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Suddenly, they were here, the place they had been trying to reach for weeks. And they felt so weak, small, and exposed. Even with the graphite masks, they felt out of place.
"Act natural, and look for clues," Gyro whispered through his teeth.
"Yeah, I got it," Glue Stick said. His eyes scanned the surrounding area carefully. "I think I see something suspicious over there."
"Really?" Evina teased.
"Yeah, don't you think it's weird for so many people to be staring at the ground like that?"
Kate considered it. "Yeah, I suppose it is. We should go take a look."
When they arrived, they saw that the people were looking at stars in the sidewalk. "See, like I told you, totally not natural."
"Nick," Gyro sighed, "this is Hollywood."
"WHERE? DON'T LET HIM TAKE ME AGAIN!"
"Whoa! No! Not a Mr. Hollywood. I meant, uh, how do I explain this? This is the place where many toons and their movies were made. There were once plenty of portals here, so it makes perfect sense that one was still here, that is, until we arrived."
"Alright then, I'll try to be quiet and not blow our cover."
It was too late, though; there were already plenty of people throwing funny glances at them. This wasn't helped by the fact that the four of them didn't look like they belonged together for any real reason.
"Uh, maybe we should have thought our designs through a little more," Evina whispered anxiously. "Like, do we even have a story to explain why we're traveling like this? We don't have much of a cover at all!"
"We should get out of here," Gyro said. "We need to stay somewhere safe until we have time to figure out our plan."
"How do we get away?" Kate asked.
"I don't know! But something tells me the enemy is nearby. I remember it being close to the printing shop."
"How about we steal a kart?" Glue Stick suggested.
"It's a car, actually, and how do you think we can do that will all these people around?"
"There are cars everywhere! I'm sure nobody will notice if we just take one. Like, look at this one over here, I think the door is unlocked."
"No, we're not doing that." Gyro ran over to Glue Stick and dragged him away from the car. It was embarrassing how little each of them actually knew and how feeble their plans were. At this rate, they wouldn't get anything done.
Kate came forward and cleared her throat to get their attention. "I don't know about you boys, but we have to act more mature than this if we're going to survive. I'm going to walk into this place here and ask for some directions."
"To where?" Evina asked.
"Does it really matter?" She walked to the door while rolling her eyes at them.
But then, someone opened the door, and it hit her head while she wasn't looking.
"Oh, are you alright?" a man asked, coming out from the store.
Kate rubbed the side of her head. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"Oh, well if you need anything, I'd be glad to help you."
"That's very kind of you. It just so happens we need a ride out of here."
"Um, we don't exactly have a place to stay for the night."
"Aw, I understand," the man said with a strange smile. He was skinny and very well-dressed, but his skin was unusually pale, and his face was long and tight.
"Do you think you could help us?" Kate asked, not sure if it was a silly question to ask in this situation.
The man just stared back into her eyes and sniffed loudly. A moment later he replied. "Hmm, okay, maybe I can give you a ride. You can stay at my apartment tonight."
"Oh, that's great! We would be so grateful. I'm Kate, by the way. And over there is Aaron, Jack, and Nick." She now realized how odd they all looked together and didn't think the stranger would believe the outrageous story; but to her surprise, he didn't question it.
"Pleased to meet you, Kate." He shook her hand, and she noticed how cold it felt. "I am Harold Johnson. My car is just around the corner."
He led them to his vehicle while they followed, thinking about what they would do next. It was great to find someone to help them, but there were things about this man that made them feel uncomfortable.
Evina and Gyro lagged a short distance behind to avoid being heard. "Didn't you say you could feel people's emotions?" Evina asked.
"I did, but this guy doesn't have his mind opened; it's shut tight. I don't know a single thing about him."
At the car, the younger three crammed themselves into the dusty back seat of the old, beige sedan, and Gyro was brave enough to take the front seat with their new friend.
As the doors shut and he turned the ignition, Mr. Johnson sniffed deeply again. The car drove away down the street, and Evina could see the man's eyes looking at him through the reflection of the rear-view mirror. They were unnatural. They were piercing him. They made him feel uneasy.
"So, what brought you guys to Hollywood?" he asked them as if trying to start a pointless conversation.
They froze, not knowing what to say. Gyro finally uttered, "Tourism."
"We get a lot of tourists here in the summer. There is plenty to do for the fun-loving type. But you couldn't find a motel to stay at?"
They all remained silent again.
"Eh, it's alright, I won't ask."
The city seemed to go on forever with so many buildings, so many highways, and so many cars, but they eventually arrived at Mr. Johnson's apartment. As Evina stepped out, he could see the ocean below the hill in the distance. There were some human children playing on the beach. The waves looked shiny in the midday sunlight.
They walked up to a simple-looking building and took the stairs to the fifth level where the man lived. As they followed him into his apartment, they noticed it was kept very clean, but there was little to no decoration. Most of the walls were blank, and the furniture was old and simple. It was like his life and interests were as hard to decipher as his closed mind. It wasn't likely he had any friends.
The lights were not turned on, so the only illumination in the room came from the windows. The air conditioner was also turned off, so it felt unusually warm.
"Please make yourselves at home," Johnson said with another lopsided grin. "Forgive me, I have some work I need to get done. I'll be in my room. Please don't disturb me."
"Alright. Thank you once again," Gyro said.
Their new friend disappeared behind the bedroom door, shut it loudly, and locked it.
Kate stepped closer to them with her arms crossed. "So... what do we do now?" she inquired quietly. "Do you think all humans act like that?"
"I doubt it, but I never had the time to study what humans have done over the last decades. I don't know what's considered normal these days."
They heard the sound of a TV being turned on. Glue Stick was already in the armchair with his eyes focused on the screen.
"What are you doing?" Evina demanded.
"Hey, he told us to make ourselves at home, so that's what I'm doing."
"Oh, why did I expect something else from you?" Evina covered his face.
The current channel had a weather report airshow. It showed a map of the of the whole Southern California area. The four of them watched it with interest.
The image zoomed into an area not far south of where they were, and the weather woman briefly mentioned the word Disneyland.
"Disney?" Evina asked. "That's the name on the pencil!" But he tried to contain his excitement, cautious as to not make too much noise.
"And look at this," Glue Stick interrupted. He had noticed something lying on the ground next to the chair. It was a crinkled map of Disneyland. He unfolded it as the others bent over him to examine it. The first thing that caught their eyes was Toontown.
Kate considered it. "Wait, does that mean there's a portal left?"
Gyro's eyes grew wide. "If there is a threat nearby, then we'll have to destroy that portal." He backed away from them and looked around the room. "And there is something about this place that I just can't put my finger on. It's something... familiar."
The rest of them shrugged.
"Not a single word," Gyro told them. He crept very quietly to the bedroom door and put his ear against it. Evina and Kate couldn't resist the temptation to do the same, and soon they were all listening. Although, Glue Stick was still watching the TV.
"I told you already," Johnson complained through the muffled sound of the door, "I got them this time. We have to act now!"
Some voice on a phone spoke for a few seconds.
"Yes, I know they'll be there. Trust me! Just make sure it's evacuated!"
The indiscernible voice continued for a few more moments.
"It's now or never! We must go now. Prepare to put up a fight!"
Gyro motioned for them to move away. They crawled back to the main area. "I think... this is the threat I've seen before."
"Are you kidding?" Evina cried.
"I don't know what is going on, but we have to get to that portal and destroy it before he can use it to hurt anyone."
"Are you sure?" Glue Stick asked, not wanting to get off his comfy chair.
"Trust me on this one. Guys, this is it!"
They ran out of the apartment as quickly and quietly as they could.
"How are we going to get there? We'll need his car!" Kate asked between breaths.
"I found this in the kitchen," Evina answered, holding up the key.
Gyro gasped. "Amazing!"
Glue Stick didn't know how to react; he only looked more worried with each passing second.
"But do you know how to drive, dad? With a car, I mean. In Cog Nation, Harry said he could, but—"
"Evina, I'll be fine," he interrupted, forgetting to use his fake name. It probably didn't matter anymore.
They hopped inside as swiftly as they could and sped away from the apartment, pushing the old car to its limits. It rumbled and vibrated.
Gyro turned a corner. The tires screeched, and cars honked at them, swerving to get out of the way.
"Won't we draw attention to ourselves this way?" Kate asked. "I'm just trying to be logical."
It didn't matter for very long, though. They soon saw hundreds of people spilling out in droves from the entrance to Disneyland. Police cars with flashing lights were starting to surround the area.
The four of them abandoned the car and jogged to the park entrance on foot. They had to push people out of their way, going angrily in the other direction.
But when the police spotted them they blocked their path.
"We have to get through," Glue Stick insisted.
"There's been a massive outbreak of some disease. Don't ask me about the details. Our job is to keep the park clear until it's decontaminated."
There was no way to fight it. They couldn't run past all the cops, so they walked away looking sad, even though they weren't really deterred at all. When nobody was looking, they jumped into a patch of trees and followed a concealed fence going around the park. A minute of walking passed, then each of them took their turn standing on Gyro's broad shoulders to jump over the fence. Lastly, they helped pull him up and over. Despite his larger size with the mask, he didn't weigh all that much.
"Great. Now, where do we go?" Evina wondered.
"It's at the north side," Glue Stick said. "But we have to get out of this jungle first, wherever it is."
They ran through the trees as fast as they could but weren't paying attention to where they were going. At last, they tripped and crashed into a river.
The water turned black, and they rose to the surface sputtering. "Why didn't you tell us this was here?" Kate shouted.
Glue Stick shrugged, and then he gasped as he saw Kate in her normal form again. "Look!"
"Does that mean the mask isn't waterproof!?" Evina exclaimed.
"Aren't you the one who did it?" Gyro shot back.
"But you only gave me a week to figure it out! It's not like you did any better."
There were voices and the sounds of footsteps marching nearby. Gyro shushed them, and they waded quietly to the back of the waterfall to hide.
"Cool," Glue Stick remarked, "I always wanted to see the back side of water."
Kate covered his mouth with her hand.
Indeed, it sounded like a lot of people had entered the park. And they heard something like heavy vehicles driving around. They wondered if it was the decontamination team that the cop mentioned.
Johnson was spotted standing on the roof of a building. He was far away, but his dark suit and pale skin were unmistakable. He turned around and searched the whole park. Then he yelled as loudly as he could, "You toons are so stupid; you fell into my trap even quicker than I expected! I was barely able to keep up with you! Yes, I know you can hear me; you can't be too far. And believe me when I say we will find you. There is no place you can hide. You better get ready to die!"
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