The Writer examined the television remote he held in his had. He hefted it. He balanced it on two fingers. He watched as it see-sawed lazily, twitching slightly when it toppled out of his hand and into his glass of cola.
"You know," he said to The Wife, "I don't recall there being a 'Make Television Programming Suck' button on that remote, but I think I accidentally pressed it."
The Wife calmly fished the remote out of the cola and wrapped it in a towel she kept handy for such occurrences.
"I mean, look at this dreck!" The Writer whined, fluttering his hands at the screen as if he were shooing away a cloud of particularly stinky moths.
"Welcome to Who Would Enjoy Being a Billionaire! Today, we ask Kevin Bumfetcher of West Michigan if he would enjoy being a billionaire!"Host rings Kevin's doorbell
"Hello? Hey! You're--!"Host silences Kevin with a polite poke in the eye
"I am! And I'm here to ask you, Kevin Bumfetcher, if you would Enjoy Being a Billionaire!"
"Oh my God! Yes! Yes I would!"Kevin prances around his foyer, booting curious children and pets left and right
"Ha ha! That's what I thought, Kevin!"Host slams door and turns to the camera
"Join us next week for another exciting episode of Who Would Enjoy Being a Billionaire!"
"Absolute bilge," the Writer harrumphed.
"You know," said the Wife, "you could be working on your cereal epic instead of watching TV shows you claim you hate." She unwrapped the remote, went to place it on the arm of the couch, reconsidered, then tucked it into her tool belt. "In fact, you should be working on it. And in order to encourage you, I am going to build a small but extremely capable robot out of the remote."
"I know, I know. I'm just taking a break. Geez." The Writer made a grab for the remote. The Wife dodged nimbly.
"Honey pie? This 'break' of yours started four hours ago."
The Writer tried for a breast. "Different people take different lengths of time to recharge, based on brain size," he said huffily.
"Ideally," the Wife said, dodging again, "your breaks would be inspiring or restful. Yesterday you spent two hours refreshing your blog page to increase your hit counter."
"Marketing. That was for marketing."
"Your blog is free."
"Okay, fine. Fetch my Underwood."
"It's on your lap."
It was a crack in the rock, and it was just big enough for Stubs to squeeze through. With a grunt and a poot, he did just that. He tumbled to the cave floor on the other side of the fissure, his back bending uncomfortably as he sprawled atop a moderately-sized boulder that looked like it had been purposely chiseled to the right size and shape to plug the hole.
Quickly, pausing only to swear mightily, Stubs used the boulder to plug the hole, hamming it home with his hammer. He willed his pounding heart to slow. Naturally, it didn't listen to him, as it was an autonomous process that cannot be controlled by conscious effort. He put his ear to the rock and listened, his breath coming in short panicked bursts, his poots coming in soft panicked succession.
"Shit! The light's gone!" screeched Tony.
"Wonk!" agreed Edward.
"Well, he can't hide back there forever. There's only one entrance to this cave, and it's back the way we came. He'll either come out eventually, or the cave ducks will eat him. He's dead either way!"
There followed a spate of antagonistic chucklery.
"In the meantime, let us settle here in the darkness and have some mead."
Stubs almost had the boulder pried out of its hole before he realized what his traitorous hands and palate were up to.
"No! Must...be...strong!" he said through gritted teeth.
"Yessss. It must be strong," said a raspy little voice. It bounced around the cave, splashing into puddles of water and slithering along ledges of rock covered with scree.
Stubs froze. He turned around slowly. He backed up until he met the cool rock behind him.
"H-hello?" he said. It came out in a choked little gulp.
"Edward!" Tony howled. "Did you just say 'hello'?"
"Good, heavens, no," said Edward. "Wonk! I said 'wonk'."
Stubs quickly stuffed his beard into his mouth and edged away from the wall. The room he found himself in, for it was a room, was lit from one end by the same bright blue light that had drawn him to the crack in the wall. The ceiling was much higher here--so high in fact that Stubs couldn't see it. He squinted into the gloom.
"Hello?" he said again, taking a few tentative steps toward the light.
"Hello indeed," said the voice. "It plugs our door, it poots up our air and it squints into our gloom. It's not a very polite dwarf, is it Samuel?" the voice oozed.
"I'm sorry," Stubs said, his voice muffled by beard. "I was being chased, you see, and this was the only place I could find to hide. I, uh, can't...are you...is there someone in here?" As he crept closer to the blue light, it grew corners and straight edges.
"And why wouldn't we be in our own house?" the voice said. "Stupid dwarf."
Some pebbles clattered to the floor somewhere in the darkness.
"Again, I'm sorry. I meant no trouble. My poots and I will be on our way, right out this window. It'll be like I was never--oh!"
It wasn't a window. It was a big, glowing pane of glass! Not just glowing, but, Stubs' eyes widened in amazement, full of people!
There was a wet slapping sound to Stubs' left. He ripped his gaze from the magic glass and probed the darkness. Two huge eyes stared back out of it at him, shimmering like those of a cat.
"Then it probes our darkness. Very rude, isn't he, Samuel?" the voice said. A pale face filled in the shadows behind the eyes, followed by a pale body clothed in a sharp suit. The creature wore no shoes on its large, wide feet, the latter making wet slapping noises as it walked into the pool of light.
Stubs glanced back at the glowing, otherworldly glass, then at the impeccably dressed creature, then at the glass. His curiosity got the better of him. He spit out his beard.
"How many ounces are in a pound?" he asked the creature.
"Sixteen," it said.
"I see. And what is this?" Stubs asked, gesturing to the glass.
"It's a television."
"Of course. And what is a 'television'?"
"An anachronism. The dwarf should pay it no attention, shouldn't it, Samuel?" the creature said in its gurgly voice. It seated itself in the armchair facing the anachronism. It regarded Stubs with its huge luminous eyes. "So. When will it be leaving? Soon, we hopes. Now would be even better."
Stubs relaxed the death-grip he had on his hammer. He took a couple of cautious steps toward the creature. "Is your name Samuel?" he asked.
"Why does the dwarf ask us stupid questions?" it asked. It directed this query into the breast pocket of its suit. "Obviously our name is not Samuel. We are called Gulliver. We wish the farty dwarf would go away so that we could finish our wallowing, yes, wallowing in the numbing glow of our anachronism. Becoming ever more creepy and fondleous, yes."
"Then who is Samuel?"
Gulliver reached into his breast pocket with his long, spindly fingers and withdrew a linty old gingerbread cookie.
"Cookie," he said, and put it back.
"I see," Stubs said, scratching the back of his head nervously. "My name is Stubs, and, well Gulliver, you wouldn't know if there's another way out of this cave, would you? I have to get out of here, and the way back there is guarded by an incompetent antagonist and Satan's own duck. My friends must be halfway to Whimsidor by now, and I owe it to them to rescue them." He looked down at the ground and dug a toe into the loose gravel. "After all the horrible odors I released into their tents every night, boy do I owe it to them." He was unsuccessful in stifling a giggle at this point.
A strange thing happened to Gulliver's face when Stubs uttered the word Whimisidor. His eyes lost their tapetum-glow and his brow hardened. Where before there was no jaw line, there suddenly was one, and it was set.
"We hates the fairies. Hates them! Hates them like the goats hate the trouts!" he spat, his fists clenched, his toes also clenched.
"Well, um, so do I," said Stubs. "The crappy ones at least. Stopping them has kind of been the whole point of my quest here, and I would dearly like to continue it. Will you join me? Will you be my guide through these caves that I dearly hope constitute a secret tunnel system that leads directly to, among other places, the prison tower in Whimsidor?"
Gulliver stood, his back to Stubs. He lifted his suit coat, revealing the stunted remains of fairy wings. Lowering it again, he turned.
"We will guides the stupid dwarf, yes, and help him kicks the fairies. We will do this right after we finishes our show."
"'Gulliver'? Really?" the Wife muttered, frowning at the page curling out of the Underwood's carriage. "Surely you're aware that that character is a blatant rip-off of Gollum, aren't you?"
The Writer twisted his body away, shielding his epic from his wife's unappreciative eyeballs. "Pfft. I have no idea what you're talking about, woman. That's crazy talk. You're talking crazy talk!" The Underwood slipped off his lap and crashed to the floor. The Writer picked it back up. He stroked its keys and tickled it under the carriage return lever. "She didn't mean it. She says mean things when her cold fusion reactor doesn't achieve at least 90% efficiency," he cooed.
The Wife sighed. "Alright. You're on your own on this one. You and I both know how fiercely protective Tolkien fans are of their rambly, clunky books. Don't come crying to me when they all gang up and throw their 20-sided dice and Elven dictionaries at you."