The Slaying of the Grendelgrinch

Every year at Entropy, we do a holiday poem exchange. Below, you’ll find a prose poem I wrote in 2017 for Dennis Sweeney, shared here with his permission. This piece meant a lot to me, as it was one of the first purely creative works (not a review or supplement) I had written in a long time. It showed me that, in spite of the depression and the self-doubt and the mental fatigue, I could still write creatively, and in doing so, it played a big role in encouraging me to spend more time in 2018 writing fiction. It’s a collision between two behemoths of English literature—you’ll need to read to figure out exactly which two. Thank you, Dennis, for making me feel like a writer again. It was the best gift I could have asked for.


The Slaying of the Grendelgrinch

The interior wall of a bubble trapped in a column of water. Follow the curve. There, collected at the bottom like a mound of dew. Push in. It’s a little town, isn’t it? See the lights strung up between the houses? Can you hear the singing?

You may have heard this story before. That’s all the Whos of Whoville, gathered for their Giftmas feast. Except the question of the season isn’t Who, it’s What. As in: What made that noise? What snatched up the Carpenter girl when she was wandering among the Giftmas tree lot? What left nothing behind but a yellow sock, a butterfly clip, and a pelvic bone? And What are we going to do about it?

Those aren’t songs of peace and joy. They’re battle-hymns, passed down from the ancestral Whats of Whatville who fought tooth and nail to establish this colony on the bottom curve of the great rising bubble. And those aren’t fairy lights among the houses; they’re torches. Fire, the ancient enemy of my enemy. The same fire that roasted the Giftmas Beast will now spread out from the village square in fine, incandescent lines like spectral imaging of a shy girl’s blushing cheek. It will spread into the dark wood and the cave warrens where monsters dwell. Because tonight, the Whats of Whatville aim to catch themselves a Grendel.

The evening snow blankets everything. Except in the dark wood, where it clumps in the branches of the trees, causing them to creak and crack and moan; or in the cave warrens, where it forms an insulating barrier, a cozy seal for the things that sigh upon their beds of bones; or in the Giftmas tree lot, where it gathers in the blue-green fir of the proud pines, causing them to droop and sag. But on the edge of the lot, just past the small dirt mound whence they exhumed the remains of the Carpenter girl, the tracks are clear. Grinch tracks.

The song changes. The question is no longer What; it’s How, as in: How to slay a Grendelgrinch? The Mayor of Howville delivers a long, booming oratory to the assembled Hows. The beast must be routed with fire. Its heart (two sizes too small) must be dug out and immolated to prevent it rising again. This Grinch has been a nuisance for far too long; it’s not enough to simply chase it back to its warren in the mountains. It must be destroyed, the nest razed, eggs scrambled, earth salted. Yesno? “Yesno!” answers the booming voice of the mob.

The Mayor of Howville sends a runner to rouse the great How hero Beartrap Jones, who emerges from his longhouse clad in sun-colored metal. Across his back is slung a blade crafted from the spindle-leg of a flea, the great beast the hero slew bested in the famed wrestling match. Royal blood and godly ichor pulse in his veins, commixed with stranger stuff.

The crowd falls silent as Beartrap Jones expounds his plan to trap the Grendelgrinch. The singing of the Hows, their merry, piping voices, is a thing the monster cannot stand. As they march into the dark wood, their torches spilling red upon the snow-laden branches, they begin to sing their Giftmas carols, hoping to draw out the beast. Their tiny voices echo off the bubble’s distant vault, their reflected torches glittering like stars.

The Hows reach the mountain. But when they search the Grinch’s cave, they find it empty. Where does the beast hide? Where do these cramped tunnels lead as they quest down, down, down like roots, deep into the mountain’s belly? And to Where does this bubble rise as it climbs up, up, vertiginously up?

Among the bones that form the Grendelgrinch’s nest, the Mayor of Whereville unearths the skull of a small girl and a tattered, half-digested red ribbon. The Wheres of Whereville call for blood. As Beartrap Jones follows the Grinch’s spoor trail down, down, deep into the belly of the mountain, the Wheres of Whereville torch the nest and, when they’ve finished, most of the mountainside. The torchlight pours down the tunnels like a river of molten gold.

Down at the mountain’s root, Beartrap Jones discovers a cool, dark, subterranean lake. And there, by its shores, he fights the cornered Grendelgrinch. He unsheathes his flea-sword, and it sings for the monster’s flesh. The Grendel’s claws glance off the hero’s sun-colored armor, spitting out brief sparks that illuminate the dark cavern. The hero’s spindlesword pierces the beast’s heart once, twice, thrice. It falls into the water, gravely wounded, and Beartrap Jones strips off his armor and dives in after it to retrieve the fell creature’s shriveled heart.

But alas! The bards of Whereville sing lamentations for Beartrap Jones! For he dives to his death. As he swims down, down, down, until the molten torchlight cannot penetrate, until he sits suspended in liquid cold as ice, the Grendelgrinch rises from the dark, red eyes smoldering like coals, a twisted grin on its bloodstained lips. At the bottom of the lake, it has secreted a bottle containing a life-sapping poison. This poison now coats the Grinch’s claws as they lash out and find the hero’s unclad belly. And now—the gods cry out for the loss of their own son!—the poison finds the hero’s heart. A last song escapes his lips, unheard in the dark water, as he buries his spindlesword in the creature’s heart.

The hero’s battle-song forms a bubble. Trapped in a column of dark water, it rises up, up, vertiginously up. The mountain burns; beast and hero share a watery grave. And the question on everybody’s lips is: When? When will this bubble burst?

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Fortress of Solicitude

John DonneI want to be an insular community.

Like, I want every man to be an island.

Do you know what I’m saying?

Sometimes, what I really want is for my heart to be an enclave.

That would just be really nice, you know?

I haven’t read any Superman, but I think I understand the concept of a Fortress of Solitude,
where I would have plenty of time to catch up on my reading, Superman included.

I don’t know, maybe I’m not making myself clear.

I just really, really love you,
in that I’d love for you to go away,

but in the nicest way possible.

Celebrity Intervention

You know, I’ve always wanted to know…

What would my baby look like with a Celebrity™?
What would a Celebrity™ look like with my baby?
What would my baby look like with a Celebrity’s Baby™?

What if I had a baby with a Celebrity™?
What would it look like?
What if a Celebrity™ had a baby with me?
Would it look the same?
What would it look like driving my car?
What would it look like driving my Power Wheels™ car?
Would it become a Celebrity Car™?

What would my baby look like with Tom Hanks’ Nose™?
What if I had a baby with Tom Hanks’ Nose™?
What would Tom Hanks’ Nose™ look like on my baby?
What would my baby look like on Tom Hanks’ Nose™?

What would Tom Hanks’ Nose™ look like driving my Power Wheels™ Celebrity Car™?

What if I had a baby with the Biblical Adam?
What if I had a baby with the Biblical Eve?
What would the Biblical Adam and the Biblical Eve’s baby look like?
What would the Biblical Adam look like with Tom Hanks’ Nose™ driving my Power Wheels™ car?
What if the Biblical Adam and the Biblical Eve had a baby with a Celebrity™?
What would it look like?

What would a Celebrity™ look like with a Celebrity’s Baby™?
If a Celebrity™ had a baby with a Celebrity’s Baby™, and that baby had a baby with me–
What would my Celebrity’s Baby’s™ baby’s baby look like with my baby?

I have a right to know these things, don’t you think?

And what if my Celebrity’s Baby’s™ baby got the colic?
Could my Celebrity™ be sued for damages?
And what if my Celebrity’s Baby’s™ baby wound up on Celebrity Rehab™?
Would I have to pay my Celebrity™ a share of the royalties?
Do I have to grant my Celebrity™ visiting rights?
What if I want to give up my Celebrity’s Baby’s™ baby for adoption?
Do I have to obtain my Celebrity’s™ express written consent?

If I decided that I wanted to abort my Celebrity’s Baby’s™ baby,
because I was scared it would have Tom Hanks’ Nose™ and be sick all the time with the colic and wind up on Baby Celebrity Rehab™,
in how many states can my Celebrity™ legally intervene?
Does it matter if my Celebrity™ is a boy or a girl?

And one other thing….

If I decided that I wanted to abort my Celebrity’s Baby’s™ baby,
because I was scared it would have Tom Hanks’ Nose™ and be sick all the time with the colic and wind up on Baby Celebrity Rehab™,
and my Celebrity™ wanted to intervene,
and my Celebrity™ and I decided to have a baby with the presiding physician and the Federal Court judge who ruled on the case,
do either of them have the right to intervene,
and what would the baby look like?

I’ll bet it has my eyes.

Fatal Purr (Part 7: Conclusion)

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6

The film loops through several times as TOYS, including PANDORA, file in and watch, each adding her voice to the song with quiet ooh’s. Finally, ENGINEER #1 bursts in from offstage and the music/film stops abruptly. ENGINEER #1 has now acquired a number of scars, some of which appear fresh, and generally looks battle-worn, with torn clothing and a dull glint to his eyes. He also carries what appears to be a bazooka, although it’s labelled as a “Fun Launcher.” ENGINEER #57 and SERAGLIO follow. ENGINEER #57 brandishes a shotgun with a long pole affixed to the top and arching over the barrels. At the end of the pole, a fuzzy pink ball dangles from an elastic string. He also wears a necklace of tiny mechanical paws. SERAGLIO has a ridiculously long, thin sword slung over his back and carries a small green water-pistol. All three men appear to have attained several months of battle experience.The TOYS back away initially, but then move in to attack. SERAGLIO sprays them with his water-pistol, keeping them at bay.

ENGINEER #1: Take this, you bloodthirsty techno-kittens!

ENGINEER #1 attempts to fire his “Fun Launcher,” but it only emits an airy squeak.

ENGINEER #1: Oh, shit. I’m out of ammo.

SERAGLIO: I can not keep them back forever!

ENGINEER #1: Number fifty-seven, can you handle this bunch?

ENGINEER #57: I used my last round during the Engagement At Worker’s Lounge.

SERAGLIO’s pistol chooses this opportunity to piddle out the last of its ammunition. He presses the trigger a few more times, then throws the pistol at the TOYS.

SERAGLIO: Use a Catnip Bomb!

ENGINEER #1 removes a brightly-colored grenade from a pouch at his waist, pulls out the pin, and tosses it at the surrounding TOYS. It explodes in a puff of smoke, and the TOYS slow down and begin to mill around aimlessly. A few of them fall over.

ENGINEER #57: That’s bought us a little time. Is she with them?

SERAGLIO scans the crowd.


ENGINEER #1: Finally! Hooray!

SERAGLIO: Pandora, I choose you for a duel to the death!

SERAGLIO swings his arm out to point at PANDORA, coincidentally knocking out a TOY with his forearm. The other TOYS back away to spectate, providing a direct line of sight between SERAGLIO and PANDORA.

PANDORA: You’ve come to play with me? Why not play with all of us?

TOYS: Play with us all!


TOYS: Please?


TOYS: Why?

SERAGLIO: Because, I have cut my way through the metallic underbrush of this diablerie for the sole purpose of bringing about your defeat.


SERAGLIO: My reason, he is not important. Will you not fight me?


SERAGLIO: No? Do you fear so much the wrath of my great loins?

PANDORA: I am sleepy.

PANDORA leans down on the ground and stretches.

SERAGLIO: Then this shall be the nap from which you never awaken! Prepare yourself for a floral arrangement of pain!

SERAGLIO rushes PANDORA, who yawns. Just then, the catnipped TOYS shake their heads and regain clarity. They close in on the ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO. Just when things look done for, SERAGLIO draws his sword. It glints beautifully. The TOYS lean back, mesmerized. It also catches PANDORA’s attention.

TOYS: Shiny…

PANDORA: I will play with you. But I only want you.

SERAGLIO: Very well.

PANDORA: And all you.

SERAGLIO: As you wish.

SERAGLIO sheaths his sword once again. PANDORA smiles, then rubs seductively against SERAGLIO and purrs.

PANDORA: Pet me.

SERAGLIO: Foolish toy, you can not entice me with your wily ways. I have no interest in such things.

PANDORA: Don’t you like me?

SERAGLIO: I am actively working to bring about your end. Did you think I do this out of amity?

PANDORA: Are you saying that I can’t be your fuzzy friend?

SERAGLIO: You do not even have the fur. What is not steel plating is sharper than a cicada. And, beyond that, I am more of a dog person.

PANDORA: You’re a bad man.

TOYS: Bad!

PANDORA: We just need a little care. But you don’t care. You have no soul.

SERAGLIO: I have soul! What do you mean, I have no soul? My soul is large and friendly, like the capybara!

PANDORA: What is that?

SERAGLIO: It is a shaggy rodent, fond of water and much larger than a wombat.

ENGINEER #1: Seraglio! Now!

SERAGLIO and PANDORA turn to face ENGINEER #1.

SERAGLIO: Now what?

ENGINEER #1: Kill her now, while she’s unawares!


SERAGLIO aims a high kick at PANDORA’s chin, but she catches his foot and holds it above her head.

SERAGLIO: Tu mama es una bicicleta!

SERAGLIO attempts a few rapid jabs at PANDORA from around his upraised leg, but she stands just beyond his reach. He hops forward in an attempt to get closer, but finds that this makes the strain on his groin unbearable. Instead, he stretches his arm as far as it can go and, leaning forward, is barely able to shove PANDORA gently on the shoulder.

SERAGLIO: Ha-ha! I have regained the upper hand!

PANDORA forces SERAGLIO’s leg even higher, leaving him the choice to either fall backward or split his body down the seams. He falls backward. His skull bounces once or twice on the floor, but aside from that he is completely still.

ENGINEER #1: Is he…dead?

ENGINEER #57: Either that, or he’s decided that now’s a good time to practice sleeping with his eyes open.

ENGINEER #1: But…he can’t die…

ENGINEER #57: He was a brave man, while he lasted.

ENGINEER #1: No, he can’t die! Because I…

ENGINEER #57: I know. We all did.

PANDORA prods SERAGLIO with her foot, with no response. She leans forward and sniffs over his body, ending only centimeters from his face.


SERAGLIO’s hands shoot up and close around PANDORA’s head. She swats, hisses, and claws at him, but he continues to grip her skull with all his might. The other TOYS go into an uproar, mewling their curses and lamentations, until PANDORA releases a final, inhuman death-wail, at which everything falls silent. SERAGLIO rises slowly to his feet and dusts himself off.

SERAGLIO: I have done it. I have defeated the Wicked Queen! Her underthings have ceased to function, and you are now free to rejoice!

SERAGLIO looks back and sees the TOYS closing in around him. He points an accusatory finger at one.

SERAGLIO: You! Why are you functioning? I destroyed your Queen!

PANDORA laughs, her voice now badly distorted as if projected from the Other Side.

PANDORA: You thought that I was the Queen?

SERAGLIO: Are you not?

PANDORA: I am only a toy, like everything else. The Queen lies below…but you…

The rising distortion of PANDORA’s voice renders her final words indecipherable.

ENGINEER #57: Below? In Roach-Haven Hall?

SERAGLIO: Will this never end?

SERAGLIO runs to open the trap-door, but the TOYS follow on his tail, still carrying the ENGINEERS. He gets up and runs the other direction, but everywhere he runs, the TOYS follow closely behind, en masse. He tries a large circle, a small circle, a figure eight, and a zig-zag, but nothing can shake them. He creeps toward the trapdoor on his tiptoes, as do they. He stops suddenly and looks back over his shoulder. The TOYS do the same. He looks forward again then does a double-take, which they double as well, resulting in a quadruple-take of sorts. SERAGLIO spins around and walks backward, away from the trapdoor. The TOYS also walk backward, away from him, still dragging the ENGINEERS.

SERAGLIO: You have been supremely shaken by Seraglio! Nya nya!

SERAGLIO rushes toward the trapdoor, but, alas, so do the TOYS.

SERAGLIO: Hell’s nachos! I can not find enough time to open the trap door!

ENGINEER #1: Here!

ENGINEER #1 tosses a grenade to SERAGLIO.

ENGINEER #1: It’s the last one!

SERAGLIO: But…they will tear you apart in their giddiness!

ENGINEER #57: Say adios to the Queen for me!

SERAGLIO pulls the pin and tosses the grenade into the mass of toys. As they grow violently high, he wipes the tears from his eyes and proceeds down the ladder. The stage rises up, and he reaches the bottom to find a many-tentacled animatronic monstrosity waiting for him. It extends off-stage, but the visible portion bears no resemblance whatsoever to human, cat, or Kit-N-Ex.

SERAGLIO: So, you are the monarch mastermind behind all this.

The thing emits a torrent of white noise, blowing SERAGLIO a foot or so backward.

SERAGLIO: This is the time that I should give a long, heroic speech, denouncing you as the elbow of all that is evil. However, I do not believe that this is really about rampaging pussies. I believe that this is a blueprint for something much deeper than life or death, fabrication or conception. There is a line that slices through us and drafts our very anima. And…I will let you figure the rest out for yourself. But know that that is what this is about: slicing.

SERAGLIO draws his sword and holds it two-handed at his side, samurai-style, pointed directly at the center of her nightmarish form. The orchestra kicks into an upbeat battle-theme, adapted from “The Way Of The Seraglio, as the lights fade ever-so-slowly on the two still combatants.


The curtain call proceeds as per custom, except one figure is missing: ENGINEER #24. After the cast has taken their group bow, the lights suddenly cut out and the pale ghost of ENGINEER #24 appears, silhouetted against a flashing strobe and amongst clouds of mist, inside a crumbling portion of the catacomb wall.

ENGINEER #24: Tremble and quake, brief mortals! Clank, Shuffle, this pertains especially to you! For I am the restless spirit of Number Twenty-Four, come from my restless rest to avenge my direly stupid death! You see, it was my dying wish for all of you to know the true version of my song, but since I died basically instantly there wasn’t much time for my wish to be granted. But now, my superenlightened form will sing to you all from beyond the pale! Orchestra, play like you’ve never played before! Lights, lighten like you’ve never lightened before! And you, the audience! The lyrics are printed very tiny and upside-down on the back of your program. Sing, sing along like you’ve never touched your own!

The orchestra plays “L’Odeur” with everything they’ve got as the houselights come on.

ENGINEER #24: Because a nose is a many-splendored thing

Fit to treasure with a golden ring

When you’re breathing in it sucks

And when you’re breathing out it blows

But it’s still great to have a nose

Oh it’s divine, the way that it can smell

No other body part does it so well

When baking cookies, noses’re really swell

Try cutting yours off, that’s how Oedipus fell!

You should touch your nose every day

In a very very special way

Now I’m feeling perky from my nose to my toes

But my perkiest part is my nose

Oh it’s a sin, the way that it can feel

When your nasty sunburn starts to heal

And then your nose’s skin begins to peel

You should slather on sunblock, that’s part of the deal!

There are those who say there’s magic in ‘em

If you can learn to wiggle them about

The immortal sphinx lives with his missin’

But me, I’d rather die than go without

But your nose can be as fragile as an egg

Excessive heat can be a bloody plague

Plug up the holes and elevate

Until the bleeding slows

And then you’ve fixed your nose

Oh it’s absurd, the way that it can please

Without the slightest hint of filth or sleaze

They say an orgasm is like a sneeze

Except you can wear clothes, so your nipples won’t freeze!

Yes I really really really really like them

I really really really really really really really really like them

A rose by any other name

Would still smell like a rose

And the same goes for your nose

Oh it’s true love, the way that I can see

Your noses pointing up at me in glee

And one of you is coming home with me

You’re a beautiful bunch, so I’ll pick you for free!


Fatal Purr (Part 6)

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4  Part 5

The door explodes off its hinges and clatters to the floor moments before the TOY, still deranged from her run-in with the toilet bowl, lands atop it. Before they can react, she grabs CLANK and SCUFFLE by their legs and carries them, inverted and screaming, one in each arm, into the center stall. They grab onto the bottom of the door as they go, slamming it shut, but their taut quivering fingers disappear one by one. After some flailing, their hands gain a grip on the top of the door. They pull themselves up to shoulder level, but slip down again, maintaining their grip for only a few seconds with their teeth. Just then, to a well-paced flourish from the orchestra, the stalls slowly retract into the wings and the ENGINEERS enter with SERAGLIO. They find themselves in a spacious purple-lit room. The floor seems to contain, in thin neon lines, a diagram for the room’s construction. The walls are covered in other diagrams, mostly different variations on the theme of the Kit-N-Ex. The entire effect is reminiscent of advanced cave-paintings. The curtained pedestal still stands at the back of the stage.

SERAGLIO: We should have stayed. I was about to force the information from them.

ENGINEER #1: You were just standing there!

SERAGLIO: My stealth movements are like a windshield, invisible to the untrained eye.

A high-domed cage lowers slowly from the ceiling, unbeknownst to the ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO. From its bottom edge dangle dozens of mechanical half-pincers. Simultaneously, TOYS begin to creep in from all angles, also unseen.

ENGINEER #108: Are we going the right way? I’m not sure I remember everything they said.

ENGINEER #57: It doesn’t matter. We just needed to get out of there.

ENGINEER #108: You mean we aren’t going to the office?

ENGINEER #57: Of course not. We’re going to find Mr. Commission.

The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO notice the lowering dome and turn to escape, only to come face-to-faceplate with the encroaching TOYS. The pincers lock onto a barred circle on the floor and the assembled oubliette rises just above the swatting TOYS. The curtain on the pedestal flips open, unveiling MR. COMMISSION in the flesh. As in the statue, he holds a deformed kitten; however, this too appears to be flesh, or to once have been so before an overzealous taxidermist stretched its features in impossible ways. Several long hooks attached to its collar assure that it holds its shape.

MR. COMMISSION: I am afraid that you’re in rapidly increasing danger of doing both. Among other things.

MR. COMMISSION steps down from the pedestal and blows a silver whistle, producing an unbearable screech at which the TOYS flee.

SERAGLIO: Aha! I have found the man we seek, with only the use of my eyes to aid me!

MR. COMMISSION: Captain Hippopotamus, I presume.

MR. COMMISSION leans in, squints, and does a double-take.

MR. COMMISSION: My God, you’re beautiful. And these must be your rag-along tag-along friends..

ENGINEER #57: But…nobody ever sees Mr. Commission in person.

MR. COMMISSION: Actually, many do. But only when I choose to let them. And by that point you can basically consider them among the non-existent.

ENGINEER #108: But we found you, of our own free will.

MR. COMMISSION: Do you really think you do anything of your own free will here? This entire factory is animatronic. With the turn of a knob, I can change the world you inhabit. You call yourselves engineers, but really, your entire lives are engineered.

ENGINEER #1: Why did you bring us here, then?

MR. COMMISSION: I needed somebody to play-test my little springlings.

ENGINEER #57: Are you saying that you meant for them to be released?

MR. COMMISSION: You don’t listen very well for somebody who came looking for information. I can’t abide those who don’t listen. You’re all caught up in my plans. Literally, as you can see. There are no accidents.

SERAGLIO: Do you hear? There are no accidents! The error, he was not mine!

ENGINEER #1: Does it really matter right now?

SERAGLIO: Do not ask me. He brought the subject up.

MR. COMMISSION: Speaking of play-testing, who would like to be the first to try my newest accessory?

MR. COMMISSION flips a hidden switch among the diagrams and a section of the wall folds out, housing an elaborately painted double-headed tazer with a sickle-blade attached to the back end.

MR. COMMISSION: For an added level of interaction with your Kit-N-Ex: self-defense. I’d like to know if I should guarantee hours of fun, or only seconds. Who would like to try?

ENGINEER #108: I would.

ENGINEER #57: Number one-oh-eight, don’t. You’ll be slaughtered.

ENGINEER #108: I don’t care.

MR. COMMISSION: Delightful. What a patently unchecked mind, utterly empty of second, third, or even first thoughts, all things which tend to get in the way of a good time. Now.

MR. COMMISSION flips another disguised switch and a trio of overhead spotlights converge upon the cage. With another flick, the cage lowers, and its door swings open.

MR. COMMISSION: Oh, one other thing. There are some very nasty surprises in these walls, and if anybody were to exit the office without permission, you’d all get to find out what they are. Take your weapon.

ENGINEER #1: Even if you can take one down, they’ll just keep coming. You have no chance of survival.

ENGINEER #108: Then I’ll wreck as many as I can.

ENGINEER #108 proceeds to the back wall and hefts the tazer from its rack while the cage ascends once more. He narrows his eyes at MR. COMMISSION.

MR. COMMISSION: If you so much as scratch me, you and your friends will discover how laughably ironic is the phrase “Time heals all wounds.”

ENGINEER #108: That’s okay. You’re not the one I’m after.

MR. COMMISSION climbs atop the pedestal and pushes a hidden button. A circle of wall flips around to become an oversized digital stopwatch.

MR. COMMISSION: On your mark.

ENGINEER #108: I was ready long ago.

MR. COMMISSION: Very well. Come out to play, my springlings!

MR. COMMISSION pushes the button again, starting the timer. The spotlights swing around to follow ENGINEER #108, who struts to center-stage and waits. A TOY scampers in and pounces, but meets the sickle-blade and is flipped mid-air. ENGINEER #108 grinds the tazer into her chest as she writhes helplessly on the floor.

ENGINEER #108: You killed number twenty-four. That was wrong. Bastards.

The TOY has a final spasm and is still. Another TOY slinks silently in behind ENGINEER #108’s back. As she pounces, however, ENGINEER #108 ducks and rolls sideways. The TOY clatters clumsily to the floor. As she rises to her knees, ENGINEER #108 pushes her back down to the ground with a sharp tazer jab.

ENGINEER #108: Scented fuck-worms!

Two more TOYS rush ENGINEER #108, one on each side. He hooks the sickle-end of the tazer onto the hanging cage and hoists himself up, then swings up and around until he’s hanging upside-down by his legs. Then, he jams the tazer under the two TOYS’ chins and dangles them until they stop thrashing.

ENGINEER #108: Exquisite moose-buggery!

By that point, five more TOYS have arrived on the scene. ENGINEER #108 hooks his tazer on the cage once more and, swinging his legs down, spreads them into a tremendous splits/scissor-kick, his boots ending up behind the necks of two approaching TOYS. He then brings his legs together and forward, gymnast-style, thereby slamming the heads of the TOYS together, dazing them temporarily.

ENGINEER #108: Honey-crusted ass-balls!

As yet more TOYS approach, ENGINEER #108 drops to the floor and, crouching, hooks a TOY by its knees, bringing it down. However, he’s soon the center of an enormous kitty-style doggy-pile of TOYS, all yowling and scratching. The TOY on top begins to quake and scream, at which the other TOYS take a few steps back. ENGINEER #108, badly battered, slowly rises to one knee, with the paroxyzing toy skewered on the end of the tazer.

ENGINEER #108: Mulch-licking shit-fisted gangrenous lint buildup!

ENGINEER #108 collapses once again, and the TOYS pile on. When it’s clear that ENGINEER #108 is down for the count, MR. COMMISSION stops the timer and blows his whistle, and the surviving TOYS clear the battlefield.

MR. COMMISSION: Oh, good. It looks like it will be minutes, barely. Wasn’t that lucky?

ENGINEER #1: How could you just watch him die like that?

MR. COMMISSION: I could very well ask you the same question.

ENGINEER #1: We didn’t have a choice.

MR. COMMISSION: There you go on about choice again. You know, wires or nerves, we’re all just doing what we’re programmed to do.

SERAGLIO: A true man would have done something.

MR. COMMISSION: I gave him a weapon, didn’t I? If you look around you, you’ll see that it was a more than fair fight.

SERAGLIO: You are of a sharp and frigid heart.


MR. COMMISSION: Speaking of entertainment, however, I believe I’ve finally finished the jingle. Would you like to hear it? I won’t take no for an answer.

MR. COMMISSION flips another hidden switch, and a grand piano folds out of the wall. He sets his kitten down on the lid, sits down and begins to play.

ENGINEER #57: Did you bring us here just to watch you be evil and sing songs? That’s ubermegalomaniacal.

MR. COMMISSION: Shh! That’s it, now I have to start over.

ENGINEER #57: Why?

MR. COMMISSION: You weren’t listening. You missed the glissendo at the end of the lead-in. That’s my favorite part.

MR. COMMISSION begins to play again, but in stops and starts as he fumbles at the keys in his frustration. Finally, he slams the cover down over the keys and stands.

MR. COMMISSION: Why has nobody fixed this piano yet? Never mind, I’ll have the orchestra play it. You know the tune, boys.

The orchestra kicks in with a jazzier rendition of the melody, aptly titled “Jingle Jingle.MR. COMMISSION begins to strut about the stage and sing, occasionally stepping over dead bodies.

MR. COMMISSION: Boys and girls, it’s time to cheer

Here’s the answer to your fears

The joy to end all joys is here

So scream and shout

They never mess, they never miss

And they won’t make you reek of piss

Now that’s what I call blissfullness

No need to pout

They’re ten times stronger than a pug

So they can give ten times the hug

They’re cuter than a giant bug

A fact to flout

MR. COMMISSION picks up his stuffed kitten and waltzes with it across the stage. He dips it and kisses it passionately, then places it back onto the piano.

MR. COMMISSION: There’s a bell, so I’ve been told

Inside the ribcage of your soul

Just waiting to be bounced and rolled

Or split in two

Kit-N-Ex will ring that bell

Stronger than the sparks of hell

Such a deep and doleful knell

A grim snaffoo

So when you hear that ding-ding-dong

Don’t think it’s someone else’s song

You knew the answer all along

It tolls for you

A chorus line of ENGINEERS enter as the orchestra spins into a big-band slowdown.

MR. COMMISSION: So…if you long for heaven fair

Do not cry, please don’t despair

Kit-N-Ex will take you there

In seconds flat

And if you’d rather live a while

They can still slice you a smile

And if you’d like to run a mile

They’ll match you pat

Yes, it’s more fun than cyber-sex

More thrilling than a huge T-Rex

The one, the only Kit-N-Ex

Your new best cat

As the song comes to a close, the uncaged ENGINEERS dance off-stage and MR. COMMISSION finds himself once again atop the pedestal, this time with his arms raised to the heavens in a simultaneously powerful and supplicating manner. He drops his arms and looks expectantly at the cage.

MR. COMMISSION: Well? I want to hear your honest opinions, as long as they’re good.


ENGINEER #1: What if they’re bad?

MR. COMMISSION: Then every adjective will cost you a finger. A thumb for adverbs.

A heavy silence fills the stage.

MR. COMMISSION: Ah, the heavy silence of approval. Excellent. Well, I think you’ve just about lived out your usefulness.

ENGINEER #1: What are you going to do with us?

MR. COMMISSION: Life’s not nearly as fun when you know your own fate. Trust me. Minimally Invasive Toys: we make Tomorrow obsolete.

MR. COMMISSION pulls a long tube out from the side of the pedestal and speaks into it.

MR. COMMISSION: Clank! Scuffle! I have a job for you! Hello?

Realizing that there will be no response, MR. COMMISSION releases the tube, which whips back from whence it came.

MR. COMMISSION: Very well. I’ll dispose of you myself. My, it’s been a long time since I’ve done this.

SERAGLIO: Do not worry. It will come back to you, like a bicycle.

ENGINEER #57: Before you kill us, may I ask just one thing?

MR. COMMISSION: Very well. But just one thing.

ENGINEER #57: Why are you so concerned with building kitty deathbots? I mean, what’s in it for you.

MR. COMMISSION: Is that all? It’s a secret.

ENGINEER #1: But you said you’d tell us!

MR. COMMISSION: No, I said you could ask. And this isn’t just any secret. This is my deepest, darkest secret. However, since you are letting me kill you, I suppose I could do this one thing in return. The truth…

SERAGLIO: Your secret bores me.

MR. COMMISSION: The truth is, I myself was built by kitty deathbots.

ENGINEER #1: But…that would make you…

MR. COMMISSION: A paradox? Yes, I realize.

ENGINEER #1: I was going to say an android.

MR. COMMISSION: Oh, yes, that too. I am everything that they created me to be.

ENGINEER #57: Still, what will you gain by unleashing them on the world?

MR. COMMISSION: Only my entertainment. You may not realize, as beings born with all your senses. But I know exactly how much time and effort went into my creation, and therefore I relish all sights and sounds, especially the sound of my own voice. I am literally fascinated by the complexities of my fascination.

ENGINEER #1: That doesn’t explain why you’re so sadistic.

MR. COMMISSION: No, you’re right. It doesn’t. Fascinating!

ENGINEER #57: Now that we’ve regained your interest, are you still planning to kill us?

MR. COMMISSION: Kill you? Oh, yes, kill you. Of course. One moment.

MR. COMMISSION flicks his wrist, and a half-foot needle flashes out from under his sleeve. He then flips the switch to lower the cage, and stands waiting by the door.

MR. COMMISSION: I’m ready when you are.

The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO linger at the far end of the cage.

MR. COMMISSION: If you don’t come out here, I can’t pierce your larynxes.

ENGINEER #1: You come in here.


ENGINEER #57: Then I guess you can’t kill us.

MR. COMMISSION: Yes I can. Come out here.

ENGINEER #1: We won’t.


ENGINEER #1: We won’t.


SERAGLIO: Enough! If your argufication is to be my life, I choose to die.

MR. COMMISSION: Thank you. At least one of you is being reasonable.

SERAGLIO exits the cage.

SERAGLIO: However, before you pop the balloon of my existence, there is one thing you must know. And that is this: you have a spot on your shirt.


When MR. COMMISSION glances down to check, SERAGLIO takes the opportunity to retrieve the tazer from ENGINEER #108’s fallen form. He holds it under MR. COMMISSION’s neck.

SERAGLIO: Recognize my cunning! Un payaso divertido!

The ENGINEERS rush out of the cage and surround MR. COMMISSION, to assure that he won’t escape.

MR. COMMISSION: Ah, so. The time has come. I knew that you would be the end of me, Captain Hippopotamus. Ironic, isn’t it, to have been gifted with such a dazzling life, but to always carry the schematics of your own death. No mystery me. It all seems so…anticlimactic, somehow. To end in the middle, with everything still uncertain, that’s the way to do things.

SERAGLIO: Now, you will tell us, in a less tiresome fashion, how we may end this feline scourge!

MR. COMMISSION: You want to destroy the Kit-N-Ex? Impossible. They do not exist as you do, with only one life.

ENGINEER #1: Then we’ll kill them nine times, if that’s what it takes!

MR. COMMISSION: No, you don’t understand. They are infinite. An individual may be destroyed, but the hive lives on…and they’re always being scrapped anyway, to build better models…no matter how powerful your adversary is at the moment, in no time she’ll be as dated as Monday. They’re basically just extremely complex laptop computers, after all. Minimally Invasive Toys: improving on the future of cat.

ENGINEER #1: But if we kill you, production will cease, right?

MR. COMMISSION: Wrong. I’ll just be rebuilt. I built them because I owed them my life, and they will do the same for me. You would have to destroy the Queen…

ENGINEER #57: How?

MR. COMMISSION: If I knew that, I would have done it long ago. She is to blame for…everything. Please, kill me now, while I’m still in the washes of numbing melancholy.

SERAGLIO pushes the tazer up into MR. COMMISSION’s ribs. MR. COMMISSION shakes terrifically, and falls to his knees just as the tazer explodes in a burst of sparks.

MR. COMMISSION: No…mystery…me…

MR. COMMISSION falls forward onto his face. SERAGLIO pokes him a few times with the now powerless tazer, then tosses it away.

ENGINEER #1: So now we have to kill the Queen?

ENGINEER #57: So it seems.

ENGINEER #1: How are we supposed to find her? So far we’ve killed everybody who was supposed to give us directions.

SERAGLIO: There is one I remember who seemed to command the rest. Pandora. A name that sits heavy and bitter on the tongue, like asphalt.

ENGINEER #1: You ate asphalt?

SERAGLIO: I have tasted more things than man dares dream.

ENGINEER #1: You know, it’s a shame Mr. Commission had to die. He got a lot more interesting toward the end.

ENGINEER #57: Yeah, he wasn’t so bad once you got to know him.

SERAGLIO: Silence! We must obliterate the Queen before this automized epidemic can claim any more victims.

ENGINEER #1: Well, aren’t we an Adventure Ranger?

SERAGLIO: You may mock me, if you wish, but first, let us attend to the obliteration.

ENGINEER #57: Okay, so where would this Pandora be?

SERAGLIO: If she is truly their Queen, then we will find her where these fatal contraptions are thickest.

ENGINEER #1: So you’re suggesting that we just hack our way back and forth until we find her.


ENGINEER #1: With what? We only had one weapon, and you broke it.

MR. COMMISSION, still lying face-down, extends his arm and gropes for SERAGLIO’s attention.

MR. COMMISSION: A room with a blue door. Down the hall…to the left. Limited edition accessories are there…intended for promotional cereal-box giveaway…

SERAGLIO: I thank you. You have been an incredibly helpful opponent.

MR. COMMISSION: You are going to face the Queen? I know nothing beyond my life, but…you will fail. The Queen’s fate lies in creation, not destruction. They are unstoppable. Minimally Invasive Toys: built to endure…beyond the next playtime.

MR. COMMISSION collapses again, this time for good.

ENGINEER #57: Shall we go, then?

ENGINEER #1: Yeah. This is starting to sound fun. But…as the late great Number Twenty-Four would say, everybody be on your “toes,” alright?

ENGINEER #1 taps his nose meaningfully, and the ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO rush offstage. The orchestra adds several layers of flourish as other ENGINEERS carry a large, sinister-looking device onto the stage. A white sheet unrolls from the top, transforming it into a movie screen, spanning nearly the entire set from left to right. As the orchestra oozes out a chime-heavy instrumental rendition of “Of Blue Skies And Birdsong, a hypnotic hand-animated cartoon begins projecting onto the screen. It begins with a ticking clock, the numbers on which randomly change position every frame. As the “camera” zooms out, the second hand retains its size relative to the screen, until the original clock is contained within the trunk of the second hand. Next to the clock, a pumping heart can be seen. The second hand casts a long shadow that seems to splice the heart in half, and the pumping grows faster with each tick. Finally, the looming second hand comes down on the heart and squashes it. A pool of blood spreads from the burst heart, but then is sucked back inward. The “camera” zooms out again to show the figure of a female Atlas, the continents visible through the thin, veined skin of her belly. She stands, sipping coffee from a mug decorated with an “I,” then a heart icon, then the word “Mug.” A rock flies out from the other side of the screen, who knows why, and hits her in the back of the head, causing her to drop to her knees, where she transforms into a locked box. The second hand rises into the air, dripping blood, and, morphing into a key, unlocks the box. A jack-in-the-box with a cat’s head pops out and lunges for the “camera.” As it comes nearer, its eye becomes apparent as a clock with changing numbers, which soon fills the screen, starting the loop again. The film loops through several times as TOYS, including PANDORA, file in and watch, each adding her voice to the song with quiet ooh’s.

Fatal Purr (Part 5)

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4

The stage begins to sink again under waves of heroic flourishes from the orchestra. As the surface reaches its halfway-point, CLANK and SCUFFLE become visible, examining the trapdoor from above. The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO linger below, with only their heads and shoulders in sight.


SCUFFLE: Definitely.

CLANK: It’s been messed with.

SCUFFLE: Tampered with.

CLANK: Tinkered with.

SCUFFLE: Opened.

CLANK: Cracked.

SCUFFLE: He’s down there.

CLANK: We shouldn’t have let him get away.

SCUFFLE: But we did.

CLANK: The boss was pissed.

SCUFFLE: But we have him now.

CLANK: The boss will be pleased.

The orchestra begins the organ-grinder melody of “Clank N’ Scuffle’s Spankin’ Shuffle.” CLANK and SCUFFLE begin to sing.

SCUFFLE: Our cadaverous canon is growing quite grim

CLANK: Cuz we like to kill on a whim

SCUFFLE: The jackals and crows strike immaculate poses

CLANK: But they’re anything but fit and trim

SCUFFLE: Though we know we’re the cause of their overworked jaws

CLANK: All that we’ll give is a pause

SCUFFLE: We love our job

CLANK: Our methods might verge on the crude or the crass

SCUFFLE: But we’re still magicians first-class

CLANK: Whether pulling gold coins from the hold where your loins were

SCUFFLE: Or flip-flopping your face for your ass

CLANK: And our ultimate trick is so beautiful sick

SCUFFLE: It’s hit you like an ice-pick

CLANK: So bring it!

The song switches gears into a hip-hop groove. CLANK gets down on the floor and breakdances while SCUFFLE raps behind him.

SCUFFLE: Hey Clank is the tank with the spank who’ll make you go boom

To your doom when he looms in bloom

At night, little shite, and your fright is right cuz he’s Death

Or something else

You’re fucked as a duck if you chuck your luck and say “hi”

To this guy, you will cry and cry

He’s black as a sack full of blackest black in his heart

His darkest part

So sing for the king of the stingy thing, the new post-

Master toast-master’ll roast your ghost

It’s time that this slime should sublime a rhyme and speak

Get on your feet!

Now, CLANK raps while SCUFFLE breakdances.

CLANK: Now listen as I introduce you to my buddy Scuffle

This is one bad potato, he’s got motherfucking ruffles

And if you little piggies try to hide, he’ll huff, he’ll puff

He’ll make you shuffle when you walk, because you won’t have any ankles

Acute will be your pain, but obtuse will be the angles

That your limbs are gonna form, but at least you should be thankful

That this bank’ll always pay you back just what you’re due, with interest

If torture were a magic kingdom, he would be the princess

And I’m not talking dragon dicks or fairy pricks or wizard sticks

This is more like ancient lore and blood and gore and nevermore

SCUFFLE rises and, as the music breaks it down to just a heartbeat rhythm on the bass drum, he and CLANK execute their secret handshake in slow motion. The orchestra brings it back in, and they address the audience.

SCUFFLE: Alright now.

CLANK: It’s call-and-response time.

SCUFFLE: Are you ready for this?

CLANK: Shit!

SCUFFLE: Everybody say hi! Ho!

CLANK: Now say hey! Ho!

SCUFFLE: Hi-de-hi-de-hi!

CLANK: Hey-de-hey-de-hey-de-ho!

SCUFFLE: Elephant seal!

CLANK: You can stop now.

The melody reverts to the original, and CLANK and SCUFFLE revert to their proper singing selves.

SCUFFLE: We trust that our treatise has made a deep mark

CLANK: Straight through the shafts of your heart

SCUFFLE: Our fathomless zeal and frenetic appeal

CLANK: And the bloodthirstiness of a shark

SCUFFLE: And the brilliant result is a walking assault

CLANK: On your values, a scathing insult

SCUFFLE: Then pour on salt

CLANK: The deadly cult

SCUFFLE: Two-man gestalt

CLANK: But it’s not our fault

SCUFFLE: We love…

The music ends as CLANK and SCUFFLE embrace.

CLANK: He’s definitely down there.

SCUFFLE: Should we go down and get him?

CLANK: Are you asking me?


CLANK: Nah. He’ll come back up.

SCUFFLE: Once he sees what’s down there.

CLANK: Which shouldn’t take long.

SCUFFLE: We can get him right when he comes up.

CLANK: I’ll flog his brains out.

CLANK demonstrates by hitting the trapdoor with his cane.

SCUFFLE: I’ll kick his head in.

SCUFFLE stomps on the trapdoor for effect.

CLANK: Besides, I have to take a leak.

SCUFFLE: Good idea.

ENGINEER #108: Did all that banging count as a sign?

ENGINEER #1: It’s good enough for me.

SERAGLIO: Behold my bravado. Behold!

SERAGLIO leaps onto the ladder, followed by the ENGINEERS. Meanwhile, CLANK opens the center stall and finds its walls still dripping blood.

CLANK: What the…

SCUFFLE turns around to see what’s going on. The stage completes its decline.

SCUFFLE: …the hell?

CLANK: Maybe he didn’t make it down there.

SCUFFLE: If he didn’t open the trapdoor, though…

CLANK: What did?

SCUFFLE: Maybe it’s not a good idea to wait for him to come up.

CLANK: In case what comes up isn’t him.

CLANK and SCUFFLE jump in fright as the trapdoor bangs open. However, when SERAGLIO emerges, they rapidly regain their composure.

SCUFFLE: It’s him!

SERAGLIO: It is them!

CLANK: You’re coming with us.

SCUFFLE: Boy, are you in trouble.

SERAGLIO: Yes, there is much trouble in this factory, which is why you have to take me to see your boss.

CLANK: The boss says we have to take you back, see.

The ENGINEERS emerge from the trapdoor, un-noticed by CLANK or SCUFFLE.

SCUFFLE: We got in trouble because of you.

CLANK: So you’d better not try to run this time.

SCUFFLE: Or we’ll make it so you can never run again.

CLANK: If you’re good, we’ll be good to you.

SCUFFLE: And only mess you up a little.

ENGINEER #1: That won’t be happening.

CLANK and SCUFFLE turn around and see the ENGINEERS.

CLANK: What’s this?

SCUFFLE: It looks like a roach.

CLANK: A little roach and his buddies.

SCUFFLE: Crawled up from Roach-Haven Hall.

ENGINEER #108: You can’t intimidate us. Not anymore. And we know that’s where your real power comes from.

ENGINEER #1: We can easily outmatch you if we take you on as a team.

SCUFFLE grinds his heel into ENGINEER #108’s foot with an agonizing crunch while CLANK shoves his cane into ENGINEER #1’s windpipe and holds it there until ENGINEER #1 turns purple. They then rejoin each other for their secret handshake.

CLANK: Real or not…

SCUFFLE: Power is power.

CLANK: We have it.

SCUFFLE: And you don’t.

CLANK: No matter how much you teem.

ENGINEER #1: Okay, maybe we can’t outmatch you. But…time to think of Plan B…

CLANK and SCUFFLE crow like poison.

ENGINEER #1: Hold on! Don’t be so quick to laugh. You can’t be here. We jammed the lock with a toothpick.

SCUFFLE: We had a bigger toothpick.

ENGINEER #1: Oh…this sucks…

CLANK and SCUFFLE saunter over to SERAGLIO.

CLANK: Now you.

SCUFFLE: Public Relations man.

CLANK: The boss has had a new office built.

SCUFFLE: Just for you.

CLANK: This one’s much more unpleasant.

SCUFFLE: And impossible to escape from.

CLANK looks back at the ENGINEERS.

CLANK: What team are you?

ENGINEER #1: Why should we tell you? So you can report us? Never!

ENGINEER #57: Subordinate Claws Team, sirs.

SCUFFLE: You see?

CLANK: This is respect.

SCUFFLE: The kind that people like us demand.

CLANK: What are you doing here?

ENGINEER #57: We were here when the lock-down started.

SCUFFLE: All of you?

CLANK: Doing what?

ENGINEER #1: Dangerous things.

ENGINEER #108: Diarrhea.

SCUFFLE: Dangerous diarrhea?

ENGINEER #57: If you must know, we had typhoid fever.

CLANK: What do you mean you had it?

SCUFFLE: Isn’t it fatal?

ENGINEER #57: No, this was the twenty-four hour typhoid.

CLANK: In any case, you’d better come with us.

SCUFFLE: You can share the office with your hombre here.

CLANK: There isn’t really room for four, but…

SCUFFLE: There isn’t really room for one either.

CLANK: Speaking of which…

SCUFFLE: There are supposed to be four to a team.

CLANK: What happened to the other one?

ENGINEER #108: Number twenty-four is…

ENGINEER #57 hastily steps in front of ENGINEER #108 and points to the stall second-to-left.

ENGINEER #57: Still in there. I wouldn’t disturb him, if I were you. It could get messy.

SCUFFLE: When will he be out?

CLANK: We’re supposed to bring this guy back pronto.

ENGINEER #108: Never…

SCUFFLE: We can’t wait that long.

CLANK raps on the stall door with his cane.

CLANK: Hurry up in there!

ENGINEER #1: Don’t do that!

SCUFFLE: Why not?

ENGINEER #1: The…fever. It makes you see things. Turns your mind inside out. If he hears you, who knows what he’ll think? What comes out of that stall…won’t be human.

CLANK: What’ll it be, then?

ENGINEER #1: A pyretic maniac.

ENGINEER #57: Pestilent.

ENGINEER #108: Gnashing.

ENGINEER #1: Gushing.

ENGINEER #57: In fact, you’d better stay here until he gets out. To subdue him. We’ll go on ahead.

SCUFFLE: How do we know you won’t try to escape?

ENGINEER #1: We’ll keep an eye on each other.

CLANK: Well…okay. It’s just around the corner.

SCUFFLE: Go out here and make a right.

CLANK: Then make another right at the T-shaped junction.

SCUFFLE: After that, it’s the third left.

CLANK: After the second right.

SCUFFLE: Then you’ll come to a five-way intersection.

CLANK: Take it.

SCUFFLE: Then it’s about fifty-three paces up.

CLANK: On the right.

SCUFFLE: There will be a piss-yellow doorway.

CLANK: You can’t miss it.

SCUFFLE: It’s the same color as the rest of the doors.

CLANK: The combination is one seven oh seven three.

SCUFFLE: Wait five seconds.

CLANK: Then two two two two two to the tune of “Shave And A Haircut.”

SCUFFLE: “Two Bits.”

CLANK: Don’t mess it up.

SCUFFLE: If you do, you’ll set off the alarm.

CLANK: And the gas.

SCUFFLE: The office is right through that door.

CLANK: To the left.


CLANK: Crystal.

SCUFFLE: Now fuck off.

The ENGINEERS grab SERAGLIO and hurry offstage.

CLANK: That went well.

SCUFFLE: The boss will be pleased.

CLANK: There could have been more struggling.

SCUFFLE: I like it when they struggle.

CLANK: Then, we get to hit them.

SCUFFLE: I like that.

CLANK: He’s pretty quiet for someone with typhoid.

SCUFFLE: Maybe he fell asleep.

CLANK: Let’s wake him up, then.

SCUFFLE: They said there might be…dementia.

CLANK: It can’t be that bad if he can sleep through it.

SCUFFLE: Alright.

SCUFFLE boots the stall door. Inside, something stirs audibly.

CLANK: See, that got him moving.

The door explodes off its hinges and clatters to the floor moments before the TOY, still deranged from her run-in with the toilet bowl, lands atop it. Before they can react, she grabs CLANK and SCUFFLE by their legs and carries them, inverted and screaming, one in each arm, into the center stall. They grab onto the bottom of the door as they go, slamming it shut, but their taut quivering fingers disappear one by one. After some flailing, their hands gain a grip on the top of the door. They pull themselves up to shoulder level, but slip down again, maintaining their grip for only a few seconds with their teeth. Just then, to a well-paced flourish from the orchestra, the stalls slowly retract into the wings and the ENGINEERS enter with SERAGLIO. They find themselves in a spacious purple-lit room. The floor seems to contain, in thin neon lines, a diagram for the room’s construction. The walls are covered in other diagrams, mostly different variations on the theme of the Kit-N-Ex. The entire effect is reminiscent of advanced cave-paintings. The curtained pedestal still stands at the back of the stage.

Fatal Purr (Part 4)

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3


An ear-splitting wail starts up behind the curtain. It pulls back, again with no orchestral assistance, to show the stage exactly as it was before the curtain closed, with one exception. An anonymous ENGINEER crouches center-stage, cranking an air-raid siren. More ENGINEERS shuffle in and drag him off, marking the beginning of the scene. A voice stutters out from the stall behind SERAGLIO.

ENGINEER #108: What was that?

SERAGLIO looks around anxiously.

SERAGLIO: What was what?

ENGINEER #108: I thought I heard a voice.

From the leftmost stall comes an excited voice.

ENGINEER #1: I heard it too.

ENGINEER #108: You did?

SERAGLIO: I hear many voices.

A voice scrabbles up from the stall second-to-the-left.

ENGINEER #24: Okay, so we’re all hearing voices. The thing to do now is to figure out which ones are ours, and which ones are theirs.

ENGINEER #1: This one’s definitely mine.

ENGINEER #108: So’s this one.

ENGINEER #24: Good, we’ve got two of them figured out.

ENGINEER #1: Wait…that didn’t sound like my voice.

ENGINEER #108: No, sorry, it was mine. Number one-oh-eight.

ENGINEER #1: Okay, phew. I’m number one.

ENGINEER #24: I’m number twenty-four.

SERAGLIO: I am Seraglio.

ENGINEER #1: Does that name sound unfamiliar to any of you?

ENGINEER #108: Maybe he’s new.

ENGINEER #24: No, no…he’s an intruder!

ENGINEER #1: He must be here to bust up our non-confrontational protest. Don’t let him cross the picket line!

SERAGLIO: Please, although I do not understand your words, I beg your help. I seek sanctuary. Evil haunts this place.

ENGINEER #57 cracks open the door of the center stall and grabs SERAGLIO’s sleeve.

ENGINEER #57: What kind of evil?

SERAGLIO: A catty evil.

ENGINEER #57: Get in here.

ENGINEER #57 yanks SERAGLIO into the stall and shuts the door.

ENGINEER #57: Now, tell me exactly who you are and what you saw. But keep it down, these pipes are tapped.

SERAGLIO begins to relate his story in a frantic whisper.

ENGINEER #108: Number fifty-seven?

ENGINEER #57: What is it?

ENGINEER #108: Do you have somebody in there with you?

ENGINEER #57: Yes.

ENGINEER #108: Who?

ENGINEER #57: That’s none of your business.

ENGINEER #24: Come on, I think we’d all like to know.

ENGINEER #1: We’re a union now. There are no secrets among brothers.

ENGINEER #57: Okay, it’s the new Public Relations guy, if you have to know.

The ENGINEERS, except ENGINEER #57, all throw open their doors.

ENGINEER #1: Ooh! What’s he like?

ENGINEER #57: Actually, he’s mysteriously attractive.

ENGINEER #108: I want to see!

ENGINEER #57: I’m trying to listen to what he has to say.

ENGINEER #24: Don’t be a bastard. Why don’t you share him around for a little bit, then he can tell you his little story.

ENGINEER #57: Well…alright. But only for a minute.

ENGINEER #57 shoves SERAGLIO out of his stall. SERAGLIO then wanders over to ENGINEER #1.

ENGINEER #1: Wow, you were right. That’s a sweet chunk of eye-candy you got there.

ENGINEER #108: I want to see!

ENGINEER #1: Hold on, this is the sort of view you need to savor.

ENGINEER #108: I want to see!

ENGINEER #1: You can have him next! Just give me one more minute.

ENGINEER #1 licks his lips slowly.

ENGINEER #108: This isn’t fair! Some of us haven’t seen anything yet.

ENGINEER #1: Alright!

ENGINEER #1 tosses SERAGLIO out of his stall and directs him toward ENGINEER #108.

ENGINEER #108: He’s stunning.

ENGINEER #1: What did I tell you?

ENGINEER #108: He’s dumbfounding.

ENGINEER #24: With you, that’s not difficult. It’s my turn now. Come over here, Mr. Perfect.

SERAGLIO walks over to ENGINEER #24 as ENGINEER #108 gazes longingly after him.

ENGINEER #108: He’s breathtaking.

ENGINEER #24: He’s not bad.

ENGINEER #1: “Not bad?” Is that all you can say?

ENGINEER #24: Not bad at all. Can I…touch it?

SERAGLIO: I can not fight my own magnetism.

ENGINEER #24 reaches up and strokes SERAGLIO’s nose.

ENGINEER #57: Alright, you’ve all seen him. Now I need him back here.

ENGINEER #1: So you can do what, exactly?

ENGINEER #57: He has some very substantial information.

ENGINEER #1: Yeah, we’ve all seen his “information.” And we’d like to see it some more.

ENGINEER #108: My turn wasn’t long enough.

ENGINEER #24: Shh! You’re spoiling the moment.

ENGINEER #1: I remember a certain somebody was talking when it was my turn, too.

ENGINEER #57: No, really, this is urgent. I need him here now.

ENGINEER #24: We all need him.

ENGINEER #108: Can we keep him?

SERAGLIO: Men, men. I am here standing in my fully official capacity. Do not get wrong ideas.

ENGINEER #1: Why don’t we meet out there? Then he can give us all some “information.”

The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO exit their stalls and gather around.

ENGINEER #57: Now, please, continue with your story.

SERAGLIO: Oh yes, where was I?

ENGINEER #57: The part about the leprechauns.

SERAGLIO nods and begins to whisper in ENGINEER #57’s ear. The other ENGINEERS lean in.

ENGINEER #108: I can’t hear.

ENGINEER #24: Shh!

ENGINEER #108 shuffles over to the other side of the circle.

ENGINEER #108: I still can’t hear. What’s going on?

ENGINEER #1: He says they left him alone with the cake.

ENGINEER #108: What cake?

ENGINEER #1: The cake they tried to give him.

ENGINEER #108: Who?

ENGINEER #1: Clank and Scuffle.

ENGINEER #108: Hold on, did he literally mean “information?”

ENGINEER #1: I’m afraid so.

ENGINEER #108: Can you ask him to start the story over? I missed the first part. And all the parts while we were talking.

ENGINEER #57: I knew it!

ENGINEER #108: What did you know? I’m confused.

ENGINEER #57: He opened them.

ENGINEER #24: The crates?

ENGINEER #108: Why would he do that?

ENGINEER #1: So he’s unleashed the Kit-N-Ex…

ENGINEER #108: Why would you do that?

ENGINEER #57: Give him a break. He knows next to nothing about the factory.

ENGINEER #24: We’re all going to die…

ENGINEER #57: That’s the price of ignorance.

SERAGLIO: This man, he is right. I knew nothing, and I intended even less.

ENGINEER #24: So what are we supposed to do?

ENGINEER #57: I think we’ll be safe in here. Unless they know how to work doorknobs.

ENGINEER #1: Do they know how to work doorknobs?

ENGINEER #57: Probably.

ENGINEER #24: Does anybody have a toothpick?

ENGINEER #1: We don’t have time for oral hygiene. Besides, you haven’t been eating anything.

ENGINEER #24: I know, but I can jam the lock with it. That way, nobody can get in, even if they have the key.

SERAGLIO: I have no toothpick, but I have a device that is worth one thousand toothpicks.

ENGINEER #108: An icepick?


SERAGLIO pulls a swiss army knife from his pocket.

SERAGLIO: This is my Swiss Blade of Surprise. The toothpick is plastic, so he can be used again and again until the teeth are barren and pure.

ENGINEER #24: That’ll do. Hand it over.

SERAGLIO hands the knife to ENGINEER #24, who walks offstage and fiddles with a presumed door there.

SERAGLIO: He also contains a file, for rounding of the fingernails, and a tiny scissors, for trimming of the ear canal.

ENGINEER #24: Done. Now, the door can’t possibly be opened.

ENGINEER #1: Nobody can get in?

ENGINEER #24: Not a soul.

ENGINEER #1: Can we get out?

ENGINEER #24: Live in the present, will you?

ENGINEER #1: Sure, but I’d like to continue living into the future as well.

ENGINEER #57: Stop bickering, you two. We’re safe for now, and we’ll have plenty of time to figure out what to do next.

ENGINEER #1: The rest of our lives.

ENGINEER #108: As long as those things aren’t around, I’m happy.

SERAGLIO: No me molesta, we are okay.

The toilets’ tanks flip open and bear glowing statuettes, as before, which channel a timely announcement.

MR. COMMISSION: Announcement: for your convenience, please stand at least five feet away from any and all heating vents. It has been brought to my attention that the rogue toys are travelling through the ventilation system. Should you encounter one, do not struggle or attempt to escape: it will view this as an invitation to play, and a quick death may no longer be possible. Minimally Invasive Toys: we put the “excel” in “acceleration.”

The statuettes dim and descend back into their tanks.

ENGINEER #108: Are there any vents in this room?

ENGINEER #1: I see one there…and there…and over there…

SERAGLIO: We are not so okay now, yes?

ENGINEER #24: We’re screwed.

SERAGLIO: Yes, good.

ENGINEER #24: Good?

SERAGLIO: I wanted to be sure I understood. My English, he is sometimes not…

ENGINEER #108: Look!

ENGINEER #1: Where?

ENGINEER #108: Do you hear that?

SERAGLIO: If you mean the noise like a thing moving in the heating duct, then yes.

ENGINEER #24: Is that what that sound is? I couldn’t place it.

The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO listen as echoing scrabbles and clangs surround them.

ENGINEER #1: Maybe if we hide very quietly, they’ll just pass us by.

ENGINEER #57: Good idea. Let’s go.

The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO tiptoe into the stalls and close and latch the doors. After a few seconds, a troubled voice rises from the center stall.

ENGINEER #24: Can somebody switch stalls with me?

A reply comes from the leftmost stall.

ENGINEER #108: Okay. What for?

ENGINEER #24: It’s just that there’s a vent right above my head, and it’s beginning to rattle.

ENGINEER #108: Oh. Scratch that, then. Sorry.

A reassuring voice rolls out of the rightmost stall.

ENGINEER #57: Remain calm and still. It could just be the heat kicking in.

ENGINEER #24: More heat? I’m sweating through my socks here. I can feel my shoes filling up. I can…shit…

From the stall second-to-right, a voice responds.

ENGINEER #1: Try to remember to flush after, okay?

Silence pours from the center stall.

ENGINEER #1: Did you hear me?

Under the stall’s door, ENGINEER #24’s feet suddenly disappear upward. A few moments later, they’re replaced by a clammering grate and the sound of liquid being drizzled into a hollow bowl. From the adjacent stall to the left, a voice stammers.

SERAGLIO: Now I would like to request a change of stalls.

With the sound of a toilet flushing, a fountain of blood gushes up from the center stall.

ENGINEER #108: I’d like to request a change of bathrooms.

ENGINEER #57: Everybody stay calm. We went through all those team-building exercises; we can handle this together.

ENGINEER #1: I can see something moving under the stall. Guys? I think there’s something lurking down there, on the men’s room floor.

ENGINEER #57: Put your feet up on the seat.

ENGINEER #1: I see a…is that a hand? I’m scared, guys.

ENGINEER #57: Take a deep breath. Everybody breathe with me.

ENGINEER #1: I’m scared…I’m scared…

ENGINEER #57: On the count of three, we’ll all open our doors. Okay?

ENGINEER #108: I think I’m going to be sick.

ENGINEER #57: One…

ENGINEER #1: Can’t we just do it on go?

ENGINEER #57: Okay, go!

The remaining ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO kick open their doors and leap out, while the center door remains closed.

ENGINEER #1: Now what?

SERAGLIO: I am thinking that this would be a good time not to have the door jammed.

The center stall swings open, revealing a TOY crouched with a human foot protruding from her mouth.

ENGINEER #108: Is it…purring?

ENGINEER #57: That’s just the motor, I think.

The TOY drops the foot and slinks toward the ENGINEERS.

SERAGLIO: How do you kill him?

ENGINEER #57: As far as I know, they’re indestructable. The warranty on these things makes Shangri La look like Shotgun Alley.

The TOY suddenly darts forward and snuffles at ENGINEER #57’s crotch.

ENGINEER #108: What’s…it…doing?

ENGINEER #1: It must smell the tuna! You have another can in there, right?

ENGINEER #57 nods mutely.

SERAGLIO: They said before that they liked metal and meat, so this tuna tin would be a great treat for them. Es un poco como domingo!

ENGINEER #1: Hey, you’re Spanish!

SERAGLIO: Indeed, and the Angel of Destruction has just visited an idea upon me. Quickly, toss me that tuna!

ENGINEER #57 extract the tin from his jumpsuit and throws it to SERAGLIO. The TOY whips her head around. SERAGLIO waves the tin around, and the TOY follows it with her head, advancing slowly. Suddenly, SERAGLIO throws the tin into the nearest toilet. The TOY pounces and lands in the bowl, whereupon SERAGLIO slams the lid down upon her head. She struggles, howling.

SERAGLIO: He is stronger than I anticipated!

ENGINEER #1: Quick, flush it!

SERAGLIO: I have been taught to flush nothing but paper, to prevent clogging.

ENGINEER #1: Flush it, trust me!

SERAGLIO presses on the handle and the TOY’s howls turn to a screech as she is engulfed in steam. Her body goes limp. ENGINEER #57 comes out of his daze.

ENGINEER #57: What happened?

ENGINEER #1: I think we blew out its sensors, at least temporarily.

SERAGLIO: So we are, once again, okay.

ENGINEER #108: I wouldn’t count on that. Here they come.

TOYS begin to slip in from the removed grate.

ENGINEER #1: We’ve taken care of one, we can do a few more, am I right?

ENGINEER #57: No more tuna. But I do know an escape route.

ENGINEER #57 closes his eyes and paces out a distance from the edge of the rightmost stall, then stops and stomps on the floor.

ENGINEER #57: It’s here. Help me lift it.

The ENGINEERS gather round and lift up a heavy wooden trapdoor.

ENGINEER #57: Okay, now go.

ENGINEER #1: You go first. You’re the only one who knows the way.

ENGINEER #57: Okay.

ENGINEER #57 climbs down into the trapdoor.

SERAGLIO: Now I go. I, too, know many things.

SERAGLIO climbs into the trapdoor, followed by ENGINEER #1. ENGINEER #108 looks back at the blood-soaked stall filling with TOYS.

ENGINEER #108: Number twenty-four is dead. I won’t forget.

As ENGINEER #108 climbs into the trapdoor, the entire stage begins to rise. He slams the trap shut and the orchestra produces a flourishing echo. ENGINEER #108 starts to descend a rusted iron ladder while the stage ascends at the same pace, trapping him spatially. Finally, it stops, and he reaches the bottom of the ladder, where the other ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO await him. The walls are lined completely with bones and skulls, a les Catacombes.

ENGINEER #57: Welcome, my friends, to Roach-Haven Hall.

SERAGLIO: No me recuerdo la palabra por burro, what is this place?

ENGINEER #57: We used to come down here to smoke, when everybody in the old team was still around.

ENGINEER #1: And you’re certain they can’t follow us down here?

ENGINEER #57: You felt how heavy that trapdoor was. You need a firm grip to lift something like that, and they don’t even have opposable thumbs.

ENGINEER #108: What’s with all the bones and stuff?

ENGINEER #57: Yeah, I’m not really sure what’s going on there. It was like that before the factory was built, though.

ENGINEER #108: How do you know?

ENGINEER #57: I helped build it. That’s what the original team was. We all started out as construction workers, just following the blueprints, you know, until the foreman realized that it had been a while since we’d built an actual doorframe. By then, it was too late. The roof snapped shut over our heads like a steel trap. Some of us died from sheer claustrophobia; the rest became delirious with thirst and hunger. That’s when part of the wall crumbled, and Clank and Scuffle came in with The Contract…

ENGINEER #108: I remember when I had to sign The Contract. There were flyers up all over the clubs about some job that virtually paid in scrips. I was pretty much living off of my buzz at that point, eating crack and drinking smack. So I guess I don’t really remember it. But I do know that I was broke and desperate.

ENGINEER #1: You’d have to be. When I signed it, it was to pay for my little sister’s operation. Actually, it was to pay off the loans that paid for my sister’s operation. Some very big and nasty loans from some very big and nasty people. I needed a job fast, no matter what it was. A college buddy of mine had just started work here, and this was a guy who stopped donating blood for a living because he couldn’t handle the hours, so I figured it couldn’t be too bad. When I came in for an interview, I understood why. They basically strapped a pen to my fist and wiggled the paper around under it.

ENGINEER #57: What was it like for you?

SERAGLIO: Who was what like for where?

ENGINEER #1: You signed The Contract, didn’t you?

SERAGLIO: Oh, yes. I did sign a thing, and with such a skill of signature that the ink fell like finger-blossoms on silk. This contract, what did he say?

ENGINEER #1: Didn’t you bother to read it?

SERAGLIO: The words, they were so dull and infirm of purpose.

ENGINEER #57 begins to laugh.

SERAGLIO: What is your humor?

ENGINEER #57: You signed your soul away and you didn’t even know it.

SERAGLIO: My…soul?

ENGINEER #1: “Minimally Invasive Toys reserves the right to terminate any employee at any time, without providing notice or cause.” I still remember every word of it.

ENGINEER #108: Number twenty-four had to sign it too.

The ENGINEERS observe a moment of silence.

ENGINEER #108: I think we should head back up.

ENGINEER #1: What?

ENGINEER #108: I don’t want any other workers to die at the paws of those things.

ENGINEER #57: You were terrified of them before. Where’d all this courage come from?

ENGINEER #108: I’m still scared. But so was he. A lot of people will be, if somebody doesn’t stop this soon. I figure my fear isn’t worth as much as all those fears put together, even though I am me so mine’s worth at least triple.

ENGINEER #57: That’s a pretty wise thing to say.

ENGINEER #108: I know. I’ve been working on it.

ENGINEER #1: It’s true, too. It isn’t fair that we should be safe while everybody up there’s still in danger. That’s not what I call equal opportunity.

SERAGLIO: You may do what you like, but I absolutely will not!


SERAGLIO: I refuse to put my exquisite ass back in the fire of danger. These are the devil’s playthings.

ENGINEER #1: But you’re the one who let them out in the first place!

SERAGLIO: They tricked me with their siren calls and their attractive packaging!

ENGINEER #57: Let him stay. It’s his right as a worker.

ENGINEER #1: Damned rights, always standing in the way of progress…

ENGINEER #57: Besides, we don’t want him making another stupid mistake and getting us into more trouble.

SERAGLIO’s jaw drops like a sack of potatoes.

ENGINEER #108: That’s right. We can handle it on our own. Probably easier that way.

SERAGLIO: Stupid? The adjective who means to exhibit a lack of power of intellect, you apply him to me?

ENGINEER #1: I guess you’re right. If he’s that much of a coward, we’d have to drag him everywhere. I’d rather not bother.

SERAGLIO: Seraglio is no chickenheart! I will go with you, and I will show you what my years of arduous training have accomplished! Cha cha cha!

ENGINEER #57: Wait, we can’t just rush in without a plan. First, we need to decide where we’re going.

SERAGLIO: Who is the mollycoddle now?

ENGINEER #1: I vote we go to Mr. Commission. He designed the Kit-N-Ex, so he ought to know how to stop them.

ENGINEER #108: Why would he tell us? From the sound of it, he’s enjoying this as much as they are.

ENGINEER #57: Don’t forget, we have his lost toy.


ENGINEER #57: You. Everybody knows how Mr. Commission feels about his Public Relations.

ENGINEER #108: Okay, but how do we find Mr. Commission?

ENGINEER #57: Even I don’t know where his office is. He had this place built like a labyrinth.

SERAGLIO: The little bastards, they would know!

ENGINEER #1: You mean Clank and Scuffle?

SERAGLIO: Yes, those bastards. They told me that they can carry messages to him personally, so they must know where to find him.

ENGINEER #108: Okay, but how do we find Clank and Scuffle?

ENGINEER #57: Now you’re micromanaging. They’re probably walking around laughing villainously. If we wander around for long enough, we’re bound to run into them.

ENGINEER #1: Then what are we waiting for?

ENGINEER #57: I’m not sure…a sign, I guess.

ENGINEER #108: You mean a sign that we’re doing the right thing going back up there and risking our lives with little or no hope of success?

ENGINEER #57: Yeah. Some reassurance would be nice.

The stage begins to sink again under waves of heroic flourishes from the orchestra. As the surface reaches its halfway-point, CLANK and SCUFFLE become visible, examining the trapdoor from above. The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO linger below, with only their heads and shoulders in sight.