Author's Note: Considering how everyone always skips these, I'm going to make it brief. This story was originally posted awhile ago. However, partly due to lack of inspiration, I scrapped it and planned to write it when I finally knew where it was going. After planning the entire story out in advance, I know for a fact that it's going to be finished now.
This story is going to be very, very bloody. Considering how its Happy Tree Friends based that isn't much of a surprise, but it's going to be a very high T here.
Side Note: Oh, and no gender debates. It's been settled for ages. Flaky is a girl.
"The human mind is like a TV set. When it goes blank, it's a good idea to turn off the sound"
The streets between the gloomy-looking apartments of downtown Happy Tree flooded with leftover rain water. Streams guzzled down from gutters, drifting off here and there and becoming whirlpools that dried up and dispensed down into sewer grates. Cars passed by and sloshed their tires against the rain rising up against the curb. The flood was over now, but with the way things were looking, it seemed like the worst of the mess was still to come. It normally didn't get this bad uptown, but then again, this was the other side. Downtown. The dumps.
Shifty sat on the stoop of his apartment and watched the rainwater sputter and leak out of the rusty gutter beside the steps. It drizzled down like a stream, drizzling even further on until it was spit off somewhere to an unknown fate. He lay back casually, nibbling on the increasingly stale chocolate bar that he had stolen moments ago from the convenience store several blocks away. The heist hadn't been pulled off alone in reality. In his mind maybe, but not in reality.
There was a screeching whir of bicycle tires spinning into puddles. Practically flying out of the rainy fog, Lifty came riding out on his bike with a grocery bag swung around the handlebars. He was breathing hard, his face contorted in a mess of sweat, but there was still a smile on his face. The bag of stolen merchandise blew in the wind.
His tires squeaking against the wet street, Lifty parked the bicycle beside the stoop and climbed off, grabbing the bag of groceries and holding it loosely in one hand. He walked up to his brother with that goofy smile vanishing and a look of indifference replacing it. Shifty smiled now, flashing his signature big, sly smile at his twin brother.
"You didn't leave anything behind, right?" Shifty asked. He always had a way of making things sound like an order.
Lifty shook his head. "I just snuck in, grabbed a grocery bag, and put everything in. The moose at the register didn't even see me".
Finishing off his stolen chocolate bar and crumbling up the wrapper in his wet palms, Shifty didn't break his sly smile as he picked himself up from the ground and tore into the grocery bag.
Life had taught Shifty at an early age that if you weren't sure of yourself, you would be chewed up, spit out, and be left alone. It only took one look at the streets of downtown Happy Tree to know that it was a cold, cold world. Maybe not to everyone, but as they said, life was kind to some and cruel to others. That was why you had to stand out. Whenever he walked in a room, he made sure that his smile looked intimidating. Besides his hat - which he had never replaced since the day he got it - his big and arrogant smile was the one thing Shifty liked about how he looked.
As Shifty tore into the bag, pulling out a bag of packaged crackers that would be their makeshift dinner for the evening, Lifty's look of indifference vanished and he started glaring. More than anything, he looked annoyed. By the time Shifty looked up and noticed, he had looked through nearly everything in the whole bag.
"What?" Shifty snapped.
"You didn't have to wait for me here to make sure nothing happened. In case you didn't realize it, I can take care of myself. We do this every day, and so far, nothing's happened. What the hell are you expecting?"
"I wasn't waiting on the stoop for you, you damn brat", Shifty lied. "Just help me bring everything inside".
For a second, Shifty thought that Lifty was about to argue. That happened a lot, and it tended to frighten him sometimes. Shifty thrived on having the upper hand in things, and when he was taken out of that familiar territory, he didn't know what could happen. The times when his brother stood up to him were rare, but they were unpredictable. Not wanting to start an argument, he didn't say anything. He just sighed, bent down and heaved the grocery bag over his shoulder.. Every day, when the two raccoons stole what they needed for dinner from random grocery stores, they would take shifts for who would have to sneak the food out. Today, it had been Lifty's turn.
And every time it was Lifty's turn, Shifty worried.
Although he bossed his brother, his lackey, around, there was always the fear in the back of his mind of something "happening". Although Shifty wasn't exactly sure what could happen, or even if it actually would, but he knew it would be bad. And although he would never admit it, he didn't want anything to happen to neither him or his brother. It was a pathetic thought to admit, but they were really all they had. The world's cold, ain't it? Spring weather. Another storm's probably coming in soon..
Carrying the groceries through the archway and starting up the rain-soaked stairwell, Shifty could already hear their parents fighting from the bottom floor of their apartment building. They lived in the third-story penthouse, but his parents screamed so loud at sometimes that you could hear it from down the street. Their arguments usually shifted back and forth between different topics: paying for the apartment, the bills, the bills, Lifty and Shifty, the bills….
Shuffling the groceries in his hands, Shifty began to walk up the creaky steps of the apartment building with his brother closely behind. The steps were girded-metal and completely soaked in rain. Climbing the thing really was a daily safety hazard when the weather got bad.
"I can do things for myself", Lifty said suddenly. It came out of nowhere. "I'm not an idiot. And you don't have to boss me around and treat me like one".
"Didn't I already say that I wasn't waiting for you? Shut up and don't talk to me".
"Well in case you didn't realize it bro, I'm a person too and I think I'm pretty capable of taking care of myself. Maybe even more than you, but you'd never know that since you've never even given me a chance…"
Shifty tightened his fedora around his ears, struggling to block out Lifty's annoying voice that - although he would deny it - sounded exactly like his. With that aside, Lifty and Shifty were practically identical twins. The only physical difference between them was Shifty's hat, which acted mainly as a way to tell the two raccoon brothers apart.
Finally reaching the door to their apartment, Shifty reached into the lining of his hat and pulled out an old key with golden and chipped paint. At his feet, a stray rat scurried across the exposed plumbing coming out of the wall. It squeaked for a second before scurrying down the stairwell and out of sight. The building was old, it was at the verge of falling apart, but most of all, it was their home. Somehow or another, they'd actually grown up there and thrived in it. When you really considered it, it was a scary thought.
"GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME!"
"WHERE THE HELL WERE YOU LAST NIGHT, YOU STUPID BITCH?"
"I WAS OUT WORKING AT THE STORE! I TOLD YOU! I'M TELLING THE TRUTH"
The moment the door creaked open, the thick smack of his father's palm followed by his mother's shrill scream echoed through the four-room apartment. The door immeadidly opened up into their foul-smelling kitchen. A mess of a room with greasy floorboards, rotten food and counters that hadn't been washed in years, it really was hard to figure out how the two of them had managed to live there for fifteen years and counting. Sometimes Shifty wondered if he was ever actually going to leave.
Their parents were there. Their mother was slumped against the yellowed wall in the corner, dazed and confused with a bruise under her left eye. The beefy figure of their father was standing in the middle of the room. Balding and overweight with the inability to do much of anything, it was a growing idea to the twins that he might have had some kind of mental problem. Maybe some kind of anger management or something. The moment the two brothers entered, his drunken eyes turned away from his wife and locked on them.
"Where have you two been?" he barked.
Smiling his cocky and arrogant smile, needing it more than ever, Shifty didn't answer. Instead, he closed the door with his foot and dropped the groceries on the ancient coffee table beside the door. Lifty, meanwhile, said nothing as he stared at the ground and tried to hide in the background. This was a routine that happened all most every day.
Their father's eyes narrowed. "I said, where the hell you have been!"
"Wow, Dad, that's a first", Shifty said with his signature smile. "I mean, wow, I don't think you've ever asked us that before! Really thinking about your kids today, aren't you?""
His father glared and his fist clenched, turning his green fur to the seething white color of a ripe onion. Rain continued to drizzle on the dirty windowpanes beside them. Their mom was still slumped in the corner, lost in space and completely unaware of the situation that was unfolding in her kitchen.
"I'm asking you a question, Lifty", their father barked. "And I for one think you better ans-
He stressed his name, trying his best to get his father mad. That was when he noticed that his mother wasn't even conscious. Her eyes were half-open, and she seemed almost in a concussion from the rough slap she had been given. Even if she wouldn't have been much help awake, it really cemented the fact for him. They were alone with their father.
Lifty, who had been staring blankly at the ground, finally glanced up. "I'm the one you're talking about, Dad. I'm Lifty".
Their father's eyes were even more unfocused now and he was wobbling in place. Obviously, he had been drinking again, and obviously, the fight he had just had with their mother hadn't put him in any better of a mood. He was mad. And if things kept going the way they were, someone else was going to end up getting hurt.
"You two should be learning in school".
"School ended four hours ago", Shifty said. "But you were probably too busy drinking to keep track of time. And then there's the fact that we cut school today, but I think that's beside the point, don't you?"
"Well, what the hell is this all about, then? You two should have been home for dinner hours ago!" He wobbled in place again, almost like a maniacal bobble head. He came abruptly to life when his unfocused eyes locked on the groceries lying on the coffee table. Then they widened
"You two don't have any money", he shouted. "You stole that, didn't you? Pullin' off another one of them heists of yours, aren't ya? Thinkin' you can just take whatever ya' want, dontcha?"
"Yeah", Shifty said calmly. "I think I can".
Lifty, on the other hand, was far from calm. His face lit up in rage. "What's the problem, Dad? If we don't feed ourselves, we'll probably starve. It's not like there's anybody bringing home money to have a dinner on the table, anyway. How's welfare treating you?"
In an instant, Shifty's cocky and resourceful smile faded. Complete panic was what replaced it. While he had simply been pushing buttons with his father, knowing the limits, Lifty had gone far beyond what was suitable in their household. He had completely set their father off. He'd gone into uncharted territory – that just wasn't something that you talked about. And now, just like he'd predicted, something was going to happen. Something always happens…
"Lif-" Shifty started.
His father's face lit up in fury. "You little-
He reached for the letter opener on the grimy kitchen counter, grabbing it in his large and sweaty paws. In a matter of seconds, he charged forward at Lifty, grabbing him thickly and rendering him in a quick and efficient chokehold. Lifty's feet thrashed and his tail wagged, struggling to break free but not doing a very good job. His face started changing colors - and even with all of this happening, the leftover roof rain continued to clatter and pour down the window's glass. The world wasn't changing at all.
"THAT'S IT, HUH?" their father roared. "IS THAT WHAT I'M DOING? RAISIN' TWO LITTLE SMARTASSES LIKE YOU? YOU SHOULD BE IN SCHOOL! GET OFF TO SCHOOL! THAT'S WHAT YOU SHOULD BE DOING!"
Knowing something would, "happen", like he had always feared, Shifty ran forward and tore furiously at his father's arm, his cocky smile completely gone now. It just wasn't fair. A big guy like that couldn't gain up on a little guy. Why didn't he just pick on someone his own size? He pulled hard on his father's arm, and although he was in decent shape, he was no match for someone nearly twice his body weight.. Raising the letter opener into the air, his father slit the opener like an intense paper cut across Lifty's face.
The blood appeared in an instant, breaking open from the slit in his cheek that had come like an extra mouth. Lifty's green fur ran red as he howled and struggled to break out of the chokehold. His eyes were wet and filled with tears. Nobody was helping him.
And that was when Shifty lost it.
Screaming in rage, he clawed at his father's beefy arm, determined to make a cut ten times deeper than what he had done to his brother. The skin was almost like the bark of a tree though; for a raccoon, it was amazingly rough and hard. It was like trying to stab through a rock. It was clear what he had to do. At that moment, Shifty resorted to his most primal instincts and clamped his teeth down hard on his father's arm, biting down as hard as he could
"MY ARRRMMM! MY ARRRMMM!"
Lifty fell to the ground the moment Shifty tasted the wet and warm blood in his mouth. He tried to stay on for a second, clamped onto his dad's arm as hard as he could, but then he was thrown off like a ragdoll and nearly lost a tooth in the process. His hat fluttered off and landed on the ground. Without it, he looked exactly like Lifty, and it made the abuse even worse. When they looked the same, it just felt like one couldn't fight back anymore than the other could.
"YOU DAMN KIDS!"
Not wasting a second, Shifty grasped his hat on the floor, tightened it on his head in practiced ease, and went running down the hallway to their room with Lifty close behind him. Their father tore after them for a second, but he was overweight and slow. It was like trying to outrun a sloth. They reached the room in a second, rushing in and nearly heaving themselves to the floor. Shifty slammed the door, nearly severing off his brother's tail in the process.
For several seconds, there was only a deafening silence besides their father swearing his lungs out in the hallway as Lifty quickly locked the door with its needle-point hinge. Somebody started slamming on the door for a second. And then again. Finally, after that, there was only grim silence besides the rain pattering away on their bedroom window. Neither of them spoke.
With a soft whimpering sound, the two brothers both fell down against the door in defeat.
"Thanks", Lifty muttered.
"Whatever", Shifty sighed. The words felt alien to him. "I'm…I'm sorry about everything…."
"It's okay I guess…"
Shifty tilted his hat over his shady face, hiding the face that he was at the verge of tears. Beside him, Lifty massaged the wound on his cheek, feeling the blood continue to trickle down. The gash was deep. Not just deep, but medical-attention deep. In any suitable family, he would be rushed to the hospital. But this isn't a suitable family, is it Shifty?
"Maybe we shouldn't steal things when he's home anymore", Lifty sighed. "Maybe we should just wait for him to go to sleep and we'll eat dinner later".
"I don't feel like eating dinner tonight", Shifty said suddenly. "I don't want to eat ever again".
The whole ordeal had hurt him bad. It only proved his philosophy: life really did suck. If you weren't prepared for it, and knew how to play it like a game, it would be cruel to you and offer no mercy. That was why he needed to boss his brother around. That was why he needed to smile his confident smile like a disguise when he entered a room.
Most of all, it was why both of them needed to be kleptos.
Lifty gingerly felt the cut on his face. "I'm going to sleep".
"It's only 7:00, Lifty".
"Like I said, I'm going to sleep".
Still massaging the bleeding cut on his face gingerly, Lifty turned around and fell limply onto the bottom of the bunk beds that the twins shared. Besides this bed, tacky black wallpaper, and a rusty black-and-white television, this was there room. They didn't even have their own closet. And again, this is a childhood we grew up in..
"Shifty, what would you say if I had a crush on someone?"
It was so off-topic from what had just happened that Shifty almost laughed for a second. It was just that bizarre. Instead of answering, he merely stared down at Lifty lying on his bed with a bewildered look on his face. He started climbing up the ladder, completely at lost for words. His brother, as it turned out, had expected this".
"What?" Lifty asked. "Do you seriously want to keep talking about what just happened? I've been thinking about this all day and I want to get it off my mind".
"I guess I wouldn't care", Shifty said as he stretched out on the top box and hung his fedora on the bed post. "Is she in any of our classes?"
It seemed strange to Shifty that Lifty would be the one to say something like this.
He was much more outgoing at school than Lifty, who was much more shy and secluded. He liked being the center of attention, and when he wasn't stealing from his classmates, he was often a very social person. True, his reputation had earned him little to no friends, but he still liked to think of himself as a social person. He also knew he was a pretty lonely person, but that was something he would rather not think about.
"Yep", Lifty said with a yawn.
"Well, who is it?"
Shifty nodded. Although she wasn't the prettiest girl in their school, Petunia was definitely high on the list. She had a spunky and bubbly personality and always smelled nice probably because of the pine air freshener she wore around her neck on a string. Then again, she was a nice girl. And they were thieves. There was really no coming together.
Shifty shrugged. "She's pretty, I guess".
"I don't know why I suddenly like her, but it just came out nowhere. But do you think she would even care enough to notice someone like me? We're so different".
"You're poor and steal money and she's bubbly and plants flowers", Shifty said. "Maybe opposites attract, you know?"
"Maybe they do, Shifty…"
Seeing their conversation was getting awkward, Shifty sighed and switched on the television with the remote he usually stuffed against his mattress. In an instant, static nearly overshadowed the audio and the voice of the black-and-white reporter on the screen was almost inaudible. Normally, they would watch something else besides the news, but their room didn't have any cable. Only the living room had cable and there was no way they were going outside again. Yawning and feeling his eyes glaze over, Shifty really only half-watched what was unfolding on TV.
"That was a tragic story, Mark", the panda reporter sighed into her microphone. "Now, we have a strange story unfolding in nearby Tree County. Strange weather patterns, following the series of storms last week, have been unfolding in the quiet town of Pleasant Falls".
Shifty's ears perked up under his fedora. Pleasant Falls was merely ten miles south from Happy Tree.
"Here's a story to baffle meteorologists and science geeks alike. You see, it' s common sense that clouds move. However, a certain cloud behind me hasn't moved at all. Instead, it has been stationary over the entire town of Joy Tree, spanning about a mile across in total. And that's not even the strangest part. You see, the color of this cloud is the really bizarre thing that's got people talking: citrus orange. While the cloud began as merely a light shade of orange, it has been gaining color all day. Meterologists are baffled and some residents have fled town in fear before the cloud begins to shower rain, which local experts have predicted will occur around nine-o-clock tonight. Questions have been raised from locals if this cloud is the result of the chemical explosion at the Mercero power plant several miles away from Tree County, but nothing is known for sure yet. Waiting for more information. Along with this, Joy Tree is the sight of the annual county hockey tournament which will take place next week. Back to you guys at the studio".
Shifty stared at the static picture on the black-and-white screen. Although the television had no color, he could see the exotic color of the cloud and how it was completely still in the sky. It just sat there dumbly in the sky, hanging with a strange sense that it wasn't ever going to move. For a second, he almost spared a thought about it. Then, deciding it was just one of those things; he sighed and rolled over in his bed.
Thoughts ping-ponged around in his head. Someday, he wouldn't have to wear that hat or an intimidating smile on his face when he entered a room. Someday, his parents would stop fighting or cease to exist all together. Someday, Lifty and him would no longer have to steal to let out their anger or just to prove a point. Someday things would get better. Someday…
For a second, Shifty considered crying for how all of these somedays would never happen. But that was laughable. He hadn't cried any tears for himself in almost five years and he was proud of it. Too de-sensitized to consider much of anything else in his life, he forced himself into a night where he wouldn't get much sleep.
Two hours later, exactly ten miles away, a dark orange cloud finally began to rain over the small country town of Pleasant Falls. Merely an hour later, almost everybody that had been outside was dead.