(1) The Monks of Leprosia

Her last situation of the day — rescuing a little boy from a Collyer — brought the Major within easy reach of Lysander, the small beautiful planet where her good friend Emily lived. In no time at all the Major found herself in Emily’s tree house — one of her favorite nooks in the Universe — eating hot wingnuts, drinking cold hoppers and laughing about old times when Emily was a Ranger too before she met Anchor, the self-proclaimed best mechanic in the galaxy, and he’d swept her off her feet.

“Where is the big lug anyway?” asked the Major.

“He’s been working late but if I make supper he appears like magic.” In no time at all dinner was on the table and sure enough in lumbered Anchor. He gave the Major a big hug.

“Your driveforce is acting up,” Anchor said like he was receiving a signal from the cosmos.

The Major laughed. “And how do you know that?”

“A little ferret told me.”

“Can you fix it?”

“Sleep in and see.”


Emily, Anchor, and their three daughters — Gaia, Nova and Luna — were some of the happiest people the Major knew and right now, more than anything, the Major needed to be around happiness, to remember what it felt like to laugh so hard your insides hurt. Only once did the talk turn serious. Anchor asked if there was any news of Chester Newport?

“No, nothing,” the Major replied. “It’s like he’s vanished into thin air.”

Chester Newport was the creator of Occam’s Razor, the comic book world where the Major and Emily lived. Now that he wasn’t around keeping an eye on things the forces of darkness were running wild, growing stronger with every day.

Emily gave Anchor a look that said, the Major needs a break from all that, and soon they were laughing again remembering better times.

But the Major’s happiness was short-lived because just as the first light of day peaked through the leaves the EE button on her Ranger belt buckle — Extreme Emergency! — shrieked with a noise like a cat being pulled apart and the words that followed drove an icicle into the Major’s heart.

“Monks of Leprosia attacking Santa Maria Orphanage on Lysander. Repeat, Monks of-”

The Major was sprinting toward Starship 1 when Emily shouted at her from the tree house.

“Take Anchor!”

“Where is he?”

“I’ll find him!”

“There isn’t time! I love you!”

Whatever Emily yelled back the Major didn’t hear. She plunked herself down in front of the controls of Starship 1 and fired up. She heard the door close behind her and knew Earwax was onboard.

“Glad you could make it,” the Major said blasting off. Earwax leapt onto the Major’s back and settled on her shoulder. Earwax and the Major had been together a long time, over twenty years. In the real world ferrets didn’t live past ten but here, in the comic book world, Earwax was as young as ever.

“Did you have a good time?” the Major asked. Earwax nodded. He’d spent his evening playing with Emily’s three girls who always treated him like the little brother they didn’t have. He showed the Major the sock Luna, the youngest, had given him. It was packed full of tiny silver flakes.

“Moon dust,” the Major said — and probably covered in incantations knowing Luna. She was a very strange little girl but strange in a good way, like she was plugged directly into the Power of the Universe.

The Major knew Earwax wanted to know why they were leaving so abruptly. “The Monks are at the orphanage.”

Of all the villains in Occam’s Razor the worst — next to the Truly Evil Prince of Darkness himself — had to be the Monks of Leprosia. They travelled the galaxy harvesting organs, attacking out-of-the-way settlements, taking every kidney, every liver, every eyeball, every heart — anything that anybody would pay for, leaving nothing but empty desecrated bodies.

It was lucky the Major had spent the night at Emily’s. It meant she was only minutes from the orphanage. What wasn’t lucky was the sudden silence as Starship 1’s driveforce malfunctioned once again. Not now, thought the Major, banging her fist against the wheel. Starship 1 glided into a patch of bulrushes, slid for the length of a tennis court, finally coming to rest on almost solid ground. The Major hopped out already running, Earwax bounding beside her. With the Monks every second counted.

She ran as fast as she could as long as she could — through fields and woods, over fences, down ravines, up gullies, never slowing. Just when she thought her heart would explode she sighted the orphanage and kept going.

The Major crept around the side of the building, catching her breath, staying close to the wall till she could see what was what. She reached the corner and stopped. The Monks’ refrigerated truck — playing the awful organ-grinder music that meant a gruesome death to anyone hearing it — was parked a stone’s throw away on the gravel driveway with one Monk guarding. The truck’s engine was running keeping the organ storage tanks nice and cold. The Major reached for her stun gun but it wasn’t there. She’d left it at Emily’s.

The Major looked through a side window of the orphanage. She could see the nuns and older boys and girls trying desperately to keep the Monks confined in the main hallway using brooms and mops but just like that the Monks opened fire and the defenders fell to the floor stunned.

The Major sprinted toward the truck. There wasn’t time for anything fancy — Occam’s Razor! — keep it simple. The guard, ancient judging by the deep wrinkles on his ugly face, raised his weapon but the Major didn’t stop. On she raced as the old Monk took aim, waiting till he couldn’t miss. Just before he squeezed the trigger Earwax, coming through the truck from the other side, threw himself at the Monk’s head.

The Monk fell backwards out of the truck landing hard on the gravel trying desperately to keep the weasel-thing with the sharp claws away from his eyes. The Major picked up his gun. She hated killing but the Monks of Leprosia were an exception. Like Hitler and his henchmen they deserved to die a thousand deaths. But before the Major could pull the trigger the Monk lay still. Earwax stopped not understanding. The Major shrugged. The old Monk’s heart must have given out and this time there would be no transplant.

The Major put her palm on the truck horn and pushed. The sound was deafening. She ducked down as the Monks came streaming out of the orphanage. When they were halfway to the truck she stood up, rammed the accelerator down and charged into their midst. Bang, thud, thud, a scream — she wheeled around — three more of the Monks were down. One of the downed Monks sat up aiming his gun at her. Six more were running for the woods. She drove over the one sitting up but not before he’d blown a hole in the radiator.

The Major pulled hard to the left. If she could make it across the lawn the ground fell away becoming a steep hill with a pond at the bottom. The Monks were nothing without their truck.

As she reached the top of the hill the Major applied the brakes and the truck shuddered to a stop. One push and the truck would be gone forever. She and Earwax hopped out only to be greeted by a hundred screaming kids, waving their arms, running toward them as fast as their legs would go.

  • A comic detailing the Major's adventure before the start of Chapter 1 Artist: Kristin Wright
  • Major Occam fighting the Monks of Leprosia Artist: Adam Christopher
  • Earwax attacking a Monk of Leprosia Artist: Tammy Gravina
  • Major Occam in action Artist: Tammy Gravina
  • Major Occam Artist: Angela Yuqi Guo

(2) Welcome to Foxhaven, Massachusetts

The moving van was almost empty. Victor sped down the ramp, the front tire of his bike high in the air, like a horse pawing the sky. He weaved around the men in the foyer struggling with his mom’s grand piano, coasted into the living room littered with boxes, turned right into the still mostly empty dining room and wheeled into the kitchen.

His mom, perched on the stainless steel counter, held her phone to her ear. She threw Victor a Double-Stuf Oreo and continued talking to her new boyfriend, Nikko. “Yes darling, I’m dying to see you too but I want you to wait until the house is ready.” Victor caught the cookie with one hand and turned his handle grip with the other. A long farting noise filled the air. His mom gave him the look. “No darling, nobody was rude. That was Victor pretending to be a motorcycle.” Victor circled the island and headed back the way he’d come.

Victor was thirteen, a tall skinny kid with brown almond-shaped eyes and black hair, features he’d inherited from his Thai father. From his mother, Victor had received a mild case of geekiness. She’d always favored academics over sports, reading a book over chasing a ball — the one exception being her first choice for husband. Instead of marrying her college sweetheart, pudgy George Simpson, Cozy Bennett had fooled everybody by running off with a dashing Thai fighter pilot named Kasem Nopparit. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the marriage crash-landed. On the day Victor was born his dad died. Cozy had no choice but to pick up her baby and carry on.

This time when Victor reached the foyer he turned right into the hallway and left into the elevator. In his thirteen years Victor had lived in some pretty cool houses, in some pretty cool places, but this was the first house to have its own elevator. He pushed the 3 button with the toe of his sneaker and up he went.

Victor heard voices and headed that way. Joe and Mickey, two of the movers, were in his mom’s bedroom arranging the furniture. Or they would have been if they weren’t admiring the painting on the wall. It was a full-sized portrait of Major Occam standing with her hands on her hips, some strange planet in the background. What made it different was the Major sticking out of the painting like she’d run into the canvas from behind.

“Hey Victor, check this out.” Joe pointed at the painting. “Ain’t that something?”

“Is your mom going to leave all these paintings?” Mickey asked.

“Yeah, she thinks they’re great.”

Victor adored his mother even though she drove him crazy. She was the Cozy Bennett, the well-known mystery writer who took her female hero, Cheyenne Eaglesmith, all over the world. Victor could say hello in at least a dozen languages — hola, bonjour, hej, g’day, ciao, konnichiwa — but every time his mom finished a book, Victor knew to pack his bags. Their last house hadn’t been a house at all but a small luxurious flat in Stockholm, Sweden.

‘Our next house is going to be big,’ his mother had said, ‘with a garden and a swimming pool. I feel like a rat in a cage here.’

The new house wasn’t big it was COLOSSAL. A mansion made of stone, three stories high, sitting by itself on a hill overlooking the town of Foxhaven, Massachusetts. The nearest neighbors lived down the hill at least two football fields away. On the ground floor, at the back, the living room ceiling soared twenty feet above a green slate floor and the fireplace was so large Victor could walk into it. Six pairs of French doors opened onto a fieldstone patio that bordered a swimming pool so long it took Victor three breaths to swim the length underwater. Beyond that, the whole backyard was a field of wildflowers.

But Victor’s new house — his mom had leased it for a year — really belonged to Chester Newport who had mysteriously disappeared. Chester Newport was famous for creating the comic book, Occam’s Razor, starring the world’s best-known female superhero, Major Occam. Victor loved the Major. He had all the early comic books and had been watching Occam’s Razor online for years, except there hadn’t been any new episodes since Chester Newport’s disappearance.

“Have you guys seen stairs to the attic?” Victor had noticed windows in the roof so there must be a way up there. Joe and Mickey shook their heads.

The Major was always playing with her belt buckle because it could do a hundred different things like change her hair color or the clothes she was wearing. Victor couldn’t resist. He reached out and pushed the buckle on the painting.

Across the hall an orchestra started playing.

  • Victor poppin' a wheelie Artist: Tammy Gravina
  • Victor discovers a portait of Major Occam Artist: Trevor Porath


Down the hill from Chester Newport’s mansion stood a home of a different kind. Where Newport’s mansion was solid, like a giant rock, this house looked like it might crash to the ground at any moment. Route 65, the main highway into Foxhaven, ran by its front door and every time a large truck drove past the vibrations made the house wobble like a fat man laughing.

Not that you could see much of the front door from the street. A large wooden fence hid the bottom of the building or would have if some of the boards hadn’t been missing. But what caught your attention passing by was a large yellow and purple sign that read, SPOIL’S JUNKYARD, and underneath a hand painted addition: Beware of Kids.

The kids in this instance were the five Spoil children: Albert 15, Charles 14, Mary 13, Edward 9, and Little William 7. At this moment they were out back, behind the house that might fall down, in their dad’s two-story tin-covered garage getting ready to take out their father’s latest creation — the traveling car-wrecker known affectionately as Captain Crunch.

“Charles, do you read me?” barked out Albert.

“You’re only five feet away.”

“Do you read me?”

“Loud and clear!”

“What color paint do we have?”

“Sunshine Yellow.”


“On stream.” Charles held his laptop up so Albert could see the view from the webcam.


Their dad — the kids call him Mr. Spoil — has modified a beat-up Volvo road grader by adding extreme monster tires and removing the front blade, replacing it with a huge box capable of sucking up a car and squeezing it into a small cube of mangled metal. In front of the cab he’s added a crane with an electro-magnet strong enough to pick up an automobile. Why bring your car to the wrecker when the wrecker can come to you? That was the idea anyway. Mr. Spoil hadn’t tried it out yet and the kids were about to beat him to it.

“Mr. Spoil’s not going to be happy!” This came from Little William who was high up, crawling along the crane, dragging a banner behind him.

“Serves him right for going to the game without us!”

Albert, the oldest, wasn’t tall but he was stocky and strong and had never backed away from a fight. Because of Albert no one messed with the Spoil kids. He wore camouflage pants, green army t-shirt, army boots, and a canvas WWII flying helmet complete with microphone and speakers. It hid his short military haircut.

“It’s father’s idea,” Mary said extracting her violin from its case.

“We’re on a mission!” Edward seemed pleased with this idea.

Albert turned the key — nothing happened. His dad’s machines never started right away but Albert knew how to fix this. He gave the dashboard a swift kick and the big diesel engine roared to life with a satisfying belch of black smoke. Albert grinned down at his brother Charles. Charles stood below him on a turret his father had added to hold the big barn-painting gun.

When their dad wasn’t wrecking cars or demolishing houses — he did this by moving the kids in and returning a week later — or inventing something that nobody wanted like hotdog ice cream —¬ he advertised that he painted barns. Barn painting helped keep Albert and Charles busy. Otherwise, they built catapults and tested them by hurling car parts at Foxhaven High School.

Charles had enough looks for two boys. At the moment he was dressed all in black including a black porkpie hat like the one Johnny Depp wore in Benny and Joon. The hat looked stupid sitting on top of the flying helmet but Charles didn’t care. Around his neck he wore a gold chain that ended in a gold doubloon. He’d won the necklace in a Captain Jack Sparrow look-alike contest. Charles was as smart as Albert was tough.

On the other side of Albert, his sister Mary was busy tuning her Stagg violin. It was a good thing it was an electric violin and even better that Captain Crunch had three giant speakers or there wouldn’t have been much point in tuning anything. At the moment, the Volvo’s diesel engine was making more noise than a motorcycle gang.

Mary had a striking face, all her features larger than they should have been, like she hadn’t grown into them yet, but somehow it worked. Her long reddish-orange hair hung halfway down her back. She wore a red plaid kilt with black tights, a black turtleneck and black leather boots. She looked silly in the flying helmet too.

In front of Albert, nine-year-old Edward sat in a swivel chair with three control sticks perched in front of him. The control sticks ran the crane and Edward was almost sure he had them figured out. He looked back and gave Albert a thumbs-up. Edward was the dreamer of the Spoil kids. He could sit for hours drawing, reading, lost in some world of his own imagining.

Lastly, Little William, the baby of the family, rode far above Albert in the crow’s-nest that Mr. Spoil had welded onto the crane that stuck out the front of Captain Crunch like a knight’s lance. On both sides of the crane Little William had hung large hand-painted banners that read: Vote Carstairs for Sheriff or Else! Little William pulled a retro chrome microphone to his mouth and pushed the button.

“Are we human or are we dancer?”

Little William’s voice was loud enough to send the pigeons in the garage fleeing next door where they pooped on Mrs. Finney’s brand-new patio furniture. The Spoil kids all talked with an English accent because they’d only been in America, Home of the Brave, for three years. Little William adjusted his flying helmet, which was miles too big. Albert’s voice filled the airways.








“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Little William could already hear a police siren and it wasn’t far away.

“William!” Albert boomed back.


Albert put Captain Crunch in gear. Charles ran the titles. SPOIL KIDS ADVENTURE #9 was about to begin.

  • The Spoil Kids in Captain Crunch Artist: Adam Christopher
  • Mr. Spoil's Junkyard with the Newport Mansion in the background Artist: Kristin Wright

(4) The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness

The Prince of D was floating off stage behind a curtain that hid him from the audience. He was watching the entertainment, enjoying himself. Things were going well for the Prince, almost too well.

He’d spent his whole life battling the forces of Freedom & Fairness — formerly known as Goodness & Light — and now he suddenly found himself in danger of actually winning the war. What would he do then?

He’d be like an arms dealer with only one side to sell his weapons to or a lone Super Power reduced to manufacturing opponents.

Still, he wouldn’t let up — he’d keep pressing — he’d keep going for the jugular. Let the Good Guys work their butts off for a change. He had a lot of Dark Heroes to avenge.

The Prince took a puff on his cigar and blew, not a smoke ring, but a mother duck with ducklings trailing behind. Then he made an ugly fish with a big mouth that gobbled up the ducklings and was about to finish off the mom when she wheeled around and blew the fish to smithereens.

The Circle of Death — he loved it!

Now it was hard to tell where the smoke ended and the Prince began. The Prince usually took a form that those around him could recognize but at the moment he was being vague, content to look like a storm cloud.

Footsteps approached in the darkness. The end of the Prince’s cigar danced around like a fat firefly.

“Ratchett.” The Prince’s voice wasn’t so much a voice as a low rumble.

“Yes sire?”

“You’re late.”

“Yes sire.”

“The last Chancellor who was late lost his tongue as we recall.”

“Yes sire. I had to eat it.”

“We let you use ketchup.”

“Yes sire, very kind of you.”

“That was a lesson Ratchett. He tried to make an excuse. We don’t like excuses Ratchett.”

“No sire.”

“Now we’re sure there’s a good reason why you’re late.”

“Yes sire. Bounty hunters arrived with three more Rangers. I was making sure the Rangers were comfortable.”

The low rumble chuckled. “How many does that make Ratchett?”

“Thirty-seven sire.”

“We don’t suppose the Major was among them?”

“No sire.”

“Good. We wouldn’t want her to give up without a fight.”

“Yes sire, you like a good fight.” Ratchett knew better than anyone all the battles the Prince was winning at the moment. “Offering 100 million units for the Major’s capture has certainly set the horse’s tail on fire.”

“Greed Ratchett. Never underestimate the Power of Greed.”

The fat firefly glowed bright red.

“Are the Rangers still singing Ratchett?”

“Yes sire.” And yelling, ‘Freedom for All!’ but Ratchett thought it better not to mention this. Listening to Kumbaya over and over again was bad enough.

“They’ll soon change their tune.” The Prince dropped his cigar and crushed it as guards led the five slaves on stage.


  • An epic battle between the Major and the PoD! Artist: Matej
  • Ratchett eating the previous Chancellor's tongue Artist: Kristin Wright
  • The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness and his Chancellor, Ratchett Artist: Angela Yuqi Guo
  • The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness and his Chancellor, Ratchett Artist: Adam Christopher

(5) Victor Finds More than the Attic

Victor ran across the hall into the library. A spaceship was landing! White smoke billowed out of metal pipes coming down from the ceiling while the opening music from 2001: A Space Odyssey made the glass in the windows rattle.

When the spaceship reached the floor the music ended and the smoke gave a last blast. A door in the spaceship slid open. Mickey the mover pushed Victor forward till he could see inside.

“There’s a staircase.”

Victor hurried up the stairs, Mickey and Joe coming behind him. Victor stepped out of the next door unsure what he was seeing. Sunlight, in thin bright stripes, flooded in through wooden shutters. The attics Victor had been in before were dusty, unfinished rooms used for storage. This one didn’t seem like that. This attic seemed strangely curved and metallic.

Victor made his way to the nearest window and swung the shutters open. When he turned back he could see he was looking at the insides of Major Occam’s spaceship, Starship 1. He recognized it from the comics.

“Ain’t you a lucky boy,” Joe said. “Your own spaceship.”

Mickey and Joe went back to work. The next thing Victor knew the door to the staircase slid shut and he could hear machinery moving. The library was returning to normal. How would he get back down? He’d worry about that later — right now he wanted to explore.

A clear plastic table grew out of the spaceship floor like a mushroom. It was covered in papers. Victor picked up a sheet. The Major stood pointing her stun gun at three scary-looking aliens. Victor read the words written at the bottom:

The Major pulls her stun gun and waits as the three renegades from Virgo emerge from the escape tunnel. She has only one charge left and there are three of them, all armed and dangerous and heading for the Intergalactic Time Tunnel. Who knows what havoc they may wreak there?

Victor picked up the next sheet.

The Major steps in front of the three Virgoites and holds her gun to her ear. She yells, ‘Stop right there or I’ll kill myself!’ The three renegades look at one another and smirk. This is funny — the Ranger is going to kill herself. The smirk becomes a chuckle, the chuckle a laugh and because they are from Virgo, where laughter is uncontrollable, they’re soon rolling on the floor like fish out of water. The Major relieves them of their weapons and waits for the laughing fit to end. Once again, the Major’s encyclopedic knowledge of the Universe has saved the day.

Victor left the table and headed for the control console. In the distance he could hear a siren but he tuned it out. The control console was much more interesting. It was as wide as a couch and covered in gauges and digital readouts, with a band of computer monitors running through the middle. Stuck to the middle screen was another piece of paper. On it was a drawing of what looked like an oversized phone booth.

The Prince of D enters the Booth of XTernal XChange. Ratchett dials a number. The Prince takes the form of whoever answers.

Scrawled across the bottom were the words: too complicated keep thinking. Victor pulled the paper off the screen and saw there was a drawing on the back as well. This drawing showed five boys and a girl riding on a magic carpet.

Then he looked more closely. Then he nearly fell over backwards.

The third boy on the carpet was Victor.

  • Victor reading a chapter of Occam's Razor Artist: Adam Christopher

(6) Veronica Takes a Chance

The siren was louder now but still not loud enough to draw Victor to the attic window, which was too bad because if he had gone to the window and looked down at the swimming pool he would have seen a strange sight indeed. For there, standing at the end of the diving board, was none other than Major Occam herself.

Sort of.

The person perched at the end of the diving board was actually Veronica Newport, Chester Newport’s daughter. She stood tall and slim, her long brown hair woven into a French braid. It wasn’t a bathing suit she wore but the dark blue uniform of the Intergalactic Rangers, the Universe’s law enforcement officers and sworn enemies of the Truly Evil Prince of Darkness and all his fiendish friends.

“This is so weird but I don’t know what else to do.”

Veronica looked around. She loved this place so much. It had been such a great spot for a girl to grow up, especially a girl with a famous crazy father like hers. Veronica took a big breath. She felt foolish talking out loud to a dad who wasn’t there but somehow it made as much sense as anything else in this mess.

“Listen Pops, I don’t know if you can hear me but I’ll pretend you can. I’ve leased the house to Cozy Bennett — you know, the author? You’d like her. She’s funny and very pretty. I didn’t know what else to do.”

Veronica hesitated. She was about to say the word dead but she refused to believe her father might not be coming back.

“Because no one knows where you are, all your bank accounts are frozen. I mean how often does a fifty-year-old man dive into a pool and just vanish? I mean it sounds like something you’d do but not without telling me.

“The police have been all over the pool. They can’t find anything wrong with it. I’m the only witness so they keep asking me questions, trying to get me to change my story. And they’ve looked at your will and because you’ve left everything to me they think I had something to do with your disappearance. I don’t want your money Pops, I want you.”

She took another deep breath. “I can’t believe you knew you were going to disappear. You would have told me, I know you would. I mean I was right there watching you. You dove in; you swam to the end and never came up. Then I dove in looking for you but the pool was empty.”

Veronica bounced on the board to get her courage up. She’d always been shy and reserved, not brave and reckless like the Major.

“So Pops, this is it. I’ve put on my Major’s uniform. I am going to be brave and fearless. I am going to dive into this pool and find you.”

With that Veronica dove into the water and — foolish or not — she swam as fast as she could toward the far end.

  • Veronica dives into the pool in hopes of finding her Pops Artist: Anny

(7) Mrs. McAnguish Makes Her Only Appearance

The police car the whole town had been listening to finally arrived at its destination. Siren screaming, lights flashing, it screeched into SPOIL’S JUNKYARD skidding to a stop in a cloud of dust. Two policewomen jumped out and ran into the house.

“In ’ere,” a woman’s voice bellowed in a thick Scottish accent. “Hurry!”

The two policewomen — the guys at the station called them Garter and Martyr — stormed into the kitchen but no one was there. A large kitchen table with a mattress on top occupied the middle of the room but that was it.

“Up ’ere, ye dimwits!”

Garter and Martyr looked up and there, plastered to the ceiling with duct tape, was the Spoil kids’ babysitter, Mrs. McAnguish, a rather large older woman wearing an ugly flower-print dress, ankle socks and a once clean paisley apron. She was waving a cell phone.

“Where ’ave ye bin?” she wanted to know but before either policewoman could answer the phone rang. The ring tone was The Sky is Fallin’ by Queens of the Stone Age.

“Mr. Spoil!” shouted Mrs. McAnguish into the phone. “Yer children should be locked up an’ the key threwn away!”

Garter pulled the mattress off the table while Martyr climbed up onto a chair but before Martyr could step onto the table and rescue Mrs. McAnguish, Captain Crunch rumbled by the kitchen window.

“Oh no!” Martyr cried.

“C’mon!” Garter shouted running for the door.

Outside Albert brought Captain Crunch up behind the flashing police cruiser.

“Open hatch!”

Edward pulled the right-hand control stick and the hatch at the front of Captain Crunch fell open like a drawbridge. Albert drove forward scooping up the police car forcing it into the Wreck Room.

“Close hatch!”

The hatch slammed shut and locked. Then the large hydraulic piston attached to the back wall pushed forward. Really bad scrunching noises filled the air. Finally the piston stopped.

“Open hatch!”

A cube of black and white metal trash bounced onto the ground. From inside the cube came the occasional flash of red light. Garter and Martyr couldn’t believe it. The guys at the station were going to love this.

Albert pulled Captain Crunch onto Route 65 while from inside the house came the irreversible sound of duct tape giving up — followed by a Scottish scream — followed by the unmistakable CRASH! of something heavy falling onto something wooden.

Mrs. McAnguish has landed!


Captain Crunch had barely left home and already Albert was stuck behind a little white car and not happy about it. A wizened old man was driving, his wife beside him. Before Albert could decide what to do Little William shouted from the crow’s-nest, “The cops are coming!” Albert looked back and saw one of the policewomen, Garter it was, running up the road chasing them. She had her gun in her hand and a face that looked like Queen Victoria’s when she said, ‘We are not amused.’

“Edward, pick up the car in front and deposit it behind.”

“Yes, Mon Capitaine.”

Inside the little white car Mrs. Polanski looked over at her husband. “You drive any slower Ralph, we’re going to have to leave yesterday.”

“Sixty-years-ago you were yelling at me to slow down. Make up your mind.”

“Silly old coot,” Mrs. Polanski said smiling.

Edward lowered the large electromagnet and flipped the switch. Thunk! The little car jumped two feet above the road. Edward spun the crane around and turned off the magnet. The little car dropped to the pavement and headed right at the sprinting Garter who had to dive into a cedar hedge or be flattened.

“See what you made me do!” cried Mr. Polanski slamming on the brakes.

“Turn around! I want to do it again!” Mrs. Polanski hadn’t had this much fun since her mother-in-law dropped the Thanksgiving turkey.

  • Mrs. McAnguish duct taped to the wall Artist: Angela Yuqi Guo
  • Mrs. McAnguish and the Spoil kids Artist: Nada Serafimovic

(8) The Prince Suspects He Has ADHD

The Prince was enjoying the entertainment but he had a short attention span. Rather than disrupt the show he decided to amuse himself by becoming Ratchett — only exaggerated.

Where Ratchett had a modest chin, the Prince decided to have no chin at all, just a straight line from his mouth to his neck with a bump for his Adam’s apple. It gave him a vulture-like look.

Where Ratchett was a tall skinny man usually bent over, the Prince became twice as tall and so bent over his head stuck between his legs. And where Ratchett had a tuft of white hair, the Prince opted for an explosion rather like Albert Einstein.

“I don’t think that’s funny,” Ratchett said pulling himself up to his full height.

“You don’t?”

“I am your Chancellor, sire.”

The Prince liked Ratchett. He wasn’t afraid of the Prince. Well, he was — he was terrified like everybody else — but he hid it well. The Prince changed into a buxom medieval barmaid in a low-cut dress and gave Ratchett a big kiss.

“We like you, Ratchett.”

“Yes sire.”

The entertainment was nearing its climax. The five slaves stood in a row, each wearing a large wicker basket on his or her back. The baskets were about three-quarters full of bricks and no one had fallen over yet. Mind you, there was every reason in the world to keep standing. If you fell you’d be part of the Prince’s Banquet — the eaten-alive part.

“Ratchett.” The Prince was back to being a storm cloud.

“Yes sire?”

“Put twenty thousand on Number 3.”

The slaves all wore white bibs with big red numbers.

“The girl, sire? She’s not very big.”

“She may surprise you, Ratchett.”

“Yes sire. You wouldn’t-”

“No Ratchett, we wouldn’t cheat.”

Ratchett weighed this. The Prince’s whole life was built on cheating, lying and stealing but for some reason Ratchett believed him. Things were going so well now that Chester Newport wasn’t running things. Perhaps the Prince was mellowing.


“Yes sire?”

“Do you wish your legs cut off?”

Ratchett hurried away. The Prince chuckled as his cat guards placed a baby goblin in each basket. The babies were gray and gooey and energetic, each one waving two sticks tipped with rubber balls. These they were using to drum on the slaves’ heads. Some of the slaves were quivering. It wouldn’t be long now.

The Prince pushed the curtain aside and peeked out at the audience. He could see his lowlifes were really enjoying this — placing bets left and right, right and left — and those not betting were cheering, whistling, exhorting their favorite number to TAKE ANOTHER BRICK FOR THE TEAM!

And what a wonderfully wicked crew they are, thought the Prince. Every one of them a crime boss in his or her own right — each controlling an army of killers, thieves, kidnappers, blackmailers, drug dealers, arms dealers, extortionists, enforcers, pimps, telemarketers, ambulance-chasers, lobbyists, tax collectors, senators and various other genuinely crummy people. The Prince was so proud of them all.

The next brick wasn’t a brick but a concrete block. The Prince watched as the guards dropped the block on top of the first baby goblin. It was like squishing a beetle with your shoe. Yellow icky stuff flew everywhere. The Prince clapped his hands. This was too much fun!

  • Slaves battle for their lives, for the amusement of the Prince Artist: Trevor Porath

(9) The Major’s Long Day

The last of the day’s sunshine was hanging around like a slice of peach, and rain was falling but not hard. A tired Major Occam slowly circled the building. This was her fifth situation since the orphanage and her third planet. She was running on empty but that’s the way it was sometimes. If you believe in something, blah, blah, blah.

She thought about the orphan kids on Lysander and how happy they were to see her. That was the kind of thing that kept her going; kept her driving the other Rangers to do more than they could do. Now, more than ever — when everything was going wrong — the forces of good had to fight back.

Then she thought about Anchor and laughed out loud. Anchor had showed up at the orphanage looking like Swampman. Apparently he’d been under Starship 1 fixing the driveforce when the Major had taken off. He’d held on for dear life and ended up going for a ride through the bulrushes — unhurt thankfully — and really it was too funny. Another story for the archives.

The Major flew Starship 1 in close to the building. It was an old three-story brick office block that, judging by the broken windows and the rusty hanging gutters, had definitely seen better days.

The Major checked her printout again — 1984 Orwell Avenue. Someone had to be kidding, right?

She turned on her scanner. The bottom two floors appeared empty but the top floor lit up like a Christmas tree. So did the giant rats.

Figures, thought the Major. The only thing she remembered about George Orwell’s book 1984 was a rat in a cage tied to a guy’s face so he wouldn’t love his girlfriend anymore. It sounded like something the Prince would dream up.

She pushed the button for Ranger Headquarters. A young woman’s face filled her screen.


“Yes Major?”

“Tell me again what I’m doing here?”

“Rebels have kidnapped Lady Katrina. They’re holding her in that building. They want to negotiate but only with you.”

“I didn’t think Lady K tolerated rebels?”

“If you’re the kind to tolerate rebels you usually don’t have any.”

“Wow Stacey, that was really profound.”

“Yeah. I got a new boyfriend.”

“What’s that got to do with being profound?”

“He hates small talk so I’ve been practicing. I know about sports too — Utah Jazz, Chicago Bears, New Jersey Devils.”

The two women grinned at each other.

“What’s your sister think?”

Stacey’s twin sister — also called Stacey because their dad was too lazy to tell them apart — worked at Ranger Headquarters too.

“She can’t remember the team names. She says things like Colorado Crazydudes.”

“I bet the boyfriend thinks it’s cute.”

“He’s cute so it doesn’t matter.”

The Major had a cute boyfriend too — Jake — but she’d lost him to a waitress at The Dragon’s Breath and the Major didn’t blame Jake at all. How could he love her when she was never around to be loved? His last words to her had been: ‘At least I’ll know where to find her!’

The Major’s last words had been: ‘I’m sure you’ll be very happy. Too bad the food sucks!’

The Major wished she’d been more profound but it wouldn’t have changed anything. Jake was gone and that was that. “I don’t suppose we have backup handy?” the Major asked banishing Jake back to the Land of Old Boyfriends.

Stacey pretended to look but she didn’t need to. Ever since Chester Newport had disappeared all one hundred Rangers had been working flat-out for weeks and all over the Universe. The chance of another Ranger being in the vicinity was up there with winning LottoLux.

“You’re on your own Major.”

“Why don’t I just blow the sucker up?” Lady Katrina was one of the few Council Members the Major didn’t like. She ruled her planet with an iron fist and had no time for those not as stylish or wealthy as she was.

“The next situation is worse,” Stacey said.

“You haven’t seen the rats.”

“Trust me.”

“Okay. If I’m not back in thirty minutes you can have Earwax.” The Major glanced down at her right boot. Earwax was flopped over in his holster making zzzz’s. He was tired too.

“What else have you got?”

The Major grinned and ruffled Earwax’s fur waking him up. “Stacey, have you heard from Straight Shooter?”

“He’s on Garibaldi — something about the lowlifes from AgriGiant threatening to poison the water supply if the locals don’t buy their seed but they took off the minute they saw Shooter.”

“That’s not like them.”

“Straight Shooter said it was like they had to be somewhere else in a hurry. He’s going to follow them, see what’s up.”

The Major rotated Starship 1 so the wings pointed up and down and approached the narrow end of the building. When she had her ship centered under the third-story window she turned the controls over to Earwax and pulled out her stun gun.

“Stunner, how you feeling?”

“I need a week on a beach,” Stunner replied sounding like he really did need a vacation.

“Yeah, we all do. Not going to happen till somebody finds Chester Newport.”

“Is anybody looking for him?”

“Not our world, remember? I imagine his daughter Veronica is giving the police a hard time — probably hired private detectives. He’s too famous not to be found.”

“Maybe he’s dead?”

“No way, I’d feel that.”

“You always were the optimist.”

“And you’re Eeyore.”

“I prefer realist.”

The Major reached up and pulled herself through Starship 1’s door. The slice of peach was gone the night sky a clear blue-black studded with bright stars. The warm breeze felt good on the Major’s face. She stood still for a minute enjoying the quiet. Then she pried open the flaky double hung window and climbed through.

“Okay Stunner, let’s see what we can do with a bunch of giant rats.”

  • Starfighter I hovering outside a building Artist: Angela Yuqi Guo
  • The Major with Earwax Artist: Adam Snowball
  • Major Occam at the controls of Starfighter I Artist: Tammy Gravina

(10) Eighteen Rats One of Them BIG

Major Occam moved quietly down the corridor, turning at each door, her belt buckle open, scanner on, earplug in. In the first office five rats were playing poker. “I’ll see ya and I’ll raise ya ten.”

Second office, one rat, talking on the phone. “That makes about as much sense as Swiss cheese. If the truck was full of dog food what are we doing with sixty flat-screens?”

The Major made it without trouble to the double doors at the end of the corridor. She now had seventeen giant rats between her and Starship 1. She checked her scanner. Behind the double doors waited the largest rodent ever. The other rats were big but this dude was supersized.

Behind the rat she could see men’s bodies moving around and a woman with spiky hair tied to a chair. That would be Lady Katrina — no one else had hair like that. No one else wanted hair like that, thought the Major being catty.

She checked her pockets for holograms — one left. With Chester Newport missing-in-action no new supplies were coming in. The Rangers’ arsenal was down to the dregs. Maybe super-wealthy Lady K could help with that? Yeah right, thought the Major, that was up there with the Colorado Crazydudes winning the Super Bowl.

The Major spread her last hologram out in the hallway and returned to the double doors. Bang! Bang! — the Major’s third bang didn’t happen because the doors flew open and out bounded the King of Rats.

The Major leapt up onto the hologram and charged down its surface back toward Starship 1. If this didn’t work she was going to jump through the window and fly out of here — to heck with Lady K.

The Major didn’t look back — she didn’t need to — she could feel the rat’s breath on her neck. She leapt onto the trigger like it was a diving board and somersaulted off the hologram.


The bar of the giant trap landed on the rat’s neck but the rat’s body kept going flipping over the hologram nearly crushing the Major.

The Major spun around and sprinted back the other way, up and over the trap, trying to reach the double doors before the other rats saw her. Too late. She could hear doors opening behind her.

“Oh man, look at that!”

“Poor Morris!”

“He’s still twitching!”

“Cheeses man, who did this to you?”

“There she is!”

The Major raced through the open doors, stun gun out, ready to fire on the rebels if need be. But there were no rebels and no Lady Katrina tied to a chair. Instead the Major found herself four paces into a hologram maze with no place to go but deeper.

Now who’s the rat? thought the Major trying to make sense of things.

  • The hologram rat-trap Artist: Angela Yuqi Guo
  • Major Occam facing off against the Giant Rat Artist: Adam Christopher

(11) The Mighty Dipsticks Meet Captain Crunch

The oldest part of Foxhaven centered around a square named appropriately Olde Towne Square. Antique brick buildings housing high-end stores and cafes ran along all four sides of the square. In the middle sat a quite lovely park with cobblestone walkways, picnic tables, stately trees carved with initials and a band shell draped with bunting.

At the moment the band shell was being used as a stage. The Dog Lovers of America — Massachusetts’ Chapter — were holding their annual Dog Show. About two hundred dogs and their owners waited patiently to hear what the judges had to say. Unfortunately, the day had been tarnished by the arrival of the Mighty Dipsticks, a gang of bikers who had been enjoying the dog show as well. Their motorcycles, lined up like slashes, occupied the Square’s three handicap parking spaces.

Mr. Fisher, the master of ceremonies, returned to the microphone waving a piece of paper. “Here now are our three finalists in the Non-Sporting category.”

Jason, one of the bikers yelled out, “I had a dog once! My dad ran over it!” The other Dipsticks laughed and cheered.

“That wasn’t very sporting!” shouted Hank, Jason’s buddy.

“Our third place winner...” continued Mr. Fisher.

“How can you be a winner when you come third?”

“ ...is Berkeley Shortcake Bewdley the Fourth, and her owner is Rosemary Devine.” The other dog owners applauded and Rosemary Devine, an overweight woman wearing a pink pantsuit with white pinstripes, came forward accompanied by her chow chow, Shortcake.

“She looks like she ate every grape on de vine!”

“Congratulations, Rosemary. In second place we have Simeon Charise Dodger, a standard poodle owned by Nathaniel Duncan. Congratulations, Nat.” Nathaniel Duncan turned out to be a small dapper man with a goatee.

Jason held two empty beer bottles to his eyes like binoculars and shouted “Which one’s the poodle?”

Mr. Fisher had had enough. Ignoring the bikers just wasn’t working. “Please, gentlemen, we’re not bothering you. Why do you insist on ruining our afternoon?”

Jason turned to his buddies. “Is he bothering you? You?” He turned back to Mr. Fisher. “You’re not bothering us!”

“I wouldn’t know how!”

“See,” Jason yelled, “no know how!”

Mr. Fisher made a face. Trying to reason with the unreasonable was like trying to have a snowball fight in Hawaii. It could be done but who could be bothered?

“And our winner is Go Go Gauguin owned by Babe Morrow.”

Babe Morrow, a young black woman, bounced on stage with Go Go, her shar pei.

“She is a babe!” Jason shouted. “And the girl’s all right too!”

“I’d rather go out with the dog!” bellowed Hank.

“So would I!” shouted back Babe Morrow and the crowd burst out laughing.

Mr. Fisher gave it one more try. “I don’t understand why you people wish to perpetuate our stereotype of your kind?”

“Whoa buddy! Who you calling a stereotype?”

“Yeah, we’re still using eight-track!”

It was at this point in the proceedings that Captain Crunch entered Olde Towne Square. Everyone turned to look as Little William’s voice boomed out: “Vote Carstairs for Sheriff or else!” Little William followed this up by hurling Carstairs for Sheriff flyers high into the air like confetti while Mary made a howling sound with her violin and all the dogs and some of the bikers joined in — howoooooo!

“Charles, are you ready?” Albert had been looking for a target for the barn-painting gun and the Dipsticks’ motorcycles seemed perfect for the job.

Jason was on his feet now pointing at Captain Crunch. “Man, look at that thing. Let’s take it!” Jason hopped on his chopper and, using his feet, backed it out into the street so that Albert would have to stop. But Albert had other ideas.

“Edward, open hatch. Let’s see if Mr. Spoil’s flesh-detector works. Mary, Theme from Rocky, if you please.”

Albert never slowed down. Jason and his motorcycle disappeared inside the Wreck Room. The front hatch slammed shut and the rear piston started forward. Severe metal-crunching noises were followed by a muffled scream that made everybody wince. The Square grew quiet except for Mary’s violin. The big piston retreated and Jason, straddling a small block of steaming chrome, his clothes in rags, bounced out onto the pavement.

“Charles! Fire when ready!”

Charles pulled the trigger. In seconds all the bikers, all their girlfriends, and all their machines were drenched in yellow paint. The Dipsticks, waving their arms, stamping their feet, looked like they were in the middle of inventing a new dance. (Later, when Charles edited SPOIL KIDS ADVENTURE #9, he added this voiceover: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, webcasting live from Foxhaven’s Olde Towne Square, let’s have a big hand for the Mighty Dipsticks doing the KFC!’)

The Dog Lovers of America cheered and cheered. The bikers couldn’t believe it. Who were these kids who would dare to humiliate the Mighty Dipsticks like this?

“Vote Carstairs for Sheriff or else!”

Albert tooted twice on the deep diesel horn as the Spoils waved goodbye to the Dog Lovers of America.

  • The Spoil kids dousing the Mighty Dipsticks Artist: Angela Yuqi Guo

(12) Amazing Grace

The walls of the maze were made of shimmering green phosphorescent light, the walls so close together the Major couldn’t raise her arms above her waist. She came to her first choice. She could go straight ahead or right. She heard the rats’ voices again and knew they were entering the maze behind her.

“I’m telling you it was the Major. I saw her. Long brown braid, boy’s butt, stunned look on her face — had to be her.”

“100 million units if we take her alive.”

“100?! You gotta be kiddin’ me!”

“I’m not! I saw it on the Prince’s Weekly Webcast. One mil for any Ranger, ten for Straight Shooter, and 100 mil for the Major. He’ll even send Chancellor Ratchett to get her.”

“I’d want to see the money first.”

“The Prince wouldn’t cheat on a thing like that.”

The Major made a face — 100 million units! That was an incredible amount of money — enough to buy a small planet. Her job was hard enough now she’d have every yahoo for a light-year trying to bring her in. She’d come to another choice in the maze. She went right again. This was stupid. She’d be in here forever.

All at once the Major remembered a time on Planet Greed when she’d been sitting in a Starbucks taking a break. The place was packed and a young mom with a cute little girl, Grace, had asked if she could share the Major’s table. The Major liked kids — hoped someday to have some of her own — so she’d said sure.

Grace had gotten an iMaze for Christmas so she played with that while the women talked. The Major had watched amused as Grace drew a straight line from start to finish ignoring the maze altogether.

‘No, no,’ the mom had said. ‘You have to follow the lines.’


‘You just do.’

‘That’s stupid,’ Grace said and the women had laughed guessing Grace would grow up to be a Ranger or a poet or a pain in the butt.

“You’re right Grace this is stupid,” the Major said and having said it she walked into the green wall and kept going in a straight line. In no time at all she popped out of the maze and found herself in a dark office staring at a startled Lady Katrina sitting behind a desk, her feet up, a cigar in one hand, a drink in the other.

“You always were direct” Lady Katrina said recovering, waving for the Major to sit down but the Major ignored her.

“I thought you were kidnapped?”

“A story, Major. Cigar? Drink? Of course not you’re on duty, how silly of me.”

Lady Katrina took a drag on her cigar and blew the smoke toward the Major.

“Why?” There was no mistaking the anger in the Major’s voice.

“The story? To get you here. Would you have come if I’d asked you to?”

They both knew the answer. The Major would have sent somebody else.

“The rats? The maze?”

“Constructs. I thought you’d find them amusing.”

Amusing? The Major could have been killed.

“What do you want?” asked the Major.

“I want you to retrieve my daughter.”

This caught the Major off-guard. Lady Katrina had never been married and no child had ever been mentioned. She was the original ice princess as far as the tabloids were concerned.

“I didn’t know you had a child.”

“No one knows except a nosey reporter who’s about to tell the world about her.”

“And you think that will hurt your chances of being elected Regent?” Lady K was battling King Morath for the position of Regent of the Milky Way, the most powerful position in the Known Universe.

“The child isn’t the problem; the problem is I don’t spend time with her. It would seem that makes me less than caring.”

You are less than caring, thought the Major. That’s one of the reasons I don’t like you — along with ignorant, arrogant and irritating.

“In my experience,” the Major said, “you only care about those that don’t need caring about.”

“People like me, you mean; strong, able to stand on their own two feet.”

“Not everyone is as privileged as you and not everyone has two feet.”

The Major had a name for beings like Lady Katrina — she called them Withouts. They were beings without compassion; without an understanding that different isn’t something to be feared but something to be embraced; that the wonder of life isn’t the accumulation of wealth or power but the joy that comes from family and friends. From knowing the Power of the Universe flows through all things.

And if the Major told Lady Katrina she was less evolved than the dirt-under-the-nails farmer working in her field, she’d stare at the Major like she was crazy.

“So where is your daughter?”

“She lives with her father on Caviar. Here is an Intergalactic Court Order giving me equal custody.”

The Major studied the paper. Jessica — that was the daughter’s name — was five years old. She was to spend half the year with her mother, half with her father on Caviar. Tough to have any friends with that arrangement, thought the Major.

Lady Katrina read the Major’s mind.

“You don’t want to do this, do you?”

“Not really.”

Lady K stood now and came around the desk.

“I’ll make you a deal, Major. You do this for me and I’ll tell you a secret that will change your life.”

“Okay, what is it?” The Major was duty-bound to obey the Court Order with or without Lady K’s secret.

“I’ll tell you when you return with my daughter.”

“You’ll tell me now.”

The two women glared at each other.

“I’ll tell you but you have to promise to retrieve my daughter first.”

The Major nodded but her opponent remained quiet, waiting.

“A sacred oath,” the Major said making the sign that bound her to the Universe. “No matter what the secret I will go to Caviar first.”

Lady Katrina told her.

“That’s impossible!” the Major cried out but suddenly she knew it wasn’t — in fact, it made all the sense in the world.

  • The Major talking to Lady K Artist: Angela Yuqi Guo
  • The Major, ready for trouble Artist: Aidal

(13) The Prince Can’t Wait

The first slave was an older woman, large-boned, her skin the color of midnight. She staggered under the new weight but managed to keep standing.

It always amazed the Prince that the will to live was so strong. Why would a slave want to live? Why not lie down and get it over with? They live in hope thought the Prince shaking his head.

He remembered a story his nanny once told him. It was about some girl called Pollyanna who believed that inside every pile of manure there was a pony trying to get out. The next day the Prince marched to the largest pile of manure he could find and started digging.

He dug all day but the only thing he found was a sore back, the pain of it matched only by the pain of the blisters on his hands. That night, when his nanny wanted to tell him another stupid story, the Prince dropped her out the tower window.

Here’s what the Prince thought:

There aren’t any ponies in manure piles.

Santa Clause is too fat to go down chimneys.

Any day now Clark Kent will be arrested for taking his clothes off in phone booths.

The next slave was a young man who looked like he hadn’t eaten in a month. He was skin and bones but the Prince could see that the man’s flesh had been replaced by sinew and spunk. He nearly fell over backwards with the weight of the block but he too held.

The third slave was the young woman the Prince was betting on. She’d just hurled her goblin into the crowd. The Prince smiled at this. But why did he bet on her? Was it because she had attitude or because there was something in her life she was going to live for no matter what the cost?

A boyfriend? No, thought the Prince, something stronger than that. More likely some sniveling little brat that calls her mommy as he pukes on her shoulder.

But, if the Prince was being honest — something he would never admit to — the real reason he’d bet on Number 3 was she looked like Major Occam. In fact, she looked so much like the Major she could have been her sister. She even had the Major’s long brown braid falling down her back halfway to her waist.

The Prince watched as the guards dropped the block into her basket. The young woman didn’t even flinch. She was strong like the Major. The Prince’s smile turned into a grin.

Number 4 was an older man tanned the color of mahogany. He looked like he’d been a slave forever. He too took the block without a quiver.

Number 5 was the crowd favorite. They’d nicknamed him Caveman. He was a big man, not tall but thick, built like a bear and almost as hairy. His back was so broad the basket on it looked like a child’s backpack. The guards dropped the block from a foot above the basket. Goblin goop flew into the audience. The block might as well have been a balloon for all the difference the weight made to Caveman.

The Prince’s grin became a chuckle. He couldn’t wait to see if he’d guessed right.

  • The Prince, dropping his nanny out the tower window Arist: Nada Serafimovic

(14) The Spoils Make the Five O’clock News

Even with his flying helmet on and Mary playing the theme from Star Wars and Little William screaming, “Vote Carstairs for Sheriff or else!” Albert could still hear police sirens — lots of them.

Then his vision was reduced to nothing but red flashing lights. He stomped on the brakes. Two police cruisers, running side-by-side, screeched to a stop blocking the road. Before the policemen inside could open their doors Edward activated the electromagnet. The two cruisers jumped into the air sideways their tires touching. Albert watched as the cops’ guns flew out of their hands sucked upward by the powerful magnet. Radios, handcuffs, even their badges whipped by the policemen’s startled faces. Albert shifted into first and drove forward the police cars dangling in front of him like a cat playing with a mouse. As they came to the next intersection Albert slowed and Edward deposited the cruisers on the roof of a passing transport truck. Albert turned right onto Jefferson Avenue.

“Excellent work, Edward!”

“My Liege!”

Little William, high up in the crow’s-nest, looked back. He could see the policemen struggling to get out of their cars. He knew what they were thinking. If we don’t get these cruisers off this truck Chief Carstairs will have our butts for breakfast. But really there wasn’t much point in worrying about that. The transport truck was about to go under a bridge.

The four cops jumped up wrapping their arms around the bridge railing. They watched as their cruisers slid down the length of the truck and flipped off the back. The second vehicle crashed onto the first. The two crunched cruisers looked like a giant clothespin.

Oh my, thought Little William. That’s three cruisers headed to the junkyard. The Spoil kids had been in trouble before but never like this. “Vote Carstairs for Sheriff or else! Vote Carstairs for Sheriff or else!”

“Look at that!” shouted Charles pointing. Two bank robbers, ski masks hiding their faces, were running across the wide sidewalk in front of Citibank. As they raced toward their getaway car a security guard appeared in the doorway and fired. His bullet hit one of the robbers in the leg. The robber stumbled and fell. His friend came back to help, shooting at the guard, forcing him back into the building.

Together the robbers made it to their vehicle but just as they were about to speed off Edward lifted the getaway car high in the air, swung it to the right, and dropped it onto a fire hydrant which exploded. The guard ran to the car. The robbers, drowning, washed out with their hands up.

“This is more fun than wrecking houses,” Albert said shifting into third gear. Now even a deaf man could have heard the sirens coming from all directions.

“Heading home!” Albert shouted.

“Bet we don’t make it!” shouted the others.

(15) Mercedes Shows Up

As always the Major wanted to be as far away from Lady Katrina as possible but before she could make her escape the office door blew open and in stormed Mercedes, the incredibly stupid niece of the Prince of Darkness himself. She was tall like the Major, slim, with dark green eyes and long fiery-red hair. Today she wore black leather pants, biker jacket and gorgeous knee length crimson boots.

It took a few seconds for Mercedes’ eyes to adjust to the darkness but when she realized she was staring at none other than Major Occam herself she didn’t hesitate. She reached over her shoulders and drew both swords. As soon as the swords left their scabbards the blades burst into flames.

“You are my sworn enemy!” Mercedes shouted waving her arms around, showing the Major how she was going to slice her into stir-fry. The Major had crossed swords with Mercedes before. She enjoyed the back and forth of it but really, right now, she just didn’t have the energy. She raised Stunner and shot Mercedes in the chest. The Major turned on Lady K.

“Why is she here?”

“Plan B.”

“Plan B?”

Just like that four incredibly strong hands tightened around the Major’s arms pinning her. She didn’t need to see her assailants to know who was holding her; she knew by the smell. Mongreloids — the mercenary human-dogs from Canis Minor.

Sure enough the lead dog stepped forward and bowed to Lady Katrina.

“The gang’s all here,” Lady K sang out looking pleased with herself. “You see Major I wasn’t sure the others would make it in time — especially when you solved the maze so easily.”

“So the story about your daughter was just that, a story?” the Major asked.

“No, that was real enough. But instead of you going to get my daughter I’m giving that job to Mercedes except she won’t be bringing my daughter back.”

“You’re going to murder your own daughter?”

“I was thinking more of a long space journey with her father and that nosey reporter. It seems so much easier than dealing with a brat the rest of my life.”

Mercedes chose this moment to come out of her stun. She lunged at the Major but Lady K put her hand up stopping her.

“I need her alive, Mercedes. As for you, Major, you’re about to meet the Prince in person. Have you ever met him?” The Major shook her head. “He really is quite scary, y’know. One’s never sure just where one stands with the Prince. Being that powerful makes him unpredictable. Oh, it gives me goose bumps just thinking about it. Anyway, I’m sure he will be very happy to see you.”

“He’ll roast you alive,” Mercedes said grabbing the Major’s stun gun and sniffing it.

“This is for the reward?” The Major couldn’t believe Lady Katrina would risk everything like this.

“Of course, and other things as well like help winning the election. Think what the Prince and I could do together.”

Now there’s a frightening idea, thought the Major starting to look for a way out of this mess.

Lady Katrina waved her hand at the Mongreloid leader. “All right Grunt, take her away. I expect you back tomorrow with my half of the money. Agreed?”



The Major talked Grunt into letting her use the washroom. There were no windows and only one door so Grunt wasn’t worried about the Major escaping. Within seconds Mercedes was in the washroom as well.

“You never fight fair,” she complained.

“Sorry about that.” The Major splashed water on her face. “I was tired; I just wanted to go home.”

“I get like that sometimes.”

“What’s Lady K paying you to make her daughter disappear?”


“Not much.”

“You think I should ask for more?”

“Grunt’s getting 50 million to take me to the Prince.”

“That’s a lot more.”

“Yes it is.” The Major let that sink in before she said, “I’ve got an idea.”

“What is it?”

“Why don’t you dress up like me and I’ll dress up like you?”

“I’ve always wanted to be a Ranger,” Mercedes said.

“You’ll be #1.”

“I’d like that.”

“Instead of 50,000 you can have the 50 mil Lady K is going to get. Serves her right for trying to take advantage of you.”

“Yeah, serves her right.” In seconds the two young women had changed clothes. “What about our hair?”

The Major played with the Ranger belt buckle that Mercedes was now wearing and just like that Mercedes’ hair changed to the Major’s brown braid and the Major’s became fiery-red.

Mercedes tried to keep the Major’s stun gun but the Major just shook her head. “You’re unarmed, remember?”

“Oh yeah. Man, is the Prince going to be surprised.”

You got that right, thought the Major pushing Mercedes out the washroom door.

  • She raised Stunner and shot Mercedes in the chest Artist: Asher J. Klassen
  • The incredibly stupid niece of the Prince of Darkness Artist: Kristin Wright
  • The Major and Mercedes switch outfits Artist: Kristin Wright

(16) Straight Shooter Seeks Revenge

Straight Shooter — #2 on the Intergalactic Ranger Roster and the Major’s best friend — had been chasing the gangsters from AgriGiant ever since he’d seen them scurrying away from Garibaldi. Normally, they would have stayed and given Straight Shooter a hard time. ‘We got more lawyers than you got hairs on your head,’ was their usual approach.

Straight Shooter expected them to return to their headquarters on Planet Greed but instead they’d flown to the Prince’s castle joining a flood of fiends and monsters pouring across the drawbridge. Something big was going down but what it could be Straight Shooter had no idea. Whatever it was the Major would want to know.

Straight Shooter settled into the forest that surrounded the Prince’s castle watching for an opportunity to join the stream of bad guys. It wasn’t long before Straight Shooter saw something that turned his blood icy cold.

Six Monks of Leprosia appeared walking along the path that led to the castle. On their shoulders they carried a long metal tray and strapped to the tray was a huge caterpillar — bright green with yellow spots. Why the Monks were carrying a caterpillar was a mystery to Straight Shooter but one that didn’t matter — what mattered was the Monks were suddenly stopping for a cigarette break.

Straight Shooter remembered the last time he’d seen the Monks’ handiwork. He and the Major had arrived too late at a village called Annaka on Planet Geist. Everybody had been harvested. The only two clinging to life were a small girl who’d died in the Major’s arms and a young boy who survived long enough to tell Straight Shooter who had done these terrible things.

The Major said you couldn’t change the past only the future so that’s what Shooter aimed to do. He vowed that day that whenever he ran into the Monks that day would be their last.

Shooter watched as one of the blue hooded figures sauntered into the woods to relieve himself. Shooter didn’t hesitate. His arrow sliced through the Monk’s black heart like a knife through pâté. Then Shooter donned the Monk’s smelly blood-splattered robe and joined the others. The robe hid his bow and the big hood covered most of Shooter’s face. As long as no one asked him any questions he might live to see his buddy the Major again.


Soon Straight Shooter was marching across the castle drawbridge carrying the giant caterpillar. As they approached the portcullis Straight Shooter could see eight cat guards waiting for them — all elite attack cats — all specially trained by the Prince himself. Their claws were an inch long and sharpened to a razor’s edge and when one of the guards yawned Straight Shooter caught a glimpse of sunlight bouncing off her stainless steel incisors. Oh my.

The Officer-in-Charge — a huge cat and Siamese by the slant of her eyes — brought up her baton and pushed back the hood of the first Monk. Even the Officer, who thought she’d seen everything at least twice, winced when she saw the face in front of her. It wasn’t really a face at all but a series of raw holes dripping with pus.

For a brief flash the Officer thought of her small son playing at home with his toy drill, merrily drilling holes in anything within reach. This face looked like that. Still, her instructions were to check everything coming into the castle — everything.

She flipped back the hood of the second Monk. This face was worse than the first, something the officer wouldn’t have thought possible. Instead of pus, maggots crawled around in one of the Monk’s eye sockets. The Officer knew one thing for sure — she was going to have nightmares tonight.

Straight Shooter knew he was lost. He was next in line and when the Officer flipped back his hood he’d have to run for it and his chances of outrunning the cats were nil. Still, he’d have to try.

Then an odd thing happened. The caterpillar, which had been quiet up to this point — Straight Shooter thought it was drugged — sat up and cried out, “Oh please, don’t eat me. I’m only a baby, y’know. I haven’t lived yet. Haven’t gotten to spread my wings and fly. Please don’t eat me.”

That said the giant caterpillar burst into a fountain of tears — so many tears, in fact, that the Officer-in-Charge had to jump back or be soaked. She waved Straight Shooter and the other Monks on.

Enough was enough.

(17) Girl vs Caveman

The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness used to think he had only two emotions: angry and very angry. But now he was feeling something quite different.


“Yes sire?”

“Is anticipation an emotion?”

“Are you feeling it?”

“We are.”

“Then it must be.”

The Prince really did like Ratchett. Ratchett had no strength other than his wits but these he used like a magician — a trick here and a trick there.

“Who did you bet on, Ratchett?”

“Number 5 sire, Caveman.”

“You don’t think he’s too obvious?”

“I think he could carry all five baskets and still not fall over.”

“But that’s not really the point, is it Ratchett?”

Ratchett thought it was the whole point but he knew better than to argue. The Prince wasn’t about to become ruler of the Known Universe by being stupid.

Three more bricks had been added to the baskets and still all five slaves stood their ground. But the next brick brought Number 1 to her knees. She toppled over onto her side, tears streaming down her face.

“Please don’t eat me,” she sobbed. “Please, I have children who need me.”

The crowd booed. Two sous-chefs hurried on stage pushing a metal cart. They lifted the weeping woman onto the cart and bustled away. The banquet was in less than two hours. No time for a marinade; they’d have to use the mechanical tenderizer.

Back on stage, the next brick was also too much for Number 2. Or perhaps he made the mistake of glancing at Number 5, Caveman. Skin-and-bones fell over backwards and two more sous-chefs carried him away without a sound. Barbecued ribs were about all he was good for. Still, with the right sauce-

The Prince watched, fascinated, as Number 3 — the young woman with the braid — staggered under the weight of the next brick. In fact, she might have toppled over if Number 4, the man with the mahogany skin, hadn’t reached out and steadied her.

When it was his turn the young woman tried to do the same for him but he fell away from her and there was nothing she could do but watch him crash to the floor.

“Freedom for All!” shouted Number 4 as sous-chefs dragged him away. The Prince frowned. He hated that slogan. It was turning up everywhere, once even spray-painted on the side of the castle. He’d had all the cat guards on duty served as nutritional snacks to the other guards but not before they’d scrubbed the wall clean — with their tongues.

The Prince turned to Ratchett.

“I don’t suppose anyone wants to shout, ‘Slavery for All!’”

“No sire, but how about: ‘Tired of Mince? Eat Steak with the Prince!’ Or: ‘Being Good is Boring; Try Evil it’s Rewarding!’ Or: ‘Why be a Goody-Two-Shoes, When you can be Really Bad News!’” Ratchett leapt into the air like a cheerleader and shouted, “Number one in our hearts: Old Fart! Old Fart! Old Fart!”

The Prince knew some of his younger subjects used this endearing phrase when referring to their Supreme Commander.

“Do you lie awake at night thinking these up, Ratchett?”

“Yes sire.”


Number 5 took the brick without a flicker. Then, laughing, he reached out and popped five more bricks into his basket filling it. If this was to continue Caveman was going to need a larger container.

That left two slaves standing but Number 3, the young woman, was in trouble — this was clear to everyone. Sweat poured from her body as if the weight of the bricks was squeezing her dry. Her body shook and tears streaked her face. Only sheer grit kept her on her feet. The next brick would do it.

Caveman moved closer to the girl, reaching out to her. He squeezed her arm. She smiled bravely back.

“Touching, isn’t it, Ratchett?”

“Yes sire.”

Then the Caveman raised his arms high in the air and shouted in a thunderous voice that made everyone in the hall tremble.


His words echoed around the hall as Caveman dropped to his knees and toppled forward. The contest was over.

“We were right again, Ratchett.”

“Yes sire.”

  • "Do you lie awake at night thinking these up, Ratchett?" "Yes, Sire." "Don't." Artist: Asher J. Klassen

(18) Thelma, Louise & Mrs. Polanski

Albert was halfway home when the little white car they’d lifted earlier pulled in front of Captain Crunch and slammed on its brakes. Mr. Polanski hobbled out of his car and shouted up at Albert.

“My wife wants you to pick us up again.”

Albert gave him the thumbs-up. Mr. Polanski got back in his car.


“Your Highness?”

“Grandma wants to be picked up again.”

“I live to serve.”

Edward swung the crane around and deposited the Polanski’s’ little car on the roof of the adjacent Boston Pizza.

“Now look what you’ve done,” said Mr. Polanski.

Mrs. Polanski clapped her hands. She was having the time of her life. “Drive over the edge Ralph. It’ll be just like Thelma and Louise.”

Mr. Polanski burned rubber and the little car flew off the roof and landed in the Boston Pizza dumpster.

Albert continued down Route 65. Paul Revere Park was on his left and old folks were out lawn bowling. Albert was tempted to give them something to phone their kids about – ‘you should have see this thing!’ – but then he thought their pacemakers might surge so he kept going. He considered going through Tracy’s Carwash but figured his brothers and sister would get him back later and if he damaged Mary’s brand-new Stagg violin he’d be dead meat.

After the carwash it didn’t matter what he thought because Captain Crunch was stuck behind a large recreational vehicle that was rapidly slowing down. Up ahead, Albert could see two police cruisers, lights flashing, blocking the road. Four policemen crouched behind the cars, their guns drawn. Mary started playing the theme song from Pirates of the Caribbean.

“This is Deputy Sheriff Dowding! Stop or we’ll–”

Little William shouted, “Don’t look back!” All the Spoils looked back. A dozen yellow motorcycles were barreling down the road headed their way.

Edward brought the magnet down on the roof of the RV just as Albert started the turn onto Chestnut Avenue. Charles opened fire blasting the two cruisers and the four policemen behind with Sunshine Yellow.

“Vote Carstairs for Sheriff or else!”

Then the bikers roared up and Charles swung his gun around and let them have it. Another river of paint descended on the Dipsticks. The bikers, blinded, crashed together, sliding into the cop cars like baseball players trying to steal home. Albert guided Captain Crunch through the old stone pillars guarding Chestnut Avenue and stopped. “Edward, place the snail-on-wheels between the gates.”

“As you wish.”

Edward swung the crane around and wedged the recreational vehicle sideways between the stone pillars. That ought to slow everybody down, thought Albert as Captain Crunch rumbled up Chestnut Avenue. The Spoil kids knew what lay ahead – a dead-end with Chester Newport’s mansion as the last stop.

(19) Mrs. Gorsky Saves the Day

The Major — still looking like Mercedes — kept to the shadows. She so needed to sleep. She headed up the concrete steps and let herself into the hallway of her apartment building. It was an old townhouse in a not-so-good part of town. The Major preferred to think of her neighborhood as funky — real people living real lives or at least as real as anything could be in a comic book world.

She hadn’t gone three steps before her landlady’s door opened and Mrs. Gorsky stuck her head out. “Hi Dear, I like your new hair color. Your brother called. I’ve got a message for you.”

The Major immediately headed for Mrs. Gorsky’s apartment. The Major didn’t have any brothers and neither did Mrs. Gorsky. That was their code for there’s trouble.

“It’s late,” Mrs. Gorsky said walking by an antique grandfather clock whose hands pointed at 3 o’clock.

“It’s been a long day,” the Major replied.

“It’s not over.” Mrs. Gorsky opened the living room door. A man’s unconscious body lay on the floor. The Major didn’t say anything just kept following. There was another body in the dining room and another in the kitchen.

The bedroom door was closed but a pile of men’s clothing lay just outside. The Major’s eyebrows shot up. Mrs. Gorsky said, “I’m interrogating that one,” and they both laughed. Finally, they arrived at the rear of the building. Mrs. Gorsky slid the window open and looked out. “Be careful Dear, there’s at least one in your apartment.”

“You heard about the 100 mil?”

“The whole Universe heard.”

Now someone was pounding on Mrs. Gorsky’s front door — another body for her collection.

“Thanks Mrs. Gorsky. I owe you.”

“That’s all right Dear, my life would be boring without you. By the way,” — the Major waited — “Jake stopped in. He’s worried about you.”

The Major thought about that. Maybe Jake had tired of the lousy food at The Dragon’s Breath? Didn’t matter. Jake had made his choice and that choice had left a scar the Major was in no hurry to reopen. She gave Mrs. Gorsky a hug, then climbed through the window and started up the fire escape. When she reached the third floor she stopped and peeked in the window. She needed a uniform but she could see two men moving around in her living room. The TV was on. She thought about stunning them both but she was too tired.

She made her way up onto the roof where a pretty garden full of midnight dandelions waited for her. In the corner sat a rusty tin garden shed with a padlocked door. But around back was another door you couldn’t see and inside a camp bed. Mrs. Gorsky said the shed was her late husband’s hideaway when she was on the rampage.

In the morning the Major would keep her sacred oath and fly to Caviar but not to take a little five-year-old girl away from her father but rather to warn them that their lives were in danger.

It was too bad Lady K had changed her mind. Maybe a daughter would have transformed Lady K into an enlightened caring person? But the Major knew the answer to that question. As Mrs. Gorsky would say, ‘When the kid next door walks on the moon.’

The Major curled up with Earwax and they both fell instantly asleep.

  • The Major Artist: Carl Howard
  • Rooftop garden with midnight dandelions Artist: Angela Yuqi Guo

(20) Veronica Meets a Buzzard

Chester Newport’s daughter, Veronica, had no idea where she was. She remembered diving into the pool, swimming to the end, and after that it was all a blur. She remembered scenes whizzing by almost as if she was watching the history of the world flash by at the speed of light. She was pretty sure these scenes had something to do with her dad’s crazy imagination but everything flew by so quickly there was no one image she could latch onto long enough to figure out what it was.

Then she was falling, really falling, through a too blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds only a kindergarten kid could have drawn. She knew the too blue sky wasn’t real but she was definitely falling. A number of possibilities occurred to her — I’ve hit my head on the end of the pool; I’m dreaming; I’m digital... Suddenly none of that mattered because a huge bird — a cartoon buzzard with one wing significantly longer than the other — swooped in from behind digging its claws into the shoulders of her uniform.

I’m not falling anymore, thought Veronica applying her father’s wisdom to always look for the positive no matter how dire the straits.

The buzzard obviously had a destination in mind. At first Veronica struggled — the bird’s wings were crashing into her with every down stroke — but when struggling seemed pointless she decided to spend her time memorizing the ground below for future reference. Assuming she had a future.

Directly below waited a body of water so large Veronica could only see one edge of it. The trouble was, instead of blue, the water had been colored yellow and for a second Veronica wondered if it was meant to be sand but then she saw two old sailing ships – tall ships as people called them now — drifting on the yellow sea. Definitely water but why was it yellow? Veronica had a feeling she’d find out soon enough.

Then she spied a Ranger starship lying on the beach. That would have been encouraging if the starship hadn’t looked abandoned. After the beach came jungle and in the distance she could see the big red brick building she recognized from her dad’s comic books as Ranger Headquarters.

The buzzard banked and began to glide toward a tall dead tree. Veronica could see a nest at the top and as she got closer she could see five little buzzard heads sticking up their mouths open.

Not good! Not good!

Veronica rocked back and forth like she used to do in gymnastics on the high bar. Finally she had enough momentum to swing her legs up and wrap them around the buzzard’s neck. Veronica pulled down as hard as she could. The buzzard flipped over. Veronica and the bird performed five somersaults before the buzzard finally let go.

I was always too afraid to skydive, thought Veronica sticking her arms out, enjoying the sensation of flying. Then she thought, when you skydive they give you a parachute!


Veronica crashed feet first into the yellow sea. It wasn’t wet like water but it behaved the same way. She sank down, then fought her way back to the surface where she wrinkled her nose. Now she knew why the yellow sea was yellow.

At least she wasn’t bird food. Veronica swung her head around. Where had those tall ships gone?

One was behind her. It had looked okay from above but now she could see it had to be somebody’s idea of a joke. The hull was painted bright green and instead of sails the ship was powered by three giant monarch butterflies beating their wings in time to a kettledrum.

The bow of the ship wasn’t adorned with a beautifully carved mermaid or a scary trident-poking King Neptune, instead the place of honor was held by a big goofy-looking golden retriever. And to make matters worse the dog was facing backwards its legs outstretched like the ship had just run it over. Beside the dog, in huge letters, was the name of the ship: Fred.

Before Veronica could figure out what to do next a polar bear, eight-feet-tall and dressed as a sailor, peered over the edge of the Fred and pointed at her. Other sailor animals joined him at the rail. The next thing Veronica knew the Fred was coming about.

This is all so crazy, thought Veronica. All my life I’ve been too scared to be brave and here I am with no choice. I have to be brave.

Then she thought, maybe that’s how brave works.

Then she remembered the quotation from The Princess Diaries her dad had painted on her bedroom ceiling: The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all.

  • Veronica and the 'Fred' Artist: Adam Christopher
  • Veronica and the 'Fred' Artist: Angela Yuqi Guo

(21) The Prince Stuns the Crowd

The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness stepped out from behind the curtains and surveyed the crowd. He was no longer a dark cloud. Instead, he wore his Marlon-Brando-as-the-Godfather persona, the one with the tuxedo and the puffy cheeks, the one all the gangsters liked so much.

Within seconds the large room became still and then it erupted into thunderous applause. The fiends jumped to their feet, cheering, clapping, whistling — and so they should. Had the Prince not made them all wealthy, powerful, masters of their own domains? The Prince moved to the center of the stage where the last slave stood trembling.

“You did well, Number 3,” the Prince said. He lifted the heavy basket off the young woman’s back.

“Am I free?” the young woman asked hardly believing she was still alive.

“That was the agreement.”

The young woman looked at the Prince as if to say, ‘since when do you keep your word?’

“Honor among thieves, my dear,” the Prince replied reading her mind.

“I’ll remain a slave if you will spare the others.”

The crowd, sitting again, booed.

“A noble thought, Number 3, but we’re afraid it’s too late. We imagine Caveman is already Irish stew. Ratchett!”

“Yes sire?” Ratchett made his way on stage.

“Did you collect our money?”

“Here sire.”

“Give it to Number 3.”

Ratchett handed the young woman one of the baskets that once held bricks. It was now full of money. The Prince waved to a cat guard who led Number 3 away. The Prince spoke softly so only Ratchett could hear.

“She would make an excellent Ranger, don’t you think Ratchett?”

“A Ranger, sire?”

“In a Ranger uniform she would look just like the Major. She could walk through the dimly lit dungeon counting her money.”

“And the other Rangers would think the Major had betrayed them.”

“It would be demoralizing, Ratchett.”

“They’d probably stop singing, sire.”

“And yelling, ‘Freedom for All!’”

Ratchett’s mouth dropped open. The Prince said he knew everything; Ratchett was beginning to believe him.

“When the girl’s done that what should I do with her, sire?”

“Serve her for breakfast, Ratchett, and get our money back!”

The Prince cleared his throat — the equivalent of thunder without lightning. He surveyed the crowd making sure he had everyone’s attention.

“We’ve summoned you here to keep you abreast of the latest developments. We’re sure you’ve all heard the rumor. Chester Newport, our esteemed Creator, is contemplating retiring. We’ve heard this rumor before. There will be a Final Situation. We’ve heard that before too. What we haven’t heard before is that rather than end Occam’s Razor with one last fantastic battle as we’d all hoped...”

The Prince stopped here and waved at the orchestra who immediately broke into The Prince’s Theme, that rousing epic-inspiring piece that opened the Prince’s Weekly Webcast. The Prince waved his hand and the music crashed to a stop.

“...our esteemed Creator is thinking of converting us all to the side of...”

The Prince stopped again.

“We need water, Ratchett.”

“Yes sire.”

The Prince drained the glass. He waited till he knew his audience couldn’t wait a second more.

“He’s thinking of converting us to the side of — Freedom and Fairness.”

The crowd gasped. Not Freedom and Fairness! That would be a fate worse than death.

“But this will not happen!” boomed the Prince. “Because we, the Truly Evil Prince of Darkness, Ruler of Half — soon to be ALL! — of the Known Universe, Lord of All That is Mean, Nasty, and Unfair, will not allow it!”

Chairs scraped back as the fiends rose as one.

“PRINCE! PRINCE! PRINCE!” they screamed loud enough to wake the dead who flew around the room like kites without strings. The Prince finally raised his arms. The noise changed to a terrified silence.

The Prince nodded and a large trapdoor slid open in the stage floor and through this hole rose what looked like a huge block of smoking ice, big enough to hold the man trapped inside. And who would that man turn out to be? None other than the Creator himself — Chester Newport!

(22) To the Victor Come the Spoils

Albert shut down Captain Crunch. They’d reached the end of Chestnut Avenue. “Abandon ship!” Albert took off his helmet and jumped down onto the grass. The others joined him. They’d be celebrating if it weren’t for all the sirens. Who knew Foxhaven had so many police cars? Charles walked over to the blue wooden fence that surrounded Chester Newport’s mansion and lifted one of the boards. The Spoil kids knew every loose board in town.

Cozy Bennett, Victor’s mom, was talking on her phone, which was mostly what she did when she wasn’t writing. Right now she was talking to her mother, who also suffered from telephoneitis. But, to her credit, Cozy didn’t look the least bit surprised when the five Spoil kids wandered into her kitchen. In fact, she handed Mary the package of Double Stuf Oreos, put her hand over the phone, and said, “Victor’s in the attic, I think. Why don’t you go see what he’s up to? Boy, those sirens are irritating. They sound so close.” She pointed up. “Attic — take the elevator — there’s a secret button.”

“Ta,” Mary said waving good-bye.

Victor, meanwhile, was immersed in Occam’s Razor having found a stack of the original comic books. He was so engrossed it took him a minute to realize he was no longer alone. When he looked up he discovered he’d been invaded by four boys and a girl holding out a package of Oreos.

“You must be Victor,” she said. “I’m Mary Spoil and these are my brothers, Albert, Charles, Edward, and William. We’re named after the kings and queens of England and we talk like them. We like your house — lots of room.”

The sirens were now beyond loud. Albert walked to the window and looked out. Two yellow police cars had Captain Crunch pinned to the blue wall while half-a-dozen cops, their guns drawn, waited for instructions.

“How did you get up here?” Victor asked.

“Secret button in the elevator,” answered Little William looking around. “This is very cool — a spaceship.”

“Major Occam’s starship.”

Charles said, “It would be, wouldn’t it?” Everybody in Foxhaven knew about Chester Newport and Occam’s Razor.

“I don’t suppose it flies?” Albert asked. “We could use a quick way out of here.” The police were now coming across the lawn. One of them had a bullhorn. He stopped and raised it.

“This is Deputy Sheriff Dowding! We have you surrounded! Come out with your hands up!”

“I don’t think so,” Victor said staring at Mary. She was the most arresting girl he’d ever seen.

“You have one minute to come out with your hands up or we’re coming in!”

Suddenly Victor remembered something. “How ‘bout a magic carpet ride?”

“Oh, lovely that,” Mary exclaimed. “Can you do that, Victor? Can you give us a magic carpet ride?”

Victor blushed. Then he grabbed the piece of paper stuck to the monitor. He turned it over and showed Mary the drawing of the six kids sitting on the magic carpet. “I don’t know but the instructions are all here. See?”

Mary studied the drawing. Five boys and one girl and the one girl sure looked like her but how could that be?

(23) Let the Prince Eat Monk

Straight Shooter marched with his crying caterpillar into the Great Hall. The room was so big Straight Shooter could barely see the far end of it and the ceiling so high the light from dozens of torches died before it got there. But none of that mattered compared to the groaning and moaning coming from the hundreds of unfortunate creatures about to be eaten alive.

“Caterpillar, green with yellow polka dots,” muttered a young sous-chef with a clipboard. “Let’s see... In the far corner, table 89. Next!”

“No, no, please, not like this,” cried a grasshopper covered in Thai Golden Mountain sauce. “I’ve never even been to Bangkok!”

At another table a young cook was busily stirring a large bowl full of furry little creatures until one of the creatures objected. “Listen Chef whatever-your-name-is, I know they serve mole in Mexico but that doesn’t mean there’s any mole in it. And even if there was if you had half-a-brain you’d know we’re not moles we’re voles — mouse-like, orange teeth, see? So let us go!”

Straight Shooter had no choice but to keep pace with the Monks threading their way through tables heaped with crying squirming food. Finally they reached table 89.

“Please don’t eat me,” the caterpillar sobbed for the fiftieth time and for the fiftieth time Straight Shooter’s heart went out to him. “Please sirs, I haven’t flown yet.”

The Monks put the caterpillar down and headed back the way they’d come. Straight Shooter lagged a step behind. As he passed by the caterpillar he picked up the knife on the table and slit the strap that held the poor creature to the metal tray. As the caterpillar sat up to plead his case yet again the strap jumped into the air and so did the caterpillar. Straight Shooter tossed him the knife.

“Freedom for All!” screamed the caterpillar brandishing the knife high in the air. The Monks turned to see what the commotion was about. The last things they saw were the five arrows flying from Straight Shooter’s bow. Let the Prince eat Monk, thought Straight Shooter as the arrows brought some measure of revenge for all those who had died so cruelly at the Monks’ hands.

The big caterpillar used his knife to cut the strap holding a pair of warthogs at the next table. “Freedom for All!” the warthogs shouted. Then they picked up the blades that would have ended their lives and freed the badgers at table 82 and the aardvarks at 83.

“Freedom for All! Freedom for All!”

Straight Shooter checked his messages. There was one from Stacey at headquarters and one from the Major. Stacey: b-hunters capturing Rangers 37 MIA. That was terrible news but at least it made some sense. The Major’s had to be wrong: >Ldy K says CN in P’s dungeon.

“Freedom for All!” echoed endlessly around the room as Straight Shooter slipped through a side door and made his way down narrow stone stairs he assumed would lead him to the dungeon where he hoped to find both answers and a way out.

  • Straight Shooter turn some Monks into pincushions Artist: Kristin Wright

(24) Veronica Takes Over the Fred

Veronica latched onto the cargo net that had been thrown over the side of the Fred and held on as the net was lifted. She thought she should smell like a wet diaper but she seemed okay. As she stepped onto the deck Veronica was surprised to hear a pipe playing and to see the sailors all lined-up standing at attention. The polar bear stepped forward and saluted her.

“Good of you to come, Major. Lieutenant Trunk, at your service.”

Veronica didn’t know what to make of this. To start with none of the sailors were real. Well, they were real — here they were talking to her — but where Veronica had flesh and bones these sailors had crayon marks. They were drawings; cartoons come to life just like the Fred and the sky and the stinky yellow sea.

Veronica looked down at herself to see if she too had become a toon like the real Major Occam. She grabbed her arm and squeezed. She was definitely still the Veronica she’d grown up with.

“You are Major Occam?” Lieutenant Trunk asked not sure himself what was going on.

“Close enough,” Veronica replied. “Are you the Captain?”

“No, Major. Captain Mostly-Courageous was wiped out in the first attack.”


Lieutenant Trunk led Veronica to the far rail and pointed in the distance to where the other tall ship was visible.

“That’s the Lone Shark. She belongs to E3C and she’s been chasing us for two days.”

“What’s E3C?”

“Exorbitant Credit Card Company. The Prince owns it — like everything else that’s nasty. We lost her in the night but she’s found us again.”

“But there’s no breeze,” Veronica said looking up at Fred’s butterfly sails, quiet now, the monarchs resting conserving their strength.

“Flying fish,” answered Lieutenant Trunk and the rest of the crew murmured their agreement. Veronica wasn’t sure what flying fish had to do with anything but judging by how quickly the Lone Shark was advancing she figured she’d know soon enough.

“Do I seem” — Veronica didn’t want to offend anybody but — “do I seem real to you?”

“Yes, you do — three-dimensional. Does this mean there’s hope for all of us?”

Veronica didn’t know what to say to this.

Lieutenant Trunk swept his hand to include the crew. “We all dream of being People of Substance but we never considered it possible.”

Veronica laughed sadly. “Right now, I’d say anything is possible.”

  • Veronica meets the crew of the 'Fred' Artist: Trevor Porath

(25) On a Magic Carpet Ride

“There’s the carpet,” Victor said pointing at a long skinny rug over by the window.

“All righty, then.” Mary put her violin case down and studied the drawing. “Everybody, come sit on the carpet. Albert at the front, then Charles, Victor, me, Edward and Little William.” For once, her brothers did as they were told.

“Pick up the front, Albert. That’s how you steer.” Mary put her arms around Victor so that he could see the paper as well. “Victor and I will say the magic chant. Ready?”

“Somewhere between the wishing and the doing,
Sometime between the coming and the going,
Somehow between the wanting and the having,
Is a land with nothing showing.”

The carpet lay still.

“Rise up Carpet take us there,
Through the water, through the air.
Let us live the dream unbroken,
Let us find the love unspoken.”

Still the carpet didn’t move. Mary was miffed. “I am feeling extremely negative vibrations coming from... Charles. Am I right?”

“This is stupid!”

“On the contrary Charles, there have been numerous instances throughout history when stranger things have happened. Take for instance our own Mr. Spoil. He went out to paint Mr. Starling’s barn black and painted it pink instead.”

The Spoil kids all nodded. Mary was right. Strange things do happen.

“What was so strange about that?” asked Victor who lived with a mother who once bought 5,000 rolls of toilet paper because the store was having a truckload sale.

“He only had black paint.”

Mary reached around Victor and squeezed Charles’ arm.

“This carpet will not fly until we all believe it can fly! Charles?”

“I believe.”

“Say it again!”

“I believe!”

“Once more.”


“Good. Now, Victor, once again.”

“Somewhere between the wishing and the doing,
Sometime between the coming and the going,
Somehow between the wanting and the having,
Is a land with nothing showing.”

The carpet quivered.

“Rise up Carpet take us there,
Through the water, through the air.
Let us live the dream unbroken,
Let us find the love unspoken.”

The carpet began to shake. “Once more, Victor! The last part!”

“Rise up Carpet take us there,
Through the water, through the air.
Let us live the dream unbroken,
Let us find the love unspoken.”

The carpet rose up and the kids cheered. Mary wrapped her arms around Victor’s waist and Victor didn’t care what happened after that. Albert leaned forward and the carpet shot out the window.

Albert executed a wide turn that took them over the field of wildflowers where he turned again. Now he was behind the police and heading for the mansion. Out on the front lawn the kids could see the movers, a cleaning lady, and two dogs — all standing with their hands and paws up. Albert swooped down and blew by within inches of the potbellied policeman with the bullhorn. Deputy Sheriff Dowding was so startled he fell to the ground crushing the bullhorn and knocking his wind out.

Albert banked the carpet by the kitchen window where Victor’s mom was still talking to her mother on the phone.

“So I said to him, ‘Darling, I don’t mend socks; I don’t do laundry; I abhor vacuuming.’ Oh, isn’t that cute? Victor and his new friends just flew by on a magic carpet.” Cozy waved and the kids waved back. Albert zoomed up and over the roof veering quickly to the right to avoid a huge chestnut tree and then quickly left to avoid one of the mansion’s massive stone chimneys. Charles’ porkpie hat blew off. Little William leaned sideways trying to catch it.

“Albert!” Edward screamed. “William’s off!”

Albert looked back in time to see Little William bounce onto the slate roof. The roof was so steep Little William couldn’t stop himself from sliding.

“Hold on!” Albert pushed the carpet into a tight dive and everyone behind him screamed. Albert arrived just in time to save his little brother from becoming a splat on the stone patio. Little William, all arms and legs, landed on top of the others and in the confusion Albert couldn’t see where he was going.

Like a water park ride the magic carpet skimmed across the surface of the swimming pool sending up a huge rooster tail. Then the carpet plunged under the surface and headed like a torpedo for the end wall!

(26) Major O Breaks Down

The Major sat huddled on a park bench weeping. She’d never wept before. Tears poured from her eyes and her shoulders bounced up and down with each sob.

She’d never been a little girl standing beside an open grave, looking on helplessly as her grandmother was lowered into the ground. She’d never lost a pet. She’d never had her best friend move away. She’d never watched her parents divorce. Heck, she’d never really had parents. She’d always been the Major — strong and reckless, too tough to cry. That’s the way Chester Newport liked her.

But she’d also always known that Chester Newport was looking out for her. That he would protect her no matter what scary thing was breathing down her neck. Now, if what Lady Katrina said was true — that Chester Newport was imprisoned in the Prince’s dungeon — then everything was different. All bets were off. She was on her own. Suddenly everything seemed too scary, too hopeless.

The Major felt Earwax climb out of his holster. Earwax was her constant companion, an unusually long ferret, with cinnamon-colored hair, blond highlights and an ear stud. The Major raised her head.

Earwax started into his Weasel War Dance, spinning around like a whirling dervish in a fistfight with himself. He did this whenever the Major needed cheering up. It was very funny, like two squirrels fighting over one nut.

Major Occam wiped away her tears.

“You’re right, Earwax. We can’t give up now. Everybody’s counting on us.” Even Chester Newport, thought the Major. Earwax fell over backwards like he’d knocked himself out. The Major rubbed his tummy.

Two minutes later she and Earwax were walking along a dusty black and white road. In fact, everything on Caviar was black and white; there wasn’t any color at all. The Major dug in her encyclopedic memory. There was something she needed to remember about Caviar.

“Hey Earwax, guess why Caviar is called Caviar?”

Earwax ignored her. If I could talk, thought Earwax, would I be riding around in your boot?

“Good guess, but it’s not because the ocean is full of sturgeons. It’s because the ocean isn’t full of sturgeons.”

Earwax rolled his eyes.

“You see, the woman who surveyed this planet loved caviar, and when she saw that the planet was eighty-eight percent water, she thought, if I name the planet Caviar whoever settles here will have to get some sturgeons and then the next time I pass through I’ll be able to feast on the yummy stuff. But what she didn’t know was-”

Earwax waited.

“I can’t remember what she didn’t know.”

Earwax looked skyward. This kind of thing had been happening a lot lately.

“Ironic, isn’t it? I don’t know what she didn’t know.”

The Major kept glancing around. She had Lady K’s Court Order in one hand and her stun gun in the other. The dirt road was lined with little ramshackle houses leaning crookedly like bad teeth. They looked abandoned except the Major kept catching glimpses of curtains moving and people peeking out at her.

A screen door squawked and two tough-looking white guys without shirts came out onto their porch. Between them they must have had every tattoo in Cutthroat’s Tattoo Catalog. They whistled at her but she ignored them. She kept walking till there were no more houses. She looked down at the Court Order.

“It says Jessica lives at 179 Markland with her dad, Josh Override. Does that name sound familiar to you? There’s 177, so this pile of boards must be 179, but there’s no way anybody could live in that.”

The house at 179 Markland could only be called a ruin. The roof had caved in; the porch roof was holding on by its last nail; the windows were broken. Any paint the wood siding might have had was just a memory. The only odd thing was the nearly new bright red rocking chair rocking on the porch.

“Earwax, do you hear music?”

The Major could hear music, island music, a man singing a catchy tune. Josh Override — singer?

The Major considered asking the tough guys if they knew what happened to the inhabitants of 179 but thought better of it. She brought her gun up to her mouth and whispered. “Stunner, I may need you.”

“Sorry Major, I’m not feeling good.” This time the Major rolled her eyes. She couldn’t believe how messed up things had become since Chester Newport had disappeared.

She watched as Earwax sniffed around. Something didn’t feel right. She looked back down the street. Quite a few black and white people were out now; the porches filling up. They wouldn’t see many Ranger uniforms here. The Major turned back. Ahead of her the street ended at a chain-link fence. Behind the fence was a scrapyard full of rusty pipes and forgotten machinery.

Earwax scampered toward the falling down house. Suddenly what was left of a screen door swung open and out stepped a tall black man, more young than old, wearing frayed shorts, white t-shirt and gray flip-flops. An ugly, three-legged cat came through his legs joining him on the porch.

Seeing a person come out of 179 surprised the Major almost as much as what he was carrying: a shotgun. Earwax climbed up onto the porch and began sniffing the cat. The man aimed his gun at Earwax.

“Call off the rodent or you’re both dead.”

“Earwax, leave the cat alone.”

Earwax backed off the porch.

“So, what do you want?”

The Major waved her piece of paper. “Are you Josh Override?”

The man nodded.

“I’ve come to warn you. Jessica’s mother means to harm you.”

“I didn’t think Her Ladyship wanted anything to do with me or her love child?”

“Circumstances have changed.”

  • The Major on Caviar Artist: Angela Yuqi Guo

(27) Straight Shooter Sees for Himself

Straight Shooter poked his head around the corner. The chaos from the Great Hall had spread to the dungeon. He watched as cat guards disappeared down the hallway, no doubt summoned to help round up the runaway banquet.

Straight Shooter worked his way around the wall keeping in the shadows just in case there was a guard he hadn’t seen. He stopped when he came to the first cell door and peeked inside. A young woman sat on a cot, her head in her hands. She wore the dark blue uniform of the Intergalactic Rangers. The woman, sensing something, looked up. That’s when Straight Shooter realized it was May Lin.

“Shooter?” May Lin was at the door in a flash. “What are you doing here?”

“Trying to figure out what’s going on.”

“Chester Newport is here.”

Everything Shooter knew and believed did a somersault. How could Chester Newport be here in the comic book world? Straight Shooter wasn’t going to believe it till he saw it with his own eyes.

“They took him away for a while but he’s back. Look over there.”

Straight Shooter stared across the dark room. On the far side he could make out what looked like a huge block of blue ice reflecting the flickering light from a dozen torches. He looked harder. Was there a body inside?

“He’s inside that block.”


“Must be, otherwise why keep him in that stuff?”

There’s a question worth answering, thought Straight Shooter. He turned back to May Lin. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m not alone. These cells are full of Rangers. There were twenty when I got here but more came last night. Bounty hunters — they take you when you’re not expecting it. They caught me in the loo with my pants down. I’d fallen asleep.”

May Lin tried to treat this like a joke but Straight Shooter could see she wasn’t laughing inside; she was scared to death. Being captured by the Prince wasn’t something you joked about.

“And Shooter-”

Straight Shooter could tell by May Lin’s voice that even worse news was coming.

“About ten minutes ago the Major walked by counting a lot of money.”

“No way! She’s light-years from here and besides, you know she’d never do that.”

“We know that Shooter but it kind of deflated us seeing her walk by like that.”

Straight shooter didn’t have time for this.

“How do I get you out of here?”

Before May Lin could answer they heard the noise of boots running their way.

“Go!” hissed May Lin.

Straight Shooter didn’t need to be told twice. He ducked back into the stairwell just as the runaway caterpillar raced into the dungeon followed by four of the Prince’s cat guards.

“Freedom for All!” the caterpillar screamed for the last time. The lead guard took aim and fired. The caterpillar staggered then fell. The guards were on him like hyenas on a wounded gazelle. Straight Shooter looked on in disgust. He raised his bow but let it fall back to his side. He wanted instant revenge but he could hear more boots coming his way. This wasn’t the time. There were bigger concerns here. He must warn the Major.

Straight Shooter climbed the stairs, pulled the hood over his head and joined the melee on the ground floor. Every living thing was either chasing or being chased. In the resulting bedlam Straight Shooter strode across the drawbridge and disappeared into the forest beyond.

  • Shooter discovers Chester Newport's fate Artist: Nada Serafimovic

(28) Back on Caviar

The Major got the impression Josh Override had a lot to say about Lady Katrina but knew there wasn’t much point in saying it.

“You’re Major Occam, right?”

“That’s right.”

“Your hair looks different.”

The Major had liked the look of Mercedes fiery-red hair so she’d left it that way. Now she pushed the R on her belt buckle and her hair reverted to its default position — light brown in a long braid.

“And that’s Earwax,” Josh said. The Major nodded. “You two always travel together.”


Josh Override frowned like he was deciding something. “So Major, what are you suggesting?”

“You and Jessica need to get away from here.”

“I’m not going anywhere but you can take Jessica. I want her to be safe.”

He disappeared inside the house and returned holding the hand of a little girl. She was dressed in black corduroy overalls and a white t-shirt. Her hair was done up in cornrows tied with white ribbons. She looked scared. Earwax was back on the porch sniffing the three-legged cat.

“You’d better come too,” the Major said.

“I’m not the kind to run away from trouble.”

“They’ll kill you.”

Josh pumped his shotgun and aimed it at the Major.

“No, they won’t.”

All at once the Major remembered what she couldn’t remember about Caviar. She shut her eyes. She started humming the tune she’d heard earlier, letting her body relax. She pictured herself dancing on a beach, the moonlight making the waves glisten like diamonds...

The Major felt her stun gun vibrate in her hand —Stunner telling her he was back in business. She opened her eyes. 179 Markland was a ruin no more.

It was a pretty yellow house with dark green trim and a welcoming verandah with a bright red rocking chair. Josh Override wore khaki shorts and a bright blue t-shirt. Instead of a shotgun he held a guitar in his hand.

But the Major couldn’t hold her good thoughts. Through the screen door she’d seen somebody move — somebody she recognized instantly because that person was herself. Just like that the house reverted back to a ruin and Josh Override was once again holding a shotgun aimed at the Major.

The Major raised her gun and fired. The stun struck the little girl in the chest. At the same time Josh Override wheeled around and fired twice through the screen door. “Grab the cat!” he shouted.

The Major ran up onto the porch and scooped up the cat, the cat that was rapidly changing into a little girl in overalls.

“It’s okay Jessica, I won’t hurt you. C’mon, Earwax!”

The Major hopped off the porch and started back down the road but quickly changed her mind. The street wasn’t empty anymore. People were streaming off their porches and not looking happy about it. On top of that Jessica was struggling in her arms.

“It’s okay Jessica, Daddy’s coming.”

Jessica struggled all the more.

“Help! Daddy! Help! Help!”

Josh Override fired two more rounds through the screen door then leapt off the porch running for the chain-link fence. “This way!”

The little girl on the porch had morphed into Grunt, the Mongreloid. He shook himself coming out of his stun.

Josh reached the fence first. He dropped his shotgun over and hopped the fence landing in a heap on the other side. The Major wasn’t as lucky. Just as she and Jessica reached the fence a laser blast rattled off the metal post beside them. The Major spun around, falling to one knee, sweeping her arm across her body. Out of her sleeve dropped a thin metal shield like a curtain. She felt Earwax climb into his holster.

The three Mongreloids were on the porch now their weapons drawn. Mercedes stood leaning in the doorway laughing. She waved to the Major and began pushing the buttons on her Ranger belt buckle. Everything about her changed — her hair, her clothes, her — the Major winced as she considered all the things those buttons could do. Why hadn’t she thought of that?

Fifty people stood in the street now, all wondering what the heck was going on? The Major had the feeling the reward the Prince was offering for her capture had something to do with it but the sight of three scary Mongreloids with oversized weapons was enough to hold them back.

The Major and Jessica were within inches of Josh Override but unfortunately there was a chain-link fence in between. The Major set Stunner on plasma cutter and pulled the trigger. She might as well have thrown the gun at the fence for all that happened.


“I’m not ready!”

“Stunner, I need you!”

“I’m having a bad day, okay?”

The Major watched as the three Mongreloids raised their weapons. Her shield couldn’t withstand that much firepower. She turned to Josh.

“If you fire at them maybe I can get Jessica over.”

“I’ve only got one shell left.”

Mercedes came off the porch shouting. “Hey Major, Mr. Grunt didn’t like our plan. He said the Prince would kill him for sure. So here we are. Isn’t this great? We’re all here together. Now we can make Jessica and her dad disappear and get the 100 million units for you. Then we’ll go to the banquet and watch the Prince eat you. Maybe he’ll give me a leg or something.”

Josh Override was on his feet now. Bang! The three Mongreloids dove into the dirt while Mercedes brought her hand to her face. It came back covered in blood.

The Major hoisted Jessica over the fence and dropped her into her dad’s arms. Then she jumped up and using her waist as a pivot spun over the fence.

“Stun them!” screamed Mercedes. The Mongreloids were only too happy to obey. They scrambled to their feet and opened fire. The Major, Josh Override, Jessica and Earwax all would have been stunned senseless except for a very strange occurrence.

Earwax kept a number of keepsakes in his holster — it was the nearest thing he had to a home after all — so when the Major’s legs suddenly cartwheeled Earwax was thrown high in the air along with the sock full of moon dust he’d gotten from Emily’s daughter Luna.

The first laser blast struck the swirl of moon dust — baaarrruuumphhh! — and just like that the world beyond the chain-link fence transformed into a blizzard of socks — thousands of them, millions maybe — all shapes, colors, and sizes — all whirling around like candy wrappers in a hurricane and making more noise than a runaway ceiling fan.

“Find them!”

The Major could hear Mercedes screaming but she sounded miles away. Josh held Jessica in his arms. The Major felt Earwax climb into his holster. She leaned over and shouted in Josh’s ear, “Now we know where missing socks go!”

  • Mercedes using the Major's belt with the Mongreloids on Caviar Artist: Trevor Porath

(29) A Quick History of the Universe

At first things seemed reasonable enough. Victor and the Spoils had no idea what was going on but being kids they weren’t having any trouble believing in carpets that could fly, a swimming pool with no end, water you could breath in, and fish so scary you’d be thrilled not to catch one.

Of all those things the strangest was the water. It wasn’t wet. It was closer to water a magician might pull out of a hat. Victor decided it was like being inside a blue crayon. It had that smell. And the color of blue was getting deeper as they traveled. Soon the water that wasn’t water was the color of midnight.

The strange scary fish disappeared only to be replaced with hundreds of famous people flashing by — Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill, John Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, Lady Gaga and Elton John, Martin Luther King and John Lennon, Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Harmsworth...

As well as fictional characters from books and movies like Alice from Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Katniss, Ironman — the list, if anyone had been keeping one, would have been endless, a who’s who of every famous person or character that had ever passed through Chester Newport’s curious mind.

“There’s Darth Vader!”

“The Joker!”


“President Snow!”


And if that wasn’t enough there were more things, images really, like a sea of random thoughts — the birth of civilization, the dark ages, the big bang, space-age cities built next to medieval castles, Roman centurions marching beside GI Joes...

In short, every image or thought that had ever lodged in Chester Newport’s brain cells was now on parade like a movie on fast-forward. The marquee might read: A Quick History of the Universe and Then Some.

Now the water that wasn’t water was getting ready to change into something else again because dead ahead Albert and the others could see a band of light. Just like that they flew into a too blue sky littered with cotton batten clouds. Below them a yellow ocean spread out as far as the eye could see. Directly underneath two tall ships — only a little kid could have drawn them — tacked back and forth as if they were racing each other.

Albert took the carpet down to have a better look. He swooped by the one ship, the one with the beautiful butterfly sails. Albert thought he saw someone who looked like Major Occam waving to them from the deck. Before he could react the magic carpet sped on toward the second ship.

Too late Albert realized that what had looked from a distance like gray sails were actually thousands of flying fish tied to the masts with fishing line. All at once the noise of flapping wings was deafening. But even more frightening than the noise were the thousands of sharp teeth that now threatened to eat the magic carpet and its riders alive.

Albert pulled back hard on the carpet, as hard as he could, and suddenly all six kids were somersaulting through the air, back toward the first ship the magic carpet nowhere in sight.

Splash! times six. Mary was the first up but her four brothers weren’t far behind. Finally Victor appeared beside her, his face screwed up.


“What is this stuff?” Mary asked but they all knew. They might as well have landed in an unflushed toilet bowl.

“You there!”

The kids looked up. Leaning over the rail of the nearest tall ship was Major Occam shouting at them. “Hurry! The Lone Shark’s coming about. Trunk! A net here, if you please.”

“Aye Major! Punchy, Puffer! Lively now. Get those children onboard before the Lone Shark sinks her teeth into us.”

A cargo net came flying over the side of the ship. The kids scrambled up just as the other man-of-war moved alongside and unleashed a volley of pelicans. Each carried a giant water balloon, which they proceeded to drop on Fred’s deck making a flood so deep half of Fred’s crew was swept overboard.

“You kids!” Veronica shouted. “Pull that net up and throw it over the other side. Get those sailors back onboard before the sharks get them. Hurry!”

The kids had no idea what was going on but whatever the Major wanted was good enough for them.

“Are you really Major Occam?” Edward asked running by.

“Sort of — who the heck are you? Never mind, later.” She turned to shout at the big polar bear. “Trunk! We’ve got to fire back!”

“The powder’s wet Major. It won’t ignite. One more broadside and we’re finished.”

Veronica was trying to think like the Major. She always knew what to do.

Lone Shark coming about!” This warning came from a bald eagle in the crow’s-nest.

The washed-overboard sailors were now back onboard and just in time. Victor could see a dozen shark fins circling the ship. Little William ran up to the Major and pulled on her sleeve. There was something he had to tell her.

“Later,” Veronica said. “Cookie!”

Cookie turned out to be a fat walrus with a white apron and a rolling pin. Hiding behind him was his assistant, a skinny white hare named Lip, also wearing an apron. He was shaking so badly he was in danger of falling to pieces.

“If I’d known there was going to be fighting I never would have signed on,” Lip muttered his knees knocking together. “Sous-chef, the ad said, see the world, experience of a lifetime, nothing about getting shot at, nothing about sinking, nothing about being eaten by sharks. I’m going to sue the owner all right. Wait till my mother” — Cookie turned around and clobbered Lip on the head with his rolling pin — “heeeaaarrrsss aaabbbooouuuttt thththiiisss.”

  • Victor and the Spoils travel through the pool to the other dimension Artist: Trevor Porath

(30) The Prince is Hungry

“We’re hungry, Ratchett.”

Ratchett had been dreading this moment. “Yes sire. Perhaps we could order out?”

The Prince stopped and stared at his Best Chancellor Ever So Far. He loved that Ratchett was uglier than he was. It reminded him of his mother’s advice: “If you want to be taller, hang out with short people. If you want to be skinnier, hang out with fatties.” Ratchett was so weasel-like the Prince felt downright handsome beside him.

“Ratchett, why would we order out when we’re having a banquet?”

“Just a suggestion, sire.”

The Prince ignored this and continued on his way toward the Great Hall. He was still in Godfather-mode but his tuxedo was now more smoke than material. Behind him followed a horde of his most faithful followers — the most curmudgeonly, crummy, lousy, despicable bunch of horrible wrongdoers ever gathered in one place. The Prince could sincerely say he wouldn’t trust any of them with Ratchett’s daughter. What more could you ask for in friends?

The Prince marched into the Great Hall expecting to dazzle his entourage with the second most glorious banquet ever seen in the History of Evildom — first being reserved for the one that would include Major Occam as the main course — and what was he greeted with instead? Nothing but overturned tables and cat guards kneeling on the floor, whimpering.


“Yes sire?”


“Escaped sire. Fled into the woods, I believe.”

The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness had a habit of huffing and puffing when he was unhappy, eventually blowing himself up into a mighty black funnel cloud full of lightning and thunder and who knew what else.

Ratchett believed this trait could be traced back to the Prince’s very early days when he’d sympathized with the wolf who huffed and puffed but couldn’t blow down the third piggy’s house, the brick one. The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness could blow down the third piggy’s house. In fact, he could blow down a city if he put his mind to it. He could certainly blow up his own castle, a fact not lost on Ratchett.

“Sire, your blood pressure.”


It was at this precise moment that two of the cat guards appeared dragging one of the Monks of Leprosia, the one with maggots. The Prince studied the arrow sticking out of the monk’s chest. Straight Shooter would pay for this.



“We are going to close our eyes.”

“Yes sire.”

“We are going to count to three.”

“Yes sire.”

“We are going to open our eyes.”

“Yes sire.”

“Anything we see, we will eat.”

“Yes sire.”


The sound of stampeding feet was very satisfying.


It was amazing how quickly things could become quiet.


The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness opened his eyes and was amazed to see Ratchett still standing in front of him.

“We’re amazed, Ratchett.”


“You are either very brave, Ratchett. Or very foolish!”

“As you wish, your Majesty.”


“And you shall have it, sire. I was thinking perhaps of marinated Intergalactic Rangers served in a béarnaise sauce, with good little girls and boys on the side — pickled perhaps, with those little spicy onions you like so much. Or, we could have Ranger Pie with that thick crust-”

“Like that King had with the four-and-twenty blackbirds.”

“Exactly, sire.”

The Prince allowed his scowl to turn into a grin — a wicked one. “You never cease to impress, Ratchett. And perhaps, to get the word out of our proposed menu, we could do one of those Awful Cooking Shows. We could show the Universe how to make Ranger Pie and perhaps the Major and the remaining Rangers would feel compelled to come stampeding to the rescue.”

“A magnificent thought, sire.”

“Yes, we’re rather proud of it ourselves.”

“Shall I see to it, sire?”

“Oh yes, Ratchett, see to it!”

(31) Earwax Takes Matters into his Own Paws

The Major was hopelessly lost. How could you be anything else when the only things around you were socks, millions of them?

She and Earwax had been fighting their way through socks for hours or so it seemed and somewhere along the way they’d lost Josh and Jessica. That part was okay. Josh said he had friends who would hide them. The Major hadn’t agreed at first but the more she thought about it the more she thought Josh might be right. Lady K would expect them to run. She probably wouldn’t spend much time searching for them close to home.

When the Major asked Josh what happened back at his house he said Mercedes arrived pretending to be the Major and said an imposter was coming. But the Mongreloids made him nervous and when the Major showed up with Earwax and answered his questions so honestly Josh knew it was the other way around. Mercedes was the imposter.

The Major kept thinking there had to be an end of socks but they just kept coming. Whatever spell Luna had put on the moon dust it must have been strong enough to pull in every lost sock in the galaxy. The Major sat down on the ground and the socks backed off enough to give her breathing room.

“This is hopeless, Earwax. I don’t know if it’s night or day. I haven’t a clue where we are and my feet are killing me.”

Earwax watched as the Major undid the laces of her high leather boots and wrenched them off her feet. Earwax held his nose and made a weird choking noise.

“Right, and the smell is killing you. Some friend you are. Speaking of which, I wonder how Straight Shooter is making out?” She checked her phone — nothing from her buddy. The Major worried about Shooter just as he worried about her. They’d been through a lot together; they’d get through this too. She pulled off her socks and rubbed her feet.

“What’s two more socks in this mess?”

Earwax picked up the Major’s socks and ran up her arm. He stood on her shoulder and held the socks up, waving them around. Then he rolled the two socks together and let them fall on the Major’s head.

Instantly, all the swirling socks joined into pairs, rolled into each other and fell to the ground. Instead of raining cats and dogs, it poured sock balls. The Major put her hands over her head and was soon buried in foot warmers.

At last all the socks were on the ground except for one lone blue sock flying around crying. The Major raised her head. “I’ll be darned,” she said and the socks giggled.

A matching blue sock erupted from the pile. The two blue socks hugged and kissed and fell into the Major’s lap. I wish I had someone to curl up with, she thought. Being an Intergalactic Ranger and having a boyfriend didn’t seem to go together. She put on the blue socks, retied her boots and stood up.

It was night — that much was now clear. And what was even clearer was the spaceport about half-a-klick away lit up like a chandelier and just as beautiful.

(32) Cookie Comes Through

It seemed odd to Veronica to be giving orders. It wasn’t something she’d had any practice at.

“Yes, Major?” Cookie said.

“I’ve got an idea. Bring me some French mustard, parsley, shallots, pickles, capers, hard-boiled eggs, salt, pepper, and all the mayo you’ve got. And hurry! Punchy, we need a catapult.”

Punchy looked like a pit bull that had been in one too many fights. He looked left, then right, then back again. Cat? What cat?

Albert took charge. “Charles, bring that hammock from over there. Mary and Victor, we need something stretchy like bungee cords. Edward and Punchy, cut the rope attached to the anchor and bring it here. Go!”

Charles grumbled but didn’t stay to argue the point.

Everybody scattered. The Lone Shark was approaching quickly. Veronica knew from the last pass that its crew was made up exclusively of fish. This time she could see that one was bigger than the rest, dressed in black and wearing an eye patch.

“Trunk, is that one-eyed shark the captain?”

“Captain Mako. He’s one mean dude — marinates his prisoners in lime juice. You don’t want to be captured by him.”

Mary and Victor arrived back carrying bear cubs that looked like they’d been stretched between two bulldozers.

“What are those things?” Albert asked.

“We’re stretcher-bearers, dummy,” said the one that might be a male because he was bigger. “Episode 91. We stretch across the Hudson River.”

“Yeah, and we save New York,” the other said sticking his tongue out. Albert didn’t know what to say. “Listen, if you don’t want our help-”

“No, no, that’s great. It’s just that I’ve never seen anything like you before.”

“Get used to it.”

“We’re trying to make a catapult,” Albert said. “If you two could each take an end of this hammock and climb up that mast and that mast.”

“How high?”

“Just below the butterflies.”

Albert watched as the stretcher-bearers scurried up the masts. Edward pulled the anchor rope over as Punchy unwound the capstan.

“Why aren’t the butterflies flying?” Mary asked feeling badly for the giant monarchs because their wings were hanging limp like a dog’s tongue on a hot day.

“They can’t fly when their wings are wet,” Victor answered. “They’re waiting for the sun to dry them.”

“They’re so pretty.”

Like you, thought Victor, but he didn’t say it out loud.

Cookie arrived buried in ingredients. Behind him came the quivering Lip rolling a big barrel of mayonnaise. Veronica patted Cookie on the shoulder.

“Good job, Cookie. Throw everything into the barrel of mayo then mix it up.”

When the last ingredient dropped into the barrel Cookie grabbed Lip by his feet and head and wound him up like a rubber band airplane. Into the barrel went Lip. Head first. His body spun around, his ears sticking out like a propeller.

Whirrrrr! Cookie pulled Lip up and pushed Lip down. Up, down, up, down. In a jiffy everything was mixed.

“Ready!” Cookie yelled as he dropped a dripping dizzy Lip onto the deck.

“William, over here!” Albert shouted.

Little William wasn’t very happy. There was something very important he had to tell the Major but she wouldn’t listen. AND he had to go to the bathroom really really really badly but there was no place to go. It was like one of his nightmares.

“This will take your mind off things,” Albert said tying the anchor rope around Little William’s waist. Then Albert jumped up and grabbed the middle of the hammock. He pulled it down and handed it to Little William who wrapped his arms around it.

“Edward! Punchy! Other way!” Albert yelled. The anchor rope tightened pulling Little William and the hammock back. Soon, Little William was as far back as he could go.

“Oh guys, I gotta go!”

“Not just yet, William.”

Lone Shark approaching!” cried the bald eagle. No one needed to be told this. The noise from the flying fish was overwhelming.

“Charles, Victor, roll the barrel into the hammock. We’re ready, Major!”

The Lone Shark pulled alongside and Captain Mako released another devastating volley of pelicans but not before Veronica screamed, “Fire!”

Little William let go of the hammock. It skyrocketed forward flinging the barrel of mayonnaise high into the air. Everyone onboard the Fred kept his or her eyes glued to the barrel as it began its descent toward the deck of the Lone Shark.


The barrel landed within feet of Captain Mako and exploded covering every fish on board in a thick creamy sauce. Captain Mako wiped the sauce from his eyes. “Grouper! What is this stuff?”

Grouper, the First Mate, scraped some of the sauce from around his eyes and put it in his mouth. “Don’t know sir but it tastes like- Omigod! Omigod! It’s- it’s- it’s- TARTAR SAUCE!”

“TARTAR SAUCE!” screamed Captain Mako.

“TARTAR SAUCE!” the crew screamed back.


Veronica watched as the crew of the Lone Shark jumped overboard, leaving the ship to its fate. This should have been good news but it wasn’t. The Fred was sinking. That was obvious. Now there were a dozen more shark fins circling the sinking ship.

I may look like the Major but that’s the end of it, thought Veronica. Eaten by cartoon sharks — what a crummy way to go.

(33) The Major Meets Her Match

When the Major and Earwax finally arrived at the Caviar Spaceport the Major said, “Hey Earwax, I forgot to tell you I remembered what I couldn’t remember about Caviar. It’s actually two planets. If you’re a negative person — y’know, like, your hotel stinks before you even get there — it’s called Caviar — all black and white and nasty; but if you’re positive – y’know, like, I don’t care if the hotel is a dump I’m going to have a great time — it’s called Calypso — bright colors, palm trees, music. That’s why it was so confusing back there.”

The Major always gave Earwax time to respond even though the best he could do was make a face or shrug.

“We’re usually positive, right? But back there we were being negative. On Caviar/Calypso what you see isn’t necessarily what you get.”

The Major put her hands on her hips and stared at the empty parking space. Caviar Corollary: What you see isn’t necessarily what you want to see.

“I know this is the spot, A-17. My birthday’s April 17th so I knew I’d remember it.”

The trouble was parking spot A-17 was empty — very empty. There was no spaceship belonging to the Intergalactic Rangers or to anybody else for that matter and the Major was pretty sure she knew why. Mercedes, with all her playing around, had unknowingly pushed the sequence of buttons that sent Starship 1 back to Ranger Headquarters.

Earwax tugged on her pant leg. She looked where he was pointing. Far in the distance she could see dust moving along a road. Earwax was right. It was probably Mercedes and the three Mongreloids trying to cut them off at the pass.

“Have you noticed Earwax that some days you’re better off staying in bed?”

Earwax nodded. He didn’t agree but he’d learned over the years it was easier to go along with the Major than to argue. She was used to getting her way.

“First, Stunner has a nervous breakdown. Then we find Jessica and her dad only to lose them again. The Mongreloids try to stun us and the only thing that saves us is a sock full of enchanted moon dust. Then we get bombarded by every stray sock in the galaxy and now Starship 1 has taken off without us.”

And let’s not even talk about the real dust coming this way.

The Major looked around. She could hear music again. Not far away was George’s Fix-it Shop & Sand Bar. Here in the outback people were always combining businesses trying to make a go of things. The Major headed to George’s. Maybe somebody there had seen a spaceship wandering away.

She stood in the doorway checking the place out. George’s Fix-it Shop was a big open hangar full of spacecraft in various states of repair. The only living thing in sight appeared to be a rather handsome young man wearing blue jeans and a tight white t-shirt with the words: I DONT TEXT.

He was working on the driveforce of a spiffy brand-new chrome-silver double-X-wing turbo-starfighter. His face, his hands, his t-shirt were all streaked with yellow-brown grease.

Beside him, painted on the side of the starfighter, was a blonde curly-haired pin-up girl wearing red short shorts, a skimpy red bikini top and red high heel shoes. She was bent over with her butt sticking out and her finger touching her lips like aren’t I just the cutest little thing you ever did see? Underneath was printed the ship’s name: Miss Behavin. As the Major watched, the young man tore the cigarette from his mouth and flicked it away. Then he pulled a package of Camels from the sleeve of his t-shirt and lit another.

The Major pulled down the zipper of her uniform, undid her French braid, twirled the R on her belt buckle and pushed. Her black t-shirt morphed into a tank top, her chest filled out and her hair moved through several reincarnations finally stopping at curly blonde. Fluffing her hair, she strolled over to the young man.

“Those things will kill you,” she said. The young man straightened up and looked her over. He appeared mildly uncomfortable with her Ranger uniform but then the Major was used to that. Most people had something to hide even if it was just an unpaid parking ticket.

The young man took a deep drag on his cigarette and blew the smoke the Major’s way.

“It won’t be cigarettes that kill me.”

The Major knew braggadocio when she heard it. “Nice ship,” she said trying a different tack.

“Will be when I get her running.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Seems INTEL 8.6 has fallen in love with INTOSH 4.3, so INGATES 6.0 is jealous and refuses to fly until INTEL 8.6 comes to her senses.”

The Major laughed and the young man went back to his driveforce.

“So what have you decided to do?”

“I’ve decided to yank INTEL 8.6” — the young man’s arm jerked and there was a muffled scream. He turned and held up a large computer chip — “and replace it with a SOYUZ 6.1.”

The young man dropped INTEL 8.6 onto the cement floor and picked up SOYUZ 6.1, which giggled when he pushed it home.

The Major listened as the spaceship came to life.

“Bout friggin’ time!”

“Where you bin?”

“Man, I’m glad she’s gone.”

“Good day, I yam SOYUZ 6.1.”

“Say, you’re all right.”

“Time to boogey.”

“Vat is dees boo gay?”

The young man grinned then wiped his hands on his t-shirt. Loud drunken voices, speaking a strange language, floated over from the entrance to the Sand Bar. Suddenly the young man wasn’t grinning anymore. He was in a hurry to be someplace else.

“Gotta go!”

“Got room for two more?”

“Sorry, I travel alone.”

BZZZZZ! Wrong answer. The Major raised her arm and a red plastic ball shot out of her sleeve pulling a wire behind it. Before you could say, ‘Bob’s your carbuncle’ the projectile whizzed around the young man pinning his arms and immobilizing his legs, then shot four feet above his head where it inflated as big as a beach ball at which point it lit up and started flashing. “Attention shoppers!” shouted the ball. “Attention shoppers!”

The Major picked up the INTEL 8.6 chip and tucked it into the wire around the young man’s chest. Meanwhile, the drunks arrived at their spaceship and even in their advanced state of inebriation they could see the open engine hatch and the empty chip holder.

“Hey! Vat is going on here?”

“Earwax!” The Major strode toward the spiffy brand-new double-X-wing turbo-starfighter. She could see the source of the moving dust clearly now. It was a topless yellow jeep with Grunt at the wheel, Mercedes beside him, and the other two Mongreloids in back. It was definitely time to depart.

“Attention shoppers!” The drunks glared at the young man with the stupid flashing light.

“Okay, okay,” the young man said. “I wish to reconsider.”


“I would be happy to take you and your pet with me.”

The Major ran back. The red ball zipped down, unwound and jumped back into her sleeve. The drunks were hurrying now, as best they could, weaving their way in and out of the other spaceships. One of them had his gun out and was trying to aim it at the would-be thief. He squeezed the trigger and a lime green laser ball flew between the young man’s legs.

The Major grinned — served him right.

The young man threw the INTEL 8.6 chip at the advancing drunks and dove into his starfighter just as another lime green ball flashed by. Grunt skidded to a stop and the Major waved to him through the window. Then she looked over at her new friend. “Time to go, don’t you think?”

(34) Bucking Broncos

Fred was sinking. Veronica knew the real Major would have a plan, something that would save the day, but Veronica’s brain was AWOL — MIA — a clean slate — an empty blackboard — a green screen. She watched as Trunk and the other sailors worked the pumps as hard as they could but everyone — even the CEO of an American car company — could see the water was coming in faster than the pumps could send it away. And down below sharks circled the Fred waiting to eat anything that hit the water.

“Trunk, release the monarchs.”

“Aye aye, Major.”

Letting the butterflies go was like lowering the ship’s flag. It made everyone onboard sad to see the huge beautiful monarchs fly away.

Little William came up to Veronica and tugged on her sleeve again. This time she bent down so he could whisper in her ear. As she listened her eyebrows raised higher and higher. She and Little William raced to the front of the Fred and pushed their way between the bowsprit and the harpoon gun.

Veronica leaned over the edge and looked down into the yellow water. Now she could see the pattern on the bottom that Little William was talking about. It was a cowboy, his hand in the air, riding a bucking bronco. She could see at least half-a-dozen of them.

Veronica started to laugh. Little William would have laughed too but he had to pee so badly it hurt. Veronica aimed the harpoon gun straight down and pulled the trigger. There was a muffled cry followed by a great sucking sound as the yellow sea disappeared down the hole the harpoon had made.

In less than a minute the yellow sea was reduced to nothing more than a series of shallow puddles and the two man-of-wars were tipped over on their sides. Veronica and the kids scrambled down from the Fred’s deck and soon were walking around on what appeared to be a gigantic cowboy bedspread.

“Where’s William?” Mary asked alarmed to be missing a little brother.

“Taking a leak.” Everybody fell silent until the only sound they could hear was the sound of a little boy peeing. It went on and on.

Veronica looked over at the unhappy sharks, stranded in one of the bigger puddles. They’d already eaten the flying fish. Soon they’d turn on each other. Serves them right, thought Veronica.

“This is just like my bedspread at home,” remarked Little William reappearing.

“The one you wet every night,” said Charles being mean. Little William put his head down. If he didn’t stop wetting his bed his dad was threatening — he didn’t really mean it — to hook Little William up to some kind of electric shocker.

“It’s okay, William,” Mary said interrupting his thoughts. “You were the one that saved us.”

“Who are you guys and where did you come from?” Veronica needed to make sense of this.

“I’m Victor and this is Albert, Charles, Edward, William and Mary.” The way Victor said Mary made her brothers exchange smirks. “We came from my house on a magic carpet that crashed into the swimming pool.”

“You’re Cozy Bennett’s son! I’m Veronica Newport. Your mom’s leasing my dad’s house — Chester Newport, the cartoonist, the one who draws Occam’s Razor.”

“Is that where we are?” Edward asked. “Inside Occam’s Razor?”

“I think so but I don’t understand how we can be here.”

“Maybe your dad’s working on some kind of interactive version,” suggested Victor his brain sparking with the possibilities.

“Maybe that’s why he disappeared,” Charles said.

Any further discussion of where they were and how they got there stopped abruptly because the cowboy bedspread heaved up sending everybody flying. Then a pink three-eyed ogre’s face appeared above the edge of the bedspread. The ogre looked down at the kids, frowning.

“Really,” he said with a lisp, “if I’d wanted a pain in the butt I would have invited my Uncle Shirley over. Now what have we here? I haven’t hurt anyone I hope?”

The kids and Veronica got to their feet. They should have been petrified — here was a monster’s face as big as a school bus less than a bedspread away! — but he seemed so friendly.

“Who are you?” Little William asked.

“I’m the Monster Under the Bed. Monster for short.”

“You don’t seem very scary,” Mary said.

“I used to be let me tell you. I could scare the jelly out of a jelly donut. But now everybody’s got rights. Last kid I scared threatened to sue me. Can you imagine? Said I was detrimental to his self-esteem. Of course I’m detrimental! I’m supposed to be!”

(35) Major Occam Introduces Herself

The Major pushed the R on her buckle. Her tank top became a t-shirt again and her hair went back to its normal light-brown color. She weaved it into a braid. Not much point in being a Blonde Bimbo with Lover Boy sleeping. She fiddled with the spaceship monitor.

The static cleared only to be replaced by Lady Katrina’s angry face. Her knot of green spiky hair was leaning sideways and her pockmarks were throbbing. She looked like a rejected pineapple. Her mouth opened spitting out words like machinegun bullets.

“Major! Where the hell have you been? Have you got my daughter?”

The Major couldn’t believe it. Lady K was going to pretend like nothing had happened. It would be her word against the Major’s. Well, two could play that game.

“I found her.”

“Let me see her!”

“She’s with her father.”

“Get her!”

“That would be difficult at the moment.”

“It will be more than difficult if you don’t! You swore an oath!”

“I swore I’d go to Caviar and I’ve done that.”

“I need her now! The press will be here in a few hours.”

“So you obviously botched the reporter’s disappearance as well.”

“How dare you! I have an Intergalactic Court Order! Get her or I’ll-”

The Major pushed a button and Lady K’s hysterical face dissolved into female mud wrestlers.

“That’s better,” Lover Boy said opening his eyes. “That Lady K is scary. Where are we?”

The Major pushed another button and the mud wrestlers turned into a map of the galaxy. A yellow flashing light showed them where they were.

“By the way, this is Earwax and I’m Major Occam of the Intergalactic Rangers.” And if Lady K has her way this might be the last time I get to say that, thought the Major.

“James Dean,” Lover Boy said stretching. “What happened to your hair and your...”

The Major ignored this.

“James Dean, as in King Morath’s son?”

“Something like that.”

That’s interesting, thought the Major. King Morath of the House of Dean was battling Lady Katrina to become the next Regent of the Milky Way — the most powerful political position in the Known Universe — assuming of course the Prince of D didn’t conquer everything and reduce the Regency to a name only.

“So where are we headed?” the Major asked trying to figure out where they were. James pointed at a blue circle at the edge of the screen.

“And that would be?”

“Weird Toad.”

“Oh my,” said the Major.

  • Major and Galaxy Map Artist: Nada Serafimovic

(36) Monster Under the Bed

Monster Under the Bed shrank until he was only slightly taller than the others.

“What do we do now?” Mary asked trying to get things going.

“There’s a Ranger starship over that way,” Veronica said, pointing. “I saw it when this buzzard was carrying me around. We could go there and see if someone can help us.”

Veronica started walking and the rest followed her.

“It used to be nice around here,” continued Monster. “Everybody knew what they were supposed to do. I scared the kid. The kid screamed. Mom or dad came to the rescue, said I didn’t exist, left the light on. Everybody went back to bed. Then I’d pop up again. Kid would scream. It was a lot of fun. Now, nothing works right.”

“Speaking of dads,” Veronica said, “you haven’t seen mine by any chance? Chester Newport? The cartoonist?”

Monster Under the Bed reached out and touched Veronica’s arm.

“Say, you’re real, aren’t you? Isn’t that something? I’ve never met anybody real before. Now, what were you saying? Oh yes, Chester Newport. I think of him as my dad too. We all do, except maybe that rotten bunch at the castle.”

Monster looked around then, as if he thought someone from the castle might be listening.

“No, I haven’t seen him,” he went on, “but I’ve heard a rumor there’s a real person in the castle. They say he’s a prisoner in the dungeon. I didn’t take it seriously, but now — Chester Newport — I guess it could be. That would explain why nothing’s working right.”

Mary turned back to ask Monster why he wasn’t on the Prince’s side but she screamed instead. Rushing toward them was the largest wave she’d ever seen — a tsunami. It had to be ten stories high and if that wasn’t enough it was full of sharks — with one-eyed Captain Mako in the lead.

Monster Under the Bed reared up and let out a bellow the size of New York City!


The wave stopped just as it was about to break over Mary and the others and dissolved into a million little water brats that scurried away leaving the sharks flying through the air with no water to support them.

Captain Mako and the others landed nose first into the cowboy bedspread sending up a flurry of goose down. Their tails waved frantically but none of the kids felt inclined to help them. Monster slowly returned to his normal size.

“Wow!” the kids said together.

“Still got it!” Monster puffed up obviously pleased with himself. Mary gave him a hug as they walked off the bedspread onto a beach. Not far away waited the Ranger starship Veronica had seen from above. It wasn’t just any Ranger starship.

“It’s the Major’s!” Edward shouted running toward Starship 1 but when he got there he found the front windscreen smashed and the ship’s sides covered in graffiti: Occam’s Razor is Dull. For a Good Time call Anyone BUT the Major. The Major wears Army Boots. Honk if your Occam is on Fire!

The kids’ hearts sank. This wasn’t good. This was like you run into the house because your brother has broken his leg and your mom’s not there. The kids looked at each other.

Finally it was Little William who asked, “What is Occam’s Razor anyway?”

“It’s an expression,” Veronica answered, “named for William of Occam, a thirteenth-century philosopher. He said, ‘Don’t make things more complicated than they have to be.’ For instance, if you had five oranges and six kids, rather than divide the oranges you could just get rid of one of the kids.”

The six kids looked at Veronica like she’d just stepped in a big cow patty. Veronica laughed. “Just kidding. In other words, keep things simple.”

“Cut to the bone!” Victor said repeating the Ranger motto.

The door of Starship 1 was open so they all peered inside. The ship had been totally vandalized. There wasn’t anything that wasn’t broken.

Monster shook his head. “I’m going back under my bed where it’s safe — or used to be. Good luck. If you go to the castle look out for the Prince. He’s very bad news.”

They had a group hug and Monster trundled away.

“Now what?” Mary asked. She wished she could go home to bed too.

“Ranger Headquarters,” suggested Veronica. “I saw it too. That way, on the other side of this jungle. It isn’t far.”

(37) Miss Behavin versus the 21

Now it was the Major’s turn to be sleeping. She had a smile on her face so something in her dream must have been good. James shook her awake.

“Good dream?” he asked.


“About me, right?”

“That’s right.”

“What was I doing?”

“They were putting you on a spit so they could roast you for the Prince’s supper. I was trying to decide if I should rescue you or pass the barbecue sauce.” The Major unfolded. “Are we almost there?”

She glanced at the map and saw that the yellow flashing light of the starfighter was almost on top of the blue circle of Weird Toad. The Major looked out the windscreen. A stunning blue planet filled her vision. There was Weird Toad all right. She hardly needed a star map to tell her that.

Weird Toad — its real name, Frogariousstephalitis, shortened to Weird Toad within seconds of the surveyors naming it — was the fifth largest planet in the Orion Solar System and home to nearly every rebel, renegade, radical, revolutionary, pirate, poet, artist and comedian in the Known Universe.

In other words, Weird Toad was home to every weird toad in the galaxy and, as a result, was one of its most heavily armed planets. It was also a planet that valued its freedom above all else.

But right now, as everybody in the Known Universe knew, Weird Toad was under siege by the Black Guard, the space armada controlled by Commander Blackjack Astor who reported directly to the Prince of D himself.

“How long has Weird Toad been blockaded?” the Major asked.

“No one’s been in or out for three months.”

“All communication stopped?”

“Of course.”

“What does the Prince want?”

“What he always wants — swear allegiance to the Prince or die.”

As the Major thought about this a huge dark shape slid from behind Weird Toad’s moon and inserted itself between Miss Behavin and the planet. You didn’t need a program to recognize Blackjack Astor’s flagship, the legendary battle cruiser 21, feared throughout the galaxy for enforcing the Prince’s will with ruthless enthusiasm. Before the Major could say anything James pumped his fist in the air. “I’m loving this!”

“Are you crazy? We’ll never get by that thing.”

“What are you wearing under that uniform?”

The Major couldn’t believe it.

“You’re joking, right?”

“I don’t think the folks on Weird Toad will take kindly to a Ranger uniform.”

“You’ll never get by the 21 so what does it matter?”

“Wanna bet?

The Major stared at him trying to figure things out. Of all the spaceships to hitch a ride on she had to pick the one piloted by a pigheaded hotdog.

“Why are we going to Weird Toad anyway?”

“My father’s there.”

Of course! Ever since Chester Newport’s disappearance, the forces of Freedom & Fairness had been looking for someone to rally around. King Morath was the logical choice but he was nowhere to be found. Now it all made sense. He was marooned on Weird Toad.

The Major unzipped her uniform. Underneath she wore black jeans and her tight black t-shirt. James obviously liked what he saw. Before he could stop grinning an ugly Wart Face materialized on the ship’s monitor.

“Stop there! State your business.”

“We’ve come to give Blackjack an enema.”

The Major could see confusion spread on the Wart Face’s face. What the heck is an enema? The Wart Face stared at them as he listened to a voice in his earphone telling him the answer. Then the Major could see the confusion giving way to anger, red-faced anger.

“Freedom for All!” yelled James shutting down the monitor. Within seconds the battle cruiser opened fire. A short burst. The Major watched as five heat seeking missiles rocketed toward them leaving a trail of sparks.

“You certainly have a way with words,” she said. She figured they’d probably be her last words too. They were better than she’d managed with Jake but still not very profound given the circumstances.

But just as the missiles were about to hit, James rolled Miss Behavin to the right and blasted forward. The five missiles sped by. Amazed to be still breathing, the Major looked back, only to see the five missiles starting the long curve to turn around. Then she looked forward only to see the battle cruiser firing more missiles.

Not a short burst this time — more like a hundred missiles — followed by another hundred. Blackjack Astor must not have liked the idea of an enema, or maybe he was in a bad mood, or bored, or all three. She glanced at James who was acting like a cowboy on payday. She looked back. The five missiles had turned and were not far behind.

“I love it when a plan comes together,” she said.

“Me too, Darlin’. Hang on!”

With that James slammed on the reverse thrusters and dove. The starfighter did a backwards somersault. The five missiles flashed by heading for the 21. The hundred incoming missiles turned mistaking the five returning missiles for James’ spiffy double-X-wing turbo starfighter.

Within seconds all 205 missiles were headed back toward the 21, which was forced to fire more missiles to shoot down the ones now racing toward it.

In the resulting total confusion Miss Behavin zipped into Weird Toad unscathed.

(38) The Prince Wants to Hurt Blackjack


“Yes sire?”

“We want to kill him.”

“Yes sire, I don’t blame you.”

The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness was on fire he was so angry. Thousands of little flames spurted out of holes all over his body. The Prince reminded Ratchett of the gas burner on his barbecue.

“Things have been going so well,” the Prince said sniffing the air. Somebody was grilling hamburger.

“Yes sire, ever since you immobilized Chester Newport in the dungeon.”

“Immobilized — we’re impressed, Ratchett.”

“Yes sire.”

“We still want to kill him! Hurt him! Torture him! Pull out his toenails! Poke out his eyes! Maim him!”

The him was Blackjack Astor who had managed to attack his own flagship, the 21, with 205 of his own missiles inflicting enough damage to put the largest, most terrible battle cruiser in the Known Universe out of commission for four hours or more.

And because the entire episode had been webcast the whole galaxy was laughing its butt off.

“If I might suggest sire, he’ll probably save you the trouble.”

The Prince cooled somewhat. Trust Ratchett to make a joke at a time like this. “We suppose King Morath will now depart Weird Toad?”

“Perhaps sire. When I was a child hiding in the same place twice was most effective.”

The Prince considered this. There wasn’t a safer place than Weird Toad. The King might hide elsewhere but if he was discovered there would be no saving him from the Prince’s dark forces.

“How many Rangers have we?” the Prince asked.

“Forty-four, sire.”

“Excellent. No Major?”

“No sire. We believe she landed on Weird Toad with the King’s son.”

“Interesting. What about the Revenge?”

The Prince’s own ship, the Revenge, was to the 21 what a watermelon is to a cucumber. It was ten times the size of Blackjack Astor’s flagship and capable of being anywhere in the galaxy in less than two hours. Weird Toad and King Morath wouldn’t last five minutes with the Revenge on the horizon.

“Almost operational, sire.”

The Prince was so close to being Supreme Ruler of Everything. Without Chester Newport making sure the good guys won the Prince was finally free to show what he could do. Now, only a handful of goody two-shoes stood in his way, and at the top of that list resided Major Occam and King Morath.

“Excellent, Ratchett. We’re quite looking forward to our first annual Intergalactic Grand Tour.” The Prince pretended he was holding a microphone. “Come and meet the Truly Evil Prince of Darkness, Ruler of the Known Universe.”

Ratchett cleared his throat. The Prince got the message. “And Ratchett, the Best Chancellor We’ve Ever Had So Far!”

The Prince spread his arms wide pretending to embrace all his loyal subjects. And our subjects are loyal, thought the Prince, or they’re dead.

“Is there an Unknown Universe, Ratchett?”

“Hard to say, sire.”

(39) Weird Toad

The Major didn’t know what to make of Weird Toad. It was one of the few places Chester Newport had never sent her. She’d arrested plenty of its inhabitants but she’d always caught them on other planets. None of them ever pulled a job on Weird Toad because Weird Toad was home.

And home, in this case, looked like an eighteenth-century pirates’ hideout, or at least what the Major thought an olden day thieves’ den would look like. At the moment, she was holding James’ hand — not an unpleasant experience though she was pretending it was — as he led her through a warren of narrow cobblestoned streets jammed with people.

Ramshackle buildings rose up on either side with stores or eating establishments on the ground floor and living quarters above. Brightly colored laundry hung from the upper stories giving the whole place a carnival air. Every few feet a new smell would wash over the Major. “All these good smells are making Earwax hungry,” she said.

Earwax looked up at the Major as if to say, ‘Oh yeah, blame me.’

Then James stopped. He put his arms around the Major and kissed her for what seemed like an hour-and-a-half but was probably only a few seconds. The Major was sure she should be objecting but she couldn’t seem to formulate a way to do so. I haven’t managed to formulate much of anything lately, so why should this be any different.

“I’m hungry too,” James said when he finally released her, grinning. He is such a boy! thought the Major as they turned into the next doorway which turned out to be a pub called The Last Straw. As they entered the place went quiet and then everyone jumped to their feet and cheered. They’d all watched the webcast. They all knew what James had done.

A group of little people climbed up onto their table and began acting out the attack. Three of them, a cape over their heads, joined together to become the 21 while another, pretending to be Miss Behavin, danced around like a matador avoiding the bull’s horns. The last two, both women, became the missiles flying back and forth until at last they crashed into the 21 sending everybody sprawling to the floor.

The Major put her fingers in her mouth and let fly with the earsplitting wolf whistle she was famous for. James put his fist in the air and shouted, “Freedom for All!”

“Freedom for All!” answered every voice in the room.

James led the way to an empty table in the corner. Earwax climbed into the third chair just as a woman with strong arms and a clean apron arrived with three bowls of Irish stew and thick slabs of buttered bread.

“This smells so good!”

“It is good,” the woman said smiling at the Major. “Everything on Weird Toad is good.”



At this point one of the windows facing onto the street exploded and a beautiful young woman flew through the air landing in a shower of glass. Another woman — older but striking — climbed through the window and stood over her.

“He’s all yours!”

“I don’t want him!”

“Me neither!”

“He’ll just take off again anyway.”

“He’s not worth fighting over.”

The two women glared at each other. Finally, the older one put out her hand. “Buy you a drink?” They left, arm-in-arm, and the woman with the apron appeared with a broom and a dustpan and a funny smile. She winked at the Major.

The Major turned back to find James pulling his head up from under the table. He looked more than guilty but pretended he’d dropped a piece of bread. The Major started laughing. “They were talking about you, James, weren’t they?”

James waved his bread around. “Everything that happens here is about love,” he said. “We love to fight. We love to drink. We love to boast. We love to tell stories. We love to sing and dance. We love each other. You’ll see. There are no police, no soldiers, no bureaucrats and definitely no crimes.”

“No, you do them everywhere else.”

“We only steal.”


“We think of it as redistributing wealth — like Robin Hood.”

“The people you steal from don’t see it that way.”

“They have no sense of humor, another thing Weird Toad has an abundance of.”

The Major was too hungry to argue.

(40) Earwax Meets a King

They each ate three bowls of stew. Finally the Major had to put her hands up to the woman and say, “No more, please. I won’t be able to walk.”

She wanted to tease James about the kiss but now that she’d seen the other women there didn’t seem much point. The Major wasn’t interested in being one of many.

“I really need to get to the Prince’s castle,” she said to James. “Can you help me with that?”

“Maybe.” With that James lifted the heavy candle in the middle of the table and the table and the square of floor underneath it began to rise, headed for a hole in the ceiling above.

In a matter of seconds the Major, James, Earwax and the table had moved from a tough, beer-soaked pub to an ultramodern war room. The Major was amazed. One whole wall was window — a panorama-monitor really, though it took her several seconds to realize this. Filling the screen was the 21, Blackjack Astor’s damaged battle cruiser. She could see men in spacesuits climbing around, effecting repairs, while others were busy putting out fires.

Then she heard a voice and turned.

James dropped to one knee as a man, obviously his father, approached him. Except for the difference in age they looked so much alike they could be twins. James stood and they embraced each other.


“James,” King Morath said laughing, sweeping his hand toward the giant screen. “You’ve outdone yourself.”

“You see, Father, all those years of playing Mayhem weren’t wasted.”

“I was talking about your new friend not your foolish exploits.”

James shook his head. His father was always two steps ahead. “My new friend is Major Occam who I rescued from Caviar when her spaceship disappeared.”

King Morath shook the Major’s hand. “An honor, Major, to meet the most famous Ranger of all.”

“It is a privilege to meet you, sir.”

“When my son is not around I’m sure you will tell me what really happened on Caviar.”

“My pleasure, sir.”

Earwax took this moment to climb up the Major’s body onto her shoulder. King Morath put his hands out and Earwax moved into them. The Major had never seen Earwax do this before with a stranger but she felt the same way. There was something about King Morath that made you trust him. With my life, she thought. She needed someone like that right now. She needed someone to restore her confidence that what was good in the world would defeat that which was evil. She thought if anyone could do that, this man could.

“So Father, the Major has things to tell you.”

The Major told King Morath about her conversation with Lady Katrina and the message she’d had from Stacey at headquarters about all the missing Rangers.

“I don’t understand how Chester Newport could be in this world,” King Morath said. “As a cartoon perhaps, but not real. The Rangers being kidnapped is worrisome. I should also tell you Major, Lady Katrina is trying to have you sacked but she’s having trouble gathering support.”

The King continued, “Our intention was to launch every spacecraft we have at the same time in the hopes that a few would escape. The losses would have been horrific so I was in no hurry to implement this plan. But now, thanks to you two, the 21 is inoperable for the next few hours. We must move quickly.

“Within the hour dozens of our ships will head out for all regions of the galaxy. To spread the word, to organize a counterattack, to harass the Prince. I know you want to go to the Prince’s castle Major to rescue Chester Newport. James will take you. The rest of us will follow as quickly as we can.”

“And you Father, you need to be more visible if you want to be elected Regent of the Milky Way.”

“I don’t agree James. I think rather than win the election I will rely on Lady K to lose it.”

(41) Mary Doesn’t Like Vegetables

“Where are we?”

Mary was the one asking knowing full well that none of the others knew the answer. However, she did know where they were not. They were not at home. That was a definite. At home, rocks were rocks, not giant potatoes. Trees were trees, not tall broccoli. At home, asparagus did not twirl itself around a tree like a python. Eggplant did not sit on a nest of baby eggplants.

Most people like to eat but not Mary. She was one of those picky eaters. She wouldn’t think of eating anything with eyebrows, veins, fat or gristle. Yuck. Spaghetti was okay but with pesto not tomatoes. She wouldn’t touch most vegetables — the texture! — though she didn’t mind raw carrots. Some of Mary’s worst nightmares involved vegetables especially the white ones.

“Our dad has a vegetable garden,” Mary said to Veronica. “It’s in a school bus. He cut the roof off.”

“That’s funny.”

“My bed is a ’57 Thunderbird.” Mary reached out and pulled on a carrot top, a big one. The carrot popped out of its hole. It was wearing binoculars and camouflage paint.

“Hey! Watch it! I’m undercover here!”

“Sorry.” Mary dropped the carrot back into its hole. “Man, this place is weird,” she said. “How much farther to headquarters?”

Veronica was as lost as everybody else. “I have no idea. I don’t remember anything like this in my dad’s comic books.”

“There was a tribe of Mutant Stick Men in Episode 45,” offered Victor. Mary gave Victor a look that said, ‘if you want to be my boyfriend you can’t be too nerdy.’

“But you said headquarters wasn’t far.”

“It didn’t look that far from up there.”

Mary suddenly felt like a whiner so she asked Veronica how she knew how to make tartar sauce?

“My mom died when I was five so I do most of the cooking at home and now I’m going to chef’s school or I would be if I wasn’t looking for my dad.”

“Do you hear something?” Victor asked.

They all stopped and listened. They could hear feet marching — lots of them.

“Sounds like an army,” Charles said.

“Two of them,” added Albert.

“One from over there,” Edward said pointing behind.

“And one from over there,” said Little William pointing ahead.

“With us in the middle.”

“Look out!”


A laser ball flashed by. As Mary fell to the ground she could see that one army consisted entirely of orange vegetables while the other was composed entirely of green vegetables. Both sides had high-tech laser weapons they were now firing at each other. Mary watched, horrified, as a laser ribbon cut a young string bean in half. A terrible scream filled the air. “Mon Dieu, je suis morte!” The string bean fell to the ground, twitched for several seconds, then lay still.

Soon the air was pungent with the smell of burning vegetables. Finally, the cries and screams became too much for Mary. She leapt to her feet and at the top of her lungs shouted, “CEASE FIRE!”

All the excitement stopped. Things became quiet. You could hear a snow pea.

General Shawn O’Reilly, Head Green Bean, stood up just as Colonel Michael Murphy, Senior Carrot, did the same. They both stared at Mary.

“Can’t you see we’ve got a war going on here?” Colonel Murphy was obviously unhappy with the interruption.

“What are you fighting about?” Mary wanted to know.

“Isn’t it obvious?” answered General O’Reilly swinging his arm around to indicate the troops. “We’re Green and they’re Orange.”

“So?” said Mary.

“So?” General O’Reilly was outraged. “So Green is better than Orange, that’s what!”

“Says who?” growled Colonel Murphy.

“Says me,” General O’Reilly growled back.

“End of cease fire!” yelled Colonel Murphy diving for cover.

“But you’re both VEGETABLES!” Mary shouted. “JUST DIFFERENT COLORS!”

Everything stopped again. The two head vegetables got back on their feet.

“Who are you calling a vegetable?” General O’Reilly and Colonel Murphy asked together.

Before Mary could answer this question the carrot with the binoculars screamed out, “Tomatoes! Incoming!”

Everybody hit the dirt as hundreds of huge red tomatoes crashed to the ground like mortar shells. The Orange and Green vegetables went back to their war.

“Let’s get out of here!” Veronica scrambled to her feet, the kids right behind her. But they hadn’t gone three steps when an overripe tomato, the size of a pumpkin, crashed into Mary’s back flattening her.

Victor helped Mary to her feet. She was covered in red seedy slime and not happy about it. Victor wanted to laugh but thought better of it. He could see Mary wasn’t in the mood to find this funny.

  • Mary doesn't like vegetables at all Artist: Anny

(42) The Major Talks to Shooter

Straight Shooter snuck up the backstairs of The Rat’s Ass. Sneaking a peek through the window he could see the pub was busy. Most of the patrons were seated at round tables playing cards. Shooter liked playing cards but now wasn’t the time. He’d been hiding in the back alley watching a young teenage girl on the upstairs’ balcony typing on her computer. Now she’d gone inside leaving her laptop unattended and Shooter was hoping she wouldn’t be back for a few minutes. He typed in the Major’s secret address and waited.


The Major watched as Straight Shooter’s face filled the war room’s giant screen. “Major, is that you?”

“You bet, Shooter. Where are you?”

“In the town near the Prince’s castle. I’ve seen Chester Newport! He’s in a block of something in the dungeon.”

“A block?”

“Three-dimensional. It looks like ice but it doesn’t seem to be melting.”

“Is he alive?”

“I think so.”

“Why keep him otherwise, right?”

“That’s what May Lin thinks.”

“May Lin?”

Straight Shooter looked decidedly unhappy. “There are thirty-seven Rangers in the dungeon. Maybe more.”

“Thirty-seven! What do you mean in the dungeon?” The Major knew what he meant she just had to hear it.

“Imprisoned, in cells. It gets worse.”


“The Prince is having a convention. All his henchmen are here.”

Not all, thought the Major picturing Blackjack Astor and the 21.

“He had a huge banquet planned but before they could enjoy it all the food ran away.”

“Let me guess-”

“Freedom for All!”

The Major smiled. Good ol’ Shooter. “So what makes it worse?” she asked.

“The word is the Prince has changed the menu. He’s going to serve Intergalactic Rangers, in a pie, like blackbirds.”

“He wouldn’t!”

“He doesn’t think anyone can stop him.”

The Major and Straight Shooter stared at each other.

“When is this banquet?” she asked.

“Soon I think, maybe tomorrow night.”

The Major closed her eyes. Her friends. Eaten. Alive.

“Where are you, Major?” Straight Shooter asked.

“Weird Toad with King Morath.”

“You made it through the blockade?”

“I’m with the King’s son. He made it through. In fact, he damaged the 21 enough there’s no blockade for several hours. We’re just getting ready to leave and headed your way. King Morath thinks our best chance of beating the Prince is to rescue Chester Newport and get things back to normal.”


The Major and Shooter smiled at this. Nothing in their wacky world could ever be called normal.

“You know what I mean,” the Major said.

“I do, Major. Good luck. I’ll be waiting for you.”

“Stick ’em up!” The teenage girl was back and she’d stuck something that felt like a gun in Shooter’s back. “Who are you talking to?” she wanted to know.

“Major Occam.”

“No way!” The girl pushed Straight Shooter aside and stared at her screen. The thing stuck in Shooter’s back turned out to be a pop bottle.

“Hi,” said the Major. “Who are you?”

“I’m McGooey. Are you really the Major?”


“That is so cool. I’m reading a book about you online. I send in artwork and they post it.”

“That sounds like fun. Are your drawings good?”

“I don’t think so but my mom likes them.”

“Yeah, moms are good that way. Is McGooey your last name?”

“First. McGooey Smith. My dad said if I was stuck with Smith I should at least have an interesting first name.”

“I don’t think I have a first name,” the Major said.

“Yeah, you do. Olivia.”


“Then you’d be Major Oh Oh.”

“Bye McGooey.”

“Bye Major.” McGooey turned to talk to Straight Shooter but he was gone.

(43) Why Couldn’t It Be Vinaigrette?

Veronica and the kids ran on, dodging tomato bombs and laser balls, trying to distance themselves from the battle but it wasn’t long before Veronica screeched to a stop and the others gathered around her. They’d come to a raging river of something thick and white with floating blue chunks. Not water of course — that would have been too easy — more like runny toothpaste full of tooth decay. Behind them they could hear the Orange and Green armies approaching at speed.

“What is this stuff?”

Victor dipped his finger in the river and tasted it. Then he made a face. “Blue Cheese Dressing.”

“Make a chain!” Veronica waded into the white river. She stopped and grabbed Mary’s hand. Mary took Victor’s hand and soon all seven of them were up to their waists in the fast-moving river struggling to stay on their feet. Even with their arms fully extended Veronica was still two bus lengths from the far shore. Now what would the Major do?

Veronica didn’t have to answer this question because almost immediately an inflatable raft full of Holstein cows wearing fluorescent orange lifejackets and white helmets came hurtling down the river crashing into the kids and breaking the chain. Veronica, Mary, and Victor struggled to the far shore but when they looked back the four boys were nowhere to be seen. Mary bent over trying to wipe the stinky thick sauce from her eyes. “I hate blue cheese dressing! I hate it! Where are the boys?”

“I think Albert grabbed the raft as it went by,” Victor said.

Veronica couldn’t understand what was going on. Her dad would never have cows in lifejackets in Occam’s Razor. That was something his friend Gary Larson would draw for The Far Side.

“My dad didn’t draw this.”

Victor knew the answer. He looked at Mary for permission to speak and she nodded. “Do you remember when your dad was hurt in that bomb blast in Ireland?”

Veronica nodded. “I flew to Belfast with my Aunt Kathy. We never left the hospital for two months. I was so little but I remember every minute.” Suddenly Veronica got it. “Of course! Pop’s friends took over drawing Occam’s Razor till he got better. Omigod, is this what they drew?”

But there wasn’t time to discuss this further because no sooner did Veronica, Mary and Victor start downstream than they found themselves surrounded by a tribe of man-eating Zucchinis armed with sharp spears. The Zucchinis looked like Zulu warriors and stood a head taller than Veronica.

Mary was outraged. “We don’t have time for this!” All she wanted to do was run down the bank and find her brothers before they got turned into Penne Gorgonzola. She took a step toward the tallest Zucchini, the one wearing the large feather headdress and the necklace of a shrunken human head that looked remarkably like Justin Bieber. He was probably the chief.

“Stand still or die!” the chief said pointing his spear at Mary. “You are our prisoners.”

“Oh please, we’re in a hurry.”

The chief poked Mary in the stomach.

“Ouch! Listen you overgrown pickle.”

The chief poked her again. Mary could see she needed a different approach. “Wait, wait—” she cried. “We come in peace. We’re — we’re — vegetarians!”

Oops. Judging by the scowls and the spear thumping this was not the thing to say to a group of vegetables.

“No! No! I mean we don’t like vegetables. (More spear thumping.) No, no, I mean we only eat — hamburgers!”

At this precise moment four Holstein cows emerged from the jungle walking on their hind feet each dragging one of the Spoil boys.

“Who vould be eating only zee hamburgair?” the world’s largest cow wanted to know. She still had on her orange life vest and now that she was close Mary could see the logo on her white helmet was a red circle with a diagonal line through it and behind the line hid McD’s Golden Arches.

“Hotdogs!” shouted Mary.

A Babe-like pig appeared amid the cows’ feet and shook his head sadly.

“Uh, marshmallows!” Mary wasn’t giving up.

The earth trembled. A huge shadow fell upon Mary. She looked up right into the angry face of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

“Oh please, none of you are supposed to be here!”

The Zucchinis began to advance, spears lowered.

Mary screamed, “Twinkies! We only eat Twinkies!”

The Zucchinis stopped. They turned to each other.

Twinkies? What the heck are Twinkies?”

In the confusion Veronica inched slowly backwards, pushing the kids along with her — easy now, a little farther. When they were clear Mary turned and yelled out, “My dad loves eating zucchinis! Sliced! In garlic butter! With salt and pepper and-”

Suddenly the ground at Mary’s feet erupted and up rose a flashing digital billboard. Up and up it went until it clicked into place. Giant red words began scrolling across the screen: RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!

The Zucchinis charged and Veronica and the kids had no choice but to stampede deeper and deeper into the vegetable jungle; deeper and deeper into the growing darkness; deeper and deeper into a thick soupy silence. On and on they ran until at last they heard the Zucchinis slow and stop.

Then the Zucchinis started to laugh — a high-pitched horrible laugh — and the laugh echoed throughout the jungle as Veronica and the kids pressed hopelessly on.

(44) Roll Over Einstein

James was impatient. If one person can leave in two minutes, two people might take ten minutes, three people thirty minutes and twenty people, like now, might never leave at all.

“Let’s go! Let’s go!”

The Major looked over and smiled. “Late for a date?”

“I like to be moving.”

“You’re a mover, all right.”

James made a face. Any chance he might have had with the Major disappeared when his ex-girlfriends crashed through the window of The Last Straw.

Do you have a first name?” he asked trying to change the subject.


James made another face. He’d met his match and then some. “Here we go,” he said. The other nineteen spacecraft were finally revved up and ready to launch. King Morath’s face filled the monitors of all twenty spaceships.

“I don’t need to tell you how important this mission is,” he said. “Not only does the fate of Weird Toad — full of family and friends — depend on you, but all the good people in the Universe are counting on you as well. I know you will do your best. Freedom for All!”

“Freedom for All!” responded the pilots and crew of the twenty spaceships. James blasted off and the other ships followed suit exploding out of Weird Toad like a shotgun blast. The 21 fired but the response was half-hearted at best.

“Take that, Blackjack! And which ship is carrying King Morath? You’ll never know.” James shook his fist in the air.

The Major studied the monitor. “I don’t wish to rain on your parade, James, but at least twenty of Blackjack’s fighters just left the mother ship.”

“One for each of us.”

“Actually, they all seem to be chasing one ship.”

“Which one?”

“This one.”

James dove just as the first volley of laser balls screamed by and pulled the ship up just in time to avoid the second.

“These guys are serious,” he said.

“I guess they didn’t like you making them shoot their own battle cruiser.”

“Can’t take a joke.” James did a somersault and the third volley shrieked by.

“You can’t keep doing this,” the Major said climbing back into her seat.

“You got a better idea, let’s have it.” James stopped the fighter. They were totally surrounded.

“Why aren’t they shooting?”

“They must want us alive.”

That thought sent goose bumps up and down the Major’s spine. “This would be one way to get to the Prince,” she said.

They looked at each other. The Prince was famous for pulling the skin off his enemies and then making them eat it.

“You are surrounded!” Wart Face said. “Proceed slowly toward the 21.”

“No thanks.” James’ hand tightened around the control stick. “Hang on!”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to light speed.”

“We’re too close to Weird Toad. We’ll blow up.”

“Okay. Then I’ll go to negative light speed.”

“Is there such a thing?” The Major had never heard of negative light speed.

“My dad says, ‘If you can think it, you can do it.’”

“My dad says, ‘You can think it but don’t do it.’”

“Neither dad is here.”

“Good thing,” the Major said. “Have you done this before?”

“First time for everything. Here we go!”

The Major watched as James jammed the throttle back as far as it would go. Then he pushed down.

  • Negative light speed Artist: Nada Serafimovic

(45) Blackjack’s Brain Fart

The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness was not amused. First his banquet ruined and now this.

“How do you know it was the Major?” he asked.

Blackjack Astor’s chiseled face flickered on the screen. The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness could see sweat glistening on his commander’s forehead. Good, Blackjack should be sweating. He was a nanosecond away from having no body fluids at all.

“She was in the fighter with King Morath’s son. She wasn’t wearing her uniform but it was definitely her.”

“And they got away?”

“Yes sire.”

The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness would say that for Blackjack, he never offered excuses.

“And King Morath?”

“He appeared to be in all twenty ships.”

The Prince thought about this. Did it matter if King Morath escaped Weird Toad? Probably not. No matter what transpired the Prince’s enemies had to come to him. Any why? Because the Prince held what they had to have to win — Chester Newport. Still, he was getting tired of being the nice guy.

“How did the Major and the King’s son escape?”

“We’re not sure,” Blackjack answered. “We had them surrounded and we knew they were too close to Weird Toad to go to light speed but suddenly their ship vanished.”

“Was there a green flash?”

“Hold on.” Blackjack Astor put one hand to his earphone. “Yes sire, a green flash just before they vanished.”

“They went to negative light speed.”

“Negative light speed? I’ve never heard of that.”

“When you have a brain the size of a dog’s fart there are many things you haven’t heard of.”

“Yes sire.”

Blackjack Astor’s whole face was wet now. It wasn’t easy sitting in the Captain’s chair knowing the Prince could push a button that would change the chair into a vise so powerful it could reduce — in thirty excruciating seconds — the person sitting in it to a glob of brown fat. A moment went by before the Prince spoke again.

“We want you to put the 21 in exactly the same spot where they disappeared, and then, instead of going to light speed we want you to thrust backwards with the same enthusiasm.”

The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness watched a wave of relief wash over Blackjack’s face. The Prince wasn’t going to push the button after all. A second later Blackjack Astor’s relief was replaced by a new anxiety — the unknown of going to negative light speed.

“Will we come back from this, sire?”

Probably not was the look the Prince exchanged with Ratchett.

“It’s a gamble, Blackjack. You should like that. Now do it!”

“What about Weird Toad, sire?”


  • Blackjack/Prince Artist: Nada Serafimovic

(46) How to Shake Hands Without Hands

“Where are we?”

The Major had just woken up. She glanced over at the empty seat beside her; then down at her empty boot holster. No wonder no one was answering her. She stretched. All she remembered was James pushing back on the throttle and then — blackness. But outside, through the glass, she could see that they had landed on a planet and that the blackness had been replaced by redness — red trees, red sky, red snake. She looked again. There was definitely a red snake slithering across the fighter’s windscreen. Back on Weird Toad it had seemed like anything had to be better than falling into Blackjack Astor’s hands but now the Major wasn’t so sure. Large snakes weren’t her favorite things.

She heard the fighter door open. James came in with Earwax perched on his shoulder. The boys were back in town.

“Where are we?” she asked again getting to her feet.

“No idea but the natives are friendly.”

“They must like snakes.”

“Well, actually, they are snakes. That’s the King’s daughter playing on our windscreen.”

“You’re joking.”

“Look out the door.”

The Major walked over to the door. All she could see was what looked like a giant red boulder with a smile.

“Wave to the King. His name is Parzel.”

The Major didn’t see anything to wave to but she waved anyway. The smile on the boulder opened and out came a giant red tongue. The Major’s eyes opened so wide she was afraid they’d never close again. The tongue stopped an inch from her face.

“Stick your tongue out,” James said.

He’s not kidding, thought the Major, so she stuck her tongue out and touched the king’s tongue — first time for everything.

“Your Majesty, I’m Major Occam of the Intergalactic Rangers. I’m honored to meet you.”

The tongue retreated. Then the head of the King’s daughter appeared in the doorway and she too stuck out her tongue. Bet James likes this, thought the Major touching tongues for the second time.

“Please come in,” she said.

King Parzel was ten times too big to fit through the door but his daughter managed to stick her head into the cabin.

“This is Missy,” James said. “She has seventeen brothers and sisters and she’s the youngest — just two years old.”

The Major looked at James as if to say how do you know all this?

“Telepathy,” James said tapping the side of his head with his finger. “Those of us with superior intellect-”

Missy giggled. She turned toward the Major and spoke in a beautiful froggy voice, “James said we’d play a joke on you but I think we girls should stick together. Please come outside where my father can speak to you. Please, come.”

Missy backed her head out. The Major turned to James. “We don’t have time for this.”

“No, we don’t.”

“We could blast out of here.”

“I tried that while you were sleeping. Something’s holding the ship.”

The Major looked at James. She could tell there was nothing to be done but find out about a planet full of talking snakes. James stuck his tongue out. The Major sighed and headed outside.


“Welcome to Newhome,” King Parzel said.

The Major bowed. “Your Majesty. Could you tell us exactly where we are?”

“It might be better if you told me why you are here?”

The Major considered this. James had said the natives were friendly but there was a tone in King Parzel’s voice that suggested otherwise. Her instincts told her to be honest and forthright.

“We were about to be captured by Blackjack Astor in his battle cruiser. We couldn’t go to light speed to escape because we were too close to the planet Weird Toad.”

The Major could tell King Parzel didn’t understand.

“Going to light speed causes enormous vibrations. If you try it close to a large landmass the vibrations will rebound destroying your ship. But we couldn’t allow ourselves to be captured — it would have been better to die than that — so James sent the ship into negative light speed something we’d never done before and here we are.”

“So, you didn’t mean to come here?”

“We had no idea where we would end up.”

“Tell me about this battle cruiser. What does it look like?”

“Round, huge, black. It holds a thousand men all armed and dangerous.”

King Parzel frowned. “There’s something I want you to see. Please, follow me.”

The Major glanced at James. He shrugged. Missy watched this exchange. “It’s all right,” she said. “My father wants to show you pictures that will explain what’s going on.”

They followed after King Parzel who was already fifty steps ahead and moving quickly. At first the land was flat but it wasn’t long before it started to rise like an onramp to the sky and it wasn’t long before James was having trouble breathing.

“Too many camels, perhaps?” The Major was enjoying James’ discomfort.

“Too much fun,” James said trying to grin back.

Twenty minutes later King Parzel slithered to a stop. The Major came up beside him. They stood at the edge of a very high cliff. It was a long way down.

“There is a cave below us,” the King said. “I’m going there now. When my body stops moving, please slide down my back and into the cave.”

King Parzel headed down until almost half of his gigantic length was over the cliff. The Major peered over the edge. The King’s head had disappeared into a hole in the cliff face. She was not feeling good about this. She glanced back at James.

“You first,” she said.

“Age before beauty.”

The Major made a face. She probably was older. “Chicken,” she said sitting down. Earwax jumped into his holster while James slid in behind her wrapping his arms around her waist.

“Nice,” murmured James smelling her hair.

“Don’t get any ideas.”

“Too late.”

The Major leaned forward and they started to slide.

(47) Mary and the Mushrooms

Mary wasn’t amused. First she’d gotten flattened by a tomato the size of a basketball. Then she’d had to wade through stinky blue cheese dressing — not something normal like Ranch or Vinaigrette. Then she’d been poked by a man-eating Zucchini. Who was going to believe that? And now here she was surrounded by really ugly white slimy tall skinny giant mushrooms.

She loathed mushrooms especially ones looming over her like moldy umbrellas. To add to her misery it was dark and wet and cold and everywhere she looked there were creepy shadows that moved and she could smell onions and manure and all she really, really wanted was to go home.

But there was no point in saying she really, really wanted to go home because there was nothing the others could do about it and if she did say it they’d look at her like she was being a wussy female and that wouldn’t do.

“I want to go home,” Little William said.

“Me too!” exclaimed Mary.

Albert, who was leading the way, stopped. He’d come to a wall. It was brown and pitted and looked vaguely familiar.

“What is that?” Charles asked.

Albert ran his finger along the slick surface then tasted it. He scrunched up his face. “Liver.”

All the kids groaned. Mary glanced back. The mushrooms were swaying, moaning, taking three steps forward — spinning, two steps back — spinning, three steps forward. It was a scary sight made scarier by the cooked onions swaggering between the mushrooms, waving their machete-like arms, whooshing the air like helicopter blades. White vegetables, thought Mary. Yuck and double yuck.

“We’ll have to eat our way through,” Veronica said.

“I’d rather die first,” replied Mary.

One of the onions screamed. It sounded like someone being tortured.

“You may get your wish. Hurry!”

The boys started eating and Veronica joined them. Mary started to cry. The onions were freaking her out.

“Ketchup would help,” Veronica said trying to make a joke of it.

“So would a flamethrower,” said Charles.

Crying wasn’t helping so Mary decided to hold her breath and turn blue. The white vegetables were chanting now, “Onion dip, onion dip, onion dip-” Mary stamped her feet and waved her arms — another few steps and she’d be a nacho.

“EEEEEYYYYYAAAA!” Mary charged the lead mushroom flapping her arms like a madwoman. As she got near she lowered her shoulder and smashed into the mushroom like a linebacker making the game-saving tackle.

The mushroom fell backwards into the mushroom behind which fell sideways into his neighbor. Like dominoes the mushrooms knocked each other over until none were left standing. The onions stopped their chanting and helped the mushrooms back on their feet. They were really angry now.

Mary scurried back toward the liver. The boys and Veronica hadn’t eaten nearly enough but Mary didn’t care. She threw herself at the wall of liver but instead of breaking through, the wall folded in half and crashed to the ground enveloping Mary like a tortilla.

All Victor could see of Mary were her kicking feet but he sure could hear her. Victor and Charles pulled the liver back and Mary slid across its slimy surface into a puddle of ketchup. The rest of the group scrambled over the liver while Victor helped Mary up. Like the last time she was covered in red slime and once again it was all Victor could do not to burst out laughing.

“Don’t say anything, Victor.”

“I won’t.” Victor helped brush the ketchup away from Mary’s eyes.


“Yes Mary?”

“Ask me if I’m okay.”

“Are you okay Mary?”


  • Mary and the mushrooms Artist: Nada Serafimovic

(48) King Parzel Has a Score to Settle

The Major couldn’t help but laugh. If this was the end at least it was a fun way to go. They were halfway down King Parzel’s back and picking up speed. She looked around and there was a lot of around to look at — all of it red and most of it down. Not falling off would be a really good idea. By the time they reached the mouth of the cave they were flying. Before the Major or James could worry about slowing King Parzel lifted his head and they came to a gentle stop. They slid off.

You didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to see why King Parzel had brought them here. The walls of the cave were covered in primitive drawings that told the history of this strange planet.

“They start over here,” King Parzel said moving forward. It was then that the Major realized the red light in the cave was coming from the King’s eyes. “My ancestors arrived here on a spaceship. They were two-legged beings just like you. There were almost 200 of them — men, women, and children. They built homes. They planted crops. They had babies; people died. You see here five houses built together. This one looks like a store. This was the beginning of a town.”

The King moved along the wall. “But here you see something happens. A large black spaceship arrives and onboard is a black cloud.”

“That’s the Truly Evil Prince of Darkness. He represents everything bad in the Universe.”

“That’s certainly the role he played here.”

The Major followed the drawings. The black cloud seemed to be pointing at something that wasn’t there. She looked at King Parzel, puzzled.

“This planet is full of a mineral called teeton that is more valuable than gold because it’s invisible.”


“Only beings born here can see it.”

“How strange.” The Major ran this intel through her encyclopedic brain. “On Yasir the men can’t hear the women. I suppose it’s a bit like that. So what did the Prince want?”

“He wanted us to mine the teeton so he could build spaceships with it.”

“Invisible spacecraft. That would be something,” James said.

“And?” The Major could see from the drawings that what happened next wasn’t pretty.

“Our ancestors refused saying they did not wish to spend their lives underground. They wanted to be farmers, growing their food, enjoying the sunshine.”

“And the Prince didn’t like that.”

“He gave them till sundown to reconsider.”

The Major studied the next picture. The man in the drawing was standing up to the Prince, his people behind him. “It didn’t go well,” she said.

“My grandfather tried to reason with him. ‘Please leave us alone,’ he said. ‘We want to be farmers, working our land, enjoying the sunshine. We mean you no harm.’ The Prince’s response was a lightning bolt that killed my grandmother. Just like that. One minute she was standing beside her husband and the next she was lying on the ground, dead.”

King Parzel aimed his eyes at the next picture. “My grandfather rushed at the Prince but the Prince’s guards stopped him. Then, in his anger, my grandfather yelled out that they would rather be snakes than work for the Prince.

‘So be it,’ the Prince said and that was that. The Prince left and we’ve been snakes ever since and our world never changes from this red sunset light.”


King Parzel, the Major and James all turned toward the mouth of the cave. Missy’s head entered the cave but behind it her body was falling. She wasn’t long enough to come down from above. In a flash she was gone.

The Major was already sprinting, already drawing her gun. “Stunner! Line shot.”


The Major reached the lip of the cave, looked down and fired. A thin plastic line shot out of her gun and wrapped around the disappearing tail of Missy. But the Major had nothing to hold on to and as soon as she felt the tug on the line she knew she was going over the edge too.

And that’s what would have happened if King Parzel hadn’t shot his tongue out and coiled it around the Major’s waist. I may yet learn to love snakes, thought the Major as King Parzel’s tongue eased her back from the lip of destruction.

She pulled Stunner’s trigger and watched as Missy slowly returned to the land of the living.

(49) Veronica and the Rubber Plant

Now what? thought Veronica. Ever since the liver encounter they’d been trudging through heavy black soil and she was as dispirited as the kids. Not that she would ever admit it. Major O would never say a discouraging word and Veronica was trying her best to be as brave as the Major. It wasn’t easy.

She stopped at the low terra cotta wall they’d come to and peered over the edge. It was more than straight down and way too high to jump. Why was there always something? And why was it always difficult?

“There’s Ranger Headquarters.” Victor pointed at the brick building in the distance. They all knew Ranger Headquarters from watching Occam’s Razor. That was the good news; the bad news was there didn’t appear to be any way to get there.

“We shouldn’t be able to see it,” Victor said not wanting to say it because he didn’t always want to be the one who knew things.

“Why not?” Edward asked.

“It’s in a blind spot — Episode 5 — visible only to Rangers.” The others didn’t know what to make of this. Victor wasn’t finished. “I think we’re in someone’s flowerpot.”

Veronica looked back at the big rubber plant they’d passed some time ago. Victor could be right. That might explain the liver. She used to hide hers in strange places. “Must be a big someone,” she said.

“How are we going to get down?” Little William wanted to know.

“I’m not going back, I can tell you that.” Mary still dripped ketchup and her right shoulder stunk of liver. She was prepared to trade her whole Mutant Barbie collection for a bath or shower. “No way I’m going back.”

“You got us past the liver,” Albert said, trying to cheer her up.

Veronica stared over the side again. Just because the human chain thing hadn’t worked in the river didn’t mean it wouldn’t work this time. “Okay, I’m going over the edge. Albert slide down my body and grab my ankles. Then Charles, Victor, Mary, Edward and William.”

Veronica eased herself over the edge. In no time at all six kids were hanging from each other’s feet like they were auditioning for Cirque du Soleil.

“William’s down!” Victor shouted. “Now what?”

Veronica couldn’t believe she’d done it again. How did she think the rest of them we’re going to reach the ground?

“Hurry!” Mary was starting to lose her grip on Victor.

“This isn’t how I pictured it!” yelled back Veronica. Why didn’t stuff like this ever happen to the Major? “Edward! See if you can climb back up!”

Edward pulled his way up till he was back at the top. Then Mary and Victor, Charles and Albert, did the same. Veronica climbed back into the flowerpot. No one said anything but Veronica could feel the negative vibes. She looked down at Little William. She couldn’t leave him alone down there.

“Okay, let’s try again. Boys, take off your shirts and pants. We’ll tie them together and make a rope.” No one had a better idea so the boys did what they were told. Soon they were all standing around in their underwear watching Albert and Veronica tie the pieces together.

Mary grinned at Victor’s white boxers dotted with yellow smiley faces. Victor sent her a telepathic message: My grandmother gave me these for Christmas. They’re not my fault!

Albert threw the end of the makeshift rope over the side. It came to within ten feet of the ground. Little William yelled up, “You can drop from there!”

They held the rope for Edward and over he went. That’s better, thought Veronica — an idea that actually works. Mary, Victor, and Charles were soon on the ground staring up at Veronica and Albert.

“You’re next, Albert.”

“If I go who’s going to hold the rope for you?”

Now there’s a good question, thought Veronica. “I’ll figure something out, over you go. They need you down there.”

Albert wanted to argue but he knew it wouldn’t do any good. Over he went. Veronica watched him slide down. Now what? The boys looked funny standing around in their underwear. They looked like they were too young for the army but trying to join anyway. Veronica dropped the rope over the side and the boys scrambled for their clothes.

Veronica tried to think like her dad would. He was always wandering around the house muttering about getting the Major out of some impossible situation he’d put her in. ‘It takes me two days to figure out what she has to invent instantly. That’s what makes her a hero.’

We haven’t got two days, thought Veronica trying to come up with something. Can’t go down — can’t go back — can’t go up — can’t go sideways...

“Veronica!” Veronica looked over the edge. Albert had tied the boys’ clothes together into a makeshift fireman’s net. “Jump!” Albert shouted.

Veronica hesitated. Albert’s net looked like a moth-eaten parachute from the First World War.

“I’m going to try the rubber plant. Get ready.”

Veronica shimmied up the rubber plant. When she reached the top the stalk began to bend. For a few seconds Veronica thought that not only was her idea going to work but that it was going to be utterly brilliant as well. That was just before the rubber plant snapped in two.


(50) King Parzel Rattles Blackjack

The words of rebuke King Parzel had ready for Missy never left his mouth because Missy no sooner reached safety than she blurted out words of her own:

“The spaceship has returned!”

“What spaceship?”

“That one!” Missy pointed at the drawing of the Prince’s battle cruiser. While her father digested this Missy wound herself around the Major’s legs. “Thank you,” she whispered.

The Major smiled at her.

“Blackjack’s followed us,” James said.

King Parzel pulled himself up. “We’ve waited a long time for this moment. I need to tell the others.”

The Major wasn’t sure who the others were but there was no missing the determination in the King’s voice.

“Climb on my back,” he said. “You too, Missy.”

King Parzel slid out of the cave mouth and then turned and rose till he reached the land above. “Let me call the others. Put your hands over your ears.”

The King’s tail shot up and shook three times which produced a noise like a monster baby rattle might make. The Major could feel the air vibrate around her. Now what?

King Parzel moved so fast it threw the Major and James together. It was like being on a rollercoaster without seats.

“Hang on!”

“Like there’s a choice!”

A minute later they peered from the top of a large hill at James’ spiffy double-X-wing turbo starfighter in the valley below. A football field away stood the 21, dwarfing Miss Behavin like a Frisbee beside a bottle cap. Soldiers in full battle gear were hurrying down the ramp of the battle cruiser. This was more difficult than it should have been because the ramp was at a severe angle. Only one side of the 21 was resting on the ground. The other side appeared to be floating.

The soldiers halted, separated, and down the ramp strode Blackjack Astor trying to look dignified while he fought to keep his balance. He was a head taller than his soldiers and wearing his usual shiny black uniform. He always reminded the Major of Snidely Whiplash without hair.

“I’ve dreamed of this all my life,” King Parzel whispered.

“Your Majesty, those guns they carry shoot lasers. They can cut you to pieces.”

“I think not.” King Parzel slithered upward till his head towered like a skyscraper above the hill. The Major could see the shocked look on the soldiers’ faces as they beheld the head of a snake as big as a whale. The king’s tail rose in the air and his rattle made a noise like thunder. All along the rim of the valley more giant snakes rose up. Soon fifty enormous red snakes glared down at Blackjack Astor.

“Now that’s a scary sight,” whispered James. Blackjack Astor certainly thought so. He spun around and ran back up the ramp into the 21, his soldiers rushing after him.

“They’re going to get away!” the Major said to King Parzel.

“Go with Missy to your ship. She’ll help you get ready to leave. Hurry!”

The Major and James didn’t need to be told twice. They jumped on Princess Missy’s back as she shot down the hill. Some of the big snakes were rushing down the hill too heading for the 21. The Major had the feeling she’d suddenly landed in that can of worms everybody talked about. Then the 21’s guns started firing adding laser balls to the confusion.

Missy skillfully dodged the big snakes and within seconds she slid to a stop beside Miss Behavin. James sprinted toward his ship.

“Wait!” Missy shouted just as James’ neck ran into something he couldn’t see. For a second James levitated then he dropped to the ground like he’d been clotheslined. “Your ship is surrounded by teeton!”

The Major helped James to his feet while Missy circled Miss Behavin removing cables only she could see. Missy soon returned. Tears filled her eyes.

“You’re free to go now.”

“We’ll come back, Missy. I promise.”

“I know you will. Bye and good luck!”

With that Missy raced up the hill to her father. The Major closed the door as James powered up.

“Hang on, here we go!” James slammed the fighter into negative light speed and once again the Major’s world turned black.

(51) Ranger Headquarters

When Veronica landed in Albert’s makeshift net the force of the impact yanked the kids into the middle where they banged heads and wrenched knees. Then, as they struggled to their feet, the broken piece of rubber plant arrived sending them all sprawling back into the dirt. Now the only one not limping was Veronica but she wished she was.

To make matters worse the boys’ shirts and pants were nothing but shreds. The boys looked like castaways. None of the kids said anything but Veronica could see them thinking that while she may look like the Major that’s where the similarity ended. A kid’s pedal car may look like the real thing but don’t take it out on the freeway.

“The net was a good idea, Albert,” she said. “You saved my life, thanks.”

“You got the rest of us down.”

“I know I look like the Major but I’m not brave and smart like she is.”

“You’re doing all right,” Albert said. Veronica put her arm around him and squeezed.

Ranger Headquarters was finally within reach. It looked like a typical two-story brick high school — the one with the flat roof, wide front steps and lots of windows. Veronica and the kids found an opening in the chain-link fence and started across the yard. It was slow going. They had to dodge big wads of chewing gum and gigantic cigarette butts. The ground was black and sticky with nicotine.

At last they reached the front steps but a gang of tough-looking teenage boys blocked the way in.

“It’s Badass!” Charles cried. Badass was one of the big stars of Occam’s Razor. He was cool and black and had attitude. The fact that he was a smartass who worked for the Prince just made him more appealing. Badass took a swig of his soda as he looked them over.

“Hey a fan and a real Major Ho-hum. I saw you fly by earlier. Looked like you were flying first-class on Air Buzzard — the airline that picks your seat and everything else.” Badass made sure the bullies around him snickered.

“And who are these nose-wipes?” he asked staring at the kids. “New recruits? What’cha gonna do, Major? Glue ’em together?”

“These are friends of mine,” Veronica answered. “Something you wouldn’t know anything about, Badass.”

“Friends let you down. Who needs ’em?”

“Friends are what it’s all about.”

Badass didn’t like talking about friends because he didn’t have any real friends just guys he bullied. He threw his empty pop can over Mary’s head. “These are about all you got left.”

“We’ll see, Badass.”

“Not around here you won’t; everybody’s gone.”

Veronica brushed past Badass who made no move to stop her. The kids followed her into the building.

“Hey, I like the one in ketchup,” Badass called out. Mary wanted to go back and slug him but Albert grabbed her arm.

“Bet you’d look dynamite in mustard!”

Badass was right; everyone was gone. Veronica ran upstairs into the large room that was Command Central, the hub of Ranger communications for the entire Universe. All she found was three bullies playing Thug of War on the Ranger mainframe. Behind her Badass chuckled. Veronica turned, her body bursting with disappointment, but before she could lash out Badass pointed at the windows. “You’d better look outside.”

Veronica and the kids ran to the windows. What they saw was Victor out in the yard surrounded by five bullies getting ready to beat the snot out of him.

“Outside everyone! Hurry!”

Albert reached the door first but Badass had locked it from the other side. It was a metal door with wired glass. No way were they getting out that way. Mary returned to the window. She put her hands up and clutched the metal bars designed to keep intruders out. “Oh Victor,” she whispered helplessly.

(52) The Prince’s Best Commander Isn’t

The Prince of Darkness stared at the screen in fascination. He remembered those stupid farmers on Newhome. They had refused to mine the invisible metal so he’d turned them into snakes. And now look at them. They’d grown as big as subway trains. The Prince made a mental note to check the water on Newhome. Imagine an air force composed of giant mosquitoes?

The Prince looked on as King Morath’s son and the Major appeared riding on the back of a smaller snake. He watched as they disappeared inside their fighter. Then the air flashed green and the ship vanished only to be replaced by Blackjack Astor’s worried face.

“Are you there, sire?”

“No Blackjack, we’re somewhere else.”

Blackjack didn’t get it. The Prince shook his head. Blackjack was his best commander but also the dumbest. There was a correlation there that the Prince, as Supreme Commander, decided was best not to pursue.

“Yes sire. We have a situation here.”

“We can see that. King Morath’s son and the Major just left, you might as well follow suit. And while you’re at it blow that planet up too.”

“Yes sire,” answered Blackjack avoiding the Prince’s eyes. Something wasn’t right here.

“Blackjack, you did blow up Weird Toad, didn’t you?”

“No sire.”

The Prince’s finger hovered over the crush button. Thirty wonderful seconds in which to watch Blackjack change from battleship commander to brown goop. “We gave you a direct order.”

“My sister lives there, sire. Many of the crew have family there.”

The Prince scowled. “That’s why you wanted a blockade in the first place, isn’t it Blackjack? You didn’t want to destroy the planet because your sister lives there.”

“Yes sire.”

“So all that gobbledygook about converting the planet to our side was horse manure?”

“Yes sire.”

The Prince began to realize why Blackjack’s men liked him so much. Why they fought so hard on his behalf. And Blackjack wasn’t afraid to stand up to the Prince and the Prince liked that though he’d never admit it.

“Any reason why you can’t blow up Newhome?”

“No sire. We would love to blow up this snake-infested planet, wouldn’t we men?” The crewmembers around Blackjack cheered.

Blackjack saluted the Prince and switched off. There was something about these giant snakes that made Blackjack’s skin crawl. “Hurry up there!” The last of his men were coming up the ramp.

“Prepare to take off!”


“Fire rockets 1,3 and 5!”


Blackjack Astor closed his eyes. He couldn’t believe he was still alive. He felt a wave of gratitude for the Prince wash over him. The Prince had a heart after all.


Blackjack opened his eyes. Backgammon, his second-in-command, was staring at him.


“The ship won’t lift off, sir. Something’s holding it down.”

“Impossible. Fire 1 through 6.”


The teeton cables quivered as one-by-one the big spaceship’s rockets fired. King Parzel raised his tail and his compatriots followed suit. With a nod of the King’s head the fifty gigantic rattles began to vibrate together.

The red dirt around the 21 billowed up; the air shimmered and inside the battle cruiser Blackjack Astor, his hands over his ears, tried to say the words that would launch the ship into negative light speed.

But it was too late. Blackjack’s vocal chords ripped apart making their own last horrible music. Blackjack stared in shock as the veins in his men’s faces puffed and exploded. Then Blackjack’s eyes popped out of their sockets and the 21 and everything inside it disintegrated leaving nothing but a blood red fog.

The Prince stared, fascinated, as Blackjack Astor went from battleship commander to brown fat, to specks on the wall, to nothing at all. So much for the 21, thought the Prince. The snakes on Newhome had guts; he liked that. But even more he loved REVENGE. It was such an evil, satisfying emotion.


“Yes sire?”

“We must be sure to visit Weird Toad and Newhome on our Intergalactic Grand Tour. We’re sure they’ll be glad to see us. Don’t you agree, Ratchett?”

“Yes sire.” We’ll be about as welcome as the Black Plague, thought Ratchett.


King Parzel and Missy headed back to the cave. New drawings needed to be drawn.

(53) Victor Is Not Afraid

He wasn’t sure why but Victor attracted bullies like a fire hydrant attracts male dogs. So having to deal with tormenters wasn’t new to Victor. He’d been in this predicament several times before and whenever he had nightmares getting pummeled by bullies was always the central theme.

Victor had a feeling it had something to do with being a rich geeky kind of kid. That and the fact he wasn’t scary. He wasn’t a weightlifter or anything. He wasn’t going to knock anybody’s block off.

But Victor’s mom had been teaching him what to do and the first thing she always said was, ‘You have to act like you’re not afraid.’

“Okay, Fatboy! You first!” Victor shouted this at the biggest of the bullies. Fatboy, as Victor called him, looked like he’d eaten so many donuts he’d turned into one. He wore oversized camo-pants so baggy the crotch hung down to his knees. Wide green suspenders kept the pants from falling down altogether while a chunky silver chain secured his wallet. Upstairs he had on a yellow t-shirt big enough for two boys emblazoned with the words: EVIL IS GOOD, GOOD IS EVIL.

Fatboy snickered as Victor made kung fu noises and waved his arms around like he’d just spent seven years in Tibet training with Shaolin masters. As Fatboy stepped forward Victor kicked his foot out. Fatboy caught Victor’s ankle and flipped him to the ground.

“That’s highly unlikely,” Victor said scrambling back to his feet. Fatboy stepped forward again and this time Victor grabbed him by the knee and heaved. He’s a cartoon character, Victor thought. How heavy can he be? Fatboy didn’t move but Victor did — he fell flat on his stomach. Victor rolled over and looked up at the laughing faces. “Are you guys from Vulcan by any chance?”

Victor struggled to his feet. This time he charged Fatboy using his head as a battering ram. Fatboy stuck out his gut and Victor bounced backwards like a pinball off a flipper. Victor rubbed his head.

“Must have been the week I missed class.”


Meanwhile, inside Ranger Headquarters, Veronica and the Spoils were trying desperately to escape. Albert had tied a rope from the doorknob to the window bars and was using a broom handle as a tourniquet.

“Where’s Charles?” Mary asked.

“He didn’t come upstairs,” Edward answered.

“Man, something has to give.” Albert had the rope stretched so tight Mary could have played it like a violin. Albert gave the broom handle another turn. BANG! The doorknob broke off, hurtled by Albert so close he felt a breeze, then sailed between the bars blowing out the window glass.

Albert tried the door. Still locked. Before the others could react Little William squeezed between the metal bars and scurried down the rope. The others were too big and they knew it. Albert was angry now.

“C’mon! Think! We have to get out of here, now!”

Edward ran into the supply cupboard and started rummaging through the boxes. There had to be something. Albert drove a chair into the wired glass. The force of the blowback knocked him off his feet. Mary couldn’t stop staring out the window. Two of the bullies held Victor’s arms as Little William raced toward them.

Veronica felt helpless. Albert’s right, think! What would the Major do?

Suddenly the monitor beside her spluttered and sparked. A face appeared on the screen. It was Straight Shooter saying, “Major?”

“I’m Veronica, Chester Newport’s daughter.” Veronica could see Straight Shooter trying to make sense of that. Before he could ask about the uniform Veronica said, “Have you seen my father?”

“Yes. He’s in the dungeon of the Prince’s castle.”

“Is he all right?”

“I think so. He’s suspended in a block of something clear, like ice.”

Veronica didn’t like the sounds of that.

“Where’s Stacey?” Straight Shooter asked.

“No one’s here but Badass and some of his bullies. Where are you?”

“Near the castle.”

Veronica heard a shout and turned to see Edward holding up six sticks of dynamite attached to an old-fashioned plunger.

“Gotta go,” she said to Straight Shooter. “See you soon.”

“Good luck, Major.”


Victor stopped struggling. The two bullies holding his arms were too strong. He watched as Fatboy snapped open a switchblade. “You finished, Rice Paddy? We want to see if you bleed like we do.”

Victor waited till Fatboy was close enough to cut him. As the knife came toward his face Victor lifted both legs and kicked his feet into Fatboy’s stomach. Fatboy landed on his butt and bounced three times.

“Way to go, Victor!” Little William slid to a stop behind Fatboy. Before Fatboy could react Little William smacked the back of Fatboy’s head, hard, causing Fatboy’s eyeballs to fly out of their sockets. Fatboy shrieked then dropped his knife as his hands flew to his face.

Little William picked up the cartoon switchblade and stepped toward the two bullies holding Victor’s arms. “Which of you wonkers wants to play paper, rock, switchblade?”

The bully holding Victor’s right arm let go. Victor swung his fist around to the left and punched the other bully in the face as hard as he could. Cartoon stars appeared and the bully corkscrewed to the ground. Little William and Victor took off for Ranger Headquarters.

“Get ’em!” screamed Fatboy crawling on his hands and knees searching frantically for his eyeballs.

Just as Little William and Victor reached the front steps a terrific explosion rocked the building blowing out all the remaining windows on the second floor. The force of the explosion knocked Victor and Little William to the ground — unhurt — but the bullies chasing them weren’t as lucky. The flying glass shredded them. For a second they resembled cheerleaders’ pompoms dancing in the air but when they fluttered to the ground they looked like trash from a New Year’s Eve party.

Veronica, Albert, Mary and Edward stumbled out of the smoke and debris, bent over, coughing.

Badass, riding a motorcycle — a West Coast Chopper its trademark handlebars reaching high in the air — pulled up with a roar in front of the building. Seated behind him was Charles, wearing a German war helmet. Badass let out a hoot.

“Way to go Major! You just blew up Ranger Headquarters.”

(54) The Prince in Ginger

The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness examined himself in the mirror. There wasn’t much to see. He was like a shadow without a body.

“Ratchett, which do you like better? Chili...” — the Prince turned a brick red color — “...or ginger?” The Prince melted into orangey-red.

“Ginger sire, more mystical.”

Most days the Prince rather liked being more mystical than defined but lately he’d been craving something more substantial — something with its own destiny. In short, something real.

Like his Creator, Chester Newport, the Prince was getting older. He longed to break out of the box that his life had become. It was time to try something fresh, and, as chance would have it, the means to this end were at hand or almost.



“How is the Booth of XTernal XChange coming?”

“Very close, sire.”

“That’s what you said last time we asked.”

“It should be ready this afternoon.”

“Excellent Ratchett.” The Prince started changing colors again something he did whenever he was thinking about different possibilities.

“Have you contemplated the possibilities, Ratchett?”

“Not really, sire.”

“Think of it Ratchett, all of us real, no longer confined to the pages of our comic book. Our lives no longer manipulated by Chester Newport. Think of the opportunities, Ratchett.”

Here’s what Ratchett thought: If you weren’t around Prince making our lives miserable we could probably have some pretty good times right here, real or not.

The Prince changed from pimento red to olive green. “Then we’ll build a booth big enough to hold the Revenge. Can you see it, Ratchett?”

“We could visit Paris.”


“Los Angeles.”

“Hong Kong.”


The Prince stopped at gangrene. “Ratchett, why would we want to visit Buffalo?”

“The wings sire. They’re the best.”

The Prince frowned. He was never sure when Ratchett was pulling his leg. Princes didn’t like to have their legs pulled.

“We imagine we could obtain those without actually going to Buffalo,” he said. “Picture it — we hover over New York City. The natives below are in total panic — like one of those B movies you like, Ratchett. You get on the loudspeaker: ‘Citizens of Manhattan! You have one hour to deliver all your good-looking women and all your buffalo wings!’”

“Cheesecake, sire. In New York we should go for the cheesecake.”

“Are you making a joke, Ratchett?”

“Yes sire.”


The Prince ran through the browns, slipped into gray, hit black and rebounded into blue. He stopped at aquamarine. “We expect the Major will be here by tomorrow.”

“If all goes as planned, sire.”

“Oh Ratchett, it’s so much more fun when things don’t go as planned, don’t you think?”

“I prefer a more structured Universe, sire.”

“Yes Ratchett and that’s why you’ll always have to call someone else sire.”

“Yes sire.”

(55) Greased Lightning

Veronica and the kids, minus Charles, trudged along the dirt road Badass had taken. It was hot and dusty and they hadn’t seen anything living, except spotted lizards, for miles.

“Are you okay, Victor?” Mary asked. She and Victor were walking together. Mary was still soggy with tomato juice and there wasn’t any part of Victor that wasn’t smeared with dirt.

“I won’t be afraid anymore,” he said.

“You did great.”

“Little William helped.”

“Friends help.”

“Every time I get a friend we move.”

“Not this time.” Mary squeezed his hand.

“I hope you’re right.”

Edward stopped. “I smell fries.”

The rest of the group sniffed the air.

“You’re right Edward. French fries and not far away.”

They moved more quickly now and before long they spotted a rusty blue roadside stand shaped like a cowboy hat. Two old cowboys and two old Indians were sitting on the brim of the hat but when they saw the kids coming they clambered onto their horses and started chasing each other around, firing their guns and whooping it up.

As the kids got closer they could see an old man — a Native North American — standing inside the blue hat smiling at them. He wore a black Stetson with a black-and-white feather stuck in the hatband and his white hair hung down over his ears in two braids. He flicked a switch and the neon sign above his head crackled to life. Greased Lightning the sign read, or would have if most of the letters hadn’t been burnt out. The part that lit up said: ease in.

The kids halted to let the horses run by.

“Ignore them,” the old man in the Stetson shouted. “They haven’t hit anything for ages.”

Veronica and the kids walked over to the cowboy hat. They climbed over the brim and went to the opening. The old man was obviously glad to see them.

“My name’s Eagle and you’re going to like me. Now, what’ll it be?”

“What have you got?” Edward asked already liking Mr. Eagle.

“I asked you first.”

“I haven’t got any money.” Edward looked at the others who then looked at each other and then at Veronica. Veronica poked around in her pockets but came up empty.

“How would you feel about eternal gratitude?”

Eagle laughed. “The way things are going around here I’m thankful for anything that doesn’t bite back. Now, what’ll you have? On the house. If I don’t cook something soon I’m gonna forget how.”

“How!” Edward said holding one hand up.

It wasn’t long before Veronica and the kids were sitting happily on the brim eating French fries and drinking fresh cold lemonade.

“I wonder where Charles is?” Mary asked.

“Who cares?”


“He’s a traitor.”

“You know he’s not.”

“Where is he then?”

“He’s working the other side,” Edward said.

“He could have told us,” Albert snapped.

“He doesn’t like telling you everything.” Edward had been in the middle of enough Albert/Charles fights to know.

Veronica decided to change the subject. “There’s got to be a reason for what’s happening to us. First the yellow sea; then the liver and onions; then Badass and the bullies. What’s next?”

Then it hit Veronica. Little William has nightmares about wetting his bed. Mary has nightmares about liver and onions. Victor has nightmares about bullies.

“Albert, what’s your worst nightmare?”

“I ain’t afraid of nothin’.” The ain’t sounded funny coming out in Albert’s English accent.

“I know that but when you have a nightmare what’s it about?”

Albert didn’t answer but Edward did. “I know mine. It’s winter and Kristy — she’s the little girl lives next door to us — she’s out on the pond behind our place and she falls through the ice and she’s hopelessly trapped and I dive into the freezing water and rescue her and I get invited to the White House and I’m about to get this gold medal from the President when all of a sudden I let this really loud toot — phhhhhttttt! — and everything stops and everybody’s looking at me even the President. Then the ceiling cracks and the White House breaks in two.”

To prove his point Edward leaned sideways and tooted. It was a good one the nasty sound going on and on like Mrs. Finney trying to start her old Cadillac.

“Oh Edward, that is so gross!” Mary held her nose with one hand while the other waved at the air. She had four brothers but for the life of her she couldn’t figure out why they were so in love with farting, hoarking and burping. Veronica and Eagle were still shaking their heads when suddenly they heard:


Like a giant clam opening the ground around them split in two and like the Titanic heading for its watery grave Greased Lightning began sliding down a hill so steep there was nothing any of them could do but hang on for dear life.

Edward stuck his fist in the air. “Yippee-ki-yay!”

(56) The Last Reality Show

“Major, Major, Major! This is no time to be dozing! Shame on you!”

The Major had encountered annoying voices before but this one might be at the top of the list. It reminded her of Mrs. Gorsky’s cousin from New York, AlFred, the one who wore mascara. The one who always said to her, ‘if you want a boyfriend you’ve got to act dumb.’

She opened her eyes. A lean workaholic-type wearing round wire glasses and a leather vest was busy brushing her face with powder. She brought her fist up making contact with his lower jaw. He stumbled back.

“Omigod, that is so great! Wait till I tell everyone I’ve been bonked by the Major! Now really don’t take it personally. I just need to put a little makeup on for the close-ups.”

Mr. Annoying wasn’t alone. Another young man hid behind a television camera obviously recording everything and beside him stood a skinny young female with a clipboard. They wore headphones and mikes.

The Major looked out the windscreen. The last thing she remembered was being on Newhome with Missy and King Parzel and then James going to negative light speed. It appeared Miss Behavin had somehow managed to land inside a cavern. In the distance she could see moonlight streaming in through a large curved opening a football field away.

“Where am I?”

“XoroX,” answered Mr. Annoying. That meant nothing to the Major. “It’s the third planet in the Clave system and frankly if I never see it again it won’t break my heart. Apparently, they used to make all the epics here like Congee the Conqueror, Mr. Gladiator, King Thong.” Mr. Annoying knew everything. “This guy Remo invented a way to duplicate people so he and his wife set up this studio. Saved the movie moguls millions. But then someone figured out how to do it digitally and that was it for XoroX. But get this. Remo divorces his wife and goes off with himself!”

The Major liked people who talked too much for approximately three seconds.

“Where’s James?”

“He’s waiting for you and your cute ferret too. Just you come see. You’re going to love it.”

“Who are you guys anyway?”

“Oh now, we want to surprise you. Are you ready for the biggest adventure of your life?”

The Major wanted to wrap her hands around Mr. Annoying’s voice box — see, I can be annoying too — but she got up and headed toward the door instead. She needed to find James and Earwax and get out of Dodge before this irritant tried to sell her a timeshare on Glamor.

The young woman with the clipboard led the way with the cameraman shuffling sideways keeping his camera focused on the Major’s face while Mr. Annoying whispered into his mike. The Major headed up a ramp.

When she reached the top a spotlight blinked on blinding her. Then a huge voice boomed out:

“And here she is! The most famous Ranger of all! The one, the only, the Maaaaajooooor!”

Bang! Stadium lights turned night into day. The Major found herself standing at the bottom of a Roman Coliseum in the pit where the gladiators killed each other and the lions fed on Christians. Above her screaming fans filled rows and rows of seats.


“Welcome everyone to the Universe’s Most Popular Reality Show. From Mars to Osiris, Pegasi to Bellerophon, we are Number One! The one show everybody rushes home to see live! And what’s the Number One show called?”

The crowd rose to their feet and cried out as one:


(57) Edward’s Masterpiece

Greased Lightning was living up to its name. It felt to Veronica like they’d been sliding downhill forever.

“What a ride!” Little William shouted.

“I hope we don’t have to climb back up!” shouted back Veronica.

“What’s that awful smell?” Mary wanted to know.

“That’s my toot!” Edward cried, beaming.

But that awful smell wasn’t the one chasing them, it was the one waiting for them — a giant, bubbling, gurgling, malodorous, sulfur swamp — and just like that Greased Lightning plowed into the green muck sending up a spray of stinky water so vile a man dying of thirst would have kept on crawling.

Greased Lightning stopped so abruptly everybody was thrown forward. The rest managed to grab hold of the brim but Mary wasn’t so lucky. She sailed through the air her arms outstretched like Wonder Woman flying to the rescue. SPLAT! She landed facedown in the green slime and slid forward for a car length.

Victor helped Mary back to her feet. She smelled like rotten eggs. “Victor, why am I always covered in something I don’t want to be covered in?” Mary stomped her feet up and down like a two year old. “This is the worst smell ever!”

“Sorry,” Edward said to Mr. Eagle who was staring at the cowboy hat and shaking his head. It looked like Greased Lightning had fried its last French fry.

“Don’t worry son,” Eagle said laughing. “I always wanted to go down with the chip.”

The sound of stampeding hooves made them all turn as the old cowboys and Indians came galloping down the hill whooping it up like the Washington Redskins were playing the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl. But they weren’t what Eagle, Veronica and the kids were staring at because behind the four horsemen was the most beautiful sight any of them had ever seen: a valley as wide as a hundred football fields with sides carved out of layers of red and yellow stone as high as ten skyscrapers piled on top of each other and at the bottom the finishing touch — a sparkling green river disappearing into the distance.

“Boy,” Eagle managed his voice full of awe, “that ought to stimulate business. C’mon boys, hitch those horses up. We gotta get Greased Lightning to the top before someone steals my spot.” He turned back and tipped his hat. “Thank you, Edward, that’s got to be the most awesome sight ever. I think I’m going to call it, The Grand Canyon.”

Veronica and the kids watched as the horses dragged Greased Lightning out of the swamp and started up the steep incline. Eagle waved and they waved back. There was something sad about the whole thing — like your best friend is moving to Alaska.

“Now what?” Victor asked finally.

“I need a bath,” Mary answered sniffing herself.

Victor couldn’t stop himself. “Actually Mary, you smell better now than you did slathered in liver.”

Mary tackled Victor and climbed on top of him making sure the putrid water in her turtleneck dripped onto his face. Victor squirmed but not hard. He liked being the center of Mary’s attention.

“This way,” Veronica said.

“Through the swamp?” The kids couldn’t believe it.

“It’s either that or climb Edward’s Grand Canyon.”

They were all too tired for that. Veronica said, “I think you should lead the way, Edward.”

“Okay!” With three older siblings Edward didn’t often get to lead anything. And the others — given the slimy stinky scary muck-bottomed swamp in front of them — were more than happy to let Edward go first.

Edward started forward. The swamp water was about a foot deep with another six inches of ooze on the bottom. Edward plunged on but the others held back.

“There’s probably bloodsuckers in there,” Mary whispered to Victor.

“They’re called annelids. They secrete an anesthetic. You won’t feel a thing and they fall off when they’re full.”

“Is that supposed to be comforting?”

“In Episode 79 there are leeches as big as sharks.”


“Personally, I’d be more worried about water moccasins, cottonmouths and mangrove rattlers.”

“I hate you!”

(58) Edward Makes a New Friend

The green yucky water was now up to Edward’s thighs. The others waded in.

This isn’t so bad, thought Victor, once you get used to the belching noises and the little pink pimple mounds that explode as you walk by. The awful smell reminded him of the time his cousin Lily locked him in the campground outhouse. She said she wanted to see if Victor could breathe in there. Victor’s mother hadn’t even tried to wash his clothes — she’d buried them.

Edward was up to his waist now and really enjoying himself. This was obviously The Land of Happy Boys. Here Edward could toot with impunity. Who would know?

Phhhht! Phhhht! Phhhht! Edward let three quick ones and they erupted behind him. Instead of disappearing they took flight like soap bubbles and bounced across the water toward the others.

“Edward! It smells bad enough already!”

Phhhhhhhhhtttttttt! Edward let rip one of his extra long purple streaked specials — the ones his brothers called napalm. This time the bubble didn’t erupt behind Edward it popped straight up surrounding him. Up the giant bubble rose with Edward trapped inside like a hamster in one of those clear plastic balls.

Before any of the others could react Edward sailed over their heads. Inside the bubble they could see Edward holding his nose with one hand and punching the bubble with the other. Higher and higher Edward drifted until at last he remembered he had a pocketknife hidden in his sock. Edward stabbed the bubble.

Going down!

The kids hurried as best they could toward the splashdown site but suddenly the whole scene became surreal because while Edward was falling toward the swamp, the swamp was rising up to meet him.

Edward landed butt first. As he came up for air, spluttering and waving, he opened his eyes to find two huge yellow eyes staring into his. The big eyes pulled back and Edward realized he was looking at his first ever reach-out-and-touch-it dragon. The dragon had green scaly skin, an enormously long tail and big triangles on its back. And it must be a young dragon, thought Edward, judging by the retainer it’s wearing.

“Hey, who tooted?” the dragon asked sniffing the air. Edward put his hand up.

“Congratulations! It’s a good one.”

“Who are you?” Edward asked.

“I’m Surefire. I’m a dragon. Who are you?”

“You could say we’re lost,” Edward replied. “We’re trying to find the Prince’s castle.”

Surefire the dragon pointed with his tail. “That way. But you don’t want to go there. He’s really mean.”

“We have to,” Edward said. “He’s got Veronica’s dad locked up in his dungeon.”

Surefire said, “Oh, I wouldn’t like it if he had my dad locked up.” Conversation stopped as the kids suddenly realized Veronica wasn’t with them.

“Where’s Veronica?” Victor asked.

“She was beside me.” Albert put his hands up to his mouth and bellowed, “Veronica!”

“Where could she go?” Mary tried not to sound worried.



“Spread out,” Albert said. “She can’t be far.”


Half-an-hour later the kids still hadn’t found Veronica. They were back at the spot where they’d last seen her.

“Something must have swallowed her,” Little William said. Mary swatted her little brother.

“Nothing swallowed her.”

“She wouldn’t leave without us.”

“I think someone kidnapped her.” Victor held up a freshly broken twig. Veronica being kidnapped was better than Veronica being swallowed.

“What do we do now?” Edward asked.

“We could go back,” suggested Mary.

“I think we might be past the point of no return,” Victor said.

“What’s that?” Little William wanted to know.

“When you’re traveling a hundred miles and you’ve gone fifty-one, it’s shorter to go on than go back.”

“We don’t know if we’re halfway.” Albert was getting impatient.

“That’s true,” Victor admitted.

“We’re not going back. We’re going to the castle.” Albert had made his mind up. “Only Chester Newport can fix this mess.”

“I’m sorry you’ve lost your friend,” Surefire said. “Hop on. I’ll take you as far as I can.”

The kids clambered up the young dragon’s tail and sat between the triangles on his back.

“Hey, what do you call this place?” Edward asked.

“Booger Bayou.” Surefire swiveled his head, saw everybody was onboard and took off like an Everglades airboat. He weaved in and out of the mangrove trees, dodging pink flamingos like they were racing markers.

“It’s going to be all right,” Victor said to Mary.

“You really think so?”

Victor didn’t know what he really thought so he kept quiet.

“I wish I had my violin,” Mary said. “When I’m sad it cheers me up.” Mary’s long red hair was blowing in Victor’s face but Victor didn’t mind.

“You could pretend.”

“You’re so sweet.” Mary started humming, doing as her new best friend suggested. Victor smiled. Whatever happened being with Mary was okay.

(59) Veronica Doesn’t Make a New Friend

By the time the kids gave up searching for Veronica she was miles away lying on the backseat of a car that reminded her somehow of an old-style New York taxicab. The upholstery was faded red leather and the ceiling was orange and scruffy. Veronica had just woken up and was trying to remember what had happened to her. Then it hit her.

She’d been watching Edward float away when a metal hand clamped itself over her mouth and squirted something foul up her nose. Whatever it was it had knocked her out. Now she was riding in this car.

She turned her head. Metal man was driving and appeared to be alone. Veronica recognized him from Occam’s Razor. His name was Pesticide and he was one of her dad’s new baddies. He was all pipes and nozzles and tanks. He usually wore a baseball hat with a Rainbow Herbicides’ logo but right now he was sporting a brown fedora, the kind Indiana Jones wore. Veronica tried pushing down on the door handle.

“No way, Sweetheart.” Pesticide was staring at her in the rearview mirror.

“Where are we?” she asked.

Tierras Baldías — the Badlands.”

“Where are we going?”

“The castle.”


“So I can get the reward and retire.”

Pesticide’s fingers beat a tune on the steering wheel. He was obviously in a good mood.

“What reward?”

“The Prince has offered 100 million units to anyone who brings him the Major alive.”

“I’m not the Major.”

Pesticide stopped the car. Veronica thought it was because of what she’d said but when she sat up she could see men in sombreros — bandannas pulled up over their noses and cowboy pistols in their hands — standing in the road, blocking the way.

“This place has way too many bad guys.” Pesticide turned the engine off and climbed out. Veronica leaned forward to see if Pesticide had left the key in the ignition but he hadn’t. She watched as Pesticide approached the six men.

“Who are you guys?” Pesticide asked.

The tallest of the banditos stepped forward. “I’m Carlos and together...” The other five hombres stepped forward, turned sideways and stomped one boot, their timing impeccable. “...we are the Tarantinos.” Pesticide shook his head. On the weekend these guys were probably one of those cheesy mariachi bands that ruined everybody’s enchiladas.

“What do you want?” Pesticide asked.

“Major Hoccam.”

“I’m not sure that’s who she is. Hold on.”

Pesticide started back toward his car.

“Stop!” cried Carlos. “If you take another step we will keel you.”

Pesticide turned around. “Listen Carlos, any of these guys you’re not particularly fond of? The accordion player perhaps?”


“Too slow.” Pesticide spun around. A stream of liquid blasted out of Pesticide’s hand striking the Tarantinos at eye level. The six men fell to the ground crying out in agony. Pesticide walked back to the car. He opened the rear door.

“Get out,” he ordered. “Don’t run or I’ll burn your legs off.” Veronica clambered out. The Tarantinos lay in the dirt, convulsing.

“What did you spray them with?” she asked.

“Agent Tangerine - they’ll be fine by morning. Now, who are you?”

“I’m Veronica, Chester Newport’s daughter.”

“You’re real.”

“I think so.”

“Amazing,” Pesticide said. “What are you doing here?”

“The Prince is holding my dad prisoner in the dungeon.”

“I see. That would explain why the Prince is doing so well. Interesting. Why are you wearing that uniform?”

Veronica blushed. “I needed it to bolster my courage.”

Pesticide didn’t say anything. He just stared at her, thinking.

Veronica was right about Pesticide’s car. It was a New York Checker cab except it wasn’t painted yellow on the outside it was John Deere green. Attached to the roof and sticking out over the front bumper were two long spraying arms tied together.

“What happened to your tractor?” Veronica asked. Pesticide was famous for riding his John Deere Monster Treads Tractor everywhere he went including the streets of New York.

“The Prince took it.”

(60) The Major Meets her Host

The Major turned around and looked up. She was still standing in the pit of the Coliseum and the big voice she was listening to was coming from a too handsome man wearing an expensive suit and holding a microphone. He stood beside a cameraman at the end of a movable boom device. He waved to her.

“Evening Major! I’m your host for tonight and my name is-”


“Now Major, I’m sure you’ve watched the show — billions do every week! — so you know how this goes.”

The Major frowned. Who could keep up with these reality shows? She was usually too tired to watch anything though she did enjoy the New Planet Show and when Jake was around he’d have the football game on. Right now wasting time on whatever this was could be her worst nightmare.

“We figure out what your worst nightmare is and put you in it! How much fun is that!”

Oodles, thought the Major turning back, trying to find James in the crowd. That’s when she realized the crowd was repeating. It was the same hundred people over and over.

“So Major, to start things off, we’ve gathered together some of your worst enemies like — Gerta Oberhauser!”


In the middle of the Coliseum a platform appeared as if by magic and standing on the platform was the famous Nazi, Gerta Oberhauser, swinging two meat cleavers around like she was auditioning to be Donald Trump’s butcher. The crowd roared.

“And Mass Acre! The Heart Breaker!”

Oh man, thought the Major as another platform popped up. She hated dealing with Mass Acre cuz he was like basketball player tall and always threatening to cut her heart out with his chainsaw. Right on cue Mass Acre pulled the cord and his chainsaw roared to life. The crowd tried to make the same noise. Rrrrrrrummmm!

“And the Kung Fu Hustlers!”

The Major’s heart sank. The Hustlers were this gang of Asian dudes — there must have been fifty of them jammed onto their platform — little wiry guys swinging hanbos and chigiriki like you beat us last time but we’ve been practicing.

“And last, but not least Major, your all-time favorite — the one who always gets your goat — let’s hear it for the Prince’s Incredibly Stupid Niece — Mercedes!”

No platform for Mercedes she came flying in on a zip line wearing a chrome miniskirt, chrome bra, chrome boots, bright red cape and Winged Mercury helmet. She waved her flaming swords at the Major a huge smile on her face. Mercedes knew without Chester Newport pulling the strings she could take the Major.

“Now Major, we’ve taken the liberty of relieving you of your stun gun.” The Major reached down. Stunner wasn’t there. “But we don’t expect you to fight barehanded so here are your choices.”

Mr. Annoying appeared pushing a table covered in weapons. The Major picked up a gun and aimed it at Mr. Annoying. She pulled the trigger. A marshmallow flew out. She picked up a sword and the blade drooped.

“Don’t forget, this is-”


“Now you’re probably asking yourself what’s the hook? Why bother with all this? Well Major, this is always the part I like best. Here’s why you’re going to fight your way through all these formidable foes.”

The stadium lights dimmed and the spotlight snapped back on. This time it shone at a curtain at the far end of the Coliseum. Off to the side, outlined in twinkling LED lights, loomed an antiquated crane. The Major could see the crane operator inside his little cabin wearing headphones and smoking a cigar. He waved at her.

“Are you ready?” shouted Emerson Kilbride.

The curtain dropped and the Major had to agree. This was her worst nightmare. James and Earwax, chained together — James’ arms pinned to his sides; Earwax chained to his chest — hung upside down over a tank full of water. A cable with a hook held the chain wrapped around James’ ankles.

“Let’s just make sure everything’s working.”

Emerson Kilbride waved his arm and Tony, the crane operator, released the cable. James and Earwax plumeted into the water.

“Wow! I bet this really is-”


(61) Veronica Argues With Pesticide

They were back in the taxi driving through the badlands. Veronica expected Pesticide to elaborate on why the Prince had taken his tractor but he didn’t. Veronica decided to try again.

“You’re one of my dad’s new villains.”

“Yeah, he’s developing a social conscience.”

“That’s good, isn’t it?”

“Bit late. Besides we need herbicides and pesticides.”

“No we don’t.”

“Listen — what’s your name again?”


“Veronica, we couldn’t feed half the people on the planet without pesticides and herbicides. You want everybody to starve to death?”

“They poison the planet. We’ll all die if we keep using them.”

“How about genetically modified crops? I bet you’re against those too.”

“Europeans don’t like them. They think people will be next.”

“Sure, let’s keep multiple sclerosis and lupus and leukemia. Love ’em.”

“Maybe your sprays cause them,” argued Veronica. “We need organic pesticides, integrated pest management, mixed-farming.”

“Listen Sweetheart — you’re young so you don’t know this yet — there’s only one thing that matters and that’s money. You want to make a difference? Convince the big guys they can make more money saving the planet than raping it. Till then, forget it.”

Veronica didn’t know what she should say next. It seemed so strange having an argument with one of her dad’s cartoon characters. “You actually care, don’t you?”

“You think I like driving around spraying people? Scarring kids? Damaging women? I hate it.”

“My dad’s using you to show kids we have to change.”

“He’s using me all right. Listen Veronica, I’m tired of all this. In the end it’s all about money and right now that’s all I care about too.” Pesticide got a faraway look in his eyes. “Got this little shack on a beach picked out. I’m going to fill my tanks with margaritas and just rust away into the sunset.”

“What about my dad? He created you and now the Prince is going to do something horrible to him.”

“Maybe your dad should have thought of that before he created the Prince.” Pesticide pulled out his phone and hit a button.

“Ratchett? It’s Pesticide. I’ve got Major Occam.”

Ratchett’s voice crackled over the phone. “No, you don’t — the Major is webcasting live from XoroX at the moment.”

“Hold on-”

Veronica watched as Pesticide turned and pretended to have a conversation with her. “You’re right, Ratchett. What I’ve got is Chester Newport’s daughter dressed up as the Major. Sure could have fooled me. What’s she worth?”

“Hold on.”

Pesticide waited.

“The Prince says he’ll give you your tractor back.”

Telling the story later Veronica would swear she saw steam blowing out of Pesticide’s pipes. “Why that $%#@$%$#& piece of %$#&%.”

“I’m sure the Prince would like to know that. Should I repeat it?” asked Ratchett.

“No.” Pesticide hung up and slammed the brakes on. He got out and pulled his hat off. Then he threw it on the ground and stomped on it, repeatedly. Veronica clambered over the front seat and slid out of the car.

“If you don’t mind me saying so you’re behaving very childishly.”

“If you were who you were supposed to be and not some — some look-alike — I’d be a wealthy man. I’d be lying in my hammock sippin’ margaritas listening to Jimmy Buffet.” Pesticide kicked the side of his Checker cab. “Dang it to hell!”

“The Prince would never have paid you.”

Pesticide thought about this. Then he picked up his hat and dusted it off. “You’re probably right.”

“I don’t suppose you’d give me a ride to the castle?”

“I’ll get you in the neighborhood if you promise to talk to your father about me.”

“I will, I promise.”

“I don’t like being a bad guy,” Pesticide said pouting again. “And tell him to stop making the Prince indestructible because I want to go in there and spray the crap out of that arrogant piece of — get in!”

“And a girlfriend would be nice too!”

“Dang it!”

(62) Occam’s Razor in Action

The Major watched as the cable reversed direction slowly lifting James and Earwax from the water. James was spittin’ mad that was obvious by the way he was thrashing around. When he finally calmed down he looked around till his eyes found the Major. She had the feeling James was trying to tell her something but if he was using mental telepathy she wasn’t getting anything but static.

“Well Major, there you are. Can you do it? Can you save your friends? Can you show everybody at home why you’re the most famous Ranger of all? That chain is going to drop one link every twenty seconds. I’d say you’ve got no more than-”

But the Major wasn’t there to hear how much time she had. She was sprinting down the ramp running toward Miss Behavin. That was her only chance. Occam’s Razor — keep it simple. Mr. Annoying tried to stop her but she kicked him in the falsettos. Tell your friends about that! She raced to the ship and dashed through the door.

“I knew you were too smart to fall for all that.”

Lady Katrina laughed at the expression on the Major’s face. She was sitting in James’ seat and standing beside her was the galaxy’s most famous bounty hunter, E Koleye. In the Major’s opinion E Koleye was also the galaxy’s ugliest bounty hunter. Almost as tall as Mass Acre he was shaped like a sweet potato with six tentacles that squirmed around like snakes. His skin was wrinkled like a vegetable that had been in storage too long and if all that wasn’t memorable enough he always wore a sand-colored cowboy duster coat. He and the Major had crossed paths before. His gun, a brand-new AK-94, hung at his side. Behind E Koleye the Major could see Stunner lying on the floor but he might as well have been in the Prince’s dungeon for all the good he was to her. The Major turned to Lady K.

“What happened to Grunt?”

“He couldn’t make it. Mr. Koleye and I have come to a similar arrangement.”

The Major gave Lady K her really? look. The one that said, ‘it’s hard to believe you could be so stupid.’

“No way is Koleye going to share the bounty.”

“He better or-”

E Koleye raised his gun and pulled the trigger. Lady K slumped over in her chair.


Here’s what the Major knew: there is a Power in the Universe that flows through all things. Those who recognize it use it to empower their lives. The Major had always felt this power; had even played with it on occasion using it once to swim underwater for half-an-hour. ‘May the force be with you’ wasn’t just a phrase from Star Wars.

The Major tuned into the Universe and started forward. E Koleye fired. The Major deflected the stun with the back of her hand. He fired again and again she deflected it.

“Impressive,” said E Koleye. The Major was on him now. He reached for her but she ducked under his gun, twisted it around and pulled the trigger. Two more stuns slammed into Lady K then stuns three, four and five froze E Koleye. The Major grabbed Lady K by her pineapple hair and dragged her to the doorway. Three stuns would give her a headache she wouldn’t soon forget. The Major lifted Lady K’s legs and heaved her out. She bounced onto the dirt below and lay still. Seconds later E Koleye landed on top of her with a satisfying thud.

Now all kinds of bodies, including Gerta Oberhauser and the Kung Fu Hustlers, were rushing down the ramp shouting, waving their weapons. The Major fired up, swung Miss Behavin around and barreled out of the cavern. Behind her she could see guns flashing but too little too late, thought the Major, hoping James wasn’t thinking the same thing about her.

She banked upward heading for the Coliseum. As she flew over the wall she opened fire stunning everything that moved. Mercedes brandished her flaming swords at her and the Major switched to tracers. They ran up Mercedes’ body and she folded in half like she’d been perforated.

The Major swooped back. James and Earwax were underwater but still alive. She knew that because James was yelling at her. Probably words of encouragement she thought. Big goof. I love you too Honey! The Major maneuvered Miss Behavin over the tank of water and hit Hover. She threw the rope ladder out and slid down headfirst but even with her feet looped around the last rung she was a body length away from reaching the hook that held James.

Everything I do these days is wrong! Ah oh!

Mass Acre was on his feet now hurrying toward the tank. The Major pulled the R off her belt buckle and a thin line of titanium followed behind. She hooked the R around the last rung and lowered herself to the hook. But that didn’t work either because Tony, the crane operator, started jerking the hook back and forth. The Major felt like she was riding a bucking bronco and when she looked down James and Earwax appeared to be testing the spin cycle of an industrial washing machine.

Mass Acre couldn’t reach the Major so he attacked James instead pushing his chainsaw into the tank’s glass wall level with James’ waist. Oh no, really, that’s not good, thought the Major trying to figure out what to do next. She grabbed hold of the bucking cable and pulled herself up till she was at a point where she could attach her handcuffs around the cable and the ladder’s last rung.

She didn’t want to look down again but she couldn’t stop herself. She was just in time to see the wall of glass explode. The rush of water knocked Mass Acre off his feet washing him backwards. For a second all she could see was a wall of water with Mass Acre’s chainsaw waving above it.

Poor James! His head was still underwater and the crane operator was still jerking him around and now, along with everything else, he had pieces of broken glass to contend with and when Mass Acre got back on his feet, which he was doing right now (!) why then... The Major tended to think in run-on sentences when things were out of control.

She scurried up the ladder. Miss Behavin exploded forward lifting James and Earwax. Mass Acre jumped, his chainsaw held high, but James did a sit-up and the chainsaw swept underneath. TWANG! Miss Behavin stopped so abruptly the Major was thrown into the windscreen. She scrambled up and looked back. The cable leading to the crane was so taut it quivered. Tony in his little cabin shook his fist at her. The Major pushed the throttle forward to maximum power. Something has to give thought the Major. As the crane started to tip over Tony released the cable. Miss Behavin shot forward and this time there was no stopping her. TWANG! Tony jumped as the crane toppled over nearly decapitating Mass Acre whose chainsaw was no match for twenty tons of steel.

Miss Behavin dragged the crane through the Coliseum till it stopped dead against the stadium wall. The Major looked back. James and Earwax hung from the cable like a bauble on a necklace. The Major spun Miss Behavin around and blasted the crane to smithereens.

Emerson Kilbride hadn’t moved. He still stood on his perch grinning like he’d just been elected Regent. Bet the ratings are going through the roof, thought the Major as she swung around again an action that sent James and Earwax flying like a yoyo. She opened fire. Now Emerson Kilbride wasn’t grinning. The metal boom he was standing on disintegrated and he plunged headfirst into the pit.

“Hey Emerson! How do you like your worst nightmare?!”

Then the Major spied Lady K stumbling up the ramp. The Major veered left and pulled the trigger. Lady K danced in the air like a bad marionette.

“Gosh that feels good,” the Major said but no one was there to hear her. “Probably cost me my job but right now I don’t give a—”

The Major pulled up just in time or James and Earwax would have been permanent fixtures at the Coliseum. Ah oh. James was yelling at her again.

“Better get my boys on the ground while they’re still glad to see me.”

The Major roared away.

(63) Who’s Playing Who?

Badass pulled his motorcycle into a wooden shed and parked. “We have to walk from here. Prince’s rules. Nothing modern near the castle. Here, put this on.”

Badass handed Charles a cowl — a dark brown robe with a hood — while he put on a buckskin jacket that reminded Charles of something Robin Hood would wear.

“Does this town have a name?”

“Naw. Prince says it’s hard to attack a place that doesn’t have a name.” Charles nodded. That made sense to him.

Badass knew Charles was playing along, pretending to be on his side, but that suited Badass just fine. It was much easier having Charles follow him around like a puppy than having to drag him along like a prisoner.

They left the barn and made their way into town. The Prince’s castle loomed in the background. Soon they found themselves in the middle of an open-air market so crowded they had to push their way through. A multitude of cartoon characters in medieval clothes were busy hawking their wares and cooking things that Charles didn’t recognize but that smelled good.

“Do you like working for the Prince?” Charles asked.

“Beats nine-to-five. You got any money?”

Charles searched his pockets. The Spoils had spent all their money buying World War II flying helmets.

“That’s okay,” Badass said. “We’ll stay here a moment. Someone will come along.”

Badass led the way to a low stone wall overlooking a canal full of sewage, barges, and small boats. Badass sat down on the wall and Charles moved in beside him. Badass seemed content to kill time by throwing pebbles at the boats passing below.

“Terry! Berry!” Badass shouted at two badgers walking by. They came over but didn’t look happy about it.

“Got any money?”

Terry and Berry pulled out their pockets. Empty, except for two frogs and a baby snake. Badass tossed the snake at Charles who nearly fell into the canal trying to avoid it. Charles disliked snakes even cartoon ones.

“Too bad,” Badass said. “Me and my buddy Charlie here we each want a meat pie and a cider. See what you can do.”

Charles could tell Terry and Berry would be back with Badass’ order.

“So Charlie, you want to be a bully, right?”


“Well Charlie, here’s what you do. To be a bully you have to pass an initiation.”

“What kind of initiation?”

“Kind of prove you’re made of the wrong stuff, so to speak. You dig me, Charlie?”

“I dig you.”

“We got standards to uphold here. Not everybody can be a bully. Get me?”

“Got it,” Charles said.

“So here’s what I want you to do. See that turkey over there? The one wearing the Attila-the-Hun jacket? His name’s Elmore.” Charles looked where Badass was pointing. “I want you to go over there and take Elmore’s jacket. Think you can do that, Charlie?”

“Sure,” Charles replied thinking turkeys were just overgrown chickens, right?

“Good. Get the jacket. Then I want you to throw Elmore into the canal. Think you can do that too, Charlie?”

“I can try.” Charles hopped off the wall. “Is there a reason I’m doing this?”

Badass’ face broke into a big grin. “Can’t think of one.”

(64) Beware The Terror

“Thanks Surefire.” Mary jumped down from the young dragon’s back. They’d come to the edge of the swamp, which was as far as Surefire was allowed to go.

“You’re welcome. I hope you find your friend. If I see her I’ll tell her you’ve gone to the castle. Just follow that road. Good luck, bye.”

As Surefire hurried away he seemed to take some piece of the kids’ courage with him.

“C’mon,” Albert said. “Let’s get this over with.”

It wasn’t long before the road from the swamp became no more than a footpath. And, as the footpath narrowed, so did the ground on either side, until at last the land stopped altogether and all that was left was a footbridge, made of rope and wood slats, so long the kids could barely see the building waiting at the other end of it.

“I think we’re back at Edward’s Grand Canyon,” Victor said staring at the chasm below. Then Albert pointed at a handwritten sign attached to one of the posts that secured the bridge. Beware The Terror!

The wind, warm and dry, had been getting stronger all day and now along with it came an electrical buzz like a million cicada bugs short-circuiting. The blue sky had turned a dark amber color, the setting sun bathing everything it touched in gold.

Victor remembered Episode 223. The Major was chasing vicious Gerta Oberhauser until she came to a footbridge just like this one. Oberhauser was already halfway across and the Major knew she’d never catch her before Oberhauser reached the other end but what else could the Major do? Oberhauser was carrying President Baroque O’Mama’s little girl over her shoulder and the Major had to get her back. The Major was twenty strides behind when Oberhauser reached the far side and drew her meat cleaver.

“Maybe there’s another way,” Victor said watching the swaying footbridge sway.

“We haven’t got time to go back,” Mary said thinking about Veronica. “We need to get there.”

“What do you think The Terror is?”

Victor knew. “He’s the Prince’s younger brother. The Prince hates him because he’s better at everything so the Prince banished him to a moldy basement full of rats as big as people.”

“I ain’t afraid of rats’,” Albert said stepping onto the footbridge. “Let’s go.”

Five minutes later — the longest five minutes of their lives — Albert and the others arrived at the other end. There was no land to step onto, only a brick wall with a large wooden door barring their way. Above the door a neon sign flashed on and off. The Terror — The Terror — The Terror. The electrical buzz from the sign was so loud Mary had to put her hands over her ears.

“I’m never going on another bridge like that for as long as I live!” Edward shouted this at Little William who was standing behind him staring at the river so far below. He could see deer drinking and a black bear watching them.

“I liked it!” Little William shouted back. “I like the way it swings from side-to-side and the missing boards you have to jump over.”

“You’re demented!”

Little William didn’t know what demented meant but like his dad preached: ‘Be anything you want just don’t be ordinary.’

Albert knocked on the door.

Nothing happened.

Albert knocked harder.

Nothing happened.

Albert pounded on the door.

Nothing happened.

Then high up on the wall a brick moved and out dropped a thin chain with a hand-lettered sign dangling from the end of it. Albert read it outloud:

“Don’t pound on the door and don’t yank my chain!”

Albert yanked. The chain fell out of the wall and landed at his feet. He bent down and picked up the new sign.

“I told you not to yank it!”

Albert grinned back at the others but his grin didn’t last long because the footbridge was no longer attached at the other end. It was dropping like an elephant’s trunk.

Albert drove his shoulder into the door. Ever so slowly it creaked open. The others stumbled in behind him all but Edward and Little William. Edward tripped on the threshold knocking Little William down behind him.

The bridge collapsed but not before Edward and Little William managed to wrap their arms around a wooden slat. The bridge swung into the cliff face and bounced jarring Little William loose. Edward let go and grabbed at Little William’s shirt. If they were going to fall they were going to fall together.

The bridge bounced several times but finally came to rest. Mary got down on her hands and knees and looked over the edge. She was sure Edward and William wouldn’t be there but they were! About twenty boards down. Edward was clutching a floorboard in one hand and Little William’s shirt in the other. As Mary watched William reached out and managed to grasp one of the side ropes. Edward looked skyward.

“Can you climb up?” Mary shouted.

“Yeah!” Edward yelled back. “As soon as our pants dry!”

(65) Charles’ Nightmare

Badass couldn’t stop chuckling. This ought to be good, he thought. The last sucker he’d sent to take Elmore’s jacket ended up with fifty-four stitches and a one-way ticket home to mommy.

Charles stopped in front of Elmore who was busy scooping something bread like out of a big wooden bowl and putting it into brown paper bags. “Hi there, my name’s Charles. Is that what I think it is?”

“Yeah, stuffing. The Prince’s idea of a joke. You wanna buy some?”

“No thanks. Badass wants me to take your jacket and throw you in the canal.”

Quick as a wink Elmore pulled a cartoon switchblade out of his jacket pocket and flicked it open.

“In your dreams.”

Charles smiled. “I agree with you, except, it’s important that I impress Badass so I was wondering if you’d trade your jacket for a real knife?”

Charles drew his Swiss Army knife from his pocket and handed it to Elmore. Elmore had never held anything real before. This was beyond cool.

“Okay dude, but I want the jacket back.”


“But no canal. I can’t swim and I wouldn’t want to lose my reputation as the toughest malefactor around.”

“I got a gold doubloon here says you’re not too chicken to dive into the canal.” Charles pulled the gold chain over his head and handed it to Elmore. Charles had worked hard to win that necklace but this was more important.

Elmore threw it up and caught it. “You got any idea what a thing like this is worth around here?”

“Worth a quick swim I’d say.”

Elmore handed his jacket to Charles. Then, with the Swiss Army knife in one hand and the gold doubloon in the other, Elmore jumped up on the wall and dove into the canal. Charles, twirling the jacket, sauntered back to Badass.

“Anything else?” Charles asked.

“Impressive. I thought Elmore might object to the idea of parting with his jacket.”

“I told him I’d hold it while he went swimming.”

Badass chuckled but not for long. “Ah oh.”

Terry and Berry were on their way back but, instead of meat pies and cider, they had their very large fathers with them and the fathers each carried a staff — a long strong wooden pole.

Badass pushed off the wall and started striding away. He didn’t get far. A soaking wet Elmore landed in front of him wearing the gold necklace and waving the Swiss Army knife, blade open.

“Your turn to get wet, Badass.”

Badass looked back — Badass looked ahead. He knew a rock and hard place when he saw it. Charles threw the jacket to Elmore and grinned. Badass hopped onto the wall and Charles jumped up beside him. The fathers were four steps away, staffs on their shoulders, getting ready to swing.

“Jump on three!” yelled Badass.

Charles looked at the canal below. It was a long way down and to make matters worse the brown water was dotted with large patches of green-black scum one of which waved at Charles as if to say, ‘C’mon in the water’s great.’ But a barge with a canopy roof — Nell’s was the word printed on the yellow and white striped awning — was slowing down preparing to dock. In seconds it would be directly below. Charles thought if he timed it right he might land on the canopy and avoid meeting the green-black scum.


Charles jumped. He’d timed it perfectly. About halfway down he reread the word he was going to land on. It didn’t say Nell’s, it said N’eels!

Charles bounced twice and then the yellow and white stripes gave way and Charles dropped butt first into 479 eels.

If four Horrible Nightmares were put in front of Charles, falling into a barge full of eels would probably rank as Number 4. Swimming through the slippery eels to get to the side of the barge would be Number 3. Falling into the green-black scum knowing one of the eels had squirmed its way into his underwear would be Number 2.

Number 1 would be looking up and seeing Terry, Berry, their fathers, Elmore and Badass standing on the wall convulsed in laughter.

(66) Veronica Cuts Herself

Pesticide was about to drive away leaving Veronica on her own. She didn’t want him to go so she asked a question hoping he’d change his mind.

“Where are you going now?”

“There’s a bar called Dulces Suenos about an hour from here. I plan to drink till I either have a plan or I don’t need one. Good luck with the Prince, you’ll need it.”

Veronica watched Pesticide drive away. She watched till his green car was just a toy in the distance. She felt like whatever courage she’d managed to muster was sitting in the backseat going to the Dulces Suenos with Pesticide.

But what choice did she have but to keep going? She started walking along the dirt road. Pesticide said the castle was at the end of it but up ahead she’d see a worn goat path that was quicker and probably safer.

Veronica turned down the path. The countryside reminded her of the landscape at her friend Sophie’s ranch in Surprise Valley. High desert the people there called it — dry and dusty with very few trees but lots of sagebrush and tumbleweeds. Veronica wondered about the kids. They’d be worried about her. Would they keep going or head back? She knew the answer. Albert would keep them moving toward the castle.

Two hours later Veronica was still walking. The desert had given way to scrubland with enough grass to support sheep and cattle, which was comforting till she saw them playing soccer against each other. The castle still wasn’t in sight but she could see a little town of adobe houses mixed with tin shacks. Given that she looked like the Major she thought she should probably go around the town but she was so thirsty her feet stayed on the path.

In the middle of the village — Casi Nada, población 19 — Veronica found a town square and in the middle of that a fountain shaped like a fish. The rusty fish was spitting mostly clear water. Veronica dipped her hands in and slurped. This is all so weird, she thought. This water isn’t real. It isn’t even wet! But she could drink it and it quenched her thirst. Which reminded her, there was something else she needed to know before she got to the castle.

The square was empty of people, the only living thing being one of those skinny lazy ribs-hanging-out dogs — perros — that never seem to belong to anybody. Music drifted her way from a cantina in the corner so Veronica headed there. Like the square it was devoid of people too except for the bartender — a pretty dark-haired girl about Veronica’s age — busy slicing limes. When she glanced up and saw Veronica her eyes filled with wonder.

Madre de Dios!” she exclaimed. “Are you really Major Occam? Everybody’s looking for you.”

Buenos días,” Veronica said. “Could I borrow your knife for a second? I haven’t any money to pay you but-”

“That’s okay, I haven’t any money either. Here.” The young woman cleaned her knife on her apron and handed it to Veronica. “What do you need it for?”

“I need to see if it can cut me.”

The young woman looked horrified but before she could do anything Veronica pricked her finger with the cartoon knife. A drop of blood appeared. She handed the knife back.

“You’re real, aren’t you?” The young woman reached out and touched Veronica’s arm.

“What’s your name?” Veronica asked.


“Do you like your work?”

“I could do so much more.”

“What would you like to be?”

“A rock singer — like Shakira.”

“Can you sing?”

Francisca put her hands under her long hair, moved her hips and began to sing:

“Oh Baby when you talk like that,
You make a woman go mad-”

When the song ended Veronica clapped and clapped. Francisca really could sing. “Okay Francisca, I’ll see what I can do.” Any further conversation was halted by the loud rumbling noise of a motorcycle roaring into the village square. It stopped outside the cantina and the engine died. The cantina’s swinging doors banged open and in walked Major Occam.

Madre de Dios!” Francisca exclaimed again.

The new Major took one look at Veronica and reached for her swords that weren’t there because the Prince had confiscated them.

“You are my sworn enemy!” Mercedes charged at Veronica. Veronica had never been in a real fight before but her dad had made her go to Kajukenbo classes because he said every female should know how to defend herself.

Veronica grabbed Mercedes’ arms and fell backwards, bending her legs, putting her feet in Mercedes stomach and pushing hard. Mercedes flew upside-down over the bar and landed among the cases of empty beer bottles making more noise than her motorcycle.

“You never fight fair!” shouted Mercedes, struggling to her feet.

“I’m not the Major!”

“Neither am I. Who are you?”

“I’m Veronica, Chester Newport’s daughter.”

“I’m Mercedes. The Prince is my uncle but I guess you know that. Why are you wearing that uniform?”

Veronica told her story and then Mercedes told hers: “So I lost the Major on Caviar and then Lady K sent guys to bring me and the Mongreloids back but the guys she sent thought I was the real Major — I didn’t discourage them y’know — so they took me to the Prince to get the reward and they got something all right but it’s too horrible to relate and the Prince was so miffed I wasn’t the real Major he told me to visit my mother which is his way of saying get as far away from me as possible. But then some reality show contacted me and said they were going to surprise the Major and did I want to help so I said sure but the Major didn’t fight fair she got this spaceship and shot me.”

Mercedes ripped open her Ranger uniform and showed Veronica and Francisca the scars from the tracers. “Do you guys have boyfriends?”

“No,” Veronica and Francisca answered together.

“I’d like one,” Mercedes said sitting down on a stool. “Not just anybody. A nice one, y’know?”

“What about Captain Obvious?” Veronica knew from the comic books that Captain O was Mercedes’ usual boyfriend.

“He’s dumber than I am. I’d like someone deeper — someone who thinks about things.”

The three females thought about that. It sounded good.

“I just met someone like that,” Veronica said.


“Pesticide. He thinks about things. I bet you’d like him.”

“The Prince doesn’t like him so he’s got that in his favor. Where would I find him?”

Dulces Suenos.”

“Sweet Dreams.”

(67) The Booth of XTernal XChange

The Booth of XTernal XChange was finally ready. The Prince had decided to have it constructed in the old nursery on the second floor. It was a large room with a mezzanine — an indoor balcony — and three open archways that overlooked the moat and the forest beyond.

“You first, Ratchett.”

“Me sire?” The look on Ratchett’s face was priceless. He looked like he was about to be locked in a cupboard with an oversized boa constrictor.

“You’re right Ratchett, this is not a good time to break in a new Chancellor.” The Prince scanned the room. “You there, Stinkpot.”

“Me sire?” An old man shuffled over. His name was actually Horace Stinkerly but the Prince could never remember that. Horace Stinkerly was the Royal Carpenter and he had just completed the Booth of XTernal XChange based on plans Ratchett had found in one of Chester Newport’s emails.

“Get in the booth, Stinkpot,” the Prince ordered. “We’re going to try it out.”

“Sire, I have grandchildren,” Horace Stinkerly said trembling.

“Ratchett’s daughter has pimples. What’s your point?”

“I don’t want to die.”

“You know what they say, Stinkpot, ‘No one gets out alive.’ Now get in the booth or you will die.”

“Yes sire.”

Stinkerly entered the Booth of XTernal XChange and shut the folding doors.

“Can you hear us?”

Stinkerly nodded.

“Okay Stinkpot, here’s a question. If you could be anybody in the world who would you want to be?”

“Sir Alec Guinness.”

“Oh, good choice. Obi-Wan Kenobi — may the force be with you.” The Prince turned into Darth Vader wielding his lightsaber. “You don’t know the power of the dark side.”

“No sire. I’d rather be Sir Alec playing Colonel Nicholson.”

Darth Vader looked at Ratchett who said, “The Bridge on the River Kwai. He won an Oscar I believe.”

“I’ve seen it thirty-seven times,” Horace Stinkerly said beaming.

“So be it, Stinkpot. Remember, let the phone ring twice. Then pick up and say hello.”

“Yes sire.”

Ratchett dialed 1-700-SirAlec and pushed the red button. At first nothing happened but then colored smoke billowed up around Horace Stinkerly’s legs but before Ratchett could wonder what that was about the phone rang. Stinkerly waited for the second ring.



A small explosion rocked the room followed by the sound of tinkling glass. The nursery now resembled a cloud chamber full of rainbows. The Prince, impatient to see what had transpired, blew the colored smoke out the open archways. Then the Prince clapped his hands like a little boy at Christmas because who should be exiting the booth?

None other than Colonel Nicholson whose first act as a real human being was to point his swagger stick at Darth Vader and say, “You there, in that ridiculous outfit. Stop that wheezing and clean this glass up before I report you to Colonel Saito.”

The Prince flicked his lightsaber and Colonel Nicholson vanished.

“The Booth appears to be operational, Ratchett. Get the glass replaced and notify us immediately. You have seven minutes.”

“Yes sire. If I might ask what happened to Colonel Nicholson?”

“Do you remember how the film ends, Ratchett?”

“Yes sire, the bridge blows up.”

“And Colonel Nicholson?”

Poor Stinkpot.

(68) Albert Takes Charge

Edward and Little William, reunited with the others, looked on in amusement as Albert fell down again. It wasn’t that Albert was drunk or anything it had more to do with the fact the floor he was trying to walk on would rather have been a ceiling or at least that’s how it appeared.

“Veronica’s dad must have been high when he drew this,” Mary said. Victor could have told her about Chester Newport’s excursions into optical illusions — his M.C. Escher phase as his fans called it — but Victor was learning that sometimes it was better not to know too much.

Then two doors appeared in what should have been the ceiling further confusing things. Albert crawled forward. He reached the first door and turned the knob. The door fell open. Albert stuck his head up inside. There was a deep growl. Albert pushed the door closed in a hurry.

“Biggest dog I ever saw,” Albert said trying to grin. “Bigger than the three-headed one in Harry Potter.”

Albert reached the second door. It opened like the other and Albert slowly stuck his head up. There was another deep growl, deeper than the one before. Albert slammed the door shut. He pointed back to the previous door. “That was the second biggest dog I ever saw.”

Now both dogs were barking and jumping up and down on the doors making them bend. Edward thought he’d go back outside and hang from the footbridge and he would have if there’d been a door to go out of.

“The door’s gone,” he said.

“No, it’s over here,” Mary said crawling toward the new door that had just appeared in the floor. She pried it open. On the other side was a dog’s paw as large as her dad’s La-Z-Boy. She peeked inside. The dog the paw belonged to was as large as her bedroom. It seemed to be sleeping. Let sleeping dogs lie, Mary remembered quietly crawling back the way she’d come.

Then there was the unmistakable sound of wood splintering. One of Albert’s doors crashed open and then the other. Bounding out came the dogs from hell, teeth exposed, foam flying, making more noise than a kennel at feeding time.

The kids had nowhere to run. Albert rose up facing the two snarling dogs. “Sit!” he commanded. “Sit!”

The dogs slowed.

Albert pointed at them. “SIT!”

The dogs didn’t know what to make of this.


And they did. Nobody moved.

“Okay Mary, go into that room. Just go slow, you’ll be okay.” Albert was afraid to lose eye contact with the two dogs. “The rest of you follow her.”

Mary looked at Albert then back at the large sleeping dog blocking the doorway. Was Albert crazy? Yes, but she could see there wasn’t any other choice.

Slowly, as lightly as she could, Mary climbed up on the paw. She was sure the monster dog would erupt but he kept sleeping. Taking hold of the dog’s hair, she pulled herself up until she was on his back. “Good boy, nice doggie, good boy,” she said softly.

Victor, following Mary, whispered, “We hate cats.”

Soon they were all on the other side of the sleeping dog, except Albert, who slowly backed toward the open door. All at once the two dogs from hell had the same thought. If we let this chunky little camouflaged dude leave there won’t be anybody to pull apart. They charged. Albert turned and ran sending his feet so high his knees crashed into his chin. He bounded onto the sleeping dog’s paw and dove upward.

The sleeping dog meanwhile was in the middle of a really good dream and just as Albert reached its back the dog rolled over sticking its paws up in the air. His tummy was about to be rubbed by a beautiful princess who might rescue him from the pound where he had only minutes to live.

“Albert!” The only part of Albert Mary could see was his feet sticking out down by the dog’s butt. The rest of Albert was buried under an avalanche of black hair.

(69) Shooter Needs to Know

Straight Shooter didn’t know what to do. He’d lost contact with the Major and with Chester Newport’s daughter, Veronica. Both were heading for the Prince’s castle but both were probably having their problems. Straight Shooter was worried about the Rangers in the dungeon. He needed a backup plan in case neither of the Majors made it in time.

But first he needed more intel. The Major always said that. The person with the most information wins. Shooter needed to know what was going on inside the castle. How many Rangers were now in the dungeon? When was the banquet? Was Chester Newport still stuck in that block? The Major, when she arrived, would expect him to know these things.

Getting into the castle again wasn’t something Shooter was looking forward to. The drawbridge was more heavily guarded than before. He couldn’t swim the moat because he’d never learned to swim. Besides, the moat was guarded by crocodiles — or alligators — Straight Shooter wasn’t sure which. Either way, he didn’t want to be some reptile’s afternoon snack.

He might be able to shoot a spider-arrow — an arrow with a string inside — to the top of the turret but not with guards watching.

Straight Shooter considered all this in the open-air market near the castle. He was dressed as a workman in clothes borrowed from a nearby clothesline. A noise behind drew his attention. A cart, piled high with burlap bags, was approaching the poor donkey pulling it straining under the load. As he watched one of the cart’s wheels wobbled and fell off.

“Not again!” The small boy leading the donkey plopped down in the road. “I’ve already unloaded this stupid cart twice.”

Straight Shooter stepped forward. “Perhaps I can help?”

The boy looked up at him tears of exhaustion running down his face.

“I have no money to pay you.”

“That’s all right.” Shooter pulled the boy to his feet.

“My dad should be here but he’s got the fever.”


The little boy made sure no one else could hear. “Prince’s fever,” he whispered.

Shooter understood. The Prince was commandeering more and more of Planet X’s inhabitants, forcing them into service as soldiers and guards, drivers, cooks, whatever his growing empire needed to keep it growing. And if you didn’t volunteer your family was enslaved.

“What’s in the bags?” Straight Shooter asked.

“Charcoal for the Prince’s Banquet.”

Shooter felt sick to his stomach. “Do you know when it is?”

“Must be soon. The charcoal has to be delivered today.”


The boy and Straight Shooter — his only disguise streaks of charcoal on his face — made it across the drawbridge without trouble. Shooter was convinced his heart was making more noise than a punch press but the cat guards waved them through as if they were too boring to be bothered with.

“We go down that ramp,” the boy said. “It leads to the kitchen.”

The donkey refused to go anywhere near the kitchen so Shooter and the little boy had to hold back the heavy cart as it rolled down the incline. The kitchen, when they finally got there, was a beehive of activity. Straight Shooter didn’t see any Ranger uniforms hanging up or lying on the floor. Maybe that was a good sign. The boy spoke to one of the chefs.

“Where do you want the charcoal?”

“Upstairs in the Great Hall. There’s a barbecue pit, you can’t miss it.”

As hard as it was going down the ramp it was a piece of cake compared to going up. About two paces was all Straight Shooter and the boy could manage before they had to jam blocks of wood under the wheels to keep the cart from rolling backwards. Shooter and the boy would rest, then they’d start again. Despite all the bodies hurrying up and down the ramp no one offered to help.

While they were resting near the top of the ramp they overheard a conversation between two footmen heading back to the kitchen.

“Who was that weird guy with Chancellor Ratchett? The one with the plaid pants and gold shirt?”

Shhhhh!” the other footman said. “That weird guy was the Prince.”

“The Prince? But he was so — so — ordinary.”

“Ordinary? As usual you missed the whole point.”

“Oh yeah, smarty-ass. So what was the point, other than he was ordinary?”

“He was real!”

The rest of the conversation disappeared down the ramp but Straight Shooter had heard enough.

“Real?” asked the little boy staring at Straight Shooter, his eyes alive with the thought. Everyone in the comic book world longed to be real but it was about as likely as the Prince becoming a Rotarian.

“Get a move on there,” ordered a cat guard stopping beside them. Straight Shooter and the little boy jumped to their feet and pushed the cart into the Great Hall. The barbecue pit wasn’t hard to find. It was large and occupied the middle of the room. When they got there they found a blacksmith busy constructing two iron spits.

“What are those for?” the little boy asked pointing at the razor-sharp spits. The blacksmith wiped the back of his arm across his forehead sending sweat flying.

“This one’s for Major O and this one’s for Straight Shooter. You haven’t seen them, have you?” asked the blacksmith laughing.

The little boy shook his head.

(70) The Prince as Arnold

“Ratchett! Come here!”

“Yes sire.” Ratchett desperately wanted to burst out laughing — he was really a very funny fellow away from the Prince — but he knew the Prince was in no mood to see the humor in this. Besides, Ratchett’s lip was bleeding. A piece of glass from the booth had traveled farther than he’d expected.

The Prince stood with his hands on his hips glaring at his reflection in the full-length mirror. He was now a man, about fifty, dressed in green plaid shorts, red knee socks, black lace-up shoes and a gold polo shirt with a paper nametag stuck to it that read: Hi! My name is Arnold Schwarz. What’s yours?

Arnold Schwarz was closer to five feet tall than six and his stomach looked like he’d swallowed a hammock. If all that wasn’t bad enough he was bald except for a fringe of black hair circling his head like burnt spaghetti. The Prince ripped the nametag from his shirt. He looked at it again.


“Yes sire?”

“What exactly does, You Can’t Lick a Philatelist mean?”

“Probably better not to know, sire.”

“It’s not something to do with giving away money?”

“No sire.”

The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness shuddered. He hated to look ridiculous. “Ratchett, listen to us. Carefully.”

“Yes sire.”

“We said, Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

“Yes sire.”

“Do we look like Arnold Schwarzenegger to you?”

“More like Danny DeVito, sire.”

“Are you finding this funny, Ratchett?”

“No sire.” Ratchett couldn’t wait to tell the boys at The Rat’s Ass how hilarious the Prince looked as The Terminator Gone Wrong.

“If I may, sire, I think the problem is Schwarzenegger has too many letters.”

“Yes, Ratchett, we can see the problem. Let’s try again.”

“Yes sire. If I may?” Ratchett reached out and touched the Prince. “Are you really real, sire?”

“We do feel quite different,” the Prince said poking himself. “Quite — substantial.”

“Excellent, sire.”

“And quite hungry.”

Ratchett didn’t like the way Arnold Schwarz was eyeing him. “And your power, sire? Is it intact?”

“We can’t change shape, but-” The Prince raised his arm and Ratchett flew across the room crashing into the end wall.

“Thanks for asking,” the Prince said. “Any other questions?”

Ratchett was too stunned to speak.

“Good. I’m going to the kitchen. Fix the booth. You have six minutes.”


The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness re-entered the nursery carrying a live chicken dipped in barbecue sauce. He was gnawing on its leg.

“Why is it, Ratchett, that everything tastes like chicken?”

“That is chicken, sire.”

The Prince looked at what he was eating.

“That new cook from Sloppodopolis doesn’t understand a word we say.”

“What did you ask for, sire?”

“Pizza.” The Prince tossed the chicken through the archway and waited for the splash. “Are we ready?”

“We are sire.”

“Who’s next on our list?”

“Tom Cruise.”


The Prince entered the Booth of XTernal XChange and closed the folding doors. Ratchett dialed 1-700-TCruise. On cue the colored smoke billowed up and the phone rang. The Prince waited for the second ring.


Just as before there was an explosion. Glass from the phone booth flew over Ratchett — who knew this time to duck — while colored smoke swirled around the room.

Seconds passed before the smoke cleared enough for Ratchett to see what had happened to the Prince. At first Ratchett wasn’t sure what he was looking at. Arnold Schwarz was gone and the Booth of XTernal XChange lay in pieces on the floor. In its place stood something very large, very metallic and very vertical. Ratchett could hear music. It sounded familiar.

Ratchett’s eyes traveled upward looking for a clue. Up and up they went until at last they fastened onto two giant words: LOVE BOAT.

Then he heard a voice like a foghorn.


(71) How Many Presidents Have Been Assassinated? Ask Victor

The dog smiled in his sleep. The princess’ hand was headed for his tummy and probably would have gotten there if Albert hadn’t managed to light his Special Forces’ survival lighter and set the dog’s hair on fire.

Just then a door behind the kids squeaked open and a white haired woman wearing a pink hairnet and lime green curlers poked her head around the corner.

“Oh,” she said, “look at that Dear. Rip-Your-Guts-Out’s heinie is on fire. Isn’t that nice — good boy. And look at the children. The school must be flooded again.” She held the door open. “Come in, come in. Make yourselves at home. Cookies?”

By now Rip-Your-Guts-Out was awake and howling so the kids and a freed Albert were more than happy to charge out of the kitchen into the woman’s living room as far away from the angry mega beast as possible.

In the living room a man with a brush cut sat in a recliner, his feet up. The television was on. He was watching a baseball game except it wasn’t baseball the way it was played at home. Instead of a bat and ball the players had to answer a question to get a hit. The harder the question, the bigger the hit. If the pitcher answered first, it was a strike. If the pitcher was wrong, it was a ball. The man glanced at the kids then went back to his game.

“How many American presidents have been assassinated?”

“Three,” answered the man. “Two,” answered the batter. “Seventeen,” answered the pitcher.

“Four,” answered Victor.

“Ball three,” said the ump. “The correct answer is four.”

While the others ate cookies and watched the game, Albert went from door to door seeing what was behind each one. He peeked into the kitchen. Rip-Your-Guts-Out was sleeping happily again, his butt in his water bowl. The beautiful princess was about to choose him instead of the ugly kitten.

Soon Albert had tried all the doors but the one that was locked.

“Where does this go?” he asked the woman.

“The cellar. But I wouldn’t go down there if I was you. That’s where The Terror lives. He’s the Prince’s younger brother. We think he’s gone crazy. I definitely wouldn’t go down there.”

“But we have to get to the Prince’s castle. Is there another way?”

“Back the way you came.”

The beautiful princess had just decided she’d rather have the ugly kitten. Rip-Your-Guts-Out was devastated. He woke up angry and decided to work through his frustration by eating the microwave.

The kids listened to the noises coming from the kitchen. It sounded like Captain Crunch demolishing police cruisers. They definitely weren’t going back the way they came.

The woman locked the kitchen door. “Stay here where it’s comfortable. That’s what we do. Isn’t that right, Dear? Why do anything when you can watch TV?”

Albert unlocked the cellar door and started down the wooden stairs. A single light bulb lit the way. He was halfway down when the door slammed shut behind him. He could hear the others trying to open it from their side. Then he heard a click and the light from the light bulb faded away.

Albert turned to go back upstairs. He wasn’t scared, he just thought it made sense to stay together. But his first step was his last as the stairs collapsed beneath him.

Albert cartwheeled into the darkness.

(72) The Major and James Get Sandy

The Major curled her toes in the sand remembering a time when she and Jake had danced on the beach. She suddenly realized she didn’t miss Jake anymore. She’d found someone she liked much better and that someone was sitting close by. It was a pretty beach with warm white sand and rustling palm trees swaying in the breeze. Under different circumstances she and James might have been enjoying themselves.

“Any ideas?” she asked.

James shot her a dirty look. He was so obviously angry the Major didn’t know what to do because — if the truth was known — she wasn’t good at dealing with members of the opposite sex. She wanted to throw her arms around him, give him a big kiss, and say, ‘Ah Honey, just because it’s your fault our spiffy double-X-wing turbo starfighter is stuck in the sand like a dead seagull doesn’t mean that Earwax and I don’t hold you in the highest possible esteem.’

But the Major knew this would be misconstrued as flirting and a big lovey-dovey male was something she didn’t need — at least right now. What she needed was a way to get Miss Behavin back in the air and quickly.

“What are our options?” This got the Major an even dirtier look. James continued throwing pebbles at incoming waves. He was having a timeout.

“We could walk,” the Major suggested. This was a joke. They were marooned on a tiny island and weren’t going to walk anywhere but in circles.

“Okay,” the Major said standing beside him. “Tell me again what the problem is?”

James sighed. He knew the Major was trying to cheer him up but he didn’t want to be cheered up — at least not yet.

“You remember back on Caviar when I switched SOYUZ 6.1 for INTEL 8.6?”

“I do. You were going to leave without me.”

James buried his head in his hands. The Major knew what he was thinking. If he’d left without her how different his life would be.

“You don’t mean that,” the Major said. “Think how boring things would be without me.”

James stared up at her. Then he smiled. Then he grinned. Then he wrapped his arms around the Major’s legs and pushed. Over she went landing in the soft sand. James climbed on top and kissed her. The Major thought about struggling but she didn’t think very hard. The poor guy deserved a kiss.

James raised his head. “There’s only one problem.”

The Major could think of a lot more than one.


“There’s something sharp sticking in my back.”

The Major moved her head so she could see past James.

“It’s a big problem,” she said.

“How big?”

“Oh, about three hundred pounds. It’s wearing a grass skirt and two coconuts.”

“And the sharp thing in my back?”

“That would be a spear.”

“Not very technologically advanced.”

“Ahead of us at the moment.”

“Use your stun gun.”

“You’re lying on it.”

That was the end of their conversation because four strong hands grabbed James’ arms and pulled him upright. The Major thought about using her gun but didn’t. Better to figure out what was going on and then use it if she had to.

“At least we’re on Planet X,” the Major said a few minutes later.

“Tell me about it.”

James wasn’t angry any more. He’d replaced that emotion with a large dose of apprehension and you could hardly blame him. Here he was hanging upside down, his ankles and wrists tied together with a pole running through them. The ends of the pole each rested on the shoulder of a woman large enough to be a sumo wrestler.

The woman who had stuck her spear in James’ back led the way — she seemed to be in charge — while about ten other generous females acted as guards. What hurt the most was the Major strolling beside him like this was an everyday occurrence.

“Why aren’t you tied up?” he asked.

“They like me.”

“It’s because you’re female.”

“And proud of it!”

James rolled his eyes. “Why don’t you shoot them?”

“I told you my gun only works when it wants to.”

“Tell it now would be a good time.” The rope around James’ wrists was cutting deeper with every step.

“Aren’t you kind of curious to find out what they want?”


(73) Veronica Contemplates Creation and Ends Up with Fajitas

Veronica sat at the top of a high hill, staring at the Prince’s castle in the distance. It was still a long way off. She was having a rest and thinking about the cartoon knife cutting her. She’d hoped that being real made her invincible in the comic book world but obviously it didn’t.

Then she thought about her dad being the creator of all this. What a strange feeling that must be. Then she wondered about the real world and if there was a Creator there who felt the same way about her creation. The her made Veronica smile. She and her dad argued about the existence of a divine being and what sex she or he might be. Then she wondered if she and the kids and her dad would ever get back to the real world? She didn’t want to think that they might not so she forced her mind to move on.

She wondered if Mercedes had caught up to Pesticide and if they liked each other? She and Francisca had made Mercedes change into a pretty yellow sundress that Francisca donated to the cause because Veronica had said showing up as the Major was probably not a good idea. And boy Mercedes looked good swinging her long legs onto that motorcycle — so good Veronica wished she was brave enough to ride one.

Veronica always thought of Mercedes as dumb but now that didn’t seem fair. Now that her dad wasn’t putting stupid words in Mercedes’ mouth what did she want? A boyfriend — somebody who thought about things. How was that any different than what Veronica wanted? And look at Francisca — she wanted to do so much more with her life. Veronica felt that way too. She was going to chef’s school to learn how to cook but really she wanted to feed Africa.

Then Veronica wondered why the world was the way it was? Pesticide said it was all about money but that didn’t explain all the violence, all the ideologies, all the selfishness. If humans don’t start working together, she thought, we’re going to end up back in our caves. But she also knew nothing would change until some huge calamity forced change.

And right now she needed to get to the castle and force some change there. And hopefully find the kids because the thought of going into the Prince’s castle alone was like more than scary. Veronica got to her feet but she hadn’t taken three steps along the path when a voice cried out, “Arriba las manos!”

Veronica spun around. Six men in sombreros, bandannas masking their faces, stood facing her, their pistols drawn. Here we go again, thought Veronica, but this time there’s no Pesticide to save me.

“I’m not Major Occam.”

, you are. You’re worth a lot of money.”


, alive.”

“So go ahead shoot me.”

Veronica started walking again. She could hear the men following frantically whispering to each other. Finally, she came to a place where the trail widened and the six men ran in front of her.

“We want to see you do that thing where you push your belt buckle and you know-”

“My buttons pop and my chest gets bigger?”

,” the men said grinning.

There is no hope for the human race, thought Veronica, at least the male side. “What’s your name?” she asked the tallest of the banditos.

“I am Juan and together...” Juan and the other five men stepped forward, turned sideways and stomped one boot, their timing impeccable. “...we are the Fajitas.”

“Listen Juan, I don’t do that for just anyone.”


“Which one of you is the quickest draw?”


“Which one of you can get his pistol out of his holster the fastest? El más rápido?

Yo!” answered all six banditos together. Veronica watched as the men argued in arm-waving Spanish. They looked like failing students in a high-speed semaphore class.

“It is unconfirmed,” Juan said at last.

“I have an idea,” came back Veronica.


“We’ll have a contest. You three stand over here.” Veronica led three of the Fajitas to one side of the path. “And you three over here facing the others. Now I’ll count uno, dos, tres, and on tres everybody draw and fire. Whoever is fastest can be my boyfriend, push my belt buckle, take me to the castle, collect the reward, etcetera. Okay?”

!” rang out six voices.

Veronica got out of the line of fire. “Uno, dos, tres!”

Six shots rang out. The Fajitas fell to the ground, all of them wounded, all of them moaning. I’m beginning to get the hang of this, thought Veronica heading once again along the path that led to the castle.

I may learn to ride that motorcycle after all.

(74) James Soup

James was still tied, still bouncing up and down as the women made their way up the hill.

“Well James, you may not be curious but I sure am,” said the Major walking beside him. “Besides, if we can’t get Miss B fixed, we may need these gals’ help.”

“It’s just that new SOYUZ chip,” James said. “She needs a talking to.”

The Major shook her head. That was what got them into this mess in the first place. INTOSH 4.3 had wanted to know what SOYUZ 6.1 was doing after work and she’d told him INGATES 6.0 was taking her to see the latest Stars Wars movie — the one where Luke Skywalker leaves the retirement home to save Han Solo who is being held prisoner by the Emperor’s twisted dachshund, Helmutt. INTOSH 4.3 got jealous and sent a surge into INGATES 6.0 creating a short-circuit that sent the spacecraft plummeting toward Planet X.

At the last moment James had managed to switch to manual control and land Miss Behavin on a beach on a tiny island in the middle of a very large ocean. It was wonderful, really, but then he’d done something the Major couldn’t believe. He’d blamed SOYUZ 6.1 for the whole thing.

“SOYUZ! Stop making the boys jealous! We’ve got work to do. Stop wiggling!”

“But-” SOYUZ protested.

“No buts!”

That was when SOYUZ 6.1 had burst into tears. She hadn’t said a word since and James’ spiffy double-X-wing turbo starfighter wasn’t going anywhere till James straightened out the whole mess. Inside the fighter the control panel monitor had only one message flashing on and off: BOYS ARE SMELLY! BOYS ARE SMELLY!

James and his captors had been steadily climbing ever since they’d left the beach. They were on a well-worn path and before they’d crashed, the Major had seen the huts of a village hidden in the trees at the top of the highest hill.

“You know James, I think you should be pleased to be trussed up like this. You’re following in the footsteps — so to speak — of such greats as Hans Solo, Captain Jack Sparrow, Will Turner-”

James seemed to be having trouble articulating his feelings so the Major kept talking. “And I’m not sure you would have made it up this hill on your own James with all that smoking.”

James wasn’t finding anything funny in all this.

“What do you think they want?” he asked at last.

“Well, I haven’t seen any males yet, so I was thinking maybe they have boy jobs that need doing. You know like fixing the toilet, that kind of thing.”

James shut his eyes and the Major smirked — served him right.

“What else could they want?” he asked again.


The Major tried to picture herself trussed up like James. What would she do? Before she could come up with an answer they arrived at the village, which consisted of thirty straw huts arranged in a circle all neatly kept and decorated with flowers. Most of the middle of the circle was taken up by a large communal garden. The Major was right. There were no males here either. They passed a fire with a very large iron pot hanging over it steam pouring out the top.

“Probably laundry,” the Major said trying not to smirk too loudly. James watched as one of the large women dumped a basket of vegetables into the pot. It wasn’t laundry.

They stopped in front of the grandest hut and out stepped the biggest woman the Major had ever seen. She was so large it was possible her right hand was in a different time zone than her left. Like the others, she was wearing a grass skirt and two coconut shells. The shells were so big they could have doubled as satellite dishes.

She stepped forward and embraced the Major, giving her a wet kiss on each cheek. Then she turned to smile down at James.

“Soup,” she said.

(75) Albert’s Nightmare

“All right Terror come out. I know you’re here. I can hear you breathin’” Albert had his hands out, trying to touch something, anything. “I want you to know I ain’t afraid of nothin’.”

Albert listened to his own footsteps echoing behind him.

“So, what are you? Some kind of giant rat? I ain’t afraid of rats. Lots of those in me dad’s junkyard. Snake? I ain’t afraid of snakes neither. Now, one of those giant anaconda things would slow you down, but they ain’t got the brains for this. Spider? Humongous tarantula? Paralyzes yuh, then sucks yer guts out.”

Albert heard something close by. Then he smelled perfume.

“Hi,” said a girl’s voice.

“Who are you?”

“I’m The Terror and you’re Albert.”

“You don’t sound like no Terror.”

“Then why are you trembling, Albert?”

“Cuz I can’t see you. How do I know you ain’t an alien or something?”

The girl laughed. A spotlight blinked on. A beautiful brown-haired girl wearing a little black dress and high heels stepped into the circle of light. Her high heels made her taller than Albert and ten times more sophisticated.

Albert backed up. “You don’t look like no cartoon.”

“I’m not, Albert. I’m your worst nightmare.”

“You don’t look like no nightmare to me.”

The girl smiled. “How old are you, Albert?”

“Fifteen. How old are you?”

“Fifteen. How old did you think I was?”


The girl laughed again. Albert took another step back and bumped into somebody. He turned and as he did lights flashed on. Now Albert could see he was standing in a school gymnasium that had been decorated for a dance. Dozens of older boys and girls stood in a circle staring at him. They began to clap. Then a voice coming out of speakers filled the room.

“All right guys and gals, here comes the first slow dance of the evening and this one goes out to Wormwood High’s newest lovebirds who are going to lead it off. Let’s hear it for Angelina Terror and Albert Spoil.”

Albert wanted to evaporate. The girl was right; this was his worst nightmare. The music started. The girl moved in close and put her arms around him. Albert tried to dance but everything went wrong. He was so nervous and so clumsy he felt like he was wearing cement blocks instead of shoes. Twice he stepped on the girl’s toes. The other kids snickered. Albert could feel his face turning red.

He tried to bolt but the girl wouldn’t let go. Albert staggered on. The kids laughed openly now. Albert saw Victor, Mary, Edward and Little William arrive. They started laughing too. That was it. Albert pushed the girl away but got caught in her feet and stumbled. The girl wouldn’t let go and they fell down together. Albert struggled but still the girl wouldn’t let go.

“You’re a wonderful dancer, Albert,” she whispered in his ear.

Albert was suffocating. He didn’t want to be rough with a girl but he had no choice. He grabbed the girl’s hair and pulled back. Her head came off in his hands as her body split down the middle and who should pop out of the girl’s dress but Badass killing himself laughing.

“You’re a wonderful dancer, Albert,” whispered Badass in the girl’s voice. “Not!”

Albert plowed his fist into Badass’ nose. Cartoon blood spurted everywhere.

“You’ll pay for that!” Badass cried. “Grab them!”

With that, all the high school kids turned around. On their flip sides they were bullies — all except one. That one was Charles. Two of the bullies reached for Albert but that was a mistake. Albert’s whole being was crackling with rage. He smashed the bullies’ heads together, threw them to the ground and stomped on their stomachs. They curled up like pretzels. Badass struggled to his feet. Albert kick boxed him in the face. Badass did a pirouette and crumpled to the floor.

Everybody on the dance floor was fighting. It was like one of those free-for-alls in an old Western movie. Mary, who’d been looking for somebody to punch all day, hit her bully so hard her hand came out the other side. Victor head-butted his and the bully folded up like an accordion.

“Always wanted to do that,” Victor said rubbing his head. He and Mary high-fived and ran to join Edward and Little William who were keeping five bullies at bay with two brooms.

Albert had never been so angry. He advanced on Charles who wasn’t fighting but watching. Albert and Charles had had their differences over the years and the fights to prove it, but this time Albert didn’t see his brother, he saw an enemy.

(76) Albert Strikes Back

“Hey Albert, you need to take some dance lessons.”

Charles grinned at his brother but Albert wasn’t in the mood for teasing. Albert threw a left that Charles blocked but Albert’s right followed so fast Charles couldn’t do anything but take it. His head snapped back and he sank to his knees as real blood gushed from his nose.

Albert pulled his fist back to drill Charles again but Mary grabbed his arm. Before she could say anything the lights started to flash on and off, the floor began to tremble, and in the distance, a low rumble commenced growing louder and louder like a steam train pulling into the station.

Badass stumbled to his feet. “The Terror’s woken up! Run for it!”

Badass and the bullies disappeared with a speed that would have been impressive if it hadn’t been so unnerving.


Charles looked back at his sister. He was holding his nose, his hand drenched in blood, then he too was gone swallowed by the darkness. A cold blackness like a giant arctic shadow blew across the gymnasium. The lights dimmed.

“You have disturbed me,” said the low rumble.

“Sorry,” Albert answered, “but it wasn’t our fault.”

“What are you doing in my basement?”

“We’re looking for a way out.”

“There is no way out.”

“I don’t believe you.”

The lights flashed, the ground shook, and the wind grew strong enough to blow Mary’s hair straight out behind her.

“I could crush you like- like-”

“Like tin cans in a tornado,” finished Albert.

“Close enough.”

“Well, do it!” Albert was still bristling with rage.

The lights flashed faster, the ground shook harder, and the wind grew so strong the kids had to hang onto each other or be blown away.

“You should flee before I really lose my temper.”

“Sounds like an idle threat to me,” Albert said walking toward the rumble.

“What did you say?”

“I said you’re beginning to piss me off.”

A fist of coal dust shot out of the darkness and struck Albert in the chest. He flew backwards knocking the other kids over like bowling pins. Victor pulled Albert to his feet. Together they advanced toward The Terror.

“Come out and show yourself!” Victor shouted. “Any knucklehead can use his strength. Let’s see you use your wits.”

The fist shot out again and this time both Victor and Albert were hurled back into the other kids.

Now everyone was up and moving forward.

“We’re not frightened of you!” shouted Little William.

“We’ve been through a lot,” Edward cried, “and you’re not going to stop us!”

“Why are you protecting the Prince?” Victor yelled. “He doesn’t even like you!”

“Why not strike a blow for the good guys?” asked Mary. “You might like it.”

The Terror grew quiet. The rumble was still there but it had tapered off to the sound of a broken air conditioner.

“Be a good Terror,” Albert said at last, “and tell us how to get to the Prince’s castle. We’re in a bit of a hurry.”

The low rumble stopped altogether. Then, like a jet engine starting, The Terror began to laugh. It wasn’t a nice laugh but a laugh from the depths of hell. Louder and louder it grew until the kids were forced to cover their ears with their hands.

“Look!” Mary screamed but no one heard her. They didn’t need to because there was only one place to look and that was at the tunnel forming in front of them. It was made of swirling gritty coal dust, like the fist, but that wasn’t the scary part. The scary part was what was coming through the tunnel — a massive sleek machine, loaded with spinning grinding gears and waving arms capped with rotating models’ heads talking in loud whispers about all the joy that could be yours if you just bought-

The lights exploded plunging the gymnasium into darkness and the ground shook so hard the kids were tossed to the floor, and this time the howling wind was too much for any of them. Like tin cans in a tornado The Terror swept them up and hurled them into the tunnel.

(77) James and Mrs. Stickler

“You see James, aren’t you glad we waited to find out what the nice ladies wanted?”

James wasn’t tied up anymore. And soup had turned out to be short for super, which was a relief. The big boiling pot was for cooking lunch but James wasn’t on the menu — lobsters were. It was all a relief — for the moment.

James still hadn’t seen another male and in his head he kept hearing his Grade Eight teacher, Mrs. Stickler, talking about the female praying mantis, the coolest of all insects according to Mrs. Stickler. ‘Once the female mantis has no more need of her male she bites his head off and eats him.’ Then Mrs. Stickler had looked right at James and grinned.

James studied the outboard motor in front of him. It was a Mercury outboard from the seventies — the one they called the Tower of Power. James had seen pictures of it but had never been close to one. His job now was to figure out why this one wouldn’t start. And quickly. As he worked James kept looking around. He had the feeling Mrs. Stickler was in the neighborhood.

Queen Beatrice, the largest of the large women, had explained it to him. “Super it is that you’re here, because, you see, we have a boat with a motor but the motor won’t start and it has to because one of us must go to the Island of Men tonight and kiss King Billybong or the men will come here and that would ruin everything.”

The other large women had shouted at this and thumped their spears. James had been impressed. He undid the clips at the front of the motor and removed the metal sides. This got a reaction from the females seated on the ground around him. They giggled and poked each other.

“Ah Major, could I talk to you for a moment?”

“Certainly James, what is it?”

James turned away from the women and whispered, “There’s nothing wrong with the motor. They’re out of gasoline.”

“Well, that’s easy then.”

“No, it’s not. They don’t have any more.”

“How do you know?”

“I asked the little one who likes me.”

“Little one?”

“It’s relative.”

The Major looked back at the women all of whom were staring at them, waiting expectantly. “I think they all like you, James.”

“Stop enjoying this so much.” The Major couldn’t help grinning. “We’re in a hurry, remember?”

“So we tell them they’re out of gas and we’ll go on our way,” she said.

“You think they’ll let us go?”

The Major studied Queen Beatrice striding toward them. “Probably not.”

“Probably not is right.”

Queen Beatrice patted the motor. “So, have you ascertained what our difficulty might be?”

“Yes your Majesty,” the Major replied. “Your red gasoline tank is empty and you just need to fill it up.”

“I wondered if that might not be our problem. We have four red tanks but now all are empty. We have nothing to fill them with.”

The Major could feel the mood of the women changing. Anger was moving in like a dark cloud.

“How far is this Island of Men?”

“That way just over the edge.” Queen Beatrice pointed at the horizon.

“James, do you think you could rig a sail?”


The Major turned back to Queen Beatrice. “We will turn your boat into a sailboat. You’ll be able to sail to the island.”

The Queen considered this. “We don’t know how to sail.”

“It’s easy. I’ll teach you.”

The Queen considered this. “No! You will sail the boat to the Island of Men.”

The women were on their feet now pounding their spears.

“If you do not go and kiss King Billybong, we will cut your friend’s head off and eat him.”

James groaned. Mrs. Stickler would have loved this.

(78) The Prince & Lady K

The Prince — still looking like Captain Merrill Stubing from Love Boat — and Ratchett were strolling arm-in-arm along the hallway that led to the nursery chuckling their heads off. Every three steps they leapt into the air and came down with a thud and with every thud a cloud of white flour erupted from their clothing. They’d just finished webcasting The Prince & Ratchett’s First Awful Cooking Show and it had been more than a blast especially the flour fight.

“We haven’t had this much fun since we dropped those dreadful politicians into the acid bath,” the Prince said still prancing.

“Sire, did you see our ratings spike when you made the Rangers take their clothes off?”

“We did Ratchett, and then when they mooned the cameras — that was the best! So unscripted, so spontaneous, so-”

Ratchett thought he better change the subject. Eight of the female Rangers had used lipstick to paint letters on their butts. When they bent over the words Freedom for All! were webcast throughout the galaxy.

“Are we on YouTube yet?”

“Just push this button, sire.” Ratchett held out his phone and the Prince pushed the button.

“Order everybody to watch, Ratchett. We want to have higher ratings than Oprah.”

“Consider it done, sire.”

Before Ratchett could put his phone away it rang. He looked at the caller ID and handed the phone to the Prince. The Prince stared at the screen. He’d know that spiked green hair anywhere.

“Lady Katrina, what an unpleasant surprise.”

“Who is this?”

“The Prince, my dear. I’m pretending to be the Captain of Love Boat.” The Prince could see Lady K wanted to tell him to grow up but she held her tongue. The Prince continued, “And speaking of surprises we didn’t know you had a daughter and a husband who can sing.”

“He’s not my husband! He was a diversion — a moment of insanity — a mistake!”

“And you were young and silly no doubt but your un-husband can definitely sing. We find ourselves humming his new song incessantly, don’t we Ratchett? What’s it called again?”

Jessica, sire.”

Jessica, that’s right. We also notice Lady K you’re getting slaughtered in the polls despite the fact your opponent isn’t campaigning at all.”

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“We’re all ears.” The Prince changed Ratchett into a pair of giant ears laced with earrings and studs. Ratchett flapped his ears and flour flew up. The Prince chuckled and changed him back. Lady Katrina shook her head and resumed talking.

“I need you to eliminate King Morath.”

“That’s one way to win an election. What’s in it for us?”

“An alliance — you and I will rule the Universe.”

“Why do we need you?”

Lady Katrina was taken aback. She was not used to being rebuffed and certainly not so quickly.

“As Regent I’ll hand you the worlds you don’t have. You won’t have to fight for them.”

“Why would you do that?”

“I’ll be your Princess. We’ll rule together.”

Yuck and double yuck, thought the Prince. He’d rather swallow a pineapple than live with one.

“To be honest we prefer to fight. Keeps everybody busy and keeps us out of trouble, right Ratchett?”

“Yes sire.”

“We remember we were playing tennis once – you still there Lady K?”

“I’m here.”

“And we were getting whooped. What’s that expression we like Ratchett?”

“Your opponent was handing you your butt in a basket.”

“That’s the one. So Lady K, rather than have our bottom handed to us in a basket — rather like you in the polls at the moment — we caused an accident to happen — sprained ankle — and our unfortunate opponent had to forfeit the match.”

“And the point would be?” Lady Katrina was moving from pouting to pissed-off in a hurry.

“The point is, my dear, it didn’t feel good. It was a hollow victory. We decided it was better to pick our opponents more carefully than to win in that way.

“So joining with me would be a hollow victory?”

“Preciously! Plus, my dear, you’re hardly presenting yourself as someone trustworthy.”

“That’s rich coming from you.”

“We’re consistently evil just as the Major is consistently good. You on the other hand-”

Lady K was angry enough to interrupt. “What about Chester Newport?”

“What about him?”

“What are you going to do with him?”

“At the moment he’s bait — honey to draw the flies. After that we’re thinking of creating our own comic book — one where the bad guys always triumph. We would imagine at that point Chester Newport’s viewpoint and our own would be irreconcilable so one of us would have to go. We know who we’re voting for.”

Lady Katrina was seething but she needed the Prince and badly. She tucked her rage away and put on her sexiest smile.

“Please Prince, I need your help.”

“Fortunately, we don’t need yours.”

“Please, I’m sure I can make you happy.” She batted her eyelashes and leaned forward. She was wearing a low-cut dress after all.

“We’re already happy, aren’t we Ratchett?”

The Prince hit Ratchett on the back and more flour flew up. Ratchett hit the Prince on the back and the Prince’s flour joined Ratchett’s. The Prince was shocked at being struck but Ratchett didn’t give him time to stew about it. “More than happy, sire. I’d say ecstatic bordering on euphoric.”

The Prince beamed at Lady Katrina and then, pouring salt on the wound, began humming Jessica.

“Why you ignorant piece of-” Lady Katrina was furious. “When I become Regent I’m going to throw everything against you! Everything!”

“I’m sorry my dear but you have no chance of becoming Regent.”

“I’ll destroy King Morath without you, you’ll see!”

“It’s too late for that.”

“No, it’s not!” Lady Katrina was screaming now, livid with rage.

The Prince wasn’t fond of loud females. He pushed a button and handed the phone to Ratchett. “You tell her.”

Ratchett took the phone and smiled at Lady K. She was so angry her green hair was pulsing. “Sorry Lady K but this whole conversation is now on YouTube. Have a nice evening.”

(79) The Kids Reach the Castle

Little William tumbled out of the sky first. One by one the others crash-landed on top of him until they were all sprawled on the ground like sandbags. Mary pushed Edward away and sat up. She was covered in sticky logos, hundreds of them.

“Nice going, Albert,” Mary said tugging a Nike sticker off her forehead. “Be a good Terror and tell us how to get to the Prince’s castle. We’re in a bit of a hurry.”

The others laughed at Mary’s perfect imitation.

“What a rush!” Edward said pulling stickers out of his hair.

“Like flying!” added Little William spitting out a Pepsi logo.

“Why are we covered in these stupid things?” Mary was busy trying to reach the stickers on her back. She’d spent this whole adventure covered in something.

Victor knew. “That machine with all the gears? That was Gear Girl. Episode 134 to 136. She drives around trying to sell you things. If you resist she applies peer pressure and if that doesn’t work she ostracizes you.”

“Ostrich size?” Little William checked the length of his neck.

“Be a good Terror and tell us how to get to the Prince’s castle. We’re in a bit of a hurry,” repeated Mary and everyone laughed again.

Albert pulled the last American Eagle sticker off his butt. “Well it worked, didn’t it?”

“Better than you think,” Victor said standing. In the distance he could see a castle lit up like Disneyworld at night. Soon they were all standing staring at the Prince’s castle. It didn’t seem right that something so gorgeous could belong to someone so evil.

“All right you guys, let’s go,” Mary said, “and no more nightmares.”

“We’ve had everybody’s but Veronica’s and Charles’,” Edward said.

“Maybe Charles already had his?”

“I’ll bet it was about snakes,” Little William said. “Charles doesn’t like them.”

“Charles was hurt,” Mary said. “Albert, you hit him too hard.”

“Served him right.”


It was late by the time the kids reached the castle — well after midnight. They would have gotten there sooner except they kept stopping, hiding, jumping at every sound, ducking from every shadow. The closer they got to the castle, the more they expected to encounter attack dogs, guards, soldiers, cameras, sensors, tripwires, something, somebody, but in the end they made it to the edge of the forest without seeing anybody at all.

The Prince’s castle was just as impressive up-close as it was from a distance. To start with, it was huge, with tall stone walls, towering turrets, battlements and ramparts, a drawbridge — up at the moment — the whole thing surrounded by a moat so wide Albert couldn’t have thrown a pebble more than halfway across. Torches hung at intervals along the walls, the flickering lights sparkling on the dark water like diamonds on black velvet.

Albert ran from the edge of the forest down to a clump of bushes by the water’s edge. One by one the others followed him down. Now they were so close the castle walls filled their vision.

Mary whispered, “It’s beautiful.”

“Just like you,” whispered a voice behind her.


“Shhhhh!” Victor could hear footsteps coming from a solitary cat guard marching high up on the ramparts. Finally the sound of the footsteps faded away.

“What happened to you?” Mary asked.

“Pesticide kidnapped me.”

“Pesticide? He’s my favorite,” Little William said.

“What about you guys?” Veronica asked.

“Albert had his nightmare.”

“You okay?” Veronica laid a hand on Albert’s shoulder.

“I’m fine. You?”

“I’m okay.”

“Did you have your nightmare?” Little William wanted to know.

“Not yet.” Veronica didn’t want to think about it. “See way over there.” Veronica pointed toward the side of the castle. “There’s a loading dock. I bet we can get in from there.”

(80) Zippo

“There’s something moving in the water,” Mary said. The something was gliding on the surface of the moat and coming their way.

“It’s a crocodile,” whispered Edward.

“Alligator,” Victor whispered back. “Its bottom teeth are hidden. Unless it’s an Indian mugger, in which case-”

Mary put her hand over Victor’s mouth. The alligator drifted by. Veronica stood up and unzipped her uniform. Underneath she wore a black bathing suit. She pulled a clear plastic line out of a pocket of her uniform and tied the end around her waist. Then she turned the R on her Ranger belt buckle and pushed it. Her uniform inflated like a life raft.

“Hang on to this,” she said patting the raft. “That way you won’t make any noise. I’ll swim over. If it looks okay, I’ll pull you across.”

“I’m coming with you,” Albert said taking off his boots.

“No noise.” Albert nodded.

Veronica was a strong, silent swimmer. All those years spent playing in her dad’s pool hadn’t been wasted. Veronica reached the loading dock and crept up the stairs. A tunnel loomed in front of her, lit by torches. No one seemed to be around. When she turned back Albert had reached the bottom of the stairs.

“It looks okay,” she said. “Pull the others over. I’d rather have them with us than over there.” She signaled to the kids. They pushed her uniform into the water and latched on. Albert tugged on the line.

The kids were halfway across the moat when Little William hissed, “The alligator’s coming!” Not only coming but coming fast. The alligator dove and the next thing the kids knew Veronica’s uniform was tossed high in the air.


The kids were in the water now, bobbing around like shipwreck survivors, wondering which one of them the alligator was going to attack first.


“Bless you,” Mary said gazing into the alligator’s red eyes. Then the alligator rose up and two very different eyes stared at Mary. The new eyes belonged to a large hippopotamus.

“Thanks, I’ve got a cold,” the hippopotamus said his nose plugged. It made him sound like he was from New York.

“Why are you wearing a stuffed alligator on your head?”

“Oh that. The alligators left. They got a better offer from that new Animal Kingdom. The Prince was really miffed, I can tell you. I’d go too but they already have a hippo. I’m Zippo, by the way.”

“Hi Zippo, nice to meet you. I’m Mary and this is Victor, Edward and William.”

Zippo the Hippo nodded at everybody but he didn’t look happy. “I guess I’m supposed to eat you but to be honest I don’t like eating things that have their skin on. Achoo! I suppose I could take a bite out of the little one just so it looks like I’m doing my job. Do you mind?”

“I’m pretty sure I don’t taste good,” Little William said. “Everybody says I’m full of crap.”

“Chicken broth would be better,” piped up Mary.

“Maybe a hot compress,” added Victor.

“Being in this damp environment can’t be healthy,” Edward said.

The kids could tell Zippo the Hippo was feeling sorry for himself. Finally he said, “I’m really scary, you know.”

“We’ll be terrified next time,” Little William said. “Promise.”

“Okay then, why don’t you go where you’re going, and I’ll pretend I didn’t see you.” Zippo was already swimming away. “Don’t tell the Prince,” he called back. Then he slipped under the water and faded into the darkness.

(81) Major O and the Island of Men

The Major could see the Island of Men and — what was worse — she could see the thirty or so males waiting for her. If this was a dating service, she’d give it a one out of ten. That might be too high.

The men were dancing around a huge bonfire on the beach, jumping up and down, trying to push each other into the flames. They were bare-chested, wearing droopy basketball shorts and carrying long spears. There wasn’t one over five feet tall and they were so skinny their ribs showed. The Major made sure her stun gun was operational.

“Stunner, you feeling okay?”

“I’m good for a blast or two. If you need more than that you’d better run for it.”

“You know Stunner we used to be a pretty mean team.”

“Yeah Major, we had some good times. Listen, if I was you, I wouldn’t land in the middle of those yahoos with me as backup.”

Bit late for that advice, thought the Major as the men’s hands grabbed the side of her boat and pulled it up on shore.

“Greetings from Queen Beatrice-” was all the Major got to say before her wrists and ankles were tied and a pole stuck between them. Up she went, the pole resting on two skinny male shoulders.

Bet James would enjoy this sight, she thought, watching the stars bounce up and down. Being an Intergalactic Ranger the Major had been in lots of tight places but she couldn’t remember ever feeling quite this helpless before. She had her gun but it might as well have been a mile away for all the good it was to her. Earwax might have been useful but she’d left him with James.

Finally, the men carried her into a village that looked remarkably unlike the women’s village. The women’s was neat and tidy — this one was a dump.

Squashed pop cans littered the ground, empty pretzel bags shimmered in the evening breeze and in the clearing in the middle, instead of a communal garden, the men had piled up — like bleachers — a bunch of ratty couches all facing a large flat screen TV perched on top of an old avocado-green refrigerator. A football game was on but no one was watching.

“I’m a Raiders fan myself,” the Major said but the two men carrying her just grunted as they stopped in front of the largest hut. This time, instead of the ample Queen Beatrice emerging, outstepped the shortest, scrawniest man on the island. He wore a loincloth and a New York Yankees’ baseball cap.

“Sister, this is your lucky day,” he said smiling down at the Major. “You are having the pleasure of kissing the great King Billybong.”

With those words the little runt stood aside and out of the hut waddled the largest-fattest-meanest-looking gorilla in the galaxy.

The Major shut her eyes and reopened them. Shutting her eyes wasn’t going to make the gorilla go away but it sure was better than looking at him. King Billybong pinched her arm, then her leg. The Major got the idea he liked his females to have more padding.

“Hey King Billy, how about untying me so I can introduce myself?”

King Billybong pulled Stunner out of the Major’s belt and put the barrel in his mouth like a lollypop. The Major watched, fascinated, as King Billybong pulled the trigger.

(82) James Makes a Run for It

James leant back against the bars of his bamboo cage. The moon was almost full and a warm breeze filled the air with the sweet scent of flowers. It would be a nice night if he wasn’t so worried about the Major. He cared about her more than he cared to admit.

The other girls he’d dated hadn’t been more important than what was around the next corner but the Major was different. Somehow the Major had come to mean more to him than — well, more to him than anything James could think of. He’d never felt that way before.

He remembered his sister Annabelle telling him, after she’d given birth to her first child, that she was no longer a sun, but a planet. James hadn’t understood her at the time but now he did. He was no longer the center of his universe. The Major was his sun even if she didn’t know it.

James felt something behind him. Earwax was chewing on the rope that bound his hands. James looked over at the guard. She wasn’t asleep but close to it. His hands popped loose. He untied the rope at his feet.

“Good job, Earwax,” he whispered.

The smart thing would be to wait till the guard was fast asleep but James was worried a new guard might come to take her place. Besides, patience had never been his long suit.

James removed the stick that locked the cage door and slowly opened it. He tiptoed by the guard and stole her spear, which she’d stuck in the dirt beside her. He and Earwax started down the path that led to the beach and Miss Behavin. This was too easy. He’d have to make up a story to tell the Major.

Snap! Crackle! Pop!

The ground beneath James’ feet gave way and he dropped like a hanged man. The only thing that saved him was the spear. He was carrying it sideways and as he fell the ends of the spear landed on either side of the hole.

“Holy crapola!” James couldn’t see the bottom of the pit he’d fallen into but the moon glistened off the fifty sharpened sticks waiting to impale him. Then he felt the spear bending.

“No, please.”


James fell the rest of the way. He managed to aim his feet between the sharpened sticks, which was a good thing because the sticks came up to his waist.

“Ouch, that would have hurt. Earwax!” Earwax stuck his head over the edge of the pit. “Get me a vine so I can pull myself out. Hurry!”

At least falling into the hole hadn’t made much noise. James figured the guard was probably still sleeping. Suddenly the end of a vine fell into the hole. James tugged on it. He tugged on it some more. He kept tugging. All at once the other end of the vine fell into the hole.


Earwax appeared at the edge, grinning.

“That’s not funny. I need to get out of here pronto. Here, tie this end around a tree.” James tossed one end of the vine up to the ferret.

Earwax kept grinning.

“We need to rescue the Major.”

Earwax yawned.

“How would you like it if there were thirty very large female ferrets after you?”

Earwax grabbed his belly and chuckled.

“I’ll let you fly Miss Behavin.”

Earwax disappeared dragging the vine.

A minute later James was back on the path and paying more attention. These women were dangerous. In fact, he was paying so much attention to where his feet were going he forgot to look up. If he had he would have seen a tree fort and in the tree fort he would have seen twin sisters, their names Olive and Martini.

They were high up watching the sea for intruders, but they couldn’t help but hear James lumbering down the path below them. Every time the ground looked like another booby-trap, James would veer off the path and crash through the thorn bushes that lined the trail on either side.

“Sounds like an elephant,” Olive murmured.

“Elephants don’t say, ‘Scratch your own ass!’”

“Sound the alarm.”

Five vines were tied to the railing of the tree fort. Martini released Vine #1 and a huge net bag full of old pots and pans fell in the village waking all the women. The noise was so loud James heard it too.

“Fat’s in the fire now, Earwax. Run for it!”

(83) It’s Not Raining Cats and Dogs

Martini released Vine #2. Three hundred pairs of women’s shoes fell from the sky above James’ head.

“Ooh, ow, ouch, ooh, eeew, ow! Look out for the stilettos!” James made it through the shoes without tripping. In the distance he could see the moonlight glinting off Miss Behavin. He could also hear the big women starting down the path behind him.

“Earwax! When the Queen said they’d cut my head off and eat me, she was joking, right?”

Martini released Vine #3. Two hundred used hairdryers descended on, or near, James’ head. This time he went down but when the dryers stopped falling, he was back on his feet and motoring.

“My old girlfriends would love this!” he shouted to Earwax who was twenty steps ahead. Something dripped into James’ eye. He put his hand up. It came back covered in blood — lots of it.

Martini released Vine #4. The first vacuum cleaner knocked James sideways. The second knocked him off his feet and the third landed on his head. After that he didn’t feel the other seven. Earwax raced back and shook James. One eye opened.

“We should never have let women vote.”

James struggled to his knees. He looked back. The women were pounding down the trail less than a basketball court behind. He staggered on, Earwax leading the way. Shoes, hair dryers, vacuum cleaners — James looked up just as Martini released Vine #5. James slammed on the brakes as four stoves and a chest freezer crashed onto the path in front of him.

“Earwax! Where are you? Oh man, the Major will never forgive me.”

A spear flew by James’ head. He wanted to run but he couldn’t. He had to stop, move the stoves, see if poor Earwax was still alive. The women were going to catch him for sure.

Pop! Ten steps down the trail Earwax erupted from the earth like he was spring-loaded.

“All right! Let’s go!” shouted James.

James looked ahead; James looked back. It was going to be a close thing. Suddenly Olive, clutching her spear, stood on the path blocking James’ escape. Instinctively he ducked and a spear flew over his head and struck Olive in the shoulder. She crumpled. James didn’t stop.

“I’m so sorry. You’ll look great in a sling,” he yelled as he thundered by.

James and Earwax won the race but not by much. Those women may be large but they’re fit, thought James stumbling into Miss Behavin, his legs rubber.

“No more smoking,” he gasped as he flopped into his chair. “Earwax, lock the door!”

A spear bounced off the windscreen. James pushed the throttle forward for full thrust. Miss Behavin didn’t move.

“SOYUZ, you little brat. Enough of this! We have to get out of here! C’mon!”


“We’ll talk about it later. Right now we have to vamoose. The Major needs us. C’mon! Please!”

Another spear hit the screen. Then the ship began to rock. The women were all on one side trying to flip it over. James was so angry he couldn’t speak. Then he heard someone crying.

“Listen, SOYUZ, I know it wasn’t your fault what happened but it was easier to blame you than have the rest of the crew throwing temper tantrums. I promise, if we get out of here and save the Major, I’ll do everything I can to make things up to you.”




“Okay, SOYUZ, here it is. If you don’t start this ship on the count of three I am going to pull you out of your holder. I am going to put you on the ground. I am going to stomp you into a million — no, a gazillion little pieces. Got it, SOYUZ! A gazillion little pieces! Even your motherboard won’t recognize you. One– two-”

By the time James reached the Island of Men and zeroed in on the Major all the fun was over. One by one the men on the island had wanted the same treat as King Billybong. Now they were all lying on the ground frozen and the Major was ready to leave.

“Glad to see you could make it, James. You don’t look so good. Women give you a hard time?”

“Let’s just say Earwax and I had a situation.”

“You can tell me all about it in Miss Behavin. Earwax, grab Stunner. Now, James, would you please untie me.”

The Major didn’t like the grin spreading across James’ face.

“Untie me, James.”

James picked up one end of the pole and Earwax the other.

“Hey fellas, I’m dragging my butt here. Ow!”

“Did you kiss your Billybong?” James had to ask.

“Untie me or I’ll Billybong you!”

“Hey Earwax, your turn to fly.”

(84) Veronica in the Dungeon

Veronica, back in her Major’s uniform, crept along the tunnel staying in the shadows as much as possible. The place seemed deserted. She waved to the kids to move forward. The tunnel sloped down and between torches, on both sides, archways led to large cave-like rooms with curved ceilings made of bricks.

Veronica entered the first room and flicked on the light. She was hoping to find something useful like a weapon of mass destruction or a dozen lightsabers but the room was empty except for the sound of a hundred teenage voices talking at once.

“Why can’t I go to the party? Vicky’s parents are letting her go!”

“Mrs. Shank doesn’t like me. That’s why I got a D!”

“It’s my room and I like it looking like a pigsty!”

“You’re so mean!”

“What is this place?” whispered Mary.

“Whine Cellar,” Victor whispered back. Episode 212 had been about bad puns starring Corporal Punishment and General Motors but Victor didn’t mention this. It was important that Mary like him.

Veronica flicked the light off and went back out into the tunnel. She entered the next archway and found a similar cave-like room except this one had been painted white and turned into a television studio. The floor was strewn with underwear, Ranger uniforms and two empty burlap bags of flour. On the stage stood a granite topped kitchen counter on which sat a huge stainless-steel mixing bowl with two large wooden spoons. Above the counter hung a banner that read: The Prince & Ratchett’s First Awful Cooking Show and underneath, This Week’s Recipe: Ranger Pie.

No one said anything. This was bad, very bad. Veronica turned off the light and continued on. The tunnel ended and she peered into a large circular room lined with cell doors. It had to be the dungeon. Veronica inched forward. Suddenly a hand wrapped around her mouth muffling her scream. She twisted her head. It was Straight Shooter.

He put his finger to his lips and she nodded as the kids shuffled up beside her. Shooter led the way and soon they stood beside the block of clear stuff in which Chester Newport was imprisoned. He wore his bathing suit and had a smile on his face.

“Oh Pops,” was all Veronica could say.

Straight Shooter turned to her. “I’m glad you made it. I never thought I’d live to see a real Major Occam.”

“Please call me Veronica. Things are confusing enough already.”

“True, and who would these be?”

“This is Albert, Victor, Mary, Edward and Little William. There’s one more — Charles — but we’ve lost him.”

Veronica stepped forward and touched the clear block. It felt like ice except it wasn’t cold. “What is this stuff?”

“I think it’s what you call Writer’s Block.”

Veronica nodded. “Pops was having trouble figuring out how to end Occam’s Razor. He wanted to retire but he wanted to wrap everything up in a way that would make the Major’s and the Prince’s fans happy.”

“That gave the Prince the time he needed to turn the tables,” Straight Shooter said.

“But the Prince is a figment of my father’s imagination.”

“Not anymore he isn’t. He’s as real as you are.” Straight Shooter told them what he had overheard.

“But that’s impossible,” Veronica said.

“About as impossible as you being here.”

Straight Shooter had a point.

“Do you think my father’s alive in there?” she asked.

“I’m sure of it. That’s not the position he was in when I first saw him.”

“So how do we get him out?”

“You don’t!”

Veronica spun around. Badass and Charles stood on a balcony staring down at them.

“You can’t stop us, Badass!” Veronica shouted back.

“Wanna bet?”

Badass flicked a switch on the wall. Veronica, Straight Shooter and the kids took off for the tunnel but it was too late. Steel bars shot up out of the floor surrounding them. They weren’t going anywhere.

Victor tried to bend the paper-thin steel bars but they were as strong as any steel bars at home. “These sure are strong for drawings.”

“You’re in our world now,” shouted Badass.

Mary didn’t get it. “Straight Shooter, why can’t you squeeze through the bars?”

“That’s not how things work here.” Straight Shooter walked up to the bars and banged into them. Then he turned sideways and his width turned too. Again he banged into the bars. The kids got it.

“The willing suspension of disbelief,” Victor said but none of the others understood what he was saying.

“Guards!” Badass cried. “Put Charlie here in the cage with the others.”

Charles struggled but he was no match for the Prince’s cat guards. “I thought we were friends,” he called back to Badass.

“Charlie, Charlie, Charlie — you think you’re smarter than everyone else and that makes you dumb.”

The guards threw Charles into the cage and slammed the door shut behind him. Charles landed on his stomach and lay still. He couldn’t look at the others. Tears filled his eyes but he held them back. He couldn’t remember a time when he’d felt so brainless.

(85) You’ll Never Guess Who the Prince Is Now


Ratchett hid behind an upturned table as the last of the colored smoke floated by. Ratchett was laughing so hard he had to bite his knuckle in order to keep silent. Ratchett knew if he laughed out loud he’d be toast — real toast, probably French.


“Yes sire!”

“Where are you?”

“Here sire.” Ratchett stuck his hand in the air and then followed it up.

“Are you snickering, Ratchett?”

“Coughing sire, all that smoke.” Ratchett put his hands to his face and bent over. This was the funniest thing he’d ever seen. Way funnier than the Prince as Captain of the LOVE BOAT.

“Turn that music off!” That music was Work That Body by Freedom Patrol.

“I’m not sure where it’s coming from, sire.” Ratchett decided then and there he would give a year of his life if his buddies at The Rat’s Ass could see this.


“Yes sire?”

“Do we — look like — James Bond — to you?” The Prince was bouncing around doing exercises so talking at the same time was difficult.

“No sire.”

“Who — do we — look like?”

“I’m not sure, sire.”

“Say it, Ratchett!”

“Jane Fonda, sire.”

“We wanted James Bond!”

“My finger may have slipped, sire.”

Ratchett thought for an older woman the Prince was really quite attractive in his pink leotards, lime green tights, and orange headband. If he could just stop doing aerobics he might actually like being Jane Fonda.

“This music is killing us!”

“Yes sire.” Ratchett knew the Prince’s idea of exercise was to point his finger at someone.

“All right ladies, pull in those abdominal muscles. Here we go, stretch!” shouted the Prince.

But all at once the sound of dragging chains was as loud as the dance music and out of the smoke appeared Badass, followed by Veronica, Albert, Victor, Mary, Edward, Little William, Straight Shooter and Charles — all shackled together.

Badass stopped and stared at a real Jane Fonda caught in the middle of her exercise routine. He turned to Chancellor Ratchett in confusion.

“Yes Badass?” said Ratchett.

“I need to see the Prince.”

“We’re here,” Jane Fonda said in the Prince’s deep voice. Little William burst out laughing. Ratchett bit his knuckle. Badass and the rest of his prisoners wanted to laugh too but they were too scared.

“Sorry to bother you sire, but I thought you’d want to see what I found in the dungeon.”

Jane Fonda exercised her way over to the prisoners. “More humans, interesting. C’mon ladies — stretch and pull — stretch and pull. And a real Major — Newport’s daughter we presume, welcome. You escaped Pesticide we see. You’re not stretching ladies! And the others?”

“Charlie’s brothers and sister.”

“And Victor,” Little William piped up not the least bit afraid.

“Ratchett, stop this infernal music!”

“Yes sire.”

The Prince turned and faced Veronica. He was doing deep knee bends.

“See what happens when your father doesn’t play fair? Stretch, bend — other side! He was going to convert the Truly Evil Prince of Darkness to the side of — if it doesn’t hurt, ladies, you’re not doing it right! — Freedom and Fairness. You read the comic books. Can you imagine the Prince as a goody-goody?!”

The Prince stopped for breath. “It makes my skin crawl! Ratchett!”


“You have fifteen seconds to stop this music or the skin on your back will become a bongo drum!”

“Yes sire.”

“Honestly, what was your — tuck it in ladies, tuck, tuck, tuck — father thinking? Everybody good? Can you see it? Everyone, including your father, would be bored out of their trees in a week. Look at the news on television. People don’t want good news; they want the really bad news. Murders, fires, scandals, terrorists, miners trapped, planes crashing.”

The Prince suddenly dropped to the floor.

“All right ladies lets switch to those dreaded sit-ups. This will tighten up those flabby tummy muscles.”

He stretched out onto his back.

“We couldn’t let your father do this. For his own good we had to kidnap him till he came to his senses.”

Veronica finally found the courage to interrupt.

“I was there when my dad disappeared. How did you do that?”

“Ah, my dear, how kind of you to ask. Ratchett — WHO IS ABOUT TO BECOME A BONGO DRUM — remembered that in Episode 157 Papaya Upstart opened a conduit between Planet X and Planet Greed by means of an aqua-fire tunnel. Five more — we can do it, ladies! Your father never deactivated the tunnel so we relocated the Planet Greed terminal to your father’s swimming pool in Foxhaven. Big finish, ladies — here we go!”

“Why didn’t the police find it?” Veronica was now totally confused by what was happening but couldn’t possibly be happening but was.

“It only opens for those who believe,” puffed the Prince.

“Pull the plug!” yelled out Little William. Two seconds later the music stopped. The Prince stumbled to his feet and bent over breathing deeply. Someone would pay for this.

“But how did you become real?” Veronica asked.

“Ah, that was the unexpected, a bonus you might say. Ever since we heard your father was up to no good, we’ve been watching him closely. One day he drew plans for a special machine. A machine that would change the Truly Evil Prince of Darkness, Commander of All that is Vile & Rotten, into this good, caring, compassionate sod — in short, a fate worse than death.”

“The Booth of XTernal XChange,” Victor said.

“Exactly! Fortunately my dear, your father emailed the plans to your aunt and we intercepted them.” The Prince turned around looking for his Chancellor.

“Ratchett, is the booth ready?”

“It is, sire.”

“Good. Now, we need a volunteer. We require one of you to go in that booth and pick up the phone after the second ring. If all goes as we expect, our volunteer will emerge from the booth as a — trumpet fanfare please, ta-dah, are you ready? — a cartoon character!”

The Prince clapped his hands together in glee. “Won’t that be fun? No more third dimension to worry about. No more squishy pimples. No more English essays.”

The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness, aka Jane Fonda, yanked off her orange headband and used it to blow her nose.

“Why don’t you go?” Little William asked.

“Are you kidding?” said the Prince. “We’re real! Real! You don’t appreciate what it means to have a real body. The impossible has happened! But what happens if you’ve always been real? Now that’s an interesting question, isn’t it? No way we’re going back in there till we understand exactly how it works.”

He strode up and down before the group of prisoners. “So, who wants to be guinea pigo número uno, so to speak? Don’t be shy! Step right up! Why wait, I expect you’ll all be toons eventually.”

Everyone in the room studied their shoes.

“No one’s stepping up so let’s start with the little one, the little one who isn’t afraid. Badass! Bring him to us!”

“No!” cried Veronica. “I volunteer.”

“Splendid my dear, very brave of you. Badass, undo her shackles. Right this way, Major. We’re so glad you wore your uniform. Is this something you wear around the house?”

Veronica scowled at the Prince. “My father had it made so I could wear it when he was inducted into the Cartoonists’ Hall of Fame. I thought if I wore it, it might make something happen in the pool.”

“And it did, my dear. You believed and here you are.” The Prince escorted Veronica to the Booth of XTernal XChange. He closed the folding doors.

“Just ask yourself this, my dear. Why is the rent at Baltic Avenue still four dollars? Ratchett! Dial 1-700-THE-MAJOR!”

The phone rang twice. Veronica picked up the receiver. “Hello?”

(86) Know Thy Enemy

The Major slid her phone back into its holder. She’d just received a call from the castle. All she’d heard was a female saying hello and then an explosion. She started to get up but James grabbed her sleeve.

“Look at that thing.” He handed her the quadnoculars, binoculars that not only let you see, but hear and smell as well.

The Major and James were lying on their stomachs on top of a high hill overlooking the Prince’s supposed-to-be-secret spaceport. The spaceport sat at the bottom of a crater. Across the top of the crater the Prince had stretched a net that from above looked like a forest.

Underneath the net sat the largest spaceship in the Known Universe. The Major focused in on the name of the ship: REVENGE. Around the ship, dozens of cat guards supervised the loading of supplies. Judging by how hard they had the slaves working the REVENGE must be getting ready to leave.

“How did you know this place was here?” asked James.

“It’s always been here,” the Major replied.

“Why didn’t you destroy it?”

“This way we know what the Prince is up to.”

“That thing makes Blackjack’s 21 look like a kid’s toy. Why would the Prince want something that humongous?”

“Intimidation,” suggested the Major.

“He already has that.”

“Maybe he’s moving?”

“Don’t move.”

It took a second before the Major realized neither she nor James had said those last two words. She looked behind her. Standing there, his gun drawn, was E Koleye, the ugly potato-looking bounty hunter from XoroX.

The Major smiled. Good thing she was worth more alive than dead or that’s what she’d be.

“Where’s Lady K?” she asked.

“She couldn’t make it.” The bounty hunter’s voice was ugly too, like stones caught in a hubcap.

“She’s alive?”

“I traded her her life for a spaceship.”

“How did you know where to find us?” James asked.

“Where else would you be?”

“He’s got a point, James.”

“And a fancy new AK-94 with the scanner-tracking option too,” James said as he weighed his chances of rushing the bounty hunter.

“Now what, Koleye?” The Major got to her feet. The bounty hunter took her gun, her only weapon. He scanned James. ‘No weapons’ flashed on the miniature screen.

“You’re unarmed?” he asked.

James tapped the side of his head. “Natural wit.”

The Major thought the bounty hunter smiled at this because his mouth went from a straight line to something that looked like a dead snake. Maybe it was just indigestion.

“Now we go see the Prince and collect the bounty.”

“100 million units,” the Major said stalling for time.

James leapt in. “My father, King Morath, will pay you more to let us go.”

The bounty hunter considered this. “Make it 200 mil and you’ve got a deal.”



“200 it is! Let’s go to my ship and we’ll talk to my father.”

“My ship!”

“Your ship. Let’s go.” Standing around arguing in plain view of the Prince’s forces was more dangerous than going with the ugly bounty hunter — maybe.

E Koleye had parked beside them. His ship was a real dog, a Lemonnata 18. Slow as molasses but a workhorse.

“Nice ship,” James said not meaning it.

“It got here.”

They went inside. The bounty hunter put the Major in one of the special seats for prisoners. Steel bands clamped around her. She wasn’t going anywhere. E Koleye trained his blaster on Earwax riding in his holster on the Major’s boot.

“Move and you’re hairless.” The bounty hunter aimed at James. “Talk to your father. One mistake and he’ll see you die.”

James dialed in the secret code for his father’s hideout on Weird Toad.

“James,” his father said many light-years away.


“Where are you?”

“Planet X.”


“Not so good. The Major and I are being detained by a bounty hunter.”

“I was just watching a cooking show staring the Prince and Ratchett. They made what they called a Ranger Pie with over seventy Rangers inside.”

Seventy! The Major felt sick to her stomach.

“That was the work of bounty hunters too,” said King Morath. “I gather this bounty hunter is willing to negotiate?”

“He wants 200 million units.” James could see his father wince. “Twice what the Prince will pay.”

“Of course.” It was an incredible amount of money — enough to outfit an armada of starfighters. “We have the reserve fund,” King Morath said. “The one we keep in Berfuda.”

James smiled. Taking money out of banks was an art form on Weird Toad.

“I’ll need the bounty hunter’s account number,” King Morath said. The bounty hunter read off sixteen numbers and watched as they scrolled across the screen. The screen changed and E Koleye’s account popped up.

“Now you must type in your password,” King Morath said.

The bounty hunter held his gun under James’ chin, forcing it up so James had to look at the ceiling. E Koleye typed in the password and watched as 200 million units transferred to his account. That was easy. He flicked off the screen.

The bounty hunter motioned for James to sit in the other prisoner’s chair beside the Major.

“Hold on! You’ve got your money. Let us go.”

The bounty hunter aimed his gun at James’ chest and pulled the trigger.

(87) The Last Nightmare?

The dungeon was quiet except for the sound of a woman weeping. Victor was sure it would be the saddest sound he’d ever hear. Mary sat beside him, her head resting on his shoulder. She was crying too but silently. Victor knew they’d all had enough. The kids were tired and dejected. They wanted to go home.

Edward had found a pebble. He was using it to draw pictures on the stone floor. His first effort was a portrait of Veronica dressed in her Ranger uniform and underneath he’d scratched the words: the last nightmare.

Albert, Charles and Little William sat together. Little William didn’t want to cry but he was so tired he couldn’t stop himself.

“You nearly broke my nose,” Charles said to Albert.

“It had to look real.”

“Not that it did any good.”

“It was worth a try.”

Straight Shooter sat in the corner leaning against the bars. He held Veronica in his arms as she wept. He knew he needed to be strong for all of them. It’s what the Major would do.

Straight Shooter loved to draw but he liked poetry too and there was a poem by Richard Lovelace he thought might help.

“Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for a hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.”

Veronica listened to Straight Shooter’s words. When he was finished she wiped the tears from her eyes and spoke.

“When I was a little girl I had nightmares about this. That I’d wake up one day and not be real anymore. My dad was always drawing Major Occam, telling me I would look like her someday. I guess he was right.”

“What does it feel like?” Edward wanted to know. The Prince had said they’d all be toons before he was finished. Veronica looked down at herself.

“I know I’m not the same but I feel the same inside. I remember everything. I still want to rescue my dad.”

“We need to be rescued first,” Mary said.

“Ahem, sorry to interrupt. I see, my dear, you didn’t manage to escape as planned.”

These astonishing words came from a ghostlike figure standing outside the cage. He was an old wrinkled man wearing a gold crown and a blue velvet robe trimmed in white fur. That was the good part. The bad part was the whole right side of his body, even his face, was smushed into the middle.

“Who are you?” Veronica asked.

“I am the King, the Prince’s father, or so they tell me.” The King only had half a mouth. It made everything he said come out garbled.

“I didn’t know the Prince had a father,” Edward said.

“Everyone has a father. Don’t you?”

“Mr. Spoil.”

“You see! Mr. Spoil — that’s an excellent name for a father. And you?” The King pointed at Victor.

“He died when I was born,” Victor replied.

“Ah, that’s not usually how things work. I’m sorry. If I may ask, how did that happen?”

“He was rushing home to take my mother to the hospital. It was icy; he crashed his car.”

“Ah, sadness and happiness — you can’t know one without the other.”

“You’re in Episode 17,” Victor said.

“Good on you, I am. Apparently, I’m the reason the Prince is so cruel.”

“You dropped him on his head.”

“I’m sure I didn’t mean to.”

“You were carrying the baby Prince. Your horse lost its footing. You were going to fall off a high cliff so you tossed the Prince to the Queen but she was holding the Prince’s twin brother and couldn’t catch the one without dropping the other. The Prince landed on his head. You went over the cliff. You landed on your side then your horse landed on you.”

The King’s hand rose, traveled through his head, and came around in a full circle. “I’m afraid I don’t remember any of that.”

The King seemed lost in thought for several seconds and then he focused back on Veronica. “I thought you’d escaped, my dear. Where is your child?”

Veronica got to her feet. “I’m sorry, your Majesty, but I’ve never seen you before. We just got here.”

“Oh dear, is my memory playing tricks again? Surely not. Chancellor Ratchett brought you to my door. Said the Prince was going to eat you for breakfast but Ratchett didn’t think that was fair because you’d just won some contest. He said he’d feed Shih Tzus to the Prince instead. Ratchett said the Prince wouldn’t know Shih Tzus from sushi. We laughed at that. I helped you escape.”

Veronica wanted the King to like her but she couldn’t lie. “Your Majesty, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

(88) Anything to Upset the Prince

Suddenly the dungeon rang with the sound of boots marching on cobblestones. Cat guards were approaching. Veronica made her pitch to the King.

“Can you let us out of here?” she pleaded.

“Of course, my dear, anything to upset the Prince.” In a wink the King reappeared on the balcony and pushed the button. The bars dropped. Veronica, Straight Shooter and the kids jumped to their feet.

“Thank you!” Veronica waved to the King then she stared over at the block that held her father.

“Shooter, what about my dad?”

“There isn’t time now.” Shooter pushed her into the tunnel. “We’ll come back.”

“This feels weird. I have no weight.”

“You’ll get used to it!”

“Hurry! They’re coming!” Mary could see shadows with torches moving in the dungeon.

“Wait!” Victor put on the brakes. He’d seen something in the last archway, the one opposite the Whine Cellar. He darted in and came out carrying an armful of shiny swords and a rolled up carpet runner. The kids each grabbed a sword and took off for the loading dock. When they got there Victor rolled out the carpet. The kids sat down on it taking their places.

“It’s not the same carpet!”

“I don’t think that matters!”

“We just have to believe it can fly!”

“C’mon Veronica, Straight Shooter. There’s room for everybody.”

Veronica’s brain was whirling. She couldn’t decide what she should do. She could hear one of the cat guards screaming orders. There wasn’t time to think, just act.

“I can’t leave my dad. Straight Shooter, you go.”

Straight Shooter just smiled and shook his head. Veronica looked back. Now she could see torches hurrying through the tunnel. “Go! Good luck! I love you!” Veronica dove into the moat.

“I hope I can swim!” Straight Shooter dove in after her. The kids began their chant:

“Rise up, Carpet, take us there,
Through the water, through the air.
Let us live the dream unbroken,
Let us find the love unspoken.”

Whoosh! The carpet took off and not a second too soon because the guards were at the loading dock, guns out, firing at them. Albert dipsy-doodled his way across the moat, dodging laser balls, then swung up above the trees, out of range. Below he could see Veronica and Straight Shooter about halfway across the moat swimming for their lives.

The drawbridge began to lower and the kids could see a squad of cat guards waiting to storm across.

Albert swung the carpet around and as the guards started to cross the drawbridge he flew right at them. The kids waved their swords. The cat guards had no choice but to jump into the moat on either side.

“Hold on!” Albert whipped the carpet straight up the face of the castle and back around for another attack. The second wave of guards landed in the water beside their friends.

“Cats can swim!” Little William shouted. “But they don’t look happy about it.”

Veronica and Straight Shooter scrambled up the bank running for the woods. Albert brought the carpet around for a third charge but this time the cat guards were ready. Just as Albert reached the drawbridge it shot up then crashed down leaving Albert no choice but to plunge into the moat.


(89) James Wrinkles His Nose

The Major glanced over at James. He was coming out of his stun. It must have been a heavy one he’d been out so long. Good thing he’s young or his brain might have fried — not that there’s much there to fry thought the Major trying to make a private joke.

But it wasn’t funny. She’d die if anything happened to King Morath’s son. But hey, they were both going to die anyway and not nicely.

James’ eyes opened. The Major watched as he tried to make sense of things. They were still trapped in their prisoner seats but were no longer in the bounty hunter’s spaceship. Now they were riding in a rickety wooden cart, covered in straw, with only their heads sticking up. E Koleye sat in front of them holding reins that led to a donkey.

The Major wasn’t sure if it was E Koleye or the donkey but one of them was farting every few feet. The smell was so bad maybe it was a combined effort.

“What’s that stink?” James asked scrunching up his face.

“It’s either E Koleye or the donkey. I think they’re having a contest to see who can make the worst smell.”

“Somebody’s winning.” James shook his head. Here they were riding in a ramshackle wooden cart like they had an appointment with the guillotine and the Major was making jokes — definitely his kind of girl. Too bad she didn’t like him.

“Any ideas?” the Major asked.

“Try holding your breath.”

The Major could imagine the Prince of D’s reaction when he saw her. His Number One Enemy in his grasp and King Morath’s son to boot. “I imagine we’ll be the Guests of Honor at the Prince’s Banquet,” she said.

“You’ll look good smothered in béarnaise sauce.”

“You’ll be tasty — probably beef jerky.”

James made a face. “Right now anything would be better than this air we’re breathing.”

“You don’t mean it.”

“No, I don’t mean it.”

They could see the Prince’s castle in the distance. They were traveling the road that ran beside the canal. They’d pass through the open-air market and then they’d be there.

“Why are we riding in a cart?” James wanted to know.

“The Prince likes medieval.” The Major put the accent on evil.

“I don’t suppose there’s a chance E Koleye will suffocate before we do?”

“He’s upwind.”

“And if he died who could tell the difference?”

The bounty hunter turned and grinned. He was listening.

“I hate to think of Koleye taking all that money from your father and then NOT KEEPING HIS END OF THE BARGAIN.” The Major appeared to be genuinely concerned.

James laughed. “Are you kidding? My dad won’t have left a unit in his account.”

E Koleye spun around. This time he wasn’t grinning. He stopped the cart and pulled a BumbleBerry from his pocket. He punched in some numbers and watched as the screen told him his account was more than empty. Apparently he’d borrowed two million units and given the money to the Committee for the Election of King Morath. His bank was giving him two days to pay up or else. E Koleye hit James — three hard blows to the side of the head. First vacuum cleaners and now tentacles, thought James. What’s next?

The bounty hunter punched in more numbers till Chancellor Ratchett’s face appeared on his screen.


“How much is the reward for capturing Major Occam?”

“If she’s alive, 100 million units.”

“And King Morath’s son?”

“Hold on.” E Koleye could see Ratchett talking to someone off camera and then his face returned. “The Prince says we’d rather buy the donkey.”

E Koleye spun around. The Prince must have a camera somewhere close by.

“I want 120 million units for the Major. I’ll throw in the King’s son and the donkey.”

“Hold on.” E Koleye waited again. “The Prince says you’re not in a position to bargain.”

“Why not?”

“He says you’re surrounded.”

The bounty hunter looked around again. There wasn’t anything to see except a group of nuns sitting on the wall above the canal gossiping to each other

“He’s bluffing.”

The nuns stood up and turned around. Now they were Dobermans wearing the bright red uniforms of the Prince’s Elite Execution Squad, the Double-E-S — when only the best will do! Each carried a laser blaster, all of which were now pointed at the bounty hunter.

“All right, I’ll settle for the 100 million.”

“Hold on — no, actually, given the circumstances the Prince feels perhaps you would like to pay him. He says Lady K has posted a reward of three million units for your return; five million if you’re dead.”

One of E Koleye’s blows had reopened the cut above James’ eye. Blood ran into his eye and down his cheek but still he grinned at the bounty hunter.

“Y’know Koleye, perhaps you should find another line of work. Maybe something behind the scenes where no one can see your ugly puss — dishwasher, gravedigger, urinal cleaner — that kind of thing. Cuz y’know EK, you’re not good at this.”

“I’m ahead of you,” growled the bounty hunter.

“He’s got a point, James,” the Major said.

“Wait till Lady K gets hold of him.”

“He’s got a point, Koleye. How ’bout letting us go? Between the three of us we can get out of here.”

E Koleye didn’t think twice. He knew the Prince would sell him to Lady Katrina in a heartbeat. He pushed a button on his BumbleBerry and the straps that bound the Major and James fell away. The Major glanced over at the five Dobermans with the blasters. Now what?

“I don’t suppose you have a grenade handy?”

Koleye slid two of his tentacles into the cart. One held a grenade, the other the Major’s stun gun.

“Koleye, I’m beginning to like you. Earwax!” Earwax poked his head up out of the straw. “Carry this grenade close to the dogs over there by the wall and then run back. Don’t get killed and hurry!”

The Dobermans stood in a line facing the cart. They’d been ordered to hold their prisoners where they were until Chancellor Ratchett arrived with reinforcements.

Earwax ran backwards, his front legs up, one clutching the grenade, the other waving around like he was angry with the Major.

“Get lost you useless Rodent!” shouted the Major playing her part. When Earwax reached the Dobermans he turned, held up the grenade and pulled the pin.

“Hold your positions!” screamed E Koleye with enough authority to freeze the dumb Dobermans. Hold our positions? We should run. If we hold we’ll be —KABOOM! — blown sky-high!

Before the dust could settle, the Major, James and E Koleye reached what was left of the wall overlooking the canal. “I can’t swim!” E Koleye shouted as a laser ball whizzed by his head. Chancellor Ratchett and the cat guards had arrived.

“Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you!”

This was a line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, one of James’ favorite movies. He looked back at Ratchett and waved. A dozen laser balls screamed toward James’ head.

The Major liked that movie too. Pretending to be the Sundance Kid she shouted, “Think ya used enough dynamite there, Butch?” Then she scooped up Earwax and leapt into the air.

(90) Home Again

Cozy Bennett, Victor’s mom, was still perched on the kitchen counter and still talking on her phone. “I know, Mom, but he has such nice buns.” She had to raise her voice to be heard because the irritating police siren she’d been listening to for hours now seemed so close the cruiser might as well have been parked in the dining room. That’s why Cozy looked only slightly surprised when two policewomen, Garter and Martyr, sprinted by her window.

Meanwhile, up in the attic, Albert, Charles, Victor, Mary, Edward and Little William lay in a wet heap, stunned by their abrupt return from Planet X. They’d crashed into the moat and just like that erupted from Chester Newport’s swimming pool, the carpet flying itself through the open attic window where it stopped dead, leaving the kids to slide to the floor like cookies off a baking sheet. Then the soaking wet carpet had dropped on their heads.

“This is Deputy Sheriff Dowding! You are surrounded! Come out with your hands up!”

The kids could hear footsteps running up the stairs and men and women shouting, and, for an instant, it seemed as if they hadn’t escaped the Prince’s castle after all. Albert staggered to his feet and hobbled to the open window overlooking the pool. There didn’t appear to be any police on this side of the mansion.

“C’mon Spoils.” He leaned out the window and started climbing down the cast iron downspout like a monkey in a palm tree.

“Bye Victor,” Mary said going last.

“Come back sometime.”

“You know I will.”

Victor changed windows so he could see what would happen next. He was soon joined by Garter and Martyr. They all watched as Mary and her brothers ran across the lawn heading for Captain Crunch. Deputy Sheriff Dowding dove at Little William but missed. Instead he landed on his new bullhorn snapping it in half.

That makes two bullhorns and three cruisers wrecked, plus two more painted yellow, thought Deputy Sheriff Dowding feeling sorry for himself. Maybe it wasn’t too late to take early retirement.

“I’m all right!” Deputy Sheriff Dowding batted away the younger cops who’d stopped to help him. “Don’t let them get away!”

Albert scrambled up into the cab, turned the key and kicked the dashboard. The big diesel engine roared to life.



Albert ran Captain Crunch up to the first police car. “Open hatch!”

Edward pushed forward on the stick and the front door of the Wreck Room banged open. The police cruiser disappeared inside and after a series of very exciting steel-being-crushed, glass-being-broken sounds, a block of mangled yellow metal landed with a clunk under Captain Crunch.

Deputy Sheriff Dowding and his crew stumbled through the fence as cruiser number two entered the Wreck Room. Clunk. Another metal cube bounced onto the pavement as Albert rumbled down Chestnut Avenue. Mary looked back over the fence and saw Victor standing at the window. Mary waved and Victor waved back.

“Car 67? Do you read me? Come in car 67.”

Deputy Sheriff Dowding stared down at what was left of his cruiser. Sheriff Carstairs was going to have a bird over this. A big bird. Probably the biggest bird anyone has ever had in the history of Foxhaven.

“Car 54? Do you read me? Come in car 54.” Now the radio in the other metal cube was talking. “Dowding!” it squawked. “This is Sheriff Carstairs. Where the heck are you! Have you captured those kids yet? Answer me, gall-dangit! I’ll have your hide! Answer me!”

Deputy Sheriff Dowding — soon to be Patrolman Dowding — got down on his hands and knees. The microphone from the police radio dangled outside the cube that had once been car 54. Deputy Sheriff Dowding picked it up. He pushed the button. He cleared his throat.

“Hi Sheriff, Dowding here. Ah, I’ve got good news and bad news.”

“What’s the good news?” demanded Sheriff Carstairs.

“I’m moving to Florida.”

“That is good news. What’s the bad news?”

“You might want to come with me.”

(91) The Major Auditions for Medusa

The Major was up to her neck in eels. She pulled one out of her hair.

“Who was that Greek woman with snakes for hair?”

“Medusa,” answered E Koleye holding an eel in each tentacle. “She could turn men to stone with a single glance.”

“Now that’s a good idea.” The Major was busy trying to find James. She wasn’t convinced all the things tickling her were eels.

“I just fixed that!” A young guy in jeans, wearing a t-shirt with the words, Squirm if You Love N’eels, stared up at his yellow-and-white-striped canopy, which, once again, looked like cannonballs had gone through it. Then it started raining dead Dobermans.

The Major tried to read the young barge owner’s face wondering whose side he’d be on. “We might want to get out of here before the-”

A laser ball shot by the young guy’s head. The Major pulled herself up onto the barge’s gunwale and fired a stream of laser balls back. The cat guards at the wall ducked. When the young guy saw the Major’s uniform he did a double take. “You’re Major Occam, aren’t you? The Prince is going to eat me for sure.”

“That’s what he has in mind for us, too.”

James and E Koleye pulled themselves out of the eels. The bounty hunter swung his AK-94 up and started blasting away. The Major and the young guy studied each other. They were in the same boat after all and no one liked the Prince, they were just afraid of him.

Another laser ball flashed by the young guy’s nose.

“Okay,” he said. “I’m going to die anyway, it might as well be for a good cause.” He ran to the front of the barge and sat down at the controls.

“Hold on!” he yelled back.

Hold on? thought the Major. They were in a barge. How fast could they go?

She heard another noise and glanced back. One of the Prince’s new K-9 patrol boats was charging up the canal at full speed. It looked like a rocket getting ready to lift off. In front, guns ready, she could see more Dobermans in red uniforms. They weren’t going to like seeing pieces of their buddies floating in the canal.

“Hey Koleye,” she said. “You got any more tricks up your sleeves?”

The bounty hunter dropped the sleeves of his cowboy duster coat and two more eels fell out just as Neil pushed the throttle to full speed ahead.

The next thing the Major knew she was lying on top of James pushing him down into the squirming eels. She poked her head up. Neil’s barge had done some kind of transformer thing. They were now skimming over the water and the K-9 patrol boat was fading. She couldn’t believe it.

“James? Koleye? You believe this?”

Something kicked the Major’s leg — hard. It wasn’t Earwax because he was perched on her head. She looked down. The only parts of James she could see were his toes. They were wiggling at her.

“Poor James, he’s probably having trouble breathing.”

Then she remembered what the Prince had said about King Morath’s son. He said he’d rather buy the donkey. Poor, poor James. He just wasn’t having a good day.

The Major grabbed hold of James’ ankles and gave a mighty heave. Unfortunately, all she ended up with was a pair of blue jeans. She held them up to show E Koleye and out fell a pair of boxers. They were bright red and dotted with Hawaiian hula girls in grass skirts. Oh my, thought the Major.

“Do you think he’s going to be angry?” she asked.

Koleye was laughing too hard to answer.

(92) Return to Planet X

It was Open House at Victor’s, two days after the carpet had dumped the kids in Chester Newport’s attic. The mansion swarmed with friends and extended family. Victor would rather have been anywhere else.

“Dear, do you remember Uncle George’s granddaughter Matilda?” Cozy Bennett had her arm around her son. It looked loving but it was the only thing keeping Victor from running away.

“Only as a brat,” Victor answered.

“You were a nerd,” Matilda fired back.

Victor had to admit that Matilda wasn’t the ugly duckling she used to be and he quite liked her rainbow colored hair but she still had pain in the butt stamped on her forehead. Before any more insults could be traded Mary Spoil and her brothers came striding through the open front door. Dressed in black sleeveless t-shirts, black jeans and black running shoes they looked like a ninja hit squad headed for a Halloween party.

“Hi, Mrs. Bennett,” Mary said. “Nice party.”

Mary pulled Victor away stepping on Matilda’s foot in the process. “Oh, sorry, shame about your hair. Victor, can we talk to you for a moment?”

Mary led the way to the elevator. Behind her she could hear Victor’s mom saying, “They’re such nice children. Their father manufactures automobile parts.”

In the elevator Victor asked, “What happened with the police?”

“It’s a long story,” replied Mary.

“Complicated,” said Edward.

“Not quite what it appears,” added Charles.

“We have a court date,” Little William said, beaming. Victor let it go.

In the attic, Albert took over. “Victor, we’ve decided to go back and rescue Veronica and her dad. We want to borrow the carpet.”

Victor stared at the others. His brain was racing. Did he want to go back? He pointed at the toy gun — a Star Wars Blaster — Albert had slung over his shoulder. “Does that thing work?”

“Not here but it might work there.”

Victor walked to the window to buy himself time. Mary joined him. She squeezed his hand. Victor understood why the others wanted to go back. It had been bugging him too that they’d run away. He was too young to really understand words like honor and courage and loyalty but inside he knew deserting your friends was as low as it goes.

But Victor was scared. He could see how they might travel to Chester Newport’s comic book world and never return. The Prince said he’d turn them all into toons like he’d changed Veronica. Victor didn’t want to be a cartoon character the rest of his life.

“Let’s go,” Albert said.

“I’m coming too.”

“Somewhere between the wishing and the doing,
Sometime between the coming and the going,
Somehow between the wanting and the having,
Is a land with nothing showing.”

The carpet quivered.

“Rise up, Carpet, take us there,
Through the water, through the air.
Let us live the dream unbroken,
Let us find the love unspoken.”

Albert guided the carpet out the attic window and curved it around the mansion, coming back in by the front door. The guests in the hallway scattered, all except Victor’s mom, who was talking on her phone. Albert banked around her.

“Hi Mom,” Cozy said. “Where are you? Locked in the upstairs’ bathroom? How did you manage that? Oh, isn’t that cute. Victor and his friends just flew by on their magic carpet. Have fun, Dear! Yes Mom, you’re locked in the bathroom. What about climbing out the window?”

Albert exited through the open French doors. The swimming pool lay dead ahead.

“Here we go again!”

(93) Thin Ice Versus Hot Water


“Yes sire?” Ratchett wasn’t sure if he was on thin ice or in hot water. The temperature might be different but the feeling was the same. They were in the Prince’s bedroom waiting for glass to arrive to fix the Booth of XTernal XChange. They were out of duck tape as well but fortunately Ratchett had found a can of tapeworms he thought might work.

Jane Fonda, dressed in a slinky low-cut silver-sequined dress, sat in front of a large mirror lit by Hollywood lights. She was busy putting mascara on her eyelashes. She looked at Ratchett in the mirror.

“Do you know the word complacent, Ratchett?”

“Yes sire, smug, self-satisfied.”

“We’ve become complacent, Ratchett.”

“Yes sire.”

“We haven’t been ourselves lately.”

“No sire.”

“We need to rekindle that passion to be the Most Obnoxious Hard Ass in the Known Universe!”

“Yes sire!”

The Prince got to his feet and began to admire himself in the mirror.

“Now Ratchett, where is Major Occam?”

“Which one, sire?” Ratchett had learned that the more he stood up to the Prince the better he fared. He suspected this was because the Prince didn’t have any friends to banter with. The Prince much preferred enemies — something to do with his childhood, no doubt. It couldn’t have been easy growing up as a dark cloud.

“Let’s start with the one we had locked up in the dungeon. Then move to the one we had surrounded near the market square.”

“Yes sire.” Ratchett glanced down at the goose bumps on his arms. They were the size of blueberries. The thin ice was getting thinner and the hot water hotter.

“The one we had locked up in the dungeon — the one who’s really Veronica Newport, Chester Newport’s daughter, the one the booth turned into a toon — she and Major Occam’s #2, Straight Shooter, disappeared into the woods behind the castle and haven’t been seen since.”

“But you’ve been searching for them?”

“No sire.”

“Ratchett, you surprise us.”

“Yes sire. It seemed to me they have to come back to us because we have Chester Newport and that’s what they want.”

“I’m impressed Ratchett, you’ve been thinking.”

“Yes sire. Having what people want is a good thing. It reminds me of that old adage: build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.”

Ratchett paused. He probably shouldn’t have mentioned the word mousetrap because now the Prince was moving to his Rat Blaster game and pushing the start button. Now the Prince was sighting along the barrel of his gun.

Keeping the Rat Blaster game full of rats was one of Ratchett’s jobs. It wasn’t easy. Cheese, chocolate, peanut butter — none of them worked anymore. Lately, he’d been using thousand unit notes but with limited success. In fact, there were only three rats in the game at the moment and one of them was actually a gerbil in disguise.

“Go on, Ratchett.”

“Yes sire. The Major Occam we had surrounded near the market square obtained a grenade from the bounty hunter, E Koleye. Using the furry rodent she carries in a special holster on her right boot she managed to blow up five members of the Elite Execution Squad. In the ensuing confusion the Major, E Koleye, and King Morath’s son leapt into the canal.”

“We’d rather be captured by us than jump into that festering cesspool,” the Prince said taking aim.

“I agree, sire. However, they did not reach the water, instead they landed on a barge called N’eels which happened to be docked at that particular place. The cloth roof broke their fall and they landed safely among the eels.”

The Prince pulled the trigger. “Gotcha! Then what?”

“Then, before either myself or the K-9 patrol boat could apprehend them, the barge took off and disappeared.”

“Are you saying that a barge full of eels outran one of our brand-new K-9 patrol boats? The ones we just paid 750,000 units for. Each. The ones that are supposed to be the fastest boats in the galaxy?”

“Yes sire. Rumors are the barge’s owner, Neil, is a bit of a smuggler — never been caught. That might account for having a barge that goes like the wind.”

“And then you sent out the flyboys?”

“Yes sire. They got there in seconds but there was no trace of the barge.”

“So it’s probably holed up somewhere close by?”

“Yes sire.”

“But you’re not looking very hard for it?”

“No sire.”

“Gotcha!” One rat left. Ratchett had also learned over his years with the Prince that it was better to own up than to pray for good luck. “That’s the last rat, sire.”

The Prince turned and stared at Ratchett. What’s it to be, thought Ratchett. Either the thin ice shatters, or the hot water boils.

“That’s all right, Ratchett. We’re bored with shooting rats especially ones that look like gerbils with Scotch-taped tails. Something with a stronger will to live would be nice. Like that girl, the slave we had for breakfast — the one that looked like the Major. She wanted to live, Ratchett.”

“Yes sire.”

“You’re sweating, Ratchett.”

“Yes sire. A touch of fever, perhaps.”

“Not Prince’s fever, we trust.” The Prince chuckled. “Tell us, does this N’eels fellow have a family?”

“Yes sire. A wife and two little boys.”

“Have them brought to the castle, Ratchett. Perhaps they’d like to play Rat Blaster?”

“Yes sire.”


(94) Victor & the Spoils Find Surefire

The kids swooped over Edward’s Grand Canyon. The place was already crawling with tourists. They buzzed Greased Lightning and Eagle waved. The cowboys and Indians were chasing each other around but now they were riding ATVs. Albert took the carpet down low and headed for Booger Bayou.

“Hey! There’s Surefire!” Surefire had his head in the swamp, slurping water lilies. Albert thought it would be fun to scare Surefire until Surefire unexpectedly lifted his head and swallowed the magic carpet! He didn’t mean to he was trying to shout hello and Albert would have veered to safety if his aviator sunglasses hadn’t chosen that exact moment to do a flyby.

Surefire swallowed. Then he lifted his tail. One by one the kids fired out the back, bouncing across the green water like skipping stones. Little William emerged last, riding a surfboard that turned out to be Surefire’s retainer.

“Whew!” Victor wrinkled his nose.

Mary, a water lily perched on her head, was once again soaked. “I cannot believe this.”

“Great ride!” Little William said handing the retainer to Surefire.

“Kinda tickled,” Surefire said laughing.

“You know,” Charles said, “Surefire might be just what we need at the castle.”

Edward agreed. “He could melt the weird stuff around Veronica’s dad.”

“Like a flamethrower.”

“Let’s go!”

But Surefire just shook his head. “I have to stay close to home. My mom says.”

The kids looked at one another. Mary spoke up.

“How ’bout if we ask your mom?”

“Would you?” exclaimed Surefire. He was so excited.

The kids scrambled up Surefire’s back. The young dragon took a few steps and then leapt into the air. It was then that the kids realized Surefire had wings; big ones that made a noise like someone shaking out a beach towel.

In no time at all they flew across Booger Bayou and landed at a very strange house made out of huge boulders. It had gigantic windows and doors and a roof covered in grass. Surefire led the way around back. Someone inside the house was singing country music — badly. Surefire stuck his head in the kitchen window and bellowed, “MOM!”

Surefire’s mom stuck her head out the upstairs’ window directly above the kitchen. She stopped singing when she saw the kids.

“Yo!” she said.

“Mom, would it be okay if I went with my friends to the Prince’s castle? Their friend’s dad is stuck in the dungeon and they want me to help get him out. I won’t be long.”

Surefire’s mom rolled her eyes. They were the size of bowling balls so rolling them was impressive. “Surefire, you are going nowhere till you clean your room. It looks like a bad garage sale, you hear me?”

“Yes Mom. But if I clean it, can I go?”

“The Prince of D will be in an old folks’ home by the time you get your room clean.”

Surefire trudged upstairs, the kids following as best they could. Each stair was as high as a bunk bed.

“She didn’t say no,” Victor said.

“You haven’t seen my room.”

Surefire stopped at a doorway and stuck his head in. The kids pushed around him. Surefire’s bedroom was a total disaster — a bombsite. It looked like twenty messy kids hadn’t cleaned up for two years. The kids picked their way inside and started playing with things. The things were the same kind of toys they had at home just bigger and wonkier.

“Look at the size of this skateboard!” Little William yelled trying to reach the top of a wheel. Edward walked into a baseball glove. It was like being in a leather cave. Mary climbed up on a book. Young Dragon’s Guide to Flying and Making Fire was the title written just above a painting of a young dragon about to fly into a cliff. The fire coming out of its mouth was hitting the cliff and rebounding back into the young dragon’s face. Underneath the painting were the words: With a Special Chapter on Splints and Burns.

Not coming to a theater anytime soon, thought Mary jumping onto the baseball glove, which shrieked.

“You’d better go on without me,” Surefire said sighing. “I’ll be here forever.”

Albert raised his hand. “Blue forty-two! Hut! Hut! Hut!”

The Spoils started to laugh. Of course, Blue 42! Fooled Mr. Spoil — once. Mary pushed Surefire out of the room. Edward pulled back the enormous Chicago Bulls’ bedspread while Charles yanked the sheets off the bed. Each was as big as a parachute. Charles and Albert spread the first sheet out on the floor while Edward, Little William, and Mary began pitching them things.

Victor got it. “Hut! Hut! Hut!” he cried pushing on the giant skateboard.

Five minutes later everything in Surefire’s room was tied up in his two sheets and hanging out the window over the front door. Surefire knew when he got back from the castle he’d be grounded forever but that was okay. Helping your friends was what mattered.

He twisted his head through the kitchen window. His mom was singing badly again. Surfire’s dad called it scary-okee.

“If I had my life to live over,
I’d live over a delicatessen.”

“All done!” shouted Surefire.

His mom turned down the music. “Surefire, if that room is clean I’ll — I’ll eat my radio.”

Surefire’s bedroom was spotless. The kids sat on the bed smiling and hiding the fact there were no sheets.

Surefire’s mom couldn’t believe it. “Well, I’ll be nonplussed,” she said.

Surefire handed his mom the radio.


(95) Straight Shooter Shows Why

Veronica glanced at her Intergalactic Ranger watch, the one that could do a hundred different things, one for each Ranger.

“Anytime now,” she said.

Veronica and Straight Shooter were hiding in the woods bordering the moat. They could see guards walking the ramparts but it would soon be time for the guards to change and while they changed there would be a minute when no one would be watching. Straight Shooter had figured this out the last time he was in the woods.

A whistle blew and the guards disappeared. Straight Shooter stood up and pulled back on his bow. He took careful aim and let his spider-arrow fly. Packed inside the arrow was a piece of ultra thin string, strong and elastic like spider’s thread. One end was tied around Straight Shooter’s waist, the other end was on its way to the castle. The arrow lodged between two chimneypots at the castle’s highest point.

Veronica wrapped her arms around Shooter’s neck.

“No wonder Pops calls you Straight Shooter.”

“Hang on!”

The elastic string snapped back pulling Straight Shooter and Veronica off their feet. Veronica felt like one of the paper airplanes she used to throw out the window in Mr. Anderson’s boring geography class.

“Have you done this before?” Veronica asked.

“Never with a passenger.”

They were slowing down now as the string lost its elasticity.

“We’re not going to make it!”

“We’re going to be close!”

They hit the castle wall just below the top. Veronica did a handstand off Straight Shooter’s shoulders and flipped up onto the roof. She reached back and grasped the string pulling Straight Shooter up beside her just as the guards appeared on the ramparts below.

“That was close,” whispered Straight Shooter ducking down. “Thanks.”

Veronica laughed pleased with herself. “Just like the Major.”

“Very much so.” Shooter strode over to one of the chimneys. “Smell that? This one must lead to the kitchen.”

“Maybe we could boil water and melt that stuff around my dad?”

“That might work. Trouble is I hear voices. Probably feeding the guards who just got off duty.”

“But toons don’t need to eat,” Veronica said, “except I’m starving.”

“We like doing anything that makes us feel real.” Shooter regretted his words the moment they came out. “Sorry.”

“That’s okay, I’m getting used to it. Let’s wait awhile and then we’ll check out the kitchen.”

They hunkered down, their backs against the chimney.

“What a beautiful sunset,” Veronica said.

Almost as beautiful as you, thought Shooter, afraid to say the words out loud. The real Major was his best friend. This Major, Veronica, was — something else.

They watched the pigeons flying home from their day’s work. The Prince owned all the carwashes on Planet X. Rinse with the Prince was their slogan. The pigeons made sure there were lots of vehicles that needed washing.

Straight Shooter pulled a small sketchpad and a charcoal pencil out of his pants pocket.

“Would it be okay if I sketched you?” he asked.

“Sure. Do you like to draw?”

“My favorite thing. You?”

“That’s my dad’s gift. I guess mine would be cooking and mucking things up.”

Straight Shooter chuckled. “We all do that now and again.”

“I always feel like I’m disappointing my dad. He’s so full of energy and craziness. I’m so — ordinary.”

“What does he say?”

“He says I haven’t jumped off my cliff yet.”

“But now you have.”

Veronica laughed and told Straight Shooter about her clever plan to climb up the rubber tree and how the kids had caught her.

Straight Shooter pulled the page out of his sketchbook and handed it to Veronica. It was her face marked by long shadows from the setting sun.

“It’s beautiful.”

Shooter smiled, pleased. He started another drawing. Veronica shut her eyes. She would enjoy the quiet for a few minutes.

“What’s it like being real?” Shooter asked some time later. Veronica didn’t answer right away. It was not a question she’d ever been asked before.

“I guess being real is having a life and figuring out what to do with it,” Veronica said. “At first everybody is making your decisions for you. Your mom, your dad — if you’re lucky enough to have one of each — aunts, uncles, grandparents, brothers, sisters, teachers. Basically, everybody but you, or that’s the way it seems.

“Then all of a sudden you’re old enough to start thinking for yourself. Then comes the scary part — the good part too but it’s scary. You get to make decisions. Should I go to college? What should I study? Should I go out with this guy? Should I start a career? Or should I travel, see some of the world before I settle down?

“So many choices and each one leads you down a different path. Sometimes you know you’re doing the right thing but sometimes, later, you think what would have happened if I’d gone the other way?”

Straight Shooter interrupted. “You have choices but I never do. I just do what your father tells me to do.”

Veronica grinned. “That sounds familiar.”

Shooter looked sad.

“But you have feelings,” Veronica said. “They’re a kind of choice. Happy, sad, mad-”

“I’m happy being here with you.”

“Me too, Shooter. You’re a good buddy.”

“And someday I’m going to make my own decisions.”

“I believe you will, Shooter. I believe you will.”

(96) Badass Likes The Simpsons

Badass was a big fan of Bart Simpson. He loved it when Bart cried, “Ay caramba!” It broke him up.

At the moment Badass was hiding out in his tiny bedroom in the castle watching Bart on TV while he changed into his referee’s uniform. The Nine Tails were playing the Growlers tonight and he had to ref.

He didn’t want to. It had been a long day.

The Prince had told him to take a bunch of the out-of-towners on a tour of the Reuse Center. That’s where everything old was made new again including the peasants. The monsters loved it when the old folks were shredded. They loved the screaming. All Badass had gotten from it was a headache.

Still he’d perked up when the redesigners had started work on the Staceys, the good-looking twins from Ranger Headquarters. Badass had pictured himself asking one of the twins out but now he wasn’t so sure. The way the designers had rearranged the parts Stacey might be too much for him.

A pigeon flew in Badass’ window and pooped on his head. “Jeez, Gilberto, just ’cause you’re a stool pigeon don’t mean you gotta dump on my head.” Badass fished the poop out of his hair and put it in his mouth. Stuff wasn’t bad when it was fresh.

Badass pulled a hundred unit note from his pocket and held it up. “So, Gilberto, what you got?”

The pigeon landed on his shoulder and whispered in his ear. Badass whistled.

The Prince was going to love this.


The Major watched as James pulled back on the bow. It was Straight Shooter’s bow; they’d found it leaning against a tree in the woods near the castle. The Major smiled. This ought to be good.

“Get ready,” James said.

“Yes sir.”

“You said I was in charge.”

Even Earwax rolled his eyes at this. James took aim and released his arrow. It flew straight toward a window on the third floor of the castle.

“I thought you were aiming for the chimneys at the top?”

“Close enough. Hold on!”

The Major wrapped her arms around James’ neck as the spider-arrow shot through the open window. Somebody screamed just as the elastic string pulled James and the Major off their feet.

“We’re not going to make it!”

“We’re going to be close!”

They hit the castle wall just below the window. The Major did a handstand off James’ shoulders and flipped into the room above.

James, still clutching the elastic string, slid down the castle wall, coming to rest in front of an open archway one story down. Standing in the archway, staring out at him, was Jane Fonda in a silver-sequined dress.


“Yes sire?”

“When you were a child did you have a Jolly Jumper?”

“Yes sire. They say I would bob up and down for hours.”

“Come here, Ratchett.”

“Yes sire.”

“Did you look like that, Ratchett?”

Ratchett watched as King Morath’s son bounced slowly up and down. Having what people wanted was such a good thing.

“Cigarette?” asked James.

(97) The Major Meets Monster

“I cannot believe this! Twice in one week. First the right cheek, now the left. I’m not a whiner but twice in one week! And each time you’re in the vicinity. You are not a lucky rabbit’s foot, I can tell you that. Where are the little ones, by the way?”

“Little ones?” The Major felt like she’d just walked into a play she wasn’t in. Monster Under the Bed winced as he yanked the arrow from his buttock.

“It wasn’t you, was it?” he said. “Before? That Major was real.”

“Real?” The idea sent shivers down the Major’s spine.

“Veronica her name was — Chester Newport’s daughter. She’s dressed up like you. She’s trying to rescue her dad.”

“And the little ones?”

“She’s traveling with a bunch of kids — real ones.”

“And they shot you with an arrow?”

“Harpoon. They didn’t mean to. They were trying to drain the yellow sea and I was sleeping under the bedspread. It was a nightmare, I can tell you.”

I’m dreaming, thought the Major. I hit my head on the castle wall and knocked myself out.

“You don’t seem very scary for someone who follows the Prince,” she said. “And you haven’t called the guards.”

Monster Under the Bed tried to look over his shoulder at his wound. He was wearing burgundy pantaloons with dark green tights and a mustard-colored poet’s shirt with chenille vest and a floppy red beret big enough for two. At the moment he was one-and-a-half times as tall as the Major and twice as wide. He was quite handsome for a monster but then the Major was a sucker for boyish charms and mischievous grins.

Monster started talking again. “I don’t like the Prince and I’m not supposed to be here. My friend Gila Monster is supposed to be here but she went on a yoga retreat and of course there isn’t a phone and if you don’t show up when the Prince calls you might as well stuff your underwear down your throat and gag to death. So, I’m filling in for her. But I’m no fan of the Prince I can tell you that.”

Monster rubbed his backside. “My that hurts.”

The Major looked out the window. Cat guards were pulling a struggling James into the room below. That wasn’t good. Then she heard footsteps running up the stairs. That wasn’t good either.

“Quick, under the bed,” Monster ordered.

The Major did as she was told. She watched as a dozen military boots entered the room.

“Sorry to disturb you, sir. We’re looking for Major Occam.”

“Is that who fired this arrow?”

“We believe so, sir.”

“I’d like to find her myself. I’ve got a sore to settle, ha ha. Get it? Sore to settle? Forget it.” The boots started forward. “Look where this thing hit me.” The boots stopped.

“That’s fine sir, please, we believe you, really, it’s not necessary to-”

The Major grinned as Monster’s pantaloons fell to the floor followed by his tights and tighty-whities. Then Monster turned around and bent over. He winked at the Major as the cat guards hurried away slamming the door behind them.

(98) Veronica Makes a Resolution

“I’ve made a resolution,” Veronica said.

Straight Shooter held his hands up to the side of his head. “I’m all ears.”

“If I get real again — if I get my dad out of this mess — if I get back home — I am going to be fearless. I am going to fill my life with passion and creativity and adventure and caring and involvement and I am NOT going to be that shy timid girl I used to be. I am going to be-”

They said it together: “The Major!”

Straight Shooter leaned toward Veronica. Veronica leaned toward Straight Shooter. They kissed.

“Time to go,” he said finally.

Straight Shooter lowered the elastic string down the chimney. Veronica started to go first but Shooter stopped her. “Let me go,” he said.

Straight Shooter climbed into the chimney and took hold of the string. He started to drop. “I love you,” he whispered too quietly for Veronica to hear.

Twenty seconds later Straight Shooter let go of the string and dropped to the floor. He thought he’d be in the kitchen but this was better. He’d landed in the cafeteria but all the tables and chairs had been pushed away and it was obvious the large room was moonlighting as a basketball court.

As he straightened up a whistle blew behind him. He spun around. Badass, dressed up like a referee, had a whistle in his mouth and was pointing at Straight Shooter like he’d just committed a foul. Straight Shooter tried to run but claws dug into his back, his legs and his arms.

“It’s a trap!” Straight Shooter shouted up the chimney as the claws did their damage. Straight shooter knew fighting back would just give the cat guards permission to dig deeper. Finally Badass blew his whistle and the claws fell away.

“Y’know Straight Tooter, you couldn’t have picked a better time to drop in.”


Straight Shooter waited as the cat guards formed a circle around him. They wore orange basketball shorts and orange shirts, the logo on the front a black cat with nine tails. Badass started talking.

“The Nine Tails are supposed to have a game tonight against the Dobermans — the Growlers as they call themselves — but it seems your friend the Major turned the team into fish food so you’ll just have to take their place. Let’s see, who else can we get to be on your side? Yo, Blind River!”

An old black man wearing sunglasses shuffled onto the court. He had a guitar slung over his shoulder, a white cane and a leash attached to a Seeing Eye Porcupine.

“Blind River, this is Straight Tooter. You’re on his team. Let’s see, who else... Oh, I know who you’ll like. Spit-for-Brains, go get Stacey. She’s in the makeup room. Let’s see, who else...”

By this time quite a crowd had gathered. Badass surveyed the faces. Suddenly a hand shot up. It belonged to a big fellow wearing pantaloons, tights, mustard-colored shirt, vest, sneakers and a floppy red beret. Badass started laughing. This was too funny.

“Yo, dude, you want to play with Straight Tooter?” Monster Under the Bed walked onto the court. Little did Badass know. “Boy SS, you sure can pick ’em. C’mon folks, we need one more!”

A Down’s girl with a smile like a watermelon rind pushed her way onto the floor.

“Polly Unsaturated, perfect. Meet Straight Tooter.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Polly said. “I’m pretty good but they won’t let me play, cuz, you know.”

“Anybody else? Guess that’s it, Straight Tooter. Of course when the Major on the roof shows up that should give you a boost. Now, you got a team name?”

“The Miracles,” answered Polly and everybody laughed.

“That’s what it’s gonna take.”

“Shooter!” It took a second for Straight Shooter to realize who was yelling at him. Then the crowd parted and onto the court jogged Stacey — sort of. The twins had been cut off at the waist and the two waists had been stuck together so Stacey had two legs sticking down and two legs sticking up. Her two top halves had been stuck on the sides like flippers.


“Yeah, isn’t this great! The Prince is going to let us star in a movie. We’re going to be Octopussy. He’s remaking all the Bond films with the bad guys winning. We’ll be moving to Gollywood.”

“What about Ranger Headquarters?”

“Sorry Shooter, the shield crashed. We had to run for it but we didn’t get far. The Prince said our choices were move back in with our mother or make a movie.”

Badass blew his whistle.

“Okay, here are the rules. First team to 50, wins. If the Nine Tails win they get to eat Blind River and Polly. If you win they get to eat Blind River, Polly and the fancy dude in the dumb beret. Ready?”

Shooter shook his head. “No way, Badass. We win and we all go free.”

(99) The Big Game

Badass stared at Straight Shooter like how stupid can you be? “Tooter, Tooter, do I look like the Prince to you? You know I can’t agree to let you go. There’s a big spit in the Great Hall with your name on it.”

“Sorry Baaaadass, I forgot you’re only a gofer. Here’s the deal; we win and nobody gets eaten.”

“Sure, whatever.” Like you got a chance of winning anything.

Badass tore the leash out of Blind River’s hand and pulled up Porky the Porcupine. “Okay Porky, you’re going to be the ball.” Badass whispered in his ear. “You got it?” Porky nodded his head. Badass wasn’t someone to mess with.

“Straight Shooter?”

“Yes, Blind River?”

“You know I ain’t much on the court but I can play a mean tune.”

“That’ll be fine, Blind River. Some good music would be helpful.”

Badass threw the ball to the cat guards and the game was on. Whiz, whiz, whiz, Porky flew around the court. Dunk. 2-0 Nine Tails.

Straight Shooter picked up Porky and passed him to Octopussy. By the time Porky got to Stacey he’d stuck his needles back out. “Ow!” yelled both Staceys dropping the ball. The nearest Nine Tail picked Porky up and he pulled his needles in. The guard dribbled twice and shot. Porky would have missed by a yard except the hoop expanded so much Porky fell through. Nine Tails 4 Miracles 0.

Blind River started singing Stand By Me and Straight Shooter felt better. Blind River was right. Things may be dark but I won’t be afraid as long as you stand by me.

Straight Shooter picked up Porky. “You stick those needles out again and you’re pemmican.” Porky didn’t know what pemmican was but it sounded way worse than being a pincushion at Badass’ mom’s place.

Straight Shooter flipped Porky to Polly. Polly dribbled down the court through all the cat guards and would have had an easy layup except the hoop shrunk so much Porky couldn’t drop through.

One of the Nine Tails grabbed the rebound and would have scored except just as she shot Monster rose up and grabbed the ball. Two steps later he was at the other basket. He grabbed hold of the hoop and twisted it viciously.

“You change shape again and you’re scrap metal! Got it?” The hoop nodded.

Nine Tails 4 Miracles 2.

Badass blasted his whistle. “You can’t do that! That’s not fair. Who are you anyway?”

“Monster Under the Bed and guess what?”


“I’m tired of being scared of you and that no good selfish Prince. Freedom for All!”

Shhhhh! Jeez, don’t do that! The Prince will deep-fry us all. Now listen, you can’t get big like that.”

“So it’s okay for you to cheat but not me?”

“Like duh! The guy in charge can do whatever he wants; everybody else has to take it. Everyone knows that.”

Monster rarely lost his temper but he’d had it with brain-deads like Badass. Why did the good people of the world have to suffer because some arrogant government had to have more oil; or some ignorant dictator wanted more money; or some self-serving CEO wanted a bigger bonus?

Monster picked up Porky and slam-dunked him six times. Nine Tails 4 — Miracles 14.

WHISTLE! “You can’t do that!”

Monster walked over to Badass, tore the whistle from around his neck, and jammed it down his throat. Badass swallowed. Whistle. Whistle. Every time Badass breathed the whistle made a faint sound.

Monster fired Porky to Octopussy, who fired him on to Polly, who passed off to Straight Shooter. Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh!

As Polly scored the winning basket and Blind River started into We Are the Champions! Straight Shooter made his escape.

(100) Veronica Takes a Shortcut

Once again, thought Veronica, I don’t know what to do. She’d heard Straight Shooter’s yell of, ‘It’s a trap!’ so she knew he was in trouble. She’d also heard his whispered, ‘I love you’ which made her heart fill up with sunshine. People talked about love at first sight and now she knew it was true.

Smack! The top of a ladder appeared. Veronica ran to it. A cat guard was climbing up. She pushed the ladder backwards as hard as she could. The ladder bounced off the parapet and the cat screamed all the way to the moat. Then Veronica made the mistake of leaning out to see what was else was coming. A laser ball shot by her head.

Smack! Smack! Smack! Three more ladders appeared. There was no way she’d get to all three ladders in time. Veronica ran to the far side and tossed the elastic string over the edge. She slid down to the window she’d seen from above. She thought she’d probably have to kick it in, but when she came level the window opened and there stood the Prince’s father, the King. He helped her inside.

“How nice of you to drop in, my dear. Do you by any chance play checkers?”

“I’m sorry your Majesty there isn’t time. I have to get to the dungeon.”

“You young folk, no time for what’s important in life.” The King gestured to her. “Come in, come in. The other girl was like that too. She lost sixteen games in a row. I helped her escape but we had to wait till it was dark. Too dangerous in daylight. She looked like Major Occam too.”

“I’m not Major Occam! I’m Veronica Newport. My dad is Chester Newport.” Veronica could see the King struggling with this. “He’s a prisoner in the dungeon. You must have seen him in that block of ice. I’m trying to rescue him and my friend Straight Shooter too.”

The King chuckled. “Really, my dear, none of that seems likely.”

“I know but it’s true!”

Now fists were pounding on the King’s door. The guards had found her. Veronica ran to the window. Too late; a cat guard was shimmying down the string. When the guard saw Veronica she drew her gun but before she could fire Veronica grabbed her wrist. Veronica was in danger of falling out the window when she felt the King reach over her and cut the string with his sword.

“Thank you!” Veronica tried to give the King a hug but there was nothing to hold onto. “I need to get to the dungeon. Can you help me?”

“Yes my dear, I can. But you must promise to speak to your father about my role here. I would like to be more than an afterthought.”

“I will. I promise.”

The door was vibrating so heavily stone dust drifted toward Veronica and the King. It wouldn’t be long now.

“Don’t worry, I know all the shortcuts. Come with me.”

(101) Surefire Meets Zippo

Surefire, the kids on his back, slipped into the moat heading for the loading dock. He hadn’t gone far when a voice hollered, “Stop!”

“Zippo! Is that you?”

A dark shape rose up and there was Zippo the Hippo, all smiles. “Hi Mary, I’m feeling much better, thank you. I gave my cold to my cousin.”

“What happened to your alligator hat?” Little William wanted to know.

“There was a piece on SSN (See Nothin Nohow) about hippos eating more people than alligators and crocodiles combined so the Prince said I didn’t need to wear it anymore.”

“You don’t look dangerous,” Edward said.

“Neither do you.”

There was more truth in this than the kids wanted to admit. After all they were trying to act like an invincible ninja strike force.

“Zippo, would it be okay if our friend Surefire takes us to the loading dock?”

“Be my guest. The Prince is trying to hire the Loch Ness monster for this job but she wants a five year no cut contract with cost of living increases and bonuses for anything she devours over five hundred pounds. The Prince has offered three years and seven hundred pounds but I hear she’s not budging. C’mon, I’ll go with you.”

Surefire and Zippo swam to the loading dock and the kids jumped off.

“Wait here, Surefire,” Albert whispered. “We’ll see what’s going on.”

Albert led the way through the tunnel. As they approached the dungeon Albert heard voices. He stopped and the others gathered behind him. Albert peered around the corner. What he saw was Badass, dressed as a referee, surrounded by five cat guards in basketball uniforms. Two of the guards held Straight Shooter between them. Straight Shooter looked pretty scratched up. The guards lowered him to the ground and fastened his wrists and ankles to four rings in the floor.

Badass knelt down beside him. “Thought you’d get away, Tooter? I just act stupid. I could be a PhD if I wanted.” Badass thought Straight Shooter would say something smart but he didn’t. “Last chance, Tooter. Where’s the Major, the real one? We’ve already got the one on the roof.”

Straight Shooter’s heart skipped a beat. “Why would I tell you?”

“Because it would save your life.”

“Then my life wouldn’t be worth living.”

Badass shook his head. No one would die for him that was for sure. He put his hand up and motioned toward the ceiling. A large cylinder dropped down and stopped a foot above Straight Shooter. It was covered in pink oblongs that seemed familiar to Albert.

The light from the torches was poor so it was several seconds before Albert realized what he was staring at. Erasers. The cylinder was covered in hundreds of pink erasers!

Badass pushed a button and the cylinder began to spin. “Last chance.”

Straight Shooter smiled. “Do you know who Sydney Carton is, Badass?”

“I know a Sid Cartoon.” Badass snickered. Then he glanced at the guards to make sure they were snickering too.

“He’s a character in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.”

“Is there a point here?”

“He’s like you, Badass, a loser who’s never done anything worthwhile his whole life. But his chance to do something noble and brave comes along and he grabs it even though grabbing it will cost him his life.”

Straight Shooter lifted his head to look Badass in the eye. “Before he dies he says, ‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’”

Badass frowned. Anything that sounded like school made him want to puke. “You know what, Tooter? I’ll tell you what better is. Better is being the one inflicting the pain.”

With that Badass lowered the spinning cylinder onto Straight Shooter’s boots. Albert wanted to step out so he could try his Star Wars Blaster but Charles held him back. If it didn’t work they were all dead.

Straight Shooter cried out but then he scrunched his eyes and forced himself to endure the pain. Slowly Badass pushed the cylinder to the top of Straight Shooter’s thighs. Then he raised the cylinder. Straight Shooter’s legs were gone.

“Well Tooter, you ain’t half the man you used to be. Now tell me, where’s the Major?”

“HERE!” shouted two voices at the same time. Veronica stood at one end of the balcony and the Major at the other. They turned and stared at each other, openmouthed, but not for long.

“Get ’em!” Badass was on his feet now, pushing the guards. The two Majors ran toward each other. They stopped and hugged.

“You must be Veronica.”

“You’re the Major.”

“I hope we get to talk later.”

“Me too!”

(102) You Are What You Read


“Yes sire?”

“You look positively debonair.”

“Thank you, sire.”

It was the big night after all — the Prince’s Banquet — and with any luck both Majors, Straight Shooter and King Morath’s son would all be on the menu along with that culinary masterpiece, Ranger Pie. Ratchett, decked out in a tuxedo, a white silk scarf, top hat and shiny black nite stick with crystal knob, started to tap-dance. He was actually a very good tap-dancer, which shouldn’t have surprised the Prince but did. Ratchett ended with a last tap tap tap and the Prince made twenty pairs of hands all of them clapping.

“As good as Fred Astaire. You never cease to amaze, Ratchett.”

“Thank you, sire. If I may say so, you — look — ravishing!

The Prince beamed. He had on his slinky silver-sequined dress, which he’d had tailored to make it backless, a refinement he was sure the other Jane Fonda would approve of. His short blond hairdo was delicious, and around his neck he wore a cascading diamond necklace that had to be worth a million units maybe ten. His earrings matched.

“We like you, Ratchett.”

“Yes sire.”

“Like a brother, Ratchett.”

“Yes sire.”

“We had a brother once, Ratchett.”

“Yes sire, I know.”

Ratchett shuddered. The Prince actually had two brothers. One was The Terror, banished to live in a moldy basement close enough that the Prince could keep an eye on him. The other, the Prince’s twin brother, the Not So Evil Prince of Darkness — Notso for short — had made the mistake one day of suggesting the Prince show mercy to a group of schoolgirls who’d been caught not cheating on their Ethics exam.

The ringleader, a feisty little blond girl with pigtails, had said to the Prince, ‘We don’t need to cheat. We know our stuff.’

‘My dear,’ the Prince had replied, ‘that’s not the point. The point is to lie, steal and cheat whenever possible. That’s one of the eleven commandments.’

‘Ten,’ the girl said defiantly.

The Prince had smiled then — the smile that Ratchett had come to know as the We-Are–Truly-Miffed-Smile.

‘Do you know how to shish kebab, my dear?’ the Prince had asked.

‘Shish kebab?’ repeated the girl, reaching for one of her pigtails. For the first time uncertainty passed across her young face.

‘We’re sure you and your friends will make wonderful shish kebabbers.’


Ratchett snapped out of his flashback. “Yes sire?”

“Stay with us, Ratchett.”

“I was thinking about your brother, sire.”

“He shouldn’t have interfered, Ratchett.”

“No sire. I think he felt sorry for the girls.”

“Princes don’t feel sorry, Ratchett.”

“No sire.”

“He was quite good, we thought.”

“The Thai Coconut Sauce was inspired, sire.”

“The skewers of apple wood, don’t forget them, Ratchett.”

“Yes sire.”

“Almost as good as Shih Tzus.”

The Prince let his chancellor stew on that tasty tidbit while he trundled off to the little Princes’ room. He was reading a book in there, Warren Piece, and it was getting good.

(103) Hunting James with the Major

The Major peeked out from behind the boiler. Badass and his basketball team had run past seconds before but she could hear more guards coming. She didn’t really understand all that was going on but she had the feeling the next hour would decide things — one way or the other.

She couldn’t get over seeing Chester Newport in the dungeon. What should she call him? Her Illustrator? Animator? Imaginator? Not grand enough. Father? Creator? She never thought she’d meet him in person. Thinking about meeting her Creator face-to-face was enough to make the Major’s knees tremble.

But what was that stuff he was stuck in? They had to get him out of there quickly before the Prince decided on something more permanent.

Hugging Veronica was like finding a twin sister she never knew she had. But why was Veronica not real like those kids? How had she changed into a toon? One more thing to figure out.

And poor Shooter. The Major knew, standing on the balcony, the best thing she could do for her buddy was to get the guards away from the dungeon so Shooter had time to recover.

But even with Chester Newport, Veronica, Straight Shooter and the Truly Evil Prince of Darkness all around her, the only thing the Major could focus on was rescuing her bumbling boyfriend, James Dean. Once she had James back she could worry about everybody else.

The Major was pretty sure James wasn’t locked in the dungeon because he would have been raising hell when Badass lowered the erasers. He had to be somewhere else and she was pretty sure she knew where.

She crept out to the hallway that led to the kitchen. A young punk, wearing dirty white overalls, rubber boots and a hairnet, was coming her way pushing an oversized garbage can which, judging by the smell, had to be full of fish guts.

The Major turned the R on her belt buckle and pushed it. Her boots sprouted high heels, her pants shriveled to mini-shorts, her top split open in a deep V, all Ranger insignia disappeared, and her hair moved through seventeen colors before stopping at Knock ’em Dead Redhead.

The Major knew as a modern liberated woman she should object to this shameful transformation but there was something fun about playing a part. As she said to the other female Rangers, ‘View it as just another weapon in your arsenal. Men win battles with blood and guts; women can win wars without firing a shot.’

She stepped out and the young punk stopped. The Major took one hand off her hip and beckoned to him to come closer. He grinned. He wasn’t bad-looking if you ignored the fact he was missing a front tooth — a common condition in the area given that the Prince’s idea of a dental plan was to knock your teeth out.

You want braces? Bang. Not necessary. Overbite? Bang. Not anymore. Toothache? Bang. Anything else bothering you? Not likely.

The young punk followed the Major into the boiler-room. She maneuvered him against the wall and stepped back. He started forward but it was too late. Four pitons sprang from her belt pinning the young man to the wall. But he was still grinning.

She pushed the R and an image of James floated in the air between them.

“Where is this man?” she asked.

The young punk shrugged as if to say, ‘who cares when you can have me?’

The Major frowned. Why do young punks always think they’re every girl’s dream? She pushed the R again and this time the R itself shot out, spinning wildly like a miniature buzz saw, which is exactly what it was. The Major took a step forward.

The young punk didn’t look so cocky now. She took another step. The next step was going to be messy.

“He’s in the kitchen.”

“Where in the kitchen?”

“One of the ovens I think.”

(104) Crazy Nuts Ball

Mary knelt beside Straight Shooter. “Are you okay?” Mary knew it was a dumb question but she didn’t know what else to say. She untied the leather thongs that held Straight Shooter’s wrists. Shooter propped himself up on one elbow.

“Never better. Now all of you go. Help Veronica and the Major. Hurry!”

Victor pointed at Chester Newport trapped in his cube. “What about Veronica’s dad?”

“You and Mary get Surefire.” Albert was already running up the stairs to the balcony, followed by Charles, Edward and Little William. “We’ll find Veronica.”

Mary stared up at Victor. There were tears in her eyes. “Bring Surefire. I’ll stay with Straight Shooter.”

“How am I going to get him through the tunnel?”

“You’ll find a way.”


Victor was almost at the loading dock when he saw a cat guard standing in front of Surefire her gun aimed at Surefire’s head. Victor charged. The guard spun around but before she could pull the trigger Surefire swallowed her.

Victor heard a muffled scream. Then Surefire raised his tail and the guard shot out the back, her gun firing wildly into the air. She landed with a splash on the far side of the moat.

“Good work, Surefire. Catch and release.” Victor and Surefire high-fived. “Surefire, we need you in the dungeon but I don’t know how we’re going to get you there.”

“No problemo, watch this.” Surefire stretched himself out like a baker pulling dough.

Victor gasped. “You’re a serpent!”

“My dad says, ‘Drag-on or drag-out.’”


Mary studied the legs she’d scratched in the stone floor. They didn’t look very good. The floor was hard and uneven and all she had to draw with was Edward’s pebble.

“I’m finished, I guess,” she said.

Straight Shooter sat up and studied his new legs. He gave Mary a thumb’s up. She was trying so hard he couldn’t help but do the same.

“Here goes,” he said. Straight Shooter tried to wiggle his new toes. Nothing happened at first but he didn’t give up. All at once his big toe moved and his right knee buckled.

Mary helped him to his feet. Straight Shooter took a step. His legs looked really funny but they worked! He took another step. And another. When Victor and Surefire arrived, Straight Shooter and Mary were arm-in-arm, dancing around the dungeon like Fruitcakes at the Crazy Nuts Ball.

(105) Ferret-Legging

The Major was in disguise, her uniform hidden under the young punk’s dirty white overalls. His rubber boots and hairnet completed her attempt at underpaid kitchen help. Down the hallway she went pushing the almost empty oversized garbage can, the contents of which she’d dumped over the young man’s head.

Just before she stunned him she’d said, ‘The next time you think you’re something special smell your socks.’ Earwax had snorted at this so the Major had dropped Earwax into the stinky garbage can and closed the lid.

The Major elbowed her way into the crowded kitchen. It was more than crowded. The place was packed. Everywhere chefs were preparing food, carrying things, shouting orders, stirring, tasting, spilling, slipping, measuring, fetching, decorating, cutting, dicing, icing, spicing. It was culinary bedlam.

The Major unlocked the first oven she came to. Inside was a giant baked potato with tentacles, the whole thing covered in batter.

“That you, Koleye?”

“Got any sour cream?”

The Major helped the bounty hunter out of the oven. “What are you doing here?” she asked.

“They took Neil’s family. Neil and I were trying to rescue them but we didn’t make it over the drawbridge.”

“You dere, stop!” The Chef de Cuisine advanced on the Major like a traffic cop at a fender bender. “Hee is not done yet. Look at zee timer. Put’im back in zee oven — immédiatement!”

Beside the Major stood a stack of large metal trays. She picked one up and as the Chef de Cuisine arrived she shouted, “Sacrebleu!” and pointed behind him. As the he turned to look the Major brought the tray down onto his tall white hat.


The Chef de Cuisine dropped like a soufflé. E Koleye shook off his batter, opened the next oven and pulled Neil out. Neil was a burrito. The third oven contained Neil’s family, a woman and two little boys. They were quesadillas.

“The quesadillas are getting away! Stop them!”

Kitchen staff converged from all directions.

“Koleye, you ever seen ferret-legging?”

“Nope. Am I going to like it?”

“I think so.” The Major pulled Earwax out of the garbage can and held him up. “Did you wish to snort again?”

Earwax shook his head.

“Ferret-legging, go!”

Earwax ran up the Pastry Chef’s pant leg. The expression on the chef’s face moved from dismay to outrage to panic quicker than a rookie cop lunging for the last donut. The Pastry Chef ran from the kitchen, screaming. Earwax scurried up the pant leg of the new chef from Sloppodopolis who screamed even louder than the Pastry Chef.

“I like it,” E Koleye said. “Allows us to open ovens undisturbed.”

“You do that side.” The Major pointed across the kitchen to another row of ovens. “Neil and family, run for it.”

“No way, we’re helping too. C’mon boys!”

(106) Ratchett Sums Up

The Prince returned from the Throne Room. He’d almost been creamed by a stray laser ball that had flown in through the bathroom window. Was nothing sacred?

“Now Ratchett, where were we?

“Yes sire, if I might sum up?”

The Prince nodded. He liked listening to Ratchett’s summations especially when all the news was good news.

Ratchett began: “The Banquet is almost ready. The seventy-eight Rangers from the dungeon and King Morath’s son are now in the kitchen being prepared. The rest of the Rangers have landed on Planet X – undetected - and will no doubt arrive shortly. They will make a nice brunch. The banquet will be webcast across the Known Universe. I’m sure the soon-to-be elected Regent of the Milky Way will enjoy watching you eat his son.”

The Prince licked his lips. King Morath wasn’t going to enjoy it nearly as much as the Prince was.

“He should be smoked, don’t you think, Ratchett?”

Ratchett snorted. He had to admit that sometimes the Prince had a wicked sense of humor.

Ratchett continued his summation. “Both Majors are still at large in the castle-”

The Prince stopped gloating.

Ratchett forged ahead. “But there is no way for them to escape for the simple reason they have no way to free Chester Newport and they will not leave without him.”

“Ratchett, you are such a connoisseur of human foibles.” The Prince checked his nail polish.

“Thank you, sire.”

“There won’t be time to barbecue the Majors.”

“I was thinking we’d grill one for a midnight snack and the other we could have raw, wrapped in seaweed, with sticky rice.”

“Lone Ranger Sushi.”

“With Kemo Wasabi.”

“Ratchett, you break us up.”

“Thank you, sire.”

“What else?”

“And finally, the Revenge, the Universe’s largest battle cruiser, capable of reaching the farthest planet in less than two hours, is fully operational.”

“Excellent, Ratchett, excellent. In other words we are on the brink of our first Intergalactic Grand Tour. Any place that isn’t glad to see us, we’ll — we’ll — what will we do to it, Ratchett?”

“Cosmic dust, sire.”

“We’ll clean house, so to speak.”

“Precisely, sire.”

“We’ll start with Newhome. We’ll even the score for poor ol’ Blackjack.”

“Revenge is sweet, sire.”

“Like candy, Ratchett. And my brother? We forget why we were speaking of him?”

Ratchett knew this was rubbish. The Prince remembered the wings he’d pulled off his first butterfly.

“I think, sire, you were about to imply that if this next XTernal XChange does not go well I could end up like your brother, the one smothered in Thai Coconut Sauce.”

“A burp, Ratchett — my brother became a burp in the cosmos, a warp in the weave of time. You don’t want that.”

“No sire. But you look so attractive, sire, might I suggest we put this off till after the banquet?”

The Prince was tired of being Jane Fonda and besides his high heels were killing him.

“Strike while the iron is hot, Ratchett. Let’s try again. Do you have a suggestion?”

“Yes sire, I wondered about 1-700-Newport?”

The Prince practically choked with delight. “You are good, Ratchett, you are very good! Our best Chancellor ever! 1-700-Newport!” The Prince roared with laughter. “Why be Ruler of the Universe when we can be CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE!

The Prince sashayed toward the Booth of XTernal XChange like a five-time Academy Award winner. “We don’t pay you enough, Ratchett.”

“That’s true, sire.”

The Prince stopped. “Don’t push your luck.”

“Yes sire.”



“Dial, Ratchett, DIAL!”

(107) James Cools Off

James wasn’t in any of the ovens. The Major was worried until E Koleye gave a shout. She sprinted over to where the bounty hunter stood in the doorway of a humongous cooler. He stepped aside as two chocolate moose ran by. The Major strolled into the cooler and looked around. It wasn’t hard to find James. He was bouncing around like a bear tied to a bed.

“Darlin’,” exclaimed the Major in a sweet southern accent. “I do declare you make just about the cutest chocolate éclair I’ve evah seen.”

James’ head stuck out of one end of the éclair and his toes the other. The Major dipped her finger into the whipped cream on James’ forehead.

“Why James, I had no idea you were so tasty.”


The Major stepped back. Whipped cream was flying everywhere.

“James, speaking with your mouth full, what would your mama say? Speaking of mummies you look just like those-”


“Oh all right, Sugar. Let me help you with that.”

With the Major’s help James managed to climb out of his shell. He shook himself off.

“Why James Dean, you can’t go runnin’ around in just whipped cream. Let’s get you an apron or something.”


“Try one of these trays, Darlin’. They’re as slick as snot on a doorknob.”


“Here you go Honey, try this apron on.”

By now the whole kitchen was in motion. Anyone not chasing food was being chased by food. E Koleye had three trays going — whack! whack! whack! — flattening everything in sight and the Major always knew where Earwax was by which chef was screaming the loudest.

“There’s a pile of Rangers here somewhere and we need to find them. And James-”

The Major was about to say, ‘I love you,’ but that wasn’t what came out.

“Be careful. The floor is slippery.”


It was so big they didn’t see it right away.

“James! Over here! How do we open this thing?” The thing was an oven the size of a freight elevator. The Major looked through the dark glass. There was something going on in there she could see things moving. The glass was hot.

“Hurry!” she called.

James found the control box hanging from the ceiling. He pushed the green button and the front of the oven rose up like a double garage door.

“Hey Major! Where you been? We’ve been waiting for you!”

Seventy-eight Intergalactic Rangers grinned at her from a steaming meat pie the crust of which covered their bodies but left their heads sticking up.

“What’s going on in there?” asked the Major.

“We’re having a hot time!”

“We need more dough!”

“We’re in the thick of things!”

“You’re already thick!”

“James! Close the door and crank up the heat. They’re not done yet!”

“She’s kidding, right?”

“Major? Major?”

“The door’s closing!”

“Major! We love you!”

“We were on TV!”

(108) Veronica Strikes Back

Albert, Charles, Edward and Little William were hiding behind stone balusters on the second-and-a-half floor of the castle. They would rather have been on the first floor but it was swarming with cat guards.

Charles had led them to the mezzanine in the nursery overlooking the Booth of XTernal XChange and they’d arrived just in time to see Jane Fonda, in a stunning silver dress, enter the booth. Now colored smoke swirled around her feet and Ratchett was dialing.

“Shouldn’t we be looking for Veronica?” whispered Edward.

“There’re too many guards down there,” Albert whispered back. “Charles, what do you want to do?”

“Let’s see what happens to the Prince.”

The phone in the booth rang. Then through the smoke they saw Veronica running at top speed toward the Booth of XTernal XChange. The phone rang again. The Prince picked it up but before he could say hello Veronica rammed into the folding doors slamming Jane Fonda hard against the rear wall.

Veronica grabbed the phone. “Hello?”

“Hemmo?” said the Prince his red lipsticked lips smushed like slugs against the glass.

“Veronica! This way!”

Veronica looked up trying to find where Albert’s voice was coming from. Her ears were ringing from the explosion and colored smoke still swirled around her. There he was. She ran toward the mezzanine. The kids had lowered a curtain. She grabbed hold and the boys pulled her up.

“You’re real!” they shouted.

Veronica looked down. She was her old self. The smile that lit up her face would have powered a city.

“There she is!” Badass, cat guards all around him, pointed up at Veronica.

“Time to scram!” shouted Albert.



“Yes sire?”

“What happened?”

“Chester Newport’s daughter took the call, sire. She’s real again.”

The Prince was huffing and puffing and changing colors. He was having difficulty looking at himself.

“Ratchett, what are we?”

Ratchett suddenly saw himself on the menu as Grilled Chancellor on a Bed of Egg Noodles.

“You are a really ugly frog, sire. The Frog Prince, I believe.”


Only once before had Ratchett seen steam come out of the Prince’s ears. That was the time the Prince’s mother-in-law had suggested he could be nicer. His mother-in-law was now off-white leather upholstery in the Prince’s stretch limousine. Every time the Prince sat down he would pat the seat and say, ‘Isn’t this nicer?’

Not only was steam coming out of the Frog Prince’s ears but he was also growing larger by the second. Ratchett took a step backwards. The frog’s yellow throat was inflating like a whoopee cushion. Next came a terrible noise like hundreds of stones bouncing down a cliff. The frog had reached three times its original size and was growing exponentially.


“Yes sire?”

“Kiss us! Hurry!”

“I — yes sire.” Ratchett stepped forward; the frog leaned down. Ratchett pushed his lips against the Truly Ugly Frog Prince’s slimy lips.


Ratchett flew backwards through the archway and splashed down halfway across the moat.

Upstairs, the nursery room turned black.

Then laughter as big as a mountain — as deep as the sea — as loud as a clap of thunder — rolled into every corner of the castle.


(109) Surefire

The dungeon was large enough for Surefire to become a dragon again. Mary introduced him to Straight Shooter, then led Surefire over to Chester Newport’s block of ice. Chester Newport still wore a smile on his face but now he had his hand up like he was waving goodbye.

“Surefire, we need you to melt this block without hurting the man inside. He’s Veronica’s dad. Can you do that?”

Surefire didn’t look happy. Mary remembered the book in Surefire’s bedroom, Young Dragon’s Guide to Flying and Making Fire with a Special Chapter on Splints and Burns.

“Piece of cake, right Surefire?”

Mary couldn’t believe it. Surefire turned bright red. He was blushing!

Crashing running footsteps forced Mary’s attention away from the young dragon. She looked up just in time to see Veronica, Albert, Charles, Edward and Little William come barreling onto the balcony slamming the door shut behind them. In seconds guards were pounding on the door.


The Prince’s voice filled the castle like an airport announcement. Veronica slid down the stair railings and sprinted into Straight Shooter’s arms. He couldn’t believe it.

“You’re real!”

“Nice legs,” she teased.

“I should say.” Shooter did a pirouette.

Mary knew they didn’t have time for this.

“C’mon Surefire, we have to hurry!”

Surefire cleared his throat. He took a huge breath, shut his eyes, and expelled the air like he was blowing out 2000 birthday candles.


The kids looked at each other. There was no fire.

“Surefire, there was no fire.”

Surefire took another deep breath. The book said the key was to visualize flames flying from his mouth. Surefire shut his eyes and visualized. Whoosh!

Nothing came out but air. Everybody was embarrassed now.


“Yes Mary?”

“Why do they call you that?”

Surefire looked sad. “Positive reinforcement, I guess. You see I’m only a young dragon and I’m not very good at fire yet. I mean I can go all day without making a flame and then at supper I’ll sneeze and burn a hole in the tablecloth. My dad’s hired a tutor to teach me spontaneous combustion but it’s not going well.”

Surefire hung his head. “Sorry.”

The boys groaned.

“That’s okay, Surefire.” Mary scowled at her brothers. “You’re trying your best.”


The castle shook — the torch flames wavered.

“Okay Surefire, let’s try once more.” Mary knew there wasn’t time to try anything else.

“Actually,” Surefire said turning red again, “I do better if I turn around, like this.”

Surefire spun around and bent over, his tail up, his enormous butt facing the block of ice. The Spoil boys knew what to do. Albert hoisted Little William up and he liberated one of the torches lodged high on the wall. He ran to Surefire’s backside and held the flame out.

“Let her rip!”

Surefire took a deep, deep breath. His face scrunched. Here goes-


The dungeon turned so bright and so blue it took everyone several seconds to realize the block of ice that wasn’t ice was no longer there. What was there was a surprised Chester Newport waving his hand in front of his face.

“Whew!” he said.

“Way to go, Surefire!” Mary jumped up and down hugging Surefire. “That was the best toot ever!”

Surefire beamed.

“Pops!” Veronica fell into her father’s arms.


“Not now Pops, we’ve got to get out of here!”

The rumbling in the castle was growing louder by the second. The dungeon floor began to vibrate. Suddenly there was an explosion and the door to the balcony flew through the air.


Surefire was scared to death. He stretched himself into a serpent and was in the moat faster than a young dragon being chased by the Truly Evil Prince of Darkness himself.

The others weren’t far behind. Albert stopped as he reached the tunnel and aimed his Star Wars Blaster at the guards stampeding down the stairs. A bolt of red light erupted reducing the cat guards to half their original size.

“Yes!” Albert pumped his fist.

But the guards kept coming. Albert fired again and again the cats reduced in size. Two more rounds and the guards looked like kittens charging into the tunnel. They fired their miniature guns but only sparks flew out.

Albert hightailed it to the loading dock as the others clambered up Surefire’s back. Albert leapt on. “Go Surefire, go!”

“Wait!” It was Straight Shooter. Everybody groaned as he jumped down.

“Wait?” Charles shouted. “Wait for what?”

“I’ve got to go back.” Straight Shooter looked at Veronica. “I want to be real like you.”

The look of concern on Veronica’s face suddenly melted into a huge grin. Shooter had just made his first decision! Veronica sprinted down Surefire’s tail and jumped the last few feet landing in Shooter’s arms.

“I love you,” she whispered.

“And I, you.”

“Surefire!” — Veronica was running backwards shouting — “Hide around the corner. If we’re not back in five minutes take off without us.”

“Veronica!” Chester Newport was standing now.

“It’s okay Pops, we’ll be right back!”

Straight Shooter and Veronica disappeared down the tunnel scattering the miniature cats as they ran.

Surefire didn’t know what to do. It didn’t seem right to just wait but before he could think of a better plan Badass and his squad of basketball guards appeared in the tunnel entrance.

“Go Surefire, go!” screamed Albert.

Surefire sped off. It was going to be close. The first cat guard reached the loading dock and aimed her gun but before she could pull the trigger Zippo the Hippo rose up and emitted such a stream of water Badass and the cats were washed back into the tunnel like sticks in a flood.

The kids cheered as Zippo shouted, “Yes! Always wanted to do that!”

(110) The Booth Doethn’t Work


“Yes sire?” Ratchett stood in a puddle of water that was slowly spreading across the nursery floor. His leg throbbed where the stupid hippo had bit him. He could feel his temperature going up — probably rabies. All around him the Prince was making the castle pulsate and glow, two of his favorite tricks when he was angry and, to top it off, Ratchett was missing his weekly poker game at The Rat’s Ass.

“We thujest you go and kill yourthelth!”

“Gladly sire.”

The Prince was supposed to be Sylvester Stallone but instead he’d come out of the booth as Sylvester the Cat.

“What ith tho hard about thith?”

“I think we’re working out the bugs, sire.”

The Prince stopped. “Are you trying to be funny, Ratthett?”

“Yeth thire.”

It was funny. The Prince tried to laugh. It sounded like tinfoil in a microwave.

“We like you, Ratthett.”

“Yes sire, like a brother.”

“Thath right, Ratthett. Now, leth not give up. Never thay die. Fight to the bitter end. It’th a far, far better — frankly, Thcarlet, we don’t give a darn — ethetera.”

Sylvester the Cat reentered the Booth of XTernal XChange. “Who’th nexth on our lith?”

“Brad Pitt, sire.”

“Brad Pitt! Thay, that would be exthellent.”

“Yes sire.”

“Perhapth Angelina will be in the vithinty.”

Ratchett dialed the number. The phone rang. Sylvester the Cat checked his claws. The phone rang again. He reached out his paw but just as he lifted the receiver Straight Shooter crashed into the folding doors flattening Sylvester the Cat hard against the glass.

Shooter wrestled the Prince for the phone. “Hello!” shouted Straight Shooter and the Prince together.


The explosion sent everybody sprawling except Ratchett who had already jumped into the moat. This time when he pulled himself out, he headed, limping, straight for his poker game at The Rat’s Ass. Enough was enough!

In the castle kitchen, the Major crashed to the floor beside James and E Koleye. The castle was shaking — badly. Anything not fastened down was raining down around them.

“We’ve got to get out of here!”

Rangers poured out of their pie, naked except for the odd piece of pastry. There wasn’t time to do anything about it.

“Run for the drawbridge!” cried the Major. “Hurry!”

Upstairs, the Truly Evil Prince of Darkness emerged from the smoke.


Ratchett had disappeared. Probably gone to The Rat’s Ass to play poker with those dimwits he calls friends. The Prince sent flames blowtorching out his ears.


How dare people ruin his fun!

He looked in the mirror again. This was not funny! This was his worst nightmare.

“THIS IS NOT FUNNY!” shouted the Truly Evil Prince of Darkness, as near to tears as he’d ever been in his life.


Badass ran into the room shouting, “They’re getting away!” He stopped when he saw the Prince — or at least he assumed it was the Prince.

Badass burst out laughing. He didn’t want to laugh but he couldn’t stop himself.

The Prince flicked his wand and Badass changed into an ugly brown dung beetle. The Prince picked up the corner of his dress and stumbled forward. How did women walk in these ridiculous high heels? He aimed his last step to land on the brainless beetle. There was a satisfying crunch and yellow slime shot out in all directions.


(111) The Major Gives the Orders

The castle emptied — guards, cooks, busboys, cleaners, administrative staff, monsters, fiends, mobsters, lobbyists, personal-injury lawyers, politicians, telemarketers, Rangers, the Major, James, E Koleye, Neil and family, the entire banquet, and various assorted others — streamed out of the castle like bilge rats fleeing a sinking ship.

The Major stopped on the other side of the drawbridge. The Rangers gathered round.

“All right, listen up. This is James Dean, King Morath’s son. He’s in charge. And this is E Koleye, the best bounty hunter in the galaxy. Go with them to the Prince’s spaceport. We’re going to capture the Prince’s new battle cruiser and use it to get out of here.”

The Major turned to James. “There’s someone I have to see, then I’ll be there. If I’m not there when you’re ready to leave, take off without me.” She turned back to the Rangers around her. “And find some clothes. Earwax, go with James. Go!”

But before anybody could move a gigantic sucking noise drew everybody’s eyes to the moat. The Major turned to see the last of the water race down a humongous drain hole. Then there was crack like thunder and the drawbridge collapsed into the mud.


Not all the guards had fled the castle. There were half-a-dozen hot on the heels of Veronica and Straight Shooter who’d been pounding up circular stairs for what seemed like forever.

“You look great!” Veronica shouted this over her shoulder. Straight Shooter was wearing tan pants and an open at the collar cream colored shirt. He’d been carrying a fly-fishing rod and basket but these he’d heaved at the cat guards. Veronica recognized him as Paul Maclean, Brad Pitt’s role in A River Runs Through It one of her dad’s favorite movies. She couldn’t believe he was real.

“I feel so heavy!” A laser ball ricocheted off the wall between them.

“You’ll get used to it!”

The stairs ended. Veronica plunged through a door onto the roof of the turret. Straight Shooter stopped to lock the door behind him but the lock was on the other side. “I can’t lock it. We’ll have to jump!”


“Here!” Albert’s voice sounded a mile away.

“We’re going to jump!”

The guards burst through the doorway. Shooter hoisted Veronica onto the parapet. She yanked him up behind her. Veronica grabbed Straight Shooter’s hand just as Albert’s words reached them.



The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness hadn’t had a really good temper tantrum for ages. Not since his third wife, Sue Ki Guy, had climbed the turret and dropped her pot-bellied pig, Chesterfield, onto the Prince’s head. The Prince had turned Chesterfield and Sue Ki Guy into Pad Thai for fourteen.

The Prince took a deep breath, and another, and another. Was this place going to blow or what?!



The Major stood on the bank above the moat watching the drawbridge slowly sink into the mud. She turned toward the voice.

“Who are you?”

“Zippo the Hippo.”

“Nice to meet you Zippo. Can you take me to Chester Newport?”

“He’s on Surefire.”

“Whatever you say, Zippo.”

The Major scrambled down the bank onto Zippo’s back. “What happened to the water?” she asked.

“The Prince pulled the plug. He does that when he’s miffed.”

Zippo didn’t seem to mind plodding through the deep muck. The Major liked the extreme sucking noise each step made.

“Nice sunset,” Zippo said.

“It certainly is.”

“Do you think the castle’s going to blow?”

Stones fell from the parapets. The walls glowed red. The whole place was growling.

“It has that look about it.”

“I guess I’d better hurry.”

“It’s an idea.”

Zippo rounded the corner. The Spoil kids were all staring up at the turret wondering what had happened to Veronica and Straight Shooter. Edward turned to see where the funny sucking noise was coming from.

“It’s the Major!”

Zippo stopped beside Surefire. The Major hopped onto the young dragon’s back. The kids crowded round and introduced themselves. Then they moved back as Chester Newport approached.

The Major dropped to one knee. “Sir,” she said bowing her head.

Chester Newport reached out and touched her arm. “Major,” he said, smiling, motioning for her to stand. The Major got to her feet unsure what to do next. Chester Newport opened his arms and the Major fell into them.

“I never thought we’d meet,” she said wrapping her arms around him.

“You’ve done a good job, Major.”

“Thank you, sir.”

No one moved for several seconds until finally Victor cleared his throat.

“Major?” Victor didn’t want to interrupt but somebody had to.


“We have a situation.”

(112) James Looks for Inspiration

James was stretched out on his belly at the lip of the crater staring down at the Revenge. He was trying to think. Earwax was perched on his shoulder. He was thinking too. He was thinking James should be wearing more than an apron.

Normally, James would go barreling in guns blazing — so what that the Prince had ten times the force — we’ll take ’em anyway. But hanging around the Major had changed all that.

Ninety-eight Intergalactic Rangers were spread out around him. The seventy-eight from the dungeon were dressed in everything from shower curtains to grain sacks. They’d met the other twenty Rangers on the way to the spaceport. Those heavily armed Rangers had been making plans to storm the castle and rescue the others. Now the entire Ranger force, minus the Major and Straight Shooter, stared down at the Revenge waiting for James’ instructions.

E Koleye returned from his scouting mission and crawled in beside James.

“I hope you’ve got more ideas than I do,” James said.

“They’re almost ready to leave. Supplies are all onboard. They’re just waiting for the Prince and Ratchett to arrive.”

“So we need to do this before they get here.”

No one in his or her right mind wanted to confront the Truly Evil Prince of Darkness. For one thing no one had any idea how to destroy him. Over the years his enemies had tried just about everything.

‘It’s like trying to stop thunder,’ the Major had once said. On top of that the Prince had powers that others could only dream about.

James looked over at E Koleye. “What’s the most prisoners you’ve ever brought in?”

“I caught the five Grunge brothers once. They were so drunk they thought I was their mother taking them home.”

James couldn’t imagine anyone mistaking E Koleye for his mother.

“How would you like seventy-eight prisoners?”

“Can I keep the bounty?”


The Major entered the nursery not trying to hide her footsteps. There were no guards that she could see, only Veronica, in her Ranger uniform, and beside her, a handsome young man who looked vaguely familiar. Across from them stood someone dressed up as the Fairy Godmother.

“You’re real again,” she said giving Veronica’s arm a squeeze.

“Better than that.” Veronica motioned toward the young man.

“Evening, Major.”

The Major did a double take. “Shooter?”

“In the flesh.” The grin that lit up Straight Shooter’s face would have started ten cars at thirty below.

“Oh Shooter, I’m so happy for you!”

“Enough!” growled the Fairy Godmother in the Prince’s deep voice. He waved his wand. “You know we don’t like chitchat. Besides, our feet are killing us. Why do you women wear these ridiculous things?”

The Fairy Godmother kicked off her high heel shoes, walked over to the archway and tossed them out.

There was no splash just a distant plop, plop.

“We had a feeling draining the moat might change things.” The Prince turned back to his audience. “Now kids, here are today’s choices. Come with us in our new state-of-the-art battle cruiser or die. What’s it going to be?”

Straight Shooter moved in front of the Major. “I have a theory Prince that you can’t hurt real people. So, we’re just going to back out of here and you can go on your battle cruiser by yourself. I’m sure everybody will be more than pleased to see the Fairy Godmother.”

The Prince frowned. Why were stupid people always testing him? He lifted his wand and flicked it at Straight Shooter.

Straight Shooter doubled over in excruciating pain as if he’d just swallowed a bowl of razor blades.

“Any other theories?” asked the Prince.

“I’ll make you a deal,” the Major said stepping in front of Shooter.

“Should we state the obvious?”

“I know you can kill us but what would be the point?”

“One usually prefers to eliminate one’s enemies.”

“But not me. You’re nothing without me just as I’m nothing without you. We need each other.”

The Fairy Godmother considered this. “Like hot needs cold.”

“Like up needs down.”

“Great battles require great enemies.”

“Great heroes require great villains.”

“Interesting,” the Prince said. “So what’s your deal?”

“Let these two go and I’ll go with you on your battle cruiser.”

“But Major, why don’t we just kill them and lock you up?”

“Because if you let them go I won’t try to escape.”

The Prince thought about what the Major had said. It would be like having the Major around as a pet. That faithful dog the Prince had always wanted as a child. But he wasn’t a child and if the Major’s theory was correct demeaning the Major would reduce the Prince’s status as well.

“We have a better idea. You marry us and become our Princess till death do us part.”

“No way!” Straight Shooter, pain gone, jumped to his feet. “Don’t do it Major!”

The Prince waved his wand at Straight Shooter and Veronica. They began to fade away. The Major looked on, frozen.

“They won’t come back from this,” the Prince said.

“I would rather die than marry you.”

“Do you wish your friends to die as well? They look so obnoxiously sweet together.”

Veronica and Straight Shooter were almost gone.

“All right!” cried the Major. “You win.”

“Say the words, my dear.”

“I marry you.”

“Till death do us part.”

“Till death do us part.”

“This is a sacred oath.”

“This is a sacred oath.”

“Bound by the Power of the Universe.”

“Bound by the Power of the Universe.”

“Say, ‘I do.’”

“I do.”

“Consider us married.” The Prince waved his wand. Veronica and Straight Shooter were whole again. He waved it once more and they vanished.

(113) E Koleye Leads the Way

At the spaceport, the Prince’s soldiers and guards stood still as if they were frozen, their eyes locked on the long procession of prisoners trudging single file down the hill. On either side of the prisoners, Rangers disguised as mercenary soldiers waved their guns around, yelling at the prisoners to move their butts.

At the head of the line strode a strange looking potato-like figure that some of the onlookers recognized as the famous bounty hunter, E Koleye. His tentacles hung at his side except for the two that cradled his brand-new AK-94. The AK-94 he held at his waist the barrel pointed straight ahead.

E Koleye was impressive. If there was one thing he’d learned in years of dealing with soldiers it was to act like he had more authority than they did. In a world where there was always someone higher up than you following orders was much easier than giving them.

E Koleye held his hand up and the line stopped. The ramp that led into the Revenge was directly ahead but blocking the way was a large Doberman, an officer of the Prince’s Elite Execution Squad. His nametag read Captain Pinscher.

“Captain,” said E Koleye bowing slightly. “Here, as promised, are the seventy-eight Ranger prisoners. They are to be loaded immediately into the battle cruiser.”

Captain Pinscher stared at the ugly potato. No one had said anything to him about seventy-eight Ranger prisoners. “Who are you?”

“E Koleye, the most famous bounty hunter in the galaxy.”

“You mean the biggest piece of crap in the galaxy!”

E Koleye turned around slowly. The first prisoner in line stared defiantly at him, his right hand in the air, his middle finger sticking up. E Koleye pulled the trigger. A laser ring shot through the air slicing the prisoner’s hand off. The prisoner buried his stump in his shirt howling in pain.

E Koleye turned back. Captain Pinscher looked more than impressed. That went well, thought E Koleye, just the way we practiced it. Helps to have a Ranger with a prosthesis.

“Those Rangers were part of the banquet,” Captain Pinscher said.

“The Prince changed his mind. He’s going to drop one Ranger on each planet he visits.”


“From a great height. Foreshadowing he calls it. Like a trailer before a movie.”

“Why did you bring the Rangers? Why didn’t the Prince send them with guards from the castle?”

“They’re all rather busy at the moment trying to catch the Major. I volunteered to help.”

Captain Pinscher didn’t believe any of this but he could see he was going to die if he didn’t play along. The big bounty hunter had his AK-94 aimed at the Captain’s guts. But if I don’t do something the Prince will kill me and that will be worse. The Prince would no doubt pull the Captain’s guts out and eat them while he watched. I need to buy time, thought Captain Pinscher.

“Load the prisoners! Put them in the fresh meat locker!”

E Koleye started forward.

“Not you Koleye. You and your men go back to the castle. Your job’s done.”

(114) Zippo to the Rescue

James, still wearing his apron, Earwax on his shoulder, was desperately looking for a way across the moat. The drawbridge wasn’t visible anymore so the mud must be deep. Perhaps he could walk through the muck on top of the drawbridge without sinking altogether. He slid down the bank and was about to put his foot in the mud when a voice said, “I wouldn’t do that.”

James looked into the shadows. A large, rather sad-looking hippopotamus was standing there. “That stuff stinks. The Prince will smell you coming.”

“I need to get across.”

“To rescue the Major?”


“You’d better hurry. The Prince has the patience of a two year old. Here, hop on. I’m Zippo by the way.”

“I’m James and this is Earwax.” James clambered up on the hippopotamus’ back. Zippo started plodding through the muck toward the castle.

“I’d say the castle’s going to blow up any minute,” Zippo said making conversation.

“Why aren’t you running away like everybody else?”

“Then how would you get across?”

When they reached the castle Zippo stood up on his hind legs and James managed — by jumping off Zippo’s head — to grab hold of the doorsill and pull himself up into the castle.

“I can’t thank you enough,” James said to Zippo.

“That’s true. I’ll wait for you here.”

The castle was deserted or seemed to be. The interior was black except for the occasional pool of flickering yellow light coming from a torch on the wall.

“Earwax, check the dungeon. If anything goes wrong I’ll meet you back at Miss Behavin.”

James jogged through the antechamber into a long hallway. To his right was the Great Hall, empty. To his left was an equally enormous room full of overturned chairs and a stage. It too was empty. As he reentered the hallway a ghost appeared wearing a crown and brandishing a sword.

“Friend or foe?” the ghost King said.

“I don’t know.”

“Good answer. Are you trying to help the Major?”


“Friend then. Take this sword. It’s razor sharp. In my experience you have ten minutes, no more. After that the crayon hardens beyond repair. Quickly — that way — up the stairs.”

James took the sword. The ghost King lifted his head from his body and disappeared.

What was that about?

James could hear voices coming from above so he headed up the stairs the ghost had pointed to. At the top was another hallway. He moved quietly along it until he came to the entrance to a large room. He peeked inside. At the far end he could see the Major standing in front of somebody dressed up as the Fairy Godmother. Every time the Fairy Godmother waved her wand the castle moved another notch toward blowing up. Has to be the Prince, thought James. But why is he dressed up like that?

James crouched behind the furniture and slowly made his way forward. He ran into a pile of clothes and quietly put them on. He didn’t want to confront the Prince in an apron.

He crept as close to the Major as he dared.

“Now Princess,” James heard the Fairy Godmother say. “I want you to help us get out of this ridiculous persona. The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness can take many forms but the Fairy Godmother isn’t one of them.”

James slowly inched closer. Why was the Prince calling the Major, Princess?

“Besides,” the Fairy Godmother went on, “we need something more manly now that we’re Supreme Ruler and Wife.”

Wife? The word hit James like a sledgehammer. His heart sank. He wanted to leap up and hack the Prince to little pieces but he knew the Prince would flick his wand and James would be the one reduced to stir-fry. As if he was reading James’ mind the Prince flourished his wand again and the castle shook like a wet dog drying itself.

The Prince quite liked having a wand. It made him feel Harry Potterish. Now, thought the Prince, if WE had been Voldemort, Harry Potter wouldn’t have gotten off so easily. But that was another story.

“Where were we?” the Prince asked.

“We were deciding not to be the Fairy Godmother,” replied the Major.

The Prince stared at her. He always had the feeling Ratchett was laughing at him and this felt the same. But he who laughs last, etcetera.

“We are going into this booth over here. You will dial this number on this phone.”

The Prince pointed to the last name on Ratchett’s list. “The phone in the booth will ring. We will pick up the phone. There will be a lot of smoke and an explosion. We suggest you duck. Having changed into somebody more suitable we will then leave on our first Intergalactic Grand Tour.”

The Prince spread his arms, stretching them wider with every word. “The Truly Evil Prince of Darkness and Wife, the legendary Major Occam, together on stage for the first time!”

The Fairy Godmother bowed several times to the imaginary crowd. “We like it! Yes, we do! Now, my dear, don’t forget your solemn oath. We are married — till death do us part. We expect to find you here when the smoke clears.”

The Prince pointed his wand at his new wife. “Your friends haven’t left yet and our reach is long. Now, dial the number.”

(115) The Big Voice

E Koleye stepped aside. He waved the prisoners forward. Stepping aside wasn’t part of the plan but it was important to get Rangers inside the Revenge. By the time E Koleye turned back Captain Pinscher had his gun pointed at E Koleye.

“You’re finished here. Go!”

E Koleye watched as cat guards inside the ship came down the ramp, guns drawn. The unarmed Rangers shuffled up the ramp. Now they really were prisoners.

“The Prince owes me money,” E Koleye said stalling for time.

“Go back to the castle. I’m sure he’ll be happy to pay you.” Captain Pinscher grinned at the bounty hunter. They both knew how happily the Prince would pay.

E Koleye spun around. This plan had certainly landed in the toilet. He started walking toward his men. He could see in their faces that they knew they would have to fight. He could also see that they knew they were outnumbered fifty-to-one.


At first, E Koleye thought the huge ringing voice must belong to the Prince. Now we’ll die without a fight, he thought. But then he heard the roar of a thousand engines revving and when he looked up to the crater’s edge it glittered chrome-silver with motorcycles each one manned by a man and a woman in helmets and armor, laser blasters slung over their shoulders. The roar of the engines continued for several seconds, then died down.

The loud voice came again.

“This is King Morath speaking, newly elected Regent of the Milky Way. All those who surrender will be transported to the free planet of their choice. All those who choose to fight will die. The Prince is not worth dying for but freedom is. Freedom for All!”

“Freedom for All!” echoed around the crater as the bikers revved their engines.

But freedom was not a choice for most of the Prince’s soldiers and guards. They had sworn allegiance to the Prince. Worse, their families and friends lived on Planet X. No matter how rotten the Prince could be this was still their home. And above all, they’d been trained to obey.

“Fall back!” Captain Pinscher shouted and his soldiers began running toward the Revenge. “Take positions!”

The bikers started down the steep slope of the crater.

“Fire!” ordered Captain Pinscher. Instantly, the crater became a cobweb of crossing lasers.

Captain Pinscher began counting the motorcycles, trying to figure out how many bodies were coming against him. Because the enemy held the high ground he felt outnumbered but he might not be. Or he could pull his soldiers into the battle cruiser and call the castle but then King Morath would probably destroy the Revenge.

Except there are seventy-eight Rangers inside. That might be enough to save the ship until the Prince arrived.

“Rangers!” E Koleye shouted. “We need to capture the Revenge before the Prince gets here!”

E Koleye’s voice broke Captain Pinscher’s concentration. He’d forgotten about the bounty hunter and his mercenaries. He turned to fire but it was too late. E Koleye’s AK-94, now dialed to Disintegrator, pulsed as Koleye pulled the trigger. Captain Pinscher saw the laser grid coming and knew there was nothing he could do to avoid it. Still, his death cry was enough to spin his soldiers around. They opened fire on E Koleye and his Rangers who had no choice but to dive into the dirt.

The twenty Rangers outside the Revenge found themselves in a strange position. Because they weren’t in uniform both sides were firing at them. The Prince’s soldiers weren’t any better off. They had enemies behind and in front and the ones in front were advancing down the hill at a speed that made the soldiers’ blood run cold.

E Koleye was on his feet now, fighting his way up the ramp. Six of his Rangers were down but the rest were beside or behind him. E Koleye ran to the top of the ramp and looked inside. A laser ball whistled by his head. The first chamber inside the Revenge was three stories high and the cat guards had taken positions in its balconies, ready to fire down.

“We need cover,” E Koleye shouted. Before he could say another word three smoke grenades bounced across the floor of the chamber. In seconds the Revenge was a billowing cloud of orange smoke.

“Okay Rangers, spread out!” cried E Koleye. “Get up and behind them and quickly! We may need to get out of here in a hurry.”

(116) James Takes Matters

Veronica landed in the mud first. Shooter was a beat behind. They slid twirling down the slippery slope spinning into Surefire. Chester Newport reached down and pulled Veronica up onto the dragon’s back. Albert and Charles did the same for Straight Shooter.

“Surefire! Get us out of here!”

The castle was seconds away from blowing up.

“But Pops, the Major’s with the Prince!” Veronica stammered. “We can’t leave her!”

“I can’t help her here. I need to get home. Go, Surefire, go!”

Surefire flapped his wings, struggling to pull out of the mud. Finally he broke free and as he rose an explosion rocked the castle. Then there was a noise that none of those riding on Surefire’s back had ever heard before. It was a mixture of scream and groan so loud Surefire’s passengers gave up their hold to cover their ears.

Suddenly, hundreds of spirits vacated the castle, swooping through the night sky like startled bats, their mouths locked open in never-ending screams.

Then they saw Surefire rising from the mud and the chase was on.


James waited as the Fairy Godmother shuffled into the Booth of XTernal XChange. She was so matronly it was all she could do to close the folding doors. He watched as the Major dialed a number. Colored smoke swirled around the floor. Then the phone in the booth rang twice and the Prince reached out to answer it. James crept forward.



Smoke billowed, glass shattered, the Major remembered to duck and that’s all she remembered because as she bent over James Dean stood up and swung the sharp sword as hard as he could.


Just like that James cut the Major’s head off!


James managed to slide down onto Zippo’s head. He reached back and pulled the Major’s body over his shoulder. Her head he’d tied to her belt with her braid.

“Hurry Zippo, the Prince can’t be far behind.”

“You couldn’t run in this stuff if you wanted to!”

“What’s that noise?” James stared up into the sky. In the distance he could see a dark cloud of spirits chasing something huge that was flying away.

“That’s Surefire the dragon. He’s carrying Chester Newport and his daughter and Straight Shooter and the children. I wish I was going with them.”

“You can’t fly.”

“I can dream.”

Reaching the other side seemed to take forever partly because the castle was huffing and puffing like a fat woman taking off her girdle. It wouldn’t be long now. James slid off Zippo doing his best to protect the Major.

“The Major’s lost her head,” Zippo said starring into the Major’s lifeless green eyes.

“She does get carried away.”

James scrambled up the bank. “I need some kind of transportation.”

“I have a bike. It’s in those bushes over there.”

“You’re wonderful!”

“I know. Good luck.”

As James disappeared into the bushes a voice boomed out from the other side of the moat.

“Get your lard ass over here!”

Zippo started back toward the castle. Look who’s talking, he thought.

“You’re in deep doodoo, y’know?” said the Prince once he was on Zippo’s back and riding over the muck. “Aiding and abetting the enemy.”

Zippo stopped.

“Okay, okay, you’re forgiven. Keep moving. Is this sucker going to blow or what?”

By the time the Prince reached solid ground Ratchett had arrived driving the stretch limo. Right behind came Pesticide’s John Deere Monster Treads Tractor with the sprayer arms on top.

“Good of you to show up, Ratchett.”

“Yes sire.”

The Prince stared at the tractor. The cab was full of Ratchett’s poker buddies from The Rat’s Ass. They waved.

“What’re they doing here?”

“Backup, sire.”

(117) Earwax Flies First Class

Earwax finally found somebody in a room off the cafeteria. Monster Under the bed was playing doctor. He’d managed to find two eyes for Blind River and Stacey was back to being twins.

“Earwax!” shouted Stacey. “Where’s the Major?”

Not for the first time Earwax wondered why he was the only one in Occam’s Razor who couldn’t talk.

“He’s done this before, you know.”

Earwax spun around. A ghost wearing a crown was talking to him.

“He came close to blowing up the castle several years ago but this time I think he really means it. You folks would be smart to get out of here. But the drawbridge is gone and the mud is twelve feet deep. There’s a canoe in — say, I have an idea. Do you all like flying? Good, come with me.”

The King led the way up to the roof. “You know I’ve always wanted to fire this thing.” The thing the King had always wanted to fire was a catapult.

“You know the trouble with being King is you don’t actually get to do anything. Everybody else does it for you. It’s frightfully boring actually. Now who wants to fly first?”

Blind River put his hand up. There were three things he’d always wanted to do. See and fly were two of them.

“Excellent! Here, climb in this leather sling. Now I turn this crank. This will be extremely fun don’t you think? Now, where would you like to go?”


James couldn’t peddle anymore the hill was too steep and too sandy. Still, Zippo’s bike had gotten him within sight of Miss Behavin. James checked his watch. If the ghost King was right he had less than a minute to get the Major back together.

He started to run. Then he heard a horn tooting behind him. A stretch limo, followed by a large green tractor, had just reached the bottom of the hill. James was already past his last legs but seeing the Prince so close gave him a final burst of energy.

But it wasn’t going to be enough. James could tell by the growing growl of the tractor that both vehicles would overtake him long before he reached Miss Behavin. The Major would stay dead and James wouldn’t be far behind. Close but no cigar, thought James.


Earwax hit the hill like a mortar shell. He dug himself out and shook himself off. Farther up the hill he could see James — a headless Major slung over his shoulder — lumbering toward Miss Behavin giving it everything he had. But he wasn’t going to outrun the Prince’s stretch limo or the big green tractor now rushing up the hill. Earwax ducked down. The Major was dead; he might as well die too.

As the bumper of the limousine passed over his head Earwax jumped up and was immediately sucked into the limo’s air filter. The limo shuddered to a stop but not before Pesticide’s John Deere Monster Treads Tractor climbed up onto the limousine’s trunk lifting the limo’s front tires off the ground.


James staggered across the threshold into Miss Behavin. He wanted to cough up both lungs but there wasn’t time. Earwax bounded aboard. He looked like he’d been locked in a vacuum cleaner for five years.

“Was that you Earwax? Good going. Now get us out of here.”

Earwax fired up the engine and pushed the throttle forward. All around them other small ships were lifting off. Then the Revenge rose out of the crater taking the giant net with it. It looked like a flying lampshade. James’ monitor lit up.

“You all right, James?” King Morath asked.

“No! The Major’s hurt. I’ll call you back.”

“What about Chester Newport?”

“He flew off on a dragon!”

The ten minutes were up. Way up. James positioned the Major’s head above her neck and pushed down. This had to work. It didn’t. He pushed and wiggled at the same time. C’mon, Major, c’mon! He switched to CPR, alternating between blowing three times into the Major’s mouth and pushing three times on her sternum.

James was crying now. He tried rubbing the Major’s neck. Tears fell into his hands and the straight line across the Major’s neck blurred but still she lay lifeless.

James pulled Stunner from the Major’s belt and stood up.

“Stunner, you can see what I need.”

“I’ll do my best.”

James pulled the trigger. A blast of electricity struck the Major’s chest spreading over it like tree roots.

The Major sat bolt upright then fell back down.

James was all over her.

“Major?” Her eyes opened.

“James, I don’t feel well.”

“Yes you do, you feel great!”

(118) Surefire Comes Through

Surefire was halfway back to Booger Bayou when the castle blew up. The night sky was suddenly as bright as day. The sound of the explosion came next washing over everything like a tsunami and pushing the spirits that had been chasing Surefire ahead of him. Horrible, ugly, smoke-like creatures whizzed by Surefire like arrows fired from a fiend’s bow. Screaming, moaning, gesturing, the wraiths gathered around Surefire’s head, taunting him.

Poor Surefire lost his way. He didn’t know if he was coming or going, rising or falling. But he wasn’t giving up. His friends were counting on him. He stopped beating his wings and stuck them straight out knowing he would glide downward. Hundreds of spirits buzzed around his head like a swarm of hornets but he didn’t give up.

It was the Nightmare of all Nightmares.

Surefire crashed into Booger Bayou.


The Prince sat cross-legged on top of the hill watching everything leave. He kept picking up handfuls of sand and throwing them at the sky.

“Life can be so unfair, Ratchett.”

“Yes sire.”

“All our hard work for nothing. First our banquet runs away, then our bride is shanghaied, and now the Revenge leaves without us.”

“Yes sire. You could have squashed King Morath’s son and recaptured the Major.”

“She wouldn’t have gotten her head on in time. No Ratchett, our lives will be much more fun with the Major around.”

“At least you’re real, sire.”

“And you shall be too, Ratchett. We’ll rebuild the booth.”

“I’d like that, sire.”

“You know what, Ratchett?”

“What sire?”

“We like you.”

“Yes sire, like a brother.”

“No Ratchett, like a friend.”

The Prince and Ratchett walked back to the limousine the front end of which was still sticking up in the air. Ratchett’s buddies were playing cards in the cab of the John Deere Monster Treads Tractor. They started clapping when they saw the Prince.

“Back up!” yelled Ratchett motioning with his hand. He looked over at the Prince who looked over at Ratchett. They were both thinking the same thing — some backup. They burst out laughing. The tractor reversed, the limousine dropped, and Ratchett and the Prince climbed in.

“Isn’t this nicer,” the Prince said patting the upholstery.



“Let’s go to The Rat’s Ass. I haven’t cheated at cards in ages.”

(119) The Major Sleeps In

The Major slept for fourteen hours. She didn’t wake up till Miss Behavin was almost at Weird Toad. When she woke a shampooed Earwax lay beside her and James was holding her hand.

“What happened?” she asked staring into James’ handsome blue eyes.

“I knocked you out.”

“I thought that was my job?”

“You weren’t allowed to escape.”

“You were there?”

“I thought you might need help.”

“I did need your help, James. Thank you.” The Major leaned forward and gave King Morath’s son a kiss, a good one.

“I swore an oath,” the Major said remembering.

“I took care of that.”

“What about Chester Newport?”

“He flew off on a dragon.”

The Major nodded. “I met him you know, Chester Newport. He gave me a hug and said I’d done a good job.”

“That must have been something.”

Tears welled up in the Major’s eyes. It was more than something; it was everything.

A minute passed before she could speak.

“Where’s the Prince?” she asked wiping at her tears.

“He’s not here, that’s all I know.” James turned the monitor on. “Want to see the big battle? My father recorded it. They’re showing it across the Universe.”

The Major felt as if she was standing on the lip of the crater staring down at the Revenge. Around the circumference hundreds of tough, determined men and women riding motorcycles revved their engines.

“Who are they?” she asked.

“They called themselves the Weird Toad Irregulars.”


“They didn’t muck around. There’s my dad.”

King Morath stood in a gap left by the motorcycles. Behind him a full moon, surrounded by hundreds of stars, shone like a beacon of hope. The Major listened as King Morath made his speech.

“Did the Prince’s men surrender?”

“No.” James’ voice turned sad. The Major could guess why.

“How many died?”

“Too many.”

“Rangers too?”


Now the Major was sad. There was always the risk of dying no matter what you did. At least her friends had given their lives for something worth dying for.

“Freedom for All!” boomed King Morath’s voice.

“Freedom for All!” the Irregulars answered.

James and the Major watched the battle until the last of the Prince’s soldiers surrendered.

“E Koleye? Did he make it?”

James didn’t answer because at that very moment the bounty hunter appeared in the mouth of the Revenge, holding his AK-94 high. Crowded around him was what was left of his band of Ranger mercenaries. There should have been twenty but the Major counted only eight.

Then the seventy-eight Rangers, wearing grain sacks and shower curtains, piled down the ramp, looking more than silly. They were laughing till they saw their friends lying still on the ground.

Life and death, thought the Major, two more opposites that travel together.

King Morath arrived. There was a celebration but it was subdued. The Major watched as the dead and wounded were loaded into the Revenge. The Rangers went back onboard with E Koleye and King Morath as the Weird Toad Irregulars roared back up the hill. The ramp closed and the Revenge lifted off.

“The Prince didn’t join the battle?”

“He was too busy chasing us.”

“How did we get away?”

“Getting to you was the hard part. First, I had to convince a hippo I was trying to help you so he’d carry me across the moat. Then some ghost King appeared and I convinced him to tell me where you were. Then I found out you’d married the Prince.”

“I had to. He was going to murder Veronica and Straight Shooter.”


“Chester Newport’s daughter.”

“She flew off on the dragon with Chester Newport, Straight Shooter and a bunch of kids.” James thought it best not to mention the hundreds of demons chasing them.

“Straight Shooter was real and in love with Veronica,” the Major said smiling. She was so happy for her buddy. “Everybody escaped, that’s good. I don’t want to go back there.”

James squeezed the Major’s hand. “Then the Prince went into that booth and there was a lot of smoke and an explosion. I knocked you out, and-”

“How did you knock me out?”

“I’d prefer not to say.”


“I’m not saying.”

Earwax drew his paw across his throat.

“You can’t make me,” said James.

“Does it have anything to do with the swelling in my throat?”

“I get that sometimes when I smoke too much.”

“Just tell me. I’m sure I’ll laugh my head off.”

Earwax put his paws over his eyes and James couldn’t say a word.

“All right, never mind, your father will tell me. Continue your story.”

“So then I lugged, er — carried you to the hippo and he got us across the moat. I was looking for something we could ride back to Miss Behavin but everything with legs was running from the castle because it looked like it was going to blow up at any second. But the hippo had a bicycle so I borrowed that.”

“Zippo had a bicycle?” The Major couldn’t believe it.

“Yeah, the handlebars were way up here.” James put his arms up as high as they would go. Earwax rolled his eyes. The Major laughed but stopped. It hurt too much.

“I rode with you over my shoulder.”

The Major tried to picture this. “I bet you were puffing.”

“I died going up the hill.”

“I bet. What about the Prince?”

“We were more than halfway up the hill. I looked back and there was this limousine and a big green tractor coming up the hill after us.”

“Why didn’t they catch us?”

“They would have but Earwax arrived from out of nowhere — he won’t tell me how — and as the limousine went over top of him he did something and a few seconds later the limo died. Then the tractor rear-ended the limo.”

“You’re a hero, Earwax,” cooed the Major.

Earwax grinned. I’m like most heroes, he thought, the legend is way better than what really happened.

“Was the Prince who he wanted to be?”

“Yeah, he tried to chase us on foot but he wasn’t in the best of shape.”

“So we took off-”

“Ships were leaving all over the place, heading back to their home planets. Then the Revenge lifted out of the crater taking that net thing with it. It looked funny like one of those hats women wear at funerals.”

“What did the Prince do?”

“He threw sand at us.”

Then the Major thought about Veronica and Straight Shooter, Chester Newport and the kids, flying away on Surefire the dragon. Had they gotten away? Chester Newport had taught her to think the best until there was a reason not to.

“Nice outfit,” she said changing gears. James had on the green plaid shorts and the gold golf shirt he’d found in the castle.

“It’s the new look for spring.”

The Major shut her eyes and was soon fast asleep.

(120) Cozy Bennett Meets Chester Newport

Cozy Bennett, Victor’s mom, climbed the stairs to the third floor. As usual she was talking on her phone. The Open House was still going on below her.

“Yes Mom, I’m bringing the toilet paper. There were at least three rolls in there yesterday. Victor probably rolled them off the roof again.”

Cozy tossed a roll of toilet paper through the open window above the bathroom door. Then she heard a series of heavy thuds over her head and looked up. Those kids must be in the attic again. She walked into the elevator and pushed the secret button. Up she went.

“Oh Victor, there you are. Isn’t that nice — everybody piled up together like that.”

Victor stared at his mother. Maybe he was adopted. He pushed Albert’s foot off his leg and winced as Chester Newport stepped on his other foot. Everybody was dripping wet.

Veronica got to her feet and pulled Shooter up. Chester Newport righted himself and lifted Little William.

Cozy looked at her son and said, “Cousin Randall’s third wife’s stepdaughter’s friend is dying to meet you. Her name’s Abigail and I must say for a twelve year old she’s — oh, who are you?” Cozy Bennett was staring at Chester Newport in his bathing suit like he was the first bare-chested man she’d ever seen.

“I’m Chester Newport.”

“I’m Cozy Bennett.”

“This is my house.”

“I have a one-year lease.”

“Good, let’s extend it.”

“Pops! What about the Major?”

Chester Newport pulled his eyes off Cozy Bennett and moved them to his daughter. “She’s fine. James Dean rescued her before the castle blew up and he did it in such a way that she didn’t break the sacred oath she’d made to the Universe. They’re in Miss Behavin on their way to Weird Toad. E Koleye, King Morath and the Rangers captured the Revenge with the help of the Weird Toad Irregulars. They’re on their way to Weird Toad as well.”

Veronica stared at her dad. “You mean you knew all this was going to happen?”

The kids were on their feet now staring at Chester Newport too.

“You could say that.”

“But Straight Shooter is real.” Veronica squeezed Straight Shooter’s hand. It was definitely three-dimensional. Chester Newport smiled.

“What about Surefire?” This question came from Edward.

“He’s at home telling his mom and dad about his big adventure. And you know what? He can make fire now.”

The kids all grinned.

Little William asked, “What about Zippo?”

“He’s sad. He’s lost all his friends and his job. We’ll have to do something about that.”

“What about the Prince?” This from Albert. “Did he blow up?”

“He’s still there. You can’t destroy the Prince and he can’t destroy himself. There will always be good and evil and people will always have to choose between the two. That’s what life is all about — making choices.”

Chester Newport smiled his knowing smile. “I haven’t decided what’s next for the Prince but I’m hoping I won’t have to.” He put his hand on Straight Shooter’s shoulder. “I’m hoping you’ll take over drawing Occam’s Razor.”

Straight Shooter looked at Veronica. She nodded.

“I’d be honored, sir.”

The kids cheered but not for long. Everybody still had questions for Chester Newport. Veronica asked, “What about Mercedes and Pesticide?”

“They’re at the Dulces Suenos having a deep discussion about where they’d live if they could live anywhere.”

Little William wanted to know about Monster Under the Bed?

“He’s coming to visit you tonight, to help you with a little problem you’re having.” Little William tried to look scared but he looked pleased instead.

“The King and Francisca want bigger roles.”

“Not my problem anymore.”

Victor and Mary moved away from the others over to the attic window where they found a photo of a very young Chester Newport standing beside a golden retriever. “Chester and Fred” read the writing at the bottom. Victor wanted to say something to Mary he just didn’t know how to go about it. Mary took his hand — sometimes words weren’t necessary.

Suddenly, a car horn blared below them. Mary and Victor stared out the window as a white stretch limousine drove out of the swimming pool and shook itself off. The driver’s door opened and out stepped Ratchett. He waved to the kids. Then he opened the back door and out stepped a man, a real man.

It had to be the Prince. His white jumpsuit was a bit snug and his hair was greased back retro style. His collar was up and he wore a white silk scarf around his neck. He waved to everybody in the window — they were all crowded there now — and then he started singing and gyrating his hips. All those stupid aerobics were beginning to pay off.

That’s enough, the Prince thought. Time to go. He waved one last time and climbed back into the limousine. Ratchett closed the door, got behind the wheel, and the limousine drove off around the corner of the house. Inside the limousine, the Prince wiped his brow with his scarf.


“Yes sire?”

“We’ve always wanted to play Las Vegas.”

“Yes sire. Vegas it is!”


Up in Chester Newport’s attic it was Victor who finally said:

“Elvis has left the building.”

(121) Epilogue

Two weeks later a police car pulled into the driveway at SPOIL’S JUNKYARD, Beware of Kids, and newly appointed Sheriff Hubert Henderson pried himself out from behind the steering wheel. Henry Spoil, the kids’ dad, sauntered out of the garage wiping his fingers on a rag. The two men shook hands and sat down on the backseat of a Chevy Nova that Henry Spoil had turned into a swing. A cooler beside the swing supplied two cold beers.

“Henry, you sure had a good idea,” Sheriff Henderson said. “Carstairs has resigned. Corrupt son of a bitch has pulled his name off the ballot. Said he didn’t have a chance after those kids of yours made such a mess in town.”

Henry Spoil grinned. “They’re good at it. Too bad it’s not a subject at school. Mess, A plus. Noise, A minus. Getting in Trouble, A triple-plus.”

“You should have heard Carstairs trying to explain why those rotten kids were handing out his flyers. His tongue was tied tighter than the nuts on an iron bridge.”

The sheriff crushed his beer can. “They done good, Henry. Where are the little monsters, anyway? Like to thank ’em. And get this, the bank wants to give them a thousand dollars each for catching those robbers.”

Henry Spoil grinned some more. No more allowance.

“Haven’t seen them for a few hours,” he said. “Probably over at Newport’s eating him out of house and home.”

Sheriff Henderson heaved himself up. “Yep, everything’s good, ’cept the council isn’t real happy about all the patrol cars the kids trashed. They want to sue but I told ’em you were rectifying the situation.”

“That I am, come take a look.”

Henry Spoil led the way around the garage where five shiny police cars were lined up like soldiers on parade. The first was a Volkswagen Beetle covered in black and white polka dots with a giant policeman’s hat on top.

Henry Spoil said, “Hat lights up and spins when the siren’s on.”

The second was a ’64 Barracuda painted black with a gunmetal turbocharger-scoop on the hood. The word police was in little white italic letters on the trunk.

“That one’s for cruisin’ with the good ol’ boys.”

The third was a black pickup truck with two bench seats bolted in the box so they faced each other. The red flashing light was at the top of a pole sticking up behind the cab. “This one’s for domestic disputes. Let the husband and wife air out their differences on the ride in.”

The fourth was a road-warrior vehicle made up of spare parts — no chrome, no nothin’ — and painted primer gray.

“No serial number on this baby,” Henry Spoil said, “just the biggest darn power plant you ever saw. This thing could pass a jet taking off.”

And the fifth was a hearse — black with red neon signs in the side windows that lit up to say Police.

“Put the drunks in the back of this thing and watch them sober up quicker than a rabbit in a fire.”

Chief Hubert Henderson surveyed the cars for a moment and then he began to laugh. A real laugh that shook his belly and brought tears to his eyes. “I like ’em, Henry. I like ’em a lot.”

Within a year, the crime rate in Foxhaven dropped in half and everybody was giving the credit to Sheriff Henderson’s funny squad cars. “Everybody not taking themselves too serious — police included — is a good way to diffuse most situations,” the Sheriff told the reporter from the Foxhaven Times. “Besides which, the price was right.”

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