The coolest movie in the world is playing at the movie theater downtown. One problem: It’s rated R. Another related problem: You are three under-aged children in Grade 5. The greatest cinephiles to walk the corridors of your underfunded school. However, there’s one talent you all share: An uncanny sense of balance. You also have a trench coat.
You see where this is going?
The only way you’re going to be able to see ROMANCE OF BRIDGE COUNTY: NINJA DRAGON SUBMARINE of BLOOD is if the three of you hop on each other’s shoulders, don a trench coat, and pass for an adult. But first, we need to know which three children you are.
[Readers voted by selecting emoji reactions whenever a choice was offered. Winning choices are highlighted in bold for this archived version.]
–> Crimdel – Dodgeball champion. Tallest kid in grade 5. Cool as ice. +5 stability
–> Amdee – Horror movie buff. Pockets full of blood capsules. Sometimes smells funny. +3 gross
–> Xanth3dn – Exchange student. Non-binary. Can grow a beard, but like, made of crystals. +? !!??!!
–> Mendruck – School bully. Strong but sweaty. Has a paper route. +4 strength
–> Volume IV – Fourth child from a library family. Mom is a book. +8 intelligence
–> Sir Bug – Rich kid. Incapable of empathy. Might actually hunt people on an island for sport. +5 $
–> Officer Brane – Not a cop. A child like you. Hey… any of you know where to get drugs? +4 authority
–> 18KK4 – Not a robot. A child like you. Hey… any of you know where to get oil? +18 bleep bloop
The school bell has rung. On the playground, under the rusty swings, our trio gathers: Volume IV, Amdee, and 18KK4. Amdee pulls a movie poster out that they kept tucked in their underpants throughout the school day, keeping it secret, safe and a bit musty and wrinkly, actually.
“Okay, Volume IV and 18KK4. Here’s the plan. We’re going to hop on our dirt bikes, zip down to our trench coat stash, and then we’re going to disguise ourselves as a normal adult who wants to go see ROMANCE OF BRIDGE COUNTY: NINJA DRAGON SUBMARINE of BLOOD. I’ve heard that this movie used 2,308 prosthetic heads so they could explode one every time any characters smooch. Just like: mmm mmm mmm… bANG!” This was the movie featured on Amdee’s underwear poster.
Volume IV nods. “Just like it happens in the novel. Which, I have to assume, will be better than the film.”
“That computes,” adds 18KK4.
“What?” says Volume IV.
“Uh… ‘yeah, totally'” clarifies 18KK4 the normal child. They nervously brush at the series of buttons that sit underneath the LED display on their chest, as normal children do.
“Great,” says Amdee. “Okay, does anyone have any questions before we go see the greatest movie ever to visit our local cinema?”
–> Volume IV: “Just one: How are we going to pay for this?”
–> 18KK4: “Just one: What is kissing and how do humans– humans like all of us– do it?”
–> Officer Brane: “Just one: You kids know where to get drugs around here?” (Get OUT of here Officer Brane, you didn’t get enough votes to get in this story!)
-> Volume IV: “I have many questions. Here’s a list of of the top 10.”
–> 18KK4: “If we have any questions, we can address them on the way. To the bikes! To DESTINY!”
Volume IV ran their hand over their hair, a sheaf of gray pages inherited from their mother (who was a book). The text on those head-pages shifted over the years, but Volume IV was grateful that with their inheritance, they’d been spared the trouble of haircuts and other maintenance, the handsomely-shaped pages maintaining a constant length on their head no matter the season.
“Here are my top 10 questions,” Volume IV said. “In no particular order.”
“Tell us them while we’re in motion,” said Amdee, hopping on their bike. “We’ve got a trench coat to pick up from our clothing stash.”
As the trio wheeled their way downtown, Volume IV shared their questions:
1. If I were at the Library of Alexandria during its sacking, which volumes should I race to save? The works of Sappho? Or BABYLONAICA, the lost history of Berossus?
2. In the novel ROMANCE OF BRIDGE COUNTY: NINJA DRAGON SUBMARINE of BLOOD, the protagonist Stade Wangdrommer, is an unreliable narrator. How will the filmmakers maintain Stade’s casual relationship with the truth when the camera can’t help but show us an objective reality?
3. Which order should be be in when we don the trench coat? Who’s on bottom? Who’s on top?
4. If we could talk with a lion, would we have a similar enough experience of the world to understand each other?
5. What is middle school going to be like?
6. If Kurt Cobain had lived, would Nirvana have come out with a Christmas album, eventually?
7. Why does our brain tell us we can see color in our peripheral vision when, beyond 50 degrees of eccentricity, there are so few color-sensing cones that our minds have to invent a consistent color experience?
8. Is 18KK4 a robot?
9. Will ROMANCE OF BRIDGE COUNTY: NINJA DRAGON SUBMARINE of BLOOD have an after-credits sequence?
10. If we get popcorn, should it have butter?
“As ever,” said Volume IV, “this top 10 is subject to change, so… just keep in mind this is only the top 10 for now.”
“Am I a what?” asked 18KK4.
Amdee sighed, spat out the plastic vampire teeth they had put in their mouth to “make the bike trip more bite-y”, then said, “Good questions, Volume IV. But the way I see it, only question 3 needs an immediate answer.”
The trio had reached the abandoned CASSETTE WAREHOUSE where they kept their jointly owned trench coat safely tucked behind a cardboard cutout of Debbie Gibson. The time had come to determine the structure of their adult disguise.
Amdee on top, then Volume IV, then 18KK4 on the bottom
18KK4 on top, then Amdee, then Volume IV on the bottom
Volume IV on top, then 18KK4, then Amdee on the bottom
“I should be on the bottom,” said 18KK4. “I have sturdy legs.”
“And you never get tired,” added Volume IV.
“I don’t even know what tired is,” said 18KK4. “Many of our classmates talk about getting tired, but I thought it was just something they made up.”
“I’m not so sure about having your thighs on my head,” interjected Volume IV. “What if you grease up my pages?”
“Wear a dust jacket hat then,” said Amdee, shrugging into the trench coat’s arms.
Our trio come together, legs on shoulders, coat tugged shut, as if they were born to it. It’s a half block walk from CASSETTE WAREHOUSE to the cinema and they’re just underway when they realize: They’ve got trouble. WHAT IS IT?!?
–> Amdee realizes he’s too baby-faced to pass for 18
–> There’s a crowd gathered in front of the cinema for a movie premiere!
–> Oh no! A cop!
As our trio totter their way cinema-ward, their progress is interrupted by a police officer.
“Well, well, well,” said the officer. “Out for a stroll, eh? In our fine village? On this warm day? Wearing an unseasonable trench coat? You’re not hiding anything in there are you? A firearm? A trashbag full of the devil’s lettuce? The devil himself in all his cloven-footed glory? An outdoor advertisement in excess of 16 feet in width, inappropriate for this zoning area? A handful of asbestos?”
Amdee, the face of the trio, racked their brain with thought. “Think, Amdee, think!” they thought.
Volume IV frantically tapped an idea on Amdee’s leg using a code developed by Samuel Morse, the inventor of the telegraph and the first person to walk on the moon (allegedly, as Samuel was found “not guilty” by a moon court). Unfortunately, Amdee was not familiar with Morse’s code.
The police officer subtly reached for their pepper spray, and a sock full of rocks, and the keys to a single-occupancy tank, and a button that controls an orbital satellite, having been made increasingly nervous by the delay in response.
But our trio took action… well, ONE of them did:
—> Amdee bites down on a fake blood capsule and lets blood run down their chin
–> 18KK4 gives a curtsy, then continues on towards the cinema
–> Volume IV remembers that they have a good book with them, and a flashlight, and decides to tune out the entire situation
In a memory bank (that all children have), a file titled HIGH SOCIETY ETIQUETTE was activated. A series of blinking lights on 18KK4’s chest acknowledged the find and executed a daring plan: A curtsy!
The trench-coated trio’s form dipped, delicately, towards the police officer, before dancing deftly around them towards the cinema.
“Oh! Oh my! Pardon me, Mademoiselle,” said the police officer, reacting to the curtsy out of the some long-buried instinct. They removed their cap and scratched their head, wondering at their own reaction… allowing the trio to escape!
“You have a good day, officer!” shouted Amdee back over their shoulder, a trickle of fake blood dripping out of the corner of their mouth, wholly unnecessary.
But then! Something ELSE happened!
–> The cinema is on the other side of the road, but the trio is blocked by a HAPPY CONSUMER PARADE, complete with marching band!
–> Amdee spotted their babysitter (and secret crush!) buying tickets to the movie!
–> There’s like… an ogre. Who, uh, hates movies? NO. Who hates CHILDREN!
“We’ve got a problem,” said Amdee. “We have to get to that ticket window, but my babysitter is there and they would recognize me right away. They know I’m not old enough to get into the movie!”
“But we’re in disguise,” pointed out Volume IV. “Your babysitter wouldn’t expect you to be as tall as we are together.”
“True,” said Amdee. “But they don’t go by sight alone. They’re actually an ogre who hates children. They’ve got giant nostrils with hair sticking out, such that it looks like sea urchins are nesting there, and its sense of smell can tell when you’re staying up past the time your parents set for bed. It’s awful. And I love them. Ogres are the best. Sometimes when they babysit me, I while away the whole evening giving them bigger and bigger bones just to watch them crush them easily with their powerful monster jaws.”
“They’re a horrifying monster and I love them,” said Amdee. Inside Amdee’s chest, a gross little heart went like this: pit-a-pat. It’s kind of romantic, but also a cardiologist would be concerned.
“Not to get off topic,” said 18KK4, “but like all children, I think I need to sleep? That thing we all do? It’ll take just a few minutes and then I’ll wake up after a soft chime of music and I’ll be, like, more secure.”
“I have a plan,” said Amdee.
–> Real quick, get some bones, make a bone bouquet, ask the babysitter on a movie date while passing as an adult (and find some way to cover the “child smell” that will give them all away
–> Change the stack order so one of the other children is on top, then lure the babysitter away with a fake emergency babysitting job offer
–> The plan is: See if Volume IV has a plan. Maybe one of those books they’ve read is about ogres?
The trio, disguised as an adult, entered The Bone Mart, off Route 12, near where those chicken separatists started putting up tents. Their bikes were parked around the back, by the compost heaps that turned all the non-bone components into mulch.
“Evening, neighbor!” shouted a chicken separatist as our trio walked by. “Have you considered having nothing to do with chickens?”
“I’m busy!” shouted Amdee. A motion-activated bell chimed as the three entered the shop. From behind the counter, an animated skeleton wiped its bony fingers on its apron.
“How can I help you today, fellow adult?” it asked.
Amdee, in his role as the face of the stacked trio, responded:
–> “Oh, love is an agony! Release me from its chains with your bone magic!”
–> “I have a business proposition for you, soon-to-be-business-partner.”
–> “I am an undercover cop and I’m shutting this whole place down for bone crimes.”
“Oh, love is an agony! Release me from its chains with your bone magic!” shouted Amdee. The thorn of love were deep inside him.
“Another one of these,” said the skeleton proprietor. “We get one every week. There’s just something about bones and love. What’s the skinny, kid? What’s the rumpus? Gimme the rundown.”
“I’m in love with an ogre. She’s been my babysitter before but she’s never seen me as more than an evening’s responsibility. But with my friends– uh, forget about my friends and how they may have changed the situation, and also forget about how I, a regular adult male, was just talking about a babysitter.”
“Kid, I stopped listening 800 years ago. All of you living beings are just fleshy blurs at this point.”
“Great,” said Amdee. “So here’s what I need from you.”
–> “A bone bouquet with a skull in the middle and I need the skull to evoke a heart.”
–> “A bone bouquet and a poem– maybe a limerick– that’ll woo my beloved.”
–> “A bone bouquet and all the cash in your cash register, plus for you to put your hands up ’cause this is a robbery… A ROBBERY OF LOVE!”
The skeleton thought for a moment & idly scratched its ribs through its apron, which made a tinkly xylophone sound, as all skeleton ribs do. Then, inspired, it put together a fine bone bouquet, centered around a fine stew bone, with sprays of phalanges radiating out, and a thick femur handle for easy transport.
My love is an eater of bone
My heart is an organ alone
So perhaps, when we meet
Bone can finally join meat
And a body of love can be sewn
“Yeah!” shouts our trio, triumphant, jumping into the air and then falling into a jumble on the The Bone Mart’s floor before scrambling to their feet and fleeing.
“We were three children the whole time!” shouted back 1844K.
“You mean two children?” shouted the skeleton after them.
“What?” said 1844K.
“Back to the theater!” shouted Amdee.
Meanwhile, in a basement across town:
–> “Ha ha ha! Soon, my HYPNO film shall turn every film-goer into a willing dupe!”
–> A giant eye blinks in a dark unfinished basement. Just a… just a big eye. Sitting on a couch.
–> “A-ha! THIS is the planet where I left my robot son. Don’t remember it being so damp and underground, though.”
In a dark basement, a giant eye sits. Planning. On a table in front of it, a pile of blueprints. Also: a catalog of stylish sunglasses, cut in half. Also: A giant bowl… no… it’s a giant contact lens. Also: A telescope. Also: An Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for ROMANCE OF ROSES HOSPITAL: GHOST NINJA TANK of BLOOD!!!
(universe note: ROMANCE OF ROSES HOSPITAL: GHOST NINJA TANK of BLOOD is the first in the series of films of which ROMANCE OF BRIDGE COUNTY: NINJA DRAGON SUBMARINE of BLOOD is the most recent installment)
Meanwhile, back across the street from the movie theater (the one by the flower store frequented by magicians): Amdee peered out from the top of the trio’s faithful trench coat, Volume IV held a bouquet of bones out of one of the sleeves and 1844K just stood there, holding everybody up, wirelessly downloading a driver update like normal children do.
Volume IV tried not to think about what the bone-quet’s dripping juices would do to a book if they touched its pages before washing their hands. More than anything, Volume IV wanted to stop holding bones and wash their hands. Watching ROMANCE OF BRIDGE COUNTY: NINJA DRAGON SUBMARINE of BLOOD was now in 2nd place.
“Do you see your babysitter?” Volume IV asked.
“No,” said Amdee. “While we ran across town to get bones, I think they went into the theater.”
1844K said, “That’s great! We were going in there anyway.”
Just then, a mysterious cloaked figure sidled up next to the trio. “Yes,” they said. “Go into the theater. Bear witness to my HYPNOTIC MASTERPIECE!”
“That’s a strange thing to say,” said Amdee.
Meanwhile, back in a dark basement… hey, where did that giant unblinking eye go?
–> Oh there it is. It’s looking at the blueprints. Wait, are those blueprints for… THEY ARE!
–> Oh, there it is, laying on a murphy bed, staring at the ceiling. What could it be thinking?
–> What the heck! We were only gone for one scene and the eye is DEAD! It’s now a giant skeleton of an eye, which I didn’t even know was a thing ’cause I thought eyes don’t have bones?
INSIDE THE MIND OF A GIANT UNBLINKING EYE
–> “I gotta get my hands on some money. Get a real bed. Maybe get out of this basement.”
–> “All my life, all my troubles can be traced back to robots. Today’s the day I start my revenge plan.”
–> “I’m getting older. I gotta start getting ready to be a father. It’s gotta be possible to practice, right?”
Meanwhile, on the other side of town, a robot examines the extremely rare generative organs of a giant unblinking eye. “FASCINATING,” it outputs.
Meanwhile, back in a dark basement, a giant unblinking eye slings on a jacket. “Time to hit the streets,” the unblinking eye thinks to itself. “Time to find some children, get in some parenting experience real quick, and if at all possible retrieve my generative organs from that robot, JJ8888. Hell’s coming for you, JJ8888. Hell and all its eyelashes.”
Meanwhile, across town, three children in a shared coat warily regarded a stranger who had sidled up to them (though only one of them could regard this stranger visually, the coat interfering with Volume IV’s vision, and with 18KK4 scanning the stranger on any number of wavelength’s in the manner of an average school child).
“That’s a strange thing to say,” Amdee had said, the last time we were paying attention to this narrative thread. “What do you mean by ‘my hypnotic masterpiece?'”
“I would prefer not to give anything away,” said the cloaked figure. “Let’s just say…”
–> “You should find this film… MESMERIZING.”
–> “If you don’t love this film… it’ll be a CRIME!”
–> “A long long time ago, on a small distant island, I fell in love with a shark, but a shark can not love a mysterious cloaked figure… their eyes are attuned to motion and their senses to blood… so I decided my only chance was to find a film that perfectly matches a shark’s sensibilities, full of motion and blood, and then add a little hypnosis to it with a device hidden behind the movie screen, but the device may also hypnotize the audience into thinking they’re ALSO sharks who love me, which to my mind is just as good as my original goal. That’s all.”
Meanwhile, back in the chicken separatist compound: A CHICKEN: Buck-AWK! (There is nobody in the room with the chicken. These separatists refuse to have anything to do with chickens, no matter how good those chickens are at public speaking.)
Amdee blinked at the cloaked figure. “You … fell in love with a shark?”
“Before I came over to talk to you, I distinctly heard you say something about being in love with a bone-crunching ogre,” said the cloaked figure. “This was before you left for a while. I’ve pretty much been here all morning waiting for my hypnotic film to do its thing.”
“I was just about to go in and watch a movie,” said Amdee. “Would it be okay with you if you didn’t do the hyno-shark-love-connection thing until the NEXT showing?”
“Sorry,” said the cloaked figure. “I’m too lonely. Too lonely to wait.”
“Then you’ve left us no choice,” said Amdee.
–> “Time to hit the library to learn the art of COUNTER-hypnosis!” said Volume IV.
–> “Time to use our normal boy ability to replay sounds to fake a fire alarm & evacuate the theater!” said 18KK4.
–> ” ,” said the giant mysterious eye. Whoah! When did it get here?
–> “We’re going to have to ignore you and go buy our movie ticket! This has been dragging on for too long!” said Amdee.
18KK4, as any normal boy would do, activated their chest-mounted BassB))ST speakers and queued up the sound of a piercing fire alarm while striding confidently towards the theater.”
Clear the way!” shouted Amdee from his perch on top of Volume IV’s shoulders.
The employee behind the theater’s ticket window watched with very little interest as the trio marched in, their trench coat disguise flapping with urgency, an ear-poking din emerging from behind its buttons.
“DO YOU HAVE A TICKET?” shouted the employee whose sole job was to tear movie tickets at the point of entry.
“THIS IS AN EMERGENCY!” shouted Amdee. “NOBODY WANTS TO BE A LOVE SHARK!”
“A … LOVE… SHARK!”
“OK!” said the ticket-ripping employee. “BUT DO YOU HAVE TICKETS THOUGH?”
–> Amdee: LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU IT’S A SHARK THAT HAS HEART EYES FOR YOU! [lie – CHR check]
–> Volume IV: [yank hard on the leaves of paper on head to pass off as tickets] [inventory: -1 head signature -4 HP -18 INT]
–> 18KK4 —> [just keep walking, this chump can’t physically restrain the 200 horsepower generated by a normal boy’s legs] [STR check]
The ticket-ripping employee tumbled aside, performing almost a complete cartwheel as 18KK4 blasted out a jet of steam, as any child might do, before engaging powerful leg gears and pushing the trio on towards theater 8, where ROMANCE OF BRIDGE COUNTY: NINJA DRAGON SUBMARINE of BLOOD.
Upon entering the theater, the three children surrendered their ruse. The trench coat was discarded and as a team, they spread out through the theater to warn everyone, each in their own way.
18KK4 continued playing a fire alarm, which got families up out of their seats. Amdee smashed blood capsules over popcorn buckets, screaming “Ah! Bloody popcorn! You should go get some more! Volume IV ran up to children brandishing books and whooping “hooooomework! HOOOOOOMEWORK!”
In no time, the seats in all their rows were abandoned and the trio could take the best seats in the house, right as the opening theme (LOVE ARIA for a SUBMARINE) started playing.
Were there hypnotic suggestions present? Who can say. All our heroes knew was that they had persevered and completed their goal.
“Hey,” said Amdee. “Did anyone see if my babysitter was in here anywhere?” The back doors of the theater flew open and standing there, starry eyed, was a bone-eating ogre.
“Do I smell… a bone-quet?” Never before on earth had a triple high-five been attempted until right at this moment. Wow. Freeze frame.
A giant mysterious eye kicks a robot square in its power junction, dropping it to the floor as certainly as if that power junction had been a human’s genitals. It then turns to its adopted dog.
“See that, Junior? That’s how we do things in OUR family.”
credits credits credits
A mysterious gloved hand grabs the blueprints from off a basement table. A disembodied voice says “Oh, so that’s where I left them.”
credits credits credits
A figure in a cloak dives into a shark tank while holding a novelty heart-shaped box of fish chocolates.