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May 19, 2011 / milesandhisfavorites

The Hensonian Magic Part One: Outliner Syndrome

I was the biggest Muppet fan you could imagine.  I saw every movie, read every book, and watched every episode, and I considered myself to be the highest of the high in Muppet fan standards.  Of course, I was twelve years old, so you could say I was a Muppet fan for all of them-plus about nine months, give or take.  That was when I received the book of Henson.

It was supposed to be my twelfth birthday present; instead, it turned out to be a curse that would change my life forever.  On the day of my birthday party, my parents presented it to me.  It was a big book, twice the size of a shoebox and just as thick.  It was bound in green leather, and stamped on the cover in gold leaf was a symbol that was ever-familiar to me: Kermit the Frog’s eye.  But branching out from the eye were three lines that looked like sunbeams, and on the end of those lines were three other symbols: a primitive banjo, the letters 123, and a sketchy drawing of a movie camera.  I thanked my parents and ran upstairs to examine my gift.  And that was where the trouble started.

When I opened the book, I was shocked to discover that it was empty.  I shut the book, and was about to complain to Mom and Dad when the tip of my index finger brushed the eye in the center of the cover.  It might have been normal for any other book, but suddenly the eye began to shoot sparks in every color.  I turned around, dropped the book, and gasped.  A small cyclone, emerald in color, had erupted from the cover and was growing larger by the second.  Finally, when it was seven feet tall, it bent over and engulfed me.  I floated through a light green haze, not knowing where I was or where I was going.  I caught bits of conversation that appeared to come from baseball-sized golden balls of light that floated all around me.  Conversations that I knew.

“The voice might be one and the same.”

“Should you need us.”

“Every day, the world, begins again…”

Those were Muppet quotes!  The realization hit me just before the asphalt did.  I was smack on my rear in the middle of what looked for all the world like a city park.  I was leaning against a fountain that showed a bearded man in military fatigues fighting a huge, hairy monster with fangs the size of scimitars and a large, bulbous nose.  All around me was glistening green grass and weeping willow trees, and surrounding the park in the distance were brownstone apartment buildings.  Several people were gaping at me.  Some wore business suits, other wore street clothes.  They looked like human beings, only their skin looked like blue, orange, and green felt, and their hair looked mysteriously like yarn.  Finally, some kid in jeans and a “Team Kermit” t-shirt yelled for all the world-if, indeed, I was still on Earth-to hear: “Our savior has arrived!”  The whole park erupted in cheers.

A guy with purple felt skin and green, stringy hair sat me down on a park bench.  Out of his blue leather briefcase he pulled out the book-the same book with the gold leaf symbols, the same book that had sucked me into a green tornado and brought me here, wherever “here” happened to be.  He tapped the eye symbol, and opened the book.  To my surprise, what had once been blank paper was now filled with doodles and neat block letters.  The guy put his finger to the beginning of a sentence, and ran his finger along the words, stopping at the period.  A nearby weeping willow’s trunk melted into a doorframe, and out stepped a short woman with purple skin, a beaklike mouth, and short brown hair that was riddled with curls.  The man spoke.

“Mildred, what a nice day for our savior to arrive, isn’t it?”

Mildred sighed, then responded.

“Clearly, though I do wish he could have chosen a better day to come, what with the raids on Cave Fraggle territory and all.”

“Alas, my dear, we certainly cannot help it.”

I realized that wherever I was, they certainly knew their Muppets.  “Mildred” was Mildred Huxtetter, a worker at the Muppet Theater.  The man turned to me.  “I suppose you’d like to know why you’re here.”  I nodded.  He closed the book, and traced his finger around all of the cover symbols.  The book glowed in a rainbow of colors, then dimmed.  He opened the book and handed it to me.  At the top of the page was a single word: PREFACE.  I began to read:

Many thousands of years ago, from somebody’s imagination, our world was born, piece by piece.  We all lived in a time of great peace and harmony for about seven thousand years or so, until the more ambitious members of our society broke away from what they knew of the world and formed the Darkhands, who were dedicated to darkness and destruction.  After three years of war against the Darkhands, one of the wisest prophets in all of our world, Wiseman, created a magic book, the one you are reading, to preserve our history.  However, in one of the war’s pivotal battles, the book was lost in the mortal world.  However, if anybody found it, they would be transported to our land.  A young man from Mississippi found it: Jim Henson.  Having already created a small puppet show himself, he preserved our history further by creating puppets based on us, and had them star in a great many productions.  But Jim was not just a puppeteer, he was also a war hero.  A fountain in his image was erected in Brownstone Park, portraying him battling the mighty beast Thig.  Many years after Jim’s death, in the year 2000, the prophet Aughra predicted that a great, but young, hero would once again smite the forces of the Darkhands.

Just then, something began to form underneath the preface.  Ink started to trickle out of the book’s spine, and it somehow sketched my face below the words.  I was the hero from the prophecy.  I realized that I, a true Muppet fan, was to carry out Jim’s OTHER legacy, and save the world-whatever world I was in.  I was contemplating this idea when everything else caught up to me.  I nearly fainted.  “You guys are… Muppets?”  Mildred nodded, and replied.

“Well, young hero, the term “Muppet” is generic.  There are so many of us, goblins, Fraggles, Skeksis.”

“But-you’re Muppets?”

“Yes, dear.”

“So cool!”

“Of course, we need to get you working on your first case immediately!  There’s a crisis in the Swinefleet Command building!”

Mildred grabbed my hand and pulled me down the street, where dozens of felt people bowed down to me as if I were their king.  Finally, we reached what looked like an immense skyscraper.  At the very top was a structure that looked like some giant thing had fused two huge paper plates together.  Metallic aircraft were buzzing around the structure.  Mildred pulled me inside.  The area reminded me of a gigantic airport lobby, minus the snack machines.  And smack dab in the center was a battlefield.

A few dozen humanoid pigs in silvery uniforms were using handheld laser guns to battle weird seven-foot-tall crab-like monsters.  Mildred gasped, then cowered behind a bronze statue of what appeared to be a maple syrup jug with rocket boosters.  “Garthim!  I thought that they were fighting in the civil war on Thra!”  One of the pigs tossed me an extra laser gun, saluted, and returned to the battle.  I grabbed a ladder that lead up to the complex’s second floor, and started to climb, sniping off Garthim as I went along.

Once I reached the second floor, I was met by a chimpanzee in a cheap suit.  From the first floor, Mildred screamed.  “Sal!”  The chimp, Sal, turned only to find a swarm of vampire bats that seemed to be carved out of amethyst rushing toward him.  I fired my laser gun into the swarm, and it dispersed.  The chimpanzee grabbed a star chart off of a wall, rolled it up, and started whacking what I figured were Crystal Bats with it.  Mildred began to climb the ladder, so I ran to the closest stairwell and started making my way to the top of Swinefleet Command.

After what must have been hours of climbing, I finally reached the top floor.  A sign on the door read: HANGAR AREA AND OBSERVATION DECK: NO TOUCHING!  I was met in a gigantic airplane hangar filled with spacecraft of all shapes and sizes by Mildred.  At the very end of the hangar was an open window that you could drive a truck through.  And standing in front of that window was a strange creature.  It was about as tall as me, and resembled a humanoid alligator, with a green and pink mop of hair and long, gorgeous eyelashes.  Mildred gasped.

“Desiree!  How could you betray us like that?!”

Desiree, who I recognized from the sitcom pitch Puppetman, smirked and looked at me, then spoke in a haughty Southern accent.

“What do we have here?  A male with my mail!”

Now Mildred was really ticked off.  She growled, pulled out a laser gun, and aimed, but Desiree pulled out a large corked beaker (with the image of Beaker imprinted on it) filled with what looked like a cloudy white liquid.  Mildred gasped again, and slowly lowered the gun.  Desiree smiled and looked at me again, as if explaining something to a toddler.

“This here, dearie, is one of only two known liquid forms of the rare disease Outliner Syndrome.  If it so much as BRUSHES something, that something turns into a, well, hollow version of what it once was.  After that, the subject vanishes and ceases to exist.  And it is so very contagious.  Just a single touch by an infected person will cause the syndrome to wildly spread.  It once took out an entire fortress of Cave Fraggles back in the old wartime.  Oh, and did I mention-there is NO antidote.”

Mildred took advantage of Desiree’s explanation to take aim, but the dragon caught her off guard.  Desiree grabbed a cotton swab, uncorked the beaker, dabbed the swab into the liquid, and tossed it at Mildred.  The woman was so shocked, she was frozen, and the cotton swap hit her in the nose.  She instantly collapsed and turned into nothing but a web of white outlines, like one of those old computer models you could find in Tron.  Then, Desiree ran over to Mildred, grabbed her by the wrist, and shoved her out the window.  I could see her slowly dissolving, ceasing to exist just before she hit the pavement.  That’s when I got really, really mad.

“Why, you little-”

I then let out a string of curse words so bad, my mouth might as well have been a soap market.  Then, I took aim with my laser gun and fired at the beaker, shattering it into a million pieces-and spilling it onto Desiree.  The dragon shrieked in pain and horror, and then smiled.  She removed a single test tube from her pocket (she was wearing a lab coat).  This one held what looked like ink, only this ink was blacker than midnight, and was dotted with little red stars.  Desiree grinned.

“You idiot.  You may have ended my life, but you have not ended my revenge.  You see, the bigger the dose of Outliner Syndrome, the longer it takes for you to turn into an outline and cease to exist.  I probably have about an hour left, and so does this building.  But that leaves me time for my last trick.  This test tube contains the last-and most dangerous-sample of Liquid Fear on the planet-and any other, I should mention.  Little boy, what do you fear?”

That’s when Desiree tossed the test tube at me.  I tried to catch it, but it shattered.  The Liquid Fear soaked my shoes.  Suddenly, it was as if my brain had shut down.  My body was wracked in pain, and strange things, horrible things, started to flash before my eyes.  Things I don’t want to describe.  But then, everything went sunny again.  I crumpled to the ground, dazed.  Three pigs in their silvery uniforms rushed in, toting transparent laser rifles.  One screamed “Desiree!” and fired.  Desiree immediately howled in desperation and jumped out the window.  Her last words.  “You have summoned Master!”  Just then, an extremely loud roar (louder than Clash Of The Titans in surround sound) echoed throughout the city.  All six of the pigs’ eyes went very, very wide.  One of the pigs, who had bushy gray hair and eyeglasses, shrieked like a little girl.

“Have you released him?”

I was a little puzzled by what he was saying.

“Have I released-WHO?”

“What was your worst fear, boy?  Liquid Fear can conjure just that!”

That’s when the shock of realization hit me like a lead bullet, what my worst fear had been.

“Mon-mon-monster…”

The pig crumpled to the floor, weeping silently.  The roar sounded again, this time much closer.  The whole back of the hangar suddenly exploded, and standing-no wait, HOVERING in it’s place was a monster the size of a three-story building, a monstrous dragon.  Parts of the dragon were only mechanical, such as his neck and part of his legs, but other than that, he moved like he was made out of flesh and blood.  I finally finished my answer.

“Monstermaker.”

The immense dragon, known as Ultragorgon, screamed with might and charged into the hangar, knocking over several spaceships and a snack machine.  So that’s where they were.  I pulled out my laser gun, but Ultragorgon just cackled, a deep, horrid thing that would haunt my dreams forever.

“Ha, boy.  You believe you can defeat me, but I, the general of the Darkhands, will defeat YOU!”

Ultragorgon opened his mouth, and a bolt of lightning as thick as a telephone pole shot out, nearly frying the pigs, who wisely retreated back down the stairwell.  Ultragorgon continued.

“I am not so easily defeated, boy.  I have spent a thousand years in a prison many miles under the Goblin City, and I don’t plan to go back there anytime soon.  So, while I think of the most painful and humiliating way for you to die, stay there.  At any rate, my thick hide shall repel your pathetic laser blasts.”

That’s when I got an idea.  First, I silently grabbed a shard of glass and scooped some of the Liquid Fear residue onto it.  Then, I grabbed some nearby duct tape and taped the glass to the inside of my laser gun barrel.  I grabbed the butt of the gun and hollered “Take this, lizard-breath!”  Sure enough, Ultragorgon turned around just as I tossed the gun at him.  He laughed, opened his mouth, and swallowed the laser gun whole-all according to plan.  Finally, I cupped my hands into my mouth and yelled.

“Yo, Ultragorgon!  WHAT DO YOU FEAR?”

Ultragorgon realized his mistake all too late.  A black mist drifted up from the stairwell, and wrapped itself around Ultragorgon’s wings, turning into thick shackles.  Suddenly, something forced Ultragorgon back, pushing him out of the huge hole he had created in the side of the hangar.  He screamed an extremely bad curse word before he hit the street.  But when I looked down, there was no massive dragon corpse.  That’s when the floor turned into a white outline, and I plummeted towards the street, falling unconscious.

When I woke up, I was in a dark cavern.  Standing over me was-and I couldn’t believe it either, since she dissolved into nothingness and fell out a window-Mildred Huxtetter.  I sat up, both shocked and grateful.  I opened my mouth to speak.

“Mildred, you’re alive!”

Mildred smiled, which looked weird on a beak, and then replied.

“Well, germ warfare has one weakness!”

“What is it?  Some exotic concoction made of Garthim shells and Crystal Bat liver?”

“No, chicken soup.  But still, I heard how you imprisoned Ultragorgon and saved us all from an untimely death.”

“Aw, it was nothing!  By the way, where are we?”

“Oubliette.  Don’t worry, there’s a way out, it’s just that very few know about it.”

“What’s my family gonna think of me being nursed back to health in an underground prison by a Muppet?”

“Time works differently in other dimensions.  If it’s a year here, it’s a millisecond there.”

“Neato.  So, where to next?”

“We’ve got a little trouble at the Furry Arms Hotel.  Mr. Johnson’s luggage keeps disappearing.  He says it’s that pesky receptionist, but we suspect a Fiery working for the Darkhands.  Mr. Johnson is, after all, an important businessman who has ties in the Goblin City.”

“When do we leave for Sesame Street?”

“Just as soon as we get out of this place!”

END PART ONE

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