Guardian Blue: Special
“…and if you want to keep enjoying the special consideration of a drink at the front desk, Clawhauser,” Bogo growled coldly, “…you will alert me to anything that fox does that’s out of the ordinary. Watch him the entire time. I’m serious.” The portly cheetah sighed heavily, his head sinking a bit into his own neck as he then groaned with emotional agony.
“Mayor Bogo!” the large feline whined, “If I do that, I won’t be allowed to enjoy the party myself! You might as well be paying me to be there!” He gestured a bit with distress. While interim Chief Tora was back home to attend to a family matter, the acting Mayor of Zootopia had resumed, with a light touch, running the primary functions of the department. This included, for now, the Fall Festival party.
“Done!” the huge cape buffalo said with a grin and a lighter tone. “Submit your hours with normal payroll as having worked a special event.”
“Gee, thanks, Chief.” Ben said with an eye-roll, dropping the platitude of Mayor as it had done him no good. He hated being put in this position. He really had looked forward to having fun with his coworkers at the Fall Festival party. But, he could just as well have been working the desk that night instead, so at least he was getting to be there. He would remain optimistic! He still looked forward to seeing what everyone dressed up as.
Like most parties that occurred for the fall festival, dressing up was a central theme. It was something of a tribute to the many trees which put on a brilliant display of change. Bright yellows and reds washed the countryside before the areas north of the city were completely disguised under a blanket of white. Long ago, to dress up was to express a unity with the seasons, and to avoid the wrath of an unusually early or harsh winter. In the days of modern comfort and scientific advancement, it was more about kits having fun.
However, the Fall Festival was one of those wonderful times where grownups got to forget that they were not kits anymore, and join in the fun. Anyone could dress up. Anyone could make delicious snacks. Anyone could play games and prank their friends. Ben stood by the reception desk, waiting for his relief to arrive. The cheetah pondered how to tactfully handle his evening. Bogo was absolutely certain that Nick Wilde, one of their newest officers, was going to prank him terribly. Foxes were known for having mastery of the art of pranking anyway, but that particular fox had a reputation inside of a week of his arrival. Bogo was not the only one being cautious about where they sat or what they picked up.
Ben got along fine with Nick. He was super personable and talkative and didn’t mind wasting a bit of time to make the cheetah’s day better when he was feeling down. And the fox treated his partner really nice which was another plus. Ben had always been just a little protective of the department’s smallest, but perhaps toughest officer. He respected both of them, so the idea that he was being paid at the party to specifically interfere with them seemed pretty wrong to him. Still, there wasn’t much he could do about it. Bogo was the boss. Clawhauser fist-bumped the night shift receptionist, an older hippo named Ralph.
“Howdy, Ben!” he chimed, adjusting his thick glasses. “Headin’ to the party?”
“Hey Ralphie! I sure am!” he stated, his mood instantly improving. It was easy to remind the cat about something fun.
“Clickity clickity! Don’t forget!” he demanded in a gruff tone.
“I won’t!” bed said, flicking his long spotted tail happily. Ralph wanted pictures or he would be grumpy. Ben could do that and still do Bogo’s thing and still have fun, he was sure.
Ben got changed into the outfit that he’d carefully selected for the purpose of that evening. He had not been told that he wouldn’t be allowed to dress up just because he was now on the city’s dime. He had selected an outfit specifically with Nick in mind. The brown robes were a loose, comfortable fit and the heavy, tan velvet rope around the middle cinched up to make it perhaps the most comfortable thing ever worn. This was way better than last year’s super hero costume! He also looked very much the part as he inspected himself in the mirror, crossing his paws over his rotund belly.
“Friar Tuck! Welcome to Sherwood!” the cheetah chimed in merry fashion to his reflection. “Hah! This is top spots!” He turned and headed for the door. He made sure he had his phone (and camera) in the deep pocket of his robes before checking with Ralph and allow him to express his approval for the monk outfit. He incorrectly identified Clawhauser as a necromancer, but had to agree he nailed the look after being told what it was supposed to be. It left Ben uncertain that Ralph even knew the story the character was from, but it didn’t really matter.
He marched his bouncy self across the park, taking in the golds and crimson tones of the trees on the way, intentionally kicking through windblown piles of leaves like a kit. Moments later he arrived at the community center. The ZPD rented it out frequently for events for the town to get closer to the community. He saw Wolfard standing outside, dressed as a Viking. He looked really convincing. The outfit appeared to have real metal banding and very believable faux animal skin on it. Those were seriously barbaric times, and he looked super imposing.
“Greetings, Merlin!” cried the wolf.
“No!” Clawhauser said, holding his arms out to give a better look at the outfit. Wolfard squinted a bit.
“A… A monk?” he asked.
“Close enough!” the big cat replied. “Did you make sure to bring my crispy rice pumpkin balls?” he asked. He’d left them with the other treats that were supposed to be brought over before the party. They were orange-colored crisped rice pumpkins with a stem made of a mini peanut butter cup and green candy-coated chocolates as leaves. Benjamin had been instructed to make them as they were popular the previous year too.
“Sure did, and I didn’t smoosh them, so you owe me!” he laughed. Clawhauser slapped his friend’s back jovially and cringed at how very real the fur felt. Faux fur for those kinds of costumes had come a long way. Some of the really expensive ones actually painstakingly used real shed or shaved fur. Ben went on into the main party room and happily greeted many of his fellow officers. Not everyone wanted to dress up, it wasn’t really a requirement. Quite a few just dressed down, and it was nice to see his friends comfortable and casual for a change.
Characters from the new season of The Scurrying Dead were very popular that year, despite the show having been directed more to a rodent audience.
A few of his fellow officers got the reference of Ben’s costume easily enough, or at least understood it was a monk. He counted the added comfort of the outfit as the real success, however. He didn’t feel either self-conscious or stuffy in it. He actually felt even more bouncy and happy. Ben felt very much in character as the friar.
The cheetah helped himself to some punch and milled around as others arrived for the party. His favorite costume upon arrival was Chief Bogo’s gladiator attire, though he wasn’t sure why. And he didn’t feel a bull, buffalo or otherwise, would really want to look back on those days and reminisce! It was really hard back then. However, the costume looked great and he still looked insanely imposing.
The costumes he had been waiting so impatiently to see remained a secret until some minutes after the party had already started. The pair he had been waiting on finally arrived and the cheetah was immediately deeply disappointed. Judy and Nick strode in dressed pretty much the same as Ben usually saw them. Nick wore a dumb blue flowery Pawaiian shirt with red tie, and Judy was actually in uniform of all things. Was she having to work that night?
However, the cheetah then spotted something which secretly delighted him. The bunny and fox were holding paws! Could he dare allow himself to believe that what was happening was actually happening? Could that actually be real? Oh, good heavens, it might be! Nick grinned at the rest of those gathered at the party excitedly.
Ben moved quickly over to the pair to greet them, but as he approached, something was a little off. Judy was a little odd-looking and Ben couldn’t really place why, and Nick’s fur color looked a little out of sorts. Maybe they had tried to dress up and it didn’t work so they just went without costumes? He had messed up an outfit so bad it had to be scrapped before.
Then someone else arrived behind them, and the cheetah had to stumble to a stop. It was Jack Savage! He looked confident and cool. He was dressed in the kind of crisp black suit his characters were famous for in the Savage City series of movies. He knew that Judy still talked to him after the events the previous summer, but had she invited the celebrity action film star as her plus one?! With him was another fox Ben did not recognize. She was dressed in a large and flowing light blue ballroom dress, something a princess might wear. Her fur was white and looked like immaculate quartz. Her emerald eyes shone brilliantly in the swirling lights of the party room. She was stunning. White silk gloves covered delicate paws and she looked so very proper. Was this perhaps a family member of Officer Wilde’s? The facial shape actually really suggested she could be.
Nick and Judy turned and greeted Bogo, who seemed a bit startled right away. He then began to laugh and gesture a bit wildly. Clawhauser rubbed his chin at that. He really was expecting a prank. He acted so shocked just at seeing Nick and Judy in their normal clothing. Ben finally approached the four as they moved to marvel at all the mostly hand-made treats and confections.
“Hey you two!” he said brightly. “Can you guess who I am, Nick?” He displayed his outfit proudly to the red fox as he turned and looked happily at the costume. His face lacked the smug it usually had. Those eyes were actually bright and cheerful about what he saw. Ben hadn’t expected that. Was Nick really that impressed? Something still felt off about him.
“Friar Tuck! That really suits you, Bennie!” chimed Nick’s voice.
…from behind Benjamin.
Startled, Clawhauser whipped around. The lady fox companion that had come with Jack was standing there. Her expression was smug. Ben looked in alarm back to Nick. The smile was there, but the smug was not.
“He’s getting it…” said Judy in a shockingly masculine voice. “He’s getting it… any second now.” Clawhauser finally figured out what looked wrong about Judy. Her eyes were bright blue. They were the same color as Jack Sa-… Ben whipped his gaze back at Jack. Violet eyes gazed triumphantly back at him from the striped buck. He looked frantically back to Nick, in front of him. Blue eyes were found on the fox that was supposed to be Nick, and his features were fairer than Ben remembered. The fur looked odd because it wasn’t exactly Nick’s color red, and the ears hadn’t been tipped in darker tone.
“Oh… Em… Goodness!” he cried.
“He’s got it,” the Nick-voiced white vixen chuckled with a smirk. Ben looked back at him incredulously. While considerable makeup was used for his face and head to give him white fur, he simply covered most of his body and hid his tail with a dress, using the long white lace gloves to hide his arms and his paws. It was absolutely Nick.
“You all dressed as each other?!” he squealed. The real Judy, very convincingly disguised with striped fur and a suit, shushed him a little.
“Hey, we still want to fool a few of our friends, okay?” she laughed. Ben zipped his lips and chuckled at that.
“You aren’t getting away without this.” the cat laughed jovially, “All of you together, please?” he asked, holding up his camera. They posed for the picture, Ben having trouble not just blowing apart at the seams. Jack freaking Savage came to their fall festival party dressed as Judy Hopps. It was the craziest thing he could remember ever seeing at one of these. Interim Mayor Bogo being shocked suddenly made all the sense in the world to him. Once he got the picture, he let the four of them go walk around.
Ben enjoyed watching at a distance for a while as one group of coworkers after the other got fooled and confused by the very well done costumes. It was a pretty original idea, the cheetah had to admit. He even recorded video of the reveal to Wolfard. He had actually flirted with Jack’s ‘date’ a little before the reveal. He laid down on the floor with his helmet on his chest and asked them to just burn his boat. Everyone got a good laugh out of that. Once a few more folks arrived and the surprise of the clever costumes had run its course, they gathered some refreshments and headed for a table.
Ben opted to snag a few snacks too, lingering at the snack bar for a while. His outgoing personality made it so easy for him to talk to folks and make friends, but what he found the most trouble doing was picking who he wanted to go talk to first.
The decision was made for him.
“Ben!” called Jack Savage in Judy’s voice. That was so jarring to his senses. The cheetah sauntered over to find out what Judy needed. The striped bunny pulled out a chair. They wanted him to sit with them and their celebrity guest? The cheetah felt deeply obliged! He plopped down, the folding chair straining a bit under him.
“How did you get your costumes to look that good?” asked the cheetah, finally.
“Jack’s got one of the best makeup artists in the industry,” the female in Nicks’ foxy form answered.
“Oh! I… Hi, I’m Benjamin Clawhauser,” he greeted. He earlier mistook his familiarity with the red fox so heavily that he didn’t even say hello to her.
“Skye Frost. I’m one of Nick and Judy’s friends.” She explained.
“And Mr. Savage’s too?” he asked, noting to himself that they arrived together.
“Oh yes,” came the male voice from the uniformed bunny cop. “Call me Jack, though. Please. This is a party, not a presser.” Jack’s stripes were so thoroughly covered, but his ears were tipped in black like Judy’s anyway. He looked like he was struggling a little with the tightness of the uniform. Was it actually one of Judy’s real uniforms? The cheetah did not dare to ask.
Instead, he turned to the other fox to unload some teasing. “Nick, I gotta say, you look good in that. First time for everything, huh? You should wear a dress more often!”
“What makes you think this is my first time?” Nick asked. Clawhauser’s brows went up.
“Ready for spooky story time?” the alabaster ‘vixen’ asked, with her mischievous green eyes fixed right on Ben.
Ben chuckled at that and shook his head, “If you brought me over here to try to scare me with tales of ghosts and monsters, you chose the wrong kitty cat! I don’t scare easily.” He immediately regretted saying it. That white foxy face grinned broadly. Oh no. Pranking. He just put himself in the target zone! Time to take one for Chief Bogo.
“I bet we can get you to scream,” Nick stated. Clawhauser crossed his arms over his big belly.
“It doesn’t count if you zap me with a joy buzzer or something, Nick. It has to be because you said something and that made me scream. No tricks,” Ben laughed. “And no tickling!”
“No tricks. It will be spoken words only,” stated the white-faced fox.
“What do I have to do if you win?” he asked. He was dreading this.
“Take Judy’s place at end of year file inventory.” Nick said.
“So if I win, and you can’t make me scream over a dumb story?” he asked, feeling a little less troubled. File inventory was mindless busy work, but he didn’t mind it. He understood perfectly why someone like Judy would despise it, though.
“You get this.” The buck in Judy’s uniform held up a printed sheet. Ben leaned in to look at it curiously.
“It’s a ZPD security request form. For your charity event.” Ben shrugged a bit. “You are offering what… to invite me to the event? Couldn’t I just go anyway if I pay the entry fee?” he asked.
“Look closer.” Jack requested encouragingly.
“Oh! My name’s on it. Wait, what?” he asked. “You are going to make me run security at the auction if I win?” he asked.
“Look carefully at what your duty will be.” Nick stated. Ben studied it a little closer, reading slowly.
“I’ll be offering relief to the ID check station and primarily responsible for…” and Ben sucked in a sharp gasp. He had to re-read the form two more times. “… would be responsible for the personal security at the booth of the Pop Singer, Gazelle.” He looked up, cupping his face in his paws. “Nooooo.”
Jack nodded at that. “Yep. It’s easy work, you mostly just sit there and chat with Gazelle the whole time in between the auction and music events, while she’s signing autographs and such. The chief himself did that last year.”
“You guys are so on,” Ben said with determination. He would not let Nick trick him out of this. He could watch scary movies just fine, how bad could a story even be?
“You ready?” the white ‘vixen’ asked while demurely sipping from a cup of punch.
“Judy, you better not let Nick cheat,” he asked the uniformed bunny.
“I’m Jack,” he stated dryly.
“Ohmigosh!” Ben gasped, covering his muzzle in his big spotty paws. “This is actually really confusing!”
Judy spoke up on the other side of Ben. “I’m telling the story, so Nick can’t be accused of cheating.” Her expression was really stern. Ben recoiled, worried that he’d genuinely offended his friends with that.
“I’m sorry guys, I didn’t mean to imply…” he lowered his head fearfully.
“That foxes cheat?” asked Skye, tugging at the tie jovially.
“Hey, that’s silk,” the white fox said anxiously.
“Nick can most certainly cheat…” the vixen stated, dropping the tie. Clawhauser suddenly found it even more likely that Jack was wearing Judy’s actual uniform. It looked completely genuine. “… But I will say he won’t tonight. Swear on my tail.” She smiled. Ben understood that was a pretty serious promise. He nodded.
Judy finally got started. “We have a story in Bunnyburrow called The Whisper. That’s what I want you to hear. I want to see if you will scream at a story meant to scare bunnies.” She laughed at that last part.
“I… Okay?” Ben offered, not sure how to comment to that. He’d just insulted foxes, he wasn’t about to offend bunnies.
“I told you not to use that one.” Nick interrupted, actually taking out a silk fan and fanning himself. The dress was probably pretty toasty, Ben thought. “Use a different story. I don’t like that one.”
“You don’t lose if you scream too, Nick.” Judy said, loosening her own tie to that sharp black suit, obviously getting comfortable. Nick crossed his arms and looked away with apparent irritation. Clawhauser felt a sudden sense of genuine dread. This story made Nick uncomfortable? Had it made him scream before?
“A long time ago, back before there were cars and trains and electric lights, in a borough that used to be south of Bunnyburrow…” Judy began. Ben blinked. That last part…
“Used to be?” Ben asked.
“Not an interactive tale.” Nick stated calmly, still fanning himself casually with the delicate silk fan. He was disarmingly pretty all done up like that. He seemed to not only understand that fact, but relish it.
“Right, sorry.” Ben said, looking back to the convincing Jack Savage that was Judy.
“A fox showed up from the North. No one knows exactly where,” Judy continued. Ben furrowed his brow. A scary story from Bunnyburrow about foxes? No wonder Nick hated this one. He was a fox. “This fox tried to avoid most mammals in the borough, and they liked that just fine. Back then, foxes were not exactly welcomed guests in that region.”
“They aren’t universally welcome, even now,” Nick said flatly.
Judy huffed. “Nick, my sister isn’t gonna keep a bottle of milk in her fridge just in case you show up! Let it go!” The tip of Clawhauser’s tail went wild, flicking about. It was painful. They were so gosh darned cute together. It was a universal crime that they fell into opposing species. He rested his chin on his paw and nodded, encouraging Judy to continue her story.
“Please, go on,” he nodded.
“Right.” She smiled, “…so, a few weeks after the fox showed up, bunnies began to die,” the doe explained.
“Really? I mean, just-…” Skye interrupted. It was so disorienting since she really did look like Nick. Ben wondered how much like Skye his coworker appeared. He hoped he’d get to see them all again.
“It’s a story, Skye,” said the uniformed male bunny, squirming a bit in the fur-tight semi-elastic blue body suit. Oh yeah, it was a little tight on him.
“I bet it’s the mayor.” Nick said dryly. “I never trust mayors.” He gave a mock glare at Bogo who was chatting casually a little way off by the punch.
Judy gave a measured glance to her friends and smiled, “Anyway. Deaths. Not just one. Three before anyone got suspicious.”
“Uh… The first death wasn’t suspicious?” asked Clawhauser.
“No.” Judy answered, “See, they weren’t injured. They were just… dead. Found dead on the roads going back and forth from the various farms. One bunny suddenly dropping dead back then from unknown illness or an accident or something wasn’t unusual… but three all together? The mayor of the little town called a meeting, and they decided to make sure that no one travelled alone.”
“That’s sensible.” Jack stated, then covered his muzzle. He wasn’t supposed to talk.
“So, one day, a couple of bunnies were walking from town to their farm, but one stopped to tend to… biological needs.” Judy stated.
“Another bunny?” Nick asked. Judy punched him in the arm, which looked a lot more unduly violent because it appeared as if Jack Savage had just slugged a pretty vixen. Nick just laughed, rubbing his gloved arm.
Judy grumbled and continued. “Anyway, after that, the other bunny had walked ahead a little ways. As the relieved bunny got back onto the street, he was surprised to see the fox trailing his friend. He stayed back, afraid. There had not been obvious injuries. That didn’t make sense. The fox crept quietly up behind the lone bunny, but he never once touched him. The bunny that was just ahead of the fox stopped. He lifted his head to listen, and then just… fell over.”
“Sounds like some kind of spell,” Jack said with a tone of wonder.
Judy ignored the interruption and kept talking. “The following bunny immediately jumped off of the road into the tall grass. He was horrified by what he just saw. He stayed there for hours until another pair of rabbits walked by. He came out and told them everything he’d seen, and they ran back to town to report it.”
“Sounds like the fox is about to have a bad day,” Jack said. Ben nodded, also ignoring that the other bunny had more latitude than Nick when it came to interrupting Judy. Maybe she was sweet on Jack? Somehow that idea didn’t appeal to him the way her and a certain fox did. The big cat felt a pang of guilt over that. It wasn’t his business, and Judy certainly deserved a wealthy celebrity bunny, right?
“Well,” Judy said, looking back at Ben, “The borough went all together, hundreds of bunnies, to the small home of the accused fox. They surrounded his home and called him out. He stepped out calmly. The mayor made the accusation and asked the fox to explain himself. Four bunnies were dead. All died the same way, and they demanded to know what the fox had done to them.”
“He was picky.” Nick stated with a coy grin. “Every fox knows that the tastiest part of a bunny is their soul.” Nick punched Skye. Wait, no, Skye punched Nick. These costumes were so alarmingly good it was confusing!
“Thank you Nick…” Judy said slowly, “…and actually, that’s what the bunnies believed right then. But the fox explained something just a tiny bit darker than that. See…” Judy leaned forward a bit, and Ben pulled at his belt to his robes a little nervously. This really was a spooky story. To add to it, the comments from the others kept breaking the tension and leaving him unprepared. It was like a scary movie where the scary thing didn’t happen during the scary music. It would come randomly. Judy murmured softly, everyone straining to hear her over the music. “The fox had learned that it was possible to frighten a bunny so badly that it killed them on the spot.”
“But why would he?” Skye asked, frustrating Nick as she pulled on the borrowed tie again nervously.
“Nobody knows. But a terrible, terrible mistake was made that day,” Judy said in a lower tone. Ben leaned down more. “See, the mayor thought the fox was lying, and he demanded to know what was so frightening to those bunnies that they would die just hearing it. So the fox… calmly told them.” Judy stopped talking, leaning back in her seat, adjusting the blazer of her black suit calmly.
“And?” Ben asked.
“Everybody died.” Nick answered coldly.
“Really? That’s it?” Ben asked, grinning broadly, “That’s the scary story that I’m supposed to scream about?” He was going to spend a day with Gazelle. It felt almost unfair!
“Well, the story doesn’t end there,” Judy announced.
“It doesn’t?” Benjamin asked anxiously.
The doe spoke in a slow and measured tone, “See, almost everybody died. One bunny made it… One bunny was brave enough, out of the entire borough, to not be instantly killed by those words. The fox got away, but this bunny was cursed with knowledge of the Words. These were the dark words of death that no mammal was ever meant to hear… and I do say no mammal, not just bunnies. The words represented a dark secret of the cosmos no one was meant to ever know. However… every generation… a council is held to tell the words to the bravest bunny of that generation, the only one who can ever hear the Words.” Ben gazed at his friends back and forth, all of them seeming transfixed on this very interesting part of the story.
The cheetah clarified in a near whisper, “So wait, you are saying someone out there knows this… dark cosmic secret? Just one?” he asked.
“Who is the bravest bunny you can think of?” Nick asked frankly. Ben immediately pointed at the bunny in uniform. That bunny put his little paw on Ben’s paw and pushed it to point at the real Judy.
“Oh. Sorry. Yes, that one,” Clawhauser indicated.
“The bravest by far, I would say.” Nick explained.
Judy’s expression became serious, dark… It looked like something out of a movie, especially with her costume. She said in a low, threatening tone, “I know the words, Ben. I have knowledge of the darkest secret of the cosmos. And I am going to whisper them to you. I dare not speak them aloud.”
The actual Jack, uniformed as a ZPD officer, stood up and announced, “… and I will be way the hell over there with the snacks and loudly laughing pair of hyenas. Be back after the scream.” He turned on his heel and hopped away as advertised.
“He’s a bunny, he might accidentally pick up the whisper,” Skye explained. Ben suddenly felt real tension and alarm. This was all just a story, right? They were all treating it so serious. Nick and Skye pulled their own ears back, cupping them with their paws, watching with morbid fascination. Judy leaned in slowly and cupped her little muzzle to Ben’s ear. The cheetah’s blood ran cold and he tensed up heavily as he listened.
“The darkest secret in all the cosmos Benjamin Clawhauser... is that you must do the file inventory at year end because I want to take Nick home to Bunnyburrow to spend that weekend with my family. This will be his first winter holiday as my husband.”
Benjamin Clawhauser screamed.