"Christmas Album Pablum"
Have you ever wondered how the sliders entertain themselves when someone clownish isn't the President? When there are no robot assassins about? No double's life to tragicomically step into?
At any rate, I have. There are a collection of worlds, strung together by theme, where nothing of great interest happened to our sliders. These worlds are best shown under the heading of...
The second edition I have entitled "Christmas Album Pablum". Proceed with caution...utter boredom may ensue.
Quinn Mallory, Wade Welles, Rembrandt Brown and Professor Maximilian Arturo huddled around the little fire that they had managed to build in the fireplace in one corner of the room. The Professor and Quinn eyed the door to the one-room cabin with suspicion as it rattled in the wake of the strong cold wind outside. They had just sacrificed one of the larger pieces of firewood to bolt the entrance closed. They intended to slide from inside here; none of them relished the thought of enduring the arctic temperatures again. The four of them looked at each other silently, exchanging glances that all had the same feeling behind them. "Face it," Wade said. "We're in the middle of nowhere, we've got most of a day here and we're bored out of our minds. There's nothing else to do."
"Out of the question," Professor Arturo practically growled. "It's far too dangerous."
"Dangerous?" Quinn questioned. "What's so dangerous about it?"
Professor Arturo looked at the flat, square green object in the hands of Rembrandt Brown as though his eyes could burn a hole through it. "If you play that damn Christmas album, I may be driven to madness and murder you all."
Wade was nonplussed. "I think we're willing to take the risk."
"Come on, Professor!" Quinn goaded him with a laugh. "Where's your Christmas spirit?"
"It's the middle of March," Arturo snapped irritably. "I cannot believe that Mr. Brown has been lugging that thing around ever since that horrendous world where the Constitution was abridged. I don't even want to think about where he kept it." Quinn and Wade looked at him expectantly. "Oh, very well. I'll be drowning it out over the crackling fire with these," he picked the item up gingerly, "soiled earmuffs on my head. I certainly hope you enjoy yourselves while I suffer heatstroke to maintain my dignity."
The two of them walked over to Rembrandt, who had moved across the room to stand silently next to the old dusty record player they'd found. The Kurt Cobain Christmas Album hadn't left his hand ever since he'd withdrawn it from his leather coat. "Go ahead, Rembrandt. Open it up."
Remmy curled his mouth back into a small grimace. "I don't know, Q-ball. I didn't exactly get this record because it jived with my musical taste. I was hoping to sell it to some diehard Nirvana fans when we got home. If I take it out of the plastic, it'll devalue the record."
"I'm sure you can get a pile of money for it no matter what," Wade said, her hands tucked in her armpits. "Now come on. Get the music hopping. We've got to do something to take our minds off this cold, and Quinn already shot down my other idea."
Rembrandt took the album from its sleeve and carefully placed it on the turntable. He put the needle onto the outermost groove and the music started to pour out. Quinn and Wade listened intently to the first song, called "Holly". As Cobain, accompanied only by acoustic guitar, sang "Holly says it's Christmas, have a happy holly-day" Remmy's thoughts were decidedly elsewhere.
He hadn't kept the record out of greed. Making some fast cash was always a plus, of course, but that reason rang a bit hollow. Rembrandt placed selling it low on his list of priorities once he got home. He watched Quinn twirl Wade around the floor despite the fact that the slow pace of the music didn't call for it.
There were items scattered about his person that reminded him of home. His driver's license, photos of his parents, old parking stubs and receipts, all had made the journey from Earth Prime to here relatively unscathed. Yet none of these served to comfort him much. The look and the feel of them was depressing, the familiarity too alien when compared with the oddities he faced daily as he traveled from one world to another. They subverted the idea of reaching home, rather than reinforcing it.
The round piece of vinyl in question was something different altogether. This record, the sappy, bland, completely and utterly wrong Kurt Cobain Christmas Album was a big part of what made the goal tangible. It gave him something to think about doing when he got home. When he got home, not if. But now that idea had been sacrificed for...
Well, what was it for? Weren't Quinn and Wade happily distracted from their woes, if momentarily? Didn't this make an uneventful, boring slide to an icy world a little more enjoyable? Wasn't that worth a little sacrifice?
Rembrandt wasn't entirely convinced. He found himself standing beside the Professor near the fire. "How you feelin', Professor?"
"Annoyed," he responded snappishly. "These earmuffs are practically useless and I see no point in yelling 'Turn down that racket!' like some stereotypical old coot." He watched as Quinn dipped Wade and then dropped her suddenly. "I suppose I could join them over there. The fire is a bit too warm and we still have a while here."
"Come on over, Professor," Wade invited. "The music isn't so bad, really. Not once you get used to..."
"Terrible!" Quinn declared while tossing the disc aside. It landed atop a sea of discarded boxes and torn wrapping paper. "I can't believe we kept it until it was actually Christmas. What were we thinking?"
"I seem to recall you didn't hate it so much when you first listened to it," Rembrandt replied defensively.
"That's because there was nothing to do on that world," Wade countered. "This version of Los Angeles is the most lively we've seen yet. Why stay inside and listen to a record when you can go club hopping?"
"Because it's Christmas," Rembrandt complained. "And it's the closest thing to a tradition we have."
"I'm afraid you're outvoted, Mr. Brown," Professor Arturo said smirkingly. "Besides, if I hear that wretched 'Wrap Me' song again, I think I might be forced to inflict bodily harm."
"Quinn! Help me!" Maggie shrieked in a shrill tone. Her voice had a bit of a falsetto note to it that made it sound whinier than usual.
"Do it again," Rembrandt instructed patiently.
"OK," Maggie said, mentally preparing herself once again. "We've seen so many people die, it's enough to make me give up on life altogether."
Rembrandt shook his head. "I don't think that's quite it either. One more time, if you don't mind."
Maggie cleared her throat and rolled her eyes impatiently. "Fighting is wrong. I wish the Professor was here. What would I do without a man around?"
Remmy's frustration was evident. "Now you're not even trying!"
"I give up," Maggie declared as she threw her hands in the air in defeat. "My throat is sore, and I'm tired of staring at this microphone. I haven't said anything that even came close to her voice, at least according to you. We might as well admit that I'm never going to be able to sound like Wade!" Rembrandt looked disgruntled. "I only knew her for a few months! Why should I be the one who has to come up with the vocal match?"
"I think that should be fairly obvious," Quinn chimed in. "You're the only woman in the group."
"Right now I wish I wasn't," Maggie grumbled. "Look, all I know is I'm through for the day. I'm going back to the Chandler. If either of you want to give your Frankie Valley impression a shot, you're more than welcome." The two male sliders watched as the former Marine captain walked out the door.
"I'm no Four Seasons fan, but she may be right," Rembrandt conceded. "If we ever want Wade's voice to be digitally harmonizing with mine on this Christmas album, we may have to do it ourselves."
"Frankie Valley was with the Four Seasons?" Quinn questioned. "I thought it was the Four Tops."
Rembrandt stared at his physicist friend in disbelief. "Better let me do it."
"Don't sweat it, Crying Man," Quinn assured him with confidence in his voice. "You've been belting out tunes all day. I think I have a better shot at getting Wade's voice down than you do anyway. Take a rest. Head back to the Chandler with Maggie if you want to."
"I think I'm still needed here," Rembrandt told him in no uncertain terms. "This isn't going to be easy, Q-Ball, and your voice isn't exactly angelic. No offense. I just think you're going to need someone to take you through...everything..." He trailed off as he noticed an eccentrically dressed man with a goatee enter the booth.
"I'm sorry," his vaguely Eastern European accent explained. "I couldn't help, how you say, eavesdropping on your conversation. I think I may have a solution. My name is Vincente Padalini, magician extraordinaire. And if it's the voice of a lost loved one you're after, I think I may have the solution: hypnotism."
"Not to knock your profession, mac, but I don't go in for magic tricks," Quinn said.
"It's perfectly safe. I used to be a physciatrist until the Anti-Frasier Laws made the occupation...undesirable." The man bowed slightly as a gesture of humility. "In any case, allow me to assure you that I'm extremely skilled in both the arts and the science of the mind."
Quinn and Rembrandt shared a look. They couldn't come up with any more objections. "Alright, I'm game. But no tricks. I don't want to wake up and think I'm a chicken or anything."
The man flashed his teeth in a large grin. "Believe me, the procedure is foolproof."
A few moments later, Quinn stormed out of the recording studio. "I was a fool to agree to this," he proclaimed angrily.
Rembrandt followed close behind. "Quinn, man, I'm so sorry. I had no idea what would happen. If..."
Quinn held his hand up in a seemingly defensive gesture. "Just don't, OK? Don't get into it, don't try to help me deal with it, don't ever bring it up again." Rembrandt was speechless. "If I had to deal with that level of pain all the time, I don't think I could function. Best to just repress it." The other man nodded. There was nothing else he could do but respect Quinn's wishes. After a few moments of silence, Quinn decided an apology was in order. "I'm sorry I ruined your Christmas album, Remmy."
"No big deal, Q-ball," Rembrandt said with a small chuckle. "I'll just be the first slider with a solo Christmas album. That's gotta count for something, right?"
"OK, I stand corrected," Maggie stated hesitantly. "I'm the second slider with a solo Christmas album. So...who wants to see it first?"
Rembrandt, Diana and Mallory all did their best to feign enthusiasm. Not all of them succeeded. Maggie pretended not to notice, or truly didn't. "I got a copy for each of you. Consider it my Christmas gift to you guys!"
"Wow, that's very...generous of you, Maggie," Diana told her as earnestly as possible. "But you didn't have to go to all this trouble. I mean," she added sheepishly, "I didn't get anything for you."
"It's no big deal," Maggie replied casually. "The promoter was giving them away. He says I'm going to be big in the entertainment industry."
"Did he say what kind of entertainment?" Mallory asked suggestively.
Rembrandt elbowed him in the ribs before Maggie could say anything. "That's great, Maggie. Why don't you give us some time to listen to the CD. You know, so we can take it all in. Without any outside factors influencing our judgment."
"Of course," Maggie told them with entirely too much enthusiasm. "I'll be down the hall if you want to talk to me about it before we slide." She then scampered off, closing the door shut behind her. Mere moments passed before Mallory was at the door, making sure that the would-be recording artist wasn't outside listening at the door. He nodded the all-clear.
"OK, bags," Diana said, immediately starting to rummage through her duffel bag.
Rembrandt looked at the CD distastefully. "'Shiny: Eleven Songs about Rudolph's Nose and Other Taboo Christmas Topics'." He shuddered and looked at Mallory. "I thought you said that most of these were about poinsettias."
"They are," Mallory said. "I think she got off topic a bit."
"Here we go," Diana interrupted. She held out an empty plastic bag to her fellow sliders and they dropped the discs inside. Then she held another bag out with three empty discs in them. They made the replacement quickly and then Diana stashed them away.
"What are we going to tell her if she wants to listen to her CD on the next world?" Rembrandt asked.
"Diana'll come up with some pseudoscientific explanation of how an effect of the wormhole erased them," Mallory explained. "It'll have no basis at all in fact, but Maggie won't know the difference."
Diana nodded her approval. "Thanks for the heads up on this, Mallory. I don't know what we would have done if you hadn't warned us."
"Don't mention it," he shrugged. "I knew my habit of following Maggie would come in handy. And speaking of that, if some girls who mention something about an incident with a gym shower and a peephole come by, I'd appreciate it if you cover for me. Thanks."
Rembrandt landed with a painful thud, his kamikazi mission thus beginning inauspiciously. He looked around slowly as he rubbed the dust from his eyes. It was a desert setting, with civilization barely evident by faint traces of tire track marks running along the ground a few feet away from him. Mountains loomed in the distance, seemingly too far to reach in a day's journey.
There were no Kromaggs in sight. This disappointed Rembrandt a bit. It was hard to be patient on a mission of vengeance. There was no clear direction to start walking in, except he thought he heard a noise coming from the direction opposite the setting sun. Remmy started hiking towards the sound, hoping to find someone who could clue him in to where he was and how to get where he needed to be.
After a few minutes of walking, he began to be able to make out words. "...radiation level's OK.... all the Mutations on New Year's..." Wait, did it sound like...singing? As he got closer, Rembrandt saw that it was a small cabin that the music was coming out of. He entered quickly. Was this world on the verge of nuclear disaster? He had to know.
The record continued to blare as Rembrandt burst through the door. "It's Christmas at Ground Zero/ Now the missiles are on their way/ What a crazy fluke, we're gonna get nuked/ On this jolly holiday". Remmy wasn't sure, but it sounded a bit like a Weird Al Yankovic song.
He breathed a sigh of relief. At least this world wasn't about to be destroyed before he could get his revenge on the Maggs. It was then that a flash of light and the heat of a dozen suns evaporated him and everything around him.
A horror-filled tale of how scary the happiest of holidays can truly be? Or just a collection of tales so bizarrely non sequitur that not even Forest Whitaker dares present them to the public at large? You be the judge, jury, and Doug Llewellyn, and be sure to hesitate before reading the next edition of...
Mundane Slides, and other Tales of Interdimensional Tedium!