The Colonel officially assumed command of the Belfry garrison that afternoon. For his gross incompetence, Bubbles was stripped of all rank and imprisoned. There would be no further foul-ups from that quarter. Guards were now stationed on the parapets and in the keep, there would be no repeat of the incidents of the previous night. Now there was only one more problem to take care of.
The Colonel breezed straight through the anteroom where Meps, Snout, Wart and Mole were lounging about and not paying much attention. “Uh, hey . . .” said Meps, which was as far as he got before the Colonel walked straight past him and barged into Fat Cat’s office.
Fat Cat looked up in annoyance. “It’s customary to obtain an appointment before coming to see me. That, or at least knock.”
“This is important,” said the Colonel.
“It had better be,” Fat Cat warned.
“In fact sir, I think you ought to call your associates in here, they’ll need to see this as well.”
Fat Cat sighed in annoyance. “Fine. Meps! Wart! Snout! Mole! Get in here!”
Fat Cat’s henchmen quickly responded to their boss’s summons, tumbling in through the door with commendable rapidity. “What is it boss?” Meps asked.
“The Colonel has something for us. Now, what is it?”
“Just this,” said the Colonel, placing a black dodecahedron on Fat Cat’s desk and stepping back. Fat Cat’s henchmen crowded around for a better look at the object.
Fat Cat eyed the object with annoyance, then looked up at the Colonel. “And this is . . .?”
“Your ticket out of my hair. Goodbye.” Suddenly a swirling blue bubble erupted from the object, engulfing Fat Cat and his henchmen. The bubble changed colors, dimming from blue to black and seemed to harden, and then shrank out of sight. “Enjoy your trip,” the Colonel said, sitting down at the desk.
The bubble grew out of nothing in the middle of the room and shattered, spilling Fat Cat and his henchmen out onto the cold stone floor. Fat Cat was enraged. “That traitorous double-crosser! How dare he!” He pushed himself up, as his henchmen also scrambled to regain their footing. “The next time I see him I’ll make him suffer!”
“Where are we?” Mole asked as his eyes tried to adjust to the darkness.
“You are in the Citadel,” the Nightmare King answered. Fat Cat and the others spun around to see the Nightmare King towering over them. “My patience with you is exhausted. I have brought you here where I may keep an eye on you.”
“Your majesty,” Fat Cat began, “I--”
“There is nothing for you to say! Your inept pursuit of the Rescue Rangers has been nothing short of an unqualified disaster. I have other agents more reliable than you, they will see to their ultimate disposition. As for you, you will remain here in the Citadel, and render such service as I deem fit. Now go.”
Fat Cat was incensed, but dared not show it. “Then what am I in charge of?”
“Nothing. From now on you are limited to a purely advisory role. Get out of my sight, and count yourself lucky that I do not make you a prisoner here!” Fat Cat knew better than to press what was left of his luck. He hurried towards the chamber exit, with his henchmen close in tow.
“Your gambit is effective Muse, but I will still carry the day.” The Nightmare King moved pieces on an elaborate chessboard supported by a pedestal of twisted, broken stone. “My pieces still control the board, and yours are falling into a trap.”
Here at the edge of the forest, where sunlight still penetrated to the floor in isolated spots, a variety of greenery and flowers grew in broad patches, giving the woods a beautiful, almost magical appearance. Even so, there was something deeply disturbing about it. Foxglove figured it out first.
“There’s no sound. I mean, there’s the wind in the trees, but I don’t hear any birds or animals or even insects, you know, things you expect to hear.”
“Golly, you’re right Foxglove,” Gadget agreed.
“Creepy,” added Dale.
“Well there’s one good thing in that,” Monty observed, “there’s nothing in there that’ll try to eat us.” Zipper buzzed in agreement, just as he flew straight into a spider’s web.
“Hello lunch,” said a hauntingly familiar voice. Will the spider began to close in on Zipper, until Monty reached into the web and pulled him free. “Aw, what did you do that for?”
“If you tries to eat me little pally again, I’ll pull two of your legs off and use them to beat you within an inch of your life,” said Monty, his eyes flashing.
“My goodness! Such a hostile reaction towards a predator in the natural exercise of his instincts; I’m positively shocked!” Will looked at the group and zeroed in on Foxglove. “Well what do you think of that my dear? After all, you’re an insectivore as well, are you not?”
“Well, yes,” said Foxglove, a little uncertainly, “but Zipper is a friend.”
Will rolled his eyes in exasperation. “A predator that makes friends with its prey. You’ll never make any headway in the world that way, my dear.” The spider took a pull on his Meerschaum pipe.
“Well, if you’ve no other business with us--” Monty began.
“Oh, but I do!” said the spider earnestly. “I do indeed, and it is business the supreme momentousness to you and to your companions, should you intend on entering this forest.
Chip sighed. “What do you want Bill?”
“Please,” said the spider, “it’s Will, not Bill. Will. In fact I think I’ve been over this with you before, you appear familiar.”
“Just shut up and leave us alone,” Dale groused.
“Aha! Now I remember, it’s Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee!” exclaimed the spider, and with a wave of his pipe the two chipmunks were again encased in the ridiculous outfits. “And look, they’ve brought Alice with them!” Another wave and Gadget found herself wearing a short, light blue dress with a frilly white apron, and a narrow ribbon tied in her hair.
“Get some new material why don’t you,” Dale complained, unzipping the colorful outfit and stepping out of it. Chip, with a look of exasperation, did likewise. Gadget checked carefully to make sure she was wearing her coveralls underneath before doffing the frilly dress, which she deeply resented.
“Now as for you two,” said Will, turning to Monterey jack and Zipper, “hmmm, perhaps the Walrus and the Carpenter.” He raised his pipe again.
“‘Ere now, did you say your name was Will?” Monty asked.
The spider stopped. “Why yes I did in fact! At least one of you has gotten my name right!” To everyone’s surprise, Monty began to laugh.
“Alright Monty, how about letting the rest of us in on the joke?” Gadget asked.
“Will-o’-the-wisp!” said Monty.
“That’s right!” said the spider proudly
“It’s his business to mislead travelers, ain’t that right mate?”
“To warn travelers. I’m here to warn you, after all, you’re on the verge of committing a dreadful blunder!”
“We’re not interested mate,” Monty said, starting to walk around the spider’s web. “Practice your trickery on someone else.”
“Such cheek!” the spider huffed, “I come all the way here to warn you, and you treat me as though I were a false alarm! Do you even know anything about this forest?”
“No,” Monty said, ignoring the spider and walking on. The others began to follow him.
“It’s called the Forest of Visions. It’s one of the principal engines that drive the industry of this land. Here visions are spawned both beautiful and revolting, sublime and common-place, solemn and ludicrous, the very stuff of which the fabrics of dreams and nightmares are woven!”
“Aw put a sock in it you big blowhard,” said Dale, walking past the spider. They now had to pass on the other side of the web to continue their journey. Accordingly, Will turned to keep his face to them.
“I assure you I am in earnest! The Forest of Visions is no place to be traveled lightly, or by amateurs.”
“Alright,” Chip said, stopping. “How do we get to the Citadel without going through it then?”
“There is no other way to the Citadel, it lies at the very heart of the forest on the edge of the sea.”
“Fine, then we’re going through the forest.”
“What do you want from me?” the spider complained. “Here I do my best to warn you away from mortal danger, and you insist on waking straight into the very center of it!”
Chip and Dale exchanged a look, then both went back to the web in which Will sat. “Do you really want to know what we want? We want you to go away.” With that both chipmunks seized handfuls of the web and began to back up, stretching the web into a cone-like shape, with Will at its center.
“Here now, just what do you two think you are doing?” the spider protested as the chipmunks pulled. “Stop that! Do you have any idea at all how long it took me to construct this web? Cut that out! You’re stretching it all out of shape! I depend on this web for my sustenance I’ll have you know!” Finally the spider wheeled about and glared at Chip and Dale. “Stop that! I insist that you release my web this instant!”
Chip stopped, and Dale followed suit. “Gladly . . . Bill!” said Chip, and then both he and Dale turned the web loose.
“Don’t call me Bi-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l!” said the spider as, propelled by the web’s elastic snap-back, he described a roughly ballistic trajectory through the air and out of the trees, which ended in the midst of the snowdrift from which the Rangers and Foxglove had recently emerged.
“Well done lads,” said Monty approvingly. “Now let’s get to the business at hand!”
“He was getting really annoying,” Gadget remarked.
Further in, the canopy of branches and leaves was so think that the only sunlight that reached them was a dim glow. The forest floor was barely more than a litter of dead leaves and twigs, and the massive trunks of the trees soared up nearly fifty feet before the first thick branches appeared.
Something was bothering Foxglove. “Hey Dale, did I do okay?”
Dale immediately blushed. “This isn’t the place to talk about that,” he said hastily.
Crossed wires, they were having two different conversations. Foxglove thought for a moment, trying to figure out what Dale meant, and then she too blushed. “Not that! I mean in the mine, when we had to fight that bad guy. Did I do okay?”
“Well, sure Foxy. You really creamed that guy with the rock. Why do you ask?”
“Well,” she began hesitantly, “it’s just that I want to be heroic, like you.”
“Heroic?” asked Dale. He’d never really thought of himself as heroic. “What for?”
“I want to be a Rescue Ranger,” Foxglove blurted out. There, she’d said it.
Dale stopped. “What for?”
“So I can always be near you. I want to share in your adventures, your life, everything!” she said. Foxglove hoped he might pick up on the hint, but he didn’t.
“Aw, you don’t need to be a Rescue Ranger to do that,” Dale said, “You’re welcome at Ranger HQ any time.” If Foxglove felt any disappointment from his answer she didn’t have a chance to voice it, as Zipper returned from an aerial reconnaissance. The branches were much too thick for Foxglove to fly safely.
“See anything pally?” Monterey asked. Zipper buzzed that he hadn’t.
A chill wind blew between the trees, causing the branches to rustle and moan eerily as everyone shivered. “This place just gets creepier and creepier,” said Dale.
“You said it,” agreed Foxglove, taking a hold of Dale’s arm.
“Nonsense,” said Gadget, “It’s just a little darker and a little colder than when we came in, but that doesn’t make it creepy. You’re letting your imaginations run away with you.” She had turned to address Dale and Foxglove while she walked; now she turned facing forward once again and nearly jumped out of her skin with a gasp when she came almost face to face with a snarling, gaping mouth. Foxglove also gasped, and Dale gasped reflexively as Foxglove tightened her grip on his arm. With a sense of chagrin, Gadget realized she was looking at the decaying hollow stump of a fallen tree. “Okay,” she admitted, “it is a little creepy.”
“Ow,” said Dale, “you’re hurting my arm.”
“What? Oh, sweetie I’m sorry,” Foxglove said, letting him go. Dale shook out his paw to restore the circulation.
Chip dropped back to speak with is long-time partner. Laying a paw on one shoulder, he asked, “Hey Dale, could you keep comments like that to yourself? Now you’ve got both Foxglove and Gadget worried.”
“I’m sorry Chip, it’s just that this place really is creeping me out.”
“Well try to act brave, at least for everyone else’s sake, okay?”
“Okay,” Dale answered. “Hey, where is everyone else?”
Everyone else was missing. Chip looked around, and both he and Dale stopped. “For that matter where are we?”
They weren’t in the forest anymore. They were standing on the deck of a passenger steamship, which a nearby life ring told them was the “S. S. Jack Hannah”. From a look through the railings, they could see that the ship was at sea. Normal scale appeared to have been restored, which is to say that everything was back to being too big again, but the scene had a surreal, even artificial cast to it that neither Chipmunk could put their finger on.
“Now tell me that isn’t creepy,” said Dale.
Chip shushed him. “Something’s wrong.”
“You think?” Dale stopped and sniffed the air. He had caught a whiff of something decidedly edible, and his stomach growled in response. “Hey Chip, when’s the last time we ate?”
Chip was incredulous. “How can you think of food at a time like this?” But then he smelled it too, and his own stomach let him know that he was hungry. “Well, I guess we can stop for a bite,” said Chip, ignoring the smug look Dale was giving him. “Survival is the first order of business until we find out what’s going on.” Together the two chipmunks followed the smell until they came to an open door marked “2nd Class” that led to a dining area. The tables were just being set, but the first thing that really attracted their attention was a buffet table piled with a regular smorgasbord of fruits, salads, sandwiches and a large bowl of mixed nuts.
“Oh boy, lunch is served!” said Dale, heading for the table with Chip following in a rare moment of agreement. They scampered across the floor and up the tablecloth, and made straight for the fruit. Soon they were tossing aside peels and seeds as they ravenously ate their fill.
“It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while you get a good idea,” Chip admitted.
The door to the galley opened and a steward entered carrying another tray of sandwiches. Although they could barely understand him, it sounded as though he was singing a song. “Oh the sailor’s life is the life for me / with the briny air and the salty sea / and I never, ever, ever do a thing about the weather / for the weather never, ever did a thing for me.” The reason they could hardly understand the steward was because the steward was a duck. A largish white duck wearing a sailor’s jumper and hat, of the sort that was common in the early 20th century merchant marine.
“What’d he say?” asked Dale, just before Chip pulled him into hiding.
“Wak!” exclaimed the duck, noticing the mess they had left. “What goes on here?” Going to investigate, he quickly discovered Chip and Dale hiding behind candles on the candelabra, and said something that sounded like “Oh, a couple of stowaways, eh?”
“Heh heh, uh, hi,” Dale said, somewhat lamely. Suddenly he picked up the remains of an apple that he and Chip had eaten. “Apple core?”
“Oh no you don’t,” said the duck, reaching for them.
“Jump!” said Chip, and he and Dale jumped onto one edge of the bowl of nuts. The bowl flipped up showering the duck with its contents, and both chipmunks ran for it.
“Come back here you little rats!” sputtered the duck, slipping on the nuts and setting off in pursuit of them. The chase circled around the tables until Chip dashed through the swinging doors to the galley with Dale close behind him. As they ran through, the doors swung back and the duck crashed head-first into them and fell back insensible, in a seated position with a big goofy grin. Dale poked his head out of the doors, and decided in a moment of silliness to sit next to the duck, imitating his posture and expression perfectly. Chip scampered out and tapped his foot impatiently, then bonked him one.
“Sore-head,” Dale complained, rubbing his head.
“Don’t you see what’s going on here?” Chip demanded.
“Not really,” Dale admitted.
“This must be the forest of visions! This is some kind of illusion.”
“Okay, how do we get out of it?”
Chip didn’t have an answer for that one, but it didn’t matter, because the duck recovered and grabbed them both. “Now we’ll see who’s so smart around here,” he said, and rushed out of the dining area with them.
“Chip, can you understand anything this duck is saying?” Dale asked.
“Not a word.”
The duck skidded to a halt at the ship’s bell. With one hand he held the two chipmunks up inside of it, and with the other he struck the bell repeatedly with a length of pipe. When the duck removed his hand from the mouth of the bell, both chipmunks dropped onto the deck, vibrating from the bell’s percussion. The duck laughed at them.
“Th-th-th-this is s-s-s-some illusion,” Dale said, holding his head to stop the ringing.
Chip shook his head to clear it. “Illusion or not, it’s personal now. C’mon!” With Chip leading the way, both chipmunks scampered up a coil of fire hose onto a nearby fire station. Taking a hold of the valve, Chip pushed and Dale pulled until the valve squeaked open. As the hose rapidly filled with water, the duck noticed what was going on.
“Gimme that,” he squawked. Grabbing hold of the nozzle, he aimed it at Chip and Dale. The hose filled and nothing came out. “What’s the matter with this thing?”
“You have to turn it on,: Chip pointed out helpfully.
“Oh yeah!” The duck grabbed the bail and pulled it to the open position, and suddenly found himself being whipped all around the deck by a wild hose.
“Bye bye,” said Dale, as he and Chip ran for it again. The duck managed to shut off the nozzle. Unfortunately for him when he did so, he was over water, into which he fell with a loud splash. The duck climbed up the hose and regained the deck, looking very wet and annoyed, and set off after the chipmunks, leaving the charged fire hose behind.
Chip noticed the pursuit first. “He’s after us again,” he informed Dale.
‘Don’t worry,” Dale said. He seemed fairly confident all of a sudden. “Watch this!” Stopping at a door on the promenade deck, he pushed it open and held it for the duck with a quick “After you.” The duck raced through with a friendly wave and down the ladder on the other side of the door. Dale ran through the door too, with a somewhat puzzled Chip following him. At the bottom of the ladder was a passageway where they found the duck holding open a steel watertight door for them.
“After you,” quacked the duck politely.
“Thanks!” said Dale, racing through with Chip after him. The duck resumed chasing after them, down another ladder.
“What good did that do?” Chip asked with evident irritation.
“Just watch!” said Dale, skidding to a halt and opening a small iron door. “After you!”
The duck raced through the door with a quick “Thanks!” and Dale shut the small iron door behind him without following. They were in the ship’s boiler room, and the small iron door led to the boiler’s firebox.
To an outside observer, it appeared as though the steamship had launched a rocket, although it was in fact only the duck, shooting out of the funnel and into low orbit with his tail on fire.
“Okay,” Chip demanded, “how did you know that would work?”
“Easy,” said Dale, “I just figured this place out. We’re in a cartoon!”
Chip smacked his forehead in exasperation. “Of course. You would be the first to figure that out.”
“This’ll be a lot of fun!” Dale enthused. “We can do sight gags and frantic action and--” bonk!
“Listen dummy, we’ve got to find a way out of this cartoon, or illusion or whatever, and get back to the others!” Chip started back up the ladder to the door. “We’ve still got to get to the Citadel and stop the Nightmare King, remember?” Just as Chip reached the top step of the ladder the steel door banged open. It was the duck again, looking much the worse for wear and even more foul-tempered than before. He had acquired a fire axe from somewhere.
“Doggoned little pests, now I’ll fix you!” The duck swung the axe, narrowly missing Chip whom Dale pulled out of the way. They ran between the duck’s legs and back up the passageway, with the duck again pursuing them.
This time they ran forward, up a couple more ladders and up another passageway and found themselves in the ship’s pilothouse. “Neat-o!” said Dale, looking around at everything. He ran to the ship’s engine order telegraph and up to the lever. “Hey look Chip, I’m the Captain!”
“Will you quit clowning around?” Chip demanded in exasperation. The door slammed open, admitting the duck and his fire axe.
“Now I’ve got you!”
Dale grabbed the telegraph lever and moved it from “AHEAD STANDARD” to “STOP”. With a sound like screeching brakes, the ship came to an abrupt halt, causing Chip to tumble forward and fetch up against the wheel. The duck, however, flew forward until he came into forcible contact with one of the pilothouse windows. Dale had to laugh, he was in his element. “C’mon Chip, this is fun!”
“For you maybe,” Chip griped. The duck got up again and reached for Dale, but Dale pushed the telegraph lever all the way forward, past “AHEAD STANDARD” and “AHEAD FULL” to “LUDICROUS SPEED”. The ship lurched forward, and the duck tumbled back through the pilothouse door, down the ladders and through the passageways, finally winding up in the firebox again, which caused him to again be launched out of the after funnel.
“I can’t stand it!” Chip cried. “How do you know what to do?”
“I watch cartoons!” Dale replied proudly, returning the telegraph to “STANDARD”.
“Okay then, how do we get out of this mess?”
Dale’s smile faltered. “I don’t know. Maybe we just wake ourselves up or something.”
“Oh, that’s brilliant,” Chip said with heavy sarcasm.
“I don’t see you coming up with any ideas,” Dale retorted. The argument might have continued in this vein for quite some time were it not for the reappearance of the duck, this time pushing a small cannon on wheels.
“Now I’m going to blow you little pests to smithereens!” squawked the duck, and he yanked the cannon’s lanyard. The cannon fired with a deafening boom, obliterating the ship’s wheel and about half of the engine order telegraph, along with a significant portion of the forward bulkhead of the pilothouse. Chip and Dale took advantage of the destruction to dash out through the hole thus created.
“Why isn’t he ever happy to see us?” Dale wondered aloud as they ran.
“Where did he get that thing?” asked Chip.
“How should I know?” Dale shot back.
“What happened to the cartoon expert?” Chip scoffed.
“When did I become an expert?” Dale retorted.
“Who watches more cartoons than anyone else?” Chip returned. They took refuge behind a deck locker marked “LIFE VESTS”. The duck wheeled his cannon to a stop and yanked the lanyard again. With a loud BOOM the deck locker was immolated, showering the entire foredeck with orange floatation vests. Chip and Dale dashed to the cover of a ventilator cowl, which the cannon blew into a shape that resembled a weird metal flower. The chipmunks ran into the dining area where the whole mess had started, and the cannon transformed the banquet table into the most hideous multicolored mess of all time. The duck stopped agape, surveying the wreckage of the table he’d worked so hard to set and defend, then launched into an explosive display of temper that was as remarkable for its utter unintelligibility as it was for its frantic thrashing about.
“Tsk tsk, such language,” Dale said.
“What language? I haven’t understood a word he’s said!” Nevertheless, the duck’s temper tantrum afforded them the distraction they needed to escape once more. They ran until they came up against a swollen orange shape attached to a fireplug. The hose was still under pressure, and had grown to monstrous proportions. The duck wheeled his cannon to a stop nearby. “We’re trapped!” Chip wailed.
Dale, however, seemed to take this obstacle in stride. Turning to face the duck, head high, shoulders back and chest out, Dale said, “You may fire when ready, Gridley!” To put it mildly, Chip looked at his partner as though he had lost what might have been left of his mind.
The duck yanked on the cannon’s lanyard and the cannon boomed once more. The projectile struck the distended fire hose, burrowing deep within it but failing to penetrate. “Uh oh,” said the duck, assuming a hangdog look as the shell rebounded from the hose and scored a direct hit on the cannon. The resulting explosion left the cannon in a shape that more closely resembled a piece of modern art, and the duck seated with the goofy grin as before, except this time he was blackened from head to toe.
“Well whaddaya know!” said Dale.
“Uh, Dale?” said Chip worriedly.
The fire hose exploded in a torrent of water that swept them both over the side of the ship and into the ocean. Both chipmunks swam to the surface and watched in dismay as the steamship “S. S. Jack Hannah” continued on her way, leaving them behind.
“Hey! Don’t leave us!” Chip shouted.
“Chipmunks overboard!” Dale added. Suddenly something grabbed him. “Help! An octopus!”
“Wake up Dale!” shouted Foxglove.
“Huh?” said Dale, as the world suddenly resolved itself into Foxglove’s worried face a few inches away from his own. He was sitting in a shallow stream in the middle of a forest, with Foxy standing right in front of him in the water up to her waist. Nearby, Monterey Jack was hauling Chip out of the water while Zipper and Gadget watched anxiously from the shore. “How’d I get here?”
Foxglove lifted Dale to his feet and wrapped her wings around him. “You really had me worried there darling,” she said. Indeed, she was shivering slightly. Dale did his best to try and comfort her.
“What happened?” Chip asked, coming out of the spell.
“You tell me lad,” said Monty, huffing because he was out of breath. “One minute we’re walking through the forest, and the next thing any of us knows, you two take off flat out like a lizard drinkin’, runnin’ every which way and finally you jump in this ‘ere stream. We had a heck of a time just keepin’ up with you. What was that all about?”
“Are they alright?” Gadget asked from the shore, also slightly out of breath.
“A little waterlogged maybe, but they’ll be fine,” Monty answered.
Dale started to explain. “We were on a ship out on the ocean, and we ate some food, then this big dumb duck started chasing us, and we--” Dale mumbled a bit as Chip clapped a paw over his mouth.
“We had some kind of vision,” Chip said. “It was very realistic, and we were reacting to what we saw.” Dale pushed his paw away and glared at him.
“I guess that’s why it’s called the Forest of Visions,” Gadget said.
“Dale could have drowned,” Foxglove fretted.
“No I wouldn’t have,” Dale replied.
“Foxglove is right,” said Gadget. “These visions caused you guys to do some pretty bizarre things, a couple of them even looked dangerous. They might cause someone to hurt them selves. We’d better keep an eye on each other.”
“We might have a bigger problem than that, Gadget luv,” said Monty. “Did anyone keep track of which way we came?”
“Golly, no. I was too busy trying to keep up with you guys.”
“There were so many turns, I lost track,” said Foxglove. Zipper could only shrug.
“In that case,” said Monty solemnly, “we’re lost.”
The road they had been on was nowhere to be seen.
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