In the stone basement of the dilapidated manor which had once served as the overlook for a small village at the base of the Glangoria Mountains, a bizarre family reunion occurred.
Mustache Guy was on his knees, tears welling up in his eyes. Ollie had leapt from the piano bench across the room and thrown his arms around his baby brother. The two men recognized each other at once, despite their radically changed appearances; the last time they met, Mustache Guy was Mustache Baby and Ollie was an average eighteen-year-old man; now, Mustache Guy was as old as Ollie was then, and Ollie had changed from a man into an over-grown block of Swiss cheese.
Happy though he was that his friend had finally found his long sought after brother, Roger was baffled by the Cheese Man. The skeleton waited for a few minutes as the tearful embrace continued, and then found a tactful way to ask,
“Nice to finally meet you, Ollie. My name’s Roger – I’m a friend of your brother’s. If, uh, if you don’t mind my asking… how, uh… how did you become cheese?”
For the first time since Roger and Mustache Guy entered the dungeon, Ollie noticed Roger’s presence. The Cheese Man never stopped hugging his brother as he addressed the skeleton.
“Hiya, Roger,” began Ollie. “Pleasure to meet you. I don’t know how you boys managed to track me down, but I’m willing to bet you helped my brother here do it, so I like you already. Anyone who was willing to help reunite me with my brother is okay in my book. You want to know about this?” said Ollie, indicating his cheesy exterior. His cheer turned to gloom. “This is the bane of my existence. The reason for my isolation. The thing that robbed me of my humanity. You want to know how I became a walking monstrosity? It happened years ago – I don’t even know how many any longer – but it might as well have been a lifetime ago.”
The brothers’ embrace broke. Ollie continued,
“One summer, I was at the boardwalk and met a girl. She was the greatest girl to ever walk into my life – sharp as a tack, could make me laugh until I cried, even her name was beautiful: Felicia,” he said, his eye twitching. “I sat down next to her on the beach and offered her one of my cheese fries. From then on, we were inseparable. But Mom and Dad didn’t see what I saw in Felicia.
“They didn’t like how much time I was spending with her. They thought I was losing sight of my ambitions. It’s true, before I met her I had planned to go out to Kennett Junction for college to study engineering. But then Felicia and I started planning a life together. I was going to follow my true dreams and start making my own cheese! Mom and Dad thought Felicia was changing me. But they were too stupid to realize that I only decided to be an engineer in the first place because that’s what Dad did. I knew from the time I was five that he would disapprove of me if I did anything else with my life but follow in his boring footsteps.”
Mustache Guy winced at these harsh words towards their parents. Ollie went on, failing to notice,
“Once Felicia came into my life, I saw clearly for the first time. I saw a world of endless possibilities. A world where I could throw my inhibitions aside and follow my dreams. I’ve loved cheese since the moment I first tasted it, and I had always harbored in my heart of hearts a desire to open up my own business making and selling cheese. Felicia and I began clipping out real estate listings from the newspaper. We were putting the pieces together. Every time we found a house or apartment that we thought we might be able to afford, I would check to see if there were any small retail spaces for sale or rent nearby, so that I might open my cheese shop there. We were serious. And we were in love.
“But I knew I would never get Mom and Dad to see it my way. So I took off, in the middle of the night. It broke my heart to leave you and Gulliver,” he said, looking through Mustache Guy’s eyes, directly into his heart. “But I thought, once Gulliver was older, he could come visit and bring you with him. Mom and Dad didn’t have to know. But then this happened.
“Felicia and I fled down to Hermann because she had grown up there. We were going to elope that weekend. Her parents put us up for the week. They always liked me, and I liked them well enough. Mrs. Burkowitz even bought an extra large block of sliced Swiss for me before we got there. I filled my days that week by nibbling on that Swiss cheese, playing chess against Mr. Burkowitz, and relaxing by their pool. The whole time I could think of nothing but the perfect life that stretched out from that moment into eternity. And then Friday came. The night before the wedding. It wasn’t going to be a big deal, just Felicia, me, and her parents. The Rabbi at the Burkowitzes’ shul was going to perform the ceremony. Even though it wasn’t a big affair, Mrs. Burkowitz put a wedding announcement in the paper. I was pissed because I thought Mom and Dad would see it somehow and come try to stop the wedding. But I held my tongue, because I knew Mrs. Burkowitz was a nice lady, even if she didn’t always think before acting.
“So anyway, Friday night comes and I am passing the time hanging out by the pool alone. The pool lights were on, and there I sat on the edge, a gigantic bowl filled to the brim with Swiss slices in hand, dipping my toe in and out of the water, watching ripples of blue light swirl over the side of the house. I remember thinking that it was a perfect moment. A tranquil beginning to my new life. My heart was full for the first time ever, as if it had been missing a piece all along but I had never noticed before then. I reached into the bowl to grab a slice, and I came up with a sticky hand. The thing is, it had been a scorcher of a day, hot enough to melt my Swiss into a gooey puddle. That was the last of the big block Mrs. Burkowitz had bought, and now it was just a bowl of melted goo. This cut through my tranquilty. I was pissed. But then I realized all wasn’t lost – I could get some bread and scoop up the cheese with it. My perfect day wasn’t ruined. Yet.
“I stood up, careful not to drop the giant bowl, or slosh it around too much because the cheese came right up to the edges. I shook my foot over the pool to dry it off. Then – maybe the bowl was too heavy, or maybe my foot was too wet, or maybe I’m just clumsy – I lost my balance as I took a step towards the house. All at once I was in the air, the bowl slipping out of my grip and turning upside down above me. Before I knew was happened, I was covered with melted Swiss and hitting the water headfirst. Its funny – the very last thing I remember, right before going under, was a loud sneeze from somewhere not too close but not too far. I could swear it was from above. From up in the sky.
“But maybe that was just a dream. The next thing I remember is waking up, colder than I’ve ever been in my life. The sun was just coming up and the sky was gray and hazy. Or maybe my vision was gray and hazy. I don’t know.
“I was on my back next to the pool. A face loomed in front of mine, looking down at me. It was Mr. Burkowitz. He was talking. Saying.. something. My ears were numb. My hearing muffled. I kept trying to decipher what he was saying. Each time he repeated himself, the words became clearer until, at last, I could make it out.”
The Cheese Man lowered his voice in imitation of his one-time future father-in-law.
“ ‘Yer cheese, son,’ he said. ‘Yer cheese, son. Yer cheese, son.’ He just kept repeating it. I groped around for my cheese, but couldn’t find it anywhere. Then I reached up to put my hand on his shoulder so he could help me stand up. That’s when I first saw it. I didn’t have a hand anymore. Or an arm. Stretched out in front of me was a yellow brick. Looked like a long block of Swiss cheese, holes and all. I shook my arm to get the cheese off. It was no use. That cheese wasn’t coming off. Through the days and months and years that followed, I came to learn that I wasn’t covered with cheese, I was cheese.
“Mr. Burkowitz helped me up and walked me inside. When his wife saw me, she nearly passed out. And Felicia… well, she just sort of clammed up and turned as a marshmallow after being drizzled with bleach and left out in the sun. Mr. Burkowitz told us the story. That he had felt a sudden draft while he was sitting in the parlor. So he went to the window to see if that’s where the cold air was coming in. The glass was totally iced over. He thought this was mighty odd, seeing as it was a hot summer night. So he walked out back to discover ice and snow everywhere, and the pool frozen solid. He knew I had been out there, but he couldn’t find me. That’s when he saw my blurry outline under the icy pool. He grabbed a pick from his shed and hacked at the ice until he was able to pull me out. Despite the ice, the night air was still warm and muggy, so I thawed out double quick. That’s when I woke up.
“So there we were, all of us standing in the kitchen listening to Mr. Burkowitz retell the events that had just transpired. We couldn’t make sense of it. How could everything have gone into a deep freeze so suddenly, in the middle of the summer?”
A guilty pang of recognition punched Roger in the stomach. Icy Dude sprang to mind; if Roger’s dad had frozen one person together with a food (a croissant, in that case), then the odds were he could have done it again. In his heart, Roger knew that his dad, Super Roger, was responsible for Ollie’s fate. He had to be. But how could the skeleton break it to Ollie? He just could not do it. Not yet. Not there.
“And how could my cheese have covered me – have consumed me the way it did? It just didn’t make any sense at all. It still doesn’t! But it happened, and there’s no un-doing it. That much was clear. After he finished explaining it all, Mr. Burkowitz took his wife by the hand and walked her out of the room so she could lay down and calm her nerves. That left just me and Felicia.”
A change came over Ollie. His eyes became glassy, his knees bent ever so slightly, and his voice lost some of its power. He went on,
“She couldn’t even look at me. Or else wouldn’t. I stumbled across the kitchen to her, held out my arms – my blocks – to her. She snapped away. She shouted, ‘Go!’ It was the last word she ever spoke to me. It cut me like a knife to hear her say it. She was supposed to be my wife. She was supposed to love me.
“I stared at her. She stared at the floor, keeping her body as far away from mine as possible. I knew then that it was over between us. I was still in love with her, sure. But she didn’t feel the same way, so we were done. Over. Kaput. As I slowly walked towards the back door I was waiting for her to stop me and ask me where I was headed. She never did. I knew she wouldn’t, but I hoped anyway. I was almost out of the door when I turned around and answered, even though she never asked, ‘The Glangorias.’ It was the first place that popped into my head. Secluded. Not too far away. I could walk there over the course of just a few days and hide out, not bothering anyone else with my freakish, cheesy appearance, for the rest of my life.
“And that’s what I did. I left Felicia standing in that kitchen. She had told me to go, and go I did. I traveled by night, spending the daylight hours camping in forests. It wasn’t long before I reached the base of the Glangorias. I’ve been here ever since, teaching myself to play the piano, lurking in this pit, sneaking out at night to wreak a little havoc on the villagers down the hill. Each day of my imprisonment bleeds into the next. I have no idea how long I have been here, how long ago this nightmare began. I have been trapped in this building – in this body – forever, as far as I’m concerned. The happy times are distant, distant memories now. The times with you and Gulliver and Mom and Dad.”
The mention of “Mom” stirred up two thoughts inside of Roger’s skull: that he had promised his own mother he would call her more often and that he should not be present when Mustache Guy has to break the awful news to Ollie that their parents passed away nearly fifteen years ago.
“That phone booth upstairs,” said Roger, suddenly, “does it work?”
“Uh, yeah. Last I checked it did. Then again, that was when I first got here, so who knows…” contemplated Ollie.
“Well, it’s worth a try. I’ve got to call my mother – I promised I would. I’ll be back in a jiff,” Roger explained, bounding towards the stairs.
“Listen, Ollie,” Mustache Guy began cautiously, “I, uh… I don’t know how to tell you this…”
“No. Don’t call me Ollie,” interjected the Cheese Man. “I stopped being Ollie the day I was frozen into this.”
“Oh, okay. Well, what should I call you?”
“Hm,” hummed the Cheese Man thoughtfully. “I don’t know.”
“Well, what do folks ’round here call ya?” asked Mustache Guy.
“Folks ’round here?” repeated the Cheese man, sarcastically. “There aren’t any folks around here! No one but the innkeeper has spoken a word to me since I settled here, so no one has had to call me by name. I… I don’t have a name anymore, Broseph.”
The brothers stood in silence for a moment, thinking.
“Limburger,” declared Mustache Guy, quietly.
A smile crept across Limburger’s face. It was a smile bigger than any smile he smiled in the past sixteen years. But the cheesy smile was about to be wiped from his face.
“Sit down,” began Mustache Guy, his voice losing all of its usual playfulness. “Mom and Dad are… see, Mom and Dad are dead.”
“Roger, you need to come home now. Immediately. I’m talking today!” demanded his mother through the rusty phone.
“What are you talking about, Mom?” asked the puzzled skeleton.
“A couple of kids dropped off a letter for you this afternoon. It’s urgent and you need to come home and read it right away. They need your help.”
“Can’t you just read it to me over the phone?”
“No, it’s much too long. Trust me. Get your bony butt home right away!”
The duo had become a trio. As Mustache Guy’s truck flew northward to the Seaside, he, Limburger, and Roger chatted merrily inside. Roger, seated in the back of the truck, could hardly get a word in edgewise as the two brothers caught up on sixteen years worth of untold stories and memories.
“There it is! The future site of Roger City!” yelped Mustache Guy, giddy with excitement, as they drove past the earliest, developing stage of the future city where they just one week earlier did battle with giant robots (and won). “If we weren’t in such a hurry to get Rog home so he can read this mysterious letter of his, we coulda stopped and talked with ol’ Joe. I’ll get to all that stuff later, Limburger. First I gotta tell you all about how me and Bubba managed to get our hands on our house. You ain’t gonna believe this…”
The sun was rising as Roger stepped out of the truck in front of his mother’s cottage.
“You sure you don’t want us to stick around?” Mustache Guy asked his skeletal friend.
“Nah, don’t worry about it. You two have plenty more catching up to do,” answered Roger.
“Thanks, Roger,” said Limburger. “I want to see my Broseph’s shop, and how Seaside’s changed since I’ve been gone.”
“But if ya need us, we’ll either be at the shop or downtown. Don’t be ‘fraid to come and get us if ya need any help with whatever these kids wrote about in their letter,” said Mustache Guy.
“I will, I will,” Roger said dismissively. “Take care!”
The brothers drove off into the sunrise as Roger walked up to his own front door, which swung open the second he reached for the doorknob.
“There you are!” shouted his mother. “You need to read this, now!”
She forcefully handed her son a thick manila envelope, which proved heavier than he expected. Roger pried open the end and shook out over a dozen loose-leaf pages. He did not move from his spot in front of the door as he read the letter, transfixed by the author’s tales of elementary school hijinks, mysteriously familiar criminals and their odd behaviors. He was sucked in by the detailed account and crayon-colored illustrations.
He was blown away by the final part of the letter: