Thank you all for sharing your time with me! I hope this story amuses you and also prepares you for your eventual demise. But I mean, that's cool right? Maybe you'll get a guide with better fashion sense than Frank!
AND NOW THE THIRD INSTALLMENT!
When last we left our reluctant hero (can we really call him that thought?), Benny had discovered that music is the next world's prefered mode of transport. After being warned that Ringo was more dangerous than a rhino with a bad hair day from a rather annoyed black cat, Benny now finds himself on the cracked world of Dregen. Ringo assures him it's a great place, but Benny's guide says otherwise....
HOW TO SURVIVE THE AFTERLIFE: HUMAN EDITION
I think the thing that surprised me more than riding a cloud or seeing an entire continent floating around in chunks like a jigsaw puzzle was the fact that the air tasted and smelled like a carnival. You know, that mix of popcorn, cotton candy, and sunscreen. It smelled like that. I would have enjoyed it more except that the pleasant sensation was ruined by my grimy surroundings. Ringo had parked the cloud—seriously, it just hovered there—on the side of a grungy, shady ally off of a very bustling and squished main street. The little pink fluff was the only cheerful and non-dangerous thing around.
There were puddles of glowing green ooze on the street below my feet and black lines zigzagging above me, attached to crumbling buildings that looked like a post apocalyptic version of an Asian market. They were sagged and wrinkly like old paper bags, and even kinda smelled like it. It was dark except for flickering orbs of blue hovering above us. No electricity in this world I guess. Huh. I mean, I didn't really expect anything in the afterlife, but it was still kinda weird to realize that all that stuff you'd see in sci-fi movies was kinda like...true.
“Hey oh hey Benny, it's a great place right?”
“Uh...” I rubbed my head as a piece of plaster from the building bounced off my head. “Sure.”
“Alright so here's the deal Benny. You can't tell people I'm from...that place I told you about okay? I'm just Ringo, okay?”
“Well, who else would you be?”
Ringo suddenly smiled wide and it was a dangerous smile. He didn't remind me my friend anymore. He reminded me of a mobster I'd once seen smoking a cigar outside a liquor store. That mobster had tricked me out of five bucks and given me a bloody nose for it too. The cat's warning ran through my head. Ringo threw his arm around my shoulder and started walking down the dim alleyway. His scarves brushed against my arm and caused it to itch like I'd been bitten by a swarm of mosquitoes. How the hell was he wearing five of those things without scratching himself raw?
“I like you Benny. You're smart you know? The perfect partner. Here we are. Just relax okay? They won't eat you okay? I'll make sure.”
What could I say to that? We stopped in front of a wall littered in weird posters of people—well they kinda looked like people—with strange circular letters underneath. Ringo pushed his sunglasses up onto his head and then knocked on the wall in three sharp raps before whistling a little song. From the center of what I'd assumed was a solid wall, a small slot opened, and two red eyes stared down at us.
“Ringo,” the voice sounded like he had a bad cough, “What in the three rings of flaur are you doing here?”
“Well hey Grug! It's been a while! How're the kids?”
“You know I ate them Ringo. Two years ago. What d'ya want?”
“Oh yeah! Forgot about that!” Ringo laughed and leaned back on his heels, completely undisturbed by that last statement. I was just trying to keep myself breathing the carnival air. What the hell kind of friends was Ringo involved in? In fact, what kind of mission were we on? I hadn't asked Ringo the details of that. Shit.
“See, I was hoping to speak to Francine.” Ringo tapped his feet in a kind of dance. “So if you'd be so kind as to open the door--”
“Francine don't wanna see you Ringo, you know that.”
“Hey now, you know that was all in the past man! Francine's probably already forgiven me!”
The red eyes narrowed and then landed on me. I saw my life flash before my eyes. I think.
“Whose the 3rd dimensional?”
“This here's my friend Benny. Benny, this's Grug.”
“What happened to Tayla?”
For a moment I thought Ringo was going to flip him off. His feet stopped tapping and his smile faltered for a moment. Then he was all smiles and dancing again.
“Tayla went orbital, man. Just psheeew!” He slapped his hands together and then slid his left one out in a swooping motion. “So Benny here said he'd help. Now, can we talk to Francine?”
“Well....” Grug narrowed his eyes more, his voice sounding even sicker. “I s'pose.... Francine's not in a good mood though. Lost a whole Unit in a game yesterday.”
“A whole Unit!? Wow!”
The slot slid shut and I leaned in close to Ringo. The whole situation had a keep-your-words-below-a-whisper-or-you'll-die sort of feel.
“What's a Unit?”
“Oh like you know...money? Kinda like that. Sorta. But not really.”
“So it's money?”
“It's like money. But more expensive.” He laughed and slapped my back. “Man, if I didn't know any better Benny, I'd say you just died!”
The wall made a thunking sound and then swung out. I felt like I was in a spy movie. I smiled a little. Like I was Liam Neeson in that one film, Taken. Wait. Did the girl die in that one? Did he? I couldn't remember. Maybe It'd be better not to compare my life to that movie. It was making my atoms waver a little. Go with the flow Benny.
The inside of the building wasn't as bad as the alleyway. And by that I mean it was only slightly less seedy looking. The walls were this glossy faded yellow and I quickly realized that it wasn't shiny paint. It was a slimy substance that I didn't want to ask about it. Basketball sized golden orbs lazed above our heads and I got my first good look at Grug. Then I wished I hadn't. He was at least a foot taller than me, I was six foot even, and had the skin of a rhino and the body of...well. If an ostrich, an ox, and human had a baby, that's what it would look like. He even drooled out of the side of one fat black lip.
“You have to wait. I'll tell Francine you're here.”
Grug turned and ducked through a low door where there were red beads instead of a door. They chimed like hornets as they knocked together. Ringo slapped my back and then flopped against a couch that looked like it was from the 70's or something, only it flexed and bounced like a blow up chair.
“Francine's place is nice huh?”
“Don't worry Benny, Francine won't eat you.”
“I wasn't worried.”
“You looked worried. You've got these lines on your nose like you're gonna sneeze.”
“Oh.” I stopped frowning. I wondered if the guide said anything more about Dregen. I didn't take out the pamphlet though. Somehow it seemed like a bad idea. The beads buzzed and out stepped Grug. Grug looked unhappy. Or maybe he was happy. You couldn't really tell with all the folds on his face.
“Francine'll see you guys. Go on back.”
Ringo hopped up and grinned, doing a little tap dance shuffle through the beads. I followed after him, but without the grin or tap dancing. I was a bad dancer, like I said. The next room was nothing like the first. It was an honest to god business office. Wooden floors, big oak desk with a huge swivel chair, and even floor to ceiling windows that were probably there so Francine could look over all she owned.
“Hey oh hey, Francine updated! Swanky!”
The voice was low, like a motorboat. Both me and Ringo turned to face the voice coming from behind us. Francine was a male. Francine was a 2 foot tall rat dressed in a business suite.
Francine wore a fucking monocle and top hat.
“Francine!” Exclaimed Ringo warmly.
“So you decided show your ugly mug here, huh. You've got some guts.” Francine said not as warmly.
“Well, you know, the past is the past, right?”
Francine's thick tail gave the ground a hard slap. Apparently the past wasn't very far into the 'past'. Ringo didn't seem phased by it, and Francine strode past us. I tried really hard not to laugh when I noticed he was wearing tiny little boots. Holy shit. Francine was a rat! I wished more than anything I could get a film of this, just to reply over and over if I ever got depressed from being dead or something. Francine jumped up on the chair then up onto the table.
He sat at the edge and snapped his fingers—no, his paw? Ringo quickly pulled two chairs from one side of the room and we both sat down so that Francine could stare down at us. Huh. He kinda reminded me of my boss at he old deli I worked at. I didn't like my old boss, he'd been a stuck up asshole who liked to kick you when you were down.
“Ringo,” Said Francine with his baritone voice, “You must be desperate if you're here to see me after last time. Should I kill you now or later?”
“Hey oh hey, Francine!” Laughed Ringo. Totally unconcerned about his death. But we were dead right? “It would take too much effort to kill me don't you think?”
The look Francine gave him with his beady black eyes said that it wouldn't be. I tried not to look nervous. I mean, the rat did say he wanted to kill Ringo. Not me. Maybe he'd let me go. Or eat me. I felt my atoms waver again and Francine pinned is gaze on me.
“Is your friend alright?”
“He's fine. He does that sometimes. Hasn't gotten used to his new body and all that, you know. Right, Benny?”
“Hm.” Thankfully Francine stopped paying attention to me. His tail swung back and forth. “What do you want Ringo?”
“Francine old pal, I'm gonna shoot straight with you.”
“Francine old pal, I'm gonna shoot straight with you.”
“I wish you would. I don't know if you could.”
“I can!” Ringo laughed and leaned back in his chair. His scarves glittered. “Look, Tayla up and orbited before I could find the multi-map, and she was the one who knew the person who knew the person who knew where it was.”
I couldn't have said that five times fast if I had a week to practice. While I was processing all that Ringo kept right on talking.
“And since I know that you know everyone and everything then you know Tayla was last seen here, leaving your place no less. So I just kinda figured that she might have told you where that person was.”
Francine didn't say anything. Just studied Ringo with his monocle. Then he took of his top hat and his nose quivered. I tried not to smile. It didn't work well.
“Tayla didn't tell me.”
“But I do know who it is.”
“Oh! Hey oh hey!” Ringo leapt to his feet and did a little dance. “That's great!”
“But that information will cost you Ringo.”
“How much?” Ringo pulled out a wallet from his jacket.
“Oh I don't want your Units. They're useless.”
“That hurts Francine!”
“I want your friend here.”
I held my breath. Which then caused me to wonder if a soul could breath. I mean, I'm pretty sure I'd been breathing this whole time. Is that normal? Would the pamphlet have the answer?
“Aw now that's not a fair trade Francine. How about one of my scarves? They're one of a kind you know!”
“No.” Francine leaned back. “I want your friend or no map.”
“That's a hard bargain old pal.”
“Give him to me or go. You're lucky I'm in a forgiving mood.”
I stared at Ringo and he winked at me. I felt my body relax. Good ol' Ringo. That cat was wrong. Maybe she'd been burned by him before or something. Maybe he had forgotten to feed her. But he wasn't abandoning me. Ringo patted my shoulder.
“Alright, you've got yourself a deal.”
“Wait what?!” I leapt to my feet, my atoms going bonkers. I looked down, I was slightly blurry looking.
“Sorry Benny, no hard feelings. I just really need that map, you know? But hey oh hey, you'll be fine! Francine, you'll make sure my pal Benny here doesn't get eaten right?”
“As long as he does what I say.”
“He will. Benny's a good guy!”
“Come with me and I'll write down the name and location for you.”
Francine hopped off from the desk and adjusted his monocle. All I could do was stare at Ringo. It was like being told Santa wasn't real all over again. It was like going to a bar where they said it was free booze and it wasn't free. It was like your dad promising you ice cream and then getting you carrots instead. Ringo glanced back over his shoulder at me and gave me at thumbs up.
I pulled the pamphlet from out of my pocket. I could have sworn I saw something about emergencies. I flipped to the back and saw it there in medium sized print:
In Case of Emergencies
(i.e. kidnapping, body jumping, losing your body, becoming stranded)
please contact your Guide.
Well. Crap. I sat down hard on the chair. It was much more comfortable than the blue one in the hall I'd first been sitting in. But I'd rather be sitting on that chair thinking about how much Frank's green tie annoyed me than being pawned off. Crap. I shoulda listened to the damn cat.