|Disclaimer: The Sliders television series' characters and storylines are property of Universal and St. Clare Entertainment, series creator Tracy Tormé and Fox Broadcasting Network and The Sci-Fi Channel. No copyright infringement is intended and no monetary profit is being made off of this work. All other characters who are not found on the Sliders television series were created by me, and should only be used with my prior permission. Posting to archives is encouraged as long as my name and title stay with the story.|
Author's Note: Beware of spoilers. This story is part of my Season 6 Sliders series, picking up where the episode "The Seer" leaves off. You should be familiar with most, if not all, of the original Sliders series, as well as the preceding episodes of my fanfiction, before reading this story.* * *
"Keep away from me, you horrendous aborigine!" barked Professor Arturo, who was being chased by a horny female cavewoman down a dusty, rocky trail.
Arturo's pursuer was clad only in a ragged bikini-like article of clothing, her face filthy with soil, her stringy hair wildly flailing in all directions. The cavewoman grunted primitively in heat, her eyes erotically fixated on the fleeing Englishman.
A crowd of spectating cavewomen had gathered in the thorny brush, cheering on their friend as she stayed hot on Arturo's heels with stubborn determination.
"Run, Professor, run!" encouraged Wade. The lively redhead sprinted behind Arturo and his admirer, with no intention of missing the slide.
Maggie stood by the open wormhole, the timer in her grip. The others had already jumped through.
"Come on!" Maggie eagerly urged.
The Professor took a giant leap forward, hurtling through the magnificent portal as he entered the Einstein-Rosen-Pudalski Bridge. Shocked by the sight of the glimmering vortex, the cavewoman stopped frozen in her tracks. Wade and Maggie disappeared into the wormhole as it vanished right before the confused cavewoman's eyes.* * *
The wormhole regurgitated Arturo, Wade, and Maggie from its interdimensional stomach, splattering them onto the ground. Professor Arturo had found himself belly-down atop a giant, silky toadstool.
"Remind me to never again make eye contact with the natives of an Earth during their mating season," gasped the Professor, winded from their uncomfortable slide. He sat upright on top of the large, speckled mushroom which felt like a cushion.
"That was cutting it pretty close," Maggie commented. She looked at the timer's display panel. "Looks like we have 9 hours on this world."
"You okay, Professor?" laughed Rembrandt, helping Arturo off of the soft but sizable hump of fungi.
The Professor pursed his lips together. "I will be okay, Mr. Brown, if someone can guarantee that no more hormonal wenches will mistake me for Fred Flintstone!"
"It could have been worse," Malcolm pointed out to Professor Arturo. "They could have been cannibals."
Everyone guffawed at Malcolm's joke - - except for the Professor.
"Mr. Eastman, I challenge you to try serving as the object-of-affection for a sex-crazed cavewoman! Then, we shall talk!" grunted Arturo.
Diana stared around, scanning their surroundings. They appeared to be in a shady, forested area, with a wide trail which snaked through the woods. "I wonder what kind of an Earth this is?"
"Oh no, this better not be Golden Fleece World again," groaned Mallory.
"I don't recall seeing giant mushrooms on that world, Mallory," refuted Maggie, skeptically.
"Well, this place seems peaceful enough," observed Janine. She got down on the ground and sprawled out across the grass. "Let's just take a break from running for our lives."
A golden-tinted chariot could abruptly be seen racing toward them along the forest trail. It was driven by incredibly virile, swift, stately white stallions.
"Maybe those people can tell us where we are?" Wade suggested, gesturing at the chariot.
The chariot's side door suddenly slid open, and two burly men wearing heavy silver armor stepped out of the chariot. Almost as though they were acting at random, the knights grabbed ahold of Maggie and Malcolm, dragging the two of them toward their chariot.
"Hey! Let go of us!" Maggie shouted, struggling against the knight's firm lock on her shoulders.
"Remmy! Help!" called out Malcolm, unsuccessfully trying to kick his assailant.
"Come back here!" Rembrandt and the other sliders uselessly ran after the chariot, which was able to jet away at full speed.
Arturo frowned. "This makes absolutely no sense. Why would those knights capture two random strangers who were doing nothing to harm or provoke anyone whatsoever?"
"Maybe it wasn't so random?" proposed Mallory. "For all we know, Maggie's and Malcolm's doubles could have committed a crime on this world. We've been mistaken for our alternates before."
Diana shook her head. "It just seems too . . . hasty. It's almost like those knights grabbed the first two people whom they happened to see. Maggie and Malcolm were standing closest to the trail.
Getting up off of the grass, Janine showed an expression of apprehension. "We'd better find them within the next 9 hours. Maggie has the timer."
As though on cue, a flock of men dressed in medieval peasant's clothing emerged from the bushes. One of them wore a simple green garment, similar to a tunic, and a matching green triangular-shaped hat with a furry red plume.
"Who are you?" Wade asked the stranger.
The stranger bowed with genuine chivalry. "Greetings, fair maiden. My name is Robin Hood, and these are my Merry Men." He indicated his companions, who all bowed cordially at the sliders.
"Oh, poppycock!" protested the Professor, rolling his eyes at Robin Hood.
"Just play along, Professor," whispered Rembrandt. The Cryin' Man faced Robin Hood. "Two of our friends were just abducted by some husky dudes dressed in armor."
"Ah, those would be the Sheriff's Men," Robin Hood affirmed.
"The Sheriff?" Janine looked baffled.
"Yes, the Sheriff of Nottingham. This is his kingdom," explained Robin Hood.
"O . . . K . . ." Diana skeptically humored him.
"So how do we get our friends back?" asked Mallory. "Where does this ‘Sheriff' hang his hat?"
"Come with us," Robin Hood said. "We are on a quest to liberate the residents of Sherwood Forest from the Sheriff of Nottingham's evil tyranny." Pointing his finger at a diagonal slant in the air, Robin Hood began to march away down the trail, flanked by his Merry Men. "Onward and forward!"
The six sliders traded confused gazes.
"I know it sounds crazy," Remmy spoke in a low whisper, "but as much as I hate to say it, this ‘Robin Hood' is our only hope of finding Maggie and Malcolm."
With reluctant resignation, the sextet followed after Robin Hood and his Merry Men, heading into a stereotypically shady, dark forest. Endless groves of domineering trees loomed over the forest wanderers, towering above them in an intimidating manner. Numerous pathways curved and jutted inward throughout the rest of Sherwood Forest.
"Remmy!" whispered Wade, suddenly aware of a disturbing fact. "The Professor has disappeared!"
"What?!" Rembrandt stopped in his tracks and faced Wade.
Wade looked scared. "He was right behind me a moment ago. Now he's . . . gone! So is Janine."
Rembrandt surveyed the area around himself and Wade. There was no one else to be seen.
"Diana and Mallory are missing too," noticed Rembrandt. "What the hell's going on here?"
"I don't know," Wade quivered, "but I don't like it."* * *
"Is it just me, or does this setting seem vaguely familiar to you?" Malcolm solicited from Maggie as he studied the bare brick walls of the room they were in.
Maggie was peering out the window. She craned her neck to take in the view. The tall, archaic tower which they were trapped inside of was hundreds of feet up above the ground. "It's a long way down," she admitted, her eyes processing the extremely high altitude at which they were confined.
"Why did those goons lock us in here?!" Malcolm started to pound on the wooden door through which the Sheriff of Nottingham's cronies had thrown them into the room. "Let us out!"
Suddenly, the wooden door creaked open, and a young lady was pushed inside the tower room. She collapsed to the floor in tears. The wooden door slammed shut again and locked before Malcolm or Maggie could take any action.
Maggie kneeled down next to the sobbing woman. "Are you hurt?" she asked.
"No, only bruised," replied the woman, through tears. She lifted her teary face up to look at Maggie. The woman had extremely long, thick golden tresses which slinked down her back past her waist to sweep the floor.
"This may be a stupid question," ventured Malcolm, pretty much predicting what her answer would be, "but what's your name?"
"I'm Rapunzel," sniffed the woman. "My evil stepmother has had me banished to this tower, because she is jealous of my golden hair."
"Wait, that's not how the story goes . . ." Malcolm began to protest.
Maggie interrupted his thought. "Alternate worlds, Malcolm," she reminded him.
Rapunzel stared fondly at Maggie's own blond tresses. "Oh, you have such lovely hair . . ." She reached out in an attempt to touch Maggie's hair.
"Hands off, Rapunzel!" lectured Maggie, swatting Rapunzel's hand away.
Rapunzel burst into tears.
"Maggie! You hurt her feelings!" Malcolm put his arm around Rapunzel to comfort her.
Arms folded, Maggie rolled her eyes. "Can't you see, Malcolm? She's obviously an actress - - and a bad one, too - - who's playing a part. We must have slid into some sort of . . . simulation where people are role-playing fairy tale characters."
"My lady!" called out a suave, masculine voice from outside.
Malcolm, Maggie, and Rapunzel rushed over to the open window of Rapunzel's tower. Down below was a young man wearing medieval clothing made of royal blue velvet. He was calling up to them, hands cupped over his mouth.
"Hey, Prince Charming!" Rapunzel yelled back to him. "Aren't you supposed to be protecting Snow White over in the Land of Dwarves?"
"I got bored with that!" Clearing his throat, Prince Charming threw his voice for contrived dramatic effect. "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your golden hair!"
Gathering her artificial-looking locks of long hair in her arms, Rapunzel tossed her golden tresses out the window. Once her hair made it to the ground while hanging loosely along the side of the tower, stretching from the tower window to the tower's base, Prince Charming began climbing up Rapunzel's thick "hair" as though it was a jungle vine.
"Oh, give me a break!" groaned Maggie.
Just as Prince Charming reached the window of Rapunzel's tower, Rapunzel's wig began slipping off her head.
"Oh no!" squealed Rapunzel. She caught and grabbed the prince's wrist just as her mile-long wig popped off her head and tumbled to the ground below. Maggie and Malcolm helped Rapunzel to hoist Prince Charming into the tower room through the window.
"My lady, I am here - - ," Prince Charming then took one look at Rapunzel and broke into uncontrollable laughter. Where her "Rapunzel wig" had previously been situated, Rapunzel now bore a head full of roughly shorn, almost spiked red hair.
"Aha! I knew she was a fraud!" Maggie pointed tactlessly at Rapunzel's bare head.
Rapunzel scowled, grumpily.
Prince Charming, catching sight of Maggie, took Captain Beckett's hand and planted a kiss on it with gentlemanly eloquence. "Pleased to make your acquaintance."
Getting a decent glimpse of Prince Charming's face, Maggie now realized how attractive he was. The young man looked to be in his late-twenties, his dark brunette hair in a sexy buzz-cut, bright dimples dotted across his face. He wore a scent of musk cologne.
Smiling back at the prince, Maggie responded, "Did anyone ever tell you you're gorgeous?!"
This time, Rapunzel rolled her eyes.
"So how do we get out of here?" Malcolm wanted to know.
"It probably won't be via a wig of fake hair," giggled Maggie, snickering at Rapunzel's hideous haircut.
Frowning, Rapunzel spat back, "Hey, do you wanna take this outside?!"
"Gladly." Maggie gestured toward the open tower window and retorted, "After you!"
Prince Charming had strode over to the brick wall and removed a specific brick from among the other bricks. That triggered a hidden partition, which slid aside to reveal a panel of mechanical controls and buttons. Pushing one of the buttons, the prince stepped back and waited.
A rumbling noise had begun resonating from the ground far below them. Maggie, Rapunzel, Malcolm, and Prince Charming leaned out the window of Rapunzel's tower and watched as a gigantic beanstalk sprung from the ground. The monstrous green beanstalk pushed its way upward, higher and higher toward the sky.
"Whoa, how'd you do that?!" gaped Malcolm, in awe.
Prince Charming winked. "It's mechanical, of course."
"Mechanical or not, at least it's a way down." Maggie looked at her three companions. "Who wants to go first?"
"Allow me." Prince Charming courageously stepped out onto the ledge of the window and hopped onto one of the sturdy branches of the beanstalk. "By the way," he said, offering his hand to Maggie, "I didn't catch your name."
"Maggie," she introduced herself, linking hands with Prince Charming who helped her across onto the beanstalk branch.
Once Malcolm and Rapunzel had joined them, the quartet proceeded to climb down the trunk of the beanstalk.
"Fee, fie, foe, fum!" growled a gruff voice over an amplified loudspeaker. The beanstalk shook ferociously as a giant hand descended from above.
"Is that mechanical too?" Maggie's voice shook. Prince Charming nodded.
"Who cares?! Make a run for it!" shouted Malcolm.
The four of them slid down the trunk of the beanstalk. Upon reaching the ground, they made a mad dash away from there.* * *
"So now we've lost Rembrandt, Wade, Janine, and the Professor too!" huffed Diana, she and Mallory having both realized they were now alone.
Mallory stayed close to Diana's side, not wanting the two of them to be separated. "We'd better stick together before either of us disappears."
As Diana and Mallory walked over a hilltop overlooking a spacious meadow, Diana glanced over her shoulder back at the forest from which they'd come. "The six of us must have gotten separated while we were in the woods. It was so dark in there that I could hardly see the path in front of me."
"Hey, over there!" Mallory spied an odd-looking object off in the distance.
It appeared to be . . . a giant shoe!
Mallory and Diana sneaked closer to the gigantic brown footwear. The structure was actually a large house shaped like a shoe. They could see a wooden door carved into the side of the house hear the shoe's toe; glass windows lined up along the rest of the shoe.
"Wow, they're sure going to need a lot of odor-eaters!" exclaimed Mallory.
Diana headed for the shoe's door. "I wonder if anyone lives here?" She lifted the latch of the door and rapped against it several times.
A sweaty-faced woman answered the door. She had on scruffy, ragged clothing; her salt-and-pepper colored hair was coarsely tied back with a polka-dot patterned rag.
"What do you want?!" grunted the woman, with an ornery rumble.
"Hey, you're the Little Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe!" Mallory realized, his face lighting up.
"How'd you know my name?!" the Little Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe demanded. She cocked her head, suspiciously. "You're not from social services . . . are you?"
Diana blinked. "Uh . . . no. We're kind of lost."
"We need help finding our friends," added Mallory.
The Little Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe's nostrils flared. "Look, I don't have time to worry about you! I'm in the middle of a mid-morning feeding!" Child-like cries could be heard coming from inside the house. "You kids shut up in there!!" she yelled toward another room inside her home.
"Sorry we bothered you . . ." Diana's icy words were cut off as about two dozen messy little children ran out of the house, practically trampling over their mother.
"Damn that stork!" growled the Little Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe, as her children scampered out onto the green meadow. "Unless you people are offering to baby-sit, I have nothing more to say to you!"
"So where should we go to find someone who WILL help us?" Mallory asked.
The Little Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe thought for a moment. "Try Wonderland. It's two kingdoms over." She gestured toward the west. "Everyone usually ends up there at one point or another."
"Thanks," said Diana. She and Mallory began strolling away. "And get some birth control!" Diana suggested, calling over her shoulder as they departed.* * *
Maggie stared at the timer nervously. "We have only 5 hours to find everyone," she told Malcolm.
"This is the problem with bringing eight people through the wormhole," voiced Malcolm. "It's hard to keep everyone together. If we get separated, only one of us has the timer."
Malcolm and Maggie were strolling along a winding trail that ran through a wide valley. Prince Charming was acting as their "tour guide".
"So what is that gadget, anyway?" inquired Prince Charming, indicating the timer. "What does it do?"
"Trust me, you wouldn't believe us if we told you," Maggie warned him.
Prince Charming stopped walking and stood in front of Maggie, facing her. "Try me." He flashed her a charming smile.
Maggie sighed. "You first. What is this place?"
Prince Charming gestured around at the valley. "Welcome to Mother Goose Land, hundreds of acres of family fun."
"You're kidding!" snorted Malcolm.
"I'm afraid not," lamented Prince Charming, blushing a little. "Gotta pay the rent somehow." He looked expectantly at Maggie. "Your turn."
Holding up the timer, Maggie explained, "This device opens up wormholes that transport us from one dimension to another. When this timer hits zero, we have to slide to the next parallel Earth, or we'll be stuck here for 29 years. That's why it's so important that we find our friends."
Prince Charming gaped at Maggie and Malcolm in fascination. "Seriously?! So you just . . . ‘slid' into our amusement park from another dimension?! Are you scientists?"
"Two of our friends are," confirmed Malcolm. "All the more reason why need to find them. Neither of us knows how to program the timer so it'll slide us back to your world's coordinates. If we could just find either the Professor or Diana . . . or even Janine could probably do it."
"Well, I promise I'll try to help you as best as I can," Prince Charming vowed. "Rapunzel would have helped too, but she's already clocked out for her break."
"I don't miss her. She was a nuisance." Maggie spotted what looked like a large orange pumpkin on wheels being pulled by horses down the road toward them. "Let me guess - - that's supposed to be Cinderella's carriage?"
Prince Charming grinned and nodded.
"Let's ask them for a ride," suggested Malcolm. The young teenager stepped out into the middle of the road and slanted his thumb giving a hitchhiker's signal, conveying that they wanted a ride.
The carriage driver snapped his horses' reins in order to halt the horses. A circular door on the side of the pumpkin carriage popped open, and a voluptuous golden-haired woman in a fancy, puffy, light blue evening gown stepped out of the pumpkin.
"Hey," Cinderella glanced from Prince Charming to Maggie to Malcolm and back to Prince Charming, "you're not Kevin - - er, MY prince! Aren't you supposed to be Snow White's prince over in the Land of Dwarves?"
"I blew that off for a moment. Besides, everyone knows she'll end up eating the apple." Prince Charming leaned in closer to Cinderella. "Look Cind, I need to ask a favor. These folks," he gestured to Maggie and Malcolm, "are trying to locate their friends. Can we hitch a ride with you?"
Cinderella sighed. "I suppose so. But it's going to be a tight squeeze - - my fairy godmother is accompanying me to the ball."
Maggie, Malcolm, and Prince Charming shuffled into the interior of the round pumpkin carriage, finding themselves seated upon smooth, red velvet upholstery. Facing the three of them from the opposite cushioned seat were Cinderella and an elderly lady with curly, silvery hair. She wore a creamy white dress sprinkled with glitter, and held a golden wand in her hand.
"Fairy Godmother, this is Snow White's beau and his friends," Cinderella introduced her guests to her fairy godmother.
"Welcome aboard!" grinned Fairy Godmother, gaily waving her wand in the air. "Bibbety bobbety boo! Where shall we take you to?!"
"Wow, this is better than a tram ride!" Malcolm excitedly exclaimed, as the carriage began moving forth again.
"So," Maggie leaned over to gaze at Prince Charming, "why did the ‘Sheriff's men' lock us in Rapunzel's tower? They just plucked me and Malcolm away from our friends - - they kidnapped us!"
Prince Charming gave Maggie an alluring smile. "Well, this is a thrill park. That's one of the ‘thrills' we provide. Visitors are forced to interact with us ‘residents' of Mother Goose Land."
"Aren't you from around here?" Cinderella asked Maggie.
"We're from . . . a far off place in a faraway land," Maggie answered, cryptically.
"Ah. Well this is only one branch of the Mother Goose family tree," Fairy Godmother told them. "Our Mother Goose has pockets of enchantment all over the world."
"That's right," agreed Prince Charming. He gazed fondly at Maggie. "Mother Goose Land is California's most popular attraction for family vacations. But we're peanuts compared to Mother Goose World in Florida!"
"Not to mention all the extensions of Mother Goose's empire abroad," added Cinderella.
Prince Charming nodded. For Maggie and Malcolm's benefit, he continued. "A new park recently opened up in Mexico City; they named it Tierra de Madre Gansa. France has Euro Goose in Paris, and there's Tokyo Gooseland in Japan. And of course, Vatican City beat all of them to the punch by opening Terrae Mater Anser."
"I see. So Mother Goose's empire is kinda like the Disney craze," Malcolm realized.
"Disney?" Fairy Godmother stared blankly at Malcolm.
As the carriage rode on, the passengers could see through the window that they were traveling in a forest. They could see a young girl, who could be no older than 18 years of age, standing by side of the road while wildly flailing her arms above her head to get their attention.
Fairy Godmother urgently yanked on a chain which hung from the carriage's ceiling. The pumpkin carriage stopped.
"Goldilocks!" called out Cinderella, pushing open the carriage door and hopping out. "What's the matter?!"
The girl's face had become burning red. "It's the Three Bears!" Goldilocks replied in a heated panic. "They've gone mad!"
Fairy Godmother held up her wand. "Fear not! I shall teach those Three Bears a lesson they will never forget."
Cinderella, Fairy Godmother, and Goldilocks led the way toward the Three Bears' cottage. Maggie, Prince Charming, and Malcolm lagged behind them.
"So who came up with the original idea for Mother Goose Land?" Malcolm inquired curiously from the prince.
Prince Charming took a moment to collect his memory. "Ever since I could remember, as a young boy I was brought up on tales written by the Brothers Grimm. They were a successful duo of siblings from Germany who made a fortune as children's writers in the early Nineteenth Century."
"Yeah, I think I've heard of them," murmured Maggie.
"Anyway, several generations later, some descendants of the Grimm family cut a deal with Mother Goose Publishing Company to open a theme park based on the literary works of the Brothers Grimm." Prince Charming swooped his hand around, indicating their surroundings. "In 1957, the first Mother Goose Land was born here in Pasadena. It became an immediate success. Over time, newer versions of Mother Goose Land were built in Florida, and later in Mexico, Japan, and Europe. Today, the Grimms remain one of the largest and wealthiest family dynasties of entrepreneurship and commercial merchandise in the entire world." The prince suddenly noticed that Maggie was gazing fondly at him. "Maggie? What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Maggie whispered, leaning in closer to him. She and the prince inched their lips closer and closer until their lips locked in a delicate, romantic kiss.
Malcolm's eyes dropped to the ground as he blushed sheepishly.
"I knew someday my prince would come," said Maggie, with enchanted softness in her voice.
Their moment of tenderness was abruptly interrupted by the nearby scream from Goldilocks. The young girl dashed out of the Three Bears' cottage, followed frantically by Cinderella and Fairy Godmother. Three life-sized grizzly bears - - obviously humans in costume - - made brusque growling noises while chasing the ladies. Fairy Godmother was tossing a golden sparkly substance over her shoulder at the Three Bears.
"That fake glitter isn't going to stop them, you stupid old crow!" Cinderella spat at her Fairy Godmother. "You just HAD to sit down and eat Papa Bear's porridge, didn't you?!"
"It had cinnamon in it!" Fairy Godmother excused herself, defensively. "Besides, I haven't digested a decent meal since this morning over breakfast with Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather at their cottage!"
"Just keep running!" shrieked Goldilocks.
Maggie checked the timer. "We only have 4 hours to find the others!" she told Malcolm.
The six of them made a beeline toward Cinderella's pumpkin carriage.* * *
"We've been walking forever!" complained Janine. The olive-skinned Asian beauty lazily sat down upon a tree stump. She looked around for Arturo. "Hey, Professor! Professor?!"
Still several feet behind Janine, Professor Arturo hiked up the forest trail, huffing, puffing, and gasping for breath. "Miss Chen, would you mind terribly slowing down a tad?! I can hardly keep up with you, and I'm not getting any younger! At this rate I'll have inhaled enough wind to blow down the Three Little Pigs' house of bricks!"
"Would you like me to carry you?" quipped Janine, with sarcastic mock sweetness.
The Professor had finally caught up to Janine. He wearily slumped against the trunk of an oak tree. "I believe that we are lost," he sighed.
"What gave it away?" snorted Janine. "Us not knowing where we are, us having no clue where we're going, or us being separated from everyone else?"
"If you'll quit jabbering and cut the sarcasm for one second, woman, maybe I'll be able to think!" Arturo impatiently ranted. Perspiration streamed down Arturo's beet red face as he finally began to catch his breath.
"Well, I guess someone forgot to take his Preparation H this morning," retorted Janine with a sneer. She was now reclining her back against the ground, staring up at the fluffy clouds in the clear blue sky.
"I'm starving," Professor Arturo moaned. "What I wouldn't give for a quarter-pound double bacon cheeseburger right now! . . ." He looked over at Janine, a bit envious. "However do you manage to contain your appetite, Miss Chen?" Arturo was sizing up Janine's slim body figure.
"I'm half-camel," Janine replied, sleepily.
"Good lord! Is that what I think it is?!" The Professor had suddenly caught a glimpse of a colorful house off in the distance.
"What?" Janine half-heartedly mumbled. She sat up in order to see what Arturo was referring to. "Hmm, if I didn't know any better, I'd swear it was a gingerbread house."
Janine and Professor Arturo moved closer to the structure, in astounded curiosity. As they neared the house, the two sliders saw its outer walls and roof was completely covered with large candies: swirled peppermints, lollipops, giant gumdrops, and dexterously carved gingerbread men and gingerbread women. Creamy white icing lined the edges of the roof and walls.
"It IS a gingerbread house!" realized the Professor. He stepped closer, captivated by the enormous treat. "I must have died and gone to heaven! I believe I shall sample a few of the goodies," he said, rubbing his hands together cravingly.
"I don't know if that's such a smart idea, Professor," Janine cautioned him. "You know the old saying - - behind every gingerbread house is a wicked witch."
"Nonsense, Miss Chen!" scoffed Arturo, brushing away Janine's warning with a motion of his hand. He proceeded to pry one of the gigantic round peppermints off of the house, giving the candy an eager lick. "Blech! This tastes like plastic!"
Janine rolled her eyes. "That's probably because it IS plastic! Do you honestly think they're going to glue real candy to the side of a house and leave it outdoors to spoil? That would make no sense."
"I suppose not." The Professor wore a pout of tremendous disappointment. "Oh, well. A fellow can still dream, can't he?"
"Nibble, nibble, like a mouse!" croaked a scratchy, high-pitched female voice. "Who's that nibbling at my house?!"
An ugly, black-robed woman had slinked out of the gingerbread house through its gumdrop-coated door. Stringy gray hair hung in an uncombed mess from her head.
"Madam, I would suggest that you find more appropriate decorations for the exterior of your home," Arturo lectured the witch. "These types of attractive falsities can tauntingly entice famished passers-by such as myself."
The witch scowled, and her facial wrinkles became more noticeable as she crossed her beady hazel eyes. "How dare you criticize my decorative skills!" her voice crackled.
"Speaking of which, I'd say your hygiene is also up for debate," Janine scrutinized, crinkling up her nose at the scent of the witch's rancid body odor. "Haven't you ever heard of using a comb? Or Speed Stick?"
Flushed with anger, the witch's face turned bright red. "Don't rattle my temper, foolish woman! Or I shall cook you the way I roasted young Hansel and Gretel!" The witch was now inches away from Janine, practically screaming in Janine's face.
"Get out of my face, Endora!" snapped Janine, giving the witch a harsh shove backward.
Regaining her balance, the witch lunged forward and pushed Janine right back with a vicious scowl.
"Come along, Miss Chen. I think it's best we leave," Arturo tried to intervene.
But Janine now had the witch in a tight headlock. "This is what you get for trying to scratch me, you crazy bitch!"
"Let go of me!" howled the witch.
"Pardon me, ma'am." The Professor leaned over and peered at the witch, who was still stuck within Janine's headlock. "We are searching for some companions of ours. Might you have any idea where we may find them?"
"Call off your slut, chubbo! Then maybe I'll tell you!" seethed the witch, resentfully.
Janine squeezed the witch in her headlock even tighter.
"If you don't comply with us, madam, then I will be compelled to stand idly by and do nothing while Miss Chen here pops your head like a purulent pimple!" Professor Arturo threatened, annoyed at the witch.
"Okay, okay! Fine!" gasped the witch in a hoarse, choked whisper. "My advice: look for them in Wonderland. It's one of the most popular areas of the park."
"Thank you," Janine insincerely spat out, releasing her hold on the witch, who collapsed to the ground. As Janine and the Professor walked away, Janine called back to the witch, "and if you're going to call yourself a witch, at least learn magic so you can cast spells on people."* * *
"I'm truly sorry to bother you," spoke up a soft female voice to Rembrandt and Wade, "but I seem to have lost my way." There stood a freckle-faced young woman with bright red hair; the girl was adorned in a deep crimson hooded cape, a large picnic basket clutched in one of her hands.
"Hey, you're Little Red Riding Hood!" realized Wade. "My grandma used to read me your story when I was a little girl."
Little Red Riding Hood giggled. "It's always nice to meet another fan."
"So if you're Little Red Riding Hood," Remmy deduced, "then that means the Big Bad Wolf is probably nearby?"
"Big Bad Wolf?" Little Red Riding Hood batted her eyelashes innocently. "I don't believe I'm acquainted with him."
A piercing howl could be heard echoing in the near distance.
"Remmy, I think we'd better run," advised Wade, spotting a menacing figure lurking toward them.
A hairy grayish wolf - - obviously costumed, as well - - raised its arms at Wade, Rembrandt, and Little Red Riding Hood, ready to pounce. The threesome scampered away screaming aloud, as the wolf ran after them stalking his prey.
Soon, the fleeing trio had reached a quaint country cottage situated in the forest clearing. A lovely young lady with ear-length dark black hair was using a broom to sweep the cobblestone path outside of the cottage. She wore a rather plain patchwork frock.
"Snow White!" yelled out Little Red Riding Hood. "We need to hide!" The Big Bad Wolf is after us!"
"Oh, schmuck," Snow White groaned, rolling her eyes. "That hairy monster just can't leave well enough alone, can he? I heard through the forest grapevine that last week he devoured two of the Three Little Pigs and Little Bo Peep's entire flock of sheep."
"Snow White?!" Wade swiveled her head back and forth from Snow White to Little Red Riding Hood.
"What is this . . . ‘Make-Believe World'?!" Remmy was just as baffled as Wade.
"Why, no. We are in Mother Goose Land," Little Red Riding Hood told him. "But we are going to be in the Big Bad Wolf's stomach soon if we don't hurry up and hide."
"Hello!" called out a squeaky, aging voice. An elderly woman dressed in rags hobbled up the path toward the Seven Dwarves' cottage, her eyes fixated on Snow White. The old lady carried a wicker basket filled with a variety of pieces of fresh fruit. "Would you care to buy some of my lovely fruit from a poor old woman like myself?"
"Aw . . . of course I would love to help you out," gushed Snow White. "I don't believe I have any money, though."
"That's quite all right, dearie," the old woman chirped. "Since you're so sweet, I'll give you a piece of my delicious fruit free of charge."
"Oh, goody!" Snow White leaned in to inspect the old lady's fruit basket. "I wonder which kind I shall take?"
"How about a nice, juicy red apple?" The old woman's bony fingers clutched a shiny apple sparkling with radiance. Snow White stared entranced at it.
"Oh, no way! You don't want an apple!" Rembrandt discouraged Snow White. "Didn't you hear . . . they've been spraying them apples with some nasty pesticides."
"Not MY apples," countered the old woman. "I grow them in my own private orchard with some . . . ‘special' ingredients."
"Don't do it, Snow White!" Wade warned the princess. "It's your stepmother in disguise! She poisoned the apple!"
The old lady shot a nasty scowl at Wade.
"Yeah, have a banana instead," Rembrandt suggested to Snow White. "They're high in potassium."
"Eat the apple, my dear." The old lady was waving the apple teasingly in front of Snow White's face. As though in a trance, Snow White took the apple from her stepmother and slowly brought the fruit toward her lips.
"Just one bite?" Snow White spoke softly.
"NO!!!" cried out Wade. She leaped forward, knocking the apple out of Snow White's hand. The apple rolled to the ground, and Rembrandt stepped on the apple, crushing and smashing it with his foot.
"You scoundrels!" seethed Snow White's stepmother, glaring at the two sliders.
"Hey, can I have a pear?" asked Little Red Riding Hood.
"No!" the stepmother snapped at Little Red Riding Hood. She switched her glare back to Wade and Remmy. "How dare you! Why I oughtta . . ."
The stepmother's rage was interrupted by a familiar howl. The Big Bad Wolf stepped out onto the clearing, bearing his teeth at Rembrandt, Wade, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and the Wicked Stepmother.
"He's back!!" screeched Little Red Riding Hood, lifting her picnic basket up in front of her face in a desperate attempt to block herself from the wolf's view.
"Get out of here!" the Wicked Stepmother lambasted the Big Bad Wolf. "The Land of Dwarves is MY turf!" She began pelting the wolf with pieces of fruit from her basket.
"Hurry! Run! Run while you still can!" Snow White motioned for Wade and Remmy to make a fast getaway. Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood then engaged themselves in hurling muffins from Little Red Riding Hood's picnic basket at the Big Bad Wolf, to ward him off.
"Go to Wonderland!" Little Red Riding Hood squealed after them. "Alice will guide you to safety!" She'd just hit the wolf smack in his eye with a blueberry muffin.
Wade and Rembrandt sprinted away from there, in search of Wonderland.* * *
"Welcome to Wonderland." A dimpled, sunny, blond adolescent girl wearing a frilly white apron draped over a blue sundress greeted Maggie, Malcolm, and Prince Charming as they strolled into a popular section of the park, a section known as Wonderland. Goldilocks, Cinderella, and Fairy Godmother had dropped them off from the pumpkin carriage a few miles back. Approaching closer and closer to Wonderland, the trio had seen an increasing number of average-clothed people, presumably tourists of Mother Goose Land.
"This is Alice. She'll show us all the sights here in Wonderland," grinned Prince Charming, gesturing to his female coworker.
"We're finally seeing more visitors around here," Malcolm observed, as Alice led them into Wonderland. "How come we hadn't seen many park tourists before now?"
"It's the off-season," Prince Charming explained. "Plus this park is a big place. Naturally, if you come here during the off-season it's easy to avoid large crowds if you visit less popular areas of the park, like the ones we were previously in."
Maggie took in their exotic surroundings. Wonderland was adorned with miles of lush, purple grass, obviously artificial and spray-painted. Covering the purple lawn were several purple putting areas, designed like a golf course only with wire croquet wickets arched in straight rows. Park tourists putted colorful croquet balls through the wickets by using wooden mallets which were carved, painted, and shaped like flamingos, rather than with golf clubs.
"And what is this?" snorted Maggie, indicating the croquet players.
"Oh, this is our 18-hole miniature croquet course," Alice provided. "We have seven of the world's most challenging 18-hole miniature croquet courses, a total of 126 holes in all."
"Mother Goose Land is America's number one family attraction for miniature croquet," winked Prince Charming. "An excellent and relatively safe pastime for the entire family to enjoy."
Maggie chortled, gazing fondly at her prince. "You sound like you're reciting this out of a manual."
"Well . . . I am paraphrasing." Prince Charming flashed Maggie another cute smile, which Maggie returned.
"Maggie! Malcolm!" They were surprised to hear Diana's voice calling to them. Dr. Davis and Mallory headed toward the group.
"Diana! Mallory!" called back Malcolm. He and Maggie met their friends halfway.
"Thank God we finally found you!" Mallory gave an exhausted sigh of relief. "We've been wandering around Wonderland for hours. Tweedledee and Tweedledum nearly trampled over us during their public polka exhibition!"
Malcolm, Diana, and Mallory chattered away about all they'd seen and done on this world, while Maggie strolled behind them hand-in-hand with Prince Charming. Alice continued to spearhead the group, leading them through Wonderland past leafy pink trees with fluffy, fake marshmallows hanging from their branches; mechanical bird swere perched atop the artificial foliage, enthusiastically chirping aloud in harmony. The visitors seemed to be walking toward what might be considered a "marshmallow orchard."
"Why don't we pop in on the Mad Hatter's Tea Party?" suggested Alice. "He always welcomes new guests."
Their group had wandered upon a long, rectangular table situated in the middle of the orchard. The table was covered with a wildly polka dotted tablecloth and place settings containing purple cloth napkins and pink ceramic silverware and china. An array of eccentric-looking "guests" sat along both sides of the table; at the head of the table was a stout fellow wearing a lavender leisure suit with about eight different unique hats piled atop his head.
"Mad Hatter, may we join your tea party?" Alice politely inquired.
The Mad Hatter made a rude face at Alice. "I think not!" he snapped. "There's no room left for you at this table!"
"No room! No room!" echoed someone in a human-sized furry white bunny costume. He clutched ahold of a golden ticking stopwatch.
"It's the White Rabbit!" Malcolm identified the fairy tale character.
"I think it's the entire population of Wonderland!" exclaimed Mallory. He surveyed the table in bewilderment; an assortment of leprechauns, goblins, trolls, gnomes, gargoyles, dwarves, bunnies, turtles, sheep, fairies, pixies, elves, and various other creatures - - all humans in costume, of course - - were each seated along either side of the elongated table.
"Hey! Janine! Professor!" Diana all of a sudden noticed their two fellow sliders sitting among the multitude of creatures, sipping cups of tea.
Janine swallowed a gulp of her tea and looked up at them. "Where in the hell have you all been?"
"Yes, you missed the serving of strawberry shortcake prepared by the Duchess's cook," raved the Professor. "It was quite divine . . . albeit a bit too spicy."
"Well come on," Diana prodded them. "We still need to find Remmy and Wade."
Arturo and Janine reluctantly stood up from their seats at the Mad Hatter's tea party. Malcolm took a moment to introduce all of them to Alice and Prince Charming. The prince, however, was engaged exclusively in deep conversation with Maggie.
"We've seen some pretty freaky people on this world," Janine commented, as they left the Mad Hatter's orchard. "Although it was fun to watch Jack-Be-Nimble get his ass burned by his candlestick." She had on a devious grin.
Mallory pouted. "We've only met annoying people," he said, referring to the characters who'd confronted Diana and himself. "Especially that little Rumpelstiltskin guy who kept following us around, trying to make us guess his name."
Malcolm pointed straight ahead. "Isn't that Wade and Remmy?"
Sure enough, off in the distance Rembrandt and Wade could be seen plodding up a hill while being guided by an elderly lady wearing a frilly smock.
"Guys!" Wade's eyes lit up as she spied the other sliders. She and Rembrandt ran over to them; Remmy gave Malcolm a great big hug, and Wade threw her arms around the Professor.
"Miss Wells, must you be so melodramatic?" Arturo asked in an uppity voice.
"Oh, come on, Professor. You know you missed us."
Professor Arturo bashfully returned Wade's smile. "Yes, Miss Wells, I suppose I did." He blushed slightly.
"How'd you guys escape from the Sheriff's Men?" Rembrandt asked Maggie and Malcolm.
"Long story, Rem," replied Maggie. "Here are two people you've got to meet. This is Alice, who's led us through Wonderland. And this," Maggie took her prince's hand, "is Prince Charming. Well, Snow White's Prince Charming, to be exact."
"Hey, there's enough of me to go around for both of you," boasted Prince Charming, suavely. He and Maggie tenderly locked lips again.
"This," Wade introduced them to her and Rembrandt's friend, "is Old Mother Hubbard. She's been guiding us ever since we left the Land of Dwarves."
"Hello, dears." Old Mother Hubbard sweetly gave a wave of her hand to the sliders.
"So this is some kind of amusement park," Rembrandt concluded, "that we've landed in?"
"Yeah, it's like Disneyland on our homeworlds," Malcolm explained. "Except at Mother Goose Land, visitors are forced to interact with the fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters. It's like a thrill park . . . evil villains, mechanical beanstalks, pumpkin carriages . . ."
"Fake gingerbread houses," put in Janine.
"Oh no," squeaked Alice. An expression of terror was plastered across her face.
"What's wrong, Alice?" solicited Diana.
Alice pointed in the direction which she stared. "Over yonder. It's the Queen of Hearts!"
A mean-looking plump woman adorned in a velvety royal blue dress was charging toward them. She wore a large diamond tiara around her jet black head of hair, and carried a scepter in her left hand. The queen was trailed by a fleet of soldiers wearing "sandwich board"-like uniforms, each with a different poker card design on it. Every soldier held a long, sharp, pointy silver spear.
"You again, missy?!" The Queen of Hearts stuck out her chubby finger at Alice. "How many times have I told you to stay away from my kingdom, you little troublemaker?! You should know by now not to cross ME! That's how Pinocchio lost his nose last week!"
"Sorry, Queen of Hearts, but you heard Mother Goose's ruling," Alice reminded her. "By mandate of the Gooseland Proclamation Act, all residents of Mother Goose Land are free to roam at will wherever we please within the twenty kingdoms of Mother Goose Land. And remember, Mother Goose's decision is final."
"Aw, Mother Goose can kiss my arse!" barked the Queen of Hearts, aggressively raising her scepter in the air. "Alice, I challenge you and your friends to a game of flamingo croquet!" She gestured to a nearby putting area at the beginning of a croquet course next to a sparkling waterfall. "And if you defeat me, I will have your head - - literally!"
"Sorry, fatso," Janine crudely addressed the Queen of Hearts, "but we're leaving this loony bin."
"It would be wise to heed her words, madam," Professor Arturo informed the Queen of Hearts, referring to Janine. "This woman showed young Hansel and Gretel's witchy abductor a thing or two about bullying the innocent."
"Fools!" snapped the Queen of Hearts, aiming her scepter at the sliders. "Off with your head! Off with all of their heads!"
Alice, Prince Charming, Old Mother Hubbard, and the eight sliders took off running as the Queen of Hearts and her card soldiers charged after them.
"Off with your heads!" the queen's voice resonated.
"Where do we hide?!" shrieked Old Mother Hubbard.
"Quick follow me. I know a back way out of Wonderland," Alice told them. Everyone began to run behind Alice.
"Maggie, I know this isn't the best time to ask this," Prince Charming brought up, panting as he jogged with the group, "but I have to clock back in to work or else my supervisor will have my head too! I know you're planning to leave, and I fear I will never see you again if I do not ask. Maggie, will you be my princess?"
"What?!" Maggie nearly toppled over, taken aback, as she ran along with everyone else.
"On my world, that's a metaphor for a marriage proposal," Prince Charming explained. "I'm asking you to marry me, Maggie!"
Maggie did a double take. "Our little fling has been fun, but I don't even know your name! I mean, your REAL name!"
"Well . . . I'm not allowed to give you that information," apologized Prince Charming. "Company restrictions."
The sliders had reached a large, mountainous rock carved to resemble the face of the Cheshire Cat.
"Sorry, junior. It's been fun, though." Maggie patted the young prince on the shoulder, and he sulked away, disappointed.
"Off with their heads!" they could hear the Queen of Hearts ordering her soldiers.
"Pardon me," spoke up a feminine, saccharine voice, "but if you're looking for an escape route, might I suggest you head over yonder?" She pointed over her shoulder at the hillside.
"Who are you?" Diana asked the girl.
"I'm Little Miss Muffet," replied the girl. She was seated like Buddha atop a rather gigantic toadstool. "And this is my tuffet." Little Miss Muffet, dressed in a pink gown, cradled a bowl of cottage cheese in her lap. "And these are my Curds n' Whey."
"Miss Muffet, would that by any chance be . . . cottage cheese?" Arturo hopefully and hungrily asked Little Miss Muffet, licking his lips at the sight of her Curds n' Whey.
"Not now, Professor. What's over the hill?" Rembrandt asked Little Miss Muffet.
"The Land of Oz," responded Little Miss Muffet. "Fear not, the Munchkins of Munchkinland will protect you."
Malcolm shrugged. "Sounds like as good of a place as any."
They quickly hurried over the hill and across the border which separated Wonderland from the Land of Oz.* * *
"Under 10 minutes!" shouted Maggie, checking the timer.
The octet of sliders, along with Alice and Old Mother Hubbard, stood in a quaint village of Munchkinland, among a crowd of raving, chattering diminutives. A cry of fear suddenly arose from the Munchkins, as they spotted a sinister figure swooping high above them in the air.
"It's the Wicked Witch of the West!" came a chorus of squeaky shrieks from several of the midgets.
"This is getting downright stupid!" groaned Mallory, as an ugly, black-robed witch with green paint slathered all over her face descended upon Munchkinland on her broomstick.
"Guys, I really HATE ‘The Wizard of Oz'," trembled Wade, instinctively clutching Remmy's shoulder for comfort.
"Hold on for just a while longer, girl," Rembrandt softly encouraged her. "It'll all be over soon."
"Allies of the Munchkins, are you?" the Wicked Witch of the West spat out at the sliders. "I'll get you, my pretties . . . and your little gadget too!" She pointed at the timer.
"Follow the Yellow Brick Road!" many of the Munchkins chorused to their "guests".
Malcolm looked at the Wicked Witch of the West's psychotic face. "What are we gonna do?" he asked.
"We'll do what we do best, Mr. Eastman," asserted Arturo. The Professor looked toward the Yellow Brick Road which rolled out for miles ahead, originating in Munchkinland. "Run! Run like hell!"
Alice, Old Mother Hubbard, and the sliders jetted across the Yellow Brick Road, approaching what seemed to be acres of farmland and cornfields. The Wicked Witch of the West could be heard cackling maniacally, flying after them, her broomstick obviously operated by some type of high-tech remote control. A posse of the witch's robotic Flying Monkeys had joined her in pursuit of the sliders. Additionally, the Queen of Hearts and her card soldiers, who had also entered Munchkinland, were now chasing the sliders down the Yellow Brick Road.
"Where are Dorothy and Glinda when you need them?!" Mallory whined.
All of a sudden, an helicopter propelled itself into view, making its way toward the characters-in-chaos. A feathered woman with spectacles and a bonnet was lowered from the bottom of the helicopter on a rope. She stood in the middle of the Yellow Brick Road, her "wings" irately positioned on her feathery hips. Everyone - - the sliders, the Queen of Hearts and her soldiers, the Wicked Witch of the West and her Flying Monkeys - - all came to an abrupt halt.
"Who the hell is she?" asked Janine.
"That," Alice said, "is Mother Goose, the curator of this park." Alice, Old Mother Hubbard, the Queen of Hearts, and the Wicked witch of the West all looked intimidated by Mother Goose.
"You've been bad little tourists today!" Mother Goose reprimanded the eight sliders. "I've received reports that you've been wrecking havoc on our humble theme park today . . . distracting employees, escaping the Sheriff's Men, resisting capture . . . HOW do you expect our thrill park to function properly if visitors like you refuse to participate in the thrills?!"
"We don't have to take this from you, Mother Goose!" snapped Diana, stepping up to the park curator. "We're going to continue on our way whether you like it or not!"
"Oh, I don't think so!" Mother Goose quavered in agitation. "You folks won't be visiting the Emerald City today. I'm putting a stop to your juvenile antics!"
"This wasn't our fault!" Maggie protested. "We didn't choose to slide into your amusement park!"
"Maggie!" Wade scolded her.
"What's she going to do . . . fly after us through the vortex?!" sneered Maggie. She stared Mother Goose down. "You've got a lot of nerve . . ."
"Don't push my buttons today, young lady!" Mother Goose crackled. She sauntered over to the side of the Yellow Brick Road where a Golden Goose dispenser had been built. Inserting a coin into a slot within the beak of the gold platinum goose machine, Mother Goose collected a handful of candies which shot out of the goose's beak into her hand. "Everything's been going wrong this week!" she complained, while chomping a mouthful of candy. "Peter Pan broke out with acne, Sleeping Beauty got knocked up by her sleazy biker boyfriend, Aladdin was arrested for marijuana possession, Tinker Bell got drunk and went streaking through Never Never Land, we can't find any last-minute replacements for their characters, and Humpty Dumpty demanded a raise or he'll walk . . ." Mother Goose burst into emotional tears.
"There, there. It'll be okay." Wade comfortingly put her arm around Mother Goose's feathery shoulder.
"Unfortunately, we won't be able to help you out," Maggie announced, opening the vortex with their timer. She leaped into the wormhole with Arturo right behind her. Wade left Mother Goose's side and joined Janine, Malcolm, Diana, and Mallory, who were systematically jumping through the portal's shimmering pink gateway. Rembrandt was the last one to depart.
"And so our interdimensional fairy tale ends," he quipped, backing up toward the vortex. "And we all lived happily ever after."
With an easygoing grin, Remmy disappeared into the vortex.* * *
As the octet of sliders tumbled out onto the next world, they found themselves scattered about inside of what appeared to be a nicely-furnished living room.
"So we've slid into someone's home, again?" Diana assumed.
"Or maybe a really fancy hotel suite?" hoped Janine.
"I'm not so sure about that, Di," spoke Maggie in a nervous voice. She pointed to where the wall was supposed to be. "Anyone else notice that this room has an entire wall missing?"
"Maybe a tornado plundered a whole side of this house?" Malcolm proposed.
"Or a really bad construction crew?" Wade quipped.
"Good heavens!" gasped the Professor, gaping at the open space where the wall should have been.
The gigantic, monstrous face of a little girl was peering into her dollhouse, curiously inspecting the sliders who seemed to be live, animated miniature dolls from her perspective.
"We must be in her dolls' living room?" quivered Mallory, staring upward, frightened. The giant young girl giggled giddily, a noise that rumbled like thunder as she shook her dollhouse.
"I think she wants to play with us," Rembrandt echoed Mallory's fear. "She must think we're her new toys."
The giant girl's colossal hand moved toward her dollhouse, outstretched, her wiggling fingers reaching for the sliders.
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