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The Duel of the Ages

Sam's Ending

"Welcome to All-True News Tonight. I'm Ralph Flubbersnubber. The raging flood of blood which has destroyed the entire world, killing an estimated 5 billion, has finally subsided after 190 days of terror. A spokesman from the city's flood control department said, 'I'm glad.'

1 A variation on a Monty Python joke.

2 This is from the introduction to an arcade game called "Galactix," by Cygnus. The quote is fairly accurate, save for the name of the pencil company, which I made up myself.

3 A line from one of the songs from the 1967 movie Doctor Dolittle.

4 While Dave was not present as I wrote this installment, several lines in this conversation came straight from an actual conversation we had had in McConnell previously.

"Riots erupt at the Gate of Despair as the wizard rights protests continue. Their uniform chant, 'We're all individuals!' was broken only by one wizard in the front row who insisted he was not.1

"Reports from the tropics say that woodcutters just cut down the last tree in the rainforest. A spokesman from the Great Big Yellow Pencil Company said, 'Gee, that's too bad.'2

"Meanwhile, farmers in the mid-west maintain a growing concern for their crops. 'They're all stained red,' one farmer is reported to have said. 'I've never seen anything like it! I've never seen anything like it in my life!'3 Studies to determine the cause of the red stains are underway, but the scientists are not optimistic."

Sam and Dave sat in the McConnell clusters and laughed themselves silly.4 "This is too much!" one would say. The other would generally be in a dire need of breath and couldn't do much more than wipe his eyes. "The stupid farmer can't figure out why they're red!" Both rolled and swayed in their seats, oblivious to the curious stares and gazes coming from other terminals at the opposite end of the room.

"Oh man, this is great," Sam said with a sigh.

When the flood had subsided, Blood Drops and Darius looked upon each other with renewed contempt. "This is all your fault," Blood Drops accused.

"You're the one who came here to find me," Darius returned.

Blood Drops flared in anger. "I'm going to execute you once and for all, just like I set out to do in the beginning!"

"You can't -- Death banished us, remember?"

"Oh yeah."

At that moment -- speak of the devil -- the shadowy figure and his scythe appeared from nowhere.

"What are you doing here?"

"Well," the Grim Reaper began, "I want to lift the ban on you two."

"You do?" Darius blinked.

"You see," Death tried to explain, "it's no fun. Ever since I banned you, I've had virtually no part at all in this story. It's just not fair."

"Ah, you want to keep your high billing on the cast list?" Blood Drops inquired.

"Precisely. So the ban is lifted, and you two are mortal again." With that, the Grim Reaper vanished.

Blood Drops and Darius looked at each other with bloodthirsty eyes.

"I brought something for you," the old man wheezed to the sick little boy in his bed. The boy tore the brightly colored paper off the gift and stared at it uncertainly.

"A television?"

"Yup. When I was your age, the private multimedia ultra surround stereo 3D virtual reality 68 inch 32768x16384x4096 screen home entertainment system 2000 was called television. And this is a special tele--"5

5 Yet another Princess Bride reference.
The old man was interrupted by a sudden crash. Two medieval warriors, locked in battle, burst into the room amidst a shower of broken plaster and hacked at each other ferociously. Blood dripped slowly from various wounds; sweat beaded at their eyebrows. In another moment, the battle made its way into the living room and out the front door, leaving a befuddled grandfather and a bemused grandson behind.

"Now be very careful gentlemen. Be very careful. Hey, hold that thing with both hands! Gently, gently...."

The moving men hated the talk-down treatment that nervous homeowners gave them. This particular man, moving into a beautiful villa near the mountains, was unusually finicky about how they handled his possessions.

6 I'm not sure what made me think to put a Mini Grande piano in amongst these other, much more valuable items. It's probably because my landlady at the time had a Mini Grande in her living room.
Understandably so. Between the Renoir originals, the Mini Grande piano,6 and the 16th century chandeliers alone, this man's household was worth several million easy. At the moment, the movers were in the process of carting a sixty-four square foot mirror from the truck into the house.

"AAAAHHH!!" the homeowner screamed when he saw them.

Darius and Blood Drops, swords swishing at each other violently, made their unwitting way toward toward the man's dear possessions.

"Quick!" the man exclaimed. "MOVE THE THING!"

Too late, Blood Drops fell back against the Mini Grande. Darius thrust his sword at him, but the knight dodged out of the way. Darius and his sword landed inside the piano, and, breaking numerous strings and muddying the others, stood again and met the furious charge of the knight. The pair of them slid down the other side, scraping off large chunks of wood with their metallic armor.

7 And another Princess Bride reference.
"...AND..AND THAT OTHER THING!"7 the man screeched, but just he spoke, Blood Drops fell into the mirror, shattering it to pieces even as the moving men clutched it. A stray blade slashed one of the Renoirs, then another, and then the raging warriors moved on, leaving the rich man to mourn the deaths of his prized possessions.

The royal chamber was full to the brim with royalty from various parts of the royal kingdom, attending the royal wedding of the royal prince. The king, seated next to the queen in the front row, blinked periodically, and when he did so his eyebrows travelled with his eyelashes, dipping all the way below his eyes before returning again.

"So tweasuwe youw wuved wones," the bishop was saying.

Prince Humperdinck, unnerved by the growing sounds of battle without, urged the bishop to hurry. "Skip to the end," he ordered impatiently.

"Do you have...the wing?"8

8 A whole scene from The Princess Bride.
But at that instant, the commotion the prince had heard at the gate made its way into the royal chamber. The royalty scampered out of the way, the royal women giving delicate royal cries in the process. Blood Drops and Darius slashed at each other, limping and breathing heavily. The prince, relieved that they were not after him personally, watched them lunge and parry, crossing the royal chamber and disappearing down a royal hallway.

Dave put a hand to his head to hold it up in his fits of laughter. Sam reeled back and spun around in his swivel chair. "How's that for Princess Bride references? Just like when I cut up Darius' face and hands and feet!"

"I like the part where Darius is trying to pick up all the mice. I swear, you must be related to Jerry Lewis!"9

9 He actually did say this to me, sometime after writing the chapter in question. We were never, by the way, actually in each other's presence when we wrote this thing.
"Ha ha...and then, he tries to show Blood Drops how sharp it..." (pause for laughter) "...'Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!'"

Dave laughed. "'I'll have to admit, that's pretty sharp,'" he quoted.

"'Ooo, nasty paper cut!'" Sam said between chuckles, citing another part of their parody. "Oh yeah, and 'Did I make it clear that my job is at stake?' That was great!"

"Yeah, but what about all the little ghouls?"

They laughed again.

"I know," Dave said, sitting up. "Let's have Blood Drops be inverted!"10

Sam caught the reference to one of Dave's early stories and burst out into another cackling fit. "I should use that myself!"

10 Dave and I both hold a peculiar fascination about dimensions. This reference is to a short story of Dave's about dimensions. A thing from another universe asks two scholars to guess the number of symmetries it has; wrong answers are punished by inversion.
"Oh no you don't! It's my turn to write next!" Dave declared happily.

"Awww. Well I'm going to work such physical horrors on Darius that he'll wish he was inverted!" More laughter. "Hey, you remember when you put Blood Drops' face into the sack of wet mice? Ha! That was so funny!"

"Yeah, except you made it out to be a dream!"

"Oh hush, I only did that once. You talk like I did that every time."

"Hee hee," Dave said, suddenly remembering another part of the story. "Remember when I sliced Blood Drops' arm off and beat him with it?"

"Ha! That was great!" Sam agreed tearfully. "And remember when I--"

Sam, catching sight of two men watching from the doorway, broke off abruptly. The smile vanished from his lips. Dave turned to see what had stopped Sam in mid-sentence and became deathly white.

Blood Drops and Darius stood staring at them from the door. Sam and Dave had been too engrossed in their fits of hysteria to notice them when their epic battle had made its way into the McConnell clusters. The two warriors, overhearing the conversation, halted their war long enough to listen in on the merry conversation between the two authors.

"Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, Blood Drops," Sam spluttered.

"Um, um, um, um, um, um, Darius," Dave schplittered.

"Sam," Blood Drops acknowledged, a little too coldly for Sam's comfort.

"Dave," Darius greeted with a hungry grin. He moved around Dave's chair and lowered his lips to his trembling ear. "So you two have been making us fight with each other all this time...?"

"No--" Dave began in a whisper, then broke off.

Blood Drops stepped to Sam's chair and propped one foot on the table. "You're the bloody kids who have put us in mutual agony, forced us through excruciating death after excruciating death--"

"--and humiliated us all?" Darius finished.

"Uh..." Sam moaned, eyeing their ugly swords nervously. He gripped the bottom of his chair so tightly he could no longer feel his fingers.

"I had wondered why I felt compelled to destroy this brave warrior who had never done anything to hurt me in the past," Darius hissed.

"I, too, was puzzled at times as to why I felt the dire need to put my esteemed comrade through such pain and misery," Blood Drops asserted, tipping his hat to Darius who smiled in response.

"Look, uh, you guys, uh, we were just trying to have a little fun," Dave said nervously.

"Have a little fun?" Darius mimicked in a singsongy voice, waving his hands delicately. "Oh, Blood Drops, do let us have a little fun, too!" he squealed.

"Oh yes, let's!" Blood Drops said daintily, curtseying. Then, suddenly, he lashed out at Sam with his blade, spearing him through the heart. An instant later, Darius slashed at Dave, who slumped over with a severed gut.

"Well, that was diverting!" Blood Drops squeaked.

"Quite so."

Then, returning to their normal, gutteral voices, they chortled their way back to their own worlds. Twilight zone music sounded in the background.

Total non-darkness did not surround them. The tortured non-wails of dead non-souls didn't pierce the non-stillness; nor did the deathly black non-mists pervade the non-space.

"Not bad," Sam didn't muse, not looking around. He was not met by Dave's quizzical non-stare. "Well, I'm not saying I'd like to build a summer home here, but the scenery is really quite lovely."11

11 One last Princess Bride reference.
"There isn't any scenery."

"Of course not. I meant non-scenery."

"Sam, we're dead. Will you quit it with the Princess Bride stuff?"

"As you wish."

"And don't try that one -- that's one of my funnies."

Sam didn't look over to Dave. "I'm sorry," he didn't say. "I guess it's my way of dealing with the fact that we're actually dead. I can't believe they killed us."

"Yeah, I can't either."

"I guess we should have written them as wimps from the start. Actually, that would have been for a neater parody, too. Can you imagine a couple of wimps trying to kill each other?"

Dave smiled in spite of himself.

Just then, the Grim Reaper drifted over to them. He was just as the two authors had imagined him -- dark robed, faceless, with an intimidating scythe in his bony hands.

"Hey, I've got an idea," Dave whispered. "Let's mind-meld with Death's transporter."

"What transporter?" Death said, overhearing. "Welcome to the realm of the dead."

"Thanks, Grim," Sam said. "Hey, Dave, we could just write our way out of this thing, couldn't we? We wrote Blood Drops and Darius out of death before."

"Yeah, good idea," Dave said.

"I'm afraid you two are a little bit confused," said the Grim Reaper. "You're not living in a world of fantasy, you know. This isn't your fractured version of death with transporter devices and happy meals. This is the real thing."

Sam gulped. Dave cringed.

"Welcome to my parlor," the Grim Reaper moaned and extended a beckoning arm.

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