“Huh!? Me?” Dib uttered in surprise upon hearing his name. “But--but I don’t know anything!”
“That’s for sure...” Zim muttered just loud enough for him to hear.
“Hey, watch it Space-boy,” Dib warned in dangerous tones.
Zim drew back his white ears hostilely. “Threaten me all you like, Giant Dib. You don’t scare me!”
“Both of you shut up! And you-” Gaz shouted, waving her hammer in Dib’s direction, “-approach the witness stand.”
“Uh, Gaz... I don’t think--”
“Look! I’d like to get out of here sometime today, so just DO IT!!” she demanded, and Dib had no choice but to follow orders. Two seconds later, a dreadful cracking noise filled the air, and what had three seconds ago been the witness stand now lay in a pile of splinters beneath Dib’s heels. The Queen squinted up at him, and Dib tugged at his collar tensely, shooting her another goofy smile.
“Eh heh... I tried to tell you...”
Gaz groaned, seriously beginning to reconsider Zim’s offer, and flashed her eyes on the invader who was busy flipping through a thick book. After a second he declared triumphantly, “Ha! Here it is. Rule #42. Anyone more than a mile high has to leave the court!”
Everyone looked at Dib.
“Oh, give me a break,” he exclaimed, folding his arms across his chest defiantly, “I’m nowhere near a mile high!”
“You’re right, it’s more like twenty miles!” Zim half agreed.
Dib shook his head hopelessly. “Zim, I always knew you were a moron, but this is just pathetic. And that’s not even a real rule, is it. You just made it up.”
“Liar! LIIIIIAAAAR!!” Zim screamed. “Take your filthy lies and be gone, lying Dib- monster!”
“Gladly,” Dib said, then added in a mocking accent, “Oh gee, wait a second… I tried to leave a minute ago when I was actually small enough to fit through the door, but SOMEONE wouldn’t let me!” he snapped, bringing his face down menacingly close to Zim’s.
“Can we just get on with the interrogation already!!” Gaz bristled in a voice that suggested she was nearing the end of her rope.
“But how do you expect me to interrogate the witness when this wretched fool destroyed the witness stand?” Zim whined, staring accusingly back up at his nemesis.
The Queen’s face became tinged a deadly scarlet. “LOOK, I DON’T CARE! I JUST WANT TO GET THIS OVER WITH AND GET MY GAME BACK, SO HURRY IT UP!!!!” she exploded, causing everyone in the room to flinch away, even Dib who was about twenty times bigger than her.
Zim slumped his shoulders in a beaten manner. “Fine,” he caved and slunk over to the foot of the judge’s bench, reclaiming his scroll. “What do you know about all this?” he asked Dib calmly, though he still scowled at him with those angry, crimson eyes.
“Like I said before, nothing,” he replied.
“Nothing…” the alien folded his scrawny arms, “… or something?”
“No. Nothing,” Dib said flatly.
“So much ‘nothing’ that it’s actually ‘something’?” Zim prodded.
Dib scrunched up his features in bafflement. “Huh?”
Just then, Keef broke in. “Excuse me, Sir?” he said trotting up to Zim and handing him an envelope, “This just arrived. It’s a written confession signed by the perpetrator.”
Zim ripped it open and pulled out a sheet of paper as everyone leaned forward intently. He skimmed over it for a moment, making little inquiring noises as he read, but he didn’t read fast enough for Dib who bent down and impatiently snatched the paper away from the startled alien.
“The Knave didn’t sign this,” he announced after a second. “In fact this isn’t signed by anyone. And it’s not even a confession. It’s just a picture of a dog.”
“Ha! That proves his guilt!” Zim yelled.
“OFF WITH HIS HEAD!” Gaz snarled, and Iggins was seized by the guards.
“Wait! It’s just a stupid picture of a dog! How does that prove anything?” Dib demanded, causing another stir of indignant whispers from the crowd.
“You know, for someone who claims to know nothing, you sure seem to know an awful lot about this,” Zim narrowed his eyes accusingly. “In fact…” he pointed at Dib dramatically, “I’ll bet you took the Queen’s Game Slave!”
“What!?” Dib gasped, and a commotion swept through the room.
“You stole my game!?” Gaz stood up and slammed her palms down on the bench.
“What? No! I didn’t take anything! Why would I?” Dib quickly tried to defend himself.
“More lies!” Zim accused with a strange type of glee. “You took the game! Admit it!”
“You’re crazy! I didn’t do anything!” Dib insisted.
“Ha! We have evidence to the contrary,” Zim’s lips curled in a vengeful grin. “Let’s hear the accusations!” he snapped his gloved fingers, and several members in the audience called out at once.
“He dented my hover skirt!” shouted Red.
“He broke my smoke machine!” added Purple.
“He made me fly into a bug zapper and just plain annoyed me,” said the (still crispy) Bittersfly.
“He grabbed my face!” the doorknob yelled. “It hurt.”
“He stole my bike!” yelled a guy in a bear suit wearing a tutu.
“Huh? Who’re you? I never even met you,” said Dib.
“We played tea-party!” GIR chimed merrily.
“He tried to eat my eggs!” the pigeon whined.
“He shot me out of a tube!” Keef piped up. “Then he ate all the waffles I made!”
“And on top of all that, he made me late and has pestered me no end!” finished Zim. “There you have it good pigs of the jury. Clearly this Dib-beast is a threat to society and must be dealt with!”
“Now just hold on a minute!” Dib shouted, his self control beginning to slip. “I’m not the one on trial here!”
“You wouldn’t mind being on trial unless you had something to hide!” Zim reciprocated, and everyone agreed that this was a perfectly logical answer.
“I’ve had it with this!” Dib shouted, nearly deafening the entire room. He clenched and unclenched his fists, his shoulders tensing with anger as what little control he had left over his temper finally snapped. “I didn’t do anything! I’m not on trial, I’m not the one who took the stupid game, and I haven’t done anything else here either except try to keep my sanity!”
“You spew nonsense from your foul word tube, Human Stink!” Zim screamed with a crazy look in his eye, and thrust a finger directly at Dib. “OFF WITH HIS GREAT BIG HEAD!”
The next thing Dib knew, the air was choked with dozens of flying cards, all of which were raining down on top of him. “Gah! Ow! Quit it!” Dib swatted frantically at his assailants as they poked and jabbed him with their tiny spears. The mob was now in an uproar and calling for Dib’s blood, chanting ‘off with his head’ over and over with Zim leading the vicious mantra (Hmm, kinda reminds me of the Jerry Springer Show).
All at once, Gaz screamed, “STOOOOOOPPPPP!” and the entire room froze, turning towards her. Dib’s heart leaped in his chest, his eyes practically sparkling with loving gratitude; he just knew his sister would come through for him!
“I’ve got a better idea…” the Queen grinned sinisterly. “FEED HIM TO THE JABBERWOCKEY!”
“Wha--?” Dib’s face fell and his jaw dropped, his blood turning to ice as a huge, black shadow slowly fell over him. In the midst of the looming blackness, a pair of glowing yellow eyes flickered to life, and a mouthful of deadly, razor sharp teeth came into focus. Dib gasped in terror as he found himself staring up at the hideous form of a towering beast, which ran a long, slimy tongue hungrily over its chops as it stared back at its spiky-haired snack. With a deep, throaty growl, the Jabberwocky leaped for his throat.
Dib ran. He didn’t even know how he got out of the courtroom, but it seemed that in the last few minutes, the walls had gradually faded away to nothing, and now they were floating in a gaping black void. Not that Dib cared all that much to question it, what with fleeing for his life and all from a monster that, even at his current tallness, was easily ten times his superior.
“After him!” Zim roared, his expression that of a madman as he led the charge after Dib, wielding his axe behind him in hot pursuit.
Dib’s heartbeat echoed in his head, his lungs tightening as he gasped for air, his boots pounding against the floor as he ran with everything he had. But his feet weren’t really hitting the floor, or if they were it was an invisible one, since Dib couldn’t seem to make out exactly what he was running across. It felt solid like the ground, but it was just as black as everything else around him with no way to discern where the ground ended and where the walls, if any, began. It almost felt like he was running down an endless hole. Just like the one I fell down when I first came to this horrible place Dib thought with a touch of irony, then he mentally slapped himself for thinking such stupid thoughts when there was a giant monster and a homicidal, axe-wielding extraterrestrial at his heels.
Suddenly, Dib felt a pull on the back of his trench coat and let out a squeak of alarm as the Jabberwocky ripped off a large piece of fabric in its teeth. The boy faded to panic, but didn’t dare look back and continued running blindly through the endless space. It felt like the faster he ran, the least distance he seemed to go, just like in a dream. No… A nightmare. Soon Dib’s legs began to feel shaky and his breath was coming out in short gasps, his brow broken into a fevered sweat. The massive form of the Jabberwocky was gaining on him, and he didn’t know how much longer he could keep this up.
“I just want to go home!” he cried out to the nothingness, his voice echoing the absolute desperation he felt.
“Hey! It’s you again! Howzit goin?” a casual voice suddenly said close to his ear, and Dib whipped his head in surprise only to find the Cheshire Cat sitting on his shoulder, grinning as usual.
“You!” Dib cried, half in shock, half in anger. “Where the heck did you go!?” he demanded through panting breaths.
“I had to use the litter box,” the cat shrugged. “Hey, it happens. So what’ve you been up to?” it asked leaning on a paw.
“Oh, not much, just RUNNING FOR MY LIFE!!” Dib snapped, and the cat glanced innocently back at his pursuers and raised an eyebrow.
“Whew,” it whistled, “You really are having a bad day.”
Dib ducked just as the Jabberwocky swiped at him with a handful of deadly talons.
“Hurry, tell me how to get home!” Dib pleaded, feeling his strength begin to fade. “Please, I-- OW!” he wailed as Zim, seeing his moment of weakness, lunged at him and began jabbing him in the side with his axe handle.
“Bwahahaha!” he cackled maniacally, “You can never escape, Dib! NEVER!!!”
Just seconds after Zim made his move, the Jabberwocky also sprang at Dib, knocking him hard on his stomach. He rolled over with an agonized groan and found himself staring into a pair of cold, bloodthirsty eyes. A searing drop of saliva landed next to his head as the creature licked its lips in anticipation. As the nightmare beast edged closer to Dib, the gaunt feline appeared again, this time on his chest.
“It’s very simple for you to get home,” he grinned as if there’d never been an interruption.
The Jabberwocky was now only inches away from Dib who threw his trembling arms over his eyes. Zim still laughed like mad and continued stabbing him in the side. In the flurry of the moment, just before he faded to black, Dib heard the Cheshire Cat repeat, “It’s very simple for you to get home.”
The world seemed to swirl around him in a dizzying pattern of black, orange, and purple. Dib lost consciousness just as he heard the cat’s voice saying “… All you have to do is…”
The words echoed in Dib’s ears as he was engulfed by blackness.
* * *
The first thing Dib realized was that someone was yelling loudly in his ear, but even more irritating was the constant, sharp prodding in his side.
“Hey! Wake up!” said a voice. A familiar voice.
Dib felt another hard poke in his ribs and his eyes flickered open. “Gah!” he suddenly bolted upright with a start as his memory flooded back to him.
“It’s about time. You talk in your sleep, Human,” the voice said in a disgusted tone, and Dib felt another jab. He looked up to see Zim standing over him nudging him with a stick.
“Zim!?” Dib’s liquid brown eyes darted back and forth, and he saw that he was back in the sun-draped park, sitting under the tree surrounded by his laptop and monitoring gear just as if he’d never left.
“Honestly, the commotion you were making, you’d think you were about to be gutted alive or something,” continued Zim. Zim. Just the regular old Zim, with his black Elvis wig and lavender contact lenses. No bunny costume. No gigantic axe. Just Zim.
“I-it was all a dream?” Dib held a hand to his sweating forehead. “But-- But it felt so real! And you were there. And you,” he said, pointing first to Zim, and then to GIR who he spotted at the end of the leash he was holding. “And there was Gaz, and--and Dad, and all the kids at skool, and Ms. Bitters… But everything was so weird, and everyone was different… Gaz was a Queen… That horrible monkey… The floating cat head… And you had bunny ears!…”
“What nonsense are you babbling about now, Dib worm?” Zim scrunched up his features in mystification as his archenemy rambled to the sky, but Dib was too happy to hear him.
I’m back! It was all a dream! he silently cheered, giggling involuntarily out of sheer relief. It really was just a dream! Dib climbed to his feet and smiled a smile that made Zim wonder uncertainly if he should be standing so close to him.
“Oh Zim, I never in my life thought I’d be so glad to see you!” Dib declared, and this time Zim did step back a little.
“I think you’ve been laying in the Earth’s sun too long,” he turned pointedly and tugged on GIR’s leash, dragging the robot puppy away from a very fascinating ladybug it was trying to eat. “Tch… Humans,” Zim rolled his eyes and walked away.
Dib watched him leave then gathered up his spy equipment, knowing that he was probably grinning like a moron, but he didn’t care. He’d never felt so thrilled before. He’d even been glad to see Zim! “I still can’t believe it was all just a dream!” he reflected. “It felt so real…”
He slung his backpack over his shoulder. He was about to go when he heard someone snicker behind him.
Dib whipped around, his eyes scanning the scene, his heart leaping into his throat as he realized he knew that laugh. As he searched for the source of the laughter, he happened to glance down and noticed a large piece missing from his jacket.
But Dib already knew how it’d happened. His heart began to pound faster and his brow broke out in a terrified sweat.
“N-no! It was just a dream! A DREAM!!”
On a sudden impulse Dib’s hands went to his pockets, and suddenly he knew without a shadow of a doubt he’d find them there. He pulled his hands out slowly and opened his shaking palms only to reveal the two pieces of mushroom he’d kept from before, and had forgotten about up until just now. He stared at them for a second then flung them away as if they were hot coals.
The mocking laugh came again, but Dib was already rushing home, making a serious vow that when he got there he was locking himself in his room and never coming out again.
As he ran, a figure watched from a tree with a pair of glinting eyes. The lanky figure twitched its tail in amusement and curled a whisker around one of its claws, snickering to itself contentedly with a large, feral smile.