Note – This story is dedicated to reincarnatedwitch, the father of the brainchild that is this fic and its inspiration, for all her general amazing-ness and awesome conversations. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did writing it.
Warning - Strong, infrequent swearing and mild peril.
Vince knew that he really should have known better than to go through Naboo's stuff. But it was an emergency, his hairdryer was malfunctioning somewhat and his hair was dripping wet and heaven forbid it went frizzy again (God had had words with him about that). So when he found the small cardboard box labelled "Whirlwinds", he'd only been looking for a small one. It was just that the purple sparkly one looked so enchanting that he couldn't help taking it out of the vial. It was only when the wind took up the whole room and swept him off his feet that he realised maybe it wasn't his best decision.
When he woke up, there seemed something a little off about Naboo's bedroom. He was sure the sky that was pouring in through the window hadn't been that bright…no, it had been raining, hence the need for a hairdryer in the first place. Suddenly panicking, Vince reached up, and breathed a sigh of relief to feel that his hair was all in place. He stood up, trembling slightly, and made his way over to the door. It swung open cleanly as soon as he touched it, and his eyes stung as the sunlight collided into them. He blinked sharply, and stepped outside.
"What's going on here?" he muttered to himself. Somehow, rather than the normal hallway with the door to his and Howard's room that he'd normally look out on, he was standing on a small field overlooking a forest. He would admit it was a pretty genius place. It was the sort of place that, if Howard were here, he'd start prattling on about woodland and the call of nature.
Vince suddenly felt very, very alone.
He jumped, and spun around to see a group of small blue people standing behind him, looking vaguely similar to the blue weirdoes on Xooberon. They were staring at him with rigid eyes. Vince swore under his breath, and looked at the room he'd just come out of. The door was still open, and he could still see Naboo's room through the square, but now the exterior looked more like his old Zooniverse hut. Yeah, it was pretty incriminating.
"Speak your intent, stranger!" cried out the leader.
Vince shrugged. "I was just looking for a hairdryer."
"Behold!" one of the strange men said, and Vince got a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He followed the man's outstretched finger to where two legs were sticking out from underneath the hut, clad in a pair of red, sparkly, ruby-encrusted platform boots. Vince's eyes widened, and he swore again. This was certainly not the best way to be introduced to the locals.
"Oh…" he muttered awkwardly, and offered a sheepish grin. That usually helped. "I didn't mean for that to happen…"
The dwarves fixed him with their eyes. Then the leader smiled in a sycophantic way that made Vince internally recoil.
"You have saved our tribe from the evil Wicked Witch of East London, who has troubled us for hundreds of tens of years. You must be the Chosen One!"
Vince rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I know. I'm Vince Noir, Mayor of Camden."
There was a collective gasp of awe from the group. "He is apprenticed to the Wizard," said the chief appreciatively. "Truly, he is a great leader."
"The Wizard?" Vince frowned.
"Yes. The Wizard of Camden is the ruler of all our land."
Vince nodded. "Right. So, does anyone know how to fly this thing?" He pointed towards the house. "Only, I've got to get back. If Howard goes more than five minutes without an intervention he might panic. I'll find him naked in a skip cuddling a broom."
The faces of the dwarves were blank. Vince sighed. "Right. Great. I'm gonna have to sort this out myself."
"Maybe you don't have to," came a sudden voice. Vince spun around, searching for the source of the noise, but was met with a cloud of smoke and a bright, streaming beam of light. He shielded his eyes as the tribesmen began to chatter excitedly. After a moment, the smoke cleared, and despite still being pummelled by the light, Vince could make out a figure that had appeared a little way behind him.
"Yeah, can you pull your skirt down, I'm going blind here!"
"Oh. Sorry," said the figure, and the beam of light suddenly vanished. "I'm Old Gregg. I'm a scaly Good Witch."
Vince tried very hard not to laugh, but the sight of his old nemesis holding a wand and with a tiara atop his mass of seaweed was almost too much to bear. He'd been through worse adventures before, but this one was just plain strange.
"Alright? I'm Vince."
"I'm Old Gregg!" the merman grinned.
"Yeah, I got that."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
There was an awkward moment of silence before the Good Witch spoke again.
"You're in trouble, hm? You fell from the sky and squashed Lance Dior. The Wicked Witch of West London won't be happy, Vincey. But that's ok, coz Old Gregg's gonna help you. You get what you want. Old Gregg gets what he wants."
Vince smiled in relief. "Cool."
"Now listen very closely, boy," said the Witch. "You see those boots on his feet? You need to wear them at all times to protect them from – I'm not done yet!"
Vince was already tugging the boots onto his feet, not needing much prompting. "These are genius. I feel like I'm walking over a rainbow. And they're exactly my size."
The Good Witch waited patiently until he was done. "The shoes must be protected from the Witch. He can do no direct harm to you if you're wearing them."
"Right. So how am I supposed to get home?"
The merman pointed to a roadside that ran through the forest. "You gotta follow the Yellow Brick Road through the Forest until you get to the city of Camden."
"Yellow Brick…hang on," Vince frowned incredulously. "Am I in Somerset?"
"No, fool. Now, when you get to Camden, you must go straight to the Palace and speak to the Wizard. He will help you to get home."
"Oh, right, him!" said Vince, with a glance towards the still-huddling Munchkins. "Well, great. I'd better be off then. Is there anything else I should know?"
"D'you love me?"
"I'm Old Gregg!" crowed the Witch, and then he vanished in a cloud of smoke. Vince sighed, and turned to face the forest. Suddenly, he felt something pressing against his side, and he looked down to see the face of the head dwarf looking back up at him.
"I can come because I'm the favourite of the Chosen One?"
"Get lost," said Vince, and the blue man ran off to join his tribe. Looking down appreciatively once more at the boots, he smiled to himself, and set off towards the forest.
Wherever he was, he reckoned, it was a pretty nice place, the sort you might find on the back of a postcard. Vince had never really been one for leaving Dalston too much – he liked the adventures that seemed to crop up around him, but actually spending time in a place with no electricity was definitely Howard's forte. He wished Howard was with him now. Yes, his friend would already be blustering away about the dangers of the wilderness or whatever, but he needed the company, and he knew from experience that things tended to go wrong when they were separated. Plus, Howard knew what to do in these sorts of situations, like finding supplies.
"Supplies…" Vince muttered, and he patted down his pockets, only to find merely a half-eaten packet of strawberry bootlaces. He tutted, straightened up, and looked around him for a Tescos, but it seemed there were no shops for miles. The road seemed just to extend indefinitely. Vince tutted to himself, and rested his hands on his hips. Then he noticed a small field up ahead of him, ringed by apple trees. He grinned at his own good luck, and sauntered up to it, ready to pick the fruit down.
"If you dare touch those apples, you prancing tit, I will put you in a world of pain."
Vince frowned, and looked around him for the source of the voice. There was nobody there. Shaking his head, he reached up again.
"Oh, you like playing games, do you? I'll take you out for a meal with Mr. and Mrs. Pain. Serve you up some violent quiche, hm? You won't know what's hit you, then ow!"
"Yeah, who is this?" Vince yelled, adopting a Cockney-bitch stance just in case. There was a rustle behind him, and he turned around to see a scarecrow, standing in the middle of a field glaring at him. Admittedly, it was a pretty shambolic scarecrow, dressed in a tatty Hawaiian shirt and cords, with a tweed jacket and a battered Panama hat. Vince frowned. "Were you talking to me?"
"Ah, turn and face your enemy, you futuristic prostitute!" said the Scarecrow, as it suddenly became animated and wildly swung its arms about. "Eh? I've got the moves; I'll show you the moves. I'll be coming at'cha like a ray, like a beam, like a buzzard."
"Oh yeah, and what're you gonna do?" Vince retorted. "You're made of straw. You'll fall apart like an Ikea flat pack."
The Scarecrow was silent, staring back with his tiny eyes. Vince crowed in victorious delight. "Yeah, nice comeback."
"Oh, I'll comeback at you, sir," the straw man replied. "I'll comeback at you hard. You available next Tuesday?"
Vince scoffed, and in one smooth motion, pulled an apple off the tree and bit into it. The Scarecrow's face fell in horror.
"No!" he cried. "Don't do that!"
"Yeah," Vince laughed. "Who's tough now?"
"You don't understand," the Scarecrow pleaded. "Farmer Bainbridge, he'll burn me for this. I'm useless; I can't even scare the crows away. I'll be put on the bonfire."
Vince sighed, feeling a wave of sympathy for the creature. It always was his weakness; the need to protect something smaller than him, to help it. He walked up to where the Scarecrow was hanging on its pole, and tapped it consolingly on the arm, ignoring the muffled "Don't touch me," he got in return.
"Look, it's not all that bad, yeah? Some of your insults were pretty good."
"What's the point?" the Scarecrow lamented. "I'm made of straw. I haven't even got a brain. If I had a brain I'd be able to comeback at people, sir. I can't even get down from this pole."
Vince thought for a moment. "Look, if I help you get down maybe you could escape, yeah? Get away from here, live your life."
The straw man frowned. "You really mean it?"
Vince nodded. "Sure."
"Nobody has ever shown me such kindness before…" the Scarecrow muttered, and Vince felt a rush of affection for the creature. He wrapped his arms around its plump, cushioned middle and heaved it off the pole, setting it down on the ground again. He smiled, and the Scarecrow smiled back.
"And hey, look, where I come from, if a scarecrow got up and started moving, we'd all be pretty scared. Especially if it was wearing that."
The Scarecrow cocked its head. "Where are you from?"
"A place far away, called Dalston. I'm going to Camden to speak to the Wizard; get him to send me back?"
"You're going to see the Wizard?" it cried. "Can I come with you? Maybe he'll be able to give me a brain."
Vince grinned. "Yeah, genius!" He started to wander off down the road, with the straw man walking beside him. "I'm Vince. What's your name?"
The Scarecrow beamed. "My name is Scarecrow."
Vince only rolled his eyes a little bit, glad for a travelling companion. After all, Scarecrow wasn't Howard, but he'd do for now.
After an hour or so, the two reached the edge of the forest. By now, the sun had fallen just a little from its peak of magnificence, and the shadows of trees were beginning to stretch out longer. The wood was lush and cool, casting a bottle-green light on the ground from where the sunlight filtered through the trees. Vince breathed in the crisp air, so unlike the suffocating atmosphere of his home, and sighed.
"This is it," he muttered, looking through the thick tree trunks into the canopy. "According to the Good Witch, Camden should just be through here."
"Ah, the Forest," Scarecrow sighed. "A Scarecrow's natural habitat. Just a man and the open road, Vince. Yeah, I could live like this."
"Well, that's good, coz you can share a house with Johnny Hermit over there," Vince replied, pointing to the small cottage that could just be seen through the trees. The pair approached the building. As Vince got closer, he began to notice that it wasn't in fact a place of residency, nor was it resided in. The small house stood alone in a clearing, with frayed red ropes lining a pathway from the road. Ivy clung to every angle of the building, the windows were broken and the door looked like it had been kicked in. A dilapidated sign reading The Velvet Onion swung on its hinges above the doorway.
"What happened here?" Vince muttered to himself. "This place has gone to ruin."
As if in response, there was a sudden rusty squeak from behind the building that made Vince jump and Scarecrow mutter "Don't kill me, I've got so much to give," under his breath. Vince squared his shoulders, and marched round the back of the building in search of the source of the noise, his companion hot on his heels. There was only a metal statue there, concealed by weeds and rust. It was a very lifelike image of a portly man with a wiry perm, wearing an undersized tin foil suit. He looked like he'd been standing there for ages.
Vince shrugged. "There's nothing here."
The squeak came again, and Vince's gaze flickered over to the statue, which was now gazing at him with lifelike eyes. He frowned, and aimed a dull kick at the metal leg. There was a muffled cry of outrage in response. Vince suddenly noticed the can of oil by the statue's feet, and he sighed: "Well, stranger things have happened."
He picked up the can and squirted it at the statue, careful not to splash any of it on himself. Presently, the metal joints of the man began to squeak and move, and the tin lips began to part.
"Ow, you numnut, what did you kick my leg for?"
"You were rusting!" Vince protested, and Scarecrow stepped forward in defence.
"I'm not here to be abused!" the Tin Man protested, folding his arms with much difficulty. "Note to self: I hate whites."
"Why are you out here anyway?" Vince asked.
"It's a very long story."
"Oh, is it? Alright then, let's go…"
"No, wait!" cried the Tin Man. "Gather round! Not you, Oil Can. I used to own this Nightclub, back when I was a pink fleshy round face-"
"A what?" Scarecrow interrupted.
"Y'know, a pink fleshy round-face wa-wa guy."
"You mean a human?"
"Ooh, I'm Scarecrow; I know how to use my talky round-hole!" The Tin Man extended his arm, and pressed a button on his wrist. "Say that again?"
"Yeah, well, back when I was a…" The Tin Man pressed the button, and a metallic imitation of Scarecrow's voice came booming from the Talk Box. "Human…I was the boss man of this here Nightclub. We had the most fun-filled night-times in London. We once got a fox so fucked out of his mind he almost attempted world domination! But we couldn't pay the Wicked Witch his protection money and so he turned me into metal, pissed on me and left me here to rust – and then you found me!"
Vince looked vaguely disgusted.
"I have survived only from the hope that some day I would be able to dance again. For when I dance – oh, see how I light up the Forest!" the Tin Man cried, and with a crack of his hinges he began to move frantically, gyrating his pelvis against a tree and rubbing at his chest with his fingertips. Vince and Scarecrow looked at each other in anxious confusion. Eventually, the Man turned back to them with a leer.
"And that's why I don't like cricket," he stated.
"Well, this had been fun," Vince mumbled, rubbing his hands together. "But, er, me and Scarecrow had better be scooting, yeah?"
Tin Man's shoulders sagged with a screech. "You don't like my dance?"
"No, no, it was…interesting," Vince slowly replied.
"Oh, it's horrible!" the metal man cried out. "You see, when I got turned into tin, I lost the use of my heart and now my chest is hollow. I can't dance properly without my heart. Without it, I am nothing!"
Vince sighed at the piteous creature. "Alright, look, we're on our way to visit the Wizard. He's going to send me back home and he's giving Scarecrow here a brain. Maybe he can sort you out."
"Really?" Tin Man sniffled.
"Oh, thank you!" Tin Man looked at the Scarecrow. "You really are lucky to have such a lovely wife."
"Don't worry, Scarecrow." Vince tapped the straw shoulder consolingly, and the now-trio carried on their venture out of the clearing and into the depths of the Forest.
Gradually, the coolness of the woods dampened into a chill that snaked around Vince's bones and made him shiver. The dappled light had faded and spluttered out a while back, leaving only the blank darkness. Shade clung to the trees like eye shadow, dripping its residue onto the mossy grass. The bricks of the pathway had broken and cracked somewhat during the early stages of the forest, and now only a thin and dingy dirt trail led their way through the woods.
There was a sudden fearful groan in the distance, and Vince grabbed onto Scarecrow's arm in reflex.
"What was that?" he demanded.
Scarecrow tried to look brave, but the terror in his small eyes betrayed him. "Owls."
"What, pretending to be wolves?"
"They're very good mimics?"
"What?" Vince cried, but then there was another yelp, this one far closer.
"Yeah, there might be a few wolves in this forest…"
"You're kidding, right?" Vince snapped.
Scarecrow shook his head. "And maybe lions. And tigers. And bears. But don't fear, Vince. I know the ways of the forest! You need to speak to it…" He breathed in deep, and made a series of strange noises. A tree branch whacked him on the head.
Vince laughed. "I don't think the forest liked what you were saying."
"Yes, well…" Scarecrow muttered, picking leaves from his straw. "The forest is a cheeky one tonight."
There was another howl, and Vince gulped. "The forest is a cunt tonight."
"What are we gonna do if we meet a Russian hairy carpet guy?" cried the Tin Man.
"You mean a bear?" Vince sighed, exasperated.
"Yeah, that one."
"Well, it always helps to know the difference in dealing with a brown bear and a black bear…" Scarecrow babbled, but nobody was listening, for there was a rustling in the trees that was growing closer and closer. The trio huddled together in fear, and Vince tried not to shake. In front of him, the trees parted.
"Oh my God!" Tin Man screamed. "It's a naked little squashed up hairy boy!"
"Say that again?"
But there no time for Talk Box repetition. The huge ape leered down at them, and beat his chest with ferocity, growling and huffing in a terrifying way. It circled the group a few times, and roared. Vince tried not to scream, and shut his eyes in anticipation of his imminent death. He'd always hoped that when he finally kicked the bucket, it would be with his best friend by his side, not thousands of miles away from home with two ballbags for company. He waited for the gorilla's claws to slice through him. He waited, and waited. Then, tentatively, he opened one eye to see his assailant sucking on an asthma pump.
"Sorry," the gorilla wheezed. "Be with you in a minute."
Vince rested a hand on his hip. "Easy, you Jack of Clubs. What're you playing at, eh?"
The gorilla visibly cowered. "Don't know what you're talking 'bout."
"Yeah, you do! Picking on something smaller than you; what's that about? You overcompensating for something?"
Vince's sharp tone sent the animal ungainly lumbering towards the safety of the trees. He sighed, and let his hands drop to his sides. "Cool your boots. M'not gonna hurt you, yeah? I'm like Mowgli in flares."
"Promise?" the gorilla huffed. Vince's resolve crumbled like wet Ryvita.
"Promise. Now get your monkey anus over here."
Slowly, the primate shuffled back over and shyly faced Vince.
"See, that's alright, ain't it? You big coward."
"I am coward…" the gorilla moaned, hanging his head. "I am ashamed."
"Well, don't be like that," Vince said soothingly.
"I am scared of everything. Every day I get bad feeling. I have no courage. I am even scared of myself."
Vince internally sighed, sensing a quickly developing pattern. "Look…Gorilla, me and my mates here, we're going to Camden to try and speak to the Wizard. He might be able to help you, too."
Gorilla huffed in consideration. "You really think so?"
Vince shrugged. "Fuck it, why not?"
"Oh, thank you!" Gorilla exclaimed. "What is your name?"
"Precious Vince. You are my friend."
Vince felt his heart swell, and tried to stifle it with a well-timed cough. "Right, well, we should probably get a move on then."
"Wait!" cried Tin Man. "Only two people would venture this far into the forest at this time of night: a fool, or an idiot."
"He's right, Vince," added Scarecrow. "You should get some sleep. Me and Tin Man can keep watch."
Vince laughed. "Relax. Gorilla here's the only thing we had to be worried about."
As if on cue, there was a melancholy howl that made each member of the party start, and Gorilla cling onto Vince's arm in terrified desperation.
"Right…" Vince muttered. "So there really are lions and tigers and bears, then."
"No. No lions," Gorilla replied. Vince sighed in relief.
"Just tiger-bear mutants."
It was amazing how quickly he dropped off to sleep once he'd put his mind to it, snuggled up against the reassuring bulk of Gorilla. It was as if his mind had flicked a lightbulb on and off again; and although he felt refreshed once awake it didn't feel like any normal sleep he'd ever had - much less that when he did awake, his eyes were assaulted with Tin Man's face staring intensely down at him.
"Good morning, Vincey."
"Er…" Vince muttered, becoming increasingly anxious for his well-being. "Morning. Can you move back, I'm getting a bit claustro?"
Now that the fresh morning sun had filled up the sky with its radiant glow, the forest didn't look quite so foreboding. Scarecrow was sitting on a rock, regarding him shyly, with a bundle of apples by his straw feet. Vince took one of the apples and began to feast on it accordingly. He proclaimed the Scarecrow to be a genius, and the man made of hay had the good grace to look abashed by the compliment. Vince handed out his strawberry laces, and gave Scarecrow the packet, damning healthy eating to hell where it belonged.
It didn't take them long to get out of the forest, and despite the fact that every so often Vince had to fend off a metal arm slyly looping around his, it was a pleasant enough walk and the conversation agreeable. Eventually, the thick shrubbery and foliage gave way to empty fields, and the Yellow Brick Road pieced itself back together until it sparkled good as new in the sunlight. The city of Camden stood proudly in the near distance, its clean concrete buildings seemingly glittering with grandeur.
"There it is," said Scarecrow, with barely masked awe. "Camden."
Vince was just glad to be one step closer to home.
The group marched along towards the city, when suddenly there seemed to be a shimmer in the air that rippled around them, barely noticeable to the naked eye. Vince shrugged it off and carried on walking. After a few minutes, he felt something black slip by in the far corner of his vision, and he abruptly stopped walking. Then he felt something sliding against the small of his back. He started, and cried out, but then there seemed to be more of the black things squirming all around, but when he tried to look it seemed there was nothing there. They began to encircle him, and then something wrapped itself around his ankle and shivered upwards to meet his eye. It was a gigantic eel, writhing grotesquely. Vince tried to call out as the hypnotic whirl made him stumble, but he only fell backwards as a disembodied voice rasped, "Do you like eels, boy?" into his ear. He was only vaguely aware of somebody calling his name as the darkness rushed towards him.
He awoke to the feeling of a pair of arms around him, pulling him to safety. His mouth felt like it had been stuffed with cotton wool.
"Howard…?" he muttered, and he blinked. Scarecrow was looking down at him with a terrified expression. "Oh," he mumbled. "It's just you. What happened?"
"You and Gorilla just blacked out," the straw man said, his voice still edged with the shredded remains of panic. "We think it was a spell; there's some bad juju in the air. But then it just vanished. The Good Witch must've done something."
"Oh, right," Vince said, clambering shakily to his feet. "Anyone got a resolve?"
"Are you alright, Vince?"
"Yeah, m'fine," he grinned. He looked down at where Gorilla was slowly coming round. "Come on, shift your monkey anus. We've got a Wizard to see, eh?"
After that, Vince's usual sunshine persona rapidly returned, and he ignored the Tin Man's offer to lean on his shoulders as the group walked, with rather more pace and urgency than before, down the remnants of the road. They eventually came to face a huge, towering door, and Vince couldn't help the grin that escaped him.
"This is it," he said, and he reached up and banged on the door with his fist.
There was an awkward pause. Then a window slid open, and Vince found himself staring into a small pink face.
"Alright, squire," came a very strained-sounding voice. "What can I do you for?"
"Alright?" Vince smiled. "We're here to see the Wizard."
The face looked as if it was about to open the door, when suddenly there came another voice from behind him. "Tony! Tony, what are you doing, you flipping cleft?"
"What?" the thing called Tony protested. "What's your beef?"
"You are not supposed to talk to the outsiders, Tony, and you know this." Another window opened, next to the first, and the second face looked down at the group.
"Oh, fuckin' hell!" groaned Tony. "You were on your tea break, sipping down your little red velvet latte. I couldn't just leave 'em there. Step aside and let the H-man take control once in a while."
"Actually, I think you'll find it was an espresso, you knob."
"You can't handle espresso, sunshine. I've seen you with Kirk at the last Palace Guard party, knocking back the caffeine shots; you threw up after the first round. You were taking it with whipped cream just now."
"We were all off our faces that night, you bladder, let's not get personal."
"This is an outrage, what're you talking about? You were drinking milk like a pansy that night, glugging it back, pretending it was a White Russian!"
"You're a disgrace, Tony. Just because you can't handle the crunch-"
"Oh, my word! Are we back to the crunch?"
"Yes, we are back to the crunch, you flipping berk!"
"Always fucking pastry goods with you!"
"What would you know about pastry, Tony? You can't even pick up a Danish."
"What're you trying to say, squire?"
"I'm saying that you are the end result of four billion years of evolution, and those things you call tentacles aren't its best triumph, are they?"
Vince coughed loudly. "Excuse me?"
"Look at that, Saboo; you're making this young lady wait."
"I'm making her wait? How dare you!"
The two carried on bickering, but the door opened up nonetheless, and the group quickly slipped in before any more time could be wasted. Vince looked around at the clamoring throng of hip young people, and breathed a sigh of relief as the door slammed shut behind him.
"Right," he said, and Scarecrow, Tin Man and Gorilla looked back at him with wide eyes. "Let's go get ourselves some magic."