6. Day of Doom
Sam checked his watch. 11:45. Bilbo still had not come out, and the masses were, well, so horrible that Sam had no word for it; but it was a Pretty Bad situation. He had to sit there by the gate and open it at Bilbo's signal – what that was he did not know. The hobbits beyond the gates in ragged and broken voices begged him to open up, and this was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.
Beside him with a shovel bent the Gaffer, pretending to garden. He had gotten over the fence (newly installed with electricity) some time ago and had insisted on the shovel, though Sam protested that shoveling was not the Head Gardener's job. The Gaffer ignored him and went on digging nothing. At least it was so noisy that Sam could hear only a few of the Gaffer's words-o-wisdom: "Never get caught in the rain, Sam; water's downright unnatural and what will they say?" And "Keep your nose out of the dirt and no dirt will get in your nose, if you take my meaning." And "Are you listening, Sam, you worthless son?"
"What?" But just then there was an almighty hush and the door opened… again.
^ - ^ - ^ - ^ - ^
Bilbo had stood in the front hall before the looking-glass since 11:21. He was making final nudges and tweaks on his great red turban and traveling cape, as though all eternity were before him. He polished his monocle for the seventh time, then decided his mustaches could use a leetle more wax.
"Are we about ready?" asked Frodo grumpily. He and Flópi stood nearby; Gandalf was stooping.
Bilbo inspected his cuffs for dust. "Yes, yes, just about. What is your hurry?"
"They cannot last much longer." Frodo looked out the window to see several hobbits being caught up in ecstasy and drifting into the sky.
"Funny, isn't it?" said Bilbo with that cackle.
No else laughed, and Gandalf coughed with so much suggestion that Bilbo finally said "Alright!" and turned to the door. But he did not immediately go out. He stood facing the closed entry for seven minutes, humming the Bewitched theme music. Then, cracking his knuckles, Bilbo took up his Eye of the Monkey staff, felt Precious nestled in his pocket, and told Flópi to open the door…
A cheer swelled at his appearance, like the rippling of water when a troll dives into a kiddy pool. Directly upon him shone the noon sun, flashing blindingly on the thousands of jewels and crystals that covered every square-millimeter of his outfit. He was like some sort of Vala of old, terrible and wonderful to see. Bilbo raised his hand as though to silence the cacophony, and then suddenly in mid-raise snapped his fingers, saying loudly, "I believe I forgot something."
Bilbo turned back into Bad End and banged it shut. Back in the hall, he bent over double and cackled.
The other three looked at him. "What did you forget?" Frodo asked, knowing the answer.
"Ohhh, I forget." Bilbo wiped tears from his eyes with a mithril hankie. Five minutes more, and the birthday Baggins recovered. He went out again, flanked by his nephew and two cohorts.
The crowd was not pretty. Bolgers and Grubbs rolled along the fence, insensible to the 200-volt shocks. Brandybucks had fashioned a battering ram, and some Tooks had built a catapult. Even Bilbo's re-appearance did little to calm them; but when it seemed he was not going back into the hole, they all pressed as close as was livable to the fence.
Bilbo threw out his hands. "I will open the gate!" A roaring cheer. "AFTER you all have lined up alphabetically."
So following another twenty minutes pounding of feet and kicking up of dust, Sam unlocked the gate. Never was such a cheer heard again on the earth.
The first comer was Pippin Took, who had shoved his way to the front. Bilbo ordered Flópi to roll out a barrel. "Gimme!" said Pippin, and without waiting, plunged himself into the gift barrel. A moment later the young Took leaped out with a howl and sobbed to the back of the line.
Bilbo held his sides while the next family, the Aardvarks, walked into the yard with blank faces of wonder. "Well, well, who have we here?" Bilbo snapped on a glove and reached into the barrel as the Aardvarks held out their eager hands. "Here's one for you… and you… and you… and no, I don't your welcome."
The Aardvarks looked down: wiggling in their hands were foot-long, oozing, bulging slugs. Shriek and shake their arms as the Aardvarks might, the fat, slimy creatures simply stuck. With dances of horror they ran up the hill to the Party tents. The Gaffer waved his shovel at them.
Meanwhile the Sackville-Bagginses had thwacked their way past the Bracegirdels, Bolgers, and Boffins. When, the day before, they had received their invitation, which had been the size of a posterboard and replete with gold lace, Otho had declared: "If we must go then we must." They would not admit they were curious about their cousin's party. "Curious" was not a word they used.
At their advent, Bilbo called, "Frodo, get their special package." And then flashing his ruby waistcoat, he drawled, "Isn't this a pleasure? Whoda thought you'd be alive to come to my hundred-eleventy birthday? A party without the S-Bs is a dead one, that's what all my Umbar friends always say."
Lobelia and Otho's sneers were so large that their faces twisted completely to one side and left them incapable of speech. So without resistance Bilbo took their gift from a damp sack and put it in Lobelia's fist: the moldy rat.
Otho spluttered like a walrus and waved his walking stick over Bilbo's eye. "You-you outlandish farce of a Baggins! You and your outlandish friends will come to a Bad End, you will see! Then we will have this place – you cannot live forever!" Otho marched up the hill; Lotho finished his glaring duel with Frodo (Lotho lost), and Lobelia threw the rat at Bilbo. The rat fell short as though having hit an invisible barrier, and Gandalf furtively picked it up and popped it into his robes.
^ - ^ - ^ - ^ - ^
The Partygoers were not unsatisfied so far as food went. With blurring speed the cook produced troll steaks and hotdogs, mushrooms and pancakes; sauces were provided for in 2-gallon buckets placed on each table. The dessert was genuine Erebor rock candy, and not a tooth was left unchipped from that repast. Frodo, as host – Bilbo had disappeared after the gift-giving – was left to fill the ale-jugs of the gobbling Hobbits. "Here, Frodo! More ale, lad, hurry up," shouted the whole Shire, until Frodo at last plunged a hose in to the ale-reservoir and turned on a sprinkler. Sighing, he plopped down onto a cow carcass and just in time for Bilbo's reemergence.
"I hope you are all having fun eating yourselves to death!"
"Wheeee!" said a squeaky voice (Pippin).
"Glad to hear it! This evening's entertainment will now begin with Flópi, who will sing for us a traditional Dwarven ballad."
Bilbo gave his ground to the Dwarf, and suddenly some horrible sound, like a rake scraping over a chalkboard, ripped the air. Hobbits fell backwards from their stomachs and tore at their ears.
"Boo! Boo!" said the squeaky voice again.
Some time later the ballad ended. "Thank you, Flópi, thank you!" Bilbo applauded. "Next Kei Kuhn, with dark arts from the furthest East, will burn tires before your very eyes."
While the rancid smell plumed over the eaters, Gandalf sat on a barrel in the back, playing solitaire and loosing. He saw Bilbo give his signal, and so began to throw together his kegs of gasoline, too absorbed in his work to notice a hobbit-lad hop into his jumble of barrels. Flicking his lighter, Gandalf lit the tail of fat rocket and turned to make a dash for it. "Cooool, I'm gonna get the big one," said a squeaky voice.
"No! Don't touch the - "
"And now," Bilbo announced, "Some fireworks, courtesy of - "
An explosion rocked the hill. All the fireworks drenched in gasoline had gone off as one in an up-climbing fireball of blinding, squealing light. In the hot shockwave tumbled the cook and all the food, down away to some other land.
All the hobbits had hit the grass and were unharmed, not counting several soiled pairs of pants. Eating soon resumed. Bilbo afterward made a round about the Hill, telling crude jokes to his guests, and then hopped onto a table, kicking Rory Brandybuck's ale onto Rory Brandybuck. Down to the crumbs, the hobbits had nothing else to do but look at their host.
"My people!" Bilbo extended his right hand. "Fellow citizens of the Shire," he extended his left. "Five score and eleven years ago I was born. Since then I've wanted to say things I cannot say on the podium; but I just wanted to let you know. Then on coming there and back again, I had a dream of living in PEACE and QUIET. Thus I asked not how your shire can torment you; I asked how you can torment your shire." The audience had begun to snore. "I know not of what course others may take; but as for me, give me silence or give me death! And so on an ending note I must say Good-bye. This it the END. A Bad End. I gotta go now… Delenda est Sackvillo!"
There was a magic pop and a hissing of teargas – and Bilbo was gone. As one, the offended guests leaped up, eyes streaming, to roar: "OUTRAGE!"
"Outlandishness!" sputtered Rory to all who would listen. "Outlandishness!"
Down below, the door of Bad End cackled and opened itself, and in the hall burst Bilbo from the air. He gave Precious a flip and popped him into his pocket. "Flópi! Kuhn! Is everything ready?"
Flópi grumbled indistinctively from somewhere. The Dwarf was busy pouring all of Bilbo's more prized junk out of Bad End's endless nooks.
As the hobbit danced around the front hall, Kei Kuhn stepped in with a suitcase. "I'm leaving now, B."
Bilbo stopped dead in his tracks. "What? But you've got to move this stuff out of here."
"Sorry, I've stayed too long already. I told you to kill Flópi and now it is too late." the dark man said sadly. He then shuddered as he set his eyes on Bilbo's staff. "I'm going before the Eye of the Monkey's Bad Luck destroys us all. It's not that I don't like ya, don't think that – but I'd not have come back, except your pay's good." Kei Kuhn extended his hand. Bilbo knew what he wanted and instead clasped it in a quick handshake and showed the expert treasure hunter to the door.
No sooner was that parting made than Gandalf crawled in through the window. "Still going on with your plan, I see." Crash.
"Yes, yes; Flópi, hurry! And don't forget to empty the passage behind the toilet!" Bilbo shoved his silverware into a locked drawer and said to the conjuror, "I'm getting outa the Shire. I think I'll take a long journey, maybe to the Dale casinos, very nice, I've heard." Gandalf coughed. Both knew the fraudulent wizard was not allowed within Dale's city limits. "Then I'll retire somewhere quiet where I can finally start my book."
"I'm leaving him everything. That was always the plan. The S-Bs shall never set their manicured feet in this place. Never! And now I can finally depart knowing they shan't die in peace. Here are the will and deed." Bilbo held out seven copies of each.
"That's all good and well." Gandalf edged toward the jelly jars. "And your ring? You said you'd leave that behind too."
"I recall it very distinctly."
"Well, even if I did say that, I don't care to now. After all, it came to me – my own, my love, my precioussss. I won it fair and sssquare." Bilbo talked rapidly, packing the jelly jars into a suitcase and lugging it towards the front hall.
"I think you've had it long enough – magic rings should be shared, not hoarded for two thousand years. Let it go."
"Oho! Oho! I see; you want it all for yourself, don't you, Gandalf?
"Well – I –well – no – I -- "
The Eye of the Monkey crackled as dangerously as the eyes of its holder. "Then take this – Kreeahh!" Bilbo flipped overhead; Gandalf stumbled back, and they met staff-to-staff, thus beginning a very messy duel. In the end, they called it a draw, having hit Bilbo's stuff more than each other.
"Alright then, here's the Thing." Bilbo carelessly tossed a small shiny ring onto the oliphaunt-skin rug. He met Flópi outside with an over-packed wagon. "No hard feelings," he said, shaking Gandalf's hand. There was a buzz of electricity, and Gandalf's beard sizzled outward from every angle. "So long, schmo. And watch out for Frodo!"
Gandalf watched the old crackpot hop down the hill and the eerie blue flames that rose from Hobbiton afterward.
^ - ^ - ^ - ^ - ^
After Bilbo had vanished and Gandalf had set off all the teargas, Frodo was besieged with questions from foaming hobbits: "Where's he gone, eh? Eh?"
He escaped at last by spraying them with the hose at full power and dashing to Bad End. He found the hole silent and empty, save for Gandalf rattling with the silverware drawer. "So he's really gone. He had been threatening to do it for ages… but I had thought it was just another of his cruel jokes."
"Indeed," Gandalf pretended to straighten a vase. "He left you everything, even his ring – and so, see ya later."
"And where are you going?"
"To do stuff. Oh yes, Frodo, important stuff. Keep it secret. Keep it safe."
"Safe. Right – wait. What?"
But Gandalf had already jumped into his cart and paddled his mules with a yah! The cart flew off, leaving Frodo alone with a mouthful of dust.
Notes: "Delenda est Sackvillo" - Sackville must be destroyed!
Sorry Lincoln and King and Kennedy and Henry and, yes, Cato.