Purple eyes shot open, and Becky lay there in her bed for a few moments longer. She was back in the real world, it appeared, her bedroom was exactly as she had left it. Clothes pile, PETs on the desk, Vince still asleep next to her. Steady, deep breaths quelled most of the panic still simmering inside the bunny, but not all of it. It had been years since that level of terror had been instilled in her, even if it was only a dream that had taken her there. There had only ever been one occasion in the past when she had been made to feel so helpless, and that was before Becky had first moved to Midbourn. Perhaps she simply wasn’t used to it any more.
The sheets over her seemed all of a sudden far too constricting, as did Vince’s arm draped over her shoulder. Sliding herself out from underneath them, Becky strode out into an empty patch of carpet, grabbing her device from the desk as she went. It was just over an hour before she’d set her alarm, but she certainly wasn’t getting back to sleep, she thought, as a few flicks of her thumb turned the alarm silent. Casually the bunny tossed her PET back onto the desk, eliciting a small clatter that interrupted the otherwise quiet early morning, and set about stretching out the little cramps that she always had when she woke up.
They did feel slightly worse than she normally remembered them being, though. She must have gotten quite coiled up while she’d been asleep, Becky thought to herself, folding her arms up behind her head and closing her eyes. Leaning her torso slowly from side to side, every so often the calm expression on the bunny’s face would flicker as her muscles steadily worked their way back into place. Pushing one arm across her chest, then the other. A lunge to the side, across to the other, and back again. Just starting to go through her morning routine was already beginning to settle her down, as she clasped her hands behind her back, arching forward as far as her body would allow.
With a startled blink, the bunny was greeted with the view between her own legs of an upside-down and very much awake Vince. Still under the bed sheets where she’d left him, but his eyes were now pointing straight at her, while his lips had curved into a smile that seemed just a little bit cheeky.
“M-morning,” she blurted out, hastily righting herself as the fennec reached up to the desk to fetch his ear clasps. “When did you wake up?”
Vince clipped on his earpieces and waited for a second as sound returned to his world. “I thought you’d still be sleeping when I had to get my transit back,” he told her, adjusting a few settings on his PET.
“Oh, yeah,” Becky replied, reminded that her packmate had intended to return to his own home before heading to school that day. “I just woke up early, I guess,” she told him, grabbing her own device from the desk and checking if any messages had been sent her way since last night. There hadn’t, which usually meant Niall had found something else to occupy his time with.
Now sat on the edge of the bed, sheets moved to one side, Vince gave an inquisitive look over from his screen toward the bunny. He paused, watching for a moment the swipes of her thumb and the flicking of her eyes to and fro as she followed what the device was showing her. “……so what’s bothering you?”
“Hm?” Snapping her head toward the fennec, she eventually met his question with an impassive shrug and a shake of the head. “Nothing, it’s fine.”
Vince gave no reply, but continued to watch as Becky returned briefly to her PET, sliding it back across the desk in the rough direction of where she had retrieved it from, then turning toward the door leading to the hallway. “You’re staring.”
Becky came to a halt mid-stride, glancing over her shoulder with a puzzled scowl at his remark. “No I’m not.”
“You are,” he calmly continued. “You’re doing that kinda wide-eyed look off into the distance, and you’re even more on edge than you normally are. Plus you’re actually trying to stop yourself curling your hands up into fists.”
The bunny’s brow turned downward a little further, lips pursing slightly.
“Becky,” Vince pressed, pushing himself up from the bed, “you only act like this when something’s got you worried.” He met her in the center of the room, gently placing a hand on her arm. “And if you’re worried, then I’m worried.”
She didn’t withdraw from the contact as she would anyone else with her head in this state, instead glancing down as his hand slowly began running up and down, from her elbow to her shoulder and then back again. For a moment, she was content to just allow this to happen, and at least make an effort to settle her thoughts in a less volatile state.
“So what’s wrong-“
“Nothing!” Becky barked, yanking her arm back and stepping away from Vince.
The fennec remained in place opposite the rabbit’s sudden outburst. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, it was…” Looking away, Becky pressed a hand against one side of her face, slowly drawing her fingers across her forehead. “It was just a stupid fucking dream, that’s all.”
A few seconds of silence passed between the pair, and Vince gave a subdued nod. “…okay.”
Glancing back at him, Becky caught a glimpse of a soft smile from Vince, and managed to force a half-smile in return. It was rare that one would find Becky in a mood to answer too many questions at the best of times. “I need a shower now,” she told him with a shake of her head, making a beeline for the bedroom door.
“I’ll see you on the train, Bex,” came Vince’s voice from behind her, as she headed out into the hallway.
“Yeah, you too,” she called back, striding along the landing and into the bathroom at the far end.
Soft blue walls greeted her, accompanied by the cooling touch of the dark tile floor on her bare feet. A pleasant contrast to the surrounding air she felt beginning to warm up upon her arrival. The shower door slid open invitingly. Removing her understickers, Becky dutifully stepped in, the solid blues shifting to create a coastal woodland vista as the cleansing fog began to swirl around her.
Trees on three sides, deep azure ocean and golden sands ahead of her on the fourth, and despite knowing she wasn’t really there, there was still a small part of her that expected to feel the blades of grass brushing against her toes. Ashworth Park was the closest likeness she’d been able to find in the real world, it was little wonder that was her go-to place when she needed to unwind in a pinch.
Almost grateful at being awoken earlier than usual, which allowed her time for a second fog cycle before the drying, Becky emerged from the cubicle as the hologram scene around her dissipated. Understickers were re-applied, and the bunny returned to her now vacant bedroom to begin assembling her usual outfit for the day: dark cargo pants and whichever T-shirt she pulled from the rack. The top would be underneath her trusty bomber jacket anyhow, it didn’t strictly matter what one it was.
Downstairs she went, bandana in one hand, noting the high heels left at the door the previous night were now gone. Arriving in the kitchen, her PET was placed on the table, and a few taps later, a compliant string of blips emanated from her stereo upstairs, only noticeable in the quiet the house presently had.
The message scrolled for a few seconds, during which Becky tied the bandana around her head with practised dexterity, all she needed to keep her hair in check. Into the relative silence cut a lazy, synthy bass sequence, accompanied by an occasional thick snare drum, while the bunny set about putting together something for breakfast as the vocals joined the mix.
‘Ba-Ba-Back to reality...’
A few remaining dark dregs of coffee swirled around the bottom of the cup, earthy scent drifting through the early morning dew and steadily clearing the light haze that still lingered in the tall rabbit’s head. “And you’re sure that everything’s under control now?”
Officer Murphy gestured to their surroundings as she walked with him. The journey to the transit station had been spared the worst of the damage that Locksmouth had sustained. Most of the decorative planters along the way were still intact, a few had even kept their greenery. “Yes,” she said deliberately, “you can stop asking now if you like.”
“I’m just concerned about this place, is all,” Officer Lockridge explained.
“Alan, do you remember all those other people in blue and white uniforms you were endlessly offering to help out?” asked the golden labrador. “It is literally their job to be concerned about Locksmouth. Some of them even live here.”
“In that case, Murphy, I volunteer to be concerned,” he replied, lifting a simple holdall into clearer view.
She shook her head with a chuckle. “And I half expected you to loosen back up after you moved away.”
Alan nodded. “That was the idea.”
“Mm.” Even now, the labrador still got just a little bit saddened by how quickly the rabbit would often return to his typical stoic demeanour. “Your daughter still keeping you busy over there?”
“Oh, as ever. She’s doing well, though. Out with her pack most days, hasn’t been getting herself into trouble too much recently. Mostly.” Glancing over, Alan hadn’t noticed his strides had taken him ahead of Murphy again. Slowing a touch, he allowed her to catch back up.
“Hey, that’s good to hear,” she replied as she rejoined his side. “I’m sure she’ll get there soon, now that we don’t have to pull her and Carrie apart every other week, huh?”
“Tell me about it.” The pair came to a stop as they reached the station. “And what about your kid, how’s he doing?”
“He’s great. Little banged up after all the attacks, but nothing that a good couple of days rest can’t fix.”
“Well I’ll certainly wish him all the best.” Hoisting the holdall over his shoulder, Alan gave Murphy the usual nod of support. Kind words, and probably sincere too, but she noted his expression hardly changed.
“You know what I’d like to happen at some point?” She crossed her arms, looking him square in the eye. “You coming to Locksmouth just for a visit. Not giving the police more hands, or doing favours for people, just give yourself a break from worrying about everything. Maybe we could have a bit more time to catch up with each other, instead of the walk-and-a-coffee when you’re catching the transit back to Midbourn every time.”
“I think you might be onto something with that idea.” The rabbit looked back at the rest of Locksmouth, mulling it over for a second. “I’ll tell you what. Once everything’s been settled down, I’ll give you a call and we can work something out.”
“Once everything’s been settled down?” Murphy asked.
“With us, or with you?”
The last of the coffee was gulped down in one swift motion. “I really should get going.” Switching the cup into his other hand, Alan extended the labrador a handshake. “It was good seeing you again, Murphy.”
“You too, Al,” she replied. The rabbit was about to step away, but Murphy kept his hand in her grip, pulling them back together and wrapping the other arm around him in a quick hug. “Take care of yourself, okay?”
“I will.” As they broke apart, Alan gave her a soft hand on the shoulder in return. “I’ll be in touch.” And with that, he strode his way into the station to catch his transit home, leaving Murphy heading back into Locksmouth, ready to begin repairing the city.
She was sure she’d seen him smiling as he left.
The odd tree flashing past in the dense landscape of housing. A near-silent thrum of the grav-skiffs beneath the passengers. Idle chatter amongst friends, gradually morphing into a gently rising cheer, beginning as the carriage descended momentarily into darkness, reaching its loudest as they emerged into the dappled streaks of sunlight that had made it to the clear tunnel on the riverbed. Nobody knew quite when this strange tradition had started, but now it was just another part of the Midbourn High School transit journey.
Becky, though, played no part in it this time, the small cheer among the rest of the high schoolers garnering no reaction from her. Instead she was fixated on a spot far at the front of the carriage, leaning slightly into the aisle to get a better view. As though expecting something to be there that wasn’t.
The staring hadn’t gone unnoticed from the rest of the passengers throughout the journey, a few pairs of eyes flicking in her direction for the brief moments they dared to. Nor had it gone unnoticed from her pack, whose journey was proving to be a far quieter one than normal.
Kimmie watched for a moment Becky’s unmoving stare, leaning forward slightly to try and peer through the bubble the rabbit seemed to currently have around herself. “Becky, is everything alright?”
“Eh, she’s okay,” Vince chimed in, nodding in Becky’s direction. “Kind of a rough night.”
“Aw...” The bird’s smile waned slightly at that, tilting her head back over toward the bunny. “Beckyyyyyy~” she called softly, but to no avail. Becky’s focus remained set far off in the distance.
She only retracted her attention when her PET started chirping at her, glancing down the pocket it had been stowed in as she brought out the device. However, upon inspection, it was as dormant as it had been when she’d left the house. A few taps and a swipe or two on the screen showed that no message had arrived, but still the sound continued. And then a small giggle.
The rabbit looked up toward her packmate sat opposite. The cockatiel kept her playful smile up for a second, before a subtle fluttering of her beak and throat brought forth a remarkably accurate imitation of Becky’s message tone.
“Fuck off, Kimmie,” she grumbled, stuffing her PET back into its usual pocket.
“C’mon, you never normally shut yourself out this much”, Kimmie continued with a warm smile, although it didn’t seem to be making much difference to the bunny. Her attention was now back on that same spot in the distance, head propped up by one arm as she moved further over against the armrest. “I’m just worried about you, Becky,” pressed Kimmie, leaning in toward her further, “what’s the matte-“
“I’m FINE, okay?!”
The rest of the conversations collectively paused and quietened for a second at her unexpectedly explosive response. Noticing the change, Becky looked around the carriage, and was initially met with dozens of her schoolmates all staring at her, before quickly turning away when they saw her staring back at them with her typical frown. The only ones who didn’t were the trio of Hender, Stacy and Mikey, sat just a few rows away, facing back toward her. Mikey’s face was plastered with an expectant grin, Stacy couldn’t help a faint smirk crossing hers, while Hender, arms folded, gave the bunny a shake of the head, dripping with condescension. Becky shot a vicious glare in their direction, flipping them her one-finger salute as she turned away to start watching the scenery pass by the window. A sharp sigh escaped the bunny in the tense silence among her pack. “Sorry, Kimmie...”
“It’s okay,” came the meek reply, the bird having shuffled back a little further into her seat.
“Hey, it’s nothing to get too worked up about,” Vince told her, bringing a hand onto Becky’s shoulder. “You’ve got packmates looking out for you, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Becky shrugged, turning back toward Kimmie. “I just had a dumb dream last night...what’s happened to him?”
“Hm?” Kimmie looked over at the sight that had caught Becky’s interest: Niall, in the seat alongside Kimmie, was currently sat slumped back, eyes closed, head finding a small gap between the headrest and the window to keep itself steady. “Oh, has he actually...?” she asked them, leaning in to better examine their currently silent packmate.
The other two shifted forward to join the investigation. “Well, he was awake when we got on,” Becky reminded the group, watching the gentle rise and fall of his breathing.
“Barely.” Vince added. “He was looking tired, even by Niall standards.”
Kimmie slowly waved a hand in front of the spider’s face, watching his features intently. “...Niall?” she asked quietly.
“Hey, Nine-Legs,” said Becky.
“That always gets a reaction out of him,” she told Vince.
The fennec looked over the spider sitting opposite him, who it appeared had completely fallen asleep. “Kimmie, what did you do to him last night?”
“N-” The cockatiel couldn’t even get one syllable out before breaking down into a fit of giggles. “Nothing!” she explained to them, “You guys left, and then we just went to bed!”
“Yeah,” Becky nodded, eyebrow raised with a knowing half-grin, “and what did the pair of you get up to once you did?”
“We...” Kimmie began, shifting in her seat for a second. “...okay,” she relented, lowering her voice a touch, “we OC’d for a bit, but it wasn’t, like...”
“A bit?” Vince cut her off with a smirk of his own.
“Y-...mmh...?” The red plumage on the cockatiel’s cheeks appeared to deepen a shade or two, while she awkwardly turned her eyes toward the floor.
A snicker escaped the bunny opposite. “Oh my god, Kimmie, you are fucking terrible!” she chastised her packmate, despite being unable to maintain a straight face. “We left at midnight!”
Likewise, Kimmie couldn’t quite keep herself from giggling. “I know!” she replied, “it was just-”
“It’s like you don’t have a LifeSaver mode at all, or anything like that!” Becky continued, cutting across the bird.
“Come on, that’s not true!” Kimmie retorted, to which the bunny burst into laughter. “It’s not!” she insisted.
“It kind of is!” Becky told her, throwing a hand out toward the sleeping Niall. “Look at him!”
“Okay,” Vince interjected, raising a hand softly between the two, “I think that is a bit unfair on Kimmie now, Becky. It’s not as though Niall’s never fallen asleep on the subtran before,” he reminded her.
The rabbit gave a shrug, beginning to calm herself down again. “I know, I know, I’m just joking around with her.”
Kimmie’s smile returned at that, as she settled back into the seat, hands together in her lap. “Are you feeling any better, then?” she asked.
Becky looked up at her packmate for a second, and that familiar cheerfulness that Kimmie brought with her. She took a breath to steady herself. “...yeah, I think I am.” She, too, slowly began to relax a little. “Thanks, you two.”
“Hey, that’s what we’re all here for,” Vince reassured her, nodding toward both Kimmie and Niall.
The bunny smiled back at the two that were still awake, and resumed watching the scenery pass as the transit continued into the outer reaches of Midbourn’s commercial sector. It wasn’t quite as tightly packed as the residential part of the dome - particularly the half on the other side of the river - allowing for wide pathways flanked by greenery, and a number of small open parks visible from the transit in flashes. Becky still forgot on occasion that it was only across that river where the oppressively stark buildings of the industrial sector stood. And then there was the half-rusted chaos of the Dockside, a monument to prosperity long since past. There was next to nothing tying any one of them to the others, the bunny thought to herself, and yet Midbourn kind of made it all work.
The transit steadily began slowing for the approach to their destination. “You gonna be okay until later, Becky?” Vince asked.
She pondered for a moment. “Probably,” she said. “I mean, I’m not in any classes with Hender’s pack before lunchtime, so...”
“And then you’ve got gym after,” Kimmie chimed in, “you like that!”
Becky nodded at that. “Yeah, it’s just getting through Dynamics again,” she sighed, “it is so fucking dull.”
“Oh...” Kimmie grimaced, being reminded of exactly why it was dull. “You’ve got Gil for that, don’t you?”
“’Sat-Nav’ Gilchrist,” Becky elaborated, putting on a blatantly forced smile.
“Oof,” came an understanding groan from Vince, “he could put anybody to sleep.”
Their conversation came to a halt just as the transit did, a faint hiss of heat venting from the skiffs underneath. “Speaking of sleep.” Kimmie gave the spider next to her a small nudge with one arm, jolting him suddenly awake.
“Gah! I didn’t…what?” Niall stammered in his abrupt return to consciousness.
Kimmie allowed herself a small giggle. “We’re here, Niall,” she told him.
“Where?” he asked, to which Kimmie turned his head toward the subtran station outside the window, onto which the students from the transit were now filing out. “Oh! At the...okay, thanks guys!”
Vince couldn’t help a chuckle of his own. “Tell you what, Niall, grab a Carbolate and wake yourself up,” he suggested, as the four joined the rest of the students and made their way out onto the platform. “We’ve got a little time to spare.”
Sticking to the transits may have been quicker, but Alan had always preferred the walk around Midbourn, ever since he had moved there. Fresh air, occasional twittering of birds in the parks, just watching the rest of the world as it passed. It also gave him a chance to stretch his legs after the three-and-a-half hour ride from Locksmouth, where the usual couple of inches transits lacked in legroom often had enough time to leave them a little sore by journey’s end.
Being only late morning by now, the chances were normally quite low that he would run into someone on the walk back to his house. Kids would be in school, adults would be at work. Perhaps a jogger or two would go by as he crossed one of the many bridges spanning Midbourn’s river, or more likely someone whose work involved them being out and about in the town as well.
Someone like a beat cop, for instance. Out of a side street emerged the chipper figure of Officer Herding, as he was officially known, wide grin easily visible from behind a short and grizzly beard. “It’s good to see you back!”
“Hey, Rex,” the rabbit greeted his colleague, “How have things been going here, everyone okay?”
“Oh yes, everyone’s fine,” the porcupine replied, “it’s been as eventful as always the last few days.”
“Missing pets,” Alan presumed.
Rex shrugged. “Not quite so many, yesterday’s rain probably kept them indoors. I take it Locksmouth was slightly less sedate?”
“That is quite an understatement,” said Alan, rolling one shoulder slightly, “but there’s no immediate danger any more, as far as I know, and now everyone’s safe again.”
Another appreciative grin. “That’s fantastic to hear. I’d rather you than me in that respect, to be perfectly honest, but we’re all glad you made it back in one piece, I’m sure.”
Alan gave a nod of his own. “I’m glad everyone here’s been doing well, too. Locksmouth just needed a bit of help the last few days, I couldn’t really not go.”
“Same as ever, huh?”
A brief chortle escaped Rex. “Well, I’ll let you get back to the rest of your day, you’ve certainly earned it.”
“I’ll see you at the station tomorrow, then.” Alan replied, setting off once again on the walk home. “If you need me for anything, just give me a shout.”
“Of course,” the porcupine called after him. “Take care!” Buoyed by the good news, along with the return of his fellow officer, Rex picked the tune he had been whistling to himself back up again as he resumed his route, strolling through the streets under the clouded, but bright skies.
[SoundproofFennec: Becky, it’s okay, nobody’s trying to mess with you by being quiet.]
this is BULLSHIT]
[Captain_Scuttle: It’s weird if everyone’s all doing it, though]
[PatchBunny: i got paired up with darren kenswick in lab and he didnt say a fucking word either]
[SuperBird: Darren was silent the whole time???]
[SuperBird: :O ]
[Captain_Scuttle: Which one is he again?]
[SoundproofFennec: Capybara guy, fancy hair. Doesn’t have a butt.]
[PatchBunny: he chats with whoever all the fucking time and then when hes with me it’s nothing]
[SoundproofFennec: It’s nearly lunch, though, the rest of us should be good to talk about whatever, if you’re feeling up to it.]
[SuperBird: I could help you with that calc stuff like you wanted?]
[PatchBunny: yeah im gonna go get changed for gym first though so ill see you guys after]
[Captain_Scuttle: See you soon, Bex]
[SoundproofFennec: We’ll be sure to save a tray for you. =) ]
Reverberating tones of the lunch bell rang out, and instantly the most eager of kids began trickling out into the hallways. Ambling and pleasant chatter between pairs or the odd trio eventually exiting each classroom. Pairs rounding one corner and merging seamlessly into small groups. Groups rounding the next corner and merging once again, into the same cafeteria-bound crowd that formed each turn of a school afternoon with faultless regularity.
A small pocket of silence began flowing against the tide, in lockstep with bodies shifting a little to either side, revealing a clear path for the lone figure striding firmly the other way.
Becky was not one to simply take a casual stroll at the best of times when she was on her own, and right now she had even less inclination. She had somewhere to be, and god damn it she was going there, plain drawstring bag - retrieved from her locker along the way - slung over one shoulder. The sooner she got to the gym building, the sooner she would hopefully have a place to herself where she could settle down again.
Turning down the next corridor, she then noticed a very familiar, white-furred face approaching over the rest of the crowd. Hender’s vivid blue eyes caught hers for a second, and that self-satisfied smirk of his seemed to grow just a little wider. Deftly, he manouvered his way over to a wall-mounted drinking fountain, leaning over slightly to take a sip.
Becky ignored everyone else’s erratic sidesteps, and stormed straight toward him. “Right, what the fuck have you been telling everyone?”
A few moments passed as Hender finished drinking from the cool stream of water, making sure to turn the faucet off again. Standing back up, he wiped the back of one hand across his lips, before turning his attention to Becky. “What do you mean?”
“I mean everyone’s going quiet whenever I show up,” she pressed, “what did you fucking tell them?”
Hender leaned back against the row of lockers behind him, arms folded. “That is just what people do around you, Becky, you must’ve-”
“No,” Becky interjected, “I don’t mean they’re talking a bit less loud, I mean they all stop fucking talking completely! What kind of shit have you been spreading?”
Hender only watched the scowling Becky for a moment, running a hand across his chin. “You don’t think punching me in the face last night might have something to do with that? There were quite a lot of people there.”
“Listen, you asshole,” growled Becky, stepping forward and glaring up at the bear, “you don’t tell me my friends are gonna get beaten up, and then think I’m gonna sit back and do nothing about it!”
“Becky, when have I ever beaten anyone up?” Hender calmly asked her.
“That isn’t the fucking POINT!!” Becky snapped back, leaning even closer toward him.
“Becky, Becky, Becky...” Bringing an arm slowly between them, Hender shifted the irate rabbit back with a gentle nudge, to which Becky quickly swiped his arm away from her. “When have I ever so much as laid a finger on any of your packmates?”
“That doesn’t fucking matter!” she snarled back at him.
“Look,” said Hender, “you’re the one that keeps taking everything the wrong way. I’m just worried about what you’re going to end up doing to them.”
Becky blinked. “Wh...what I’m...?!”
“Come on, Becky. I think we both know which one of us is eventually gonna hurt them.”
The rabbit fell silent, nose twitching, mouth slightly agape yet words refusing to form. A fist hung clenched by her side, arm tense. A quick grimace, a shake of her head, a futile attempt to bring her burning temper back into check.
The bear met her with only a subtle cock of an eyebrow and that smile returning.
It was all the more aggravating that Hender knew how badly Becky wanted to hit him, and made sure Becky knew that he knew. A step back. A sharp breath. A moment’s hesitation. At the last second, she turned away, forcing her emotions back down as she began walking off.
“I’ll see you out on the field, Bex!”
Wheeling around on the spot, Becky had just enough time to catch the smug grin across Hender’s face as he rejoined the rest of those heading toward the cafeteria, leaving her with the palpable sting of a big, hard slap on the ass. Several others glanced back to see what the noise was, while Becky stood stock still, staring at Hender as he walked away, frozen with disbelief and near unmanageable rage. If it weren’t for the dozens of people around her, the temptation to charge over and try to smash his teeth out again would have been all too much. As it was, and having done something too similar yesterday, Becky forced herself away from that idea and started off in the opposite direction, only to instantly collide with someone coming the other way.
“Unh!” The pink mole boy quickly brought his hands up in apology when he saw who he had walked into, and what kind of mood they were in. “Sorry, I-I’m sorry! I wasn’t l-” His apology was cut short when Becky grabbed his collar with one hand, and hurled him out of her way, sending him crashing into the lockers as she marched angrily through the now fully parted crowd.
It was only a matter of two or three minutes’ walk at most from the main building to the smaller, separate gym facilities at Midbourn High School, out beneath the currently overcast sky. Gym class usually finished early enough to allow students to change back into their regular clothes if they needed to and still make it to their next subject on time, so there weren’t typically any stragglers left along the way by the time Becky would arrive. On a day like today, especially, that was exactly how she liked it, but as it happened, she wouldn’t quite be so fortunate.
Mikey’s purple mane easily stood out from the tree he was up next to, with Stacy having slinked her way in between. Lips locked in a relaxed, carefree make-out, the two were tangled up in one another, fingers drawn through long and cascading hair beneath that bright orange beanie, hands resting against hips to keep them both close, with the occasional soft squeeze thrown in to keep things exciting.
There was always a small chance between classes of finding the pair of them engaged in some level of intimacy, sometimes during classes as well, if they chose to skip a lesson or two. Normally they were content to simply enjoy one another’s company if anybody happened upon them, but as Stacy noticed the oncoming figure and Mikey’s eyes followed hers, they both started to get the same idea.
“Yo Becky, lunch is kinda the other way?” Stacy said, lazily jabbing a thumb in the right direction as the bunny approached.
“I know that.” Becky didn’t even look at her.
“Wow,” Mikey chipped in with mock surprise. “You finally on a diet?”
Becky gave no answer, instead ramming her elbow hard into the sloth’s ribs as she strode past angrily, knocking him back against the taller dog girl. Ever since she’d arrived at Midbourn High School, teachers and parents alike had been, at best, ‘disappointed’ with Becky’s level of violence towards the other students if they had said or done something she took exception to. It was all too easy for that to happen, especially for people like Stacy and Mikey, the latter of whom - despite the obvious pain from the bunny’s attack - was actually laughing. However, sitting back and doing nothing, Becky had learned, only left an open invitation to do a whole lot worse.
The door was thrown open as Becky entered the gym building, almost swinging far enough to collide with the wall inside. The place, thankfully, seemed to be empty, so there was very little chance of anyone being swept up and becoming collateral. Marching straight through toward the back, Becky shoved open the door to the changing room, this time hearing the all too familiar crack of the handle against the wall, in the spot where a noticeable dent had been growing over the last few years.
The bag was launched into the corner with all the strength the rabbit could muster, before dropping softly onto the bench running around the outside of the room, soon joined by its owner throwing herself down onto it. Becky was shaking. Her hands gripped the edge of the bench so tightly she felt she might tear it in half. Blood boiled and guts twisted, she had to take it out on something, on someone, she could sense that all too familiar eruption fast approaching. The overwhelming anger.
She closed her eyes. The room was quiet. There was no-one else around. For now, Becky had a moment where she could be truly on her own and shut everything out. Just the slowly swirling patterns behind her eyelids, and the sound of her own breathing for company. Nothing else to focus on. Just herself.
Pause, two, three, four, five.
Gradually, the trembling began to subside. Her breathing grew settled. Rage had cooled enough for now. One step back from the edge.
A flash of orange.
She opened her eyes. The room was quiet. There was no-one else around. Becky really was on her own.
Pushing that thought to the back of her mind, the bunny grabbed the bag alongside her and emptied out its contents, unable to help a smile crossing her face, as it did whenever they were brought out. Green shirt, white shorts, opposing trim, along with a little boost to her spirits if needed - her Tackle Toss kit.
There had been a thick apprehension and unease in the air when Becky had first showed up to the tryouts just over two years ago. Her reputation was known by pretty much everyone, even back then. The feeling never really subsided over the course of that afternoon either, but despite that, Becky had managed to put one of the strongest accounts of herself together by the end of the day. Her short stature made her deceptively agile, she had shown a surprising amount of speed when called to, packed some incredibly powerful kicks bordering on the vicious, and had found an environment where her weight could actually be useful. She had never found out if the rumours of her breaking one of the tackling dummies were true or not, but for her, Tackle Toss turned out to be more than simply a choice of extracurricular, something she wanted to do.
The day she learned that she’d made it onto the team had been etched in Becky’s memory ever since. From the disbelief at first, to the sheer elation once it finally sunk in, and the heartfelt congratulations she had gotten from her dad after she broke the news to him when he arrived home that night. For the first time since she had moved to Midbourn, and probably some time before as well, Becky was no longer solely defined by her short fuse and how scared the other kids were of her. She had finally got something she could think of as an achievement. Something for which she could be proud of herself. And the more time she had spent as a member of the team, the more she had learned how to better co-operate with those around her, the more she had developed a proper sense of discipline, and and the more she came to find what could almost be considered a constructive outlet for all the aggression that still roiled away inside her. For Becky, Tackle Toss had been something she needed to do.
The kit, to her, was emblematic of that, an extra burst of confidence washing over her as she shimmied her way into it, setting the jacket, cargo pants and T-shirt off to one side. The only drawback to the Tackle Toss outfit was that, compared to her usual attire, it didn’t do much to hide her figure, revealing bulky thighs, a rather large butt, and an overly pudgy belly that always ended up overflowing the waistband a little. It wouldn’t be quite so bad, Becky thought, if she had any tits to speak of, but even so, every time she wore it she couldn’t help feeling just a little more imposing. A little more powerful.
A few tugs situated the kit to where it was comfortable enough. Her PET was slapped onto the outside of one leg, threadlink technology holding it in place. She took a step toward the lockers along one wall, and stumbled for a second. Something was resisting her. Looking down at her feet, Becky saw a small blue tentacle coiling around one ankle. Attached to the other end was a slithering, amorphous blob, staring up at her with a single, bulging eyeball.
“What the fuck?!” Becky immediately jumped away from the strange creature, heart leaping up into her mouth. The icky blue tendril stretched out with her, still wrapped around her ankle, and the blob sprung back toward her, clamping onto her shin with a wet smack. Letting out a shocked yelp, Becky began frantically flailing her leg in every direction, shaking the little beast for all she was worth. It too began shrieking as it tried to cling onto her, an unnatural squeal echoing around the room, almost as though it were two voices melded into one.
“Fucking let go of me!!” As the flailing grew more and more agitated, Becky felt its grip slowly loosening, and with one last violent swing, she finally managed to throw off the freakish little thing, sending it twirling up toward the ceiling. Instinct took over, and as it arced back down, Becky rushed forward, catching it in mid-air with a brutal kick, instep connecting perfectly. The creature sailed through the open doorway into the showers, splattering against the back wall and slipping slowly into the drain around the perimeter, while Becky slid for another yard or so before her shoes lost all grip on the tiled floor, and she was brought down heavily onto her side.
Quiet settled over the room again. Becky’s head was racing to try and make any kind of sense about what had just happened. Had this happened before? She slowly sat up, propped on her hands. Every cell in her brain was telling her that yes, this had happened before. She leaned over, peering through to the showers. The remnants of the creature had all but disappeared. No, it can’t have happened before. She could hear liquid. Movement. Glancing up at the shower heads, all of them were turned off. Glancing down at the drains, she watched as they were spilling over, slowly covering the floor with a thin layer of shimmering blue water. Too blue.
The last time was only a dream.
A dozen of those same creatures swelled up and rose out of the liquid.
Becky felt her breath catch in her throat.
A dozen eyeballs stared back at her.
A voice whispered to her. A voice from somewhere deep in the back of her subconscious. A voice she knew, but couldn’t place.
A voice that spoke a single word.
Scampering backward, Becky watched the twelve or so creatures surge towards her as one, each one too alike to separate from the rest. Turning, she pushed herself up, breaking into a sprint for the door, getting no further than a step before a thick, ropey arm caught both feet in one swift motion, tying them up and bringing her crashing down to the ground, dragging her back. Squirming, trying to wriggle her way free, only drew the coil around her legs tighter, as steadily it began winding its way up, joined by another long, snaking arm. And another. And another.
“No!” Becky yelled, “No, no, no, no, no, NO!” trying to grab and tear at the myriad tendrils wrapping around her, but as soon as she pulled one arm loose, another would immediately slide in to take its place, almost seeming to merge into a single, smothering mass, beginning to curl over her spine, and it was only when she felt her arms being pulled behind her that she realised it had found a way around her wrists as well, slowly wrapping up past her elbows as the rest of it reached her chest.
“Ngh! G-Get off!!” Breath came in short, panicked gasps, her efforts to escape only seeming to force her further into the grasp of these creatures, deeper into the thick, damp mass that had engulfed her up past the shoulders. “LET ME GO!!!”
Long, thin fingers slithered across her neck, through her hair, up to the very tips of her ears. “Haaah...haah, h-heh...HELP!!” she cried out, “FUCKING HELP ME!!!”
Her vision clouded through both tears and the sickening liquid creeping over her, closing in around her from every direction.
Becky let loose a horrific, terrified scream, all she had left as the tendrils began crawling past her lips.
And then, in an instant, the world came to a stop.
A faint ringing began to echo through Becky’s ears. The nothing feeling gave way to a slick coolness against her cheek, and pain. Everywhere. Every bone, every organ, every muscle in her body. Everything hurt. The white slowly dissipated, transitioning into a blurry mess of indistinguishable colour and shape, pulsating blackness encircling at the periphery of her vision.
The ringing grew louder. The all-subsuming pain, intensifying, deepening. Eyes focus. Face down. A tangled mess of shapes charred and smashed. Burning shards of torn metal. Blackness.
The floor carved away beneath her. Jets of water arcing high into the air. Dark puddles of liquid. Ringing. The door, shattered. Blackness.
Chunks of stone strewn across the room. Pain. Blackness.
Becky looked up, out into the open sky above her.
The ringing was fading.
The pain was dying.
The clouds were growing darker.
Soon the blackness had taken them all.