“More coffee with that?” the pimple-faced donut clerk asked as he rang up two bear claws and a chocolate éclair. “We’re having a two for one special on the House Blend.”
Greb licked the extra filling from the pastry’s side. “Any o’ you hellions want seconds on coffee?” he asked his companions with a snigger. “Abum? You always like this kid’s house blend.”
“Shut the hell up!” an aging voice called from the middle of the bustling donut shop. “Get back here. We got important matters to discuss, you pansy.”
Greb left the kid a five and shuffled back to his friends’ table. “Toby, they’re out o’ muffins. Eat a claw.”
A tall, distinguished creature of indeterminate age sighed. “Figures. My week’s been like this. I can’t bag a soul. Can’t get a muffin.”
“Shut up!” Abum moaned, stirring three sugars into his coffee with a long talon. “Say, how many creatures are coming to this here meeting, huh? Blurk, you got any idea?”
A sour-pussed senior demon looked up over a plate of donut holes. “Who cares? Word is nothing matters anymore. You know that.”
Toby handed his unwanted bear claw to Greb who greedily began to devour it. “What do you mean? Have you heard something?”
“We’ve all heard something!” Abum complained. “That’s why we’re all here, remember? What a loser. Hey!” he called to the crowd. “When are they getting here?”
In the far corner, something tall and scaly with hooks for teeth raised a flipper timidly. “I was told ten. Does anyone else know more?”
“Like you’d know, Fish Face,” a reclusive creature called from a crack in the ceiling. “They’re always late.”
Two carnival men, one covered from head to toe in tattoos, waved to the boy at the counter. The smaller of the two pounded a nail through his forehead and smiled at the youth. “Kid, my head is splitting! Could I please have a cup of caffeine before I crack up?”
The teen spit into the coffee and waved back. Just then, the doors to the 24-hour coffee shop opened up, and two humans entered. The man stood over six feet and wore a mysterious expression and an ankle length coat. The woman, though shorter, drew an onlooker’s eye; her pale skin and azure eyes mesmerized men, and her extraordinarily red hair – a little too red perhaps – played well against the black suit.
“Where the hell have you been?” Abum asked, standing up. Naturally, he was naked. As were all the demons and most of the creatures who now glared at their human guests. “We’ve been waiting for nearly an hour!”
“Sorry, Abum,” the man began, removing his coat and hanging it on the back of an empty chair. “We just left the meeting at 666. I’m afraid the news isn’t good.”
Loud grumblings, grunts, squawks, snorts, and one scream as the counter clerk burned his hand on hot coffee.
“For those who don’t know – or who can’t remember because of contract reasons – I’m Brainy Skuller. And this handsome drink of water….”
“Drink of blood!” a freckle-faced vampire called from near the air conditioner. Laughter all around.
“Yes, well, if that makes you happy, Ronnie. Say, did you happen to bring any pizza with you? – never mind. As I was saying, I’m Brainy Skuller, and this is Wolf Moldy. And we’re sorry we’re late, but what we have to say does affect all of us.”
Demon Greb giggled. “Not us. We’re not even on your show.”
“Millennium was already canceled,” Moldy said flatly.
“Oh yeah,” Greb sighed, pushing his empty plate. “So why the hell are we all here then?”
“To save our lousy jobs!” Flukeman garbled through his hooked jaws.
Moldy sat near the doors, backwards; his long legs sprouted from the chair like a spider’s. “Skuller and I had a three-hour meeting with the network heads, then when we realized we needed their bodies, too, so we waited another hour for those to arrive.”
Low muttering, and one soft giggle from Greb. “Ok, so this gig isn’t great,” Moldy continued. “We had it sweet on Faux, but that was ages ago. Reruns only take a show so far, and one lousy movie doesn’t a career make. I need a lifetime contract!”
Skuller stared at her partner, blue eyes round and mouth open. “This is all about you, isn’t it? Look, Moldy, you’ve had it your way for nine seasons! You spend half your time vacationing, while I carry the damned show!”
“And you’ve enjoyed it, from what I hear!” the angular man spit back. “I heard about you and Hoggett! And there have been some very interesting rumors about some backstage moments with Monkey Boy!”
Near the demons’ table, a short man stood, his pudgy face morphing in a flash into an exact replica of Moldy’s handsome features. “If she gets better treatment from me, who’s to blame, eh? Maybe you’re just small potatoes, Agent Moldy.”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen! And dear lady,” a distinguished man cried out. All eyes and antennae focused on a table near the window where a man now stood. His balding pate bore the red gashes of an ax murder, but his silk cravat had been perfectly tied.
Skuller smiled. “I didn’t see you when we came in, Mr. Chung. In case you don’t know him, this is Jose Chung, the most erudite writer of our time.”
Chung feigned embarrassment and swiped a hand over his blood-encrusted pate. “You’re a bright lady. And I’m honored with your praise, but you see, bickering seldom advances any cause. Trust me, I know. I’ve brokered contracts with the top publishing houses in New York and London, and what I’ve learned is this: sometimes you have to grovel.”
Everyone groaned and began to complain. Several threatened to leave, and a small goat near the bathrooms disappeared.
Brainy Skuller raised her small hands high. “Chupacabra! Drop that goat! Now, we all know the problem. Faux canceled us way back when, and now Hellevision, Inc. has decided we’re expendable. Or at least, that’s what we thought.”
“Don’t tell me Moldy had a thought,” Monkey Boy mocked. “You know, Brainy, I could take his place any day – or any night.”
“You’re gonna make me puke in a minute,” Blurk moaned. “Why the hell are we here anyway?”
“It’s our place!” Abum answered quickly with a slap to Blurk’s horned head. “Stupid! That’s what you all are – I’m surrounded by idiots!”
“Look,” Skuller continued, “Moldy and I think we’ve found a way to keep our jobs if not our dignity.”
“What dignity?” Monkey Boy cackled.
Moldy frowned but ignored the obvious invitation to a fight. He stood up, giving the chair to his partner, who sat demurely next to a man devouring a jar of cockroaches. “I know how concerned each one of you is about the future. I may not have claws or horns or even antennae, but I do know that underneath the scales and the slime, we’re all the same. Each of us looks to the skies and wonders – what is out there? What does tomorrow hold for us? In the cosmic comedy of life is there a place with answers – a place where we feel whole, where we matter? Whether you’re a goatsucker, or a flukeman – whether your blood runs red or acidic green – whether you’re tall or short, white or gray, rich or poor – we all need to know we have a place in this world. Hellevision isn’t the only possibility in the universe. Why there are billions and billions of worlds where we could entertain – where even a teenage werewolf or a cigarette smoking fiend can find his perfect fit in the scheme of it all.”
A quiet man standing in the far corner near the jukebox raised one hand while he reached for a Morley with his other. “You tell ‘em, son.”
Moldy’s eyes brightened and took on a distant gaze. “Our future is out there!” he proclaimed, his hands raised toward the stained ceiling. “We – the company of the Hex-Files have no reason to beg for succor at the cloven feet of Hellevision’s masters! We have fans! We have a thunderous realm of devoted viewers who will rise up, loins girded with righteous anger, and storm the bastions of 666 – pitchforks aloft – and demand reruns – nay, new episodes!”
Brainy lowered her eyes and shook her head. “Moldy,” she began, but the agent heard only the delirious drumbeat of his own ecstasy.
“Picture it! Millions of enraged Hex-File Fanatics – foaming mouths agape, eyes wild with glory! – as they rush the ramparts of bureaucratic bourgeoisie toward egalitarianism – with liberty and justice for all!”
Gulp. Suddenly there was Silence -- Wolf Moldy was gone!
Moldy had disappeared so quickly, many checked their watches wondering if they’d experienced lost time. “Where’d he go?” Blurk demanded. “He was just there!”
“What the hell?” Abum muttered to himself.
Everyone stared at the empty air that had once been Wolf Moldy.
A bell clanged, breaking the hypnotic spell, and a tall, wiry man entered accompanied by a slender brunette. “Hey, Brainy! We’re in! I just got off the phone with Skinhead. He says Emu’s been canceled, and the network’s decided to run Hex-Files 24/7! Ain’t that great?”
“And they’re giving us all a raise!” the girl added. “And the network has ordered two new seasons. And hey, demons! They’ve promised parts for you, too!”
Skuller blinked, still dazed over Moldy’s disappearance. “Gee, Moniker, that’s good news. But, Hoggett, did you see that?” she asked mechanically.
“See what?” the man repeated. “I didn’t see anything.”
“That’s wonderful news,” Wolf Moldy’s velvet voice spoke, and a muscular hand reached out to shake Hoggett’s. “Nice job, Moniker. Say, you’re looking lovely this evening.”
“Thanks, Wolf,” the brunette replied with a girlish grin. “How unlike you!”
“Maybe it’s the real me,” Moldy answered back with a wink to Skuller.
“Where did you go?” the redhead demanded. “We all saw you disappear! What happened?”
“Disappear?” the handsome agent asked, fishing in his coat pocket for sunflower seeds. “I don’t think so. It’s not like you to imagine things, Dr. Skuller.”
“Never mind,” Brainy said. “Ok, everybody! You heard the good news! Party at my place! Hey, Conundrum, are you feeling all right? You look green – and well, bloated.”
The tattoo-covered giant smiled and patted his stomach. “I’ll be fine. Must have been something I ate.”
“Well, anyway, here’s to two more seasons!” Brainy called loudly, waving farewell to the teen at the counter.
Moldy took her arm and leaned in close. “And here’s to new beginnings,” he whispered.
“Oh, you Wolf!” Brainy giggled as she followed Hoggett and Moniker to the parking lot.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Moldy laughed. “No more small potatoes, Brainy. From here on out, I’m a new man.”
The pair snuggled in close, and beneath the ankle-length expanse of midnight black overcoat, the being who looked exactly like Wolf Moldy proudly wagged his simian tail.