24 Mar Toon Tipping
“Toon Tipping”Written by Christopher Howard “Slimebeast” Wolf Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 12 minutes
Every group of friends has a tradition.
If you hang around a specific set of people for long enough, in-jokes will sprout from next to nothing. Routines will manifest out of thin air. Sometimes they’re clever; most of the time, they’re obnoxious, pointless, and asinine.
Ours was the latter.
We called it “Toon Tipping.” It was a pretty good name from a group of college-age rednecks who had zero actual interest in college.
Here’s the run-down:
Step 1: Locate a sad, minimum-wage jerk that some company or another has paid to dress up like a costumed mascot. Usually, these opportunities presented themselves at random
Step 2: Tackle said jerk to the ground and run.
No step three.
It started in high school. Greg had an unexplained feud with the football team’s mascot. It was a kid named Rodney Olsen, a drama student who suited up as a rainbow trout for every game to romp across the field and through the stands.
It was the classic “big game” scenario, the entire school screaming on one side of the field, our supposed enemies taunting from the other. Additionally, Greg had been drinking (and over-drinking) for the first time in his life.
When Rodney the wannabe trout came out at half-time, Greg let out a primal war cry. He was barely able to stay on his feet as he ran, shirt quickly pulled over his head and thrown to a crowd that didn’t want it. With the large foam headpiece, Rodney had no idea what was coming until he was dropped by the doughy, wailing drunkard.
That’s how it started. “Toon Tipping.” Anything that remotely looked like a cartoon character got tackled on sight. The only time we took off from the tradition was after Cooper used all 6’4” of his monstrous self to take down an Easter Bunny that was spinning a sign for a local tax service.
As it turned out, the person underneath was a pregnant woman trying to earn some extra cash because her husband had died during deployment overseas. Yeah. Not a good look for us. The local news pieced it together with a couple previously reported incidents and tried to paint our stupid, crude game as something a touch more insidious.
“It’s a violent new game kids across the country are playing, and it’s coming to a street near you.” I think that’s what they called it.
Greg and Coop were flippant about the whole thing. They figured that since there was no way to know who was in the suit, they couldn’t possibly be held accountable. Myself and the final member of our brosome, the always-thoughtful “Scab,” figured it might be a touch more sensible to stop randomly assaulting people for kicks. On that, we decided to chill.
Things were pretty uneventful after that. Naturally, no one knew four 20-something losers were the “kids on a street near you.” Oddly enough, we kept mostly to ourselves when that tradition was off the table. All we did was drink, bullshit each other, and then go home at two to four AM. Except for Scab, who lived with Coop and his parents on the condition he would pay rent in the form of yard maintenance. Which he didn’t.
It went smoothly until Coop’s birthday party rolled around. Greg surprised him with tickets to Dandyland. Four in total, with permission to take anyone he wanted – even though there was literally no one else who would go with him.
When Scab and I took Greg aside and interrogated him as to why he would out-spend us like that, everything was made clear. He’d actually won two tickets on a radio call-in contest, so it was just a matter of buying the other two. He considered one purchase to technically be for himself, the other was a gift for Coop, and the two free ones were for us. The bastard was as stupid as they come – until it was time to scam his friend, apparently.
Worse yet, if Coop found out and his present was ruined, we’d be the dick heads. Not Greg.
I hadn’t been to Dandyland since I was kid, despite the fact it was just a four-hour drive away. Back then, it was a treat, and I had to be really, really good before I could go. Funny thing, I never lost that subconscious “rule,” and as an adult, I didn’t consider the fact I was free to go at any time even though I was a prick.
The place had changed a lot. Everything was definitely much more expensive. The crowds were a lot thicker and smelled a lot worse. I told the guys about my favorite ride, the Wild Whirlpool, only to find it had been shut down and replaced with a shuttle based on the Laser Space movies. Scab thought he had read about a family whose boat capsized and wouldn’t release the safety bar, drowning them all. I dunno about that, though. I think it would’ve been all over the news.
We almost created a new tradition, too. Every time we spotted a park employee dressed as one of Dandy Heiress characters, we rated her “Dog” or “Damsel.” If one got four “Dog” votes, we called for the villain of their respective movie to “take her away.” If she got four “Damsel” votes, we “protected” her from other patrons. They had no idea what was going on, and most played along, so at least it was a step up from the previous pastime.
(I would’ve rated Princess Primeveire a “Damsel” no matter who was playing her. I probably watched her movie a few too many times for a little boy.)
All in all, we had a really amazing time. Not sure if you know this, but at some point Dandyland started serving alcohol in its restaurants. I don’t think we bothered with the long lines for rides after we learned that. It became a cartoon world bar crawl. Coop started calling the children munchkins and sang “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” on repeat. I’m pretty sure Dandy Co. doesn’t own that, but to be honest, who can keep track anymore?
The park obviously had rules against over-serving customers, but I was the designated driver – which meant I was only going to get buzzed. That meant I could place coherent, normal drink orders, then covertly pass glasses off to the others.
Security was loose at first. A random plain-clothes guard, dressed just like another patron, cornered us by a photo kiosk and gave us a threateningly courteous speech. He reminded us that the park was “more fun when you can remember it” and that we didn’t want the “Queen’s Guard” to send us back to the “world without wonder.” I guess nobody’s allowed to break character, even the rent-a-cops.
A few drinks later, Greg went glassy-eyed and started shouting at an anthropomorphic phone booth. It was a heated argument, to be sure. The phone booth insisted, “Kids can call their favorite Dandyland character right now! Just lift the receiver!” Greg’s counter-argument was, “Nobody remembers what a phone booth is, why don’t you go die?”
Suddenly, security wasn’t as forgiving. Two guards had Greg in zip-tie cuffs before we even knew they were there, and three others had Coop, Scab, and myself under control by way of a firm hand on the shoulder.
The guards were completely silent, despite the fact we were fervently arguing our innocence. Before I knew it, three additional plain-clothes dudes had split off from the crowds and were helping guide us away. Probably to a security office or cell. I almost felt my feet leave the ground at one point, the patrons’ faces around me becoming a blur of shock and disgust.
Then, there was a brief moment where time stood still. Amid the din of drunken complaints and jackboots on cobblestone, I heard the voice of a single, exuberant child. I still have no idea how I picked it out of everything else going on.
“Mommy! Mommy! It’s Lucky Lemming!”
Everything was slow. Matrix slow. I turned my head to see the world’s most famous rodent. Lucky Lemming. Tuxedo. Over-sized, furry head. Spotless white gloves. Lucky saw me, too. He looked at our group, put his hand to his face, and shook his head in over-stated, mock disappointment.
My head turned back, eyes leading the way. I saw Greg, just a few feet from me, arms still restrained at the wrists. Red face. Sweat cascading from his receding hairline. His gaze was locked on Dandyland’s flagship character, and his mouth was drawing up into a crooked-toothed grin.
The time stream returned to its normal state.
I barely managed to croak out the word “Don’t-” as Greg threw himself free from his captors. The fatty meteorite streaked across the park grounds, bumping people out of the way and inexplicably picking up speed. The lemming was looking down at a child and nodding in agreement with some unheard statement when he was suddenly struck by the projectile that was once a mortal man known as Gregory Stephen Benbow.
Now, he had transcended into legend. An entire generation of children would be speaking his name in hushed whispers. To them, he would be the boogieman who made Lucky Lemming eat shit.
The mascot went flying head-over-heels. He landed on his shoulder blades, large shoes whipping over him and through the air. He was very obviously unconscious on impact, as he rag-dolled into a resting position that would’ve made more visual sense if the costume was empty.
Worst of all…he was beheaded.
Not the real guy, of course. Lucky. The head went rolling off like a smiling beach ball and disappeared into the horde of horrified onlookers. I didn’t see the guy’s face, but the crowd did. Children started screaming and crying. They asked if Lucky was okay, and they wanted to know who the strange man inside him was.
Coop, Scab, and I moved toward the exit as the guards broke out after Greg. I swear they moved in perfect military formation. We didn’t want any part of that, and there was a real chance they were planning to hand all of us over to the police at the gates. Greg had accidentally given us a window of opportunity to escape the situation.
Back in the car, we weren’t really sure how to proceed, however. Should we leave Greg to the fate he’d brought on himself or mount a rescue mission? Could we get back into the park at all, much less unnoticed? Would sacking a beloved celebrity in the middle of a public theme park count as domestic terrorism?
A call from Greg’s number broke the tension. He made it over a fence and had learned how to tighten and break zip ties many arrests in the past. In less than thirty minutes, we actually pulled off the whole “rescue mission” thing, though not having to get back through the gates helped a lot.
I’m not sure if we were banned from the park after that. We should have been, but I don’t know if they knew who we were. With the level of security the park has, I wouldn’t be surprised if they could find footage of us entering then match the timing up with when we used our passes. If not, photos probably went up on several “do not admit” boards, at least.
I had put the incident behind me by the time midnight rolled by. I was considering going to bed early. Early for me, at least. It had been a pretty exhausting day, overall. The park visit would’ve been tiring enough without the alcohol and the unexpected foot race at the end.
The phone rang. I decided to ignore it and check the missed call the next day. When it went quiet, then started ringing again, I answered out of frustration.
I recognized Scab’s voice immediately, regardless. The frenzied tone scared me more than the words he said. I guess I didn’t really have time to process the meaning. If I had to guess, I would’ve said he had alcohol poisoning or that he had tripped and fallen on the stairs up to his apartment.
I would’ve been way off-base.
Coop had gotten a call from the cops a short time earlier. Greg’s neighbors reported strange noises, then screaming. When officers finally broke down the front door, they found his body in a tremendous pool of his own blood. He had been decapitated.
The police wanted to know who had been with Greg that day, and when he was last seen. I was probably due for a call myself, later that very night.
Scab ranted on, and I couldn’t find an opening to speak. Coop was downstairs at that moment, dealing with someone who was trying to break into the house. Scab thought he saw the glint of a knife but couldn’t be sure. Coop was on the phone with 911, so Scab locked himself in a room upstairs and called me. I could hear Coop in the background of the call, yelling at the top of his lungs.
“Get out my house, dude. Get the fuck out of my house, dude.”
I asked if I should come by as Scab suddenly hung up. I tried calling back eight to ten times, but there was no answer. Coop’s house was just down the street, and I hadn’t heard any sirens yet. After some not-so-deep consideration, I hustled to the front door just to get a more clear idea of what was going on.
Sirens blew past as I reached the door’s frosted glass, which gave a blurred view from the living room to the lawn. Emergency lights flashed as they raced to the scene I had just been called from.
I could make out a figure standing by the street, censored by the frosted glass of the window, silhouetted by the colors of danger. The red and blue blinked rapidly, and the figure was a step closer with each burst of light.
On autopilot, I repeated what Scab had done, running to the upstairs bedroom and dialing 911 in the process.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“Yeah, there’s, uh, someone’s trying to get into my house, on Miller’s Creek Road.”
“We’re already on the way, sir; please stay on the line and don’t hang up again.”
The dispatcher sounded aggravated, and she didn’t quite understand the situation.
“No, that was my friends, Cooper and Scab. I’m calling from-”
“Excuse me, are you saying someone is named ‘Scab’?”
I let out some highly incendiary profanities and hung up, dropping the phone onto the nightstand. As soon as it hit the wood of the table, a loud thud echoed through the room. I very briefly wondered how hard I had thrown it until a second thud rang out, followed by the bedroom door coming slightly off of its hinges.
“I called the police!” I shouted.
“I have a fucking gun, you asshole!”
Either this mystery man knew I was lying about the second one, or this was more important to him than his life. Neither possibility was any good for me.
One last blow was enough to take the door off. As it fell to the floor, I pressed “send” on another call to 911. All dispatchers busy.
“Get out of my house!” I shouted, once again echoing those that came before me.
The figure skulked into the room, back arched, arms dropped low, like a pantomime dummy full of sawdust. As the thing that resembled a man walked into the light of the room, dread weighed in my stomach, pulling my heart down with it.
It was Lucky Lemming, but it wasn’t Lucky Lemming.
The tuxedo was a tattered wrapping of black plastic, like the soiled remains of trash bags. The oversized shoes were cardboard, bent and duct-taped into shape, said tape trailing upward and wrapping around plastic-clad shins. The hands were covered by a pair of blood-spattered grocery bags, rubber-banded at the fingers to create gloves.
Worst of all, was the head. It was a grim, fetid mockery of Dandyland’s iconic cartoon character. A mass of haphazardly stitched animal pelts, probably old roadkill, formed the ruddy brown and dingy white of the fictional creature’s fur. In place of the oversized plastic eyes lay two quarter-sized holes that receded into darkness.
Insects and larvae dropped from him like dandruff.
“Y-you killed Greg! You killed all of them!” I stammered.
“YOU…” the slumping abomination replied, shambling slowly toward me, “…killed the MAGIC.”
I backed up to the window, fully intending to turn and open it at the first available opening. At that moment, however, the intruder and I were staring each other down, neither of us dropping guard.
Up until that point, my brain had been fear-infused sludge. I didn’t consider why this was happening, who this could be, or anything of the sort. As my hands touched the cold glass behind me and there was nowhere else to go, everything came into sharp focus all at once.
“Is this about the park? About what Greg did?” I demanded in an off-kilter, shaking voice that was more high-pitched than I would’ve preferred.
The trash furry didn’t answer, instead electing to draw a sharpened wedge of metal from the yellowed length of rope that acted as a belt. The make-shift blade had a blood-drenched Lucky Lemming head at the tip of the handle. I recognized it immediately as a piece of the Dandyland fence.
“I told you the cops are coming!” I shouted as he approached, stealing away even more precious distance. I knew, however, that the police would be just down the street, entering and securing the scene of a multiple homicide. All I could do was hope that the dispatcher eventually realized what I was trying to say.
“I wasn’t the one who did it, man!” I insisted, gesturing for him to stay back with an open palm.
A flash of silver sliced the air, drawing blood from my hand.
“FUCK! DUDE. It wasn’t me! I wasn’t even drunk! I told him not to do it!”
Yeah. I threw Greg under the bus, but even if he were still alive, he wouldn’t have cared. Special circumstances.
I held my thumb against the surface of my other hand, hoping that would slow the bleeding. The fingers wouldn’t close anymore, and I felt my thumb slide in under the flesh for a half-second. The cut was deep.
My attacker seemed to be considering what I had said, though at that moment, I figured that he just wanted to draw the situation out for as long as possible. I don’t know if it was because of my words or which words in general, but he re-sheathed the knife took a few steps backward.
A low, guttural, gurgling laugh swelled from somewhere deep in his gut.
“I won’t come back!” I shook my head, half-grinning and laughing out of sheer primal relief “I won’t ever come back. Dandyland, Pirate’s Atoll, Primeveire’s Palace…never again. I swear to God. I won’t even go see the movies. I won’t watch any movies. You own all of them.”
The figure once again became a silhouette in the dim light of the hallway just outside the door. I nodded enthusiastically as he continued to back away.
Then, all at once, he broke into a sprint.
“NO!” I shrieked and threw my arms over my face as the rotten rodent-man charged toward me. I felt the force of his full weight as he launched himself, torpedoing the both of us through the window. Flecks of glass shimmered like fairy dust as we fell two stories to the ground below.
It didn’t hurt. I couldn’t feel anything.
I couldn’t move my neck as I stared wide-eyed at what looked like a cadaver just next to me. The costumed body was bent and splayed much like that mascot had been earlier in the day. It was bent in positions befitting a circus contortionist.
Then, as I could do nothing but watch, he straightened himself out, slowly climbed to his feet, and lurched away into the night.
The doctors and nurses say I might regain control of my body someday. I know they’re lying. The authorities say it’s a good thing he let me keep my head. I don’t know if I agree with them. A procession of friends and family visited me every day, then once a week, and finally once or twice a month.
All of these people tell me the same thing.
I’m not lucky. That guy, the one who did this to me…that was Lucky. No one before or after will be Lucky Lemming as much as he was. We took that away from him, made him nothing but a clown in a suit, in front of hundreds of people.
I don’t know who or what he is now.
I just know he’s finally free to be himself.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableChristopher Howard “Slimebeast” Wolf Edited by Craig Groshek and Seth Paul Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A