(Uh…Happy Valentine’s Day?)
(Warning! Mutilation, assault, and death!)
Gingerly, Ox-Head reached out towards the ring that Annette had asked he look for. His hand trembled as it drew nearer to the precious gemstone.
Still, the girl didn’t react, not even to slap his hand away. Just before he was close enough to pluck it off her finger, he stopped and looked back up at her.
“Hey! Hey, do you know a blue lady?” He pulled away and began twiddling his fingers together. “She’s really pretty. And she’s nice! She doesn’t hit me like a bunch of other people have.”
The girl said nothing. All she did was sit in a dignified position, looking demure. Her glassy eyes betrayed no emotion whatsoever. She didn’t even move.
Ox-Head went on. “You’d like her. She kind of…Kind of reminds me of you! You’d really like her.” His large eyes lingered on the ring again. “She’s the one that wanted me to find that ring you got.
“But if it’s your ring, then…” He stuck a finger into his mouth, and gently bit on it. “I don’t want to steal from you. But I don’t want to lie to Andromeda either. What do I do?”
He waited, as if he expected a response from her. It was a long time then, before he stood back up and dusted himself off.
“Okay! I’ll tell her I at least found it, but couldn’t get to it! That’s not a complete lie, right?” He waved goodbye to the girl, then trotted out of the room.
Shark couldn’t stop staring at the gold band that was on his father’s ring finger now. It was more important than the meal currently sitting in front of him, he thought.
Across from him, Sagebear was munching on her little platter of sliced chicken and vegetables. With her paws on the table, she pulled out a small carrot with her mouth and gobbled it up immediately. Off to the side of them, Blaise and Dennis watched her with smiles on their faces.
“Now that’s a hungry granddaughter ya got there, Denny!” Blaise said while Sagebear now turned her attention to the chicken.
“That she is,” Dennis responded as he pulled out his phone and began to record her eating. “She’s a true Racket, I say.” In an attempt to keep his excitement in check, Shark joined them in watching Sagebear.
He still couldn’t believe his father was going to get remarried. The news almost completely erased the sour feelings he’d been feeling earlier.
Then, he felt a slight pang of envy, stemming partially from his own ended engagement. Shark wanted to kick himself for feeling jealous towards his own father almost immediately, though.
Watching Sagebear eat dinner at least soothed his pained feelings. He even chuckled a bit when Blaise carefully reached over to tuck a napkin into Sagebear’s collar.
By the time Sunny got back, Moony had effectively painted part of the wall with his lurching. Horse-Face was sitting up, watching silently while holding himself.
“Oh, tha’s disgusting, what you did, Horsey…” He looked back up and grit his teeth when he realized Sunny was standing there. “What took you so long?! Did you see what he tried to do to himself?!”
The way Sunny cocked his head made it obvious he didn’t. Handing the bucket of water to Moony, both of them approached Horse-Face again.
“Don’t!” Horse-Face put a hand out to stop them. “Don’t show him what I did! I told you, I deserved to do it!”
“Deserved or not, that’s a hell of a lot of blood to be losing. I’m glad it stopped when I looked! Now come on! Open them up again.”
Grabbing a nearby dishrag, Moony dipped it into the water bucket to get it wet. He then squeezed out any excess, and reached toward Horse-Face’s legs.
The instant the cold wet rag pressed against his leg, Horse-Face kicked Moony’s hand off of him. The sudden reaction caused Moony to fall back into Sunny’s chest.
“Get that away from me!” Horse-Face demanded as he fell off the table. “Just…Just get away from me!” He clambered away, out of the kitchen. The other two tried to go after him, but he was too quick.
“Shouldn’t you call an ambulance, or something? That looked like it hurt him something bad,” Annette said as she watched Harwood put a tray together. “Instead of, you know, having tea and chit-chat.”
Harwood waved his hand dismissively. “He’ll be fine. I didn’t hit any vital areas, so he won’t bleed out in there.” He set a fancy-looking teapot in the center, no doubt already full of hot tea. “And besides…”
He then took a seat before her. “‘Better three days without food than one day without tea.’ Isn’t that right?”
“Um, I suppose so,” Annette said as she was handed a cup. “Though it sounds like you have some pretty skewed priorities. And speaking of priorities…”
While she spoke, Annette couldn’t ignore how he kept looking down at her feet. Internally noting the irony of the situation, she continued.
“So, as for the questions I’ve been meaning to ask you-” But then Harwood put a finger up to silence her. He drank his entire cup of the strong-smelling tea, then took his own unwarranted turn speaking.
“If it’s those kinds of questions, I’ll save you the trouble: I don’t eat dog. I’m not a Communist. I’m not a kung-fu master, I only remember a few techniques in my old age…”
He counted off what he said quickly, leaving Annette no time to speak her actual questions. Each time she tried, he inadvertently cut her off.
“Math was my worst subject in school. I like purple more than red, but they’re both colors I should apparently avoid. I was born in America, and my English is perfectly fine. I don’t have buck teeth. See?”
After this was said, Harwood bared his teeth to Annette in an unsettling smile. In order to humor him, Annette pushed her teacup aside, and leaned in to look at them.
“I see them, all right.” Then she sat back into her chair. “But those weren’t going to be the questions I was going to ask you.”
“Oh no?” Harwood grabbed hold of something white and stringy-looking out of a bowl on the tray. “So you tell me I’ve prattled on like a delirious monkey for nothing?”
Annette shrugged. “I suppose so.” Now she found herself entranced, by whatever it was that Harwood was pinching between his fingers. When he realized she was staring, he slid the bowl of it towards her.
“Long xu tang. Dragon’s Beard Candy. Used to buy it from the store, but now I make it myself when I feel like it. Kind of my own personal treat, I haven’t even let Marc taste this.”
He grinned at her now, this time without showing his teeth. “But don’t let me stop you from it. Try it while you interrogate me.”
“Uh…Okay then.” Taking her own pinch of the candy, Annette took a deep breath. “So, let me start at, well, I guess the start…”
For now, Annette was able to ignore her pain as she asked her questions.
Clambering into the clone room, Horse-Face was reduced to a sobbing, quivering mess.
“They don’t get it…They don’t get that I had to do it…!” He clawed at the floor, trying to pry out any of the filthy tiles to use as a makeshift dagger. He then grabbed at his mask when the first idea proved unsuccessful, attempting to rip its ears off.
“I had to do it! They don’t understand! He doesn’t understand!” He snapped his head over to the nearest clone tube. “And you sure as hell don’t understand either!”
Stomping over to it, Horse-Face punched into the glass. He then grabbed hold of the Julian clone by the shoulders, and ripped him out of the tube.
Giant shards of broken glass flew out around them. Horse-Face slammed the seemingly unresponsive clone onto the floor, before throttling him repeatedly.
“Stop it! Stop judging me! Quit laughing at me, I don’t want to hear it!” He then flung Julian against the wall, before pouncing on him again.
This time, Horse-Face dug his nails into Julian’s cheek. He barely even noticed the frightened eyes looking at him, as a good chunk of Julian’s face was then torn off.
In response to the sudden torment he was being subjected to, all Julian could do was utter a broken cry of understated agony. Horse-Face then reached behind him, taking hold of a large glass piece laying nearby.
“Knock it off! Stop laughing at me! You’re judging me, I can see it in your eyes! Quit it!” He plunged the glass into Julian’s chest, subsequently stabbing him repeatedly.
Without realizing it, Horse-Face had started laughing maniacally himself. He then alternated between laughing and sobbing. Each time the glass was stabbed downward, more blood spurted out onto them.
By the time Horse-Face was beginning to show signs of calming down, no signs of life remained. Julian lay dead on the floor now, with thirty-seven stab wounds in his chest.
Standing back up, Horse-Face recoiled at the sight of the poor, desecrated clone. Staring at his own blood-soaked hands, he bent over and retched into the empty space of his mask.
He tried to step out of the clone room, away from the grisly scene, before collapsing again and blacking out. Emetic fluid leaked out from the mask’s nostrils as he lay motionless on the ground.
“Was that a good dinner, little girl?” Blaise asked Sagebear as she reached down to pet her head.
As if to answer her, Sagebear jumped up to lick Blaise’s face. This was accompanied by a wagging tail. Dennis and Shark watched with smiling faces as the two proceeded to bond.
“Isn’t that just precious? The puppy loves her future grandma!” Dennis couldn’t resist taking a picture of them on his phone.
When Blaise let Sagebear back down, she took a peek at the photo, and squealed. “I bet ya could frame that one, Denny! It captures Sagebear’s good side pretty well!”
“You know, I think maybe I should,” Dennis said. “And I should send you and Miss Alma a copy of the picture.”
Shark motioned for Sagebear to approach him, and let her jump up into his lap for some pets. While he did, he leaned in and pressed a kiss to her head.
Outside, the sound of a car door slamming could be heard. Blaise perked up when he recognized it.
“Oh, Alma’s finally back! Well, why don’t y’all stay a little longer? I’m sure she’d love regaling ya about her day today.” She and Dennis got up to greet her, leaving Shark alone with Sagebear.
“So how do you feel about having a new grandma around the house when the time comes, Sagebear?” Shark whispered to her as he scratched behind her ears.
Sagebear leaned up and began snuffling and licking his face. Shark grinned at what he perceived to be a positive answer.
“Yeah, me too.”