!" From the forest poured twenty young Adults and older "innocent" kids, all screaming like banshees and waving a wild assortment of weaponry over their heads. All charged towards the central circular area, where Bert was.
"So, you thought you could get him without a fight, eh?" roared another voice from the opposite direction. "Muppets, do your duty!" From the other side of the village two dozen Muppets, also screaming like banshees, charged from the woods waving weapons over their heads. Gunfire and grenade explosions erupted as the opponents galloped into each other. The Snuffs ducked for cover and began hastening for their homes to arm themselves. Already Poppy Streeter clones were popping up and the bullets were flying thick, fast and indiscriminately.
"AHA! At last I have found the Snuff village!" crowed Gargamel, who'd been attracted by the ruckus. Waving his shotgun which, like all weapons, had a clone-a-matic magazine that replaced bullets as fast as they could be shot, he waded into the thick of the fray, shooting at everyone he could see and promptly getting blown up for his efforts by a bazooka rocket. Then, despite the noise of battle, which the Snuffs were just beginning to join with their customary gusto, they heard the dreaded chant of "Snuffs! Snuffs! Snuffs!" coming from 98 female throats.
"Shortie attack!" wailed the beleaguered Snuffs. Harmony let off an off-key blast from his repaired trumpet and Poet, who was near the switch, sounded the Shortie alarm, which added even more to the din. By now, several houses were on fire and smoke was drifting over the battlefield, adding more confusion to the situation. But despite all this, the Snuffs pulled themselves together and began living up to their warrior reputation by launching a vicious counter-attack, shooting everything that wasn't a Snuff and almost always hitting.
Strangely enough, the Poppy Streeters seemed content to withdraw from the village, its greasy, gory grass and rapidly increasing piles of torn-up bodies. They left only the Shorties and their dart guns, which shot small darts loaded with a powerful tranquilizer. The Shorties knew from experience that a cornered Snuff would suicide and escape rather than be captured, so they didn't want to give them the chance. Just why nobody else on the island of Poppy Street used the things too was a mystery to them, but they weren't about to tell.
"Well, that was a job well done," said Bert in his normal voice once the Poppy Streeters had collected in a pre-arranged clearing well away from the action. The sounds and smoke of battle were readily apparent, nevertheless. "I can hardly wait to get out of this stupid costume," he added, rubbing at his arm and smearing the blue body paint.
"It's almost a pity they can't pay us with money," said an Adult named Morton, examining his carbine for damage.
"Who cares about money?" retorted another Adult named Horton, who happened to be his twin brother. "It's easy enough to get. Fresh produce and baked goods that haven't been cloned 37 times are far better anyway." He began munching a carrot.
"I wonder what Bob and the Muppet High Command will think when they find out people and Muppets have actually been cooperating instead of trying to kill each other?" said a Muppet, shouldering an assault rifle.
"It won't take us long to find out," replied Bert, digging a small black notebook out from a pocket and opening it. "Ready gang? Yibble wibble gibble gabble! Poppy Street agroink!" The 45 Adults, "innocent" kids and Muppets vanished, leaving behind a flurry of grape jello cubes, and reappeared moments later in a downtown Poppy Street park twenty miles to the south.
"And some magicians wonder why people never take them seriously," laughed Morton. They all cheerily broke up, much to the amazement of passers-by.
"Fleet Brest to English Channel," read Lee Middleman from his order sheet, moving the cyan anchor token to the appropriate position on a board which represented an imaginary continent.
"You swine!" cursed Don Vanloony, who was playing a harried England. "That's MY territory! After all, it is the ENGLISH Channel, not the French Channel!" he fumed.
"Or the TV channel," added Harold Raymonds, who was playing Russia. Everyone groaned and threw junk at him.
"The English dictatorship will fall!" cackled Andrew Allerput, a short fellow with straight black hair, a fleshy nose and beady black eyes. He was playing Germany, was allied with France, and had moved before Don. He rubbed his hands gleefully. Germany was normally a tough country to play in "Diplomacy", but he had six units, including two fleets, one of which was trying to batter its way into the North Sea, a traditional English stronghold.
One could tell that the group had been here in the basement of Harold and Jamie Raymonds' house for a while because of the litter of potato chip bags, pop cans, half-eaten pretzel sticks, orange peels, apple cores, crumbs and other thankfully unidentifiable debris which was now approaching ankle depth. Don grabbed a nearby paper bag and pulled it over his head.
"No fair!" sulked the big blonde hunk of he-man. Lee made the rest of his moves, which put pressure on Italy.
"So, you think you can execute get-me-age, eh?" demanded the slightly demented Dave Simple, the Italian. "Well, let's execute France-smashage!" He made a few deft moves that to everyone's surprise resulted in the removal of a French army from Marseilles.
"That was not nice," scowled Lee, pushing his rimless glasses up his nose. There was a loud banging at the side door of the Raymonds' house and everyone jumped.
"It's probably some salesman," said Jamie. He was in Austria and was in a tight spot, with only three armies left in Greece, Albania and Serbia. The rest of the country was collectively occupied by Russia, played by his brother Harold, Italy and Turkey, played by Peter Strange. "The Austrian Republic is giving the lowlife invaders one last chance to leave its fair lands before the peasants revolt under their cruel yoke and slaughter them all!" None of the invaders looked particularly perturbed. "Albania to Trieste supported by Serbia and Greece supports Serbia."
"Aha! There they are!" came a voice from one of the open basement windows. The seven looked up to see the leering face of the much-hated Mr Frumpy, the Vice-Principal of Poppy Street Central Secondary School, of which they were either students or alumni, peering through the ground-level window and surrounded by the feet of his flunkies. "Mr Yoiks wants all of you right now!"
"Okay Peter, better make your moves quickly. It looks like we'll be away for a while," said Harold, reaching into a breast pocket, pulling out a remote-control device and pressing four buttons. Thick steel plates shot across the exterior portions of the windows and doors of the house. Peter made his moves as Harold got up, turned on a TV set and switched it to external monitoring. "Ho!" he said upon returning. "An attempt to steal my hard-earned Budapest! Well take that, varmint!" Harold had foreseen that move, knowing how treacherous the Turks were, and countered the problem easily. Then he deployed his two Black Sea fleets to threaten Ankara and Bulgaria. "Don, get yourself out of that bag! I'm coming to rescue you."
"What, help at last?" demanded Don, whipping off the bag. "It's about time!"
"I shall ignore your ingratitude for the moment," he replied snottily, then smiled hastily when Don made the customary threatening gesture. "Fleet Gulf of Bothnia to Baltic Sea..."
"Hey, that's mine!" said Andrew.
"Come on out with your hands up!" Mr Frumpy's malevolent voice bellowed from the TV.
"SCRAM, FATHEAD!" everyone chorused on Harold's signal.
"Oh yeah? Well take this!" shouted Mrs Rink, an English teacher. The view switched to her wiring a detonator.
"Everyone grab your weapons," said Peter. "The fun is about to begin." Since Diplomacy was a War Game of sorts, and since all of the people there were either War Gamers or associates, they had all dressed up in their best battle dress and had brought their full weaponry complement as well.
"Hey, let me get away, first!" howled Mr Frumpy.
"Warsaw to Silesia, Moscow to Warsaw, St Petersburg to Finland!" said Harold quickly. Then half of the rear of the house was blasted away by a powerful bomb. Those students who weren't killed, namely Lee, Don and Dave, put up a brief, ferocious battle that cut up half of the goon squad before they were clubbed on the head and dragged out to the waiting paddy wagon, weapons and all. With Peter, Andrew, Harold and Jamie they had a harder time. Their clones appeared across the street, but they were spotted as they dashed between two houses en route to a backyard. Otherwise, they would have gotten clean away.
"Don't let them escape!" frothed Frumpy, egging his stoolies on with his boots. "We must catch them all! Emperor Yoiks decrees it!" Mr Frumpy dispatched the paddy wagon to its next destination and the chase was on. Soon gunshots were ringing out as the students took potshots at the pursuing beaks. Alas, although the students knew the neighbourhood, the teachers got in some lucky shots and their clones appeared too close to escape, and they were clubbed too, though about 45 minutes after the first bunch. They were dumped unceremoniously into the wagon, which had been making collections of several other students and alumni who lived in the neighbourhood, and driven to Central.
"Why can't those kids ever cooperate with us? Just once?" snarled Mr Frumpy, pulling at his short black moustache as he was sitting in his armoured limousine with the other stoolies.
"Maybe it's your breath," suggested Mrs Rink, blocking a lethal punch with her purse. The evil Vice-Principal roared with pain and sat quietly glowering for the rest of the trip, sucking his lacerated knuckles. It was 12:50 pm.
When Harold suddenly regained awareness, for he and the others had been kindly machine-gunned by the teachers in order to not have headaches and/or concussions, he was grabbed by an alert Mr Krammer, a former Chemistry teacher, and hustled into the gymnasium. It was set up as if for a dance: it was nearly dark, the exits were guarded by heavily-armed teachers and there was loud music blasting away from a setup at the north end of the cavernous room. There were a large number of other students there, either dancing or standing around trying to make themselves heard over the racket. And more were arriving every so often, brought by the paddy wagons leased from Bob's Security Police.
To his surprise, as his brain quickly began coming back to life, Harold discovered that he still had all of his weapons, including his assault rifle, .55-calibre recoilless pistol (he was cleaning his .75), commando knife, sling shot and three grenades. As his eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness, he saw that everyone else was dressed to kill, so to speak, in battle fatigues of all sorts, and that part of the noise was clanking weaponry.
"What is going on here?" he said to himself, heading for the southeast corner, which was devoid of the dancing life-forms which were bumping into him. As it happened, the other Diplomats also converged on that corner, so they were reunited.
"Well, now that we're here, what do we do?" asked Peter over the ruckus of Kutrina and the Wakes' song "Walking on Land Mines". Jamie suddenly checked his watch and gasped:
"Oh no! I almost forgot!" As the others watched, puzzled, he removed a small plastic figurine of Papa Snuff, set it on the floor and began kowtowing to it. "Oh mighty Papa," he intoned loudly, "please forgive this worthless slave for missing your hourly devotional! You are so wise and--WAAH!"
"Enough of that drivel!" said Harold irritably. He had sent his brother sprawling on his face with a shove from his well-placed combat boot. "Ever since I got back from university two months ago, you've been nuts!"
"Or more so than usual," sniped Andrew, dodging a kick.
"You shall pay for your insolence, swine!" huffed Jamie. He got up, grabbed the Papa figurine, and stalked off, muttering.
"I wonder what the teachers have up their sleeves this time?" said Lee, eyeing the armed guards.
"We'll find out soon enough," shrugged Dave. As the next song "The Destruction of Bob" by the Tyrant Squishers, which was quite a popular anthem now, came on, they all joined the crowd in the leaping and bouncing.
As soon as he was out of their sight, Jamie headed for the main door out. He had gotten to within three feet of it when he was snagged by Roslind Fusser.
"Where are they?" she demanded, clamping a vise-like grip on his arm. She had a gripping personality.
"Over there," he pointed, figuring she'd be a suitable punishment for insolence.
"Thank you," she replied, trying to drag him along. He resisted with a surprise judo throw, hitting Mr Nanoonanoo at the door with her and slipping out before either could recover.
"Men!" she muttered, untangling herself and getting up, ignoring the shouts and gunfire from outside as Jamie encountered the waiting teachers. She caught sight of Lee and zoomed over.
"Oh, not the pest of the west," groaned Don, who was not a Roslind fan. "Scram, shortie."
"I am not a Shortie!" she responded sharply. "They stink!"
"What do you want?" he shot back.
"I heard about the joint Muppet-human operation on the Snuff village. It's caused quite a scandal in the honcho circle. I think some of the university crowd were in on it and I want to find out who." The song ended, but another one failed to start. The flames coming from the speakers explained why.
"Notice how she spoke in short simple sentences," said Andrew as they watched the frantic activity generated by the sorely-abused sound system. "Probably for Don's benefit."
"Stuff it, Allerput!" snapped the Vanloony, swiping at him with a meaty paw. Andrew leaped backwards, colliding with a girl and sending her and the others in her group, not to mention himself, crashing down to the floor.
"Like, chain-reactionage," observed Dave. "Hey, cutie," he addressed Roslind, "Harold was here a minute ago." He pulled out one of his many knives and flipped it expertly. "Seems like he's executed major disappearage, eh?" he added. He then became totally engrossed in the blade to the point where he clued out entirely and wandered off, looking for a teacher to sharpen it with.
"So much for him," said Peter. "Sorry Roslind," he added. "He gets that way sometimes."
"Thanks anyway," shrugged the petite person. "Andrew! What are you doing on the floor with all those women?"
"Trying to get up!" he retorted. "They keep tripping me!" He lashed out with a combat boot and managed to dump one named Jeanette Verity on the floor. "That'll teach you!" While this scuffle was developing into a small brawl, with Don and then Roslind pitching in, Peter said:
"Come on, Lee, let's stir up some excitement."
"Sure thing," he replied, taking out his pistol. "Let's hit the fire extinguishers." He fired, but hit the DJ's assistant and the exploding bullet blew off his arm. Peter's shot was more accurate. The heavy slug hit the extinguisher that Mr Slavers was using, ripping it out of his hands and causing it to explode shortly after, slicing the Math man up a bit and coating the whole area with foam. With a volley of oaths, the beak pulled out his own pistol and began shooting back.
"But what about my speakers?" demanded the DJ.
"Put 'em out yourself!" snarled the teacher, whirling and blasting half the man's chest away.
"PARTY!" shouted a number of students and teachers. The next sixty seconds passed in a orgy of killing as everyone shot at everyone else in one of the traditional Central free-for-alls.
To Harold's surprise, his clone appeared in the auditorium and plopped down into the seat between his former classmates Elizabeth Roamer and Jeanette Swim. As he looked around, he saw others appearing out of thin air too. His weapons were still there.
"So, we meet again," growled Elizabeth. She was a tall, well-built blonde and quite attractive, even when she was glowering.
"Are you still mad at us for that stunt we pulled last year?" he asked over the noise of people babbling.
"I guess not," she grumped. "You and Jeanette did a good job of it," she said grudgingly. For a Grade 13 Graduation fundraiser, either she or one of her cronies got the bright idea of marrying off some of the more well-known Grads and selling tickets to the wedding. Harold had been slated for Elizabeth, but had married Jeanette instead with the aid of a number of sneaky tricks.
"Don't worry about it," Jeanette soothed. "I never told you this before, but we got it annulled about a week later."
"WHAT?" squawked Elizabeth.
"So did pretty well everyone else, too," Harold added.
"WHAT?" repeated Elizabeth, looking very confused.
"I take it you never annulled your marriage to Stan Slagmore," said Jeanette, poker-faced.
"Well, no," she replied. "I--I never thought of it."
"Hello, Elizabeth my dear," said a familiar voice. They turned around and saw Stan Slagmore sitting behind them.
"You knew about everyone else long ago, didn't you?" asked Elizabeth dangerously.
"Who, me?" Harold and Jeanette both recognized the look of hurt innocence, used so often in Mr Klaptrap's Functions class, among others. As Elizabeth lunged at Stan and began trying to throttle him, Harold's eye was caught by Annie Armrest, a long-time pursuer of him, because she was waving at him. With her were the twins Horton and Morton Clayton, Fanny Allerput and Karen Sing, none of whom he'd seen for a year. He waved back politely. She beckoned him to come over, but he shook his head. Frowning, she snapped her fingers and pointed to an empty seat beside her. Right on cue, Mork Beercraft, the former resident oddity, appeared in it. Harold made applauding motions, and blew a raspberry.
"You sure have a way with women, Harold," commented Stan, still fending off Elizabeth's attacks. Harold tickled her and she collapsed, giggling. "Thanks."
Then a hush quickly fell on the auditorium as the new Vice-Principal clomped across the stage to the microphone. Mr Frumpy was a mean-looking dude, dressed in a navy pinstriped suit, a black fedora, black combat boots tucked under the trousers, and with a large, powerful pistol in an open holster at his side. He had a twisted face, greasy black hair that showed under the hat, and a small black moustache under his obviously many-times-broken nose. Hisses began to sound from the former Grade 12 and 13 students who'd had to live under his heavy-handed rule. Mr Albert, the V.-P. in Harold's Grade 13 year, had only been mean infrequently, and had actually been liked by most of the students.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Grads past, present and future," he droned in a scratchily nasal voice, ignoring the hisses, which were steadily increasing in volume. "Doubtlessly you are wondering why I brought you here today."
"So you could kill us all one last time!" shouted a voice, later identified as Don Vanloony's.
"Not at all," yawned Mr Frumpy. "But that does remind me of a story when, in my youth, I--" His blathering ceased with a bang when his head exploded, showering the captive audience with blood, bone, and shreds of toupee and hat, but, curiously enough, very little brain. The body collapsed, spouting blood from the blasted neck stump, and writhed on the stage, revealing the Principal Mr Yoiks holding a large-bore shotgun (suitable for killing large bores like Mr Frumpy). He was shorter and rounder than the Vice-Principal and balding on top and was as tough as nails. He had to be to keep control of the rowdy students and treacherous teachers. Everyone gave him a standing ovation, which he modestly accepted.
"Thank you, thank you," he finally said into the microphone. He was dressed, people suddenly noticed, in battle fatigues, as they were, with extra epaulets and braid and ribbons on. He donned a commander's cap with five silver stars across the front and kicked the still body of Mr Frumpy with a hobnailed boot and it and its blood abruptly vanished, claimed by the clone machine. There were a few more cheers.
"The reason you were brought here this afternoon is simple. You've heard it from many people and Muppets worse than me--"
"And there aren't many of those!" heckled a teacher, getting a burst of laughter. Mr Yoiks ignored the comment, for now.
"We are going to overthrow Bob and his cronies, toss them into prison and throw away the keys. I shall become the new leader."
"You mean dictator!" shouted the same teacher.
"That's enough out of you, Frumpy!" snapped the Principal.
"One more wisecrack and you'll be turned over to the Muppets for medical experiments!"
"Probably in embalming!" shouted Jamie Raymonds. "He looks like he's beginning to thaw out!" The students and teachers laughed. When Mr Yoiks was laughing, he made good and sure he laughed into the microphone. Mr Frumpy fulminated, lashing out at nearby students and getting jumped on by Mr Ofarabia and Mr Vice, who were wielding cudgels. Over the noise of the scuffle and the cheers of the nearby students, who were laying bets on the outcome, Mr Yoiks cheerfully continued.
"It is quite possible that we can do it. You students represent the cream of Central's fighting men and women. You have all been carefully, yet unobtrusively, trained in every aspect of warfare and dirty tricks by my able--"
"That's me!" shouted Mr Able, a Math teacher. Everyone groaned. "--albeit somewhat untrustworthy staff members." He looked pointedly at Mr Frumpy and a few other teachers. Mr Frumpy was out cold by now, as was Mr Vice. From the others, the Principal received glares. "What Poppy Street needs is a new generation of leaders, some fresh blood in the government..."
"What Poppy Street needs is peace, cooperation and cohabitation with the Muppets!" chorused a number of the university students, who happened to be the ones with Annie Armrest. Mr Yoiks scowled and shook his fist.
"NO MUPPETS!" he roared. "The Muppets are the cause of our problems! The root of all evil! It is impossible for them to work with us! They are inferior! They are--" His impassioned screams suddenly became inaudible when the abused microphone shut itself off. By now, Mr Yoiks looked like a grape.
"Hmm," whispered Elizabeth. "This doesn't look good."
"No matter," replied Harold, equally quietly. "A number of us have worked out a plan to take over anyway. It was them back there," he indicated Annie and company, "who got the raid organized on the Snuff village and executed it. The Muppets were a vital part of it." One thing the students who'd left the island for the mainland, both human and Muppet (actually, there often was not much of a difference), had learned was that people could actually be civilized, tolerant and responsible. Of course, there were many who weren't and that was where their training had come in handy.
"So all we do is play along with the teachers and then oust them when the time is right," said Jeanette astutely.
"You must play Diplomacy too," Harold commented.
"Students and teachers," Mr Yoiks resumed, having returned to normal colour, "we are going to launch our surprise attack on the Palace and Security Police headquarters in two hours. You have already formed teams as you've gone through school and these will not be changed." Sounds of surprise rippled through the audience at this unexpected fit of intelligence. "In the hallway outside, you will find lists of the people on each team, what you've been assigned to attack and which classroom you are to go to to be briefed. We shall not fail."
With the flick of a switch, he turned on the song "The Destruction of Bob" and everyone began singing along, stomping their combat boots and waving their fists to the tune. For everyone in the room was dressed in their battle fatigues, assorted as they were, and all had the trademark purple and gold shoulder flashes that identified them as Centralites. Harold and the others all joined in the singing with gusto, curious to see just how well-planned this revolution would be.
It wasn't until noon that the Snuffs were able to escape from the Shortie village and get back to their own. The Shorties' effort and bribes to the Poppy Streeters had paid off handsomely and they were satiated for the time being. The Snuffs were quite tired and had to spend the next hour sleeping. So it wasn't until about quarter past one that they were back to normal. And they were very angry.
"Those wretched Poppy Streeters! They were in cahoots with the Shorties all along! We were tricked!" raved Snuffette at the general assembly in the village common. She'd had to defend her Clumsy from some over-eager Shorties.
"We must strike back at them!" bellowed Hefty, waving a fist. He got shouts of agreement.
"All we need is a plan of attack!" added Vanity, smacking Poet Snuff because he'd just tread on his toes. Poet elbowed him in the gut in return.
"Of course, the best place to go for plans is Papa Snuff," said Brainy. "After all, he is our leader. He can never fail us!"
"Wanna bet?" shouted Grouchy. The congregation laughed.
"Where is Papa, anyway?" queried Greedy, gobbling a butter tart and spilling crumbs on the dormant Lazy at his feet. The Snuffs looked around, but couldn't find him in their midst. "Let's get him!" They charged towards Papa's lab in a mob, trampling Lazy to a pulp in the process. Painter and Farmer Snuffs barged in, with others behind them, to see Papa snoring loudly in a corner, a large empty jug of hard Snuffberry cider beside him.
"Oh well," shrugged Brainy, peeking in through the window and seeing the sight. A crafty look appeared on his bespectacled face. "Let's see if we can get out of here before he wakes up. Maybe we can magic ourselves there without getting killed." Like all magic on the island, Papa's was erratic even at the best of times and his teleport spells were no exception. The Snuffs had a tendency to materialize with their body parts in not quite the right places, resulting in rapid, often gruesome, death. They hated it.
Everyone thought that Brainy's was such a good idea that they nailed shut Papa's windows and doors and boarded them up as well so that no light could come in and disturb the inebriated Snuff. This took about ten minutes because all 99 of the Snuffs pitched in to help. Then they broke up into groups to plot their revenge.
"I know how I'll get them!" enthused Clumsy to his group. "I'll drink nitroglycerine, sneeze and blow them up!"
"Haw! It'll never work!" scoffed Hefty. Clumsy pulled out a small flask of the liquid and drank it down.
"Yuk! This tastes terrible!" he exclaimed with a grimace. As he began tickling his nose with a feather and the other five Snuffs pulled well away from them, Hefty continued making sarcastic remarks. "Wachoo!" sneezed Clumsy.
"KABOOM!" shouted Hefty loudly, for he was undamaged. The other Snuffs laughed. Clumsy fumed.
"I'll get you!" He charged at the laughing target. "Oops!" As was his wont, he stumbled and fell at Hefty's feet. There was a small explosion and Clumsy was blasted all over the place. Most of him hit Hefty, who was bowled over. When he got up, he looked like the victim of a particularly nasty accident in a butcher's shop.
"I hate nitroglycerine!" said Grouchy, wiping some Clumsy off his arm.
"Tell me about it," muttered Hefty, examining his clothing. "I'll see you later," he added, squelching towards his house to change. Another ten minutes later, the Snuffs reconvened in the village common. There followed twenty minutes of bickering and the occasional acts of violence as the groups tried to present their plans to the others. Finally, Handy got Harmony to drown out the ruckus with an unmusical attempt at the Snuff Trumpet Concerto.
"Fellow Snuffs," began Handy, once the noise had died down, "we all know that 100...er, 99...Snuffs cannot a city take, so we should only take part of it for the vengeance we deserve!"
"Hear, hear!" shouted the Snuffs.
"I'm here too!" added Jokey. When Dreamy tried to thump him, he was squirted in the face by a fake flower on Jokey's cap.
"My plan, and the essence of the others, is simple. Divide the village in two and half attack the Muppet Headquarters and half attack Bob's Palace. Then we hold them off for as long as we can and then escape." Fifty ballots for each of the targets were quickly created, put in a box and drawn by the Snuffs.
"Well, it looks like Papa will attack the Palace," said Dreamy, "when he wakes up!" They laughed.
"What's that?" asked Farmer Snuff suddenly, pointing to the forest where he'd seen a flash of colour. "I saw something moving!" he added, becoming alarmed. "The Shorties are back! Run!" The jittery Snuffs panicked and began running every which way, colliding with each other and getting trampled and kicked in their efforts to get to their homes and their personal arsenals. But it wasn't Shorties who erupted from the forest, but about 50 humans dressed in brown uniforms with red, orange and yellow piping, brown battle helmets and black jackboots and carrying assault rifles, burp guns and pistols. They also had a medium-sized pouch at their sides. Instead of opening fire, they took up strategic locations and waited.
"Why do those guys look familiar?" muttered Snuffette as she hastily changed into battle dress and grabbed all the weapons she would need for the attack on Poppy Street. Then, as the battle-thirsty Snuffs poured from their houses, the reason for the familiarity manifested himself.
"Greetings, friend Snuffs," said a tall human as he strode majestically from the forest's edge through a small honour guard which had preceded him. He was dressed in the same manner as his men, save that he had six stars on his shoulder lapels and a short brown cape that looked like, upon closer inspection, it had been made from a plastic garbage bag. He also had a cheap-looking crown attached to his head with hatpins. He had a bushy brown moustache, brown hair, knobby knees and startlingly red eyes.
"The Burper King!" chorused the Snuffs with a mixture of astonishment and dismay. They were astonished because they thought they'd gotten rid of him long ago. They were dismayed because they knew that if he was around, Roland McDownal, his arch-enemy, couldn't be far off. Whenever the two met, much bloody violence erupted. That in itself wasn't bad, but they used their burgers as weaponry. Unless one wore a gas mask, the stench was lethal. Lethal, that is, save for Roland and the Burper King.
"Yes, it is I, here to save you once again from the clutches of the evil Roland," he boomed pompously.
"Here Mr Burper King! I've got a present for you! It's a surprise!" said Jokey, running up, thrusting a plainly-wrapped box into the man's arms, and running off again.
"Why thank you, my little Snuff friend," said the King. "As a reward for your generosity, I shall give you..." The box exploded, tearing the offensive Burgerman to scraps of flesh and flinging said scraps back into the forest where they belonged. A foul odour drifted over the village and everyone, Burgerman soldiers and Snuffs alike, held their noses. The King reappeared not too far away. "...a knuckle sandwich!" he roared, lunging at Jokey, but being restrained by his cronies the Duke of Doubt and Sir Shakealot. The Snuffs laughed heartily.
"What are you doing back here?" demanded Greedy, demolishing a cupcake. "I thought we'd gotten rid of him for good."
"We can't get rid of them," said Lazy, in one of his moments of lucidness. "He and Roland are like boomerangs."
"I see a likeness to cockroaches," interjected Brainy. "They show up when they're least expected, are ugly and unsanitary and are next to impossible to kill." He looked pleased with himself because that was the first sentence he'd been able to complete all day without getting mashed. The Burper King roared again and thrashed mightily, but his cronies were too strong.
"Okay, I'll tell you what we're planning," said the Duke.
"NO! NO! Don't pass secrets to the enemy!" foamed the King. He ceased to resist when Sir Shakealot's cosh massaged his thick skull. They dropped the body to the ground. "Thanks, Shakealot." They shook hands and the Snuffs dutifully applauded. "As you may have suspected, we were booted off the continents again because of our rabble-rousing ways." Someone shouted "Hear, hear!", but the Duke ignored it. "As usual, we were exiled to this island in the hopes that it would limit the scale and scope of our battle for justice."
"We know Roland and his cohorts wound up in Poppy Street, so we have to get there," said Shakealot. "To be honest."
"For a change!" sniped a Snuff, and they all hooted. A Burgerman near Vanity, the wise guy, made the mistake of trying to smash him in the head with the butt of his rifle. His clone appeared elsewhere shortly after.
"Since you were going there anyway, we were hoping you could give us a magical lift," continued the henchman.
"Tanks do not move readily through the forest," said the Duke.
"Sounds fine by me," said Handy. "Brainy, what's the teleport spell?"
"It varies," was the reply. There was a pause.
"Why?" Dreamy finally asked.
"Beats me," replied the Snuff with a shrug. "All you have to do is recite gibberish while thinking "teleport", then say your destination." Suddenly, one of the boards covering Papa's windows was smashed from the inside.
"LET ME OUT!" yelled Papa, his beard bristling. Brainy hastily babbled an incantation while waving his arms and jumping up and down. After an agonizingly long pause, the scenery shifted to an area of suburban Poppy Street City not too far from the Palace.
"Well, here we are," sighed Brainy with relief.
"Hey, we're actually in one piece!" exclaimed Harmony, blatting a joyful, but raucous, melody on his trumpet.
"I'm writing that spell down," said Hefty, pulling a pen and paper from a pocket of his battle dress and doing so.
"Thanks very much," said the Duke of Doubt after listening to a stream of gibberish from a small pocket communicator. "You even got our heavy hardware. If you're ever in trouble, let us know and we'll give you a hand."
"NEVER!" roared the Burper King, who had awakened. "You miserable Snuffs! I'll get--"
"Ahh, shaddap," said Sir Shakealot, coshing him again. They threw his body onto a lawn as a jeep pulled up. "Good luck," he said as they tore off with a squealing of tires.
After the usual confusion, the Snuffs split up into the two groups determined by the balloting and marched off down the middle of the street, singing their "la" song, with the sounds of gunfire and explosions drifting in from the distance. It was 3:30 pm.
But at 2:00, before all of the latter excitement had started, Emperor Bob was in his Palace watching his royal TV set and oblivious as usual to events boiling up around him. It had a very large screen and an elaborate gilt pattern all around it. He was reclining in an overstuffed Lazy-Boy chair watching his second-favourite TV show, "Shoot off Your Mouth", which was a game show. His favourite show was "Poppy Street", a summary of the previous day's violent activities in the City. It was the only unbiased show on the air. Airborne, indestructable and almost invisible cameras, guided by the clone machine to areas of killing, filmed the events. The machine would later automatically edit the tapes and broadcast the show to the island and the mainland at 10:00 sharp every morning. It had quite a large cult following on the continents and had made life embarrassing for the university students on any number of occasions.
"All right, Muppet!" snarled the host, Mr Hooper, who was one of Bob's head goons. "What's the capital of Splat?"
"Nodnol of course," replied the Muppet. "What are you, an idiot? Or need I ask?" He and the other three laughed.
"Fine, smartie, guess a letter!" snarled Mr Hooper. Up on a wall were blank rectangles arranged in groups to suggest that they could form a phrase if there were letters there. Bob's show was little more than an elaborate version of "Hangman".
"I guess R," said the Muppet.
"Garr!" grouched Mr Hooper. "There are five R's." He pulled a small pistol from his waistband and shot at the appropriate rectangles. Five R's appeared. "Guess again!"
"E," said the Muppet confidently. The Adult grudgingly shot out two E's. "S," added the unwilling guest.
"WRONG!" shouted Mr Hooper. "Har har har!" He pressed a button and the Muppet's chair exploded. The shaped charge blasted him upward in a gory fountain. "You! Make a guess!"
"Don't you have to ask me a question, first?"
"Shut up! It's my game! I make the rules! Guess!"
"Fine then. O." she replied. Four O's were shot out, two of which were together. The Muppet became suspicious as things cranked through her mind. "P," she said. The demented games master blew away two P's. Large quantities of what was obviously yellow-coloured water gushed onto the stage. "H," she appended. The word "Hooper" was now spelled out.
"That's enough out of you!" said Mr Hooper, pressing another button. His round red face was twisted in glee as the Muppet's chair shot up, just as two huge metal slabs swung down from the ceiling and slammed into each other. Gore spurted from all the edges and Mr Hooper laughed maniacally.
"What is that man up to now?" muttered Bob between gusts of laughter. He pressed a button on his intercom. "Lackey, get a Security team to arrest Mr Hooper. He's being subversive again."
"I know the message!" announced the third Muppet. "Mr Hooper for Emperor."
"Sure thing, Bobbo," came a voice over the intercom.
"Stop calling me that!" screamed Bob, flying into one of his hourly psychotic rages.
"That's right!" enthused Mr Hooper. "You win the grand prize!" By then, Bob had forgotten the TV and was banging on the door of his study trying to get out.
"I'll get you!" he frothed, turning purple. "There's gonna be another purge in here! And you'll be the first!"
"Sorry, Bobbo," came the instant reply. Bob screamed again. "You are a prisoner of the glorious revolution of Hooper!" On the TV there was a loud bang and a door into the studio was blown apart, just as the Emperor hopeful was getting a submachine-gun. In charged six Muppets, waving machetes. Bonds long ago untied, the other two leaped from their chairs and caught the blades thrown to them. Bob stopped hammering at the door long enough to watch his latest enemy get hacked into lumps of flesh.
"Muppets of the world, unite!" shouted Cookie Monster, who was one of the attackers who survived. The other four were spray-painting slogans all over the studio. "Rise now and overthrow the odious Bob! Bring freedom back to Poppy Street!" Bob angrily stepped back from the door and pressed a button on his remote control he used for the TV. The hinges were blasted to pieces, with the fragments directed outward to slaughter any waiting attackers (which there were) and the heavy door fell outwards, squashing those who survived.
Bob stormed off to his operations room to arm himself and mobilize his Security Police, which was a small army in its own right. He was confident that this rebellion, like all the hundreds of others, would be crushed like an orange under a tank tread and that things would return to normal.
"Well, well, well," rumbled Mr Monster at about the same time as the aforementioned activities. He was Central's demonic librarian and was speaking from a door to his office complex. "It seems like things don't change, do they?" Harold Raymonds, Annie Armrest, Horton and Morton Clayton, and War Games honchos Richard Eglise, Mark Crossman, Andrew Yoiks and Don Vanloony were sitting at one of the long tables in the library planning the strike against Mr Yoiks, now that they had been briefed. The chauvinist brigade, the War Gamers, had wanted to exclude Annie, and the noise thus generated had been enough to rouse the evil one from his (its?) hibernation in the office complex.
"You KNOW I hate people who talk in my library!" he stated forcefully, ruffling everyone's hair with his bad breath.
"The devil made us do it!" squeaked Horton.
"Rubbish!" snorted Monster. "I did not!" Harold, being an expert punster and well-versed in the art of buttering him up, laughed first, and the others joined in mechanically. The librarian smiled, a sight by no means reassuring.
"You're up to something, aren't you!" he accused. "Out with it!" The students jumped up and began backing towards the fire exit as the other advanced. "Rahhr!" he roared as Mark pulled a face at him. He smashed a hamhock-sized fist on a nearby table, but it was a tough table and only cracked across the top.
"Look here, Mr Monster," said Harold, who was the closest to him, reasonably. "What is this thing you have about noise?"
"Libraries are supposed to be QUIET places! Anybody who is being noisy is defying my absolute rule and is therefore an agent of Yoiks and must be removed from my kingdom at once!" As he kept advancing, the students kept retreating and pulling out their handguns.
"Preferably in several pieces," said Horton.
"You got it!" snarled Monster, baring his tusks and charging.
"No, you got it!" retorted Morton as the eight students opened fire. Even though their weapons were of .45-calibre or higher, they still had a tough time blowing him down.
"So, we're all set?" asked Richard after the noise and gore had died down and as curious students began peering through the glass doors. "Fine then. Let's join our fire teams and go for it." They quickly departed the room before the Librarian could return to wreak unpleasant vengeance on the lot of them.
"All right, folks!" burbled Mr Yoiks over the P.A. system. "Assemble in the parking lot in your groups." The students, willing or not, were herded into the parking lot. There their fire team groups were split up into two larger ones, which would attack the Palace and the Security headquarters respectively. Not only was everyone dressed for battle, but they were armed for it too. Harold's group consisted of himself, Jamie, Horton and Morton, Annie, Karen Sing, Mork Beercraft, two other girls named Victoria Blatter and Betty Giannosca, Fanny Allerput, Jason "Fat" Lard, a crony of Jamie from away back, and Jimmy Redhead, until recently called "Snout" by Jamie.
"Where have you been, Harold?" demanded Annie.
"Here and there," he evaded. "Just seeing the sights."
"He was hiding," announced Victoria. "In the library. He was killing Monster."
"For old time's sake," he retorted, annoyed at having been spotted. "I was talking to some friends when he interrupted us."
"Taking the Palace will be a challenge," said Jason, taking a large bite from a whole watermelon. "I don't even know where it is," he munched.
"Jason Lard, stop that eating at once!" carped Mrs King. She got a blizzard of seeds for a response. The others snickered.
"Telling Jason not to eat has about as much effect as telling a teacher not to be mean," said Jamie, who knew.
"Stuff it!" snapped the teacher, moving on.
"Okay," said Jason, taking another bite.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" bellowed Mr Frumpy as he and Mr Yoiks emerged from the doors to the lot. "Move to your buses!" Two armoured school buses obediently pulled up on the street. "The front one goes to the Palace, the rear one to the Security building! Let's get moving!" It was just before 2:30 pm.
"WAIT!" shouted Mr Knobs, an English teacher, listening to a stream of gibberish on a walkie-talkie. "Unidentified forces are attacking points along the entire northern half of the city!"
"Rolanders!" shouted Mr Snott, another English teacher with a walkie-talkie and a desire to steal Mr Knobs' thunder whenever possible. "Everyone's mobilizing! Attack, stage north!" As the students hastened onto the buses, a convoy of jeeps with mounted twin .50-calibre machine-guns and a couple of tanks was spotted moving north on Waterloo St, which was to the east of the buses.
"This presents new problems," said Harold as he sat down beside Mork. "It's not going to be easy at all."
"Where there's Roland, there's bound to be the Burper King," said Mork, snuffing loudly. "It's going to be a busy day." With a grinding of gears and a squealing of solid rubber tires, their bus pulled away from the curb and headed down Dufferin St to Wellington, half a block away, where it turned north.
Traffic was heavy, mostly with military vehicles and people returning home from work to defend their property from the intruders. Smoke could be seen rising from the horizon and the occasional artillery barrage noises wafted down on the breezes. After about twenty minutes travel in the bus, the 80 student-and-teacher hit team finally made it to the exclusive development where the Palace and the manors of most of Bob's chief flunkies were located. It was in the northwest quarter of the City, on a wide peninsula overlooking the harbour to the southeast and had very steep cliffs of earth and rock on all sides at the back. The bus driver guided the vehicle down an access road to the beach, where everyone piled out and stood on the sand that shimmered in the afternoon sun.
"You would think that at least somebody would have wanted to duel with us," Don Vanloony was complaining to Peter Strange as they disembarked.
"And tie up traffic and get killed to boot?" Roslind Fusser butted in. She was with a group of her female friends who had gotten off before the War-Gamers and Harold's group.
"With traffic like that mess," added Lucille Reyguth's reasonable voice, "it couldn't be done properly anyway."
"For once, the girls are talking sense," replied Peter in his slow drawl, nimbly dodging a pair of kicks.
"Like, don't worry Don," Dave Simple chimed in over the noise of others chattering, the surf, the birds, and heavy gunfire from 75 feet above them. "There'll be lots of goon-smashage for you."
"Nobody agrees with me anymore," Don sulked, only brightening slightly as Dave pointed up. Nothing could be seen at the cliff tops because all the buildings were a safe distance away.
"Well, well," said Annie to Harold, not too far away. "It looks like our work is cut out for us."
"And we didn't even need any scissors," Harold retorted, ducking to avoid sand thrown at him from Victoria and Betty. "How dare you abuse me in such a manner?" he demanded indignantly, backing off hastily and brushing his fatigues as he did so. Under the rest of the group's glowers, he smirked helplessly.
"Harold, you are a class A fraud," said Horton Clayton.
"More like class Z," joined in his brother Morton as both advanced. Harold nervously retreated.
"Come to me," suggested Victoria, striking a suggestive pose with her tall, lean frame.
"Oh no you don't!" warned Annie, lunging.
"Don't start that again!" Harold groaned, still backing away from the Claytons. Mork laughed crazily as Betty tickled him. "I deliberately went to a different university to get away from your shenanigans! WAAH!" Too late he had heard the familiar "Oh, mighty Papa," drone and had turned, but had tripped over the prostrate form of his brother Jamie and crashed into one of the girls in Roslind's group and sent them both to the ground. The Claytons, curiously enough, stopped advancing. "It's a plot!" he protested as he and the girl untangled themselves and got up.
"Hello Harold," said Roslind. "Nice of you to drop in."
"Very funny," he said dryly. "My apologies," he added to the other victim of the accident. "Shouldn't I know you from somewhere?" he added, trying to identify the vaguely familiar face with little success.
"Harold Raymonds, meet Jeanette Verity," Roslind introduced.
"Hey, you were one of those who tripped me at the dance earlier!" accused the nearby Andrew Allerput.
"She probably wants your body," Lee chipped in. Further conversation was quashed as the five teachers blew mighty blasts on whistles to gain their attention. A van of six more, including Mr Yoiks himself, arrived and disgorged its heavily-armed contents and the students stood at attention.
"(Expletives deleted) traffic!" cussed the Principal. "We're already behind schedule!" The bus and the van withdrew. "All right, ladies and gents, spread yourselves along the base of the cliff here and begin climbing! We'll take them by surprise from behind!"
"But what about the guards?" demanded Jason Lard.
"That noise you hear from up there is them fighting Rolanders," butted in Mr Knobs, cutting off Mr Snott with a quick jab to the midriff from the stock of his rifle.
"Now git into your groups and go!" encouraged Mr Yoiks, swiping at the English teacher and missing.
"Go Ghosts go!" chanted the Central Golden Ghosts and they turned and made for the base of the long, high cliff. They were speeded on their way by a stray mortar bomb that sailed over the top, landed in the water and blew up. Not wanting to go back to his group of crazies, and not overly anxious to go it alone, Harold decided to at least go up the cliff with the girls.
"Look at that!" Don carped to Andrew. "Wherever the girls are, you'll be sure to find Harold." Harold paused only long enough to grab a wad of the sticky clay, judge the trajectory and bean him on the head.
"After a while, you get sick of him," he muttered to himself.
"Do tell," Roslind replied as the two ducked to avoid a returning clay blob. It missed them all and wound up smacking Mr Slavers in the face, so surprising him that he fell over and slid several feet head first down the embankment, much to the merriment of a nearby Mr Nanoonanoo. Mr Slavers, being a Math teacher, would not forget that.
Fortunately for the Centralites, the soil was a clay type, and even had trickles of ground water coming from it here and there, making it gooey, sticky--and slippery. But if one was careful and wasn't pushed or surprised, one could climb up the slope.
"We're sure going to look pretty," said a nearby guy, whom Harold recognized as John Dickinson. He pushed his assault rifle back into its position on his back as he grabbed at a tree root and pulled himself up a ways.
"Do tell," responded another girl whom Harold didn't particularly know who was directly above him. "Yipe!" Her foot slipped on a rock and she slid down, colliding with the Raymonds person. Fortunately he too had grabbed the tree root and hung on until she'd regained her footing.
"Haw! Harold's got a new hat!" jeered Don, who was also at a higher elevation than he was.
"Roslind, the honour is yours," said Harold. Roslind obligingly withdrew her pistol from its grimy holster and shot the offensive Vanloony once in the posterior. He howled with pain, and the others nearby howled with laughter as he slid all the way down the cliff, clutching his wounded buttock. With aid from Roslind, he boosted the girl over the top of the cliff and soon followed. It had taken them half an hour to climb the 75 feet of clay, and except for occasional outbursts like the ones mentioned, it was done in silence. The racket from the fighting going on around the Palace drowned out anything that could have given them away.
"Those are Muppets!" said John in surprise as he surveyed the large, park-like grounds with small but powerful binoculars. As the others peered through the links of the electrified barbed-wire fence five feet from the edge, they saw scurrying figures around the large building and heard the crackle of gunfire as they shot and were shot at. A shell exploded nearby and several fell.
"Well, let's go," said Lee, extracting his wire cutters from his belt loop and some rubber gloves from his pouch. The others followed suit and soon the air was filled with snipping noises as wire was cut and removed, and Don's curses as he struggled to get up the cliff again. Finally, the way was clear and the commando team officially infiltrated the Palace Grounds.
"And now the fun begins!" said Mrs Rink, spotting and cutting a trip wire. Someone else shot out a security spy camera. They made it a fair distance before someone in the palace saw them and opened up with a heavy machine-gun. Harold and Mrs Rink, who had taken the machine-gun the trip wire was attached to, set it up behind a tree and returned fire, she with the gun and he with his own assault rifle. A heavy firefight developed as the Centralites spread out, hiding behind trees and in hollows in the ground.
The Palace was a large, three-story building, larger than Central and seemingly just as well fortified. By the time the anti-tank guns had been cleaned out and were just coming into use with good effect, Don got to the top of the cliff. Seeing the action, he charged eagerly though a hole in the fence and promptly stepped on a land mine. The Centralites were amused as his clone reappeared and blew up again, because he was on another mine. He did this six more times before he made it to their lines, which were about twenty metres from the building.
"Like, it's about time you got here," said Dave mildly, blasting out a three-inch thick bullet-proof glass window on the ground floor with his anti-tank gun. It was just after 3:30.
"Oh, shut up!" snarled Don, shooting through the hole with his rifle. "Why is everyone picking on me today?" he muttered.
While these maneuvers were going on, Emperor Bob and Empress Susan had been doing their best to rally their beleaguered Security Police, who were locked in battle in every sector of the City, either with Muppets or Rolanders or sometimes both. At 2:15, after violently quashing the attempted coup singlehandedly and throwing the conspirators in the slammer in the basement, Bob had sounded the alarm. Five dozen of his T-85 Masher tanks rumbled from heavily-fortified barracks in different sectors of the City and began the long and difficult task of suppressing the revolt.
Bob and Susan had learned through their efficient spy network of the joint Muppet-"innocent" kid foray into the Snuff village and had had three and a half fits at the very thought of cooperation between the two groups. But Bob was also worried.
"Susan, my dear, I'm worried," he said after the fits had passed. "Those (****!) kids and Muppets aggravated the Snuffs for no reason at all. Naturally, they'll want revenge."
"And naturally, they'll come here," she concluded. "Right now, just when we don't need an extra band of bloodthirsty critters roaming around." Gunfire suddenly sounded from the front and an alarm began howling. "What? They dare attack the Palace?" she snarled, revealing elegantly pointed teeth. "This time they have gone too far!" Bob naturally agreed, and was pleased when he heard the sharp bark of 88 mm rapid-fire cannons, followed by explosions and screams. The two were in the operations room deep in the bowels of the Palace, but had outside sounds piped in from the surveillance devices planted liberally around.
"Computer, give us situation maps of the Palace grounds and the City as a whole," Bob instructed.
"Won't," replied the computer petulantly. The Emperor somehow kept a lid on his temper.
"Let me guess," he grated, "you swore allegiance to Hooper?"
"You mean MISTER Hooper," it corrected.
"Give us the maps, computer," said Susan in a sugar-sweet voice, "or I'll go down to the computer room and reprogram you with an axe!" she roared furiously. Bob glowed in admiration.
"Fine then, if you're going to be mean about it," sulked the machine. Two huge screens lit up showing the required maps. Symbols rapidly appeared and began moving slowly as things changed and reports flowed in.
"Thank you, computer," she purred. The computer remained silent. The screens showed a small Muppet force attacking the Palace from the front, while another circled around behind. Unfortunately, a tank barracks was too far away for some of the useful machines to arrive rapidly, but other units, both Adult and Muppet, did and the battles grew heavier. Loud crashes and explosions came from the speakers as the Muppets brought light artillery and anti-tank weapons to bear on the foot-thick metal-reenforced basalt walls and the attacking humans. Blood was being splashed about liberally, creating muddy patches.
"Notice has been received of the Rolanders--" announced the computer. Then the earth shook under the force of a heavy concussion and the rulers of Poppy Street fell. Monitors revealed large, effective-looking tanks grinding up the road, firing their turret cannons as they went. Clouds of noxious vapours began wafting around the area as the burger weapons began showing their secondary effects, and the Muppets and Adults both began fumbling for their gas masks and then shooting in unison at the Burgermen.
"AHA! There you are!" This exclamation was preceded by the crash of the ops room door being blown to bits. In charged Mr Hooper, followed by the stoolies. All were heavily armed. Before Bob and Susan could react, they had been grabbed, handcuffed and disarmed. "We have you now!"
"Let go of us, you foul fiend!" said Susan, biting at him and missing. She then tried a kick, but her foot was grabbed and she was dumped on the floor, spitting furiously.
"Hello Mr Hooper," said the computer in a friendly voice. "Now that those tyrants have been captured, I can tell you that a bunch of "innocent" kids and a few young Adults and older Adults have scaled the cliff behind the Palace and broken into the grounds and are now attacking the rear." A whole bunch of red dots appeared on the map of the Palace and the room was rocked by another explosion. It was beginning to stink of burgers. Bob sputtered. "Also, the Security Police HQ has just been blown up by another bunch of kids and Adults and a small brigade of Muppets." Bob frothed. Susan snarled. "And finally, I now report the arrival of a bunch of Snuffs and Burper King men. Bye-bye." Everything suddenly went dark in the room as another detonation dropped plaster and dust over everything.
"Come on, you! We're going upstairs to announce a truce with the Muppets so we can fight these Burgermen together."
"NO! NEVER! NO TRUCE!" the two yelled until they were silenced by boots to the temples. The limp dictators were picked up by the stoolies and they all hustled out.
Meanwhile, back in the Snuff village, Papa Snuff was in a rage after having been abandoned. He smashed the rest of the boards out of the window and jumped out and went into a frenzy of board ripping until sense returned to him. Stepping back, he chanted:
"Gopo lobo boards begone! Go to...er...Gargamel's where you belong!" To his surprise, the spell actually worked. Gargamel was also surprised by the sudden appearance of several sheets of plywood in thin air, but was thankful because one of them decapitated Sour Grapes, who was chasing him around the courtyard.
"Hmm," he said, wasting no time in getting back inside and magically sealing the building from women. "Maybe there's something to be said for those clerical spells after all." Ignoring the sorceress' screeches of frustrated rage coming from the outside, he scooted to his library. "I'll also have to write down that sealing spell," he added, doing so. "That's the first spell I've had work properly for years."
Papa was sitting on a bench in his lab pondering means of revenge when he once more heard the dreaded cry of:
"Snuffs! Snuffs! Snuffs!" The whole village was soon swarming with rather puzzled, but no less odiferous, Shorties. Papa strategically withdrew to his secret attic used mostly when Snuffette came a-hunting.
"Where did they go?" a curious Lemon Meringue asked Peach Delight as they entered the lab and began poking around. "Looks like they just vanished."
"Maybe they knew we were coming," Peach replied. "Rats!" Then Papa's twisted, active brain spewed out an idea and he groaned:
"Of course! That's just it!"
"What was that?" asked Lemon. "Strawberry, get in here!" she shouted out the window to her leader, Strawberry Shortcake. There was a loud crash and the two whirled, stun guns at the ready, to find Papa sprawled on the floor and the attic hatch open. "We found one!" she squealed excitedly.
"I'll tell you where they went," said Papa, getting up rather painfully. Then Strawberry burst in.
"Papa!" she said with concern, rushing to him.
"Come with me to the village common," said Papa before she could grab him. "I'll tell you all about it." He bustled out and the surprised Shorties followed, blowing their whistles. Soon the whole crowd was assembled. "Those horrible Snuffs locked me up in my house and tore off to Poppy Street with the Burper King!"
"Why did they lock you up?" questioned Apricot.
"Never mind that!" he said hastily.
"Look what I found," chimed Peach Delight, showing the empty jug of cider. "In his lab," she clarified loudly. The Shorties giggled and Papa pretended not to notice.
"Anyway," he continued, "I am prepared, at great personal cost and risk, to spirit you lovely ladies there too." He beamed.
"Oo goody!" exclaimed Apple Dumpling. "We haven't been there since the Great Battle a few years ago, when we first met you!"
"WAIT! Not yet!" Strawberry interrupted, just as Papa was about to chant the teleport spell. The Shorties had all whipped out hand mirrors, hairbrushes and makeup from their packs and were hastily primping themselves. "We have to look our best for this occasion, don't we girls?" There was a chorus of affirmative squeals and Papa rolled his eyes skywards and sighed.
"Women," he muttered. He shrugged his shoulders, and with an evil leer chanted "Hubba bubba off we go! To Poppy Street, ho ho ho!" Unfortunately, his concentration was disrupted because Strawberry had dropped her lipstick tube down her blouse and was rooting around for it. This proved fatal.
Burger shells were exploding in the gardens and lawns of Emperor Bob's Palace with alarming frequency and the Centralites had also had to don their gas masks. A large tank ground around the corner of the Palace and it had Burper King markings on it.
"Burgermen!" roared Mr Yoiks. "How dare they disrupt our takeover? Destroy them!" The heavy weapons were directed at the arriving vehicles, and gunfire from the Palace Guards, with their 88's that were so good at blowing up students, was also turned that way. Caught by the crossfire, the surprised Burgermen were blasted to little lumps of gory meat and the tanks were junked.
"Hey, you attackers!" came a voice over the teachers' walkie-talkies. "Stop shooting at us and we'll stop shooting at you! Now we've got Rolanders and Burper King dudes in town!"
"Who are you, anyway?" demanded Mr Snott. "Where's Bob?"
"I'm Mr Hooper, new leader of Poppy Street," replied Mr Hooper. "Bob and Susan are in the clink, safe and sound."
"NO! NO TRUCE!" came a far-off howl of rage. Bob was being allowed to listen in as part of the torture procedure.
"I'm declaring a ceasefire with the Muppets until further notice," Mr Hooper added. "You should too."
"NEVER!" bawled Mr Yoiks, Mr Snott, Mrs Rink and Mr MacLunatic loudly. "NO--OWTCH!"
"Sure we will," said Annie Armrest's voice.
"AHA! THERE THEY ARE!" From around the ends of the building charged 50 angry Snuffs, guns blazing. "Set the Shorties onto us, eh? We'll show you!" The Snuffs' rapid charge quickly bogged down because of all the churned-up bloody muck caused by the many who'd lost their lives and their blood. Many trees had also been blasted down by direct hits from the 88's and some were on fire, and the smoke made visibility poor. Nevertheless, they caught the Centralites by surprise and mowed down many. Then a group of Muppets who'd made it into the Palace appeared at one of the destroyed picture windows.
"LOOK, THERE'S SOME MORE OF THEM!" roared Handy. "THERE'S BERT!" It was actually Bert and Kermit and some of their militiamuppets. Some of the Snuffs opened fire on them, who ducked and returned it. Some of the blue creatures also had anti-tank and grenade-launching weapons, and were using them.
"We seem to have found more problems," Annie reported. "Snuffs, and hostile ones at that. Talk to you later." To add to the commotion, a small horde of Burper Kingers and two tanks smashed through the south fence and shrubbery and a somewhat larger horde of Rolanders, also with two tanks, appeared on the northern periphery. They opened up on each other. Smoke, dirt and noxious fumes filled the air as everybody fired at everybody else, got blasted, recloned, blasted and recloned again. The same was occurring on the front side of the Palace, only this time there was a three-way tank battle going on because Adult and Muppet tanks had arrived and were making scrap and mincemeat out of their opponents, and vice versa.
Fifteen minutes of this noisy, chaotic, bloody, smelly warfare were abruptly halted by the arrival of Papa Snuff and the Shorties 200 feet above the rapidly disintegrating Palace. Every grimy mud and blood-caked combatant, and there were a good 1000 of them, stared upwards through the smoke and gas in sheer astonishment. Papa's spell had backfired yet again, but this time all of the Shorties and he had materialized in a single huge blob of flesh with 99 heads. This blob suddenly remembered that it was not exempt from the law of gravity and began to fall.
"Oh, ($#!+)!" said the 1000. Four seconds later, there was impact. The unstable organic conglomerate was disrupted and as a result, it exploded. The Palace, the tanks, the Burgermen, the Muppets, the Centralites, the Palace Guard, the Snuffs, and what was left of the Palace grounds were all vaporized. Houses on the other side of the City had windows blown out. A large wave was pushed from the shores of the island. Damage was extensive throughout the City and many combatants were killed and never knew what had hit them. And because the wind was from the northwest, most of the City got a brief shower of blood and other matter. A huge pall of smoke rose over the gouged landscape, joining the other one from the devastated Security Headquarters to the south and some from big fires that had broken out because of the fighting. Then the fighters suddenly reappeared, scattered more or less randomly over the ex-battlefield. It was then that things really started to get bad.
Bob and Susan had appeared close to Papa Snuff and Strawberry Shortcake, who had appeared close to Dreamy and Grouchy Snuffs.
"You miserable Snuffs! How dare you abandon me? ME?" Papa raged, slogging furiously through the muck towards them. They levelled their weapons, a burp gun and a 3-inch recoilless rifle, at him, and he paused.
"So, it was you who did this to my Palace?" shouted Bob at Papa. "You miserable blue varmint! I'll--"
"He sounds just like Gargamel," said Grouchy. "I hate Gargamel!" he added.
"Gowfon ixpel gribble quook!" screamed Bob, doing a knee-bend and two jumping jacks. Papa suddenly had a large quantity of rancid lard poured on him from a pail which magically appeared above him. The pail then dropped on his head with a clang.
"Oh yeah?" bristled Papa, jets of steam and superheated ear wax shooting from his ears. "Popo rivex florcks groink!" One gallon of barfberry juice and one bale of itchwort appeared over the Emperor. After the juice had poured itself on him, the bale broke up and showered him with the leaves. As Papa and Bob began shouting obscenity-laced spells at each other, the rest of the fighters gathered themselves into their respective groups of Adults, Centralites, Muppets, Snuffs, Shorties, Rolanders and Burper Kingers.
"Hey there Duke!" called out Grimmis to the Duke of Doubt. The two were the respective leaders of the contingents. "How are you?"
"Just fine thanks!" replied the Duke. "And yourself?"
"Never been better. Nice weather, isn't it?"
"Nice weather for a war. I hate it when it rains."
"Me too. Well, I guess we should get back to fighting now."
"I guess so," replied the Duke. "Ready when you are." Both sides, each with 335 men, clumped together and on the call of 'charge', did that and began vicious hand-to-hand combat in the area near the cliff, where many began getting shoved off.
"Well, now what?" Harold asked, surveying the scene with interest. "Looks like we're out of a job." A combined force of Adults and Muppets was making its way towards the fighting Papa and Bob. With a shrug, he turned to begin walking down where the main drive was, but bumped into the girl who'd slid onto him a while back. "Excuse me," he said politely, stepping around the tallish, brown-haired blue-eyed lass with an M-22 combat rifle slung over her shoulder, three grenades in her belt, a knife on her left hip and a pistol on her right.
"You're Harold Raymonds!" she exclaimed in surprise.
"Well yes," he said as he saw John Dickinson and Annie approaching from the nearby bunch of Centralites that comprised his former crowd, the War Gamers and the bunch he'd come up with.
"Hi! I'm Jeannine Strebor," she added. They shook hands.
"Pleased to meet you," he said.
"Harold! Get away from that woman!" honked the black-haired Annie. "Whenever I see you you're with some female!"
"Except you," Harold remarked.
"For obvious reasons, methinks," said John. With a wink at Harold, he pinched Annie's bottom and she squealed and jumped.
"Not funny!" she snapped, swiping at him but missing because he ducked. "Harold, get away from her!"
"Whatever for?" queried the harassed Raymonds. "You don't own me, y'know." He shifted ground because he was sinking in the mud.
"At least, not anymore," John added helpfully.
"I'm my own man now!" Harold added triumphantly. "I survived a whole year at University away from the malign influences of you and the group and I can certainly go a lot longer." His patently smug expression was obscured by a large blot of mud hurled by the furious Annie, who then tore off after John, with blood in her eyes. Jeannine stooped down, grabbed some mud of her own and managed to hit the Armrest lass in the back, causing her to lose her balance and fall on her face, to general laughter.
"Thank you," said Harold in a vain attempt to preserve his dignity as he cleaned his glasses off with water from his canteen. He then wiped the worst of the grime from his face with his hands and wiped his hands on Don's back. "Freedom has its price."
"The question being, how much longer will he be free?" Roslind muttered to Jeanette, noting how Jeannine was eyeing him.
"Oh, mighty Papa," intoned Jamie, bowing towards the fighting Papa Snuff and Bob. "You shall win this battle with the evil Bob. You always win." Jason Lard and Morton Clayton sniggered openly.
"Students, we must capture Bob and Susan and wrest control of the City from them!" bellowed Mr Yoiks.
"You're too late," retorted Mr Slavers as the student groups turned towards the cluster of teachers. "They no longer have control of the City. Only..." He paused to run a few calculations through his head. "...about 30% at most." A ruckus to the south developed as the Shorties finally caught up to the Snuffs and more fighting erupted. The 50 Muppets, marching towards the beginning of the main drive singing a lewd song, cheered and offered suggestions and a few bullets to both sides.
Suddenly, Bob and Papa, who'd been alternating in shouting spells at each other for the past ten minutes, each howled a different spell together. Everything suddenly became quiet. People's lips moved but no sound came out. Screams of fighting Burgermen, Snuffs and Shorties were absorbed by a blanket of silence. Even Bob and Papa were surprised. Just as suddenly as it had come, the silence lifted.
"Take that you stinking Muppets!" Mr Snott bellowed, firing a machine-gun at the retreating column. Several Muppets were hit, but by grapes. "What?" muttered the puzzled English teacher. He turned the weapon on the students, but they too were smacked by grapes. The irritated students fired their guns at him, and he was socked by the fruits and some cherry tomatoes from the larger-calibre recoilless pistols.
"Die Roland filth!" snarled a Burper King fighter, whipping a Glopper at the target. It hit and exploded, showering the vicinity with foul-smelling glop, but the Rolander was undamaged. Brainy Snuff swiped at Orange Blossom with his machete, but at the last second it turned into a giant carrot, which hit with a thwack.
"Bob, something strange is going on here," said Papa Snuff, his composure regained.
"For once, I think you're right," replied the Emperor, returning to his naturally pasty complexion from the reddish-purple it had been before.
"Saying those two spells together must have done it," chimed in Susan, who'd been nearby all the while rooting Bob on. Suddenly, the Burgermen vanished. Then, the Snuffs and Shorties disappeared. Next went the Muppets and the Adults, including Bob and Susan. The only people left on the ex-Palace Grounds were the Centralites.
"So much for the Diplomacy game," Lee Middleman said.
"All right you guys!" bawled Mr Yoiks officiously to the scattered groups over the walkie-talkies. "Everybody head for the main drive! Our bus should be coming to get us pretty soon!" It took a good twenty minutes for the hundred and some students and teachers to slip, slide and slog their way to the shattered pavement of the main driveway to the former palace. All about them were snapped trees, junked tanks, broken weapons and torn-up lawn and bloody muck where some massacres had occurred. The breeze had cleared the air of the stench of burgers and the smoke of battle, and the sun was shining blithely on the city as if nothing was happening. "Okay, siddown and clean your weapons! We have a job ahead of us!" Mr Yoiks roared. He roared because somebody had hit him on the forehead with a high-velocity grape and knocked him down. The others, laughing at the indisposition of their beloved leader, did so.
"This thing is strange," said Horton to Karen as they were taking apart their assault rifles. "There are bullets in the chamber here, and the cloning magazine produces bullets, yet they change to grapes after the trigger is pulled." It was he who had shot Mr Yoiks. "I wonder just when in flight they change."
"Beats me," Karen replied as they efficiently wiped and scraped. "But it will definitely make combat more interesting." By 5:00, all maintenance work was complete.
"I'm hungry!" Jason complained over the noise of his stomach. "When do we eat?" Mork Beercraft laughed crazily, probably because Betty Giannosca was tickling him. Mr Krammer, another of the 11 staff members with the students, who had the dubious privilege of teaching him and Harold Grade 13 Chemistry a year or so ago, lashed out with a nearby tree branch, which turned into a large loaf of bread instants before impact.
"I've always wanted to do that!" said the evil beak. "Though not with those results," he grumbled. Jason grabbed the pieces of bread and gobbled them down greedily.
"This definitely reduces our supply lines," Peter Strange, the ever-thoughtful tactician, remarked. He grabbed a rock and tossed it gently at Lee Middleman, and it obligingly became a hot-cross bun. Lee repeated the gesture, giving Peter a nice, fresh roll. Soon the entire group was feasting on a wild variety of stuff.
"Seems like things are pretty well produced at random," munched Roslind. "Based only on the size of the object." Suddenly, an armoured school bus turned around the corner 200 metres away and began heading towards them.
"That's our crest on it, anyway," said Harold, peering through his binoculars. The Centralites got up and began moving towards the vehicle. "But I don't like the looks of that driver," he added warningly. He looks familiar..."
"Cripes, it's Mr Monster!" shouted Mr Knobs, hastily setting up the M-64 heavy machine-gun on its tripod with the aid of Mrs Rink. The bus' front turret opened up and small mangoes the size of a fist began hitting the scattering people. Mr Knobs began letting off prolonged bursts from the machine-gun, firing what looked like horseradishes. Lee, Morton Clayton and Jeannine had grenade launchers and Mr Snott, Fanny Allerput and Victoria Blatter had bazookas and began using them. The others, with their rifles and pistols, also let loose, knowing that the bus was built to withstand worse.
In spite of the bazooka rockets-cum-zucchinis which exploded on impact, spattering yellow goo over a large radius, and the rocket-propelled grenades-cum-cantaloupes which did the same, impacting on his windshield, the crazed Mr Monster managed to keep the bus on course. They could see him through the windshield as the wipers cleared it, obviously laughing maniacally.
"He must have the turret on automatic," cursed Jimmy Redhead as he was hit on the left shoulder by a mango and knocked flying onto the lawn of a smashed manor. It was all of 45 seconds before the bus reached their position, and it was doing 50 km/h when it struck Mr Knobs' and Mrs Rink's position in the middle of the road and suddenly ground to a halt over a distance of about 10 metres in a cloud of cake crumbs. The deceleration was too much for Mr Monster, who hurled through the window and landed on the ground in front of the vehicle, only to get run over very shortly after. The teachers were overwhelmed, and their clones appeared nearby, along with the cloned gun.
"It's cake!" said Jason, taking a bite. The wheels had disintegrated instantly, along with the chassis and most of the bottom. "And the windows are spun sugar! Yummy!" The Centralites all dropped their weapons and swarmed greedily over the vehicle, tearing it to shreds and devouring the better part of it in half an hour. Mr Monster partook too, and stuffed his many pockets with what he couldn't eat.
"Ooh, that was good," said Roslind appreciatively. They all were lying about groaning and burping.
"Like, meals on wheels, eh?" said Dave Simple brightly, getting a shower of debris.
"A piece of cake," Harold added, getting a similar treatment.
"All right, Monster," grated Mr Yoiks. "What made you do this to us?"
"I felt like it," he shrugged. "It was your just dessert for talking in the library," he added. Everyone threw junk at him too.
"Nobody's exempt from abuse after a pun," Harold noted aloud. The real school bus then turned around the corner and approached sedately.
"Well don't do it again!" said Mr Nanoonanoo. "For that, prepare a report on Chapters 20 to 25 in your Economics book for next class!" Jamie Raymonds, Jeannine and others who were going to be victims of his Grade 13 Economics class laughed. So did Mr Slavers. "What are you laughing at, Slavers?" he cursed.
"You laughed at me when I slid down the cliff back there," was the reply. "I may forget names, but I never forget a slight," he added, to more laughter. The bus arrived and the driver turned around and opened the door.
"Now what are we getting into?" muttered Harold to Mork as Mr Yoiks whispered to Mr Blatspot and the bus lurched off, once they all were in.
But while the Centralites were getting organized, the rest of the armed crazies in Poppy Street had recovered from the sudden teleportation they had received. It was not just the ones at the Palace who'd been teleported, but everyone. They had been conveniently scattered uniformly all over the city in small groups of no more than ten Snuffs, Shorties, Rolanders, Burper Kingers, "innocent" kids, Adults, or Muppets. Naturally, fighting erupted almost immediately. At first, it was pretty random as one group bumped into another and they had at it, but as the hour progressed, so did everyone's organization. Roland and the Burper King had regained control of their armies, somehow convincing their rebellious underlings that they were the best qualified.
"Roland, you're absolutely nuts!" snorted Grimmis.
"Exactly!" retorted Roland, whipping a Big Muck at a spying Shortie. Its explosion decorated the nearby buildings and the Shortie with smelly guck, but didn't kill her. "Get them before they report our location to the foul Burper King!" screeched the red-headed clown. A heavy firefight of produce began as the Rolanders attacked and the Shorties beat a retreat to avoid capture. Roland and his cohorts gleefully gave chase.
By organization, the groups had gotten larger and had acquired radios for communication. The main objectives of the Burper King was to capture Roland and make him eat his food, and vice versa. The Snuffs just wanted to get even, which meant beating up on any Poppy Streeter or Shortie gang which was outnumbered at least two to one by a Snuff gang. The Shorties wanted to capture the Snuffs and work out some lust on them, and create lots of mayhem in the meantime. The Poppy Streeters wanted to boot out the Burgermen, the Snuffs and the Shorties. Bob and Susan wanted control of the city. So did the Centralites and the Muppets.
The fighting calmed from 5:15 to 5:45 while everyone ate, and heated up again soon after.
Strawberry Shortcake, for the first time since she'd left the Snuff village, had finally assembled a sizeable group of Shorties. She and her 25 compatriots had just encountered a Rolander tank and were shooting at it with everything they had, and getting nowhere. The machine, which was able to take several direct hits from enemy anti-tank weaponry before being destroyed, easily shrugged off the barrage of grapes, radishes, turnips and zucchini the Shorties were firing at it. In turn, the Shorties were discovering the damage a high-velocity watermelon could inflict upon them. After five minutes, Strawberry squealed:
"Storm the tank!" She, Blueberry Muffin, Orange Blossom and Peach Delight charged the tank, performing maneuvers to avoid the burger-launchers and watermelons. Just as they had gotten to the turret and were prying open the turret hatch with crowbars, two of Bob's Security Police tanks and a squad of Snuffs smashed their way between two houses ten metres ahead. The other Shorties squealed excitedly and opened up, and the twelve Snuffs, led by Handy and Brainy, dove for cover and returned fire. Finally the hatch was opened and the Shorties forced their way inside, kicking, punching and biting. They won the fight after another five minutes, during which time Orange Blossom got knocked out. The unconscious Burgermen were tossed out.
The Security tanks, evidently manned by Snuffs, opened up after getting a secure position. Meanwhile, burger shells began falling in the vicinity, messing things up, and a kamikaze army of 40 Rolanders charged around the corner behind the Shorties about 20 metres away. They opened fire, and now Chicken McNugget missiles were flying about too.
"Oh, drat this thing!" cursed Peach Delight as she shifted position to activate the turret turning switch and her pistol in its holster dug into her leg. "Hey, wait a minute!" she shouted over the ruckus of the battle. Snuffs and Rolanders were now hand-to-hand fighting, the Snuffs being aided by their tanks, and some Rolanders were now trying to get in their tank. "These are our stun pistols, you know, that we use to subdue the Snuffs with!"
"They won't work any better than what we have," a groggy Orange Blossom discounted. "But try anyway." Peach drew the pistol, opened a gun port and expertly shot a Rolander. After a couple of seconds, he fell like a sack of potatoes.
"It worked! It worked!" crowed Peach. Blueberry popped open the hatch and shot the surprised Rolanders trying to pry it open. Down they went, one cracking his skull on the pavement and dying.
"All-points bulletin to Snuffs, Poppy Streeters and Shorties," announced Strawberry over the tank's radio.
"Don't be so pompous," Blueberry griped.
"Stuff it!" Strawberry retorted. "Shorties, use your stun pistols against the Burgermen. They work! Declare a ceasefire with the Poppy Streeters and Snuffs, let them clone your pistols, unite and defeat the marauding Burgermen and end the war for once and for all! Go for it!"
"You always overdo things!" Orange Blossom complained.
"You stuff it, too!" Strawberry snapped. "I'll deal with your complaints later! Just shoot!" And shoot they did.
The announcement came at a good time. It was after six, and the sun would set in a couple of hours. Nobody liked fighting after dark, and only a few battles in the history of Poppy Street had lasted long enough to be postponed until sunrise. None of the Poppy Streeters were anxious to have marauding Burgermen, Snuffs and Shorties in their city overnight. The Snuffs, Shorties and most of the Burgermen weren't either. Roland and the Burper King didn't care how long it took, though. That was the problem.
There was another lull in the fighting, punctuated only by occasional artillery barrages, as the Streeters armed up. Unfortunately, the Burgermen had also heard the announcement, ambushed a party of Shorties and made off with a couple of the guns and began arming themselves.
The radio on the school bus informed the Centralites that Roland had made his headquarters in a shopping mall in the northeast part of the city and the Burper King in the southeast.
"Strike force two, do you read?" Mr Yoiks asked over the special comm channel.
"We read you, Yoiksy," came Mr Frumpy's smarmy voice. "Whaddayer want now?"
"Stop calling me that!" roared Mr Yoiks, as the others sniggered. "You attack the Burper King's HQ and we'll go after Roland! Got that, wart head?"
"Fine with me, power puss," the Vice-Principal snarkily replied. "See you later, knob-nose."
"Fine by me, you...you..." Mr Monster grabbed the microphone.
"You nice guy you!" he said.
"WHAT? HOW DARE YOU CALL ME THAT?" came the answering bellow. "I'LL--" Mr Yoiks switched it back to the regular frequency.
"Thanks," he said, very grudgingly. The Centralites had gotten their stun pistols at a Muppet roadblock, as well as Grover and Bert. As the bus rumbled down the streets towards its destination, plowing through firefights and Burgerman roadblocks as necessary, they occupied the only two empty seats, in the back where the War Gamers, Harold's old group and Roslind and her group were.
"Hello Horton, Morton," said Bert, recognizing the two Claytons from their early-morning foray into the Snuff village.
"I think I know some of you guys and gals," said Grover.
"Probably," Karen Sing replied.
"We've been a pain to practically everyone at one stage or another," Jimmy Redhead added. Mork laughed. He always laughed.
"We're moving in half our tanks as backup for the assault on Roland," said Grover. "The other half are, of course, for the Burper King."
"We'll need something to help us across the parking lots," Harold added. "There's no cover at all."
"I understand even Bob and Susan will be helping," added Bert. "But we'll have to watch them like hawks."
"We know very well how far we can trust them," Betty Giannosca stated. "No farther than we can throw a Jason." Jason Lard burped.
"I'm hungry." The bus took a sudden burst of burger fire from the left side, which became coated with guck. The two recoilless rifle turrets, manned by students at the front, replied with what would have been a devastating barrage. The large turnips did manage to smash up the Rolander position, however.
"Everyone is converging now," Bert said over the ruckus. "The attack should begin...HEY! LOOK OUT!" As they wove past a junked tank in the middle of the street, it turned out that it wasn't quite so junked after all. The 100-mm auto-cannon of the Muppet T-99 Mutilator swiftly swivelled and fired five shots at the right side of the bus from point-blank range.
Even though the shells transformed into watermelons, the oversized fruits smashed through the windows and side armour, killed 20 students and teachers instantly by impact or by flying glass or metal, and splattered everyone very thoroughly. Many more were injured by the glass, metal and watermelon rind, and all got badly beaten-up, most fatally, when the bus flipped onto its left side and rolled partially onto its roof while grinding a loud 180-degree turn on the street. The vehicle then rolled back on its left side with a shuddering crash and lay still.
Harold's clone popped up, fully armed with his standard weapons and the Shortie pistol, about 25 feet away from the wreck. With him were Jeannine, Dave Simple, Peter Strange, Roslind and Harmony, Lazy and Greedy Snuffs. There were loud whoops from the tank and several Goblins broke cover, only to get mown down by a vicious hail of horseradishes and sleeper bullets.
"I'm glad they're horseradishes," said Lazy. "They hurt."
"Agreed," said the Centralites. One kamikaze Goblin with a lighted branch charged at the back of the bus, tossed it at a puddle of fuel and fell, several dozen stun shots in its body. The eight dropped flat as the bus exploded, momentarily filling the air with shrapnel, shredded Goblins and Rolanders.
"The self-destruct mechanism must have been touched off," Jeannine said to the Snuffs, who nodded in agreement.
"A very thorough job," said Lazy.
"On to the mall," said Peter, looking grim, once the hazard was past. They weren't that far away from the mall stronghold, and were able to hustle along the fronts of the houses to the edge of the large parking lot. Roland tanks, about 30 of them three deep blocked off the main entrance, which was about 500 feet away from the party. They were already trading fire with Muppet and Security Police tanks and APC's, more of which were arriving every minute.
"Looks like they blew up the other entrances," Harmony said over the noise, noticing the piles of rubble where the secondary entrances were. There was no sign of anyone else outside a vehicle, though there were doubtlessly many on the perimeter watching closely, Harold assessed. After about 15 minutes of ineffectual fire, with Greedy potting a few inaccurate rocket-propelled grenades, 45 Poppy Streeter tanks and 5 APC's, mostly Bob's paddy wagons, were in the lot with Roland's.
"Roland McDownal, you have one chance," came Grover's voice over the walkie-talkie Roslind was holding. "Surrender now or we'll go in and get you!" There was a moment of silence.
"Never!" bleated Roland, a little uncertainly. "Well, maybe," he hesitated. "Nah," he finally concluded. "What the hell. Might as well go down in a blaze of glory. Come and get me!"
"Tanks, breach the walls!" Grover ordered. With a loud clanking of treads and booming of guns, the First Temporary Poppy Street Tank Division rumbled towards the badly battered building.
"Don't let them get by!" Grimmis ordered. The Rolander tanks moved outwards, firing randomly, trying to get in the way.
"Men and ladies on the ground, charge!" Kermit ordered. A trickle of dodging humans, Muppets, Snuffs and Shorties appeared on the tarmac and scooted towards the building. This included the group of eight, who hustled along the sidewalk towards a parked car. Someone on the roof began potting burgers from a mortar at them, but soon gave up and aimed elsewhere. The vehicle, a large, heavy luxury Monstermobile, was unlocked and they all were able to pile in.
"Mmm, nice," commented Dave, examining the weapons control as Harold, the driver, hot-wired the car. "Lots of armament on this one. Two front machine-guns, a driver's side flame-thrower and a mine-dropper in the rear, to be precise." The engine roared to life and Harold swung the car around the wide, empty street, bounced heavily over the curb, and aimed straight at a side service door, blocked by debris.
"I hope you know what you're doing, Harold," warned Roslind.
"Fasten your seatbelts, folks," was all that he replied.
"You're not going to crash into that, are you?" Lazy asked.
"I wouldn't be surprised," Peter commented as the car accelerated, aimed squarely at the ex-door. "It seems to be his most notable driving skill," he added.
"You're just jealous," Harold retorted. "Here goes!" Everyone ducked as the vehicle plowed through and exploded into the interior of the mall, emerging relatively undamaged. "My driving instructor would have failed me for that," he remarked. "And for this." He clobbered a startled Goblin, whose broken body was tossed through a shop window. Then they saw the tank in the middle of the corridor. Harold swerved with a squealing of tires to the right and Dave fired the machine-guns, to no effect of course.
"Uh, Peter?" Greedy asked.
"Yup, that's me," replied the Strange person.
"What's this wire for?" It led into the seat cushion. With a bit of wriggling, he got his knife and slit the seat.
"Oh, &@#%," the five in the back seat said.
"Uh, Harold," said Jeannine, "just make sure you're not hit, okay? Let's get out of here as soon as we--YIKES!--can!" Harold had had to smash through a window to avoid the tank as Dave hosed it with the flame-thrower.
"Why?" he grunted, slamming on the brakes and leaving a trail of rubber behind.
"We just picked up a car bomb," said Roslind. "We're sitting on a seat full of dynamite." This time the Raymonds driver had to hit the brakes. Rolanders were shooting heavy stuff from all sides, the windshield had cracked and he had nearly lost control. The car came to rest inches from a pretty fountain. The attacking Rolanders suddenly had more things to worry about as another tank smashed through a nearby wall.
"Any sign of a timer?" Harmony, the other one in the front seat, asked as the bombardment of assorted large fruits and vegetables continued, messing up the windows. The tank the car had passed was burning merrily, thanks to the napalm-like substance from the flame-thrower, and smoke was beginning to fill the wide, airy corridor. So were Muppets, Burgermen, Goblins, assorted Adults and "innocent" kids, and some Snuffs and Shorties as the ground force reached the mall. Heavy firefights and hand-to-hand combat melees erupted as Rolander snipers began shooting their Shortie pistols, and the attackers shot back.
"Hey, Roland's fort is here, in the fish shop! Argh!" shouted an unidentified Snuff over the radio. He had evidently been shot moments after his revelation.
"No it isn't!" came another voice, obviously Roland's, but in soprano. "It's in the, uh, library!"
"There isn't a library in this mall!" Mr Monster's voice boomed back. "Get that clown!"
"If there was, he would have stolen some books from it," Fanny Allerput chirped. The evil librarian's roar of rage could be heard all over the building, in spite of the considerable battle noise.
"Go down the corridor here and turn right. It's the store at the very end of the corridor," Roslind directed.
"What gives you that idea, eh?" asked Dave.
"I shop here regularly, small man." Peter interrupted Dave's uncomplimentary remark.
"Here's the timer. It's set for 6:25. What time is it?"
"6:20," Harold replied, checking his watch and coughing. The smoke was getting pretty bad. The other tank that had breached the wall seemed to have stalled, and now was also on fire due to a barrage of incendiary burger products. The store was also beginning to catch fire.
"Well, what are we waiting for?" Jeannine asked. A series of burger shells exploded in the fountain, critically polluting it and splashing the windshield enough to allow the wipers to work. Shortie bullets rattled off the right side of the car, and a small group of attackers ran by firing in all directions.
"That, I suppose," said Harmony as Harold backed the car up a little, turned to avoid the fountain, drove ahead slowly for 100 feet and turned. A litter of broken glass, clothing, unconscious bodies and assorted stuff lay before a hastily constructed barricade manned by Rolanders armed to the teeth. Dave and Lazy began firing the machine-guns as Harold sped up.
"Harold, what is this thing you have about driving through obstacles?" Peter asked.
"I like to drive everyone to distraction," he replied. The heavy car smashed through with ease, clobbering a few Rolanders in the process, and Lazy let loose with the flame thrower, only this time it sprayed the lines with lemon jello.
"The spell must be wearing off," Peter commented. "It's becoming inconsistent."
"Yeah, like we should have turned into cake or something," Dave said. "And the flamethrower worked fine on the tank."
"Ladies and gentlemen of the Poppy Street attack force," announced Roslind, as the car accelerated up the corridor towards the tropical fish-selling shop. "We are about to penetrate Roland's HQ with a car bomb. Be prepared to grab him." Inside the store, they could see the look of fear on the Burgerman honcho and his stoolies' faces.
It was 8:00 pm by the time all of the warring parties had gathered on the shattered Palace grounds of Poppy Street City. A large raised platform had been hastily built where the Palace had been, and Muppets, "innocent" kids, Adults, Centralites, Snuffs, Shorties and the ordinary Burgermen footsoldiers were gathered around in a huge crowd to the west of it. Several TV cameras from the station KILL-TV were also there, broadcasting live to the people who couldn't make it.
At 8:05, a Muppet APC and a Security Police APC arrived. Roland McDownal and the Burper King, dishevelled, dirty and in handcuffs, were taken from the two vehicles respectively and pushed up the steps to the platform by Bob, Susan, Grover, Kermit, Gordon, Mr Hooper, Cookie Monster, Bert, and several Adult and Muppet guards. Mr Yoiks also went up, followed by Grimmis, the Hamburglar, Captain Crook, Sir Shakealot and the Duke of Doubt, not in handcuffs but closely guarded. Snuffelopagus and Big Bird, both heavily armed and armored, stationed themselves on the ground at either end.
"Ladies and gentlemen of Poppy Street Island," Bob announced into a microphone at exactly 8:10. "It is my pleasure to present to you the final humiliation of those wretched Burgermen who dared to trash, smash and destroy our beautiful city in the name of their petty squabbles!" There was a round of applause and cheers.
"That's are the first applause he's gotten since he was forced to say he lost the Poppy Street Olympics a couple of years ago," Harold commented loudly. The Centralites and others around him laughed. Bob, unfortunately, was out of range.
"Guards, present the burgers!" Bob ordered. Some guards put Burper King Gloppers on the table in front of Roland, Grimmis, Captain Crook and the Hamburglar, and some McDownal's Big Mucks in front of the Burper King, the Duke of Doubt and Sir Shakealot.
"The reason these two have been fighting for so long," explained Grover while this was occurring, "was that Roland wanted to capture the Burper King and make him eat a Big Muck, while the Burper King wanted to make Roland eat a Glopper. Now we're making them both eat each other's foods." There were more cheers.
"We won't eat!" chorused the two culprits sulkily.
"Oh, what the heck," said the Duke of Doubt. "I will." He grabbed his Big Muck and took a bite. "Not bad," he finally said. "It's certainly no worse than a Glopper."
"TRAITOR! LIAR!" screamed the infuritated King, lunging at him, but being restrained by the guards. The stoolies were at a different table from their leaders anyway. Captain Crook took the plunge next, and came to the same conclusion. It was Roland's turn to be forcefully restrained. The others then began munching too.
"Go on, eat!" urged Bob and Grover, waving the burgers under the leaders' noses.
"You can't make us!" defied the Burper King petulantly. On a look from Kermit, the stoolies chorused:
"But we can!" They got up and Grimmis and Captain Crook pinned Roland's arms and the Duke of Doubt and Kermit pinned the Burper King's arms. The Hamburglar and Sir Shakealot then forced open their beloved leaders' mouths, shoved the burgers in and then forced the mouths shut. The audience was hooting, whistling and egging them on all the while.
"Well?" demanded Bob finally.
"Blecch!" said the Burper King, pulling a face.
"Yecch!" said Roland McDownal, pulling another face.
"They're lying, of course," affirmed the Hamburglar.
"Definitely," seconded the Duke. The two scowled and pouted.
"The war is over!" announced Grover, before Bob could. There was a great roar of applause, cheers, whistles, screams and shouts and volleys of joyfully discharged weaponry. Fruits and vegetables rained on the crowd and the platform for ten minutes, until 8:30.
"Now, happy Poppy Streeters," Bob said, squinting into the setting sun, "it is my pleasure to inform you that peace, order and prosperity will be restored to Poppy Street under my rule--"
"Sorry, Bob," Mr Yoiks interrupted. Bob goggled at the nerve of the man, actually daring to interrupt him, and even address him without the usual "Great Emperor" or "Lord and Master" prefixes that he demanded on pain of torture. The Central Principal smiled, a momentous event indeed. "I am telling you that we, the senior students, graduates and teachers of Poppy Street Central S.S. are hereby deposing you and your dictatorial cohorts Susan, Gordon and Mr Hooper," he announced pompously. "No more shall you crush the fair City under your iron fist! No more shall we have to pander to your silly whims and foolish ideas! No more shall we be the dictatorship of the world! My first deed as President-for-Life of Poppy Street is to declare you under arrest, pending the compilation of all of the crimes you have committed so you can be charged with them! My second deed will be--"
"Excuse us, sir," said Harold Raymonds politely, taking the microphone away. It was the Principal's turn to goggle. Bob was past that, thrashing about foaming and purple-faced on the platform and howling furiously. The other three were also glaring, but not manifesting any other signs of their moods. All were being covered by Streeters with stun pistols. The War Gamers, Harold's group and Roslind's group had all mounted the stage while Mr Yoiks was blathering on and the audience was cheering and applauding his speech and Bob's antics.
"We are some of the senior students and graduates of Central," Harold said, wiping some sweat from his forehead rather shakily, for public speaking always made him nervous. "And we feel it would be a disservice to exchange one dictator for another."
"I AM NOT A DICTATOR!" Mr Yoiks roared angrily.
"Yes you are," he retorted. "I went to Central for five years, and then got dragged from my Diplomacy game this morning so I could help you take over the City. I should know!"
"We are announcing that a freely-elected, democratic government will be formed for the city, including, for the very first time, the Muppets."
"NO! NO MUPPETS! NEVER!" foamed Mr Yoiks, turning purple, falling on the platform and thrashing around too. The audience cheered, especially the Muppets.
"The elections will be held next month, for positions to be announced," Richard Eglise, the War Gamers leader, continued. "Until then, a Council of five Muppets and five Adults will rule. Let us hope that this shall bring us the peace, prosperity and happiness that so many of us have longed for for so long." The rest of the Muppet High Command, Ernie, Oscar the Grouch and Guy Smiley had joined Grover, Bert, Kermit and Cookie Monster on the platform by now, and in the soft glow of the summer twilight, they and all the Centralites and guards shook hands.
"Well, Papa Snuff," said Strawberry Shortcake as the Snuffs and Shorties gathered underneath one of the arc lamps that were illuminating the rapidly emptying ex-Palace grounds. "Are you willing to let bygones be bygones?"
"I suppose so," Papa grumped. "We got an adequate revenge on those Poppy Street upstarts after that trick they and you pulled on us." The Shorties giggled.
"And we had a good time too!" Hefty volunteered.
"Even after we'd captured you?" quizzed Lemon Meringue.
"No comment." They all laughed.
"I guess it's time to go," sighed Peach Delight. Suddenly, the entire city spread out below them began glowing a soft, gentle white. So did the grounds around them. The glow lasted half a minute, then vanished. They noticed that the arc lamps had been replaced by quaint, old-fashioned streetlamps that illuminated a totally new park, with paved walkways and tall, shadowy trees.
"Even the clone machine has changed," Greedy marvelled.
"Gallawagga orfneckle Snuffs back home!" Papa screeched suddenly, flapping his arms and doing a somersault. The Snuffs vanished, leaving nothing behind.
"But Papa hasn't," Strawberry remarked dryly. "Foondangle home we go," she said simply, and the Shorties vanished too.
"That take-out of Roland's stronghold was impressive," Lee Middleman said as the War Gamers and Roslind's crowd stood on the front lawn of their school, saying goodbye. "I've never seen a shopping mall get so thoroughly destroyed."
"It was a lucky break," said Peter. "But I wonder who would leave a car bomb there, and why?"
"Maybe it was the clone machine," said Jeannine. "Despite all the years it's been here, nobody really knows how it operates. All we know is that it can be interfered with."
"And with Bob, Susan and friends in the slammer, and the Burgermen shipped off to their own satellite village, let's hope that its services won't be called upon for a long time," Jamie Raymonds added. They all agreed.
"Peace in Poppy Street sounds so strange," Roslind commented after a pause. "Poor Harold. He'll have no more stories to write."
"They aren't stories," Harold corrected. "They're merely descriptions of events as they happened. I'm not sorry, either."
"Well, should we try Diplomacy again tomorrow?" Andrew Allerput asked. "Same time, same place? The German Empire shall rule the continent and liberate the hapless peasants from their oppressors! Especially English ones."
"Now wait just a minute!" Don Vanloony began.
"Sounds like yes," said Dave.
Much to Bob's (and Mr Yoiks') rage, Independence From Bob Day celebrations that started the next day were noisy, enthusiastic, and lasted well into the wee hours of the morning. The Snuffs and Shorties came back and did their best to out-party each other and the Streeters, but the outcome was unclear. To Don's dismay, Andrew's German Empire, aided by the perfidious Russians under Harold, overran Merrie England and he spent the rest of the game with his head in a box. After the game, the guys joined the celebrations, boasting of their exploits to Roslind's group, who "just happened" to bump into them after dinner.
"Do you expect us to believe all that?" Jeannine asked.
"But of course," Harold replied, raising a glass of ginger ale to the softly glowing summer moon. "This is the new Poppy Street, and all things are possible."
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