Then, strangely....

Suddenly, everybody looked up at the door in awe, since it didn't swing open this time.

"thas a Change," said casandra.

Instead, the door creaked only slightly ajar, barely enough to admit a very severed and very clean head, which rolled slowly and bumpily to the middle of the Pub floor, leaving a dotted trail of slimy, shimmering brain matter before coming to rest on its left nostril.

"That's awful," screamed Moonwalker.

"Yes; it's in very bad taste," muttered Kevichella.

So the contributor changed it to: Instead the door creaked only slightly ajar, admitting a lovely head unencumbered by body.

"thas Battor said cassndra

Moonwalker agreed. Unperturbed, the patrons appraised the newest arrival.

"Nice hair; and very clean," said Bucknuck, downing his seventeenth pint and remembering the chapter in the laundromat.

"Much like all the patrons here: it's quite well red," noted Kevichella, draining his Amaretto with a dramatic slurp.

"It's about time this story moves ahead," added Eloosive, whose passion for silly puns was stronger than undiluted ammonia.

Then, just as he was about to write another silly sentence, the author's screen went blank.

On it, a script unfurled before his widening eyes like a meteor shower in a darkened sky.

DON'T EVEN TRY IT!,

it said,

WE KNOW YOU'RE TRYING TO BRING VARIOUS STORY STRANDS TOGETHER AND THAT IS NOT THE WAY THIS WORKS.

Unheeding, the contributor wrote on:

With knee joints crackling like a winter hearth, Rock Lobster crouched for a closer look at the head.

"Looks Russian," he said. His eyebrows knitted like a worried granny.

Again, the contributors' screen flashed and went grey. Again, an intrusive banner appeared.

OK; THAT'S IT. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED. YOU AND ME. AT THE LAZY SLEUTH. BACK TABLE. NOW!

The author reflected. Gently, he tipped another Moosehead and let the cool amber tumble happily over his tonsils. With renewed courage, he wrote himself to the Lazy Sleuth's back table. Since he was obviously early and alone, he whiled away the time by guessing at the bar's name, wistfully thinking about the five points offered.

More palatable than naming it the Idle Dick, he wrote.

Or maybe an anagram for a long-lost love: The Suzy Hallet.

But maybe he'd never know, because Sly suddenly materialized in a font so powerful that the author had to look away from his screen.

* * *

The few shadowy patrons wasting hours and hope at the Lazy Sleuth that night now remember only the sound of warring keyboards. For every loud click and and emphatic tab came a resounding patter and muscled CapsLock. There were groans and sighs and gurgles of pain. Punctuation flew.

Paragraphs contracted.

Nobody dared approach the back table, where authors were kamikaze keyboarding.

Tomes later, there was finally silence at the back table.

* * *

AMENDED NEW CHAPTER TO THIS STORY:

Nobody looked at the door, since it didn't open even a bit. No head rolled in. That would be stupid.

Archi clambered up on the oak bar burnished with ivory inlays. He raised his arms. "Now, everybody, " he boomed in a voice of echoing thunder, "Happy Halloween.

"It's midnight. Reveal yourselves."

The bubbly, merry, happy, stupefied patrons of the Protagonize Pub looked at each other. They pulled off their masks.

They laughed. They cried. They hugged.

And why not?

They were, strangely, all somebody else.

The End

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