Chapter 20&3/4ths: Bubbles Burst (Beej)

Published on 8 June 2023 at 00:15

I spend my morning in the usual way, partially lost in the numb rut of repetition. Get dressed, check. Brush my teeth, check. Stretch and do a few karate drills, check. By the time I was ready to eat breakfast and make some tea, the numb feeling was going away, being replaced once again by the anxieties of the day.

 

Not good, this is not good.

 

The panicked voice in my head, I almost didn’t recognize it as my own. I worked quickly to quell the frightened voice. I stoically stirred my tea, aimed to get back to being calm, to being centered. My routine and my exercises always help with that.

 

As soon as my heart rate dropped back to a normal pace and I suspected that I was going to be okay for a while, a loud crash sounded outside my door. It shook in its frame as if a giant were knocking on it in a panic. After the crash came the cursing, and then I knew for certain who was on the other side. I ran the short distance from my table to the door and, after undoing the deadbolt, I flung it wide open.

 

“Beej, what the hell is wrong with you? Why are you locking me out? I came in here with a full head of steam, I could have gotten hurt!”

 

I decided not to point out that simply learning how to knock was not only good manners, but it also could have saved him from this particular bump too. However, I knew that there was no point. JamesyBoy treats my home like Kramer treats Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment, and I was used to it. Hardly a day went by since we met that he wasn’t barging in, unannounced and sometimes uninvited. Whether it was to steal some food, update me on the most recent plots he’s uncovered, or just to hang out, he was always here. And I never felt the need to lock the door before, but that was until last Friday, the day of the incident.

 

Friday was the cumulation of everything, it was the entirety of the iceberg, not just the tip. JamesyBoy and I were working the missing pets cases, there were so many of them by that point that I could hardly keep them straight. Bunnies gone in a puff. Fish out of water. No matter what people had, they were disappearing, and quickly too. Then, just as suddenly, they started to reappear.

 

The pets were back, but they weren’t the same as before. Not all of them were, how do I even phrase this? Not all of them came back whole.

 

One of the first pets that had gone missing was a puppy named Bubbles, which belonged to a girl named Bonnie. She had been missing a week and a half now. The puppy, not the girl. Bubbles had disappeared from the backyard, her collar and ID tags left laying empty on the lawn only a few moments after Bonnie had let her out. We’d searched all over town but we couldn’t find her. The new cases were piling up by the boatload and we put Bubbles on the back burner. Now, as explained by a frantic call we received from a horrified Bonnie, Bubbles was back. Only back. The front of the puppy was missing entirely. The back legs though had hopped their way home, stabilized by a still-wagging tail. Where the belly should begin, there was only a carefully sutured stump, the fur cauterized and the burnt to the color of a Halloween sunset. It looked like Bubbles had burst. I went to see it for myself, and it was exactly as she had described. I called JamesyBoy and asked him what we should do. Even though it was over the phone, I swear I could hear him shrug before he answered, telling me with an even tone to just charge her half price and to put the collar around the butt. Our work was done there, he had something to show me back at HQ that was more important. I gulped.

 

*****

 

By the time I got to HQ, JamesyBoy was frantically pacing in front of our fort. He perked up when he saw me and waved beseechingly for me to hurry it up. I jogged the last few steps and followed him swiftly inside. 

 

Waiting for me on our tree stump table was a large stack of haphazardly stacked photographs and printouts, threatening to topple over at any moment. I walked over and grabbed a handful. When I saw what was on them, I saw we had a handful of trouble.

 

“JamesyBoy, what the heck is going on here?”

 

I flipped through the stack, one terrible picture after another. I shook my head to clear it, to try to shake some sense into the situation. I was at a loss for words. All of the animals, they were back. Not all of them were simply halved, however. Some of them were victims of addition, instead of subtraction or division. There was a cat that had reappeared, but instead of a tail, it had a slithering, pissed off python wagging back and forth from its hindquarters. The hamster who had vanished from his wheel was back, only now it had a thousand clattering and clicking footsteps as it ran, trying out the speed of its new set of centipede legs expertly stabbed into its scabbed and stapled underside. When it had tired of running, it used its new sickly feet to cling to the underside of the wire cage mesh, waiting for its chance to get out.

 

I felt fainter the more I rifled through the pictures. There was a goldfish that had mangy, knotted fur poking out in tufts along its streamlined body. Between its two bulbous bulging fish eyes there sprouted a pair of bent black whiskers. I flipped to the next one. A missing turtle was now back in his habitat. Of course now it had twisted feathers of various lengths and colors protruding from the intersections along its shell. It’s withered head was poking out, a sinister amalgamation of a hooked beak, curved with evil intent; beady, bloodshot eyes buried beneath a mass of mole-like feelers. Sharp looking talons poked out haphazardly from the ends of rodentia shaped feet. The next one was simply a parakeet with human teeth. The gleaming smile was enough to send a record-length shudder down my spine.

 

I set the pictures down. They felt like they weighed over a hundred pounds. I sat down too, doing so hurriedly before I fell. Everything was spinning. Nothing seemed real.

 

“JamesyBoy, what in the hell do we do now?”

 

He set his jaw and fixed me with a stare that was deadly serious. “I already talked to Elizabeth. I think it’s time we went to Jim’s Pet World.”

 

*****

 

Even though the store had been shut down about a decade ago, Jim’s Pet World was still a hotbed of animal activity, albeit not the kind that you usually want to bring home and love. As soon as JamesyBoy wedged his crowbar into the soft and rotted doorframe, we already heard numerous pockets of skittering critters scatter on the other side. He kicked the crowbar a few times, wedging it even deeper into the fetid, smelly woodwork of the sealed entrance. He turned and nodded to me. “Ready?” I confirmed that I was by holding up the small plastic cat carrier in my hand and returning the nod. With a silent 1, 2, 3, JamesyBoy pulled and bent the door off of its rusted hinges and stepped into the darkness. I hesitated for only a moment, and then followed him into that pitch black space that was reverberating with a cacophony of raucous creatures.

 

*****

 

Half an hour later we emerged back into the dying daylight. The carrier was now considerably heavier and we were both covered in a considerable amount of scratches. JamesyBoy pulled out his phone and read a message. “She’s ready for us.”

 

*****

 

Once again at HQ, we were ready for the next stage in the makeshift plan that was coming together quite quickly. Elizabeth had a knack for technology that rivaled JamesyBoy’s knack for  making crap up. Put those two things together in a way that makes sense, which happened to be my strong suit, and the plan comes together and it fits like a glove. We were definitely going to get to the bottom of this.

 

“Aha!”

 

With a small shout of triumph, Elizabeth held aloft in the air a dime-sized concoction of metals and wires. She smiled as she looked up at her Frankenstein-ian creation. It was a (hopefully working) tracking device.

 

“Is that as small as you can make it?” JamesyBoy asked. A fair question, considering where it needed to go. When Elizabeth consented that it was, I tried to eyeball its size.

 

“Do you think we should give it to it orally? Or…the other way?” I asked her. JamesyBoy rolled his eyes and elbowed her in the side. “Why is that always your first question, Beej?” he asked sarcastically. Instead of pointing out that I've literally never asked that before, I just pressed on.

 

I won’t bother with the details of the rest of that discussion, but at the end of the hour, let’s just say that that device was snugly inside of our captive in the carrier.

 

“So what now?”

 

I asked the question to nobody in particular, but in these situations we usually deferred to Elizabeth’s suggestions. On this, she simply shrugged. “We just wait.”

 

We spent the next few hours taking pictures with our new ugly furry friend, always being careful not to get close enough to touch it. Or get bit. Again. We posted the pictures of our ‘new pet’ all over our social medias and then we did what Elizabeth predicted we would do. We waited.

 

After our social media blitz, we decided to step out to the nearby Fuddruckers for burgers. By the time we were finished eating a few beef monstrosities, we returned to find an empty carrier. We all shared a silent, knowing look. It was show time!

 

Elizabeth whipped out an old Zune mp3 player that she had rigged to track her homemade device. After a few minor adjustments, she picked up the trail and we started to follow it. We leapt from the table and went across the floor. After a few steps, like a meatball when somebody sneezed, we went right out that door.

 

*****

 

We all had our own theories about what was going on, but all of those went out the window when the hybrid FrankenPets showed up. Now, as we approached the place where the beeping red dot had halted, we knew for sure that we knew absolutely nothing. The trail ended in the worst place imaginable. It ended in Hell.

 

Well, okay, maybe that’s dramatic. It isn’t the actual Hell, I’ll give you that. It’s pretty damned close though. The building we were at was once called Pro Pet Hotel, but most of the letters had fallen or been smashed out, leaving only a dimly lit Pet H el. It had started as a luxury dog kennel, but quickly shut down and found new management. Even though the new owners had allowed the sign to fall into a sorry state of disrepair, the doors and windows were quickly replaced with thick, state-of-the-art, tinted accoutrement.

 

The building never opened to the public. It never publicly disclosed what it was. It just took up shop and took over the space. Often you could see unmarked white vans and large blank box trucks coming and going and driving in concentric circles in the spacious employees only lot.

 

We stopped and hid in some brush on an overlooking hill, hoping that we were out of range of the cold, unblinking cameras that were mounted and rotating on the sides of the curious building. Although the entire bricked structure was littered with movement, it all felt oddly devoid of life. As if the place had no soul. We shared another glance and then nodded. We knew what to do. We would wait.

 

We separated at that point. No big goodbyes. No see you laters. We just smiled and went our separate ways, each of us knowing that we had some time to kill before our hairy buddy would be returned to us, albeit changed. If I had known then that that was the last time we would all three be together, I would have said something. Anything. I would like to think that I would have taken that time to tell them how much I loved them, how much I needed them. Not just for missions, but for life too. But, I didn’t know. So I didn’t say anything.

 

*****

 

Oh man, we are so screwed! This is not good.

 

The anxious voice in my head was back in full force. I tried to suppress it, shaking my head as if the physical movement could jostle the thoughts out and away. 

 

“You okay bud?”

 

I looked up and barely contained a surprised gasp, my heart rate went through the roof again. I had forgotten that JamesyBoy was here, the involuntary slow-motion replays of Friday’s events and my own intrusive, anxious thoughts had swept me out into my own world. I was back now.

 

“I’m fine, thanks. What’s going on?”

 

He looked me over once more, a concerned look playing about his eyes and the corners of his mustachioed mouth. Whatever his thoughts were, for once he left them thankfully unspoken. He shrugged in a resigned way. “Just checking in on you. Before I was so rudely locked out, I was coming to see if you wanted to go get a big juicy gyro from Steve’s.”

 

I hardened my resolve, my face and my heart. A big juicy gyro from Steve’s wasn’t simply a succulent salty snack. It was a code, one we had developed just in case we had been bugged by the same people who robbed our pet carrier. The phrase meant that it was go time, like your digestive system would say after getting a Number Five Gyro Blaster Combo. I nodded. “Sounds delicious,” I said, carefully emphasizing the second word. The mission was a go.

 

Other than a stop at JamesyBoy’s place for supplies, we made a speedy beeline for the Pet H el. As we walked, JamesyBoy kept nervously patting his back pocket.

 

“Don’t touch that too much, it’s not safe.” He clucked his tongue in response. “Worry about your own ass, Beej. I can touch mine as much as I want.” His words were what I expected, but I was relieved when I saw that he had stopped fidgeting with his pocket. I wiped a large amount of sweat from my brow.

 

This is bad, this is bad, this is bad. What if it’s too late? BJ, what if it’s already too late? They got her on Friday, what if it’s already too late? We are screwed, we both know that. We are -

 

I let out a sharp cry and fell to my knees, clutching at my temples and squeezing my eyes tightly shut to try shielding myself from my own intrusive thoughts. It was all too much, the world was crashing down around me. I can’t go on, I can’t do this. I can’t believe we lost her.

 

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Comments

Some Dude
9 months ago

Franken pets, Nazi schemes, tracking devices: that's what I'm taking about! I wonder what this big departure from the original series is about? Idk but I likes it!