Chris and Darren had a much easier time getting out of Snow White’s palace than they’d had getting in. Still disguised as maids, they simply walked through the front gates, and headed out into the darkness of the surrounding forest.
Once they were out of sight of the guards, they found a small clearing in the woods and built a fire. Even in the middle of summer, nighttime in the Northern Kingdom was chilly. Leaving the borrowed dresses on, Chris and Darren draped their own wet clothes over nearby bushes, hoping they’d be dry by morning.
Chris pulled the woolen blanket out of their sheepskin satchel. To his surprise and delight, it wasn’t even damp. “Wow,” he said. “This bag Froggy gave us must be waterproof.”
“Well, he is a frog. I bet he spends a lot of time in the water.”
“Hmmm…. I never thought of that. In my book, I had him do plenty of jumping, but no swimming. I guess I’ll have to let him show off his aquatic skills in the sequel.”
“Yeah. And he must have an amazing tongue, too. You could have him whip it out and snag things from ten feet away.”
“Now that would be disturbing.”
“Not gross things. Just, like, a cupcake, or something.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“You wanna know what I can do with my tongue?”
“I can tie a maraschino cherry stem in a knot.”
“Of course you can.”
“Hey,” Darren said, sounding somewhat indignant at Chris’s lack of enthusiasm. “I’ll have you know that’s a sure-fire way of impressing people in bars.”
“Yes, well, maybe the sort of people who hang out in bars watching cherry-stem Tongue Olympics aren’t all that worth impressing.”
Noticing that Darren actually looked a little crestfallen, Chris wrapped an arm around his friend. “I’m sure your skills are very impressive,” he conceded. “As soon as we get home, I’ll let you take me out and show me. Okay?”
Darren’s face immediately broke into a wide grin. “Deal.”
The following morning, after changing back into their own (thankfully dry) clothes, Chris and Darren left the borrowed maids’ outfits hanging on a tree branch alongside the main road to the palace, where they hoped someone would find them and return them. Then they headed west, toward the Dwarf Forests.
It was a long walk. As they left the Northern Kingdom behind, the trees grew together more and more thickly, until the tangled branches high overhead almost completely blocked out the sun. Chris and Darren seemed to be traveling through an endless twilight.
Finally, they came to a perfectly round tunnel leading into the side of a mountain. A sign was carved into the stone arch above the entryway: I’ll Show You Mine.
“I don’t remember you giving that name to the Dwarf Mine,” Darren commented, grinning.
“That’s ‘cause I didn’t. Come on – let’s go inside and find Snow White’s coffin.”
Chris and Darren each picked up a lantern from a row of hooks along the wall, and made their way into the tunnel. Up ahead, they could hear the ringing sounds of picks hitting against the rock. They figured the dwarves must be at work, mining gemstones.
As the tunnel came around a bend, it opened out into a vast cavern. Chris and Darren stopped short at the sight that greeted them. All around the cavern, clearly visible in the lantern light, hundreds of dwarves were, indeed, hard at work. And every one of them was completely naked.
Before Chris and Darren could recover from their surprise, a little man approached them. “Hey! What do you think you’re doing, barging in here like this?” he demanded.
“Um, we were just…” Darren began, but the dwarf interrupted him.
“Take those clothes off this instant! Don’t you know this is a nudist colony? How dare you be so disrespectful?!”
Quailing under the dwarf’s furious gaze, Chris and Darren stripped as quickly as they could, stuffing their offending clothes into the sheepskin satchel. Once they were naked, the little man’s demeanor changed completely.
“Welcome to ‘I’ll Show You Mine.’ Feel free to take a self-guided tour, and please enjoy your stay,” he said warmly, before returning to work.
Nonplussed, Chris and Darren hurried through the central cavern and entered one of the many side tunnels. It wasn’t nearly as crowded as the main cavern had been, but there were still quite a few dwarves present, transporting the gemstones they mined in little carts that ran along tracks set into the tunnel floor. Chris and Darren kept their eyes downcast, not wanting to be caught staring at the naked little men, and hesitant to catch each other’s eyes for fear that they’d burst out laughing.
Chris had a pretty good idea of where they’d find Snow White’s coffin, so he led the way through the winding tunnels. Eventually, they came to an open area furnished with miniature tables and chairs, where the dwarves apparently took their breaks. On the far wall was a portrait of Snow White, and beneath it her glass coffin rested in a shallow alcove.
Glancing around to make sure no dwarves were watching, Darren grabbed a pick that someone had left leaning against the wall, and used it to pry a few jewels loose from the coffin. Noting the look of horror on Chris’s face, Darren rationalized, “It’s not like we’re grave robbers. Mercedes is alive and well, and she wouldn’t mind.”
When Chris didn’t respond, Darren followed his friend’s line of sight and realized that he was staring, not at the jewels in Darren’s hand, but at the image reflected in the glass of the coffin. The glowing red circles that Darren had at first taken for rubies were actually the mirrored eyes of dozens of wolves.
Darren whipped around to face the Big Bad Wolf Pack, his sudden movement shocking Chris out of his immobility. Turning slowly, Chris addressed the largest of the wolves in as steady a voice as he could manage.
“Hello, Rick the Stick. Is there something we can help you with?”
The wolf seemed to be taken aback by Chris’s nonchalant manner. He huffed and puffed for a moment, before growling, “We’re here to take you to the Evil Queen.”
Thinking quickly on his feet, Chris responded, “Oh, yes. She summoned us herself. In fact, we’re just on our way to go see her. It’s really kind of you to offer an escort, but we know the way. We wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble. I’m sure you have much more important things to do than to tag along with us.”
As he spoke, Chris took Darren’s hand and cautiously edged the two of them around the outside of the room, always keeping his eyes fixed on Rick the Stick’s burning red gaze. As soon as they reached a side tunnel, Chris shoved Darren into one of the dwarves’ little carts, giving it a mighty push to speed it on its way before jumping in behind him.
It took the wolves a minute to realize what was happening. While they hesitated, Chris and Darren got themselves situated in the cart, with Darren sitting between Chris’s legs, and the two of them leaned forward as far as they could to increase the cart’s momentum. By the time the wolves gave chase, the cart was careening down the steep tunnel at a breakneck pace, quickly leaving the pursuing pack in the dust.
Chris’s relief at outdistancing the wolves was short-lived. As the immediate fear for their lives dissipated, he became uncomfortably aware of the position they were now in. The cart was plunging downward at an alarming rate, and as he tried to pull on the brake lever to slow them down, it came off in his hand. Worse still, he and Darren were pressed tightly together, the lurching of the cart kept rocking them against each other, and they were both naked. Again.
Why did these things keep happening to him? He was kind to old ladies. And to cats. In fact, he was kind of like an old cat-lady himself. So why, why was the universe torturing him like this?!?
Chris almost welcomed the DEAD END sign up ahead, strategically placed in front of a huge pile of rubble that completely blocked the tracks. At this point, he figured that he was about to die from a combination of embarrassment and unresolved sexual tension anyway, so he might as well die in a spectacular crash instead…