Virtues and Vices
Virtue died when I came of age. The last of the heroes became nothing more than a bronze statue in the king’s tower of legends. Afterward, the king raised the castle’s drawbridge and cowered behind his padlocked doors. Mayhem soon slithered out of the tunnels and for twenty years, villains ruled the boroughs.
Man, those were the days.
A gal like me could pull a job without a hitch. I didn’t have to worry about any do-gooder stopping me, knocking me down, and putting me in cuffs. I was living the easy life, and when I joined forces with a partner, it got even easier. Each evening I would strum my guitar in some smoky blues bar while my old bass singer, Megaphone-Man, sang and hypnotized a roomful of unsuspecting hotshots. We were a deceitful duo, harmonizing our rendition of Shake Your Money Maker. Low profile, in and out of a heist before they suspected they had granted us the codes to their treasure rooms. It was paradise in a pitiless city.
Now –consarn it– heroes are everywhere. They’re in the steeples, alleyways, and even in the sewers. I swear each one wants a piece of me. I can’t spit without hitting one of these virtuous victors. A day doesn’t go by without some minstrel caroling a new name, but with the heroes’ same old style. Grab, punch, and throw ‘em in the dungeons. They don’t care who gets hurt. When I was working, nobody got hurt. You hear me? Nobody. But these so-called Defenders of the Realm know nothing but bloody noses and cracked heads. Let me tell you, blood hasn’t touched my hands. And right now, all I got on my hands and around my body is duct tape, strapping me against this pole. I’m a giant mummy in silver wrapping, and there’s this two-foot, pink bunny stuck between my bosoms, facing me, staring with woven eyes, stitched like posies.
“Every hero came out of nowhere. All shiny and bushy tailed,” I say, “And yeah, especially you, Super Bunny. You’re not fooling me with those floppy ears and black button for a nose. So cough it up. What’s your act? I can smell a hero twenty miles away.”
“Precisely the reason we are in this predicament,” Bunny says.
It’s odd when he talks, a stuffed toy moving his mouth without batteries, and his bass voice soothing like Megaphone-Man. But Bunny’s voice can’t spellbind. Our entrapment proves it. This long-ear, scampering rodent is one of those celestial creations like pixie dust and twinkle-eye princesses, all idealistic and impractical for the real world.
“Heroes interrupted my line of work,” I say. “So what do you expect a gal to do? I have to earn a living. So when Evil Weasel called, I said sure. I’ll help you get rid of the heroes in this realm. Scare them off. That’s all. Hunting heroes are a cinch for me. I have no problem sniffing them out. Humans’ sweat smells like onions dipped in sour milk. Villains are a variety of farts and dung. But heroes, they are a sweet pot of honey. Easy.”
“And I?” asks Bunny. The button on his nose dangles by a thread and wiggles when he talks. “What does your microsmatic talent say is my scent?”
“Wet socks,” I say, refraining from giggling, and neglecting to say, linen clean.
I got the number of heroes down to where it became manageable. This rabbit didn’t bother me, but Weasel wanted him out, and a deal was a deal. A mysterious proprietor was paying us, so why not. Evil Weasel is one of those conjuring creatures summoned by mistresses of the night. Their insatiable appetites for gold embedded Weasel’s soul. He’s a scoundrel, and I should have known better than to team up with the likes of him.
I moan, more so from the humiliation than the throbbing pain in my head. Weasel sucker punched me with some wizard staff, the only method he could use to knock me unconscious. It would have killed an average person, but not me. My bones are thicker than the king’s vault.
“I don’t agree with your antics in eliminating your adversaries,” Bunny says. “Nonetheless, I do agree Weasel is evil. He is so evil he taped us together, securing every muscle. Yet he did not wad your mouth, nor clog my ears. Yes, indeed Weasel is evil.”
“Nutter rabbit, it’s bad enough Weasel duped me. But, waiting for my impending doom, tied to an irritating cottontail is beyond torture. I thought rabbits were mutes.”
“I am as mute as you.” Bunny smiles a toothless grin and says, “I’m Super Bunny, created by the hopes and dreams of children. I race about this realm, to defend the innocent, to reveal good by the magic of my heart of gold, and–.”
“The easiest grab I had all month.”
“Yes,” Bunny grumbles, “hunting is your one good talent.”
“I have other talents.”
“True, twenty or thirty years ago, these binds would have been a bandage for you to pull. Sticky, yet simple. However, regrettably you are,” Bunny clears his throat, “too mature. Do you fancy the concept of retirement?”
“I’m getting out of this,” I say and my stomach grumbles in an agreement. “I’m sore, tired, and I missed lunch. So, I’ll be downright cursed if I’m going to miss dinner. And the first thing I’m going to do is make me some stew. Rabbit stew.”
“Today? Or in the afterlife?”
“Consarn it.” I bulge my muscles, and the sound of ripping tape echoes between my words. “Rabbit stew. Definitely rabbit stew.”
“Cotton,” says Bunny. Free from my chest. He slips to the ground.
“I’m made of cotton. You will not have stew. Simply laundry.” Bunny prances around the storage room, flapping his arms like a flightless bird. All I know is he can run from zero to sixty in a minute, but solely to kids. Otherwise, he’s useless.
“Wait a minute,” I say. “You tricked me, enforcing annoyance to empower my strength.”
Bunny taps his chin. “I heard that could happen, but one cannot completely believe a minstrel. Except in the latest poll. If the people were to keep one villain, they voted for you, not Chill’n Villain or Geek Freak, but the Hungry Huntress. Something to do with your entertaining cannery as a tracker, involving banquets and food fights. Appropriate with your name Hungry, which includes the obvious.”
He pokes my midsection, just above my sword holder, now vacant, allows more of my stomach to droop like over-yeast dough in a bowl. Weasel had eyed my sword, complementing the metal shine. I’ll find him and it’ll be payback time. My stomach growls louder and I lick my lips, wondering what barbeque weasel would taste like.
Bunny snaps his paw behind his back. “Or, they voted for you because you had stolen from the king’s corporate industries and not the peasants.”
“Why have pennies from the straw markets when it’s easier to get millions from the banks?”
“Millions?” Bunny squints. His eyes slant into stitched straight lines. “Then why would you take this contract?”
“None of your bunny business,” I snap, hoping to discourage him. The last thing I need is for this happy-hipper to sigh over my woes.
“Quite so.” Bunny folds his arms and taps his foot. “I surmised Megaphone-Man skipped town with your half of the contraband.”
“He’s a villain to the core. All villains are.”
“Yes, so minstrels say. But do you know why Evil Weasel sought your assistance in capturing me?”
“True, yet not the answer!” Bunny hops in the air as if winning the king’s lottery. “He is working for my arch enemy who wants me imprisoned.”
“Why? What could you do? Make him die laughing?”
“No, silly Huntress, I whisper to children in peril, to run, hide, fight as a last resort. However, I can’t whisper here. I have to get out. There’s danger.”
Bunny rubs his front paws together like my granny, worried and afraid. He stares at the windows of this warehouse, barred by iron bars across the panes. The city’s smog coated the cracked glass. It distorts the neon lights on the streets into frosty torches. The glimmer allows enough of light to dance on the carcasses of black flies that piled on the rims. Death arrived when they were inches from liberty.
Cinder blocks are our entrapment. Patches of mold decorate the walls. My senses can’t detect any heroes nearby except for Super Bunny. Bunny sprints toward the exit and body slams the bolted door. Dust puffs up from the edges. He backs up and assaults the barrier again, each time a thump. Thump. Thump.
“Consarn it, nutter rabbit. What are you doing?” Of all heroes, this overstuffed fake fur puzzles me the most.
Bunny coughs and hacks a wad of soggy cotton balls.
From the outer walls, a stench of methane waste signals my senses. A villain is near. Yet I could not identify this kind. However, there is an added stink of dog crap. Two villains, and the second I know is Weasel. I grin. It’s payback time. Yum.
Bunny shouts, “I must be free. I know my foes. Evil Weasel and Charlatan Man brought the children here. Weasel is greed, but Charlatan steals children. Sells them.”
“Never.” I crash my fist through the interior wall. Weasel used me to get Bunny, for that monster to get kids. No wonder Weasel bound me. He knew I have not relinquished my entire honor. The wall crumbles to smoke. Chunks of plaster dangle from the bare bones of the ceiling beams. “Zooterkins that feels good.”
Stomps from the stairs alert me. They are rushing in our direction and I’m ready. Bunny dashes first, through my tactic passage, and collides with Weasel. The crook has the body of an emaciated animal with bones that could snap flat for his slithering needs. Brown snarled fur surrounds his face, and a snout, broken more than once from sticking it where it didn’t belong, extends inches from his chin. The two nemeses bang, somersault, and crash to the first floor.
You may ask. What kind of a harebrained idea was that? Super Bunny is a rabbit, harebrained thoughts are the only kind he can have, and the idea makes sense to me. Therefore, I follow and ram Charlatan Man, good and hard in the gut. I don’t know if I surprised Charlatan. He has no face. His features are grotesque, melted skin with a permanent nylon stocking over his head. Minstrels say true evil has no humanity. I believe it is so in this villain. He reeks of toxic waste and the odor paralyzes me. Whispers slither in my mind. Only one villain could do that –minus the body perfume– and it took all my might to not to listen.
“Megaphone-Man, is that you?” I ask.
“Huntress,” he says, “Glad you’re here. I can use a villain like you, and the trophies are a cinch to sell. A hundred gold bars for each urchin.”
My thoughts of a hundred gold bars scramble with a hundred questions: How could Megaphone-Man steal children? What happened to the millions he had stolen from me?
“What happened to your face?” was all I muster to say.
“Mild side-effect in being a rich man, don’t worry about it.”
“It’s pretty hard to ignore.” My stomach churns with his stink. I had endured the smell of villains before, but I can’t tolerate his bad gas.
“Huntress, join me. Keep the heroes at bay.”
“No.” I say between clenched teeth.
“Don’t be a fool. We’re villains to the core.”
Vomit curls in my throat. Unable to speak, I shake my head no.
Charlatan voice stabs and penetrates my mind. He howls, “My Hungry Huntress, I missed you. Come with me. Follow me. We can be together again and this time our job will be child’s play.” He snicker. “Literally, once we destroy the rabbit. Join me, my voluptuous beauty. Join me. Join me.”
“Join you. I need the money. I need to eat. And I am a villain. But I’m not that rotten.” I punch an upward jab on his jaw as my answer. It felt good. My reply released the burden of doubt of right or wrong, and I enjoy the power of justness. Blood and teeth shoot from his mouth and chunks of his brain splats the ceiling. Consarn it, I was a bit too strong. Oh well, at least this ensures the kids’ safety from this villain. Charlatan’s body tumbles down the stairs, landing on Weasel.
Bunny races out of the way, escaping the tangled villains by mere seconds. He’s one quick rabbit, and he waves his pudgy arms in front of a four-foot cage. Behind the bars, a whole mess of kids’ wail and weep.
There’s one kid, a girl I’d say. It’s hard to tell. They all wear ragged pants, jerseys, and loose boots. Hand-me-downs, I know; I had them myself. She kneels before of Bunny, pinning her face against the bars, and nods. I can’t hear a thing, but she starts rummaging through her ponytail. Gadzooks, Super Bunny is pretty slick in his talent. That girl pulls a hairpin and pries the lock open.
Bunny’s doing his job, and I’m finishing mine. I lift Charlatan by the collar to give Weasel a little hello, but the varmint has gone. Nothing’s on the ground, but Charlatan’s blood and yellow teeth, like half-chewed pieces of candy corn mixed with red and green slime. Evil certainly rooted his body.
Screams stab my heart, and I jolt my sight to the center of the warehouse. On the ground, Bunny laid flat with Weasel’s snout digging into his chest. White foam flings through the air, casting scents of fresh linen. Weasel screeches a hysterical laugh and shout, “Heart of gold, gold, gold!”
“The nutter rabbit has no gold. Bunny only did good!”
I tackle Evil Weasel. His spine snaps back and forth, squealing as if in enjoyment. We tumble and I land on my back with a boom with the marauder on top. Fangs lunge at me, snatching my ear. Hot pain sizzles and crackles from the side of my head. But I don’t relent. I squeeze the neck of this pestilence with one hand; squeeze the insidious deception for pieces of silver, tightening my fingers, turning my knuckles white. I want him to know this was not the agreement. Get the bunny and we’ll get rich, he said. More than you ever had with your deceitful duo.
Weasel sputters gray saliva. His eyes widen into black marbles and his head pops off his shoulders. An explosion of ash slaps my wet cheeks. Roaches erupt from the opening of his neck and a lava of brown antennas stream over my hand to Weasel’s hind. The disgust clutches my throat, and I fling the remains into an empty cage.
On the ground, Bunny rests with his chest sliced in the center. The kids huddle and whimper. I don’t know how much they saw, but I fear too much. My knees buckle when I reach Bunny. His face looks okay, for a dolly rabbit.
“Super Bunny? You’re going to be fine. A few stitches, that’s all you need.”
Bunny’s eyes slant. “I’m fading.”
“Hey, get up. The kids need you. You’re their hero. They won’t have anyone if you’re gone.”
“They have someone, a strong, caring champion,” Bunny whispers into the silence. Words trickle in my mind, soft and irresistible. I have to listen, and I realize the soothing voice is his. Take the reins, he sings.
“Hold on there, no way. You listen to me, you little piece of fluff ball. You’re not sticking me with that gig. Get up on those hind legs and start hippity hopping. You’re one of the Defenders of the Realm superhero, not me. You listening?”
Sweat streaks down my forehead. I don’t know what to do. So, I start stuffing Bunny with his cotton, but there isn’t enough to fill his chest. I need more. Cloth from my torn sleeves, dirt, gravel, anything I can find.
“Wake up. Start your yapping. You don’t get to be silent now,” I yell, pressing my hand on his chest, hoping a little magic will seal the rip.
His eyes close to crocheted black exes, and his mouth, a drawn line from a red pen. The insouciant air seizes my lungs, paralyzing my thoughts. I sense nothing I tell you, nothing. As if from the beginning, I sense no hero. Not in twenty miles. Not ten.
None here. The scent of clean linen has disappeared.
The kids cry. Then it happens. Not a beam of light. No one preaches for me to reach out and take a golden sword. I just see it on their dirty faces and snot-filled noses. Half crying, half trying not to, but they’re safe. Muddy patches on the knees and no blood, that’s good. I feel good about this. Consarn it. What did that overstuffed allergy-infested, rodent-family rabbit do to me? I feel . . . I feel . . . maternal.
“Hey,” I say to the lot. “Anyone hurt?”
They stare at me, remaining silent. I guess they expected Super Bunny, not the Hungry Huntress. I don’t blame them. Scared kids, lost in a world without heroes.
“My arm hurts,” cries one child. Then they yap in unison. “I’m hungry. I’m cold.”
Until one squeals enough to pierce my eardrums, “She’s the Huntress!” The squirts jump up and down without the need to use a trampoline, blaring, “Hero Huntress!”
I am sure they are praising me. However, cripes, I find it annoying. I am Gulliver among a bunch of sniffling Lilliputians. They encircle me with their tiny arms reaching up as if I should carry them.
“All right,” I say, “everyone shut the flapper up. You get yourselves home, and don’t be stupid next time. Stay away from strange people—and animals. So, get into your homes, now, before I start getting hungry!”
I roar, not containing my laugh, and they scream right out the door. That sure did the trick. I think I do have a talent with kids. I look up to the ceiling, wondering if this is a gift or a penance. Nevertheless, I’m going to hunt me some villains.
Ponytail kid stays and coos at Bunny, sweet verses that could give you a cavity. She cuddles Bunny and looks at me. “Hero Huntress, I can sew your bunny and make him new.”
“He’s not my bunny, kid.”
She pats Bunny’s head and asks, “Can I have him?” Her eyes are big, and I swear I saw twinkles in those brown pupils.
“Yeah, why not? Go ahead, take him.”
The kid shuffles up on her feet and hugs that rabbit so hard that the dirt I shoved into his chest pops out his cottontail.
“Hey,” I say. “Get outta here before I change my mind and take that rabbit.”
Zooterkins, I’m losing my touch in scaring kids. She turns, patting Bunny’s back, as if he were going to burp. Super Bunny’s head— consarn it, I mean the rabbit’s head—lies on her shoulder like a sleeping dolly. Then, slowly, his head turns and faces me. One stitch eye remains straight, while the other opens into a flower and winks.
Nutter rabbit tricked me again.