Chapter 1: Prologue and Chapter 1: Invitation
Title: Have Yourself a Mad Little Christmas
Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date Completed: December 18, 1997
Disclaimer: "SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron," its characters and concepts are copyright to Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc and are used without permission.
The small group stood in the middle of the street looking up at the smoke billowing from the top of Enforcer Headquarters. Each had a place to go, but the smoking building held their attention for a few minutes more. Even the two SWAT Kats, known for their quick exits following an exploit, remained, eyes on the smoke trailing from the shattered remains of their jet, the TurboKat.
The SWAT Kat, T-Bone, still glowing from the warm look Callie Briggs had given him and his partner for saving her life, felt somewhat comforted in the loss of his jet. Further, he was thrilling in his defeat of Mad Kat in their final confrontation. Mad Kat had dubbed that fight a game. Well, T-Bone had won the game. Mad Kat’s jack-in-the-box, in which the evil ghost was now again trapped and in which he had trapped his intended victims, was now held tightly in the hands of T-Bone’s partner, Razor. The escaped asylum inmate, Lenny Ringtail, who had aided the creature and made possible his plans, lay flat on his back nearby, out cold, his and his evil cohort’s plans ruined.
Commander Feral was scowling up the smoke cloud, darkly wondering how long it would be before he had an airstrip again. To one side of him Lieutenant Commander Steele sulked at the reprimand he’d just received and remained silent, eyeing Feral with only scantily concealed hatred. One Feral’s other side Mayor Manx was casually assuring Feral that he’d get the building repaired; it would just require a mild raise in taxes. Callie had stepped up beside him and was vainly trying to get in a word, concern for the MegaKat citizens written across her face.
An aging Siamese kat slowly walked out of the entrance to Enforcer Headquarters and up to the small group, angling himself toward the two SWAT Kats.
“Here, Sir, I believe this is yours,” said Razor, offering him the jack-in-the-box.
Accepting the box, the old kat murmured, “I’ll return this to its place,” as he turned to go. Looking back over his shoulder, he met T-Bone’s eyes squarely and added, “But, Mad Kat may not be so easily stopped. The game may not yet be finished.”
Chapter 1: Invitation
“Oww!” T-Bone jerked his leg away from the gentle touch that felt like fire to his burned skin.
“Don’t be such a baby, Chance. I had a kitten this morning with a pavement burn this bad. Didn’t say a word,” the orange kat bending to look at T-Bone’s leg scolded in his quiet, mild voice as he firmly grabbed T-Bone’s thrashing leg with his left hand. He leaned closer to study the laser burn, adjusting his glasses slightly. T-Bone watched from his vantage point atop the white-sheeted examining table.
“This is worse than a pavement burn,” he growled, gritting his teeth. “Got ’em all the time when I was a kitten. I never said a word either. About those. This hurts like the dickens!”
“He’s right. It’s not that bad,” Razor put in, standing up from his chair. He walked up beside his friend, smirking at T-Bone’s pouting. Still, his brow furrowed a bit as he stared at the ugly red welt running down T-Bone’s leg. It was one of the most serious laser burns he’d seen in a long time.
“And, what exactly were you doing to get this?” the orange-furred kat asked, straightening.
“Not movin’ fast enough,” T-Bone mumbled.
“Takin’ care of a couple of thugs tryin’ to rob the First National Bank,” Razor clarified.
“Since when do thugs like those carry laser rifles?” T-Bone grumbled.
Razor shook his head. “You gotta have some pretty advanced equipment to rob a bank in MegaKat City these days,” he warned. “We better be on our toes and stop thinkin’ of these guys as small time’ just ’cause they’re not tryin’ ta’ take over the world.” He eyed T-Bone’s leg with a frown. “Or we’ll get more of that.”
T-Bone nodded his agreement before returning his attention to the kat examining him.
“So, what’s the prognosis, Doc?” he asked.
“Medicated salve is about all I can do,” the doctor replied, running a hand through his thatch of brown hair. “I’ll get some with a mild anesthetic for you,” he added, walking to the cabinet over the tiny examining room desk and opening it to remove a tube of ointment.
“So, what’ll we owe you for that?” Razor asked, a hint of firmness creeping into his voice as his eyes followed the other kat walking back across the room to T-Bone.
“Look at my car when you come out to the house Christmas Eve. And, eat everything your mother puts in front of you,” the orange kat replied with a smile.
“Aw, Dad, I’ll explode!” Razor moaned, clutching his stomach melodramatically. “She only wants me ta’ eat one of all her thousand veggies! Then, there’s the turkey. Oh, and the pies. And, cake…”
T-Bone licked his lips. “Send it my way,” he pronounced, his smile changing to a brief wince as Dr. Clawson gently rubbed the salve on his burn with a soft cloth.
The three kats laughed.
“The amazing bottomless pit,” Razor proclaimed, making a sweeping hand gesture in T-Bone’s direction.
“The ‘amazing bottomless pit’ is feeling pretty bottomless right now,” T-Bone commented as he stood up, resting his weight on his injured leg gingerly. “Let’s head out and run by the Mega-Burger.”
“Yeah, we better be going,” Razor agreed as he took the tube of salve his father extended to him.
“Alright,” Dr. Clawson paused, grinning, “be careful, don’t talk to strangers. Try not to get shot at by strangers. You know, all that other ‘parental stuff’ I’m supposed to spout out.”
“Right, Dad,” Razor called back as he headed out the door behind T-Bone. He paused to peer back around the door at his father, eyes sparking with mischief. “We do good work,” he said proudly, giving his father a thumbs up.
“Five years it’s been now?” Dr. Clawson asked casually, a smile spreading across his face.
“Every year he says he’s not comin’….”
“And, every year...,” Dr. Clawson continued the thought.
“The food gets him!” the two pronounced together, sharing conspirator’s broad grins before Razor disappeared after his partner.
Chapter 2: Outsider
Fire danced merrily in its stone fireplace. The sound of a log popping mingled with the whistle and soft chug-chug of a tiny, green steam engine. Light glowing brightly, smoke streamed from its stack as it chugged around its track in front of the fireplace. The ears of the small kitten watching it happily suddenly flicked and twitched around.
“Uncle Jake!” he shouted, jumping up, eyes alight as he ran to the window that looked out on the driveway. A few second’s glance confirmed what his sensitive ears already knew before he bounded past the armchair where his mother sat and down the hall to the front door. He yanked the door open, yelling joyfully. “Uncle Jake! Uncle Chance!”
“Joey!” his Uncle Jake called happily as he stepped out of the passenger’s side of the tow truck, opening his arms to admit the bundle of energy that leapt at him. “Okay, uncle from the uncle. Ya’ gotta let go or I won’t be able to get your presents out,” said Jake, laughingly as Joey finally released him to bound around to the other side of the truck. “Watch out, Chance,” Jake warned his friend as he reached into the truck to pull out a stack of presents. “He’s headin’ your way and he’s gotta death grip.”
“Gotcha!” yelled Chance, swooping Joey up into the air before the kitten whirlwind could latch onto him. “Here ya’ go,” said Chance as he plunked Joey down on his shoulders.
“Joey’s not hangin’ off you somewhere?” asked the red-haired she-kat waiting at the door laughingly, opening the large, wooden door to admit Jake and his load of presents.
“Unfortunately, favorite uncle status can change dependin’ on who’s givin’ rides,” returned Jake, entering the house and heading down the hall.
“I got the tiny terror, Sharon,” called Chance as he stepped up onto the porch with a load of presents and Joey perched atop him.
“I can see the top of your head from here, Mommy,” called Joey as Chance walked past his mother.
“I’m sure you can,” she agreed, closing the door and following Chance down the hallway into the den where Jake was already setting down his load of presents.
“Hey, Mom,” said Jake, turning from setting his load down by the tree and opening his arms to hug his mother. “As always, I managed to talk Chance inta’ coming with me for Christmas. Or your cooking did anyway.”
Chance opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off by Mrs. Clawson.
“Good. And you’re spending the night so you’ll both be here tomorrow on Christmas morning, right?” she asked.
“Aw, Mrs. Clawson, you don’t want me here all night. Ask Jake how much I snore,” protested Chance.
“We’ve got you here, and you’re staying. That’s final,” announced Mrs. Clawson. “There’s two beds in Jake’s old room, and we made sure long ago that the boys’ room was at a safe distance from ours.”
“Okay, I give,” said Chance, setting Joey down and flopping onto the couch in defeat.
“Alright, supper’s ready so let’s eat.”
With that, Mrs. Clawson hurried into the kitchen. Sharon followed her. With a smile, Jake’s father, Dr. Clawson, shook his head at Mrs. Clawson’s retreating back.
“You’ll find it’s very hard to talk her out of anything, Chance,” he warned, turning back to the two tomkats. Looking at Chance he asked, “So, how’s the leg?”
“Just fine,” Chance returned. “Thanks to you, Doc.”
Dr. Clawson shrugged.
“You two are my most frequent customers. Just don’t tell Mrs. Clawson,” he added before turning and heading into the kitchen.
Jake started to follow, but suddenly found Joey clinging to his hand and dragging him away toward the fireplace.
“See my train set, Uncle Jake?” he asked, releasing Jake’s hand and bounding over beside the train track.
“Yeah, that the caboose you got for your birthday?” asked Jake, bending over to better see the train and pointing to the shiny red caboose.
“Everything’s working okay, I guess?” asked Jake, the hint of a sneaky, suspicious sort of smile on his face.
Large, innocent blue-gray kitten eyes met his. “Well, the other engine – my blue one – won’t run. Could you look at it, Uncle Jake?”
Perfect innocence in that face.
“I don’ know, Chance, I think he’s your nephew. You share a sneaky side,” said Jake, looking over his shoulder at Chance waiting by the kitchen door. Turning back to Joey he added, “Right after supper, okay, you imp?”
Joey beamed and scampered into the kitchen. Shaking his head as he watched the little kitten, Jake stood up and headed into the kitchen, Chance following him.
“Here, you go, Chance. You sit here by Jake,” said Mrs. Clawson, pulling out one of the kitchen table chairs for Chance to sit in.
“Thanks, Mrs. Clawson,” Chance replied with a smile, sliding into the chair and promptly snatching up the fork by his plate. He eyed the food spread across the table hungrily.
“You keep those big paws off that food until we’re all seated and it’s blessed,” Mrs. Clawson warned before heading toward the oven to check her biscuits.
As she walked away Chance turned to Jake with a broad roguish grin. “What happens if you eat unblessed food?”
“Heartburn,” Jake returned dryly.
“Ooohhh,” Chance nodded sagely.
Some time after supper found Chance and Jake standing on the Clawson’s back deck. Chance stared out at the distant MegaKat Mountains, his tail swishing restlessly. Jake watched his friend. He knew without it being said that Chance was ready to go. He left every year after supper to go home to the garage and do whatever it was he did in that quiet, lonely time. He’d never spoke much of his kittenhood, but Jake knew that it had been markedly different from his own. Chance finally broke him from his thoughts.
“Look, Jake, it’s your family. I wish I’d had a real one, but that can’t be changed. I should just go. I’ll think of some way to explain it to your mother.”
“Yes, it’s my family,” said Jake, “And they want you ta’ feel like it’s yours too. That’s sorta why we invite you every year.”
Silence ensued, broken only by the thump of Chance plopping himself into one of the deck chairs. “Aw, c’mon, Jake! I don’t fit. I can’t fit!” he finally burst out, rising from the chair so quickly that it rocked back into the wall with a sharp crack.
“Only ’cause you won’t let yourself.”
Jake walked up beside his friend at the wooden deck railing and leaned on it.
“Y’know Joe never had much time for me. He was ten years older, and he was always playing ball or with his friends or... something,” said Jake softly. “There were times when I didn’t feel like I had a brother. Then, all of a sudden I really didn’t have one. But, I do now.”
Chance was silent. In his and Jake’s friendship difficult situations like this were often left unspoken, voiced only in the soundless communication the two shared.
“I’ll stay,” he finally muttered, but Jake knew that he still felt left out, sitting on the outside with Jake as his only link to the happy family group they could hear through the window.
Chapter 3: Disappearing Act
“Chance, Jake, we just decided to drive into the city and see Rockefurrer Center,” said Sharon as Chance and Jake entered the den after their talk on the deck. “They have it lit up for Christmas you know and I haven’t seen it in years.”
“Neither have I,” added Mrs. Clawson.
“Well, I—” began Chance.
“Please come, Uncle Chance,” pleaded Joey.
Chance melted. He nodded his head in agreement as Jake said, “Cool, we’ll take our truck since there isn’t enough room for everyone in your car.”
“I wanna go with Uncle Jake and Uncle Chance,” pleaded Joey, looking up at his mother with those huge, eyes as she stopped on her way out the door at the hall closet.
“Well…,” she began, reaching into the closet for hers and Joey’s coats, eyeing Chance.
“I’ll drive, Sharon,” said Jake as they walked out the front door.
“Well, alright,” she returned.
“Yesss!” yelled Joey, bounding along behind his uncles.
“Hold it!” shouted Sharon. “Take your coat, Joey. It’s chilly.”
As Joey trotted back to his mother to get his coat, Chance turned to Jake. “What did you mean, you’d drive?” he asked sternly.
“I am,” returned Jake calmly.
“No you’re not. I’ve got that seat exactly where I want it.”
“It’s a truck seat, Chance; it doesn’t move.”
“Bu—but, that’s my spot.”
“Wow!” gasped Joey from his perch on Jake’s shoulders as he took in the breathtaking spectacle before him.
Towering above them was a huge pine tree covered in bright, glowing lights. Smaller trees beside it glowed in their Christmas finery as well. The sounds of “Joy to the World” echoed gently from loudspeakers posted around the large, open square. The air was unusually cold, causing shivers and runny noses among the crowd that packed the square to see the magnificent sight on Christmas Eve.
Looking up at the magnificent tree, Chance felt a sense of awe comparable to the kitten’s. It was a magnificent sight. “First time I ever came to see something like this,” he thought. Looking around at the Clawsons he added, “First time I almost felt like part of a family.” Then, he shook his head. It couldn’t be that easy. They couldn’t just accept him like that.
Perched atop Jake, Joey shivered in the cold air. Sharon saw it.
“He needs his coat,” she told Jake.
Jake nodded. “He left it in the truck. Mom wants to run over to this coffee shop she’s heard of for some hot chocolate while we’re here. Me and Chance’ll take him over and get the coat outta the truck and then we’ll meet you guys at the shop.”
Several minutes later, Jake was sliding the key into the lock on the tow truck’s door. Joey was beside him. Chance was in front of the truck, fuming over a parking ticket they had gotten.
“You told me to park here,” Jake defended himself before Chance could blame anything on him.
“S’a perfectly good place ta’ park,” Chance grumbled.
Suddenly, Jake heard Joey yelp. His eyes had been on the lock not the kitten for only seconds. Swiftly looking to his right, he saw Joey vanishing into a swirling pool of light that seemed to float eerily several inches above the pavement.
Without hesitation, Jake leapt into the portal after Joey shouting to Chance.
Chance’s head jerked up, but all he saw was an empty street.
Chapter 4: In the Box
Jake, meanwhile, found himself suddenly surrounded by light. Painfully bright, swirling colors flashed past his eyes as he hurtled into the glowing abyss. Then, he saw an opening.
With a thump he landed on the ground beside Joey. Surrounding them was a surreal amusement park painted in flaming orange and yellow with hints of other psychedelic colors. Even the ground and sky sported the same insane colors. In the distance, twisted carnival rides went through their paces, the screams that emanated from them more terror than the mix of fear and excited exhilaration usually heard in an amusement park. Towering above it all was a bizarre fortress of some sort from which all else seemed to radiate.
The entire place felt unnatural and strangely evil. Jake could feel it and an odd sense of familiarity that only heightened his worry. This evil, unnatural place reeked of a waking nightmare Jake didn’t want to think about.
“Wh— where are we, Uncle Jake?” asked Joey, his small voice high and shaky as his wide eyes took in the unnatural landscape.
“I don’ know, Joey,” muttered Jake, looking around.
“Well, well, I seem to have more guests,” an echoing voice suddenly boomed, seeming to emanate from all around them.
Jake and Joey looked up in shock as a huge, grinning kat clad in a garish orange and yellow jester’s outfit appeared in front of them. His grin faded a bit and his eyes narrowed at the sight of Jake.
“Mad Kat,” murmured Jake under his breath, holding Joey tightly.
“You’re not invited,” snapped Mad Kat, pointing a finger at Jake. “I suggest you show yourself out,” he added, pointing to Jake’s left where another swirling portal suddenly appeared.
“Fine,” returned Jake, standing up and taking Joey’s hand.
No sooner had he set one foot forward than Mad Kat boomed, “Not so fast. You’re more than welcome to leave, but the little one has to stay and play with me.”
“I’m not leavin’ without Joey,” returned Jake, glaring at Mad Kat.
“Well, then I guess you can stay, but we can’t have you breaking the rules,” said Mad Kat as the portal disappeared. “Only kittens allowed,” he added, pointing a hand at Jake.
As he did so, Jake disappeared in a puff of smoke. Joey let go of his hand and jumped back in terror. The smoke cleared in seconds, revealing a ten-year-old kitten in Jake’s place.
“Uncle Jake!” yelled Joey, running forward.
“It’s okay, Joey,” Jake assured, as Joey wrapped his arms around his uncle’s waist and buried his face in Jake’s shirt. “It’s gonna be alright,” Jake added, his voice high and kittenish, his face showing a totally unkittenish hard, determined look as he glared at Mad Kat.
“Well, time for some fun,” announced Mad Kat, snapping his fingers.
There was another puff of smoke and Jake and Joey suddenly found themselves in a surreal, eerie funhouse. Unlike the flaming yellow and orange of the bizarre landscape, the funhouse’s bright colors were somewhat muted, at once, brilliant and darkly threatening. Evil laughter echoed from someplace far down the distorted hallways that stretched in front of the two. Joey whimpered softly and clung to Jake.
Without warning, Mad Kat appeared behind them.
“Go ahead, have fun,” he said, pushing the two forward down the nearest hallway.
The eerie hall gleamed with mirrors that lined not only the walls, but the floor and ceiling as well. Jake’s dragging feet had barely touched the shiny mirrored floor when it dropped away abruptly, slanting sharply downward into blackness.
With a yelp of surprise, Jake skidded down the incline, dragging Joey, still clinging to his shirt, with him. The two plunged into the near darkness. Mirrors glowed to life in eerie, fantastic colors, revealing surreal images of Jake and Joey as they hurtled deeper into the funhouse. Joey whimpered softly, crying and burying his face deeper in Jake’s shirt at the sight of the eerie images. Jake himself felt cold chills at the sight of the contorted, mutated reflections, thinking that, in this nightmare world, such images could be real soon enough.
Light suddenly appeared ahead. Jake and Joey skidded out of the tunnel into the unnatural light of the surreal amusement park again. Beside the tunnel was the funhouse entrance, a replica of Mad Kat’s grinning face.
“It’s okay, Joey,” assured Jake, sitting up and using one hand to force Joey’s head up so he could see the kitten’s tear-stained face.
“I wanna go home,” cried Joey.
“I’ll get you home,” returned Jake, his tone reassuring and fierce at the same time.
Chapter 5: Kat Out of the Bag... and the Box
“C’mon, Sharon, don’t panic on me. I’m sure they’re okay,” Chance pleaded into the pay phone, recognizing the rising terror in Sharon’s voice even above the noise of last minute shoppers bustling around him as he stood several feet from the service desk of the crowded department store.
“Chance, how could they have just disappeared in the middle of a city street?”
“I don’t know, but I’ll keep lookin’, okay, Sharon?” asked Chance. He missed her response as an announcement suddenly blared over the store’s PA system.
“Attention, Katmart shoppers, a shipment of Tickle Me, Elmers has just arrived on aisle—”
Chance never finished hearing the announcement either as a mob of screaming shoppers thundered past him in the general direction of the toy department. He shook his head as he watched them, hoping the kats stocking the shelves were safely out of the way. But then, he figured they probably just shoved the unopened boxes out of the store room with a long pole, rather like feeding the animals at the zoo.
“What was that, Sharon?” Chance bellowed into the phone. “There’s a little feeding frenzy going on in here.”
“I said, maybe you should call the Enforcers.”
“Sharon…,” Chance began but was stopped as the television sets across the aisle suddenly flashed a Kat’s Eye News’ special report logo.
“This is Ann Gora for Kat’s Eye News,” announced the newswoman as her face appeared on the screen. “Reports of missing children are pouring in from across MegaKat City. Parents say that their children disappeared, in some cases in only a matter of fleeting seconds that the parents’ backs were turned. The Enforcers are investigating these strange disappearances, but have no clues at this time. Parents are advised to keep their children at home and under close watch.”
“Look, Sharon, I gotta go,” said Chance quickly. “I’ll do my best.”
With that, he hung up, a grim look on his face. He hurried out of the store and into the adjacent alley where his tow truck waited. Opening the door quickly, Chance glanced around and then pressed a button on the lower part of the driver’s seat. Instantly, a metal drawer slid out. Chance scooped the blue flight suit out of it and glanced around again.
“Some heroes get to dress in phone booths at super-speed. Others of us get to dress in alleys with the danger of gettin’ caught in our boxers,” he muttered.
Several minutes later, he was set. Standing on the roof of a building above the alley, the SWAT Kat pressed a button on his glovatrix.
“Hope the TurboKat gets here soon,” T-Bone muttered, the grim expression deepening.
Elsewhere, Mad Kat’s surreal realm, Jake’s face mirrored that expression. He stood up and surveyed the unnatural amusement park, a puzzled look on his face.
“Mad Kat can’t of gotten out again,” he muttered, letting his eyes follow the walls of the evil funhouse upward. The “sky” above was orange and yellow like everything else. Yet, it seemed more like a ceiling than sky. “That’s it!” Jake gasped. “Mad Kat’s not out, we’re trapped in his box! And that’s the lid,” he added, eyeing the sky thoughtfully.
“Well, somebody knows a lot, doesn’t he?” boomed Mad Kat suddenly behind them.
Both kittens whirled around to face him, shock and fear that bordered on terror reflected in their eyes.
“You wouldn’t be thinking of trying to leave before you’d had some more fun, would you?” he added threateningly. “Looks like I’m just going to have my assistants keep an eye on you.” With this, there was a puff of red smoke to his right and group of ghastly, red-eyed garish clown creatures appeared. “I’ll leave it to you, boys,” said Mad Kat, disappearing in another poof of smoke.
The clowns started to surround Jake and Joey.
“Run!” yelled Jake, grabbing Joey’s hand and running down the narrow passageway that stretched between the funhouse and its neighboring carnival tent.
The red-eyed clowns followed, wicked laughter trailing in their wake.
As though suddenly changing his mind, Jake skidded a stop beside the protruding ball-topped points of the fool’s cap that topped the grinning face at the entrance to the funhouse. Looking up at it, he grabbed Joey awkwardly around the waist and lifted him with a grunt.
“Here – grab hold and start climbing,” he told the kitten, groaning with the effort as he boasted his nephew onto the protrusion. “Man, this was easier when I was bigger.”
Joey did as he was told and clambered onto the hat. Giving the sinister clowns a quick glance, Jake followed him, jumping upward and scrabbling with his claws to get a grip on the slick, plastic-like surface of the hat. He scrambled up to the next protrusion where Joey was working at clambering the last few feet to the top of the funhouse.
“Keep going,” Jake called as he began to heave himself up after Joey. Feeling a tug at his ankle, he twisted his head around to meet one of the evil clowns eye to eye. “Take that!” he growled, kicking it in the face with his free foot.
The creature fell backward, colliding with one of his companions. The two hit the ground with a thump and disappeared in a cloud of red smoke. Jake’s triumphant shout turned into a yelp as another creature grabbed him by both ankles.
“Leggo of my uncle,” shouted Joey, kicking the clown. “Go with your friends.”
As if complying with his wishes, the clown did indeed fall to the ground and disappear like his fellows.
“Nice one, Joey,” said Jake as he quickly climbed the rest of the way to the top of the funhouse, joining Joey.
“What now, Uncle Jake?” the small kitten asked.
“If we’re high enough, we just… push,” said Jake reaching upward, his hands contacting the solid lid to Mad Kat’s jack-in-the-box that he had hoped for. He pushed harder and a portion of the “sky” above the funhouse raised upward, letting different, more normal, light shine into the surreal world.
“Okay, Joey, climb up on my back and through the hole,” said Jake, his voice strained with the effort of supporting the lid.
He gritted his teeth as Joey clambered through the hole, the double strain almost too much for his kittenish body. As Joey’s tail disappeared through the hole, Jake started to follow and suddenly felt rough hands grabbing him from behind. The evil clowns had him surrounded.
Joey found himself stepping out of the box to a long cluttered table. He turned around and looked back in at his uncle.
“Back away from the hole,” Jake shouted to Joey as several of the clowns began to reach toward the kitten outside.
“But, Uncle Jake—!” Joey protested, backing away just out of range of the reaching hands.
“Go,” yelled Jake. “Go get your Uncle Chance. He’ll know what to do.” With that Jake released the lid, which collapsed on the clowns’ hands. Instantly, they disappeared.
The remaining creatures grabbed Jake roughly.
Joey stepped away from the horrible jack-in-the-box, shaking. Looking away from it, the sight that met him was not much more comforting. The room he found himself in was dark, the only light was pale, emanating from a doorway to his left. Cluttered masses of antiques and knick-knacks surrounded him. Strange statues with twisted faces and eerie eyes stared at him.
With a whimper, Joey leapt off the table and fled through the doorway only to find a room very much like the one he had just left. Joey ran on until he reached the front of the store where there was a door surrounded by two windows. Here, he stopped and tentatively reached for the door knob. With a shaking hand, he turned the lock and opened the door. He was outside and running down the street in a flash, his one thought to find Chance, forgetting in his fear and hurry that miles of dark and treacherous city streets lay between him and even the outskirts of the quiet suburb where he lived.
Within the jack-in-the-box world it seemed that Jake was in even far greater danger than his young nephew.
“Well, well, my suspicions are confirmed,” boomed Mad Kat, looming over Jake who was held tightly by the evil clowns. “It’s not just any adult kat that managed to enter my domain, but a SWAT Kat,” he added, pointing his finger at Jake, who was suddenly in his SWAT Kat flight suit. “I never forget a face, or a taste for that matter,” he added.
“At least one kitten’s escaped, you psycho,” growled Jake, shoving the adult-sized SWAT Kat helmet Mad Kat had put on him up and out of his face so that he could look up at the grinning jester. “And, when T-Bone gets here, you’ll lose it all.”
“Oh, I’m counting on your friend returning,” replied Mad Kat, reaching down and picking Jake up by the shoulder harness that went around the back of his neck. Holding the kitten so that they were eye to eye he added, “He and I didn’t get to finish our little game, so I’ve decided to make it best two out of three. In fact, getting him to come play with me was part of my entire reason for taking all the little ones.”
Seeing his reaction, Mad Kat cackled evilly. “Hopefully, your friend will be polite and get here on time. In the meantime, you’re going to the best accommodations Mad Kat Land can offer.” Mad Kat snapped his fingers together even as he finished the sentence.
Jake suddenly found himself in the near darkness of a bare cell-like room. One wall held a twisted dungeon-type door. The opposite wall was indiscernible, veiled in a misty green glow.
“Hate to see the worst accommodations,” muttered Jake, reaching up to remove the over-sized helmet still sitting on his head. Finding the mask beneath it to be equally unwieldy without the helmet to hold it still, he jerked it off too.
The faint glow of the far wall caught his eye as he shook his head to loosen the fur matted by the mask. Cautiously, he advanced toward it, dropping the helmet to the floor. The glow brightened as he got closer and, with a strangled yelp, Jake suddenly found himself swept into the wall, almost flattened, not entirely painlessly, onto the wall itself. From there he could see the dark interior of the room outside the jack-in-the-box. Antiques and knick-knacks of all kinds cluttered the walls and dominated the floor space.
With an effort, Jake pulled himself back. Panting from his ordeal, the SWAT Kat-kitten sat down in the middle of the floor. There was nothing left to do but wait and pray.
Chapter 6: Uncle T-Bone to the Rescue
“C’mon,” growled T-Bone, slamming his fist onto the display panel in front of him in the TurboKat. Stubbornly, the display remained blank. “Jake’s gotta have his communicator – why don’t you pick it up?” snapped the big kat. “Where could he and Joey be?” he groaned, briefly resting his head in one of his huge hands. “They were right there. I heard Jake yell my name, and then they were gone.”
Letting out a deep breath, he glanced out of the cockpit and down at the darkened city streets below. Christmas lights twinkled everywhere amid a rare spattering of snow flakes that sprinkled down on the quiet city.
Joey shivered in the cold. Normally, he would have loved the gentle snowfall, but Jake had never gotten his coat and the night was bitterly cold for the subtropical MegaKat City. Wiping his running nose with his shirt sleeve, he sniffled a little and let a few tears fall. The dark and scary streets never seemed to end.
Walking into the open, grass lot of a tiny baseball field, his ears pricked at a distant roar. Looking up, wide green eyes found the TurboKat silhouetted against the bright, full moon above. The profile was unmistakable, a duplicate for the mental image he knew by heart from his Uncle Jake’s stories.
“Please let a SWAT Kat notice me,” Joey pleaded, waving his arms, desperately trying to draw attention to himself.
T-Bone struggled to hold tired eyelids open. Suddenly, snapping awake, he looked around dazedly. Something urged him to glance out of the cockpit and at the ground below. Far beneath him a tiny figure waved frantically.
“What on—?” T-Bone muttered, turning the jet and punching a button on his control panel. The dimensional radar sparked to life in a green glow. Impatiently banking the jet and letting it descend, T-Bone twisted a knob to zoom in on the figure below. “That’s Joey!” he exclaimed, swiftly cutting on the jet’s VTOL engines and landing.
No sooner had he jumped from the cockpit than he was met by the kitten, talking fast and hysterically.
“Whoa, whoa! What happened?” T-Bone asked.
“Uncle Jake— in box— with the—!” Joey babbled hysterically.
“Whoa, now just calm down, Joey, okay?” said T-Bone gently, bending down on one knee and reaching up to unstrap his helmet. He held it in his left hand as his eyes quickly roved the empty field, right hand hovering over the knot where his bandanna was tied on. Seeing all was clear, he looked at the sniffling kitten, now staring at him with wide, wet confused eyes. In one, swift motion T-Bone jerked his mask off.
“Uncle Chance!” Joey gasped, flinging himself onto the big kat, hugging him fiercely and burying his head into T-Bone’s flight suit.
“It’s okay, Joey. Tell me what happened,” T-Bone murmured softly.
Chapter 7: The Game
“Okay, Joey, just stay here in the jet,” admonished T-Bone, standing on the TurboKat’s wing and looking at the kitten huddled in the rear seat still firmly strapped in.
“I’ll be back with Uncle Jake. Don’t worry,” T-Bone assured before he closed the canopy and jumped to the roof of the building containing the antique store, feeling far less confident than he sounded.
Jake sat on the floor of the eerie cell, hunched over with his head on his knees. Abruptly, the glowing green wall before him sparked with a curious sound. Looking up, Jake saw T-Bone hazily through the glow.
“T-Bone!” he gasped.
T-Bone approached the jack-in-the-box softly, his pawpads soundless on the tiled floor, his eyes narrowed; he was ready for anything.
“Chance! Wait! It’s a trap!” The voice rang out across the room.
T-Bone stopped and looked in shock at the side of the box facing him where Jake’s face appeared, glowing with a green light in the darkness.
“Razor, are you okay?” T-Bone asked, stunned.
“I’m fine. Look, T-Bone, it’s you Mad Kat wants. He wants to finish the game.”
Suddenly, Mad Kat’s face appeared, replacing Jake’s.
“Mad Kat!” growled T-Bone. “If you hurt him or any of those children, I’ll—”
“Oh, they’re all quite well, having the time of their lives in my little amusement park,” assured Mad Kat. “And, if you want them to stay that way and return to your safe, boring little world out there, I suggest you finish the game with me.”
“I finished it last time.”
“Oh, but I’m calling it best two out of three. And, as I hold all the cards, you’ll just have to play it my way. Either beat me at my game or prove one little fact to me.”
“What would you like proved?” demanded T-Bone. He smiled sardonically. “You want me ta’ prove you’re a psycho?”
“Ha! Not funny,” Mad Kat snapped. “No, you’d have to prove that once in my mortal life I got a Christmas present. And, I’ll tell you now – that’s something I most certainly never received. Nobody ever cared that much for me.” Mad Kat’s face was twisted in a bitter, kittenish scowl. His tone was like a spoiled kitten’s, but edged with a soft, truthful sadness.
Briefly, not pity, but a vague sense of empathy filled T-Bone. He knew what it felt like to be unloved and ignored. He shook it off quickly, face settling into a scowl. There was no point in crying over spilt milk or feelings hurt years ago.
“So, what will it be?” Mad Kat demanded.
“Let’s play,” T-Bone growled.
“Very well.” With an evil cackle, Mad Kat disappeared and the lid of the sinister jack-in-the-box opened.
Taking a deep breath, T-Bone walked forward. There was a flash of light, and he suddenly found himself in the middle of a crazily colored baseball diamond.
“I thought we’d begin off with a little ball game,” said Mad Kat appearing behind him.
Whirling around T-Bone demanded, “How do two people play baseball?”
“It’s but a simple matter of multiplication,” returned Mad Kat with a wave of his hand.
Instantly, eight duplicates of T-Bone appeared behind him as did eight duplicates of Mad Kat behind him.
“What—!” gasped T-Bone, whirling to face the other kats who, in turn, gaped at each other and at him.
“There, we’re ready to begin,” announced Mad Kat. “Your team’s at bat.”
T-Bone suddenly found himself in a dugout surrounded by seven of the duplicates; the eighth was at bat. A Mad Kat duplicate posed as catcher behind him. Mad Kat stood on the pitcher’s mound, his fool’s cap converted into an odd version of a baseball cap.
Looking at the duplicate kats around him, T-Bone started to mutter, “Hope you guys’re on my side,” only to find every one of the duplicates saying his exact words simultaneously, eyeing each other the way he supposed he was studying them.
“What are you guys? Xerox copies of me?” he asked, again simultaneously with the others.
All of them moaned and returned their gazes to the kat at bat, who focused his attention on Mad Kat.
Mad Kat narrowed his eyes, studying his opponent. An orange and yellow baseball appeared in his hand. Swiftly, he tossed it into the air. Confusion flashed across the face of the duplicate T-Bone at bat, mirrored by his fellows. As the ball plummeted downward, a tennis racket appeared in Mad Kat’s hand. Raising it, he slammed the ball at the batter.
Recovering from his shock, the T-Bone gritted his teeth and swung at the ball. It whistled past him and exploded on contact with the catcher’s mitt.
“What—!” gasped the T-Bones.
There was a collective cackle from the Mad Kats, including the catcher who seemed unfazed by the explosion.
“Just spicing up the game,” yelled Mad Kat. “Strike one,” he added, preparing for his next pitch.
The T-Bone at bat gripped the bat tighter and waited. The pitch came fast. The duplicate waited until the last possible second and swung the bat, simultaneously releasing it and bolting toward first base. The bat and ball connected, triggering another explosion. Somehow, part of the exploding ball flew toward the outfield. One of the Mad Kat duplicates in outfield watching the ball suddenly disappeared to reappear in the air, directly in the path of the ball. Catching it neatly, he vanished and reappeared on the field just as the T-Bone skidded into first base.
“You’re out!” bellowed Mad Kat.
The duplicate T-Bone disappeared.
“That’s not fair!” shouted the T-Bones.
“Who said this game was fair?” returned Mad Kat. “Next.” Mad Kat’s evil grin widened as the next kat came to bat.
On shaky legs Joey clambered out of the TurboKat’s cockpit and onto the wing. Carefully, he slid to the gravel roof of the building. He glanced around fearfully and then headed in the direction he’d seen T-Bone take, to the square shed-like structure that housed the stairs opening on the roof. On reaching it, he found the door wide open, the concrete stairs illuminated faintly in the moonlight. Slowly, he made his way downward, dreading again entering the terrifying store.
“But, I have to help Uncle Jake,” he reminded himself in a quaking voice.
A door met him only a few stairs down. Again, it was wide open. T-Bone hadn’t been in a mood to cover his entrance.
Soundlessly, slowly Joey stepped out into the back of the antique store. His heart thumped wildly, but he forced his feet to keep moving, praying softly, quickly. A green glow drew his attention to the jack-in-the-box. Joey took a deep breath and stepped up to the box, eyes wide.
Jake’s head jerked up as the eerie wall sparked again with its curious, indescribable sound.
“Joey!” he gasped, seeing the kitten. Dreading it, he stepped to the wall.
Joey yelped in terror as Jake’s face appeared on the side of the box.
“It’s okay, Joey,” Jake assured. “I’m fine. Look, you’ve gotta go.”
“I wanna help, Uncle Jake,” Joey pleaded, eyes filling with tears as he stepped closer to the box. “Uncle Chance left to help and he—he didn’t come back… yet…”
“Joey, there’s nothing you can do now. Uncle Chance’s gonna have ta’ handle this one alone,” Jake finished softly.
“Please, Uncle Jake.” Joey tentatively reached a tiny hand to the glowing wall.
Seeing no harm in it, Jake grit his teeth and stretched out a hand to meet Joey’s. The wall flared up in green flame as their hands “met”. Jake felt the pulse of energy against his hand. Then, it changed. He felt the soft, short fur of Joey’s hand. With a gasp the kitten was sucked through the wall and into Jake’s arms.
T-Bone gripped the bat tightly, his claws sliding out unconsciously to dig into the wood. Pointedly, he ignored Mad Kat’s grinning face directly in his line of sight at the pitcher’s mound and sought out the more-than-familiar faces of his teammates. The other three T-Bones stared back at him from their respective bases, tense and poised for flight. T-Bone scowled. The three were the last of his duplicate teammates. The rest had been declared “out” and vanished as quickly as they had appeared.
Finishing his brief inspection, T-Bone gave his full attention to Mad Kat, grinning back at the garish clown insolently.
“Ready whenever you are, Chuckles,” he shouted across the diamond.
“If you say so,” Mad Kat purred, winding up for the pitch.
The ball hurtled from his hand. T-Bone waited, copying his twin who had discovered the trick to batting in this mad game. At the last second he swung with all his strength, releasing the bat with the swing and leaping into a run for first base.
Bat and ball meanwhile connected in a pyrotechnic frenzy. As had happened throughout the game, the ball broke all laws of reality and remained intact enough to hurtle over the field. The bat splintered, a great chunk of it hurtling in Mad Kat’s direction. The evil jester’s eyes widened in surprise for a split-second before he disappeared in his trademark puff of orange smoke. He reappeared just as quickly, eyes narrowed dangerously.
The T-Bone clone on third base was inches from home base as Mad Kat focused on him, snapping his fingers maliciously. The clone suddenly felt the dirt beneath his pawpads become a slick mud. With a yowl of surprise he skidded away from the base, slamming into the nearest support pole of the backstop. Even as he collided, he winked out of existence. The duplicate behind him suffered the same fate, unable to stop in time.
The final duplicate saw the fate of his teammates and made a running leap from third base to home. His eyes lit triumphantly as his leap brought him within a foot of the base. He slipped and almost fell as he landed, regaining his balance to lunge for the base. It moved away as though it had a mind of its own even as his great hands reached for it. The clone slammed into the ground, vanishing like his fellows.
T-Bone growled as the last of his teammates disappeared courtesy of Mad Kat’s trickery. He redoubled his speed, aiming straight from second to home. The base loomed nearer and nearer, the sole focus of his attention. Without warning, it was gone.
T-Bone was met with a tremendous brick wall. His quick thinking lessened the blow, but nevertheless, he smacked into the wall with enough force to throw him on his back, the wind knocked from his lungs. Mad Kat’s face filled his clouded vision as the clown bent over him.
“You lose,” Mad Kat pronounced, grinning from ear to ear.
T-Bone snarled in fury.
Chapter 8: Deadly Gambit
Joey trembled in his uncle’s arms as the two sat in the floor of Jake’s prison. Jake rumpled the kitten’s unruly thatch of hair, humming softly.
It was some minutes later that he recognized the tune. Quietly, he began to sing the words into Joey’s flattened ears.
“Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright,” he whisper/sang under his breath as the quaking kitten responded, ears flicking to the sound. “Round yon virgin, mother… and child….” Jake continued. He broke off abruptly as the words left his mouth, letting the sound fade away.
“That’s it,” he murmured.
“Time for Round Three. The finale of our games,” Mad Kat announced as T-Bone dazedly stood up, rubbing his head.
“Joy,” T-Bone ground out, glaring up at Mad Kat, who had re-assumed his giant size.
“I thought we’d go with a true test of skill and endurance,” the jester continued.
“I have to redo the twelve labors of Hercules?” T-Bone suggested dryly, raising an eyebrow.
“I thought I’d be more sporting,” Mad Kat assured. “Besides, I enjoy joining the competitions. We’re going with a triathlon – you know: swimming, biking, ending with a nice jog.”
As he finished, Mad Kat snapped his fingers. The baseball diamond was gone in a flash. Stretching before the two kats was an expanse of blue water, vanishing where it met the orange and yellow sky. Looking back, T-Bone could see nothing. Behind them the ground disappeared, becoming a swirl of orange.
“Well, are we ready?”
T-Bone turned back to face Mad Kat. The clown had morphed into a bizarre amphibious version of his usual shape. His feet were flipper-like fins, his hands webbed. He flashed T-Bone a glowing smile.
“Pardon my manners. I seem to have forgotten your “equipment”.” He waved a hand at T-Bone, shouting, “Onyourmarkgetsetgo!” and leapt into the water.
T-Bone stared after him, stunned. Then, it was as though his breath caught in his throat with a hoarse rattle. T-Bone choked and gagged, gasping for air that he couldn’t seem to find. Endless seconds crept by as he stumbled to his knees. Vaguely, he became aware of an urge. The water; he needed to reach the water. As all his instincts, save that one, tiny voice, screamed against it, T-Bone rolled into the water.
As he hit the water, he felt his lungs fill, the pain lessen. Instinctively, he aimed for the light of the surface. Abruptly, he stopped himself, again obeying the faint voice. He forced himself to wait despite his fears of being under the water. He’d become a tolerable swimmer and even liked it, but he hated to have his head under for more than a few seconds. Still, he waited. As his rapid heartbeat slowed to normal levels, his head cleared.
‘What’d that psycho do ta’ me?!’ he screamed inwardly.
He looked down at himself. Like Mad Kat’s, his feet were webbed flippers. An examination of his hands revealed similar flippers with less webbing that left his fingers separate and identifiable. He could feel the weight of a large dorsal fin sprouting from his back and the comfortable swish of water through what he realized must be gills on his neck.
There was a rush of water above him.
“Slowpoke!” Mad Kat shouted as he swam past T-Bone, somehow talking underwater.
Clenching his teeth, T-Bone gave chase.
“Joey.” Jake patted his nephew on the back. “We gotta get out of here. I know how ta’ help Uncle Chance.”
Joey’s head remained buried in Jake’s shirt as he whimpered softly.
“C’mon, Joey, I need your help,” Jake asked softly.
Joey looked up at him, the fur of his face damp and sticky with tears. “Really?” he mumbled, blue-gray eyes wide.
Jake nodded, standing up as Joey disentangled himself from his arms.
“Hey,” Joey suddenly piped up with a smile, for the first time noticing Jake’s flight suit. “You’re a SWAT Kat too! So, that’s where you get all the good stories,” he added in a conspirator’s tone.
“You got it,” Jake agreed. He bent down to add in a stage whisper. “Just don’t tell your Mom or your Grandma.”
“Promise,” Joey announced, straightening up to his tallest and crossing his heart.
“You’d better keep that promise now,” Jake admonished.
Joey drew an imaginary zipper across his lips.
“Alright, now let’s find a way outta here.”
The twosome searched the room quickly. There wasn’t much to look at; the room was bare. Jake was thoughtfully examining the heavy wooden door when Joey called out to him.
“Uncle Jake, look!”
Jake ran to where the kitten was down on his knees, peering through a tiny hole at the base of the wall. Jake sat down beside Joey and eyed the opening. It resembled a stereotypical mouse hole with its smooth oval shape. Through the hole Jake could see the wild colors of Mad Kat Land.
“But, we’ll never fit,” he muttered out loud.
“Uh, huh, look,” Joey announced, eyes bright as he stuck his hand into the hole, pushing against its side. The hole widened easily with his effort.
Jake’s eyes lit as he plunged his own small hand into the hole to help the kitten. The two pushed the opening wider and wider. Finally, Jake’s arms were at their widest extent. The opening was easily big enough to admit both kittens’ small forms.
“Okay, Joey, go now,” he ordered. “I’ll be right behind you this time,” he reassured, seeing the look of horror that flashed across Joey’s face as the kitten glanced up at him.
Joey slipped through the hole easily, stopping just beyond it to wait for Jake. Jake followed him, holding the hole until he was clear and then releasing it. He quickly looked back to see that he and Joey had just emerged from under the fabric wall of a carnival tent. The fabric drifted back to the ground in slow motion. Jake watched it curiously and then turned his attention back to the outlandish amusement park surrounding him.
“Now, where would Mad Kat and T-Bone be?” he murmured to himself.
A flicker of green light drew his attention to a mirror mounted on the wall of a small funhouse-type building several feet away. The mirror glowed like the phantom wall of Jake’s prison. It sparked and suddenly cleared to show an underwater image.
Letting Joey trail behind him, Jake stepped toward the mirror, frowning in thought. Abruptly, the image blurred in a flurry of bubbles. As they cleared Jake made out two forms swimming.
“T-Bone!” he gasped, recognizing the trailing figure. It only took him an instant to realize what was going on. “C’mon, buddy,” he urged. “You can beat ‘im!”
T-Bone was paddling faster than he’d ever swam in his life. The fins on his hands and feet helped his speed, but Mad Kat, it seemed, naturally adapted to any of the forms he chose. He seemed to know exactly how to use his new form. T-Bone, on the other hand, was learning as he went.
“Finish line ahead!” Mad Kat announced, stretching out a webbed hand to indicate a bright red line floating across their path just ahead.
T-Bone tried to shout a retort but his words dissolved into bubbles. Sullenly, he thought insults in the clown’s direction as he swam faster.
As the red line drew nearer T-Bone pulled ahead. Just beyond the line he could make out a gentle slope in the sandy bottom that rose to meet the light of the surface. With a couple of strong kicks he powered his way past Mad Kat and through the line. T-Bone repressed the urge to smirk at Mad Kat and continued toward the “shore”. Seconds later he was clambering his way up the slope.
Even as his head broke the surface, T-Bone knew he had problems. He was still a kat/fish hybrid, and he still could only breath with his gills. T-Bone dove back under the shallow water, digging his webbed hands into the soft sand to keep himself from floating back to the surface, which was only inches above his high dorsal fin.
There was a flurry of bubbles to his right. Turning his head, he watched Mad Kat flash to the surface. Through the water he could see a blurred image of Mad Kat transforming back into his normal shape. The image moved away.
‘So, I lose,’ T-Bone thought bitterly. ‘It’s a rigged deck anyway. What were my chances in the first place?’ The baseball game had already come close to taking his heart from the game. A game one couldn’t win was no fun. The unfairness of it dulled even his competitive spirit. He’d only continued in the hope that he might be able to save Jake and the kittens. That he’d failed them made him burn with shame deep within.
Without warning, he felt a pull at his back. In a spray of water, he was unceremoniously yanked from the “lake”. T-Bone gasped, thrashing his limbs in the air as he dangled by his shoulder harness. He waited for the burning, the inability to breathe. It never came.
“Well, what’re you just hanging around there for? There’s a game to win!”
T-Bone twisted his head to see Mad Kat standing on the shore with a fishing pole in his hand. The line from the pole stretched out over his head. T-Bone realized that the hook was in his shoulder harness. Glancing down at himself, he realized that he was also back in his normal state.
Mad Kat calmly deposited T-Bone on the dry shore, thumping the big SWAT Kat on the head with the pole, which disappeared as it connected.
“Ow!” T-Bone growled, scowling up at Mad Kat. “What’s the point?!” he snarled. “You won’t let me win! You control this world! You control the game! Let’s end it, Mad Kat!” His face grew gravely serious. “I’ll give you the game now. I’ll stay and play your stupid games forever. Just let Razor and the kittens go.”
“Now, now, that would be too simple,” Mad Kat purred.
T-Bone let his head drop in something bordering on despair.
“Let’s say I give you a more sporting chance,” Mad Kat continued with a sweeping hand gesture. T-Bone raised his head to see a tunnel stretching before him. “Now, on your feet.” Mad Kat snatched T-Bone up by his shoulder harness again and plopped him onto a KMX stunt bike, similar to those he’d seen on MSPN, that suddenly appeared beneath him.
T-Bone quickly put his feet down to keep the bike from falling over. He looked back at Mad Kat.
“All you have to do is make it through,” Mad Kat purred. “No race. Just survive. Make it to the end and you and the little ones – even your stubborn little friend – are free to go. You have my word.”
“Like that means anything,” T-Bone muttered under his breath, taking a firm grip on the handlebars of the bike and eyeing the tunnel ahead fiercely. Taking a deep breath, he put his feet to the pedals and started into the foreboding tunnel.
Jake turned from the mirror with a sinking heart. Mad Kat wouldn’t let T-Bone win. As he turned away the mirror sparked again and its images faded.
“The bad clown’s cheating,” Joey voiced Jake’s thoughts in his own words as he looked up at his uncle.
“Yeah,” Jake agreed, “which is why we’ve gotta get to ‘im.” He looked back at the mirror as his face twisted in thought. “Joey, stand back,” he said suddenly, pushing the kitten behind him.
Joey backed away uncertainly. Jake faced the mirror and then leapt forward, landing the most powerful kick his small body could give on its smooth face. The mirror shattered into jagged shards. Jake bent to pick up a sizable shard with less vicious points than some of its fellows. He held it to his face.
“Let’s see if this still works,” he murmured.
As though hearing him, the glass glowed to life. T-Bone appeared through the misty green, angling the stunt bike down a steep incline within the dark tunnel. In keeping with Mad Kat’s unique architectural style, the floor beneath T-Bone was tiled orange and yellow. The walls were lined intermittently with mirrors.
“Now, if I just knew where he was. Or where Mad Kat was,” Jake muttered as he watched T-Bone in the glass. He glanced upward, searching for any clues. His eyes lit on the fortress-like structure towering over even the twisted roller coaster tracks. “That’s it,” he whispered.
T-Bone reached the bottom of the treacherous incline.
“Okay, where’s the death traps?” he asked, stopping and peering down the tunnel.
As though answering him, a great blade swung at his head from the darkness above. Yelping, T-Bone ducked just in time.
“Alright, now we’re cookin’,” he announced, leaning over the bike’s handlebars and pedalling his hardest up the next hill.
Reaching its summit, T-Bone gasped in horror as he was met with a gaping pit; it was too late to stop. Thinking quickly, the SWAT Kat jerked up on the handlebars. The movement, coupled with T-Bone’s momentum, succeeded in sending the bike over the hole. Even as he flew through the air, T-Bone searched the other side of the hill. He gasped again. Another incline was flying up to meet him.
As the bike hit the side of the next hill, T-Bone released the handlebars and reached for a hold, expecting the slick surface he’d felt beneath his bike’s tires throughout the entire trip. Instead, his grasping hands plunged into a soft earth-like surface. Gripping the bike tightly between his legs, he got firm hold in the shifting orange earth. Scrabbling desperately, he clambered to the summit of the hill, reaching back to snatch one of the foam-covered handlebars in his right hand and haul the bike up after him.
“Ne-ext,” he murmured as he stood and remounted the bike once more on slick tiles, green eyes narrowing.
Jake and Joey stared with wide eyes up at the towering structure that Jake assumed had to be Mad Kat’s headquarters. The building was similar to one of the funhouses, but at tremendous proportions. Giant concave and convex mirrors covered its sides, glinting in the false light. Any remaining portions of the walls were painted in the garish psychedelic orange and yellow seen throughout Mad Kat Land. The building was topped with a fool’s cap like Mad Kat’s.
Just before the two kittens rose a massive pair of wooden doors. Without warning, the doors began to swing open ponderously with a screeching creak.
“Over here,” Jake hissed, grabbing Joey’s arm and pulling the kitten after him as he hurried behind the nearest of the opening doors. The two peered through the crack made by the door’s hinges as they connected door and wall. A group of the hideous red-eyed clowns poured out of the fortress, fanning out as though searching for something.
“C’mon,” Jake whispered as the clowns headed away from the door.
Soundlessly, the two kittens skirted around the door and dashed into the fortress, quickly scooting out of the doorway to press their backs to the wall.
Jake carefully craned his neck to look back through the opening for signs of pursuit. “All clear,” he assured. “Now, let’s find Mad Kat.”
The two set out down the long, mirror-lined corridor stretching before them. Like the funhouse mirrors these lit with twisted images of the two kittens as they passed. The images glowed forth in freakish greens, blues, and purples.
Joey eyed the images fearfully, grabbing Jake’s hand tightly in his own.
“Don’ worry, Joey. They can’t hurt you,” Jake assured.
An almost soundless sinister chuckle filled the corridor behind them as, on cue, a distorted image of Jake stepped free of its mirror glowing with red light. The creature paused and raised its arms over its head in a lazy stretching motion. As it stretched it grew, lengthening into an adult size. Smiling a smile Jake wasn’t even capable of, it advanced on the kittens from behind.
Jake’s ears flicked back, hearing the soft footfalls. Gently, he unwrapped his hand from Joey’s. Whirling at lightning speed, he kicked the creature just above its knees. He gasped as he saw its face, backing away.
Unfazed by his kitten’s kick the mirror creature kicked back, catching Jake in the stomach. Jake was knocked back on the floor so hard that the mirror shard he’d held tightly flew from his hand to skid across the stone flagging. Jake looked up at the red image as it stepped up to leer down at him, reaching a claw of a hand out towards him.
Wordlessly, Joey appeared from nowhere, kicking the distorted creature in the shin. Before he could back away, it had snatched him up in its twisted claws, holding him high above the floor to glare into his terrified face.
As Jake looked up at Joey’s dangling feet an idea came to him. He twisted his head to find the shard. It was several feet away out of his reach. Quickly, he rolled toward it, grabbing it tightly. He leapt to his feet, holding the piece of glass in front of his body.
“Hey, Ugly! Over here!” he bellowed to the mirror creature.
Snarling, it dropped Joey and leapt for the larger kitten. Jake quickly raised the shard to meet the creature. A startled look flashed across the red image’s face for an instant as it plunged into the mirror fragment, disappearing.
Breathing heavily, Jake lowered the shard. His eyes found Joey dazedly staggering to his feet. He rushed to the kitten.
“Are you okay?” he asked worriedly, bending beside his nephew. He could already see a the discoloration that would become a large bruise through the fur just above Joey’s left eye.
“Yeah,” the kitten muttered softly, trying to look brave. “Let’s find Uncle Chance and get outta here,” he added in a quaking voice.
“You said it,” Jake agreed.
T-Bone plunged over the crest of a hill, twisting the bike in midair to land sideways for a controlled skid down the near vertical far slope. As he landed a giant, jagged spear of rock suddenly shot from the ground nearly impaling him. T-Bone jerked the bike to the left just in time to avoid it, still hearing his sleeve tear as the rock sliced through the cloth.
The next few feet were frantic zigzagging around more spears that ripped through the tiles, shattering them and leaving T-Bone a scarred, rough surface to race across. The SWAT Kat cleared the field still pedaling with all his strength, breathing heavily. He powered himself up the next hill, wondering why there had to be so many hills.
Reaching the summit, he stopped in horror. Swinging from the ceiling ahead and stretching into the darkness beyond his eyes’ reach were giant, spiked maces, sporting the familiar, tasteless yellow and orange.
“Hey, Mad Kat, you realize if I’m impaled on one of these things, my suit’ll clash!” T-Bone shouted to the very air around him, not caring if his statement made sense as he tightened his grip on the handlebars. “Least it’s more or less fair’,” the big kat growled, pushing off the top of the hill and hurtling down amid the swinging maces.
Once more, he settled into the tense, deadly zigzagging game. Suddenly, another pit loomed before him out of the gloom, a great mace swinging over it vertically. T-Bone thought fast. The pit was far too big to jump, especially since he’d finally reached a flat stretch. He eyed the giant mace.
“Whatever works,” he muttered, making his plan. “If I survive this, I’m tryin’ out for the X-Games.”
He watched the mace for several seconds, gauging his time. Then, pedalling his hardest, he aimed the bike straight at the tremendous mace, reaching the pit’s edge just as the mace swung back. Yanking upward on the handlebars, T-Bone sent the bike flying through space. As his momentum died and he felt gravity begin its work, the rush of air from the mace reached his ears. T-Bone once more gripped bike between his legs and reached forward, catching onto two of the vicious spikes lining the mace. T-Bone held on with all his strength as the mace swung back, waiting for it to reach its farthest point and letting go.
Kat and bike hurtled through the air, landing just past the edge of the pit. Hitting the slick surface, T-Bone lost his grip on the bike and slid down the corridor. His slide ended as he slammed into one of the mirrors that lined the walls. The mirror didn’t shatter as the big SWAT Kat had expected. It seemed to become liquid as he connected, letting him pass through easily. As his form vanished into the liquid-like glass it returned to its original state.
T-Bone gasped as he came through the other side only to be met with a cliff. He hit the ground just before the cliff with a thud. His right leg, twisted under his body, connected first with an audible crack. Still reeling with the shock of pain, T-Bone slid on across the ground, which was like glass, and over the cliff. Desperately, he twisted as he fell, catching onto the edge with both hands, claws outstretched. He grit his teeth and scrabbled against the cliff face with his left feet claws, his right leg hung limp and useless, throbbing painfully. His searching claws couldn’t find a purchase; the rock too was as slick as glass.
Chapter 9: A Christmas Present
Mad Kat watched T-Bone’s struggle through a full-length mirror as he stood in the heart of his bizarre realm. Around him was a throne-room of sorts, sparsely furnished, save the ever-present mirrors. The room was tremendous, built to fit Mad Kat’s preferred giant size. The clown grinned as he watched the SWAT Kat slip further over the edge.
“Looks like I’m about to win!” he shouted.
The voice behind him made Mad Kat whirl around to see Jake running into the room with Joey on his heels.
“You said he had to beat you or prove you’d been given a Christmas present. I can prove that,” the SWAT Kat shouted breathlessly.
“You couldn’t possibly prove that!” snapped Mad Kat. “I never received a Christmas present because somebody cared about me.”
“Yes, you did. Get T-Bone outta there and I’ll explain.”
Mad Kat eyed Jake suspiciously, but nonetheless snapped his fingers. T-Bone appeared with the snap, lying on the floor. He quickly scrambled to his feet, his face contorting with the pain as he tried to put his weight on his right leg. Finally, he propped himself enough to be balanced and surveyed his surroundings, staring first at Mad Kat then at Jake with wide eyes.
“What—?!” he gasped, sweat running through his damp fur.
“I got it covered, bud,” Jake assured, stepping forward with Joey hiding behind him.
T-Bone eyed his friend in confusion, for the first time noticing Jake’s kitten state. He started to ask but held his tongue. Jake had that air about him that said he was in charge of situation, or as in charge as anyone could be. T-Bone settled to watch and wait.
“Now, about this proof of yours?” Mad Kat pressed, eyeing Jake who stood staring up at him confidently.
“You have gotten a Christmas present,” Jake repeated. “Maybe, it didn’t come in a package, but it came. A tiny, little baby lying in a manger.” Jake held his hands in front of his body as though cradling a baby as he said this. “The very meaning of Christmas itself. A gift for you – for all of us,” he continued. “Maybe you just never accepted this particular gift.” He held his hands out slightly, gesturing as he spoke.
As he did so, a glow started in his open hands. Jake’s eyes widened, but he held his hands steady. A shimmering present coalesced atop his upturned palms. It was wrapped in softly glowing gold paper and tied with a red bow.
Jake held it up toward the towering Mad Kat. “Here,” he offered quietly.
Mad Kat bent to take the present in one huge hand. He held it for several seconds just staring. Then, he looked down at the two SWAT Kats and the kitten.
“Well, I guess you did prove it after all,” he murmured. He looked back at the present in his hand. Glancing back down suddenly, he found them still there, watching him with wondering eyes. “Well, what’re you standing around for?” he demanded. “I’d like to be alone with my thoughts if you don’t mind! As promised, you and the little ones are free to go.” He flicked a hand out at them absently, a brief smile flashing across his face.
The threesome found themselves back in the middle of Rockefurrer Center, surrounded by hundreds of startled, crying kittens. The kats who had been misplaced by their sudden appearance stared at them in shock.
With a strangled cry of joy a she-kat suddenly recognized a dear, familiar face amid the mass of kittens and ran forward to snatch up her kitten. She swept the tiny bundle of fur into her arms and hugged him tightly, tears running do in the short fur of her face.
As though a dam had broken loose, other mothers followed suit, rushing to find their children.
As he watched the scene T-Bone felt even the throbbing in his leg diminish. Who could mind that amid this? The scene was joyful, chaotic, but wonderful. A smile spread across his features as he watched the reunions. He glanced over at Razor, who was once more his full size and in his full SWAT Kat uniform, complete with helmet and mask. His friend was watching the scene with a similar smile, a hand on Joey’s shoulder to keep him from getting lost in the crush of kats.
“You’re back to normal!” Joey proclaimed suddenly, looking up at Razor.
Razor glanced down at himself.
“Hey!” he announced happily, turning to T-Bone. He immediately snickered as he faced his friend.
“What?!” T-Bone demanded.
Razor merely pointed to the top of T-Bone’s head. Joey followed his uncle’s hand and began to giggle himself. T-Bone quickly reached up to his head to snatch off the red and blue fool’s cap that was perched atop his helmet. He scowled at it for a minute and then smiled.
“Guess it does sorta fit,” he pronounced, plopping it back on his head so that it slid to one side, hanging off one ear cock-eyed.
Joey giggled harder. A sudden shout made him stop abruptly.
“Joey!” Sharon raced through the crowd to snatch the kitten into her arms even as he turned to face her. The Clawsons were just behind her. Sharon buried her face in Joey’s shirt, hugging him tightly. She glanced up at the SWAT Kats. “Thank you,” she breathed. The red-haired she-kat suddenly did a doubletake and looked around. “Where’s Jake?!” she asked, eyes searching the crowded streets before they returned to Joey’s face.
“I….” Joey glanced back at Razor. “I… don’t know. He….”
“I’m sure he’s around,” Mrs. Clawson assured her, stepping up to lay a hand on Sharon’s shoulder. Briefly, she stared into Razor’s eyes. His eyes widened as his mouth formed into an “O” shape.
Dr. Clawson stepped up beside his wife, his eyes suddenly flying to T-Bone’s leg.
“Looks like you’ve got a bad break there, Son,” he commented. “How’s about you come with me to my office and we’ll have a look at that?”
T-Bone nodded gratefully, accepting Razor’s supporting shoulder as the two turned to follow Dr. Clawson back to his car. Sharon, still carrying Joey, and Mrs. Clawson trailed behind them.
“But, Jake—?” Sharon started.
“Well, hmm...” Mrs. Clawson started uncertainly, looking at Razor’s retreating back.
He turned his head to look at the two she-kats. “Yeah,” he agreed, “Just wait a few minutes.”
Sharon looked back and forth between the two, confusion clear on her face.
Joey tugged on her shoulder-length hair. “You’ll see, Mommy,” he whispered with bright eyes.
Behind them, the Enforcers were just arriving to organize the scene. Parents and children alike were crying in joy. The quiet spattering of flakes from earlier in the night had become a genuine snowfall that floated gently down on all.
“Feeling better?” Sharon asked Chance, who was now propped comfortably on the couch, having taken over its entire length, save the spot where Joey had curled up beside him and promptly gone to sleep. His right leg was bound in a thick cast, which already bore Joey’s eager attentions, and resting on several pillows.
“Yeah, the doc’s a wonder,” Chance announced.
“You and Jake are wonders too,” Sharon commented as she knelt beside the couch to scruffle the thatch of fur atop his head.
“Thanks, we don’t get told that too often.”
“Yeah, we’re usually just called ‘hotshot jerks’,” Jake chimed in from his spot on the floor.
“Don’t forget ‘reckless hotshots’,” Chance added.
“I don’t care what anyone else says. You’ve always been wonders to me,” Mrs. Clawson pronounced. “Both of you,” she added, looking Chance in the eye before getting up to go check something in the kitchen.
Sharon whispered another, ‘thank you,’ in the big kat’s ear as she stood and scooped Joey into her arms, carrying him off to his room at the back of the house.
Chance looked around the room as she left. The Christmas tree glowed in the dim lighting, Joey’s train chugging around it on its track. Dr. Clawson was sleeping lightly in the easy chair across from him. The smell of something delicious was wafting from the kitchen. He smiled. So, this was family. Yeah, he liked it.
Jake stirred on the floor before him, sitting up a bit from a light doze and raising his head from its resting place against the couch. He turned his head to look at Chance.
“Whadya s’pose happened ta’ Mad Kat?” Chance asked.
“No telling,” he murmured. “Maybe he accepted the present.” He paused, his eyes growing fuzzy and distant for a moment. “What he said... About never having been given a present, never having been cared about…. That must be awful. Guess I don’t know how good I have it, do I?”
Chance looked back at Jake and then at the room around him.
“Neither do I, Jake. Neither do I.”
Author’s Comments: Yes, the Mad Kat Land idea was inspired by the level in the SWAT Kat SNES game. I hope I made this different enough and interesting enough that nobody cares.
“Carol of the Bells” – Mannheim Steamroller arrangement
“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” – Mannheim Steamroller arrangement
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” – Buryl Red arrangement
Track 7 of the Hunter/Hunted game music