Neon had never seen anything like it before. The shack sat comfortably in its seat on the dusty desert plain. A weather-bruised billboard lounged on top, teasing him with its picture of a tropical paradise he knew no longer existed. A thin rocking chair slid back and forth with the wind on the shack's front porch. A sign in the door read in simple, scrawled-out letters Petey's Pink Parlor. A gut feeling told Neon this had to be it. The question was, what the heck was it? He darted ahead to slam open the screen door and confront whatever was inside.
Immediately Neon was flanked on all sides by flamingoes. The brightly-colored birds stared down at him as lawn ornaments, flamingo figurines, postcards with flamingoes, and a handful of life-size pink flamingo marionettes. He carefully took hold of one of the puppets and began playing with it. While he jerked the rod back and forth, the strings jolted and spun, causing the bird to be brought to awkwardly-moving life. Neon called his sister over, and the two began fighting with their respective flamingos. A rough wheeze finally caught their attention.
"I see you be likin' my collections, then?" The store owner chuckled as he examined the children. One of his eyes drifted off slowly, and Neon could swear there were bits of straw stuck in his beard. "Oh, it's okay. I ain't one o' them grumpy grown-ups, you can play with those as much you like." The owner turned to face K1 and the others, who were more cautiously inspecting the flamingo merchandise. Charles took note of a flamingo bobblehead to purchase later. "Now what can I do for you fine gentlemen?"
"We're here for the tournament." K1 spoke in measured tones. He dared not look around the room; it was far too much pink for him to take in. "We're from the Order of the Cockroach, and this-" His steel hand extended to the boy playing with a flamingo puppet- "-Is our contestant." The store owner gave K1 a look-over with his decent eye, and laughed heartily.
"Now, now you tellin' me this is your contestant? Lordy, they jus' get younger ev'ry year, don't they? Well then, I guess you all need to be takin' the ride down there, am I right?" The owner motioned to a photo booth banished to the corner of the shack. A thick iron door was placed onto the side, which the owner then heaved open.
Everyone crammed into the uncomfortably damp booth. K1 and Charles carefully pressed themselves as best as they could against the smooth walls to give the others room. Brother Franz sidled in next, taking up nearly a third of the booth. Sulfur clutched onto Neon's cloak, while the store owner shuffled in last. As he entered the booth, he slammed the door shut. A red light blinked on, casting a hellish glow on all the occupants and tossing splinters of shadows everywhere. The store owner muttered to himself as he began fiddling with the switches up at the front. A sudden thunk left the store owner with a satisfied smile, and was quickly followed by another.
The gears seemed to literally tumble on top of one another, as each successive thunk grew louder and louder. The booth began to shake, and the booth made a piercing shriek as a series of pulleys came to life again. The booth began to lower, and Neon nudged his sister-
"Look." He pointed up, and Sulfur noticed a rope attached to the booth dangling overhead, slinging shadows in the dim crimson light- the roof was apparently transparent. Sulfur looked to the sides, and yes, she could see the layers of rock as they descended past them. She tried in vain to get Charles' attention, but he was too fixated on the ground. Sulfur followed his gaze to find a thick bright light below them, filling the glass booth with beams of light in every direction. Sulfur buried her head in her hood to shield herself from being blinded, and just as sudden as the light had appeared, it was gone.
All of the occupants cautiously rubbed their eyes in pain, save for the shopkeeper, who merely chuckled "Better watch out for them 'lectric signs." His voice echoed in the boot. "They'll get you real good in the eyes, if you ain't careful. Hell, it make no difference to me anymore, can't see a damn thing no more." He cackled wheezily. "Don't you worry, li'l lady, our stop be comin' up real soon."
The group eventually settled, and began adjusting their eyes back to the darkness. All this time, the booth continued its descent into the shadows, the squeak of the rope now echoing distantly. Somewhere, the tunnel had opened up significantly- who knew how big it was now? Neon watched Sulfur as she stared into the void curiously. He noticed her eyes were different from others; hers were much larger, yet thinner, so that they adjusted to the shadows far more easily than normal eyes. Even when Neon couldn't see his own hand in front of his face, Sulfur's eyes twinkled like twin jade diamonds.
A speck of light interrupted Neon's thoughts. A soft blue light shone through, and it was soon accompanied by another. More and more of these soft blue lights opened up as the booth drew further and further down. Slowly the lights grew brighter, and the ambiguous shapes took on stronger forms. Just behind the booth, a house clung tightly to the edge of a cave wall, its own blue light coming from within. All sorts of wooden beams connected it from the wall to another house and back again, so that every single blue light was part of this network. The houses became sharper and more detailed as the lights gathered and shone brighter.
Most of the wall-homes seemed to be in poor condition and in bad need of repair. Extra spots of light indicated where holes in the roofs had appeared, shingles snapping off and twirling into the abyss below. Balconies jutted out of each of the homes, where the clutter strewn about was the only indicator that anyone still lived there. Folding chairs were exceedingly popular, as well as pom-poms and fake hands made out of foam and cardboard. Confetti twirled about the caverns, lazily drifting towards the ground floor.
Below the booth, the wall-homes, and the confetti lay an even brighter set of lights. Two massive spotlights swung recklessly back and forth, occasionally lending light to the massive throng below. All of the people seemed to be headed towards a large coliseum, where even more lights attempted to blind Neon and the others. Whatever the coliseum had been used for in olden days, it clearly still had a purpose. Neon had to bite his lip from excitement as the cheers from the coliseum roared in the booth. An announcer could be heard narrating the events down below as the loudspeakers strung all around echoed his smooth voice.
"Welcome all, to the 41st annual Chosen One Championships!"