It was a hole. There was no question about it. The question was: where did it lead to?
That was the question the five of us- The Brat, Power Bunny, Candy Girl, Cerberus and myself- were pondering as we looked at the thing. As the highest ranking- and, so far, sole- members of the International League of Girls with Guns (referring to our superpowered muscles, as we are all superheroes- not that we were packing heat, so we’re clear on that), it was our job to deal with it- and, particularly, whatever might emerge from it.
Well, technically it was my job, as it appeared in the ruddy woodlands surrounding Lake Winnipeg, where I live, in both my mild-mannered secret identity Gerda Munsinger and my pink-and-white suited super identity, in which I battle evil in all its forms. However, being as I’m “just” a blond-haired elementary school kid, I sometimes feel as if I need some help from my pals.
I became an ILGWG member early in my still-young life and career, after the girls helped me beat down a particularly vicious gang of superpowered criminals I couldn’t deal with myself. Since then, according to our organization protocol, we assemble periodically to deal with things that we judge have the potential to be similar blow-ups. That happens more than you think. A lot more.
Fortunately, the five of us are the best of friends, in addition to being “professional” colleagues, and stay that way regardless of what happens to us. This story kind of brings that home, I think, along with what we each bring to the team.
Anyway, I have a tendency to go off on tangents when I narrate, so I better turn this over to one of the others….
So there we were, the five of us, looking sheepishly at the hole. I was shivering a bit in the Canadian winter cold, seeing that I was only wearing my trademark white skirt, blue sweater, monogrammed white T shirt and high-top shoes, looking every inch the blond-haired three year old I only appear to be, thank you. The rest of us were a little better off: Muscle Girl in her usual pink tights, white panties and cape, and short grey boots; Candy Girl her purple coveralls and red belt and boots, with her equally red hair flapping in the breeze; Power Bunny, dressed in her usual blue shirt and skirt over her bright pink fur; and Cerberus, a seemingly runty Dalmatian puppy, wore her white T shirt with a gleaming black “C” on it. The fur on Cerb’ and PB gave both of them mucho more protection from the cold than me, which made me a little jealous.
Also, the cold is unnatural to me, since I come from a hot planet and am warm-blooded. So I was more short-tempered than usual.
Impatiently, we examined the orifice with our super-powered senses for a few minutes. Then I lost it.
“What are we waiting for?” I demanded. “Let’s go down and see what’s in the damn thing already!”
“Hang on,” said Candy, who’s a (you guessed it- seemingly normal) teenager in her off time, and a skittish and easily intimidated one, besides. “We don’t know what’s down there. I mean, there could be-…”
“Hellllllooooo!” Cerberus drawled sarcastically. “That’s a given, Candy! You’re not afraid, are you?”
“No!” Candy snapped, angrily. “I just meant that if we go in there without a plan, we might not come out, and….”
“We’ll come back out,” said Power Bunny, tersely. “That’s our plan.”
“Really?” said Candy, unconvinced. “Can’t we work something out first?”
Although she’s the oldest, chronologically, Candy was the last of us to get her powers, and they came through a ring she got as a reward for rescuing a dying alien hero from peril, rather than inheriting them naturally (as with Muscle Girl, Cerberus and myself) or getting them through accidental means (like Power Bunny did). Because she is the only one of us whose powers depend on something external, and because she is a total “Aspie”- she’s freakishly obsessed with trying to do things as safely as possible, out of fear of becoming disempowered at the wrong time, or permanently.
“Planning,” I growled at her, “doesn’t solve any of the sort of problems we might face down there!”
“Now I know why they call you the Brat!” Candy said. “You gotta have your way- all the time!”
I was just about to fly over and bop her in the nose when, thankfully, Muscle Girl spoke up.
“Let’s just go in and look around for a minute,” she said. “There’s probably nothing, but, on the off chance there is something going on, we’ll deal with it, seal up the hole with rock or something, and then get out. Like always.”
That made sense to all of us, and we agreed to do it.
“Besides which, Brat,” she said to me, “I know you want to get out of this cold, but so do the rest of us. And remember: I gotta deal with this every winter.”
“Sure,” I said, chastened. “Sorry, Candy. I didn’t mean to…”
“Nah,” Candy retorted. “No need, Brat. We all wanna get this done. Hero’s curse, huh?”
“Yeah,” I answered, knowingly. “Hero’s curse.”
“Well, I, for one, want to see what makes that thing so special,” said Cerberus. She raced in the gaping maw with her usual quicksilver speed, and the rest of us followed at the same pace.
With our powers, we did a quick sweep of the hole, in the hope that we could declare the place null and void, seal it up and leave. That was what appeared to be the case. There was just solid rock, with no traps or hidden passages. We prepared to fly out of the hole and out of there, when…
“Holy…!” PB exclaimed, as she saw it first. “The hole’s being CLOSED UP!”
“Then what are we waiting for?” asked Muscle Girl, rhetorically.
We rushed to the exit as fast as we could, but we were a hair too late. And, whatever the hell was blocking the hole, not even our combined powers could help us break through it. Instead, we crashed into it and collapsed onto the ground together.
We were trapped. That much we knew. But who- or what- was responsible?
My first thought when I recovered and discovered our joint predicament was:
Now, I know that is not your average superhero behaviour, but anyone with Asperger’s syndrome, superhero or not, is gonna panic like hell if they’re in a strange and difficult situation with absolutely no way out (or so it seemed to me at the time). Especially if they haven’t taken their anti-anxiety medication. Which I hadn’t.
So, when I woke up from being knocked out, and saw we were trapped, I got to my feet, screamed, and ran down the nearest passageway.
Fortunately, Cerberus, with her enhanced dog senses, heard my screaming and rapidly moving feet. She ran in front of me.
“And just where do you think you’re going?” she demanded.
In my anxiety induced state, I babbled out some incoherent stuff about how scared I was and how I needed to get out of there, and how I needed to get my meds and stuff like that, until she cut me off with a pre-emptive growl.
“GET BACK THERE!” she ordered. “We all need to be on guard to get out of here- so WOMAN UP!”
“Yes, Ma’am,” I said, wilting under her fur, and we returned to the entrance, where the others had regained their senses. Thankfully, ‘cause mine were nowhere to be seen.
That was when the giant screen came out of the wall in front of us, out of nowhere….
Candy’s only half right about that screen. It was a screen, all right, but it wasn’t a giant one, only about the size of the monoliths they use for TV screens nowadays. She’s got a tendency to exaggerate things, but I guess everybody in this business does.
Once the screen revealed itself, a transmission came on without any of us touching it, so it was obviously something coming from outside of the cave. Those responsible soon made themselves known…
Our most vicious and bloodthirsty enemies, who had apparently teamed up to trap and destroy us.
What made it even worse was that they were throwing a party to celebrate our imminent demise in the cave- or so I gathered from images on the screen. A party! The nerve! Sure, we’d collectively and individually caused them a lot of heartbreak and pain, but we’re supposed to! No need to turn our potential erasure from the Earth into some sort of celebration!
The first of the crowd to address us were Scylla and Charybdis, the sister-and-brother delinquent-cum-magician duo who attend high school with Candy, and have been a major pain in our rear in the past.
“Howdy, butt faces!” said Scylla, diplomatically. “Like that tomb we set up for you?”
“You…!” Candy snapped at her. She might have smashed into the screen after her, but we held her back.
“Why don’t you save some of that energy for escaping, Candy?” Charybdis sneered at Candy disdainfully, as is his wont. “That is, if you can get that Aspie mind of yours to think straight!”
Candy swore viciously at him and made for the screen again, and we stopped her again, while they laughed at us from afar.
“Let me go!” Candy snapped. “I’m gonna kill them….”
”Calm down!” Muscle Girl ordered Candy, who relaxed, and then she turned to the screen.
“Okay!” Muscle Girl demanded. “What the hell’s going on here?”
“Perhaps I can explain!”
To the visible annoyance of Scylla and Charybdis, Petra O’Leum, the villainous supergirl who’s Muscle Girl’s biggest foe, stepped in front of the camera.
“I should have known that you had a hand in this, Petra!” Muscle Girl said, softly but angrily.
“Not just a hand, MG!” Petra retorted. “This whole thing was my idea! I located the site for the hole, and then I recruited S and C over here to blast it into shape with their magic. Had to pay them for it, of course, but a small price to get rid of you forever!”
“What!” Scylla stood up from the divan she and Charybdis were reclining on, in outrage. “This wouldn’t have happened at all if it weren’t for us!”
With an extreme level of forceful strength, Petra angrily pushed her back onto the divan. As for Charybdis, he stayed where he was, unperturbed as usual.
“CRAM IT!” Petra shouted at Scylla, her face turning nearly as red as her chestnut hair. “I am trying to outline my plan to these idiots here [meaning us], and I’d appreciate it if-….”
“Someone say idiots?”
At this point, as if on cue, the other members of the party converged around the camera. Machine Gun Steinberg, the nebbish businessman who’s often at odds with the Brat; Dumbell, the second most powerful puppy in the world (and perpetually scheming to take out our gal Cerberus so she can be No. 1, always unsuccessfully), along with her human “master”, Bad Dan McGoon; and, most annoying to me, the dimwitted boy, Rabindranath Jhabvala, and his pet snake, Crack, who, together, manage to create a lot of trouble for me in spite of their lack of brains.
Petra obviously didn’t want them there, for her eyes flashed in anger, and she cracked her ever-present whip in the air, driving them away.
“BACK, PEONS!” Petra growled. “I can’t believe I’m even in the same profession as you!”
“Who are you calling A PEON?” shouted a livid Scylla.
Furious, she shot a blast of magical energy at Petra, who ducked it. However, it must have damaged the equipment at their end, as the transmission ended as abruptly as it had begun.
We were silent for a few moments, as we tried to burn off some of the shock and rage that had been building up inside of us since our capture. It didn’t work, because we turned on each other.
Candy finally broke the silence, throwing a blast of emerald light from her power ring at the now-blank screen opposite us.
“DAMN IT!” she shouted. “I knew it! They want to kill us! If we hadn’t gone down into this damn hole, this never would have happened! You guys are always so impulsive….”
“We have to be impulsive, you big SNOT!” snapped the Brat. “How would we survive otherwise if we were faced by them- or any other type of evil, for that matter?”
“I’m just saying…” Candy began.
“Well, there’s your problem, right there!” The Brat pounced on those words like a cat. “You always talk about these things, but you never do anything….”
“Ah- there it is! I’m a just a fifth wheel to you!” Candy shouted back at her. “Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you for being just a human being and not an all-mighty DEITY, but that was how I was born, okay?”
“Knock it off!” Muscle Girl interjected. “This is getting us nowhere!”
“Who are you to decide that?” snapped the Brat. “Were you democratically elected to decide what gets us anywhere and what doesn’t?”
“I don’t have to be democratically elected to decide when somebody’s being a JERK!” Muscle Girl snapped, pointing at the Brat.
“How DARE you!” the Brat snarled back. “I am trying to consider our common welfare here…”
“Even though you don’t actually consult others when you do it!” I said, feeling a bit sore.
“You stay out of this, carrot breath!” the Brat snapped. “I can take you!”
“TAKE THIS!” I snarled.
I rushed at the Brat and punched her into the wall, to the astonishment of the others. She bounced back right away and swung at me. I swung back- I’m not proud of it, but I was fed up with the Brat, and wanted to cut her down to size. Muscle Girl tried to stop the Brat, and Candy did the same to me. This went on for a couple of minutes, until Cerberus, bless her heart, got us back to our senses.
….I shouted, with such force that everyone except me dove to the floor, while I stood hind-legged to address them.
“Jesus, Cerb!” Candy said, as she rubbed her ears in pain from my bellow. “What did we do to….?”
“You forgot!” I retorted. “All of you!”
“Forgot what?” snapped the Brat.
“That we, whether you like it or not,” I snapped back, pointing directly at her with my paw, “are a TEAM! And, if we ever want to get out of here, we better start acting like a team- instead of like a bunch of sissy prima donnas who each think we’re better than the others!”
By that time, they had all gotten to their feet, and the Brat seemed chastened by my words. They all did, in fact, but she more than the others.
“I’m sorry, guys,” the Brat said. “I got a bit hot under the collar, there. Shouldn’t have taken it out on you, but I was pretty damn mad about being duped like that…”
“Don’t take it out on yourself too hard, Brat,” said Candy. “I’m the one who went nuts, being off my meds and everything. You never would have gotten pissy if I hadn’t lost my temper…”
“Same with me,” said PB, sheepishly. “I got such a short fuse that any little thing can set me off-…”
“Never mind the apologizing!” I interjected. “That’s in the past. What matters now is the future.”
“You’re right, Cerb!” Muscle Girl said. “We need to bounce ideas off each other and figure out how to get out of here. And we can’t be too long about it, either- even our bodies are gonna give out soon if we don’t get some decent oxygen soon. Huddle up, everybody!”
Once we got our heads screwed on again and concentrated on what we needed to do, it was easy. You get five female superheroes inside a hole in the ground, each of them stronger than a whole army of men, and the solution is obvious: punch our way out…. CANDY GIRL:
Hey, I’m not that strong, all right? At best, I can only lift my own weight, let alone the kind of numbers you guys can bench-press… MUSCLE GIRL:
We’re getting to that, Candy. CANDY GIRL:
Sorry. MUSCLE GIRL:
As I was saying, each of us was going to fly on her own and punch her own personal tunnel… THE BRAT:
We needed some alone time, especially me. The exception was Candy, owing to the fact that she’s more earthbound than the rest of us, so she went back to the entrance and tried to cut her way through… CANDY GIRL:
No problem. I focused the laser from my power ring on one spot of the rock wall, and it gave, easy. Duh! Why didn’t I think of that before? MUSCLE GIRL:
Who’s telling this story, here? I thought it was my turn. CERBERUS:
We each had a turn already, MG. Now we’re telling the last part of it together. MUSCLE GIRL:
Okay. Just wanted to be clear… CERBERUS:
Good. So then we emerged from the ground at around the same time, a little battered and bruised, but safe and healthy, like we wanted to be. POWER BUNNY:
Easy for you to say. You can move faster than us ‘cause you’re smaller than us, and you were already out and done when the rest of us…. CERBERUS:
No bitching, please, PB. That was what got us in trouble before. Remember? POWER BUNNY:
Oh, yeah. Forgot that. CANDY GIRL:
Anyway, when we got out, there was one thing we all had on our mind. Revenge. MUSCLE GIRL:
Fortunately, we came out from the hole right near the spot where Petra had parked her spaceship for the villains’ shindig, almost within walking distance of it. But we didn’t walk. We flew. CANDY GIRL:
Again, you’re overgeneralizing. I ran. I needed to save my superpowers for the fight ahead. My ring was running low on power. MUSCLE GIRL:
The point is, we were able to approach them observed. But, as soon as we entered with our fists clenched and our teeth bared, they took notice. CANDY GIRL:
It wasn’t a fair fight, by any means. Scylla and Charybdis spotted me and tried to summon up some spells to stop me, but I blasted them into another dimension with the rays from my ring. Won’t hear from them for a long time, I hope. MUSCLE GIRL:
Petra blazed some curses at me and tried to wrestle me down, but a left hook and a right cross and one more in the belly from me and she was out for good. THE BRAT:
All I needed to do was lock eyes at Steinberg, and, if he wasn’t out cold before I saw him, he sure was after. I have that kind of effect on my enemies. After the fight, I called the cops, and they took him back to jail. Simple as that. POWER BUNNY:
Rabindranath and Crack did the same “You goin’ down, bitch!” kung fu schtick they try to use against me every time. Ho hum. I swept in and bound the two of them up in each other so they couldn’t do anything else.
Dumbell ran in front of me as soon as she spotted me, and we locked noses. Her shaggy yellow fur looked like it hadn’t been groomed in quite a while, and the black T shirt with the white “D” on it she wore (is she a copycat or what?) looked like it hadn’t been cleaned for the same amount of time. Naturally, we weren’t pleased to see each other.
“Get out of here,” I ordered, “and take your servant with you!”
I pointed to McGoon at this point. Despite his nickname, he isn’t “bad” in the least, just easily dominated. He quickly rushed out of the place before I could do any damage to him.
Dumbell, however, did nothing. I returned my attention to her.
“I told you to…”
“I heard you!” she snapped, in her deceptively mild working class Southern accent. “You just want me out of yore sight ‘cause you’re afraid I’ll beat ya! And I will!”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I retorted, holding my temper in check with a powerful effort. “My strength and speed are greater than yours….”
“Not by as much as you think they are, hotshot!”
“…and, as you know, my intelligence is considerably greater!”
She called me a very dirty name, but I ignored her.
“Face it, Dumbell,” I responded. “You may outweigh me by a few pounds, but that’s the only category in which you’re better than me. You’ll always be number two.”
“I may be number two,” she snarled, “but I TRY HARDER!”
With that, she took a vicious swipe at me, which I ducked. Then she started chasing me around the ship. This continued for a couple of minutes, until she cornered me, and forced me to fight her by encasing my small forepaws in her larger ones. We stood upright, wrestling with such force than the ground shook. I was at a disadvantage, as she was larger than me and had obviously- and lazily- conserved much more of her strength and energy than I had that day. Nevertheless, I prevailed. With a Herculean effort, I broke free of her grip, and before she could go any further, I snatched her by her shirt by my right forepaw and held her aloft.
“Let me put you in the driver’s seat!” I said, as I cocked my left forepaw back.
Then I punched her so hard that she flew out the ship’s wall and extremely far away.
Haven’t heard from her since.
So, that was it. THE BRAT:
No, it wasn’t. We went back to seal up the hole, which was a bitch of a job, even for us. CANDY GIRL:
You’re exaggerating. You guys just cut up some rocks with your powers and stuffed up the hole with ‘em. Typical show-off stuff. POWER BUNNY:
Somebody’s jealous. CANDY GIRL:
Yeah, I guess I am. I’ll admit that. I don’t want to seem useless. CERBERUS:
Which you are not, Candy. We all have things we can’t do, and things we can. Doesn’t mean you’re any less valuable to us. CANDY GIRL:
Thanks. MUSCLE GIRL:
Anyway, I think we all learned a valuable lesson. Being able to do stuff on your own is all well and good, but sometimes you need to be part of a team to understand how valuable you can be. And who your real friends are when your back is against the wall. Am I right on that, girls? THE OTHERS:
David Perlmutter is a freelance writer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. His published works include the non-fiction books America ‘Toons In: A History Of Television Animation (McFarland and Co.) and The Encyclopedia Of American Animated Television Shows (Rowman and Littlefield); as well as a number of speculative fiction collections and novellas, including Orthicon (September 2020). His short stories can be read on Curious Fictions at Curious Fictions/David Perlmutter, and at Medium.