"Elves too much for you?" Mom's teasing voice yanked Crackers out of concentration. The authoress was perched at her cluttered desk, nose planted firmly in the thick of The Silmarillion. "Looks like you needed to escape."
"Yeah, pretty much." Crackers didn't avert her eyes from "Of Maeglin"; she fiddled with a purple ballpoint pen above a spiral notebook. "Whoever the freak behind this whole shabang is, he's got a sick sense of humour, and I'm done with his games."
"According to your little story, wouldn't that be Tolkien?" Mom quirked an eyebrow, grinned. "The dead guy that you pretty much worship?"
"Yeah, well he's a freak." Crackers ferociously began flipping toward "Of Beren and Lúthien." "Let's see here... What'll say the most...?" she murmured, twirling the pen between her fingers.
"So, what exactly are you doing right now?" Mom crossed the zebra-print rug to place a pile of folded laundry on the bed.
"This freaking Envelope works two ways." She inclined her head toward the Vessel of Woe's position on her desk. "Or at least it should."
Maedhros bit his lip and scratched idly at his Band-Aids. "What did Crackers say she'd gone to do?"
"Speak her... mind?" Fingon hesitantly answered him. "I wasn't aware she did that."
StarrySea shrugged and piped up from the dining room table, "Neither was I."
"Well," said Maeglin, voice controlled, "that's terribly comforting, isn't it? We can hold out hope that she doesn't do anything (else) stupid."
"There's a fool's hope for you," muttered Eöl. For once, not even Curufin bothered to disagree with him.
An awkward quiet began to settle over our merry company, the ticking of the Swiss clock (that really couldn't keep time) growing increasingly pronounced. StarrySea had almost started an oh-so-thrilling iPod Touch game of Cut the Rope to pass the time when Fingon suddenly spoke up.
"Are they supposed to itch like this?" He profusely rubbed the blue Band-Aid bifurcating his shapely right eyebrow. "Is it the wound or the adhesive that has suddenly become so irritated?"
"Oh, yeah." StarrySea glanced up from little green Om-Nom, hero and glory of Cut the Rope. "They start getting really itchy after a while. You can always peel them off-"
"Good!" Fingon interrupted her and attempted to do so. "It's stuck," he muttered and pulled harder. Then harder. And harder, until he emitted a yowl of pain (something like the sound a cat makes when one places its head in a blender-not that I would know) and was holding the bandage between thumb and forefinger. He rubbed the slightly-pale spot where the adhesive had been.
"-if you like pain," finished StarrySea lamely, lips contorting beneath a repressed smirk.
Fingon's face remained fixed into a grotesque wince. "You could have-" He massaged the spot again. "-mentioned that sooner."
On Crackers' end, the pile of Tolkien books on her desk was only growing, sprouting up to surround her notebook like a city-wall or a cubicle. She slammed down The Lost Road in frustration; no way was she going to find anything helpful in there. The one time she'd read it, she'd all but drowned in the early drafts of Akallabêth. (She loved the Histories of Middle-earth, but Lord-a-mercy, those commentaries could be like sleeping pills à la mode.)
Thumbing through the first chapter of The Hobbit, however, she soon found something that would be of use. She proceeded to sling her foot up on the desk to hold the tattered paperback open, then hastily jotted down the proper quote with a malevolent grin.
"This isn't retaliation or anything," she prattled to herself. (Don't worry for her sanity, friends; she did that often.) "It's just using effective resources to make a point." Or so she hoped of her little project.
"Hm, hm, hm, hmm..." Crackers hummed a tune she'd never heard as she opened The Lord of the Rings. Her immense paperback volume contained all six books of Tolkien's masterpiece, and if it were possible, looked even more like the personal victim of a deranged walrus than nearby copies of The Hobbit and the Silm. (Crackers loved her books quite literally to death.)
"Alrighty, there's just got to be some good stuff in here..." The notebook page before her was still mostly blank.
"Curvo, do you know what this whole experience reminds me of?" Maedhros rotated 180 degrees to face his brother full on.
Curufin rolled his eyes, placed his forehead in the hand whose (naturally, one would hope) attached elbow stood erect on the green couch's armrest. "Pray, tell."
"No, don't; I know this one," said Eöl, lifting a hand to stay Maedhros' impending tale. The red-haired Noldo gave him a strange look, but the Sinda continued, "I wasn't even there, and it reminds me of hanging from Thangorodrim-" He didn't wait to be asked why. "-getting banged into a rock over and over and over and over and over and over and over and-"
"We've got it, Father." Maeglin spoke up, as the rest of the Dark Elf's audience was momentarily too aghast for words. "That's a lot of times to get banged into a rock."
If you ever get bored, grab a dictionary and look up the term 'scandalized.' The illustration there is a copyrighted image of Fingon's face at the moment I've here described.
It was the rich, rollicking sound of Noldorin laughter that shocked the expression off his kingly countenance. Maedhros rocked with hysteria, tears creeping out from his eyes. "Eöl-" Composure fled him, and he swallowed hard to recapture it. "-how did you know?"
"Good morning!" he said at last. "We don't want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over the Hill or across the Water."
"A dark shadow fell upon her, and it seemed to her that the sun had sickened and turned black."
"Wicked masster!" it hissed. "Wicked masster cheats us..."
"Oh, curse you, you stinking thing!" he said. "Go away! Be off! I don't trust you, not as far as I could kick you; but be off. Or I shall hurt you..."
"I have given you leave to go. Take it, and be gone. By the laws of the Eldar I may not slay you at this time."
"It was generally agreed that the joke was in very bad taste..."
Crackers grinned down at the purple ink declaring her collage of Tolkien quotes and stuck her nose proudly in the air. "I'm doing it," she announced to Elladan and Elrohir, who were at the moment cozily snuggled next to each other (The chinchillas! The chinchillas! No slash here!) "And I don't even care."
Ever so tenderly, she slowly began to tear the sheet out of the notebook by its perforated edge, smiling so broadly that the fourteen famous muscles it took to do so grew sore. With uncharacteristic neatness (for she was the seven-time World Champion of Really Bad Trifolding), she folded the sheet over and sealed her handiwork with an invisible kiss. Brushing aside the white card containing the latest set of useless instructions, she picked up the Envelope. And put her letter inside.
Worlds away, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien had nearly mastered Paper Toss for iPhone. Sprawled out on the jewel-strewn sand of an ivory beach, he absentmindedly flicked another wad of virtual paper into the virtual metal bin. "Yes!" he exclaimed, leaping to his feet for joy. "Another ten-pointer!"
"Settle down, Tollers," moaned Jack from beside him. "You've been scoring 'ten-pointers' half the blooming morning. And at any rate, my good chap, it's really high time you put away That Thing and did something productive here."
"And what would you suggest?" Ronald resumed his position on the sand, flicked the screen again without looking up.
"You could always take up crochet." Jack shrugged. "Or fishing, or cards-" He was interrupted and suddenly began to boogie.
"In the middle of the Earth, in the land of the Shire, lives a brave little Hobbit whom we all admire, with his long, wooden pipe and fuzzy, woolly toes, he lives in a Hobbit hole and everybody knows him... Bilbo! (Bilbo!) Bilbo Baggins!" Leonard Nimoy bellowed his notorious Ballad from the speaker of Tolkien's phone.
"'In the middle of the earth,' my eye," muttered Tolkien. "Why did I ever get this stupid song?" Nonetheless, he tapped the device's screen and placed it to his ear. "Hallo?"
"Professor Tolkien, yes?" The F.A.U.L.T.T.Y. representative on the other end gave him no chance to deny the fact and launched straight in, breathless and babbling. "It's Operation Crack the Crackers, sir! She's put a foreign object in the Envelope; I repeat, sir, a foreign object!"
"What kind of obj-" began Tolkien, but he was immediately cut off.
"A letter, sir! I repeat, sir, a letter, sir; a letter, sir!"
"I understood you perfectly well the first time, Súlimo," answered the Professor with a weary sigh. "Would you care to read me the contents of said letter?"
The Lord of the Breath of Arda took a deep breath and did just that, voice bouncing and jittering so that his creator but barely made out his words. After the recitation came to its end, the Vala could elicit no response for several minutes but the light, bubbling sound of Tolkien's belly laugh.
What is it? mouthed Jack at the Professor's side, but the father of Arda merely shook his head, waving his hand dismissively as he chuckled.
"What's to be done, sir?" demanded the Vala. "This development is somewhat... unanticipated."
Tolkien shook his white head, still smiling. "No, it isn't; I was only hoping the dear girl would eventually find wits enough to reply."
"Or wrath, in this case, sir," answered Manwë severely.
"No matter, no matter. At any rate, it's time we paid her a visit."
"We?" squawked the Vala. "But, sir-"
"I'll write you into the Void..." Tolkien let the threat hang; Jack smirked.
"Fine then," came the sulky reply. "I'll transport us both over to the U.S. of A..."
In a feutosecond's time, Ronald had dematerialized with a flash, leaving Jack alone on the beach, watching the aquamarine waves lap at the sand. "Well," he said, "I suppose old Tollers is good for something besides Paper Toss, after all."
Meanwhile, back on the (funny) farm, the Envelope suddenly disintegrated from Crackers' hand. In its place, a fine, ash-grey powder fell from her fingers, spelling out the enigmatic word "SOON" on the pale, stained wood of her desk. She gasped and leaped backward, yelling, "Mo-om!" on first instinct.
But no response was to be heard. Instead, her mother was saying, in that odd tone that is both a whisper and a yell, "There's someone at the door! Everybody, get down!"
In what the rabble call "normal households," such words would have been altogether anomalous. For Crackers, StarrySea, and their mother, however, who never answered the door to strangers (not even to cookie-peddling Girl Scouts), it mattered little. Crackers was still curious, though, as to the identity of the solicitor, and jogged quickly through her bedroom, her sister's bedroom, and the hallway, to see Fingon on his feet.
"No, we really ought to answer this one..." the Elf was saying, striding regally toward the door. "...How do the modern mortals say it? Ah, yes!" He smiled. "I think this is 'our ride.'"
"I sure hope so, bucko," answered Mom warily, but she still did as he said, unlocking and opening the heavy, white door.
Crackers walked fully into the living room, running a hand nervously over her loose hair. Could this be...? She held her breath, hardly daring to hope it, until at last she could see, behind the screen-door, a white-haired gentleman whom she hated and loved. "Yes!" she exclaimed. "Yes! Open it, open it!"
Mom made a face, but did just that. StarrySea and Maeglin scrambled down from the dining room chairs and made their way to the door; Maedhros, Curufin, and Eöl had joined Fingon on their feet. Everyone clustered around the house's entrance.
"Well, hello there," murmured StarrySea suggestively on seeing Tolkien's well-built, golden-haired companion.
Maeglin, however, looked right past the Vala and rolled his eyes. "Well, look who it is, the man who singlehandedly ruined my existence."
"And gave you it, dear Lómion," amended Tolkien primly. "I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it." The Professor paid Maeglin's answering snort no heed, instead turning abruptly to Crackers.
"Hello again, my girl." The gentleman beamed. "I do hope my little thank-you present hasn't caused you too much trouble?" He winked.
"Uh, nope, um... No, none at all!" Crackers emitted (not for the first time) a nervous giggle.
"Liar," coughed the Vala at Tolkien's side.
"But all good things must, nonetheless, come to their end," continued the Professor warmly.
Oh, darn the luck. Crackers' sarcastic thought snapped its fingers in a mockery of disappointment. "That's fine," is what the authoress managed aloud. Mom nodded along profusely.
"Come along then, my lords." Tolkien beckoned to the Elves, and one by one they filed out past the home's oh-so-dynamic trio of mortal residents. Maedhros and Fingon wished them Farewell with dazzling smiles; the other three kept their eyes downcast.
Finally, the five Elves had been gathered on the porch.
"Thank you for your participation, ladies." Manwë regarded Crackers and her family, then lifted a hand.
"Good-b-" began Crackers, but it was too late, the seven figures had already disappeared, leaving the family staring out onto the dead, brown grass and naked trees of their front lawn. A frigid January wind rushed up beneath the covered front porch, and Mom shut the door.
"Hey, look!" exclaimed StarrySea. She was pointing to the silver, Emerson TV resting on its stand. Its blank, opaque screen was beautifully smooth and whole.
"Well, I'll be durned," said Crackers' mother.
Crackers grinned and walked toward the television, patting it as if to make sure she wasn't hallucinating (which was always, of course, a possibility). The threesome stood there quietly for a moment, before Crackers spoke up. "C'mon, the whole Plushie deal wasn't really that bad... Was it?"
"Yeah," chorused StarrySea and Mom, both nodding. "Yeah, it was."
And that, friends, is the end! Thank you very much for all of the positive feedback; I would never have finished this without all of your encouragement. :D I hope you've enjoyed!