From left to right: some fleas, Nergus, Norm, Norman, and two earwigs

Episode 9

Collecting Stories

The Dopediddley Adventures of Norm & Norm

Find previous episodes here, or catch up in the comments.*

The big black door groaned heavily as it closed shut. Inside a wide, dark corridor stood the two worms, two earwigs, six fleas, and broken mosquito. The earwigs urged Norm and Norman down the middle of the passage. With the slow adjustment of their eyes to the dark came the slow onset of fear in the worms. Mounted on the tall black walls to their left and right were the corpses of wonderfully complex insects. Some had six legs, others eight. Some had many eyes, others none. Some were bigger than both worms combined, others tiny. The dead insects floated on the walls, each held up by a single wretched stake. Even in the low light of the hall, the Norms could make out elegant patterns and vivid colors on the lifeless shells. Straining a little harder to see, they could also make out their stiff faces frozen in agony.

The worms stopped halfway down the hall and turned back toward the entrance. “Straight ahead boys.” — “Almost there,” said the earwigs taking strong stances between the worms and the door.

“We want out of here,” said a frightened Norm. He looked behind the earwigs to Nergus.

“It’s like I said earlier boys, Boss already knows we’re here. You don’t miss an appointment with the Boss,” she said unsure.

The standoff lasted for several moments. The earwigs stood firm, unflinching and concentrating on the worms. They had no intention of going any direction but forward, and the worms were coming with. Defeated, Norm and Norman turned back around and slowly slithered forward.

Just after the black door in the back wall closed, Bulky and his henchmen entered The Pit Stop. No strangers to the establishment, the flies made way for the bar. Daddy, the bartending spider, saw them enter and scrambled to pour three scumbeers. Instead of taking their stools, guzzling their drinks, and harassing the feeble drunkards like usual, Bulky forced his way behind the bar. He pinned the spider’s small head against it, “Nice to see you, my brother. Now let’s make this easy. Worms. Two of them. Where are they?”

The hall filtered its guests into a large octagonal room. A lone firefly repositioned himself on the only swing hanging from the center of the room’s high ceiling. Against the walls stood dark cages, housing sad creatures that couldn’t be identified. The light from the fly’s rear end cut a shaft through the room’s spacious interior, illuminating an ornate glass sarcophagus below. An unavoidable, pungent and smelly odor turned the cold air of the room thick and heavy.

From the darkness came a deep voice, “Do you like my collection?”

Silence. The worms had no reply and couldn’t describe their dreadful opinions if they wanted to. It appeared to them they were moving through a morgue, and the new smell aided that theory. An earwig leaned forward and prodded Norman in the back.

“What collection?” Norman spit out.

“What collection!” The voice laughed. “All my friends that greeted you on the way in! I hope they didn’t startle you.”

The worms heard a scuttle in the darkness and felt the air shift. Into the glow of the firefly stepped the voice. It was a big black beetle. His huge stature could hardly be made out. The black shell absorbed every ounce of light it touched.

Obsession is interesting,” the beetle began again. He looked down at the sarcophagus and cast a loving and rigorous gaze upon the glass. “Satisfaction is in the stories. See that carpet beetle there,” he pointed back into the hall, “she thwarted a siege by a whole colony of sugar ants. Two days into the siege, she broke through the ants’ weakest point and flanked their lines from behind. In less than a minute she obliterated their communication trails and crushed forty-two heads. Her bravery saved her entire family. They died a week later at the hands of an unexplainable vacuum force, sucked up into oblivion. Directionless, she wound up here. Look at her symmetry, the contrast in her golden brown pattern. Splendid.”

Norm’s pack was confiscated before entering the octagonal room. The fleas, who were naturally attention deficient, stood back from the group and quietly plundered the pack. Inside, they found a remaining chunk of orange puff and several bright green pellets. A single star shape was imprinted into each pellet. Examination revealed them to be made of a pressed chalky powder. Easily scraped free, the powder was distributed among the six fleas for tasting.

“That butterfly there, with the radiant blue wings, was a favorite companion. He claimed to have been from a faraway place, where all was green and water would sprinkle down from above. Once, he fell in love with a winged oddity called a cicada. She emerged from the ground, like a beautiful monster he said, and fell in love with his color. He fell in love with her vivacity, but after a single day her bright flame of life expired. His heart was broken, and he never loved again. One day he flew errantly into a net, was asphyxiated and woke up here. When his depression silenced his stories, I asphyxiated him again. I miss his brilliant stories, but I still get lost in his brilliant wings.”

The beetle’s musk grew heavier as he spoke. Scanning the wall, he continued, “Of course there’s the widow. Or so she called herself. She had more lovers than eggs she would lay. On her elegant web, eight long legs would wrap her suitors tight. Task complete, the red hourglass on her belly, you see it there, would flip and the poor lover’s time would drain out, like his blood would drain out. How terrifying and intoxicating. An amazing addition. And that weevil there, a sting from a wasp gave him those beautifully savage scars. He claimed to have come back from the dead after a lifetime in heaven. I sent him back again when he ran out of things to say.”

The beetle paused, considering more examples but thought otherwise. He then cast his powerful gaze onto the worms, “So, tell me now, what do you have to say?”

“I’m afraid we don’t have a story to tell,” proceeded Norm cautiously.

“Everyone has a story to tell! So so many to tell. You just have to know how to tell them.”

“And we don’t know why we’re here,” finished Norman. “Other than to see your lovely collection. And now that we’ve seen it, we can be on our way.”

“It’s simple,” the big black mass spoke sharply. “You’re here because my trusted associates brought you here, the same way they’ve brought so many before you. You’re not here to view my collection. You’re here to join it.”

All six fleas swallowed the bitter powder moments earlier. The taste was something chemical and unnatural, but they swallowed the substance anyway. Soon after, it was becoming increasingly difficult to focus on the scene at hand, and even harder to remain still.

The Boss’s henchmen were winding up.

“Yes sir. Right on sir.” — “Right on. Very special specimens sir,” the earwigs spoke, doing their best to lead the negotiations. The Boss was used to dealing with his most trusted bounty hunter, the mosquito, and was aware of the change in pecking order.

Norm and Norman were now held down by the agitated fleas. At first they struggled and protested the restraint, but eventually settled in to hear the dialogue at hand. Norm kicked himself. How could he and his buddy be led so easily into this trap? How could they have trusted their fate to these two-faced insects?

Ignoring the efforts of the squirrelly earwigs, the Boss turned to Nergus, “Maybe the most unique creatures you’ve ever dropped on my doorstep Nergus. How very exciting.”

“We thought so too Boss,” she replied.

“Had some trouble with them I see?” The beetle poked his antenna into her bloody abdomen. She winced a bit.

“No trouble at all Boss.”

“See Daddy on your way out. Tell him the pharmacy is open, whatever you need.”

“Thank you Boss.”

The Boss then focused his attention on his new pets. The immobilized worms did their best to huddle together, wrapping up where possible. The big beetle towered over the worms. Straddling them, he bent down for a closer look. He was so close to Norm’s face he could’ve counted his freckles. Stepping over the worms, his rear end grazed Norman’s cheek and left a smelly, sticky substance behind.

“A find like these warrants a special reward. I’m tripling the usual payment. Well done hun,” the Boss finished definitively. The earwigs beamed at his statement. It was an epic payday.

Sitting where the fleas had placed her, Nergus had yet to look up from the floor. Then, she made a daring decision. She looked up, and spoke up, “No deal, Boss.”

Surprised, the big beetle turned all of his attention to Nergus. She continued, “Tripling the usual payment won’t suffice for such an unusual bounty, not to mention the sacrifice endured to bring them here.” She gestured to her broken limbs.

“Triple payment good Boss.” — “Good. Generous,” the earwigs tried to interject.

“Quiet,” the beetle silenced the earwigs. “In your highly specialized line of work, I wonder how many other buyers are clamoring for your services? What do you propose, Nergus?”

“Ten times, Boss. Ten times the usual payment… for each,” she swallowed a heavy breath.

The Boss let her absurd request settle in. After a moment, he replied, “I’m afraid you’ve miscalculated your influence, hun. You’ve just about exhausted my patience. I’ll give you four times the usual payment, for your gumption.”

Nergus closed her eyes, considering the weight of the statement forming in her mind. Then, she delivered the words, “No deal, Boss. We’ll be taking the worms and leaving.”

Through the big black door barged Bulky, Dudley, and H.G. The flies held no regard for the owner of the musty lair. They smelled their prey and could taste retribution. The worms were rightfully theirs, to torture and toil for their crimes against the gang.

The Boss didn’t flinch. He looked over Nergus in a solemn way. It was clear that he was losing his favorite apprentice, but he wasn’t about to lose any respect.

“Get out. I’m done with you, all of you,” he gestured to the earwigs. “If you show your faces here again, my face and my stench will be your last. The bounty stays.” At this he gestured to the fleas. “Escort them out.”

“Wait wait!” — “Wait Boss, pay-payment!?” The earwigs spouted. The Boss said nothing, he simply scowled and moved into a fighting posture in front of the sarcophagus. The earwigs froze.

“You can’t leave us here!” Screamed Norman to Nergus.

“He’ll pin us up on his wall!” Norm followed.

“The bounty stays,” the Boss said again, firmly. Adrenaline was rising inside everyone in the room. The air became putrid. From out the backend of the beetle, a wet liquid increased it’s flow and emitted a gaseous stench.

At this moment, Bulky and his gang burst into the tense room. Their unexpected entrance surprised everyone. The leader refrained from introductions and went straight the point, “These worms belong to us.”

The surprise entrance sparked a fuse in the the six fleas. Through their miniature veins pulsed foreign chemicals, faster now. The fuse ran out, and they exploded with energy. They bounced from floor to ceiling in every direction like heated popcorn kernels.

“Run!” yelled Nergus to the worms. “Get to the star!”

Freed from their restraints, the worms slid as fast as they could toward the hall and big black door. Amid the chaos, each earwig took a heavy blow from a flying flea. The force of impact knocked them to the floor. Dizzy and trying to recover their feet, they each took another blow. The flies tried to keep eyes on the worms, but were caught up in the commotion, looking for something to fight. Each fly took to the air and brought down a flea for individual combat. The Boss leapt to stop Norm and Norman, but was intercepted by Nergus. She couldn’t walk, but she could fly. She shot herself at the beetle like a missile, head butting him in the gut. It was enough to thwart his motion. He recovered from the blow, and turned toward the rogue mosquito.

Norm and Norman moved faster than ever before. Scuttling down the hall and through the big black door, they didn’t look back for pursuers. Out the front of The Pit Stop, they sprung themselves up onto one of the waiting ants. Each worm wrapped around one antenna, and yelled loudly at the beast to move.

“This is your idea of appreciation?” The Boss wheezed at Nergus.

“You’re a sick, sad insect. And so am I,” she replied.

“I had such high hopes for you darling.”

The Boss lunged forward, his powerful jaws opening wide. Nergus parried left to avoid the chomp, but her lame legs trailed her floating body. The vicious beetle clamped down on the tip her bottom right leg, severing it at the ankle. The mosquito screamed.

“Such a shame, you would have looked so nice on my wall. I’ll feed you to the fleas instead,” said the Boss after spitting her foot from his mandible. Right on queue, one of the fleas inflicted a random blow right to his face. Hardly affected, he snatched the flea from the air and launched him the other direction without looking. The projectile flea went head first into the ornate glass sarcophagus that stood in the middle of the room. The coffin tumbled. Falling on its side, the glass lid flew off and shattered. Out of the coffin rolled the beetle’s most cherished treasure. Even in the chaos and dim light of the room, the beauty of the corpse was easily recognized. His crescent shaped shell was striped with bright, beautiful, glowing colors. It was a rainbow pillbug.

“STOP!” The Boss roared. Despite the chaos, the room obeyed. The big black beetle scuttled over to his most prized possession, protecting it from further damage. He looked back to Nergus and whispered, “Get out. Now.”

Bulky and the flies, intoxicated by the sudden battle, sobered up. They peered around the room. The worms were gone. The dazed earwigs finally made it to their feet. First they stepped toward Nergus, but, thinking better of it raced toward the door. The flies followed, forming a hungry mob in search of the two innocent worms.

Nergus, bleeding heavily and short of breath, revved up. She looked at the Boss one last time, then turned for the hall. Barely able to fly, she went shoulder first into the wall. Gritting her teeth, she corrected herself and flew hastily out of the hall and out of the bar. Entering the labyrinth, she could make out the trail of two ants, and sensed the vibrations of three flies heading deeper into the ducts. She then turned away and buzzed as fast as she could in the opposite direction. She flew desperately toward the glow-box-room.

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