Ruff

Gaark Mugmug—a proud third generation Neanderthal—lives in late twenty-first century San Francisco, where he works as a PI, eats mind altering breakfast cereal, and speed dates zombies on Wednesday nights. He just got offered three million bits to find a mysterious stuffed bunny on a one hundred acre woolly mammoth preserve. Did he land the case of a lifetime or a natural disaster waiting to happen?

Ruff is a comic fiction short story from writer Erik Wecks, who wrote this story at the prompting of his fans on Twitter.

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Ruff
Erik Wecks

This story owes a huge debt to Andy Sherwood. Not only did he suggest some of its major components in a series of tweets, he also saved it from a fate worse than death—a desperately horrid cover. Thank you, Andy! You are more fan and friend than a humble writer like myself will ever deserve.

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I put down my spoon with deliberate care, allowing it to sink slowly into the darkening milk of my breakfast cereal. I have a strong conviction that no breakfast cereal should ever be purple. Inevitably, the color bleeds, turning the lovely white milk an ugly gray. However, the aesthetics of milk never seemed to concern the makers of Purple Peacock’s Perfect Patience breakfast cereal. They have much higher aims for their confection.

It is no longer enough for a modern man to simply consume large quantities of reprocessed corn starches draped in ultra concentrated corn sugars and spray-painted with vitamins of specious effect. Now cereal has to be specially engineered to improve one’s character as well.

I eat Purple Peacock’s for the flavor, a cross between artificial grape and frosting, mixed with the aroma of the Dalai Lama. The way I figure it, the patience couldn’t hurt either. After all, us Neanderthals aren’t exactly experts at delayed gratification. Nope. Our cousins the Homo Sapiens have us beat on that one.

This particular morning it was the clip of hooves in the hallway that caught my attention. Carefully letting go of my spoon, I furrowed my considerable brow as I watched the silhouette of a unicorn approach the frosted glass on the door. The unicorn stopped, reading the arched letters on the other side: Gaarrk Mugmug, Private Investigator.

Still eying the door, I decided the pointy headed horse had stared long enough that it probably wasn’t looking for the typist down the hall. I took my flat, hairy feet off the desk, hid them underneath, and adjusted my fedora. The hat always makes the PI—it’s another one of my strong convictions.

The knock on the door sounded like Mr. Ed trying to count.

Curious what would happen next, I said, “Come in.”

I thought the unicorn might bend down and turn the knob with its teeth, but then I realized the horn wouldn’t let that happen. Instead, it stood up on its hind hooves, gripped the door handle with its fore-hooves, and awkwardly twisted. Once the door was undone, it hastily straightened and nudged the door open with its muzzle.

Unicorns are supposed to be white.

This one wasn’t.

Instead of simple purity, the unicorn standing on my worn out, second hand Persian rug carried a slightly pinkish cast and a bubblegum colored mane and tail.

Her tail twitched.

She looked uptight about something.

“Can I help you?” I tried to make my voice sound as reassuring as possible. It’s not all that possible.

“I’m looking for Mr. Mugmug.” The sonorous bass of his voice stuck out at a bit of a right angle to the metallic silver highlights of the mane.

Startled, I pushed the hat up on my head a little and sat back in my chair. “Well, you found him.” Surreptitiously, I leaned to the side and did a spot check before I added, “Sir,” and then, “How can I help you?”

The unicorn caught my glance and turned his ears forward, letting out a little snort of disgust before continuing. “I’m looking to hire a private investigator.”

A Homo Sapien might have been embarrassed. Neanderthals don’t embarrass easily. “Then you’ve come to the right place. I’m Gaarrk. How can I help?” I asked, meeting his eye.

It was the Unicorn’s turn to be surprised. I had seen the look before. People expected a Neanderthal to be drooling on the floor, with a beard in desperate need of trimming. My clean-shaven face and quick eyes didn’t meet their expectations.

If they recognize my heritage, they often choose short simple words and speak loudly, at least until I speak.

The unicorn recovered quickly. “May I sit?”

“Of course.” I gestured to the one chair in my office not covered with old newspapers, cigar boxes, or sub sandwich wrappers. I didn’t offer to get it for him. I was too eager to see him in action.

The fastidious unicorn snorted again as he stood up on his hind legs. He ducked a little to avoid the revolving ceiling fan and gently nudged the chair forward toward my desk. He sacheted around it before putting himself upright in the chair.

“Before we begin, may I ask a question?”

“You may,” said the unicorn crossing his back legs and resting his forelegs on them.

“Why?”

“Why what?”

I thought my question had been obvious. “Why a unicorn?”

“Why not?”

“Well, I guess I would just think there are too many drawbacks.”

The Unicorn nodded and whinnied a little. I guess it substituted for a laugh. “I get that a lot. Really there aren’t as many as people might think. Mostly, just fine motor skills, which were never my strong suit when I had a human body anyway, and now I just hire them all out. While we’re asking awkward questions, natural or altered?”

“Natural, third generation.”

The unicorn sighed. “I can only dream.”

I didn’t bother pointing out that unicorns were a fictitious human invention, while Neanderthals had at one time actually roamed the planet.

“I wanted to be a Pegasus, but my scientists haven’t yet perfected the wings.”

I nodded.

The unicorn smiled wickedly. “But I’ve bought my way around that as well.”

I didn’t ask. I’d regret that later. “So how can I help you today, Mr…?”

The unicorn looked surprised. “Oh. I’m so sorry. Mr. Twinklehearts. Frilly Twinklehearts.”

I sat up a little straighter. “The Frilly Twinklehearts?”

The pointy horse whinnied again. “There aren’t two of me. That’s for sure.”

Twinklehearts was the founder and CEO of ReMake Me Corp. Remake Me was synonymous with anything to do with genetic manipulation, mind control, brain enhancement, and engineered organisms. There must have been a million products which the average human interacted with on a daily basis that all came from ReMake Me. For one, Purple Peacocks was made by a subsidiary.

Most of the zombie chicks I dated every Wednesday evening got their enhancements from ReMake Me. Zombie enhancements were still all the rage. A whole lot of Sapiens have the itch to turn themselves pasty gray, get some permanent bruises, and overactive drool. Speed dating zombies works pretty well for me. I kinda have a thing for the look, and zombie chicks tend to like my oversized head. In the end, nothing ever comes of it. Things usually go along swimmingly until they find out that my head is mostly shell with not all that much yolk in the middle. Then they inevitably make excuses and move on. That’s OK by me, since they’re usually beginning to smell a little ripe by then.

Anyway, zombie chicks, Purple Peacocks breakfast cereal, genetically engineered sloths, and reconstituted mammoths—all of them came from ReMake Me. Twinklehearts sat at the head of that empire, and he was sitting in my office.

I was momentarily a little intimidated. I hadn’t ever met a trillionaire before.  Then I remembered that no full grown Neanderthal should ever be intimidated by a unicorn. “How can I help?” I asked for the third time in as many minutes.

“Mr. Mugmug, I have lost something, something very precious and dear to me. I would like you to help me find it.”

“What did you lose?”

“My horn.”

I looked at the middle of his forehead where sat a perfectly fine, spiraled unicorn horn. I started to speak.

Twinklehearts interrupted. “No, not that unicorn horn.” He sounded irritated. “Really…” His nostrils flared. “I lost a mechanical stuffed rabbit with a unicorn horn attached to its forehead. It was a prototype, and I would like it back.”

“Ah, I see. And why not go to the police?”

“I did. They showed little interest. The item in question has little monetary value and wasn’t stolen. I want it back for sentimental reasons.”

“Where did you lose it?”

“In my back yard.”

I must have looked a little nonplussed because he continued.

“My back yard is a one hundred acre woolly mammoth preserve.”

“Oh.” I thought for a second. “So you came to me because you figured that a Neanderthal would be the perfect detective to look for a lost item in a woolly mammoth preserve, didn’t you?”

The horse showed its teeth. “It does have a certain poetic ring to it, doesn’t it?”

I crossed my arms. I’d dealt with this kind of voyeurism before. “I’m not interested.”

“Mr. Mugmug, I’m prepared to offer you three million bits for the safe return of my rabbit and its horn.”

With an obscene sum like that on the table, there was only one answer. “How big would you like my loin cloth?”

As soon as Twinklehearts’ clippity-clop disappeared down the hall, I put on my coat. Nothing said  “for sentimental reasons” like three million bits. I had no doubt there was much more to Twinklehearts’ story about his rabbit horn than I had been told, and I wanted to put the pieces together before I showed up at the mammoth pen in the morning. The first thing I did was stop by the The Golden Goose Pawn Shop to see my buddy Lenny. Lenny had to be the most connected man I knew. If there were a marginal rascal, a committed low life, or a downright scoundrel in town, they all did business with Lenny.

The conversation began predictably enough.

“Bwahahaha!” Lenny had a squeaky kind of laugh, with a high pitched voice and a bad Jersey accent to match. “A rabbit with a horn? You mean like a jackalope? Someone’s messing with you, my friend.” He laughed again. “You gotta be kiddin’ me. Ain’t nobody gonna bring me a mechanical jackalope.”

Lenny’s face came to a distinct point at his nose, underneath which he grew a whisker-like mustache. He always wore a green, hand-tied bow tie with suspenders over a striped button down shirt and brown wool pants. His eyes were sharp and twitchy with large black centers.

I didn’t laugh.

It took him a moment to catch up.

“Look,” I said. “I’m getting paid serious bits to track down a stuffed mechanical rabbit with a single white horn.”

“How serious?”

“Like retiring in Vegas and drinking all day in the bar serious.”

That sobered Lenny considerably, and he squinted a little, which worried me. I didn’t quite trust Lenny, especially when it came to bits. “Now, Lenny,” I said with my meanest growl, “don’t you get any ideas. The thing itself isn’t worth any money. My client wants it back for sentimental reasons, OK?” I made sure to emphasize each syllable of the word sentimental, as if by emphasizing it I could convince Lenny it were true. “You just put the word out. Let people know I’m looking for it, and that I’m willing to pay a significant amount for its safe return.”

I could see Lenny’s mind cranking. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye and said, “Yeah, I’ll do that, boss.”

I nodded at him and headed for the door.

I was just stepping outside when Lenny spoke up again from behind the counter. “Hey Gaarrk, if it’s not worth any money, why did you come see me in the first place?”

I shrugged. “Because I don’t believe it any more than you do, Lenny.” I stepped out on the street and let the door close behind me.

Next, I headed over to the Park Branch of the library. It didn’t take me long to find what, or rather, who I wanted. She stood about five foot four and had these wavy blond curls that tumbled down on her shoulders.  She was wearing a gray pencil skirt which made her hips do things that brought out a longing in me for fire lit caves and red meat I’d clubbed to death myself.  She may have worked at the local library, but Polly was no Marian. She wore her white blouse unbuttoned at the top and covered her mouth with blood red lipstick. Yowza!

We had dated once, just after I arrived in town. I’d had a good time, but you know how it is. My first real case came up, and one thing led to another. I never made a phone call to say thank you or ask for a second. When I finally got around to it six weeks later, it felt a bit late. Since then, our relationship had been a little like watching a house cat decide to take on a wild turkey—you didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, but it probably wasn’t going to end well for somebody.

I stepped up behind her, quiet like, while she was standing between tall stacks of real paper books, reading. I spoke, keeping my voice low and deep. “Hey, kiddo. How about you marry me?”

She didn’t even lift her nose a millimeter. “Not today, Gaarrk. I’ve given you my conditions for a second date. Now you simply have to meet them.”

I pushed the hat up to the top of my head.  “Awww, honeysuckle, you know us Neanderthals were never much for memorizing stuff.”

Apparently, I’d said the wrong thing—again.

Polly turned on me and snapped the book closed under my nose with a loud smack. “Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet ain’t stuff, Gaarrk, and it’s not like I’m asking you to memorize the whole thing—just a part of it.”

“All right, I’ll do it. It’s just that none of it makes sense. If you want to call a rose a daffodil, that’s OK by me. Why spend your time fretting about it?”

Polly’s cheeks started to turn blotchy and pink. “Philistine.” She turned and stalked away to the other end of the aisle.

I called after her retreating back, “I think Romeo and Juliet were from Italy, not the Middle East…”

I have my doubts that I will ever understand real girls, especially this one. It’s one of the reasons I date the zombie chicks. They are at least linear in their thinking and perfectly predictable in their behavior.

I took off my hat and followed Polly. Polly was a genius researcher when she wanted to be, and I needed her help today, so I had to make things good, even if I didn’t understand what I’d done. “Polly, what did I say?”

Polly eventually came around—after I made some more promises, all of which I intended to keep when made them, she agreed to help me with my research project.

ReMake Me had its hand in all sorts of stuff. Before I went out to see Twinklehearts’ home, I wanted to have an idea of the kinds of things he might have lost out there. I had no doubt whatever it was had to be dangerous. In the end, I found a bunch of stuff that made me curious but nothing that resembled a reasonable trail of bread crumbs.  Remake Me was into so much stuff it was hard to find the signal in all the noise. Was it significant that a few years back they had purchased three habañero farms? Or maybe I should be looking at their fashion line of short shorts and high heels? What about their investments in mobile DJ companies? I couldn’t make heads or tails of any of it.

“What do you make of it all, Polly?”

“It’s hard to say. Maybe he just lost a rabbit like he said. Maybe he was telling the truth. He wants it back for sentimental reasons.”

“He called it a prototype.”

“Well, maybe it’s an old one. Perhaps it’s the first lab grown unicorn horn or something like that. After all, he does have a thing for mono-horned mammals.”

I shrugged as I stood up. “Maybe. Thanks, Polly.” I gave her a kiss on the cheek, sticking my lips out as far as possible. My big forehead and schnoz made it awkward.

I decided to spend the rest of the day relaxing. There really was no sense worrying about what I couldn’t yet understand. Tomorrow would come soon enough. I had just settled in at The Castro with my bowl full of Pleasantly Peaceful Popcorn with extra Serenity Butter when I got a text message.

Yes, I still use text messaging. I am a dinosaur when it comes to technology. Consider it a little rebellion against the town where I live.

The text message was from Twinklehearts. “The situation has escalated. Please step outside.”

I got up.

Outside the theater, I looked up and down the street. The limousine that greeted me couldn’t be missed—powder blue with huge fins on the trunk and a very long hood. It was already drawing attention from passersby. I would have felt like I was stepping back into the mid twentieth century if it hadn’t been for the fact the dang thing didn’t have any wheels. It just sat there, hovering off the ground. It was the oddest thing I had ever seen. I was considering getting down on my hands and knees to look underneath, but as I approached, the back door opened with a quiet swoosh. I climbed in instead. It wasn’t until the vehicle had already pulled away from the curb that I realized the car didn’t have a driver. That made me nervous. As one who had never taken the time to master the mysterious art of driving in the first place, I always felt proper driving had to be part voodoo. A car doing it by itself, that was pure witchcraft. 

At the next stop light, I thought about getting out. I reached for the door handle just as another text arrived.

“Keep your arms and your head in the vehicle at all times.”

I sat back and tried to relax as the driverless car wound its way through town and across the iconic Golden Gate. We headed north into redwood country.

Twinklehearts’ home sat on a stunning property that backed to old growth redwoods. High on a hill, it looked out over the valley. The road approached the home from below with the woolly mammoth pastures spread out in front. As we pulled in the drive, I got my first look at a herd standing behind twenty foot high electrified wire. I have to confess, I got goosebumps. Whether it was something primal or simply my ancestry coming out, I desperately wanted to get out of the car and walk among them.

Not content in any way to blend in with its surroundings, the home itself did everything it could to stand out. It was painted a bright yellow and designed to resemble a pyramid that had only been partially finished, or had perhaps tumbled over. Then there were the mirrors, which reflected sunlight in all directions and demanded that the home be noticed from several miles away.

As soon as it stopped, I got out of the car. Without any assistance, the door closed, and it drove away.

Twinklehearts ambled down the steps of his ostentatious home. “I trust you had a pleasant trip?”

“I would have preferred a driver.”

“Nonsense. Drivers make mistakes. My hover car does not.”

I decided not to argue the point. Instead, I changed the topic. “You said something about the situation escalating?”

“I’m afraid so. I have reason to believe that my stuffed rabbit is no longer on my property. This makes its recovery all the more urgent and, shall we say, a little more delicate.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. You see, I believe it has escaped into the woods behind. It is very precious to me, and I don’t want anyone else to find it.”

“Escaped? How does a stuffed bunny escape?”

Twinklehearts’ ears twitched, and he glared at me with his prodigious equine eyes. “It flew, of course.”

This case had a way of making me feel more and more like I didn’t belong in this era. “I see,” I said, trying to sound natural.

Twinklehearts pointed a hoof toward a tuxedoed butler standing nearby. “Barston here will show you the back gate.”

The butler acknowledged the comment with a slight frown and nod.

Twinklehearts continued. “Before you go, I want to make one thing clear: in order to earn your pay, you must bring the prototype horn back unscathed, and the stuffed  rabbit must be alive.”

I wrinkled my forehead at Twinklehearts. “Alive?”

Twinklehearts snorted and stamped one of his feet. “Yes, alive. Honestly, why do you keep making me repeat myself? It is a perfectly clear instruction.” With that, the pink unicorn turned and marched back up the stairs of his yellow, shiny, broken pyramid.

I looked at Barston, still confused, and shrugged a little.

Refusing to acknowledge the gesture, he put his white gloved hands behind his back and said, “This way, sir.”

I followed as Barston led me behind the house and through the gate into the mammoth pasture. As we crossed through, I could hear the hum of the electricity passing through the wire of the fence.

Not far from the house, there was another gate that led into the woods. Without saying a word, Barston opened the gate into a forest of full sized, old growth redwoods. I stepped through the fence into the cathedral of trees.

Fully grown redwoods won’t let you take them for granted. Their incredible girth and height demand that you pay attention, and unlike Twinklehearts, they manage to do so and still retain their sense of class and dignity. I took off my hat. I couldn’t tell you why, but for some reason, I always took off my hat whenever I entered a grove of redwoods. I also whispered whenever possible.

I hadn’t gone more than a few feet when a distinctly crazed, squeaky voice screamed at me. “That’s far enough! Don’t come any closer or I’ll shoot!” The still air of the grove seemed to resist the tenseness of the voice and distorted its direction. I looked around. Behind a small maple tree growing in the shadow of a giant sequoia, a three foot tall orange and white stuffed bunny floated in the air. Strapped to its forehead was a single, white, ridged unicorn horn. I took a step. It pointed the horn in my direction and said, “I told you not to come any closer.”

I stopped, confused. “You’ll shoot me with what?”

“I’ll shoot you with this horn, and believe me, you don’t want me to do that!”

I held my hands up. “I don’t want you to do that, but what would it do?”

It was at this point that I realized I was talking to a giant stuffed bunny that was brandishing its horn at me as if it were a magic wand. It’s a strange world, but really, this was a bit much.

I shook my head. I had had enough weirdness for one day, and I decided I wasn’t going to put up with it any longer. Neanderthals don’t deal well with existential ambiguity. There was no way that stuffed bunny could be alive. I took several steps forward in quick succession.

The bunny leaned forward on its haunches, crazed and apparently frothing at the mouth.  “I warned you!”

I ducked.

It fired.

Some kind of wispy hot red ray passed over my head. It smelled of tight denim and bad aftershave. I could have sworn there was a tinge of gold chain in it as well, but I didn’t really have time to consider these things more thoroughly. As the ray hit the enormous tree behind me, obnoxiously loud electronic music blasted the air. It seemed to be coming from the tree.

Crazed, the stuffed bunny’s plastic eyes twirled in their sockets. “See! See! You made me do this!” Then it looked up, dropped its mouth open—spittle and foam dripping to the ground—and fell strangely silent. Huddling behind the small tree, it started quivering. “Oh, my,” it said quietly.

“Ahai! Ahai!” said the song. “I am not trying to seduce you.”

I didn’t pay attention. I was so focused on getting to the rabbit before it struck again that I didn’t bother to turn around. I sprinted forward, grabbed the bunny— which did surprisingly little to resist—and tore off the horn. Strangely, the furry orange hornless rabbit seemed to cower against me.

That was when I heard the sound of a strange wind start, and I recognized the infernal beat of the worst thing to happen to American pop culture in the late twentieth century.

“When I dance, they call me Macarena…”

“You made me do it!” whined the now cringing rabbit.

The sound of the wind grew to a mighty roar.

Afraid of what I might see, I turned around slowly. There behind me, a full grown, coastal California sequoia danced the Macarena.

I swear by all my Neanderthal forefathers and by the souls of the twenty-first century scientists who brought my kind back from the dead, it is true. By now, the infernal beat pulsed in my brain, and I could think of little else.

As I stared slack jawed in awe of the horror, some piece of the tiny, tiny part of my mind dedicated to bad nineties dance trends remembered what came next. Clutching the stuffed rabbit in my hands, I ran fast—but not fast enough. I looked back over my shoulder in time to see the sequoia jump, roots and all, out of the ground and rotate one quarter turn. The boom was deafening; the effect tectonic. I fell to the ground as it shook beneath my feet, landing sprawled out upon my face and dropping my quarry. Terrified, I forgot all about the talking rabbit and the three million bits. I got up, clutching the Macarena horn, and blindly fled deeper into the forest.

I got maybe thirty steps before the mechanical rabbit bounded by me in a blur, screaming like a teapot. We both came to a stop behind a huge fallen giant of a tree. “How long does that last?” I asked between desperate gasps for air that seemed to lack the sustenance it held previously.

Still quivering, the orange bunny answered, “I’m not sure! I think it only goes through once.” It paused to swallow and turned to look at me. “Please, don’t take me back to Twinklehearts. He’s held me captive for months.”

It wasn’t the bunny’s fault, but my eyebrow started to twitch, an unmistakable sign that a primal anger was building. To start, I was annoyed that I hadn’t been told the rabbit would talk. I still refused to believe it was alive. Then, I was angry that I hadn’t been told the unicorn horn was a weapon, and now I was angry the bunny wasn’t going to come quietly, and I might not get my three million bits.

I growled at the rabbit, “What are you?”

“I’m Twinklehearts’ dog. Or I was his dog until he did this to me.”

I took a deep breath like my mindfulness coach taught me. I felt every fiber and texture of the moss beneath my fingers as I squished it violently in my fist. “Dogs don’t talk,” I said in a low voice.

The now calming rabbit looked out over the top of the fallen tree, back toward the undulating sequoia, which for now seemed to be dancing in place. “Well, I wasn’t a dog to start, silly.” Then he added, “You know, it could have been worse. Twinklehearts likes The Locomotion as well. We could still be running.”

“There is that,” I said, while peeking over the log myself.  I tried to keep us focused on the topic at hand. “Why did you become a dog? And how did you become a stuffed rabbit?”

The bunny turned its back on the Sequoia and slowly slid down the bark until its haunches rested on the ground. “Well, you see, Twinklehearts was my best friend. We did everything together. I mean everything. Those were some crazy times. ReMake Me had just gone public, and Twinklehearts had more money than God Almighty, and he spent like it, as well. Although he wasn’t Twinklehearts back then. Back then, he was still Archer Cranston.”

The rabbit wandered off into silent memory for a few seconds before he started again. “Anyway, right about that time, ReMake Me got hooked on doing all those body alterations and stuff. You know, like yours.”

I frowned and scowled. “I’m natural. Third generation born.”

The bunny didn’t seem to notice the scowl. “Oh? Sorry. Anyway, Twinklehearts got hooked. First, it was the musclebound look. You know, abs without the work, and then we started adding tails and things. Next thing I know, he’s going the full unicorn, and I’m becoming his mastiff. He became Twinklehearts, and I became Ruff.”

The orange rabbit thing started to become agitated again. “Everything went along fine for the next few years. Really, it did. I enjoyed being a dog. Nothing to do all day except eat, sleep, and scratch. It was really quite a nice life. So eventually, ReMake Me went after the crown jewel of the body alteration industry—an uploadable consciousness. Once that happens, you have repeat business. Your customers could be a unicorn one day, a cave man the next, and a blue whale the day after that. They developed a computer system that they thought could handle the load and went through all the preliminary FDA testing and passed with flying colors. There wasn’t anything for it but to try it out on a test subject. Well, as you can imagine, Twinklehearts was eager to go first, but the board of directors wouldn’t stand for it. If something happened, the company would have been devastated. So Twinklehearts asked, and I obeyed like a good dog.”

Here the rabbit let out an audible sigh. “What can I say, it worked. The whole thing worked.”

“So if this is what you and Twinklehearts wanted, then what’s the problem?”

“The problem was they got a computer matrix which can contain a human consciousness, but they hadn’t really perfected any of the bodies. Everything they tried didn’t work, and I got bored really quickly without a body. I mean, there wasn’t anything for me to do! I couldn’t stand it, and the best minds in the industry couldn’t fix it. Well, once it looked like the problem wasn’t going to be fixed overnight, Twinklehearts moved on to something else. I was forgotten. The people trying to solve the problem got some research dollars from ReMake Me for a while, but even those didn’t last. Then last year, they just unceremoniously dumped me in a warehouse somewhere, and the whole project shut down. You wouldn’t believe it unless you saw it. ReMake Me has this huge warehouse full of failed projects. There I was, left to rot. I got depressed for a while, but I couldn’t even kill myself. Then one day I started to try to find my way out of my box. And that is when I spotted this bunnycorn on a shelf nearby, a failed experiment that responded to my consciousness in a way nothing else had. Strapped to its head was this prototype unicorn horn, another failed experiment. I know it isn’t much, but when you’ve been stuck inside a server for over a year, it feels great. The next time they opened the doors, I fought my way out. Security trolls doing a spontaneous Macarena don’t aim well. I went on the run, and then three days ago, I confronted Twinklehearts. It didn’t go well. I managed to get away, but that is about all. I’ve been hiding here ever since.”

I think at this point I was most angry with myself. I mean, somebody flashes a few bits in front of me and the next thing I’m saying is “How big do you want my loin cloth?” without even worrying about whether or not the payment makes sense. Well, it made sense now, and I doubted that I was going to get paid. I had no idea what the fuzz would say about this. As usual, the law was woefully inadequate and behind the times. I wasn’t even sure if Ruff the stuffed bunnycorn would be considered a person in a court of law, but what had been done to Ruff sounded a lot like kidnapping to me, and I wanted no part in it.

I didn’t really have time to think about it much deeper than that, because the whine of something mechanical disturbed the once again solemn forest. It sounded like a small jet turbine of some sort.

The orange rabbit at my side freaked out. “He’s coming!”

I turned, putting my back against the tree and reached for the piece inside my jacket.

It wasn’t there.

I can explain that.

Just like getting involved with kidnapping, I’m not much for shooting people. It gets messy with the police, and they don’t really take too kindly to my type interfering in their business. So normally, when I’m doing something that’s not too dangerous, I don’t carry my piece. If I don’t have it, I can’t do something stupid. On the other hand, a hunt for a three million bit bunny on a one hundred acre woolly mammoth preserve—that sounds dangerous—and I have no doubt that I would have brought my piece with me if it were tomorrow. But it wasn’t tomorrow. It was today. I wasn’t planning to be hunting a talking orange stuffed rabbit today, and I didn’t have it. I turned toward the noise and pointed the only weapon I had in its direction.

A small, powder blue stubby jet wing with a slightly pink unicorn attached underneath it appeared. It banked gracefully through the trees and came in for a landing.

Wearing a scarf, a helmet that matched the wing, and aviator goggles, Twinklehearts gracefully cantered to a stop. “Thank you, Mr. Mugmug. I appreciate your help. I will take it from here.” The unicorn stomped on the ground and said, “Heel, Ruff.”

“No.” The bunny cowered against the log, scooting closer to me. “I won’t go back to the warehouse. I can’t go back.”

Twinklehearts rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Bad Ruff.”

“I’m not your pet anymore!”

Twinklehearts kept his voice calm. “No, you’re no longer my pet. You’re software, and according to the EULA you signed, I can do anything I want to you. Now heel!”

Ruff the Rabbit turned and fled away from Twinklehearts.

Twinklehearts’ engine started to whine, and two small missiles dropped down below the wing. I hope I will be forgiven for what happened next, but you have to understand, I was a Neanderthal stuck in the majestic redwoods, pointing what amounted to a Macarena magic wand at a unicorn who used a jet pack to fly like Pegasus. I was having trouble adjusting to it all, and I hesitated. Twinklehearts launched the first missile almost as soon as he got airborne. Ruff only survived by a fluke because he clotheslined himself on a low branch at the same moment. The missile exploded some distance in front of him. Seeing what happened, he turned and came back directly toward me, squealing in fright.

Even before the powder blue and pink Pegicorn started to bank to the right, I knew that I was as good as dead. I was now a liability for both Twinklehearts and ReMake Me. Depending on how the law saw it, I might have just witnessed an attempted murder.

I looked down at the Macarena wand in my hand and then glanced sideways at the surrounding trees.

I started firing.

Within seconds, I had surrounded Ruff and myself with a whole grove of swaying, undulating redwoods, all dancing to their own individual renditions of the Macarena. If I had been in any position to think about it, I might have been sickened by the whole scene, but my shield of protection worked. Twinklehearts tried to come straight at us several time, but each time, a wall of gyrating branches blocked his path. On the other hand, I wasn’t able to get off a clear shot, either.

It all seemed to be going pretty well until all the redwoods started to jump in succession, one after another. The ground shook so hard, I landed on my backside. When I looked up, I momentarily lost track of the pointy headed horse. However, the problem with pink unicorns using powder blue whiny jet wings for murder is that it’s hard to sneak up on someone. I quickly spotted him circling around to my left. He was trying to get behind me. I managed to get off a clean shot and nailed him just before the gigantic trees jumped again, and I landed on my back next to Ruff. Both of us stared blinking at the sky above us while Twinklehearts passed harmlessly overhead, forelegs gyrating.

Having never flown a jet controlled wing myself, I am not sure how you steer one, but apparently it’s difficult to do if you are dancing the Macarena. For a moment, Twinklehearts looked almost giddy as he pirouetted among the trees. That was until he got to the part where his hips swayed and he lost control of the wing and quarter turned his way into the path of a dancing giant redwood. The tree swatted him like a fly. For a few seconds, Twinklehearts got caught in the fray, batted like a ping-pong ball between the trees. Then the wing cut out, and he plummeted, landing with a crunch on the ground nearly a hundred feet below.

We waited until the horror of the dancing trees subsided, and then I took off running. Ruff followed like an obedient pup. It took us a while to find our way out of the woods and then even longer to find a driver willing to pick up a hitchhiking Neanderthal wearing a trench coat and a fedora while toting a three foot orange and white stuffed bunny, but hey, this is the Bay Area. We eventually made our way back to town.

It wasn’t until the next morning that we heard there had been a moderate earthquake located somewhere near the Muir Woods the previous day. Overall, it wasn’t anything too spectacular by Bay Area standards, but the quake did damage a building or two in nearby Sausalito. I felt a little guilty about that.

I never got paid, but Ruff found that he had a taste for office work. He quickly organized my hard drive into a place to sleep at night and inhabited the stuffed bunny during business hours. He took over my billing, filing, and case notes. To be honest, he paid for himself in spades. I was never very good with that end of the business.

So far, no one from ReMake Me has stopped by our office with a gun, either. I sent the board of directors a letter stating that I had the wand and Ruff. I told them that if anything happened to either of us my attorney had instructions to demonstrate the Macarena wand, and turn over to police information that might interest them about some illegal EULAs, a device that forces people to dance against their will, and the attempted murder of a person named Ruff and myself. So far, the board seems happy to let sleeping dogs lie.

So, all’s well that ends well. Although, every once in a while, someone walking on Divisidero is known to spontaneously break out in the Macarena.  I try not to abuse my power.

on February 14 • by

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