The Phil Phorce is a fictional periodical featuring my favorite characters from my own writing. It comes out in episodes, once every three months or so. To find out more and to read previous episodes, please go to these two pages: About the Phils and the Phil Phorce. Please enjoy and critique if possible.
Percival ducked behind a cabinet as teapots crashed around him, glinting in the light of the rising sun.
“You can’t all hide at once,” complained the Castle. “Then I have no one to kill!”
Percival picked up a silver saucer and flung it at the Castle, who batted it aside. “Where are you? And how did you manage to hide a full-grown dragon?”
Gologer whimpered and tucked his wings in tighter. The writing desk he hid behind was scant cover, but somehow the Castle overlooked him.
Percival had followed Quirk’s instructions, albeit reluctantly. He had painfully rolled down the hill, walked to the mainland, and followed the tales of wanton destruction, arson, and killer ping pong balls to the town the remaining Phils had chosen as their domain. He had led them back to the Castle Under the Cloud as Quirk had instructed. Unfortunately, Quirk had said nothing else.
On his way to find the Phils, the curses Erik had laid upon him vanished. He could stand perfectly still for minutes at a time, see his hair again, and speak in his own voice. All the pain from Erik’s many curses were gone. Quirk had killed Erik.
Percival ducked lower behind his cabinet as the Castle stomped closer. They were hiding in the courtyard of the Castle, where for reasons unknown the Castle had moved all his furniture. As soon as they had landed on the Cloud, the Castle had made his intentions clear: if his brother wouldn’t kill them slowly, he would kill them himself. They had lasted the night, but their chances were slim.
Percival threw another saucer. The Castle, sniffing at a suspicious stain on a sofa, whirled around. “You can hide, but you can’t run!” he shouted. “I’ve got you surrounded!”
“No, we have you surrounded,” countered Percival, coming out of hiding. “Now, Phoenix!”
Phoenix leapt out from behind the sofa, brandishing a frying pan. She raised it, but lost her nerve and hid. “He looks too much like Liam,” she sobbed.
“He is Liam, Phoenix,” said Steve from her pocket. “Get over it and kill him.” He waited a few moments, then took matters into his own metaphorical hands. “If you won’t, I will!” He gritted his teeth, but couldn’t move anywhere. “Throw me, you idiot.”
Phoenix lobbed Steve into the air. The ping pong ball yelled a war cry in the language of toasters. “DING!” he shouted, latching onto the Castle’s nose and hanging on. “Now, anyone!” he shouted.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full!” The old lady stabbed the Castle with a pair of knitting needles. “Take that!” She ran to Percival’s hiding place as the Castle roared in agony. “I always wanted to stab the Head Phil,” she whispered.
That gave Percival an idea: a motivation technique. “If anyone has ever wanted to hurt the Head Phil in any way, now is the time!” he shouted.
Gologer gave a hopeful snort.
“I would prefer if you didn’t incinerate him,” said Percival. “Maybe just a good scratch?”
Gologer nodded vigorously and reached out a claw. Phume ran out of hiding with a medieval pike, roaring like a dragon. Percival pulled a knife out of his pocket and dove on the Head Phil.
The Castle moved faster than any of them expected. He pulled Phume’s pike out of his hands and struck him in the head with the staff, throwing him across the courtyard. He stabbed Gologer’s claw, piercing to the bone and leaving it there. He tore Steve from his nose and intercepted Percival’s knife with the ping pong ball. With a twist, he threw both Steve and the knife out of Percival’s reach and grabbed him by the throat.
“Mr. Aardvark, I know your Phils,” he hissed into Percival’s ear. “None of them can defeat me. Your numbers are depleted, your morale is shattered, your will to win is nonexistent. You are done for, Mr. Aardvark.”
“I will never join you,” choked Percival.
“I haven’t even given you the opportunity yet,” said the Castle, “but if that’s how you feel about it…” He tried to lift Percival off the ground. “Blast it, this body is so weak! Can you just act like you’re choking badly?”
Percival shook his head and tried not to let his coughs and gurgles escape.
“Very well,” said the Castle, his arm beginning to shake. “You take him, Phume.” He heaved Percival onto Captain Phume’s reclaimed pike.
The Captain stopped charging and dropped the pike. “I’m fine,” Percival coughed.
“I think there’s more to this hobbit than meets the eye,” said the old lady. “Mithril?”
“No, just gravelpox,” said Percival. “Like the doctor said, we could be invincible if not for the long-term effects.”
“Really?” asked Phume. “Great!” He ran at the Castle, who tripped him and sent him sprawling again.
“Almost invincible,” amended Percival.
“You are difficult to kill, but I will succeed eventually,” said the Castle.
“Why, brother, why?” boomed a voice. “You promised me fun and now you’ve stolen it back. These Phils are mine to kill. They die by my hands.”
“Brother?” The Castle looked around.
“Yes, brother,” said the voice.
“Where are you, brother?” asked the Castle.
“Right here, brother,” said the voice.
“But brother, where is here?”
“Here is here, brother. I am right here.”
“I don’t see you, brother,” said the Castle.
“This is confusing,” said Percival, picking himself up. “Who is whose brother?”
“I, Erik, am the brother of Mafunzalo,” said the voice. “And I am standing right here. Try looking up.”
Everyone looked up. Quirk stood atop a wardrobe, silhouetted by the sun. He dropped to the ground and approached the Castle. “You said these Phils were mine. Do I have to quote your letter?” It wasn’t Quirk’s voice.
“But you sent them back,” said the Castle, bewildered.
Percival found Phoenix’s frying pan and hid it in his coat.
“I did no such thing, Mafunzalo,” said Quirk. “They never arrived. I decide to visit and what do I find? I find you, trying to kill them yourself. You’re pathetic at it, I might add.”
“I know how to kill, thank you very much,” said the Castle. “And don’t tell me they never arrived. I saw them land.”
Percival crept toward the Castle from behind.
“Yes, but did you expect them to come to me? I waited in my castle, ready to destroy them, but no one came. You promised me these creatures, Mafunzalo.”
“Stop calling me that,” said the Castle. “I sent them to you as promised, but it’s not my fault if they—“
Quirk suddenly pushed the Castle aside. He grabbed Percival’s arm as he swung the frying pan at the Castle’s head. Quirk threw the pan out of Percival’s reach and hissed into his ear, “I need to work carefully. I’m on your side, but we must do this perfectly. Wait.” It was Quirk’s voice. Percival grunted. Quirk pushed him away roughly.
“You really should have left them to me,” said Quirk, turning back to the Castle.
“You did not,” said Quirk.
“I sent them to you! I thought—“
“When did you ever think?” roared Quirk. “Since as long as we both can remember, a thought has never been foolish enough to enter your head. You are incompetent, Mafunzalo.”
“Stop calling me that!”
Quirk talked over him. “You are inept, brainless, foolish! Look at you, living in that adolescent body. You are useless, Mafunzalo, and you always have been. I knew that, even before the fettuccini incident.”
“You have no right to bring that up!” shouted the Castle. “That was between us! You swore—“
“Swearing is bad,” admonished the old lady.
“It was him who swore!” The Castle thrust a finger at Quirk. “It was only ever him who did anything! He was the troublemaker, never me! He was the one who sat on the chicken, he was the one who possessed the gnu, he was the one who embezzled the—“
Something rang, cutting the Castle short. Quirk dug through his pocket.
“Since when do you indulge in modern technology, Erik?” accused the Castle as Quirk looked at the cell phone.
“Since when am I Erik?” asked Quirk. He pressed a button on the side of the phone and a blade popped out of the top. He leapt forward and plunged the blade into the Castle’s chest, hard enough to pierce the gravelpox layer.
The Castle’s eyes widened and he shuddered. He blinked once and crumpled to the ground.
Quirk knelt by his side. “The Castle is gone,” he said, examining the wound, “but he’s not dead. He went back to the body he has in the basement. Let’s hope Feiron does his job. In the meantime, who wants a foil hat?”
Feiron peeked over the rim of his bucket as Isaac carried him through the basement of the Castle Under the Cloud. The light was barely enough to read Quirk’s hand-drawn map.
“Lower the torch a little,” said Feiron. The torch singed his head and he yelped. “Too close! Isaac, do you smell that?”
“It smells like bad sausage,” said Isaac.
“That’s me burning,” said Feiron. “When you smell that, the torch is too close. Try to keep it as close to my bucket as possible without getting too close.” His recent encounters with flaming things were many. Their brief foray into Isaac’s old story had turned out to be disastrous, with many fiery objects. The burning refrigerator the Castle had given them as a ship had crashed just after they ejected. It had landed in an old castle, and for some reason, Quirk couldn’t thank them enough.
He bent over the map again and checked the hallway ahead of them. “The map says, ‘Tallow the funnel until you get to a broom.’ What do you suppose that means?”
“Maybe take a candle and spread the wax all over a funnel,” said Isaac. “Do you have a funnel?”
“I don’t think that’s it,” said Feiron. “Just follow this tunnel. We’ll figure out what to do once we get somewhere.”
Isaac carried Feiron along the tunnel until they came into a large round room with thirteen archways.
“Stop here,” said Feiron. “This might be what he meant by that picture of a thirteen-legged spider.”
“I can’t see anything,” said Isaac.
“Of course not. We have reached our destination, methinks.” Feiron crumpled the map and tossed it over his shoulder. “Now what did he say? Insult the ponies?”
“I’m not sure,” said Feiron, peering around the room. “Hey, look, a Big Mouth Billy Bass! I think that’s what Quirk called the creepy singing fish. This must be the room.”
“I can’t see anything,” said Isaac.
“Get over it. Once we’re finished here, maybe the Head Phil can get you Geordi’s glasses.”
“He’s from Star Trek. I wouldn’t expect you to know him.” Feiron glanced around the room again. “I still don’t see any ponies. Maybe they’re all dead. This room is empty.”
“We’re here,” Isaac pointed out.
“True. But the ponies aren’t. Or if they are, they’re too cowardly to face us!”
“Don’t say that! They might hear you,” whispered Isaac.
“I’d be surprised if they did,” said Feiron. “Quirk said they have lousy hearing.”
“He did?” whispered Isaac.
“He said to insult them, which won’t be hard,” said Feiron. “I still hold that they’re cowards. They haven’t even showed up.”
An angry keening filled the air. Feiron finally saw the ponies as they peeled off the walls and formed an ever-thickening circle around Isaac’s feet.
“Isaac,” said Feiron, “I suggest you lie down.”
“Why? What’s that noise? AH! What’s tugging at my feet?”
“The ponies, Isaac. I insist: lie down.”
“Something’s biting my ankles!” said Isaac, panicking. “Make it stop!”
“Lie down and it will stop,” said Feiron soothingly. “Put me down on the ground and lie down.”
Isaac did as Feiron said, screaming at odd intervals as the ponies bit his fingers and ran over his body. “Why is this happening?” he wailed.
“Just feign unconsciousness,” said Feiron. “It will be over in a moment. Quirk said so.”
As soon as Isaac lay still, the ponies backed away and the ground swallowed them. Earth filled Feiron’s bucket until he couldn’t breathe. He felt himself moving downward for a time, then upward again. He hoped it would be over before he decided to take a breath. He had swallowed mud once and didn’t wanted to repeat the experience. It might be a good idea for Isaac, however. The lad needed more blood and dirt in his life.
They finally broke the surface, earth draining away like water. Feiron dug himself out of the earth left in his bucket and took a deep breath. Isaac lay next to him, retching.
“Swallowed some,” said Isaac, wiping his mouth. “Absolutely disgusting.”
“You get used to it,” said Feiron. “Now, where’s this spare body?”
“It was rhetorical.” Feiron looked around. “While we’re waiting, put this on.” He handed Isaac a foil hat he pulled from behind his back. “No, not on your hand—on your head.”
“It’s a hat,” said Isaac delightedly. “How do I look?”
“Horrid,” said Feiron, putting on his own foil hat. He rummaged around behind his back. “Yeess…” he breathed, pulling out a flamethrower. “This will do nicely. Just keep out of the way.”
“Where are you pointing it?”
“Straight at you.”
Isaac scrambled out of the way and straight into the stony arms of a statue.
“Good work, Isaac,” said Feiron. “You’ve found the Castle’s spare body, just as Quirk described it. Good, his feet are planted in the floor. Now get out of the way. Once things start happening, they’re going to happen fast.” He pulled a cell phone from the depths of his bucket and pressed a button. “Any minute now.”
The statues eyes blazed bright blue and locked on Feiron. “What are you doing?” the Castle’s voice boomed from all directions. “Why do you point your elaborate tube at me?” He coughed. “I beg pardon. This body enjoys slightly archaic speech.”
“No problem,” said Feiron, and pressed the trigger.
Flames engulfed the statue, but the blue eyes still blazed from it. Two hands reached from the fire toward Feiron.
“Quick, Isaac, take this!” Feiron thrust the flamethrower into Isaac’s hands. “Hold down on this and keep it pointed at the same spot.”
“I can’t see what I’m doing!” wailed Isaac.
“Don’t worry about that!” said Feiron as the statue’s hands closed around him. “Worry about me!”
The Castle pulled Feiron into the fire and tried to use him as a shield. Feiron’s body melted away and dropped into a puddle at the Castle’s half-formed feet, mixing with the liquid stone from the Castle’s hands. His tin foil hat landed, crinkled and glowing orange, atop Feiron’s remains. The Castle glared at his hands as the flesh beneath the heavy gravelpox caught fire. The flames traveled under the gravelpox, melting it away.
“Nay!” shouted the Castle. “I will have your body, Prince! I will not die here! I will have your Aardvark’s body! I will have your dragon’s body! I will have… Why is it not working?” he roared.
“I have no idea,” shouted Isaac.
“Foil hats have no use whatsoever!” shouted the Castle. “It’s a myth! A myth!” he shouted as he burst into flame.
“Ah, Feiron?” asked Isaac, long after the screaming stopped. “Do I keep holding this button?”
There was no answer.