The Games Tent

by McPoodle (f.k.a. Newton)

Legalities:Aaahh!!! Real Monsters! and all of its characters are copyright Nickelodeon and Klasky-Csupo. This story is based around the second-season episode "The Monster Who Came in from the Cold", written by Steve Skrovan, Spencer Green and Mary Elizabeth Williams.


Named best educator in the state.

The newspaper bearing this headline lay ignored on the baby-blue colored cafeteria table. The owner of the paper, his half-finished and quarter-digested lunch pushed to the side, was absorbed in the well-worn paperback he was reading. The spine of the book read "The Measure of Man" and the front cover showed Neville Chamberlain waiving the Munich Pact before the world press.

Suddenly the book was snatched away, revealing the face of young Bradley.


"What have we here? The...Meas...ure...of Man. Is Bradley engaged in some extracurricular reading? Or is he just trying to measure up?" The followers of the tall bully snickered at this joke, even though none of them got it.

"You give that back, Jack Silt!"

"Oooh! So we are on a first and last name basis, huh Bradley. You sound like my father." The other kids backed away. You never reminded Jack Silt of his father. "Well, Dad, I think I'm gonna borrow your book and try to enrich my mind." He walked away, his gang surrounding him. Bradley followed them slowly, then stopped when he heard a rip.

"Oops, clumsy me!" Jack tossed the two halves of the book into the nearby trashcan, then turned the corner and was gone.

Bradley stood where he was and waited, his hands balled into fists at his sides.

After a full minute, Bradley advanced to the trashcan and looked inside. The can had been empty and the book had been neatly torn through the binding, so Bradley thought that it could be repaired without too much trouble. He looked around the corner, and then he looked all around him. Then he quickly leaned over and reached for the book halves.

He felt two vices grip his legs and the next thing he knew his head hit the bottom of the can with a clang. Outside the can he heard cruel laughter, but most of all he heard that insane laugh, the most evil laugh ever uttered by a human being, coming from the throat of Jack Silt.

Roger and Arlene Silt were the sole owners of Silt Industries, sole manufacturer of nine-tenths of the known cures to all the infectious diseases of the world. Because of this monopoly, the Silts were the two richest people in the world--in fact they were ten times richer than the next nine richest people put together. The Silts recently bought the second-most populous island of Japan, Kyushu, cleared it of people (especially the poor ones), and built there the largest pleasure palace the world had ever seen. They had manufacturing plants in most of the poorest countries in the world. In one Central American country they employed 85% of the labor force for one-twentieth of the minimum wage in the United States.

Their big research laboratory complex sat twenty miles outside of Wahornville, New Jersey. The lab was no longer used to find cures (they had all they needed to stay very rich) but instead worked on making new cosmetics (to make them even richer). A dome covered the lab complex and all employees had to live in little dormitories in the dome away from their families from the day they were hired to the day they were fired (after all, the downtown of Wahornville had poor people in it, and it was only twenty miles away). A one-lane road led from the highway to the dome. Just outside the dome it passed over a stream. Even though the waste pipe was cleverly hidden under the road-bridge, the number of dead fish nearby made it perfectly clear that this was not a very clean place. The road was always covered by a number of trucks with "Silt Industries" on the side driving in single file into the dome, and another line of trucks traveling single-file out of the dome. The incoming trucks each contained hundreds of cages, each with a frightened shaking rabbit in it. The outgoing trucks also contained hundreds of cages, each with a rabbit--but these rabbits weren't moving.

The trucks were greeted at the central warehouse that night by Arlene Silt herself. She was very tall and thin, with hair, lips, eyebrows, and shoes so red they nearly looked like the crayon color. The rest of her was the purest white. Mrs. Silt ran the Cosmetics Division. It was her dream to market a powder that when placed on the skin would change to be the exact same color as the skin, only three candlepower brighter. This one powder would then replace the thousands of other cosmetic powders in the world and would allow Mrs. Silt to buy Australia. The trouble was that the powder was inevitably toxic. Mrs. Silt knew that she could not get rid of the poison in the powder because that was what made it change color those three candlepower. So she was trying to fix the powder so that it would take so long to kill someone that the government wouldn't feel so bad after she paid it three billion dollars to approve her powder for the world to use.

Roger Silt was a master of organization. He deplored the messy way labs always looked, so he made his labs look like office cubicles. Everything in each cubicle was precisely arranged, from Bunsen burner to sink, so that the assistants could perform their entire jobs without having to move anything except their heads and arms (indeed, he made it a practice to fire them on the spot if they did move anything else during their 10- hour shifts). Mr. Silt's office was in a position high above theirs, with a large glass window so that he could see everything that they did. That night, Mr. Silt was reviewing a report given him by a tall, thin man, dressed entirely in brown tweed and wearing a brown derby. Mr. Silt liked to associate himself with thin people because he thought it made him look more muscular. The tall man did not care why Mr. Silt liked him, just so long as Mr. Silt held up his end of a written bargain made on a dark and stormy night fifteen years ago when Roger Silt was single, unemployed, and fat. If receiving Mr. Silt's "payment" meant that the man in the brown derby had to pretend to be his personal secretary for the next four years, six months, seventeen days, and eight-and-a-half hours, so be it.

Mr. Silt was impressed by the report the man wearing the brown derby had given him. "One thousand dead, in a single day? Good thing it's in one of those poor countries--they should be able to breed replacements in a few hours! Say, have you read an essay by Jonathan Swift called 'A Modest Proposal'?"

The man in the derby slowly shook his head. It was best not to know any of the few things that Roger Silt knew before he told them to you himself.

"Too bad--it really was quite clever. Anyway, I was thinking--what if we started building factories designed to eliminate paupers? Everybody thinks they're to make drugs, but actually they're supposed to drop a thousand paupers a day. I figure with a few hundred of these plants, properly placed, over a ten-year period we stand a chance of removing every last pauper in the world! Think of it! Of course I'd have to stop making drugs, because with no more communicable people, we'd have no more communicable diseases."

Derby noticed that Mr. Silt looked unhappy over a potential diminishment in his income, so he turned, picked up another report, and handed it to Mr. Silt. The report listed the employees of Silt Enterprises, organized by decreasing income. The first few pages of the report had already been torn out.

Mr. Silt opened the report with enthusiasm, turned to the next available page, and then picked up the microphone on his desk. He walked to the window to watch his employees as he made his announcement. He had ordered that anyone who stopped working during an announcement would be fired but that anyone who could not remember one of his announcements word-for-word would also be fired.

"Attention assistants:" He looked down at the report in his hands and began reading.

"Andrew Tessa, you're fired.

"Willamena Casson, you're fired.

"Stuart Rogers, you are fired.

"Carl Star, you're fired.


At this point Mr. Silt noticed a commotion in cubicle 1634A. Willamena Casson was caught attempting to remove some private items from her cubicle. She was beaten unconscious by Security, and then dragged out of the room. The workers around her cubicle had stopped working.

"Cubicles 1632A through 1634F, you are all fired." Mr. Silt hoped that one of these people would resist, so that he could see another beating. He began laughing uncontrollably into the microphone. He sounded exactly like his son.

Twenty miles away, Jack Silt had finished his dinner and was outside on the marble porch tormenting his pet canary Persephone. This torture consisted of leaving the cage door open and walking away, then catching the bird as it started flying away and throwing it back into the cage again.

Jack Silt had the one admirable trait of hating his parents and what they did, and there was a small hope in the hearts of the various people the Silts hired to care for him that this hate would lead him into being a better person than them. It hadn't worked.

Jack returned to his other activity of reading The Encyclopedia of Greek Mythology cover to cover. He was up to Artemis, goddess of wildlife and the hunt. The illustration showed her in her Minoan guise as the Mistress of Snakes, and soon Jack became quite involved with his reading. Jack only pretended stupidity to fit into his chosen role of tormentor. In reality he had made himself master of a pitifully small handful of disciplines while remaining completely ignorant of most others. Above all, he was a great fan of Greek mythology, and more than half-believed in the gods and places found within its bounds. Jack secretly modeled himself after Sisyphus, king of Corinth, who was so clever he outsmarted Zeus and even Death himself. Of course, Sisyphus had eventually died and was punished in Tarterus with perpetual torment, but Jack didn't think of that too often. Just now a confused garter snake had left the grass and was heading for his book. Bored with playing with Persephone, Jack grabbed the snake with his quick hands and started stroking it on its belly until its tongue came licking out at him. With his other hand he tightened his grip on the snake's head and prepared to snap its neck.

He then noticed the shadow looming over him and looked up to see the largest snake in the entire world. It seemed bigger than the mansion itself, striped black and white with glowing green slitted eyes. It stood on two legs and had two arms reaching for him. It opened its red, red mouth and spoke.

"Jack Silt, I have come for you."

Jack screamed. Jack screamed the scream of one who is looking Death's agent Artemis in the face and sees deep in its eyes the eternal doom prepared especially for him. A really, really bad doom because he had been a really, really bad boy. The loudness of the cry startled the goddess, who started to shrink, but Jack fainted before he had time to notice this.

Out of the bushes ran two shapes, which joined the snake in looking at the prostate boy.

"Wow, Oblina, that's got to be the best single-human scare I have ever seen!" said Ickis.

"It didn't look like you did much of anything from back there. What's your secret?" asked Krumm.

"Did you see what he was doing?" demanded Oblina, but by this time the garter snake had escaped back into the grass. The trio walked back into the bushes, away from the solitary mansion on the hill and heading back toward the city.

Krumm sighed. "There's no way we're gonna top that, Ickis. We might as well go home and get in some sleep before The Gromble's big event tomorrow."

Ickis turned on him. "I found the perfect scare...well, almost perfect compared to that, but still pretty good for ordinary monsters, but it will only work tonight. I could go by myself..."

Krumm raised his hand. "Can I go too?"

"Sure you can, old friend. I was just thinking that..."

"Very well, I'll come too. You'll need me to keep you two out of trouble."

"Oblina, when will you learn that trouble is where all the good scares are located?"

By this time the trio were walking by a huge construction site.

"Stop!" said Oblina. "I simply must show you this!"

Before them was about three-quarters of the largest and oldest-looking house the trio had ever seen. The artifacts of construction crews (hard hats, half-eaten sandwiches, crumpled newspapers, and large footprints everywhere) showed that the house was being built up deliberately like this rather than being torn down. The sign announcing the site confirmed this:

The House of FEAR
(A murder mystery
constructed especially for the visit
of Mr. and Mrs. Roger Silt, Esq.
this Halloween Night)

"'House of Fear'? What could that be?" asked Ickis.

"I have no idea. But you do recognize the names?"

"Of course...the Silts are practically the grand-prize of all humanity for scaring. Surely you don't think you will succeed here where monsters worth their weight in toenails failed?"

Oblina bristled. "I have taken all the proper precautions. I have watched this house being built from the day it was dirt--I know it inside and out. I have seen none of those people carrying pet boxes who always follow the important humans around, so I can hope that my victims will be poorly protected. And most importantly, as that sign over there says, there will be no bark-and-bites in the vicinity."

Ickis sighed. "Whatever. If you part yourself from your beloved 'House of Fear' tonight we promise we'll watch you make Monster History." Krumm giggled at Ickis' imitation of one of Oblina's catchphrases. "Now can we go to my scare?"

The three monsters stood before the huge double doors.

"Now before you start giving us a history lesson about what a bad idea this is, I'll have you know that after what we did here last time, there is no more singing allowed in this place. Ever. The humans put on shows here instead. I happen to know there are a whole bunch of them in there right now, and boy, will they be scared!"

Oblina didn't have a particularly scathing remark ready, so she simply shrugged and followed Krumm and Ickis into the theater.

The double doors to the Wahorn Arena, formerly known as the Wahorn Opera House, had known its share of knocks. A local Luddite sect, thinking this the headquarters of the despotic Science, had nearly battered them in about thirty years ago. More recently, the Nearly-Wagner festival had ended in a bizarre mass-psychosis that led these doors to be finally broken from the hinges as the group of well-dressed humanity forced its way out. The cry went up that the Opera House, formerly known as Willy Wilkins Stable and Supply Store, was possessed by some evil spirit, just like all those opera houses in the movies. The site was therefore re-dedicated to the kind of shows Willy Wilkins' shade might prefer a bit more to all that German and Italian. The grand opening of the Wahorn Arena was reserved for the 1st Annual Wahorn Dog Show.

The doors burst open and out flew three panicked monsters. Krumm was the first to spot the cabinet full of fliers and memorabilia located right next to the doors. The other two helped him to push it in front of the doors, then they turned and ran down the street, startling a pram-pushing mother into fainting onto her carriage.

The doors shook with a mighty fury, like it was an enraged bear and not 273 thoroughbred canines that were trying to follow the most delicious scent they had ever encountered in their thoroughly protected lives. The young mother had just recovered consciousness when the cabinet flew from the doors straight at her. She dashed herself and her baby to safety from the flying furniture, but not from the ocean of dog. The woman was too busy screaming to faint this time. The dogs were followed by the very few people who happened to catch a glimpse of the visitors before the world turned upside down, but the wreckage of the cabinet on the stairs prevented them from pursuing.

The monsters would have much preferred human hunters to the yelping mass behind them. As the fastest runner, Ickis led the three and so unwittingly decided the path they were to take. He never was that good at geography, and one human street looked like another anyway, so it should not have been a surprise to anyone when the three turned a corner to find the half of the dog pack they had lost just a minute ago.

"Up here!" he cried, and Krumm and Oblina followed him up the drainpipe of the house next to them. They then huddled at the top of the roof, out of sight of the dogs. After a few long minutes, the barking stopped.

"I'm hungry," Krumm said

"Very well then, you get to check if they're gone."

Krumm crept to the edge of the roof and peeked his head over. The barking resumed.

"They're still there."

"We know, Krumm."

"Hey, Ickis--I think I know where we are."

Oblina stood up and looked at the skyline around her. "So do I. Ickis, I think you led us to your friend Bradley's house intentionally, just so you could grovel and ask for him to get you out of this mess you made!"

"I'd never do an underhanded thing like that, and I'm ashamed you would even suspect me of it! I had no idea this was Bradley's house until I saw that drink-pipe."

Krumm looked from Ickis to Oblina. "What are we gonna do now? Your awards ceremony starts in eight hours."

Oblina turned to Krumm. "We are not going to be here eight hours, Krumm. We'll think of something long before then, something that does not involve any Bradleys." She turned her back on Ickis with this last remark.

Ickis retaliated by turning his back on her back. "Fine then."


"I'm hungry."

From the second-story bedroom window of the house drifted the strains of music, which distracted Oblina. She was intrigued to notice that this music was actually not too bad, consisting of someone banging on a piano to the accompaniment of an extremely moody and jealous orchestra. The orchestra members even coughed loudly to ensure that no one heard the piano player's solos.

Half an hour passed and the rising moon could be clearly seen above the rooftops. Two hundred and seventy-three dogs began baying at it.

Oblina sighed. "Okay, I guess you can call in Bradley now."

Ickis beamed in victory. "What was that? I heard you muttering something to yourself about Brad-somebody. Could you please repeat it a little louder?"

"You heard what I said, and I shan't repeat it. I'll let you do what you have to do, but only on the condition that you abase our species as little as possible."

"You under-estimate me, my dear Oblina. I have that little human perfectly trained. He's in the palm of my hand, under my thumb, in my gaze, under..."

"Just go!"

Ickis reached out one hand and raised the window so slowly that Bradley, absorbed more by his music than by his essay, didn't notice. Bradley had a theory about the connection between classical music and emotions. This piece represented a highly pompous person to him.

Through the open window leaped a small red creature with feet like jester shoes and ears like an Easter rabbit. Its teeth were barred at him and its tiny claws were splayed.

"Ickis! I was just thinking of you!"

Ickis deflated. "At least you can pretend to be scared!" On the sill outside the window, Oblina put her head in her hands.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Ickis. I promise I'll be really scared next time. So, what brings you to this part of the human world?"

Ickis got up on the table so that he could be higher than the sitting Bradley. It didn't work. "Well, boy, I'll tell you. Just so happens I was in the area when I noticed that you had a bit of a problem"

"Yes, I had noticed that. They are a bother, aren't they?"

"You should consider yourself lucky today, Bradley. I happen to know where these beasts came from." Ickis put his hands behind his back and waited for the suspense to build, but Bradley was busy adjusting the equalizer on his stereo.

"I'm listening, Ickis. Where are they from?" Ickis sighed. Effect was just lost on this human.

"The Dog Show. They escaped from the Dog Show." No response. "I wouldn't be surprised if the humans who run that show aren't most anxious to find them again....They might even offer a reward of some kind....They would take them away..."

"You know, maybe it would be best if I called the Dog Show and asked them to pick up the hounds." Bradley was somewhat shocked to see Ickis turn a purplish color. He nervously scurried out of the room as a scream built in Ickis's throat. As he was making the call Bradley made a mental note not to mock the monster anymore.

Ickis counted to ten to calm down and then returned to the window. Acting like he was being watched, he spoke out of the side of his mouth.

"Wha' 'a ya t'ink o' 'at?"

"Ickis, is there anyone in the room right now besides yourself?"


"Can anyone see you?"




"That's better. Now then, you haven't done so badly thus far and there is hope you can get out of this without any further shame. If you just..."

"Sst! Well, Bradley, how did the call go?"

"The dogs are being picked up as we speak." Bradley had been in the room for several seconds.

"No need to thank me, you know. All in a day's work." Ickis suddenly had a thought. "Actually, I was in the area looking at The House of Fear."

"Can you believe it! That place will be open for one night only, for Mr. and Mrs. Silt and their close friends only, for Halloween only. It will be torn down the next day, so none of us normal people will be allowed to see it."

"That place puzzles me. I have never seen a human who wanted to be terrified to the brink of insanity by my devastating performance, so why would anyone build something like that?"

Bradley walked over to him. "Well, I think there are two reasons. For a normal, highly repressed...human, like myself, we need the occasional fake scare to allow us to blow off steam." Ickis peered closely at his ears. "Not literally! I meant that we need to release our emotions, that's all."

"And the other reason?"

"Oh, yes. People like Mr. Silt have done a lot of naughty things, and they are slightly guilty about them. I imagine that Mr. Silt will pretend that the machine-run ghosts and goblins are really the spirits of the people he has destroyed. I have heard that Mr. Silt brings his Magnum--that's a really big gun--to his parties and wreaks havoc with the machinery. It must ease the guilt somehow."

"Thank you for that informative explanation."

"Ickis, before you leave, who was that you were speaking to when I came in?"

Ickis thought for a second, stopping the poor excuse he was going to make after remembering what Oblina had told him.

"That was my friend, outside waiting for me. It seems I have to force myself to part company with you. It was a nice visit, though."

Bradley dropped onto his bed as Ickis was climbing on the windowsill. "Your friend? You…better go then, and not keep her waiting. You always manage to surprise me, Ickis."

Ickis was swinging around the window to Oblina. "Why? What did I do now?"

"It's nothing...your friend--I thought you were just like me, that's all."

Ickis froze. An image popped into a brain, only a few decades old, of himself in a large sink, feet sticking out, being laughed at by the other monsters. Without a friend in the world.

Bradley lifted his head to see Ickis beside him.

"Bradley, let me give you some very important advice. Finding friends is easy--just remember to be yourself."

"OK, I'll remember that."

A voice came in from outside the window. "Ickis! We need to be going! Now!"

Ickis jumped up on the sill, and then turned back to face Bradley. "The tough part is keeeeeping them!" A white hand had whipped out and yanked him out of sight.

"If I might ask, why is it that you associate with that human?"

"I don't have to defend myself! We would still be on that roof it wasn't for him. Besides, he is very useful."


"In case you haven't noticed, that Monster Manual you hug so tightly was written a long, long time ago. Humans have changed a lot since then. There are no mini-malls in there, no Chicken Shacks in there, and no suburbs. It occurs to me that whoever wrote that book..."

"You can't even remember the name of the great monster that..."

"I said, whoever wrote that book must have studied humans very carefully. Must have got to know them like I have. You would be surprised what I have learned by watching Bradley. You won't find 'House of Fear' in the index of the 'great' Monster Manual."

Ickis strode off proudly, leaving Krumm uncomfortably close to Oblina. She turned on him.

"And you--what have you got to say about Bradley?"

"I actually thought he more resembled you than Ickis," he said innocently.

Oblina looked rather like she was blowing off steam at that point.

The next morning began quite early for the three monsters. Oblina was to be the guest of honor, and Ickis and Krumm were well aware of Oblina's lengthy rituals for times like this. Krumm opened the vice that he had put Oblina in the night before. Oblina started furiously combing the tufts of hair on the tips of her head and tail and stretching her lips, keeping an eye on the portrait of her family. Oblina's family was a cold-hearted sort. The flash-paper portrait (her parents were the only monsters she knew who actually went to the trouble to steal a camera rather than sit for the traditional garbage mobile) showed her mother, her father, and her brother, arranged in a neat equilateral triangle (Mother and Father in front and to the sides, and the little twerp in the middle and to the back). In the upper right corner of the frame was a smaller photo of the same grouping taken from above, so you could tell that it was an equilateral triangle and not just a trick of perspective. This photograph looked like three perfectly round circles, adorned with eyes, arms, legs, lips, and hair tastefully arranged. Oblina bent over and held out paper and pencil. "All right, Ickis, I think I'm ready this time."

"Oh, come on, Oblina, you look perfect to me."

"Draw!" Ickis placed the paper to the top of her head and began tracing her skull. "Ickis, you are fudging. Stay to my head."

Ickis finished and slowly handed to paper and pencil to Oblina, then began sneaking away. She carefully compared the drawing with the photograph, and then sighed. "Still flat, still flat!!" She stood there for a while, feeling very alone. "I guess you can still call me Oblina, guys." She looked around. "Hey guys, wait for me!"

She walked through the doors into the classroom to be greeted by cheers. The gallery was filled to bursting with students and their parents. Oblina had the nerve to look surprised.

"For me? Sank you, sank you!"

She restrained her impulse to blow kisses at her adoring fans and strode slowly to the center of the theater to stand beside The Gromble. As the cheering continued she scanned them from one side to the other. She quickly spotted Ickis and Krumm, but the monsters she was really looking for could not be seen.

"That's funny," The Gromble whispered to her, "I invited them personally. I was sure they would come."

Oblina forced herself to maintain her smile. "I'm sure they were too busy. You know all of the causes they are dedicated to."

The cheering stopped abruptly. Everyone turned to watch a bug-monster scientist push in a large box.

The Gromble stepped forward. "We shall get to introducing my distinguished friend shortly. First, although there is no need, I think I shall remind you why it is that Oblina has become our top student for the third straight year. Snorch..." Oblina whispered in his ear. "Hold on a second, Snorch--it appears that Oblina last night got a better scare then the one I was prepared to use. Why don't you go to the Viewfinder and show us?"

The show went well and the audience cheered some more. The scientist, getting impatient, began fidgeting with the box with his multitude of arms.

When Oblina came back down the stairs to stand beside her teacher, The Gromble put his arm around her. "Oblina, dear Oblina, I will offer you a great opportunity today, a chance to do a great service and make Monster History." Ickis remembered now where Oblina had picked up that phrase.

"This, lady and gentlemonsters, is Doctor Buzz Kott, our greatest expert on humans." Oblina looked up at him in awe. Every school-age monster knew who Dr. Buzz Kott was, the only monster not in school who had any attachment to scaring humans. The kids adored him, even though "stupid as Dr. Buzz Kott" was a common phrase at adult monster cocktail parties. She reminded herself to later get his signature on her copy of The Human Conspiracy. "The doctor has recently perfected an extraordinary device that will allow us to learn what we need to know about the human threat and I have personally selected Oblina to be the first to try it out."

Before the audience had time to get very far in its ovation, the box was opened, revealing a human girl. If Oblina had had a twin like her in every way except that it was born a human, this would be her. The girl appeared to be constructed entirely of cylinders--cylindrical legs, cylindrical arms, cylindrical torso, and a longish cylindrical neck. The effect was ruined by the round head, but it was proportioned beautifully for Oblina's lips and eyes. It had on black shoes and white gloves. It also wore leggings, a skirt, a wide belt, and a turtleneck long-sleeve sweater, all horizontally striped black and white. Its face was nearly pure white, but it had bright red hair, long and in two fat ponytails. It even had red freckles.

The monsters were aghast by this hideous sight and feared for their lives, knowing all the bedtime stories about what human children did to naughty little monsters. Oblina bravely attempted to save the audience by transforming.

"I'm afraid that won't work," said the doctor. "This human is fake." The audience began sitting down and Oblina collected herself. "What you see before you is the first functioning Human Suit. The Suit is designed to present the outside world with everything necessary to convince the viewer they are seeing a human, while on the inside the Suit provides all the protection necessary for the monster occupant to remain in the human world in relative comfort for long periods of time."

Oblina spoke up. "Occupant?"

"Yes!" answered The Gromble. "You will be the first to use it in the field!"

"I'm going to fit in that!"

"Certainly. Snorch!" Oblina was grabbed as Doctor Buzz Kott placed a screen in front of the Suit. After some squealing, the screen was removed and Oblina was nowhere to be seen.

The Suit fell out of the box, sending monsters to their feet. The Suit stood, then wobbled and collapsed with a shriek. Ickis rushed to the railing.

"Oblina, are you in there?"

Some muffled sounds came out of the Suit as the doctor and teacher stood it up. It began walking backwards, and then fell again. The two picked it up again.

"Ah," said the doctor, "I know what it is." With a sharp twist the suit's head was turned 180 degrees and Oblina's eyes could finally be seen. She gave a thumbs-up and was cheered some more.

"What now?" she asked.

"Well, since I have you scheduled to begin your mission in one hour, you need a crash course in how to act human."

Oblina was a quick learner, even though the part about the asparagus and the fork nearly did her in (although the suit protected her from human food, it did not protect her from its taste). Although the viewfinder could not be used to show Oblina's experiences live, The Gromble had taken advantage of a 72 Seconds reporter scare a week earlier to provide a closed-circuit camera which was for the suit's right ponytail and a microphone for her left ponytail, with the transmitter fitting easily in the remainder of her huge coiffure. With the viewfinder re-wired, the assembled guests, which it turned out contained some very important monsters among the parents and students, would now be able to watch her entire mission. For any other monster, this would be unnerving, but Oblina actually felt encouraged knowing her every move was being watched. What she didn't like was the rush--she had no time to come up with a good plan. She wasn't even sure who she was supposed to be as a human. Ickis and Krumm saw her off at the rocket she had been tied to.

"This looks dangerous," Krumm said, examining the means The Gromble had provided to place her above ground.

"Please don't make me even more nervous than I already am," Oblina said between clenched teeth.

"Sorry. Here, I caught this for you." He passed her a slimy dirt-covered worm.

Oblina carefully tucked it into her belt. "Thank you Krumm--I think I shall save this for a snack."

"You know you can still back out of this honorably!" wailed Ickis, sounding like a character out of a bad movie.

Oblina unknowingly played along. "No, Ickis, I must go--our monsters are depending on me. Just remember me if anything...happens."

"I'm never going to see you again! What will I do without you?"

"You will carry on like we all...the rocket is burning, fellows--why don't you back up a little? That's shall carry on, until there comes a day...Yieeeeeeeeeee!" The rocket blasted her up to and through the ceiling of the large cavern into the blinding light.

The hot broiling sun blazed down upon the rocky dessert. Even the fleet-footed lizards had retreated to the shade of rocks to escape the heat. The only creatures not doing the same were a line of humans, chained to each other at the ankles, wrists, and necks. The slaves wore rags upon their hunched backs and their sandals were in tatters. The fierce heat beating on their uncovered heads, coupled with the endless tedium of walking, had drained their minds of any thoughts other than the terrain ahead of them. Despite this mindless obedience, men lounging in elephant-borne umbrella'd howdahs and sipping iced tea had no compunction from lashing a servant at random from time to time with their long whips as if to punish them for not making the desert cooler. Only one brave young man in that line dared to think of freedom under these numbing conditions. He patiently bided his time as the orchestra majestically played his theme of sorrow and woe.

Suddenly he was hit by a can of apple juice. Reluctantly, Bradley returned to the real world, where there was no hope of escape from eternal torment. Bradley had learned the art of presenting as little surface area to his enemies as possible whilst sitting in the Bus from Hell, so he shrunk a little more. The bus stopped and his besiegers were reinforced. Jack Silt walked straight up to him.

"May I sit here?"

"Be my guest." Jack was being polite. Bradley desperately wished he were somewhere else.

The bus started moving again. A can of fruit cocktail whizzed between Bradley's ear and the window. Jack jumped up, the can grabbed in mid-air.

"NOBODY touches Bradley. Understand?" The chorus of gulps acted as an affirmative. Jack turned around and sat back down.

"Thank you." Jack was behaving very oddly this morning.

"Listen, I picked up a copy of The Measure of Man last night. It was very interesting. That theory about the assassination of Genghis Khan intrigued me."

Bradley looked at him in shock.

"I've been thinking all along that it must of have been foul play that did that one in, what with the way he ruled." Bradley attempted to mention the reforms Genghis made in the Mongolian justice system, but Jack was on a roll. "You got to make some enemies when you take on the Romans. Of course, it took us Americans to set things straight and send him back to China."

Bradley attempted to correct him a few times, but there was no interrupting the torrent of Jack's soliloquy. To Bradley, Jack had simply abandoned the physical technique for the verbal. He wasn't sure which was more unbearable, so he did the only thing he could:

The hot broiling sun blazed down on the rocky desert....

The bus came to a stop in front of a gardening magazine front-cover landscape of emerald green grass ending in a gum-covered sidewalk. Bored kids shuffled into the bus. Unnoticed by anyone, a girl in a black-and-white striped outfit fell from the sky and landed roughly on the sidewalk at the end of the line. Without a pause she proceeded into the yellow people-mover.

"Of course once Hannibal's army had crossed the Rockies they were thrown into the Black Pit of Calcutta and had to fight an entire tribe of crazed Zulu warriors to escape and enter Italy." Jack stopped for a moment and glanced over at Bradley. The look of mixed horror, fear, and loathing warmed Jack's heart. He faced forward again as he tried to come up with another historical blasphemy. "So Mad Anthony Wayne led his Seventh Cavalry out to meet the invading army at..."

Walking towards him was a strange-looking skinny girl, looking into the faces of each of the students. She looked at him for but a moment, but it was long enough for him to see her slitted pupils.

Bradley sighed. Jack had finally stopped raving. He then noticed that Jack's muscles were locked, the color had drained out of his face, and his eyes were nearly the size of his gaping mouth. The object of the boy's stare was a girl Bradley had never seen before. You would think the concept of an albino with a penchant for firehouse-red hair color was not in Jack's religion, thought Bradley. Then with a snap Jack recovered.

"So...Bradley. Have you ever read Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire?"

Here we go again. "Yes, I did."

"My personal opinion of the subject is that the entire Roman civilization was doomed from 190 B.C., when the Roman Senate was duped by Rhodes and Pergammum into challenging and defeating Antiochus the Great at Magnesia. This event destroyed the delicate balance of power in the East, forcing Rome to conquer it to maintain order. It was the Eastern tradition of corruption and despotism, as well as a flood of booty too fast for the social order to absorb without the creation of massive class differences, that toppled the Roman institutions that kept Rome out of autocracy." Jack stopped orating and looked at Bradley intently.

"Well...I...uh, wouldn't start so early. Surely it was the actions of the elder Cato in forcing the Third Punic War that brought Rome past the point of no return." As Bradley continued the speech, which he had composed for himself out of boredom in the fifth grade, he kept his eyes on the girl who had such a strange effect on the person who apparently had just become his new friend.

Oblina had still not found a place to sit. Before her was a sea of suspicious faces. The two lines of seats were mostly occupied by one student each. As she made her way down the aisle she received the same response again and again:

"Seat taken!"

Finally one kind girl moved in and allowed her to fall into her seat as the bus started with a lurch.

The girl turned to the newcomer.

"Hi, I'm Freida."

Oblina started overheating in the suit. It was obvious they all knew she was a fake. Wasn't the bus changing course to the soap factory to finish her off?

"Oblina," she blurted out.

"What a nice name! Where are you from, Oblina?"

Might as well get this interrogation over with. "Down..." She looked up in surprise. "Nice"? Then that meant they were fooled! And she was just about to give away everything!

Down in the auditorium the monsters sat on the edge of their seats. Dr. Buzz Kott was sitting next to Ickis with a tape measure, writing down his measurements.

"Do your ears fold down behind your head, Ickis? It would make the Suit so much easier to design if..."

Ickis pulled his ears out of the doctor's hands. "How can you think of me at a time like this?"

The voice emerging from the little box resumed. "Town! Yes, I'm from downtown!"

The monsters sighed in relief. Kott instantly bored of Ickis. "Maybe she was the right one after all," he murmured.

Oblina was suddenly pinged on the back of her hair. Her head bounced around inside the suit's cranium. She whirled around on her unseen assailant, a smiling boy. "That was utterly un-called for!" she said in what she hoped was a very human fashion (there was this one woman she had seen Krumm scare who said that phrase all the time-- she even practiced it when she thought she was alone).

Freida spoke up. "That's my friend Stan." Stan grinned some more, so Oblina faced forward. "I think he likes you."

"You mean you hit each other as a sign of affection?!" She turned to look into her left ponytail. "I hope you are writing this all down!" she whispered to her audience. They were.

The bus screeched to a stop, possibly in shock to the stream of obscenities coming out of the mouth of the bus driver, or else perhaps to avoid hitting the Porsche that had just pulled into the bus-unloading zone doing 60 to 0 in 2 seconds. Oblina was nearly launched for the second time that day. The bus doors opened and Oblina stepped into the aisle. She was yanked back by Freida just in time. After the evacuation-caused busquake had abated, Freida released her grip and stood up.

"You saved my life, Freida! However can I repay you?"

"Well, I can take you to the principal's office to sign you up for class..."

Oblina sighed. These humans were obsessed with paperwork. She suspected that if a newborn human child were not able to fill out the proper forms they would be forbidden access to libraries and schools for the rest of their lives. Now how was she going to get out of this?

"Well, you see Freida, I'm not actually signing up for classes because I'm...just...looking! I am new here so I haven't made up my mind which school to go to." It was simply amazing how insignificant things like the fact that the humans had three junior high schools in this town could suddenly become important.

"Why don't you come with me then--I have some really neat classes that I think you will find so fun!" Oblina remembered that Dr. Buzz Kott had divided humanity into classes based on speech habits--there was an entire chapter devoted to "neat" and "fun" and...

"That would be swell and maybe even nice as well." Freida nodded and walked on still smiling, without any notice of the mockery she was receiving. Oblina suddenly felt guilty and shut up. She was glad there wasn't a camera pointed at her face at that moment.

First Period at A. J. Wahorn Junior High School had been English. Oblina had done very well, although she was quite sure from the look on her face when she read her assignment aloud that the teacher had never heard the verb "desiccate" applied to the nouns she had used. Second Period had been Home Economics, and that had not gone nearly as well. The two girls were now rushing to their next class.

"It seems to me that if you cook with these 'ovens' they have to withstand high temperatures!"

Freida was going to say something about the expectations of ovens containing exploding foodstuffs, but decided to be polite and speak of other matters.

"Next class is U.S. History. Lucky for you the test on the American Revolution isn't until tomorrow."

"U S?" asked Oblina as she walked through the doorway.

The classroom was full but there were two seats in the very front for Freida and Oblina to sit in. To her disgust Oblina noted that Bradley was here as well. The teacher, the same one Freida had told her had won a piece of paper for being a good teacher, was writing a tight outline of points on the board with perfect chalkmanship. Sitting in a corner that was strangely unlit by the fluorescent lighting was a tall, thin man in a brown tweed suit making doodles on a notepad. A brown derby hat obscured his face. Between teacher and students was the only desk in the entire school made of real wood. Papers and books covered three edges of the desktop. In its center was a two- inch by one-inch piece of gold foil with the holographic image of a silver skull on its center. When the teacher wasn't chalking he was either smiling at the man with the derby or smiling at the piece of foil.

At 10 am precisely, Pr. Henley anticipated the bell by eleven seconds in starting class. All faces were looking at him but one, which was buried in the text. He stood politely and waited. Freida nudged Oblina, who looked up in surprise at the first teacher in her experience not to start class violently.

At Pr. Henley's request, Freida introduced Oblina to the class, which returned a polite "Hello, Oblina" to her. Oblina wondered where these students had been hiding during First and Second Periods, and how they had gotten to school since they obviously hadn't used the bus.

After covering the subjects of the outline, Henley proceeded to the possible essay questions on the test. By 10:45 he was up to the last of these, "Causes of the American Revolution".

Bradley waited until all of the obvious entries had been added before suggesting the British colonial policy towards the conquered French of Canada and the trans-Appalachian provinces. Henley's eyes then rested on Oblina.

"Oblina, you haven't said anything all period. Can you suggest why America declared independence?"

Oblina frowned. The last appendix of the Monster Manual was written during the Golden Age of Monsters, a period when monsters where so ubiquitous and feared that they dared to interfere with human politics. Appendix 17 wasn't taught in schools anymore, but she had read it years ago for a lark. Now what had it said about war...

"The Americans were doing something they weren't supposed to. The British complained and rather than justify their reprehensible action, the Americans declared independence."

Henley was in shock. "How--how DARE you speak of your own country in that fashion! This is the land where you were born and bred, miss, and in this country we don't go around dishonoring the brave men and women who DIED to make us free! Now I want you to think very carefully and then apologize before the entire class how...yes, Bradley, you have something to add?"

"Actually, sir, she is sort of right. The Americans were engaged in smuggling, an act that was costing the British Empire dearly. Smugglers numbered among the top leaders of the northern patriots."

"I can't believe that you would side with such a preposterous position, Bradley! I thought you were more rational then that. To think that you are living in a country..." At this point Derby walked past him out the room. Henley looked to the desk--the foil was gone--then ran to the door, but the man was nowhere to be seen. Henley cried out anyway.

"Wait, I'm sorry, I'm normally not like this! I'm a good teacher, really I am. I DESERVE to go to that party!"

The bell rang and the shocked students filed past him out of the room, leaving Bradley alone. The new girl stopped at his desk and was about to say something, but thought better of it and walked out to join Freida at lunch.

Jack was waiting for Bradley at his locker. This meant that he had to talk to him.

"Just great, no reading today," thought Bradley, "and I was almost to chapter 10." A second later he rebuked himself for such a selfish thought and remembered Ickis' advice to him.

The other kids in the cafeteria were still trying to figure out what had happened to Jack. It occurred to Bradley that some of Jack's buddies might blame him for what happened and "inform" him of their opinion if he was ever caught without his new bodyguard. They were just about to sit down when Bradley spotted Oblina and Freida sitting within clear eyesight of Jack. A bit of banter and he managed to switch places with him.

Despite his best intentions, Jack was an incurable talker when he was relaxed, so it wasn't hard for Bradley to keep a close eye on the girl who troubled his friend so.

The cafeteria worked by monster methods, but the food it served tasted bad even to the humans. After getting down a few sporkfulls of a tasteless wood pulp substance identified as "mashed potatoes" she glanced around her, thought no one was looking, and sucked up the stashed earthworm as fast as she could. Two pairs of shocked eyes saw what she did--she noticed the nearer ones, belonging to Stan, who had been shyly eyeing her for five minutes now. She smiled broadly and blinked at him (she had picked that one up from a human cartoon), hoping this would distract him. Stan's cheeks and forehead turned a deep rose color just before he quickly looked away. "How extraordinary!" she whispered into her mike. She was quite certain that humans were completely immutable, and here was one who could change color--not the whole body but only certain parts--a feat requiring extreme skill for a monster. Oblina wondered if he would burst into flames next.

She didn't get her chance. Two boys so stocky that their combined width was exactly equal to their individual height had snuck up behind Stan. As he turned away from Oblina, one of them picked up Stan's lunch and held it so that Stan pushed his face right into it. A significant minority of the students sniggered. The second boy delivered his carefully chosen line:

"Say, Stan the Man--what's the special of the day!" The sniggering became full-fledged laughter. Stan looked up at them. His eyes reminded Oblina of Fungus, her one-time pet bark-and-bite, at the time that he was given back to the nauseous humans who owned him. She turned to Freida, who had stood up and pointed an arm at the two bullies.

"Mick and Rick, you leave Stan alone!"

"Hey Stan, help us--your girlfriend is gonna get us!" More laughter. Stan was visibly cringing, preparing himself for the belly-punch he usually received at this point for having an overassertive friend. He had not counted on Oblina.

Oblina was mad. Only a race as insane as humanity would torment its most defenseless members for not being vicious enough.

"You do what she says!"

"Another girl, and a foreigner! And what are you gonna do, little foreign girl?"

The kids knew the drill. Everyone was standing, pushing each other wildly to get the best view of the upcoming fight. The students located at the exits and near the few adults banded together to prevent anyone stopping the situation before something good happened. Meanwhile one boy nearly as white as Oblina was nearly crawling over the mass of humanity to get out as soon as possible. He was muttering something on the order of "we're all gonna die" over and over again. Another was following him with a good deal more reluctance. At the doorway he turned back and for a brief moment, a break in the crowd allowed him to see Oblina's face.

"Pick on someone of your own species!" Actual steam was coming out of Oblina's mouth and her eyestalks were sticking out of the suit's eyeholes. She reached for her throat...

"NoscaringnoscaringnoscaringNoScaringNoScaringNOSCARING NO SCARING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" a voice roared in her right ponytail. The voice in her head was much calmer--"Not worth it."

She was human again. "Okay," she said. The sound of a hundred suddenly relieved monsters falling off the edges of their seats to the floor echoed from the speaker in her ear. Unbeknownst to her, the only person who happened to see her was already out of the cafeteria, the shade of his face a near-match for Jack's.

A food fight had just broken out--the reason no one else had noticed Oblina's moment.

"Is that a food fight?" asked The Gromble, astonished.

Oblina nodded, and then realized that would not carry to her audience very well. "Remarkable how many of our habits they have picked up." She pitched a handful of mashed potatoes into Rick's ear.

After the fight was over a few minutes later, the kids came up to her individually and introduced themselves, telling her how impressed they were with her courage and throwing skills. Being surrounded by so many humans would have put Oblina into fits yesterday but covered with food, they didn't seem quite so bad. Fully agreeing now with Appendix 17's statement that human power structures were based more on show than actual ability, she strode through P.E., Algebra, and even Biology purely on bravado. She was vastly helped by her cheering section of Freida and Stan, who were in all three classes with her.

Freida and Stan were good! They supported Oblina's somewhat-risky stunts wholeheartedly and they even got all of her jokes--more than she could say of Ickis and Krumm, secretary and president of the Under-Achiever's Society! But she was supposed to be gathering research for the monsters, so she stopped them as they were all striding out of A. J. Wahorn Junior High School.

"You've just spent a full day at school--what will you two do now?"

"We're going to Wackyworld!" Oblina shrugged and followed them.

Wackyworld, located at the edge of town diametrically opposite of that facing the Silt factory, had to be the greatest invention of mankind. It was full of devices that made you feel like you were dying, or wish you were dying, in a dozen different ways at once. As the three of them were plunging down the side of the Wackycoaster one more time Oblina turned to look at their companions--they were terrified. They got off at the bottom and started running towards the end of the line.

"Wait...up a...a second. Why are...we...doing this?" Oblina gasped.

"Because it's fun!" Stan and Freida chimed. "Are you coming?"

"No....Catch my breath....You go...this time." And off they went. She kept herself in good shape, but these two were dynamos. Well at least she was alone to report. She waited until she had calmed down, then into her right ponytail she said, " summarize, for humans fear is fun and pain is pleasure."

Kott interrupted. "That's not right. If it were then all of our scaring would be totally useless!"

At that point Oblina spotted the Haunted House. "I should be able to get the evidence you require."

Freida and Stan liked the Haunted House even more than the Wackycoaster, even though it was in the dark and the various surprises were expertly timed to be completely that.

"So, do you think you like these rides because they allow you to 'let off steam'?"

"Oh, I don't know," answered Freida, her brows knitted. "We just do. Do you have much fun downtown?"

"Not nearly enough."

Stan pointed at a big tent. "Let's go there next." The two of them grabbed Oblina by the arms and bolted for the tent. That was the end of the questioning from Oblina. Let the monsters figure out the rest.

The tent contained games, hundreds of them, made of machines and picture boxes. They were all designed to allow humans to safely do all the dangerous things they really wanted to do. The first of these that Oblina was introduced to fulfilled the need to hit other people on the head with a bat.

This one she was good at. "I have you!" she cried, "I have you!"

There were plenty of other games, and Oblina was good at all of them. There was a game where you drove a car very fast and shot at freeway signs. Another where you try to hit half-dressed morning suburbanites with newspapers from a bicycle (that one felt familiar, somehow). The one she was playing now was abstract--she was a line firing dots at triangles that were descending towards the bottom of the screen in hypnotic patterns. She was really good at this one. Too bad Freida and Stan weren't here to see it; they had gone to get more of the metal disks the machines fed on. Come to think of it, the game wasn't so abstract after all--the triangles made good substitutes for family members, unappreciative Social Studies teachers, and cruel classmates, while the mother ship was an entire society forcing itself on everyone and instilling from birth that any contact with humans was disgraceful--that no one who scared humans for a living could possibly be a success at life. The triangles started exploding at a much faster rate after that.

Dr. Buzz Kott whispered to The Gromble, "Look at the reflection of her eyes on the game screen."

"My filth, she looks hysterical!" The Gromble looked to the class and gestured for Ickis and Krumm to join him. "Go up there and keep an eye on her."

Kott peeked over The Gromble's shoulder. "If she starts acting funny or, Grunge forbid, tries to take the Suit off, do whatever is necessary to get the humans out of there and bring her and the Suit back. Under no circumstances allow them to figure out who she really is."

She had made high score! O...B...L...only three letters! Future players might think they were trying to match the flawless performance of Oblique, or Obligation! Humans had a need for immortality, and she saw no reason why she shouldn't carve out one herself in the honorable field of game-playing!

Freida and Stan were not at the change machine, but Bradley was, feeding it his last fiver. Jack was the most amazing Garden Pest player he had ever seen. It seemed a crime after Jack ran out of money to let him stop. Unfortunately, by the time he got back to Garden Pest, he was too late, for the game was over. Jack was pacing back in forth in front of the game, his gaze wandering again and again toward the Martian Invasion game. Bradley shrugged and held out the pile of quarters in both hands.

Jack shoved them back. "I do not need your money! I am not taking advantage of our friendship! Why don't we do something we can both enjoy?!" The crazed declarations were aimed not at Bradley, but at Oblina, who was the one playing Martian Invasion. He just can't seem to lose her, thought Bradley, as he followed Jack towards the tent entrance.

A mechanical voice from the game spoke: "Level. Twelve. Mother. Ship. Of. The. Mother." Finally! Stan and Freida called to her. She reached back for more quarters. They put a paper something in her hand instead. That made her mad. They said they were going for quarters--why didn't they give her quarters? Level 12 was nearly impossible, so quarters were life. If she weren't playing right now, she'd turn around and show them what you got for fooling around with the Great Oblina. She pulled her hand back to see a cone with a pink substance atop it. She instantly forgot her anger and grinned. "Fiberglass, my favorite! How ever did you know?" She ate the cotton candy in one gulp.

The sudden influx of sugar was too much for the Suit (stressed enough already with her soaring body temperature), so it passed what it couldn't process directly to her system. Oblina's metabolism rocketed. The world around her slowed to a crawl. Her body shook so violently that her head was slammed around inside the Suit. Her eyes shone brighter than an arc lamp. Her human head started spinning around, faster and faster, and a shriek formerly unobtainable except by electronic means came out of her mouth.

Jack Silt was propelled out of the Games Tent by a wave of panicked humanity, with Freida and Stan at its crest. Only Bradley was left in the tent, frozen by shock behind the You Are the Missile game. He came to, shaking his head and crawling toward the nearest wall of the tent, when he heard Ickis' voice.

"Oblina, you stop that this minute!" That didn't seem to have any effect.

"Allow me," said Krumm. He picked up a big gob of mud and pitched it at Oblina's open mouth. He missed and hit her ponytail. The rotation flung the mud back out onto Ickis. Krumm tried again, this time hitting home. The mud partially counteracted the sugar. The head turning and wailing ceased, but the eyes still glowed, pointed at Krumm and Ickis' stomachs. On her face was an unrecognizable but blood-curdling expression, backlit in flashing green by the game.

She spoke, her voice as strange as her face. "Ickis. Krumm. Welcome. To. My. World."

"Oblina, we are taking you home!"

"Home? I. Am. Home." At this point the head turning and screaming resumed.

Krumm spoke to no one in particular. "I guess this is the wackiest place on earth."

Bradley stayed where he was for a few more minutes, until he could no longer hear Oblina. Then he stood up. The place was very still, and the simultaneous voices of the games advertising themselves were suddenly very unnerving. Bradley slowly made his way out of the tent. Waiting for him was Freida, Stan, and Jack. Bradley looked straight at Jack. Freida was the first to speak.

"Where's Oblina? Is she all right?"

Bradley kept his eyes on Jack. "She's going to be all right. Her friends came and took her home."

"Home?" Jack whispered.

The classroom gallery was empty when The Gromble and Dr. Buzz Kott welcomed the three monsters. Oblina was placed on the desk.

"How are we going to get her out of there!" wailed The Gromble.

Kott considered. "Well, this is a delicate situation. It could take hours, even days." The Gromble picked up a pair of shears. Kott's eyes went wide. "Or seconds." He quickly turned the Suit over, cut an incision in the back of the neck with a claw, and yanked Oblina out before The Gromble had a chance to irreparably damage it.

Oblina sat on the edge of the desk, hunched over and with a haggard look in her eyes.

The Gromble went on his knees before her. "Oblina, speak to us!"

She opened her eyes and looked around. "What a dump!" Kott began looking for the quickest way out of the room that would not involve remaining in The Gromble's line of sight.

The Gromble stood up. "Oblina, you can stop acting now. You are safe with us, your fellow monsters."

"Fellow monsters! You are all freaks! I'm heading back to the surface, where I can be with my real friends!"

"Ickis, Krumm, help me hold her! Kott, you get back here this instant and explain to me what's wrong with her! Oblina, dear Oblina, you can't go up there--you are a monster. I thought I made that very clear on the first day of class. Kott!!!"

"You, err, called?"

"Doctor Kott, I'd like you to meet Oblina. Oblina used to be the top student in my class. Oblina used to be a normal, happy monster that did not like the humans who want to destroy us all! What has your Suit done to her, Doctor Kott!!"

"She, uh, I think she thinks she's human."

"Human! HUMAN! I have a HUMAN for my top student! I'll have all six of your arms for this, Kott!"

"We could de-program her."

"And that is…."

"Teach her to be a monster again. Remind her why humans are bad and scaring is good. That kind of thing."

"That KIND of thing had better work, Kott. What do we need?"

"There are some tapes in the library, but I'm sure they are closed by now." The Gromble fished out Oblina's private key. "Oh."

Lunch, the next day. Bradley had finished his American History test early, so he was eating alone. Amazingly, no one was bothering him. He thought for a moment, and then smiled. He had his notebook out in front of him, and now he opened it. On the back page he had sketched Oblina as he remembered her. He turned the next-to-last page over this one. He traced the eyes first--they had to be real. Then the lips. He sat there awhile, flipping the pages back and forth. He added stalks to the eyes. Then all at once, the serpentine body, the arms and the legs. He added the tail then started on the hair.

"Not like that. Three hairs on the head and three on the tail."

"Jack?" Bradley was too busy studying his drawing to look up.

"I'd stay very far away from the subject of Oblina if you value your soul, Bradley."

"You saw her, like this?" Bradley looked up, but Jack had left.

Oblina was strapped into a chair. Automated clamps held her eyes in place and forced her eyelids open. A turkey baster applied saline at regular intervals. Before her was the weary librarian, who also doubled as projection machine (all monster books were on Super 8). The tape consisted of the greatest scares of Monster graduates. The Library Monster had saved the Jack Silt scare, but now it looked like she would never get the chance to incorporate it. A smooth voice was coming out of her speaker.

"The war between Monster and Human is one that the monster will always win. Monsters are smarter than humans, they are more durable, and they are more adaptable. The human race is doomed to extinction, when the monsters will finally be able to claim the planet for their own." The speech had been recorded long ago, when monsters were the only ones using Super 8. He might not have believed in those words today. But then with a voice like that, how could you tell if he believed in them then?

Oblina didn't need the turkey baster anymore--she was providing enough tears on her own.

Freida and Stan, the two poster-children of Middle-Class Prosperity, went downtown after school to see how Oblina was doing and to apologize for running away in her moment of need. They had invited Bradley, but he had backed out, saying something about having trouble recognizing her. If Freida and Stan had heard any of the stories Mrs. Silt told at dinner parties about "Downtown People", they might not have gone. But they were not afraid and that was the best thing for them. Innocence and confidence is a combination that deters all but the most depraved of would-be criminals, and they were in the Financial District at this time of day. Nevertheless, the pair was unable to find anyone who knew Oblina.

On the afternoon of the following day, the Library Monster's bulb burned out. She apologized profusely. The Gromble and Dr. Kott decided that Oblina could use some rest after two solid days of deprogramming to think over what she had seen. They tied her to a chair and tied the chair to the launching rack, then retired to their rooms.

Ickis and Krumm snuck in to have a look at her. Krumm pulled out a juicy worm and waved it in front of the part of Oblina's face they had always assumed was her nose. "Maybe this will bring back some memories."

Oblina opened her eyes and screamed. "Get that away! That was utterly un-called for! If you would like to do me a service, you little hairball, why don't you get me some Earl of Grey in a china cup? With pure, refined sugar!" She nearly licked her lips at this thought, but stopped herself and remained a proper lady.

Ickis joined Krumm and they began whispering. Oblina saw Ickis twist his finger next to his temple. That was all the provocation Oblina needed. In a second she was free of her bonds and she had lassoed Ickis and Krumm. When she was sure they were tied too tight for Ickis to bite his way out, she turned to go.

"Where are you going?" asked Ickis.

"To the surface, where I belong. I realize now that I am a human trapped in a monster's body! I scared humans before because I had to be with them, but I never saw the truth until now! I am going up to join my kind now, so ta!"

"Wait, what about us?"

"I expect they will blame you for my escape, but then, it isn't the first time they've done that, so you should be used to it by now."

"Oblina! If I wasn't in this chair..."

"But you are in the chair! You are!" She skipped out of the room.

"Oblina, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I don't know what I did to cause it this time, but I'm sorry anyway! Oblina!"

"She's gone, Ickis...she didn't even notice my new stench."

The supermarket parking lots were full of parents who had just bought Halloween candy and of children begging their parents to get a sample on the way home. All of them scattered at the approach of a black-and-white stripped snake walking towards them with arms open. For the first time in a week of Oblina's public appearances, Jack Silt was not among them.

"Friends," she was crying out, "fellow humans, I may look a little different than you but we can learn to live together!" She looked around her.

The streets were abandoned. Curtains were drawn, the inhabitants too scared to even peek. A sagebrush would have rolled by if there had of been one in a hundred mile radius of the city. Oblina sobbed. She had been abandoned by everyone. Her sight blurred, she wandered aimlessly.

Out of the darkness walked three thin figures. Two of them were the same height and were almost twins. The last looked like them but was a third smaller. They came up to the two tied monsters and swiftly freed them. Without waiting for thanks or to give an explanation, they returned to the shadows and disappeared.

"Was that Oblina's family?"

"We don't have time for questions, Krumm. We have to find her!"

Oblina stopped before A. J. Wahorn Junior High School. Through the bars she saw two boys tossing a lunchbox with Robotman painted on it back and forth. A smaller boy was dashing back and forth beneath them, vainly grabbing for the lunchbox. A girl was standing nearby, her hands on her hips.

"You stop that, Mick and Rick!"

That voice--that was Freida. The little one was Stan. The other two were...were just like every other pathetic human on earth, selfishly willing to do anything to keep from thinking about their own incredible insufficiencies.

A shape slithered through the bushes. With lighting quickness it spiraled up the bodies of the two bullies and lashed them together. The end of the living rope looked at them coldly.

"Where I come from they have a word for humans like you...gutless!" She pulled hers out for display, simultaneously releasing them. The two boys ran faster than they ever thought possible. Oblina re-coiled herself and looked up. Stan and Freida were still there! They were fighting to retain consciousness and still look at her--she was proud of her repugnancy.

"Th...ank you," squeaked Stan.

"My pleasure." Her voice was too much. The two turned tail and fled. At least they had the manners to not scream. Standing by a tree were Ickis and Krumm.

"Ickie, Krummie! Did you see my scare!"

"You're in your old form, Oblina! Let's go home."

"Let's. By the way, Krumm, your stench smells a little weak today."

Bradley was standing, resting one hand on the side of a tree in what he hoped was a cool pose, reading Chapter 10 in The Measure of Man. The part about the witch-hunts during Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate was particularly gruesome. Freida and Stan came running up to him.

"Bradley, come with us, quick--Oblina's here." Bradley fell flat to the ground.

When he opened his eyes Freida and Stan were looking down at him. He got up and followed them silently to the fence. He went on his knees and looked at the soft ground until he found some unusual footprints: one resembling jester shoe prints and one resembling tiny tubes pushed lengthwise into the soil. He also found what looked like a baby's footprints.

"There are three of them."


He got up and wiped his hands on his pants. "She had two friends before she met you. Now if you don't mind, I left my book by the oak."

"Bradley, please tell us what you know!" It was Freida, and she looked worried.

So what! It wasn't like they had ever stood by him before when he was in trouble! Then his conscience (which nowadays sounded a lot like Ickis) bothered him and he turned back.

"Come to my house tonight. And bring Jack Silt--he almost knows as much as I do."

The supermarket parking lot was full of parents trying to control their children, all of which were on massive sugar highs. The candy was free, courtesy of Dirty Laundry, the most-watched of that genre of television news programs that were always referred to as "so-called news programs" by the professional press. Considering the return expected, the candy was quite cheap.

An eight-year old girl with braids sticking out in every possible direction from her head had the camera and the microphone at the moment.

"And right then Mommy screamed, an' I looked up an' I saw this BIG, HAIRY monster! It had seventeen eyes, an' its tongue stuck straight out of the mouth that was in its tummy about eight feet an' it dripped slime on everyone!"

Another hyperkinetic kid bounded in from nowhere and bounced the girl out of sight.

"That's not what happened! I saw what happened. There was this guy, see, in a white coat with green teeth. He mixed up this potion and he drank it, and right before my eyes he turned inside out, so his guts were on the outside! And then he started grabbin' people around him and chompin' their heads off! An' then--ow! Hey Ma!"

"There you are! Young man, you will stop telling fibs to the lady with the camera! You weren't even here when it happened, if anything even happened!" The voice belonged to a half-dressed housewife, with half her hair still in curlers.

Exposa Vertoy saw her chance. "Excuse me, ma'am?"

"Er, yes?"

"May I ask what your name is for my viewing audience?"

There was an instant change in the woman when she realized she was on TV (well, she was going to be on TV in about six hours, and then only if she was photogenic). She straightened up, popped all the curlers out with one whip of her hands through her hair, changed her robe into a dinner jacket with one tug, and smiled winningly into the camera. Exposa frowned--she knew what was coming.

"My name is Catherine Winna."

"Ms. Winna, how do you feel about the events of today?"

"Huh?" Bingo--instant memory loss.

"The monster sighting."

"Oh, that! They were seeing things! It was just mass hysteria."

Exposa really had no idea exactly what "mass hysteria" meant, and she was certain that no one she filmed saying it knew what it meant either.

"Have you heard any of the eye-witness accounts before coming to this conclusion, Ms. Winna?"

"I don't have to--I am an enlightened intellectual, and know better."

Another one of those know-nothing phrases, except this time Exposa was fairly certain that Ms. Winna didn't look like an "enlightened intellectual".

The cameraman gave her the time signal. "And there you have it--mass hysteria or monster invasion--you decide!"

The camera off, Catherine Winna fell back into Whiny Cat and dragged her son off muttering something about "your father".

Exposa turned back to the truck, only to be stopped by a familiar voice.

"Hey, Posse!"

"Vernon? It's been a long time." She handed her mike to the cameraman and nearly ran to her former fellow-reporter at the Daily Dispatch.

"Only a year, but that's eternity in the Big Time, I know. So how is Wahornville's most infamous ex-personage doing these days?"

"Quite well, thank you."

"What brings you back? I thought you were too big for monsters now."

Exposa chuckled. "Well, I was hoping one of those kids would remember seeing the spaceship on camera. What are you doing nowadays?"

"I'm working for a local freelance acting troupe."

"Not Laker?"

Vernon smiled. Exposa smiled. Vernon stopped smiling, but Exposa didn't.

"Now stop right there! If I let you come within a mile of the Silt party, I'll never be able to get a job again."

"I suppose you're right. Can't blame a girl for trying, though. Here," she said, handing him a business card, "this is my cell number. If for some incredible reason you change your mind, give me a ring. 'We're open for business 24 hours a day...'"

"'...because the story's always there.' I'll keep in touch. Well, I've got a murder mystery to plan--bye." The card went into his shirt pocket.

Oblina was in The Gromble's home, which doubled as his office. At her insistence, Ickis and Krumm were there, too. The Gromble agreed that Oblina's escape was an essential part of her treatment and was relieved that Oblina appeared completely recovered. He gave her a day off, just to be sure and also for him to make the necessary arrangements for tailing her personally during her next few scaring assignments (Halloween would be more than enough trouble, thank you very much, without a top-notch monster of uncertain loyalties muddying the picture). Then, because The Gromble never liked anyone seeing his caring side, he lashed into Krumm and Ickis for letting Oblina escape through their incompetence.

"One final thing: are there any leaks?"

Oblina looked to the ground. "Oh, there are no leaks. No one important."

The Gromble pointed silently to the door, his eyes already wandering to the two-dozen shoes that needed spit polishing.

The three walked out of the office.

Ickis sighed. "Boy, that one was close! Why didn't you tell him about Freida and Stan?"

"Because I trust them. Jack Silt saw a great deal as well, but people who get that scared never tell, you know. Ickis?"


"There was one other leak, you know."

Ickis and Krumm froze. "There was?"

"Bradley. On two occasions."

"Well, you can trust Bradley."

"No, I can't. You can trust him, because of your bond with him, the same reason I can trust Freida and Stan and Jack to keep quiet about me. But I have no relationship with your friend." Oblina knew very well what she was asking, so she tried to make it as gentle as possible.

"I see." Ickis thought for a moment. "I am going to take care of this, Oblina. Do you trust me enough for me to do it alone?"

"Of course I do, Ickis, just do it tonight."

Bradley was at his desk, but he wasn't doing homework.

Three! I have three friends, when I had none a week ago!

And Ickis. But Ickis wasn't the same--he wasn't even human! Not that that was the reason he didn't count. The reason was that Ickis always tried to dominate him, while with Jack, Freida and Stan, they were equals.

As if in answer to his thought, Ickis glided through the window and crawled up onto Bradley's desk.

"Hello, Bradley." Ickis smiled a toothy smile at him.

"Oh, hi, Ickis. Just passing through?"

"No, I came to this part of town just to talk to you."

The three of them were due any minute. He had to prepare them before they could see Ickis. "What about?"

"Let's get to the point. You have an obligation to me, Bradley."

"Wait, isn't that wrong? I think I saved your life. You should be obligated to me."

"Under normal circumstances, if you had saved a human, I'd say you were right. But you saved a monster. And monsters and humans have not been getting along recently."

"I suppose you're right there." When will he leave?

"Despite my best efforts, you have managed to learn some of our secrets, the most important of which was the fact of our existence. Now what do you suppose would happen if a monster not obligated to you, one a lot bigger perhaps, should learn what you know?"

Was Ickis a little taller that he was a minute ago? "Oh, Ickis, I wouldn't tell anyone about you."

"Not even your friends?"

"You heard what I said." Ickis' eyes were at the same level as Bradley's.

"Even if they already knew about monsters?"

"Well, wouldn't that change things?"

"It would not! Need I explain to you that our advantage is uncertainty and surprise? That any human can say he knows something, but still not be sure until someone else knows it too?" His teeth, each the size of daggers, clashed together with little knife-sharpening noises as he spoke. "There are things little humans are better off not knowing."

Bradley closed his eyes in resignation, his neck still arched so that he could see Ickis' face. The visions in his head were worse than the ones before his eyelids, so he opened them. Ickis was his regular size.

"Lucky for you, you only know about one of us, else my protection could no longer be offered. Well, I've got to run off and scare the pants off some human kid! See ya around." He slipped out as smoothly as he came.

The voice of Bradley's mother drifted up from the parlor: "Bradley, dear, your friends are here!" This would be a disappointing evening. Bradley wondered how many friends he would have by the time it ended.

Ickis remained outside the window a moment, and then sighed. Bradley had been a good friend.

Jack and Freida and Stan and Bradley made a tight fit in Bradley's bedroom. To stall for time, he showed off his book collection--Jack was impressed by some of the occult titles.

Stan started off.

"Bradley, you said you were going to tell us about Oblina."

"Yes, I did. Well, come to think of it, it wasn't very important."

"What was it?" asked Freida.

"Well it was the answer she gave in History class, but I remembered afterwards that you were there, too."


"What happened in the tent?" That was Jack.

"The tent? Let's see, I was behind that ride that looks like a rocket, when two of her friends came in and took her home."

"What did they look like?"

"I didn't actually see them, because there was all that wailing and I was covering my ears."

"Why would covering your ears obstruct your vision? You drew her for me in lunch the next day as she really was--you had to have seen her."

Freida and Stan jumped up at the same time. Freida spoke first.

"You really saw her?"

"Why didn't you tell us?" asked Stan.

"He probably thought you wouldn't believe him," suggested Jack.

"I didn't see her, I didn't see any of them!"

"What about that picture?"

"I...I...well, you were always so panicked around her, and she did act odd towards the end, so I just imagined that she was a monster and drew what I thought she would have looked like!"

"But you drew her just right!" replied Jack.

"You saw her too!" another chime.

"Sure I did--I was being a bully, so Oblina crept up behind me and scared me silly! Only I don't think she's a monster."

Escape! "What do you think she is?"

"A goddess."

They all looked strangely at Jack at that point, then they started again.

"Like Jack said--how did you get her right?"

"Just lucky I guess--hey wait a second! I am not saying I think she's a monster or a goddess or anything like that, I was just..."

"Then how come you got all those books?"

"I just like to read them! Just because I have history books doesn't mean I have a time machine in the closet!"

They were quiet for a second, then Jack started.

"OK, I guess you're right, in which case you are the only one who didn't see her. But with what you know, what can you tell us about monsters?"

"Like where we can find them!"

"Look, wait a second! Those books all contradict each other, and besides, most of them say that all the monsters died with the knights and damsels. And besides, I'm sorry, but I just don't believe in monsters."

"Even after what we've seen?"

"I'm sorry, but it sounds like a large snake to me."

There were tears in Freida's eyes. "A snake! I didn't see a snake! Mick and Rick certainly didn't run into a snake! Unless...unless I'm going crazy!"

Stan's arm was around her. "There, there. He didn't see her, that's all. How can he believe us if he didn't see her?"

"I...I suppose you're right."

Jack picked up his coat. "I guess we had better get going."

"Just a second and I'll show you to the door."

"We know our way out, Bradley." And they were gone.

Bradley stood there for a while. He tried the desert, but it wasn't empty enough.

Ickis and Krumm were sleeping. That was hardly a surprise for Krumm--Krumm could sleep through The Great Scouring if he wanted to. Oblina, on the other hand, was awake, and that was a rare event. Oblina was uncertain about life, and she didn't like the sensation. Her last period of uncertainty had some awful memories associated with it (which reminded her to be properly thankful that her family knew nothing of her latest embarrassment), so she was sure she would be much better off confident, if it were not for the doubts. The Monster Manual said all humans were self-destructive, all humans were insensitive, and all humans were cruel. Her sojourn as a human did not bring her in contact with too many of them; all the greater surprise that two of them could be so kind to someone they had never met, whom they held no obligation to, who she was certain saw her as strange and smelly, alternately cold and hot emotionally. She had often wondered why Ickie and Krummie remained her friends despite her moods, but they were fellow-monsters, and expected to have some compassion. On the other hand, the game machines showed her that she was capable of intense greed and viciousness--so much so that she was sure that if her body had not attacked itself, it would have turned on the humans in the tent, if only to find release of some kind. Blowing off steam. She suddenly realized that the entire human world was a game tent, only the humans were alternately players, games and quarters. Most humans were the quarters, which was sad. What was infuriating was that all the quarters wanted to be players, to make quarters out of everyone else. Then again, the humans must have built this world up in pieces, foolishly thinking it would make for good protection from an unpredictable world, until it was too late and they found themselves with the ultimate responsibility, trapped into roles and never taught that they could do anything else. She felt sorry for the humans. She wondered...if things were reversed, if monsters ruled the world and humans huddled in little aboveground huts, would the world be better? Or would it be the monsters that were killing the wildlife and turning away from nature and raising twisted Silts in their own self-tortured image? What, then, was humanity, stripped of lies? She had spent her life memorizing the Monster Manual; it was time she got her hands on the Human Manual.

The next day was Halloween. Early that morning Bradley went to the bus stop and sat on the curb, his legs astride the storm drain. He put his book beside him but didn't read it, instead keeping his gaze on the horizon. A few minutes later the sun rose, a vision matched by the orchestration in Bradley's head. Bradley was a classical and film-score buff and practically planned his life so that it could be accompanied by an internal soundtrack. The sunrise was some small consolation for being alone again.


"Yes?" He was going to say "Yes, Oblina" but he still preferred his jugular vein inside of his neck.

"You will give me your history book." The voice was coming from the drain.

"Pardon my asking, Ms. Disembodied Voice, but what do you need with a textbook? The test was on Tuesday."

"Don't get smart with me, Bradley. You do not need to know my reasons, and you have permission to use my name."

"But how will I study, Oblina? The War of 1812 is two weeks away."

"You mean to tell me you did not memorize it on the first week of class? We are less alike than I thought."

Bradley pulled out the book from his backpack, and then stopped. "This is government property, you know. I'll be in big trouble if anyone found out I gave the Enemy secrets about our species."

"Bradley, the book!" That sounded serious, so he handed it to her.

Bradley wasn't quite sure what he'd done to deserve all this, but his punishment was not yet finished, because he got a C on his American History test. He waited until the class was emptying.

"Pr. Henley, can we discuss my score?"

Henley looked at Freida, who was still putting her things away. "Why of course, Mister Bradley. Please state your complaint in a calm and rational manner."

"It's the essay question. You say here that I haven't provided all of my reasoning behind the smuggling hypothesis, and I thought that it was rather clear that I did."

"Let me see your paper." Freida was just leaving. "Ah, yes, these are very good reasons, but still wrong." The room was empty.

"But I don't see..."

Henley stood. "You and your kind never see." He reached over the desk, grabbed Bradley by the collar, and lifted him to eye level. "I am only going to say this once, twerp. Your defense of that little street rat's filth cost me the opportunity to see Roger Silt tonight, the Roger Silt, my only ticket out of this backward little 'burb. I had to go on my knees for his silent toady, and I still may not get in. Do you think I am going to reward you for RUINING all the preparation and acting that went into that little teacher award?"


"Did I give you permission to SPEAK?! You might as well learn it now, little BOY, that the world is a cruel and nasty place run by people like Roger Silt who don't give squat for knowledge. What they want is effort! Now, if you keep quiet for the rest of the year, and if you do a few 'chores' I might come up with from time to time, maybe you won't get a worse grade from this class than you got on this test. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good." Bradley was dropped onto the desk in a heap. "Your first task is to get out of my sight. Now!" On the way out, he saw a man in a derby hat walking toward the classroom with a gold-foil ticket in his hand.

So dies the worship of a hero.

Bradley was at his desk, but he wasn't doing homework.

The stereo system was playing a particularly maudlin piece of piano music and Bradley was wallowing in fantasies of being laughed out of community college admission interviews because of his grade in seventh-grade American History.

Oblina came gliding in the window. Under happier circumstances he would have been amazed at his luck--possibly the only human being to see two monsters in broad daylight. As it was, Bradley turned to look at her, his expression blank.

"Here is your book, Bradley. I finished it already! Why didn't you humans tell us you are such wonderful people! We have had you all wrong--the malcontents are the minority, not the majority of history! I now know of your civilizing empires and self-sacrificing pioneers, as well as your scientists. If I were a human I think I would try to be a scientist. I'm not of course, but I will do the little I can by promising to you, as proxy for the monster race, that I am finished scaring forever, and I will do my best to convince all monsters to do the same! What have you to say to that?"

In answer, she was hit with a paperback book in the guts. It was open to an illustration showing people in a castle pouring a boiling liquid on some other people.

"What was that for?"

Bradley looked like a boy possessed. "Read it! Read it carefully, for it is the truth about mankind! Foolish Oblina, you have been taken in by propaganda, for that is all that pathetic textbook is! Don't come back until it is finished!"

She had never seen any human look so angry. She suddenly remembered that he was a lot bigger than her and quite a bit stronger. She backed up to the window, and then nearly fell through it. With a last nervous glimpse over her shoulder, she left.

Bradley sat heavily on the bed and waited for darkness to fall.

She was back an hour later.

"You humans!" The book was flung into Bradley's waiting hands. "Why? Why did you give me that book? I was about to leave you alone!"

"Sit on the bed. We humans can't be left alone--even your brief foray into human history should have shown you that. We only behave ourselves when we think there is an authority beyond ourselves that will punish us for our sins."

"I don't understand."

"Have you seen Jack Silt lately? Before he ran into you he was destined to surpass his father as the worst human living, but you have scared him into becoming a good person."

She sat there for a moment. "Yes...but there are so few of us, and we don't intentionally scare bad people."

"It doesn't matter! The good people are not changed by the scare, while the bad people...Humans work on the Domino Effect--the presence of one villain causes everyone to accept and promote villainy. The removal of Jack Silt has substantially improved the lives of dozens of people at that school! People who will have a positive impact, make this world a better place! From a hopelessly human point of view, you monsters are here to pull us back from our own extinction!"

Oblina thought deeply for a minute. "And what about his parents?"

Bradley jumped up. "If you could reform the Silts, it would be the best thing for the human race in the past fifty years! The celebrations would be so extreme that no one would have time to go hunting for you!"

"Don't push it, Bradley. I guess this is farewell, then. I have a lot of work to do tonight."

"Good luck, and don't forget Henley--he'll be there too!"

Please don't forget Henley.

Snorch was alone--Zimbo must have gotten hungry again. When the alarm clock went off, Snorch went looking for it. This took him a while without Zimbo, and it took him even longer to figure out how to stop it, because the usual smash didn't work for some reason. Finally he returned to the locker he was supposed to guard, unaware that his services were now quite useless.

Three kids were walking down the street in Halloween costumes: Freida as Glinda, Stan as the Scarecrow, and Jack as a winged monkey (he had the best makeup by far--the last $1000 went a long way). The three were too old for trick-or-treating, so they were just talking as they walked down random streets.

"I think those high-schoolers back there had a good idea--why don't we crash the Renfield party?" Jack looked around, to see that Stan and Freida had stopped a few yards back.

"I was thinking," Stan said, "Suppose Bradley was lying."

"Why would he do a thing like that?" asked Freida, "He had no reason."

"Maybe he was protecting them or something. I just say it because he looked at the mud after we saw Oblina and said there were 'three of them'. Now if the only footprints there were monster footprints..."

"...then he must have counted three monsters! But why would he protect them?"

"I don't know. Maybe he knew Oblina before she figured out how to become human for a while."

Jack spoke up. "How many of them do you think there are? I mean, what if they're responsible for every kid's scare, every unexplained phenomenon?"

"There would have to be hundreds, maybe even thousands, in Wahornville alone. And you know how we were all around that tent and we never saw anyone come or go, not even a monster disguised as a human? Maybe all monsters can go invisible or shrink or something--that's how they get in closets and under beds."

"Maybe," said Freida, "maybe they're all around us all the time. Like...look at that stubby space alien over there." The figure referred to was a little gray thing with four red-booted legs. It was extremely well done. "Maybe that isn't a kid in a suit. Maybe it's a real monster out in the open."

"Come to think of it," speculated Jack, "I don't see how you could fit a human kid in that suit." The three kids looked at each other for a moment, then started running away from the stubby space alien. The alien sort of pranced after them for a while, and then stopped before the high schoolers. A red-haired teenager looked down at it disdainfully, then led it around the corner. The boy looked around to be sure that his friends couldn't see him, and then bent down close to the creature's ear.

"Err, Nicky, do you think we could go to the Renfield party? It would be real fun."

The creature put one claw to its head and thought. The battery-powered rear legs continued to walk in the air.

The voice of a little boy came out of the monster. "Sure, Jake. I think enough people saw me. I'll even let you tell them that you forced me to go."

Jake beamed. "Nicky, you're the best brother a guy could ever have!"

Krumm and Ickis were just getting back from their scare. It was nothing worth mentioning, since on Halloween everything was just too easy. What they did look forward to, however, was freely walking the street that night, just the three of them. One year one group of monsters had run into some other students and had had a mock rumble in the streets until all the humans were watching and their police had come to break it up. Then it was flash-scare and dash for the manholes--the humans never figured out what happened. Ickis thought it might be fun to do something similar this year, but Oblina was not in her room, and her climbing equipment was missing.

"Give you one guess were she went," said Ickis.

"Com'on--I really want to see this!" answered Krumm.

They caught up with her trying to get the Suit over the fence.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm glad you decided to help me. Could you get the feet loose?"

"Oblina, do you have permission to use the Suit?"

"You just have to pull the right one a little over."


"What! 'Dangerous scares require dangerous risks.'"

"I have another quote, from the same monster: 'The fate of monster society depends on the secrecy of The Suit.'"

But by that time the searchlights were on and the monsters had no choice, because a large enough hiding place to dash to only existed on the inside of the fence.

Around the corner, the guests were arriving in stretch limousines. The Silts had one apiece, and there were others for not only the most frivolously rich and powerful, but also for the token guests who were there for the respectable news organizations, guests like the recently honored Pr. Ian Henley. Out of another of the cars stepped Vernon Staluck, garishly overdressed in a sequined tuxedo that practically blinded you. This was hardly a surprise, since almost half of the guests were actually members of the Laker Acting Troupe. The actors were mostly professionals, so good in fact that the actual guests were fooled. The amateurs like Vernon were there to trick the guests into thinking they were the only actors.

Mrs. Cornwallis separated from her husband and went over to Arlene Silt.

"Mrs. Silt, this is a pleasure!"

"I don't believe I know you."

"I was at the Paris auction last year--the one with the diamond parrot."

"Ah, yes."

"I was wondering if you heard that bit of tripe Wednesday about that 'monster' on Main Street. Imagine the things these so-called news programs will do for ratings!"

"I did not see anything incredible about it."


"You would be shocked if you know the sheer number of mutagenic diseases prevalent among the lower classes, even in the United States. It that that necessitate these guards." She gestured at the helicopters, the towers, and the men everywhere with machine guns and walkie-talkies plastered to their faces like affectionate pets.

Mrs. Cornwallis gulped, and then followed Mrs. Silt into the House of Fear.

The assemblage was greeted in the main hall by The Host, played by Quentin Laker himself--he was the only one everyone knew for certain was an actor. He carefully laid out the ground rules. His role was to provide any necessary support outside of the game and to ensure that none of the loaded firearms brought by Roger Silt were used on any of the actors. The group then split up to unpack. They re-united with Mrs. Cornwallis missing. She was found covered with blood in her bedroom. The body was moved by Laker to a large table in the library, and the mystery began.

After getting in through the kitchen window, Oblina stashed the Suit in an out of the way closet. The three monsters crept through the house, silently passing a servant or two preparing some kind of red syrup. All of the important humans were in one room, surrounding a woman covered in the red syrup and yelling and pointing at each other. Quite unnoticed by anyone a VCR was playing a film called "Attack of the White Worm" on the TV at the back of the room. The film starred the sticky woman and also had a few other actors in it who were in the room. In one corner was a man smoking a cigarette. He looked at the people arguing, then at the TV. Every few minutes he would shake his head, pull a remote control out of his pocket, and rewind and replay the tape, doing it quietly so that no one would notice. He began getting annoyed that no one did.

"Well?" whispered Ickis.

"I'm thinking," whispered Oblina.

Krumm opened his mouth, and then realized everyone knew what he was about to say, so he shut it and began thinking about food.

A servant walked in and talked to the man with a cigarette for a while. After the servant had left the man looked at a man in the group in a sequined tuxedo and nodded.

"Hold it everyone!" said the sequined man. "I just thought of something--if the fiend is not one of us, he might be trying to sneak out this very minute."

Arlene Silt spoke up. "You're right, sir! We need to get this house sealed up, or else one of us may be blamed for this nefarious deed!"

Roger Silt turned to the man with the cigarette. "Mr. Host, could you please engage the house security?"

The man called Mr. Host pulled out his remote control. "As you wish, ladies and gentlemen." He casually pushed a button on the remote and all the lights went out. "Sorry about that." The lights went back on. He pressed another button and rails sprang up in front of the window. All sorts of clacking noises could be heard throughout the house.

"I'm getting nervous," Krumm whispered to Oblina.

"Don't be--the toilet's still all right. I think I know how we can do this now."

"Mr. Host, is this house now completely sealed off?" asked Mrs. Silt.

"Everything except the bathtub sink draining into the Wahorn sewer," joked Mr. Host.

Mrs. Silt fainted. Mr. Silt turned bright red and came up to Mr. Host and slapped him. "You idiot! My wife has a phobia about infection, and you leave the septic systems connected to the city sewer! I ordered you to put in a private septic system!"

"Of course, what was I thinking--we are connected to the private system--I simply forgot."

"You better be telling the truth, because I know the difference between the sound of water running into the sewer and water running into a tank. In the future, let's try not forgetting things like this if you value your pretty little head." It was no idle threat, considering some of the stories current about former South American labor leaders.

"Now I'm getting nervous," whispered Ickis.

"Follow me."

The three monsters headed up the stairs and back towards the only bathroom in the house. Oblina stuffed a roll of paper in the toilet. All three monsters put their ears to the toilet as she flushed. They sighed in unison.

"Well then, with that settled, how about a good scare!"

At that moment Mr. Host and the servant walked in. The three dived into the tub before they were spotted.

"How could you forget something like that? Shunt it over immediately!"

"Well, uh, I can't do it here--I need to use the controls downstairs."

"Then why did you let me lead you here? We need to get this done before...the champagne! It will kick in any minute!" The two bustled out of the room.

The three monsters got out of the tub.

Ickis turned to Oblina. "Is there another way out?"

"Not with security on. You two, get in there now while I get the Suit."

"We can't leave without you!"

"You have no choice. At worst, I can put it on and they can kick me out like they would any other human kid. Now go!"

Oblina waited until the water settled, then walked out the door, straight into Mr. Host's leg.

Mr. Host jumped straight to the ceiling, somehow managed to stick there, and screamed bloody murder.

Suddenly there were people running everywhere. Oblina expertly dodged them all before they even saw her clearly, got down the stairs, and began making for the closet.

"What was that?"

"It's an intruder."

"Do you smell that--IT'S A PAUPER, and IT TOUCHED ME!!!" Mrs. Silt fainted.

Mr. Silt grabbed his high-powered rifle. "I'll get it for you, Arlene, then you can do an autopsy for the necessary shots. Well, what are you all standing there for--FOLLOW ME!"

Oblina opened the closet door just as the mob turned the corner. She dashed in the closet, jammed a chair up to the knob (this was an awfully big closet), and began getting into the Suit. The mob slammed into the door and began pounding on it.

"Help, help!" cried Oblina, half in and half out of the Suit. "I'm sorry I got lost in your house!"

"It's Oblina!" cried Pr. Henley.

"You know her!"

"Yes, Mr. Silt, she was a student in my class from downtown."

"Downtown! That does it!"

Ickis and Krumm were coming around to the front door when they were deafened by riflefire. Over explosion after explosion they heard maniacal laughter from Mr. Silt and horrible screaming from Oblina. Krumm started running for the house, but Ickis held him back.

"No! She wouldn't sound like that if she was really hurt."

"Are you sure?"

Ickis was silent.

Krumm suddenly changed direction. "We have to get the monsters to save her!"

"But then somebody will get hurt for sure!"

"But we can't just stand here and do nothing!"

"I know what we can do--follow me."

Bradley opened the door, expecting more children in plastic costumes. For a moment he said nothing.

Finally Freida spoke. "Nice costume. May we come in?"

"It's Vlad Dracul the Impaler--when he was alive, that is. Of course you can come in. My mother and father are at a party, so why don't we go to the living room."

The TV was playing some zombie movie almost as dumb as its protagonists. Jack, Freida, and Stan sat on one couch that was nearly turned away from the TV (if indeed that is legal in the United States), while Bradley sat facing them.

"Bradley, we wanted to apologize for yelling at you last night. We realize you might have your reasons for remaining silent."

"Really?" Was it possible that Oblina or her unseen friend had convinced Ickis to change his mind? "What do you think I know?"

"That you don't want to hurt them. But you don't have to say anything, because we can't know all your reasons, and they might be good ones."

"Well actually, I think I can tell you that I've known about--YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!"

For a split second the face of Ickis had plastered itself to the window above the TV set.


"I...I got to go upstairs a minute. Do you mind waiting?" Without pausing for a reply he dashed upstairs.

The three looked at each other and shrugged, then Jack picked up the remote control so that they could hear the movie better.

A minute later Bradley came back down stairs deep in thought.

The body of the girl was placed next to that of the old woman. This time the doctor in the group (who was one of the actors) took his medical examination seriously, but came to the same conclusion he had faked last time. He bound up the wound more to prevent too much of a mess than to save her life. He then covered both bodies with a bed sheet.

Mrs. Silt walked up to the shapes and looked under the sheet. "I have never seen this particular alteration of the human form. White skin and...slitted pupils. Texture like fabric." She pulled on the top lip. "Almost reptilian teeth. I would bet it had a nearly animalistic mind."

Mr. Silt pulled her hand back. "Are you sure it is safe?"

Mrs. Silt laughed at him coldly. "It's dead."

"Yes, but..."

"My dear, the greatest immunological laboratory in the world is twenty miles away. Besides, we were infected the moment the subject entered the grounds." In deference to the anguished look on her husband's face, she flipped the sheet back. "If it will make you feel any better, Henley over there was exposed two days ago and he appears fine." Pr. Henley was in a corner, sweating profusely and wishing he were somewhere else at the moment. "This is probably developmental. I wouldn't be surprised if downtown wasn't crawling with creatures like this...or worse. What do we do now?"

Mr. Silt put down the rifle. "We call the police of course. I have spent a good deal on them just for just such an emergency."

Lake started walking out of the room.


"What is it, Mr. Silt?"

"You will not make the call. I trust you." He pointed at the man in the sequined tux. "Vernon Staluck will make the call."


"Yes. You will be the one whose voice will go on the machine at Police Headquarters."

"But why?"

"Because you were a reporter once. I have never trusted reporters."

"Look, I'll keep quiet--I have my own best interest at stake. But you are not going to lay the blame on me!"

Mr. Silt picked up the rifle again.

" you wish me to dial their regular number, sir?"

"No. You will dial this one, in clear sight of the guard I have posted next to the telephone." Vernon took the paper and put it in his shirt pocket, then turned and walked out the door.

Vernon stood outside the door, fuming. He put his hand in his shirt pocket, and pulled out the business card by mistake. With a wicked grin on his face, he looked intently at the card. Then he placed the card back in his pocket and pulled out the slip of paper, as he started running faster and faster towards the telephone. This would have to be one good performance.

The guard was screwing the lid back onto the bottle of soda when his pet walkie-talkie crackled to life. "Sequin to make call to Faraday. Over."

"Loud and clear."

A man in a sequined tuxedo suddenly ran into the phone table, knocking it down. The man looked like he had seen a ghost. Sprawled on the ground, he reached for the phone and frantically dialed a number while staring at one of Faraday's slips. His eyes darted randomly around the room as he waited for someone to answer the call.

He then started speaking so fast as to be nearly incoherent. "Hello, Faraday? I was told by Blue to call. There's a..." His larynx squeaked shut as he slammed the phone down, and then started dialing again. The guard grabbed him and picked him up.

The man noticed the guard for the first time. "I dialed the wrong number by mistake! I...I didn't give anything away, it was just some lady, honest! Please don't kill me! Please...Hello, Faraday? I was told by Blue to call. There is a package at the House of Fear to pick up. My name? My name is Vernon Staluck.....Yes, that Vernon Staluck. We'll be expecting you soon. Good bye." The guard dropped Vernon, then picked up the bottle and began unscrewing the cap.

"Police Chief Faraday? This should be good! Bill!!!!"

Bill the cameraman attempted to get up, but he was too groggy to get out of the door of the motel before the Dirty Laundry truck had left.

Laker felt a vibration in his hip pocket and pulled out the remote. He put it up to his face like it was a telephone.


A voice answered him. "There are four children here in Halloween costumes. They claim they are being pursued by monsters."

Mrs. Silt, who was sitting nearby, spoke. "Did he say monsters? Have them brought in at once."

"As you wish. Robinson, let them in."

From the front door ran three boys, supporting an unconscious girl. Laker motioned to the couch Mrs. Silt was sitting in. The girl was put down and the boys dashed up to Mr. Silt.

"Mr. Silt, you've got to do something!"

Mr. Silt turned to his son. "John, wipe that makeup off. What are you doing with these children?"

"There's no time! I took them here because it's probably the safest place in town. We're under attack!"

"What are you talking about!"

"Excuse me, sir," said Laker, "I have just gotten word that the phone line has been disconnected."

"It's the monsters!" Jack exclaimed.

"Get a hold of yourself! Tell me what happened!"

"They just sort of appeared out of nowhere, sir!"

Bradley added, "I heard on Dirty Laundry that people were turning into monsters."

The guests and actors started panicking. Mr. Cornwalis had eaten that raw lambchop, and he didn't seem too upset by the mauling of his wife….

"John, tell your friend to keep quiet while I think. Pr. Henley, what do you think?"

Henley didn't hear him. He was frozen with apprehension, because he thought the shape under the sheet just moved. At that moment the children relaxed.

Mr. Silt, glancing at Henley, shook his head. "Useless, utterly useless."

"Dear," cried Mrs. Silt, trying to remain audible above the murmuring of the other people, "these beings couldn't possibly have organized without help from one of your enemies, Fairchild perhaps, or else MacOrmick..."

"Sirs, three of the outer perimeter guards just broke rank and ran off in separate directions. None of the other guards saw anything."

"Let me know of any other occurrences as they happen, Laker. Ladies and gentlemen, calm down, we are perfectly safe here." He made sure to keep his gun pointed at Mr. Cornwalis, just in case.

Freida had spent her time on the couch studying Laker's remote control, which remained at his side at all times. Seeing her moment, she grabbed it and hit the "All Lights" button.

"What happened?!"

"Everyone remain calm!"

"Somebody snatched my remote!"

"Where's Cornwalis?"

They heard the door opening at that moment.

"The security has been breached!"

"We've been betrayed!"

"Somebody's got me!" That was Bradley.

"Everyone hold still! I think it's on the floor!"

After a few sirens went on, then off in the house, the lights turned back on.

"Look!" Pr. Henley was pointing at the body of Oblina, which was now sitting up under the sheet.

"That's just rigor mortis."

"Not quite." The sheet was whipped away to reveal a very angry monster.

Once the guard had ran past her, Exposa crept up to his station and trained her camera on the front door. She didn't have long to wait.

A woman covered with a bloodstained bedsheet came out the House of Fear, followed by a stream of very well dressed people and police. All of them were screaming "Monster!"

This was perfect! Embarrassing the rich and powerful always brought high ratings. The best part was when the Silts came out, clinging to each other.

Exposa dashed out of the bushes. "What did you see?"

"It was horrible! So horrible! Aaaaaaaahhhh!!!!!!" They looked behind them, and then started running.

Exposa trained her camera on the darkness. She waited for a few seconds, but nothing came out.

"Why can't life be timed more like cinema?" she muttered, and then started for the door. Then she stopped.

Did she really want to see what was in there? "Don't be ridiculous," she told herself, "of course I want to see what's in there: the public demands the truth, and it's my job to provide it." Of course there was that time she had taken a photograph of a monster in a toilet and the next day every copy of the Dispatch was stolen from the front lawns of Wahornville, along with every other copy of the photo. Nearly a hundred people unfortunate enough to be up that early in the morning witnessed a monster invasion the like of which the world had never seen. A most ferocious creature had taken her own copy, the real reason she had left the paper for the Dirty Laundry job in New York. In New York, kids didn't learn to sleep in the exact center of their beds with heavy objects propped against their closet door handles. If (to use a term she usually mocked) they had decided to teach the Silts a lesson, what business of hers was it to interfere? It wasn't like they didn't deserve it (and much worse). And besides, nobody cared about monsters anymore. Government conspiracies and alien abductions were the bread and butter of her corner of the news industry. It would be best not to show what they looked like. Scarier to the viewers to use their imaginations for a change, and safer for her not to blow their cover. She turned the camera off and went to the truck to get the tripod so she could film her pithy summation. At that moment, Pr. Henley, the Pr. Henley, ran out of the building. "Yes!" The camera was back on.

"I do believe that is all of them." Oblina began inspecting the Suit.

Jack was the first of the humans to speak. "My thanks to you, ma'am, on a most wonderful performance. It was an honor to behold it."

Oblina seemed to notice the pre-teens for the first time. "Yes, you did get the best angle. A pity I can't use you for the viewfinder. If thank-yous are being exchanged, I must say, Bradley, for a human you show great potential. For a moment there I thought you were going to do the scare for me."

"I would never think of betraying our friendship like that."

Oblina smiled slyly.

Stan came forward. "Will we ever see you again?"

"Perhaps. I need more research before I can complete my revision of a certain book. Also, I have an album of screachonies that I believe Bradley will enjoy. You humans have re-invented cassette tapes, have you not? In any case, I must be going. Goodbye, all. Please stay here for at least a minute. I wouldn't have you learning any more of our secrets!"

Bradley shook his head. "They're all alike."

Henley had been spending the last two minutes dodging Exposa. He was now backed against a tree facing the House of Fear.

"Alright, how about this? I was there to petition Mr. and Mrs. Silt to abandon their malicious schemes to enslave humanity?"

"Not even close."

"Ok, then, suppose I say...IT'S HER!!" Henley turned around and shinnied up the tree.

"What's that supposed to mean?" She realized Henley had been looking behind her. Slowly she pivoted, her camera pointed at the darkness. Something was coming out.…

There was a tug at her pant leg. She looked down and screamed at the grinning monstrosity holding its two eyes in its other hand. She threw the camera in the air and went the direction Henley had gone.

Krumm caught the falling camera and shut it off.

Ickis came out of a bush. "Is it OK?"

"It's OK--none of us were flashed."

"Good, because I don't want to know what Oblina would do if there wasn't a good souvenir."

"We are not taking that tape." It was Oblina, dragging the Suit behind her.

"Why not?"

"The humans need it more than we do."

"Are you sure?"

"Trust me. Now put the camera down and let's go home for our punishment. After that...I need my beauty rest." She looked over her shoulder. "Ta-ta for now!"

The kids came out of the house, but there was no one to be seen. They stood for a minute looking at the trampled shrubbery and wondering how that man and woman had got to the top of the fir tree. Jack walked over to the sign with "House of Fear" written in fake blood. "Well, the King of Corinth has become the willing assistant of Death herself! How about I treat you all to some ice cream?"

The kids walked out into the street, past a tall man wearing a brown tweed suit and a brown derby hat. He looked rather disappointed. He shook his head, and then stepped back into the darkness he had come from and faded out of sight.

The actors regrouped in the Financial District.

Vernon was the first to recover his breath enough to speak.

"I...think...I speak for...all of us...when I ask...What...was...that?"

Laker attempted to laugh. "I don't know, was brilliant!"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean horror always pays better than mystery! Next time, we dress Olga up as an alien, and put a fat lady costume on top of that and then..."

"Oh no, you don't--I had to lie next to that thing! I quit!"

"That's your choice. More money for us, then! So, Vern, how would you like to be a slathering space alien?"


Mr. and Mrs. Silt were declared legally insane. After five years of court battles, their son Jack inherited what was left of their holdings and announced that he would use them "for the betterment of mankind." By that time his parents had recovered. They were given a small self-sustaining holding in the Sahara desert far away from human beings, where they lived the remainder of their unexpectedly long lives happy in each other's company. Acclaimed middle school history teacher Ian Henley was missing for months, until he was arrested in Reno, Nevada, for fixing horse races. To the disappointment of all his friends and relatives, Bradley moved to Hollywood, where he became the highly successful B-movie producer known as "The King of the Monsters". Stan and Freida eventually married and moved out into the country. Their new neighbors thought they were weird, especially since they occasionally had conversations with an imaginary person in their house named Oblina, suspected to be the daughter they never had. Exposa Vertoy rose to the rank of anchor of a major network primetime news program in New York. After a career long enough for most of her viewers to forget her sensationalistic origins, she retired. The most remarkable event of her life occurred a year later. For their part in this same affair Ickis, Oblina, and Krumm finally made Monster History. But that's another story.

In case you're interested, here are the notes I worked from when I wrote this story. The only part of real interest is at the end, where I list the soundtrack I had in mind to accompany the story.

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