From the author: What happens when you have to fight the person you love?
WHO WILL THE NEXT FOOL BE?
By David Perlmutter 3, 271 words
There I was….
….strapped in mid-air, with my limbs spread apart, not so much in physical pain (since I can’t feel any), but, mentally, under quite a bit of duress. For, who should I be looking at, right across from me, and positively gloating in her facial expressions, but the one human being I truly loved- and thought I knew.
Wait a minute. Where are my manners? Mother raised me better than this. Before I can proceed with this story, and you can even try to understand it, you need to know who I am and what I do. Right?
My name is Cerberus, and I am the most powerful puppy in the universe. I possess strength, speed, and intelligence (including the ability to communicate with you in this fashion) far greater than any of my fellow canines in the universe. I use these abilities to save Earth on a regular basis from all the forces of evil you can name, either on my own or with the aid of my superhero peeps, if things get a tad too rough for one of us to handle alone.
Yeah, I hear ya back there! Don’t think I didn’t! Go ahead and laugh. You won’t be laughing when I put my fangs up in your….
Oh, they’re gone? Good.
I know I don’t look like much to you. Me- a little runt of a Dalmatian puppy with big ears, really big blue eyes, a scrawny torso, clad in this little T-shirt with a “C” on it that could stand for practically anything. Not superhero material, you would say.
But I am. A superhero, that is.
I was the child of a normal Dalmatian mother and an alien dog father (and yes, there are such things.) Specifically, he was one of the Perros, a race that is based around Sirius (the dog star) but active all over the galaxy, using their higher than average abilities to right wrongs and do good.
That’s obviously where I got mine own abilities. My super cute good looks, on the other hand, come from Mom- or so she says.
So, as soon as I was weaned, I found out what I could do, and I began doing it, in the name of Pop, to help you humans out in a pinch.
Which is more often than you think.
After my weaning, I was adopted by the Parker family, and became, for all intents and purposes, the “property” and “responsibility” of their one and only daughter, Gudrun. I have to use the quotes because Gudrun, being only five, barely knows what property and responsibility are. Other than the fact that she has to make sure that I “behave” in order to avoid getting her own posterior smacked for any “misdeeds” I might get up to (quotations used sarcastically), she hasn’t gotten those ideas yet.
You humans sure develop your brains slowly in comparison to dogs like me. It’s a wonder to me how you managed to become dominant over us, if you ever did.
Anyway, Goody (as she’s called for short) knows me not as Cerberus, the all-mighty canine heroine, but as my mild-mannered secret identity, “Cuddles”. (Ick, huh? Her idea, not mine.) We spend a lot of time “playing” together-i.e. her getting me into the most undignified and ridiculous situations a dog can get into and then her laughing her fool head off at me in whatever position or outfit or whatever it is. It’s fine most of the time, but sometimes she pushes me too far, and I have to remember to keep myself in line before I bite her. And I when I bite something, or someone….well, you don’t want to be on the other end of it, is all I can say.
The thing is, I have a reputation to protect, along with Gudrun and the world. And I nearly lost both of them all at once. That’s what I want to talk about now.
It was about a week ago, when I was awaiting Gudrun’s return from kindergarten. More like awaiting what it was she had in store for me, but that’s beside the point. The point was: she was late.
That’s important to note. Routine is important to little kids. That’s how they regulate their time to keep from getting bored. And they notice if said routine is disrupted in any way. I’ve always made sure to schedule my super-heroics to times when Goody is out at school or in bed or getting her ya-yas out with the senior Parkers, so to speak.
So, when my little flaxen-haired angel failed to make an appearance at the 3:30 pm time she shows up at home in the afternoon, I became worried.
What had happened to her? Had she disappeared? And would I, erroneously, be blamed for it?
There was no question at all about what I had to do.
And I did it.
I went to my doghouse, threw on my shirt, and mentally shifted personalities from Cuddles to Cerberus. Because I had a job to do.
Once I had bounded out of my doghouse and was in flight above the city, the next order of business was to try and find out where Goody was before it was too late. And, when you’re talking about a five year old girl barely able to talk, let alone take care of herself, “too late” could be any possible moment in the near future.
Thankfully, I located her only a short couple of blocks away from the house. She had probably gotten lost or distracted or both coming home on her own, and ended up slightly out of her way. It looked like, this time, I merely had to point her in the right direction, instead of having to do some super stuff to either rescue her from a sticky situation or prevent one from happening, like usual.
So, I descended to Earth, walked up gently behind her, and barked the friendly bark she knew as that of her mild-mannered dog.
Then she turned around….
I expected that my chum would smother me with unearned affection for a couple of minutes, and then the two of us would return home. But the being I faced was not the Gudrun Parker I knew.
It was someone far more evil than that.
True, this creature had her physical appearance. Her blonde hair, her blue eyes, her short stature, the baggy, pyjama-like shirt and pants, and the purple bow ever present at the side of her head. But the mind of Gudrun Parker had been blotted out, and replaced by one of my deadliest enemies. The look she gave me with her distorted face gave the game away completely.
“You’re not Gudrun!” I said to the creature, stating the obvious.
“Of course not,” said a voice that was not Gudrun’s out of Gudrun’s lips. “It wouldn’t be any fun if I was.”
“This would be “fun” to you, wouldn’t it, Virago?”
“Damn! You know who I am!”
“Well, you still won’t be able to stop me, Cerberus. Not while I control your mistress’s body. If you value her life, you won’t dare try to attack me!”
She had me there.
Virago, it should be said, is an alien being. Her race lives on a far-away planet, and is quite small in size. That seems simple enough, but they’re also scientific geniuses, the lot of them, who’ve not only figured out the secret to economical travel across time and space, but also the means to control much larger beings by temporarily taking complete control of their nervous systems. This is done by burrowing into the skull and nesting within the cerebral cortex. They typically use their powers for good, but Virago is their equivalent to, say, Lex Luthor, intent on doing as much damage as she can in the process of conquering the universe. She had tried to begin this by conquering her home planet, but failed, and was exiled to Earth, where she became my problem.
In the past, she’s taken over the brains of something like an elephant or a lion and dared me to engage her in combat, which I obviously couldn’t refuse, even on pain of death. In our last fight, she broadened her scope and took over the mechanical functions of a steamroller and flattened everything in her path. Including me- before I stopped her by wrecking the thing and bringing her back to her microscopic form.
But a human? And, especially, my human, so-called “mistress”? This was more than I was prepared to accept, even from her.
“Let’s be reasonable here, Virago,” I said.
She stuck her tongue out rudely at me, as Gudrun would never do.
“You just want me to give you back your girl-friend. Don’tcha?”
“Yes, that is exactly….”
“Well, I ain’t gonna!”
“YOU….” I snarled.
“Watch it there, Cerb’! You wouldn’t want me KILLING myself!”
“You wouldn’t DARE!”
“As soon as I get control of the world, I WILL!”
I calmed myself with a big breath, and then continued to address her.
“Virago, you are, as usual, being totally and incredibly misguided. It would have made plenty more sense if you had taken over the brain of a human being who has reached their majority in life, not one who can’t do anything without…Hey! HEY! COME BACK HERE!”
While I was talking, Virago had, to my shock, started Gudrun’s body moving down the block at an incredibly fast and impudent clip.
Curse me and my habit of talking too much!
Even though Gud….I mean, Virago….had gotten a head start, the body she’d chosen to inhabit was, unlike the ones she’d used before, not build for speed, strength or endurance. A five year old human body can only go so far and so fast at one time. So it wasn’t long before I caught up with her, panting with exhaustion.
“Admit it, Virago,” I said. “You picked the wrong body to mess with this time.”
“That’s what you said about me picking the steamroller last time,” she reminded me. “You need new material.”
“Maybe I do. But you need a new modus operandi. This body snatching business is getting old.”
Having now regained her breath, Virago seemed to have also regained her impudence.
“Sure it’s getting old!” she growled. “That’s why I’ve started to branch out!”
“What is that supposed to mean?” I wanted to know. “Are you perhaps thinking about…?”
Before I could say or do anything further, she waived her hand up and down, as if she were playing an invisible Theremin, and I could suddenly feel a great uncomfortable feeling in my body, as if I had been poisoned and were on the verge of death. Then I blacked out.
My blasted tongue had gotten me in trouble again! If I hadn’t had to stick to my self-imposed insult-the-villain-so-many-times-per-adventure quota, I could have figured out what she was doing before she did what she did, dodged her move, and then….
Ah, well. Onward.
Now we come to where I began, with me hung above the air in straps in front of the ersatz Gudrun, leering villainously at me. Time had passed since I passed out, since the venue had changed. Undoubtedly, the fiend had kidnapped me and toted my unconscious body to wherever this was.
As I awoke, Gudrun/Virago laughed loudly and cackled in triumph like the witch she is (Virago, I mean.) It might seem comical to you to have that kind of behavior done by a five year old girl in a non-play context, but I was in no mood for laughing.
“Cut that out!” I growled, making her stop. “Where am I?”
“You can’t tell?” she retorted, cheekily.
I shook my head.
“How un-superheroic of you,” she continued. “You happen to be in the laboratory of my space ship, where I intend to give you a full physical examination. Then I will harvest cells from samples of your fur and flesh, and from them, create exact duplicates of yourself, complete with full replications of your super powers. Notice I said “duplicates”. Even you would be helpless against a full army of creatures with your no longer unique abilities, Cerberus. Once these creatures have defeated- and potentially killed-you, I will harness their abilities exclusively for the employment and achievement of my plans for the full domination of your planet. As one of your fabled Presidents of the United States once put it, it would simply be a mere matter of marching.”
And they say I’m long-winded.
“So,” I said in response. “You have a ship, do you?”
“Of course I have a ship, you IDIOT!” she snapped. “How do you think I got here?”
“Well, I had considered a number of possibilities. Most likely was the idea that you had somehow convinced a male of your species to….”
“SHUT UP!” she thundered, with her words once again arguably comical based on the body she occupied. “I am a virgin, for your information, and I intend to STAY that way. My race is at its most powerful when we abstain from the filthy pleasures of the flesh that seem to occupy a great portion of the thoughts of your disordered and twisted mind…”
“The pot can’t call the kettle black!”
She gave me a big slap in the face. At first, I was upset, since Gudrun would never have done that to me, and it appeared as if she had done just that. But then I remembered who was really in there at that moment.
“Listen, BITCH!” Virago snapped curtly at me. “I knocked you out cold just by waiving my hand. That’s how good I’ve gotten at what you on Earth call “magic”. So you had better watch your tongue before I decide to use it to KILL you!”
I was un-intimidated by her show of menace, for I had finally determined what I could do to disarm and defeat her without harming Gudrun in the process.
“Enough about me,” I said. “I’ll gladly acquiesce to what you wish to me, if it will make you happy. But first, I want to ask you a couple of questions.”
“Fire away,” she said, with all-conquering hubris.
“First: What have you done with Gudrun? Or, more to the point, what will happen to her once you choose to exit her body?”
“Nothing has happened to her. Her personality is on stand-by for when I choose to eject myself. I’m something like a living microchip, implanted to override her personality but keep her other vital functions operating.”
“The same as you did with….?”
“Exactly. Now what else do you want to ask me before I begin probing you, hotshot?”
“Just one more thing.”
“After you get rid of me, tell me: Who will the next fool be?”
She hadn’t been expecting me to ask that, by any stretch of the imagination.
“What kind of crazy riddle are you….?”
“It’s not a riddle. As you told me, you intend to harvest samples of my body, by which you intend to create mindless duplicates of me, which will destroy me and then allow you to conquer the world in turn.”
“Well, if I die, that isn’t the end of the story for you, opponent wise.”
“Must I clarify myself? Look. Unlike you, I have a lot of friends, many of which are superheroes like myself. And, knowing the community as I do, I know that the standard procedure among us when one of us dies is to avenge their death….”
“Wait. There are other superheroes on this planet? I thought…”
It was now my turn to cackle hysterically.
“That’s rich!” I said. “You thought that I was the only one….”
“You’re the only one I’ve fought!” she said, defensively. “How was I supposed to know….?”
“Hey! Watch it. I can still….”
“Yes, the magic. I know. And I’m sorry for insulting your intelligence. Happens to me all the time, and I should be more sensitive about doing it to others. But think about it like this. You’ve based all your schemes and plans for conquering Earth strictly on getting me out of the way, first, haven’t you?”
“But in doing so, you failed to do your research on the hero end beyond me. You didn’t realize that I have a number of friends who would come to my aid if I was in peril, and are as capable as me of reducing a pathetic tub like this to scrap metal!”
“No,” she begged, realizing the implications I was raising. “Not that! All my equipment here is scientific experimentation gear, not weapons. I wouldn’t stand a chance against….”
“Why, if I was simply to raise my head and utter one ear-splitting howl, I bet at least one of them….”
“Not if I slit your throat first!”
“You wouldn’t dare!” I gasped, in mocked horror.
“I would. And I wouldn’t even need a KNIFE!”
“Just TRY it!”
Virago quickly moved forward, growling wordlessly. She was taking my bait, just as I wanted. She released me from the straps violently and threw me to the ground just as hard. With murder in her eyes, she tried to wrap her hands around my throat. I dodged her effort, in part because Gudrun’s short, scrawny arms weren’t made for that kind of thing. Turning my back on her, I used my mighty tail to coil around her leg, snake-like, lift her up in the air and place her safely in the nearest available seat.
Never underestimate the tail.
Before she could make another move, I whirled around, stood up on my hind legs, and, without a word, used my forelimbs to create a small amount of pressure on Gudrun’s stomach, gentle enough not to hurt her, but strong enough to induce her into vomiting involuntarily. Gudrun quickly upchucked, and, amongst the slime coming out of her mouth, as I suspected, was Virago, in her normal, worm-like form. Her hold over my “mistress” was broken.
“You!” Virago hissed as she writhed on the ground. “You TRICKED me!”
“That’s what I do best, girlfriend!” I said. “I knew if I aroused that incredibly short temper of yours, along with playing with the same sort of psychological fears you and every villain commonly have, I could get you out of there. It was a bit of a long shot, but it worked.”
“You won’t be so fortunate the next time we meet, you little….”
Virago was silenced by a shriek that was suddenly uttered by Gudrun, now her old self. Gudrun can’t stand creepy crawlies, and, after reviving into her old persona, was understandably spooked by Virago’s “real” appearance.
“He’p!” she shouted. “HE’P! BUG!”
“No worries, girl,” I said, more to myself than her, and, after inhaling air, uttered my powerful sonic bark, which has enough force in it to blow somebody to the other side of the world. Virago soon found out what happens to creatures on the other end of that.
Abruptly re-assuming the false fur cover I use to reassume my mild-mannered identity, I gave a less powerful yelp to let Gudrun know I was there.
“Cuddles!” she exclaimed, holding me tight. “You cam’ to fin’ me! You com’ to hep’ me get hom’!”
As so I did just that. Just after she realized that she didn’t “feel so good” and vomited all over me.
Humans. So unpredictable.
This story originally appeared in SciFiction Magazine (2017).