By the by, Dear Readers, were you aware that there is an illustrated version of this story? Perhaps not? Well, you can find it through the link at the top of my profile page. Check it out if pictures suit your fancy.

Shameless promotion aside, enjoy Chapter 1! :)

Chapter 1

Once the spinning in his head had begun to ease up, Mike opened his eyes. He saw blue. A bright blue sky encircled by leaves and branches. Mike squinted. He was in…a forest? As his head continued to clear, he could hear the unfamiliar sounds of bird calls and wind rustling the trees. He raised himself up on his elbows to look around. Surrounding him on all sides,, a thick, rocky forest stretched out into the broad daylight. He definitely wasn't in Motorcity anymore. When his hands brushed the ground, he felt very fine, very warm grains of dirt. Looking down at his feet, he found himself sitting in a large patch of scorched ground, covered in a thin layer of ash.

Mike sighed, slowly pulling himself to his feet. Whatever the Duke had been playing around with, it had thrown him into one heck of a mess. He needed to get back to the Burners. Of course, in order to do that, he needed to know where Detroit was, and in order to do that, he needed to know where he was.

"Hopefully not completely in the middle of nowhere," he muttered to himself as he stepped over a fallen trunk and began trekking through the forest.

For a while though, he began to think that was the case. The forest sloped steeply downhill and showed no signs of thinning. There were no roads, no buildings, not even a small footpath to show any sign of human presence. Mike wasn't sure if he'd ever actually been this far from civilization. He blinked up at the sun creeping slowly through the branches above. It was early morning here, wherever "here" was. Just as he was beginning to feel the sunlight heating up the back of his neck, he heard something. It sounded strangely like shouting; angry shouting. Mike listened carefully before bolting off in the direction he estimated it was coming from.

He didn't care if it was a hiker or some crazy old hermit, any person meant civilization somewhere nearby. Making quick progress, he dodged through the foliage as if it were the urban constructs of Detroit. Finally, Mike stepped through a final line of trees and found himself on a wide dirt road. He looked down both directions, and a dozen or so yards from him he found a welcome sight.

A car, rather old and painted a fading red, sat on the side of the road. Its hood was popped and the front door was open. Mike could see the driver's foot beneath the door and heard the engine begin to start up.

It caught and roared with good effort for a few seconds before coughing and sputtering down to a whine. The man in the car shouted some unpleasant things before heaving himself out and stopping at the sight of Mike. He was older, maybe around Jacob's age, and wore a black tuxedo with a necktie. He had thick, squarish glasses which he was now peering through at Mike with, but by far the oddest thing about him was the flat-topped shriner's hat that sat on his head. Optimistically, Mike tried making contact.

"Hey there!" he called out, "Need a hand with your ride?"

"No!" answered the old man immediately, "Get lost, beatnick!"

"Beatnick?" repeated Mike softly to himself as the man ducked back into the car and tried the engine again. Devoid of any better options, Mike stepped closer and persisted.

"Are you sure? I work with cars a lot."

"You a mechanic?" interrupted the man, sticking his head back out.

"Well, technically-"

"Never mind! Forget it!" And back into the car. Mike exhaled lightly through his nose and approached the vehicle anyway. The driver didn't seem to notice. Leaning over, Mike got a better look at the engine. His eyebrows rose. This thing was ancient! He was surprised it was holding together much less running a car. Still, he thought, it got driven this far, so I suppose… The driver tried the engine once more. There! Mike smiled as he reached over.

Half a minute later he slammed the hood shut. The man inside shouted as his head hit the roof of the car, knocking his cap over his eyes.

"Try it now," said Mike, patting the hood. The man, after readjusting his glasses, glowered at him, but turned the key againanyway. The engine sputtered uncertainly before it roared up and leveled off at a satisfying rumble. The man's astonished expression broke into a wide grin.

"Not bad, kid," he said, leaning sideways out of the car.

"Don't mention it," said Mike with a shrug. Then he continued hopefully, "Actually, if it's not too much to ask, could you give me a ride to the nearest town?"

The man kept quiet for a little while as he looked him over in an appraising manner.

"Tell you what," he began with a smile that wasn't entirely comforting, "I'll raise you one on that. How'd you like to earn a couple of bucks?"

"Oh. Well I, uh, kind of have to…" Mike thought for a moment. He was in the middle of nowhere with no food, no money, and no transportation.

"Easiest money you'll ever make, I promise!"

"Sure, I guess?" He'd probably taken worse jobs before.

"Great! Hop in!" The man gestured widely before slamming the door shut and buckling himself in. Mike stepped around a mud puddle and opened the passenger side.

"The name's Stanford Pines by the way," said his new employer as he climbed in.

"Mike Chilton."

They passed through a good amount of mountainous forest as the road dipped and turned with the land. Eventually, it flattened out and they drove into a small, rural town. To Mike's surprise, they continued straight on out of it. He barely hadgot the chance to determine what technology they had out here before the two of them were back under the trees again. After a relatively short, uphill drive they turned into an open clearing. The car pulled up into a make-shift parking lot in front of a lonely building with a tall totem pole next to it. "Mystery Shack", read Mike off the top of the long, sloping roof, though the "S" in "shack" had broken off and was dangling halfway down it.

"Say, Stan?" asked Mike as the engine shut off.

"Come on, kid, on a tight schedule here," Stan said briefly before exiting the car. Mike stepped outside onto the sundried dirt and looked up at the bizarre, question mark-shaped weather vane above the entrance.

"This has been one crazy week, let me tell you," began Stan as he walked onto the small porch, "I get this message calling me out of town for the weekend, which just happens to be on the same days that both Soos and Wendy have off. Gotta remind myself to never let a stunt like that happen again." Mike followed him underneath a large sign that read 'Gift Shop', beginning to question what, exactly, he had signed up for.

"So I'm trying to tell this guy that I can't just up and close my place like that, but he just keeps sayin' 'Oh no, Stan, you can't pass up a chance like this.' And all at the same time I'm trying to get this dumb Mystery Fair set up…"

A bland-looking vending machine and a freezer sat on either side of the door that Stan was currently trying to unlock.

"And then, wouldn't you know it, my niece goes and gets a new pet without warning, so now I have to deal with that. All in all, lucky I caught you when I did."

Stan finally shoved the door open and stepped inside. Mike followed him into a dusty, barely organized gift shop. Walking up to the front counter, Stan dropped his keys next to the cash register and stepped back, looking around the room.

"Let's see. Store hours are on the door, make sure no one steals anything, don't let the goat inside…Oh!" He scooped up a large duffle bag from behind the counter and turned to Mike. "And if anyone asks about a missing matryoshka doll, you don't know anything about it. ANYTHING."

"Al…right then," said Mike uncertainly, "But what did you want me to-?"

"DON'T BURN THE HOUSE DOWN, KIDS!" Stan shouted to the ceiling before striding towards the door.

"Woah, woah, hang on a second," Mike tried to interject before he left, "What exactly am I doing for you again?" Stan looked back at him from behind an almost-closed door.

"Watching the Mystery Shack for me, what do you think I've been sayin'? See you in a couple of days!" he finished, promptly shutting the door.

"…Oh," was all Mike could say in response.

Thanks much for reading! Chapter two is on it's way!

As soon as I edit the bejeezus out of it that is. Until then! c: