The Butternut Catastrophe

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Chapter 7: Dr. Thumbnail Nudibranch

No, King Thunder didn’t just walk. She ran. After she left the building, her legs subconsciously started to move faster and faster, until she had traveled half a kilometer away from the apartment block without realizing.

This time, she did slip on the sidewalk, tumbling down like a sack of potatoes. A flash of yellow caught her eye as she realized she slipped right next to S.S.E. Nation. The picture frame.

But…she didn’t want the frame anymore. She didn’t want to capture a moment in a relationship that now felt as obsolete as the vehicle she had arrived in.

Lord Snail was really…so far gone?

And yet King Thunder knew the right thing to do would be to help her, but… as much as she convinced herself to go back, her body refused to move towards the apartment.

Through all this pondering, she didn’t realize how awkwardly she was splayed on the ground until the occasional midnight passerby started giving her funny looks. Her arm was frozen in place halfway to the window display, as if she couldn’t decide whether or not to touch the glass.

“Let me help you, beautiful,” said an unknown voice towering some distance above King Thunder. She looked up to see a smirking middle-aged man standing over her. He tried to grab her arm, but she stood up in a flash. The man recoiled as he realized how much taller King Thunder was than him. Without hesitation, she punched him right in the jaw with an unpleasant crunch. He fell backwards onto the ground like King Thunder had earlier, and she took the opportunity to hurry away.

King Thunder was not an easily fazed woman, but the encounter still shook her up. Coupon really was stuck in the past. It’s only here where creeps like that guy roam free. How on earth did she handle living here for an entire year?

The moment she reached the car, a thought crossed her mind. What about…Dr. Thumbnail Nudibranch? King Thunder wasn’t sure what prompted her, but she had a sudden urge to visit them.

Don’t try to talk to them, though, they aren’t an ally of any party.”

“I’m a politician. If I can’t persuade people to support the Independents, then no one can,” she muttered with a haughty chuckle.

Back she went, down Muffin Top Boulevard, through Lemon Chess Drive, and past the same buildings as before. Except…she had just found her way back to Lord Snail’s apartment block, which she tried not to look at. What did Lord Snail tell her again? One of those…big houses down there?

King Thunder scanned her surroundings. As much as she didn’t want to see it, the apartment building was certainly the most attention-grabbing structure on the block, but only out of sheer height. No sensible person would want to look at a hideous tower of cement layered with peeling tan paint, bird poop, and graffiti. Beside the apartment lay unused lots that people apparently deemed a suitable place to toss their trash. On one of the farther lots was a charred, but still smoking, mass of black rubble, which must have been left over from the fire. King Thunder wondered what the mass used to be. Naked, gnarly trees dotted the street with frozen grass spread out below them like a blanket your typical introvert would love to hibernate in. But still, no big houses in sight.

She decided to continue past the turn in the road. While she proceeded, she felt a presence, as if a pair of pain-filled dark eyes were watching her every move from far away. But not in an uncomfortable way.

Now King Thunder could see what Lord Snail meant by “big house.” The buildings on this section of the street had to be at least 2000 square feet in floor area, maybe even more. One particularly colossal house, which looked like a mansion to King Thunder, dominated all the others like a healthy bush in a field of weeds.

She had no way to know which house belonged to Thumbnail Nudibranch, but maybe someone would be able to tell her. Naturally, she went to the centerpiece of the drive. Someone living in a big house must know things, right? Right…?

Except…a crucial fact had slipped her mind. Who answers their door in the middle of the night?

Apparently, Dr. Thumbnail Nudibranch does. After she rang the doorbell in a desperate hope to get an answer, someone who definitely hadn’t been sleeping came to the door. They resembled a photo from one of King Amber’s history books, wearing a white lab coat stained with what was presumably chemicals, yellow rubber gloves, and uncomfortable-looking safety goggles that had already started to fog up.

“Come on, what have I told you about barging in during the middle of the night? I’ve got stuff to do as well,” they started to say, until realizing this was an unfamiliar face staring back at them. They frowned with suspicion. “Who’re you? Oh no, you’re not one of those…Republican crazies, are you?”

King Thunder chuckled slightly, ’No, of course not. I’m a -” She paused for a moment. “- a friend of Lord Snail.”

“Lord Snail? Honestly, a ridiculous nickname. And she doesn’t go by ‘Lord Snail’ here. Not anymore.” They glanced at King Thunder with a look of…suspicion? “But never mind. A friend of hers is a friend of mine. What do you need from me?”

“Oh, I just wanted to, uh, to talk? About…how she’s doing. Yeah, I’m concerned about her, you see.”

Nudibranch closed their eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m concerned about her, too. She’s like a daughter to me, but she never talks about anything personal, really. I get that she thinks she has nobody to talk to, with her parents disowning her and everything, but she really ought to be more open. Now that you’re here, it should be easier, though. Right?”

King Thunder stood dumbfounded for a moment. She just randomly showed up at the house of some stranger in the middle of the night, and now they were telling her a bunch of very personal information without even introducing themselves? “Uh, sure?” she finally uttered.

Almost as if reading her mind, Nudibranch exclaimed with a stark change of tone, “Ah, I forgot to introduce myself! I’m Dr. Thumbnail Nudibranch, currently my pronouns are they/them, and I’m a toxicologist! I also have 51 slugs named Albert Felicis! Wanna see them?”

She didn’t even have time to reply before they motioned for her to come in. The house smelled like pancakes. “Here are my slugs!” said the beaming Nudibranch.

Sure enough, 51 slugs of all shapes and sizes slithered around in a massive glass tank. A little yellow one with brown stripes caught her eye, since he was wiggling his eyestalks. “What’s this one’s name?” she asked, but a second later realized Nudibranch had already told her.

“Albert Felicis. And this one, and this one, and this one. They’re all called Albert Felicis. Weren’t you listening?” they inquired, randomly pointing to different slugs.

She had many questions, but chose not to ask them. Instead, she took a moment to look around Nudibranch’s house. “It’s so…big,” she muttered.

“What, the house? It’s not that big. Only about 3500 square feet.” Nudibranch gave King Thunder a curious look, as if one of their poison concoctions started doing something unpredictable.

She meandered over to the staircase and examined the railings. They were only sparsely decorated, like an Ionic column, but in King Thunder’s eyes, they could have belonged in a palace.

Seeing her aimlessly wander around their house, Nudibranch folded their arms and sighed. “Why are you really here?”

King Thunder was so caught off guard that she nearly fell down the stairs. “Wh-what do you mean?”

“You’re an Independent, aren’t you?”

She stood frozen in place, her face contorted like she had just seen the ghost of Thomas Jefferson throw a coconut into the dishwasher. Finally, she closed her eyes and relaxed. “What gave it away?”

Nudibranch let out a bellowing laugh. “Nearly everything. The fact that you called her ‘Lord Snail’ when that’s her Independent name, how you obviously lied when I asked why you were here, and hell, she told me about you! I knew who you were the second you said you were a friend of Lord Snail. King Thunder, the most trusted member of King Amber III’s Er-Kings subcommittee. Just because “Lord Snail” hasn’t exactly been open about her feelings doesn’t mean she didn’t tell me about you, Operation: Butternut, or what the Independents did to her.”

“What the Independents…did to her? The Independents didn’t do anything!”

“The leader of the Independents despises her. That’s enough to make me despise them.” Nudibranch declared, sounding angrier and angrier with every word.

“The Independents are trying to win back the government! I’m sure you don’t want this power battle between the Democrats and Republicans to go on any longer. We sure don’t, and that’s why we’re trying to do something about it.”

“And by 'doing something about it,’ you’re ruining the lives of members of your own party! This isn’t politics anymore, this is war!”

King Thunder stared at Nudibranch with a solemn gaze. “What’s the difference?”

“Don’t you care about her? I care about her, and for all the great things she’s said about you, it doesn’t seem that you love her nearly as much as she loves you,” seethed Nudibranch.

She went from solemn to absolutely infuriated in no time at all. “How dare you? I barely even know who you are, and now you think it’s your job to place such accusations? Earlier, I was going to ask you whether or not you would assist the Independents in their goals, but now I see that we wouldn’t want someone like you amidst our ranks! You’re just like Awesome, utterly impossible!” she shrieked as she strode from the staircase to the front door. “Good day, Albert Felicis,” she said before slamming the door shut.

Throughout her entire frenzy of rage, Nudibranch sat at the kitchen counter with their hands over their face. Though they still looked angrier than a grandpa eating a tortilla filled with shaving cream instead of sour cream, a few minutes after King Thunder had departed, they muttered, “she’s going to be so angry with me…”

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