Annabelle spent approximately four seconds feeling sullen and defeated before remembering that world-saving required steely resolve and creative thinking.
My hands alone will not solve this problem, she thought. What other tools do I have at my disposal?
Annabelle glanced down at the Stun-Tastic. As far as she knew, it turned a person’s insides into cottage cheese. Might it also turn a locked metal door into cottage cheese? she wondered.
Annabelle decided to find out.
She pointed the stun-tastic, pulled the trigger, and held on for dear life as the device vibrated enthusiastically while launching a blue-green beam of pure mystery at the unyielding rectangle of reinforced steel.
Moments later, Annabelle was staring at an open doorway at the base of which was a steaming pile of what definitely appeared to be cottage cheese.
Amazing, thought Annabelle. But there was no time to enjoy her minor victory. Annabelle raced into the building and found herself inside a cavernous space full of bizarre machinery, the purpose of which she could not begin to imagine.
She saw Larf near the top of a tall ladder that led to a high catwalk. He’d had such a big head start that Annabelle knew she couldn’t catch up.
And so she reached into her backpack. She had two devices left. She still had no idea what they did. But if Annabelle didn’t stop Larf immediately, Eleanor might not make it. And rampaging cats might tear Lower Barmonia apart.
The utter destruction of everything…thought Annabelle. Not on my watch!
She held the two devices side by side. The label for the first one read:
TURNS OUT THE LIGHTS.
The second one read:
MAKES THE PERFECT CUP OF COCOA.
As much as Annabelle might have liked some hot chocolate right about now, she didn’t see how it would help her capture Larf, so she grabbed the other device and pushed the button and hoped for the best.
Instantly, it was pitch black. Be careful what you wish for, thought Annabelle, wondering suddenly why she thought it would be a good idea to be without lights.
Annabelle considered asking Larf if he also couldn’t see, but before she had the chance, he wailed, “I CAN’T SEE!”
At which point, Annabelle decided that it made a lot more sense to just stay quiet.
“WHO TURNED OUT THE LIGHTS?! THIS IS AWFUL! WAAAAAAA!”
Annabelle had a pretty good idea where the ladder had been, and so she felt her way through the pitch blackness and quietly climbed up to the catwalk.
Larf continued to complain about how dark and awful it was, making it easy for Annabelle to follow the sound of his voice until she was so close that she could feel Larf’s candy-scented breath on her arm.
Gradually but steadily, the light was returning. Annabelle knew she didn’t have much time.
She carefully removed the cat-control device from the loop in Larf’s belt and carefully removed the set of handcuffs from her backpack and carefully closed one end around the catwalk.
Just as Annabelle was closing the other end of the handcuffs around Larf’s ankle, the light returned. Larf lurched to grab Annabelle, but since he was handcuffed to the catwalk, he lost his balance and tumbled into empty air.
“Why doesn’t this catwalk have a safety railing?” Larf complained in showy outrage as he dangled by his ankle.
“Lower Barmonia is known for inadequate safety regulations,” said Annabelle.
“I’ll get you!” said Larf as he reached for his belt.
“Looking for this?” asked Annabelle, holding up the cat control device triumphantly and allowing herself a smug smile.
Annabelle turned the dial all the way to the left and could almost feel the collective relief of Lower Barmonia as ten thousand cats switched from murderous rampage back to synchronized show tunes.
Annabelle looked down at Larf and said, “The tables have turned.” It was the sort of thing she was pretty sure she was supposed to say in a moment like this, even though there had never been a moment like this in her life.
Now that she had Larf where she wanted him, Annabelle didn’t quite know what to do with him. To her surprise, Larf started to cry big, gushing tears that made him sound like a walrus stuck between two rocks.
“I’m so, so sorry,” said Larf. “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I’m not a bad guy. I’m spineless and feeble minded and easily influenced by charismatic criminal masterminds. It’s all Fungo’s fault. He’s the worst.”
“Excuse me?” said Annabelle, who had spent the entire day watching Larf participate in the utter destruction of everything.
“I’m just a pawn, I swear. I’m ready to talk! I have all the information you need!”
“You can start by giving me Eleanor’s backpack.”
“Sure, of course,” said Larf, slipping the backpack off of his shoulders and tossing it up to Annabelle.
Annabelle knew that she had to get the epi pen to Eleanor as quickly as possible. But she also knew that Larf was the one person with the information she needed to track down Dr. Fungo.
“And the snow globe?”
“I shipped it to Fungo this afternoon via overnight global delivery service.”
“That must have been very expensive.”
“But Long Arm said you were to deliver it to Fungo in person.”
“I’m terrible at following directions.”
Taking one look at the blubbering, dangling mess, Annabelle believed it.
“What about the note that was inside it—the one with the location of Fungo’s HQ?”
“It’s in my pocket.”
“The pocket of my jeans.”
Annabelle looked down. There was no way she was going to get the note out of the pocket of Larf’s jeans without first hauling him back up onto the catwalk.
“Ok. Then. What did it say on the paper? Which HQ is Fungo hiding out in?”
“I have no idea!”
“Liar!” Annabelle pointed the Stun-Tastic at Larf, still not much liking the thought of pulling the trigger.
“I can tell you my best guesses!”
“Well, he could be holed up in his elaborate undersea lair beneath the Arctic Ice Cap. Or maybe lurking in the secret room above his used car dealership, Fords of Norway.”
“Where is that?”
“New Jersey. Exit 13A. Or he could be in his skull-shaped fortress on the Island of Miniature Porcupines. He really likes it there.”
“Because there are no cats.”
“And lots of tiny porcupines, I imagine?”
“Oddly, not a single one.”
“I know, right?”
For a moment, neither one of them said anything. But Larf was quickly turning purple, and Annabelle was starting to feel sorry for him.
“Now that I’ve helped you, can you please, please help me back up?” he pleaded. “I’m starting to get dizzy. Soon I’ll be no use to you.”
Annabelle looked down. Larf looked so pitiful, it was impossible to believe he could be truly evil. People can get duped and led astray, thought Annabelle, People can change.
Larf reached up and Annabelle reached down. Slowly and with great effort, she helped him climb back onto the catwalk.
“You’re surprisingly strong,” said Larf.
“Thanks. You’re unsurprisingly heavy.”
“Thanks. Could you…?” Larf gestured to his ankle, which was still handcuffed to the catwalk.
Annabelle took out the key and unlocked Larf.
“Whew. Thanks,” said Larf, rubbing his ankle. “The next step is to get to your HQ so that I can tell your people everything I know about Fungo and his evil intentions. We’ll have him thwarted by dinner time.”
Annabelle felt a huge wave of relief. She had stopped the cats. She had retrieved Eleanor’s backpack. And she had convinced Fungo’s henchman to give up all his darkest secrets.
Well done, Annabelle, she thought to herself. Well done.
“That sounds like a plan.”
“Excellent,” he said. “So where is your HQ?”
“On an desolate island off the coast of Ye Olde Drumburgh, just south of Tragic Rock.”
Larf smiled. “See? We’re such good friends now. Isn’t it better this way?”
Annabelle admitted it was better being on Larf’s good side than his bad one. She relaxed just a little. She put the Stun-Tastic back into her backpack.
At which point, Larf gave Annabelle a shove, which made Annabelle lose her balance, which made her fall off the catwalk.
“Ha, ha, ha!” said Larf as Annabelle plummeted toward the concrete floor below.
Annabelle surprised herself by twisting acrobatically midair and landing on two feet with the grace of an extremely fortunate gazelle.
“Wow,” said Larf. “Surprising result. Still, I’m up here and you’re down there.”
“But I have your cat-control device!” said Annabelle, holding it triumphantly above her head.
“That’s ok,” said Larf, “I don’t need it any more.”
“That device was a temporary measure to get things started,” Larf looked at his watch. “In 17 minutes and 32 seconds…The Machine becomes operational.”
“And what is The Machine?”
“I’ll never tell.”
Annabelle pulled out the Stun-Tastic and pointed at Larf.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
“Because I might drop this,” said Larf, pulling a tube from the pocket of his vest. “It’s extremely fragile.”
“Eleanor’s epi pen!”
Larf tossed the epi pen into the air. When it came to choosing between turning Larf into cottage cheese and saving Eleanor’s life, there was no choice at all. Annabelle raced across the room, leaped over a jagged heap of machine parts, an extremely rusty saw blade, and a patch of oily concrete, and caught the pen inches before it hit the floor. Annabelle couldn’t help but thinking that Ninja would have been proud.
When Annabelle glanced up again, Larf was disappearing through an open door at the far end of the catwalk.
“Drat!” said Annabelle, closing her eyes and allowing herself just a second to feel sorry for herself.
But just a second later, she was sprinting back to Eleanor. All around her were yawning, indifferent cats, wandering around as scratched and bleeding people cried and screamed and swore.
When Annabelle got back to the alley, Eleanor was limp and pale and seemingly lifeless. Annabelle bent down and felt for a pulse. It was faint, but Eleanor was still breathing!
As Annabelle reached into her backpack to pull out the epi pen, Eleanor’s body started to rise into the air.
“I’m too late!” thought Annabelle. “She’s dead! And now she’s being taken to a better place.”
But then she looked closer and saw that Eleanor was being lifted by an arm. A long arm. A shockingly long arm. Annabelle’s eyes followed the arm up, and up, and up, all the way to the rooftop above her head. The arm was attached to…
“Ha ha ha ha!” cackled Long Arm, whose arm was not just long but also extremely strong.
With surprising-yet-intuitive burst of self confidence, Annabelle pulled out the epi pen, took careful aim, and threw it like a dart at the fleshy part of Eleanor’s thigh, where, to Annabelle’s immense relief, it stuck.
A moment later, Eleanor revived, saw what was happening, and glanced down at Annabelle.
“Thanks,” she said.
“I’ll rescue you!” said Annabelle.
“I seriously doubt it,” said Long Arm, cackling.
“For the record, I agree that it’s unlikely,” said Eleanor. “But please do try.”
“I absolutely will!”
Moments later, an enormous black helicopter appeared. Long Arm and Eleanor disappeared inside. And then were gone.
A moment after that, Mr. Jingles poked his nose into the alley. Angry Mr. Jingles. Followed by his army of angry cats.
Annabelle pulled out the cat control device and turned the knob all the way to the left. But Jingles and his army continued to advance, their eyes smoldering with menace. The device started making an angry mechanical honking song, and the following words appeared on the display.
OVERRIDE!!! OVERRIDE!!! THE MACHINE IS OPERATIONAL!!! HA HA HA HA HA!!!
Annabelle was entirely fed up. She leaped onto a dumpster, wriggled through a window, ran through the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant, stopped briefly to sample some fresh dumplings, sprinted out into the street, dodged a smattering of angry cats, hailed a cab, and told the driver to take her to the airport.
As the cab sped through streets full of rampaging cats, Annabelle had an awful realization. She had told Larf the location of the new HQ. Em and Floyd and Ninja were in peril!
Using Eleanor’s device, she called Floyd.
“Confirmation code!” Annabelle knew that Floyd knew who she was.
“Ugh. Sorry. I don’t know it.”
Floyd hung up. Annabelle called again.
“Floyd, I know that’s you. This is Annab—”
“I’m sorry, but without a confirmation code, I can’t continue this conversation.”
“But I have something important to—!”
Floyd hung up again.
While Annabelle imagined kicking Floyd in the shin, the device buzzed and glowed orange.
“Hello, Annabelle, this is Em.”
“I’m so sorry, I don’t have a confirmation code.”
“That’s ok. I told Floyd to go peel some potatoes. What’s up?”
“I might have accidentally revealed the location of the new HQ to Larf.”
“That’s extremely disappointing.”
“I know. I’m really sorry.”
“This is one of those cases where a mere apology doesn’t quite cut it.”
“But I did discover that he is working on a top-secret evil device called The Machine.”
“I’m suddenly a little less disappointed. What does it do?”
“No idea. But Larf said that it was going to be activated in 15 minutes. And that was about 17 minutes ago.”
“Another invasion. Cats. So many of them.”
“But that desolate island has no cats.”
“They are arriving in tiny speedboats.”
“I’ve never seen anything so dastardly. “
“Stop Fungo, Annabelle! Rescue Eleanor! You’re our only hope. We have reason to believe that Long Arm has a houseboat in Dusseldam.”
“But I can’t—
The line went dead.
What have I done? thought Annabelle.
But instead of feeling sorry for herself, she remembered what Em had said when she was stuck in the duffel bag.
“There is a way. There is always a way,” said Annabelle out loud.
“That’s really good advice,” said the cab driver.
The cab pulled up to the airport and Annabelle bought a ticket to Dusseldam.
On the plane she slept. She was incredibly tired. She did not even wake up for the free peanuts.