A/N: Hi everyone
Pen: Why am I here? Are we criticizing someone?
Kinda. But before we do, I would like to get the preliminaries out of the way. First, Sonic and all related characters belong to Sega. Second, this story was inspired by "Better Off Dead" by Bad Religion. Third, all pen names used are property of their respective owners. I would like to thank each of them for letting me use their names. And last, any similarity between people either alive or dead, places, objects, events, ideas, etc. are purely coincidental. If you still believe otherwise, well that says a lot about you, eh? Now on with the story!
Better Off Dead
Sonic groaned and rubbed his tender head, which he had just had the misfortune to land on. "I should learn ta fall feet first," he muttered. Standing up and brushing himself off, he took in his surroundings. He was surprised to see that it looked like he had walked onto the movie set of an old Western flick, complete with a small town, which he stood in the center of.
To his right was a wooden stable where several horses of various shades idly stood around, drinking water or watching the people on the dusty street and waiting to be ridden. On the opposite side was a building with swinging doors, which Sonic could only guess was a tavern due to the loud voices inside and the inebriated people walking out of it. All around, several various shops ranging from blacksmiths to general stores had customers walking in and out, exchanging money, and wishing each other a good day.
"Where am I?" Sonic wondered aloud.
"You are in the town of Tombstone," a voice informed him. Sonic spun around to see a small orange fox dressed in a gray jacket with matching pants and a bowler. He wore a red vest underneath complete with a gold pocket watch tucked into one of the pockets. Sonic could see two leather holsters strapped to his side inside the jacket. One appeared to have the butt of a pistol sticking out of it while the other held a screwdriver and a wrench.
"Tails?" Sonic asked incredulously, taking a step forward to get a better look.
The fox tilted his head in confusion. "Tails? No, I'm afraid you are mistaken." He tipped his bowler hat to Sonic. "Doc Holiday. Dentist and inventor, at your service."
"Holiday? Wha?" Sonic started to lose balance, swaying back and forth at the strange situation. He felt the fox grab his arm and steady him, with concern at the hedgehog's peculiar behavior in his eyes.
"Whoa partner! You feeling alright?" he asked Sonic.
Sonic nodded slowly. "I just don't know how I got here," he explained. "One minute I'm in my house watching some old cowboy movie and now-" Sonic's eyes widened in realization and he slapped his forehead. "Great. First Aladdin Land, then Arthur's place, and now I'm trapped in Wyatt Earp's town."
"Someone say my name?" a voice inquired. Sonic and Doc Holiday looked up to see a red echidna, dressed in dusty, leather clothes and a large hat shielding most of his face from the sun, walking towards them. "Need some help Doc?"
"Cut!" another voice rang out. All three of them turned to see an aging man waving his arms widely around and stomping over to the side of them. The trio watched as the man walked up to a small bumblebee hovering overhead the trio and shoved a thickly bound script in his face. "Damn it Charmy! Does it say anywhere in this that a boom mic should be in the shot?"
The one named Charmy flapped his wings rapidly, trying and failing to keep the boom microphone lifted high above Sonic. "Sorry. But this thing is heavy!"
The man growled low in his throat, causing Charmy to instantly find the extra strength to lift the large microphone higher. The man, satisfied for the moment, turned around and walked back to a woman sitting in a small chair with a megaphone by her feet. "Places everyone!" the man shouted.
"Actually, maybe we should take a break. Find someone else besides Charmy to hold that thing," the woman suggested.
The man sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose in exhaustion and irritation. Still he nodded in obedience anyway. "Whatever you want. You're the director."
She nodded, signifying the statement with a "That I am", and picked up her megaphone. Holding it close to her lips, she pivoted back and forth to the entire set. "Take fifteen everyone!"
All the actors and actresses rushed off the Western set, still in their attire, to their trailers outside or to the snack table for some refreshments while the director leaned back in her chair. The man stood at her side, his arms crossed while he watched over the set he had painstakingly organized and helped put together. "It's coming along well," he said.
"Thanks," the director replied. "I know this is my first time doing this and you've more or less helped me with the entire thing." She smiled brightly. "And I know I've said this before, but I'm glad you helped me out. "
"You know me," he shrugged, deciding to read through the script that he still held in his hand. "Anything that ca-" but before he could finish, another woman's loud voice could be heard at the entrance of the studio. She was explaining all sorts of various facts about, the studio she had just entered, to her group trailing behind.
"This is one of the network's first studios. In fact, this is considered an almost treasured place here at Electromagnetic Fun Fireworks Everyone Finds Fascinating Network," the woman said as she led the group like a den mother toward the director and the man. "Can anyone tell me why?"
"Because this is where the E.F.F.E.F.F. Net always showed the fireworks display at every hour!" one girl piped before anyone else could answer.
The woman smiled, showing off her white, sparkling teeth usually hidden behind her perky smile. "Right you are! And it seems that they're filming in here as we speak."
The director and the man met the group halfway. "What are you doing here Dithers?" he spat in annoyance, preparing to berate the woman.. "Can't you see we're in the middle of a shoot?"
"Looks more like a break to me," the woman replied, glancing over his shoulder. "And it's Goggles now John."
"For Writer Appreciation Week," she reminded him. "Don't tell me you forgot."
John sighed and rubbed his tired eyes, digging into the weary sockets. "I wish they would do away with this absurd week. Or at least everyone picking out ridiculous pen names. How does that celebrate writers?"
Dithers chuckled. "Maybe we could call you John Doe? Just a simple change of your name from Billis to Doe." John frowned, sending Dithers into a fit of giggles. "Anyway, you had better pick one out before the big three come by."
Both John and the director eyed one another with dread, their eyes shrinking in fear at the news. "Here?" John choked out. "You mean Ms.-"
"Ah, ah, ah," Dithers wagged her finger in an almost motherly manner at him. "You need to call them by their pen names. Chaobaby95, KittyNakajimaX, and Kawaii Sonikku."
"Talk about random names. As if I'll actually remember those," John muttered under his breath. "Well, you've seen the studio. So please leave."
Before Dithers could do anything, the girl who had answered the question earlier piped up. "Oh! Can we talk with Sonic? Pleeease?" she pleaded, stressing out the word jumping up and down excitedly. John felt like a mother dragging her child through a toy store at Christmas. The sight of the begging sent several of her friends around her into a frenzy, all of them begging to at least meet the speedy hero.
Figuring it would rid him of the group faster, John relented, but not without throwing Dithers a spiteful look filled with unholy thoughts for bringing this hell upon him. "Fine," he nodded stiffly. Turning around, he called for Sonic, who brought Tails over as well.
As they approached, John could catch the tail-end of their conversation. "So what do you have next?" Tails asked, sipping on a bottle of water.
Sonic took a swig from a soda can and burped. "Some new writer came up with a romantic story between me and Rouge. So I gotta go look over it with the producers."
"Amy and Knuckles must not be too thrilled," Tails guessed, casting a glance over at the red echidna, still in his outfit, and the pink hedgehog, who was dressed in a white, frilly line dancer's dress that clearly showed off a bit too much leg for the pink hedgehog's liking.
"Yeah," Sonic agreed. "I just hope it's a one time thing and not a series." He tossed the soda can into the trash as they approached the group, braving smiles and greeting the horde of fans. "Hi everyone!" Sonic said, flashing his bright smile and giving his trademark thumbs up.
The reaction was nothing short of immediate. Quicker than a pin pops a balloon and comparable to a group of ants scurrying toward some fresh fallen food, the fans overtook Sonic and Tails, shaking their hands and trying to pull them out of their sockets to take home for souvenirs, asking for autographs on every scrap of paper available, and gushing over how much they loved the pair.
Before this abuse could go on much longer, Dithers stepped in, yelling over the group and forming a somewhat orderly line out of most of them, effectively saving the overwhelmed duo. John had to chuckle mentally at that fact that the one thing to bring them down would not be a mad doctor, but rabid and devoted admirers. One person though would not follow Dithers' directions. John noted that it was the same pest before. The one who had initiated the group's frenzy in the first place.
She was waving a flimsy piece of paper in front of Sonic's face and John heard her say something about a "story". The girl shoved the paper into Sonic's hands, forcing him and Tails to read it.
As John tried to direct the girl over to the rest of the group, he caught sight of Sonic's eyes widening and Tails shaking his head solemnly. "What is it?" John asked, trying to peek over and read the paper. All the while, the jubuilant girl hopped from foot to foot, eagerly awaiting Sonic's reply.
Tails immediately tried to snatch the paper away from Sonic and hide it from John's prying eyes, but the human was quicker than the fox ironically, and John held it up to read. "It's nothing," Tails answered in a vain attempt to dissuade him from reading it. But he saw it no longer mattered as John had obviously seen what was written on the paper due to his face slowly twisting into sheer contempt and hate for it.
"So do you like my story?" the girl asked.
John looked up from the paper, having forgotten that she was even there. Everyone but the girl could see that his murderous eyes were directed at her and his balled up fists shook violently with the urge to unleash his inner rage upon something. Despite this, he held up the paper causing the commotion and hate directed toward her and breathed deeply, holding his emotions together, but only barely. "This is yours?" He stated it more than asked it.
"Yep!" she responded, not noticing how close she was to being strangled.
"Is this a summary, Mrs...?"
"Mogtai," the girl presented her hand to John, which he refused to shake, and continued. "And no. That's the whole story."
A dead silence hung over the studio. Even the actors still over at the food table could tell that something was very wrong. All the people surrounding John and Mogtai slowly backed away, forming somewhat of a loose ring around them like a schoolyard of children do around two others, ready to duke it out.
"This," John spat out, waving the paper in Mogtai's face in similar fashion to how she had done to Sonic, "is barely longer than a summary. It's only a hundred words long."
"One hundred and two," Mogtai corrected.
John took another deep breath to control himself, although he was losing more and more control by the second. He perused the paper again, searching for more mistakes to point out. "Not a single word is spelled correctly either and the grammar in this is atrocious!"
"Well I had to type it out this morning in order to give it to Sonic today," Mogtai said in a matter of fact tone.
"You didn't even capitalize Sonic's name or any of the proper nouns!" John voice steadily climbed, nearing a yell. "Yet everything else is capitalized!"
Mogtai shrugged, seeming to not understand the problems that John was pointing out. "Well, I don't have a spellcheck or an editor," she answered. Before John could say anything else, she asked, "So when can we film it?"
That sent John over the edge and he could no longer keep his anger in check. Just then, the doors to the studio burst open and everyone turned to see one person leading a handful of people toward the set.
"This is awful!" the lead person cried. A somewhat average looking man, he had an aura about him that demanded everyone in his presence be awed by him. His face was scrunched into a sneer as he looked around the studio. He stood in front of John while the others in his group hassled the actors and crew and tried to tear down the set.
"Narcissus, what the hell are you doing?" John hissed. He saw the director out of the corner of his eye pleading with the people to stop destroying the set, but they paid her no heed. She fell to her knees and sobbed as more and more of the set came crashing down.
"Just fixing some things," the newcomer replied. He smiled with satisfaction at his posse's work. "This whole thing is awful and needs to be re-done. For the sake of our reputation, you cannot make a childish story like this. And you cannot have directors like that," he pointed to the feeble form of the director, who had curled up into a ball and was rocking back and forth, "here. She does not have enough talent to be worthy of the title of director."
"And you do?" Dithers questioned.
"Of course," Narcissus replied, spinning on his heel. "I have been directing for a few years now. Because I have the talent to do so. Oi!" he shouted to one of his men. "Get the actors out of those ridiculous clothes!"
John looked around and his blood boiled. The girl was still chattering away in his ear like a swarm of bees. The obnoxious person, Narcissus, calling himself a director was still ruining all his hard work. And to top it off, the sight of the poor director, once so happy at the prospect of creating her own short film, broke his heart as he watched her wept. It just made him want to scream.
Everyone in the studio were instantly silenced as John stomped over to Narcissus and pushed him aside. "You and all your guys! Out of here!" he ordered them.
"Or what?" Narcissus sneered. "We're just trying to help improve the film."
"This is helping?" John asked incredulously, pointing to the half-taken down set and the pitiful form of the director, who looked up at them with tears streaming down her cheeks while hiccupping on her silent sobs. Amy was kneeling beside her, trying to give that mysterious feminine comfort that females could only give to one another and that men had yet to figure out.
Narcissus shrugged. "We have the best of intentions. If you don't like it, then tough."
"Isn't there a saying about best intent-" Dithers began, but was cut off by several dogs running across the set and past the group.
"Great. We need them for the next scene," John sighed.
"Don't worry. I'll get them," Dithers replied, running after the dogs. She clapped her hands madly, calling for them and ordering them to heel. "Heel pooch! Come back you mutts!"
By now, all the actors had gathered around, watching the argument between John and Narcissus build. Several whispers were going around about what to do now and if Narcissus could really take control like he was attempting to do.
Tails edged his way to the middle of the crowd and stood by John. He looked up at Narcissus with a pleading face. "Can't we just work together and get along?" he asked, hoping to resolve the whole situation peacefully.
"That is what we are trying to do," Narcissus answered, flicking some lint off of his shirt. "But he is determined to impede our progress to make this a good film."
John snorted. "What the hell gives you the right to decide if this film is good or not? Just because you've earned some praise from others?"
"That and my limitless talent," Narcissus added.
"Well can you tell me what you think of my story then?" a voice inquired. Everyone turned to see Mogtai running up to Narcissus and waving the poor excuse for a paper in his face. John had been so caught up in the spat, he had forgotten all about her.
Narcissus snatched the paper from her waving hand, took one look at it, and flung it back at her in disgust. "This is one of the worst stories I have ever had the displeasure to read," he told her. She barely had time to gasp before he launched his next insult at her. "If I were you, I would crawl under a rock and die for such atrocious writing."
Mogtai looked like she was on the verge of tears at first and John genuinely felt sorry for her. Tails tried to comfort her, but she instantly shrugged him off and drew herself up to her full, though still short, height. Looking Narcissus straight in the eye, she shot back, "Well he," she pointed at John, "is gonna let it get filmed!"
"I never sa-"
"You really have sunk to a new low," Narcissus chided John. "Letting this trash be filmed. If I were in charge, I would not allow it."
"Boys!" Narcissus turned to his men, who had watched the whole ordeal in amusement, cheering for their leader. "Back to work! We need to turn this disaster into a masterpiece!"
The single syllable once again rang true throughout the echoing studio, pausing everything and everyone. Heads were once again turned to John and even the dogs, being held back by Dithers who had just rejoined the group and was holding onto their leashes tightly, were silenced. One could hear the bated breath being held as they all waited for John's next move.
It came swift and quickly. He marched over, snatched Mogtai's paper away from her, pushed several of Narcissus' men aside, and stood up to the ringleader of the invaders, leveling his eye with him. "You will not touch a thing."
"And why is that?"
"Because I, and I'm sure everyone else, are sick of this!" John was nearly waving his arms about widely. "Why not put your so-called 'talent' to actual use?"
"Well," Tails piped up. "You could help the directors with some constructive criticism or advice instead of..." he trailed off and swept a hand to the ruined set behind them.
"And don't think for a second that you're so perfect yourself," John said, catching Narcissus' attention. He opened his mouth to reply, but John cut him off. "Your stories have just as many plot holes, mistakes, and other problems like everyone else's stories. Nobody here is perfect. The only thing that sets you, and our three greatest authors, apart is that you can write better stories and make them beautiful with your imagery. However, unlike them, you lack their kind spirit."
Narcissus was unsure if he should take that as an insult and praise or a backhanded compliment. Part of him looked murderous while the other part wanted to smile smugly in satisfaction over the intern finally admitting his writing talent.
"If you were to just help others," Tails offered, walking up to them so he could stand next to Narcissus, "instead of all the fighting, we would have a plethora of great films to watch and enjoy."
Narcissus was deep in thought about what Tails had said when Mogtai, always having to jump into the middle of things it seemed, ran up to Narcissus, jeering. "Yeah!"
"You have no room to talk," John told her.
Mogtai looked up at him in confusion. "Whatcha talkin' about Billis?"
John pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache coming on from just hearing her voice. "Your writing is detestable at best and an insult to all writers and directors here."
Mogtai huffed. "Hey! You just sa-"
"I know what I just said, but," John pushed the offensive story into her face, "that gives you no excuse to present us with this! This summary of a story! Many authors pour their hearts and souls into their stories and spend weeks, or months, on them. And you think you can write this garbage in ten minutes and expect us to like it? And film it?"
She was silent, for once, at a loss for words. Sonic walked over to her and slung an arm around her shoulder, jostling her slightly to try and cheer her up. He held his hand out for the paper, which John gladly rid himself of, and read over it. "Hey," he began, "I know ya really like us. Otherwise ya wouldn't have gone through all the trouble to write this."
Mogtai nodded sorrowfully and whispered, "Yeah."
"But John is right," he added. "Everyone here works really hard on their stories so you have ta work hard too." He patted her encouragingly on the back and smiled.
John nodded. "Yes. This is the E.F.F.E.F.F. Net, where people can write, direct, etc. about their favorite characters from anime to video games. But the people who do such things have worked hard at their skill, constantly improving and writing better stories."
"If we could all just work together by writing great stories and giving constructive criticism," Tails piped up, glancing at Narcissus, "or by bringing new material and working hard at it," a quick look at Mogtai, "then we could make this a great network." He smiled brightly and looked at both of them as they turned his words over in their minds.
"Listen to the fox!" John added.
Narcissus rubbed his chin and glanced over at Mogtai for a brief second before frowning and crossing his arms. "Forget it! I am the best around here!" he answered, thumbing his chest for emphasis. "And I am not going to waste my time looking over a group of piss poor writers!" He smirked at the shocked looks adorning everyone's face and waved an arm behind him to his men. "Come on boys. We have a set to tear down."
However, he heard no voices or even a set of footsteps behind him. Turning, he saw everyone of his men standing in the crowd, arms crossed defiantly, and staring at him with cold eyes. "You cannot be serious," he muttered. He pointed to John and Tails. "You are actually going to listen to them?" he questioned, staring each on in the eyes, but receiving the disgusted look from all of them.
One of them decided to speak up for the rest. "Sir, he's right." He walked over, placing a hand on Narcissus' shoulder. "We got no right tearing down this girl's dream film. We should be trying to help her instead of hindering her like this."
But Narcissus would have none of it. He violently pushed the man's seemingly painful hand off his shoulder and stared at the spot where it had been as if expecting a emblazoned symbol in the palm's shape to appear. "Don't touch me!" he shouted. "If you are not going to help, fine! I will do it on my own! I would rather die than see this sham of a film continue!" And with that, he walked off to try and pry the saloon on the set down, but failing to do so.
As John watched with amusement, he noticed Mogtai swatting Sonic's arm away from her. She too had decided that she was in disagreement with John and the rest. Marching up to him and pounding the ground heavily, the little popinjay placed her hands on her hips, stuck her lips out in a pout, and glared at John. "You suck at judging stories!" she declared, as if this was a simple fact. "This story will be good! I'll just take it somewhere else!"
Hearing that, Narcissus zoomed back over to the group and attempted a pass at seizing the paper from Mogtai's grubby little hands. "Like hell you will! That story shall never see the light of day, much less the sight of a producer, as long as I am around!"
What ensued next was a struggle for dominance over the shred of paper, both parties tumbling, biting, clawing, and kicking each other while the group around them laughed. All except John. He had had quite enough of this. They were behind schedule, the set was in ruins, and the big three would be here any minute. John felt like he was going to snap.
That is when he saw it. Hanging around Knuckles' waist, nearly hidden by the leather jacket, was the silver glint of the old Western pistol they had planned to use. It was filled with live round instead of blanks, much to Sonic's insistence of "I can dodge anything!".
John slowly walked over to the echidna, slipped his hand down to the holster, and withdrew the gun from it, all without the echidna knowing. It was no wonder why Knuckles' precious emerald was stolen all the time. He could not even recognize that something had been stolen off his person.
John cocked the hammer on the gun and aimed it at the rolling mass that was Narcissus and Mogtai. "That's quite enough," he spoke in a calm, authoritative, but dangerously menacing voice.
Gasps and high-pitched squeaks of fear resounded around the room. Narcissus and Mogtai had disentangled from one another and stood a good distance apart. Both had their arms raised high while eyeing the gun warily. "What are you doing?" Mogtai asked John, the terror in her voice evident.
"I'm sick of your attitudes, your bickering, and stupidity," John replied. "You won't take the advice we've given you? Fine. But you continue to argue and keep this up?" He aimed the gun at Narcissus, whose forehead was covered in beads of sweat. "Then maybe we would be better off without you both and your kind of ilk."
"Y-" Mogtai began, but John whipped the gun to her and squeezed the trigger. The blam of the gun echoed, being the only sound in the room, followed by the collapse of Mogtai's body on the floor. A large hole directly in the middle of her forehead had appeared, a trail of blood seeping from it to cover her terrified eyes and hide them from the world she was dead to.
John held the gun vertically next to his head and just stared at the corpse. Whether to take in the shock or to revel at what he had just done, nobody knew. All they saw was a malicious glint in his eye.
"Looks like you came to your senses," Narcissus commented, walking over and taking the paper from the lifeless hand. He swiftly kicked the body in the ribs before tearing up the paper and sprinkling the bits onto Mogtai's shirt. "Let us see you write a story now, you worthless scum," he taunted.
"I'd step back if I were you," John warned, training the gun on the boy. "I still have five bullets left."
Narcissus looked up, shocked. "You wouldn't!" his voice faltered, rising higher than it had previously been. "You couldn't!"
John indicated the corpse with his gun quickly. "I just did. And I can do so again."
Narcissus was frightened out of his wits. He desperately searched with pleading eyes for someone to help him, but the whole room had turned into a painting. All eyes watched the two in the center, waiting for the next move, the next strike, the next kill. Even Sonic and the rest of the cast were not moving, too stunned by the events unfolding before their eyes.
"I beg of you," Narcissus whimpered.
"Too late," John replied. "You had your chance. Besides, didn't you say you would rather die?" And with that, a second gunshot rang out. This one broke the stoic stances and silence of its audience as people began screaming and going into a general frenzy, afraid that they might be the next victims. Several members rushed over to the two rapidly cooling bodies, studying them as if unable to believe that they were really dead.
A group of brave, daring, or extremely foolish people had stuck their faces into John's. Cries of "What have you done?" and "Are you mad?" went in one ear and out the other while he slowly smiled. The chatter around him died people just watched and waited for what he would do next.
"I believe that we should call the police," John suggested, throwing his gun to the ground with a clatter. Nodding to Dithers, he asked, "Would you?"
The usually bubbly woman nodded back silently. Yanking the dogs along by their leashes, she left the group to find a phone.
John walked toward the two corpses while people standing in the way parted like a hand running through water. He knelt down by the bodies, examining one and then the other. Both still wore their faces of disbelief. The only difference was that the color was leisurely being substituted for a pasty white throughout.
"Something's missing," John announced, tapping his chin in thought. Studying them harder, he lifted his finger triumphantly in the air at the lightbulb that was fueled by one's brilliant ideas. "I know what it is!"
Taking said finger, he pressed it into the crusty corner of Mogtai's lips and drew a smile befitting a circus clown. Then he repeated the same action to Narcissus' mouth before whispering to himself, "A smile on the lips and a hole in the head." Chuckling to no one in particular, he crossed his legs, leaned his weight onto his hands, and stared at the ceiling while waiting for the already distant sirens to reach the building.
"Ya aren't gonna run?" Sonic questioned disbelievingly, standing beside John.
He shook his head happily. "Nope. I'll take the blame. I'll be known as the one who did it."
"Because," John smiled, looking up at the hero, "it's a small price to pay to make this place better for everyone else." He nodded in the direction of the forgotten director. "You guys had better get back to filming. The big three will be here any minute." And with that last statement, he closed his eyes and sighed contentedly.
A/N: And that's all. Once again I must reiterate, any similarity between people either alive or dead, places, objects, events, ideas, etc. are purely coincidental.
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