Tree House of Horror; or, Picnic Day is a Very Dangerous Day:
Coerced into a hopeless search for the princess, Toadís first course of action was dropping by the local IHOP for a short stack; luckily, he wasnít the only one who predicated life decisions on Sunday morning comic strips. Thanks to the timely recollection of his ďfriendĒ Mel, he learned that - in loving homage to his hero Marmeduke - Bowser Koopa had captured the princess that very afternoon and, without further deliberation, had repaired to Castle Koopa.
Back home, circumstances were beginning to look bleak for the Koopa children.
Having been jumped on three-too-many times, Wendy Koopa was visited by nightmares of a Mario massacre. Seeking respite, she impinged upon her fastidious brother, Roy, where it was disclosed that certain ďpreventative measuresĒ were already being taken.
Downstairs, Toad was taking preventative measures of his own. After liberating Peach from her soft wicker hell and substituting a bowl of minced Slim Jims as an effigy of the princess, the Mushroom found himself shopping for bumper stickers.
All of this,
however, was below the radar of the ambitious Koopa King, who proceeded
with the scheme as planned...
The local flora languished under a characteristically lucid and luminous forenoon in the Mushroom Kingdom. Most visitors found recreation and activity here particularly toothsome, yet there was an indubitable unease which, no doubt, had contributed to the kingdom's recent decline in tourism. The fact was that almost every plant, among other things, was fitted with a pair of elliptical, beady eyes.
For some, it was already quite enough that turtles were bipedal, or that Mushrooms could get into frivolous arguments; but to be denied the convenience of, say, eliminating outdoors, or maybe cheating on one of the notoriously implausible Mushroom golf courses, was too much to bear.
The doomship, like a clockwork beast riding the electric blue, provided an uncharacteristic disturbance to the normally temperate ecology as it descended to deposit its final passenger. As the vessel approached the ground, a rope ladder tumbled out of one of the shipís many apertures; Morton Koopa began to climb down, with a potato sack thrown over his shoulder.
Bowser accosted him from the cockpit.
"Hey, Morty, remember what I told ya. The Marios should be here any minute, and when they arrive-"
"Okay, yeah, the door thing..."
"Hmm... Maybe I should tell ya again just to be safe..." Bowser thought aloud.
"No, donít, please-"
"Just to be safe, Morty. Now when the Marios come to your hote-"
"Dad!" Morton pleaded. "Please... stop..."
"O-Okay..." Bowser stuttered. "Now when the Marios show up..."
"... You know what..." groaned his son.
"...theyíll be greeted by a gaggle of my uh... belligerent bouncers..." the Koopa King chuckled.
Morton shut his eyes and began to massage the corners of his eye sockets in irritation.
"The Marios will be so confused by the maze of doors in my horrible hotels that my Koopa minionsíll make a... mozzarella milkshake out of Ďem!" guffawed Bowser.
"Wow, gross. I kind of need to get going, so..."
"Just donít let Ďem open all the doors, or theyíll be delivering you a little... personal room service..."
"All right, well, Iím going now-"
"Iím sure if you close the doors that they open youíll send the Marios on a... disastrous detour, hehe..."
"God, itís like this every time..." he moaned, gazing up at the sky.
"Now make me proud,
boy. Weíre gonna finish off those Marios once and for all, to ring in a
new era of Koopa chaos!" said Bowser, laughing maniacally.
As the doomship pulled away, Morton let go of the rope ladder, falling into a cloud of undulating dust. He watched for a moment as the ship faded into the distance, blaring Weird Al polka music. A man of action, Morton turned and set to work.
Meanwhile, a few miles away...
Two familiar plumbers stumbled toward the border of the Mushroom Kingdom.
Apparently, a rather strange-looking reptilian creature found this very amusing, and, as they passed under the main gate, poked his head over the wall and let out a giggle that resounded across the land.
"Nice oí da princess to invite us over for a picnic, eh Luigi?" asked Mario.
"I hope she made lotsa spaghetti!" replied Luigi, with enthusiasm.
Mario pointed at something up ahead. "Luigi, look!"
A small note had been appended to what appeared to be a second gate to the Mushroom Kingdom. A crudely manufactured sign supplanted the original, and read ďKlub Koopa ResortĒ. Mario reached over and took the note.
"Itís from Bowser!"
He began to read aloud:
Dear Pesky Plumbers,
The Koopalings and I have taken over the Mushroom Kingdom! The princess is now a permanent guest at one of my seven Koopa hotels. I dare you to find her if you can!
"... Well, canít fault him on his penmanship!"
Mario paused and looked up at Luigi.
"We gotta find the princess!" said Mario, pausing.
Luigi pointed at you. "...And you gotta help us!" he said, pausing.
"If you need instructions
on how to get through the hotels, check out the enclosed instruction book,"
added Mario, addressing you. There was a long pause.
Morton Koopa found his hotel in exponential disarray. He had to give his father his due: nowhere else had he seen such a cunning use for an old tree. And it certainly looked bigger on the inside. Its hollow trunk formed an enclosure that accommodated two floors, both of which were outfitted with a motley collection of doors. Most of the fixtures and decorations looked as though they had been contrived on the spot, and were outnumbered by the variety of abandoned nests and dwellings that various inhabitants had made in it over the years. Upon inspection, there was no plumbing, so any important business had to be settled under the vigilant gaze of the clouds and bushes.
What was worse, there was a paucity of tolerably livable rooms, and a dispute had broken out between the underlings as to whom and how many could stay in them. As he made his way up the stairs, it became clear that the troops had been dispatched by the Koopa King without much in the way of further direction, and it was up to him to try and get things going.
"All right, all right, everybody calm down..." said Morton, making a gesture with his right hand.
Morton ascended the staircase to the top floor, which, taken prima facie, appeared to be the decided effort of some inept designer to recreate the original headquarters of the Rescue Rangers. It was located in the crown of the tree, where most of the central branches had been amputated to create an artificial bower, making it suitable as a small living space. So, the room was actually not a room. There were no walls and no ceiling, save the implicit shelter of the canopy of the tree; the floor was a plywood board that had been fastened to the base of the hollowed crown.
Beset by complaints, Morton had little time to take in his new surroundings, and, dropping the sack onto the sofa, turned to address the team.
Morton raised his palms. "Thank you for being patient-"
"Thereís no food here!" shouted one of the Troopas. "And nowhere to sleep, either!"
"Yeah, how are we supposed to stop the Marios if weíre tired and hungry?!" complained a Goomba.
"I wanna speak to Bowser!" demanded a nearby Dry Bones. "Why am I in a tree?"
A Shy Guy tried to keep his head above the crowd of minions. "Oh, hey! Morton? Remember me? Hey!"
"Okay, everyone, JUST BE QUIET! One at a time..." Morton shouted over the commotion.
"Thereís nothing to eat!" grumbled another Troopa.
Cries of ascension rang through the air.
"Okay, yeah, the situation stinks," the Koopaling conceded. "Thereís not a lot I can do about it, so youíre just gonna have to-"
"Bowser said you would know what to do!" interrupted a Boomerang Brother.
The team buzzed in concurrence.
"Ugh... Why does he do this to me..." Morton groaned. "Okay. I... guess I can get... snacks, or something... later... I donít know..."
Mortonís offer caused a great stir.
"Can we get, uh... Ring Dings?" asked one of the Troopas.
"Yeah! Good idea. Ring Dings are awesome!" concurred a contemporary.
"What about Dunkarooís?" suggested a Troopa, snapping his fingers.
"They donít even make those anymore," rebuffed a Goomba.
The Troopa glared at the Goomba for a moment. "Hey," he retorted, "did I say, ĎTed, what do you thinkí?"
"Was... was that in there at all? Just curious..."
"Iím just sayiní they donít make Ďem anymore. You donít have to get all upset."
"Actually, I think they are still around..." suggested a Boomerang Brother.
"See?" said the Troopa, eyeing his companion.
"Okay, well... I was wrong then..." conceded the Goomba.
"So, then stop doing that-"
"I thought they didnít make Ďem," said the Goomba, defending himself. "I just havenít seen any advertisements for them in a long time, thatís all-"
"No, no, thatís not what this is about. This is about Ted not getting what he wants and shooting down what other people-"
"Yeah it is!"
"You know what?" contended the Goomba. "I never said I didnít like Dunkarooís. Iím really glad they still make them."
Troopa folded his arms. "Uh-huh."
"Okay, you know what?" Morton interrupted. "No snacks later. No snacks," he said, making a dismissive gesture.
"Thanks for ruining it..." whispered a Fire Brother. Troopa shrugged and gave him a dubious look.
Morton shook his head. "Iím just gonna get a pizza or something. Problem solved."
The team paused in an admixture of futility and embarrassment.
"Anyway..." the Koopaling continued, "about the whole sleeping thing... you guys just got here, and the Marios should be arriving any moment. I would be... stunned, if this went on for more than a few hours."
"Pssst!" hissed the Shy Guy.
Morton stooped and looked over his team.
"Did someone say something...? Whatever. Okay, uh..." Morton turned to the Dry Bones. "... Iím sorry, thereís obviously been some sort of mix up-"
Dry Bones was quite annoyed. "Yeah, I think, uh... yeah."
"Lemme think..." mused Morton, scratching his head. "Are we even using Dry Bones right now?"
There was a pause as he thought to himself. "Huh. Well, do you think you could just... work through this? I mean, I donít see..."
Dry Bones was set in his demand. "Look, Iíve... Iíve been doing this for twenty years..."
"I know, I know..."
"...and the arrangement has always been straightforward. I mean, we have a shtick for a reason..."
"Yeah, yeah... Itís just that I donít have anything else for you to do. Sorry," said Morton, echoing a familiar refrain.
The Koopaling shrugged.
"Fine," pouted the skeleton turtle. "Iíll... give this a try."
Shy Guy, who had been attempting to wrestle Mortonís attention from the company for some time, could no longer restrain himself. Seizing the moment, he pushed his way through the group and addressed the Koopa directly.
Morton looked down at his minion. "What? Who are you?"
"Come on, donít you remember me?"
Morton gave his minion a cursory glance. "Uh... no."
"I was on that thing with you. The, uh..."
"The, uh... oh! The circus thing!"
"Circus thing? Oh, yeah... that. Were you in that? I donít remember any Shy Guys being there..."
"Yes sir! I was the only one," Shy Guy proclaimed.
"... Well, congratulations."
"So, uh, what do you want? Iím on... kind of a time thing here..."
"Oh, um..." Shy Guy kicked the ground with the bottom of his left foot. "Well, I figured since weíve worked together before maybe I could... get a spot up here..."
Before he finished, the team began to object.
"Okay, okay..." began the gray Koopaling, attempting to console his squad. "Look, Iíve worked with a lot of minions and I donít give preferential treatment. What... exactly did you do again?"
"Oh! I was... in the, uh... clown brigade..."
"...and I was the one who... threw that green pie at you..."
"Of course, uh... it wasn't, er, my idea..." He looked up at his commander.
"So... about the room..."
"Yeah I think weíre done, Shy Guy."
The crestfallen Shy Guy nodded and turned to rejoin the group. He glanced over his shoulder along the way, only to be greeted by the same unmistakable grimace.
Once this matter had been settled, Morton clapped his hands together and looked over the team.
"Okay. So, if we can all get to our posts-"
Suddenly, the Koopaling held up his hand. The noise quickly settled and revealed the sound of someone knocking at the front door. Though not inclined to put any feat of dopiness past the Marios, he wondered whether they were actually dense enough to want to be escorted into the hotel.
"Who... who in the world is that?"
He passed glances with his team to be sure it wasnít an expected visitor. In hesitation, he inched back down the stairs, accompanied by the sound of continued knocking. He reached the door and partially opened it.
Before him stood a very odd-looking woman, clad in a garish ball gown and traveling with a few shopping bags. It was difficult to describe her; she combined the constitution of Olive Oyl with the complexion of Gadget, the mechanical assistant of those same Rescue Rangers; and as Morton would later come to understand, she also possessed the perky and quixotic personality of Inspector Gadget, making for one insufferable combination of personal characteristics.
"Oh! This is one of the Koopa hotels, right?" she asked.
With a strange gesture, Morton gazed to his right for some time, unsure of what to say. "Uh... well, yeah."
"Oh, thatís wonderful!"
She came through the door and set her bags on the ground.
"Look..." began Morton, trailing behind. "Iím not sure how you found out about this place, but..."
"Oh! I saw the flier you pinned up on the gate. Iíve been shopping all night and would love a place to stay."
"Okay, well, you see... this isnít actually a hotel, itís... really an elaborate plot to bump off a couple of bumbling oafs who are enemies of my family. So, if wouldn't mind... leaving..."
The woman turned and gazed affectionately at Morton.
"Oh, you big silly!"
"Right, anyway... we really need to-"
"Iíd like to get a room right away, and I can pay right now if I have to. Youíre not booked, are you?"
Morton considered the proposition. As it was, there wasnít enough space for his minions to coexist comfortably. However, he had promised to buy pizzas later, and, as it turned out, he had no cash with him. He glanced over his shoulder, and then again back at the woman, and shrugged.
"... Okay... Come on in..." he said with a chortle.
"Oh, thank you!"
Can someone come down here and, uh... pick up this ladyís things?"
Gazing out the window of an empty coach bus, Junior could see his home, Castle Koopa, closing in from the distance. The castle was perched rather precariously on a precipice overlooking the Dark Sea. The primary advantage of this location was that one was constantly in the presence of an enormous, panoramic view of an oceanic horizon; the drawback, of course, was the unsettling frailty of the arrangement.
Still, Junior believed, it was a step up from the underwater disco palace they had inhabited a few years ago. Like its predecessor, though, this castle featured the unmistakable expression of the Koopa Kingís strange architectural aesthetic: viz, the main entrance had been sculpted to resemble Bowserís slacken gob.
The effect was that the Castle appeared to be the distant, annoying cousin of Castle Gray Skull. In any case, Junior could never quite wrap his mind around why someone would want to walk into a giant simulacrum of their own mouth.
As the bus came to a stop, Junior gathered his belongings and dismounted.
Having been away for a few weeks, he was eager to see his family and catch up with the state of affairs. He came upon the castle and began to rummage through one of his bags. After a brief search, he produced a copy of Luigiís Mansion he had discovered abandoned in a dumpster and hurled it at the raised drawbridge; shortly thereafter, the door lowered and he found himself being greeted warmly by his brother Iggy.
"Hey!" welcomed Iggy.
Junior picked up his bags and walked over to his brother. Their conversation continued as they perambulated down the hall.
"So... how was Space Camp?"
"Well," began Junior, "after youíve worked with magic paintbrushes and giant mechanical Bowsers, itís hard to impress..."
Iggy let out a hearty laugh and looked over at his brother. "Oh, boy. Well... you got back just in time."
"Why, what have I missed?"
"Oh, well!" Iggy shot a glance over his left shoulder, and then returned his attention to Junior. With a pinch of sarcasm, he continued. "Bowserís got a new plan to defeat the Marios!"
Junior laughed. "What is it this time?"
"Okay, so... a few days ago, weíre sittiní there eatiní dinner, right?"
A brief caesura occasioned as the boys wove through a rather unkempt section of the hallway.
"Anyway..." reprised Iggy, "outta nowhere, he says look kids, I canít do it anymore-"
"Was that, uh... after the Ďpoetry slamí thing he was working on?"
"Yeah! So, he says, ĎI got this plan: hotelsí-"
"What?" asked Junior in disbelief.
"Kids, Iíve decided to give you all libraries..." said Junior, imitating his father.
Iggy chortled. "Pretty much..."
"Okay, so... now everyoneís in a hotel trying to beat the Marios?"
"Yeah, yeah, but here... is the best part."
"He tells me that Iím cut from the plan because he can't think of anything for me to do."
"I mean, what is that?"
The Koopalings arrived at the great room. As his first order of business, Junior began to inspect the entertainment center, in order to satisfy a curiosity that had been festering in him for the past few hours. He sifted through the video game library and examined the connection of some of the equipment. Smash Bros, in particular, seemed to pique his interest; he sniffed the case, and, after handling it, tasted his index finger.
"Well, Cookie Monster was here..."
"Yeah, it is a stupid plan but... I mean... who does that?" shrugged Iggy.
"HmmÖ" thought Junior. "You know what your problem is?" he asked, standing up.
"The shtick?" responded Iggy with a dubious look. "Whatís wrong with the shtick?"
Junior was about to say something, but paused and began to stare pensively into space.
"Hey, look..." interposed his brother. "You can sit here and think of what you're gonna say, but... I am really thirsty. So, if you don't mind..."
Iggy left Junior standing in the great room and went into the kitchen. He walked over to the fridge and began to sort through its scarce contents.
"What's goin' on here? I had a... uh..."
Unable to find what he was searching for, Iggy started to become agitated, and the adjoining rooms began to resound with the noise of his frantic shuffling.
"What is it?" asked Junior.
"I had a... Nesquik in here, and it's just gone..." replied Iggy from the kitchen. "Ugh... no! I was saving that for later... It had my name on it!"
"Aha..." mused Junior. "Don't you see what's going on here?"
Iggy slammed the fridge door and came out of the kitchen. "What?"
"You're becoming a closet character."
Quite puzzled, Iggy asked, "What in the worldís a closet character?"
"Well," Junior started to explain, "when a story begins, you have main characters and appurtenant ones."
"Often," he continued, "these 'side' characters serve whatever purpose they were intended for in the plot, but the story still continues."
"Yeah, go on."
"So... these characters basically become so unimportant that it would be wasteful to spend even some time explaining their sudden disappearance."
"Consequently, they are relegated to a sort of conceptual phantom zone I refer to quite affectionately as 'the Closet'."
Iggy propped his elbow against the wall and looked away, shaking his head in disbelief.
"What you get," concluded the youngest Koopaling, "are vapid, pointless characters that contribute nothing to the story and never have any action in it. It typically happens with ongoing stories - shows like Dragon Ball Z and One Piece are positively riddled with them, and it shows."
"And you're saying that's what's happening to me?" asked Iggy, still turned away.
"That is... exactly what I'm saying."
"But... that's ridiculous." Iggy argued. "This isn't a cartoon show... People don't just... fade out..."
"But you're forgetting about the shtick."
"Since he began his career, Bowser has always used the shtick. Everything has to have a theme, everyone has to stay in character. It's a vicious cycle, really."
"What does that have to do with me?"
"Well, most of his plans involve making each of you guys do a separate, predictably characteristic thing. Ludwig's the inventor, Roy's the bully, etc."
"What about you?"
Iggy thought for a moment. "Well... I don't know, I guess none, really."
"Fancy that. You used to be one of the twins, but that kind of fell through when Dad realized you weren't really twins."
"Your lack of character? A cartoon-like emphasis on shallow simplicity?"
"Drinking my stuff even when it has my name on it?" finished Iggy. "My God... I'm becoming a closet character!" he exclaimed with a panicked expression.
Junior placed his index finger on his nose.
"So... what do I do?"
"Well," explained Junior, "in one way this is an opportunity. I mean, without the shtick we could actually perpetrate a scheme that makes sense."
"Yeah..." Iggy nodded his head. "Yeah... you know what... let's do this!"
"Now we're starting to get somewhere," encouraged his brother.
"Maybe... maybe if we... get some money, you know, for the house, maybe I can at least be on the level of Morton."
"Yeah. How 'bout that, huh? Look out, Morton."
"I suggest..." said Junior, with a certain gleam in his eye, "that we kidnap that chamberlain Toadsworth and ransom him to the castle. With the Marios off on this 'hotel' thing, who's gonna stop us?"
"Okay. And maybe we can, uh... do some sort of rodeo thing to beat the Marios while we're at it..."
"NO!" shouted Junior. "No crazy schemes. We're not trying to beat the Marios. Just make money... that's all. You see, this is why the family is going to get a beating managing a bunch of hotels."
"Listen. The real pathway to success is paved with rational thinking - if you find yourself in a critical situation, just use your common sense. No shtick."
"Right..." Iggy agreed, earnestly.
With this, the
brothers began to scheme.
Who is the mysterious woman that has arrived at Mortonís hotel? What will the Marios do when they arrive at vacant, foreboding hotels? Will Iggy get revenge for his lost Nesquik? Next time, I'm a Victim of Circumstance!; or, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Mushroom.