This story, written in summer 2001, was intended to be a (fond) parody of a certain half-hour-long commercial I enjoyed as a child. As you can see, at this point I’ve started to move away from blatant fan fiction to thinly-veiled fan fiction. This story has already been published online in its entirety by PulpLit, so I’ve reproduced the complete text here.
I awake in the damp cell that serves as my bedroom. Ordinarily, the moss creeping along the walls would be a comfort to my mutated, plant-covered body. But the frigid chill in the air reminds me it’s just another day in the service of Thoom – Lord of Destruction, Scourge of Mysticana, and complete failure.
I can hear the familiar sounds of Manwolf going about his morning business, licking his genitals and slopping his tongue in a bowl of water. I pull the covers over my head. At the usual time – fifteen minutes before any sane person would be awake – Manwolf pounds my door with his lice-ridden fists. “Weed!” he whines. “Weed! Wake up!”
Ah yes, “Weed.” That would be me, Dr. Lerin Ketcherdafaelion. Once the most famous bontanist in Mysticana, now a henchman called “Weed” to a guy named Thoom.
“Get up, Weed!” Manwolf whimpers.
“I’m up, I’m up,” I mutter, peeling away my sheet (or rather, the disease-infested rag I cover my modesty with in the three or four hours of sleep I’m allowed). Manwolf remains outside the door. More genital-licking, no doubt. My own morning ritual consists of adjusting my body to consume carbon dioxide rather than oxygen and catching a few rays of dim sunlight.
Oh, how I loathe that ambulatory stench! I open the door and there he is, all seven feet of him, curled up on the floor. His eyes look up at me happily. I kick him. “Out of my way, dog!” I yell. Dog is my usual term for Manwolf. Despite the abuse, the stupid beast-man has apparently chosen me for his best friend. This doesn’t surprise me. My luck has been in a steady decline since the whole becoming-a-mutant-freak thing.
“The Master has great plans today!” Manwolf informs me as we trod through the moldy stone corridors. Some of the molds have begun to produce airborne toxins. Manwolf probably has another year or two before the rancid old castle does him in.
“Great plans, eh? What now? Soup strainers that turn you invisible? A sewage gun? Or will we just call a caterer and ring up a big bill on the king’s account?”
“No, much better plans than that!” Manwolf assures me.
The henchmen are all up now, making their way to the throne room so Thoom can show us his latest way to fail. There’s Fishman, who is actually part dolphin. Both Fishman and I have spent hours attempting to explain to Thoom the difference between a fish and a dolphin, but our lord insists on Fishman. There’s the Claw, a man with a lobster claw for a hand. The claw is rather brittle, so the Claw spends most of his time cradling it defensively. There’s the cleverly named Badgirl, an attractive “sorceress” whose powers seem to consist primarily of rebuffing my advances and swift kicks to the groin. Finally, there’s the Cloak, who I hate the most. The Cloak is a tall guy in a really big black cloak. That’s it. He doesn’t do anything. He just stands around in a dark cloak. He’s not even mysterious: talk to him and he’ll tell you his name, life story, etc. It’s not even an interesting story. I hate the Cloak.
The lot of us make our way to the throne room after a short breakfast consisting of milky gray sludge. I’m certain there are old newspapers in it. Badgirl sits next to me, posing seductively. I have no idea who she’s posing for – we’re all mutant freaks and half-animals, except the Cloak, who sucks.
After ten minutes of uncomfortable silence, Lord Thoom deigns to grace us with his presence. He enters the room from the left of the throne. As usual, he’s dressed in a shimmery red robe that I always find a bit festive for a so-called Lord of Destruction. He has no face, only a skull, with glowing red eyes. He wears a garish gold crown and carries a ruby-topped scepter at all times.
The Destruction Lord walks across the dais and takes his seat, glaring at us with open contempt. At least I think it’s open contempt. As I said, the guy has no face.
“I have summoned you all here for a purpose,” Thoom declares. I guess he forgot we come to this room every damned morning. “I have finally discovered a way to obtain the Book of Forever!”
Silence. Crap! Whose turn is it today? I wonder. I can’t recall who went yesterday. Then I notice Badgirl glaring at Fishman, and breathe a sigh of relief.
“Uh, what is your plan, my lord?” Fishman stammers, the air whistling through his blowhole.
“It’s quite simple, you ichthyological idiot!” Thoom snorts. Ichthyological – not bad. If Fishman were at all a fish, it would have been a pretty good insult. “I wouldn’t expect a toad of your intelligence to grasp the intricacies of my intellect! But of course, I’ll explain my plans.”
Fishman breathes a sigh of relief, and I give him a nod: that was pretty painless. At my side, Manwolf sneaks in a quick lick while Thoom stands and begins to circle around the table, slowly. I hate this technique; it allows for maximum taunting.
“You see, my warriors,” Thoom begins, “in my studies of the Book of Death, I have come to realize that we’ve been going about this all wrong. We’ve been attacking Castle Gladgood from the western and northern sides. We must attack them from the eastern side. Badgirl! What is on the eastern side of Castle Gladgood?”
Caught by surprise, my beauteous maiden stutters, “Um…uh…”
“No!” Thoom interjects. “The desert, you witless witch! The desert is to the east. They will never expect us to attack from that direction.”
“That doesn’t mean Keldor won’t defeat us, like always,” I point out.
“Silence!” Thoom bellows. “I wasn’t finished. We will prevent those do-gooders from being able to fight us in the desert.”
After another pause, the Claw jumps in and says, “And how will we do that, my lord?”
“Simple, you half-handed half-wit!” Thoom cries gleefully. “We will steal their llamas!”
We all look at each other, blinking. Like everyone else, I wonder whether I’ve heard him right. Only Fishman sighs and picks at a scratch on the table; he’s heard Thoom perfectly. Meanwhile, our leader glares at us expectantly, hands on hips.
“Uh…could you repeat that, my lord?” the Cloak asks.
“Their llamas!” Thoom insists. “Once we’ve stolen all their llamas, they’ll never be able to come near us in the desert!”
I close my eyes and pinch the bridge of my nose. Stealing llamas. For absolutely no good reason. Keldor and his allies have flying ships. But I know better than to argue with Thoom.
“So,” Thoom is saying, “Once we’ve got all the llamas, we’ll…”
I start to doze off at this point. The goal of all Thoom’s plans is to obtain the Book of Forever and glean its “secrets” – which will, presumably, help him conquer Mysticana. I’ve always been rather skeptical of the Book of Forever’s alleged powers. It doesn’t seem to me that Keldor or anyone else has ever made much use of the Book. What “secrets” could it possibly hold? Thoom is unclear on this point. I wonder if he’s even sure the Book exists. It seems more like a convenient excuse for sadistically throwing us in harm’s way every weekend.
I feel a clammy hand on my shoulder. “Are you listening, you botanical boob?”
I’m also convinced Thoom spends more time reading his thesaurus than the Book of Death. His constant need to assert his authority, mostly by insulting us, is clearly based on a deep-seated inferiority complex. I suppose being defeated more than 300 times in a row can do that to you.
“I’m listening, my lord,” I mutter.
“Good,” he says, patting my shoulder. He returns to his throne. “When the time comes, you will use your powers to create a thick wall of vines. That will keep Keldor and his friends off our backs long enough to penetrate the castle. Then…”
I tune out again. Yeah, right – a wall of vines. In the desert, no less. Did Thoom have no cumulative memory? Keldor is the self-proclaimed Strongest Hero in the Galaxy. You could drop twelve boulders and a ballistic missile on him and he wouldn’t bat an eye. A wall of vines isn’t an obstacle, it’s a short-lived eyesore.
Whoops…Thoom’s cackling and making fun of Manwolf. That usually means he’s wrapping up. “Excellent,” our fearless leader says, leaning back in his chair and steepling his fingers. “We will go out tonight and steal all the llamas in Mysticana. Tomorrow we attack Castle Gladgood from the west – ”
“East, my lord,” Fishman interrupts. He immediately slaps a fin over his mouth, but it’s too late.
“What?” Thoom snaps.
“Er…I thought the eastern side was the desert one, my lord,” Fishman mumbles.
Thoom raises a hand and blasts Fishman with a bolt of lightning. The anthropomorphic dolphin sails out of his chair and crashes against the stone wall.
Thoom caresses his bony chin. “He’s right, it is the east,” he murmurs. “Right. We will attack from the eastern side tomorrow, once we have all the llamas.”
“My lord,” I say slowly.
“What is it, you…uh, botanical…you plant-like peon?”
“You may want to consider stealing camels as well, since you can ride them in the desert too.”
“What are you babbling about? N-no, no camels! Llamas! Just llamas. Who are you to question my authority?”
“I’m an accredited scientist with an IQ of 215,” I reply. “I’m also thinking we may want to have an exit strategy in case your plan doesn’t work out, if you know what I mean.”
“I don’t know!” Thoom roars. “I do know you’re annoying me, you green leafy lily-wit!”
And that’s that. We lackeys will suffer Keldor’s godlike punches as usual, landing somewhere in the southern hemisphere. Thoom doesn’t care. If he doesn’t curse you openly, he’ll insult you behind your back. We are expendable – and yet, we never die.
I tried to talk to Manwolf about it once. “Don’t you ever want to question Thoom’s judgment, dog?”
The living shag carpet shrugged. “The Master is all-wise,” he intoned.
“All-wise in what? Failing? Have we ever seen the Book of Death? I don’t think it exists. Never mind the Book of Forever! How many times will he throw us against Keldor and his omnipotent muscles? God, dog, what are we doing here?”
Being a troglodyte, Manwolf isn’t much use in philosophical contemplation. His response was to grunt and lick his genitals.
I decided to try Fishman next. “Hey, Tim, don’t you think Thoom is lying about the Book of Forever?”
“Maybe,” he replied between bites of a tunafish sandwich.
“Okay…well, doesn’t that bother you? That we might be having our asses handed to us every day for no good reason?”
“I guess.” As you can see, Fishman suffers from a certain lack of conviction.
“Well, I for one am sick of it,” I declared. “Tomorrow morning, I’m telling Thoom that I quit.”
The next day, I tried to quit. Really. It went something like this:
“My lord – ”
“What is it, you herbal ignoramus?”
I can’t explain it. There’s just something about being a hideously mutated freak that draws you to megalomaniacs – even when they are completely incompetent. I don’t think Thoom could successfully plan a panty raid, yet I feel compelled to participate in his victory-proof schemes week after week. I never consider usurping him, because that would be too much work – and even if I succeeded, what would I do then? I’m a plant-man. At least Thoom has a goal, unattainable as it is. The Book of Forever is his raison d’etre, his idee fixe, if you will. He will never stop trying to get it, despite the human war machine that is Keldor. You have to admire the guy. The poor, deluded, skull-faced guy.
I should probably tell you some of my background. All evil henchman have a story. Manwolf was bitten by a werewolf. Fishman was the result of a genetic experiment gone awry. The Claw’s grandfather was a five-foot lobster. Badgirl had a difficult childhood, and the Cloak sucks. So what about me? How did Lerin Ketcherdafaelion, the great botanist, become a half-man, half-plant known as “Weed”?
There I was, working on my botanical science. Well, pretty soon I had the ambition for world domination that afflicts most botanists during middle age. Without the knowledge of the King or the Royal Protector (Keldor) I began to work on a secret formula to create an army of plant-men to do my bidding. I had to test it on someone, naturally. The thought occurred to me to kidnap a passing vagrant and force him to drink the elixir, but I thought that rather unfair; too many passing vagrants have suffered in the name of mad science. So I drank it myself, and poof! I was a plant-man. Unfortunately I had no way of reversing the process. At that precise moment, Keldor walked in, and – horrified by my new appearance – he tossed me out of the castle. Shunned by the general populace and labeled a monster, I had no choice but to shack up with Thoom and his all-star losers. It was that or be stoned to death by a mob of frightened villagers. Since then, I’ve been drop-kicked all over Mysticana by Keldor and his friends. It’s a living. And at the end of the day, Thoom’s cruel insults and esteem-crushing reprimands make it all worthwhile.
So now it’s midnight, and Manwolf and I are slinking around the Royal Zoo. We go right past the camel paddock – plenty of camels there, ready to be saddled up – and move on to the llama cage. There are three llamas. Just three. There were at least ten camels back there.
Manwolf breaks open the bars; he’s useful for a few things. The llamas begin to bleat, or snort, or whatever that annoying sound is. One of the llamas is wearing red metal armor, which seems a bit weird. The armor looks vaguely familiar, but I’m not sure why. Pushing the thought aside, I conjure up some tasty grass and try to calm the animals down, but they can smell Manwolf, and now they’re getting rowdy. The saliva starts flying, and I take a nice blob right in the eyes. I don’t know if it’s possible to describe just how much llamas can spit. It’s impressive. This is the real meat, the glitter and the glory of being an evil henchman. If you’re not being casually smacked aside by an omnipotent hero, you’re being spat on by angry llamas.
Manwolf is soaked by the end, but we manage to get the ugly things lassoed up. With a generous combination of tugging, dragging and cursing, we get them to move about five feet. I try the grass trick again, and this time it works. Using the grass as a lure, we lead them through the zoo and out to the troop carrier, where the other henchmen are waiting with a dozen more llamas. Thoom’s driving the carrier; we have to ride in the back with the llamas, of course. Evidently llamas don’t distinguish indoors from outdoors for bathroom purposes – I can’t even see the floor. The smell is a threat to our very lives. Fortunately we only have to endure it for fourteen hours while Thoom drives at the carrier’s minimum speed, to save gas.
Back at Castle Darkbad we unload the llamas into the castle courtyard. After much spitting, the animals seem content to mill around while we shower off the stench of llama. Thoom, of course, smells lovely as a rose as he screams at us to hurry up.
We meet once more in the throne room. We’re all smelling a bit better, except for Manwolf, who detests bathing. His stench is almost overpowering. He sits next to me.
Thoom swaggers in, supremely confident now that all the llamas in Mysticana are crapping in his courtyard. “Now, my warriors,” Thoom says. “we shall begin our assault! All of you, to the transport, and then – to glory!”
I’m so tired I can’t even roll my eyes. We stumble downstairs, Thoom herding us with his scepter, cackling all the way.
We stand across the desert wastes, prepared for battle. Before us is the pink-and-purple monstrosity that is Castle Goodglad, that bastion of all that is Good and Right and Cute. I can see unicorns with rainbow horns prancing on the grass, whilst cherubs and fairies dance like fireflies in the dawning morn. Now that I think about it, I can’t believe I ever chose to live there.
I said we were standing across the desert wastes. That’s not exactly true. In an attempt to spite the rulers of Goodglad, Thoom has forced us to ride llamas all the way to the castle. So rather than standing, we’re lurching back and forth, clutching frantically at ill-fitting saddles or being thrown off entirely.
Thoom stands beside his camel – I mean, llama – holding it by the rein. He’s got the one with the weird metal armor. We’re close enough now to see figures peeking out of rose-tinted windows. I think I spot McDoogle, the king’s head soldier, peering at us from the battlements.
“Rulers of Goodglad!” Thoom bellows. “You see before you the assembled might of Thoom, the Lord of Destruction!” He raises his scepter high in the air and electricity crackles around it. Thoom’s powerful magic makes his inept planning all the more sad.
“We come to you from the desert,” Thoom continues. “And look! We have your llamas. You cannot defend yourselves from our attack. If you do not surrender both Castle Goodglad and the Book of Forever immediately, we will destroy you!”
The echoes of his last words fade from the castle walls, followed by a long silence. I’m waiting for Keldor to stride through the gates and send us into orbit, as usual. But the pause stretches into several minutes, and I can see McDoogle anxiously conferring with some of his officers. There are raised voices, and an argument seems to be going on. Where’s Keldor?
Thoom is as confident as ever. This plan will work. He is as sure of it as he was sure stealing all the books from the Royal Library would work, or that he could poison Keldor with a playing card.
Finally, McDoogle appears on the battlements with a small cadre of troops. He leans over and cups his hands around his mouth. “Could you give us an hour or two?”
I cock an eyebrow. What’s going on?
Thoom is no less curious. “Why?” he demands.
“We need to, uh, prepare for battle,” McDoogle yells back.
Then it hits me. “Keldor’s not there,” I tell Thoom. “They’re stalling for time.”
“Silence, you fool!” Thoom hisses. He turns back to McDoogle. “Now you understand, faithful protector of Goodglad, that without llamas you are helpless! Attack, my warrors!”
“Wait!” McDoogle calls out.
“What is it?” Thoom growls.
“Can we have just one llama?”
“Please,” McDoogle begs. “Just one. Give us a fighting chance!”
This is too weird. They’ve got dozens of camels. What do they need with a single llama?
“My lord,” I say, “Keldor’s not here. Who cares what they ask for? This is our big chance! Finally, after years of suffering, we can capture Castle Goodglad, and you can get the Book of Forever! Ignore him, and let’s go!”
But Thoom is an idiot. He rubs one claw along his chin, then nods. “Right,” he says. “Good Master McDoogle, I shall give you one llama with which to fight us.” He looks at me and gestures toward the castle. Cursing him under my breath, I begin to lead my llama away.
“No, no,” McDoogle cries from the parapet. He points to Thoom’s llama, with its weird armor. “We want that one!”
“Why?” Thoom asks.
“Uh…because…we like that one better!”
It’s obvious this llama is of some importance to them. But, knowing Thoom…
“Take it!” Thoom cries, and he throws his reign at me. With a sigh, I lead the armored llama to the eastern gates of the castle. As we’re walking, I gaze at the red armor…it’s so damned familiar…
McDoogle himself meets me at the gate with a few guards. “Thank you, Weed,” he says with a nervous smile. The whole thing is ridiculous. Him thanking me for giving him a single llama to fight Thoom and his army of twelve llamas and warriors, when they’ve got flying machines and Keldor, Keldor in his big red armor and…
Oh my God.
“Stop them!” I scream. McDoogle and his warriors, hearing me, quickly rush the llama around the corner. I try to pursue, but they slam the gates in my face. I hear a loud sound, like a crash of thunder, and there’s a big flash behind the corner.
“What is your problem, you idiot?” Thoom barks.
“The llama, you skull-faced moron! Keldor! The llama! The armor!”
Behind me, the gates creak open. I freeze. The henchmen, a hundred feet in front of me, freeze too. Even Thoom cringes.
I hear a familiar chuckle. “Well, well,” says a deep, sonorous voice. There seems to be a tinge of reverb to it, as if sky itself couldn’t contain those tones. “It looks like it’s time to weed the garden!”
I don’t even have time to shudder at the horrible pun. Giant, bone-crushing arms embrace me from behind and raise me high in the air. In the few seconds spared to me, I look down and see, on grotesquely muscled shoulders, the red links of some very familiar armor.
Then I’m flying, flying for what seems like miles, but I crash into the sand a few hundred feet behind Thoom and his warriors. I black out. When I come to, the sounds of a great scuffle reach my ears. Through bleary, sand-seared eyes, I see Keldor beating the pulp out of my fellow lackeys. There goes Fishman, pounded down to his neck in sand; next the Cloak is stripped of his beloved garment, and given a swift kick to the rear; and so on, until only Thoom is left.
As Keldor faces him, still chuckling, Thoom gives a cry of frustration. “You may have won this time, Keldor, but I’ll get you next time! Next time!” And with that, he vanishes. Just teleports himself away, like always.
Keldor strides back to the castle, still chuckling. Just another day, another dollar for the Strongest Man in the Universe. The gate grinds shut behind him. They won’t even bother to capture us. We painfully drag ourselves to our feet. We have broken bones, bruised limbs, dislocated joints. Like some zombie sideshow, we limp and lurch our way back to the desert, toward Castle Darkbad. The llamas are gone, scattered during the battle. It will be a long trip home. Thoom will have been waiting for us for hours, ready to scream at us until his voice gives out.
As I drag my broken leg behind me, leaving a thin trail in the sand, I realize one thing: I know Keldor’s secret. Keldor’s a llama. A brilliant, if lame, secret identity. Yet I’m depressed, because I know the knowledge will do me no good. Thoom will never listen. Who would believe it anyway? It’s absurd.
Two days later, I finally manage to get a decent night’s sleep. Decent being about three hours. It took us a day and a half to get back, half an hour for Thoom to heal us with his magic, and then another four hours of screaming on his part before we were allowed to sleep.
But already the sun is poking through the curtains. I hear a hairy fist pounding on my door, and the cry of “wee-yid!” reaches my leafy ears.
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