A Real Humdinger
rating: +27+x

Tom screamed as he was swallowed up by the Darkness. The Darkness was absolute, utterly devoid of so much as a single photon of light. He felt like he was falling, but not really. It was more like the feeling of a hypnagogic jerk, only instead of lasting for an instant, this sensation went on without end. He could not tell up from down, nor could he tell if the air around him was hot or cold, tumultuous or still. Was there even air at all?

He was disoriented to the point of delirium, unable to remember where he was or how he had gotten there. Was he even really anywhere at all, or was he merely blind and mad like an ancient god?

Desperate to regain any semblance of sanity, he ordered himself to focus on the last thing he could remember.

Clowns. Disgusting, monstrous Clowns had thrown him into the Kaleidoscope on the orders of the Man with the Upside-Down Face, for no other reason than that he had chosen to side with…

And then he remembered he wasn’t alone.

“Oh my god, Fuller? Fuller! FULLER!”

.

..

“…What is it Tom?”

“Fuller? Oh my god. Fuller, where are we?”

"The Darkness Between Dimensions. A very pretentious name for a place that’s almost literally nothing. It is utter void, lacking any native substance whatsoever. Here there is no matter, no energy, and very nearly no reality at all.”

“What do you mean there’s nothing? We’re not suffocating, so there’s air, isn’t there?”

“No Tom, there’s just no entropy. We’re perpetual motion machines in here, with no need of air, food, water or sleep. Space itself here is thick enough to carry our voices, and we could even move through it if we tried.”

“You mean we’re going to be living like this, in the Darkness, with nothing, forever?”

“Oh, that we should be so lucky. No Tom, you see we’re the realest things in this place, and nature abhors a vacuum. Our reality will slowly dissipate out into the infinite void, leaving us to gradually fade to nothing. After three years or so we’ll have lost enough of ourselves that we won’t even be able to survive in the real world, but unfortunately it will take much, much longer than that for us to lose enough consciousness to achieve anything remotely approaching death.”

“Oh my god!”

“Fret not Tom, fret not, for there is hope! We just need to find a Humdinger!”

“A what?”

“It’s not called the Darkness Between Dimensions for nought. We’re surrounded by parallel realities, and occasionally they bump into each other. When they do they create waves through the Darkness that you can hear as a humming sound. All we got to do is get ourselves to the epicentre of the collision and we can slip out into one of those realities.”

“How do you know all this?”

“A little bird told me. Actually, he was a man-sized humanoid crow, but he knew everything there was to know about the Multiverse. Met him in the Library when I was still allowed in, but no time for that now! Now we must listen, listen for the humming sound of our liberation.”

“I don’t hear any -”

“I said listen Tom!”

“Damn.”

“Do we just wait for a Humdinger or -”

“No! We have no time to waste. We must search for one. It will be in the direction that reality is strongest.”

“And which way is that?”

“That way!”

“…I can’t see which way you’re pointing.”


“When we get back to the Circus we’re going to kill Manny right?”

“Oh yes Tom, he’s going straight to The Matinee this time. Icky too.”

“Her and all the other revolting Clowns!”

“A great bloody purge, the likes of which travelling carnivals seldom see! All of my enemies will be strung up on stage, their cold, dancing, bodies a warning to all who may think of defying Herman Fuller! Of course, if we dispose of that much talent, we’ll have to get replacement acts.”

“I suppose that’s true.”

“Fortunately I know just the place where we can score some awe-inspiring anomalies, a place that has prided itself for nearly a century on collecting and containing all that most ferocious and fantastical creatures that haunt this world.”

“Wait, you’re not talking about…”

“That’s right Tom, the Essie P! But I’m not talking about pocketing a few magic doodads like those pansies at the Emcee D do, no sir! I’m going straight for the big ticket items! The Golden Oldies! All the Essie P’s worst kept secrets under my Big Top, their most cantankerous Keters drawing in the anomalous community from far and wide. We’ll start with Able. Everyone loves Able!”

“Actually, I think he’s a little ridiculous -”

“- The second Son of Adam murdered by his own kin, resurrected by the savage Daevites to slaughter their victims. When the curse of Cain denied Able his vengeance he went completely mad! Desperate to slake his need for revenge, he murders all before him! Will you be next?”

“…Is that really what happened?”

“It doesn’t matter Tom, it’s just a pitch to draw in the crowds.”

“But how do you plan to control Able?”

Cotton Candy.”

“Sir, I think this plan might be a little over-ambitious.”

“Oh, I’m just getting started Tom. For the Menagerie, we’ll get none other than Summer’s Exile. Gaoler’s Hubris, The Lost Dragon, Old…Scaly.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“682 Tom. 682. An Elder God of yore cast out of Paradise for crimes best left unsaid, his agony only overshadowed by his hatred for all living things. For only five Fuller Fun-bucks, you can hack and slash at him to your heart’s content. Watch with awe as his flesh morphs and grows anew!”

“You’re going to have guests physically attacking one of the most infamous anomalies in the Foundation’s possession? I really don’t think you’ve thought this -”

“- And for the main event, we’ll get the creme de la creme, the cream of the crop, the most horrendous, most abominable, most despicable monstrosity ever to disgrace this fair earth with its foul visage: Doctor Spanko!”

“…Sir, you’ve lost your mind, haven’t you?”

“Just you wait Tom, the new goretastic Circus will completely outshine anything we’ve ever done before.”

“Whatever you say. Also, you pronounced it kee-ter earlier. It’s actually supposed to be pronounced ket-ter.”

“…Shut up Tom.”


“I think we’re going in circles.”

“How could you possibly know that? There’s literally nothing here. We’re in a void of infinite darkness!”

“Some infinities are greater than others Tom, and this particular patch of infinite darkness feels strangely familiar. I think we’re back where we started.”

“You’re the one leading us! Said we were moving in the direction that felt the most real! That’s where the Humdingers are, you said!”

“Well our entry point is still the realest place within a thousand miles, so obviously I got turned around. We’ll need to work out some sort of system to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

“I’m open to suggestions.”

“Here’s what we’ll do. I got some money on me, and I’ll leave it here, making this the richest part of the void. My highly sophisticated palate will be able to sense that this is the well-to-do Darkness, and we’ll know to move in the opposite direction towards the, well I suppose the polite term is up-and-coming regions. How does that sound?”

“Like utter nonsense, but I can’t think of anything else. Go ahead, leave some money here.”

“…I’m sorry, did I actually just say I was going to throw away money? I really am losing my marbles.”


“I’m so tired. I thought you said we don’t need to sleep.”

“We don’t. Keep moving.”

“But just because we don’t have to sleep doesn’t mean we can’t, right? I want to try sleeping.”

“Why?”

“Because maybe I’ll dream and actually be able to see something. Maybe I’ll just wake up feeling refreshed. Maybe you’d stop rambling about the economic stratification of an empty void if you got some sleep!”

“…Alright, let’s try it.”

“How do we do this? We can’t lie down, there’s no such thing as up in this place.”

“Just let your body go limp Tom, like you’re floating in a pool.”

“Okay, just gotta go limp. Gotta relax. Goodnight Fuller.”

“Goodnight Tom.”

“You asleep Fuller?”

“No Tom.”

“How long do you think we’ve been floating here?”

“Two months.”

“What!?”

“I’m kidding, I have no idea. Let’s try a memetic sleep aid. Hush-a-by baby -”

“That’s a lullaby.”

“…I didn’t say it was anomalously memetic.”


“I spy with my little eye, something that starts with A.”

“Abyssal darkness, unmatched by even the darkest depths of any chasm upon the Earth.”

“Yes. I spy with my little eye, something that starts with B.”

“Blackness, a blackness so pervasive and suffocating you forget what light ever looked like.”

“Right. I spy with my little eye, something that starts with C.”

“Complete and utter void, vacant of any semblance of life, light or hope.”

“…Fuller, I don’t think this game is actually helping with morale.”

“Would you rather play punch buggy?”

“…I spy with my little eye…”


“Percy! Percy, I know you can hear me you arrogant bastard!”

“Who are you yelling yet?”

“Percival Darke. He’s a friend of mine. At least we were friends until he and his business partners betrayed me and started hunting us like animals, when I had done them no wrong!”

“Sir, you tried to steal the soul-sucker.”

“Absolutely no wrong! Where was I? Oh yes, Percival. You see Tom, Percy’s an odd duck, even by our standards. He’s a Wanderer, like myself, only he’s been at it for centuries longer. Oh, he’s found himself some strange voodoo, I tell you. Powerful voodoo!”

“…Voodoo?”

“He knows about the Darkness, he can see the future so he knows I’m here, and he’s just leaving me to rot! Goddammit, Percy open a Door and get me out of here! I can picture him Tom, sitting in that fancy sanctum of his in between worlds, all dignified and mysterious in his throne of a study chair while he just spews out all his most arcane secrets to that latest brat of his! You’d better not be telling her any lies about me, Percy! I put you front and center when I opened the Matinee you ingrate! When I reopen it, you’re not even invited!”

“Sir, ranting at Percival Darke isn’t going to get us out of here.”

“You’re right Tom…Marshall, you half-dead sack of shit! Where do you get off putting a bounty on my head just for trying to borrow your precious little soul-sucker? When I get back to the Light you’re dead, do you hear me!”

“He doesn’t sir.”

“I know.”


“Fuller, do you know why I stayed with the Circus after being viciously assaulted by a pack of Clowns?”

“Because if you ran out on your contract I would have sent Stretchy to drag you back by your small intestines?”

“No. It was because of Eliza. I thought that after she saw what they had done to me, after she saw how cruel and wicked the Circus was -”

“Thank you.”

“- she would agree to let me take her away. But she didn’t. She didn’t want anything to do with me after that. Everyone around the Circus was saying that I had tried to kidnap poor, helpless Eliza and that Manny and the others were heroes. She never stood up for me, she just fell in line to keep the peace. I was a pariah. But I knew you and Manny hated each other, and that it was only a matter of time before you tried to get rid of him. I thought that if Manny was gone Eliza wouldn’t need to pretend to support him and that we could be together again. Now, he’s probably the Ringmaster and I’m wandering through eternal darkness, all because I was too stupid to leave when I had the chance.”

“Did I ever tell you that Stretchy and Masky were supposed to be the first of my own knock-off line of Little Misters? They were originally Mr. Stretch and Mr. Mask, but then this rock’em sock’em robot shows up to the Circus screaming ‘LITTLE MISTERS IS THE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY OF DOCTOR WONDERTAINMENT’, so I had to ease off.”

“…Herman, were you listening to anything I said?”

“Yeah, you stayed with the Circus because you wanted a girlfriend who could provide oral sex but for whom you would be under no obligation to reciprocate. I don’t blame you.”

“Thanks for listening.”


“It’s ket-ter!”

“It’s kee-ter!”

Ket-ter!”

Kee-ter!”

“Ket-ter is closer to how it’s pronounced in Hebrew. Consult a Rabbinic Alchemist!”

“That my friend is what’s known as an etymological fallacy. If the original pronunciation of a word is the only correct one, then we’re all butchering the English language!”

“If you dropped the –er the word would clearly be pronounced with a short e sound, therefore it’s ket-ter!”

“The –er isn’t a suffix though since ket isn’t a word by itself, ergo that argument is a load of baloney!”

“All you’re doing is offering counterarguments! Give me one reason why it should be pronounced kee-ter?”

“Because Keter Keter, Euclid eater, Essie caught her, couldn’t keep her!”

“Well, I have no counterargument for that, so I guess you win.”


“Fuller, I think I’m going insane.”

“Good. I was starting to get lonely.”

“I see a little blinking red light in the distance. I’m crazy, right? Tell me I’m crazy.”

“You’re as mad as a march hare mating in a mound of molasses.”

“So you don’t see it?”

“I didn’t say that. Doesn’t mean you’re not crazy.”

“So, you do see it?”

“Do I see a blinking red light? No. I see a red light that fades in and out. Not the same thing.”

“So it is something?”

“Undoubtedly.”

“What do you think it is?”

“Ever hear of an Anglerfish Tom?”

“I have. You, you think that light is bait?”

“The bait of a most horrific beastie, a thousand years old if it's a day! It’s survived in the Darkness by luring in hapless prey with the only light they’ve seen in years, only to gobble them whole and leech them of their reality to sustain itself!”

“What should we do?”

“We fight it Tom. We wrestle it into submission, tame it, and then ride it through the Darkness to freedom!”

“Yeah, I’m going to run away as fast as I can.”

“So am I, but I was hoping you’d buy that so I could get a head start while it was eating you.”


“Overture, curtains, lights!

This is it, the night of nights!

No more rehearsing, or nursing the part

We know every card by heart!

Overture, curtains, lights!

This is it, we’ll hit the heights!

And oh what heights we’ll hit!

On with the show, this is it!”

“That’s the theme song from the Bugs Bunny show.”

“…DAMMIT!”


“Tom, would you please stop humming. I’m trying to think.”

“I’m not humming, I thought you were humming.”

“But if you’re not…The Humdinger! We’re close Tom! It’s a little more than a mile out! Can you see it?”

“Yes, I see it! I can actually see something! It’s like a sunrise!”

“Quickly Tom! Towards the light! Towards the sound! Towards freedom!”

“It’s getting louder!”

“Not just louder, but realer! Feel the waves crash over you!”

“I feel real again! Solid! It’s so bright!”

“That’s the Light of Reality Tom! We’re getting out!”

“We’re free!”


With a sudden flash, Tom Brenneman and Herman Fuller escaped from the Darkness between Dimensions and back into their native multiverse. Tom was missing some random chunks of flesh, whereas Herman had used what reality bending he possessed to sacrifice himself in a more controlled manner and was thus almost a full foot shorter than he had been before.

Though they were hardly unscathed, they were alive and free, and were overwhelmed with joy…until they realized they had been deposited smack in the middle of the City of Adytum, surrounded by Karcists and Kiraaks so horrifically transmogrified few would recognize them as human. All was shrouded by a sickly yellow mist, but they could see enough to gather that they had interrupted some sacrosanct ceremony, and that their Sarkic hosts were as baffled as they were livid.

“Tom, if I didn’t know better I’d swear that someone up there has it out for me.”

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