This short story was made with contributions of characters and settings from the Groupees community, as a bonus reward during the Groupees Community sale!
‘I do hate to be a bother sir, but it would appear the world is ending.’
‘Piss off, Woosterly.’
‘Very good Sir. Shall I activate the Gentlemen, just to be on the safe side, Sir?’
‘Dint ya hear me, Woosterly?! I said piss off!’
‘Of course, Sir.’
‘What in the hell is that…Woosterly, get yer useless ass in here!’
‘Of course, Sir. Sir?’
That’s it. That’s it. My world is ending; how can this be happening. Why now?
‘I’m very sorry, Mr Rochart – Daryl – I know this is a shock, but it’s something we expected. Mrs Rochart, if you’d like I can give you the full details of what this will entail.’
He’s so calm. She’s so calm. Why is everything calm, everything is ruined!
‘Daryl, this is hard, I’m sure. But very little has to change. An autism diagnosis in this day and age, and your place on the spectrum means this diagnosis is a minor one, I assure you. If it wasn’t this, the alternatives were worse.’
That’s it, my world is over. That’s it.
‘Doctor, the ceiling!’
Why’s mum shouting?
‘Where the hell did it go?!’
‘So, are you gonna tell me where you’re taking me, or is it still a surprise, baby?’
‘Hush, Adam, hush. We’re almost there!’
‘Uh, Stace? There’s nothing around here but the old estate and that creepy-ass graveyard; where are you taking me?’
‘Look, you asked if there was anything we could do to…improve the mood. This is it.’
‘Ok, Stacey; you understood I meant improve the mood in bed, right? Why the hell are we stopping in a goddamn graveyard?!’
‘You could keep asking questions, or you could let me take off my shirt while you find a flat tomb.’
‘This is so freaking weird. There is no way I should be ok with this.’
‘OK, found something? Adam?…Adam?!’
Gren was starting to get worried. It was hours ago Darak was meant to be home – she’d prepared the fish, fed the kids and yet he was still nowhere to be seen. On a normal day she would go and search for him in the woods nearby, but Gren knew today was different.
She hadn’t noticed he was gone at first. When she finally realised he was missing, it was already hours past when she’d expected him – the few times he was ever late he returned less than an hour after he was due. This just wasn’t like him. Suspicious of anything that moved, Gren wasn’t going to abandon her children in their sleep all alone; she’d just have to wait for Darak to get back.
Gren jumped. She had been sitting in silence for so long, she didn’t expect the sudden yells from her children. She immediately darted to where they lay, tucked away in the warmest of the night’s dunes.
‘What is it, my love? What’s wrong?’
‘Where’s Poppa? He always says goodnight…’
She couldn’t lie. Not to her own young.
‘He’s not back from his hunt yet. I’m sure he’ll be back soon.’
‘Momma, I had that dream again.’
Gren wasn’t sure she could handle this right now; but she put on a brave face and tried to deal with it.
‘Which dream? What’s upset you?’
‘Momma, it’s the one with the ocean. There’s water everywhere. It covers up everything!’
‘Oh love, not this again. Now don’t you remember? There’s not been water on Mars for thousands of years. You’re safe, I’m safe – everyone is safe love. Go back to sleep and don’t think about it. Your father will be back by morning, I’m sure.’
Gren walked away, leaving her cub to fall back asleep in peace. She went to her own dune and tried to settle down. There was no point waiting for Darak to return, only to fall asleep in his arms. She was sure she’d see him tomorrow.
What’s a bear on Mars supposed to do?
‘No, listen you ignorant fool! If we are to be in Paris by nightfall we have no time to dilly dally here first! Hurry, dammit!’
Down the corridor slithered an incredibly angry, cloaked slug. The guards dressed in red across the hallway were well used to this sight, and stood in stoic silence as the thing that paid their paycheques ranted once again.
‘Now are you really such an incompetent fool that even a little hop through space-time is beyond your monkey-brained grasp? I have been flitting between dimensions since before I was born!’ The slug continued.
‘Before you were born, your slugness, sir?’ The advisor, dressed in the ceremonial scuba suit, inquired as he walked behind his master, hunched over to avoid seeming too tall above the rather small owner of the ship they both resided on.
‘Yes. Before I was born. It was very traumatic. If I didn’t have to take this damned ship with me everywhere, I’d have been in Paris days ago!’
‘Sir, we only began our journey this morning.’
‘Yes, remind me to build a time machine into this ship. It really would save time.’
‘I…’The man faltered, unsure of how to proceed and trying to work out whether his punishment would be greater if he never spoke of this again, or if he did later remind his master of his promises to build a time machine. ‘Yes sir.’
A man dressed in red came running down the hallway at the pair. The slug prepared to spray this manic fool with acidic slime, but the man stopped just out of range. It seemed his goons were becoming too wary. He’d have to acquire stupider guards.
‘What is it, boy?’ The slug replied, annoyed.
‘We’ve hit an iceberg sir, it just appeared out of nowhere!’
‘Again? Brian, remind me never to enact my nefarious schemes from a boat, this ship appears to be quite the magnet for icebergs. Come on, let’s go fix up whatever damage that blasted ice has done.’
‘Of course sir.’
The slug and the two men walked down the hallway together, turning into one of the many identical looking steel doors.
‘Umm, David?’ One guard said to another.
‘Not again, Lorenzo.’ Came the frustrated reply.
‘No no, I think I’ve just about gotten over the fact that we’re working for an interdimensional weaponised hyper-slug. In fact it feels quite normal now. I was just wondering why he speaks in a British accent?’
‘Perhaps because he’s British, Lorenzo.’
‘Well, fine. But why is it a poor 70’s sitcom version of a British accent?’
‘…It’s really best not to ask questions.’
‘Miss Annabella, I really wish you wouldn’t come up here.’ Came the gruff, age worn voice from behind her.
‘Oh but Frank, there’s a storm coming, where else could I possibly be?’ She almost jumped in excitement. The woman, with long red hair, was wearing an oversized fullcoat her betters had, many times, told her she should stop wearing; it takes a lot to part a stubborn girl with her late father’s coat though, and she was never pressed too strictly on the matter.
Her name is Mistress Annabella Di Scotia, though she rarely let anyone use anything but her first name.
‘But that’s what I’m worried about Miss, there’s a storm coming and you just know that it isn’t safe for you to be out here when it hits!’ Frank complained.
‘I just don’t understand you, Frank! You always look so miserable; if Sister Consistence actually allowed me to be up here, I don’t think I’d ever leave. You’ve always got such a sad look on your face – how can you be sad when all the beauty of the world explodes around you all day and night?’
‘Miss Annabella, I’m afraid I think I’ve lost my eye for the beauty of this world. Have you seen the other crewmen up here, from time to time?’
‘Of course I have, but you’re the only one I see regularly.’
‘I’m afraid the others aren’t inconsistent, like so many of the Sisters claim. To be alive right now, after so many years of service,’ He paused, ‘I used to believe the gods above had blessed me. Now I believe it is a curse. I have seen every man or woman I worked with upon this deck fall to the so called beauty of our world.’
‘You mean they’re dead?’ Annabella looked confused, with the warning of upset upon her brow.
‘I’m afraid so, Miss. All to the natural events the magicians and fairies of this world adore so very much. See that storm coming in, from the East?’ She nodded ‘Right, it might look incredible, with purple mists and liquid thunder rolling across the horizon, but that great beast of gas is alive, and if you were to ask me, furious about that fact. As it crosses our ship, every drop of colour we see will bleed into the other, anyone in the smoke will lose their sight and see only what the storm wants. The madness the storm brings does not pass, Miss Annabella, it worsens. If a man is chosen by a storm, he will die long before the storm has faded from sight.’
‘But, but,’ she struggled for words, ‘But that is just a storm! There are so many beauties and delights out there, the Sisters’ books show them all!’
‘Been looking in the books again? I’m not sure the Sisters would appreciate that. Aren’t all young scientists banned from studying magic, anyway?’
‘Well, yes, but that’s a stupid rule!’
‘Can’t say I agree with you there, begging your pardon, Miss. It’s magic brought these terrors into our world. And I’m not just talking storms, now. Demons and fairies and all manner of unholy blights, killing anyone they find. It’s magic forcing us to be on a boat in the bloody arctic, rather than in one of those comfortable buildings I’m sure your books tell you all about. Can’t say I can thank magic for an awful lot, I’m afraid.’
‘Frank, without magic we would have our inventions and our buildings and our metal men, but we wouldn’t have wonders! Could I do this, without magic?’
From Annabella’s hand, a small plume of fire burst into existence, before immediately being snuffed out once again.
‘Miss Annabella! The Sisters discover they have magic aboard and you’ll be thrown over!’
‘And that’s how I know you’ll keep quiet, Frank. You are a softie.’
‘You’re too kind to an old man, Miss. Now you must get in, the storm is almost upon us!’
Just as he said those words, purple mists and grey shadows began to dance across the railings of the ship, feeling their way across this new obstacle in the sea.
‘Miss Annabella, inside, quickly!’ He cried.
‘No! I want to see!’
Before he could complain further, the mist blocked his vision, and he knew he would have to wait for the storm to pass before he could safely move from his position. Fortunately, the storm was small, and fast, and it passed over them in moments.
‘Now you’ve seen it Miss, you must go inside!’ He paused, and looked around, ‘Miss? Miss Annabella?’
‘Who are you and how in the devil did you get onto my ship?’
‘Who the hell are you? And where on God’s yellow Earth am I? Dammit, Woosterly, what’s goin’ on?!’
‘Does anybody in the room know what in the hells a Woosterly is? No? No? Ok, fine. Now tell me how the hell you got onto my ship.’
‘Now y’all cain’t talk to me like that! I’m Buck Rogerberston, I run all’a the Southern Robotics and Oil company, hear me, buster?’
‘You know what, I don’t really care.’
‘And another thing! Why the hell am I talkin’ to a giant slug?! Now that just ain’t right.’
‘Hey, recruit. Kevin, was it? Good. Clean this up.’
The recruit stumbled forward with a confused expression on his brow,
‘Clean what up, sir?’
From a small metal prong stuck unattractively in the slug’s sticky membrane, a mix of purple and green liquid shot at the confused man who had suddenly appeared in the bridge of Darth Slug’s control room. A moment after being caught under the torrent of slime, the man was little more than a still screaming puddle. Kevin looked rather upset.
‘Where am I? Where’s my son?’ The woman continued to scream, incoherent babbling interrupted only briefly by words and sentences.
‘Miss, miss it’s ok! What’s wrong?’ The young girl asked.
‘My son! Where’s my son?’
‘Your son? I’ve not seen any children here. What’s his name?’
‘Daryl, his name is Daryl! Please, help me find him!’
‘Ok, I’m sure we’ll find him, but you have to calm down. I don’t think it’s your son that’s missing, but you.’
‘What?’ The woman stopped shouting, and opened her eyes.
‘Is this where you were five minutes ago?’
‘N-no. No, I was in the doctor’s office with my husband and Daryl.’
‘Ok, I’m not where I was either, but we’ll figure this out, ok? What’s your name?
‘C-Caroline, and yours?’
‘You can call me Annabella.’
‘Ok Stace, what was that?’ Adam paused ‘Uhh, Stace? Hello? Anyone?’
He looked around. He wasn’t where he had been just a few minutes ago. Probably a good thing, Stacy was really starting to creep him out.
Not that his current situation wasn’t creeping him out of course. After some brief investigation, Adam finally came to the conclusion that he was probably indoors. To be fair, it was rather hard to even reach that conclusion, as the only colour, and only detail, around him was the colour blue. A checkerboard pattern of blue and white surrounded him in a tight cube, with no other details at all.
Adam walked towards one of the mysteriously patterned walls and pressed his hand against it; it had an interesting texture, as if made of hundreds of interlocking playing cards woven in a massive grid. It was an odd first assumption to make, though in this one instance it seemed he was completely correct.
With nothing better to do, Adam attempted to remove one of these small plastic covered cards. It was tightly bound in with the rest, but after some pulling and a more than necessary amount of tearing from the now rather panicked man, the card came loose.
The cards nearby suddenly found themselves without a neighbour, and while some physicists will tell you they also came free as a result of their structural integrity being compromised, the truth of the matter is that the playing cards, social creatures by design, felt lonely now that one of their companions was gone, and so threw themselves from the wall in depression. It didn’t help, as I’m sure you know playing cards will fall to the floor slowly, and without taking much damage. It was a rather disappointing turn of events all round, really.
But, it set a reaction going. Every card that fell to the floor convinced its neighbours to do the same, and soon the entire wall, and then the building, fell down around a very confused and half naked young man.
Darak was in some serious trouble. He’d stumbled during his last hunt of the night, and had been sent rolling down a huge dune. He probably could have found his way back, but a sandstorm burst into life around him, and soon his footprints and his scent were scrubbed away by the relentless weather.
He was struggling to breath. He was panicking, and he knew it. If he didn’t find some trace of his trail, he would never make it back to Gren and his cubs. He shambled and loped back the way he was sure he’d come, but everything looked different. The storm seemed to have changed even the colour of the plentiful sand at his feet, and nothing felt the same.
He breath came in short, ragged pants. He desperately called in air and failed once again. If he didn’t calm down, he knew he’d have a heart attack.
He stopped, closed his eyes, and tried to breath. He still couldn’t. His eyes shot open, desperately trying to discern the lack of air in his lungs. He fell sideways, collapsing onto the rough ground. He tried once, twice, again to breathe, but no air would enter his lungs. Just as the last drop of precious oxygen left his lungs, he looked up at the sky. The cold, lifeless world his people had observed for so long was lit up for the first time. Bright lights and glowing dots littered the landscape. Earth was alive.
Darak tried fruitlessly again to draw breath, before finally giving up. He allowed the final air in his lungs to leave his body, and gave up.
‘Frank?’ She called out ‘You see Frank? I’m fine! What was all that storm talk then? You do sound like the Sisters sometimes!’
Annabella only then decided to look at her surroundings, to find they were quite different to what she had expected.
‘Well this isn’t right at all.’
Around her was a rather poor facsimile of a building, though from even a cursory glance anyone could tell it was very wrong indeed. The wall, an odd pale blue colour, was clearly made of playing cards, much like the ones Apprentice Jessica had snuck onto the ship during Annabella’s second year of training. There was an attempt at a coffee table in the centre of the room, but why a coffee table would be made of carrot cake Annabella did not have even the slightest clue.
‘Not right at all. No, this simply won’t do.’ Annabella grumbled, altogether very confused and rather annoyed at her sudden relocation.
Seeing no door in the room she was currently in, she decided the best course of action would be to ascend the stairs, for perhaps she was in a basement of some sort. The stairs, of course, were made of disconcertingly large typewriter keys. Without a disconcertingly large typewriter below them however, they did look quite out of place.
‘Who on earth would possibly make a staircase out of old typewriter keys. This is all far too bizarre for a sensible house.’ She smiled. ‘I love it.’
Now, while Annabella could not have possibly known this, the typewriter keys had been listening in on her monologue, and all of them were hurt by her words. They had once lived in a giant typewriter, as would be expected of giant typewriter keys; but they had realized their calling was elsewhere. Rather than live a false life doing what was expected of them, they set sail for distant lands and found their calling in the staircase industry.
They were very hurt by Annabella’s cruel words, and hated how she pigeonholed them. She was quite lucky there isn’t very much a staircase can do to get revenge on someone. A vengeful staircase would just be ridiculous.
As she scaled the stairs, she finally found herself on the roof of this odd building. Looking out around her, she couldn’t help but admire the ridiculous view surrounding her: purple mushrooms stood proudly like trees, men and women danced, sung or shouted at random intervals as they walked down the street, and seemingly conscious treadmills rolled aggressively at overweight joggers. It was a surreal view, to say the least.
A loud, high pitched noise gave her cause to turn around, where she was immediately met with a screaming middle aged woman.
‘Where am I? Where’s my son?’
Adam wandered through the streets of what he thought could potentially be France. He couldn’t be certain, but an old man had mentioned to him;
‘Nous sommes les seuls vrais lapins.’
It sounded French.
He noted that almost all the buildings were uniformly made of the same strange playing cards that he had been trapped by, and that drinking yogurt poured from every tap he attempted to turn on. This entire place seemed very alien to him. Though, to be fair, he was a half-naked man walking down the road muttering in a different language, so the locals thought of him as just as weird.
He spun immediately, just happy to hear the voice of someone who actually spoke his language.
‘Hi’ He said, seeing before him two women; one with mascara streaked down her face, the other simply staring with a terrifying glee at everything around her. ‘Uhh, hey. You guys just appear here too?’
‘Sadly so. You are?’ the younger of the two women said.
‘Uh, Adam. Howdy. Look, have you seen a woman around here? Her name’s Stacy. There’s a small chance she’s naked.’
Both the women paused for a moment, just to stare. Adam felt very uncomfortable.
‘Afraid not. I’m Annabella by the way, and this is Caroline,’ the young woman replied.
‘Ok, great. No chance you’ve seen Stacy? She’s hard to miss, what with her…’ He trailed off.
‘Being naked?’ Caroline finally spoke up, looking unimpressed.
‘Yeah, that’ Adam couldn’t help but reply.
‘No, I’m sure we haven’t. Everyone we’ve seen here is quite mad,’ Muttered Annabella, her eyes still darting around the place.
‘Oh, she’s that too.’
‘But you raise a good point.’ Annabella said, not looking towards him.
‘Yes, it seems we’ve got a lot of missing people on our hands, and that’s just between the three of us.’
‘So what do you recommend we do?’ Caroline asked.
‘Well, I don’t know about you two…’ Adam said ‘But I kinda wanna check out that boat falling from the sky…’
‘William! For all that’s good and slimy, what the hell is going on?!’
‘I’m sorry, your Slugness, sir. We don’t seem to have quite teleported where you expected us to…’
‘What?! Then where the hell are we?’
‘About two miles above it, sir.’
‘That’s not good.’
‘Well, it was nice knowing you William. As you know, every good captain goes down with his ship, and leaves the last parachute to his most trusted friend.’
‘And by that, I mean you are now the captain. I’ll be taking that parachute.’
The explosion rocked the entire city of Paris. The impact caused a great quake that knocked buildings over, felled power lines, and even interrupted the mid-morning showing of ‘My family and the elephant’. There were well over a hundred complaints to the local broadcasting company.
Of course, the quake was the least of everyone’s worries, as the explosion came next. As you would expect, fire erupted from the ship, rolling across entire city blocks and blanketing a huge area in bright red.
However, the disaster was perhaps a little less serious than some would expect, as, in this very strange and rather confused universe, it seems fire is not the vicious, destructive force it is in most other places, but rather a transient form of red woollen material. The streets were filled with a soft, red and orange wool, which soon faded from sight unimpressively.
Those scientific tv shows are very disappointing in this reality.
‘Damned fools, almost killed me! I bet the families will be wanting something as well. Ah, just kill’em, I say. By Herbert’s eyebrows, kill them all!’
Darth Slug paused, just for a moment, to make out his surroundings.
‘Oh no, THIS universe. Really? Dammit, fine. Where the hell am I? Looks like…aha!’
A slug cannot exactly smile, however the horrid turning of Darth Slugs lips could perhaps be thought of as a grotesque sort of smile. Perhaps.
‘The Eiffel tower. Perfect. From here I can release the slime matrix and begin this world anew! Finally I will be in control of my own universe! Mine! All mine!’
Oddly enough, slug also cannot laugh. To even explain what a laughing slug looks like would cause mirrors to crack and the strongest of men and women to break down into madness. It’s not all that pleasant, to say the least.
‘The ship crashed over there, let’s go!’
‘Caroline, hold up.’ Annabella suddenly called.
‘Anyone in that crash is dead. I saw someone jump from it though, maybe they’re still alive, we have to see if we can help.’
‘Hate to say it, but I think whoever it was landed on top of the Eiffel tower.’
‘The Eiffel tower.’
‘You want us all to climb a lifesize replica of the Eiffel tower, made solely of playing cards?’
‘I have a feeling the stairs may be made of giant typewriter keys.’
‘Oh, well that makes it all so much better.’
And off they went, a young woman, fascinated with the world, a mother, worried only for her son, and a young man, desperately wishing he could find some clothes.
Step by step they charged up the tower, fearing any of the cards they knocked out of place in their hurry could send them all plummeting to their doom. And while the cards felt lonely, and wished to fall from their places, even the lowest of playing cards respects a good narrative, and they all stayed firmly in place, giving the young, confused heroes a chance to reach the top of the tower.
‘I will be in control of my own universe! Mine! All mine! Bwahahaha!’ All three of them stopped climbing the tower, just before reaching the top level, to hear the deranged, gurgling sound of a power mad slug.
Annabella climbed to the top, and confronted the odd villain.
‘Ok, now explain why I shouldn’t just kill you then.’
Darth Slug spun around, and glared at the intruders.
‘Hah, I’d like to see you try; when you’re melting!’
An awkward, pregnant pause followed.
‘Should I be melting, yet?’ Annabella couldn’t help but ask.
‘Yes, yes you should. Dammit, I took my slime pack off with my parachute. Look, pass me that bundle there. Then we can get to the melting.’
‘And why would I do that?’
‘Because Darth Slug commands it! I am the master of time and space! I am the controller of dimensions! I go to whichever world I please, and do as I like, and you shall do as I command!’ He screamed.
Annabella took a step forward, and crushed the mad beast under her shoe.
For all Darth Slug’s intelligence, for all his planning and his preparation, for all the genetic modification the scientists had done to make him as he was, and even for all the time he’d spent making an acidic slime-shooting slug-mounted gun…a slug is still only about an inch long. A disappointing villain, really.
‘Umm, Annabella.’ Caroline said, from her and Adam’s hiding space behind a wall of cards.
‘Not to take away from your glorious victory of crushing a bug, but didn’t he just say he was the one who could control dimensions? Did you just crush our way home under your boot? Which, might I say, is a rather stunning design.’
‘Ah. Yes. I might’ve done.’
‘Did you just trap us in a world where fish hang from lampposts and what appears to be ice cream has just begun raining from the sky?’
There was another awkward pause, before Annabella smiled.
‘But! In my world, I’m a scientist. We build machines. But there are also magicians, and people who wield the very laws of physics.’
‘So? You’re a scientist, can you get us out of here?’ Adam asked.
‘A scientist, couldn’t, no. But, much to the annoyance of the Sisters, a lot of scientists and mages dabble in the other arts. I might just be one of them. We’re outlawed across the world, and we’re called the Deus Ex Machinists.’
‘Right. Ok?’ Adam said, confused.
‘Now a Deus Ex Machinist can send us all home!’ She smiled.
‘Oh, thank you Annabella!’ Caroline cried out.
‘Daryl!’ Caroline cried, hugging her son.
‘Mum! Doctor! Annabella?’
‘Heh, ok, right on Annabella! You rock!’
‘Who, the hell is Annabella?’ Stacy cried
‘I said,’ Stacy shouted ‘ Who the hell is Annabella.’
‘Some warning woulda been nice though.’
‘Oh Frank! You wouldn’t believe how happy I am to see you!’
‘Well, I’m happy you can see me too Miss! I thought the storm mighta taken you for a second there!’
‘Not quite, Frank, not quite. I kicked its ass. I might just have to go hug the Sisters, Frank!’
‘Y’know, I think they’d probably kill you fer that.’
‘They can try, Frank, they can try!’