The Smile

Alright peeps! After a month, I'm back! Quick recap!

Recap - Blot and Doctor managed to rob several victims of Bog Easy of their terror. Their seemingly lifeless bodies left to rot. Cecelia, Prescott, Mickey, and Oswald journeyed to Bog Easy to stop them. Searching for the Mad Doctor's lab. Prescott and Cecelia surmised the Mad Doctor may have a second location, but are unsure where. So they have decided to keep it quiet until sure.

An issue arose between Cecelia and Prescott, only to be easily solved by understanding one another. With their friendship rekindled the two joined Mickey and Oswald and went to Bog Easy. The normally bustling town was baron. Lifeless. Result of The Blot and Doctor locking the people away like animals. Solving the Blot's riddles, the four - along with Ortensia who was kidnapped - won the challenge administered and were a step closer to stopping the Doctor and Blot.

But why is the Blot smiling?

"WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE SHADOWS ATE HER?" The animatronic replica of Donald jerked Goofy violently. Jamface and Gus implored him to calm down. Giving Goofy shaken baby syndrome was not going to expedite the mystery any swifter.

Three seconds before she vanished, Goofy went to join Ortensia in the back room so to give her a hand with filling canteens. There were another ten that needed filling. When he opened the door, this hand grabbed Ortensia and dragged her into a shadow pool. Goofy swore up, down, and sideways - amid the shaking - that he tried to run over and save her. But it was too late. The shadows consumed her. He has no idea where she went.

Jamface let out a roar. A fierce punch busted in a box. Gus, Donald, and Goofy froze, startled. Donald dropped Goofy he was so shocked. Styrofoam balls spilled out, covering the floor. "Zis must be ze work of zat fiendish Blot creature and his Doctor friend! Zey have abducted friends and loved ones in zis manner one too many times!"

Gus's stomach lodged in his throat. "The Blot wouldn't harm Ortensia...would he?" A foolish hope. The Blot has no conscience. No moral compass. Compassion in his eyes is nothing more than a weakness to be exploited. Mercy is not granted. Not to anyone.

"He will try." Jamface replied. No sense in sugarcoating the obvious truth. "But do not worry, mes ami! Mickey, Oswald, Prescott, and Cecelia will ensure her safety."

This brought a small smile to Gus's cheeks. Jamface was right. Those four wouldn't never allow anything to happen to her. He still couldn't fight the worry. Clarabelle, Horace, and now Ortensia. Close friends were swallowed by the darkness. Friends in Wasteland becoming victims in the Mad Doctor's inhumane experiments.

Terror. The Source of the Blot's regrowth. Terror, or fear, is the deep routed nightmare many try to lock or hide away. Keep at bay so they may live life to the fullest. WIth some caution, of course. The Mad Doctor developed a device he decreed The Terror box. A menaincg creation designed to claw at the mind of its victim and dig the hidden terrors from the confines of the subconscious. These terrors are not as simple as Phobias or infantile worries. Guilt, sorrows, regrets, unrepentable accidents - The Terror Box siphons past transgressions. The most horrific of nightmares which keep individuals awake at night provide The Phantom Blot his power. The more he gathers, the stronger he becomes. The closer he is to returning to his true form.

Until then, Paint and Thinner do considerable damage. It's their only hope of defense. On another note, Gus often wondered something. According to Cecelia's testimony, and Gus seeing The Blot for himself some time before Cecelia's arrival, The Blot must have consumed a countless number of Nightmares from other Wastelanders. How else could he have regenerated such a damaged body so quickly? But...if the Blot is consuming all these people...why does it seem as though he hasn't grown at all? Is his regeneration faltering? Are the terrors of normal Wastelanders not enough?

Jamface, Donald, and Goofy gathered at the fresh water sink, returning to finish the canteens. Other Bog Easy residents were expected to arrive soon. Gus was left to his thoughts. "How does the Mad Doctor plan to rule Wasteland if his trump card is failing?" The beeping of his wrench pin interrupted his train of thought. "Hello?"

"Gus? It's Ortensia."

"ORTENSIA! THANK THE STARS!" Goofy, Donald, and Jamface darted over, beaming ecstatically. "Are you alright, my dear?"

"I'm fine, Gus. Don't worry." She giggled. "The Blot captured me when I wasn't looking." Confirms Goofy's crazy stories about shadows swallowing her. "More Bog Easy residents are on their way. How are things?"

"They are going smoothly for the most part. But things will get heated soon the greater the crowd. Do hurry."

"We'll try."

"Any word on Clarabelle or Horace?"

"They're at the manor. Oswald, myself, and the others are about to head there now."

"Jolly good! I look forward to your return. Do be careful."

"We will. See you soon." The call ended. Gus released a breath he wasn't aware he was holding. Jamface, Donald, and Goofy cheered in the background.

Ortensia and the others were safe. But there was still unease in Gus. The Blot hasn't harmed them. Yet. Tints and Turps know he could have by now. What is he planning? A thought made Gus's body go cold. "Could The Blot and Mad Doctor have been expecting an assault on the manor?"

The Blot's last riddle nearly cost Ortensia her life. Oswald and Prescott barely managed to complete their end of the bargain. A lot rode on their shoulders. Oswald couldn't thank Cecelia and Mickey enough for noticing the Slobber was on the roof. And Prescott. What a guy to catch Ortensia. The Blot's sense of humor was more twisted than the roads of Wonderland. Twisted still is the smile that never seemed to leave his face.

A rusty lock popped off the handles of a shop door. Oswald wrenched the door open. Swarms of people stampeded to freedom. Mickey motioned his hands to the boardwalk. Petrified Bog Easy residents hopped and skipped, leaping through the projector.

"Thank you, Oswald!" A woman hugged the bunny. She pecked his cheek. A bashful blush tinted his cheeks. "You and your friends are life savers."

Oswald rubbed the back of his head, "Oh...ha-ha…N-no problem." He squeaked dryly. Ortensia growled in the back of her throat and turned her back, folding her arms. Cecelia smiled nervously, fanning the flames of Ortensia's jealousy. "Just-uh-h-head back to Ostown, and Gus and the others will take good care of you."

"Thank you again!" The woman gave him one last kiss and ran after her friends.

Oswald's blush deepened. His ears twisted and untwisted repeatedly. An idiotic giggle fluttered the stomach butterflies. A grudging clear of a throat made the rabbit's ear erected stiffly. Sweat beaded his brow with dread. His head turned like a rusted cog. He screamed, jumping into Cecelia's arms. Ortensia's dagger glare blazed, burning Oswald's screw up into his ebony skin. Oswald clammed up, ran over, and hugged her tightly, "You know I love you, right?" He kissed her scrunched cheeks twice.

Ortensia twisted away, "And don't you forget it!"

Prescott released the people in the hotel across the way. Ortensia and Oswald's squabble dulled under the cheers. Cecelia cowered behind a pole beside him. It offered a safe range from Ortensia's rage. Cecelia didn't think Siberia would be far enough. "Seriously, remind me never to upset her."

"Hmph. Thank Fantasia you were gone during Valentine's Day." That alone made Cecelia shudder. Prescott chuckled. She got the idea.

A young woman suddenly grabbed Prescott by the cheeks. Hearts beat in her eyes. "My hero."

"Well-" The woman planted a passionate kiss. Prescott's protest was muffled. Cecelia ogled them blankly. A rock through glass shattered the scene behind her. Her mind a black abyss. The woman broke the kiss with a pleased intake of breath. Her friends moseyed her along, giggling exuberantly. Prescott blinked dumbly, unsure what just happened. His attention slowly shifted to Cecelia who was just as dumbstruck. "Um…" He trailed off, pointing toward the woman, "I don'"

"SAVE IT!" Cecelia threw her hands up. "I don't care!"


Cecelia darted in the opposite direction, hands slapped to her ears. "YOU-OWE-ME-NO EXPLANATION!" Sparks surged and popped between her ears. "Just live in your moment!"

"THERE ISN'T- Ohhh!" He gave up. Why'd that woman have to kiss him? In front of Cecelia no less! "Wait a minute! Why the heck am I brooding?" He cursed himself. A woman kissed him? Big deal! Cecelia is a child. He need not explain nor brood. "I owe her nothing!" He threw his key, emphasizing his point. The key screeched, bouncing off the stone to a dead halt in the middle of the empty street. "Hm?" Prescott rushed after the key. There was an engraving on one side of the key's hilt. A closer inspection revealed...a number? "15?" What's that about? Did any of the other keys have numbers? "Oswald. Mickey. Cecelia. Do either of your keys have a number?" He showed the number. The three exchanged bewildered glances.

Mickey checked his key. Nothing. Ortensia itched her ear. Cecelia and Oswald flipped their keys over. 22, and 49. Prescott scratched his head. What was the purpose behind these numbers? Another test The Blot surreptitiously issued? Not that anyone could ask. Or would, for that matter. The Blot pulled a disappearing act some time after Oswald and Prescott solved their riddle. Mickey remembered The Blot heading in the general direction of the Mansion. The ink concoted monster was no doubt waiting for them to catch up. Another trap was in store.

"Hey! What's that?" Mickey ran for the mansion gates.

A projector was trapped behind the rickety, iron clad gates. The remarkable fortified bars bent and contorted, much like the rest of Bog Easy. Mickey's gloved hand cupped a numeric pad lock. It and it's chains tightly bound the gate shut, bringing a halt to the trip to Lonesome Manor.

Ortensia hummed pensively. Borrowing the keys she matched them up to the numbers and lines on the lock. "These numbers are on the lock. Maybe they open it." The four shrugged. Leads were short. Might as well try whatever's at hand.

There was no call for science. Ortensia picked a random combination. When one didn't work she just used another. The numbers, at first blush, held no real significance. Just a random code.

Click! "OOH!" Ortensia cheered. The lock popped right off. The gates then swung open with a bone chilling grind. The projector flicked on. "Alright!" Ortensia jumped up and down.

"Nice work, Ortensia!" Oswald kissed her on the cheek. "Isn't she the best?" Ortensia giggled bashfully. Cecelia and Prescott rolled their eyes, groaning sickly. Mickey blushed, thinking of his girl Minnie. He misses her. "Maybe you should stick with us for a while."

"Are you sure?" Ortensia asked, shocked by the change.

"Sure I'm sure. Besides, The Blot may try to kidnap you again." He cupped her hands, touching them to his cheek. "I don't want to risk losing you twice."

"Aw, Ozzie! You're such a romantic."

"WILL YOU TWO GIVE IT A REST?" Prescott howled, his cheeks beaming bright red. Cecelia clamped a hand to her mouth and nauseated stomach. All this love was making her wobble. "We are in the middle of a life or death situation! Get a room elsewhere if you wish to make love!" His way of wording it was crued - to be expected of a prude like Prescott. However he does have a point. They were able to enter now, so they needed to head into the mansion.

Cecelia studied her key, wondering if they may have any further use. "Think we should hang onto these?"

"Just in case." Prescott urged. "With The Blot you never know what you might need."

"Well we won't know by standing around here! C'mon!" Oswald was the first to jump into the projector. Ortensia went after him. Cecelia and Prescott jumped into together. Mickey lingered for a moment, assuring himself Bog Easy was calm and safe. He couldn't help but feel uneasy. The riddles aside, this journey is too easy. Then there's The Blot's grin that plagued his mind. Why would he smile?

Melded with the swamp's musty, ebony sky, The Blot watched as Ortensia joined the heroic four pursuing him. It would be just as easy as before to take the fragile girl hostage again. But why forestall the fun. The Mad Doctor has been given enough time to complete his trap.

"All we need do now is spring it." The Blot chuckled.

Cecelia and Ortensia leapt from the projector. Ortensia's foot slipped right from under her, crashign her into Cecelia. They fell to their butts with a loud thud. "Ow…" Cecelia groaned. Breaking Ortensia's fall hurts worse than it looks. Protruding stone corners jabbed the backs of her thighs. Ortensia shook off the fall and put her fists to her hips. A patch of drenched moss was the culprit.

The rest of the group landed clumsily on the same mossy stone. Ortensia helped Cecelia to her feet, apologizing up and down for falling on her. Cecelia laughed it off, no harm was done. The path before them was laced with moist moss. Melancholy clouds hugging the sky emptied heavy drops of warm rain. Skinny puddles sank between the loosely applied stones. The corners protruded the ground. Almost like spikes.

Following the mossy path, Oswald and the others arrived at the bottom of a lagoon. Or a reservoir. Depends on the person's point of view. A stream of thinner oozed over the ledged, spilling along the ridge wall like a bleeding wound, flooding into a large pool of horrid smelling thinner. The pool emptied into the eternal abyss just ahead. No one knows where it goes. It just goes. Dead, naked trees loomed unnervingly atop the slick hillside.

The Lonesome Manor could be seen right from where they were. The shambled roof scratching the sky. It baffled Cecelia. The Manor seemed run down, uncared for in ages. Yet it stood so tall. A closer look would shed the curiosity.

Ortensia in the middle, the crew ascended the slick slope leading toward the Mansion. It rounded the putrid thinner pool. The fumes eating away the excess grass and moss dangling over the ledge. A high ledge delayed their ascension. A year ago there was a ledge protruding the sheer rock wall right next to them. But do to rain, moss, and one of the Lonesome Ghosts dropping an anvil, the ledge was reduced to dust. Vines interlaced the obstructing cliff, traveling beneath the stone. Cecelia quickly studied her magic book, recalling a spell that allowed her to make standard use of her surroundings. Turning a bed of leaves into a tent. Weaving a basket out of twigs. Things like that.

"Here we go." She raised a hand to the vines. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Opening them, a crimson glow consumed them. A green radiating aura coated her hand. The vines smoothly untangled themselves. Pebbles broke free of the cliff as the vines wove together in a net, creating a ladder to the next level.

Prescott whistled approvingly. "Nicely done. So your magic does possess practical uses."

"Careful," She tapped her book, "There's also a spell in here that let's me turn people inside out."

"Oh really?" Prescott challenged. Neither one noticed Oswald, Ortensia, and Mickey began climbing.

"Yep. So unless you wish to know what your spleen looks like," Cecelia flicked his nose and strutted onto the ladder, "Don't anger me further." Prescott wriggled his nose, growling in the back of his throat. Cecelia struggled up the ladder. The moss was so wet her feet kept slipping off. She almost fell.

Prescott beat her to the top, sniggering overhead. "Need some help?"

Cecelia growled strenuously. Her little fingers grappled the ledge, pulling her to salvation. Mud and grass stained her hair. She puffed a leaf out of her face and snarled, "Not from you!" She crawled to solid ground. She never thought she'd miss it so much. "Whoa!" She gasped in awe.

The Mansion towered higher than she thought. Rods embedded in the roof narrowly evaded meek strikes of lightning. The whole mansion itself nested comfortably right on a ledge suspended above the eternal abyss. Support pillars barely managing to hold the mansion upward were bent, giving under years of neglect. Tattered cloths and rotted planks hung from the shambled remains of a greenhouse.

"Welcome to Lonesome Manor." Prescott announced, pretending to hold a microphone. "Home to ghosts, ghouls, and other manner of specters and apparitions. In the attic of this aged abode is the lab of the Mad Doctor, our destination for this evening."

Cecelia was captivated by the manor. It's amazing. "Wonder what the inside is like."

"A maze of trap doors and moving objects. The Ghosts love to place pranks on unsuspecting visitors."

"Why haven't I seen any ghosts yet?"

"They mostly seclude themselves in the manor. The relationship between people and ghosts isn't exactly wholesome." Cecelia huffed irately. So even in a world of cartoons there are petty rivalries. "Hmm. I wonder what their hold up is."

Mickey, Oswald, and Ortensia were stopped a few feet ahead, their attention trained to something. And it wasn't the prop skeleton dangling off the roof.

"Hey. Guys." Cecelia walked up beside them. Stone cold fear had stricken their aghast expressions. "What's wrong?" Cecelia followed the line of sight. How she wished she hadn't. Her blood tuned to ice in a second.

Prescott groaned, irritated by all this silence. "Will someone please...speak..." His impatience died on the moaning wind. His eyes went as wide as his gaping mouth. Squeaks rasped as his voice lodged in his throat.

Scattered across the decimated mansion grounds, tossed like trash never to be picked up, bodies of missing Wastelanders - THE missing Wastelanders - were soaked to the bones by the rain and covered by the moss. Mickey moaned woefully. His heart tearing as he scanned the area. A few had their eyes open. Terror forever stuck in their eyes. Some of the bodies were clear of moss. Meaning they couldn't have been there long. How long, they wondered, had any of those bodies been there? How could the Doctor and Blot leave them like this?

Ortensia buried her face into Oswald's chest, sobbing hysterically. "HOW COULD THEY? TELL ME THEY DIDN'T!" She begged. oswald pat her back. He wished he could.

"Were...were we too late?" Mickey asked defeatedly. "Did we...not solve the riddles in time?"

"I don't know." Oswald, at his own reluctance, looked at the bodies once more. Sadly, it was obvious some of the bodies had been there for great long while. It was too late to save them. But the others? Was Oswald too late for them too?

"Those monsters!" Prescott seethed last gritted teeth. "They will pay for-" A sudden thud assuaged the vengeful talk.

Cecelia had dropped to her knees. Her little body quivered like a leaf in the wind. Tears hung on the corners of her trembling eyes. The stomach churning site paralyzed her.


Prescott edged closer. "Cecelia?"

"Nit this...not again..." The bodies is front of her flashed to charred corpses amid a flurry of flames...dead faces frozen with dread, "I'm sorry..." She clapped her hands to her face. The tears streamed down. "I'm so sorry! It was an accident!"

"CECELIA!" Ortensia ran to her. "What's wrong?" Cecelia didn't answer. She kept saying she's sorry over and over again.

Prescott turned Cecelia to him, wanting to get a better look at her. Cecelia was lost in some sort of daydream. Or nightmare. Muttering incoherently to herself. Saying sorry and that something was an accident. 'Shes done this once before.' he recalled. On the Gag factory roof. Cecelia fell into a stupor, screaming at no one but the voices plaguing her mind. She pleaded desperately for someone - her father - to not call her a thing. Cecelia's father despised her for having magic. Since then his words tormented her relentlessly. What horrors of her past have these bodies unleashed? And why was she sorry?

'Why were you sorry?' The Blot asked the same question. A rather strange question. Then Prescott remembered. Cecelia was a victim of the Terror Box. Electrical burn scars blemished the sides of her head as proof. 'The Blot must know the nightmares that haunt her!' Could the bodies before them be part of a sick plan to cripple her?

"Leave her to me." Prescott nestled Cecelia to his chest. "The rest of you check for survivors." Ortensia nodded, trusting him to look out for Cecelia, then went with Oswald and Mickey to inspect the corpses.

Cecelia's trembling concerned Prescott. Hands, knees - her very bones were quivering. The horrified look in her eyes only seemed to grow. Her small fingers clawed Prescott's shirt, pulling him closer. The Gremlin had no words to console her. It was hard. Such a brave girl being scared him too. Prescott inadvertently forced her to relive one nightmare. Now the Blot brought on another. All these brave faces she wears, the brave words she boasts - in the end...Cecelia is a child wounded by trauma. No mother or father to console her.

Prescott, by a form of unknown instinct, tenderly wrapped his gloved arm around her waist. The fervent trembling seemed to steady. But she was still shaking Her tail, in response, tethered around his wrist, keeping the hand there. Prescott ignored it. His free hand turned her head and faced her toward a tree. The carnage may be obscured, but Cecelia still sobbed into Prescott's suit.

"It'll be alright, Cecelia." He caressed her snow white locks. They were softer than he imagined.

"It was an accident...I swear…I never meant..." Cecelia kept repeating those words, begging for forgiveness.

What are you sorry for? Prescott found himself asking. The Blot - it sickened Prescott to the brink of vomitting to admit - held merit in his question. Logical as he was, and determined for answers, Prescott thinks he'd survive not knowing what she spoke of. "I know. I know." He gingerly stroked her hair. "Everything's going to be alright." The arm around Cecelia's waist drew her in closer. Cecelia curled into him. Prescott snuggled his face to her hair. "You're not at fault here. None of this is your fault." What horrors has the world befallen upon you?


"WHAT?" Prescott jerked. Cecelia's ears twisted to the voice.

Oswald caressed the forehead of a slumbering woman. Her skin was ice cold. Similar to a dead body. The brow twitched under the warmth of his palm. Meanwhile Oswald watched the woman beside her fidget. "These two are alive!" The Lucky Rabbit was overcome with such joy his voice cracked.

Ortensia dragged three people from the ledge. She laid them against a large boulder. Deathless breaths huffed as they rested. "SO ARE THESE THREE!" Prescott tapped Cecelia's shoulder excitedly, encouraging her to look. Cecelia dried her tears and glanced in Mickey's direction.

Mickey cradled a man who worked at a club in Tomorrow City. A hollow groan escaped his dry throat. The weary lids of his eyes forced themselves to open. Light was void. However it was evident he was able to see Mickey. A weak smile brought relief to Mickey's heart. "None of them are dead! They're just unconscious!"

Prescott sighed with relief. He pat Cecelia's shoulder. All was well. Cecelia guffawed. Her hands ran over her puffy face, pushing tears into her hair. "You see," Prescott smiled, "I told you everything was alright."

"I guess…" Cecelia replied, her throat parched. "But why were they left here in the first place?"

"I wish I knew."

"Tsk, tsk…" Talons drummed to Prescott's shoulder, "T'is a woeful sight, is it not?" Prescott jerked out of the grasp. Fear gripped him. Cecelia screamed at the top of her lungs. Mickey, Ortensia, and Oswald whirled around. The Phantom Blot's nauseating grin stunned the trio to their spots. Leaning on an blow, half his body hanging over the slope's ledge, he savored the fright emanating from his enemies. An auspicious glow, like that of a precious gem. "To think it all could have been prevented. That is..." Mickey and Oswald skid in The Blot's path. The brush and remote held at the ready, "If any of you bothered to investigate with more tenacity."

Cecelia and Prescott parted, sprining to a defensive stance. The muddied grass caked as their soles dug in. Prescott powered his glove. The flailing kinetic power traveled up his shoulder, tingling his urge to pounce. Cecelia spanned her outstretched palms. Needles of light orbited the palms. Ortensia fortified the rear.

The Blot cast a taunting grin, staring down his opposition with a wolfish gleam. The deathless corpses spread before the Lonesome Manor like an offering. More ghosts to haunt the anguished halls. "Nostalgic. Don't you agree, Little Sorceress?" Cecelia gritted her teeth. He wanted her to lash out. "All of these bodies, lying in the dirt awaiting death to grab hold and take them away. All that is missing is a blaze of fire to reduce them to ash." Cecelia bit her lip. Blood trickled to her jaw. Her arms trembled, desperate to launch those needles at his life supporting orb. Prescott furrowed his brow. He does know. But what is it? Mickey, Oswald, and Ortensia were at a loss. "They are baffled, Cecelia." The Blot's tail curled under her chin, drawing her in. "Shall I elucidate?" The orbiting needles flattened to a disk.

"SHUT UP!" Cecelia swiped the tail, cutting clean through. Ink splashed onto Cecelia arm and cheek. Oswald and Prescott threw up their arms. Ink spattering all over them. The severed tail splat, melting into the ground.

The Blot retracted his tail, studying the stub boredly. Cecelia panted heavily. The needles faded. "Temper, my dear. A pretty face must not be sullied." Ortensia inched her back. Prescott, Mickey, and Oswald formed a barricade. "Very well. The matter shall die for now. There are more pressing matters for you all to deal with." The Blot's tail regenerated with ease, not even bothered by the amputation. He coiled his tail, sitting comfortably with his arms folded. "Inside the manor are Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar. You need not worry. They have not been harmed. Yet." Yet. So there was still a chance. But what's the catch? With The Blot there was always a catch. Otherwise they would have emerged on the Manor's front lawn a long time ago. "All one need do is walk through the door."

Who cares about the catch? Horace and Clarabelle were in danger. "Then let's go!" Oswald reared round on his heels. A hard surface smacked his face, knocking him to the ground. He groaned dazedly, wincing with one eye open. It felt like he smacked into a wall. He gaped in utter dismay. A wall would have been preferable.

A cow man, who lied unconscious, hovered languorously. Color - albeit gray naturally - was void, drool dripping. He swayed unevenly, arms swinging like a pendulum. Hissing green eyes, burning Oswald's flesh off the bone, petrified the not-so lucky rabbit to the moss riddled grass. Sunken, cracked veins trailing the neck, and exiting the eye corners.

"Mathias?" Oswald shook. The Blot snickered under his breath. Oswald held out a shaking hand, "What happened to you?"

"Oswald!" Ortensia screamed. Oswald peered around. His body went numb.

Behind Mathias, the corpses rose. Like zombies amassing from graves. Contorted puppets led by strings. Spines bent all the way back, bones cracking as the knees and arms came out of rigor. Upper bodies thrust forward, feet staggering to keep them aloft. The same sunken veins broke the skin of the neck and eye corners. The horrid, consuming green glowering, mowing Oswald and others down with guilt.

The Blot soaked in the misery and sorrow radiating from Oswald. Pure ambrosia - nectar for the god he believed himself to be. A knot tied Oswald's stomach. Worse than it did his friends. This was his fault. None of this would be happening had he tried harder. Oswald failed his people. Failed his friends. "See what playing heroes awards you, Oswald?"

A fist struck The Blot's chest. The ink easily absorbed the Blot stopped laughing, impressed by the bold act. Oswald roared animally, thrusting another fist at the chest. It too was swallowed. Oswald was so enraged he didn't notice. He buried his feet into the sludge ridden chest, trying to draw back his hand to launch another attack. The Blot tilted his head with humor. That smile. Oswald despised that smile. This was the plan the whole time. Weaken their moral by piling bodies of his friends.

The ink started to swallow Oswald's feet and arms, coaxing him out of his blind rage. He pulled at them. He was stuck tight, and the ink reached his thighs and shoulders. Panic overcame him. He strained his tiny arms, rabidly clawing whatever insides were eating him alive. His waist sank further instead. Mickey and Prescott grabbed hold and pulled. The ink stretched only a centimeter then would yank Oswald back in. Deeper each time. Mickey's nose bumped Oswald's back, but he fought. Grass and mud dragged. Prescott had Mickey by the tail. His feet fluttering like they never fluttered before. The ink may have been mushy, but whatever had Oswald was solid as stone. The harder Oswald pulled, the faster the ink consumed him. Like quicksand. Only with ink.

Oswald was inches from The Blot's face. Without thinking he pushed with his ears, punching and pounding to no avail. Little tentacles latched on. Oswald gasped and thrashed erratically. Thinner fumes exhausting on his breath made Oswald's eyes water. "Tears, Oswald? How unbecoming." The Blot mocked.

"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO THEM?" Oswald snarled, blinking back the fumes, continuing to fight the ink. "WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY FRIENDS?"

The Blot folded his hands behind his back. Oswald snarled. The ink sucked him in. Mickey and Oswald pulled more fiercely. Cecelia and Ortensia grabbed hold. Oswald yanked desperately. The ink submerged half his face. The Blot puffed his chest. A mass of ink spat Oswald out, blowing Mickey and Prescott into a tree with him. Ortensia and Cecelia spread their arms, groaning in revulsion. Ink covered them head to toe. Oozing down their arms, and puddling at their feet. Cecelia only took a shower

"Feasting upon nightmares is only part of my parasitic symbiosis." Cecelia and Ortensia helped the boys up. Things were about to get worse than they already were. "My reincarnation has bestowed an interesting talent. Whomever I devour," He raised a hand to them, and one at a time curled his talons, "They become my unwilling puppet." The Wastelanders stiffened like planks of wood, proving his point. The Blot cast his hand out. On command the Wastelanders marched on the group. Heavy, encroaching footsteps splashed the mud.

Mickey aimed the brush. No way was he backing down. That's what the Blot wanted. All part of his sick game. A clear shot for The Blot was in his sights. Thinner coated the horse hair bristles. A simple wave of The Blot's hand and a horse woman stumbled in the path. Mickey growled and retracted the brush. The Thinner spilling, evaporating the grass.

Cecelia and Prescott took a stance, squaring off against opposite hoards. The mindless drones drew closer. Fingers curling and uncurling to apprehend Oswald and his team. Cecelia clapped twice, lighting sparks, and blew. Powder Blue fire ignited to her palms like gloves. Prescott double tapped his glove's red button. Twice the kinetic power swarmed the glove. The pair prepared to attack. One look at the faces of the unwilling zombies broke their resolve. Nervous ticks edged them back.

The Blot clicked his tongue in disappointment. "And here I thought you all cared about Horace and Clarabelle." Oswald jolted out of his funk. He forgot about Horace and Clarabelle. They were inside the mansion. Running out of time! "Here's a little fruit for thought. My control isn't permanent. Consider them in a deep slumber. Anyone will wake up when struck hard enough." He added slyly.

Oswald gritted his teeth. Back down or fight back. It mattered very little. Either way someone was going to get hurt. The space was growing smaller. Oswald and the others just wished it didn't have to be helpless civilians. "CECELIA! Give us some elbow room."

Cecelia nodded firmly. The blue flames extinguished. She propelled her arms. A hollow woosh condense the air. Then swept them out. A powerful gust of wind sent the Wastelanders flying. Cecelia, on reflex, stomped and cast a hand. A rippling green aura rolled over the grass, carrying a stream of glitter. Patches of grass blossomed on boulders, trees, and on the ridge of the cliff, catching the Wastelanders and softly lowering them to the ground.

"Nice!" Oswald's aimed and sent a dart of electricity for a cow woman. The dart struck her dead in the chest. A shrill cry of pain wailed. She floated several feet, convulsing as the electricity surged through her body in and out. The green glow faded to white, and returned to the woman's original jet black coloring.. Her body steadily went limp as the coiling energy died out. "Okay! Game plan!" Oswald clapped, gaining Ortensia's full attention. Mickey, Cecelia, and Prescott trained their ears, keeping their focus on the approaching zombies. "Mickey and Cecelia, take Ortensia and go after Clarabelle and Horace! Prescott and I will stay out here and handle these guys!" The Blot said the Wastelanders needed a jolt to wake up. Lie or not,

"We can't leave you!" Mickey protested. Ortensia hugged Oswald's arm. She wasn't leaving him.

"We don't have a choice!" He cupped his love's hands. "Horace and Clarabelle could be getting zombified right now! Someone has to go get them!"

"He's right!" Prescott agreed. "We've wasted too much time out here as it is!"

Cecelia stared worriedly at Prescott. Splitting up could be part of The Blot's plan to capturing them. Prescott shared her concern, but knew it was the only course to save Horace and Clarabelle. He nodded imploringly. Cecelia sighed with defeat. "Mickey! Ortensia! Let's go! NOW!" She darted for the manor door. Mickey and Ortensia struggled to charge after her, but they couldn't abandon Oswald and Prescott to the hoard. On the other hand, Cecelia can't find an arm of Blots - if any - by herself. This whole mess they fell in was by The Blot's design. What if splitting up was another phase of his plan? Would they be willing to risk Horace and Clarabelle? Not a chance.

"WAIT FOR US!" The pair darted after her.

Oswald's sensitive ears picked up the distinctive slam of the manor's rotting doors. "They're inside!" He set his remote to stun. "Let's clean up and meet them!"

Prescott powered his glove and cast a web of kinetic energy, ensnaring a cluster of Wastelanders, "WAY AHEAD OF YOU!" With the fanning of his fingers three bursts jolted the group of hypnotized Wastelanders. The green glow dimmed, and the Wastelanders collapsed.

While they were busy, The Blot chuckled and melted beneath the ground. "Now to begin phase three."

The mansion's foyer was in far better shape than the outside misconstrued. Sure a few places were worn and old, but that only belied the care that has gone into revitalizing the age old attraction. The floating tables, much to Mickey's nostalgic joy, still circled overhead. Newly applied floor boards coated with a special wax glistened magnificently under the dimly lit, refurbished, chandelier. Chernabog's portrait retained it's place above the arch where the entrance projector resided. Brand new portraits were hung. One of Maleficent as a dragon, The Horned King, Ursula, Rasputin - villains known for their consorting with apparitions. Yet to be fixed was the foyer's second level. Well...three second levels. Three different staircases you see.

Straight ahead was a sloping staircase leading to a small balcony area. Nestled in a narrow archway was another projector, their ticket to traversing the entirety of the mansion. built right over and small loop of a hallway. If Mickey remembered correctly that's where he released one of the Lonesome Ghosts. On the left and right were slight curved staircases leading to other small balconies. Easy access to the floating tables.

"Wow…" Cecelia and Mickey breathed in awe. Mickey was amazed at how much had been fixed while he was gone. He couldn't wait to see the rest of the manor. Cecelia was dumbstruck. Outside, she never would have guessed how semi-immaculate the manor looked inside.

"Told you we've been busy." Ortensia giggled.

"And you guys did a great job, too." Mickey commended. "I barely recognize the place."

"You ain't the only one, PAL!" A disembodied voice roared. "Dis place has officially gone to duh spirit dogs!" Cecelia shrieked and grabbed onto Mickey, both quaking in their shoes. Ortensia groaned, rolling her eyes. "Scratch dat," A trunk cracked on the wall when it flew open, earning screams of fright from Mickey and Cecelia, "Not even a spirit DOG," A bowler hat twirled into the air. A thin stream of smoke snaked out, and shaped into a very angry spirit, "Would haunt dis wretch of a place!" He fixed his hat roughly.

"THERE REALLY ARE GHOSTS HERE!" Cecelia blurted absentmindedly.

The twirled from sight then reappeared in Cecelia's face, "NAH! REALLY? I THOUGHT SHIRLEY TEMPLE LIVED HERE!" Cecelia swallowed nervously. Perhaps she spoke wrong. The Ghost knocked on her head, "OF COURSE GHOSTS LIVE HERE, YA NUT! Who duh heck are you, anyway? You ain't from Wasteland?"

"Um...Cecelia. I'm...visiting." Technically she was.

Ortensia shoved the ghost away. "Let her be, Ian! She's a friend. The Blot dragged her here against her will." Cecelia wriggled her fingers in a nervous hello.

Ian...Ian...Ian...Hang on. Mickey knew this ghost. "Sam?" The name rolled pleasantly off Mickey's tongue. "Ghost...Ian?"

"Dat's right!" The ghost suppressed his anger and tipped his hat, "Ghost Ian's duh name! Frightening the gutless is duh game-HEY MICKEY!" Cecelia lept out of the way. Ian flew over and embraced Mickey in a tight hug, "AIN'T YOU A SIGHT FOR SORE GHOST EYES!" He laughed, tears of joy spilling like waterfalls. Flowers sprouted between floor boards on contact.

"Nice to see you weeping with joy. If only you could have been like this toward our new friend." Ortensia hissed disappointedly.

"Ugh!" The ghost named Ian dropped Mickey like a log, then removed his hat apologetically. "I'm sorry, Ortensia. You two...Cecelia?" She nodded. "It's just...I'm worried about duh peeps in town and outside. Duh Blot did somethin' tuh them. Tuh makes things woise, I think my bruthuh's are in trouble!"

Cecelia shakily reached out and rested a hand to Ian's shoulder, "Everyone in town is safe." She massaged the shoulder tenderly, smiling warmly. "We managed to get them out before they were hurt."

"Really? Dat's great kid!" Ian's smile faded when Cecelia's did. "W-What about duh ones outside?" He feared the answer. "Are they okay?"

Cecelia shook her head solemnly. "The Blot's wielding them like cheap puppets. A result of their terror being devoured."

"Terror devoured?" That sounded familiar. He slapped a fist into his palm. "So dat's what does Ghoul Blot's were doin'! I was wonderin' why dey were sportin' does weird dots on dare foreheads!"

"Weird dots?" Ortensia questioned. "What weird dots?"

"Pull up a seat. Dis is quite a story!" He snapped his pudgy fingers. Chairs phased under Cecelia, Ortensia, Mickey, seating them comfortably. Sam folded his legs, sitting perfectly on the air. "Lately duh Ghoul Blot's have been lurkin' more dan usual. A few had dese dots on dare foreheads. Mah bros and I laughed, thinkin' The Blot's finally gone nuts-oh. BOOYY did WE cross a line." The trip were on the edge of their seats. "One second dis horseguy - Mathias - is shoutin' for duh Ghouls to go away. Duh next his brain's bein' picked by duh Ghoul's boney finguh's! Dese green lines travel the lack-thereof arms and connect to duh dot on it's forehead. Mathias is screamin', beggin, pleadin' for someone named Ratigan to leave him alone. Den THHBBT!" He clapped his hands with a raspberry sound, "Guy falls like a plank o'wood!"

"SO HE DID MAKE A SECOND ONE!" Cecelia roared out of her seat. Ian flipped, astonished by the set of pipes the young girl had. Cecelia didn't need to think too long to know what happened to Mathias. "Ian, do you know about the Terror Box?"

"Nasty machine? Absorbs nightmares? Leaves pockmarks on duh skull? Yeah. Why?"

"When The Blot grabbed me, he and the Mad Doctor hooked me up to it and I broke it." The Blot, gawking blankly, raised a palm. Cecelia high-fived it. "But, by confirmation of Prescott," Ian rolled his eyes. Yeah. He knew Prescott, "And you, we now know the Doc and Blot have a second Terror Device. One that, apparently, allows for more victims to be consumed and then let's The Blot possess whatever's left. He's taken over the Wastelanders outside. Oswald and Prescott are trying to snap them out of it, but they won't last forever." Prescott was right from the get go. Cecelia doubted he'd be happy about this one.

"Dat's...un...CONSCIONABLE!" Ian's hat flipped, a train whistle howling for his outrage. He stroked his chin pensively, "So dat's what he plans on doin' to dose two yahoos from Ostown." He muttered. "OH MAN! WHAT IF IAN AND MAH BROS WERE GHOULED! Dat explains why I haven't seen 'em!"

"Yahoos?" Ortensia questioned, thinking of Clarabelle and Horace.

"You have brothers?" Cecelia asked out of the blue.

"Six of 'em." Ian named them, counting them out on his fingers, "Gilbert, Sam, Gabriel, Tedworth, Rolly, and Fineas," A sixth finger poked out on one palm, "And I ain't seen seethrough hide or faded cap of eiduh one since."

"Could they be hiding?"

"Maybe. But It ain't like dem tuh not give some sign dat dey're in duh manor."

Ortensia ran forward, "What two yahoos?" She accidentally shoved Cecelia out of the way. "Who else is in here?" She interrogated adamantly.

Ian hummed to himself, taking a moment to think."I think dare names are Clarabelle and Horace. I saw little Blots draggin' 'em off toward duh Ballroom. Ghouls follwin' after 'em."

"That's the room with the giant pipe organ." Mickey recalled from his last visit. "That's also the room just before the attic, where the Doc's lab is."

"The Doc could be savin' dem for laytuh."

"We need to get to them! Fast!" Mickey pressed urgently.

"Wait!" Cecelia grabbed onto him.


"Think for a minute, Mickey!" She pleaded. "The Blot and the Doc were expecting us! The Blot's been leading us on by a thread ever since we set foot through the projector! What makes you think he hasn't set a trap using Clarabelle and Horace?"

"Are you saying we do nothing?"

"I'm saying we should be careful. Or else we could be caught."

"She's right, Mickey." Ortensia agreed with a soothing voice. "No sense in all of us getting captured."

Mickey sighed, the stress clouding his judgment fading away. "You're right. I'm sorry." Cecelia laughed softly. She understands how he feels. "Are there any shortcuts we can take to reach them?" He asked Sam."

"Dare's an entrance to duh library beneath duh staircase there." He pointed to middle staircase. The outline of a door was discernable in the lighting. "But all other accessways past day have been sealed. Madam Leona's in a bad mood. She won't open duh doors." Cecelia was going to ask, but figured she'd learn who Madam Leona was later. "Mind if I tag along with yous guys. Madam Leona ain't exactly in the mood for strangers. She's barely in the mood for us ghosts. Ya might need some tuh sooth the savage beast."

"You bet! Thanks Ian!" Mickey beamed.

"Not a prob. Now den," He stepped on a plank. The secret door under the staircase revealed a projector. "Let's go get us some Ghouls!"