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Pleasant Days: Strawberry Pie
By Mummraa



  Wilykit hummed to herself as she made her way back toward Cat's Lair,
through the sunlit forests west of the Berbil Village.  At her side, she
swung a basket of berbil-fruit; nestled beneath the spotless white cloth
were crunchy breadfruits, juicy, tender meatfruits...and, of course,
good old candyfruit.  The basket of goodies had been given to her by the
berbils as thanks--she and Wilykat had spent the day helping out at the
village, making repairs to homes and shops damaged by the recent flood.
In addition to the fruit, they'd also been promised a succulent
strawberry pie to bring back to the other Thundercats.  The pie had not
been finished when the time came for them to return to the Lair; Wilykit
had been impatient to leave, but Wilykat had volunteered to stay behind
until the pie had been fully baked...
  Where is Wilykat, anyway? she wondered as she strolled through the
woods, enjoying the cool, soft grass beneath her bare feet and the feel
of the sun on her face.  He said he'd catch up to me in no time.  And
that pie should have been done long before now.  Where is he?
  Hmm...perhaps she'd better retrace her steps and find out what was
keeping her brother.  Turning, Wilykit trotted back toward the village,
the basket bouncing against her side.
  That Kat!  I know why he's so late...he probably snuck off somewhere
to eat that whole pie for himself!  Great Jaga, how greedy is that?
  She scowled a little.  It would be just like Wilykat to want that
whole pie for himself.  It wasn't as if he didn't get enough to eat...as
a matter of fact, he snarfed down anything in sight.  It was a wonder he
was still so skinny!
  Wilykit paused, peering off into the trees.
  Now, if I was a hungry Kat looking for a place to snarf down my
strawberry pie in peace, where would I go?  Her gaze wandered up the
trunk of a huge old furrabur tree which split itself into a
wishbone-shape about ten feet off the ground; from there, the two great
limbs branched off into smaller ones which branched off into still
smaller ones--and so forth and so forth--creating an intricate web of
tiny branches that stood out crisp and black against the pale sky.
Screens of leaves and moss cloaked the interior of this mighty web of
branches, and anyone hiding up in those branches would be practically
invisible...to anyone but a clever Kit, that was.
  Straining her eyes, she through the screens of sun-dappled leaves and
could just make out a dark, solid shape hidden within.  Ha!  There you
are, you pie-thief!  A cunning smile curved the corners of her mouth.
You should know better, Kat...I've memorized all your favorite hiding
spots.  Setting the berbil-basket carefully down at the foot of the
tree, the Thunderkitten shinnied up the trunk and hopped nimbly from
branch to branch, travelling steadily higher into the gigantic furrabur
tree.  Her clawed toes dug into the bark, gripping strongly; she never
missed a foothold.
  Pushing aside a mossy screen of leaves, she saw her brother sitting a
short distance away with his back to her.  The swaying leaf-shadows made
it hard to see him clearly, but it looked as though he were hunched
over, as if his attention were focused on something cradled in his
lap--the strawberry pie, no doubt.
  A crow sang out in its old, raspy voice, and there was a flurry of
dark wings overhead.
  Kit crawled closer, brushing away hanging garlands of moss.  "Found
ya!" she exclaimed in triumph.
  Silence.  The hunched figure on the tree limb did not even look up.
  A thread of unease wormed its way into Wilykit's heart.  Scowling to
mask her disquiet, she yelled out, "C'mon Kat, stop pretending you don't
hear me!  The game's up!  I know you're eating that strawberry pie.
Kaaa-aaat!  Oh Ka-aaaaaat!"
  No response.  Only the sigh of the wind through the leaves, and the
throaty caw of a crow echoing from somewhere overhead.  Wilykit
swallowed hard.  "Come on, cut it out, Wilykat.  You're starting to
scare me.  C'mon...I won't tell any of the others about that pie.  Just
come on, let's go home...okay?"
  Crows calling.  The breath of the wind through the trees.
  Feeling cold all over, Wilykit climbed closer, trying to reach her
brother.  "Kat, please!  This isn't funny!  Why are you doing this?"
Her voice had gone shrill and quavered with that frantic, near-to-tears
tremble...but she didn't care.  Kat was acting strangely, and she was
badly frightened.
  Reaching out, she seized the shoulder of the shadowed, silent form
slumped beneath the shimmering canopy of leaves.  "Kat, what's wrong?
Kat, answer me!  Answer me!"  She gave his shoulder a violent twist, and
Kat's body toppled drunkenly to one side, slumping against her in a limp
mass.  She tried to push the warm and somehow obscene weight off of her,
but Kat was heavier; his head lolled against her chest, and suddenly she
found herself staring into a slack, lifeless face...its mouth hung open,
crammed full of something crumbly and gooey and red--strawberry pie.
Long, sharp branches had been driven into its eyes.
  Wilykit uttered a single, strangled scream and scrambled backwards,
eyes wide, mouth open, chest rising and falling rapidly.  The grisly
corpse slumped forward, like a puppet whose strings had been cut.  Its
face was a mask of death in the shadowy light of the forest; pale skin
smeared with the darkest of red, branches protruding like strange
antlers from bloody eye-sockets.  A low, shuddering moan escaped
Wilykit's throat.  "No," she murmured.  "Oh please no."
  Cackling, indulgent laughter reached her ears.  Slowly, she lifted her
head, and with wide haunted eyes followed the mocking laughter to its
source.  Mumm-ra was sitting on a broad bough nearby, legs crossed
casually in front of him.  In his lap, he had a plate of strawberry pie,
and was holding a silver fork loaded down with the gooey red
confection.  It dripped down in slow, sticky drops.  The demon-priest
grinned, and his red eyes--the exact shade of the pie's lumpy
filling--shone merrily.  Reaching down, he picked up a pie-tin; a
steaming, golden-brown pie crust bulged from the top of the tin.  A
triangle of crust was missing, exposing the warm, strawberry-laden
innards.  "Pie?" Mumm-ra offered politely.

 ~~~

  In her room at the Tower of Omens, Pumyra goes over to her dresser to
get something for Bengali; she is not sure what, but she knows it is
important.  When she opens the dresser-drawer, she sees Lion-o's head
staring out at her with dead, sparkling eyes.  Blood-stains are
splattered across the neatly-folded white sheets inside.  Lion-o's lips
move, and he mouths two words...
  'strawberry pie.'

  Pumyra awakened with a gasp.
  She blinked in the bright sunlight and looked around guiltily; she'd
fallen asleep on guard duty.  That had never happened before, but she'd
gotten so little sleep last night, and the warm sunlight on her face had
been so relaxing...
  Shaking off the fog of drowsiness, she straightened in her chair and
faced the control board; she was monitoring the territory around the
Tower of Omens while Bengali and Lynx-o took care of the routine
maitenance.  So far, it had been a pretty dull day.
  Pumyra stretched, hearing the small crick at the base of her spine.
She had been dreaming a moment ago.  What about?  She remembered it had
unsettled her deeply, but she couldn't recall any of the specific
images.  Something about...pie?  That didn't make much sense...but then,
dreams rarely did.
  Stifling a yawn, Pumyra scanned the viewscreen.  The territory was as
still and quiet as ever, with barely a breeze to stir the leaves of the
tall furrabur trees at the edge of the forest.  No one around...but
according to the scanners, there had been someone there, just a moment
ago.  Right in front of the Tower, in fact.  Ah well...the sensors
indicated nothing except a large life form.  It could have been Bengali
or Lynx-o, or a unicorn that had strayed to far from its forest.
Whatever it had been, it was gone now.
  The doors of the control room parted with a mechanical sigh, and
Pumyra swiveled around in her chair.  Lynx-o and Bengali entered the
room; Bengali was carrying something, a pie-tin covered with a white
cloth.  A hot, savory aroma drifted from beneath that cloth, and
Pumyra's stomach immidiately woke up and started to grumble.  She had,
after all, missed breakfast.  "Ho, Bengali, Lynx-o," she greeted.
"What's that?"
  "Strawberry pie.  From Ro-Bear-Bill."  Bengali swept off the cloth
covering, revealing a magnificent golden crust.  Slits were cut into the
crust, disclosing the gooey contents of the pie.  "He left the Tower
just a minute ago...I invited him to stay, but he said he had business
to attend to."  Bengali shrugged.
  Pumyra was silent.  Something didn't seem quite right...something was
tugging insistantly, running around in the back of her thoughts, but
when she tried to grasp it, it slipped through her mind's fingers like a
twisting fish and vanished.  "Smells delicious, Bengali."
  "Indeed it does," agreed Lynx-o.  "Shall we eat it now?"
  "Sure, I'm starving.  Where's Snarfer?  You think he'll want some
too?"
  "Oh, he's disappeared to somewhere.  We'll make sure to leave a piece
or two for him.  For now, let's go down to the kitchen and have
ourselves a little snack."

 ~~~

  Bengali carefully slid the knife through the perfect, flaky crust of
the pie, cutting a sizable slice.  Inserting the knife beneath the
triangle of pie, he lifted it out of its tin and set it onto a gleaming
white plate.  The pie sat on its plate, a steaming mound of strawberries
and pastry.  "Here you go, Pumyra," he smiled, handing her the plate.
  She took it, feeling weak and dizzy with pleasure at the smells
wafting from the pie; berbil cooking at its finest.
  Bengali served Lynx-o his portion of pie, then cut a piece for
himself, and the three of them sat at the kitchen table, eagerly seizing
their forks.  Lynx-o and Bengali dug right in, but Pumyra hesitated, a
strawberry-laden fork poised halfway between the plate and her open
mouth.  She was staring at the dripping red berries on her fork.  A
disturbing vision flashed through her mind, a vision from her dream;
Lion-o's blindly-staring eyes, and his blood-flecked lips shaping two
words...
  'strawberry pie.'
  Bengali shoveled another forkful of pie into his mouth, chewing
happily.  "Thith ith delithouth," he lisped, spraying crumbs everywhere.

  "Ben, that's disgusting!" Pumyra laughed...but her laughter sounded
tight and forced.  She kept remembering those dead eyes, and those
words...too much of a coincidence for comfort.  Or were they
coincidence?
  She stared down at the pie, and for an instant, she had this crazy
notion that the gooey stuff in there wasn't strawberries...it was blood,
and those plump fruits hidden beneath the crust weren't really fruit at
all, they were...
  She shivered, shaking off the thought.  For Jaga's sake, it was just a
strawberry pie...what was so frightening about that?  Except there was
something frightening about it...and there was something odd about the
way the pie had been delivered to them, something that was trying to
crowd it's way into her conciousness, but she still couldn't quite grasp
it.
  "This is marvellous stuff," remarked Lynx-o, who'd--unlike his
companion--had the good sense to swallow before speaking.  "Very unique
flavor...unlike anything I've ever tasted.  I would dearly like to know
what Ro-Bear-Bill put in this pie."
  "Yeah, I wouldn't mind having this more often."  Bengali looked
curiously at the pale, silent puma sitting across from him.  "Pumyra, is
something wrong?  You haven't touched a bite."
  "I know," she said quietly.  "I just...guess I'm not hungry."
  "But you said you were," he persisted.  "Would you like something else
to eat?"
  "Yes, thank you, I think th--"  She stopped, eyes widening.
Realization blazed through her like a comet.  "Bengali, Lynx-o, stop
eating!" she cried.
  Her two companions froze.  Bengali blinked.  "Huh?"
  "Something is wrong here.  You told me that Ro-Bear-Bill delivered the
pie...but when I looked at the scanners, they indicated that a life form
of some sort had been standing in front of the Tower a minute ago."
  The blacksmith looked at her blankly.  "So?"
  "So, Ro-Bear-Bill is a machine!  He wouldn't have left that sort of
reading on the scanners.  That wasn't Ro-Bear-Bill!"
  "Pumyra," Lynx-o began in a rational tone, "It may be true that the
scanners left a reading, and that Ro-Bear-Bill happened to be outside at
the time, but that doesn't mean Ro-Bear-Bill was the one who initiated
the scanner's read-out.  It could have been me or Bengali.  We both
stepped outside in order to receive the pie."
  Pumyra opened her mouth once more, then closed it with a snap.  What
Lynx-o said made sense...yet she couldn't shake the feeling that
something just didn't fit into place.  Maybe she was being paranoid.
"You're right, Lynx-o," she said bleakly.  "I...I may have jumped to
conclusions.  I apologize."
  Lynx-o smiled warmly at her and dug his fork into his slice of pie.
"No need for apologies, Pumyra.  You were only being cautious...but I'm
sure if there were anything wrong with this pie, my sense of smell would
have warned me."
  "That's right," Bengali agreed, and returned to the business of
eating.
  Pumyra breathed a small sigh and poked a fork at her own helping of
the sticky treat.  Well, she was hungry...and she wasn't going to let
bad dreams or half-baked suspicions scare her out of a good meal.
Feeling a little better, she scooped up a hearty forkful...and froze.
  There--amid the fat red strawberries--was a strange, round, whitish
object.  At first, she thought it was just a freak strawberry; an
albino.  Then she turned it over with the fork and saw the cloudy red
iris and the black slit within...and with dawning horror, she recognized
the white object for what it was.
  Her fork dropped to the table with a clatter.
  Bengali and Lynx-o raised their heads in surprise when Pumyra began to
scream.

 ~~~

  Later, they found a note at the bottom of the pie-tin, hidden beneath
the layers of strawberries and crust:

Dear Thundercats,
  Hope you enjoyed the pie!  Did you find the little surprise inside?  I
thought it was rather considerate of me to leave you with a sovenier to
remember Wilykit by--both she and her brother are now history.  I have
also, I might mention, taken care of Lion-o.  Don't believe me?  Just
ask Cheetara what her least favorite birthday-gift was.  She'll tell
you.  By now, you should have realized that it was me--not that
blundering berbil--who appeared at your doorstep, bearing this gift.  It
never ceases to amaze me how many times you Thundercats will fall for a
simple trick like that.  Adios!
  Your pal, Mumm-ra



                              To Be Continued...





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