Chapter 1: Miracle on 372pages Street
Twas the week before Crimmus and all through the house, only Mike and Conor were stirring, because they still weren’t done with their newest podcast episode. The corgis were napping all bundled in bed, but dammit boy, Sean Penn just couldn’t get out of their head.
“It sure was nice of Alejandro, the cosmic kitten cat, to let us come home for the holidays.” Conor said.
“That’s for sure, Conor.” Mike replied. “I’m going to be glad to be done with this podcast, as Bridget and I have fun family plans for this Crimmus.”
“Lauren and I do as well!” Conor added.
It had been a few weeks since they had met Alejandro the cosmic space cat, who they thought for a time was actually Ernest Cline. It turned out he was so good, Alejandro could fool anyone.
Just then, their doorbell chimed. They both answered the door at the same time and to their surprise stood before them was none other than Santa Claus.
“Ho ho hellow!” Santa said, grabbing his enormous wobbling belly.
Mike and Conor rubbed their eyes with both hands.
“No no, this is no illusion.” Santa reassured them. “However, I do have a small problem I hope you boys could help me out with. You have been making fun of me for years in various films and such, remember?”
Mike and Conor both looked down, ashamed of themselves a little bit. “Gee Santa, it was just work..” Mike said.
Santa had a twinkle in his eye. “I’ll give you a chance to make up for it.”
“Anything, Santa!” Conor said almost peeing himself with excitement.
“Excellent.” Santa nodded. “I need you boys to save Crimmus. But I can’t tell you what’s threatening it, you’ll just have to go to the country and figure that out for yourselves.”
The boys both packed their bags and with a wiggle of his fat nose, Santa sent them magically off to the country.
In seemingly an instant, the boys were transported to a little cabin that was an obvious fixer upper. The cabin had in fact seen better days, and luckily the floors weren’t inhabited by NightHerons or FloorDemons. No, this was a simple ordinary craphole cabin that any holiday romance heroine would inherit from her long-estranged family. The pipes carrying hot and cold water to and from the cabin were rusty, some of the windows were broken or stuck, the floors and walls were all filthy and covered in a strange gunk (that certainly wouldn’t come up later in the plot) and the furniture -- or lack thereof -- was screaming for a decorator. Out of the corner of their eye they spied a lone twerking santa bear doing his thing on a windowsill.
Conor and Mike were beside themselves. What had Santa gotten them into? Was it their mission to fix up this cabin in time for Crimmus?
Just then, Conor and Mike both received texts on their phones. They thought it would be from family or friends but instead it was a bunch of jackals quote-retweeting a news article at them. It read:
ERNEST CLINE, FAMED GREAT AUTHOR AND CLASSIC VIDEO GAME PLAYER, TO RELEASE NEW CHRISTMAS THEMED BOOK ON CHRISTMAS DAY.
Mike threw his phone across the room. Conor threw up a little in his mouth but rallied.
“You know, Mike, this could be really good for us.” Conor reasoned after several minutes had passed.
“But at what cost, Conor? At what… cost..” Mike’s voice faded as he thought of the Crimmus horrors about to be wrought unto them.
They sat in sadness for many minutes before finally realizing they had to do something.
“Mike, it’s up to us to do something.” Conor said defiantly. “We have to save Crimmus.”
“But Conor,” Mike looked up at Conor with defeat already looming in his orbs, “How do we save the people from Ernest Cline?”
Conor stood up and commanded Alexa to turn off the twerking Christmas bear. “We have to stop Ernest Cline from releasing this Crimmus themed book. It’s our duty as PodCasters.”
Mike stood in solidarity with Conor, admiring his forcefulness with Alexa with a manly nod of approval. “For the good of all mankind!”
“And, you know, our sanity.” Conor shrugged.
Chapter 2: 372pages is Coming To Town
The town of Red Herrington was awash with Crimmus glee. The snow fell only in the appropriate places on rooftops, and a light dusting on the sidewalk (not enough to create ice). Snow daintily sat atop parked cars and assorted Crimmus decorations the town paid an incredible amount for at the detriment of necessary goods and services it normally provided. Yes, this was Crimmus time in Red Herrington.
Conor and Mike walked into the single, independently owned coffee shop -- that still held a grudge against Starbucks despite it never going near the town -- and sat down. A waitress came up to them.
“Hi, I’m Kaiya. What would you like, boys?” She asked them.
Mike let out a barely-suppressed Norman groan at her name. Conor cleared his throat to make up for it. “Uhm, yes, we’ll have two coffees please.”
“I’ll put the order in, but Jeff, our Chef, likes to come up with menus based on people’s personalities.”
“That sounds incredibly aggravating for customers.” Mike commented.
They munched on their prune stew and walnuts while sipping wine and looked at the article again.
“This must be what Santa sent us here for, Mike.” Conor said.
“I agree completely, Conor. There’s no way in Heck Santa would send us here and not want us to kill Ernest Cline!”
“Woah woah there, Mike. Who said anything about killing him?”
“It was the only natural conclusion I could come to, Conor.”
“Well how about we try to find him and ask him politely to not inflict unto the world another word-vomit?”
Mike sighed and unclenched his hand around his puny butter knife that had been set before them at the table. “As you wish, Conor.”
“Ha-ha, Princess Bride. Classic Reference, guys!”
Conor and Mike both whipped their heads around to see none other than the true Ernest Cline sitting at a table near them. His Cheshire grin was almost too much to stomach. He looked at them with an evil glint in his eye and said, “I guess you’re here about my releasing a new Christmas themed book.”
Cline stood. His squat, pig-like features were accentuated by the douchey beard-goatee thing he saw on TV once and thought was cool because the internet also thought it was cool for a brief moment between 2000 and 2009. The air around him smelled vaguely of cheetos. Conor and Mike were stunned.
“I know what you’re thinking, guys.” Ernest Cline said, tugging a chair over to them and sitting in it backwards. He rested his prune-stained chin on his arms and he gave them a good long SoulStare. “I don’t need glitter to work my Magick on you two to figure it out. You’re here to stop me by any means necessary from releasing my new book.” He let out an evil sigh. “Shame that you’ll never find where I hid my manuscript. And even if you did, you’d need extensive geek knowledge to get through the puzzles.”
Mike and Conor stared at him in disbelief for several minutes. It had been years since either of them had even thought about Ready Player One, and here they were forced into a Christmas Special Themed easter egg hunt.
You should do this hunt.
Startled, Mike and Conor both asked out loud “Uh, who said that?”
“It sounds like Santa, actually.” Conor said.
It is me, Santa Claus.
“Oh, Conor this is like that book we’re reading right now, Shadow Moon.” Mike said with asperity.
“Shit.” said Conor.
“Anyways fellas, I’ll leave you to it. By the way, your first clue is on the table.” Ernest Cline threw down a couple bucks to pay for Mike and Conor’s meal and got up and left.
Almost immediately after the door closed after him, the waitress Kaiya came over to the table. “You HAVE to see him again! Maybe on Christmas Eve? Our town celebrates each year in the town square by lighting a ceremonial Christmas Tree and doing the macarena.”
Mike and Conor were pretty stunned. They didn’t really have to do anything for this plot to fall into place.
Mike was the first to snap out of it. “Wait, we have to see him before Christmas Eve.” Mike asked the bubbly waitress.
She giggled. Mike didn’t like the sound of that giggle. “Oh, silly, I’m just a side character.” Kaiya looked down at the money on the table and frowned. “Sorry fellas, you need real money here, not credits.”
Conor looked down and indeed it was a coin from the Wars of Star. Conor groaned. “It’s the Star Wars Holiday Special.”
Chapter 3: The 372pages Christmas Special
Just outside the small-town diner was a comic shop across the street. Acting on impulse, they began to cross, when a DeLorian rounded the corner too fast and almost hit them.
“Wow, who would do that?” Conor asked.
“Cline.” Mike seethed.
The comic shop famously only accepted star wars and other nerdy-but-in-the-mainstream currency. There was an inconvenient currency exchange when you walked in, and then from there you could pick out whatever you wanted in the store as long as it didn’t go over the amount you converted.
One frustrating conversation later and Mike and Conor had gained entry into the comic shop. Their imperial credits were getting scathing looks from what they could only assume were “true nerds” on the other end of the store, but they were on a mission.
The comic book man behind the counter looked suspicious to Conor. It was not at all what he envisioned every comic book guy in the world to look like. “We need something from the star wars holiday special.” Conor said.
The comic book man scoffed and pointed a cheeto-laced finger to a curtained area. They walked through the curtain and found it to be named “Things That Are Canon That We Also Do Not Like” in big bold and italicized letters above a row of books and movies. The Star Wars Holiday Special merchandise was priced way beyond their means, all except a little Boba Fett figurine.
“He’s so cute!” Conor squeaked.
“Oh, that one has a major defect on it.” The comic book man said. “So it’s usually worth way more but it just looks so stupid. I wasn’t sure how we were gonna sell it, but this really cool guy driving a DeLorian came in and pre-purchased it for ‘two of my biggest fans’.”
“Did he have a douchey beard?” Mike asked.
“And was he possibly humming the imperial march when he came in?”
The comic book man dropped his cheeto bag. “Wh..why yes! You two must be his biggest fans! Here -- take the ‘ Fett.”
Coming out of the comic book shop that also sold other collectibles, the boys were still full on prune stew and walnuts and empty on what the hell the boba fett figurine was meant to convey.
“Okay, so Boba Fett is a bounty hunter, right?” Conor asked Mike, getting down to business.
“I am the last person who would care about the answer to that, Conor.” Mike said.
“Right. Okay, so he is a bounty hunter. So let’s go to the bail bonds place!” Conor got excited at the prospect of meeting real life bounty hunters.
“Sure Conor but where is the nearest one? Would such a Crimmus-y town like Red Herrington even have a bail bonds place?”
Conor pointed directly behind Mike. The comic book shop was apparently right next to the bail bonds place!
Chapter 4: The 372pages Clause
The bail bonds place was grimy compared to what they assumed the rest of the town looked like -- there was a gum wrapper on the floor. The walls were sticky. There were wanted posters on the cleaner part of the wall. One looked suspiciously like Sean Penn.
“Is this really where we need to be? At Crimmustime?” Mike asked no one in particular.
“You boys lookin’ for some hunts?” A grizzled man in a leopard print shirt and a mask over his face asked them.
“You look like an NPC out of literally any video game.” Conor remarked.
“We are ‘lookin’ for some hunts’, especially if they’re really gunts.” Mike answered the man’s question.
The man eyeballed Conor in a way that made both of them very uncomfortable, and then slapped down a small folder with a single name on it -- Scott Calvin.
The boys immediately recognized it as the name of the protagonist of The Santa Clause starring Tim Allen. Conor looked over at the man and asked him, “Hey uh,” Conor looked at his name tag, “Thorn?”
“Thorn, now that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time.” The man who came to be known as Thorn said.
“Okay Thorn, do you have a phonebook by any chance?” Conor asked.
Thorn took the stones he was sucking out of his mouth one by one while making direct eye contact with Mike before deftly pulling out a phonebook from his knapsack.
“Would this be what ye’re lookin fer?” The old man asked, handing it over.
“Thanks.” Conor ignored Mike’s disgusted look and flipped through it. “There, 1313 Mockingbird Lane: Calvin, Scott. Let’s go.” Conor closed the phonebook and handed it back to Thorn who was now eating the inside of his mouth to draw blood for effect.
“This ain’t Magick, ye’know!” Thorn bellowed from behind them as they ran as far away as possible from the building.
1313 Mockingbird Lane was, of course, at the end of the single street they’d spent this entire story in. Looking up at it it was more of a mansion than anything. Towering high above the rest of the town, it was a wonder they hadn’t noticed it before now.
Before they could ring the doorbell next to the large initials “S.C.”, they heard a familiar, yet annoying voice.
“Well well well, looks like you figured out my clever ruse.” Ernest Cline snickered through the intercom.
“Just let us in, Cline.”
“Not before you tell me the pass code! It’s the one sentence you guys would hate to have to say out loud!”
Conor sighed a deep, Norman-like sigh that even had Mike impressed.
“Bing and Crosby asked an Antedeluvian Magus named Ogden to karaoke.” He said, choking back tears.
Ernest let out a scoff that probably coated his microphone in spittle. “Fine. I’ll meet you in my chambers.”
Chapter 5: How 372pages Saved Christmas
Ernest Cline spun around in his oversized gaming chair. “I’ve been expecting you two: Conor Lastowka and Michael J Nelson!” He said this menacingly while petting a stuffed-animal Nibbler from Futurama. Classic. As he stroked his Nibbler, Cline let out a hoarse groan. “And now I’ve got you two cornered.”
A giant cage appeared from the ceiling and slammed down around them. There was no way out.
“You’ll never get away with this, Cline!” Conor shouted, shaking his fist at the bad author.
Throughout Conor’s insult, Cline had begun a low chuckle. It carried on for a few uncomfortable minutes until finally he stopped. “You don’t get it, do you? We’re the same, you and Me.” Cline stood up from his desk and walked around it until he could lean his butt on the edge.
“We’re entirely different!” Mike stammered. “Y-you write bad books, we just make fun of them!”
Cline nodded with his Cheshire grin once more. “Yes, and you’ve talked about your displeasure with my work. My life’s work. The work that’s brought joy to millions of underappreciated nerds.”
“Liking The Goonies doesn’t make you a nerd.” Conor responded.
“Yeah, Star Wars too. Those aren’t some obscure interests that set you apart from “normies”, especially nowadays.” Mike added.
Cline’s grin faded into a frown. “Well, then I liked all this stuff before it was cool to like it!”
“That just makes you a hipster.” Conor said.
Cline began stomping around the room, waving a piece of metal equipped with a big red button in his hands furiously. “No no no! I’m cool! No one understands Me except cool people !!!”
His finger was dangerously close to the button.
“Hey Cline what does that button do, exactly?” Mike asked, cool-headed.
Cline’s anger paused for a moment because he appreciated it going back to him.
“I put my manuscript on a missile that, when I press this button, will launch it into the Internet-o-sphere.
“Not the Internet-o-sphere!” Conor and Mike gasped even though they barely knew what he meant by that.
Cline nodded, seeing they finally grasped the full situation.
“So you finally grasp the full situation. This pleases me.”
“We’ll stop you somehow, Cline!” Conor shouted. “Even if we have to make fun of it for fifty years, we’ll get you back!”
Cline started laughing a nasal, hearty laugh. “If you even try, you’ll blow yourselves up! The only thing that will stop the missiles and the bomb-cage from exploding is a passphrase that only I could ever possibly know!
Conor thought for a moment. He looked at the missile. It was decked out in all the cool stickers and patches Cline could have found. It even had a battlestar galactica sticker! It truly was a…
“Helluva Rig.” Conor said out loud, merely finishing his thought.
Cline stopped laughing. The bombs detonated -- ON THE MISSILE, and the manuscript was no more.
“NOooooo!!! I forgot to auto save!!!!”
The town of Red Herrington held hands and sang around the miraculous rubble that was formerly Calvin Tower. A lot of them looked at each other and smiled while shrugging, which meant they would canonically bang by the time a sequel comes out.
Mike and Conor held each other up, barely able to stumble out of the wreckage.
Ho ho ho! What a good job, boys!
“Hey, Santa?” Mike asked feebly. “Could you, you know, not be a demon that merged with us? It’s taken a lot out of us not getting blown up and all.”
A jolly fat santa floated out of each of their mouths and merged into one giant floating gaseous form.
“You boys did so well, I will send you home now. But not before dealing with him.”
Santa looked beyond them, and as Mike and Conor turned they knew who they would find.
But it wasn’t Ernest Cline. It was another gaseous form. Mike’s eyes twinkled.
“Santa?!” Mike exclaimed.
“Yes, Mike, your Crimmus wish has come true. Ernest Cline is dead.” Santa put his finger to his nose and winked, dissipating forever.
Ernest Cline was fading fast. Mike had one more thing he had to say to him first.
“Wait, Mr. Cline?”
“What is it, Mike?”
“I have a question for you that’s been bugging me for years.” Mike said as Ernest Cline’s likeness faded away. “Why did you leave out MST3k from the list of classic tv show lists in Ready Player One? You did like seven pages on every single show you watched, and MST was pretty famous.”
A light shone in Ernest Cline’s eyes and he thought for a moment. “Never heard of it.” Cline said, and with that he was gone.
Mike’s face twisted in anger. “Son of a----”
Alejandro closed the Crimmus Book. Ginger, Kweh, Kupo - three kittens who were sick in bed for Crimmus - looked up at Alejandro. “Is this where they kiss?” Ginger asked with disgust.
“Yeah, No kissin’ stuff!” Kupo and Kweh chimed in in unison.
Alejandro smiled a cheshire grin and sighed. “And that’s how Conor and Mike, two lowly podcasters, saved Crimmus for all of us. Don’t they deserve a Crimmus Cheer?”
“Cheer for Crimmus! Cheer for Conor! Cheer for Mike! Crimmus Cheer!” The kittens shrieked in delight.