I was sure I'd find the bully mouse dead of old age at least, or more likely from his lifestyle, but I knew in my gut that wasn't to be. He had been preserved by the universe for this moment. Our rematch. The taking back of my pride.
And, sure enough, his minions began to fill the alley the moment they smelled me. They had changed, but the bully himself had only gotten bigger and meaner.
He was covered in scars. His ears were missing. His tail bent radically at several points where it had been broken, but he had kept it in one piece. He looked even scarier than before.
Seeing them all around me, my childhood terror came back, but this time it was not the frightened little boy that felt it. I stood there, legs apart, eyes like steel knives, ears alert and ready. Last time I began with armor and ended up ganked. This time I was beginning naked, but I felt as if I was covered in armor. The armor of my confidence. Or maybe the armor of 'I've been through it all'. Either way, I stood there looking as much like Clint as I could. Feeling like Clint too, I imagine. I was not a servant to my fear. There was nothing more this mouse could take from me.
"Well, what have we here?" the bully said to his cronies. "I remember this mouse. It's that mouse night." He turned to me. "It's been a long time, retard."
"Yeah, dumbshit," I said. "It has." One of his pleebs cackled a tiny bit and quickly shut up.
The look on his face was priceless. His eyes bulged and his mouth hung open. He smelled fear on me, but realized I wasn't backing down. I wasn't shaking like a leaf this time. I was scared. I was very scared, but I was not going to lose my focus this time. This time I wasn't caught by surprise, and this time I hadn't come from a delusional never-never land, thinking all of life would be perfect and nice. This time I knew nothing that was about to happen was going to be nice.
"I'm gonna kill you this time, shrimp," he said. He was very serious. No jokes. No mockery. He was scared also.
"The name's Squibble," I said. "Moron."
His tail went a-drumming on the ground like crazy at that. His eyes narrowed. He ground his teeth together. His muscles visibly tightened.
"Squibble!" One of his minions whispered. "That's the mouse who haunts the park."
"That was the leader of the Hordes!" Another said.
"He tamed rats!"
"Squibble could kill anyone..."
"This can't be Squibble..."
The old bully eyed me as he moved around me to get a better position for attack. I circled him as well, keeping the distance between us. His minions backed up, forming a wide circle around us.
"Are you really Squibble?" he said to me.
I nodded. "Yep. That's me."
"You were pretty easy to beat before," he said, clearly not believing any of it.
"I was a scared little child," I said. "And I wasn't ready for the likes of you, a coward who preys on helpless children."
He scoffed at that. "You still aren't."
I stared him in the eye. "Wrong."
The whispers continued. "Squibble killed two thousand mice."
"Squibble killed a cat. My grandpa saw it."
"Squibble wasn't a mouse... he was a giant wolverine."
"Shut the hell up!" The bully yelled. He squinted at me. "In a second Squibble's gonna be dead."
Well, at least he actually believed who I was. He must have heard about me. He'd lived in the city long enough.
I had always imagined this moment. Hundreds of times. I had thought that I'd just go psycho on the jerk, and tear him to pieces. I knew now that that wouldn't work. He was bigger and stronger, and he was a born fighter. He lived to inflict cruel harm on others. I couldn't match his viciousness, as much as I wanted to. This couldn't be an anger-exorcism for me. I'd lose.
So when he lunged, I backed up instead of meeting him as normal mice were compelled by instinct to do. He fell on the concrete and snapped his teeth on air. Surprised, he bounced back and tried again. I dodged aside, and he missed again. He growled at me and spun like quicksilver. Age had not touched this mean mouse.
"Coward!" he yelled. "Sit still!"
"I am no longer the coward here," I said. "Come and get me, slowpoke."
I wasn't wearing my armor this time. I wasn't paralyzed by terror. I was half his weight, but three times as fast. When he lunged again, I took my time, stepped aside, and as he passed, broke his leg with a bite BJ had taught me. He went down squeaking in pain.
Still, he sprang up and came at me again. I stepped aside and he ran into the wall. For the half second he was dazed, I bit him on the rump. His minions laughed at him, instantly silenced by a glaring promise of death from the bully.
He gnashed his teeth and hissed at me in pure hatred. Apparently no one had ever stood up to him before. I smiled.
"And my title is Sir Squibble to you, peasant," I said.
He lunged again, this time quicker. He was on the edge of a berserker's rage. I leapt over him, poking him in the eye as he went under me. He went down, scattering his pleebs like tenpins. I grinned the best smarmy expression I could summon, and said, "Loser."
He rose from his cushion of mice and told his gang, "Kill him."
As they crouched to tear me apart, I braced myself for the fight of my life. I wasn't going to sell my life cheaply. They were going to pay for every piece of my flesh they got. But as the first one flew forward and I kicked him back into the group, they all stared past me in horror.
Now I was in a bind. Do I look behind me and risk their attack, like any idiot in a horror movie, or do I keep my focus on the first threat? Oh what to do, what to do...But it was solved for me.
"I think not," came the voice. "Let the boss do it himself. If he can."
I smelled cat. I recognized the scent. Heide's cat. Actually backing me up. So, there was a Mousegod. Miracles did happen. I grinned wickedly at the bully. I took a kung fu pose and gave him the "c'mere" sign with one paw.
Furious and beyond reason, he rose and flew at me, a buzzsaw of teeth and claws. I spun to his right and took a scratch on my side, but bit deeply into his shoulder. He caught on my jaw, and spun upside down. I hammered his head into the ground with all my weight using aikido. I heard something break in him.
He spun, bit, and tore at me, but I wasn't there. I made him get up and run at me again. This time when I moved away from the wall he jumped up and put his feet against the bricks just as I knew he would, crouched for a counter attack from above. But I had grabbed his tail, and as he leapt I yanked it and swung him into one of his cronies. I think it might have been the one that had taken the honeycomb from my pack - at least that was how I imagined it. The bully's body crashed into the other mouse and they both met the wall at high speed. Again, the bully got up. This time when he lunged for me I jumped upward and stomped down with all my strength on the top of his head. His two top teeth broke against the cement. I didn't stop there. I laid into his backside, biting and tearing for four or five terrible blows, then leapt off. His bloody ribs were showing. He rose, much slower this time, but his speed returned as he attacked again. I spun aside, tripped him, and broke his tail with my teeth. I knew he was used to that, and I did it just for that reason. He probably hated it. As he stared up at me in horror, I smiled and gave him the finger. He squealed in pain, but still came back at me.
We spun and spun in a ball of tangled fur. He got several weak hits on me, but no good ones. I took my time, letting him tire himself out, and struck with deadly accuracy over and over. I chose painful, crippling targets. I used everything BJ had ever taught me. I gave him no quarter. I spared no skill. I gave him everything I had and then some. I even put some hatred into it, once I was sure I could afford it, for good measure. When at last he was almost done for, swaying and stunned, I backed up four feet and ran at him with all my speed, ramming my body into him with full force. The mouse bounce.
He flew back into his gang and lay still, coughing blood and writhing like a worm. I strode forward without hesitation and the gang parted before me. I stood over my enemy and stared down at his broken face.
"Sir Squibble! " I screamed in my most frightening tone. It was the voice I had used with my troops but worse. Commanding. A promise of doom if not obeyed. Full of scary power.
"Suuhhh... Squib... Squibbel..." he choked through broken teeth and jaw. Then his head sank to the pavement and his eyes squinted in agony, both physical and emotional for his humiliation.
I had won. I looked up at his gang and then back at the cat. The cat looked at me with wide eyes. Was I actually going to tell him to kill the mice?? There was a glint of hope in his face and dawning horror in the faces of the gang. I let it linger for one tense moment, then jumped suddenly with a twitch of my tail and yelled "GRAAH!" at the gang. They scattered in every direction.
I looked back at the bully who had filled my mind with fear and terror for well over a year. He was dying. Broken limbs, broken everything. His blood was leaving him and his life was ebbing out like a water bowl with holes in it. His body shook with pain and he had urinated all over himself. His eyes bled with tears. As much as I had hated him, and looked forward to the moment, I did not see a big, mean, scary mouse anymore. Now that it was over I saw a little boy, frightened and afraid, wanting one last warm moment with his momma. Seeing the fear in his eyes as he stared at his killer, I saw the tiny, innocent mouse he once had been long ago, and I saw the cruel damage that had turned him into the mean mouse he had become. Maybe he had lost his momma. Maybe he had even seen it happen. He had certainly been beat up as a kid. Now, trembling and terrified, I saw his soul, that had been covered in so much damage and pain it had never been allowed to show through. Damn my gift. I saw that he wasn't a monster. He was a tiny, frightened boy, and I was the bully who had beaten him up.
Unable to turn my back on the vision, I knelt down next to him. I had hated him so much. Maybe more than even the black mouse. And now I wanted to feel satisfaction at destroying him, but I didn't. I felt shame.
No mouse is born bad. No one at all comes into this world evil. It is the damage. It's the pain. It's the crap that happens to us, and our inability to handle it, that turns us bitter and mean. Having been through it, I knew it was true. We had switched places. He was the helpless one and I was the cruel, mean mouse. It was a bitter, unwelcome awakening. I hated it.
I laid my hands on him, took a deep breath, and focused my stale, stagnant chi into his body, praying that he would live, that I might not be guilty of this sin, but I had not practiced my chi gung in months. It might have worked if I had been at full strength. As it was, I could tell he stood no chance. His chi was fleeing his shell as fast as it could, happy to be free of the unfair life of pain it had suffered through. I took my hands off him.
"I'm sorry," I said.
His terrified eyes settled on mine for one moment.
"Mehh thhooo..." He rasped. He sucked one last breath and died.
I lowered my head. What a terrible thing I had done. Hatred was a vessel for evil.
Covered in his blood, I vowed never to act out of hatred again. Not ever.
"In Favorite's name," I said. "I swear it."
When I turned around, the cat was gone. At least he had the brains to leave me a tiny bit of dignity.
Rising, weary and weak, I turned in the direction of the new mouse kingdom.
It was time to go home. But I had a few stops to make along the way.