With the Villain Van parked snugly around the corner from the Upville Humane Society, C.K. trailed a step behind Fern and Blackout, who were walking in quick stride on the uneven sidewalk. Cars were parked tightly on the curb, all of them with a thin layer of city grime coating their paint.
“You’re not trying to burn the whole thing down, remember,” said Blackout, casting a side glance to Fern, who was definitely in Destroy Mode.
“As long as you remember our talk in the van,” Fern replied. He focused on the street ahead. This was an underfunded part of the city. Everything was a sun-bleached grey, and there were more spaces for weeds and empty bottles to pile up between squat buildings that begged to be either remodeled or demolished.
Blackout nodded, “Right. Terriferno. Not Fern. Got it.”
C.K. hadn’t taken his eyes off of his golden tablet, furiously swiping and typing behind them.
“You ready for this?” ventured Blackout.
“I’m making sure all the cages in the front of the building are open,” he called over his screen, not looking up.
Fern made no response. He caught his first glimpse of the pound ahead.
“The cameras in the pound should also be broadcasting a high-pitched frequency to guide the animals to the back of the facility.”
C.K. bumped into Fern’s back. He had stopped a half block from the entrance, eyes straight ahead.
“This probably goes without saying,” Fern began while conjuring a fireball in his palms, “But this is the real thing.” The ball grew into the size of a softball.
C.K. hit a button on his golden tablet. A man came to the door of the pound, then disappeared back into the building.
Fern spread his hands farther apart; the blazing orb was now as large as a basketball. Blackout and C.K. took a step back to avoid the heat surging from him.
“We’re villains,” he said. “It’s time we started acted like it.”
“I just hope Genius Boy over here can actually do some fighting,” interjected Blackout.
“I can handle myself fine, thanks,” C.K. retorted.
Blackout looked obviously skeptical, “I guess we’re gonna find out.”
C.K. saw the corner of Fern’s mouth turn up from his spot behind him.
Then he shot the giant fireball straight at the pound with a speed neither of them had ever witnessed.
It pounded into the building with enough force to beat the breath out of C.K.’s chest and set off all car alarms on the block. A dull haze of flame soldered into the sky. Fern began sauntering towards the blaze.
Blackout headed behind him, dragging C.K. by the sleeve.
He could tell C.K. was worried, even though he was trying to hide it. But it was time he learned, thought Blackout. This was what he signed up for. You could only show your sympathies when the cameras weren’t around. Otherwise you had to put on your game face. There was no way around it—this was the dream they were chasing.
Before Fern could reach the pound, a glass vial exploded in front of them. Thick, spongy liquid rose to three-feet high in shocking speed. When the crew traced the trajectory to a nearby building, they found Al-Chemy plummeting towards the spongy concoction jiggling on the street. And after he hit his mark he made no effort to conceal his glee, bouncing for a solid fifteen seconds as he made his way over to the edge to stand before them.
One of Fern’s eyes was squinting so hard it might as well have been closed.
Blackout was thoroughly inspecting his sinus cavities.
C.K. gave a slight nod of approval when he eyeballed the distance from the five-story building Al had leaped from.
“You’re gonna need a new intro,” said Blackout. “You enjoyed that shit way too much.”
Al threw his head back and straightened his fro, checked his glasses. “I guess I can see that.”
“What?” C.K. began, surveying the area. “No company?”
Reaching into his purple backpack and producing two vials of clear liquid, Al tilted his head, “I guess you’ll have to wait and see.”
“I’m not fighting no girls,” Blackout chimed. “I know chivalry is dead and everything, but my grandmama taught me better than that.”
“Get over yourself, Blackout,” spat Fern. “A hero is a hero—ine…”
Everyone was a bit confused as to which direction Fern was taking this.
He recovered quickly, “Just beat their ass.”
With that, Al threw the two vials at their feet. He scrambled behind the deflating landing pad and covered his head. He waited for a few seconds, then peeked over the sponge. Blackout, Fern, and C.K. were still standing there, glancing at one another uncomfortably.
“Yo, Al,” called Blackout. “I think your science stuff is a dud.”
“Impossible!” he said jumping out from behind his cover. He walked over and inspected the ineffectual shards on the ground.
They heard rumbling motors in the distance—the news crews were close.
Al covered his mouth and hopped backwards, “Oh, shit.”
They all copied him.
Fern looked alarmed, “What did you—”
“DO NOT BREATHE!” yelled Al around his fingers.
C.K. was plugging away on his tablet. He stopped instantly when he read the chemical analysis and nearly dropped his jaw, “You didn’t…”
Blackout felt like his head was getting fuzzy and his eyes were starting to droop. For some strange reason, he really, really wanted to giggle.
“I must have grabbed the wrong vials on the way out the door,” Al explained.
“What is it!” demanded Fern. They backed farther away.
“It’s a potent, gaseous compound I was working on to alleviate stress and pain from migraines for Prescryptor—”
C.K. cut in, “It’s THC.”
With that, they all succumbed to a fit of uncontrolled giggling.
“This motherfucker,” laughed Blackout in-between pausing for breath, “got us all high.”
C.K. clutched his stomach in hilarity, “It should only last an hour or two.”
The news vans were only seconds away, and everyone was in stitches. Al was actually rolling around on the concrete because he said, “Doggone-it!” as a form of apology and then pointed at the burning pound. Blackout hooked his elbow around Fern and C.K. and repeated, “Doggone-it!” He was laughing so hard that he was crying, “Get it?!”
And they got it, too. Oh, they got the shit out of it.
A few seconds later Fern managed to throw some heat at the landing sponge behind Al. It tore through and melted it down to an awkward pancake-batter looking thing.
Al was the first to be engulfed in the invisible field emanating from the melted sponge. He covered his mouth this time to keep from throwing up. Fern, C.K., and Blackout were next, and they were so appalled by the foul stench that they actually paused their snickering.
Now Blackout was tearing up for a different reason, “It smells like a pig ate hair for a week and then somebody lit its shit on fire.”
“Yeah,” offered Al, “I was gonna tell you not to burn that one.”
The news teams were rolling out their cameras and running towards the scene.
Out of nowhere a window burst in a nearby building. A streak of red danced gracefully to the ground beside Al. Flowing fabric glossed around its trim form. They were all enraptured as they watched it slowly, deliberately lower its whilrling petals to reveal a sharp, brown face dressed in matte-black lipstick.
“Red Rose,” spoke the figure in a neutral tone.
“That’s a lovely scent,” Al said.
Red Rose decided to take that as a compliment but also completely ignore him.
Blackout whispered to C.K., “Is that a girl?”
“I don’t know,” he responded. “Does it matter?”
Red Rose smiled at Blackout, weightless fabric waving in some kind of personal wind.
Blackout was unsure of how to feel, but he noticed his face getting hot and looked away.
The news crews had finished setting up. Cameras were positioned in three places on different sides of the pound.
But then Fern discerned a small figure running towards them from an adjacent street.
No, he thought.
The figure grew closer, finally stopping on the other side of Al, who had straightened up by this point.
Fern began to broil—the yoga pants, the bronzer, the yellow fishing vest, the caked eyeliner. It was all the same.
“Sorry,” whispered the figure out of the corner of her mouth. “Had to finish baking my dog’s quinoa cookies.”
“China Pot,” he growled through crimson teeth.
“Well,” said Blackout to C.K., “so much for being high.”
C.K. had to bite his lip to stop himself from an unfitting guffaw. “Nope,” he added under his breath. “Now he’s just high and angry.”