The both of you are mildly inebriated as you enter Pickle Inspector’s office. He insisted on stopping by on the way back to your place, saying that he forgot something, but when you get there he gets an idea and forgets about whatever it was that he forgot. He starts dismantling his desk. It’s not actually a desk, but rather it’s just some boards and cinderblocks. You make a mental note to buy him an actual desk. He rearranges the pieces until he forms some sort of makeshift fort out of them. Holding the last piece of plywood in his hands, he nudges you toward it.
You are just drunk enough to crouch down and sit inside. He climbs in and sits next to you, putting that last board in place. The two of you sit in this cramped space, knees against your chests, as Inspector giggles like an idiot.
You really have no idea what this is supposed to be about.
“Inspector, is this your idea of seducing me?” you ask, because to be perfectly honest you were expecting to have him in bed by now. “Because you hardly have to—“
“No! Shhhshhhshhh,” he puts his finger on your lips as he shooshes you. “I—I need you to use your imagination.”
You stare blankly at him. He giggles again, then closes his eyes.
“You have to imagine, um, like you’re in this office, but it’s nicer than this. And there’s all these nice decorations and also some dames.”
“Dames?” You resist the urge to cock an eyebrow.
He nods. “Yes! Imagine it, okay?”
You think this is all a little stupid, but the alcohol in your system has boosted your abysmal imagination characteristic to a point where it’s just barely useable. You close your eyes and try to imagine this office with dames. When you open your eyes, you find yourself in an office different from the one you were just in.
It’s much nicer. It’s decorated lavishly and yes, there are dames. Inspector is standing up, waving his arms excitedly as you examine everything.
“I would appreciate an explanation,” you say.
“This is the Realm of Imagination,” Inspector says. One of the dames offers you tea, which you accept. “It’s where Sleuth and Dick and I went on our adventures when we took down Kingpin. I-I’m sure I’ve mentioned it, haven’t I?”
“I thought you were just embellishing the story,” you say before taking a sip of the tea. Dear lord it’s delicious. Only Pickle Inspector could imagine such a perfect tea.
He shakes his head. “Oh! N-no, I wouldn’t. This is a real place! Mostly real. K-kind of. Would you like to take a look outside?”
You would much rather finish this tea and then go back to your apartment, but Inspector looks excited so you decide to indulge him. “Of course.”
He takes your hand and rushes out the door. You pass by two other offices, apparently belonging to Inspector’s compatriots, and you idly wonder what sort of imaginary offices they have. You walk downstairs and outside into the street. It’s daytime here for some reason. You’re beyond the point where you would question that. Now that you think about it, there was daylight coming from the window on Inspector’s ceiling as well. You suspect there’s a connection. You finish your tea and hand Inspector the cup and saucer. It disappears from his hands with a sparkle.
You try to light a cigarette from your pocket, but Pickle Inspector turns it into a candy cigarette. You glare daggers at him. He giggles and changes it back. You put the cigarette away, not wanting any more shenanigans.
“So.” You look around at the Imaginary City, which seems to be peopled with crudely-drawn figures. “Then everything Sleuth was babbling about, with you becoming the Godhead and…”
“Oh! Um,” Inspector scratches his head, looking a little uncomfortable. “Y-yes. Yes, that’s… It’s a little… I did it on accident. Or one of me did. I didn’t.”
He starts babbling some complicated explanation, but you’re not listening because you’ve just heard a noise that sounded like a transformer blowing out. You try to figure out what that might mean in a place like this, when the sky does dark. Inspector looks worried.
“Oh… oh gosh.” He pauses. “The power’s out in the whole building.”
The ground rumbles and the two of you look to the side. A giant beast is lumbering lazily toward you. Inspector gasps, grabs your wrist and pulls you behind a poorly-drawn car.
“I’m sure it can see us through this,” you say.
“Shh, it’s stupid, frightening beasts are always stupid,” he whispers.
“I have my deck of cards,” you suggest.
“Oh don’t do that,” he says. “You’ll only make it angry.”
“Angry and dead.”
Inspector groans. “No, watch.” He produces his key from his coat and fires into the monster, six rounds rapid. You’re impressed by his aim, but the monster is unaffected. It notices your position and starts walking toward you.
“Oh, ahhh,” Inspector puts the gun away. “That was dumb of me. Quick, here!”
There are some sparkles and he pushes something gun-shaped into your hands. It’s almost like an AK-47, except that it’s bright red and seems to be Swedish Fish-themed. You appreciate the sentiment, but it looks ridiculous.
“What the fuck is this?” you say.
“Shoot it!” Inspector yells over the monster’s roar.
Well, at least if this fails the monster is well within cuestick range. You leap to your feet and unleash a hail of red gummy bullets. Blood spurts out of the bullet holes and the monster topples backwards. You shoot it a few more times, just to be sure, then hand the gun back to Inspector. He drops it. Apparently even candy guns are too heavy for him.
“Th-thank you,” Inspector says as you help him to his feet. “I—I’m a little out of practice, but I figured you’d have no problem with, ah…”
“With killing it,” you finish.
“Y-yes.” He coughs awkwardly. He’s never comfortable around the topic of violence.
You decide to do away with the awkwardness with a kiss. When you pull away you say, “I like it when you shoot things that aren’t me.”
“Oh. Ahahaha. Ha.” He looked aside for a moment, then his face lit up. “Oh! I gained a level! It’s been ages since that happened! Did you gain one too, Mister Droog?”
“Hm? Oh, yes. I suppose I did.”
He takes your hands and starts doing a strange, rhythmless dance. He tries to get you to do the same but you just stand there as he flails your arms about.
“Inspector, I am not going to dance.”
“But… but isn’t that what you do when you level up?” His voice is full of disappointment.
“No,” you say.
He looks saddened. He stops his dancing and looks at his feet. You sigh.
“Okay, I’ll dance. Briefly.”
You and he proceed to perform the most awkward dance ever conceived. It is ten seconds long and would cause any observer to implode from the sheer force of its incredible inelegance.
You’re capable of elegance, of course. Perhaps in a ballroom. But in the street, while being lead by Inspector? No chance.
Afterward he decides that you and he should go back before any other beasts turn up. Then he gets an excited look in his eyes.
“Mister Droog! Imagine us a shortcut.”
“No,” you say.
Because you’ve seen your imagination stat, and because you’re quickly sobering up.
“I said no.”
“Just give it a try,” he pleads. “P-please?
You really need to stop indulging this man. You close your eyes. When you open them, there is something like a diagram of a ladder floating near the wall, going up to the roof. You try to touch it, but your hand goes through it.
“Oh gosh, I’m sorry,” Inspector says. He looks you up and down. You have just given away your weakest stat. “I didn’t realize. Sorry. Here, I’ll do it.”
He conjures a small elevator. The two of you walk in. It’s got quality brushed steel doors and stone tile floors. Elevator music is playing. When you get to the top it dings and the door opens, allowing you to climb onto the roof. As you walk to the stairwell you ask why you don’t just jump down through the window, and Inspector replies that that would be a “very bad idea”.
So you walk down the stairs back to the office. You’re amused enough to say hello to one of the dames as Inspector pushes you back into the fort. You close your eyes and open them again to find that Pickle Inspector is standing over the fusebox in the closet, a flashlight in hand. You climb to your feet and join him.
“Oh, d-did you defeat the monster?” he asks, seeming a little bewildred.
“Yes. You were there, I’m sure you recall.”
He shakes his head. “N-no, that was an imaginary me. Same for you, the, um, the real you’s been sitting there the whole time. Just I can walk around while also supporting an imaginary self.” He shrugs. “I get a little confused though. You’ll have to remind me later what happened. I’m sure it’ll come to me.” He groans a little. “I can’t imagine why the power won’t come on.”
“I think the transformer blew,” you say.
“Oh. Oh, yes, I suppose that happens. Nothing to do for it, then.”
“Shall we be on our way?”
“Wh-where were we going, again?”
“My apartment,” you try to be as patient as possible, but at the point you’re about ready to pick him up and carry him.
“Oh! Oh. That sounds delightful, yes! Let’s hurry!”
The two of you rush into the cold air of the Real City Streets. Pickle Inspector looks around, a strangely wistful look on his face.
“You know, back then, all we wanted was to just… walk out here…”
You light a cigarette. It has a faint aftertaste to it, like bubblegum. You don’t know how his imaginary trickery had an effect on your real cigarettes—maybe it’s just in your head, or maybe his imagination is just that good. “I can’t blame you. That is a strange and silly place.”
“Maybe.” He smiles. “Still, I—I kind of like it there.”
You pause, taking a drag on your candy-tainted cigarette. As you exhale, you think that a place like that is perfect for a man like him. You wonder why he hasn’t simply run away there and never looked back at the real world.
“Can we have some tea first when we get there,” Inspector asks, shivering and leaning against you for warmth. “Before we do anything else.”
“Only if you make it,” you say before kissing his cheek. “Soon I won’t be able to stand any tea that isn’t yours.”
“S-sorry,” he giggles.
You walk along, late at night, as you traverse the Real City Streets. Something keeps him here, you know. Maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s Sleuth, or love of his job. Maybe it’s all of those things. Regardless, you’re glad to be able to walk like this with him, against the biting cold and the dark of night, and not in some ridiculous fucking fantasy land full of fluorescent sunlight and badly-drawn townspeople.