The Two Cowards – Book 1

‘Or, In Which Boring Gets Off Easy After All’

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the hill, Arrogant, Wimpy, Legless, Mary and Piping were wondering where in the world Hoho and Boring had got to.

“Maybe they went to Mortar without us,” said Piping hopefully.

Just then, Boring came walking down the hill. He looked at the companions carefully with some measure of fear in his eyes, and then he sat down a little apart from them.

“Rats,” muttered Mary.

“Where have you been and where’s Hoho?” asked Arrogant rudely.

Boring just looked at him with fear in his eyes and mouthed ‘wart cream’ – whatever that meant.

“We need to look for Hoho to send him off to Mortar,” said Legless.

“I say,” said Wimpy, “That we should split up and look for him.”

Mary sidled up to the unsuspecting daft.

“You aren’t thinking of deserting now, Daft?” he whispered sadly in Wimpy’s ear, with his hand on Wimpy’s shoulder and gripping it like a vise that needed oiling. “I wouldn’t like that, you know.”

“We’ve got to look for him and send him off, before one of us has to go with him!” cried Piping. “Run, everyone!”

Everyone ran.

“Boring,” shouted Arrogant before he ran off, “Find the two younger blobbits and see if you can send them off to Mortar with Hoho!”

Arrogant sped on up the hill. A quarter of the way up, he came upon Tom lounging at the base of a tree. As the man came closer, the blobbit jumped up and loudly shouted Hoho’s name.

“C’mon!” wheezed Arrogant. “We’ve got to find Hoho!”

He ran up the hill. Tom snickered and walked down the hill. As he got to the boat, he saw with horror that it was floating away.

“Hey!” he screamed. He ran as fast as he could to where the packs still were, and rummaged through until he found a rope. He quickly lassoed the boat and pulled it in. He was still wondering how it had gotten loose, when he felt a grip like iron on his neck.

“You’ve spoiled my plans,” hissed a voice. “Now you’re comin’ with me.”

“No!” croaked Tom squirming feebly, wiggling within the invisible grip like a rag on a string.
He was thrown to the ground, and suddenly Hoho appeared in front of him. He reached down and tried to grab Tom, but the other blobbit was too fast and rolled away.

“I’m not going!” Tom shouted. “I’ll knock holes in the boat first!”

Hoho snarled and lunged, but the other blobbit got up and ran. Tom was almost away, when he was roped by the very rope he had just used. He struggled wildly, but his efforts were useless as Hoho reeled him in. Hoho threw Tom onto the boat, tossed on a few random backpacks, jumped in and with a howl of triumph shoved off down the river. He made his exuberant way to the other bank, and then gleefully hacked the boat to pieces and sent it down the river.

Then with a snort at the far bank, he hoisted Tom over his shoulder and made his way through the forest, and at last wound his way down into the foothills of the Depressed Mountains and towards the land of Shadow. (But it was only shadowy ’cause the sun went behind a cloud.)

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Arrogant struggled up the hill. Three quarters of the way up, he had almost decided to turn back, when suddenly he came upon what he reluctantly sought. Blobbits tramp along like drunken elephants, you see, and even squinting really hard, Arrogant could see the prints.

“Rats,” he muttered, and bent to take a cautious look. It appeared to him that they were leading back to camp. He nervously followed them down to a slimy bog. Then over some tree roots that he didn’t see until too late. And then they led through a flozzberry patch. Then, slimy, grimy, scratched and bruised, Arrogant stumbled back to camp. He lifted his tired eyes from his tortuous way to see Boring standing in disbelief, with a watery red substance dribbling down the front of his clothes.

“Boring!” gasped Arrogant.

Boring looked up with red, watery eyes. “Wahhh uh huh uh buh, water wahhh me WAHHHHHH!”

Arrogant grabbed his shoulders and shook vigorously. “Calm down!” he shouted smacking him across the head.

“Just give me a moment, for pity’s sake!” panted Boring, “For the last 6 chapters it’s been just one relentless huge long smacking and yelling fest. I think my voice is going out, too.”

“Well,” said Arrogant, “I don’t think that you are going to have to worry much longer,” he said looking at the red liquid on Boring.

“Oh this!” said Boring “I was drinking some cherry Kool-Aid and those Corcs came around and they were much bigger than me and they started pushing me around and laughing and they dumped my Kool-Aid on me!” he finished with a sob.

“There there now,” said Arrogant, letting Boring cry on his shoulder. “Did they take Mary and Piping?”

“Y-y-y-es!” wailed Boring. “I have failed buh a huh huh me WAAAHHH!!”

“Hey,” said Arrogant, “At least they’re gone, right? Eh?”

“But I have to leave the story!” wailed Boring. “My contract is expired, and the Authors are sick of writing lines for me!”

Legless and Wimpy crept out from where they had been hiding.

“Are they gone?” whispered Wimpy. Arrogant nodded wordlessly.

“I wish they all had gone,” muttered Legless.

“Guys, I need your help. Well, I don’t actually need your help per se, but I’m willing to hear input.” Arrogant quickly explained Boring’s plight.

“Hmm,” Legless mused. “I think I may have an idea.” The man, the self, and the daft went into a huddle. Boring waited anxiously as they debated back and forth for hours. Finally, they turned to him.

“Well?” he said worriedly.

“Boring, son of Dinosaur,” said Arrogant grimly, “We have decided to tie you up and set you afloat down the river!”

Boring gasped. He tried to run, but Wimpy and Arrogant tackled him, and tightly tied him up.

“Heh heh!” said Legless. But he wasn’t quite so cynical when they tied Boring to the back of his wheelchair and made him drag him to where the boat was moored. Or, at least, where it was supposed to be moored.

“Where is the boat?” said Wimpy in a monotone.

“I don’t know where the boat is, but there’s a bottle!” said Legless pointing to the edge of the water.

Arrogant went over and picked up the bottle and sniffed it. “Dr. Mustard,” he said. “There’s only one person I know of who could stand to drink the sludge.”

“Hoho?” questioned Wimpy.

“No,” said Arrogant.

“Tom?” said Legless.

“No.”

“If you’re gonna send me down the river, can you please get it over with?” said Boring desperately.

“Who was it, Arrogant?” said Wimpy impatiently.

“Some guy I knew in the fourth grade,” shrugged Arrogant, tossing the bottle into the river.

“Hey,” shouted Legless. “Was there a message in that bottle? You didn’t even look!”

“Yeah, there could have been a message from Hoho, or even a treasure map!” cried Wimpy.

Arrogant blanched, and gazed at where the bottle had disappeared over the horizon. He turned back to them and smiled sickly.

“Let’s see about that boat, shall we?” he croaked.

The companions searched unsuccessfully high and low for the swan boat. Later that afternoon, they went back to where they had tied Boring to a tree.

“Now how am I going to leave the story?” he wailed.

Arrogant looked up suddenly. “Look!” he cried pointing downstream. There lodged on the bank was a gigantic swan head. Arrogant and Wimpy went to investigate while Legless stayed to guard Boring. (At least, that’s the excuse he used.)

Arrogant reached it first. He was examining it closely when Wimpy struggled up.

“What kept you?” snarled Arrogant.

“Well, there was this butterfly…”

“Never mind about that. What do you think about this?” The man pointed at the head.

Wimpy looked closely. “It’s only part of the boat!” he cried.

“Exactly what I thought,” said Arrogant grimly. “Now how are we going to give Boring a grand sendoff without a boat?”

“Maybe,” said Wimpy, “There’s enough wood to make a raft of some sort.”

Arrogant pushed the head out into the stream. It leaned at a rakish angle, but he could stand in what was left of the keel without water coming in. Wimpy handed him a stick and the man was able to push himself upstream while Wimpy ran along the bank whooping in delight. In this odd way they made their way to where Legless was taunting Boring.

“Ha!” he said. “You’re such a limited unexpandable character even the Authors got tired of you!”

Arrogant pulled the head up on the bank and Legless stared at it disbelievingly.

“What happened to the boat?” he said.

“It looks like it’s been hacked apart,” said Wimpy, proud of his limited knowledge.

“Was it the hatchet stuck in the wood that clued you in?” said Arrogant.

“Let’s get this guy outta here!” said Legless.

They put Boring in the partial boat and pushed him out into the river. Arrogant and Wimpy stood waist deep waving farewell while Legless snapped pictures from the shore.
After the screams of Boring had died away, Arrogant took a deep breath and started singing about the north wind for some odd reason.

Oh north wind how cold you blow
Bringing us lots of snow
Tell me have you seen Boring

“But we just sent Boring off,” interrupted Wimpy.

Arrogant glared at Wimpy while Legless started.

South wind, south wind, you blow warm
You bring us peas in summer and bees in swarm
Tell me south wind
Have you seen Boring. and will he be back again?

Then Arrogant sang again.

West wind, from the west you come
Delighting most, disgusting some
Where oh where has Boring gone?

“Mine was better than yours,” said Legless, “All my words rhymed.”

“No they don’t!” said Arrogant “‘Wind’ and ‘again’ don’t rhyme.”

“Do too!”

“Do not!”

“Do too!”

“Do not!”

While this exchange was going on, Wimpy suddenly opened his mouth and started to sing.

Oh east wind, east wind, from Mortar you are
You can’t see us, but we can see you from afar
Gloom and doom you bring,
Shadow and depression do you sing,
Blowing through the rocks in the stony desert,
Have you seen the bones of Boring
Who shall never see the light of day again?
His family will look for him –
But they will not find him, for he has gone
To where the dead are, and without a grave.
His enemies led him there, and his best friend (me)
Tried to save him, but anarchists got to him first.

“Huh?” said Legless and Arrogant.

Wimpy looked from one to another.

“Uh, nothing,” he said.

“Well,” said Arrogant. “Boring’s path has already been chosen. Now we must look to ours.”

“I wanna go home,” said Legless. Wimpy nodded his assent.

“Very well,” said the Man. “It’s unanimous. Let’s go!”

They walked back to where the packs were. But to their amazement, about half of them were missing.

“Hey!” shouted Wimpy running up, “Half of our packs are missing!”

“We already know that,” hissed Legless, “The Authors already told us.”

Wimpy pouted. “I was back in the other paragraph,” he muttered.

Arrogant looked around at the ground.

“It looks like there was a great struggle,” he said.

“What do you make of it?” said Wimpy anxiously, tugging at Arrogant’s sleeve and looking earnestly up into his face. “Have Corcs been here?”

“I would say not,” said the man, picking loose the daft’s grip and shrinking away.

“Why would you say not?” asked Legless.

“Say not what?” asked Arrogant.

“Why would you say not what say what not?” asked Legless, a bit perplexed.

“Say not what what you say would say what what?” asked Arrogant, thoroughly confused.

“Woah,” said Wimpy. “I think we need a reality check here.”

But the self and the man ignored him.

“What say no would say what not what?” said Legless.

“What who when what say what not where what?” said Arrogant.

Legless put his hand to his forehead and screamed in agony.

The last thing Wimpy remembered before he collapsed from sheer stupidity was Arrogant leaping around and chattering like a angry chipmunk.

!!pagebreak!!

The Two Cowards – Book 2

‘In Which Piping Becomes A Ruler And Some Horsies Are Spotted’

Piping opened one eye very, very slowly. He was surprised to see that he was surrounded by Corcs. He wondered what went wrong. Why had he listened to old Slimer, anyway? Why was it that sometimes he listened, and sometimes he didn’t? Why should he even think of listening to Slimer? Why didn’t he run away from him far sooner?

It was a paradox. Piping mulled over it, savoring it. He loved paradoxes. He liked to think up several before breakfast, if possible.

“Hey, Corc!” he shouted to the nearest. “Heard any good paradoxes lately?”

“Yeah, there’s one about a Daft and a Self that go into a grocery store and one of ’em has a turtle on a leash…”

“That ain’t nothin’!” said another. “Did you hear the one about Mt. Lurbalurba?”

“No no no!” said Piping. “I don’t mean jokes. I mean questions. Deep, unfathomable questions that probe the very strands of the universe! Questions that bring to mind truths, such truths the world has not known since the beginnings of time!” Piping stood up and struck a dramatic pose. “Why should we be at war? Why should we not be at peace, and like everybody? Oh, how I long for the day when there shall be no more hunger! No more strife! Ah, it pierces my heart! The wantonness, nay, the heedless way in which we who were born to fight must wage this foul war! Cannot thou who art the captors have pity on us, which have done no man wrong, who cannot defend themselves, much less their happy, rustic homes?”

Piping, hearing a choking sound pulled himself from his soliloquy and looked about him. To his amazement every single Corc that surrounded him was sobbing heartily. He sat down in shock. Never before had his acting brought such a reaction. In the Mire all it had done was get a general laugh.

“Great job,” hissed Mary Christmas, who had been lying beside him. “I couldn’t have done it better myself.”

The Corc which appeared to be the leader stood up.

“Fellow Corcs! We just have heard this Blobbit speak eloquent words that bring us to the shores of the Lost Selvish Lands and back. We shall not therefore bring these Blobbits to Sillyman, but treat them like kings! For if this one Blobbit, which Sillyman told us was the dumb one, can speak so well, how will the other ones speak? Fair words of wise counsel will they bring to us misunderstood Corcs! Let the other Blobbit speak fair words of wise wisdom!”

“Hear hear!” the other Corcs cried.

Mary stood up. “Well, uh, um, let us gather at the river, ’cause it is well, um, I always speak better lying down, no that’s not it, um, uh, 2 + 2 =5, no, um, melodramatic cranberry mush, um…”

While this was going on, Piping was busy writing down his fair words of wise wisdom to be published later as Common Sense, but that was when he was wanted by the law.

“Let he who has the wild flakkberries, come forth!” cried Piping. Immediately a Corc knelt before him and presented him with a covered bowl.

“Take this, your Excellency,” he said.

Piping laughed for sheer joy and ate the berries.

“Fellow ingrates!” cried Piping. “I heard you say that you would not take us to Sillyman. But you shall take us; not though as slaves, but to conquer! I wish the tower of Ithinc to be my own! The center of my kingdom! And you shall get it for me, perhaps sacrificing your very lives for my sake. Savvy?”

All the Corcs bowed before him and picked him and Mary up tenderly. Then they made their way to the tower of Sillyman, already singing of victory. (And flakkberries.)

When our tyrant told us to
Capture your friend and you,
He did not know
What we now know,
That you would be our king!

The berries you have eaten,
the chains you have broken.
We now know
What he did not know,
Lead us on, O king!

There once was a Corc from Nantucket,
Who got his head stuck in a bucket.
He gave a great shout,
But no one was about,
So he never got it unstucket.
He did not know, what we now know,
That Piping is our king!

When the silver moon sets
three days from now,
The tyrant will arise
from a sound slumber,
and meet you face to face!

Our king will be victorious
well will he rule o’er us
And when our tyrant bites the dust
Piping will be our king!

(Not very good, perhaps, but Piping was stuffing himself with more flakkberries and didn’t care. Actually, there’s no perhaps about it.)

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When Wimpy awoke, he was aware that he had been dragged for some miles. “My socks!” he cried.

“Stop and quit that whining!” hissed Arrogant, thus using a double negative in a single sentence.

“Hey, you just…” said Legless.

“I know I just used a double negative in a single sentence!” bellowed Arrogant.

“But…”

“When I want your advice with grammar I’ll ask!” continued Arrogant.

“WE JUST PASSED A TOKEN OF THE TWERPY LITTLE BLOBBITS!!!!!!!!” screamed Legless with such magnitude that Wimpy opened both eyes.

“Huh?” said Arrogant.

“I don’t care about your grammar. I’m just worried about running into those dratted ding-donged dingbatted doggoned blobbits again!”

“There you go again,” muttered Wimpy.

“Hey,” cried Arrogant suddenly, “My wallet is gone!”

“Mine too!” cried Legless in dismay.

“Piping,” the three chorused.

“We must go after them,” said Arrogant with determination.

“What have we been doing?” said Wimpy.

Legless and Arrogant looked at each other.

“Who cares?” snapped the Man. “We’ve got to teach those two brats a lesson.” He pulled such a grim face that the Self burst out laughing.

“Don’t laugh. This is serious!” cried Wimpy.

“If we’re serious, shouldn’t we get going?” said Arrogant.

The trio hoisted what was left of the packs on their shoulders and strumped off as fast as they could. Arrogant strode ahead, leading them on like a deer.

“Carry me,” he whimpered ten minutes later.

Legless rolled his eyes and picked Arrogant up. Three minutes later, they came to a very steep slope.

“Hmmm,” said Wimpy, “I see some riders on spotted horses in the valley down below.”

“What? Riders?” said Arrogant trying to turn around. But, alas, Arrogant was strapped to the back of Legless’ wheelchair, so, alas, you can guess what happened. The last thing Arrogant remembered before a stone struck his head was Wimpy jumping up and down and chattering.

*************************************************************************

“I wanna go home!” wailed Tom.

“Shaddap,” said Hoho.

They were standing on a rise, looking upon the mountains of Darkness.

“I figure within a month, if the weather holds, and no unfortunate disasters befall us, we ought to have destroyed the Ring and be on our way back.”

“Maybe not,” said Tom. “We might die before we reach the mountains, and the vultures will pick the stringy flesh off of our bones which will then bleach in the harsh sunlight!”

“Why did I have to bring you with me, Tom?” muttered Hoho. “I could have brought nice cheerful Wimpy, or at least Piping who would have counseled me with my world domination scheme, but noo…”

They climbed down the knoll and wound their way through the rocks and crags. For days they had been following a faint path, but that had disappeared some time ago. The blobbits now came upon a gorge. It stretched miles and miles in either direction, and since it was dusk, they could not see to the bottom.

“I suppose we climb down?” said Hoho uncertainly.

“How do we know how deep it is?” said Tom.

Hoho peered down into the darkness. He peered up at Tom with a queer look in his eye.

“Oh no you don’t!” cried Tom. “You ain’t throwing me down there!”

“Let’s look in the packs,” said Hoho.

Tom and Hoho rummaged through the four backpacks.

“This one’s Wimpy’s,” said Tom pulling out several yellow ducks. “He did pack his rubber duckies after all!” He tossed them over the cliff, and they squeaked as they hit the ground.

“Aha!” said Hoho. “Look what I found!” He held up a little plastic container filled with dental floss. “I’ll let you down the cliff with this!”

“I don’t think so, Mr. Hoho,” said Tom disbelievingly.

But Hoho had already tied one end of the floss to Tom’s foot and was pushing him towards the edge. There was a brief and violent struggle, but ultimately Hoho won out. Tom plummeted down into the darkness with a shriek. Hoho waited, leaning over the edge, anticipating.

His anticipation was cut short as Tom lurched into view and grabbed Hoho’s collar, pulling him down into the abyss. They fell precisely four feet into a pile of dried vegetation. They tussled around for about an hour before being so exhausted that they just crawled to either side of the cliff and sat staring at one another, waiting for the other to fall asleep.

!!pagebreak!!

The Two Cowards – Book 3

‘ Or, In Which Piping Is Reverted To His Former State, The 3 Hunters Meet The Horsie People, and Hoho and Tom Meet Someone They Did Not Expect’

Piping and Mary were at the peak of their respective careers. All the corcs agreed that Piping was the best king they had ever had, and Piping agreed with them that Mary stunk as a court jester.

“Knock knock!” said Mary.

“Look!” cried a corc, pointing across the fields. “Horsiemen!”

And indeed, as Piping looked across the waving fields, his eyes met the sight.

The Corcs whispered among themselves for a few seconds. “We will not abandon Piping to the torment of the Horsie-people!” they cried (by which they meant no flakkberries).

“We must keep our king from those rapscallions!” cried the corc again. “Throw him over the cliff!”

“What?” shrieked Piping. “What? My hearing just went out, I thought you just said throw me over the cliff!”

“We did, oh king,” said the corc, kneeling. “We cannot let men such as those capture you! So farewell, beloved king.” And with that, the corc tossed Piping and Mary off the cliff. They tumbled down the slope, and rolled and rolled and rolled until they came to a stop. They lifted their eyes to see a deep shadowed forest. They looked at each other in suspicion.

“Shall we go in?” said Mary.

“I reckon,” said Piping doubtfully.

They walked in for about three yards before falling into a pit filled with the most disgusting green slime they had ever encountered. They stood in the huge pit, admiring the green slime.

“Okay,” said Piping, “You got us in here. Now get us out.”

“I’m not sure,” said Mary, “The green slime befits you greatly, D vitamins and all that jazz.”

“ThatIsUncommonlyKindOfYouIAlmostFeelThatIHateYouBothVeryMuchButLet’sTakeALookAtYou,” said a voice. They were wrenched around and found themselves staring at a strange creature. It was within the range of 14 to 15 feet tall, but all Piping could notice were his eyes – extremely bloodshot, and nervously glancing about.

“G-g-great leaping yeti!” said Mary, “Who and what are you?”

“IAmFleeneesAndIAmTheGuardianOfThisForestAndWhatAreYouDoingInMySlimePit?” said the creature, quite rapidly.

“Slime pit?” said Piping. “I don’t see any slime pit. Do you see any slime pit, Mary?”

“No, I don’t see any slime pit, Piping,” quavered Mary, his eyes clenched shut.

Fleenees frowned.

“IfYouDoNotSeeAnySlimePitWhatDoYouThinkYouWereStandingInWhenIFoundYouIThinkYou’reLyingToMeIHaveHalfAMindToCrushYouLikeFlies.”

“Oh that slime pit!” cried Piping. “Heh heh.”

“IDoNotAppreciateBadJokesInsultingMyIntellegence,” said the creature.

“I wasn’t insulting you, Mr. Fleenees!” said Piping, “Under no circumstance would I insult someone of your size!”

“ThatIsVeryGoodNowIWon’tHaveToSquishYouLikeLittleBugs,” he said.

“What are you?” said Piping.

“If you please,” added Mary with haste.

“IAmARent,” said Fleenees. “AndWeMustBeGoingNowForItIsTimeForACupOfRentDraught.”

“What is a Rent Draught?” said Mary.

“JavaJavaJavaJavaJava,” chanted Fleenees scooping the blobbits up and leaping deeper into the forest in great bounds. The blobbits wondered about many things as they were jerked up and down with the force of a jackhammer. (Not the least of which was the sanity of the Authors.)

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Arrogant’s eyes fluttered open and then closed. He turned his head slowly and painfully and saw Wimpy eating a salad. To his utter horror, the daft spat the salad into his hand and then rubbed it all over Arrogant’s face.

“AIIGGHH!!” screeched the man, jumping around like a maniac.

“I’ve always wanted to do that,” said Wimpy brightly.

“But why would you want to do it to me?” wailed Arrogant rapidly rubbing his face.

“Why do you think?” snarled Legless.

“Horsies!” cried Wimpy.

And indeed, as Arrogant looked down from the hill they were perched on, there did seem to be horsies coming.

“There are men on the horsies!” cried Legless.

“But there are horsies without men!” said Wimpy.

“But there are no men without horsies!” said Legless.

“Do you mind?” said Arrogant frustrated.

“Shall we run?” said Legless.

“No,” said the man. “We shall will wait here.”

“But do we await death?” queried Wimpy worriedly. Arrogant answered by singing a song.

’Where is the lunch in the lunchbox?
Where is the road crew that is supposed to be working?
They have passed like a day in the life
Of a daft who won’t shut up.
If this daft insists on jabbering,
There will be heck to pay in the morning.
I will yank off his beard and feed it to his cat,
His backpack I will invert over his head.
Then this cliff which seems so lonely,
Will not feel useless any longer.’

”But do we await death?” said Wimpy more earnestly than before.

Arrogant chuckled. “Right,” he said. “And the cow jumped over the moon.”

“Where? said the daft eagerly craning to see.

“I was being sarcastic!” cried Arrogant sarcastically.

“Yeah, right,” said Legless sarcastically.

“Well, I didn’t know!” wailed Wimpy devastatedly.

“Tell me, what are a Man, a Self and a Daft doing in these lands?” asked a voice.

The three travelers whirled around. While they were arguing like a bunch of revolving doors that would bang against each other, the men on the horsies had surrounded them.

“We were looking for some, uh, friends,” said Arrogant. “Have you seen them?”

The men snickered amongst themselves.

“Nope, no friends,” said the head man. “Just a bunch of corcs, which we chased off.”

“Well, they weren’t exactly friends. They were just blobbits.”

“And what are blobbits?” said the man.

“Half-wits,” explained Legless.

“Well, give me a sandwich and call it lunchtime!” said the man. “I didn’t know they existed!”

“Unfortunately, they do,” sighed Arrogant. “They stole our wallets.”

The Horsey Men clashed spear upon shield and shouted in anger. The clashing and shouting evolved into a pulsing, throbbing beat, and soon someone broke out into a dance.
Arrogant whirled around in confusion. Wimpy danced off to join the throng which now encircled the knoll. Legless bobbed in his wheelchair.

“Hey, hey now!” shouted Arrogant.

“Hey, hey, hey,” chanted the throng.

“Get me outta here!” shrieked the man.

“Someone help me out of this circling maze,” crooned Legless.

“I’m going to eat everyone’s lunch!” cried Arrogant. There was dead silence. Spears were at once lowered towards the travelers.

“It is dangerous to speak so to someone who has you surrounded,” snarled the head man. “Now tell me your names that I may write them down on a list and post them on a bulletin board.”

“Why don’t you tell us yours?” said Wimpy. “Because we were tied on a swan boat by Gladreel of the Loth L—ri Inn and set down the river where our wallets were stolen by some twerpy companions and you may feel very very sorry for us, right?”

“Gladreel, eh?” said the man. “Well, I’ve heard she’s a nice lady.”

“Take it back, you big fat stupid head!” screamed Wimpy.

“My name is Yawner, nephew of the king Theoldone, Third Marshal of the Riddlemark,” said the guy. “And I say that I would like to stay at the Loth L—ri Inn.”

“Well, Yawner, nephew of the king whatever, yadda yadda yadda, let Wimpy son of Gl—inthedark warn you against foolish talk. You speak fair of which is evil beyond the reach of your thought, and only little wit can excuse you.”

“Is that an insult?” whispered Yawner to the man beside him.

“What bulletin board is that?” asked Legless.

“The to-do list for the gladiators,” said the man writing down Wimpy’s name.

“My name is Hoho Flaggins,” said the Self.

“No it’s not!” said Wimpy. “It’s Legless son of Sockitooya, who is the king of Smirkwood!”

Legless glared at the Daft.

“Now who are you?” said Yawner, turning to Arrogant.

“I am called by some Slimer, by others stupid,” said the man.

“Both of which are very silly names!” said Yawner. “Now what is your real name?”

“I am Arrogant son of Thornbush!” cried Arrogant, yanking Andy out of it’s sheath and hitting a nearby rider in the jaw. “I am the rightful king of Flounder. Now kneel before me and beg my pardon for all of your insulting jabber!”

“Well, give me a microphone and call me Frank Sinatra!” said Yawner. “Legends have come to life today, haven’t they? How about I just lend you some horsies and send you to look for your wallets?”

“Ok!” said Arrogant.

“Uh, Arrogant, I can’t ride a horse,” whispered Legless.

“You’ll learn,” said Yawner. “Our horsies are easy learners. Well,” he gestured grandly, “Go on and look for your little friends. And remember, hope lies under every rock and bush!”

The companions looked at each other strangely. Arrogant leaped onto a big huge grey horse with a wicked look in his eyes.

“I can’t ride a horse! I don’t have any legs!” shouted Legless.

“I’ll hold you on!” said Wimpy brightly.

“You mean actually touch me?” said the Self in disgust, shrinking away from the Daft.

They tied the screaming and flailing Self to the back of a flighty chestnut horse, and Wimpy perched behind him. Then the companions rode off into the sunset to meet their future, though not with much enthusiasm, it would seem.

***************************************************************

When Hoho stood up the next morning, he fell over asleep. Tom took this chance to flee. Six feet from the prostrate form of Hoho, he keeled over. Hours passed. Hours, in which if they had put aside their differences, they could have accomplished something that would have made the world proud.

It was within the space of these few hours, that unmarked and alone, a small wiry figure crept near and crouched waiting.

Hoho’s eyes fluttered open. He sat up. He saw Tom’s body lying close. He crept towards it with questionable intent.

“Greetings and salutations,” said a voice with a rich, robust and spicy english accent.

“AIEE!!” shrieked Hoho. Tom leapt up and also said “AIEE!!”.

“Who are you?” demanded Hoho.

“I am Solemn. I have been looking for you,” said the creature.

“Get away!” shouted Hoho, drawing Thing. From far away, they heard the barking of dogs.

“I came to offer my services as a guide,” said Solemn. “I can guide you to the very cracks of gloom, if you wish. Not to mention my excellent mapmaking services, if you wish to return to that spot again.”

“Oh, if that’s all. Hey! How did you escape?”

“I bribed a guard. All thee escapees did. Do you accept my rather generous offer?”

“Sure, ok,” said Hoho. “Which way do you propose to go?”

“Well, first we traipse through the Emmy Mule, then slog through the Mostly Dead Marshes, and then through the black gate and from there, well, you know.”

“But we’re in a ravine,” said Tom.

Solemn easily clambered up the wall, which was so split and weathered that it served as stairs.

“Oh,” said Tom.

And the queer trio traipsed off, to find that which they sought. But alas, traipsing through the Emmy Mule was not as easy as Solemn had made it sound.

!!pagebreak!!

The Two Cowards – Book 4

‘In Which Piping Convinces Fleenees, Handoff Returns, And Tom Quotes Poetry.’

Piping and Mary woke up on a large table. They sat up and looked around. To their amazement, they were in a great arbor with a waterfall at one end, and a tunnel formed by large bushes at the other. The blobbits yawned.

“YouAreVeryTiredAndGroggyAndAreInNeedOfAPick-Me-Up,” said Fleenees, giving them two large cups filled with a dark fragrant liquid.

“Is this decaffinated?” said Mary Christmas.

Fleenees laughed. A queer, high pitched screeching extremely rapid laugh that made the spine cringe.

“DrinkUpMyLittleBugs!” he chattered.

The blobbits drained the cups. They felt their toes curl and their hair tingle.

“ThisSureIsSomeStrongCoffee,” said Piping.

Fleenees cackled again and rubbed his queer hands together.

“SayFleenees,” said Piping, “WhatDoYouKnowAboutSillyman?”

“IKnowHeChopsDownTreesAndIDon’tLikeTree-Choppers.”

Piping brightened.

“WellThenPerhapsYouWouldBeInterestedInOverthrowingHimAndMakingMeTheKingOverAllOfTheEarth?”

“PerhapsSoPerhapsNot,” said the Rent. “WhatWouldIHaveToDo?”

“YouWouldHaveToGetAllYourFriendsTogetherAndDemolishTheWallSurroundingItAndStuffLikeThat,” said Mary.

“Let’sGo!” said Fleenees. “BecauseOfMyMottoWhichIs’BeHasty’!”

The blobbits and the Rent bounded off into the woods, chanting ‘JavaJavaJavaJava’. Fleenees led them to a large valley hedged by thornbushes. All the way there, the Rent had occasionally paused for a few miniscule moments, put his hands around his mouth and emitted a loud, piercing hoot that was sometimes answered from far away, coming rapidly closer.

They bounded their way down into the valley. From several other directions, other tall figures were rapidly thronging at the bottom. Fleenees raced up to them and started talking very rapidly.

“It’sSettled!” he said turning to the blobbits who came wheezing up. “OffWeGoToDestroySillyman!”

He picked up the blobbits, and with a hoot bounded off. The other Rents bounded after him, and the queer cavalcade made its quite rapid way to Ithinc. That night, they came upon the tower, the entire valley twinkling with many lights. They looked upon the many, many signs that read: “Welcome to Sillymanland!”

“ItWillBeAnUnprofitableNightForIthinc,” said Fleenees.

**********************************************************

“My very bones are chilled,” said Wimpy flapping his arms, leaping around and crowing like a rooster.

“Sit down!” said Arrogant.

“I can’t believe you forgot my wheelchair!” whined Legless lying on the ground and glaring into the trees.

It was dusk, the same day that they had left the Horsie men. They were at the edge of a forest, under a large maple tree. The leaves were brown, as it was fall. The fire they had lit cast eerie shadow all about, and the companions huddled closer.

“It sure is spooky,” said Wimpy.

All of a sudden, a figure dressed in plaid appeared at the edge of the firelight.

“It’s Sillyman!” shouted Arrogant, picking up a stick and bashing the man on the head. Legless grabbed a flaming brand and waved it around. Wimpy screamed. The old man disappeared into the trees.

“The horsies!” wailed Legless. Indeed, it appeared that the horsies had dis. (Appeared, I mean.)

“We’re doomed!” wailed Wimpy.

“They went into the forest!” cried Arrogant. “Follow me!”

Wimpy ran after him. After a moment’s hesitation, Legless picked up two sticks to use as crutches and stumbled after.

Arrogant sped through the trees. He wove in and out, and jumped over and ducked under, until all of a sudden he noticed he was up to his armpits in slime. Wimpy ran up.

“Hey!” he shouted at the top of his lungs, though the pit was not that deep. “What’re you doin’ down there?”

“Catching some rays!” snarled the man sarcastically. Legless limped up.

“Boy, how could you not see that coming?”

Arrogant struggled out of the pit and tried to wipe the slime off of his clothes. He gave up on that and pulled out his pocket mirror and tried to straighted up his hair before it dried, when just then Legless’s sharp eyes saw something.

“My sharp eyes see something!” he hissed.

“Where?” quavered Wimpy.

“On the other side of the pit!” cried Legless. Arrogant looked up from admiring himself, only to see the man dressed in plaid clothes that they had seen just hours before.

“Who are you, old geezer?” shouted Arrogant leaping across the pit and attacking the man. “Speak quickly, lest I get angry and lose my temper!”

“I’m Handoff, I’m Handoff!!” screeched the figure.

“Flee!” screamed Arrogant in terror.

“Hey, guys! Good ta see ya!” said the blizzard.

“Help help!” shouted Wimpy.

“If you guys had only waited a moment at AmorŽ Land, I would have journeyed on with you! I only fell about three feet, ya know!” said Handoff, giving Legless (who had been unable to run away, having accidentally dropped his makeshift crutches) a vigorous dutch rub.

“But what about the Roadhog?” said Arrogant who was halfway up a tree.

“Well, I pursued him all through AmorŽ Land. I chased him under the Great Slide, over and around the roller coaster, until finally coming to a showdown at the top of the endless stairs.”

“I thought that it was incompleted, if not a legend!” said Wimpy.

“It wasn’t a legend, said the blizzard. “And it was all there, well, at least most of it was.”

He fell silent for a few moments.

“Long time I fell,” he murmered after a moment.

“I thought it was only three feet or so,” said Arrogant.

“The chasm was. The drop from the endless stairs wasn’t!” snapped the irritated blizzard.

“Those stairs aren’t the only thing that isn’t all there,” muttered Legless rubbing his head and glaring at Handoff.

“We climbed back up the stairs and the Roadhog and myself battled on top of a big mountain,” continued Handoff. “I went pow! pow! and he went biff! bam! and I jumped on top of him and he jumped on top of me and then we rolled down the mountain into a lake and then once again it was up top of the endless stairs and then I went pow! pow! and he…”

“Oh, look!” said Wimpy. “It’s time to go!”

“Go where?” said Handoff.

“To look for twerpy little Mary and Piping,” said Arrogant cautiously climbing down from the tree. “They stole our wallets.”

Handoff coughed nervously. “I don’t think you’ll need to look for them. For at this very spot they met someone they did not expect at all.”

“You mean someone else has our wallets?” said Legless.

“No, no! Well, yes, I mean, not to incriminate myself or anything, but hey! We have to go to the king of the Horsey People because Sillyman is planning war against them!”

“So?” said Arrogant.

“Well, you’re gonna be the king of Flounder, right? And the Horsey People and the Floundarians have a standing oath, right? Ergo, we must go to war on their behalf if we expect them to come to war on our behalf, get it?”

“It makes no sense,” said Arrogant. “Flounder isn’t at war.”

“Not yet,” said Handoff mysteriously.

“Is that a threat?” said Arrogant towering over the blizzard.

“No!” squeaked the blizzard shrinking away. “Moron is planning war against all of the earth. Somehow he got the idea that we have the ring, and now it’s goodbye us!” he drew his finger across his neck.

“Where did he get the idea that we have the ring?” said Arrogant bending over the blizzard as if he were a loose toy on the floor that he intended to pick up and discard.

“Solemn, remember?” shrieked Handoff, flailing his arms in an attempt to fend the man off. “Moron captured him, and under torture he found the information leading to the arrest of, well, some dude, but also the information about the name Flaggins and the Mire. Solemn escaped, but you captured him and took him to Smirkwood where he escaped again. Does it ring a tinkly little bell yet?”

“Let me guess,” said Wimpy. “Solemn is a lurking sniveling wimp who wants the ring back.”

“Well, no…” said Handoff.

“Ah!” said Arrogant. “He’s a criminal mastermind who will eventually be the ruin of us all?”

“Heck no!” said the blizzard. “He’s actually quite a nice guy. He leads two lives.”

“I see,” said Legless. “In one he seems like a nice guy but in the other he’s an evil spy who is working for Moron?”

“No no no!” said Handoff angrily. “In one life he’s a respected theatrical actor, and in the other he’s a double spy for us!”

“He’s on our side?” said Arrogant blankly.

“Yes!” said Handoff. “The Flighty counsil has been planning this for years! We sent him to Mortar to gather information about defences and such, while he gave Moron some carefully scripted lines about the ring. That being done, he escaped and we gave him a new mission. To aid the ringbearer to the cracks of gloom and so save the entire world!”

“Oh,” said Legless quite embarassed.

“Who exactly is in the Flighty council?” said Arrogant.

“Oh, myself, Gladreel, Sellrond, and Sillyman was, until he turned traitor. That is why we must aid the Horsey People in overthrowing Sillyman. We don’t want him to spill the beans and spoil all our lovely plans!” said Handoff. “Besides that, he’s started his own amusement park and he knows that it was my idea to put one there but nooo… he has to say that it was his idea and he gives it the lame name of ‘Sillymanland’ when he knows that it should be ‘Handoffland’ but he’s just too selfish to see that I’m the brains in the family and…”

“How did you get here, if you were fighting the Roadhog all the way at AmorŽ Land?” said Wimpy, who had been thinking it over very carefully.

“Well, after my humiliating def, I mean victorius triumph, I made my way to the Loth L—ri Inn where Celebrate and Gladreel were trying to clean up the place after this huge forest fire mysteriously swept their part of the woods. They tried to beat me up, but I ran away and came all the way to here where I disguised myself as Sillyman and have been hiding.”

“What are we waiting for?” said Arrogant. “Let’s sleep so we can get up fresh and early tomorrow!”

And immediately, dawn came. Wimpy and Legless looked at the man and the blizzard. They started off, glumly to meet fate.

***************************************************************

“Are you quite sure we aren’t lost?” said Tomfool.

“Ach, yes, I am very szure!” said Solemn.

“I think I’d rather be lost than be here,” said Hoho. They were at the edge of the Mostly Dead Marshes, and a dreary sight it was indeed.

“This reminds me in a sort of sick way about a poem my uncle Dumbo used to tell me,” said Hoho tiredly.

“Oh, that one?” said Tom.

Solemn looked from one to the other. “What poem ees dat?”

Tom stood up straight and put his hands behind his back, like he often did when he was trying to avoid strangling someone and began.

‘Twas lunchtime, and the slimy toads
did gape and gamble in the waves.
All flimsy were the applegroves,
amd mummy wraps outgrew their little sisters.

“Beware the Jabbingone, my son
the jaws that work, the tongue that flaps,
Beware the parrot bird, and scum
That foaming Bubblebath!”

He took his usŽd toothpick and
long time in pacific time he sought.
So rewound he the Stooges three
and stood a while in mud.

And as in selfish thought he stood,
the Jabbingone, with eyes of green
came whistling through the blazing wood
and flibbled as he came!

One, two, one, two, and three and four
And won’t somebody shut the door,
With extreme glee he ate some snacks
and went ka-skipping back.

“And haste to see the Jabbingone?
please leave the house, you stupid boy!
Oh, crabcake day, wahoo, parkay!”
He choked upon the floor.

‘Twas lunchtime, and the slimy toads
did gape and gamble in the waves
All flimsy were the applegroves,
amd mummy wraps outgrew their little sisters.

“He was an odd one, was Dumbo. He wrote what I just said.” finished Tom.

“No, Tom! You’ve got it all wrong!” said Hoho angrily.

“Oh yeah?” said Tom.

Solemn shook his head sadly.

They began picking their careful way through the quagmirous goo. Solemn seemed sure of their way, even when the fog completely blocked off every single bit of light. Tom and Hoho soon gave up on even thinking they would be clean on getting out, because they kept falling into slimy pools and bogs. All day they slogged their way through the tortuous land.

Tom looked up on crawling out of one of the aforementioned bogs, and thought that he saw the Mona Lisa. He shook his head and looked again. It lingered for a moment before it disappeared in a splash of water created by Hoho falling into a pool.

“Hey, Solemn?” he said quaveringly as he saw the painting reappear in the face of a yet un-fallen into pool.

“You are zeeing perhaps great works of art?” said Solemn as the pool was fallen into.

“What is it?” said Hoho. “I keep thinking that I see the Blue Boy!”

The creature shrugged. “Paintings in ze deep. I do not know what causes zem, perhaps it ees heartburn. I do not know. Do not try to get zem and sell zem for a very high profit! I tried zat once, but you cannot reach zem. Nope, nice paintings.”

Tom looked at him strangely. They continued through the swamp. Once, Hoho thought he heard a wavering screech coming from very very high up. He looked up and thought he saw a yellow dot pass above the moon.

“Probably just a falling star,” he muttered. He crossed his fingers and closed his eyes tightly. “I wish the ring had never come to me.”

Unfortunately, he should not have closed his eyes at that moment, because he tripped on a log and fell into a pool. Finally, at around midnight they came to the end of the marshes. They looked upon a land long devoid of any life, save that which had been living off of and sucking the life out of the land.

(Huh? says the co-author.)

“Eew, leech-like beings!” shrieked Tom and Hoho.

“Hush!” said Solemn. “You must be quiet, or else you will be heard and captured!”

“Eew, captured by leech-like beings!” whispered Tom and Hoho.

They made their stealthful way around the many boulders that had a tendency to look exactly alike until they came to the gate to Mortar.

“I must go through,” said Hoho. “I must get to the cracks of gloom.”

“But Sellrond said one cannot simply walk into Mortar!” said Tom.

“I know,” said Hoho grimly. “That is why I am going to skip, and leap, and two-step, and square dance…”

“Ach, nein, silly blobbit!” hissed Solemn. “You can’t go into zat way! Zere is another way.”

“Another way?” demanded Hoho quietly yet firmly. “You didn’t speak of this before!”

“Well, no!” said the creature. “You didn’t ask!”

Hoho slapped his head several times and gritted his teeth.

“What do we have to do?” asked Tom.

“Well,” said Solemn, “We just have to go back to ze marshes and zenÉ”

“WHAT?” screeched Hoho “WHAT? WE HAVE TO GO BACK? THROUGH THE ROCKS THAT LOOK EXACTLY ALIKE?” Tom and Solemn cringed at the piercing bellowing of Hoho’s voice. But Hoho wasn’t done yet.

“THIS WHOLE TRIP HAS JUST BEEN VERY INCONVENIENT! I THINK I AM GOING TO SCREAM!! AIEEE!!!”

“Ach, nein noisy blobbit! We will be heard, or zeen, or zomesink!”

A Corc, unseen, stepped out of the gate. He might have captured them, but just then a object swept down from the sky that caught Tom’s eye.
“A Paisley Rider that is flying! A Paisley Flyer!” he screamed, dashing away somewhere south. He was soon followed by Solemn and Hoho, who was still yabbering like a broken piccalo that would be doomed to play the same note for all eternity.

After about six hours, they came to a path that led off into a forest. They stumbled through the trees until they came to a small glade, and collapsed.

!!pagebreak!!

The Two Cowards – Book 5

‘Or, In Which Piping Is Once Again Thrown Down, The Hunters Come To Eudora, And Hoho Is Subjected To A Horrible Disease.’

Piping peered into the dark. In the light of the neon signs he could see what looked like an army pouring out of the gates. He waited. The last of the throng trickled out of the gate, and suddenly in the light illuminating the entrance there was a figure dressed in plaid. It waved gaily and went back inside.

“When I give the signal, we go in,” said Piping. The caffeine buzz had long since worn off, and he found himself with a headache. Dawn broke in the sky, lighting the many towers. Piping signalled the Rents to creep inside. A guard stood at the entrance.

“‘Ere, you can’t come in! We don’t open for another four hours!” He pointed at a sign.

“But I am coming in,” said Piping quietly. “I have an appointment with Sillyman.”

“‘E didn’t say nothin’ to me,” said the gatekeeper doubtfully. Piping smiled.

“Of course not. He obviously he didn’t think that you were intelligent enough to understand the importance of my visit. But I am sure of your intellect. Will you not let me pass?”

The gatekeeper peered behind the blobbit. “And ‘oo are these that come behind ye?”

“My associate Mary Christmas, and these others are my colleagues. This is somewhat of, a negotiation. Very important indeed. In fact, it concerns the collective fate of the entire world. And I say again: Will you not let me pass?” He put his head to one side and smiled up endearingly.

The guard thought for a moment. “I dunno…”

Piping sighed and put his hand to his forehead. “And will you so doom yourself, and your entire race? For indeed, if I am not allowed to pass, the world may suffer that which has not been known in the ages which in which it has travailed. Yet you may avert this fate, and forever be known as the One who has saved all the races of Men, and Selves, and Blobbits. This only do I ask, that you let me pass, I and my company.”

The man blinked. “Awright,” he opened the gate. “Good luck to ye!” and he tipped his hat. Piping bowed slighly and smiled as a great king might have smiled down upon a little child in the streets.

“What the heck has gotten into you?” whispered Mary into Piping’s ear. Piping smiled again.

“Patience, dear friend, all in good time.”

They neared the great tower of Ithinc. Above the door was a banner which read ‘Sillymanland!’. Piping sneered at this show of greatness. Why, his banner would be seven times as big! He eyed the mountain to the north. It looked like a good place to carve his likeness. He suddenly lurched forward with a cry of pain. He looked down at where he had stubbed his toe. A bit of blood trickled from the nail. In his rage he kicked the rock.

“DestroyIthinc!” cried the hasty Rents. Immediately, they swarmed the place, hooting loudly and ripping and tearing the walls as if they were made of sponge cake, and yelling “DestroyDestroyDestroyMashMashRipRip” with an occasional “Java” thrown in.

“No!” shouted Piping. “Wait!” But the hasty Rents either did not hear, or ignored the wildly waving blobbit. Piping looked with despair at the destruction.

He fell to his knees, defeated at the last by his own temper. He buried his head in his hands and sobbed. A strange cry rose above the noise of the Rents. Piping looked up. In the balcony above the banner upon the tower, was a figure dressed in plaid. It was Sillyman. He looked out at the destruction in despair. His eyes found Piping’s, and each could read the ambition and desparation in the others’ gaze. A cloud blocked Piping’s vision, and when it cleared, he saw Fleenees casting great stones about like building blocks at kindergarten. Then the dust overwhelmed him, and he swooned and knew no more.

****************************************************

“This whole journey reeks like last easter’s eggs!” shouted Legless as he was being dragged by the hair.

“Do you think I like it any better?” said Arrogant. “I cannot, nay, I refuse to, believe that I, Arrogant son of Thornbush the rightful king of Flounder am being put through such indignities which have never been known since in the history of the world!”

“I’m hungry. Are we there yet?” whined Wimpy.

“I know!” said Handoff, snapping his fingers. “Why didn’t I think about it before?”

“What?” snapped his companions.

“I’ll just page Bumblefax!” cried the blizzard.

“Who?” said Legless.

“My horse! At least, I like to think of him as my horse. There now!” And with a flourish, he pulled a beeper off his belt and pressed a few buttons. He then sat down. Luckily, the hole wasn’t that deep and he was able to pull himself out without the help of his laughing so-called friends.

Arrogant, who was lying on the ground trying to get some sleep, first heard the first rumors of hoofbeats.

“They’re coming!” he cried jumping up.

“We know,” said Wimpy. “Legless saw them coming half an hour ago.”

“B-b-but,” spluttered the man. “The Authors said that I was the first to hear rumors!”

“Heard rumors, yes. Saw for a fact, not a chance,” smirked the Self.

While Arrogant was still blubbering, Wimpy wandered over in front of a hill, where was a sign that read. “ThisIsAHill” He looked out into the distance, and saw three horses galloping gallantly towards them. The one far in front, a grey one, neighed in fright as it screeched to a stop before the blizzard.

“Bumblefax, my dear friend!” he cried. “It’s so good to see you…” but the horse was gone.

“Erm,” he said. The other companions glared at him.

“Let’s get walking,” said Handoff uncomfortably, with a weak grin.

They walked and walked and walked. And walked. And walked and walked. Even Handoff who was usually a chatterbox was unusually silent.

Wimpy lagged behind, as if burdened. Arrogant turned.

“What’s the matter, slowpoke?” he growled.

Wimpy jumped. “Uh, nothing’s the matter.” The truth was, something was the matter. He could not help but think that they were deserting the blobbits.

The faces of Mary and Piping had been popping into his dreams of late, sneering and leering. “You aren’t thinking of deserting, are you Daft?” Mary would say. “I wouldn’t like that, you know.” And then he would laugh. Mary Christmas’s laugh was cold, hard as ice. Wimpy passed his hand in front of his eyes. The Daft shivered, but not because of the wind.

****************************************************

Tom opened his still sleepy eyes to see Hoho lying on the ground, out cold. He looked around for Solemn, who was not in sight. Tom finally noticed that he was not in sight, and proceeded to stealthily probe Hoho’s pockets for some object of value. Just then, Solemn came not only into sight but into mind.

“Hey!” hissed the creature. “You shouldn’t do zat! What if he were to wake up?”

“I suppose you’re right,” sighed the blobbit. “I know how you don’t like nasty things happening to people, even if the people are nasty. Say, do you suppose there’s a grocery store around here? Since Mr. Hoho is asleep, I’d like to get some decent chow, if you know what I mean.”

“Perhaps,” said Solemn. “I shall go look.” And he went off, accompanied by a two foot long list that Tom had made with his own half-brain.

The blobbit wandered around a bit, looking at all the plants and such. He came to a place that looked like there had been a barbeque some time before, but after half an hour of searching he came to the sad conclusion that there was no stray food lying around.

Solemn returned, bearing two grocery bags filled to the utmost with potato chips, dip, and pretzels.

“Ahh! Now I shall feast!” said Tom. At the mention of feast, and the additional rattling of cellophane bags, Hoho woke up.

“Pretzels!” he said. “Tom, you really shouldn’t have!”

“Drat,” muttered Tom. They munched the snacks greedily, having only been previously dining on healthy and nutritious food such as algae and tree bark.
“Do not crunch zo loudly!” said Solemn. “You never know who may be in zese woods. We are zstill very close to Mortar, I hope you realize.”

“Aw, go munch on a stick,” said Hoho rudely. Tom glared reproachfully at him.

“You oughtn’t to talk to Mr. Solemn like that, you know, Mr. Hoho,” he said. “Not with all he’s doing for us.”

“What do you know? You’re just a blobbit!” cried Hoho tossing a pretzel at him.

“Yeah? Well it takes one to know one!” shouted Tom, lobbing the onion dip at his head.

The two blobbits lunged at each other and started screaming and throwing punches. They rolled down the hill in their fury, and crashed into a small stand of pine trees. All of a sudden, a voice spoke above their heads.

“Yo,” it said.

Hoho looked up, and there to his total, complete, and all encompassing astonished amazement, was a man with purple hair. (Not to mention a strange disease he appeared to have, one of the symptoms being a metal like growth feeding on his nose, ears, lips, eyebrows and tongue.)

“Yo,” the man said again, slower this time.

“Auummmm…” said Hoho.

“Duuuyyyy…” said Tom.

“Dudes, you need to seriously chill out. Am I right, brothers?”

Immediately, four or five men with streaked but naturally colored hair stepped out of the bushes and spake the same strange word that the blobbits had been subjected to. (It appeared they were also afflicted with the same metal-harboring disease as the purple-haired one, but not in such obviously advanced stages.)

“Uh, greetings and salutations,” squeaked Hoho.

“Dude,” said the man. “You talk so uncool-ly! Ain’t you hip to the beat?”

“I don’t think I like you talking to me like that!” said Hoho standing up to his full three-and-a-half-feet-short of a basketball player height.

“Chill, man! I was just seeking the groove, so to speak.”

Hoho and Tom were now thoroughly befuddled. Never in all their travel had they heard such language.

“So, dudes, I’ve gotta, like, take care of some business over at the road yonder. Some of my groovy hipsters is gonna stay with you ’til I return. Later, dudes!”

And with that, the man pulled a stocking over his head and stumped off into the trees with all but two of his men. There were some sounds of screaming and clanging metal, and forms of men crashing through the trees above their heads. One voice kept calling ‘Flounder is groovy! Flounder is groovy!’ and then not soon after it changed it’s chant to ‘AIIEEE!! RETREAT, RETREAT!!’.

And immediately, as if an invisible cord had been pulled, a flock of strange pink birds flew out of the trees above their heads and flew off.

“Flamingos!” gasped Tom. “I’ve always wanted to see a flamingo! They are the war birds of the Mothballs, you know.”

“We dig ya,” one of the men said, looking worriedly to where the battle was. Almost as if summoned, the man with purple hair and all of his men flew from above.

“Like, run!” he shouted, and men picked up the blobbits and rushed off deeper into the woods as fast as their long legs could carry them. Hoho, as he was jostled up and down so violently, could not tell where they were headed. All he could see was green, brown, and more green blurs. Finally, the men slowed down. Hoho saw that they were at a great cliff, from which spilled a waterfall, that gathered at the base in a pool of immesurable depth before rushing off towards the setting sun.

“What a cliché,” muttered Tom. The blobbits were soon consternated by the fact that the men suddenly blindfolded and gagged them before tying them up and putting them in sacks. They felt themselves being dragged up some stairs, through several puddles, then kicked down some stairs before coming to a stop on what felt like a very uneven, wet floor. The sacks were untied and the blobbits were jerked to their feet.

“Yo,” said the purple haired man.

“There you go again!” shouted Hoho. “Talking in some unintelligible gibberishy gobbledegook! I’m getting very sick of this!” He stamped his foot obstinantly.

The man ignored him and turned to one of his men. “Were we seen?”

“That’s a negatory,” the man said.

“Radical,” said purple-man. Once again he turned to the blobbits. “Chow?” he enquired.

“Oh, ok! You’re Italian. I get it now! Hmm, ciao, me gusta prego!” said Hoho.

The man looked at him strangely. “Say what?” he said.

“Uh, me tia, gusto pasta?” said Tom.

The man shook his head slowly, clucking his tongue.

“Me alfredo y rotillia?” shouted Hoho.

The man sighed and bent close. “You dudes want some grub?” he said slowly.

“Oh, uh, yeah. Sure,” said Hoho quite embarrassedly.

“So, you aren’t Italian?” said Tom, who was just a little bit slow on the uptake.

“Nope, Floundarian,” said purple-man.

“Floundarian!” cried Hoho. “Then, perhaps you know of a man called Boring? He was traveling with me!”

“Boring? What do you dudes know about Boring?” said the man.

“I know that he was very boring,” offered Tom.

“You recall a totally cool object he carried?”

“Uh, I remember he had nothing of interest,” said Hoho.

“He had a funny picture of himself on his drivers’ license,” said Tom. “Not much cash, though.”

“Dudes, that guy was my brother! He may have mentioned me. I’m known around Flounder as Fairifear.”

“He said something about you eating chocolate before bed, and the dream that brought him to Flivenbell. Y’know,
Two dark nights in the middle of the week,
three penguins went out to fleek.
That was it, wasn’t it?”

“Not exaclitarial,” said Fairifear, “But close enough. You’d be, like, overcome with grief then, if I told you that he split?”

“Split what? The atom?” said Hoho. “Yes, I would, because I’ve been trying to accomplish that very feat for seven years now, and if someone else did it I would be very upset.”

“No! I mean died!”

“No,” said Hoho very truthfully.

“Oh, ok,” said Fairifear, not quite sure what else to say.

“How do you know he’s dead?” said Tom.

“Corpse,” said the man cryptically.

“Dude,” whispered Hoho.

“Yeah, I thought maybe you like, might have known something about it.”

“What are you insinuating?” said Tom, standing straight up and glaring at Fairifear. “I don’t like your tone! Why, if I were a lesser blobbit, I’d say to Mr. Hoho, ‘Mr. Hoho, why don’t you take Moron’s great ring and…'”

Hoho squealed with fright and clamped his hand over Tom’s mouth, but it was too late.

“Ring?” said Fairifear. “What ring?”

“Moron’s great ring!” cried Tom, wriggling out of Hoho’s grasp like greased soap. “We’re out to destroy it in the cracks of gloom! Solemn is our guide, and Handoff is dead, and Hoho killed Boring…”

“Duuuuuude! Like, Moron’s great ring? Tubular! I could be like, the grooviest hipster on the face of the planet! Nah. Thanks for offering though, dudes!

I’ll give ya some grub, and you’ll be on your way. Later!” And with that, he picked the two blobbits up and threw them out of the cave.

They picked themselves up at the bottom of the mountain.

“Was that my imagination or was that really wierd?” said Tom, rubbing his head.

“It was really wierd, Tom,” said Hoho, visibly shaken.

Solemn poked his head out of a bush. “Come, the darkness is deepening! We must make haste!”

The blobbits followed the creature stealthily, though not with a nervous backward glance or two.

!!pagebreak!!

The Two Cowards – Book 6

‘Or, In Which Piping Is Encouraged, Theoldone Loses Weight, Legless Gains Some And Tom And Hoho Are Relatively Ignored.’

Piping became aware of his surroundings before he opened his eyes. He didn’t want to open them. He knew what he would see. He would see his dreams, lying before him, dead and lifeless like gutted fish. His head hurt. “Piping, wake up!” urged a voice. The blobbit groaned.

“Piping, quit fooling around and wake up! Sillyman is defeated!”

“Yes, but at what cost?” he said despondently.

“Open your eyes and see what you have done, you and yourself alone!” cried the voice, which in case you were wondering happened to belong to Mary Christmas.

The words were salt in an open wound. Pickle juice, even. Piping sat up carefully. He slowly opened his eyes. What met them was nothing short of a mess. He groaned and fell back again.

“I may say, you are acting very foolish. If you won’t get up, I may have to, shall I say, persuade you,” hissed Mary.

“Your puny words may work on the Daft, but they will no longer work on me!” snapped Piping. Mary stepped back.

“What has gotten into you, Piping? You’ve changed so!”

“Gotten into me?” cried the other blobbit, “Gotten into me?! I’ll tell you!” He stood up. “You have gotten into me! You and every other life form on the face of the planet! Your puny, unchoreographed attemps at greatness make me sick! Handoff and his pompousness, Hoho and his aspirations, Arrogant and his hope in his lineage, even you and your hopes to drive Wimpy to his grave! Mere childsplay! And what now of Handoff? Dead! Hoho? He’s going to die! And Arrogant?” He laughed wildly. “The day Arrogant son of Thornbush is a king anyone would want is the day I eat my own feet! What is the use of my life? There is nothing!” he waved his arms in the air. “No hope, nothing at all! I could have been something,” he turned and waved despondently at what used to be something. All that now stood was the great tower of Ithinc. It had withstood everything, as it had been doing for eons. “It could have been mine!!” he screamed. “But not anymore. The Rents and my temper took care of that.” He sat down again and began to sob. “It’s all gone! Lost, lost!”

Mary slapped him. “Oh get over it! When has Piping Take ever given up? Do you remember the time we tried to block the river to stop the mill, so that we would never have to eat oatmeal again? Do you remember the bullies and parents that kept breaking the dam?” Mary shook his head. “But did that stop you? No! ‘Let’s build it further upriver,’ you said. Even nearly drowning, and that policeman didn’t stop you! I can’t believe that that Piping is gone. He isn’t. He’s still inside, crying to get out.” He knelt by his friend.

“It’s too late,” murmured Piping. “Even you can’t help me now.”

Mary grabbed his shoulders. “I know that I can’t help. You’ve got to help yourself. Find the old Piping. Bring him back. He would never give up.” He stood back up. “Not like you.” And with that, Mary stomped off. Piping listlessly watched him go.

***********************************************************************

Arrogant woke up early. He was not sure what had awoken him. He opened one eye a little bit. He saw the very dim form of Wimpy kneeling beside him. The Daft seemed to be talking to himself. His hands kept creeping towards Arrogant’s neck, and then suddenly jerked back.

“It’s ugly, yes, it should be put out of its misery,” he hissed. “Then we would have a reason to desert, yes!” Then he spoke quietly again. “But that would not be nice! Not nice at all!”

“Yes, but then we could say we were attacked, yes, then we could desert!”

“But it’s been nice to us!”

“Oh no, not nice at all, remember? We really should do away with him.”

“No!” he wailed. “We can’t do that!”

“Yes, yes you must, or He will never leave us alone,” there was an ominous pause. “Unless, She would help, yes.”

“No, not Her!”

“Yes, She will help us, She will! And then He will leave us alone, yes all alone!”

“Noo!”

Arrogant decided that this was freaking him out just a little bit too much. After a moments delibaration, he suddenly jumped up and screamed “Boo!”
Wimpy jumped at least twelve feet in the air, Handoff three and Legless four. Arrogant rolled around on the ground, laughing his head off.

“That was not funny!” gasped Legless. Wimpy was lying flat on his back, white as a sheet and breathing very very fast.

Handoff untangled himself from his robes and stood above the giggling man. Things would have gone ill with Arrogant, but at that moment the sun chose to rise above the horizon, and a shaft of light pierced towards them and blinded them.

“ARRGH!” shouted Arrogant. “What is that?” Handoff peered through the blinding shaft of light.

“It is the sunlight, reflected by the shiny roofs of the city of the Horsie People! We are closer than we thought, or I would have warned you.” He coughed. “On we go then!”

The companions tromped on for several minutes, until they reached the gates of the city. Two guards were there, with sunglasses.

“Hello!” they shouted in their own language.

“Hello!” shouted Handoff.

“How are you?” shouted the guards.

“Not bad! You?” shouted Handoff.

“What is going on?” whispered Legless.

“It’s the very famous and very rigorous entrance ritual of the Horsie People,” whispered Arrogant. “It is very hard to learn, and even harder to remember.” He looked at Handoff.

“So! How is your sister these days?” shouted Handoff.

“Mother!” screamed the guards. “Access denied!” and the gates were slammed in their faces.

Wimpy walked up to the gate and knocked. A guard poked his head out. “What do you want?”

“May we please come in?” queried the Daft. “Why certainly!” said the guard, and the door opened and they were beckoned forward. Handoff and Arrogant gaped.

They wound their way up, and up, and up, and up, “Remind me never to build my house on a mountain,” wheezed Legless, and up and up and up they went until finally they came to the courtyard of the palace. More guards stood there.

“Hello,” gasped Handoff.

“Hello, persons who come from elsewhere! You’ve been expected, Handoff the Gloomy.”

“Oh, really?” said Handoff. “No doubt Theoldone wishes to welcome me himself!”

The guard gave a laugh that under different circumstances they would have called evil. “No doubt. But alas, he is so, um, ill that he could not beat even you. You must give me your weapons, if you wish to enter.”

“Ah! What a cunning old codger!” said Handoff.

“And quit stalling.”

Handoff looked somewhat deflated. Reluctantly he handed over his sword, his knife, his switchblade, his blackjack, his bullystick, his club, his swiss army knife, his screwdriver, his Uzi, and the picture of himself with a bad hairday. The guards shuddered at this last impliment and seemed reluctant to touch it.

Legless handed over his bow and his knife, Wimpy his axe, but Arrogant seemed reluctant.

“Nooo!” he sobbed, hugging Andy to himself.

“Come on, Arrogant, don’t be such a crybaby!” growled the blizzard.

Arrogant sniffed and slowly handed the sword over. “Be gentle!” he hiccuped. “Oh, and he has naptime in about half an hour, he likes to have a story read to him, and maybe give him a graham cracker or two…”

“Your staff too,” said the guard to Handoff.

Handoff immediately threw a fit. “No! It’s mine, it’s mine! Noooooooooooooooo!!” He jumped up and down and would have gone on screaming for hours if the guards had not given up and shoved them inside.

“A queer lot, if I may say,” they were heard to mutter in afteryears.

Handoff, Arrogant, Legless and Wimpy…

“Why am I always last?” whined Wimpy.

“Because you’re slow and fat,” growled Legless.

ANYWAY, the said companions walked down the long hall. It was illuminated only faintly by two or three torches, the light of which cast eerie shadows about them. At the end of the hall were several figures. On closer inspection, there was a king on a great throne, a woman dressed in white standing behind him, and a queer little man on the floor in front of him. But the companions only had eyes for the king. He was so fat, even the great throne looked too frail to hold him.

“Oh look, Handoff the Gloomy is returned from who knows where, bringing who knows who with him, to get who knows what from us!” said the man at the foot of the throne.

“Listen, Snakelips, I know where I’ve been and I know who is who and what is what, so just shut your piehole!” snarled the blizzard. “So, Theoldone, how ya been doin’?”

Theoldone with some difficulty stood up.

“Why should I welcome you, Handoff the Gloomy? You only come with woe, why are you even here? Tell me that!” he sat down, and the hall shook.

“I bring tidings of war!” said Handoff, pointing his arm grandly. “Sillyman wants your land to expand his theme park, and even now he’s sending his army of corcs to take it!”

“It’s a lie,” hissed Snakelips. “Sillyman is our friend.” He looked at the companions. “And even if it were not so, which of these men could withstand even a normal corc, much less these SuperCorcs which Sillyman is supposedly sending?”

“AHA!” shouted Handoff, pointing his staff at Snakelips. “I didn’t say they were called SuperCorcs! Did I, Arrogant? Yes, Snakelips is a SPY! And not just any spy, but a spy for Sillyman the Plaid! He has rendered you helpless with his evil fattening pancakes! He has told you unfounded lies to slow your reaction! You, Theoldone, must battle against Sillyman!” he jumped up and down in his excitement.

“Oh brother,” muttered Arrogant.

“Yes! You must lose weight to fight those evil bad corcs! And I shall help you! Yes, I shall be your personal trainer! Now drop and gimmie 20! We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

“Have pity on my lord!” whined Snakelips, “He is old, and tired, and must go slowly.”

“I did not ask your advice!” shouted Handoff. “And I am Handoff the Gloomy no longer. I am Handoff…the Plaid!” And with that, the blizzard threw off his dingy cloak. Everyone in the hall threw their arms in front of their faces and screamed in agony, for it is well known that blizzards have poor taste in fashion.

“And you, Grimy Snakelips,” said Handoff in a deep melodramatic voice, “Must leave the lands of the Horsie People! Go back to Sillyman! What was the promised price? That you were to pick your share of the treasure, and make all the pancakes you desire? Too long have you been sneaking into the kitchens of late!”

Snakelips snarled and ran. “Now, Theoldone, come out into the sunlight! See your kingdom, which you have not seen for ages!” Theoldone stood up slowly, and started waddling out. The woman hastened to his side to support him.

“G’wan, Yawning, he won’t need you anymore!” cackled Handoff. “I’ll help him now! Mwahaha!”

The woman turned and ran. But at the doorway to the great hall, she turned and stuck her tongue out at everyone.

“It’s not so dark here,” said Theoldone.

“Nope,” said Handoff inspecting the king. “Let’s see, I’d say to be in trim fighting shape, you’ll have to lose about four hundred pounds. You can start by walking up and down these stairs!”

So Theoldone king of the Horsie People was doomed to exercise. He did push ups, sit ups, knee bends, pull ups, stairwalking, treadmilling, jumproping, (but that was stopped when several complained of an earthquake,) and ate many many salads, but it only made him tired.

Handoff looked at the results sadly. “At this rate, you’ll never lose enough weight. We have only one choice,” he said in an impossibly deep and irritated voice, “The fat must be liposuctioned.”

“Eep!” said everyone within earshot. Handoff waved his hands around, and there in front of their very noses and under their very eyes, a machine appeared. Handoff plugged one suction hose to Theoldone and one end out the window, and turned it on. Magically, Theoldone grew thin as several watched on.

“Uh, Handoff?” said Arrogant.

“What, can’t you see I’m busy?”

“Where is all that fat going? I think that unaccounted plot material may surface in ways no one could imagine…”

“Oh, what do you know?” said the blizzard glancing nervously at the Authors, who were twittering evilly in their glee.

But Handoff’s thoughts were interrupted as Theoldone began to make sucking noises. For it seemed that while the blizzard had been distracted for a bit, the king had become a tad, um, underweight. He surveyed himself angrily.

Handoff retaliated by stuffing a pastry into his mouth. “The king must gain at least eighty pounds by nightfall! Where are those pancakes of Snakelips?”
And so at long last Theoldone king of the Horsie People was returned to his former state. He flexed his muscles. Those at least had not suffered.
“Well!” said Handoff, surveying his so-called handiwork. “Now we must look to Sillyman. He’s sending an army of SuperCorcs right as we speak, to destroy you. I’d advise going to Qualm’s Keep, for it is sung that it has never fallen to enemies. Now, erm, I must be going because, erm, you don’t have enough people to fight, and, erm, I have to go find reinforcements! Tata!” And with that, Handoff fled the hall. “Oh yeah,” he shouted, “I’m borrowing Bumblefax! So long!” and he was gone.

“I thought he’d never leave,” said Theoldone wiping his brow. He looked around. “Where’s Yawner? He should be here, somewhere.”

“He was imprisoned by Snakelips, sire, for burning several of his recipies,” said one of the guards.

“Well, bring him here! I need to talk to him,” the king stood and looked at his city. He put his hand to his side. “Now where is that stupid sword got to?”

“Well, give me a hankercheif and call me a cold, you don’t have a sword?” came a voice, “You can use mine!”

“Ah, Yawner! Just the person I wanted to see! We are going to Qualm’s Keep. Make the city ready!”

“Well, flush my personality down the drain and call me a Self! We’re going to Qualm’s Keep, huh?” Legless glared at Yawner.

“Uh, I wanna go home,” whined Wimpy. But a voice seemed to speak to him. ‘You aren’t deserting, are you Daft? I told you I don’t like that,’ it said.

Wimpy clutched his arm, as if an old wound pained him. “I mean, what of Mary and Piping?”

“Handoff said they were safe,” said Legless doubtfully. “Anyway, it’s getting dark.”

“Yes, tomorrow at first light we journey to Qualm’s Keep. We’ll provide tents for you,” said Theoldone. “Goodnight, all!”

What the king had neglected to tell them, however, was the size of the said tents, which happened to be called ‘pup tents’.

When they awoke next morning still twisted like bedsprings, the host of the Horsie People started thier way to Qualm’s Keep.

“I feel like two men!” said Theoldone flexing his muscles.

“Well, lower my i.q. forty points and call me a Daft! You only look like half a man!” said Yawner.

“Huh?” said Wimpy. Legless sprinted effortlessly to the head of the company.

“What?” he gasped reading that last sentence very carefully. It still read the same.

“Legless, er, you have legs!” said Arrogant.

“Well, give me a bath and stop calling me stinky! How did that happen?” said Yawner.

“Well I wish you would,” muttered one of his men.

“It must have been Theoldone’s excess fat!” said Arrogant. “How disgusting!”

“So what do we call you now? Legfull?” said Wimpy.

“No, Daft. What does this portend, I wonder?” mused the Self. Just then, Handoff came back.

“Bad news,” he wheezed. “SuperCorcs are amassing from Sillyman and Ithinc! We have to hurry! I know a shortcut. Follow me!” He started to ride off, but then as for the first time he noticed Legless’s legs.

“Woah!” he cried when he heard the story. “I suppose we call you Legfull now? Heh heh.” It was with great difficulty that Legless kept from strangling the collapsed and giggling blizzard.

****************************************************************************

“Do you think they followed us?” hissed Hoho. It was the next morning.

“If they kicked us out, I hardly think they’d follow us,” said Tom.

“There is wisdom in that last statement,” said Solemn who had switched back to his english accent.

“What’s with those accents?” said Hoho.

Solemn shrugged. “They’re to please my audience.”

“Audience?” said Hoho blankly.

“You mean you can’t see them?” said Solemn waving to the dawn. “The crowds, clapping and cheering me? My adoring fanbase? Surely you can see them. Although their adoration gets a bit noisy if we’re in a tight spot.”

Tom and Hoho edged away slightly. “Sure,” they said looking at each other with a look that said ‘help’.

!!pagebreak!!

The Two Cowards – Book 7

‘Or, In Which Wimpy And The Blobbits Are Reunited And Tom And Hoho Enter The Tunnel.’

Grimy Snakelips rode hard from Eudora that day to Ithinc. As he rode up to what used to be called a gate, he saw two little figures playing “rock paper scissors” on a slag heap.

“DarnItMaryChristmasYou’reCheating!” shouted one.

“IAmNotPiping!You’reTheOneWithTheAceUpHisSleeve!” yelled the other.

“YouDon’tPlayRockPaperScissorsWithPlayingCardsStupid!” howled the first.

“What is this?” whined Snakelips, but the words were barely out of his mouth when a hand picked him up at least ten feet off the ground.

“HmmVeryVeryBadGuyIShallSquishHimLikeALittleBug!” said a voice.

“SetHimDownFleeneesWon’tYouPrettyPrettyPlease,” said Piping. “NowWhatMightYourNameBeAndWhatIsYourErrandHere?”

“I’m Grimy son of Greasy, and I’ve been sent by Theoldone with messages for Sillyman, yes important messages! And Handoff too! Yes yes!”

“WillYouTakeAMessageForMe?” said Mary.

Snakelips groveled. “Anything, just don’t let that thing at me!”

“AwPipingIsn’tThatBadYouJustHaveToGetUsedToHim. AnywayMyMessageIs,” he looked around and bent closer. “Shut,” he whispered. “UUUUUUUUPPPPPPPPP!!!!!!” And with that, he kicked the man.

“KillSnakelips!” cried Fleenees. “SquishSquishSquishJavaSquish!!” And he would have done so but at that very moment a great host of men rode up with a blaring of trumpets. The trumpet calls suddenly came to an end with a few flat notes as they surveyed the scene before them. Handoff, who had been talking about how they would whip those puny SuperCorcs to a pulp when they got to Qualm’s Keep turned and tried to flee, but the entire host surrounded him. Several minutes passed until the host finally left the battered body of the blizzard and came inside what had once been the gate.

“WellIndeedYouSeemToHaveLostYourWayIfIndeedYouWereHeadedToQualm’sKeepYouCameAboutAHundredMilesTooFarWest,” said Fleenees.

“Well, tie me in a knot and call me a pretzel! Too far west, huh?” said Yawner seemingly at a loss for further words.

Wimpy hung back in the crowd. Even after coming all this way to rescue the two blobbits, he still seemed reluctant to let them see him.

“Come on, Wimpy, what could they do? You tried your very best!” he muttered.

“Kill them,” he muttered again.

“Nooo!” he said.

Legless burst to the front. “Mary, Piping! You’re alright!” he said.

“Legless!” cried Mary. “You, have legs! I suppose we have to call you Legfull now, hmm?” he chuckled and elbowed Piping. “Yup,” said Piping, rubbing his arm.

Mary inhaled sharply and glanced at Wimpy. The Daft shielded his eyes from the cold, hard glance.

“Hello Wimpy,” he said taking him aside, as the entire host were being entertained by Fleenees and the other rents playing volleyball with the body of Handoff and a standing piece of the wall.

“How have you been?” said Mary gently.

“Um, ok,” said the Daft relaxing a little bit. He stiffened when Piping came up to his other side.

“And how is Hoho?” said Mary tightening his grip on Wimpy’s arm.

“Um, I don’t know, I came to save you!” said Wimpy.

“What?” said Mary. “You didn’t go with Hoho? Piping and I don’t like that. It insinuates that we can’t take care of ourselves, wouldn’t you say, Piping?”

“Yup,” said Piping baring his arm. Mary clucked his tongue.

“As you can see we can take care of ourselves, right?” Wimpy nodded reluctantly. “And do you know where Hoho is?” Wimpy shook his head fearfully.

“He may be in trouble, calling for help, he may be dying just because of you,” he shook his head sadly. “I may say, Daft, I am very disappointed in you.” Wimpy swallowed hard and glanced around for help. Mary saw the look and laughed. He knew that the Daft was completely in his grip, and he relished it.

*********************************************************************************

Hoho opened his sleepy eyes. He saw Solemn dancing in a circle around the fire. Hoho watched, as he had nothing else better to do. Solemn danced this way for several hours. When he finally stopped, Hoho asked him what he was doing. His exact words were “What is he, I mean, what are you doing?”

Solemn looked miffed. “Well!” he said in a huff. “You inturrupted my performence of Hamlet!”

“I don’t think Hamlet ever did a rain dance,” said Hoho. Solemn looked at him agast.

“I was not doing Hamlet. I was doing Hamlet! the broadway musical play!”

Before Hoho could ask more questions, Tom broke in with his silly antics.

“I’m on fire!” screamed Tom, failing about. After dousing Tom, they looked at the map that Solemn had made when he came to Mortar.

“We must go the way of the Stairs!” cried Solemn. He told them of the dangers of the stairs, how every last one was covered with slippery moss, and how the handrails make tookpicks look strong and mighty by comparison. Hoho went first. He took a deep breath and stepped into the inky blackness.

He walked up the two steps.

“Haha!” said Tom. “I guess things do change sometimes, don’t they? Tata!” he said, stepping into the blackness and down the stairs. The small, round pebbles on the mossy stairs acted as ball bearings, the lubricant being Tom’s tears, keeping him going much farther than he would have ordinarily liked to.

“How are you?” cried Hoho, after he had carefully went down the stairs.

“I’m OK, your food cusioned my fall,” said Tom, refusing to meet Hohos eyes.

“Onward!” cried Solemn suddenly. “We need to make it through the tunnel before nightfall!”

“Wasn’t there some legend about some monster?” said Tom.

“It’s most certainly a myth,” said Solemn. “There was some kind of monster, but it is most certainly gone.”

“And anyway,” laughed Hoho, “Who could stand the sight of us tromping like an army to conquer?” He laughed, the sound of which had not been heard in those parts since Moron had traveled that way on vacation and told a particularly witty joke.

Almost immediately, a few yards towards the gate, a hidden gate opened in the mountainside. Out poured Corcs by the thousands, and worse things. At the head rode a rider (No duh!) dressed in pink, yellow and blue paisley. Hoho and Tom screamed, but Solemn clamped his hands over their mouths and dragged them down. The rider stopped the host, or rather held his hand up to stop, but nobody saw and they all crashed into each other. The Paisley Rider picked itself up and looked around as if it sensed something. After a minute, he shrugged and got back onto his horse, and the whole cavalcade went off again, singing a most fearful song.

“Hey we go to win
No nasty men will beat us
Their defences are pitifully thin
We’ll beat them to a pulp!

Flounder will fall before the week is out
And if not, Moron will be very angry and spank us
Like little naughty children and our mommies
Will spank us too, and we’ll cry and when
Our fathers come home they’ll take their belt straps
And spank us too and we’ll be grounded forever
And never get to play outside again!

So we intend to win
If not, we’ll impale ourselves
On our own weapons and flee!!”

When they had passed, Solemn whispered “Flounder is in danger! The host will stop at nothing to make sure that it is destroyed!”

“Bummer,” said Hoho. “It’ll at least save them the shame of having Arrogant for a king!” He and Tom laughed. “Let’s get going,” said Hoho at last. “Come and get me, all you monsters!”

But she who haunted the darkness was no craven wimp. She had ruled her dreary kingdom, feeding on whatever she could find, sometimes even going into the forest of Ticklethin to hunt manflesh. None had the courage or the strength to resist She who walked the mazes of Cruel Gruesome Death.

Here ends The Two Cowards. In the last installment of this trilogy, The Return Of The Swamp Thing, we will end the adventure of Our Heroic Questoreseiesses. (Is that even a word?)