Love Reign O'er News

newsmanfan

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OK All,

though writing has been in my blood since I was a wee tadpole, and I am currently editing my first novel and also working on a second, this is the very first fanfic I've ever written. Having said that, I will add that I did my best to keep all the characters IN character and to faithfully portray TMS just as I and you have enjoyed it. At this point in time I still have about 1/3 of the story to write; give me a couple of days...but I noticed everyone posted in chunks, and so thought I might as well begin posting so others could read. 'Tis just for fun, but I welcome feedback.

Without further ado, a wistful homage, complete with terrible jokes, to one certain beleaguered journalist...

Part One

She first made herself known to him the night the piano fell on him…for the fourth time.

The last thing the Newsman remembered was running into the Muppet News studio, a rip-and-read sheet of news copy hot off the Muppet newsline in his hand, and announcing “Here is a Muppet News Flash” as he always did. He didn’t even remember what the report had been. When he came to, in the lower backstage area, he felt something cold on his head, and a great deal of pain, and groaned.

“I’m really sorry,” someone said. He didn’t recognize the voice: feminine, alto range, soft and apologetic. He tried squinting up, but discovered his glasses were missing. The cold thing shifted on his head. Gingerly reaching up to touch it, he found a cold compress…and slender fingers. Both of them started back at the contact.

“What hit me?” the Newsman muttered. He could tell from extensive prior experience that trying to sit up would not be a good idea just yet.

“A baby grand,” whomever it was responded.

“Figures. You’d think they wouldn’t be so quiet…I never hear them coming,” the Newsman complained, wincing. “Ow.”

“I’m really sorry. Hang on…I’ll go find you some aspirin,” said the sympathetic voice. “Here…you might want to keep holding this on.” Gentle fingers grasped his, bringing his left hand up to his hairline, where the compress was no doubt helping to prevent a sizeable bump. The Newsman pressed it carefully to his head, and through blurred eyes saw a flurry of movement off to the side. He heard footsteps moving away, and tried to remain still. Hopefully there wouldn’t be any more News Flashes tonight.

He waited there for some time, off and on distantly hearing applause or laughter or music, the grinding sounds of scenery being shifted over the boards upstairs, and finally the ending theme music. Puzzled, the Newsman peered closely around him for his glasses, but didn’t find them. He reached out to stop a small green blur moving past. “Excuse me…have you seen my glasses?”

Robin, Kermit’s nephew, squeaked back at him, “Sorry, I think the piano crushed them. Do you want me to see if I can find the pieces?”

The Newsman sighed. “No, I have spares. That happens a lot.” Before Robin could hop off, the Newsman added, “Did you see the lady who was back here a few minutes ago?”

“You mean Miss Piggy?”

“No, I said a lady!”

“Excuse moi?” Piggy’s voice sounded from the stairs behind him. The Newsman cringed, and Robin hurried away. “What was that, concussion-brain?”

“Nothing, nothing,” the Newsman quickly mumbled. He saw a large pink blur as Piggy, sniffing contemptuously, came downstairs and breezed past, heading for the theatre kitchen. He heard her bellowing for service. His head still pounded, but he found by moving…very…slowly he could at least sit upright on the beat-up couch. Shortly more Muppets came down, talking loudly enough to make the Newsman wince. No one asked how he was, everyone by now accustomed to things falling on him. He sat there, still holding the compress against his battered head, until Scooter happened to pass close enough for him to recognize the green jacket the boy always wore. “Scooter,” the Newsman said.

“Yeah?”

“Did you see anyone else back here tonight?”

“Well, no…not unless you count the penguin infestation.”

“Penguin infest…never mind,” the Newsman sighed. The last thing he needed was penguins dropping on him. They’d probably steal his cold compress. Could the voice he heard have been a penguin? Did penguins ever have gentle fingers?

Maybe he’d imagined the entire thing. After all, no one had ever helped him before when something squashed him or hit him or blew him up. Maybe Piggy was right, and he was concussed. That must be it. Tired of the happy chatter around him, the Newsman rose carefully and walked to the broom closet which also served as his dressing-room, only to find that Beauregard had moved his box of spare glasses again. Sighing, he went to find the clueless janitor.


The next night, Gonzo was coaching the chickens in a Rockettes-style line dance out on the loading dock, having been kicked out of the backstage area by a frazzled Kermit, when someone in a long tan trenchcoat slunk past. Distracted, Gonzo turned to look, his arms still upraised, and the chickens tried to follow his direction. Angry clucking and a tangled flurry of wings ensued. “Sorry, girls; take five,” Gonzo said, then approached the stranger, who was reaching for the backstage door handle. “Can I help you?”

The mysterious figure started back, quickly pulling a fedora down and holding the collar of the coat up high so Gonzo couldn’t see a face. “Uhmmm…telegram for the stage manager?” came a muffled voice.

“Oh, okay. I think everyone else is busy. I can take that if you want,” Gonzo offered, holding a hand up. However, the stranger hesitated.

“Actually, it’s very important. I have to deliver it myself,” the voice said from within the cocoon of coat and hat.

“Oh…I’m sorry, but Kermit doesn’t allow anyone backstage during a performance who isn’t part of the theatre,” Gonzo said. “Really, I can deliver it for you, it’s no trouble!”

Still the figure hesitated. Suddenly the door flew open; Fozzie ran out, carrying the back end of a fire hose. “Gangwaaaaaaay!”

“What is it? What happened?” Gonzo cried. The chickens scattered as Fozzie darted to and fro frantically looking for the nearest fire hydrant.

“The Newsman’s microphone electrocuted him and the stage is on fire! Gonzo, get some water, quick!” Fozzie yelled. Camilla was jumping up and down on the hydrant just below the loading dock, clucking loudly, and finally Fozzie saw it and hooked up the hose. Gonzo ran into the theatre behind him. Kermit tried to stop Fozzie; he’d already sent Scooter running onstage with a fire extinguisher.

“Fozzie, wait! Fozzie, no! You don’t use water on an electrical –“

BOOM!

“…Fire,” Kermit finished lamely. Gonzo stared wideyed, the chickens clucking agitatedly around him, as a badly singed Fozzie came reeling back. Kermit sighed, shaking his head, and he and Gonzo patted Fozzie’s fur to smother the remaining tiny embers lodged in it. “Okay, next act – get the set onstage for Pigs in Space!” Kermit yelled, and everyone dodged around each other in the crowded wings. Order was restored in the audience, and the show went on.


The Newsman blinked groggily back into consciousness in a lawn chair with cool air blowing over his face. Soot covered his hands, his face, the front of his jacket and his glasses. He started to take out a handkerchief to clean the lenses when he spotted something coming at him, and flinched. “It’s okay, it’s okay, hold still and close your eyes,” a soft voice said.

“What?” the Newsman said, confused, but someone removed his glasses and suddenly a large wet washcloth covered his face. He was about to protest when he realized someone was actually gently cleaning the soot off him. “Oh…thank you,” he muttered, pleasantly surprised. “Ow…”

“Sorry. I know that must be very tender. Just hold still and keep your eyes shut.”

He sat motionless, feeling a fluffy towel pat him dry, and then something wet and smelling of aloe was draped over his entire face. “This has burn cream in it. Just let that soak in. I’m cleaning your glasses now.” The Newsman heard soft movements in front of him.

No one had ever been this considerate to him. “Thank you,” he mumbled around the lotion-infused cloth. It occurred to him suddenly that maybe it wasn’t a consideration; what if he was being set up for something to smack him while he couldn’t see? Even a simple pie in the face, on top of the burn, would hurt like blazes. He listened carefully, but heard nothing. Alarmed, he stripped off the cloth, darting fearful glances all around, but saw nothing. No one was there. Looking down, he found his clean, shiny glasses sitting atop a small jar of burn cream. He picked them up, bewildered. Gonzo stuck his head out the back door, startling him.

“There you are! Hey, no time for lounging around! A news feed just came in over the wire!” Gonzo said, beckoning him.

“Coming,” the Newsman said, getting up, trying unsuccessfully to brush the soot off his ruined jacket. Then his gaze fell on a clean jacket draped over the back of the lawn chair. He held it up, looking from it to his burned clothing, then at the cloth with the soothing cream still in his other hand.

Kermit popped out for an instant. “Newsman! Onstage! Now!”

Shaking off his confusion, the Newsman tossed his ruined jacket on the chair, shrugging into the fresh one as he ran. “Coming, coming!” He tried to pause just offstage, asking quickly, “Did anyone see someone out back just now?”

“All I saw was our Newsman taking time for a facial! Now get out there!” Kermit said, frustrated, shoving the news report into the Newsman’s hand.

As usual, he began before he reached his desk: “This is a Muppet News Flash!...The water department has reported a number of water lines ruptured in the area!” he read, wishing once, just once, he could research a story instead of having to read cold copy… “Water officials say they’ll have the broken lines repaired as soon as possible, but as a precaution, the following businesses are being asked to turn off their water temporarily: the First Sharking and Loan Bank; the law firm of Dewey, Suem, and Howe; and the Muppet Theatre.”

A roaring sound made him look up, just as a surging wave of water already carrying a few ducks and fish along in it slammed into him from stage left. Gurgling helplessly, the Newsman was washed through the backstage area and out the exit. The water deposited him on the loading dock again. The fish flopped away, grousing about suddenly being on land; the ducks waddled off, shaking their feathers dry with happy quacks. The Newsman picked himself up, grumbling, “Well, at least it wasn’t water first, then electrocution.”When he stood, trying to wring out the hem of his jacket, he suddenly noticed the lawn chair still standing on the platform. The dry fluffy towel had been draped over the back of it, out of the path of the water. Gratefully he wrapped it around himself, shivering, and looked around. Who was his benefactor? How did she – he was positive now the owner of the voice was female – know he was going to be soaked?

“Hello?” he called uncertainly. Absolutely no one answered.

The rest of the show continued inside, but out here he heard only a cricket and distant traffic sounds. He was alone.




A week went by; on those nights when no news came over the Muppet newswire and the Newsman simply hung around backstage or in the crew dining area downstairs, he kept a sharp eye out for any strangers, but other than the guest stars he never saw anyone odd. Except Lew Zealand once, but Lew, the Newsman knew, was always odd. However, on the night when a report about a locust swarm left him with barely a stitch of clothing left and bugs in his hair and he ran offstage screaming in terror, he found a long plaid bathrobe and a spray-can of rose-scented pest repellent waiting for him just downstairs. (It did attract some butterflies for a while, but better pretty bugs than locusts.) The night an unbelievable story concerning an increase in the sightings of land-sharks ended with him fleeing the stage, a fin cruising along the floor in pursuit, he nearly tripped over a harpoon, and by using it was able to fight the predator off. And when a report on a typhoon in Hawaii destroying what had been a bumper crop of native fruits resulted in large pineapples raining down on his head, he wearily trudged downstairs to find a large daquiri, complete with a pineapple garnish and a frilly little umbrella sticking out of it, which no one could recall having seen just seconds previously. The paper umbrella was pink and had Newsman written on it.

“Excuse me, Kermit,” he interrupted his boss one evening before the show. “Do you think we could have some security cameras installed?”

“Why? Do you want to catch on tape the mysterious falling objects?” Kermit asked, making the Newsman scowl at him. “Look, Newsman, I’m just as stumped as you are. I have no idea how any of that stuff gets in here.”

“No, you see, I’m –“

“Look, you can have cameras when Statler and Waldorf will their fortunes to the theatre. Now if you’ll excuse me –“

“Why would those two will us their fortunes? They hate us,” the Newsman said, frowning in confusion.

“Now you’re getting it,” Kermit nodded at him, then dashed off. “Beauregard! Where are you taking that prop? The Cheese Shop sketch isn’t until after the opening number…!”

Giving up, the Newsman went downstairs to find someplace out of the way to wait, and to watch for any hint of his mysterious admirer.
 

newsmanfan

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Part 2

Sam the Eagle turned away from the stage, depressed. Just when, for one brief, shining moment, he had dared to hope for some tiny smidgen of actual culture on this freakshow, Rowlf had shifted from the “Toccata and fugue” into something the horrified eagle recognized as some of that terrible “boogie-woogie” music, complete with the dancing accompaniment of a bunch of sheep. “That,” Sam pronounced to Scooter, “was hideous. Never, never have I witnessed such a mangling of the acclaimed Mozart! And those sheep dancing that awful swing!”

“Yeah, but at least with every low swing they polished the stage floor!” Scooter pointed out, hurrying off. Disgusted, Sam moved out of the way as the baa-ing, chattering sheep came offstage. He thought he saw a flicker of movement over in the shadows.

“Hello? H-hello? Is someone there?” Sam called, but received no reply. Warily he moved closer, his keen eyes searching the dark areas of the backstage, where crates and coiled ropes lay piled in terrible disorder. “Someone should inform OSHA,” Sam muttered to himself. “Those ropes could become a tripping hazard.” Again, he thought he saw something move, just at the corner of his right eye, and quickly turned…to find nothing but the dark hallway leading to prop storage and the stairs to the basement. “Hello? Anyone?” Sam asked, once again hearing no response of any kind. Feeling a bit unnerved, Sam hastened back to the better-lit portion of the backstage area. He tapped Rowlf on the shoulder as the dog sauntered by. “Rowlf, did you see that?”

“You bet I did! I didn’t know sheep could even kick that high, much less while wearing heels!”

Sam waved his wing, disgusted. “No, no, not that! I mean, did you see someone back here just now? Over there, in those unorganized and possibly disreputable shadows?”

Obediently Rowlf peered in the direction the eagle pointed, then shook his head. “Uh, nope. Nope. Why? Did you?”

Sam hesitated, looking around carefully, then leaned in to mutter quietly: “For a moment there…just for a second…I could have sworn I saw…” Another suspicious glance around; Rowlf glanced too, puzzled. “Some weirdo in a long brown coat.”

“A long brown coat, huh? You mean him?” Rowlf pointed. Mickey Moose plodded by, nodding familiarly at them.

“Waaaaal hello, pilgrims! That was some great music you had out there, pardner!” the moose lowed as he passed.

“Thanks,” Rowlf nodded back, then looked queryingly at Sam.

Even more disgusted, Sam scowled. “Different weirdo.”



Fozzie was in his dressing room, rehearsing a new joke in front of his mirror. “Last night, last night, I went out to a movie that was so bad…haaaaa…it was so bad, that before the intermission, all the popcorn…ran out!” He posed, grin wide, waiting for a response. The mirror shivered, cracked, and broke into hundreds of fragments. “Aw, c’mon, it wasn’t that bad,” Fozzie protested. “Now you’ve given me seven years’ bad luck, over one lousy joke? Come on! Give a bear a break!” A squeaking floorboard behind him startled him; he’d thought he was alone. Turning around, he asked, “Scooter? Is that you?”

The dressing-room was empty. Fozzie sighed, put his hands on his waist, and complained to any Muppet furniture which might be lurking around, “Okay, come on, you guys. Can’t a comedian rehearse in peace?” Another noise and a blur of motion just off to one side caught his attention; whirling to face it, he saw…nothing. The usual wardrobe, and crowded shelves of rubber chickens and joy buzzers, and Kermit’s old bicycle resting against one wall were all that met his gaze. “Ha…okay…ha ha…very funny. Verrrry funny, you guys. Okay, everybody out! Out!” He began waving his arms toward the door, sure that some heretofore unnoticed chair or lampshade would totter off any second. Nothing did. Then he thought he saw movement by the bicycle.

Reluctantly, beginning to feel frightened, Fozzie approached the bike. Kermit’s bike was just a bike, right? He couldn’t recall it ever moving on its own before. Slowly, slowly, he reached forward and…touched it. He leapt back, staring at it.

Nothing happened.

Another squeak came from behind him. Fozzie whirled again, seeing his door wavering a little, as if someone had just closed it. “Oh okay! I see what this is! Scare the bear day, hah?” Fozzie hurried to the door, determined to catch the practical joker. “Get him all worked up before showtime so he messes up his jokes, hah? Well I don’t need anyone to mess me up! I can do that just fine on my –“ He yanked the door open.

Absolutely no one was on the landing outside the dressing-room doors. Quickly Fozzie peered over the balcony. No one was currently backstage, either.

“Kerrrrrmiiiiiiit!” he wailed, running downstairs.


That night, the Newsman was standing near the newswire when it went off, frantically printing out three sheets of copy. The Newsman hesitated only a moment, allowing himself to wonder how ridiculous it would be this time, and whether his anonymous benefactor would already know what was on it. Running toward the newsdesk, he had a sudden, horrible thought: what if the nice things that had befell him, following worse things falling on him, were all part of some twisted game? No, he thought; he’d been the victim of running gags before, but typically only for the course of one show. But what if the mysterious stranger knew exactly what he’d need after a newscast because she was the one sending the news? He’d always wondered where on earth Muppet News Central actually was, and why they kept giving him only outrageous things to report… With a nervous gulp, he hurried onstage.

“Here is a Muppet News Flash!” At least, with this many pages of copy, it must be a longer and more involved story. “Marvin Suggs set concertgoing records last night when he played to a stadium where not a single ticket for the show had been sold. The one critic who attended the first two minutes of the concert claimed the formerly indefatigable Suggs’ performance went over, quote, ‘like a lead zeppelin’—“

He heard the sound of the incoming weight a split second before it landed atop him, squashing him nearly flat. The curtains closed briefly, and Floyd coaxed Animal in dragging off the heavy metal blimp while Beauregard used a snow shovel to scrape the Newsman from the boards. As Beau patiently carried the battered Newsman through the wing, something metal rolled in front of him.

“Looky here,” Beau commented, picking up the canister. “Someone left a bicycle pump on the floor! That wasn’t a very smart place to leave something that roll-ey. A person could trip and get hurt,” he told the Newsman.

Faintly, the Newsman huffed at Beau, “Could you just blow me back up, please?”

Crazy Harry dashed over. “Heee hee ha ha ha! Did someone say blow me up?”

“Oh no,” the Newsman groaned.

Much, much later that night, Beau brought him a few pieces of his tie and the fragments of another pair of glasses. “Okay, here’s the last of it,” the janitor said, dumping them onto a yellow and brown pile of fluff and plaid.

From within the pile, the Newsman mumbled, “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Well, everyone else is gone. Good night, Newsie,” Beau said cheerfully, hanging up his trusty broom and dustpan. He closed the door to the broom closet. Sighing, the Newsman focused on getting himself back together. He wondered if any glue might be stored here…and if he could reach it.



Scooter arrived before most of the cast as usual, whistling as he went around turning on desk lamps in the backstage areas and dressing rooms. The dark and gloomy theatre, empty before anyone else showed up, could be a little spooky, but he’d long ago become accustomed to it. However, as he trotted across the bare stage to reach the switch that would turn off the ghostlight high above the fly system, something caught his eye out in the house. Halting, he looked out over the dim auditorium. “Hello?” he called, hearing the good acoustics of the walls throw his voice gently back at him. No one was in the lower house, no one in the short balcony, no one in the box. Shrugging, Scooter continued on, when he heard a strange muffled noise above him.

He looked up. Suspended upside down from one of the electrical rails for the lighting instruments, right over the stage, Crazy Harry hung wrapped in numerous loops of lighting cable. “Whoa!” Scooter exclaimed. “Harry, what are you doing up there?”

A cable had been shoved into Harry’s mouth, so all he could do was gurgle and make “Mfff mnnnff mfff” sounds as he thrashed around, held tight in a black electrical cocoon. Scooter called up to him, “Hang on! I’ll have you down in a jiffy!” He ran to the fly rail, peering at the labels on each line of rope going up into the darkness. “Let’s see, curtain, front masking, scenery number one, electrical number one – there it is!” Vaguely he heard Harry making louder noises, and called over his shoulder, “Hold on! I’m taking the lock off the fly line now!” He grabbed the level-lock which held the line at its current height, and yanked down on it as hard as he could.

The batten carrying the electrics didn’t move down an inch – but it did swing forwards and backwards as a hot current flew through the cable wrapped around Harry, turning him temporarily into an electromagnet. “Mnnff MNFF MNFF!” Harry said, shaking crazily in the shock of the current; then his own magnetism dragged a heavy steel batten right at him. It smacked him in the face. “Mnnff mnnn,” he mumbled, and fainted. Then, with a crackling, snapping sound, the cable shorted through whatever had been suspending it high above and fell to the stage floor, taking Crazy Harry with it. He landed with a thud and the cable piled around him in long coils like a satisfied snake.

Horrified, Scooter looked at the fly rail, where he saw now some kind of booby-trapped switch had been rigged to the lock on that particular fly line. He looked up into the darkness just as the burned-out end of the cable came tumbling down and plopped onto the pile atop the unconscious Harry. He looked wildly out into the empty seats, the dimly lit house silent. He heard the back door creak and slap closed, and the voice of a familiar frog talking with Dr Teeth as the two came inside.

Scooter beat feet toward backstage. “Kerrmiiiiiit!”



“I don’t care how badly he blew you up! He blows everything up! Pulling a mean nasty practial joke on him like that was completely uncalled-for!” It was Kermit’s turn to explode. The Newsman, wrapped in the brown plaid bathrobe someone had left just outside the broom closet door for him, cringed, completely taken aback at his boss’ anger.

“But – but I didn’t –“

“I’ll admit that blowing you up right after that thing fell on you was a pretty terrible thing to do, but that doesn’t mean you can just go around stringing people up in the electrics!” Kermit continued, waving his floppy green arms in the Newsman’s face.

“And booby-trapping the fly rail,” Scooter reminded Kermit.

“And booby-trapping the fly rail!” Kermit shouted, then stopped, startled, and turned to Scooter. “How did he booby-trap the fly rail?”

“Genius!” Gonzo said, entering with the twisted bits of plastic and dynamite wire he’d taken from the rail lock. “This is magnificent! He used Harry’s own bomb-wiring stuff to rig up a switch, so the first person to try and unlock the fly line would trigger the current!” He grabbed Kermit’s sleeve excitedly. “Can you imagine? Hanging upside down above the stage as a living magnet! I have gotta use that in my act!”

“I have no idea what any of you are talking about!” the Newsman protested. “I spent all night gluing myself back together! I only just came out to go get some clothes from wardrobe.” Everyone suddenly noticed he was standing there barefoot in nothing but a robe. “Ahem,” the Newsman said, edging away and hurrying upstairs to the wardrobe storage room.

Beauregard approached, having overheard the exchange. “That’s true, Kermit. Harry blew him up really good this time.” He scratched his head. “I hope I got all the little bits. I’d hate for the little fluffy parts to get caught in the ventilation system. Some of us are allergic.”

“Well…well…then if the Newsman didn’t tie Harry up in that cable…” Kermit gulped.

“Then who did?” Beau asked, eyes widening.

Exasperated, Kermit flapped his flippers at the janitor. “How should I know? Beauregard, go…go get the stage swept! We open the house in an hour!” As Beau hurried away with broom in hand, Kermit shook his head. More quietly, he said, “I don’t get it. Why would someone tie Harry up and shock him, if not to get back at him for blowing up the Newsman?”

“More importantly, who would take revenge on anything that happened to the Newsman?” Scooter wondered.

Gonzo grabbed Kermit’s shoulder. “Kermit! Last week I saw someone in a brown coat hanging around outside! I asked what they wanted and they said they had to deliver something here, but wouldn’t let me take it in for them. Then the fire happened, and what with Fozzie and the water hose, well, I kinda forgot about it.”

Startled, Kermit looked from Gonzo to Scooter to Dr Teeth, all as worried as he. As Fozzie came in the back door, singing “Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear” in a low voice to himself, Kermit called him over. “Fozzie! Didn’t you tell me yesterday you thought someone was in your dressing room?”

Alarmed, Fozzie nodded. “I did, I did! But when I looked there was nobody there!” Annoyed suddenly, he poked at Kermit’s collar. “And you said I was imagining things! What’s going on?”

Kermit scowled, his froggy mouth turning down deeply. “I’m going to find out!” He hopped out onto the stage to examine the electrics.

Scooter nervously asked Fozzie, “You thought you saw someone in your room?”

“Yeah! But I turned around and nothing was there!”

Scooter shivered. “I thought…I mean I could’ve sworn…just for a second…”

“What? What?” Fozzie asked, grabbing the boy’s shoulders.

“I could have sworn I saw someone out in the audience, right before I found Harry…but no one was there.”

Dr Teeth, eyes uncharacteristically wide, shook his head. “Man, this is some heavy stuff! What if it’s the Phantom?”

“You mean the Phantom of the Muppet Theatre?” Scooter gasped.

“Oh no, not him again,” Fozzie groaned.

“That guy was even stranger than me,” Gonzo agreed.

Kermit returned, a puzzled frown on his face. “Nothing’s broken. Nothing. That lighting cable was one we’d had in the repair bin anyway. I don’t get it.”

“Kermit, what if it’s the Phantom again?” Fozzie asked.

Kermit shook his head. “No, no, guys. Remember? Uncle Deadly knocked off that whole scare routine once we gave him free passes to the concession booth.”

“You mean that greasy snack bar up front?” Dr Teeth asked.

“Yeah. He apparently loves yellow theatre popcorn. You could say, to stop his terror tactics, some butter concessions had to be made,” Kermit said, laughing at his own joke. The others shook their heads.

Dr Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker came past, a stretcher with the limp and wildly staring Harry suspended between them. “Dr Honeydew? Do you think he’ll be all right?” Kermit asked.

Harry lifted his head, cackled madly, then fell back on the stretcher. Beaker shook his head sadly. Dr Honeydew said, “Well, Kermit, of course I’m a scientist, not a medical doctor. I think he’ll be fine, but I am curious to run some tests on his now superconductive body. It’s quite possible we’re looking at the elusive key to cold fusion right here!” He smiled down at Harry.

Kermit blanched. “Yeesh. Maybe we should just put him in Veterinarian’s Hospital tonight. Hey, Rowlf? Crazy Harry got electrocuted and made into a magnet. Do you think you could use him in your sketch?”

“Oh, sure,” Rowlf agreed, looking over the dazed bomber. “Electrocuted, you say? There must be a million jokes I could use. I’d be happy to ruff on that!”

“Don’t you mean riff?” Kermit corrected.

“Oh, that too. I don’t always get my slang right, but you know I do try to be current!”

Kermit shook his head as the lab staff carried the mad bomber away and Rowlf went downstairs to practice on the old upright piano. Gonzo brought up the main issue once more: “Do you think we have another ghost, Kermit?”

“A ghost!” Fozzie, aghast, shuddered.

“No, Gonzo. A ghost couldn’t string someone up and plant an electrical booby-trap. Besides, there are no such things as ghosts.”

The sudden appearance of a long blue-gray snout from around a pile of crates caused everyone to jump. “There’s something weird lurking in the theatre!” Uncle Deadly cried out, gesturing dramatically at the back of the room, where the shadows fell deeply. “I keep thinking I see something moving around back here, but when I investigate, it’s gone!”

“For crying out loud, Phantom, stop that!” Kermit shouted, once he’d recovered from the shock. “Wait a minute. That’s not you?”

“No, I am a spectre of honor and dignity,” Deadly said loftily. “We had a gentleman’s agreement, and I have kept my end.” He leaned closer to Kermit. “I could use more butter on the popcorn, however.”

“Kermit, I wish to report some very strange goings-on,” Sam the Eagle called out, trotting over to the small group now nervously checking every shadowy corner from a well-lit spot by the stage manager’s desk.

“Sam, not now. I’m trying to figure out some strange goings-on myself,” Kermit replied, beginning to feel very frazzled.

“But Kermit, I have seen some kind of…weirdo hanging around backstage,” Sam continued, then stared as Deadly slunk away toward the hall which led to the front of the house. He looked back at Kermit. “I mean, another weirdo.”

Kermit sighed. “Okay, Sam, what did you see?”

“Last night, right after that horrible number with the piano and the sheep, I saw someone lurking back there,” Sam explained, gesturing to the darkest corner of the backstage area.

“What did they look like?” Kermit asked.

“Were they wearing a long brown coat?” Gonzo asked.

Sam looked startled. “Yes! Yes, they were! At least, I think so…” Embarrassed at their stares, he admitted, “I didn’t really get a good look.”

“What were they doing?” Kermit asked.

“Well, I didn’t see a face, but it was tall – taller than me! And wearing a long brown coat, just like…” Turning, he saw something brown and tall behind him, and gasped, recoiling. “Just like that!”

Everyone cried out, whirling around. The Newsman stopped on the stair landing, looking bewildered at all of them. “Yes, yes, just like that! Tall, and with a long brown…coat…” Sam finished, his voice trailing off as the Newsman came the rest of the way down the stairs, carrying a fresh change of clothes on a hanger.

He glared at Sam. “This is a robe. And it’s a tasteful tan plaid check, not brown! ‘Scuse me.” Insulted, he continued past Sam, the top of his head not quite reaching Sam’s lofty bald dome. The others stared at him, then looked back at Sam.

“Excuse me as well. I have…something to do. Somewhere else,” Sam muttered, fluttering off.

“Well, I think we all have something else to do, anyway,” Kermit said, shaking his head. “Come on, you guys, we have a show to put on.”

“I’m gonna see if I can tie myself up like that!” Gonzo said, hurrying off. Dr Teeth went out front to help with the sound check for the night’s performance, Fozzie decided to go have a glass of sarsparilla to calm his jangled nerves, and Scooter consulted his preshow checklist while Kermit looked over the night’s schedule at his desk. Cautiously Scooter tapped the perplexed frog.

“Hey, boss?”

“Yeah, Scooter?”

“If the Newsman couldn’t have tied Harry up, and Uncle Deadly didn’t do it, and no one else was in the building, who dunnit?”

“I don’t know, Scooter. I just don’t know.” He sighed. “What I do know is we’ve still got a show to do tonight, assuming our audience doesn’t get scared off.”

“Right, boss.” Scooter hurried away to tend to the numerous small details involved in readying the stage for the night. Alone at his desk, Kermit pushed around the lists of sketches and artists, wondering if putting the hospital sketch before or after the dancing salami would be better. He wasn’t sure it really mattered; perhaps the real issue was why he was even allowing the dancing salami onstage at all. A breeze made him turn around; he saw the exit door gently swinging shut. Curious and more than a little unnerved, he hurried down the steps and pushed open the door. Dusk was creeping across the sky, but there was enough light for him to see that the loading dock, from platform to alleyway, was completely unoccupied. He stood a moment, looking around, and a cool wind made him shiver.

“Just the wind,” Kermit said to himself. “Those guys really do need to remember to close the door completely. It hasn’t been hanging right since Animal ripped it off last time.”

He went back inside and tried to focus on his job, for the time being shoving all thoughts of a phantom stranger out of his head.

Below him in the basement broom closet, the Newsman started to disrobe (having made very sure the door was shut tight) when he noticed a small envelope propped against his box of spare glasses. He wasn’t sure it was even safe to touch. He reached for it, hesitated, reached again, paused again, and finally poked his head out of his crowded dressing-room to see who might be hanging around just outside. Miss Piggy happened to be trotting by, munching on a strawberry-cheese Danish. “Ah, excuse me, Miss Piggy?”

“Aaagh!” Piggy shrieked, then seeing who it was, quickly threw aside the remainder of the pastry and wiped the crumbs from her snout. “Whaddaya mean sneaking up on a lady like that, Newsgeek?”

“I’m sorry, it’s just that I…well…could you open this for me?” the Newsman asked, indicating the envelope.

“What’sa matter, you broke your hands as well as your brain?” Piggy snorted, but she picked up the envelope (nothing exploded), opened it, and pulled out a small, elegant sheet of linen paper. “Poor Dear One, please know that whatever happens to you tonight…” she read aloud.

“Give me that!” the Newsman said hurriedly, trying to snatch it from Piggy.

“Ohhhh, I see what this is,” Piggy cooed, keeping the note out of his reach. “You got something dropped on you one too many times, and you thought you’d give me a cute little love note? Well, buster,” her tone changed to belligerence, “Ya thought wrong! My heart belongs to the frog, not to some yellow, wimpy, four-eyed geek stuck permanently in 1974’s Fashion ****!”

“No, I didn’t –“ Newsman tried to explain.

“I don’t need another freak with a crush on me! I had enough of that with Gonzo! Now back off, Newsgeek!” Piggy growled, ripping up the note. She scattered the pieces on the floor, walking off with a toss of her golden locks. Frantically the Newsman picked up all the pieces, trying to reassemble them. What did it say? It had to be from his mystery woman! Was it a warning? A threat? A sympathy card? He shivered in incredulity: a love note?

Embarrassed, he realized the people hanging out in the dining area were staring at him, and gathered up the bits of paper and retreated to his dressing-room. Still in his robe, he labored for several minutes to correctly put the note back together. “Poor Dear One, please know that whatever happens to you tonight…I will be…” Was that word there? Or aware? Or scare? The paper had torn right in the middle of it, obscuring the letters. Frustrated, he tried to read the rest. “I’m sorry about Harry. I punished…” More tears, more destroyed bits of alphabet he couldn’t quite piece together. “You and…will do…again.” What? Oh, no! That couldn’t be right. Could it? He thought of his fear that the mysterious stranger and the Muppet Newsfeed which provided his income and greatest source of personal terror were connected somehow. She would punish him? Wasn’t he usually punished enough, and for doing nothing wrong? Biting his nails, the Newsman shivered uncontrollably. Oh, he couldn’t go on tonight. Someone was playing games with him. Bad enough that he expected something at least ridiculous to happen to him (and at most, extremely painful and mortifying) on any given night without someone tormenting him with this! All those little gestures he’d welcomed as so thoughtful toward him must only have been to lull him into a false sense of security!

The Newsman huddled in the broom closet, his robe wrapped tight around him, a thousand horrible fates swirling through his mind.

Just outside, Janice found a tiny piece of pretty paper on the floor by the couch. Picking it up, she murmured, “Hey, people shouldn’t litter. That is such a drag.” Noticing it had writing on it, she read it, then exclaimed to the rest of the room, “Hey, like, I think I just found someone’s love note! It just says ‘I truly adore you’! Like, how sweet!”

“Oh yeah, you missed it earlier!” Floyd Pepper laughed, coming over to look at the note. “Newsie’s got himself a little crush on Miss Piggy!”

“Noooo,” Janice replied, and Floyd laughed again.

“Oh, yeah! He tried to give her a note earlier. You can see what she thought about that!”

“Oh, that is like soooo sad,” Janice said, giving the closed broom closet door a sympathetic look. “I didn’t know he even thought about things like love, and here he’s been keeping a secret crush all locked up inside for years, maybe, and acting soooo serious, and none of us ever knew, you know?”

Floyd nodded. “Yeah, maybe that guy has a heart after all. But what I wanna know is, why did he have an achin’ for the bacon?” He chuckled.

“Like she is so toootally Kermie’s girl,” Janice agreed. “I guess he just hasn’t been paying attention.”

“Or maybe he’s just been squashed too many times, and thinks Piggy’ll defend him from large falling objects!”

Scooter called down that the house would be opening in a minute, and the musicians strolled off to take their places. Oblivious to all else, cringing into as small a space as he could manage within the double-duty closet, the Newsman kept looking at the bit of paper which said “punish,” shaking in fright. What had he done? Why was someone playing this terrible game? How could he escape it? Could he refuse to present the news tonight, even if a report came in for him to deliver? Would Kermit fire him if he refused? Would that be worse than being blown up again? Were there worse things than being blown up? If the mystery woman knew of worse things, would she try to do them to him?

In agony, but for once without a scratch on him, the Newsman sat there, scared to even get dressed, waiting for the inevitable knock on the door.
 

Fraggline

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Hi, newsmanfan!

I really, really, really, really, really love your story! I can't get enough of it! I just have to find out who the Newsman's admirer is! It's intriguing, pulling all the way, and (what I admire a lot) has an attention-grabbing introduction! Now I just have one question...
...will you pretty please post more at your earliest convenience?

Thank you so much; I look forward to reading the rest!
 

newsmanfan

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much appreciated!

Thank you so much, Fraggline! I intend to post every day until the thing is done. (I finished writing parts 9 and 10 last night...worry not. I know exactly where it's going and how to get there. NO unfinished fics on THIS beat!)

Happy you like. Just for fun -- obviously I can't publish it anywhere else -- but I thought fellow Muppet fans might get a kick out of it. Here's more...
 

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Part 3

“Did you see that?” Fozzie gasped, grabbing Kermit. They both looked around wildly; Kermit saw nothing out of place, and shook his head at the bear. Fozzie crumpled his hat in his paw anxiously. “I swear, I swear I saw someone just go behind the scenery! Over to the other side of the stage! We should investigate,” he offered.

Kermit nodded. “Yeah, good idea.” They looked at one another a beat.

Fozzie pointed his hat at the frog. “You first.”

With a sour look, Kermit sighed in frustration, and when Scooter came running offtstage from a quick scene change for Veterinarian’s Hospital, he grabbed the gofer by the sleeve. “Scooter, did you see anyone out there who’s not supposed to be here?”

Scooter shrugged. “Well, I think you threw that rat in the first row out last time for throwing canned tomatoes at Fozzie, but other than that, no.”

“No one behind the scenery? No one over on stage left?”

“Nobody that I saw,” Scooter replied, then realized what was being asked. “Boss! Did someone else see the Brown Ghost?”

“Brown Ghost? Scooter, how many times do I have to tell you: there aren’t any such things as ghosts!” Irritated, Kermit suddenly noticed someone not where they should be. “Guys? Is there a Muppet Labs sketch tonight I didn’t know about?”

Dr Honeydew and Beaker straightened up. “Meep mee mee mee!” Beaker said, sounding embarrassed. The pair had been peeking around the edge of the curtain.

“No, Kermit. My loyal associate and I have a, well,” Honeydew snickered, “something of a wager going on.”

Kermit looked at them, then peeked through the crack in the stage masking as well. They’d been looking out at the audience, not at the stage. Confused, he asked, “Does your wager involve how many seats are full tonight?”

Beaker’s head swivelled rapidly. Honeydew put one hand to his mouth, chuckling. “Oh, no. Nothing like that. We were looking for one specific audience member.” He turned to Beaker. “She’s not there. Come on; you owe me a bite of sandwich.”

Beaker sighed, trudging off behind Honeydew. “You made a bet over a bite of a sandwich?” Fozzie asked. “Geez, that’s a small bet! Why not go for the whole sandwich, at least?”

“Oh, he doesn’t owe me a sandwich. He has to take a bite of the sandwich I just made with Muppet Labs’ brand-new Expanding Falaffel Mix! It doubles as a bulletproof vest in tense Middle East hostage situations,” Honeydew explained. Beaker sighed, and the two walked off.

“Mee mee, mee mee meep…”

“Then put a little mustard on it. Come on, I have some nice sprouts that’ll go well with it too…”

“Those two get a little stranger every day,” Kermit mused.

“Yeah and Kermit, speaking of strangers, I’m telling ya, I saw someone over there as I was coming offstage! Ask Statler and Waldorf! They probably got a better look than I did,” Fozzie insisted.

“I don’t have time for that right now,” Kermit argued. He heard scattered laughter at the horrible electrical jokes onstage:

“Oh, Doctor Bob, this man was electrocuted! What do we do?”

“What else can we do? Plug my phone into him; it needs charging!”

“Like, Doctor Bob, I wonder what it’s like to feel all that current?”

“I don’t know, but it looks like he’s giving it a glowing review!”

Kermit checked the schedule of acts. “What’s next…stand by for the ballroom number!” he called over the intercom.

“Fozzie, there’s no one on that side of the stage,” Scooter said, squinting across from the wing. “Why don’t you just take the tunnel over and see for yourself?”

Fozzie paused. “The tunnel?”

“Yeah, you know, the hallway under the stage that goes over to the other side,” Scooter elaborated.

Fozzie waved his hat at him. “I know what the tunnel is! But it’s dark, and scary, and it only goes over there…where it is…right…now…”

Kermit shooed the bear away. “There is no it! No lurking Phantom, no Brown Ghost! Nothing is in this theatre but us! Nothing!”

A couple of multilegged bugs poked their heads out of the wall to stare at him. Kermit sighed. “Eeh…okay, nothing else! You guys get out of here too before I start to feel hungry!” The bugs squeaked and vanished. Muttering and looking everywhere around him, Fozzie left. Rowlf came offstage, pushing the hospital bed with Crazy Harry strapped down in it; Harry was cackling madly, apparently over his earlier shock. Miss Piggy and Janice followed. “Ballroom onstage now!” Kermit directed, and as people began shifting things around behind the curtain, Piggy stopped.

“Oh Kermie, there is something I need to dicuss with vous,” she simpered.

“Piggy, I’m a little bit busy right now; can it wait?”

“It can if you don’t mind losing one of your employees,” Piggy growled. Kermit winced.

“Okay, ah, Piggy! I didn’t know you were that upset about anything. What is it?”

“I am not dealing with this nonsense again, and especially not from that nerd,” Piggy said, tossing her hair imperiously.

“What…what nonsense? Piggy, nobody wants you to leave. You’re the star of the show! We can’t have a great show without you, you know that!”

“Oh…aha, ha, ha. Thank yoooou Kermie.” She fluttered her eyelids at her frog. “But that wasn’t what I meant. I meant if that wimpy little Sam Donaldson wannabe makes a pass at me again, he’ll be leaving. A short, fast trip on the toe of this ugly little nurse shoe,” she growled.

Bewildered, Kermit looked around to see who had incurred the wrath of the pig now. “Who? Who made a pass at you?”

“Who d’ya think? That idiot who gets stuff dropped on him all the time!”

“The Newsman?” Kermit shook his head. “I wasn’t aware he even knew how to make a pass at anyone.”

“He tried to pull me into his little closet downstairs, in his bathrobe, and make me read a love note!” Piggy complained.

“A love note?” Kermit shook his head again. “Good grief…okay, I’ll talk to him.”

“You’d better. Or what’s happened to him so far will look like a walk in the park,” Piggy finished, and tromped off to change into her new sparkly green dress for her “Poison Ivy” song number coming up.

“Yeesh,” Kermit sighed. What on earth was going on around here? First a supposed ghost in a brown coat making everyone jumpy, then their resident mad bomber getting the tables turned on him, and now this? “I would’ve thought Piggy scared him too much,” he mumbled, and watched a moment as the ballroom scene began.


“Did you hear ghosts have been sighted in this ballroom? Can you imagine? Leaving your spirit behind on a dance floor!” a pig lady said to her partner.

“What’s so strange about that? I once left my heart in Sandy’s Disco,” he replied.

A long-nosed blue monster danced by with a hideous fanged thing.

“If you saw a ghost, would you dance with it?” the fanged thing asked.

“Why would I? I’ve already got the most boo-tiful girl in the room!”

A grayish Whatnot danced along with Mildred in her best pearls.

“What do you think of all this talk of ghosts?” Mildred asked.

“Nah, I don’t believe any of it.”

“You don’t believe in ghosts?”

“I don’t believe it’s a good idea to talk about ‘em!” the Whatnot cried, as a ghost Muppet swooped low, nearly missing him.

Kermit scowled. “Okay, who rigged up the ghosts? Knock it off!”

Scooter ran up. “Hey Boss, we just got an incoming story over the wire, but the Newsman refuses to come out of his dressing room!”

“He what? Urgh,” Kermit groaned. “Okay, okay, I’ll go talk to him! You make sure the scene gets shifted for Piggy’s number – and lose those ghosts!”

“Check!”

Kermit hopped downstairs, becoming more irritated by the second. Why couldn’t they have one show, just one, where everything went smoothly? He stopped at the shut door to the broom closet, noting that someone, probably the kindhearted Beauregard, had stuck a shiny little star sticker on the door, and underneath the name Newsie was scrawled in blue crayon. The ‘S’ was backwards. Kermit knocked. “Uh, Newsman? You’re up next.”

No answer. Kermit knocked harder. “There’s a report for you to read, so you better get out here! You’re on right after Piggy!” Still silence. Kermit looked around, seeing a few Muppets listening in, not terribly discreetly. The frog pounded on the door. “Newsman?... Okay, fine! I’ll get someone else to read it!” Quickly everyone in the dining area looked away, or busied themselves with something else. Kermit thought he heard a sound inside the broom closet. “What’s that, Link? You’ll do it?” Across the room, Link Hogthrob vehemently shook his head, waving his arms protectively in front of himself. “Ah, okay, okay. You say you can do it better than the Newsman?” Kermit listened carefully; sure enough, he heard noises inside the tiny cupboard. Loudly he continued, “Well good, good! And I’ll give you your salary plus what I’m paying the Newsman!”

The door opened. The Newsman looked ready, but wouldn’t meet Kermit’s eye. Silently he held out his hand. Kermit shoved the news report into it. “Good. Now get up there!” Without a word, the Newsman plodded upstairs as though he was going to his certain doom. Kermit felt a pang of pity; after being squashed and then blown up, he probably had good reason to not want to set foot onstage ever again. But someone had to do it, and it wasn’t as though anyone else around here wanted to take the risk…

“Uh, excuse me, Kermit?” Link asked. Kermit looked at the ruggedly handsome hog. “How much does he make? ‘Cause I might have to ask for a raise, or hazard pay –“

“Will you get out of here?” Kermit snapped, waving his flippers at the clueless hunk. “Eeesh!” He bounded back upstairs to resume his post at his desk. One crisis solved; what would be next?



The Newsman waited anxiously in the stage right wing, clutching his news copy, not daring to even look at it yet. Onstage, Piggy was singing her considerable porcine lungs out to the chorus of “Poison Ivy:” “Late at night, when you’re sleeping, Poison Ivy comes a-creeping aroooooouuuuund…” She wiggled her bottom at the audience, and the Newsman shook his head softly to himself. How could she have thought he was trying to express some tender thought to her?

Gonzo nudged him. “I’m sorry she blew you off. I’ve been there. I feel your pain.”

Annoyed, the Newsman tried to correct him: “No, it wasn’t –“

“Wow, look at that ivy go!” Gonzo exclaimed.

Kermit joined them, noting at a glance that his newscaster was at least standing by, even if reluctantly. Then he saw what was happening onstage just as Piggy began squealing: a long tendril of ivy was wrapping itself around her. Angrily Kermit turned to Gonzo, who was watching rapturously. “Gonzo! You didn’t let that horrible African climber vine back in here, did you?”

“Would you rather we used real poison ivy?” Gonzo retorted. “At least this won’t make Piggy all itchy!”

“Well, that’s good,” Kermit sighed. “It looks like she’s gonna have a hard time scratching anything.”

The vine had wound itself quickly around Piggy, who was struggling and grunting madly as the pig backup singers milled in confusion. Then the vine yanked one of them off his trotters, and the others fled. “Argh! Curtain! Curtain!” Kermit yelled. Scooter dropped the curtain to the audience’s applause. Muppets dashed onstage to retrieve Piggy and drag the rapidly growing vine away. Somehow the news set slid into place and the fighting tendrils of climber vine were wrestled out the back door, although it dragged a shouting, furious Piggy with it. Swallowing hard, the Newsman straightened his tie and ran on as the curtain opened again.

“This is a Muppet News Flash!” He glanced at his paper. “Professional ghost hunters have looked into the wild rumors of a haunting at the Muppet Theatre!” Nervously he looked around. Had he just heard something moving behind him? “Performers had complained of a mysterious figure in a brown coat lurking in the shadows, terrorizing the cast and crew! However, after investigating the alleged paranormal activity, the ghost hunters concluded the rumors were false. There is no spectral threat to the theatre!” Suddenly he heard groaning above him; his head jerked up to see two filmy, white things swooping over him. “Aaagh!” he screamed as one dive-bombed him.

“Statler, look! He’s being booed!” Waldorf said.

“Are those ghosts or audience members?”

“Ho ho ho ho!”

The Newsman took a swipe at one of the things; his hand went right through it. Terrified, he realized he’d be expected to run off stage right, where everyone else was. Hoping to escape, he switched direction, ducking under the things and heading for stage left at top speed. He could hear the horrible phantoms booing and laughing, clearly following him! Wasn’t there an exit somewhere on this side? Would a door even stop them? Heading for the dim red light which marked the stage left exit, he tripped over a coiled length of rope next to the flyrail and went flying down the short run of steps leading to the tunnel door. “AaaAAAaaa!” he shrieked, immediately knowing how much hitting the floor was going to hurt – and a figure stepped through the door and held its dark arms open wide.

It was much taller than him and caught him easily. The Newsman looked up, saw its shadowed face bending over him, and with a choked cry fainted dead away.
 

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Part 4

“Scooter! I thought I said lose the ghosts!”

The swooping things careened into the audience, where shouts of panic rose. The spirits laughed and dove, and people began heading for the exits. Alarmed, Kermit looked from that to the spooks, then back to Scooter. “Whose idea was this? We haven’t even done the closing number!”

“B-but boss…those aren’t ours!”

“What do you mean those aren’t ours?”

“They’re ghosts, Kermit! Real ghosts!” Fozzie cried, backing away although the things seemed occupied with chasing audience members. Statler and Waldorf ducked down behind their seats. Floyd made a run for the stage, climbing over the orchestra pit wall; Zoot ducked down, and Nigel and the Trumpet Lady were nowhere to be seen; Rowlf shivered under his piano bench; Animal climbed onto the lip of the pit and began snapping his teeth and trying to catch one of the swift-moving spooks.

Kermit shuddered, looking around at the chaos. “There are no such thing as ghosts! Lights! Scooter, hit the lights!”

“The house or the stage?”

“All of ‘em!”

Quickly Scooter brought up the lights. It did the mostly vanished audience no good, but with the stage worklights on, Fozzie suddenly saw something awful in the stage left wing. “Kermit! It’s the Brown Ghost! It’s got the Newsman!”

Everyone looked. A figure in a long trenchcoat, holding the unconscious Newsman in one arm and bending over him, turned its head toward the rest of them. “It’s gonna eat him!” Fozzie bawled, waving his arms wildly in front of himself as if to ward off any similar attacks.

“Not if we can help it! Aaaaaaaa!” Gonzo yelled, charging across the stage with a prop lance from their last production of “Camelot.” “Get ‘em, girls!”

A wave of chickens surged after Gonzo, clucking angrily. “Let him go, you horrible brown spectre! You’re no match for the Great Gonzo and his Army of Ninja Warrior Poultry!” The intruder dodged the lance, still keeping hold of its prey, but then, with fearsome war cries of “Bok-bok-ba-kawk!”, the chickens attacked. The enigma batted at the flapping wings and pecking beaks, but staggered and went down, bracing itself against the short wall to the stairwell. “Get ‘em! Get ‘em! That’s it, Camilla! Use the Rhode Island Red pose!” Gonzo shouted, bravely jabbing the rubber lance.

“What the hey?” Kermit said, hurrying across. He glanced out at the empty theatre house, where the swooping ghosts, having chased the entire audience away, were turning their attention on the two old men in their box.

“Help! Help!” Waldorf shouted.

“My heart!” Statler gasped.

Fozzie went after Kermit, wringing his paws in great agitation. “Hey bear! Help us!” Waldorf appealed.

“Now you want me?” Fozzie shouted back. “Forget it! I don’t do spooks!”

Surrounded by crazily pecking chickens, the coated intruder dodged, throwing small kicks at them, its arms now both engaged in warding off flapping attacks. Kermit arrived at the scene, unsure whether to stop the chickens or see what would happen next. Whatever this was, it wasn’t a ghost; he doubted real ghosts would yell “Ow! Stop!” And it wasn’t a monster…at least, it wasn’t behaving like any monster he’d ever encountered. When Gonzo lunged too close to the Newsman, sprawled out cold on the top step, the trenchcoated one stepped in front of him, tossing Gonzo aside by grabbing the other end of the lance and swinging it. Two chickens were smacked as Gonzo flew by.

“Baaawwwwwkk!”

“Oof…sorry, Camilla!”

“What the hey is going on around here?” Kermit yelled at the top of his voice, startling everyone. The mysterious figure paused, a chicken’s legs caught in its left gloved hand. Upside-down, the chicken ceased fighting, looking confusedly at Kermit.

“Take this, foul creature!” Gonzo screamed, still in full-war mode, running at the stranger with lance outstretched.

“Wait, wait!” Dr Honeydew popped out of the door to the tunnel. “Beaker, stop him!” He shoved the unwilling Beaker in front of Gonzo. The rubber lance smacked into Beaker, bending and getting caught under his tie; the force of Gonzo’s charge lifted the poor lab assistant off his feet.

“Meeeeep!”

“Whoops! Sorry, Beakie,” Gonzo said, backing off.

“Will everyone stop running around and pecking and fighting and someone please tell me what is going on around here?” Kermit shouted, waving his flippers.

“Kermit, I believe there’s been a slight misunderstanding,” Honeydew said, stepping forward. He gestured at the entity in the coat; its head was down, a fedora pulled low so no face could be seen. “This isn’t a ghost.”

“I can see that,” Kermit said, annoyed. “So who or what is it?”

Before that question could be answered, the small spectral things that looked like white tennis balls with trailing gauze floating around them flew over. “BooooOOOooo!” one of them moaned.

“Aaagh!” Fozzie shrieked, cringing – but the stranger stepped forward, blocking the advance of the ghostly things.

“Don’t even think about it!” she shouted in a surprisingly loud voice; everyone trembled. Even the ghosts swirled backwards. The intruder lifted her head, and waved her arms at the spooks in a shooing gesture. “If you so much as boo at my Newsie again, I’ll get out my grandmama’s special spook jar and stuff you both in it and you won’t see the dark of night again until Kermit and Piggy’s children’s children are ghosts themselves! Do you hear me?”

“Oh, my!” Honeydew laughed. Beaker looked alarmedly from him to the stranger to the little ghosts. Fozzie stared in absolute speechlesness.

Kermit gulped. “Mine and Piggy’s children’s children?”

“Who the heck is that?” Gonzo wondered aloud. The chickens quietly clucked astonished agreement. Even Statler and Waldorf had fallen silent, peeking over the edge of the box.

“Aw, we were just playing,” one of the spooks muttered.

“We heard you guys talking about ghosts. It sounded fun,” the other whined.

“Well go play somewhere else!” the mysterious person shouted, shooing them again. “Go on! Out! Out!”

Grumbling pettishly, the ghosts swooped away, fading from sight as they went. The figure stood near the edge of the stage, watching them go. Kermit turned to Dr Honeydew. “Bunsen? Do you know this person?”

“Well, we only met a week ago, but yes,” Bunsen replied.

Animal stuck his head up over the stage lip, eyes wide, staring at the stranger. Suddenly he yelled, “WO-MAN! WO-MAN!” and jumped up, running towards her. She quickly backtracked to the little group by the exit stairs. Startled, the Muppets looked up as she rejoined them, putting them between her and the excited drummer. It was indeed a young woman, and she appeared somewhat ashamed as everyone stared at her.

“You see, Kermit,” Bunsen continued, “this young lady came to the lab a week ago and asked for my help. It seems you wouldn’t let her backstage, so she wanted a way to be able to come and go without anyone noticing her presence. Fortunately we had a test formula of our new Peripheral Disappearing Spray ready, and –“

“You mean she’s the one who’s been sneaking around and scaring the pants off everyone?” Kermit demanded.

“Ah, Kermit…I don’t wear pants,” Fozzie reminded his friend.

“It’s a figure of speech, Fozzie. Bunsen, I don’t believe you did that! Why would you help anyone sneak into the theatre? And you, Miss…” Kermit looked up into her face. “What on earth are you trying to do? You’ve had everyone convinced the theatre had a ghost!”

The woman slowly took off her hat, revealing a small round face with high cheekbones, and soft auburn tresses tied back in a ponytail. She was blushing very pink. “Mr Frog, sir, I’m really sorry. I didn’t intend to scare anyone. It’s just that I needed to be back here some nights, and you chased me away the first night I tried to get in…”

She did look familiar; Kermit recalled having chased someone like her out two weeks past. Once in a while, some fan or critic would try to gain a backstage pass, usually in hope of meeting one of their guest stars, and it was his policy never to let anyone backstage unless they were actually involved in the show. “But why? Why would you go to so much trouble? Were you the one who hung Crazy Harry up from the electrics?”

“I just wanted to teach him a lesson so he wouldn’t pick on Newsie again,” the young woman said. The reporter in question groaned, coming around finally. “Oh! Newsie! Are you okay?”

The Newsman opened his eyes to see giant brown wings swooping in at him. “Aaagh!” he cried, flinching, but then felt two hands touching his shoulders. Shaking, he looked at them; what he’d taken for wings were the loose sleeves of an enormous coat. Slowly he looked up into a lovely face. Gray eyes gazed tenderly at him; a petite nose and rosy mouth were slightly drawn up in worry. “W-who are you?” he stammered. “What happened?”

“You got ghost-busted,” Gonzo informed him.

“I’m really sorry I scared you,” the young woman apologized. “Are you all right?”

“F-fine,” the Newsman replied, still shaking. He recognized that voice! It was the woman who’d tended his tenderized head and put salve on his burns. And, if he guessed right, the one who’d left that frightening note in his dressing room! He cringed away from her. “Are you here to punish me?”

She started back, confused. “Punish you? Why on earth would I do that?”

“I know you,” the Newsman accused her. “You…you know what’s going to happen to me before it does! You leave things for me to find afterwards!”

“Yes I do,” she admitted. “Why would you think I’d punish you? You take punishment enough as it is, and you haven’t even done anything wrong.”

“You left me that note!”

“Oh,” she said, blushing again. “Yes, that was me. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I did.”

Seeing Kermit and the others gathered around listening, the Newsman felt bold enough to confront this strange avenging angel. “The note said you’d punished me and were going to do so again!”

“What? No! No, not at all!” She turned even more pink. “Didn’t you read it? I said, I was sorry about Harry bombing you. I didn’t see that one coming. But I punished him for you.”

“You what?” The Newsman was totally baffled now. At least she didn’t seem threatening… Now that he really studied her, she seemed more…shy.

“That was –“ Kermit began, but Gonzo broke in excitedly.

“That was amazing! How did you get the cable down from the grid?”

“Oh, I climbed up and attached it with a timed fuse, so it would conduct current a few seconds and then burn itself out without harming any of the other equipment,” the young woman explained to him. “I’m a techie at the Sosilly Theatre a couple of blocks from here.”

“Oh yeah, the Sosilly. Don’t they host that big juggling festival every April?” Gonzo asked.

“Yes, we do. I could get you in to see it if you want,” the young woman offered.

“Oh could you? I’d like to enter every event! You should see my trapeze-chainsaw-live-lobster juggle!”

“Hey!” Kermit shouted, getting everyone’s attention again.

Looking embarrassed, the stranger sat down on the stairs just below the Newsman, who was still in a state of shock. So…she wasn’t setting him up? She really had been trying to help him? What had the rest of that note really said? He stared at her in wonder while Kermit harangued her.

“Look, Miss Whoeveryouare –“

“Gina. Gina Broucek,” the young woman supplied hesitantly.

“Miss Gina Broucek, you have caused one heck of a lot of havoc around here! Our audience is gone, and will probably have to be bribed to come back tomorrow night; the entire crew has been scared by what they thought was a ghost sneaking around; Crazy Harry won’t be exploding anything anytime soon…” Kermit paused, rethinking that one. “Okay, well, maybe that one’s not so bad. But the point is, your little hide-and-seek game has stirred up a whole hornet’s nest around here!”

“Oh, don’t say that,” the Newsman begged, glancing around fearfully.

“Hear, hear!” Statler yelled down. “Those spooks just about gave poor Waldorf a heart attack!”

“That wasn’t me, you old goat!” Waldorf growled.

“Hey, I had nothing to do with those things,” Gina called up to them.

“Why don’t you guys just go home?” Kermit shouted.

“What, and miss all this kissing and making up?”

“Oh, haw haw haw haw!”

Kermit couldn’t see the box seats from the side of the stage, but when it fell silent in the auditorium he guessed the hecklers had gone out. He sighed, and appealed to their visitor again. “Just what were you trying to achieve with all this?”

“Um. Well,” Gina said, ducking her head. “I just, um. I just wanted to make Newsie feel better.”

Incredulous, the Newsman stared at her. Exasperated, Kermit continued, “Why? Why now? He’s had terrible things happen to him for years!”

“But I haven’t been here for years,” she protested, glancing back at the Newsman. “I only started coming here two months ago, and not every night, but whenever I could, I’d sit out there and watch the show. You guys are fantastic.” The Muppets exchanged looks of surprise. The remaining band members had crept out of their hiding spots, and now they and Scooter, Piggy, and several other cast and crew members were gathering on the stage, watching and listening. “I sat out there and enjoyed every minute of it…except for the News Flashes.”

The Newsman felt affronted. Was his work not good enough? He tried, every time, to present the story with all the dignity and sincerity he could project. It wasn’t his fault bizarre things happened!

“I saw this poor man getting hit, humiliated, stabbed, pounded, and buried under every possible thing that could fall on him. Everyone else laughed.” Gina swallowed, looking sympathetically at the Newsman. “I wanted to stop it. I thought about that every time it happened, and every time there was no news that night, I went home feeling relieved for his sake. I should tell you I’m a gypsy.”

“That’s okay, I’m a whatever,” Gonzo said, patting her arm.

“No, I mean my grandmama was of the Rom. She saw things, knew things, could talk to ghosts and tell the future. I’m not as good as she was, but I have a little of the gift, and sometimes, when I really focus on something…I can feel what’s coming next,” Gina explained.

“That is so cool,” Fozzie said. “Quick! Quick! What card am I holding up?” He produced a battered playing card from somewhere, turning the face side toward Gina.

“Three of hearts,” she said, smiling. “But it doesn’t work like that.”

“Ohhhh, she is good!” Fozzie said to Kermit. “Hey, would you consider working with a very funny bear?”

“You know what’s going to happen to the Newsman?” Kermit asked, trying to follow all this. He was aware of everyone else, possibly everyone in the theatre, now quietly surrounding them, sitting on the stage floor or leaning against the set. Muppets murmured to one another as they listened in; at least, it seemed, the news that their apparition was just a person was getting around. Maybe now the whole theatre could relax.

The Newsman was speechless, meeting Gina’s gaze as she turned to look at him again. “Yes. On the way to the theatre, I just get this…feeling. Sometimes I stop on the way to pick up something I think he’ll need; sometimes I can find what’s needed around the theatre. I’ve been leaving things around to help him recover.” She glanced at Kermit. “I’m really sorry I scared everyone. I tried hard to be quiet and invisible.”

“And as long as you didn’t approach anyone directly, the Peripheral Disappearing Spray kept you hidden from view!” Bunsen declared proudly. “It, ah, does have the unfortunate side effect of projecting a really scary subsonic vibration that tends to make people nervous when they sense it.”

“Eeesh,” Kermit muttered.

“But…but if you knew what was going to happen…why not just stop it?” the Newsman asked. “The pineapples…the live mic…the lead ze—“ he stopped himself, nervously looking up.

Gina shook her head, taking off her gloves. Gently she touched the Newsman’s hand with her own. He looked down, surprised; no one had ever done so with him. “It doesn’t work like that. I never know exactly what’s going to befall you…”

“Or fall on him,” Fozzie murmured.

“I just get an idea of what you’re going to need. And so I’ve been trying to make your life a little easier,” Gina said, gazing shyly at him. “I’m sorry if I made you worry.”

Kermit sighed. “Why didn’t you at least reveal yourself to him? I practically had to drag him out of his cupboard tonight!”

“Well, um…I know you’re all Muppets,” Gina said, looking down. Her bangs slid over her eyes. The Newsman wanted to brush them away for her, but didn’t quite dare.

They all nodded at one another, puzzled. “Yeah, that’s us.” “Yep.” “Sure are.”

Shaking his head, Kermit asked, “What’s that got to do with it?”

“All of you,” she said, looking around, and then at the Newsman. “Even him.”

Suddenly she bent forward and planted a kiss on his long nose. “I’m sorry.” She leapt to her feet and ran backstage. The rear door banged shut behind her. Everyone stood or sat there, confused.

“Oh…kay,” Fozzie said, scratching his head.

“Does she have something against Muppets?” Scooter wondered.

“So,” Gonzo said, clapping his hands together and looking around, “who wants to play freeze tag?”

Confused chatter, arguments arose. The Newsman sat still, in shock, and slowly lifted a hand to touch the spot she’d kissed.

Kermit saw him and shook his head, sighing. Finally he began waving everyone offstage. “Okay, okay, enough, you guys! Let’s get this place cleaned up! I just hope we have an audience tomorrow night after all this mess!” The excited speculation and gossiping continued for the next half-hour as everyone tidied up. Eventually Kermit had to nudge the Newsman, who remained on the exit stairs the entire time, apparently lost in thought. “Hey, Newsman. Time to go home.”

The Newsman turned bewildered eyes up to his boss. “She called me Newsie,” he said.

“Yep, yep, I heard that. Go on. Go home. See you tomorrow night.”

Nodding, the Newsman got to his feet, felt his pockets for his wallet and keys, and walked away. He walked, alone, the few hundred yards to the rat-infested tenement apartment that was all he could afford. Voices blared out behind the closed doors he passed on the stairs up to the seventeenth floor: TV sets on too loud, babies wailing, people squabbling. He didn’t hear any of it, dazed. When he opened his apartment door and turned on the light, several large rats groaned or turned over on the floor in front of the staticky old TV in the main room. “Hey buddy! We’re tryin’ ta sleep! Can you keep it down?” one particularly large rodent demanded.

“Oh, sure,” he mumbled, turning the light back off. Carefully he stepped around the rats, seeing by the Technicolor illumination of the idiot box, and went into his bedroom. He pulled down the windowshade, discombobulating another rat who’d been wrapped in it like a lounger in a hammock. Tiredly, the Newsman picked the smaller rat up by the tail, tossed it into the main room, and shut his door. He went into the tiny bathroom as he usually did to splash water on himself before retiring for the night, looked at his nose in the cracked and flyspecked mirror, and paused. He didn’t really want to wash the kiss off. Instead he simply took off his outer clothes and lay down on his narrow bed in an undershirt and polka-dot shorts.

She’d been looking out for him, helping him recover from every nasty thing that happened. She’d given Crazy Harry a taste of his own fire. She’d kissed him. She’d left a note for him. He really wished he knew what it had said now.

She’d said he was a Muppet. Obviously. Was that a bad thing?

She’d called him Newsie. He knew a few of the others already did, but in her voice, it sounded different. He tried that out on his tongue, whispering it into the darkened room. “Newsie.” He found he didn’t mind it.

He stared up at the stained ceiling for hours, wondering if she was going to come back to the theatre, and realized after a while that thinking about being crushed, or pummeled, or nearly eaten, or laughed at, didn’t frighten him in this state of mind. The idea that this young woman, this gypsy Gina, might not come back… He shivered.

Eventually he pulled a throw blanket over himself; it had cute bunnies printed on it, and the rats ridiculed him for it, but it was warm, and soft, and comforting sometimes. Sighing, the Newsman set his glasses carefully on his nightstand, closed his eyes, and tried to sleep.
 

Fraggline

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Yes! Thank you, newsmanfan! I'm kind of a stickler for these kinds of stories, and this one is so well written! I'll savor it! :big_grin:
 

The Count

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You know... I'm liking the tone and direction this fic has going for it. There are details every which way you look that positively tell you there's references to Muppet Show scenarios. BTW: Is Gina meant to be a Muppet character as well? Is she descended from the Gypsy Lady who put a curse on the theater's production during the Jonathan Winters episode?
Thanks for sharing this and please post more when possible. :smile:
 

newsmanfan

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warm fuzzies

Awww...you guys are making me blush. I'd forgotten what it was like to have people who don't even know me like my work...thank you!

I have been rewatching eps from seasons 2 and 3 of TMS about every other night right before I launch into that night's writing to keep the tone correct; I'm glad it shows. I don't want it to get too serious.

Gina is not a Muppet, which should become more obvious, as the fact that she's not is a small plot point and an issue between her and Newsie. I'd forgtotten the Gypsy Lady! Now I'll have to go find that ep on Youtube and watch it... No, I based her very slightly on someone related to me; she's certainly no old-fashioned gypsy.

Finished part 11 last night. Shall continue to post; just don't want you guys to catch up JUST IN CASE I get bogged down and have to write my way out of it...
 

newsmanfan

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Part 5

Two nights passed without incident; the Newsman paced backstage, from time to time walking a circuit of the entire area from the wings to the green room, but saw no sign of the enigmatic young woman. Every time the back door opened, he hurried to see who it was, and more than a few curious stares met him on those occasions, but not once in those two nights did he see any sign of her.

The audience was packed on Friday night, less so on Saturday, and by the Sunday matinée, the initial excitement over possible ghost sightings had faded, and the size of the crowd was back to normal: two rows full in the center of house, scattered patrons around the rest of the room, and the odd straggler in the balcony. The two old hecklers returned and pelted Fozzie with even more wisecracks than usual, not having forgiven him for refusing to fend off the spooks for them. Everyone stopped jumping at shadows, and life returned more or less to normal backstage. Whenever the Newsman passed Piggy, she turned up her snout with a dainty “Hmf!” at him, but after the first such incident he ignored her.

Apparently this irked the mercurial pig. Sunday afternoon, as he was sitting by himself at a small table in the green room dining area, sipping a lukewarm and bitter coffee with too much fake creamer mixed in, Miss Piggy paused on her way past. “Ah-ha-ha…so, Newsgeek…I want to say I’m actually very impressed. You’re certainly taking my rejection a lot better than Gonzo did. Was I too harsh on you?” She batted spangly lashes at him.

Scowling, he turned away. “No.”

She trotted around to face him again. “Well, you are quite the stoic.” When this provoked no reaction, she frowned, then tried a different tack. “So, I hear you have a secret admirer! That must be very sweet. Perhaps she’ll help you get over me?”

The Newsman shook his head, dejected. “She hasn’t come back. Maybe she’ll never come back.” Suddenly wanting to talk to someone, he looked up at Piggy. “What’ll I do if she never comes back?”

“How should I know?” Piggy grumbled. “But if you think I’m gonna leave out comfy robes and margaritas for you, think again, buster!”

“It was a daquiri.”

“What?”

“It was a daquiri. Not a margarita.”

“Oh who cares?” Piggy shouted, making him cringe. “Hmf!” She flounced away, irritated at people who would just not take a hint.

Lowering his head again, the Newsman sighed. His luck wouldn’t hold much longer; at some point a news bulletin would come in, and he’d have to go on, and what would happen if Gina wasn’t there? Well, what always has happened, he thought. You’ll be subjected to something horrible and possibly painful, and no one will give it a second thought. Someone tapped his shoulder. He looked up to find Rowlf standing there. He and the dog had rarely even spoken to one another, not from any enmity; they simply didn’t work together much.

“Hey, uh, Newsie,” Rowlf said. “How’d you like to help us out tonight?”

“Help you out? How?”

He wasn’t sure how he wound up agreeing. The next thing he knew, he was laying on the operating table, the announcer for Veterinarian’s Hospital droning overhead about the whole place going to the dogs, a blue sheet tucked up to his square chin. “Where’s the next patient?” Rowlf asked.

“Right here, Dr Bob.”

Rowlf patted the Newsman’s prone form with heavy paws, making him groan. “Hm, he looks pretty bad. What’s wrong with him?”

“We don’t know – he hasn’t had anything fall on him in three days!” Piggy said.

“Then why are you consulting me? This man needs a shrink!”

“Oh, Dr Bob, his secret admirer only shows up when something’s going to fall on him! I think he’s loooovesick!” Janice said.

“Nonsense! He’s not lovesick, he’s hungry!”

“What do you mean?” Piggy asked.

“He’s just a glutton for punishment!” Rowlf laughed. The Newsman shook his head, frowning.

“Like, what should we do?”

“I prescribe a hard hat!”

“So nothing else hurts him?”

“So nothing hurts us! You know what happens when this guy gets onstage!” Rowlf said, putting a white plastic hard hat over his surgical cap. The lamp over the operating table suddenly crashed down, knocking the breath from the Newsman, causing the nurses to jump aside.

Trudging offstage, hope rose briefly; he looked all around, but saw nothing, no sign of Gina, no sign of anything left behind for him. Not even a bottle of ibuprofen or a heat pad for his sore abdomen. Kermit was busy tending to the set change; the Newsman stopped Scooter as he scurried by, but before he could even get a word out, Scooter shook his head. “Haven’t seen her. Sorry.”

Depressed, he headed downstairs. He didn’t get far before he heard the tapping sound of the newswire going off. Oh, no. Glumly he took a deep breath, ripped the sheet of copy from it, and ran back toward the stage. Kermit saw him coming, and yelled, “Cancel that, push the newsdesk out now!” Quickly Scooter and Beau shifted his desk out and brought down the backdrop of world maps and time zone clocks, and he hurried out just as it was in place.

“Here’s a Muppet News Flash!” He glanced at his copy sheet. “Stocks fell on Wall Street today –“ Oh, no! Quickly he continued, “But were buoyed up again by gains on the European markets.” He glanced up, startled by the appearance of a large, heavy-looking, wooden set of stocks, the kind colonial criminals had been locked in to punish them for stealing, right overhead. It seemed to be floating. Gulping nervously, he checked his notes again. “Ah…Experts say that while global stocks could continue to rise incrementally,” (he glanced up once more to see the heavy stocks drifting slowly up) “They would, inevitably, plunge again ---aaaaagh!” THUMP.

He managed to stagger offstage under his own power, weaving a bit. Kermit nodded at him. “Good job, good job. Okay, Swedish Chef up next!” The Newsman grabbed Kermit’s desk briefly to avoid being bowled over by the ebullient Chef, then slowly continued through the backstage area, heading for the lower stairs. As he paused at the top of the stairs, not sure he could make it down without falling, Scooter suddenly appeared at his elbow.

“Hey, Newsman? This just came for you.” He accepted the small box Scooter handed him; the gofer ran off before he could say thank you. Upon opening the box, he found a hissing fuse on a round black ball.

“Aahhh!” Without thinking, he lobbed it downstairs. Immediately an explosion went off, followed by choked cries of protest from below. Oops…

Trying to ignore the pain in his head, he hurried out the back door onto the loading dock. A fish smacked him in the face. Staggering back, removing his slimed spectacles, he heard Lew Zealand’s apologetic laugh. “Heh heh! Sorry Newsdude! I was practicing with my new mackerel!”

The Newsman held onto the railing at the edge of the loading dock, frustration and disgust nearly overwhelming him. A fin tapped his hand. He squinted down to see a large fish popping its wet eyes up at him. “Hey buddy,” it gurgled, “didn’t I knight you once?”

“Oh, leave me alone!” the Newsman shouted, kicking at the mackerel. Unable to see clearly enough, he missed, his shoe hitting the railing instead. Pain shot up his foot, and he clung to the rail, gasping.

“Come on, Your Highness. Let’s go practice somewhere else,” Lew murmured to the fish, and they left. The Newsman sank to the edge of the concrete dock, head hurting, foot hurting, glasses still dripping, smelling the stink of ocean sludge in his sensitive nose. He pulled out his handkerchief, holding back tears of anger, and tried to clean his lenses. A soft white cloth folded into a small bundle appeared in front of him. Confused, he peered at it, then looked up. Gina Broucek stood in front of him on the broken concrete of the alley, holding out the cloth.

“It has lens cleaner in it already,” she said. They stared at one another a long moment.

Finally he said, “You came back.” He couldn’t see her clearly without the glasses, but he knew the voice. He was amazed she’d actually shown up.

“Do you…do you want me to go?”

“No, no! Please stay,” the Newsman spoke up hurriedly. He accepted the cleaning cloth and polished his glasses in a rush.

“Um, this is for you, too,” she said, offering him a plastic cup with a lid and a straw and a tiny paper packet of aspirin. He set the glasses back on his face, and took the proffered items.

“Thank you,” he said. “What…what is it?”

Gina shook her head, not meeting his stare. “The drink? It’s a blueberry energy drink mixed with cola.” She shrugged. “I know it sounds weird, but that’s what I felt drawn to at the fountain drink machine at the Zippy-Mart down the street.”

“That’s…that’s my favorite,” the Newsman said, astounded.

“Oh, good. I thought maybe I was just jumbling up things in my head.”

He sipped it experimentally, nodded approval, and downed the aspirin. “Thank you very much! I wasn’t sure…when you didn’t come the last two days…”

Gina flashed a small smile. “Well. There you go. Nice seeing you again.” She began to walk away. The Newsman scrambled to his feet.

“Wait! Ah…would you…would you like to come in and meet everyone?”

“Oh no, that’s okay,” she said, and gave him a tiny wave of her fingers. “See ya.”

Although it hurt to use his injured foot, he tried to come down the steps after her; startling him, she picked up her pace, practically running around the corner. The Newsman limped after her, dismayed. When he reached the corner of the building and looked around it, she was gone. He stared along the alley a minute, then looked at the drink still in his hand. Shoulders drooping, he slowly returned to the loading dock and climbed the steps to the back door. Why had she run off? Was she afraid she’d upset him? Almost unconsciously he touched the spot on his nose, imagining he could still feel the kiss.

He sat back down on the edge of the dock, looking up at the clear afternoon sky. Birds flitted between the wires overhead, and a light breeze rustled the bits of trash along the alley; spring had sprung in the city. He sipped the drink again, the sweet blueberry flavor fresh to his tongue, wondering what he’d done to send her scurrying so quickly. Maybe she only felt sorry for him, and that was all. Maybe she thought he was ugly? Uncertainly he touched his glasses, thinking of Piggy’s insults. Even as a younger man, he’d known he was no Robert Redford, but he’d always thought his strong chin and determined nose gave him a certain dignity. Why had she run? It was as though she couldn’t bear to be around him too long.

Gonzo opened the back door and saw the Newsman staring up at the sky, sitting on the edge of the dock. “Nice day, huh?” Gonzo asked, coming out to stand by him. The Newsman only nodded once. Gonzo noticed the plastic cup in his hand.

“Oh, cool! Is that number three in the Collector’s Series of Drink Cups of Famous Stuntmen of the World?” Gonzo exclaimed.

The Newsman looked vaguely at the cup. “Uh, yeah, I guess it is.”

“That is soooooo cool! I have the first two already! Where’d you get it?”

“You can have it,” the Newsman said, handing it over.

“Oh, wow! Are you sure?”

The Newsman shrugged, turning away. Gonzo took a sip from the straw. “Blueberry Mega Rumble with Ginseng Lemon Cola Crush! That’s my favorite!” he exclaimed, starting to head back inside, then stopped and touched the Newsman’s shoulder. “Uh, you don’t have anything contagious, do you?”

Receiving only a scowl in reply, he hurried back inside, humming the jingle to Blueberry Mega Rumble Drink happily as he went. Sighing deeply, the Newsman sat outside until it was time to go home.
 
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