Into the Mystic

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Verse 14: CRAZY

Buzz dreamed of angels. Millions of angels, each no bigger than a playing card, hovering around him. They sang like heavy metal gods and smelled of spinach. Buzz reached to touch one, but it fluttered away teasingly. "C'mere," he mumbled, but they kept dancing away. Then the cards became leaves. They approached him tentatively, their razor edges scoring his flesh, and invading his brain, whirling in a futile search for an exit. They found his mouth, but melted on his tongue. They tasted like week-old mothball pizza.

Buzz's eyes peeled open. The sun was up, he dimly noted, and that was a bad thing. It was morning, his mattress seemed harder than usual, and – yep – he'd pissed his pants. He ached all over. His teeth felt too big for his head and his head too big for his zip code. Each breath made things worse. He would have thrown up, but had a nagging suspicion he'd already done that.

Slowly, it dawned on him that he was surrounded by metal. He glanced to the right. Metal. He glanced to the left. More metal. He looked up. A branch hung over his face, its leaves dappled by the sun.

"Tree, tree, go away, come again some other day." Buzz laughed at his jest, but it quickly turned to a retch. In the shadowed recesses of his far-from-incandescent mind, he remembered the Jaegermeister. He remembered drinking it after awakening in the middle of the night, alone, sore, and mad as hell. He couldn't find his keys, but he did find his bottle so he polished it off. The pain went away, followed swiftly by everything else except Gloria and that tall guy who didn't have the decency to stand still and take a beating like a man.

The branch came again. When Buzz pushed, it pushed back. For the first time, he looked at directly at the persistent limb. What's a tree doing in a parking lot? he wondered. Whatever it was doing there, it did not look well. The leaves were sickly, mottled, and malformed. The branch itself was twisted, gnarled, and stunted, only three feet long. His eyes moved along its length until it joined the pitted trunk. Buzz stared awhile and the tree stared back.

"Where Elf?" it demanded.

Buzz scrambled away as far as he could, about eight inches. His head collided with the truck's backlight and exploded.

"I'm dreaming," Buzz told himself, although the pain he was feeling belied that theory. "You're a tree! You can't talk!"

"Where ELF?!" the tree repeated.

"Oh, shit," Buzz groaned, and wet himself again. "Get away, you freakazoid!" he screeched. "This is so not happening!"

"WHERE ELF?!!" it bellowed, with the force of a nuclear detonation. Buzz's eardrums rebelled and his consciousness joined the cause. Inside his head the tree's question continued to reverberate as two branches reached for him. Buzz assumed a fair approximation of the fetal position and started to cry.

"I don't know where elf," he whimpered. "Maybe at the North Pole with Santa and Rudolph. Please don’t yell at me anymore!"

The tree fell silent. Its limbs ceased their assault. Buzz began to think he'd only hallucinated the whole thing. This was the Worst Hangover Ever. He resolved to mend his ways. He'd get a real job, give up smoking, and cut his alcohol intake by 20%.

A branch thrust something at him. Buzz flinched, then hesitantly took the object: a blue piece of paper. "What say?" the tree demanded.

Buzz laboriously rebooted his knowledge of the alphabet. Desperation made the clouds part at last and he read the words on the paper: "Live at Gilda's, Lex Machallo, Minstrel Extra-ordinary, Friday Saturday-August-twelve… no, August first and second, nine pm. Hey! I know this jerkwad! He's the fairy who sucker-punched me!"

"Not Faerie – Elf!" the Forest Troll corrected.

All True Trolls regenerate, and to a fittingly lesser extent so do their Lesser kin. The heartstone (or more precisely, the heart-seed-casing) of a Forest Troll can remain viable outside a body for up to a standard Novagrovian week. If, in that period, it absorbs the proper elements from its surroundings, a new Forest Troll, with all the abilities and memories of its former body, can grow in under a day. If smashed open however, they tend to make an impromptu flower garden. Still, the key to a successful regeneration is the availability of a growth medium rich in cellulose.

In Loud's case, the contents of Gilda's dumpster were a smorgasbord. When Michael St. John arrived to open the tavern the previous morning, he'd found a large hunk of wood, several chunks of what he assumed to be glass, and – of all things – a bent sword, all lying in a field of sawdust. Cursing the unknown litterbugs, he got a pushbroom and methodically swept up the debris before the glass could attack the innocent tires of paying customers. He deposited everything besides the sword in the proper receptacle to await the next scheduled pick-up on Friday, then went about his business and gave it not a second thought.

The chunk of wood, of course, was Loud's heartstone, nicked by the Minstrel's crystal javelin. Lex had miscast the spell in his haste, and the crystal was highly unstable. Thus when it hit its target, it blew apart, taking the Troll along for the ride. A sliver of crystal remained embedded in the heartstone's outer husk, but when Michael tossed it into the dumpster, the shard slipped free. Within minutes, the heartstone instinctively sought out components for Forest Troll 2.0. There was no shortage of material. Numerous cardboard boxes and other paper products surrounded it, and paper is made from wood pulp. It was almost as rich a medium as could be found anywhere this side of an actual forest. However, the word "almost" masks a multitude of problems.

Cardboard boxes are generally produced using a system called Kraft pulping, "kraft" meaning "strong" in German. The process is also sometimes known as sulfate pulping since it involves boiling wood chips in caustic soda with a high sulfate content, approximately 20 kilos of sodium sulfate per ton of pulp. The sulfate gives wood processing plants their distinctive rotten eggs odor, as sulfur dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Sulfur dioxide is one of the chief culprits behind what is commonly known as acid rain. Other paper products use an even wider variety of chemicals: among them laminates, bleaches, fixatives, and whatever they use to make magazine inserts that smell of cheap perfume.

What the heartstone absorbed was, by the standards of the ecosystem that birthed it, highly toxic. A less hardy breed would have been stillborn. Yet, Loud overcame the chemical obstacles in its path. As Tully served Lex clam chowder, it budded. While Lex mixed cocktails, it sprouted limbs. By the time Zoot experienced her sixth orgasm, it developed self-awareness. And when the sun rose over Mystic, it hauled itself out of the dumpster and began seeking revenge.

What emerged from the dumpster was not the Loud of yore, but rather a bizarro version of the creature who had departed from a hillside in Yorvadan. The colors were wrong. It smelled like mine tailings mixed with bat guano. Poison ran through its veins. The differences were more than bark deep, however. In psychological parlance, the new-and-not-in-the-least-bit-improved Forest Troll was nuttier than a squirrel's lunchbox. All long-term memory had been erased or scrambled. All it cared about was finding Elf. Catching Elf. Mulching elf.

At first, Elf was nowhere to be found. All it could see was flat, stony ground littered with scraps of colored paper, one of which it picked up and stuffed in its maw. A picture on the next one stayed its ingestion.

"Elf!" the Troll croaked. "Elf here somewhere!" It recognized the writing as Ganta, but, considering that it could only read a few dozen words of a near random assortment of common languages, it had no chance of deciphering the complex message. It needed a translator, but there was none in sight. The Troll used its other senses. Waving its branches, its leaves picked up faint traces of pollen, spores, and the sloughed off skin cells that contribute to what is generically known as dust. Some of those cells tasted painfully familiar. Elf was here. It looked for Elf's hiding place, and spied the only possibility: a rusty metal cart with the word DODJ misspelled on its nose. The Troll might not have known many words it Ganta, but it recognized the Dwarven word for "avoid attack." Elf was stupid if Elf thought it could avoid attack merely by words when it chose such an obvious place of concealment.

The Troll walked around the metal cart until it found someone inside. It was not Elf, just some foul smelling Man. Man had been near Elf though. The Troll knew that much. Man had to wake up and tell where Elf was.

"Where Elf?" it thundered once again.

"I said I don't know, Woody!" the Man protested.

"Woo-dy?" the Troll repeated.

"Yeah, you're made of wood, so I'll call you Woody, okay?"

"Woo-dee." It decided it liked the name.

"That's right. Yoou Woody, me Buzz." He pointed at himself, then at the picture. "This the guy you looking for? Well, he's not here now. He was here last night, and it says he'll be back Friday. Capeesh? Friday?"

"Fry-day?" That was not the name of any day the Troll recognized.

"Apparently not. Look, today is Wenzday, no, Thursday. Tomorrow is Friday. He'll be here tomorrow. "

" To-MOR-row?"

"Bingo. He'll be inside thatbuilding." The Human pointed at a nearby wall. "Come back then. I'm going to go back to sleep and pretend this never happened." Buzz lay back down and closed his eyes.

The Forest Troll Currently Known as Woody would have none of that. It struck the side of the cart, rocking it on its suspension.

"Hey, cut that out!." Buzz clambered over the side rail and inspected the area where Woody had struck it. "See what you did? You dented it! Never, never ever touch my ride, dude!" he rubbed the affected area.

"Find Elf now! Not to-MOR-row."

Buzz looked up at Woody. "How?"

"Find Elf NOW!!" Woody repeated petulantly. "Elf must DIE!!"

"Now you're talking!" Buzz agreed. "Elf must die! Elf and Gloria. They must die. It's a moral imperative. But keep it down!" Buzz gestured for Woody to lower his voice. "Someone will hear you and call the Forest Rangers and they'll turn you into thirty million toothpicks. You want that?"


"Course not. You want to kill Elf."

"Elf must die." Woody concurred.

"Then I'm your wingman, Woody," Buzz declared. "You see, I know someone he hangs out with, the chick who owns this place. He was here with her last night, and I bet he's with her now. He's probably boning her."


"Yeah. Boffing. Boinking. Giving her the high hard fast one. Riding her rough and putting her away wet."

"Oh. Sex."

"What she sees in a homo like that when she could have a real man, I'll never know," Buzz declared, sinking ever deeper into denial. "You want him dead and I want her dead, so we're a team now."


"That's right. Buzz and Woody! What do you say?"

"Woody and Buzz sound better."

"You want top billing, you got it. I have a great plan. We wait for them to leave together tonight, follow them in my truck, and run 'em off the road. Then you get out and go all botanical on their asses. But we gotta get you out of sight before you attract attention. "

Woody pondered. Standing around and shouting "Where Elf?" had not yielded any tangible results. It might as well follow Buzz's lead. If it did not work, it could just crush him and come back the next night when Elf was sure to return. "Sound like plan," it agreed at last.

"Great!" Buzz enthused. "Shake on it?" He extended his right hand. In response, Woody rustled its leaves and branches. Buzz stared, then lowered his hand. "Close enough. Now let's get you into the back of my truck. We'll lay low for a few hours, and come back later when we won't stick out like turds in a wading pool."

Somehow, they managed to get Woody into the Rammstein's cargo area and Buzz covered it with a tarpaulin. He found his keys where he had cleverly hidden them in the ignition, and turned the engine over. He knocked on the cab's rear window.

"Hey, Woody?" he called. "You like beer?"

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