The Sweater is the Key
As promised, here is probably the most ridiculous story I have ever written.Â I refer you again to the highly acclaimed portrait of Wil Wheaton astride a Unicorn Pegasus Kitten while John Scalzi-Ork looks on (shown below).Â Â Enjoy.Â Ridicule.Â Laugh.Â Scratch your head in confusion.Â Throw rotten fruit at your screen.Â But it’s all true.Â This is how it happened…
Knit One, Hurl Two
The loose thread in the hideous sweater taunted Wil like a zit demanding to be squeezed.Â Â He lifted his arm to take another sip of Guinness and the red yarn waved at him from the sleeve, a cheerful invitation to pull, just a little.Â He flicked it with his fingers, testing it.Â What could it hurt?
Itâ€™s not like I can make it worse, he thought, tugging lightly.Â He glanced up at the mirrored wall of the hotel bar, checking for John behind him.Â John was late, and the longer Wil had to sit in public wearing the Infamous Clown Sweater, the more uncomfortable he became.Â The place was fairly empty, but every minute brought another chance for someone to recognize him â€“ and take his picture. Again.
The thread fluttered at him, promising adventure and satisfaction.Â Would it come loose from the sweater?Â Would it knot up and hang there?Â Would it unravel?Â Wil pinched it between his fingers.Â He had to find out.
Three things happened nearly at once.Â Wil yanked at the yarn, feeling the promised satisfaction as it slid through and dropped a stitch.Â John arrived and placed his hand on Wilâ€™s shoulder.Â Less than a second later, the room lurched, nearly knocking Wil off his barstool and John off his feet.Â A shrill whining filled the air and everything went black.
Light returned. Will sat blinking on a rock, John frozen behind him, a hand braced on Wilâ€™s shoulder.
â€œWhat the hell?â€ John said, his voice shaking.
The bar was gone.Â The rock Wil perched on was in the middle of a clearing, lavender grass waving softly.Â Red mushrooms towered at the edge of the circle, spores floating delicately on the skunk-scented breeze.Â Wil turned his head to face John, then jerked back in surprise, tumbling to the ground.
John was covered in fine, lemon-yellow fur.Â His head had sprouted a pair of blue horns, twisting up in dainty spirals.Â A pink heart decorated a bare spot on his belly.Â Wil backpedaled across the clearing, putting distance between himself and the frighteningly cuddly creature before him.
â€œJohn?â€ Wil said, not at all sure.
â€œThis is messed up,â€ John said. â€œYou talk about the space-time continuum, you write about alternate universes, but nobody mentions the smell.â€Â He waved a pink-taloned paw in front of his elongated snout.Â â€œThat is nasty.â€
Wil found it disturbing that Johnâ€™s voice was coming from this giant Care-Bear hybrid.
â€œJohn,â€ he said.
â€œI mean, damn.Â Is that coming from the mushrooms, or what?â€
â€œJohn — listen to me.Â Youâ€™reâ€¦hairy.â€
John looked down at himself and the air burst from his lungs.Â He held out a paw and turned it over and back.Â He stomped his feet and watched them move up and down.Â Then he caught sight of his hairless stomach stamped with an enormous valentine and dropped to the rock in a cloud of yellow cotton-candy fluff.
John sat for some time, his face buried in his paws, while Wil tried to think through what had happened.Â John raised his head, took a deep breath and gave Wil a wide grin filled with emerald teeth.
â€œAt least Iâ€™m not stuck in that ugly sweater,â€ he said.
â€œItâ€™s your fault Iâ€™m wearing the damn thing,â€ Wil said.Â It itched like crazy.Â And he seemed to be missing his shoes.Â â€œYouâ€™re the one that left it at my door.Â I only wore it to mess with you for leaving it there.â€
â€œWhat door, your hotel room?Â I checked in right before I came down to the bar.Â This time it wasnâ€™t me, I swear.â€
Will felt a chill.Â Did he have a stalker? Who knew where he was staying?Â And why the clown sweater, of all things?Â More importantly, why was he worried about that right now?
He took a deep breath.Â â€œOkay,â€ he said.Â â€œForget the sweater.Â We have to figure this out.Â And why the hell donâ€™t I have my cellphone on me to take a picture of you?â€
They explored the edges of the clearing, poking their heads into the mushroom forest long enough to verify it wasnâ€™t a movie set or an elaborate practical joke.Â John tried to pluck a piece of purple grass from the ground so he could examine it more closely, but the screeching of the grass when he pulled was so startling he backed off and left it alone.
â€œScrew this,â€ John said.Â â€œForget where we are.Â Concentrate on how to get back.â€
After some discussion about the Multiverse, time travel, Cosmic Lasagna, and which one of them might be asleep and dreaming the whole thing, they settled on the simplest plan; they would reenact what theyâ€™d done in the moment it happened.
Wil took his seat on the rock, and John stood behind him, placing a hairy paw on his shoulder.Â Nothing.
â€œWere you thinking anything weird when you touched me?â€ Wil asked.
â€œWhat, like â€˜Man, that is one fine man-sweater Wil has on?â€™â€Â John shook his head.Â â€œNo.Â What were you thinking?â€
Wil thought back.Â Heâ€™d been sitting there drinking, waiting for John. He lifted his arm to run his fingers through his hair.Â The sweaterâ€™s loose thread flapped at him.Â That was it.Â Heâ€™d been thinking about the damn sweater.Â He grasped the string in his fingers.
â€œI had my arm up like this and I pulled this striâ€¦â€ The mushroom clearing lurched and everything went black.
Light returned and Wil blinked.Â Everything around him was so white it hurt his eyes.Â His bare feet were buried in snow up to the ankles.Â Wil groaned.
â€œSocks are gone,â€ he said in a miserable voice.Â â€œI really liked those socks.â€
The rock on which he sat moaned and shifted.Â Two scaly feet and a beaked head emerged, turned to look up at him with sleepy eyes.
â€œHoly crap,â€ John said from very close to Wilâ€™s ear.
Wil turned and didnâ€™t see anyone.Â He slid from the back of the enormous snow turtle and peered around.
â€œHere,â€ John said, alarmingly close.Â â€œHold still.â€
Wil squinted, thinking John must be blending into the scenery.Â A tiny John flew in front of his face, filigreed wings strumming like a hummingbird.Â He did not look happy.
â€œWell, donâ€™t you look pretty,â€ Wil said, noting the Swan Lake tutu John sported.Â â€œNice wand, fairy princess.â€
â€œDo.Â Not. Laugh,â€ John said, his miniature features adorable scrunched up in anger.Â â€œAs long as you wear that sweater, you donâ€™t get to laugh.Â Sit your ass on that turtle thing and pull the string.â€
They moved back to the turtle and took their places, though John had to perch on a shoulder to reach.Â The yarn slipped through the loop, the world tilted, and all went dark.
The returning light carried a dull red glow. The air was thick, hot, and hard to breath.Â They were surrounded on two sides by rocky cliffs, and in the distance, a volcano vomited fire from its belly into the dull grey sky.
â€œDude, I have one word for you,â€ said John from behind him.Â â€œPants.â€
Wil grunted, looking down at his bare legs resting against a soft, grey pelt.
â€œThatâ€™s it,â€ he said, disgusted. â€œWe have to get back home next jump.Â All Iâ€™ve got left is my underwear and this damn sweater.â€
At the sound of their voices, the fur beneath Wil rumbled and rose to its feet, rounding on John with a spitting hiss.Â Will grabbed a double handful of fuzz and held tight.
John, unprepared for the sudden movement, shot backward several steps, his armor banging like an eighth-grader garage band. He was a hulking, green orc in full armor.Â His ears, sporting tasteful golden earrings, were batwings framing his warty face.Â Though all the rest of his hair had apparently been blown off by the transformation, the familiar beard remained.
â€œWil,â€ he said, sounding thoroughly panicked.Â â€œThis is NOT good.Â I think it wants to eat me.â€
â€œItâ€ was a puzzle of animal parts thrown together by a twelve-year old girl.Â The front half was a kitten with a cuddly, demonic beasty-face. The back half was a silken-tailed horse.Â Powerful feathered wings stretched out to either side, and a golden horn twirled between its venom-green eyes.Â The unicorn-pegasus-kitten â€“ every pre-teen girlâ€™s dream pet.Â It was not, however, fond of orcs.
Wil had no idea how to control a normal-sized kitten, let alone one the size of a pony.Â He clung to the animal as it stalked John, its tail twitching.Â John continued to slide his feet backward until he hit resistance and had to glance down.Â A shield, an axe, and a spear lay in a pile on the hard ground.
â€œWil,â€ he yelled.Â â€œCatch.â€Â He tossed the spear to Wil, who caught it neatly, his other hand still clutching fur.Â John armed himself and prepared to be pounced.Â The creature yowled and stretched its wings, then leaped into the air, circling above.
Wil squeezed his bare legs into the horse-portionâ€™s flanks.Â They bore down on John, and Wil was powerless to stop it.Â John ducked behind his shield and waved his axe in the general direction of the oncoming fur-bomb.Â Wil brandished his spear and let out a ridiculous war cry before dangling it in front of the kittenâ€™s face.Â In mid-pounce, the creature hesitated, distracted by the shiny spear tip.Â It hovered in the air, batting at it with velvet paws tipped with daggers the size of kitchen knives.Â Wil dipped the spear lower, coaxing the animal into landing on the hard-packed, scorched dirt.Â He swung his leg over to dismount, then threw the spear as far as he could. Â The unicorn-pegasus-kitten followed the shiny object with its eyes, then bounded off after it.
Man and orc slumped to the ground, adrenaline leaking from their pores.
When theyâ€™d caught what breath they could in the sulfer-soaked air, Johnâ€™s warty green face cracked into a grin.
â€œWeâ€™re going about this all wrong,â€ he said.Â â€œWe have to put it back, thatâ€™s all.â€
Wil looked at his friend doubtfully.Â â€œPut it back,â€ he said, the words sounding dead to his own ears.Â He had no idea what John was talking about or what he was up to.Â John was beating his shield with a rock, splintering the wood.Â After several smashes, he pulled a good-sized splinter loose.
â€œHere,â€ he said, grabbing Wilâ€™s sleeve.Â Using the sharp splinter, he shoved the loose thread back through its last loop.Â The world shook, went black, then turned cold.Â Wilâ€™s pants were back and the snow turtle snorted nearby.
Relief washed over Wil, and he helped John twist and slide the thread through the next loop. It was easier this time, since John was so tiny he could guide it from close up.
There was a lurch, darkness, and stench.Â The mushroom forest farted at them, but the lavender grass remained silent. Wil looked fondly at his restored socks.Â Johnâ€™s pink talons were perfect for re-knitting the last stitch.
The clearing reeled, light disappeared, and Wil and John found themselves back in the hotel bar â€“ shoes, hair, ears, and belly, all as they had been before.
They stared at each other in the mirror behind the bar for a full minute.Â Without a word, they bolted for the elevator and into Wilâ€™s room.Â Once inside, Wil yanked the offensive sweater over his head and stuffed it back in the gift box heâ€™d found in front of his door not two hours earlier.
Before returning to the bar for their long overdue drinks, the two men snuck down the hotel corridors, giggling like little girls.Â They stopped at the end of the hall and slid the box in front of the door.
â€œDo you think sheâ€™ll wear it?â€ Wil asked.
â€œNah,â€ John said.Â â€œFelisha Day is way smarter than you are.â€
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