The students filed down the stairs, into the basement. "We've never had a class this far down, before," said Percival de Rolo.

"Really?" said young Dresden, who was a first year. "My uncle told me strange things about the professor."

"I'm sure it'll all be okay," opined Kiki.

"Okay?" asked Nimue. "There've been a few deaths every year. I don't think we can assume anything's-"

"That's enough chit-chat," said Professor Harris in, surprisingly, an American accent. "Class won't always be down here. But, here you are." He motioned to the room.

The room was strangely arranged, especially for a school of witchcraft and wizardry. There was a half-wall blocking the students from the majority of the room, leaving it completely blank between until the end, with a plain curtain blocking something. Even the things that weren't strange for that context were still... strange. For instance, Professor Harris pointed to a skull... without a candle dribbling over it. Instead, it was encased in a strange, transparent pinkish... something.
Read more... )
Disclaimer 1: Looney Tunes, the characters, their names, and their likenesses are owned by Warner Brothers and this indicates no claim upon their intellectual property.

Disclaimer 2: I know next to nothing about Tasmania or how actual research facilities work.
___

Dr. Pehg's trained eye took in the destruction as she ran. She saw no obvious footprints or differentiation. It seemed less like an animal and more like a miniature tornado had made this path. Then, she came up to the tree.

For one moment, all her intellect worked just to tell her that there was no logical hope.

It wasn't just the hole in the tree. It was that tree was still supporting itself. In order a tree this tall and this wide to support itself with just that much of the edges, the strength of the wood had to rival the best that metallurgists could accomplish. What reasonable chance could someone have against a force with the kind of strength it took to cause that tunnel... for seemingly no reason.

She could not sanely imagine a means of defeating the monster that was named for, but bore no legitimate resemblance to the Tasmanian devil.

"Taz still hungry." The voice came from behind her, baring little to no resemblance to what she knew of Elmer Fudd.

In that moment, she had a choice to make.

She slowly turned to see the blacked, bruised, and bleeding body of Elmer Fudd operating on its own.

"Me want porky meat."

If the lunatic song is all that there is, then it's a big song, encompassing many tunes. And, she'd find her own, happier, melody.

"Smile, darn ya, smile," she sang.
"You know this old world is a great world after all
Smile, darn ya, smile
And right away watch Lady Luck pay you a call"

With more grace than most assumed her capable, Dr. Pehg spun closer to the Tasmanian Devil, to pull it into a dance.

For reasons even it couldn't fathom, the Tasmanian Devil could not resist.

"Things are never black as they are painted
Time for you and joy to get acquainted
Make life worthwhile
Come on and smile, darn ya, smile"

She pressed the beast against one of the remaining supports of the tree.

The beast grew angry and raised a hand to strike at Dr. Pehg. She ducked under the wounded clumsy blow and, with a quick hand, redirected it around until the beast had struck that support.

Before the beast could strike, she moved onto the next verse.

"Smile, darn ya, smile
For there is nothing that you cannot overcome
Smile, darn ya, smile
And where the clouds appear you soon will find the sun"

As she sang, she gently pulled the beast in a straight line.

"Life is really only what you make it
Stand right up and show them you can take it
Make life worthwhile
Come on and smile, darn ya, smile"

She gave one bow, then stepped to the side. "A the-a a the-a a the-a that's all, you son of a bitch!"

As the shadow enveloped him, the Tasmanian Devil had the time to look up and say "eep" before the tree trunk came down and crushed him.

Dr. Pehg was not normally given to superstitious behavior. But, sanity had done her no good. Paranoia moved her to move rocks and dirt with her bare hands. It took her the better part of an hour, but she managed to bury what, of the body, stuck out from under the tree, then weigh even that down with heavy rocks.

After that, it would still be a while, yet, before the helicopter would come. So, she did the only thing she could think of to honor the people she'd known so briefly. She collected all their notes and their research.

Yes, including Elmer Fudd's research. Whatever else he was in his life, he was actually onto something. If only he didn't have to provide evidence like that. It occurred to her that she may have been wrong about that, that the whole ordeal had made her retreat into delusion. If so, there wasn't much she could do about it right now.

Carefully, she collected the notes together into a remaining foot locker. Finally, she went to collect Mr. Fudd's sound equipment. As she was ready to detach it, it came to life.

"Why for you bury me in the cold, cold ground?" came the voice.

The End?
Disclaimer 1: Looney Tunes, the characters, their names, and their likenesses are owned by Warner Brothers and this indicates no claim upon their intellectual property.

Disclaimer 2: I know next to nothing about Tasmania or how actual research facilities work.
___

The body of Elmer Fudd stood there, with face burnt and charred. Even a little bit of his shirt, what remained on it, burnt and smoldered.

"Ducky and piggy think doctors? Think heroes? Should know place. Ooaagh ah hah"

Dr. Duhch walked left and Dr. Pehg walked right.

"Think you smart, boy? Others know better. Call you Daffy. Ducky boy is daffy." This thing, this Tasmanian Devil was obviously taunting them, trying to get them to make a mistake, to give into something like itself.

Unbeknownst to either the Tasmanian Devil or Elmer Fudd, Dr. Duhch had already had experience keeping his calm under the weight of antagonism. Rather than drive thought from him, it sent him into a well-worn peace of mind that gave him one thought above all others. The thought was that maybe, just maybe, the lunatic song could be merry in the right place. Maybe that was the way.

"I am the daffy Duck," he said, walking forward to the still and now confused devil. "I worked on a Merry-Go-Round. The job was swell. I did quite well. Till the Merry-go-round broke down." He punctuated that verse of song with a mallet to the side of the Tazmanian Devil's face. "Hoo-hoo!" And another strike. "Hoo-hoo!" followed by three more "Hoo! Hoo! Hoo-Hoo!

"The guy that worked with me was a horse with a lavender eye. Around in whirls, we winked at girls, till the Merry-go-round broke down." For a moment, he just danced. Nobody knew where the flute music was coming from. The Tazmanian Devil attempted to back away.

"Up and down we sped. That dizzy pace soon went to my head. Now you know why I'm dizzy and do the things I do. I am a skew and you'd be too if the Merry-go-round broke down." Yet more swings with the mallot punctuated to "Hoo-hoo! Hoo-hoo! Hoo-hoo-Hoo-hoo-Hoo-hoo-Hoo-hoo!" until the devil tripped into the lodging and over the bag that Dr. Bunnet had carried.

"If the Merry-go-round broooooooookkkkkkkkkkkeeeeeeeeeeee" Dr. Duhch continued the note beyond reasonable lung capacity. Then, he spoke the word "down", with a kind of cruel glee as he brought the mallet down... on the dynamite poking out of the bag.

The resulting explosion blasted the two out of the destroyed lodging shot them through the aluminium wall of the office structure.

Dr. Duhch was limp, as one might be, but that was no garauntee, to Dr. Pehg, that he couldn't survive. But, the Tasmanian Devil, painfully, stood up and stepped over to the, hopefully just unconscious, Dr. Duhch.

Dr. Pehg fired into the devil's back and didn't even distract him from ripping Dr. Duhch's head off.

Dr. Pehg cursed her failure and did the only thing that logic allowed. She ran in the opposite direction. Immediately following the path that the devil had left earlier, she took that for speed.
Disclaimer 1: Looney Tunes, the characters, their names, and their likenesses are owned by Warner Brothers and this indicates no claim upon their intellectual property.

Disclaimer 2: I know next to nothing about Tasmania or how actual research facilities work.
___

Dr. Duhch slumped and fell to his knees. "Merry. He thaid the thong could be merry. How can anything be merry right now?"

"He also said there was a ge-ah a ge-ah a ge-ah good news. Obviuosly the explosion didn't kill Elmer, but he can be hurt."

"Good newth? A perthon jutht died."

"And a we-ah a we-ah a we-ah we haven't. Not yet. I wonder why not."

Dr. Duhch narrowed his eyes. "I know why not. Tho do you." A tear dropped from his eye, for the friend he called Bugs. Then, he stood up. "We've both of uth dealt with bullieth in our time."

Dr. Pehg narrowed her own eyes. "Oh, a ye-ah a ye-ah a ye-ah yes I have." She reached down to pick up the hunting rifle. "And, what don't we do with a be-ah a be-ah a be-ah bullies?"

Dr. Duhch moved to search through the storage. He tossed Dr. Pehg a box of ammunition. "We don't give them one bleththed inch." He then reached and picked up a mallet, used for driving tentspikes into the ground. "If madneth truly ith the melody we mutht danthe to, then let'th danthe."

Almost as though sensing that they might be mustering courage, the devil, outside, called out. "Ducky. Piggy. Me hungry."

It was quite certain that the Tasmanian Devil thought that would send shivers down their spines. Dr.s Duhch and Pehg had fought too many monsters in their time, monsters that were the very civilization that they lived in, ones that took offense to the very notion that a black man and a woman could have scientific ambitions in the first place.

"A the-ah a the-ah a the-ah that lunatic song?"

"Let'th change the tune."

Dr. Duhch readied his mallet and Dr. Pehg had both chambers of the hunting rifle loaded. They nodded to each other and stepped out.
Disclaimer 1: Looney Tunes, the characters, their names, and their likenesses are owned by Warner Brothers and this indicates no claim upon their intellectual property.

Disclaimer 2: I know next to nothing about Tasmania or how actual research facilities work.
___

Dr.s Duhch and Pehg looked at the radio in pieces.

"You know anything about engineering?"

"I've a re-ah a re-ah a re-ah repaired a few radios."

Dr. Pehg immediately set to sorting the parts for reassembly and Dr. Duhch set to fetching replacement parts.
___

Dr. Bunnet surprised even himself with his turn of speed as he ran to the lodging. Maybe it wasn't that surprising, considering all the times he had to rely upon quickness of foot and wit to survive his youth. With a similar speed, he brought three footlockers to block the door.

"Ooh ah!"

Dr. Bunnet paused in his next thought to antagonize the thing that used to be Mr. Fudd. "I hear you knocking, but you can't come in," he said in a singsong voice.

"Ooh Eee Rabbit ah pbthth!"

"I don't speak the lingo, but I get the gist," whispered the entemologist to himself.

He needed to keep Elmer distracted, angry, off balance. He was actually good at that. And, Dr. Bunnet looked in his bag, then at the refridgerator. Maybe Elmer's ideas about the lunacy at the heart of all action was correct, because Dr. Bunnet had an idea that was total lunacy.
___

Dr. Pehg's hands moved with unreasonable speed. "A pe-ah a pe-ah a pe-ah practice makes perfect," she said to herself.

"Will it work?"

From the outside, they heard the angry sound, "Ooh Eee Rabbit ah pbthth!"

"No time to tetht partth."
___

The Tazmanian Devil ripped the door from its hinges and tossed it aside, ready to storm in and kill that "Rabbit!"

Instead, Dr. Bunnet rushed out with the small dining table in hand. He set right before the beast.

"Ima cooked you a wild turkey surprise. You a stay right a here." There was barely enough of Elmer Fudd remaining to wonder, in confusion, at the offensively stereotyped accent.

That confusion lasted long enough for Dr. Bunnet to lay out a plate containing turkey coldcut wrapped around... something, and capped off with a turkey frill.

"Now eat-a up while it's-a still sizzling." It actually was still sizzling, too.

The part that was Elmer Fudd wasn't strong enough to resist the Devil's urge to consume. The monster picked up the food and shoved it all into his mouth.

Dr. Bunnet jumped back into the lodging and behind a wall just in time.
___

"Thith ith Dr. Duhch in the Fudd Rethearch Fathility. Need emergenthy evacuathion, over."

"This is Captain Lin, confirming emergency evacuation. Situation report needed."

Just at that moment, an explosion shook through the storage shed, causing specimen bottles to rattle.

"What was that? Over." asked Captain Lin.

"Mr. Fudd hath had a mental break. He'th attacking uth. Need immediate evacuathion! Over!"

"On my way, over and out."
___

Dr. Bunnet looked around the wall.

Elmer Fudd, no, definately not Elmer Fudd anymore. The monster that Elmer had called The Tasmanian Devil stood at the table, glaring at Dr. Bunnet. There was nothing left to confuse. Only anger and hate.

Dr. Bunnet attempted to run.
___

The radio went dead.

"There. That'th done. Thoughtth on what we do, now?"

"A we-ah a we-ah a we-ah We survive. That shouldn't be too a de-ah a de-ah a de-ah difficult."

" I ooh waah hoo arr!" The rage in that string of syllabuls was immense. Language could not contain the hatred.

The sound was followed by Dr. Bunnet, flying, backwards and head first, through the door to the storage, and landing in a bloody human mess.

Dr.s Duhch and Pehg rushed to his aid.

"Don't waste your time. I'm a gonner."

"No, Bugth, you can make it. You're a thurvivor."

"Not this time, Doc."

Dr. Duhch ripped his own shurt to make a bandage to staunch the bleeding. "No, I've thpent too much time with you to let it end like thith!"

Dr. Bunnet grabbed Dr. Duhch's collar and pulled him in. "Look, Doc. I ain't got much time. Both of you gotta listen."

Dr. Pehg looked down, lower on Dr. Bunnet, then flinched. Few things could make her do that. She placed a hand on Dr. Duhch's shoulder.

"He ain't human no more. He's that thing, the Tasmanian Devil that he wrote about. But, there's good news."

"What poththible good newth could there be?"

"He can be hoit. He can be hoit. You can win. And, that music he talks about, the song of lunacy. I can hear it. You can, too. It ain't just destruction. If you hear it right, it's... merry." The body of Dr. Bunnet went limp.
Disclaimer 1: Looney Tunes, the characters, their names, and their likenesses are owned by Warner Brothers and this indicates no claim upon their intellectual property.

Disclaimer 2: I know next to nothing about Tasmania or how actual research facilities work.
___

Elmer's entire body wa a blur as he, with bare hands, carved an approximately Elmer Fudd shaped hole into the tree. With just one more strike, he could topple the entire thing over.

Just as Elmer raised his hand, or something did, there was a distraction, something more important than even pure destruction.

"Hungry."

Elmer's face turned to the distant research facility. He started walking.

" Porky. Birdy... Rabbit."

He started running.
___

The three doctors staired out the door towards the sound. It was getting closer.

"A the-ah a the-ah a the-ah That can't be related."

"It couldn't be. Nothing natural can make that kind of noithe."

"It don't sound natural, docs. But it feels familiar."

"A we-ah a we-ah a we-ah What does it feel like?"

Dr. Bunnet looked to Dr. Pehg, with a haunted look on his face. "Hunting season."

Dr.s Pehg and Duhch looked at Dr. Bunnet and visibly shuddered.

Dr. Pehg steeled herself. "No. I a re-ah a re-ah a re-ah refuse to let unreasonable a fe-ah a fe-ah a fe-ah stop me now, when reasonable fears never have. We need a plan."

"Quite right, Dr. Pehg. We'll radio for an emergenthy helicopter. It won't be here for hourth, but we'll try to talk to Mr. Fudd, thee if we can calm him down... rethtrain him if nethethary."

"A ge-ah a ge-ah a ge-ah agreeable."

They all got into motion. That sound was getting closer and fast.
___

The thing that had once been Elmer Fudd kicked up dust and destruction in its wake. A remnant of Elmer remembered where there was a collection of meats. It didn't matter what they were, just that they were meat. Some sliver of Elmer did remember what a door was, just not enough to care.
___

The three doctors rushed to the storage structure to find the radio. That sound was almost right ontop of them. Dr. Duhch was just to it when he heard the aluminum wall opposite the door rip open.

What came through only bore physical resemblance to the Mr. Fudd that they once knew. At first it looked at the specimen jars, the rows and rows of bodies and organs. Immediately, it looked at the momentarily frozen Dr. Duhch at the radio.

"Tastey birdy"

Before Dr. Duhchc could press a button, the thing that was once Elmer Fudd ran over and threw the radio aside. Its hand immediately shot out to grab the hand of the retreating Dr. Duhch.

A shot rang out and everybody looked to the source.

Dr. Bunnet had picked up Elmer's hunting rifle and had a bag slung over his shoulder. "Be very very quiet. I'm hunting Elmer."

The thing that was once Elmer looked over and snarled at Dr. Bunnet. "Rabbit" it said with undisguised hatred.

"Get to woik," said Dr. Bunnet, who then fired off another shot and ran out of the storage unit, the Fudd creature... the Tazmanian Devil behind him.

Dr.s Duhch and Pehg didn't need to be told twice. They immediately set to reassembling the radio.
Disclaimer 1: Looney Tunes, the characters, their names, and their likenesses are owned by Warner Brothers and this indicates no claim upon their intellectual property.

Disclaimer 2: I know next to nothing about Tasmania or how actual research facilities work.
___

Elmer was well into the wild before he realized he didn't bring his rifle. ooor oha He immediately realized that he didn't need it anymore. What was a rifle but a replacement for something one lacked?

Once upon a time, in his scarcely remembered youth, Elmer would come out to the wilderness, with his father, to hunt. According to the elder Fudd, this was what it took to be a man. Elmer kept up the practice even after his father was... embarrassed. Eacho! No, not embarrassed. Why pretend? After his father was locked up and called, in hushed tones so as to avoid hurting the family or the business, insane.

Elmer had kept up the practice, to be a man. Boahaha! A man. Try as he might, he couldn't remember why he ever wanted to be such a thing.
___

Dr. Duhch looked at the two halves of Atlas Shrugged that had been dropped on his desk. He looked at the other two doctors. "I've theen him read thith multiple timeth." He pushed at one half with a pencil, as if afraid of it, to see the freyed edge. "Did he thay anything?"

"Too many woids." Dr. Bunnet had a haunted look on his face.

"Leatht of my complaintth. Where ith he, now?"

"Huntin'."

"What'th he hunting for?"

"I sign-serely hope I don't know."

"A the-ah a the-ah a the-ah There's more. When I asked him what he's researching here, he gave me a the-ah a the-ah a the-ah this." Dr. Pehg dropped the notebook onto Dr. Duhch's desk. It opened onto the writeup for an entry of "The Tasmanian Devil."

"That'th... different. He'th uthually though clothelipped about it." Dr. Duhch picked up the notebook and flipped through. "Well, there ith thuch an animal ath a Tazthmanian Devil. That theemth to be about the limit of hith accurathy."
___

A man? The beasts of dreaded Tazmania did not cower and flee before a mere man.

Elmer tilted up his head and laughed. "Huh huh huh ha ha hahaha"

Out of sheer, spiteful exhuberance, Elmer made a fist and struck at a large tree. It was no younger than a century, no weaker than tempered oak, and no more resistance than a dry cracker. Splinters and shards of wood flew in all directions.

Elmer smiled at his unharmed fist... then struck again and again, faster and faster, chunks and chips of wood flying about. His arms blurred in motion.
___

"That'th... quite a long dietary litht. But, motht of thethe aren't even found on Tazthmania." Dr. Duhch turned a page. "'Ethpethially rabbit.' Who writeth a teckthtbook like thith?"

"A le-ah a le-ah a le-ah Let's leave editorial notes aside. Mr. Fudd's reasoning may never have been very a se-ah a se-ah a se-ah sound. He may be suffering a mental a be-ah a be-ah a be-ah break."

"Let'th not jump to concluthionth. I've theen thome of the thingth they do at thothe... inthtituthionth."

"A the-ah a the-ah a the-ah There are other options. If we can convince him to come along... convince him that it's for his own good."

Dr. Bunnet looked out the door. "I don't think that's going to be an option, Doc... And I don't think it's just a mental issue."

"A we-ah a we-ah a we-ah What makes you say that, Dr. Bunnet?"

"Can you hear dat?"

In the distance, a sound rose. It was something between a whirlwind and a chainsaw.
Disclaimer 1: Looney Tunes, the characters, their names, and their likenesses are owned by Warner Brothers and this indicates no claim upon their intellectual property.

Disclaimer 2: I know next to nothing about Tasmania or how actual research facilities work.
___

The book was the anthropological equivalent of a train wreck. All night long, Dr. Pehg wanted to look away, but couldn't.

"A the-ah a the-ah a the-ah The American Indians have long known the rabbit to be the symbol of calm, quick witted trickster that turns your foolishness against you.

"A he-ah a he-ah a he-ah He's insulted and oversimplified every culture he can imagine. How could he possibly justify any of these a ke-ah a ke-ah a ke-ah conclusions?"

"Flip to the back, doc. There's a bit about what he calls 'noetic science'."

Dr. Pehg looked to the back of the tomb and, indeed there it was. Noetic science, so said the book, was the use of intuition as a method of knowledge equal to what the book called "observational science".

Dr. Pehg couldn't even stutter at that. She couldn't imagine the first word that would be used to describe that.
___

Elmer Fudd spent the night in his office, in communion with the spirit. This was the being that he had theorized to find here, the one based on his noetic scientific understanding of the tasmanian devils. He'd expected hunger and anger. He hadn't expected wisdom.

"Respect ah pbthth!" It was... simple wisdom. "Awoohol!" In some ways, it was a wisdom so simple that humans couldn't understand it. Rather, as in keeping with Mr. Fudd's greater theory, it was that the sane couldn't understand it.
___

Dr. Pehg finally shut the book, a dazed look on her face only partly due to the lack of sleep. That someone in the world actually believed this was one thing. That he had written a book was another. That, appearantly, other people had purchased that book, read it, and, seemingly, believed it enough to write a forward for a new eddition...

She reminded herself that there was a reason she had read this book. It wasn't to arouse anger or pity for Mr. Fudd, it was to be able to deal with him. Whatever else the book may have done to Dr. Pehg's remaining faith in humanity, it did give her some clue about the mind of Mr. Fudd.

"A he-ah a he-ah a he-ah have you read this, Dr. Bunnet? All the way through?"

"I read a few bits," said Dr. Bunnet, absent minded as he checked over his notes to compare seasonal insect behaviors. "Once I looked at that no-eat-ick science part, I wasn't going to read no more. Besides, I been on the receiving end of enough of Mr. Fudds philow-sow-fee."

"I fe-ah i fe-ah i fe-ah If you don't mind, I'm going to ask Mr. Fudd something and I may need a we-ah a we-ah a we-ah a witness."
___

Elmer Fudd strode confidently from his office, his deerhunter jacket and cap done neatly and ready for purpose. There was something he needed to check.

Truths were opening up. Ah ee awoo! Truths that words were clumsy things.

In his thoughtful reverie, he walked right into Dr.s Pehg mmm porky and Bunnet rrr rabbit. "Pawdon me, Dr.s"

"A ne-ah a ne-ah a ne-ah No, pardon me, Mr. Fudd. I have a ke-ah a ke-ah a ke-ah a question about your research."

Mr. Fudd stepped around the plump Dr. Pehg and continued his path. "Fowwow and ask, Dr."

"I re-ah i re-ah i re-ah I read your book."

"That thing?"

The tender Dr. Bunnety visibly startled at the quick dismissal of Fudd's book.

"A we-ah a we-ah a we-ah what research are you doing here? What is your a the-ah a the-ah a the-ah theory?"

Elmer went too his foot locker and yanked off the lock. He pulled out clothing and items and keepsakes with regard neither for items or the area around him.

"A me-ah a me-ah a me-ah Mr. Fudd? What is your theory regarding Tasmania?"

Elmer pulled out a notebook and tossed it to shut up little pig satisfy her while he continued his search. She continued to speak, but that didn't matter. Dr. Bunnet knelt down and spoke, but that didn't matter, either.

Mr. Fudd found something that... did it matter? The book was Atlas Shrugged. The pages were warped from repeated, thorough rereadings. This was once a font of wisdom, but this time, flipping through the pages he found...

In a fit of anger, he ripped the book in two. "Too many wowds" was the only explanation he felt necessary.

Still, there was one way he knew of value, one way to live his truest life.
___

Mr. Fudd had been ignoring Dr. Pehg's questions and Dr. Bunnet's entreaties. Then, as though he were lost in another world, he stood and left the lodging.

Dr.s Pehg and Bunnet shared a worried look, then rushed to follow.

Dr. Bunnet called out, "Hey, Elmer. Where ya going?"

Mr. Fudd paused long enough to turn and look at Dr. Bunnet. "Be vewy vewy quiet. I'm hunting."

"Eh... Whatcha hunting?"

Mr. Fudd answered with only his stuttered, slightly raspy laugh, then turned back to his trek into the wilderness.
Disclaimer 1: Looney Tunes, the characters, their names, and their likenesses are owned by Warner Brothers and this indicates no claim upon their intellectual property.

Disclaimer 2: I know next to nothing about Tasmania or how actual research facilities work.
___

Dr. Pehg started her work with preliminaries. She took an inventory of both the available equipment and the available specimens, confirming both personally. In part, this was her standard activity in any new lab or setting, be personally sure of everything. It was too easy to blame any malfunctioning equipment shoddy personelle on the woman being clumsy or just emotional.

In part, this was to avoid thinking about that book. In a way that book, and the ideas contained within, are what allowed her this opportunity. She was hesitant to cast any aspersions upon its contents. But, based on what she'd seen of Mr. Fudd, she hesitated to imagine that there of which she would approve.

She noted, upon the doublecheck of the storage, that a large part of the shed had been devoted what appeared to be basic construction equipment. There was also what must have been Mr. Fudd's hunting supplies. She could possibly have allowed that to go unchecked, as not relevant to her own field. But, she'd had too many experiences of potentially valuable equipment being mislabeled or misplaced for just that reason.

Besides, that book was waiting for her the moment she wasn't busy.
___

Mr. Fudd listened and listened again. "Ah ee wooah rabbit ah pbthth!" What else could it be but absolute proof? "Ah ee wooah rabbit ah pbthth!" There were no native people on Tasmania. How could there be? "Ah ee wooah rabbit ah pbthth!" No native animal could have done that. "Ah ee wooah rabbit ah pbthth!" It could only be the very spirit he theorized.

The knocking on the door stopped his reverie. "Entew."

Dr. Pehg opened the door and poked her head in. "Ex-eah ex-eah ex-ah excuse me, Mr. Fudd."

Mr. Fudd perked up. "Have you wead my book?"

"A ne-ah a ne-ah a ne-ah not yet. I wanted to talk about the a de-ah a de-ah a de-ah dynamite in the storage?"

"But, you haven't wead my book yet? Pwease do, post haste, Dr. Pehg."

"A be-ah a be-ah a be-ah About that dynamite? We have potentially volatile explosives where we regularly work, Mr. Fudd."

"They are new expwosives, not yet vowatiwe. I'm stiww considewing Tasmania fow devewopement. Weave it whewe it is, Dr. Pehg. Out of sight out of mind. You focus on weading that book!"

"A be-ah a be-ah -"

"You awe dismissed, Doctow."
___

Dr. Pehg gripped her hand into a fist. She'd run into this personality type before. Mr. Fudd was obviously the kind of man who mistook statements like "you make it happen" for strength of personality and leadership skills.

Unfortunately, identifying the personality type only identified the riddle. How do you get through to someone like that?

Well, she could do two things. Firstly, she could do a personal assessment of that dynamite, clarifying that it was properly stored and not leaking.

Secondly, well, secondly was that she would read that damned book.
___

Mr. Fudd shook his head. These intellectuals were dealing with the wrong priorities. That must be a consequence of the ivory tower educational system.

"Ah ee wooah rabbit ah pbthth!"

He'd have to go collect further recordings.

"Ah ee wooah rabbit ah pbthth!"

"This wiww change the wowld."

"Ah eh wooah porky no believe pbthth!"
___

True to the word of Dr.s Duhch and Bunnet, dinner consisted of rice and beans along with a tin of spinach, heated in the can and then eaten directly there from. True to Dr. Pehg's word, she ate without difficulty, complaint, or polite restraint.

The book was the part that was hard to swallow.

"A te-ah a te-ah a te-ah To the simple people of rural Mexico," Dr. Pehg read aloud, around a mouth full of spinach. "I a ke-ah a ke-ah a ke-ah collected rattlesnake venom samples from both sides of the US/Mexico boreder. I a ne-ah a ne-ah a ne-ah never met anybody who would want to be called 'simple'."

"Keep reading, doc. It gets worse."

"A the-ah a the-ah a the-ah the mouse is a symbol of the good natured a ke-ah a ke-ah a ke-ah criminal?!? Akin to England's Robin Hood?"
___

"But, suwewy, once she undewstands the noetic twuth of intuitive weasoning-"

"No believe. Eee ou no give."

"Wespect? Yes, they wiww give me wespect. Once I pwoove my theowy, they wiww wespect me. I wiww make them!"

"Ah ee ouha pbthth!" The sounds only were only on the edge of becoming words. Instead of definitions, they had feelings. Frustration, gnawing need, desire so primal that it couldn't be contained by even such a word as "hunger".
Disclaimer 1: Looney Tunes, the characters, their names, and their likenesses are owned by Warner Brothers and this indicates no claim upon their intellectual property.

Disclaimer 2: I know next to nothing about Tasmania or how actual research facilities work.
___

Elmer Fudd fumed in his seat. He could actually feel his temperature rise.

It wasn't enough to deny him legitimacy. It wasn't enough to deny the obvious evidence in front of their faces. Now, they had to pretend that his ideas were insane, that he was insane! Of course he was insane! They were all insane! Weren't they sane enough to see that?

It was all resentment on their part. It had to be.

"Ah ee oowah rabbit ah pbthth!" If anything, the voice sounded angrier... hungrier.

___

Dr. Bunnet caught up to Dr.s Duhch and Pehg as they made it to what would be her office.

Dr. Duhch paused long enough to ask the question. "How did it go?"

"Like I expected, doc."

Dr. Duhch gave that a nod, then moved back to the tour. "Here'th your offithe."

Dr. Pehg took a look. "Is a the-ah a the-ah a the-ah the equipment as rustic as the living quarters?"

___

Doc. One single syllabul that's denied him. Hadn't he traveled the world collecting information for his theory? Hadn't he written his book on his theory? Did that not qualify him to be a doctor?

But, they denied him his due respect, because he had made his money in the real world, not their ivory tower. And, they didn't respect that, either! The nerve of bringing up his father's... embarrassment like that. The Fudds had held economies upon their very shoulders! Did that not merit respect?

"Ah ee oowah rabbit ah pbthth!"

___

"For the motht part, we have thome good bathic equipment. Each of uth hath our own microthcope. Though, our equipment needth have been thlim. With biochemithtry being in the mix, there might be uthe for a thentrifuge, which would mean we'd have to thend out."

"I a ke-ah a ke-ah a ke-ah can make due. I suppose I can get to work, now."

"Good luck, doc."

"It'll be a pleathure to collaborate with you."

With a couple shaken hands, Dr.s Duhch and Bunnet were gone to their own respective "offices".

___
Mr. Fudd saw his chance. With those two intellectual elites gone, he had an opportunity. He snuck open the door and leaned over to Dr. Pehg.

"A me-ah a me-ah a me-ah Mr. Fudd?"

"Do not wet them poison you to my weseawch, Dr. Pehg," said Mr. Fudd in a slightly raspy whisper. "Wead fow youwsewf." He handed over the book that he had written. "Lunacy: An international study of the madnesses at the heart of the human soul."

Dr. Pehg took a step back, but accepted the book. "A the-ah a the-ah a the-ah thank you, Mr. Fudd."

"Wead it, then get back to me when you undewstand the twue heawt of man's weawity."

Dr. Pehg nodded then slipped into her office.

Mr. Fudd smiled at her retreating form. Somewhere, the raspy, angry, hungry voice said "Mmm. Porky."
Disclaimer 1: Looney Tunes, the characters, their names, and their likenesses are owned by Warner Brothers and this indicates no claim upon their intellectual property.

Disclaimer 2: I know next to nothing about Tasmania or how actual research facilities work.
___

Dr. Duhch took Dr. Pehg to the largest of the three storage sheds, which was actually used for storage.

"Is a the-ah a the-ah a the-ah that a regular occurance?"

Dr. Duhch sighed. "It's getting more and more regular. He hath hith reathonth, but they aren't mine to tell.

"Another thing about working here. Privathy ith a matter of rethpect more than wallth."

Dr. Pehg understood and nodded to that, allowing Dr. Duhch to go onto the next topic.

"We have very few whole thpethimenth. And, we keep them pretherved in formaldehyde. That keepth the organth pretherved for thtudy but it may dilute the venomth and toxinth that are your thpethialty.

"That said, we have pretherved inthecth and pretherved venom glandth for you to thtudy. Of couthe, Bugth and I will be glad to share noteth ath a profethional courtethy."

"Is a the-ah a the-ah a the-ah this difficult for you as a vegetarian?"

"It wath at firtht, when Mr. Fudd inthithted upon shooting fresh thpethimenth. But, I do thee the nethethity of uthing that which we have. Eventually, I convinthed him that killing thpethimenth wath unnethethary and counterproductive to our thtudy."

"If a ye-ah a ye-ah a ye-ah you don't mind, why are you and Dr. Bunnet vegetarians?"

"For mythelf, it goeth back to when I buthed tableth at a high end rethtaraunt. One time, I looked at a duck a l'orange and I thought that thith thing could be thomebody'th brother.

"I know. It theemth daffy to make thuch a thmall moment have thuch a big impact. But, there it ith.

"Bugth'th reathonth are hith own."
___
"Elmer, I think I need to tell you something."

Elmer Fudd hunched over his desk and looked at Dr. Bunnety with a baleful, sidelong gaze. "I thought I towd you to get out."

"And, I'm telling you that I got something to say."

"Oh, you said it. You have pwoof in fwont of you and you wefuse to bewieve in me. What mowe could you possibwy have to say?"

Dr. Bunnet narrowed his eyes on Mr. Fudd and stepped closer to say, "People called your dad 'Egghead.'"

Mr. Fudd shot to his feet with a force that knocked his chair back. "You do not get to tawk about my father!"

"Oh yes I do!" Dr. Bunnet poked Mr. Fudd with a pale finger. "Because, when I was a little whipper snapper, scrounging and steeling food just to survive, 'Egghead' shot at me over and over again. It were a exercise in wits just to come outta that alive and do you know what he had the gall to tell me?"

Mr. Fudd hadn't so much calmed as he had frozen in his anger. "That he was a spowtsman."

"Yeah. There weren't a hint on his face that he understood that he was talking about snuffing out my life. He just thought I didn't understand."

"He didn't get any bettew at the end. He just got... wowse."

Dr. Bunnet patted the millionare on the shoulder. "Yeah. But, I ain't done yet.

"I struggled to survive. But, I also struggled to learn. I didn't get no fancy schooling that you probably got, Elmer. I went to the libraries and I sat and, when I weren't desperate to eat, I were desperate to cobble myselft together a edumacation. And, I got it. I studdied and I got to take them tests and I earned my degree and my fellowship and my doctorate. None of it were easy, Fudd.

"Then, you come in and, 'cause you was rich and successful, you thought you could just own this field like you own a mansion and a yacht. It were a dia-bow-lickal joke.

"What I'm sayin', Elmer, is that I have every reason to be angry wit' ya. But, I don't hate ya. When I look atcha, I see some'm I don' wanna see. I see the parts of yer dad that I actually pitty.

"I'm tryin' to tell you that you don't have to wind up like your dad. This obsession, it ain't good for you. Maybe, just maybe, you need a bit of distance... maybe even some of that talk the-wrappy. You got options, Elmer. You got options."

Elmer Fudd carefully righted his chair and sat down. "Thank you fow youw considewed wowds, Dr. Bunnet. I wiww take what I bewieve to be appwopwiate action."

"I guess that's all I can ask."

"Thank you again. You awe dismissed."

Dr. Bunnet took a breath at that, then left the room. Mr. Fudd narrowed his eyes at the door behind him.
Disclaimer 1: Looney Tunes, the characters, their names, and their likenesses are owned by Warner Brothers and this indicates no claim upon their intellectual property.

Disclaimer 2: I know next to nothing about Tasmania or how actual research facilities work.
___

"Are we going to do thith again, Mr. Fudd? I think we've gone over motht of the animalth-"

"And, da insects,"

"And the inthectth, yes Bugs. But, the point ith we've thown you there'th no-"

Mr. Fudd interrupted Dr. Duhch by pressing a button on his sound machine, producing a sound "Ah ee wooah!" Heard in the right way, it could be an... almost human voice... one raspy and hungry and filled with savage anger.

"Elmer, we've gone over this. Ap-ah-puh-hee-neye-aye. It's spotting patterns when they just ain't there."

Mr. Fudd pressed a pudgy finger to the button once more. "Rabbit" The word was as clear as day, with, if anything, more anger than before.

"The o-de-ah o-de-ah o-de-ah odds seem to be changing."

"Yeth, thith... meritth further invethtigathion. It'th by no meanth concluthive, Mr. Fudd. But, it'th thomething to conthider, and thomething that we thould all come up with natural hypothethe for. Invethtigathion, not aththumpthion is the bathith of thienthe."

Mr. Fudd reset the recording and, with a smile, pressed the button.

"Ah ee woohah rabbit ah" and it was then followed by a rude sound.

"Teww me, educated ewite, what naturaw force, beside humans, bwows the waspbewwy!"

"Thomeone or thomething could have pathed gath."

Mr. Fudd hunched over his desk. His normally only slightly raspy voice dropped in register, becoming more like a growl. "How can you even think that? Is this not pwoof befowe youw vewwy eaws?"

"That'th the method, Mr. Fudd."

"Get out! Aww of you!" He slammed his fist into his desk, rattling his equipment.

Dr. Duhch sighed and backed out, as though this was all routine. Dr. Pehg stepped out after.

"I'll meet you in a bit, docs. Gimme some time." With that, Dr. Bunnet closed the door on the two of them.

Dr's Duhch and Bunnet looked at each other.

"A she-ah a she-ah a she-ah should we go back?"

"No, Mr. Fudd getth in hith moodth. It theemth to happen more often thethe dayth. I'll thow you where we keep the thpethimenth."

"A we-ah a we-ah a we-ah what about Dr. Bunnet?"

Dr. Duhch walked away, forcing Dr. Pehg to follow. "He wantth to have a talk with Mr. Fudd. Maybe he'll do thome good."
Disclaimer 1: Looney Tunes, the characters, their names, and their likenesses are owned by Warner Brothers and this indicates no claim upon their intellectual property.

Disclaimer 2: I know next to nothing about Tasmania or how actual research facilities work.
___
Mr. Fudd was giddy with his discovery. He even lept into the air and tapped his heels together with joy. "This wiww wevowutionizze ouw undewstanding of the concept of civiwization itself!" He punctuated his exclamation with a stuttered laugh in his raspy voice.

"A we-ah A we-ah A we-ah What are you talking about?"

"The vewy foundations of the mind! Dr. Pehg, do you know about the cowwective unconcious?"

"A ke-ah A ke-ah A ke-ah Carl Jung's model of psychoanalasys?"

"Exactwy! I bewieve I know the spiwituaw foundations of the cowwective unconscious."

"A be-ah A be-ah A be-ah But, the collective unconscious is a combination of social pressures and adopted cultural symbols."

"So Jung bewieves. But, I theowize that the human mind is, in fact, an intewsection of lawgew spiwits that make up the exact ewement that makes civiwization and even thought possible."

"A we-ah A we-ah A we-ah What is that element?"

Dr.s Duhch and Bunnet sighed in anticipation.

"The human mind is made up of wunacy!"

"What?!?" The idea was so nonsensical as to make Dr. Pehg forget to stutter... which made even less sense.

"Think about it. Why awe you heaw?"

"A ve-ah A ve-ah A ve-ah Venoms. I'm here to study venoms and to learn how to produce better, even wider ranging, anti-venoms."

"A vewy woothy cause, Dr. Pehg. I appweciate youw ambition and youw humanitawian impuwse. But, why do you want to cweate anti-venoms?"

"A te-ah te-ah A te-ah To save lives."

Elmer turned and locked Dr. Pehg in a gaze. "Why save wives?"

"A ye-ah A ye-ah A ye-ah You can stop that line. I value lives because I A ve-ah A ve-ah A ve-ah value them. I don't need any other reason."

Elmer's face broke into a wide grin and he laughed that stuttered, slightly raspy laugh again. "Exactwy!

"Wogic awone cannot pwovide even the wittwest weason to act. No wogic has no pwace in stawting motivation. Onwy wunacy can be the uwtimate fowce of motivation. Aww action, dwama, waw, civiwization down to each individuwaw is mewewy dancing to that song.

"And," he continued as he boldly lead the way into his office with its sound equipment, "now I can pwoove it!"
Disclaimer 1: Looney Tunes, the characters, their names, and their likenesses are owned by Warner Brothers and this indicates no claim upon their intellectual property.

Disclaimer 2: I know next to nothing about Tasmania or how actual research facilities work.

___

The living quarters were in the smallest of the three storage units. An individual's living space consisted of a cot, space on the wall for pictures, and a foot locker. The communal eating area included a potbellied stove, one ice box, one additional storage box for nonperishable foods, and one square table.

Dr.s Duhch and Bunnet worked on their respective dishes with rhythm that avoided potential collisions.

"This, here's, going to be our fancy bank-ooh-it for you showin' up, doc. Things ain't always going to be this nice."

"For the motht part, it'll be rithe and beanth with vegthtableth out of a can."

"I ke-ah I ke-ah I ke-ah I can eat most anything and in large amounts."

"That's good, doc. Most dames make a show outta eatin' dainty."

"A ye-ah A ye-ah A ye-ah You would, too, if your economic and social standing demanded it."

Dr. Pehg immediately doubted herself. That may have been a confrontational tone. She would have to live with these men for six months. She didn't want to shy away from fights or seek them.

Dr.s Duhch and Bunnet paused to look at each other a moment.
___
Within his office, Elmer Fudd, the self-titled doctor of socio-psychological-crypto-zoology, listened intently to his recordings of wilderness sounds. He listened to the sounds over and over again, using a custsom-made contraption to modulation for higher and lower pitches.

"Those two wascawwy intewectuaws towd methat these awe aww individuaw cweatuwes. Maybe the individuaw voices awen't the pwace to wook. Maybe, its in the cowwective that I wiww find it."

He slowed down the replay and listened intently, taking each separate sound as a part of a total whole. He was certain he heard it, in the combination of a few sounds.

Taken together, there was a sound that could have been a raspy, angry voice. "Raaabbiiiit"
___
"That'th... thomething that we hadn't thought of."

"Yeah, thanks, doc."

Dr. Bunnet placed a plate in front of Dr. Pehg. It contained an herb-roasted carrot as well as something that consisted of rice and long cut vegetables wrapped in some kind of leaf.

That wasn't what Dr. Pehg had expected. But, her readiness to have a potentially necessary argument wasn't a desire to create them unnecessarily. So, she chose to change the subject.

"A bee-ah A bee-ah A bee-ah About this Elmer Fudd. What's his degree and what's his research?"

"Hith degree ith in buthineth management. Until a few yearth back, he wath a very thuckthethful thtock and bond trader."

"He fund this stat-ee-an so he can use us for his puh-see-ooh-doh-science. In exchange, we get to do our own research."

"And ye-ah ye-ah ye-ah you have trouble getting admittance into labs and grants, too."

"You probably know why, doc. Motht rethearch labth don't thee the driven, careful, and knowledgtheable thientithtth that we are. Not when they look at thith little black zoologitht." Dr. Duhch motioned to himself.

"Or this little poor boy who passed the right tests but didn't take no classes because he never had the money to go to college to learn the right pro-noun-see-ah-tye-ons."

"Ore-ah Ore-ah Ore-ah Or this woman."

"Tho we do what we mutht to do what we love."

The three toasted that with their mugs of water.

The door burst in to slam against the aluminium siding. "I've got it. Come with me. The mystewies of mankind awe about to be sowved!"
Disclaimer 1: Looney Tunes, the characters, their names, and their likenesses are owned by Warner Brothers and this indicates no claim upon their intellectual property.

Disclaimer 2: I know next to nothing about Tasmania or how actual research facilities work.

___
The laboratory was the largest of the three facilities. The "rooms" were achieved through the expediency of propping up sections of the same aluminium siding that the facilities, themselves, were made of.

"Things are a little..." Dr. Bunnet was at a loss for words.

"Ruthtic?" supplied Dr. Duhch.

"That's it. We mainly get by by being coin-cider-ate with each udder. We all got our quirks, so we make space."

"For inthtanthe, Bugth and I are both vegatarianth. Elmer eatth meat. We jutht keep our mealth away from each other."

"And, just avoid talking about his work, if you can."

"Aweah aweah aweah What's his work?"

An aluminium door clanged open. "Shhh!" admonished a round, bald head, not truly covered by the loose deerhunter cap, poking out through the doorway. "Be vewy, vewy quiet. I'm hunting the mystewies that twy men's souls."

Dr. Bunnet visibly grit his teeth. "Elmer, this is P. Pehg, Doctor of Bee-oh-chemstry."

The man, Elmer, looked startled to see Dr. Pehg. "Oh, hewwo. I'm Doctor-"

"No, you're not, Elmer. Doctors study leg-it-eh-myte fields."

"Let'th pleathe not have thith argument again. I'm thur Dr. Pegh jutht wantth to get through the pleathantrieth."

Elmer just waved the two male doctors off. "Dr. Pehg, don't you wet these phiwistines poison you to my vewy importat wesearch. Come on, I can ekthplain!"

"No!" broke in Dr. Duhch. "I mean, she jutht got here. She hath to unpack, thet up equipment, eat."

"Eh, yeah. In fact, we'd better help her and cook up a good meal for her. You know how this can go if you don't start off with a good meal, Elmer."

Elmer (or Dr. Fudd) gave the two male doctors a suspicous look. "Okay. But, I wiww need to appwaise Dr. Pehg soon."

"Thoon, Elmer, thoon. Come on, Dr. Pehg, let'th give you the nickel tour."

With that, Elmer disappeared back into aluminium walled room to... Dr. Pehg couldn't even guess at what.
Aaron was a larger student. As he walked his way through, some would step aside, others would describe him as lumbering. Slytherin House put some stock in things like breeding and many expected that he would associate himself with some well established family.

The culture of Slytherin House was difficult to adapt to, at first. It seemed to have a myriad of expectations about how to do things. But, Groyle was an interested, if not avid, student of House history and philosophy.

He quietly stepped around the trio of Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle having a conversation that, mainly, amounted to Draco complaining about something and the other two mutely agreeing. That is what House Slytherin looked like to other people.

Aaron didn't even shake his head anymore. At times like this, he kept his head down... which was difficult given his size.

The history was of people accomplishing big things, often-times accomplishing big things for other people. Slytherins had very few Prime Ministers of Magic, for instance. But, they did have a proud history of ensuring the right person got the job. Slytherin history was one of selflessness, the kind that doesn't go easily noticed.

"It's a betrayal," insisted Draco. "Harry Potter could be forgiven. He was raised by that muggle family. And, Hermione, well she is what she is."

Aaron paused. Another part of what everybody saw in House Slytherin.

Slytherin culture seemed to bely that, judging by the families that so often reined in Slytherin Dorms. But, Aaron liked the philosophy. It was simple. In his mind, it came down to a single declaration. Slytherins do what it takes.

"But, those Weasleys," continued Draco, "those Weasleys that know and betray us by associating with the likes of those kind." Draco sneered like he thought his sneer meant something. "And, I can't even get away from that kind of betrayal in my own House's dorm. You!"

Aaron slowly turned.

Slytherins are encouraged to be thoughtful and take slow deliberation. Each one, the ones that take the time to read Salazar's biographies as Aaron had at least, was invited to carefully consider how they would, had they the power, shape the world. Once you have that in mind, consider the various methods one could take and, of course, whether or not those methods would actually work.

Slytherins that did best managed to see to it that good people were able to be good.

"You, Rachel Fontana. That's a muggle name isn't it? Why are you in my House, Mud Bl-"

Salazar Slytherin had written that each characteristic, each habit was a tool. A tool was neither inherently good or bad, only appropriate for the task or inappropriate. Subtlety and guile were tools. So was brute force and clarity of communication.

Aaron's hand was at Draco's throat before he could finish the offensive phrase. "You two sit down and shut up." He didn't yell the command. He just stated it with conviction. That was another tool he'd picked up from his reading.

Rachel Fontana was furious. "I don't need protection from anybody, certainly not-"

"My name is Aaron Jones," Aaron explained to Rachel and Draco alike. The look on Draco's face was worth it.

As Salazar Slytherin had done in the creation of Hogwartz, declaring that a world of well-educated magic-users would be more to his liking than one in which the magic users were desperate and lacking in options, Aaron had his own ideas on his preferred world.

"That thing you were about to say. I don't ever want to hear it in my dorm. You are stupid enough, Draco, that I actually have to ask if you understand me. Do you understand me?"

Draco mutely nodded.

Aaron released the blond boy's neck and stepped away, ready to return to his room.

"I'll report this," said Draco in what he must have thought was a strong tone.

Aaron shrugged. "Go ahead. I won't do anything about that." A part of doing what it takes is paying the price.

Rachel smirked. "Oh, please do! Tell everybody in Hogwartz that nobody in Slytherin likes you, either. I wonder what people will do when they find that out."

Aaron raised a brow. He hadn't thought about that. Neither had Draco, by the look on his face. The pure blooded boy quickly recovered, though. "I can be forgiving. You are what you are, after all."

Aaron slowly brought his gaze directly to Draco. Size meant that he was sometimes intimidating to other students. It wasn't his fault, but it was his tool to use. "You thought that was a good thing to say, huh?"

Draco stood up and, with firm declaration said, "I think I'll have better company in the dining hall." With that, he, Crabbe, and Goyle took a brisk pace out of the room.

"Thank you," Aaron said to Rachel. Manners cost nothing and allies are valuable, friends more so.

"I'm not going to go out with you or anything, just so you know. I don't date because I owe someone."

Aaron nodded. "I was actually thinking of asking Margaret Hornfeather out... And you don't owe me anything. That was all for me."

Rachel nodded. Aaron nodded again. "I was about to watch this anime series, called Trigun, with some friends. You want to join us?"

Aaron smiled.
(I wrote this a long while back. I'd probably make some different choices with the subject today. But, here goes.)

You’ve probably heard stories about what we do, like about coming to people in visions or lifting boulders off of people in the middle of nowhere. I even know somebody who likes to appear in tortea chips. On our own hours, we can do what we want.

The job is about keeping people on the right path. Some people really want to be on the right path, but they need a little help. You can keep them where they need to be with as little as a bit of help finding parking near the store. That can save the life of a woman who’s forgotten that she’s on the right path and strayed within one inch from crawling back into the bottle.

Other people don’t want anywhere near that path. I don’t even try with them. You know the old saying about leading a horse to water.

Then, you’ve got the confused ones. They don’t know if they’re on the right path, if that path is even possible anymore, or what they want. If you’re confused, you’re usually at a fork in the road. The paths are never labeled clearly. No signs to say “The Right Path” or “The Wrong Path.” Sometimes, you can’t even see the right path when you’re right up next to it. All you can see is the right destination and you think “I can’t get there from here”.

That’s where the kid is, the one that’s getting into my cab. He’s legally an adult. You know how it is. He’s a boy and he’s a man. The name on his birth certificate is Alexander. The people he hangs out with now call him Al. His true name, the one he knows in his soul, is Alex.

“Where to?” I ask him. I prefer the gentle approach. Some swear by the blinding light and the inescapable truth, but I’ve seen bad things come from that. You remember David Koresh?

“Downtown,” he says, “east and twenty third.” He rattles it off by rote. He’s still dazed by what he’s come to do.

I pull out into traffic before I start in. I don’t want him leaving before I have the chance to point out the right path for him. “Are you okay? You seem a little off.”

Alex wants to yell and scream for help. He wouldn’t do that even if I did appear before him in a blinding light. “I’m just fine.” He doesn’t lie very well. He just needs some prodding. He doesn’t know it, but he’s praying for help.

Even so, I’ve got to be subtle about it. “Here on business or pleasure?”

“Business.” It’s a bit of truth, which is a good sign.

“Jobs, huh? You work and you work and you work and what do you get to show for it after it’s all said and done? If you’re lucky, you get enough to take your girl out to a fancy dinner and the movies.”

Alex knows just what I’m talking about. He remembers working his first job for weeks just so he could take his girlfriend out on a nice date. He remembers how hard he worked for so little money at a time. Deep down in there, where he’s not paying attention right now, he also remembers how good it felt to earn up enough to take his girlfriend out and see that smile on her face. He’s not paying attention to the part of him that knows this, but it meant more because he worked so hard for it.

“Yeah, well I’m moving up in the world.”

“So, you get to see that smile a lot more often, huh?”

He gets a thoughtful look in his eye. It doesn’t occur to him that I might not mean the smile your girlfriend gets when she knows you saw something, thought of her, and put the fruit of your own labor into getting her something to make her smile. What runs through his mind right now is that the smile doesn’t seem as sweet anymore.

The silence stretches out just a moment too long, so I have to push. “You do have a girl, right?” He nods. “And, she doesn’t have problems with what you’re doing to move up, right?”

“Nope, she doesn’t.” Of course she doesn’t. She doesn’t know.

I nod and take a turn. “Good. I know that women can be picky.” He grunts as much of a yes as he’s going to give. “Of course, if you’re not moving up the right way, you’re not moving up. Women know that kind of thing.” Some of them do. Some of them don’t. But, it doesn’t hurt to encourage some healthy respect.

“What would you know about moving up? You’re still driving a cab.” He would really love to hear that you can take the right path and still get rich the easy way. Some can, but if that’s a deciding factor, you’re not really on the right path.

“Hey, I work for my money, I have a good family, and I know that I’m living a life that my mom, rest her soul, can be proud of.” Actually, the real owner of this cab does all that. He’s a good man to lend me his cab. I always make sure he gets the fair I earn when I use it. “Would your Aunt Marie say the same?”

That hits him hard. His mother died in childbirth and his father ran away because he didn’t think he could handle it. All you can do is show them the path, it’s their choice to follow it or not. His Aunt Marie was next of kin, so it was on her to raise him right.

“What?”

“I said would your Mother say the same?”

He shakes his head to clear his mind, but the question’s already there. He fingers his gun and knows the answer.

“You have to do what you have to do,” he says.

“Yeah, but if you’re not proud of it, you have to ask if you really have to do it.” Please, Alex, ask that question.

He nods. “Believe me, I do.” Damn it. The more I talk to Alex, the more I can feel it inside him. He doesn’t want to go down this path. He feels trapped on all sides. I hate being blatant about things. But, I know that he wants to be on the right path and I can’t give up on that.

“You really don’t.”

“What do you know about it?” I don’t like what I’m about to do, but Alex walks into it like Costello walks into the joke when Abbot starts talking about Who’s playing First.

“His name is Joseph Chapman. He’s a husband, father, and shoe salesman that witnessed a murder. If he hadn’t agreed to this, he’d have been dead within the week. Your employer is too small time to put a lifelong hit on him, but too scared to bet on him keeping his mouth shut. If he gets through this trial, he’ll be alright and back with his family. And, your employer will be behind bars and won’t sell crack to schoolchildren for a long while.”

There you have it. One man on the right path, one man on the wrong path, and only Alex can decide which path pays off.

Alex fumbles with his gun as he pulls it out. Good thing they come with a safety now. He clicks off the safety before asking the question. “Who are you?”

“You can call me Martin.” We used to not deal with names. If humans wanted to talk about us, they’d name us themselves and we’d more or less ignore it when they talked about Michael or Gabriel. Nowadays, it just makes the job easier if you have a steady name. So I took mine from a man who walked the righteous path and wound up paying a price for it.

“How do you know this?”

“I know things. For instance, I know that even if he was the absolute worst scum in the world you’ll be snuffing out a light if you do this, and not his.”

He’s pointing that gun at the back of my head. “Tell me how you know.”

This won’t kill me or even injure me, really. But, it’s going to hurt. “I know things.”

I heard the PEWT of a silenced bullet as it went right into my head. Believe it or not, this is actually a good thing. He’s panicked and he doesn’t know what he’s doing, so he’s not on the wrong path yet. The fact that there’s no blood and no wound shocks him into silence as I pull the cab over and park exactly where he wanted to go. I’ll have to spit that bullet out somewhere, but I can still show Alex that he can get onto the right path.

I step out of the cab and so does he. Some swear by the blinding light and the echoing voice. I don’t go in for cheap theatrics. The effect never lasts. So when he gets out, still holding his gun, I show him something that puts everything else to shame.

People don’t have eyes that look directly at goodness. If they did, they’d never get anything done. Each new person they see would have them breaking down in tears of joy. You can try to describe how that feels. People talk about all encompassing warmth or blinding flashes. That gives too much credit to heat and light.

Alex drops his gun, stunned. “Alex, you don’t have to do this,” I say. “You can go back; you can get your job back.” I know, it doesn’t sound appealing in pure words. It’s the offer of the right path over the path that gives you money for doing the wrong thing.

As brightly as my goodness shines to Alex, his struggling goodness shines even brighter to me. If you were to describe human goodness in terms of my own, you’d be giving us too much credit. Every drop of it is the most perfect of things, but you can’t have it unless you have the choice to taint it, muddy it, and even black it out completely.

If Alex chooses to go up there, it won’t be the end of all goodness inside him, but it will put him on that path. If he steps onto that path, that’s his choice. That’s his choice to start himself on that slow path of death of the human soul. You don’t know pain until you’ve seen someone make that choice.

I pull back the goodness from his eyes. If he’s going to turn back to the right path, it’s going to be his choice. I can’t influence him. I can’t threaten him. I can’t even refuse to drive him back to the airport. I can only hope.

Please, Alex, make the right choice.
Submitted for your consideration. Donald Jacobs, a doer of odd jobs who survives on the margins. A man with a thousand tiny stains on his soul and very little glimmers. In his work, he has stolen the odd dollar, but kept himself from stealing anything important until he found something he couldn't pass up.

"Where are you going with that?" asked the old man, one Walter Grey.

Donald held it behind his back. "Taking what?" Already excuses ran through his mind. The old man doesn't know what a gold mine he has. He won't miss one little-

"Put him down," Walter gave as an offhand command. "He doesn't like being squeezed."

Donald thought to deny again, then placed the small pet on the table. It made a noise that was nothing like what Donald had heard him make earlier.

Walter didn't even raise from his chair. "He likes his aquarium. Go ahead and get it."

Donald froze, unsure of what to do. "What?"

"I'm not stupid, son," explained Walter. "He's yours now, you might as well treat him right... Well! Go get it!."

Donald hurried off to collect the aquarium, nothing more than a glass box with a rock and some twigs. When he came back, he asked "Is this it?"

Walter shrugged. "He likes it. You heard what he can do when he's happy."

"You've heard him? Then why leave him in a dingy glass box? You could-"

"I could what? Put him on stage? Show him on vaudeville and work my way up to Broadway?" Walter laughed. "I tried, kid. I spent most of the thirties trying... I lost everything trying."

Donald looked over at... the pet. He didn't know how long this creature lasted, but definitely not that long.

"Oh, he's older than the both of us," Walter answered Donald's unasked question. "I found him at a construction site. He'd been buried for God knows how long. It was The Depression and I didn't even think to ask it. I heard him and I had dollar signs in my eyes... Blinded me to everything else."

Donald looked around at the old man's unimpressive home. "Even during the Depression, people would pay to see this."

Walter chuckled mirthlessly. "Oh, they paid. And, when he just sat there, as sad faced and as dull as he is right now, they demanded their money back. I was lucky they only thought I tried to pull a scam. They could have had me locked up."

Fear crawled over Donald's face, but he drew on his good sense. "That was then. People these days will pay millions to put him in a movie. They'll work around-"

"He'll never sing for them!" Walter shouted. The small pet responded only with a sound every bit as rough and dreary as his appearance would suggest. "You'll go mad trying to make him! For money, for love, for just convincing yourself you haven't dreamed all of it, he'll never sing for anybody but you... not until it's time for him to move on."

"Then why keep him?" Donald asked. "Why do you torture yourself all this time?"

Walter smiled. "He still sings, boy. He used to sing for me. Now he sings for you. If he was still mine, I'd keep him and be grateful. Don't throw him away. Take my advice, just enjoy the happy song."

Donald looked over at the green, lumpy thing. It's appearance suggested nothing impressive or out of the ordinary. But, in it, Donald saw wealth, fame, fortune, women. He saw all of the American Dream and more. "You gave up," Donald declared. "You could have had it all and you gave up."

"I gave up on the quick buck and getting rich quick. Quick never came and I learned that I'd die of old age waiting for it to happen. So, I got a job, a wife, a family, all of the real American Dream. And, in some quiet moments, with a bit of privacy, I had joyful music that made me smile. That's what you have, right there is joyful music to make you smile."

Donald sneered down at the old man. "You gave up. You could have had it all. I'll show you. I'll get him to sing for the cameras. And, you? You'll still just be an old man who gave up."

Walter sighed and shook his head. It was like looking into the past. Nobody could have told him otherwise, either. "Fine. Go. Best of luck to you."

Donald scooped up the slimy, lumpy thing with the smooth, golden voice and deposited it in the aquarium. He thought about saying some kind of goodbye to the old man, but just left instead.

When Donald left, Walter picked up an old photo and began to sing. "Hello my baby, hello my honey, hello my ragtime doll." It was the song he was humming to himself when he caught the ear of a pretty lady who could swear she'd heard the song but didn't remember the words.

Donald looked left and right, shielding the aquarium from view.

"Send me a kiss by wire. Darling my heart's on fire." This was the song he'd sing when his children really were children, keeping them smiling at bath time.

Donald slipped into an alley to avoid detection.

"Don't refuse me or, darling, you'll lose me, and then I'll be left alone."

Donald felt ear's prying all around him. He moved quickly on his toes, hunched over, to protect his new goldmine.

"Telephone and tell me I'm your man." Towards the end, when his wife was losing herself to dementia, she could still remember this song and smile. The last of the tune from his lips, Walter slumped down, dropping the photo of his family, the first picture of them all in their new home. In the corner of the photo, in a new glass aquarium, there was the sad looking frog.

Donald tip-toed along. Somewhere, in some nearby apartment, someone tapped the keys on a piano.

Is he a trickster? Is he a muse? Is he a god of music? Perhaps he's something beyond human imagination. Maybe, just maybe, he is just a singing frog. Only he knows for certain, and he won't talk. Is he a blessing or a curse? That is a decision made by those souls who come into possession of Michigan J. Frog.
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