I must have missed the episode where Percy met Mr. Smiles, this one opens with him studying a flower that Mr. Smiles gave him. It was the strangest rose I've ever seen, the stem and the leaves, even the thorns (longer and crueler than on any rose I've seen, I swear they were barbed) were pure black and it looked like someone had shredded the leaves so that they looked like tentacles or skeletal branches dangling from the stem. The flower was a tightly closed white bud, but it didn't seem attached very well. Every now and then as Percy examined it the bud would flop to one side as if it were a person cocking his head. He was asking the Laughingstock (I didn't know by the way that she could make a face inside the ship, I thought she only talked through the mouth on the bow!) if she was absolutely sure Mr. Smiles gave them the flower to tell them that they needed to see the Birch King. "M-maybe he just wanted to get rid of me!"Percy stammered. You could tell that this Birch King was the last person that Percy wanted to talk to.
"Now . . . Percy . . ." the Laughingstock told him "You know . . . Janice needs us . . . We have . . . to try."
Percy straitened up, tossed the flower aside, and said "You're right. Set a course f-for the Black Path."
"Percy, we're . . . already there." At that Percy started so hard his pirate hat fell off his head. I almost felt ashamed for laughing at that given how scared he looked, but it really was comical. He leaned over and picked his hat back up asking the Laughingstock if she could just "Sail around the entrance a few times . . ." She got a really stern (no pun intended) look on her face and told him "Percy . . . you have . . . to go . . . inside!" "Y-you're right." he said 'I just - I just have to man up and go face . . ." he cracked up here but there was an edge of hysteria to it. I didn't understand that until later in the show. "S-sorry. I'll have to go f-face Him." Percy buckled his sword on, climbed up on deck and looked at the newest port his ship had brought him to. His knees started knocking at the sight and I don't blame him. Before him was a dense forest with only one very narrow path leading into it. The odd thing about the forest though were the trees. Every tree, both it's bark and it's leaves, were jet black. The trunks were twisted and gnarled, some of them looked like they had faces on them. Faces contorted into a horrified scream or a grimace of pain. Here and there were branches, bare of leaves, that stretched to the sky like skeletal arms. This was a forest bound to give anyone nightmares and I'm not sure I would be brave enough to set foot in it. But Percy did what he had to do.
As usual the second he disembarked the shows Calliope music was replaced with a new theme, the sound of branches scraping together and the wind howling through the trees. Percy began walking down the path, trying very hard to avoid the trees. I nearly jumped out of my seat when one of the bare branches actually reached out and grabbed his arm! Percy, with more courage than I would have credited him for, quickly drew his sword and severed the branch. It started to leak a dark red sap that looked disturbingly like blood. The only signs of fear Percy showed were them switching to his paler head and the extra tight grip on his sword. He set down the path at a quicker pace, swatting aside any other branches that reached out for him with the flat of his blade. I thought he'd reach his goal with ease until suddenly there was a creepy laugh and out of nowhere dropped the Skin-Taker. The only differences between him and the puppet Patrick brought to school last week were that both his eyes stayed in their sockets and the fact that he had a sword. His jaw made that creepy side to side grinding motion as he spoke to Percy.
"You won't get past me Percy. You were never half the swordsman Milo was and you know how he ended up when he crossed me. I'll get to Janice first and GRIND HER SKIN!" Even though I know he's a puppet I winced at the cracking sound I heard when Percy tightened his grip on his sword even more. "I-I'll never let you do that Skin-Taker! Y-you'll hurt Janice over my dead body!" The Skin-Taker let out another wild laugh and replied "Dear Percy, that's the whole idea!" and he slashed at Percy with his blade. They launched into an amazing sword fight, I mean I've seen human actors who did a worse job than these two puppets. Oddly their fighting seemed to acknowledge that they were puppets as they would occasionally slash at each others strings. Surprisingly Percy seemed to be gaining the upper hand, the Skin-Taker was starting to look concerned (well, as concerned as a puppet of a skeleton can look, like Percy he's remarkably expressive but there's only so much you can do with a bare skull). He quickly made a signal with his left hand and Horace Horrible came out of the trees holding a huge black tree branch as a club. For those of you who've never seen the show, Horace's face is completely obscured by a huge bushy mustache except for his huge teeth and a single monocle. He creeps up behind Percy stealthily, but ruins it by giggling maniacally when he winds up to swing the club at Percy's head. Percy dodges to the left and the club connects with the Skin-Taker's head instead, which spins around three times and ends up facing backwards. Horace drops his club and begins to apologize and beg for forgiveness. "Thanks for the help, Horace!" Percy shouts as he runs down the path. Before they're out of the shot the Skin-Taker re-adjusts his head and picks up the club. For a few minutes, until Percy is far enough down the path, all you can hear is a steady "Thwack . . . thwack . . . thwack . . ." and Horace pitifully sobbing "Master! Master!" God, it actually made me feel sorry for the bastard.
A few minutes later Percy bursts into a clearing, and immediately began to cough. Not sure what was up with that. At first I thought the center of the clearing held another tree, very tall with all it's branches bare and reaching for the sky. It seemed to have an odd white bit on the trunk and the moon rising over it. Then it moved. I realized it was a man, or something like a man, in a suit (the white on the "trunk" was the shirt underneath his suit jacket) with multiple branch like arms raised to the sky. What I had mistaken for the moon was it's head pale, round, and faceless. No wonder Percy found some humor in the thought of "facing" him. He looked down at Percy and cocked his head to once side. Despite the lack of face you could tell he was looking straight at Percy and concentrating on him. "Y-your M-m-majesty!" Percy managed to stammer out. "I-I've sailed f-far and wide asking all the Lords and Ladies of the Realm if they know where to find the girl I've b-been looking for. Mr. Smiles, he-he said you would know where Janice is. I know how much you like kids, so I thought maybe you . . ." The man cocked his head to the other side and Percy stopped speaking for a moment. One of the mans branches reached into the breast pocket of his suit and drew out a folded piece of paper that it passed over to Percy. Percy unfolded the paper (don't ask me how they rigged that with a puppet) and found a map. Oddly it looked like a modern city map, not a map a pirate would follow. The camera didn't get a good enough view to tell what city it was, but there was water on the west coast. For all I know it could be a map of Muskegon, although I don't know why they would use that. Like a pirate map X seemed to mark the spot, although the X had a circle drawn around it for some reason. Percy folded the map back up, somehow bowed deeply without tangling his strings, and stammered out thanks before taking off for the Laughingstock at a dead run with the map under his hat. He passed by the spot where his fight with the Skin-Taker had been, he and Horace were long gone but the club was sitting in the path. Once more I think someone exercised poor taste for a kids show in covering the club in red paint.
Percy quickly reached the Laughingstock and boarded grinning ear to ear (that has to be at least the third head I've seen them use for him! If they have a budget that big why are the rest of the puppets and effects so crappy?). "I've found her!" He crowed. "I've found Janice!" "That's . . . great . . . Percy!" She replied. "Soon she'll . . . be with . . . us. Safe . . . and sound!" Percy reached under his hat and retrieved the map. "Set sail for these co-ordinates!" He said, and then the credits rolled before he could let us know where they were going next. According the ads the next show scheduled was "The Jeanette Experience" starring Jeanette Cotton, Tara Tillinghast, Alice Mason, and Alison Mason. I've never heard of those actresses but I might give that show a watch some other time. I've got to prepare for the party at school tomorrow. It's our last day before Thanksgiving break.