It was dark; night had fallen over the bustling city of Hillwood. It was also quite late, and most of the city's younger inhabitants were by now asleep in their beds. The only exception was three girls and a black cat, standing in a deserted playground at the City Park.
Luna surveyed the area. "This looks like a good spot," she decreed, stretching her feline body.
"Luna," asked Phoebe. "What is it like the 30th century? Is the technology significantly advanced compared to what we have today?"
"Yeah, I bet it's really neat," added Rhonda. "And I bet everyone has stylish futuristic outfits and flying cars…"
"…And everything's covered in chrome and robots have crappy jobs as civil servants," snapped Helga. "Can we hurry this up already?"
"What's your problem?" said Rhonda. Ever since the group made the trek to the park, it was obvious that Helga was noticeably irritable, but no one could pinpoint the exact cause of her hostility.
"Nothing!" said Helga, crossing her arms. "I'm fine, it's just…I don't see why we've got to make a big ceremony out of this and everything."
"Well, the key tends to work best when the moon is out," explained Luna. "Also…" she paused humbly. "I wanted to say goodbye to you all personally before I leave. I can't thank you enough for what you've done and the lengths you've taken just to return me to my proper place in time…"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," interrupted Helga rudely. "Are you gonna talk or are you gonna leave? Honestly, for someone who couldn't WAIT to leave this place, you're sure taking your sweet time to go back. And frankly, MY time could be better spent – somewhere else. I'm outta here."
Helga stormed away from the group.
"Helga!" chided Phoebe harshly.
"It's okay, Phoebe," said Luna. "This must be hard for her. Actually, I feel rather guilty, relying on you girls. You're all so young to undertake such a great responsibility as your own. I just wish I had a better way of repaying you than with my gratitude."
"Trust us, Luna," said Phoebe. "It will be all the reward we need to see you get back home safe and sound."
Luna smiled warmly.
Rhonda approached Luna and stroked her gently on the head. "We'll miss you, Luna."
"And I, you," she replied, taking a deep breath. "Well, I suppose this is it…"
"Good luck, Luna," said Phoebe as the black cat darted away from the playground and into the grassy opening, directly beneath full moon. She turned pensively to look at the girls one last time, and then looked upward at the moon resting in the night sky.
The crescent moon on Luna's forehead emitted a light beam that shot up into the air, towards the moon. Just then, a swirling white gateway appeared several metres into the sky; beneath Luna a platform of light formed that slowly ascended her toward the large halo.
But when she was up about halfway, the light on her crescent started to flicker, then dim…and finally ceased to glow completely. As a result, the platform on which she stood vanished, causing Luna to plummet toward the ground.
Phoebe and Rhonda watched in horror as the cat fell to her imminent doom.
"Oh no! I can't watch!" cried Rhonda, shielding her eyes.
Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, Phoebe caught a pink blur race past them at lightning speed towards the falling feline.
Helga sprinted as fast as her legs could carry her. Then, in a move that would put most linebackers to shame, dove with all her might, snatching Luna out of the air just before impact.
Helga hit the ground hard, rolling several times before finally coming to a stop, her cargo still cradled tightly in her arms. Her arms and legs were cut up and scratched, her dress was muddy and torn, and the pink bow she usually wore was literally ripped from her head.
Luna was still in shock, and could only let out a groan.
"LUNA!" she yelled, shaking her. "Don't you dare die on me, you hear? I swear, if you die on me, I'll kill you!"
"Ugh…I'm not dead…" Luna replied, hoarsely.
"You're not? Oh, Luna, I'm sorry!!" Helga embraced Luna in her arms. "I didn't mean those things I said! I was only acting like I didn't care in front of the others, but I…Luna, I really will miss you!"
"Truth is…" she continued, her eyes red and her face wet and sticky from the mixture of tears and dirt on her cheeks. "As crazy as it sounds…this group is the closest thing I've had to a real family. And you…" she laughed to herself. "You're kinda like…like the mother I never had…ya know?"
It was then that Helga finally broke down. She buried her face into Luna's body and sobbed, matting the poor cat's fur with her tears.
"Are you two alright?" asked Phoebe as both she and Rhonda came to inspect the damage. When they got close, Helga abruptly stood up, letting go of Luna. She turned away from the others so that they couldn't see that she was crying.
"I'm fine," she lied. "You should be more concerned about Luna."
"I'm alright," Luna said. "Thanks to Helga."
"I guess you'll have to try again," sighed Rhonda.
"I don't know if that will make a difference," replied Luna, a defeated tone in her voice. "The key is supposed to work optimally under moonlight. If the full moon wasn't even enough to activate the gateway, then I doubt the key has enough power to transport me through time."
"So…you're stuck here?"
"I'm afraid so," Luna said sadly.
"No…" They looked at Helga, who decided to turn and face them. She quickly wiped her nose with her arm and checked herself before speaking, lest her voice crack from emotion. "We're sending you home."
"I'm still the leader of this team," Helga said sternly. Determination poured from her as she clenched her fist with conviction. "And I say you're going home. Give me that key."
Phoebe helped Luna remove the key from around her neck and handed it to Helga. She then walked away from the others so as to give herself space and closed her eyes. "Now…I want you to make me mad."
Phoebe was perplexed. "What? I don't under—"
"Call me names, insult my clothes, anything. Just do it."
Still confused, Phoebe struggled to think of something that could possibly upset her best friend. Then she had an idea.
"Rhonda – tell me your thoughts on Lila."
Rhonda looked at Phoebe quizzically. "My thoughts on Lila?"
"Yes. What do you think of her?"
"Um…I think she's a nice girl…friendly…got a wicked sense of style…"
"Would you say she dresses better than Helga?"
"Oh, no doubt about it! But Phoebe, what is this all abo—"
"And you would say she's popular, correct?"
"Yeah – well, not as popular as me, of course, but I can tell you she's got a ton of admirers."
"You mean the boys in our class?"
"I guess, yeah…"
"Could you name a few of them?"
"Well…there's Stinky, and Sid…and Iggy and Joey…and then there's Arnold…"
Helga's face tensed slightly.
"Would you say that Arnold really likes Lila?"
"I think so. He's always helping her carry her books, he lets her cut in front of him at the water fountain, he's always sharing his lunch with her…"
"Grr…" Helga gritted her teeth.
"So…what you're saying is, they would make a good couple."
"Absolutely! I can't think of anyone better for Lila. They're obviously made for each other."
"GrrrrrRRRRRRR!!!" Suddenly a glowing white aura surrounded Helga as she held the key high above her head.
It was at that moment that Luna understood what Helga was doing.
A beam shot out from Helga's body towards the moon, then seemingly refracted so as to shine onto Luna, creating an energy transfer. The swirling halo of light re-appeared above Luna, as did the platform, and once again, she was lifted off the ground.
As Luna made her way towards the gateway, Helga released one hand from the key to give her a thumbs-up.
Luna eyes glimmered plaintively, and she bowed deeply out of immense appreciation for Helga's actions.
"Goodbye, girls," she said, almost inaudibly. "Thank you."
Phoebe and Rhonda waved; Luna ascended higher and higher until she eventually disappeared into the other side of the gateway. The halo swirled slower and slower, fading away from the sky.
And then there was nothing.
The energy bridge receded. Helga held her head in her hand and began to wobble to and fro, but luckily the other girls were there to break her fall.
"Look!" pointed Rhonda. The time key which Helga held in her other hand softly crumbled in her grasp, its dust swept away with the light breeze of the night.
"Helga, speak to me!" cried Phoebe.
As she regained consciousness, a smile crept on Helga's lips. "Goodbye, Luna…" she said weakly.
"Are you sure don't want to stay here tonight?" asked Phoebe, standing at the entrance of her house.
Rhonda was kind enough to have her driver drop the two girls off at Phoebe's place. Initially, Helga had planned to spend the night (she didn't want to have to explain the bumps and bruises to Big Bob), but at the last minute had a change of heart.
Helga leaned gingerly on the side of the stoop. "Nah…I think I need some time to myself for a while."
Phoebe nodded solemnly and watched as her friend carefully made her way down the steps of the porch, then limp away down the block.
Helga was quite the pitiful sight when Arnold spotted her hobbling along the sidewalk. She had a sprained ankle from rescuing Luna (hence the awkward gait), and her dress was wrinkled, covered in dirt and blood from the multiple scratch wounds she had acquired on her limbs. Helga had since reattached her bow to her head, but left her hair as is, splayed over her face and tousled erratically.
"Hey, Helga!" he called to her from across the street. "Wait up!"
Helga pretended not to hear Arnold, but he ran over anyway from across the street to greet her.
"Hey, football-head," she grimaced.
"Helga…" Arnold said. "…you look terrible."
"Nice to see you, too."
"Here, let me help you…"
"No, I'm fine," declined Helga gruffly.
"Come on, Helga - you can barely walk. Let me just…"
Helga resisted vocally as Arnold tried to offer his assistance, but for some reason Arnold was refusing to back down. Eventually, Helga relented and begrudgingly allowed Arnold to somehow wrap her arm over his oddly-shaped head.
"There now. That's better, isn't it?"
Helga said nothing as the two of them walked down the sidewalk together.
She looked at Arnold intently, her expression a cross between awe and bewilderment. A million thoughts raced across her mind at that very moment. She braced herself: it was now or never. This was her golden opportunity.
He paused to look at her.
They turned the corner and continued to walk down the sidewalk in silence, the only one bearing witnesses to their brief camaraderie was the full moon in the night sky above.
And that's my story.
I wish I could say we all lived "happily ever after", but things don't always play out as they do in fairy tales. Cripes, I'm amazed that life was able to go on normally after what we've been through.
I still have many questions. Some I want answered, others…I'm not so sure. Sometimes I drive myself crazy trying to make sense of it all. For now, I guess I'll have to be content with the memories.
But I do know this: I'll think twice next time a black cat crosses my path.