Lovely day to you all! I have something awesome to share with you.
Just over two years ago, 10 people got together and wrote a story for a mutual friend, Liam (blogger of This Page Intentionally Left Blank), to celebrate his having so many blog followers. He had 550 when we started planning that story and he had over 700 when we finished.
Liam now has almost 3,000 followers.
Nine of us– Seana J. Vixen, Erin Kenobi, Shim, Matthew Black, Iris, Leinad, Erin, Anna, Lily J, and myself–have come together to write another story to celebrate, known to us as Project 3K. We were planning to reveal it when Liam’s blog hit 3,000 followers.
Then, just a few days ago, Liam announced that he would soon be leaving for the United States Merchant Marine Academy. We are all very happy for him, yet we wanted him to be able to see this story, so it was decided that we would post it early.
Here is that story.
If you want to follow along with who wrote which section, I wrote the first bit and then everyone else followed after in the order I listed them. (YES LILY J DOUBLED THE LENGTH OF THE STORY WITH HER SECTION. Thank you, Lily, for without you I would never have known that my blog could post a post so big.)
And here’s to you, Head Phil Liam! Hope you enjoy it. Remember how awesome you are.
There is a castle on a cloud. I like to go there in my sleep…
The song ran through Robyn Hoode’s head over and over as she followed Percival through the dusty halls of The Castle Under the Cloud… or was it Over the Cloud? Was it even near a cloud anymore?
“I thought the Castle fell apart?” Robyn said.
Percival nodded. “It did. But then it pulled itself together, so to speak. Oh, don’t worry, there’s no chance of anyone being possessed by the Castle’s new spirit… I think.”
“Surely not during one afternoon, anyway.”
“What did you say you wanted the Castle for?”
Robyn sighed. It was difficult to explain; she’d already tried twice. “A party for a friend. Liam.”
“Liam’s dead, though.”
“Not that Liam… sort of.” She sighed again and tried a different approach. “Look, you know about paradoxes? You’re a time-traveler, right?”
“Well, Liam is two people, sort of. He created you and he created another of himself and…” The blank look Percival was giving her cut her short.
Robyn shook her head. “Never mind about it. Just… a party.” There was a bit of silence before she asked, “Why haven’t you and the other Phils moved back in?”
Percival stopped in front of door and took a key out of his pocket. “Oh, I don’t know…”—he unlocked the door—“The Castle isn’t the same. Like when you see an apartment after you’ve moved out of it and someone else has lived in it. You’ve still got all the keys, but the rooms have been redecorated.”
“But no one has lived here since you.”
Percival gave her a look. One that somehow both agreed and disagreed with what she had just said.
“Someone has lived here, then?” she asked. “Someone besides the new Castle spirit.”
Percival sighed. “Robyn, do you believe in ghosts?” He opened the door of the large room just as Seana came running up to them.
Her chest heaved, her breath coming out in bursts that sounded a bit like a version of the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, but in E minor, double time.
“Strange man . . . weird hair . . . avocado knives . . . ” she puffed, collapsing on the ground. Hundreds of balloons dragged on the ground behind her like an extremely depressing holiday parade.
“Seana!” Robyn knelt down next to her, knocking Percival into the off-white wall. She raised an eyebrow at the frayed balloon strings clutched in Seana’s hands, taking in her ripped jeans and the leaves sticking out of her dark hair. “What happened to you? What do you mean there’s a strange man with weird hair who is eating avocados with a knife?”
Seana began an elaborate series of hand gestures, accidentally hitting Percival square in the face. Percival yelped in a very un-Percival-like way and gingerly massaged his nose, desperately hoping all female writers weren’t the same as these two. He wasn’t sure he could take any more of this.
Robyn grabbed Seana by the shoulders. “Okay, okay, settle down. Let’s start over before you give Percival a concussion.”
Seana bobbed her head, sending bits of foliage skittering across the floor. “Well, I was wandering around the Castle, trying to find where you guys were using my meager sense of direction, and then out of nowhere I thought I saw Liam.”
Percival shot Robyn another puzzled look, but she quickly shushed him with a flick of her hand. “Liam?” she asked, her forehead creasing with worry. Liam wasn’t due for the party for another two hours. It wouldn’t do for their friend to come early and ruin the surprise.
“Yes, Liam. But more . . . ghostly. He just didn’t seem like himself. His hair was dreadfully slicked back, and I heard him muttering about how many knives it would take to carve an avocado into Captain America.” Seana shivered. “That’s not the worst part. He deflated my balloons with the faces of classical composers on them for Liam. All 627 of them.”
“627 classically faced balloons and ghosts as well, hmm?” A voice mused from above.
All three heads turned in unison to see the new arrival hanging like a bat from the ceiling.
“Come down from there, Erin!” Robyn exclaimed. Erin shook her head in embarrassment.
“I’m sorry, I don’t think I can,” she explained. “I can’t seem to make up my mind whether to believe in gravity or in centrifugal force.” She bobbed up and down like an apple in an unfortunate bucket of water that got bumped by someone’s knee and her head hit the ceiling. “Ow. Hi, Seana!”
“Just believe in gravity, it’s what you’re used to. Then you can walk around on the roof to hang up the banners,” Seana suggested sensibly. Erin nodded.
“Thanks, I think I will.” Grabbing a rafter and hugging it for dear life, she squeezed her eyes shut. After a moment, her floating feet hit the slant of the ceiling. “Throw stuff down to me and I’ll hang it down,” she shouted to the others with unnecessary volume. Percival winced.
“It would be down to her for the moment,” Seana murmured, as if to keep herself from criticizing Erin for the poor grammar. Just then, a ping pong ball fell out of Erin’s pocket and hit Percival on the head
“Sorry!” Erin shouted. “That must be Steve. I didn’t know he was in there.” Steve began cursing up a blue streak, and Erin dropped a strand of duct tape. It covered the ping-pong ball entirely, incidentally accidentally taping him to the carpet. “Bull’s-eye!” Erin shouted. “Two points! And the crowd goes wild!”
“There is no crowd,” Percival pointed out coldly. Erin’s dress, a long green one with stripes of gold running in sinuous designs up it, a high collar and a black belt, suddenly flipped so that the skirt covered her entire upper body. Fortunately, she was wearing a long slip and leggings and black lace-up boots underneath. She pushed the waves of the skirt awkwardly out of the way.
“Ow! Stupid gravity,” she shouted to no one in particular. To distract her from the problem with the skirt, Seana threw up a banner. Erin caught it and tucked both it and the skirt into her belt, walking with bizarre grace along a rafter, upside-down. Suddenly, she tripped and went sliding up the slope of the roof until she hit the apex. Almost as suddenly she was floating again. “Um… Remind me again which one I’m supposed to believe in at the moment?”
“Oh, there you all are!” said a new voice. Shim appeared in the doorway with a stack of boxes so tall, her face could barely be seen. What could be seen, however, was that her long brown hair was staticky and half of it was standing up right.
“I got really lost several times, but I have never been here before and apparently I don’t take directions well, so, yeah,” Shim rambled. She tripped, then, and stumbled forward a few steps and somehow managed to keep from falling. “Oh, oops. Hiya, Robyn. Where should I put these boxes?”
“Right there, for now,” Robyn said, pointing.
Shim set the boxes down and then saw the others. She grinned. “Oh, hi, everybody. Oh, that reminds me. On my way here, I saw this ghost guy. He looked familiar, too, which is weird because I don’t think I know any ghosts. Do you guys know any ghosts? Are there even supposed to be any ghosts here? I don’t think ghosts are very party-like, unless, of course, you’re having a haunted mansion party, but that’s not what we’re doing, is it?”
Realizing she was half-rambling and half-monologuing, Shim stopped and flushed a little. “Anyway, how can I help?” She pointed at something behind Seana. “Wait, what’s that?”
“Sorry I’m late!” said Matt, as everyone turned to him. He was carrying a cake with “Happy birthday, Liam!” written on it, and looked very nervous and out of breath. “I couldn’t find the castle. Spent hours looking for a ladder.”
“It’s not Liam’s birthday,” said Robyn.
“No, it isn’t,” she replied, her arms crossed. “I told you this. Twice.”
“Oh, well I’m sure his birthday’s coming up soon. Is there a fridge nearby for me to put this in?” He turned around and suddenly tripped. He fell to the ground and, in a desperate attempt to save the cake, (which he’d been working on diligently since April 19th) he threw the cake up in the hopes that someone else would catch it: that someone was Percival, and he didn’t catch it so much as he got hit in the face with it. Because Matt’s baking skills left much to be desired, the cake was as hard as a rock, and Percival was knocked out cold.
Matt got back to his feet, apologizing over and over again.
“What happened?” asked Shim. She’d originally thought the person behind Seana was an evil ghost or a demon of some sort, and the more she saw of this Matt person the more she found herself wishing she’d been right.
“I tripped on that stupid ping pong ball!” he said, pointing at Steve, who was now flattened like a pancake on the carpet. Everyone gasped.
“You stepped on Steve!” shouted Seana.
“What is the matter with you?” said Robyn. She was starting to wonder why she invited this guy in the first place.
“What? Who’s Steve?”
Everyone stared at him in disbelief. Matt tugged at his collar, then checked his phone, then tugged his collar again. He couldn’t help but feel like he was somehow responsible for the tension that filled the room.
A sudden terrible screeching sound was heard from the other room. Matt, who’d been hoping for some sort of convenient distraction, was the first to say, “Someone should check that out.”
Not waiting for anyone else to leave, Matt dashed off back down the hall. Robyn rolled her eyes after him, and then sighed.
“Well, we still need a cake.”
“Nope, got that covered!” a newcomer proclaimed as she walked in.
Robyn turned to grab the offered cake gratefully, but froze, mouth dropping open in unconcealed astonishment.
“What in Gallifrey…”
Having recognized the new voice as her good friend Iris, Erin looked away from decorating, and practically floated into the center beam from hysteria.
“I don’t recall there having been a hairspray storm recently!” she cackled, and Iris scowled, hands clenching the edge of the cake box. As Erin had stated, iris’s hair was practically filled with hairspray. it was teased up to a good four inches higher than normal, and the ends were curled up 60s style, just brushing her shoulders.
“I was in a 60s play, okay?” she groaned. “I barely had time to make this in between changing costumes, and running over here! And the directions were sketchy, so I got lost on top of it.”
“Never mind,” Robyn said quickly before Erin could comment. “We’re just glad you made it, and with a proper cake as well!”
“I wasn’t about to let you all starve to death on Matt’s sidewalk chunk,” Iris proclaimed happily, and she hurried to place the cake on the waiting table.
Robyn turned with a grateful sigh, beginning to hope that it could be pulled off after all.
Then the dog came running in.
Erin gave a little shriek of delight as she saw the dog, and promptly started believing in gravity again, letting herself drift to the floor. She squatted down next to him and ruffled his ears, receiving a friendly face-lick in return.
Seana came over too and rubbed the dog’s neck. “Oh, look,” she said, spying something tucked into his collar. “What’s this?”
She carefully removed what appeared to be a folded-up wad of writing-paper. On the front was printed “To Robyn and Co.”, and she unfolded it to reveal a hastily-scrawled letter written with an inky black pen.
“I recognise that writing,” said Robyn, coming over to look. “It’s Leinad’s. He should be here by now, he’s organising the games. What’s he written?”
Seana squinted down at the page and began to decipher the wayward script:
Dear Robyn, and Co.
Sorry I am late. I only found out at the last minute (from Matt) that it was Liam’s birthday today, — here Robyn made a frustrated noise — so I was held up making him a birthday card. I also had to stop by at Matt’s place to pick up some supplies for the games. (And I’m having trouble finding them. It’s a struggle just to find the floor of Matt’s bedroom, it’s such a mess.) I’m pretty sure I’ve missed the early bus, and it’s an hour till the next one, so I’m sending Matt’s dog with this message so you can start getting stuff ready without me. (I’m pretty sure he’ll find you. Matt always said his dog could sniff him out anywhere.)
As for the game: the other day I saw a Buzzfeed article entitled “Seven Reasons why the New Castle Under the Cloud is Haunted”. Rubbish, of course, but it gave me an idea: why not turn the dungeon of the castle into a sort of “haunted” maze that the guests have to find their way through? I’ve got most of the stuff we’ll need to make it spooky, but if you could start pegging up sheets and screens and things to create the maze, that would be great.
“That Leinad,” Robyn groaned, her hopes for the success of the party much deflated. “How can he be so disorganised.”
“Don’t worry, Robyn!” said Iris. “I’ll go and start setting up. Imagine,” she said, rubbing her hands together gleefully, “turning this place into a haunted castle!” She rubbed her hands together gleefully and bounded, 1960’s hair bobbing, out of the room.
“Iris!” Robyn called after her. “Hold on, Iris, come back!” But Iris had gone.
Robyn looked at Seana and Shim, and Seana and Shim looked at Robyn.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” asked Shim.
“Yep,” said Seana. “I really don’t like this idea of Leinad’s.”
Meanwhile, Matt was creeping down a long, dingy corridor that smelled faintly of durian ice-cream. Previously, upon hearing the awful screech, he had dashed down the hall and burst into the other room, just in time to see the far door swing shut with a low creak. Hurrying across the room, he had found that the door opened into this rather ominous passageway. Already, the passageway had seemed empty, but he had heard a distant thumping coming from the far end, together with the murmur of low voices. Suddenly feeling quite uncertain of himself, he had set out cautiously along the corridor, feeling for the wall and stepping high to avoid accidentally tripping and falling on the uneven carpet.
The corridor seemed to stretch on forever, and for a long time the distant murmurings seemed to grow no closer. Finally, however, Matt came upon an open door with low voices emanating from within. Peaking inside, he saw that the room was horseshoe shaped, with a wardrobe near the door, out of view from most of the room. He slipped into the room and into the wardrobe, pulling its door closed after him. Sitting down in a pile of mothballs, Matt tuned his ear to the conversation taking place further into the room.
“For the last time,” a strangely familiar voice grated. “I’ll have no excuses.”
“Y-yes sir,” whimpered an interlocutor.
“You will help me,” continued the first speaker, “to gain revenge on this Liam… Wood.” He spat out the word ‘Wood’ with peculiar vengeance. “And on as many of his foolish friends as is necessary.”
“Now quick, shut the door and I will tell you what to do.”
Matt leaned forward, eager to hear this unidentified stranger’s plot to get revenge on Liam. Before a single word was uttered, however, his ears picked up the sound of footsteps behind him. His heart began to pound faster, and he scrambled to find his phone in his pocket. When he felt his fingers wrap around the rectangular device, he hastily pulled it out and turned on the lock screen. He couldn’t see anyone else in the wardrobe with him, but the footsteps had stopped.
“Huh…hello?” he whispered, trying to peer past a long, fur coat that hung at the back of the wardrobe. “Anyone there?”
“Who is that?” hissed a voice. The fur coat started to swing from side-to-side. “Please say that isn’t you, Liam.”
Matt gulped. “Uh…no. No, it’s Matt.”
The coat stopped swinging, and abruptly a face popped up above it.
“Oh, Matt?” The face laughed. “So that’s how you look! I always imagined you as a giraffe, or a train.”
Matt squinted, and then nodded when recognition dawned on him.
“Erin, right? Well…this could get confusing, having two Erins around and all.”
“For the sake of the story, let’s call me E,” Erin — E — suggested.
Matt shrugged. “Sure. What are you doing here? I thought I was alone.”
E stepped out from behind the coat. She was holding a notebook in one hand and her violin case in her other.
“You were,” she said. “I just got back from visiting Narnia. I’ve been practicing with some punk fawns there for the past month. We wrote this totally awesome rock remix of a bunch of Beethoven’s works for Liam. I’m playing violin and the fawns are playing their cute little flute-things. But, get this, these fawns are like, super advanced with technology and they have amps so that they can plug in their flutes. Wait until you hear the results! They’ll be here in time for the party, and we’ll perform it when Liam shows up. Man, I am so pumped for this! Liam is going to have the best birthday ever!”
Matt winced at E’s excitement. “Hate to break it to you, but it isn’t Liam’s birthday. Don’t worry, I made the same mistake. We’re celebrating his blog reaching 3,000 followers.”
E dropped her violin case with a thud. “What?! No, this ruins everything!” She shoved her notebook at Matt’s face. “I made a list of ’18 Reasons Everyone Loves Liam’, because I thought it was his 18th birthday! Now I have to come up with…Hold on, let me do the math…2972 more reasons!”
“Uh, 2983, actually.” Matt was a pro at math.
E threw the notebook at Matt. “Even worse!” she shrieked.
Matt caught the notebook and motioned for E to be quiet.
“Keep it down! There are two people in the room outside who are plotting revenge on Liam! We can’t let them hear us!”
E furrowed her eyebrows. “Do you know who they are?”
Matt shook his head, and he and E tried to listen for the voices outside the wardrobe. All they heard was: “…And the last step is to make me a banana smoothie while playing a recording of Beethoven’s 5th in the background. That way, I can make this joke as I watch the life trickle out of Liam and his friends. What is Beethoven’s 5th favorite fruit? BA NA NA NA. Got that from a YouTube comment. Pretty good, huh?”
“That is rather funny,” E admitted. “But I will not let him abuse Beethoven’s music like that!”
Matt rolled his eyes. “Um, aren’t you concerned at all about the fact that he’s planning on murdering Liam? And us, his friends?”
“Yes, right. We should probably do something about that. Can you call someone to come help us?”
Matt looked down at his phone. “No signal. Of course.”
E stood up and grabbed her violin case. “Well then, looks like we’ll have to take care of this ourselves.” She brandished her case like a shield. “Got anything to fight with?”
Matt helplessly put up his hands. “Does it look like I do?”
“Nope! Looks like you’ll be fighting with your bare hands! Good luck!”
Without warning, E threw open the wardrobe’s doors and charged out, swinging her violin case around wildly. Matt let out a small cry of dismay.
“What are you doing?! That’s a terrible idea!”
There was a crash followed by, “Get out here and help me fight these guys! …You can fight, right? Or are you really The Little Engine that Couldn’t?”
Matt huffed, and hurriedly sifted through the music on his phone. Once he found the song he wanted, he pressed play, and set his phone down near the front of the wardrobe. Beethoven’s 5th began to fill the entire room (Matt’s phone had incredible speakers).
“If I’m going to die, I might as well die a dramatic death,” he muttered. He took a deep breath, and then rushed to join the fight.
Anna characteristically crashed in at the exact wrong moment. Literally, as she suddenly believed in centrifugal force. “Ouch,” she whispered before getting up. She hoped Liam hadn’t heard her. Was he already here? She could hear people talking just a little bit away and ran towards them. “Happy birthday, Liam!” she screamed, throwing glitter into Shim’s face.
Several people turned to stare. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Robyn sighed.
“What? You mean Liam doesn’t want glitter for his birthday? Doesn’t there always have to be glitter involved?” Anna dropped the baskets of glitter on the floor, spilling them everywhere.
Then, understanding finally dawned on her. “Oh! Right! Happy 3,000 followers, Liam!” She pushed glitter across the floor. “…So, where exactly is Liam?”
“He’s not here yet,” Shim supplied.
“Oh… oh. Hehe. Sorry.” Anna blushed and leaned over Robyn to read the letter. “Ooh! A haunted castle! I like that idea. Also, it’s fitting with the whole faceless old woman thing that I can’t seem to leave alone. She’s basically haunting whatever house she’s in, since no one ever sees her. Also, I bought Liam shampoo as a birthday gift so he can stop using mine already, and it has to have a place here somewhere. We can use it to decorate! We can make stuff all creepy and gooey.”
Robyn frowned. “You people. What am I ever going to do with you?”
“Help us set up the haunted castle! Duh.” Anna giggled and skipped away to go find sheets, swinging an open bottle of shampoo behind her.
Anna got hopelessly lost (as was expected: her sense of direction left much to be desired) on her way to the linen closet and ended up running straight into the fight. She stopped short as she heard Beethoven’s 5th and saw a girl swinging a violin case. “That poor violin!” she exclaimed. “Don’t go into battle with a violin. Always use basses. Until Liam shows up, at least.” She grabbed a bass and stood awkwardly, unsure of just exactly what was going on at this party. “So, um, what are we fighting for, anyway?”
“These people are plotting to kill Liam and us,” E explained. “The more of us fighting, the better!”
Anna blinked and then wasted no time in squeezing shampoo in Matt’s face. “Ah! My eyes! Not me! I’m one of you guys!”
“Oh. I wasn’t sure. Sorry!”
“Them!” E pointed.
Anna handed E the bass and charged the would-be evildoers with the shampoo bottle before realizing there was none left.
Unfortunately for Anna, Matt, and E, though their efforts were valiant and they left bruises and scrapes and permanent fear of stringed instruments on more than one opponent, fists, violin cases, basses, and shampoo bottles could not hold up against baseball bats, daggers, a floor lamp, and a tea kettle.
And they certainly didn’t hold up against the cannon.
“Enough!” shouted the vaguely familiar voice. A loud shriek followed as the old metal cannon chastised the possessor of the vaguely familiar voice for moving it.
The fighters froze; Anna was pinned to the wall by both the bass and the floor lamp, E’s violin case swung from one hand as a henchwoman held a dagger to her throat, and Matt—with the lamp shade from the floor lamp stuck on one arm like a stylish and entirely useless gauntlet—had one hand on a baseball bat and the other on the tea kettle in a failed attempt to prevent their wielders from hitting him too hard.
“Enough fighting,” said the voice again.
The three friends looked up at him. He was thin, blond, and aside from the nasty grin on his face, the slight shimmer to his appearance, and the awful slicked-back hair, he looked like he could be any other teenager, in jeans and a Batman t-shirt. He looked vaguely familiar, too. He leaned on the cannon. “All the friends of Liam Wood who are here today are going to die. Might as well start with you three.”
One of his henchmen raised a hand. “Do you want to save them for later, sir, and…”
“And lock them up and cackle over my evil plans while they find some way to escape? That is such a cliché. No. They die, and they die now.”
He looked at Anna, Matt, and E. His grin widened, caught in some disturbing place between the grins of the Cheshire Cat and The Joker. “And since I’m going to kill you three, we might as well get the others now, too. Let’s get the party started.”
Robyn had just finished setting the table when the windows exploded. A sound like a cat stuck in a tuba shook the building, followed by Beethoven’s Fifth played five times too loudly.
Robyn’s first thought was, “Holy plot bunnies, what was that?”
Her second thought was, “Is everyone okay?”
Her third thought was, “All that broken glass just ruined the food.”
Her fourth thought was, “I never want to hear Beethoven’s Fifth again.”
She slowly rose from a crouch, shaking broken glass off of her clothes. Erin clung to a rafter, and Shim and Seana poked their heads out from behind a dripping block of ice in the shape of the number 3000, their hands over their ears. Percival was still out cold on the floor, with a pillow under his head and a tablecloth draped over him.
“Is everyone okay?” Robyn shouted over Beethoven’s Fifth. She couldn’t hear what the others said over the noise of the symphony, but there was enough nodding of heads to satisfy her for now. “Who turned on the music?” she shouted. And why in the name of all things feelsy was it so loud?
The music abruptly got quieter.
“I did, my dear puppet commenter.”
Robyn’s blood ran cold. That was Liam’s voice…wasn’t it? Only he would call her a puppet commenter, but he wasn’t supposed to be here until…
She turned around. The young man standing in the doorway, amidst a glittering sea of broken glass, was…Liam?
The hair was wrong, the glasses were gone, and Liam never looked that…malicious. It was as if Liam had recently cosplayed as one of the Malfoys from Harry Potter, and hadn’t bothered to stop playing the part after he’d changed out of his costume.
“L-Liam?” Robyn asked, her voice unsteady. “You weren’t supposed to be here for…”
His wicked grin got wicked-er. “I am not Liam Wood.”
Relief and fear settled in Robyn’s stomach like a bad-tasting cough medicine. If he wasn’t Liam, then he hadn’t spoiled the surprise. But if he wasn’t Liam…then who was he?
“Who are you?” she asked.
“I am Liam, Head Phil.”
Robyn blinked. She looked at the other girls in the room. They blinked back at her.
“Excuse me?” Shim asked. “Aren’t those the same person?”
“Liam,” Seana said, putting a hand on one hip, “If this is some kind of joke…”
Liam, Head Phil snorted through his nose. “This is no joke. I’m here to kill you all. Against that wall, please.” He pointed to the wall with the most shattered windows.
Robyn and the others just looked at him.
He rolled his eyes. “Bring the others in.”
The others? The others. Where were Matt, Anna, and Iris?
The door behind Liam, Head Phil opened wider and three people were led in by six others: Matt, Anna, and E. When had she gotten here? And where was Iris?
Liam, Head Phil, pointed to the wall again, and the six…henchmen, Robyn guessed, dragged Matt, Anna, and E to the wall, lining them up in front of a window each. There was that awful cat-stuck-in-a-tuba noise, and a large cannon came through the door.
As in thing that shot other things and could kill people.
Liam, Head Phil flicked his hand at the windows. “You all can go to the windows yourself, or you can be dragged there with a dagger on your throat. Your decision. Either way, you die.”
Seana promptly burst into tears. Shim looked like she was hyperventilating.
Robyn felt like she was going to throw up.
“Wha-what’s going on?”
Liam, Head Phil rolled his eyes. “I told you, you are going to die. How hard of a concept is that to understand?”
One of the henchwomen raised a hand. Liam, Head Phil let out a long breath. “What?”
“You’ve not given the monologue, sir. That’s why they are confused.”
“The villain’s monologue.”
Liam, Head Phil rolled his eyes so hard Robyn half expected the building to do a somersault. “For the last time,” he said, turning to the henchwoman, “the villain monologue is a cliché.”
With his attention distracted, Robyn pulled out her phone and started texting.
“I don’t need to tell them why I’m going to kill them, I just need to kill them.” Liam, Head Phil continued. “Monologuing takes up time that could be spent killing AND it gives them a chance to think of something clever and get away.”
Robyn pressed the send button. The small script below the message said sending…
“Maybe they aren’t that clever?” the henchwoman said.
“They’re writers. Need I say more?”
“Sir,” said a henchman, “that one has a device.” He pointed at Robyn.
“Take it away from her, and any others in the room.”
Robyn held onto her phone as though it was the only thing that could save her life.
And it just might be.
“Hand it over,” said the henchman. When she resisted, he said, “You can had it over, or I can take it.”
Having it taken did not sound like a good idea. Robyn said a desperate prayer in her head, and as she handed the phone over, she heard the whoosh noise that meant the message had sent.
A few hundred feet below and a few hundred miles to the east, Lily floated on the back of Gologer, a sunset-colored and smelly dragon. She scrolled through Pinterest on an iPad, and while she waited for a recipe for truffles to load, she glanced further down the dragon’s back, where two other people threw balls of fluff toward a lake.
“When I said hit him with plot bunnies, Quirk, I didn’t mean it literally. We need to keep him busy for a few more minutes, not a few more days.”
Quirk looked up and grinned. “This way is more fun.”
“So many of them are landing in the lake that we’ll never get him away from it. He already loves to sail, and if he gets on a boat and sails into that lake he’s going to find so much inspiration that he’s never going to want to leave. His family will have to take food to him. And he’ll never get anything productive written ever again because plot bunnies.”
“Can he sail in that lake?” asked Phoenix, the red-headed girl sitting next to Quirk.
“I have absolutely no idea, but if he does that’s what will happen.”
Lily glanced at the time. “It’s later than I thought. Robyn should have texted me the okay by now.”
“If Percival is helping, I’m sure something has gone wrong,” Quirk said.
“Oh, Quirk, ever the optimist.”
Lily’s iPad let out a harp-like trill. “Ah, finally.” She read the text from Robyn.
“Help evil liam has castle going to kill us help help help”
Lily reread the text. “Robyn just said that an evil Liam has taken over the castle.”
Phoenix and Quirk exchanged glances. “It’s really him, then.” Phoenix said. Quirk buried his face in his hands.
“Guys,” Lily said, stomach starting to feel less-than-pleasant, “what’s going on?”
“We have to get up there now,” Phoenix said. She tossed the last of the plot bunnies over Gologer’s side and pulled herself into a secure position. She yelled at Gologer to go. Lily quickly scrambled into a better position. “What’s going on?” she repeated.
“Go to Buzzfeed and look up ‘Seven Reasons Why the New Castle Under the Cloud is Haunted.’”
Lily hugged one of Gologer’s spines and started to type. A minute later, the article, written by a user named oldladyreads24601 came up. The reasons were as follows:
- Not-haunted castles don’t talk about clichés and Beethoven
- The library has been redone. Badly.
- The castle argues with Quirk (next to this point was a picture of a wall defaced by two sets of handwriting engaged in an argument about appropriate uses of cell phones).
- There are ectoplasm fingerprints on everything (even the books. If he wasn’t dead, I’d kill him.)
- The cake keeps disappearing. EDITED TO ADD: turns out that was Phume’s fault.
- Booby traps full of soap spheres. EDITED TO ADD: this is not as harmless as it sounds
- Not-haunted castles don’t come with apparitions of dead people (beneath this was a meme that said “one does not simply not see the ghost of Liam, Head Phil.”)
“Liam’s ghost is haunting the castle,” Phoenix said.
Lily looked down toward the earth. The plot bunny-filled lake was no longer in sight. “Liam is down there.”
“No,” Quirk said, his voice laced with anguish. “I killed him. And now his ghost is back to get us.”
Fictional Liam, the leader of the Phil Phorce, Real Liam’s old serial story. The one in which Real Liam had killed off Fictional Liam because Fictional Liam was boring.
“But Liam’s a nice guy,” Lily said, “Even if he was not the greatest character in the Phil Phorce, he was still a good person. Why would he go evil?”
“Why would the Old Lady read books about murders committed by sentient inanimate objects? People are weird.”
Lily decided to let “sentient inanimate objects” slide. “Would he really kill Robyn and the others?”
Phoenix turned around and gave her a bored look. “What is that you writers are always saying about your characters wanting revenge on you for all the mean things you do to them?”
Oh. “That’s a joke.”
“It isn’t now.”
Lily swallowed. She reread Robyn’s text.
“Help evil liam has castle going to kill us help help help”
“We’re going to need reinforcements,” Lily said. She texted Miriam.
“Are you at the castle yet?”
A minute later, she had a reply.
“Not yet. Still on the way.”
“Don’t go in the castle. It’s been taken over. Meet me just outside. Deets when I see you.”
When they reached the castle, two other dragons were coming toward it from other directions. One of them held Miriam, but Lily didn’t know the rider of the other. Hopefully s/he was friendly.
Before the three dragons could come within talking distance, an object shot out of a window of the castle.
It was a person.
All three dragons dove. Gologer got to the falling person first. Quirk and Phoenix grabbed the falling person and brought him down onto the dragon’s back.
Gologer flattened out into a glide.
Lily looked at the fallen person. It was Matt, white as…well, a ghost. “Matt, what happened?” Lily asked, though she had the sick feeling that she knew.
Matt just looked at her and opened and closed his mouth a few times.
Lily’s iPad trilled. A new text from Miriam.
“What was that?!”
“Matt,” Lily said, “You have to talk to me.”
“Liam threw me out the window.” His breath shuddered.
Lily and the others looked up at the castle.
In time to see another person fall out. This time, one of the other dragons caught him/her. Lily didn’t know if that dragon held Miriam or another guest.
“What do we do?” Lily said to Phoenix and Quirk.
“Wait until everyone’s been thrown out the window?” Quirk suggested.
“There’s no guarantee that we’ll be able to catch all of them. Plus, there are only three dragons, and at least a half dozen more people up there.”
“One of the dragons can get in the castle through the landing port, and surely a ghost can’t stand against a dragon.”
That was a good point. But did they need another dragon to catch other people who fell out of the windows?
“What if Phoenix and I went in the castle and you guys stayed out here to catch people?” Lily asked. “Phoenix has fire, and I have…well, I’ll think of something.”
Quirk looked offended. It was a good look on him. “Shouldn’t one of us go with you?”
“We’ll be fine,” Lily and Phoenix said at the same time.
Quirk protested, but Gologer left the two young women at the landing port before diving to catch another falling person. One of the other dragons dove at the same time, and the two nearly collided.
Lily and Phoenix made sure the falling person was caught, then turned and ran inside the castle. Lily tried not to think about the fact that those were her friends being tossed out of windows.
The first thing they heard was a long string of curse words, followed by “Put me down, you miserable mutt!”
The two young women followed the voice, and found a dog chewing on a ping pong ball. Or, rather, looking very confusedly at a talking ping pong ball.
“Steve!” Phoenix said, scooping him off the floor.
Steve caught them up with what had happened, up until the point where the dog had found him and taken off just as someone who looked sort of like Liam had opened the door to the party room.
“We have to do something,” Lily said.
“Thanks for stating the obvious,” said Steve. She glared at him.
“We need weapons,” Phoenix said.
“Ooh, score another point for team obvious.”
They ignored him. “The basement has weapons,” Phoenix said. “But the basement also has…”
“I know,” Lily said. “But if we aren’t sending Quirk down there…”
“You go to the basement,” Phoenix said, “I’ll try to distract and prevent them from throwing anyone else out the window.”
Lily nodded. “Do you want weapons?”
Phoenix snapped her fingers, and a sparking jet of flame shot up between her fingers. She smiled. “I have everything I need.”
When Phoenix reached the door to the party room, Steve in her pocket and the dog trailing behind, she peeked through a keyhole. All she saw was a worse-for-wear ice sculpture.
But she did hear voices.
“I’m telling you,” a female voice said, “This is not a satisfactory ending. Readers wouldn’t like it, even though it breaks molds and clichés.”
“The lack of clichés is what makes it worth liking,” said a familiar male voice. “It makes it interesting and memorable.”
“But is it memorable in the right way?”
Phoenix ran around the room to another door and peeked through its keyhole. This time she could see a row of broken windows—the ones she’d spent two hours cleaning once—and several people. She recognized the back of Liam’s head. That hair was not a good look for him, even from behind. Three young women were up against the wall of broken windows, kept there, most likely, by the cannon Liam was leaning against, arms crossed.
“…important thing is that the readers are satisfied,” one of the young women—Robyn—was saying. “No one is satisfied if all of the main characters die.”
“I am satisfied!” Liam said. His form shimmered. “Villains almost never get their way. This ending is fresh and new and exciting. Readers will be satisfied in a non-cliché way.”
Movement on the ceiling caught Phoenix’s eye. Another young woman, this one in a green dress, lay flat against the ceiling, slowly rolling a bunch of streamers into a large ball. She had her eyes fixed on Liam-not-Liam.
“No one will buy this book,” Robyn said.
Liam-not-Liam smiled. “Ah, but my dear Robyn, it doesn’t need to sell for me to be happy. Throw her out the window next.”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, a large ball of streamers fell on his head. Phoenix threw open the door and shot a jet of flame at it. The paper immediately caught and started to burn.
Robyn wasn’t sure where the fire came from, but she was grateful for it. She’d hoped that by stalling Liam, Head Phil with an argument, someone would do something clever and save their lives. She hadn’t been disappointed.
Liam, Head Phil went up in flames. Robyn looked away from him. He might have been trying to kill her—and may have killed the others—but he still looked like her good friend back on solid ground. Seeing him play the part of a Salem witch was discomforting.
Robyn, Shim, and Seana—the only ones, beside Erin on the ceiling, who hadn’t been thrown out the window—made a dash for the door.
“Stop them!” Liam, Head Phil shouted. The cannon shrieked as it was turned around.
One of the henchmen started screaming as his clothes caught fire. Robyn caught a glimpse of Phoenix. So that explained the fire.
Before they could make it to the door, a couple of the henchmen slid in front of it, blocking them.
The young women stared at the henchmen. The henchmen stared back.
And then the door behind them burst open.
A flood of brightly colored, three-inch-tall ponies charged into the room, followed by a group of flute-wielding fawns, followed by Iris and Lily. Their arms were loaded with pens.
“The My Lethal Ponies?” Robyn asked. The small sentient toys began attacking Liam, Head Phil and his henchmen. “Where did you find them?”
“In the dungeon,” Iris said. “I found them when I went to make the maze!”
“What are the pens for?” Shim asked.
Shim, Seana, and Robyn all raised eyebrows.
“The pen is mightier than the sword,” Lily said. “They are characters, we are writers.”
“But they aren’t our characters,” Seana said.
“One word: fanfiction!”
Lily and Iris tossed the other writers pens, and they all dropped to the floor and started writing.
At the same time, the dragons appeared at the windows, sticking their heads in and sniffing around Liam, Head Phil.
Robyn looked over as a thought struck her. Where did these henchmen come from? Who were they? She looked around the room. Several of the henchmen had burning clothes, but the fire didn’t seem to be doing much other damage to them.
Then Robyn saw someone she recognized. It was a character Liam—Real Liam—had killed off in one of his novels.
Killed off. Real Liam had killed off Liam, Head Phil.
So that’s who their nemesis was—the ghost of the character Liam had killed off.
She looked at the rest of the henchmen. All of them were characters Liam had killed off in various stories over the years.
This was an interesting development.
Robyn set her pen to the floor and started to write.
Behind the group of writers, various henchmen suddenly fell down, wrapped in tentacles, or ran screaming from the room as they were dive-bombed by a small flock of ducks. A cloud of sentient glitter covered one, and another started screaming about having shampoo in her eyes.
After a few minutes, all the henchmen had fallen, and the only person left was Liam, Head Phil.
And he was staring at Phoenix.
The fire hadn’t burned away his clothes, thank goodness, though he was a little sooty.
He looked at Phoenix. “You set me on fire.”
“You tried to kill my friends.”
“I was your friend.”
Phoenix sighed sadly. “That was before you became a mass murderer. The Liam I knew was a good person. You aren’t. And your hair is awful.”
Liam, Head Phil looked offended. “I like my hair this way.” He sobered. “Liam Wood killed me. And he blinded Isaac. And he’s done other things to other characters.”
Phoenix didn’t add anything to that. It was, after all, the truth.
Robyn set her pen to the floor again.
Liam, Head Phil was right. Authors were truly horrible people.
But that didn’t mean that even the villains of some stories couldn’t have happy endings.
In the end, the Phils let the ghost of Liam, Head Phil have the Castle Under the Cloud. The castle needed a spirit to stay together, and since Liam, Head Phil was a spirit, it worked out quite well. It wasn’t a life like he’d had before, but it wasn’t a fate worse than death.
Robyn squinted at that last line, since Liam, Head Phil had in fact died, but it would do. She wasn’t sure the Phils would be very happy with her for giving the Castle to the ghost, but she couldn’t think of a better solution.
When she looked up, Liam, Head Phil had a petulant look on his face.
“You can have the castle all to yourself in exchange for not killing us,” Robyn said.
He glared at her for a moment, then he said “Fine. But you can’t have the party here. If you’re all still here in one hour, I resume my plans.”
Then he disappeared.
There was a moment of quiet. Robyn turned to Lily. “He threw some of us out of the window…”
“They’re fine,” Lily said. “The dragons caught them. Miriam, someone else, and Quirk were out there to catch them.”
Robyn sighed in relief. “The third person is probably Leinad. Everyone else is here.”
There was another moment of quiet.
A staccato breath broke the silence, and Percival sat up, rubbing his head. He moaned a bit, and then opened his eyes. He looked around the room. He closed his eyes again. “I don’t want to know what happened.”
“No, you don’t,” Robyn said, “Let’s get cleaning.”
“I’m not cleaning up the glitter,” Seana said. Everyone laughed.
Forty-two minutes and nineteen seconds later, all the party stuff had been cleaned up and was on its way to a park near Real Liam’s house.
Everything, that is, except the ice-sculpted 3000. That they left, partly because no one wanted to deal with it, and partly out of revenge on Fictitious Liam for nearly killing them.
Real Liam arrived just as they finished putting the last of the decorations out, still scribbling madly in a notebook. The first thing he said after the obligatory thank yous and such was, “I saw what happened to the castle. You people should stop throwing me surprise parties. They always end badly.”
“How did you find out?” Robyn asked, thoroughly vexed that all the preparations to make this a surprise had failed.
“While all of you were cleaning up, Steve hitched a ride with someone’s dog and took pictures of everything and texted them to me.”
Robyn exchanged a confused glance with Shim and Seana. If Steve had no hands, how could he hold a phone, let alone text? Of course, he had no hands and managed to suggest obscene gestures anyway, so perhaps it was something like that.
After cake (a new one without broken glass décor) had been eaten, the happy birthday song cut off mid-verse twice by Robyn, Liam had made sure that everyone was alright after the Battle of the Castle Under the Cloud, and E’s violin/fawns-with-amped-up-flutes concert, Lily poured a glass of chocolate milk for a toast. “Today we celebrate Liam’s blog having 3000 follwers…”
“2808,” Quirk said.
“Or 2808 followers, because we timed this party wrong,” Lily continued, “2809 followers is still quite a lot, and something worth celebrating.
“Today also serves as a sort of going away party, as Liam embarks on the next chapter of life: college.” She raised her glass. “Here’s to the last three and a half years of fun.”
One by one, everyone raised their glasses and added to the toast.
“To the crazy Chatzy conversations.”
“To the NaNo forums.”
“To the book recommendations.”
“To all the informative blog posts.”
“To the Phil Phorce.”
“To discussions about Writing Excuses episodes.”
“To all the silly and awesome running jokes over the years.”
“To the music recommendations.”
“To YAvengers and YA-Spidey.”
“To exploding ducks.”
“To all the friends we met through This Page Intentionally Left Blank.”
Lily smiled. “And here’s to the future, may it be even more awesome, for all of us. We’ll miss you, lymph node.”
Everyone drank their respective drinks.
After a moment of quiet, Iris said, “Those of you who haven’t had third pieces of cake, eat them now because I am not taking any cake home.”