Whisky In The Ravine-O

 

The townspeople of Pequod’s Albatross, so thoroughly convinced of Martin’s plan when it had been dance-mimed to them in the Millstone, were now having second thoughts as they gazed up at the dozen gigantic whisky silos in front of them. Only a single guard from the cowboy distillery had been left with the silos when his cohort had charged off to battle, and he now found himself tied to the base of one of his charges with his own lasso. Off in the distance, the increasingly strained sounds of pianee music boomed out of the Millstone bar.

“I know this is a sacrifice,” said Martin, to the amassed crowd. “You’ll have to drink dessert wine for a while.”

The town shuddered.

“But!” said Martin. “It is a noble sacrifice! One you may tell your children about!”

“I don’t know,” said the bartender. “Some o’ us are reliant on whisky to make our livin’.”

“‘N’ sum of us‘re reliant on whisky t’be forgetful regardin’ livin’!” slurred Heyurr Stone, who had nudged his rocking chair along with them the whole way.

Martin tipped his imaginary hat to the people of Pequod’s Albatross, then moseyed up to the cowboy.[1]

“Hody!” said the cowboy, tied to a silo.

He waved cheerfully, albeit awkwardly, as his wrists were tied behind a girder at his back.

“…don’t you mean howdy?” asked Martin.

“What? Oh, yes,” said the cowboy. “Howdy. What can I do for you folks?”

“Probably not much,” said a lobster man, “given your predicament.”

“This ain’t no predicament!” beamed the cowboy. “I’m here to guard this here silo…here!”

He waved his hands around and attempted to kick up dust, but his bound state made this an exercise in futility.

“Well,” said Martin. “That town over there is called Pequod’s Albatross. Its mayor is being held hostage by a man named Tannoy Clong, who wants a magic sword, and he hired a bunch of hairy underground people to steal it, but they don’t like running liquid, so we need to tip your whiskey into a ravine so they can’t get through on their train. Which is pulled by a giant millipede.”

“That may be…” said the cowboy.

He thought through what Martin had said.

“…actually, it sounds like it don’t be at all,” he concluded.

“It be,” mumbled Heyurr Stone.

“Heyurr Stone is right,” said the bartender. “Doggonnit, son, do you think we’d get rid’v our whiskey for a boondoggle?”

“Boondoggles are delicious,” said the cowboy, who was thinking of prairie dogs.

“Yr,” said Heyurr Stone, “but if there’n’t a town to be eatin’ yurr prairie dogs in, what’s the point’a whiskey?”

The citizens of Pequod’s Albatross jumped.

“Do you mean that, Heyurr Stone?!” said a scandalized-sounding single-legged septuagenarian spinster, clutching her purse.

“Brrmyur,” said Heyurr Stone, which everybody assumed meant ‘yes’.

“Y’all have a point,” said the cowboy, “but if you’re gonna take this whiskey and use it to stop a millipede, you’ll have to answer to all the whiskey distilleries of Mars.”

“I’m sure they’ll understand,” said Martin, despite the fact that not even the people of Pequod’s Albatross entirely understood.

He pulled out his mop and attempted to slice away the cowboy’s lasso, destroying the girder in the process. The silo crashed down sideways as the cowboy moseyed extremely rapidly out of its path.

“Quickly!” cried Martin.

The people of Pequod’s Albatross hemmed and hawed, particularly the goose-woman who was a tailor. It was much easier to see how huge the silos were once they were lying on the ground.

“Well, see, the thing is,” began a squat frog man, who trailed off indecisively.

Heyurr Stone enunciated a grunt of determination which may or may not have been a word, and angrily began shifting his rocking chair towards the cliff.

“No, Heyurr Stone!” cried the goose-woman. “You could accidentally rock forward one too many times!”

She honked shrilly and cross-stitched rapidly in fear.

“I’m tired’ur rockin’ in the same place ovur’n’ovur!” said Heyurr Stone loudly, his dull voice cracking. “I’m givin’ up my whiskey fur savin’ this town, so I can go back to rockin’ in the same place ovur’n’ovur!”

Reaching the cliff’s edge, he unscrewed the bottle cap of his hip flask and shook out its contents.

“Now, who’s with me?!?” he cried, turning his chair around to face everyone else.

“Dang it, darn it and damn it!” said the bartender. “Push the silos!”

“Ho!” cried the townsfolk – albeit quietly, so as not to rouse Clong – and they marched upon the silos.

Half the crowd began to roll the earthborne silo forwards, as the rest attacked the supports at the bases of the others. Whisky silos started toppling, the townsfolk holding out their tongues to catch drops of the liquid from the spaces between rivets, and they were slowly rolled towards the cliff edge by huge teams. The cowboy stood around, wondering if he should help or not.

“Heave!” shouted Martin, levering on a silo with his mop.

“We are heavin’,” said the bartender, “but they ain’t movin’!”

Heyurr Stone rocked tensely.

“Hold on!” said Martin, and he let go of his silo to get a better look from the sidelines.

Passing by the cowboy, who shuffled out of the way awkwardly, Martin watched the scene of the townsfolk labouring. His eyes widened and his skin went very pale.

“No,” he said. “No! NO!”

He clutched at his head, to make sure the pressure of the disappointment flooding into it didn’t pop it off his neck.

There was a mild rise in the ground right at the cliff’s edge, which the sheer size and weight of the silos made them impossible to push up and over.

“No!” cried Martin, sinking to his knees. “Thwarted by a small, gentle incline!”

 

Space Dan barrelled down the top of the train, his legs and arms flailing back and forth with determined terror, as he clutched the flameless Firesabre in his spindly grip.

“Here me I have it I have it!” he shouted, to the half-dozen oni who were hot on his heels.

“That guy has the Firesabre!” said one of them. “Get him!”

“We’ve been tryin’ to get him for the past ten minutes, ya moron!” said another oni, knocking the first out of the way.

He huffed.

“How many carriages is this train, anyhow?!”

“This waaaay!” said Space Dan, hopping across the gap to the penultimate carriage, and the groaning oni all followed.

Space Dan turned around, stepping backwards as he waved the Firesabre tauntingly at the oni.

“Are you looking for this?” he said.

Glancing back to see how close he was to the final carriage, Space Dan looked forward again, and quickly shuffled backwards in short hops to stay ahead of the oni.

“You’re in trouble, Palooka!” said a Pie Bar oni.

“His name’s Space Dan,” corrected a Zoot-Suit oni.

“Says you!” said the Pie Bar oni.

Space Dan took another cautious step back, closer to the last carriage.

“Show’s over, Space Dan,” said the Pie Bar oni. “Ya got no place to go once we’re on the last carriage.”

Space Dan smiled as his foot hovered over the gap between the last and second-last cars.

“Well why don’t you- oops!”

Space Dan’s heel slipped, and he disappeared backwards over the edge of the carriage roof.

The oni all stared, and for a moment, there was nothing but the clacking of the rails and the tugging of the wind at their fur.

Then Space Dan’s arms reached back into view, as he hauled himself up onto the roof of the final carriage, rubbing his head.

“My head hurts because I fell on it!” he shouted.

“The rest of you’s gonna hurt in a minute!” yelled the Pie Bar oni.

The oni scrambled after Space Dan, jumping over the gap onto the final carriage, as the short Uranian astronaut sprinted on towards the very end of the train. Two thirds of the way across the roof, Space Dan fell to the roof with a nasty jolt as one of the oni tackled him around the knees.

“Ow!” said Space Dan, rolling over. “Please, don’t scuff the suit!”

The oni, who was of the Pie Bar gang, smoothed down his own jacket and nodded.

“Give up the sabre and you’re free to go,” he said.[2]

“Yyyyeahhh,” said Space Dan, “but, you know…do any of you really want the Firesabre? Or do you just want one because everybody else does?”

“Frisk him,” said the head Zoot Suit oni.

“No!” cried Space Dan helplessly, as the oni ruthlessly took his satchel and shook it upside-down, his personal effects pouring out of it.

He managed to catch his camera before it broke, but the other contents of the satchel were not so lucky: several medals, a few blue bananas, a jumble of crayons and a blue train driver’s cap hit the roof and rolled everywhere, one crayon shooting over the edge and hitting a frowning schoolmarm in the eye.[3] A handful of drawings were snatched away by the vicious wind, much to both Space Dan and the oni’s disappointment.

“Aw!” said an oni, wringing his horns. “I wanted’a give one to my husband for our anniversary!”

“How long have you been married?” asked Space Dan.

“Long enough for me to decide it’s anniversary time!” said the oni huffily.

Oni didn’t really measure time in ‘years’ or ‘days’, given their world’s lack of sun and their problems with numbers. They had a more relaxed approach, which was to stress constantly about such things.

“Where is it!?” snarled the oni holding Space Dan, foaming slightly at the mouth.

“…well, an anniversary can be anywhere you want it to be,” said Space Dan. “For instance, nobody really knows what day is Golly’s birthday, but-”

“It’s not in here!” shouted a confused-looking Pie Bar oni, shoving his head through the (closed) skylight of the carriage.

“You’re gettin’ one last chance before you’re off the train,” said the oni, gripping Space Dan.

“Well, that’s the thing,” said Space Dan. “I’m already off the train.

There was a loud metallic click, and all the oni looked up to behold an incredible sight.

“Trilobite-feathers!” swore the head Pie Bar oni.

Another Space Dan, grinning as he waved the Firesabre at all of them, pulled a lever on a bright silver handcar that was attached to the end of the train. This done, it finally let go of the last carriage, and the Surface Express shot away, leaving that Space Dan and the Firesabre in the Martian dust.

One of the oni jumped after it, but it was way too far gone, and he uselessly hit the rails and bounced along. Realising they had somehow been tricked, the oni all turned and glared at their captive, who grinned up at them triumphantly.

 

Several minutes before in the past, Space Dan fell down onto the connector for the final carriage. Getting up and rubbing his back where he’d landed, he swung open the door to the final carriage’s room.

“Ugh!” he said. “More mushrooms!”

He kicked at them angrily, sending them sprawling across the floor.

He briefly felt bad about this because damaging other people’s property was a no-no in the eyes of Golly. Then he remembered that the wild events of the train robbery had messed up most of the mushroom placements anyway, so if anything, this made things more consistent. And of course, consistency was the hobgoblin of great minds.[4]

Carefully stepping over fungi, Space Dan nervously opened the back door to the carriage to see if he was there.

Fortunately, he was.

“Hello!” said Space Dan to his future self. “How are you?”

“Huhhhh,” said future-Space Dan, clutching his head as he stumbled past present-Space Dan. “Not so bad! Apart from the… no, wait, it all went…fine.”

Shrugging, and deciding that he would just be very careful to avoid hurting his head in the future, present-Space Dan watched as his future self took a deep breath and hopped out onto the carriage connector. As his future-self started climbing frantically up onto the roof, Space Dan snuck quietly out of the last carriage’s door, and stepped onto the handcar.

As he waited for the signal from his future self, Space Dan beamed as he realised that the handcar was exceptionally shiny, which went very well with his ceremonial space suit.

He sat there in silent satisfaction, listening to his own future voice from the roof.

“I’m already off the train!” he heard himself declare.

Jumping up with excitement, Space Dan hurried over to the end of the handcar and pulled out its connector pin. With a loud metallic click, the pin came free, and Space Dan slipped it into his pocket. He then sat back down on the handcar, and pulled the release lever.

Waving merrily to the departing train, Space Dan sat like a confident king on his railroad throne as it rolled along the tracks for what felt like ages, until eventually it came to a complete stop in the middle of nowhere.

Hopping off the cart, Space Dan looked around the desert, which now felt strangely quiet and empty. He jogged back along the tracks for a little while until he came to a small railway siding, presumably in case the Surface Express needed to make an emergency stop for repairs, where he stopped and looked around him for something. Identifying a knobbley point of rock some distance away, he left the tracks, and started quickly trekking towards it. As he approached it, the mouth of a small cave at the base came into view, mostly hidden by the dunes.

Making sure he was gripping onto the Firesabre tightly, Space Dan hurried down to the cave, making a lot of noise so as to scare off bears.[5] Reaching the cave’s mouth, Space Dan ducked as he climbed inside, passing tall rocks and frightened geckos, until he came across a patch of light where two bored-looking Faeries awaited. Ogtol and Birdy jumped up eagerly as Space Dan came to a halt in front of them.

“Your plan has succeeded!” said Ogtol.

“It’s not finished yet,” said Space Dan.

“Then the parts of it that are complete have been successful,” said Ogtol.

“…hey, yeah,” said Space Dan, grinning.

“Regardless!” said Ogtol. “Give us the Firesabre, so that we may look after it for you as agreed, and certainly make no attempts to steal it.”

Winking to Birdy, he held out his clawed, furry hand, and Space Dan looked him dead in the eye and recited what Robert had told him to say.

“You are both honourable,” he said, “so you are honour-bound not to run off with this.”

“Dammit!” screamed Ogtol, and threw his bobby helmet, wig and akubra on the ground.[6]

Birdy slapped his winglike palm into his own face.

“That goes for you too, Birdy!” said Space Dan sternly.

“Shut up!” bustled Ogtol quietly, like a ten-year old who had been caught drinking too much soda on a school night. “…he heard you!”

Birdy’s palm didn’t move, but his head shook a little.

Space Dan carefully put the Firesabre down in front of them, and carefully put some dirt over it to be doubly sure it was hidden.

“Well!” he said as he walked out of the cave, squinting in the sun and rubbing his hands. “Guess I’d better use the Amulet now!”

He confidently pulled out the ancient time-travelling artefact, and promptly dropped it.

“Whoops!” said Space Dan, picking it up and shaking it to get the Martian dust off.

He blew on it, revealing the grooves and curves across its surface, so he could more easily see the buttons.

“Hmmm,” said Space Dan. “Let’s see…I think the Kneeling Guy style of time travel!”

The precise mechanics hadn’t been discussed when figuring out the plan, because – for some unknown reason – Robert and the others had assumed that Space Dan would know what he was doing.

He reached out towards the symbol of a kneeling rectangular alien with both its hands on the ground, and pressed it. The segment of the Amulet glowed, the Martian desert surrounding him became a blur, the dryness in the air vanished, and Space Dan felt his hair frizz up.

When he let go of the button, the handcar was no longer anywhere to be seen – naturally, as Space Dan hadn’t ridden it to freedom yet.[7]

“Well,” said Space Dan, “that went-”

BRRRRRRRRMMMMMMMMMMMMM

What went ‘BRRRRRRRRMMMMMMMMMMMMM’ was, in fact, the Surface Express passing by. This was followed by the rhythmic clacking of the wheels, and a mild screeching as the millipede demanded to be fed more hats.

Space Dan jumped at the sound, and squinted at the back of the train as it retreated into the distance.

“The handcar’s not there,” he said.

The handcar was not the only thing that was missing, as Space Dan looked around in sudden confusion.

“EVIL CAR!” he called, scanning the desert for the bright red automobile. “EVIL CAR! Come here, boy!”

Frowning, he looked back towards the cave.

“Ogtol and Birdy!” he shouted. “Where’s EVIL CAR?”

There was a pause.

“Go away!” shouted Ogtol. “You’re not meant to talk to us until we meet you before you’re here now, because it’s later for us!”

Space Dan folded his arms and kicked at a stone.

“If he doesn’t come here in five minutes, I’m going to be late!” he said indignantly. “And I’ll look really stupid when future me doesn’t come to pretend to be past me so I can escape while I distract everybody!”

Bunching up his fists, Space Dan began to run after the Surface Express as fast as his short little legs would carry him. Unfortunately, while he was usually pretty good at running away from things, he was not particularly good at running towards things, and after a few minutes had to stop and bend over double, wheezing to get his breath back.[8]

“Ugggh,” he puffed. “I have to ask Martin to make me more vegetables in the Foodcombinator.”

Bringing up dust with his ragged breaths, Space Dan slowly lifted his head, then squinted under the bright, hot Martian sun.

“Argh!” he moaned.

He held up a hand to block it out, but given his suit’s shiny finish, this just made things worse.

Fuming, Space Dan pushed himself up and began walking again, staring down at the tracks in frustration, only to growl in annoyance as he realised something was reflecting the sunlight into his eyes from the side.

“What is-” he began, turning to face it.

A bright, silver handcar lay on a siding.

“Oh!” said Space Dan. “That’s convenient!”

He quickly hopped over to the cart, looking carefully over its pumping controls, and found a small blue cap hanging on it. Space Dan put it on his head, then sat down in the cart’s seat with his back to the sun, facing where the siding joined the main track.

“So,” said Space Dan. “Down is forward, and up is back.”

He pushed the pump down, then held on for dear life as he and the cart were thrust violently backward.

“Argh!” said Space Dan. “Okay, up is forward.”

He brushed himself off and sat on the other chair, so as to face the sun and the Surface Express’ direction.

He pushed down, and the cart surged forwards, in the wrong direction.

“What?! I-…oh!” said Space Dan. “I am a Sneezing Rhododendron sometimes!”

He chuckled to himself, and then pulled the pump up, pushing him away from where the Surface Express had gone, but towards the siding’s connection to the main line.

“Right!” said Space Dan. “It’s time to put my chest…to the test! Because of all the expanding I did.”

 

Fifteen minutes later, Space Dan’s chest was all but aflame.

“Whhhhhhhy?” he moaned, as he vigorously pumped the cart towards the Surface Express’ final carriage.

He was approaching the train rapidly, partly because the cart had sped up the more he had pumped, and partly because of a downhill section he would conveniently leave out of later retellings.

“Oh no!” he said. “What if I don’t make it in time?”

He thought about this, then smiled, even as he puffed.

“But I’ve got to make it in time,” he said, “because I saw me be there already! And I’ll be even better then the me that I saw once I become him, because I haven’t even hurt my head this time!”

Space Dan gave the handcar one proud final push as it came up level with the train. Caught up in his newfound future-hubris, he tried to swing under the levers and onto the carriage, only to wince as one of the levers swung down on top of his head.

“Argh!” he cried. “Who could have foreseen this?!”

Nursing his head, he took a step towards the Surface Express, only to look down at the couplings and realise something important.

“Where’s a connector pin for this?” he muttered to himself.

He glanced around the floor of the handcar, but found nothing.

“Wait, I’ve already got one!” he said, snapping his fingers.

He reached inside his pocket and pulled out the long metal pin, then locked it into the coupling. He stepped over it onto the back of the Surface Express.

“Oh, hang on!” he muttered to himself.

He quickly snatched off his train driver’s cap and stuffed it into his satchel, then waited for his past self to open the carriage door.

After a minute, the door swung open.

“Hello!” said past-Space Dan. “How are you?”

“Huhhhh,” said Space Dan, nursing his weary head as he passed his past self into the carriage. “Not so bad! Apart from the… no, wait, it all went…fine.”

The past-Space Dan shrugged, as Space Dan took a deep breath and hopped out onto the carriage connector. He started frantically scrambling up onto the roof, as his past-self snuck out towards the handcar.

Hauling himself up and scrambling away from the doubting oni, worrying for his ceremonial spacesuit, Space Dan stalled them for as long as he could, until the final loud metallic click of the handcar coming free rang out.

“Trilobite-feathers!” swore the head Pie Bar oni.

Past-Space Dan, grinning as he waved the Firesabre at all of them, pulled a lever on the handcar, and it finally let go of the last carriage, the Surface Express speeding away.

One of the oni jumped after it, but it was way too far gone, and he uselessly hit the rails and bounced along. Realising they had somehow been tricked, the oni all turned and glared at their captive, who grinned up at them triumphantly.

“Joke’s on you!” laughed Space Dan at his captors. “I’ve now escaped from you in the past, leaving only myself here to…uh oh.”

 

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[1] Moseying is much like regular walking, but with slightly more bent legs and at 80% of the pace. This is not to be confused with mooseying, which is a version performed exclusively in Canada with the addition of large antlers for extra stability.

[2] This was not particularly magnanimous, as Space Dan would probably die quite quickly in the Martian desert with no provisions or guide. (Although, to be perfectly honest, Space Dan was the sort of person to likely have trouble even with both of those things.)

[3] Merely consolidating her belief in the dangers of allowing children access to colouring-in.

[4] Hobgoblins are generally viewed favourably on Uranus. While they were usually considered to be merely charming folklore for children, certain Uranian historians believed that they were once worshipped as deities. This can be seen in the common Uranian children’s greeting “We’re off to worship the hobgoblins”, although devout Gollyists insist that the saying is metaphorical.

[5] There were no bears on Mars, which Space Dan attributed to the native Martians’ sensible bear-scaring precautions.

[6]  Since he was a Faerie, and thus didn’t have the same cultural mores as a Martian or a human, he didn’t jump on them, although he began composing a very vicious epic about their low thread count and shoddy haberdashery in his head.

[7] At least, from the cart’s perspective.

[8] Technically, he could have decided that he was running away from Birdy and Ogtol, but they weren’t really being dangerous so much as being unhelpful, which was not sufficient motivation.