Phantasmal Truths -- Chapter 6

Phantasmal Truths

By:  Mark J. Hadley


                Blossom scanned the skies, but couldn't find any trace of Bubbles anywhere…neither could Buttercup.  They were beginning to get worried…all they knew was that Him wanted to get into their minds for some reason, and whatever the reason was, he must have succeeded with Bubbles.  "Where could she be?" Blossom wondered.

                "I dunno," Buttercup said.  "Whatever Him did to her, we gotta see if there's a way to stop it."

                "Yeah, there's no telling what he might have done…or how much she could take right now," Blossom agreed.  They kept their eyes peeled as they soared over Townsville.  Please, Bubbles, she thought.  Wherever you are, please be safe…we're coming…

*              *                *

                Bubbles had no idea what was going on.  Everywhere she looked, she saw more of them walking down the streets…zombies, of every shape and size.  Each one turned their cold stares up to her as she flew overhead, and she shuddered with fear at their gazes.  She knew what was on their minds…what they would do to her if she went near them…the thought chilled her, and she felt lost, and afraid…

                How did this happen? she thought.  They're everywhere…it's horrible!  Did Him do this?  Did he do it to the whole town?  Oh god…what if he did?!  No, I can't give up hope…there's gotta be someone left alive somewhere…please, let there be someone else alive, please…

                She descended down to the street in an empty block of town.  It was early, and the sun hadn't come up yet, and so there weren't any people around this area at the moment.  Landing in the street, she headed over a door to one of the apartment buildings and carefully knocked on it.  She glanced nervously behind her on the street, and thought, I hope someone's there…it's not safe out here!  I have to get someplace safe…

                She heard the door swing open, and turned back to face it, saying, "Hello, I was wond—…"  A moment later, her speech was cut off by her own scream.  There was another one at the door…another zombie.  Th-they're in the buildings, she thought…there's nowhere safe to go!  Before the zombie could attack her, she quickly shoved it backwards and took off in the opposite direction, flying into the sky again as fast as she could.

                She cast only a momentary glance back at the apartment, where the zombie was struggling to get back to its feet.  They're all zombies now, she realized with dread…No, maybe there's still someone left!  Blossom and Buttercup!  They won't be zombies…I gotta find them!

                From the ground inside of her apartment, the old woman who had answered the door watched Bubbles disappear into the sky, and stiffly tried to pick herself up off the ground, saying, "Oof…was…was that one of the…Powerpuff Girls…?"

*              *                *

                Buttercup spotted something in the distance, a streak of blue light flying away from a group of apartment buildings.  "There she is!" she shouted, pointing it out to Blossom.

                "What's she up to?" Blossom said.  "It looks like she's in a hurry.  Let's get over there as fast as we can!"  Buttercup nodded, and the two of them flew off on an intercept course.

                Bubbles heard the sound of something rushing through the air in her direction…she spun around nervously, and saw the pink and green streaks flying towards her from the distance…for a moment, she was relieved, until they came into view.  She suddenly felt cold, and fright filled her…it was Blossom and Buttercup all right, but they looked different.  Both of their outfits were ripped and tattered, their skin was a pale bluish color, and their eyes were puffy, giving that same dead stare that she had seen on the others.  Oh…oh no…no…

                Blossom saw Bubbles staring at them with a look of fear in her eyes, and almost without recognition.  Her tears were welling up, and she whispered, "…n-no…"

                "Bubbles, are you okay?" Buttercup asked, drifting closer.  "What's wrong?"

                Bubbles watched as the zombies grew closer to her.  Their mouths barely moved, and all she could hear were low moans escaping their throats.  Wh-what do I do?! she thought.  They're dead…the zombies got them!  I'm…I'm all alone!!  Shrinking back from them, she stammered, "N-no, not you t-too…"

                "Huh?" Blossom said, confused at Bubbles' words.  "Not us what?"

                Buttercup flew closer, reaching out to put an arm around her in comfort, "Easy, Bubbles…you've had a scare, but…"

                Before Bubbles could react, the Buttercup zombie had flown closer to her, outstretching her arms.  No, no!  I can't let 'em get me!!  She shoved the zombie's arm back, and yelled, "No!  Leave me alone!  Stay back!!  Stay back!!"

                Buttercup was surprised at Bubbles' reaction, shoving her back like that…she could see that she was afraid of them for some reason, very afraid.  Blossom quickly ordered, "Hold her!  We've got to get her to listen to us!"  Both of them flew up to opposite sides of Bubbles, each grabbing hold of an arm, and Blossom continued, "Now, Bubbles…take a deep breath, and try to explain what's…"

                Oh no oh no oh no, Bubbles thought, as the zombies grabbed her.  She couldn't move…their grip was too strong.  The Blossom zombie bared its teeth and made a strange hiss-like noise, and she knew she was preparing to bite her.  She panicked, and shrieked at the top of her voice, thrashing around in a frenzy to try and break free.  "NOOO!!!"

                "Calm down!" Buttercup said as Bubbles struggled, "We're not going to hurt…"  Before she could finish, though, Bubbles blasted her point-blank with her eyebeams, forcing Buttercup to let go.  She swung her now-free arm at Blossom as hard as she could, slamming into her jaw and sending her flying backwards into the side of a building.  Without wasting a moment, Bubbles spun around and flew away.

                By the time Buttercup recovered from the eybeam blast, Bubbles was out of sight.  Blossom pulled herself out of the imprint that her impact had made on the side of the building, and said, "What was that?  Something's not right with Bubbles…"

                "Yeah, she was completely freaked out!" Buttercup said.

                At that moment, Him materialized in front of them.  They spun to face him as he lay on his back in the air, holding the Phantasmal Orb up in front of him.  "So, I see you've found Bubbles," he remarked melodiously.  "Is she doing well?"

                Blossom gritted her teeth, "What did you do to her?!"

                "Merely the true power of the Phantasmal Orb, girls," he replied.  "You see, the orb can alter what you see, what you hear, all your perceptions…but only for a little while.  I have to sit and concentrate to keep it going, you know."  He grinned, staring at the orb again., "But the orb does have the power to make the illusions more…lasting.  The mind has to be willing, though…and believe me, Bubbles was more than willing to open her mind to me!"

                "So that's what you were up to!" Buttercup exclaimed.  Oh man, he almost tricked me before! she thought…I woulda ended up just like Bubbles!

                "That's right!" he said.  "I merely made it so that eeeeveryone she looked at was part of her 'nightmare'…and even better…"  He held the orb up to one eye, peering at the girls through it, making his eyeball look larger.  "…I've magnified her fear.  Don't expect to reason with her…"

                "You've definitely gone too far this time, Him!" Blossom shouted.  "As soon as Bubbles shakes off whatever illusion you're giving her, we'll…"

                "I'm afraid it's not that easy, girls," Him interrupted, taunting them.  "You see…Bubbles is going to be like that…"  His voice darkened, "…forever!"

                They were stunned.  Blossom was completely thunderstruck by this piece of information.  She's stuck like that?  No, it can't be!  Oh no…Bubbles!  She gritted her teeth as it all sank in.  It's all Him's fault!  He's going to pay for this!!

                Him waved a claw in the air and said, "Don't worry too much about Bubbles, you two…for you see, you'll be joining her soon enough!  I'll just wear you down with more nightmares and illusions…day after day, week after week, if necessary, until eventually, you'll be pleading for me to release you.  Your will shall be broken, and your minds will become open books, upon which I will write the new pages…"

                As Him started laughing, Buttercup could take his ranting no longer, and with a fierce battle cry, she charged forward, swinging a punch at Him.  It connected with his chin, knocking him back through the air…but as he recovered from the hit, he rubbed his jaw and smiled, continuing to laugh.  Shaking her fists, Buttercup yelled, "Stop laughing!"

                "You're so concerned with fighting me," Him said cheerfully, "that you don't realize what else is going on…"  He looked back over his shoulder, towards some of the buildings in Townsville far off in the distance, and a moment later, one of them was suddenly rocked with an explosion.  "Shouldn't you be keeping an eye on Bubbles?"

                With a gasp, the girls turned their attentions towards the buildings in the distance.  As soon as their backs were turned, Him said, "Surprise!" and plumes of thick, red smoke started encircling both of them.  They looked around, startled, as their surroundings vanished from sight…

*              *                *

                Nowhere to hide, Bubbles thought…they're everywhere!  They're gonna get me…just like in my dream!  How could we let this happen?  How?!  We turn our backs for a second, and Him does this to the whole town…maybe even the whole world!  She flew out from the building through the hole she blasted with her eyebeams, leaving the dozens of zombies behind that were still inside.

                I'm alone…I'm all alone…  She shut her eyes as she soared back into the air, tears streaming down the sides of her face.  Oh, why?  Why did it have to be this way?  Everyone, gone…even my sisters… She shuddered as she imagined what they probably went through…the zombies biting them, like in her dream…their screams of horror…

                What can I do? she thought sadly.  It's all over…we lost.  Maybe I can keep going on for a little while, but eventually the zombies are gonna get me too…no, I don't wanna be like that…I'll die first…

*              *                *

                When the smoke cleared, the girls found themselves inside the lair of Him.  They couldn't move…some strange, red vine-like substance was wrapped around their arms and legs, holding them each suspended over two different pits.  Both of the pits were filled wit a bubbling green liquid, and they could feel the heat rising from them.  They both struggled to get free, but whatever it was that was holding them, it was too strong to break.

                Blossom looked up at the vines and tried to fire her eyebeams, but they wouldn't fire for some reason.  She felt something in the air…it was nullifying their powers.  Maybe it's this stuff that's holding us, she decided.  How did he manage to capture both of us so easily?

                As Buttercup continued tugging at the restraints, Him materialized in front of them, grinning in triumph and rubbing his claws together.  "Now, at last, I have the two of you…and we're going to play a little game…"

                "We're not playing any of your games, Him!" Blossom shouted.  "Let us go!"

                "I'm afraid you don't have a choice," he told them.  Waving one of his claws, a pillar of black rock rose up from the ground in front of Buttercup, stopping right in front of her.  There was a large lever on top, like a switch.  As this happened, the substance that was holding them receded from one of her arms, freeing it.  Buttercup wasted no time in trying to pound herself free from the other restraints, but it was still no good.

                "You'd better listen, Buttercup, because I'm only going to explain this game once," he said.  Buttercup settled down and listened, and Him continued, "That lever in front of you will help you decide your fate, little one."

                "What do you mean?" Buttercup demanded.

                Him explained, "Those pits beneath you…they can destroy anyone, even ones as powerful as you.  Oh, it'll take longer for you, to be sure…about three days, actually…but eventually, it will.  And it will be quite unpleasant for those three days, also, I can promise you…"

                Blossom bit her lip, and asked, "So what's your game?"

                "It's simple," he said, drifting up next to the lever.  "Buttercup has the honor of making the choice.  Push the lever forward, and Blossom will be dropped into her pit.  Once she is…finished…you will be free to go, no questions asked.  Pull the lever towards you, and you will be the one dropped into the pit instead, and it is Blossom that will be released…"

                Buttercup stared at the lever and paled, "You aren't serious!  I'm not gonna make a choice like that!"  She looked over at Blossom, who looked equally pale.

                "Oh, but you must…it's one or the other, Buttercup," Him said, barely containing the delight in his voice.  "If you choose not to decide, well…I'll just have to drop you both into the pits.  So if you want one of you to come out alive, you had better choose who that will be.  And whoever it is will have quite a good show, watching the other for three days…"

                "I…I…" Buttercup stammered.

                "Not to your liking?" he asked.  "Well, I have another choice, one which will allow you both to leave here alive…"  He withdrew the Phantasmal Orb, holding it up in front of him, "Open your mind to the orb's powers…then, and only then will you both be allowed to leave…"

                "No!  Buttercup, you ca—…" Blossom began, but she was cut off as more of the vine-like restraints snaked out and wrapped around her mouth, silencing her like a gag.

                Him waved his claw, "Ah ah ah, Blossom…this is Buttercup's decision, not yours."  Him drifted back and waited eagerly, "You'd better make a decision quickly…as I said, if you take too long, you both will perish.  So, which will it be, Buttercup?"

                Buttercup sweated, her eyes locked on the lever.  She looked over at Blossom again, who was staring back at her.  Looking into those fear-filled eyes just made it harder to decide.  Oh man, oh man, she thought…what am I going to do?  I can't make this kind of decision!  Either way, this is awful…I'm either gonna die slowly, or I gotta watch it happen to Blossom…I can't do it!  I just can't!

                She looked down at the green liquid in the pit beneath her, and shuddered.  I don't want either of us to go through this…not the pit, not watching it…nothing.  Maybe…maybe I should just open my mind like he said…at least that way, we're both still alive…

                "I'm waiting…" Him said, impatiently.

                "S-so if I j-just open my mind," Buttercup asked, "y-you'll let us g-go?"

                A wicked smile crossed Him's face, and he nodded.  Blossom was frantically shaking her head, and when Buttercup saw this, she thought, No, maybe this is a bad idea…I'll end up just like Bubbles!  And I'll be stuck like that forever!  Blossom's right…that's worse.  Worse for us, worse for Townsville.  But still…I can't decide!  Oh god, why did it have to be me?  Why?!

Blossom watched in horror.  She couldn't say anything, couldn't do anything but watch.  In a moment, Buttercup was going to make a decision, and she had to be prepared for it.  To die, or to watch Buttercup die…it was madding for her just not knowing which one Buttercup was going to choose.

                I hope she pushes that lever forward, she thought…or do I?  I don't know if I could stand the thought of Buttercup having to watch me for three days, and then having to live, knowing that she was the one who dropped me in.  But I don't want to see anything happen to her, either…  She continued to watch helplessly…

*              *                *

                As she soared high over the town, Bubbles knew it was all over.  She didn't want to live in a world infested with zombies, and the thought of what they would do to her if they caught her was too much to think about.  She thought about ending it all now, instead of giving them the chance.  Everyone else is gone anyway, she told herself.  What is there left for you?

                She thought she saw someone nearby, hovering in the air…no, three people.  One was hard to make out from the back, but it looked like…Him.  The sight of him made her feel angry, but also filled her with fear.  Now, more than ever, she knew she was helpless to stop him.  The other two she saw where her sisters, still zombies, floating there in front of him as though they were waiting for his orders.

                She felt like turning around and fleeing as fast as she could.  Getting to safety, someplace where they couldn't find her.  No, she told herself, he has to pay!  He can't get away with this!  You've got to face him!  You've got to!  Gathering what was left of her courage, she launched herself in their direction…

*              *                *

                Him spoke up, "You're almost out of time, Buttercup.  A decision now, if you please…"

                "All right, all right!" Buttercup exclaimed.  "I've…I've made up my mind…"  Blossom held her breath as she watched Buttercup reach out slowly with a shaking hand, grasping the lever.  Buttercup hesitated, her hand still trembling, then closed her eyes, mentally preparing herself…she whispered to herself aloud, "One….two…"

                She didn't get the chance to make it to three, because at that moment, Bubbles seemed to appear out of nowhere, striking Him in the back with a kick.  Her presence startled him, since his attention was on Blossom and Buttercup, and he certainly didn't expect an attack from someone he thought was harmless.  He staggered forward from the hit, and the Phantasmal Orb slipped from his hands, falling out into the air…

                The instant it left his hands, the scene around them vanished…they were back in the skies above Townsville again.  Everything was gone…the restraints, the pit, everything.  It was an illusion! Blossom thought.  He tricked us again!  I should have known…

                Him watched the orb plummet down towards the streets below, and yelled, "No!"  He immediately started descending towards the street, leaving a trail of flame behind him.  Buttercup was still shocked by the sudden change in scenery, but Blossom had recovered, and thought, Oh no you don't!  She started flying down after the orb also.

                Bubbles, in the meantime, fixed her gaze on Buttercup.  Her expression made it clear that she still was under the orb's influence.  She powered up her eyebeams and yelled, "No more zombies!  No more zombies!!"  Gasping, Buttercup raised her arms to shield herself…

                Down below, Him had almost reached the orb, and he was definitely going to get to it before Blossom did.  "Yes, yesss!" he hissed.  "I have you now!  Your efforts are futile, and soon, I will have the power once again!"

Blossom clenched her teeth, and knew she had to do something.  She made a decision…but then, her mind still flashed some doubt.  What if this backfires?  What if it makes the situation worse, like in my dream?  You don't know what effect this will have!  No, don't hesitate, this is your chance!  Besides, that was just a dream before…this is real!  If you don't do something now, we could all be doomed!

She nodded to herself, and quickly fired a blast from her eyebeams.  The beams shot past Him, and just before he could grab the orb, they struck into it.  With a brilliant flash of purple and white energy, the orb shattered, and its energy spread outwards in a purplish mist, which quickly started dissipated into the air.  Him shouted, is voice dark with anger, "NO!  You meddlesome fool!!"

Up above, Bubbles' eyebeams powered down before she fired.  She shook he head and rubbed her eyes, clenching them shut.  Buttercup was confused by this sudden change in behavior, and said, "Uh…Bubbles?"

Bubbles looked up, and was overjoyed to see Buttercup in front of her…perfectly normal.  "Buttercup!!" Bubbles exclaimed, flying over and nearly tackling her in a hug.  "You're alive!"

Buttercup smiled happily.  She's all right! she thought.  "Great to have you back, Bubbles!  C'mon!"  She started flying down towards where Him and Blossom went, and Bubbles followed close behind.  Her expression was equally joyful to see Blossom down below, also back to normal.

Him was furious…the Phantasmal Orb, which had taken so much time and energy to create, had been destroyed…and he had been so close to winning!  He turned to face Blossom and growled, "This isn't over!"

                "Not by a long shot," Blossom said, frowning back.  "You'll pay for what you did to us, mark my words!"  As she spoke, Bubbles and Buttercup flew down, hovering at her side.

                "Perhaps, but not today," Him said, his voice returning to its usual melodic tone.  "I'll be back…and next time, it is I who will be victorious…"  He was just about to leave, when what was left of the purple mist from the orb drifted over to him, surrounding him.  He looked momentarily perplexed at this, but then his eyes widened, almost fearfully…he shouted, "No…NO!!"  A moment later, he vanished, returning to his lair.

                Buttercup asked, "What happened?"

                "I don't know," Blossom replied, "but if I'm right, I imagine he's going to have some problems of his own pretty soon."

                Bubbles laughed, and said, "Oh, I'm so happy that you're all okay!  I thought…I thought it was the end of the world…"  As she looked down towards the street below, she spotted citizens walking by—normal citizens, not zombies—and knew that everything was back to normal once again.

                A sudden thought occurred to her, though, "The professor!  We have to go see if he's okay!"  The other girls nodded, and the three of them started flying off towards the hospital, hoping that he made it there safely.

                As they flew, Blossom asked, "So, Buttercup…what did you decide?"

                "What?" Buttercup said, confused.

                "You know," she clarified.  "The lever…"

                "Oh…" Buttercup replied.  "I…uh…"  She hesitated.

                Blossom smiled and shook her head, "It's all right if you don't want to tell me.  I'm sure whatever choice you made would have been for the best in such a dismal situation like that…"

                Buttercup cracked a grin, "Thanks…"

*              *                *

                The three of them arrived at the hospital.  They found out at the desk that Professor Utonium had been admitted, and the doctors informed them that he was currently in stable condition.  Besides a few minor cracked ribs, he was okay.  They were incredibly relieved, and asked if they could see him…the doctors agreed; though it was definitely not visiting hours, they decided to make an exception in this case.

                They flew into the professor's room…he was lying on one of the beds, bandaged up, and with a few bruises on his face, but other than that, he looked fine.  His expression brightened up when he saw them enter, "Girls!"

                "Professor!" they cried out.

They flew over and hugging him from all sides.  The professor cringed a little, "Ow!  Watch the ribs…"  They nodded and backed up a little to give him some breathing room.  "Before you say anything, I know it wasn't your fault.  I forgive you completely."

"Thanks, professor," Blossom said.  "How are you feeling?"

                "Oh, better now…" he replied.  "How about you three?  You look a lot better than when I left you before…"

                The three of them quickly explained the entire situation to him and everything that had happened.  About Him, the Phantasmal Orb, and what he was trying to do.  The professor was shocked, but he was glad to see that they made it through all right.  He was thankful that it was an outside influence, and that they weren't, in fact, losing their minds.

                "Still," Blossom said, "some of the dreams were really creepy.  I mean, I know they were false, but they still had some truth to them…like one I had where we were blamed for 'creating' all the major villains in the city…"

                "And some of the bad ones, I don't think I'll ever forget," Bubbles said, still sounding disturbed.  "I still feel kinda scared that I might have a nightmare…but now that I know what was making them, and that it's gone, I'm not so scared anymore…"

                The professor nodded, "You've been through a lot, girls…but you've shown a much stronger will that most children your age…in fact, you've made it through situations in the past that even us adults would have a hard time coping with.  I'm proud of your courage."

                "Yeah…" Buttercup said, but then hesitated, as she remembered something she was going to ask him.  "Professor…will I grow up?"  The other girls gave her a confusing look.

                "Of course you will," the professor said.  "Why do you ask?"

                "No good reason, I guess," she replied.  "I was told by Him that one of my powers kept me from getting any older…"

                The professor smiled, and said, "Sweetie, you've already grown a little since you were created.  If that's not sign enough, than I don't know what is.  You'll be fine, all of you…"

                Blossom smiled, and then asked, "So, are you going to come home soon?"

                "They're going to keep me here until morning to make sure I'm all right," the professor told them.  "Why don't you three go home and get some rest?  It's the weekend, so you can sleep until noon to catch up on what you missed if you'd like, okay?"

                "Okay!" Bubbles agreed.  She flew over and kissed him on the top of the head, "Goodnight, professor."

                "Goodnight, girls," he said, as they started to leave the room, "and pleasant dreams."

                Blossom smiled as they left.  Tonight we will, she thought…Tonight we will…

*              *                *

                Him appeared in his lair, waving his arms to try and get rid of the purple mist that had tagged along.  It finally dissipated completely, and he sighed.  "Well…at least I'm back, now.  Home sweet home…"

                As he started heading for his throne, he became aware of another mist that seemed to be closing in on him from all sides.  Raising an eyebrow, he said, "Eh…?"  It surrounded him like a bright white cloud of vapor.  He shielded his eyes against it, and growled, "What's going on?!"

                It finally cleared, and Him glanced around in shock.  He was standing on the surface of a white, fluffy cloud…a brightly-colored rainbow was overhead, intersecting the clear blue sky, bright and sunny.  A group of butterflies passed by, and some small rabbits were hopping around on the cloud.  Beautiful music filled the air, permeating every corner of this place…

It was almost paradise…

                Him grabbed the sides of his head and fell to his knees, shouting, "No!  It's not fair!  Let me out of this illusion…let me out!!"  As he did this, several of the butterflies landed on him, and a dove set down on the cloud in front of him, looking up and cooing happily.  Him threw back his head and bellowed, "NOOOOOOOO!!!…"