From the author: An unlikely but powerful creature from another dimension is threatening Earth....
BEWARE THE JUBJUB BIRD
By David Perlmutter 4719 words
I suppose that, if I’d been more on the ball, this whole thing could have been avoided and me and my friends could have avoided being shaken up as badly as we were. But there’s no point in trying to remake the past. You can only learn from it. Especially when you’re a superhero, like I am.
Well, only part-time. Superheroes can’t get paid for their work, which is probably the least likable aspect of the job. So, when I’m not doing that, I scratch up something of a living as a journalist, if it can be called such. In between those, I don’t have much going for me, and I abuse my super-powered body getting my little cotton-tailed body as drunk as possible. I don’t mind admitting that- it’s one of my biggest personality flaws, but damned if I’m going to do anything to fix it.
Oh. Did I not mention that I’m what you human beings would call a pink-furred bunny rabbit, albeit one that’s as human as any of you? And that I come from a place where everybody is as anthropomorphic as I am, and any damn thing you or anybody else has ever conjectured in your mind is not only possible but real? Probably should have gotten that out in the open right from the start. Anthropomorph is the name of the place, and it’s whether this story properly gets started.
Picture me in my civilian identity, Barbara Bunny, out on the streets of Gennett, Anthropomorph’s capital and my home town. I got a tip from one of my journalism sources about a particularly shocking revelation, and I knew I could be used to my advantage. So I quickly got out of bed, where I’d been sleeping off a little bit of a hangover, and headed off to the train station to get an exclusive. A photo and a chat with this guy, and I wouldn’t have to worry about the rent for a few months. He was that elusive, and that notorious.
You might have heard of him. The Jubjub Bird.
Oh….you don’t, huh? Let me explain.
In my world, everyone and everybody who exists as a “fictional” character on Earth is a real flesh and blood being- even those who were purportedly “created” by human beings who took credit (falsely, most of the time) for “inventing” them. That includes the fiction of a certain 19th century English mathematician whom we know today by his pen name: Lewis Carroll. I speak specifically of that poem of his, Jabberwocky, where, while explaining about the title character’s “jaws that bite” and “claws that catch”, we are told to “beware” a certain individual known as the Jubjub Bird.
And then, he says nothing else about him. Apparently the Jabberwock was better copy.
That “beware” thing is the key part of it all.
Maybe not to you guys. For all you know about Jubjub, he could just be some glorified pigeon you have to “beware” of only in case he decides to take a shit on you from the air.
The truth is nothing like that. Whatsoever.
Even by the standards of the whack-jobs I have to deal with, as superhero and journalist both, he’s pretty messed up. Carroll didn’t know the half about him.
Back in the day, the Jubjub was cursed by someone or other who he’d wronged in some minor way. The curse required him to do something bad every day, or else he would be killed. Well, maybe bad is putting it mildly- try evil. You name a crime, or something extremely unspeakable- the guy’s done it. All over Anthropomorph his reputation is a horrible one. I can’t conform everything he did is true, rumors being what they are, but what does stick, journalistically-speaking, is pretty lousy stuff.
What made most of what he did possible is because he had supernatural powers. He never moved around without being completely clothed in a filter of black that covered his body and disguised his identity so you couldn’t tell who the real guy beneath the cloud was. Besides which, he was pretty strong, fast and smart, on an above-average level, so he could pretty much get away with whatever he wanted to do. All side effects of his family being cursed, so it’s said.
By the time I got to the station, he had struck. My fellow Anthropopmorphians were running around pell-mell in total panic out of the station and onto the street. Apparently, somebody had insulted him or done something else to upset him, and he’d blown his top. He was flying around and wrecking the joint- you could see it right inside.
Well, he wasn’t the only one with super powers.
I ducked into the ladies’ john, spun around quickly in a circle, and emerged as my blue sweater and skirt-clad secret identity: Power Bunny, the most powerful rabbit in the universe! And, if he wanted a fight, I’d give it to him!
“Hey, Jubjub!” I shouted at him, as soon as I got over to where he was. “Knock off the re-decorating, will ya?”
He paused for a moment. We’d never met in person before, so he was clearly sizing me up. I’d already done that before we met.
“And who, exactly, are you?” he demanded, in a reverb-filled voice that sounded like it belonged on some sort of psychedelic audio recording from the 1960s.
“Power Bunny,” I said. “It’s probably been a long time since you last showed your face in Gennett, so I’ll bring you up to speed. I’m the law in these parts. Or, at least, the only kind of law that’s tough and righteous enough to stand up to your kind of mischief.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Don’t give me that. You know full well you do evil for a living in Anthropomorph.”
“Not for long.”
“You mean, you’re leaving?”
“Yes. I’m planning to go to Earth.”
“You heard me. You know how it is. You can just walk over the border, and Earth is there. And, in my case, it’s there for the taking.”
Anthropomorph is right on the border of Earth, in what you might call an “alternate dimension”. Our border with Earth is quite porous, and, if you search for the right spot and find it, you can go there and come back scot free. Lots of folks do it. In fact, it’s probably them whom you Earthlings would recognize if you encountered an Anthropomorphian, as the beings you call “animated cartoon characters”. I’d be seen as one of those to you, too, when I’m here.
But Jubjub was no lovable figure like that. If he got to Earth, with what he could do, and his particular inclination, there was no end to what kind of stuff he could get up to there. And there was less of a chance that I could stop him there, as well. So I had to try to now.
“You aren’t going anywhere,” I declared.
“Oh, you think so?” he retorted. “You forget what I can accomplish if I want to.”
“I can ‘accomplish’ plenty when I want to, too,” I answered. “Just try me.”
He did. He blasted out a charge of unfiltered electric energy out of his cloaked wings that made me hit the floor. Quickly, I used one of my talents- shaping light into carrot-shaped beams of energy- to my advantage, and tossed a beam at him. Unfortunately, I’d overestimated how tall he was, and it sailed over his head. Then we dispensed with the magical stuff and went to slugging. We chased each other around the room and threw punches at each other, with only a rare connection. I got a couple of hits in his belly and his beak, and threw him off his game enough to take advantage briefly. But him being a sneaky evil type, he obviously had to cheat in order to win. He made some very unprintable remark about my moral character (even if there was some truth to it), and, while I was calling him some unprintable things in response, he hauled back and socked me in the jaw, sending me flying across the room and down for the count.
When I finally revived, I learned the horrible news. The Jubjub Bird had fled across the border from Anthropomorph into Earth. The general attitude was that we should be glad to be rid of that no-talent bum. But I knew he could be just as shifty and menacing on Earth as Anthropomorph, and there was no end to the things he could possibly get up to on Earth, just like where he came from.
I knew he was more than a match for me and my powers alone, so I couldn’t face him by myself. Fortunately, though, I had some good friends in the superhero business as well, and I knew they’d come to my aid if I needed it. So I got back in my civvies, got on the phone, and dialed.
Returning to my superhero form, I flew out of Anthropomorph and into the territory of Earth, and then out into space. Me and my superhero pals hang out there together, both to formally plot strategies to attack evil we can’t face alone, and informally to play cards on our game nights. There had been more of the latter recently than the former, but this time the former situation prevailed.
I got there before anyone else, so I cooled my heels for a moment while I waited for my friends to arrive. Given who we are, I didn’t have to wait long.
There was Muscle Girl, a pre-adolescent kid with good looking blonde hair and blue eyes on top but an enormously powerful body clad in a sharp pink-and-white uniform- and an enormously powerful brain to match. The Brat, a half-humanoid, half-mechanical alien who looks like a gal even younger than MG, and dresses the part to fool other people (especially her enemies) in close to fit her even-shorter-than-me frame, although she’s really as much of an adult as I am. Then there’s Candy Girl, a black-eyed, long-legged teenager with carrot-red hair, a purple sweatshirt and –pants uniform, work boots, and a glowing green emerald ring that’s the major source of her superpowers. She hasn’t been on the job as long as the rest of us, so we help her out when we can on the occasions when she goofs things up (which is more often than you’d think). Finally, the most unlikely-looking heroine of us all. Cerberus, who’s stuck in the seemingly emaciated looking body of a six-month old Dalmatian puppy wearing a monogrammed T shirt that only goes to her navel, but is unbelievably strong and fast (especially compared to me!) and has a wickedly canny mind like a steel trap. Not to mention a tail that can do a lot more than just wag. The way she takes care of her business, I’m glad I’m her friend and not her enemy.
I had told them there was a problem when I called, so that I didn’t need to explain. However, the scale of the problem seemed to be much more apparent to them once they saw the look in my face when I greeted them, since I was (understandably) not as cheerful as I usually am among them. Cerberus, as usual, got what was up before everyone else.
“You look positively perturbed, Barbara,” she exclaimed. “I suspect that this is something we can’t brush off very easily as a small problem.”
“That’s putting it mildly,” I said, ruefully. “Let me fill you in on the details.”
So I did. I spared them the gruesomeness of some of what he’d done, but filled them in enough so that they understood that he was a truly bad bird, and Earth would certainly be much better off if we were to stop him in his tracks as soon as we possibly could. Most of them were convinced as I was that this was a genuine problem we needed to take seriously. But there was one exception.
Candy had obviously encountered the Jabberwock in her schooling more closely than the others, because she had her eyes rolling and arms crossed all through my explanation. Finally, when a moment arrived that allowed her to talk, she struck.
“Are any of you aware of how stupid we all sound right now?” she said.
None of us like to have our intelligence insulted. Our enemies do it all the time, and it’s a bit of a sore point with us. So for a friend to say it….
“What do you mean, ‘stupid’?” I growled, taking offense.
“I know all about this,” she snapped, directly at me, and indirectly at the others. “I went through that poem in English class with a fine-toothed comb a couple of years ago. So I know that what we’re dealing with is not real. This guy is a fictional character. In a poem. Nobody’s supposed to take poetry seriously- especially not the kind he wrote. It’d be bad enough if we had to go looking for a Snark, or something like that, but you want us to go hunting for a creature that only appears in a damned walk-on part in his work. Carroll just said “beware” him, and nothing else. We don’t know how or where to locate him, or even what he looks like. Don’t you think Carroll would have given us more information about him if he’s as important as you think he is, PB? Obviously, if he doesn’t care much about him, we shouldn’t, either.”
To say I didn’t take that well is an understatement. I exploded in anger in a way uncommon to me. Before Candy even knew what was coming, I zoomed over and socked her in the belly, and proceeded to fire words back at her while she recovered.
“We should be caring about this, you MORON!” I said. “You know perfectly well that, where I come from, all ‘fictional’ things, no matter how outlandish, are REAL! Never mind what that idiot Carroll wrote about him. If he had managed to get his ass out of Oxford, and actually gone into Anthropomorph, he wouldn’t have treated Jubjub as a non-threat. I know the truth. I was bred and born in Anthropomorph, so I know the truth. Besides which, you’ve forgotten that I’m a journalist. I deal with facts for a living, and what I just told you are FACTS! It’s your own affair if you want to believe that his jaunty fairy tales are just nonsense, but it’ll be your funeral if he gets away with what he did in Anthropomorph here!”
“Okay!” Candy mewled back, weakly. “I’m sorry. Just don’t hit me anymore!”
“You’re obviously the expert on Jubjub here, PB,” Muscle Girl interjected. “There isn’t any need for you to demonstrate that anymore.”
“Sorry, all,” I said. “Especially you, Candy. But this is so important….”
“Then we’ll treat it like it is important, then,” said Cerberus. “Will that help?”
“Plenty,” I said, with some relief.
“You already explained about that black shield covering of his,” Muscle Girl said. “And that he seemed to be more than a match for you. Would he be one for us, too?”
“That remains to be seen,” I said. “You haven’t battled him, yet. That’s the only way to know.”
“Just like it is for all of them,” the Brat interjected. “You can’t figure their weaknesses out ‘til they throw their strengths at you.”
“I only know his strengths, not his weaknesses, unfortunately,” I said. “One thing’s for sure, though. This fellow resembles the birds of Earth the same way I do your average “normal” country garden lettuce thief. He’s a genius and nuttier than a fruitcake at the same time, and you never know which you’re facing at any one time.”
“So he’s just like Candy, then,” the Brat quipped.
“Shut up!” Candy snapped at her. “My Asperger’s is nothing to laugh at.”
“At least I have a sense of humor,” the Brat responded.
It might have gotten ugly, but Muscle Girl glared at the two of them fiercely, with a stare that could cut a boulder in half, and they cut it out immediately.
“We’re going to have to have our wits about us when we’re dealing with the nonsensical mumbo-jumbo that’s his stock in trade,” I said, keeping the discussion on course. “He knows full well he’s not a match for anybody with the combined speed and strength that we have. So he’ll try to destroy us by wrecking our minds instead. He’ll try to disrupt everything you think is real and secure in your life. When he disrupts your ingrained sense of reality, he’ll strike- and you’ll never be the same. And, if he does that to the people of Earth, they won’t be, either. We could be facing a whole pandemic of madness, easily started and unable to be stopped!”
“You mean….like….an apocalypse?” Candy said, with genuine fear in her voice. “With zombies…and all that other creepy stuff?”
“No,” said Cerberus to Candy. “You can, at least, try to reason with a zombie. A mad person is too far gone even to be reasoned with. Why do you think they used to lock them up in asylums?”
“Hopefully, it won’t come to that,” Muscle Girl said, hoping, as usual, to put a more optimistic face on that situation. “We just have to find and stop this Jubjub. It can’t be all that hard.”
“That’s what you think.”
And there he was. Simple as that. Just announcing himself, without any preamble. The Jubjub Bird.
“You bastard!” I said, stepping towards him. “How did you get out here? And how’d you know exactly where I was going to be?”
“I know all and see all,” he answered. “Including the actions supposedly concocted under ‘private’ communications.”
“So you tapped my phone when I wasn’t looking,” I assumed. “I figured you’d stoop to that.”
“I don’t need to ‘tap’ anything. I told you, I know all and see all. Isn’t that enough for you to get it?”
“Not for us, it isn’t,” Muscle Girl said, as she and the others tensed up into battle positions, just in case.
“Yeah,” added Cerberus. “How about you be a tad more precise?”
Even though we couldn’t see his face, I knew Jubjub was rolling his eyes. He wasn’t used to being challenged like this, obviously.
“Fine,” he said. “You want precise, then here’s precise. I am a being that can assume complete control over all streams of physical activity and knowledge within reach wherever I go. Few have tried to stop me, and few of them have succeeded. And you, ladies, would fare just as poorly against me were we to battle, for I know all of your collective strengths and weaknesses, and would not hesitate to use them against you in a show of force.”
“How could you possibly know about all of us when most of us haven’t even met you before?”
“Look, I said I know all and see all,” Jubjub replied. “Don’t you realise what that means?”
“Oh, my God,” uttered Candy, in shock. “You know who we all really are, then. And you could make that information public, and….”
“Right,” said Jubjub. “Then I wouldn’t even have to kill you to destroy you. Even though, with what I have on me, that wouldn’t be so hard.”
“You talk a good game, pal,” snapped the Brat, not yet convinced. “How ‘bout you back it up, if you’re that formidable?”
“I’d be delighted to,” he responded.
He sent a blast of electricity from his wing straight at us. Or, more specifically, at the Brat. Fortunately, he aimed too high, and the blast arced harmlessly over her head. But that was the cue for the rest of us to start battling him, and we did.
We threw everything we had at him, and he likewise. He projected an illusion of a giant multi-headed hydra with full sets of razor-sharp teeth at us, and made it take corporeal form. We destroyed it quickly, but not without a rough-and-tumble fight, and not before it bit Candy in her left arm- indicating that we weren’t going to be as invulnerable in battle against this guy as we were used to being. Not that being weakened stopped us before.
It seemed Jubjub had used the time the battle took to get away from us. If that was the case, then not only us, but the whole universe was really in Dutch.
That was the case, all right. Until someone or something decided to goose Candy. She whirled around, and there he was, caught in the act.
“You SON OF A BITCH!” Candy snarled, contemptuously.
She aimed the light from her ring right at him. I backed her up with a beam of light, Muscle Girl added a powerful thought projection, Cerberus emitted one of her mighty Sonic Barks, and the Brat- who lacks mental powers of her own- chimed in by picking up a chair and throwing it at him.
We aren’t sure exactly how it happened, but that coordinated effort turned the tide. He squalled out a pain cry of:
And then came a sudden explosion that knocked all of us off our feet and onto the ground.
When we recovered, the black shield covering him was gone, and Jubjub was out cold. We surrounded him on all sides to prevent him from getting away. To our shock, he wasn’t at all what we expected him to look like. We’d all figured him to be some grizzled old misanthropic buzzard, but this guy was just a turquoise-feathered fledgling not too far removed from the maternal nest!
Suddenly, he came to. He raised his head up and said:
“Did anybody get the license number of that Jabberwock?”
Then he fully regained consciousness, looked at himself, and saw all of us surrounding him, giving him our best maternal you’re-in-big-trouble-kid looks, and he got it.
“Please have mercy on me!” he begged. “I was only trying to live up to what was imposed on me, and nothing else. Please don’t pound me into gelatin, or use my bones to pick your teeth, or mutilate my brains, or use my empty skull as a beer stein….”
“Uh….issues much?” said Cerberus, with a quizzical raised eyebrow, as much to me as to him.
“That’s the kind of things he usually says to people to get them to do what he wants,” I explained. “He’s said it so often that he things other people will do it to him if he gets caught. Isn’t that right, Jubjub?”
That worthy nodded.
“You better not try to escape,” Muscle Girl warned him. “It’s a complete mystery how you got in here to start with…”
“No, it isn’t,” Candy interrupted. “We haven’t got a good security system here at all. I keep telling you- we need ADT!”
“The point is,” I continued, after fixing Candy with a sharp look, “you’re busted, Jubjub. I’m taking you back to Anthropomorph, and then, in one way or another, you’re going to pay for all the stuff you’ve done!”
“All the stuff I’ve done?” he responded, indignantly. “I’ve only had this job for one week. How much ‘stuff’ could I possibly do in that amount of time?”
“One week?” said Cerberus, incredulously.
“Then who was responsible for what happened before then?” asked the Brat.
“Explain, Jubjub,” I ordered.
“I have a first name, you know,” he answered, archly.
“For the love of….” I rolled my eyes.
“Which is, pray tell?” asked Cerberus.
“Fine,” Muscle Girl spat, impatiently. “Would you mind telling us then, HARVEY, about exactly who was responsible for blackening the name of Jubjub so much, if you weren’t?”
“Gladly,” said Harvey. “The vast majority of the most heinous deeds were done by the one originally affected by the curse: my great-many-times grandfather, Murgatroyd Jubjub. When you read of the most shocking deeds accompanying the Jubjub name, it was he that done ‘em. He set such an abominably high standard for the rest of us that even a full time wouldn’t allow any of us to even approach his standards, such as they are. We who have inherited that abominable mantle have literally worked ourselves to death trying to equal it. My own father, Irving, found it a particularly excruciating burden, for he was among the most kind-hearted of birds who ever lived. Finally, he was so worn out by having to commit evil on a daily basis that he committed suicide only last week. Hence, I have now inherited the title and its horrible burden.”
“And exactly how many ‘evil’ things have you done since you took over as Jubjub, fancy pants?” said Candy. “I mean, besides pinching innocent teenage girl superheroes on their derrieres?”
“That,” said Harvey, archly, “was an accident. For which I sincerely apologise. I found your physical figure intriguing, and wanted to examine it more closely, and my wing slipped…”
“Not helping,” growled Candy, who wasn’t buying the excuse.
“Well,” demanded Cerberus impatiently. “Have you done anything evil?”
“That depends on what you call ‘evil’,” said Harvey. “But, by my standards, and Grandpa Murgatroyd’s, nothing at all. I was too busy planning to invade Earth to bother with it. This has been occupying my time for weeks….”
“You were going to invade Earth before you became Jubjub?” said Muscle Girl, in a shocked tone. “You mean, you were a villain even before….”
“Yeah, that’s right,” he answered. “I hadn’t yet gotten my act off the ground when I got tapped to succeed my Dad, though. But I’d wanted out of Anthropomorph for quite a while. It’s really such a provincial, conservative place, when you stay there long enough. Not like Earth. I thought, perhaps, I could cultivate the particular madness that’s Anthropomorph’s one asset in a more liberal climate. But I was stymied by the cost of my venture.
"Do you know how much it costs to stage an invasion of Earth from Anthropomorph, with all the weaponry and maintenance and manpower costs I would need? Shattering! I was nothing before I was Jubjub, but, once it became my lot to inherit, the world became my oyster. I didn’t need money to achieve my dreams. I just needed the powers I acquired when I became Jubjub. I would be able to turn the whole planet mad if I wanted to. And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling superheroes! How was I to know there were beings walking this universe that were more powerful than I was?
“So I concentrated on using my Jubjub abilities to fulfill my larger goals. To hell with doing evil on a daily basis! You can achieve more doing it in one fell swoop. It’s not likely that the old myth about how all of my evil ancestors would suddenly re-emerge from the underworld and destroy me for not doing my daily evil duties would actually come true….”
Suddenly, the ground shook beneath us, and a glowing green orb not of his or our doing trapped Harvey in a spherical prison. Only he knew what it meant, and he was petrified.
“AAH!” he shouted. “Help me! The myth is real. They know I haven’t done anything evil! THEY KNOW!”
And, with a choked-off scream, he faded away rapidly inside the orb, and then the orb itself disappeared.
I suddenly felt as if a great and overpowering weight had been released from my body. A clear sign of which was the fact that my long absent sense of humor suddenly returned to me.
“That,” I uttered, “was one fowl day’s work.”
The others groaned loudly.
“You and your dumb jokes, PB,” said Cerberus.
But she was smiling when she said that. And then, she started laughing.
I, and the rest of us, followed suit shortly thereafter.
This story originally appeared in SciFiction Magazine (2017).