Chuck Wendig challenged his readers to try and mash two random genres together. The only limitation that the story be 2,000 words. Mine happened to be Time Travel and Comic Fantasy. In theory this should be a juicy match with a plethora of potential goodness, but I struggled with it. I don't know much about comic fantasy, so I did my best to channel a tiny bit of Discworld since that's the only reference I have.
But anyway, let me present...
The rhythmic pounding of steel drums and grinding diesel engines filled the Grub Hub’s bar. Bleating monstrosities and snarling mongrels sang warbled songs together.
Grubby ran a stained cloth back and forth along the bar counter, changing the orientation of a smudge from one way to another. Grubby was portly, with no neck, rolls of flesh that shook as he moved, and deep-set pupilless eyes. Adderwall sat at the bar and waved at Grubby with a scaled claw.
Grubby filled a tankard with boiling bile and thudded it in front of Adderwall.
“Grubs, we need you to go into the time stream.”
Grubby set to polishing a cracked emerald glass. “The time stream? What for?”
“Prevent the manocalypse.”
“We did that already.”
Adderwall took a swig of his boiling bile. “Got to do it again, it seems. Time stream is funny like that.”
“Funny’s not the word I’d use. What about all those young agents up in the tower, they can’t do it?”
“All I know is the boss wants you.”
“It’s been so long…”
“C’mon Grubs, you still got it in you. Show the boys how it’s done.”
Grubby ran a hand along his chins. “Heaven, why not?”
Adderwall smiled and pressed a small package onto the bar counter. Grubs snatched it up and waddled his way to the back room of the Grub Hub.
The package contained dark brown roots. He took this in a pair of tongs, held them over the stove until they began to smoke, and inhaled.
Grubby reeled, the root’s smoke twirling around in his head.
The world went a sort of purple-y fuzzy. His pots and pans twisted in on themselves, grins forming on their now malignant faces.
He turned, and there sat a towering demon. Its belly spilled over its knees, horns twisted out of its head, its skin a deep blood red, and its throne a macabre of bone and brimstone.
The demon leaned forward, “Grubby, are you prepared to do my bidding? I have a serious task for you. It is a matter of life or death.”
Grubby shot upright, straight-backed, hands pressed to his sides. “Yes, Mr. Nate.”
“Demontopia is threatened. You must ensure that the manocalypse does not transpire.”
“I thought we wiped out humanity, Mr. Nate.”
“They yet live. You, Grubby, must find them in the time stream and stop them.”
“As you command.”
“This message will self-destruct in three, two…”
Grubby looked at the roots dangling from his tongs. The roots began to shimmer. Grubby chucked them into a fish barrel.
“…one…” The roots exploded, sending a spray of fish raining onto Grubby’s kitchen floor.
Grubby sighed. He’d have to clean it up later. He rummaged through a cupboard and pulled out his old kit. He blew the dust off it and slung it over his shoulder.
On his way out he shouted to his assistant, “Salty, you’re in charge while I’m gone.” The giant white cube silently hovered toward the bar.
Grubby marched into the magnificence of Demontopia. He inhaled, the smell of sulfur and rot filled his nostril, and he let out a satisfied breath. The buildings were sinuous purple membranes held together by steel and wooden beams. A two-headed pterodactyl screeched overhead, and Grubby waved to it. The street sloshed around his feet, leaving outlines of his footprints. The sun shone a vibrant red and the sky was a streak of purples, oranges, and pinks.
Grubby neared Yellowstone Tower. Its fiery exterior exuded mist that occasionally burst into flames. With each expulsion its membranous tissue heaved and belched.
The Highway of Man, a massive crumbling relic, snaked around the tower and disappeared into the horizon. Grubby regarded it for a moment, remembering how far they’d come. With a smirk he entered Yellowstone Tower’s lobby.
In the center of the lobby a swirling pool of magma lapped along the boundaries of a stone walled hole. It took on vague humanoid shape, the homunculus turning to molten stone with cracks of fiery magma along its body. It appeared to stand atop the magma pool.
“You’re looking bright,” Grubby said. “Molten, even.”
“How can I help you today?” Vortex asked.
“Well, I’m headed to the time stream to stop the manocalypse.”
“Alright, I’ll meet you at the bike.” Vortex’s homunculus form melted back into the magma pool.
Grubby made his way up long flights of stairs. By the time he reached the thirteenth floor, Grubby was breathing heavy.
Vortex poked her head out of a magma filled hole. “You alright?”
“Sure, sure. Just—“wheeze—“need a minute is all.”
“Grubs, you up to this?”
Grubby puffed out his chest. “I’m as strong as ever. C’mon, let’s get this going.” Grubby marched into the bike room.
The bike room was massive, a domed cathedral of pulsating flesh and sinuous fiber. Computer screens blinked to life behind their fleshy cocoons. A pool of magma next to the door writhed and Vortex’s homunculus rose from it.
“Seems no one is in today,” Vortex said. “We’ve been short staffed, everyone’s moved on from using the bike. I guess this is the first time we’ve used it in, oh, a millennia.”
“I can manage it, just like it was yesterday.”
Grubby marched to the computer screens. He began tapping keys and turning knobs. A small magma filled cup holder sprung to life as Vortex’s homunculus rose out of it.
The tiny Vortex squeaked, “you sure you remember how to do this?”
“Of course I do,” Grubby flipped a switch and turned a knob.
Grubby huffed and puffed as he got a large hamster wheel spinning. “Easy.”
Spotlights came to life, pointing at the center of the bike room. The bike was a rusted motorcycle with flames painted on chrome, with a dinky sidecar.
Grubby got off the hamster wheel and wiped his brow with a hanky. “See? Just like old times.”
Vortex raised a molten eyebrow. “Want me to come along?”
Grubby shrugged. “Might as well,” he got out a tankard and held it close to the cup holder. Magma arced into the tankard until it was full. The cup holder was actually a pipe, and as the magma poured out more entered the cup holder’s orifice from some unseen source deep beneath Yellowstone Tower.
Grubby peered into the tankard, “you okay in there?”
Vortex’s tiny homunculus head poked out of the lava, “yup.”
He hooked the tankard to his belt and mounted the motorcycle. Grubby glanced at the sidecar and sighed. At least Vortex was with him. Grubby revved the engine to life, feeling its rhythmic grinding beneath him.
Grubby smiled, “just like old times.”
“Feels good,” Vortex said.
Grubby hit the gas and the motorcycle surged forward.
They were enveloped in light. Sparkling colours surrounded them, twirling and twisting, light bending.
“So,” Vortex’s tiny molten hands clutched the edges of the tankard, “where are we going?”
Grubby reached into his kit and got out the man-o-meter. It detected humans with traces of the time stream on them. A gnarled finger spun beneath the glass, until finally settling on a direction.
The motorcycle zoomed through the time stream. Black inky smoke billowed from its exhaust pipes. They shot through time and space. The bikes engine rattled, the sidecar wobbled, and just as it felt like they’d be torn to pieces, the rainbow lights faded. They burst out of a blue sky, streaked through a cloud, and surrounded by trails of its nimbus immateriality, they thudded to the ground.
Dirt shot up from the bikes spinning wheels. Grubby did a few doughnuts before coming to a full stop.
“Unholy heaven,” Vortex exhaled. “You’ve brought us here?”
Vortex puffed up her chest, molten flesh seeping over the tankard’s edges like tar, “never!”
The Highway of Man. In Grubby’s time it was a relic, a broken husk that stretched from one end of the world to the other. But Grubby’s generation only knew it in its cracked and crumbling form…
What they saw now was magnificent, a highway like no other. It went on and on into the horizon, a gleaming marvel of concrete and steel, steaming in the sun’s heat.
“What better place to hide then the one place we’ve been told never to go,” Grubby said, his eyes dancing with excitement.
He reached into a pocket and pulled out his man-o-meter. The dial spun for a few moments before settling on a direction.
Grubby revved the engine and took off alongside the ancient (newish) highway.
Grubby’s eyes were pinned to the man-o-meter.
“Grubs!” Vortex’s protest went unheard.
They barrelled into a tree. The tree screeched and cracked as it bent from the impact. The motorcycle’s wheels dug furrows into the earth until Grubby cut the power.
Vortex poked her head out, “the rest of me is going to be so mad.”
Grubby poked his head up from the tangled mess. “Are we dead?”
“I don’t think so,” Vortex said. “Brilliant, really. Next time why don’t we jump into some spinning propellers.”
“There was that one time at the Saifer Complex…”
Vortex threw her hands into the air.
They decided to leave the bike where it was. Toss some broken branches on top of it and it would be hidden well enough.
“See?” Grubbed stretched, popping his back. “Easy.”
Wind buffeted him. The spotlights of a hovering police car beamed onto the treetops. Grubby dove into the recess of thick tree roots as the spotlight scanned the area.
“They’re onto us,” Grubby said.
“Men are impatient, they’ll give up soon.”
A pair of rope ladders unfolded from the police vehicle, and mech armoured police slid down them, through the canopy, and onto the ground.
“This is bad,” Grubby said.
“Have you got the kit?”
“Of course I have the kit.”
“Get out the mourngrill!”
Grubby rummaged through the kit, going elbow deep into it.
“Please tell me you didn’t forget to pack the mourngrill.”
“It’s in here. Just…give me…a…aha!” Grubby pulled out a wide, squat, stubby gun. Instead of a barrel, it had what can only be described as the heated elements of a toaster.
He flipped a switch on the mourngrill, and its elements shimmered red-hot.
Grubby stalked through the trees, Vortex’s tankard slapping against his thigh. A mech suited police officer rounded a trunk and called for them to halt. Grubby pulled the mourngrill’s trigger. A thick beam of orange-red energy shot out in a straight line, slamming into the police officer. The officer fell to his knees, weeping. He muttered under his breath, clutching his head in his hands. He was seeing every single moment of regret in his life and the potential infinite lives of the time stream. Overwhelmed, the officer collapsed into a blubbering heap.
A flashlight shone on the fallen cop, and another began to near him, weapons poised. Grubby dashed through the forest, following the man-o-meter.
“Behind you!” Vortex squeaked.
Grubby spun on a heel to see another mech suited officer lowering a plasma canon at him. Grubby dived. A beam of pink energy hit a tree behind him, it popped and sizzled as its trunk burst into flames.
Grubby leveled the mourngrill and let his own blast fly. The officer fell to his knees weeping.
Grubby took off, huffing and puffing, following the man-o-meter to a cave.
Grubby dashed into it. He ducked into a corner. Heavy footfalls thumped overhead. Searchlights cast shadows along the cave walls as the police marched through the forest. After a few minutes they moved on.
“That was close,” Vortex said. “Now, what’s the man-o-meter say?”
“The humans are deeper in this cave.”
They travelled through the cave. Grubby had to duck and slouch around stalactites. But soon it opened up to a large cavernous chamber. Holes pockmarked the walls. From each emanated a pale blue glow. And at the very bottom of the chamber the glow was blinding. It took a long while for Grubby’s eyes to adjust. But there it was, a time machine. Large, bloated, and riddled with wires and tubes. Men milled around it, flicking levers, checking dials, and typing on computer screens. It was a behemoth of steel and plastic.
“I think we found our humans,” Grubby said. “We might have found the very heart of the resistance. This is their time machine.”
Massive tubes extended from the mechanical monstrosity, disappearing into caves . Grubby guessed that they led to other power sources.
“Grubs, look,” Vortex pointed to a mechanized suit that lumbered up to a human worker. It was too far to be heard, but a sense of urgency seemed to ripple through those below. “I think they’ve just been alerted to our presence. Probably by the police outside.”
“Then we better get to work,” Grubby dug into his kit. He pulled out a pancake looking disk of steel. “Boom charges.” Gruby pulled out a few more. “All we got to do is lob these boomers into the time machine and our job is done.”
Grubby turned the knobs until the detonation mechanism clicked into place, and the boom charges started to hum ominously. Vortex, through great effort, held one as well.
The two demons started lobbing boom charges to the time machine below. The human’s didn’t notice until it was too late. One even picked up a flat disk, turning it over in his hands. He was eviscerated when it exploded, and another dozen charges followed. Men screamed, steel groaned, and the time machine trembled. A sharp snap, and it began to tip, tip, until it slammed into the side of the cavern. The blue light from the many caves pockmarking the walls flickered. Light burst from them, and then they dimmed.
“Hah!” Grubby pumped his fist into the air. “We did it.”
The time machine began to pulse. At first it was slow and rhythmic, and then faster, irregular.
“Uh, Grubs, I think we need to get out of here.”
Grubby turned tail and ran, ran as far from the cave as they could. They found their bike and mounted it.
Grubby revved the engine. The earth shook, and a column of blue light shot into the air. He didn’t waste any time. He turned the temporal time displacement engine on and took off at full speed, sending chunks of earth flying. They were surrounded by the time stream, shimmering lights and dazzling stars. They burst through to Demontopia.
And they were greeted by a smoldering crater. Buildings toppled, streets overrun with derelict vehicles and demon skeletons. Membranous walls sloughed into puddles of rot. Above it all shone the proud monument of concrete and steel, the Highway of Man.
Grubby checked the time coordinates, this was it. They should have been inside Yellowstone Tower, surrounded by the thriving city of Demontopia.
“Uh, Grubs… I think we messed up.”
I wanted the time travel to factor in to more of the story. My original idea had the MCs darting around through time, smacking each other in the face and other ridiculousness. Ultimately I settled on simply using it as a means to get from point A to point B.
This story went through a severe edit. Originally Grubby wasn't the main character, but I completely reworked it. The first draft is very different. In retrospect, it might have been too ambitious to try and make an entire demon world, which ends up essentially being a secondary world, for a single quick and dirt short story. All in all I would have liked to spend a few more days on it, and I didn't even hit the deadline proper.
Also, I tried a different approach to writing this short story. Rather than aiming for the 2,000 words mark, I decided to aim for 4,000 words with the intend of cutting it down to 2k words. Bad idea. Especially on such a short deadline. Ultimately I ended up with a 3,500 word story that I cut down to 2,500 words. Next time I'm not going to aim for double the word count. It just makes the story bloated with needlessness and harder to edit.
The most egregious failing? It's not funny. I don't know how to do funny. I tried. I failed? I hope a few moments got a chuckle or a snort. Comedy writing is notoriously difficult, and after attempting this I have a deepened respect for those who make it look easy.