According to the Book of the Dead,
We all come back sooner or later
As anything from a pussycat
To a man-eating alligator....
No, wait, that was "My Mother the Car". Very few are truly afforded the opportunity to return. This is the tale of one who did come back. As...
Pain arced through Sal's body as he tried to stand. He felt like he wanted to hawk up his insides, but he couldn't manage a simple cough. Eventually, his body calmed, and he rose to his feet, though there seemed to be more than the two he normally had, and blinked open his eyes.
A hundred identical old, bearded men stared at him. "There's only one of me," they said. "It'll take you some time to get used to your compound vision. I am Claustrophobio, and I'll be your exposition character this evening."
After a moment, Sal was able to decipher the myriad images and learned that he was standing on a dingy rooftop in the middle of some large city, but he couldn't tell which one. Then he looked at himself and felt his revulsion return, along with a heavy amount of old-fashioned panic. "What's happened to me?" he screamed.
"You are Prawn."
Claustrophobio sighed. "The man you remember being, Sal Immonder, is dead. You have been brought back to Earth to lead the Armies of Darkness in the final battle."
"But I'm a..."
"Crustacean, yes. As I said, you are Prawn. You are the latest Champion of Evil."
"Oh, there've been many others, including me. If it helps, you've already lasted longer than one of them." Claustrophobio chuckled at his own statement.
"It doesn't. I think I'm starting to remember. But this sh-, sh-..."
"Oh, you can't swear. Sorry, but this story is kid-friendly, which means no obscene language."
Prawn 's carapace grew red. "I'm supposed to be Satan's Avenger and I can't say f-, f-, you know, or b-, b- or b-, b-?"
"Precisely. Don't worry, you get used to it."
"How in the h-, h-... Wait a minute!" Prawn shouted. "Now I know something's wrong. I can't lead the place's army if I can't even refer to it!"
"Well, you could call it Hades," the old man offered.
"Or the Underworld."
"Or the Abyss."
"Or the Pit of Eternal Darkness."
"Stop!" Prawn shouted. "Now, if there's no swearing what about this foul-mouthed white-faced supervisor I'm supposed to have?" Claustrophobio pointed at the obese figure standing near the roof's edge. "He's a mime? Okay, whatever. So what am I, the kid-friendly leader of the Army of the Abyss supposed to do?"
"It varies with each chosen one. Back in the 60's when I did this, I had to get Franz Blohard and SPACKLE to destroy London with a nuclear warhead. Unfortunately, the plan required crawling through ductwork, and I had a nervous breakdown. After that, the only people who would hire me were the Army of Light."
"Anyway," Prawn shouted, "what about me?"
Claustrophobio pondered before answering. "You remember your, I mean Sal's, old boss, Grayson Wynkie?"
"The man who betrayed me? The man who left me to die? The man who..."
"That's the one. It looks like he's planning on releasing a highly toxic gas in some major world cities, like this one. Given the sudden increase in his company's raw material intake, it'll probably be soon."
"Raw materials?" Prawn asked.
"He's been buying up all the chili he can get his hands on."
"Yes. Of course." Prawn leaned in close to the human. "Tell me, if I can't say the H word, how can we build a major plot point around f-, f-, breaking wind?" he screamed.
"Kids love jokes about gas. Look, the rules basically just prohibit swearing, sex, and any violence kids could imitate."
"I get it," Prawn said. He waved one of his forelimbs. "And most kids don't have giant pincers like these, right?" Claustrophobio nodded. "Good." Before the human could react, Prawn pinched his head. "That's better."
He dropped the body and turned toward the mime. "Do you have a problem?" he asked, waving his pincer. The rotund figure smiled and shook his head. "Good. Now, if you don't mind, I'm leaving." He started moving clumsily toward the fire escape, but the mime darted around and stood in his way. "Move it," Prawn warned. The other gasped and waved his arms in mock fear. Prawn raised his forelimbs menacingly. Suddenly, a giant monster burst from its mime shell and bit Prawn in two.
Prawn found himself in a small, crowded room full of widely varied beings. He recognized Claustrophobio sulking in a corner while a giant half-eaten pie comforted him. "Hey!" a man covered in grass yelled. "He's here!"
"Great!" a hideously overmuscled man shouted. "I had half an hour!" The others groaned and started passing bills his way.
"Welcome to final stop for all the would-be leaders of Satan's Armies," the first man said. "I'm Lawn. So, what killed you?"
The others laughed. "Of course!" a giant chess piece exclaimed. "That's how a lot of us got it."
"And now Prawn," Lawn said, "you'll be spending eternity in here with us, so you might as well get to know everybody. This..." He gestured toward the pool winner. "...Is Brawn. The chess piece is Pawn, and you've met Shawn, who had been the longest surviving member of our elect group."
"Until I took a claw to the face," Claustrophobio muttered.
"Next to him," Lawn continued, pointing at the pie, "is Flan, who holds the record for the shortest lifespan, though it's not his fault he appeared in a banquet hall. The man who looks like he's under a black light is Tron. Then there's Fawn, Swan, Pylon, Chiffon..."
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