Plugs

“I think there’s been a mistake with my job placement,” I said, fingering the revolver nervously.

“Oh?” said the frog in the pearl gray suit. He didn’t seem very interested. Or surprised. He just sat behind his desk and leaned back in his emerald green Herman Miller chair, settling his cigar into the corner of his wide mouth. “Why don’t you tell me about it? Have a seat.”

The only seat was a wooden stool half-hidden under a potted ficus. I pulled it out so as not to be actually in the leaves of the ficus as I talked and sat on it. The frog frowned.

“Well, first of all,” I said, “I’m having some trouble working with talking animals.”

“What’s the matter? Skunks giving you lip? That’s just the way skunks are, seriously. They don’t mean anything by it.”

“It’s more that talking animals exist at all,” I said. “I’m just saying, it’s unnerving. A little beyond my … previous experience.”

The frog smiled widely. “Kind of a surprise, right? I love surprises. God, the stories I could tell you. But OK, beyond your previous experience. What else?”

“Well, there’s this gun,” I said. “I’ve never even shot a gun before. I don’t know–”

“What’s to know? They showed you how to work the safety, right?”

I nodded.

“So you point it, you pull the trigger. Somebody drops dead or they don’t. It’s simple.”

“But why do I have it in the first place? You don’t seriously expect me to shoot it? Who am I supposed to shoot?”

“Anyone. Everyone! It’s not my job, I’m not going to tell you how to do it.”

“Listen,” I said, standing up, “this is completely wrong. Yes, I needed a job, but nobody told me I wouldn’t be able to go back home after I got here. And I don’t want to shoot anybody. I’ve been telling these guys for days that I don’t belong here. They keep telling me I have to wait to talk to you, but you can’t do this, don’t you get that? This is America! You can’t keep a guy locked in a building and tell him to randomly shoot people?”

“No, you listen,” said the frog, leaning forward. “We can do anything you want. You walked in here of your own free will, and if we want to keep you here until you rot, we’ll do it. You’ll do what we say, eat what we say, and if we tell you to go around shooting people, you’ll do it.”

“I’m not kidding,” I said. “You’re going to have to let me out of here.”

“And I’m not kidding that you’re not going anywhere,” said the frog. He reached for the intercom button on the phone, probably to call back those two rough-handed baboons who had shown me in.

I shot him.

Well, tried. I raised the gun and pulled the trigger; there was a bang, and then his tongue flicked out and seemed to knock the bullet aside–it was really too fast to see, but the bullet punched into the wall two feet to the side of where I aimed it. I noticed now that there were a few other holes in that wall.

The frog laughed. “That really wasn’t a surprise, but I still enjoyed it,” he said.

“What are you going to do with me now?” I said. “Are you going to kill me?”

“Kill you?” he laughed again, a deep, croaking sound. “I’m promoting you! Just wait ’til you see what I’ve got in mind. You’re a very lucky guy.”

I put the gun down on the stool. I wondered if the promotion came with a raise in pay.

1. Say “Hey, you dropped something!” Interdimensional travelers will often look up.

2. Talk about historical events that never happened and look for nods of agreement. For instance, look at a newspaper while shaking your head in disgust and say “This is exactly like when Benedict Arnold invaded Canada.” (Note: in universe M-117, the so called “reality television” dimensional instantiation, this actually happened.)

This approach does not work as well in some countries, such as the United States, where most citizens are completely ignorant of history.

3. Dye a small, white Maltese dog electric purple and place a headset on it. While this is admittedly not the easiest possible approach, walking down the street with such a creature will tend to send most experienced interdimensional travelers into a screaming panic, as it approximates the appearance of a Dominating Brain Eater Colonization Beast from the RG-12 instantiation.

4. Invite the suspected interdimensional traveler on a picnic. Choose a cloudy day so as to avoid direct sunlight, which makes many travelers nervous and will tend to elicit a plausible excuse about why they can’t make it. Avoid sexual overtones (for obvious reasons).

Pack the following items: twelve mini-cupcakes with mint frosting; one or more bottles of tonic water; a small tub of potato salad, left out for at least three days to ensure it goes bad; and a variety of small pieces of tourmaline cut to give the appearance (to the casual observer) of normal toothpicks.

While at the picnic, set out the mini-cupcakes and take in hand one of the bottles of tonic water. Offer the suspected traveler the potato salad container to open and surreptitiously shake one of the bottles of tonic water. When the salad is opened and the traveler involuntarily fliches away in disgust, momentarily distracted, open the tonic water and let it spray all over the traveler. Stray drops will hit the mint cupcakes, turning the frosting pink if the individual is a traveler. If the frosting turns orange, the traveler is a disguised vortex bear from B-494, and you are in imminent peril. Stab it several times through the heart with one or more of the tourmaline toothpicks, or alternatively, get up and run like hell.

Sandy took Laughing Buddha to the beach. She loved the way the waves were always the same, but never the same. The strand was always the same, and never the same. Not like people, they were always different. Look at Laughing Buddha, for instance.

Sandy had lived with her parents in Nags Head her whole life. Except they weren’t really her parents, and it wasn’t really her whole life. She loved them, she really did, because they loved her. They told her so. And when Mama or Daddy had to take out the belt, and Sandy had to lie on her stomach for a couple of days afterwards, it was all done out of love.

That was why, when Sandy started to remember who she really was, she acted out of love. A seagull flew out the window of the cottage on stilts, not quite within sight of the water, but as close as they could afford. It was laughing, the way seagulls do, the way Mama did. Mama thought almost everything was funny, except when Sandy talked back, or broke things, or wouldn’t do what she was told.

And when Daddy came home from work, and asked where Mama was, and smiled, but made Sandy stand very still while he looked through Mama’s things, and said bad words, he became Laughing Buddha. Because Laughing Buddha looks like he’s laughing, but he isn’t. And he looks nice, but he isn’t. Which is why Sandy, acting out of love, took Laughing Buddha to the beach. They watched the stars come out as the sun sank behind them into the bay. Sandy told Laughing Buddha all about Mama, and the seagull, and who she really was, and the proper usage of belts, as the sky slowly turned. When she was done talking, Sandy left Laughing Buddha just below the line of seaweed and tiny bits of shell that marked the last high tide. It would be a spring tide tonight.

end

The garden gnome had never envisioned himself parading in Rio de Janeiro dressed only in feathers, a pineapple hat and a thong, but when Parthenia Rook came to him and asked his help to defeat the Bonobo King… well, she was a superheroine in leather pants. Besides, at that stage, nobody had mentioned thongs.
Parthenia’s costume was rather more elaborate. Albert thought she must be carrying about a hundred pounds of fruit which, sadly, covered her from head to foot. Her plan was to infiltrate one of the blocos and parade through the city. Bonobo King would not be able to resist their fruity head-ornaments and when he approached them and tried to steal their irresistible mangoes and bananas, Parthenia would knock him out with her patented leather-boot triple kick. It seemed like a fool-proof plan at the time. Alas, as many other fool-proof plans in superhero history, it wasn’t.
When they saw the Bonobo King, Parthenia Rook pushed the gnome behind her and faced her archenemy. Albert thought it was very heroic of her and peered out from behind her fruity derriere.
“At last we meet, Bonobo King,” she said.
The Bonobo King’s eyes darted from bananas to oranges to melons. He seemed frozen with indecision. Finally he knuckled up to Parthenia and reached up for the cherry dangling from her ear. Parthenia jumped forward… and toppled over from the sheer weight of the fruit basket attached to her head.
Albert stared at the Bonobo King over the fallen heroine’s body.
“Er… at last we meet…” It didn’t sound as portentous as he’d hoped. “Fruit, anyone?”
The Bonobo King put the cherry in his mouth and stared at the garden gnome. His face twisted into a mask of pure evil. Then he started laughing. Albert thought he was never going to stop. He pointed at Albert and jumped up and down, eyes watering and belly rumbling. Mortified, the garden gnome wished Bonobo King would get on with
business and kill him already, but then the ape went blue in the face, started coughing and toppled over.
Parthenia Rook emerged from the mountain of fruit. “Cherry pits plus laughter. Never fails,” she said, marching triumphantly over the Bonobo King’s body. “Thank you. I couldn’t have done this without you, Albert.”
Albert trailed behind. “Aren’t you gonna, you know, check that he’s really dead?”
“No, superheroes never double-check stuff. There is such a thing as style.” Albert glanced back doubtfully: he was sure he’d seen that ape twitch.

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