Day 3 (Part 2)–Slubes

Note that this is not the final version and may change when the book comes out

Soon the town of Nottle was asleep. Peaceful, calm, still… Numer, Zeth, and Cherry were quite glad for the return of a peaceful night—the sounds of the city went on all night in Interpolis. But here, in a village as small as Nottle, there was little ruckus. Instead, there was peace.

Peace that didn’t last long, however. During the middle of the night Mescho Caleco had a rude awakening. Tap, tap, tap. No, wait. More of a bang, bang, bang. Well, a bangbangbangbangbang. A loud, rapid knocking on his front door jolted him awake.

Caleco groaned and trudged out of bed, still in his yellow pajamas with a large tube sock over his tail. The knocking continued uninterrupted until Caleco reached the front doors. “Yes, already, I hear you!” he shouted. He opened the door and was met by a wide-eyed, shaking, panting slube in a green night gown.

“Mescho! Please, help me! My son… my son has been kidnapped!” she exclaimed.

“Kidnapped?” Caleco asked.

In several minutes the slube, Millie, was sitting on a couch. She held a cup of tea that shook as she held it. Cherry was now up as well, wearing a red night gown with lace at the hems.

“Now, what exactly happened?” Caleco asked.

“Well…” Millie slowly began, trembling a little, “I woke up, hearing my son screaming for me. I hurried into his room to see what was wrong and saw him being carried away by… by a… a spiest!”

“A spiest?” Cherry and her father exclaimed. Everyone knew of the spiest—ghosts.

Well, not really ghosts. The spiest insisted on this but they didn’t seem to be spirits of the former living, instead being a species in of themselves. They appeared as white balls with oversized arms hanging at their sides. Their faces consisted of a mouth and a single eye shaped like a pill capsule.

“Are you sure? It seems strange…” Caleco mused.

Although they had had encounters with the ghostly creatures before, it was almost always as a prank. That was the one thing known best about the spiest: they loved pranking people. This was usually all in good fun and not filled with malice, although it was sometimes terrifying.

Occasionally people claim to have joined the spiest in making pranks. Some claim that they’ve even made friends with them. Some even claim that they’ve married a… no, wait; they don’t have tabloids there. Never mind. Probably because of that, no one had ever heard of a spiest outright kidnapping someone.

“Well, something kidnapped my son!” Millie yelled.

“Please, calm down,” Caleco said.

Cherry had a thought. With things like Sawn and Terrent happening… “Can you remember anything else? Like, was the spiest carrying anything?”

“Um… I think…” Millie paused. “I think… Yes, it, it paused to stick its tongue out at me… and then it swallowed some sort of glittering object before leaving…”

“Was it?” Cherry asked. It was inevitable. “Did it remind you of the crystal in town?”

“Actually, yes, a little bit,” Millie said.

Cherry sighed.

 ***

Numer, clad in the same blue shirt he had worn that day, opened his front door to the balmy night air. “Oh! Ch-Cherry!” he exclaimed. He hadn’t expected it to be her who had knocked on his door. “Um, hi. What’s going on?”

“A kid in town named Jake was kidnapped,” Cherry said.

Numer mumbled, “Oh, I think I’ve seen him b…” He realized what she had said. “Kidnapped?”

“Yes.”

Why she was telling him that? “Shouldn’t some police be contacted or something?”

“I think whoever kidnapped Jake is also gathering the crystal’s shards,” Cherry explained.

“Oh… I see,” Numer said, now aware that she wanted to go after the kidnapper. “Who kidnapped him?”

“A spiest.”

“A… a sp-spiest?” Numer exclaimed. Now his eyes were wide open. He shook his arms in front of him and stammered, “Oh, no, no, no, no, you see, I, I don’t work when spiest are involved, that… that’s just…”

“We’ve already gotten ourselves into this mess,” Cherry said. “Someone has to save Jake and someone has to rebuild the crystal. I’m sure the spiest are involved with… The Conqueror, or whatever.”

“But… the spiest!” Numer protested. “They’re ghosts! Wh-what if they-”

“They’re just tricksters,” Cherry interrupted. “They’re not going to hurt you.”

“I have an aversion to spiest!” Numer claimed. “Spiestitis! Or, uh… spiestophobia?”

Cherry held Numer’s hand. “You’ve fought a manic buzzsaw and nearly been drowned by a destructive kasdde. You can handle something as simple as this, can’t you?”

“I… uh…” He didn’t know what to say. It was almost as if she was pleading with him. Numer’s mind began to drift to how pretty she was…

Numer realized he must have been tired—either that or crazy. He hadn’t even realized he was throwing away his chance! Did he want Cherry to think of him as a coward? No!

“Okay…” Numer agreed, his voice shaking a little. “But… why do you want me to come so badly?” It didn’t really make much sense to him.

“So far, we’ve worked together. We’ve become a team now—like it or not.” Numer did like it. (Personally I don’t see all that much teamwork among them.) “After all, think about it. You were the one to knock that buzzsaw for a loop. You smashed that kasdde’s shell and broke it down. You’re talented, and I’m not going to let that talent go to waste.”

She yanked Numer out and dragged him across town, but he didn’t mind. He was just tired. Still, he was with Cherry. The only way he could be happier was if the reason wasn’t because everyone was in possible mortal danger. (That’d ruin anyone’s day.)

Numer also realized Cherry was right, he did land the finishing blow on Sawn and Terrent… Maybe he was stronger than he thought. Maybe he did have talent! Maybe he wasn’t a nobody!

(Maybe he probably could’ve used that mindset when dealing with that loogel.)

Anyway, with this in mind, Numer went with Cherry to tell Zeth what had happened.

“Then shall we make way for Spiest Manor?” Zeth asked, green nightcap still on. Spiest Manor: an old manor on the north side of east Hackney. Supposedly where the spiest lived or hung out or were converting into a bed and breakfast; accounts varied.

“Did the scanner detect any energy there?” Cherry asked.

“Well, now, that’s the thing; there’s interference there, so the radar goes wonky in that area. I didn’t think much of it before, but… perhaps the spiest have some sort of… ghost… power… that messes up the scanner,” Zeth said. “It’s not like anyone knows anything much more specific about them.”

“Then it looks like we’ll have to go and find out firsthand,” Cherry said.

“Can’t we go in the morning?” Numer whined.

“It’s not just the crystal. We need to rescue Jake, too,” Cherry reminded him.

“Oh, uh, right. I forgot. Okay. Le…” Numer began but was overtaken by a yawn. “Uh… yeah.”

 ***

Soon they were in the Transpide, driving east out of Nottle again.

“CHERRY!” shouted Mescho Caleco outside his home, jumping up and down and shaking his fists. “You snuck out while I was distracted! How could you? You’re changing too much, you’re clearly hanging out with a bad crowd, you’re… you’re…” He bent down over the ground. “CHERRY! You can’t go after spiest! Who knows what they’ll do! Who knows! Who… knows…?” Caleco panted, staring at the ground.

Not a single word reached anywhere near the Transpide, already out of the town when he started. Millie came up behind Caleco and put a hand on his shoulder, her mouth tight.

“Millie…” Caleco said, “I’m afraid before the night is over we may both lose our children.”

 ***

In Hackney Fields, a full moon reflected light onto the land. Zeth had the Transpide’s front lights on to maneuver through the darkness. Off in the distance came the howl of a chicken.

I’m going to stop trying to make sense of things around here.

“How much about the spiest are you aware of?” Zeth asked.

“They like to play jokes and tricks on people, don’t they?” Cherry asked.

“Yes,” Zeth answered. “And that’s all that’s really known about them. People say they can do all sorts of crazy things, but they’re so secretive that it’s all just rumor. They’re a mysterious bunch, all right. I won’t be going inside.”

“What? Why not?” Cherry asked. (Because he’s a coward like Numer!)

“Well, you know, the Transpide probably can’t fit through the manor’s doors,” Zeth said.

“Well, no…” Cherry admitted. “But you could still come inside. Help us out without the Transpide.”

“Oh, well, I’d be of no help. I’m an engineer, not a fighter. That’s why I didn’t go into that old warehouse. I was never any good at using the Mallet Blaster, either. Numer has been far better, almost like a natural.”

“Well, right now, he’s asleep,” Cherry said. Numer was sitting to her left, his head fallen to his side. “He seemed nervous, but I guess he’s not too nervous.”

“Well, it is rather late,” Zeth said. “I hope he can keep his focus inside…”

“So about coming with us?” Cherry continued to prod.

“I suppose but, again, I can’t be much help…”

Eventually they reached the edge of the land known as Spiest Manor. The land was once tended to in a bygone era. Now it had grown without check, becoming a mess of shrubs difficult to drive the Transpide through. The few trees that grew in the area were bent and crooked, the overgrown shrubs pushing them over. If you wanted to get through the area, you’d do best to fly over the land.

The old manor house came into view. For its age, it wasn’t nearly as dilapidated as the warehouse was. Three stories high with a flat roof, it seemed to have stood the test of time, if not downright cheated the test of time. With the bright moon behind it, the front of the building was shrouded in a darkness that the Transpide came to a stop in.

Cherry prodded Numer awake. “Hm? What?” he asked. “Oh… we’re here?”

Cherry and Zeth got out of the Transpide. They were followed by Numer, who slogged out of the Transpide dragging the Mallet Blaster behind him.

Compared to the warm night air in Nottle, the air there was chilly. It had an odd tingling sensation, one that gave them goosebumps or loogelbumps or, can slugs even get goosebumps? Whatever.

Numer looked up at Spiest Manor. “I keep wanting to tell myself that this is just a nightmare, and I’ll wake up, and there’ll be no kidnapping, no spiest, no shattered crystal; none of this.”

“A bit too late now for the dream theory, I think,” Zeth said. Together they slowly and silently walked up to the front of the house, up the eroded limestone steps. The moon disappeared behind some dark clouds, leaving the only light in the sky a few glowing clouds. The only sounds were their breathing and the chirping of nighttime insects.

The slubes found themselves in front of a double door—wide, twice their height, wooden, and with ornate patterns carved into it.

“Well… let’s go,” Cherry said. She tried to pull the door open. It wouldn’t budge.

“Perhaps we must push it,” Zeth mused. He tried pushing it. It still wouldn’t budge.

Numer fiddled with the doorknob. “I think it’s locked.” He livened up a bit. “Okay, well, I guess that means we’ll have to try la-” The doorknob fell to the ground, and the door silently inched open. “Oh… it’s… open.”

The three of them peered inside. All they could make out through the darkness of the room were shapes.

“Flashlight,” Zeth said, pulling one out. He turned it on, and the light revealed various white blobs in the large room.

“SPIEST!” Numer shouted, nearly falling over.

“No, calm down; it’s just furniture covered in sheets, I think,” Cherry said.

“Oh… yeah… furniture,” Numer gasped out, still jittery. The covered furniture seemed to be assorted armchairs, sofas, tables, and wardrobes. There were also plants in the corner, not covered. The ceiling was high, and the floor was covered by a plush carpet.

It was, unexpectedly for such an old place, fairly clean. It seemed dusted and swept. If you didn’t know better, you’d say this was a perfectly normal, perfectly preserved old manor house. But as the three slubes silently creeped into the manor, the door slammed shut behind them.

“Did you do that?” Zeth asked, looking back at Numer.

“No!” Numer said, fallen to the floor from surprise.

“They’re trying to scare us by being cliché!” Cherry groaned.

“Who are?” Numer asked.

“The spiest.”

“SPIEST? WHERE?”

“There are none, at least not yet!” Cherry said.

“Well! Come look at this!” Zeth said, taking a closer look at the door. “Whoever built this door forgot to install a doorknob on this side!”

“WE’RE TRAPPED?” Numer shouted.

“Hold on, do you hear that?” Cherry asked. They kept silent for a few seconds. There was a ringing coming from behind them: a telephone sitting on a table next to the wall. The three of them looked at one another for a little bit. Then Zeth and Cherry pushed Numer towards it.

“M-me?” he asked, looking back. He turned to the phone and slowly crept towards it. As if it were a volatile bomb he picked it up and said into it, “H-hello?”

“Hello…” a low, deep voice greeted him. “Do you know who this is?”

“Um… no,” Numer tentatively answered.

“Do you know where I am?” the dark voice continued.

“No… w-who are y-you?”

“Turn around.”

Numer slowly turned around. He didn’t want to but knew he had to. Then, he saw it. His eyes nearly sprang out. A spiest was floating no more than two inches before his face, watching him with its capsule eye. It was holding a cell phone up to its mouth with one of its oversized arms. “Hello,” the spiest greeted him with a voice and a smile like a flower shop owner.

“Um… guys?” Numer said, looking over at Zeth and Cherry. “The caller is calling FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!”

The spiest used its arms to stretch its mouth like rubber, shouted a “BLEAH” at Numer, and then floated away through the wall.

“That was just weird,” Cherry said. Then, lights. The candles on the chandeliers lit up, dimly lighting the room. The furniture in the room began to shudder. Slowly the sheet-covered furniture rose into the air.

“SPIEST!” Numer screamed again.

“No, it’s the furniture!” Zeth told him. “Well, yes, it’s also the spiest but the spiest must be lifting the furniture so-” Zeth was hit with a potted plant.

“Let’s clear out some of this junk,” Cherry said. A wooden table slid towards her. She ducked and smashed up through it, breaking it in half. A Spiest fell out of the table and wobbled out of the room.

Numer whimpered. A television set with dials and antennae floated towards him, its light flickering. Visibly shaking, Numer held up the Mallet Blaster to guard himself. The television flew at him, and he jumped to the side. The set smashed into the wall and crashed to the floor, tossing another spiest out.

Numer breathed a sigh of relief. He then felt something fall on his tail. Looking behind him, he saw that it was a book. Looking up, he realized a bookcase was about to topple onto him. With a scream Numer scrambled out of the way, and the bookcase crashed to the floor inches away from him.

“Why, this is very interesting!” Zeth said.

“What?” Numer yelled.

“We get to see what spiest really can do! It seems that they can enter inanimate objects and move them about through the air! Say, does anyone have a pen? And a notepad; this, I just have to write th-” Zeth was hit with a notepad and a pen. “… That’s not what I me-” Zeth was hit from behind by a wooden chair.

“Come on, you stupid ghosts!” Cherry challenged. Several wooden chairs floated around her. One flew in to attack. She smashed it with her tail. Another two flew at her. She jumped back; they smashed into one another. “I think you need something a bit more bulky.”

There was a thud behind her. Cherry leapt to the side. A hefty recliner flew by and then turned back towards her. “Okay, that’s bulky. Let’s see how you turn.”

Zeth stood up, rubbing his head. “Ouch, that quite-” He yelped as some books flew by him. Zeth ran away, covering his head as the books flew around him.

“This isn’t a very good way to treat your possessions, you know!” A couple books smacked into him. “Ooh! Aah! All right, I suppose that was a terrible joke, but—” He stopped and gasped at one of the books. “I know that book… it’s one of the rarest mechanic books ever published!”

It and other books were blasted to bits by energy shots. “I think I’m getting pretty good at aiming this,” Numer said.

“Aw…” Zeth muttered.

“LOOK OUT!” Cherry shouted. The recliner flew towards Zeth, Cherry stuck in the seat.

“What-” Zeth couldn’t finish his thought before the chair slammed into him and tossed him onto it. The chair turned and flew towards Numer like a demonic motorcycle with lumbar support.

“Numer!” Cherry called out.

“What? Uh oh…” Numer held the mallet up. Before he could swing, the chair’s footrest popped up and tossed Numer into the air. He landed on the chair’s back. “Oops…”

“Whoa, you crazy chair!” shouted Cherry, pulling up on the footrest. The chair was flipped up onto its back. It skidded along the floor for several meters and then stopped.

“Did that stop it?” Zeth wondered.

A voice bellowed throughout the room, reverberating with a feel that chilled the slubes right to their cartilage: “DID YOU GUYS START THE PARTY WITHOUT ME?” A monster of a spiest, much larger than the others with a yellow capsule-eye, materialized in. It was at least twice as tall as a slube.

“A GIANT SPIEST?” Numer screamed and hid behind the recliner.

“Not just a giant spiest, you fool! I am the ruler of spiest!” it proclaimed. Terror seemed to exude from it; all the spiest flew around it like satellites.

“There’s never been any record of a spiest your size…” Zeth said.

“For there never has been. I am unique, the result of a machine come from the sky that strengthened me. I have been given special powers, above and beyond that of the normal spiest. Henceforth, I shall be known as Czar Spiest! With me leading, we spiest shall never be thought of as fools but known as a force to be reckoned with!” It glared at the three slubes and added, “You, meanwhile, shall be known as dead!”

“So you think so, do you?” Cherry challenged.

“You come here looking for the shards of crystal, correct?” asked Czar Spiest. Far too many spiest to count turned to the slubes. “Then try to take them!” Czar Spiest laughed a deep, piercing, demonic laugh. All the spiest charged at the three slubes in a ghostly wave.

“That’s a lot of spiest,” Zeth said.

“Then let’s get going!” Cherry yelled, pointing at the wave of spiest.

One of the Spiest possessed a fragment of broken table and flung itself at Numer. Numer screamed and knocked the fragment away with the mallet.

The fragment struck Czar Spiest. It squealed like a baby goat and covered its face. With a growl it lowered its arms, revealing its eye angrily curved up and glowing. “That doesn’t look good,” Numer said.

NOT FOR YOU!” Czar Spiest roared. The air exploded in front of it. A laser beam wider than a slube blasted out of the czar’s eye and scorched into the floor. “Get ready to be zapped into dust!”

The spiest continued to fly about, but their czar’s anger made them hold off for a bit. “Hey, guys,” Cherry called, “help me out!”

“What is it?” Zeth asked.

Cherry was trying to lift the recliner. “Help me throw this!”

“Throw it?” Numer looked at Czar Spiest. “Okay!”

The three of them lifted the recliner up. Together they heaved it at Czar Spiest. It exploded into pieces as Czar Spiest blasted it with its laser eye. “KILL THEM!” shouted Czar Spiest.

All the spiest charged at them again. Numer and Zeth ran away. Cherry dove under the spiest and slid past them. She then ran at Czar Spiest.

“Hey, Czar!” Cherry shouted, “your reign is about to end!” Czar Spiest fired its laser beam at Cherry. She jumped away and then leapt at Czar Spiest in a horizontal spin, fists extended. The czar disappeared, and Cherry went right through it.

Cherry landed with a roll and shouted, “That’s a cheap trick!” She turned to see a trash can wider than she was flying at her. She leapt to the side, and the trash can crashed against the wall. She looked back at it.

Meanwhile, Numer was still running from spiest. As one came near him, he fired a shot from the mallet. The spiest was knocked to the floor. “Aha! You can’t possess energy!” Numer realized. He skidded to a stop and fired at more spiest. Each one that was shot fell to the floor.

“Numer, look out!” Zeth shouted. “The Mallet!” Before Numer could notice, a spiest flew inside the mallet.

“What?” Numer asked. The mallet jerked away from him. “Hey!” It flew up into the air, and Numer lost his grip. He crashed to the floor below. “Ow…”

“It’s coming after you!” Zeth shouted.

“It’s what?” Numer saw the mallet flying towards him and screamed. He fled, looking back at it repeatedly. Each time the mallet fired at him he hopped to the left and right.

“I was afraid that would hap-” A lamp whizzed by just in front of Zeth. “Oh, right. I’m in this fight too.” He ran.

Cherry held up the lid of the trash can like a shield. “Just try to hit me now!” she challenged.

Czar Spiest’s laser beam disintegrated the lid.

“Okay… not the best plan.” Cherry ran to the trash can, hopping about as Czar Spiest’s laser beam blasted around her. She reached the trash can and hurled it at the monster spiest.

“You think that’s going to work?” the czar asked and shot its laser at the trash can. The laser beam blasted the bottom of it apart. The sides were left intact and slammed into its face. “OW! Why you… Let’s see how you like it!” Czar Spiest flung the trash can at Cherry. She leapt like a dolphin through it unscathed.

“It helps when you’re small and nimble!” Cherry said.

“Ironic,” a spiest said, floating over to the czar like they were buddies. “You used to be small but now you’re big, and that bigness is what made you get hit by the trash can, and-” Czar Spiest slapped the spiest away.

“Once I am done, you’ll learn that the spiest is something to be afraid of!” Czar Spiest shouted. It began trying to snatch Cherry with its large arms, each one as big as her body. She hopped back and forth out of its reach.

Zeth continued to flee from the spiest, dashing by a wall mirror. After going by it several times Zeth stopped, looked at it, and adjusted his glasses.

Zeth pulled the mirror off the wall and held it in front of him. All the spiest that were chasing him flew into it and were jammed inside. “Too cramped to get out, are you? I’ll help.” Zeth dropped the mirror, and it shattered on the floor. Like a jar of peaches, the spiest spilled out from it onto the floor in a daze. “So much for bad luck, eh?”

“I need to find some way to get that mallet back!” Numer said to himself. He ran into a wall while looking behind him. “Ouch. Note to self, don’t talk to self. It’s too distracting. I’m doing that right now, aren’t I?” While Numer was distracted with talking to himself, the mallet fired at him. Just as it did, Zeth slid between them with a mirror fragment. The shot reflected off the mirror.

Czar Spiest grabbed hold of Cherry with its giant arms. She tried to push herself out of its grip to no avail. “Prepare to be zapped into your death, you-”

The energy shot that had reflected off the mirror hit the center of its capsule eye, and it began to spark violently. Czar Spiest screamed. It dropped Cherry and yellow sparks engulfed it until it exploded in a puff of smoke. All the other spiest followed suit.

Cherry breathed a sigh of relief. She ran over to Numer and Zeth. Numer was looking at and shaking the Mallet Blaster. “Numer!” Cherry exclaimed and hugged him. “You did it! You beat him with the Mallet Blaster! Just like the other ones, I knew you could!”

Numer was immediately confused. He muttered, “I, er, what? What, I… Um… Heh…” He wasn’t able to articulate much else with Cherry hugging him. He smiled and scratched his head but felt a bit guilty. He knew it was actually Zeth that stopped that spiest, but…

Zeth frowned but then chuckled. “And look what we have over here.”

Cherry ended the hug, and she and Zeth walked over to three crystals gathered in the center of the room. “They did find some shards,” she said. Before they could grab them three spiest swooped in and swiped them. They fled up through the ceiling. “Well, that sucks.”

Numer snapped back to reality from thinking about the hug. “What?”

“Come on, it’s time to explore more of the manor,” Zeth said.

“M-more?” Numer asked. What they’d done so far wasn’t enough?

“We’ve got a few crystals to find, and Jake is still missing,” Cherry reminded him.

“Oh yeah. Right.” Numer had forgotten. “Okay. Let’s go.”

 ***

The slubes hopped up a set of stairs to the second floor. Through hallways with wood flooring and rugs they searched. The walls were always bare.

In one hallway, Cherry put her hand in front of Numer and Zeth to stop them. “Do you guys hear something?” she asked.

“It’s not another phone, is it?” Numer groaned.

“I think she means… that whimpering…” Zeth said. Indeed, they could hear whimpering nearby.

Slowly they followed the sound; it led them to a door. Cherry flung it open to reveal a closet. Inside was me, trapped and having to write this story!

{STOP MAKING STUFF UP THAT’S MY JOB!}

Ugh. Fine. Inside the closet a spiest screamed. “A spiest!” Zeth said.

“Don’t hurt me!” the spiest said, covering its face with its arms.

“Wait, you don’t want us to hurt you?” Numer asked.

“Y-yeah…” the Spiest whimpered, its eye drooping on the edges. It looked at them and explained, “I was out taking a float earlier and when I came back, there was this giant spiest calling himself a czar, and the spiest were following him. I was confused, and they beat me up, and I hid in here and, and I want my teddy bear…” It resumed whimpering.

“You must not have been here when the spiest came under that czar’s sway,” Zeth said.

“Where is your… um… teddy bear?” Cherry asked.

“One of the mean spiest took it. Could you find it for me?” the spiest asked.

“Um, I guess…” Numer said. Even though it was a spiest, it was a sniveling, frightened weakling. Numer sympathized with it.

The three of them checked the rooms in the hallway. After a few rooms they came across one filled with gym equipment. Inside was a spiest holding a teddy bear covered in tears and stitches.

“Boy, this thing is old and ragged…” the spiest muttered.

“Hey, you!” Cherry called out.

“What? You slugs?” The spiest stretched out a side of its mouth and stuck out its jumbo tongue. “Too bad, folks, but I ain’t got a crystal!”

“Actually, we’re here for the, uh, teddy bear,” Zeth said.

“This thing? Too bad! Blow it out your nonexistent ear!” the spiest sneered. It retreated into one of several punching bags arranged in a circle.

“That’s not a good place to go,” Cherry said.

“Why is that?” Zeth asked.

Cherry’s answer was to punch the bag and knock the spiest out. “Ow! Why you… Let’s see how good you are at puzzles!”

Several more spiest materialized and hopped in and out of the punching bags. The ghosts increased their speed until they were all a blur. Then they suddenly stopped. Where was the one with the teddy bear?

Numer held his head with his hands; it hurt after trying to follow the spiest. “Did you see which one he’s in?”

“I think it’s this one,” Zeth said.

“I thought it was this one.”

“No, no, I’m sure it wasn’t that one. But it may have been this one.”

“I dunno… this one?”

“Maybe this one.”

“This might be it.”

“Be quiet!” Cherry said. “I know how to handle this.”

She stood motionless for a few moments, studying the punching bags. They were arranged in a circle. Each one spaced evenly from the other. Each with a spiest… only one with the teddy bear.

Cherry punched a bag and a spiest fell out, dropping through the floor. The spiest with the teddy bear popped out of another bag. “Haha! You failed! Guess you won’t get this-”

Numer shot the spiest with the mallet, and it fell through the floor, dropping the teddy bear.

“That wasn’t too bad,” he said. He picked up the teddy bear and looked at it. “This thing sure is old and ragged.”

“Well, don’t you have something really old you’ve had a long time that gives you comfort when you need it?” Zeth asked.

“Well… no,” Numer answered.

“Oh. Neither do I.” They left the room and returned to the spiest.

“Yay, my teddy bear!” the spiest exclaimed, hugging it. “I missed you!” It paused for a moment and then pulled out a crystal.

“A crystal!” Cherry said.

“I found this in here. You guys can have it if you want.”

“Uh, thanks,” Numer said. Zeth took it, and the spiest disappeared with its teddy bear. “I guess not all spiest are bad… at least, not before Czar Spiest showed up.”

“Speaking of which, there’s something that bothers me about that czar,” Cherry said.

“Me too. It’s a giant spiest, that’s what!” exclaimed Numer.

“No, not that. I was thinking it may have something to do with that… Conqueror thing.”

“It does have similar circumstances to the previous adversaries we’ve dealt with,” Zeth said. “Strange occurrence… looking for the crystal… If The Conqueror can do that to a spiest, I shudder to think what else it could accomplish…”

“Right. But Czar Spiest mentioned a machine coming from the sky, not underground,” Cherry pointed out.

After a pause, Numer asked, “What does that mean?”

“I don’t know… but it may mean there’s something else going on entirely.”

“As I said at the beginning, the best way we can find out is by collecting these shards,” Zeth said. “So let’s keep searching.”

 

The slubes headed up to the third floor. One of the hallways echoed with the sound of drums playing.

“It sounds like someone’s playing music,” Numer said. (Because, of course, Zeth and Cherry were deaf. Except to voices. I dunno; shut up.)

They opened one of the hallway doors. Inside was a spiest playing a set of drums, wearing shades shaped like its eye. Next to it, in a small cage hanging from the ceiling, was a slube half Numer’s height in green and blue striped pajamas—Jake!

“All right!” exclaimed the spiest, “I love a captive audience!”

“Hey, you!” Cherry called out.

“Huh? Who’re you?” the spiest asked, ending its drum-beating. “More slubes for the audience?”

“No, no, we’re here to take the boy home,” Zeth said. No fuss, no threats; just a simple statement.

“Help me!” Jake screamed. The spiest began playing the drums again. And then, it began to sing.

Drummer Spiest: Not so fast, you tone-deaf jerks,
I said a captive audience; that’s how it works!

Numer: [spoken] Is he singing?

Drummer Spiest: He’s going nowhere, unless, of course,
You can beat me—but in music, not force!

Professor Zeth: We accept your challenge, um, I guess,
And we have to sing, as well, I assess.

Numer: [spoken] How do you come up with lyrics on the fly like that?

Drummer Spiest: Excellent and instead of a fiddle,
Get ready to start playing a paradiddle!

Cherry: What, exactly, do you mean by that?

Drummer Spiest: Percussion! Drums! Rat-a-tat-tat!

Numer: [spoken] Oh, that’s how you come up with lyrics on the fly…

Drummer Spiest: If you win then the kiddy is free,
But otherwise you’re stuck here with me!
[spoken] Ready, set, go.

The spiest began playing the drums. It held an expert rhythm, the beat becoming faster and faster. With none of the three slubes having any experience with drums, the question of how they could beat the spiest echoed in the music.

Cherry: It’s pretty good at the drums, that’s true,
But I think I know what we can do.

Professor Zeth: What is it? Tell me, what is your plan?

Cherry: This floor is weak, collapse I think it can.

Numer: [spoken] That’s not… good… grammar…

Cherry: Hey drummy spiest, you know what I bet?
You can’t play music while inside the drum set!

[silence]

Numer: [spoken] Oh, wait, were you expecting me to sing or something?

Drummer Spiest: Ha! I accept; your bet I won’t scorn!
Inside a drum set I was practically born!

The spiest floated inside the drum set, and the drumsticks, floating in the air with a foggy trail, played the instrument with just as much skill, if not more. The drumsticks seemed to blur; it looked like there were more than two, and the set was played so fast there might as well have been. Too bad for the spiest that didn’t matter.

Cherry: All right, it’s in! We can knock it out!

Professor Zeth: Is the floor that weak? I have a doubt…

Cherry: Numer! Listen! Smash the floor with the mallet!

Numer: [spoken] Okay. But do I have to sing?

Numer smashed the mallet onto the wooden floor next to the drums. With a crack the floor caved in under the drum set. The drums crashed in a heap on the floor below.

The spiest wobblily floated out and groaned. “Bummer…” It passed out, and a crystal fell out of its body.

“I think we won!” Zeth said. “And that spiest had a shard, too!”

“Okay, now let’s get you out of there,” Cherry said. She tried to pull open Jake’s cage but to no avail—a padlock kept it shut.

“Stay back,” Numer told Jake. He noticed the cage’s small size. “Uh, the best you can.” He smacked the lock a few times with the mallet until it broke off. The cage opened.

“Yay!” Jake jumped out of the cage into Cherry’s arms. “That was… so scary…” He paused. “Even if it was pretty good at the drums…”

“Zeth,” Cherry said, “bring Jake back to the Transpide. And pick up that shard, too.”

“Right,” Zeth said. To Jake, “Let’s get out of here.”

“We still have another shard to find, right?” Numer asked. Cherry nodded.

Zeth and Jake went downstairs. Numer and Cherry went upstairs to the fourth floor.

 ***

Numer and Cherry found the fourth floor was actually the roof, slanted tile around a flat middle. At the center of the roof there stood a bell tower with a single bell. “Do you think there’s a shard up here?” Numer asked.

“If there’s not, we’ll have to keep combing through the rest of the manor,” Cherry said.

Numer took a look at the large bell. It was about as big as he was, and judging by the dust on it, hadn’t been used for years. He smacked it with the mallet. The night silence reversed; a loud, reverberating ringing blasted through the air. It shocked Numer and Cherry like a train bursting through the wall of a house.

“Oh, carp!” Cherry shouted. “Don’t do that!”

“S-sorry…” Numer said, shaking a little. The bell then fell off its support, slid down the slanted roof’s tiles, and crashed to the ground below, breaking into pieces. “Oops…”

“Hey, up there!” Numer and Cherry looked off the edge. Zeth and Jake were looking up at them from in the Transpide at the base of the buil… Wait a minute; didn’t the front door lack a doorknob?

“You almost hit us!” Zeth said.

“Sorry about that!” Cherry called down.

“We’re really high up…” Numer mumbled and drew back from the edge. A spiest wobbled out of the destroyed bell; it fell down and dropped a shard, much like the Drummer Spiest.

“I’ll take that, thank you,” Zeth said, picking up the shard.

“That makes three,” Cherry said. “And there were three taken by those spiest…”

“So we’re done here?” Numer asked, hopeful.

“Well… there were three shards swiped by spiest. But that one with the teddy bear… I don’t think it would have had one of those,” Cherry said.

“So there might be another left?” Numer bemoaned.

The answer came in the form of a laugh from the funny bone of the underworld. Czar Spiest materialized on the roof in front of the staircase. “You didn’t think I would let you get away that easily, now, did you?” The giant ghost discharged its laser beam at Numer and Cherry. They dove to the floor, and the laser zapped over them.

Czar Spiest held up another shard. “You want this? You’ll have to take it from me!” It placed it inside its ghostly body and blasted its laser beam at Numer. Numer jumped to the side, stumbling as the laser shot past him.

“Come on, Numer, you have to hit it!” Cherry called out.

“Yes, Number, you have to hit me!” Czar Spiest mocked, waving its arms above itself.

Numer stood there for a moment, watching Czar Spiest. It floated in place, watching him. Numer, his arm shaking like a jackhammer, swung the Mallet Blaster and fired.

He missed.

“You call that a shot?” Czar Spiest asked. “I didn’t even move!” It blasted its laser beam at Numer again. Numer scrambled away; he fell over, rolled down the slanted roof, and just barely hung on to the gutter at the edge.

“Numer!” Cherry called out.

Numer looked down at the drop he was at risk of taking. Looking up, he shouted, “Cherry! Listen! I wasn’t the one to shoot that spiest! Zeth bounced the shot off a mirror when another spiest had possessed the mallet!”

“A mirror?” Cherry asked. She looked at Czar Spiest.

“I should have told you, but I just-” Numer lost his grip. He screamed as he fell towards the ground below, watching Cherry grow smaller and smaller. This was it… He was going to splat against the ground!

“Hold on, buddy!” Zeth shouted. He drove the Transpide back and forth as he watched Numer fall, trying to stop underneath him. He muttered nervously, constantly realigning the Transpide.

A perfect catch! The Transpide shuddered as Numer landed on his back right in the Transpide’s backseat. He moaned and gave a shaky thumbs-up.

“Are you okay?” Jake asked, poking him.

“I think so…” muttered Numer. “Ow…”

“Your turn, my little pretty!” Czar Spiest said. “Maybe I’ll keep you here with me!”

“Um, no,” Cherry said.

“Then I’ll fry you instead!” Czar Spiest shouted. It shot its laser beam at her. Cherry flipped to the side and then did a belly slide below Czar Spiest. Past it she rolled down the stairs. “What? Giving up already?” Czar Spiest floated to the stairs. It floated back when Cherry emerged, hands behind her back.

“I’m never giving up,” Cherry said. “Do your worst.”

“That’s a good idea!” Czar Spiest said and blasted its laser beam once more. Cherry pulled out a mirror from behind her back. The laser bounced off the mirror and exploded in Czar Spiest’s face. It shrieked like a banshee who found a bat in its hair. Floating back, Czar Spiest covered its face with its arms. The shard fell out of its body as it partially lost solid form.

Cherry grabbed the shard. “Got it! So much for your delusions of a spiest monarchy!”

“NO!” Czar Spiest bellowed and shouted an angry, distorted scream, not unlike what you’d expect the underworld’s toilets to sound like.

“I think that’s my cue to leave,” Cherry said and jumped off the roof. “Zeth! Transpide! Now!”

“Oh, uh…” Zeth began trying to stop the Transpide below Cherry. “Why do I have to do all the difficult driving?” Cherry fell perfectly into the Transpide just like Numer.

“Great catch. Where’s Numer?” she asked.

“Er… well…” Zeth muttered. Cherry had landed on him.

“Oh! I-I’m sorry,” she said, sliding over.

“No… problem…” Numer muttered.

The ground exploded next to the Transpide, and Zeth jumped. “Whoops, time to go, let’s get out of here!” He thrust the Transpide at full throttle as Czar Spiest fired upon them. They left the manor behind as thunder rumbled through the sky.

“GET BACK HERE!” Czar Spiest shouted. “… I sure could use a motorcycle right about now.” It disappeared.

 ***

The Transpide raced out of the manor area and into the surrounding forest. “Do you think we lost Czar Spiest?” Cherry asked. A laser beam whizzed over them, and the ground exploded ahead. Zeth swerved away.

“I’m saying no,” Zeth said. Behind them Czar Spiest gave chase, zapping its laser beam at them.

“I’m scared!” Jake shouted, holding Cherry.

“Don’t worry, we’ll make it,” Cherry comforted him.

The Transpide dodged trees left and right as they fled. Czar Spiest phased through the trees as it tried to blast them. With a roar, a downpour started. The view became unclear; the ground, slick.

Then a great jolt—the Transpide was hit! It spun out of control as the thunderstorm cracked in the sky above. The passengers’ screams mixed with the booming rain and thunder; they crashed into a tree and came to a halt. Through the smudged casing of the Transpide they could unclearly see Czar Spiest.

“Say goodbye to that hunk of junk!” Czar Spiest shouted.

“I’ll show you hunk of junk,” Zeth muttered. Czar Spiest blasted another laser beam. Zeth countered with an electric spark. Everyone cried out as a discharge of light flashed through the area, blinding everyone for a moment.

“For crying out loud…” Czar Spiest muttered, covering its face. “Why do I have a laser if I’m a ghost? Laser equals light. Where’s the logic in that?”

“We can get out of here while it’s distracted, can’t we?” Numer asked, still lying against the seat in a heap.

“Not if I can’t see well enough to drive!” Zeth yelled, waving his arms in front of him.

A loud clang came from outside as the Transpide jolted to the side.

“Wh-what was that?” Jake asked.

“I’m not sure,” Cherry answered. There was another one. And another. By now the flash had faded; their sight was returning.

Zeth said, “I think perhaps we should-” Something bashed against the casing of the Transpide, cracking it.

“I-IT’S THAT BUZZSAW!” Numer screamed, sitting up, “SAWN!”

“The buzzsaw?” Zeth asked. Lightning crackled in the sky. The flash of light revealed the angry, red eyes of Sawn staring at them from outside.

“I knew I’d find you again! I’m coming in there and turning you into pizza toppings!” Sawn screamed. Jake shrieked.

“Zeth, get us out of here! Now!” Cherry shouted. The Transpide thrust ahead, leaving Sawn behind. They nearly drove right into Czar Spiest, but the Transpide sprang over it.

“Why couldn’t we have waited until morning to do this?” Numer whined. The storm was in full swing now; rain poured, thunder rumbled, and lightning streaked through the sky. Sawn whizzed past the Transpide and sliced through a tree. It toppled and tumbled towards the Transpide.

“Tree on our right!” Cherry shouted. Zeth swerved out of the way, and the Transpide slid about on the muddy ground. A deafening smash came from behind as the tree crashed to the ground.

“We’ve got to find some way to shake them,” Zeth said. “We can’t bring them to Nottle!”

“HOLY CARP, THE TREE!” Numer shouted. Zeth turned around to see the fallen tree lifting into the air. It barreled towards them like a massive battering ram.

“It must be Czar Spiest!” Zeth shouted as they drove away from the tree.

“Focus on what’s in front of us!” Cherry shouted. Zeth turned back to see Sawn ahead flying right at them. Zeth swerved. They screamed. The Transpide spun out. Sawn flew by them. What followed was a long buzz.

Sawn stopped in the air and looked at the fleeing Transpide. “I need to pick up the pace… Er, wait…” Sawn had carved right through the flying tree. It crashed to the ground, split in half. “Whoops.” Czar Spiest floated out of each half, now in two halves itself.

“I’m… going to… get you… for this…” it mumbled and collapsed to the ground.

“You’re the one who was in my way,” Sawn said. “Now, where did-”

Sawn screamed. The Transpide shocked it with an electric spark. When the spark stopped, Sawn dropped to the ground.

“Haha!” Zeth exclaimed. “Score another for the Transpide!”

“They’re… beaten?” Numer asked.

“Yep, they should be down for the count now,” Cherry said.

Numer slumped over, sighed, and fell asleep.

 ***

The Conqueror stared at a monitor showing a map of the islands. The crystal’s energy radiated from only five areas. One area, however, kept moving. This was where those cretins collecting shards were. Another was growing: the initial location of the crystal.

“So… not even forces of the supernatural have impeded their progress…” The Conqueror noted.

“Yes, well…” Executive Spleech began but went no further.

“They are either very, very competent or very, very lucky,” The Conqueror mused.

“Either way we’ll stop them soon,” Executive Spleech said. “We have been gathering data from the remaining areas. One of them seems to be entirely deserted.”

“Deserted, is it?” The Conqueror asked. “That’s in their favor, then…”

“What the location does have, however, is a large amount of machinery. Nothing living, but there seems to be abandoned machinery on the island…”

After some thought, The Conqueror said, “Let’s do some salvaging, then.”

Day 4 (Part 1) | Table of Contents

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