Honorable Mention - #15
Xena Ain't No Dolly, She's An Action Figure!
GENERAL DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle and associated characters are the property of MCA Universal and Renaissance Pictures, and their writers. All rights are reserved to the legal owners, and no infringement is intended. All other original characters are the property of the author.
THANKS: To my own two action heroes, GreenMoon, Warrior Master-Beta, and her trusty side-kick, Brenda the Battling Beta, who let me go out and play in the sandpit while they did grownup Beta stuff.
© April 2006
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Xena's compact little body hurtled across the jungle, sturdy legs carrying her over the terrain with ease. With a leap, she grabbed on a vine, swinging easily into the canopy like a veritable Tarzan. "Hey… did ya see me?" she yelled to the cameraman below.
"Shhh! You're not supposed to talk to me, little girl." How many times had he repeated this? Too many to count. This kid was just a damned show off, forever leaving the group to go and explore. Give him adults to work with every time. "Now, get down, will ya."
"Why? It's more fun up here." Was he going to try and climb up and get her again? She hoped so.
But he was not going to fall for that ploy twice and walked away. "If you say so."
"Hey!" The man didn't turn back, but continued up the path towards the other kids. She sighed. Grown-ups were just no fun. Xena clambered down the vine as fast as her strength would let her, swinging the final few feet to land with an elegant thump. "Hey, Gabby!" she yelled, pushing through the undergrowth as if it were paper.
"Xeenie?" Gabby loved her playmate. They did everything together, from collecting cool rocks and leaves to having sleepovers, from fighting side by side against imaginary foes to just lying in the grass looking up at the sky. They were more than friends, they were best friends. As she watched, Xena broke through the leaves, forcing a wild giggle to escape the tiny blonde's mouth. "Xeenie!" Gabby squealed.
Xena looked at her little buddy, smiling as the little girl's nose wrinkled up in joy. Gabby… her Gabby. Her other friends had come and gone, but Gabby was always there, and as long as Gabby was beside her, well… well the others didn't matter.
"Ahh, there you are you little monster." The director was just about to rip out the last few remaining strands of his hair trying to keep track of this miniature tornado. "Now we're going to play a game."
"A game? Oooh, me! Me! Me! Pick me!" Eponin began hopping on one foot, looking suspiciously like she would be running to the bathroom any second.
"Pee Pee. No fair!" Little Amarice, barely five years old, disappeared into the crowd of children who were bigger and older than she was.
"Ammy, stop calling me that."
"Yeah, Pee Pee, it's my turn." Xena rose up to her full height, strutting up to the pudgy girl and standing over her.
"No. Effie and me want to be the boss."
Xena began to make a move to assert her authority, stopped by a small blonde haired body stepping in between them. "Pee Pee…"
"Ep… po… Pony." Gabby looked around the group, nods of approval deciding the fate of Eponin's name. "No fighting. No good. Xeenie is the biggest one so she is the leader." Xena watched as Gabby talked to the children, charmed by her young friend's defense of her.
"I'm the leader," Xena said with finality. There were some advantages to being the toughest girl in the group, you tended to get your own way.
"Settle down children. Do you want to play a game or not?"
"Yessssss…" There was a chorus of tiny voices, ranging from enthusiastic to wary optimism.
"First of all, we're gonna play dress up."
"Yaayyy!!!!" That was all the director could say, the screams and yells drowning out any further instructions. He waved to the assistants in weary defeat. Never work with kids. He had been told that but nooooooo, he didn't listen.
What they had hoped to be a half hour change of clothes turned out to be a two hour major event of kid wrangling. Finally… finally, they were dressed, jumping around and pretending in their new costumes.
Xena looked down at the dress she wore. She never wore dresses, finding them disagreeable when trying to climb trees. However, the feel of this particular dress was… different. Shiny and hard, like patting a snake, she liked its feel, swirling her body around in one direction and then the other to make the petals of the skirt fan out around her. "Hey Gabby, look at me! Watch this!"
The little blonde stood slightly shivering, watching her bigger playmate enjoying herself. Why couldn't she have gotten something as cool as that? Gabby looked down to her own clothes, taking in the horrible green crop top and a dour brown skirt. Life sometimes sucked. Her friends were parading around in their fancy skirts and tops, full of feathers and laces, and here she was… all yucky.
"Gabby? What's wrong?"
A quivering lip made it hard for her to answer. "I want that!" She pointed to Pony and Effie as they hopped around in glee.
Xena walked up to the director and slapped him in the leg. "Yes, little girl?"
"Gabby wants that!" She pointed to her friends.
"She can't have that." Kids.
"Gabby wants that!" The tiny voice rose in volume as a glint of anger appeared in those young blue eyes.
"And I said she can't have it. No." Who did this kid think she was? He didn't see it coming. A small fist swung and caught him straight in the groin, sending him to the dirt in agony. Xena stood over him, hands on hips, looking down in determination. "Gabby wants that!" she whispered with deadly intent.
The little blonde watched in rapt fascination. Her Xeenie had never let her down, her champion in many a cause that would have seemed impossible. Her hero.
The director compromised, dressing the little girl in feathered finery and still managing to keep her in her costume. He didn't want to face that little hellion's ire again, still internally wincing over the low blow.
"Are we all ready?" He hesitated as the voice sat well above its normal timbre. He cleared his throat, trying once again. "You kids ready to play the game?"
"Yeayyyyyy!!" They yelled, running around in circles like screaming little banshees. "Okay, now you little girl." He pointed to the ringleader.
"Yeah, Xena. You are the leader." Xena just grinned as if that statement was a foregone conclusion. "These children here," his arm swept around to take in all but Gabby, "are Amazons."
"'Zons?" Xena didn't understand.
"Amazons. Ummm…." He tried to think down to a kid's level. "Girls who don't want to play with boys. They shoot bows and arrows, hunt, climb and live by themselves."
Xena didn't quite comprehend everything but the not playing with boys she understood perfectly. "Okay."
"What about me?" A little lost voice could barely be heard over the excited whispers from the other children.
"You?" He looked down to green eyes swimming with unshed tears. Awww, hell. Who could resist those eyes? "You can be this little girl's… sidekick." Good one, Jerry.
"I can?" Gabby's vision was blurred as she looked to Xena, her heart bursting with joy at being her… sidekick… whatever that was, but it sounded important. As long as she was next to her raven-haired buddy she didn't care.
"Okay, now here's the game. You are going on a walk through there…" he pointed up the path leading off into the undergrowth, "… in search of… of… adventure."
"Where's my mommy?" Amarice started to panic, the thought of no mommy or daddy sending her into a bout of hiccupping. Her panic was infectious, passing from one girl to another as the thought of being lost was of paramount importance.
Jerry could see he was losing control of this situation. Whoever came up with the idea of filming kids as a reality program needed their friggin' heads examined. Or maybe a day or two on this set would be a more appropriate punishment. He looked down at little Xena, who stood quietly while chaos reigned around her. He could see a deep sadness in those pale crystal blue eyes but no panic. It was as if she was older than her meager seven years.
"Where is my mom?" Xena tried to keep a calm head. She wanted to get them all home.
"They're down that path waiting for you. It's a long walk though. You think you can do that?" He watched intently as the little brunette looked off into the distance, her keen mind working through what he had said.
Xena walked over to Gabby, grabbing her hand gently and moving towards the path. "Come on, let's find our moms." They walked off hand-in-hand, followed by the motley bunch of Amazons wearing various neon colored sneakers.
"Whoa! Hang on!" A chorus of whines filled the air. "Take this with you." The assistants handed out a bottle of water and an apple to each child. "Can't have you going hungry now, can we?" Well, not if the studio didn't want to get sued. "Now, off you go." He watched in amusement as the bunch of kids wandered down the path, stragglers already visible in the first fifty feet. He sighed. This was going to be a loonnnggg morning.
The filming crews were not far behind them, cutting through the undergrowth to run parallel to the walkers. Several cameras were along the path at strategic intervals, but two crews were to keep them in sight at all times. This was a risky venture, he kept telling them, but they were intent on cutting edge reality. To him it had disaster written all over it. Amazons. Miniature Amazons. God help him.
"Xeenie?" Pale emerald eyes looked up into sky blue ones, apprehension written in them. "Where are we going?"
"We're going to find our moms, Gabby." A gentle smile touched those young lips as she watched her tiny companion. She loved her little buddy. No one else understood her like Gabby, who was always prepared to follow her wherever she led her. It was nice to have someone who knew all of her, who accepted her tantrums, her fighting and her friendship without question, still defending her even though she could easily defend herself. Even Xena's young mind realized that Gabby was very special indeed. "They're just down here. That's what the man said."
"But what if he was wrong?" Gabby couldn't help but be upset. What if he was wrong?
"Then I will protect you."
"You are my friend, Gabby."
Gabby had tried really hard not to cry, but Xeenie's words hit her, sending a torrent of tears cascading down her little cheeks. "Awww, Gabby, don't cry." Xena looked behind her to find the others on the verge of tears also. "Let's play a game."
"A game?" Amarice's tiny voice broke through the whimpering.
"First one to the end of the path wins."
"Hey! No fair. That's you." Pony liked competition, but not when she had no hope of winning.
"Go!" Pony warily eyed Xena, waiting for her to start running. When there was no movement from the tall child she took off, running as fast as her chubby little legs would carry her. Moments later, the other children followed, poor little Amarice coming last being so small and all.
Gabby looked at Xena in confusion. "Let's go!" The older child didn't race off in search of Effie and Pony, but was content to stay with the little blonde, running on as fast as Gabby could on her tiny legs.
Aww, hell. The camera crew were thrown into panic when the children ran off, not sure who to follow. They only hoped nothing happened between them and the camp.
Xena kept her jogging slow and even, enjoying the casual run and the sun and, of course, the companionship. They soon caught up to Amarice, slowing down their pace to stay with her. Ammy was the baby and so Xena felt it her responsibility to watch over her.
Finally, the forest gave way to a large field. Sitting on a slight rise was a village, mud and reed huts scattered in a rough circle. "Wow!" Her own personal playground. Xena was ready to explore, grabbing her young companion's hand and running in the direction of the activity. Little Amarice was about to complain when her mother found her. "There you are!" The woman looked at the two running figures. "Thank you Xena!" She yelled.
"You're welcome!" came the reply on the wind, the tall body already out of sight around one of the buildings.
It was magical, like stepping into a storybook. There were moms everywhere, all dressed like they were, rushing around. There were lights and cameras and a food table that drew her immediate attention. Dragging Gabby with her, she stood in front of the sweets, sandwiches and drinks. She looked up expectantly at the woman standing nearby. When she received the nod, long fingers curled around a cupcake, handing it to her smaller friend, returning to snatch another one for herself.
"Let's go find mom." They wandered through the camp, vainly searching for Gabby's mom.
"Mommy?" Gabby could remain silent no longer. All these people and not one of them was her mommy. Xena could feel the child's panic through their joined hands, knowing that Gabby was about to fall apart. "Mommy!" Her pleas increased in volume and intensity.
"Gabby?" It was a voice she knew as no other. Gabby hesitated for a moment as she took in mommy's new clothes. "You a ‘zon, mommy?"
A ‘zon? Gabby's mom valiantly tried to recognize the new word. ‘zon… ‘zon… She looked around the campsite seeing other women dressed as she was. Ahhh…. Amazon.
"Yes honey, I'm a ‘zon like you are."
"But I'm not a'zon. I'm Xena's ‘kick," she said proudly.
Xena tried to remember what the man had said. "Side… kick." Was that right?
"Mommy, what's a sidekick?"
"Well, it means you are Xena's helper. You get to stay by her side, honey." Gabby's face beamed. Just what she had hoped for. Coooool…..
Before she could make her way across the yard, a loud voice rang through the air. "Everyone. Attention, everyone. Can we get everyone over here in the courtyard." Xena watched as all the mommies came from everywhere. "First of all, thank you all for participating in this little experiment. I'd like to welcome you all to the filming of this new reality program, "Amazons". Now I know that many of you probably didn't know what you were letting yourselves in for when you accepted to participate, so let me explain it to you."
"The latest trend in reality shows is basing it on a familiar television show. To this end, we have chosen ‘Xena, Warrior Princess' as the theme. You ladies are the Amazons. You will be required to live in this village as best you can using the implements supplied to you. There will be a series of competitions against… your kids."
Xena had zoned out from the beginning. She didn't understand the big words, so why bother listening? The children gravitated to one another as the man talked and talked. Curious ears pricked up at the word ‘prize', now intently listening to what the present was.
"If you are victorious ladies, your entire group will win an all expenses paid trip to Beverly Hills for a week of pampering. Facials, pedicures, shopping, whatever you like." Jerry looked down at the squirming children, "And you kids get to go to the MGM lot to meet your favorite actor."
"Shrek!" Xena piped up.
"Spongebob Squarepants!" cried Solari.
"Yeah, Shrek! And… and… Princess Nona and Donkey!" Effie added, not able to make up her mind.
"Lisa Simpson," a quiet voice said from beside Xena.
"What do we win? What do we win?" Pony jumped up and down
"Present?" Little Ammy looked, making her way through the jumping kids to the director. "We got a present?"
"Not yet, little one."
"No?" She was confused. "But you said present."
"That's if you win honey."
Brown eyes welled up with disappointment. "No Barney?"
"Not yet, sweety."
"All right, everyone. The camp is now yours. There will be from time to time a set task that you must accomplish. On completion, you will receive a new item to make your stay more… comfortable." The last word the director said with relish. He looked over to his assistant who gave him a death glare. So… he wanted the women to win and she wanted the kids to win. Wonder if it was worth a bet on the side?
The kids had been left to their own devices while the mommies met. They were bored. Nothing had happened and they were left to sit in the dirt.
"Who let that damned dog in here?"
"Arrggoooo…" cut through the air.
"Argoo!" Xena squealed, seeing her dog drunkenly trot up to her, slobbering his fat tongue over the cherub face.
Jerry looked down at the mutt. "That has got to be the ugliest goddamed ugly dog I have ever seen." The thing was one of those British bulldogs, his drooping mouth dripping saliva at an ungodly rate, leaving a trail of slobber wherever he went. ‘But it's got to go."
"No! Argoo stays." Ice blue eyes looked up at him, a promise residing in those depths that he didn't want to experience ever again.
"No, honey. I draw the line at animals."
"A-r-g-o-o stays." The threat deepened and he knew he was about one foot away from being emasculated. He was starting to wonder who was actually in charge of this show, his mind vehemently telling him it wasn't him.
He sighed deeply, admitting defeat. "Ok honey, Argoo stays. But no more pets, got that?"
"Okay." But she wasn't going to tell him that Argoo was her only pet. "C'mon Argoo." She wandered off with the slobbering beast in tow, his grunting and snuffling hanging in the air like a bad smell, his little behind shifting from side to side as his ungainly legs tried to keep up with the little girl.
Jerry shook his head, quietly chuckling. This job certainly was not going to be easy.
Xena was bored. And when she was bored, she was naughty. Her fertile mind was already surveying the campsite looking for some misadventure. What to do? Bright blue eyes narrowed as a fiendish plan popped into her head, a wicked grin crossing her young features.
Gabby knew that look. "Xeenie, are you gonna be bad again?"
"Yep. I think so, Gabby." She looked to the other children. "You wanna… play?"
Effie looked warily at their chosen leader. "Play?"
"Yeah… play." Effie and Pony looked at each other, wondering if it was wise to… play.
Soli, on the other hand, was all for it. "What do I do?"
Jerry was exhausted and the actual filming hadn't even started yet. He plopped himself down in his chair, sipping carefully the hot coffee in his hand. "Everything ready?" He would be glad to get things rolling. At least the kids would be occupied then.
"Just about. We have a problem with camera three. You may need to re-position it. Want to check it out?"
"Fine." He rose from the chair only to find it rising with him. "What the…?" He swiveled his body around and the chair followed him. Jerry heard the quiet chuckle from his assistant, his eyes blazing into hers in annoyance. "It's not goddamn funny!" The laughter increased as one by one the crew noticed the director stuck to his chair. "Who the hell did this?" His voice rose in volume as his anger grew. Jerry scanned the gathering crowd looking for the practical joker. His eyes skimmed over the children, momentarily stopping to study the little ringleader. "Did you do this?"
Innocently Xena replied, "Nooooo," drawing out the vowel in a whine. The director's eyes narrowed as if trying to see inside the little girl. Xena did not flinch under his intense gaze, exuding an air of complete innocence.
A frantic tugging on his butt drew Jerry from his accusatory stare. "This sort of thing better not happen again. You all got me? I will not tolerate these pranks." But somehow he just knew this was the beginning of the mayhem.
"I think someone used super glue. You're gonna have to take your pants off."
"Hrrmpf." Holding desperately onto his shredded dignity, Jerry waddled off towards his caravan, the chair gently swaying behind him with each step he took. He reached the door. Oh crap. "Sharon!" His yell vibrated through the trailer, anger and desperation bouncing off the walls. He sat down in the chair defeated. "Find a blanket, will you?" Whoever did this would pay.
"He was maaaaaddd." Effie didn't like it when grown ups were mad. It usually meant that the kids got in trouble.
"Yep, he sure was." Inside Xena was jumping with joy, excited that her little prank worked. Now, what else could she do…? "Arggoooo…" The dog added his comment, saliva slowly swinging from his lip before gravity pulled it out of his mouth towards the ground. Xena absently patted the dog, scratching him vigorously. "Roorwwww… Grrrr…." He always did like a good scratch behind the ear.
"No more, Xeenie. We're gonna get into trouble." Gabby would follow her raven-haired friend anywhere, she knew that, but she really didn't like to get into trouble. It was not in her nature.
"So what are we gonna do now?"
"I dunno." Xena watched two women approach them. She looked up expectantly as they stopped at the group.
"Okay kids. My name's Alice and this is Maggie. We're here to look after you."
"Are we going to play now?" Xena felt she should ask the important questions after all she was the leader.
"Not quite yet. They have to fix up a few more things. How about we go for a swim?"
"My mommy won't let me swim." Amarice's tiny voice rang out.
"Tell you what sweetie. It's only a small creek. How about you and I just paddle in the shallow end?" The small child's face shone with joy. "The rest of you get ready." Before Alice had finished speaking the group had disappeared. "Okaayyy." She looked to her fellow kid wrangler. "Batten down the hatches, matey, we're in for a bumpy ride." Both chuckled as they braced themselves for the onslaught.
Jerry had finally changed his pants and, packing away his embarrassment, was ready for work again. "Now…" His voice was drowned out by the sound of screaming kids. He and Sharon watched with amusement as little naked bodies flew through the encampment, flashes of white skin nearly a blur in their hurry to get to the swimming hole. They were about to return to their work when one final body ran through, slower than the others, her pale little backside swaying from side to side as she ran. Little Amarice was oblivious to her nakedness, intent only on getting to the other side, her little legs working hard to get her to her objective.
Just when it couldn't get any more amusing, along came the dog, puffing and wheezing as he ran after the naked child. As they watched, his ugly little behind moved in a circular motion as he ran, looking like a demented hula dancer. Jerry groaned. He was being punished. There was no other explanation for it. Amazons. Children running amuk. Naked children running amuk. Slobbering animals. Super Glue. Yeah, he was definitely being punished.
Little Xena had decided to stop playing jokes… for the moment. She could see the people were nervous and edgy, all waiting to see who would be next for the phantom prankster. She lay on her cot that night, smiling broadly. She had them right where she wanted them… in fear.
"Okay kids, our first game is about to start. You have your fruit?"
"Why?" Pony studied her apple, her mouth already watering.
"Honey, in case you get hungry. We don't want you starving now, do we?" Amarice looked up in confusion. It almost sounded like they did.
The director turned his attention to Xena whom, he knew, had a smart head on those broad shoulders. "In the game there is a maze." Blue eyes tilted. Maze… maze… "Okay a maze is a lot of different paths that lead in all sorts of directions. You'll have to find the right one to lead you back to camp."
"Okay." Sounded simple enough.
He hunkered down to Xena's eye level. "This is important, little girl. Please, please stay on the paths. If you don't and you get lost we may not find you. Okay? You don't want your little friends to be upset because they can't find their mommies now, do you?"
"Nooooo." But he could see the cogs turning in that little head. He only hoped that she was smart enough to realize the dangers of wandering off. Nah, this brat would do it just to piss him off. He looked up, "Alice, five minutes in the courtyard."
"Good Mr. Mackey." Her face set in a grimace as she watched the back of him walk out the hut door. "Okay girls. Anyone need to use the bathroom before we start?" Alice knew very well Gabby needed to go. The little girl had been hopping quietly in place, her little hand holding on grimly to her crotch as if trying to hold it all in. A timid hand rose, as expected, and the young woman waved her off with a flurry. Gabby ran as fast as her little legs would carry her to the bushes, barely making it in time. Xena had extremely good hearing and could hear the sigh of relief from her little buddy. Her pale eyes touched the grown up, a smile letting the woman know Gabby arrived safely.
"Anyone else?" Maggie grabbed Amarice's hand and took her just in case. Emergency potty stops in the middle of a timed race were a luxury, and both of the young women had decided to help where they could for the kids to win. "Good, any minute now, girls." Alice stepped outside, her dark eyes searching the undergrowth for the little blonde. "Hey, Gabrielle, over here!" The child trotted over and Alice swept her into the hut. She saw the signal from the director. "Okay girls, outside. We're gonna start."
There was a quiet snickering from nearby crew which confused Alice. The snickering escalated to chuckling and in moments there was a crowd surrounding the hut openly laughing. "What the…?" She turned to see what was amusing everyone so and stopped dead. "Oh… my… God…"
Out strutted the tiny tots sporting cleavages that would have made Pamela Anderson proud. Kids barely seven years old had bigger boobs than she had. Somehow, she felt a little under-endowed. Alice looked around to see similar looks on the other women, a couple of them subconsciously reaching for their own apples and oranges, the objects that the kids had brazenly on display. "Oh, Lord…" She looked over her shoulder to see one of the moms, amused at the shocked look on the woman's face.
"Pretty impressive, eh?" A burst of laughter drew Alice's attention to the little troublemakers. Eponin extracted an apple from her top to take a bite out of the fruit, right before placing it back in the bra. "Ha!" Now the child had one breast missing a chunk. Little Amarice trotted out of the hut, one apple in her top and a banana sticking out from the waistband of her skirt, sending everyone into peels of laughter. Kids, God love ‘em…
The director was not amused that everyone had abandoned him. Strolling over to the crowd he was going to assert his authority, but his voice died in his throat when he saw the children. "Holy…" He stopped short from uttering the word that sat on his tongue. Little ears.
"Okay, everyone has had their fun. To work people. Time is money." He walked back to his chair, stopping short and testing it before sitting down. He was not going to get caught a second time. As he watched, the girls walked over, their fruit slipping and sliding over their chests, the only thing holding them in place was the material. Click, click, click. He looked sideways to see Sharon taking happy snaps of the little prima donnas.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"There is no way that I'm not getting a picture of this! My friends would never believe me." A wide grin touched her lips at their antics. How could she be mad? They were just so damned cute.
"Okay, it's your turn. Now off you go." They had watched their mommies leave, raised voices arguing over which way to go. A few times one or two stragglers turned up where they had started, some sort of muttered curse escaping their lips when they realized they had gotten nowhere.
Little Xena sat in the dirt, one hand idly patting the dog. It took a bit of persuasion on her part to include Argoo but she made the director see the error of his ways pretty darn quick. She stood, taking her place at the head of the little troop. "Let's go." She crouched down to the dog, undoing his leash and pushing him off in the direction of the camp. "Go Argoo! Go find food!"
The deformed nose sniffed the air catching the faint aroma of cooked meat, sending the lumpy body scurrying off down one of the paths. Xena followed, leaving the other children standing for a few moments before they themselves chased off after the dog.
"Arrrggggoooo…" he yodeled, his mouth slobbering at the thought of food. Dribble increased as his tiny legs spun around at top speed, huffing, puffing and snorting like some overweight jogger which, in a way, he was. Argoo didn't deviate from his course. Once his trusty nose had a hold of that smell it wasn't letting go until he was under that food table waiting for the scraps to fall.
The kids had no trouble keeping up with the bulldog, a vastly overweight canine that could barely go faster than a trot. However, Xena hovered around the back of the group, making sure that Ammy and Gabby didn't get too far behind. Her keen hearing picked up running footsteps and she looked around to see their two babysitters jogging far enough behind to just keep them in sight. As grown ups go, Alice and Maggie were cool. It also helped that they weren't just plain old like their mommies either.
As predicted, Argoo led them along the shortest path to the camp, arriving well before some of the straggling mommies. Xena could hear the complaints from the other team but she chose to ignore them. It wasn't her fault they didn't use a canine eating machine as a bloodhound. Argoo achieved their purpose and that was all that mattered. That night the children had ice cream, courtesy of a mangy dog.
The next morning the little Amazons had been left to their own devices while the grown up warriors were given the task of cooking a pig - a whole damn pig - from scratch. And scratching they did. With amusement, the kids watched their moms yell and scream at each other about how to cook the thing, finally settling on a hole in the ground. It seemed they were going to eat dirt tonight…
There was going to be trouble, Xena could see that. The chubby friend of Effie had been squinting at her all morning, hostility written all over her face.
"I think the leader has to do a dare." Pony was not happy that Xena was still in charge of this group.
"Okay. But if you want to be leader, you have to do it too." The raven-haired child was pretty sure she could beat them at anything they chose, and making them have to do it too would scare away the chickens leaving, she suspected, Pony as the main rival to her authority.
"Okkayyy." Pony hesitated, wondering what mean things the tall girl could come up with.
"Anyone else?" Intense blue eyes turned to Effie. "You want to join in?"
"Errrr… okay." Somehow Effie felt she couldn't say no.
"Gabby? You want to play?"
The little blonde stared into her friend's eyes for a moment then answered. "Oh Xeenie, you are the leader. That's enough for me." Awwww… Xena smiled gently at her friend. Gabby always knew the right thing to say.
"No, I don't want to play. I'll watch." Soli answered before the question hit the air.
Alice approached the group sitting in the dirt, wary as conspirational faces looked up at her innocently. "What are you girls up to, eh?"
"Nothiiinnggg." The sing-song voices told her everything she wanted to know. They were planning something. She only hoped it didn't involve Jerry.
They watched the young woman walk away and went back to the dare. "So, who's gonna come up with the dare?"
"Not you!" Pony cried. "And not her!" She pointed to Gabby, knowing that the child would try to give her buddy the edge.
"Soli can do it." Xena knew she was at risk putting the decision in the hands of one of Pony's friends. She only hoped that the child would make it a fair dare.
"Okay." Pony said triumphantly. Soli would look after her. "What are we doing?"
"Hang on." An idea popped into her head that would even out the playing field. Soli disappeared into the undergrowth for several minutes, leaving the combatants looking at each other. She emerged with her hands behind her back, a sly grin on her face. "Are you ready?"
"So are we running, climbing, rolling in the mud… what?"
"Who's playing the game?" Three hands rose quickly, swatting at the air. Soli brought her arms around to the front, opening her fists to reveal bugs, three large ugly dirty critters squirming around on her palms.
Pony's eyes nearly bugged out, as it were. "What are they for?" Xena grinned as she heard the nervous timbre in her enemy's voice.
"The dare is… you gotta eat one."
"Eat?" Pony could feel her stomach rebel.
"Hey, Pony? You okay?" Effie looked to her friend. "You're sort of turning green."
"Me?" Her voice rose to the upper reaches of her vocal range. "Yeah… yeah, fine." Pony shifted nervously, her eyes never leaving Soli's hands. "I'm in." Her pride was at stake now.
As soon as she saw the bugs Effie gave up. "Not me. Bugs. Arrgghh!"
Dark eyes rose to clash with stormy blue ones. "What about you?"
Calmly, Xena answered. "Yep, I'm in."
"So, who goes first?" Pony prayed that the bossy child sitting opposite her would start.
As if answering her silent plea, Xena replied, "I'll go first," reaching across to the child's hand and plucking out a wriggling creepy crawly. Without hesitation she placed it in her mouth and bit down.
"Ewwww… that's gross!" Gabby turned away as the poor creature's legs stuck out between Xena's lips. Small hands rose up to cover her ears, trying to block out the crunching sound as she ate.
Pony's mouth dropped. She had expected that Xena would give up, handing over the leadership to her. Oh no… That meant she had to eat a bug. She looked at the other kid's mouth chomping down on the poor beast and the bile that had been roiling in her stomach started its upward journey. A chubby hand covered her mouth moments before she scrambled to her feet and headed for the bushes.
Keep going, keep going… Xena tried really, really hard not to think what was in her mouth. For a moment she cursed her stubbornness that led her to this predicament, but the look on her opponent's face, and the subsequent dash to the bushes, made the discomfort all the more worthwhile. She was going to win, like she always did. Before her mind could object, Xena swallowed it, feeling every little claw and piece of shell as it slid down her throat. That had to be the grossest thing she had ever done, scratching that off her mental list of things to try. Never again. Unless she had to, of course.
"Okay…" The tiny stomach grumbled at the unwanted intruder, a tiny burp escaping Xena's lips. "Oooohh…" She smiled at the concerned features of her little friend, reaching out and patting a shaking hand. "Gabby, I'm okay." Xena watched as Pony came out of the bushes. "Your turn." Seconds passed as the chubby child stood there contemplating what she had to do, right before turning around and running back where she came from.
No one would ever question her leadership again.
"Here is your next challenge." Jerry stood on a box looking like he had just come back from safari. The pith helmet sat squarely on his head, hiding half his forehead. Skinny knees were barely visible under the large baggy shorts and long socks.
"God, what a nerd…" Alice muttered to her companion.
The bullhorn blasted out his annoyingly nasal voice. "The object is to claim the Queen's Mask." He held up the beautifully decorated object. "You need to nominate one member of your group to become Queen over the village. However, standing between you and the Mask is the obstacle course." Jerry pointed to the far meadow, gleefully watching the looks of dismay from his contestants. "Now each group has to choose their Champion to run the course."
Little Amarice tugged on Alice's leg as the young woman motioned the group towards her. "What did he say?"
"Who's going to be queen?"
"Queen?" "Huh?" "I don't get it." The kids all asked at once, having no idea what the man was talking about.
"The Queen is the girl that will be the boss of everyone, both mommies and kids." Alice couldn't help but look over to Xena, now starting to understand what made the little tyke tick. "But it's only pretend." She saw the grin drop. Yep, she understood only too well.
"And what is the camp… cam… cha…"
"Champion? One of you will run for all of you. Only one. She will be our champion. So who is going to be our queen and who is going to be our champion?"
"Me! Me!" Xena cast a disgusted glance over to Pony. She just wanted to have everything.
"Gabby will be the queen." The words tumbled out of her mouth but somehow Xena knew that it was the right thing to do. Alice was surprised at the turn of events. So, the child had a deeper understanding of things than just the superficial.
"Why? That's not fair!" Pony was getting sick and tired of Xena making all the decisions.
"Why? Because I say so. You wanna make something of it?" She drew herself up to her full height, using it to full advantage to intimidate the smaller child.
"And who's going to be the campon?"
"Me, of course." There was never any doubt in her mind that she would run the course.
"I want to!" Pony cried. "You always get to do everything." She wandered away from the group, landing with a thump in the dry dirt to sulk on her own.
"Come on, they're waiting for us." The group followed Alice. Pony reluctantly rose, following a little way behind in defeat.
Xena looked ahead at the obstacles that stood between her and the finish line. Some would be tricky but she had no doubt in her mind that she would make it to the end. She looked over to the man who seemed to be in charge, watching as he talked to a tall woman. His finger pointed out the various huts and then the obstacle course. Finally, the finger pointed directly at her. In that moment she looked into sky blue eyes, eyes that bore into her and set her heart fluttering. Those eyes never wavered, holding her in place for long moments before releasing her. So overwhelmed by the stare she nearly missed the call up for the race.
Xena looked over to her opponent, her brow creasing when she saw the mommy she was against. The determined façade told her she was going to have to work hard to win this one. She sought out Gabby and their eyes touched. The adoring look from the little girl told her that whatever it took she was going to win.
"Alreght gerls, ready… set… go!" The melodious voice of the tall woman was nearly little Xena's undoing. She faltered at the start before her long legs took off to the first obstacle. Her opponent had a few feet head start and in straight running the woman had the upper edge. However, the log laid out in front of them caused the woman to hesitate as she gained her balance.
Without fear, Xena leapt up onto the log, running full pelt along its length before launching herself into mid air and executing a clumsy flip, landing unsteadily on her feet. She looked behind to see the mommy a couple of steps behind, opting for the conventional way off the log.
In a few steps the woman had again caught up with her and it was only the fast approach of the next obstacle that stopped her from passing Xena. The child hit the ground and scrambled under the netting that hung over her. She quickly outdistanced her opponent as the woman got snagged on the netting, and she wasted no time in pushing herself to run as fast as she could towards the next objective.
"Damn it!" The words echoed over the field, accompanied by other words that she dare not repeat. Xena looked behind to see the woman was now free and running with determination. She was really mad and it was Xena she was mad at.
Her speed didn't slow down at the next obstacle, plowing through the slippery mud. She took a wrong step and it sent her sprawling into the slimy brown sludge covering her from head to foot. "Woo hoo!" the tiny bog monster hollered, loving every minute of it. For once she wouldn't get yelled at for being dirty. Standing, Xena launched herself at the wet dirt, landing on her chest and sliding to the end of the patch, getting on her feet to continue the race.
She spared a moment to look behind her, watching the mommy's distressed look as she tentatively tried to pick herself across the mudhole. Heh. Long legs stretched out over the expanse of grass as she headed for the final hurdle before the run for the finish line. A squeal hit her ears, bringing a smile to that young face. She knew that sound.
The final obstacle came into sight and Xena knew she had won. Leaping into the air, she grabbed the vine and swung easily over the small stream below her. Now all that was left was the hundred meter dash to the end. Her focus was on the finishing line and all else faded from her senses. The beating of her heart and the passing of a breath were all that filled her mind, not the cheering from the crew or the yells from her opponent who was quickly closing the gap. The line was fast approaching and it was hers.
So intent was she on reaching her goal, it took her a few moments to realize that she could stop running. It wasn't until one of the crew stood in front of her, his hands up to grab her as she slammed into him. "Whoa there, little girl! It's over. You won."
I did? I mean, I did! Xena's mind was swimming in a mass of sights and sounds that she could barely process. She desperately wanted to see Gabby but she knew the little girl was still at the starting line. Closing her eyes, Xena settled for a mind's eye picture instead.
"Eend now, lettle gerl…" the tall woman announced. The director leaned over and whispered in her ear. "Xener? Really?" she said raising an eyebrow. Looking down at the miniature version of herself, Lucy thought she had stepped into another dimension and another planet. Planet of the Little Muddy Xenas. Yeah, Movie of the Week. The bizarre image stuck in her head, making her nearly forget why she was there. "Ehhhh well then, Xener, come eend cleim your preze."
"Huh?" Xena just shrugged her shoulders, moving forward when pushed by Alice.
"You heve proved yeurself werthy es Chempion of thess villege. Pleese breng forwerd your chesen Queen, lettle Xener." Vibrant blue eyes met, each sending a silent message to the other.
A tiny voice rose in the silence. "What did she say? Zenner? Wiener? Did she just call you a bad name? " Amarice just didn't know when to keep quiet.
"Bloody Americans, deesn't enyone understend Englesh?" Lucy muttered.
"I said where is your chosen Queen?" The voice changed as if a remote had been pushed, changing the language to English.
"Who are you?"
"My name is Lucy. I played the television Xena."
"You did? Wow!" So that was the connection.
"Wow, indeed, Xena." She crouched down to the little girl, oblivious to the dust and dirt flying around, and whispered, "You have great potential, little Xena. Don't waste it."
Potential? It sounded important. She must remember that word. "Okay." A gentle smile touched those beautiful lips, infusing the small girl with a warmth inside that blossomed and flowed through her body. Was it a connection of a name or a connection of a soul older than time?
Everyone was gathered around the pole that held the Queen's Mask. A filthy disheveled Xena and a grumpy pouting Pony knelt down to await little Gabby. Lifting the young girl up on their hands, they raised her towards the prize, eyes turned upward as she reached for it. Taking it gently off the hook, the little blonde was shifted around to face the crowd. She lifted the Queen's Mask high, claiming it as her own, a massive cheer rose as she grinned at her subjects. Green eyes dropped to the ground to look at the vibrant blue eyes watching her. Friends forever.
Later that afternoon they had a massive barbecue. That damned pig had finally cooked, dusted off, and carved. Only a few grumbled at the odd speck of dirt, most being quite appreciative of the effort put into the food. Lucy had left not long after the race and it was a subject of much talk around the huge bonfire. Little Gabby, as Queen, took pride of place on a raised dais, her trusted Champion by her side. In celebration of the win, a massive cake was presented with a flourish. Long after the kids had gone to bed, the rest enjoyed the company and the occasional bottle of wine until the fire was dying embers.
The campsite was in total darkness. Not even the quarter moon was able to light the eerie shadows. The sounds of the night emerged. Frogs singing their song to the night sky while crickets called to lost mates.
Xena woke up.
She now had the camp right where she wanted them, asleep and with their guard down…
"Oh my God!" The scream could be heard from one end of the camp to the other. Cries of help sent people running.
"Stay here…" Alice muttered to her charges, half expecting a rampaging cow or something. She tentatively stuck her head out the door to see....everybody....rushing around, tripping over themselves, knocking into each other. "What the hell is going on?"
"Oh my God! It's horrible…..!" One crew member yelled as he passed the door, running as if his life depended on it.
There was no sign of abatement as the panic spread like wildfire throughout the camp. Finally, Alice spotted Sharon. "Sharon! What happened?"
"Skunks got into the crews' trailers last night. Oh God, the smell is just…" A shiver passed over Sharon body as the scent hung in her memory like a wraith.
Alice had a sneaking suspicion that skunks had not yet learned to open doors Her head hung as she sighed deeply. That kid's mother has got to be a saint.
"Run for your lives!" One of the caterers waddled towards the open field, her hands thrown up in panic.
"What the hell is it now?"
"A whole herd of skunks has moved in and they're now marking their territory… everywhere!"
Alice looked at Xena who just shrugged. "It was just a baby one."
"You picked up a baby? And the rest of the family followed, huh? Now look what you've done." But somehow she couldn't keep the anger, a sly smile slowly creeping across her lips, an answering smile touching the young child. "Oh boy…" she muttered. This was going to throw a wrench into the works, or perhaps a skunk into the crowd.
By mutual agreement, the campsite and Amazon village was abandoned. No one in their right mind was going to stay around with the stench that permeated everything that stood there. Jerry just knew that he would be working the guard gate of the studio after this fiasco. If he was lucky, the reality show would be a reality special on why one doesn't work with kids.
The overwhelming loss of equipment and unexpected damage to the film made the studio baulk at awarding the prize because the show didn't actually make it to air.
Complaints from the mothers, the kids and the final straw of a 60 Minutes exposé finally convinced them that good publicity was way better than bad publicity.
Poor little Amarice never got to see Barney, but after seeing a rubbery Shrek, Xena thought it was probably for the best.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
As predicted, Jerry became a pariah in the Hollywood set. Anyone who couldn't control a handful of kids….. well his competence as a director was in serious doubt. Eventually he found his niche… as a director of children's television.
Sharon, his assistant, went on to become a highly respected photographer, thanks to the naked kiddy photos which received air time in the ill-fated Amazon experiment. She now travels the world taking action shots of the stunts pulled by the brave and incredibly stupid.
Alice and Maggie were last seen leaving on a plane to South America together, friends claiming they were told they were "going to find their roots". Most thought they were just plain nuts. Alice's parents thought she was going to South America do some gardening and Alice did nothing to discourage that idea.
Effie, Pony and Soli returned home, their confidence knocked around a little by one tall, black-haired kid. After school, the three girls separated, choosing their own paths for the years to come.
Pony, still stinging over the humiliating Amazon experience, decided that exercise was required. If bigger was better, biggest was best of all. She became Miss Ultimate Body three years running, opening up a string of successful body building gyms across the country.
Solari found a love of bikes and bike lovers. She now heads up the local Chapter of Dykes on Bikes and is a big hit in the local Gay Pride Parades.
Effie graduated from college, and unable to decide on a profession, she suffered her way through a string of disappointing jobs and a failed marriage. Finding her calling she is leader for National Organization for Women as a lecturer on Assertiveness and Decision Making with Confidence. They say she spends a lot of time at the gym these days.
Little Amarice went on to become a hot soap opera star in New Zealand - and yes, she finally met Barney. Rumor has it that they dated for six months. Scandalous photos of her running butt naked on the beach were recently published in National Enquirer.
Xena and Gabby went back to their life together, even closer friends throughout their school life, if that was even possible.
Gabby majored in English Lit, leading her school to win the state debating competition, and was finally crowned Homecoming Queen.
Xena… well, she was a troublemaker and a rebel. School bored her. The calming friendship of Gabby and her natural athletic talent however kept her occupied. She went on to college on a basketball scholarship. The call of WNBA drew her away from Gabby's side for two years, but an accident involving a tree, a vine, and a dare ended that career. She returned home to the University where Gabby was teaching and took the job of coaching the Women's Basketball Team to three National Championships. She is now the local pinup jock for the Dykes on Bikes.
Xena and Gabby went shopping for a bike last weekend.