Read Episode 1, Episode 2, and Episode 3

Clif Hangar’s one goal in life, not counting making his comeback as a nose model, was to save the children. That seemed impossible. He was locked in a giant trash compactor with a dozen of them, each clutching onto a terrified parent. They all expected Clif to save them.

Clif had to step up, because the parents’ efforts were big fails. Some were pushing uselessly at the closing-in walls, while one checked a drain as if he could escape through it, and another called for help, his wail rising to a cringe-inducing register that clashed with the noise of the grinding walls, making it difficult for Clif to think.

“Alexa,” called Clif. “Shut down the compactor.”

His phone said in Alexa’s cloyingly helpful yet dubiously complacent voice, “All right. Showing you compactors in your area.”

It had been worth a try. A parent’s wail descended into a sobbing blubbering that made it even more difficult to think. “Kids,” Clif said. “Do any of you know how to tap dance?”

Several nodded, which wasn’t surprising, since some of them were child actors whose parents thrust them into every available performance class to bolster their God-given talents. “Do it,” ordered Clif. “Use a syncopated rhythm.”

The kids hoofed it like professionals, shuffling and ball-changing as if their lives depended on it, which they thought it did, but not in the way Clif intended. Clif had needed them to drown out the sobbing, and it worked, so now Clif could think clearly.

There wasn’t much time left. The metal compactor walls screeched and rattled closer together, leaving only five feet of room. Soon the trapped people would be nothing but a giant mass of blood, bones, and other bodily pieces. This was a horrible way to die, not only because of the crushing pain, but also because Clif hated gooey messes.

“A nose has to do what a nose has to do.” Clif had to solve this deplorable dilemma.

One of the children’s tap-dancing rhythms broke through the clatter, reminding Clif of a riff from the song “Did I Shave My Legs for this?” sung by Deana Carter. “Legs,” said Clif. “Of course!” One of his legs had been severely damaged in an unfortunate accident, in which his retro bell bottoms caught in the steps of a defective escalator. His tibia, fibula, and femur, which had shattered, had been replaced with experimental composite bones of titanium and carbon fiber, making them super strong.

Only three feet of room left. Clif smelled nervous sweat, Old Spice, and his upcoming demise, if he didn’t act quickly. He goose-stepped his fortified leg upward. The walls closed in, wedging it in place. He grimaced at the pain, which was searing, like a lightning strike as opposed to a barbecue accident. As the compacter pushed tighter, he gritted his teeth and thought of his mother, who would be severely disappointed in him for dying in such an indecorous manner, and his father, who would agree with his mother because that’s how he rolled.

The walls stopped. There was a grinding and shaking and wobbling. Clif feared the compactor was preparing to go into super crush mode. It was curtains for the poor group. Well, not really curtains. Walls. At any rate, certain death, and certain mess.

The pressure on his leg released. The walls began clattering their way apart. Some sensor or other must have decided that the trash was compacted and it could now open. Clif limped to the door, whose safety latch automatically unlocked now that the compactor wasn’t compacting. He held it open and everybody poured out like bargain-brand maple syrup over a particularly flat pancake.

“Well that was a close shave,” said a parent, making Clif think again of the song “Did I Shave My Legs for this?”

“Thank you, Clif Hangar,” said another parent, his voice fluttering with unfettered relief. “You saved us. Hip, hip, hooray!”

As the group cheered him, Clif basked in their praise. He’d saved the children—and their parents—and it felt good. However, three things spoiled his celebratory high. The first was that while the pain was ebbing, he was left with a slight kink in his leg. The second was that somebody had it in for him, and he didn’t know who. The third was that his comeback was on hold until his evil nemesis, whoever it was, was caught and put safely behind bars.

###

Back at home, Clif’s good friend Simone Makaronni, arrived at the door. She was a thirty-year-old former elbow model who was also working on a comeback.

“I heard about your dalliance with death and doom,” she said. “I’m here to help.”

Clif felt warm and fuzzy inside. She was a true friend, sticking around while others hadn’t after his fall from fame. At one time he’d hoped she could something more, but his restless leg syndrome drove a wedge between him and any love interest. It gave him insomnia and caused his legs to piston at night, and no woman had ever put up with it for long.

“You should go,” said Clif. “You’re in danger around me.”

“Ridiculous,” she admonished in a tone that was sarcastically taken-aback yet lovingly supportive, her soft palate raised so that she also sounded very, very, very wise. “I should go when I’m the best sounding board you’ve ever known?” Simone elbowed him aside. Elbow models were good at that, and she was still the best of the best.

She strode across the giant nose mosaic on the floor of his cathedral entryway and into the grand room, whose south sea décor included palm trees, plush-cushioned wicker furniture, and a decorative net studded with ceramic starfish, squids, suckerfish, a Coke can, and other denizens of the ocean.

Clif brought her an elbow-and nose-skin-friendly spirulina and pineapple smoothie. He described accidentally walking off a cliff, then being threatened by a bomb and a mammoth-size trash compactor.

“Mammoth-size or mastodon-size?” asked Simone.

“Mammoth-size,” said Clif. “Three mastodons, actually. Does it matter?”

“Just trying to get a picture. I wonder…” Simone stroked her chin where a goatee would be if she had one. “Was your walk off a cliff really just an accident?”

“What do you mean?” asked Clif.

“If somebody knew you had Restless Leg Syndrome, they might know you would be inclined to walk around at night. And if they knew you were going to that particular hotel…”

Clif finished her thought. “…they might buy up the rooms on the other side of the building so that I would be given one closer to the cliff. That’s dastardly. And also expensive. But it doesn’t fit the pattern. I suspect the culprit is a cheapskate.”

“By buying a whole set of rooms, they would have been able to negotiate a group rate. Skinflint-ery can be skewed by marketing misdirection. Sometimes purchasers get distracted by how much they’re saving, as if it were income they were earning.”

“Of course!” said Clif. “All I have to do is find out who rented those rooms, and I’ll find my murderer-wannabe. Thanks, Simone. I’ve always admired your thought process. It’s sure coming in handy.”

“Well, hey,” said Simone. “Here’s to thoughts and their processes.” They clicked glasses, and the spirulina smoothies sloshed wetly, like algae-covered ponds being traversed by families of beavers.

“Oh,” said Simone. “I hear the pitter patter of petite paws in the hall. You didn’t tell me you got a dog.”

Clif said wearily, “Must be the neighbor’s chihuahua, Boo-la-Base. It’s an escape artist/entry artist. Keeps getting out of the neighbor’s house and sneaking its way in here.”

But then a long scaly snout showed around the corner. A feeling of cold dread crawled up and down Clif’s spine like speedy ants who’ve drunk too much coffee or equivalent caffeinated beverage.

The creature entered the room, revealing itself to be a ten-foot long lizard. Drool dripped from its mouth like that of an aging St. Bernard. Its forked tongue slithered in and out of its mouth. It smelled like rotting Rhodophyta, AKA red seaweed, particularly the kind found in Indonesia.

“That’s no chihuahua!” cried Simone. “That’s a dragon!”

Clif jumped to his feet. “Yes, a Komodo dragon. They can kill a man.”

“Gender check,” reprimanded Simone.

“They can kill a man, woman, or non-binary person. Neither do they discriminate according to race, creed, age, or disability. Or so I assume. When it bites its victims, its bacteria-laded drool renders them woozy and unable to escape. Then it shreds them to bits with its dagger-sharp teeth, eating them alive.”

“It sure looks hungry,” said Simone, eying the dragoon’s drool.

The Komodo dragon backed Clif and Simone into a corner. Its forked tongue slithered in and out, and it lifted its head as if smelling them. Clif felt a sudden warm kinship with the dragon, which he assumed that, like him, had a superior sense of smell. The feeling faded when he realized he was anthropomorphizing. It didn’t want a connection. It wanted blood. His and Simone’s.

“We’re trapped!” said Simone.

Will our hero and his unfortunate platonic friend die a miserable, slobbery Komodo Dragon death? Will their comebacks as nose model and elbow model end before they even begin? Tune in next week to find out.

More about why parents force their children to learn tap-dancing

Did I Shave My Legs for this?

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