Part 4

Nippy the Cat

Shell Out

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Booooo! That’s all he heard in his ears for an amount of time he could not fathom. Gradually, the noise shrank. Shorter in length. Farther away. Then gone. Then ragtime.

He awoke later to find himself lying in the middle of a dream, or something like it. A vast field, painted in technicolor green, spread out from under him and ran out toward a plane of light purple mountains. Colorful pen and ink images, two-dimensional, but drawn to look 3-D, surrounded him in a perfect circle. Each was in the shape of a bipedal anthropomorph, a Wacky Fuzzy character in the common understanding. The images were of nearly every color he could name; though, most had only four colors or fewer, plus shadow, defining them. Their bodies flickered like a bunch of tinted pictures cycling under a flashlight. And they each hovered close to him and leaned in for an inquisitive look. Some even enlarged their left eyes to confirm their curiosity. At the head of the crowd stood Nippy the Cat, all three and a half feet of him, and he placed his hands on his milk bottle-skinny hips as he stared down at the flesh and blood creature before him.

“Well I’ll be an uncle’s monkey,” he said with a massive grin; he was a squirrelly feline. “Let’s get this man to his feet.”

A huge ox of at least seven feet tall reached from within the crowd and yanked Sammy up by the ankles. He held Sammy with his iron hooves like a prized fish.

“Put me down,” said Sammy, feeling more blood rush to his head.

“Okay,” said Nippy, as he danced the Charleston. “You’re ugly, you’re smelly, and your mother eats dynamite for breakfast.”

A strange musical interlude rang out across the reddish sky, sounding like a piano and a trumpet. Sammy tried furiously to search for the source of the music, but ended up rocking back and forth beneath the ox’s hydraulic grip.

“Where is that music coming from?” he asked.

The ox dropped Sammy on his head. A clatter of cymbals sounded off around him. Sammy searched the scene with his eyes as he sat upright and rubbed his head, trying to make sense of this sudden drop down the black rabbit hole. All the other cartoon characters ran around in circles, looking under rocks and signs; some hid half their bodies behind flagpole-thin trees while others dug deep holes into the green-soaked earth. Gray clouds of dust kicked up all over the painted fields, and gargantuan mounds of fake dirt piled next to the gaping holes. In the middle of the chaos, Nippy emerged from the animated grass, eating some noodles and rice from a Chinese food box.

“What music?” he said with a sing-song voice.

“I hear music, almost like a soundtrack.”

“Well then let’s dance.” Nippy grabbed at Sammy’s hands and spun him around like a tornado. “Do you like to swing, mambo, or lambada?”

Whirlpools overcame Sammy’s ear canals as he tried to sift through the thoughts in his mind. He didn’t care about dancing.

“Please stop,” he sputtered, as Nippy continued to spin him.

Nippy pulled a stop sign out from behind his back and threw it in front of Sammy’s face. Sammy jerked to a halt, or at least his body did. He thought he would fall again.

“So how do you like our place?” asked Nippy.

All the other cartoon characters swarmed in beside him. Each looked at Sammy quizzically, some with focused eyes and arched eyebrows, others with a stroke of their chins. Sammy surveyed each of them for appearance and attitude. The characters took on many forms, mainly of four-legged animals walking on two legs, each with exaggerated head sizes and postures that defied animal logic. A dog stood nearby with a paw on his jutting hip; a giraffe wearing a beanie cap carried a tree under his front leg; and other creatures, including a bird, a mouse, a pig, a fuzzy gecko, and a beaver, all gathered around in a circle, each dashing in for a look so close that their paws scratched the skin under his eyes. He jabbed his open palms outward to stop the probing.

“Wait,” he said, “how’d I get here?”

“How did any of us get here?” Nippy said, as he threw on some bifocals and sported the thin, passionless smile of a deep thinker.

“Quit joking around. I’m serious, this place isn’t normal.”

The cartoon characters prodded closer to his face, each curious about the unusual volatility coming from his mouth. A monkey tried subtly to pick his pocket. Sammy batted the monkey away. This insanity had gone too far.

“Get out of here. All of you, beat it.”

The cartoon characters turned around and sulked away from him, all except for the ox that placed his hand over his crotch and performed a pelvic thrust like Michael Jackson.

“Not you,” Sammy shouted at Nippy.

The characters turned around and pointed to themselves, whispering “me?”, but Sammy’s finger aimed at Nippy, so the cat was the one who jumped for joy.

“You love me,” he said with kisses to the wind. “You really love me.”

“Shut up,” said Sammy. “Get over here.”

Nippy’s tail bobbed up and down as he danced backward toward Sammy, singing some kind of tribal “boom shakalaka.” On reaching him, he gave Sammy a big kiss on the mouth, then spat it out in disgust. Sammy didn’t bother reacting to the feline’s intrusion or the inky taste left on his lips. He needed answers.

“How did I get here?” Sammy asked. “And be serious this time.”

“You fell from the sky, just like a comet. It made us all happy.”

Sammy looked up to the reddish sky to discover a small hole just above the clouds. Beyond the hole were stars dotting the universe and a planet with an enormous sign pointing at him with the words TO THE HAPPIEST PLACE IN THE GALAXY etched on its face. He rubbed his eyes in case reality had failed him.

“That’s impossible. How did I fall from the sky?”

“Sort of like this.” Nippy flailed his arms and legs while screaming at the top of his lungs. Feeling his face heating up, Sammy stared at him with contempt.

“How did I end up in your cartoon world?” he said, as he reached out for Nippy’s neck.

Nippy stopped, and his fur grew stark white. He thrust his fingers between his chattering teeth.

“Don’t do that. Just answer my question.”

Sammy released Nippy’s neck. Nippy gasped for air.

“Thanks,” said Nippy. “I thought I was a goner. You saved my life.”

The cartoon cat jumped into Sammy’s arms and kissed him on the mouth again. He followed with another disgusted spit. Sammy was ready to slam him into the featureless ground for all the time he was wasting.

“To answer your question,” continued Nippy, “you swallowed the Happy Fun Land pill, and it brought you to us.”

“What? Why?”

“Because you wanted to be happy and have fun. That’s what everyone wants in the Happy Fun Land universe.”

“What makes you think I want something like that?”

“Because you want to laugh.”

Sammy stuffed his hands in his pockets.

“Why would I want to laugh? It’s not very professional in my line of work.”

“Because it’s contagious.”

Immediately, the Wacky Fuzzies returned from out of nowhere and laughed at Sammy with pointed fingers and slapped knees. Nippy joined in on the laughter, clutching his belly, and opening his maw so wide that a fluttering bird flew in for a quick rest. Sammy felt the irritation rising through his shoulders and into his temples, and he just wanted relief. So he kicked a laughing hyena between the legs, rocketing the unsuspecting creature into a cloud. Nearly a minute later, the hyena fell back to earth and formed a crater at the sound of a thud. When he climbed out of his hole with broken teeth, he was still laughing from the pit of his stomach. The others laughed at him. Sammy buried his face in his hands.

After another long moment of laughter, the Wacky Fuzzies all dissipated, and Sammy was left to stand in the bright green inky field alone with Nippy.

“I want to leave,” said Sammy.

Nippy produced a leaf from behind his ears, and a branch from inside them. He tried to hand both to Sammy, but Sammy pushed them away.

“I didn’t say ‘want a,’ I said ‘want to,’ you moron.”

“Oh, well I know the perfect place to go. Come with me.”

Nippy grabbed for Sammy’s hand and pulled him along the fields.