The following short story is based on characters created and/or copyrighted by Glenn Eichler, Susie Lewis Lynn, and MTV. All other characters were created and copyrighted by Roland Lowery.

The author gives full permission to distribute this work freely, as long as no alterations are made and the exchange of monetary units is not involved. Any questions, comments, suggestions, or complaints should be sent to esn1g(at)yahoo(dot)com. Thank you.

"Each success only buys an admission ticket to a more difficult problem."
-Henry Kissinger

Morning Next
by Roland 'Jim' Lowery

Daria Morgendorffer woke up freezing on the bathroom floor. Slowly patting her hands about her arms and legs, she could tell that the freezing part wasn't due to lack of clothing, as she was wearing heavy snow jeans and a thick sweater over at least two t-shirts. She gingerly picked herself up, sticking her cold hand back into her armpit where she had found it. Her head swam and her eyes seemed to be having trouble focusing.

The sludge in her brain parted momentarily, allowing her to realize that everything was fuzzy because she wasn't wearing her glasses. She squinted into the haze and made out the blurry shapes of an enormous bathtub, a bank of sinks, and - strangely enough - two toilets. If it hadn't been for the tub and lack of stalls around the toilets, she would have guessed that she had passed out in the middle of a public restroom, which wouldn't have made any sense.

Not that anything was making any sense anyway, Daria reflected. She tried to dig back through her memory to figure out why she would be in a private bathroom either, especially such a luxuriantly appointed one, and came up empty.

Willing her aching body into something resembling an upright posture, she shivered and started the search for her glasses. She knew that if she was going to be able to deal with her new situation in any reasonable way, she would need to be able to see the situation. Case in point, the warking and splashing noises that were coming from the direction of the tub were beginning to concern her.

Leaning over the counter holding the three ornate-looking sinks, Daria could see that it was covered from one end to the other with bottles of various shapes and sizes, as well as tubes, jars, and various odd shaped implements. The lettering on everything was far too small for her to make out without putting each object right up against her face, so she decided to leave them alone for the time being.

Moving her attention over to the two toilets, she noticed several strange things about them. First, neither of them had reservoir tanks on the top, which made her start thinking in terms of public restrooms again. Second, one of them didn't have a seat or lid on it, only three old-fashioned knobs running along the back. And third, her glasses were balanced precariously on the edge of the other toilet's seat.

Heart pounding, Daria carefully reached out and gripped one arm of the glasses and lifted it. She wasn't particularly germaphobic, but the thought of her glasses slipping out of her grasp and falling into the water inside the bowl was almost too much to bear under the strange circumstances.

Glasses retrieved, she slipped them on and breathed a visible sigh of relief into the cold air when she saw that the lenses weren't smeared or cracked. The sigh turned into a sharp inhale of surprise when the whatever in the bathtub started up a long series of honking sounds aimed directly at her. She snapped around to see a roughly cylinder shaped mass of black and white propping itself up on the tub's edge with long, wide, flat flippers and baring a pink throat at her between an orange and black beak.

"Penguin!" Daria breathed, identifying the creature. "Shit!"

Having asserted itself, the bird flipped backward into the tub, curving gracefully through the water that was almost to the brim and generally seeming to enjoy itself.

Once she'd managed to calm herself somewhat, Daria decided that waking up with a penguin in the room wasn't quite as bad as it could have been. She figured she wouldn't get mauled to death by a penguin. Or at least she wouldn't have seriously noticed if it had tried.

She hoped.

Ignoring the flightless bird, she turned her attention back to the room itself. She stared at the odd non-toilet for several minutes before her tired mind finally spit out the word "bidet". Mystery solved - though with an involuntary shudder that made her wonder if she'd actually used the creepy thing - she scanned the bottles and other items sitting on the sink counter. Some of them appeared to be various beauty products, but the vast majority were tiny bottles that had once held small amounts of alcohol, the kind that could usually be found on airplane flights and in hotels with mini-fridges.

The opulence of the room and the tiny drinks finally plunked a good-sized piece of the puzzle into place. Daria was reasonably certain at this point that she was in the bathroom of a hotel. How she got there and why she had a new pet penguin, however, was still well beyond her grasp.

She was just about to try and leave the room when the beauty products lining one side of the counter happened to catch her eye. A small metal pot sat on top of little stand and was filled with a brownish-looking substance. Sitting next to it on a few mismatched pieces of paper towels, toilet paper, and newspaper were several popsicle sticks that had some of the substance clinging to one end of each.

Sudden discomfort ran all up and down Daria's body. She could suddenly feel a million pinpoint itches all across her skin, including regions she would have sworn she would never allow wax touch under any circumstances. The idea of stripping down to double-check was definitely vetoed due to the intense cold surrounding her, but she felt an absolute certainty that she would find that she was as hairless as a billiard ball everywhere except her head.

The door was locked but thankfully opened without any trouble, and she stepped out into a disaster area. Closing the door quickly behind her so the penguin wouldn't escape, Daria looked around herself, aghast at the amount of destruction and debris that she saw. The newest theory to settle in her brain was that she had locked herself in the bathroom to avoid some kind of dangerous maniac, but she quickly dismissed it when she saw a familiar figure amidst the wreckage.

Jane Lane, Daria's best friend since their high school days, was laid out on her back across a dresser on the far side of the bedroom. She appeared to have just as much extra clothing as Daria, who's breath was still steaming out into the air. She also appeared to either asleep, unconscious, or dead.

Daria nearly cried aloud in relief as Jane suddenly took in a deep breath as a ragged snore, smacked her lips, and then settled back down onto the dresser. Reassured that her friend was still very alive, Daria moved over to the other woman's side and started lightly shaking her.

"I told you," Jane mumbled softly to herself, "11 AM on move-in day."

Daria rolled her eyes, pegging the raven-haired woman's words as being part of a sex dream. Years before, Jane had said the exact same words regarding college and losing her virginity. Daria started shaking her a little harder, finally causing her to open her eyes and sit up.

She turned her head to look at Daria blearily, then said, "Those crayons were useful." When Daria didn't answer, she blinked rapidly a few times, then shook her head to clear it. "Jesus Christ!" she exclaimed as she rubbed her eyes. "What the hell happened? How the hell did we get here? Why the hell is it so cold?"

"I was hoping you could tell me," Daria said sardonically as she helped Jane down from the furniture. "Do you remember anything from last night?"

Jane let out a short series of hacking coughs before answering. "Last night?" she echoed. "Uh . . . damn. Nope. Last thing I remember was . . . calling somebody? I think? I think we called somebody."

Vague impressions of pressing buttons and placing something plastic against her ear swirled around Daria as Jane's words rung true. They had called someone early in the night, but she couldn't immediately recall who or for what reason.

"Last thing I remember was pulling into the Beefac parking lot to pick you up," Daria said. "Then there's some driving around, we decided to stop somewhere, and then it goes all fuzzy."

Jane grimaced and stuck her tongue out. "Can we continue this conversation over a cup of coffee or something?" she asked. "And could we maybe turn up the heat? You may not have noticed, but it's freezing in here!"

Daria glanced at the bathroom door as they made their way out into the rest of what was obviously a full suite. "Uh, I'm not sure the heat's a good idea," she said. "Not until we've had a chance to call animal control, anyway."

"Say what?!"

"Coffee first," Daria said, placing her hand on Jane's shoulder. "Return of escaped zoo animals second."

The door opened into a lushly furnished den that looked like it had been hit by the same tornado as the previous room. The lush furnishings were, for the most part, all turned upside-down. Couch cushions were scattered around amidst empty bottles and food containers, most of them having once contained alcohol and junk food respectively. A trail of dirt - or what the women hoped was dirt - was spread along the far side of the room, ending and beginning in areas of the suite that they couldn't see from their vantage point. Every lamp that had been in the room plus what seemed to be a few extra were all in a jumbled pile in one of the room's corners.

A wide-screen TV sat in a large entertainment center that seemed to be the only item of furniture that hadn't been tossed about and played some inane children's cartoon that Daria didn't immediately recognize. The sound was muted, for which both women were thankful. The sound of their own feet scraping across the ground was bad enough on their headaches as it was.

As they made their way to the kitchen, Jane pointed at the wall they were passing. "What the hell is that?"

Daria looked up to see that someone had smeared whip cream across the wallpaper. It had melted somewhat, but the chill in the air had kept it in good enough condition that she could recognize her own pitiful artistic styling amongst the random blobs and lines. It suddenly came to her exactly what she had been trying to draw.

"It's, uh," she said, then swallowed hard. "It's supposed to be a herd of beautiful wild ponies running free across the plains."

Jane doubled over into laughter that gradually turned into a coughing fit. "Oh, jeez, Daria," she said once she'd collected herself. "Next time, just ask me and I'll draw it for you, okay? Kudos on the choice of medium, though . . . that's just inspired."

Jane's soft chuckling lasted all the way into the kitchen, where Daria dug the fancy-looking coffee machine out from a sea of liquor bottles. Unlike the ones she had seen in the bathroom, all of the current containers she was reaching past were fifths and half-gallons, many of which still had dredges of alcohol left in the bottom.

While Daria filled the machine and started the brewing process, Jane pushed trash out from in front of the refrigerator door and opened it to peer inside.

"Whoa," she breathed.

Daria's heart sank into her stomach. "Oh, now what?" she said.

"Maybe you better look for yourself."

Slumping her shoulders and shuffling over, Daria leaned down next to Jane and looked in to see tray upon tray of small round bits of white topped by pieces of pink meat and wrapped in some kind of wet, green material. Both women stared at it for a few moments before Daria realized what she was looking at.


"Seems like it," Jane said. "But look at all of it! Who would buy this much sushi?"

Daria shrugged. "Maybe it's for the penguin."

"Penguin?!" Jane stared at her friend as her jaw dropped. "Is that what's in the bathroom?!" Before Daria could answer, Jane was gone, saying, "Oh, man, I have got to see this!"

Daria closed the refrigerator door and returned to the coffee machine. Taking the pot from its customary spot, she placed a mostly clean mug underneath the stream of hot liquid that had finally started pouring out and listened to the sound of honking and laughter coming from the other room. By the time Jane had returned, she had collected about half a cup of coffee, which she handed to the other woman as she came back to the kitchen.

"Thanks," Jane said as she accepted the cup. "It's like Wild freakin' Kingdom in there! Where did we get a penguin?"

Daria stared intently at the refrigerator door and didn't answer. The ghost of a memory was tickling the back of her brain, but she was having difficulty snatching it up and pinning it down. "There's someone else here," she said distantly.

"Are they the ones who gave us a penguin?" Jane asked casually as she carefully sipped her drink.

Setting her own quarter-filled mug to the side and putting the coffee pot back in its place, Daria swiftly left the room. Surprised by the sudden departure, it took a few second for Jane to catch up with the other woman as she swept into the suite's second bedroom.

Jane nearly ran into Daria's back, then stepped to the side to see a woman, nude except for her panties, laying on the bed. The first thought that crossed her mind was that the naked woman could be suffering from frostbite or worse, but the sudden wave of heat that washed over her disabused her of that notion. Where the rest of the suite was a meat locker, the bedroom Daria and Jane had just entered felt like a warm summer day.

A light glisten of sweat lay across the third woman's body, and both Daria and Jane could feel perspiration starting to stand out on their own foreheads. The source of the warmth was readily apparent as two space heaters sat nearby and hummed quietly to themselves.

Daria cleared her throat. "Jennifer?" she called. "Are you awake? Burnout?"

Jane started as she suddenly recognized the woman sprawled out on the bed. Jennifer "Burnout" Burns was a fellow student of Jane's at Boston Fine Arts College, a state of affairs that still boggled the hell out of her. When they had all lived back in Lawndale, neither she nor Daria had ever suspected that Burnout was an extremely proficient artist in her own right, specializing in intricate welded sculptures.

But as surprising as that had been, neither woman would have expected to find the blonde sharing a suite with them, especially not practically naked in an unlocked room. It just wasn't the sort of situation one expected to find themselves in with casual acquaintances.

After Daria called out a few more times, Burnout finally started to come around. Her green eyes snapped open and swiveled around as she took in her environment. Stiffly she lifted her head and stared straight at Daria and Jane with an odd look on her face before she casually placed an arm across her breasts.

"What," she rasped, "the fuck?"

"Oh, good, you're alive, too," Daria said, relieved. "And we're still trying to figure that out ourselves. Do you remember anything about last night?"

Burnout looked to the side for a moment, then shook her head. "Clothes?"

The three of them looked around the room, but didn't see anything. Unlike the rest of the suite, Burnout's bedroom appeared to have been spared the savage ravaging of the previous night, and none of her belongings seemed to be stored away in the closet or underneath anything. Burnout pulled the sheets from the bed and wrapped them around herself as Jane turned off the space heaters and Daria opened the bathroom door.

"Found them," Daria said. "And we have yet another mystery guest to sign in."

Jane and Burnout moved into the room with her. Though the bathroom was spacious enough, it was still a bit of a squeeze with four people, especially when one of them was laying spread-eagle on the floor and covered with a mountain of chewing gum packets, both opened and unopened.

Jane reached out with her boot and gently nudged the figure's leg and got an immediate response. A skinny blonde man sat bolt upright, scattering gum everywhere, and screamed out very loudly and very distinctly, "COCKS! COOOOCKS!!!"

The three women jumped back at the outburst, but relaxed instantly when the saw who it was.

"Dammit, Ted!" Jane said. "You scared the shit out of us!"

Ted DeWitt-Clinton blinked at them through one lens of his glasses, which were skewed across his face. Like Burnout, he was one of their old classmates who had ended up in Boston. In his case, he and Daria attended Raft College together, though they were also just acquaintances despite the fact that they had dated briefly in high school.

"Oh, hi!" Ted said, depressingly cheerful as he pulled his glasses down into their proper position. "Um, I was having a nightmare about being attacked by chickens," he said.

The three women glanced at each other, but didn't say anything. They all knew him at least well enough to know the Freudian implications of what he had shouted, even if he still continued denying it to himself.

As she and Jane reached down to help him up, Daria asked, "Do you have any idea why you would be in here with Burnout in the other room?"

Ted scratched his chin for a moment, snapped his fingers, then dug through the heap of gum at his feet until he came up with a crumpled garbage bag.

"My gum!" he exclaimed. "I was bringing it in here to put it in the bathtub for safekeeping while we were . . . " His expression suddenly became distant as he lost the train of memory. "Fish," he added. "Something about fish?"

"Sushi?" Jane prompted.

"Yes, that's it!" Ted yelled eagerly as Burnout thumped back against the bathroom wall.

"Crap," the blonde woman said. "Last night, you two called me up," she said, indicating Daria and Jane. "I don't remember much else after that, but I do remember that all four of us got to talking about these sushi places where you-"

"-eat the food off of nude women!" Jane and Daria finished with her. "And we managed to talk you into that?!" Jane asked incredulously.

Burnout frowned. "Actually," she said, "I think it was my idea."

"Right, right!" Ted said, his face clearing. "I remember now! We were getting all set up and I decided to keep my gum in here while we ate, but I must have passed out on the way to the tub and spilled all of it!"

"Okay, so, everything makes sense then," Jane said with a nod.

Daria glared at her. "No, everything does not make sense!" she said. "Where did we get the sushi? And the gum? And this hotel room? And the penguin?!"

"Penguin?" Ted and Burnout said in unison, but Daria cut them off with a sharp movement of her hand.

"Not important!" she told them. "For some reason, the four of us got extremely drunk and ended up tearing through a very expensive suite. Now, even putting aside the fact that we couldn't have possibly afforded to set things up like this in the first place, how in the world are we going to afford paying for the repairs and cleanup?!"

"Ditch out?" Burnout suggested.

"Get jobs at the hotel?" Ted posited.

"Use the huge gobs of cash that I just found in my coat pocket?" Jane offered.

Daria squeezed the bridge of her nose between her thumb and index finger. "None of that is exact- wait, what?"

Jane looked around at the other three, her eyebrows almost reaching her hairline and her mouth started to twist with oncoming incredulous laughter. Wadded tightly in her fist was a bouquet of hundred dollar bills.

"Are those real?" Ted asked as they pressed in around her to get a better look at the money. "Wow!"

"Of course they're real," Daria breathed, wide-eyed. She looked up at Jane. "The gas station."

Jane's jaw dropped as everything about the previous night came flooding back. "The gas station!" she repeated. "Of course! The lottery ticket!"

"You won the lottery?" Burnout asked.

"We won the lottery!" Daria and Jane screamed, then hugged and started dancing around in a circle. "We won the lott-er-ee!" the sang tunelessly. "We won the lott-er-ee! We won the lott-er-ee!"

Burnout and Ted were quickly swept up in the dancing circle, Burnout trying to join in while also keeping her sheet wrapped around herself and pull on her clothes at the same time. Laughing and skipping, the four of them ran into the living room and proceeded to kick the mess around them into a further state of disarray. It didn't matter. As soon as they had found out that they had won around $750,000, Daria and Jane had drained out their bank accounts for a wild night on the town, and there was still plenty left to pay for the damages. All that money would be replaced and even more would be coming as the lottery payments started rolling in each month. Everything was-

"WAAAAAAIIIIIT!" Daria shouted, causing everyone to stop mid-frolic. "Okay, everything else I get now, but . . . where in the hell did we get that penguin?"

Ted looked at Burnout, Burnout looked at Jane, and Jane shrugged at Daria. "Who cares?" the newly rich artist said. "We won the muthafucking lott-er-EE! Whoo!"

Somewhere else, miles away, a lone man walked the cold streets of the city holding a leash in one hand and a collar with a tag that said "Tux" in the other, his plaintive cries echoing out into the brisk morning air.


Roland 'Jim' Lowery

March 13, 2010

Author's Note: Hey, don't do this often, do I? Anyway, to somewhat explain the oddness of this story, it was created as part of a writing challenge on the Paper Pusher's Message Board in which the story had to take place after Is It College Yet? and had to include all of the following:

1) A penguin.
2) Jane saying "I told you. 11:00 AM on move-in day. Those crayons were useful."
3) A background character from Lawndale High.
4) A cup of coffee.
5) A reference to Freud.
6) Chewing gum.
7) Depilatory wax.
8) Sushi.
9) The line, "A herd of beautiful wild ponies running free across the plains."
10) A bidet.