The Strange Table Meets Its Doom,
Part I

By Dangerously Psycho

     One summer day, the Strange Table was taking an unexpected run through the park.
     The Strange Table is a group of Niles West students on summer break. Their ethnic group consists of Sicko, who is always trying to finish his round of golf in fewer strokes; Annoying, who sent 712 autographed photos of himself to the president; Dangerously Psycho, who's trying to give cattle a better chance of survival by putting the odds in their favor by perfecting 'armed cow tipping'; Drum Boy, who played the triangle in Solo/Ensemble contest; Dude, who's fried more brain cells than eggs; and What DeHelizat, your friendly neighborhood interrogative.
     On this particular weekend, the Strange Table was getting some exercise.
     "We've got to move faster!" stated Psycho.
     "Yeah," panted Drum Boy, "but this never would have happened if you could've just left the automated doors in that pet store alone!"
     "Yaaaa!" shouted What. "The Doberman's catching up!"
     "Guys! Keep running! I have a plan!" gasped Annoying. The four ran ahead as Annoying slowed to a trot. "Hey, animals! Lookatmybutt!"

     A few minutes later, after leaving the park full of dead creatures and a few unconscious people, the teenagers regrouped.
     "So, now wuddawedo?" pondered Sicko.
     "Go to the zoo?" offered Psycho.
     Drum Boy offered Psycho a whap on the head. (Oh, nasty)
     "Why don't we go visit West?" asked What. "We can see the changes they've made to the Hot Dog Hut."
     The five bowed their heads, which includes Sicko's.
     "Why? Why did Bob have to go?" queried Drum Boy. "He was so good to us, even after Psycho's gasoline-doused Power Bucks."
     "How can we be the Strange Table without Bob's careful guidance?" asked Psycho. "It'll be hard, but remember that his mozzarella sticks will live on in our hearts forever."
     "Or, more literally, our arteries," added Annoying.
     "You said 'hard'."
     "We've still got to come up with... I mean, decide where we should go," continued What. "We still have the entire afternoon ahead of us."
     "You said 'ahead'," pointed out Sicko.
     Drum Boy administered a crack to Sicko's skull. "Shut up, Sicko! This is important business."
     "Yeah, yeah. Ok. I'll try to, huh, huh, contain myself."
     "So how was summer school?" questioned Psycho.
     "Ugh. That dork Parin kept trying to get us to let him join the table," explained Annoying.
     "He just doesn't understand that we aren't a club, nor are we a desirable group," interrupted Psycho. "In fact, the administration is well aware of our existence and is sworn to break us apart no matter what evil means they must resort to in order to do so, even to the extent of using the Conformist Device in the deans' office which was designed to rob wayward students of some of their free will, making them follow orders.
     "We don't know why we're here," continued Psycho, after a deep breath, "and we don't know what mystic force brought us together, but someday it will all become clear to us! This I promise you, my companions! All of our questions will be answered, and... and..."
     Psycho slumped forward and fell face-first onto the pavement.
     "So, back to the subject at hand," continued Annoying, "Parin seems pretty determined to join. He sure was persistent, but persistence is my specialty. I'm just glad summer school's over now."
     "We still have to figure out something for us to do for the rest of the afternoon," insisted What. "We're already on the second page, and this episode doesn't even have an apparent plot yet."
     "Yeah," agreed Sicko. "So far, we've only been stating bits of information which may be important to the story line later on. Could it be that this is actually an in-depth story? A drama, if you will?"
     "I don't know, but unless something happens soon, this is going to have been the most boring episode to date," stated What.
     Suddenly, Psycho jumped up, pulled out a broadaxe, and decapitated eleven people in eight swings.
     "Well, that was pretty exciting," decided Annoying.
     "'That' usually is," agreed Sicko.

     Later that evening, What was leading a straight-jacketed Psycho out through the prison sewer system.
     "Next time you go on a killing rampage, try not to spare any material witnesses, you dolt!"
     "We're almost..."
     As the two reached the opening of the sewer pipe, they were surrounded by heavily-armed prison guards.
     "Well, back to the drawing board," assumed Psycho.
     Suddenly, all of the guards' beepers and walkie-talkies went haywire, emitting terrible screeching noises.
     "Quick! Now's our chance!" shouted What. The teens sprinted past the confused guards.
     "Well, that was luck," decided Psycho, as he easily slid out of the straight jacket.
     "No," debated What. "That was Dude's distress signal. It triggers all of the radio and sonar equipment within fifteen miles of his machine. Something's wrong. We'll have to go to his house."
     "Where's the rest of the table?"
     "There's no time to get them. C'mon!"

     When they got to Dude's house, they found the front door pried open.
     "This is definitely Dude's house," confirmed What. "Notice how the security system is strategically installed on the closet door."
     The two went up the stairs to Dude's bedroom.
     "Whoa! Check out all of this mechanical junk!" replied Psycho. "I wouldn't be able to guess what any of this stuff does."
     "This is the distress beacon," stated What, observing a box with one red button and numerous antennae and satellite dishes on top. "Whatever happened to him, he was able to hit this switch to summon us."
     "It looks as though a struggle took place in here," replied Psycho. "Look at how pieces and shrapnel are scattered everywhere."
     "It always looks like this, actually, but Dude wouldn't activate the beacon without good reason. I think you're right. Dude was taken by force."
     "Aliens," concluded Psycho, "they'll never learn. First they came after me, and now my friends! But I'll slay them all, just as I did last time!"
     "Psycho, those were trick-or-treaters."
     "You mean...Dude was taken by...costumed kids???"
     "No, I believe that the school administration is responsible for this. But why Dude? He's always too careful to leave any incriminating evidence. There's no way they could've known that bomb in Dr. Stein's car was his."
     "But if the administration has him, they're probably in the process of conforming him right now. There's no way to get him back."
     "I'm not too certain it is the administration yet, Psycho. There's got to be a clue here somewhere. Let's try to figure out what some of these gadgets do.

     "Y'know, if it wasn't for the stupid court system, we wouldn't have to spring Psycho from prison all the time," began Sicko.
     "We should start a petition to get rid of the thing," responded Annoying.
     "That won't work," quipped Drum Boy. "An honest, non-prejudiced court system is promised in the Constitution. We should just give thanks to those dead forefather guys for the existence of the insanity plea."
     "I dunno," replied Sicko. "Psycho kinda wants to get the chair some day."
     "So why aren't they back yet?" questioned Annoying. "Do you think they got caught?"
     "Yeah, sure. There just happened to be a platoon of heavily-armed prison guards at the end of the tunnel," joked Sicko. "I'm sure they're ok."
     "Meanwhile, let's do something to pass the time," suggested Drum Boy.
     "Yeah," agreed Annoying, "it's pretty dark outside by now. Let's start a bonfire!"
     "But we don't have any textbooks," sighed Drum Boy.
     "No problem!" shouted Sicko. "We'll just break into West and have the bonfire in the parking lot!"
     "Wuddarwe waiting for?" asked Annoying. "Let's go!"
     "But we were waiting for What and Psycho..." began Drum Boy.
     "We'll leave 'em a note!" interrupted Sicko. "Get going!"

     Psycho and What were tinkering around with the objects strewn about Dude's bedroom.
     "All this stuff looks either already busted or detonated," assessed Psycho.
     "And I don't think it was all from a struggle, either," continued What. "This recording system appears to have been smashed with a club."
     "A club?" asked a disgraced Psycho. "How blunt! I prefer the slice of a sharp blade."
     "Either way, the thing's totaled. I think this cassette is ok, though." What ejected the video from the bashed VCR.
     "I don't think that there's much else here," concluded Psycho. "We should let the others know where we are."
     "Good idea. I'll take this tape back with me. I think it was in the process of recording when the camera was destroyed. It seems like our last hope of figuring out exactly what happened here."

     At Niles West, Sicko, Drum Boy, and Annoying were prying open the door to detention hall, where the textbooks are arranged during summer months.
     "I've almost got it..." whispered Sicko.
     Suddenly, a flashlight shined on the three.
     "So, what do we have here?" questioned Mr. Puff.
     "No you don't," began Annoying, "What's not here right now, but I'm Super Protractor..."
     "Forget it! Your foolish confusing tactics don't work on me. You're obviously some of those Strange Deviants."
     "Oh, yeah? Well, lookatmybutt!"
     "You call that a butt? You should see mine!" retorted the security guard. "I've been working here for 467 years. You think I can be so easily annoyed?"
     "Hey," blurted Sicko, "is it true that you're the 'head' of security?"
     "You can't disgust me, either, troublemaker. After blocking of puke spills for centuries, I've become immune to that as well."
     "You said you're 'immune to that'."
     Without warning, Drum Boy took the crowbar from Sicko and gave the guard a strike in the gut.
     "Ho, ho! Nice try, you little non-conformists! I wont feel that for another six years!"
     "You said you 'wont feel that'."
     "I'd love to stand around and chat some more, fellas, but I have some work to get done. Namely, hooking up you three to the Conformist Device." laughed Puff.

     "Hey, where is everybody?" pondered Psycho.
     "I dunno, but I'm going to watch this tape and see if I can figure out where Dude is."
     As What put the tape into the VCR, Psycho discovered a sticky note left by Sicko. It wasn't written in ink.
     "Psycho, look at this!" called What. "It wasn't the administration that took Dude! It was one person, and if I could... adjust... the contrast a bit... holy..!!!"
     "What, we've got a problem!" interrupted Psycho. "While we were gone, the other three went to West!"
     "But I spotted Puff over there earlier this week! Those guys could desperately need our help!"
     "Wuddabout Dude?"
     "He'll have to wait. I know where he is, and I don't think he's in as much danger right now as the guys will be if Puff finds them."
     "Let's get moving then!"

     In the deans' office, a nervous Sicko was being installed in the chair of the Conformist Device.
     "S-so? How d-d-does this th-thing work, anyway?"
     "Well, it's simple, really. You see, by extracting and burning off an amount of your free will, this machine will bring you down to a level of certain self control. Once this is done, you will be more apt to study and be better off in the world."
     "But with less free will, he'll be more like a robotic slave!" argued Drum Boy.
     "As all children should be. It makes life a lot easier on us older people."
     "But you're destroying us for life! We'll never be able to enjoy anything after this!" retorted Drum Boy.
     "Too bad. Maybe if you'd practiced a little more self control earlier on, means such as this would not be necessary. You and your friends will still be able to feel emotions, you'll only be a lot more docile."
     Puff activated the machine, causing Sicko to writhe in pain.
     "This is odd," stated Puff. "Usually the procedure only takes a few seconds, but he isn't even calm yet. The ratio of free will over self control must be tremendous!"
     "You're hurting him!" shouted Drum Boy.
     "Certain sacrifices must be made to insure self control."
     Sicko suddenly went limp, with a monotonous look on his face.
     "Ah, the process has been completed," smiled Puff. "Interesting, though. In most cases, the subject is still able to laugh and talk normally, but your friend appears to be totally be devoid of all emotion."
     This spectacle was shrewdly interrupted by a flying axe blade severing Puff's flashlight into two.
     "What the..." began the surprised security guard.
     "No, the name's What DeHelizat. My friend Psycho and I notice that you seem to have recovered our missing companions. We'll be taking them home now, if you don't mind."
     "The hell you will! Hey! What do you think you're...?"
     Psycho, who had been taking this time to remove the plate from over the light switches stabbed a small, round metal object into the circuitry, shorting out the lights to the room.
     "...doing?" finished Puff. "No matter... shoot! You destroyed my flashlight, you deviants. Oh well. I always carry two."
     Puff turned on a second, smaller flashlight. As he looked around, all traces of the teenagers had vanished, except for the three words which had been carved into the wall with a protractor, "Annoying was here."

     That night, the five all stayed together. Everyone seemed pretty shaken up, and fell asleep quickly. Go figure.
     What woke up to a shattering sound early the next morning.
     "Hey, Drum Boy!" whispered Psycho. "What's up."
     "Nothing. I'm trying to sleep."
     "No, I mean What is already up. He isn't asleep anymore."
     "Mmmph," responded Drum Boy. Psycho got up and joined What near the window.
     "Look at this," What pointed to a brick on the floor next to the broken window.
     "A brick? Shotguns are more effective."
     "No, Psycho. There's a note attached. Actually, this one is written right onto the brick."
     "So wudduzit say?"
     "This is not good." What shook his head in disbelief. "The tape... just before we went to rescue the guys last night, I found out who it was that took Dude. It's the same person who wrote this brick."
     "So, is it a ransom note or something?"
     "No, a threat. He kidnapped Dude to force him to genetically create a team of clones... clones which have strange attributes to combat our own!"
     "Oh. Of course."
     "No, this is serious. Dude was taken by Parin! He wrote that unless we surrender and all team up with his creations to become the Parin Table, he will have them destroy us!"
     "That's bad, right?"
     "Of course It's bad! We've been challenged by a genetic army created by Parin using Dude's technologies!"
     "But then..."
     "What! Psycho! Come quick!" shouted a frantic Drum Boy.
     "Why? What is it?" questioned What.
     "It's Sicko. He's like, dead or something!" answered Drum Boy.
     "Sicko's dead?" inquired Psycho.
     "No, more like braindead," explained Drum Boy. "He can't talk, very much, and his reaction time has slowed down considerably!"
     "The effects of the Conformist Device all but killed Sicko," stated Annoying. "He's almost unconscious in this form. There's got to be some way to regenerate his free will!"
     "Maybe if we were to take the Conformist Device and alter it..." began Drum Boy.
     "No," interrupted What. "The Conformist Device draws out free will and burns it like fuel. There is no way it can create free will."
     "Then maybe we can decrease the level of self control in him to reestablish the ratio he had before?" queried Annoying.
     "That would work in other cases, but with Sicko, or any of us, he would be left with nothing. The amount of free will he has now is too low to compensate for."
     "Then how do we bring him back?" asked a worried Psycho.
     At that moment, the television in the room turned itself on, displaying the smiling face of Parin.
     "I'm sure you've noticed my message by now," spoke the television. "First I'd like to assure you that your friend is ok." The screen shifted to the left portraying Dude chained to the wall. "Now, I'd like you to meet my new friends."
     "I have created five new members to the brand new, and soon to be prestigious, Parin Table. There is still some room to join if you like, but time is running out. Unless you surrender to me in one hour, my friends Obnoxious, Hyper, Drug Overdose, Arrogant, and Cello Girl will be sent to wreak havoc and destroy you. I'll be hearing from you shortly."
     The face blinked off the monitor, leaving static.
     "Guys, we have a major problem," revealed Annoying.
     "Somehow, we have to defeat Parin's mutant army, and Sicko's like a vegetable," whined Drum Boy.
     "There must be something that we can do!" pleaded Psycho.
     "Well, I have one last resort," began What. "I never mentioned it before, but in the last week before school let out, I bought some mozzarella sticks from Hot Dog Bob, and within one of them I found a piece of paper with some unusual instructions scrawled on it. I figured it would come in handy some day, and now it may be the only thing which saves us."
     "We don't seem to have any other choice," agreed Drum Boy. "So wuddowe have to do?"
     Following the instructions on the paper, the group formed a circle and began meditating. The four concentrated in unison.
     After a few minutes however, Psycho called out, "This is stupid!" breaking the trance.
     "I agree. This isn't accomplishing anything!" said Drum Boy.
     "I fell asleep," admitted Annoying.
     What was no longer in the room.

     Will the members of the former Strange Table defeat Parin's evil army? Will Sicko ever return to his strange form? What has happened to What DeHelizat? Will Dude be rescued? How do you pronounce Des Moines? Nya, nya! I know all the answers, and you don't!

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