And I Think To Myself...
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Swahp.

"MMmmf…"

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz




zzzzzzzzzzzzz

"Mmm!"

Swahp.







ZZZ

"Maah!"

Swhap, whap, plat!

"Leave me alone you gosh darn stupid bug, let me… sleep?"

Judy, half awake, cracked open her eye to find four or five swatted purple and green mosquitoes lying, twitching, by her face.

"Hmm…? I thought we didn't… have mosqui… toes…"







zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!!

"Oh come —!"

Judy noticed the clock.

"— oh."

It was 8:00 ITM on a Museday.

"Oh!"

She took one more look at the valiant battalion of Mosleepos™ that had died nobly in an attempt to wake her up.

"Ooh. Oh no! MOM!"

Judy propelled herself out of bed, switching out her lumpy pink pajamas for her school uniform — a bright blue plaid jacket that was placed over a white polo that was tucked into her skirt, which had a bright yellow waistband and the same blue plaid pattern on its way down to her ankles. She had bright yellow boots and, if she so chose (which she did), a bright yellow straw sunhat and white silk gloves. Quite a lot of "bright", really. The upperclassmen always got the fancier stuff, and the better colors, but Judy kind of liked this outfit. Eventually it might not fit her though.

Studying herself in the mirror, she frowned and noted that she might have to ask the school for a new shirt. Leaning back down, she pulled out her favorite article of clothing — socks. One of the few things she could pick and choose on school days, she became engrossed in pulling out socks and figuring out which best suited her. She didn't have much time for it this morning though, so she slipped on some knee high night sky socks and called it good. As much as Judy wished to get out of the bathroom, something was still bothering her.

"Mom! Mom! Come up here, I need to show you something."

"Can't, sugarpie! I'm making your breakfast!"

"Mmm, but Mom! I can lick my chin!"

"What?"

"I said I can lick my chin! Is that normal?"

"Stop yelling across the house and come down here to talk to me!"

"Mmm! Fine!"

Judy took one last stop to wash her hands. She pumped frosting out of the dispensary in the wall, shoved a big glob into her mouth, and then pumped soap out and washed her hands again because she's not supposed to cover her hands in frosting after washing her hands and in her rushed state she completely forgot.

Coming 'round the corner, Judy jigged down the stairs and came into the living room, from which the kitchen and her mom were visible.

"I thought you told me that the From Nine to Hive clock would help you get up early! I wouldn't have spent all those Pogs on you if I knew it was going to waste."

"It's not going to waste, Mom, I'm just — I forgot we got it, so I was really confused this morning and just kept swatting them — oh dang it! I don't think I turned it off, I need to —"

"Oh don't worry about it, I'll get it after you leave. Here, eat your omelette."

"You made me a whole omelette?"

"Yes, now eat up because at this rate you're going to miss the bus and I am not available to drive you. I need to go up onto the roof and work on getting the phone line fixed."

"You can wait for the mechanic to come around —"

"No, I don't want to. I can do it myself."

"Oh! Mom! Mom! Look at this!"

Judy stuck her tongue out and licked her chin. Her mother looked thoroughly unimpressed.

"I can lick my nose, too! And almost my eyes!"

"That's fun honey, now eat your omelette."

"Oh c'mon! My tongue was never this long, do you think it means something?"

"Everybody gets a little weird around your age, Judy. It's nothing surprising."

"Oh you're no fun."

"I might be more interested if you ate your omelette, you know."

"Euugh."

Judy snarfed down her omelette, taking no time to appreciate her mom's cooking, and then shoved on her backpack that was covered head to toe with various pins proclaiming positive aphorisms.

"Alright, I'm gonna rush out to the bus stop, thank you for breakfast, tell Dad that I cleaned out the fireplace like he asked me to do last night."

"I'll make sure he's aware when he wakes up. Have a good day at school, sugarpie!"

"See you, Mom!"

Judy clambered out the door, pulled her sun hat down to block out the giant tambourine in the sky (the sun on all Musedays), tackled her Well Liked Bike™ that morphed slightly to look cool to whoever was looking, and pedaled off from the suburbs and into the grande pastel city of Wonder World!™.


Judy was onto her, maybe, hundredth game of jacks. Drop a ball, pick up jacks, catch ball. Judy didn't have any of the special versions like the other kids — Jumping Jacks™ ran when you tried to catch them, which was balanced by an allowance of three bounces of the ball (which bounced a little bit higher than most), Jacks & Jill™ would begin to float and collect water (a bit of a stretch, thematically, but fun nonetheless), Pepper Jacks™ which you could grow and were edible (they were more seeds than anything), and many, many more variants. Sometimes you could buy individual balls that performed different feats, such as acting in slow motion to allow for more time to catch, and balls that move around and try to avoid capture to make it an even harder game. Eventually it became a sort of sport — and of course, people could get Jacks' Jacks Packs™, which were like booster packs full of various types of jacks and jack balls. Judy knew some people who had even met Jacks, the mastermind toy maker behind this playground craze, and through them it became household knowledge that he was a reported "happy camper".

But Judy just had normal jacks. The purity of simple Jacks made it feel more satisfying to her. Not to say she was any good at it. In fact, her average was somewhere around three jacks picked up. Judy noticed another five jacks games go by, and looked up to find the bus stop still empty. In fact, she thought she spied some kids strolling by a couple blocks that-a-way. Growing impatient, and more than a little confused, she picked up her game of jacks, packed it up, and aimed herself at an Easy Way Payphone™ across the street from her. Checking both ways for bumper cars, Judy hopped across the green pavement (probably one of the uglier hues the city had, that's what one gets when living in the suburbs) and slid a Pog into the slot, picked up the comically large phone, dialed her friend's house hoping to contact one of their parents because she couldn't recall the school's phone number, and leaned on the wall. She fought with the phone line to pass her time. It reacted to her prodding and tried to lightly whip at her, catching her finger a couple of times.

Clik.

"Hello? Is this Beachball's mom? Or dad?"

"Mmm, no."

"It's Judy, Judy Achilles."

"Oh. Hi Jude."

"Hey Ophe. You sound a lot different over the phone."

"You too."

"Why aren't you at school?"

"Uh… no."

"Hmm?"

"Not at school."

"No, I said 'why'. Why aren't you at school."

"Oh. There's no school today?"

"What?"

"Yeah."

"Why? Wait, no, is Beachball there then?"

"He's just about to head out and meet some of his friends. He's been trying to call you —"

"Hand me! Hand me to him! Hand me hand me hand me!"

"Okay. Okay! Wait a second…"

"Jude?"

"Hey Beachball!"

"Woah, hey hey hey! Look who's excited! I've been trying to call you —"

"Our phone line is down! I biked to the bus stop because — oh we probably didn't get the call because…"

"Because your phone line is down."

"Yeah! I didn't know there was no school today! I'm by bus stop number… uh…"

"22."

"Yeah!"

"Why do I remember that but you don't?"

"Look, I am really excited! Why is school cancelled?"

"No clue. Just is."

"Did the teachers need a break?"

"I guess they must need breaks sometimes. More likely Mr. Manager acted up again."

"They really need to fire him."

"Yeah, they —"

"He's a terrible teacher and apparently an even worse coworker."

"Yeah, they need to fire him before he fires them."

"Snrk. You got that right. Okay! So! Where do you want to meet up!"

"Beachball?"

"Uh, well, okay, I um…"

"Oh, wait, wait, before you tell me, I'm going to guess."

"Okay, go."

"So, I imagine after you couldn't get ahold of me, you were trying to think of who else to hang out with today."

"Mhmm."

"And then you were sitting and being all sad like you do when you have no one to talk to."

"Pretty much, yeah."

"And then you remembered, ah! There is someone I can call!"

"Mmm…"

"Because you often forget you have friends other than me. You really ought to work on that."

"Yeah…"

"And judging on your hesitation towards me, this isn't one of your established friends…"

"Heheh, yeaah?"

"It was…"

"His name is —"

"Wait! Don't tell me his name! I can guess it! Remember it, I mean! Give me a second… it was… that… mmmm that Bill kid!"

"Yeah you got it —"

"Bill Sipmann! Tell me I'm wrong!"

"You're not —"

"Tell me!"

"Oh shush it, you're not wrong!"

"I knew it. Scandalous, Beach."

"Don't say that too loud…"

"Say what? Scandalous?"

"Quiiiet."

"Scandalous."

"Judy!"

"Okay, so you called him up and now you have… a date!"

"You nailed it."

"And you don't want me along for the ride?"

"No! No, I mean, no offense! Seriously, no offense, please don't take this the wrong way, I just want a more… I wanna… get to know Bill better, y'know?"

"Yeah I know."

"You know."

"I know."

"No hard feelings?"

"Of course not, Ball."

"You have to stick to either 'Beach' or 'Ball', I can't have two nicknames."

"Who says?"

"Me."

"Not good enough."

"Hhh-haa… Okay, anyways, you got something wrong."

"Oh?"

"He called me."

"Oh my gosh!"

"Right?"

"Oh my gosh! Beach! That's great!"

"Yeah! It's, it, uh it made me very, very happy. I am elated, even."

"Nice!"

"Yeah! So, uh, I am sorry to cut this short, but he's actually… outside."

"Ooo, nervous?"

"Maybe a little."

"You're gonna nail it."

"I will?"

"He's going to love you forever."

"Judy…"

"He won't be able to take his eyes off of you. I'm sure you've dressed properly?"

"I was changing as we were having this call."

"Gross. Now go get 'em."

"I'm going!"

"You go, Ball!"

"I'm going!! See ya, Jude!"

"See ya!"

"Bye!"

"Have a good day! Bye!"

"I will, I will! Bye, you too!"

"Yeah! Bye!"

Clik.

Judy hung up the phone and wished them the best, but now… now she had to figure out what to do with her day. Judy hopped on her bike, which currently held the appearance of red and yellow hamburger advertisement (because Judy was hungry, as per usual), and pedaled towards City Center™ and Mainstreet™. Or, more accurately, the Frite Lite Roller Coaster station about fifteen minutes away. No trademark there, because the glorified subway was conceptualized and largely created by one individual who made no attempt to bare any legality. The public made a public service, who would have thought?

No one company owns the Frite Lite Roller Coaster — different sections are owned by different businesses based on where the tracks are. As such, the ever great Dr. Wondertaiment, the government where there otherwise is none, owns most everything surrounding Wonder Tower, and various sections of town collectively own the tracks near them. In its early days, there were many legal disputes on who owned what, but now it had been mostly shaped up. Some parts are a bit more rickety than others, but the Builder Bullies made absolutely certain that the whole thing was made of Crazy Chrome™, which is practically unbreakable unless… well, we weren't allowed to know the "unless" part of that. Only the Builder Bullies are sure of how to take it down.

Judy stopped her bike and parked it in the Full Stack Bike Rack™ in front of the mouth shaped opening to the roller coaster station. Stumbling down the steps, Judy's eyes passed over the big neon sign reading "NEXT CYCLE: 5 MINUTES!". Perfect timing. The Frite Lite Roller Coaster, although free and fast, was aimed in the exact wrong direction to get her to school, and its schedule was all off; for a normal school day, Judy would have to wait at the station for roughly a half hour and then take a half hour ride, an hour full trip, whereas the bus gets her there in ten minutes.

Regardless, it was fun to sit in the tunnel and watch the local buskers play on their Toofaloos™ and Perdidits™ and Viggavoms™ (all named roughly after the sounds they made) and compete for some pocket change. Of course, on Chrismast™ and Valentine's Day they would usually set aside their differences and play songs together, splitting the daily acquirings evenly and hugging each other goodbye. Those were the best days to be down in the station. As is, it was a cacophony of abstract noise as each tried to overpower the other. Judy sat and focused on the standard old cello, closing her eyes simply to appreciate the sound.

Before it was rudely (but somewhat thankfully) interrupted by the Frite Lite Roller Coaster screeching to a stop.


Judy pulled the safety bar off of herself, grabbed her backpack from the luggage compartment on the side of the massive worm-like vehicle, and then struck up a cheery step while emerging into the assault on the senses that was Wonder World!™ proper! The buildings dived and swam and bubbled to create all shapes but what supposed normal buildings looked like, instead opting for archways and gem-like structures, things that looked like they were built from yarn, glass orbs with little to no foundations, and all different assortments of Dali-esque abstractions. Giving relative shade were the giant unlit balls that hung above the city to act like night lights once the sun went down, but for now floated like giant green and yellow balloons in the slightly purple tinted sky. Smells of cotton candy, hot dog, and taco vendors. Sounds of rides, sounds of salesmen, sounds of tourists.

Tourism was big in Wonder World!™, and so walking around in it barely felt like your own city. Everywhere you would go, there would be those who would giggle at seeing yet another "funny looking local", stick their nose up in the air at the childish atmosphere, cynical negative people who think the whole happy atmosphere is a facade, or worse: forced upon people. Taking much time to talk with the tourists was sure to bring a day down. Some people Judy knew did it anyways — perhaps they felt an obligation to keep up the image of the place? She certainly knew shop owners were forced into it, but honest to gosh she knew people who would just tag along with the tour guide's groups. Maybe they weren't all bad? That wasn't Judy's experience so far. Tourists were sure to bring trouble with them wherever they went. The second they stepped out of the Wonder Ways™, they were sure to shed their poor attitudes onto whoever was unfortunate enough to be around them. At least the kids they brought looked like they were having a blast.

Judy took her time to avoid tourist gazes, but the thought of sticking her tongue out of them reminded her of her new bodily addition, and that got her all happy again. Judy liked to think that she was good at that, but in all likelihood most locals here were. And to sate her ever growing taste buds, Judy thought she might like to get something a bit better than an omelette breakfast. Passing out from Wonder Plaza onto Pom Street® (going under some new construction at the moment), Judy took her time to glance around at the restaurants. She couldn't go for anything fancy, seeing as she was only holding onto her bus fare and cafeteria lunch money (minus the telephone cost). Should she go fast food, or a vendor, or a restaurant? Hobbes' Dogs? Filbert's Fries? Kentucky Fried Chicken? WonderNuts? Hmm…

Honestly, she might as well just settle for a drink. Saturnbucks was just around the corner — the big deer logo on the corner was unmistakable. Stepping through the green-white doors, Judy was met with a waft of cinnamon spice and coffee beans. The ceiling seemed to be replaced with a tasty recreation of the cosmos, swirling galaxies and swarming stars and spelling out advertisements for several nearby Saturn establishments: "Drink up at Saturn (Root) Beer!"; "Buy all types of tasty fish at Saturn Pier!"; "You won't want to miss the amazing deals on beauty products at Lipsaturn!". The single employee, who everyone but George Georgeson knew was a puppet, smiled unnaturally and raised their eyebrows.

"Hhheeellllllooo!"

"Hi Puppet."

"Iii hhhaaavvveee fffeeeeeellliiinnngggsss yyyooouuu kkknnnooowww."

"Sure you do. Get me a Chummy Chai, tee emm? Spicy."

"Sssuuurrreee ttthhhiiinnnggg, Jjjuuudddyyy…"

Judy sat at one of the unoccupied planet themed tables, spying some familiar faces across the room. Parry Oppenheimer was knitting a sweater in the corner with her posse of friends. Their gossipy nature could be heard from all the way across the room, because they simply had no sense of subtlety or grace.

"…Did you hear that someone stole two rods from the Mile High Monkey Bars?"

"No way! How did they accomplish that?"

"Well I heard they found a blowtorch at the scene!"

Gasp!

"A blowtorch?!"

"Yeah! No one knows how anyone got it! They tasted the thing, and thankfully the flames were mild."

"So wait, habanero or jalapeno?"

"Jjjuuudddyyy!"

Batting some tiny wispy blue comets out of the air, and pulling a candy star out of her hair, Judy marched to the counter and tossed out some Pogs. Picking up her drink, she pattered out the door and onto the street once more, and decided what she was going to do with herself. Well first, she thought, she had better just start walking. Nothing gets a brain working like walking around, and whatever she was going to do there was certain to be a lot of walking anyways. She picked a direction and started towards it. Perhaps she would pick up something to do on the way.

Sipping on her Chummy Chai Latte™ and letting its friendly energy enter her veins she began to stand more upright, walk more briskly, and smile more widely. So she didn't have enough money to get a good meal. She probably didn't have enough to get that prize tennis racket at Portman's Sports, but she might get a kick out of checking it out again. She could window shop, but it gave her no pleasure. She could walk and watch the people pass by, but the Wondrous types around here weren't any new to her. She got enough of weird people at school, and she was avoiding that. Oh, if only she had brought enough money to do anything!

Judy sat on a bench and stared at the sun (you could do that here and not destroy your eyes here). What to do? What to do…

And then her eyes began to follow the clouds.

And then the birds.

And then the buildings, and the skyline, and the…

Oh.

Oh hey, of course!


Judy stood in awe at the magnificence of the great Wonder Tower that stood as the icon of Wonder World!™. Judy, for her some thirteen years of living in Wonder World!™, had failed to explore their greatest landmark. The hub of Dr. Wondertainment, the heart of all commerce and trade, the fridge magnet and bumper sticker at every single touristy vendor and gift shop. The soul of Wonder World!™ itself. It had always been a bit out of her way — the school was in the exact opposite direction from her house, and none of her frequent shopping spots had her cross its path at all. Wonder Tower. It was a lot taller and… towery-er up close.

The massive purple and yellow double doors beckoned at the top of the flight of precisely 43 steps. There was one step for every major Dr. Wondertainment founder, the top one counting for the legendary Chester Williams and Maria Herring because they could not be properly ranked like the rest. Was Chester more important for founding the company itself, or Maria for making the toys that made it famous in the first place? No one could decide, so their mugs sat right next to each other on the top step, ever smiling those genuine, parental smiles. A sight to behold. It made every step feel important. With the first step, Judy felt her confidence striking up like a match on a matchbox. Time to explore Wonder Tower! She had read the signs, and she had just enough for a tour. She was going to see the inner workings of the greatest company in the multiverse — according to Judy, who was ever thoughtful of her own prejudices and the sources of her opinions.

The doors flung open, and Judy stepped into what was possibly the most pleasantly tempered room she had ever been in. The place scanned like a museum. Exhibits on either side of the main aisle depicted monumental products that Dr. Wondertainment had made, and if one so chose to take the time they could walk up and read the plaques that described their significance to the history of the company. The sight was breathtaking — from the most recent amazing flying contraptions to the wind up toys of the 1900s. Greens and reds and yellows, posed with purple and yellow statues of children and adults alike playing with and loving the toys. The Yum Yum Yogurt Slammer™ to Judy's left marked the creation of the Candy Catalysts, the Little Big-Banger™ to her right was such an achievement by the Builder Bullies that they became the second largest department of Dr. Wondertainment right under the Toy Tinkers, and the Baby Bonder™ that sat right above the receptionist was the first instance of a toy that empathically bonded with the user. The last toy was designed by the mythical, barely real Eric Herring, after whom the Herring Hall of Fame was officially named (quite honestly, everybody in that Herring family was a treasure to the Dr. Wondertainment name, and they were the closest that Wonder World!™ got to royalty).

The receptionist was a very, very beautiful woman with unnaturally circular eyes who was staring rather uncomfortably at Judy.

"And you are…?"

"I'm… Judy? Judy Achilles." She stuck out her proud new development. "I'm thome thort of local, thee?"

"Oh! What are you doing here, Judy?"

"I want a tour!"

"A tour? At this time of day?"

"Yes I do! I have the money for it, here…" Judy spilled her Pogs onto the counter, which the receptionist simply looked at.

"But tours aren't open until tomorrow!"

"Tomorrow? Why not today? I came, didn't I?"

"Oh dear oh dear oh dear, why I'm sure you did, but I'm not sure why. I'll have to call someone about this."

"Oh no, you don't need to go to that trouble! I can leave if—"

"Oh that is quite alright!"

Out of a wide hallway, flanked on both sides by small pink waterways, a gentleman adorned in ruby and gold ribbons, white silken gloves, a tall white hat with a red rose touched upon one side, and his sleeves leaked petals of various flowers. His pupils were slits instead of circles, and his mouth seemed to come up in the middle. And were those… whiskers?

"Oh my George! Is that Cat Emmet?"

"Oh it seems I am~! I heard someone would like a tour! Is that right, Holly?"

The white haired woman took off her blue sunhat and took it to her chest, smiling at Cat in a terse, contained sort of friendly gesture.

"I think that's right, Emmet. But we aren't supposed to have tours this time of day! What to do?"

"Oh I think I know what to do, Holly. A tour guide with nothing to do on a Museday might as well be a tour guide once more, shouldn't they~?" Cat Emmet knelt in front of the exuberant Judy. "And she already paid, didn't she? Oh what a relief, my day would be such a bore without something to do~! So, what do you say, little girl? Do you wish to take a tour?"

"Heheh, well, well I'm not so little, really — but yes! Yes yes yes! I would love to!"

"Well I believe that settles it~! Tour for one, I presume, unless you have brought along any amount of woodland friends with you, hmm?" Judy shook her head. "Well good then~!" Cat turned to Holly, and his Cheshire grin revealed a row of sharp, predatory teeth. "I think we will be off. Tell everyone we will be having a guest~!"

Holly dutifully typed into her desktop computer… and then she printed something, pushing off with her wheeled chair to another side and pulling the paper out… and lastly she slid the paper into a slot behind her desk, which slurped up the article and whirred slightly. She then returned to her seat and simply smiled.

"So… when's the tour start?"

Emmet had his cocked to the side, looking slightly up, and held a finger to Judy to silence her. A second passed. And then another.

Clik

"Now~!"

Judy fell on her butt as the Dr. Wondertainment logo on the ground beneath her shot into the ceiling through an unseen secret door.

"Jimminy Cricket! Why didn't you warn me?"

The cylindrical walls of the hidden shaft created kaleidoscope patterns that made Judy's eyes glaze over with unspeakable otherworldliness. Greens and yellows and diamonds and hexagons and shining shimmering somethings and others.

"Wouldn't be as surprising, no~? A local like yourself can handle it." Cat winked and raised his eyebrows, shouting over the loud machinery that powered this hidden elevator. "Now I wasn't prepared to give a tour today, so excuse any sloppy mistakes, but I'm a natural so it should not be much a problem. And here we are! First stop~!"

The previously unseen doors of the elevator opened onto a balcony that overlooked an impossibly enormous golf course, with obstacles ranging from bumps to balls to spikes to falls to airborne bodies of water and lava and fire and fumes and so many amazingly spectacular ideas that it made Judy's head spin.

"Welcome to the Wonder Tower golf course~! Well, it's a golf course right now, anyways. This room is the Attraction Tester, tee emm. Not too creative of a name, but that's not quite the point. It is functional, but boy does it not sacrifice any form to be so~! Here is where our employees get to personally test attractions we are planning to set up at one of any of our many venues across the multiverse. Or, of course, in Wonder World~! Where our own citizens will be able to experience them. What makes this room so fantastical is that these golf gimmicks are expected to be spread out among all possible future golf installments, so they would be diluted if you experienced them there. But here, of course, you get to have them all at once! The Billiards Birdie! The Par Parrot! The Bogey Baboons! All available for your consumer pleasure here at Wonder Tower — but you'd have to be… an employee… to get… in… oh dear, are you blown away already?"

Judy could not speak.

"Mmm, that won't do. I was supposed to start small and work up. That's always a problem with me. Too big too fast. Tsk tsk tsk. Hmm, let us redirect this. This tour is perfectly salvageable. Alright, little girl, going down~!"

Gently pushing Judy back into the elevator, and getting in himself, Cat simply willed the lift to go downwards. Reversing the wall patterns kept Judy dazed and flabbergasted and slews of other applicable adjectives. Emmet looked at Judy as one looks at a kitten. Maybe a little smug, maybe a little very smug. "And here we are~!"

The doors opened into a much blander sight — a labyrinth of warehouse, where countless toys and products were stored. The dim lighting made the sight glum and unappealing, but the prospects of numerous fidgets and gizmos were a strong incentive to explore and discover.

"This is Wonder Tower storage. Our organizational structure is quite a ruckus, really ought to get patched up at some point, but for the time being it is functional. This is where things go before they get shipped, and if they never get shipped they go to the compactor, which then delivers the toy scraps to the recycler. If you follow me…"

Emmet took Judy by the hand and led her down large hallways flanked by shelves and shelves of candies and models — Jigsaw Balls™ and Gum-Gum Kits™ and Archie's Archaeology Artisans™ — while the lighting became less and less.

"Cat… Cat? Cat!"

"Yes, Judy?"

"I can't see a thing!"

"Oh that's not going to be an issue, let me fix that for you."

Suddenly, there was a bright glow that shot through the darkness, and illuminated the path before them. Turning around, Cat's eyes had begun to beam and burst the black.

"Woah! How do you do that?"

"Cats have great night vision, you know~! Oh, and we have arrived."

Cat turned the doorknob and stepped through into a well lit office. Inside, a portly man dressed in a green-grey jumpsuit was sitting in front of a wall of monitors and eating a flushed pink chicken burger.

"My my, Gerard! That meat is rare~!"

The man practically fell out of his chair, his comically oversized headphones yanking his head so that he nearly broke his neck.

"Ghermi Jhermi, Cat! What have I told you about sneaking up on me you ragged feline!"

"Oh, I was just hoping to show my little tourist here your workspace! You hold such an interesting job down here under Wonder Tower~! What are you working on right now?"

"Emmet, why do you even bring people down here? Is it just to torture me?"

"Oh don't be melodramatic, you're making a terrible first impression on our young, impressionable guest." Judy, suddenly uncomfortable, glanced between a squinting Emmet and a sweating Gerard. Gerard and Judy met eyes for a meaningful second, and then he caved and waved them over. "Thank you, Gerard! You give the janitorial staff a good name."

"We're the Cleaning & Maintenance Department. Or the Mechanical Merrymakers. Not janitorial staff. Don't call us janitorial staff. Anyways, lookie here. Screens. Tons of 'em. Nothing interesting. Why are you here again? I thought we didn't give tours on Musedays."

"Special occurrence, and you know exactly what we're here for! Show the recycling center~!"

"Oh, ho ho, alright then." Gerard wiped a handkerchief on his brow then tossed it aside, pulling his chair into the monitors. A couple clicks of a mouse later, all screens were filled with the image of an enormous gaping canine facade, filled with color-changing flames and spilling noxious purple fumes. Judy flinched and tensed.

"This is our recycling plant~! All the toys that don't get shipped out, or that we don't know what to do with, or any trash from around the Tower, that all gets pushed into carts which get sent down into the mouth of the dog to be melted down and reused. We affectionately call him Hotdog. He's about the one frightening thing in Wonder Tower, unless you count upper management~!" Emmet chuckled to himself. "And don't worry, he's not alive. Wouldn't want something like that to be self aware, now, would we? It looks like that so people don't come close to it. After all, its flames are hot enough to melt steel beams, and furthermore, they are magic flames that rid those touched by its heat of their own Wondrous weirdness. Indeed, how else would we safely put away all our contraptions?"

Judy sat, still scared of the demonic visage on the screen. "I'd still not want to go near that thing."

"Oh of course not, nobody does! But that's what the Handymen have to do, because they are the bravest of all our workers. Yes, there's no room for weaklings in their ranks. Isn't that right, Gerard~?"

The man just looked at Emmet, expression constricted and unchanging. "I'm going to put in an official complaint about you."

"Oh good luck, good luck! And that's all we'll see of the underground. Going up~!"

"Huh? But we're not at the — waaaugh!"

Shooooooooooooooom!

That was when Judy learned that the elevator didn't care where you were, and worked anyways.

"Jacob Marley, Cat! Warn me!"

"I said 'going up', didn't I~? No matter, this trip is short. Here we are!"

The doors opened into a very yellow lobby area, polka dotted with smiley faces of reds and blues and greens and pinks. The cylindrical room's ceiling made the Tower of Wonder Tower come to mind, and the skylight at the top let the artificial tambourine sun give the opening a shine of natural lighting. A pedestal directly in front of Judy bore a basket of tennis balls with a plaque that read:

To throw for dogs and birds alike. You may be liberal. ;)

"Welcome to the headquarters of the Publicity Puppies, the Department of Public & Human Relations, home of yours truly~! The name is, er, unfortunate, but I realize that I am but one and the department is many. Tsk tsk tsk, though. Tsk tsk tsk."

"Birds?"

"Mmm? Oh, yes! Birds! The skylight usually is full of them, but I suppose another reason we don't give tours on Musedays is that this time of week they're all down by the pond by Mainstreet, tee emm."

"So this is where they roost?"

"Somewhere up in the rafters, yes. And I know what you're thinking, but be assured, they are potty trained like the good little birds they are. Speaking of trained…"

Emmet took Judy by the hand and led her down one of the many branching hallways, this one labeled "Cooldown Chambers" with several paw print designs decorating its interior. After a brief trot, the pair came upon a large hole in the ground with stairs leading down and guardrails on the side.

"Welcome to the Rugged Recess of Torment and Torture — or, as others call it, the Puppy Pit, tee emm. It's filled with monsters of all shapes and sizes that some enjoy entertaining themselves with, blissfully unaware of the danger they are in."

Judy peered down into a playground filled with puppies, frolicking or sleeping or yipping at one another. There were tubes and tennis balls and sticks along with other dog related implements.

"Others chose to label this attraction as child friendly, so now is the time where I tell you you may be allowed inside if you so wish, but I do recommend against it. They are filled with evil, you know."

"Are they really?"

"Oh yes, if I weren't so endowed with a heightened sense of self preservation I might have a mind to go down there and show you myself. But alas, there are… cameras in this room. No matter, as long as they are contained to the pit they can not harm us, the dreadful little puffballs that they are."

One pitbull puppy rolled onto its back and showed its belly, wagging its tail and peering up at its onlookers.

"Hideous. Onwards!"

Judy was yanked down another corridor, pulled through more twisting hallways, and arrived at a large orange double door.

"Alright, well, usually the aviary comes before this, because we of the Publicity Puppies do love our pets, but that won't work for reasons previously stated. Through this door are the official offices, places of work and the like, and of course that means all my friends in the business. Are you ready~?"

"Well, I mean, yes, but do I have a choice?"

"No, not really! In we go~!"

The doors were flung open to a wide catwalk above a multitude of cubicles and social meeting spaces which resided roughly three or four meters below. There was a buzz of conversation, many employees holding Dr. Wondertainment brands of tea, coffee or cola as they rushed between workspaces and board rooms and computer labs. The catwalk materialized in front of Emmet and Judy and disappeared behind them. Many faces looked up to the tour, slightly confused but smiling nonetheless.

"Hey Cat!" | "Why is there a tour?" | "Hello Emmet and friend!" | "Welcome to PR!"

Cat looked down to Judy and gave a sly slimy grin. "I'm a big name around here, you know~! But anyways, this is where it all goes down. If you've seen Wondertainment flyers, toy advertisements, product catalogs, or the like, then you have seen the work of the Publicity Puppies, and this is where it all goes down. We have one humongous working space with no doors and no roofs because open air and a less claustrophobic environment is the best for our worker bees! Graphic design, billboard buying, all of that is done right here. We also handle the human relations within the Tower, so this is also the center of Dr. Wondertainment worker morale~!"

Emmet leaned down and looked Judy in the eyes, excitement spreading across his body and filling every crevice of his being.

"Even Holly is a Publicity Puppy, even though she spends most of her time down at the front desk. Really, us Puppies are the face of Wondertainment — if you've gone to Wondertainment seminars, or stand up comics, that's us! If you've gone to shows, or toy presentations, also us! The Tinkers and the Bullies and the Catalysts — well maybe not the Catalysts — get all the attention and glory for their creations, but Wondertainment wouldn't have its spirit, its soul, without this here Public & Human Relations Department. We're sort of the unsung heroes of Dr. Wondertainment, if you so choose to think of it that way~!"

Shooting upwards, he shook like a giddy little schoolgirl.

"So where would you like to go? Catwalk Emmet can take us any direction you so choose without disturbing the workers below — over that a way is customer service, and if we go east we can see the therapy offices. Oh, but I know exactly what you would like, little girl~! I know, you wish to go that way, and see the Little Misters recording studio, don't you~? They're all the rage these days!… What's the matter?"

"Ah, oh, I don't want to be a bother —"

"Oh you wouldn't be a bother, you're the only tourist here with me today. I am here to tend to your every want and need, and you look downright uncomfortable. Is there an issue? Anything I could help you with?"

"Oh, it's… it's just… well, I can just see everybody looking up at us, and I'm not such a huge fan of wide open spaces, and I feel all in the spotlight, and I'd just like to be somewhere a bit quieter."

"Mmm… quieter? I'm not sure we have quieter… but we do have tight enclosed spaces. Not big and open at all. And there will be sweet smells and far fewer people. Does that sound like your money's worth?"

Judy nodded. "And please make the elevator slower this time."

"Of course. Going up!"

The catwalk dissipated and dropped them onto the sudden arrival of a large Dr. Wondertainment logo like from before, but this time only gently pushing upwards. The kaleidoscope walls seemed to fade into existence around them instead of waiting for the ceiling to be reached.

"This is probably best anyways. The Little Misters are on tour right now, so it's likely that only Stripes would be there, and he's often a little sour. Gloomier than Gerard, even. You'd think that they would make sure that type of character trait wouldn't happen when they made them in the first place, but oh well. I suppose he has good reason to be that way. Manager must be stressful for a band so huge — and with so many members~! Ah, but the kids love them so, so much. Here we are~!"

The doors slid slowly open into a tight pink metal area that emanated heat like the sun in the dead of summer.

"Whewie~! What a hot opening! Do not worry though, Hotdog's still miles underground. Welcome to the Sweets & Consumables Department, the Candy Catalysts! Their lobby isn't much to look at — and I will admit, nor is the rest of their area. But what they lack in presentability they make up for in accountability. Every Dr. Wondertainment candy bar or lollipop or chocolate bunny or, seeing as their popularity is rising I feel I should mention them, tea, that's all from here."

The lift disappeared, leaving Judy and Emmet in the middle of a rounded metal square, with "CANDY CATALYSTS" spray painted in grey across the low ceiling.

"Excuse the dull, they aren't used to guests. But follow me and —"

"Ohh! A guest!!"

A plump red woman emerged from the one door leading out from the lobby area. Her eyes floated above her head on stalks that came out of where her eyes should have been, her mouth had no lips, and her nose was nowhere to be found, nostrils included.

"Oh, Ms. Slug, what a lovely surprise~!"

"We have a guest!!"

"Yes, yes we do."

"I'm hardly ready!!"

"I told Holly to send out the memo…"

"Oh she did, but nobody comes here anyways! A guest!! I'm going to go notify everyone, wait right here, don't move!"

Ms. Slug waddled down the corridor, leaving Emmet and Judy alone in the bland pink-grey room.

"Well, it looks like this tour has left my hands. We may as well take a seat."

As Cat spoke, a bench protruded from the east wall, and both made it over to sit down. An electric whir of an air conditioner came on. Far off clanks like a zipper in a washing machine echoed from the corridor. Sometimes, the hot smell of brownies would waft through and please the noses of Judy and Emmet. Sometimes it was just stale air. After a minute or two, nervous foot tapping and knuckle rapping began to set in.

"No wonder they don't get guests, hoo ho—"

"Are you ready for the best tour of your miserable little lives?"







"…Excuse me?"







"I said ARE YOU READY?"

Judy yelled over the loudspeaker's crackles, "Yes we are!"


"G O O D .


Please keep your arms, legs, and hands inside the ride at all time. Do not release the safety clamp until instructed to do so. If you must vomit, please do so on one another — the machinery is sensitive. Safe trip!"

Emmet looked completely absent. "Wh… what ride?"


CL A NK

Judy gawked at the large bars of metal that had come over her and Cat's laps. "That one."

The corridor closed, the floor fell open, and the bench fell onto what looked like roller coaster tracks, which began to lead the screaming pair of Emmet and Judy down a candy colored tunnel at breakneck speed.

"You have now begun your tour of the Sweets & Consumables Department! We hope you enjoy your stay. Excuse any bumps and glitches on the ride, we didn't expect tourists today. In fact, this ride is still in development… heh."

"Wait, we're on an unfinished coaster?"

"I mean… yes."

"Cat, we're going to die."

"Coming up on your left, you will see the chocolateria!"

The tunnel opened up, the bench screeched to a slower pace, and a positively unnerving but curiously curvaceous array of pistons and vats and gazing workers sprawled into view. Shiny golden and silver pumping metal protrusions pushed into large pools of hot chocolate liquid, as men and women in peppermint jumpsuits (or were they more akin to hazmat coverings?) gazed on and monitored the machines. A couple, noticing Cat and Judy, took off protective masks to wave and smile widely at the two.

"Oh Jimminy, Judy, I wouldn't recommend looking down."

Ignoring Emmet's advice, Judy ogled at the seemingly endless shafts of glass tubes filled with all shades of sweet sugary browns, the conveyors and presses and catwalks in all directions, and the lack of any one solid floor for what felt like miles. The scene transformed into a sensory overload of brown, silver, gold, pink, grey, black, and all hints of every other color. The air was so sickly sweet with the tinglings of sugar that it made Judy's teeth hurt, but her childish inclinations made her salivate all the same.

"Here you might notice we make chocolate! All our happy little worker bees — of which I am one, but not right now because I'm manning the ride — navigate this labyrinthine abomination of metal and magic to bring you the sweetest, richest, most tickling flavors of chocolate this side of the multiverse! You may notice the masks, which are there to make sure that employees don't get contact sugar-high, which might lend them to stumbling and losing their balance, which would be especially bad at these vertigo-inducing heights. Don't worry, you won't be in here long enough to get that, and even if you were you're strapped into a ride. It can be positively dizzying, though. That's the power of candy for you!

"To your left at this very moment is one of our chocolate vats, which is where pipes, whose contents are manned in the Control Room above all this, dump their individual mixtures into these swimming pool sized pots to get even more mixed and create delightful new chocolate colors! You are currently watching a batch of Chocolate Blush Brightener, tee emm, characterized by its streaks of deep violet, tangy aftertaste, and ability to make any outing more romantic! Valentine's Day is coming up, and with that this type of stuff is projected to be in high demand! We're actually going to be shipping out our first major load tomorrow night! I would offer you two some, but uh… you're not… lovebirds material. Say hi to the workers!"

Waving on both sides intensified.

"Hold on tight!"

The bench pressed forward through spiraling rails to come upon a large washing machine looking contraption, which began to fill with large chunks of what looks like sparkling granular rocks.

"Transitioning from the Chocolateria to the Hard Candy Creator, we have a standalone attraction, the Pixie Dust maker! This baby can grind up more than thirty tons of Wonder World! Tee emm's favorite recess snack. Surprisingly hasn't caught on as a major export, we still make it to satisfy the superior taste buds of the inhabitants here, who gobble up only barely less than we make every day! And now, it will do its job."

The large rock filled orifice began to shake violently, and then, with great noise, prods and spikes and rough metal pads began to push in from all sides until the Pixie Dust™ spilled out from the center and coated the walls in sticky powdery goodness, which was then forced by a strong fan and automated brushes into a funnel.

"Now, I really can offer you this stuff."

The bench transposed downward just slightly to position Judy and Emmet in front of a small Pixie Dust fountain. Grabbing disposable cups that stuck out on the sides of the small cube shaped dispenser, they both enjoyed "sipping" on the sweet, fruity flavored mixture.

"Mmm, is this a new flavor?"

"Why yes, it is! Strawberry."

"…Strawberry?"

"Yeah, we uh… we realized we had mixed all sorts of things with strawberries, but we hadn't done straight strawberries yet."

"This is what strawberries taste like?"

"Still processed, but yes! Weird, right? Uh, anyways, onwards!"

Judy and Cat screamed as the bench twisted them upside down at record speeds, making their insides feel like twisting and their skin feel like tearing, towards the Hard Candy Creator. The two entered another brightly colored tunnel, which soon consumed them in darkness, before turning the corner and entering a grid-like arrangement of conveyors which carried small lumps of every color that were shaped by various machines and joints and workers. The floor buzzed with conversation, steamy squeaks from the pipes, electric whirring, and the clanks of the robotic movement of some of the employees.

"This is where we make, you guessed it, hard fruity candy! The coloring comes from those… pipes on your… right? And they go through… well… Alright, fellas, I don't have anything prepared for over here, and I don't work down here. I can't be your tour guide, so, just, take it in! It's pretty, it's loud, it's got candy all over it, what's there not to like?"

"What a nice view!"

The bench crept forward, squeaking and rocking a little more than before, taking the pair slowly but surely to a large hole in the wall to their left.

"I'm so sorry, this is right about where the ride ends. As we said, this ride is in progress, so we can't take you to the candy canes, the storage, where all the colors get decided, offices… but we've got the ending!" The bench strolled through the rickety dark tunnel, and began to lighten with a soft golden glow. "Welcome… to the Sweet Tooth!"

The electric crackling of the speakers slowly subsided as the bench opened into a glittering tooth-shaped room with an enormous bowl of candy in the middle of a large circular table. At each golden stool there was a smaller glass bowl, and sitting on the table was a purple skinned, small eyed man with the largest mouth to head ratio Judy had ever seen, holding a microphone whose wire ran straight up to the ceiling. Several women with bright poppy and dandelion dresses wildly gesturing jazz hands flanked the man on either side, acting in stead of a bright spotlight.

"Well hello there, riders! Thanks for participating, sorry that we're cutting it short! This has all been only very recent divisions. Er, editions. Additions! Sorry, I was never meant to be a tour guide, that's your job, Mr. Cat. I'm a lot better over the intercoms. In person eeks me out." The man tugged the microphone down until a click could be heard, and then released it to rocket into the ceiling and out of sight. "But I'll try and roll with it. Ain't ever been too social."

"You're beautiful!"

A smile that very nearly literally crossed from ear to ear crossed the man's face. "Why thank you, young girl! My name's Chuck Chatter, but people call me Chomps. Yours?"

"I'm Judy, Judy Achilles, but I'm not Wondrous yet. People still just call me Judy."

"Well don't you worry your silly little head about it, everyone gets there eventually."

"Oh! I am getting a rather large tongue! Look!" Judy licked her cheeks and chin, making Chomps chuckle.

"Why you're coming along fine! Looks like you've got the perfect disposition for candy consumption! Speaking of, at the risk of repeating myself, welcome to the Sweet Tooth! This is our quality assurance chamber, where our employees meet every time it's necessary to taste test our newest sugary concoctions! As a gift from the Candy Catalysts to our first Sweets & Consumables Department tourists, I invite you to a candy dinner with the myself. Care to sit down? You ladies can go."

The jazz hands ceased and the ladies dispersed, leaving Chomps, the tourist, and Emmet alone. Chomps slid off of the wide shiny white table and motioned to the two nearest stools as the glass bowls inexplicably filled with candy. Judy rushed to the stool as soon as Chomps motioned but Cat, still taken aback from his job being so skillfully stolen from him, stood a further couple stunned seconds before finally lurching forward and sitting stiffly upright at the table.

"I'll admit, we ain't got anything new, this is just what you can pick up at your block's Wibbly Jibblies. Still, we'd like to treat you! Er, treat yourself! How'd you like it?"

Judy had already stuffed her face and couldn't quite make out words, but she made noises that vaguely sounded like "it was great!"

"Oh was it? It's all new, we just can't figure out how to get new recruits these days, so we've been working with the Builder Bullies to get some kind of tour contraption in here… work's been slow going though, not much budget to poor into it. Heyday of the Candy Catalysts is a bygone era, eh?"

"Really? I've seen you guys everywhere! And you practically rule the candy market from here to… everywhere I've been! What's been going on?"

"Oh nothing's been going on, we've just had a lull. We've always been sort of the underdogs of the departments — other than the Mechanical Merrymakers. They don't even really operate outside of Wonder Tower. We've made good candy, we rake in as many pogs as Wondertainment could ever hope for, but we just don't make anything expensive enough to warrant an, er, budget. Right now we get just enough to pay our workers and make our candy, maybe some left over to make some new stuff, but we have no pool of wealth to get out recruitment drives. We're hiring, and no one knows! Heh, so, that's just about it. As our workers slowly trickle out, Dr. Wondertainment is bound to notice and finally take us seriously, but right now our very small margin of profits isn't going to our usual production of new types of candy and instead is going into, well, a roller coaster. Which you two have been the first experimenters of. So thank you! I'm glad you liked it!"

After a small break for Judy to stuff her face full of chocolate, "That's terrible! Is that why those robots were in the hard candy factory?"

"Oh yeah, Backup Bots. Yeah, those are in storage somewhere around. Wondertainment doesn't know we're using 'em actually, they're designed to keep the place running in the wake of a worker strike. We're not really supposed to have access to them, but the place is so big that we're expecting no one will notice."

"Oh that has got to change."

"Yeah, but what are you gonna do? We've got just about no money for advertising, the roller coaster is slow going, we've got nothing. We can just hope that people like us enough."

"Well you could write advertisements onto your wrappers."

"That's really clever, actually."

"Thanks!"

"With brilliant ideas like that, you'd be a natural in our marketing department! Has Cat shown you around the Publicity Puppies?"

"I wouldn't miss out on showing my home department, would I~? Though now that the tour seems over, I feel I can admit it — I like us being called PR much more. Puppies aren't my style. Plus, you can vocalize it as purr. Just all around superior. But alas, Dr. Wondertainment's department naming scheme must be kept in perfect order, I suppose~!"

"Oh I don't want to be a Publicity Puppy, I hear —" Judy stopped herself before accidentally insulting the ever famous Cat Emmet. "Well, I just don't think it suits me."

"Well, hey! You've still got a few years before you can do it, but we're one big family! Er, one small family, but a family! We'd love to have you, and who knows, maybe you could pull this little corner of Wonder Tower out of the dumps. Everybody's got potential."

"You really think so?"

"Have you seen your tongue, girl? That thing's only showing you that you're still growing. Get bigger, stronger, sweeter, and you'd fit right in! Wondertainment's always hiring somewhere."

"Aww, that's sweet of you to say."

"We are the Sweets & Consumables Department, 'sweet' is half our name, so I had better be! Ee-heheheh." Chomps' laugh showed a mouth with no tongue, and a uvula that hid just behind the teeth. The walls of the mouth were black and clothy, and extended down into a black tube like a dress sock. "Oh, and I don't usually tell people this, but you're not buying, so, don't eat too much candy."

"Hmm?"

"You'll get sick to your stomach, you know."


As the tambourine sun set, Judy laid her bike down next to her house and watched the sun creep ever further into the horizon past the layers and layers of suburbs. Once it had finally crested to the other side, Judy smiled and walked through her front door. She was immediately greeted by the smell of a turkey dinner. However, it was stuffed inside the Women Pleaser Fridge & Freezer® (after complaints of horrid euphemisms in the fridge's name, consequent fridges by the same company got rebranded, but Judy's dad loved the thing and it held sentimental value to him, so they kept it around instead of buying a new one like you're supposed to), because her mom went to bed at 6:00 or 7:00 to wake up at 4:00 for her paper route, and her dad worked the graveyard shift and must have already been out at work patrolling for wrongdoers in the streets.

Judy sauntered upstairs, dragging her feet from the exhaustion that always comes after a good, long day. She'd call Beachball in the morning to ask how the date went, and hope that the teacher's fiasco would be over soon, and that maybe she could visit Chompers again. After sliding under her sheets, setting her From Nine to Hive™ clock, and turning off her Damp Lamp® (doubled as a moisturizer), she fondled the signature she had received. That way, when she applied for a job, she'd have a good word from a Candy Catalyst already. Chomps' handwriting was so small, she wondered if they would even be able to read it. But she knew what it said.

"She's a good egg."

She pulled it out of her pocket and placed it on her bedside table. Shoot, she thought to herself, I was so tired I forgot to change out of my school uniform and into my pajamas.

Eh, whatever.

And another day in Wonder World!™ passed.




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