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Guest art by Olivier Pichard
Episode 14: Commercial Break
It was while sloshing through the dark green water of the dark brown sewer tunnel that Hana put together what she considered to be her greatest creation: a dandruff flashlight that actually worked. When she first pressed the On/Off switch and all the rats scattered from the sudden beam, a flutter passed through her, travelling up her spine and to her lips. She smiled with satisfaction while James looked at the scurrying rats with disgust.
‘And then there was light,’ Hana said.
‘And then there were rats,’ James said.
Hana rolled her eyes. For James, it seemed like every time Hana moved the flashlight it fell upon some new atrocity: a giant, translucent spider; a skull that did not fit any animal they were aware of; a wall drenched in unidentifiable slime; the flash of a scaly tail; and so on.
‘You’re supposed to be manly,’ Hana told him.
James smirked. ‘I’ll be manly when you need me to be,’ he said. ‘Just get me to Brussel.’
‘I’m working on it.’
They continued sloshing until they came upon a bear-shaped hole in a wall. The pair looked at each other and then carefully stepped towards it, the gross water rippling around their feet. James did not step carefully enough, however, for he tripped over a stranded brick, sending him flying through the hole.
‘Blarr!’ would be the closest approximation to what he said as he landed on the other side.
Hana rushed after, kicking up the dirty water and staining her skirt. That did not matter, though. All that mattered was seeing if James was—
‘Blarrrrr, I’m okay,’ James said, gazing up at Hana from his awkward position on the cobbled floor beyond the hole. His bat had landed some distance away from him. ‘Blarr.’
Hana gulped down her worry.
‘Is anything twisted?’ she asked.
‘Just Brussel,’ James replied. ‘And Kohlrabi. Possibly Jack.’
Hana climbed over the small pile of bricks that separated the sewer from this new area. She scraped the skin of her shin but, much like the staining of her skirt, was entirely unaffected by it. After sticking the dandruff flashlight in her armpit, she reached down, grabbed James’ hands and helped him up. She then picked up his bat and handed it to him.
‘I’m guessing we’re close to Brussel’s secret laboratory,’ James said, adjusting his hat as he looked around. ‘He sure picked a creepy enough place for it.’
The beam of Hana’s flashlight seemed to fade into infinity depending on where she pointed it.
‘It’s not so bad,’ she said. ‘I wonder where he is.’
James stood his bat perfectly straight on the ground and then let go. Upon landing, the tip of the bat pointed directly ahead of them.
‘Let’s try that way,’ he said.
They stuck close as they ventured deeper into the secret room. Sometimes something small would run across James’ feet but he simply gritted his teeth and did his best to ignore it. Hana kept her flashlight pointing downwards ahead of them, and after walking for what they felt to be an unnecessarily long time, the beam fell upon the familiar red pawprints of the giant red dandruff bear.
‘Hotcha!’ Hana cried out in joy. ‘Now we just have to follow them in reverse and see where they came from. How’s your energy level?’
‘My legs are drained,’ James told her. ‘But my arms are still ripe for some swinging. Point me in the right direction when the time comes and I’ll be able to do some mind-blowing damage.’
‘Okay. Just don’t hurt Brussel. All we want to do is destroy his dandruff-making equipment or whatever it is he’s using to make his monsters.’
‘Is that the plan?’
‘Yeah, that’s the plan.’
The tracks led them towards a pair of glowing red dots that appeared to be perpetually in the distance. James automatically assumed they were rat eyes, while Hana imagined they were LED lights, either for a machine or some strange alarm clock. They drew closer and closer until they reached another wall with another bear-shaped hole in it. Beyond it were the lights, completely stationary, and the humming of electronic equipment.
‘I think this might be it,’ Hana whispered, and then she placed her finger over her lips to let James know not to say anything until further notice.
James nodded in agreement, but then he tripped over another brick which yet again sent him flying. His landing made a metallic crash on the other side of the new hole.
‘Blar,’ came his faint and resigned voice.
Hana once more rushed to his crumpled form, this time as silently as she could manage. James shook the dizziness out of his head and looked around them. The two red lights were still there, but now there were also green, blue, purple and white lights, in addition to a lot more red ones. The lights were part of stark metal constructions large enough to be considered walls, bringing to mind the supercomputers of old tv shows.
‘We’re here,’ Hana whispered.
James pushed himself up and immediately took up a batting position.
‘What should we smash first?’
Hana grabbed his arm.
‘Let’s not go crazy just yet. We should try to find Brussel and squeeze some answers out of him.’
James lowered his arms disappointedly.
‘Fine,’ he said. ‘We’ll split up. That’s always a good idea.’
‘I’ll go right,’ she said.
‘No. I’ll go right.’
Hana raised an eyebrow at him.
‘Why do you want to go right?’ she asked.
‘Because it’s right,’ James answered. ‘If there’s danger around, I want to be in the middle of it.’
‘That doesn’t make any sense. Just go left.’
James looked dejected.
‘What’s so bad about left?’ Hana asked.
James gave her a look that said ‘Are you kidding me?’
He said ‘Left is just what’s left of right.’
Hana rolled her eyes and then proceeded to venture left with impatient footsteps. James headed right, dragging his bat along the metal casings of the supercomputers as he walked. The sound recalled for Hana her malfunctioning dandruff robot, and the thought of her malfunctioning dandruff robot brought to mind the projections she had seen of Brussel’s laboratory. She remembered that there had been a bit more light in the robot’s video and that there had been a large barrel of dandruff; she kept her eyes peeled for them and for a bucket of red paint that she assumed would be nearby.
‘“What would I do if the lights went out”,’ she sang softly to herself. ‘I guess I’d make a dandruff flashlight.’
Her foot found the bucket. She looked down and saw that a dash of red paint covered the tops of her shoes. The sound of James’ footsteps increased in volume until he was right beside her, holding her shoulder and casting his gaze in every direction. He was wondering why she had screamed.
‘I thought it was blood for a second,’ she said. ‘Instead it’s one of the main ingredients for freshly-baked dandruff bear.’
James bent down and touched the paint with his finger. He then stood up and wiped his finger across Hana’s cheek.
‘Yup, it’s paint all right,’ he said.
Hana made a face.
‘I’d figure the smell would be a better indication,’ she said.
James was about to respond but a sudden THADATHUMP! came from up ahead. The pair stood staring into the dandruff-lit darkness, wondering what great menace lurked before them.
Hana brought a hesitant foot forwards, accidentally knocking the paint bucket off to the side.
‘Must be Brussel,’ she whispered.
‘Must be,’ James whispered back. He readied his bat once again. ‘How are we going to do this?’
‘On the count of three,’ Hana told him. ‘We’ll charge forward and scream.’
‘One,’ James said.
‘Two,’ Hana said.
‘AAAAAH!’ they both screamed, and together they bolted towards the unknown.
They could not hear any other sounds above their own noise, but that made it less scary for them; as far as sound was concerned, they were still within the safety of their own world. The green silhouette taking shape ahead of them had total control over their visual world, however, and a slight fear threatened to overtake them as they came face-to-face with the evil, blasé half-smile of Brussel. They skidded to a halt a few feet away from him, and that was when the lights came on.
‘You’ve found my lair,’ the green boy said. ‘Good job.’
‘What are you planning to do?’ Hana asked, hoping Brussel would divulge all of his plans to them.
‘This and that,’ Brussel told them brusquely.
‘Should I start smashing?’ James asked Hana out of the corner of his mouth.
‘Go right ahead,’ Brussel said. ‘I don’t need this place anymore. Wanna do me a favour? Start smashing now.’
James assumed it was a trick but sent a crashing blow into a supercomputer all the same. It made a few pathetic beeps and then ceased humming. Brussel rushed forward and held out his hand in front of the next supercomputer that James had in his sights.
‘Okay, I think I made my point,’ Brussel said.
Hana and James looked at each other in confusion, and then the pair returned their confused gazes to Brussel.
‘No, I don’t think you did,’ Hana said.
‘I don’t even think he has one,’ James said.
‘Hrm,’ hrmed Brussel. ‘I’m pretty sure you have a big bear to deal with up there.’
He pointed a shiny green finger towards the dripping ceiling of the laboratory.
‘We already dealt with it,’ Hana said.
Brussel looked at them blankly for a moment.
‘What kind of a villain are you, anyway?’ Hana asked.
‘A good question, Miss Hana,’ he said. ‘I’ll show you.’
He popped off his left hand as if it were an interchangeable part on an action figure. Hana flashed her dandruff flashlight on the stub left behind and ended up highlighting a red button where Brussel’s hand once was. Brussel hovered his left hand’s index finger over the button.
‘Yes, I’ll explain the button,’ he said. ‘When I press it, all of my robot crabs will come to life; they’ll swarm your house, collecting every flake of dandruff they find. Once they reach a certain amount, they’ll begin building another dandruff bear – and then another, and another, and another, only stopping when they run out of dandruff. These dandruff bears will defeat Daniel Druff and his pet, and after that . . . Free Scorlax.’
Hana let out a heavy sigh.
‘I was hoping for something more original,’ she said. ‘And less stupid.’
‘Yeah, I hate how Scorlax shows up out of nowhere,’ James said. ‘He’s like some lame videogame villain.’
‘In our language, Scorlax means “Always at the end”,’ he explained. ‘You are what you’re named. That’s why Hana is Hana, Kohlrabi is Kohlrabi and why you’re James. It’s the universal law.’
‘You don’t seem the type to follow laws,’ noted Hana.
‘Yeah,’ James said. ‘Aren’t you going to press that button?’
‘Yes,’ Brussel said, grinning evilly, ‘With pleasure.’
Brussel pressed the button with his detached hand. Nothing happened except for silence, with Hana’s cough breaking that silence.
‘It’s not as impressive when we’re not at your house to see it happen,’ Brussel told them, ‘But trust me when I say that there’re robot crabs making dandruff bears right now.’
‘Gah!’ Hana cried out. ‘James, keep an eye on Brussel. I’m going to my house to put a stop to all this before it’s too late. Oh, and feel free to smash Brussel’s computers before he has a chance to make another button.’
‘Aye, aye,’ James said, saluting Hana with his bat.
Hana raced back to the exit, bounding over rubble and kicking up buckets of sewer water. Not once did she look back; she knew James could handle the situation, just as the way king and Daniel Druff had handled Scorlax. She knew she could always count on her friends.
While making a swift turn she accidentally banged her dandruff flashlight against the edge of one of the improvised doorways. She let the handle fall out of her hand, landing in the newly-made pile of flakes. But that was okay, because she could see the exit.
The area below the massive hole was a clearing of summer light, with sun sparkles dancing along the gentle waves of dirty water. She whistled and then watched the edge of the hole until the nose of the dandruff bear appeared, seemingly sniffing the air beneath it. She knew that was not actually the case, however, for if it were then the bear would have fainted with disgust.
‘Hullo,’ she called up to it. ‘How are those new legs doing?’
The bear turned around so that its hind legs were visible from Hana’s position.
‘Ah, there you are,’ Hana greeted the legs cheerfully.
She pulled a dandruff rope from her hair and turned it into a dandruff grappling hook, which she threw upwards to the edge of the hole above her. The hook caught onto a large chunk of road debris, and once Hana verified its strength she began climbing. Every once in a while gym class paid off.
She pulled herself onto the edge, panting and sweating, her skirt dripping sewer water. She left the grappling hook where it was in case James needed a way out.
‘Okay, Bear Legs,’ she said to the dandruff legs, ‘It’s time to redeem that thing you’re attached to.’
The legs lowered the dandruff bear so that Hana could climb on top. Once she was secured in the dandruff saddle, she tapped the bear’s right shoulder so that it turned to the right. Then she touched the bear’s sides with her heels, and the great, gross beast galloped in the direction of her house.
There was no army of dandruff bears, as far as she could make out. The tree beside her house was now completely devoid of orange balls, however; instead orange ball halves littered the ground around it. Hana was worried she was halfway to being too late.
She hastily dismounted the dandruff bear in her neighbour’s driveway and hurried to her house. The front door was unlocked but she still fumbled with the doorknob in her rush to save her family and the world. When she did get it open she ran to each room on the main floor in rapid succession, going from the living room to the dining room to the kitchen, and it was in this last room that she stepped on something.
Hana looked down at her foot as she carefully raised it and moved it over. Underneath her foot had been a metal crab. She then looked at the rest of the kitchen floor and saw that it was littered with metal crabs, each one curled up and unmoving. Hana then raised her gaze from the floor. Standing at the kitchen sink and holding a half-empty jug of water was her sister.
‘Hi,’ her sister said.
Hana tiptoed around the crabs as she headed towards her.
‘Sara! What happened here? Why are these crabs on the floor?’
‘They were here when I came to get an almond during commercial,’ Sara explained. ‘I figured they were looking for some water so I gave them some. They seem to be really enjoying it.’
Hana looked back at the lifeless clumps of metal.
‘I need to go back,’ Sara said. ‘I’m missing the show.’
‘Sara, did you know that you just saved us all?’
Her sister seemed to think about it for a moment.
‘You’re not going to tell Mom and Dad, are you?’
To Be Concluded In Episode Fifteen: The Savage, Unforgiving History of Fake Moustache Day