The Cold Open

The Cold Open

By SF Peyton

“Listen to me and listen to me well,” he started, sitting outside the house he had bought in his hometown in Lucas county. His youngest child, Corrine Lomax, sat in his lap, “I don’t know anything about that guy. I don’t know who he is, I have never heard the name. No, I will not do another case file. Kellen? I haven’t heard from him in a bit. He gets the royalty checks monthly for those drawings, but I don’t personally hand them in to him. My agent covers that. This is my house; private property. You get out of here before I call the police, or worse, my wife.”

The newspaper quickly got into their vans and sped off, either because they feared the police or Tom “Angleberger” Lomax’s wife, Sara. The last thing they saw was Tom playing with his daughter, glimpsing every-so-often at the van as it sped away.

It was Ten O’Clock A.M., Eastern Standard Time. Good Morning America had been live for an hour and thirty minutes now. Usually, at this point, they’d be bringing on some band that is releasing a new song, or a group of activists. They may stand outside on Times Square and ask pedestrians where they were from. But today was different.

Robin Roberts sat in front of the camera, notecards in her hands as reference points.

“Origami!” She says, “A fun activity to do with kids, a great form of self care, and has been around for centuries. But what happens when a school has kids taking up puppets, folded in various shapes and designs, and use it for their own rebellions, their own conquests? Students with puppets of Marvel characters like Thor and Iron Man, DC characters such as Batman or even villains like Condiment King-”

“That’s a real villain?” George Stephanopoulos interjected. His pearly white teeth almost blinded any viewer as he smiled and stifled a giggle. Michael Strahan smiled too, “They’re just making villains out of anything!”

“Hah,” Robin continues, “I know, I know. Or even properties like Harry Potter and Star Wars, general concepts like Video Games, Cartoons. Point is: there’s been a paper craze, and it’s not about saving the trees, folks.”

“Indeed, Robin!” George takes up speaking now, swiveling his chair to face the camera, “It all started at a middle school in Lucas County, Virginia. McQuarrie Middle was home to a group of students who saw an issue, and decided to use finger puppets of hit Star Wars characters, like Yoda and Darth Vader, to be a sort of ‘rebellion’ against an evil, ahem, funtime-menace. Somehow, more of these schools did something similar, and their stories have become famous thanks to The Folders Connection, a social media website built for students like the McQuarrie kids, well, now adults, nationwide. There, they can discuss issues they’re having at their schools, connect with one another, and get to hear the stories of what’s happening.”

“Today, we’ve decided to bring some kids – a few of them graduated – onto the show, to discuss with them some recent headlines, and what they do.”

On that day, a motley crue of an adult man, college kids, high schoolers, and a middle schooler sat on high-seated chairs. The room appeared to be cold, as the hair on the adult man’s arms stood up with chills.

Michael Strahan had moved to the group now. He held a microphone in his hand.

“Alright, you guys can introduce yourselves, starting with you.” He hands the mic to a kid with black hair. He’s dressed in a suit, and he has an air of confidence to him. He has done this before; maybe he’s spoken at dinner parties, commands the room. He is tall, and is wearing a lanyard with Nodel University ‘25 sprawled on it. At the bottom of the lanyard sits his ID Card.

“Hi, my name is Alan Wade.” He says, “I went to Kane high school, and I was Batfold for a bit.” His voice is deeper, “Lots of ups and downs… plenty of downs. But we rise, you know?”

“Mr. Wade was allowed to speak at his school’s graduation ceremony. His group –  the Justice Pleats, consisting of various DC characters – were able to coordinate activism opportunities around the city of Jutefruce, California, to try – and succeed – in bringing back their high school of Kane. If you recall a few years back, Alan’s family were once on the show, showing off the new soups they were creating.”

Robin interjects, “I loved the chili.”

George doesn’t mean to, but he lets slip that, “Eh… I think the chicken soup needed more salt.”

Alan chuckles, “Oh, I know that. I’m going to college currently to pursue a business degree. Hopefully I’ll be head of the family business, and then we’ll make the Stephanopoulos special; so much salt, it will kill a snail.”

Everyone laughs, except for the frizzled hair of an older adult man. He looks lost in space.

“Sounds great,” Michael says, “Moving over to Sebastian Merrick… Sebastian’s story made national headlines a few months back, where he and a small group of Middle Schoolers worked with their teachers to shut down a horrid school. Tell me, Sebastian, what was it like going to Caesar Middle School?”

“Well,” Sebastian’s eyes get a mischievous glimmer as he looks around the room, his eyes deciding to rest on Ally Weber’s hair, now dyed with streaks of red, “Like Mr. Wade said, it had its ups and downs. Like, well, I got brutally beaten by a bunch of these, like, high schoolers. I was twelve. And then my best friend challenged me to a fight because I stole his pen and it led to this whole feud. We’re cool now, by the way. But he did break my leg for a short a while, oh, and then my new best friend… uh… died. And then my girlfriend left me. And then my parents split up. And- ” Sebastian remember that he was live in front of the entire country.

“Overall, it was- it was fun. Christmas was nice.” 

I should’ve taken my meds, he thought, as the silence grew haunting. 

“Alright, alright, we see… Moving on now,” Michael Strahan interrupted, “We have Mike Jones!” 

“I don’t know what any of them are talking about; these puppets are amazing! I have so many friends, I have a cool girlfriend. My school focuses on video games! We have fought so many bad guys, and it’s so fun.”

“That’s great!” Michael says, “Mike, what have you and your friends at Rapids Middle School done with these puppets to help… well, make your school a better place?”

“We’re the video games school! We love gaming.”

Obviously not answering the question, Michael realizes that this would go nowhere and moves to Ally Weber. But we see something on the tv as Alan Wade leans over to Sebastian Merrick.

“Listen, kid. I don’t know if you need this, or want to hear this, but… if you ever want to come work for me, let me know.” Alan hands Sebastian a card – a college freshman with a business card would be, by far, the least absurd thing that’ll be seen today. Sebastian Merrick would glance at the off-white coloring, the tasteful thickness of it – it even had a watermark. He looked back up at Alan, and mouthed “thank you.”

“I’m not quite sure why you guys chose me when Clark Largent, Cal, or even Ezra Cronin would be the better fit.” Ally starts, “I was the Unshreddible Hulk. But it doesn’t matter what the puppet was on the finger; what mattered was who we were as people. I found love, I found happiness and I gained friends. But there’s so many stories, I have no place to be the only one to tell them.”

“Which is why you should check out the Folder’s Connection!” Michael Strahan exclaims. Ally puts on a smile and laughs, “Ally, do you have anything more to say?”

“Yes, actually: ég elska þig!” ‘I love you’ in Icelandic. 

“I hope that wasn’t something bad…” Robin sighs.

“It wasn’t, I don’t think… Moving on…”

A computer screen is set up on the far right, and on the screen is a college student, studying at Oxford, England. He’s quiet. “This is Tim Baker, talking to us across the continent in England. Tim, how are you?”

“I’m doing gr-gr-great!” He says, the video buffering constantly. 

“What did your school do?”

“It was started by- this- teach-” He’s buffering still, “Who-” It cuts to black. 

“It was Harry Potter puppets.” Michael sighs, “Hopefully we can get back in touch with Tim before the segment is up.”

The disheveled, ugly, broken-looking man that sits next to Ally is staring off into space. Ally either thinks the guy smells terrible, or doesn’t like the way he particularly looks, because she scoots her seat away from him. He’s sitting, distanced from everybody, and he’s sitting with nothing around him. Alan Wade had his batfold puppet in his pocket, Sebastian Merrick had all his puppets around his neck on a necklace, Luke CastePleat, Shradies, Percy Jackson, O-Reyna-Gami, and a strange red and blue smudge. Linkin with his Link puppet, and, heck, Ally had the Unshreddible Hulk on her. But this man was empty handed. His shirt was stained (but it was the best shirt he had).

“Dwight Tharp was one of the many people that helped kickstart the origami craze when he, as a middle schooler, worked with a group of his friends to take down Funtime, who has recently started to crop up again. Dwight was the wielder of the Origami Yoda finger puppet, and, ever since the series of compiled stories by Thomas Lomax and others hit the shelves years ago, he has done tours, showing how to fold the puppets that had once made him famous. Mr. Tharp, do you still have that original puppet from back then?”

“No.”

“Oh, where’d it go?”

“I gave it away… it’s at the end of the last book. Captain Micah has it.”

“Captain is his first name?”

“No-no, I- I don’t know. I know Micah is his name. Captain is just-”

“Just teasing you.”

“You shouldn’t do that, it’s mean.”

He’s silenced the room, making it awkward. 

“What have you done since middle school?”

“I’ve gotten married, I have a wife and kid. I have stories to tell, you know?”

“Right, but have you… you know, taken up the puppets again?”

“No.”

“Well, could you show us how to -“

“NO. Dang it, I didn’t peak in middle school, but everyone sees me as the weird one that did. I won’t fold puppets for the whole nation to see!”

“Mr. Tharp, calm down.”

“Don’t you see that we’re in danger? Don’t you see that something is coming that we don’t get?! Funtime is coming again.” He then reaches into his back pocket, holding a five-fold Yoda, and he does a dumb, really bad impression of the character as he says, “The end this is not!”

“Alright… cut the cameras, we need to go to commercials.” 

We then all sat and watched an advertisement about the McRib coming back. Dwight didn’t know it, but he had started something that we were all going to watch unfold.

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