Summer 2008, the date for one of the numerous professional food-fighting tournaments of the year. Competitors from all over, hailing from in and outside the United States, traveled to New Pork City to prove their worth in the sport. During the time, food-fighting had slowly spread its roots throughout the globe and its most recent country to spark interest was Norway, as four represented fighters entered the tournament. None of which were successful in reaching the grand finals, however, but two seasoned contenders breezed through the brackets, just one battle away from claiming the trophy and bragging rights that came with it. One of which, unsurprisingly, was Jack, the acclaimed King of Curry.
Sitting on one of the Roman-esque benches in a cleaner version of the lobby, compared the one where Colby and Heath fought, the cheddar-haired shut his eyes while listening to his mp3 player. Plenty of commotion took place in the lobby, mainly because the last bout seemed to be close to starting, but Jack managed to tune it out. Moments later, an Asian man, about the finalist's age in his thirties, came up to him decked in a torn karate gi. He tapped the male on the back and shot him an intense glare.
"Oy, Jack! Quit nodding off, will you? You're supposed to be in the ring, what's the holdup?" the Asian man spoke.
"Lay off, Han. You know I need these next couple minutes to unwind. Like I always tell ya, it's better to get pumped during the fight than before." Jack smirked at the male as he let out a sigh.
"Even before your match, you never take things seriously. You can finish your 'unwinding' backstage, come on!"
"Fine, fine, fine. You really need to cool it, Han. Just because you lost to Pee-Wee the Potato in the quarterfinals doesn't mean you can bite my head off."
"Ugh, I was this close! This freakin' close to beating him until he tricked me with his Cabbage Steam Trap! Leave it to me to overlook such a pathetic move." Han ran a hand through his choppy hair as Jack patted him on the back.
"Tch, you're in no position to talk smack about other peoples' moves. Need I remind you that you happen to have a little something called... oh, what was it? The patented Butterfly Shrimp Kick?" teased the food-fighting master with a wider smirk.
"You shut your yap. Look, you better win this 'cause I got $5,000 and a lobster dinner riding on this."
"And you're gonna win 'em in no time! Seriously, dude, have I ever gave you a good reason to second-guess me? Also, I'm going against Rumble-gut Gabor, he'll keel over in less than thirty seconds!"
"But that was back in the Spring Roll Cup. He's been training non-stop since then and look where it's got him now. Keep up the nonchalant attitude and it may take you longer to achieve your goal of a hundred wins." warned Han with a reprimanding finger at the male's chest.
"And that's a bad thing? Han, you don't get it. Food-fighting is the only thing that can get me outta bed in the morning, I live for it! Going against old and new fighters is a thrill for me and I'd love to keep bringing home trophies, but I got a little boy waiting for me to mentor him back home. To pass on my legacy to. 'Cause as long as we're both around, people are gonna know they shouldn't mess with the power of curry." Jack nodded, trying to show a serious look, but started chuckling afterwards.
"You can be such a goofball sometimes. Let's wrap this up and get to the ring." Han rolled his eyes with a chortle, about to leave the lobby with his friend.
"Okay, but admit it, you love my goofy goofball rants."
"I'd rather not..."
The two men spun around to see a male demon with a group of other demons dressed in biker wear. Safe to assume that the demon appeared to be Heath's father; both of them had blood red skin, ominous yellow eyes, and fangs that peeked from the bottom of their upper lips. He had a cone-shaped horn protruding from his forehead and brownish-red neck-length hair styled in a mullet; for his outfit, the demon donned a dark gray jacket with matching baggy pants, and dark blue Japanese socks. That type of wear had often been seen with school delinquents. Standing with his hands behind his back, the demon shared cheeky grins with a cocky Jack.
"Oh, well, isn't this a lovely surprise! My good buddy Billy's here to gimme a little pep talk! Ooh, hoo, hoo, and he even brought his little squad to cheer me on too! D'aww..." cooed the food-fighting master, placing his hands on his cheeks in a cutesy manner.
"Jack, we gotta go. Let's not waste our time with those goons." Han tried to snatch his friend's arm, only to have it smacked away.
"In a sec, Han, geez... always hostile over nothing. Speaking of hostile people, what brings you here?"
"Oh, just wanted to have a quick word with the King of Curry before he gets dethroned. Gabor would have to be quite the fool, well, a much bigger one, to have come this far to lose to a wuss like you." mocked Billy.
"Hah, you slay me! Hear me clearly, Bill, the King of Curry is gonna keep his throne and his crown one last time! I even have a little after-party after this and I'd invite you, but... I have a strict policy against people with no sense of humor." Jack folded his arms.
"Heh, like I wanted to be around a bunch of lousy humans."
"If we're so lousy, how come you came in 92nd place? Hmmmm?"
"...n-none of your business!"
"The Grand Finals between Jack and Gabor will begin promptly. May the two competitors please arrive at the ring." the intercom blared, alerting almost everyone in the lobby to exit to watch the match at the arena.
"I told you you needed to go, but of course you'd rather spend your time with these morons than listen to me." Han scoffed.
"Han, chill, will ya? Think about the five grand and the lobster. As for me, I got my hundred win to score! Catch you later, Billy and Billy's cronies." Jack gave a two-fingered salute to the demons, spinning on his heel.
"Wait, cheesehead! There's something I wanna give ya." Billy called out.
"Uh, can it wait 'til after the match?"
"No, I'm afraid this is something you're gonna need right now..."
That being said, Billy snapped his fingers to be handed a plate of golden glowing curry. The two friends just stared at the dish then back at each other, not sure how to react to the odd gesture. Why would the demon offer the man something to eat before his match?
"You can't be serious," Han shook his head in disbelief, thinking the shady male couldn't be more unreasonable. "Don't you know that fighters shouldn't eat a heavy meal before their match? Are you that ignorant?"
"Can it, nimrod! This is between me and your pal here, not you. Get lost or something." the demon barked.
"I will when Jack will. Come on-"
"What's up with this curry, Bill? Is this some secret recipe you got from the underworld? Not that I'm complaining, it looks pretty tasty..." Jack found himself salivating over the dish.
"Good, it naturally has that effect on lame humans. How would you feel if I told you this curry can give you a little power boost? That extra oomph to destroy Gabor." urged Billy.
"You serious? You're not pulling my leg, are you?"
"Why would I kid about this? This curry-" the red-skinned male started.
"Nah, forget the curry! ...I can't believe I just said that... but back to this, do you really think I'm that weak that I need a power-up for Gabor? The Hungry Hungarian himself?!" the food-fighting master exclaimed.
"Well... yes. Yes, I do. You gonna eat it or not?"
"Tch, I'm good. The only thing I need for an energy boost is coffee and I already chugged three cups earlier. You can take that curry and shove it."
"Oh, alright, suit yourself. Guess I'll have to give this to Gabor, that doofus could use a little more luck to win his seventh tourney. Let's move, maggots!" Billy was about to leave with his goons.
"Good riddance, now to-" Han began, but Jack reached out with an arm towards the demon.
"Hold it! ...if it'll really make you happy, I'll eat it." the cheddar-haired man beckoned Billy for the plate.
Chuckling, the red-skinned male shoved the glowing plate of curry onto his arms and handed the man a spoon, "Good on you for making a smart choice for once. Eat up, I've had this prepared especially for you."
"Jack, for Pete's sake, we don't have time for this! You're going to be disqualified at this rate!" scolded the Asian man.
Meanwhile, a skinny Turkish male found the gang in the lobby and gasped at the sight of Jack gathering a spoonful of the curry. Scurrying over, the male threw an arm towards him and shouted,
"Jack, no! That curry is dangerous! Don't eat it, it could hurt you!"
"Quick, one of you maggots turn that idiot into something useless like a cat or something," Billy commanded as one of his fellow demons shot a finger beam at the Turkish male, morphing into a familiar brown tabby cat. "That'll keep your muzzle shut for a while..."
"Sheesh, guys, it's curry. I can't say no to the stuff. Tell the T.O. I'll be there in a few. It better have a boatload of spice in this!"
Jack wolfed down the glowing curry with seconds to spare, practically shoveling it into his throat. Smacking his lips, the King of Curry uttered a content moan at the back of his throat.
"Mmmm! This is some top-notch curry, Bill! Looks like someone's been taking a few pointers from moi, heh-ooh..."
From there, Jack knew he should've listened to his comrades. Something in the curry he consumed left a bitter aftertaste in his mouth; the man liked to think it was due to the spices, but the putrid, foul taste felt like nothing he experienced before. Clasping a hand on his head, that had grown faint and light, he could feel himself fading out of existence, Jack's breathing grew shallow and rushed, trying to take in as much air as he could, but it seemed hopeless at this point.
"W-What's the hell's going on with me..." the cheddar-haired man tried to scream, but it came out as a harsh whisper.
"Jack, stay calm! I'll go get help!" Han exclaimed, trying to help his friend up who fell to his knees.
"It's too late! ...he's already on his death rest." Billy smirked, letting out a hearty chuckle with his goons.
"You assholes!" the Asian man screeched, squeezing the cold, limp arm of Jack. "Why would you do this to him?! Do you have any idea how this will impact his fans? His friends? His family? ...his son who greatly admired him?"
"Save the speech, shrimp. Maggots, we're blowing this popsicle joint!" the demon turned his back to Han, giving him a emotionless glare. "And one more thing, I hear you snitch about this anyone and you'll suffer MUCH worse than your friend did. I'll be sure of it."
"So that's what happened?" Sage croaked, finished hearing about the old memory Mr. Snugglepuss had.
"No question about it. ...had I came in moments earlier, Jack still would've been with us." the human-turned-cat muttered, looking down at the floor.
"Now, now, Mr. Snugglepuss, it's not your fault. He was too stupid to listen, just like Colby. Like father, like son."
"As blunt and comical as it sounds, that is true. Let's hope Colby won't fall into the same fate."
"He better not! Colby! Listen to us, you dork! Whatever you do, don't eat that curry! It could kill you!" hollered Sage, expecting a reply, but the blond ignored her. "Hey! I'm trying to warn you, stupid! Open your ears and listen!"
"Yeesh, your voice is like a cross between an airhorn and a fire alarm," whined Heath, cleaning out his pointed ear with his pinky. "Forget about your dopey friends, squirt. They seem too uppity to appreciate my culinary genius. Chow down! Bone appy-teet, as they say."
"I would listen to her, son! Use your head just this once and do not eat that curry!" added Mr. Snugglepuss.
"Oh, they're just using that reverse psychology stuff. When they say 'don't', they mean DO eat that curry and eat it this instant!" the muscular demon urged.
"...what the heck," shrugged Colby, wincing a bit as his shoulder joints popped. "It could be the last meal before I join my dad."
"Colby!" the bluenette let out an inhuman shriek, rushing up the blond, but Heath loomed over to stop her.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you... you don't wanna bother a dude when he's about to eat," the demon warned with a teasing grin, earning a teeth-clenched growl from the female. "Go on, twerp. Eat your fill and make sure you lick that plate clean!"
Colby stared at the glowing plate of curry with a huge gulp, holding a fork with a shaky bandaged hand. He felt hopeful he made the right decision in trying the curry; and aware that his friends had his best interests at heart, but he needed to think for himself in this case. It was his fight, not theirs. Taking another deep breath, the spiky-haired boy shut his eyes and ate his first bite. Chewing with caution, he found himself gobbling down the curry in lightning speed, as fast as Jack did. Similar to before, that same bitter aftertaste awoke in his mouth, seeming to overpower the blood he hawked up earlier. Everything around Colby grew blurry, his whole body felt like a sack of rocks, and his breathing dramatically altered. Becoming shallow, yet rushed. Dropping the plate to the ground, the master-in-training fell on his back, deaf to Sage's panicked screaming and Heath's goading laughter. Like a small pin dropping on a hard floor, the son of the late King of Curry had literally fallen to his demise.
"N-No... Colby... Colby, no!" the violet-clad girl rushed over to her friend's body, hugging it as tight as she could while bawling. Mr. Snugglepuss just trotted over without a word, ignoring the gloating laughter from the brawny demon.
"Finally! Final-freakin'-ly! I did it!" Heath pumped his fists to the ceiling. "Dad, didja see that?! Did ya see it?! I took care of that twerp for you! Now, you can finally take your well-deserved rest and I can move on to more important things... but first, I think I'll savor this moment a little more! Bwahahahahahahahahaha!"
"I can't believe it," the brown tabby spoke, lying beside the teens. "This is more heart-wrenching than Jack's death... rest in peace, son, wherever you are now has to be more pleasurable than here."
Elsewhere, Colby had awoken in a mysterious land that, based on its appearance, seemed too good to be plausible. Uttering a moan as he stood from the dirt path he landed on, the spiky-haired boy opened his eyes to a light strawberry sky, plastered with white clouds.
"Where the heck did I end up... is this the afterlife?" Colby scratched his head, shuffling over to a clutter of white bushes. From afar, they were regular hedges, but dyed white. Once he got up-close, they were actually bundles of fresh white rice. "R-Rice brushes? Huh, that's something you don't see everyday. What I am standing on?"
Wiggling his toes against the deep vermilion grass, the blond glanced down at his feet and noticed chopped pieces of red Japanese pickles and onions. Picking up a piece of the "grass", Colby popped it in his mouth and shivered in delight, savoring the sour, sweet taste.
"Whoo, now that's a curry pickle if I ever tasted one! But what's going on with that river over there?"
Running to the mud brown, flowing river with chopped carrots, potatoes, and onions, Colby cupped his hand into the "water" and licked it, smacking his lips to get a feel for the taste.
"Oh, my god, is this... a freakin' river made of curry?! Wait, not just any curry," the headband-clad boy tried another sample. "That's Red Mountain Curry, the beef kind! The only brand that can win over my curry-loving heart. This is insane! Did I just up and land in curry heaven?! Because I already know I'm gonna make the most of my afterlife here!"
"Why, yes, young man," began a raspy, delicate voice coming from an elderly man adorned in a silk robe and lengthy gray beard, standing behind the teen. "This very sanctuary is called Curry Heaven and, on behalf of the elders, I would like to welcome you to your new resting place."
"Cool, thanks... uh, what can I call you? I don't wanna just straight-out call you old dude 'cause that's rude."
"Please, address me as Rakkyo."
"Whatever you say, Rak. I'll just call you Rak instead, that okay?"
"If that's easier for you, young man. While we're still on the subject of names, what is yours?" asked Rakkyo, clasping his sleeved arms together.
"I'm Colby, and my dream is to become a food-fighting master!" Colby chirped before his expression dropped to a scowl. "...well, it was a dream until I ate some strange curry and popped up here. Oh, fudge! That reminds me! I had this little theory that my dad keeled over after chowing down on curry too! Say, you wouldn't happen to know where he is, would you? I gotta say hi to him, we got a TON of catching up to do! I can't wait to see the look on his face when I tell him-"
"Young man, please compose yourself. Your father is in regular heaven, not here."
"What, regular heaven? What's the difference between here and there?" asked the headband-clad boy, putting his hands on his hips.
"A quite blatant one. The curry you and your father were given was meant to be consumed with your mouth closed and, because you did, there is a possibility that you may return to earth." explained the elder with a nod.
"Aww, I wanted to chill here for a little while, but eh, earth's cool too. I know Sage and Mr. Snugglepuss will be glad to see me again. So, why is my dad in regular heaven instead of here?"
"Yes, about that. As I mentioned, the curry was meant to be eaten with your mouth closed and you, knowing your father, liked to chew with his mouth open."
"Ah, yep. Dude loved to smack his chops. I couldn't tell if he liked doing to get on peoples' nerves or not."
"Anyway, that man, who was also the father of the demon you fought, had meant to give your father the curry as a power-up. If he didn't chew like he usually did-" started Rakkyo as Colby seemed to piece everything together.
"Then, dad would've won his hundredth tourney and he'd take me under his wing! Just like in that dream I keep having!" the blond snapped his fingers in realization.
"Brilliant, now you're starting to understand. If it's any consolation, you've come a long way since you began your journey. I, along with the other elders, have been observing your progress from here. What knowledge and support you didn't have from your father was found in the allies and rivals you've met. There is nothing more valuable than that."
"You got that right, Rak. I'm really glad I came this far on my own and I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet! I still got a score settle with Heath! Could you do me a solid and send me back home, please?"
"I shall, but first, I shall grant you a little burst of energy that should help you with your match. Are you ready to make your return?" Rakkyo asked.
"Ah, ah! Gimme a sec, need to grab some Red Mountain Curry for the road," Colby jogged back to the curry river, swallowed huge gulps with both of his hands, and shuffled back to the elder. "Okay, now I'm good!"
"Very well, best of luck to you, Colby. Remember, the curry gods are always watching."
With that, the elder raised his long-sleeved arms and brought down a neon pink shock of lightning onto the teen, who vanished from Curry Heaven. Back on earth, Sage had still been in tears over Colby's supposed death. Sobbing and screaming to the ceiling as she lied helplessly on her knees, the bluenette tried to drown out Heath's celebrating. And Mr. Snugglepuss still looked catatonic about the sudden occurrence.
"Oh, yeah! Who's bad? I'm bad! Who's bad? Huh?" the muscular demon checked back to the two after dancing around the lobby, hoping they would go along with his chant. "Holy moly, you guys are still moaning about losing your precious hobo. People die, dang it! Face the music and get over it! As I was saying, who's bad?"
"You're not just bad, you're the absolute scum of the earth! Why don't you go back to hell and rot there, you worthless sack of meat!" Sage spat, shooting the demon a look of pure venom.
"My, someone's still a bit testy... would joining your friend up there make you feel better?"
"Yeah, keep running your mouth. Say your final words because I'll gladly snap it shut!"
"What are you waiting for?! Do it!" mocked Heath, giving the girl a "bring it" gesture with his hands.
"Sage, I understand you're still hurt from Colby's death, but I still have to announce the verdict of the match." Mr. Snugglepuss chimed in, headbutting the girl's soaked cheek to comfort her.
"B-But, Mr. Snugglepuss..." hiccuped the violet-clad girl.
"I'm sorry, my dear. What's done is done. In conclusion, because Colby is no longer capable of fighting, the winner of this Meal Melee is-"
Lo and behold, that same pink shock of lightning fell down from the window on the ceiling and electrocuted Colby's corpse. Speechless expressions were painted on the trio's faces as a light pink glow surrounded the boy; rising from the marble ground, the blond's hair changed to a curry brown, his red headband a pearl white, and his mocha eyes pried open into a chili pepper red.
Darting his head back at a watery-eyed Sage, Colby whispered, "Did you miss me?"
"C-Colby..." stammered the girl in violet, paralyzed by all the mayhem.
"My word..." added Mr. Snugglepuss.
"Oh, gimme a break! Are you for real?!" whined Heath, stamping his foot. "That curry was supposed to kill you, squirt! You were supposed to be dead! D-E-D! How the hell did you make it back here in one piece?!"
"Hey, it's food-fighting. Anything and everything can happen, just like what I'm about to do right now. Oh, and, sorry, Mr. Snugglepuss, but I'ma have to bend the rules a lil' bit." Colby winked at his cat.
"For some strange reason, I have no problem with that. Whatever works for you, son." the feline responded with a slow blink.
"Alright then! Due to my power upgrade, I'm gonna upgrade my signature dish too! Instead of being just cheese curry, it's gonna be a not four, not five, not six, but a SEVEN cheese curry! How 'bout that, Heathy?"
"Puh-lease!" Heath threw a hand at the powered-up boy, brushing off his newfound confidence. "I'm still a powerhouse! You can bend the rules however ya please, but I'm still gonna be the last man standing!"
"If you really think so, buddy!" Colby smirked, standing in a fighting stance.
In Heaven, Jack continued to whack the widescreen television to get it working again, but to no avail.
"Work with me, dang it! Work with me, work with me! I swear, if anything ridiculous happened to my boy when I was-" Before he knew it, the screen reverted back to the boys' fight and Colby's transformed state. "There we go! What... uh, Colby, how the heck did you... what the heck did you... you know what, I'm just gonna shut up and watch."
"Now that everything has been settled, the Meal Melee between Colby and Heath will now resume! Fighters, take your positions and fight!" declared Mr. Snugglepuss, standing off to the sidelines with Sage, still taciturn from her best friend's revival. She hoped it would be the last time she had to witness the death of a close one.
But what seemed more important was the fight, that kicked up quite a few notches with both competitors souped-up. Two strong teens dashing around the lobby in rapid speed, as if they were teleporting through thin air. It had been a marvel seeing the spiky-haired boy and the demon trade jabs and kicks, fading in and out of the area as they moved their quarrel to other spots. Colby and Heath grit their teeth, both positive they couldn't lose the match with their increased strength and agility. One last fist-on-fist collision ended in a stand-off with the boys standing either side of the lobby, not showing a hint of fatigue. Letting out a growling war cry, Heath rampaged at the rookie with a cocked back fist sure to land on his face.
"Overwhelming Olive Oil!" the red-skinned teen's jab multiplied into a quick flurry of them, leaving the headband-clad teen to counter with his own.
"Nutmeg Mince!" the food-fighting novice exclaimed; all of his punches were aimed for the torso, but the one time he delivered one to the nose, the teen finished his assault with a light jab, followed up by a crushing right hook. "One-Two Potato Mash!"
Swiftly knocked through the wall, the brawny demon shook his head and kicked himself back to his feet. Clenching his fists, Heath was about to perform a headbutt, darting in with his horns.
A sharp, downward elbow to the skull silenced the demon, causing him to collapse to the ground. Leaping backwards, Colby raised his fists in the air to be ignited with a cluster of vermilion and golden flames. Now that his demonic rival hit the floor, it looked like the perfect opportunity to land his finisher, one he knew would make his father proud.
"This is it..."
Zipping towards Heath with fistfuls of fire burning brightly like the falling sun above, Colby mustered an echoing shout while tumbling forward in the air, cocking his fists above his head.
"Seven Cheese Curry Hands of HAZARD!"
Heath tried to shield himself with his arms, assuming that the fiery boy would land the finisher directly on him, but instead, Colby pounded his fists on ground inches away from the demon. The lobby trembled tremendously, forming cracks circling around the brawny demon that spouted out golden and vermilion flames, cloaked within them as a swirling geyser of fire left him with skin a more darkened red than usual. Forming a cross with his flaming arms, the food-fighting rookie swept them away from him to put them out; and in turn, his appearance changed back to normal.
"And you just got charbroiled." Colby smirked, taking in the satisfying chiming from the kitchen bell.
"Victory is served! The winner of this Meal Melee is Colby!" announced Mr. Snugglepuss.
"Heck yeah! Whoo-hoo! That's a food fight for the ages, baby! Dad, you better be watching! Oh, I can just imagine him now. He's probably like, 'you did good, my boy, you did good." the blond impersonated with a giggle, looking up at the ceiling again.
"Yep, I saw it, son. Not the whole thing, sadly, but what else can I say except, you did good-no, you did great, my boy. ...I know I never told you this before, but I'm really proud of you." Jack nodded with a grin.
"Yo, Heath, need me to call the paramedics for ya?" joked Colby.
"I don't even care anymore," Heath moaned, back in his lanky state lying in his ash-filled crater. "I just glad I don't have to worry about going after your butt again."
"Alright, well, hit me up if you feel like having another rematch! I'm always available!" Colby waved, heading over to Sage and Mr. Snugglepuss, relieved that their friend came out on top. "Hola, mi amigos! I really put on a show for you guys, didn't I?"
"You have no idea, young man. They say history repeats itself and, thankfully, it wasn't case with you. I'm still very impressed with you, Colby." the brown tabby brushed his head against his legs for a bit, petted by his owner as he purred.
"Thanks a lot, Mr. Snuggy," the brown-eyed boy stood up and glanced at Sage, still shedding the tears residing in her eyes. For the spiky-haired boy, it had been such an eye-opener to see her so vulnerable. So emotional. Never had it occurred to him that his friendship with the girl meant so much to them. "Hey... it's alright, Sage, I won! Your best bud's back and stronger than ever! Those better be tears of joy I see, not sadness!"
"I'm not crying because I want to!" the rosy-cheeked girl roared, exploding into tears again. "How could you do something so stupid?! Do you have any idea how depressed I would be to know I lost the two people I care about most?!"
"I'm sorry-ow!" Colby winced, taking a quick punch to the face. "I promise I won't do anything that stupid again... not in a food fight, at least-ow! I'm kidding!"
"I hope so," Sage shared a warm embrace with the blond, knowing they both deserved one. "Ugh, let's get outta here. I've had enough drama for one day and I believe that calls for a hearty helping of junk food."
"The junk food can wait, I need a freakin' shower..."
"Yes, it would be wise to return home. Come, children." Mr. Snugglepuss trotted with the teens behind him, leaving behind the disheveled lobby at the colosseum.
"Wait, but what about Heath? We can't just leave him here." Colby pointed out.
"Why not? That buttface deserves it if he gets caught." spat Sage, still a little bitter over the demon's antics.
"After all, a little juvie can go a long way." added the feline.
The next day felt like a pleasantly peaceful one at The Rice Bowl and Sage and Mr. Snugglepuss wasted no time in making the most of it. Reading her philosophy book at the counter the cat lied on, the violet-clad girl had her back turned as Colby came downstairs with his duffel bag.
"Welp, I'm off!" announced the spiky-haired boy.
"Right now? You're welcome to stay a few more days if you like." offered Sage.
"Thanks, but I feel like it would be better to recoup at home. Plus, having your soul sucked outta you then zapped back in isn't something you can get over in a day."
"Finally leaving, huh?" Herb entered the dining room with the brothers behind him. "Never thought I'd see the day."
"Oh, stop it, Mr. Sage's dad," grinned Colby, always humored by his dry wit. "It pains me to leave behind my second family, but I gotta hit the road. I had a super cool time hanging out with you all, I really felt like I was one of you guys. Maybe next summer, there will be more exciting times to come."
"Maybe," Mr. Snugglepuss hopped off the counter and stood beside his owner. "It's a pleasure meeting all of you, we're forever in your debt."
"Don't mention it. It was fun being with an adorably amazing cat like you, Mr. Snugglepuss." Sage giggled, giving the cat a comforting rub to the chin.
"Oh, yes, the irresistible chin rubs... it will be difficult to endure a whole year without them."
"But it'll be worth the wait," the violet-clad girl stood back up before Colby. "Colby, thank you so much for being my friend and making this summer anything but boring."
"Heh, that's me in a nutshell: anything but boring! You're welcome, buddy," the blond bumped his fist with the girl. "Okay, we really need to work on a secret handshake because we're long overdue."
Shuffling to Herb and the brothers, Colby tugged the strap on his duffel bag and cleared his throat.
"Gentlemen, it's been fun. We've had our good times, our bad, and a lot of beatings in-between, but it made our bond stronger in the end."
"It was cool meeting you too, kid." Basil shook hands with the boy.
"Yeah, you're like that pesky little brother we never had or wanted." chuckled Mint, giving Colby a fist-bump.
"You're alright with us, hobo," Dill brought his hand out for Colby to shake, only to zap him with a hand buzzer. "Ahahahahahaha, just as gullible as ever."
"Dill, you nutball..." chuckled the blond, giving a glaring Clove a smile. "What'll it be, Clove? A hug, a handshake, or-"
"Don't freakin' touch me." the aggressive brother growled as the master-in-training moved on to Herb.
"And that leaves the man of the restaurant, Mr. Sage's dad. Care for a hug before we go?"
"Pfft, you lost it? Two things I can't stand are hugs and heartfelt goodbyes, now beat it!" Herb snapped as Sage glowered at him, her way of telling him to be more compassionate to her friend. "Oh... fine, it was, uh... nice getting to know you. If you ever need any advice, food-fighting-related or not, let me know."
"You're finally gonna give me your phone number?!" squealed Colby.
"No way in hell!"
"Heh heh, oh, well. Guess that's that, see y'all later!" Colby waved, leaving the restaurant with his cat as the family waved back and shouted their goodbyes.
Taking a four-hour stroll back to his house, the headband-clad boy looked over the door with Mr. Snugglepuss.
"Here we are, back where we started." Colby noted with a nod.
"And back to putting up with your cantankerous uncle. I already miss Sage and her family, as obnoxious and rowdy as they were." the feline remarked.
"Same, Mr. Snugs, but in the end, this is our real home. Uncle Dad is the farthest thing from a nice person, but he does what he can."
"Which isn't much, I may add."
"Ooh, you sassy cat," Colby unlocked the door and entered the living room to a lazing Uncle Dad, surrounded by pizza boxes, takeout cartons, and beer cans. "We're back! Say, what's with the mess, Uncle Dad?"
"Without you around, I had to find other sources of sustenance. Burned a hole through my wallet, but it was better than starving than death," the portly man belched, patting his belly. "Ugh, my stomach is not agreeing with that beef and broccoli."
"At least you got me as your personal chef again."
"Yep... and I can't believe I'm saying this, but I missed your cooking, kid. There's no better cooking than home-cooking."
"Here, here," the boy dropped his bag and sat down beside his uncle on the carpet. "Whew, I just had quite the adventure this summer. Care to hear it? I mean, if, you don't mind me rambling over your sitcoms."
"Go ahead, shoot. I'm getting bored of them anyway."
With a bright, beaming expression, Colby began to tell Uncle Dad all about his wild and crazy food-fighting journey, including the people he met during the time. For the first time, it seemed like the uncle and nephew were finally bonding, although, the portly man lacked his exuberance. It was him, the stout teen, and Mr. Snugglepuss lying comfortably on the boy's lap having a light conversation on a blissful summer evening. And Colby looked forward to savoring every bit of the moment.