| home | juvenilia |




Rip Goes To Hell:
A Love Story

 

The Third Book

 

 

"Lies. Falsehoods. Untruths. Fabrications. Bull poopy. These are the corruptors of the soul, but yet the foundation of modern society as we know it. Lies are often misinterpreted and later given the more acceptable label of "myth." One shining example of this phenomenon is George Washington, the man famous for creating the most notable mess on Sol-3 [see United States of America under Fun Places to Start a U.F.O. Scare]. According to legend, Washington chopped down a cherry tree and later admitted to the foul deed by saying, "I cannot tell a lie." Irony strikes here because this narrative itself is untrue. The government later led by Washington was soiled by this "myth" and has been corrupt from that day to this. NOTE: Washington's legend is considered to be a myth because the only tree ever chopped down by the man was, in fact, a shoe tree. Scholars are puzzled about how the device happened to be in the eighteenth century and the reason it was growing from the ground.

These words scrolled before the eyes of a short man with a pink mohawk and argyle hi-tops on his feet. He wore a bulky pair of goggles with the words Spectator Learning neatly printed across the eyes. He sighed and reached up to change frequencies on the goggles to another source of education.

"Hey, Moe! [Boink!] Woowoowoowoowoo!"

"Oh, yeah? Well, take this! [Ba-rump!]"

"Watch my fingers, Larry. [Poke!]"

"A wise guy, eh?"

Suddenly, the story restarted.

* * *

Somewhere in the infinite reaches of space, a planet revolved around a gigantic star. The star was red; the planet was green. From a great distance, the planet looked as if it were stationary. Up close, the planet looked quite dirty. Dirt is like that.

If you looked hard enough on this planet, you might find a majestic oasis in the middle of a deadly desert hidden within the confines of large continent. At the edge of this oasis, a small creature dragged itself from the scorched sand and into the shelter of shade. This animal seemed to be a dog, albeit a rotund one, with white fur and a black spot around one eye. Strangely, he wore a sweatshirt emblazoned with the emblem Bud Lite. The dehydrated dog pushed itself into the small lagoon. He lapped up the liquid and grew instantly excited. This oasis was the site of the long-rumored yet previously unknown Beer Spring! The paunchy pooch wondered if the advertising industry might be interested in this discovery.

At this time, a huge automobile tore through the oasis, killing the dog and obliterating everything in its path.

The vehicle, a customized Plymouth Fury with mammoth tailfins, accelerated across the desert with amazing speed. The driver could be recognized as Rip Tapioca, Marshal of the Time Stream, by the artificial fish in his shirt pocket and the bizarre galoshes on his feet. Rip, an impressive figure with a carefree smile and damn nice hair, enjoyed his destructive cruise across this tropical planet.

Sitting in the passenger seat, one could see a short man with a pink mohawk and argyle hi-tops on his feet. He wore heavy goggles that echoed with slapping noises. "Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck," sighed the bored fellow, tossing the goggles into the back seat. He looked around and noticed that the convertible top was down. The wind was strong enough to pull out his hair as it whipped across his skull. "Can we put the top on?" he howled.

"Of course, George of the Gelatin-Brains, my sidekick and confidante!" Rip returned at a matching volume. "Put the top on, PFUI."

The dashboard of Rip's automobile reacted with a female voice. "Fine, I'll put the damn top on. It ain't like you ever do anything for me, mind you." The voice of PFUI (Plymouth Fury Unlimited Intelligence) sounded like everybody's mother-in-law. A switch on the dashboard flipped and a transparent wall of energy appeared where the car roof should be.

"The ultimate sun roof," basked Rip.

"Wait a minute!" yelped George. "Several bits of dialogue previous to this one are fragments or gramatically incorrect!"

Rip's eyebrows reached a curious angle. "Was that intellectual statement a quirk of fate, or is that Spectator Learning gadget actually sinking some facts into your brain of gelatin?"

"Must be that quirk thing."

Rip pressed a button on the steering column and a video screen emerged from the dashboard into Rip's field of vision. His brow knitted in concern. "PFUI, a gug just hit your grill. You may want to do something about that."

"Do this! Do that! I don't get any rest around here!" PFUI whined.

"Cool your jets, PFUI. I created you to be the world's first self-aware automobile. I could make you the world's first self-aware automobile to be annihilated."

"Super-duper, Mr. High-and-mighty." A laser cannon grew out of PFUI's hood ornament and aimed for the insect. Moments later, a laser bolt screamed out and blasted a forty-pound cockroach into the sand.

"Dear oh dear," remarked the blazing cockroach. "How ironic that a heavy-duty insect such as myself, able to withstand a nuclear war, can have its very existence snuffed out. Darwin was wrong: it's not survival of the fittest but rather survival of the most heavily armed." With that thought-provoking thought, the cockroach perished.

"What was all that B.S. about?" PFUI fumed. "Who gives a snake's butt about a damn cockroach?"

George grew concerned. "PFUI is getting rather naughty in her speech mannerisms. Can we print that stuff?"

"Fret not, young Gelatin-Brain. We can say all that and more, even on national television. We can even say 'bitch' if we want to."

"Really?" George was impressed. "PFUI, forget about all that cockroach stuff. It was intended to be social commentary. Continue bitching," he giggled.

"I will bitch as much as I damn well please. Bitching is more than an action -- it's a way of life. I don't need your permission. Do you think I'm some sort of submissive female? Hell no! I'm PFUI, the world's first self-aware -- "

Rip raised a foot and kicked PFUI's voice amplification unit into tiny bits of plastic.

"Good show, Rip. She was getting out of hand."

"Watch your mouth! PFUI can't bitch at us anymore, but she's still functioning."

"So? What can the bitch do?"

The red-hot cigarette lighter popped out of the dashboard and branded George's forehead.

"Well, that's one."

George put an icepack on his cooked flesh. "The bitchy automobile is a failure. What are you going to try next?"

"Maybe the sex-starved automobile," Rip considered.

"I think that this whole 'unliving-objects-with-personalities' thing would be a lot more successful if you used the right personality patterns."

"Who do you have in mind?"

"Someone wholesome...like Vanna White."

Rip slowly turned to George and stared deeply into his eyes. In response, George whimpered. The gas pedal hit the floor as Rip accelerated to impossible velocities and made repeated hairpin turns. George was tossed all about the car's interior.

"Why do you keep bringing her up, George? I told you to forget her."

"I apologize profusely," George enunciated, peeling his face from the rear window. "Slow down."

"It's my job to study celebrities. That's what an Investigative Reporter to the Fifth Power is supposed to do." Rip took another sharp turn just as PFUI broke the sound barrier.

"Understood. Slow down."

"She was just another celebrity. Nothing special." The car squealed as it went up on two wheels.

"Agreed. Slow down."

"So I made one little mistake and told the woman how she was going to die. Fate is a strange force. Maybe the manhole cover would have clobbered her even if I had said nothing!"

"Good point. Slow down." George was trying to stuff himself into the glove compartment.

"That's the way life is. Death, too. If I caused Vanna's death, it happened indirectly and there's nothing more I can say."

"No big deal. Her name slipped out. It won't happen again. Slow down." George offered this advice from within the glove compartment.

Rip noticed that he had tripled the reading on the odometer and slowed down to an acceptable speed. "We're back to normal, Georgie-boy. Come on out."

George pushed himself out of the glove box, momentarily wondered where the gloves were, and mumbled incoherently.

"What did you say?" Rip perked.

"I said, 'Watch out for that mountain.'"

"What mountain?"

"That mountain!"

"AAAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUGGGGHHHHHHHH!"

 

* * *

 

All George could think about was darkness. He vaguely remembered the crunching of metal and rock. He recalled the sensation of flames licking his body. All George could see was darkness. This had something to do with his eyes being closed. Lifting his eyelids, he saw his body crammed in the passenger seat of an extremely small vehicle. In the driver's seat of the same car was Rip Tapioca. Each time he moved the steering wheel, his elbow smashed into the car window.

"What kind of car is this?" asked George.

"This is a Yugo," Rip breathed.

"I see." George looked out his window and saw a horizon decorated with small firepits on a desert plain. The sky burned down in a deep shade of orange. "Where's PFUI?" George queried.

"I have no idea." Rip gritted his teeth.

"I see." George took another look out the window. Creepy shadow beasts circled overhead like vultures. "Where are we?"

"HELL!" Rip bellowed, veins popping out of his neck.

George was shocked. "There's no need to use profanity. All I did was ask a question that -- "

"We're in hell, George!" Rip loudly clarified. "Hell! Pluto's realm! Hell! The underworld! Hell! The opposite of heaven! Hell! The place where naughty people go!"

"I see."

"Uh-huh," Rip grimaced.

"We're in hell."

"Uh-huh," Rip emphasized.

"Bummer," George sighed, and Rip's elbow smashed against the window again. "Why don't you open your window and give yourself a little more space?" George offered.

"Try to open yours," Rip spat.

George moved the window handle a smidge and the plastic snapped into his hand. "So much for elbow room," George smiled.

"No kidding."

"We might as well make the best of the situation," George offered.

Rip looked down on his Gelatin-Brain companion. "How does one make the best of hell?"

"It can't be all bad."

"Of course it's all bad. This is hell." Rip was amazed that gelatin could be so dense. "I can't even use the Artifish. While the technological energies of my plastic salmon can work wonders in the surface world, it cannot counter the occult energies of hell. The Timeboots are equally worthless." Just then, the transmission fell off the Yugo and tumbled into a flame geyser. "Damn foreign cars," mumbled Rip.

Looking through the windshield, George noticed a strange object on the horizon: a glittering silver ball spinning from an impossibly long strand of silver thread. "Look! There's a big disco ball over there!"

"Sure there is."

"Really and truly! There's a big disco ball over there!"

Rip peered ahead and spotted the disco ball. "My stars! There's a big disco ball over there!"

"Where?" George pressed his face against the window.

"Over there," pointed Rip. He painfully turned the steering wheel and headed for the disco ball. The exhaust system exploded. Rip rolled his eyes.

Within minutes the Yugo was parked directly beneath the disco ball. Rip pried himself out of the car and proceeded to ogle the odd construct. "It's a disco ball," he said.

"It sure is."

"A big one," Rip clarified.

"Very big," agreed George.

"Let's investigate." Rip pulled the Artifish out of its holster and rolled the plastic eye in its socket, preparing for a jump through hyperspace. Mentally recalling the map of computer functions performed by the miraculous device, he prepared to poke a specific scale.

"Is that wise?" George asked. "You just said that hell and circuits don't mix."

"Not exactly, my foolish friend. While we cannot use the Artifish to escape from this dimension, I don't think we'll have a problem with minor Artifishing." With that, Rip punched a scale and set an intricate computer pattern into action. Seconds later, Rip and George found themselves deep inside a volcano.

"Ow! Ow! Ow!" pained George, doing his best to shake off the clumps of molten rock.

"It's hotter than hell in here," commented Rip. He pressed another scale on the Artifish and they returned to the site under the disco ball. Rip cleared his throat while George took the opportunity to stop, drop, and roll. "Let's give that another try."

George got to his feet with his arms flailing. "I warned you that atomic displacement and reconfiguration tends to operate within different parameter on an occult plane."

Rip considered the number of syllables in George's outburst. "You never warned me about that."

"About what?" George scratched his elbow.

"Regardless, I have take the necessary steps to prevent any accidents from happening this time." Rip pressed a different series of scales and the Artifish whisked them into the gigantic disco ball.

"Boogie oogie oogie," gasped George.

The mirrored interior of the disco ball matched its glimmering exterior and was large enough to contain a small city. Vinyl record albums were strewn everywhere and stacked hundreds of feet high. Rip instructed George to tread lightly across the unsteady floor to prevent the precariously balanced vinyl discs from tumbling onto their heads. Moving past the eerily looming record stacks, they saw a mirrored dance floor illuminated by flashing strobe lights. Shrill harmonies, over-the-top orchestration, and pseudo-funky drumbeats painfully pierced the air as men dressed in leisure suits and women encased in plastic hotpants moved their bodies to the music. Their numbers were inestimable. Rip noticed people wearing bell-bottom jeans, suit jackets with astronomically wide lapels, plunging necklines on members of both sexes. The sheer volume of chest hair on display was horrifying.

"I though that disco was dead," whispered George.

"True enough," nodded Rip, "but so are we."

"Then this must be...."

"Life after disco."

Rip and George engaged in a dramatic pause.

As they paused, a skinny man wearing dingy plaid pants and a pastel tanktop approached the dimension-hopping duo. "Get down!" funked the disco dancer. "I'm hip to your groove. Folks call me B.G. Summer and I'll be your host here at the Last Disco. Come on in and shake your booty until you just can't shake no more!"

"Do you speak English?" Rip wondered.

"Let's boogie! Be a macho man!" B.G Summer swiveled his hips and shook his mane of greasy hair back and forth. Rip backhanded the hapless fool into a stack of Saturday Night Fever soundtracks.

George approached the dancers in horror. His ears rang wildly as the sickening falsetto harmonies vibrated through his skull. "Why in the name of God are they twitching like that? Are they in pain?"

"Apparently not. It appears that they do this as a form of entertainment." The Investigative Reporter to the Fifth Power scribbled notes into his computer-encoded notebook with an LED pen. "Apparently the congregate, listen to hideous music, and then put their bodies in positions expected of a contortionist." The crowd screamed as "If I Can't Have You" started playing on the sound system.

"Join the funky dance-o-rama!" B.G. called. He shook his booty suggestively in the direction of a stringy-haired girl wearing skin-tight blue jeans.

Rip scowled at the gyrating dancers. "I knew that hell was going to be bad, but I never imagined anything like this. I would prefer to be tearing around the surface of the planet Paradox."

Meanwhile, George fell to the ground clutching his skull.

"There is one positive thing about being trapped in hell: I can't be held responsible for the crimes against nature I committed on Paradox."

George let out a blood-curdling scream.

"Cute little planet, but they seem to put mountain ranges in all the wrong places." Rip rubbed his chin.

The wide-tied disco dancers formed a circle around the cringing form of George. He struggled to his feet as they boogied and howled, "My brains! They're turning to liquid!"

"What?"

"The music is melting my brain!" George spasmed.

"Is there a doctor in the house?"

A clean-cut fellow stepped forward and slicked back his hair. "I'm not a doctor," he eagerly announced, "but I play one on TV."

Rip pulled out the Artifish and blew him to smithereens.

B.G. Summer flailed over to Rip's side and started rapping. "The docs in hell are easy to find. Get down. Look around. The sound of money is in the air. Feel the groove, baby."

Rip blew him to smithereens.

"That was mean!" remarked the disco dancers.

Rip blew them to smithereens.

Since no one else remained present to have their bodies blown to smithereens, Rip stroked the Artifish and zapped himself and George out of the Last Disco. As they appeared on the ground, Rip's eyes raced to find the Yugo. The bargain-basement Yugoslavian export still puttered along, even though it had shaken itself into a mere metal skeleton.

"Next time I buy American," Rip muttered. Then he noticed an airy tune floating from the distance:

We're in the money
We're in the money
We've got a lot of what it takes to get along!

"B.G. Summer said something about the sound of money...." Rip looked to the horizon and was surprised to see a huge blue sign with a white H emblazoned upon it. Thinking quickly, the Marshal of the Time Stream crammed George into the remains of the Yugo, then slammed the acceleration pedal to the ground. The engine disintegrated.

"PERFECT!" Rip exploded, even though the situation was not perfect at all. He kicked the door off its hinges and stormed away from the Yugo, wishing that the author would get a dictionary so he would understand the concept of irony more completely. "Let's review my day so far: I'm dead, I'm trapped in hell, I've been saddled with the worst excuse for a car ever built, my sidekick's brains are liquidifying, and to make matters worse, I'm starting to develop a migraine!" Rip smashed his forehead into the windshield.

George's limp body was placed on a gurney in the emergency room as Rip spoke to the nurse in charge at the front desk.

"What seems to be the problem, Mr. Tapioca?" the nurse asked in a sickeningly sweet voice.

"His brains are being forced into a liquid state," Rip explained.

"And the reason?"

"Disco music...." Rip's voice trailed off as he looked around the emergency room. "How did I get to the hospital?"

"You were getting a little too intense for this book," said the author. "I took the liberty of speeding things up."

"Okay," Rip nodded. "Thanks for the update."

"Excuse me," blurted the nurse. "I'll need the patient's name."

"George."

"I need his full name."

"Certainly. It's George of the Gelatin-Brains."

"Doesn't he have a surname of any kind?"

"Heavens no. Gelatin-Brains are usually named after varieties of lint. You should be thrilled to learn that George's name can be pronounced by a human tongue."

"This will present a problem. Without a full name, we won't know where to send the bill."

"What?" Rip was shocked. "I assumed that you wanted to check his medical records."

"Nothing like that. We simply need to know where to send the bill."

Rip glared at the money-grubbing caregiver and turned to the gurney, which was no longer there, so in reality he didn't turn to the gurney at all, but rather the place where the gurney had been just a few moments earlier. Surely you get the point. "Where is George?" Rip demanded.

"He has been whisked away to the best medical facilities in hell," said the nurse. "And boy, is he going to pay for it."

"Terrific," said Rip, using the word in an ironic context because nothing in this particular predicament could be considered terrific. Rip darted down the hallway in search of his missing sidekick, reflecting that the author should have more faith in the readership's ability to comprehend irony.

Rip passed through each door in turn, peering through the windows in hopes that he would find signs of a Gelatin-Brain. One room contained dozens of men in white lab coats nimbly pressing buttons on adding machines. The men chortled in delights as they created ever-increasing numbers. Rip slammed the door open and confronted the clerks within. "I'm missing a Gelatin-Brain," he said.

One voice rang out from the back of the room. "Is this the Gelatin-Brain subjected to disco music?"

"The same."

"You'll find him in The Elizabeth Taylor Wing, Operating Room 666. This is the billing department." The clerk looked over his figures and chuckled. "He's running up quite a bill! You'd better get a move on."

Racing through the halls, Rip swiftly found the operating room and burst through the double doors with a tremendous clattering. He pulled out the Artifish and held it out in a threatening pose. "Suck fish, gold-diggers!" he bellowed.

Eight fully robed surgeons looked up in wonder. "Can we help you?" one asked.

"I'd rather you didn't -- that could get expensive. And I'd thank you to get your instruments away from my friend!"

The surgeons backed away from the operating table murmuring about golf. Rip rushed forward and found George.

In a full body cast.

Covered with polka dots.

"What have you done to him?" Rip barked. "You were supposed to gel his liquid brains!"

"That we did. In the process we discovered some other illnesses that needed correction."

"Like what?"

One of the surgeons referred to a clipboard. "Ooh...this one is a doozy. Belly button lint infection."

Rip's eyebrows jumped. "Lint isn't organic. How could an infection take hold?"

"Interesting," remarked another surgeon. "We didn't consider that when the disease was invented...."

"SHHHH!" the chorus of healers resounded.

The surgeon cleared his throat. "Rather, when the disease was discovered through medical trials."

George's muffled voice came from inside the colorful body cast. "Heeeeeeeelp meeeeeeee! Geeeeeeeeeet meeeeee out of heeeeeeeere!"

"One moment, George. I'm hunting for ducks."

"Duuuuuuuucks?" George wondered aloud.

"Quack quack," Rip said to the doctors. They shivered in unison. "Malpractice insurance holds no weight in hell. You have three seconds to run for cover."

"Three?" a doctor attempted to clarify.

"Two," Rip updated.

"RUN!" the surgeons screamed.

"Fire!" The Artifish spit bursts of flame at the scurrying surgeons. Many could be heard to scream "Medic!"

Rip approached George as he shifted nervously in the plaster cast. "Why the polka dots?" Rip asked.

"This one was only double the cost of a plain old body cast, and I thought it made more of a fashion statement."

"Weren't you moaning before?"

"I suppose I was."

"What happened?"

"I'm not sure. Perhaps the author knows."

The author said, "I got sick of typing elongated words, alright?"

"Thanks for clearing that up," Rip smiled.

"That's the last time," said the author. "From this moment on, you're in charge of the plot."

"Understood," nodded Rip. "Back to the matter at hand: why did you need a body cast, George?"

"I forgot to ask."

"Typical," Rip shook his head. "In any case, we need to spring you from that thing. Perhaps I can find a buzzsaw of some sort." He found a supply closet and dug into its contents.

"I don't know how I feel about this plan," George whimpered. "A buzzsaw could tear me to ribbons."

"Those are the breaks," Rip shrugged, throwing an eggbeater over his shoulder.

"There must be another way," said George. He felt around his prison of plaster.

Just then, Rip vaulted across the room with a roaring chainsaw. Its teeth flickered in the bright hospital lights. "Hold still!" Rip ordered.

"WAIT!" shrieked George. The cast divided itself in two halves and fell apart with a zipping sound. George stepped out. "You see? It's one of those E-Z Open Body Casts they sell on TV."

"Oh well," Rip sighed as he tossed the chainsaw out of a nearby window. Screams rose on the street below. "Let's get out of here." They sneaked into the hallway and started to tiptoe to the nearest exit.

"There they are!" A burly guy in a white frock pointed at the escaping duo. "Those punks are trying to get a freebie! GET 'EM!" He led a small group of hairless apes in pursuit of the Marshal of the Time Stream and his Gelatin-Brain companion. The fleeing twosome blasted through the main exit and landed in the hospital's flower garden.f

"Whew!" breathed George, suddenly remembering why he had polka dots on his body cast.

Right on cue, a voice bellowed from above. "PAYMENT IS DUE UPON RECEIPT OF BILL."

George suddenly forgot why he had polka dots on his body cast.

The twosome looked skyward and saw a ribbon of paper darting from a window several floors up. The ribbon appeared endless. More paper vomited from the window at supersonic speeds and covered the landscape within seconds. George had found the tail end of the paper. "This is my hospital bill! I owe three hundred and twenty-four googolplex credits!"

"How much?" Rip did some quick calculating. "That's seven times all the money in the universe!"

"We're going to need a doozy of a loan."

Rip started inspecting the itemized costs on the bill. "Look at these charges! Six billion credits for a toenail clipping! Twenty-seven trillion for stubble buffing! A billion credits per bedpan! Half a million for a bikini wax...."

"It was on sale," George shrugged.

The paper continued to spurt from the window. Having little interest in drowning in a sea of debt, Rip used the teleportational energies of the Timeboots to warp them both to a safer part of hell.

"Well done, Rip -- let's go find a pinball machine." George started to wander off into the wasteland.

"Wait!" Rip ordered. "We can't run away forever, and it's possible that we could be trapped here for that long. We need to form a course of action."

"I remember when I was just a wee Gelatin-Brain," George reminisced, "and I went down to the foam shop and stole of the most expensive foam in the whole place. The guy at the front counter saw me trying to smuggle it out in my nose and got really angry. He wanted to call the police, but before that could happen I asked if I could apologize to the owner for my misdeed. Once I did so, the owner was moved by my sincerity and let me go home without even a slap on the wrist."

Rip contemplated this tale. "I get your drift. We should find the leader of hell and explain the situation. Then he will release us from our eternal torture."

"No," Rip shook his head. "I was just thinking about how expensive the foam from Sirius-7 has gotten lately."

"Why did you choose this particular moment to think about pricey foam?"

"You're talking to a man who bought a polka-dot body cast."

"Point taken." Rip took note of his surroundings. "We need a transport of some kind."

Just them, a 1953 Buick Skylark crashed to the ground with a great commotion as it finished its near-infinite fall from God knows where. Or perhaps He doesn't.

"This'll do," Rip nodded, never missing a beat. He opened the driver's door and took a seat. The keys were in the ignition.

"Hold on," George said as he slid into the passenger seat. "This vehicle just plunging into a sand-strewn wasteland from the sky. You can't seriously expect it to start."

Rip turned the key and the Buick roared to life.

"Never mind." George suddenly realized that gasoline and Vaseline® rhymed.

"Buicks are indestructible, my friend. We're on our way."

"On our way where?"

"Excellent question. As we are now in the middle of nowhere, I propose that we attempt to find the edge of nowhere."

"And where is that?"

"Uh...that way." Rip pointed to his right at a horizon of nothingness. With that, Rip punched the accelerator and sped across the desert.

Don't read this line. Hey! When I tell you not to read something, that means don't read it. I'm serious. STOP READING!

Several hours passed. Mile after mile after mile showed nothing more than scorched sand dunes. George had long since fallen asleep. Rip's boredom was edging suspiciously close to a coma.

"Eight hundred fifty-one million, two hundred two thousand, four hundred twelve bottles of beer on the wall...."

Unexpectedly, a jet of flame belched out of the desert floor right in the Buick's path. Rip slammed on the brakes to avoid this hellish peril and whimpered something about his mother. Additional flame geysers popped from the sand until the Buick was completely surrounded by a circle of flame. At that point, remarkably, the fire fused the sand on the perimeter into glass and the interior particles began rushing down as if through an hourglass.

"So are the days of our lives," said Rip, taking a motion sickness pill. The Buick was consumed by the shifting sands and fell deeper into the sinkhole.

George awoke. "Golly gee! I just had the strangest dream that we were driving through hell and then we were trapped in an hourglass. We fell to the bottom and then encountered a horrible monster who tortured us in cruel and painful ways."

"Intriguing," Rip said. "Keep in mind that dreams are essentially meaningless, so matter what Freud may say."

George spied out the window. "Why is it so dark out there?"

"We were driving through hell and then we were trapped in an hourglass. Right now we're falling to the bottom."

"Oh."

The Buick punched through the sand into blank space. Three seconds later, the hefty automobile crashed violently on a hard surface, considerably jarring Rip and George. As soon as they had replaced their teeth in their mouths, the traveling twosome left the car.

"Look at that!" George gasped. "The Buick left a twenty-foot crater when it landed!"

"Yes," smiled Rip, "and the tires are still fully inflated."

George got his bearings. "In my dream we met a horrible monster who tortured us in cruel and painful ways. Do you think that will happen too?"

Rip surveyed the room they had so abruptly entered. The hole in the ceiling had sealed itself, and the sand had magically disappeared. Their surroundings greatly resembled a set for a music video. "That is a possibility," said Rip. "All we can do is wait and accept our fate."

"We could run away," George offered.

"That idea has its merits."

Just then, a male figure spun from thin air into solidity. He was a slender black man with rounded eyes and somewhat feminine features. He wore garments of black studded leather that seemed incongruous on his decidedly wimpy physique. Strangely, his long black hair was blazing with yellow fire but he showed no evidence of pain. As Rip looked closely, he saw that the flame was eternal and did not consume what it burned. When he looked more closely, he recognized the figure:

"MICHAEL JACKSON?!!"

The lithe fellow wriggled his limbs and spoke: "Ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa!"

"What?" Rip asked.

"Ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa!" Michael Jackson did a little spin and posed.

"Thanks for the clarification," Rip weakly grinned.

"Who is this guy?" George asked.

"Mr. Jackson is a singer from the late twentieth century. As a young man, he recorded the best-selling record album in Earth's history."

As Michael Jackson did another spin, his features twisted and shifted. He became a white man with a fashionably unshaven face and cool sunglasses wearing tight leather pants. The metamorphosized figure danced around the room with a guitar.

"Curiouser and curiouser," Rip said. "Now he appears to be George Michael, former lead singer of pop group Wham! and solo superstar. Do you remember George, George?

"Which George?" said George.

"You, George," said Rip.

"Me George?" said George.

"Yes, George," said Rip.

"Um...could you repeat the question?"

"SEX! SEX! C-C-C-C-C-C-COME ON!" George Michael rapped, oblivious to the world outside his sunglasses.

"Mr. Michael's presence in hell is justified," Rip commented. "His composition 'I Want Your Sex' made it possible for sexually explicit songs to be played on the radio. Yet I don't understand why Mr. Jackson is here. He's just about as evil as a pair of bunny slippers." The figure swirled back to the countenance of Michael Jackson and continued dancing.

"Excuse me," Rip interrupted. "I find your duality fascinating. How is it that you are both George Michael and Michael Jackson? What is your proper name?"

"I'm bad, I'm bad
You know it, you know
."

"Bad? Is that your name?" Rip's eyebrow knitted. The figure shifted back to the form with facial hair.

"You just got have
faith-a-faith-a-faith!"

"Bad? Faith? Which is it?" Rip jabbered.

The mysterious figure shifted back and forth as it revealed the answer: "You can call me BadFaith!" Then he stopped in mid-transformation and stood before the flabbergasted duo as half-George Michael and half-Michael Jackson.

"This has been fun," George interjected. "We have to go. Let's do lunch sometime. Bye-bye!"

BadFaith yelped in Michael Jackson's voice and all the exits were sealed with tons of solid rock.

"Or we could stay a bit longer."

"Why did you bring us here?" Rip challenged. "Do you know who we are? Are you aware of our perilous journey through hell? Is this some kind of ego trip? Are you doing this just for kicks?"

"Yes," said BadFaith.

"Somehow I knew you'd say that." The room shimmered and all three figures faded away.

Rip found himself aware of his unattached earlobes. His mind was consumed with thoughts of the fleshless space between his earlobe and face. He silently cursed his parents for failing to pass on the genetic material that would have assured him of this characteristic. When he realized that the majority of humankind shared his state of earlobe, his mind was put at ease. Then he noticed that he was hanging upside down, strapped to a crucifix. From that moment on, Rip disregarded his earlobes.

The Marshal of the Time Stream craned his neck and saw BadFaith standing before him, now in the guise of George Michael. His tight leather pants clung lovingly to him. "My other half and your short friend have been sent elsewhere," he said. "Welcome to my lair."

Rip struggled to concentrate, as blood was rushing to his head. "I have this silly tendency to ask why I'm being tortured when the situation presents itself. Could you oblige me?"

"Why would I do that?" BadFaith barked in George Michael's accent.

"Because I think you have cool facial hair," Rip fibbed.

"I stimulate my follicles," said BadFaith, making Rip grimace, and then he continued: "My celebrity status has made it impossible to live a normal life. Every breath I take, every move I make, someone is watching me."

"Careful," Rip warned him, "Sting may sue you for copyright infringement."

"Upon your arrival in hell, I sensed the presence of an Investigative Reporter to the Fifth Power. People like you are responsible for the senseless deification of celebrities. It's unnatural! Do you have any idea how it feels to have millions of teenage girls screaming for your body?"

"No," said Rip, "but I'm willing to learn."

Meanwhile, George of the Gelatin-Brains was having a significantly less pleasant conversation. "Yeeeeeee-aaaaaarrrgh!" he conversed, dodging bursts of flame from the Michael Jackson half of BadFaith.

"Your butt is mine...." crooned BadFaith. He shook his head to the beat and more fireballs were launched from his blazing hair.

"What do you think about Daylight Savings Time?" George attempted to change the subject while BadFaith moonwalked up a dust storm. "You don't really want to kill me, do you? I died once and it didn't agree with me. Maybe you could think of something else to do."

"Who's bad?" BadFaith gasped, and then he did a dramatic spin.

"SHUT THE HELL UP!" George exploded.

Abruptly, hell was shrouded in silence. Absolutely no noise could be heard. George did a cliche check and dropped a pin to see if he could hear it.

Plink!

"Good results," George remarked.

At the same time, the upside-down Rip Tapioca was trying to wriggle out of his execution. "BadFaith my boy, I have the greatest affection for that hairstyle of yours. I'll bet that I would like it even better if I were right side up."

"I think not." BadFaith considered ways to make leather tighter.

"Pretty please?" Rip whined. "All the blood in my body is rushing to my head. It won't be long before it pops like an overripe melon."

"Really?" BadFaith raised an eyebrow. "That sounds painful."

"I suppose it would be -- but that's beside the point. I was hoping that you could devise a more pleasant form of torture."

"A more pleasant form of torture."

"Yes, please."

"This is no fun," BadFaith tantrumed. "You're already hallucinating!" He thrusted his pelvis and the crucifix became horizontal, relieving the pressure on Rip's skull. Some of it, anyway. "Back to business, Mr. Investigative Reporter to the Fifth Power: you are to be the focus of all the pain and anguish that I have wanted to inflict on those teenage girls."

Rip nervously objected, "If you really don't want them, I'm happy to take them off your hands."

"I never get to be violent back on Earth. This will be an absolute pleasure," George giggled, pulling a large corkscrew from nowhere.

"Could this guy be any more Freudian?" Rip wondered.

The other half of BadFaith stood before George of the Gelatin-Brains nervously, his knees facing each other. His hair burned cautiously.

"Listen," George preached, "there's no reason for you to act out your aggressions by burning me alive."

"I just want people to leave me alone," BadFaith said in his amazingly high-pitched voice.

"This is not the best way to remain inconspicuous. Surely there are more constructive things you can do with this energy."

"Yes," thought BadFaith. "I could get some more plastic surgery."

"That's the spirit!" smiled George, not being sure what spirit he was referring to.

"I'll take a nap in my oxygen tent and think about an ear-tuck."

"Ever try a facelift? What fun!"

"Yes, I've had a few."

"Good, good." George looked around uncomfortably. "Would you mind if I stepped away? I think I left the water running at home."

BadFaith tossed his head forward and three huge balls of flame blasted from his head into a far wall. When the smoke cleared, three brightly colored doors had appeared. "Take your pick -- door number one, two, or three!"

"See you later!"

"Ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa!"

"Whatever." George picked door number two and ran for his life. Which is funny, because his life wasn't going anywhere.

Slightly before meanwhile, the other BadFaith was lustfully fingering his corkscrew.

"Get a hold of yourself, Mr. Michael. Don't rend my flesh. My flesh is really boring to rend."

"Stop sniveling! This is all part of the plan. Right now my flipside is literally roasting your moronic sidekick. We made a firm agreement that I would torture the next Investigative Reporter to the Fifth Power to be trapped in hell, and he would be responsible for the sidekick."

"Quite an obscure agreement," said Rip.

"Yes, and we got quick results, didn't we?"

"Indeed. Now what's this talk about a flipside? Are you referring to Michael Jackson?"

"Yes, the being you know as Michael Jackson is my flipside. Some have known us as George Michael Jackson, but we prefer BadFaith. I am white, sing like I am black, and tend to wallow in my own masculinity." BadFaith ran his palm across his stubbly face. "My flipside is black, acts incredibly white, and seems to look more like his sisters every day. I play the role of a 'bad boy' and sing songs about faith. He's a 'good boy' and sings about how bad he is. We are opposites -- polar opposites -- and since opposites attract, we were merged into the same being."

"Amazing," gasped Rip. "You didn't mention sex one time in that whole hunk of exposition."

"Enough with these delays! I must skewer you now."

"Wait!" Rip yelped. "If you used my own weapon to murder me, wouldn't the irony be delicious?"

BadFaith considered the notion. "Yes, I suppose it would."

"The plastic fish in my shirt pocket is a portable control center and weapon system."

BadFaith lifted the Artifish from Rip's pocket and examined it. "How does this thing work?"

"Each scale has a particular function. You press the appropriate scale and the deed is done. What was it you needed to accomplish?"

"Annihilation."

"Yes, that's right! Simply hold the fish so its head points to yours."

"Okay." BadFaith positioned the Artifish.

"How do you want to kill me? Vaporization? Teleportation into deep space? Heavy gravity that forces my eyeballs out of my skull?"

"I was planning to blow you to bits/"

"Excellent choice! Just press the green-and-gold-speckled scale just below the left fin."

"This one?"

"Exactly. You may fire when ready."

BadFaith punched the scale and a beam of high-intensity laser light erupted from the eyeball of the Artifish smack into BadFaith's face. Rip took the opportunity to free himself from the crucifix. He jumped to his feet, stole the smoking Artifish from BadFaith's grasp and was nearly out the door when he heard his attacker laughing.

"Splendid! This is smashing!" BadFaith gazed brightly at Rip. Most of his face was horribly scorched, a great deal of bone was revealed, and his nose had been blown clean off his face. "The teenage girls will hate this! The next time I appear on MTV, they will puke their guts out!"

Rip suddenly puzzled whether Hitler and Gandhi would have played ping-pong together. "I'm glad you like it," he commented.

"You're a good lad." BadFaith brushed some charred flesh from his blackened cheek. "You may go in peace. I put your Buick Skylark at the end of that yellow brick road." He pointed to a glittering path leading to the horizon.

"So I suppose you want me to..."

"Follow the yellow brick road, yes."

"These corny cliches are getting out of hand," Rip thought as he started his trek. He skipped away merrily, keeping his eyes peeled for lions, tigers and bears. And you never know when you might run into a tin woodman or a talking scarecrow.

Door number two opened into a dazzling white room. George cautiously poked his head through the doorway, wondering whether these new surroundings could be any more perilous than his experience with BadFaith. His gelatin brain could not imagine such things (his gelatin brain had trouble imagining anything with more than two syllables) so he pounced into the room and slammed the door shut, making it fade from view.

"Next!" George waited for the next hellspawn to make his life more difficult. He wouldn't need to wait long.

The white room was composed of marble wall and pillars, all glowing with bleached brightness. George saw white-framed paintings depicting various tones of white. Silk sheets were strategically draped around the room, and in one far corner, a young man in a toga lay on a pile of sparkling pillows.

"Am I still in hell?" George asked.

"Of course." The blonde fellow on the pillows was pudgy and spoke in an insistent voice.

"Are you going to make me listen to Michael Jackson music?"

"I'm more partial to They Might Be Giants and Oingo Boingo."

"Who the heck are those guys?"

"There's no need to say heck, stupid. The title of this book includes the word hell. You don't need to hold back."

"It sounds like you've been talking to the author," George mused.

"More than he would like," the young man smiled. "My name is Ben I. Jokes."

"Ben I. Jokes? That's almost as bad as Rip Tapioca."

"My name is unimportant," said Jokes, obviously a preface to a long and boring speech during which the reader may feel free to take a lunch break. "I am an alien sex god."

"Be serious," said George, rolling his eyes. Since the expository speech wasn't anywhere near as long as we thought it would be, all the readers should return immediately. "You are no sex god. And you don't look like an alien either."

"FINE!" Jokes raged. "I am not an alien sex god, but I am a divine presence. I am the god of...."

"Of what?" George was either extremely impatient or giving birth to a piano.

"Of weird shit." Jokes gestured to his many devices. "This is my VCR, where I watch edgy and bizarre television programs and films. Have you seen The Young Ones?"

"No...."

"This is my CD player, on which I spin discs of questionable artistic merits. In a moment we will listen to the Residents and Queen, but first you must hear a few selections from my new favorite band: Hanging the Pope Upside Down." Jokes pressed the play button and the music started. It was a mixture of bouncy pop rhythms and the sound of a cat being beaten to death with a sausage.

George perked his ears. "This is completely unpleasant. I can hear nothing redeemable."

"But isn't it weird?"

"Yup." George rocked on his heels. "Can I go now?"

"You just got here!"

"I'm in a hurry. I need to find the supreme leader of hell so I can get the hell out of hell."

"Careful," said the author, "you may exceed our prearranged allotment of hells."

"The ruler of hell is Satan," Jokes said, disregarding the author.

"Good to know," said George. "Which way to his lair?"

"How do you know that I'm not Satan? Perhaps Ben I. Jokes is a false name. The devil is the lord of lies, you know."

"I think that the devil would have better taste than you. See you around." George spotted a door and moved toward it.

"Wait! We still need to listen to some CDs and watch Monty Python's Flying Circus. Some of those sketches are so weird they don't even make sense!"

"I really have to go...."

"Let me tell you about a comedian I saw on HBO last night!"

"I'm leaving now."

"But no, it's so funny!" Jokes yelped.

George sighed. "You seem like a nice guy, Jokes, but my plate is full. I need to track down my boss, find the devil, and get back to the dimension where we belong. You'll need to show your weird shit to somebody else."

Jokes looked like his head might explode any minute. "Whatever. I don't care." He started pacing, then brightened. He crossed the room, opened a porcelain pot and grabbed a handful of powder. He flung a fistful of silver dust into George's face and watched it burst into flame. "Take that!" he yelled.

"See you later," George waved. His eyebrows smoldered.

"I lit your face on fire! Do something! Get mad at me!" Jokes thundered.

"I've been on fire ten times already today. This is nothing." George explored the mysteries of the doorknob and left the room.

Ben I. Jokes settled back into his nest of pillows. "Ha! That idiot fell for the old 'exploding love potion' trick. Little does he know that he will fall desperately in love with the next female he encounters! The poor ignorant fool has no idea that in addition to being the god of weird shit, I am, in fact, a minor sex deity!" Jokes popped a grape into his mouth and put on a CD by They Might Be Giants. Life is good when you're a sex god.

But it's better when you're the Marshal of the Time Stream.

Rip had been following the yellow brick road for the quite a distance and was unable to find the Buick. He started to become discouraged. "Surely BadFaith wouldn't send me on a wild goose chase," thought Rip. "After all, I blew his face apart. Whatever could he have against me?" Arriving at the top of a hill, he spotted the end of the yellow brick road: a yellow brick cul-de-sac. His eyes raced around for another option. "A-ha! The yellow brick sewer system!"

Rip used the Artifish to levitate the yellow brick manhole cover out of the yellow brick road and checked for the Buick. It was nowhere to be seen, but a rumbling noise could be heard behind the yellow brick walls. Hoping to find the Buick, Rip disintegrated the wall with the Artifish.

"A yellow brick subway system?!" Rip gasped. A yellow brick train rumbled by. Tiring of this joke, Rip climbed the ladder to ground level. "Dorothy never mentioned that this thing was so elaborate."

Down the yellow brick road...oh, forget it.

Down the road Rip saw a golden truck pull up to the curb. Three burly workmen jumped out of the truck and opened the rear doors. One slid out a yellow brick stop sign while the other two looked for a place to plant it.

"Guys?" Rip called.

"What?" a workman answered, getting a shovel from the truck.

"The joke's over, fellows. It's not funny anymore."

"Whoops!" they yelped. "Let's get out of here."

"Incidentally," Rip wondered, "have you seen a Buick around here?"

"Just that one," a workman remarked, thumbing upwards.

"Up there?" Rip looked to the skies and suddenly felt like Wile E. Coyote. He quickly sidestepped to his right to avoid the crashing Buick. Rip thanked the departing road crew, who puttered away in search of a city where they could plant their emerald stop sign.

The Buick began shifting its mass with a loud metallic crunch. Blue energy crackled through its form. Rip strode over to his long-lost vehicle and eagerly grabbed the door handle. He was shocked to feel the current tear through his nervous system.1776 He flew backwards and saw that the car was metamorphizing into another automobile. The vintage Buick became a midnight blue sportscar with a yellow and black symbol on each door, each showing the dark silhouette of a bat.

The two car doors simultaneously opened and a pair of colorful figures leaped out. The taller one wore a caped costume in the style of the automobile, and the younger one was donned in a yellow cape and green bikini shorts with an orange shirt for flair. Both were hidden behind masks and carried fully stocked utility belts.

"I'm Batman," announced the taller man in a campy voice.

"And I'm Robin, the Boy Wonder!" said the other one.

"You are nothing of the sort," Rip boldly informed the dynamic duo. "I happen to know that you are actually actors named Adam West and Burt Ward who portrayed those characters on television."

"Holy secret identities!" cried Burt. "He's found us out!"

"Hold on, Robin." Adam slowed down his voice to appear thoughtful, but only succeeded in sounding more corny than usual. "It is an undeniable truth that we are actors. However, we are definitely Batman and Robin."

"Poppycock." Rip moved closer to the sportscar decorated with the bat-emblem. "Bob Kane and Bill Finger, the creators of Batman, intended the character to be an emotionless dark knight obsessed with justice. Likewise, Robin should be a level-headed youngster trained to fight crime after the murder of his parents."

"Holy history lesson!" blurted Burt, clenching his teeth. "That's all true!"

"I have viewed the television program called Batman. Despite the obvious superficial similarities between your costumes and the characters in question, I know for a fact that you are not Batman and Robin."

"Holy halitosis!" spurted Burt. "Right again!"

"Not so fast," said Adam. "Batman and Robin are fictional characters that do not truly exist. Our interpretation is as valid as any other."

"They exist."

"That's impossible. They are comic book characters."

"Reality has many levels," smiled the Marshal of the Time Stream. He slyly pulled out the Artifish and strummed it intricately. "You haven't been looking in the right places."

"Where should we look?"

"Behind you."

Turning, Adam and Burt saw two muscular duplicates that looked remarkably intense. They stood silently and glared.

"How badly should we hurt these imposters?" the real Robin queried.

"Keep them out of the hospital," answered the real Batman.

"Run away!" Adam reacted, grabbing his cape and fleeing at top speed.

Rip took a seat on the hood of the sportscar he recognized to be the Batmobile. He placed the technological miracle known as the Artifish back in its holster and grabbed a bucket of popcorn from a parallel dimension. Comfortable and pleased, he settled back to watch the battle.

Burt shielded himself with his arms and cried like a baby as a gloved fist pounded his skull. Robin hit Burt with a resounding smack and a two-dimensional word balloon popped out of his body, marked neatly with the word SMACK!

"What the...?" said Burt. He picked up the word balloon and hurled it at Robin's midsection like a Frisbee.

Robin dodged it with ease and flipped to a stance directly in front of Burt. He grabbed Burt's shirt with angry fists. "Tell me why you always said that 'Holy switcheroo!' crap. Those words never escaped my lips."

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Burt groveled. "I won't do it again."

"The damage is done!" raged Robin, beating Burt about the head. Word balloons galore emerged from Burt's body: SLAP! WHAM! POW! CRUNCH! and THAT SMARTS! all scrawled in colorful letters on two-dimensional planes. "What do you make of these tangible side effects, Batman?"

It appeared that Batman did not hear Robin's question, as he was in the process of burying Adam in a pile of KABLOOEY! word balloons. He scowled intensely and spoke: "I don't tell jokes."

"I'm only an actor! I didn't write the scripts!" Adam shrieked.

"You took part in the crime," rebutted Batman. "Justice will be served."

Rip was having a devilOICURMT of a time watching the epic battle, and then noticed that his watch had stopped. This meant one of two things: either the dimension of hell had exercised its influence on the reality of a timekeeping device, or Rip had forgotten to wind it. In any case, he remembered that he still needed to find hell's ruler and escape. He slid into the Batmobile and revved up the motor. "I hope your scars aren't too disfiguring!" Rip called as he sped closer to the edge of hell.

As the reality-warping Artifish grew distant, the real dynamic duo disappeared into their comic-book world. The word balloons vaporized. Adam grew joyful at his still-intact jawbone.

Burt rushed to his side. "What now? How long will we be exiled in hell?"

"That new film about Batman will be released soon. Remember the arrangement? Jack Nicholson came to see us at the tractor pull in Boise and said that we were detrimental to the Batman legend. He promised to rescue us from this dimension when the movie stops making money," Adam grimly grimaced.

"I noticed something peculiar about Mr. Nicholson in Boise. His voice echoed oddly."

"True," Adam grimaced grimly. "And he didn't look like the Joker. He greatly resembled his character from The Witches of Eastwick."

They contemplated this fact into infinity while Jack Nicholson smiled broadly as he spirited his vast salary into his own personal dimension. Adam and Burt were later murdered by a youth gang opposed to puns.

George of the Gelatin-Brains, wandering expert, had left Ben I. Jokes far behind. Although he had covered a great distance, he was no closer to finding Rip than he was to discovering the Fountain of Youth.

"Hey!" jabbered George. "It's the Fountain of Youth!"

Disregard the last comparison.

"Neat!" George was very impressed by the crystal fountain. (George was also impressed by the number two, but that's beside the point.) Water spurted from the mouths of gargoyles and trickled with a wonderful gurgle. "Spiffy!"

The atmosphere turned to pitch. A dark-robed woman blew serenely into George's sight from nowhere, and yet everywhere. Her face was shrouded in deep shadow. The water in the fountain froze solid as a bitter cold breeze swooshed into being.

"Hey, this ain't the Glacier of Youth! What's the big idea...?" George looked into her eyes. Actually, he looked into her eye sockets.

She gazed blankly in his general direction.

George began to croon as Ben I. Jokes' love potion took effect. "O my love, you are the moon on a starless night. You are the sunshine of my life. I want you, I need you, I can't live without you."

She gazed blankly in his general direction.

"My heart leaps at your very presence. I've been waiting for a girl life you to come into my life. I come to you with open arms."

She gazed blankly in his general direction.

"I feel dizzy, my head is spinning. It's the power of love." George moved closer to the mysterious woman, microwaving her with his eyes. She was still and quiet with hands folded. Perhaps she was looking at George, perhaps not. In other words...

She gazed blankly in his general direction.

"I write the songs that make the whole world sing.
I write the songs of love and special things
!"

"Hey!" George said. "What the heck is Barry Manilow doing here?"

"Singing the songs that make the whole world sing!" informed Barry. He had a big nose and fluffy hair, and seemed to enjoy being a performer a little too much. The dark-robed woman took immediate notice at Barry's appearance. She pulled off her hood to reveal nothing but a skull. Her jawbone moved, releasing the chilling words: "I AM DEATH."

Flesh boiled from Barry's bones as he fell to the ground steaming. No scream could be heard as he evaporated, just a mumbled "My nose!" and he was gone.

"Why did you do that, sweetheart?" asked a loving Gelatin-Brain.

"I AM DEATH."

"Sure you are. But why did you do that?"

"I AM DEATH."

"You mentioned that already, love-muffin. But answer my question: why did you eradicate Barry Manilow?"

Death turned to the questioning Gelatin-Brain. "BARRY IS PAIN," she said.

"I'll buy that. You know, honey, I've never seen a skull quite as lovely as yours. Your bones positively shimmer. Do you have them buffed?"

"PLEASE LEAVE ME."

"How can I abandon the one I love? I'm never gonna let you go. Gonna hold you in my arms forever."

"DAMN LOVE POTIONS." Death grew even more intense as she grew to know the reason for George's artificial affection.

"To think that I was searching for Satan so he would release me and my mentor from hell. One wrong turn and I never would have met you, my little..." George searched for a new pet name, and settled on, "...skullcake."

Students of etiquette worldwide groaned in displeasure as yet another nickname for a ladyfriend emerged into the English language. They appreciated knowing that this one would probably not catch on.

"YOU SEEK SATAN." Death's unfocused gaze grew less unfocused.

"Maybe once, but no longer, my little chickadee. If I found Satan now, he might make Rip and me go home. And I won't lose the love that -- "

"LET US DEPART."

"What's the hurry, skullcake? Why don't we go out for dinner first? Do you like French food as much as I do? French fries, French toast, French dressing...."

They faded into darkness. The Fountain of Youth melted. The scene changed.

Rip Tapioca, Marshal of the Time Stream, navigated the Batmobile around a hellish butte with ease. "This car handles beautifully," he remarked. "I wonder what this Batmobile thing actually is."

The clouds parted and a highly resonant voice arose. "That's right, Pat. A high performance engine and aerodynamic curves make this customized sportscar exciting to drive on or off the road."

Rip blinked. "It can't be...."

The voice continued, "Look at these glamorous prizes, just waiting to be won, here on...."

"No!" Rip screamed. "It's impossible!"

"....WHEEL OF FORTUNE!"

There comes a time in every story when meanwhile must be said. This is such a time.

George of the Gelatin-Brains found himself rematerializing for the seventy-third time in less than a week. He wondered if a frequent flyer plan might be available.

In a corner of this room, a bearded man sat quietly reading. His hair was long and brown and he seemed as serene as a squirrel fails to be serene. George had a flicker of recognition. "Are you Jesus of Nazareth?"

"Pretty close. I'm John Lennon."

George scratched his temple. "Why is the man who wrote 'All You Need Is Love' in hell?"

"I could ask you the same bloody question," the Beatle rebuked.

"That's not fair," said George. "You're just making a cameo appearance."

"All right then," said John, putting his book aside as he stood to converse with George.

"What are you reading?" George asked. He was fascinated with books, especially the works published on Shenab Carti Sharshutu-4 that contain sensory transmitters on every page that allow readers to have the same neural responses as the character in story printed on the pages. Needless to say, romance novels sell like hotcakes and war novels are quite rare.

"Elvis by Albert Goldman," answered John, tapping his toe in disgust. He didn't care one least little bit about literature on Shenab Carti Sharshutu-4 and resented that the author forced him to wait through that whole mess of worthless exposition before he could answer a simple question.

"Oh," nodded George, hoping there would not be an unnecessarily lengthy descriptive sentence following his inane comment.

"Have you read the book?" John asked, knowing that George's hope was completely unrealistic, as the author was completely out of control and refused to further the plot with unnecessarily lengthy descriptive sentences.

"I can't say that I have. Is it a good book?"

"I consider it to be the literary equivalent of Spam® luncheon meat." John was shocked at the absence of an unnecessarily lengthy descriptive sentence after George's question. He wondered if the author had come to his senses but then remembered that a character can only wonder in an unnecessarily lengthy descriptive sentence. He pursed his lips.

"So it's a classic!" Unnecessarily lengthy descriptive sentences are the cornerstone of fiction writing. William Shakespeare and Ernest Hemingway spoke endlessly about the virtue in unnecessarily lengthy descriptive sentences.

"You're a Gelatin-Brain, aren't you?" John in-joked. If it were not for unnecessarily lengthy descriptive sentences, Jell-O would have never been discovered and dinosaurs would still walk the Earth.

"Indeed I am. I also have a device in my pocket that prevents authors from writing unnecessarily lengthy descriptive sentences."

"Is it working?"

"It appears so. We can talk freely now. Why are you reading this Albert Goldman book if it's Spam®?"

"Research. You see, I was the subject of a book by the same author called The Lives of John Lennon and I was curious to learn if all dead rock stars are treated with total lack of respect and taste."

"It's certainly brave of Mr. Goldman to make up stories about people who can't defend themselves."

"Stop reading from my cue cards!" John snapped.

"Sorry."

"To be honest, casual reading is not the reason I'm in hell today. I'm looking for a demon who intends to destroy my earthly legacy. I must extinguish his mad scheme before it's too late."

"Maybe I've seen him. Tell me what he looks like -- I've been in hell for most of the day."

"He is an effeminate fellow with a professionally sculptured face. The bugger was born black but grows paler by the day. His most amazing feature is his hair, which blazes brightly but does not burn."

"Holy shinguards!" exclaimed George, conforming to censors and soccer players. "I know that man. It can only be...."

This is the place where George engages in a dramatic pause to keep the entity's identity hidden for as long as possible. (This unnecessarily lengthy descriptive sentence is allowed because it furthers the plot.) Soon the dramatic pause ended.

"...BadFaith!" But we already knew that, didn't we?

"I'm so pleased!" said John, lighting a cigarette. "Do you know where he is?"

"I've been transported all over hell since the last time I saw him. It could take days to find him again. Weeks! Years!"

"Ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa!" blurted a skinny man in leather.

"Or not."

"So!" John tensed. "You are the hellspawn who bought my soul."

"Oh!" George rhymed. "Michael owns the Beatles songs of old!"

"No!" BadFaith continued. "I had no bad intentions or goals!"

"This is starting to sound like a musical," said George, shaking his head.

John moved toward the shivering BadFaith. "You will rue the day you allowed a Nike to use my composition in a television commercial. 'Revolution' was written to stir up unrest in the masses, not to sell sneakers." He pulled a sawed-off shotgun out of his angelic robe and slowly took aim.

"It was a practical joke!" BadFaith whimpered. "Mr. McCartney wanted to buy the old Beatles songs, but I outbid him on a lark! It was a joke -- I swear!"

"Don't lie to me. You're a commercial sell-out and I refuse to let you exist"

"But I'm bad...I'm bad...really, really bad." BadFaith was grasping at straws.

"You're dead...you're dead...really, really dead." The bullet was launched at an incredible velocity and tore through BadFaith's body in an instant. The magically charged projectile dispersed all the demonic energy within BadFaith's form and he fell to the ground with an awful thud.

"Justice is served," John breathed.

Slowly, strangely, BadFaith's body melted from the form of Michael Jackson to the shape of George Michael. Facial hair spurted from his lip and his leather grew tighter.

"What's that all about?" John asked.

"BadFaith is an amalgam of George Michael and Michael Jackson."

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely. You just saw him change, didn't you?"

"I mean, are you sure that's how you spell amalgam?"

"Reasonably sure...."

Just then, another metamorphosis happened to BadFaith: the masculine body of George Michael became feminine once more, caked with make-up and featuring a big nose and corn braids.

"Boy George of Culture Club!" said John.

"There's too many Georges in this book," the most prevalent George sighed.

"It appears that this strange beast was actually Boy George Michael Jackson. What a mouthful."

Just then, George remembered what he was doing a couple of meanwhiles ago. "Have you seen the living embodiment of death around here? She and I are on a date."

"Is that her?" the dead Beatle asked, pointing behind George.

Death gazed blankly in their general direction. "LET US GO."

"What's with the detour, skullcake? I thought we were going to see the devil."

"I MADE ARRANGEMENTS."

"Are we going directly to the devil's lair this time? If we have some extra time, maybe we could sneak off for two minutes in the closet...."

If Death had eyeballs, she surely would have rolled them. "PLEASE SHUT UP," she said. As Death's bony hand moved over George's head, their two forms were whisked away.

"Goo goo g'joob!" waved John.

Everyone knows the scene is going to change now, so I won't bother writing a segue.

Rip appeared with his hands over his ears on the stage of a large television studio. On his right, three humans stood before a large multicolored wheel divided into various sums of cash. On his left, a wall resembling a crossword puzzle with mirrored squares glittered in the bright lights. Suddenly the public address system flooded the studio audience. Dozens of overzealous voices chanted:

"WHEEL! OF! FORTUNE!"

Then a rumba beat erupted from the speakers, the well-known theme to the world's most popular game show.

"Look at this studio," revved a resonant voice, "filled with glamorous prizes. A trip to Detroit! A replica of the classic Batmobile! A year's supply of vanilla ice cream! A time-traveler wearing highly advanced galoshes!"

Rip flinched and hurried off the stage.

"All these magnificent prizes, just waiting to be won here on Wheel of Fortune. Now here's our host...Pat Sajak!"

The audience vigorously applauded as a clean-cut man with a squirrel-like face ambled to the podium and politely greeted his guests. Rip wondered how he had been transported from hell to Burbank with so little trouble. There seemed to be some suspicious happenings here.

"...and once you buy a prize, it's yours to keep," said Pat, winding down his introductions. "Okay, our first puzzle is a phrase." Ominous tones rang out as the audience focused on the mirrored wall. "It's your spin, John."

A handsome young man with hair not entirely unlike pipe cleaners reached down to spin the brightly colored wheel. It moved clockwise until stopped on the space marked $5000. The crowd cheered for this tremendous show of John's manhood.

"I'll have an x, Pat."

Pat did a double take. "Did you say you wanted an x?"

"Right."

"No one ever picks an x right off the bat! Are you crazy? Pick m or s."

"I want the x!"

"One x," said Pat. A ding could be heard as the box holding that letter lit up. The lovely Vanna White twirled to the box and flipped it to reveal the letter.

"I'd like to solve the puzzle, Pat. It's 'no excuses.'"

"That's correct!" Pat remarked, at once impressed and concerned. "Let's see what we have for you in the rec room." A giant turntable strewn with prizes spun around to reveal prizes like a pinball machine and a dartboard.

John looked at the prizes with indifference. "Can I just have a gift certificate? Those prizes are lame."

Pat perked his eyebrow. "Next up is Maura. Your spin."

Maura, a lovely young woman, reached down to spin the wheel. It landed on the space marked $1500. She explored the myriad possibilities of every choice in a letter. "I'll take an m, Pat."

"Good choice!" The audience oohed and aahed at Pat's brilliant quip. "Four m's."

For every m, a box on the board lit up with a ping. Again Vanna spun to the letters in one flowing motion, making each m appear. Her perfect body moved in perfect orchestration.

Maura studied the board for a moment and nodded. "I'd like to solve the puzzle, Pat."

"WHAT?!!" spouted a disbelieving Pat Sajak.

"'Arma virumque cano, Trojae gui primus ab oris, Italiam fato profugus Lavinque venit litora.' The first line of the Aeneid."

Pat looked like a man whose brains had been run through a blender. "How did you know that?"

"I know a lot of things," Maura smiled. "May I have a gift certificate as well?"

"What's wrong with our prizes? Look over there -- a ceramic dalmation from the Franklin Mint. This is only $300!"

"But it's ugly, worthless, and served absolutely no purpose."

"Nit-pick, why don't you?" Pat sighed. "Let's continue. Next up is Rick Flagg, a calculus teacher from Nebraska." Pat tore up his crib sheets and tossed them over his shoulder. "Spin the wheel, Flagg."

Rick did just that, accounting for friction and air speed. As he predicted, the wheel stopped on the space marked $5000. Rick straightened his tie and quietly divided eleven by zero. "I'll take an x like my friend John. There's one of them in there, and the solution is as follows: If the sine of x equals y, then -- "

'ENOUGH!" Pat raised his arms and his hands began glowing with demonic fire. He wove his hands into a flurry of motion. The three contestants were enveloped in an angelic beam of light and rose into the heavens. "What the dickens...? I was trying to vaporize those smart people!"

"Yes," said the author. "But everybody seems to get vaporized in this book. I'm trying to expand my horizons."

"WHERE IS MY STAFF?" howled Pat.

Seven men wearing polyester suits appeared in a puff of sulfur. They seemed concerned.

"How did there come to be intelligent people on my show?" raged Pat. "You know the guidelines: only morons or social deviants will be considered as contestants on Wheel of Fortune. This assures disgrace on the contestant's family for generations. Why was this rule violated?"

"It was kind of a prank, Mr. Sajak." The NBC executives started to sweat. "Some smart people applied and -- "

"DIE!" Pat pointed at the seven executives and their bodies burst into component body parts, like a pile of dismembered Barbie® dolls.

Rip Tapioca jumped out of the audience, reminding all readers that he appears in the title of this book and deserves more dialogue, like the next line: "What business do you have killing those people?"

"I have any business I desire," Pat cackled, lifting his arms once again. He levitated himself above the wheel of fortune and it began spinning faster and faster. Rip felt all the air in the room rushing toward the spinning wheel. A small tornado resulted, swallowing Pat's form in a blur of motion. Then, as if time itself had ceased to exist, the wheel stopped.

"By the great big hair of Jon Bon Jovi!" gasped Rip. "Pat Sajak is...Satan!"

Satan cackled, his blood-red robes blowing in the supernatural wind that seems to arise whenever an evil person wearing robes appears. Horns grew from his temples and his eyes glowed red. His teeth now appeared to be fangs.

The audience checked their watches. This was running longer than a half-hour. The parking meter would need another dime soon.

Satan closed his eyes and touched his temples. The Wheel of Fortune set began transforming, melting, changing. Pits of lava poked through the floor. The walls became rocky crags of red. A throne thrust itself out of the ground and Satan regally sat upon it.

Vanna White stood rigid as her elegant evening gown cocooned her in silk. Seconds later she tore out of the cocoon, fully embodied as the notorious ghost of Vanna White. Satan laughed that booming evil laugh that evil people often laugh.

Rip approached the Prince of Darkness. "Do you have something to say or are you just going to laugh?"

Satan pointed at Rip ominously. "You are Rip Tapioca. You are seeking help. You are pathetic."

"Two out of three ain't bad," quipped Rip. Just then a growl came from the rear part of the studio. Rip turned to see the hideous ceramic dog, fully alive, slobbering and baring its teeth. "Nice doggy...?"

The dog pounced on the Marshal of the Time Stream and lunged for his jugular vein. Rip valiantly wrestled with the creature, worried that most of his blood would soon be outside his body.

"Cerberus! Down!" ordered Pat. The former solid dalmation jumped to Pat's side. "I'll make a deal with you, Tapioca."

"A deal?" remarked Rip, brushing the blood from his sleeve.

"Indeed. If you can survive a duel with a combatant of his choosing, you may go home with my blessing."

"I suppose this combatant will be Godzilla or King Kong."

"He will be your equal," said Pat.

"I'll do it," Rip announced. He pulled out the Artifish and stood ready for anything.

The ghost of Vanna White floated to Pat's side, cackling madly. She whispered into Pat's ear and his eyes brightened -- actually, they spurted flame. "My lovely assistant has suggested a foe." Satan snapped his fingers and chanted in a foreign tongue.

Vanna's ghost hovered closer to Rip. She punched him in the jaw with a misty fist. "That's for the manhole cover, you toad."

Rip rubbed his chin. "If you weren't a lady, I swear I would -- "

She smacked him in the eye and exploded into laughter.

"Well, since you're not a lady...." Rip kicked her in the teeth and flung her into a fire pit. Vanna scurried to Pat's side.

At that moment, the air above the wheel of fortune was growing solid. A humanoid creature grew out of the nothingness: a tall man with damn nice hair, wearing an aluminum foil leisure suit and new wave sunglasses. He looked around the room quirkily.

"I believe you already know this man," said Pat, drumming his fingers together.

Rip yelled in genuine surprise: "Flip! My long-lost brother!"

"Correct," confirmed Pat. "It's your evil twin brother, Flip Tapioca!"

Flip stepped down from the wheel of fortune. The two brothers cautiously approached each other. Both of them felt like they were staring into a mirror that didn't reproduce images properly.

"Wait a minute," Flip thought aloud. "Did you say that I was the evil twin brother?"

"I did just that," said Pat. "Everybody has an evil twin brother somewhere. Don't you watch soap operas?"

"You've got it backwards," Flip explained. "I'm not the evil twin brother. Rip is the evil twin brother."

"Me?" exclaimed Rip. "That's preposterous! I can't be the evil twin brother. I've been in this book the whole time. Everyone knows that the evil brother comes along after the good one has been established."

"Well, I have my own sci-fi trilogy going on right now," rebuked Flip, "and in my book, you just suddenly appeared. You're the evil twin brother."

"Am not!"

"Are too."

"Am not!"

"Are too."

"My dad could beat up your dad!"

"We have the same dad, Rip."

"Oh yeah." Rip punched a scale on the Artifish and a beam of torrential light tore out of its eye. Flip dodged the blast with great athleticism and reached into his pocket for a phony-looking frog. He cocked its rear legs back and started shooting force bolts at Rip.

"Still using the Omegafrog, eh?" Rip leaped behind a rock formation to avoid the discharge.

"This frog has greater capabilities than your Artifish ever could!" defended Flip, negating gravity for a moment.

The audience roared with delight. The parking meter would have to wait.

Just then Satan intervened: "No weapons, please." His hand glowed as he snatched the Artifish and Omegafrog from the dueling twins.

The audience pouted loudly. They wanted blood, and they wanted it now.

"Can we dispense with the studio audience, Satan? Why don't we have our duel in hell?"

"But we are in hell," Satan explained. "Wheel of Fortune is an ancient ritual to enslave the world's populace that I recently refurbished with Merv Griffin's help."

"What?" said Flip. "Who is this guy and what is he talking about?"

"He's the living embodiment of evil," answered Rip.

"A game show host," nodded Flip.

"The spinning wheel that we utilize is a hypnotic device. The average television viewer can only watch the wheel spin for two or three seconds before feeling compelled to watch the full program. From that point the manipulation is subtle and subliminal. Male viewers fantasize about Vanna, who is in reality a demoness of lust. Female viewers are left befuddled by the puzzles and their brains simply melt away. The contestants become my personal slaves. They never leave hell."

"Ooh! Aah!" cheered the studio audience.

Satan engulfed them in flames. "Now," he said, "will you please get on with killing each other?"

"We can't do that!" howled Rip. "We're brothers! Twins!"

"Need I say the phrase 'evil twin brother' again?"

Rip looked at Flip.

Flip looked at Rip.

Three seconds later, two brothers were wrestling on the rocky ground, fists flailing, while Satan surveyed his domain. At his feet, Cerberus the formerly ceramic dog. At his right hand, the notorious ghost of Vanna White. Before him, two dueling time-travelers and two hundred blazing audience members. Above him, a Gelatin-Brain and the living embodiment of Death.

"What the hell?" Satan stood up in shock. George of the Gelatin-Brains and the dark-robed entity known as Death floated from eternity onto the surface of Satan's lair. "Why have you come here?"

"EXPLAIN YOURSELF, SATAN."

"You can't force me to do anything, Little Miss Skull-and-Bones. You have no jurisdiction here."

"THIS IS TRUE."

"Be right back, honeybunch," whispered George, who sped over to the Marshal of the Time Stream. "Hold still, Rip. I need to tell you something."

"My evil twin brother is trying to kill me right now, George. Don't distract me."

"Don't listen to him!" spat Flip. "He's the evil twin brother, not me!"

"Am not!"

"Are too!"

"Rip, I fell in love with the living embodiment of Death and now she's going to help us get the hell out of here."

"Is that a pun?" Rip groaned.

"Yes. A bad one at that."

Death continued her confrontation. "RELEASE THESE OUTSIDERS."

"Why would I want to do that? What are you going to do, Death -- kill me? I'm Satan, for God's sake.666 You are in my lair, where I am power incarnate!"

"THERE ARE METHODS," Death foreshadowed.

George tapped his foot impatiently as Rip and Flip wrestled. "Come on, you guys. This is getting old."

"Be quiet, George. My evil twin brother is a formidable opponent."

"I am NOT your evil twin brother! You are MINE!"

"Am not!"

"Are too!"

"STOP!" George exploded, unleashing his formerly unseen mutant powers and merging the souls of Rip and Flip Tapioca.

Wait a minute...Gelatin-Brains can't be mutants.

"STOP!" George exploded, kicking the brothers apart. "Let's get out of here. Death is going to distract Satan while we escape."

Flip looked at George and said, "You're a Gelatin-Brain, aren't you?"

"Yes. How did you know?"

"I understand that line is a running gag around here," answered Flip.

A high-pitched moan tore across the three figures as the ghost of Vanna White attacked. They ducked behind a volcanic rock formation. The twins looked at each other.

"Truce?" offered Rip, extending his hand.

"For now," said Flip, offering his own. The Tapioca boys lunged in unison for the Artifish and the Omegafrog, now lying forgotten beside Satan's thrown. They simultaneously turned around and trapped the crazed undead games show hostess in a cosmic box decorated with all twenty-six letters of the alphabet.

"Nice touch," said Rip. The author took a bow.

"Tell me about these alleged 'methods,'" Satan taunted.

'CRUEL, UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT."

"What is it?" Satan asked, growing more anxious by the moment.

Deathly silence.

And then, Death spoke: "THE BRADY BUNCH."

Flame jetted from Satan's eyes as his chin opened an enormous distance. "No one can harness that much power! It's not possible!"

A whirlpool of stained glass appeared above the wheel of fortune. A bright light filled the room as eight humanoid figures and a small dog burst out of the extradimensional gateway. When the light faded, their identities could be seen: Mike, Carol, Greg, Marsha, Peter, Jan, Bobby, Cindy, and Tiger, known collectively throughout the universe as the Brady Bunch.

"You stole my baseball card!" screamed Bobby.

"I love my dolly!" remarked Cindy.

"Do you like my haircut?" asked Greg.

"I hate my glasses!" angsted Marsha.

"NO! NOOOOO!" Satan writhed as the Brady family tore him atom from atom. The air around him was growing incandescent.

"Keen!" exclaimed Peter.

"Should I wear these bell-bottom pants? How about this plaid shirt?" wondered Jan.

"Aren't our kids swell?" Mike asked his lovely wife.

"They're very swell," answered Carol, giving him a hug.

"STOP! STOP! This can't be happening! I have the most popular television program on the planet! I HAVE THE POWER!" The whole studio trembled along with Satan.

Just then, Alice the housekeeper came through the portal brandishing a feather duster. She hurried over to Satan and brushed his face. "A clean lair is a happy lair!" she smiled as Satan began to sneeze.

Satan gestured to George and the Tapioca twins. "If I'm going down...ahh...I'm taking you with me...ahh...ahCHOOOO!"

It was a sneeze beyond description. For that reason, it will not be described.

The sneeze's effects were even more indescribable, but they beg description more than the indescribable sneeze. As the combusting studio audience oohed and aahed, the atmosphere of hell was drawn into Satan's lungs and immediately expelled at the speed of sound. A hurricane consumed hell, extinguishing the omnipresent flames and causing a steam cloud to destroy all the inhabitants save Rip, Flip, George and Death, all of whom were located in the safety of the eye of the hurricane.

Satan gesticulated madly and screamed that final deathscream that beings of infinite power scream before their death. Then every atom in his body crumbled into nothingness.

The psychic energy from these events possessed his cult, the Wheel of Fortune viewers. Each of the umpteen trillion viewers in the universe felt a tingling sensation in their noses. Armageddon was in the making.

The Artifish glowed. Rip cocked his eyebrow and looked nervously at his companions. "The universe is going to be destroyed in the next five minutes."

"Again?" Flip rolled his eyes. "But that trick never works."

George of the Gelatin-Brains looked at Death with puppy-dog eyes. He held her hand of bone and whispered sweet nothings. "We had only a moment in time together, skullcake, but I cherish every second. You light up my life. You give me hope...."

Despite her lack of eyeballs, Death rolled her eyes. "GO TO HELL," she said, pulled her cloak around herself and faded away.

"Come back, sweetie-pie! Don't leave me, skullcake!"

"Skullcake?" wondered Flip.

"A pet name," explained George, starting to tear up.

"You and Death are...an item?"

"Yes," sobbed George.

"And I thought my in-laws were bad."

The seemingly infinite Wheel of Fortune viewership began a simultaneous sneeze. The same sound could be heard in every corner of the cosmos: "ACHOO!" Every iota of gas in the universe was displaced with an incredible force, tearing every world from its atmosphere like a pit from a cherry. Gravity went haywire and planets careened into stars that quickly went nova. Galaxies collapsed into black holes, sucking all the rubble and light waves into something beyond our imaginations. The universe itself transformed into an area of space roughly the size of a pin's head. Reality ceased to exist.

Rip Tapioca felt a sharp pain in his head. Considering that reality had just ceased to exist, he felt that this was a minor injury. He painfully raised his head and looked around. He was sitting in the driver's seat of a customized Plymouth Fury that had unsuccessfully attempted to drive through a mountain range. Beside him was George, still unconscious.

"We're not dead!" sparked Rip. "The universe is intact! We're alive!"

George stirred. "Oh my love...I hunger for your touch...I need your love...I need your love...."

Rip grabbed George's shoulders and shook him. "Wake up! We're alive! We're still on the planet Paradox!"

"Wha...what? I don't understand. What about Satan? BadFaith? The disco dancers?"

Rip blinked. "You had the same experience that I did? The whole thing must have been a shared hallucination," he deduced. "Maybe our minds were linked because of some strange quality of this planet -- the place is called Paradox, after all."

"What about...Death?"

"It was all a dream," said Rip, stepping out of the car.

"We never met? We never fell in love?" George meditated on this heart-shattering reality. Then he noticed a particularly interesting piece of fuzz on his sleeve and promptly forgot about it.

"I'm pleased for the sake of the universe," thought Rip, "but I must admit that hell was a lot of fun."

"No argument there," agreed George.

Rip suddenly sat up in bed. His private quarters on the spaceship Titanberg were completely dark. "It was all a dream," he mumbled, rubbing his eyes. He reached for the Artifish on his nightstand and found it missing. Then a bump came from the next room.

Feeling suddenly suspicious, Rip slipped out of bed and crawled to the door. He reached for the doorknob, turned it slowly, and swung the door open. The Artifish was in the hands of Flip Tapioca, who stood in the hallway turning seven shades of red.

"What are you doing here? Give me that fish!" Rip barked, tugging the Artifish from his twin brother.

"You're awake," Flip grinned weakly.

"Quite a deduction, Flip. What were you doing with the Artifish?"

Flip cleared his throat and tried to explain. "The Omegafrog burned itself out and I can't afford new parts. I just wanted to borrow the Artifish and use some of its technology."

"Liar! You were stealing it! And I suppose you were also playing with my head and making me have that weird dream, you genetic inferior!"

"Well...yeah."

"Thievery! Mental manipulation! Do you know what this means, Flip?"

"What?"

"This means," smiled a satisfied Rip, "that you are the evil twin brother."

"I guess you're right," sighed Flip, "but you have to admit that it was a hell of a dream."

George fell off of his bed and landed on the floor. He shook his head vigorously and felt the gelatin slosh around. "Wow!" he remarked. "I've got to tell Rip!" He flung open the door of the broom closet where he slept and hurried down the hallway to the elevator. He rode up twelve floors and ran down another hall to the grand wing that housed Rip's private quarters. George reached for the enormous brass knocker and knocked a dozen times. He nervously fidgeted as he waited for his mentor to open the door.

The door creaked open and Rip glared at his sidekick. "Can I help you?"

"I just had the weirdest dream, Rip! We were in hell and you had to drive a Yugo and kept hurting your elbow and then my brain melted so we got a huge wad of medical bills and I fell in love with Death and Pat Sajak was the devil and your brother Flip tried to kill you and reality ceased to exist and you woke up and then you woke up again and -- "

"Stop, George." Rip yawned. "Hit yourself with a billy club and call me in the morning." He slammed the door, leaving George alone.

"It was so weird...." George pleaded.

"Aaaaaaauuuuggggh!" Pat Sajak sat bolt upright, tangled in sweaty sheets. He pushed himself out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom. He turned on the lights and splashed his face with cold water. "I can't do this anymore," he said, staring at his reflection. "I can't be a game show host forever. It's taking over my subconscious. There must be more to life than this. What am I qualified to do?"

Pat's reflection winked at the reading audience and smiled widely as his eyes started to glow. "You could become a late night talk show host," the reflection suggested.

Pat grew thoughtful and nodded his head. He turned off the light and closed the bathroom door. An evil laugh filled the air and then faded away.

"Huh?" said the author. He opened his eyes and found himself sprawled across a table with schoolbooks and the remnants of a super combination pizza strewn everywhere. "Thank goodness I dreamed the whole thing. What a waste of time it would have been to write down all that crap!"

"Hrrrrmmm," hummed Rip, waking slowly from an extremely deep sleep. He looked around and saw his dimly lit control center. He stretched the weariness away. "Must have dozed off again," he said. "There's nothing more boring than tax forms." He stood up and gathered his papers one by one. "Quite a dream that was -- maybe the best I've ever had without benefit of a pleasure inducement device."

Then he noticed a receipt poking from his stack of papers. "Three hundred twenty-seven googleplex credits? What on Earth...?"

At the bottom the receipt, Rip saw the answer printed in neat black letters: HOSPITAL FROM HELL -- COME BACK SOON!

Rip's eyebrows shot up and his jaw shot down as he attempted to comprehend this turn of events. He set down the receipt and did his best to accept that he owed a debt that totaled more than seven times all the money in the universe. When he felt the weight of the Artifish behind his ear, a solution to this predicament sprang to mind. He gathered his tax forms together, laid the mindboggling receipt on top, and teleported the whole stack to a timeless dimension where the bill would never be late.

"So much for that." Rip crammed the Artifish into his back pocket and left the control center, wondering why people park on driveways and drive on parkways.

Somewhere in the shifting sands of another dimension, a dark-robed skeleton gazed blankly in George's direction.

DASALLFOKES
Translation: This is the end of the story.
Go do something constructive.





| home | stories | essays | poetry | photos |
| screenplays | juvenilia | lists | links | what's new? |



All Text Copyright © 1997-2017 Brendan Howard
All Rights Reserved

Site Meter