Someplace Weird
a Forever Knight parody

by Lisa Prince

July 1996  (posted to fkfic-l in September 1996)


      Preface    |
Tracy's Song
   |   Divia's Song   |   Vachon's Song   |
   Schanke's Song   |   LaCroix's Song



    Hey, hey, all.  :)

    The following story involves a very heavy dose of satire mixed with a portion of sarcasm.  It is only for those who don't take the show, its characters or the affiliations on forkni-l too seriously; I'm an equal opportunity offender, and no one is safe in this story.  It crosses over with another universe, but doesn't include anyone other than Forever Knight characters and factions.  Please note: this story has been known to cause soda spewing, spaghetti choking, and strange looks from coworkers when read at work.  Therefore, proceed at your own risk.   :)  Oh yeah -- believe me when I say that you'll never look at The Wizard of Oz in quite the same way. <chuckle>

    Oh, and there are some minor, oblique, sexual references that might be considered slightly offensive by innocent Southern belle-types.  ;)  Anyway, your sanities have been warned. <wg>

    All list members who are named and appear as characters herein have given me their permission to use and abuse them.  ;)  Just want to say "thank you" to a great bunch of friends who served as beta-readers and talked me into posting this.  Special thanks to Celeste (who kept telling me to "shut up and finish it") and to Dianne, Diane, Tami, Toni, Felicia, Lillian, Amy, Bonnie, and everyone else for bugging me until I agreed to post it.  :)  Please send all comments, criticisms, etc. to me.




The forkni-l Forever Knight email discussion list has a longstanding custom -- originating in a round-robin storytelling game called "Fkfic-l War" -- that each character's followers (fans) belong to an affiliation.  Here are the primary forkni-l affiliations, as this parody invokes them:

Character Affiliation
Nick Knighties
LaCroix Cousins
Natalie Natpackers
Janette Ravenettes
Schanke FoDs (for "Friends of Don," pronounced "foods")
Tracy Perkulators
Vachon Vaqueras



Someplace Weird


    Nick was in the midst of a spring-cleaning binge.  After nearly eight-hundred years, he had accumulated a large array of useless junk.  Digging through the top shelf of his closet, he was surprised and disgusted to find that he hadn't tossed the last birthday gift that Schanke had given him.  As he lifted the large, stuffed, mounted carp off the shelf, Nick lost his grip.  The last thing he saw before darkness claimed him was the wide, grinning mouth of the carp.

*  *  *

    Nick groggily pushed himself into a sitting position and glanced around the room.  The air in the apartment seemed rather stale to him and, for some strange reason, everything was black and white.  Deciding that he needed fresh air, Nick called for Perry and headed outside for a walk.

    On opening the door, he saw the most amazing sight.  Instead of a dirty parking lot hosting his caddy, a strange-looking but extremely colorful little town spread out before him.  A lovely little brook ran through it, as well as a swirling red and yellow brick path.  But most amazing of all was the outfit that Nick wore and the strange metamorphosis that had struck Perry.  With one eyebrow raised in confusion, Nick contemplated his ensemble: a blue gingham dress, sensible shoes (but no nylons, of course, because we all know how they ride up and pinch and bind) and two pretty blue ribbons in his hair.  He turned to Perry, who had turned into a little terrier of some sort.  "Perry, I've a feeling we're not in Toronto anymore.  We must be over the rainbow."

    Perry merely stared up at Nick, scratched himself behind the ears, and trotted off to find a nice shrubbery.

    Just then, when it didn't appear that things could possibly get any weirder than they already were, a big green bubble floated into view and popped, spraying Nick and Perry with that sticky bubble stuff and generally soaking them from head to toe.

    In the center of the explosion -- quite safe from the spray -- stood Janette, the Good Vampire of the North.  After giving Nick's rather tacky and out-of-vogue outfit a disapproving glance (I mean, really, blue gingham?), she asked, "Are you a good vampire or a bad vampire?"

    "Who?  Me?"  squeaked Nick.

    "Yes, you.  Since you dropped a giant carp on LaCroy, the Wicked Vampire of the East, the Natkins, oops, I mean, the Munchkins, called me, and they want to know: are you a good vampire or a bad vampire?"

    Nick glanced quickly at the giant carp with two feet sticking out of its mouth, and replied sarcastically, "I've been trying to figure that out for eight-hundred years, and you expect me to come up with an answer right now?"  Wandering over to the carp, he attempted to look inside to see if there really was a body in there, or if someone was pulling his leg.  He staggered back in astonishment after seeing what LaCroy had hidden up his dress.  Turning to Janette, the Good Vampire of the North, Nick gave his head a little shake in hopes of waking up a few brain cells.  "Let's go back to safer territory.  What exactly is a Natkin, I mean, Munchkin?"

    "They're these little bite-sized snacks, very juicy."

    "What?"  Nick scratched his head in confusion.

    "They're the bouncy little folk who live in this land.  Being vertically-challenged, they tend to be a bit non-people-oriented until they get to know you.  You sort of have to lull them into a false sense of security before you can put the bite on them.  Of course, you are their national heroine, oops, I mean, hero, for freeing them from LaCroy, the Wicked Vampire of the East.  Come out, my little donut holes.  He won't hurt you."

    Suddenly little Munchkins started popping out everywhere.  In their excitement, the Munchkins began bouncing, dancing, singing -- and some even piddled -- for joy.  They were just a wee bit excited.  This tall, blond, good-looking man had dropped into their midst and freed them from the oppression of LaCroy, the Wicked Vampire of the East.  Being a rather co-dependent lot, they would be sure to remain loyal to him and only occasionally hit him in the head with a brick -- and then only when he really, really deserved it.

    After examining LaCroy, Nat, the Coroner Munchkin, came forward and said, "As coroner, I must affirm, I thoroughly examined him, and he's not only merely dead, he's really most sincerely dead."

    The singing and rejoicing continued until the happy group arrived back at the center of town.

    Suddenly, there was an explosion, and then a puffing, bellowing cloud of black smoke.  LaCroix, the Wicked Vampire of the West, slinked out of the haze and sneered, "Who killed my brother?"

    "LaCroix?" Nick inquired in amazement. "What's going on?"

    "You're asking me?  This is your dream.  Wasn't the Alice in Wonderland stint bad enough?  You had to dump us into the Land of Oz?  I wouldn't be caught dead in a long black dress, green face paint and a fake nose with a mole on it.  This is really most annoying."

    "I'm so sorry about all of this.  I really wish I were human.  If I were human, none of this would be happening," Nick moaned in angst.

    "Give me a break," LaCroix snapped.  Then, returning to the action as dictated by the script, he said, "Ahemmm.  You killed my brother.  Where are those tacky shoes with the red sequins glued on them?"

    Just then, Nick felt the most excruciating pain in his toes.  And heels.  And insteps.  And . . .  Looking down, he saw his feet absolutely smashed into the shoes about which LaCroix, the Wicked Vampire of the West, had just asked.

    "Keep tight inside them," Janette advised.

    "As if I had a choice!" Nick screamed.  "What are these things?  A size six?  Ohhh, my achin' corns."

    "Give me those shoes," LaCroix said menacingly.

    "Gladly, but they won't come off.  Janette," Nick whined, "do something."

    "Stop whining!" Janette snapped.  "All you ever do, whine, whine, whine.  It's been eight-hundred years; can't you give it a rest?"  With a swish of her gown, Janette, the Good Vampire of the North, turned to LaCroix.  "Be gone, vile fiend, before someone drops a carp on you."

    Glancing up at the sky in fear, LaCroix, the Wicked Vampire of the West, said, "I can't deal with you now, Nicky boy.     But I'll get you, my pretty, and your little vampire dog too."  With that, LaCroix disappeared in another cloud of black smoke.

    Janette, the Good Vampire of the North, said, "Now, why don't you go whine to the Wizard; maybe he'll help you.  Just follow the yellow-brick road.  I'm out of here.  I've got to get out of this pink frilly thing before anyone else sees me."

    The Munchkins pulled out a really huge hoop, dipped it in a pool filled with bubble stuff, and blew a huge bubble around Janette so that she could float away -- frilly pink dress and all.  But the Munchkins, height-impaired as they were, poor little things, had trouble holding up the bubble wand and a few of them fell over backwards into the pool of bubble stuff.  There was much squealing and fainting as the Munchkins tried to save their drowning compatriots (or is that "compatriates"?  Hmmm.  Oh, well.  Who cares?).

    "Well," Nick drawled while watching the theatrics.  "I best be going.  Janette said to follow the yellow-brick road, so off I go to find it."

    Nick looked around and noticed that everyone seemed rather busy.  "I said I'm off," he repeated, louder.  "I'm leaving now."

    Still nothing.

    "I'm leaving and I'm never coming back!" he shouted.

    Still nothing.

    Getting a bit red in the face, Nick began jumping up and down and throwing a tantrum.  (He must be the center of attention at all times, as we all know so well.)  "I'm leaving!  I'm leaving!  I'm leaving, and I'm never coming back.  I'm off to see the Wizard, damn it," he bellowed.

    It would be putting it mildly to say that that got their attention.

    The bubble-soaked Natkins . . . er . . . Munchkins began wailing and tearing at their hair at the prospect of Nick leaving.  It seems, for some unknown reason, that they had become rather attached to this blond-haired marvel of egocentrism.  After all, it's not every day that you meet someone who can throw a really effective tantrum (it's an art form, don't cha' know).  Anyway, several vertically-impaired Nats latched onto his legs and his walking was much impaired by clinging Natkins . . . er . . . Munchkins.

*  *  *

    Several hours later, Nick was still wandering aimlessly around Munchkinland dragging along his Munchkin cling-ons and moaning about his poor feet crammed into those little shoes  (and we all know that once that boy starts moaning about something, there's really just no stopping him).  Anyway, being of the directionally-impaired gender, he couldn't find the yellow-brick road Janette had mentioned.  Surprise, surprise.

    The left clinging Munchkin, being a lower-leg driver, looked up at Nick with exasperation.  "Why don't you just ask someone for directions?"

    "Hey!" Nick said, his voice filled with that wounded puppy-dog whine. "Real men don't ask for directions."

    "Right," replied the right clinging Munchkin, sarcastically.  "They just wander around for hours lost like idiots."

    "Look, if you're going to cling to me like lichen to a stone, I'd appreciate it if you kept your snide little comments to yourself," Nick snapped in irritation.  Mumbling to himself, he complained, "I'm walking around this God-forsaken place, dragging two midget Nats along, and wearing shoes that are a good four sizes too small, and I need to listen to this?  Humph.  I don't think so."

    The right offending Munchkin stared up at him, big tears shining in her brown eyes, lower lip thrust out, sniveling.  She released her hold on his leg and said, "I don't think I like you anymore."  She then promptly collapsed in a sobbing heap -- she was a wee bit on the melodramatic side.

    The left clinging Munchkin detached herself and looked angrily up at Nick.  "Hasn't anyone ever told you that you're supposed to be nice to miniature women when they have PMS?"  With that said, the angry Nat. . . er . . . Munchkin hauled off and kicked Nick in the shins.

    "Owww." Nick squealed like a little pig as he fell to the ground clutching his leg.

    Several trailing Munchkins began giggling inanely.  (He was wearing a dress, after all, and we all know that kilt-wearing fellows take to heart the "swing-low, sweet chariot" idea.)

    Noticing the peeping Munchkins, Nick hastily got up and straightened his dress.  Looking down as he smoothed out his pleats, he was amazed to find that he had found the yellow-brick road (quite by accident, I assure you).

    "Well," Nick said with a little wave.  "I'm off to see the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

    After a brief musical interlude -- those Munchkins certainly love to sing and dance -- Nick began skipping through town, following the yellow-brick road.  Perry, who had had a nice, refreshing nap while Nick had been off playing with the miniature Nats, was all ready to go.

    Anyway, taking into consideration the lack of support (nudge-nudge, wink-wink), the skipping didn't last very long.

    When he reached the edge of town, Nick turned back to bid a final farewell to the Munchkins.  In response, the still angry, now non-clinging, Munchkins flipped him the bird; the peeping Munchkins had disappeared into their homes for some unknown reason, although the air was filled with an interesting humming noise; and the rest of the co-dependent Munchkins waved a cheerful farewell while weeping uncontrollably and berating Nick for leaving them and making them find out about it from a Desk Sergeant.

*  *  *

    Nick and Perry made their way along the yellow-brick road.  They proceeded fairly slowly due to the too-small, tacky, red-sequined shoes that Nick was forced to wear.  After a time, they reached a fork in the road.  Nick turned to Perry and asked, "Which way should we go now?"

    "Pardon me, that way is a very nice way," a rather familiar voice replied.

    "Who said that?" Nick searched around for a body to attach to the voice.  Meanwhile, Perry yipped, ran around in a few circles and then promptly piddled on Nick's foot.

    "Oh, for goodness sake," Nick moaned.  "Can't I catch a break today?"

    "Well," said the bodily-impaired voice, "maybe things will get better if you go that way."

    At the sound of the voice, Nick stopped contemplating his wet foot and looked around again.  That was when he noticed a scarecrow standing in a field and pointing off to the left.  He had never seen a scarecrow like this one.  Dressed up like a cop, it looked remarkably like Tracy Vetter.

    "Of course," said the voice that Nick now realized was coming from the Scarecrow cop, "people do go both ways."  At which point, the Tracy Scarecrow crossed its arms and pointed to the left and the right.

    "You can talk?"

    "Observant fellow, isn't he," Tracy said to Perry, who just sort of cocked his head to one side and contemplated piddling on the scarecrow (a dog's got to mark his territory, after all).

    "I asked," Nick said louder, "if you can talk?"

    The Tracy Scarecrow promptly nodded and then shook her head.

    "Can't you make up your mind?" Nick asked, then mumbled to himself, "Now that was a stupid question."

    "No," said the Tracy Scarecrow.  "I can't make up my mind because I haven't got a brain."

    "Hah," snorted Nick.  "Tell me something I don't know."

    "Okay, Nat's boinking Reese," the Scarecrow replied.

    "What!!!???" Nick screamed.

    "Only kidding, only kidding," Tracy the Scarecrow replied.  "You certainly can't take a joke.  Anyway, I think you owe me an apology.  I am a good scarecrow cop, ya' know."

    "I'm sorry," Nick said, none too sincerely, since he was still a little miffed about the Nat/Reese comment.  "Anyway, back to business, what would you do with a brain if you had one?"

    "Well," began Tracy the Scarecrow as she stood up and got ready for her musical number.  (You all know the tune to the song, right?  ;)  Everybody sing:

I would really be a good cop,
Stop relyin' on my old pop --
nepotism, that's his game.
My partner'd be the loser
And he'd turn into a boozer
If I only had a brain.

I'd unravel every riddle
and capture every crim'nal --
No problem, it's a snap.
With the crimes I'd be solvin'
My career would be evolvin'
If I only had a brain.

Oh, I could solve the crime.
Of guilt I would be sure.
I could catch the perps I'd never caught before
And then go out
And catch some more.

I would not be just cute Tracy
pushed aside because I'm spacey --
Every thought causin' me pain.
I would jail perps and be happy
For myself and not my pappy
If I only had a brain.

    Tracy the Scarecrow finished her song with a flourish and collapsed on the ground next to Nick.  He was busy massaging his corns and wiping Perry piddle off his imposed shoes.

    "Nice song, Trace, very entertaining, unrealistic as hell, but entertaining nonetheless," Nick said as he clapped.  "Anyway, I'm off to see the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  You're welcome to come along and ask for a brain.  Although, considering what he has to work with, I wouldn't get my hopes up if I were you."

    Tracy the Scarecrow stared at him incredulously.  "Has anyone ever told you that your interpersonal skills leave a lot to be desired?"

    "Yeah.  So what's your point?"

    "Oh, forget it!" Tracy said in exasperation.  "I'll go with you just to prove how good a cop I really am."

    And off down the yellow-brick road skipped Nick and Tracy the Scarecrow, with Perry the vampire pooch prancing prissily behind.

*  *  *

    Long after the skipping wore thin, Nick, Tracy the Scarecrow, and Perry continued on down that unending yellow brick road.

    Nick, of course, had a running complaint commentary going.  Tracy was doing her best to ignore him and remain perky.  Perry, on the other paw, was seriously contemplating biting Nick in a strategic part of his anatomy to really give him something about which to complain.

    As Perry eyed Nick's behind, Nick looked off to the left and gave a bit of a start.  His eyes grew round as pie plates -- apple pie plates -- and he said, "Oh!  Knightie trees!  Oh!  Look!"

    Tracy, being her usual clueless self, asked, "What's a Knightie tree?"

    "A tree that grows Knighties of course.  Plump, juicy Knighties.  Yummy."  The sight of all those hanging Knighties was getting him quite aroused.

    Nick wondered off the path towards what appeared to be an endless field of trees.  There were regular Knightie trees, See-through Knightie trees, and Dark Knightie trees.  Why, there was every type of Knightie tree imaginable!  Always being rather brickish, Nick wandered towards a regular Knightie tree.  Well, these regular Knighties took one look at the gold in his eyes and the fangs in his mouth and started squealing and waving their arms about and kicking their feet.  Nick got a little too close in his quest to pick one and received a good solid kick in the chops.

    "Owww," whined Nick, the maleficent marvel of moral magnificence.

    "What do you think you're doing?" asked the Knighties.

    "Well," Nick stammered.  "We've been walking such a long way, and I was hungry."

    "He was hungry," snapped one Knightie.

    "He was hungry," echoed another.

    "How would you like it if someone came along and tried to bite your neck?" the first Knightie asked irately.

    "But," Nick said saucily, "someone did come along and bite my neck.  That's how I got this way, don't cha' know."

    "Ohhh, all right for you, Mr. Smarty-pants," snipped the Knighties.  Then, in unison, they all crossed their arms over their chests, stuck out their lower lips and pouted.

    Nick felt a slight tug on his sleeve.  Tracy the Scarecrow was trying to get his attention.

    "Ya' know, Nick, I think you're going about this the wrong way.  I'll show you how to get as many Knighties as you want."  That said, the Scarecrow promptly tore open the bodice of Nick's lovely little blue gingham dress.

    The Knighties caught one glimpse of Nick's bare bosom and screamed, "Chest!!!  I see chest!!!"

    A large number began turning and twisting, attempting to tear themselves off their stems.  Some succeeded and descended on Nick in droves.  He quickly grabbed and drained two, then ran away down the yellow-brick road as quickly as his aching, smashed, piddle-covered feet would carry him.

*  *  *

    Having finally lost the pursuing Knighties, Nick, Tracy the Scarecrow and Perry collapsed by the side of the road.  Nick had the good fortune to collapse onto something very hard that sort of reverberated when he hit it.  Of course, he couldn't tell if the echoing was from his skull or the object on which he had fallen.  After rubbing his head for a moment, he glanced up to see what he had bashed it on.  What he saw gave him quite a fright.  He jumped to his feet, bared his fangs, and bit the neck of the creature in front of him.

    Not fully realizing from what material the creature was made, he chipped a fang and barely put a ding in the neck of the creature.

    "Divia?" he asked in fear.

    "Myyymfff," she replied.


    "Myyymfff," she repeated.

    "Ah, Nick?" queried Tracy the Scarecrow, "if you were a bit more observant you might notice that she's made out of tin and has a little rust problem.  Maybe you should oil her up."

    "Oil her up?" Nick asked incredulously.  "She's my sister!!!  I can't do something like that.  It wouldn't be proper."

    "Ahhh, does the name 'Janette' ring any bells?" Tracy asked.

    "Well," Nick stammered.  "But, but, that's different.  We were fooling around before I became her brother."

    "Your capacity to create a logical argument never ceases to amaze me."

    "Yeah, look who's talking."

    With that, Nick and Tracy the Scarecrow got into a bit of a scuffle.  Tracy flapped her arms around like a girl and Nick hauled off and slugged her, sending her flying across the yellow-brick road.

    With Tracy out of the way for a moment, Nick stared at Divia.  He gave her chest a little rap to make sure she was in fact tin.  Quite a nice echo responded to his rapping.  Being a rather musical sort, Nick promptly began rapping out "Chopsticks" on Divia's various tin body parts.  She was quite well tuned for a tin girl.  (By the way, it really was a good thing that she was made as a little girl.  Think tin brassiere.  Gives new meaning to the term "support bra.")

    After having his fun, Nick gave Divia the Tin Girl's mouth a tentative squirt of oil.

    "My goodness," breathed Divia the Tin Girl.  "I can talk again.  Oil my arms; oil my legs."

    "Pushy, pushy," snapped Nick.  "Why would I want to do anything for you?  You weren't exactly nice to me the last time we met."

    "You should help me because you're my brother," Divia replied.

    "Yeah, right.  You always try to kill your loved ones."

    "But that's the thing, Nick.  I don't love you.  I can't.  I haven't got a heart," said Divia the Tin Girl.

    "Sure you do," replied Nick.  "I put a stake smack-dab through the center of it not too long ago."

    "Well, thank you for bringing up such a painful memory," Divia snapped.  "Are you going to oil me or not?"

    "I'm thinking about it," Nick said.

    Tracy the Scarecrow popped him in the head for that one.  "Oil the rest of her, and let's get on with it.  All these deviations from required protocol are confusing me."

    "Oh, I'm sure that's an unfamiliar state of mind for you," Divia quipped meanly.

    "Another word out of you, and I'll fill you full of sardines.  That's all tin is good for anyway."

    "Oh yeah?" said Divia.

    "Yeah," yelled Tracy.

    "Yeah?" shouted Divia.

    "Yeah," screamed Tracy.

    Before the Scarecrow and Tin Girl could come to blows, Nick stepped in and broke things up.  After oiling up Divia the Tin Girl, he asked, "So, what's the deal with the heart thing?"

    Divia clunked around a bit and then started singing:

When a girl can't have her daddy
It can drive her rather batty
And tear her world apart.
But I'd stop all the killin'
And I'd really be quite willin'
If I only had a heart.

I'd be innocent.
I'd be sweet
And only bite to eat.
Be a good girl not a tart.
I'd let my Dad boink Urs
And stop being so perverse
If I only had a heart.

Picture me --
A whorehouse please.
Mama is working there.
Wherefore art thou, Daddy dear.
He was asleep.
His neck's sweet.

Just because I come off evil
Doesn't mean I'm just a weasel --
I'll play a different part.
I could be young and merry
And my boyfriend's name'd be Jerry
If I only had a heart.

    After a brief interlude of more dancing, Nick and Tracy the Scarecrow asked Divia the Tin Girl to join them on their journey to see the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

    Just before they got ready to go skipping down the yellow brick road again, yet another puffing cloud of black smoke appeared above a dilapidated old shack on the side of the road.  LaCroix, the Wicked Vampire of the West, stepped out cackling.

    "Helping the little lady, I mean, gentleman, along, are we?" he sneered.  "Well, you better watch it, my fine gentlemen, I mean, ladies.  I'll get you too."

    "We're not afraid of you," shivered Tracy the Scarecrow.

    "Really?" asked LaCroix, the WVotW, innocently.  "Wanna' play ball?"  He appeared to gather up a bit of energy and then threw a ball of fire at Tracy the Scarecrow.

    She squealed and jumped about trying to get away from the fire.

    Meanwhile, LaCroix, up on the roof, cackled quite evilly.  Cackled so hard, in fact, that he slipped and fell off the roof right into a patch of pricker bushes.  Screaming in pain, he jumped out of the bushes, looked at the travelers and said, "Just try to stay out of my way.  Just try."  Then, while picking prickers out of his posterior, he disappeared in his cloud of smoke and was gone.

    When Divia the Tin Girl finished putting out the fire, the trio, along with Perry, began skipping off down the yellow-brick road.  Again.  The trio had skipped no more than a few feet when Nick grabbed the arms of Tracy the Scarecrow and Divia the Tin Girl to make then stop for a moment.

    "Oh, you're the best friends anybody ever had," Nick said.  "And it's funny, but I feel as if I've known you all the time, but I couldn't have, could I?"

    During this lovely little speech, Tracy the Scarecrow and Divia the Tin Girl just stood there blinking and staring at Nick as if he were a disgusting little bug.  When he was done, the Tin Girl looked at the Scarecrow and the Scarecrow looked at the Tin Girl and then, as one, they both reached out their hands and began knocking on Nick's head saying, "Hellooo?  Is anybody home?  Elevator going to the top floor?  Full deck of cards?  Enough sandwiches for a picnic?  Butterin' the right side of the bread?"

    "Owww," Nick whined.  "Quit it," he said as he flapped his hands about his head to try to stop their knocking.  The rather hollow sound it made was giving him a headache.

    "He's right," Tracy said.  "We better stop. All the knockin' might make things worse."

    "Hey," Nick said woundedly.  "I was being totally sincere."

    "Hey," mimicked Divia.  "You're makin' me totally sick.  One 'I love you guys' and I'm going to take those Bud Lights away."  She turned to Tracy and said, "I swear, give a man a beer and he goes all mushy."

    "All right, all right," said Nick.  "Let's just get going."  And off they headed to see the Wizard (minus the skipping, of course; a beer-filled bladder and skipping just don't go together).

*  *  *

    The forest around the road kept getting darker and darker.  Nick appeared to grow a little anxious as their surroundings darkened.  Tracy the Scarecrow wandered along in a perky, bouncing, clueless state.  Divia the Tin Girl began to smile evilly.  (Of course, having a tin mouth, she tended to look constipated rather than evil.)

    "I like this forest," she said. "It's nice and dark."

    "Ya' know," said Tracy, who was broken out of her happy little bubble by Divia's words, "it is rather creepy."

    "I think it'll get darker and creepier before it gets lighter," Divia cackled with glee.

    "Do you suppose we'll meet any wild animals?" Nick asked.

    "Probably," said Divia.  "Yes, probably some lions and tigers and bears."  The thought of the wild animals had Divia jitter-bugging in glee.  Of course, a Tin Girl doing the jitter-bug makes an awful lot of noise, so Nick and Tracy were getting very nervous.  They grabbed each other as they walked along, glancing from side to side and chanting, "Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!  Lions and tigers and bears.  Oh my!"

    Suddenly, a loud growl preceded a lion bounding out of the woods.  He got right in the faces of the hapless little yellow-brick-road travelers and kept growling in an attempt to frighten them.  Even in their frightened state the travelers were taken in by the sight of a lion with a straight, disheveled, black mane.

    Tracy the Scarecrow and Divia the Tin Girl fell to the ground in the middle of the path out of fright while Nick -- being a bit of a wuss -- ran away squealing and hid behind a tree.  Perry ran under a bush and did what all little dogs do when they get overly excited; he shook and piddled all over the place.

    Nick, safely entrenched behind the tree, was puzzled by the remarkable resemblance the lion bore to Javier Vachon.

    The lion stood, towering over Tracy and Divia, puffing out his chest and trying to look very manly.  He gave them a lecherous leer and said, "Put 'em up, put 'em up.  I'll take you both at the same time if you want.  I'll take you with one paw tied behind my back.  I'll take you standing on one foot.  I'll take you with my eyes closed."  Trying his best to do the intimidating sexy masculine thing, he started growling again.  He was definitely involved in that macho male overcompensation thing.

    While Tracy and Divia attempted to think of a way to approach this situation without destroying the poor lion's obviously fragile ego, Perry decided to play hero dog and started yipping at the lion.

    The lion, firmly disillusioned by his more-powerful-than-thou bravado, said, "I'll get you anyway, piddle pooch."  With that, he bounded though the bushes after Perry.  But since the lion was, by trade, a bit of a slacker, he ran out of steam rather quickly.  Collapsing by the side of the path, he said, "Hold on a minute.  Time out.  I've got to rest.  Somebody get me a couch, TV, and remote control."  Really getting into his role, he placed a hand over his forehead and moaned, "Ohhh, I'm wasting away."

    "Excuse me," said Divia.  "Exaggerating just a wee bit, aren't you?"

    "Be quiet," the lion replied.  "I'm going for my Oscar-winning death scene here.  Never know when I'll get another chance."

    So, Nick, Tracy, Divia, and Perry waited patiently for the lion to finish his melodramatic rendition of a death scene.

    Finally the lion said, "Okay, back to the chase."  He got up and started chasing Perry around again.

    Sick of all this, Nick emerged from behind the tree, jumped in front of the lion, and smacked him on the nose.

    The lion began sniveling uncontrollably.  "What'd you do that for?  I didn't bite him."  With that, Vachon, the Cowardly Lion, began crying.

    "Well, we can't have you biting dogs.  That's carouche behavior.  Totally lacks class.  It's for your own good," said Nick.

    "But," sobbed Vachon the Cowardly Lion, "you didn't have to go ahead and hit me."  Touching a paw to his nose, he asked, "Is my nose bleedin'?"

    "Of course not!" snapped Nick.  "If it were, I would have vamped out and drained you dry in a second.  I've next to no self-control, ya' know."  As Vachon continued cryin' and sobbin', Nick said, "My goodness, what a fuss you're making.  Why, you're nothing but a great big cowardly prima donna."

    "You're right," sniveled Vachon.  "I am a coward, but I look damn fine."

    "Jeez," said Tracy the Scarecrow sarcastically.  "This is real attractive.  I'm in love with a blubbering wimp."

    This had Vachon wailing all the louder.  Nick shot Tracy a reproachful glare, put his arm around Vachon in a brotherly fashion, and addressed Tracy.  "It's not nice to kick a man when he's down.  We have feelings too, ya' know.  You're all just so insensitive."  Nick pulled a tissue out of his pocket and began crying as well.  "All you women," he sobbed, "you're uncaring brutes."  The two blubbering fellows wandered to the curb of the yellow brick road, copped a squat, and began crying in each other's arms.

    Tracy the Scarecrow and Divia the Tin Girl looked at the guys, looked at each other, rolled their eyes and said in unison, "I don't believe this."

    "Oh hush, you two," hiccupped Nick.  He turned to Vachon.  "Why don't you tell me all about your cowardliness, Vachon.  Get it off your chest.  You'll feel better."

    Vachon sucked it up, stood, and began singing:

I'm bad, believe me Nicky
Wanna give a girl a hickey
Without being called a perv (i.e. pervert).
Why, I'd show my love to Tracy
Dress her up in something lacy
If I only had the nerve.

I'm afraid there's no denyin'
I'm a really lazy lion
A fate I must preserve.

I'd be lazy as a louse  (Vachon)
I'd be gentle as a mouse  (Divia, with a nauseated look on her face)
I'd be smarter than a house  (Tracy, as if there were any question)
If the wizard is a wizard who will serve  (Nicky-poo)

Then I'm sure to get a brain  (Tracy)
Whatever  (Divia)
Mortality  (Nicky)
The nerve  (Vachon)

    And then off they went, skipping down the yellow-brick road together.  With little further incident, our group reached the Emerald City.

    LaCroix, the Wicked Vampire of the West, had tried to throw a monkey in the works, but he always failed miserably when trying to stop Nick from doing things.  Vachon had simply grabbed the monkey, drained it dry, and off they went.  Seeing that, LaCroix had remarked, "Someone always helps that girl, er, I mean, boy."  When his plan didn't work, LaCroix turned to Screed -- who was dressed up in one of those cute little monkey suits with the miniature pillbox hats -- and said, "Watch the place while I'm gone.  I'm off to the Emerald City."

*  *  *

    Arriving at the door to the city, our travelers naturally rang the doorbell.  A small round window in the door opened.  Captain Reese stuck his head through and asked, "Who rang that bell?"

    "We did," came the chorused reply.

    "Can't you read?" Reese whined.

    "Read what?" they asked.

    "The notice," said Reese.

    "What notice?" they queried.

    "It's on the door, as plain as the coffee stains and donut crumbs on my tie."  Reese leaned further through the window and glanced around for the sign.  Failing to see it, he disappeared back inside for a moment before reemerging with a sign.  Being that he was a bit rotund, and with both his arm and his head out the opening, he found himself in the rather embarrassing situation of being stuck.

    "Ahhh," he groaned, twisting to the right.  "Hunnn," he moaned, twisting to the left.  "Ummm, I appear to be stuck," he said and then began hollering for help.

    Nick, Tracy, Divia and Vachon couldn't see what was happening on the other side, but they decided to try to help.  Nick got right in front of Reese with the rest lined up behind him.  He began pushing on Reese's head, trying to shove him back through the window while the others stood in a line behind him, pushing as well.

    Reese bellowed an "ouch!" right in Nick's face.

    "Whew," exclaimed Nick backing off a few feet and waving a hand in front of his nose.  "Ya' know Reese, I've been meaning to have this talk with you about your breath.  Can you say halitosis?  Man, oh man, oh man.  You could kill someone with that breath.  Didn't anyone ever tell you that stale coffee breath is bad enough?  Add tuna sandwiches for lunch and you've got something lethal on your hands."

    With a loud pop, Reese disappeared back through the opening, which is just as well since he was getting a bit red in the face during Nick's speech, and probably would have slugged Nick in a second if he hadn't gotten out of the window.

    After a minute or so, the door opened.  Explaining to the door guard who had replaced Reese, Nick said that they wanted to see the Wizard.  The guard explained that they couldn't just arrive all unkempt as they were, so he called for a car to take them to freshen up.

    A blue . . . aaahhh, no, teal . . . green? . . . or maybe turquoise . . . or whatever color that caddy actually is, drove up.  As the group headed toward the car, a woman with a maniacal look in her eyes came running out of the crowd and began pounding on the caddy with a sledgehammer.  The whole time, she shouted, "Die, die, die, die, die."  After inflicting serious damage, the woman jumped up onto the hood of the car, raised the hammer above her head like Thor, and let out a victorious war whoop.

    The men in the little white coats arrived shortly thereafter.  As they dragged the woman away, she explained, "I hate that car.  I hate that color.  Cars don't have fins; fish have fins.  I really, really, really hate that car."

    "Obviously," Nick muttered, looking at the demolished car.  "Well," he said to his traveling companions, "I guess we'll have to walk to the salon."

*  *  *

    The people of the Emerald City were a very happy lot -- downright perky, truth be told.  They were singing and eating and drinking and making merry -- whatever that means.  Nick found that they reminded him quite a bit of Schanke on a sugar high.  The resemblance was further established by the song they sang:

Ha, Ha, Ha, Ho, Ho, Ho
And a coupla M&Ms
That's how we snack and munch all day in the merry ol' land of Oz.

Munch, Munch, Munch, Crunch, Crunch, Crunch
And a buncha Devil Dogs
That's how we keep our strength all day in the merry ol' land of Oz.

We have lunch at 12 and start to snack at 1,
Have some chips and dip and then at 2 some rum,
Golly good fun.

Ha, Ha, Ha, Ho, Ho, Ho
And tons of souvlaki
That's how we snack and munch all day in the merry ol' land of Oz.

    Nick, Tracy the Scarecrow, Divia the Tin Girl, Vachon the Cowardly Lion and Perry the Wonder Pooch wandered through the Emerald City trying to ignore the over-stuffed, immediate-gratification-enhanced town dwellers.  Finally, they reached the Stuff It and Style It Salon.  Being that they each had different needs, they went their separate ways into individualized cubicles.

*  *  *

    In Tracy the Scarecrow's cubicle, things were not going at all well.  She was stretched out on the stuffing bed.  Going about their work, the straw-stuffers sang, "Stuff stuff here, stuff stuff there.  Makin' you nice and plump."

    "Hey!" Tracy screamed.  "You're giving me a buffalo butt.  Move that somewhere else!"

    So, being the submissive straw-stuffers that they were, they moved it around to the front.

    "Great," said Tracy sarcastically, "now I've got a pot belly.  Move it someplace else."

    So, being dutiful little workers, they rearranged the straw and shoved everything upward.

    "Oh my!" exclaimed Tracy.  "I've got bosoms."  She sat up and shouted over the cubicle wall, "Hey Vachon?!  I've got breasts.  Big ones!  Dolly Parton ones!"  Sitting back to admire her newly protruding mammaries, she noted, "This is nice.  I think I like this."  Satisfied with how things had filled out, she hopped off the stuffing bed and promptly fell over.  The forward-protruding top-heaviness just pulled her right down.  Of course, her chest was so large that it cushioned her fall quite nicely.  "Hmmm," she said as the workers helped her up.  "I guess these might take a little getting used to."

    "We could move some of it elsewhere.  It would be no problem at all," the bra straw-stuffers said, reaching for her.

    "Touch them and you die," Tracy snarled.  Then, off she stumbled to see how the others were doing.

*  *  *

    Over where Divia the Tin Girl lay on another bed, the buffers and shiners busied themselves.  They were also a rather perky lot, dancing and singing while using large heavy machinery (of course, perky people really shouldn't be allowed to use heavy machinery, but that's another story entirely).  Anyway, they brought the sander down on Divia's back and began stroking it back and forth.

    "Oh yeah," moaned Divia.  "Oh yeah.  Lower . . . lower . . . a little to the right . . . a little more to the right.  Oh yeah, right there . . . right there," she screamed in orgasmic contentment.  "Oh, what a relief," she sighed.  "Being a tin girl has some decided disadvantages, ya' know," she said conversationally to the buffers.  "That one little spot back there has been itching for ages.  These tin joints just don't have the range of motion that they should."

*  *  *

    Next door, Nick got his hair and nails done.  A spare seamstress industriously sewed up the torn bodice of his dress.  "Okay," said the fashion consultant.  "Now we simply must get you some pantyhose."

    "No way!" objected Nick.  "There's no way I'm wearing pantyhose."

    "But all young ladies must wear pantyhose," wailed the seamstress.

    "Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Do I look like a woman to you?"

    "Well . . . you're wearing a dress, tacky red-sequined pumps, and you've got bows in your hair.  I'd say, 'If it dresses like a woman and primps like a woman, it is a woman.'  No need to over-think these things."

    "Look," said Nick rather snippily, "is this the face of a woman?  I've got five-o'clock-shadow, for goodness sake."

    "Oh, you can't take things like that at face value," said the seamstress.  "Facial hair is quite prevalent on some women.  I've seen women who weren't just hit with the ugly stick, they were bashed with it until the ugly stick broke in horror."

    "Oh, for goodness sake," whined Nick.  "Just give me the friggin' pantyhose."

    "Control top?  Or sheer?"

*  *  *

    Meanwhile, over in Vachon's cubicle, things were getting a wee bit violent.  The hairdressers were trying desperately to get Vachon in the chair so they could snip, snip, here, and snip, snip, there.  Vachon just wasn't going for the whole stylish hairdo thing.

    "Stay away from me with those scissors," shouted Vachon, brandishing a curling iron.  "Away, I say; away, demon women!"

    "Oh, come on," wheedled the hairdressers.  "We won't hurt you, honey.  We're just going to take a little off the top."

    "You're not cutting my hair," scowled Vachon darkly.

    "All right," they conceded.  "If you're going to be a baby about it, we won't cut.  We'll just wash and style it."

    "No.  No!  Get away from me with that comb!" he said in panic.

    They had him cornered now.

    "No, no, nooo!!!" screamed Vachon in horror as the stylists held him down and began combing his hair.

*  *  *

    The foursome plus Perry reconvened outside the Salon.

    "My goodness!" Nick exclaimed, staring at Tracy's massively enhanced chest.  "You certainly have filled out there, Trace."

    "Yummy," Vachon observed with a leer.  "Come give papa some sugar, baby."

    "Eeck," said Tracy with disgust as she smacked Vachon soundly across the face.

    "Yeah baby, you know I like it rough," he moaned.

    Before things could get really out of hand, all hell broke loose.  LaCroix, the Wicked Vampire of the West, appeared above the city.  The Ozians ran and squealed and generally over-acted.  (These crowd scenes -- everybody wants to be the one person to stand out.)

    "Look," said Ozian Cohen, "she's . . . er . . . he's spelling out something . . . S-U-R-R-E-N-D-E-R, Surrender, D-O-R-O- . . . N-O--W-A-I-T- . . . H-I-C-K, Hick?  Surrender Hick?  Okay," shouted Cohen.  "Hick, into my office now."

    "Ha-ha, ha-ha, duh-ha, here I am," said a rather strange looking fellow in overalls and a straw hat, with a stalk of hay sticking out of his mouth.

    "Oh, wait," said Cohen.  "He's going back.  He crossed out the 'H' and he's drawing a . . . an 'N.'  Nick.  Who's Nick?"

    "To the Wizard," the crowd shouted.  "The Wizard will know."  And off they all raced to the Wizard.  The people of Oz crowded around the door to the Wizard's lair, stopped by a big, burly guard named Stonetree.

    "Everything is all right," he said, totally deadpan.  "Every thing is all right. <yawn>  The Great and Powerful Oz has everything <stretch> under control, so you can all go on home.  Go on," he said lackadaisically.  "Go home."

    The inhabitants of Oz, having a rather uncontrollable herding group mentality, turned and began heading home.  Nick, Tracy the Scarecrow, Divia the Tin Girl and Vachon the Cowardly Lion kept walking toward the guard.

    "If you please, Captain," said Hick . . . er . . . Nick, "we want to see the Wizard right away, all four of us."

    "Orders are . . . nobody can see the Great Oz.  Not nobody, not no-how," said Stonetree.

    "But, please," said Nick.  "It's very important."

    "No, not nobody, not no-how.  What?  You expect me to go outside the law, to not go by the book?"

    "But, she's . . . I mean, he's Nick," said Tracy the Scarecrow.

    "The vampire's Nick?" asked Stonetree, looking incredibly bored.  "Well, that's different.  I'll announce you right away."  And off he went, incredibly slowly, to announce them to the Wizard.

    The foursome waited patiently for the return of Stonetree the Slow Moving.  When he reappeared around two hours later, he had to wake the slumbering foursome.  He told them to go down a long, dark corridor, at the end of which the Wizard would be waiting.

    "Come forward," shouted an echoing voice when the travelers entered the corridor.  They moved pensively forward until they entered a great hall.  Before them, in the midst of great bursts of fire and bellowing clouds of smoke, floated a gigantic, disembodied head.  "I am Oz, the great  ::burpppp::  and powerful, who just happens to have a great and powerful case of gas.  Who are you?" the body-impaired head asked.

    "I am, if you please, Nick, the small and meek."

    "Meek!?" Oz shouted in outrage.  "Meek?!  I'm so sure," he bellowed sarcastically.  "Mr. Always First On The Scene while his Boston Baked Beans For Brains Partner follows up the rear."

    "But . . . " Nick began wheedling.

    "Silence!" shouted Oz.  "You're not in charge of this crime scene."

    "Oh, jiminy-crickets," squealed Nick as he ran to hide behind his fellow supplicants.

    "Step forward, tin girl," shouted Oz.

    Divia clanked forward.

    "You dare to come to me for a heart after you left some poor guy's body in a beer fridge?" asked Oz.

    "Yeah," said Divia obtusely.  "You see, it's really all my father's fault.  I'm the victim of a poor upbringing and --"

    "Quiet!" shouted Oz.  "You're giving me a headache."

    "Well . . . how rude," said Divia as she clanked back to the group.  "We're giving him a headache?  He's the one doing all the shouting."

    "And you scarecrow," yelled Oz, "you have the effrontery to ask for a brain.  You steal my job and now you want my help."

    "Well . . . yes," said Tracy.  "My father is a Commissioner, after all.  I have no scruples.  I can get away with anything."

    "Enough!" bellowed Oz.  "Nepotism will not be discussed in my presence.  And you, lion?"

    Vachon was sobbing and weeping as the others pushed him out in front.

    "Well?" asked Oz loudly.

    Vachon's eyes rolled back in his head.  He promptly took a header and fainted dead away.

    "Jeez, what a wimp," said Oz.

    "You oughta' be ashamed of yourself," scolded Nick, "scaring him like that when he came to you for help."

    "Silence, little man," shouted Oz.  "You don't run things here.  You're not the big-time detective here.  You're just some weirdo wearing a dress and bad shoes.  Besides, the Great Oz will fulfill your requests, but only after you complete a small errand for me."

    "What do we need to do?" asked Nick hopefully.

    "Go get me a large souvlaki with extra garlic from LaCroix the Wicked Vampire of the West's kitchen."

    "But," stammered Nick, turning pale.  "We'd have to break in to get it.  He's not really happy with us right now and he has all of his Cousins there."

    "I don't care," belched Oz.  "Bring me souvlakiNow!!!"

    With that, the foursome went running out of the great hall.  They were off to find souvlaki.

*  *  *

    After surreptitiously and expediently taking their leave of the belching Wizard -- which included Vachon running as swiftly as possible down the hall while at the same time holding his head to make sure his hair didn't get wind-blown -- Nick, Tracy the Scarecrow, Divia the Tin Girl, Vachon the Cowardly Lion and Perry the Wonder Pooch made their way toward the Wicked Vampire of the West's Castle.

    In order to get there, they were going to have to travel through a dark and gloomy forest.  Things got darker and spookier.  Up ahead, the travelers saw the edge of the haunted forest.  They knew it was haunted because there was this big, flashing, pink, neon sign proclaiming its metaphysically-enhanced nature.

    Vachon took one look at it, plopped down by the side of the road, and said, "I ain't going in there.  Nope, nope, nope, can't make me."

    "Oh, come on," Nick wheedled.  "Don't you want to get some courage and stop being such a wuss?  Besides, you heard the Wizard, all we have to do is get some souvlaki.  How hard could it be?"

    "Right, Knight, this path looks like it leads directly to some really nice downtown eateries," responded Vachon sarcastically.  "I just spent the last three hours in a Salon with a bunch of overzealous hairstylists.  They used combs, for goodness sake.  Do you have any idea how much damage a comb does to hair?  We're talking major split ends here."  Vachon took a minute to examine his ends.  "You can't possibly expect me to go into that forest.  Just look at those branches.  They're all skeletal and gross.  And what about bats?  You just know they're going to get stuck in my hair and mess it up.  I can't have that."

    "Vachon," Nick threatened.  "If you don't get off your duff and help us get a souvlaki, I swear by all that is holy -- which is, of course, everything except for me -- that I'm going to shave your head."  Nick reached out and grabbed Vachon by his chest hair (he's supposed to be a lion, after all, and lions don't wear shirts).  Pulling him up to eye level, Nick smirked, "We're talking crew cut, buzzy, cue ball, old baldy, buff and shine.  Do we understand each other?"

    "You don't have to get all huffy about it," sniffed Vachon as Nick let him go.  "A simple 'please' would have been nice."  He muttered, "If you haven't got your looks, what have you got?"

    Divia and Tracy watched this exchange with interest.  Finally, Divia turned to Tracy and said, "A word of advice, Perky: never date a man with better hair than you."

    "Just great," mumbled Tracy in exasperation.  "My mum and pup aren't bad enough, now I'm getting relationship advice from a twelve-year-old with a thing for father figures?"

    Divia looked puzzled.  "You get relationship advice from a house plant and a dog?"

    Glaring and muttering darkly to herself, Tracy stalked off toward the forest.  Nick, Vachon and Divia followed along behind her.  Perry fell further and further behind as he sniffed tree after tree.  He was most definitely in doggy heaven.  Every new tree must be inspected and suitably marked.

    As they approached the forest, they noticed more and more flashing signs retreating off into the distance.  The closest one read, "Haunted Forest.  Vampire's Castle 1 Mile.  I'd turn back if I were you!"

    About ten feet into the forest was another sign.  This one read, "What? Still here?"  The group looked at one another and kept moving.

    The next sign read, "I thought I advised you to turn back."

    The next one read, "Persistent little devils, aren't you?"

    The next one: "This is getting kind of ridiculous."

    The next one: "Okay, I'm getting really angry now."

    The next: "One last chance to turn around."

    The next: "Well, all right, one more chance."

    The next: "You really don't want to make me angry."

    Next: "This is absolutely your last chance."

    Next: "Now this is really it."

    Then: "That's it, you're gonna get it now."

    At each sign, the group stopped and read it aloud.  After glancing at each other, they always kept walking, moving closer and closer to the Vampire's Castle and the souvlaki for which they searched.

    At one point, a leaf fell on Vachon's head.  He screamed in horror and tried to run away.  The others held him until he got himself back in control -- which was only after having checked his hair in a mirror and discovering it still perfectly coiffed.

    "You know something?" pondered Tracy the Scarecrow after the group had resumed ambling along.  "I believe there might be some vampires around here."

    Nick, Divia the Tin Girl, Vachon the Cowardly Lion and Perry just stopped and looked at her with sinister little grins on their faces.  Nick asked, with a fangy grin, "Now Tracy, whatever would give you that idea?"

    "Well," replied Tracy, "the sign said 'Vampire's Castle ahead,' and it's awfully dark in here.  Just seems like a possibility."

    "That's ridiculous," said Divia.  "Vampires?  That's silly."

    "Don't you believe in vampires?" asked Tracy, looking at Divia in wide-eyed innocence.

    "Of course not," replied Divia sarcastically as she grabbed an owl off a nearby branch and drained it dry.

    Tracy stared at Divia pensively during this display.  She turned to Nick, who was staring lustfully at her neck, and then to Vachon, who looked downright hungry.  "Ummm."  Tracy nervously backed away from the others.  "Maybe we should get going.  I'm beginning to feel like the last Twinkie at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting."

    "Mmmm, Twinkies."  Vachon licked his lips and began moving toward Tracy.

*  *  *

    LaCroix, the Wicked Vampire of the West, watched this whole display through his crystal ball.  His rubber-nosed, green-painted face reflected back at him while he stared at the actions of Nick and his band, doing nothing to improve his mood.

    "You'll believe in more than just vampires before I'm through with you," snarled LaCroix.  His Cousins chuckled gleefully and clapped their hands in excitement as their ruler exhibited his most devilish behavior, although they were having a problem with their idol in a dress.

    "Diane!" LaCroix bellowed.  "Get in here right now!"

    Into the room shuffled a young lady dressed up like a monkey with metal wings strapped to her back.  She was muttering darkly to herself as she made her way to kneel in supposedly abject docility before her Uncle.

    "Take your army to the haunted forest and bring me that girl . . . er . . . boy and his dog.  Do what you like with the others, but I want him undead and unharmed."

    "What are we?  Slaves?" they asked each other.  "Can't you say 'please'?  I swear, just because we're Cousins, we get no respect.  You take us for granted.  We have feelings too, ya' know.  It's just that we're misunderstood."  All the Cousins huddled closer together in a protective group.  They began sobbing on each other's shoulders in angst.

    "Oh for pity's sake," moaned LaCroix.  "You all are acting like Nicholas.  Suck it up and get going."

    "Wh . . . Wh . . . Why don't you go do it yourself?  You're the mighty vampire," Diane, the head flying monkey imitator, hiccupped between sobs.

    "Hello!" he said in exasperation.  "It's daylight out, I'm a vampire, ergo, I can't go.  I'll explain it to you."  (Sung to "Day-O," the Banana Boat song.)  (Why, you ask?  Because I'm a wicked, evil woman. ;) )

Day, ow, Day..ay..ay, ow
Daylight's come and I gotta' go home.
Day, ow, it is day, it is day, it is day..ay..ay, ow
Daylight's come and I gotta' go home.

    The Cousins stopped sobbing and began dancing the Calypso.  (It certainly was a sight to see -- all these Cousins in monkey suits dancing to Caribbean music.)

Day, ow, Day..ay..ay, ow
Daylight's come and I gotta' go home.
Day, ow, it is day, it is day, it is day..ay..ay, ow
Daylight's come and I gotta' go home.

Suck all night on a lady's neck
Daylight's come and I gotta' go home.
Drain 'em dry 'til the mornin' comes.
Daylight's come and I gotta' go home.

My little Divia, came and bit her daddy.
Daylight's come and I gotta' go home.
My little Divia, came and bit her daddy.
Daylight's come and I gotta' go home.

Left fang, right fang, left fang, Bite
Daylight's come and I gotta' go home.
Left fang, right fang, left fang, Bite
Daylight's come and I gotta' go home.

Day, ow, Day..ay..ay, ow
Daylight's come and I gotta' go home.
Day, ow, it is day, it is day, it is day..ay..ay, ow
Daylight's come and I gotta' go home.

A beautiful neck, a throbbing vein.
Daylight's come and I gotta' go home.
Don't munch garlic, it's a vampy bane.
Daylight's come and I gotta' go home.

Garlic, sunlight, big stakes, Suck.
Daylight's come and I gotta' go home.
Garlic, sunlight, big stakes, Suck.
Daylight's come and I gotta' go home.

Day, ow, Day..ay..ay, ow
Daylight's come and I gotta' go home.
Day, ow, it is day, it is day, it is day..ay..ay, ow
Daylight's come and I gotta' go home.

    LaCroix ended with a flourish, black dress swirling, rubber-nose bobbing, and arms raised over his head.  The Cousins were much happier and more docile than before the little musical interlude.

    "Okay," LaCroix shouted while clapping his hands.  "Time to get back to business.  Nicholas and his friends won't give you any trouble: a whiner, a ditz, a delinquent and a wuss.  Now, fly, fly, fly!!!"

    The Cousins were very excited.  One truly overzealous Cousin ran and jumped off the balcony before starting her gas-powered wings.  LaCroix waltzed out and looked over the railing.  In distaste, he noted, "Mortal women can't fly."  He turned to Screed, who was sitting in a darkened corner sucking on a rat.  "Fly down and drag her out of the pool before she drowns," he said.  "No nipping."  LaCroix continued looking over the railing as Screed dragged the dripping wet and sputtering Cousin out of the pool.

    Meanwhile, Diane and the rest of the Cousins flew off to wreak havoc on Nick and his band of merry men . . . er . . . women . . . er . . . one man, two women and a dog.

    The flying Cousins -- sounds like a circus troupe, as a matter of fact, and, with those flying monkey outfits, they looked like a circus troupe -- reached the travelers in short order.  Screed had decided to accompany them to see what was going on.  He followed languidly behind, backstroking through the air.  He figured it would be prudent to be absent from the castle when LaCroix discovered the pile of rats in his private bath.

    The group's primary objective -- Nick -- heard them coming (there's a shocker, considering they sounded like a couple of hundred broken-down lawn mowers with those motorized wings).  Nick began running, squealing, through the forest in abject terror.

    Two of the Cousins swooped down, landed, and grabbed him.  Then they ran in an attempt to gather enough speed to take off again.  Of course, Nick was a wee bit heavier than they had anticipated (svelte-less, you could say) and there very little chance existed of them actually making it into the air, so they decided to just keep running until they arrived back at the castle.  Since Nick couldn't run very well with his feet crammed in those teeny little red-sequined shoes, the Cousins decided that they would have to carry him.  After a brief altercation about who would be stuck hanging onto his feet, the pair of Cousins continued running through the forest with Nick bouncing between them.

    For some unknown reason -- must have been the fear of seeing LaCroix again -- Nick started screaming like a robust, old woman at a religious revival.  The only things missing were the tacky house coat and the hat with the daisies on it.  "Owwwhhh, help me, help me, lord, please Jesus please.  Awwwhhh, help me, I'm being captured by flying Cousins.  Awwhh, help me, please Jesus please," he squealed zealously.

    In the midst of all this squealing, Nick was doing his best to hold his dress down, since all the bouncing caused it to ride up quite drastically.  The Cousin holding his feet, being rather Cousinly, kept playing with the hem of the dress and singing, "I see London, I see France, I see Nickie's underpants."  This caused Nick an incredible amount of angst, especially since he wasn't wearing any underpants.  The deeper Nick blushed, the louder and more gleefully the Cousin sang.

    Of course, because she was busy singing and playing with the hem of his dress, she was only holding his feet with one hand.  Finally, quite inadvertently (yeah, right), she let go and Nick dropped to the ground with a thud.

    Nick sat in a heap where he had been unceremoniously dropped.  He looked up at the Cousins, bottom lip thrust out and quivering.  Sniffling in his most ladylike manner, he whined, "Look at what you've done.  I've got grass and dirt stains on my pretty little dress."  He examined a rather large patch and wailed, "This was my favorite dress.  These stains will never come out.  Does anyone have any seltzer water?  I can't let the stains set.  Oh," he cried, "it's ruined, it's just ruined.  Oh, you horrible, horrible Cousins."

    Vachon was totally distraught with this turn of events.  Having no true courage of his own, but wanting to uphold Nick's honor, he decided to borrow a line from someone else.  Raising his right arm to point at the Cousins tormenting Nick, he said, "'Ello, my name is Javier Vachon, you're tormenting my Nickie, prepare to die!"

    Diane, the head flying monkey, looked at her fellow Cousins.  "I think someone's been watching The Princess Bride a little too often."

    Vachon brandished his invisible sword and screamed, "ELLO, MY NAME IS JAVIER VACHON, YOU'RE TORMENTING MY NICKIE, PREPARE TO DIE."

    Nick looked totally mortified.  Here he was, sitting on the ground, his dress a total mess, and a mad Spaniard was calling him "Nickie."  It was just too much to take, so he fainted delicately with one arm thrown across his forehead and the other strategically placed to hold his skirt down.

    The Cousins found the whole thing rather amusing.  They snickered and smirked at each other, and then advanced on Vachon.

    Seeing the Cousins heading for him, Vachon remembered that he was actually a coward and not a boisterous, courageous, drunk Spaniard seeking revenge against the six-fingered man who had murdered his father.  He took one look at the advancing Cousins, turned tail and ran screaming in the other direction.  Who knows what possessed him, but he ran straight at a particularly dark tree where an owl sat blinking innocently, taking in the actions of these strange people.  Vachon, having clearly lost his mind, looked right up at the owl, slapped his hands to either side of his face like the Home Alone kid, and screamed, "AAAaaahhh."  He scared the shit out of that poor owl.  It apparently passed out from the shock, flipped over backwards, fell like a stone to the ground, and lay there twitching.

    All the action around him stopped.  Divia the Tin Girl and Tracy the Scarecrow stared at him as if he were one sandwich short for a picnic.

    Divia snorted.  "It must be all of those hair-spray fumes rotting his brain."

    As Vachon continued his antics, Divia shot Tracy a glance under a raised eyebrow, as if to imply that Tracy's not-really-her-boyfriend was missing a few peas from his pod.  Divia, who has never been known for her restraint, then walked over to Vachon, who was now calling pitifully for his mother and a comb, and said, "Ya' know, I do believe that you killed that poor owl."  She gave it a little nudge with her foot.

    Meanwhile, Screed, who had been hovering overhead watching the action, saw the poor stunned owl as an opportunity rather than a hindrance, so he swooped in and grabbed it.  "Aw seed dat po' orl an' newd id be dun'fer an' thas som' malincky swee' necka' ta be wastin'," he explained as he held the stunned owl and bit into it.

    Divia, feeling no compulsion to be tactful, looked around at the assembled group and asked, "What the hell did he just say?"

    The Cousins simply glanced around at each other in worried confusion.

    Tracy blinked and stared at Divia with a blank look on her face.  Then she replied questioningly, "I'm a good cop?"

    Vachon was oblivious to everything.  He simply lay on the ground trembling and checking his hair.

    "Aw'm sabin' da orl," Screed replied.  "Aw'd be crewl an' 'artless i' aw din't do som'em.  Aw'm sabin' i'."

    "Whaaattt?" Divia asked, eyebrows knitted, looking at Screed as if he were dog puckie stuck to the bottom of her tin shoe.

    "Aw sad, AW'M SABIN' DA ORL," Screed replied louder.

    Just then, out of nowhere, a clap of thunder sounded.  Startled out of their inertia, the Cousins began to look around in fear for LaCroix, the Wicked Vampire of the West.  (He was known for making rather loud entrances.  Always had to be the center of attention, that LaCroix.)

    The pair of Cousins quickly grabbed Nick again and took off running through the forest.

    Another Cousin began chasing after Perry.  Her work was made extra difficult by Screed's decision that Perry would make for a good entree.  "'ere pup," he called.  "'ere pup.  Come ta Unc' Screedy."  He held his hand out towards the pooch and made kissie noises.

    Perry took one look at the horrific visage that was Screed making a kissie face and ran yipping into the Cousin's arms.  She swiftly carted him off to LaCroix's castle.

    The rest of the Cousins were attempting to wreak havoc on Vachon the Cowardly Lion, Divia the Tin Girl and Tracy the Scarecrow.  For the most part, things were not going at all well for our heroes.

    A trio of Cousins encountered a slight problem with Divia.  It seems that Divia lived by the maxim, "Don't leave home without it."  However, unlike most people who simply keep an American Express card in their pockets, Divia kept a Shillelagh of Death™ in hers.  Now, many adjectives can be used to describe the Cousins -- devious, dedicated, blindly devoted -- but "stupid" definitely is not one of them.  While they wanted to carry out LaCroix's wishes and beat on Divia for a little while, they didn't want to play the role of the tomato in a Ginsu knife commercial.  So the Cousins played the shell game instead.  Each pushed one of the others in front of herself, saying, "You go first."  Switch.  "No, you go first."  Switch.  "No, you go first."

    Finally, one suggested, "Hey, let's taunt her instead.  It's much safer."

    "Okay," said another.  "I go first."

There once was a girl from Pompeii,
who said, 'Hey, my dad, he's okay
I think'd be dandy
And I'd give him some candy
If he'd just let me have my own way.'

   "Ow, ow, ow," squawked another.  "My turn, my turn."

There once was a girl from Pompeii,
who hit on her daddy one day
She thought he was fine,
And grabbed his behin',
Sayin', 'there's a game that I want you to play.'

    "My turn," giggled the third who, unfortunately, wasn't quite as bright as the other two.  She began:

There once was a girl from Pompeii,
Who bit Daddy's neck one fine day
He cut off her head
He made her quite dead
. . .

    The others waited in anticipation for her to finish, but nothing appeared to be forthcoming.  "I'm thinking, I'm thinking," she said.  "Ya' know, that last line is always the hardest to come up with."

    Divia, extremely annoyed with these pathetic limericks, decided to finish it for them and get down to business.  "An' put her in a sarcophagus to stay."

    The Cousins glanced over at her tapping the Shillelagh in her palm, looked at each other, threw their hands in the air, said, "Forget that," and ran away towards the castle.

    Meanwhile, the Cousins taking care of Tracy had no such difficulty.  They happily pulled out her buxom straw bosoms and threw them all over the place, while Tracy wailed and cried, "Why? Why?" while attempting to hold in her chest.  The remaining Cousins, seeing that Tracy was now flat as a board, cackled sadistically and flew off towards the castle.  Tracy lay there sobbing uncontrollably while Divia and Vachon waltzed up to see what all the commotion had been about.

    Divia asked, with very little interest, "What happened to you?"

    In a sobbing hiccup, Tracy pointed over to the right and said, "Th. . .Th. . .Th. . .ey. . .  They took out my left bosom and threw it over there."  Then she pointed to the left and said, "And then they took out my right bosom and threw it over there."  She began wringing her hands together.  "My bosoms," she moaned.  "My big, beautiful bosoms," she sobbed.  "They're gone. Gone, gone, gone."  Looking up with tears in her eyes, she stretched out her arms toward Vachon and cried, "Hold me. Oh, hold me Vachon."

    "Ack," choked Vachon backing away, holding his hands in front of him and making a cross with his index fingers.  "Ack, ack, ack.  Be gone, flat-chested fiend.  Give me melons or give me death."

    Tracy wailed louder then ever.  Divia's look could have killed, but, instead, she pulled out the Shillelagh™ and began chasing Vachon.  "Cam'er," she called.  "I'll make you <svit> a little less of a man!"  Vachon ran faster than he'd ever run before, covering his privates and squealing.

    Tracy looked around, sniveled, and then crawled over to pick up what was left of her big, beautiful straw bosoms.  She stuffed them back in as best she could.  Of course, she favored the right side rather heavily and they looked like one long roll instead of two separate breasts, but at least they were large.  Then, she got up to follow after Vachon and Divia.

    By the time she caught up with them, Vachon was up in a tree trying to talk his way out of the situation and Divia was trying to contort her tin body into a shape that would allow her to climb it.

    Tracy walked up.  "Hey, you guys, look."  They took in Tracy's lopsided chest, thought it prudent not to mention it, and then looked where Tracy was pointing.

    There, in the distance, they could make out a huge flashing pink and green neon sign: "LaCroix's Little Luncheonette."

    The trio glanced at each other.  "Souvlaki."

*  *  *

    As they neared the Luncheonette, the trio realized that LaCroix had made a rather large error when staffing this place.  These weren't regular Cousins, on guard against the enemy; no, these were Light Cousins.  Their status was immediately apparent when they didn't grab the travelers and attack them.  The waitress simply took their order for a large souvlaki with extra garlic; the cook made it with a smile; and the cashier took their money.

    Before they left with the souvlaki in hand, Divia looked at the Light Cousins.  "Why aren't you attacking us like the regular Cousins?"

    "Well," confided the cashier, "we're really not into the whole LaCroix-evil thing.  We like it when he's nice and showing his love."

    Divia looked as if she were about to lose her lunch.  "You've got to be kidding," she smirked.

    "Nope, nope," said the cook in a sing-songy voice.  "Do you guys remember when he told Fleur that he wanted to be with her forever?" she asked, turning to her co-workers.  They all sighed in happiness at that sweet memory.

    "Hey," said the hostess.  "I like Nick too. He's kind of cute."

    "Yeah," said the cashier in a sing-songy voice.  "Sometimes you feel like some angst, sometimes you don't.  Nickie, he's got angst, LaCroix don't, becaaause, sometimes you feel like some angst, sometimes you don't."

   On that note, Tracy, Vachon and Divia left the happy Light Cousins giggling hysterically and went off to find Nick in the castle of LaCroix, so that they could bring the souvlaki to the Wizard.

*   *   *

    Vachon the Cowardly Lion, Tracy the Scarecrow, and Divia the Tin Girl left the jingle-singing Light Cousins boogeying around LaCroix's Little Luncheonette.  They had gotten the souvlaki with a minimum of trouble and pain, much to the consternation of Divia, who was itching to use the Shillelagh of Death™ (it slices, it dices, it keeps Vachon in line), and the joy of Vachon, who was still recovering from the unfortunate incident with the poor owl.  Tracy, of course, was typically oblivious to everything, happily mumbling, "Sometimes you feel like Vachon, sometimes like Reese, hum, hum, hum, hum . . ."

    "Well," said Vachon.  "Back to the Wizard with the souvlaki."

    Tracy stopped humming and asked rather vaguely, "What did you say?"  It seems that she had this problem doing more than one thing at a time -- for her, humming and hearing were mutually exclusive activities.  (It was frightening to even contemplate what would happen if she tried to chew gum and walk at the same time.)

    "I said, we're off to see the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz."  Vachon began skipping.

    "But we can't go back yet," cried Tracy.  "What about Nick?"

    "What about him?" asked Divia, picking her tin teeth with the aforementioned Shillelagh™ (it slices, it dices, it gets irritating owl feathers out of your fangs).

    "We can't just leave him with the Wicked Vampire of the West," Tracy whined.  "He's just so icky.  Besides, if it weren't for Nick, we wouldn't even be here."

    Vachon looked down at his totally gross, excessively hairy, cowardly lion body; Divia looked down at her permanently flat-chested tin girl body; they both looked up at Tracy and said, "So?  What's your point?"

    "Ummm . . . er . . . I'm thinking, I'm thinking . . . Well . . . ummm . . . give me a minute."  Tracy crossed her eyes and screwed up her face in concentration.

    The pair turned an enquiring eye towards her and tried to figure out if she were thinking about something or if it were simply a really bad case of gas.  They waited for her to continue.  Finally, grumbling to themselves, they decided they didn't want to sit around for years waiting for Tracy to come up with a burp or a good reason to save Nick, so they headed off towards LaCroix's gloomy castle.

*  *  *

    Back at LaCroix's castle, the Flying Monkey Cousins had delivered Nick and Perry to LaCroix, the Wicked Vampire of the West.

    LaCroix held and petted Perry.  "What a nice little dog," he remarked to Nick.  At that exact moment, Perry decided it was time to leave his mark on the world.  Feeling a spreading dampness on his leg, LaCroix looked down to find he had been christened by Perry.  "It's just not my day," groaned LaCroix.  He lifted the offending sprinkler off his lap and passed it off to one of the Flying Monkey Cousins who took Perry gingerly, making sure to hold him facing away from her as she didn't wish to find herself covered with Perry piddle.  The lovely arching fountain had people running in all directions looking for umbrellas.  The Cousin shoved Perry quickly into a picnic basket and handed it, dog and all, to Yogi, who turned to BooBoo and said, "We've got us a pickanick basket" (oops, excuse me, wrong show).  LaCroix turned to Nick and said, "Jeez, I get no respect around here."

    "Well, what do you expect?" snorted Nick.  "You're a two-thousand-year-old vampire and you're wearing a witch's costume."

    "Oh, yeah," snapped LaCroix.  "You should talk, Little Bo Peep.  Diane told me about the show one of my Cousins received at your expense."

    Nick blushed bright red and said, by way of changing the topic, "What are you going to do with my dog?  Give him back to me."

    "All in good time, my little Nickie, all in good time," crooned LaCroix.

    "Don't call me that," shouted Nickie . . . er . . . Nick, as he had a momentary flashback to Vachon calling him Nickie not too long ago.  He had a rep to protect and having all these men calling him "Nickie" just wasn't good for his stud-muffin image.  "I'm not your little Nickie," he whined.  Then, jumping up and down and throwing a tantrum that would put any self-respecting spoiled brat to shame, he sobbed, "I'm not.  I'm not.  I'm not."

    "Certainly, certainly," soothed LaCroix.  "Whatever you say.  No need to get your panties in a knot . . . Oopsie, sorry about that.  For a minute, I forgot that you weren't wearing any panties."

    "Oh," moaned Nick as he collapsed onto the floor in a sobbing heap.  "The horror, the horror.  My kingdom for a pair of Spider Man underwear."

    "There, there, Nickie."  LaCroix patted his wayward son's head.  "Just give me those truly tacky shoes and we'll go to K-Mart tomorrow and get you a pair of Superhero underroos."

    "But . . . but . . ." sniveled Nick.  "They have to be Spidey.  I don't want Batman or Hulk or anyone else."

    "That's fine, dear, that's fine," LaCroix agreed.

    "Oh goodie," brightened Nick.  "Can I get a Wonder Woman bra, too?  It's so unfeminine to wear a dress without a bra."  Then mumbling to himself, he said, "I wonder if they have a Wonder Woman Miracle Bra.  I think I'd look pretty good as a D-cup."

    LaCroix stood there looking down at his son and just blinked.

<Blink> <Blink>


<Blink> <Blink>

    Finally, LaCroix said, "Certainly, Nicholas, certainly.  Now, would you please give me those shoes?"

    "But, when Janette the Good Vampire of the North showed up in that really ugly, pink, frilly excuse for a dress -- could you just die? -- she told me not to."

    "Very well," sighed LaCroix.  "I guess we'll have to throw Perry into the river."

    "Whatever," replied Nick.  "He's a vampire dog.  You can't drown him."

    "Jinkies," said LaCroix.  "Foiled again.  Those shoes will never come off as long as you're undead, but that's not what's worrying me.  It's how to do it.  These things must be done delicately or you get blood on the carpet."

    Suddenly, Perry jumped out of the basket and started running for the door.

    Nick squealed, "Run, Perry, run."  Then Nick raced over to the window to see what was happening.  Seeing Perry fly effortlessly over the moat and away from the stylishly deficient Cousins who, lacking in flying skills, went pitching off the drawbridge into the muddy water, Nick sobbed happily.  "He got away.  He got away."

    "Which is more than you will.  Brat, you and your dog have been more trouble to me than you're worth.  It'll soon be over now.  See that," LaCroix said dramatically as he held up a gigantic, singing, Mickey Mouse clock.  Setting the alarm for one hour hence, LaCroix said, "That's how much longer you've got left.  Then, I'm coming back with the Barney videos."  With that, LaCroix cackled evilly, which made that green, prosthetic nose jiggle around in a really bizarre manner.  (It had begun to take on the consistency of a limp pickle, which would certainly explain the overwhelming desire for pastrami on rye that several of the Cousins experienced whenever they talked to him.)

    As LaCroix left the room, Nick began sobbing and daintily dabbing his lovely tear-streaked face with a very feminine little hankie.  "I'm frightened, Janette," he whined.  "I'm frightened."  He wandered across the room and collapsed next to a gigantic glass ball (crystal is just too expensive).

    The darkened interior of the ball lightened and Nick was able to distinguish the figure of Janette within it -- she was still stuck in the pink gown and, to add insult to injury, her lovely raven tresses were covered by a rhinestone crown -- blechhh.  Janette was rather annoyed with the whole situation -- first the dress, now the crown.  "Stop whining," she snapped.  "It's getting a little old, isn't it, Nicola?  For pete's sake, suck it up and be a man."

    "But. . .but. . .but, Janette," sobbed Nick.  "I'm frightened."

    Janette snorted in disgust and rolled her eyes.  Right before she disappeared, she mumbled, "Wuss."

    Just then, the ball became misty and another figure appeared to be coming through.  Nick's eyes got as wide as saucers and he paled visibly when he figured out who it was.

    Within the ball, Natalie, the Munchkin Coroner cling-on, stood with her hands on her hips, tapping her left foot in severe anger.  "Janette?" she asked in an icy tone.  "Janette?!  Did you just call for Janette?  You just wait 'til I get my hands on you.  You're in trouble, buster!"

    Before Natalie, the Munchkin Coroner, could get into a major rant, the glass ball clouded again.  Nick could hear the familiar evil cackle, but, through the darkness, the only thing he could make out was a bouncing, green, rubber nose.  And Nick, being a rather unique fellow who rarely conformed to the majority opinion, thought to himself, "Why do I suddenly have a craving for a cucumber?"

*  *  *

    Meanwhile, outside the castle, Vachon the courage-impaired feline one, Divia the flesh-deficient one, and Tracy the lopsided, straw, bosom-enhanced one, crouched behind a boulder and observed the artificially fashion-impaired Cousines and Ravenettes who stood guard.  The Ravenettes had been dumped into the mix by Janette, the Good Vampire of the North, who had gotten tired of all the Ballroom Barbie comments and uncontrollable guffaws every time she swished loudly by -- taffeta?  Icky-poo.

    The Cousines were still grumbling about having been suckered into wearing these truly repulsive guard uniforms.  LaCroix had given them a choice: Flying Monkey or Guard.  Well, these Cousines -- who were actually Cousins with extremely keen fashion sense -- took one look at the fur suits and metal wings and said, "We'll take what's behind curtain number two, Mr. Barker."  Behind curtain number two was a gray, crushed velvet uniform with huge red and white striped and checked pockets and petticoats, green face paint with a huge rubber nose, and, to top it all off, a huge, black, fur hat with a huge feather sticking out of it (the designer had obviously spent too much time with Fred and Barney at the Waterbuffalo lodge).

    Cousine Celeste was majorly disgruntled at this turn of events (which was really quite interesting because she hadn't been gruntled in the first place).  "I've got to get out of this uniform," she grumbled.

    "Be patient," replied one of her fellow Cousines.  "We won't be here long.  Nick's bound to wake up soon.  Besides, we do get to carry these neat Shillelaghs of Death™."

    "Patience?!" questioned Celeste angrily.  "Patience, my ass.  I want to kill something.  Just because Uncle's stuck in a dress and stuff, he's got to make us put on green face paint and rubber noses.  I mean, really, do you have any idea how bad this stuff is for your pores?"

    Overhearing this exchange between the irate women, Vachon turned into a quivering pile of Jello -- lime green, probably, or that new grape flavor.  He gurgled, "Who's them?  Who's them?"

    Tracy, overhearing the same conversation and being none too bright, walked out to where the Cousines and Ravenettes were grumbling and said, "Oh, I just love your uniforms.  Can I have one?"

    The Cousines and Ravenettes took one look at her horizontally-challenged, over-inflated bosom and were totally incapacitated by laughter.  Divia and Tracy seized on this unexpected opportunity to steal the uniforms off of several rolling Cousines.  They had to scoop up Vachon and take him with them since he was a wee bit intimidated by these women.  After acquiring uniforms, they quickly ran inside and liberated Nick, who had changed his mind about the cucumber and was currently contemplating zucchini.

    The group's escape was to be short-lived, however, as LaCroix, the niceness-impaired, fang-enhanced occupant of the non-Eastern region, came cackling out of a side hallway surrounded by his Cousines and the Ravenettes.

    Our reunited quartet turned, their arms flailing in the air, and ran squealing in the opposite direction in an attempt to escape the vile fiend and his minions.

    LaCroix split up the Cousines and Ravenettes, sending them in opposite directions in order to cut off the group's escape.

    Finally, trapped on the ramparts circling the castle, the group was forced to confront LaCroix (woo-woo, scary).

    LaCroix, the wicked and sexist vampire of the West, took one look at Tracy's lopsided bosom and said, "Hey there, groovy chick.  You know you are really happening in a far out way."  Then, leering evilly, he reached out and gave her bosoms a few squeezes while saying, "Honk, honk.  Honk, honk."

    "Oh, you misogynistic pig, you," squealed Nick as he pitty-pat slapped LaCroix.  Despairing of having any effect in that manner, he grabbed an opportunely placed bucket of holy water (I can have a Convenient Plot Device if I want to) and threw it at LaCroix.

    Squealing like a little piggy, LaCroix scrunched up his face and yelled, "Ahhhhh, you cursed brat, look what you've done.  I'm melting, melting."  LaCroix opened one eye to peek and see what kind of response his performance was getting.  Nick was staring at him in horror, Tracy was playing with her bosoms trying to straighten them out, Divia was rolling her eyes, and Vachon was turning into a pile of goo just like LaCroix.  Observing all of this, LaCroix began sinking to his knees, moaning, "Oh, what a world, what a world, who would have thought that an angst-ridden little girl . . . er . . . boy could destroy my beautiful, manly, charming, charismatic, handsome, studly, gorgeous" -- one of the Cousines reached out and popped him in the back of the head at this point -- "wickedness.  I'm going. <peek>  Oh, oh . . . oh . . ."  By the end of the speech, LaCroix was lying on the floor, as, to all indications, a puddle of goo.

    The Cousines began clapping and shouting, "Brava.  Brava.  Wonderful.  Simply marvelous.  Encore.  Encore."

    Nick and the rest stared at the Cousines in horror.  Presumably, the Cousines were applauding the melting of LaCroix.  How very bizarre.  So preoccupied were Nick and his group with the Cousines' reaction that they didn't immediately observe that LaCroix had stood back up and was dusting off his dress.

    Nick was the first to notice.  "What? . . . But . . . how?"

    "Holy water!" laughed LaCroix.  "I'm much too old and powerful for that."  Then, he made as if to advance on them, but Vachon brandished the garlic-laden souvlaki in front of him.

    "Back!  Back, I say.  Come any closer and I'll let you have it with the souvlaki."

    LaCroix snarled and hissed, but didn't move.  He was totally incapacitated by the combination of onion and garlic emanating from the souvlaki.  The Cousines took one look at Vachon the Cowardly Lion brandishing a souvlaki like a sword and collapsed onto the floor in gales of laughter.

    The quartet beat a hasty retreat (exit, stage left).

*  *  *

    As they walked through the woods back to the Wizard's place, Tracy said, "Hey Nick, you know, Divia the Tin Girl and Vachon the Cowardly Lion wanted to leave you behind."

    Amidst the rather pathetic protests of innocence from Vachon and Divia, Nick, in his best Mike Brady imitation, said, "Now, Tracy, when you tattle on someone, you're not just telling on them, you're telling on yourself.  You're telling them, 'Hey, I'm a tattletale.'  Now is that the tale you want to tell?"

    Cross-eyed and confused, Tracy said, "Ummm . . . no?"

*  *  *

    Our erstwhile travelers stood erstwhily in the throne room of the Great Oz.  The large amount of bellowing and belching and various other auditory indicators of gastric distress was quite shocking (unless one were used to the happenings at the end of Italian family dinners).

    Suddenly, all was silence.  Then, the large green head's nostrils flared and the Great Oz bellowed, "Can I believe my nose?  Do I smell souvlaki?"

    "Please sir," begged Nick, "we've done what you told us.  We've brought you a large, extra garlic souvlaki from LaCroix's Little Luncheonette."

    "Very resourceful," slobbered the Wizard.  "Very resourceful.  Put it on the table by the curtain."

    Nick grabbed the souvlaki from Vachon, who had once again acquired the courage of a block of grape Jello.  Nick walked over to the table by the curtain and laid the souvlaki reverently on a nice, sturdy, Coronet paper plate.  Then, Nick turned to re-cross the chamber to his friends.  As a group, their concern with watching the floating head prevented them noticing a pudgy hand reach out from behind the curtain to snatch the souvlaki -- plate and all.  But Perry, being a rather observant puddley pooch, saw the whole thing and his little, vampirically-enhanced, doggy brain was processing the information.

    After reaching his friends again, Nick turned to the body-deficient Wizard and said, "So, we'd like you to keep your promise to us, if you please, sir."

    "Not so fast. <munch-munch>  Not so fast. <erp>," vocalized the Wizard.  "You're going to give me heartburn." <chomp-chomp> "I need to chew thoroughly."  <belch>  "Go away and come back tomorrow."

    Nick looked quite shocked and distressed at this turn of events.  Considering Nick spends most of his time distressed, this was nothing new.  Enthusiastically, Nick whined, "But, I want to be mortal nowww."

    "Yeah," said Divia the Tin Girl.  "You've had plenty of time to finish that souvlaki."

    "Silence," bellowed the Wizard.  Smoke and fire shot up into the air in front of the floating head.  "Do not arouse the indigestion of the Great and Powerful Oz!"

    "If you were really great and powerful, you'd keep your promises," sobbed Nick prettily, tears dripping out of his sparkling blue eyes.

    While Nick sobbed, Vachon wailed and fixed his hair, Tracy contemplated the existence of earth worms, and Divia filed her fingernails with the Shillelagh of Death™, Perry's puppy perception processed the peculiar protruding arm.  He ran over to the curtain.

    The Great Oz was too busy pontificating to notice the wee little pup.  "Do you presume to criticize the Great Oz?" asked the Big O indignantly.  "You ungrateful creatures.  Think yourselves lucky that I'm giving you audience tomorrow instead of twenty years from now!"

    Perry nipped the bottom of the curtain and pulled it back, revealing a rotund, balding fellow playing with a bunch of levers and switches.  A half-eaten souvlaki hung from his mouth.

    "Ommph," mumbled the Great Schanke . . . er . . . Oz.  "The . . . Great Oz has spoken . . ."  Noticing the group staring at the little man, the giant talking head said, "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain . . . um . . . the Great Oz has spoken."

    "Schanke?!" Nick wandered over to the vertically-but-not-horizontally-diminutive detective.

    "I am the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz," bellowed Schanke, less than convincingly.

    "I don't believe this," whined Nick.  "You humbug.  Who's going to make me mortal now?"

    "You, you, you," snarked Schanke.  "It's always about you, isn't it Nick?  Nick Knight, always first one on the scene while Donut Don brings up the coffee -- cream, no sugar -- Dunkin' Donut Don."  Schanke then began doing the Good Humor Man dance, singing, "I'm the Donut Man.  Da-dat-dat-dat-dat-dat."

    "Schanke," said Nick in shock.  "I never knew you felt this way."

    "Of course not," snapped Schanke.  "We don't call you 'bricky Nicky' for nothing."

    "We?" asked Nick.  "Who's we?"

    "Everybody," snapped Schanke.  "Cohen, Natalie, Janette, LaCroix, everybody.  You're about as observant as Tracy over there."

    Hearing her name, Tracy looked up.  "Wha. . .?"

    "You're a very bad donut man," whined Nick.

    "No, my dear," replied Schanke.  "I'm a very good donut man, I'm just a very grumpy dieter.  Do you know how long it's been since I've had a good meal?  I'm wasting away.  Look at me, I'm a shadow of my former self."

    Divia had nonchalantly wandered behind Swanky Schanke and was standing there contemplating his butt.  Finally, she said, "I think I've found your former self.  You could park a Buick under that thing."

    "One more word out of you and you can forget about your heart," snapped the Great Schanke . . . er . . . Oz.

    "What about Scarecrow's brain?" quivered Vachon.

    "Why anybody can have a brain.  That's a very medi. . .mede. . . cheap commodity.  Every pusellan. . .pusillen. . . little critter that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain.  Back where I come from we have universities, seats of political bullshit, where professors make your life hell for no other reason than they can, and they've got no more brains than you," rambled Schanke up until this point.  That last statement brought him up short.  Staring at Tracy and considering for a moment, he added, "Well . . . maybe a little more brains than you."  Seeing Divia raise one tin eyebrow, Schanke amended, "Okay, okay, a lot more brains than you.  But, nobody ever said you had to be intelligent to get a degree.  I hereby confer on you the degree of Bachelor of Arts with a major in canned goods organizing."

    "Oh joy, rapture," bounced Tracy.  "I've got a brain.  How can I ever thank you?"

    Schanke looked at her for a moment.  "Well, you can't.  Now, if you'd've been wearing a pretty little plaid skirt, we could have talked, but . . . use your brain to fix your bosom there and we'll call it even."

    The Great Schanke . . . er . . . Oz quickly dispensed with his promises to Divia the Tin Girl and Vachon the Cowardly Lion.  He gave Vachon a lovely red ribbon to tie back his lovely black hair and a hand-held, silver-edged, gilded mirror so that whenever he got really scared, he could stare at his reflection and calm himself with his own beauty.  To Divia the Tin Girl, he gave a heart-shaped, Minnie Mouse watch.  Clearly less than thrilled with this outcome, Divia mumbled, "But I hate Minnie Mouse.  She's a rodent, for goodness sakes.  I like Donald.  Ducks are so buff."

    "These are all wonderful," said Tracy.  "Do Nick next."

    "Oh," moaned Nick.  "I don't think there's anything that Schanke can do for me."

    "Well, you've forced me into a cataclysmic decision.  There's no way to make Nick human unless I do it myself," said Schanke.

    "Oh, this is so great of you, Schanke," said Nick.

    "Come with me," said Schanke.

    As the group was leaving the throne room, Nick turned to Schanke and said, "I've been meaning to ask, how did you end up here and not in the plane crash?"

    "Well," began Schanke, "it all started with the burrito I got from the fast-food place in the airport's lounge . . ."

*  *  *

    All the inhabitants of Oz milled about waiting for the show to get underway.  The Vaqueros gathered around Vachon the Cowardly Lion, played with the ribbon in his hair and took turns holding the mirror so that he could stare at his reflection and keep his courage up.  The Perkulators behaved generally perkily.  It was sort of like a pep rally.

    One of the Perkulators jumped up onto the stage and shouted, "You know what we love?!"

    The rest of the Perks shouted, "Potato sack race!!!"  And off they ran to get some sacks and play their little game.

*  *  *

    Schanke and Nick stood on a stage before of the inhabitants of Oz.  Someone had placed a table on the stage, and on that table sat an assortment of chemicals, processed foods, and liquid.  Right smack dab in the center of the table lay a liverwurst and a pile of Limburger cheese.

    "So," Nick asked, "how are you going to make me human again?"

    "It will take a great deal of skill and energy," said Schanke.  "Stand back and watch me work."  Within seconds, Schanke had amassed a truly horrific sandwich.  After taking a bite to test it out, Schanke erpped, "Utoh.  That souvlaki isn't sitting real well."  Gripping his stomach, Schanke ran off the stage and headed for the royal throne room.

    "Come back," called Nick.  "Come back.  Oh don't leave me.  How will I become human now?  What shall I do?  What shall I do?"

    As Nick got caught up in sobbing and whining and generally lamenting his state of being, Janette the Good Vampire of the North floated into view.  (It's not like you could miss her.  She looked like a giant, floating wad of bubble gum.)

    Landing in front of him with a thud, she said, "The answer was within you all the time."

    "Really," said Nick.  "Oh, will you help me?  Can you help me?"

    "No.  Figure it out yourself," said Janette.  "Now wake up, so I can get out of this friggin' dress!"  With that, she began slapping Nick and basically beating on him for all the inconsiderate things he had done to her through the centuries.  (She is allowed to; after all, this is just a dream.)

*  *  *

    With a start, Nick returned to consciousness.  He looked around blurrily to see all of his friends gathered there.  Natalie and Janette and LaCroix and Tracy and Vachon and Reese -- and he could actually feel the presence of Schanke and Cohen.

    "Oh," moaned Nick.  "I had the most incredible dream.  But, it seemed so real.  And you were all there.  You and you and you."  He pointed to the various occupants of his bedroom.  "But, it couldn't have been real, could it?"

    "No, my little Nickie," said LaCroix.  "It wasn't real."

    With the mention of 'little Nickie,' Nick spiked a questioning and slightly apprehensive glance at LaCroix.  "But, I was going to be human again.  Janette was going to tell me how to be mortal again."

    "Janette?" questioned Natalie, raising up to her full height and placing her hands on her hips.  She looked at Janette and noticed a decidedly smug grin on her face.  "Janette was going to cure you?" Natalie asked angrily.

    "My, this seems so familiar," Nick remarked as the blows began.


The End


"Take that, third season!"

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