And now, continuing from part 4, the conclusion of…
Max and the Argentinian Death Penguin
Part 5: Death Holds A Staring Contest
Ditching the Death Blood Cult priest had been easy – what with him having no eyes and all – but the fact that he knew they were coming meant they had no time to lose. Bonkers scurried along as quickly as he could, sniffing valiantly at the floor of the cave, while Maxine hurried behind with the flashlight. Reginald hovered overhead, periodically saying, “be mindful ahead” about a half second before Max would run in to a rock.
Torches lit the space dimly, the ceiling disappearing in to the darkness. Tiny holes of light could be seen streaming down through the rocks. The priests were gathering in front of the altar – Agents Paulson and Little Dog with them, now dressed in Death Blood Cult robes. Below was a large pool of dark water in which swam strange shapes.
“I knew it,” Max whispered. “Cave manatees.”
“That’s not a thing,” Bonkers said.
“Yes it is. You know those gentle, lovable manatees who get mauled by boat propellers? Well a lot of them end up going underground. They started their own cult – with human followers and everything. They’re scarred, bloodthirsty and mean as hell. But what are they doing here?”
“Who cares?” Bonkers said. “I’m gonna go bite me some cultists. Grab the penguin, we’re home for drinks.”
“No,” Max said. “As soon as we see the Penguin, I’m going for it. Whatever you do, don’t look directly at its eyes. If you get hold of it, don’t set it down in such a way that it wobbles at all. Don’t point it at anyone.”
Reginald said, “So be careful, is what you’re telling us.”
“In short, yes.” She started to inch around the altar and stopped. “Oh, one more thing: if you drop it, it explodes.”
“You know what?” Bonkers said, “I’m going to let you handle the Penguin.”
“Reginald,” Max whispered. “A distraction!”
Reginald flew out over the priests and agents. “Doom! Doooooom!” he bellowed. “Doom shall befall those who do not heed my warning!”
They stared at him. Finally, one of them asked, “And what’s your warning?”
“My what? Oh,” Reginald replied. “Yes. My warning.” He thought for a moment and then bellowed, “My warning, which you must heed! You must heed! Or face doom! My warning… which I shall now tell you… is this! This! This is my – for heaven’s sake, grab the blasted penguin!”
Max lunged out and grabbed the penguin from Little Dog’s hands and scrambled across the rocks, narrowly avoiding a fall in to the dark water.
Just then, a dozen men in manatee cloaks emerged from the other side of the cavern. “It’s them!” one of them shouted in a deep bass voice. “The dog with the amazing nose, and the ghost and the girl who… uh… hey, baby, what’s your super power?”
“Excuse me?” Max said. ”At the moment, my power is not kicking your ass for calling me ‘baby’.”
He blushed. ”Sorry. There are no girls in the Manatee cult. I’m out of practice.” He composed himself. ”Anyway: That independent, empowered woman has got the penguin! Get her!”
The priests, the agents and the manatee men began closing in on her. Max held the penguin over her head. “Everyone stop or I’ll smash it and we’ll all be killed!” They froze. “What is going on here? Do you even know what this penguin does?!”
There was a pause. Someone timidly raised his hand. “It… it melts people’s brains, right?”
“Yes! Yes, it melts people’s brains!”
They all nodded and sighed in relief. “Well, good, excellent. Yes,” said one of the Death Blood priests. “That’s why we want it.”
The deep voiced manatee man said, “We want the cave.”
“It’s our cave!” shouted a priest. “We were here first!”
“It’s got water!” shouted someone back. “Manatees need water! Duh!” he added, rather unfortunately.
Max said, “This is about the cave? Like, a turf war?”
“Well,” said the blind priest, “You’ve got to headquarter your cult in the deepest cave, don’t you? I mean, how ridiculous would that sound: We are the dreaded Argentinian Death Blood Cult, residing in the second deepest cave of the – no, no it sounds just stupid!”
The deep-voiced manatee man nodded in agreement. “You’re trying to terrify and all people can think is, ‘Why are they in the second deepest cave? Who’s in the deepest cave, I wonder? Now I bet they’re frightening.’”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Max said. “The penguin isn’t like a can of mace, you don’t just point it at someone! It’s like a bomb, or a toxic gas, or, or… It will kill everyone! All this because-“
“Excuse me!” someone called out. “Excuse me?” Everyone turned. At the entrance to the cavern was a young man in a baker’s apron and hat. He was carrying several boxes. “Sorry to interrupt.” He looked at a piece of paper. “I think I have the right place. Did someone order pie?”
There was a silence.
“Did someone order what?” Max asked.
One of the Manatee Men stepped forward. “Oh, that was me. I thought pie would be nice after we slaughtered the Death Blood Cult.”
Everyone smiled and nodded. “That was so thoughtful,” someone said. Several people – including the priests – chimed in their agreement.
“Hey,” the pie man said. “What’s that?” He pointed at the Giggling Penguin held up in Max’s hand.
And looked directly at it.
It began to heat in Max’s hands and a red light emerged from its eyes. “Oh no,” she said. She set it down carefully and stepped back. “Everyone close their eyes. Right. Now.”
Everyone did. Except the priests. Because they have no eyes.
“How do we shut it off?” Paulson asked.
“We don’t,” Max replied. “It doesn’t stop until it sees only death. We could be here for hours. Days. I don’t know how we’re possibly—“
“It’s off,” Reginald said.
“Yes, It’s off.” Maxine opened her eyes and looked at Reginald next to her. He shrugged. “I don’t have eyeballs, I told you. And I’m a ghost. So I looked in its eyes and it went dark.”
“Oh, well…” Maxine took a breath. “Okay, then. Good job.” She picked up the Penguin and put it in her pocket. “And there will be no Argentinian Death Penguins for anyone. You boys will have to find some other way to settle your differences.”
“Maybe over pie?” Bonkers suggested, then tried to make his voice sound like several different people. “Yes, I like that idea.” “Pie, very smart.” “Yes, pie, let’s have pie.” “Yes, and let’s make sure that brave dog gets extra pie.”
And so instead of mass murder via demonic brain melting, the two cults worked out a time-sharing in which they maintained joint custody of the deepest cave, with a “permanent resident” addendum for the actual manatees. And there was much eating of pie.
The next day, they drove back to the Fortune-Telling Shop. Reginald complained most of the way back that he’d actually saved everyone but got no pie. When they got there Max sat down, surveying the damage from the fight between the agents and the manatee men. She sighed.
“What now?” Bonkers asked.
“We clean. We go back to telling fortunes.”
“And the Penguin?”
“I hid it behind that bottle of butterscotch schnapps.”
Maxine smiled. “Why yes, it is. Maybe a couple of highballs?”
Bonkers wagged his tail and asked for a double. Reginald complained that he couldn’t have one.
And for a moment, all was right with the world.