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All characters except my Jaggi Di Speckle © Warner Brothers, used definitely without permission - старонка 4


Babs opened her mouth to speak. But then her ears went right up, as from the direction of the nest came a raucous snoring - a very familiar one that usually started when she watched TV with Shirley and Plucky, half a minute after the girls outvoted him and switched channels to watch something they wanted to see.



"Plucky?" Babs was so shocked that her "take" reflexes blew a fuse and failed to work: she simply sat down heavily next to the loon. A tear was in Shirley's eye. "What did he DO to you? If he's hurt you I'll..."



Shirley laid a wing on her shoulder softly, and looked into Babs' trembling face. "Like, take the key out of the firing console, Babs. That isn't the problem." A small smile crept to her beak. "That wasn't a problem ... at all."



"Then what’s wrong? Talk to me, Shirley." Babs' eyes were locked on the loon's.



"Babs." Shirley's look was hollow, desolate. "My Aura. It's not ... it's not there any more. It's gone."



Ingrained reflexes died hard, but Babs managed to suppress the quip of “

Shirley you can’t be serious?”

that came instantly to mind. "Are you sure?"



Shirley nodded. "It's like part of me died, or went blind. The whole spirit world - I can't see it, can't feel it ... like someone cut it off at the switch. It's been there all around me since the day I hatched." She ran a feather-finger through her blonde head quiff, now somewhat rumpled. From many a sleep-over Babs knew Shirley usually had to sleep with her head-feathers in curlers; there were no facilities in a nesting bower in the swamp. The loon ran her reddish ribbon through her hands, looking down at it. “Well - that’s like a real drag. I’m down to like, lowest common denominator-ville.”



Babs grimaced. "I've seen Warrior Maiden films - some lose their magic powers when they stopped being, umm, maidens..." She blinked as the scale of Shirley’s loss hit her. No more astral plane travel for Shirley - no more psychic firepower on tap, levitating or tuning into the Infinite. The Infinite had been her life - and her loss was infinite. The pink bunny shuddered, imagining becoming allergic to humour, never able to use it again. Her loon friend was grounded now, flightless, almost defenceless, and one way or another Babs knew who was to blame. Her eyes flashed red behind her contact lenses. "I'm still going to kill him!"



Shirley was in front on her in a single frame, feathers bristling. "Not MY boyfriend, you don't." Her expression softened. "He looks cute asleep, you know? Like, I've seen it often enough but never really noticed."



Babs nodded, deflating. "What are you going to do?" Shirley had lost her aura, her better half. She hoped Plucky was up to the task of now becoming her better half. He was more usually a vulgar fraction.



Shirley looked over towards the nest. She shrugged, an embarrassed look on her bill. "I'm going to wait till green and handsome wakes up. He wanted me ... now he'll see just what he's got."



Babs hugged her friend close. "Call me when you want to talk. Do you need anything?"



Shirley considered. "Can you find me a wheelbarrow?"



Babs blinked. "Umm, yes. I think. What do you want that for?"



Although no blue-white aura discharge flashed across the loon's features any more, her expression seemed not to need it. "I don't. But by the time I've finished his "wake-up call" - I'll need it for him."



A thoughtful Babs walked back to her burrow the slow way, arriving back in time for her usual breakfast of caffeine-soaked sugar-frosted chocolate. She lightly sprinkled grated carrot over the bowl, always careful of her diet, then called Buster as she ate. Ten minutes later he was knocking on her door, Mrs. Bunny letting him in. With a half-dozen large litters to manage, one more lepine was hardly going to crowd the place much more.



"Shirley's lost her Aura?" The shock literally rocked Buster back on his heels when he heard the news. "How?"



"Umm... she thinks she has. But I'm not so sure it's exactly lost forever. I think "Mis-laid" might be more like it." Babs cocked her head to one side as they sat by the ring of flowers outside the burrow a few minutes later. “You know Plucky, leave anything good lying around and see if you can find it again.”



Blue ears went up. "You mean...?"



"Me? Mean? You wound me, Buster." Babs flashed a smile. "Shirley's not thinking too clearly right now, or she’d remember what she told me last year. Her Mother said ... some experiences change a Toon, all the way through. Her psychic powers took a nap on her honeymoon - something about realigning the energy flows? They came back different after awhile. Think ... chrysalis, butterfly."



Buster looked worried. "I hope so, Babs. I'd hate her to lose her powers just for Plucky's sake. I only hope he can make it up to her somehow."



Babs smiled. “Oh. That reminds me. Do you have a wheelbarrow we could borrow?”



Weekends at Acme Looniversity in term time were usually times to relax, when the students headed out to the park or into the town centre to work on their part-time jobs. Babs and Buster headed out to the malt shop.



"Extract of malt. Fifty different flavours." Buster looked at the list, impressed. "One of these days they may sell ice-cream or sodas or something to go with it."



"Why spoil a good thing?" Babs ordered a quart of smoked Bavarian malt, her tail twitching in anticipation as the treacle-like liquid slowly filled the glass. "Hi, Mary! How's the job going?"



Mary Melody had worked in half a dozen places in Acme Acres; there were usually plenty of vacancies as the other toons went for jobs with more comic potential such as firework stores or testing equipment for the ACME Corporation. "It's a living. Better than the cameos I used to get. It's the only Slow Food place in town." She waited while the two malt pourers oozed into their tall glasses.



"Mmm-hmm." Babs had the glass turned upside down, waiting for the malt to start flowing. Pouring was the only way to drink it; if she licked it it would become a "malt likker" and the place was not licensed for that.



"Are Plucky and Shirley coming in this morning? They're usually in here by now." Mary asked.



Babs would have choked on her malt if any of it had yet reached her. "Umm ... I've got some news about that. Shirley said ... it was OK to tell you." She whispered urgently in Mary's ear for a minute.



Mary Melody blinked, the dark complexioned human turning a sickly ashen grey. “He made her lose her powers like that?”



Babs gave a wry smile. “I don’t think it was his idea. I mean, who knew?”



“Yeah. Forward planning from Plucky that actually worked? He’s innocent - of that anyway,” Buster said.



Mary sat down heavily. “Is it permanent?” She looked ill. “If it is … he’s hurt her worse than if he’d splashed her with dip. He's ruined her forever.” Not only was the banned ultra-solvent the only way of utterly destroying toons, but even minor splashes caused injuries that would never heal no matter how they spin-changed or rested off camera. “Like Furball’s ear. He was only lucky it was just his ear that got a permanent hole in it.”



Babs’ ears went down. “Shirley’s home with her Mother, giving her the news. After all, who else knows about auras?”



“They sure don’t print repair manuals,” Buster looked at the pink and white doe, his face troubled. “Babs.”



“Yes, Buster?”



“I don’t Ever want to hurt you like that. Or even risk it.”



“Eeeh … if I ever grew an aura like that, it’d just get in the way. You and me - three’s a crowd.” Babs shrugged. “It’d be handy to have someone I could always send out for carrot pizza, though.” She cast Buster a wry smile. "Want to walk me to Shirley's house? Girl talk. She may need it."



"Ahh, those strange mysteries. Of which no mere male can understand. We, who have not the emotional depth of a soup bowl at the cheapest Chinese restaurant in town ..." Buster declaimed, covering his eyes with one paw. "Babs, I'd take you anywhere."



Babs snickered. "Underline it in the script, Blue-boy. One day I'll get back to you about that."



Shirley's house was in the hills to the East of Acme Acres properly, bordering on the forest. Oddly enough it appeared to be at least a century older than any other structure in the region, a classic American Gothic wooden house with upper floor veranda and belfry-like attic tower that would have looked more at home in a forbidden valley in the New England backwoods. Shirley and her mother lived there in one continuous séance; Babs could smell the incense from fifty yards away.



"This is as close as I go," Buster announced. "There's loony and there's ... the McLoon family."



"Hmmmph." But Babs smiled. "Thanks for walking me over, Buster. I'll see you tomorrow."



Walking up to the front stoop, Babs noticed something. The house had always seemed to buzz with unseen energies; dream-catchers fluttered even when there was no wind and the geometric arrays of crystals glowed like the pilot’s console of a Space Shuttle.



As ever, Mrs. McLoon was at the door long before Babs was within reach of the doorbell. "Barbara Anne," she cast her a worried smile. "Shirley's up in her room. I think she needs company."



Babs nodded, thanking her. Few people could call her by her full name without risking a bunny’s wrath, but Mrs. McLoon had an obsession with True Names. There were large unpleasant-looking books on the shelves elaborately secured with rune-embossed silver chains that were full of them. Most of the True Names had a lot more letters in them than “Babs” and none of their owners had adorable toes.



"Shirley? It's me, Babs," The bunny knocked on the attic door. Shirley loved to look out at the stars from all the four roof windows, calculating her horoscope. In her case it included not only the classical astrological planets but all the asteroids and minor objects out past Pluto including the great circling aura of ice-shrouded grand pianos in the far darkness, the Steinway Cloud.



"Babs? Like, come in." The voice seemed unnaturally quiet, and somehow out of balance.

Like a set of stereo speakers when one's broken

, Babs realised in alarm.



Inside was a familiar enough sight, Shirley sitting in the chalked circle in the centre of the drapery-hung attic room, surrounded by smouldering joss sticks. But today there were differences. All the crystals around her were lying inert, as if they were no more than shards of broken glass picked off the road - and rather than levitating, the loon was sitting solidly on the wooden floor.



She rose, rubbing her tail feathers ruefully. "This floor is mondo hard - and cold, you know?" She cast Babs a wry smile. "That's something else I've learned today." She gestured towards a bean-bag. "The Loon has landed, Babs. I've fallen and I can't get up."



Babs flopped down in some comfort, accepting the proffered glass of herbal tea. "Shirley ... nothing works? You can't channel a spirit guide or something to ask about it?"



Shirley's bill drooped. "Channel? Babs, you cut the cable at the power station with an axe and see how many channels your TV gets."



"Ow." Babs hesitated. She sipped at her tea, her ears dipping slightly as she noticed an utter lack of caffeine in it. "I was going to ask how you were apart from that but..."



"

Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

" Shirley quoted from her Dark Humour class. "I'm going to need some mondo extra pursuit and evasion classes from Professor Bugs and Professor Fudd, even if I have to take them in the holidays. Next time it's Duck Season ... without those and with no powers, against a hunter I'm just poultry on the shelf."



"Ow with an ironclad five-year Disney contract," Babs shivered. "We graduate in July - what are you going to do? Your whole show was based on ..."



"What I've not got any more?" Shirley gave an embarrassed grin. She picked up a stage top hat and props. "I've got a first-year stage magic book out of the Looniversity library, I've been practicing." She spread a fan of cards, offering them to the bunny. "Pick a card - any card. Or - rubber balloon animals for the kiddies?"





Despite what she had said earlier, Babs picked up the phone to call Buster as soon as she reached home and fought her way through a multiple scrum of siblings. Fortunately the pressure was off her these days now her next youngest batch of brothers and sisters were old enough to start taking charge of the rest. Mortimer was heading in to start classes at Acme that September.

At least

, she thought wryly,

whatever happens - there will still be a Bunny in comedy class, even if it’s not me any more…



"Buster - come on over. Better - meet me at the Clampett Memorial above the lake." The toon obelisk was a favourite picnic spot of theirs on a Summer day, and it was a clear Spring evening with hours of light left. "Shirley's in a mess. But her Mother didn't seem too worried."



Ten minutes later, she was back with her buck looking out over the wetlands. An hour with the loon had upset Babs more than it seemed to have Shirley, who was gritting her beak and resolutely looking forward - not that there seemed much left for her to look forward to.



"... The only good thing is - can you believe it, Plucky seems to be taking it seriously," she finished. "Shirley said he's been sending her flowers, paying all the right sort of attention for a change."



"Flowers? From Plucky? Spot the guilty conscience. I bet he picked them in Acme park" Buster's eyebrow rose in disbelief. "Funeral lilies for her aura, maybe?" Had Plucky abandoned Shirley, he would probably have needed a wreath himself. Toons were notoriously hard to “rub out” without Dip but there was a first time for everything; Buster would not be the only one of Shirley's friends who would have spent hours of justifiable fun trying.



"Hush, you." Babs pressed next to him. "We thought he could be romantic if he tried. That's why Shirley put up with him all this time. We were right. He was coming over to see her again when I left."



"So, Shirley’s got something out of it. But what a cost!" Buster struck a martial pose. "

One more victory like that and we're finished!"

He quoted from Ironic Drama class. “Well, I know she said she was going to make the best of things. No point in paying for your cake and not eating it.”



“Duck cake?” Babs queried. “Must have been that sequel to "Duck Soup" the Marx Brothers never made.”



“It’s not much of a trade, her powers for Plucky,” Buster admitted. “But better than no Plucky and no powers. I suppose.”



"If nothing else, she ties a mean balloon giraffe," Babs agreed sadly.



Just then the horizon to the West lit up, a brilliant dome of rainbow light rising to the skies while the Toons around Acme Acres scrambled for a desk to hide under as the shock wave rattled windows and blew blossom off the trees. The light faded to reveal Babs and Buster sitting companionably together, wearing 3-D glasses and sharing a tub of cinema popcorn as they watched the light show. A billowing cloud of steam rose from the direction of the swamp.


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