What Once Was

By:  Mark J. Hadley

*          *            *

CHAPTER 5: "Departures"

            Buttercup could barely move, but she struggled to push herself up to an upright sitting position, squinting out of one eye at the Professor and Bubbles.  She heard Blossom run off, but couldn't see to where…nor could she really focus on that anyway.  She was too preoccupied with her own injuries.  Can this get any worse? she thought.  No…doesn't matter…either this hotel is gonna kill us…or it's gonna just keep torturing us like this…for god knows how long…no, no matter what, it can't get worse than this…

            The professor watched where Blossom had run off, and knew he couldn't pursue her.  It was impossible, with his leg in this condition, but if he didn't try, and something happened to her, he'd curse himself for not being there.  Holding Bubbles under one arm, he hastily moved over and scooped Buttercup up under the other, ignoring the pain in his shoulder from where he was stabbed earlier.

            "…No…" Buttercup said, her voice straining.  "…just leave me…doesn't matter, we're not gonna…get outta here…anyway…"

            "Yes, we will," the professor said firmly.  "The situation is bad, but it's not hopeless.  We can still make it out."  As he spoke, he hurried in the direction that Blossom had gone, limping along slowly but surely.

            As they continued, Bubbles began to stir under his arm, "Uhhhnn…"  She opened her eyes gradually, then winced, one of her hands reaching behind her to hold her back over the wound.  The professor breathed a sigh of relief, seeing that she was all right, and Bubbles looked up at the professor, asking, "What…happened?"

            "Bubbles, thank goodness," he said.  "Can you walk?"

            "I think so…" came her reply.  The professor set her down on the ground, and she tested her legs.  Her back ached, but her legs were just fine, albeit a little shaky.  "Yes…I can walk…"

            The professor said, "Good…I need you to go on ahead of me, since you're faster.  Stay in my sight, so that I don't lose you…but we've got to catch up with Blossom.  She went running down this way, and I'm afraid of what will happen to her on her own…"

            Bubbles nodded, "I understand."  She walked off down the hall…even despite her unsteady legs, she was still moving twice as fast as the professor.  She called out, "Blossom?  Can you hear me?"  There was no answer.  Maybe Blossom found the exit, she thought.  Maybe she's outside right now…maybe we do have a way out…

            When she rounded the corner, she froze in her tracks, her eyes widening in horror, and her mouth dropping open.  What she saw seemed incomprehensible, and her mind told her that it had to be an illusion.  Something was hanging by its feet from a rope anchored to the ceiling at the far end of the hall…even at this distance, she could make out the details.  Its skin had been completely stripped from its body, and it was soaked in blood, which dripped into a puddle beneath where it hung.  It looked less like a person and more like a slab of meat than anything else.  But the shape was recognizably human, and it was also the perfect size and shape for…

            No…it can't be, she thought…Oh please god no…

            The professor noticed her shocked expression, and suddenly feared the worst, calling out, "What's wrong?  Bubbles?"  Buttercup noticed her expression as well.

            Bubbles, still open-mouthed, tried to speak, but only a horrified whine came out of her throat.  She walked slowly towards it…even though she wanted to look away, she had to know for sure.  By the time she was about halfway down the hall, the professor had turned the corner with Buttercup, and both of them gasped in shock.  Bubbles kept walking wordlessly forward, and soon she was close enough that she could see its eyes…although barely open, she spotted the pink irises…

            "B…B…B…." Bubbles stammered, and fell back another couple of steps, shaking her head in disbelief.  When it fully settled in, she fell to her knees on the ground and shrieked at the top of her lungs, "NOOOOOOOO!!!!"  The professor had reached her by this point, and Bubbles spun around, grabbing hold of his good leg and burying her face in it, bursting out into tears.  The professor ran a hand through her hair trying to comfort her, but he couldn't take his own eyes off of Blossom, tears building in them as well.  She couldn't believe she was dead…not his little angel…

            Buttercup closed her eyes and whispered, "So…we're gonna die then…"  Tears squeezed out from her eyelids, but she ignored it and actually chuckled a little, "…great way to end a vacation, huh…?"

            Abruptly, Bubbles turned and screamed at where Blossom was hanging, "No!  It's not real!  Blossom's okay somewhere, she's gotta be!  The ghosts are trying to trick us!  It's a lie it's a lie it's a lie!"

            "Bubbles!  Listen to me!" the professor shouted.  "Stay calm…maybe you're right, and this is just an illusion.  I wouldn't put it past this house to do something like this to us…"

            "Yeah…" Buttercup wheezed, "…it's done everythin' else…"

            "…but regardless," the professor continued, "we have to accept the fact that Blossom may be gone.  The best thing we can do now is to try and put this aside so we can get out of this hotel.  We can grieve later, but if we sit and grieve now, we could all be doomed…"

            Shaking her head, Buttercup said, "…too late…already doomed…"

            "Buttercup, that's enough!" the professor said to her.  "We're only doomed if we give up.  There's always a way, and if we can just…"

            "Lookin' for a way out, mac?" a voice interrupted from one direction of the hall.  Everyone looked over, and saw a large man, dressed in overalls and a plaid shirt, and with a dirty old cap on his head.  He carried a wrench in one hand, and was covered with black grease stains, like he had just come from doing mechanical work on a car.

            Another ghost, the professor thought, but as long as he's going to be helpful, "Uh, yes…I'm told there's a back entrance, do you know where it is?"

            The man lifted the edge of his cap up and scratched his head, "Well…y'could use the maintenance door.  It kinda slants down into the basement, near the boiler…"  He pulled out a rag and wiped some of the grease from his face, as he added, "It's locked from the inside, but y'should be able to get out that way."

            Bubbles smiled, "Where's the basement?"

            "Oh, you ain't far from it," he said, pointing past them down the hall.  "Jes' follow this hall and take two lefts, then a right.  Y'can't miss it."

            The professor nodded, "Thanks!"  The man nodded back and turned, heading back the way he came.  We know where the back exit is now, the professor thought, but we still have to get there.  At least this ghost was helpful.  He looked down at Buttercup and said, "You see?  We're going to make it out of her after all…"

            Buttercup managed a smile and said, "Great…maybe you're right…I dunno…I'm not gettin' my hopes up 'till I see the sky outside, though."

            "Fair enough," the professor agreed.  "We have a chance now…Bubbles, I need you to take the lead again, since you can move the fastest…"  He stopped, noticing that Bubbles was just standing there, unmoving, starting blankly at the wall.  Curiously, he said, "Bubbles?  What's wrong?"

            There was no answer for a moment, but then Bubbles suddenly walked forward, right up to one of the doors in the hallway.  Without a word, she swung it open and went inside.  Right on the floor in front of the door was a baseball bat…she scooped it up and turned around, facing the professor and Buttercup.  Her eyes seemed to be glazed over, not focusing on anything.

            "Are you okay?" the professor asked.

            She strode out of the room, patting the bat in her other hand, and spoke in a low voice, "Youze gots my money?"

            The professor hesitated, then said, "Wha…?"  Then he realized… She's possessed again, he thought.

            "Dat's it," Bubbles growled with a frown.  "Dat's da last time yer gonna stiff me on my money, punk!  If yer not gonna pay up, den say hello ta Mr. Bat…"  Without another warning, Bubbles swung the bat hard…she didn't exactly swing with a lot of force, but it struck the professor in his broken leg, and he cried out, collapsing to the ground and dropping Buttercup.  He clutched his leg in pain.

            Bubbles approached him again, and he scrambled back a few feet, but before he could gain too much distance, Bubbles swung the bat upwards, clipping him on the chin.  It wasn't enough to knock him out, but enough to daze him, as he hit the ground, groggily trying to regain his bearings.  As he did, she turned her attention to Buttercup, who stared back at her through one open eye.

            "Whaddaya lookin' at, Joey?" Bubbles sneered.  "Yer da worst one of dem all, tryin' ta muscle in on my territory.  Lemme show you what happens when ya cross Toni…"

            "B-Bubbles…no…" Buttercup pleaded.  "Fight it…don't…"

            "Shaddap!" Bubbles shouted…swinging the bat around, she clubbed Buttercup on the side of the head, who was knocked sideways in a brief grunt of pain and lay sprawled out across the ground, unconscious.  Bubbles didn't let up, but raised the bat over her head and smacked her again with it…and again…and again…

            A few moments later, the professor dizzily sat up, holding his jaw…his vision was blurry, but he could make out Bubbles standing there, a blood-soaked bat resting at her side, staring down at Buttercup.  Or at least he thought it was Buttercup, but it was almost too bloodied from repeated blows to tell.  Oh no, he thought…no…not her too…

            Bubbles stood for a moment longer, but then shook her head, as if it clear it, the bat falling out of her hands…immediately, she fell to her knees in front of Buttercup and, in tears, bawled, "No no no oh my god I didn't mean it I'm so sorry oh my god…"

            The professor managed to crawl closer to her and said, "Bubbles…do you…know what happened…?"

            "Yes!" she wailed, collapsing her head into the ground.  "I remember it, I remember everything…god… I c-could see everything b-but I couldn't control it a-an' I couldn't stop it an' then I-I …I…"  She couldn't speak anymore, she was crying too heavily.

            The professor put his arm around her, "It wasn't your fault…it's the ghosts.  Just remember that, okay?  It's not your fault."

            She looked up, staring the professor right in the eyes, tears rolling down her face from her own, and said, "B-Buttercup is…w-was…right…we're all gonna die…"

            "No," the professor said, even though he was beginning to realize this also.  "We're not.  Not if we can reach the back exit…"

            "Blossom's dead!" she shrieked at him.  "Buttercup's dead!  We're gonna die too!"  She collapsed weakly onto his arm, gripping it and pressing her face against his shoulder…her voice came in a whisper, repeating over and over, "I don't wanna die I don't wanna die I don't wanna die…"

            The professor put his arms around her, trying to comfort her…but then, felt her back curiously.  "Bubbles…what happened to your back?"

            Bubbles looked up at him, not understanding, "W-what?  M-My back?"

            Wordlessly, he undid her bandage, which was no longer soaked in blood, oddly.  He examined her back, and found that her wound had vanished.  "You're not hurt anymore…do you feel anything when I do this?"  He pressed against her back in the spot where she was hurt earlier.

            Bubbles shook her head, "No, nothing…but…"

            "I know, it's completely gone," he said.  "Almost like it…like it never happened in the first place…"  He thought about this for a second, then looked up to where Blossom was hanging.  With shock, he exclaimed, "Look!"  Bubbles looked over and gasped at what she saw.

            Blossom was still hanging upside down, but she looked perfectly all right.  Not a scratch was on her, and she batted her eyes slightly, as though trying to wake up.  She groaned, "Uhh…what…happened…"

            "Blossom!" Bubbles cried out, getting up and running tearfully over towards her.  She only made it a few steps before she tripped over Buttercup, though, who was lying on the ground still in the middle of the hallway…it took her a moment to realize that she was unharmed now, too.  There was no sign of the beating that Bubbles had given her.

            The professor said, "Buttercup, you're all right!"

            Buttercup blinked a few times, sitting up, and said, "I…am?  But…I was just…and Bubbles was…"  She scratched her head in confusion.

            "Can someone get me down?" Blossom called out.  She tried to reach up to untie the rope herself, but still couldn't reach it.  The professor quickly stood up and walked over to help get her down…as he started to untie the knot, Blossom stared at him and said, "Professor…your leg!  And your arm!"

            "Hm?" he said…he glanced down and suddenly realized that he had just walked over here without any problems.  His leg had miraculously returned to its original condition.  He flexed it a few times, and said, "This is incredible!  Maybe it really was just an illusion.  I don't feel my leg broken at all…"

            "And speaking of legs…" Bubbles said, pointing at Buttercup.

            "Huh?" Buttercup said, and looked down, at her own legs…it took her a moment to fully understand what she was looking at, and when she did, she gasped, happily reaching down and grabbing her leg with her hands, coiling her knee up against her chest and hugging it, "It's back!  It's not gone!  Ohhh, I love you I love you!"  She started kissing her knee repeatedly.

            The professor finished untying Blossom, and she twisted around in midair, hovering above the ground and saying, "Thanks, Professor…So, if this was all fake, that means there's nothing to be afraid of anymore!  Just so long as we keep in mind that…"

            "Blossom!" Buttercup shouted.  "Look, you're flying!"

            Blossom was indeed hovering off the ground…she smiled in joy and said, "Hey!  Our powers are back, too!"  The other girls tested their own powers, lifting back up off the ground the same way Blossom had, joining her in the air next to them.  Narrowing her eyes, but still smiling, she added, "All right…now it should be a snap for us to get out of here!  Let's just go through the front door…ready?"

            "I'm ready," the professor nodded.

            "Right behind you!" Bubbles answered…both she and Buttercup grabbed one of the professor's arms, carrying him into the air so that the four of them could reach the door faster.  They zipped down the hallway, sparing no time, and in only a few seconds, reached the foyer again.  As expected, it was still in its dilapidated condition, but now, a few boards covering a door wouldn't be able to stop them.

            Blossom opened fire with her eyebeams, slicing the wood from the doors in an instant.  They swung open, and outside, they could see that the sun was just getting ready to rise.  Bubbles said, "Maybe that's why the ghosts all left…it's almost dawn…"

            "Maybe," the professor said, "but either way, at least we're all safe."

            "Last one in the car's a rotten egg!" Buttercup shouted, and dashed past Blossom, heading for the doors.  She was overjoyed to be leaving at last.  As she did, though, she suddenly smacked into something in the air that brought her to a screeching halt.  "Ow…what the…?"

            "What's wrong?" Blossom said, flying up next to her.

            Buttercup reached out carefully to the open doorway, and her hand pressed against something solid, "It's…some kind of invisible wall…"

            "What?" Bubbles said.  She flew over and felt the wall with her hand, too, then started pounding on it, trying to break it down, but having no luck.  "It won't budge!" she told them.

            "But there's nothing there…" Blossom said.

            "Hmm…" the professor murmured to himself.  He scooped up a chair from the foyer, shaking the cobwebs off from it.  Hoisting it up, he threw it past the girls and through the doorway…it passed through normally, crashing to the ground outside and breaking apart.

            "So…why can't we leave?  We should be able to…" Buttercup said.

            "…unless…" Blossom continued.

            "…we're…actually…" Bubbles added.

            All four of them stared wordlessly at the exit, as it all made sense to them.  It was why their wounds seemed to magically vanish…it was why they couldn't leave the house now…it was the same reason why the other people who had died in the house couldn't leave, either.  As the sun started to rise, the four of them hung their heads silently, closing their eyes…even as they began to fade from view, Blossom carefully swung the doors towards each other, and they closed with a heavy sound that seemed to reverberate throughout the Hotel Vananda…

*          *            *

            "…and that's exactly what happened!" the mayor exclaimed worriedly from behind his desk in his office.  "I'm sure of it!"

            Ms. Bellum, standing on the opposite side of the desk, sighed and held her face in her palm, "Mayor…they're just a day late.  There's any number of reasons why the girls haven't shown up from vacation yet.  Don't tell me you sat up all night fabricating that ridiculous story!"

            "Well…I was worried…" the mayor said, looking away and fidgeting.  "But I know this happened…"

            Folding her arms, Ms. Bellum asked, "Mayor, what did I tell you about your overactive imagination?"

            "Ah…use it for writing new laws?" he replied.

            "Mm-hm," Ms. Bellum nodded.  "And not for what?"

            "Ahh…not for…coming up with…worst-case scenarios?" the mayor answered.

            "That's right," she nodded, and turned to walk out of the office, shaking her head and muttering to herself, "I sincerely hope that's the last time he does this…"  She left the office and closed the doors behind her.

            The mayor sank down in his seat and said, "Well…it could have happened…"  The phone suddenly rang, and he said, "Ah well, back to work."  He picked up the receiver and answered it, "Hello?"

            The voice on the other end of the line was Professor Utonium, who said, "Mayor!  I just wanted to call and let you know…the girls and I having such a wonderful time here on our vacation that we decided to stay an extra day!  I hope it didn't startle you, because the phones were out yesterday, so we couldn't call to let you know…"

            "Oh…ahh…" the mayor said, glancing around his office aimlessly.  "Of…of course not.  So…what if something happens while the girls are gone?"

            "Just get in contact with us here at the hotel," he said.  "It's the Hotel Vananda…the number here is…"

            "The Hotel what?"


            The mayor shouted, "BWAAHHH!!" and hung up the phone suddenly.  He sank further down in his chair and muttered, "Ohh…Townsville is doomed…"

*          *            *

            The professor, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses, stared at the phone in his hand, which now just gave a dial tone.  He shrugged and hung up the phone, turning back towards the balcony of their suite at the hotel, overlooking the beach below.  The girls were out amongst the other hotel residents, dressed in their swimsuits and playing in the water.  He leaned against the rail and sighed happily, thinking, The girls deserved an extra day of vacation for all their hard work.  I'm just glad we found such a relaxing place to spend it…