“Where did he come from?” I asked.
“Danged if I know, Hatboy,” Creepy replied with refreshing honesty. “He came crashing out of my bookshelf like Gumby on bath salts. Remember Gumby on bath salts?”
“How could I forget?” I said, and walked in a slow circle around Creepy-who-was-actually-Mister-C-of-9, examining him with a careful super-sidekick eye. “He was never quite the same after he got into those chemistry books, and we never found the rest of Pokey’s body … look, how can this – were you doing anything when he … crashed out of your bookshelf? Which bookshelf specifically?”
Creepy looked evasive, or at least he pretended not to hear me and busied himself pulling out coke glasses, which was the way he looked evasive. I took this to mean that Mister C of 9 had crashed out of one of Creepy’s more embarrassing Younger Reader bookshelves. “I wasn’t doing anything,” he said. “What do you take me for, Hatboy? Someone who does things?”
“Why do you keep calling Chuck Hatboy?” Mister C of 9 demanded.
“Why do you keep calling me Chuck?” I countered.
“Because that’s who you are, genius,” Mister C of 9 said, and turned to Creepy as Creepy handed him a glass. “We might be looking at amnesia,” he said, “or possibly a body-snatcher scenario.”
“I was just thinking that,” Creepy enthused.
“Why would either of you be thinking that?” I asked, having had a few seconds to reason it out in my head. “Obviously, if Mister C of 9 is Creepy from an alternate universe – does the ‘C’ stand for ‘Creepy’?” I asked.
Mister C of 9 took a long drink of coke, and gasped in relief. “Ahhhhhhhhhhh-”
“Anyway, it seems pretty clear to me that if Creepy is called Mister C of 9 in – let’s call it Universe 9 – then there’s no reason Hatboy wouldn’t be called Chuck there,” I continued.
Mister C of 9 raised a finger. I couldn’t help but notice his hands were weirdly small and disturbingly youthful-looking. “You didn’t let me finish,” he said, then concluded his gasp. “-hhhhhhhhhhh.”
“Well done,” I said, looking at his weird black cloak and wondering if Universe 9 was an evil universe, and what exactly the implications of Creepy not being the evil Creepy might be. The cloak was oddly familiar for some reason. “Did you do something at your point of origin to wind up here?” I asked.
Mister C of 9, demonstrating certain multiversal truths about the narrative role his being inhabited, ignored me and turned to Creepy.
“Can’t get good coke in Chaggabaggawoggaland,” he confided.
“In fucking where,” I demanded without any remaining hope.
“Not even the Forsaken could recreate it,” Mister C of 9 went on. “I thought someone might have had the foresight to put some in a stasis box or something, but no.”
“Oh. Oh,” I said, a number of pieces falling into place – but, weirdly, only creating more gaps in the spots they’d fallen from. “You’re from the Wheel of Time fantasy series? Wait, how was there a Creepy in the Wheel of Time universe? And what’s Chaggabaggawoggaland?”
“Well, obviously it’s the main central continent on which the story is set,” Creepy confirmed my assumption that he’d known precisely which bookshelf Mister C of 9 had come out of, “and which was never officially given a name.”
“So they went with ‘Chaggabaggawoggaland’?” I said dubiously. “That’s … I’m going to be generous and say pretty dumb.”
“You’re kind of veering off-point, Chuck,” Creepy declared.
“Don’t you start calling me Chuck,” I snapped.
“It’s how he knows you.”
“Um, excuse me…?”
We all turned at the sound of the voice, and it was without much surprise that I saw the front door was open, another skeletally thin Creepylike standing silhouetted against the remorseless sun. It took me a moment to recognise the naggingly familiar figure, but then I did – it was the bastard son of so-called Sir Garçon de Chapeau, abdicated heir to the Jade Throne of Xix and assistant court historian. I’d never found out his actual name, and remembered him only as Creepy Junior.
“Look,” Mister C of 9 said happily, “it’s another one.”
“It just got handsomer in here,” Creepy agreed.
I suppressed a sigh, recognising the very real possibility of a sigh shortage in my immediate future and thus the need to ration myself. Whatever this was, it was clearly going to get worse before it got any better.