“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Muse said causally.
“What!?” I turned my head from side to side and looked behind me, until I spotted him calmly sitting beside me. “When did you decide to show up? And where have you been?”
“Oh… I got bored, so went for a walk,” he said, inspecting his paw in a bored fashion, and lazily looking out past my shoulder. “But I would get your silly little head out of view, the guards are about to round the corner.”
“Huh?” I turned to look, but was suddenly yanked to the ground by Dude. I grimaced at my sudden, close-contact with the tiled floor. But my thoughts were re-directed when I heard a sound like a slow moving stampede. I righted myself, sitting on my hands and knees, and look through the plants with the others.
The zombie-shopper army was shuffling in, escorted by guards. One or two of the guards had clip-boards and were directing the mob into different groups. The guards were now dressed in Roman centurion garb, not really sure how that had happened.
As we watched, the shoppers were arranged in a semi circle around the throne and separated into four groups. One guard was positioned facing each group, and each guard held a big white sign facing down.
“What is going on?” I whispered to Dude, but he only shrugged.
Wanda stopped her terrible sobbing long enough to look up to see everyone in their spots. After nodding to one of the guards, she took up a tissue and loudly blew her nose.
The clip-board guard nodded to the guard in front of the first group, who then held up one of the signs. The crowd before him said in unison, “There, there, it will be OK.”
Wanda sniffled and replied, “No, It can’t! He said he loved me! But he left me!”
“He wasn’t worth you, ” the next group droned, as the guard held up the cue-card.
The three of us exchanged bewildered looks as the odd dialog continued.
Wanda sobbed “But… but he was so perfect! Until…”
The first group went, “There there,” While the third group said, “What a shame.”
The green giantess sniffed, nodded, and honked her nose on a tissue again, “Bruce Banner…. I thought he’d make such a good boyfriend!”
“Bruce Banner?…. wait! She dated the Hulk!?” Dude said with a very flabbergasted look on his face. “The Hulk, she dated the Hulk. Why did she think that was a good idea?!”
“I was pretty,” Wanda whined, “he had money.. but then…” She couldn’t continue, and pointed to the first group to say their ‘There theres’ while she buried her face in her big hands and wailed some more. When she looked up again she said, almost in a musing way, “He did turn into a big green monster when we argued, but he was a ripped green monster, so I didn’t care…”
“Oh, that’s gross,” I said, sticking my tongue out.
“But it wasn’t too much of a problem. I mean, it was, but I didn’t what to think about it….”
“Is it just me, or has her way of speaking gotten a lot better,” Muse mused.
“Sorry, I think that’s my fault,” I said, still trying to peer out through the plant. “I couldn’t figure out how to make her talk all ‘Wanda Smash!’ when she has a lot of words to say. So I let her IQ bump up a bit”
Muse frowned at me, “That’s lazy authorship.”
“Whatever, you can get over it,” I shrugged. “I can make it work if I want to.”
Dude pipped up, “Is it just me, or has she gotten skinnier?”
We all looked back at our captress, who was still sharing her sob story with the rest of the mall. She did look a little smaller, and even less hideous in the face.
Muse twitched his tail and looked at me sideways, “April…”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, trying to hold back a huge grin, “I’ve got this.”
I stood and stepped away from the flower pots, much to the surprise and objection of my companions who tried to reach out and pull me back.
“Wanda!” I called, standing with my hands on my hips.
Immediately all eyes turned, and I made no resistance as guards surrounded me.
“Y-y-you!” Wanda sputtered, pointing a shaking finger at me. “What do you want? Came to call me fat again while I grieve? You meanie! Wanda Smash you!!”
“And now you’re slipping into third person again,” I rolled my eyes “If you’ll just…”
“No! NO! Wanda don’t want to!” She slammed a greasy fist down impatiently, “Guards!!”
The men dressed as Roman centurion guards closed in and tied me up. Even if I’d wanted to resist this time, they acted so quick I didn’t have a chance. I tested the ropes, but didn’t see any easy way to get out of them. I frowned. This wasn’t going the way I had planned.
Next, Wanda called, “Bring out the pot!” and for a moment I was afraid they were going to drag my friends out of hiding. But when more guards walked in carrying a huge black pot and fire wood, I got a very bad feeling.
“Um, Wanda? I don’t mean to be rude but… What are you doing?” I asked while I stood on tip-top, trying to see past the guards and at what was happening.
“You,” she pointed her figure at me, “are trouble. And I,” she pointed to herself, “am hungry. And I always eat away my troubles. Cook!!”
One of the guards pulled someone out of the crowd and pushed him before the throne. He wrung his hands together nervously, his eyes twitching and glancing around the room.
“Wanda want soup, make soup for Wanda!” She ordered the shaking cook.
“But…” he cast a nervous glance in my direction, “that’s a human, I couldn’t possibly…”
“ENOUGH!!” Wanda screamed, stamping her foot so hard it collapsed the piles of tissues around her. She had again grown green and huge, only more hideous. Her hair hang in a few greasy clumps stretched across a speckled scalp, her face was a twisted mask of rage, and as she spoke, bits of froth flew from her mouth. “Wanda want soup! Wanda want soup NOW!! OR ELSE!!”
The cook flinched and trembled, turning his face away as the white spray flew at him, “Y-y-y-yes, Mistress.”
The guard shoved the cook towards the pot and myself, while others brought in more fire wood and lighters. I looked at the starting fire, at the befuddled looking cook, and at the ropes binding me like a fly in a spider web. I had to act fast.
“Wanda! Wait, what about your story? You’re not going to eat me before you tell me what happened with the Hul- I mean, Bruce?”
She stopped mid-tantrum and looked at me,”Huh?”
“Tell me your story!” I said, struggling as the guards lifted me over their heads. “What happened? Why did you break up? Is that why you got mad and took over the mall? Tell me, I’m listening!!”
“You… want to listen?” Wanda asked, as if it were a foreign concept.
“Yes!!!” I screamed, squirming and trying to retract my feet from the steaming water. Really, I would have said anything at that moment to get out of being turned into stew for a crazy woman, but thankfully I didn’t have too.
“Stop!” Wanda commanded. “Put her before me.”
Still wrapped in ropes, I was carried the the foot of the throne and set on my feet there. I hadn’t ever been this close to Wanda, even when she was chasing us at the start of this whole thing. Being this close, every crease and deformity of her witch-like face was clear, and the torture that was her body-odor overwhelmed my nostrils.
“Wanda will tell you her story, and you will listen because you want to?” Wanda asked, peering at me curiously.
I nodded furiously, trying not to look like I was about to pass out.
The ever-so-slightly-less-green giantess took a deep breath and began, “Wanda did date Bruce Banner, and Wanda loved him. She didn’t know about his powers at first, but when Wanda did find out, she didn’t care. Wanda loved Brucey, and she thought he loved her back.”
Wanda paused to pick up a cupcake, which she ate in two bites and licked her fingers. It was still messy to watch, but at least it was better then watching her shoving them in all at once.
She blew her nose and continued, “Then… then the accident happened….” She shrived, not wanting to go on. She looked like she was about to wave to one of the guards for them to hold up a sign, but I stopped her.
“Wanda, don’t seek comfort in meaningless words. Tell me what happened.”
Wanda looked surprised and even stopped snuffling a bit. “O… okay I can try….” Now she even had enough hair that she needed to push it back,out of her face while she blew her nose.
“Well…” she started again, “I was… I was upset he canceled our dinner because he wanted to stay in his lab instead. I marched over there, but then we got in a fight…. He just didn’t understand!!” Wanda started sobbing again.
I tried to stand patiently while she cried, at least the smell had lessened, but I couldn’t help but sneak a glance back to my friends. I caught a glimpse of them watching me from the potted plants. But I also saw the guards standing quite near them and knew they were stuck there for the moment.
When I looked back at Wanda I noticed the green tint of her skin had lightened, and the deep folds of fat did not look quite so deep. A smile crept onto my lips, and this time when I prodded Wanda to go on with her story, I was more sincere in wanting to hear it .
“Well…. something happened….”
“What happened Wanda?” I encouraged.
She blinked and looked down at her hands, wringing a tissue between them.
“An explosion…. or something,” her voice was soft now, almost smooth. “All I know is there was something, a lot of smoke and confusion, and when it cleared there was…. something on my dress, and a scratch on my arm… and… and I didn’t feel good… so I ran home.” She buried her face in another tissue for many long moments, then threw her head back and wailed. “But the next time I saw him and got mad about what happened I turned into a horrible green monster like he is and then he dumped meeeeee!!!!”
Horrible, heartbroken sobs again shook the air, but the lady they were coming from was much different than she was before. She was about average body size, with fare skin, and although the purple dress was still soiled and stained, it fit better. Wavy blonde hair had fallen in front of her face as she cried, bent over on the arm of the chair.
I was amazed. Even though my plan had been to talk things out and get her off of that anger high, it was still strange to see the transformation.
I finally acted when the screams got louder, and waddled like a penguin to the throne. But I had no free hand to pat her with, so instead I awkwardly rubbed her with my elbow as a means of comfort.
When she looked up, her face was still a bit wince-worthy, but it looked better. It was starting to untwist and become less deformed. It could even look a bit pretty, if you could looked past the red-rimed eyes and maraca tear-streaks.
Wanda took one look at me and fell on me with a hug. I was caught off-guard, but somehow manged not to loose my balance even with my feet still tied.
She pulled back and exclaimed, “Oh! Here, let me get you out of those.” She called to the guards, and one marched over to untie me.
I rubbed my wrists and stretched out my legs; that feels better. Wanda gave me another hug, which my arms were now free to return. I gently pushed her off of me after a minute, when she didn’t seem to want to let go.
“There, feel better now?” I asked, smiling when I saw her nod. “Now, there’s one more thing you need to do,” I continued, “apologize to everyone here and let them go, and help clean up the mess you made.”
“Wha… what? Apologize? But I’m the victim here!” Wanda said, almost indignant.
“Say what now?” I asked crossing my arms.
“Weren’t you listening? Bruce hurt me! I’m the victim of his violence; it’s his fault I did all those things, not mine!!”
“You have got to be kidding me…..” I said, letting my face fall in the palm of my hand.
“Wanda not kidding!!” She stomped her foot, her face becoming a bit twisted and green again.
I sighed and rubbed my temples, “Look, this guy hurt you, and you don’t like him anymore, right?”
“So you don’t want to have anything more to do with him or be controlled by him right?”
She nodded again.
“Then why are you saying it’s his fault you did all this, and that you can’t help it cause you’re a victim? Isn’t that just another way of him controlling you?”
This made Wanda pause for thought, and I pushed on, “Victim-ism is never a good thing. Put on your big-girl panties and get over it! Take responsibility for your actions. You are no ones victim!”
“Yeah… yeah!” Wanda’s color had returned to normal and her features had untwisted almost all the way. “I will be strong, even with controlling this new power! I will stand up for myself and not blame others!”
“That’s the spirit!” I said, giving her a big grin. “Now why don’t you get started on your new life-style by opening up the exits and letting all these people go?”
“Oh what a splendid idea!” she said, smiling. The old ugly Wanda was gone now, and in her place was an average-sized, decent-looking woman. Addressing everyone else she said, “I am so sorry! Please accept my sincere apologies.” And with a snap of her fingers, exit lights and doors appeared.
It was like she had flicked a switch. The zombie-shoppers woke up and came back to life, talking and dispersing among themselves like they were coming out of a daze. The guards were suddenly back in their mall uniforms, and the giant cooking-pot had disappeared, much to my relief.
Muse and Dude came hurrying over. Muse bounded up to my shoulder, wearing a look of impatiences, “We had the climax, the boss is beat, and everyone’s happy. That’s the ending, so can we go now?”
“Yeah, yeah, just a minute Muse,” I said, waving my hand at him, then held it out to Wanda, “Well it was nice meeting you, keep that temper in check, and I hope you have a good life.”
“And the same to you, thank you for all your help,” she said, giving me a smile.
“So long Miss,” Dude said, holding his hat in his hands, “and sorry about… you know, inadvertently calling you fat.”
“It is quite alright, I was the one who over-reacted. I wish you all well. Good bye!”
“Good bye, Wanda!” We all waved, then rushed out the exit doors and on to our next adventure!
End of Episode One