Part 4: Nippy the Cat
He awoke later to find himself lying in the middle of a dream, or something like it. A vast field, painted in technicolor green, stretched out from under him and ran out toward a plane of lightly shaded purple mountains. Colorful pen and ink images, two-dimensional, but drawn to look 3-D, surrounded him in a perfect circle. Each was in the shape of some kind of bipedal anthropomorph, a Wacky Fuzzy character in the common understanding. The images were of nearly every color he could name; though, most had only four colors or less, plus shadow, defining them. Their bodies flickered like a bunch of tinted pictures would do when cycling under a flashlight. And they each hovered close to him and leaned in for an inquisitive look. Some even enlarged their left eyes. At the head of the crowd stood Nippy the Cat, all three and a half feet of him, and he placed his hands on his milk bottle-skinny hips as he stared down at the flesh and blood creature before him.
“Well I’ll be an uncle’s monkey,” he said with a massive grin; he was a squirrely feline. “Let’s get this man to his feet.”
A huge ox of at least seven feet tall reached from within the crowd and yanked Sammy up by the ankles. He held Sammy with his iron fingers like a prized fish.
“Put me down,” said Sammy, feeling more blood rush to his head.
“Okay,” said Nippy, as he danced the Charleston. “You’re ugly, you’re smelly, and your mother eats dynamite for breakfast.”
A strange musical interlude rang out across the reddish sky, sounding like a piano and a trumpet. Sammy tried furiously to look around for the source of the music, but ended up rocking back and forth beneath the ox’s hydraulic grip.
“Where is that music coming from?” he asked.
The ox dropped Sammy on his head. Then the clatter of cymbals sounded off around him. Sammy searched the scene with his eyes as he sat upright and rubbed his head, trying to make sense of this sudden drop down the black rabbit hole. All the other cartoon characters ran around in circles, wildly looking under rocks and signs; some hid half their bodies behind really thin trees while others dug deep holes into the green-soaked earth. Gray clouds of dust kicked up all over the painted fields, and gargantuan mounds of fake dirt piled next to the gaping holes. In the middle of the chaos, Nippy emerged from the cartoon grass, eating some noodles and rice from a Chinese food box.
“What music?” he said with a sing-song voice.
“I hear music, almost like a soundtrack.”
“Well then let’s dance.” Nippy grabbed at Sammy’s hands and spun him around like a tornado. “Do you like to swing, mambo, or lambada?”
Sammy’s ear canals were overcome with whirlpools as he tried to sift through the thoughts in his mind. He didn’t care about dancing.
“Please stop,” he sputtered, as Nippy continued to spin him.
Nippy immediately pulled a stop sign out from behind his back and threw it in front of Sammy’s face. Sammy jerked to a stop, or at least his body did. He thought he was going to fall again.
“So how do you like our place?” asked Nippy.
All the other cartoon characters quickly darted in next to him. Each looked at Sammy very quizzically, some with focused eyes and arched eyebrows, others with a stroke of their chins. Sammy nervously surveyed each of them for appearance and attitude. The characters took on many forms, mainly of four-legged animals walking on two legs, each with exaggerated head sizes and postures that defied animal logic. A dog stood nearby with a paw on his jutting hip; a giraffe wearing a beanie cap carried a tree under his front leg; and other creatures including a bird, a mouse, a pig, a fuzzy gecko, and a beaver all gathered around in a circle, each dashing in for a look so close that their paws scratched the skin under his eyes. He jabbed his open palms before him to stop the probing.
“Wait,” he said, “how’d I get here?”
“How did any of us get here?” droned Nippy, as he threw on some bifocals and sported the thin, passionless smile of a deep thinker.
“Stop joking around. I’m serious, this place isn’t normal.”
The cartoon characters prodded closer to his face, each curious about the unusual volatility coming from his mouth. A monkey subtly tried to pick his pocket. Sammy batted the monkey away. This insanity had gone too far.
“Get out of here. All of you, beat it.”
The cartoon characters turned around and sulked away from him, all except for the ox that placed his hand over his crotch and performed a pelvic thrust like Michael Jackson.
“Not you,” Sammy shouted at Nippy.
The characters turned around and pointed to themselves, whispering “me?”, but Sammy’s finger aimed at Nippy, so the cat was the one who jumped for joy.
“You love me,” he said with kisses to the wind. “You really love me.”
“Shut up,” said Sammy. “Get over here.”
Nippy’s tail bobbed up and down as he danced backward toward Sammy, singing some kind of tribal “boom shaka laka.” On reaching him, he gave Sammy a big kiss on the mouth, then spat it out in disgust. Sammy didn’t bother reacting to the feline’s intrusion or the inky taste left on his lips. He needed answers.
“How did I get here?” Sammy asked sternly. “And be serious this time.”
“You fell from the sky, just like a comet. It made us all happy.”
Sammy looked up to the reddish sky to discover a small hole just above the clouds. Beyond the hole were stars dotting the universe and a planet with a big sign pointing at him with the words TO THE HAPPIEST PLACE IN THE GALAXY etched on its face. He rubbed his eyes in case reality had failed him.
“That’s impossible. How did I fall from the sky?”
“Sort of like this.” Nippy flailed his arms and legs while screaming at the top of his lungs. Feeling his face heating up, Sammy stared contemptuously at him.
“How did I end up in your cartoon world?” he barked, as he reached out for Nippy’s neck.
Nippy stopped, and his fur grew completely white. He thrust his fingers between his chattering teeth.
“Don’t do that. Just answer my question.”
Sammy released Nippy’s neck. Nippy gasped for air.
“Thanks,” said Nippy. “I thought I was a goner. You saved my life.”
The cartoon cat jumped into Sammy’s arms and kissed him on the mouth again. He followed with another disgusted spit. Sammy was ready to slam him into the featureless ground for all the time he was wasting.
“To answer your question,” continued Nippy, “you swallowed the Happy Fun Land pill and it ultimately brought you to us.”
“Because you wanted to be happy and have fun. That’s what everyone wants in the Happy Fun Land universe.”
“What makes you think I want something like that?”
“Because you want to laugh.”
Sammy stuffed his hands in his pockets.
“Why would I want to laugh? It’s not very professional in my line of work.”
“Because it’s contagious.”
Immediately, the Wacky Fuzzies returned from out of nowhere and laughed riotously at Sammy with pointed fingers and slapped knees. Nippy joined in on the laughter, clutching his belly, and opening his maw so wide that a fluttering bird flew in for a quick rest. Sammy felt the irritation rising through his shoulders and into his temples, and he just wanted relief. So, he kicked a laughing hyena between the legs, rocketing the unsuspecting creature into a cloud. Nearly a minute later, the hyena fell back to earth and formed a crater at the sound of a thud. When he climbed out of his hole with broken teeth, he was still laughing from the pit of his stomach. The others laughed at him. Sammy buried his face in his hands.
After another long moment of laughter, the Wacky Fuzzies all dissipated, and Sammy was left to stand in the bright green inky field alone with Nippy.
“I want to leave,” said Sammy.
Nippy produced a leaf from behind his ears, and a branch from inside them. He tried to hand both to Sammy, but Sammy pushed them away.
“I didn’t say ‘want a,’ I said ‘want to,’ you moron.”
“Oh, well I know the perfect place to go. Come with me.”
Nippy grabbed for Sammy’s hand and pulled him along the fields.
Sammy hung loosely behind Nippy’s speedy body, bobbing up and down against the gray pseudo dust beneath him, as brown and green mountainous landscapes with white covered tops raced by in the distance and massive dust clouds rose from the soles of his feet. He forced his chin to the air as he arched his neck backward for a better view of the cat and the horizon hurtling toward them, hoping to gain some early secret regarding their destination. But little about the landscape changed. As mountain after mountain passed, Sammy was certain that he saw the same range return to view, over and over, as if part of a loop. Nippy, meanwhile, blazed across the landscape at a speed five times faster than a cheetah, blurring part of the immediate surroundings into a kaleidoscope of color, and G-forcing his fur about three inches behind his clenched jaw and eye sockets. Sammy was surprised at the rush of air he felt; he figured the cartoon world was void of any real physical earth substance. So far, he found that he could touch things, as well as to see and hear them. But it was a shallow touch, like the feel of thin cellophane plastic on his fingertips. A repeating sheet of cellophane plastic.
The only thing to surprise him more about this place, however, was his willingness to accept its existence. Must’ve been a side effect of the happy fun pill. If it couldn’t make him happy, then it would make him numb to reason.
Nippy came to a stop in front of a yellow diner with bright, red, flashing lights, but Sammy’s inertia kept going. The force of his flying body stretched Nippy’s arm about a mile to the west before he finally stopped. Nippy reeled him back in.
“Here it is,” said Nippy, doing a quick shuffle as he straightened out his coiled arm, “the Wacky Walnut. This is where we all come to eat.”
Nippy pulled Sammy through the front doors and revealed to him the busiest place in the whole Wacky Fuzzies universe. It was a place where cartoon characters danced, ate, drank, laughed, got sick, and tried to one up each other telling the stupidest jokes. Sammy noticed that all of the characters that had surrounded him earlier were now sitting at the booths of this diner. This time none of them paid much attention to him.
“Are you happy yet?” asked Nippy.
Before Sammy could give an effective answer, Nippy dragged Sammy over to an empty booth where a female cheetah in a blue waitress uniform skated up to them holding her notepad in hand.
“Would you fellas like to try the Chef’s Dynamite Chicken special?” she said.
Nippy immediately broke into an uncontrollable mating call, complete with wolf howl and rapidly beating heart that literally pounded at the table. He rolled out his tongue and panted. Sammy, patience wearing thin, stared at him with no amusement showing in the corner of his lips.
“What are you doing?”
Nippy ignored him as his animated lust continued to escalate. Sammy waved his palms inches before Nippy’s face, but it didn’t do any good. Nippy found himself treading water in his own puddle of drool.
“I think I’m gonna skip lunch today, ma’am,” Sammy said to the waitress.
“And the lovely gentleman?”
“I think his brain is off right now. A really large elephant in a tutu should take care of that problem.”
“I’ll see what I can arrange, sweetie.”
The cheetah waitress completed a one-and-a-half turn before heading back to the kitchen. As the doors closed behind her, Nippy regained his senses and smiled a toothy grin.
“Wow, that was more fun than batting yarn.”
“What’s the matter with you? Don’t you ever look at yourself?”
Nippy contorted his neck to look at each angle of his black and white body. He shrugged as he checked under his armpits and probed his belly button.
“What am I looking for?”
“Look at you, you’re a rip-off.”
Nippy pulled out a poster of a bigger, older cat who fit the same profile as he. He postured himself next to it.
“Yep,” he said, “a real rip off the old block.”
“That’s my point. Why do you think that’s funny? You and your kind are ridiculous. You weasel onto our television sets, make the same lame jokes that I’ve seen on every other stupid cartoon show since time began, and you get a theme park designed after you? You’re a rehash of old cheesy ideas, and I think it’s stupid.”
Nippy leaned in for a better listen. Sammy could see an empty channel running through his head from one ear to the other. The sight of it made him want to reach out for Nippy’s head and beat it into the ground.
“And you’re still doing it, even now. What is so funny about empty space between your ears?”
“Because it’s dense,” Nippy chuckled.
Sammy looked around the room again. Much of the same carrying on with the Wacky Fuzzies that he had come to expect was happening now—them hitting each other with mallets and falling anvils; dopey characters talking like jabbering fools and acting like children; some throwing pies or dynamite at each other in a twisted game of catch or dodge ball and laughing about it. Sammy shook his head.
“You are all so unoriginal. I just can’t laugh, so quit trying to make me. I wish I could take an eraser to your existence.”
“Well that’s kind of harsh,” said Nippy, a little less joyfully.
“Yet the world seems to love you and your stupid Wacky friends. I don’t understand why.”
“Because they like to laugh, and we make them do it.”
“Not in the real world. I spend more than one hundred twenty hours of my week in the real world, and no one talks about you or finds you amusing. Yet for some reason the visitors of your park fall in love with your contrived world. It must be that crazy happy pill you trick them into taking. Except, the pill I took didn’t make me laugh or have fun. Could it be that I swallowed a dud? Maybe I’m just immune to your attacks. I don’t know what your game is, but you can’t have me. The only thing you can do is aggravate the hell out of me.”
Sammy looked at Nippy dead in the eyes. Nippy remained speechless. Almost two minutes went by before a tumbleweed rolled across the table, stopped, and exploded from existence. Nippy stood from his booth. By now the whole diner was watching them, as were the characters sitting inside of it. Silence befell the eatery.
“Why do you think I’m not happy?” asked Sammy. “I swallowed the pill, too.”
Nippy jiggled his throat with his thumb and forefinger and took in a deep gulp.
“The Happy Fun Land pill is meant to be taken like candy, not like a real pill. Sucking on it prolongs the joy, while swallowing it only brings you here. Although the candy method is guaranteed to make you happy, the pill method is unpredictable.”
Sammy stared at Nippy for another moment. Nippy shied his eyes away.
“Maybe your happy pill is the one that sucks,” said Sammy, thin-lipped and with narrowed eyebrows. He held his focus to allow the moment to sink in. Then he cupped his fingers into a fist and tapped the edge of the table to break the tension. “Do you know what puzzles me most about all of this?”
Nippy slowly shook his head.
“Of all of you ridiculous rehashed rejects, the one I can’t find anywhere is Bubby the Bear. Where is he?”
A moment passed before the cat spoke up.
“You’re Bubby,” Nippy whispered.
Sammy glanced at his arms to discover he was covered in inky red fur. He also realized for the first time that he could see the world minus the impaired vision from his set of eyeholes. He felt for his head to discover his identity matched Bubby only up to the shoulders. Uncertain how this must’ve appeared to the Wacky Fuzzies, he stood up and allowed himself to look down on Nippy. Nippy could not hold eye contact with him.
“Am I some kind of freak—a human head walking around with a red bear’s body? Why did you trick me into taking that pill?”
“No one tricked you. You wanted to laugh and be happy.”
“But how did I become Bubby? All I did was put on the suit. How did I actually become him? And where’s my head? Or his head, rather.”
Nippy slowly raised his eyes and looked into Sammy’s.
“We needed someone to replace him. We thought the one who put on his suit would be the one perfect to take his place in the Wacky Fuzzies universe. Anyone who took the Happy Fun Land pill would be up to the task because they would be happy to take the position. Everyone else who took the pill but didn’t replace Bubby wouldn’t mind that he became something different because they would still be happy. And your head is being drawn down the street at the factory as we speak.”
Sammy felt above his neck again to make sure the head was in fact getting drawn at the factory and not on him. Feeling his actual nose relieved him.
“But why replace him?”
“He wasn’t doing his job the right way anymore.”
Sammy sat down on the table and folded his hands over his lap.
“Is that right?” He let the moment sink in. “You’re saying he wasn’t acting like a professional?”
Nippy nodded as his lips puckered into a pout and his eyes glanced anywhere but at Sammy the mostly-bear.
The cheetah waitress skated into the dining area with a red drink in hand and passed it to Sammy. Sammy took the glass and twirled the inky liquid around. The waitress skated off again.
“You know,” he continued, “there was a time in my life that I would’ve tolerated your crap. I certainly would’ve given you a chance to entertain me, at least. But any tolerance I might’ve had for your entertainment value diminished when you, and cartoon characters like you, had proven your incompetence as role models for children.”
“We’re not incompetent role models for—”
“I am not finished. You assault their senses with your loud horns and flashy colors, and you poison pop culture with your uncreative jokes. You’re the reason the world no longer aspires to think for itself or achieve any kind of personal pride. But that’s not what makes you dangerous. You attach your names and faces to products that children and their parents use, stuffing yourselves inside boxes for hamburger meals that kids will eat, branding your gross lack of professional quality across the world, suckering these very same people you’ve brainwashed into thinking that what you’re selling them actually holds any superior value. You do this without shame. And how could you feel shame when your entire shtick is to entertain through a checklist of clichés?”
“And here’s the bitter truth: I tried to watch one of your television shows a while back when our company first discussed investing in the park, just to see what was so special about it, just to see if you had evolved from a carbon copy of everything else into something worthwhile. And, judging by what I saw, and by what you’re telling me now, I can honestly say that you’re still full of crap. A lack of professionalism has nothing to do with Bubby disappearing. And don’t lie to me about having any ounce of professionalism in your inky rinky-dink body, either. I think you want to get rid of him because he’s the only character in this Wacky Fuzzies universe that’s actually original. Am I right? He’s not the honey-eating, winter-sleeping formula character that the rest of you are, is he?”
Nippy shook his head.
“He’s a rock star who speaks Australian, right? Not some stupid bumbling bear that you probably opted for—he’s the heartthrob of the Wacky Fuzzies universe, isn’t he?”
“Was,” said Nippy. “He was getting his own market. The creators were going to give him his own toy line. They even wanted to create die-cast metal versions of him to overshadow the plastic figures they’ve made of us. We thought we could shake things up a little and strike gold if we got rid of him and brought in one of our fans instead—someone who would be happy to be a part of us and make other people laugh.”
“Yet, you got me, didn’t you?”
“We thought the one who wore the Bubby suit would suck on the Happy Fun Land pill, and then be happy to take his place. What did we know? Why won’t you just laugh with us? We really are funny.”
“No, you’re not. Everything you do I’ve seen before. You’re a phony and a pathetic excuse for merchandising. And your company produces garbage products. And bring back Bubby because no one else deserves to be ridiculous in his place.”
Nippy grabbed a bright red bottle of ketchup from the table and massaged its neck as he carefully lowered it out of sight.
“We are not phonies. We are cartoon characters. What we do is who we are.”
Sammy leaned hard over Nippy’s body and breathed deep into his inky face.
“But you’re not funny, so stop making the public think you are.”
“Don’t you think if the public thinks we’re funny, maybe that means we’re funny?”
Sammy looked at him with harsh eyes, an intensity that he hadn’t had in weeks, an intensity that Bubby the Bear had likely never felt, and growled under his breath. Even if he were channeling his inner animated Australian bear, he was still very much the professional businessman who did not take crap from anyone or anything. His eyes were turning to fire; he could feel them burning. Then he stuffed his hands in his pockets to stop himself from becoming violent. Even in the cartoon world, violence was not professional in his line of work.
“I think the public will buy anything if you spin them the right way,” Sammy said. “Give them a moment and they’ll see the truth. The fact is that I’m a part of the public, and I don’t find you the least bit funny.”
“Then kiss my wacky fuzzy butt, you scoundrel.”
Nippy swatted Sammy hard in the head with the ketchup bottle, breaking the glass in half. The ketchup poured from Sammy’s head at a steady pace as yellow stars spun above him. His eyes rolled backward, and he blacked out as he pitched toward the floor.